Words by Kevin Connor
Kevin Connor is co-host of the Best Song Ever Podcast, where he and Luke play and discuss their favorite new music. He’s been eloquently labeled “The Banger Bitch.” If it slaps, rips, shreds, is a bop, a jam, or a certified banger – he wants it. It’s what he craves. He also reserves the right to completely trash this list as new discoveries come to light. Here are his top ten albums in descending order.
I was very late to the Jessie Ware experience. I only became a fan starting with her last album, 2021’s What’s Your Pleasure? (an album I’m continually shocked I didn’t included in my top 10 of that year), when Ware started leaned heavily into disco influences, proving the genre isn’t dead. Over top-of-the-line production, Ware’s impressive vocals are matched with masterful songwriting, a trifecta of catchiness. I’m a sucker for a build up in a song, and she’s the queen of a good build. That! Feels Good! features Ware and her production team weaving in new instrumentation with each verse start and chorus. Leaning into the funk and grandiose, every track on this album is a masterclass in pop, no more than “Begin Again,” a 5-minute ballad supplemented with horns and a heavenly chorus of backing vocals, contrasted perfectly against Ware’s luscious vocals. However, very little has to be said about this album; just look at its title and you’ll know what you’re in for.
The ninth track of Fall Out Boy’s eighth album, So Much (For) Stardust, is “Flu Game.” A reference to Michael Jordan’s famous flu game in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. Jordan, already 4 championships into his career, woke up the day before the game, the series tied 2-2, with all the most serious symptoms of the flu. He was told there was no way he’d be able to play. He put up 38 points and was a critical player in the Bulls win that night, two nights before the Bulls would win their fifth championship in seven years. Four years later, just 20 miles north of the United Center, Fall Out Boy was born into existence in Wilmette, IL. Their career for most spanned 2003-2008, with a run of four incredibly successful pop-punk albums. Following 2008’s Folie à Deux, the group disbanded, leaving the pop culture sphere for just five years before their “return” with Save Rock and Roll. For a lot of long time fans (myself included), the new music wasn’t the same – it didn’t have the heart, the charm, the ridiculously long track names. So when Stardust released this March, I went in with low expectations, expecting to move on by the half-way point. I listened to it twice through.
The album has recaptured so much of what I loved about the band – dramatic lyrics, perfectly executed pop-punk fundamentals in the instrumentation, but most importantly, the youthful whimsy that had been so severely lacking since the band’s return. I had counted them out, just as the Bulls’ team doctors had counted Jordan out. Despite the doubts, both surprised with their performance. For those that were never fans, this album won’t change your mind. But for those who were true believers in the mid-2000’s, this is Game 5.
There’s a methodology to listening to music. My oversimplified take on it: there’s two things you can focus on: lyrics and vibes. Not to say these both don’t come into play when exploring an album on repeat listen, but on vibes alone, I knew Jeff Rosenstock’s HELLMODE had made it into my top 10 after my first listen. Not to discourage the writing on HELLMODE; Rosenstock is at his most cutting here, challenging the unknowns of life, best heard in the apocalypse-anticipating “FUTURE IS DUMB.” The production on HELLMODE is tightened up from Rosenstock’s previous ventures, and he doesn’t hesitate to strip this back and return to his more indie-produced roots. This is heard no better than in “GRAVEYARD SONG,” which spends its first two minutes with just acoustic guitar and drums accompanying Rosenstock’s raw vocals. But the jangly “LIKED YOU BETTER” is the best example of the fun Rosenstock is having with this album. Despite the raw old-english letters and pasted-together pink collage that adorn the album cover, HELLMODE spends less time in chaos and is the most cohesive album of Rosenstock’s career.
FIZZ impresses so tremendously in their debut album. The first track promises the title of the second, “The Secret To Life.” Judging by this album, that secret is making dynamic, theatrical music with your pals, and that’s fully on display here. All members sing joyously at once, lending an acapella-like energy to each track. “High In Brighton’s” biting songwriting is contrasted with small clarinet interludes, as the band ponders their youth, the future, and everything in between in tracks like “Hell Of A Ride” and “As Good As It Gets.” FIZZ feels like the band that we all wanted to be in when we could play one single chord on a guitar and started making up band names with our friends. However, they back it up with incredible instrumentation, songwriting, and energy, and have become one of my favorite new bands of the year.
If there is one cool perk I get being the co-host of Best Song Ever, it’s every once in a while, an album is sent to me in advance to check out. I was lucky enough to hear Prestige in April when I played “Hold Tight” on the podcast. That was the beginning of my four-month period of suffering while I waited for the album’s release worldwide. It was so good! Girl Ray has always used the guitar lick as an emphasis in their music, but the glammy production hiding on this album for those four months drove me crazy. Can you wear out a link? Prestige has been solidly in my top 10 for twice the amount of time it has even been out. The album’s “Intro” leading into the faux-strings of “True Love” demonstrate a sheen that is new to Girl Ray, and suits them so appropriately, as does the intro to “Everybody’s Saying That” with the highs and mids turned down. That song is the highlight, with incredible vocal arrangement against the synthy backing track. Prestige (spelled in neon lights in the album artwork) shows off its strong production throughout, but never loses the style that the indie-trio has established in their previous albums. However, it uses that style as a foundation to build something that feels more energetic and catchy that has me replaying Prestige still.
