You can find a playlist at the bottom of this post if you want to listen while you read.
Best albums released in 2022
Spanish Villager No.3 by Ondara
The Kenyan Bob Dylan. Kind of a reverse Paul Simon's Graceland. My discovery of the year. So good.
Ghost Woman by Ghost Woman
New-psych at its finest. I honestly need to listen to this again now.
Teeth Marks by S.G. Goodman
Gutsy, country-fied rock from this female singer-songwriter. I added two songs from this album to my monthly playlists twice, and then, when listening closely just wanted to keep adding new track to the list. So good.
Leave the Light On by Pillow Queens
Best Irish rock album of 2022 (sorry Fontaines DC). Go Queens!
Gemini Rights by Steve Lacy
'Bad Habit' could have been the song of the year, but the rest of the album continues the zany, lo-fi indie rock-with-hip-hop-vibes deal, and propels Gemini Rights into my top ten.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You by Big Thief
Longer blurb for a longer album...
I had tickets to Big Thief in Wellington in March 2020, but COVID nixed that. They finally came down to NZ in 2022 (with the size of the venue increasing twice to reflect the growth in their popularity) and despite having moved to Dunedin and being a reluctant flyer for climate reasons, I had to make an exception. It was totally worth it. Big Thief have to be the most dynamic, vital, hard working band on the planet right now.
I listened to DNWMIBIY a lot in 2022, but I also listened to Big Thief's preceding four albums (and Adrienne and Buck's solo albums and pre-Big Thief collabs) as I'd picked them as the soundtrack to the short novel I was writing in the first half of the year, and was swotting up for the concert in December.
I think Dragon Long-title has too many songs on it. Classic double album failings. Reminiscent of 2019 when they released two great albums (UFOF and Two hands): so much content, with many of the songs as slow burners, that it's hard to see the whole picture at once. Let alone the fact that these albums followed albums in 2017 and 2016, plus Buck Meek's solo debut and Adrienee Lenker's Abysskiss, both released in 2018.
Case and point, 2022 was the year that I finally paid attention to, and fell in love with, their song 'Mary' from their 2017 album Capacity. Some things take time.
Dragon has plenty of songs with instant appeal, like 'Capacity' and 'Time Escaping' and 'Spud Infinity' and 'Simulation Swarm' and I'm confident there are other favourites that will emerge over the years.
Laurel Hell by Mitski
I was cooling on Mitski. There just didn't seem to be much in the way of evolution with each album. But I heard the single 'The Only Heartbreaker', which hinted at a more up-tempo/raucous sound so I queued up her new album and went outside to mow the lawn.
Unfortunately, on this first listen, the first five tracks didn't really stand out. Track 6 was the song I'd already heard, followed by 'Love Me More', which was even jauntier, though still pissed off and angular in the way that most Mitski songs are, 'There's Nothing Left for You' and 'Should've Been Me'. After this stretch of four songs I'd completely changed my mind. It's such a killer run and lends a glow to what comes before and after.
The whole album rocks... you might just need to wait a while to find the key that unlocks its rockingness for you.
Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman
"Jason Molina with a subscription to The Athletic". I can't trace the original provenance of this description of MJ Lenderman, but it's so apt. Not just the way that Lenderman is clearly inspired by Molina's sound and references a lot of sports, but the exclusiveness of those two signifiers (I'm not sure many of my friend group would know who Jason Molina or Songs: Ohia are/were -- if that's you, go listen to 'Farewell Transmission'!; or the Athletic, let alone what kind of sports fan they cater too).
The album opener, 'Hangover Game', is a clear standout and the best example of the Molina+Athletic vibe (it's about Michael Jordan's infamous flu game).
I've since been back through the MJ Lenderman back catalogue - his EP Knockin' is vvvvv good - and it's now time to return to 'Boat Songs' for another thrashing.
If I never know you like this again by SOAK
Another Irish album! Oh, I mean, a Northern Irish album. I guess you could call it rock... it has guitars. It's more atmospheric indie pop? Whatever it is, it's gold.
