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Burgo’s Top Albums of 2023

Yes, I’ve been absent again. 2 years since my last post. Sorry about that.

I did actually put together a “Burgo’s Top Albums of 2022” with all the intent of posting here last year, but life got in the way. If you’re interested in what made the cut, you can still find the playlist on Spotify here. It was actually a pretty good year, and Anaïs Mitchell’s self-titled album was a thing of friggin’ beauty. Listen to it, if you haven’t already.

But… time, she waits for no man, and the next thing you know, it’s 2024. Your kids are growing up, both at school now. You find yourself smoking meat overnight in a weber kettle. You’re really getting into perfecting your neapolitan pizza bases. The arthritis in your hands is starting to play up, but you’re trying to ignore the fact that it might spell the end of your guitar playing. You’re having to come to terms with the fact that your best friend, your sidekick, your shadow… your little puppy dog… is slowing down and entering her last few years. You’re coming to terms with your own mortality, and thinking about your own legacies. You’re…

Oh. That’s just me?

Anyway, here’s my top albums of 2023… even if a couple of months late.

16. Bill Orcutt – Jump On It

I find Bill Orcutt endlessly fascinating. One-time member of the ever-noisy Harry Pussy, his path to becoming one of the leaders of traditional American guitar is just bizarre, but wonderful. 

This is an album of contradictions. It’s quiet; but loud. It’s soothing; but dissonant. It’s airy; but urgent. It’s all of these things, but none. Make of that what you will. 

And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better album closer than the snap of the guitar string on “Before I Go”.

Standout track: What Do You Do With Memory (but honestly, this is an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety)

15. Lori McKenna – 1988

Just a beautiful, beautiful album. Lori McKenna is a songwriter’s songwriter, and whether you like country or not, I defy you to not feel something, identify with someone when listening to this album.

Jangly guitars abound throughout, and I am here for it.

Standout track: Letting People Down

14. Fenne Lily – Big Picture

An album you can just sink into. The vocals here are comforting, soft, soothing. But there’s a bite to the lyrics that you won’t catch, if you aren’t paying attention. My favourite track off the album, “Lights Light Up”, is just this mass of the conflicts that come in relationships, and it’s heartbreaking but oh-so pretty.

Standout track: Lights Light Up

13. The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

I’ve had a long love-affair with The National, going all the way back to 2005’s “Alligator”, but I’ll admit that 2019’s “I Am Easy to Find” left me wondering where our relationship would go next.

“First Two Pages of Frankestein” brought me right back. Sparse, hushed, weathered and full of that “National glow“, I just love this.

Standout track: New Order T-shirt

12. Wilder Woods – FEVER/SKY

Bear Rineheart has one of my favourite voices in music today (and that’s been the case for over 15 years now!) and FEVER/SKY showcases his absolute roar of a voice throughout. Standout track contender, Patience, in particular. Man, I love hearing Bear just let loose like this.

Just an album of rollicking tunes.

Standout track: Be Yourself

11. Jess Williamson – Time Ain’t Accidental

Alt-country? Indie-country? I suck at labels. I’ll just say this is a very, very good album.

And honestly, anyone who writes lyrics like “My love is pure as the universe/ Honest as an ashtray” has me captured.

Standout track: Hunter


Cheating, because here’s our man Bear again in his main outfit, NEEDTOBREATHE.

To my ears, this is probably their most radio-friendly album that I’ve heard from the band; it’s certainly one of the catchiest. While some listeners might be put off by that comment, I’d still urge you to give this album a listen. It’s chock-full of stadium-sized barn burners.

Standout track: When You Forgive Someone

9. Darlingside – Everything is Alive

Just a beautiful, pretty album. Almost every song on here is gorgeous. Lush arrangement and (as always) beautiful harmonies… although the band are stepping out on their own on individual tracks, more and more.

I just wish it made me feel something more. But for execution alone, “Everything is Alive” makes it pretty darn high on this list.

Standout track: How Long Again

8. Gregory Alan Isakov – Appaloosa Bones

Despite the fact that Gregory Alan Isakov was born in South Africa, it’s hard to deny that his music has become synonymous with his home, Colorado. This album was made to listen while under big skies, gazing up at the stars at the foot of the Rockies.

Of all the artists on this list, GAI is the one I’d most like to hole up for an evening with and share drinks over an old wooden table as we talk about life. His albums are always so richly textured, so full, but at the same time so unhurried, understated and patient. I think we could all learn a lot from that.

Standout track: Before The Sun

7. The Gaslight Anthem – History Books

The Gaslight Anthem made one of my favourite albums of the 00’s decade, and certainly one of my top 2 albums from 2008, with absolute classic “The ’59 Sound”. I can hand on heart say that, nearly 20 years later, I’m still not sick of that album.

Which is why I was nervous about this, the band’s first album in the nearly decade since 2014’s pre-break up “Get Hurt“. And I won’t lie, the album took a few spins for me. But the more time I spend with it, the more I find myself singing along with some old friends.

