Saw the Pavement reunion, which underscored for me both how much and how little my tastes have changed since my youth. It’s hard to be objective about music you love. Favorites show up on my end of year list again and again, and there are usual suspects here again this year. But the sounds I most respond to are also different now than they were when I was 25, so there’s a wider tent, which makes room for new favorites.
Objectivity is overrated, and probably impossible. The apex of my list is reserved for albums that answered the question “what did I want to listen to again?” These were all records I returned to over and over: not necessarily the objective best, among the wealth of pandemic art that surfaced in 2022, but my best of the year. Voracious listeners, feast your ears: my top 22 albums in 2022.
22. The Paranoid Style: For Executive MeetingDIY from the ultimate rock music lover, a gender-flipped John Darnielle with Bruce Springsteen ambitions, Questlove-level encyclopedic domain knowledge, and the barest label support. The least we can do is stan.
21. The Lazy Eyes: SongbookTechnical, precocious psych rock from down under. If you’ve never lost your mind in a six minute freakout of reverb, feedback and guitarmonies, have you even ever, like, rocked?
Is there some kind of worldwide emergency where everyone’s been holed up with nothing to do but write and record music all day? Prins shares that he thinks these two are his best work so far: one album slightly on the electronic side of electroacoustic, the other on the other side, both dripping with vibe. If you want to picture the headspace this is going to take you to, imagine Thomas and John Carroll Kirby gently tripping together in the studio, laying down Cool Coronas. I want to go to there.
19. Horse Lords: Comradely ObjectsLike a Jazz Gang of Four or a Kraut Talking Heads. Shit’s messed up.
18. Shearwater: The Great AwakeningNick Drake, Marc Hollis and the Sisters of Mercy had a baby (just go with it) and the baby grew up and smothered you with a pillow but you didn’t fight it because the sublime string arrangements made you feel immortal.
17. Alvvays: Blue RevThey’ll tell you this is the best Alvvays has ever been and… it might be? I think it’ll probably be? After like 100 more listens, somewhere mid-2023? But even if it’s not, it’s still a blast, and Alvvays are undisputably at the top of their musical game. Like a bowl of Frosted Flakes, sweet as hell and it’ll slice the roof of your mouth open.
16. Tony Molina: In The FadeUnbelievably sweet catchy crunchy classical hardcore one-minute bangers. Rivers Cuomo curses under his breath every night, listening to Tony on his iPod with the covers pulled up over his head.
15. Beth Orton: Weather AliveOrton sounds like she’s earned her weathered sound over many years in the ditches, and the music she’s writing has never sounded more at peace with her singing voice. The songs echo and amble and pop and maintain the essence of the edge that was present at the start of Orton’s career: adult music for adults who were young fans when Orton was young music. It’s good to be alive.
14. Baynk: AdolescenceHorny-on-main electropop for people aged 12 through 19, and most likely your age, too.
13. Weyes Blood: And In The Darkness, Hearts AglowThis year the kids and I rose with the Titanic and beached here.
12. Half-Handed Cloud: FlutteramaXian outsider art’s greatest living hyper/literate songwriter (sorry Suf) takes on death and doubt. The kids in the cover art are all right, but the adults have lost their minds, or had them blown.
11. Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa / Lucifer on the Moon
Spoon is so consistent, their regular releases usually fly under my radar: I like it, but do I like it the best of everything I heard this year? But their cover of Bill Callahan’s ‘Held’ helped break the spell this year (listening to a second grown man sing “for the first time in my life, I let myself be held like a big old baby” is a pleasure I didn’t think I’d ever experience), and then they packed the rest of the record with their usual high quality bangers, and then they pushed it over the top with their other side, a version of the record in the Upside-Down, where Spoon’s love of dub experiments twists Lucifer On The Sofa into weird, wonderful new shapes. Okay Spoon, I surrender to your charity.
10. Dawes: Misadventures of DoomscrollerDawes updates Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody as a guitar jam for the Internet age, lights a jay and warms themselves in the glow of the modern world burning itself out.
09. Aldous Harding: Warm ChrisHarding is so completely out there, her music so un-self-conscious and completely itself, that when I walked away from this album for a while and then considered this list, I thought “I can’t have liked this as much as I feel like I liked it.” But I was wrong: the songs were already like old eccentric friends when I listened again, and I was struck by just how in-my-bones it all was already, after no time at all. First single ‘Fever‘ is a great example, the opening exclamation of the title is so obviously in conversation with the Peggy Lee classic and the rest of the music so obviously not that the song instantly complicates itself, your nerves are set on edge and you find yourself scrutinizing Harding’s voice for something just out of your reach. “I know this song, why don’t I know this song?” When it stops for a lazy chamber music middle third before changing keys in the reprise, I’m through the looking glass and committed to this ride all the way to the end, which consists of Harding putting on a squeaky affect to sing ‘Here comes life with his leathery whip.” What the fuck, Aldous: why do I know this song?!
08. The Beths: Expert In A Dying FieldAnxious lyrics, disaffected stage presence, just-the-basics instrumental lineup, and possibly the most fun you can have in power pop today. Whatever it takes to keep this up for another three records, someone in New Zealand give it to The Beths please.
07. Kenny Beats: LouieThe producer behind Vince Staples last three albums and my 2021 fav, Idles’ Crawler, Kenny Beats keeps some jewels for himself with this playful set, showcasing how integral the beats (sorry) are in making the track pop. Don’t even need bars but he puts a few collabs on top and makes a party mix par excellence. An understated gem.
