Features
Year-End Record Roundup

Year-End Record Roundup

My Most Intoxicating (Vinyl) Six-Pack of 2023

When the “smart” writers drop their annual, year-end record roundup features, proclaiming the “best” of any particular year, most of us roll our eyes and offer such heartfelt reactions as, “BULLSHIT!” and “SAYS WHO?” Let’s face it, what fuels one guy’s private freak-on, is to someone else, just an average 50-pluser in pigtails, a plaid skirt, and knee socks. I always get an extra personal kick out of those aforementioned year-end features because to make such sweeping statements (even if actually qualified), the writers would have to locate and listen to every record in the galaxy produced during that year. Ugh, hardly realistic.

Additionally, life is all about personal relationships. Even our connection to music reflects deeply personal experiences. But as with any healthy relationship, both parties need to be present. Honestly, being “involved” with music digitally just doesn’t satisfy my needs as effectively as taking a “romp” with a physical music source. It’s kinda like engaging with an inflatable chick vs. a real-life babe. While the former will it get the “job” done, the latter is often WAY more rewarding.

Consuming and then creating commentary on music is what I do, year ‘round. And I’ve been doing it for decades now. But still, what speaks to me is no more valid than what speaks to that creepy guy wearing the spaghetti-stained TOOL T-shirt, lurking outside my house behind the rusted Ford minivan.

The proceeding records weren’t assigned to me for review. They’re records I discovered and pursued quite naturally, like rolling up on that mysterious gal sitting at the end of the bar whose eyes say, “Come down here and buy me a drink, you well-groomed older gentleman.” That “flirting” process typically involves me seeking out an album track or two on the YouTube. Then, if I’m feeling the right vibe, I’ll jump over and grab the full record on iTunes, because I buy artists’ work. Then, if I’m really into where the relationship is going, I’ll head out to my preferred local record dealer and order another copy (or two) on (oft-colored) vinyl, because that’s how the good Lord intended music to be enjoyed.

In sum, it would be downright dumb and an incredible, irresponsible over-reach to suggest that these are the “best” records of 2023. Hence, my mission here merely is to celebrate, to share with like-minded enthusiasts, the personally intoxicating, crunchy and punchy, song-based VINYL six-pack that commandeered my turntable most frequently and spoke to me the loudest in 2023. Dig, if you will!

• •

1. Santa Chiara – IMPORTED (Kill Rock Stars)

Santa Chiara, Imported
photo by Christopher Long
Santa Chiara, Imported

So, I write for Ink 19, But I also read Ink 19. While scrolling through the site a few weeks ago, I stumbled across Bob Pomeroy’s November 1 review of IMPORTED, the full-length debut record from singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chiara D’Anzieri (aka Santa Chiara). The album cover grabbed my attention, pronto. Then, I read Bob’s piece. Chiara seemed to be totally up my alley, stylistically. So, I checked out a couple of her videos. Holy shit! This MIGHT be amazing! Then, I hopped over to iTunes and bought the full record. Holy shit! This IS amazing! Lickety-split, I contacted my local record dealer and ordered a copy on beautiful translucent pink vinyl. Holy shit! SO amazing!

A transparent diary-type account of Chiara’s fairly recent move from Italy to the States, IMPORTED embodies everything that’s ever appealed to me about authentic indie music — minimal, sparse, lo-fi, unpretentious, yet powerful. Her lyrics are engaging. Her melodies are irresistible. And her musicianship — superb. Simply put, Santa Chiara is an all-around artist — honest and pure. Her music brings me joy — it shoots sunshine through my soul. In sum, IMPORTED — come for the chirping birds. Stay for everything else.