Standout track: Positive Charge

6. Gracie Abrams – Good Riddance

I’ve pretty much only seen snarky reviews of this album, with adjectives like “derivative”, “cliched” and (in one particularly mean case), “Not Reinventing the ‘Indie Sad Girl’ Wheel” being thrown around.

Which boggles my mind. This is such a good album, particularly when you consider it’s Gracie Abrams’ debut full-length release (?!). Honestly, I feel like Gracie fell victim to the almost impossible “hype to live up to” that comes from personal endorsements from Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo.

Anyway. I really enjoyed this.

Standout track: I should hate you

5. Noname – Sundial

Just effortless flow. Wry. Angry. Frustrated.

No one is safe from Noname. Not even Noname herself.

Takedowns have never been so eloquent.

Standout track: namesake

4. Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan

Although I never published the post, Zach Bryan’s 2022 release, “American Heartbreak”, was one of my favourite releases of that year, and made my Spotify “Albums of 2022” playlist. The dude is so serious, but also so sincere. And when his voice breaks, as it so often does in its plaintive tones? I break, each time.

Is this album without faults? Nope. Does that matter? Nope. Because then Zach Bryan lets loose with one of his heart-breaking lines, and everything else fades away. Bryan writes the songs you feel in your heart, the stories you wish you could tell.

Standout track: Such a tight call on this one, and it ended up a coin-flip between spoken word opener “Fear and Friday’s”, “I Remember Everything” and “Tourniquet”… with “Tourniquet” winning by a hair.

3. Ilsey – From the Valley

For the last decade of so, Ilsey Juber has been a pretty major force in the music world, although most would have no idea. That’s because, until the release of “From the Valley”, Ilsey was mostly known as the writer behind major hits like Beyonce’s “All Night”, Miley Cyrus’s “Midnight Sky”, Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” and more.

All that has changed with “From the Valley”. Ilsey steps into the spotlight, and man, does she do it in style. An album full of longing for something more, somebody else, this is breezy road trip music… and I mean that in the best way.

Standout track: No California

2. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes

Regular readers may not be surprised by this choice… after all, Jason Isbell has had a few appearances on my “Best of the Year” roundups.

Over the years, I’ve named two artists as my favourite lyricists of our generation: Josh Ritter and John Darnielle. Jason Isbell has skirted around that line before, but with Weathervanes I think he’s firmly expanded my previous views into a solid triumvirate.

Such great, great writing on this album. Isbell wrestles with the world around him, and his own place in it… and while there’s not necessarily a resolution, there’s a distinct sense of raging against the light here.

And the 400 unit are just so tight, it’s ridiculous.

Standout track: Save the World

1. Tommy Prine – This Far South

It was always going to be Tommy Prine’s “This Far South” for me. Ever since I came across Tommy Prine back in 2022, the dude has been soundtracking much of my life. While I viewed “Ships in the Harbor” (about the passing of his father, John) as a definitive declaration of a legacy continued, wow was I unprepared for the songwriting that would follow it.

Blending genres from folk, country, americana, punk, southern rock and grunge and more… Tommy Prine’s songwriting capabilities are just sublime. It is absolutely wild to think this kid is 28.

In that short life though, Tommy’s been through a lot. The album seems a reflection of this, with a lot of introspective writing and, yes, anger.

In album opener, “Elohim“, Prine pretty stridently declares that there is no God… and while that’s something most who know me will know is not something I subscribe to, it’s also easy to see the plaintive cry of frustration from an angry young man who’s lost not only his father, but best friends in a relatively short amount of time.

Throughout the album, Prine talks about personal experiences on a songwriting level that is just truly gut-wrenching. I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Standout track(s): Honestly, I couldn’t pick. Elohim, the aforementioned rage against the loss he’s endured; or By the Way, another heartbreaking song dealing with his father.

And there you have it, folks. See you in a few years, maybe?

Full album playlist below…

2011 releases

Burgo’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

You know, I’m just going to jump straight into it this year. The usual caveat emptors – as always, with these lists – exist, and I’m trusting you lot to be smart enough to know that by now. So, without further ado, here we go…

10. REM – Collapse Into Now

Although “Collapse Into Now” seemed to fly largely under the “hype radar”, it’s a completely worthy final album for a band of REM’s stature. Tunes like “Uberlin” and “Oh My Heart” stand up as some of the best in their catalogue, and reminded you of why REM matter so damn much. A band that absolutely poleaxe you with emotion, I’ll always bear fond memories of REM. And this was a great way to go out.

Standout track: Uberlin

9. Gotye – Making Mirrors

There’s this strange dichotomy going on in this record. Gotye manages to keep the album slightly off-kilter – ever so slightly “weird”, for lack of a better word – but at the same time, it remains an instantly accessible album too. I have no idea how Wally De Backer manages to walk that tightrope so skilfully, but he pulls it off with aplomb – as evidenced by the fact that he absolutely owned the ARIAs this year.  Although this release was sold largely on the strength of singles “Someone I Used to Know” and “Eyes Wide Open”, it really is an album that you need to listen to in its entirety to understand De Backer’s talent.

