Hey, welcome back! Hope everyone had a good holidays and New Year's. If you haven't checked out our multiple 2022 year-end lists, this relatively slow week is a good time to catch up on any music you may have missed from last year (and also check out our list of 100 albums we're anticipating in 2023), and I'm playing a little catch-up in Notable Releases this week too. It's the first edition since December 16, so I've got a few late December releases in here too, along with a few great albums that 2023 already has to offer.

Before we get there, some honorable mentions: Iggy Pop, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Allen Epley (Shiner), Coma Regalia, Jeff Markey (ft. billy woods, PremRock, Fatboi Sharif, Defcee & more), Dark Sky Burial, Nag, J. Stone & DJ Drama, Asian Glow & sonhos tomam conta, Nicole Dollanganger, Skee Mask, Yours Sincerely, the Dandelion EP, the Layback EP, the Blemish EP, The Cure For Pain EP, the Wisdom & War EP, Moby's ambient album, and Earth's Even Hell has its Heroes soundtrack.

Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the (past couple) week(s)?

Fireworks Higher Lonely Power
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Fireworks - Higher Lonely Power
Funeral Plant Collective

As far as anyone could tell, Fireworks went on hiatus at the end of their 2015 tour, but behind closed doors, they were working on their fourth album, unobstructed by the demands of touring or the expectations of record labels and standard album cycles. In 2019, they resurfaced with the single "Demitasse," an ambitious art rock song that showed off a much different side of Fireworks than the one shown on the indie-friendly pop punk records released during their initial run. Along with the release of the song, they announced their new album Higher Lonely Power, but COVID hit a few months later and Fireworks once again retreated from the public eye. In the fall of 2022, The Wonder Years took Fireworks on the road, marking the band's first shows in seven years, and on New Year's Day 2023, they finally unleashed Higher Lonely Power, self-releasing it on their own Funeral Plant Collective label with less than a 12-hour warning and no pre-release singles.

"Demitasse" isn't on the album, but it did set the tone for it. Higher Lonely Power is an art rock journey through sweeping string arrangements, breakbeats, synth-infused dream pop, and caustic post-hardcore. It brings to mind anything from Sufjan Stevens' Age of Adz to Radiohead's Kid A to The Notwist's Neon Golden to the darker, artsier moments of Arcade Fire, but it still has the energy of a band that comes from the emo/punk world and it still sounds like Fireworks. (And for a more emo/punk world comparison, it makes me think of Foxing's Nearer My God.) As Fireworks make their way through these stunning, shapeshifting arrangements, vocalist Dave Mackinder grapples with Christian trauma, death, the changing perspectives of artists who are nine years older than when we last heard from them, and the days when the members of Fireworks volunteered to have Pfizer test new medication on them so they could earn some extra cash ("Woke up afraid to die when we used to think it was funny"). It's an album that needs to be heard from start to finish, an album where no individual track could possibly give you the full scope of everything that Fireworks have to offer here. (Though if I had to pick one song to at least give you an idea of the album's boundless creativity, I'd probably say "Jerking Off the Sky.") It's an album so expansive and meticulously arranged that you can really picture Fireworks spending the last nine years getting every little detail right, and the wait was worth it. Higher Lonely Power is so remarkable that cult classics like 2011's Gospel seem like warm-ups in comparison.

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Anti-Flag Lies They Tell Our Children
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Anti-Flag - Lies They Tell Our Children
Spinefarm

There's a reason so many punk bands are short-lived; the natural desire to change up your sound often means alienating fans, but playing the same three power chords over and over can get redundant. The firm beliefs and ideals of youth tend to soften over time, and it's easy to lose the interest (or the stamina) in such a fast-paced style of music. But there are a few bands who defy all of these stereotypes and expectations, like Anti-Flag, who have been going strong for over 25 years and never fallen into any of those traps. Lies They Tell Our Children is their 13th album and it's up there with the best records of their career. It finds them churning out true-blue punk anthems with the same urgency and vitality that they had in the '90s. The production's a little more modern, and they've got a few new subtle tricks up their sleeves, but for the most part, this is the Anti-Flag that longtime fans know and love. And if you don't already know them, Lies is just as good an entry point as classics like A New Kind of Army and Underground Network. As ever, Anti-Flag fill their songs with social and political commentary that really matters, never relying on clichés or empty gestures, and they wrap them in catchy melodies that anyone can sing along to. In a time where the ideas pushed by underground activists and leftist punks are more mainstream than ever, Lies They Tell Our Children is a reminder that Anti-Flag have been shouting this stuff all along. And helping them deliver their messages are guests from all throughout punk history, from some of Anti-Flag's earliest forebears (Brian Baker of Minor Threat/Dag Nasty/Bad Religion and Campino of Die Toten Hosen) to the genre's latest generation (Ashrita Kumar of Pinkshift) and plenty of the in-between (Rise Against's Tim McIlrath, Killswitch Engage's Jesse Leach, Silverstein's Shane Told, Bad Cop/Bad Cop's Stacey Dee), plus alt-country singer Tré Burt. They all come from various eras and subgenres, but on Lies They Tell Our Children, they're all brought together by a shared passion for music and social change.

