2022: What a shitshow circus of a year. They just keep getting weirder. Elon Musk is in charge of Twitter? Maybe he won’t be by the time you read this. Maybe something even more absurd will happen. Who knows? It was a pretty damn good year musically, though, and there’s already some indication that 2023 might be as good. Etc. Etc. My favourite 100 albums of the year:
Ty Segall – “Hello, Hi”
Released July 22nd on Drag City Records
Drag City’s prolific fuzz rocker steps away from the racket he’s been making for the last ten years and presents a mellower, more mature side of his profile. I hesitate to call it growing up.
Moor Mother – Jazz Codes
Released July 1st on ANTI-
Philly poet Camae Ayewa seems to show up everywhere these days: by herself, alongside billy woods, leading 700 Bliss or jazz heroes Irreversible Entanglements. Here she fractures the experience of jazzy backpacker hip hop into smoky sax dreams, laced through with her hard-eyed words, floating over and then running through everything.
We Used To Cut The Grass – We Used To Cut The Grass #1
Released February 11th on WKRM The Cream
Most of prog band Thank You Scientist goes full on jazz on We Used To Cut The Grass, with enough pomp and circumstance for a thousand marching bands and a vibe cut straight from black and white monster movies.
Sam Gendel – blueblue
Released October 14th on Leaving Records
Every song on this album is named after a different stitching style in the Japanese tradition of sashiko. The music itself is stoned slacker-jazz, music for late nights in empty underground coffee caverns populated by artists and the living dead. Sketchy guitar chording overlays shaky library jazz sax that walks the line between melodic and atonal perfectly.
Katie Dey – Forever Music
Released January 28th on 2940416 Records
Glitchy hyperpop slowed down to a less chipmunk style vocal sound. Doesn’t that just make it glitch pop? Sure, whatever, it hits emotional weight regardless of what you call it.
Kokoroko – Could We Be More?
Released August 5th on Brownswood Recordings
Afrobeat has been one of the new London jazz scene’s major reinjections back to jazz (or at least a further development of strains that have been going on since the Seventies, I suppose), and Kokoroko’s debut latches onto it with fervor here. Relentless rhythms and blue sky brass and wind lines.
Boris – W
Released January 21st on Sacred Bones Records
The companion piece to 2020’s pummeling NO, W finds the veteran Japanese noise band doing the Sacred Bones thing: all weird, ethereal noise-scapes with unsettling vocal lines and dollops of uneasy atmosphere.
Fly Anakin – Frank
Released March 11th on Lex Records
At once smooth and stoned, the Virginia rapper’s debut brings a lot of the intensity of the best of recent hip hop (Westside Gunn, Mach-Hommy, et al.) while still carving out his own space. The sound of NYC circa the mid Nineties is everywhere these days, but Fly Anakin stands apart while simultaneously having both feet in.
Cola – Deep In View
Released May 20th on Next Door Records
Most of what used to be Ought comes over to Cola to play a less overly-caffeinated (ironic, given the name) and (given the last Ought record) less blown-out version of the modern-ennui-laden post punk that made their old band such a delight.
Lady Wray – Piece Of Me
Released January 28th on Big Crown Records
Former Missy Elliot protege and Black Keys backing vocalist Nicole Wray has not exactly made making albums her career – Piece Of Me is just her third full length since 1998. It’s a shame, too; Piece Of Me is sultry, sharp soul, from someone who has been busy practicing that craft below the surface for longer than a lot of listeners have been alive.
Osees – A Foul Form
Released August 12th on Castle Face Records
The inevitable endgame of Jon Dwyer’s indie punk long-term vision is screeching madcap grindcore, and A Foul Form marks about the midway point toward that end goal.
yeule – Glitch Princess
Released February 4th on Bayonet Records
There are people out there on this planet right at this very instant who are in the middle of creating the most out-there blissed-out pop music you have ever heard. In the jagged aftermaths of all of the disparate microgenres that exist in the liminal space between pop and electronic, we are approaching the post-pop moment. Maybe I’ll look back in ten years and say Glitch Princess was a seminal moment in that. It’s as likely as anything else.
Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure
Released August 26th on Polyvinyl
Relationships and religion, like Lucy Dacus with a penchant for trailing slow doom in her wake. There’s nothing quite as instantly memorable as “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You”, from 2019’s Crushing, but overall it’s a startlingly more mature record, ruminating on the great gulfs in our communication with others.
Röyksopp – Profound Mysteries
Released April 29th on Dog Triumph Records
The first of 2022’s three Profound Mysteries records is the best. It’s as hard hitting and groove-forward as it ever is, but when it gets paired with the visualizers designed for the tracks by Jonathan Zawada, it becomes something more than just an album.
Pinch Points – Process
Released March 18th on Exploding In Sound Records
Raw and lacerating, strident and righteous. The Aussies still remember how to play punk rock.
King Hannah – I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me
Released February 25th on City Slang Records
Slow-rolling, moody goth-rock that tackles the dead and dying vistas of the American Road. Eerie and slathered in decades of smoke, it creeps along at midnight. From Liverpool, of course. Where else would deathly American ghosts and conjurations come into England?
Thank – Thoughtless Cruelty
Released February 4th on Box Records
Potentially the messiest, noisiest record of the NWOBPP not made by black midi, Thoughtless Cruelty heaps layers of distortion and floor-crawling riffs under Freddy Vinehall-Cliffe’s biting, often-hilarious lyrics. There’s never been a good band from London? I guess it’s possible.
Bodega – Broken Equipment
Released March 11th on What’s Your Rupture?
Peppy Brooklyn post-punk with dual vocalists and a focus on the things modern life and screens are doing to our heads, much like their debut, but this time around there’s (slightly) less finger pointing, better lines, and some love thrown around.
Elzhi & Georgia Anne Muldrow – Zhigeist
Released March 11th on Nature Sounds
Slum Village alum and long-past frequenter of Detroit’s Hip Hop Shop Elzhi finds the perfect collaborator in California singer/producer Georgia Anne Muldrow. Elzhi clearly owes his allegiance to a time and a place (NY hip hop circa ‘94) but his complicated, rugged flow manages to fit pretty well next to guys like JID in the modern era.
