I cannot tell a lie. We’re a…bit behind. But there is no surrender, so onward with the August/September edition of our quest for the 22 Best Albums of 2022!
If you need to catch up on my brave attempt to catch up, you can find the previous editions here:
And if you’re a total overachiever, you can read the finale of my search for the 21 best albums of 2021, and the round-ups of my blog series reviewing the critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s, and 2020.
Before we dive deeper into 2022, let’s do a quick overview of the three categories:
Yes– These are albums that could be in the running for the year’s best. There are no guarantees in this, through September there were 134 yesses, So we’re already looking at a 6:1 kill ratio before we even get to…
Maybe– These are the albums that definitely have something going for them, but also something that gives me pause. But sometimes “maybes” linger and become “yeses”, so they’re worth another listen. There’s 120 of these through September.
No– Being a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re crap. You do sometimes end up there because you’re crap. But other times you can be fine, but not more than fine. Or interesting and ambitious, but not quite pulling it off. Getting to “yes” isn’t easy!
And now, with our categories established, let’s charge forward with the review of 239 (!!!) new releases from August and September!
4s4ki, Killer in Neverland– Japanese rapper and singer 4s4ki’s music is a colorful mashup of pop-punk, electro-pop soundscapes, and melodic rap. Which is a crazy musical kaleidoscope, sometimes involving melody so sweet it hurts, sometimes hyperpop so over the edge the line between it being a joke and it being undeniable is irrelevant. And there’s an aura of weirdness and glee throughout. Almost entirely in Japanese, but the sonic vistas it charts…
Bill Orcutt, Music for Four Guitars– Like with Mat Ball in July, it turns out that if you are going to sell me on an all-instrumental album, it needs to be an electric experimental distorted guitar album! In this case, it’s less experimental and more conventional than Ball’s album, but also heavier, and I love the sound it makes!
Black Thought/Danger Mouse, Cheat Codes– This collaboration between remixer supreme Danger Mouse and the Roots co-founder Black Thought is excellent. Black Thought brings his dense poetic lyrics and authoritative rhythmic vocal flow, Danger Mouse brings a mix heavy with sounds of steady grooving 70s Soul, and the synergy between the two takes it to a whole new level.
Butcher Brown, Butcher Brown Presents Triple Trey– A Richmond Virginia jazz quintet founded in 2009, and known for mixing things up with funk, hip-hop, R&B, and soul. The review I read afterward said it was quarantine-inspired arrangements that sought to deconstruct the big band era. I don’t know that I picked up on that at all, but I did pick up on the jazz and hip-hop intersection, reminding me of 90s practitioners of the same (aka Digable Planets, Us3, etc), with a consciousness that reminded me more than a little of KRS-One and an intelligent multi-layered mix and sampling that reminded me of Madvillain. These are all along the line of comparison points, and it never felt derivative. More like richly sourced, and sonically excellent.
Demi Lovato, Holy Fvck– Regarding the title- Yes! Sonically, one might say it’s navigating a pretty familiar stretch of road- 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 in general as that album, but no less powerful and often more nuanced. She continues to stake out a real artistic space for herself, and I’m intrigued to see what’s next.
Disco Doom, Mt. Surreal– What would surreal (if not downright experimental) disco music sound like? Maybe a bit like this! There’s actually plenty of melody and even some beat here, but it’s turned inside out by experimental noise and distortion. It kept me interested track after track, and was simultaneously fun and challenging, which isn’t an easy balance to strike. Well done little Swiss band!
Ezra Furman, All of Us Flames– Part of a trilogy from this Chicago artist, this album has atmospheric, theatrical, lyrically dense poetic story-telling, with equal parts heartland rock, punk, and Tom Waits-style storytelling. That’s on the musical and vocal side. Lyrically, it’s both a call to arms and series of poignant powerful vignettes on the struggle of being Queer in America. A masterwork, all the way around.
Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You– This album is full of 60s pop sounds, the sound of later interpreters of such (ELO, Tom Petty), and touches of country. He’s been a singer-songwriter’s Singer-songwriter since the 90s, and is bringing some just damn fine sweetly chiming pop music here.
Gogol Bordello, Solidaritine– I must confess, though I have run across the name for years in circles that indicated 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.
Horace Andy, Midnight Scorchers– Veteran reggae artist Horace Andy’s album from earlier this year, Midnight Rocker, was an incredible showcase of his timeless talent, still sounding strong 50 years into his career. This album follows in the tradition of providing a dub counterpart for important reggae records, reworking some of the songs from the album with new mixes and newly recorded additions. In theory, this should be less coherent than the original? In practice, I like it even better! Dub is the perfect accompaniment to the eerie echoing power of this reggae master.
Jay Bellerose/T-Bone Burnett/Keefus Ciancia, The Invisible Light: Spells– The chanting incantatory opening about selling realities on demand does indeed cast a spell, and then other tracks go on in a similar vein. This is more experimental that I would have expected from Burnett, but some of that comes through the other collaborators. And the poetic exploration and variety of voices is something I’m here 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, which I always enjoy, 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! (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
Julia Jacklin, PRE PLEASURE– Is this an acoustic singer-songwriter? A 90’s influenced alt-pop songstress? A romantic balladeer? Maybe yes to all of those, and whatever she is, this Australian artist is turning out song after solid song and succeeding at all types and tempos.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Let’s Turn It Into Sound– Los Angeles-based artist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s album is good and trippy. It follows through on the album title’s suggestion, and sounds alternately like someone messing around on a recorder, 80s video game sound effects and synth film soundtracks, multi-choral choral music, and an early 80s grade school documentary imagining of what the music of the future would sound like. The future is here!
Kal Marks, My Name is Hell– Is it noise pop? Grunge? A driving and angular post-punk flavored by metal and hardcore? At times it sounds like all of these, and what this all adds up to is good old fashioned heavy noise! With just the right kind of melody shining through. This Boston trio has dissolved and then been reformed with new members by the original lead singer, and I’m glad they’re here for this!
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!
Kiwi Jr., Chopper– This, I am told, is the fourth album by this Toronto trio. I’d given their third album, Cooler Returns, a “maybe” in my 2021 ratings, noting that if you liked your power-pop a la Modern Lovers and the Replacements, you would enjoy it, but wondering if it was too familiar. I want to go back and re-listen to that album now, because this hit those same notes for me, but the familiarity was a selling point. As in- every song sounds like an old favorite that you’d forgotten and makes your heart ache just a little with the recognition. I’m in!
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.
KT Tunstall, Nut– KT Tunstall occupies an almost perfect space between guitar rock and a dance pop. Everything here is nearly too smooth, but raw enough to redeem that, and above all, hooky. Plus, she’s Scottish. That’s always a good way to get my attention!
Mo Troper, MTV– This is full of distorted harmonies and great fuzzy bursts of noise. Ans 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 like that school!
