The Best Things We Heard In 2023

This is what the Defector staff enjoyed listening to this year.

10,000 Gecs

It took four years for Laura Les and Dylan Brady to release a proper follow-up LP to their ear-splitting, mind-blowing debut 1,000 gecs. Nine thousand more gecs gave their lives in the pursuit of a superior release, and in honor of their service, I must name 10,000 gecs as the best record of the year. Like the old gecs, this is a warp-speed scavenger tour of oft-neglected genres, featuring tightly smushed electronic collages, old-school rap-rock, ska-punk, and at least one (maybe two) tracks that border on Weird Al originals. But it’s also bolder, more consistently catchy, and reflects over a thousand extra days of this pair seemingly listening to everything that’s out and filtering it through their own infectious sense of fun. When Laura asked the crowd at their April show in New York if there were any frogs on the floor, we all knew the answer.

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Every year that passes, my music taste gets more and more frozen in time—not even in the 2010s, like a normal person my age, but somehow further back in an era I never lived. According to the streaming service I used, Nos. 2-5 on the list of my most-listened artists of the year are Bowie, the Beastie Boys, R.E.M., and Hot Chip. The corporation behind that streaming service was this close to forcibly committing me to assisted living. Did you notice how I even said “LP” up top? But I was saved by my favorite artist—my one legitimate link to the music of 2023. 100 gecs, you are my heroes. – Lauren Theisen

Stop Making Sense

I’ve been lucky with some of the habits I never picked up and less fortunate in the ones I’ve kept, but most of the things I ever started doing are still things I do. The few bad habits that I kicked will hopefully benefit me down the line; the few good ones that I have opted into later in life already are. But at the time that I committed to being a Physical Media Guy, there wasn’t really any other type of person to be. Streaming became a thing, and then the thing, and I just kind of kept doing what I’d done before; that I live surrounded by records and compact discs is not notable for me, because I have always lived like this. But I sense that most people who used to live like this now mostly don’t.

I buy less music than I used to; I already have a lot of it, my record player is presently without the sort of working component system that would let me use it, and our apartment isn’t getting bigger. I listen to music all the time, every day, but a lot of that involves going back through a crate or a shelf or (this happened when I had COVID) a dust-jacketed CaseLogic binder. I had a decent year buying compact discs in 2023; I give Sean Kuhn a lot of credit for alerting me to a big sale at the Numero Group, which accounted for a plurality of these purchases. But you can see what I’m getting at, probably. New stuff is getting in, but I have made the door very small, and allowed the hinges to get rusty.

As a result, most of the transcendent musical experiences I had this year were in person. I saw an Unwound show with old friends that was, in its totality, one of the most satisfying nights I’ve had in years. I saw a number of acts I already loved play songs I already knew I loved, and enjoyed it. I also bailed on seeing an act I had paid a fair bit of money to see because I worked a Sunday shift that day and it was raining really hard. These are all different ways of telling you that I am old, and so too is the fact that I have chosen the experience of seeing the remastered and tuned-up A24 re-release of Jonathan Demme’s landmark 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense in a theater as my top musical experience of the year. It was not live, or new; it was also, taking into consideration how much I’ve listened to these songs and this band and even how many times I’d seen the film before, like being moved by going to see a painting you’ve seen in a museum for the thousandth time, or like a devout Catholic attending mass and leaving with the thought “Wow, that was a good one.”

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But it felt new, and not just because it is the best and best-made concert film ever, which in my opinion it very much is. 1984 was a long time ago; I was a kid, and I did not know who Talking Heads were. I backed into them the way I backed into most of the music I cared about, which was by buying their records, used, for a dollar, or getting them through Columbia House’s janky CD subscription service. My wife and I listen to them still, on a discman that we plug into the line out on her late mother’s Hyundai, when we are driving around in Maine; the Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, their other landmark live album, is a special favorite. We’ve seen David Byrne perform a lot of them in concert and enjoyed it immensely. But while I know this film and these songs by heart, we hadn’t seen or heard them together, like this.

I don’t want to put too much on it. This is firmly within the realm of Stuff I Already Knew I Loved, in every sense. I revere Jonathan Demme, and this weird band. The way the film they made together builds from something small into something overwhelming is one of those things you might call “pure cinema,” if you weren’t someone who’d used that phrase to describe egregious Mets baserunning bloopers in the past. I am also in the part of my life where I am revisiting things and being moved by that experience—by how much has changed, and by what hasn’t—more than I am in the mode of hearing stuff for the first time. 

