WMSC Music Picks: Favorites of 2023!
Written by mccormacke1 on December 30, 2023
Welcome to WMSC Music Picks, a collaborative collection of WMSC’s music recommendations and reviews. In this installment, members of our station reflect on the year 2023, and share their favorite projects from the past 365 days! Read below to see what foodie favorites our members have to recommend as highlights of the year!
The Maine – The Maine
Review by Amber Bintliff
The Maine celebrated their sweet sixteen this year with the release of their self-titled ninth album. The entire record feels like a nostalgic hug from your younger self, reminiscing on the years you’ve had leading up to where you are now. It reflects on the years The Maine have spent as a band, traveling the world and creating music that they love.Every song on this record is infectiously catchy and will get stuck in your head one way or another, even if you’ve only listened once. The one song I find my brain unwilling to let go of for days at a time is track number four, “leave in five.” This pop-rock tune with its groovy baseline and catchy chorus certainly makes you feel like you’re being magnetically pulled towards a dance floor. The Maine has definitely worked its way up to the top of my 2023 favorites ladder, and does not plan on giving up her spot anytime soon.
Why Would I Watch – Hot Mulligan
Review by Amber Bintliff
I will never turn down an opportunity to talk about Hot Mulligan, and here I am with said opportunity. Their newest release Why Would I Watch quickly became the new soundtrack to my everyday life in 2023. I haven’t stopped listening to it in some shape or form since it came out in May and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. The album deals with serious themes of familial trauma, mental health, grieving, and more, delivered in the classic Midwest emo fashion that we all know and love. While I struggle to pick a definitive favorite here, I would honestly say that “No Shoes in the Coffee Shop (Or Socks)” would have to be it. This track ties together the album’s themes with its title and through the lyrics; “If my memories lead to stark regret, well then why would I watch?” This song, along with so many others from the record, has been on repeat for me through most of 2023 and will probably continue to be moving into 2024.
new planet heaven – HUNNY
Review by Amber Bintliff
HUNNY is one of the many new artists I discovered this year that I now love with my entire heart. Despite only being out for around two months, I found myself being comforted by new planet heaven on my daily morning walks to class throughout the course of this past semester. Listening to this record from start to finish feels like a perfectly cozy fall afternoon where all the leaves have begun to turn shades of red and brown, and the temperature is no higher than 60 degrees. My favorite from the album often changes, but the closing track “palm reader” is pretty much always somewhere in the top three. It is such a perfectly wholesome love song that feels like you’ve got butterflies in your stomach the entire time you’re listening. Lyrics such as “I’m afraid my heart’ll stop beating,” and “it’s so important to me / your feet on the dash of my old whip in the passenger seat,” portray the soft, little details of being in love that go unnoticed to everyone but you and your partner. It’s a wonderful closing track to such a beautifully cohesive body of work that became a fall staple for me this year. If new planet heaven was a real place, I would seriously want to be sent on the first spaceship there.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY – Waterparks
Review by Amber Bintliff
With a UK Top Ten chart position and an almost entirely sold out world tour, Waterparks took the world by storm with their fifth studio album INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. It’s complex lyrical content dealing with Awsten Knight’s inner battle with religious trauma, love, and fame on top of Waterparks’ classic experimental sound blended together to create one of my favorite records of the year. Out of the 11 tracks on the album, the one I think is the most worth mentioning would be “A NIGHT OUT ON EARTH.” This song is the Waterparks song. It embodies everything the band has worked toward in their Career, and is unlike any song I’ve ever heard before. If you listen closely to the instrumental, there’s a specific part in the second verse where Knight structured the guitar part to sound like turntable scratches- which I thought was a really cool, creative detail in the song. There are also so many references to previous Waterparks eras hidden within the lyrics, making “A NIGHT OUT ON EARTH” feel like one big trip down memory lane. The song’s outro even includes an audio clip from one of the first interviews the band has ever done. Overall, this album was definitely a breakthrough in Waterparks’ career, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year.
Unreal Unearth – Hozier
Review by Mia Watson
Unreal Unearth was released by Hozier on August 18th, 2023. This was Hozier’s third studio album, following his self-titled one in 2014, and Wasteland Baby in 2019. I have been a huge Hozier fan since my junior year of high school (so about 2018), and Hozier has been teasing this album since 2021. He finally released an EP in March 2023, with the album being announced shortly after. This album is over an hour of 16 incredible songs all inspired by Dante’s “Inferno.”
