There Are Many Like It But This One Is Mine: Favorite Albums of 2022(!), etc.
Since I brought my blog back, let’s sink our teeth in to the timeless Music Blog Album Of The Year list tradition. Yum yummm.
Being a Music Snob is exhausting. I was one, publicly, for a long time. Now I am too old for that shit, plus it’s a young person’s game. It took me a long time to realize Every Band Is Someone’s Favorite and that you cannot negate something’s value just because you don’t like it. I don’t like a lot. A lot, a lot. But I don’t need to be a huge asshole about it. Don’t yuck somebody’s yum! While fun, again, it’s exhausting. Once I made a list of the 10 Most Overrated Albums of the Year. That same year to avoid making a list, I did individual posts for all my favorite albums, but also a post of my favorite songs. The next year I did a straight up AOTY list but spent a lot of time complaining about the hype machine. This last one was *checks notes* exactly ten years ago. A lot has happened in those ten years, mainly me falling out of step with new music to such an extent that when I cruise the Best Of lists, AOTY lists, and Songs of the Year lists, yadda yadda, there are only a few songs AND artists I recognize. (Genre is, for the most part, not a thing anymore; I didn’t have a streaming app on my phone a decade ago; and the general vibe shift of who names what’s “worth it” has drastically changed–and for the better! Etc. But still, Gatekeepers gonna keep.) Keeping up with new releases is a job itself. Sometimes people who’s job it is to do that have a hard time. Kristen Kurtis hosts the Morning Show at WXPN in Philly and is the Assistant Music Director: it is literally her job to listen to, manage, and talk about new music. If it’s nearly impossible when you have the power of one of the best Triple-A radio stations in the country backing you up, how can a “normal” “person” do it?
So here is a list of records I really love that came out this year. It is by no means comprehensive. There are many like this list but this one is mine.
My favorite album of the year, as previously stated, is Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman. (Also see the band he plays lead guitar in, Wednesday; they did not put out an LP this year but a single. Bandcamp-it.) I love sad bastard music. It is fuzzy and grungy, Crazy Horse and Built To Spill, that skinny flannel I don’t care gaze at your shoes while my body heaves back and forth to the keys & bass working together to make me feel every sadness I’ve ever known. I am alive. Mute the reverb. We’re under water. I live here. When I saw the first track “Hangover Game” I was sold, really, before even hearing it. Thanks to my trusty inside source, Rusty, for this one. (And many others.)
But there were a lot of great records I loved this year! Let’s see…
Dry Cleaning released Stumpwork, an excellent follow-up to last year’s New Long Leg, my favorite record of 2021. Stumpwork is quick-witted but slower, a churning rumination to New Long Leg‘s hard elbows. Dissonant guitars and a crusty velvet feeling, Dry Cleaning do all the things I love: guitar-driven garage, post-punk helmed by artist Florence Shaw who melodically announces non sequiturs. Bonus points for a perfectly grotesque album cover.
Then comes Tim Heidecker’s High School. Tim is the Tim of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! A comedy show I have never been able to get into. Too stupid but whatever: not for me. I didn’t know he made music and this record is a solid guitar guy singer-songwriter feel good album. Crowd pleasing and customer-friendly enough for any store. I like it a lot.
Angel Olsen’s Big Time is so sad and so beautiful. Olsen’s voice and song writing is dynamic. There is always a new layer, harmony, and a turn in the song lyrics that pushes your emotions past where you thought they landed. Then there’s the musical turn, more than a bridge. She always manages to flip a sound on its head. Olsen came out to her parents, and the world, shortly before both of them suddenly passed away. The record goes against her previous work: she let the music and composition spill out of her. Instead of rehearsing with her band, they worked together and made an album. The yield, and simplicity of the title track’s lyrics “I love you big time,” is better than this blurb. It is a perfect love song. The rest of the record is insular and jarring, one I haven’t been able to return to often after the first few listens. You need a head space for it. It is a musical processing.
Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, and Tom Skinner basically wanted to make a Radiohead album and did, only they call this band The Smile. My first note about A Light for Attracting Attention is that it’s anxiety inducing. My close friend, who keeps a bank account for Radiohead tickets, went to see The Smile at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, home to The Grand Ole Opry. I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville since my days of producing They Opry at SXM. What a venue for what a band. The Smile said? it would only be this one record but LOL I doubt it. Poly-rhythms, voice as instrument, Johnny Greenwood does no wrong.
My favorite modern band, Wilco, put out their 12th studio album this year, Cruel Country. It’s 77 minutes long and I don’t have a problem with that. Call it their Return To Form to Alt-Country because it’s pop music in the slightest and heavy on the twang. “I love my country like a little boy/stupid, big, and cruel” Tweedy sings on the title track. Mmhmmm. Tweedy’s solo LPs of the last few years have set a melancholy tone as his authoritarian voice and command of the guitar (someone please stop the Nels Cline show and remember Tweedy’s guitar work is the backbone of YHF and AGIB) continues to be a driving force of my fandom. Sometimes you’re a fan of something so long that you connected to so long ago that those records are always on loop in the back of your brain; this is me and Wilco. Cruel Country is no different. It has its ups and downs in moods, how could it not? A product of the band eager to get back together after lockdown, recording as one in their Chicago loft. Wilco helps keep folk in the mainstream.
My other modern favorite is Father John Misty. Chloe and The Next 20th Century is an LP of short stories. It is impersonal but full of gorgeous instrumentation: a flute & sax & bassoon & oboe & clarinet, a Fender Rhodes & keys, vibraphone, fiddle & cello & violin, viola…basically an entire orchestra…not to mention, guitar, bass, and drums. When Father John came to NYC he played Radio City Music hall with the whole ensemble enchilada. It’s a record to soft shoe to, a bit of swing, and a slow rumination on the music of grand music halls and showgirls with feathers on their head. God help the god awful album cover, the first bad one of his discography. (I have the full art of Ed Steed’s Pure Comedy framed in my living room.) I had the pleasure of dropping everything to attend Non-COMM, a non-commercial radio convention hosted by WXPN in Philly this May and was from here to there from FJM. It was a big, literal swoon and why I skipped the Radio City show here and the god awful NYC version of his fanbase willing to fork over whatever the hell that ticket price was. Although now he is a dad and looks like a tech bro. I prefer the beard (always) but with long hair. “I completely lost it during lockdown…just like all of you,” he said. “At least I committed. This song is about two minutes too long. Perfect for radio.”
For the first time ever I found myself returning again and again to Beyoncé’s Renaissance after taking a curious peek, which is my usual reaction to a Beyoncé record. It helps that it was everywhere upon its release (and continues to be everywhere, topping many EOY lists). I mean, if you’re reading a blog on the Internet about music, you know the deal with Beyoncé. For me, someone who has never liked pop music, I look for supplemental reading. And while I’ve spent years complaining about The Fork and their hype machine (a lot has changed! They’re now owned by Conde Nast, which gives them less an excuse but that’s the way of the cookie now.) in person and online, but alas! they are a site of record. (Their Sunday Review, a historic look at any record not included in their catalog of reviews is eligible; you’ll never know what you’re going to get. It’s fabulous.) Renaissance is a dance hall record paying tribute to every underground DJ & disco club & queer space of dance floors where striking a pose started (see: the 1990 film Paris Is Burning), where people went to hide (and thrive) because they were illegal. We’ve come a long way. Long enough for Beyoncé, billionaire, to pay for whatever (mostly forgotten) samples and appearances she needs to make her vision a reality. The first LP of a planned trio. For the first time she did not release any visual art or music videos to accompany the LP, perhaps to let listeners perform and create the space they want with her OST. I am not an authority or can even provide worth commentary on any of this. I am an outsider. But this record was designed for everyone. My entry point was exercising to it: it keeps your heart rate up, songs blending into and out of one another like a long DJ set. It had me sorting through the listed samples and discovering iconic sounds turned to hooks turned back into something new. At first I was frustrated by her public recycling of others’ sound but then I remembered I don’t know anything about this and I kept reading about it. Disco, hip-hop, dance hall, and everything that fills whatever holes there could be between these genres are fluid. Humans are fluid. Sexuality is fluid. Life is fluid. This record is fluid. These songs live on forever, paying great tribute. I look forward to hearing the next records.