But the reason I picked this was that, as at that Unwound show, I felt this uncanny and satisfying sensation of heavy tumblers clicking into place as I watched and listened. I keep my music out of habit, but also because I like to hold it, and put it on the spindle and take it off, and know that it is mine. I feel that way about these songs, and about this movie, and have for some time. But this time, in this theater, felt like an alignment I’d been setting up, without knowing it, for my whole life. I felt all the different first-time experiences and different versions of myself that experienced them, and the people I experienced them with, and what I remembered and what I didn’t from that, as the film built from the intimacy and anxiety of the first song to the happy and locked-in chaos of the last. 

A good movie will make you feel this sort of thing, that sense of being immersed in something commanding and complete; a record you love will do it, too. In this case, it was almost overwhelming, with the editing and imagery handled for me. It wasn’t the mastery that overwhelmed me so much as it was the scope of it—the years and iterations all arriving at that moment, the force of the confluence, and the strange gratitude at being able to be there for it, in a theater on a rainy evening. I am still where I have always been, and sometimes feel like I haven’t moved as much as I should have. But I felt so happy to be met there. – David Roth

Olivia Rodrigo Covering Noah Kahan’s “Stick Season” 

If you’d told me 15 years ago that the song that would steal the girlies’ hearts on the internet would be a folk song with a three-finger banjo solo, I wouldn’t have believed you. Noah Kahan’s rise over the last few years has been an echo of the alternative folk moment in the 2010s, but I’ve been shocked by just how little he tries to be anything else. He’s a 26-year-old folk musician who could fit right in at any bluegrass festival, with his pigtails and overalls, and the girlies are eating it up. 

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I grew up deeply immersed in the bluegrass music community and for most of my life, I felt embarrassed of it. It was hillbilly music—garish and lacking in subtlety or modulation. I’ve watched folk-inflected alternative music come into and out of vogue with amusement, as millennial bands donned their suspenders and wide-brimmed hats to cosplay stomp-and-holler in a bid for homegrown authenticity that they cast off once they got into the studio for their second albums. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love bluegrass music, and my evolution has coincided with Noah Kahan’s massive success as his songs have gone viral time and again on TikTok. 

When I saw Olivia Rodrigo’s cover of “Stick Season” for BBC Radio’s Live Lounge, I was blown away. She brings intimacy and warmth to Kahan’s lyrics, leaning into the folk frame he’s built with a smear of her signature pop-punk inflection. Without turning this into an essay about ME and MY IDENTITY ISSUES, let me just say it was magical to see one of the biggest pop stars of the moment—who also happens to be Wasian—cover a folk song with all the coolness and rage and vulnerability she brings to her own songs. This would have rocked my world if I’d seen it at 15, but as it is, I was astounded. – Alex Sujong Laughlin

Bands I Like In Other Countries

My wife and I sort of accidentally developed a new bit this year, which is going to concerts in foreign cities. We did it twice, seeing Young Fathers in Dublin and Protomartyr in Paris.

I’d like to tell you that these concerts were once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and say all kinds of annoying things like, “You just haven’t lived until you’ve seen a show at the Olympia Theater in Dublin,” or, “Protomartyr’s entire artistic project takes on a whole new meaning when experienced in the context of Paris’ revolutionary history,” but none of that would be true. A concert in Dublin or Paris isn’t much different from a concert anywhere else. The music doesn’t sound any different. And yet I loved these experiences, for the same reason I love any experience that is had in a new place. A big part of the appeal of going somewhere far away is getting to do a lot of stuff I already do at home, but under conditions that make them unfold just a little bit slower, a little bit sweeter.

We went to Paris with two other friends, with whom we talked and ate and drank as tranquilly as the days passed. “This is what it used to be like,” one of them said, an hour or two into us being holed up in another cafe, grinning and glowing at everything we had to say to each other. “You used to be able to just sit around and have ideas.” We all agreed without thinking too hard about why. We were sitting around, eating and drinking and having ideas, knowing that we didn’t have any place in particular to be when we were done. We went to the Protomartyr show half-drunk and slightly high from the quality of the meal we had just eaten. None of us were worried about how tired we were going to be at work the next morning, and we didn’t spend any time debating whether having another beer would be a bad idea.

