With all the sobering layoffs, the headache-inducing industry drama, the outright loss of so many vital publications (including several of our finest alt-weekly papers), and the unsettling rise of AI, The Year in Music Journalism has felt a teensy bit apocalyptic. Even more than last year. Or the year before. Or the 10 years before that.
It feels strange balancing that pervasive dread with my own sense of personal achievement—but I’ve never felt happier with the slate of stories I’ve published, as either a writer or editor, in one calendar year. From launching a long-simmering series to assigning (and actively hunting for) quirky and colorful features, these are my favorite moments from 2023.
This would be a highlight of any year for me, but my first proud moment of 2023 was this Q&A with singer-songwriter/Radiohead drummer Phil Selway. Radiohead are my favorite band (or, at worst, in a three-way tie for my favorite band), so this was one of those heart-pumping, holy-shit-this-is-happening moments that makes me feel less like a jaded, middle-aged rock critic and more like the wide-eyed teenager who vowed he’d one day be a middle-aged rock critic.
Speaking of rock critics, I interviewed a whole bunch of them for “Music Journalists Who Make Music,” a deep dive into the ethical quandaries and curiosities that arise from straddling the fence, so to speak. It was a real passion project that I honestly thought would never see the light of day, so I felt an enormous sense of relief when it came out. Big month!
After the passing of synth-pop/ambient icon Ryuichi Sakamoto in March, I really hoped to pay tribute in some way. Thankfully, I was able to assign Daniel Bromfield’s “beginner’s guide” story, which highlights eight of his essential albums.
Also in April, I launched “Band Jury,” a series I’d been toying with for months. The basic premise was this: Public and critical perception is finicky—and collective taste is always evolving. Which albums do artists feel were unfairly maligned? That slipped through the cracks and deserve another listen?
I kicked off the series with the New Pornographers ringleader A.C. Newman, one of my all-time favorite songwriters, revisiting the merits of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Some Loud Thunder. I don’t know how many people read the story, but I did receive some encouraging feedback, and the final product perfectly captured what I was trying to achieve, at least.
Another big “Band Jury”: …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s Conrad Keely praising Talking Heads’ later-day album Naked. This was really fascinating because it showed the various shapes these convos could take: Conrad wasn’t even a Talking Heads fan before hearing Naked—something I hadn’t anticipated since basically every human loves that band. (For the sake of simplicity, here are all the other artists I interviewed for “Band Jury”: Portugal. The Man, Geese, Fire-Toolz, Local Natives, Madeline Kenney, and Gina Gleason of Baroness. Keep an eye out for my chat with Grails’ Emil Amos, coming later this month.)
Other May highlights: assigning/editing Liisa Ladouceur’s story about the prevailing spirit of goth culture (particularly the “Elder Goths”) and Andy Gorel’s 20th-anniversary take on Third Eye Blind’s underrated Out of the Vein. On a totally personal note, I also saw the Flaming Lips, AKA the world’s greatest live band, in Knoxville during their 20th-anniversary Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots tour.
June was crazy—I spent basically all of it in Taos, New Mexico, where my wife and I set up shop during a working vacation. (Paradise on Earth, by the way. Seriously. We also got to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss live.)
The month’s big highlight was assigning/editing Brendan Menapace’s thoughtful, comprehensive piece about the harsh realities (and thrills) of touring Alaska. (In October, he also wrote this great story about how Taco Bell courted a bunch of young rock bands to become the trendiest brand in fast food.)
I worked on a lot of cool stuff this month, including Dash Lewis’ scholarly piece about the connection between rap and psych-rock, which I assigned as part of SPIN’s Hip-Hop 50 coverage.
This might have been my most jam-packed month, both personally and professionally. I assigned a bunch of pieces I’m really proud of, including Jamie Ludwig’s playful and insightful chat with Buzz Osborne (“40 Life Lessons From 40 Years of the Melvins”) and Ana Leorne’s look back at Nirvana’s 10 best cover songs. I also saw my hero, Peter Gabriel, live in Columbus during his I/O tour.
Trish Bendix did a great job weaving together a lot of threads in this fairly expansive profile of Phranc, the “all-American Jewish lesbian folk singer.”
Also, damn, I saw a lot of great live music this year: In November, prog-metal legends Tool came to Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena and blew the roof off. (I briefly left my body during “Rosetta Stoned.”)
If you’ve made it this far, indulge me with one last thought: This is my first time writing a year-end review, but I found it to be a satisfying exercise. Digital media moves so quickly, and the work we do often feels ephemeral: You publish, you tweet, you move on. It’s healthy to pause and take stock—you can’t aim above your goal post if you don’t eyeball it first.