Best of 2023: Brandon Jones

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A lot of the music I listened to was in the past, I mean after all, Spotify labeled me a “Time Traveler” this year, lol? However, there was plenty of great music that released in 2023 that of which got the blood pumping and adrenaline rushing, even some songs more on the “chill” side that could cause one to contemplate the deepest complexities of life (and what that next meal will be). The past year wasn’t without challenges, more so personally and because of which I retreated more and more inward yet the music had it’s way of soothing my soul. So without further wasting your time with blah blah, here are my Top 25 favorite albums/eps of the year 2023. You’ll also find some top songs of 2023 and honorable mentions as well. (Scroll to the bottom for our special playlist of songs off mine and Rob’s lists).

25. Minor Rockstar – Wasted

This dreary sounding set of songs from this 5 track EP feature plenty to feel hopeful about and will have you championing a change in life choices. These songs would have fit comfortably back in the early to mid 90’s but with a more underground grunge-like, punk influence. These crunchy sounding grunge/punk songs are full of truth and honesty, and points directly toward salvation. Sometimes the worst experiences lead to the most fulfilling, life changing points in life. These songs are good and if the future tunes are anything like these 5 songs then we know we’re in for a real treat.

24. Testimony of Apocalypse – The Offering

This new album from Testimony of Apocalypse is really a cool one. Instead of relying on just one vocalist, they enlist the help of a bunch of different vocalists across the metal and rock scene. Don’t ask me to dig up each vocalist and their band connection because I’m too lazy at current moment and I’m trying to finish this list, man! Give me a break 😉 Songs like “Ghost”, “The Time Has Come”, “Dead Man Walking”, “When We Were Dead”, and “Welcome To Control” are all heavy as heck metal, or shall I call it Deathcore, songs with a heavy influence from the book of Revelations and that “end times are coming” spiritual reality. It’s not all dark and bleak for there is plenty of hope in this record and it’s all about choices at the end of the day. Choose death or choose life.

23. Slow Salvation – Here We Lie

This moody and introspective piece of art takes you on a brain melting journey into music ecstasy. I guess you would label this shoegaze but the band defies labels and frankly doesn’t need them here. “Here We Lie” is beautiful and without all the excess bloat of modern rock. This is just good music and something you can sit down with headphones to fully absorb and think about your day. It’s good with sadness, it fits well with happiness, and it moves with the weather. Velvet Blue Music continues to blow minds with their releases and singles here in 2023 after I think like what, 30 years now? Or almost there I think. Kudos Jeff and VBM.

22. Fallstar – Sacred Mirrors

I’ve always enjoyed this band’s unique music. They are as heavy at times as they are melodic with their sing-a-long melodies and blistering breakdowns. They’ve somehow managed to get even heavier and even more melodic with the passing of years and maturity of songwriting. This album is further proof that you can’t kill a good song or a solid band like Fallstar. “The Timebender and Jet Engine”, “Insight”, “Crooks & The Damned”, and “Doomsayer” are all incredibly solid songs by a band that shows no sign slowing down or throwing in the towel because what they do best is create genre crushing, mind melting, heavy rock n’ roll that’ll save the young and crush the old. It’s time to throwdown, Fallstar style.

21.Generation Gone – Torch The Season / Ignite The Flame / Torment of Light

This definite HARDCORE punk project was on a roll in 2023. 2 Eps and a “single”. Lots of different songs to enjoy here and I’m so glad I rediscovered this band. Every song is heavy in that classic hardcore sense but also a straight forward punk feel. The lyrics are fire and it all sounds so great. Don’t know who Generation Gone are then do yourself a favor and look them up on digital networks.

