Top 20 Albums of 2023: Julie River’s Picks

This has been a wild year for music, and an amazing year for my career, having been made an associate editor here at New Noise. I’m extremely proud of everything we’ve put out this year, and this eclectic list of my favorite punk, metal, pop, ska, and hip-hop albums of the year represents, in many cases, albums that were brought to my attention because of my work at New Noise. So what were my top albums of the year?

  1. The DollyrotsNight Owls: Always one of the best pop-punk bands in the business, The Dollyrots again churn out some absolutely classic pop tracks. This time around, they seem to have found a new maturity in the lyrics, which perfectly mirrors their real lives. At this point, The Dollyrots are a family unit with two kids to take care of, and there’s no question that this is a punk album made by grown-ups. That’s not a negative, as they find a way to show off their punk edge while still getting the kids to school on time.

 

  1. The AquadollsCharmed: The Aquadolls have transitioned from straight-up surf rock to candy coated pop punk in the course of three albums and have managed to stick the landing on both of them. Charmed, named after the fantasy TV series of the same name, is chock full of classic pop melodies in adorable, guitar-based tracks. Like I said in my review, The Aquadolls still feel like a band whose best album is ahead of them, but Charmed is a great big step in the right direction.

 

  1. Foo FightersBut Here We Are: The Foo Fighters aren’t a band I had given much thought to in quite a while. But considering they were headlining Riot Fest this year, meaning I got to see them live for the first time since I was 14, and the fact that But Here We Are is a beautiful tribute to their late, great drummer Taylor Hawkins, I was curious to check out their new record. This album is probably their most poignant and heartfelt of their career, as they have something important to say right now, not only due to Hawkins’ death but also the death of Dave Grohl’s mother, both of which play a big part in this album. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know they put out a great new album this year from seeing their performance at Riot Fest as they made no attempt to play anything new and stuck to the old hits. Such a shame, because there’s a lot to love about But Here We Are.

 

  1. Jeff RosenstockHELLMODE: I said in my review earlier this year that this album should be in the discussion for album of the year, and it is, but I didn’t realize how many more albums were going to be part of that conversation. Still, #17 of the year is no slouch, and HELLMODE is packed with all of the brilliant, snarky irony that makes Jeff Rosenstock one of the most beloved solo artists in the modern punk scene.

 

  1. Fat HeavenTrash Life: One of the few modern pop-punk bands to really embody the classic pop punk sound of Lookout Records in the 1990s, Fat Heaven return with their sophomore release Trash Life. With gorgeous melodies and pop punk debauchery, this album packs a lot of fun into 22 short minutes. While their excellent first LP came out on Mirror Universe Tapes, the second sees them moving up to a bigger label with Sell the Heart Records, indicating this band is likely to be going places.

  1. OxymorronsMelanin Punk: Despite pulling a lot of their influences from Linkin Park, whom I’ve never been a fan of, there’s something unique about Oxymorrons’ sound that appeals to me in a way their favorite band doesn’t. I called this the best combination of punk and hip-hop I’ve ever heard and possibly the first punk/hip-hop artist to understand hip-hop as well as it understood rock, and I stand by those statements wholeheartedly. People who love to see those two genres mixed should check out this outstanding album.

14. AJJDisposable Everything: Fronted by postmodern folk punk jester Sean Bonnette, AJJ’s latest album is filled with all the wry humor and irony that Bonnette has become known for. It’s impressive how AJJ manages to pump out one quality album after another, with their eighth album showing just as much impressive wit as their first, with delicious pop hooks as sugar to make the smart-ass medicine go down.

  1. Pkew Pkew PkewSiiick Days: Pkew x3 seem to have taken little time off between their previous album—2022’s Open Bar—and 2023’s Siiick Days, but you’d never guess it based on quality of the album alone. Siiick Days sees the band making more mature music without losing the sense of fun that made their early releases so successful. Capped off by possibly the best closing track of the year, “The Night John Buck Hit Three Home Runs,” Pkew Pkew Pkew show themselves to be masters of endearing and heartfelt lyrics.

  1. Raygun CowboysFortune and Glory, Pleasure and Pain: This was a last minute addition to my list thrown in after I was asked to do a last-minute interview with this band for Issue #69. I had not heard of Raygun Cowboys before, but the second I heard this album, I was a newfound fan. It’s the best psychobilly album I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in ages. Besides the fact that it has a really strikingly fun energy married to smart and insightful lyrics, the band are proudly indigenous-fronted and bring indigenous issues to the table, something you don’t really get to see in psychobilly. This is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me.

 

  1. Eddie JapanPop Fiction: A self-described “cinematic pop” group out of one of my favorite cities in the world, Boston, this is a sweeping pop opus full of some of the strongest pop melodies to come out all year. It’s also one of the most technically impressive albums of the year, with a huge band creating what feels like a rock opera more than a simple pop album. A popera, if you will.

