Are we still behind? Well, it now being 2023, one could reasonably say that. But we’ll get there, and to whit, here is the October (2022) edition of our quest for the 22 Best Albums of 2022!
If you need to review what we’ve gotten up to so far, you can find the previous editions here:
And, since you now have a whole new year’s worth of reading time, you can also check out 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 go further with 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. As of October we have 143 yesses, so there’s going to be a bloody reckoning.
Maybe– These are the albums that definitely have something going for them, but also something that gives me pause. But because “maybes” sometimes linger and become “yeses”, we’ll give them another listen too. This category now has another 129 victims for bloody reckoning.
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 get underway with the review of 106 new October releases!
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- British New Wave, hair metal, European metal a la the Scorpions, a dash of Heart, got together to produce their very own rock opera. It’s as unapologetically over the top as it should be, and it makes my heart smile.
Betty Who, Big– On one level, this Australian-American singer-songwriter and musician has put out an album that is a straightforward 2020’s dance album. But her personality, the darker lyrical depth, the nods to 90s dance pop, and the sheer verve behind the songs take it to a whole other level.
Drugdealer, Hiding in Plain Sight– This project of Michael Collins, a veteran of LA-area psychedelic bands for the past 20 years, focuses on a soft rock sound that could have drifted straight up from Topanga Canyon in 1972. I say that not to be dismissive, it genuinely sounds not just like music from that era, but like great music from that era, so familiar it’s practically heartbreaking, but still fresh and breathing. Bravo!
Lee Fields, Sentimental Fool– Fields became a “sudden” success in his 40s with a classic soul sound and is now 71. He continues to be in great form here, with a sound recalling 60s and 70s R&B.
Tegan and Sara, Crybaby– The sure feeling for pop, the exposure of personal thoughts and feelings, the driving energy, the weirdness- all the best things about Tegan and Sara are here, with layered production and unusual musical and vocal choices bringing a twist to every track. It doesn’t feel totally together, but it more than makes up for it by being consistently compelling and interesting.
The Bobby Lees, Bellevue– You start with a picture of a woman in dirty coveralls sitting in a pig pen for 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 muscular, 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. Amen!
The Reds, Pinks & Purples, They Only Wanted Your Soul– In addition to repeatedly using pictures from my old neighborhood in San Francisco for album covers, I love this brainchild of auteur Glenn Donaldson for its shimmery, fuzzy guitar soundscapes, which plot the exact right co-sine between distortion and sweet pop melody.
Todd Rundgren, Space Force– I like Todd Rundgren both for his own music and his work as a producer going back to the 70s, 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 behind it holding it all together.
Willow, coping mechanism– Her album LATELY I feel everything was one of my “honorable mention” listees of 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 even more organically blended and balanced, and the lyrics and vocals feeling even more personal.
- Bill Callahan, Ytilaer– There’s a quiet but driving, minor chord, dusty sketches of life quality to the goings on here. It’s mostly that, but sometimes also given over to quirky songs with a jazz jam feeling. And I more than once had the feeling that I was listening to the Doors if the Doors had done a Western soundtrack. Callahan was a pioneer of lo-fi indie rock in the late 80s with his band Smog and continues to be challenging today. If I’m not quite sure the parts here hold together, those parts were so good that I still want to listen to it again.
- Dry Cleaning, Stumpwork– Their album New Long Leg was in my top 21 list for 2021. This has many of the same charms- the harsh and angular but also clever and interesting post-punk musical approach, and the dry wit of the spoken word vocals by lead singer Florence Shaw. I’m a little unsure simply because it’s so like its predecessor. But is being like a really good thing a sin?
- Goat, Oh Death– This Swedish psychedelic band is known for fusing their psyche sound with world music, which you will hear here, but that undersells how weird it is. There are equal parts distorted garage rock, jazz solos, and African dance rhythms. It makes it a little hard to hold on to, but also perpetually fascinating track to track.
- Kenny Mason, RUFFS– There’s something about this album’s mix of rock and hip-hop. That in itself is not a new thing, at all, but here it feels very integral- metallic rock and driving hip hop are both authentic musical languages to this Atlanta rapper, and it shows in his fusion of them.
- Loyle Carner, Hugo– This UK hip-hop artist has produced an album that is thick with intelligence, personal material, socially significant tie-ins on race and identity, and a sophisticated musical mix. I’m a little unsure about whether there’s enough variety in the vocal flow and mix track to track, but it’s still compelling.