Muse, Will of the People– I don’t understand what’s going on here, but I love it! At times, this sounds like: Prog rock on overdrive. An amazing Queen tribute. Over the top symphonic metal. Theatrical 80s synth-pop. Something a la Marilyn Manson. And it’s all held together by a topical dive into our troubled era that would do Rage Against the Machine proud. They’ve been around for coming up on three decades, but somehow, I don’t think I ever knew what Muse was about. Now that I do, I like it!
Oneida, Success– I saw them described as “Genre-bending Brooklyn indie rockers steeped in synth pop, hard rock, garage punk, stoner rock, and psychedelia” and darned if that isn’t a pretty good description of what’s going on here. It’s often hard and heavy, but skillfully played, and the mix of elements keeps it dynamic. A little weaker on the vocal side, but the seething distorted musical excellence more than makes up for that.
Panda Bear/Sonic Boom, Reset– Two leading figures of the more experimental side of rock have come together to do something that feels surprising- make, in a sense, traditional music. You’ll find the sonic references for 2000s lad rock, 80s synth, and classic 60s pop all over the place. But the shifts between them are dynamic and unexpected, and the whole thing is shot through with a sunny energy of fun, fun, fun!
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 some great things going on here! There is good time rock and roll. There are interesting covers choices. There is heavy noise that makes me miss 80s hard rock radio. There are nuanced meditations on aging and what it all means. And is if all that isn’t enough, Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham on drums!
Sampa The Great, As Above, So Below– This Zambian poet and songwriter provides a mix of African musical styles, grounded in hip-hop, and pulling in a variety of forms. Philosophical, spiritual, clever, interesting. More of this please!
Santigold, Spirituals– Santigold is a boundary breaking Philadelphia singer, songwriter, and producer with an extensive background in the music industry, who’s material encompasses dub, hip-hop, punk/new wave, and electro. Fittingly, her album is full of energy, a variety of musical influences, and wit, with a sure feel for melody and hooks, while also making challenging choices.
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) and delivered with 100% conviction. It is, in those ways, a very dated sound. But this doesn’t sound like mere aping, more 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!
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. So says I!
The Mountain Goats, Bleed Out– Hooks, chord changes, clever word play, and swelling musical moments. At times it’s a little jam bandy, others 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. Intriguing and a consistently good listen!
Titus Andronicus, The Will to Live– In the wake of the passing of his longtime friend and bandmate, Titus Andronicus lead singer 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, straight-up metal and punk, and is hooky as all get-out.
Valerie June, Under Cover– A covers album from one of my top picks for 2021 for her album The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers. She casts her net wide- among others, Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, John Lennon, Mazzy Starr, and Nick Cave all make appearances. So, 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.
- Boris, Heavy Rocks – This Japanese alternative metal/noise rock band has been around since the 90s, and hearing that fact and their genre gives you a clue to what’s going on here. The most impressive thing about it, though, is how wide ranging it is. You’ll hear a 90s grunge/alt metal sound, but also prog rock moments, psych rock meltdowns, and a good deal of metal from multiple eras and genres. The language barrier is an issue, but then again, you don’t really need language to understand the untethered celebration of rock going on here.
- Brasileiro Garantido, Churros Recheado– Brasileiro Garantido aka Gabriel Guerra, is the leader behind Rio de Janeiro’s 40% Foda/Maneiríssimo label. I was as surprised as anyone that this electronic album works for me, or nearly so. There is just something clever and fun about its loops and samples, reminding me in a way of 90s techno, and I kept going for one more track. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Buzzcocks, Sonics in the Soul– Pete Shelley having passed in 2018, you might reasonably stake out the position that there can’t be a new Buzzcocks album. And, it being nearly 45 years since their debut, you might reasonably question if there should be. However, the rest of the original band is here, and beyond Pete’s leadership and lyricism, they were always a powerful and very musically influential band. If you don’t take this as something that needs to match the original lineup, and if you allow that the sound is a throwback in a way, you’re left with a great band making a great contemporary version of their music. I must consider it!
- Chris Forsyth, Evolution Here We Come– What’s this? Am I saying “yes”maybe” to another (mostly) instrumental guitar album? I am! This one is somewhere in-between experimental, fusion, and a good old fashioned early 80s rock guitar jam, but it was charming, and has an oddly out of time feeling.
- Courting, Guitar Music– Sometimes it was electronic with an electric edge, sometimes it was like the “shouted vocal” semi-rap style so common in the UK now, sometimes it sounded like a sweetly melodic early 00s indie band. All of this came at the expense of coherence and the album totally adding up, but it was more than interesting enough in its form and tongue-in-cheek pop-culture obsessed lyrics that I’d listen again. And recommend keeping one’s eyes on this Liverpool band!
- Crack Cloud, Tough Baby– This was, uh- What was this?!?!? An avant garde 80s-style synth album? A bratty hardcore outing? An experimental album? A joke? A deadly serious joke? I’m not entirely sure, but the mix of samples, storyline, and over the top but also utterly sincere music this album from a, and I quote, “Vancouver-based punk collective who utilize the combined talents of various artists, filmmakers, musicians, and designers” is too fascinating to not consider further.
- Death Cub for Cutie, Asphalt Meadows– This is a tough one, because any Death Cab album taken on its own would be in a “should consider” for any given year. But not taken by itself, what I’m actually doing with a new album from them is comparing it to all previous Death Cab (and Postal Service) albums. And that’s a tougher hurdle to clear. So in this case, maybe? I think it’s worth a re-listen.
- Dr. John, Things Happen That Way– This is his last album, recorded during his final 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 from many directions. Inherently, given the covers and the traditional musical styles, not the freshest thing ever. But it’s a beautiful sound. Go in peace Dr. John!
- Fred Moten/Brandon López/Gerald Cleaver, Moten/López/Cleaver– Critic and theorist Fred Moten joins bassist Brandon López and drummer Gerald Cleaver for an album that joins together philosophical discourse, poetry, jazz improv, and experimental electronic. Yes, it is as heady and sometime abstract as that might imply. But it is also arresting and heavy, both musically and philosophically.
- Freddie Gibbs, $oul $old $eparately– This album reads partially as a hip hop artist diving into the soul samples so many songs draw from. I wish there was more of that, because it’s brilliantly done, but when it fades, it’s “merely” the 40-year-old artist delivering solid life stories and strong mixes that remind a little of Jay Z.
- Goon, Hour of Green Evening– In some ways, this Los Angeles band’s sweetly chiming neo-psychedelia sounds too simple and straightforward to be an annual “best”. But it’s also nearly perfectly done. Paisley Underground forever! (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Jesca Hoop, Order of Romance– Sharply cornered lyrically, with a spare and abstract music that draws on jazz, band, and swing sounds, and plain-spoken yet melodious vocals. This is not unfamiliar from a Fiona Apple kind of direction, or Sufjan Stevens for that matter, but with more than a little Laurie Anderson in the mix. It’s not always an un-challenging listen, but it is always an interesting one.
