It took us three tries, but finally a single month posting, and before the end of the next month. Victory! Or at least, you know, less defeat. If you’re new here, I’m listening to new releases each month, and then sorting them into “Yes”, “Maybe”, and “No”, with the ultimate goal of finding… The 22 Best Albums of 2022!
You can find the previous not single-month reviews here:
We’ll get going in a moment, but first a brief overview of the three categories:
Yes– These albums, upon first listen, could be in running for the year’s best. If they survive the brutal winnowing to come!
Maybe– These albums have a considerable something going for them, but also something that gives me pause. I’m giving them their own category, because “maybes” sometimes linger and become “yeses”.
No– Being a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad. Though sometimes you do end up there because you’re crap. But you can also be fine, but not more than fine. Or interesting in some way, but not quite pulling it off. Getting to yes isn’t easy!
With all that established, let’s get on with it and review the good, the bad, the ugly, and the merely insipid from the 93 May new releases I listened to!
Action Bronson, Cocodrillo Turbo– A cacophony of sound effects and musical influences (with a pleasing tendency towards good old fashioned rock) on the mix side, and some variously hilarious and scary swagger on the vocal/lyrical side. He is now my favorite Albanian-American rapper of Jewish and Muslim parentage! His food show is really fun too, although I guess that review belongs in another blog…
Alfie Templeman, Mellow Moon– Swinging indie pop that bangs its way through multiple styles and has fun the whole way through. The smooth pop production is there, but so is an indie spirit of experimentation. Here’s to more innovative 19-year-olds making bedroom pop!
Arcade Fire, WE– If there’s anybody out there on the artier side of indie rock who does a better job than Arcade Fire at making albums that are artistically deep, emotionally evocative, and have honest to goodness structure, I haven’t heard of it. With this exploration of the ends of emotion and ends of empire, I had the experience I often have with their music, of starting off not sure if I’m buying it this time and realizing by the end that I’m utterly entranced.
AWOLNATION, My Echo, My Shadow, My Covers and Me– I am told AWOLNATION is an electronic-rock project fronted by Los Angeles-bred singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Bruno. They decided to ride out COVID by taking on a truly dizzying array of covers including songs from, for example, ABBA, Alan Parsons Project, Biz Markie, Madonna, and Midnight Sun. Sometimes their takes are more faithful, sometimes cleverly inventive, and always well done and fun.
Belle and Sebastian, A Bit of Previous– If there have been better purveyors of melodious indie pop the last twenty years than Belle and Sebastian, I’m not sure who they are. Every song here is smooth and on-target without ever sounding artificial or rote, and you only have to listen around a little to appreciate how rare that is. I also like that this album in particular feels like it has a slightly harder and driving edge than their music sometimes does.
Boat Songs, MJ Lenderman– The musical touchstones of this album are country-inflected heartland rock a la Neil Young, 80s/90s alt country, and seething hardcore guitar. On the lyrical side, there’s a snarky take on matters personal and pop culture worthy of classic Uncle Tupelo or Warren Zevon. This Asheville-based musician is truly producing something that honors multiple pasts and still feels individual and vital.
Boldy James & Real Bad Man, Killing Nothing– Detroit rapper James has teamed with crew Real Bad Man to produce this throbbing menacing set of songs livened by clever and unexpected mix effects. The vocal flow adds a hypnotic quality to the dark tales being told. It leans a little toward cliché at times lyrically, but for every moment like that there are a dozen where the power and musical surprise pulls it through.
Cave In, Heavy Pendulum– The metal crunches. The music swirls and swells in great waves. Sometimes it’s thrashy, sometimes it’s orchestral, sometimes it’s heavy. The vocals shout but you can make them out, and then another vocal which is more metal ballad kicks in. At times it becomes almost a resurrection of Soundgarden, then gets a little edgier a la the Melvins or Tad, other times I’m hearing Rush, even a distant hint of Zeppelin. Something serious is going on I think, but livened by a lot of musical fun. Even the 12-minute track at the end works!
Craig Finn, A Legacy of Rentals– A solo outing from one of the leads of the Hold Steady. Vocally/lyrically it’s pretty much spot on with the vivid tales of regular life storytelling he does, which you either like or don’t (I do!). Musically is where it gets interesting- there is a lot more variety and experimentation here than on most Hold Steady albums- it reminds me of the difference between, say, the Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie.
Gospel, The Loser– I don’t know where Gospel came from, but this is apparently their first new album in 16 years. And I think they’ve been saving up! Blistering metal, sometimes technical and prog-rocky, sometimes full of hardcore snot attitude. If you’re in the mood, it won’t do you wrong on a single song.
Joe Rainey, Niineta– Niineta, the title of Pow Wow singer Joe Rainey’s debut album means “just me” in Ojibwe, the native language of Red Lake Ojibwe in Minneapolis. If you didn’t know what to expect from a Pow Wow album, you’re just like me. It’s powerful in its own right, but is interspersed with a sound recording collage and an electronic mix that enhance it further and sends it in surprising directions. Worth repeated listens for all that’s going on here!
John Doe, Fables in a Foreign Land– John Doe has been exploring Americana/heartland/country territory off and on since the 80s, so in a sense this album is no departure. But boy has he jumped in to it here! The folk influences are in full flower, and the lyrical heft, musical excellence and dark vision all churn along.
Johnny Ray Daniels, Whatever You Need– Debut album from a 76-year-old North Carolina-based singer/guitarist who has previously been a key background figure in multiple North Carolina gospel productions? I’m in! And as it turns out, this is rocking good music from start to finish, without a hint of slickness or inauthenticity. Everyone who’s not a 76-year-old releasing their first solo album should take note and question why they aren’t doing this well.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers– As befits Kendrick Lamar, this is by turns hilarious, menacing, willing to explore ugly truths, and uncomfortably vulnerable and self-exposing. His customary musical and vocal kaleidoscope of approaches is there throughout, and, if anything, is more varied and experimental than ever. If it comes in a little long (1 hour 17 minutes) and isn’t as focused or structured as some of his albums, it also gets more powerful as it goes on. And isn’t the best hip-hop artist of his generation entitled to a sprawling double album now and then?
Otoboke Beaver, Super Champon– Rocking female-led bands and quirky Japanese noise-pop are two of my happy places, so… And indeed, this is brutal and hilarious. It reminds me, variously, of Bleach era Nirvana, a snotty young hardcore band, and the thrashier side of Cibo Matto. It’s a winning mix, and even the parts that are entirely in Japanese work.
Porridge Radio, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky– Wow do I love what this English group is doing here. Musically, you’ll hear some of the synth-pop 80s, some of the Cure/Siouxsie side of things, and a fair nod to the darker side of emo. Vocally, the lead singer often comes across as anguished, even harrowing at times, but it never rings false. And it’s livened by some darkly funny lyrics that have a genuine bite to them. Their album Every Bad was on my 2020 final list, and it looks like I’m still buying what they’re selling!
Steven Lambke, Volcano Volcano– This Canadian singer-songwriter’s album is mostly in an acoustic vein, but with richly supporting instrumentation redolent of classic rock. That, and the combination of Lambke’s wispy vocals and densely intelligent lyrics, casts an entrancing spell. Though spare, there are layers here that bear repeated listening.
Tess Parks, And Those Who Were Seen Dancing– This starts off with slow grooving songs, blues and R&B chord changes, fuzzy and echoey, with dark complex lyrics and languid vocals. All this is still going on, but it gets some darkly surging rock going on later without losing the flowing feeling. This Toronto singer-songwriter is someone to keep an eye on!
Yves Jarvis, The Zug– This album by Montreal-based musician Jean-Sébastien Audet is really something! In (large) part, it’s in the vein of mellower folk-tinged psychedelia from the late 60s/early 70s. But interpreted with more than a dash of bright, quirky electronic music, and sometimes the kind of fusion of philosophical flights and confessional material you might find from, say, Sufjan Stevens. Both a fun and interesting listen, and layers of what’s going on here that are well worth re-exploring!
Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, American Static, Vol. 2– It’s like one just accidentally tuned in to 40 minutes of AOR radio from the 70s. Which makes for a very agreeable 40 minutes! It’s not over-brimming with originality and does fall a little into sameness track to track, but it never feels false.
Def Leppard, Diamond Star Halos– Def Leppard, who are a great band, paying tribute to the great 70s music that first inspired them (hence the T Rex lyric reference in the album title) by making songs in that vein. This is a good set-up! I don’t know that I can always hear those influences on the tracks here, but when I can, it’s amazing. The rest of the time it’s “merely” a really good Def Leppard album.
Harry Styles, Harry’s House– Against my better judgement, I really liked this! Several different schools of pop are being explored here, from mellow acoustic, 60s Britpop, to neo-dance music, and they’re being explored well. He really has become a legit artist in his own right! The marks off, such as they are, are coming from a lack of the coherence that could have really cemented it as an album.
Leikeli47, Shape Up– This New York musician is known for being so private she’s never performed without her face covered. That’s a curiousity, but the real deal is her strong beats, husky sensual hypnotic flow, fun musical, vocal, and lyrical twists, and delightful inversion of hip-hop gender dynamics. She sometimes waxes downright ballady along the way as well. There’s some lack of album coherence/structure keeping this from getting to “yes”, but it’s still a strong package.
Let It Be Blue, !!!– The first track was a nice moody acoustic ballad, the second is a very techno electronic outing, the third is more dance club and neo-disco, and now I just don’t know what is going on! It continued in that vein, and afterward I read that they are a twenty-year-old unconventional dance-punk band. I’ll say! It’s never less than unusual, interesting, and fun the whole way through, and their cover of “Man on the Moon” as a dance club power-song is amazing. I’m still not sure about the intro track, which is so unlike the rest in tone, but I have to consider it a maybe!
Midland, The Last Resort: Greetings From– I was favorably impressed by their album The Sonic Ranch from last year, and this neo-traditionalist country band from Texas has done it again here. It veers a little toward cliché, but if the median country band had this much respect for the musicianship and songcraft of country, along with some rock verve, we’d be in great shape collectively.
Say Sue Me, The Last Thing Left– I think I was expecting something more…K-Poppy?… from an indie rock band from Busan, South Korea. What we have here, though, is as fine a set of shimmering, chord-working, strongly felt and sung jangle-pop songs as you could hope to find. Very much in a vein that’s not surprising from an 80s alt or 90s-00s indie rock world, but no less solid for it. Maybe!