20. Slow Coming Day – The Lost Tapes

This almost got left off my list just because it is mostly a collection of old songs remixed and mastered then re-released. You know what, a good song is a good song and Orion Walsh composes some of the most captivating music in this scene. These songs from the post “Farewell to the Familiar” era are beautifully done and I get emotional any time I hear “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace”. It’s also cool to hear some of the heavier side of songs that almost could have been released worldwide back in the day. So many good ones here like “Police & Paramedics”, “Quitting is Not An Option”, “Be Honest”, and “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace” among the others. Every song is a winner here. I hope and I pray for more Slow Coming Day in the future but at least we have Orion Walsh continuing to compose his honest and inspiring solo work.

19. Nick Webber – All The Nothing I Know

An amazing collection of music and songs from the artist Nick Webber. One of our writers, Casey, first exposed me to these songs. There is piano, subtle guitars, and lush soundscapes. It’s haunting as much as it is soothing. Nick’s music would appeal to fans of Terminal, Alive In Wild Paint, Keane, Snow Patrol, and John Mark McMillan. Nick has stretched out his wings and his voice soars to the point where you forget this is a solo project. Songs like “Parabola” and “Night Terror” show an artist on an exploration and discovering a sound all his own.

18. Chives McAlister – Refrigerator Worthy

This project of Erik Williams is solid pop-punk leaning into the emotional side kind of album. “Refrigerator Worthy” is beautiful and you’ll close your eyes staring heavenward and singing out loud to “Butterflies”. Every song on this EP is a solid piece of pop-punk bliss. Small Step Records has done a tremendous job in 2023 with their artist list and releases with everything from Names Without Numbers, Chives McAlister, Chainstay, Dona Luzi, Sam’s The Hero, Light The Way, and here’s to hoping for new Homeplate in 2024. Keep your eyes on Chives McAlister and Small Step Records throughout 2024.

17. With Honor – Boundless

Freaking heavy and melodic all at the same time. This record really reminds me so much of Every New Day which were a Canadian band who played a similar style of punk meets hardcore and pulled it off incredibly well. Thankfully for With Honor they take that same sort of sound and amp it up way beyond the confines of some of our scene’s limitations. The record is the perfect mix of heavy meets melodic leaning punk rock. It’s like if Comeback Kid, Stretch Arm Strong, Dogwood, Set Your Goals, and Thrice all had a baby. “Boundless” is the kind of album that’ll appeal to fans on both sides of the punk and hardcore aisles, encouraging them to reach out and hi five each other repeatedly. I’ve listened to some past With Honor and I can tell you this is album is by far some of their best.

16. Blink-182 – One More Time

Those naughty-word gate keepers of pop-punk pride, Blink-182, returned this year with their first new album with Tom Delong in more than a decade. What does it sound like? Well it sounds like classic Blink and this album excited fans across the world. From the haunting ballad with a personal message in “One More Time”, to the classic Blink sounds in “Anthem Part 3”, “More Than You Know”, and “When We Were Young”, the album really rides the line between all their post-Dude Ranch albums. The production is top notch, at times a little much so but still solid. Travis’s drumming is on fire, Mark’s bass playing and Tom’s classic guitar sounds and his irreplaceable voice are all the elements that spell “Classic” for me.

15. Teeth For Eyes – Teeth for Eyes

7 songs so it’s an album! This band and release was a complete surprise. I consider them a supergroup of sorts with members of Crux, Empty Tomb, Government Hate Mail, Cicero and they draw upon influences from all their prior bands taking this band to a whole new level. I do hear a lot of Crux in the guitar playing and drums (no coincidence) and the vocals have almost this early 90’s gritty, grungy rock sound. Very punk though throughout all these songs and that underground, diy ethic keeps them above the normalcy and radio friendly sounds of all the pop-punk and 00’s emo stuff. Really great debut and I look forward to their next release hopefully in 2024.

