2022 YEAR IN REVIEW: Our Annual Mixtapes Ft. Our Favorite Songs of the Year, Pt. 2 (Songs 052-001)
Here, I submit Part Two of our Songs of the Year mixtape series. You are in rare air here. Our 52 most loved and played songs of 2022. Read on.
MIXTAPE #2: SONGS 052-027
052 DEDICATED MEN OF ZION | "Rock My Soul"
Blurb: Take me to church! I've always claimed you can love religious music without being religious just as you can hate to dance but love dance music. As it turns out, I love declarations of faith and people giving themselves up to a higher power. There's something magical about it. I wish I had it in me. Lord knows I've tried. But had my boyhood church featured the Dedicated Men of Zion every Sunday, I know this much is true—I would've never fucking left. I would have paid for my ticket via the offering basket and settled in for some amazing gospel music. As fans of Al Green, Sam Cooke and countless others know, the distance between non-secular and secular is as short as the gap between soul and gospel. Often, it comes down to a few choice words. Remove the "baby" and insert "lord" and you're there. This is a soul album at its core and it's a mighty stirring one at that. If you're not paying close attention, you won't know if it is Saturday night or Sunday morning. "Rock My Soul" could easily have traveled here from the soul rack of a mid-70s record store just as easily as it could have emanated from the windows of a Baptist church.
Moment of Conversion: I'd say the :01 mark
051 SUEDE | "She Still Leads Me On"
Blurb: A love song, yes. But to Brett Anderson's mother, not a past flame. It's great to hear such a passionate, dramatic song about the bond between a (perpetual) boy and his mother. Her influence and unconditional love an ongoing inspiration. It's a glorious tribute.
Moment of Conversion: Howl in chorus
050 SPECIAL INTEREST | "(Herman's) House"
Blurb: The inspiration behind this track was well-covered in Pitchfork's review of Special Interest's galvanizing new LP, Endure. The main takeaway is enduring the worst of circumstances and then finding a way to cope somehow. The hope is that you'll last long enough to soldier on once the storm clears. Or something like that. Ali Logout's hoarse vocals on this song seem to indicate she's coming close to the end of tolerance, but the music carries her to the end. And the process of making that trip is riveting.
Moment of Conversion:
And you know what they say
We'll all be Basquiats for five minutes or Hermans for life
So when I say, "Build" I mean, "Dream"
Because that's all we got promised
So let’s tear it down
049 !!! FT. MEAH PACE | "Panama Canal"
Blurb: Every !!! record is basically the same, but I end of buying them all. Why? you ask. Because every one of them contains a few genius moments that make sifting through the spoils well worth the time. "Panama Canal" is that track on their new record, Let It Be Blue. There are no shortcuts in love, but this will provide one to the dance floor.
Moment of Conversion: Finally a song that references the man-made wonder and ultimate "cut-through" analogy, the Panama Canal! Thirty years after Bob Mould wrote "Hoover Dam" no less!
048 JACK WHITE | "A Madman From Manhattan"
Blurb: If I had my way, I'd have combined the best of Jack White's two albums this year into one. Neither was perfect, but each had elements of what I love about him. For me, the stranger and riskier he gets the better. Which brings me to this late-album track from Entering Heaven Alive. While there are some blistering tracks on Fear of the Dawn ("What's the Trick?" featured earlier this year) and some strong slower songs on the Heaven, I find this odd little track with the pitter-patter vocal phrasing to be strangely pleasing.
Moment of Conversion: There's a madman from Manhattan / There with a man's hat and a floor mat made of satin
047 HARRY STYLES | "As It Was"
Blurb: Harry Styles isn't selling out five straight nights at major arenas for nothing. He has universal appeal. Kids like him, adults like him, everybody fucking likes him. I hate him. And I like him. I want to be him, too, mainly so I can wear a babydoll top and baggy bellbottoms and get away with it. Give yourself up, he's got you under his spell. He has a knack for picking just the right songs to mirror his naturally engaging personality and eclectic sense of style. "As It Was" is just a timeless song, rendered effortlessly. So many songs I hear these days do not seem built to last, but this one is. I can see myself listening to it for a long time, which is the highest compliment I can give to a modern pop song.
Moment of Conversion: A rollerskating jam named "As It Was"
046 M. ROSS PERKINS | "Mr. Marble Eyes (Marbles For His Eyes)"
Blurb: You can definitely tell M Ross Perkins grew up a few doors down from Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard. His brand of 60's influenced freaky pop mines a similar vein of influences, but what gets produced is something strangely his own. He's a total oddball, too, and I love him for it. One example is the brilliantly titled "Mr Marble Eyes (Marbles For His Eyes)," with the parenthetical seemingly letting us know that his monicker is based in reality not fantasy (or is it?). It's a classic psych-pop single some strange group might've cooked up in their garage back in the day, only to become a cult classic after being discovered by record nerds years later.