- JID, The Forever Story– There was really something to this! On the plus side, the vocal phrasing was unusual, the musical mix was nervy and off kilter, and the lyrics came from a unique POV, often humorous and sometimes unsettling, with a wide-ranging name check of hip-hop’s past and present. There was even an album framing structure of sorts. While it had way more autotune than I prefer, I was rooting for it!
- Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Old :Time Folks– This “old time” here seems to be more 70s, some Bat Out of Hell, some Cheap Trick, some 38 Special, maybe some Stillwater? Definitely Stillwater, but 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 of all of that I’ve ever heard, but it always feels authentic.
- Madison Cunningham, Revealer– Smooth, but the music is lively (folk, rock a la 90s, world jazz), the lyricism is strong, the vocals are exquisite, and it’s packed with surprising moments. But also frequently on the edge of being of too slick.
- Marlon Williams, My Boy– It’s no mystery what the musical POV of this New Zealand musician here is- there are specific lyrical nods to Bryan Ferry and Robyn Hitchcock, for instance. And indeed, throughout it sounds like certain strains of 70s AM radio pop, the Roxier side of glam, 80s neo-psych alt, and synth. And is a well-delivered, hooky, and compelling delivery of these influences as well. Every few songs it went a little flat and I fell out of the spell, which kept me from “yes”, despite how masterful it usually was.
- 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 rock ballads, and liven it with a punk attitude, I’m probably going along for the ride. And, as is their forte, Panic! At the Disco pack it with feeling that could be called emo, but is so unreservedly committed to it that it carries you 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.
- 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.
- Rina Sawayama, Hold the Girl– Her 2020 album Sawayama made my top 20 list that year, so I was interested to listen to this. I would say overall this current album is less coherent than that album, but hot damn is she good! In a world in which there will always be dance pop, may it be this powerful, full of surprises, and come with just the right touch of complexity and challenge to go with the fun.
- Roc Marciano & The Alchemist, The Elephant Man’s Bones– The Alchemist has been behind so many of the hip-hop albums I’ve liked in the last two years that I had this one flagged for careful listening. Many of the traits I’ve come to associate with his work are here- the eddied mix, looped sounds, swirling cadence of vocal flow. It sounds great, and there’s an air of dark import to the lyrics. I wasn’t totally sure it came together, but it also kept me tuned in the whole time.
- Steve Earle & the Dukes, Jerry Jeff– Jerry Jeff is the third and final of Steve Earle’s tributes to what he refers to as his “first-hand teachers, the heroes I was lucky enough to sit across the room from so I could listen and learn up close…” The Jerry Jeff in question is Jerry Jeff Walker, best known for writing “Mr. Bojangles.” Between the excellence of Earle, who has been plying his trade in country, rock, blues, and bluegrass since the 80s, and the excellence of the source material, this is a definite possibility.
- Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen– Brittney Denise Parks, better known by her stage name 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. It’s really pretty amazing, but this comes with a bit of a “everything and the kitchen sink” feeling which does work against album coherence a little. But still…
- The House of Love, A State of Grace– This has got some scuzzy garage rock sound to it, some heavy sheen of 60s pop in a Roger McGuinn vein, maybe a twist of country, and a lyrical voice that sometimes reminds me of heartland American rockers and Dylan. The House of Love is apparently a UK band that has been plying this kind of sound since the late 80s. It’s not the most original combination of sounds ever, and the balance is a little off in the album in terms of the sound of later tracks versus earlier ones, but I’d say it’s still working for them!
- 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. This works though, their brevity and variety of approaches being not unlike a punk attack, except with sweet pop. Bay Area musician Molina is a master of this form, but you’ll hear echoes- Weezer often came to mind for me. So, a touch derivative, but an excellent derivation.
- Tyler Childers, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?– This triple album by Kentucky native Tyler Childers gets to that length by an unusual method. It contains three different versions of the same eight song-cycle. In the process, we go from a fairly traditional bluegrass/country presentation to something in an almost experimental electronic space. This is certainly the music geek in me speaking, but each set is interesting in its own right, and together the juxtaposition is fascinating, and creates an arc that holds the whole thing together.
- Various Artists, Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson– Anderson was considered by many to be the godfather of the “New Traditionalist” country movement through his late 70s-early 80s releases. These covers of his songs feature some old favorites like John Prine, mid-old favorites like Gillian Welch, and new friends I’ve met doing album reviews in the last two years like Eric Church, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Sturgill Simpson. In a sense this is a “greatest hits”, in a sense a covers album, and in those senses, derived, but such a solid listen.
- Zannie, How Do I Get That Star– Brooklyn songwriter whose album was inspired by an obscure poet, the Voyager probe’s gold record, and a concept about an alien trying to find their way home. If that sounds a bit heady to you, the good news is that the gauzy indie rock with country and electronic touches that results isn’t heavily burdened by this concept. If the music is a little gauzy, there are consistently vocal, lyrical, and musical surprises that bring it into focus. While i kept teetering, that itself is the very definition of a “maybe”.
- 2nd Grade, Easy Listening– As sun-soaked happy pop punk albums go, this is one, and it’s fun. It’s not more, though.
- 5 Seconds of Summer, 5SOS5– this Australian pop-rock band sounds very radio friendly and I want to cast them into a lake of fire.
- Afrorack, The Afrorack– synth hardware is built to the specifications of a format known as Eurorack. Afrorack is the project of Brian Bamanya, the Kampala, Uganda-based inventor of Africa’s first DIY modular synthesizer—a homegrown alternative to pricey imports and a creative statement. Eventually a little abstract to work as an album in total, I did appreciate the sonic explorations though. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- After Dinner, Paradise of Replica– This avant garde Japanese band is very avant garde. There are some interesting things going on here, but between the abstract nature and the language barrier, it wouldn’t be a repeated listener for me.
- Air Waves, The Dance– project of Brooklyn singer/songwriter Nicole Schneit, smart and well-done indie pop, but too much on the low-key same track to track wavelength for me
- Alex G, God Save the Animals– collaborated with a half-dozen engineers at five different studios across the Northeast, giving them each the nebulous instruction to offer their “best” recording quality. The result is a fascinating kaleidoscope of sound, and the songs are quite arresting. Some of them tend toward the more abstract, though, and the approach lends itself to lack of coherence.
- Altered Images, Mascara Streakz– started 1979 Scottish New Wave, and I have to say, it’s really good, but is such a New Wave/disco era that it’s kind of stuck in that.
- Amateur Hour, Krökta Tankar och Brända Vanor– Starts off with a fuzzy sheen of sound surging melody and hint of metallic grating, which I liked. Added in some interesting sound effects, and distorted semi-vocals, which were interesting. Lasts for over an hour, which is too much for something that is so similar track to track.
- Anne Malin, Summer Angel– Bandcamp says “Anne Malin confidently blurs the boundaries between freak folk, experimental country, and indie rock”. That’s actually a pretty good description, and I was on the fence for quite a while, but eventually it was too much in a low key, ethereal vein to sustain a whole album length. She did more than occasionally remind me of the Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, and Nick Cave on the way, though, so eyes out! (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Ari Lennox, Age/Sex/Location– A fine R&B album, but not more than fine.