During the show, a guy standing behind us in the crowd responded to the standard We’re so happy to be back here in Paris speech given by Joe Casey by honking like a loud goose three times: waaeeeyyy waaeeeyyy waaeeeyyy. It took a moment for us to realize that he was, delightfully, just doing a French send-up of the English language, a reverse version of the hon hon hon we’d all heard so many times in the States. It was the sort of boorish concert behavior that certainly would have annoyed me back home, but here it was one of those small, memorable novelties that add up to give a trip its texture. We spent he next few days periodically honking at each other like that, laughing each time, because we weren’t supposed to be doing anything else. – Tom Ley

“I Am Nothing,” by Stabbing Westward

I am old, which means I mostly want my new music to sound like music I listened to in high school. Sometimes this means bands who have been churning out a similar sound this whole time (Metallica or Bad Religion); sometimes it means newer bands that sound like older ones (Ghost does a credible Black Sabbath). Sometimes a long-defunct band gets back together for the nostalgia, payday, or boredom, and sometimes—rarely—their new stuff not only sounds identical to the old, but it’s actually good.

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Remember Stabbing Westward? Goth/emo industrial? Nine Inch Nails but with more mascara? “Save Yourself” and all that? I enjoyed them perfectly well the first time around. Not one of my favorite bands or anything, but I was glad they existed. They put out four mostly quality albums then imploded, as bands do. So go ahead and listen to even, like, 20 seconds of this, and it’s impossible to tell offhand if this is a proto-nu-metal band at its peak in the mid-’90s, or the first new music they’ve put out in more than 20 damn years. – Barry Petchesky

And the Wind (Live And Loose!), by M.J. Lenderman

In the fading days of winter, when the days are bright but the air is cold, I went to see Plains in Philadelphia. They were great, and I loved the show very much. My friend and I arrived at the tail end of the opener because we had been busy drinking margaritas. There were so many people on the stage. I had never seen so many people on stage for a band whose name was just one guy’s name. What were they all doing? 

I liked the song they finished with, but missed almost all of the set and I did not pay much attention, unfortunately. Later, I learned that M.J. Lenderman is part of another band I like, Wednesday (whose album Rat Saw God would have been my pick for this column if we wrote it in June), and so I returned to his work just in time for his live album, And the Wind (Live and Loose), to come out. I couldn’t have had better timing. 

Lenderman’s 2022 album Boat Songs was pretty beloved, and the live album includes those songs. But it also has newer and older songs, all played live in Los Angeles. Compared to the studio recordings, the live versions have more frenetic energy. They are played a little faster. They have a little more heart. There’s something raw and visceral about Lenderman’s voice on songs like “Knockin” and “You Are Every Girl To Me” that keeps me reaching for this album over and over again in the final days of this year. – Kelsey McKinney

Various Songs

I’m breaking the rules this year. The rules, unofficial but nonetheless real, say that I am supposed to pick one thing and then opine about how it moved me or why I felt it was important or even just why I liked it. But I have not had that kind of year. I have spent this year sharing obituaries, and talking to people about doctors, and watching the people and creatures I love grow older. This is how life is; there is nothing special nor notable about it. It only means that I’m older now, too. So here is a list of songs that, at various points in the year, have gotten me through it. They are in alphabetical order.

ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” by Beyonce – One of my favorite songs off an entire album that reminded me of being out all night, then eating breakfast at 6 a.m., watching the sunrise, and having no thought in the world other than “When can we do it again?” 

Alone,” by Jimin – An emotional wallop of a song on an emotional wallop of an album. But it closes with Jimin letting us all know “it’s gonna be alright.”

Eu Gosto Dela,” by Rogê – My favorite song on a beautiful album (Curryman) that felt like the musical equivalent of a matcha latte, just enough to pick me up and get me through.

Eve, Psyche & the Bluebeard’s Wife,” by LE SSERAFIM – “I’m a mess in distress but we’re still the best dressed,” are both lyrics in this song and probably how I felt on a random Thursday. 

I’m Just Ken,” by Ryan Gosling (plus the entire Barbie soundtrack) – I heard the song before seeing the movie and, sight unseen, thought Gosling deserved the Oscar. I still stand by the assessment. 

