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NSMZ Favourite Songs of 2023 plus Awards Roundup

Updated: Jan 5

Editor's Message: It was just supposed to be a mission statement!

I know, I know... 2023 is in the rearview for most of you, so I'll make this short. Thank you to everyone. Literally ALL of you. Whether you be an industry person, an artist or a reader, you all made 2023 a great year for NSMZ. To be truthful, 2023 was a HUGE growth year for NSMZ. We covered more shows, took on more staff, wrote about more artists, than we had ever done before. Our social media presence became more impactful than ever and we were able to reach more of you, the readers, as a direct result.

The music has always been the message with NSMZ and we've been very blessed to have one of the best teams around working extremely hard to help spread the word on the daily comings and goings in the Saskatchewan music scene. In 2023, we've tried to give an honest take. We've tried to be as venue and artist friendly as much as we possibly can. In the process, we've forged some pretty incredible relationships. NSMZ has always been about the personal touch. If you're thinking this sounds like Jerry Maguire's mission statement, you wouldn't be wrong... Also, if you get the reference without the clip I've included below, then you had me at "Hello".

At any rate, at NSMZ the work we do is all on a voluntary basis. Time, effort, energy. It's a sacrifice to do what we love. I want to thank everyone that had anything to do with the creation of our content in 2023. We could not have reached these newfound heights and milestones without you. It blows my mind how far we've come in such a short period of time. I am certain that we will continue on the trajectory that we are on - and it's all thanks to my wonderful staff.

Now, onto the task at hand. This is a final piece that sums up NSMZ's 2023. It's a list of songs that we've been into over the past year. Instead of flagging just one as "song of the year", our writers and photographers have chosen 20 little earworms from across a wide variety of genres, each with a little description of the reasons why we think they are great. Oh yeah, there's a Spotify playlist too. So you can enjoy them here or you can whip over to Spotify and stream to your heart's content.

Finally, we've also included, at the very end of all of this, a final breakdown of all the awards that we handed out over the past month. It's all there with links to each piece that explains why the winners are deserving.

Thanks again to all of you for your continued support. We love you all!

-Scott Roos

(Managing editor, NSMZ)

"Slave & Rage" - Son of Han

Borrowing liberally from 90's predecessors, Son of Han evil genius Leot Hanson finds himself, with "Slave & Rage", wading through the turgid waters of neo-grunge via a weighty, pulsating riff that permeates throughout. On the flip side, the Lizard King-esque howling of Kory Istace matches the vibe perfectly, giving balance to the fray. It's a driving, singalong, crowd pleasing banger of a track. -Scott Roos

"Smooth Parts" - The Radiant

From the first grungy bass notes to the raw vocals that grab you by the guts to the wailing sax solo, this song is pure listening satisfaction. The Radiant managed to create a song that uses golf as a metaphor for working through the hardships of life and coming out the other side better for it. Pair all that with one hell of an amazing music video and its ridiculously obvious why this is one of our favourite songs this year! - Melanie Macpherson

"Setting Sun" - The Hourhand

Hailing from Regina, The Hourhand put on a veritable clinic in how to reverently re-envision classic rock in this rollicking bluesy track. Guitarist Cole Van Woert's slide work is featured heavily throughout - apparently his first shot at playing with a slide and he does a great job sonically vibing somewhere between Nazareth's "Woke up This Morning" and Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way". Drummer Dawson Dressler keeps the rhythm in the pocket as vocalist Gray Farrow howls overtop of the chaos. It's a solid track all round -Scott Roos

"Freddy </3" - Checkout Queens

If you don't listen to the lyrics AT ALL, this is a beautiful gentle composition you could happily waltz to. But when you do listen to the lyrics you realize this song is the lament of a lonely mass murderer, upset and lonely because none of the other horror movie villains showed up to his Halloween party. It's mind bending in the most magical way, and encapsulates the playfulness and musical talent that Checkout Queens brings to the table. - Melanie Macpherson

"Hey Bruce" - Wolf Willow

Wolf Willow's "Hey Bruce" overall has an up tempo rockabilly vibe. Bassist Marv Ptlotsky's Elvis Presley-esque voice permeates through the horns, congas, strings and pedal steel on this track with a determined swagger. With a chorus that has a memorable hook, the strong personality of Plotsky's stage presence in a live scenario translates well on this studio track. With the departure of vocalist Mitsy Mueller, the group proves, with "Hey Bruce" that Ptlosky's voice is a great fit for this crew. It's undeniable. -Scott Roos

