Tuned Up’s Fav Records of 2023

By Ryan G

100 gecs – 10,000 gecs

This was a quite a ride. This is an album that will give you a migraine and force you to have fun while doing so. The most unhinged record I listened to this year. Well, unhinged yet enjoyable, anyway. Listen to this and you’ll be in the mood to repeat “One! Million! Dollars!” ad nauseum whilst making your voice inflections progressively more obnoxious. This hyperpop release is goofy and smart at the same time, to say the least.

Favorite Track: “Hollywood Baby” -Ryan Getz

Agriculture – s/t

If you were to ask a hundred people to describe black metal with one word, “ecstatic” would probably fail to make it to the board (and would earn a trademark Steve Harvey eye roll). But when Agriculture describes themselves as “Ecstatic black metal,” it’s hard to argue. The Flenser newcomers’ debut full length takes the sonic assault of black metal and uses it to express spiritual transcendence. Granted, it’s hard to call this a happy record—the focal event of the lyrics is a drowning. But the band finds a deeper meaning in death than mere grief, expressed through dimed guitar amps, blast beats, and shrieked vocals. -Nat Fitzgerald

Andy Shauf – Norm

I heard Andy Shauf for the first time when his Neon Skyline album came out, but my proper introduction to him arguably happened at Desert Daze 2021. I’ll never forget watching him, beer in hand, with a liquid light show (look it up) being projected onto a structure of white sheets as he mused through his soft, pensive indie. Norm was released early this year and seems simple at first, but there are many nuggets of ear-pleasing effects to be found. Shauf has a way of taking understated effects and melodies and really stretching them.

Favorite Track: “Wasted On You” -Ryan Getz

American Arson – Sand & Cinder//Tide & Timber

I have been anticipating this album for some time and was not disappointed. Had it been released earlier in the year it might have ranked much higher. American Arson manages to expand on the sound they have crafted while continuing to express their faith blatantly and boldly without shying away from very real topics that are often not touched upon in the Christian music arena. It is real and it is honest but continues to show the ever-present hope even in the hardest of times.

Favorite Track: “Adversity” -Phil Hawkins

billy woods x Kenny Segal – Maps

billy woods pulled a one-two punch last year with the stellar Aethiopes and Church. In his third release in 13 months, the NY rapper teams up with Kenny Segal, whom he last collaborated with on 2019’s Hiding Places. Segal brings a different sound and energy than was found on his previous two albums. It’s very percussive. There are elements of rock, psych, and jazz, channeled through the lens of a paranoid freakout. The tonal shifts between tracks are manic and seizure inducing. woods’ lyrics and delivery are still top of the game. The guest spots include fellow Armand Hammer alum ELUCID, Backwoodz Studioz up-and-comers Shrapknel, lyricist king Aesop Rock, and the king Danny Brown. woods is not only at the top of his game on Maps, but he’s at the top of the game period. -Alex Dye

boygenius – the record

I love all three artists individually. Julien Baker’s Turn Out the Lights is transcendent. And Lucy Dacus knocked it out of the part with Historian. Phoebe Bridgers is arguably the most famous of the three. But after the record, Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus will become household names for alternative music fans. the record is an album years in the making. And it was worth the wait. It just has so much heart. New layers to the music are unlocked on each relisten. And you can tell they are just having so much fun together. I can’t yet say the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but that may become the case if this supergroup keeps putting out more music. -Alex Dye

Caskets – Reflections

Much like Dayseeker in 2022, Caskets caught me by surprise. Reflections is exquisitely melodic and I found myself coming back to it again and again. Surprisingly, it became one of my most listened to albums for the year. The melodic elements laced with metalcore and pop sensibility create the perfect background for the soaring vocals. It may be easily accessible, but it is also tangible and atmospheric.

Favorite Track: “Believe” -Phil Hawkins

Colony House – The Cannonballers

The Nashville quartet is back with a record chock full of fun earworms. Emphasis on the word FUN. The title track is one that you can’t not listen to loudly in your car, and make your new anthem. The alt rockers are poised to take over next summer with this record pushing them through to the next level. They’ve always been good at writing catchy songs full of heart, but something intangible clicked for me with this one.

