Whew! Folks, it’s been quite the year of music. In 2022, we were given some pretty incredible pieces of music from artists all across the world in all different styles. This is a fact every year, but uh, this is how I’ve decided to open my Top Albums of 2022 list.
What do we have below? We’ve got three Brazilian records. We’ve got three different Daniel-made albums. We’ve got three Spanish-language records. But mostly, we’ve got a ton of lovely, semi-underground tunes for you to close your year out with. I’m going to keep this little intro blurb short since this post is going up LATE and I put many more words below. There will be more 2022 reflection coming later in my 2022 Retrospective post at the top of next year. For now, check out my picks below and support the artists I’ve featured here by clicking the album art + check out some purchasing options. I got you! Enjoy!
- The A’s – Fruit
- Dylan Moon – Option Explore
- Jack J – Opening the Door
- Lady Aicha & Pisko Crane’s Original Fulu Miziki of Kinshasa – N’Djila Wa Mudujimu
- Lil Silva – Yesterday Is Heavy
- Machine Girl – Neon White OST 1 – The Wicked Heart
- Moin – Paste
- Old Fire – Voids
- The Range – Mercury
- Shovel Dance Collective – The Water Is the Shovel of the Shore
50. WINGED WHEEL
Launching giant chunks of collapsed concrete infrastructure out of a massive slingshot into an abandoned parking lot. The decaying urban sprawl responds only with rattling echoes.
A cart careening down rusty train tracks without abandon. Minimal but splintering percussion provides a skeleton for arcs of ripping guitar, oppressive bass thuds and steely vocals to be painted into hunks of flesh, bending and flexing under harsh winds. There are quieter moments where the band feels out their uneasy, foggy surroundings, but when they lock into a groove, there’s little better noise rock you’ll hear this year.
a lot’s gonna change
Leisurely floating down a river in one of those super soft, pillowy bean-bag-like chairs on a cloudy day.
A pretty overlooked record from this year, Chicago’s Claude makes woozy, uncanny indie pop with infectious melodies and production that both feels compact and bursting at the seams. My first comparison (sorry) was a Caroline Says record produced by Sam Evian. Introverted, knotty meditations that spill over with psychedelic flair.
48. FIEVEL IS GLAUQUE
Prototypes of various inventions litter the floor of the home of an eccentric scientist who’s nowhere to be found upon a missing person’s investigation, because their latest contraption worked this time.
Miniature glass cubes arranged into a rubiks cube with so much sound crammed into them that they’re practically cracking from within. Pivoting between breakneck jazz funk and ultra-chill loungey explorations. Obviously indebted to Stereolab (but what band isn’t these days), but it’s like if you gave Stereolab a bunch of caffeine and threw them into a room of treadmills running at various speeds. The performances are clean, concise and are able to keep up with the quick stops, changes and curls thrown in. 18 songs over 37 minutes – tight and snappy!
Reading a book with cracked glasses; the fragmented and shifting words illuminate forgotten insight like a sunbeam entering through a freshly-parted curtain.
Micro fragments of audio stitched together into gorgeous, dangling mobiles of songs, reflecting the serene light that surrounds them into kaleidoscopic beams. Pop songs split open and examined at the most granular of levels, both delighting in slower, more deliberate ambient soundscapes and fast-moving, glitch textures.
46. THEY HATE CHANGE
Watching skate videos on a gameboy color screen modded into an MPC.
Absolutely bleeding with charisma, Tampa duo They Hate Change honor their hometown and its musical traditions while continuously flexing their impeccable taste and culture level. The two drop name check after name check, make esoteric references left and right, all while futuristic instrumentals that pull from all eras and regions of electronic dance music crush around them. They’re here to shout their shit, offer a wink or two, and make sure to put you on some rad new tip that’ll change your whole life.
45. SHIRLEY HURT
Planting a tree in the winter and watching as flowers that look like faces of your lost friends slowly blossom in the spring.
Sometimes all it takes for a record to be elevated from a solid debut to a memorable one isn’t just good songwriting (which this has), or a notable voice (also, this), but rather how it’s all put together and presented. Shirley Hurt’s debut sounds like something created by someone with years of both songwriting and studio experience under their belt, crafting unsuspectingly catchy and deep folk rock/pop tunes, fleshed out with awesome arrangements and vast types of instrumentation. There are shorter, more tender and direct songs, plus longer and more nuanced tracks, both highlighting different strengths Hurt brings into the mix. Hard for me to not love something like this!
44. BRUNO BERLE
No Reino Dos Afetos
An ultimate, unblemished warmth that cascades over the entire body, much like a ray of sunlight.