"Infinity Blues" - Shirley & The Pyramids

Maid Of Time, released in January 2023, is the third effort from Saskatoon's legendary Shirley & The Pyramids. The lead single from the record, "Infinity Blues", is the exact sort of drone-y, heavy, dream-sequence jam that Aron Zacharias, Dave Kitter, Duncan Pickard, Peter Grier and Matthew McLaughlin have built their reputation on. Fuzzy layered guitars, loose hypnotic drums and a vocal delivery that personifies sleepy 90's slacker-dom, "Infinity Blues" is a track I've circled back around to again and again. - Will Yannacoulias

"Devil's Son" - Kit Langfield

Kit Langfield slammed onto the scene this year with a full length album that takes us on a journey; searching for a place in the world that the heart can call home. Along the way we find country roads and gritty back alleys, we find and lose friends, experience love and pain and wonder. Picking one song, "a favourite", to represent this album was no easy feat. In the end, I had to go with "Devil's Son", my favourite from the beginning, because you just can't go wrong with that driving, distorted, grungy rock banger. - Melanie Macpherson

"Banshee" - Wenches & Rogues

Galloping NWOBHM style power metal with... Irish folk instruments? Yes, Wenches & Rogue's "Banshee" rocks hard and rides free with all it's folk-metalish vigour flapping carefree in the Saskatchewan winds. It's a campy romp destined to play on repeat for any of the metal intelligensia in this province that care to listen. -Scott Roos

"Yellow Roses" - Last Birds

"Yellow Roses", with its stripped down simplicity in its arrangement, is a snapshot of what Last Birds, a husband and wife duo from North Portal, do best. Endeavoring to record an entire album with just two acoustic guitars to accompany their signature close harmonies, this track is a quaint, nostalgic stroll down memory lane. It's musicality soothes your senses as the story of an old abandoned house unfolds. -Scott Roos

"Freedom' - Grimelda

The second single from Grimelda's It's So Feeling When You Rock EP, "Freedom" is the wholesome fun you expect from guitarist Skyler Cafferata and drummer Blair Colwell; a mean arty-hardcore stomp with a few off-kilter melodies and changes to keep things weird. However, "Freedom" also represents a bit of a stylistic shift for the band; their usual stream-of-conciousness lyrics are exchanged for a social message, and Casper James of the Welsh band Telgate takes over vocal duties in the second half of the track, bringing a cheeky glam snarl to guide the song through it's break to a frenzied finish that I absolutely love. -Will Yannacoulias

"Or Forgotten" - Banastronaut

Banastronaut blasted onto the scene in 2023 with their debut single "Or Forgotten".

With the earnest lyrics of a post-breakup diary entry, the song teases a crescendo into an anthemic pop-punk chorus that'll get stuck in your head for days. And that's fine by me - I can't remember the last time a breakup song felt so good. Looking forward to their full-length album coming early this year. - Tracy Creighton

"Brink of Collapse" - Maxstone

For a decade Regina's Maxstone have been consistently delivering tight, fast, stoic, and surgically precise metal-tinged punk rock. This year's single "Brink Of Collapse" is Maxstone at their absolute best; the changes are smart and satisfying, the musicianship is top notch (drummer Greg Sheldon has me air drumming every single listen through), and Nathan Fafard's raw, powerful voice is as strong and furious as ever. My Christmas wish is that there's an entire album of this stuff coming in 2024. -Will Yannacoulias

"Dreams" - Ella Forrest

Featuring the adept vocal acrobatics of up-and-comer Ella Forrest, "Dreams" proves to any naysayers out there that this young talent is here to slay. The track is a groovy, funky, jivey little number akin to Jamiroquoi that also deftly rubs shoulders with a fusion jazz imbibed Pastorius jam. In short, it's cool af and worthy of many many spins if you dig this sort of stuff. -Scott Roos