Because of this album, Hozier was my number one artist on my Spotify Wrapped, and I am anything but disappointed. The album takes you from the “Descent,” through all the nine circles of the underworld, ending with the “Ascent.” Every one or two songs takes the listener through each circle. In typical Hozier fashion, the album is riddled with absolute poetry for lyrics and stunning musicality. I think this project showcases the widest variety of his vocal skills, with the most impressive vocals, in my opinion, on “Who We Are.” Unreal Unearth has quickly become one of my favorite albums of all time, and it’s quintessential Hozier at his very best.
“The Forever Rot” – Job For A Cowboy
Review by G.S. Alvarez
One of the most notable acts in both deathcore and tech death, Job For A Cowboy made their much-awaited return in 2023 with the release of their single “The Agony Seeping Storm” in August. This was accompanied by a single live show in Virginia at the now-infamous Blue Ridge Rock Festival (I attended their performance and wrote about it here). A couple months later, they released one of their best tracks ever: “The Forever Rot.” This single, which also debuted the art for their upcoming album Moon Healer, follows the incredible trend set in their 2014 album Sun Eater of setting their bass levels absurdly high in the mix. Job For A Cowboy has always been influential in their use of high bass levels, but this track takes it to a new level—almost comparable to something like “Sun of Nihility.”
The result of their dedication to this trend is a menacing song powered largely by the amazing technical bass work of Nick Schendzielos (Even during solos, the wailing guitars of Tony Sannicandro and Al Glassman are almost buried under the mix of the bass). Jonny Davy, the nearly incomprehensible vocal powerhouse that he is, still sounds as brutal and demonic as ever. This track also comes in at nearly seven minutes, and if you’re a tech death fiend, you’re sure to love every second. Every Job track is a breath of fresh air for bassheads—especially now that their almost ten-year hiatus is over—and I’m eagerly awaiting their return to the scene in February 2024.
HAPPYPILLS – Utsu-P
Review by G.S. Alvarez
Earlier this year, I wrote extensively about track highlights from Utsu-P’s most recent studio album, HAPPYPILLS. After a few more months of releases, it’s still come out on top as my favorite release this year. Despite more than half of the tracks releasing before the album—and despite the fact that Utsu-P already has new singles debuting—HAPPYPILLS serves as the perfect culmination of anger, melancholy, and danceability that Utsu-P has been trending towards with every new project. There are several standout tracks on HAPPYPILLS, including the bouncy single “Ga,” the groovy mid-album screamer “Friendshi_,” and a punched-up cover of Kikuo’s “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me.” None showcase Utsu-P’s often surprising ability to create an emotional gut-punch like the album closer, “IAMAI.”
This track, which features Megpoid and Megpoid Talk, acts as a concept song about an AI that can generate real-time lyrics based on the listener’s thoughts. The AI, while deciding what genre of lyrics to generate, decides to speak directly to the listener instead, confronting them about misplaced aggressive tendencies and their overflowing self-confidence issues. It’s a great track with a greater, rawer breakdown than one would ever expect—and its end solidified HAPPYPILLS as my top album of 2023.
RAT WARS – HEALTH
Review by G.S. Alvarez
Having come out on December 7, RAT WARS served as a late entry to the industrial release slate this year, but it is an incredibly welcome one. A few singles preempted the album and generated deserved hype, including “ASHAMED” and “CHILDREN OF SORROW.” Two of the best tracks, though, come as album-only tracks, including “DON’T TRY” and “CRACK METAL.” The former serves as the album closer, and its longing vocals and yearning instrumentals come together for a beautifully melancholic song that’s almost uncharacteristic of HEALTH’s typically noisy sound. The latter is more along their traditional music-making route, featuring clanging percussion, practically infinite distortion, and a time signature almost identical to the off-beat meter of Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs.” Both songs capture the complete picture of the industrial amazement that is RAT WARS.
Let’s Start Here – Lil Yachty
Review by Chris Alberico
If you told me on January 1, 2023 that Lil Yachty would release a psychedelic rock album this year… I would have already known that; this was leaked to be in production. You could not have paid me to go into this project with an open mind, because genre switches almost always go horribly (looking at you, Machine Gun Kelly). HOWEVER, this “left turn” is up there with Radiohead’s Kid A in terms of quality. Every single track is imbued with a noticeable amount of love from Mr. Boat, so much so that it’s extremely difficult to pick standouts because of how well put together everything is.
The most impressive part of the entire album is how well Yachty is able to create an identity for every single song without sacrificing cohesion between the other tracks. EVEN THE INTERLUDE IS LISTENABLE!!!!! (Not in the sense that I’ll add it to a playlist obviously, but when I’m re-listening to the entire project front to back, I won’t skip it) Lyrically, there are a lot of great themes presented that perfectly compliment the sound profile of the psychedelic rock genre. Things like the vast atmosphere created by the well-spaced instrumental thematically match with verses about “finding home” or feeling lost and overwhelmed. Even on a surface level, the sonic experience itself is impressive enough to give the album an insane amount of praise.
