In October or so of 2021 I had a really disillusioning thing happen. I switched from Word Press analytics, which had saying I’d been getting 30,000 page views a day or something like that, to Google, which slotted the number somewhere close to the 20 to 30 mark. My hopes of becoming rich off my website were pretty much dashed to shreds.
And man, this stuff takes up a lot of time. I don’t even do a lot of reviews, although when Pearl Jam’s next album comes out I’ll probably sink my neurotic, over-analytical teeth into it for a quick 800 words. And sure, there were times this year when I thought about giving the whole thing up together.
But sitting down doing this list, taking in all this music from all over the world, is the best thing. This music is mine. And it’s yours. And it’s the best music that came out on the planet, this busy, tumultuous, chaotic and beautiful year, at least in the opinion of this bald blogger from the American Midwest. And He**, it’s not like we’re getting much outside weather around these parts these days.
Can music still set you free? Well, can you let it? The albums on this list, anyway, are beacons of dedication, perfection of craft, passion and high skill level. For anyone still attempting to siphon music’s greatness in this age of “sy borgs” and online trolling, these are all tunes that I recommend as bona fide cultural pillars, alternatives to falling into the faithless, deadened cultural paradigm that seems to greet us all when we walk outside in the morning. Hey, it’s gotten so bad people are even starting to admit that “All-Star” by Smash Mouth is a good song.
DJ 10p – 20 Snack Nuggets Vol 1
Joao Lencastre – Safe in Your Own World
u-Ziq – Magic Pony Ride
Patricia Brennan – More Touch
The Ephemeron Loop – Psychonautic Escapism
Amanda Whiting – Lost in Abstraction
Reeking Aura – Blood and Bonemeal
Dave Easley – Byways of the Moon
RLYR – RLYR
Count Bass D – All Due Respect
Charm Taylor – SHE IS THE FUTURE
Born – Drottningar daudans
Lo Five – LACK
Factor Chandelier – Time Invested II
Fly Anakin – Frank
Bloodmoney Perez – Curses
AJ Suede – Oil on Canvas
Weird Nightmare – Weird Nightmare
Mehmet Ali Simayli – Portrait of a Dream
50 La Milagrosa – Panico
Brooklyn punk band La Milagrosa line up and bash it with the best of them, belting out hardcore mayhem that would have certainly turned some heads in LA in ’80 and probably gotten them signed to SST, for a very modest sum. Think Darby Crash singing over the systematic groove of Bad Brains, updated to 2022 with a finely distorted and fu**ed production sound and guitar fuzz to give the project some vitality. And if it happens that maniacal singer “German” is frustrated over the apparent mathematical extant dead ends of his own art form, then it makes for one fun museum exhibit, anyway.
49 Misha Sultan – Roots
Aptly manning the stylistic foxhole that could prepare itself to be thought of as “electro-prog,” Turkey’s multi-instrumentalist Misha Sultan marries nature and groove under ethereal, Baroque harmonies and off-kilter meters. Track one “Ants Invasion” tiptoes along for four and a half minutes over repetitive, minimalistic synth, which was so simplistic that I was wondering if I actually liked this album, before finally the high hat percussion enters, and the song flourishes into a copious array of electronic riffs and sub-melodies that seems to conjeal as every much a celebration of pestilence as a call to arms or figure of discomfort. “Sand Ashram” finds guitar crashing the party and delivering some minimalist goodness, in ambient electric form, over a groove that conjoins Four Tet and Middle East festivities. Yeah, it’s safe to say nobody else out there is doing this stuff right now.
48 Andres – MCWR012 // Sunday Kinda Love (EP)
The ghosts of ’70s funk and soul run rampant on this concise, 20-minute DJ clinic from whom Bandcamp describes as “Detroit mainstay Andres.” Right away, “Don’t Make Me Wait” paints its butter-smooth gait with crooning samples and tapestries of spliced high-hats, for a deliciously ornate treble end complimenting bongos and the systematic but infectious basslines. “Sinners” samples vocals so oily and smooth you will think they’re synthesizers, placing an enticingly human element next to Andres’ busy, soft but skittish beat. The centerpiece though is undoubtedly the title track closeur, apparently dedicated to Sunday parties at MotorCity Wine in Detroit, governed by a spooky, gentle bassline, celestial organ runs and a bevy of percussion sounds, none of which ever seems conventional.