- Art Moore, Art Moore– If you’re an Oakland Trio who started out wanting to make music to go with other forms of art, odds are I will like you. And I did like their band of dreamy shimmery pop with just the right amount of rock edge. Toward the end it got to be a little too much all in the same key, though.
- Badge Époque Ensemble, Clouds of Joy– The sound of easy listening jazz, it infiltrates my soul…
- Bent Arcana, Live Zebulon– The 2020 release Bent Arcana launched a series of improvisational records made by Osees’ John Dwyer and a revolving cast of friends, bandmates, and guests. Live Zebulon, issued in 2022, documents a concert in Los Angeles intended as a warmup for a gig in Holland, yet was powerful enough to stand out on its own. It’s a little jazz fusion, a little improv jamming psych rock guitar. All instrumental and didn’t work for me as a coherent whole at album length.
- Beth Orton, Weather Alive– I have liked Beth Orton and her folktronic swirl since her debut, and this is in great form, in fact the sound has aged well to match the maturity of theme here. But the ethereal swirl keeps it from fully gelling for me.
- Binker Golding, Dream Like a Dogwood Wild Boy– At first it started off very slidey blues guitar and I liked it. Then way too much jazz stuff started happening, and I was out. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Bitchin Bajas, Bajascillators– Bitchin’ Bajas is a band operated as a side-project by Cooper Crain, who is also guitarist/organist of the band Cave. I love the name, but it gets to be somewhere between nearly ambient electronic and jazz. I can’t.
- Bjork, Fossora– I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “bad” Bjork album. I will say this one tends a little more to the abstract and experimental (even for her!) than the consistently listenable. But it’s never not interesting!
- Black Pink, Born Pink– This band of k-poppers almost had me with their punchy and dynamic first song. It got a little more conventional after that. Not bad, but not best.
- Blaqk Audio, Trop d’amour– An electronic duo made up of two members of AFI, so I’m going in cautious. It ends up sounding very like an 80s synth-group, with Depeche Mode in particular often coming to mind. Not the worst thing in the world, but not new or rising above its form.
- Brainwaltzera, ITSAME– Love the group name, and the highly intelligent abstract electronic music they produce is interesting. Not “works as an over an hour-long album” interesting, but interesting. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Bret McKenzie, Songs Without Jokes– He takes various strains of pop- swoony and croony, Beatles influenced as heard through the 70s, the power pop side of new wave, lush 80s synth, etc. And then melds it with a sometimes romantic, sometimes cynical point of view (a la, perhaps, Randy Newman). It was well on its way to being a yes, but three muted slower songs in a row mid-album sapped its strength.
- Buddy Guy, The Blues Don’t Lie– 86-year-old Buddy Guy is a blues master, perhaps one of the few we have left deserving of that title. As such, fans of his and fans of the genre won’t be ill-deserved by this album. But it also feels like what it is, a master taking a comfortable lap.
- Built to Spill, When the Wind Forgets Your Name– I do really like Built to Spill’s earlier work, and this has some of those charms, but also a little too far on the low-key indie side without as much of the hook chord-changing rock to keep things moving.
- Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 2– It’s a mix of super smooth international club and hip hop and it’s super smooth and sophisticated sounding and you would enjoy having it play in the background.
- Cass McCombs, Heartmind– Some classic sounding pop, melodic traces of 60s and 70s, with a good solid guitar base, and it opens with a love song to music. What’s not to like?
- Clark, Body Double– A fine electronic album, it’s got a good BPM for keeping housework peppy.
- dalek, Precipice– It is suitable atmospheric for a band named “dalek”, but eventually a little too all one low-key tone. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Daniel Romano, La Luna– When a 30-something minute album is composed of two tracks, you can be reasonably assured it’s going to be jammy, trippy, or ambient. This was somewhere between a countrified version of jammy, and a psychedelic version of trippy, which isn’t such a bad way for it to have turned out, but eventually didn’t do it for me.
- Danny Elfman, Bigger.Messier.– Remix/additional artists on last year’s Big Mess. Some of the mixes are incredibly fun and interesting, but as an ultimately derivative project, and one clocking in at an hour 43, it would be hard for it to land.
- death’s dynamic shroud, Darklife– The first track was too abstract an electronic, the second was way too autotuned, and so it wasn’t until the third that got to something I didn’t mind. at is a great band name, though, I’ll hand them that.
- DeepChord, Functional Designs– It was so ambient I fell asleep and died, and so am unable to complete my review.
- Defcee/Boathouse, For All Debts Private and Public– Defcee’s album (with Messiah Musik) Trapdoor was one of my top picks for 2021, so I came in interested. And this has a lot of the charms of that album- solid beats, spare atmospheric production and flow, fiercely intelligent lyrics. But the energy level didn’t feel like it quite kicked in in a way that sustained things for me. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Delta Spirit, One is One– This San Diego band wasn’t bad, in fact they were kind of interesting, reminding me of a certain strain of 90s a la Black Crowes and a certain strain of 00s a la Kings of Leon. So somewhere between commercial and indie, but the sound never quite gelled and rose above itself for me.
- Diamanda Galas, Broken Gargoyles– It’s 40 minutes long, consists of two tracks, is by an avant garde artist, and has a distorted gargoyle figure on the cover. That tells you what you need to know, I think! It is an interesting grating unsettling sound, and just in time for Halloween, but it’s hard for me to imagine multiple listenings.
- Divino Nino, Last Spa on Earth– Love the name and the cover. In practice, the results were too often way too autotuned.
- DJ Khaled, God Did– I keep trying to like DJ Khaled. And I almost do! The positivity is infectious, and there’s a narrative through-line to the album, which is amazing. But holy bajeezwacks, the autotune… The only time it sufficiently lifts is on guest tracks, which are excellent.
- Djo, Decide– This plays somewhere between an upbeat and catchy LCD Soundsystem/daft Punk kind of sound, and an 80s synth pop sound. There were a few moments where it mysteriously veered into 90s boy band as well. I appreciated the dark undertow of some of the lyrics, and the music was fun to listen to, but it didn’t quite come together as something new and different.
- DOMi & JD BECK, NOT TiGHT– The description of it being fusion Jazz for Gen Z made me curious enough to try it. Alas, it was still kind of, well, fusion jazz.
- Domo Genesis, Intros, Outros & Interludes– Domo Genesis was one of the earliest artists to receive the loop-based production of the Alchemist. And maybe because of that, at this point this sounds more familiar and like other things. But I think it was more the lyrical side, which tends toward the more cliche, than the musical/mix side, which I quite enjoyed.
- Dylan Scott, Livin’ My Best Life– very pop. Very country. Very no.