Toro Y Moi – Mahal
Released April 29th on Dead Oceans Records
Bear’s seventh album gets loose and funky, stepping away from the too-cool-for-you hipster chill vibe of his early work to get as freewheeling as the album cover suggests.
Agender – No Nostalgia
Released May 27th on CLIMAX! Records
Biting satire and punked-up New Wave mark L.A.’s Agender as an act to keep an eye on. All of the absurdity of modern existence, with some killer bounce, and some nostalgic L7 vibes.
The Chats – Get Fucked
Released August 19th on Bargain Bin Records
Loud, fast, and deeply Aussie, The Chats are one of the hottest punk bands du jour. Moving from a small coastal town to near Brisbane has sharpened their instincts, and given them a better appreciation for beaches, brews, and doo wop influenced pure goddamn rock ‘n’ roll.
Tanya Tagaq – Tongues
Released January 26th on Six Shooter Records
Inuk throat singer and residential school survivor Tanya Tagaq uses her fifth album to add aural accompaniment to some of the words from her 2018 novel Split Tooth, and to challenge the foundations of the settler state and whiteness, including continued railing against self-righteous white vegans who decry the traditional seal hunt. It’s deeply uncomfortable, as it should be, both lyrically and musically – there are moments where it sounds as though she’s physically biting deep into you, rending you, masticating you.
Cheer-Accident – Here Comes The Sunset
Released February 18th on Skin Graft Records
This is their 24th album now? Not quite GBV numbers but also not far behind. Also, it’s only half an hour! That’s positively minute next to some of their sprawling previous records. It also means it’s a sort of all-killer, no-filler look at one of America’s most underrated prog bands, with a perfect-til-it-blows-up cover of Cheap Trick’s last great single included near the top.
R.A.P. Ferreira – 5 To The Eye With Stars
Released November 4th on Ruby Yacht
Been on this guy since he took Baths, and this might be the jazziest his jazzy backpacker boom pap stuff has been yet. It’s certainly more clear-eyed than anything he’s done since A Toothpaste Suburb.
The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta
Released September 16th on Clouds Hill Records
After disappearing down a rabbit hole of pure fleet-fingered, weird-tempoed fusion chaos prog, the only thing left for The Mars Volta was to vanish for a decade and then…make a pop record. OK, “pop” is a bit of a stretch, but it’s about as pop as you can possibly get with this band: breezy island melodies, tropical rhythms, sly nods to yacht rock here and there. It somehow works, despite the odds.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples – Summer At Land’s End
Released February 4th on Slumberland Records
Soft-hued jangly rock, all wistful sighs and propulsively clear C86 rhythms. The emo boys have all grown up but they’re still heartbroken. It’s all mining a very clear vein of indie rock, but I’m reminded of a call-and-response from Live Rust: “It all sounds the same – It’s all one song.”
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
Released August 12th on BMG
The Roots leader and the unlikeliest superstar producer of the 21st Century, together with a boatload of big name features. Together at last! Solid hip hop that never lets up quality even for a moment.
Croatian Amor – Remember Rainbow Bridge
Released March 25th on Posh Isolation
People who have a distaste for electronic music like to claim it’s nothing but ‘bleep bloop’ but Croatian Amor should stand as a timely reminder that you can project longing and nostalgia without having to pick up an analog instrument. A pitch-perfect exercise in crafting moods.
Proper. – The Great American Novel
Released March 25th on Father/Daughter Records
Proper. play knotted emo – not the MCR kind, the stuff that used to be called post-hardcore when it was American Football and Texas Is The Reason doing it. They have been flirting with mainstream crossover for a bit, but they’ve also presented an angry front, railing against inequality exacerbated by the pandemic and – not surprising, given they’re a trio of black people in a heavily white-dominated genre – racism. The Great American Novel here is a novel of abuse, of an abusive relationship with one’s home, and the funny (but not ha-ha) things you have to do to get some recognition in it.
Jeremy Cunningham/Dustin Laurenzi/Paul Bryan – A Better Ghost
Released July 29th on Northern Spy Records
Don’t let London’s fiery jazz scene distract you from the fact that Chicago has had its own embarrassment of riches in jazz for some time. Two of those solid assets are Jeremy Cunningham (drums) and Dustin Larazi (sublime sax); toss in L.A. producer/bassist Paul Bryan, and you have a winning jazz summit that combines the dusty analog with the synth-laden digital, tied together with Larazi’s cutting solos.
Imarhan – Aboogi
Released January 28th on City Slang Records
There is desert rock and then there is desert rock. SoCal bands can hum on through the night with their grungy post-Queens gain excursions, but Imarhan hail from Algeria and their deft guitar lines conjure up the vast arid landscapes as naturally as breathing. Alongside Tinariwen (whose late co-founder, Mohamed Ag Itlale, shows up on “Tamiditin”) and Mdou Moctar, Imarhan is exemplary of the Kel Tamasheq adoption of post-Hendrix guitar rock and blues into their own long-running musical traditions.
Weird Nightmare – Weird Nightmare
Released May 20th on Sub Pop Records
METZ frontman Alex Edkins steps out on his own with Weird Nightmare, which has all of the heaviness of the much-loved Toronto punk destroyers, but with more of the sweet rush of youth and melody.
Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer
Released March 4th on Deewee Records
Funk, house, and a wicked sense of humour, combining together to make the most incendiary dance record of the year.
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – The Elephant Man’s Bones
Released August 26th on ALC / Pimpire
Marci is a veteran, albeit one who’s been living in the underground for too long. Part of the long-simmering nature of his career has been his insistence on self-producing his albums, which works as long as you’re into his style, which can be something of an acquired taste. WIth The Alchemist handling the production as a sort of low-key Tarantino lounge jazz-soul soundtrack, though, the salient parts of Marci’s style – funny and grimey in an uneasy coalition, mob pimping in drunken surreality – come through shining.