Intimate and at times messy, Bruno Berle’s debut LP is a potential vision of the future of Brazilian pop, delicately weaving together elements of indie pop, R&B, folk, field recordings into free-flowing, tender sketches. Before I even knew that Berle was from the beachside town of Maceió, I knew that he was channeling the everyday moments he and his friends experience and romanticize just from the sonics throughout the record. It’s lush in a quaint, lived-in way – nothing that will overwhelm you, but enough to get you to come back again and again.
You have the ability to run endlessly without fatigue, but there’s always someone running after you and they only show up in reflections.
Snarling, curdled and beaten down, PVA’s debut LP is a knotty embrace of tough electronics bent into dance floor torching blasts. Vocal deliveries oscillate between ambivalent and aloof to unhinged – pick your poison. You gotta love a band that’s mostly electronics but with a live drummer. There are some songs on here that you can put on your running playlist that will have you chased out of your shoes like the some of the best dark synthwave, a la Boy Harsher. The album loses a bit of steam by the end, but the songs that hit are endless repeaters.
42. RACHIKA NAYAR
Heaven Come Crashing
A drifting satellite and a shooting star pass so close together in our sky, a fleeting embrace.
Dripping with melodramatics like any good post rock release, Rachika Nayar’s Heaven Come Crashing sculpts epic peaks and valleys out of originally unassuming ambient soundscapes with the power of cinematic guitar and electronics. Songs will usually start in a pretty low key manner, but one or two elements of the calm sea will subtly elevate into a bigger motif, usually blossoming into something organically or rapidly cranked up thanks to thunderous dance beats or searing guitars. Yearn, baby, yearn.
41. BADGE ÉPOQUE ENSEMBLE
Clouds of Joy
An improv troupe travels cross country to set up elaborate movie chase sequences through small North American towns and concludes each with a town singalong.
Since 2019, Badge Époque Ensemble has been the premier export of heady jazz funk, at least in Warm Visions-land, consistently raising the bar with new elevations in their pursuit of deep grooves. For their newest, they add an all-star fleet of guest vocalists like Robin Dann of Bernice + Dorothea Paas to join their steady collaborator James Baley, deepening the dimension of their sound by adding interlude-esque tracks of near acapella vocal pieces. For the main formula, the players are still on point, with ripping solos backed up by an ever-steady rhythm section. Still waiting for BÉE to drop something without a good groove – hasn’t happened yet!
40. VIEUX FARKA TOURE & KHRUANGBIN
Pulling over, stepping out of your car, turning the car stereo all the way up for a big bop, and groovy dancing on the side of the freeway.
OK, now hear me out. I have been a Khruangbin hater in the past. I definitely appreciate what they’re doing and am happy that they’re achieving such a level of success for an instrumental group. But sometimes it’s like, really? THIS is what people are freaking out about, and won’t give similar instrumental groove groups a shot? Well – I guess all they needed was to incorporate a legendary African musician in the mix to add some more flavor and credibility to the mix. At times it feels like just another pleasant groove collection from the ‘bin, but when it crosses over into a more African sounding desert blues record and Farka Touré + his group of singers get involved, that’s when the record shines most. Nothing incredibly mind blowing, but something that’ll make you feel good, groovin and likely get the whole room on the same wavelength.
39. GUERILLA TOSS
Becoming infected with a brain parasite that only leads you to have an overwhelming urge to swim up a waterfall, which you eventually accomplish with superhuman feats of strength and determination, plus energy drinks.
Majestically maximalist as ever, Guerilla Toss may have made their most accessible LP to date, but still maintains the alien grit that has made them so appealing for the last decade. These songs are triumphant, taking the unreal energy the band is known for and pointing it in a specific direction and pushing the whole album along. Brilliant psychedelic bursts of noise act as walls for technicolor melodies to ricochet around in. These are pop songs deep down, but just covered head-to-toe in dripping slime.
38. REAL LIES
Watching raindrops smear across a see-through dome while you slowly drive in circles in a busy London club corridor, the music from the clubs leaking through your windows.
Seven years since their debut, London’s Real Lies still channel a vibe that feels fresh and unique; one that sounds like it’s pulled straight from the rainy streets of their hometown. Coming of age tales, odes to close friends, love letters to lost flings all put forth in breathless, whispery confessionals from a back room or with friends waiting in a car + talking about dreams of your future. All this is backed up by threads of late night dance music as if it’s filtering out of clubs and pubs in the early hours of the morning as you walk home in a daze, reflecting on points in your life that have brought you to this moment.
I Love You Jennifer B
Putting on a musical theatre production that you’d been building since you were five years old, originally acted out with toys and your childhood friends, on the world’s biggest stage, with every detail of the script and set design from 20 years of planning still intact.