Moment of Conversion: This could be just a fantasy / But he’s got these god-forsaken marbles for his eyes /
And I can’t tell why
045 URAL THOMAS AND THE PAIN | "Gimme Some Ice Cream"
Blurb: Every year, trendspotters try to find the "Song of Summer"—that one ubiquitous track everyone can agree upon. It's always some pop-star confection, which seems commercially logical, albeit a little closed-minded. I would argue that the scope of possible songs should be much wider. For example, Pickled Priest's song of this summer (and likely every summer from this point forward) is Ural Thomas's "Gimme Some Ice Cream," a tasty treat from the still vibrant 82-year-old Portland soul singer's new album, Dancing Dimensions. Look no further, summer is right here.
Moment of Conversion: Summer day
044 ELIZA CARTHY & THE RESTITUTION | "Space Girl"
Blurb: Beloved English folk singer, and singer of one of my all-time favorite songs ("Whispers of Summer"), Eliza Carthy, has been a fixture in England for over a quarter-century now. In the folk tradition, where songs are shared, passed-down, and re-recorded, she has been releasing a series of EPs lately with her band, the Restitution, doing just that. Some are from past albums, reimagined. The third volume includes a new version of a Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl tune called "Space Girl," and it's a playful little space odyssey with humorous lyrics and a predictably perfect vocal.
Moment of Conversion: I didn't know I'd love it, but I did, I did, I did.
043 ANAND WILDER | "Delirium Passes"
Blurb: I loved Yeasayer's sound right out of the gate. 2007's All Hour Cymbals (dumb title aside) and 2010's Odd Blood rank as two of my favorite albums from their respective release years. Then they lost me over their next few albums, to the point now where I don't even remember them releasing some of the records in their discography. How cold of me to abandon the band so heartlessly! I wasn't alone apparently, as the Brooklyn band recently broke up after a 13 year run. Perhaps the presence of a solo album this year, I Don't Know My Words, from band co-founder Anand Wilder tells us why they split in the title of his first single as a free man, "Delirium Passes." The song is about a divorce and the relief that can follow initially, only to be replaced by an underlying sadness later. I suppose, the same emotions can follow the dissolution of a band, Thankfully, a gloriously sublime chorus is waiting to lead wayward fans back into the fold. While I'm not quite ready to proclaim Wilder's single life a rousing success just yet, the breakup has clearly given him the chance to breathe fresh air again.
Moment of Conversion: Post-delirium chorus
042 ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS | "The Difference"
Blurb: I've loved and tolerated Elvis in equal doses over the years, but his new Imposters-backed record, The Boy Named If, sounds to me like a statement of virility. Elvis and the boys prove they can still bring a potent depth charge when they choose to and it's great to hear them letting loose again. Of course, the songwriting is also top-notch, with several instant late-period classics included that sound more than worthy of a place next to the man's esteemed early-period classics. It's hard to pick one but "The Difference" is floating my boat right now, but it only scratches the surface on what is perhaps my favorite Elvis album in a long while.
Moment of Conversion: The bounce
041 BUILT TO SPILL | "Understood"
Blurb: Trot out any revered band you want from the 1990s (and don't even attempt to sell me Pearl Jam) and I guarantee you they haven't had a longer shelf life around the Pickled Priest offices than the collected works of Built to Spill. Since their debut in 1993 to this year's The Wind Forgets Your Name, the band has not released one album we haven't liked. "Understood" features Doug Martsch in top form, delivering that alt-rock sound we crave. This is the real BTS. Accept no substitutes.
Moment of Conversion: Guitar/vocal interplay
040 S.G. GOODMAN | "Teeth Marks"
Blurb: There are two sides to S.G. Goodman's southern heartbreak opus, Teeth Marks. Earlier this year, I chose "Work Until I Die" to demonstrate her ability to rock. But the album's heart is in its ability to crush your soul with beautiful lyrics and Goodman's distinctive voice. The title indicates that sometimes heartbreak leaves a permanent mark on you and so will this song.
Moment of Conversion: I prayed over dead birds in your city park / I held your hand as I crossed my heart
039 THE AMERICANS | "What I Would Do"
Blurb: Another album where I highlighted a different song earlier this year, but can't help myself but spread the love to other parts of the album. "What I Would Do" shows that the Americans may get filed into Americana (which makes sense, of course), but they're often a blue-eyed soul band with a singer that can get on bended knee and plead for his girl as well as any 60s soul belter. It sounding very much like he's gonna get his way in end. His entreaty is hard to refuse, I would imagine.
Moment of Conversion: Pleading vocal
038 HORSEGIRL | "Anti-glory"
Blurb: For a first album, Horsegirl's Versions of Modern Performance is a pretty great start. It may not be as strong as the accolades foisted on it so far would lead you to believe, but it does show a band with great potential. For a band still in its teen years, you could call it remarkable. Lead-off track "Anti-glory" is an indication of what we're dealing with. A band that has taken decades of indie-rock and created something similar but fresh. Do you know all those older alternative bands you now love? Now go back and reassess their first record. There's a good chance it's not as good as this one.