It would be impossible to list every moment that Let’s Start Here absolutely “wow’d” me. It would also be equally as cruel to spoil the listening experience for someone’s first time through. However, I will leave you, my dear reader, with a desperate plea from myself- please listen to this album. From opener to closer, this project was just as impressive in production as with writing. It’s even better with as little context as possible, hence why I have been “descriptively vague” throughout this review… All I will say is that this is one of the best (and one of my favorite) releases of the year without a doubt. 9/10.
“Not Afraid to Die” – Grayscale*
Review by Lara Ziccardi
This song talks about having fears and phobias over small things, like bugs or the dark. It’s interesting because while the speaker is scared of those little things, death isn’t something he’s afraid about. The lyricism also represents looking back on your childhood/nostalgia and how it stays with you in the present. Within the song, it speaks on the idea of how some things have stayed the same since your childhood (like fears) while some others have changed. Like in tarot, the death card doesn’t symbolize death, it symbolizes the end of a cycle. To me, “Not Afraid to Die” isn’t about not being afraid of death, it’s about not being afraid of change.
“Anna” — Jack Samson
Review by Jared Tauber
2023 has been a year for indie/alt-rock & pop banger singles from Jack Samson, gearing up to release his sophomore EP, Matt’s Hummer. His most recent release, “Anna,” is my favorite from his recent slew of singles. Rocking back and forth almost exclusively between two chorus-soaked guitar chords (Gbmaj7 & Bmaj7), “Anna” exemplifies everything great about Samson’s new vivacious, playful, and carefree sound that makes me desperately long for summer 2024. Featuring a grooving bass line, vocal layering blossoming from every direction, and lead guitar sprinklings that gracefully ripple like drops in a pond, this effervescent beach bop is a paragon of good vibrations that will surely make this next lot of frigid months a bit warmer. The music video directed by Gunnar Sizemore is awesome too.
A Gradual Decline In Morale – Kim Dracula
Review by Emily McCormack
As music director, I would say it’s safe to say that I consume a lot (a lot) of music… despite living in an age where all music, past and present, is available at my fingertips, mis-Summer 2023 I somehow found myself in a strange rut of listening to the same few songs over and over again. The kind of music that I never thought I would get bored of grew stale… I was starving for something new. Perhaps a new artist, a new album, a new genre – anything of the sort would help. Kim Dracula heard my plea, and served up one of the most fantastic and innovative albums I have ever laid my ears upon.
Released in July 2023, Dracula’s debut album A Gradual Decline in Morale is just the thing my alternative-metal-indie-screaming-music-loving vibe required. This project immediately brings the listener to Dracula’s castle with an eerie cinematic opening in the title track. You are now on board for a scary ride through a haunted house… next thing you know, you’re hit with Red Hot Chili Peppers in the first minute or so of “My Confession,” before moving on to a fun, hip-pop playing nightclub. Then, there’s screaming, public service announcements, trap metal, industrial- you name it. Their work has everything. Keep in mind- this is only about the first two tracks. The remainder of the album follows suit, as it’s an experimental combination of many genres near and far – and I’m living for every second of it.
Sitting down to write this piece, it became painfully obvious that I have way too much to say about his album – and for that, I have decided to write a funky little full-length review of A Gradual Decline In Morale. (Check it out here!)
Thank you to Kim Dracula for making my favorite album of 2023 such an obvious and easy pick this time around. I am looking forward to all they have in store for 2024 (crossing my fingers for a tour in my area, Kim)!
I Love You, I’m Trying – grandson
Review by Emily McCormack
I don’t think there will ever be a day when I’m disappointed with a song by grandson. He has been teasing fans with singles since the release of his 2020 debut album Death of an Optimist – and while those songs (all collaborations!) were awesome, I nearly cried at the announcement of a new grandson album. The first hint of what I Love You I’m Trying had in store was the single “Eulogy,” which has a sound that I can only describe as the heart of his sound. With elements of electronic rock, hip-hop and political motivation, this single was certainly just a peak into what was to come.
Here is a quick guideline to the album: If you’re looking for some epic songs to drive to, I would highly recommend “Something To Hide” “When The Bomb Goes” – and best of all, “Drones.” Oh boy, will that song get you PUMPED for whatever you have going on. On the opposite side of the spectrum, expect to cry for a little while after listening to “Heather,” a gorgeous song dedicated to grandson’s fanbase and a fan that is no longer with us. If you’re looking for a good alternative vibe, “Half My Heart” and the title track – and if you’re looking for the majority of grandson’s social commentary (though all songs really have elements of such) lie in tracks “Murderer,” “Eulogy” and “Drones.”
