Once upon a time, a young lad set out to catch up on new music. He listened to critics choices for the best albums of the 2010s. He did the same for 2020. And then he set out to listen to new releases month by month throughout 2021, so he could come up with his list for the 21 best albums of 2021.
All right, look. “Young” is a state of mind, but the rest of the above story is true! And my 2021 excursion was so interesting that I decided to do it again in 2022, as follows:
(January/February March/April May June July August/September October November/December)
All told, I ended up listening to 1,128 albums released in 2022. From this:
- I ended up with 289 “yes” and “maybe” picks
- After re-listening to that 289, I whittled it down to 131
- Those 131 then got a final re-listen resulting in…
The 22 Best Albums of 2022!
Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man– She started off as a country artist, and there’s still more than a hint of that here, but with the minor chords, and surges and undercurrents of feeling, this is like haunted pop music. The genre varies, but the whole is tied together by her powerful earnest vocals and the bare emotional tales of her lyrics. Nanci Griffith’s Storms comes to mind in terms of well-produced pop smoothness combined with complicated dark depths.
April March, In Cinerama– This California singer-songwriter first came to prominence for film soundtrack work, and has carried on her high-verve song stylings in English and French ever since. And this album is a joy from the first jaunty guitar notes, swiftly joined by drums, horns, and her neo-swinging 60s vocals. Much of it carries on in this 60s vein, but at times it sounds like international pop and/or shimmers with timeless harmonies. Any which way, every track shines with unimpeachable excellence.
Bill Orcutt, Music for Four Guitars– It turns out that if you are going to sell me on an all-instrumental album, it needs to be an experimental electric guitar distortion-heavy album! It’s less experimental and more conventional than some others I listened to this past year, but also heavier, and I love the sound this 61 year old guitarist, composer, and veteran of bands since the 90s makes!
Brendan Benson, Low Key– This album from Raconteurs member Benson displays that group’s sure feeling for classic sources, in this case turning out music decidedly influenced by 60s ornate pop, 70s power-pop, and prog pop. In that sense, it’s halfway to being a museum piece, but it’s a darn near flawless exhibit.
Chat Pile, God’s Country– The first track turned me off with its ragged vocals, and I feared it would be another pleasingly heavy 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 is 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.
Ezra Furman, All of Us Flames– Part of a trilogy from this Chicago artist, this album features theatrical and lyrically dense poetic story-telling, with equal parts atmospheric heartland rock, punk, and Tom Waits-style rambles. Lyrically, it’s both a call to arms and series of poignant, personal, and powerful vignettes on the struggle of being Queer in America. A masterwork, all the way around.
Fantastic Negrito, White Jesus Black Problems– This is great! Vocally it’s exuberant and varied. Musically, it’s an R&B shakedown with edges of electronic dance, new wave, garage rock revival, 70s soul, and gospel. And lyrically it is a cycle of songs about struggle, freedom, and joy inspired by the artist’s discovery of 7th generation grandparents who were a Scottish indentured servant in a common law marriage with an enslaved African American man. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, was inspired to play music by listening to Prince and then taught himself. I feel like he’s now teaching us what’s still possible for an album to do!
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 and a strong musician. On the poppier side of things, but certainly homing in on a certain heartland rock vibe where he 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 darkly evocative, and his voice is beautifully ragged while dealing with themes of time, memory, and loss. This is the kind of album that you have to have a lifetime behind you to make, and he’s earned it.
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 for worthy subjects and admirable verve, 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 great. 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!
Lyrics Born, Vision Board– I love the dub and ska influences, I love the wacky wit that reminds me of when hip-hop was hilarious in the 80s and early 90s, and the mix and vocals have a strong whiff of that era as well. This album functions in both hip hop and R&B modes, and it’s brilliant, if weirdly retro, in both. Along with his very different album from earlier this year, it shows just how versatile an artist we have in Japanese-American rapper, singer, and producer Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura, aka Lyrics Born.
