Jon’s Top 10 Albums of 2023

Just as I was happy last year to see the lockdown in the rearview, I’m happy to leave 2023 behind. But not without bringing a few records with me. There was a lot of great stuff released this year and I wish I could write about all of it. But I’ll spare you. This list is going to be plenty-long as is. Let’s not waste any more time.


All That She Wants
Cartridge Heart

I promised myself I’d only do one of these, so let’s get it out of the way. Full disclosure: “All That She Wants” was released on Go Kick-Ass! – a compilation I played a part in – so I have a vested interest in talking about this track. I’m giving myself a pass because I knew this cover of everyone’s favourite Swedish Euro-Reggae 90’s dance club pop sensation Ace of Base was a banger from the first time I heard Hysterics play it live. Everyone loves a good cover, but it’s even better when a band can take a universally recognized hit song and truly make it their own.

Glitch Kingdom
Millstone Mayhem

Sydney, Australia’s Glitch Kingdom announced their presence in 2023 with a pair of singles: “Millstone Mayhem” and “Candy’s Save Point.” Both clear references to Donkey Kong Country – a beloved Super Nintendo game from the 90’s. Not unlike the sensation of walking into a video arcade for the first time, the songs are loud, flashy and hard to focus on. Millstone Mayhem, the stronger of the two, is packed full of great melodies, memorable riffs and bounces constantly from one style to the next. If you like your pop-punk a little bit mathy, this is the path for you.


Mip Power Trio

Mip Power Trio’s latest EP Jacked was recorded during the pandemic and released in the dead of winter. A tribute to their late friend Darren Hutz; they performed and recorded three of his songs; each one a distinct expression from a man too aware that life is capable of unspeakable cruelty.

The title track “Jacked” – a sea shanty of sorts – laments incessant construction in Toronto as it reconfigures what was a beautiful city into a commodified dead-space. Rock ’n roll number “Beer League” is a defiant battle-cry from an independent performer trying to be heard. The folky “Aches and Pains” is a ledger of the ways Hutz’s body betrayed him before he succumbed to illness. It’s a tough listen. But only because Mip is able to encapsulate his struggle so well.

Jacked is a powerful experience. Partially because it is such a loving tribute. The trio – all pros – get the dynamics of each story (and each song is definitely a story) across perfectly. But it’s also just a great rock record with songs that have literally proven to endure.

The Bare Minimum

The pandemic was a tough time to be creative. I barely picked up my guitar the first two years (and when I did it was to play Moist and Finger Eleven covers). Turns out The Bare Minimum’s principal songwriter Cam Gray had a similar conundrum. To break free of his writer’s block he devoted himself to writing songs about Nicolas Cage movies.

If you’re thinking to yourself “peak Cage-mania is over” you are incorrect. It is always peak Cage-mania.

The four song Uncaged spans “National Treasure”, “Con Air”, “Bangkok Dangerous” and “Leaving Las Vegas”. I choose “Con Air” as the best of the bunch, but here I am incorrect – they are all the best.

The first three tracks stick pretty closely to The Bare Minimum’s formula of fast ’n furious punk/metal bangers complementing Gray’s full-throated vocal approach. The finale veers into mid-tempo territory but is anchored by a huge melodic riff.

A physical version of the EP is available via the band’s Bandcamp page and includes a bonus side of demos (“The Wicker Man”, “Snake Eyes”, “Mandy”, “Ghost Rider”, “Drive Angry”) All rippers here too.

We can only hope the Cage-concept is revisited in the future with an emphasis on Cage’s rom-coms. The Bare Minimum, make it happen!

Top 10 Albums of 2023

The Other One
Babymetal Records

For the uninitiated, Babymetal is a global phenomenon that combines the excesses of modern metal and Japanese idol pop music. The Other One trades in the experimentation of 2019’s ambitious Metal Galaxy for darkness and melodrama played out through thick detuned nu-metal riffs and synth-work that would make Linkin Park proud. Vocalists Su-metal and Moametal are once again in fine form and able to carry each track with pitch-perfect performances.

While I miss the goofiness that littered previous releases (though “Time Wave” wouldn’t stand out too much in a club megamix), I can appreciate the effort made into making songs like “Metal Kingdom” and “Divine Attack” the sweeping epics that they are. If heavy, glossy, cinematic power ballads sung entirely in Japanese sounds like something you’d be into, you owe it to yourself to give The Other One a listen.