Moment of Conversion: The way the guitar and vocal hang together on chorus.
037 TALLIES | "Hearts Underground"
Blurb: If there's not going to be a new Lush record in our immediate future, then this Toronto power trio (no, not Rush) fills the void nicely, thanks to lead singer Sarah Cogan's perfect dream pop croon that has just a trace level of coarse texture in just the right spots. No wonder Tallies landed on Simon Raymonde's (Cocteau Twins) label, Bella Union. It's a match made in heaven!
Moment of Conversion: The way the vocals get slightly elevated during chorus.
036 BEACH HOUSE | "Over and Over"
Blurb: Most people would love to stay at a beach house for a couple weeks of R&R (rest and relaxation, not rock and roll). But does everyone want a new 85-minute record from Beach House, the band? To be honest, the album's length was the reason I couldn't pull the trigger initially. "What an audacious ask of such an important and busy man like me!" I exclaimed as I settled in on a Friday night by myself, a pile of records stacked on my desk. And then I played "Over and Over," easily one of the band's greatest recorded moments. It took just seven minutes for this song to reacquaint me with the value proposition of the band: that there are grand mysteries remaining in this life that are well worth uncovering. With that in mind, Once Twice Melody is a record I'm taking slowly on purpose. It's one of those that can't be rushed, so I'm expecting a time-release payoff some time in mid-February 2023 at my current pace.
Moment of Conversion: Dramatic downshift during "When the lights go down...."
035 BELLE & SEBASTIAN | "Come On Home"
Blurb: Again, different song from the one highlighted earlier this year, but with so many gems strewn throughout the new Belle & Sebastian record—and no, you can't skip this one—it makes sense to spread the love. The winning chorus stands up for the working class in stirring fashion. I love singing strange choruses.
Moment of Conversion: Give a chance to the old / Set the record straight for the welfare state \
Give a chance to the young / Everyone deserves a life in the sun
034 CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY & BOLIS PUPUL | "It Hit Me"
Blurb: Toxic masculinity and burgeoning womanhood collide when this song starts with a stereotypical "construction worker" whistle directed at a young girl, who, at that moment, isn't quite sure what's happening. Suddenly, she realizes her newfound "power," and things will never be the same.
Moment of Conversion: When the narrator's voice turns from girl to woman in a matter of seconds.
033 DANGER MOUSE & BLACK THOUGHT | "No Gold Teeth"
Blurb: When it comes to the job getting done, what am I? / The god of the microphone. Nuff said.
Moment of Conversion: Philly ain't known for cheesesteak sandwiches only
032 TEARS FOR FEARS | "Rivers of Mercy"
Blurb: The T4F reunion was exactly what reunions should be. If you're gonna come back, don't come back for a victory lap, come back with material that shows the game ain't over yet. And that's exactly what they did. From within an impressive collection of songs, "Rivers of Mercy" emerges as the soul-cleansing baptism we all need.
Moment of Conversion: If by magic, you mean the ocean / If by tragic, you mean the end
031 WET LEG | "Ur Mum"
I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you
-Bob Dylan "Positively 4th Street"
No intention of comparing Wet Leg to Dylan, but the concept of "Ur Mum" is basically the same. Your presence is a drag, your act is tired, your services no longer needed. So beat it. All done with their usual dose of sharp humor.
Moment of Conversion: The announcement that she's been practicing her longest and loudest scream, which is then delivered.
030 BLACK MIDI | "Welcome to Hell"
Blurb: Mainly because we like to see bands completely go off the rails. We like a song that's so unexplainable that merely endorsing it will call my critical credibility into question for the vast majority of unsuspecting listeners. And I'm not sure how I would prepare someone for this if you could. Maybe a weekend alone with Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, and Primus? When is the last time the U.S. produced a band anywhere close to Black Midi? Answer: not in this century at least.
Moment of Conversion: By standing in line today, you secure a place among the saints
029 BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD | "Chaos Space Marine"
Blurb: I wasn't completely won over by the heavily-hyped but appropriately-named debut record, For the First Time, by this English post post-rock band. It had moments of brilliance for sure, but at times it seemed to be trying too hard (especially "Science Fair" and all that bullshit about being "the world's second best Slint tribute act"). That said, there was no denying the promise present when all that bluster could be tamed and the quirk suppressed (see "Instrumental" from same album). Well, that happened this year with Ants From Up There, a substantially better album in all ways that hinted at an almost unlimited amount of future promise. And then, out of the blue, their creative force and main vocalist, Isaac Wood, left the band. A planned tour was scrapped and the band has gone back to the drawing board to figure out what to do next. He's going to be a big missing piece if and when the band moves forward, that's for sure. But at least they've left us with one great record and several amazing songs like "Chaos Space Marine," all of them perplexing and beyond human understanding.