The Overload by Yard Act
I feel like this album came out 5 years ago (though it was Jan 2022). And it's on Yard Act's debut. This year's Dry Cleaning - though I rate The Overload over Dry Cleaning's sophomore album which dropped in '22. More please.
- Chris by Ryan Adams - Mr Adams is a dick, at best. He withdrew from the public eye for a while, then released a bajillion albums (okay 4) in 2022. I was curious what all those songs, presumably written and recorded while nursing his narcissitic, self-inflicted wounds, would sound like. Just the sheer volume of them! And dammit, there's a lot of songs that are right up my street. Chris has the highest strike rate of the lot. But, there's still, the fact he's a dick, at best.
- Warm Chris by Aldous Harding
- Pray for me I don't fit in by Melt Yourself Down
- Lucifer on the Sofa by Spoon
- Weather Alive by Beth Orton
- Barn by The Long Lost Somethins
- Havasu by Pedro the Lion - an important piece in David Bazan's ongoing autobiographical suite, but the songs are a little... boring at times.
Best albums from past years I didn't encounter until 2022
- Shallow Bed by Dry the River (2012)
- No Medium by Rosali (2021)
- Due North by Liam Kazar (2021)
- People in Cars by Curse of Lono (2021)
Each of the 2021 albums would have made my top ten this year if they'd been released in 2022, or in 2021 if I'd heard them then. Interestingly, there weren't many more 2021 albums nipping at their heels.
As for Dry the River, they appeared in my ears while I was gardening and the album I'd been listening to ended and Spotify autoplayed songs in a similar vein. I think I'd been listening to Local Natives, but I might be wrong. The thing is, DtR don't sound much like Local Natives (besides there's the higher pitched vocals and the emotionally vulnerable lyrics). There's a Fleet Foxes/Animal Collective orchestral/choral vibe, but the Dry the River is more muscular and direct. There's an earlier britpop vibe, or maybe even The Bends-era Radiohead, but when I try to pin down where, it evaporates. It's like someone made a venn diagram of all the music I like and created a band than sat at the area of greatest overlap (well done Spotify!), only to find out they've long since broken up and there isn't much beyond Shallow Bed available. Better to have loved and lost, and all that!
Best song of 2022
After eliminating artists whose albums appeared above, there was a clear winner. It doesn't feature nonsense syllables like many past Songs of the Year winners, but it's very much a singalong in the car kind of tune.
Stick Season by Noah Kahan
This one might've been spoiled slightly for the seven people who looked at my 40 songs for 40 years playlist two days ago... So be it!
I like the songyness of 'Stick Season'. It's like a really good Greek statue. It's got enough detail to place it within an exact time and place ("Doc told me to travel, but there's COVID on the planes"), while being timeless (dude reduced after breakup; sad sack singing over jangly music).
If Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is!), then 'Stick Season' is a Christmas song!
I concede that this will probably sound like Mumford & Sons when the glow of its newness has faded, but right now I DON'T CARE.
Best songs not from 2022
- Chemtrails over the Country Club by Hayley Mary (2021) - a rocking cover of Lana Del Rey - would have been a real contender for song of the year if not for chronology... it's have to settle for being THE GREATEST COVER OF ALL TIME (maybe?)
- Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult (1977) - no, I can't be bothered with the diaresis. Delved into BOC's back catalogue this year and discovered this silly ol' gem, which my kids also love.
- Hocus Pocus by Focus (1971) - fun to say, fun to listen to. Another one my kids request to hear.
- The Pills Won't Help You Now by the Chemical Brothers (2007) - featuring Tim Smith from Midlake (original lineup) on vocals, this was the next best thing to a Midlake reunion (NB: Smith-less Midlake is pretty good, but with-Smith Midlake is god tier).
- My Pal by God (1988) - I'd heard this song before, but it wasn't until I heard Bad//Dreems' cover (2020) in 2022 that I went back and listened to God's stuff and really appreciated what an amazing teen punk treasure 'My Pal' is.
- Goodness Pt.1 by The Hotelier (2016)
- Wasteland of the Free by Iris DeMent (1996)
- Headlines by Charlotte Cornfield (2021)