Slang, Cockroach in a Ghost Town– A sort of Pacific Northwest indie supergroup- composed of lead singer Drew Grow (Modern Kin and Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives), drummer Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, and Wild Flag), lead guitarist Anita Lee Elliot (Viva Voce) and bassist Kathy Foster (the Thermals and Roseblood). They’ve all learned their craft well, and they work well on it together.
Tank and the Bangas, Red Balloon– Oh, this was so close! This new Orleans group mixes together genres, and had, at times, an almost early 80s hip-hop feeling, other times something jazzier, and sometimes verging on downright psychedelic. And the hilarious and just downright weird cutting up they do during and between pieces is a delight. There were a few spots where it became more easy listening jazz, and that’s what threw my off. But I’m surely going to listen again!
Uffie, Sunshine Factory– This rapper, DJ, and singer/songwriter has been working furiously in collaboration with others and behind the scenes for years and has put out music on social media and via EP, but this is her debut solo album. On the one hand, it is autotuned dance music par excellence. On the other, it is utterly given to the genre, and milks it for all the glitz and tawdry afterburn it’s worth. If anything, the only thing that threw me off was a flat song or two that didn’t have the sparkle of the rest.
VERO, Unsoothing Interior– Stockholm trio! You know how I feel about Scandinavians… Some excellent angular post-punk, moody and sometimes thrashy, a la Elastica. It’s not the newest sounding thing in the world, but it I liked it more track by track as I listened.
Wilco, Cruel Country– Wilco getting back to their (that is, Uncle Tupelo’s) alt country roots. A lot of this sounds familiar to that era, and also hearkens back to some solid Alex Chilton. It’s very good, and the best moments are haunting and yearning. But I’m not quite sure it sustains the double-album length.
Alex Izenberg, I’m Not Here– This Los Angeles musician wrestling with his diagnosis of schizophrenia is certainly interesting, lyrically and musically. It’s in a dreamy, heavy 70s pop space, which when it works, works very well with what he’s doing. It often gets a little too fuzzy and indistinct to maintain, though.
Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti– There’s a lot in this kaleidoscope of sound and winning personality to love, but there’s also a lot of autotune, it’s closing in on an hour and a half which is a hard length to pull off, and well, I don’t understand Spanish well enough.
Blut aus Nord, Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses– I mean, it’s a French Black Metal band, so I’m listening.
Brandon Coleman, Interstellar Black Space– When this jazz keyboardist with a love for funk leans in a funk direction on this album, it’s excellent. When it leans a little more in the jazz direction, it’s still good, but gets a too smooth and flowy to capture attention at album length.
Brian Jackson, This is Brian Jackson– Jackson was Gil Scott-Heron’s musical collaborator for most of the 70s. There’s no questioning the excellence, but it does sound very much of an era, and leans way too much toward smooth jazz for me.
Bruce Hornsby, ‘Flicted– I don’t know what I was expecting from Bruce Hornsby based on my 80s memories, but it certainly wasn’t this extremely experimental outing. For the first two thirds, you can certainly hear his jazzy mellow chords here and there, but it almost feels like the whole thing was produced as electronica. It was headed toward a yes or at least a maybe before it dipped back into the conventional and expected for the final third.
Chris Bathgate, The Significance of Peaches– This Michigan singer/songwriter certainly has some powerful songs, and they are nicely informed by Americana while at their heart being spare and driving. As a whole, though, it was a little too spare and same track to track to really sustain at album length for me.
Dama Scout, gen wo lai (come with me)– UK indie pop band Dama Scout has produced something of quality certainly, and they make interesting use of the lead singer’s Hong Kong heritage, but it’s all a little too dreamy and gauzy musically to hold attnetion.
Dean Spunt/John Wiese, The Echoing Shell– No Age’s drummer and a noise pop rocker collaborate. I do love No Age, and have a lot of fondness for noise pop, but this particular outing is a little too gleefully grating to work as a repeatably listenable album.
Dehd, Blue Skies– This Chicago-based indie band has done a very fine indie rock album redolent of 80s alt at the intersection of pop and darker more haunted concerns. If it was the 80s, I would have loved it! As it is now, I like it, and can certainly recommend it to anyone in that mood.
Dreezy, Hitgirl– Singer, rapper, songwriter, and actress Seandrea Sledge, aka Dreezy, has some strong flow here, and I enjoy her attitude. But it is a bit too one-note vocally, musically, and lyrically to work at album length.
Ella Mai, Heart on My Sleeve– Not a bad example of 2020s soul/R&B, which is to say- holy gawd the autotune!
Emeile Sande, Let’s Say For Instance– The first track was so autotuned to hell I could barely get through it. It got a little better from there, but not enough.
Ethel Cain, Preacher’s Daughter– Certainly impassioned, moody, and full of feeling, with high quality production. But, at over an hour and the songs all blending together in one vein, it doesn’t work as an album.
Florence + the Machine, Dance Fever– I mean, of course, not bad. Butalso not different from, better than or even as good as her earlier highlights. this is definitely an example of the perils of getting compared to yourself, but there it is.
Girlpool, Forgiveness– The gauzy beauty of these songs belies the portraits of dark lives they contain. Unfortunately, it belies it a little too much, so the point doesn’t fully land.
Grant-Lee Phillips, All That You Can Dream– Redolent of classic sounds a la Neil Young and Alex Chilton from 70s glory. However, it’s all too much in a narrow range to totally work. But if you’re looking for darkly inflected low-key songs from the heartland, this won’t lead you astray!
HAAi, Baby, We’re Ascending– This is not bad as an electronic music album goes, but it doesn’t rise above.
Hater, Sincere– I’m pre-disposed to love Swedes, and indeed between a shimmering 80s synth/goth sound and some jagged feedback-laden guitar parts I do like this. I would have outright loved it in the 80s, but it sounds a pinch dated now.
Hyaline, Maria BC– This Oakland-based band reminds me at moments of Kate Bush. It’s vocally and musically lovely, but ultimately too all in one low-key vein to sustain at album length.
Ibeyi, Spell 31– “Afro-French Cuban musical duo consisting of twin sisters who sing in English, French, Spanish and Yoruba” is a heck of a tag. And indeed, there are some very interesting genre-bridging things aswirl here. It doesn’t quite come together as a whole, and has some autotuned moments it really doesn’t need, but I’d keep my eye on Ibeyi!
Jack Harlow, Come home the kids miss you– This latest outing from Kentucky rapper Harlow was sometimes musically surprising and dynamically flowing, but more frequently felt curiously flat.
Jahmal Padmore, Esparanto– It’s a mellow jazzy affair that dips into multiple genres and would be great if you were looking for a mellow jazzy affair.
Jeshi, Universal Credit– Certainly some strong beats and good flow from this UK hip-hop artist, but it never quite seems to stand out.
Jordana, Face the Wall– It’s a little dancey, it’s a little boisterous young rock girl, it’s a little confessional. It doesn’t stand out on any of these accounts, but there’s promise here.
Julmud, Tuqoos– I believe this is my first album from a Palestinian DJ! Hopefully not my last- while the musical mix was a little too abstract to work for me at album length, he is doing some fun and interesting things with electronic music here.
Kevin Morby, This is a Photograph– Oh, this Texas-born American songwriter got close! Somewhere between country and singer-songwriter, musically pleasing and lyrically affecting. But, at the end of the day it was a little too production-polished at the expense of vitality.
Kikagaku Moyo, Kumoyo Island– Japanese psych-rock group. It’s interesting, but too often too slickly produced at the expense of the vitally weird.
Levon Helm/Mavis Staples, Carry Me Home– I think on the issue of currency I have trouble seeing it as “best of year” album (it was recorded live in 2011) but these two greats of American music do sound pretty darn good together.
Liam Gallagher, C’mon You Know– Not a surprise, this sounded a lot like an Oasis album. And for a good long time, I thought it was an Oasis album that I really liked, then it became one that I merely liked.
Lyle Lovett, 12th of June– Lyle Lovett has always been a) excellent and b) idiosyncratic. Both of those are on display here! While the swinging jazz lounge/standards space going on here is well done, it sounds sort of museum piece and doesn’t rise a lot above what it’s doing. A very pleasant ride on the way to that though!
M Huncho, Chasing Euphoria– This British rapper and singer has a pleasant jazzy vibe, but he ends up being a little too autotuned and undistinguished track to track.
Mandy Moore, In Real Life– While it doesn’t rise to what I think of as “year standout” level, it is very nice to see Mandy Moore doing so well with smart substantive pop songs. A little too produced for my taste, but there’s lots worse that can happen.
Matmos, Regards/Uklony dla Boguslaw Schaeffer– Innovative experimental electronic duo records a reimagining and reassembling of the works of Polish composer, theoretician, playwright, critic, and teacher Bogusław Schaeffer commissioned by the Instytutu Adama Mickiewicza as part of the Niepodlegla program. I’m not sure how this made it onto my “to listen to” list, it is, exactly as the description would lead one to expect, highly abstract electronic music.
Moderat, More D4ta– The synth and repetitive beat waves wash over me in this electronic album. It’s not a bad wash. But…
Mono, My Story, the Buraku Story [Original Soundtrack]– Experimental Japanese indie rock soundtracks could go in all kinds of ways, but the way this one went was nearly ambient, which doesn’t hold an album’s worth of attention. The discrimination against the Buraku “class” in Japan though is a worthy documentary subject!
Monophonics, Sage Motel– There’s a great retro-soul feeling here, but it stays a little too much in that retro groove to really kick in.
Perel, Jesus Was an Alien– If I say this is new wave influenced electro-disco from a Berlin-based DJ, you may develop a pretty accurate sense of what it sounds like. It’s chilly good fun, well done, but doesn’t vary internally or stand out a lot from its own sound.
Phelimuncasi, Ama Gogela– A gqom trio from the Mlaszi township of Durban, South Africa. Like me, you may not know, but I learned that “gqom” is a genre of electronic dance music that emerged in South Africa, descended from local varieties of house music. Sonically this is very interesting, but the repetitive nature and the language barrier kept it from fully gelling for me.