Mo Troper, MTV– This is full of distorted harmonies and great fuzzy bursts of noise. Amidst the joyous musical discord and mixed in with a good deal of irreverence, there are genuine feelings as well from this Portland-based power pop impresario. Their music reminds me of the Deerhoof school of blowing up and reassembling pop songs. I love that school!
My Idea, Cry Mfer– After Lily Konigsberg of Brooklyn band Palberta had her 2020 solo debut produced by fellow indie rocker Nate Amos, the two became friends, leading to this collaborative album. Both Palberta and a solo album from Konigsberg were high on my 2021 contenders list, and this album has a lot of the “why” behind 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!
Panic! At the Disco, Viva Las Vengeance– It’s so perfectly obvious what this album is doing that it almost feels manipulative- it’s an over-the-top ode to the lovable excess of rock. But, if you manipulate me by evoking Meatloaf, Queen, Springsteen, and 80s arena rock ballads, and liven it with a punk attitude, I’m probably going along for the ride. As is their forte, Panic! At the Disco pack it with feeling that could be called emo, but are so unreservedly committed to it that it carries the listener along. I kept wondering if it was all too much, but I also kept being charmed back in by the realization that is the whole point.
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 if anything 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. Behind all that, though, there’s a unity of spirit and overarching structure that holds this all together. For an hour and 45 minutes!
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 turns 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.
R.A.P. Ferreira, 5 to the Eye With Stars– I was impressed by this Wisconsin hip-hop artist’s album The Light-Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures last year, and this has many of the same charms on display in that album. It’s like a lost era of hip-hop in some ways- philosophical, poetic, conscious, given to wild wordplay and lively musical mix. This isn’t by accident, as several name checks of Arrested Development songs and lyrics demonstrate. But it also sounds thoroughly contemporary in a way, and certainly not like something plucked from a museum.
Sick Thoughts, Heaven Is No Fun– The songs here are sometimes in a classically UK punk vein (I Hate You) sometimes like 70s metal (Mother, I Love Satan), or glammier 70s hard rock (Submachine Love). It is, in those ways, a very dated sound. But this doesn’t sound like mere aping, it’s delivered with such conviction that it comes across like an original work of a bygone era that’s somehow fallen out of a time warp. Keeping in mind this New Orleans-based musician is only 25 it’s kind of an amazing achievement!
Superorganism, World Wide Pop– The hyperkinetic pop of this London indie group has so much going on! The first track alone features a dizzying array of sound effects, samples, beats, and musical modes. The goings-on here are equally informed by 21st century dance music, indie rock, 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! Trippy vocals and a heady mix of samples show up in between an ongoing device of claiming to actually be a British artist who had been posing as an American, and musings on the nature of reality and subjective experience. This all might be a bit much if it wasn’t also highly listenable. Which it is!
The Mountain Goats, Bleed Out– This album is chock full of hooks, chord changes, clever word play, and swelling musical moments. At times it’s a little jam bandy, other times more power pop, and sometimes it reminds me of Neil Young and Even Death Cab for Cutie. The whole thing is held together by a semi-narrative involving crime drama themes. It’s a fun conceit, and powers a thoroughly compelling listen!
Tim Heidecker, High School– Tim Heidecker is a comedian with a more than incidental side career as a musician. Which it turns out he’s really good at, making a thoughtful 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 quality of dusty nostalgia that teen memories have, and how at the time everything seemed 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.
Wet Leg, Wet Leg– I got a 90s vibe from this Isle of Wight band with their lackadaisical vocal style, stop-and-start musical dynamics, and jarring guitar notes. It’s also often lyrically hilarious, packed with sexual innuendo, and snark about band life and boys on the scene. Wet Leg is now my new favorite Isle of Wight band!
