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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.


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50

CHAT PILE

God's Country

(The Flenser)

Blurb

You got to pay your way in pain

-St. Vincent


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?


Priest Picks

"Why"

"Wicked Puppet Dance"

"grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg"


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49 (tie)

DAZY

Outofbody

(Convulse)


49 (tie)

MIKE ADAMS AT HIS HONEST WEIGHT

Graphic Blandishment

(Joyful Noise)

Blurb

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"

"Rollercoaster Ride"

"Choose Yr Ramone"


Priest Picks (Mike Adams)

"Me & Tammy"

"Atmosphere"

"Tie-Dyed & Tongue Tied"


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48

ONEIDA

Success

(Joyful Noise)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Beat Me to the Punch"

"I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand"

"Paralyzed"


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47

DROPKICK MURPHYS

This Machine Still Kills Fascists

(Dummy Luck Music)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Two 6's Upside Down"

"Where Trouble Is At"

"Never Git Drunk No More"


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46

THE SADIES

Colder Streams

(Yep Roc)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Message to Belial"

"More Alone"

"You Should Be Worried"


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45

RAE MORRIS

Rachel@Fairyland

(RCA)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Go Dancing"

"Low Brow"

"No Woman is an Island"


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44

BELIEF

Belief

(LEX Records)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Anx"

"Wot"

"Dreams"


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43

BRUCE HORNSBY

'Flicted

(Thirty Tigers)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"The Hound"

"Maybe Now"

"Days Ahead"


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42

KEVIN MORBY

This is a Photograph

(Dead Oceans)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"This is a Photograph"

"Bittersweet, TN"

"Rock Bottom"


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41 (tie)

SUEDE

Autofiction

(BMG)


41 (tie)

TEARS FOR FEARS

The Tipping Point

(Concord)

Blurb

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"

"Personality Disorder"


Priest Picks (Tears for Fears)

"My Demons"

"Rivers of Mercy"

"No Small Thing"


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40

DANIEL VILLARREAL

Panamá 77

(International Anthem)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Ofelia"

"Uncanny"

"Sombras"


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39

OFF!

Free LSD

(Fat Possum)

Blurb

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.

-Press kit


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.


Priest Picks

"War Above Los Angeles"

"Invisible Empire"

"Time Will Come"


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38

ARLO MCKINLEY

This Mess We're In

(Oh Boy Records)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Stealing Dark From the Night Sky"

"This Mess We're In"

"To Die For"


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37

MAKAYA MCCRAVEN

In These Times

(International Anthem)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"So Ubuji"

"In These Times"

"This Place That Place"


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36

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS

The Boy Named If

(EMI)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"The Boy Named If"

"My Most Beautiful Mistake"

"Trick Out the Truth"


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35

WET LEG

Wet Leg

(Domino)

Blurb

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:

  1. Would you like us to get someone to butter your muffin? ("Chaise Longue")

  2. You climb on to the bonnet / And you're licking the windscreen / I've never seen something so obscene ("Wet Dream")

  3. And when you're getting blazed, spooning mayonnaise / Yeah, I know it's time to go ("Ur Mom")

  4. 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")

  5. I've got a shit heart now / It gives shit lovin' ("It's a Shame")


Priest Picks

"Being in Love"

"I Don't Wanna Go Out"

"Too Late Now"


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34

THE AMERICANS

Stand True

(Loose Music)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"What I Would Do"

"Guest of Honor"

"Give Way"


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33

YONATAN GAT

American Quartet

(Joyful Noise/Stone Tapes)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

All four parts in one sitting is your best bet


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32

BUCK 65

King of Drums

(HR)

Blurb

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).


Priest Picks

"Part 4"

"Part 5"

"Part 15"


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31

BELLE & SEBASTIAN

A Bit of Previous

(Matador)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Unnecessary Drama"

"If They're Shooting at You"

"Come on Home"


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30

THE BOBBY LEES

Bellevue

(Ipecac)

Blurb

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.

Priest Picks

"Be My Enemy"

"Little Table"

"Dig Your Hips"


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29

HEDVIG MOLLESTAD & TRONDHEIM JAZZ ORCHESTRA

Maternity Beat

(Rune Grammofon)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Donna Ovis Peppa"

"Maternity Suite"

"Little Lucid Demons/Alfons"


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28

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS

See Through You

(Dedstrange)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Let's See Each Other"

"My Head is Bleeding"

"Nice of You to Be There for Me"


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27

CONGOTRONICS INTERNATIONAL

Where's the One?

