2022 YEAR IN REVIEW: Our Top 50 Favorite Records of the Year
Here's our annual Top 50 Favorite Records of the Year list for entry into the Official Congressional Record. We specifically don't say "Best Records of the Year" because we haven't heard every record, so we can't make that claim. In fact, nobody can. That said, we listen to hundreds of albums each year and gain some closure in writing about our personal favorites. We do hope you find a couple new records from this list to your liking. We stand by them, but we don't expect even partial agreement since taste cannot be litigated, but it can be shared. So, without further preamble, here are the records the Pickled Priest played the most this year.
In descending order for dramatic purposes.
You got to pay your way in pain
If pain was a pollutant, and it can be argued it's the worst kind, Chat Pile's new record could be classified as a Superfund site by the EPA. There's a toxic darkness permeating almost every moment of the pejoratively titled God's Country and I have to admit that it scares me a little bit. I'm not entirely sure why either, but I suspect it's because there's a part of me that thrives on it. Acknowledging even the darkest parts of your soul can be cathartic in ways you don't even understand. Scream therapy and rage rooms are a thing for a reason. So, suffice it to say, this album doesn't deliver a wholesome family road trip through the swaying wheat fields of America's heartland. But one listen will convince you that the angst and desperation on display throughout this visceral record is very real. Even better, it's executed not with the usual combination of gratuitous shredding and Cookie Monster vocals typical of bands who still insist on using the played-out "thicket-style" band logo approach. Instead, it has depth, subtlety, and nuance underneath its undeniably raw power. Even the nine-minute closing track, about a weed-fueled encounter with the infamous purple McDonaldland shake-stealer, Grimace, turns real dark uncomfortably fast. Anyone for an Unhappy Meal?
"Wicked Puppet Dance"
MIKE ADAMS AT HIS HONEST WEIGHT
Pure pop for now people served with the efficiency of a Doublemint Gum commercial because one power-pop record is never enough, especially when you're surfing a tasty batch of fresh melodies. Who wants that to end? Dazy, aka James Goodson, has been riding a bit of a wave himself lately thanks to the buzz generated by his cult-classic compilation from 2021, Maximumblastsuperloud, which stacked his first 24 singles in one convenient sugar rush like a power-pop Pez dispenser ("Crowded Mind (Lemon Lime)" was our #17 song of last year). Now we finally get his first official album, Outofbody (space bar still not working properly). The risk with having a mini-viral moment is when the subsequent release lacks the intangible charm of its predecessor. Not the case here; the full banging, studio-recorded version of Dazy is equally joyful and every song dominates on the car stereo where it rightfully belongs (convertible recommended). Criminally underrated Indiana native Mike Adams has been around a decade longer than Goodson, but his deceptively complex pop songs are ultra-catchy and reward closer inspection (even the song about his cat, "Me & Tammy"). There's more going on here than just superficial pop jams. His are the rare pop songs that initially impress, but then get better and better over time. So here's your antidote to our #50 record if you need it. In case of sunshine, break glass.
Priest Picks (Dazy)
"Out of Body"
"Choose Yr Ramone"
Priest Picks (Mike Adams)
"Me & Tammy"
"Tie-Dyed & Tongue Tied"
MAN SEEKING GUITARS: Rapidly aging music lover seeking likeminded bands to inject
nasty guitar riffs back into life: no wankers or white bluesmen need apply.
Based on the amount of guitar bands on this list, you'd think we placed an ad in the trades this year or something, for we were blessed with several new records from long-established groups that not only returned to save our day, but also made albums that legitimately rank among their career best. I can see your eyes rolling from here. How many similar claims have been made by overzealous music critics over the years? All I can say is this year is different and hope you believe me. The first of the bunch is from Brooklyn chameleons Oneida, who have remained vital over the years by being wholly unpredictable and creatively restless. Listen to what we have here and tell me there's even trace levels of patina forming on Kid Millions, Fat Bobby, and the boys. This is a band that never settled on one thing for long, instead letting their experimental tendencies guide them. Success is their guitar rock record and it comes just in the nick of time, too.