Favorite Track: “Cannonballers” -Ryan Getz

The Crystal Casino Band – Maryland House

When I was putting the lineup for Steadfast Festival 2023 together earlier this year, I was pitched this band from DC I had never heard of. Initially tempted to write them off as a baby band the agent was fulfilling his duty with, upon a listen, I noticed a maturity I seldom hear in new bands. Immediately accessible yet vaguely nostalgic at the same time. Maryland House is a record introducing the 2010 indie rock sound to Gen Z.

Favorite Track: “Curfew” -Ryan Getz

Cultist – Slow Suicide

Cultist is easily the heaviest album I personally encountered this year and is actually much heavier than my usual preference. However, there was something about Slow Suicide that drew me in deeper and deeper with each subsequent listen. Amidst the brutal backdrop there is still an ethereal aspect that makes the album stand out brilliantly. Slow Suicide is a no holds barred audible onslaught that will keep your face in a constant state of “stank” from beginning to end. It relishes in the dark and brooding tones while mixing breakdown elements that somehow progressively makes the album heavier as it charges forward.

Favorite Track: “Preacher III” -Phil Hawkins

Dave Hause – Drive it Like It’s Stolen

I was only peripherally aware of Dave Hause because of his association with other punk artists like Tim Barry, Chuck Ragan, and Laura Jane Grace who were doing acoustic driven projects. It wasn’t until another TU staff writer recommended him to me that I really took a listen. Hause writes passionate, vulnerable rock driven alt-country for people who have taken a lot of hits in life but are still moving forward. It’s hopeful but also very real. As the father of a son who has so many struggles, chainsaweyes made me cry the first time I heard it. I got to see Dave Hause this summer at a free outdoor concert in Dayton, Ohio. The crowd was sparse, and I imagine a good number of people there didn’t know who he was. But he played his heart out like he was at a sold-out arena. As much as I appreciated the experience, I wish more people listened to his music. Hause is a voice for the people and Drive It Like It’s Stolen is his manifesto. -Alex Dye

Defcee – The Golem of Brooklyn

I love this album so much. It’s a soundtrack to a book, a bizarre mashup of hip-hop and literature. Author Adam Mansbach enlisted Chicago emcee Defcee to craft an audio companion to his newest book The Golem of Brooklyn, a modern fantasy novel that explores traditional Jewish folklore, religious history, and the challenges of being Jewish in modern day America. The golem, a clay effigy that is brought to life to enact justice on their enemies, is both the central character of the album as well as the keystone for disseminating Jewish history. The concept that could have easily sunk beneath the weight of the mythos. But Defcee rose to the occasion, capturing the theme in his lyrics and elevating the project with his delivery. The Golem of Brooklyn is fascinating, educational, and makes me want to go out and buy the book. The beats from Messiah Musik are on point and draw you into the world that Mansbach and Defcee created. -Alex Dye

Durry – Suburban Legend

Few records have been as satisfying upon first listen as this one. The Durry siblings are the indie rock band for the Everyman. They are endlessly relatable, approachable, and don’t take themselves too seriously. And their debut LP is really daggone catchy. Hurry back to Columbus, please!

Favorite Track: “Hasta La Vista Baby” -Ryan Getz

Earth Groans – Tongue Tied

Tongue Tied was possibly one of the most honest albums I listened to all year. Frontman Jeremy Schaeffer’s lyrical and honest approach is such a unique pairing to the brutal musicality that the band possesses. While a full length would have been great to receive, the shorter EP format really draws attention to each track as it is steeped in metallic precision and hardcore chaos.

Favorite Track: “Same Blood” -Phil Hawkins

Fallstar – Sacred Mirrors

Fallstar’s unique blend of genre defying antics are an audible joyride. Embracing lines that cross metalcore and nu-metal amongst countless others, it is this approach that is against the grain and has garnered them such a loyal and diverse fanbase. The album feels anthemic and elaborate without being an oversaturated mess. It understands what it sets out to accomplish and does so in spades.

