2024 is upon us! Time for the wonderful tradition of ranking the finest records of the year. Do I take this process too seriously? Of course! But I tried not to overthink it too much this year, to simply let my list reflect the albums that brought me the most joy in 2023 – it really is as straightforward as that. My list features 50 records I wholeheartedly recommend, many of which transitioned from my wantlist to my collection – you can glimpse them in the picture atop this post. I also included another 50+ notable mentions, and I still feel I left out some really great stuff.
That says a lot about what an amazing year for music 2023 was. And yet, I worry about how sustainable the current musical landscape is. The shared struggles of label owners, bands halting tours due to escalating costs that far outweigh the benefits – these stories trouble me. Then there are the developments at Bandcamp, Spotify and Twitter/X. The potential of these platforms to create something of value for artists, labels and listeners is limitless, but the people in charge keep self-sabotaging, laying-off staff and in case of Spotify, perpetuating financial challenges for the independent artists and labels we passionately support.
I think that makes sharing music recommendations, encouraging people to buy records and visit shows more crucial than ever. Remarkably, 2023 brought renewed recognition and appreciation of music blogs, driving increased readership for ATW. So yeah, there also is reason for optimism. Let’s see what 2024 will bring.
To all the artists and labels we write about, and to our fellow bloggers, I’d like to thank you for your tremendous contributions in 2023. Let’s keep swimming against the stream of mediocre algorithms together.
On topic! Find my list below – and check out my playlist with most of the releases here. If you frequent this website, you know what to expect: pop hooks, crunchy guitars, jangle stuff, underground pop, ramshackle lo-fi production, indie rock, garage rock, power pop and punk rock. Hungry for more and something different? See Dennis’ amazing list which is more eclectic and boasts approximately 90% (!) unique content.
1. Tee Vee Repairmann || What’s On TV?
Of the many projects Ishka Edmeades has going on (Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, and Australia Idol to name just a few), this one was my favorite of 2023. With its off-the-charts songwriting and razor sharp hooks, What’s On TV has everything you desire from a classic punky powerpop record.
2. The Whiffs || Scratch ‘N’ Sniff
Few bands master power pop as well and consistently as The Whiffs, who give their sound just the right amount of energy and bite, just the right amount of pop sensibility and, on Scratch ‘N’ Sniff more than before, classic ’70s power pop vibes.
3. Gee Tee || Goodnight Neanderthal
Gee Tee (there is Ishka Edmeades again) combine the mutant weird sound of the egg punk genre with the poppiest melodies and the grooviest guitar and synth riffs. Above all, Goodnight Neanderthal has HITS, so many HITS. Gee Tee’s show in Rotterdam was one of the best I’ve attended this year and cemented my love of this record.
4. Uni Boys || Buy This Now!
Buy This Now! is Uni Boys’ first real studio record and sees the band seamlessly blending power pop and classic rock in a way that never feels contrived, derivative, or like a mere parody. In a different year this could have easily taken the top spot. What a year for power pop!
5. CLASS || If You’ve Got Nothing
If you are in a cynical mood about the state of rock’n’roll, and have resigned to only playing the classics, I invite you to press play on the pop-infused anarchy of If You’ve Got Nothing. It’s like opening the window to let the bad air out. The emergence of CLASS as one of the finest contemporary punk bands has been so lightning fast, you almost start to worry they will not burn out soon.
6. The Exbats || Song Machine
On Song Machine, which I believe is the band’s best LP yet, The Exbats further evolve towards a more pop-oriented sound, creating timeless tunes with a punk heart that simmers just beneath the surface. “ABBA ABBA, HEY” indeed!
7. Civic || Taken By Force
Released relatively early in the year, I kinda lost touch with Taken By Force. Then I started working on this list and rediscovered that there is no dismissing the amazing wall of sound on the record. Killer guitar work, tons of energy, and catchy super tight songs that are always on point. So good, so so good!
8. The Circulators || The Circulators
Seemingly out of nowhere, The Circulators kick your door in and introduce themselves as your new favorite band. If it wasn’t for the liner notes, I’d have guessed this clinic on how to do old school punk rock was recorded 45 years ago.
