Before we proceed with the July review, let’s do a quick overview of the three categories:
Yes– These are albums that could be in running for the year’s best. That doesn’t mean that they will. As of July, there were 103 yeses, but we only have room for 22. And that’s before we get to…
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”. We have 93 maybes as of July.
No– Being a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re crap. To be sure, 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 for the faint of heart.
Now that everything is squared away, boldly forward with the review of 95 new releases from July!
Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man– Shires started off as a country artist, and there’s still more than a hint of that, but this is like haunted pop music of various genres, tied together by her plain-spoken earnest vocals and the bare emotional tales of her lyrics. Nanci Griffith’s Storms comes to mind in terms of pop smoothness combined with complicated dark depths.
Beach Bunny, Emotional Creature– There’s a bevy of younger ladies doing a kind of music that effortlessly brings together pop ballads and crunchy 90s influenced guitar rock, unspooling pop emotion and yet intelligent lyrics in the process (looking at you Olivia Rodrigo, Soccer Mommy, etc.). And hallelujah for that! Beach Bunny, a Chicago rock band formed in 2015 by Lili Trifilio, is in this vein, and boy can she work it! It may be glossy, and use pop rotes along the way, but nothing here sounds false, and every track is solid and fun.
Ben Harper, Bloodline Maintenance– Modern soul and blues master Ben Harper is back with a new album informed by, among other things, the 2021 passing of Juan Nelson, his longtime friend and bandmate. And it’s a master’s work- sometimes angry, sometimes yearning, personal, political, and musically informed by classic soul sounds and modern blues. This is an album that would have been in good company with a 70s Marvin Gaye record.
Beyonce, Renaissance– The amount of layering in the first track alone is dizzying- the personal, the political, the vocally muscular and subtle, the powerful homage to house with clever sonic details and twists, the sense of being serious and fun. And it goes on in that vein and expands on the musical front with a varied and deep celebration of 80s-90s house music and its various cousins and forebears, and on the lyrical side with raunch, snark, and an assured sense of power. There aren’t many artists around who can wield their own persona/myth for their purposes as effectively as Beyonce can, and she puts it to great use here.
Black Midi, Hellfire– The spoken word stream of the first song and weird hyper-lounge second somehow have the same voice between them. And so on with, depending on which track you’re listening to, cabaret, acoustic, crunching guitar, abstract experimental electronic, etc. I had a similar reaction to their album last year, but all the lurching around there didn’t work for me. Here it was on the edge of “too much” several times, but also the best kind of “too much”- like a later-day Bryan Ferry at his most over-the-top melodramatic, but weirder and goonier.
Florist, Florist– The elements here are simple- delicate acoustic, simple piano chords and strings, some gauzy distortion, a smattering of found sound effects, and sweetly lackadaisical vocals. If it sounds low key, it is, but it’s also hooky, intimate, and compelling. The alternation of songs featuring Emily Sprague’s mesmerizing vocals and instrumental/found sound pieces works well to keep the spell going. And this was largely recorded in a rental house in the Hudson Valley during COVID retreat, which perhaps explains the feeling of intimacy and authenticity. Producers take note!
Guided by Voices, Tremblers and Goggles by Rank– This is, I think, the 85th Guided by Voices album of the last two years? My count may be slightly off, but the point is, with them pushing out material at such a high rate, this album has no business being as good as it is. In this go, the musical chameleons seems to be channeling a “punk turning to post-punk” era, I hear many echoes of the Jam, Gang of Four, Magazine, Wire, etc. at the tipping point of the 70s becoming the 80s. Informed, for sure, by the prog rock bent of Guided by Voices. And it is a glorious noise!
Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive– This is White’s second album of the year, and consciously in a different vein than his heavier, rockier Fear of the Dawn. Against all general trends of my musical preferences, I like this better! It’s like a continued groove of the slower more introspective side of the White Stripes, and as such, is more consistent than the sometimes straight ahead sometimes weirdly veering Fear of the Dawn. But in a way that doesn’t sacrifice musical dynamism and brings a lot of emotional and lyrical depth from its greater subtlety. All right, Jack. All right!
Lizzo, Special– The opening track starts with “Hi motherfucker did you miss me?” then touts her twerk and celebrates her thickness within the first minute. So there’s that, but also, it’s vocally and musically just so fun, fun, fun! Great dance/soul music with a strong personality, musical cleverness (motifs from the 70s-90s abound), and rich buoyant vocals is a great thing. And I want to give it a medal for the way “Grrrls” samples from the Beastie Boy’s “Girls” while turning its whole concept inside out. Lizzo for President!
Mat Ball, Amplified Guitar– Every song on the record was recorded in a single take, with a guitar Bal built himself. As wonky music premises go, I like that a lot. In practice I ended up liking it a lot too! It felt in a way like a guitar playing pieces meant for other instruments- piano, I swear even shakuhachi- and doing it with waves of distorted feedback-laden sheen. All instrumental, which can be harder to make work as an album that sticks, but I can’t discount it!
Mush, Down Tools– This was so relentlessly retro in a very certain vein- its nervy quirky music, vocals, and lyrics reminded me of Modern Lovers, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Soft Boys, and a half dozen other things of that related era/genre. If I take points off for originality, I have to add them back because it’s very well done, and fun to listen to. This Leeds, UK group never sounds like they’re ripping off, more like they fell out of that era with a heretofore lost original work.
quinn, quinn– Three cheers for hyper-pop! This 17-year-old artist has produced a disjointed (in the best kind of way) pastiche of hip-hop that musically turn the genre inside out while being personal, hilarious, and political. This doesn’t sound like everything else out there, and it makes me hopeful that there are still ways out of the rehashed, cliched sonic mess the 2020s has become.
Superorganism, World Wide Pop– The hyperkinetic pop of this London indie group has so much going on! The first track alone was a dizzying array of sound effects, samples, beats, and musical modes. The goings-on here are equally informed by dance, indie, and a 90s slacker feeling, which makes it nostalgic and contemporary all at the same time.
The Koreatown Oddity, ISTHISFORREAL?– This philosophical, abstract, and experimental outing from LA-based hip-hop artist the Koreatown Oddity is a delight! In between an ongoing motif of claiming to be British and posing as an American and musings on the nature of reality and subjective experience are trippy vocals and a heady mix of samples. This all might be a bit much if it wasn’t also highly listenable. Which it is!
The Sadies, Colder Streams– I wasn’t that familiar with the Sadies, a fact that I’m now saddened by, since this album came out shortly after their guitarist/co-founder Dallas Good died unexpectedly of a heart ailment. From what I’ve subsequently read, since the 90s this Toronto band has plied an area informed by psychedelia, garage rock, and folk rock. I generally don’t read reviews before giving a listen because I don’t want to prejudice myself going in, so I didn’t know about either their niche or their loss. I just knew that this album sounded like a concept album from a space somewhere between the Zombies and the Moody Blues had fallen out of the late 60s and suddenly plopped down into 2022. It is a mighty fine album, and a fitting swan song.
Ty Segall, “Hello, Hi”– Segall here is in a space reminiscent of both the folkier side of psychedelic garage 60s, and the more acoustic side of grunge. With maybe a little Big Star feel as a kind of bridge between the two? I love this space! And the lo-fi production provided by his home recording the album is the perfect setting for bringing out the sound even more fully.
Ahmer, Azli– There’s a muscular power to the beats from this Kashmiri rapper, and the mix at times feels almost industrial, while occasionally adding in local musical forms. The vocals also carry a heavy power, you can feel the lyrical weight behind them- his subject matter revolves around the state of emergency in the disputed Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan. It’s almost entirely not in English (though there are translations if you watch the lyric videos), but it somehow retains its power even so.
BandGang Lonnie Bands, Scorpion Eyes– Dark dense tales, personal sounding confessions, music sparkling in its darkness. With a mumbled lurching delivery, and I mean this in a good way. There are cliches a-plenty, but there’s also power.
Chat Pile, God’s Country– The first track turned me off with its ragged vocals, and I feared it would be another musically heavily but vocally screamoed into the abyss album. But I was wrong! The punk/hardcore/metal edge remained, and the vocals were still ragged, but they cohered enough to understand that the roughness was part of the point. The vocal and lyrical attack reminds me of the brutal snark of Flipper or Jello Biafra, but with a slacker undertow that leavens the whole thing out. Thank you, little Oklahoma band, for reminding us that rock can still be heavy, disturbing, serious, and funny all at the same time.