One of my favorite things about this album is that, while many other projects conclude on ballads, grandson finishes with a banger in “Stuck Here With Me.” It encapsulates all the struggles he spends his music working through, but instead of a slow song, he contradicts his frustrated lyrics with an excited tune. There is not a track on this album that doesn’t make me anxiously await the next grandson release…
So Much (for) Stardust – Fall Out Boy
Review by Emily McCormack
My emo heart was so full when Fall Out Boy announced a 2023 album. This band was the gateway to all things alternative-rock that I know and love today (if “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” didn’t kickstart your emo phase, you’re doing it all wrong). Their previous album Mania (2018) wasn’t necessarily my favorite project of theirs, but there were certainly great elements – during that whole era, I kept crossing my fingers that the band would take the good elements they experimented with for that album, and combine the rock elements we know and love from earlier works- and that’s exactly what they did with So Much (for) Stardust!
Singles “Love from the Other Side,” “Heartbreak Feels So Good” and “Hold Me Like A Grudge” have taken the alternative charts by storm – and constantly hearing the incredible voice of Patrick Stump on the radio again is an HONOR. Some of my favorite songs I would recommend are “Fake Out,” “Heaven, Iowa” and the title track (my true favorite to be revealed in the next paragraph)!
I had the pleasure of seeing them live for their 2023 summer tour at PNC Bank Arts Center. They participated in this trend of having a “Magic 8 Ball” song, which means they pick a song at random from their discography and perform it. The 8 Ball was certainly on my side because it picked “I Am My Own Muse” – which happens to be my favorite track on this new album! Shoutout to the 8 Ball and to Fall Out Boy for continuing to be such talented rockstars as always.
Expired Candy – Body Type
Review by Gurleen Kaur
On June 2, 2023 the Australian Rock Band called Body Type released their album titled Expired Candy. This album consists of thirteen songs and was released under the label Poison City, falling under the following categories of music genres: Post-Punk, Garage Rock and Indie Rock. The song that stuck out to me and was my favorite is their song called “Weekend.”
The reason this song is my favorite is simply well firstly the title in itself caught my attention so it made me want to hear the song. It sounds like an early 2000s movie introduction, and who doesn’t love to hear something from their childhood? The beats go along with one another which is such a wonderful way to connect musically tones. The lyrics themselves too are comforting as well. It’s reminiscent of spending time with someone you care about on a weekend, like relaxing with someone and doing fun things like making a pizza. In the song the reference is to a heart shaped pizza which is super cute and something I have yet to attempt to make. The song is one I truly enjoy- and coming from someone who listens to rap and r&b and rarely ever the rock genre is outer worldly you could say for sure. It is definitely getting added to one or more of my playlists and a song I would listen to replay any day of the week.
Unreal Unearth – Hozier
Review by Emily Rabeno
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known as Hozier, is an alternative/indie artist who is widely regarded for his 2013 hit “Take Me To Church.” Hozier released his 16 track, third studio album Unreal Unearth this year in the Summer. I frequently listened to this album in October, back when I didn’t really listen to Hozier save for “Take Me To Church”and “Work Song.” Track two of Unreal Unearth, “De Shelby (Part 2),” grew popular on TikTok, so I decided to take a listen- and I was finally hooked. Over time, becoming more familiar with the whole album, my top three songs (in order) are “Abstract (Psychopomp),” “De Shelby (Part 2),” and “Eat Your Young.” But every song on this album has a place in my heart, and each one is so good to listen to! Unreal Unearth uses stories and references from Dante’s “Inferno,” as Hozier often writes his music at religious points in life. This album is so good overall, and if you were to listen to any Hozier album- I would certainly suggest this one.
Starcatcher – Greta Van Fleet
Review by Emily Rabeno
Greta Van fleet is a rock band from Michigan, consisting of members Josh Kiszka as vocals, Jake Kiszka as lead guitarist, Sam Kiszka as bass and piano player, and Danny Wagner who plays the drums. Greta Van Fleet was formed in 2012 in their high school years. Overtime, they have released two Extended Plays (EP) and three studio albums- Starchatcher being their third and most recent album. I’ve listened to Greta Van Fleet since 2021 when they released their second studio album Battles at the Gardens Gate. In the ten track album, my top three songs of Starcatcher in order are “The Archer,” “The Indigo Streak,” and “Frozen Light.” The whole album is just super good from the lyrics to the production to the music!
*These songs contain explicit lyrics.
Photos from Amazon.com; “The Forever Rot” photo from Bandcamp.
You can check out WMSC Music Picks: Focus Food 2023 here!