(Crammed Discs)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Kule Kule Redux"

"Resila"

"Super Super Rescue Allstars"


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26

BUILT TO SPILL

When the Wind Forgets Your Name

(Sub Pop)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Understood"

"Gonna Lose"

"Spiderweb"


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25

YARD ACT

The Overload

(Island)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"The Overload"

"Tall Poppies"

"Dead Horse"


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24

DEHD

Blue Skies

(Fat Possum)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Bad Love"

"Bop"

"Empty in My Mind"


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23

MATTIEL

Georgia Gothic

(ATO)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Blood in the Yolk"

"Cultural Criminal"

"How It Ends"


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22

ORVILLE PECK

Bronco

(Columbia)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Daytona Sand"

"C'mon Baby, Cry"

"Let Me Drown"


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21

THE COMET IS COMING

Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam

(Impulse!)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Code"

"The Hammer"

"Mystik"


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20

S.G. GOODMAN

Teeth Marks

(Verve Forecast)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Work Til I Die"

"Teeth Marks"

"If You Were Someone I Loved/You Were Someone I Loved"


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19

AOIFE O'DONOVAN

Age of Apathy

(Yep Roc)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"B61"

"Sister Starling"

"Galahad"


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18

CATE LE BON

Pompeii

(Mexican Summer)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Moderation"

"Running Away"

"Harbour"


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17

THE JAZZ BUTCHER

The Highest in the Land

(Tapete)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Melanie Hargreaves' Father's Jaguar"

"Sebastian's Medication"

"Time"


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16

HORSE LORDS

Comradely Objects

(Rvng Intl.)

Blurb

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.


Priest Picks

"Mess Mend"

"Zero Degree Machine"

"Law of Movement"


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15

CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY & BOLIS PUPUL

Topical Dancer

(DEEWEE)

Blurb

This odd electro-pop record from Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul (I had one of those removed by my dermatologist a couple years ago, I believe) is one of those records that scans momentary diversion, but ends up as a permanent inclusion in your record collection mainly because it is unlike anything else I've ever heard. And I like that feeling quite obviously. It works mainly because it combines some serious social commentary, adds playful doses of humor, injects detached, blasé vocals, and layers everything over innovative, minimalist electronic grooves. Topical Dancer is like stumbling into a nightclub where everybody is dressed like Grace Jones. It might be a tad difficult to process your surroundings initially, and you may feel wildly out of place, but it's also fascinating people watching.


Priest Picks

"It Hit Me"

"Ich Mwem"

"Haha"


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14

SPECIAL INTEREST

Endure

(Rough Trade)

Blurb

When their last album, The Passion of Special Interest, was released, I called the band "the least New Orleans-sounding band to ever come out of the Crescent City." That album provided "a version of punk that’s deranged, industrial, and arty in equal measures. It’s not for the meek or faint of heart, but if your ears crave a thrilling 30-minutes of ear-punishing ecstasy—which mine often do—few bands have put it together in a more convincing fashion lately than Special Interest." Glorious praise for a promising band, but what would they do next?


Now we find ourselves face-to-face with their follow-up record, the wildly ambitious Endure, and they've made such a giant creative leap in two years that the results seem positively super-charged. The album packs such a visceral punch it's almost impossible to absorb it in just a few sittings. I can only imagine what a live show will be like with this material. If you think it sounds impressive on record, which it does, it's going to connect on another level during a full-intensity live show. I guarantee it. How could it not be? With it's thumping, frantic, swirling light show of sound there's going to be head-banging, slam dancing, club dancing, and roof-tearing-off going on simultaneously. The band should come with every audio and visual sensitivity warning in the book. Sometimes they remind me of the early, genre-twisting years of TV on the Radio, sometimes the soul-punk of the BellRays, and sometimes the driving political preaching of Algiers, and that's only a start. Suffice it to say, this is not passive listening. The record requires total investment and rewards your rapt attention. So be prepared for an audio attack on the senses and dive in.


Priest Picks

"(Herman's) House"

"Midnight Legend"

"Impulse Control"


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13

AFGHAN WHIGS

How Do You Burn?

