I'm excited to write about some of my favorite music of 2022! It's been an exhilarating year of listening for me. Lots of new stuff. Lots of inspiration. Lots of cool grooves. I've been seeing the lists starting to pop up and now I'm eager to create my own.
In 2022, I used music to help me feel and process emotions. I used it academically, to research sounds and production techniques for my own creative purposes. I used it to move my body. I used it to get into character.
I loved the music I listened to this year. And I'm happy to say a lot of my favorite music of this year was actually released this year. It's not always like that. Like most people, I like what I like, and what I like tends to be stuff that is at least a decade (or more) old. So it's a great sign that so much contemporary music resonated. Makes me feel good. Makes me feel relevant.
I ended up selecting ten albums I loved in 2022. I could have listed more. But I don't get paid for this. So, shout out to Kurt Vile, Raveena, Black Country, New Road, Gang of Youths, Cate Le Bon and all the others who released new music I loved in 2022. The list highlighting their wonderful efforts exists in another universe.
Let's get to that list, shall we? But before that...
First, A Rant
There's too much music these days. It's too easy to make music and make it available for the whole world to hear. Too many musical agendas. Too many concepts competing for attention. Too easy to feel like it's impossible to keep up. Too easy to listen to something amazing and potentially life changing just once and never again. It's hard for me to say this as a musician who enjoys the ability to make and release relatively pro-sounding records with relative ease. I'm trying to make it! But the reality is there are too many of me. And the effect is that it all seems like noise.
There's always more. More to consume. More artists to read about and music scenes to study. More searching to understand the contexts from which music emerges. More styles, sounds, textures, arrangements, harmonic ideas and lyrical themes to synthesize into one's general understanding of music as an artform and cornerstone of the culture.
Everything is a niche. Niches on niches on niches. Doesn't seem to be much of a monoculture anymore. Not much we all agree on.
Sometimes something cuts through. Like when Kendrick Lamar released DAMN. back in 2017. Those tracks were everywhere. Coming out of cars. Coming out of the TV. Everybody knew about "Humble." I don't know if there's been any music like that since then. Music that seems to connect everybody. Music that seems to form the fabric of the culture. Kendrick's latest album didn't really do that. Wasn't trying to. Which is fine.
We're all just on our own little musical islands. We like what we like. And there's plenty of it to go around, no matter what you're into. Too much, I'd say. A billion nobodies who maybe ought to be somebodies, all making music for rapidly shrinking audiences. All these tiny superstars with their 1,000 true fans. Earning barely lower-middle-class incomes in artistic obscurity. If they are lucky, savvy, prolific and cheap. If they are willing to consider a lower common denominator. Selling short runs of shirts. Sending swag through the U.S. Mail. Paying for pressings. Scrappy.
I'm sick of scrappy. Artists and creators are the ones who make the world. They should be the focus of our culture. They should receive the greatest benefits of life in our culture. The ones receiving the bulk of the culture's attention. But no. Instead we are obsessed with fucking dumbass politicians. We wear their dumb t-shirts and slap their dumb stickers on our dumb bumpers. We even follow and listen to their dumbass Spotify playlists!!! How did we get so uncool?
When did we get so fucking square? Why do we care about their fashion? Why do we care about their diet and fitness routines? Why do we read their dumb fucking ponderous books?
I want a culture where people erect giant signs proclaiming passion for their favorite musicians. Where they plant flags proudly declaring how much they enjoy their favorite albums. Where ardent fans gerrymander districts on behalf of their favorite songwriters. Stuff like that.
I want the emotional engagement of the culture to happen through art, music, comedy, drama and poetry. Not through in group vs out group bullshit stoked by uncharismatic asshole figureheads running for elected office. Well, I guess some of them are charismatic, but why do we give a shit? Lots of charismatic people making music over here!!!! HELLO!!!!