Project Gemini, The Children of Scorpio– Project Gemini is guided by the musical vision of psychedelic devotee, breakbeat enthusiast, and ’70s film soundtrack lover Paul Osborne, which gives you a fair idea of what it sounds like. It’s fun and dynamic, but being all instrumental it never quite lands for me as an album in total.
Quelle Chris, Deathfame– There was a nice unconventionality to the music mix from this Detroit rapper, and some traces of conscious hip-hop, but it never quite gelled together in a way that helped it stand out from the low-key mellow grove it was in track to track.
Quinquis, Seim– I saw this described in one source as “Heavy atmospheric electronica from Breton.” That’s right, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it does tend a little ethereal and is all foreign language, so it’s hard to get it to the top of my list for the year.
Ravyn Lenae, Hypnos– This is a not bad debut R&B album, but also not one that really stands out. Glimmers of future promise though!
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Endless Rooms– This Australian indie rock band makes nice and jangly white boy rock. It doesn’t sound especially better or different than multiple other examples of the same.
Sharon Van Etten, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong– There is nothing wrong with Sharon van Etten’s voice, moody music, or songwriting. The issue, I think, is that while the results can be gorgeous and moving on a single song, the songs are all so much alike that it gets difficult to sustain at album length.
Sigrid, How to Let Go– She’s a Norwegian pop star, which makes me smile. It’s definitely good clean fun, and sometimes rises above to energetic and arresting. Not often enough, though.
Sly Johnson, 55.4– My sources inform me that, “Hailing from Paris, Sylvère Johnson (Sly Johnson) is a major force on the French Hip-Hop, Soul and Jazz scenes.” And that’s what it sounds like, not in bad way, actually in a really well-produced way. But one that eventually feels a little more packaged and produced than vital and real.
SOAK, If I Never Know You Like This Again– This Irish singer-songwriter is certainly talented, and the confessional personal songs and genuinely emotional vocals are affecting. As is the substantive way the lyrics deal with their non-binary identification. It does end up vocally and musically in too limited of a range eventually. But it was close!
Soccer96, Inner Worlds– A nice electronic music album, but it eventually gets too far in the direction of post-modern lounge music.
Stars, From Capelton Hill– This was a little confounding- some of these songs were great pop rock redolent of different eras, some of them were haunting atmospheric ballads, and then some, at regular intervals, were overproduced shallow indie pablum. Eventually it got to be too inconsistent in this regard, but the highs were great.
Sunflower Bean, Headful of Sugar– When it has some verve to it this is really pretty good, but it too often goes downtempo and fuzzes together.
The Black Keys, Dropout Boogie– I do love me some Black Keys, and there isn’t a bad song on this album. What there is, though, is a confusing lack of pacing. Blistering shakedowns, mellower 70s style grooves seem sprinkled around at random, and the momentum keeps getting off. This is one of the ways that sometimes, a bunch of fine songs don’t add up to a good album.
The Chainsmokers, So Far So Good– A little pop-rock, a little electronic dance, very autotuned, please cast it into a lake of fire.
The Frightnrs, Always– It’s a nice mellow groove from this New York City dub/rocksteady band, but it never really catches on.
The Pineapple Thief, Give it Back– A nice British indie rock band, a very 2020s pop version of indie rock band, please no.
The Smile, A Light For Attracting Attention– I mean, it’s a collaboration between British jazz group Sons of Kemet and Thom Yorke of Radiohead- it’s a wonder I found some songs I liked. Which I did! But too many of them background faded out of existence.
The Stroppies, Levity– This Australian indie pop band made up of members from multiple previous bands makes music redolent of the instrumental rock & lackadaisical vocals 80s alt and 90s/00s indie schools of rock. Notwithstanding the face that I could have been listening to this at any point in the past several decades, and it does tend towards sameness at points, there is something pleasant about it. But best of year pleasant?
They Hate Change, Finally, New– I really do appreciate how this Tampa Bay rap duo’s music is informed as much by post punk and electronic music as hip hop. And the high level of sophisticated social commentary they have going on. It was a little all too similar track to track to really work at album length though. Still, I’d like to keep an eye on them!
Thomas Dollbaum, Wellswood– New Orleans-by-way-of-Florida singer/songwriter Thomas Dollbaum delivers some solid Americana here, but it’s so in one range vocally and musically track to track that the rough and tumble lyrics get lost in the muted flow.
Train, AM Gold– I walked into this unsure. On the one hand, I like AM Gold as a musical area. On the other, Train, well, let’s just say when you have a vibrant and innovative local music scene and the band that makes it big from your area is something as bland as Train, it kind of sticks in your craw. Turns out this album does a decent job of channeling 70s AM Gold. But it’s still Train.
Van Morrison, What’s It Gonna Take?– This is, musically and vocally, the best extended COVID conspiracy rant I have ever heard. Shorter than his similar album from last year, but more ranty! But the song “Fear and Self Loathing in Las Vegas” is great, I’d recommend listening to it.
Warpaint, Radiate Like This– A little thick sensual vocals, a little melody, a little post-punk angularity and darkness. It’s not a bad combination, but it never rises above a certain track to track sameness.
And there you have it! May review in by the last day of June. I think we have a good shot at getting June out well before the end of July. Tune in to find out!
Let us boldly continue with our quest for the 22 best albums of 2022! For those joining us for the first time, or in need of a refresher, I’m listening to new releases each month, and then categorizing them into “Yes”, “Maybe”, and “No”, with an eye toward eventually determining… The 22 Best Albums of 2022!
Yes, I’m combining reviews for two months again. I do hope to be caught back up to monthly installments at some point… In the meantime, you can find the previous review here:
And if you’re interested in previous outings of my quest to get caught up on newer music, you can check out the round-ups of my three blog series from last year reviewing the critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s, and 2020 , and scouring monthly new releases to choose the 21 best albums of 2021.
Got it? Good. Let’s get going! But first, a brief word about the three categories:
Yes– This is the albums that, upon first listen, I think could definitely be in running for best of the year. They still have to survive mortal combat with each other though!
Maybe– These albums have something to recommend them, but also something that gives me pause. I’m putting them in their own category, because I have found “maybes” sometimes linger and become “yeses”.
No– These are not in the running. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad! Sometimes you end up here because you’re crap. But you can also be fine, but not more than fine. Or interesting and inspired in some way, but not quite able to pull it off. Getting to yes ain’t easy!
With all that established, let’s see what was discovered in the 218 new releases from March and April that I listened to…
50 Foot Wave, Black Pearl– Full disclosure requires me to say that I love Kristin Hersh, and all her various projects over the years. And i have a particular fondness for 50 Foot Wave- There’s something to be said for the time-defying move of going blisteringly heavy decades into your career. This has everything I love about her, and this band- Snarling guitar rock, but a precision of timing and melody peeking through, and her nothing held-back vocals and evocative imagery. May I be doing this well 36 years after my initial release!
Aldous Harding, Warm Chris– Sometimes a classic 70s singer-songwriter feel, sometimes soul/R&B, sometimes sparkling with quirky traces of 80s-2000s alternative, more than a hint of Velvet Underground. Each song by this New Zealand singer-songwriter feels like it lasts longer than it does, and I mean this in a good way- the musical layers and melodic depths create space upon space inside these songs.
Alex Cameron, Oxy Music– A classic 80s synth sound, with some arch emotional storytelling in the lyrics (as hinted at by the punny album title). This Australian musician and singer-songwriter is best known for his solo career, a high-concept act in which he initially adopted the persona of a failed entertainer. This music lends itself to those acting skills.
Anitta, Versions of Me– This was a welcome surprise! At first I thought I might be in for another super-autotuned dance album. But this Brazilian singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, businesswoman and TV presenter (!) really brings it here- the beats get the booty moving, the grooves are catchy, and there’s a great deal of verve, personality, and point of view in the vocals and on the lyric side. It may not be the most profound thing every, but as great dance music goes- this is!
Anton Barbeau/Loud Family, What If It Works?– This collaboration between two idiosyncratic indie musicians starts off with a Rolling Stones cover that they make sound like The Jesus and March Chain, and the next is a song about making that song which sounds like Beatlesque neo-psychedelia, so that gives you some idea of the sensibility and talent on display here. Between the musical excellence, vocal snark, and lyrical cleverness, this is a delight the whole way through.
April March, In Cinerama– From the first jaunty guitar notes, swiftly joined by drums, horns, and her neo-swinging 60s vocals, this is a joy. At times carrying on in this 60s vein, at times sounding like international pop, at times shimmering with timeless harmonies, every track shines with unimpeachable excellence.
Astrel K, Flickering i– Kind of like if the Beatles (or maybe some of their later-day imitators a la XTC or Oasis) made an electronic album. And I mean this very positively! It is shimmering, beautiful, and surprisingly varied fun the whole way through. Astrel K is the solo project of Rhys Edwards (singer/guitarist of British band Ulrika Spacek), currently based in Stockholm, and how often do interesting musical excursions involve Scandinavia these days?
Bart Davenport, Episodes– Pop in a 60s and trippy mellow 70s songwriter vein, with more than a splash of 80s interpreters of the same (Robyn Hitchcock, the Smiths, XTC, etc.). This US Singer-songwriter has recorded in all kinds of modes. This one is freaking well done!
billy woods, Aethiopes– Dark menacing poetic flow backed by a jazz mix with discordant edges. The lyrics are heavy with history and spirituality without being heavy-handed, and the mix contains constant surprises. This New York hip-hop artist has a reputation as an outsider, and he proves it here in the best sense of the term.
Bladee & Ecco2K, Crest– Swedish rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer Bladee and British-Swedish singer, designer, model, director Ecco2K have made something pretty interesting here. High energy dance music, shimmering autotuned electronic, it’s like pop music on overdrive with just the right dash of experimental and avant garde.
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Topical Dancer– Belgian-Caribbean musician Adigery has made some weird, quirky, weird, international dance music that’s topical and polemical with a sense of humor. On the music side it’s light, fluid, and full of dynamic sound effects. The lyrical sentiments are a little too on the nose sometimes, but the presentation is so tongue in cheek you can tell it’s messing with you deliberately. This reminds me, variously, of MIA, my dear departed Cibo Matto, and the Talking Heads from their African rhythms era.
Damu the Fudgemunk/Raw Poetic, Laminated Skies– This pair of Washington D.C. producers/hip-hop artists has produced a collaboration with a dense poetic flow, an intriguing jazz-inflected musical mix supporting it, and more than a hint of the conscious side of 90s hip-hop. It’s full of positive energy and I like it!