14. HolyName – HolyName

After Sleeping Giant disbanded a few years ago we all wondered where Tommy would end up musically. Emerging from the shadows and out from the closed curtains comes HolyName, the new project featuring former Sleeping Giant lead vocalist – Tommy Green. This album was heavy in ways that you wish a “worship” band would go. Less bright, pulsating lights, fog machines, hipster hair and youthful clothing, dressing up that aging rocker still clinging to fading youth. Tommy and his HolyName project is anything but cheesy and certainly not generic nor formulaic. It’s honest HEAVY HARDCORE WORSHIP. There is subtle singing, downtuned guitars and slamming, insane breakdowns and lyrics that would fit perfect on Sunday morning. It’s a breath of fresh air and proof that sometimes the best music exists just beneath the surface. Thanks Facedown Records for continuing to push the “heavy” envelope after more than 20 years, you deserve kudos and respect. To the rest of the Christian Music Worship scene, you’re losing touch and the theatrics are boring us.

13. Sam Hauge – Out Of Isolation

This hybrid pop-punk/rock/emo project is actually just one guy. No joke. This multi-instrumentalist has crafted one of the finest pop-punk/emo albums of 2023 and it is an extremely catchy collection of songs. His voice sorta reminds me of the lead singer of Silverstein but without all the screaming. On top of the insane playing you’ll find a really deep, spiritually engaging set of songs with a heavy Christ-centered focus. It’s really a cool sliver of independent music that seeks to move and sucks a whole lot less than half the scene out there.

12. Applehead – The Light Side of The Apple

Immediately from the first riffs of “Down”, you just knew you were in for a total trip through some epic sounds of the past but blessed with a modern touch. Greg really outdid himself with this new record and it is a fantastic return to form. I love it plain and simple. I hear a lot of early Guns n Roses, Velvet Revolver, Candlebox, Stone Temple Pilots, Filter and all that riff heavy alternative rock/metal from the past. But as much as Greg dabbles in past sounds he’s not content to Soley revisit the old songs for this album has a ton of modern touches and epic sound structures. This record was a surprise part of 2023 and I freakin’ love it! His solos are spot on too as are his vocals. Well done.

11. The Julies – Always & Always

Another classic in the making and further proof that age is just a number when it comes to a band in their prime creating music that matters. There is absolutely nothing dated or cheesy about this album. When I first heard the coming songs off the new record, I was blown away. I’d heard past Julies releases but never imagined the new music would sound THIS GOOD. There is everything from shoegaze, brit pop, indie rock, and darkwave all permeating throughout these songs. The best music like I’ve said before, bubbles just beneath the surface and if you take the time to listen a little, you’ll find yourself an irresistible gem like The Julies. Congrats to the band and Lost In Ohio for this amazing collection 2023 songs and I hope many more to come, right?

10. Benjamin Daniel – Home Enough for Now

This is a beautiful collection of songs not just in sound but in content. This group of songs rallies the emotions and incites the flow of tears from weary eyes. This record is mainly about dealing with pain and loss, the loss of a mother in Benjamin’s case. It’s like a bowl of sadness filled with tears and anguish stirred by the spoon of light and guided by the grace of our God above. I’ve been a fan for a while of Benjamin’s simple yet profound songs. They are as deep as they are simple in sound. It shows you don’t have to pound drums and light your electric guitars on fire with downtuned rage and crowd moshing to convey emotions and inspire movement. This is a really solid record and he continues to make music so keep following him on social media and digital networks.

9. Chainstay – Deciduous

This (currently) duo makes pop-punk/emo that really sets them apart from all the mundane the scene gets overflooded with. They have a different take and unique presentation. The band features a member of Must Build Jacuzzi (Caleb Rose) but makes decidedly different music (Less ska more emo). Small Step Records has really stretched out their wings and worked with some amazing bands the past few years and Chainstay are part of that glowing representation. Chainstay released this EP earlier in the year and was not only the band’s debut but their first recorded music together. The single “Deciduous” was solid as are all the other songs like “Parking Lot”, “Frames”, and “Drift”. All 5 songs are great and I highly recommend Chainstay as an add to your daily playlist.