- Meghan Trainor, Takin’ It Back– I started off thinking that, while I am forever grateful to Meghan Trainor for bringing booty back, I wasn’t sure I needed an entire new album. Then I rapidly began to succumb to all the charms of her big hit song from a few years ago- the energy and positivity, unafraid quality of being a little goony, and the musical approach of joining electronic dance with some of the dance forms of yesteryear. There are some moments where it slowed down for me, sometimes it leaned a little heavily on the autotune, but this album is undoubtedly fun.
- 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 80’s melody and 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. I’m hedging because of how perfectly of its former era it sounds, and yet how contemporary it is in other ways.
- Sloan, Steady– This got off to a nice no fuss no muss rocking start. It’s got a power-pop feeling as well, a pinch of 70s Beatles-inspired sounds, and more than a little on the glam side of bubble gum (or the bubble gum side of glam?). This is the 13th album from this Canadian group, and they have been doing this since 1993. It’s not the freshest approach in the world, but darned if I ever had a bad time with a single track.
- Sobs, Air Guitar– This Singapore indie pop band’s album is the second time this 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 to give an unreserved “yes” to, but it’s also too damn much fun to ignore.
- A.A. Williams, As the Moon Rests– It’s moody, it’s atmospheric, it’s not bad if you want something in the surging orchestral neo-goth space. But is it particularly more or better than other things in the surging orchestral neo-goth space?
- Abraxas, Monte Carlo– There is something to be said for the minor chord atmospherics and dramatic vocals here, it reminds one of a certain surf/60s rock America with a gonzo edge. Eventually a little too low energy and same track to track though.
- Adrian Sherwood, Dub No Frontiers– Veteran UK reggae producer Adrian Sherwood takes a cosmopolitan approach to dub here, and it would make a great mellow background soundtrack, but I don’t think it lingers the way a year’s best needs to.
- a-ha, True North– It’s nice to hear a-ha back, and they’re very sophisticated in this outing, but it’s a little too low key and smoothly produced to really stand out.
- Alvvays, Blue Rev– If you’re looking for a My Bloody Valentine shimmer of noise with a hint of jangle pop, look here.
- Aoife Nessa Frances, Protector– This Dublin singer-songwriter produces a nice neo-folk swirl, but all a little too same track to track to really stand out.
- Arches of Loaf, Reason in Decline– An American indie rock band that started out on the 90s, broke up, and then reformed, and it sounds like many eras of indie rock from the 90s forward. Not bad if you want a good indie-leaning guitar-based band, but a little too smooth and prefab.
- Arctic Monkeys, The Car– They had one of my favorite albums of the 2010’s with AM, and I suppose I was expecting something similarly rocking here. Instead, they’re in a much croonier mood, really somewhat reminiscent of David Bowie on his ballad side. It’s not bad, but it’s also not arresting or distinct.
- Ariel Zetina, Cyclorama– a beacon for the queer electronic underground. Playing trance-techno sets informed by her identity as a trans woman of Belizean descent. Some of that does show up in the music, and is fascinating when it does, but it tends a little too toward the abstract end of techno.
- Armani Caesar, The Liz 2– There’s high concept her in this albums interest in divas, high feminism in the “pussy rap” vein, and some pounding music and lyrical incision. If it doesn’t quite all come together, well, ambition is a reward in itself.
- Ashe, Rae– Singer songwriter in a musically smooth, lyrically arch vein a la a lot of others out there now. This is fine, but it doesn’t especially stand out from the pack.
- Babehoven, Light Moving Time– There’s a vocal and musical beauty to this Hudson NY group, but the kind of folky kind of country gauziness of it all gets a little too gauzy to sustain.
- Bandmanrill, Club Godfather– This debut mixtape from Newark, New Jersey rapper Bandmanrill is a fine hip-hop album. It’s too late in the year for albums that are merely fine.
- Bibio, Bib10– A little art rock, a little neo-disco, a lot of mellow, more than a bit of no thanks.
- billy woods, Church– I do like what billy woods does, as witness aethiopes ending up on my April “yes” list. Maybe it’s the comparison to that, to which this doesn’t quite measure up in coherence or originality, which did it in.
- Bladee, Spiderr– I do love my Scandinavian artists (Swedish in this case), and this fun and goofy overdrive version of electronica was working for me for quite a while. It eventually blended into too much track-to-track sameness though.