The phrase “Sophomore Slump” would have been so easy to apply against the second album from former Disney-kid Olivia Rodrigo. 2021’s Sour was from the teen perspective, filled with spite about ex-boyfriends, former friends, and the problems we face in life as we strive for a drivers license. However, GUTS didn’t miss. It’s a more mature, dynamic, and interesting record than her debut, and features Rodrigo trusting in her vocals far more than she ever had (heard in the stellar and emotional “vampire”) with slick production from collaborator Dan Nigro. Rodrigo’s songwriting has gone from spiteful to truly biting, delivering brutal insults with a self-awareness that keeps the album feeling like a rehash of Sour. “ballad of a homeschooled girl” is pinnacle of this tongue-in-cheek delivery, as she vocally struggles to “think of a third line” in the final chorus, proving her music far more witty than the traditional teenage jams about love and heartbreak. Sure, “love is embarrassing,” but stacking up two fantastic albums in a row probably makes up for it. I’m looking forward to Rodrigo going 3-for-3.
I don’t think an album has grabbed hold of me like Chappell Roan’s The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess since Carly Rae Jepson’s Em·o·tion (please, respect the interpunct). Friends and Best Song Ever listeners will know that that’s high praise. But the debut effort from the Missouri native is equally stacked with pop bangers and powerful ballads, showing off Roan’s impressive vocals and penchant for clever songwriting and theatrics. You’ll know if this album is for you by the time the first track “Femininomenon” wraps up, with call and response answers, motorcycle revs, and interruptions to “play a song with a fucking beat.” Stick with the album, and you’ll hear Roan share the experience of her escaping the midwest to the coast, where she was able to freely express herself in her music. Midwest Princess is a tremendously stylish albums, combining midwest pageant culture with queer and drag styles, which is certainly present in the style of music and songwriting. But tracks like “Coffee” and “Casual” allow Roan to display her impressive vocals over stripped-back production. Midwest Princess exists best in juxtaposition. The previous two tracks lead into the ultra-glam and camp of “Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” and “HOT TO GO!” (which features its own Village People-esque dance to spell out the song title) before the highlight of the album, “My Kink is Karma.” Roan’s strong songwriting is perfectly paired with her emotional vocals on this track, in what might be my song of the year. Chappall Roan wasn’t on my radar two months ago, and that was an egregious oversight. She certainly is now.
Shoutout to Burlington, VT, which according to my Spotify Wrapped, is a hotbed of boygenius listeners. I am one of you, as are a ton of people who had either been eagerly awaiting a follow-up to boygenius’ 2018 self-titled ep, or had become fans of its members, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, with their recent releases. The trio’s chemistry in songwriting and performance could not be tighter, as the record is such a huge evolution in their music, displayed nowhere better than “Not Strong Enough.” Each of the three take their own verse in the song, before combining in each chorus for boygenius at their best. The entire album is chock-full of peaks, most often when the three are working in tandem, such as the round in “$20.” But each member also has their time to shine. With the release of the record (and their B-side EP the rest) this year, I’m looking forward to solo efforts from Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus, with the hope they take up 3 spots on this list next year.
The self-titled debut of Will Butler + Sister Squares will be a familiar sound to many fans of indie and alternative music. Butler, former member of Arcade Fire (and brother of frontman Win) certainly has been influenced by his 15+ years as a member of the band, before departing in 2022. However, the collaboration with Sister Squares has led to an incredible album that feels as cohesive as Arcade Fire’s best. It’s tough to talk about the group without considering the work of Arcade Fire, a juggernaut in indie music, however, Butler and Sister Squares’ debut effort feature such tight production that it feels like the perfect execution of the ideas Arcade Fire has so often put forward. “Stop Talking,” for all intents and purposes track 1 (following the :39 second “Open”) marches onward with synthy energy into the cinematic “Willows.” “Long Grass” is a swirling anthem, and the one-two punch of “Me & My Friends” and “Saturday Night” are a 6-minute groove that builds and dazzles. This isn’t even half of the album, and yet, the sequencing carries the listener into the back half excited for more. Side two standout “Arrow of Time” is a highlight on an album I’ve revisited more than most throughout the year – this is an album every single person can enjoy.
Have to disclose that I’ve been a Paramore fan for a long time. Seen them twice live, some of the most electric shows I’ve seen. I was jamming to RIOT! in middle school and clamoring for “Decode” to get added to DSPs for years (thank god it finally was in 2021). The band, fronted by ultra-presence Hayley Williams, has put out consistent efforts with its changing lineup in the last decade, with 2013’s Paramore and 2017’s After Laughter, alongside Williams’ solo debut Petals for Armor and its’ follow up, FLOWERS for VASES/descansos. There has been plenty of Paramore music released, but nothing like This Is Why. The title track, first on the album, features funky guitar licks and Williams’ iconic belting vocals, but the album follows up on their new sound with a trio of songs that are Paramore at their most dissonant, the verses in “The News” as well as the talky vocals of “C’est Comme Ça” among the best examples. However, even a new funky sound can’t hold back Paramore from creating cutting tracks that feature Williams giving it her all. The gruff performance on “Big Man, Little Dignity,” feels like a set piece in future Paramore shows, alongside the rarely performed high note in “All I Wanted.” Paramore has stepped beyond their pop-punk origins to become one of the strongest rock bands putting out music, and This Is Why is hopefully the first in a series of all timers from the band.