Denzel Curry, Melt My Eyez See Your Future– This album is full of fresh and rich musical mix, various vocal styles, and flow that embraces some of the more conventional sides of song structure but is still hard-hitting. There’s depth on the lyrical side as well. This Florida-born rapper invokes hip-hop greats often along the way, and it’s clear he’s learned from them while fusing it into a sound of his own.
Diving Rings, Night Palace– This Athens GA-derived band, currently out of New York, has put together a shimmering dreamscape of songs. Vocal and musically the whole thing is suffused with rich gauzy melodies, backed by intelligent and sophisticated lyrics.
Eamon, No Matter the Season– This Staten Island hip-hop/R&B artist is bringing a big fat 70s soul sound here, and I am loving it! A period piece? Maybe. But a damn well done one!
Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Down Every Road– A modern revivalist of 60s R&B covers Merle Haggard. It’s conceptually intriguing, which is nice, but how it works in practice is the key. And in practice, it works insanely well! Besides being a fun boisterous listen the whole way through, it got me thinking about the cross-genre unity behind American musical forms. And amen!
Fontaines D.C., Skinty Fia– Their album A Hero’s Death was one of my leading contenders for best album in my 2020 review (it just got squeezed out!), so I was looking forward to this. And darned if it doesn’t deliver! You’ll hear the angular heavy sound of post-punk here, but also the surging power and pathos you might associate with U2 of yesteryear. The accents are thick, which helps with the feeling of authenticity leavening the seriousness, and the lyrics are literate and emotionally complex. This Dublin band is bringing the goods.
Frog Eyes, The Bees– With occasional psychedelic flourishes, the music is emotional and driving in its spareness. But it’s the lyrics and vocal presentation that are really something! There’s deliberate melodrama and weird wit aplenty in both that stays compelling the whole way through. This album from a band from the Isle of Wight almost feels like latter-day classic Roxy Music to me. And huzzah for that! Definitely my favorite Isle of Wight band.
Ibibio Sound Machine, Electricity– This London-based DJ/live music octet combines the sounds of West African music, funk and disco, post-punk, and electronic. What they’ve produced in this album is muscular, heavy, funky and groovy, and lead singer Eno Williams has a vocal and personality presence that powerfully pulls it together and pushes it along as well! This really shows the best of fertile cross-pollination that club music can bring about.
Jenny Hval, Classic Objects– The music is shimmering, sophisticated, and controlled. The same sense of beautiful but brittle is present in the vocals. And I mean this not as a criticism of either, in fact they’re the perfect platform for supporting the spell the intelligent lyrics weave. This is what happens when you get a Norwegian singer-songwriter who’s also a novelist. It reminds me of Laurie Anderson and the way her artistic sensibilities shape everything about the music, though musically and vocally Hval is more accessible. Accessible and philosophically artistic is not a bad combination!
Jon Spencer & the HITmakers, Spencer Gets It Lit– Jon Spencer has made gloriously raw blues-punk in various bands since the late 80s, and this album finds him in excellent form. It’s loud, it’s heavy, somewhat sleazy and sinister, pretty much everything you could hope rock still can be.
Kae Tempest, The Line is a Curve– The descriptor “UK poet, rapper, playwright, and novelist” could have gone a lot of different ways, but the way it’s gone here is pretty stunning. Her plainspoken vocal delivery, muted musical background, and tales of working-class life and deep interior feelings create an experience that lingers long after it’s done.
Lyrics Born, Mobile Homies: Season 1– I hear “Tokyo-born Bay Area rapper” and I’m favorably predisposed, so it’s so much the better that this COVID-born mix-tape is actually fresh and delightful! It’s composed of collaborations with friends interspersed with interviews he did with them for his podcast. The mix is surprising and unusual, beats and refrains catchy, and lyrics full of both humor and serious import.
Miranda Lambert, Palomino– I like Miranda Lambert’s version of country, and here she’s delivering muscular minor chords, sharp vocals, and smart and swagger-filled lyrics. The country is straight-up enough to give the pop depth, the pop hooky enough to keep it rolling, chock full of sly references to a range of American music, and there’s even a through story of sorts about a trip across the Southwest in search of- Herself? A good cowboy? American life? Her Marfa Tapes collaboration was one of my favorites of 2021, and here she is again showing contemporary country what it can still do if it just tries!
My Idea, Cry Mfer– Lily Konigsberg of Brooklyn band Palberta had her 2020 solo debut produced by fellow indie rocker Nate Amos of Water From Your Eyes. The two became friends, leading to this collaborative album between them. Both Palberta and a solo album from Konigsberg were high on my 2021 contenders list, and this album has a lot of the “why” for that on good display. Her pop rock instincts are impeccable, but while melodies proceed so sweetly, the lyrics are archly subversive, and the music is loaded with experimental touches and indie grit and verve. The whole ends up far exceeding its already excellent parts. I want more Lily!
Orville Peck, Bronco– Minor chords, echoey crooning vocals, a surf-music and rockabilly-influenced take on country. Sometimes so straight-up it’s almost on the edge of parody, but darned if it doesn’t work! Orville Peck is now my favorite South African country musician based in Canada who wears a fringed mask and never shows his face publicly.
Particle Kid, Time Capsule– This is extraordinary! For reference, Particle Kid is the band of Willie Nelson’s youngest child, Micah, who describes what he does as “experimental future-folk”. I think that’s not inaccurate, but it undersells the creative kaleidoscope on display here. You’ll find, alternately, experimental electronic, things that sound like they come from some strain or another of the 90s (grunge, shoegaze, melodic pop-rock), psychedelia, and more than the occasional moment that put me in mind of Neil Young in the 70s. Behind it, though, there’s some kind of unity of spirit and overarching structure that holds this all together. For an hour and 45 minutes!
Pastor Champion, I Just Want To Be a Good Man– Itinerant preacher Pastor Wylie Champion wandered California preaching and playing an electric guitar. David Byrne’s label Luaka Bop happened to come across a video of him playing in a church in Oakland, and, after reaching out, recorded a set of his live playing before his death in 2018. As an album origin story, this sounds amazing. The great news is that the spare, powerful, and raw electric gospel it contains lives up to the story.
Pictish Trail, Island Family– Fuzzy rock. Weird trippy rock. Philosophical rock. Pictish Trail is the pseudonym of Scottish musician Johnny Lynch, and his brand of electronic folk pulls you in. I’m occasionally a little unsure about the sameness of the groove throughout, but it remains compelling and often musically surprising.
PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project: The Demos– This is the raw demos of her 2016 album by the same name. PJ Harvey always makes one stand up and take note, and, as with other demo versions she’s released, there’s a stripped-down power and immediacy to these that enhances what were already powerful songs.
Ry Cooder/Taj Mahal, Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee– Two later day blues greats, now elders in their own right, cover songs from 50s-60s folk blues powerhouses Terry-McGhee. The source material is great, the playing raucously gorgeous, and the vocals gloriously ragged and natural-feeling. There isn’t anything here not to love!
Sofi Tukker, Wet Tennis– Sexy, sometimes sinister, and spare dance music with clear vocals and surprising mix details from the New York-based dance duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern. Hawley-Weld’s warm voice, and lyrics that paint emotionally evocative stories combine with the music to make the whole thing a cut above. Dance music will always be with us. May it always be this good!
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up– Energetic power-pop-punk from a girl group? I gotta love it. I gotta! In this case they’re also multi-cultural and tackling sexism and racism with wit and verve, so the love is multiplied.
Wednesday, Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ’Em Up– This Asheville North Carolina band is a delight! The whole thing reads as a country album played in the style of noise rock (or maybe the other way around?). As if to prove that point, this is a cover album paying tribute to their influences, ranging from straight-up country to Vic Chesnutt and the Smashing Pumpkins.
Wet Leg, Wet Leg– I got a 90s vibe from this Isle of Wight band with their lackadaisical vocal style, stop-and-start dynamics, and jarring guitar notes. It’s also often lyrically hilarious, packed with sexualized innuendo, and snark about band life and boys on the scene. Wet Leg is now my new favorite Isle of Wight band! Sorry Frog Eyes, it was a short reign for you.
Willie Nelson, A Beautiful Time– This isn’t always the freshest sounding (my 72nd studio album probably wouldn’t be either!), but it is like finely burnished metal. The music is authentic, the vocals are appropriately worn and weary, and it’s full of meditations on time, mortality, and gratitude for life lived. I hope I’m still producing anything nearly this good, in any field, as I’m closing in on 90.
Yumi Zouma, Present Tense– Some bright clear melodic pop, with layers of rich dark feeling vocally and musically. It’s not the most profound thing every, but this New Zealand band has made a really charming little album.
Astrid Øster Mortensen, Skærgårdslyd– Denmark-born, Sweden-based musician, who describes their work as “folk field recordings”. This 4-track production mixes vocal harmonies, sounds of nature, and spare synth sounds for an effect that is uncanny, but also weirdly exultant. It embodies the feelings of the turning of seasons. More experimental than I usually go, but I think this is a maybe!
Band of Horses, Things Are Great– This Seattle band knows its melodic rock hooks, and yearning lyrics and vocals. There was a hint of pre-fab to the sound, but darned if doesn’t work.
BÖRN, Drottningar Dauðans– Icelandic female metal! I’m conceptually sold going in. And from there, delightfully, it mostly works! The songs are, in a way, in the orchestral/ornamented side of metal, but delivered at such a blistering pace (9 songs in under a half hour) and with such vocal urgency that it comes off almost like punk. The only thing keeping it from “yes” is the lyrics being entirely in Icelandic, and the production being a tad too clean to really unleash the wildness here. Also of note: Their name means “Queens of Death”. If you’re not in love, I don’t understand why. (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Camila Cabello, Familia– This may not be the most profound thing ever (and to be fair, she’s only in her mid-20s), but darned if this Cuban-American singer/songwriter’s mix of catchy dance pop, Cuban influences, and a flair for emotionally revealing lyrical twists doesn’t work!
Camp Cope, Running With the Hurricane– I think I may have to add Aussiess and Kiwis to Canadians and Scandinavians on my “potential saviors of rock” list. This Australian band is presenting some surging guitar rock. There are moments that musically remind me of, variously, U2, Joy Division, the Cure, and current indie rock hits. The vocals are strong enough to keep up with the music, but with a hint of vulnerable plainness when they slow down. It can lean a little to the formulaic, but they are making pretty damn good use of the formula.