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MIKE
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MIKE - Beware of the Monkey
10k

Given the prolific rate that NYC rapper MIKE usually drops, the 18-month gap between his ninth and tenth albums felt like an eternity, but he capped 2022 off with Beware of the Monkey just a few days before Christmas, and it's a quietly triumphant return. (He also put out a three-song EP with Wiki and The Alchemist the day after Thanksgiving, and that's worth a listen if you missed it too.) The self-produced album finds MIKE doing what he does best--dishing out stream-of-consciousness raps over woozy, crackling soul samples--and his tried-and-true approach just never seems to get old. He's still got a lot to say, and he's still got an arsenal of irresistible beats to say it over. The only time Beware of the Monkey really does break from MIKE's usual formula is on "Stop Worry!", a reggae-tinged song featuring dancehall icon Sister Nancy. It's a welcome change of pace that MIKE pulls off just as expertly as his hazy lo-fi rap songs.

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Eternal Sleep
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Eternal Sleep - Desperate Prayer Blues
Closed Casket Activities

Pittsburgh metallic hardcore band Eternal Sleep mostly quieted down after the release of their 2016 debut album The Emptiness Of..., and then vocalist Joe Sanderson's other band Unreal City returned with their new LP Cruelty of Heaven in 2020, but with two days left in 2022, Eternal Sleep made a surprise return with their sophomore album Desperate Prayer Blues. The album was produced by Arthur Rizk, and it's a bone-crushing metallic hardcore LP with forays into slowed-down sludge metal and howling Life of Agony/Alice In Chains-style hooks, plus two bluesy desert rock interludes that give the album its name.

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AJ Suede Indica Music
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AJ Suede - Indica Music
Knowhatimean

Seattle rapper AJ Suede had a huge 2022, releasing four full-length albums (including some of the year's best rap albums), and now he's already got another one just six days into 2023. In addition to having some of the trippiest album artwork this side of Merriweather Post Pavilion, Indica Music finds AJ rapping over beats from Small Professor, Argov, Hann 11, Morriarchi, Bloodblixing, Evildewer, Khrist Koopa, and Wolftone, with no guest appearances. The production leans towards jazz, soul, and psychedelia-infused boom bap, and AJ tops it off with the distinct delivery that's made him a beloved staple of underground rap. He takes a plainspoken approach, and he has a subtle way of sounding like no other rapper as he fills the album with personal tales, clever wordplay, and pop culture references that range from Star Wars to Pearl Jam to Kate Bush.

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Zach Bryan
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Zach Bryan - All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live from Red Rocks)
Belting Bronco/Warner

Zach Bryan rose to the forefront of country music in 2022, and he was extremely prolific throughout the year. His 34-song American Heartbreak was one of 2022's best albums, and he also put out the 9-song Summertime Blues EP, a two-song single, and has a new album called Writers and Fighters due in 2023. And on Christmas Day of 2022, he released a statement about unfair ticket prices, and promised to play "a limited number of headline shows next year to which I've done all I can to make prices as cheap as possible and to prove to people tickets don't have to cost $450 to see a good and honest show." Along with that statement, he put out a live album called All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster, and it gives you a very good taste of how good and honest a Zach Bryan show can be. The album opens up with Zach's homies Charles Wesley Godwin, Jonathan Peyton, and Abigail Peyton teaming up on a cover of "Country Roads." During one of the final choruses, the band cuts out, the crowd takes over singing, and then the instantly-recognizable Zach Bryan finally takes the mic. From there, the album offers up 23 Zach Bryan originals, and Charles Wesley Godwin joins him again for their collaborative "Jamie." It was snowing at Red Rocks that night, and Zach references the weather multiple times throughout the show, but the cold never stopped Zach and his band from sounding great or the packed crowd from singing along. A live album is a great way to experience a down-to-earth songwriter like Zach Bryan, and this one in particular immortalizes what seemed to be a very special show.

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Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive and Indie Basement archive or scroll down for previous weeks.

For even more metal, browse the 'New Metal Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.

And check out what's new in our shop.

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