- Brian Eno, FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE– Brain Eno is one of those artists who I have enormous respect for, both for his Roxy Music and solo albums in the 70s, and his production work in the 80s, but I rarely succeed in actually liking his contemporary albums. That happened here- it’s all a little too abstract and hushed for me. Alas!
- Broken Bells, Into the New– The experimental indie pop duo of the Shins’ James Mercer and Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse). I liked it when it sounded like the Shins. I still liked it, but didn’t as much think it stood out, when it had a kind of 80s pop side of prog rock sound.
- Bush, The Art of Survival– I must begin by stipulating that I really liked the sound of this album. If it was 1996, I might have it in heavy rotation. But do we really need Bush to be perfectly recreating their 90s sound in 2022?
- Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loneliest Time– She does a good brand of pop that combines dance music and some serious singer-songwriter skills, and she’s doing it well here, but better than a lot of other contemporaries?
- Charlie Puth, Charlie– As autotuned young pretty boy pop goes, this is.
- Charlotte dos Santos, Morfo– She has a beautiful voice and idiosyncratic vocal style, but it seems a little thin and over-produced musically.
- Courtney Marie Andrews, Loose Future– She’s a fine singer-songwriter, with an acoustic country and folk-inflected sound, but it gets to be too track-to-track same in terms of vocals, music, and tempo.
- Daphni, Cherry– Nice mid-tempo electronic music. It would be great to do the dishes to.
- Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn, Pigments– It’s mellow, it’s folktronic, its new agey, it’s a little bit jazz. Please save me.
- Douglas McCombs, VMAK– An abstract instrumental three-song suite, and not without compelling features, but couldn’t quite lay my hands on it.
- Dragonette, Twennies– The electronic dance music here had enough unusual and indie twist, and sheer verve of personality, to keep me invested for a while, but eventually didn’t sustain.
- Dungen, En Är För Mycket och Tusen Aldrig Nog– I do like my Swedish collectives, and this album had some fun hi-energy electronic music with a rock edge but was eventually too in Swedish and too given to mellow meandering to work.
- Esmerine, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More– Opened with some fine moody instrumental piano music and, eh…
- Field Medic, Grow Your Hair Long If You’re Wanting to See Something– Skillful playing in a n acoustic jangle pop vein and interesting introspective lyrics, but too same track-to-track vocally and musically.
- Frankie Cosmos, Inner World Peace– Incidentally the daughter of Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline, Frankie Cosmos is Greta Simone Kline. She’s putting out some great dreamy, semi-twee pop here, and it’s very good, but eventually the vocal and musical and energy level balance tract to track is too often the same.
- Gilla Band, Most Normal– This may have been a little too grating and experimental for me as noise pop goes.
- Hagop Tchaparian, Bolts – This electronic music was a little too hushed and abstract-tending for me, but he is now my favorite British-Armenian artist.
- Hermanos Gutiérrez, El Bueno y el Malo– This Swiss Ecuadorian musician is making some soulful and complex music, but the all-instrumental album and slower tempo made it hard for me to get my hooks in.
- iLe, Nacarile– I do like a theremin and other psychedelic affects thrown in with my Spanish language ballads, but the foreign language and relative sameness in tone track to track kept it from settling in with me.
- Indigo Sparkle, Hysteria– It’s a beautiful folk-flavored album and her voice is sublime, but it is very same track to track.
- Joanne Shaw Taylor, Nobody’s Fool– There’s some good country/folk playing here, but the production feels a little too slick, and the track sameness sets in by and by.
- Johanna Warren, Lessons for Mutants– A bit of a spooky ethereal singer, and not bad, but very in a similar flat vein.
- Julia Reidy, World in World– The all-instrumental format made it hard for me to get ahold off, but there’s some good spooky discordant guitar here.
- Junior Boys, Waiting Game- Well that was pretty ambient and abstract
- Keiji Haino/Sumac, Into This Juvenile Apocalypse our Golden Blood to Pour Let Us Never– The philosophical and abstract title of the album and the tracks is borne out in the (mostly instrumental) music, although in a very noisy, metallic, and discordant kind of way.
- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava– A strangely poppy and sunny sound from these eclectic psyche masters, but eventually it got too jazz-jammy.
- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Changes– Even more jazz-jammy than the other album by them I listened to this month.
- Lamb of God, Omens– I do appreciate some Lamb of God, but was this lambier or godier enough to stand out among their work and the best albums of the year?
- Leah Weller, Freedom– Nice sophisticated quiet storm R&B-flavored singer. Eh.