- Early James, Strange Time To Be Alive– James is signed with Easy Eye Sound, the record label of Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach, which gives you a clue to what this sounds like. It’s a good version of it but, maybe, ultimately not distinctive enough to really stand out.
- Editors, EBM– A very fine example of someone doing strong 80s synth/post-punk influence well. Why is everyone doing it?
- Eerie Wanda, Internal Radio– These were interesting soundscapes, and I liked the vocals, in fact liked the fuzzy shimmering swirl in general, but it was eventually too fuzzy, shimmery, and swirly to land.
- Elaine Howley, The Distance Between Heart and Mouth– Almost a Nico/Velvet Underground feeling. Then a little more Laurie Anderson. Some post-punk. Some synthy. Ultimately too abstract for me, and energy off.
- Elephant Gym, Dreams– Opens with a nice swingy jazzy ditty. I want to cast it into a lake of fire. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Eli Winter, Eli Winter– musician and writer based in Chicago. A self-taught guitarist, it’s all instrumental. It is very well done, and sounds like several things- led Zeppelin acoustic numbers, Jefferson Airplane psychedelic at its most psyche, etc. Well done it it’s way, but I don’t know that it totally succeeds as an album for me.
- Erasure, Day-Glo (Based on a True Story)– it consists of new songs and quasi-instrumentals constructed from sound files from The Neon sessions that he manipulated and repurposed. It doesn’t sound coherent enough from an album point of view, but the individual results are often quite interesting. Some of them sound very like the pop sweetness Erasure we know and love, some of them are intriguingly dark and heavy.
- Fireboy DML, Playboy– Nigerian Afrobeats artist. This sounds interesting in theory, but in practice it’s musically and vocally autotuned to hell.
- Flung, Apricot Angel– Bay Area artist, so you know I’m going to try. I think it’s indie, I think it’s experimental, I think it’s shimmery and pleasant, I think not.
- Fujiya & Miyagi, Slight Variations– An 80s electronic feeling, well delivered. I didn’t mind it!
- Gabe Gurnesy, Diablo– This is good vaguely sinister sexy synthy electronic dance music. Not sure it adds up to an album, but it wouldn’t hurt to have it on in the background!
- Gabriels, Angels & Queens, Pt. 1– Nice sweetly delivered old-style R&B album, but not more than that.
- George FitzGerald, Stellar Drifting– The title might make you expect something like what this is- an ethereal, somewhat new age, but still energetic and fun electronic music. Not sure it adds up to a proper album, but I didn’t hate it!
- George Riley, Running in Waves– This is very bright and cheerful soul that makes good use of electronic musical minimalism. It doesn’t quite rise above itself, but this London singer-songwriter has a great presence, and I’d keep my eye out for more from her.
- Ghost Funk Orchestra, Night Walker/Death Waltz– Now this is interesting! Some minor chords, some funk groove, some experimental music. It eventually got too mellow jazzed out, but it was an interesting mix up until then.
- Girl’s Generation, Forever 1– This K-pop album is very! I mean, there is very energetic pop! And it’s in Korean! One is mandated by law to find it fun! But it will not be in my picks for album, of the year!
- Gloria Scott, So Wonderful– Scott’s last proper album was in the early 70s, but in between she’s done extensive background and session work for R&B and soul masters from the 70s forward. As you might expect form that, this is well produced, and full of classic sounds. It feels a little too familiar and polished to be a year’s best, but it won’t serve you wrong.
- Goo Goo Dolls, Chaos in Bloom– It’s the 90s! And not in a good way! Help!
- Hoang Thuy Linh, Link– Vietnamese pop artist! I don’t run across those every day. It is energetic and fun. And really, really all in Vietnamese.
- Hot Chip, Freakout/Release– This UK alternative dance music act is in their third decade. It’s high energy, fun, unusual enough to hold attention. If it doesn’t quite add up to a long-term durable album, well, it’s still pretty good for decade number three!
- Hudson Mohawke, Cry Sugar– There are some interesting sound effects things happening here, but it’s too often too autotuned.
- iamamiwhoami, Be Here Soon– Goodness knows I like my arty abstract Scandinavians. And this is a pretty melodious version of that, but eventually too understated to maintain at album length.
- Ithaca, They Fear Us– On the musical side, I truly enjoyed the brutal metal assault livened by occasional metal flourishes, but the scream vocals… Why so much scream vocals?
- Jennifer Vanilla, Castle in the Sky– Billed as a pop performance artist, Boston-born Jennifer Vanilla, aka Becca Kaufman, journeys into what they describe as “jennifreaky” territory including ’90s dance, no wave, post-punk, art pop, New Age, and R&B. The former Ava Luna member, now based in New York, has also produced choreographed stage shows, a neighborhood variety hour, fake commercials, and a public access television program, according to a press release. This description could have gone all kinds of ways, but the way it went was delightful! Traces of 80s and 90s styles a-plenty, smartness and fun, thought eventually it got too into a mellow R&B groove to sustain its best moments.
- JER, Bothered/Unbothered– At its best, this had the energy of late 70s/early 80s ska and its 90s revival, and an individual voice and pov that a young Black man in today’s America can bring to those precedents. At its not as best, it got a little too into the bratty emo punk sound of so much of the 2000s. Still and all, I have my eye on him for the future. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Jimetta Rose, How Good It Is– This hip-hop/soul gospel album from an LA artist is well done, but it feels like it too often veers into smooth and not enough into gritty and interesting.
- Jockstrap, I Love You Jennifer B– Spare, perhaps even spooky experimental indie rock with a good mix of a sophisticated melodic sound and distortion and fuzz. Eventually got a little too muted for too many tracks in a row, but undoubtedly interesting.
- John Legend, Legend– I’ll start by stipulating two things: John Legend isn’t bad, and many of these songs got my booty grooving. Not a coherent set worth, or justifying the double album length-worth, but there could be some lasting radio singles here, and that’s not bad.
- Jon Pardi, Mr. Saturday Night– Some of this is great- musically straight up and lyrically and vocally straight-up enough that his party personality reads almost as a later-day George Jones. But enough of it is redolent enough of pop country tropes that it doesn’t quite make it as a whole.
- Jorja Chalmers, Midnight Train– This Australian musician and songwriter plays in Bryan Ferry’s live band, which may give you an idea of what to expect. It is, I have to say, not bad for that ethereal pop, but a little too lulled too often for me.
- Julian Lennon, Jude– One interesting thing about Julian Lennon is that, despite the vocal inheritance from his father, he’s always been more musically inclined in a David Bowie/Roxy Music kind of direction. What’s here is in that vein, and nicely varied, but it doesn’t come together as a whole for me.
- Ka, Languish Arts– A philosophical, instrumental-infused hip-hop. I did appreciate it’s seriousness, but there wasn’t enough variation in tone or energy level to sustain it for album length.
- Kane Brown, Different Man– At his best, this multiracial country singer combines pop country, electronic, rock, and contemporary soul/R&B in a way that’s unique and enormously hopeful for the future of country music. At other times, individual tracks are too much like mainstream pop country or contemporary autotuned R&B. Still, I’ve got my eye out for what he gets up to going forward.
