Best of 2023

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time again. Time for me to reflect on all the music I listened to this year and write my longwinded diatribes on my thoughts and feelings about them. This exercise is primarily for me, though, as this is one of the few times I sit down and write anything pertaining to what’s going through my head. Since I think a lot about music, and it is often intertwined with a lot of my other thoughts, this is effectively a diary of my thoughts and emotions throughout the year.

This year, I’ve accompanied these reflections with AI-generated art for the featured graphics. The artwork is a pop-art explosion, representing an algorithm’s interpretation of some of my childhood memories – things reminiscent of superheroes or video game consoles. The portrayal of vinyl records is particularly spot-on. But let’s dive into the real topic at hand.

Looking back, 2023 was a standout year for pop-punk. We witnessed major names in the genre making triumphant returns, alongside a plethora of fantastic albums spanning from emerging bands to some of the world’s most renowned. This success, I believe, stems from the groundwork laid during the pandemic. Many musicians had time to write at home, drawing inspiration from ongoing global events. What stands out in this year’s album list is the sophisticated writing, moving beyond themes of sadness and relationships to encompass a broader range of human emotions, enhancing the music’s quality. There is a much richer tapestry being woven among the bands of this scene compared to two decades ago, when it was littered with bands that were carbon copies of each other. It’s a wonderful evolution to follow as a listener.

According to, my music listening this year was on par with last year in terms of tracks listened, but I focused on fewer artists, giving more playtime to the tracks and albums I really enjoyed. Additionally, several new releases from some of our household favorites quickly became staples on our road trip playlist. Consequently, I’m returning to a multi-day format this year to thoroughly discuss these albums without overwhelming you with an excessively long post. I’m eager to share my insights on this year’s music, so let’s start with the albums I feel I didn’t give enough attention to.

Honorable Mentions

This category is somewhat paradoxical, representing albums I wanted to appreciate more but, for various reasons, didn’t. When it comes to engaging with media, our initial impressions often guide our preferences. However, we sometimes challenge these snap judgments due to our feelings about the artist, peer opinions, or media portrayal. Sometimes we circle back to give the albums a better shot to earn our appreciation, but that’s not always the case.

That’s why I have this list of releases that I didn’t give enough time to, I didn’t like enough tracks from, or I didn’t see how they fit into the puzzle that is my listening landscape. Though this list could be longer, I want to highlight a few albums that didn’t make my top 10 but still deserve mention. In no particular order, here are my honorable mentions for 2023:

Knuckle Puck – Losing What We Love

Since their 2017 album Copacetic, Knuckle Puck’s journey has been marked by growing popularity and a quest for evolution. Their 2020 album, 20/20, struggled to make an impact amidst the pandemic, lacking the boost from their live shows. While their post-pandemic tours were successful, they didn’t achieve the explosive growth of bands like Hot Mulligan. Their 2022 EP “Disposable Life,” although solid, felt like a retread of past glories.

Losing What We Love, their latest album, shows Knuckle Puck exploring new depths. The album radiates the energy of their live performances and introduces a darker, more complex sound, particularly in tracks like “The Tower” and “Losing What We Love.” However, the album’s second half falls back into a more familiar, less adventurous territory. It represents a pivotal point for the band, showcasing their potential but not fully realizing it. The album will resonate with fans who cherish the band’s live energy, but its ability to draw in new listeners remains uncertain. At its best though, Losing What We Love is a significant step for Knuckle Puck, hinting at an exciting future direction.

Spanish Love Songs – No Joy

Initially, I found this album lackluster compared to their 2020 masterpiece Brave Faces Everyone (my favorite album for that year). After hearing how much other people enjoyed the album, I decided to give it a few more listens with a more open mind, and it really started to grow on me. Seeing them perform some of the tracks live a couple of weeks ago also helped me see the quality of the songs as well. It hasn’t reached the heights of other contenders on my list, but it deserves recognition.

Free Throw – Lessons That We Swear to Keep

What an awful title. It doesn’t even make sense. You don’t keep a lesson, you learn a lesson. You keep a promise. Those are all perfectly valid words, but in that order, they’re just nonsense.

