2023 has wrapped up! You’ve shared your most listened to albums from LastFM. You’re weighing the pros and cons of gatekeeping the 5×5 grid you made of your top releases from 2023. If you’re reading this, your Spotify Wrapped probably told you that you had the listening habits of residents of Burlington, Berkeley, or Cambridge. You posted videos from your favorite concerts. All around a good year for music!
Now that we have entered 2024, we asked some of the local music staff here at WUOG to share some of their favorite local Athens albums from this past year.
Floral Portrait – Floral Portrait
Starting off this list—and kicking off 2023 Athens releases—is Floral Portrait by Floral Portrait. Released in January, Floral Portrait contains 10 songs written by Jason Bronson and Jacob Chisenhall, featuring production from Jesse Mangum and performances from Freeman Leverett—along with over 20 session musicians, many coming from the Hugh Hodgson School of Music. Floral Portrait is quite clearly influenced by 1960s pop acts like The Zombies and The Beach Boys, concluding its Special thanks section with, “& above all, Brian Wilson.” It’s an incredibly ambitious project, in large part thanks to Bronson and Chisenhall’s willingness to bring together so many performers. (For instance, I once saw Floral Portrait play with Laura of Fermented Angels reading spoken-word poetry.) Together, they present the listener with a stellar orchestral pop album that rewards re-listening—something I attribute to the impressive number of instrumental collaborators. Hidden and layered melodies, harmonies, and counter-melodies only reveal themselves after coming back to this album, and that’s part of the fun.
Another part of the fun of this album is, I think, how intensely sweet Floral Portrait is, both sonically and lyrically. Sonically, the album is ruled by lush and warm orchestration and arrangement (sans the interludes like “Rain & Vale” and “Vale & Variations,” which are interesting in their own right). Lyrically, Floral Portrait repeatedly returns to love songs. “Clarissa,” “Silver Thread Lullaby,” and “Waves” are great examples of this. It almost reminds me of twee pop. When combined, the affection and adoration for the song’s beloved bleeds through the speakers.
It’s honestly a difficult album to review, because I keep coming back to it and finding new things to enjoy. Floral Portrait resists stagnation.
– Joseph Mazzola
Nuclear Tourism – Nuclear Tourism
It was a big year for Hard Tack, between the release of issue #1 of their zine, the return of Sh*tfest, their collaborations with Paltas Skate Company, and many many house shows. A highlight of the collective’s work this year is Nuclear Tourism’s sophomore self-titled record. The album has a more garage-punk angle than their earlier ventures, and I believe it exhibits the growth the band have experienced over the five years since their first album Scraping By released.
Starting out with ska-punk track “Feels Alright,” the tone of the record is set from the very first sound clip, illustrating the band’s willingness to have fun with themselves in the Athens punk scene. The following tracks “Dad Brains” and “Sick of It” are similarly upbeat rock tracks that really show the strengths of each member sonically. This is also where Nuclear Tourism’s skate-punk influences shine through. The range of the record is really illustrated in songs like “Mary,” a laid-back reggae ode to cannabis, and “I Don’t Wanna Be Friends” the toned-down love song that closes out the record.
Despite (maybe because of) the sonic contrast between songs, I think that the album operates really well as a whole with each song holding its own, and makes me excited to see just how much more the band will grow in the future!
– Rissa Rogus
Bog Bod – Body Shop
When I first heard of Bog Bod at WUOG’s 2022 Spring Thing, I was enamored with their name as a longtime fan of bog bodies, the naturally mummified corpses of people who died or were buried in the acidic environment of peat bogs. Their music at the show didn’t disappoint, fun and messy punk including, to my delight, a song about bog bodies. I’ve been to a few more of their shows since then at Athens venues from Flicker to Porchfest, and each time they’ve provided the same fun and danceable music—and some of my favorite mosh pits in town. The Bog Bod of their debut EP, Body Shop, is more polished than they typically are live. The songwriting and vocal skills of Body Shop have been there since their grimy Spring Thing set, but the well produced recordings help these elements shine throughout the EP’s 12-minute runtime. Tempo shifts seem to be a favorite in this album, with three of the four tracks featuring both slower sections and more upbeat sections. Overall this gives Body Shop a sense of being somewhat more contemplative than Bog Bod shows, which I think works well paired with the EP’s clean production. The contrast between the recorded Body Shop and the live Bog Bod experience doesn’t feel dissonant to me; rather, it shows different facets of a band that has a range that doesn’t always get a chance to shine through in punk projects. I’m excited to hear more recorded Bog Bod and see how the band develops their recorded identity, and how that compares to seeing them live.
– CJ Jones
Telemarket – Ad Nauseam
Perhaps the most hyped Athens release for 2023 was Telemarket’s Ad Nauseam, heralded in with an album release show at the 40 Watt with Wieuca, Nuclear Tourism, and Karaoke this August. Released on Elephant 6 affiliate Cloud Recordings, Ad Nauseam delivers on that hype—which, after hearing their previous album, You Deserve a Hard Day’s Work After a Long Night’s Rest., and the singles “Who Was In My Room Last Night?” and “Anything To You,” did not surprise me.