Friendship, Love the Stranger– Country ballads with stripped plain vocals, rock chords, and internal tales of everyday life. The 2020s so far seems to be very heavily about musical nostalgia, but 80s/90s alt country is one thing I don’t mind being nostalgic about when it’s done this well. It perhaps lags a little toward the end, though?
Ghost Woman, Ghost Woman– A kind of 70s feel, a kind of dirty jaded 2000s rock feeling, minor chords, an echoing sound, hints of the Byrds, the Kinks, Del Shannon. These are all things I love, and it was headed to automatic “yes” until the next to last track came in too contemporary sounding, which was both boring and out of tone with the rest. Still, the rest is so excellent it tempts me…
Jonah Tolchin, Lava Lamp– A New Jersey-born singer-songwriter and musician who debuted at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012. The different pieces of Americana in his approach- folk, blues, country, R&B, all make an appearance here. At times it’s in a mellow burned-out vein, and times it’s heavy, electric and foot-stomping. The variability doesn’t quite feel coherent, which is the only thing here I take points off for, but I’ll definitely be diving in a second time.
Katy J Pearson, Sound of the Morning– This Bristol, UK native has produced something a little folky, a little punky, a little electronic, and, if the component pieces are not super-original, her strong vocals and incisive lyrics definitely pull it together into a worthy package.
Laura Veirs, Found Light– Neo-folk artist Laura Veirs has been very good since her 1999 debut, and she remains in fine form here. There are elfin vocals, multi-layered production on top of a fairly simple and spare acoustic musical base that cycles through several modes (acoustic, indie rock, pop), and emotionally intelligent, vivid lyrics. A lot of it is on the more low-key side (not unjustifiably, certainly pleasingly), which creates lulls that maybe make the difference from an automatic “yes”. Still in all, a solid and very worthy entry.
Paolo Nutini, Last Night in the Bittersweet– “Scottish singer-songwriter” is always going to catch my attention. In this case, his approach goes all kinds of places- sometimes in Springsteen/U2 bombastic direction, sometimes something more like post-punk spoken word, sometimes Van Morrisonesqu, sometimes straight up hooks and high energy 80s/90s style indie rock, etc. If it lacks something in coherence and produces a kind of sprawl, the advantage is that anytime I started to waver a little on one musical approach, a fascinating one came along next!
Planet Asia, Medallions Monarchy– I’ve heard this veteran Fresno rapper’s work described as “traditionalist hip-hop”, which, given that he debuted in 1997, means I’m probably a lot older than I think I am. It’s true though, there is a late 90s/early 00s muscular solidity to this mix, to his flow, to the tales of the street, to the whole damn thing. I’m not sure about “year’s best”, but it’s pretty good.
The Deslondes, Ways & Means– There’s a 70s feel to a lot of this- the singer/songwriter vibe, the burned-out undertow of the vocals and lyrics, the organ and strings pop flourishes of the era. Musically, that portion reminds me more than a little of Springsteen’s first two albums, although there’s also a pinch of the Band, Dylan, and Neil Young. A significant portion of the album is also in an 80s-00s alt country-flavored vein. The two approaches of the New Orleans-based group are complementary, so it doesn’t totally clash, but it is noticeably different. Two yeses that don’t quite fit makes a maybe?
The Fernweh, Torschlusspanik!– The name had me fearing some experimental German abstraction, but what I ran into was an utterly charming band playing with multiple strands of 60s and 70s pop, with a strong psychedelic and folk bent. It’s not the newest sound ever, but it is very pleasing! Also, they’re from Liverpool. I think there’s some kind of track record for good bands from Liverpool?
Westside Gunn, Peace “Fly” God– The ragged vocals, the unusual sampling and playful classic jams musical mix, the swirl of braggadocio, humor, and grim storytelling in the lyrics are all working for this. The music of this Buffalo-raised rapper has recognizable debts to Jay-Z, and relation to his cousin Benny the Butcher, but not unoriginal and still very well done.
Wilder Maker, Male Models– This Brooklyn-based band’s album is in that “this sounds like…” category. In this case, it sounds like several streams of classic rock, with an 80s production sheen on top of it, and some 00s indie rock polish and garage rock revival. The styles careen around kind of wildly, and the lead vocalist switches up a lot as well, but every iteration of it is hooky, and feels familiar while still being fun. I kept wondering about the coherence, but the charm of the individual songs kept winning through.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, XI: Bleed Here Now– In theory I like the combination of melody, ornateness, and hard heavy music this Austin band aims for. In practice I liked it best when it led with hard and heavy, which wasn’t often enough on this album.
Al Riggs, Themselves– Somewhat electronic, somewhat jazz, very mellow. The lyrics are literate and interesting, but the low-key musical and vocal approach tends to subsume them.
Attia Taylor, Space Ghost– A synthy, glossy pop with psych and dance elements from this NYC-based musician. It was very pleasant, but a little too same track to track.
Bananarama, Masquerade– There are a lot of people these days doing an 80s synth-pop sound. None of them have a better claim to it than Bananarama does though! Really lush and solid, and if too time capsule for my taste, it won’t lead you astray is this is a time capsule you want to open.
Banks, Serpentina– Eh. This California artist is known for her electronic pop, but I found it all to be a little too dance remix and autotune.
Beabadoobee, Beatopia– Their album Fake It Flowers was on my 2020 maybe list, and there is so much to like from this Filipino-British artist, especially considering how young she is. Indeed, the best songs here are great- putting together dance/electronic music and rock (with a decided 90s tilt), strong vocals, and open vulnerable emotionality. There are problems with sequencing though, a few too many slower acoustic songs in a row here and there deflating the momentum.
Brent Faiyaz, Wasteland– A nice enough smooth-jams vein hip-hop/R&B outing. Nobody could accuse it of any significant wrongdoing.
Burna Boy, Love, Damini– A reggae-dancehall singer/songwriter from Nigeria. Things are at their best while African rhythms and soul/hip-hop are being mixed. Things are not as much at their best while heavy autotune is going on.
Candy, Heaven is Here– The metal is fast, brutal, and full of an industrial-noise edge. The vocals, though- I just can’t with the “can’t make a word out” screamo anymore. I guess I’m getting old!
Carlos Truly, Not Mine– The experimentation of this Brooklyn DIY pioneer as he tries different things track by track musically and lyrically in the course of this minimal soul album is very interesting. It’s so minimal that it sometimes lapses into barely registering, but other times the results are unique, weird, and wonderful. Three cheers for experimentation!
Chicago, Born For This Moment– I mean it’s the 2020’s, here’s Chicago with their 666th album, and Peter Cetera isn’t even part of the mix.
Dawes, Misadventures of Doomscroller– This California indie quartet’s outing is musically layered, lyrically subtle, and vocally complex. It’s also very jazz fusiony, and I just couldn’t sustain the mellow energy.
Delicate Steve, After Hours– He’s supposed to have an idiosyncratic sound, and I expect he does, but here it’s not showing up so much. What is showing up is a very lounge jazz mellow groove.
Duwap Kaine, Faith Like Esther– I will say that the flow is not bad, and some of the wordplay is quite fun. But the autotunnnneeee……
Elf Power, Artificial Countrysides– This Athens, GA indie band is doing a very nice thing. Indie rock, a little country twist, some 60s rock chord sensibilities thrown in for good measure. It had me on the edge for a while but falls down in being too same track to track to really keep working.
Flo Milli, You Still Here, Ho?– Apparently this female led gender-cliché inverted school of rap I sometimes really like is called “pussy rap”. In this case, the cliches (although inverted) got too cliched, and it didn’t have the wit of the best examples of this, but it was fun.
Gwenno, Tresor– Gwenno is a Welsh electronic musician. The first part favorably disposes me, and the second makes me instinctively cautious. As it turned out, it is an interesting mix, albeit it comes down too much on the ethereal/new age side of things. I did like that it was all in Welsh, though!
Ian Daniel Kehoe, Yes Very So– Canadian indie artist who delivers many different kinds of music, but this is synth-pop on the sparer end of 80s synth-pop. Which I didn’t care for much at the time, and even less so now.
Icewear Vezzo, Rich Off Pints 3– A solidly executed, very typical 2020’s hip hop album in every regard. No, please.
