We have now reached the halfway point in our quest for the 22 Best Albums of 2022! Or, at least the halfway point of the initial sorting-out portion of the search. That’s right, we’ve hereby completed six months of listening to new releases each month, and then sorting them into “Yes”, “Maybe”, and “No” contenders for the best albums of the year.
If you missed the previous five months, you can find them here:
I did this last year too, so you can also read my wrap-up of the 21 best albums of 2021. And for extra credit, here are the round-ups of my blog series reviewing the critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s, and 2020.
Before we get on with tackling June, a brief overview of the three categories:
Yes– These albums could be in running for the year’s best. If they survive the mortal combat to come!
Maybe– These albums definitely have 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 crap. I mean, sometimes you do end up there because you’re crap. But you can also be fine, but not more than fine. Or interesting and ambitious, but not quite pulling it off. Getting to “yes” isn’t easy!
Now that we have that established, onward with the review of the 103 June new releases I listened to!
700 Bliss, Nothing to Declare– 700 Bliss is a duo made up of of Philadelphia experimental poet/rapper Moor Mother and New Jersey-born DJ Haram, who between them were responsible for two of my favorite hip-hop outings last year, so I went in interested. And my interest is well repaid! This often reads more as a densely sampled electronic album than a conventional hip-hop album, and it’s deconstructing a lot of current conventional hip hop themes as well. Sonically and lyrically challenging and interesting!
Andrew Bird, Inside Problems– This is interesting! His literate wordy lyrics and straightforwardly melodious vocals populate a range of musical approaches including swinging lounge, 70s acoustic, contemporary indie pop, even a tad Velvet Underground, and more besides. Throughout, it has a good feel for hooks. I started off unsure of the stylistic oscillation, but it rapidly grew on me. This is apparently his 16th studio album, so I guess I’m just catching up, and the excellence on display here makes sense.
Corb Lund, Songs My Friends Wrote– The title tells you what’s going on here, this Canadian musician is covering songs from a variety of contemporaries and musical fellow travelers. Along the way is some spontaneous and joyful country/Western/rockabilly/(North) American roots music and a variety of interesting lyrical takes and moods. It reminds you just how vital this kind of music can still be!
Damien Jurado, Reggae Film Star– A haunted 70s burning out into 1980 feeling, lyrics that are literate and sometimes feel achingly revealing, vocals that know how to bring out the nostalgic melancholy. This Seattle-based singer songwriter is in my age cohort, started recording in the 90s, released albums on some of my favorite labels (Sub Pop and Secretly Canadian) and this is his 18th studio album. I don’t know how he didn’t get on my radar before this, but I’m glad he’s on it now!
Fantastic Negrito, White Jesus Black Problems– This is great! Musically, it’s an R&B shakedown with edges of electronic dance, new wave, garage rock revival, 70s soul, and gospel. Lyrically it is a cycle of songs about struggle, freedom, and joy, and vocally it’s extremely playful and varied. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, was inspired to play by listening to Prince and then taught himself. I feel like he’s teaching us now what’s still possible for an album to do!
Grace Ives, Janky Star– This Brooklyn-based musician delivers tales of internal and external misadventure, fantastically clever and lively synth arrangements, and vocals so replete with light sweetness and that they belie the wit, snark, and sometimes darkness of the lyrics. This all adds up to a fun and multi-layered pop album, and it’s especially impressive when you know that she’s home-produced and arranged the whole damn thing. Grace Ives for God Emperor!
Hank Williams Jr., Rich White Honky Blues– The idea is pretty simple: Have a producer known for getting good down and dirty blues performances work with an idiosyncratic country artist known for getting down and dirty. It works very well! Junior is in raw grizzled grouchy veteran form, the material is great, and the playing and production is sterling.
Hollie Cook, Happy Hour– This ska/dub/jazz mix from a British singer and keyboardist (and late lineup member of the Slits) is quite fetching! It sounds like a happy hour- not the loud obnoxious sports bar kind, but the mellow night out at a local spot where everyone is enjoying the grove. If it sometimes feels a little too smooth, it never sounds in-genuine for it, and it carries you along track to track like a warm current.