Favorite Track: “Crooks & The Damned” -Phil Hawkins

Fiddlehead – Death is Nothing to Us

On the supergroup’s third full-length, they once more offer up examinations of grief through shouty post hardcore that’s brimming with pop sensibility. But this time around, things are far more nuanced. The songcraft is subtle, making greater use of space and even offering a couple softer tracks. The lyrics offer a poignant look at how grief shifts when the world expects you to get back to normal. It’s a gut wrenching record that’s catchy enough that you probably won’t notice how devastating it is on the first few listens. -Nat Fitzgerald

Fireworks – Higher Lonely Power

I never really listened to Fireworks when they were better known in the pop punk scene. But when I hear of an experimental turn for a band that’s loved and it pops into existence on January 1st, why shouldn’t I listen? As I’ve listened to this record, I’ve contemplated Fireworks as a potential Audiofeed Festival act, with thier existential musings on God and all things related. The shoegaze-like sound is something that seems to fit days like today, when I’m feeling a bit of Saturday malaise. Yet, this was a record that consistently had rotation on my listening habits this year, after making a poignant impression to kick things off.

Favorite Track: “I Want to Start a Religion with You” -Ryan G

Full of Hell and Nothing – When No Birds Sang

It doesn’t seem like Full of Hell’s full tilt grindcore and Nothing’s dreamy shoegaze would be cozy bedfellows. But the pair’s dueling methodologies combine to create a sound that is somehow perfectly suited for a reflection on 9/11—and not with any sort of irony either.  When No Birds Sang is equal parts crushing and transcendent, combining ethereal soundscapes and crushing heaviness with a similar ethos as Alcest, Deafheaven, and Holy Fawn. It’s not just the most surprising collaboration of the year—it might be the best.

HolyName – HolyName

With an all-star lineup of musicians at his side, Tommy Green is back with a vengeance. This album is pretty much exactly what you’d expect if you took the ambience of a Gregorian monk chant and applied a bunch of breakdowns and metalcore riffs to it. But this album is so much more than a bunch of tropes from unlikely genres slapped together. The album does slap, but it also brings reverence to the listener.

Favorite Track – “They See” -Ryan Getz

Invent Animate – Heavener

Invent Animate was almost a sleeper hit as the album didn’t click upon initial release. However, there was something that kept drawing me back to it and after about a month the depth and brevity of the album made sense. It is deep and layered intricately from beginning to end thematically against a sonically driven soundscape. And after spending a considerable amount of time with the album it finally clicked. Where a lot of their prior material is more grief-stricken, Heavener carries more of a subtle shift of embracing the dramatic and/or sad experiences but demonstrates that you can work through it and move on to the next level.

Favorite Track: “Without A Whisper” -Phil Hawkins

Ist Ist – Protagonists

Post punk will never really escape Joy Division’s shadow—and good thing. The blend of robotic drums, melodic bass lines, sparse guitars, and disaffected vocals have proven timeless over on over. On Protagonists, IST IST demonstrates just how fresh these sounds still can be, offering up an album that’s deeply emotional, despite the too-cool sheen on it.

JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown – SCARING THE HOES

JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown are superheroes in the underground hip-hop world. And their collaboration on SCARING THE HOES is straight up Justice League. The beats are frenetic, glitchy, hyperpop. It’s seriously unhinged. Danny Brown’s nasal delivery is one of my favorite voices in hip-hop, and he’s perfectly balanced out by Peggy’s more traditional voice. The album is funny, irreverent, socially pointed, and blazes some new trails in the world of alternative hip-hop. This is the wildest hip-hop project you’ll hear this year.

Kelela – Raven

Is it neo-soul? Is it R&B? It’s is electronica? Yes. Each year, there’s a record that challenges my preconceived genre notions, and this year Kelela earned a “Best New Music” distinction over at Pitchfork, leading me to give this album a spin. It stuck with me all year. This is sensual, groovy music that envelops you like a warm blanket, or maybe a shot of brandy taken in the company of a lover.

Favorite Track: “Washed Away” -Ryan Getz

Knotts – Ribbon Dancer

I am so freaking sad I missed the Knotts set at Audiofeed Festival this year! Ribbon Dancer is a versatile record from the Cincinnati based project that is pensive, quirky, and some of the best in art pop and indie music I’ve heard in a long time. This the sort of record that is accessible enough to make an immediate impression, but rich enough to dig for new details over time. If you feel like exploring some deep topics with a glass of Chardonnay, this is a solid record to put on the record player (I actually have no idea if there’s a vinyl pressing, but if there is I’d buy it!)

Favorite Track – “Sunlight” -Ryan Getz

M83 – Fantasy

My, my. In what was possibly my most anticipated record of the last few years, M83 burst back on to the scene with the wondrous synthpop he is known for. Emotional swells galore. The refrain of “Oceans Niagara” – “Beyond adventure!” functions as a slogan of sorts for what the entirety of the record feels like. Will M83 ever outdo his opus Hurry Up We’re Dreaming? Nah, but this record sure is fun.