"Beat Me to the Punch"
"I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand"
This Machine Still Kills Fascists
(Dummy Luck Music)
Famously, the estate of Woody Guthrie opened up their vaults to Billy Bragg and Wilco back in 1998 and 2000 and the project resulted in two near-perfect volumes of new songs based on unused Guthrie lyrics. A resounding success by all accounts. Twenty years later, Boston-based, Irish pub-rock legends Dropkick Murphys have been afforded the same opportunity. The band's breakout song, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," made famous via its prominent inclusion in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, was initially inspired by a Guthrie lyric, so the logic makes sense. One could fairly be a little skeptical that the band had enough diversity and nuance to their sound to pull off such a record, but alas, they have almost completely succeeded. These ten official Irishman rally songs are proof. The band has always worn their blue-collars as a badge of honor, so thematically this material suits them well, for Guthrie was a die-hard supporter of the working class his entire life. It's great to hear more from Guthrie's seemingly endless well of working class poetry and the Dropkick Murphy's have given the material the respect it deserves.
"Two 6's Upside Down"
"Where Trouble Is At"
"Never Git Drunk No More"
Canadian cold front movin' in
What a way to ride, oh what a way to go
- "Acadian Driftwood", The Band
The bittersweet Colder Streams comes to us as the last Sadies record featuring band guitarist, and Canadian cult icon, Dallas Good, who died earlier this year at the age of 48 from a coronary illness. He jokingly announced in the album's press kit that this was "By far, the best record that has ever been made by anyone. Ever." Even with the obvious playful bias, it's a claim that makes you want to see if he was possibly speaking at least a partial truth. Of course, it doesn't soar to the lofty heights promised, but the Sadies have made a classic roots-psych record without a bum song in the bunch. I kept expecting a letdown, but song after song, it never came. Fittingly, the record ends with a song titled "End Credits" which may be a coincidence or an omen depending on your vantage point. While this movie has a sad ending, it also has a phenomenal soundtrack.
"Message to Belial"
"You Should Be Worried"
On our Q3 mixtape, we called Rae "a bit of a dreamer and a lot of an oddball." Individually, both traits I admire. That said, sometimes those qualities can backfire. On Rachel@Fairyland, she almost seems to be daring people to take a hard pass on the record, what with its cheesy cover and insufferable title (her screen name when she was a little girl, which is cute, but not an excuse). I like to think I have a sixth sense of a record's quality just from looking at it, but this is pushing it. If I hadn't already been converted by her superb 2018 record, Someone Out There, I surely would've breezed past this sophisticated pop gem at the record shop. That's a shame, too, because this record deserves to be heard. Rae's main talent is taking conventional pop forms and luring them into her own sonic wonderland for an overhaul. With sweeping strings, tasteful orchestral arrangements, and surprisingly sophisticated vocals, her songs soar with a childlike innocence even when they are delivering mature themes. Maybe her screen name was prescient after all, but it's still a bad title for an album.
"No Woman is an Island"
I really liked Warpaint's 2022 record, Radiate Like This, but I kept gravitating instead to this internet-search-defying side-project collaboration between in-demand band drummer Stella Mozgawa and hip-hop producer Boom Bip (Bryan Hollon). The record found its way into my headphones regularly this year as an all-purpose mood-setter and dynamic-shifter. It became my de facto soundtrack for enhancing just about any activity, no matter how mundane; from house cleaning to Power Point-developing to leaf bagging to thought-thinking. It was both non-intrusive and motivating at the same time, thanks to Bip's cold, calculated blips and beeps and Mozgawa's insistent, interwoven pitter-patter, which deftly wound its way in and around the impersonal machinations with an intuitive touch only a live musician can provide. The two elements combined to create a perfect atmosphere and made my life infinitely more interesting in the process.
