We initially decided to do this in order to alleviate some of the stress of that other ’23 list we have going on but then we cut out the local stuff and decided to go through our archives for the year and what stood out of what we reviewed/featured that came out of Massachusetts…. and came up with an even more massive list. In other words, oops?
In the interest of not breaking our brain before Santa comes we decided to just do 23 albums or singles that stood out all unranked-like with, of course, a bunch of honorable mentions because, as usual, there was a LOT that caught our attention and we like to cheat when we can because when it comes to supporting local everyone’s the best.
So without further adieu, and before our sanity is gone, here is what we think you should’ve (And should going forward) open your earholes to in 2023:
Album-wise, there was a lot to love. Mistle Thrush’s Valerie Forgione returned with the divine Lovina Falls, The Jacklights dropped an October delight with Final Girl, and the incessantly creative Jim Healey released a killer new EP called Crawl Your Way Back among other things (The “other things” we’ll get to a little later…). Fresh off an appearance at In Between Days, Shallow Pools launched their stellar debut full-length in the fall, Duncan Wilder Johnson’s latest outfit called Catching Hell unleashed a riotous release, Girl With a Hawk‘s touching tribute EP keep ‘er lit was a triumph and Travels With Brindle cornered the market on ukulele driven albums… And if that wasn’t enough, Viruette brought a slick sheen to their brand of Indie Rawk on their newest EP, Dyr Faser delivered an eclectic mix of trippy, spaced out tunes on Karmic Revenge, and Linnea’s Garden ended the year with their Mirrors EP and a whole bunch of new Glam Punk tunes to dance to.
Before that, though, LG released “In The City” with Carissa Johnson that featured a decidedly more Dance/Disco vibe. Elsewhere in the Singles! department, Salem’s Radio Compass debuted the non-spooky “California” during Spooky SZN while JATK channeled their inner Weezer for “Ana”. Hammered Saint and Astral Bitch both unveiled some gnarly sonic revolutions with their respective new tracks and Parts Per Million followed their Rock & Roll Rumble performance energy and battled AI in “CTRL ALT DEL”. Speaking of Rumble performers, Gretchen Shae & The Middle Eight used their momentum from those shows to shine a light on “Pretty Little Lies” and “Safehouse” with Shae also collaborating with Vampire Werewolf for the debut of the Dark Electro of Proles. The Magic City teased what’s to come with their debut single, Fatigue was inspired by Ex-Hyena for “Hush” (With Ex-Hyena themselves releasing “In Slow Motion”), and then we ended our year with both Canyons and Locusts and Wyn & The White Light giving fans a taste of their respective new releases with some singles ahead of expanded releases early in 2024.
Whoo! We done yet? No? That was just the prelude?!?! When we said “cheat” we weren’t kidding! Anyway, here’s the “official” 23 from ’23 (Links to our reviews where applicable complete with links to the records hyperlinked in the respective headers):
Motokops 2000, The Torment of Existence Weighed Against the Horror of Nonbeing: The return no one knew they needed? Wanted? Whatever the case, Motokops 2000 graced 2023 with their resurgence and a sick Metal opus for people who like Swarm Of Eyes but wished they were less serious? Heavier? We honestly don’t know but what we do know is that this lost/new record from the Central MA originating outfit was definitely well worth the wait.
Phantom Ocean, “I’m With The Band”: A burst of sustained bombast and an almost hypnotic refrain is just one of the many reasons that “Im With The Band” from Phantom Ocean really resonated with us this year. Beyond that, what PO lay down here and on previous releases is just some stellar Rawk that’s way worthy of your undivided earholes.
Ruby Grove, “Maybe It’s Time”: The debut release from Ruby Grove is all slick grooves, big beats, and smooth vox and a great introduction to the newish outfit that effortlessly combines Pop sensibilities, a Trip-Hop vibe, and an inherent Hip-Hop aesthetic for a sound that’s refreshing and ready to be listened to repeatedly.
downtalker, “All My Friends Are Dead” & “Watch Your Heart Break”: A modern day Duran Duran mixed with Devo and just about every Electro/New Wave trick we loved from the ’80’s, a main character in “All My Friends Are Dead” named “Jesse” AND you’re from Boston? Sign. Us. Up. If you’re looking for that Boston band that doesn’t sound like a Boston band then downtalker is your new favorite.