Imagine Dragons, Mercury- Act 2– I had the same reaction to this as I had to Act 1 last year- “I like imagining. I like dragons. Look, they’re fine. They’re very radio friendly. In fact, I liked several of the singles from their 2017 album. There’s nothing wrong with the songs musically, vocally, structurally. But I never catch the sense of anything vital or real from this album.”
Interpol, The Other Side of Make Believe– The nice thing about an Interpol album is you go in knowing it won’t be bad, even if it’s not quite your cup of tea. In this outing, they’re actually a good deal lighter and more in the vein of “mainstream” indie pop than they sometimes are. I like it a lot less.
JayWood, Slingshot– A lot of people are doing this neo-soul nostalgia space these days. Not many of them are from Manitoba, and he does a very pleasant version of it. But it doesn’t get a lot above pleasant, or very different track-to-track.
John McEntire/Sam Prekop, Sons Of– It’s a very nice sci-fi kind of electronic, with four extended pieces taking up about an hour total. A little abstract to hang one’s hat on at album length, but good if you’re in that mood.
Josh Rouse, Going Places– A nice 70s mellow gold pop sound, well produced, well sung, well played, but I’m not sure it ever rises above itself.
Journey, Freedom– I mean, it’s a journey album in 2022, well over an hour long, and doesn’t even include Steve Perry or the founding bass player. I guess it’s….nice? To know that somebody can still make arena rock? Just in case, you know, we need it.
Ken Car$on, X – I mean, the musical mix has some interesting elements, and the lyrics are interesting too. But good God, the autottttuuuunnnneeee…
King Princess, Hold on Baby– This is some good indie pop from this American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Brooklyn, New York. The lyrics are literate, personal, and revealing, and the music and voice are lush, but in a smoothly produced and low key way that makes it all blend together indistinctly.
Kode9, Escapology– This is an interesting electronic mix, tending toward sci-fi sound effects. Which I’m always going to like, but not enough in this case.
Launder, Happening– Launder is the project of Californian John Cudlip, and they’ve produced a very nice atmospheric fuzzy layer of guitar sound, not unlike shoegaze music. Which is kind of the thing, as far as it being distinctive enough to linger goes.
Lil Silva, Yesterday is Heavy– This album by an English record producer, singer, songwriter, and DJ, is certainly well produced and intelligent funk/house-infused electronic. A little too abstract to stick with me though.
Lloyd Banks, The Course of the Inevitable 2– It’s a fine hip-hop album, has some definite dark drive to it. But is it doing anything especially better or different from other “street life” themed hip-hop albums?
M. Geddes Gengras, Expressed, I Noticed Silence– Long abstract electronic pieces. I’m not telling you not to do it, but it doesn’t work for me.
Maggie Rogers, Surrender– A lively and well produced indie-pop, somewhere between electronic and rock, with a nice emotional literacy and point of view. But just a little too slick and plastic feeling.
Medicine Singers, Medicine Singers– Like the other Native American-related album I listened to earlier this year, this one makes liberal use of sound collage and modern musical forms in conjunction with traditional music. When it’s on an experimental rock/noise wavelength it actually works very well, but it sometimes got a little too experimental for me, and other times too mellow jazzed out. Still, some very intriguing soundscapes here.
Metric, Formentera– Since their late-90s debut, I’ve really liked Metric when they’re on the more rock, driving side. I don’t mind, but don’t particularly care for when they’re on a more muted electronic kick. They do both here, so, I partially liked it.
Mice Parade, Lapapo– A nice shimmery jangly indie rock thing. Particularly better than other nice shimmery jangly indie rock things?
Momma, Household Name– This was very close, because I love my lackadaisical lo-fi rock female singer-songwriters. Clear influences here of the originals (a la Liz Phair, Juliana Hatfield, etc.) and of modern practitioners (a la Soccer Mommy), but in the end just a little too poppy and not equal to the best of this space.
Moor Mother, Jazz Codes– Their album Black Encyclopedia of the Air was in my top 21 list for 2021, so I certainly went into this interested. What’s going on here is not unlike the previous album in its mix of political/social import and music experimentation. As the name implies, though, this tips in a more jazz direction that didn’t always support the sometimes electrifying lyrical and sample work. Nothing here is bad by any means, but I guess that’s the danger of comparing to a favorite!
Mozzy, Survivor’s Guilt– This album is obviously indebted, musically, vocally, and lyrically to West Coast Hip-hop a la Tupac. And I liked that about it, but it doesn’t get much beyond the cliches of the genre.
mxmtoon, rising– I mean, you get me a quirky YouTube ukulele player from Oakland, I’m kind of preemptively done for. What I can additionally say about her, though, is that her song-writing instincts and vocals are impeccable. And if diy homegrown music is still the heart of this, the additional production level of a studio album often enhances the verve. Other times, it blands and standards everything up a little too much, and there are some sequencing problems. It eventually gets too uneven in that way. But if we had more smart, fun, unafraid to be sweet, but still incisive purveyors of pop like this around, what a world it would be…
Naima Bock, Giant Palm– She is one of the members from Goat Girl (in fact recently having left the band), whose album On All Fours was in my “honorable mention” for 2021. So I gave this a careful listen. This album is much more in an acoustic/experimental folk vein than their work. Which is a worthy experiment but ended up being a little low energy and same track to track to catch my attention.
Neighbor Lady, For the Birds– It’s musically and vocally very pretty, but all too in one muted country-flavored acoustic vein.
Ne-Yo, Self Explanatory– Some very autotuned contemporary R&B.
Nightlands, Moonshine– I saw that this was by the bassist from the War on Drugs, which immediately put me on guard given my failed attempts to like them. As it turns out, it’s quite a different sound, and actually kind of an interesting one- a gauzy and loungy vibe whose languid air belies heavier content. Didn’t ultimately work for me, but I’m not mad at it.
Nina Nastasia, Riderless Horse– This New York based folk singer has the earnestness, and a fine country-tinged sound, but it gets too same track to track to really stand out.
Orbital, 30 Something– More of a re-recording/remix of orbital’s now 30-year-old (!) acid house work. It is a great sound though! Two hours+ is a little long for it to work as an album, but it’s great music to trouble-shoot financial reporting problems to.
Prison Religion, Hard Industrial B.O.P.– This Virginia-based duo sounds a lot like the band and album names might lead you to believe. If you’re looking for something abrasive and unpretty, this might be for you!
Rico Nasty, Las Ruinas– I do enjoy the clashy, thrashy approach of this gender-inverted hip-hop, and the point of view. It’s eventually maybe too the same musically and lyrically though. Still, I’ve got my eye out for more!
Ronnie Foster, Reboot– hearing he was a 70s soul/jazz/funk artist who has been a frequent inspiration of hip-hop sampling, I tried. But instrumental jazz, I can only do so much…
Sean Nicholas Savage, Shine– It’s very nice pop music. Not more.
She and Him, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson– Don’t get me wrong, I like She and Him, and this is really very good. Covering the more sunshine syrupy side of Brian Wilson is a great fit with their natural talents, and they do it well. There are flashes where you hear what this album could have been if it took a few more risks, but as is, it’s a little too reverent. However, Wilson fans, She and Him fans, and aficionados of new approaches to surf music will not be led astray by this.
Stealing Sheep, Wow Machine– The fact that 30 seconds in to track one I was checking my speaker volume trying to see if the song had started yet or not is, well, not a great sign. After that, it sounded like a series of recorded sound effects played to a microphone with feedback issues. It got more songy from there, in an extremely heliumated way with amusing sound effects. That was more fun, but I’m still a “no” on balance.
Stephen Mallinder, Tick Tick Tick– An album from Cabaret Voltaire’s co-founder. It’s really not bad if you want spare and somewhat sinister but oddly danceable industrial flavored music.
Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights– Once this got going, it sounded like 90s soul. I found that to be upsetting.
Stimulator Jones, Round Spiritual Ring– This Virginian producer’s mix sounds like a lot of the retro-soul out there. Not worse than any of it, not noticeably better than a lot of it.
Tallies, Patina– A nice outing, more than a little reminiscent of a certain late 80s/early 90s space occupied by, say, the Sundays or Sixpence None the Richer. So, you might well like this if you like that reference point (heck I do too!), but I don’t know that it gets enough beyond it to be a lasting album of the year.