- Katarina Gryvul, Tysha– (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Kelsea Ballerini, Subject to Change– Ethereal, experimental, and abstract. Not bad, but I can only do so much!
- Kenny Beats, Louie– It invokes some good soul ghosts, and does some interesting mix work with them, but it’s a little too much a collection of sounds without a coherent through line.
- Khruangbin /Vieux Farka Touré , Ali– Ali is a collaborative studio album by Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré and Texan trio Khruangbin. It consists of covers of songs by Vieux’s father, Ali Farka Touré. I like all the component pieces of this album origin story, and it is a collection of great music, but the foreign language element and track to track indistinctness keep it from fully working as an album for me.
- Kokoroko, Could We Be More– octet Kokoroko, was its surprise hit, melding contemporary jazz, R&B, West African highlife, and Afrobeat. Which sounds nice in theory, but in practice was slanted way too far toward the “jazz easy listening” side of the dial.
- Lambchop, The Bible– Lambchop is known for being eclectic and intelligent, and that’s certainly on display here. Some of the musical turns are energizing and exciting, some utterly deflate that energy, but none lack something compelling.
- Larry June, Spaceships on the Blade– It’s a good enough lo-tempo hip-hop album.
- Laufey, Everything I Know About Love– Icelandic-Chinese singer/songwriter, which I conceptually love. In practice, these are nice neo-standard ballads, lushly rendered and nicely phrased, but not really my cup of tea.
- Lean Year, Sides– Duo of vocalist Emilie Rex and filmmaker/musician Rick Alverson, and it sets a musical, vocal, and lyrical mood in its explorations of grief. But is eventually too low key and same track to track to sustain.
- LeAnn Rimes, god’s work– She’s much less in country vein here and much less in general pop. Which she does very well, but it never quite feels vital enough to consistently hold my attention.
- Lissie, Carving Canyons– A country-inflected pop performance with some genuine emotion to it, but in general a little too by rote.
- Little Big Town, Mr. Sun– There are sometimes that this contemporary dance-pop and soulified take on country is pretty affecting. There are others it’s too smooth and poppy. Still, they might have an idea on one potential future direction for country.
- Living Hour, Someday is Today– They’re from Winnipeg, which I think is groovy. Other than that, it’s very lush and gauzy. Not bad, but indistinct track to track and as a whole.
- Los Rarxs, La Rareza– Puerto Rican trio’s debut album is a sleek collage of reggaetón, indie rock, and R&B. And it was an interesting mix of sound, but got a little too autotune in the mix, which, combined with being in a foreign language, erected too much of a barrier for it to work for me.
- Lou Turner, Microcosmos– Bright, literate, and well-played acoustic set, but a little too same in tone and tempo song to song.
- Lucki, Flawless Like Me– A fine, spare, driving, autotuned hip-hop album.
- Lyzza, Mosquito- A fine enough, very autotuned soul album.
- Mach-Hommy, Dollar Menu 4– This mix tape has many nice moments, and some promising directions, but I don’t think it’s coherent enough or distinctive enough to function as a “best” album.
- Makaya McCraven, In These Times– Some interesting tonal things going on here, if I don’t quite get it as an album, I don’t mind it. That’s a big deal for me and jazz!
- Mamalarky, Pocket Fantasy– The off-kilter slightly hyperactive pop of this “tricoastal” band, sweet semi-elfin vocals of lead-vocalist Livvy Bennett and quirky lyrics were thoroughly charming me, but a mysterious two song lull early on, and another deflation at the end threw it out of contention. Alas! Still, I have them tagged for further study.
- Mamaleek, Diner Coffee– Think a doom metal voice, weirdly off kilter lounge sound, and Nirvana at their most noise rocky. It’s actually weirdly fascinating, but I’m not sure how often I’d be up for listening end to end.
- Marci, Marci– Kind of an 80s dance sound, with a kind of slow and easy and yet canned vibe to it. Not badly done but…
- Marcus King, Youngblood– This is thoroughly well-played, blues-based rock in an American 70s kind of way. And that’s sort of the issue- so perfectly executed in genre terms that it feels a little set and unalive.
- Marcus Mumford, (self-titled)– A Mumford & Son! Actually, the Mumford from that band on his solo debut (there never were any sons). As you might expect from his work in the band, this isn’t band. It does feel incoherent to me though- a lot of tones and styles, and guests, without something central holding it together. Doesn’t mean you won’t find a fine song or two in here, though…
- Marina Allen, Centrifics– The folky stylings of this LA singer-songwriter reminded me at times of Joni Mitchell, and of more contemporary fellow-travelers in that vein. If that’s the cup of tea you’re looking for, it’s been prepared very well. A little too low-energy and same tone track to track to really work as an album for me though.
- Marisa Anderson, Still, Here– instrumental acoustic guitar, darkly infected good, lighter moments did it
- Maya Hawke, MOSS– playing Robin Buckley on Stranger Things and for being the child of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, pretty, ethereal, too mellow, and same song to song for me.
- mediopicky, mediopicky– Some interesting discordant sound choices, but the autooootunnnneeeee…. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Megadeath, The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead– I mean, it’s fine, but the 16th Megadeath album in 2022 doesn’t have quite the same impact that the first three in the 80s had.
- Megan Thee Stallion, Traumazine– I do like what thee stallion named Megan does, and it was cruising toward a probable yes, but then an all-male guest track so senselessly let all the air of the aggressively gloriously female empowered rest of it that I just didn’t know what to do.
- Michelle Branch, The Trouble With Fever– Michelle branch is, of course, not bad. And she’s doing okay here, but not considerably more okay than her best, or other people in a similar space.
- MLDE, Marxist Love Disco Ensemble– I mean, the name is pretty amazing. While it is sophisticated and fun international electronic dance music, it’s both less Marxist and less disco than I might prefer.
- Motorpsycho, Ancient Astronauts– I mean, this one’s got everything I love- a Norwegian metal band, a classic metal band name, and Ancient Astronauts. If you like your metal ornate and philosophical, this might be for you. I do like that sometimes, but apparently not for, say, certain 21-minute tracks-worth.
- Mura Masa, demon time– The stuttering beat, driving mix, and high-energy feminist POV hip-hop/R&B has considerable charms. But then the autotune and pointless male guest stars ended up detracting a little too much from it.
- Mythic Sunship, Light/Flux– Neo-psychedelic, neo-jazzy, all instrumental. Not bad, but a little too background and abstract to really function as an album.
- Nicholas Craven & Boldy James, Fair Exchange No Robbery– Boldy James is a busy man! And I really enjoy the variety of hip hop he purveys. This is good, but I’m leaning towards his Killing Nothing collaboration from earlier in the year as being more coherent and engaging.
- Nikki Lane, Denim & Diamonds– As bluesy rocking female leads go, this is a good one, but feels a little formulaic, and not especially standing out from the rest of that pack.