Looking Glass War, Where Neon Meets The Rain: Another outlier of being a Rawk outfit in Boston but having a sound that definitely sounds unlike anything around town, Looking Glass War stormed the gates of 2023 with a slew of singles that displayed a range that covered Post-Punk throwing down with The Darkness and Pulp culminating in a debut EP that definitely made us applaud.
blindspot, “Still Breathing”: We mentioned it in our review of their newest single that while blindspot don’t necessarily bang out the singles as often as we’d like you can be sure that when they do it’s definitely something you should pay attention to. And “Still Breathing” from the duo isn’t just a reminder of their excellent existence but also a gotDamn anthem and a half.
Eldridge Rodriguez, Atrophy (Midriff Records): Although we covered a lot of what came before the actual release, we’re not sure we gave the latest from Boston/NYC hybrids Eldridge Rodriguez all the love it deserves. While not as immediate as 2020’s Slightest of Treason, Atrophy still hits hard with sobering soliloquy after sobering soliloquy from the brothers Grabowski and Keiber as they collectively channel Boston greats like Jonathan Richman and the legendary R.E.M. on their latest release.
Smitt E. Smitty & The Fezztones, “The Growler”: Earworm, thy name is anything that Smitt E. Smitty puts out. But that’s a good thing. Well, maybe not “earworm” exactly so let’s go with “highly infectious” instead because hot on the heels of “Buzzkill Baby” and their “Rebel Rebel” cover earlier this year comes the raucous stomp of “The Growler” which was our chance to finally catch up and put words to digital paper about what a delight this gaggle of gifted musicians is.
KIND, Close Encounters (Ripple Music): Finally getting a chance to see KIND live this year solidified why Close Encounters deserved to be on our year end list. Heavy beyond reproach and carrying the Desert Rawk torch for John Garcia and co. proudly in the Bay State, KIND constantly impresses and their latest is no exception in that department.
Gozu, Remedy (Blacklight Media/Metal Blade Records): Holy hell, it doesn’t get much riffier than what Doug Sherman and Marc Gaffney lay down throughout Gozu’s latest. Early singles “Tom Cruise Control” and “CLDZ” barely scratched the surface of what was to come on what is easily Gozu’s best to date and sees the band’s ever evolving sound incorporating elements of Grunge’s loud underbelly with Soundgarden and Alice In Chains-style riffage and vocal melodies being added into the Boston quartet’s frenzied fray.
Not Bad Well “Sleeper”, “New Way Out”, “Afterglow”: We came away from this year’s Rumble with more than a few new favorites but none resonated as much as Worcester’s Not Bad Not Well. Maybe it’s that mystique of coming into the 2023 competition with only one song released (“Sleeper” which technically came out last year but it was our first exposure hence the inclusion..) accompanied by a merch table comprised solely of stickers or, more likely, it’s their kick ass emotive Indie/Alt songs in the vein of Muse, At The Drive-In, and Thrice which is truly a sight to behold in a live setting.
The Downhauls, Scream Into The Void: There is something so iconic about the newest release from Salem’s The Downhauls and going back to listen through Scream Into The Void while doing this blurb is a killer reminder of how blessed we all are that original music like the powerful Punk/Rockabilly/Americana amalgamation created here exists.
Dust Prophet, One Last Look Upon The Sky: Dust Prophet’s newest has been out so long (The end of January) that we almost forgot it came out this year. Obviously we didn’t and obviously it made some sort of an impact as it ended up on this list, right? Right! Because it did! Steered by Otto Kinzel, OLLUTS is a riotous romp of old school Faith No More meets modern Mr. Bungle meets Tomahawk (See where we’re going with this) and an all around rad heavy record.