Caracara, New Preoccupations– This kept being on the edge for me, so I guess it’s a maybe by definition. At its best moments, its atmospheric moody rock, darkly charging and surging guitars and yearning vocals are entrancing. At worst, it feels a little too pre-packaged in the 90s grunge-afterburn emotional cresting waves it affects, and that’s not a bad at worst. So, slightly against my better judgement, I find myself digging what this Philadelphia band is putting down.
Congotronics International, Where’s the one?– This is a supergroup uniting several members of the Congolese groups Konono No. 1 and Kasai Allstars as well as experimental rock artists Deerhoof, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Matt Mehlan (of Skeletons), and Juana Molina. I really enjoyed last year’s Kasai Allstars album, and appreciate the way Congolese music both derives from, and contributes back to, Western Hemisphere musical forms. Also, Deerhoof is one of my favorite contemporary bands. So I go in intrigued, and this well re-pays that interest. The Congolese poly-rhythms and the experimental bent from the collaborators fit together extremely well in ways both intriguing and fun. I have some length concerns (it comes in at over an hour), but this bears repeated listening.
Cowboy Junkies, Songs of the Recollection– An album of covers by the group that first came to (alternative) fame with their torch song take on alt country in the 80s. They have truly burnished into a bluesy, bruised power with age, and these are excellent covers- honoring the original, but bringing the band’s own take to them. It does tend a little toward sameness by the end, but it’s gorgeous along the way.
Dale Watson, Jukebox Fury– A modern master of good old-fashioned honky-tonk and the Bakersfield sound covers an array of pop, rock, and country gems from the 70s? I mean, of course I’m going to be a fool for this! It is, in a sense, twice not original, but also, it’s so straight-up natural feeling and well done.
Ditz, The Great Regression– Musically the heavy, bruising grunge-flavored post-punk of this Brighton band is really working for me. But the sometimes-atonal shouted vocals school of vocals is…problematic. Sometimes the vocals work well with the music though. I kept going back and forth, so I guess it is, by definition, a maybe.
DJ Travella, Mr Mixondo– As you know if you’ve been reading this regularly, being electronic and practically lyric-free, this was going to be a hard sell for me. But Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania DJ Travella’s mixes are so over the top hyper-energetic and inventive I have to say maybe. Score one for the Tanzania club scene!
Dopplereffekt, Neurotelepathy– This Detroit electronic music outfit has been active since the 90s, and they’ve apparently had many style shifts over that time. Here they’re hearkening back to a classic very computery futuristic electronic sound. That, and titles like “Epigenetic Modulation” and “Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation” should give you some idea what you’re in for here. Call me crazy but I think it works. Still hard to latch onto with almost no lyrics to speak of, but it’s a good example of how fun electronic can be in the right hands.
Ghost, Impera– Swedish metal? I’m preemptively in! And this is exuberantly delivered, it reminds me of British new wave metal in its clean bright musicianship. Still a little miffed at contemporary music for being mostly retreads of prior eras, but if it’s going to happen, let’s have some good ones.
Guided by Voices, Crystal Nuns Cathedral– Guided by Voices are always good, always different, and bizarrely prolific. This particular album seems to be drawing on metal, prog, and stadium rock for its influences. Metal chord progressions are a cheap way to get my attention. But darn if it isn’t effective! It does feel like it peters out a little toward the end, which is about my only reservation.
Haru Nemuri, Shunka Ryougen– Frenetic pop with an experimental edge and some outright excursions into noise pop from this Japanese singer, songwriter, and “poetry rapper”. A lot of it is in Japanese, which, to be sure, makes it harder to understand, but the feeling, the intelligence, and the attitude come through.
Joshua Hedley, Neon Blue– Hedley is hearkening back to some old-style Bakersfield/Outlaw country sounds and bless him for it! It occasionally sounds a little cliché or rote, but it is just as often energetic and charming.
Kurt Vile, (watch my moves)– The low-key melody, the burned-out wit, the slacker undertow here is a beautiful thing to behold. It was a little overlong at past an hour and without enough tone switches song to song, but musically, lyrically and vocally it was working for me. I’ve seen him described as a “dazed and confused update on roots rock” and I say, “Amen!”
PUP, The Unraveling of Puptheband– Snotty teen diy punk band? (Note one does not need to be a teen to be a snotty teen diy punk band.) Edgy provocateurs a la Jello Biafra? Hilarious conceptual artists pulling a fast one? All yes! The musical approach isn’t always the freshest (though it’s good clean noise) and I’m not totally convinced the concept album frame about the band trying to turn itself into a corporation totally comes together, but it does warm the heart!
Romero, Turn It On!– Starting full-out rocking from the get-go is a good way to get me! As is a female-led band, and one with good knowledge of how to work its guitar chord changes. This Australian band reminds me a little of Blondie and the Go-Gos in their sound, and if it’s not the most original thing ever (my one hesitation) it is a very well-done version of it.
Rosalia, Motomami– Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s third album has been generating a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. In some respects, it’s not an unusual 2020’s soul/dance album with its mix of ballads, dance music, and hip-hop, but every track delivers surprising moments, and it’s bristling with quirky energy and personality. It’s also a musical kaleidoscope, which can be dazzling, but works against coherence. This, the more conventional moments, and the fact that it’s largely in Spanish have me hedging, but the general excellence pulls me forward…
SAVAK, Human Error/Human Delight– This prolific indie rock supergroup starts off with a song called “No Blues No Jazz” so you may have some idea where they’re coming from. And they then proceed blisteringly through bell-ringing rock that pulls out all the tricks of the instrument-based alt-80s and indie rock 90s-00s. It may not all be the freshest sound ever, but it gets the blood moving.
The Crystal Method, The Trip Out– Holy 90s flashback! The Crystal Method does a school of electronic I quite like, and I can understand why listening to this- it’s muscular, and also hews in some ways to “normal” song structure, while still having the driving energy and sci-fi flourishes of techno. Is it a little dated-sounding? Maybe. But it also kept my head bouncing the whole time. Maybe!
The High Strung, HannaH– This Detroit band recorded these songs off the cuff in 2002 during downtime while making another album. Some really good 60s-sounding pop/psychedelia as interpreted through 80s/90s guitar-fuzzed alt rock. Melody, vocals, instrumentation are all so bright! Is it a little old? Yes. Is it a profoundly new sound? No, not even at the time. But so well done, especially for being composed on the fly just to fill time!
Tomberlin, i don’t know who needs to hear this…– This American folk musician and singer-songwriter based in Louisville, Kentucky is never not affecting, but I do wonder if it’s all too of a tone to work at its 50-minute length. But the depth and power behind the quietude of her songs is inarguable.
Toro y Moi, Mahal– Wikipedia tells me “Chaz Bundick, known professionally as Toro y Moi, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and graphic designer. He is often recognized as a spearhead of the chillwave genre in the 2010s”. I’m telling you that this is a fascinating pastiche of swirls and styles of electronic music, deadpan lyrics about life, and intriguing sound effects. It’s not a totally easy listen, but it’s often a fun one, and always an interesting one.
U.S. Highball, A Parkhead Cross of the Mind– Glasgow-based two-piece band with a bright and cheery feeling redolent of 60s pop, pub rock, and the jangly side of alt 80s. It feels a little same as it goes on, but it’s a very pleasant ride along the way!
Vince Staples, Ramona Park Broke My Heart– I really though Vince Staples was a country guy, but he is most decidedly a hip-hop guy. Great classic sounding R&B mix, an interesting almost lackadaisical vocal style, and surprising storytelling and sound effect flourishes. That’s all on the plus side, it does delve into autotune a little too often, and is kind of thematically conventional. But I never turned it off, and it’s lingering…
Widowspeak, The Jacket– Dreamy yearning vocals against a shimmering guitar wall with just the right edge of feedback. Is it that different from, say, Mazzy Star? No. Does it still work on me like a sucker? Yes!
Wolfgang Flur, Magazine 1– Some very old-style electronica, hearkening to the 70s Kraftwerk school. But wait, that’s no accident! Flur was a member of the group from 1973-1987. A little dated sounding, but the amount of spontaneity, exuberance and humor he brings to it really sparkles.
Alex G, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)– The ambient pieces within eventually tipped it away from working for me, but this was closer than any experimental sometimes deliberately grating film score has a right to come to being a workable album!
Axel Boman, Luz/Quest for Fire– This is a smart and interesting electronic music mix, but a little too abstract and fade into background to really work as an album.
Barrie, Barbara– Mellow indie rock on the border of acoustic and electronic. It’s not bad, and there are moments where it really kicks in, but mostly it is kind of all the same, both internally and compared to other albums like this.
Ben Marc, Glass Effect– Producer and multi-instrumentalist at the leading edge of the UK jazz scene, and indeed it is too jazzy and low key electronic for me, although there are spoken word portions I quite liked.
Benny the Butcher, Tana Talk 4– I do like Benny, and there’s some great lyrical content here, but the flow and mix is often a little too muted to have it work for the full length of the album.
Bloc Party, Alpha Games– 00s flashback! Bloc party is still in pretty good shape in their first studio album in 6 years. I’m not hearing a lot that’s especially new or different, but we could do lots worse.
Blue States, World Contact Day– If you name your album after a line from a Carpenters song about alien contact, I’m listening. Alas, it’s good shimmery shoegaze, but doesn’t really stand out track to track.
Bodega, Broken Equipment– It’s got an off-kilter post-punk/new wave feel, and a pounding vocal assault. The musical side feels pretty fresh, but the lack of change in vocal tone started to drag it down after a while.
Bonnie Raitt, Just Like That…– Look, Bonnie Raitt isn’t going to make a bad album. So, this isn’t bad, but it is too glossily produced, and not rising enough above her comfortable middle.
Brad Mehldau, Jacob’s Ladder– Some very interesting electronic music here, sometimes quite lively and interesting, but too often tending toward lulled into over-quiet or a little too experimental to be listenable.
Calexico, El Mirador– I do dig the space these indie rock veterans inhabit, with its crossing of country and Latin American. And this is a solid example of it, but I don’t know that it rises above that.