Why not just let politicians make policy? Let them represent us. Take care of that boring shit for us. Instead, we prop them up and become fucking fans of them. No. They are boring fucking wonks. Necessary boring fucking wonks, for sure, but we do not need to elevate them to the status of artists, poets and legends. They thrive on our emotional attachment to the idea that they are on our side. That they are on the same team. Who gives a shit??? They're here to serve the public's interests by doing a bunch of boring shit regular-ass people are not qualified to do. Stop propping them up and making your lives about them. They don't care about you! Stop connecting to these fucking dumbasses emotionally. Why are you doing that??? Don't you know that's what music and art are for??? Fuck!!!
And there's too much music. People want playlists to play in the background. Innocuous and inoffensive. They need a soundtrack for their dumbass political horse races. Those playlists need fuel. Churn and burn. Songs enter and leave quietly. They don't make a fuss. They are just happy to be there; to be on the guest list. Happy to receive any recognition at all. We have created a culture of casual music fans unwilling to spend more than $.50 a day because, ultimately, music has no real impact on them. They barely pay attention. There is no value to any of it. And it is this way because we are being conditioned this way.
I want it to be another way. I want to awaken the irrational passion of the true music fan. I want music to ascend back to its rightful place in the culture. I want to see presidential hopefuls playing saxophones on late-night TV again because it matters. I want cool things to be cool again and uncool things to be uncool again.
Too much music. Not enough fucks given about music. Shit's gotta change. Stop elevating public servants to where artists should be.
So with that, here are some of the albums released in 2022 that I enjoyed the most. In no particular order. With a few sentences about each one. I used Spotify links; it's just easier that way for me. Believe me – I know all about the evils of Spotify. This is neither the time nor the place, though. Enjoy!
Tim Heidecker: High School
I remember seeing Tim & Eric live at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wisconsin back in 2007. They brought most of the cast of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! with them on tour. Seems like they really spared no expense. Multiple costume changes. Generous confetti. Lots and lots of laughs. Great energy. I still think of it as the most entertaining live performance I've ever attended.
Tim Heidecker has been releasing music for years now. The silliness now comes with a patina of melancholy and nostalgia. Is the silliness even there anymore? This new album is probably his best work as a musician. Super focused songs. Highly relatable for someone like me, who is similar in age and sensibility to Heidecker. I remember seeing Neil Young with the weird broom buy percussionist on late-night TV, too.
Soul Glo: Diaspora Problems
Fucking righteous. Wordy. Angry. Playful, too. Truly. And fucking heavy. Make sure you get into it on an empty stomach. The release of this album in 2022 coincided nicely with an increased interest in hardcore and other heavy forms of music as I put together my own heavy, wordy (and stealthily playful) album. This Soul Glow record has a lyrical word count of 5,000+ words, I am told. Which may be intimidating. But goddamn, they pull it off. Breathless. Exhilarating. And yeah, fucking righteous.
Nilüfer Yanya: PAINLESS
This album was released to pretty high praise. I listened, having enjoyed the artist's previous work. Didn't really get it at first. Just kind of rolled past me. But I kept hearing Yanya's cool-ass voice in my head. So I went back. Which, as I allude to above, is something that's really hard to do these days, given just how much music gets released all the damn time. PAINLESS ended the year as one of my most-played albums, while Yanya earned a spot in my top ten of most-listened-to artists of 2022. Nice! People want to portray her music as, like, soul or R&B I think because she is a woman of color. But it's really, like, alternative indie rock. Cool production. And yes, it is soulful. But shouldn't all music have soul?
Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
This fucking band, am I right? They really carry a charge. I don't know why they incite such negative fervor, but there is something about them that makes people really feel things. Maybe I do know why? Yeah, sometimes I wanna roll my eyes at them and their music, but that is a feature, not a bug, of Big Thief. They cut through the noise. They do what they do. They have beliefs and values about music and art to which they hold very true. They are emotional. They learned how to make music because that's what the people around them all did and so that's what they ended up doing. Not because they sought status or anything. You can hear that. This album has 20 songs. Many of them are kind of odd. I think it's great. It's real goddamn music. I am inspired.