Jens Lekman, The Cherry Trees Are Still in Blossom– Technically, this is a re-production of Swedish indie artist Jens Lekman’s 2005 compilation Oh You’re So Silent. That compilation was taken down from streaming services years ago, and this re-recorded, expanded, and re-titled version has just been released in its place. It’s a hodge-podge of fresh revisions, almost completely unaltered original recordings, and previously unreleased material with audio diaries from a personal cassette archive as interludes between the songs. And remember, this hodge-podge approach has been applied to what was originally a “greatest hits”. It shouldn’t work, and it shouldn’t sound unified, but it really does- the saccharine perfection of the pop songs vs. the extremely idiosyncratic nature of their subject matter, the variety of styles, and the stripped-down nature of the production all feel like they hold together. And they’re practically aglow with singular talent and wit!
Katie Alice Greer, Barbarism– This is the first full-length solo album from front-person of D.C. art punk band Priests, Katie Alice Greer. Thrashing guitars, swirling metal machine noises, witty lyrics, and vocals that have at various times an arch new wave delivery, distorted psychedelic sheen, and 90s straightforwardness. This reminds me more than a bit of Bjork, but doesn’t feel like a mere copy- what I mean is the knack for songs that are catchy and fun, but experimental and challenging. Amen!
Kula Shaker, 1st Congregational Church of Eternal Love and Free Hugs– Knowing they’re an English psychedelic rock group, combined with that title, gives you some sense of the goings-on here. And, indeed, there are British psychedelic touches a plenty- a framing mechanism of a church service, a kind of through story about the fall of man, ornate musical production in parts, Indian influences, and lyrics sometimes given to extreme whimsy. What all of this doesn’t quite convey is how often it is blisteringly guitar rocking. Listening, I heard hints of all the concept album forebearers one might expect- the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Who, the Zombies. But it never felt inauthentic, or not vitally present. This band has been at this since the 90s heyday of Britpop, with a break and resurrection in the early 00s, and this 6th album shows what they’ve learned.
Lucy Liyou, Welfare/Practice– This album by a Philadelphia-based Korean-American experimental musician is, in a sense, very detached, even muted. It’s a pastiche of text-to-voice vocals, piano, and sound samples. The detachment works though, to take just enough of the edge off the confessional lyrics of family estrangement and therapy to make the content even that more raw and revealing. Yes, it tends toward the abstract and is over an hour long, but damned if my first impulse after finishing it wasn’t to immediately play it again to examine all the layers hidden therein.
Regina Spektor, Home, before and after– The literate and vivid poetry of her lyrics, the alternating softly and ardently compelling quality of her voice, and the orchestrated swell of the music behind her here are all working so, so well together! She’s been doing great work for about 20 years now, and it’s nice to see it continuing here.
Tim Heidecker, High School– Tim Heidecker is a comedian with a more than incidental side career as a musician. As in, he’s really good at it, making a philosophical kind of soft rock. This album is in that vein and lives up to its name. Musically, it almost seems like frat rock at times, but gets a hint of 90s alt guitar, and name checks music from multiple genres of the 80s and 90s. It’s full of authentic details of the travails of suburban teen youth. More than that, it evokes the sense of dusty nostalgia of teen memories, how everything seems serious and yet vague at the same time. Kind of peculiarly, it feels philosophical and shallow at the same time, all because it so authentically taps into its theme through mood and mode.
Yaya Bey, Remember Your North Star– Brooklyn singer-songwriter whose sound is a combination of hip-hop, smoky soul, dub, biting social commentary, and gender inversions. There are some things in life I’m not sure about, but one thing I am sure of is that the world needs more Yaya Bey!
- Angel Olsen, Big Time– I’ve been favorably impressed by her on previous outings. She’s an excellent vocalist, and an honest, emotional lyricist. Both of those are on display here, in even more focused form, and the slow country-flavored background supports what she’s doing very well. It is a little bit all of a tone song to song, but a gorgeous richly sung tone.