Moment of Conversion: 1:20 where it sounds like that moment you ride your bike to the top of the hill not knowing how steep it is on the other side.
028 PILLOW QUEENS | "House That Sailed Away"
Blurb: What do I have to do to put you in a new houseboat? Dublin's Pillow Queens came out of nowhere to make my Top 25 Albums of 2020 list a couple years ago with the indelible, decidedly queer, indie-pop charms of In Waiting, and now their hotly anticipated second is here. While not as immediate as its predecessor, and perhaps a slight step back, there are still moments that deliver the aching crescendos found routinely on their debit. "House That Sailed Away" ranks as one of their best songs to date, a straight love song about a yo-yo lover who never seems to know if they are coming or going at any given moment. The Queens know how to write a great chorus and here is the album's best, given to us with a pleasing Irish accent that makes even the most basic tenets seem fresh again.
Moment of Conversion: Can I say the chorus again?
027 KEVIN MORBY & ERIN RAE | "Bittersweet, TN"
Blurb: This duet with Erin Rae is what moved Morby's generally excellent record, This Is A Photograph, to the next level for me. While the title track is undeniably the centerpiece of the record, "Bittersweet, TN" is the heart, the ultimate last toast to someone who has run out of time.
Moment of Conversion: Goddamn you got old, you got upset, you got sick / The livin' took forever, but the dyin' went quick
MIXTAPE #1: SONGS 026-001
026 MARVIN TATE'S D-SETTLEMENT | "Turn Da Fuckin' Lights Back On"
Blurb: The #26 song on my list is where I like to cheat a little bit and include a song that, under rigid scrutiny, may not qualify for the list in the first place. But this song deserves attention, now rules be damned. Most people only make a Top 25 list anyway, so this one can sit on the fringe without causing too much of a stir. Until you listen to it that is. If this came out in 2022, I'd have moved it far up this list. It's by an underground Chicago funk/soul/punk/gospel/R&B (you heard right) band called Marvin's Tate's D-Settlement, a group that released three self-released records from 1990-2003, but never got over to the masses. I heard a few tracks and immediately pre-ordered the whole two-and-a-half hour, 32-song box set like I needed to put out a fire. I include it here because back then "self-released" wasn't a way to get your music heard outside of your local cult audience or at gigs (which were legendary, if the hype is correct, and I bet it is). So, this is the first release of this material to the broader public—hence the exception. The band was known for doing a little of everything on a given night, often ahead of its time on subjects like race, gender, and countless other issues. "Turn Da Fuckin' Lights Back On" is the perfect example of a track that brings the funk while denouncing social discrimination (poor neighborhoods are the last to get services when something goes wrong—in this case a power outage). The hook is so contagious you may need to wear a mask over your ears. This is a great find and I can't believe it's been right under my nose all this time and I didn't know about it. Well, I do know and it's going in my secret song stash forever.
Moment of Conversion: Turn the motherfuckin' lights back on!
025 PETROL GIRLS | "Baby, I Had An Abortion"
Blurb: Some punk songs succeed on message alone, relying on rage over creativity, but this isn't one of them. Oh, the message gets across, to put it mildly, and it's one I fully endorse, but this isn't just a quick Pro Choice one-off released to combat the attack on women's rights. Although it is that and more. It's written and produced to detonate on impact, complete with an almost exasperated laugh at the end that will surely enrage those on the other side of the issue. Mission accomplished.
Moment of Conversion: How the message is delivered.
024 YARD ACT | "The Overload"
Blurb: I'm always a little suspicious of Britain's "next big thing." They seem to have an endless supply of bands to hype and I've been burned before many times. But the reason you check out each and every is because sometimes they're right. Yard Act is one of those bands. "The Overload" is the perfect intro to the band, complete with a full explanation of how to properly approach the lead singer. A band with great promise. Which, in the UK, means imminent self-destruction is on the horizon.
Moment of Conversion:
Show some respect and listen to my advice
'Cause if you don't challenge me on anything
You'll find I'm actually very nice
Are you listening?
I'm actually very fucking nice
023 CMAT | "Peter Bogdanovich"
Blurb: Not the best timing by Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson (hence CMAT) and her new album, the infuriatingly titled If My Wife New [sic] I'd Be Dead. The record contains this yearning paean to film director and actor Peter Bogdanovich, but was ultimately released just a month after the famous director died in January at the age of 82. Known for directing a wide range of classic films like The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Mask, the Tom Petty documentary Runnin' Down a Dream, and one of my favorite yet lesser known movies, The Thing Called Love, about young country singers trying to make it in Nashville, Bogdanovich was probably still known first as Tony Soprano's psychiatrist's psychiatrist on The Sopranos. So he qualifies as fawn-worthy for sure, but he isn't an obvious target for the affections of a cheeky 26-year-old Irish singer with a twisted sense of humor. In the song, CMAT pines over the director, wishing he was "a wife leaver" and a "right cheater" despite the fact that he hasn't even been married since 2001.* The girl's a bit of a oddball, but her songs, and the rest of her really entertaining new record, benefit from her skewed perspective on life.