Tatsuro Yamashita, Softly– Tatsuro Yamashita is one of the leading lights of the “City Pop” style that was popular in Japan in the 70s and 80s (and has lately been having a weird cult moment on US social media). And what you get here is indeed excellently done pop. It doesn’t necessarily make a lasting impression, but it goes down smooth.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, I Am the Moon: II. Ascension– Part two of four album project, An 11-piece band, fronted by the married guitar slingers, which plays a righteous meld of rock, blues, gospel, and New Orleans funk. This more often wanders into overly-slick, or low energy drifting songs than June’s Part 1 did, and is still not working for me as an album.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, I Am the Moon: III. The Fall– Part three! The sound here was very smooth, I appreciated the general musicianship, but it didn’t grab me. Maybe part IV will?
The Last Goodbye, ODESZA– Some nice international sounding electronic dance music. Eh.
TRAAMS, personal best– A fine album coming from a post-punk kind of place that lots of people are coming from these days and doing a fine job of it.
Vladislav Delay, Isoviha– Finnish stalwart of electronic music. It’s well done, and muscular, but a little too abstract ultimately.
Working Men’s Club, Fear Fear– This sounds like it exists at a late-80s/early 90s intersection of techno and industrial. It’s a good intersection, it’s a well-done version of it, and besides sounding so perfectly dated and typified, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Wu-Lu, Loggerhead– The drum and bass breaks and guitar elements and low-key chant from this London artist are not bad, but it fails to really catch and hold interest.
ZZ Top, RAW: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas– A semi-soundtrack recorded for a recent ZZ Top documentary, from live recordings in 2019. The band is in good form here, and reminds you, if your first introduction to them was in the slicker 80s version, what a raw honky tonk blues band they were when they started in the 70s. And still can be! Fun, recommended for fans, but not breaking new ground.
And so July is out, with nine days still left in September! Can we get August out too before the end of the month? Stay tuned…
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:
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.
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…
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…
With all due apologies to Brittney (and please don’t put me in a conservatorship): Oops I’m doing it again! In 2021 I set out to catch up on the backlog from years of not listening to newer music by two blog series reviewing the critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s, and 2020. And I did a third blog series where I tried to get even more present by listening to new releases monthly on my way to choosing the 21 best albums of 2021.
This exercise led to some great finds! It piqued my interest more than enough to keep doing it, and it also occurred to me along the way that while many artists put out an album (or more than one!) yearly, there are equally many who take two or three years between albums. There’s a lot of folks I haven’t even heard from yet! So here I go again, only now it’s 2022, thus I’m going to look for the 22 best albums of the year.
How? Well, the same way we did last year! I’m listening to new releases as they come out each month. Along the way, I’ll sort them into three categories:
Yes– This isn’t a guarantee, but it represents the albums that, upon first listen, I think could definitely be in running for best of the year.
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 eventually become “yeses”.
No– This can be a tricky category. Sometimes you end up here because you’re crap. You can also be fine though, but not more than fine. Or interesting and inspired, but a little too incoherent to totally pull together. Getting to yes ain’t easy!
What genres am I listening to? My musical interests are, and always have been, a pretty broadly defined version of Rock and the genres that led to and descended from it. So if you’re blues, country, dance, electronic, folk, hip-hop, metal, pop, punk, ska, soul, etc., I’m probably listening. Unless you’re too far on the side of ambient in electronic, because I just can’t.
Okay, all that having been established, let us now boldly forward to the review of the 160 new releases I listened to from January/February! (I’m combining these two months together since they typically have lighter release schedules, and since finishing the 2021 reviews took me well into the New Year!)
Apollo Brown/Stalley, Blacklight– This collaboration between Detroit record producer Brown and Ohio rapper Stalley delivers some great hip-hop! The production is layered and dynamic, strong flow, clever rhymes, and a personal-feeling message of perseverance and positivity under the swagger. It reminds me, favorably, of Jay-Z.
Artsick, Fingers Crossed– High energy guitar pop and affecting female lead vocals? That’s a good way to get me in. This reminds me of a hooky pop-rocking 90s band, which means in a way it also reminds me of the poppier end of 60s garage rock bands. I like being reminded of both these things! While there’s a definite unity of sensibility here, the songs have enough of an individual identity that each one holds attention on its own. Well done, little band from Oakland!
Boulevards, Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina Mud– A lot of people seem to be mining a 70s funk/soul vein these days, but my word does it sound glorious when it’s done right. This North Carolina one-time punk and metal artist who found himself drawn back to the funk and R&B music he was raised with is doing it right, totally operating in a classic vein but so genuinely it sounds fresh and alive.
Eels, Extreme Witchcraft– Rock, rock, guitar rock! This album kicks right into it, and mostly doesn’t let up from there. In the moments when it does slow down a little, the ragged vocals, playful musical experimentation and lyrical interest keep things going. This indie rock band fronted in various combinations by Los Angeles singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mark Oliver Everett has been kicking around since the 90s, and clearly he hasn’t lost his edge.
John Mellencamp, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack– I’ve always had a soft spot for John Mellencamp. At his best he’s been an incisive lyricist along with a strong musician. On the poppier side of it, but certainly homing in on a certain heartland rock vibe that can get quite profound, a la Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, etc. That’s definitely the space he’s in on this album (with several Springsteen guest appearances to prove the point). The music is nuanced, the lyrics are darkly evocative with themes of time, memory, and loss, and his voice is beautifully ragged. This is the kind of album that you have to have a lifetime behind you to make, and he’s earned it.
Johnny Marr, Fever Dreams, Pts. 1-4– If Guitar Gods did not end with the 70s, certainly somebody who deserves consideration in the category is Johnny Marr, for his co-leading of the Smiths, and numerous solo and group projects since then. You’ll hear echoes of all his eras here- the Smiths, The The, his Factory work from the 90s, solo albums. But mostly what you’ll hear is really excellent dynamic guitar work. And if you are only familiar with Marr from his lead guitar work with the Smiths, you may be favorably impressed with the lyrical and vocal skills he’s developed since. The run time’s a little long (this release combines two 2021 EPs with a new part 3 and part 4) but it remains dynamic and evocative throughout.
Katie Dey, Forever Music– A sweet little lo-fi distorted fuzzy synth-pop dance album with absolutely harrowing emotional lyrical content. I don’t even mind the autotune here, because it’s in service of the subversive contradiction between the two. This Australian artist has described this approach in interviews as a way of dealing with her experience as a trans woman, making the pain of struggle with dysphoria more palatable through musical lightness.
Kids on a Crime Spree, Fall in Love Not in Line– Now here is a band who has well learned the art of 60s jangly guitar bell-ringing rock (via some influence from punk and 80s/90s alt). Is it the most original or profound thing ever? No. But it is flawlessly done. And yet another band who I hear and like, and then subsequently find out is from Oakland. You can take the guy out of the Bay Area, but you can’t take the Bay Area out of…
Love, Burns, It Should Have Been Tomorrow– The solo project of Phil Sutton, a Queens-based singer/songwriter and veteran of multiple indie bands. He’s learned the craft well- these are perfect shimmery, guitar jangly pop songs with yearning vocals and revealing yet polished lyrics.
Miles Kane, Change the Show– This co-founder of several UK indie bands brings a sound to his solo album that combines 70s AM radio and 60s swinging pop, with a nice little dash of pub rock, but doesn’t feel like a museum piece or a self-conscious homage. Every note and every word is utterly sincere, and fresh sounding.
Nicfit, Fuse– This outing from a Japanese punk band is on the frosty, machiney, post-punk end of the street. I’m liking that side of the street as I listen to this! It’s got a relentless energy that propels things forward, a menacing abrasive edge that never lets one feel fully at ease, but a weirdly melodic nature that balances things out. And the last song is even named “Ack Ack Ack”. How am I not going to love that?
Reptaliens, Multiverse– I mean the group name, the album name, the knowledge that they like to write about alien conspiracies. How could I not? All that being said, not a lot of alien on this outing, but they are surprisingly sweet and melodic musically and vocally while lyrically probing the darker edges of interior landscapes. This is some excellent neo-psychedelic rock that rolls charmingly and somewhat disturbingly along without a hitch.
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Nightroamer– Driving yet very spare country with more than a trace of rock influence, and vocals and music occasionally sounding like they’re being tuned in by an AM radio. It’s got a classic minor chords and big organ sound that I appreciate, but livened by some more contemporary rock/pop dynamism. Perhaps, when one is a non-binary bisexual atheist, one’s approach to country is especially fresh. Wherever it comes from, North Carolina-based Shook is a unique and worthy voice in country.