47 The Koreatown Oddity – ISTHISFORREAL?
There are some kinds of albums whereon you can just listen to a little 10-second sample and then get a larger idea of what kind of project it is, as a whole. This is definitely not the case with ISTHISFORREAL?, the third album by LA-via-England Asian rapper Koreatown Oddity. Taken as a whole, it plays as part comedy rap and part exercise in genre-stretching, with “FUNDRAZORS” owning to no beat and unfurling this organ sound more beholden to doom metal than your average “street banger.” The funny thing though is that amidst all this concept and thematic turbulence, the whole thing still remains so laid back, with the emcee projecting on the mic like someone who just doesn’t care, to a hilarious extent, the whole thing, of course, avoiding a devolution into shtick by just how deaf it is to radio, and how earthy the beats are, as well.
46 Come to Grief – When the World Dies
Come to Grief is a New Hampshire death metal collective whose heart is really in the right place: spewing apocalyptic platitudes, proclaiming life as intrinsically cursed and flailing out the term “scum” in a general, broad scope at anyone around them. They are typified, either way, by the incredible, indefatigable vocal pipes of Jacob Bannon, who seems to interpolate in on some throaty, piercing timbre never heard before outside of the deep reaches of the wilderness. When the World Dies is grunge rock, though, all the way, tying sludge riff together with sludge riff in broad strokes, like Pantera with vocals that are less understandable, which, of course, can be a good thing sometimes.
45 Killah Priest & The Holocaust – Savage Sanctuary
The beat for “Savage Ritual” reminded me so much of one of the GZA beats on Legend of the Liquid Sword, yet when I look at the list of producers, I don’t recognize any of the old savvy vets of the game. Maybe one of those jokers changed their stage name. Either way, this is an incredibly substantial album that will take you back to the battle-rap days of Killarmy and plays as a little more like that clear-the-room approach to lyrical pyrotechnics than Priest’s typical deliberate and measured moral indignation. What’s funny about this project too is that the scrappy, no-name rappers like Pro the Leader and Warcloud seem hungrier and more entertaining than the comfortable industry insiders like Canibus and Kurupt, spitting diction that’s almost too fast to follow sometimes but never seems contrived or half-a**ed, something I wish I could say for some of our “legends,” of this stuff, so to speak.
44 Rudimentary Peni – Death Church
Death Church is technically a re-release of an album that was originally recorded in 1983 on the small punk label Corpus Christi. I’ve decided to include it on this list, basically, because its updated treatment proves its continual relevance, and not only are we experiencing a glut of great punk rock these days but also a supreme, exhaustive snapshot of London as a musical Mecca of sorts. The result is this album’s ingratiating its own political, rude brand of hardcore (albeit in a mix with Iron Maiden drums), and a collection brief, uncomfortable songs that rock out with as much of the certainty of a collective as they do with the cavalier looseness of one dude kicking up dust.
43 Kiji Suedo – Yin (EP)
Writing about this EP feels like an extension of Halloween. For one thing, there’s an absolutely spooky lack of press on this record — I literally could not find one search result of it. It exists solely on Bandcamp, for which, you’d think, said website should furnish a certain amount of pride (knowing them they’re in way too manic of an inferiority complex in their hidden Oakland lair to let it sink in too much). Another, um, ghoulish aspect would be, well, the music itself, both issues making me sorry I ever chose the avocation of trying to DESCRIBE this crap. “The Endpoint of Elegance” encompasses a weird, dissonant and ambient dirge with sampled, repeated vocals amounting entirely to “The cycle, baby”. Or is it “The psycho baby”? I guess I’ll never know, since this album only exists on Bandcamp and in my mind (and hopefully yours), but one thing’s for sure: this sucker never rests on convention and the ride is as intense as that uncomfortable trip to that vindictive aunt’s house for Thanksgiving. We need another holiday of violence. There’s no question.