- Lucrecia Dalt, !Ay!– Per description I read: “Lucrecia Dalt’s ¡Ay! was inspired by the bolero, salsa, and merengue music she grew up hearing in Colombia as a child. The album follows a science fiction story line about an alien visitor named Preta who visits Earth and attempts to make sense of the human condition.” This certainly intrigued, but between an abstract bent and being all in Spanish, I had trouble connecting with it.
- M.I.A., Mata– Arular and Kala are two of my favorite albums not just of the 00s, but of the whole damn last 25 years, which in this case is a double-edged sword. It had me going in rooting for this album, but it also has me going in with some steep reference points. I’m left feeling that, while there are many fine moments throughout, and it’s never bad, what’s here isn’t as coherent, arresting, or challenging as her best.
- Macula Dog, Orange 2– A lurching off-kilter and often quite funny electronic album. Eventually a little too off-kilter to be consistently listenable for me, but interesting.
- Martha, Please Don’t Take Me Back- Nice poppy punk, it would fit in well with nice poppy funk from most anytime the last twenty years or so.
- Mavi, Laughing So Hard It Hurts– Definitely some literate self-exposure on this hip hop album, but the flow is a little too low key, as is the mix.
- Meat Wave, Malign Hex– Shouty, punk-flavored, with an air of post-punk angularity. It’s fun enough but doesn’t really stand out from other similar examples of this sound.
- Mightmare, Cruel Liars– Sarah Shook solo, her other album is one of my favorites of the year, and while this is extremely high quality, it doesn’t have quite the same spark of authenticity and personal power about it.
- Molly Joyce, Perspective– Philosophical musings and interview sound snippets on disability, along with experimental music. It’s certainly interesting, definitely artistic, undoubtedly worthy, but I’m not sure it adds up to a repeatedly listenable album.
- Natalia Lafourcade, De Todas Las Flores– A touching collection of ballads from this Mexican pop artist, on the theme of heartbreak. The sameness of tone and the language barrier kept me from “getting” it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something there to get.
- Nick Hakim, Cometa– This Brooklyn Musician is doing some decent work here, thick with mood, lo-fi musical surprises, and lyrics full of feeling. But it’s all a little too hazy and undifferentiated track to track to really grab hold of.
- Open Mike Eagle, Component System with the Auto Reverse– Some good left-field rap with a lot of humor, but it never quite feels dynamic and captivating enough on a song-to-song basis.
- Palm, Nicks and Grazes– There is an air of clashing and discordant to this electronic music, and traces of melody, which make it interesting. But it ends up being a little too clashy feeling for sustained listen.
- Peel Dream Magazine, Pad– It’s a nice mellow grove with pleasant synth pop flourishes, but, eh…
- Peter Buck/Luke Haines, All the Kids Are Super Bummed Out– Post-punk legend Haines had one of my semi-finalists last year, and Peter Buck, is of course Peter Buck of REM. So, it was some promising material. And, on about every other track, where what each of them is doing really gels, it’s sublime. The rest of the time, though, it’s a little muddy-sounding and unfocused.
- Plains, I Walked With You a Ways– Together, Jess Williamson and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield are Plains. Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud was one of my favorites of 2020, and I do like the country inflected genre. It’s well played, well sung, meaningfully lyrical but a little too same all the way through.
- PVA, Blush– If you like your dance music metallic and vaguely terrifying, this is rather good. I do like those things, but it blends on a track-by-track basis after a while.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Return of the Dream Canteen– This is a great band. This is a great band stretching out and getting trippy. As such, there are many interesting moments here. But at 75 minutes, and without a coherent theme or structure, I’m not sure it adds up to a great album.
- Rich Aucoin, Synthetic: Season One– I will grant this sounds very synthetic. It’s not bad as electronic music goes, sometimes more on the abstract/experiment than the dance side.
- Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania– As a child of the alt 80s, I was required by law to like Robyn Hitchcock. It was a good law, and indeed many of his 60s pop influences with a dark twist charms are on display here. At moments it’s quite engaging, but it does tend toward too many songs in amore lugubrious vein in a row.
- Scout Gillett, No Roof No Floor– A surging wall of feedback sound, dark minor chords, yearning vocals, a hint of country. It was compelling until it got a little too hushed (and jazzy) halfway through.
- Shabason & Krgovich, At Scaramouche– A shimmery (and weirdly Christmassy) sound that did have interesting musical nuances but didn’t engage me.