Nina Nastasia – Riderless Horse
Released July 22nd on Temporary Residence
The Albini-produced singer-songwriter hadn’t released an album since 2010’s excellent Outlaster. Alongside announcing Riderless Horse earlier this year, Nastasia revealed that her 25 year relationship with Kennan Gudjonsson, her manager and songwriting partner, had been highly abusive. After Outlaster she basically quit music and seeing other people altogether, spending all of her time in the small New York City studio apartment she had shared with Gudjonsson. In January 2020 she left him; less than a day later he was dead by his own hand. Riderless Horse was written immediately after, and it’s a stark examination of the complicated feelings we have for the people who can love us and hurt us in such immensely intimate ways. Albini, of course, produces.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – Reset
Released August 12th on Domino Records
Is it called a reset because they’re going back to and then building upon the basics of Sixties psychedelia? Peter Kember, most notably of late-Eighties drug-rock heroes Spacemen 3, has been a presence on the last few Panda Bear records but this is the first time he’s listed as co-artist, under the name Sonic Boom. It’s the most fun Noah Lennox’s Panda Bear project has been since Person Pitch, that fabled slice of lysergic Brian Wilson worship that was everywhere in 2007.
Jenny Hval – Classic Objects
Released March 11th on 4AD Records
The Norwegian artist dials in on a specific aspect of her music – the free, breezy atmospherics and the bursts of pure melodic sensibility – and strips out the rest of it. It’s lighter than her previous records, as though it were made out of clouds instead of smoke.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava
Released October 7th on KGLW
The ultra-prolific Aussie psych-prog band had another year chock-full of albums, two of which made it to this list. The first is the freewheeling prog odyssey of Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms & Lava, an album that is as out-there and psychedelic as the name might suggest.
Alvvays – Blue Rev
Released October 7th on Celsius Girls
Having made two of the greatest power pop records of the 2010s, Toronto’s Alvvays disappeared for five years as a lengthy tour butted up against a series of personal and pandemic-related problems. Blue Rev is a welcome return from them, filling that post-pop-punk power void and filling it with Johnny Marr style guitar play.
Kevin Morby – This Is A Photograph
Released May 13th on Dead Oceans Records
On his seventh album, Kevin Morby takes a trip through the past, tackling memory, the spectre of death, and the myth of Memphis. It’s equal parts Dylan, the ghosts of Stax Records, and galloping rock ‘n’ roll.
Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter
Released May 12th on Daughter Of Cain Records
Ethel Cain, the character, runs away from her stale teenage existence only to end up in the freezer of a cannibal and then eaten. There’s more to it than that, of course: intergenerational trauma, toxic men, and outlawry. It’s an American story, pure Southern Gothic, and an ambitious debut, post-Swiftian pop gestures butting up against heartland rock bombast and doom metal dread.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Laminated Denim
Released October 12th on KGLW
Two fifteen minute psych-prog odysseys that explain a lot of why this band is both quantity and quality. Their first album of 2022, Omnium Gatherum, felt like a showcase of some of the disparate styles they engage in, but for my money Laminated Denim is much closer to a centre of gravity for the band’s range.
Alex G – God Save The Animals
Released September 23rd on Domino Records
As usual, singer-songwriter Alex G takes the basics of Nineties indie rock (Pavement, Elliot Smith, Built to Spill, et al) and casts it wide into the heavens, where it takes on all sorts of bizarre forms. God Save The Animals, though, is a much clearer reading of Alex G’s mind than previous outings, resulting in emotional connection beyond his usual gift for killer melodies.
Nilüfer Yanya – Painless
Released March 4th on ATO Records
The English singer retreats from big gestures and festival-scope sounds to something altogether more intimate. It’s about contradictions and cycles, the viscera of the self and the lost pathways of reflection. It might not play as well at Glastonbury, but it’s got more emotional heft because of that.
BACKXWASH – HIS HAPPINESS SHALL COME FIRST EVEN THOUGH WE ARE SUFFERING
Released November 14th on Ugly Hag Records
What is God? What is sin? What does it mean to commit an offense against such a being, one who seems to live for trapping mortal beings into untenable situations? What, given this framework, is the meaning of suffering, especially when it relates to immutable qualities like the colour of one’s skin? Montreal’s Ashanti Mutinta delves into this, using stark, bleak horrorcore as her medium. Hip hop for the industrial freak set.
Arctic Monkeys – The Car
Released October 21st on Domino Records
They double down on the lounge-singer bit Alex Turner went all-in for on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, stripping out the Bowie rock stuff and adding in all sorts of strings and waltzing rhythms (ie Bowie circa Station To Station stuff). In the hands of a lesser band this would be a slog, but AM makes it come alive with sharp lyrics, sad-eyed observations, and Turner’s particular sense of humour.
Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Released April 8th on Motown Records
Too many artists try to make gang life sound glamorous. Vince Staples has always taken the opposite tactic. Ramona Park, his fifth album, is no different in this regard. Here he reflects on how gang life in L.A. steals youth from its members, makes them into hard old men before their time. It’s a hard listen, but also an easy one considering the bounce with which the production is delivered. Vince Staples has always been a contradiction.
Spoon – Lucifer on The Sofa
Released February 11th on Matador Records
Twenty years, ten albums, never a bad one. Or even a mediocre one. The Austin groove-rock band fires on all cylinders, rocking out in a way that makes them sound young again.
PUP – THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
Released April 1st on Rise Records
PUP’s breakthrough album, 2016’s The Dream Is Over, kicked off with the song “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will.” THE UNRAVELLING OF PUPTHEBAND is basically an album-length rumination on this concept, with more polished results than their previous albums. There’s a piano, even, sort of.
Craig Finn – A Legacy Of Rentals
Released May 20th on Positive Jam Records
His day band, The Hold Steady, has spent the last couple of albums mounting one hell of a comeback, but after that ho-hum two album stretch at the beginning of the last decade it turned out that his solo albums were actually better. Finn’s songwriting has always been the reason you come back to THS, once you’re lured in by the riffs and the positive jammery, and he doesn’t let that slip on his solo records for one minute. I’m partial to Faith In The Future, but I honestly think A Legacy Of Rentals might be his best overall.