And there we have it: The 22 Best Albums of 2022! But wait, there’s more! There are only 22 spots in the top 22 (it being mathematics and all) but I also picked 78 “honorable mentions” to round out our list to a nice even 100:
- $ilkmoney, I Don’t Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don’t Feel Like It Anymore– The title is solid gold, but what’s really extraordinary here is that it’s a psychedelic album, a socially conscious one in a 90s vein, but with the muscularity of gangster rap. I can’t quite tell whether it’s embracing or deflating either genre, but it also contains one of the best cannibalism songs I’ve ever heard!
- 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 kind of blog…
- Aldous Harding, Warm Chris– Sometimes a classic 70s singer-songwriter feel, sometimes soul/R&B, sometimes sparkling with quirky traces of 80s-2000s alternative, and more than a hint of the 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.
- Anitta, Versions of Me– 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 ever, but as great dance music goes- this is!
- 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, and the poppier end of 60s garage rock bands. 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!
- Avantasia, A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society– Between the descriptor “German metal supergroup whose works have often been compared to operas” and the album name, you may have some inkling that you’re in for something overwrought. And it is true in the most glorious of ways! It’s as if multiple strands of 80s metal got together to produce their very own rock opera, as unapologetically over the top as it should be.
- Bartees Strange, Farm to Table– His kaleidoscope of an album Live Forever was one of my favorites of 2020. Here he often sticks closer to a conventional palette in terms of music and production, but still pulls surprises. 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 many a listen.
- Beach Bunny, Emotional Creature– There’s a bevy of younger ladies doing music that effortlessly brings together pop ballads, dance music, and crunchy 90s influenced guitar rock, unspooling emotion and yet intelligent lyrics in the process (looking at you Olivia Rodrigo, Soccer Mommy, et al). And hallelujah for that! Beach Bunny, a Chicago rock band formed in 2015 by Lili Trifilio, is in this vein. It may be glossy, and use pop rotes along the way, but nothing here sounds false, and every track is solid and fun.
- Beyonce, Renaissance– The amount of layering in the first track alone is dizzying- the personal, the political, the vocally muscular and subtle, the clever sonic details and twists. It goes on in that vein and expands on with a varied and deep celebration of 80s-90s house music, raunch, snark, and an assured sense of power. It isn’t as coherent as her best, but there aren’t many artists around who can wield their own persona/myth for their purposes as effectively as Beyonce can.
- Big Joanie, Back Home– It’s got a 90s alt rock feeling, with surprising electronic, folk and soul undertones, and the rich and ragged depths of lead singer Stephanie Phillips’s voice are the perfect accompaniment to the music. They are apparently a Black feminist British punk trio. Well a-freakin’-men!
- billy woods, Aethiopes– This New York hip-hop artist has a reputation as an outsider, and he proves it here in the best sense of the term with 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.
- Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Topical Dancer– Belgian-Caribbean musician Adigery is here with some weird, quirky, 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.
- Che Noir, Food for Thought– Powerful thoughtful 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 it’s not totally out of place, and it’s otherwise excellent.
- Coco & Clair Clair, Sexy– Think about a feminist but irreverent take on hip-hop. Now make the lyrics hilariously sharp and cutting, and the music multi-layered and unusual while being sugar-sweet. This was a solidly fun listen!
- 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 that band tells, 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.
- 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, and more than a hint of the conscious side of 90s hip-hop. It’s full of positive energy and I like it!
- Demi Lovato, Holy Fvck– Regarding the title- Yes! One might say it’s navigating a pretty familiar stretch of 2000s pop-punk. But as much as it tilts toward the “pop” side, it’s also as often sincerely shredding on the hard and heavy side. And lyrically is where the real bite comes in, as she follows up on last year’s Art of Starting Over. She’s not as raw here as on that album, but no less powerful and often more nuanced. Demi Lovato continues to stake out a real artistic space for herself, and I’m intrigued to see what’s next.
- Dr. John, Things Happen That Way– This is his final album, recorded during his last months, which certainly makes it more poignant. But even without that it’s tender, relaxed, makes great use of guest stars, and chooses excellent covers. Inherently, given the covers and the traditional musical styles, not the freshest thing ever. But it’s a beautiful version of it. Go in peace Dr. John!