Charli XCX, Crash– Her 2020 album how I’m feeling now made my top 20 list for that year, so I was looking forward to this. And it is good dance music, and good dance music is good, but it did seem a little too all in one vein as it wore on. Still, you wouldn’t mind having this playing in the club, or in your car on the way there.
Chris Janson, All In– As pop country goes, this isn’t a bad version. It still feels rather pre-fab, but is delivered with some genuine exuberance. There is a great song about doing a crime (revenge for a cheating heart) and disposing of the body in the Mississippi- if there had been more of that kind of storytelling throughout, it might have won me over.
Christian Lee Hutson, Quitters– A very nice, densely lyrical acoustic set, but it does blend into sameness after a while.
Chrome Canyon, Director– This emulation of 80s synth soundtracks was just a little too on the low key/ambient side of electronic for me. How did they trick me into listening to this? The 80s. It was the 80s.
Claire Rousay, sometimes i feel like i have no friends– Okay, this is a single 28-minute track album, and I knew going in that a lot of it was composed of ambient background sounds. But the title and the idea of what the artist was trying to accomplish had me hooked. And there is something genuinely engaging, and haunting, about her the juxtaposition of her philosophical musings on friendship with the background outdoor sounds. But with the big “dead zones” that are purely background sounds, I don’t know that it would stand up to repeated listening. (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
CMAT, If My Wife New I’d Be Dead– Dublin artist Ciara Mary Alice Thompson has a great presence, and I really appreciate her countrified take on dance music. However, the musical side of it does start to all blend together before too long.
Colin Hay, Now and the Evermore– I did love Men at Work in the 80s, and remain a fan of their smart but peppy school of rock. Hay is in good form here with contemplative melancholy vocals, but it has the over-produced sound of 80s afterburn.
Confidence Man, Tilt– As fun high-energy dance mixes go, this isn’t a bad one! It is a little musically simple, though. And is it a “will remember the album in a year and still want to listen to it” album?
Dana Gavanski, When it Comes– I don’t mind twee and dreamy, but this was a little too twee and dreamy in too low-key a vein for the most part. There were edgier more angular moments that were interesting.
Daniel Rossen, You Belong There– A nice and torchy set of songs. But too mellow and same track to track to stand out and work at length.
David West, Jolly in the Bush– David West is a very talented musical chameleon. on this release, he’s doing jangly slightly anguished white boy rock that would have been very home on alt radio in the 80s or 90s. It’s a fine example of what it is, but not sure there’s something new or “above and beyond” enough here to really stand out. Sorry Cousin David!
Dedicated Men of Zion, The Devil Don’t Like It– This album by a North Carolina gospel group mines 70s funk and soul sounds for their take on gospel classics. It never sounds, in that sense, fresh and original. It does sound soulful, though, and is well-done, if a little smooth for its own good.
Deer Scout, Woodpecker– A sometimes quirky acoustic lo-fi outing from the Brooklyn group by way of Philly. It has an inherent charm that carried me through quite a ways, but eventually succumbs to its low energy level and sameness.
Destroyer, Labyrinthitis– Dan Bejar’s Canadian rock band Destroyer gets up to all kinds of things, and here is getting up to an 80s alt synth overdrive- you’ll hear hints throughout of the poppier side of synthpop, of New Order, the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, maybe the Church and Bauhaus too. I would have LOVED this in 1986! I still really like it, but I think it’s a little too museum piece to totally work.
Devil Master, Ecstasies of Never Ending Night– I like the production note that it was recorded live to analog tape, but mostly this metal was a little too on the orchestral/technical side for me.
Dianne Coffee, With People– This project of Foxygen’s Shaun Fleming takes its notes both from synth pop and the mellow gold of 70s radio. The mix is always pleasant, and occasionally it’s both quirky and super catchy. If there had been more of those moments, it might have made it for me, but equally often it’s a little too mellow fuzzed-out.
Diplo, Diplo– Some exemplar half mellow half energy 2020’s autotune dance pop. Please bury it in a deep, deep hole.
Duke Robillard, They Call It Rhythm and Blues– Former Fabulous Thunderbird Robillard is a living channeler of classic rock and blues forms, and this is very much a conscious attempt to evoke the original R&B sound of the 50s and 60s. At its best it sounds spontaneously in that vein, but sometimes more like a too slick recreation.
Duster, Together– Slowcore low-fi making a beautiful gauzy noise with just the right touch of dark and heavy. It really is giving me a 90s feeling, and I’m tempted, but I think ultimately is too all in one vein track to track.
Duwap Kaine, A Dogg’s Influence– Some fun and verve here in this hip-hop artist making a mixtape catering to his influences, but wayyyy toooo muccchhhhh autotuneeeeeeee.(Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Nightclub Daydreaming– I’m pretty sure that Jim Morrison faked his death, and that this album is by the elder Morrison. Or maybe it’s just the sometimes Buahausian moody crooning that’s getting to me, because it gets weirder and more diverse from there, and I am informed it’s a Baltimore experimental duo. Really good, but the vein is too similar track to track and too familiar in ways to really make the album come together.
Eiko Ishibashi, For McCoy– “Japanese experimental artist records album inspired by her favorite character from Law & Order” is a great concept. It ends up, perhaps not surprisingly, being a little too abstract.
El Ten Eleven, New Year’s Eve– This Los Angeles duo is kicking out something somewhere between rock instrumental and electronic. It’s full of sinuous grooves and bass. All instrumental, and a little same track to track, so I’m not sure it works for me as an album, but there is some worthy work here!
Emily Wells, Regards to the End– It’s a little Kate Bushian, a little Florence and the Machinian, but too ethereal for me to really settle into it. (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Erasers, Constant Connection– It’s got a very chilly 80s synth feeling, not badly done as such, but not doing a lot more than that either.
Father John Misty, Chloë and the Next 20th Century– This was a very interesting set of songs from the good Father (aka singer-songwriter Joshua Michael Tillman). Driven by a high concept of a cycle of stories on love lost in the wilds of Southern California and often deliberately going for a campy and glitzy vein, they really evoked the feeling of standards and show tunes. The high concept and lyrical storytelling definitely catch one’s attention, but it felt to me like the musical side of it sometimes deflated this. I can’t say it totally came together as something that worked, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for ambitious messes!
Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses: Phantom Limb– A series of outtakes and covers from the preparation of their album Head of Roses. It’s good material, but a little too all in one mellow acoustic vein to stand out.
Fly Anakin, Frank– You know with the artist’s name that this Star Wars fan is going to try to like the album. And I do like it! There’s pleasing flow, smooth musical mixing, clever and positive rhymes. But I don’t know that I hear anything dynamic or varied or impactful enough here to take it to “top 10% of things I’ll listen to” territory.
Frontperson, Parade– This Vancouver group’s work is redolent with synth sounds and romantic melody, but it all feels a bit too chilly to fully engage.
Fucked Up, Do All Words Can Do– Each of these songs feels like it has two rock songs worth of energy shoved into it! After a while it’s too the same track to track, but this Canadian hardcore band is scrappy!
Future, I Never Liked You– Veryyyyyy autotuneddddd hip-hoppppppp.
Gabriel Kahamne, Magnificent Bird– It’s got good concept going for it- chronicling the artist’s year off of the whole internet. And the lyrics are dizzyingly literate and clever, with nuanced music backing it. Ultimately, though, the folk electronic musical vein is too low key and similar track to track to really sustain it at album length.
George is Lord, My Sweet George– As you might guess from the album/band name, this is a bunch of George Harrison enthusiasts. While I love covers, I’m leery of cover bands. That being said, these are really charming renditions of a set of Harrison Beatles and solo songs. Some of them a little too straight up, but some of them taking new approaches to the songs. It’s not best of year territory, but if you’re feeling the Harrison homage, you could do worse!
Ghost Power, Ghost Power– This instrumental electronic pop project of Stereolab’s Tim Gane and Dymaxion’s Jeremy Novak was very pleasing, especially early on as the high-energy and sci-fi sounds really hit. After a while it started to get too often in an orchestral/muzak vein.
Good Looks, Bummer Year– This is a solid alt country sound, on the minor chord side. Well played, strong emotion in the vocals, enough rock/pop hooks to work, but it doesn’t really rise above the pack of similar sounding bands/albums.
Guerilla Toss, Famously Alive– Gauzy dance electronic, on the shoegazy side of rock. It’s fun and energetic, but all feels a little too amorphous to coalesce properly as an album.
Harvey Sutherland, Boy– This electronic music album had its moments, but was mostly too much in elevator muzak jazz territory.
Hatchie, Giving the World Away– There are some individual songs here that catch on with their mix of 90s-sounding power pop and dance music. On balance not often enough to cohere as an album, but I would keep my eye on her!
HEALTH, DISCO4 :: Pt. II– Interesting, sometimes grating, electronic music. It has verve, but I don’t know that it adds up to a durable lasting album.
High Pulp, Pursuit of Ends– It’s pretty lively, it’s good in its way, it’s instrumental jazz, and, eh.
Hinako Omori, A Journey…– Sometimes an album by a Japanese artist inspired by forest bathing sounds interesting in theory, but in practice is too abstract and almost-ambient to work at length.
Hoodoo Gurus, Chariot of the Gods– I saw the Hoodoo Gurus when they opened for the Bangles during their 1986 tour. I also read Chariots of the Gods and related books devotedly as a kid. Possibly, both factors are neither here nor there. It turns out that the Hoodoo Gurus remain as solid a band as they were then, straddling the line between pub rock and alt. It turns out that Chariots of the Gods was almost entirely bullshit. In any case, the album is solid but not outstanding, and ancient alien contact is an idea awaiting evidence, but not inherently absurd.
Hook, From, Hook– I don’t feel like it ultimately worked in terms of being sustainable, but this electronic music-flavored hip hop with a snarky alt punk attitude was interesting. Kudos to experimenters! (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Horace Andy, Midnight Rocker– One of the last of the old school Reggae greats, and he’s showing up in good, if rather mellow form here. It doesn’t quite come together or stand out as an album, but is full of some fine sounds.
Hygiene, Drug Church– Hardcore band from Albany with more than a hint of grunge feel. I was down with this musically, but it did end up being a little too same track to track musically and vocally after a while.
Isik Kural, In February– It’s nice and chimey and strummy and mellow and has some interesting sound effects. All very pleasant, but I don’t know that it leaves a lasting impression.