Special Interest – Endure
Released November 4th on Rough Trade
A searing blend of snarling post-punk, blown-out house music, and Nineties-level exuberance. They quote Stokely Carmichael in chanting “We are not concerned with peace / peace is not of our concern”, and it makes for an effective central point of organization for them. If this is the soundtrack of liberation, then there is a fighting chance.
Disassembler – A Wave From A Shore
Released March 11th on Western Vinyl
Christopher King from This Will Destroy You, paired with violinist Christopher Tignor, bringing electro/acoustic soundscapes that will alternately have you soaring above the clouds and crawling through the dirt with dread.
Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever
Released June 24th on Loma Vista Records
Sophie Allison has always been into vintage synths paired with indie sadcore guitar – just look at the cover of 2017’s Collection – but this time around Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin gets behind the boards and everything becomes just that much more alive. He helps her tease out other aspects of her sound, like shoegazer-type noise, that had only been hinted at before.
DEBIT – The Long Count
Released February 18th on Modern Love Records
Mayan civilization had a rich, vast musical tradition, utilizing a dizzying array of instruments and a set of scales completely unlike our own. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Mayan centers, followed by the Spanish genocide, meant that we have no idea what their music actually sounded like. They left no standardized musical notation behind. The Long Count is Delia Beatriz’s complicated attempt at speculating on what it might have sounded like. She sampled the surviving instruments gathered in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and fed them into a machine learning algorithm to create digital templates that she could then manipulate. The result is a set of strange, intoxicating ambient soundscapes, full of long, drawn-out wavers, whistle-like annotations, and mournful triads. Were the Mayans history’s first drone scene? Maybe.
Alabaster DePlume – GOLD: Go Forward In The Courage Of Your Love
Released April 1st on International Anthem
The Manchester saxophonist/poet conjures up the funk-screech-funk of his London scene contemporaries and puts forth a strong, moving album that advocates for courage in the face of hatred, self-esteem in the face of self-examination, and wishing a motherfucker would. Plus, all that skronky good-time sax work.
JOYFULTALK – Familiar Science
Released May 6th on Constellation Records
Explosive goddamn experimental jazz a la Ornette Coleman with a sampler. Canadian musical ubermensch Jay Crocker lays down smoking guitar lines while Nicola Miller cuts through the noise with random walk sax blowing, all while drum patterns get beaten up and thrown into the street.
Taylor Swift – Midnights
Released October 21st
A return to pop form after the cottagecore National crossover of Evermore and Folklore, Midnights nonetheless maintains some of the lessons of those albums, like pollen stuck to a bee’s legs. The pop superstar gestures are muted into comfortable pastels, even to a greater extent than Lover. It’s a strong direction for her to go in, and while there are perhaps more lyrical missteps than there were on her folksy records, there are still all sorts of banger lines here. It’s the exact right album for her to make at this stage in her career, and it’s fascinating to wonder where she’ll go next.
Meat Wave – Malign Hex
Released October 14th on Swami Records
Pure punk fury, played like it was meant to be. The fact that it was supposed to be out three years ago is a testament to how much the plague has taken from us.
Beyonce – Renaissance
Released July 29th on Columbia Records
Nearly ten years after dropping a surprise December album and becoming a blazing comet in the night sky, what does international superstar Beyonce have to say? Be yourself, stack that paper, get that dick. Remember who came before you, keep an eye on where you’re going. And never, ever, for one second, stop dreaming of the club.
Black Flower – Magma
Released January 28th on Sdban Ultra
A thrilling hybrid mixture of jazz, Afrobeat, druggy psychedelia, and sketches of prog rock. No, they’re not from London! OK, they’re from Belgium. It’s crossed the Channel, apparently. Bandleader Nathan Daems supplements the usual saxophone with some really killer flute work, and Jon Birdsong (who has played with both Beck and Calexico) lays down a nice counterpoint with the cornet. Like the title suggests, it builds and builds until it’s coming down on you relentlessly.
Sault – Today & Tomorrow
Released November 11th on Forever Living Originals
Mysterious but named (the head, at least, is British producer Inflo), Sault released six albums in 2022, five of which came locked behind a puzzle. Today & Tomorrow is one of those puzzle-locked albums, and it’s honestly a toss-up as to which Sault album should go here. Take your pick: the Afro-soul worship of Untitled (God) and Earth, the classical about-face of Air and Aiir, the funky blues of 11, or my pick, the heavy Seventies funk and rock worship of Today & Tomorrow.
Angel Olsen – Big Time
Released June 3rd on Jagjaguwar Records
There’s always been a strain of country to Angel Olsen’s music, but Big Time is the first real embrace of it in an all-encompassing way. Her voice brings to life stories of love, heartbreak, and desolation in the great big empty of America. Not for nothing, it’s the album where she comes out as queer as well, and I’d be lying if I said the contradictions inherent didn’t make the album all the more fascinating. Country has long been a bastion of white conservatism in the music industry, but the last decade has seen that open up; Big Time is another volley in that.
Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Released November 18th on Sub Pop Records
The second part of a trilogy, alongside 2019’s critical darling Titanic Rising. The singer describes the first record as being a warning of things to come, with Hearts Aglow being the “things to come.” Whatever – it’s gorgeous, shimmering art rock helmed by someone with a voice like an expansive Joni Mitchell. She can do whatever she likes.
Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eperately
Released September 30th on Warner Records
The pride of Gary, Indiana’s first solo record since 2018’s Freddie puts him in the fictional Triple-S Hotel, Resort and Casino, where he’s holed up recording his new major label album. Allegedly. The label has its own suspicions, especially when Joe Rogan shows up with a pile of drugs. It’s unflinching and darkly hilarious, but you can say that about all of Gibbs’ output. After back-to-back collabs with some modern day masters (Madlib, The Alchemist) he’s in as sharp a form as he’s ever been, maybe since Pinata. Now maybe him and Griselda can retire the beef. These are old ass men. One of them’s going to break a hip, eventually.
Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
Released February 4th on Mexican Summer
An art-pop wonderland made of seasick slants and the clashes of religion and the personal. She recorded it the peak of the first wave of covid and it reflects those times: the pendulum lurch between wanting to hide in terror from the world and boldly striding out into it to reclaim yourself. Like Low, it seems to exist only in itself from one moment to the next, shifting and shaping to the demands of each instance.