Hornsby has been off the "Range," pardon the pun, for much longer than he was on it. The songs most know him for ("The Way It Is," "Every Little Kiss," "Mandolin Rain," et al) are now a quarter-century old, but they have aged gracefully, becoming timeless favorites for many. To his credit, and likely financial detriment, he's a musician's musician, never content to sit still and cash checks. Instead he's regularly gone off on unpredictable tangents, working in genres as diverse as bluegrass, jazz, folk, electronica and just about everything in between. He's toured with the Grateful Dead, has had a long working relationship with Spike Lee, and he's become a respected elder for countless contemporary musicians (Bon Iver's Justin Vernon being the most vocal). The guy pursues what interests him and I respect that. For his last three albums, even by his own standards, he's gone completely off the map, doing whatever tickles his fancy. His latest is exemplar of this approach and has a joyful "anything goes" spirit that never ceases to at least amuse. Celebrity cameos like Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig and Haim's Danielle Haim add some intrigue, but what really stands out is Hornsby's restless creativity and virtuosic musical talent. He pulls off almost everything here with aplomb, even stuff that shouldn't work on paper like a pseudo-rap version of Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" that might've been a contender for the Sopranos theme song if it had been recorded 25 years ago.
This is a Photograph
After casually and likely unfairly dismissing Kevin Morby as a precocious new-Dylan wannabe for seven records, he finally won me over this year. Not a small accomplishment. Rarely does a so-called conversion happen so far into a career, but as a practicing fictional Athiest priest I'm of the opinion that the only thing that matters is that it happens eventually, even if it's on your deathbed. A loophole, to be sure, but religion is fraught with them, so why shouldn't my logic follow suit? I don't know if he will maintain his current favored nation status, but as long as he keeps writing songs of the high quality found on This is a Photograph, I'm on board. So, Kevin, you're on probation for now. Don't fuck it up.
"This is a Photograph"
TEARS FOR FEARS
The Tipping Point
Few bands came out of the UK hype machine with more force than Suede back in early 90s. With singer Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler the band had a one-two punch that seemed nearly invincible. Their debut is rightly considered a classic Britpop album and it's one of the most influential. When Butler left the group immediately thereafter some assumed the band might be done, but they soldiered on for a bit before disbanding. When they returned (still sans Butler) with Bloodsports, in 2013, the record blew me away. In truth, I wasn't a major Suedehead to begin with, which made the development even more astonishing. Even more shocking is that three albums later, we have the band's best album since reforming. Autofiction is a revelation, albeit one that sounds out of sync with its time and element. Which to some might sound like an insult, but I mean it in the best possible way. I never thought I'd hear myself say such a thing, but it's great to hear a band power-up an arena-ready record packed to the gills with giant rock songs. Glastonbury, here we come! Holy shit, is this going to sound amazing ringing through the Somerset countryside. And there's no better singer to carry that off than Brett Anderson, possessor of one of rock's great voices, still in pristine condition I may add. He sounds in his prime throughout the record, consistently soaring to the rafters and howling like a wolf at midnight—the word majestic comes to mind. It's truly inspiring to hear a band pulling off a big record like this so far into a long career arc. It may not fit in with current trends, but that's what makes it so exhilarating.
Tears for Fears, on the other hand, pre-dates the gents in Suede by a full decade. They also had a dynamic duo at the helm—Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith—who managed to stay together a little longer before wanting to kill each other. As per egotistical protocol, the band broke up just when they should've hit the gas. Of course they reunited, now mandated by British law, and began writing songs again. The Tipping Point is the result of that reunion, and seventeen years later the band has an album worthy of their discography. Miraculously, there's not a whiff of trying too hard here—just two very good songwriters inspired to create music together again. Nobody saw it coming, but the magic is still there. Shout, shout, let it it all out!