- No Age, People Helping People– I haven’t listened to No Age since their 2008 album Nouns, which was a noise rocker that I loved. I guess it makes sense that they would have developed sonically in the 14 years since, and while I did appreciate every other song, the kind of very abstract neo-psych with jazz elements sound they’re doing on this album was hit and miss for me.
- OFF!, Free LSD– If you like your hardcore metal-flavored and LA style and social and political, this won’t lead you astray. I do like all those things; thought I don’t think it exceeded the sum of those parts.
- Oliver Sim, Hideous Bastard– It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the orchestral lushness, the homoromanticism, and the not infrequent tips of the hat to dread. But it is, in whole, a little too in one low energy vein track to track.
- Ondara, Spanish Villager No. 3– There is definitely something interesting in the presence, lyricism, and lingering vocals of this he Kenya-born, Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter. However, the sound gets buried underneath a little too much sonic sheen and smoothness, and track to track sameness.
- Oren Ambarchi, Shebang– Instrumental, abstract, pleasant. No.
- Osees/ Thee Oh Sees, A Foul Form– They’ve gone very punk for this outing, and they’re doing it very well. If this was actually popping out of the American punk/hardcore scene in the early 80s, I would have loved it! As is, it’s a fine execution, but a little museum formulaic.
- Ozzy Osbourne, Patient Number 9– This being a 2022 album, by a veteran rocker, I’m naturally skeptical. This being Ozzy, I naturally want to really like it. And you know what, it’s not bad. Not up to his best, a little formulaic (to his formula), but it’s a nice listen if you’re in for that category of listen. And there are three tracks with, respectively, leads by Tommy Iommi, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck if you’re looking for some solid guitar god action.
- Papo2oo4, Ballerific- It’s a fine exemplar of a certain strain o0f contemporary hip-hop album. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Petra Haden/The Lord, Devotional– The artist and album name might have you expecting gospel, and maybe it is. Gospel in the form of metal-flavored electronic music and disembodied aria vocals? It’s not uninteresting.
- Pi’erre Bourne, Good Movie – It. Is. Quite. Autotuned.
- Pink Siifu & Real Bad Man, Real Bad Flights- It sometimes got into the realm of really interesting with its unusual music mix and the glowering flow. More often, though, it lulled into something a little too laid back and indistinct to really hold attention.
- Pixies, Doggerel– I am a huge Pixies fan, but I go into this upset that a lineup that doesn’t include Kim Deal is calling itself the Pixies. Maybe if I think of it as a Frank Black album that former Pixies-bandmates happen to play on, I won’t be as mad at it. In either case, though, what I’m partially measuring this against is the classic Pixies albums and Black’s best solo work (and I’m also a huge Frank Black fan). It isn’t that. It would, honestly, end up in my collection due to my extreme fandom regardless, but despite some fine moments, there’s ultimately a bit of coherence missing, and it doesn’t measure up to his/their best work.
- Pool Kids, Pool Kids– I was on the edge on this one for quite a while- 90s kids doing 90s-influenced music with 2000s social media snark and lyrical sophistication is a happy place, and this Tallahassee band is doing it well. It does sound a little more smoothly produced than raw and vital, and a little too all in one tone after a while, but I will keep an eye on them!
- Preoccupations, Arrangements- It’s some good darkness, but a Little too of the post-punk synth-pop nostalgia everyone is doing these days.
- Promise of the Real/Neil Young, Noise and Flowers– There are some great elements here- a live album from a 2019 European tour in memory of passing of his friend/manager Elliot Roberts, band Promise of the Real fronted by Willie Nelson’s sons backing with a sure sense for the material. This all leads to unity of sound, Neil is in fine form. Song selection is good. I’d definitely recommend it to a Neil Young fan, of which I am one, but I’m not sure it works as a 2022 “best” album.
- Pye Corner Audio, Let’s Emerge!– Like late Joy Division at their synth chilliest, but with no vocals. It’s not a bad sound, but it doesn’t make for a durable album.
- Rachika Nayar, Heaven Comes Crashing– The opening track sounds like a new age synth dawn. I knew I was a no at that point.
- Robbie Williams, XXV– This is a kind of greatest hits album, except with new recordings of highlighted songs from throughout his career. I mean, dude’s a pop powerhouse, and these are good versions. I can’t quite work it in my head as a “best of year” album, but fans wouldn’t be disappointed.
- Royksopp, Profound Mysteries II– This grabbed me more than Part I from earlier this year did- it’s less muted, more energetic. Still not enough substance to really keep it gripping at album-length, though.
- Sally Seltmann, Early Moon– It’s very pretty, and would be in good stead as an 80s soft pop drifting into 90s soft pop album. Eh.
- Shannen Moser, The Sun Still Seems to Move– There are times this becomes galvanized and electric. The rest of the time, it’s a fine, literate acoustic outing, but doesn’t really stand out.
- Shemekia Copeland, Done Come Too Far– Her voice is certainly powerful, and the blues music is excellent. But it a little too much by rote, and the lyrics are sometimes too on-the-nose.
- ShittyBoyz, Trifecta 2– It’s got some verve and personality, and the driving and floating feeling of the musical mix is interesting, but eventually the more conventional content and moments outweigh that.
- Shoko Igarashi, Simple Sentences– It’s a not-uninteresting, sometimes fun electronic dance music, but a little abstract and downtempo to hand one’s hat on. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Shygirl, Nymph– There are some things to recommend this electronica/hip-hop flavored mix, especially the interesting mix choices. But it gets a little too abstracted, and a little autotuned, a little too often.
- Silversun Pickups, Physical Thrills– Tough call in some ways. I loved their debut album, and the things I loved about it are evident here. But, well, it’s fifteen years later…
- Skullshitter, Goat Claw– I mean, you’ve got the band name, the album name, the first track is “Angel of Decay”. You know what you’re getting into here! Musically, it’s actually a really good evocation of thrash metal classics from the 80s, but it does get a little too hoarse shout voice to keep up with. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Slipknot, The End, So Far– Slipknot is as Slipknot does, but it does a little too orchestral and emo at the expense of musical and vocal actual vitality for me.
- Sofie Royer, Harlequin– Some very pleasant international-sounding pop. Not sure it rises enough beyond that to stand out for the entire year’s output.
- Son Little, Like Neptune– An interesting and somewhat out of left field R&B album with blues elements, and I appreciate the complex point of view, but it gets a little too autotuned at times, and in the same vein track to track.
- Soulfly, Totem– American metal outfit led by Sepultura’s Max Cavalera that draws heavily from groove, thrash, nu-metal, and Brazilian tribal music. It is a fun and somewhat heady musical mix but tends toward the “too same” track to track.
- SRSQ, Ever Crashing– This sounded a little too Enya-fied to me. Actually Enya-fied with a side of 90s pop hits and a pinch of Taylor Swift. Nothing of poor quality, but I kind of couldn’t.