*There is a chance the song was written from the perspective of someone else from a time when Peter was still married, but who that could be is anyone's guess.
Moment of Conversion: The atypical object of her affection.
022 ARLO MCKINLEY | "Stealing Dark From the Night Sky"
Blurb: The reason it took Arlo McKinley until his 40s to emerge can be found in plain sight, right there in his lyrics. You can't write songs like his unless you've lived through some dark nights of the soul. Taylor Swift may have a new album featuring songs about thirteen sleepless nights during her life, but you get the impression here that McKinley might've had that many in the average fortnight during his life. His songwriting never sounds manufactured, instead it carries with it the authenticity of someone who has been through the ringer more than a few times and lived to tell the tale. I can't think of a better analogy for it that "Stealing Dark From the Night Sky" from his new album, The Mess We're In. But if everything is so bleak, how can the song so beautiful? Perhaps his past makes him cherish everything a little bit more now. That in a nutshell may be the secret to his success.
Moment of Conversion:
My heart is yours for the takin'
If you want to take it
I know you're scared you might break it
Girl, it's been breakin' all my life
021 HORACE ANDY | "Safe From Harm"
Blurb: I'm going to classify Horace Andy's new record, Midnight Rocker, as a modern reggae classic and there's nothing anyone can do to stop me. He and his supple voice have been around for decades, although he was reintroduced to many via his work with Massive Attack back in the 90s. Here, he takes one of those Massive Attack singles (the opening track from their first record, no less) and gives it the full hot Jamaican afternoon makeover. While the conversion isn't a stretch, it does expose the song's essence more than the original. It sounds wise coming from such a lived-in soul, and the same can be said for the rest of the album. It sounds like a tenured professor teaching all of us a thing or two about life. The experience will be rich and rewarding for all who listen.
Moment of Conversion: The "wound-up" groove that ushers you into the song.
020 ORVILLE PECK | "Let Me Drown"
Blurb: I spent a lot of space talking about this record earlier this year and it has many highlights, but if you want to hear a guy absolutely sing the fucking shit out of song, look no further.
Moment of Conversion: Jaw-dropping vocal performance throughout.
019 THE COMET IS COMING | "Code"
Blurb: I'm not too worried that Shabaka Hutchings has announced the end of Sons of Kemet, one of my favorite bands of the last ten years. I never expected they would last forever. Especially considering the guy just doesn't stay in one place for very long, juggling more special projects and appearances than Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest combined. The guy gets bizzy, in other words. The only question is how soon will he shut down The Comet is Coming, his electro-jazz freakout experiment? Even that doesn't matter. He'll replace it with something equally good, most likely, and as long as his undulating skronk is in the house, that's all I'm concerned with. And on "Code" he wails like a madman, creating a futuristic world with no limits that's a thrill to witness.
Moment of Conversion: Undulating sax
018 MATTIEL | "Cultural Criminal"
Blurb: Atlanta's Mattiel (Mah-TEEL) Brown has been around since 2017 and every time I tune into her frequency, she's doing something cool with her songwriting that turns my head. Her debut featured a personal favorite, "Count Your Blessings," that sounded like an indie-rock Bond theme. Its follow up, Satis Factory, demonstrated serious growth, highlighted by another Pickled Priest Songs of the Year selection, "Food For Thought," which combined cool spoken word verses with a wicked little chorus. Her natural ability to add just the right melodic and lyrical twists to make things interesting has now manifested itself in her latest and best record, Georgia Gothic.* It should be said that Mattiel is actually a duo—Mattiel and partner Jonah Swilley—but she's the main attraction here. There are eleven songs with not a bum track in the bunch. In the past, I've gravitated to one or two songs, but here the whole thing holds up. I could pick any one of them, but I like the concept of "Cultural Criminal." Are you a cultural criminal? Are you supporting artists like Mattiel by buying records, going to concerts, picking up a t-shirts, etc.? If not, go directly to jail, do not press play.
Moment of Conversion: The idea that some of us are cultural criminals (aka not paying an adequate price for the music you love)
017 DEHD | "Bad Love"
Blurb: "Bad Love" shimmers like the heat emanating off of baked Arizona asphalt until it is interrupted by a horse galloping through the frame on the way to either find love or get it back.
Moment of Conversion: Run baby run...