8. Theocracy – Mosaic

This is heavy and melodic with Matt’s angelic metal voice leading the pack. “Mosaic” is classic Theocracy and one of my favorites in metal of this entire year. The album has all the classic elements of a heavy metal band from the raging guitar solos, charging bass rhythms, pounding drums, and the fiery lead vocals of Matt Smith who really captures the energy of the band he plays so well with and carries the soaring melodies to a whole other level. You’ve got the singles, the ballads, the epic long masterpieces, and everything in between. This album is a bigger step up than “Ghost Ship” was and for that, it is one of my favorites this year.

7. Low Coast – Existing The Dream

Another band featuring a singer/songwriter who played in a prominent melodic punk/indie band that got their start in the early 90’s is none other than Low Coast. This band features Jeff Caudill of the band Gameface on lead vocals/guitar for a new band releasing their debut through Spartan Records. I was struck immediately from the first single “Hard to Believe” how the power of music and songwriting can connect with an audience no matter the political leaning. This music speaks volumes about the reality of our modern world and how we’re all connected. It’s true and seeks to move you with every strum of the guitar and Jeff’s unrelenting, smooth, and instantly connecting voice that shows no signs of letting up after years in the game. Age means nothing in the composition of beautiful music that reverberates with passion. This album was another favorite of mine and I found not one thing to dislike about the variety of songs played. Even “Irrational Anthem” gave me something to ponder.

6. Fall Out Boy – So Much (for) Stardust

After a couple missteps for the band with prior releases I was excited to hear the first couple singles from this new album. Once it released I couldn’t help but listen to every single song and love it. There are some elements of the two albums pre-Mania and especially the “Lake Effect Kid” EP which was a favorite of mine at the time it released. This rides between their early 3 major label albums, the trifecta if you would, and “American Beauty/American Psycho” and “Save Rock n Roll”. The pop-punk is on fire here (no pun intended) and it’s everything you’ve loved from Fall Out Boy over the years with a bit of a modern touch thrown in there to rock the boat. “So Much (for) Stardust” is Fall Out Boy at their best and they sparkle in every sense of the word. I can see Pete flipping his bass in the air and slinging it around himself just listening to these songs.

5. Lacey Sturm – Kenotic Metanoia

This album blew me away late in this year and every piece of this full length is striking. This well done collection of songs by the voice of Flyleaf is insane! If anything, this probably would have served as the next Flyleaf album which I’m surprised wasn’t. Lacey Sturm has an incredibly strong voice for any musician regardless of male or female. Her voice ranks as one of the best in the rock scene and carries immense weight in how she lays those words down to song. It’s both aggressive and unrelenting yet beautifully melodic and spiritually engaging. If anyone wanted a real definition of how Christian Rock “should” sound like, this album would be it. This came out late in the year and I’m still absorbing it even now. Some people may question how it could end up so high on a year end list well I say to you, this is an end of year list and this is a powerful end of year album so bite me. Give Kenotic Metanoia a listen and you won’t be sorry you did. Oh and that song with Lindsey Stirling is pure bliss (‘Breathe With Me’).

4. American Arson – Sand & Cinder ; Tide & Timber

Evan Baker and his band absolutely sling the heavy aggression, pulling out no stops on their mission to conquer your hearts and minds with the kind of thinking man’s heavy punk metal that will surely impress. I loved their early eps and the first full length on Facedown Records just a couple years ago. This one builds upon the aggression of it’s predecessor and cranks amps up to 11. Evan screams with emotion and belts out every note with conviction. The passion flowing through every song here is extraordinary. I love the diversity of Facedown’s releases which has carried that same intensity since the beginning and this release is certainly no exception. This release even features some synth like underpinnings which add beautiful layering to the heaviness. I encourage you all to check out American Arson and give them a listen.

