In the fourth installment of my top 25 albums of the year, we are looking at my #4 album of 2023. To see what albums came in between #25- #5, look in the articles from the last three days. Stay tuned for the rest of the week to find my top 3 albums of 2023.
This is the point where my list became impossible. Determining which songs belonged in my top 10 was extremely difficult, but the number one spot was impossible for me this year. All four remaining albums have a legitimate claim on the number one spot, and all four are my favorite album of the year at something. Now the decision comes down to which one had the most elements that were my favorite, or which one had the most aspects I loved, or perhaps, which one is my favorite on the day I write the review. Regardless, all four of these albums are absolute must-listen albums and will be in regular rotation for me for years to come.
4. Super Cassette: Continue?
The only non- ska album to crack my top 10, this album features my favorite narrative song writing of the year. The songs share themes throughout the album and feel incredibly intimate and relatable. In addition to excellent lyricism and songwriting, the entire album is constructed beautifully. The songs deal with depression and mental health including topics such as the daily grind and selling of your soul for labor, alcoholism and addiction, grief from death, and ultimately, songs about learning to find joy and happiness even while acknowledging the trauma surrounding you. The construction of the album is laid out to create a narrative that seems to follow a journey from depression to clawing the way towards happiness in the final songs.
The genre for the album is a little difficult to describe, as it doesn’t fit nicely into any niche. It has an indie, power-pop, melodic punk type of sound, with some songs venturing into rock and roll, but some consistency throughout the album include a melodic singing voice, excellent melodies and backing vocals, and great song construction. The songs are complex enough to avoid the pitfalls of simple pop music, and the construction means we don’t have to keep a song under 2 minutes before you are bored with it.
The very first song on the album, “Continue” deals with the need for a full time soul sucking job because you can’t sustain yourself financially as a musician, and questioning if life as a musician is worth continuing, but the underlying rhythm belies the dark message of the lyrics, the recurring upbeat drums marching almost cheerfully forward where the emotion is only expressed in the tone of the voice.
This changes by the second song, as “Path Through the Past” starts off with muted and distorted guitar and when it clears up and rises and the full instrumentation joins the song there is still a slight reverb and distortion that persists through the song. This track, while not the most depressing, is the most pessimistic. The lyrics look at moments in time that might seem happy, and instead looks at the inevitability that everything good comes to an end, that everyone suffers, that even happy children are going to grow up and feel insecure and unhappy.
The final note in this song carries over into “Bones”, a song that starts with what feels like an uptempo repeated “la da dee da”. Simple drums, guitar, and keys play under the vocals which are the clear focus of the song as they sing lyrics that perfectly capture the feelings of depression. Not sadness. not sorrow. complete. utter. indifference. The song starts “Dragging my feet, dragging my bones, dragging what remains of the shreds of my soul” but then transitions to “pardon my feet…” and repeating using pardon instead of dragging. The verb change signifies the feeling of guilt you have for existing, which is amplified by the next lyrics “Ashamed to exist, ashamed to be lonely, I gave myself to fear and I’m letting it own me” I’ve never had a song describe my saddest moments so succinctly. I decided to leave out the most powerful lyrics from the song in this review because I quoted them when I reviewed the album at release, but I will say, if the song didn’t have an slightly upbeat tempo and the vocals and harmonies weren’t so beautifully executed, I would be in tears every time I listened to this song.
I’m not going to go into every song on this album this time, but every song is absolutely incredible. “Ember” is absolutely beautiful, the way it both inspires hope and in some ways takes away hope at the same time is beautiful. The guitar, drums, the building of tension, the tempo changes, and bridge along with the backing vocals make it feel like the most beautiful song on the album.
The two songs that stick out for me, personally, are “9 to 5” and “Bastille Day”. While “Bones” may be the best written song, I have a predisposition to love songs with political as opposed to personal messaging and that is where “9 to 5” and “Bastille Day” come in. “9 to 5” is not a cover of the Dolly Parton song, but follows similar themes of depression resulting from working for someone you hate, who doesn’t care about you, just so you can afford to do the things you want in life. “Bastille Day” on the other hand, is about the working class coming together to put an end to the capitalist system, and features some beautiful guitar solos that add a level of strength and power to the song that I stop to appreciate during every single listen. In the context of the album, and the story of depression, this song- the first on side two of the vinyl- feels like a fantasy of taking control of your life and your problems.
The album is so good and every song deserves to be written about, it’s the last two that I want to focus on, as they were initially written to be one song. They carry great uptempo rhythms, but I love them for how well they mirror the second song on the album, a reflection of “Path Through the Past”. In that song, the protagonist looked at every point in time with a cynical pessimism, seeing every happy moment in time as something temporary that ultimately ended and spoils. In Islands and Continent, there is an interconnectedness, the realization that no man is an island, and that all bad things come to an end. The belief that community is there to help pull us from our sadness, that we don’t have to live our life alone. There is no false belief that everything is going to be good, but rather, we don’t face our struggles alone, and that even when bad things happen, we can pull through. The album ends with a beautiful melody on the keyboard and drums, followed by a bar on the guitar. The music carrying us to the end feels hopeful, not just the melody, but the idea that things will be better. It’s a powerful way to end the album, and I feel it every single listen.
Favorite song: Bastille Day
Written by Gimpleg