Titus Andronicus – The Will To Live
Released September 30th on Merge Records
In the beginning there was Titus Andronicus, the New Jersey punk rock band prone to English major-level literary references and drawn-out moments of pure despair. Over time, that band has kept its outsized ambitions (The Monitor’s all-too-prescient reset of the Civil War in 2010s America, The Most Lamentable Tragedy Of’s gonzo two-album blowout) tempered with, as the album was known, Local Business. The band’s discography can be described as “wildly uneven” if you’re not feeling charitable, but The Will To Live, their seventh album, brings all of the elements that have decorated the far-flung corners of their sound and brings them all together for a classic rock-inspired punk extravaganza.
ELUCID – I Told Bessie
Released June 10th on Backwoodz Studios
Both members of Armand Hammer have been productive since last year’s magnificent Haram. A lot of the attention gets heaped on billy woods, and there’s something to that, but on I Told Bessie ELUCID makes a case for being a key voice in the simmering alt-rap movement. Drawing on the time he spend living in Brooklyn with his maternal grandmother (the titular Bessie), he crafts an album that’s more like an extended dream-sequence, sensory impression more than precise observation (which is the wheelhouse of his partner in crime in Armand Hammer, of course). It shifts and smears, like an expert painting with pastels, and despite the heavy presence of woods, ELUCID makes himself distinct.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Released February 11th on 4AD Records
On their previous albums, Adrienne Lenker and Co. became adept at distilling their essence into compact, punchy records that took turns emphasizing the variations on style that the band has become known for. On Dragon New Warm Mountain they go for broke throwing it all out there, going long and delving into the twin pillars of indie folk and alt country and taking them as far as they can go. Others have compared it to blowout efforts like The Beatles, and there might be something to that.
Beach House – Once Twice Melody
Released February 18th on Sub Pop Records
2022, in a way, seemed like a good year to take stock, to sum up, to present a definitive statement. Big Thief, in the entry below, put it all down on record, fleshing out everything that defines them as a band. King Gizzard did something similar with their first record, Omnium Gatherum, which served as a best-of album composed of brand new songs. This is exactly what Beach House is doing as well. Once Twice Melody is everything that makes the Baltimore band such a consistent delight.
billy woods – Church
Released September 30th on Backwoodz Studios
Following up an effort like Aethiopes in the same year is quite a feat in and of itself, but to make it such a stellar record on its own merits is part of what makes woods the greatest rapper in the underground today. On Church he collaborates with producer Messiah Musik, who has the kind of dusty records that beg to be sampled for this kind of slanted jazz-influenced hip hop. Aethiopes is more externally-facing, gathering in features and addressing the slave trade, the apocalypse, shared intergenerational trauma, and the interplay of history and the self. Church is more muted, more deeply personal; a lot of it reads like a struggle between the self and God, and the people who do strange things in God’s name.
Viagra Boys – Cave World
Released July 8th on YEAR0001
On the heels of their breakthrough Welfare Jazz comes Cave World, a biting satire of the cave-dwelling mindset that produces the alt-right. References to weird tabloid images, the QAnon-boosted theory of adrenochrome, microchips in the vaccines, and other whacked-out conspiracy theories stud the lyrics, driven into frantic life by Sebastian Murphy’s tight-grin-and-snarl vocals.
Destroyer – Labyrinthitis
Released March 25th on Merge Records
Thirteen albums into his Destroyer project, Dan Bejar comes back around again on the solid, world-weary disco pop that informed Kaputt, a 2011 album that has since become the standard bearer for all that is great about his music. When you listen to it you become an ennui-laden European aesthete, slumming about Toronto and casting around references to obscure painters from centuries ago in order to skewer your own ego. Pretension be damned, it’s a great deal of fun.
Pusha-T – It’s Almost Dry
Released April 22nd on G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam Records
After Kanye’s deep dive into absolute insanity, you might pause for a moment to offer up a prayer for the people around him. In Push’s case you can save the prayers; the President of G.O.O.D. Music needs to be a bit of a villain himself to survive this era, and there is no bigger or better villain in coke rap than King Push himself. He spits deftly over slick beatcraft that in lesser hands might inspire cheese. Kanye himself only shows up once, briefly, which is probably for the best.
Gilla Band – Most Normal
Released October 7th on Rough Trade Records
The sound of tough NYC-style post-punk being pushed to its absolute extreme through an entire universe of effects pedals and noise. Like Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital, they’re part of Dublin’s loud and rising scene; unlike those two bands, they’re never going to get played by hip DJs on satellite radio. Not that such a situation seems like a concern for them.
JID – The Forever Story
Released August 26th on Interscope Records
JID mixes a lot of next-level flow with clever wordplay, and his first two solo albums were a good overview of the kind of potential he showed. On The Forever Story he grows into that potential, going outsized with his ambitions and hitting them far more often than not. In a world of sing-song radio rap, he stands apart with pure technique, deep emotions, and the weight of honest experience. He’s basically like J. Cole but with way less tiresome pretentiousness.
Bjork – Fossora
Released September 30th on One Little Independent Records
Bjork’s milestone tenth album finds herself brought to Earth by the twin pillars of personal and shared cultural loss. It ruminates on the death of her mother, environmental activist Hildur Runa, and (like everyone) tries to find its way in the aftermath of the pall of covid over the planet. It finds that way in using metaphors of fungal networks – shared underground connections, the interconnectedness of everything, with a trippy psychedelic tinge. Motherhood and the traps of femininity, traditional and otherwise, inform the mood, as do the various strings and folk instruments that add some mysterious, foggy air to the tracks. She describes it as her “Iceland” album, with some of the instrumental and choral traditions of her home country present, but she also grounds much of the music in hard, distorted gabber drums, adding a dark air appropriate to such heavy concerns.