While I am not as head-over-heels about this album as some people are, I cannot deny the prowess and brains that’s tear down the musical borders found across this album. Oscillating between quiet, confessional art pop + folk, to glitchy mid-00s timbre electro bops, to grand theatrical productions, to blistered digital rock; Jockstrap keep listeners on their toes continuously throughout the project, all while keeping a cool head and in control of the narrative. Going deeper than that, even with all the pivoting between styles, they’ll still throw in an unexpected sound effect, transition, vocal effect, melody switch up, or whatever, to keep the listener guessing. I think it’s fair to say no one else is doing what Jockstrap is cooking up right now.
36. DANIEL AVERY
Descending to the center of the Earth in a thin capsule with a sheetrock-boring drill attached, then emerging from your claustrophobic containment in deep space, seemingly after taking a wrong turn somewhere.
One of the more consistent voices in modern electronic, Daniel Avery really ups his game on Ultra Truth, crafting tracks that are both hard-hitting and cinematic, not erring for one or the other. He’ll take a high-energy drum break and build a whole universe of sound around it in the form of twisting and contorted electronics, or enlist contemporaries like HAAi and Kelly Lee Owens to help sculpt towering monoliths of sound for the breaks to pinball around in. There’s a hefty amount of Aphex Twin / 90s electronic worship on here, especially in the slower tracks like “Collapsing Sky”, “Lone Swordsman” (which is a tribute to Andrew Weatherall) and “Spider”, but it doesn’t feel redundant. The tracks that surround this sonic tributes help build the story of the album as a whole enough to set them apart – a full constellation of hard-hitting electronics.
Bringing all your houseplants outside and laying amongst them as you watch the stars together.
Floating in and as lightweight as morning fog, Sessa’s second album deepens the lightly psychedelic chamber folk sound he established on his 2019 debut to make for a hazy, romantic and infectious record. Slow, syrupy string arrangements filter in from behind a trickling waterfall of nylon string guitar, buoyant bass, hand percussion and backing vocals. It’s effortlessly sweet and wafts cool fragrances of flowers over the listener.
34. SHABASON & KRGOVICH
Rediscovering your favorite cup in the back of the cupboard and periodically drinking juice out of it throughout a Saturday where you don’t have anything particular to do.
Canadian heroes Joseph Shabason and Nicholas Krgovich describe their new record as one emerging from the pandemic, breathing in new fresh air for the first time in months and being re-energized by the natural wonders of the world, both spectacular and mundane. I’d agree. The musical themes of their last collaboration, the brilliant and essential (for me) Philadelphia, still remain, with adult contemporary pop, funk and groove taking itself seriously while also making sure to ham it up just a little bit. You gotta enjoy the moment, revel in what we’re actually talking about here. Both romanticizing the past and present, while keeping an eye on the future. While not as immediately centering as their last one, At Scaramouche still puts me in a good mood and will definitely act almost like a marker in the progress of the pandemic – from insulated and homebound to bounding and star-searching.
33. TIM BERNARDES
Mil Coisas Invisíveis
Walking into a vast hallway with gorgeous gossamer curtains billowing into the space via large open windows, letting in wafts of a floral late spring from the garden.
The last of the three Brazilian records on this list – a new high for my Best of the Year collections. Bernardes is a known figure in the popular music sphere, collaborating with legends like Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso. He also broke into the North American folk/rock zone with work on Fleet Foxes’ last album, and was on tour with them in the spring + summer. Speaking of Fleet Foxes, and maybe bringing in fellow contemporary Devendra Banhart – if you dig them, you’ll love this album. Its lush string arrangements and pure instrumental depth harken back to those great 00s era indie rock records, and deeper than that the legendary records of the 60s and 70s where studio magic really happened. On the flipside of that – I saw Bernardes live and him just playing these tracks solo with acoustic guitar was a magic experience. An ultimate fantasy land that I was continuously blown away by.
32. WEYES BLOOD
And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Murky light of a winter sunset creeps into your exclusive realm of a closed-canopy bed, with its heavy velvet shell in royal purple insulating you from the outside world.
Natalie Mering’s Weyes Blood described this album as an illustration of her “going through the thick of it”, and it shows. She is wallowing in fleshed out versions the cinematic psychedelia and soft pop that she’s built up over the last few records, with te melodies occasionally bowing and weaving into uplifting passages, but for the most part exist as vast, finale scenes of films that leave the audience all misty-eyed.
31. DUVAL TIMOTHY
Meeting With A Judas Tree
Two friends project their memories of each other onto a massive, curved screen, both recollections and emotions overlaid onto the same surface and meshing shared experiences together.
What a gorgeous album! So much more than a “piano record” – textures and tones will warp in size and shape in the middle of a melody, billowing electronics will harshly cut into frame over the pristine piano lines, washes of field recordings establish the songs in a certain place and offer a nostalgic weight. Everything blends together like you’re watching a suite of memories play out on a screen before you. I had been positive about Duval Timothy’s work before this, but this album really does it for me.