9. The Tubs || Dead Meat
The debut LP of The Tubs was released in January, but I frequently returned to it, everytime enjoying it more. The strum & thrum jangle tunes of The Tubs have a rare quality that makes them stand out. Dead Meat is an addicitive record, and I often find myself singing lines from this record.
10. The Small Intestines || Hide In Time
The Small Intestines (featuring members of Chook Race) sound like they brought their instruments and recording devices to a scrapyard where they found loads of usable parts from underground pop and rock’n’roll history and turned them into something truly special. Jangle pop record of the year!
11. Blues Lawyer || All In Good time
With influences ranging from classic rock to jangle pop, from twee to ’90s altpop, and from powerpop to punk rock, Blues Lawyer’s pop edge has never sounded sharper. Saw the band twice at Left of the Dial Fest and both times had a blast.
12. Paint Fumes || Real Romancer
With a backstory that includes several emergency room visits, a near death experience, and stolen gear, it’s nothing short of a miracle of how amazing Real Romancer turned out. This is prime quality garage-y power pop that above all is sheer fun.
13. Hurry || Don’t Look Back
Don’t Look Back is Hurry at its most Teenage Fanclubesque yet. It is also Hurry at its very best. The pop heart, crisp strummy guitars and hooky melodies on this one are soul soothing. I still get goosebumps everytime the band kicks in at the 25-second mark of Didn’t Have To Try.
14. The Smashing Times || This Sporting Life
Even as a fan, I have to admit that given their penchant for experimentation, The Smashing Times haven’t always been the easiest band to fall for. With This Sporting Life, they give their loyal fanbase the pop hits they crave. What an underground pop masterpiece!
15. Spice World || There’s No “I” In Spice World
Call it ad-hoc slacker pop, call it kitchen table punk, call it homemade jangle pop, indie minimalism or whatever you like. It’s all good in the Spice World.
16. Hellebores || Uncles
Uncles was my favorite pop punk record of 2023, and I honestly believe that if this record was released in the mid ’90s on Lookout!, Mutant Pop or Go Kart Records, it would have been considered a classic of the time.
17. The Cowboys || Sultan Of Squat
Sultan Of Squat lifts me up like few records have managed to do this year. It is the most consistently accessible record by The Cowboys yet, without giving up any of the intangibles of what makes the quirky protopunk outfit such a special band.
20. Connections || Cool Change
All five previous Connections LPs found a quick route to my collection. Their sixth (their first in five years) sits nicely besides them. The melodies, the mix of classic indie rock, college rock, jangle pop and power pop influences, everything about Cool Change feels familiar. And yet, Connections make a convincing case that the world needed more Connections songs after all.
21. Les Lullies || Mauvaise Foi
Les Lullies sound like they have been on a decades long workout schedule of powerpop, glam, punk and rock- ‘n’-roll, and wield all that muscle to churn out punky powerpop gem after gem.
22. Holiday Ghosts || Absolute Reality
One of our favorite current bands add another great record to their already tremendous discography. Holiday Ghosts have that rare quality of sounding laid back and frantic at the same time, and that channeled hyperactivity is a thing of chaotic beauty.
23. Tha Retail Simps || Live On Cool Street
The exuberant playing of Tha Retail Simps is contagious, and at the center of their sound there is a highly combustible mix of musical influences. Think of the most boring, least inspired band you know and you’ll find Tha Retail Simps at its polar opposite.
24. Feeling Figures || Migration Magic
Feeling Figures unfurl a highly charged brand of outsider pop. Listening to Migration Magic is like visiting a theme park full of wild rides, sweet treats, relaxed down time, short queues surrounded by the coolest people, and you never want the day to end.
25. Liquid Mike || Liquid Mike
Barely 18 minutes long, this self-titled record sounds like the people involved simply plugged in their instruments, pressed record and had a blast together. 2023 marked Liquid Mike’s rise out of obscurity and it is well deserved!
26. The Young Hasselhoffs || Dear Departed
Dear Departed is an extremely accessible and mature pop punk record with a smooth production. I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did, but my defenses got broken down onse song at a time by the onslaught of irresistible melodies, dynamic build ups, sweet harmonies and hooks.