Priest Picks (Suede)
"She Still Leads Me On"
"It's Always the Quiet Ones"
Priest Picks (Tears for Fears)
"Rivers of Mercy"
"No Small Thing"
Chicago's International Anthem Records is becoming one of those labels where you don't even bother giving their albums a test listen prior to purchasing. You just do it on faith. Their roster is absolutely packed with amazingly diverse talent, most tangentially related to the jazz realm, but not all; among them, Ben LaMar Gay, Makaya McCraven, Jeff Parker, Irreversible Entanglements, (the sadly late) Jaimie Branch, Angel Bat Dawid, Damon Locke, Alabaster DePlume, and Chicago Latin psych band Dos Santos. And from Dos Santos now comes drummer Daniel Villarreal's debut album, Panamá 77 (the place and year of his birth). Each year, I discover some common denominators in my Top 50 list and one recurring theme from 2022 is drums, lots of drums. We've always been a slave to the backbeat, the foundation of all rhythm, but this year it seems even more pronounced. Villarreal is a real find, too, guiding a host of cohorts through genre-bending improvisations that manage to sound positively premeditated. There's a natural exotic flow to the record, and that's not just because some of it was recorded outside (see cover). Villarreal's vast array of influences cannot help but surface during the performances here and his collaborations only help push them to the surface, creating magic in the process.
OFF!’s first new record in eight years translates the work of an alien race
attempting to rebuild the remains of your destroyed record collection.
Now that's genius. Utter press kit genius. It's a lot to live up to, of course, but the new record from L.A. punks OFF! pretty much pulls it, uh, off on Free LSD, their first new record in eight years. Still at the microphone is punk veteran Keith Morris, original lead singer of Black Flag and founder of Cali-punk faves the Circle Jerks—so he's got the pedigree—but considering the Jerks' classic debut Group Sex came out in 1980, he's, shall we say, old. With a new band behind him for this record, including past members of Trail of Dead and Burning Brides, he's chosen to take them into a heavier punk direction. Which means punk vocals and heavy guitar riffing dominates each track, with some free-jazz skronk interludes providing the occasional palate cleanser. Gotta say, the result sounds anything but a bunch of dudes clinging to their glory days. To me, this sounds more vital and powerful than anything they've done before.
"War Above Los Angeles"
"Time Will Come"
This Mess We're In
(Oh Boy Records)
I'm still recovering from the emotional wreckage caused by his previous record, Die Midwestern, but there's little relief to be found on its ominously-titled follow-up, This Mess We're In. I guess you don't fuck up your life for forty years and then exorcise your demons in one album—it's a process. McKinley has belatedly emerged as one of Americana's best songwriters, writing aching melodies for his thoughtfully considered words. Depending on where you're at in your life these can inspire or devastate. Perhaps both.
"Stealing Dark From the Night Sky"
"This Mess We're In"
"To Die For"
In These Times
The second record on our list from the embarrassment of riches that is the International Anthem roster of artists. Makaya McCraven, another supremely talented drummer, finds himself, like Daniel Villarreal mentioned earlier, directing a combo from behind his drum kit. And the guy's an absolute genius with the sticks. He's not one to show off either, rather a drummer who knows exactly when to drop in and when to lay back. As with the late great Tony Allen, he's the kind of drummer you'll want to isolate so you can absorb his personal contributions to each track. Have you every watched a basketball game and followed one player's movements for a few minutes just to see how they operate? When you do, you start to appreciate their off-the-ball movements, their strategic intelligence, and the sheer grace of their perpetual motion. Then, when you return to a more broad perspective, you tend to appreciate the overall flow of the game even more than before. McCraven can dazzle equally in the quietest moments as he does when he steps up as the featured player. Spend some time with this record and you'll see what I mean.
"In These Times"
"This Place That Place"
ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS
The Boy Named If
Easily my favorite Costello record of the last decade, possibly two, mainly because it features Elvis circling back to full-throttle rock & roll once again. And it doesn't take long for him to get there either. The first ten seconds of album-opener, "Farewell, OK," burns rubber out of the gate behind a Chuck Berry riff with Elvis and his Imposters (Attractions minus one) following close behind, full-throated and vital, clearly overjoyed to be ripping it up together at least one more time. Add in some killer ballads along the way and we've got not just a late-career highlight, but a great Elvis record regardless of era.