ITEM,” by Stray Kids – The perfect song for cranking up in your car. The louder you play this song, the better it sounds. Ditto for “Topline,” also off this album, featuring Tiger JK. Playing these songs at anything lower than “burst your eardrums” should be a crime. 

Music Sessions #53,” by Shakira and BZRP – Do you remember where you were when Sharkia ruined the soccer man? I do. One of the greatest breakup/diss track/fuck-you songs of all time. Yes, it is all of those things. Shakira knows no bounds. 

“Never Gonna Give You Up,” by Rick Astley with the Foo Fighters – One of my best friends sent this to me one day. It is impossible to feel bad after watching it, so I suggest you watch it too. 

Never Stop Me,” by (G)I-DLE – The choice here should have been “Queencard,” the group’s biggest banger of a year filled with them, but few songs hit me this year like when Soyeon sneers, “I know I’m too emotional.” It’s technically from 2022, but I just discovered the song this year so it counts! 

“Run BTS,” by BTS – Another 2022 song, but who cares, because that did not stop me from listening to it a ton this year.

Snooze,” by Agust D (feat. Ryuichi Sakamoto, WOOSUNG of The Rose) – “When the hands that used to greet you turn into fingers pointed at you, it’s OK to let out a big sigh and yell out, ‘this shit is fucked up.’” – Diana Moskovitz

Fly or Die Fly Or Die Fly Or Die ((World War)), by Jaimie Branch

Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) is not as weird an album as its title might suggest, although it is for sure a weird album. It’s the work of trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch, and I think you would have to classify it as modern jazz, although my sense is that it is in general groovier and less avant-garde than a lot of what you’ll encounter in the genre. It opens with a pair of tracks—”Aurora Rising” and “Borealis Dancing”—joined together by a dark and mysterious but undeniably groovy bass line, accented unexpectedly by what sounds like it might possibly be an electric chord organ? The third track has possibly a cello in there, but played in the manner of Mark Korven going buckwild on The Apprehension Engine. Also there is Branch doing some very chaotic singing and then, uhh, also some howling.

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I do not want to give you the impression that this album is unapproachable, he said, after composing a paragraph that had the words “weird,” “mysterious,” “chaotic,” “buckwild,” and “howling,” to say nothing of the dreaded phrase “modern jazz.” The music is rhythmic and melodic, and is mostly uptempo, and is often lush, and is always lovely. There is a track that is basically a nice mellow bluegrass tune. All of it is good to listen to, and not only in the distant way that you can listen to music while working or writing or reading. It deserves a close listen because it is evident that it was composed by a genius. The feeling that you are encountering a genius comes out most when the album gets loud and messy, with lots of overlapping ideas rushing at you in big exhilarating waves. The trumpet itself can be a little ragged, but ragged in the way that a really profoundly talented singer can sometimes sing themselves hoarse when they absolutely fucking cut loose. There’s an epic nine-minute track, called “Baba Louie,” that goes crazy in places—there’s a sound in there that might conceivably be an homage to the weird howling in the opening music of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining— but makes me smile deliriously the whole way.

It sucked to learn that Branch did not live to see this album through to completion. She died in Brooklyn in August, at the age of 39. You cannot listen to Fly or Die and miss that this was a person with so much left to do in music. – Chris Thompson

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Cover Of “Wuthering Heights”

If you dare cover the queen of ethereal wailing, Kate Bush, you’d best not miss. When Bush was just 18 years old and learned she shared a birthday with Emily Brontë, she wrote one of her most haunting songs in a single night at the piano. “Wuthering Heights” is written from the perspective of the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw, who pleads with Heathcliff, the man she haunts to let her soul back inside: “Let me in your window—I’m so cold!” Bush’s voice is so liltingly ethereal on the record that the song might seem unattainable for any other human singer.

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But what about a ghost? The first time I heard the jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant’s cover of “Wuthering Heights,” I felt as if I was listening to an actual spirit. The cover is the first track on Salvant’s 2022 album Ghost Song, and opens with only Salvant’s voice, which hovers into being like a vapor of smoke. I learned this technique is an Irish vocal style called sean-nós, where a lone singer ornaments a melody, oscillating between multiple notes in a single syllable, creating the illusion of a spectral trance. I played Salvant’s ghostly warbling on loop. I had never heard singing like this before, swinging between a whisper and a scream, where notes seemed to spiral around each other. It was like she was singing “Wuthering Heights” in cursive. If a ghost were to ever visit me, I would hope they sounded like this.

