With today’s posting of my Best Albums of 2022 Report, I will mark the 31st straight year in which I have publicly offered such a list, either via online or traditional print outlets. Does that make me venerable, or just old? I’m not (yet) yelling at clouds (often), so I’m going to claim the former descriptor, for now. Humor me by agreeing, yeah?
As discussed in this recent post, I usually present my annual report in late November or early December each year, on the presumption that I need to live with an album for a month, at least, before I declare it among the best things I heard over the course of a given year. I then do an update or supplement in January if I feel like I need to add anything truly notable that slipped in after that.
To provide some perspective on the choices I’ve made over the years, here is the complete reckoning of my published Albums of the Year from 1992 to 2021. (I had yearly favorites before then, obviously, I just didn’t hang them out for others to look at). I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some years, retrospectively, but I made my choices in public and I stick with them as a point of principle:
- 1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
- 1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
- 1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese
- 1995: Björk, Post
- 1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
- 1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch
- 1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac
- 1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip
- 2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya
- 2001: Björk, Vespertine
- 2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone
- 2003: Wire, Send
- 2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)
- 2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything
- 2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
- 2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom
- 2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
- 2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic
- 2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics
- 2011: Planningtorock, W
- 2012: Goat, World Music
- 2013: David Bowie, The Next Day
- 2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
- 2015: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
- 2016: David Bowie, Blackstar
- 2017: Dälek, Endangered Philosophies
- 2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins
- 2019: Lingua Ignota, Caligula
- 2020: Run The Jewels, RTJ4
- 2021: Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg
As I normally do when I post “Best Of” lists like this one, I make two notes up front before getting to the good stuff. Firstly: this is all subjective, and it’s all my opinion. But of course it is. If music criticism were objective, we’d all end up with one mutually-agreed upon list at year’s end, and what would be the fun in that? Secondly: I can only rank and review that which I actually hear in any given year, so that’s limited by (a) what I like to listen to, and (b) what I actually acquire to spin. So as omnivorous as I am, and as a person who spends more money and time acquiring music that just about any other consumable commodity, I still must apologize if I missed your very favorite album of contemporary I-Kiribati Te Buki songs, arranged for tassa drums and tenoroon and recorded in various abandoned Cold War missile silos on vintage reel-to-reel tapes. But I’ll happily read about that record on your own list, and would likely enjoy hearing it. Please do share said list with me after you post it, and you really don’t need to add a “Dude, you suck” preamble to it because I neglected your niche. It wasn’t personal. Honest.
Having caved to streaming this year, I’m going to take advantage of my enslavement to Spotify and embed links to the albums cited here to facilitate (?) your further investigations should you wish to undertake them. I think that will be easier and less likely to become broken in the months ahead than my traditional linking to Youtube or other sites and sources. Having said and done that, I’m honestly not quite sure what happens if you don’t have a Spotify account and click through these links. Can you hear them? Do they work? Does Spotify lay claim to your children and/or your soul? Or mine? Please advise. I may edit after the fact if this is a losing play for most of my readers.
Before getting to the countdown style rankings of my #25 to #1 Albums of the Year, I’ve got a few items to note about non-LP length releases, or special case LPs that didn’t make the final list, for one reason or another. First up, there were some truly outstanding standalone singles released this year, that have not (as of yet) appeared on any albums:
Then in the slightly longer, but not quite long enough, mini-LP or EP formats, there were also some grand releases this year:
Moving on to album-length releases with various asterisks, there was one late 2021 release that I missed until a month or so ago, but that I want to call out here and now for the record, and one remix/remake album of a 2020 classic that’s not quite a new release, but merits praise and recognition here nonetheless:
In summary, I think 2022 has been a great year for new music, with some COVID-era barriers to creation and dissemination of songs seeming to have finally broken for many of the artists who I most admire. Because of that wealth of new material, I actually had a Best Albums listing featuring 40 records at one point a couple of weeks back, but it seems that full text explanations for that many albums would make this article prohibitively long and unwieldy, even by my normally verbose, why write four words when you can write forty, standards. So I’m going to acknowledge these 15 Honorable Mentions for 2022’s Best Album consideration here and now, all on them on my radar screen at some point as possible-but-not-quite bests in a very solid year, then move on to the 25 finalists with a bit more text and linkage:
- Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul, Topical Dancer
- Big Joanie, Back Home
- Black Jesus Experience, Good Evening Black Buddha
- Cypress Hill, Back in Black
- dälek, Precipice
- Dry Cleaning, Stumpwork
- Ezra Furman, All Of Us Flames
- Gnod, Hexen Valley
- Holy Scum, Strange Desires
- Korn, Requiem
- Pictish Trail, Island Family
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Return of the Dream Canteen
- Keith Seatman, Sad Old Tatty Bunting
- Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive
- Yard Act, The Overload
And with those preambles complete, we step off onward and upward to the Best Album of 2022, Says Me:
#25. Goat, Oh Death: Korpilombo, Sweden’s favorite masked psych-funk-freak collective return to the record bins this year with a stomping disc that more closely resembles their early work than it does their previous full length, the acoustic-somber Requiem from 2016. I sort of figured the title of that one meant they might be done, so I am glad to have the winner of my 2012 Album of the Year back on my list again in 2022.