"The Boy Named If"
"My Most Beautiful Mistake"
"Trick Out the Truth"
Our sub-motto at Pickled Priest is "Music + Humor" so it's no surprise Wet Leg appeal to us. They write catchy songs that often have a razor sharp sense of humor. I was relieved to find that the ubiquitous "Chaise Longue" (which made our 2021 Favorite Songs list) was not just a one-off novelty (I've been burned many times before). Instead, I found clever, well-constructed pop songs, often with great depth and/or insight, up and down the running order. Perfect little lyric bombs abound and lend their songs just the right amount of humor—sometimes sarcastic, sometimes self-deprecating, always amusing. Here are my Top 5 favorites:
Would you like us to get someone to butter your muffin? ("Chaise Longue")
You climb on to the bonnet / And you're licking the windscreen / I've never seen something so obscene ("Wet Dream")
And when you're getting blazed, spooning mayonnaise / Yeah, I know it's time to go ("Ur Mom")
I don't need no dating app to tell me if I look like crap / To tell me if I'm thin or fat, to tell me should I shave my rat ("Too Late Now")
I've got a shit heart now / It gives shit lovin' ("It's a Shame")
"Being in Love"
"I Don't Wanna Go Out"
"Too Late Now"
With luminaries like Jack White, T-Bone Burnett, and legendary rock critic Greil Marcus all singing their praises, and not faintly I may add, I expected a bigger bang to come from Stand True, the Americans' second LP. This kind of earnest, open-hearted Americana is often overlooked, of course, in favor of the flavors of the moment, but their lack of success has nothing to do with the quality of their songs. From the opening tear-in-your-beer title track, they'll have you in the palm of their hands. And from there, the songs tumble out, some loud, some soft, but always memorable. One fan at a time, boys, one fan at a time. You now have one more.
"What I Would Do"
"Guest of Honor"
(Joyful Noise/Stone Tapes)
The Israelites strike again for the second year in a row! Last year, with Tamar Aphek's All Bets Are Off and now with guitar master Yonatan Gat's amazing third album, American Quartet. Gat, after a period in Israel's beloved Monotonix, has now become a solo instrumental artist, releasing innovative guitar albums since 2015's cranium-rattling Director. Now he's back with a mind-bogglingly ambitious undertaking that, ho-hum, reimagines Czech composer Antonín Dvorák's chamber music piece "String Quartet No. 12," better known as "American Quartet," as a rock guitar album. What have you done lately? The piece was originally written for violins, viola, and cello, so the transition doesn't seem intuitive to me. But Gat, with some help from members of Deerhoof and Mdou Moctar's band, turns the piece upside down with head-shaking brilliance. This you've gotta hear.
All four parts in one sitting is your best bet
King of Drums
Everybody's favorite white Nova Scotian rapper by default, Buck 65 slipped a killer new record under the radar this year that is simply packed with genius bon mots. And almost nobody outside of Canada took much notice (other than uber-fan Robert Christgau). As promised by the title, the foundation of each track, unhelpfully titled "Part 1" all the way through to "Part 21" (grrrr) are driven along by great drum beats. That's the easy part to enjoy. Lyrically, the process of digesting the typical Buck 65 album is normally a long one, with little asides and off-handed lyrics revealing themselves over time. There's more cultural references per square inch this side of an R.A. The Rugged Man joint, so I'm nowhere near done with it yet, but the time-release aspect of Buck 65's records has always been its best quality so I'm confident this will eventually rank alongside his other classic, Talkin' Honky Blues).
BELLE & SEBASTIAN
A Bit of Previous
It's almost impossible to believe Belle and Sebastian have been around over a quarter-century now. Scotland's finest purveyors of featherweight pop artifacts are a band you can easily take for granted, but with A Bit of Previous they've made a statement that they are still at the top of their songwriting game. Their consistently fine craftsmanship means every song is worthy of display right there in the store display window—no need to keep anything in the storeroom.
