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Courtesy Bandcamp

It’s the time of year we all look forward to. We work hard all year long with one simple goal in mind: make it to this moment. It is without a doubt the greatest segment of the annual calendar. I’m speaking of course of Spotify Wrapped time, that ego-stroking date when we turn into little Anthony Fantanos, no doubt impressing the adoring masses with the staggering breadth of our vast musical consumption — how anti-commercial, irreproachable, and diverse our taste. We bask in the hard-earned esteem from our friends, family, and followers for our meticulously catered, carefully refined top artists and songs of the past 365 days.

Quick sidenote: Spotify is irredeemably vile. It’s an industry-killing monopoly whose business model is based purely on stealing labor and creativity simply to generate profits for people whose sole purpose on this planet is profit generation and who are otherwise completely uninvolved in any way with the artistry of the product elevated by the platform. Which makes it a quintessentially American business model. However, as with Amazon, Disney, and AT&T, good luck finding a comparable and more ethical alternative. Like Crocs™ and Chalamet, the green dot app is, we suppose, a sort of necessary evil. Artists, especially local ones, just do not have any other options that have the reach that Spotty does. They’re left with no choice but to put their work out there essentially on spec. Let’s just hope most of the app’s users, like us, actually also go to shows and buy physical media to support the artists we listen to at home or in the car when we can. Below are some of our favorite acts that tickled our eager ears in a variety of media in 2023. — Patrick Higgins

 

Patrick’s Faves

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Though I do my best to listen to actual records like a proper, self-righteous, middle-aged hipster, Spotify, admittedly, is just too convenient, especially for checking out local artists who either don’t have physical releases or aren’t on Bandcamp. Which, unfortunately, is most of them. My listening habits with the app tend to center around playlists with various artists so even my top song of the year — “Snowman,” the lead single from Blonde Redhead’s first new album in nine years — was played only, like, 15 times.

Along with that track, it should never be a surprise to find “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac among my top listens. It’s basically a perfect song, and I simply don’t give a fuck if it’s overplayed or has enjoyed more than one viral moment on TikTok, which has undoubtedly contributed to its being overplayed. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, I’ll never tire of it, and I’ll probably still listen to it at least a couple times a week. Best air drum song — ever. Yes, even better than “In the Air Tonight.”

Nor is it surprising to find Coltrane or Pink Floyd or Blaze Foley or any of the other timeless artists that have become essential to my musical soul occupying some of my top spots, yet I am always intrigued by the one-offs and randos. Due to my kids somehow linking my account with their Alexa smart speakers and hijacking my otherwise impeccable tastes, I’ve had my algorithm challenged to square those artists above with the likes of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and some EDM dude I’ve never heard of called Marshmallow. Then there’s my son’s penchant for Rick Rolling, a gag he’s, uh, probably never gonna give up that has undoubtedly further lined Rick Astley’s pockets in the process of confusing Spotify’s robot curators.

Least surprising is the number of locals who found their way to the top of my listens this year. Of course, there’s local singer-songwriters Cameron Smith and Eric Osbourne — I not only have the pleasure of occasionally backing them onstage, but I am easily among their biggest fans. Smith’s two singles this year, “Under the Cover of Darkness” and “Poison Summer,” and Osbourne’s EP When … would have been in steady rotation even if I wasn’t involved with them.

There’s also soulful Fort Worth singer/keyboardist Katie Grace Robertson, whose debut song, “Just to Say,” was my favorite track of the summer. I could reside in the E minor vamp at the end for days.

The album I was most excited for this year was by industrial/horror rockers All Clean. The twisted metal brainchild of Fort Worthian Zachary Edwards proved worth the five-year wait. As chilling as it is blistering, Down from the Inner Work drew blood from my ears as reliably as it fried my brain.

The artist with the second most spins on my Spotty this year behind Blonde Redhead — the New York dream-pop/noise-rock trio is my very favorite band — is Spring Palace. Their debut EP Whatever Happens had two tracks in my Top 5 most played. Hooky harms, clever guitar lines, and a constantly moving bass? It’s as if the Fort Worth three-piece created their sound around a checklist of my favorite musical features.