- 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!
- Fontaines D.C., Skinty Fia– Their album A Hero’s Death just barely got squeezed out of the top 20 in my 2020 review, so I was looking forward to this. And darned if This Dublin band isn’t bringing the goods! 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, the seriousness is leavened with a sense of honesty, and the lyrics are literate and emotionally complex.
- Ghost, Impera– This Swedish band’s music is exuberantly delivered, and 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, it’s nice to have some good ones.
- Gogol Bordello, Solidaritine– I must confess, though I have run across the name for years in circles indicating it might be something I would like, I had no actual idea what Gogol Bordello’s deal was. Their deal is amazing! If you feel like you might need some Romani folk, hardcore, and ska all mixed together in a delirious swirl and delivered with over-the-top energy and 100% commitment, well, I welcome you to join me as a newfound aficionado of Gogol Bordello.
- Grace Ives, Janky Star– This Brooklyn-based musician delivers tales of internal and external misadventure, clever and lively synth arrangements, and vocals so replete with sweetness that they belie the wit, snark, and 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!
- Guided by Voices, Tremblers and Goggles by Rank– This is 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 are 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. And it is a glorious noise!
- 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 excellent grizzled grouchy veteran form here, 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 later 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 ingenuine for it, and the album carries you along track to track like a warm current.
- Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive– This is White’s second album of the year, and consciously in a different vein than the heavier Fear of the Dawn. Against all general trends of my musical preferences, I like this better! It’s like a continuation 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.
- 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 don’t know what to expect from a Pow Wow album, you’re just like I was. Turns out 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 things in surprising directions.
- 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. 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 days 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 but it remains dynamic and evocative throughout.
- Johnny Ray Daniels, Whatever You Need– Debut album from a 76-year-old North Carolina-based singer/guitarist who has previously been a key 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 about how it’s done.
- 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.
- Jonah Tolchin, Lava Lamp– Different pieces of Americana show up in this New Jersey-born singer-songwriter’s approach- folk, blues, country, R&B. At times it’s in a mellow burned-out vein, other 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.
- Judy and the Jerks, Music to Go Nuts– I mean, is it an album? It’s only 16 minutes long! But it is ten songs. Take that, Ramones! Maybe it’s because the songs are delivered with such verve and commitment, maybe it’s the female lead, but I haven’t been this happy with something in the punk genre since some of the early 2000s Riot Grrl afterburn. Not bad, Hattiesburg, Mississippi band!
- 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 playing.
- Kamikaze Palm Tree, Mint Chip– LA-based, from San Francisco, with 14 songs in 31 minutes. It’s gloriously off kilter, it’s sing-song, it’s melodious and discordant, I can’t tell whether it’s hilarious or vaguely threatening. I love it!
- Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers– As befits Kendrick Lamar, this is by turns hilarious, menacing, willing to explore ugly truths, and 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, isn’t the best hip-hop artist of his generation entitled to a sprawling double album?
- 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 bell-ringing rock (via 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…
- Kolb, Tyrannical Vibes– So rocky! So melodic poppy! So intellectual and obscure lyrics to go with the surface sheen! So alternating male and female vocalists! This project of a New York singer-songwriter delivers an album that works from beginning to end.
- 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, 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.
- 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, 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!”
- 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. It holds up to this initial interest well- the music is straight-up (all puns intended) old style country, and the lyrics are full of country tropes with clever subversion. It’s sometimes a little too on the nose, but really is a very interesting musical world turned upside down.
- Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Old :Time Folks– This “old time” here seems to be the 70s. I hear some Bat Out of Hell, some Cheap Trick, some 38 Special, maybe some Stillwater? The older stuff, from before the “No Planes” Tour. There’s plenty of “new time” too though, sounding like the more electric side of 80s/90s alt country, or, more recently, Drive-By Truckers in their sure feel for country, rock, and contemporary but timeless lyrics. It’s not the most original formulation, but it always feels authentic.