A rainy day spent flipping through photo albums, reading old diary entries and listening to the pockets of birds singing in between showers.
Calm, collected and patient, Florist made their biggest and best album yet with this self-titled collection, a project that was played A LOT in our apartment throughout this year. Florist leader Emily Sprague is getting so strong as a songwriter, deftly balancing moments of quiet introspection and more direct, musings on life, friendship, the natural world, love and more. The band gels incredibly well, showcasing their years of working together. Sprague’s instrumental ambient explorations fit into the overall momentum of the album well also, not just working as filler interludes. This year felt chaotic for far too long, and Florist was an elongated respite from it all.
29. GEORGE FITZGERALD
A scientist is forced to traverse across an arctic pole to another base with a large satellite dish in hand to transmit the northern lights’ energy and fuel the world’s power supply.
I feel like this record got overlooked by many, but I wonder if people just don’t appreciate ultra-solid electronica records like this anymore, unlike me. However I should say that there’s a pretty high bar to clear – you can’t just be putting out a run of the mill electronic record. I love that Stellar Drifting has a unifying theme of deep space, from its song titles to its futuristic and wistful production. I love that the guest features (including Panda Bear, who had a crazy year of work I might add) are well-utilized and add more to the record other than just “hey so and so is on this”. It’s got great grooves, awesome movement and dynamics, and is just a joy to return to if you want to do some stargazing.
Could We Be More
A high-impact run-into-hug with someone you haven’t seen in a long time, that includes lots of squeezing, swaying side to side, screaming, crying, laughing, jumping up and down, all while hugging.
Jazz collective from London finally releasing their debut album and yep, it’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for from them. It feels like a righteous celebration, with triumphant performances stacked left and right, from glorious trumpet lines, to rattling and dance-worthy percussion building the bones, to spirited vocal performances. The ensemble clicks so well together to create a beautiful, moving and feel-good record that we need in these times. I also want to commend the decision to reprise the delightful melody on “Dide O” on “Home”, one of the best tracks of the year. Feel a peace that you likely haven’t felt since pre-2020 and listen to this album – I know that’s how it felt for me.
Abandoning your physical body and inhabiting a digital space for the rest of your days, but able to jump between screens at will and exploring the far depths of the internet.
On my first few listens, I thought this record was purely alright, but I wanted more. “SAOKO” was a solid start, but I think “CANDY” turned me off after that. Later on it kind of hit me that a major world popstar, albeit one still rising, just put out a radically strange record and it’s being eaten up. My limited interaction with modern reggaeton + Spanish-language artists do seem to be pushing the sonic realms of modern pop music, but Rosalía really overhauls the envelope with some bonkers production and her ever-reliable dynamic vocal performances. She’s still bringing together flamenco and modern pop, to glorious results. I was initially in love with traditional ballad “COMO UN G”, but the weird folds of other tracks won me over to getting this record high on this list. I also want to take this time to shout out El Guincho, who is absolutely getting that bag after helping usher in this wave of futuristic pop. Go back and listen to his 2016 album Hiperasia. But going back to Rosalía, I’m sure I’ll be returning this album more next year and finding new wrinkles to marvel over – it seems like that kind of LP for me.
26. DANIEL ROSSEN
You Belong There
Buying a bouquet of flowers and finding a small house nestled amongst the sunflowers and tulips.
At the most basic level, this Daniel Rossen is a brilliantly done return to lush indie folk / rock that Rossen’s old band Grizzly Bear was known for. Going deeper into the praise though, should illuminate how good this record sounds across the board, and should remind us how immense the production on the old Grizzly Bear records was. The overall sound of the LP shines and gives off the quality of classic 60s and 70s folk albums, when bands had the time and budget to really hone in on a full, studio-borne sound. I’d also like to give shine to the drumming on this record, where Chris Bear (of Grizzly Bear) reprises his role as head-smasher, a role he’s been severely overlooked in when it comes to the highest-regarded players of our time. This pseudo GB reunion is something I didn’t know I needed in 2022, but I will happily let it wash over me in all its glory.
You just went on a shopping spree at the mall and you’re now driving home, but in reality you just shoplifted a lot of expensive clothes and the police are after you. But that doesn’t fit the fantasy.
TOPS member Marci keeps the band’s hot streak going with her own solo record that shamelessly channels 80s pop tropes to the absolute limit of being corny, but toes that line so perfectly by writing brilliantly catchy melodies and delivering engaging performances. Not to mention the production on the whole thing is immaculate, also continuing the trend of TOPS last few releases sounding sooo good. You can slap all the shimmering keyboard textures you want on a record, but if you don’t sound down with the mission, I gotta doubt your commitment to the cause. Marci is not only down, she boldly created one of the best pop records of the year.