- Art d’Ecco, After the Headrush– This is a delightful and well-done romp through classic influences a la David Bowie and Roxy Music, and the currents of post-punk and new wave that most strongly reflect them. I had this same reaction to their album In Standard Definition last year, which made my initial “yes” list. So the derivative aspects may wear thin on repeated listen, but it’s so energetic and fun on the first listen that I can’t dismiss it as a possibility!
- Automatic, Excess– So many people are doing this brittle post-punk 80s chilly synth early electronic thing these days. Does everybody have to keep doing this? But dammit, this Los Angeles group is doing it so well that I have to say “maybe”.
- Bartees Strange, Farm to Table– His stylistic kaleidoscope of an album Live Forever was one of my favorites of 2020, so I was looking forward to checking this out. Here he often sticks a closer to a conventional palette in terms of music and production, but still pulls surprises like the first track, where a quiet introspective examination of the past year becomes a booming indie rock song, or the great surges of synth sound and echo in what had started off as more of a conventional electronic dance song in “Cosigns”. Sometimes the surprising moments are subtle, on others they blow your socks off. If it’s a little off in pacing and not quite as dazzling as his previous outing, it’s still worth another listen.
- Cola, Deep in View– These veterans of bands from the Montreal art punk scene have produced an album that sounds like early post-punk. Spare, angular, driving, a little chill, and densely worded. There are a lot of people mining this vein these days, but I must give points for this being a well-done version of it!
- Erin Anne, Do Your Worst– Crunching guitars of power-pop, crashing synths of high-energy bedroom pop, and a ridiculous way with melody. That’s on the musical side, on the vocal side she tends between pop-punk and autotuned, and lyrically, there’s romance gone wrong with some snark and attitude thrown in.
- Horsegirl, Versions of Modern Performance– First thing to note: this Chicago-based trio recorded most of this album when they were in high school! It’s thick on guitars and fuzz feelings, both musically and emotionally, and brings to mind multiple aspects of alt/indie rock from the 80s-00s. A little samey track to track, but, return to opening note- they recorded this while they were still in high school! A very promising debut.
- Logic, Vinyl Days– There’s a dizzying kaleidoscope of styles and samples on this album from American rapper and record producer Logic, well-deployed guest appearances, and some serious wordplay amidst the flow. On the lyrical side, there’s plenty of bragging, but there’s also plenty of humor, some serious message, and wild inventiveness. At an hour ten, it’s a little sprawling, but there’s a lot of good stuff in that sprawl!
- Nicki Bluhm, Avondale Drive– A solid set of blue-eyed soul and country with an electric stomping edge and yearning vocals. In classic country fashion, this was inspired by her divorce, and the authenticity shows up in the lyrics and vocals. The music sometimes is a tad formulaic, but damn it’s a good formula.
- Pet Fox, A Face in Your Life– I kept thinking, “This sounds like…” and could never specifically place it, because what it sounds like is so damn much from my alt 80s youth and 90s alternative still pretty youth. As this would indicate, there’s a variety of styles here. What unites them is a sense of romantic yearning throughout, and the deftness with which they’re all worked. Derivative, but it’s a great derivation.
- S.G. Goodman, Teethmarks– This Kentucky singer-songwriter is a powerhouse! Moving between folk, country, blues, and some good honest rock, with vocals sometimes powerful and driving and sometimes haunting and subtle. Her lyrics have a knack for both bare emotional and topical anthems. Some tracks get a little indistinct, and you’ll hear influences for sure- Sheryl Crow, Edie Brickell, Ricki Lee Jones, even a pinch of Janis all came to mind. But it’s not a copy, and there’s something here that catches the attention.
- Shintaro Sakamoto, Like a Fable– Shinataro Sakomoto is a psychedelic rocker from Japan known for bending genre, and that’s well on display here. You’ll find some swinging lounge sounds, some 60s pop, some psychedelia, and it’s entirely in Japanese. Despite the language barrier, it feels instantly understandable, and is like an overflowing plate of sunshine.