42 Julmud – Tuqoos
Oh, now I’m supposed to describe this record. Er. Well, uh, it’s WEIRD… nobody would deny that. Julmud hails from “Palestine,” as Bandcamp has it, which seems appropriate because this music just seems like warfare. It’s dark, noxious, and unpredictable, and what’s more, updated pithily for 2022, with Cubist electronic blips of pungent snare and sliced high hat making a mess of the soundscape and your ear drums, all throughout. Every track is distinct and it’s also the way the songs have of coming across as unfinished (a criticism once leveled against Nobody, my favorite DJ on the planet) that keeps it spinning as fresh, underground and homemade, amidst all the revelatory strangeness.
41 RLGN, Maelstrom & Locked Club – Acid Avengers 021 (EP)
This is one of those projects that’s like The Postal Service — there’s a million different cooks in the kitchen (Bandcamp officially lists “Maelstrom / Locked Club & RLGN” as the artists at work here). I’m not sure if this is important but this stuff brings some showroom-ready bangers in club techno, the opener “A1. Maelstrom – Acid Zdoch” right away conjealing as the ideal dance track to get anyone groovin’, get people in the door and maybe even get some clicks online, God forbid. And the overly official, ridiculously staunch song titles even seem appropriate — this is the stuff of professionals, with tight, leathery and crisp grooves, not the kind of stuff you can half-a** or slop together overnight.
40 Dot Allison – The Entangled Remix EP
Of course, I feel like kind of a doofus reviewing a “remix EP,” meaning a brief collection of the artist’s old songs redone with new rhythmic groundworks, when I’ve never heard the original tunes. Equally stupefying, anyway, is that this is a DJ, out of Edinburgh, UK, who, according to Bandcamp, has such a thing as “early days,” despite the fact that she looks like she’s just entering her Freshman year at Sarah Lawrence. Amazing, she apparently found a way to incorporate the expertise of reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry before he passed last year, for an infectious, irresistible and anthemic take on “Love Died in Our Arms.” “Cue the Tears (Anton Newcombe Remix),” then, is as smooth and breezy as it is syrupy and heartbreaking, massaging a subtle point between tragedy and renewal like, it seems, female artists always do best. But, I mean, we’re better at shredding, and stuff.
39 Crestfallen Dusk – Crestfallen Dusk
Bringin’ it back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. here, we come to Tennessee’s Crestfallen Dusk, which describes itself on Bandcamp as “Hill country blues-inspired avant garde black metal.” Now, an artist describing itself as “avant garde” is certainly bold. You must, then, make sure that you pull it off, which Crestfallen Dusk do in flying colors with the help of tempo changes and weird, muffled vocals coupled with this sort of crazy, dual grunge-folk and death metal arsenal, which they seem to toggle freely and giddily if only to fu** with your head, and graft one He** or an original rock album, in the process.
38 L’Orage – Triangle
Switzerland’s L’Orage lather up a full-bodied brand of jazz that comes across as hypnotic and dream-like, as well, with its piano-based groove and barely-audible bass. They are a prime example of maximizing resources, too, getting by as just a three-piece and recording solely on an analog eight-track, letting Ganesh Geymeier’s saxophone accomplish most of the virtuosity, with little dabs of percussion inlets along too. “Nature Boom” is a track whose fabric consists almost solely of percussion, hence, in a way, spotlighting the saxophone which does crash the party and giving it a sort of cinematic vibe, on a curious, singular centerpiece within a seven-course meal of a jazz LP.
37 Fracture & Sam Binga – Omura
This duo undoubtedly sounds like a rap group but is actually a team of London DJ’s banging out club techno very much in the spirit of London’s Four Tet but with a little more busy, frenetic urgency in their approach. Broad, confident synth chords drape the groove of “Advisory List” for dance music that exudes professionalism and know-how. “Maps” blitzes out of the speakers like goofy Talking Heads World Music set to programmed beats, with jungle-y, safari-like synth burps showing you that these Londoners don’t take themselves too seriously, in a quick, sonic jolt to Morocco in your speakers.