Scowl: How Flowers Grow
Although the year ends on December 31st, the music year, for all intents and purposes (certainly for this purpose), ends on October 31st. That's why I'm including this album, which came out in November of 2021. I didn't discover it until January or February of this year when I started digging into research for my upcoming album, Family Plot. I was so delighted to find this band! And to discover that they are contemporary! They're making music right now! I love this band and its approach to hardcore. The right ratio of tightness to sloppiness. Always on the edge. Dangerous. But I can tell there's brains there, too. The defining feature of Scowl is the inimitable bark of lead vocalist Kat Moss. Fucking gnarly as hell.
This is a pretty weird album. I was not familiar with Sasami's previous work, but this album got some favorable press when it was released in February, much of it teasing the unexpectedly heavy sounds of the album. Since I was going deep into the heavy stuff at the time, I was intrigued.
Squeeze is a tight, largely experimental record that seems to give very few fucks. Lots of chunky, gained-out guitars. Pounding, doom drums. Some left-field overdubs that could not have come from an artist more entrenched in the styles being explored here. So many surprises. I love the sound of an artist just trying some shit because it seems fun and like it would be cool. That's what this album is like. Sasami is not trying to fit in with the current crop of bland, inoffensive indie pop darlings with this effort. Such a relief!
Jack White: Fear Of The Dawn
Ol' Jack White. I think about him a lot. He's about my age. We have very similar musical skill sets. Both from the upper midwest. Of course, he's a lot more successful than me. I'm always interested in what he's up to.
In 2022, White released two albums. This is one of them. The first of the two. Another highly experimental album. Impossible to tell what's going to happen next, from bar to bar. And yet, the record does not feel herky jerky, impenetrable or impossibly dense. No, it has grooves and hooks. All deployed delightfully. The surprises feel inspired and not just for the sake of being weird or whatever. I can tell Jack White spent a lot of time making this record. And it's very modern. People don't understand that about Jack White; they think he still only does analog, only plays old unwieldy guitars from the Sears Roebuck catalog or whatever. No, these days White is as about as innovative and forward thinking as any producer or artist. Far from being a luddite. This is why he keeps getting tapped by people like Jay-Z for collabos and stuff. He's not that analog guy stuck in the 60s you think he is.
I didn't listen to the second Jack White album of 2022, Entering Heaven Alive, enough to form an opinion.
Angel Olson: Big Time
My impression of Angel Olson is that she is just a really, really cool individual. Her music is always so full of the magic intangibles that have nothing to do with musicianship, technique, production or any of that. Olson's records have all that, too, yeah, but they have something extra, as well.
I think this is my favorite of Olson's albums. It's got a feel to it. Its songs were made to mean something, and they are presented as such. Grief is explored. Sadness. Real sadness. Also new love. The butterflies. None of it is fussed over. It's just really good songs played by really good musicians, all of them focused on hitting a sweet, groovy mark. Success! It sounds so human, too. Stands out. From another time, but not in an annoyingly retro way.
Thee Oh Sees: A Foul Form
Possibly my favorite record of 2022? My god, it's only 22 minutes long. 10 songs. Devious and dangerous. Drums in mono – straight down the middle. Fuzzy-ass guitars panned hard right and left. Warm, generous bass providing a comforting low end platform from which to listen to the pyrotechnics of the middle and upper frequency ranges. Exciting music. It's got edges. Tight and focused. This band makes so much music. With regard to all the stuff I rant about above, they aren't helping. But this record is a gem. I'm listening to this a lot as I finish up the mix for Family Plot.
Anna von Hausswolff: Live at Montreux Jazz Festival
One of those artists I kind of don't want to know more about. Mysterious. Who is this person that makes this spooky organ music? With that fearless voice? With that amazing range, dynamically and melodically? I've enjoyed this artist's work in the past, though it has seemed a little academic. This live record places the music in a context of real-world space. Its existence there causing a bit of electricity-making friction. This music goes there. Then it comes back. Then it goes there again. All the way there.
There You Go
That's all I got. So much music. Too much. But I'm glad to have been able to slow the stream enough to truly live inside these albums.
What are your favorite records of 2022? Did I get to any of them on this list? And what are your thoughts on the state of music as an artform these days? I would love to know, so send me an email or hit me up on Mastodon. Later!