Salvant’s cover is on Spotify (along with a surprisingly upbeat remix), but I’m partial to this live performance shakily recorded and uploaded to YouTube in the first half of this video, if only for the surreal experience of seeing such a ghostly voice emerge from the living. – Sabrina Imbler

Some Irish Guys In A Pub

The best thing I heard in 2023 was some old guys in an Irish pub crooning Celtic tunes. I spent the first night of a spring trip to Ireland (where I worked on a podcast about the cursed Gaelic football team of County Mayo) walking around the city of Castlebar. I was feeling lonely and homesick after a couple hours, but before heading back to the hotel I asked a guy on the street if there might be some music still to be heard. He pointed to a spot up the block. It was dark and uncrowded and very quiet when I entered, but I’d only been inside a few minutes when one of the several mature men sitting at the bar pounding pints broke into song. Everybody but me knew the words, and come the chorus they all joined in, with every member of this ad-hoc choir singing loud and in key. I was instantly in awe, to the point of tearing up. When the song was over, another old guy sitting at the bar began bellowing another ballad. More goosebumps and tears ensued. Same when the next guy took a turn. And so on, for maybe an hour and a half. The whole time I was in that pub I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. That’s a wonderful feeling. Here’s a sample that I recorded on my iPhone, of a pub patron soloing on Dougie MacLean’s Scottish ballad “Caledonia.”

Thomas Wolfe would probably tell me I can’t go to Castlebar again. But every time I listen to this clip, man, do I want to. – Dave McKenna

Parannoul

Shortly after an NBA playoffs spent mainlining NBA podcasts until I grew to loathe every hosts’ verbal tics and argumentative affects, I more or less stopped listening to podcasts altogether and would up listening to more music in 2023 than I probably have over the past two years combined. It probably made me smarter, or at least made me stupider at a slower rate. I am a binger, spending a feverish few weeks with an album before metabolizing a few scraps into an increasingly unwieldy omni-playlist and moving on to the next obsession, so as I thought back on my year, I paid special attention to what I listened to most consistently throughout the year. Aside from Bad Bunny, who despite releasing another banger is ineligible for a repeat victory, the artist I couldn’t shake this year was 파란노을 (Parannoul).

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Parannoul is a solo project run by a still-anonymous person in Seoul who only played their first live show this past March and claims that basically nobody from their real life knows who they are. They make what can be most cleanly described as shoegaze—gorgeous, woozy—from their computer, though this year’s After The Magic polishes the fuzz of To See The Next Part Of The Dream into something slightly more crystalline, more joyful. Non-Korean speakers don’t have to look up the lyrics (though I recommend it) to feel that these songs are about self-shattering and -affirming moments of transcendence. There’s something to that propulsion, that level of intensity that I find myself unable to stop listening to, especially when the lyrics take an extra layer of work to decipher. – Patrick Redford

“Paper Machete,” by Queens Of The Stone Age and “Fog Machine,” by White Reaper

Once in a while, the world gifts you a perfect rock song. I got two this year. The first one was “Paper Machete,” by Queens of the Stone Age: a breakup song that does away with any notions of empowerment or romantic grieving and dives headlong, at least on the lyrics front, into raw hatred. There’s no mistaking who this song is about (Frontman Josh Homme’s ex-wife, Brody Dalle), and there’s no avoiding the connection between its lyrics and the allegations that both Homme and Dalle lobbed at one another. Make these lyrics into a tweetstorm and they would read like they came from a Johnny Depp apologist. But put them behind a song this tight, with riffs this sharp, and I’m rendered helpless. This is QOTSA’s best straight-ahead rock song in nearly two decades.