Departing from Spotify to Bandcamp (the only service where I can find his stuff) is BLKrKRT (pronounced “blacker carat”). Having discovered the sample-based producer’s chill and enveloping beats a few years ago, I’ve been a big fan ever since. I’ve probably given him more engagement than I did the “Lo-fi Beats to Study To” playlist on YouTube when I was in college. Luckily, the prolific Fort Worth beatmaker releases an album just about every other month, so there’s always plenty to check out. – Patrick Higgins

 

Steve’s Faves

At the end of every November, when Spotify presents me with its annual Wrapped list of my 100 Top Songs, I always feel a little surprised and suspicious of the app’s tracking. For instance, in 2020, I know I listened to the Golden Girls theme probably more than most people that year (except for maybe Art Tooth’s Shasta Haubrich), but did I listen to it enough for it to come into the No. 1 slot? One year — maybe 2021? — I seem to recall finding a Jason Aldean song in that year’s Wrapped list, which is shocking given that I have never even made it to the end of a single one of his songs in my life. That brush with the dipshit avatar of Bro Country was enough to keep me from poisoning my algorithm with willy-nilly larks or accidental taps, which is why I have vigilantly avoided even thinking about Taylor Swift while my Spotify account is running. But what’s weird is how my memory of what music soundtracked my life every year is different from Spotify’s record. Does that make me an unreliable narrator? Or does Spotify just kind of gaslight you into thinking you gave Oliver Anthony a chance?

This year, I expected to find Insane Clown Posse’s “Hokus Pokus” capering around my Top 100, but apparently my 2023 listening habits did not appear to Spotify to be down with the clown. I can attest that the top spot on my list, “Entering Darkness,” off cinematic vaporwave composer Ron Cannon’s 2018 album Passage, scored many a moment of my 2023. I run two regular D&D games most weeks, and rather than the soaring, epic scores of fantasy properties such as Lord of the Rings or The Witcher, I prefer stuff that sounds like an ’80s horror movie. Cannon, along with other composers like The Night Monitor and Terrortron, produce ominous synth-heavy scores to movies that don’t actually exist, making them choice for when I’ve burned myself out on John Carpenter, Charles Bernstein, and Tangerine Dream. Thus, “Entering Darkness” checks out.

Courtesy Bandcamp

So does Son of Stan, the local power-pop outfit of which I am a member which returned to the stage in April following a three-year hiatus. That I listened to set’s worth of tracks from SOS’s entire catalog is evidence that I practiced for the shows, but when did I listen to this “… And the Gods Made War” by Massachusetts stoner-rock band Black Pyramid? I couldn’t tell you what it sounds like (besides slow and heavy, I assume), but supposedly I heard it enough for it to find its way onto my list. I do recall playing plenty of Bongzilla, Bongripper, and Beelzebong, all of which were adequately represented, yet nothing by NOFX is, and I know (or I think I know) that I played at least three or four of their albums about 700 times each in anticipation of their show in San Jose in September.

And what about the beautifully heartbreaking “Poison Summer” by Cameron Smith? When Smith dropped that single in August, it hit me like a killer whale falling out of the sky, over and over again, because I played the shit out of it. I guess I must have been using Bandcamp. Who can say for sure? – Steve Steward

 

Juan’s Faves

Spotify Wrapped says I listened to more than 4,000 artists this year. Below are just a few, local and national, that I feel may be of interest to you.

I can never get enough of Denver Williams & The Gas Money. Williams and his gang released a new EP of their hooky and adroit indie-rock earlier this year called Sing Along. A single from which, “Key Lime Pie,” won song of the year in our 2023 Music Awards. And rightfully so. Williams has been playing tunes for several years in our city and is also a wizard at guitar, a skill that saw him take home honors for best guitarist at the awards as well.

Another great local artist I’ve enjoyed having in my ear is Matt Tedder. I own his album I Can Dream You on vinyl and absolutely cherish it. It still gets several spins on my turntable. Tedder’s sound is bluesy and original, with guitar riffs and smooth vocals that I can’t get enough of. It’s no wonder that he also took home a Panthy for best album this past weekend.

Courtesy Bear Family Records

I’m a sucker for hardcore punk, and Fort Worth’s Phorids hits me in all the right angsty, angry spots. Sadly, the West Coast-style hardcore outfit was forced to disband earlier this year after the sudden passing of guitarist Shannon Greer from a blood disorder. They had just released their only album, Feel the Pressure. It’s heavy with lyrics and titles that tackle themes of rebellion and societal injustices, keeping with the tradition the punk genre is known for.

I also love Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett. Her smart story-songs are guaranteed a play if I’m feeling down. Her latest album is a soundtrack to a documentary describing her musical career called Anonymous Club. I can’t wait to see it. — Juan R. Govea

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