24. ALEX G
God Save The Animals
A bar band fights pessimism and nihilism from bleeding into their old standards while playing through their set in an underground bunker immediately after a worldwide catastrophe.
The G-Man is still on a tear making albums that sound like no one else (except for maybe Soul Asylum), this time incorporating sounds of hyperpop (featuring high energy blasts of digital punk into certain songs, plus leaning on radical autotune in his vocal melodies) and continuing his explorations of country, 90s rock and tender folk. If you aren’t an Alex G fan, this album probably won’t win you over, but for those that have been down with the mission, you’ll likely find some new favorites in the discography.
Nicks & Grazes
Getting really nervous and overwhelmed by the really intense rules and lore while following along with some neighborhood kids fantasy roleplay games on the cul-de-sac playground.
Sometimes I think about how interesting it would be to get inside the head of these Palm members, and then I hear things on this record that makes me reconsider. Some of these songs, and deeper than that, sounds, and deeper than THAT, ideas are surely beyond human comprehension. They must be tapping into some eldrich runes to create music this intricately layered and brutal at the same time. Nearly each track feels like it’s being crushed by a trash compactor, but refuses to die, rather it finds new ways to sustain itself while in this mangled, destroyed form. Traditional time signatures? What for? The band have taken their already reliable psychedelic noise rock sound and stretched it to new planes of existence on this record. If they’re able to stretch it further, I don’t know how the human brain will react.
22. TESS ROBY
Ideas of Space
Staring up at the night sky and watching dark clouds slowly pass between yourself and the moon, along with a slight, mirrored object you catch yourself smiling in when the light is right.
One of the best dream pop experiences of 2022, with tactile synth work illustrating defined zones of sound and space, both in the album as a whole (as in the full album feels like a self-contained, head canon experience) and between songs (each individual movement acts as a room or area that all make up this larger picture). Sounds and textures drift, providing architecture for Tess Roby’s patient vocal delivery to act as furniture, hanging art, plants, flowers, etc. “Up 2 Me” is one of my favorite songs of the year and that initially kept me coming back, but revisiting this album is like laying in a dome and watching grand constellations and light painting slowly stretch and coat my inner skull.
Versions of Modern Performance
Noticing someone that wears the exact same outfit you did the day before, down to the personal details, until you realize you’ve just warped back into the past when your retro fashion was current.
I cannot deny that guitar tone. Horsegirl pull inspiration from late 90s + early 00s indie rock, so it’s appropriate that they’re putting their debut out on the label that initially helped popularize the sound. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s a faithful modern adaptation of a beloved Gen X sound that seems to have lost its way over the last decade. This record isn’t afraid to let it rip, and I love it for that.
20. MABE FRATTI
Se Ve Desde Aquí
A sturdy wooden door appears in a vast field and opens without a sound. The smell of flowers and old book pages delicately waft from the opening, and the sounds of two people having a conversation at the bottom of a stairwell can be heard.
A beautiful and uncanny album, Mabe Fratti’s Se Ve Desde Aquí is probably the best dream pop (if you can call it pop) record of the year. Not every dream on this record is serene, though – there’s real darkness lurking throughout this record, populated with gorgeous cello performances, gurgling electronics and other studio wizardry to amp up the atmosphere around each track individually and the feel of the album as a whole. It’s masterfully arranged and presented, taking you on a journey that was pretty unrivaled throughout the year.
19. JOAN SHELLEY
The feeling of wind blowing past your face on a dusk bike ride on dirt roads, air rich with early-summer rain, warm earth, unmitigated flora overflowing up old telephone poles.
Completely unpretentious, un-self righteous, self-contained-as-a-gift folk/singer-songwriter music with beautiful instrumental palettes painting a picture of tranquility in a chaotic world. It thrives in creating comfort in the home and the community, a dampening of the noise outside. An unfurling of tangled emotions after a long hibernation inside your inner psyche. Waking up to birdsong and sun pouring through a bedside window on a Saturday morning. You can feel fresh air hissing from its pores, a refreshing rain to put out fires. Joan Shelley delivered another home run.
Getting a text that blows the walls of your house apart instantly upon reading.
