It's finally here! MusicBoxPete's annual year-end rundown of the top music of 2023 is upon us, bestowing upon for you faithful readers my annual collection of the top albums and songs that were on my radar all throughout the year. This past year was an eclectic year with emerging newcomers like Benson Boone and Mike Sabath planting their musical flag firmly and deeply into the ground, local favorites Today Junior releasing a career defining, self-titled release, hip-hop star Jack Harlow arousing the crowd with an alluring release, and insatiable pop collections from Niall Horan and Jonas Brothers. There's definitely a little something for everyone in this year's rundown, and here are my choices for the top albums for the past year:
Pretoria - Where Will The Night Take Us?
Grand Rapids, MI indie rockers Pretoria released their highly anticipated debut album back in September titled "Where Will The NIght Take Us?". The collection is one of the most cohesive and musically balanced debut efforts from a band in recent memory, further illustrating the band's musical might and their ability to weave in and out of genres with remarkable ease and aplomb. Songs like the Strokes-esque "Something-Anything" further capture the band's clever and high IQ musical abilities, while "Dance In The Rain" sees the band experimenting with downtempo numbers. Frontman Rob Gulett's vocals reach new levels of sheer beauty, while the three headed monsters of guitar Josh Bilisko, Matt Pavlock, and Matt Burdick melt faces with stunning melodies, and drummer Ben DeWitt adding his musical wisdom and raw intellect that sends the group over the top. A stunning and perfect album that you'll fall madly and deeply in love with after repeated listens.
Key Tracks: "As If", "Hear You Talk", "Something-Anything", "Dance In The Rain"
Vacationer - Cherish
Philadelphia, PA escapist indie-pop outfit Vacationer released their first album in 5 years back in October titled "Mindset". The band is the brainchild of Kenny Vasoli of The Starting Line fame, and is the band's most moving and personal effort to date with the album being dedicated to Kenny's mom who passed away a couple of years ago. The songs speak directly into the emotional consciousness, bringing comfort to those we've lost and honoring their spirit by continuing the musical commitment that they set us out to do and achieve greater success despite the current conditions. The songs have a more downtempo tonality than their prior work, but their musical resolve and talent is beyond question. A stunning effort that allows the members of the band to really dig deeper than ever before.
Key Tracks: "Dialogue", "Mesmerized", "Love Comes First", "Resemblance"
Jack Harlow - Jackman
Louisville, KY based rapper Jack Harlow dropped a massive musical bomb on fans this past year with his surprise album "Jackman", his 3rd release overall. The collection was released without any advance notice or publicity, only the cover art dropped 48 hours before the disc's release showing Jack's ripped physique, and his mission to take charge of the scene and show everyone that he doesn't mess around. Jack's skills of crafting layered beats over his mellow voice flow out of the pores like melted butter, and his craftiness has made him of the most intelligent and thought provoking rappers out there today. An album that will make you appreciate him that much more.
Key Tracks: "They Don't Love It", "Is That Ight?", "Denver"
Mike Sabath & The Moongirls - Being Human
Producer Mike Sabath released his debut effort with his backing band The Moongirls this past year titled "Being Human". The effort sees the uber talented producer who has worked with the likes of Shawn Mendes and Meghan Trainor to name a few, bring his pop laced sensibility to a larger audience, and show a more dance oriented and freeform blend of innate musical wonder that is just begging to be explored. Songs like the escapist title track show off Mike's more sensitive side, while "Who You Are" is an anthem for those who feel like outcasts and want to be loved for who they are as both human beings and working professionals. A musically cohesive and diverse delight that will definitely both surprise and enrich you.
Key Tracks: "Who You Are", "Being Human", "Sexy!"
Niall Horan - The Show
Former One Direction member and "The Voice" judge Niall Horan released his 3rd studio album back in June titled "The Show". The follow up to 2020's "Heartbreak Weather" sees the blond and blue eyed wonder create a meaningful and escapist album that shows his wide ranging talents that have come in different shapes and sizes over the years. On this one, his voice is the star of the show and drives the musical ship as the melodies accentuate the beautiful voice and allow each song to have a driving force and message of his own. Niall was always the most ambitious one out of the One Directioners, and he has finally found his musical calling and true purpose in life.
Key Tracks "Heaven", "Meltdown", "Never Grow Up"
Today Junior - self-titled
Allston based indie surf/garage rock pioneers Today Junior released their 3rd full length, self-titled studio release back in April. The collection is an expansive, eclectic mix of the psych/surf rock based melodies that the fellas have been dabbling in for quite some time, and shows off their ever expanding versatility and ability to think outside of the box when it comes to bringing these songs to fruition. Brothers Mike and Harry O'Toole have recruited a new bassist Hannah Blauner that solidifies the band's rotating bassists they've had over the years, and gives the band a much needed boost that makes this album the one that defines their adventurous and creative musical personalities.
Key Tracks: "Sweet Little Nothings", "In Massachusetts", "Hot Plastic"
Hippo Campus - Wasteland EP
Minneapolis based indie legends Hippo Campus released their brand new EP to the masses back in April titled "Wasteland". The 5-song effort sees the group trying something new and totally unexpected with a foray into the country realm. What results is one of the most stunning and aurally beautiful collections that the band have put out. The songs will make you appreciate Jake Luppen and company that much more with their majestically and sonically pleasing melodies that will have you tearing up for how truly special it is. I've worshipped these guys for several years now, and this is just another notch in the band's ever expanding musical belt.
Key Tracks: "Moonshine", "Yippie Ki Yay", "Kick In The Teeth"
Harbour - To Chase My Dreams Or To Just Lie Down?
Cincinnati based indie outfit Harbour made a huge name for themselves in the past year with the release of their brand new LP, "To Chase My Dreams Or To Just Lie Down?". The collection is a bombastic, joyous romp that sees the guys letting loose and having a blast, all while basking in the company of each other to create an album that sees everybody staying on the same page musically, and embracing the possibilities. Frontman Ryan Green's trademark vocal abilities are all over the place, while guitarist Walker Atkinson and drummer Ryan Sulken all are hitting their stride and finding their place in a band that has been growing and burgeoning into something truly special and remarkable.
Key Tracks: "Bahamas", "Swimming in My Head", "I've Only Started Running"
Benson Boone - Pulse EP
Monroe, WA based pop/R&B star Benson Boone released his debut EP to the masses this year titled "Pulse". The former American Idol contestant dimmed the lights down low, and shows fans his sensitive and romantic side and his ability to burrow deep into the hearts of listeners no matter who they are. His voice has a crooning ability, while his propensity to perform without a shirt on makes him a magnetic sex symbol and a man who knows what he's doing and what flips on listeners light switches. A fascinating and musically cohesive collection from a talent that we'll be hearing plenty from in the future.
Key Tracks: "Coffee Cake", "Sugar Sweet", "Little Runaway"
Jonas Brothers - The Album
The Jonas Brothers made their long awaited return with their first studio release in 4 years titled simply "The Album". Kevin, Joe, and Nick have a pop infused collection of tunes that shows how far the guys have come, and how much they've matured over the years after finally breaking out of their Disney bubble. The songs range from fun summertime romps to edgy, gritty tunes that will have you appreciating the band endlessly for crafting such genius and infectious tunes all throughout the years.
Key Tracks: "Summer Baby", "Waffle House", "Miracle"