016 AOIFE O'DONOVAN | "B61"
Blurb: Based on Aoife (EE-fah) O'Donovan's name alone (a "u" away from vowel bingo), the presence of Irish blood in her veins might not surprise you. The fact she was born and raised in Boston might. And to add to her East Coast credentials, she wrote "B61" about Brooklyn's crosstown bus line which finds her taking a long melancholy trip to seek out a lost love near the Hudson River ("Love is a daily good thing," she croons). It's a wistful tale and her voice is up to the task. It's light as a feather, but impactful, stunning in its simplistic grace. The whole album captures that similar captivating essence and demands your full attention.
Moment of Conversion: The moment you first hear her voice
015 CATE LE BON | "Moderation"
Blurb: Le Bon's new album, the ominously-titled Pompeii, is about as beguiling as modern music gets these days—well, at least since the last track on this mixtape, that is. But where I've always been smitten with Aldous, I've always felt like an outsider looking in at Cate's music. I don't always get things right away, I admit openly, but I'm not sure it was entirely my fault this time either. To this day, I'm not completely sure I can put my finger on the reason why. Especially since I normally swoon for the impenetrable, delighting in my inability to fully understand an artist's musical motives. I do love a challenge, though. Thankfully, I don't have to scratch my head anymore, for the Welsh wonder has bowled me over with her latest batch of inscrutable pop songs. It doesn't hurt to have "Moderation" as the main access point this time—as close as she might ever come to a conventional hit song. She even mollifies slow learners like me by commiserating with us a bit in her lyrics: "I get by / One eye in the sky / But I can't put my finger on it / I wanna cry / I'm outta my mind / Tryna figure it out." I appreciate the bone toss, Cate, but perhaps neither of us were ever supposed to figure it out in the first place. In the end, it's probably better this way.
Moment of Conversion: Dreamy echo effect
014 ALDOUS HARDING | "Fever"
Blurb: Harding's Warm Chris is one gem after the next, so picking just one is unfair. "Fever" stands out because is has an accessible bounce to it that any novice can grab onto. But stick around for last call because all Aldous's "favorite places are bars." This is the perfect album, and song, to enjoy while kicking back with a formal cocktail.
Moment of Conversion: Beat resumes after horn break at 2:44
013 JUANITA EUKA | "For All It's Worth"
Blurb: Everything about Mabanzo, Juanita Euka's fabulous new record, seems rich and effortless. Her voice, no matter the surroundings, exudes a sense of calm and inner peace. It never shows off and always knows when to let the music take over. Just look at the album cover above and you'll see a woman comfortable in her own skin. Inner peace, however, doesn't mean untextured or bland, even though the first line of the intoxicating "For All It's Worth" is "He thinks I'm bland / No longer wants to hold my hand." Nothing could be further from the truth. She was brought up in Argentina, moved to the UK, and incorporates rhythms and languages from all three into her music. If you're looking for a record you can listen to all day, this is it. Eu(re)ka!
Moment of Conversion: Infectious rhythm
012 THE AFGHAN WHIGS | "Catch a Colt"
Blurb: There has been loads of nostalgia for the 1990s spewing from the internet lately. Even Pitchfork released yet another revision to their master list of the decade's best albums and songs and you better believe it's pretentious as shit, complete with Mariah Carey, not Nirvana, sitting atop their song list. Time to stick a pitchfork in the site—it's done. Even worse, no Afghan Whigs this time; presumably they couldn't decide what to do with Greg Dulli's night prowler sexuality despite the fact that the Whigs made three phenomenal albums in the decade (Congregation, Gentlemen, and 1965). The boys get the last laugh, however, by releasing another great rock album over twenty years after the 90s burned out and faded away. "Catch a Colt" lives up to its title by galloping into 2022 sounding as fresh and vital as the band has ever been.
Moment of Conversion: Gallop
011 CALEXICO | "The El Burro Song"
Blurb: Pickled Priest has been investing in mariachi futures over the last decade or so and we find it far more rewarding than spending our time trying to figure out what the fuck Bitcoin is all about. The ebullient spirit of the music has moved from awkward table-side intrusion to unmitigated respect in recent years as I have come to appreciate the complexity of the craft, the splendor of the performance, and the sense of community the music carries with it. If I could find a sombrero to fit my fat head, I'd probably have one on right now—it would bring me untold happiness. For over a quarter-century, Calexico has been one of Americana's most beloved bands, mainly because their version of "Americana" is the border-straddling variety, a rich mixture of Mexican and American influences. Both musically and thematically relevant, perhaps never more so than today, there's always been more stitched into their music than is apparent on the surface. Their current album cuts to the heart of another America, one often unfairly looked down upon by a large portion of our population. El Mirador (aka The Looker) doubles down on the sense of community that binds us all, no matter what side of the so-called "wall" you were born on. It's not all mariachi, but "The El Burro Song" ("The Donkey Song") is a glorious foray into the form, complete with traditional accompaniment. I've added a live version of the song here because that's how this music is best heard. This song makes my heart soar and I hope it does the same for you.
Moment of Conversion: Mariachi!