Paper Tigers, Charmer: There’s a few on here, actually, where the album was preluded with a slew of singles and kind of made us worry that the final collected product might not live up to what came before. Like Paper Tigers and debut Charmer. But it’s on here so we guess that wasn’t the case! We reviewed them previous to their Rock & Roll Rumble performance back in April but were kind of glued to PT following that killer set on stage at Middle East Upstairs and were similarly blown away when they took the stage at the 2nd annual In Between Days fest later in the year with their brand of stadium-sized RAWK that’s pretty perfectly captured on Charmer.
Sapling, amor fati (Sleazy Within Reason Records): You know when you hear an album and it just screams “ART!” well that’s what the latest from Worcester and Providence’s own Sapling is. It’s the kind of record that definitely works in pieces but really one that demands that you just sit in a room or plan a long drive around so that it can get aurally consumed all proper-like to really get the full Indie Punk Alt aesthetic in full.
Carissa Johnson, Blue Hour Deluxe (Rum Bar Records): We admitted this in our review but we completely missed out when Blue Hour was initially released so upon hearing the deluxe version which also collected previously released The Good EP along with some BH b-sides, alternate takes, and demos called L’Heure Bleue, After Dark, we dove right in and are super glad we did as the record is not to be missed in either form.
The Freqs, Poachers: We loved the hell out of this release well before The Freqs were announced in the ’23 Rumble class… and still love it almost a year after its’ release because regular rotation goes a LONG way when formulating this list, kids! With Poachers, the Salem trio wrangle up a gnarly sonic storm across six unforgettable tracks of downwright delightful Rawk.
Answerman, Black Light Poster: There’s just something about the 8 tracks that make up Answerman’s newest that are timeless. Catchy and crunchy, Black Light Poster taps into the very beginnings of Rawk but brings it into today for a sound that’s like The Zombies, Blue Oyster Cult, and Caesars let loose in a studio and tasked with producing an album.
The Shallows, Wave State: Another reason to earn you a spot on our year ender is to sound like nothing else out there which is something that The Shallows definitely succeed at with a Post-Punk meets New Wave ethereal glow that hovers all over their debut like Siouxsie & The Banshees collaborating with Lush and Ladytron.
Eddie Japan, Pop Fiction (Rum Bar Records): We’re pretty sure this was the first album of 2023 that, without fail, was definitely going to end up on this list somewhere. Like, we had a draft of records that’d we dug before Pop Fiction dropped in late April but this was the first one where we decided that we’d make room for it somewhere no matter what because it’s rare that you come across albums these days that tell a complete story and with the musicianship that these former Rumble champs do so exquisitely. The vital voice that fellow Boston Music Awards’ nominee David Santos brings to EJ along with Emily Drohan’s powerful prose is just the the tip of what makes this band and album so important.
The Rupert Selection, Crumbs for the Sun: There’s a few on this list where one song was a gateway that was played over and over in the RNRF offices and pretty much guaranteed the record that accompanied it a spot on this list regardless of how the rest of the album turned out. Luckily, with all the cases on our list, the accompanying body of music ruled pretty hard. Like The Rupert Selection’s latest. Being a child of the ’80’s/’90’s and especially developing our own musical identity during the Grunge/Alternative boom, “Astronauts” really spoke to us. As did the rest of Crumbs for the Sun.
Blood Lightning, Blood Lightning (Ripple Music): We cannot say enough about how rad this debut record from the certifiable Boston supergroup called Blood Lightning is. Take man about town Jim Healey (A slayer of all genres of Rawk) on the mic, pair him with Worshipper’s Bob Maloney and Sam Black Church’s JR Roach on bass and drums with riffmeister Doug Sherman on axe seemingly with an endless supply of shreds on hand following the killer offering on Gozu’s newest and you have some instant musical magic happening. “Blankets” has been our JAM since it released but the entirety of the soulful heaviness created by this new quartet is practically heaven.
One Fall, Spine First!: The winnah of this year’s Rock & Roll Rumble was a band who almost blew the roof off Middle East Upstairs and later Sonia in April and May with their explosive sets filled with tracks from their 3-track debut and the songs that would show up on Spine Up! which dropped in October which somehow managed to catch that fiery energy and convey it into fans’ waiting earholes. Big things are on the horizon for the Salem outfit so get on board now!