"If They're Shooting at You"
"Come on Home"
THE BOBBY LEES
Upstate New York's fiery Bobby Lees released an EP earlier this year (Hollywood Junkyard) and then dropped Bellevue a few months later. All the songs on the EP appear on the album, so that kinda pissed me off—so I docked them ten places for wasting my money. Now over it, we're left with an imperfect, sometimes a bit too self-aware, elephant gun blast of swagger and attitude. It's a glorious mess by design, though, led by human flamethrower Sam Quartin's maniacal delivery, which brings with it the dangerous unpredictability of a loaded handgun left on a coffee table. Extra credit given for an old-fashioned diss-track, "Greta Van Fake," which absolutely lights up Zeppelin-wannabe cock-rockers Greta Van Fleet. That's gotta hurt.
"Be My Enemy"
"Dig Your Hips"
HEDVIG MOLLESTAD & TRONDHEIM JAZZ ORCHESTRA
What the holy fuck is going on in Norwegian maternity wards?! I've witnessed two births and I've heard nothing close to the music on this album in the birthing room or the nursery. Is this is the soundtrack the typical Norge infant is subjected to in the womb and/or shortly thereafter? If so, I think I've solved the case of why Norway produces so many black metal bands. While Hedvig Mollestad's music isn't technically metal, it is a noisy jazz-rock hybrid that freaks the fuck out regularly. Certainly not the soundtrack to soothe the typical newborn, but Hedvig just had a baby girl, so we may soon find out how that goes in about 16 years. In addition to a new baby, she been wildly productive of late. Just last year she placed two records in the #4 spot on our Top 50 list (Ding Dong. You're Dead. and Tempest Revisited) and now Heddy is back with another brilliant record in 2022. This time, she's supposedly musing on her pregnancy with the help of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a group that has been lauded as an "orchestra capable of handling anything and everything that's put in front of it." I imagine if you had a flooded basement, they'd morph into the Trondheim Sewer Pipe Ensemble and blast out the clog quickly and efficiently. They'e that versatile. The collaboration is inspired, too, the record even better. I just got it, so expect a slow rise up the ranks as time passes.
"Donna Ovis Peppa"
"Little Lucid Demons/Alfons"
A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS
See Through You
Although it's a minor miracle that anyone in this band can still hear at this point, Brooklyn's supremely loud (and when I say loud, I'm not talking "This one goes to 11" loud, I'm talking "This one goes to 25 loud") heavy machinery operators have delivered arguably their finest record six albums into their career with See Through You. Fully prepared for what was to come, I turned down the volume of my stereo before pressing play for the first time and somehow it still seemed to be at a punishing volume. There's a creepy, abandoned steel-mill echo found on most tracks that makes the drums seem gigantic, the guitars borderline frightening, and the vocals seem like the Wizard of Oz now lives in an old slaughterhouse in the meat-packing district. But underneath it all are songs, gloriously executed songs. They may sound like they're spewing out of sewer grates, malfunctioning machinery, and shredded speaker cabinets, but they are crushingly powerful and strangely beautiful in their own way.
"Let's See Each Other"
"My Head is Bleeding"
"Nice of You to Be There for Me"
Where's the One?
While I don't love repeat content, I wrote a lot about this record earlier this year and I don't have much more to add. Here's the gist:
This record is a mini-miracle. How it originated (ten years ago), how it was recorded (mostly long distance), and how well it works (spectacularly) is a tribute to commitment of everyone involved. At its core, it's a record rooted in the rhythms of Africa (courtesy of revered Congolese bands Kasai All Stars and Konono No. 1), but it also includes contributions from guests scattered around the globe. San Francisco's Deerhoof somehow make an appearance, Argentina's Juana Molina represents South America, and a band called Wildbirds & Peacedrums checks in from Sweden for reasons unknown. A host of other guest musicians and vocalists join the party as well. It should be a mess, but instead it's magic. Just about everything works. From a reworking of Deerhoof's "Super Duper Rescue Heads!" (from Deerhoof vs. Evil) to Konono No. 1's epic "Kule Kule Redux" and pretty much everything in between, the contributions are first rate. There may not be a better first 30-minutes on any other album released this year. And good news, after that initial barrage, there's still 40-minutes left to go. You might argue for a nip and tuck in the editing room here and there to provide for an easier commitment, but the vibe is so infectious, good luck with that.