- Leikeli47, Shape Up– This New York musician is known for being so private she’s never performed without her face covered. That’s a curiosity, but the real deal is her strong beats, husky sensual hypnotic flow, fun song twists, and delightful inversion of hip-hop gender dynamics. There’s some lack of album coherence/structure keeping this from getting to “yes”, but it’s still a strong package.
- 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. On the lyrical side, there’s plenty of bragging, but also plenty of humor and wordplay, 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!
- 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 first listen wasn’t to immediately play it again to examine all the layers hidden therein.
- 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. It didn’t quite hit the same level of sonic focus and sheer fun as his album Vision Board, but he’s made this list twice, which is notable!
- 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 it! In practice I ended up liking it a lot too. It felt in a way like a guitar playing pieces meant for other instruments, and doing it with waves of distorted feedback-laden sheen.
- Miranda Lambert, Palomino– I like Miranda Lambert’s version of country, and here she’s delivering muscular minor chords, sharp vocals, and smart, 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 2021 honorable mentions, and here again she shows country what it can still do if it just tries!
- 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.
- 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, even though mostly in Japanese.
- 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 live set before his death in 2018. As an album origin story, this sounds amazing. The even better news is that the spare, powerful, and raw electric gospel it contains lives up to the story.
- Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott, N.K-Pop– This is a collaboration of the founding members of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it sounds like that melodious hook-heavy, syrupy yet biting era/school of British pop. In a way almost a time capsule musically, but the lyrics here, both in topicality and in their point of view, recognize that this is more than 30 years later, and show some wisdom and weariness.
- 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 much 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, and to the tales of the street it contains.
- 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.
- 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, there’s 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 excellent neo-psychedelic rock rolls charmingly and somewhat disturbingly along without a hitch.
- Rhett Miller, The Misfit– Miller is the former lead singer of the alt country Old 97’s, who in his solo work has tended in a more pop direction. That’s definitely on display here, but think 60s and 70s-indebted pop rather than 00s dance pop. I was on the edge between loving the evocative music and his nuanced lyrics and finding it a little same going track to track. Each time I was about to abandon it because of that sameness though, a musical surprise or a particularly affecting lyric turn got me back on board.
- Run the Jewels, RTJ Cu4tro– Re-recordings and re-workings of previous year’s albums are not uncommon, but this one has an especially interesting premise: “It’s a reimagining of RTJ4 through the lens of collaboration and a fusing of numerous musical cultures and influences,” and was made exclusively with Latin collaborators. This works in the best kind of way, taking what was one of my favorite albums from 2020 and making it into something genuinely new, and worthy on its own.
- 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!
- Sammy Hagar & the Circle, Crazy Times– I have a fondness for Sammy Hagar going back to the 80s, so maybe I walked in to this compromised. But no, really, there are great things going on here! Good time rock and roll, interesting covers choices, a heavy noise that makes me miss 80s hard rock radio, and nuanced meditations on aging and what it all means. And Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham on drums!
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Nightroamer– This album features 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 minor chords and big organ sound that I appreciate, but livened by some more contemporary pop/rock dynamism. Perhaps, when one is a non-binary bisexual atheist, one’s approach to country is especially fresh. North Carolina-based Shook is a unique and worthy voice.
- Slash, 4– Well we had Johnny Marr above, here’s another great candidate for “later-day Guitar God”. The guitar work here is, well, Slash- 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 giving 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.
- Sobs, Air Guitar– This Singapore indie pop band’s album is the second time this past year I have come across an Asia-based band delivering nearly perfect-sounding 90s alt rock, in this case in the rocking but still pop vein of say, Letters for Cleo or Liz Phair. It seems a little museum piece, but it’s also too damn fun to ignore.
- Sofi Tukker, Wet Tennis– Sexy, sometimes sinister, and spare dance music with clear vocals and a surprising mix 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!
- Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen– Brittney Denise Parks, better known as Sudan Archives, is a violinist, singer, songwriter, and producer who combines R&B, hip-hop, folk, and experimental electronic music. Add to this musical mix a feminist and socially conscious point of view, and lyrical wit to spare, and it’s really pretty amazing. This comes with a bit of a “everything and the kitchen sink” feeling, but still…
- 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.
- The Beths, Expert in a Dying Field– Their live album from last year was on my semi-finalists list. What I heard there that so charmed me is on abundant display here- their sure hand at guitar rock that can crunch and get fuzzy, but never losses a feeling for hooks and melody, and the presence and sweet clear vocals of lead singer/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes. There’s nothing about this New Zealand band to not like!
- The Bobby Lees, Bellevue– You start with a picture of a woman in dirty coveralls sitting in a pig pen on the cover, and I’m pre-charmed. I might have expected something a little country-fried based on that, but what’s actually here is a rocking feminist musical assault bringing to mind Babes in Toyland, L7, and early Hole. This Woodstock, New York band’s album is the kind of thing that grabs you by the throat with the first track and doesn’t let go from there.
- The Jazz Butcher, The Highest in the Land– I’ve known The Jazz Butcher since I was a wee alternative 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. The energy is restrained, but the heart sustains it.
- 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 tackle sexism and racism with wit and verve, so the love is multiplied.
- Titus Andronicus, The Will to Live– In the wake of his friend and bandmate passing, Titus Andronicus lead Patrick Stickles set out to create what he called an “Ultimate Rock Album”. Darned if he didn’t succeed! It’s got crunching hard guitar, 70s cock rock swagger, power chords that would do the Who proud (and/or be legally actionable by them), flirts variously with stadium rock, metal, and punk, and is hooky as all get-out.
- Todd Rundgren, Space Force– I like Todd Rundgren both for his own music and his work as a producer, and also I like a good concept. This is an interesting one- he solicited other songwriters from a variety of genres for unfinished songs they’d abandoned, and he completed and recorded them. As befits the concept, it doesn’t exactly sound coherent or unified. But as befits Rundgren, there is a kind of unity in production approach, and a madcap genius holding it all together.
- Tony Molina, In The Fade– This is like a punk album in the sense that there are 14 songs crowded into around 20 minutes. But stylistically, instead of punk, the songs alternate between an ornate neo-psychedelia and a heavy guitar-fuzzed pop. It works though, their brevity and variety of approaches being not unlike a punk attack, except with sweet pop. It’s a touch derivative of multiple influences, but an excellent derivation.
- Uffie, Sunshine Factory– This rapper, DJ, and singer/songwriter has been working in collaboration 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.
- Uni Boys, Do It All Next Week– This Los Angeles band knows how to do some good old fashioned (circa 70s) Rock and Roll. It’s power poppy, with hand claps, hooks, and just the right mixture of sleaze, sweetness, and bratty whining. I’m glad somebody still knows how to do this!
- Valerie June, Under Cover– A covers album from one of my top 2021 picks for her album The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers. She casts her net wide- Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, John Lennon, Mazzy Starr, and Nick Cave all make appearances. Excellent as far as sourcing goes, but on top of that she delivers great covers, diving deep into the strengths of her voice, her diverse musical background, and a sense of both reverence and exuberant playfulness. The net effect of all this is heartachingly beautiful.
- Willow, coping mechanism– Her album LATELY I feel everything was on my “honorable mention” list for 2021, and this has the same kind of energy and challenge to it. If anything, it goes further, with the hard rock 90s edges and R&B ballad sensibilities more organically blended and balanced, and the lyrics and vocals feeling even more personal.
- 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.
And there you have it even more so! The 22 Best Albums of 2022, and 78 honorable mention. If you’d like a “list only” version, we can accommodate that:
The 22 Best Albums of 2022
- Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man
- April March, In Cinerama
- Bill Orcutt, Music for Four Guitars
- Brendan Benson, Low Key
- Chat Pile, God’s Country
- Ezra Furman, All of Us Flames
- Fantastic Negrito, White Jesus Black Problems.