27. Cherry Cheeks || CCLPII
More spazzy synthpunk goodness by Kyle Harms’ Cherry Cheeks – now a full band. Harms wields a formidable gift for catchy melodies, and the songs on this record will have your limbs and body parts moving unconsciously and uncontrollably before you know it.
28. Wisconsin Anger Team || Beyond the Everest Crater II
Wisconsin Anger Team was one of my favorite discoveries of 2023. Do you like pop music hidden beneath loud guitars and fast drumming, with hooks huge yet unpolished. Does a mix of early Green Day, Neutral Milk Hotel and the melodic side of Hüsker Dü sounds good to you? Wisconsin Anger Team is here for you!
29. The Radio Field || Don’ts and Dos
Don’ts and Dos is a wonderful record that sees The Radio Field take elements of ’80s underground pop and ’90s alternative and make it sound like a classic from the ’00s indie rock scene. The occasional horn part is a definite plus.
30. Teini-Pää || Sata Syytä Aloittaa
Mixing the melancholia of Alvvays with the punch of The Go-Go’s and the hooks of dare-I-say-it ABBA, Teini-Pää’s upbeat indie pop is THAT infectious and THAT likeable. Is it just me or is Ydintyttö one of the finest pop songs of 2023?
31. Datenight (US) || Mother’s Day
This was the first of two records released by this Nashville band this year. Buzzing guitars, scatchy vocals, hooks sharp enough to draw blood, with a production is messy, fuzzy and lo-fi. In short: Great stuff! Make sure to check out the second 2023 album by the Nashville band as well.
32. Local Drags || Mess Of Everything
A truly great indiepunk/indierock record that throughout the year kept getting better and better. Local Drags have created something contemporary and fresh without losing any of the appeal of their previous LPs.
33. Big Mess || Cleaning Up With
This quickly became my most played record after its release mid-November. Big Mess, a raucous punk, pop and rock’n’roll outfit from Copenhagen, sound like they discovered who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp and the ram in the rama lama ding dong.
34. Jingles || BLESSED & FAVORED
How to describe the music of Jingles? Alternative americana? Outsider country? I’m not sure it covers the haunting experience of listening to “BLESSED & FAVORED”. It’s basically just one guitar, one mesmerizing voice and one defective recording device. You just have to find out for yourself I guess. If you like this one as much as I do, I have great news: Jingles released another album recently which is equally special.
35. Tightwire || Head Full Of Snakes
Listening to the Head Full Of Snakes LP is like a tailwind-powered bike ride. It is a breeze, it is fun and silky smooth. No sweat. It is an album that fans of Teen Idols and The Copyrights should be all over.
36. Brad Marino || Grin And Bear It
Grin And Bear firmly establishes Brad Marino at the pinnacle of the punky powerpop’n’roll scene. Marino’s songwriting is effortless and carries a distinct sense of inspiration.
37. Ryan Allen || The Last Rock Band
An impressive solo concept album by Ryan Allen. “Rock’n’roll can save your life if you play your cards just right,” Allen sings on one of the songs, clearly self-aware about the power of his songwriting.
38. Bonny Doon || Let There Be Music
If there is any knock against Let There Be Music, it’s that you’d wish Bonny Doon colored beyond the lines here and there, add in a false note or two. The band’s songs are almost too perfect, but to my punk-battered ears, this record provides a welcome respite.
39. Big School || Don’t Cry I’ll Be Right Back
Think of this record as Def Leppard, The Lemonheads, Jacuzzi Boys and All-American Rejects in one convenient bubblegum wrapped package. Big School seem incapable of writing a song that doesn’t provide an instant sugar rush.
40. The Decibels || When Red Lights Flash
The return of The Decibels provides exactly the kind of ear candy I’ve come to associate with the band. The ’60s pop filter over The Decibels’ power pop sound has never been this strongly calibrated.
41. Illiterates || No Experts
Illiterates waste zero time blasting 11 songs in 12 minutes. If you’ve ever been a fan of hardcorepunk, press play on Chips Away. Feel your heart open, the adrenaline pumping and your brain recall your finest memories of being a hardcore kid.
43. Geoff Palmer || An Otherwise Negative Situation
Geoff Palmer has become an artist who hasn’t necessarily outgrown pop punk but is carving his own niche one album by a time. FOMO gets me every time, what a massive hit!