3. Calling Hours – Curtain Call

This punk rock band features Popeye Vogelsang formerly of the band Farside. Farside were an incredible early 90’s melodic pop-punk band (before that was really a thing) and Popeye was their lead vocalist. Well after several decades away from the spotlight (Except for the band Your Favorite Trainwreck a little over 10 years ago with Jeff from Gameface), he returns and with a backing band that absolutely brings it. The sounds found on this full length are pure magic and the way it’s composed is an explosive combination of pop rock like underpinnings and aggressive punk rock. I hear a little Paul Westerberg in the vocals, some Hot Water Music, Bouncing Souls, Face to Face, and yes, Farside. This is one of those full lengths where every song could be a single and every song flows with perfection from note to note, lyric to lyric. Hits you in the chest with a thunderous beat and emotionally connects with me on a whole other level. There is a reason this is in the top of the list and you can’t deny it’s influence.

2. MxPx – Find A Way Home

This is without a doubt the strongest MxPx album in years, in sound, production, and lyrics. I absolutely love the execution of sound found in “Find A Way Home”. The way these songs are delivered home to the audience sparks a certain sentimental, nostalgic glance at the past and future all at once. I can literally listen to this album from start to finish and not get bored. There is a reason this album ranks high on my list and it soars above just my personal MxPx love bias. “Find A Way Home” takes me places that remind me of home and thus a reason the album title fits so perfect here. Congrats Mike, Tom, and Yuri (and everyone else who had a hand in this) for making an album late in life that captures the essence of pop-punk and MxPx all at once. Job well done.

1. Names Without Numbers – Greatest Hits: 2021-2023

A much loved instant classic from a band I’ve long called a favorite of mine. They’ve been at it for years and still remain somewhat of an undiscovered, underrated band just bubbling beneath the surface with the kind of music that’d blow up any radio station or social media hype machine. There is so much variety and emotion flowing through these songs on this EP. I know it’s not technically an “album” but they more than make up for the lack of an album’s worth of songs in just these 6 tracks. This EP features a handful of singles releases between 2021 and earlier this year mixed with a couple songs not heard before. I encourage everyone to do a little search on Names Without Numbers and discover some of the best music to emerge from 2023. Yes, I am a bit biased because I’ve worked with the band in the past years but that didn’t stop me from listening to these incredible songs with an open mind. Names Without Numbers “Greatest Hits: 2021-2023” is my top pick for favorite of 2023 and don’t miss your chance to discover something new that doesn’t suck.

Honorable Mentions:

Mainframe – Good Hearts

Since I released this album on IVM, I felt it be fair not to include them on the official year end list above. It would be biased of me wouldn’t it? Loved this album and the band continues to carve out their own unique blend of pop-punk-rock-alternative with a heavy focus on faith based, Christian lyrics. Songs like “Good Hearts”, “Hope”, “Incident”, “Awake”, and even the cover of Rich Mullin’s “While the Nations Rage” are all classics in the making. Great job Noah K. and the rest of my friends in Mainframe!

Chase Tremaine – Accidental Days

This released back in March and somehow I missed a complete listen through during 2023. As I listen back now I’m kicking myself for ignoring the new Chase Tremaine album. It’s really quite good and I think all our readers would benefit greatly from giving him a listen.

Former Ruins – No Creature is Hidden

This beautiful album was a highlight based solely on that early single I first heard, “Sparrow Eyes”. Somehow I lost touch and ended up passing up the full album and I hate my entire being for not listening to the complete finished product. Really great indie release and Levi’s voice has this deep sounding almost an 80’s synth like retro sound but he dabbles enough in modern sounds that keeps this project on top of the game. Please give this a fair listen because I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

xDolousx – Birth Pains

This groove infused hardcore band from So Cal. have a sort of Downset meets Suicidal Tendencies meets The Warriors meets xDeathstarx. Heavy, angry, aggressive, and spirit filled. A really good newer hardcore band with tremendous potential in the future years to come. “Birth Pains” is extremely solid for a first record and further proof not to underestimate the underground.

Yellowcard – Childhood Eyes EP

Good but not the best. Still worthy of an honorable mention.

Anberlin – Convinced EP

Not my favorite of Anberlin’s catalog of incredible music. Both newer EPs got far less listens than all their past material. I’m sorry, I love Stephen’s voice and all the members of this band but these new songs just didn’t hit me as hard. It is Anberlin however and still some good songs here.