(Royal Cream/BMG)

Blurb

If you foolishly wondered, even for a moment, if Afghan Whigs frontman (and there are few who assume that role in the full spirit of the term) Greg Dulli still had his old swagger, the first song on their latest record, "I'll Make You See God" puts any fears to rest. How Do You Burn? takes its place next to their classic albums from their alternative 90s "peak" as if they were taking candy from a baby. The band sounds ferocious here and Dulli is clearly reveling in that fact, bringing every bit of his prowling panther persona to every song. Few bands sound this vital and nasty this far into their careers. If you're looking for a real rock & roll band as they were originally designed to be, here's one for the taking.


Priest Picks

"Catch a Colt"

"A Line of Shots"

"Domino and Jimmy"


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12

DANGER MOUSE & BLACK THOUGHT

Cheat Codes

(BMG)

Blurb

The best rap album of 2022, and that includes Pusha and Kendrick and Denzel and even Nas. Two geniuses, one a legendary producer (Danger Mouse) one perhaps the finest rapper alive (Back Thought). So it's no surprise the record is so fucking great. It's innovative, insightful, tough, hard-hitting, ultra-intelligent, and infinitely quotable. Every box checked with thick marker, it's a record I've never tired of throughout 2022.


Priest Picks

"The Darkest Part"

"Belize"

"Because"


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11

JUANITA EUKA

Mabanzo

(Strut)

Blurb

From a previous post:


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!


Priest Picks

"For All It's Worth"

"War is Over"

"Mboka Moko"


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10

DESTROYER

Labyrinthitis

(Merge)

Blurb

Adapted from a prior post:


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 instruction manual supplied for his music and that's a good thing. Maybe that's why he titled his 13th album with Destroyer, Labyrinthitis. Is this finally how we can codify our emotional reaction when listening to his music? If it is, this has to be one of the best chronic conditions you can get. One where the path is never clear, the intent often hazy, the surroundings deliriously disorienting. There's no pill for that and we don't want one.


Priest Picks

"June"

"It's in Your Heart Now"

"It Takes a Thief"


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09

ARCHERS OF LOAF

Reason in Decline

(Merge)

Blurb

This is getting ridiculous. Yet another guitar band from the alternative explosion in the 1990s, right on the heels of Oneida, Built to Spill, and the Afghan Whigs. This time, twenty-four full years since their last studio record! I'd deem myself as a sentimental old apologist if I didn't know the truth: that artists who produced great rock and roll when they were younger can often still generate vital rock & roll RIGHT NOW if they so choose. A long time ago, I wondered what I would be like in my 40s and 50s. Would I still get excited about music the way I did as a young man? What I've found out is that I'm just as engaged and excited by new music now as I have ever been, possibly more. So, for you, maybe an old band reuniting for one more run may seem like a desperate or pathetic attempt to reclaim old glory (and to be fair, it does turn out that way sometimes), but for me I totally get it. If you love it, you don't have to leave it behind based on some arbitrary timetable. In the case of Chapel Hill's Archers of Loaf, they not only haven't left it, they (like the aforementioned bands) sound as good as they ever did, and in this case, possibly better. As an added bonus, living more years only enriches the songwriting process. More things to write about, more wisdom to dispense! Reunions, admittedly, do often hinge on the lead singer's ability to carry the day. How is the voice holding up, you ask? Time has a way of limiting the range or sanding down the edges. Well, Eric Bachmann, one of the most underrated rock singers of the last thirty years, is back with a vengeance on Reason in Decline. Perhaps we can credit some recent throat surgery (polyps), but he sounds like a new man here, clear and confident, ready to rip it up. And he's a revelation throughout. All the original members are back, too, including "the other Eric," guitarist Eric Johnson, and vaunted rhythm section Matt Gentling (bass) and Mark Price (drums). This is not the sound of some dad rockers rehashing the past out in the garage. This is a band with something to say making some of the most exciting music of their lives and clearly relishing every minute of it.