"Kule Kule Redux"
"Super Super Rescue Allstars"
BUILT TO SPILL
When the Wind Forgets Your Name
I spent a little time earlier this year writing about Built to Spill's long shelf-life here at Pickled Priest. When we think indie-rock, we think Built to Spill, plain and simple. There are few bands we respond to as consistently and we have Doug Martsch, the only constant member in their history, to thank. When the Wind is simultaneously more of the same and also something a bit different. We want that thrilling BTS sound (from South Idaho, not South Korea) like it's a drug, but we also don't mind that he made the album with a Brazilian rhythm section either, although I would've welcomed more of their South American influence throughout the album. Either way, having another vital record from one of our all-time favorite bands is a good thing.
Very literate and insightful English post-punk that manages to sound like an issue-oriented, socially aware version of Parquet Courts, complete with minimalist tendencies, simplistic bass lines, and droll, mostly spoken lyrics. The intentionally basic rhythmic foundation allows room for a stack of sharp dart quotes to pile up in a corner booth of some campus pub at the University of Leeds, where an inspired, ale-fueled rant is underway and we get to eavesdrop from the next table.
Adapted from a previous post:
I give it up to Pitchfork only occasionally, but the writer who said Chicago's Dehd "hit like intravenously delivered exclamation points" summed up the band's sound best. Why waste brain cells trying to come up with something better? Their second album, Blue Skies, is just like their other one, 2020's great Flower of Devotion (a Top 50 Pickled Priest record) and that's fine with me. Every dreamy song seems to be short and catchy with a vocal hook built into the chorus that immediately logs into your memory bank. I even like the dude's songs this time.
"Empty in My Mind"
Could it be as easy as saying I just like their songs? That's what all this is about isn't it? Find an artist with a knack for writing smart lyrics, sticky choruses, and clever melodies, and let them play. If you have a great singer, even better. Georgia Gothic is a row of musical dominos that you'll want to set up and knock down again and again. Nothin' to skip either, which I appreciate. Mattiel, named after singer/songwriter Mattiel Brown, is technically a duo. Jonah Swilley is her cohort and they hail from Atlanta—hence the title. They play indie-pop songs with a little retro vibe and a wicked sense of humor, so you can tell why they appeal to us. They're crafty songwriters, too. Im gong to say it's the sleeper record of 2022 for me, just sitting here in the Top 25 like it doesn't know how it got here.
"Blood in the Yolk"
"How It Ends"
Adapted from a previous post:
Tell the Lone Ranger he has some competition. It comes in the form of a mysterious masked country singer from Canada named Orville Peck. Peck has one of those voices that comes along once in a lifetime. One that at some point had never been heard before. If only to be present when he realized his super power for the first time. What a large screen moment that must've been. On record, Peck's promise has been apparent from day one and has been building up to a full scale gallop ever since. His magnificent first album, Pony, was released by Sub Pop, an odd pairing for sure, but they saw an artist who defied labels and needed to be heard. Soon, he was scooped up by Columbia Records, who saw his crossover potential. His first release for the label was a fabulous little stop gap EP titled Show Pony (sense a theme yet?). The EP featured a worrisome Shania Twain cameo, but was otherwise an essential piece of Peck's story. That story now goes to the silver screen with Bronco, and it's a triumphant performance. Let's put it this way: no more ponies for Orville. The cover of Bronco features Peck clad in gold lamé, boldly standing in front of a majestic, rearing black beauty. The intent is clear. This is the big time—a double-LP coming-out party on vinyl meant to showcase a major talent. Will a mysterious gay cowboy with a golden baritone be able to make the leap? He should, if people are open to something that operates by its own rule book, one written exclusively by our reluctant hero.
