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!