#24. Souad Massi, Sequana: Algerian singer-guitarist Souad Massi spent much of the 1990s as a member of the political rock band Atakor, until her activism began reaping death threats, forcing her to flee for Paris, France in 1999. She has released eight solo albums since escaping from Algeria, with Sequana standing as the finest among them, a perfect blend of the traditional, the modern, and the sounds of days yet to come.
#23. Bret McKenzie, Songs Without Jokes: Former Flight of the Conchords member and Academy Award-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie’s first solo album is, well, pretty much exactly what it says it is. There are songs, but there are no jokes. Which is good, because the songs are great, and the arrangements are deliciously all over the place, cinematic in their scope, and occasionally a bit funny, even when not meant to be.
#22. Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania: Robyn Hitchcock’s first album in five years is, to these ears, the most “Egyptian Sounding” since the demise of his last long-running stable group, The Egyptians. I quite like that, and this, as I have always enjoyed the Egyptian phase of his career the most. Lots of great guests on this new disc, with rich arrangements of surreal and melancholy songs, and Robyn in fine voice throughout.
#21. Wet Leg, Wet Leg: I wrestled with where (or whether) to post this release, as half of its material actually came out via singles in 2021, with the brilliant, game-changing, instantly-ubiquitous “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” leading the charge. The Isle of Wight-bred duo’s debut LP is a refreshing hoot, regardless of its temporal provenance, so if you didn’t hear half of it in 2021, go ahead and bump it up to, say, #5 or so. Easy.
#20. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen: Ohio native and brilliant singer-instrumentalist Brittney Parks’ sophomore release as Sudan Archives is an audaciously sprawling foray into the cool spaces that lie between pretty much every genre of music being made in America today. It sounds like nothing else because it sounds like everything else, only done better, all at once, the surprises and the fun never stopping.
#19. Bartees Strange, Farm to Table: I didn’t intentionally put Brittney Parks and Bartees Strange back-to-back when I made this list, but as I write text about their equally brilliant discs, it seems a fitting placement. Strange is a DC-based producer-guitarist-singer with a military brat background (like moi), and he mines and mixes a variety of styles, making something uniquely soulful, uniquely great, and uniquely his.
#18. Sasami, Squeeze: I included Sasami Ashworth’s eponymous debut album in my 2019 Best Albums report, describing its mellow-ish contents as “chilly, wobbly, and cool.” I expected her sophomore disc to offer more of the same, and was completely wrong in that expectation: Squeeze is a stomping, noisy, messy delight, with nary a whiff of shoe-gazing to be found within its monstrous grooves. That’s progress, that is!
#17. Wolfgang Flür, Magazine 1: Wolfgang Flür was the one member of Kraftwerk’s classic line-up who did not write songs, and who didn’t appear on all of the studio albums of his era. But he played key roles in creating Kraftwerk’s studio and stage sets, a choice collaborator who made his colleagues better. This disc demonstrates that gift, with ace guests fully enabled and empowered by their genial host and chief.
#16. Ibibio Sound Machine, Electricity: Ibibio Sound Machine are a multi-national group based in London and offering a tasty mix of skittery Afro-pop and pounding drum n’ bass styles. Fronted by the supremely talented Eno Williams (whose family’s native Nigerian language, Ibibio, gave her group its moniker), ISM make smart music you can dance to, or dance music that makes you smarter. Either way, win, win, and win.
