Jonathon's Favourite Albums of 2023

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Hey HTZ Nation, it’s Jonathon here, appreciate you hanging with me through the holiday season. It’s been another year filled with great music and some fantastic new releases! I’ve looked over everyone’s “Top 50 albums” and “Best new songs of 2023” lists and I have my own to share. I don’t believe in “Best” because it’s music, if you like it, you like it, and if you don’t, it doesn’t make it not good. So, we’ll call this my favourite albums of 2023. I’ll start with the album I’ve probably listened to most this year. 

Bully – Lucky For You

Bully is the musical project from Alicia Bognanno, a musical engineer who interned for legendary producer and engineer in his own right Steve Albini. Bognanno formed Bully in 2013, and now a decade into things, the project just keeps getting better. Lucky For You is reflective lyrically, as Bognanno writes her way through the loss of her dog, her relationship struggles and the treatment of women by the country she calls home. Musically, the instrumentals are fuzzed out, at times riding the line between heavy and light. Bognanno adds lush vocal harmonies that lift the songs to higher place. The whole record is fantastic, but Change Your Mind is probably the song I love most. Give it a listen by clicking here

The Dirty Nil – Free Rein to Passions

When your favourite band puts out a new record, chances are it’s going to be one of your favourite releases of the year. That was certainly the case for me with Free Rein to Passions. The Dirty Nil just don’t miss. Turbo charged and loud rock n roll guitar riffs, songs of rebellion, freedom and questioning what lies beyond this mortal world. It helps I got to hear a few of these songs at a show late in 2022 so I knew to expect more awesome tunes, but it’s always nice when a band you love delivers. There is probably no better place to start with this album than its opener “Celebration”. Check it out here.

Foo Fighters – But Here We Are

It’s been a rough few years for the whole world, but Dave Grohl faced unimaginable loss in 2022. Not only did he lose his drumming soul mate and long-time Foo Fighter’s member Taylor Hawkins, but Dave’s mother also passed away. Through that turbulent time, Dave came through with some of his best song writing in years and Foo Fighter’s returned to form with maybe their best album in over a decade. “The Glass” and “The Teacher” are incredibly personal songs for Grohl, that see the band rise to gravity of the subject matter. While “Under You” is an instant classic that I have loved since the first moment I heard it. A song that grew on me and brought me back to the band’s “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace” album is “Nothing At All” Check it out here

Paramore – This Is Why

With Emo and Pop Punk back in fashion, Paramore capitalized with a return to rock of sorts. After more leaning more into the pop world on previous outings, Hayley Williams and crew took what they learned, and made a record that sounds much more like a band playing their instruments in studio. The rhythm section grooves hard, guitar lines are intricate and beautiful and Williams’ voice as strong as ever. Thoroughly loved the direction the band took and hope it’s a path they continue in the future. Give a listen to the title track

Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS

Speaking of pop, I’m sure many HTZ Nation folks would not expect to see this album on my favourites of the year. However, Olivia Rodrigo is putting out some of the best 90’s/early 2000’s alternative inspired pop music going. Her voice is stunning, with equal parts rage and tenderness on display. The lyrics are incredibly witty, to the point I can’t help but smirk because of the jabs at exes taken or even herself and her behaviour as she navigates exiting her teens as pop sensation. The production of the record is fantastic, sounding real, raw, and outside of the realm of most pop stars who started as Disney performers. It might be a bold take, but I think this might be the “Jagged Little Pill” to a whole generation. Give a listen to the track “bad idea, right?” about ditching friends for an encounter with an ex. 

City & Colour – The Love Still Held Me Near

Dallas Green has been a busy guy. Alexisonfire released a new record in 2022 and have been touring throughout the world ever since. But Dallas still found time to work on a new City & Colour record, that is among his best sounding. The lyrical content is filled with talk of loss and grief after a close friend to the band passed away. Musically, the albums guitar work is next level. It’s not necessarily about complexity or intricacy, but more the sound of the instruments. They shimmer, they shine, they can be tender, and they can be cutting, much like Dallas’ words themselves. There is beauty in loss, and this is as beautiful a record as I can recall hearing last year. The title track opens with a lovely instrumental section that leads into some lovely vocals from Dallas. Check it out here.

K. Flay – Mono 

Suddenly waking up completely deaf in one ear would be a nightmare for anyone. For a musician, it could mean the dream has come to an end. That’s the fear K. Flay dealt with leading up to her 2023 release “Mono”. After a viral infection caused the artist to go deaf in her right ear, the singer went through a long process of therapy that was ultimately unsuccessful. She persisted on and battled to return to the stage and making music, and what a triumphant return this record was. Obviously, her experience with hearing loss was big influence on the album’s lyrics, but also with how it was mixed. This is K. Flay’s finest work since her breakthrough 2017 album “Every Where is Some Where”. Give a listen to the track “Shy” here.

 

The Penske File – Half Glow

Ever have a band be completely under your nose the whole time, but you’ve never really listened to them? That is exactly how I would describe Burlington’s The Penske File. I love my southern Ontario bands, especially ones with a strong Rock and Roll edge and great song writing. I’ve seen this band on tour posters or tagged in tweets from my other favourite bands giving them praise, but I never seemed to find their music. That was until I saw them back in November at a Stomp Records anniversary show, where I was completely blown away. The guitars rang out like chapel chimes, the drums pounding and meaningful, and energetic bass playing that matched the man franticly dancing around the stage with the instrument hanging on for dear life. All three members took turns providing vocals for anthemic songs that landed somewhere between Springsteen or Petty, and Against Me! Or The Gaslight Anthem. I’m still discovering this bands catalogue, and I hope to catch them live again soon, but from what I’ve heard, I think the song “Chorus Girl” will give you a good sense of what the Burlington three piece are all about! Listen here.

Single Mothers – Roy

Released roughly 6 months after 2022’s “Everything You Need”, this album sees the southern Ontario Punk outfit continue down the path of straight-ahead song writing. On “Roy”, Single Mothers still have their punk spirit, but this version of the band can channel that energy into a catchier, cleaner, and overall, more appealing sound that showcase front man Drew Thomson’s poetic and raw lyrics about the world he finds himself in. It’s a short listen, but enjoyable all the same. My favorite from the album is “(Moonlight) On Sunset) which kicks off with an overdriven bass part that will instantly hook you. You can hear it here.

Jeff Rosenstock – Hell Mode 

I always feel validated when albums I love are critical darlings as well. Youtuber Anthony Fantano, the self-proclaimed “Internet’s busiest music nerd” called this the best album of 2023. I first became aware of Jeff Rosenstock when he toured with Toronto band PUP in 2014. Since then, I have been checking out each one of his numerous releases. This to me is the best of the best, and the culmination of nearly 30 years of being involved in Punk and Metal music. Opening track “WILL U STILL U” sets a pretty good tone and is one of the best examples of what Rosenstock is all about. Listen here

 

Thanks for reading and cheers to more awesome new records in 2024. Connect with me on Instagram, Tik Tok, Threads and X @jonathononair to talk music with me anytime.

Happy New Year!

 

- Jonathon Howe