Priest Picks

"Human"

"Screaming Undercover"

"Misinformation Age"


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08

HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF

Life on Earth

(Nonesuch)

Blurb

Ever since Hurray for the Riff Raff, aka Alynda Segarra, released The Navigator in 2017 (on my Top 10 list from that year) I've been patiently waiting for its follow up. That record was an unqualified masterpiece. Life on Earth is nothing like The Navigator, but it is equally brilliant. Segarra's musical manifesto mirrors her chosen "band" name—songs for and about the outcasts living on the fringes of society; those on the run for their lives. Life on Earth is a tough, resilient record because it has to be. Her characters count on it. It sounds and acts like a classic New York record even though the cover image evokes the swamps of her New Orleans home. It's not in your face, for the most part, making its points with subtle power in lieu of a hammer. Which only makes her subject matter that much more powerful. This is a record that impressed me on first listen, but totally enraptured me by the tenth.


Priest Picks

"Life on Earth"

"Rhododendron"

"Precious Cargo"


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07

WHITNEY

Spark

(Secretly Canadian)

Blurb

Every once in a while I fall hard for a record that most don't seem to like all that much. Such is the case with Whitney's Spark. The main criticism is that they've left their more organic, rootsy sound behind in favor of more modern production techniques and instrumentation. And it's true, they've fleshed out their sound with synths and drum samples and other electronic embellishments. So there's not another "No Woman" here. Some might not like it, but with songs as good as those on Spark, I don't really care. I find Julien Ehrlich's falsetto almost medicinally soothing. It gets in your bloodstream like an opioid—and I want more of that feeling at all costs. I wouldn't even be talking about this record if the songs weren't present. But they are, one after the next, in all their simplistic glory. I could play them all day.


Priest Picks

"Never Crossed My Mind"

"Twirl"

"Heart Will Beat"


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06

SPOON

Lucifer on the Sofa

(Matador)

This is where all critics point to Spoon's remarkable consistency over the past twenty-five years. Sometimes, a comment will be made that this is another great Spoon record, but nothing particularly new for the band. They'll then add that that's just fine with them because it's such a great sound to begin with. And all those comments are fair and accurate and they apply to Lucifer on the Sofa, just like they've applied to every Spoon record for the past three decades.


Priest Picks

"On the Radio"

"Held"

"Satellite"


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05

IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE

Electricity

(Merge)

Blurb

Adapted from a previous post:


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 pulsating nightclub vibe with some serious 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. Throughout the band's new record she's sounds positively tough, like an intimidating bouncer at some Soho dance club. The title of their amazing new record tells you all you need to know....Electricity.


Priest Picks

"Protection From Evil"

"Electricity"

"17 18 19"


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04

ALDOUS HARDING

Warm Chris

(4AD)

Blurb

Something peculiar this way comes and its source is fittingly an isolated geographical location. New Zealand seems the perfect petri dish for Aldous Harding's minimalist folk-pop constructions. She's like the curator of a musical curiosity shop named Warm Chris, a place stocked with oddities and doohickies that require your imagination to discern their purpose and reason for creation. Harding's songs don't usually let us in on their true intentions, but it's enough to just be inside her world for a while. It's just an interesting and enjoyable place to visit over and over again.


Priest Picks

"Passion Babe"

"Lawn"

"Leathery Whip"


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03

HORACE ANDY

Midnight Rocker

(On-U Sound)

Blurb

Put a throbbing reggae groove behind your words and you could tell me just about anything and get away with it unharmed. That familiar and repetitive thump provides a natural elixir that doesn't allow negativity to ruin the mood, even when the news isn't good, like on this album's opening cut, "This Must Be Hell." Not what you want to hear, but how bad could it be if it makes your head bob up n down? Earlier this year, I called Midnight Rocker a modern reggae classic and I stand behind it. Every song sounds timeless and the production, by the legendary Adrian Sherwood, is just perfect. It's hard to go too far wrong when you add in the sweet, weathered voice of Horace Andy, one of the greatest living reggae singers. This album was just what my weary soul needed this year.


Note: A "companion" album, Midnight Scorchers, released a few months after this, is also recommended. As is common in the reggae world, DJ mixes, dubs, alternate versions, extra tracks, and other studio fuckery sometimes get put out after the fact to keep the party going in case the ganja kicks in late. There are some real highlights, too, including "Feverish," "More Bassy," and a pretty cool take on Bobby Bland's "Aint No Love in the Heart of the City." Adrian Sherwood oversaw this record as well so his stamp of quality is all over it.


Priest Picks

"Safe From Harm"

"Today is Right Here"

"Try Love"


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02

ALABASTER DEPLUME

Gold: Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love

(International Anthem)

Blurb

Adapted from a previous post:


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 assembled by our host after the fact. Bewilderingly, they all combine to form an oddly cohesive whole.