- Soccer Mommy, Sometimes, Forever– This is like the second-coming of 90s guitar songstresses! Her album color theory was a maybe in my 2020 blog. I have some of the same concerns here as I did there- a kind of sameness of tempo track to track, some pacing issues. But the dark undertones of her music, vocals, and lyrics kept pulling me through.
- The Inflorescence, Remember What I Look Like– Emotional female-lead vocals, high energy guitars with a pop-punk flavor, distortion! That’s the basic elements of what will always be a happy place for me. This particular edition is from San Diego, and while it may not be the most original formulation ever, I’m a sucker for the sound.
- µ-Ziq, Magic Pony Ride– As electronic music goes, this was enjoyable and interesting. Ultimately not enough…something… Structure? Lyrics? Unifying theme? To really work as an album, but not a bad listen!
- Alice Merton, S.I.D.E.S.– Smart and sophisticated cosmopolitan sounding dance-pop. I certainly didn’t dislike it but didn’t think it was enough above and beyond other examples in class to really stand out.
- Andre Bratten, Picture Music– Norwegian artist Andre Bratten’s album is certainly well done, but too much on the chilly and abstract side of electronic to hold attention at album length.
- Astronoid, Radiant Bloom– A description I ran across said, “fuses black metal’s volume and precision with the soft ambience of shoegaze and the steady repetition of post-rock”. To me, it sounded like it would have been very much at home on College Radio in the 80s somewhere between the Icicle Works and the Psychedelic Furs. It’s not bad, but not sure it’s “still talk about it in a year” good.
- Avalanche Kaito, Avalanche Kaito– Players from Brussels’ experimental scene and a Burkina Faso-born griot. It’s a winning combination in many ways, bringing to mind the fertile interplay between post-punk and African music in the early 80s. Ultimately a little same track to track, and with the language issue, it doesn’t quite come together as an album.
- Big Moochie Grape, East Haiti Baby– It’s a fine enough hip-hop album, but in a mumbly vocal style that doesn’t particularly catch my attention, and it doesn’t stand out thematically.
- Big Sad 1900, I Don’t Tap In or Tap Out– I really liked the 80s R&B-sound mix of this hip-hop album and there’s some power in the vocals, but it is a little same track to track and it doesn’t have something that really stands out.
- Bobby Oroza, Get on the Otherside– A native Finlander of Bolivian descent, his music includes elements of jazz and Latin but relies most heavily on a trinity of classic R&B, funk, and soul. So read the description, and indeed this had a beautiful honey-dripping slow 70s soul feel, with some jazz keyboard sprinkle. It’s very nice, but it got a little samey eventually.
- Brett Eldredge, Songs About You– Pop country, but with a distinctive R&B swing and call-backs to a lot of musical heritage. It’s considerably less odious than your average pop country! Eventually it gets a little too cliché-slick and packaged, but still a cut above.
- Caamp, Lavender Days– Some nice American roots music from this Ohio band. It’s more than occasionally quite charming, but it’s sometimes a little too 2020s indie folk produced slick.
- Carrie Underwood, Denim & Rhinestones– Certainly well produced pop country, but the country goes for pop country cliché, and the pop is too slick and ornate in its production.
- Charlie Musselwhite, Mississippi Son– A modern blues great, and he does some fine Mississippi Blues playing and singing here, but it feels like it leans a little too much on form versus spontaneity.
- Coheed and Cambria, Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind– Second of a five-part arc of concept albums around a greater storyline! Surging rock with prog and arena influences! Very well produced! It all feels a little plastic to me though!
- Conan Gray, Superache– A nice emoey teen angsty thing that leans in a pop direction. It’s fine.
- Day Wave, Pastlife– Bay Area band, so I’m pre-disposed to think well of them. And they’re doing a perfect shimmering jangling music with a lo-fi feeling, but eventually it gets too fuzzy and indistinct to keep working for an entire album.
- Deliluh, Faultlines– This Toronto art rock group’s album almost made it! Its combination of a spare industrial synth with occasional grating touches and spoken word almost affectless vocals was oddly compelling until the last track which meandered and bad 80s soundtrack synthed around for eight minutes.