Standout track: Eyes Wide Open

8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest

Dudes, it’s country and I dig it. Not a complicated record by any means, but no less a profound one. Jason Isbell seems to have hit back into his stride here, and following some forgettable tracks in his past solo efforts, “Here We Rest” hints that there’s still some greatness in the ex-Drive By Trucker yet. There’s still the occasional misstep in this album, but the highs – such as Alabama Pines and Codeine – make you forget all about that. Hell, this is the most honest record on this list. And I respect that.

Standout track: Alabama Pines

7. Ryan Adams – Fire & Ashes

A great album, but I can’t help feeling that this was Ryan and my break up record. It’s beautiful, polished, and undeniably Ryan… but just as I’m not the same person I was when I first heard Whiskeytown, Ryan’s grown and changed too. And while I find that a super-happy thing, I found listening to this album strangely tinged with this unshakeable feeling of sadness. A feeling like this is where DRA and I part ways. On good terms, don’t get me wrong… but parting ways, all the same.
Doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cracker album though.

Standout track: Kindness

6. Feist – Metals

So I doubt anything from Metals will be picked up for an iPod commercial, like “1234” was back in 2007. This is a far darker release, but it still allows Feist to intelligently play in that indie/mainstream stream that she so confidently straddles. It’s quite incredible how she’s managed to put together a release that will please both record execs and those who were hoping she wouldn’t shun her roots after the breakout hit of “1234”; not many artists could pull it off in such a stylish manner. But, you know the best part? I don’t think Feist gives a crap about any of that. I think she’s just doing what she’s always done… making music that matters to her. We need more like Leslie out there.

Standout track: Graveyard

5. The Antlers – Burst Apart

You know, I never quite understood the buzz about The Antlers’ Hospice, but man… did they turn me around with Burst Apart. There’s something absolutely haunting about this album. That floating, fragile voice from Peter Silberman filled with emotion, those ethereal chords, that reverence… the first time I heard this record, it was like the first time Radiohead woke me up. “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” absolutely blew me away when I first heard it, and the album closer on this album, “Putting the Dog To Sleep”, is some of The Antlers’ best lyrical work to date; and, not for nothing,  is absolutely heartbreaking.

Standout track: Putting the Dog to Sleep.


4. Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud

There’s just so much going on here. Portugal. The Man somehow manage to sit in a life raft, floating on top of layer upon sonic layer, and pull it all together with killer licks and melody into a hook-filled album; all the while making it look easy. While John Gourley’s vocals aren’t for everybody, I can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself humming along to 90% of these tunes. With choruses that were made for sing-a-longs, I think this is my favourite release of theirs since I first heard “Church Mouth” back in 2007. The only reason this isn’t higher in this list is that the album feels frustratingly unfinished; but it hints at greatness.

Standout track: Sleep Forever

3. Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming

That voice! That voice. You listen to Charles Bradley sing, and from the first turn of phrase you can tell dude has paid his dues. After decades of chasing his dream, Charles Bradley has finally released his debut record with Daptone Records at 62 years of age, and has it ever been worth the wait. Backed by the incomparable Menahan Street Band, this is a soul album as it should be: a release filled with authenticity. Unlike some of his younger contemporaries, Bradley was actually around to see folks like Otis Redding and James Browne perform in their prime, live. So when he sings, you’re listening to the days when funk and soul meant something. They say you can’t sing the blues until you’ve lived a full life… well, ladies and gentlemen, Charles Bradley has 6 decades worth of emotions to pour into his songs. And he’s not going to waste a second.

Standout track: Why is it so hard?

2. The Roots – Undun

From what I can tell, I’m kind of in the minority with my admiration for that album which has me puzzled. A concept album that tells – in reverse – the tale of Redford Stephens’ rise and death in just 40 minutes, it’s a fleeting piece of brilliance from The Roots. Listening to this album is a completely different experience; and yes, I mean experience in the purest sense of the word. With The Roots’ skill with narrative, it’s near impossible to listen to this album without having a full-on movie playing in your head. And Black Thought is so clinical, so aggressive on this album it’s friggin’ scary.
Depressing, oppressive, slightly off… and brilliant.

Standout track: Make My

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

You know, when I first heard Bon Iver‘s sophomore album, my initial reaction was: whooo boy, this is going to piss a lot of people off. The album was undeniably brilliant, but such a departure from For Emma, Forever Ago that I thought fans may have found it hard to adjust to. Sometimes I underestimate people, and it was a pleasant surprise to see this album praised by… well, pretty much everyone.
When I first wrote about this album, I said “This is one of those albums that takes a few spins before it’s the memory of your favourite girlfriend’s scent. That comfortable, warm smell of strawberry vanilla.”. And I still stand by that. It’s timeless.
Unapologetically leaving the “cabin in the woods” mythos behind them, Bon Iver is the most confident and complete sophomore release I have ever heard. I can’t wait to see where Justin and Co. go next.

Standout track: Towers


And there you have it, folks… agree or disagree, those were some of my favourite albums for 2011. For those of you who have Spotify, I have all the above albums (plus one or two that didn’t quite make it onto the list, but who were in the running) available for listening here. Oh… and Merry Christmas, everyone!