Fine China – Eyes In The Water

Classic synth-wave, retro 80’s inspired of indie pop-rock done only the way Fine China can do. Unfortunately, I found this release sort of late and hardly listened to it enough to warrant an inclusion on the list above. Much like all the band’s prior material, this exceeds in quality and production. There is nothing half rate about these songs. Fine China are such an underated gem and Velvet Blue deserves praise for promoting cutting edge artists and releasing music that matters. I apologize to the members of Fine China for not listening to your songs sooner because these tracks are just plain perfect.

The Dingees – Dropseeds

The Dingees are back and this set of songs reminds me a lot of “The Crucial Conspiracy”. Good but I need my fix of Armageddon Massive. Still a worthy effort.

War of Ages – Dominion

A metal album by a legendary band with years in the game. While I didn’t listen to this album enough to warrant an inclusion above that does NOT mean it isn’t a quality collection of heavy, spiritual, and devil stomping metal songs worthy of fan praise across the world. This is solid no doubt and maybe a couple years back before I’ve gone through all these personal trials and tribulations with my loved one, I would have jammed the heck out of this. Go listen to this band and throw this record up high and turn it up loud.

Cultist – Slow Suicide

Simply put, I see the appeal, I see the earth shattering convictions and I will listen even if my ear drums explode in the process. This is too heavy for me and I’m weak, please forgive me. Seriously though, go check this band out and give them a solid listen. I’ll be waiting for the next record as soon as my walker and new glasses arrive from Amazon. Where’s that prune juice?

Wolves At The Gate – Lost In Translation

This album of just cover songs was a really amazing collection. They were all done so well and a perfect tip of the hat to the original artists. I really enjoyed this.

P.O.D. – 2 New Singles

This should fall under “Top Singles” below but as an honorable mention. The songs are ok but I feel as if something meaty is missing from the recorded product. Heaviness is cool, grooviness is cool, screaming has it’s moments, love the rapping, but classic P.O.D. has it’s definite charm.

Top Singles (without albums or eps)

Too Bad Eugene – Shaking My Fist At Clouds

Brave Days – Dog Eat Dog

Letter Kills – Right Where We Belong
Protect Your Heart – Embers
Light The Way – My Cat Can Eat a Whole Watermelon
The Myriad – Signs
The Rocky Valentines / Starflyer 59 – Split Single
Gametime – Aspire
Binder Of Light – Clean Fortress
Pipe Bomb – Suicide Pact
Dona Luzi – Hold Me
Sam’s The Hero – Chase The Daylight
Static Ultra – Out of My Head
Empty Atlas – Belong
Vivid Era – New Praise
Saint Didacus – Winning Enough
Training For Utopia – Out On Parole
Typica – Rabbit Hole
Seven Times Driven – Non Fiction
Symphony in Peril – The Truth That Binds
Samuel Powers – Honey Boy
Leem of Earth – Wild Waves
Fepeste – Open Mouth (Fill It Up)
Arrows In Exile – The Prodigal

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December 15, 2023 12:57 pm

Great list! I was also labeled a time traveler, lol. What can you do? Our teens and twenties had the best music!

December 15, 2023 11:39 am

Hey Brandon, I haven’t had a chance to listen to Theocracy’s Mosaic all the way through, but I like what I have heard. I am still under the persuasion that As the World Bleeds is kind of their magnum opus, however, I am curious how you would rank their albums overall and where Mosaic would fall on that list.

January 9, 2024 8:38 pm
Reply to  Brandon J.

My wife got me a copy of Mosaic for Christmas so I have finally had a chance to listen to it all the way through. Awesome album for sure! I think I pretty much agree with your ranking of their albums, though I haven’t quite decided if I like Mosaic more than Mirror of Souls yet, but it is really close. I think I need to go back and listen to Mirror of Souls again to see if it still holds up as well as it used to for me.

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