#15. Aldous Harding, Warm Chris: Aldous Harding’s fourth album topped her native New Zealand’s charts, once again affirming in my mind the amazing musical tastes collectively shared by the Kiwis. Produced by long-time P.J. Harvey collaborator John Parish (who also produced my 2021 Album of the Year from Dry Cleaning), Warm Chris is a beautifully weird platter of delights, wonky and wonderful in equal measure.
#14. Aoife Nessa Frances, Protector: A late-in-the-year arrival from a completely-new-to-me artist, Protector is a fantastic introduction to a marvelous talent. Ireland’s Aoife Nessa Frances makes accessible (but not easy) music, with ear-worm melodies and gorgeous vocals, often somehow slightly a-kilter and awry, in the best senses of those descriptors. I need to trawl her back catalog, and look forward to what comes next.
#13. Snog, Eight Offerings for the Undead: In which David Thrussell returns with yet another amazing record framed by yet another amazing story, this one about how he went blind and dictated this album in a trance to his disciples from atop a mountain sanctuary, beneath which recording studios transformed his utterances into songs. What’s it sound like? Just like you’d imagine from that story. He’s magical that way.
#12. Clutch, Sunrise on Slaughter Beach: Maryland’s gnarliest sons are stalwarts on these lists of mine, 30+ years into their super-smart, ass-kicking career. This latest offering, their 13th studio LP, is a stormer, with nine songs spanning just 33 minutes. It arrives, it gets all up in your face quick-like, it makes your brain mosh itself into mush, it tickles your jump and shout modules, then it rockets off, its work complete. Perfect.
#11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love: John Frusciante’s third stint with the Chili Peppers unleashed such a torrent of creativity that the group released two albums in 2022 just to capture it all. I’d normally worry about such self-indulgence, but Holy Moly, this album and its successor (see the Honorable Mention list) are so chockablock with greatness that I actually and fully appreciate their need to share so extravagantly.
#10. Andy Prieboy, One and One Makes Three: I’ve long hailed Andy Prieboy as one of my very favorite songwriters of the past quarter-century or so, and he’s no slouch at all when it comes to arranging, playing and singing his songs to boot. This latest disc is a collection of songs dating back to the start of his career, and it’s great, soup to nuts; I gave it a complete review here, so check that out for more, lest I repeat myself.
#9. The Jazz Butcher, The Highest in the Land: Two Octobers ago, I sadly penned a memorial tribute to Pat Fish, The Jazz Butcher. He and his long-time collaborator, Max Eider, were/are both brilliant singers, writers, and players. The pair were working on an album at the time of Butch’s unfortunate demise. Released this year, it was a very, very good record indeed, a lovely last listen to a much-appreciated and much-missed talent.
#8. Gang of Youths, Angel in Realtime: Gang of Youths are an Australian band, fronted by David Le’aupepe. Angel in Realtime is a collection of songs penned by the singer after his father died, at which time David discovered that most of what he knew about who he was and where he came from was wrong. Poignant and powerful, filled with haunting melodies and superb arrangements. Song cycle stories seldom strike this true.
#7. Jed Davis, Failing Upwards: I may well have written more about Jed Davis on my websites than any other artist, in part because he is very prolific, but more because he is so, so, so very good. He’s been issuing a series of EPs over the past couple of years under the Song Foundry rubric (see the Honorable Mention section), plus this superb full-length LP, which I reviewed here (along with Andy Prieboy). Go read it! Shoo!
#6. The Comet is Coming, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam: British jazz musician and composer Shabaka Hutchings is one of the few artists I know who puts out as much quality music in as many different band configurations as the aforementioned Jed Davis. This one features his saxophones atop crushing electronic and live drum beats. The whole thing slams and swings in equal measure, superb within any genre.
#5. Jethro Tull, The Zealot Gene: I’m on the record noting that if I absolutely had to name a favorite band ever, across a lifetime of listening, then Jethro Tull would be it. While Ian Anderson has issued some great solo albums over the past 20 years, Tull has lain fallow as a studio concern releasing new material since 1999. Until now, that is. It was worth the wait, with this one sitting high on my list of their all-time classics.
#4. First Aid Kit, Palomino: In my 30+ of doing these things, First Aid Kit are one of only three artists (David Bowie and Björk the others) who I’ve given “Album of the Year” honors twice. Which is remarkable when you consider that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg weren’t yet born when I started publishing these lists. Their latest is yet another gem. Had it come out earlier in 2022, it might have gotten them a third trophy.