- Show Me the Body, Trouble the Water– I do appreciate the darkness and denseness of the sound here, like post-punk heard through a musical bazaar. It’s a little on the grating sound though, especially the vocals, which eventually cuts into listenability.
- Simple Minds, Direction of the Heart– Good on Simple Minds for still making albums (this is their 19th), and there is a world-weariness about it that I appreciate, but it’s too deep into an 80s pop veteran afterburn sound.
- Single Mothers, Everything You Need– Some nice punk yuds, better than most and with a genuine anguish on the vocal and lyrical front that’s a little unusual.
- Skullcrusher, Quiet the Room– This sounds much less skull-crushing than I would have expected given, you know, the name. It is a darkly nuanced well-produced swirl, but a little ethereal for my tastes.
- Sorry, Anywhere But Here– There’s a good sound here that reminds me of many strands of 80s and 90s alt, but while tracks jumped out at me, there was something uneven that kept it from being continuously more than the sum of its parts.
- Sylvie, Sylvie– A very pleasant acoustic slightly country-flavored ramble, but at this point in the year, you need to be on fire to stand out against the best.
- Taylor Swift, Midnights– The lady doesn’t make a bad album, and the best moments here are up to her best moments anywhere. It does have an unfortunate tendency to have some more “typical” current autotuned sounding tracks that don’t stand out, and some sequencing and pacing issues with too many slow moments too close together. I think there’s a shorter and rearranged version of this that would have been a “yes”, but as is, it’s a nice but not vital or standout addition to Taylormania.
- The 1975, Being Funny in a Foreign Language– This is about as good as radio hit indie rock gets, and in fact consistently has some interesting production twists. As such, it’s not bad, but am I going to remember most of these tracks at this time next year?
- The Claudettes, The Claudettes Go Out!– Sophisticated, smoky, literate, jazzy songs. While I can’t, I acknowledge that someone can.
- The Cult, Under the Midnight Sun– I’ve been liking The Cult since their music first crossed my radar as an 80s alt youth when their second album started getting US College radio station airplay, and their 1987 third album, Electric, remains one of my favorites of that entire era. So, I was here to listen carefully, and indeed, I listened to the whole album, even after I knew I was probably a “no”. It’s good music, reflective of many periods of their career, and won’t disappoint fans, but as a whole doesn’t stand out from their best.
- The Lightning Seeds, See You in the Stars– The Lightning Seeds were masters of a kind of sunny twee pop from the late 80’s forward, and they’re still doing it well here. There’s nothing wrong with it, in fact it’s very pleasant, but it sounds of its era.
- The Orielles, Tableau– Ethereal, electronic, interesting, not un-fun, but doesn’t ultimately engage.
- The Soft Pink Truth, Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This?– There’s some not bad electronic music here, but not sure if it adds up to a consistently engaging album.
- Therion, Leviathan II– Their brand of symphonic metal meets choral vocal music is interesting, but I don’t know that I’d want to play it again and again.
- Tove Lo, Dirt Femme– She’s Swedish, which I always like, and it’s pretty good as electronic dance music goes, but not year’s best good.
- Town Mountain, Lines in the Levee– It’s some good country, better than most. Better than best of year though?
- TSHA, Capricorn Sun– This London producer and DJ knows her way around a soundscape, and as result there is good R&B/dance music here. It sounds a little too thinly produced at the expense of power and vitality at times, and the various approaches (while interesting) don’t quite gel. Still, I’d keep an eye out on more from her.
- Various Artists, Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen– Obviously, exquisite source material, and some very good covers here. Cohen fans wouldn’t go amiss by having this in their collection, even if it may not work at “year’s best” level as an album proper.
- Wand, Spiders in the Rain– Double live album of 8 tracks recorded by psychedelic band while touring in 2019. This is actually a lot more accessible-sounding than that description might make you think! But it’s not quite over an hour’s worth of accessible.
- Westside Gunn, 10– The haunting philosophical intro gives way to a 9albeit well-delivered) series of street-life focused songs that don’t back up that profundity at all. Maybe it’s my issue, but the disconnect there threw me.
- YoungBoy Never Broke Again, 3800 Degrees– Apparently the artist’s fourth album of the year, and it moves pretty well, but the auto-tune is auto-tuned…
- Zella Day, Sunday in Heaven– Not bad as torchy dance albums go, but at this point in the year, I need out of the ballparks for that category.
And there we are, finis on October! On to November and December!