- Drake, Honestly, Nevermind– Wait, Drake is Canadian? Why did no one ever tell me this?!?!?!? In any case, wherever he’s from he makes reliably good music with fun and clever touches, but this one was a little unfocused and way too autotuned for me.
- Elucid, I Told Bessie– Elucid is doing some interesting things here, and has collaborations with some of the best names in the darker more creative reaches of contemporary hip-hop like Armand Hammer bandmate Billy Woods, as well as Pink Siifu, Quelle Chris, the Alchemist, and Kenny Segal. And the dark undertow of his flow, spare musical background and incantatory lyrics does cast a spell, but, it’s a little too same track to track to really stand out.
- Emma Ruth Rundle, EG2: Dowsing Voice– The artistry of the experimentation here is undeniable, but it’s too much on the experimental/avantgarde side to be repeatably listenable.
- Fashion Club, Scrutiny– If you ran across a band called “Fashion Club” on a college radio station in the 80s, you would not be surprised to hear them have this haunted, dark, melodramatic and melodious synth feeling. In fact, this band is from the LA indie scene of the 2020s. It’s not bad at all, in fact it’s kind of great, but it is so of an era/vein that it has trouble escaping that context.
- Flasher, Love is Yours– This is a blend of post-punk/art rock I would have loved in the 80s. And it is very well done, but a little in the same vein song to song, and too bound by its time sound/genre place.
- Foals, Life is Yours– I mean, I like the post-punk, neo-new wave, pseudo-disco sound so many bands have been exploring this millennium but…so many bands are exploring it. And do many of them stand out from, or above the others? In a “will be listening to this/thinking of it” several years from now way? I wonder…
- Gaby Moreno, Alegoria– Guatemalan-born, her self-defined “Spanglish soul” sound encompasses jazz, blues, pop, rock, and R&B. There are moments when she’s simply outstanding, but there are others where the smooth jazz is too smooth, or the production is too slick. Still, for range and quality, a name to keep an eye on.
- Giveon, Give or Take– The quality of this LA-born R&B artist’s album is high, the viewpoint is laudable, but urgghhh, the autotune!
- Grey Daze, The Phoenix– If you were thinking, “I need some more post-grunge that sounds perfectly like post-grunge” this Phoenix-based band (who, to be fair, started doing it in the 90s, so they come by it honestly) has you covered.
- Hercules & Love Affair, In Amber– Spare synth sounds that straddle atmospheric and upbeat dance, sometimes dolorous vocals, emotional and deeply internal lyrics. It’s not bad, but it is kind of low key, and not different than other such outings.
- Horse Jumper of Love, Natural Part– Dreamy lo-fi pop that, on the upside, mentions tentacle porn and skunks living under the house. On the downside, it sounds a lot like a lot of other things that sound like this.
- Jack Johnson, Meet the Moonlight– It’s pretty, it’s accessible, it’s warm. It’s Jack Johnson. But it’s also something we’ve heard a lot before.
- Jasmyn, In the Wild– Somewhere between electronic, indie pop, and punk, Jasmyn’s music is fun. It’s occasionally more than fun, thrilling even, and I’d certainly want to keep an eye on her in the future.
- Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Carbon– Against my better judgement, my friend and music appreciation savant Matt had me listen to Air, and I ended up quite liking them. That French electronic outfit is where this artist hails from, and what’s on display here is a lot like their music. Ultimately a little too like to stand out. But it’s great if you’re in that mood, and there is a song here called “sex ufo” so there’s that.