Favorite Track: “Amnesia” – Ryan Getz

Manchester Orchestra – The Valley of Vision

Manchester Orchestra surprised us all by releasing an EP with roughly a two week notice before it hit digital platforms. While it may not be as long as one would want from a new MO record it delivers on all fronts. Titled after book of prayers The Valley Of Vision is subtly intricate and elegant and showcases [Andy] Hull and company’s ability to craft a cohesive piece of art that is absolutely flawless.

Favorite Track: “The Way” -Phil Hawkins

Militarie Gun – Life Under the Gun

Life Under the Gun opens with a propulsive drum beat and infectiously head nodding guitar riff, as vocalist Ian Shelton shouts out “I don’t care what you do, just do it faster!” This kicks off an honest, vulnerable, uplifting, and incredibly effective entry into the new wave of hardcore. Shelton still has his signature shout style, but also explores singing, which depth and dimension to the record. Some of the riffs feel straight out of the 90’s alternative scene, and yet what Militarie Gun creates here feels very fresh. The band falls under “hardcore,” but like many of their contemporaries (such as Angel Du$t), they eschew many of the trappings of the genre, leaning into hardcore as more of a feeling than a style. “Do It Faster,” “Very High,” “My Friends Are Having a Hard Time,” and “Never Fucked Up Once” are absolute classics and set a high bar for whatever the band has next. In a year of great releases, Life Under The Gun was my (Alex Dye) favorite record of 2023. -Alex Dye

Mutoid Man – Mutants

This album took me by surprise. Mutoid Man has always been on my radar because of its supergroup status, but I’ve never paid close attention to them. Now I’m obsessed. It’s the most fun album I’ve heard all year. Mutants sounds like if Mastodon, He Is Legend, and Judas Priest had a baby. If you like heavy riffs, blistering guitar solos, headbanging breakdowns, and shout along choruses, then do yourself a favor and check out Mutants. -Alex Dye

Off Road Minivan – May This Keep You Safe from Harm

When Swan Dive was released in 2020, I initially wrote it off without giving much of a second thought. However, with the release of May This Keep You Safe From Harm there was something about the musical execution that caught my attention. Emanating sounds that are reminiscent of late 90s alt rock with enough pop sensibility to create an atmospheric album that is both nostalgic and fresh simultaneously.

Favorite Track: “The Breakdown” -Phil Hawkins

Portrayal of Guilt – Devil Music

Since the earliest days of its inception, metal has had an inescapable fascination with classical music. While most acts manifest this combination by putting strings and horns over distorted guitars and pounding drums, Portrayal of Guilt takes a far more novel approach. Devil Music offers five black metal songs, and then repeats the same five songs with cello, tuba, and french horn accompanying the screamed vocals in place of the more conventional metal instrumentation. It’s a satisfying experiment, but its value isn’t just empirical. Both sides are simply really good metal. -Nat Fitzgerald

Project 86 – OMNI, Pt. 1

OMNI, Pt. 1 is the first half of the long gestating (final) outing from Project 86. As a longtime fan of the band this album feels like the culmination of everything Andrew Schwab has been trying to accomplish for the band’s entire career. There are solid Norma Jean influences given that Schwab worked closely with Cory Brandan and Matthew Putman. As a concept record it hits on all the right levels and further builds the apocalyptic environment that is the center of the overarching storyline. I am eagerly awaiting Part 2, which is due in early 2024.

Favorite Track: “Metatropolis” -Phil Hawkins

Slowdive – Everything Is Alive

No one expected Slowdive to reunite, and they certainly didn’t expect them to release what might have been their best record after twenty-two years. So it came as an even more expectations-defying move when their second post-hiatus album might be even better.  Everything Is Alive finds the shoegaze demigods offering the same ethereal guitar-scapes they helped pioneer, but this time adding a hefty helping of synths and loops. It’s the most propulsive record they’ve ever released, without breaking the spell of their lush dreaminess. -Nat Fitzgerald