- Stella Donnelly, Flood– Off to a great start, lulled out with too many slows in a row in the middle
- Sumerlands, Dreamkiller– This Philadelphia band is playing in an old-school heavy metal vein and doing it well. Not the best of your year, but if you like an 80s orchestral power-hooky sound, you won’t be disappointed.
- Sunrise on Slaughter Beach, Clutch– I don’t know about best of year, but it is a joyful noise if you’ve been missing something that reminds you of Soundgarden in classic form.
- Sylvan Esso, No Rules Sandy– More ambitious than a remix album but not dissimilar to a DJ mix, from 2022 Neon sessions, it is interesting electronic music, worth a listen but not holding together as an album.
- Szun Waves, Earth Patterns– An improv trio working at the intersection of experimental electronic and jazz. I did try it.
- Teen Suicide, Honeybee Table at the Butterfly Feast– The first track sounds like a shoegazey shimmer, the second is the kind of discordant noise that you might think/hope a band with this name would have, and the rest seems more like an actual soundtrack to a teen suicide- mellow sad indie. It just didn’t add up and hold my attention.
- The Afghan Whigs, How Do You Burn?- Well, they still sound good, and if it were 1990-something this might be a favorite of the year for me. In 2022. It’s a solid “good”.
- The Bad Plus, The Bad Plus – It’s an interesting jazz max, I’m not mad at it, but, eh…
- The Berries, High Flying Man– Their mix of indie and classic rock is going well for the first few songs, but then begins to mellow grove out too many times in a row halfway through, causing the energy to fizzle.
- The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness, The Third Wave Of…– Some fine neo-psych pop with country overtones. Not sure it stands out vis-a-vis genre or best of year, though.
- The Chats, Get Fucked– Australian punk! 13 songs! 28 minutes! Based on my informal survey of going on two years now, there is a lively and high-quality punk scene in Australia these days. This is a great exemplar thereof. Not sure it rises high enough to stand out as an album of the entire year, but if you’re looking for something in this genre, it won’t let you down!
- The Comet is Coming, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam– It was starting off as an interesting musical mix, but eventually the flowy abstract jazz element came too much to the fore.
- The Devil Wears Prada, Color Decay– If you want something that’s a little hardcore and a little metal and a little emo, and sounding kind of like many other things like this have sounded over the past two decades, this is that.
- The Mars Volta, The Mars Volta– There are happy sunny 70s pop parts of the sound that I’m not mad at, but also a lot of extended mellow jazzy ones that just don’t retain interest at album length.
- The Murlocs, Rapscallion– At its best, there’s a sinister-sounding garage-rock shake-down going on with this Australian band, and I appreciate it. At not so best, it becomes a little poppier and more swinging in a way that’s out of tone with the scuzz and sounds too much like a lot of other contemporaries.
- The Orchids, Dreaming Kind– Some nice mellow easy listening rock. I almost tore my ears off.
- The Soft Moon, Exister– Some industrial some shimmery 80s synth-pop. It’s fine.
- The Wonder Years, The Hum Goes On Forever– 2020s top 40 friendly indie pop rock par excellence. Ugh no.
- Thou, A Primer of Holy Words– This Baton Rouge diy doom metal band is here doing an album of grunge and metal covers. I’m a sucker for that as a description, and the playing is fantastic, but the vocals are too often too grating for me to hang in there.
- Tim Burgess, Typical Music– Former Charlatans head Tim Burgess is producing some fine pop here, clearly influenced by 60s pop and psychedelia. It is undoubtedly enjoyable, but it does start to blend after a while, which at an hour and a half-run time is difficult to sustain.
- Tirzah, Highgrade– Mellow abstract experimental electronic. It’s not bad, but, eh.
- Tommy McClain, I Ran Down Every Dream– When I read he was a founder of Louisiana swamp pop, I was extremely interested. And it’s not bad, in fact is really good, but the tempo is too consistently low and slow for it to really catch fire.
- Tomu DJ, Half Moon Bay– Some nice low-key electronic music. Too low key for me, but it does sound a little like Half Moon Bay!
- Turin Brakes, Wide-Eyed Nowhere– There’s something soulful about this English band’s sound, but it ends up being a little too slick.
- Two Door Cinema Club, Keep on Smiling– A nice high energy version of the same neo-disco indie music space a lot of people these days are in. It’s nice.
- Unloved, The Pink Album– This is an interesting run of sinister and sexy noise somewhere between rock and electronic, but it gets too abstract at times, and the hour and twenty-nine-minute run time is hard to sustain.
- Vintage Crop, Kibitzer– There is some fine rock and roll emitting from this Australian band. It’s not revelatory, I don’t see it as a year-making album, but as a solid block of fun it won’t lead you wrong. (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Vinyl Williams, Cosmopolis– I don’t know what I was expecting from the grandson of John Williams, but this synth soundtrack sound with hints of yacht rock was a surprise. It’s actually very nice despite my snarky description, but maybe is not year’s best memorable or stand-out.
- Walter Trout, Ride – The music from this 71-year-old bluesman might best be described as “white guy rocking electric blues”. He’s doing it well, but perhaps not new or different enough to get to “best of year”.
- Watkins Family Hour, Watkins Family Hour, Vol. 2– Despite the title, this is the third album from this traditional Americana duo. At their best the energy and charm here are great, but some of the tracks seem to go flat. Alas, unevenness!
- Whitney, SPARK– It’s a fine kind of contemporary R&B, but not beyond fine.
- Why Bonnie, 90 in November– Brooklyn by way of Austin band, full of jangly fuzzy guitars and burned-out low-key vocals from lead Blair Howerton. It’s a good slice of lo-fi rock that has no major errors, but also never gets a lot beyond good.
- William Orbit, The Painter– Veteran UK dance/electronic producer William orbit brings in an array of female guest vocalists for this album. What results is gauzy, folktronic, very pretty and pleasing. Not up to over an hour of listening though.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cool It Down– They’re sounding as good as they did in the early 00s, but the sound was fresher in the early 00s and now there are a lot of folks traveling this territory, and it isn’t particularly better/different than the rest.
- YG, I Got Issues– Good enough contemporary hip hop.
- Young Jesus, Shepherd Head– Is this a new age electronic gospel record? I didn’t know, but I do know that I need some space from it.
- Young Nudy, EA Monster– As with other things I’ve listened to by Young Nudy, I appreciate the horror aspects of this, both explicitly in the lyrics and the creeping sense of dread in the musical mix. As with other things I’ve listened to by young Nudy, the autotune and tired street themes keep it from totally working.
- Young Slo-Be, Southeast– Good enough contemporary hip hop (Note: This is not actually a September release. It’s from Pitchfork’s Summer list of “34 Great Records You Might Have Missed”. I ain’t gonna miss ’em!)
- Yungblud, Yungblud– Pop dancey with hints of emo goth thing. No thanks.
All right! With that, we’ve caught up through August/September, just in time for the beginning of December. Now, on to October…