Shovels & Rope, Manticore– It opens with a lyrical assault and bouncy beat, driving flexible guitars and high energy vocals. Subsequent tracks find a slower vein, reminiscent of the dense and dark storytelling of Nick Cave, but in an American stories vein like the Hold Steady, and with a heavy country lean. I did miss the energy, but the assured musical mastery and lyrical and vocal power never let up. This South Carolina folk duo is doing some good work!
Simone Felice, All The Bright Coins– This Felice Brother out on his own evokes a 70s singer-songwriter and spoken word vibe as he lyrically plumbs the depths of the 90s. It’s evocative and kind of fascinating!
Swami John Reis, Ride The Wild Night– I first knew of John Reis when I was living in San Diego in the mid-90s and he was heading local garage-punk powerhouse Rocket From the Crypt. He was great then and he’s great here- this album is pure garage rock snarl from the get-go! It makes me so, so happy.
Adult., Becoming Undone– Some old school electronic, harking back to the spare 70s and the industrial machine sounds of the 80s. A Detroit band from the 90s, both members of whom have art degrees, so, you know, you’ve got the electronic/techno pedigree for it. The pacing isn’t always the best, but the contents are compelling on every single track.
Beach House, Once Twice Melody– Beautiful, shimmery, gauzy, and in a way, beachy. I liked the Beach House release last year too, but ultimately it was a little too gauzy to stand up to repeat listening vis-à-vis other releases from the year. Will that be true this time? We’ll have to repeatedly listen to see!
Beechwood, Sleep Without Dreaming– A good moody rock outing with ragged vocals. Their cover of the Beatles “Rain” gives you some idea of their sensibilities. Overall, I’m not sure it’s fresh/original enough to get to “yes”, but it is a solid listen.
Bonobo, Fragments– This feels like it’s coming from the Mobyish end of electronica- recognizable musical structure, a stab at lyrics and vocals, but sometimes surprising sampling and complex layering throughout. It doesn’t always stand out, but it is a good listen that never lets you down on any individual track.
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Backhand Deals– Callbacks to classic rock (UK edition) and 80s guitar alt (also UK edition). This sound is paired with a millennial mindset subject matter, which is interesting too. Is it especially profound? No. Just pure listening fun!
Carson McHone, Still Life– Solid folk/country inflected rock with emotionally complex lyrics and a strong yearning voice. I wasn’t sure if the pacing totally worked, but this Texas singer-songwriter clearly has something going on.
Che Noir, Food for Thought– Powerful thoughtful positive lyrics, strong vocal flow, and some interesting mixing. It reminds me of late 80s/early 90s hip-hop in some ways. This Buffalo-based emcee and producer sometimes veers a little too much in the bragging street talk direction, but when she is, it’s not totally out of place, and when she’s not doing that, it’s excellent.
Eddie Vedder, Earthling– In many ways this album represents Eddie Vedder having fun. Which is nice to hear! It has a very buoyant feeling, and often plays with classic rock sounds. It feels like it peters out a little at the end, and has the problem any maker of epochal work has, which is that I semi-unconsciously compare everything to the first three Pearl Jam albums. It’s not that, but it is good clean rocking out!
Elena Setien, Unfamiliar Minds– I love this Basque artist’s vocal alchemy, and the haunting musical and lyrical subtext of her songs. Is it maybe a little experimental and all on one energy level/tone for repeated listening? Maybe. But it is compelling!
Eric Gales, Crown– Some blistering blues-rock with at times an almost grunge edge and more than a hint of hip-hop influence. There are times it feels a little formulaic, but there are also times that the depth and soulfulness is stunning. The run time is long, but on the other hand, it’s well-paced and well-structured. All-in-all-the eighteenth album from this one-time child prodigy is brimming over with a lifetime of experience and talent.
Hurrah for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth– Slightly uncanny dance music, sometimes more rocking or acoustic, with great vocal phrasing, and lyrics that weave a spell as she talks to you. The focus is a little scattered, with some pacing slowdown in the middle, but the vocals and lyrics from this New Orleans band formed by Bronx singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra are so searing it wins through.
Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales, Mo’ Tales: The Deluxe– An expansion of her much-lauded 2021 album (which made my “honorable mention” list and topped many other critics lists). It expands the thesis, but keeps things powerful and listenable. With maybe some points off for still being largely composed of the prior album’s material?
Josephine Foster, Godmother– A haunting and off-kilter folk-electronic outing from this Colorado musician. To quote her website: “During the long 2020-21 winter, partnered with a thrift store digital keyboard and its programmed Latin rhythms, Josephine Foster arranged and recorded her cosmic cantata, Godmother, an electric and electrifying journey into new territories of her imagination.” It’s really pretty compelling- I kept wondering if it was too low key overall, but then there kept being a surprising moment (or multiple moments) in each song that brought me back.
Lavender Country, Blackberry Rose– It has a good story- the artist who released the first gay-themed country album ever back in the 70s put out a new album in 2019 that didn’t get proper backing, so it’s re-released now with some additional production. I’m intrigued going in! It holds up to my interest pretty well- the music is straight-up (all puns intended) old style country, and the lyrics are full of country tropes with clever subversions. Even the vocals conform to an old-style twang. It’s sometimes a little too on the nose, but really is a very interesting world turned upside down.
Night Shop, Forever Night– A nice spare and bouncy rock sound with driving guitar, intelligent lyrics, and clear storytelling from Los Angeles indie rocker Justin Sullivan. Sometimes it veers a little towards the blandly produced, and there are sequencing issues, but a worthy outing.
Pedro the Lion, Havasu– Hmmm. This has a very Counting Crows kind of feel. I like that feel, but do I really need someone who isn’t Counting Crows doing it? On the other hand, it’s well done. And if it’s somewhat ponderous in its melancholy, it’s also an exquisitely literate and weirdly compelling deep dive into childhood memories. Pedro founder David Bazan has been working various indie rock bands since 2005 and you can tell he’s honed a fearsome craft doing it.
Slash, 4– Well we had Johnny Marr in the “Yes” section, here’s another great candidate for “later-day Guitar God”. The guitar work here is, well, Slash- clean, classic, virtuositic, and heavy. And it’s kind of amazing what a good ersatz Axl Rose replacement he got in vocalist Myles Kennedy. Is this really getting us something equal to the best of GNR? Of course not. Or substantially different from what we got with Velvet Revolver? Again, no. But it’s solid, it works, and I enjoyed it the whole way through.
Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa– Spoon has always been a good band, but I feel like they’ve really cranked into high gear here. There are a few songs that are a little too produced and smooth, but most of the album has rawness, immediacy, and is brimming with great rock hooks. It’s on the edge of out of the ballpark, and definitely deserves consideration.
The Jazz Butcher, The Highest in the Land– I’ve known The Jazz Butcher since I was a wee alternate 80s rock lad. He’s always been highly idiosyncratic, and here seems to be in a vocally mellow, musically bouncy, lyrically introspective mood, but his distinctive surrealistic storyscapes are as potent as ever. It reminds me of 2021 albums his contemporaries Billy Bragg and Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) made in the same vein. The energy level isn’t high, but the heart sustains it.
The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Summer at Land’s End– Their album Uncommon Weather ended up making my first cut in 2021. This has a lot of the same things going for it- amazing sad bastard energy, subtle vocals and shimmery moody music, emotionally complex lyrics. And maybe the same main caution on my end- it’s very much of a tone musically and emotionally. Will it make the cut this time? We’ll have to see, but it’s so good at what it does that I can’t dismiss the possibility!
The Soundcarriers, Wilds– This has a very 60s melodious side of garage/psychedelia feeling. And/or an 80s alt band channeling that same feeling. Given that it’s thus one or two times derived, I’m not an automatic yes. But given how very well it’s done, I can’t be a no!
The Weeknd, Dawn FM– This is the third time I’ve tried to like an album by the Weeknd, and I think I’ve finally succeeded! Still way too much autotune for me, but it is deployed in the context of retro soul/dance music where at least it makes sense. There was also a pretty successful framing structure, and some interesting wrestling with darker themes. So, nice fun dance music, and a little more to bring it together. I’m still not totally sold on some of the guest appearances (so often the downfall of a contemporary album), but I do appreciate what he’s doing.