  1. Militarie GunLife Under the Gun: There was a lot of much deserved mockery earlier this year when Noel Gallagher hilariously described Oasis as “a punk band with Beatles melodies.” While Gallagher was way off the mark with his analysis, there actually is a band making punk with Beatles melodies, and that’s Militarie Gun. Started by Ian Shelton following the hiatus of his other band, Regional Justice Center, Militarie Gun stormed onto the scene with their debut album and took the punk world—and our front cover—by storm. Rarely does anyone make as big a splash with their debut album as Militarie Gun did with Life Under the Gun, which suggests there’s a lot more great music to come.

  1. Dog Park DissidentsThe Pink and Black Album: This is an important album to me because my interview with Dog Park Dissidents was one of my favorite interviews of my career, and I almost passed up the opportunity to do it. When I first got the email about potentially doing some coverage for this album, I was swamped and was going to pass it by, but not without at least giving the album a quick listen. I quickly found that I was in love with this album and regretted passing up the opportunity and had to frantically search through my mailbox to find the email again. Their particular brand of anarcho-queer punk delivered with tongue-in-cheek irony is important to me, not just because it was an entertaining album, but because it opened my eyes to a whole branch of queer theory I wasn’t familiar with that I related to. Like DPD says, “Queer liberation is class struggle.”

  1. Spiritual CrampS/T: How could any pop punk fan not fall in love with this album? With sparkling, sugary power-pop melodies, absolutely electric energy, fuzzy guitars, and a distinct punk rock swagger, this is an amazingly fun album from start to finish. This is an album where the pop elements come first and the hard rock elements come second, but that makes for some infectiously danceable tunes with sick guitars to back them up. Marking the first full-length from Spiritual Cramp, this album promises that this won’t be the last time we hear from this band.

  1. the Mountain GoatsJenny From Thebes: When you come out as transgender, they give you a special card to identify yourself as a member of the rainbow mafia and a free copy of the latest Mountain Goats album. I joke, but John Darnielle’s project, the Mountain Goats, is so well identified with the trans community for some reason that someone on Twitter once referred to a trans girl as “a friend of John Darnielle” and Darnielle took it as such a compliment he screenshotted it and sent it to a bunch of his friends. So there’s a reason that trans people get excited every time a new tMG album comes out, which, considering Darnielle is one of the most prolific artists in indie rock, is almost every year. And somehow, with every album, Darnielle finds a way to reinvent himself completely. On Jenny From Thebes, we see a fully fleshed out band, as with his past few releases, with spirited piano parts and a lively horn section. Picking up on a narrative thread of a character Darnielle has been playing around with since 2002’s All Hail West Texas, this rock opera sequel to AHWT is simply magnificent in terms of its energy and narrative scope.

 

  1. Faintest IdeaThe Road to Sedition: This ska-meets-oi band out of the U.K. put out one of the most fiercely political records of the year. Taking ruthless aim at organized religion, wealth inequality, imperial warfare, and capitalism in general, the album is a far-left slugfest that leaves the status quo down for the count. This album was so good that it almost became my ska album of the year, but it was inched out just a little bit by…

  1. Flying Raccoon SuitMoonflower: Flying Raccoon Suit truly had their breakout album this year with Moonflower. Mixing an eclectic assortment of genres with ska, the band show themselves to be one of the most creative acts in the entire ska scene. Jessica Jeansonne proves herself to be a powerful vocalist with the star power to lead this band into the next phase of their career. Expect even bigger things to come from the only ska band in Mississippi.

  1. MyrkurSpine: I was originally brought into New Noise because of my experience with punk journalism. I wasn’t the biggest metal fan growing up, but being here around so many metalheads must have rubbed off on me a little. After reading all the things our writers had said about our recent cover artist, Myrkur, and the new album, Spine, I was fascinated to check it out and found that it was nothing like what I thought of when I heard the term “heavy metal.” And yet, it’s undoubtedly metal. A unique take on the genre full of epic scope, gorgeous melodies, and mesmerizing vocals, I couldn’t help but fall in love.

  1. Open CityHands in the Honey Jar: With powerful melodies at furious speeds, Open City blurs the line between hardcore and post-hardcore. Made up of members of Paint it Black, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, and Bridge and Tunnel, this supergroup pulls strongly from a Fugazi influence while incorporating such other important post-hardcore influences like At the Drive-In and outright hardcore influences like G.L.O.S.S. Even for a supergroup, this is one hell of a debut record.

  1. 100 gecs10,000 gecs: I first got into 100 gecs because they were playing Riot Fest and someone recommended them to me as a band to check out. I was instantly hooked on their unique blend of hyperpop, hard rock, and hip-hop. Does it help that both the frontwoman of 100 gecs and myself are trans women? Probably. But even if that weren’t the case, this is one of the most revolutionary music acts I’ve heard in a long time. And, on their sophomore album, they really refined their sound and found their footing, showing a marked improvement on their already solid debut album.

  1. ClownsEndless: As a rule, my favorite kind of music is punk rock that breaks the boundaries of what punk typically is, and no album this year fit that description quite as well as Endless by Clowns. Fusing punk and metal, pulling in some synths, and finishing up on a nearly-10-minute true crime narrative backed by a punk-meets-spaghetti-western soundtrack, this album is breaking a lot of rules. Add in the queer representation in the song “Bisexual Awakening”—in which the singer lists all of your relatives that he could fuck because he’s bisexual—and you’ve got an album that’s just checking every box for me.

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