Best Punk Albums of 2023
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The 10 Best Punk and Hardcore Albums of 2023

The best punk and hardcore artists fold and knead in other musical styles, diversifying and extending the possibilities of what these genres can sound like.

5. Fucked Up – One Day (Merge)

Genres aren’t an exact science, which is why Toronto’s Fucked Up walks and blurs the line between hardcore punk and post-hardcore. Their sixth album and second through Merge Records is no exception, simultaneously recalling the classic stylings of Hüsker Dü and Black Flag and adding texturally experimental elements to make it their own. With all five band members providing vocals, whether lead or backing, they create some of the most moving chorus sections that can be heard in punk today, sometimes conjuring vocal walls of sound among fast-paced guitars and drums.

Singer and guitarist Mike Haliechuk’s clean vocals compliment lead vocalist Damian Abraham’s sometimes-pitched but always guttural growls. Haliechuk takes the lead vocal position on the unforgettable “Cicada,” singing an incredibly catchy chorus with an embracing effect and hitting the nail on the head with heartwarming lyrics. Fucked Up has stood out since the early 2000s with their vocal performances rather than their instrumentation, which is rarely the case for a hardcore band.

4. Gel – Only Constant (Convulse)

A significant movement in punk culture today is embracing one’s freak nature, a notion of creating a welcoming social environment for marginalized groups, and bringing a sense of togetherness to the outcasted and queer. Punk culture is fringe culture. This is why Gel promotes the idea of “hardcore for the freaks”, as spoken at the end of Only Constant’s fourth track. Showcases the sociopolitically commentating side of punk, Gel represents toughness in a new form that doesn’t have to be associated with masculinity, evident in the caption of one of the New Jersey band’s Instagram posts: “In case you didn’t know, we wanted to share that Sami and Maddi are both non-binary and use they/them pronouns. Women in hardcore r cool, but there just aren’t any women in this band.”

The New Jersey group’s grimy sound delves into the traditional roots of hardcore, harkening to 1980s first-wave hardcore punk. Sami Kaiser’s raspy, nearly blown-out voice is harsh and drilling as it punctuates the band’s crunchy, deliberately unpolished instrumentation. Gel has a way of transitioning into breakdowns so seamlessly that you barely notice your head nodding to it. Only Constant has visceral energy and is simple in its structure, with its shrewd songwriting and catchy, grimy riffs.

3. Incendiary – Change the Way You Think About Pain (Closed Casket Activities)

Stemming from Long Island, the hardcore band’s fourth album swaggers with chest-pounding grooves akin to the force of early 1990s Rage Against the Machine. Incendiary stay up-to-date within the hardcore zeitgeist through heavy breakdowns that harken to the metallic hardcore stylings of Knocked Loose sans the screaming. It isn’t often you hear music as aggressive as Incendiary’s Change the Way You Think About Pain that doesn’t include a vocalist screaming all the way through, but vocalist Brendan Garrone’s style of barking is appealingly clean and only a few degrees away from rapping. Leaning into the metallic edge of hardcore, the guitars do all the screaming in the band with tactically placed, panicky, higher-register dissonant chords.

Released through Closed Casket Activities, Change the Way You Think About Pain is about pain avoidance and how individuals choose not to deal with their inner struggles. It explores internal strife and all the branching effects that come with it, meditating on how people isolate themselves from each other by not addressing their personal problems. Rather than delivering hard moral declarations, Garrone contemplates these ideas by reflecting on his mental health. This album is relentlessly crushing in its execution and psychologically intriguing in its lyrical approach.

2. Fiddlehead – Death Is Nothing to Us (Run For Cover)

More on the post-hardcore side of punk, with clear influences from Fugazi and At the Drive-In, proves punk doesn’t have to be all about angst and noise. It can be mature. Boston’s Fiddlehead continue to wear these influences honorably on their sleeve with their third full-length album. Death Is Nothing to Us proves that the supergroup (including members of Have Heart and Basement) is consistently busy and improving their songwriting skills. Most of this improvement comes by way of vocalist Patrick Flynn, whose powerful voice executes stickier melodies with every new album. Much of the album’s accessibility comes from his smooth singing along with the rest of the band’s seasoned, driving instrumentation.

Of course, Death Is Nothing to Us ruminates on mortality, but more accurately, it focuses on the need to escape depression (“Sleepyhead”), a lack of purpose and meaning (“True Hardcore (II)”), and hope that death is freeing (“Going to Die”). Still, Fiddlehead’s fiery music beams with vigor and a willingness to march on tracks like “Fiddleheads” and “Fifteen to Infinity”. Flynn’s writing laments his inability to confront his worries, dwelling on his need to be genuine despite conflicting social expectations. As significant as it is for many hardcore-influenced groups to focus on the power of community to forge connections with audiences, it is refreshing to hear hardcore music that examines inner struggles.

1. Jeff Rosenstock – HELLMODE (Polyvinyl)

Prolific recording artist and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Rosenstock can be accurately described as a compulsive lifelong punk rock troubadour, always recording, touring, and doing it all mostly in a DIY fashion. He’s a tireless songwriter, showing no signs of halting his career since it began in the mid-1990s. HELLMODE is yet another charming layer upon the mountain of music he’s created or had a hand in creating, considering all of his work leading other bands, including The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb The Music Industry!.

Rosenstock has a knack for fully realizing powerful arrangements that intensify to the end. “DOUBT”, “GRAVEYARD SONG”, AND “3 SUMMERS” are worth multiple listens, building up to overflowing, explosive sing-along segments. Unbelievably verbose songs like “HEAD” demonstrate that the Long Island native’s fervor and uncontainable energy seem to be neverending, even at age 41. Rosenstock has enough years behind him to have something to say based on his experiences, which makes HELLMODE deeply relatable and often encouraging. The powerful way that he sings “The world doesn’t owe you” repeatedly on “FUTURE IS DUMB” exemplifies Rosenstock’s ability to narrativize harsh realities, explore emotional growing pains, and relay simple truths that can only be experientially learned by picking apart your anxieties.

HELLMODE is fully punk rock yet stylistically diverse. At times, it takes the form of ska, pop, or Celtic punk, and at other times, like early 2000s midwest emo. Rosenstock likes to play around with different subgenres under the punk umbrella, indicated by his re-working of his fourth album, No Dream, into a ska album a year later called Ska Dream. Clearly, his penchant for experimenting within the realm of punk has made HELLMODE a well-rounded and versatile collection of punk songs.