- John Mellencamp, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack
- Lizzo, Special
- Lyrics Born, Vision Board
- Mo Troper, MTV
- My Idea, Cry Mfer
- Panic! At the Disco, Viva Las Vengeance
- Particle Kid, Time Capsule
- quinn, quinn
- R.A.P. Ferreira, 5 to the Eye With Stars
- Sick Thoughts, Heaven Is No Fun
- Superorganism, World Wide Pop
- The Koreatown Oddity, ISTHISFORREAL?
- The Mountain Goats, Bleed Out
- Tim Heidecker, High School
- Wet Leg, Wet Leg
- $ilkmoney, I Don’t Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don’t Feel Like It Anymore
- Action Bronson, Cocodrillo Turbo
- Aldous Harding, Warm Chris
- Anitta, Versions of Me
- Artsick, Fingers Crossed
- Avantasia, A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society
- Bartees Strange, Farm to Table
- Beach Bunny, Emotional Creature
- Beyonce, Renaissance
- Big Joanie, Back Home
- billy woods, Aethiopes
- Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Topical Dancer
- Che Noir, Food for Thought
- Coco & Clair Clair, Sexy
- Craig Finn, A Legacy of Rentals
- Damu the Fudgemunk/Raw Poetic, Laminated Skies
- Demi Lovato, Holy Fvck
- Dr. John, Things Happen That Way
- Eamon, No Matter the Season
- Fontaines D.C., Skinty Fia
- Ghost, Impera
- Gogol Bordello, Solidaritine
- Grace Ives, Janky Star
- Guided by Voices, Tremblers and Goggles by Rank
- Hank Williams Jr., Rich White Honky Blues
- Hollie Cook, Happy Hour
- Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive
- Joe Rainey, Niineta
- Johnny Marr, Fever Dreams, Pts. 1-4
- Johnny Ray Daniels, Whatever You Need
- Jon Spencer & the HITmakers, Spencer Gets It Lit
- Jonah Tolchin, Lava Lamp
- Judy and the Jerks, Music to Go Nuts
- Kae Tempest, The Line is a Curve
- Kamikaze Palm Tree, Mint Chip
- Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
- Kids on a Crime Spree, Fall in Love Not in Line
- Kolb, Tyrannical Vibes
- Kula Shaker, 1st Congregational Church of Eternal Love and Free Hugs
- Kurt Vile, (watch my moves)
- Lavender Country, Blackberry Rose
- Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Old :Time Folks
- Leikeli47, Shape Up
- Logic, Vinyl Days
- Lucy Liyou, Welfare/Practice
- Lyrics Born, Mobile Homies: Season 1
- Mat Ball, Amplified Guitar
- Miranda Lambert, Palomino
- Orville Peck, Bronco
- Otoboke Beaver, Super Champon
- Pastor Champion, I Just Want To Be a Good Man
- Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott, N.K-Pop
- Planet Asia, Medallions Monarchy
- Regina Spektor, Home, before and after
- Reptaliens, Multiverse
- Rhett Miller, The Misfit
- Run the Jewels, RTJ Cu4tro
- Ry Cooder/Taj Mahal, Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
- Sammy Hagar & the Circle, Crazy Times
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Nightroamer
- Slash, 4
- Sobs, Air Guitar
- Sofi Tukker, Wet Tennis
- Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen
- Swami John Reis, Ride The Wild Night.
- The Beths, Expert in a Dying Field
- The Bobby Lees, Bellevue
- The Jazz Butcher, The Highest in the Land
- The Linda Lindas, Growing Up
- Titus Andronicus, The Will to Live
- Todd Rundgren, Space Force
- Tony Molina, In The Fade
- Uffie, Sunshine Factory
- Uni Boys, Do It All Next Week
- Valerie June, Under Cover
- Willow, coping mechanism
- Yard Act, The Overload
If you enjoyed this venture, the good news is that the 2023 review is already underway. If you didn’t, well it’s underway regardless! See you soon for the recap of January 2023…