Over on less cancellable ground, White Reaper released a new album this year with an A side that encompassed Megadeth-style thrash (title track “Asking for a Ride”), garage punk (“Bozo”), anthemic hard rock (“Fog Machine”), and ’80s-style synth rock (“Getting into Trouble w/ the Boss”). All of those songs are terrific, but I wanna dial in on “Fog Machine,” mostly for the pre-chorus. You know you’re in the hands of a master when the pre-chorus makes you so excited that you want to jump through the ceiling. Bob Mould knew how to do a pre-chorus, and White Reaper clearly learned a few things from the legend. Asking for a Ride is the best album they’ve ever made, and “Fog Machine,” for which the band needed years to get its arrangement just right, is the best song they’ve ever made. It makes me want to ask everyone out on a first date. – Drew Magary

Space Heavy, by King Krule

More than a decade after I first heard “Out Getting Ribs,” Archy Marshall might still be my favorite guitarist. That slinky idiom that seemed like it must belong to some leathery bluesman had instead sprouted fully formed from this Tilda Swinton-looking British lad—I’ll never really understand. To my mild surprise, though, I listened to the new King Krule record twice when it came out, and set it aside. For me, getting older has brought a not-insignificant amount of despair over my failure to connect with music as fiercely and promiscuously as I used to; I think streaming-borne complacency and work-at-home cohabitation are equal culprits, right up there with early-onset washedness. What I realized is music has become more situational for me, something to be dosed with intention, to suit set and setting. If I duff that part, it just washes over me. But when everything falls into alignment, its power is the same as always. Unwound was the ideal soundtrack for a period of churning grief last year. And this year, this King Krule album found its place, too. 

A few weeks after I’d set Space Heavy aside, I crossed the pond for a wedding and Wimbledon. While standing there in the grey trying to decide what audio should accompany my long drizzly walks through parks and gardens, the answer was almost cheesily obvious. So I wandered and commuted with that surly baritone from East London in my ears. Cycling through the album a couple dozen times that week, I began to set my pace to it, to understand the overhead pallor that could produce it, to imagine its words coming out of strangers’ mouths as I passed them by. In effect, to live in it, in a way that I hadn’t done—binding an album to a particular place—in a long time. It was a lot of fun. As I revisit these tracks now, I am right back there: watching snails race under a hydrangea at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, stifling a burp on the tube after housing a transcendent shrimp curry, swimming by the heron silkily tracing the circumference of the pond.

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It’s a more muted, straight-ahead Krule record compared to the last few he’s done, and an expression of domestic, dadlier feelings, too. The album did not totally disorient me the way his early music did. But then, I am somewhat more oriented in the world now than I was then—for one thing, I’ve woken up every day since knowing that I live in a world where Archy Marshalls can exist. Every day, I’ve come to know a tiny bit more about what is and can be, musically, emotionally, anthropologically. These days enjoying a record is less often like getting struck by some oblique thunderbolt and more often about arriving at some satisfying assonance between my experience and that of the artist. Sometimes it’s just so nice to hear an old familiar howl, while walking through the city that made it. —Giri Nathan

Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, by Lana Del Rey

If you’ll allow me an oversimplification, there are two main versions of Lana Del Rey, as best exemplified by her first two albums. There is the Born To Die Lana: bratty, annoying, and a lot of fun. (Think “National Anthem” or the “my pussy tastes like Pepsi cola” line from “Cola.”) Then there is the Ultraviolence Lana: introspective, ethereal, and full of stories and references. Sometimes, she can do both in one song—”A&W” from this year’s album Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is some of her best work, and also includes the line “Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff, Jimmy, Jimmy, ride.” I enjoy the former quite a bit, but it’s the latter that really hooked me on her music.

Lana Del Rey has gone to the Ultraviolence well more often as her career has grown from a curiosity deemed worthy of ridicule into full-blown stardom. This is good news to me, and the title track from that aforementioned Ocean Blvd release is one of her best attempts at melding her vision of Americana with her songwriting sensibilities.

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The referenced tunnel is the Jergins Tunnel in Long Beach, Calif., which was sealed off in 1967. In the song, Lana wonders if she too will be sealed off, so to speak, and forgotten. “When’s it gonna be my turn?” she asks. She’s in conversation with her debut, in which she was mocked for her artificiality and her SNL performance and her general state of being out-of-step with whatever was happening in music in 2011. Twelve years later, Lana has made a career out of this kind of self-awareness and constructed persona. 

