Gimpleg’s Top 25 Albums Albums of 2023: Part 5 of 7

In the fifth installment of my top 25 albums of the year, we are looking at my #3 album of 2023. To see what albums came in between #25- #4, look in the articles from the last four days. Stay tuned for the rest of the week to find my top 2 albums of 2023.

As I mentioned yesterday, there were 4 albums this year that are all deserving of my favorite album of 2023. Each of these albums features aspects that make them stand out against one another, things they do better than any other album, and I am stuck trying to determine which aspect is most important to me. Ultimately, it’s a cop out to call them all my #1, but if I made this list yesterday, it would have been in a different order (in fact, in yesterday’s draft, they were in a different order). If you asked me again tomorrow, I might change it again, but this is the final draft, so here we are. 

3. Simple Minded Symphony: Self Titled

Simple Minded Symphony is probably the most musically talented band on the entire list this year, and in this collection of 8 songs, they definitely show that off. These songs are beautifully written and executed. The mix on the album is miles above their previous album, and it allows every instrument to shine through and showcase the sheer quality of musicianship through the entire album.

The album opens with a seemingly innocuous track in “Over It”, opening to few bars from the horns that transition out to the drums and a simple upstroke ska guitar rhythm. The vocals come in clear and Kevin Silveira has an uncharacteristically great traditional singing voice for a ska band. But the first hint that something special is happening is in the middle of the first verse, between lines, when the vocals cut out. The bass is very clearly in the foreground. The drums, the guitar, and the bass are all very clear and distinct. Then, during the next verse, we get to hear harmonized vocals for the first time, and it just adds another layer of texture to the already great song. The lyrics of the song are about a friendship starting to fall apart, and putting in the effort to try to save a friendship. The third verse is rapped by primary guitarist Kaine Benson, who, in this context, is playing the role of the friend, also trying to save the friendship. The inclusion of a rapped verse breaks up the song nicely and adds a different texture to the song the makes it stand out a little more. We get to see this again later on the album.  It makes for a great opening song on the album because we get introduced to all of the core elements of the band. The rising action through the end of the song showcases the horns and the drums a little more, but nothing is over the top. This is clearly not ska punk, it’s kind of just it’s own thing- perhaps a little ska- funk. However you want to classify it, it’s good. 

The second song on the album is, for many, the top track. (I really wanted to say the Feather in the cap, and I couldn’t resist- even if only in a parenthetical). “Feather” clocks in at over 5 and a half minutes. It starts off with a simple acoustic track and soft vocals that are joined with flawless backing vocals, one at a time joining, until there are 3 or 4 voices singing along through the intro, drums count in and the horns lead the bridge as the music comes together. The vocals to the song are a short two minutes, and the final four are dedicated to one of the best jam sessions in music. I love everything about it. A band where nearly every member is classically trained and it has some of the best horn lines carrying and alternating solos, but the real prize here is my favorite bass solo ever. Hands down. The best bass solo. 

“Sanity” picks the pace up a little bit, with a more syncopated rhythm and it really makes me happy. This track just feels different. While “Feather” is slower and prettier, “Sanity” is both funkier, and more punk. The rhythm and the bass slap, Audrey Stangland on the trombone and Leah Thomas on the trumpet play off of one another through the song adding to the start and stop interplay throughout the song, and in this track, Kaine Benson gets to rap a little more, with a chaotic sounding vocal that feels perfect for a song questioning sanity. The instrumental breakdown over the bridge is incredible. It adds well organized chaos, huge levels of tension building, danceable excitement, and then resolves beautifully for the final chorus.

Every song on this album is almost a full minute longer than it needs to be, and sometimes even longer. However, every song on this album is EXACTLY as long as it SHOULD be. The instrumental portions on every song add the texture and are performed and mixed in a way that makes the song infinitely better than it would be if it stuck to telling the story with only the lyrics. The saxophone by Jason Kincy on “Wavebreaker” adds so much to the song, it makes the song feel indescribably more complete. 

My personal favorite track on the album is “Deceivers and Nonbelievers”. It’s another slower song with syncopated guitars that carry through most of the track, but the horns shift the texture occasionally while the chorus is catchy, but the verses are an indictment on capitalism, and when the vocals call for revolution that pace swells, the instruments carry the narrative, and it’s beautiful instrumental storytelling. When the vocals first return, the chorus is sung by the horn section instead of the lead, which has the dual effects of keeping the song fresh and also adding to the narrative of a full class of people rising together as opposed to following a single leader. In this track the drums of Josh Servania do a lot of the heavy lifting of driving the narrative forward, letting the percussion set the rhythm. In addition, the chorus in this song is repeated more than any other chorus on the album, often with multiple voices. This encourages crowd participation and singing along at live shows, which is necessary for a song about revolution! 

While “Deceivers and Nonbelievers” is my favorite song, and “Feather” has the most incredible bassline, it feels like the magnum opus feels like “Overcast”. Clocking in at a full 6 minutes and 30 seconds, the song is a full work of art. The video for the song is a puppeted short film, only going to show the time and energy they spent around this song. Everything about this song is epic on nature  and it features an absolutely incredible breakdown. Drums come in to idolaters the song, the horns build the scene, the guitars and bass take over to build tension, the drums follow suit adding tension, the horns explode back in adding to the mix and the interplay between the instruments over the several minutes of the breakdown is incredible. The storytelling, both lyrically and musically is incredible throughout the song. I feel like slamming in a pit every time I hear the song, but it’s not punk, it’s not rock, it’s not metal. It’s not music you associate with a mosh pit, it’s just pure energy made into music that I only know to channel through slamming my body into someone else in a mosh pit. By the time the album ends, I feel completely satisfied. 

Favorite song: Deceivers and Nonbelievers

Written by Gimpleg