44. Teenage Tom Petties || Hotbox Daydreams
Teenage Tom Petties’ first full-band, full studio record delivers concise indie rock tunes with the straightforward appeal of pop punk, the kind that make you want to pick up an instrument and start a band.
45. The Sino Hearts || Phantom Rhapsody
Released only just in time to make the list. On Phantom Rhapsody, The Sino Hearts continue their upward trajectory of becoming frontrunners in the punky powerpop’n’roll sphere.
46. Strange Magic || Toro At The Gong Show
Javier Romero released 4 (!) albums this year as Strange Magic. This was my favorite. If you are looking for a rockin’ album that is fuzzy, punchy and scrappy, and devoted to presenting only the interesting parts of songs for your short attention span, look no further than this punchy powerpop blast.
47. Jagger Holly || Rivoltella
This record should not work. I mean a 29-song double-LP seems just a tad much for a pop punk record. But Jagger Holly infuse most of these songs with just the right amount of hooks, memorable melodies and bubblegum, and it is a breeze to get to the end of the record every time.
48. Private Lives || Hit Record
Like a mix of Blondie, the B-52’s and Be Your Own Pet, Private Lives have a sense of urgency that is infectious. It’s like they are on a constant quest to find the sweet spot between pop catchiness, punk attitude and getting sprayed with cold water on the hottest days of Summer.
49. Autumn Rhythm || Joy For Tomorrow
My original post about this one was rather short, and I did not anticipate playing this as often as I have. Joy For Tomorrow is an amazing underground indie rock record that harkens back to the days when punk bands started to display rock and emo tendencies
50. Comic Sans || Éramos Felices Y No Lo Sabíamos
This year, I finally got to see the legendary Algernon Cadwallader on their European tour. They were amazing. But we should not overlook contemporary artists who stand on the shoulders of Algernon Cadwallader and keep this brand of twinkly and mathy emo goodness very much alive. The best I’ve heard this year is by Comic Sans from Spain.
Notable mentions, in alphabetical order – links direct to write-ups.
A Culture Of Killing || Dissipation of Clouds, The Barrier
Appleseeds! || Æblefrø
Bad Weed || II
bugcatcher || Go!
Come Closer || We Died With Print
Country Westerns || Forgive The City
Crocodiles || Upside Down In Heaven
Cut City || Honeymoon At The Barricades
Destiny Bond || Be My Vengeance
Dignan Porch || Electric Threads
Diners || DOMINO
Doe St || Stepping Stones
Foyer Red || Yarn the Hours Away
Free Range || Practice
Golden Shitters || Golden Shitters
Jeff Rosenstock || HELLMODE
JJ & The Real Jerks || Rat Beach
Kid Gulliver || Kiss And Tell
Lone Wolf || Haze Wave
Mark Murphy And The Meds || Monochrome
Maura Weaver || I Was Due For A Heartbreak
Max Bien Kahn || When I Cross It Off
McRackins || Wake The Fun Up!
Mil-Spec || Marathon
No Tears || Heart Shaped Eyes
NOT || Stop The World
Öldie Häwn || Missing Time
Owen Adamcik || Ickle Stardust’s Crime
Palehound || Eye On The Bat
Red Pants || Not Quite There Yet
Samiam || Stowaway
Shoplifters || Second Nature
Slander Tongue || Monochrome
Smug Brothers || In the Book of Bad Ideas
Soft On Crime || New Suite
Sparrowhawk || Sparrowhawk
Star 99 || Bitch Unlimited
Sumos || Surfacing
Teen Angst || Barn Sour
The Brights || Oyster Rock!
The Ekphrastics || Special Delivery
The Lost Days || In The Store
The Reds, Pinks & Purples || The Town That Cursed Your Name
The Unknowns || East Coast Low
The Wind-Ups || Happy Like This
The Young Rochelles || Kicked to the Curb
Tiikeri || Punk Rock Pamaus!!!
Tough Age || Waiting Here
Truth Cult || Walk the Wheel
Vanity Mirror || Puff
Whitney’s Playland || Sunset Sea Breeze
Wicketkeeper || Zambroni
Wimps || City Lights
Wurld Series || The Giant’s Lawn