Despite its confusing title, this album showcases the band’s talent for catchy hooks and singing fueled by raw emotion. I just don’t think I’ve ever been depressed enough to really, truly click entirely with a Free Throw album. In fact, if I ever get to the point where I feel like a Free Throw album really speaks to me, then it’s probably time to get back to a therapist. They put on a banger of a show though (probably because their fans count that as a therapy session).

Also, if you’re searching for this album on YouTube, don’t just search for “free throw lessons,” you can’t find it.

Heart Attack Man – Freak of Nature

It’s no secret, I’ve been on trying to enjoy a Heart Attack Man release for a long while, and this is the closest I’ve ever been to actually enjoying one of their albums. At one point, this album flirted with my top 10 list, but I just cannot get past some of the edgelord lyrics that they continue to write. Even saying that, I cannot deny some of the hooks on this album. There are things on this album that got stuck in my head for days or weeks. At their best, Heart Attack Man has really strong Chuck-era Sum 41 vibes, with a gritty, heavy style of pop-punk that is just fun to listen to. At their worst, they’re writing songs about presidential assassination attempts, bank robberies, and explosives. I know I said earlier that the lyrical soundscape of pop-punk is more diverse now than it has ever been, but this one just doesn’t stick the landing for me.

Normy – What The Fuck Planet Are These Guys From? EP

Imagine if Heart Attack Man didn’t have edgelord lyrics, and sounded a little closer to Lagwagon than Sum 41. That is exactly what Normy is, as it is a side-project of Eric Egan, the lead singer of Heart Attack Man. Normy is to Heart Attack Man as No Pressure is to The Story So Far. I really liked a couple tracks from this that were released as singles, but then I forgot about it when it was actually released because it hit shortly after I started my new job this year.

Millington – Welcome Home EP

This one came in as a recommendation from Mike, and when I first listened to the title track from this EP, a huge smile came across my face. Millington bills themselves as “brass emo,” which sounds like a dumb genre moniker when you hear it, but it’s perfect. With horns, upstrokes, heavy distorted choruses, a screaming part, and a vocoder outro, it definitely checks out. It’s not entirely ska, it’s not entirely emo, but it’s honestly the direction I wanted Billboard Saviors to go in so many years ago. Even if they don’t know it, they’re carrying the torch that I tried to light, and I’m glad to see someone is making it work, so I’ll stand by and hope for them to see success with it.

saturdays at your place – always cloudy EP

For a young band, this release shows a ton of potential. We like to make fun of how they say “tarot cards,” but honestly, it’s a clever move to help make that part of the hook really stick in your head. Looking forward to more from this band in the future.

Sincere Engineer – Cheap Grills

Out of all the releases on this list, this is the one I feel the most guilty about not putting more time into. I loved their 2021 release, but I just never gave this one a lot of time. I think I started this album half a dozen times, but never made it more than a couple songs in. I really want to give it a fair shake, so maybe I’ll do that early next year when I’m waiting for new releases.

Story of the Year – Tear Me to Pieces

I absolutely love the title track for this album, it was on my playlist last year, and I would put it on this year’s list too, except I have a no-repeats rule. However, that track dropped in August 2022, and the album came out in March of this year. I listened to”Tear Me to Pieces” so much, as well as many of the other pre-release singles, by the time the album actually arrived, I did not want to listen to it anymore. That said, when I went back to it after taking half a year away from the songs, I think it’s some of the band’s best work, in some ways feeling like a spiritual sequel to Page Avenue, invoking a lot of the emotions that helped the band break out when they first did back in 2003.

Pure Noise Records – Dead Formats vol. 2

I love a good cover album and I just wanted to take a moment to give this a shout-out. Not all of them hit, and some are way better than others, but there’s always something about bands doing covers of songs that helped shape them and their careers that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. There’s two volumes of this, give them both a listen.

I don’t do “most disappointing albums” anymore, but it’s also worth noting that I totally passed on the new Taking Back Sunday album. I didn’t even listen to it once. The singles were not good, so I saved myself a listen.

That’s all for today. See you soon!