Urge Overkill, Oui– In our latest episode of “90s Flashbacks”, we have a new album from Urge Overkill! I know I should be cautious on general grounds of blasts form the past, and I assure you I am. But, in fact their out of time hard rock mélange still works very well, and darned if those 90s melodic twists didn’t twist my heart just like they intended. And it was interesting to hear them cover Wham!’s “Freedom” too!
Yard Act, The Overload– How much do I love quirky, clever lyrics, deliberately unpolished vocals, and off-kilter angular new wave-influenced rock? A lot, and this UK band is doing it very well! It does get a little samey by the end, but it also bounces along and keeps one engaged. Maybe!
A Place to Bury Strangers, See Through You– This New York City-based band provides some excellent noise rock with an 80s industrial/post punk feeling. It does get a little samey as it wears on, though.
Adam Miller, Gateway– An instrumental album from an Australian guitar virtuoso. It’s a little too all-instrumental and all in one musical vein to work as a general album, but one can certainly appreciate the technical skill.
Adekunle Gold, Catch Me If You Can– Nigerian singer-songwriter. I enjoyed the musical side of it a lot, but the autotune vocals got to me after a while.
Alice Glass, Prey//IV– I did appreciate the electro-goth as dance music focus, and the occasionally really grating edges. On the whole, though, it’s a little too autotuned and indistinct track to track to work for me.
Alt-J, The Dream– There was some interesting stuff going on in the off-kilter electronic swirl of this album, but it never quite clicked for me.
Amber Mark, Three Dimensions Deep– The musical/sampling part of the start was promising, then came the autotuned vocal part of the start. Subsequent tracks don’t go that way, in fact seem to be more in a retro 90s soul realm and are nice enough.
Amos Lee, Dreamland– He’s nice enough, in fact he’s really good. But in a blandly well produced kind of way. I didn’t find anything I could really latch on to.
Andy Bell, Flicker– I always feel duty-bound to note that this is NOT the Andy Bell of Erasure, but the Andy Bell who was a founder of the shoegaze scene in the UK. This is some very good electronic music, but at length it kind of blends together.
Anna von Hausswolff, Live at Montreux Jazz Festival– Now this is interesting- a thick atmospheric swirl, hypnotic spell of her voice, sense of looming power and dread, sound straddling the realms of orchestral and noise rock. And the fact that it’s a live album gives a nice little edge to something that could have otherwise been pretty heavy. It eventually got bogged down by that weight, but it was an interesting ride on the way.
Aoife O’Donovan, Age of Apathy– Folky semi-country, with a pop gloss. She’s got a great voice, and way with lyrics, but it all feels a little too “nice enough” and smooth going down.
Ari Roar, Made to Never Use– Jangly guitar pop and fuzzy vocals. Yay! It was eventually a little too same track to track, but it was fun along the way.
AURORA, The Gods We Can Touch– She’s Norwegian, and I’ve developed a solid respect for Scandinavian rockers, so we’re off to a good start. This is more on the ethereal side of dance pop, with a rock edge, but it does have a lot to recommend it. I think where it ultimately runs aground is that it’s pulling in different directions, almost always interestingly, but it never feels like it quite comes together.
Author & Punisher, Kruller– A little metal, a little electronic/industrial, a little emo. It’s fine moody music but doesn’t really become anything special beyond that.
Avril Lavigne, Love Sux– She’s returning to the feisty pop-flavored punk (or punk-flavored pop?) that first brought her to fame. It’s in good form, but it inherently feels kind of prefab.
Babyface Ray, Face– There’s nteresting mixology going on here, and a strong voice, with some complexity to the lyrics. On the downside, eventually there’s too much autotune, and not enough vocal dynamism to sustain it for an hour run length.
Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Disrespectful– A pretty fun mash-up of club dance music, UK hip-hop, and dub. It bounces along pretty well, but at almost an hour runs too long without something holding it together or varying things from track to track.
Bastille, Give Me The Future– Solid beat-heavy 2000s rock-pop. Sounds like a lot of other solid 2000s rock-pop.
BBC Radiophonic Workshop/Stealing Sheep, La Planète Sauvage– A pop band and the BBC’s sound effects unit get together to re-record the soundtrack of a trippy 70s animated sci-fi classic. The concept was intriguing enough to get me to listen, but it ends up being a little too abstracted and sound-tracky to work as a sustainable, memorable album.
Beth Hart, A Tribute to Led Zeppelin– It’s a good double premise: A contemporary blues-influenced artist takes on Led Zeppelin. And a lesbian woman takes on the mother-lode of hetero cock rock. And it is very well done- I enjoyed every second, and there are some fun gender/sexuality inversions along the way. Musically, though, it fell too often into the trap of overly faithful covers. Excellent covers, but not really bringing new or different things out of the songs.
Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You– A New York indie folk group, and really, they were pretty good with sharp lyrics, low key but well-done vocals and music, and sometimes did things that were positively unexpected and arresting. There needed to be more of these moments to make the 80-minute run time work, though.
Billy Talent, Crisis of Faith– A little emo-ey, a little metal-ey. The guitar is rocking like I like to rock, but otherwise it’s not really standing out from its own cliches.
Black Country, New Road, Ants From Up There– A weird pseudo-jazz beginning becomes clanging guitar with a touch of country fiddle sound. This proves not to have been a fluke, and the whole thing is delightfully off-kilter, with a kind of arch lyrics and vocal edge of frenzy that reminds me of David Bowie. Unfortunately, it has some pacing problems, and seems to repeatedly slow down just when the momentum is really catching.
Blood Incantation, Timewave Zero– This sounds like the slow orchestral parts of black metal. With all the other parts removed.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy/Bill Callahan, Blind Date Party– Okay, going in, I know I like the Bonnie Prince, and it’s a covers album, which I often enjoy. On the other hand, it’s 90-minutes long, which instinctively fills me with trepidation. There’s a great variety of material, and approaches taken to that material, so it works well on that side. Eventually the length, and a few too-experimental outings keep it from fully working. Still, some great songs are in here!
Boris, W – It’s all a little too ethereal and swirly for me to solidly sink my whatevers into.
Boundary Object, Gabor Lazar– I mean, it was kind of fun and energetic, but a little too on the repetitive computer sounds side of electronic for me.
Brent Cobb, And Now, Let’s Turn to Page…– Pop country star does some nice enough country gospel. But it’s a little formulaic and doesn’t get much beyond that.
Carmen Villain, Only Love From Now On– I do like anybody with the last name villain. The album itself, however, is all instrumental and experimental, full of quiet electronic orchestra, sound effects, and distorted jazz moments. That’s a tougher sell for me.
Caroline, Caroline– This was sometimes an electronic country album, sometimes something more abstract and experimental, sometimes some really very effecting moody lyrical synth. It never quite came together for me, but it was interesting.
Cat Power, Covers– All right, I like Cat Power, I like covers, let’s see how this goes. Pretty well! It doesn’t totally come together- there is a good variety of sources, but her approach to them tends toward a sort of sameness. A nice, mellow, high-quality sameness, but it doesn’t quite stand out.
Cate Le Bon, Pompeii– This Welsh singer-songwriter leans toward the experimental side. It’s a good experiment, in fact an interesting deconstruction of pop song, but feels a little meandery and lacking in coherence at times.
Cloakroom, Dissolution Wave– This is your typical album about a physics incident that causes a dissolution wave that wipes out humanity’s art and abstract thought. You won’t get that from a casual listen though, what you will get is the fuzzy guitar, the shimmering sheets of noise, and the waves of vocal feeling. It’s really pretty good aurally, but it does start to fade into sameness. And it feels like a problem to me that it can have a strong theme that’s not even detectable upon first listen.
Combo Chimbita, IRE– There is some fine minor chord strumming early on. It then goes in all kinds of musical directions from there- ballad, dance, jazz, Latin, and is really pretty good. But also all in Spanish, which prevented me from getting my hooks into it, lyrically.
Conway the Machine, God Don’t Make Mistakes– Not badly done, but a pretty standard 2020’s hip-hop album.
Dashboard Confessional, All the Truth That I Can Tell– Holy 00s flashback Batgirl! They pretty much are in their top form here, and their top form isn’t bad (in a very formulaic kind of way), but it’s not best of year memorable.
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Cold as Weiss– As all-instrumental jazz albums go, this really works pretty well. It’s heavily informed by funk and soul, and there’s something electric and buoyant about it. Eventually I couldn’t quite keep going as the muzaky elements came to the fore, but it was close!