Alright before any of y’all start calling me a hater (and yes, people have called me a hater for saying Blue Rev is simply “ok”) – I think this is a good album, but it doesn’t reach the heights that previous Alvvays records have. It took me 5+ listens to this album to be able to break up which track was what (it doesn’t help when nearly every song is roughly the same length, roughly the same key, similar melodies, similar production). Further than that, in the time they released their last album, bands like The Beths and Lunar Vacation popped out of the woodwork, showing off their supreme songwriting skills to challenge Alvvays’ crown of being the premier modern jangle pop band out there. But once I split it all up, I was able to find some top songs in the Alvvays canon. “Pharmacist” was an instantly likable first single. “Pressed” has an awesome low end that helps anchor down the wild vocal melodies by singer Molly Rankin. “Tile By Tile” is a nice dreamy change of pace that has a well-executed build to the finale. “Bored In Bristol” is likewise a nice change of pace with a lovely melody. The strength of some of these individual songs helps lift this record past many others on the year and still help cement Alvvays as one of the most consistently smart and savvy indie pop bands of the last 20 years.
The feeling you achieve when you’ve finally read every book in existence and take your scooter into town to tell everyone about your achievement.
Another chapter in the long-winding legacy of Destroyer, one that sees the band fully grasp the futuristic lounge + apocalyptic sophistipop it’s been percolating on the last two LPs, to masterful results. Some of Destroyer’s best songs with Dan Bejar’s most outrageous lyrics and vocal performances. Perhaps I’m biased since I’m a Destroyer lifer, but aside from one tanking interlude, this record is all bangers. It’s awesome to hear the band having so much fun again, crafting whip-smart bizarro pop.
A cool cowboy-loving character in your hometown that loves the open sky and isn’t an old creep.
Dehd is a band that I’ve appreciated for their prior two records but never really fully bought in on. On Blue Skies, I’ve bought the farm, I’ve shipped off to college, I’ve sold the mongoose. Whatever that means. When I find myself singing along to nearly every track, I know I’m on the bandwagon. Anchored by the brilliant single “Bad Love”, the songs unfurl into easy singalongs from there, harkening back to retro rock and roll and other dreamy varieties that populated the early 10s, my sweet spot. The charisma overfloweth, and I need an easy reason to smile. Belt away and let loose.
15. DANIEL BACHMAN
Finding a house destroyed by a landslide with a radio on inside, broadcasting a severe storm warning.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Daniel Bachman is one of the world’s most important living artists. His last few projects have not only been boundary-pushing on sonic and genre levels, but his push to weave narratives of climate change and climate injustice into American folk music, without any lyrics, is remarkable. His use of field recordings goes beyond a creepy “alien radio broadcast” as well. Real recordings of heavy downpours, tremendous winds, ravenous fires, devastating floods are the sounds that soundtrack the daily lives of millions around the world.
14. INDIGO SPARKE
An intricately sewn and patterned quilted sheet hangs on a clothesline over a salt marsh and billows in the incoming sea breeze.
Like the modern greats before her, like Sharon Van Etten or Laura Marling, Indigo Sparke comes through with a vast, immediately-engaging folk-rock record that feels like you’re staring upon a wide-open plain before a fierce snowstorm. It’s hard for me not to get wrapped up in the emotion of tracks like “Hysteria”, “Time Gets Eaten”, After seeing most of these songs live, too, their impact is enhanced – the production here is immaculate, and the melody writing is top notch. It burns with a low-lying intensity for the entire record, but heats up to an insatiable fire on nearly every track. Perfect as the first record you listen to in the morning to get you warmed up for the day.
13. MALI OBOMSAWIN
A flooding plain on the top floor of a tall structure; fluctuating waterfalls follow the moon’s pull as the days go by.
An incredibly sick and masterful record. At its base it’s an exploration of jazz but with elements of rock, folk and traditional Native American music knitted within, making for the occasional unorthodox melody or motif. Balanced moments of pure chaos with serene beauty, really putting a shine on the individual players of the group, as well as bandleader Obomsawin, who leads the band via the bass with ease. Do not sleep on this record.
12. SUDAN ARCHIVES
Natural Brown Prom Queen
Covered in honey, glistening in the sunrise.
I don’t think anyone was expecting this album to go off like it did, maybe aside from Sudan herself. Her previous work was solid and definitely pointed towards something bigger, but phew: this album is IT. An awesome, inventive pop record with moments of hip hop, R&B and funk all put on such a massive scale, with immaculate production and catchy songwriting. This is undoubtedly a Sudan Archives record – and it’s easy to tell even without knowing her music that well. It doesn’t really sound like any of her contemporaries, and that’s not just because there is repeated use of violin, but Sudan’s personality comes through strongly. It’s nice to think that there’s still more of the Sudan Archives story to tell – and what we’ll get next will be even greater.
11. CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY & BOLIS PUPUL
An inflated, rubbery smiley face chaotically squishes and careens through a wide, blank white hall with one party disco colored-light ball in the corner while scientists take notes behind protective glass.