- Jens Lekman, The Linden Trees Are Still in Blossom– Technically, this is a re-production of Swedish indie artist Jens Lekman’s 2007 album Night Falls Over Kortedala. Or rather, what he did is remove it from streaming platforms and replace it with The Linden Trees Are Still in Blossom. Linden Trees is one of two albums Lekman uses to revisit, partially re-record, and otherwise reconfigure older work. The other album he just did this with, The Cherry Trees Are Still in Blossom, made my “yes” list. While this contains much of the charm of that album, and originally came from a proper album as opposed to Cherry Trees “greatest hits” source material, it actually feels less unified. Among other things, it’s longer which makes an album “through line” harder to maintain, and it feels a lot more produced and less quirky, which frankly detracts. Not that there isn’t a lot of worthy material here, but it feels much less like a proper album than its companion piece.
- Jimmie Allen, Tulip Drive– I mean, having pop country that leans heavily to the pop side and sounds all the slick, packaged, and cliche one would think based on that, except with a Black male lead, is different. That doesn’t really make it work though.
- Joan Shelley, The Spur– A beautifully sung and played acoustic-oriented album, full of literate lyrics. It’s a little too all in that vein to work indefinitely, but if you’re looking for that vein, it’s beautiful.
- Joyce Manor, 40 Oz. to Fresno– 9 songs in 17 minutes! So you might argue this is actually an EP, but the Ramones first album did 14 songs in 28 minutes, so we’re in a similar timing territory here. I also like how the title is based on an autocorrect miscorrection of a Sublime album title. This is some good catchy pop-punk of the 2000s pop-punk variety, but not sure it really brings something original to that.
- Just Mustard, Heart Under– This Irish band is channeling some identifiable spirits- an angular haunted early post-punk (aka Joy Division), some industrial, some emo side of goth. It’s not a bad channeling, but it may not be new and different enough to really stand out.
- Kelley Stoltz, Stylist– This San Francisco auteur has been doing great work reminiscent of classic 70s singer-songwriter sources for decades. It’s in good form here, most every song sounds in a way familiar a la 70s pop and the Nick Lowe school of new wave/pub rock, but also new. It’s well-done and all very pleasant, but it feels curiously emotionally detached and over-slick in production, and, at nearly an hour long, the sprawl doesn’t quite come together.
- Lil Tracy, Saturn Child– Ohhhh myyyy gawwwdddd thisss issss sssooooo autotunedddddddddddd.
- Luke Combs, Growin’ Up– Honestly, as formulaic dude pop country goes, this is top of the line. I wouldn’t throw myself onto a funeral pyre instead of listening to it again, but it still doesn’t make a “top of year” cut.
- Luke Steele, Listen to the Water– This solo debut of one half of the electro-pop duo Empire of the Sun was self-recorded in a cabin in rural Northern California, which automatically makes me favorably disposed to it. And the electro-folk goings on here are good, sometimes quirky and quite interesting. It does fuzz out into an indistinct sameness a little too much as it goes on though.
- Lupe Fiasco, Drill Music in Zion– The consciousness of this hip-hop/R&B outing is coming from an interesting place. And, about half the time, the musical and vocal accompaniment of it is great (I could have stood a lot more of the spoken word/poetic style that kicked it off), but the rest tends a little too much toward the autotuned.
- Mapache, Roscoe’s Dream– It opens with a country-style love song for the artist’s dog, and honestly, I was all in at that point. From there this Los Angeles duo starts to stylistically vary, usually to good effect, but there end up being a few too many indie folk numbers that sound like all other indie folk numbers.
- Martin Courtney, Magic Sign– I mean, it’s not unpleasant. But it is a little like some kind of cross between synth and yacht rock. If I were on a yacht, heck, it might be the prefect accompaniment!
- Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band, Dear Scott– This Liverpool-born singer/songwriter is really a pretty solid songwriter and musician. And yes, you can hear hints of the songcraft of certain Liverpool-born songwriters past. It’s a little low-key to ultimately stand out, but it’s solid.
- Michael Rault, Michael Rault– This Canadian singer-songwriter takes us through a sunny fuzzy slice of 70s pop sounds. As so many are doing these days. It’s well done, but it often feels like the (nearly perfect) form is coming at the cost of any emotionally vital substance to me. With so many others plying these waters, it takes something special to stand out.
- Michaela Anne, Oh To Be That Free– A little country, a little folky, a little lush poppy. Not bad, but it doesn’t feel vital or authentic.