010 HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF | "Life On Earth"
Blurb: The beating heart of 2022 for me was Hurray for the Riff Raff's beautiful "Life on Earth," a song that can't really be followed by anything else. This is a song to be left with when the day is done, when it's time to contemplate the accumulation of happenings and thoughts that have forced their way onto your mental hard drive. Let it play a few times, then turn the lights out.
Moment of Conversion: Alynda Segarra's perfect vocal
009 THE JAZZ BUTCHER | "Melanie Hargreaves' Father's Jaguar"
Blurb: The pandemic has given me time to investigate and/or reconsider some artists I haven't made enough time for to date. In the past year, I've been femur deep in the recordings of the Jazz Butcher, the vehicle for the output of the disappointingly-named British eccentric, Pat Fish. With a deep catalog, it has been a lot to take in all at once, but his greatest moments have been a joy to discover. I've repeatedly castigated myself in past months for sleeping on his recorded output so long, but better late than never. He's the village oddball, falling somewhere in the middle of a long line of charming English storytellers like the Kinks, John Cooper Clarke, Blur, Robyn Hitchcock, and many others known for their combination of sharp wit and endearing oddness. I've found a goldmine of songs in the process and I must make you a mixtape of my favorites soon (I promise). And then, as if luring me into his peculiar world was the last thing on his bucket list, he dropped dead of a heart attack on October 5, 2021. Isn't that always how it goes? Coincidence acknowledged, I still felt the loss like I'd been a fan for years, even though I'm a relative newcomer to his work. As it turns out, and to my benefit, he had an album in the can at the time of his death—and it's an absolute gem! The perfect endcap artistic statement for the venerable, eclectic old shit. Throughout his career, Fish was a clever songwriter and a surprisingly effective singer considering his limited vocal range. He was also a melodist capable of dabbling credibly in almost any style of music he attempted. The Highest in the Land is a fitting conclusion to the Jazz Butcher story. It reminds me a bit of Leonard Cohen's masterful later-period albums in a way. He's showing his age a bit, possibly a bit weary, but eminently comfortable in his current skin as well. Like with Cohen, age and hard-earned wisdom have combined to leave us with a perfect dinner companion, one that can keep a table of guests captivated long after the table has been cleared. I can only imagine sitting there, listening to the story of "Melanie Hargreaves Father's Jaguar," hanging on every word.
Moment of Conversion: Hanging on every word as the story unfolds
008 JORGE DREXLER FT. NOGA EREZ | "¡Oh, Algoritmo!"
Blurb: Beloved Uruguayan musician, medical doctor (!!), Academy Award winner* (!!), and Shakira-collaborator (!!!!!), Jorge Drexler pretty much does it all. (My resume just crawled under a rock.) I'm not an aficionado of his back catalog yet, but I can report that his new record, Tinta y Tiempo (translated: Ink and Time), is a wonderful collection that mines myriad rhythms from South America history and injects a contemporary touch that reminds you what century it is right now. With that in mind, enter inspired cameo by Israeli electro-pop star in waiting, Noga Erez, herself a bit of a musical chameleon, on album highlight "¡Oh, Algoritmo!" From the jump, Drexler percolates the fuck out of this track, which may be the fastest acting caffeine delivery system to come out of South America since the yerba maté. Oh, and if you listen closely to (or translate) the lyrics, you'll find the song to be surprisingly high concept. According to Drexler, it's about free will from the perspective of "recent findings in neuroscience." Leave it to Jorge to pull all his passions together with such panache.
*He won Best Original Song for "Al Otro Lado del Río" from 2004's Che Guevara road trip film, The Motorcyle Diaries.
Moment of Conversion: Off and running four-seconds in.
007 ALABASTER DEPLUME | "Don't Forget You're Precious"
Blurb: Given name: Angus Fairbairn. So why the need for alter-ego Alabaster DePlume? After all, both would look just as regal on the spine of a thick British novel. Evidently, this Manchester saxophonist/beat-poet felt the need to create a distinct artistic persona, hence the nom de plume (I see what he did there). And indeed, he does create his own reality with his music, so it makes perfect nonsense. While others have combined spoken word, poetry, and jazz before, somehow his new album, Gold, still seems atmospherically novel. The fragments that make up the record—some fully developed, some marvelously unfinished—are characterized as "wrongly recorded" (his words) improvisational passages. Bewilderingly, they all combine to form an oddly cohesive whole. "Don't Forget You're Precious" is an early-album highlight, and acts as the thematic blueprint for all that follows. DePlume tells of his own struggles to remember his own self-worth. He admits that he knows his PIN number, where to change trains, when to check his Instagram, and hilariously, how to say "calculator" in German (Taschenrechner, as it turns out), but he also is prone to forget his own value; alas, he is worth being seen and heard. Consider this, then, your welcome mat to our Q2 mixtape.