SPACESHIPS – Ruins

SPACESHIPS make an important musical statement in the world of post-rock/post-hardcore on their latest album Ruins. The record is dense, atmospheric, and multi-layered. There are a lot of interesting elements to mine. But just as enjoyable is experiencing it all at once and allowing the sonic landscape to envelop you. The lyrics dive into themes of faith, interpersonal turmoil, and life after the pandemic (although it is not a pandemic-centric album). And it challenges the politicization of religion. “Measure” is easily a top five track of the year for me. -Alex Dye

Spotlights – Alchemy for the Dead

This Pittsburgh trio has been churning out their absolutely massive brand of… dreamsludge? Sludgegaze? For the better part of a decade, and with alarming consistency. Alchemy For the Dead finds them kicking into high gear, adding elements of trip hop, industrial, and even some straight forward rock and roll to their already massive sound. It’s perfectly suited to position Spotlights as the metal breakout act they’ve deserved to be for so long. -Nat Fitzgerald

Sujfan Stevens – Javelin

The album begins with a deep inhale before Stevens’ launches into “Evergreen,” an incredibly sad and poignant opening track. The inhale cues the listener to prepare for what comes next. Javelin is a devastating album, on the same plain as Carrie and Lowell. It is dedicated to Steven’s late partner Evan Richardson, who passed away earlier this year. Javelin invites the listener to witness the beauty of their love and walk alongside Stevens in his grief and pain.  Musically, it blends the folk-pop of classic albums like Seven Swans and Michigan with the electronic impulses on Age of Adz. Javelin serves as the perfect bridge between these two disparate sides of Stevens’ catalog. Javelin is a beautifully intimate experience, a eulogy, and a gift. -Alex Dye

Svalbard – The Weight of the Mask

This British outfit has made quite a name for themselves, combining post hardcore, metal, and shoegaze into one molten alloy so intricately combined that it’s impossible to draw a line between any of their elements. The Weight of the Mask is the heaviest thing they’ve done, both musically and lyrically. Crushing riffs and relentless drum grooves feud as the vocals scream through battles with mental illness. It’s as devastating sonically as it is emotionally, without being too unbearable to bear witness to. -Nat Fitzgerald

Teenage Wrist – Still Love

The shadow of ‘90s alt rock will likely stretch on to the collapse of civilization. As long as electric guitars, fuzz pedals, and the means to record them will exist, angst-ridden youths will find their way to the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, HUM, and others. Teenage Wrist has been paying tribute to these ‘90s heroes for a while now, but on Still Love, they pay homage to teenage influences that are a little less critic-approved—and yeah, I’m talking about the 311 feature. But Teenage Wrist’s complete embrace of the formative sounds of their youth also leads to moments reminiscent of Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, and Massive Attack, all wrapped up in a sound that’s too infectious to resist. -Nat Fitzgerald

To Kill Achilles – Recovery

I almost wrote this album off due to the band name (it grew on me), but upon diving deeper the vocal delivery absolutely captivated me. It was reminiscent of Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest era As Cities Burn and/or Shane Ochsner (Hands, Everything In Slow Motion). It is equally visceral and honest, touching on subjects that are often left out of the hardcore scene (i.e.; miscarriage). It is this approach that gives the album so much depth and complexity.

Favorite Track: “Blue” -Phil Hawkins

Widower – Alone As a God

After internal drama and a global pandemic threatened to destroy HarborLights, the core duo reformed as Widower and released Alone as a God. Originally intended as the second HarborLights LP, Alone as a God takes the glimmers of metal of their first record and makes them the main focus. The resulting record mixes post rock, shoegaze, sludge metal, space rock, and hardcore into a spellbinding sonic narrative that demands repeated listens. -Nat Fitzgerald

Zulu – A New Tomorrow

“Hey yo, it’s Zulu in this bitch.” This declarative statement kicks open the door on one of the heaviest albums of 2023. One of the forerunners of the new school of hardcore bands, Zulu makes a big statement on their first full-length. Like last year’s Soul Glo release Diaspora Problems, Zulu has a message for Black America, from Black America. Perhaps because of the style, perhaps because of the content, this record comes across as even more angry and aggressive. Zulu incorporates a variety of interesting samples amongst their mix of powerviolence, reggae, jazz, and even hip-hop. A New Tomorrow is to hardcore what Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was to hip-hop, incorporating social commentary and experimental takes on the genre. Don’t sleep on Zulu, they’ve got something to say, and they know how to say it in a way that transcends many of their contemporaries in hardcore. -Alex Dye

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