But there's more than just a clever puzzle-maker behind the curtain here. What puts the entire record over the top for me is its open-hearted acceptance of all people ("Fucking Let Them", "Don't Forget You're Precious", "People: What's the Difference?"). There's musical brilliance in abundance, of course, but there's a grander purpose than that at play here. Just look at the title: the vision is right thereGo Forward in the Courage of Your Love. It might sound like a flower-power slogan from the 1960's, but it's also desperately needed right now. This record fascinates me, entrances me, and makes me feel good all at once. There's not another record in my collection that compares, which is an amazing achievement.


Note: Yet another masterwork from Chicago's International Anthem Records, our 2022 Record Label of the Year award winner.

Priest Picks

"Don't Forget You're Precious"

"The World Is Mine"

"People: What's the Difference?"


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01

JEAN-MICHEL BLAIS

Aubades

(Arts & Crafts)

Blurb

Adapted and significantly expanded from my raving post earlier this year:


The selection of Jean-Michel Blais's Aubades (pronounced aw-bahds, a French word meaning "dawn serenade") as my #1 record of 2022 is a landmark for me. Never before have I chosen a so-called "classical" record for my top spot. Perhaps if I was alive in 1788, Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major would've topped my list, I don't know for sure. Maybe I would've gravitated to some obscure indie-composer instead. Jean-Michel Blais is technically classified as "modern classical" (an oxymoron on the line of "jumbo shrimp," I suppose), which basically means the piece of music is derived stylistically from the work of the old masters, but is really a brand new composition. Upon first exposure to Aubades, I dubbed it (way back in Q1 2022) "the most amazing piece of music I've heard this year." As the year ends, nothing has changed. The comment still holds. I then clarified that the record wasn't "in my usual wheelhouse, which makes it stand out all the more." As I think back on those comments, they make some sense. To this day, every time I delve into something new, it disproportionately excites me. Sure, I've been exposed to my fair share of orchestral music over the years, but there was something special and different about the compositions on this album that enthralled me from first listen. I asked myself repeatedly, "Why does this music move me so?" The immediate answer was that I love instrumental music in general. But I admit I've never been drawn to the the sanitized, tuxedo-and-tails, tap-tap-tap of the conductors baton world of classical music. When performed or added to a movie score, of course, it's awesome to behold when done well, but Jean-Michel's approach seems more organic and human to me. That's what separates his music from other composers I've heard. At the end of some of these songs you can hear some studio noise or even a little laugh at the end of one track. Not something normally heard on a classical record. Tons of rock albums have done so, but rock and roll isn't "proper," so nobody thinks twice when it happens. While the pieces here are intricately arranged and expertly played, there is an unmistakable intimacy present that brings the music closer to the listener somehow. This seems to be Jean-Michel's preferred way of operating. The record where I first discovered his music was called II and came out in 2016. It featured a solo Jean-Michel playing an upright piano in the middle of his apartment's living room and the recording made it seem like you were right there on his couch listening. Ambient street sounds would occasionally drift onto the recording and you could even hear the sound of his feet working the pedals. It sounded real and spontaneous and above all, human. Even though the sheer complexity of the pieces on Aubades doesn't allow for that same exact feeling, there's still a strong sense that this music is being played just for you and maybe a few friends in an intimate setting. Hearing this music unfold is nothing short of magical.


Fast forward to this very evening for one last listen before this posting. I put on my good headphones and took a 45-minute walk in the chilly early-December air. I was surprised to find that the album has never sounded better to me than it did tonight, some nine months, and dozens of listens, after my first post back in March. The music didn't feel like a version of something else from long ago; it felt as fresh as any new music I've heard this entire year. The compositions sounded awe-inspiring of course, as they always do, nearly jumping out of my headphones and into my ears. The music stirred something in me that I haven't felt enough of this year. It made me feel joyous and positive and gave me the coveted "all is right with the world" sensation, even if I knew that feeling wouldn't last long. Any record that can deliver that feeling on demand has to be the record of the year.


Priest Picks

"Passepied"

"Ouessant"

"Yanni"

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Whew, that was a lot of work. But it's good work if you can get it. Next week, our Favorite 104 songs of the year spread over four 26 song mixtapes.


Until then...


The Priest


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