It’s no accident that she’s still here. Even with the saddest of her tracks, Lana shapes worlds of days gone by, and it’s soothing. It maybe shouldn’t be; treacly nostalgia and sentimentality are powerful drugs. But it works in her hands because she’s figured out how to reference modern anxieties via the past. So, when she mentions and quotes Harry Nilsson’s 1974 song “Don’t Forget Me,” it’s both a call to the past and an immediate plea. No one should forget Lana Del Rey, at least no one who has engaged with her work over the past decade, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Everyone is eventually forgotten, even if it’s just the real person that goes away and the legend lives on. Just like the tunnel under Ocean Blvd, the best thing one can hope for is to live on in the dark corners of this country’s ever-changing history. – Luis Paez-Pumar

Al Michaels On Thursday Night Football

Al Michaels gets a lot of stick for not sounding excited enough by the fetid dross he is asked to navigate each week on Amazon’s Thursday Night NFL Miasma, or whatever it’s called. It’s Thursday, there’s football, and you need to know nothing more. This is a blatantly incorrect view made entirely by lazy, dim people who need to be excited by outside stimuli above and beyond the car crashes of football because they don’t feel like doing it themselves. The idea that the broadcaster is supposed to make you care about the thing you’re watching when it’s clear that you would watch it in complete silence in a darkened room if that’s how it was presented is absurd on its face. You already paying a streaming service for this. You’ve pot-committed yourself with your own money, even if it’s just Panthers-Patriots on an endless loop. You wanted football as heroin, and you got it; you don’t need the dealer yelling about how good it is after you already ingested it.

Michaels’s job is to make it seem like Kirk Herbstreit is fun while giving down, distance, ball carrier and tackler; read some promos you never absorb about upcoming shows, products, or league initiatives to separate you from more of your remaining earth time; and provide some extraneous gambling information because they own football now. He does all these things, plus he is a familiar and adept voice at doing them even now. You want him to cheerlead for you now, too? No. That’s your job, to get up off your ever-broadening seater and wax euphoric when James Conner turns a second-and-8 into a third-and-4 from the Cardinals’ 27. If you need to care that much, either you haven’t understood the relationship between viewer and video service (you’re already in the tent, got it?), you haven’t been listening to the voices in your own head convincing you that Bears-Giants is worthy of three hours of your flickering life span, or you’re just empty and soulless inside and should just watch beaver dam clearing videos on YouTube. You have some responsibility for your own entertainment here, you nacho-engorged laundry hamper, so if you need the game to be exciting and the players aren’t complying, either walk away or make your own mood adjustment. Yell at the set. Yell at the players. Yell at what happened to your life to allow you to demand personal emotional responses to Falcons-Rams from strangers if you can’t be bothered to do it yourself. Make your own excitement. Be a Manning. Do your own show.

True, your family will spend this time plotting your murder and how to divide your stuff at the mortuary, but that’s not Al Michaels’s fault, or Kevin Harlan’s, or Joe Buck’s, or Kevin Burkhardt’s, or the other itinerant hoboes vibrating your timpanum so that you can avoid doing stuff around the house. It’s yours. You don’t like the game you’re getting, juice it up, or wait a few hours. There’s always another one of these right around the bend. They never end. The score is never final; it just resets.

In other words, define your job, do your job, and shut up about how they’re not doing your job for you. It’s noncompetitive couch sitting, for Christ’s sake. It can’t be so intricate that Al Michaels must invigorate you in a game that will at best decide who gets the 11th draft pick. He’s doing his job just fine. – Ray Ratto

Ganger, by Veeze

Contrary to the doomsayers, rap is just as strong as it’s ever been. Finding the good stuff is just a matter of questing for it outside of mainstream radio and streaming playlists. Except for a select few, like Sexyy Red, Ice Spice, or Gunna, the best rap music comes from the underground and from local scenes. The midwest is arguably the strongest out and Detroit’s burgeoning star, Veeze, might be the most enigmatic of all of them. Veeze made a real statement this year, after what felt like years of teases and hints at his potential. The king of the Instagram snippet, Veeze’s 2023 project, Ganger, was very easily the best rap album I heard this year, a breezy, heavy hitter full of Veeze’s trademark lackadaisical, almost comatose rhyme style and infectious quotables. Veeze has a natural charisma and intrigue in his hoarse, almost fragile voice that can be hypnotic, and he transmits an irreverent, almost sarcastic humor with it, so much so that his tough-guy persona isn’t necessarily unbelievable but is certainly more intriguing than intimidating. The best music of 2023 was about earnest commitments to a specific identity and the personalities of artists that aren’t corrupted by the Big Streaming Music Machine, and Veeze was a chief example of that. – Israel Daramola

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