Explosions In The Sky
Temporary Residence

After 24 years, five movie soundtracks and seven full-lengths (this one marks #8), Explosions In The Sky released End into the world. It was a bittersweet experience for me grabbing this off the shelf at my local record store. They had a good run, right?

Fortunately for me (and everyone else) Explosions In The Sky isn’t going anywhere. End is merely a concept album about death (literal death or the death of a relationship – take your pick). It successfully picks up where 2016’s The Wilderness left off – expanding EITS’s sonic palette with electronic flourishes and bits of piano, though decidedly not as adventurous as its predecessor. Opener “Ten Billion People” will seem somewhat familiar to fans of early records like The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place but for its immediacy and speedy tempo. Another standout “The Fight” builds tension through an ominous repeating guitar line before bursting into a crescendo. Post-rock fans will rightly point out “that’s literally the formula of post-rock” but when it works, it works.

If you’re interested in Explosions In The Sky’s brand of instrumental, ultra-sad, quiet/loud dynamics – End might not necessarily be the best place to start – but it also needn’t be the last stop on your journey.

Psychic Void
Cemetery Eyes

I really liked Windsor four-piece Psychic Void’s last album – Skeleton Paradise, so it was with great delight that I downloaded their new release Cemetery Eyes from Bandcamp (as far as I know it’s only available as a digital purchase). Psychic Void borrows equally from psych, hardcore and post-punk. “Brat Boy” plays out like a Bad Brains record playing through a broken stereo from the bottom of a well. The title track answers the question “what would Sonic Youth sound like as a surf band?” My personal fav – “Wash It Down” is propelled by a fuzzy monster bass and dissonant guitar riffs. Cemetery Eyes topped the charts on campus radio in Windsor. It’s time for the rest of us to get in on Psychic Void.

Night Demon
Century Media

Night Demon arrived in 2011 as part of the “New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal” movement: a revival of the style made famous by bands like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Judas Priest. Their latest offering – Outsider – will appeal to anyone who has ever felt the urge to sew an Iron Maiden patch to their jacket, though bassist/vocalist Jarvis Leatherby is more Di’Anno than Dickinson in his delivery.

Outsider is a concept record based on a movie script written by Leatherby and comes with all the trimmings one would expect. Melodramatic intro track? (“Prelude”) Check. Sweeping epics? (“Beyond The Grave”, “The Wrath”) Check. Melodramatic dark night of the soul power ballad? (“A Wake”) Check.

As a trio, Night Demon delivers a leaner package than most heavy metal revivalists, but the riffs are memorable and the groove hits just right.

Doghouse Rose
Stomp Records

Doghouse Rose’s fourth release (and second on Montreal label Stomp) Unlearn finds them shedding their rockabilly skin and fully embracing pop-punk. The result is their most immediate and accessible release to date. Singer/guitarist Sarah Beth Rose has always had a voice best suited for lite fare and takes like a fish to water in cheeky numbers like “Don’t Be An Asshole” or “Jacob’s Sweater”.

Pop-punk waters have always made for a crowded pond, but Doghouse Rose manages to rise above with memorable songs and spectacular showmanship. Bassist Jefferson Sheppard, drummer Jordan Zagerman and guitarist Garrick Zagerman (Jordan’s cousin) play like a well-oiled machine. It’s a remarkably consistent record with one high-speed banger after another (save for mid-tempo power ballad “Reality” and fast-tempo power ballad/personal fav “One Day At A Time”)

Love Songs of the Burnt Out Summer Lovers

Upstart London trio Lovers have been making waves in the 519 area for a few years now with their high-energy live show. Love Songs of the Burnt Out Summer Lovers follows 2022’s Punk Lust Romantics and 2021’s Live In Studio 7. All three efforts are self-recorded and self-released. The biggest challenge that faces the self-described “psychedelic peace-punks” is capturing the mayhem from the stage and translating it to tape.

For the most part, the latest release is a success. Frontman/bassist Thomas Smithson howls like a man possessed on “Sunburn”. Guitarist Adam Woolard’s guitar buzzes and screeches in all the right places on “Beaches”. Drummer Will Gosso bashes away with bombast on opener “Surfs Up”. The only thing missing is the sensation that your head is going to explode while listening – which means Lovers on-stage is still a must-watch. Don’t sleep on this band.