It’s hard to make a funny record. One that is actually funny, not like “oh this record is so bad it’s funny”. Then you have to balance the funny with maintaining a sense of musical authenticity. This is not a comedy record. It’s a bomb pop exploration. Nearly every song of meticulously crafted electro comes with a wink, an elbow jab, a tongue sticking out the side of the mouth; bringing levity to such light topics as say, racism, sexism, cultural appropriation, bigotry, and the like. This record is not preachy, either. It is not a ?/50-long Twitter thread. It’s a record that will puncture you with its whiplike instrumentals, invigorating melodies, lightly psychedelic production, and then get you thinking and hopefully acting on both the wack shit we deal with on a daily basis.
10. NU GENEA
A cocktail that engages all of the senses and tastes: salty hits of briny liquid that makes your hands shake, sour citrus causing visual hallucinations, bitterness popping your ears, umami making every caress magnified. Sweating it out on the dance floor.
Globe-trotting funk with strains from nearly all corners of the Earth, all convening in one grand palatial estate next to the ocean. Guest vocal features of many different dialects populate the track list, dictating the party while sublime grooves get the endless dance floor melting in all directions. The instrumentals aren’t slacking either – this isn’t some GarageBand funk loop you can find in royalty-free catalog. There are flute solos. The hand percussionist’s hair is on fire. The rhythm guitars have a sense of the gravity around them. There are horns, there are strings, there are psychedelic synths, there are children choirs, the bass is fat and happy and flows freely. The grooves. They’ll take you away.
9. ANGEL OLSEN
Only memories of sunlight cutting through the steam of their drink the last time you saw them remain.
Where other Angel Olsen albums strike me with their brilliance instantly, Big Time took its time in unfurling its glorious layers. Taking on a more hi-fi approach to country rock that her earlier work alluded to in a more lo-fi setting, Olsen navigates heartbreak and a new life beyond in songs that all would work perfectly in the back half of a redemptive, emotionally-gripping drama. Songs with small beginnings that have been finely aged and grown, to fill spaces in the biggest of halls and the most intimate of cafes. This is an album that I listened to a lot with my partner in our apartment, and once I started reacting positively to every song, I knew we had something great on our hands. Has the potential to be my all-time favorite Angel Olsen record.
8. MJ LENDERMAN
Digging up old action figures from your childhood home’s backyard but they don’t look like how you remembered.
Easily relatable, funny and most of all hard-hitting and catchy country-touched rock tunes to populate both your “windows down” playlist as well as your “hungover in the Six Flags parking lot on a 100ºF day, listening to your favorite team lose on sports radio” playlist. MJ Lenderman just makes it all feel so effortless, like you’ve heard these songs years ago when you were a kid, but are just now rediscovering. It makes me wish I had a car. I never wish that at any other time.
7. NILÜFER YANYA
Each of your fingers are a mini-projector, emitting holographic depictions of your lurking anxieties and motivations.
Nilüfer Yanya extracts the lightning in a bottle quality of 00s indie rock excitement that captivated blogs across the world, but adds something that was severely lacking from that period: a female voice + perspective. Obviously she adds more than that, but looking back at how dude-centric the scene was back then (and let’s be real, continues to be now) makes me hang my head in shame. Aside from our shameful history, PAINLESS is just a straight-up great rock record with great dynamics, innovative production techniques, and a general sonic variety to keep every listen fresh, hopefully writing a new canon of rock for future musicians to return to in the next decade.
6. LUCRECIA DALT
Wrapping yourself and your belongings up in several layers of cellophane and attempting to live your life as normal.
Lucrecia Dalt has finally broken into a larger music fan consciousness after being one of the most consistent voices in the underground for over a decade with by far her most accessible album yet, which is not to say she’s sacrificing elements of her sound. She takes the otherwise tropical and jovial sounds from her native Colombia and tilts them, eschews them with electronics and harsh, smearing textures and animated caricatures to overplay the ersatz nature of horns and big hand percussion. It sounds like sonics ripped out of a portal from the past into a far off future, stretched and warped from its rough journey in time. Hopefully this will get folks to look back at her amazing discography, because she deserves a deep dive.
5. EVAN J CARTWRIGHT
bit by bit
Sitting in a community theater after a production, with the main hall doors open letting in a late summer afternoon’s flowery scent and the gentle sounds of the surrounding neighborhood.
bit by bit was massively overlooked this year, but I’m not going to recommend it to just anyone. Straightforwardly sang simple melodies with a dry, unaffected timbre, field recordings, light ambient keys, inches of jazz percussion and more delicate instrumentation thread together into a beautiful synergy. This is a record for a patient music listener, one that recognizes and appreciates the microscopic magic moments that occur around us on a daily basis. Whether it be humming harmonies alongside the church bells you can hear on your morning commute, to catching birds bathing themselves in sunset-drenched puddles formed after a summer rain, to catching a glimpse of someone dancing by themselves in their living room via an open window, this LP channels the quiet peace you can experience if you listen and look hard enough.
4. BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD
Ants From Up There
A deep obsession builds within you over an AI avatar, housed in a server halfway across the world, and your friends try to bring you back to the real world.
A dramatic elevation past the “talky UK post punk” concept, running laps and spins and somersaults around other current bands that dilute the flavor-of-the-month style that has garnered such feverish fanbases over the last decade but has presently oversaturated the landscape. Drama is actually the theme across the entire LP, with Isaac Wood’s exasperated vocals and hyper-specific lyrics painting triptychs of modern, mundane epics and the intense, multi-layered backing instrumentals of usual rock faire + “high art” strings, winds and brass casting shadows atop a vast stage for modular audiences to take in and be blown away by.
Ancient suits of armor stand organized in formation atop a steep, ocean-facing cliff, catching fierce sunbeams through post-storm clouds as waves heartily crash below.
This album sounds like a sentient suit of armor standing atop a cliff, yearning for a romantic life beyond its means, with fierce winds whistling through its exposed crevices and piercing light from the sunset reflecting off its polished, mirrored surfaces. Threads of metallic melancholy rattle throughout the expanse of this LP, which thrives in moments of dirging repetition and discordant chaos, but is bound together by a purely human soul, depicted in swelling strings and earnest, untouched vocals. A gorgeous juxtaposition between warm and cold, a heart on the sleeve of a ghost tethered to this realm by an unextinguished passion.
2. BILLY WOODS
An ancient slave ship is found buried underneath an Amazon shipping facility located just outside an urban sprawl.
Hip hop you can enjoy without needing to read the lyrics alongside, but the experience becomes enriched tenfold once you do sit down and process what woods is talking about on Aethiopes. Elite visual storytelling that lays each track out like a movie, with imagery of painkiller-glazed eyes mirroring that of those in a Natural History Museum diorama, European colonists converting “savage” African tribes into tourist attractions and so many more stories from generations of forced trauma, all backed by intensely curated and masterful instrumentals courtesy of Preservation. Cuts deep and feels like essential listening to hear what a hardened master of the form can do this far into his career.
1. BIG THIEF
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Hitchhiking in an empty box car with a motley crew of migrants as it travels across a country whose foliage is regrowing after apocalypse.
An era-defining rock record. An era-defining folk record. A record that makes an hour and 20 minutes feel like no time is wasted. An explosion of ideas where stylistic shifts don’t feel out of place, but rather welcomed and expected. A celebration of music and camaraderie that comes with it. Laughing in the face of seriousness, while still laying its ear down to the earth and listening to the murmuring bubbles from below the crust. Too many songs on here, even those deep in the record, I skip to and instantly start humming along. This record is a portrait of a band currently at its peak, with a glimpse into how much artistically higher they can go.
Thanks for reading!
- Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
- billy woods – Aethiopes
- caroline – caroline
- Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
- Evan J Cartwright – bit by bit
- Lucrecia Dalt – ¡Ay!
- Nilüfer Yanya – PAINLESS
- MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
- Angel Olsen – Big Time
- Nu Genea – Bar Mediterraneo
- Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer
- Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
- Mali Obomsawin – Sweet Tooth
- Indigo Sparke – Hysteria
- Daniel Bachman – Almanac Behind
- Dehd – Blue Skies
- Destroyer – LABYRINTHITIS
- Alvvays – Blue Rev
- Joan Shelley – The Spur
- Mabe Fratti – Se Ve Desde Aquí
- Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance
- Tess Roby – Ideas of Space
- Palm – Nicks & Grazes
- Alex G – God Save The Animals
- Marci – Marci
- Daniel Rossen – You Belong There
- Rosalía – MOTOMAMI
- Kokoroko – Could We Be More
- George FitzGerald – Stellar Drifting
- Florist – Florist
- Duval Timothy – Meeting with a Judas Tree
- Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
- Tim Bernardes – Mil Coisas Invisíveis
- Shabason & Krgovich – At Scaramouche
- Sessa – Estrela Acesa
- Daniel Avery – Ultra Truth
- Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
- Real Lies – Lad Ash
- Guerilla Toss – Famously Alive
- Vieux Farka Toure & Khruangbin – Ali
- Badge Époque Ensemble – Clouds of Joy
- Rachika Nayar – Heaven Come Crashing
- PVA – BLUSH
- Bruno Berle – No Reino Dos Afetos
- Shirley Hurt – Shirley Hurt
- They Hate Change – Finally, New
- Ulla – foam
- Fievel Is Glauque – Flaming Swords
- Claude – a lot’s gonna change
- Winged Wheel – No Island