Part of the charm of this album is how much of an Athens Album it is, as our friends at Flagpole have noted. Beyond being released on Cloud Recordings, Telemarket has worked with John Kiran Fernandes on this album and performed with Fernandes on clarinet. The cover art is Welcome to Athens, Y’all by Patrick Dean, whom the album is dedicated to. Also, the heavy psychedelic rock sound on this album is clearly influenced by Elephant 6 projects. It’s woven throughout the whole album, giving Ad Nauseam a nostalgic feel while also keeping a newer contemporary sound of Athens punk and alternative rock.
Another thing I really appreciate from this album is that Telemarket demonstrates a full range of songwriting. They’ve got more energetic punk tracks like “In My Head” (a personal favorite), slower songs like “Please! Don’t Leave Me (Alone),” and huge sing-along parts in “In the Morning.” And of course, this album is just filled with killer hooks and fuzzy guitar—two signature traits of Ad Nauseam. I think what makes Telemarket so special in the Athens scene is that they are able to bring together all these elements of rock and alternative music—and of Athens history and culture, past and present. Telemarket puts all these pieces together with a keen ability to mold them into one cohesive album. Part of the enjoyment of Telemarket is that they create something that seemingly bridges Athens from the 1990s/2000s with the 2020s. Ad Nauseam is old, it’s new—and it’s very exciting.
– Joseph Mazzola
Johnny Falloon – Johnny Falloon
Johnny Falloon’s self-titled EP is a paranoid barrage of noise barely clocking in above 10 minutes. Like its sister band sharing John Edmondson and Kevin Barry, Chainhead, they revel in abrasive noise-rock. But while Chainhead adheres to more of a post-hardcore structure akin to Unwound, Johnny Falloon, especially live, harkens more towards the constant assault of bands like Lightning Bolt or Vangas.
The EP opens with the brief lead single, “Flesh System,” which features a superb groove from their drummer Joseph Clementi. Fuzzy bass lines tumble over each other underneath Edmondson’s nervy yelling before quickly cutting out to bring the song out in a series of exasperated hits. Infectious energy oozes out of this track, which directly carries over into the next track, “Slither.” The double-tracked drums on this are a superb touch, which blends smoothly with Barry’s screeches of feedback to bring the song to a new level. “Hammer” features another super catchy series of multi-octave bass riffs, and arguably the best vocal performance on the EP. The closer, “Teeth,” featuring saxophone from Avsha Weinberg of Atlanta duo Lowertown, opts for a more repetitive approach, slowly building up to an electrifying free-jazz freakout before dissolving into a storm of swirling, glitchy drums.
Johnny Falloon’s EP displays a plethora of inventive ideas that point to an even more exciting project in the future, and marks a true high point for this year’s local releases.
– Zac Tishgarten
Clavus – Money!!! and Blood!!!
I found myself more angry in the fall and winter 2023 than I think I had ever been in my life, so Money!!! and Blood!!! coming out in December was quite possibly the most perfect thing for me. Money!!! and Blood!!! is the follow-up LP to Clavus’ first LP, Maybe We’re Not So Far Apart, released last year. Both incredibly heavy, Clavus crafts their albums in a way that makes them impossible to simplify as merely “good because it’s heavy.” They’re good because the members of Clavus know how to write and perform heavy music exceptionally well. Erin’s bass parts give the album a really exciting drive, and her playing is dynamic and clear in a way I find really refreshing. Will’s guitar playing is even more technical on this release than Maybe We’re Not So Far Apart, shifting in and out of a violent freneticism throughout Money!!! and Blood!!!’s 26 minute runtime. Lucía has this relentless aggression in her drumming that she can turn on and off like a tap, and it feels like you’re getting beaten over the head with it. Vocals and lyrics from Amie are as aggressive as ever, and that’s always something I’ve appreciated from heavy music.
One thing that makes this album significantly different from their last LP is that this is a concept album, following Big Screamo Money™ and the following apocalypse. The rumination on the end of everything also puts Money!!! and Blood!!! back in a space containing religious imagery and frustration. (Hearing Amie scream “I am filled with the love of a God / That left us alone like a dog in a hot car” scratches a very distinct itch, and was a personal high point of music in 2023 for me.) This was expressed in Maybe We’re Not So Far Apart as well, but now Clavus turns the aggression outward, toward God, toward capitalism, toward the ending of everything.
Clavus creates something that brings together everything you’d want in a heavy album. Aggressive vocals and instrumentals, fun sasscore moments (“Destination: Cash!” being the clearest example of this), and a great balance of discordant riffs and math-y skramz parts with more groove moments from the rhythm section. The result is something that weaves together diverse influences from heavy music, and lets out a burst of anger, sadness, and defiance that leaves me wanting to dance and scream until the world ends.
– Joseph Mazzola
We want to thank everyone who came to a staff, show, sent in music, and tuned in to 90.5 FM this year. More fun things coming 2024!
– Local Music Directors