Joan Smith & The Jane Does
Do Me Some Harm

To describe Do Me Some Harm as Joan Smith’s debut LP is a bit of a misnomer. First of all, Smith introduced herself to the world fronting Little Foot Long Foot (who had a track included in Orange Is the New Black). This project: Smith alongside collaborator Tom Juhas released the Normalize EP way back in 2018 – seemingly a lifetime ago.

Second of all, as a reaction to the changing nature of how music is consumed (and a worldwide pandemic) Smith and Juhas released what would become the back half of Do Me Some Harm one song at a time between 2020 and 2021. The front half assembled some time later with some help from Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age). The result is a best-of-both-worlds scenario. The pandemic singles capture the raw visceral energy of Smith’s live performances. The slick front half provides a more polished sound.

The resulting package is a sampling of salt ’n vinegar garage rock ’n rollers that wear their influences on their sleeves. Smith channels Jack White on opener “Irrational Anthem” while big stompers “Pull” and “Karaoke” evoke certain songs for the deaf.

The piece de resistance is the title track “Harm.” With lush majesty only hinted at on-stage, it demands the listener’s full attention. Find a comfortable seat. Put on some headphones. Close your eyes. Lose yourself.

Royal Mountain

We’re living in a golden age of engineering. Doritos – the high watermark for snacking – is designed to stimulate as many pleasure receptors in the brain as possible. We’re powerless against it. Resistance is futile.

Similarly, through the use of technology, it is possible to create pop music with the same intent. Personally, I like my pop music with a little bit of misery mixed in. Enter: Dizzy.

I feel the same way about opening track “Birthmark” as I do about Doritos. It may not be great to my longterm health to be binging on a track about heartbreak, but I can’t be helped.

The rest of the release is highlighted by similar sad songs clad in dream-pop pastels. I find myself putting dour affairs “Jaws” and “Barking Dog” on repeat. It’s 3AM. My eyes are bloodshot. There are crumbs everywhere.

This record needs a warning label.

Obey Robots
One In A Thousand
My Big Sister Recordings

Obey Robots first appeared in 2021. The project – a collaboration between guitarist Rat (Ned’s Atomic Dustbin) and singer/multi-instrumentalist Laura Kidd (She Makes War, Penfriend) – released a two-song single – “Let It Snow” – a straight-forward rocker and its b-side “Inside Out” an acoustic ballad accompanied by lush strings that managed to overshadow its a-side.

Full-length One In A Thousand delivers on the promise “Let It Snow” hinted at tenfold. It’s a slick collection of melodic rockers with huge hooks and sweeping soundscapes. “Not The Quiet Type” kicks off the album with energy aplomb. “Let It Snow” appears at track 9. “Inside Out” is sadly left out in the cold, but supplanted by the frankly superior “Glitter To Dust”. Single “Porcupine”, released alongside a video featuring the duo in shiny cardboard costumes, is one of the best songs of the year.

Ned’s fans will find this release more fulfilling than the other splinter projects that have appeared over the past 25 years or so (just know this project is more Brainbloodvolume than God Fodder which is fine by me). She Makes War fans already know what they’re getting with Kidd, but will be delighted by Rat’s memorable guitar work.

The Cola-Heads
Bottoms Up!
Cursed Blessings

I’ve been following Toronto punks The Cola Heads for a few years now. Their self-titled debut EP established them as a high-octane package of piss and fury. Follow-up 7” Die Young followed suit but with more realized songs and more memorable melodies. After an eight-year layoff, 2023 release Bottoms Up! takes things up yet another notch.

The 10-track full-length finds the quartet experimenting with synths, saxes and guitar soundscapes (tasteful use of a delay pedal can work wonders – refer to “Demon Let Me Go”, “Killer Bee”). Frontman Julian Swift sinks his fangs into venom-fuelled bile (“Pop Up”, “Be My Predator”), clap-along-pop (“I Don’t Wanna Go”) and the most unassuming love song you may ever hear (album highlight “Kayleigh”).

It all comes together as a wonderfully cohesive lo-fi ear-worm that sacrifices none of the aforementioned piss or fury and establishes Bottoms Up! as an exciting and consistent album that belongs in any collection.

NOTE: Hysterics’s “All That She Wants” isn’t on Spotify. Give it a listen on Bandcamp