Jack White, Fear of the Dawn– I don’t know that Jack White could make bad music if he tried. What he can do, as he did sometimes with the White Stripes, is make an album where his thematic conceits and musical experimentation don’t quite come together as a whole. Packed with good stuff, and a half dozen directions that could have succeeded, but the massed weight of the zig zag keeps it from coming together. Still, if you’re a fan of his (and if you aren’t, why not?!?!) you won’t mind spending some time with it.
Jake Xerxes Fussell, Good and Green Again– Some really pretty good acoustic folk, but it veers a little too much into musical and vocal sameness after a while.
Jane Inc, Faster Than I Can Take– One might call this indie dance music? It’s fairly thin and unremarkable at what it does, though.
Japanese Television, Space Fruit Vineyard– This instrumental surf album with an electronic music slant is good clean fun, but it doesn’t end up going a lot beyond that.
Jason Aldean, Georgia– As pop country goes, this isn’t a bad version, in fact is taking the whole thing pretty seriously and injecting some unusual touches, but it’s still subject to the pre-fab pro-forma feeling of the genre.
Jeanines, Don’t Wait for a Sign– Pop-rock girl groups are my happy place, and if they can pump out songs less than two minutes long on average, I love that too! So, really liking this, but the production does sound a little flat or thin somehow. It’s almost there.
Jensen McRae, Are You Happy Now?– The best parts of this are very affecting and idiosyncratic. Other parts are too slickly produced and lose the directness and even harrowing vulnerability that makes the best tracks work, and all the pieces don’t quite fit together. Even if these fifteen tracks don’t quite come together as an album in total, though, there is gold in there (check out, for example, “Wolves” or “White Boy”). This 24-year-old bears watching!
Jeremy Ivey, Invisible Pictures– Classic 70s rock with a psychedelic/Beatles twist. Well done but feels a little too museum/prefab. May have something to do with musical energy level not selling it.
Jerry Paper, Free Time– I appreciated the eclecticism and sense of humor behind this, but the sound too often verged toward the lounge/easy listening side of the road for me to really engage.
Jewel, Freewheelin’ Woman– I was/am a big fan of Jewel’s first three albums, so I went in to this curious. She’s in pretty good form here, mostly coming from a country direction, but with some jazz, pop, and dance highlights. It doesn’t quite get a lot beyond “good” to what I know can be her “great” though.
Joe Satriani, The Elephants of Mars– If you want an instrumental album of well-played ornate guitar rock to lay back and groove to, this is for you!
Jorge Dexler, Tinta y Tiempo– As pop from Uruguayan artists goes, this is my favorite! It has a nice eclecticism of styles, but the language and occasional detours into worldbeat easy listening keeps it totally from clicking for me.
Joy Guidry, Radical Acceptance– I really like what this album is doing in terms of tackling body, gender, and sexuality acceptance, and the experimental approach it takes with spoken word and music. Ironically, the problem is too much music, too often in ambient or jazz veins, and not enough word! (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Jwords, Self-Connection– It’s an unusual synth-inflected hip-hop mix, but a little too low key to totally work. (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Kaina, It Was a Home– A vocally nice mellow sunny soul-flavored album. But it doesn’t rise above the track-to-track mellow groove often enough to stand out.
Kathryn Joseph, For You Who Are the Wronged– Scottish singer-songwriter’s album is vocally beautiful, but all in one vein and musically a little too mellow to click in.
Kehlani, Blue Water Road– There is considerable merit to this singer/songwriter’s R&B album, but it dips too often into autotune musically and vocally.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Omnium Gatherum– I do like me some King Gizzard, and of course their whole point with them is experimental range and being unafraid to take a deep dive into flights of lunacy. That given, opening with an 18-minute psyche jam piece is a bold move, but darned if it doesn’t kind of work. Many highs and surprises, but also many lulls, so things do feel a little unfocused here, though, which is hard to keep up for an hour and twenty. Still, salute to the ambitious chance takers!
Koffee, Gifted– I really enjoyed a lot about this young Jamaican singer/rapper/deejay’s album. On the best tracks her vocals are strong and bare and there’s a spareness to the backing beats and musical samples that ends up imparting a lot of power. It ended up veering too often into autotune though, bleeding this power.
Koloah, Serenity– Its heart is in the right place, being a benefit for Ukraine recorded by a Ukrainian DJ in transit. The ambient approach of the music just doesn’t land with me, though.
Leon Vynehall, Fabric Presente Leon Vynehall– British artist and producer who produces some fine experimental club/electronic music. But at a run length of almost 80 minutes, well…
Let’s Eat Grandma, Two Ribbons– This is really the sweetest thing- an album of love songs toward one’s best friend, from two childhood friends. It’s beautiful, conceptually and musically, but does fuzz too much into a track-to-track sameness to continuously work at album length.
Letting Up Despite Great Faults, IV– It’s mellow, it’s shimmery, it’s synthy. Meh.
Lightning in a Twilight Hour, Overwintering– It’s chimey and moody and mellow with a sometimes-electric end, but I’m not sure it leaves enough of an impression.
Lola Kirke, Lady For Sale– When this pop-country outing leans more toward country, and embraces her funnier impulses, it’s gold. When it leans more to pop, and is more conventional, it’s okay. So, I wish there had been more of the former, but I will keep an eye on her!
Loop, Sonancy– Spacy, driving, fuzzy distorted music from this British band that dates back to the 80s. It has some energy, but without lyrics and given the sameness track-to-track, it’s not compelling at album length.
Lucius, Second Nature– Their euro disco-revival sound is really pretty nice for a while, but it fades into sameness eventually.
Luna Li, Duality– This Toronto multi-instrumentalist is a lovely vocalist and talented musician. Things here are in an orchestral/dreamy pop vein, but it all blends together in a way in fails to grab me as an album. She is more than worth keeping an eye on, though!
Machine Gun Kelly, Mainstream Sellout– Let me see if I got this right: White rapper from Cleveland in the midst of becoming pop punk. It is very 2000s pop-punk, complete with production from a Blink-182 alum. And it is a well-done example of that, but not a terribly original or standout one.
Maren Morris, Humble Quest– There are some moments here that transcend nice pop country (with a strong tilt toward the pop end of that equation) to something more authentic and dynamic feeling. In the end, though, not enough.
Maylee Todd, Maloo– I do appreciate the archly intelligent lyrics, and the quirky sound effects that populate her virtual reality-inspired album, but it ends up being all too one tone musically and vocally.
Melody’s Echo Chamber, Emotional Eternal– Some fine shimmery billowy pop, but a little too heliumated, and mostly too same.
Meshuggah, Immutable– Orchestral rock with screamy death voice vocals. Not a badly done version of it, but, eh…
Midlake, For the Sake of Bethel Woods– Moody vocals and music that weave a spell heavy on trippy hazy 70s flower power and prog rock, and not bad, but in the end it’s a little too high on production and low on feeling of vitality.
Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs, External Combustion– Dirty bar rock with strong traces of country and southern rock. It more than occasionally reminds me of Tom Petty. This is an intersection I have a lot of love for, but something about it feels a little pre-fab to me, not fully “there”. It’s a subtle, ghostly, difference, but what to do?
Mindi Abair, Forever– Tinged by country, redolent with a heartland rock feeling, bluesy and brassy. Saxophonist, vocalist, author Mindi Abair definitely has the chops. Eventually it got to be a little too smooth jazz for me, just lacking a raw and authentic spark that would have set it apart.
Munya, Voyage to Mars– Some dreamy shimmery pop from the Quebec-based Josie Boivin. It doesn’t stand out a lot at album length, but it is very well done, with the cover of the Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight, Tonight” being a special stand-out.
Nilüfer Yanya, Painless– Sophisticated international pop of the borderline between dance and rock variety. It’s not bad, at all, but it never really stands out.
North Mississippi Allstars, Set Sail– The slightly countrified bluesy vein it starts off in really works for me, but then it gets more indistinct, and too polished later.
Oceanator, Nothings Ever Fine– This winning mix of guitar-crunching angst and shades of 80s rock was headed straight for “yes” until it ended with two long down-tempo songs in a row.
Old Crow Medicine Show, Paint This Town– I do like me a Medicine Show, and Old Crow is one of my favorite kinds of Medicine Show. That being said, a lot of this ends up feeling a pinch rote and aiming for the middle, only occasionally opening up to the timeless mythic and utterly sincere space that they can reach. This may be because only one original member is left, and he’s gone for a more muscular musical sound. It’s not bad, but it’s not best.
Omar Apollo, Ivory– At times I wasn’t sure if this wanted to be an emo album, but I think it mostly wanted to be an autotuned 2020s soul album. I did not want it to be this combination of things.
Organ Tapes, Chang Zhe Na Wu Ren Wen Jin De Ge Yao– Church organ-influenced electronic underground music? I’m intrigued enough to listen! And it is an interesting sound, though I think it doesn’t sustain at album length as it gets both too experimental and too fuzzy/blurry.
Oso Oso, Sore Thumb– Long Beach indie rocker sets a certain expectation for me, then I feel confounded that it’s Long beach, NY, which apparently is a place. That being said, this guitar-led, mellow, feeling heavy music could have come from California. And is pretty good, but descends into a kind of sameness after a while.
Papercuts, Past Life Regression– This is a pretty good example of dreamy moody fuzzed-out pop, but it feels a little too same the whole way through to really catch on as an album.
Pillow Queens, Leave the Light On– I do like an all-female band, and they have a heavy but dreamy sound that is working for them. It gets to be too the same track to track, though, and somehow there’s some kind of spark missing.
Placebo, Never Let Me Go– This wouldn’t sound out of place as a late 90s/early 00s grunge afterburn with a strong dose of music from the Radiohead/Coldplay side of the fence. It’s not bad, but it does all sound curiously dated.
PLOSIVS, PLOSIVS– Punk/Hardcore supergroup composed of members from various bands in the, if not underground, at least less “mainstream” part of the 90s/00s scene. There are moments the separate pieces gel together into something explosive and fresh, but others are more kind of 00s pop punk blah.