Cate Le Bon’s Pompeii‘s sonic mood matches the album cover: a nun with red cheeks painted in cool colors. There is shadow behind her even though we cannot see. This record is full of echoes and chimes, that of an abandoned church. Cate floats and suspends us all in air. The synths go long, filling up free space and creating small moments of clarity in between the dark corners at every turn.
Skinty Fa is the third record by Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C.. Give me a straight-forward rock album with a foreign curl of the lips. I discovered this band in 2020 via their sophomore album A Hero’s Death. Skinty isn’t as rough around the edges, but the beauty is we get to have both.
Since I saw him drum for his side band Fuzz at The Black Cat in D.C. all those lifetimes ago, I have been a fan of Ty Segall. I love the fuzz. I love psychedelic rock. And it’s hard not to fall in love with an artist who releases music as often as the day turns to night. Segall’s release from this year, Hello, Hi is sad. Sadder than I want it to be. I am including him on this list because Ty and I go way back. If you wanna rage out to Ty Segall, this isn’t the record. Here he shows us his dynamic ability to shape-shift. He contains multitudes. (But just because we can make everything we do a record, should we?)
A record I only discovered because I listen to every Best New Album from The Fork’s reviews page as a personal exercise, Sam Prekop & John McEntire released a record called Sons Of. The album cover caught my eye for obvious reasons. Electronic rock, as it was stated, isn’t usually my bag of coffee. But I found myself cruising along in the back of my mind while this record tinkered forward. I put it on in the store, or on a rainy day when I need my brain to keep on keepin’ on.
Vince Staples put out his fifth solo album Ramona Park Broke My Heart this year and I love it. When Odd Future (aka/fka OFWGKTA) put out their first mixtape Radical in 2010 (!!) I wrote about it on an earlier version of this website that was deleted by my first writing partner who no longer wanted to pay the domain fee; The Way Back Machine lost it too. I have been a fan of Odd Future since I discovered its inception, thru their change in fame venue via The New Yorker in 2011, and when each member put out a record of their own (or a combination of the collected released something) I always listen. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is named after the neighborhood Staples grew up in; the first track “The Beach” ends with the sound of a laugh track and gunshots echoing off each other. “If I had one wish/I’d free the homies” goes the hook on “AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES).” Ramona Park is a reflection of Staples’ self, a tribute to friends present & past, and a homage to home.
As for the rest of what I’ve spent my year listening to…there’s my running playlist I won’t bore you with and my 18 hour jazz playlists. My ever-growing vinyl collection is its own beast. And like any other year, I spent time discovering older records that are new to me. Lookout for a post on that. Oh! And I spend 85% or more of my day streaming WXPN in Philly. LOL. Here’s a list of stuff I also love:
Plains’ I Walked With You A Ways. I saw them at Webster Hall with MJ Lenderman and it was fantastic.
Dr. Dog (an all-time favorite band of mine) put out a live record Four Nights Live in San Francisco although I think they aren’t working as a band anymore? They’re not touring or recording anytime soon but I will follow wherever they lead me. Bassist and co-lead vocalist Toby Leaman put out a solo EP, Military Applications, on Bandcamp.
Built To Spill’s When The Wind Forgets Your Name. Doug is back! Long Live Built To Spill.
Triathalon’s Spin, chill hip-hop I use as background music.
Illiterate Light’s Illiterate Light (mod folk psych, early 00’s Animal Collective vocals, reminiscent of early WOODS, fusion-esque drums, a lil’ bit of Flaming Lips vocals).
Cosmic Guilt’s Cosmic Guilt (Large Philly collective, including singer Jill I went to HS with, formed by James Everhart of Low Cut Connie; excellent modern folk psych.)
Sharon van Etten’s We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong. Had the pleasure of seeing her in Philly at non-COMM and she is ELECTRIC! What a performer.
Bjork’s Fossora. While lockdown allowed me the time and space to finally get into Bjork (it was Homogenic), I realized I knew more of her music than I thought. Fossora is very sad and I didn’t spend much time with it. I look forward to going back.
There’s a lot of stuff out there and this is the tip of my iceberg. Now it’s time to keep listening, and get into SZA.