Deserta, Every Moment, Everything You Need– Very atmospheric, moody swirly, hazy. Not really something substantial enough to sink one’s teeth into, though.
DJ Python, Club Sentimientos Vol. 2– It’s clubby. It’s DJey. It’s pleasant. It doesn’t get much beyond that.
Earl Sweatshirt, Sick!– Some powerful vocal delivery, and nice spare mix that delivers a variety of feelings. It doesn’t totally come together and rise above, though- there’s some sense of lack of unity.
EarthGang, Ghetto Gods– Sometimes quite fun, but mostly too autotuned and 2020s hip-hop conventional.
Elles Bailey, Shinning in the Half Light– Bluesy, vocally skillful singer, but it feels a little too much by formula.
Elvis Costello, The Boy Named If– Elvis Costello has been my main man since I was in my teens, which at this point has been… a while. So, on some level, I’m going to groove on almost anything he puts down. And it doesn’t hurt that his backing band, The Imposters, plays in an old-time rock and soul vein. So there is that, but this somehow feels unfocused and not crisp. I’m comparing him to his best, which is transcendent, but, well, that’s what you get for being a great. While individual songs from this album get there at times, as a whole it doesn’t measure up.
Eric Chenaux, Say Laura– An interesting experimental jazz-inflected piece from a former 90s Toronto punk. Very worthy in its way, but a little too ethereal for me.
EXEK, Advertise Here– Working a post-punk/dub/early electronic vein, this band is producing some interesting music, but it’s a little too brittle and on the experimental edge of listenable to work as an album for me.
Fickle Friends, Are We Gonna Be Alright?– A bit of 90s alternative feeling, a bit of slinky disco throwback. It’s all right, but it doesn’t really get beyond that.
FKA Twigs, Caprisongs– I came to appreciate FKA twigs during my 2010s review, so I was interested in what this, her mixtape project, would be like. Her off-center take on dance music and 2000s R&B is good stuff and is in excellent form here. The proliferation of guest features, which can be dicey for album coherence is working as well. It eventually overstays it’s welcome by being a little too long/too much the same, but there’s nothing wrong with a little good dance music.
Foxes, The Kick– This is some pretty good dance music, but it sort of runs out of just how far it can go on that after a while.
Gang of Youths, Angel in Realtime– This Australian indie rock band sound like a prime sample vintage 00s mass-market indie rock band. Don’t really care for it!
Garcia Peoples, Dodging Dues– We’ve got a very 70s rock feeling going on here. It’s groovy and mellow, but it doesn’t feel like it’s having a lasting impact on me.
Grace Cummings, Stormqueen– A neo-folk approach, and this Melbourne-based singer-songwriter puts some considerable power behind it. She’s a little weird, and I certainly appreciate that, but it ends up being all too much in one musical tone to sustain at album length.
Great Lakes, Contenders– Athens GA band formed in the 90s, but you’ll hear echoes of the 80s Athens scene and more than a little debt to the Velvet Underground too. Not at all bad, in fact rather good rock, but a little too museum-feeling.
Gunna, DS4Ever– A vast auto-tuned hip-hop wasteland.
Hikaru Utada, Bad Mode– It’s some J-Pop. It’s pretty nice! It doesn’t rise above and beyond enough to contend for “year’s best” though.
Hippo Campus, LP3– I mean, it’s a very nice 2000s somewhat rocky, somewhat dancey, very upbeat kind of thin. It doesn’t really stand out from its (very crowded) pack though.
Holm, Why Don’t You Dance?– A Danish band, doing good rock as Scandinavians are wont to do. It reminds me of the more guitary end of 80s alt. I’m not sure it stands out a whole lot beyond that, though.
Huerco S., Plonk– Some rather abstract electronic, a little too far in that direction for me.
Jake Xerxes Fussell, Good and Green Again– A very pleasant folky, country kind of outing. Doesn’t get a lot beyond that.
Jana Horn, Optimism– There are lyrical depths here, but the vocal and musical setting is so low-key and same track-to-track it has trouble hitting with full impact.
Jasss, A World of Service– A little too much mostly in Spanish, a little too much autotune, a little too much dance music that, outside of some interesting grating moments, is not dynamic or interesting enough.
John Mayall, The Sun is Shining Down– The 60th album from veteran British Bluesman John Mayall, recorded shortly after his 88th birthday. It’s worthy of respect, and he’s in fine, relaxed form. But does it rise to the level of his best, or the year’s best?
Joss Stone, Never Forget My Love– Joss Stone, is of course, a very good vocalist and songwriter, and that’s no less true here. That being said, this was a little too on the smooth, polished, high quality production side for me. I like my glory a little more ragged.
Joywave, Cleanse– Nice 2000s White guy electronic dance music. Eh.
Keb’ Mo’, Good To Be…– As contemporary blues artists go, he’s one of the great ones. Leaning in a country direction on this album, which is pretty delightful. It’s a little too formulaic and smooth to rise to “great” but fans of his and fans of the genres definitely might enjoy it.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Butterfly 3001– Remixes by various artists of their 2021 album Butterfly 3000. I do like these remixes, but I’m not sure if we need two hours of them! Especially given the original album wasn’t one of my semi-finalists for the year.
Korn, Requiem– Well here’s a 90s flashback for me! I mean, they’re fine, in a Korny kind of way, and they’re in classic form here. But I’m not hearing a lot that’s new or really stands out.
Kreidler, Spells and Daubs– I don’t know-there’s things that sound like office supplies being rifled through, a rolodex that’s getting stuck on something, some empty tin can beats. It’s a little too abstract electronic for me.
Lady Wray, Piece of Me– This is some very nice, harking back to the classics, soul/R&B. But I’m not hearing something in “best of year” territory on it.
Little Green House, Anxious– It’s an emoey punky poppy kind of thing. Salvum me fac de inferno.
Los Bitchos, Let the Festivities Begin– I mean, you call yourself Los Bitchos and I’m going to really want to like you. This outing from four musicians from four different countries who got to know each other playing in London’s club scene turns out to be an all-instrumental album, informed by Latin rhythms, some ska, some surf, and a lot of pluck. Not solid enough, sans any lyrics, for me to really get a hold of though.
Lucki/F1lthy, WAKE UP LUCKI– Not a bad hip-hop album, but a little light on depth, and the flow, mix, and content, for the most part, don’t really stand out.
Martina Topley-Bird, Forever I Wait– This is lush and layered, and lyrically complex, but the electronic music and her vocals are both too same track to track, so it all ends up going kind of indistinct.
Mary J. Blige, Good Morning Gorgeous– She’s in good form here, a kind of 2000s-ified production of 90s soul. I don’t think it’s rising above to something extraordinary, though.
Methyl Ethel, Are You Haunted?– Pretty well-done bedroom pop from this Australian artist, but it descends into a kind of track-to-track sameness.
Metronomy, Small World– This English electronic music group kept having me on the edge of yes with their upbeat charm, and then on the edge of no with the relative track to track sameness. Except then something comes along by surprise and pulls it out. I rode the edge the whole time, but I think that very unevenness tips it, very narrowly, into “no”.
Mild Orange, Looking For Space– This was mellow and gauzy and dreamy and never really landed for me.
Mitski, Laurel Hell– The sonorous dreamscapes of this Japanese-American singer’s songs are compelling. It is kind of all-in-one energy vein, though, so it stops working after a while.
Mo, Motordrome– She’s Danish, her eyes are glowing red on the cover, and there’s a song called “Brad Pitt”. This are the kinds of details that incline me favorably pre-listen. It turns out to be some good, consistently high-energy dance music. But I don’t know that it gets above and beyond that enough to be in “year’s best” territory.
Modern Nature, Island of Noise– An experimental band’s concept album based on the sounds of nature is a fairly intriguing idea. It ends up being a little too amorphous and low key to totally gel together for me, but it does have something compelling going on!
Modern Studies, We Are There– It’s not bad, but musically and vocally, it’s rather chilly and spare. Perhaps like a Modern Studies course?
Molly Nillson, Extreme– Shimmering wall of guitar and vocals that remind me of a certain strain of 80s alt (think, Jesus and Mary Chain, for example) and 90s alternative (think My Bloody Valentine or Galaxie 500, perhaps). Or at least it was for the first track or two, until it went in a Portishead or even Everything But the Girl direction. The former had my attention, the later lost me.