Moment of Conversion: The sentiment
006 SPOON | "On the Radio"
Blurb: "On the Radio" is my musical origin story as written by Spoon's Britt Daniel. It's also his own, of course. I'd say it is likely the story of aging music obsessives everywhere who used to hang on the dial for the next great song to arrive. I know I spent hours waiting for my favorite songs to come on the radio or to find my next favorite three-minutes. At one point here, Britt sings, "I think I was born to it," and I know that's an accurate assessment. While he may have been born to play music, I was born to listen to it. I don't know how else to explain myself.
Moment of Conversion: Ragtimey piano
005 WHITNEY | "Twirl"
Blurb: This is about the simplest song to ever make my Top 10 Songs of the Year list. It's surely the only one to have. a couplet that, when taken out of context, reads like bad fourth-grade poetry.
We know that life only brings bad news
But I'm gonna try to dance with the moon
I've also wracked my brain without luck to remember another favorite song that requires only one letter to write its chorus
On paper, "Twirl" is about as imaginative as a sugar cookie, but just as sweet. Great, timeless things can be made from basic ingredients. It's all how you put them together, and when.
Moment of Conversion: The oooo, oooos, of course.
004 ARCHERS OF LOAF | "Human"
Blurb: The success of the Archers of Loaf reunion after 24-years was 2022's most pleasant surprise. Singer Erich Bachmann has been busy while the band was idle, so the condition of his weathered and worn voice wasn't a big worry. Thankfully, the band hasn't lost a step either. Add a batch of songs that already sound like indie-rock classics and the die is cast. One of those songs is the opening track, "Human," which explains why they might've been gone, but also why they're back.
Moment of Conversion: The first time Bachmann's voice enters stage left.
003 DESTROYER | "June"
Blurb: The miracle of Dan Bejar's songwriting is that you're never quite sure where he's been or where he's going. His wildly creative songs even stood out amongst those written by his genius bandmate in the New Pornographers, A.C. Newman. Not an easy task. There's really no explanation or directions supplied for his music and that's a good thing. Maybe that's why he titled his 13th (!) album with his band Destroyer, Labyrinthitis. Is this finally how we can codify our experience listening to his music? If it is, this is the best kind of disease you can get. One where the path is never clear, the intent often hazy, the surroundings deliriously disorienting. I was driving through the city in the rain the other night with "June" as my companion and I played it over and over again, marveling at the audacity of its creation, complete with its forays into fractured disco and the burning sensation that an album's worth of songs had been blended into one six-minute mini-masterpiece.
Moment of Conversion: Fancy language dies and everyone's happy to see it go.
002 IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE | "Protection From Evil"
Blurb: If you're going to call yourself a "sound machine" you better have the goods to back it up. I'd say the Miami Sound Machine lived up to their name based on "Conga" alone, their smash single from 1985. If anything sounded like it was born in a South Beach disco of Latin parents, that song was probably it. Ibibio Sound Machine, based in London, owe their name to a sect of people in southern coastal Nigeria. So you know you're in for some killer African rhythms at the very start, but this band is much more than just another Afro-pop band (like that would be a bad thing). They layer electronic dance music over the top of those infectious rhythms in order to create a nightclub vibe with some muscle behind it. A producer credit to Hot Chip likely tells you all you need to know about the sound of the record. This is well-produced dance music married to timeless rhythms—rhythms woven into the DNA of African culture for centuries. And then there's Eno Williams, an often fierce, always commanding, singer with the swagger of several confident and powerful women combined. On "Protection from Evil," she's sounds positively tough, like an intimidating bouncer at some Soho dance club. At the start, a distinct Talking Heads vibe makes you expect a mellow groove, but the song quickly accelerates into a voodoo dance ritual set to music. The title of their amazing new record tells you all you need to know....Electricity.
Moment of Conversion: Eno Williams takes the stage at 0:43
001 JEAN-MICHEL BLAIS | "Passepied"
Blurb: "Passepied" (pronounced pass-pee-ay) is Pickled Priest's #1 Song of the Year and it comes from Aubades, our #1 Album of the Year. That doesn't happen very often, but this year there was no other possibility. No one piece of music thrilled me nearly as much, no one piece of music made me feel immune to the potential hazards of my surroundings, both physical and emotional. Nothing bad can happen when you're listening to a song this grand, this joyous, this full of life. A chamber ensemble eases us into the piece which segues on a gorgeous Blais piano interlude right into a regal mid-section that swells like something important has just happened (has a queen entered the room?). At the 2:14 mark (has it only been that long?), the pulse quickens and sweeping strings soar as the song reaches its triumphant conclusion, ending in dramatic fashion. Cue standing ovation even thought we're only two pieces into the album. Bravo!
Moment of Conversion: The entirety, as it should be for the #1 song of the year.
Well, that's our song list. Tune in next week for our Album Covers of the Year 2022. Both good and bad. Until then...