Melt Yourself Down – Pray For Me, I Don’t Fit In
Released February 25th on Decca Records
It is a mark of how vibrant and powerful the London avant-jazz scene is right now that even a group of Afrobeat-infused semi-jazz cats named after an obscure James Chance track can net a major label deal. Melt Yourself Down aren’t exactly a jazz band, of course, but they do share a lot of commonalities with the scene, and they’re about as jazz as Sons Of Kemet, with who they share personal DNA (Melt Yourself Down hosted both Shabaka Hutchings and Tom Skinner before they went on to SOK). Pray For Me is as much a funk record and, in its own way, a punk record, as much as it is intense and at times atonal jazz work. It brings the riffs, in other words, and it has some deeply memorable vocal lines drenched in sweat and fury.
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
Released March 25th on Epitaph Records
Hardcore punk has, from the beginning, been the domain of paranoid boys-club white men, veering all too often into racism, homophobia and misogyny even when others in the scene fight against this very phenomenon. Soul Glo are a stick in the eye to this: Black punks from Philadelphia who are at once abrasively funny and fist-in-the-face furious, who are as comfortable rocking a horn section as they are delivering concrete slabs of buzzsaw guitar, who layer samples alongside their recorded-live passages, who deliver lengthy manifestos in a genre where brevity has been counted as a virtue. With any luck (and it seems good to go, to be honest) Diaspora Problems will be as much a genre touchstone in the future as Jane Doe or The Shape Of Punk To Come.
Animal Collective – Time Skiffs
Released February 4th on Domino Records
Centipede Hz was dense, uneasy, and resisted observation. Painting With felt as by-the-numbers as the title suggested, trying to do Merriweather Post Pavilion again without recapturing the wonder and the charm (and the lead single, “FloriDada”, was godawful). The former featured a lot of Deakin; the latter featured none at all. Time Skiffs brings Deakin back in but moderates him, resulting in, finally, for the first time since Obama was elected, an actual good Animal Collective record. It also moderates some of the more irritating experimental moments, making a much rounder, more pop-oriented album. “Prester John” and “Cherokee” are two of the most singable entries in their discography, and the rest of them aren’t far behind.
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Released May 13th on XL Recordings
I kept hearing music from The Smile without ever once looking into them, because that would have been too easy. Everytime I heard them I thought “Jesus, this band sounds a lot like Radiohead.” It is, of course, Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood, with Tom Skinner (Sons Of Kemet) on drums, and boy did that all make sense when I finally looked the details up. It’s moody and propulsive in a way that Radiohead hasn’t really been since In Rainbows, and if this is the trade-off for Radiohead (allegedly) being over, then I say it’s as good a trade-off as we’re likely to get. “The Opposite” and “You Will Never Work In Television Again” are exactly what you want in latter-day Radiohead, while “Speech Bubbles” and “The Same” are the perfect apocalyptic heirs to “Weird Fishes”.
Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Released May 6th on Jagjaguwar Records
The covid era has been a tumultuous time, but it has given artists a lot of time to themselves to consider their music to date and to build upon it. Sharon Van Etten has used the time wisely. The stately sweeps of her songs knock you off your feet where they used to sway you. It’s confident and loud in a way that she only hinted at on Remind Me Tomorrow, the sound of an artist discovering a way to inject a bit of bombast where it’s required, without sounding either trite or tired. It’s a long way from the brittle lo-fi of her earliest output but she hasn’t lost a bit of her integrity along the way, and that’s impressive in its own right
Σtella – Up And Away
Released June 17th on Sub Pop Records
Lost in the shuffle of the year, the Greek artist’s debut album combines ancient south Euro melodies with hard-driving indie rock. Soaked in reverb and embedded with instruments obscure to a Western audience, Σtella rubs dreamy torch textures up against disco pop and Brooklyn indie to create something both impossibly old and utterly modern. I say “lost in the shuffle”, of course, because it’s more polite than saying “I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who really liked this record”, but I really did. It’s one of the records I have in my head for when I don’t know what else I want to listen to, and it’s one I put on when I’m not entirely sure about what to put on for company.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale And The Big Steppers
Released May 13th on Interscope Records
The long-awaited follow-up to DAMN. found Cornrow Kenny/K Dot/Kung-fu Kenny leaving it all hanging out, warts and all. He does warn you. Right at the beginning of the album, a few seconds into “Untitled In Grief”, he tells you that he’s been going through some things, and that we should be afraid. Then he examines those things in great detail. It’s a two-album confessional, discussing his childhood and the generational trauma that informed it, his infidelity to his partner since high school, Whitney Alford, why he hurts her, the balancing act of being a man and trying to work against toxic masculinity, the absurd circus of modern entertainment, therapy, and taking accountability for his actions. It’s a lot to take in, probably impossible in one setting, but it’s the sort of thing heads will be unpacking for years to come. Could it have used a good edit? Hell yeah, the second album drags a bit compared to the relatively breezy first. Is “We Cry Together” a stellar way of presenting domestic arguments? Yeah, but it also makes it hard to put the album on in mixed company and just let it ride. “Auntie Diaries” is a massive step forward for a hip hop artist to address, but it could definitely have used a sensitivity read or two despite this. Still, it’s K Dot at his most honest and raw, and it’s a fascinating journey to take with him.
The Comet Is Coming – Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam
Released September 23rd on Impulse! Records
To keep it straightforward: The Comet Is Coming is a throbbing electronic-inflected psychedelic doom rock act that replaces the usual guitarist with Shabaka Hutchings. It’s about as heavy as it sounds, and Hutchings’ signature sax work verges on anxiety-inducing at times, like it’s actually making you trip. The new jazz circuit is bleeding out everywhere, much as it did in the Seventies, and the fusions it creates are endlessly exciting.