"Midlife Crisis" - Driveway Legends

I really liked Driveway Legend's debut and have always had a ton of fun at their live shows; last February I was pleased to find these Saskatoon skate punks 'leveled up' on their second effort, Get It Together. The production is a little brighter, songs are a little more arranged, riffs are a little tastier. The lead single "Midlife Crisis" with it's great melodies, cool bassline and loud n' soft bounce is a song I've been listening to a lot this year and has me looking forward to what's next for this trio. -Will Yannacoulias

"Dumb Enough" - Aurora Bella

Tongue in cheek and playful, this carefully crafted song of feminine empowerment hits the sarcasm button with reckless abandon and it works. Aurora Bella's jazzy vocals mixed with an oddball folk rock style instrumentation hits differently than many of the artists on the SK scene right now. On "Dumb Enough" Bella marches to the beat of her own drummer and we welcome her madcap, zany quirks with open arms. -Scott Roos

"Arrows" - Son of Han

We at NSMZ couldn't decide which song off of Album of the Year winner, Son of Han, was our favourite, so we're including two! My favourite, "Arrows", is an insightful and cautionary window into the hidden world of success. The lyrics are clever, the metaphor fresh, and the melody enticing. The nuances of how the music, the lyrics and theme play off each other to perfectly capture the seduction of success, is what makes this such an outstanding example of great song writing. - Melanie Macpherson

"Aces & 8's" - Berk Jodoin

In "Aces & 8's" Berk Jodoin takes a decidedly outlaw country approach. With its driving rhythm and bluesy undertones this song is hopefully a strong indication for what is to come from the Metis artist in 2024. It's a catchy song, with existential leanings that will resonate with many these days who are struggling with the ever present cerebral tug of war between cynicism and optimism. -Scott Roos

"Weighing You Down" - Highwind

When I heard that Highwind were working on new material I thought to myself "oh that's nice, I like those guys", but when they teased their forthcoming album Final Words with the single "Weighing You Down" I knew this Moose Jaw four piece were doing something really special. An anthemic, powerful emo/alt track, super catchy and immediately memorable yet satisfyingly complex and mature, "Weighing You Down" is the Sask indie single I listened to the most in 2023. The EP is loaded with gems but this song shows singer, guitarist & songwriter Chase Rysavy at his fragile, honest, vulnerable best. -Will Yannacoulias

"Prometheus" - Little Darkness

Aurora Bella earns a second spot on our list, this time as part of Saskatoon alt-rockers Little Darkness (Shea Goyer, Dawson Wayne and Anthony "Tony Sticks" Pawluk). In their debut single "Prometheus", Aurora channels an IDGAF energy reminiscent of Rid-of-Me-era PJ Harvey, igniting a fiery and unapologetic musical narrative that explodes into the chorus and marks Little Darkness as a rising force to watch closely in 2024. - Tracy Creighton

"I Quit Smoking at Champs" - Checkout Queens

Another killer track, because we couldn't pick just one, from our 2023 "Rising Stars" Checkout Queens. This time, it showcases the sturm and drang of the band. Starting out more mellow and contemplative, "I Quit Smoking at Champs" rises to a punk rock fever pitch as the song moves along. The twin vocals do their thing to add a further dimension to the proceedings. It's quality start to finish. -Scott Roos

Check out all our favourites in one place with our Spotify playlist.


It’s true, the annual NSMZ awards are nothing more than something akin to the Jeremiah Johnson nod of approval. They are a metaphorical firm handshake and a hearty slap on the back… Maybe even an awkward hug… There’s no trophy or elaborate fan voting system (aka popularity contest). If you’re receiving an award from us, all it means is that a combination of ten dorky NSMZ music journalists and event photographers somehow, some way, through, at times, heated debate over Facebook messenger, agreed that you were worthy. That’s it, that’s all. Any NSMZ award is a serious award. That is, if you take it seriously. Recognition from us can mean "nothing" or it can mean "everything". It's all in the eye of the beholder.

Congrats to all of our 2023 award winners. You can click on the links below to read each article about why we deemed each of our winners deserving of recognition.

Artist of the Year

Duo/Group of the Year

Album/EP of the Year

Rising Star

Industry Movers and Shakers Award

Venue of the Year

Festival of the Year

Alternative Artist of the Year

Rock Artist of the Year

Heavy Music Artist of the Year

Country Artist of the Year

Folk/Roots Artist of the Year

Pop/R&B Artist of the Year

Electronic Artist of the Year

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