• •

2. Best Ex – With a Smile (Iodine Records / Alcopop!)

Best Ex, With a Smile
photo by Christopher Long
Best Ex, With a Smile

If catchy hooks and irresistible melodies were legal currency, Mariel Loveland could outspend any of today’s most affluent stadium financiers. I was first thwacked back by the New Jersey-based singer-songwriter in 2015 when I caught her performing with her former band, Candy Hearts, at Vans Warped Tour, while promoting their record, All the Ways You Let Me Down. Literally, within their FIRST song, my passion for modern-day music was reignited, 100%. Now fronting her solo project, Best Ex, Loveland dropped a doozie of a full-length debut last fall. Her official press release sums up the record best; “With a Smile” is full of sardonic emo-tinged indie-pop songs about breakup and heartache. An absolute treasure, I bought TWO copies of With a Smile: one on orange / blue vinyl and an iTunes copy. BTW, as long as she keeps her chops sharp and continues dating only “stupid boys,” Loveland absolutely will “outspend” the competition in perpetuity.

• •

3. Olivia Jean – Raving Ghost (Third Man)

Olivia Jean, Raving Ghost
photo by Christopher Long
Olivia Jean, Raving Ghost

In short, Raving Ghost is a spunky little stinger. And while the street-smart songs insist that the record live out in the garage, the polished production and massive musicianship demand more suitable accommodations. When leaning on chunky guitars, the record christens the tallest stall. However, when it leans on bubbly keyboards, it squats to pee. Fortunately, it pisses FAR more frequently than it tinkles. A fuzzy, buzzy, (generally) down-n-dirty delight, Raving Ghost scratches ALL the right itches. I bought THREE copies: two on “missionary position” black vinyl and an iTunes copy.

Read my FULL review

• •

4. Black Honey – A Fistful of Peaches (Foxfive)

Black Honey, A Fistful of Peaches
photo by Christopher Long
Black Honey, A Fistful of Peaches

This was another fantastic, unexpected find. Late last summer, one of my morning honeys at my neighborhood java joint turned me on to her personal Spotify playlist. While subsequently going down that seemingly endless audio rabbit trail, I came across Black Honey. I was hooked immediately. As someone who believes that Spotify is a platform for lazy cheapskates with commitment issues, I bought the UK-based combo’s entire latest album, A Fistful of Peaches off iTunes, promptly. I was so knocked out, the next day, I went down to my local record dealer and ordered another copy on super-fun-looking, sorta melted Creamsicle vinyl. In sum, Black Honey is my kinda rock band. And A Fistful of Peaches is my kinda rock record. It’s crunchy, yet poppy. It gives ya a lil’ hug, while punching ya right in the dick sack. That’s an endorsement, BTW.

• •

5. Descartes a Kant – After Destruction (Cleopatra)

Descartes a Kant, After Destruction
photo by Christopher Long
Descartes a Kant, After Destruction

Remaining true to the band’s intriguing and innovative rep, After Destruction is a bold concept record — a proverbial piñata packed with big and blingy, crisp and crunchy sonic treats and treasures. Driven by droning guitars and coated with cotton-candy-flavored cray-cray vocals, the record is an intoxicating seduction — kinda like Ziggy colliding with Zappa outside a Dresden Dolls after-show party — a brave triumph at a time when too many pop-rock records lack that kind of courage. I bought THREE copies: two on “pretty in pink” vinyl and an iTunes copy.

Read my FULL review.

• •

6. Locate S,1 – Wicked Jaw (Captured Tracks)

Locate S,1, Wicked Jaw
photo by Christopher Long
Locate S,1, Wicked Jaw

If ya ain’t gots songs, ya ain’t gots jack. And with her latest record, Christina Schneider (aka Locate S,1) proves (again) she does in fact, “gots songs” — and pretty freakin’ good ones, at that. Wicked Jaw covers A LOT of stylistic real estate, combining modern-day mystique and new-wave bounce with a smidge of go-go girl guitar and a splash of schizoid jazz. I bought THREE copies: one on blue vinyl, one on orange vinyl, and an iTunes copy.

Read my FULL review.

Santa ChairaBest ExOlivia JeanBlack HoneyDescartes a KantLocate S,1


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