Pusha T, It’s Almost Dry– His 2018 album Daytona was one of my favorites from my 2010s review, so I was interested going in to this. Smoothness of flow, dynamic musical mix, and lyrics alternately full of humor and surly menace. Pharrel and Kanye both had a hand in production, which is to the positive. But it doesn’t quite feel coherent, has a weak ending, and leans too heavily on his “greatest hits”. Best moments are great, but overall, not quite…
Rammstein, Zeit– This is really pretty good if you’re looking for something in a neo-cabaret goth entirely in German vein. If you’re not…
Raum, Daughter– This sounded intriguing in theory, but in practice it ambiented out to infinity. (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
RealYungPhil, Dr. Philvinci– Not without merit and charm, but the autotune, it is too much! (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love– There are a lot of things going right here- the inherent excellence of the band, the return of all the classic lineup, having Rick Rubin guide the production. But there’s also the challenge of the length- closing in on 80 minutes- the pacing of slower numbers, and the mélange of styles. I feel like there is an excellent version of this album in there at half the length, and the best moments are thrilling. The others are “merely” late Red Hot Chili Peppers good, which is to say pretty darn good.
Redveil, Learn 2 Swim– There’s some charm here, and sophistication to the musical mix and an organizing theme but the autotune, it is too much!
Renata Zeiguer, Picnic in the Dark– Brooklynite songwriter relocated to the Catskills. And this almost worked for me. Every other song did something musically surprising or even amazing within its overall framework that sold me. Then every other every other track was too lulled into the overarching dreamy magical lounge sound. Which, although charming, tended to shimmer into indistinct. I’m more than intrigued enough to keep an eye on her going forward though!
Rex Orange County, Who Cares?– I mean, I’m not sure where an English musician gets off talking about Orange County, but someone will come back at me and say they have counties in the UK too. Fine. It’s good 2020’s soul-pop, part symphony and part hip hop. It doesn’t really get beyond that, though.
Richie Hawtin/Chilly Gonzales/Plastikman, Consumed in Key– Occasional moments of higher energy, but mostly low key to the point of somnolence.
Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, Mercy Me– As nice fairly relaxed contemporary blues goes, this is pretty good, but it doesn’t feel especially fresh, vivid, or stand out.
Royksopp, Profound Mysteries– Norwegian electronic music powerhouse Royksopp here delivers something subdued and multi-layered. It was interesting, but it’s generally a little too in an abstract and quiet vein to really stick for me.
S. Carey, Break Me Open– This is by a member of Bon Iver, so the sound isn’t really a surprise- dreamy mellow neo-folk indie rock. It’s nice. But does it sound different from or better than all the other dreamy mellow neo-folk indie rock out there?
Sault, Air– UK music collective Sault is excellent, and made some of my top pick albums of 2020 and a near top for 2021. This particular experiment with choral, orchestral and new age elements, however… It’s not badly done, but it doesn’t have the hooks their work usually does.
Scott Hardware, Ballad of a Tryhard– It’s mellow vocally and musically and it mellows along from mellow track to mellow track, and everything is very mellow.
Seabear, In Another Life– This was very close! Riding the edge of affecting melodious indie rock and being just a little too low energy and same track to track.
Seratones, Love & Algorhythms– The Seratones are a Soul band from new Orleans who’s stock in trade is wide experimentation, so much so that they can sound completely different from album to album. This one has a strong 70s dance music direction, and, while it’s good slinky fun, doesn’t really work for me as an album, as it all tends to blend together. Not unlike a night on the dancefloor!
Shane Parish, Liverpool– All-instrumental guitar thematically inspired by the comings and goings of goings on in the port of Liverpool, very interesting.
Silvana Estrada, Marchita– There is something very affecting about what this Mexican singer-songwriter is doing. The language barrier kept me from fully engaging, as did a kind of sameness to its sonic explorations of Latin American folk, but her voice is gorgeous. (Full disclosure: This is not an April release. It comes from Pitchforks Winter 2022 “26 albums you may have missed” list. I am nothing if not thorough!)
Soul Glow, Diaspora Problems– Am I now too old for non-stop shouting noise rock? It’s a frightening thought, but it may be true. It’s actually the shouting that gets to me, and not the music, I think. There’s a lot of verve and humor here, but, well, 40 minutes nonstop of this sound…
Spiritualized, Everything was Beautiful– Spiritualized doing their shoegaze thing, and doing it very well, but is it better than their 90s version of doing it?
Stabbing Westward, Chasing Ghosts– This is from the echoey electronic anthem school of metal. It’s a good example of it but doesn’t necessarily rise above.
Stromae, Multitude– Belgian singer-songwriter, rapper and musician. French pop, electronic music, hip-hop. It’s musically unusual and really pretty good, but also entirely in French, which prevents me from fully-connecting.
Sugaray Rayford, In Too Deep– It started off with a fat 70s soul sound, but the freshness of that began to fade and it began to sound too “by rote” as it went on.
Suki Waterhouse, I Can’t Let Go– A smoky singer and songwriter, not unlike a Lana Del Rey, and not without merit, but this doesn’t rise above.
Syd, Broken Heart’s Club– Bright neo-dancey pop from this LA singer-songwriter. She can get quite experimental and challenging, but what’s here mostly goes for a more straightforward vein.
Tahiti 80, Here With You– French indie pop band who have been active since the 90s. This has a neo-disco feel to it that isn’t uncommon among euro-indie bands (heck, many American ones too!). It’s good clean fun, but not sure it’s rising above that.
Tess Roby, Ideas of Space– Some bright and interesting dance-oriented pop, but it doesn’t rise a lot beyond that. Tess has considerable depths as a person and as an experimental musician, but this is mostly aimed at a fairly conventional pop space.
The Boo Radleys, Keep on With Falling– Shoegaze/Britpop pioneers from the 90s. It’s pretty pitch perfect for the sunny shimmery space it’s going for, but it does feel a little dated and out of time. Being the best of a whole year is a tricky business…
The Districts, Great American Painting– This is some fine indie rock, but it doesn’t often enough reach for the something more dynamic or unusual it would take to stand out from many similar artist.
The Monochrome Set, Allhallowtide– English post-punk/new wave band who have been kicking around since the late 70s. That’s what they sound like, and they’re really good at it. But it sounds a little dated and like many other bands that sound like this. One the other hand, if there’s a Bowie/Roxy Music-inspired somewhat Echo and the Bunnymen space in your heart that needs filling, this might do it.
The Regrettes, Further Joy– This was an almost! Dance music and romantic ballads but carried a step above by frontwoman Lydia Night’s presence, vulnerability and wit. I subsequently read that they’re a punk band, and maybe that’s why they’re bringing something above and beyond to the more dance/pop direction this album was in.
The Waterboys, All Souls Hill– The 80s “Big Music” sound the Waterboys are known for (a la U2, Big Country, Simple Minds, etc.) is on fine display here. A fan of theirs, or of that sound, won’t go awry listening to this, but it does feel a little frozen in time/formula to be a “best of” this year.
The Weather Station, How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars– The last time I tried to like a Weather Station album I ended up in the same place- lyrically sophisticated, music and vocals both very solid, but so muted and low key and same track to track that it was difficult to get my hooks in to the album.
Thomas Rhett, Where We Started– As contemporary pop country goes, it’s fine, even has playful musical inventiveness, but it doesn’t feel vital or energized beyond its packaging very often.
Tran Uy Duc, Came– This is some interesting experimental electronic music, but it’s a little too on the “hard to listen to” edge of grating to make it at album length.
Trey Anastasio, Mercy– I went in pre-disposed to be hostile out of a residual 80s punk/90s alt resentment toward jam bands and their dark progeny. In fact, it was quite engaging musically, and vocally simple in a way that really let the complex lyrics shine through. It wasn’t until near the very end that the track-to-track mellow grove finally pushed me over from “maybe” to “no”.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Lifted– New Orleans trombone and trumpet player Andrews has put out a boisterous jazz-funk album, redolent with New Orleans musical influences. It sometimes felt a little too slickly packaged, but no denying it was fun!
Undeath, It’s Time…To Rise From the Grave– I mean, between the band name, the album name, and the fact that they hail from my wife’s hometown of Rochester, NY, how could I not give it a try? Musically, I appreciate the non-stop metal assault, but the doom metal demon growl vocals are just so rarely a good idea these days.
Van Chamberlain, In The Sun– It’s solid instrumental rock, a little dreamy and in good control of its chord changes, but ultimately a little too hazy all the same.
Various Artists, Black Lives: From Generation to Generation– This is what it sounds like, a tribute to black music from musicians mining several generations of styles- African music, hip-hop, jazz, and soul all make an appearance. Some of the results are exquisite, but at an hour and forty-one minutes run-time, it gets hard to sustain in whole.
Vein.FM, This World Is Going to Ruin You– On the musical side, I like the stuttering distorted metal going on here. The purely screamo vocals, though, kept a single lyric from getting through.
Wallows, Tell Me That It’s Over– This Los Angeles band makes good, poppy, bright music. We could do A LOT worse, but I think it’s not substantive or different enough to linger.
Wesley Gonzales, Wax Limousine– A classic synth pop feeling and sure upbeat song structure feeling, offset by the languorous vocals and smart complicated lyrics. It’s always pretty good, and occasionally it’s extraordinary. I’m not sure it tipped over that line often enough, but it can’t be dismissed.
Wet Tuna, Warping All By Yourself– When I hear that an album is by psychedelic folkies living in a Vermont cabin, I can’t help but be interested. And wonder how far away from me they live! There’s no denying this trippy swirl of electronic dance, psychedelic effects and sometimes prog rock-sounding sections is interesting, but it’s a little abstract and untethered to work at album length.
YIN YIN, The Age of Aquarius– This was described as SE Asian influenced psychedelia, which was very interesting to me. And it is interesting, albeit I think more in a mode of SE Asian music-influenced dance music? There are some intriguing soundscapes here, although it eventually gets a little too muzaky.
Young Guv, Guv III– This Toronto musician relocated to Brooklyn has a sound that would have worked well on the crossover between pop and indie rock in the 90s. Really pretty well done, but it doesn’t sound sufficiently different from a lot of other things, then and now, which sound similar.
Young Prisms, Drifter– Very fuzzy musically and vocally, in the 90s shoegaze distortion kind of way. Not unlike everything had gotten refracted through a prism! It’s not a bad example of what it is, but also doesn’t get a lot beyond it.
And thus we end our review of March/April only shortly after the beginning on June! I have high hopes for getting May out, in its own post, before the end of the month…