"C'mon Baby, Cry"
"Let Me Drown"
THE COMET IS COMING
Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam
This year's Shabaka Hutchings contribution to our year-end list is a wild ride through a black hole into a future where machines and saxophones coexist on the same level, sometimes battling for supremacy, but mostly living together in harmony. The results are routinely thrilling, driven by the undulating, skronking sax of King Shabaka, perhaps our favorite living jazz magician (and I didn't mean to write "musician"). Somehow, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam lives up to its otherworldly title. Mind-melting spaceship music for light-speed cruising. Not fancy wordplay, that's just what it sounds like.
The cover of Teeth Marks may seem like a throwback to your youth, when connecting the dots was a fun little game with a clear payoff. But here, the implication is that S.G. is somehow incomplete at the moment, in need of someone or something to fill in parts of her missing self. For the duration of the album she struggles with that very idea, only to find the heart isn't a very reliable method of completing the picture. She's a Kentucky girl born and raised and her distinctive voice injects each of these songs with a distinct Southern charm, but she doesn't sugar coat anything, she gives it to you warts and all. There are some tough moments to gulp down along the way. A palpable feeling of sorrow dominates some of these tracks, only made slightly better by a few rockers that find her convincingly blowing off some needed steam now and then. But for the most part, this is an emotionally devastating and gripping album. You'll be cheering for her along the way, too. I wanted to pull out a Sharpie and connect the dots for her, but in the end, she has to do that herself. That's how it works.
"Work Til I Die"
"If You Were Someone I Loved/You Were Someone I Loved"
Age of Apathy
Aoife O'Donovan's effortless voice makes me melt. It's understated, natural beauty is nothing short of a gift.* I seek it out when I need to find to a peaceful place, which is so often that this may be my most played record of 2022. It is my solace, my refuge. And she writes really gorgeous songs, too, so her gift is not wasted on sub-par material. I'm pretty much in love with her (music?) at this point.
*Check out her Tiny Desk Concert on NPR if you want so see how easy Aoife makes it seem.
CATE LE BON
I know I have a original piece of art on my hands when I struggle to describe it. Such is the case with the songs of Cate Le Bon. With prominent bass lines, synth textures, muted saxophones, distant clarinet, and more conventional guitars and drums (the latter provided by the ubiquitous and brilliant Stella Mozgawa), her peculiar brand of minimalist, mercurial pop emerges. Her songs sound like nothing you've heard before, but that doesn't make them inaccessible—just intentionally hard to pin down. There's something liberating about not quite knowing how or why something was made or what it's really about. Interestingly, the album's first single, the brilliant "Moderation," is the closest she comes to a conventional pop song. The rest of the album is more elusive than that, borderline experimental at times, touching on ideas and then leaving them be. It's a wonderful sensation, this album. One that quickly becomes addicting.
THE JAZZ BUTCHER
The Highest in the Land
Pat Fish, aka the Jazz Butcher, knew he was dying when he made The Highest in the Land, but even when he acknowledges that fact, he seems positively content with his predicament. "Time" takes on his dilemma head-on: "My hair's all wrong / My time ain't long / Fishy go to heaven / Get along, get along." His mood is playful, his words deftly chosen, just like he's been doing for decades. This is no sad sack farewell; this is Pat Fish doing what he does best. There's not a record on this list, or in this world, quite like The Highest in the Land, and it makes me sad that this is the end of the road, but happy that he got to go out on his own poetic terms.
"Melanie Hargreaves' Father's Jaguar"
This Baltimore band is so committed to their brand of mechanical instrumentation that all but one of them moved to Germany recently. Now that's going all-in! It makes sense; this is mathematically precise instrumental music that relies on machine-like repetition, so taking up residence in the same country that brought us Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, and many others of the same ilk seems entirely logical. And if that all sounds a bit clinical to you, I understand, but the music they make together is robotically thrilling at times, rhythmically hypnotic at others. There's even a free-jazz freakout mid-album that would make the Stooges proud. If you've got a late night drive in your future, here's your soundtrack.
"Zero Degree Machine"
"Law of Movement"
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY & BOLIS PUPUL
This odd electro-pop record from Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul