The final piece. My single, favorite album of 2023. The one that seems to be the perfect combination of great song writing, performance, execution, lyrics, and expanding the genre to create something new. If you want to see what albums came in between 25th-2nd rank please check the archives. So, without any more hesitation, my single, favorite album of 2023 is…
1. Flying Raccoon Suit: Moonflower
This album is just amazing. It has brilliant songwriting. It spans a broad spectrum of genres, all filtered through the lens of ska. The musicians are definitely as talented as any on the list. The vocals are phenomenal. The lyrics are personal and heartfelt. And when they expand into new genres, they manage to feel like it both belongs in that genre, but also belongs on this album. The album slides seamlessly from song to song, from genre to genre, all while maintaining a cohesive thread that makes them feel as natural together as if these genres belonged together.
The album begins with “Vidalia” and a long, slow, sultry interplay among the horns. Nothing poppy. Nothing remotely punk. Nothing even ska. Then the guitars and drums come in to bring an extra sultry New Orleans jazz track matched with vocals from Jessica Jeansonne that turns the heat all the way up and I immediately have no idea what to expect for the rest of the album, but I am here for it.
Somehow, as the song fades out with the sounds from the instruments concluding their separate pieces into one another, “Longshot” arises from the ashes. A pumping drum beat, ska punk popping horns, a syncopated keyboard, male punk vocals from Andrew Heaton before Jeansonne joins in a few bars later, and somehow the transition feels perfectly normal. Like the only way jazz is supposed to conclude is with ska punk rhythms following right behind. The bridges and horn solos in this song are amazing and the gang vocals bring so much texture to the punk aspects of this song while the underlying rhythm persistently carries the song forward before it drops down a breakdown, and then resumes back to ska punk is incredible.
“Swan Song” is the third song, is a little slower, less punk, and hits all the right notes. It’s a beautiful song about the end of a relationship where two people just drift apart. There is a tinge of heartbreak, but also resignation and acceptance. Many of the lyrics from the album are about insecurity, getting older, and being trapped in your own head, and other personal and mental health struggles, but also has a song about bigotry and xenophobia.
And that song about bigotry and xenophobia is brought to us in an aggressively angry surf rock inspired song titled “Eat The World”. It intros and outros with a theremin, but damn does this track get you moving. The aggressive vocals almost seem in contradiction to the surf ska rhythm that make you want to clap out a rhythm, but it’s also perfectly in your face. It’s a mash-up that I didn’t know could co-exist, but once they created it, I couldn’t believe it had ever been any other way.
The middle portion of this album just doesn’t miss- not that there were any misses on the front or back thirds either. It’s rare that an album has so many good songs that sound so distinct and different. My favorite song might be “Hurricane”. It’s chock full of musical storytelling, where the story is told more through the music than the lyrics. There is a beautiful chaotic swirling of horns, guitars, and keys that happens multiple times through the song representing the storm in the song’s title, and at one point the swirling stops and the guitar and drums charge out in a driving standard procession as the next verse begins “Locomotive, losing steam”. That one aspect makes me smile every time for the dozens, if not hundred or more times that I’ve heard this song. The way the music proceeds the lyric of locomotive as if to predict and not just foreshadow the lyrics. I mean, the whole song is incredible as it plays with pacing and rhythm, and just masterfully teases by building and resolving tension.
“Take This With You” is another predominantly ska-punk track that feels like a huge hit, and features some of my favorite drums on the album, but about three quarters through the song the tempo and tension builds into a ska-core song and it kicks everything up two notches. The vocals switch to either Heaton, or drummer Derek Kerley, and are scream/ shouted to match the aggression of the song, making me wish I was slamming in a pit every time before the tension resolves, and Jessica resumes the vocal duties in a soft and beautiful conclusion that lands effortlessly.
“Witch’s Streak” is a beautiful chaotic curiosity of a song. When I said “Hurricane” used musical storytelling, it was completely obvious that that was what was happening. In “Witch’s Streak” it is far more subtle. The song doesn’t fit well into any genre that I have experience with. The lyrics seem to be about being insecure and self conscious. The music and tempo shifts reflect a beautiful chaos. After the lyric “the damage is done” a chaotic storm of aggressive music swells around and erupting out of it a vocal combination of Jeansonne and Heaton yelling “why don’t you speak for yourself?” leads to the eventual calming of the music before the horns and Jeansonne’s voice slowly regain control and lead us to the end of the song.
But everyone who has heard “Afterglow” new that Flying Raccoon Suit could blend genres and had the songwriting and musical prowess to leave us in awe. They have clearly stepped up their game in every aspect over the last three years. The songwriting is even better, the production and mixing is off the charts. The skill with their instruments and vocals have improved. What we didn’t know they could do was what comes next. They hinted it with a quick tease on “Take This With You”, but “Long in the Tooth” is a bona-fide hardcore metal ska song. At five minutes and twenty seconds, it is their longest song, and it is the first song that was written by drummer Derek Kerley, who also plays guitar and takes on a larger role on vocals on this song. Definitely highlighting his percussive prowess, it also features incredible guitars, a blend of beautiful and aggressive angry vocals, immaculate use of horns, and pure perfection as to how to interweave these genres. Even if it’s not your favorite song on the album, nobody will ever listen to this album and not be blown away when they hear this song.
The one thing I can say is that, after 8 incredible songs, there isn’t much left to say about the final third of the album. It has some of my favorite lyrics, my favorite choruses, great musicianship, a few new styles, but nothing you wouldn’t expect after the first two thirds. It doesn’t go on too long, and when listening, you still want more, but when writing a review, there is nothing left to say. The album is amazing. I will say that Jeansonne’s best vocal performance may be saved for “Dyad”, the final track of the album. It closes the album well, and feels like a final track, with long beautiful soulful notes. Like the first song, it’s more of a statement song than a ska song, delivering a message with excellent vocals and musicianship. The album begins with the music telling you that you are in for something special and it closes with the music saying you just heard something special. And for the 11 tracks in between, they delivered on those promises.
Favorite song: Hurricane
Written by Gimpleg