The writing was on the wall ten years ago. Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson released “We Are The Best!”, a vibrant coming-of-age story about three 13-year-old girls who form a punk rock band despite having no discernable musical ability. The riot grrrl movement was alive and still kicking.
Riot grrrls arrived around the same time as hip hop. Both were mid-‘70s phenomena. A couple of decades later, hip hop would come to dominate the world. The riot grrrls would keep bubbling up under the surface. Now, some fifty years on, when hip hop is attempting to redefine itself in an oversaturated market, the riot grrrls and their offspring are consistently cranking out some of the best music of 2023.
Three of my top four albums last year were alt-country releases (Akeem the Artist, Ashley McBryde, Ian Noe). This year, the riot grrrls have come out in full force. For the most part, the best of them have gravitated toward hyperpop, a busy, noisy, electronic brand of pulsing dance music that can shriek or pout equally well. But the shadow of riot grrrls extends well beyond any one genre.
So, in a year that featured pretty decent releases from icons like The Rolling Stones and Dolly Parton, from critical darlings like Lana Del Rey and Boygenius, from acclaimed hip hop hermits like Killer Mike and Noname, and from many of my own personal crushes like Iris Dement, Jason Isbell and the Dollyrots, none of them make my top twelve. (Killer’s Mike’s “Michael” was the last title out at 13.) Here are the artists who do.
12 best albums of 2023 so far include strong female voices
12. Todd Snider - Crank It, We're Doomed
I have a theory about Todd Snider, but I have no hard evidence on which to base it. I suspect that somewhere around 2007, he got tired of being tied to “funny” songs. “Beer Run” put him on the map a few years before, but like Warren Zevon and “Werewolves of London,” it became a curse. I think Snider wanted to write different kinds of songs.
That might explain the panoply of stories we get in Crank It, We’re Doomed, and why the album, originally recorded in 2007, was on the shelf until 2023. The label wanted more “Beer Runs.” Snider was giving them so much more. Some of the tracks on the long-rumored Crank It… showed up on his Peace Queer EP in 2008, and he has sprinkled them into his live set over the years.
But it is awesome to hear them in their original, stripped-down form. Snider has always been influenced by the greats of country folk rock, and we get actual duets here with Loretta Lynn (on the boisterous “Don’t Tempt Me”) and Kris Kristoferson (“Good Fortune”). We also get a lovely Jimmy Buffett cover (“West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown”). And the outlandish tale of Dock Ellis’ LSD-fueled no-hitter (“America’s Favorite Pastime,” which could be a Dylan song from “Desire.”) The recordings are minimalistic, but get great mileage out of a well-placed organ or prominent bass lines.
BEST TRACK: HANDLEMAN’S REVENGE (which fans may know as STUCK ON THE CORNER)