- Mt. Joy, Orange Blood– LA band originally from Philadelphia, with the minor chords, the hooky melodies, the jangly guitars with just the right balance between indie pop catchiness, driving rock, and psyche flourish. But then it gets a little too into a bland kind of 2020s indie rock. Alas!
- Muna, Muna– Some good, sophisticated pop from this trio under Phoebe Bridger’s label, and you can understand how they appealed to her and her musical approach. But it was too slick, autotuned, and produced to ever really get its hooks in to me.
- Perfume Genius, Ugly Season– This is romantic synth pop as complex orchestral conceptual music, and as such, I can’t dismiss it as bad. I will say it tends toward a little too abstract and occasionally ethereal to really grab and hold my attention for a whole album though.
- Poliça, Madness– A nice enough shimmery electronic thing, but, eh…
- Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation– A reunion of sorts for this well-respected band, including founding member Steven Wilson, who’s album The Future Bites made my “honorable mention” list last year. I didn’t like this quite as well, though its mix of prog rock, semi-metal and synth/electronic provided many interesting moments and let me know why this band has the strong reputation it does. It tended too abstract too often to keep me consistently engaged, though.
- Post Malone, Twelve Carat Toothache– Godddddd dammmmnnnnn issss thissssss autotunnnnnned…………
- Rufus Wainwright, Rufus Does Judy at Capitol Studios– Recorded from Wainwright’s livestreaming a cover of Judy Garland’s 1961 classic Judy at Carnegie Hall with a four-piece jazz ensemble (and one appearance by guest Kristin Chenoweth). Classic American songbook source, and the material and musical setting certainly plays to his strengths. It’s a good performance, even if it is a little twice-derived to end up as a best of year.
- Sally Ann Morgan, Cups– This was described as a “blend of Appalachian folk traditions, drone music, and light psychedelia”. I think that’s true, although it’s a lot more classical sounding than that introduction gets across. Certainly beautiful, but not really compelling as an album in total.
- Saya Gray, 19 Masters– This Toronto-based singer’s album is a fascinating swirl of unusually-produced and emotionally revealing songs incorporating elements of synth, acoustic and experimental electronic. It’s never an uninteresting or unworthy listen, but in the experimental edges and variety, it never quite gels together either.
- Shearwater, The Great Awakening– This Texas-based band has an international outlook and some interesting ecological ideas. The music and vocals, however, are…not interesting. A little too far on the mellow bleeds to ambient side of electronic.
- Sound of Ceres, Emerald Sea– If you know that Sound of Ceres is a dream pop group, and if you know that they’ve extensively collaborated on this album with performance artist Marina Abramovic, you might be expecting things to be trippy and weird. And you would be right! As such, it’s always interesting, but a little too abstract and gauzy to work at length for me.
- Stella, Up and Away– I did enjoy this Greek-influenced pop as international mellow jam music. Sort of an Enya, Dido, Everything but the Girl space, but with Greek highlights. It doesn’t rise much above nice. But hey, nice is nice!
- Supersonic Blues Machine, Voodoo Nation– California’s Supersonic Blues Machine does something like the name might lead you to expect- plays loud, fast blues with a rock edge. And I was on board for most of the hour+ run-time, but toward the end it started veering too often into songs that flavored slickness and production over vitality and bruising noise. Alas!
- Tedeschi Trucks Band, I Am the Moon: I. Crescent– Part one of a four album project by this 11-piece band, fronted by the married guitar slingers, that plays a righteous melding of rock, blues, gospel, and New Orleans funk. This sounds great, a real 70s Americana R&B influenced rock sound. I’m not sure it really holds together as an album as such though. Maybe parts II-IV will tell.
- The Dream Syndicate, Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions– The Dream Syndicate is in fine form here, but the form is a little dated, and not as dreamy as it was in the 80s. Alas!