06. Jenny Hval: Classic ObjectsCalling back to the same inscrutable feelings I experienced when I first heard Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, or Vashti Bunyan, for me Hval’s Classic Objects hits the perfect intersection of singular genius and populist composition. Like Destroyer, on the page the lyrics read like confessional poetry, not like songs at all; sung, though, they belong in an alternate universe where her high, clear voice dominates the charts. When the needle is off the record and the wardrobe closes, I want desperately to get back there as soon as possible.
05. Nilüfer Yanya: PainlessNilüfer Yanya’s burning cover of P J Harvey’s Rid of Me (as a b-side!) is all you need to know about why this album rules.
04. Beyoncé: RenaissanceI know my limitations: if I were a better man, this would be number one.
03. SAULT: AIR/AIIR/Earth/Today & Tomorrow/Untitled (God)/X/11
Seven is a sacred number, which I imagine plays into SAULT’s dropping seven releases in one year. Two of them are total reinventions of SAULT’s sound as a kind of sacred harp singing (AIR/AIIR). One is a ten minute multi-part opus bouncing from explosive reggae to homily and then synthesizing the two (X). Five roughly thematic albums—Gospel, psych rock, funk, children chants, soul—were released for free in one day, if you could crack the secret code GODISLOVE to unlock the archive (perhaps not coincidentally also the key to SAULT’s whole vibe). This cohort is staking their audacious claim to every corner of black music tradition this year, restless and prolific and unimpeachable. They never miss. Bring on (their canonical albums are only odd, never even) #13.
02. The Range: MercuryJames Hinton’s previous album, Potential, established his baseline approach: cutting clips of London speakers in MLE accent together into claustrophobic dancefloor scorchers. ‘Mercury’ opens this technique up, and the brighter, more expansive compositions push Potential’s, uh, range into new regions. It feels like a celebratory return, six years later, and worth the wait to hear Potential fully realized.
01. Destroyer: LabyrinthitisDestroyer sings koans directly to my soul. It reads like poetry when laid out on the page, but becomes the archest of world-weary sophisticate pop when set to his demented score. Biting, winking, confounding, funny, and 1,000x cooler than, I don’t know, anything anybody else is making these days. I know this isn’t objectively the best record this year—that’s obviously Renaissance—but I didn’t return to anything else the way I came back to Labyrinthitis again and again: to hear the toddler babble of the title track, the pseudo-motorik beat driving ‘Suffer’ like a workhorse, and the nostalgic album closer ‘The Last Song,’ a return to earlier form(s) for Bejar, a nursery rhyme for artists who might be too tired to finish 2022 with anything like the energy they began with in 2020. “An explosion is worth 100,000,000 words, and that is maybe too many words to say,” he sings, a self-deprecation aimed at his own mode of songwriting: explosive, verbose, like the surprise cut-and-paste verse that ends career-best album highlight ‘June’. Settled into his niche and still somehow growing as an artist, Labyrinthitis is Destroyer’s best album since Kaputt and maybe better than that. At the very least, it’s the album I want to hear when I’m done with it all, when I’ve had enough, can’t take any more, which is 2022 in a nutshell. Thanks for capturing the zeitgeist, Dan.
Don’t think of them as also-rans, just think of them as someone else’s top 22:
- Rayland Baxter: If I Were A Butterfly (ATO, Nov 4)
- Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain, I Believe In You (4AD, Feb 11)
- Belle & Sebastian: A Bit Of Previous (Matador, May 6)
- Bonny Light Horseman: Rolling Golden Holy (37d03d, Oct 7)
- Bonobo: Fragments (Ninja Tune, Jan 14)
- Alex Cameron: Oxy Music (Secretly Canadian, Mar 11)
- Domi & JD Beck: Not Tight (Blue Note, Jul 15)
- Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork (4AD, Oct 21)
- Lupe Fiasco: Drill Music In Zion (1st & 15th, Jun 24)
- Floating Points: Someone Close (Ninja Tune, Nov 9)
- Fort Romeau: Beings Of Light (Ghostly Intl., Feb 11)
- Ezra Furman: All Of Us Flames (Anti-, Aug 26)
- Gabriels: Angels & Queens Pt. 1 (Parlophone, Sep 30)
- Gold Panda: The Work (City Slang, Nov 11)
- Gungor: Love Song To Life (Hither & Yon, Nov 11)
- Junior Boys: Waiting Game (City Slang, Oct 28)
- Kuedo: Infinite Window (Brainfeeder, Jul 29)
- Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (Interscope, May 27)
- Cate Le Bon: Pompeii (Mexican Summer, Feb 4)
- Sondra Lerche: Avatars Of Love (PLZ, Apr 1)
- Anaïs Mitchell: Anaïs Mitchell (BMG, Jan 28)
- Pedro The Lion: Havasu (Polyvinyl, Jan 20)
- Phoenix: Alpha Zulu (Glassnote, Nov 4)
- Plaid: Feorm Falorx (Warp, Nov 11)
- Plains: I Walked With You A Ways (Anti-, Oct 14)
- Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn: Pigments (Merge, Oct 21)
- Santigold: Spirituals (Little Jerk, Sep 9)
- Will Sheff: Nothing Special (ATO, Oct 7)
- The Smile: A Light For Attracting Attention (XL Recordings, May 13)
- St. Lucia: Utopia (Nettwerk, Oct 7)
- Harry Styles: Harry’s House (Columbia, May 20)
- Harvey Sutherland: Boy (House Anxiety, Apr 29)
- Tears For Fears: The Tipping Point (Concord, Feb 25)
- The Weather Station: How Is That I Should Look At The Stars? (Fat Possum, Mar 4)
- Wet Leg: Wet Leg (Domino Recording Co., Apr 8)
- Whitney: Spark (Secretly Canadian, Sep 16)