Much like last year, I didn't stray far from the pop music I love (although I was listening to the new Metallica album more than a few times on those bad days). I just needed "comfort food" to get me through, and there was plenty of that in 2023. But anyway, here you go...
#1 Smash: The Singles 1985-2020 — Pet Shop Boys
I don't generally put compilation albums in my year-end wrap-up, but this one simply could not be denied. Pet Shop Boys is one of my all-time favorite bands, and this is a super-set of their best music. I already own every album they have released, so the first thing I did was create a playlist of the Smash setlist. Though some of the singles were "new versions," that had me exploiting my Apple Music subscription to hear. Interestingly enough, many of my most favorite PSB songs, like The Way it Used to Be and Dreaming of the Queen and The Survivors and The End of the World and Up Against It and others were never released as singles, thus aren't on this compilation. Regardless, it was my favorite album of 2023 by a long shot, and reliving these songs was an amazing experience for Pet Heads.
#2 i/o — Peter Gabriel
As a longtime Peter Gabriel fan, I was intrigued when rumors of a new album started leaking very soon after Up was released in 2002. Apparently Gabriel had so many songs left over from that project that he was planning on a follow-up album in 2004. Then, NEARLY TWENTY YEARS LATER, we finally get a new album. And it was weirdly-handled. Instead of releasing it in January 2023, Gabriel dropped a new single on every full moon... with an alternate mix of the same song the following full moon. It got to the point where I forgot about the releases and any momentum for the album fizzled. UNTIL Jester took me to see the i/o tour on October 9th. Weirdly, the entirety of the album was played in this epic-length live show, making it the first time I had heard the actual album. And then on December 1st, the two albums of two different mixes was released, and it leapt to one of my favorite albums of the year. A lot of that has to do with me thinking back to the concert, but the songs are just darn good on top of that.
#3 In the End it Always Does — The Japanese House
I was completely unaware of Amber Bain until she collaborated with MUNA, and then I was immediately obsessed. Mostly because she could easily be a fourth member of MUNA, a band I love. This album is filled with lovely, haunting, easy-listening tracks that have interesting, simple melodies and a lyrical property that causes them to wash over you like warm gentle waves on a beach. Or wrapping around you like a warm blanket. Gorgeous from start to finish, this was an easy pick for my third favorite album of 2023.
#4 The Show — Niall Horan
Color me shocked. One of the members of One Direction who is not Harry Styles actually released a darn good album (well, with the exception of the song You Could Start a Cult, which... WTF?!?). While it's true that nothing on this album is overly-challenging or groundbreaking, it's still solid songwriting with some great tracks that I ended up playing a lot over the Summer. And just writing about it makes me want to give it another spin. I can't give much better endorsement than that.
#5 Endless Summer Vacation — Miley Cyrus
I must admit that every time Miley releases a new album that gets critical praise I have the smug satisfaction of knowing that I was a fan since Day One. And here she comes with another fantastic collection of songs that takes full advantage of her breathy vocals while actually trying to say something. Not feeling the need to scream to the cheap seats or rip into a track like it owes her money or unleash shock value, Endless Summer Vacation is a mature effort that's really satisfying for longtime fans.
#6 Cracker Island — Gorillaz
Gorillaz is one of those stunt bands that can actually back up their antics with incredible music. And this latest is more of the same... but with a few tricks tossed in for good measure (collaborations with Tame Impala, Bad Bunny, Beck, and STEVIE NICKS??). I listened to the album on repeat too many times, but you can hardly blame me when beautiful tracks like Silent Running (with Adeleye Omotayo) kept getting stuck in my head. Interestingly, the main release was a scant ten tracks, but they released a "Deluxe" version with another five more experimental tracks that are far more disposable (with the exception of the bared down version of Silent Running, which is great).
#7 Something to Give Each Other — Troye Sivan
I've enjoyed random tracks by Sivan, and some of those songs I've absolutely loved (You is on half my playlists)... but listening to a full album from the guy has always been rough for me because he strayed in directions that lost me. Turns out that third time is a charm, because this time the album is flawless from start to finish.
#8 Bauhaus Staircase — Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark
If you were to jettison a lot of the more experimental stuff from their early years, OMD actually has a darn good catalog of songs. Add to that the fact that the band has been going for a long time and... well... they've got a heck of a lot of music I love. But it was the release of History of Modern in 2010 that made me took another look at the band. OMD had been releasing a lot of good music, but this was such a fantastic album that I underwent a kind of OMD renaissance. Bauhaus Staircase a step down from the past three albums, but still a good listen with some excellent hallmark OMD tracks.
#9 Hold — Wild Nothing
If breezy fun synth-pop is your jam, have I got an album for you! Jack Turner has been cranking out some wonderful tracks for the past 13 years as "Wild Nothing" and manages to not deviate from formula while always sounding fresh. He had me from the first time I heard Chinatown off his first album Gemini... and has held me right up to this latest album in 2023. Everything is just solid, well-crafted, and listenable, as usual, and I wish he would get recognized with some song placement on any number of television shows, which would be perfect. These songs can go anywhere in anything.
#10 Council Skies — Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
During their time in Oasis, Noel and Liam Gallagher had a controversial run that resulted in some amazing music. But it all came to a very public end, and you had to wonder if their success and talent was fueled by their numerous clashes and fights. Turns out that wasn't the case, because they've both gone on to further success. Noel's latest is built around a rich sound that makes everything feel as though it harkens back to a time when music was made in a different way. Like Beatles-era, if that makes any sense. The Deluxe version has instrumental versions of tracks, remixes by the like of Pet Shop Boys and Robert Smith(!), and some nice extras that are worth a listen.
#11 Memento Mori — Depeche Mode
There's nothing more frustrating than being a Depeche Mode fan from the very beginning. If that's you, then it's likely you feel the band's best days are long gone, and everything after Alan Wilder departed following Songs of Faith and Devotion is not even the same band. I don't go quite that far... there were some post-Wilder albums I loved... but the never-ending theme of "redemption" on every fucking song became so very, very tired, and I positively hated the past two albums (Delta Machine and Spirit). Then fandom was sent into shock when Fletch died, and it felt extremely likely the band was done. Except they weren't, and Mememto Mori is the result. Half of the album is a holdover from the past two that I don't even want to listen to... but then there's some glimmers of the old band in a few tracks to make me happy that they released the album. Before We Drown is one of my favorite DM songs in a decade. And the tracks People Are Good and Ghosts Again just... work.
#12 DANSE MACABRE — Duran Duran
This is a strange throwback not to early Duran Duran (which I would have loved), but instead to a post-punk sensibility that puts being weird above being popular. Half the songs I like for real... half I kinda-like because they are just such a different turn for the band. But ultimately this is a bit of a low in the up-and-down cycle of Duran Duran, and I wish to God they would just give us a throwback album that recaptures those heady days of Girls on Film. But, then again, I could say that about so many bands from the 80's that have hung around.
MOST UNLIKELY FAVORITE NON-ALBUM FROM 2023...
Jake Hill's Country Music alter-ego, Dixon Dallas, could be a big joke... or it could be a serious attempt to carve out a musical niche in a very crowded field. Likely it's a bit of both. Whatever the case, the sexually-charged gay lyrics are layered on top of some seriously good tracks, and I listened to the pile of singles that got released in 2023 far more than I would have if they had merely been some kind of attempt at bad shock value at the expense of gay lives.
NOTABLE OMISSION FROM 2022...
I love love love this Lauv song, All 4 Nothing (I'm So in Love), which came out in August of 2022 and I didn't even know about it until early this year...
OTHER MUSIC I WAS INTO FROM 2023...