DOMi & J.D. Beck – NOT TiGHT
Released July 29th on Apeshit / Blue Note Records
A pair of former child prodigies making the smoothest jazz funk of the era together. French keyboardist (and Berklee alum) Domi Louna and Texan drummer J.D. Beck met at Erykah Badu’s birthday party in 2018 and have been making music together ever since. Prior to NOT TiGHT, their debut, they’ve worked with people like Bruno Mars, Thundercat, Anderson .Paak, Herbie Hancock, Ariana Grande, and Earl Sweatshirt. Some of those names should seem pretty obvious once they start playing, especially Thundercat, Hancock, and .Paak, all of whom also show up here and there on the record. Domi’s keys are fleet and light, dancing across Beck’s tight drums like they’re wearing ballet slippers. The vocals are’t tacked on, either; there’s a lot of great vocal work going on from the guests, with butter-soft melodies melting across the duo’s complicated interplay. It’s an auspicious debut, and one that got a fair amount of sales, another sign of the ascendency of jazz in this, the Roaring Twenties. Wait. Hold on a second…
Quelle Chris – DEATHFAME
Released May 13th Mello Music Group
Dub-splattered and stoned, Quelle Chris’ seventh studio album is a leap forward in what he’s presented under his own name so far. The Detroit MC/producer has been making a name for himself for years in the underground but he’s emerged as one of the finest players in the alt-rap world circa 2022. His voice is distinctive enough to stand out on features but here he plays with voicings and effects, processing things until they squeal and calling it art. The beats float through the air and crawl through the mud, sometimes on the same song, and combine thick, reverb-laden drums, jazz passages, odd samples, and bubbly bass. Lyrically he walks the line between mental health and the struggle of art; “You can keep your flowers, I can’t eat your flowers,” he says on the title track, and it’s something artists of any medium can relate to.
Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
Released May 13th on Polydor Records
Set to record the follow-up to High As Hope in New York City in March of 2020, certain other global events prevented Florence Welch and Co. from that recording session. Setting up in London instead, the songwriting channelled the pallor of the pandemic into another historical plague: the dancing plague of the European Medieval period. Nobody knows for sure what caused the illness. No one is entirely sure if it was an illness. It may have been the first recorded instance of mass hysteria. It might have been ergot poisoning from mouldy rye. Regardless, that’s the prompt; she fills it in from there with hard-driving gothic art-pop, vibing on folk horror (so sayeth we all), moral panics, and the blown-out goth imagery of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s all walloping emotional power, huge gestures, and Welch’s signature voice – like their previous records, of course, but more.
Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
Released September 9th on Stones Throw Records
Name another great artist from Cincinnati whose name isn’t Matt Berninger. Well now you have another one to add to the list. Brittany Parks goes on a rampage through genres in a way not seen since early Santigold, mixing hip hop, R&B, pop, and electronic with a deft hand and an adventurer’s heart. It’s like a cheeky Beyonce with nothing to lose – a Beyonce that never existed on this Earth. On top of all of that run her violin lines – an instrument she taught herself to play, and one she uses to brilliant effect. An artist to watch; “Selfish Soul” is probably the song of the year, too.
Perfume Genius – Ugly Season
Released June 17th on Matador Records
Mike Hadreas stepped back from the spotlight on Ugly Season to become one among many instruments in this shifting, at times near-ambient experimental pop record. Originally taking life as the musical accompaniment for a contemporary dance piece, Ugly Season mixes playfulness and dread to draw out the uneasy tension between raw sexuality and burning sadness that has always been inherent in his art. It’s baroque pop gone dark, an affair that mixes coke-era Bowie into eerie, softly wailing Radiohead-esque soundscapes, and comes through the other side wide-eyed and wondering.
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Released April 8th on Domino Records
Straight outta the Isle of Wight, the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers encountered an absurd amount of success with their debut self-title record. Based on little more than the singles “Chaise Lounge” and “Wet Dream”, the album slammed into #1 in both the U.K. and Australia and, improbably, cracked the Top 20 in the U.S. They even made it to Obama’s summer playlist. How did this happen? Great songs, and a great chemistry between the two songwriters. Every track on Wet Leg is a delight, full of the down-and-out charm of life when you’re young and things are still funny. It’s snarky and sweet, full of film references and inside jokes and the summer-rush of loud guitars. Who knew “Would you like to come home with me? I’ve got Buffalo ‘66 on DVD” would be such an effective pickup line? Picture Barack Obama singing along to “Angelica.” You can’t. AND YET-
Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century
Released April 8th on Sub Pop Records
When Misty dropped “Funny Girl” there was some confusion. This was the oldest man in folk rock, after all. Sure, he had done something similar years before, when he led I Love You, Honeybear with the stately snark of “Bored In The USA” but this was different. It sounded like Misty taking on the big band white jazz of old Hollywood, and that’s sort of what ended up coming out. There are an awful lot of drawn-out string sections, after all, and the leadoff track would go well with Tillman dancing across the stage with one of those two-handed batons and kicking his heels. Underneath the musical exploration, though, these songs are pure Josh Tillman, full of clever snark and wounded love, his gorgeous voice floating through everything like a guide to the Ballroom of the Damned. Then, at the end, he pulls the curtain aside and the album ends on a note of thunder and the Doors – that last maybe because of the Val Kilmer lines, maybe just because there’s a steely-eyed darkness that the album ends on. Fitting, naturally: there’s at least six deaths throughout, and I’m probably forgetting a couple.
Mitski – Laurel Hell
Released February 4th on Dead Oceans Records
Understated where Be The Cowboy went maximalist, Mitski’s sixth album wraps her in an electronic pop sheen, an approximation of city pop with orchestral overtones. That production choice turned some of the critics off, but it makes her heartbreak palatable. That heartbreak in turn adds much-needed cracks and flaws to the hard candy casing of the production, making it a symbiotic relationship, Mitski eating her own tail, as it were. The haters be damned: it proved to be something of an indie rock juggernaut, debuting at #5 in the U.S. and making history as Dead Oceans’ first Top 10 hit. The massive Tik Tok surge had something to do with that, of course, but her assured songwriting and her voice are just as responsible.
Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Released March 25th on Loma Vista Records
The Florida rapper shaves off some of the theatrical extremes and adopts more jazzy, laid-back textures. That’s not to say that he’s relaxing or playing it safe – this isn’t some Joey Bada$$ thing. Far from it. Rather than try to fit into some “rapper that the rock kids could like” mould the edgier indie pubs might cry out for, he proves himself perfectly capable of wrapping his siren flow around slick, ethereal beats too. At the same time, there’s a definite warm swagger, courtesy of vibes nicked from Kurosawa, Ford, Leone, and The Mandalorian. It challenges the expectations he’s built out and in doing so carves out a space just for him.
Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!
Released January 14th on Warner Records
Doris through to Feet Of Clay is the trajectory of a rapper slowly going more abstract with every iteration. On Doris he was drifting when he was awake; on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside he didn’t like shit or go outside, and it sounded like it. Some Rap Songs took the idea of hip hop to it’s sketchy edge, like a Planck level version of rap; Feet Of Clay played around in this half-formed world a little more. SICK!, his first of the pandemic era, is a return to some semblance of coherence. The smoke dissipates a little and his voice comes flowing back through, as pointed as ever but wiser with age, or at least experience. It’s still staunchly anti-commercial, preferring to remain gnarled, weird, and taciturn. That’s when Earl’s at his best, though.
black midi – Hellfire
Released July 15th on Rough Trade Records
Cavalcade proved that the English band’s debut, Schlagenheim, wasn’t all that they were about. That debut, auspicious though it was, was all fury and jazzed-out mathy prog, and if that had been all black midi was capable of then the shine would have worn off fairly quickly. The orchestration, dynamics, and avant-garde elements of Cavalcade have transferred over to Hellfire, of course, but the band’s love of theatrical dramatics has also come through intact, and there’s an endless parade of hats and costumes on display here, enough that you could spend the next several years just digging through this album to tease out all of the ideas. Have you seen the drunken captain singing? Take this album and eat, men, eat. Here’s the deal, though: Do you like King Crimson? Do you like Primus and Mr. Bungle? What about a combination? Nuts and gum, together at last!
Yard Act – The Overload
Released January 21st on Island Records
In the now-crowded world of post-Brexit post-punk (or the New Wave of British Post Punk, I guess, depending on which you prefer) it was, perhaps, inevitable that someone would come along with a nice shiny major label debut to make it safe for the masses and football matches. Post-punk was commercially successful (to an extent) on that benighted isle once upon a time, after all, so it stands to reason it would be again. Yard Act was set up to be that group – a collection of members of various other Leeds groups, coming together with a sound like The Fall gone sort of pop, to conquer the airwaves and your hearts. Well, damn it all if it doesn’t actually work. There’s real charm and character in this record, full of awful people that read as caricatures of brutes and Leavers and never-left-the-village types. James Smith sketches them all with a cocked eyebrow and his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, casting himself as that dickheaded singer getting all political on the title track and then diving into it full-force on the lamenting “Dead Horse.” The politics are there in spades, especially on the biting and catchy as hell “Rich”, but underneath all of that is an uneasy undercurrent of the same question that Julian Casablancas et al. asked 20 years ago: is this it?
The Weeknd – DAWN FM
Released January 6th on Republic Records
Be honest. After scoring a major international hit, releasing a massive-selling greatest hits package as a warm-up for your Super Bowl halftime set, and then nailing that set iconically, what else are you supposed to do? Go to Disneyland? Obviously you’re supposed to put out a concept album about dying alone and bitter about your personal relationships. You get stuck in a traffic jam on the road to that great erasing light in the distance, but at least you’ve got a radio station playing sad bangers to keep you company. Oh, and the station DJ is Jim Carrey. It’s pure synth-driven bliss, from the smooth R&B soul to nihilist power pop to Daft Punk/Justice style club apocalypse. If this is how the end is to come, than I feel like I could certainly do much worse.
billy woods – Aethiopes
Released April 8th on Backwoodz Studios
Ten years after crawling his way back out of the NYC underground heap with the classic History Will Absolve Me, one-time Cannibal Ox associate billy woods is poised on the brink of major success. His label, Backwoodz, is buzzworthy thanks to his work and that of EUCLID (and the two of them together as Armand Hammer). Aethiopes, woods’ first record of 2022, is ambitious and draws grand imagery across time and space, connecting the triangular slave trade, the history of colonialism, the diaspora, and the Black experience in America. It’s one that is shot through with veins of personal experience; the lead-off track brings him back to his childhood in Zimbabwe, where his father was active in the early years of Robert Mugabe’s government. It’s richly detailed – the high security fence, the hills alive with landmines, the tension and unease – and brings in the possibility that Mengistu Haile Mariam is spending his exile from Ethiopia in the same compound. Later in the song the terror of Mariam’s 1977-1991 reign is addressed: “The guests start having doubts / the host nowhere to be found / It’s ghosts in the building’s bones, so many skeletons in the ground.” The imagery of horror and struggle permeates the album: burnt flesh, rich meat, walls topped with broken glass, and the ever-present cops that haunt streets and overgrown lots. The production, handled by Preservation, is suitably dusty and ghostly, full of samples from MENA artists, eerie instrumentation, and African film. Eventually he’ll spill over into the wider consensus just through sheer weight of talent.
Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here
Released February 4th on Ninja Tunes Records
As soon as they released last year’s For The First Time they began distancing themselves from it, calling it merely “Phase One” of the band’s existence. One listen through Ants From Up Here shows exactly what they meant by that. Their debut was knotted post-punk fury and sly lyricism, as much a tribute to Spiderland as it was a push in the right direction for English music. Ants From Up Here is a different beast entirely. Broken and quiet in places, and loudly bombastic just moments later, the band plays with full dynamic swings that become emotional fireworks with all of them going in on it at once. The gooseflesh-inducing, life-affirming heft of these movements is likely no accident; if they were “the world’s second-best Slint tribute act”, as Isaac Wood sang on For The First Time’s “Science Fair”, this time around they were taking their cues from obsessive listens to Arcade Fire. It’s an album of heartbreak, longing, and the need to love and be loved at the end of the day; if it reads like a breakup record, it’s no wonder. Isaac Wood left the band four days before Ants From Up Here was released and so this will likely be the final document of a band that shifted the conversation and made two back-to-back stunning records in as many years. Hey, Television only got two and it took years for their second to be recognized as brilliant. The future may be uncertain – and if we stop to pay attention to Jim Morrison, the end may in fact always be near – but all the more reason to hang on to brilliance you find moment to moment.