- The Range, Mercury– Electronic musician/producer/DJ James Hinton moved from Brooklyn to Vermont, fell into a depression, and then musiced his way out with this album. I mean, as someone with experience with depression, and as someone who’s experienced the lifestyle shift of big city to Vermont, I’m interested in the premise. In practice, it’s some nice, lively enough electronic music, but it doesn’t really hold my attention above a background level.
- Tijuana Panthers, Halfway to Eighty– This trio from Long Beach brings together sounds from punk, surf, garage rock, and sometimes even brought to mind The Replacements. I’m pretty sure I would have loved this in 1986. Now it’s more of a reaction of nostalgic fondness.
- Tim Bernardes, Mil Coisas Invisíveis– A beautiful acoustic album from this Brazilian artist. But, without much Portuguese on my part, and largely being in a uniform musical tone/vein on the album’s part, it never quite wowed me.
- Tony Shhnow, Reflexions– The vocal flow is sharp, but kind of all too the same. And the subject matter is a little too 2000s hip-hop standard. On the upside the cool vibe of the musical mix does work well.
- Trixie Mattel, The Blonde & Pink Albums– When I heard this was by an American drag queen, actor, and singer who was on the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I was definitely intrigued! I was expecting some kind of disco inferno because, you know, stereotypes. What I actually got was a fun, high energy basically emo pop album. I’m glad my stereotypes got busted, but musically, while fun, it wasn’t really distinguished from many another fun emo pop album of the past twenty years.
- TV Priest, My Other People– Their 2021 album Uppers made my “maybe” list. This has all the same charms of that album- a spare and nervy post-punk delivery with an industrial edge. But it also doesn’t sound new or different to that, or all that different from a lot of groups I’ve heard in the past year and a half who are mining that same vein. Alas! A fine example of the sound though, if you’re looking for it!
- Ural Thomas & the Pain, Dancing Dimensions– First of all, this has an interesting story- he had performed widely as a child soul singer and back-up singer for many notables in the 50s and 60s. In the 2010s a Portland DJ, learning that he was living locally, organized a band for him and got him back into regular performing. This is some good fun soul, with a jazz influence and 70s feel. I’m not sure if it adds up to a standout album, but I love the story and it works as a slice of fun!
- Various Artists, Under the Bridge– Sarah Records was a Bristol, England indie pop record label active from 1987 and 1995, and hugely influential in developing the poppier more shimmering side of indie rock through its releases, which were largely singles. This is a tribute to Sarah put out by the also indie Skep Wax label, organized around a simple premise: the current projects of various Sarah-related artists record contemporary versions of classic songs by other Sarah artists. The results are quite charming and reinforce just how influential this body of music continues to be. This is great as a sampler, but it’s a little twice-derived to be a year’s best album.
- Westside Boogie, More Black Superheroes– There is some freshness to this hip-hop album, and the more than occasional unusual touch, and it’s certainly well done. Some more of the more interesting parts would have put it into contention, but too much of it was focused on the now standard “street life“ clichéd material.
- XAM Duo, XAM Duo II– Hey, a XAM Duo is a pretty good duo! This Yorkshire-based pair is putting out some clean solid electronic music, even if it ultimately didn’t grab me.
- Yann Tiersen, 11 5 18 2 5 18– If you see the title, and know that he’s Breton, and much of his work is on film soundtracks, you might be expecting something quite disembodied and abstract. It does get there eventually which is why I have it as a “no”, but the first 3/4 were really solid techno with all the best butt-moving music and interesting sound effects that go with that.
- Yoo Doo Right, A Murmur, Boundless to the East– Somewhere between electronic and an 80s alt sound that combines the darker sides of synth and “big music”. Not bad, but a little swirly and unmoored.
- Young Guv, Guv IV– I liked this a lot better than III, which came out in March. It still wore thin after a while, but I did enjoy the shimmery jangly neo-psych (with occasional country dashes!) space it inhabited.
- Zola Jesus, Arkhon– It’s not the elements here- looming feeling, dark orchestral synths, operatic vocals- are in any way bad. But it is indistinct track to track, and not a whole lot different from many other examples of same.
And that’s it for June! Tune in next time for July, when we’ll be halfway plus one…