#3. Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart: I’m usually leery when I hear about an actor I like recording an album, and I don’t generally pursue such side projects, but I really like Jessie Buckley on film, and I was intrigued to learn that esteemed guitarist-songwriter Bernard Butler was working with her. And wow, was it worth breaking my rule and investigating this time, as this is a truly sublime record, beautiful on every front. Buckley is as world class a vocal talent as she is a theatrical one, and Butler writes haunting melodies, which are superbly arranged within fairly simple, but very effective instrumental formats. It was this video that sold me, instantly, when I first watched it, and Spotify now tells me that’s our most played song of 2022. Such talent! Such charisma! Such joy in music! Watch it, watch it do!
#2. The Black Angels, Wilderness of Mirrors: I’ve been a fan of The Black Angels since their 2008 sophomore album, appreciating the well-crafted Velvet Underground influences within their work, loving the elements of their sound that evoke vintage Texas psychedelia of a 13th Floor Elevators and Moving Sidewalks flavor, and happy to have a bit of ’80s Jesus and Mary Chain guitar buzz in the mix, too. While citing those disparate elements might make The Black Angels sound like a pastiche act, they have always sounded first and foremost like themselves, creating a certain sonic something uniquely greater than the sum of its parts. With Wilderness of Mirrors, they’ve squared the circle of their sound somehow, being all The Black Angels they can be and then some more, making their hardest, purest, most brilliant ball of perfect sonic fuzz ever. This is next level stuff for an already great group, a thrilling addition to a super catalog, the sound of a band hitting its stride, then kicking on the afterburners, which puncture eardrums and break windows all the way to the unseen finishing line.
#1. The 2022 Album of the Year: Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth: Alynda Segarra has been issuing albums under the Hurray for the Riff Raff moniker for 15+ years, with Life on Earth standing as the eighth studio LP to carry that banner. Segarra has long mined fascinating musical and lyrical territory related to gender and racial politics, immigrant experiences, social justice and equity (or the lack thereof), and the mish-mash magic that comes when vibrant cultures collide, in art, in music, in life. As was the case this year with the aforementioned Black Angels, Life on Earth takes everything that Hurray for the Riff Raff have done, have been, and have sounded like, and makes it all bigger, bolder, and brand-new sounding, somehow transcending the canon while completely codifying its core components.
I acquired Life on Earth soon after its release this past February, and I’d label it one of those rare perfect albums where I’ve been spinning every one of its songs regularly for 10+ months, never tiring of any of them, always turning up the volume and tuning in my attention when one of them pops from a speaker near me. Segarra has been quoted as saying that Life on Earth represents a new start for Hurray for the Riff Raff, and should be considered, on some plane, to be a debut disc. The importance of new collaborator Brad Cook, who has produced and performed on some of the most genre-defining/bending New Americana/Weird Psych Folk albums of the past decade, adds credence to the narrative of this thing being not quite that thing, even though they bear the same name.
But whatever you label it, and however you number it, Life on Earth is a gorgeous, haunting, bittersweet, fully engaging, cerebral, life-affirming/life-questioning masterpiece by an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musician. I consider it a perfect aural and lyrical document of a most imperfect time in our world, recalling what has been, observing what is now, wishing and working for that which could be, if we are strong, if we hope, if we believe in the magic of our innate powers, and in the fellowship of those whose paths we share, and in the generosity of spirit required to embrace Alynda Segarra’s “Riff Raff,” whoever they might be, wherever we might find them. This is a deeply personal album in terms of Segarra’s narratives, but it states its terms and tells its tales in ways that allows listeners to lay its lenses over our own views of the world, shifting our perspective, sometimes toward clarity, sometimes away from it. That’s a crucial component to the greatest of great art, in my mind.
Here are the videos (both also most visually brilliant) of my two very favorite songs from Life on Earth, serving as great introductions to the album and the artist, should you need that:
And with that, we close out this always enjoyable (for me) annual exercise, and start looking toward 2023’s thrills. I hope you find some sounds on this list that will rock your own world as much as they have rocked mine this year, and (as always) feel free to let me know what I’ve missed in 2022, as I’m always on the hunt for great albums, even after their open season ends.
It’s time for the collage montage scene . . .