OMBIIGIZI, Sewn Back Together– Shoegazey, gauzy, and at its best moments still electric and dynamic enough to be compelling. But there weren’t enough of those moments before it fuzzed out again.
Partner Look, By The Book– cute, very spare synth pop. And the lyrics are often hilarious, but I think it ends up being a little too samesies and insubstantial to work.
Pinegrove, 0.465972222222222– This is the kind of jangly indie rock with soft-loud stop-starts that I generally like, and I do like it. But not particularly more than many another example I’ve heard.
Prins Thomas, Prins Thomas, Vol. 8– It’s just all a little too mellow new agey electronic for me.
Punch Brothers, Hell on Church Street– Some nice folk, bluegrass, country action, and I really appreciated the Dylan cover. The best moments are quite something, but it has a bad habit of lulling to just “okay” in-between. Getting to “great” is a harsh mistress!
Raveena, Asha’s Awakening– It’s described as “a concept album from the perspective of a Punjabi space princess”, and of course I love that. It’s also often fun dance music on top of that, but it doesn’t quite totally hang together for the entire run time, despite many really great moments along the way.
RIP Swirl, Blurry– It’s just all a little too peppy whory new agey electronic for me.
Robert Glasper, Black Radio III– A lot of this was working for me- the weaving together of soul, jazz, hip-hop, and philosophical reflections on Black life in America. And a lot of it wasn’t- extensive dips into autotune, lack of coherence. I think this is a case of very worthy material that doesn’t quite make a sustainable album in whole.
Saba, Few Good Things– It definitely has some interesting flourishes going for it- soulful mixes, a clear bright sound, traces of the best of 90s conscious and 00s sophisticated hip-hop. It often dips into the territory of too autotuned, and is not totally coherent, but part of that is the beauty of its rich track to track variety. Eventually the shallow autotune won out over what was otherwise excellent content and pushed it to “no”.
Sally Shapiro, Sad Cities– Nice atmospheric jazzy synthy pop heavy on melody and rich emotional vocals. But if I want more of this kind of thing, I always have Dido.
SASAMI, Squeeze– There were some moments that were genuinely uncanny and unsettling, and she was always good in her mixture of dance music, orchestral electronic, grunge-influenced rock, and darkness. I’ll keep my eye on her, for sure, but as an album it didn’t feel coherent enough to totally work.
Sea Power, Everything Was Forever– Moody, synthy, smooth, atmospheric. Nah.
Seafoam Walls, XVI– It’s a nice enough mellow, beaty, pseudo-dancey thing. Get it away from me.
Shamir, Heterosexuality– The heart of this album is very much in the right place, and its lyrics clever and incisive in their tackling of heteronormativity. The music and vocals side, though, it’s a little too conventional 00s dance to really pull it off.
Shinichi Atobe, Love of Plastic– I’ve got to say, as not the biggest fan of electronic ever, this was pretty light and fun. In its more dynamic moments, it might well have made it onto my “yes” list or at least a “maybe”. There were longer sections that were a little too lulled out, though.
Shout Out Louds, House– A smooth and accomplished album, anthemic, but it’s a little too hollow/smooth in production ultimately.
Silavan Estrada, Marchita– It was very pretty and ballady, but also very all in Spanish, which made it difficult for me to get a hold of.
Soichi Terada, Asakusa Light– This is a nice mellow low-key electronic kind of thing. Very smooth and fun enough, but I’m not hearing anything dynamic or substantive enough to really get a hold of.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones, The Alien Coast– I think I’m in a spacey concept album with cool slinky beats that remind one of the dance 70s. I think I like this! It eventually gets a little too undifferentiated song to song to keep going as an album, but it is fun along the way.
Superchunk, Wild Loneliness– Superchunk’s alt rock jam band thing is a pretty fun thing, but it got a little repetitive/rote as this album went on.
Tears For Fears, The Tipping Point– This was unexpected (at least for me)- a much less synth-poppy outing than their 80s albums (though it does show a lot of the 60s flourishes of Sowing The Seeds of Love) and in general, less bombastic. Roland Orzabal processing the grief at his wife’s death from a long-term illness, and he and Curth Smith providing more acoustic and quiet moments. It isn’t quite coherent, and sometimes the production dulls the feeling, but the best parts are superb.
The Body/OAA, Enemy of Love– This is from the screaming/grating side of techno. Or maybe the techno side of screaming/grating metal?
The Cactus Blossoms, One Day– Something on the country edge of smooth 2000s indie pop-rock? Something on the smooth 2000s indie pop-rock side of country? Either way, it’s very pleasant, but I can’t.
The Lumineers, Brightside– The Lumineers are, of course, a good band. In many ways, a par excellence of 2000s indie rock bands that make it big. And they’re good on this album, but, to me, it all is just a little too smooth and digestible, without the gristle of vitality. I need the gristle of vitality!
The Rave-Ups, Tomorrow– The latest album from an alt country pre-pioneer. I would have loved this in the 80s, and it is very good at what it does, but it feels a little dated now.
The Temptations, 60– It’s amazing how good they still sound. It does lean a little more heavily in the direction of the 70s disco/80s R&B side of the Temptations, so many original members aren’t there anymore, but damn if they aren’t a smooth machine! It’s a little museum piece to make into “best of year”, but damn we should all be doing so well for our 60th album.
The Whitmore Sisters, Ghost Stories– I do like folk/country sisters, and when they’re on, they’re really on. Other times it’s a little too lulled-out and over-orchestrated so the full vitality doesn’t show through.
The Wombats, Fix Yourself, Not the World– This is a good example of the sophisticated slightly-sleazy 2000s rock band sound (UK version). If this was the early 2000s, it would really stand out (like, say, The Strokes did for the U.S. version), but it doesn’t really at this point, not enough to get to “best of the best” territory anyway.
Trupa Trupa, B Flat A– This was off to a very good clanging-rock start, but the tempo slowed in the middle, bringing the clanginess too much to the fore.
Underoath, Voyeurist– It’s a very shouty emo-hardcore-metal kind of thing. Not much more needs to be said.
Various Artists, Stars Rock Kill (Rock Stars)– For its 30th Anniversary, powerhouse indie label Kill Rock Stars released 65 covers of songs from throughout its history by…other artists from the same label! As concepts go, this is a great one, and if you like their brand of varied, edgy, and experimental rock, you will probably enjoy this. I think it’s too much of an “aficionados only” exercise to work at that length, but there are riches here.
Various Artists, Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono– It’s a promising combination- an idiosyncratic and often underappreciated musician covered by an array of idiosyncratic contemporary artists. While it never feels like it quite comes together as a whole, as some of the covers just mellowly blur out, some of them are vivid and challenging. Like Yoko Ono herself!
Voivod, Syncho Anarchy– This is a kind of metal that I do really appreciate, the ornate but noisy 90s Operation Mindcrime kind of realm. But it’s a little unfocused here, and tends toward the noisy annoying too often.
Walker Hayes, Country Stuff The Album– Ah, pop country. As such goes, it’s pretty good. “Good” in the cliched formulaic way that such goes, but with some considerable charm along the way.
White Lies, As I Try Not to Fall Apart– This sounds like it comes from the synth-heavy, dark and moody side of 80s alt. Like, really, I would not be surprised if I was listening to this on a late 80s Modern Rock station. So, to be clear, it’s a very good invocation, and if you like the genre, you might really like this. But I wonder if it’s too of that piece to work as an enduring best of year?
WifiGawd, Chain of Command– The flow and mix here is good, but I don’t think it reaches the “above and beyond” level.
Years & Years, Night Call– It’s a fun and high energy electronic dance album. It’s not, for the most part, a lot beyond that, and it doesn’t support the album length. Do put it on if you want to have a dance party in your living room for an hour though!
Yeat, 2 Alive– If you like your hip-hop autotuned all to hell, this is for you.
yeule, Glitch Princess– While it eventually gets a little too lost in one auto-tone, the best moments of this Singapore electronic musician’s album are genuinely unsettling, lyrically and musically. I’m totally interested in keeping an eye on them. (Note the digital version includes a 4+ hour ambient track. I did not listen to it! heck, maybe it was great, who knows…)
Yung Kayo, DFTK– this hip-hop album has got a lot of energy and engaging presence. It’s also got a lot of similarity track to track and whole bunches of autotune.
Now let’s see if I can still get the March review out before the end of April!