36 Lila Tirando a Violeta – Desire Path
South America already freaked me out bad enough before I saw this strange Lila Tirando figure, who kind of looks like a malnourished, ethnic porcelain doll, and heard her music, which is like an oddball approach to jungle that refuses to rest on any conventional melodies, intervals, or even rhythms, it seems. The ironic part is that all of these sounds, for the most part, from the conventional kicks and snares, to the rims and even the samples, are really pretty plain, when taken by themselves. But it’s the tense way Tirando has of keeping you on your toes with dark ominousness that makes this music gripping. It’s almost like she’s on a mission not to please you and through this wields her strange charm. “Flores del Mal” begins with what sounds like the same bass synth as appears in that weird Stooges track “We Will Fall,” before setting things back in motion with some deliberate IDM that will soundtrack a great dance party… so long as everyone there is on peyote or ayahuasca.
35 Leese – Nomaa (EP)
Belgian DJ Leese pipes back in this year for a crisp, succinct statement in glove-tight electronica, with beats steeped in DJ techniques like scratches and samples, but undergirded by the textural depth of melodic snares and unexpected breaks. By the middle of “Anaam,” the sounds are coming so rapid-fire and overlapping that it becomes exceedingly hard to tell what exactly it is you’re hearing, an esoteric achievement through verbosity which would seem to earmark a cornerstone achievement in dance, these days, perhaps more than ever. “Donker Dag Part 1” ushers in some competing samples which make for a chaotic playground feel and also one of vaguely imminent violence. This dissolve, then, back into rich bass synth, to again explode unexpectedly into high hat mania. This is IDM to soundtrack a horror film with. Why she’s not from South America is beyond me.
34 Parano – Intoxeon (EP)
Parano, whom I presume is Italian and know is on the Netherlands label of Format, enlists a steady, kinetic brand of jungle-house that calls to mind Autechre’s crispness and defiantly atonal format. “New York News” is trippy, fantastically robotic disco-house at its finest, with strange, apocalyptic synth burps adorning the whole thing and coming across unsettlingly anthropomorphic in their sonic shapes and calculated rhythms. This is one of the few collections on this list on which each of the tracks explicitly comprises house, denoted by the high hat hit on the “up” beats, and nowhere is this more pronounced than on the thesis-like title track, eerily minimalist in its repetition and strange, harpsichord-like synth runs.
33 Mica Millar – Heaven Knows
I didn’t know there still were such a thing as an “anticipated” album release (notice they didn’t say “highly” anticipated) but this is exactly what The Sound Café dubs Mica Millar’s debut, Heaven Knows. Millar hails from Manchester and got the royal treatment for production on this album, privy to Abbey Road Studios in London and Adele, Ed Sheeran producer Geoff Pesche manning the knobs. Make no mistake, though: this is anything but some pop bimbo. These songs gyrate along with spirit and feeling with subject matter ranging from feminine sympathy to spirituality leading the way in one’s career path, as in the self-ascribed epithet we get in “Preacher Man.” The title track is sublime soul-pop, dissolving into a brief but gorgeous guitar solo and, as always, showcasing beautifully Millar’s voice, which is a little throatier than Adele, bespeaking, of course, having emerged from more strife-instilling life experience, which I certainly think she has.
32 Chaircrusher – Opal Andromeda (EP)
I’m a little confused as to the meaning of this title — as far as Wiktionary goes, opal is a precious gem and andromeda is a shrub, and Jet Age Studio spake that opal andromeda “reflects a bright purples and deep magentas.” Anyway, this stuff is the work of a DJ dude in Iowa City, Iowa (another one of whose albums was called “Daddy or Chips” and had his daughter on it, amusingly, or weirdly, enough) and I must admit it has an auspicious ability to represent a wide, spectral look at electronica and what the art form can be. The EP begins with two ambient tracks and then closes with one, with the title track wedged in the middle as a tribute to rhythm. Closeur “Dunkeltini” particularly takes us to spaces that are way out, thematically jibing with that picture of a planet on this album’s Bandcamp page and cleverly marrying amplified feedback with low, subtle blips of alien, arrhythmic percussion. If you don’t like weird, proceed only at your own risk.
31 Sloan – Steady
Sloan reminds me of one of those games where you keep hitting the beaver with the mallet and it keeps popping up through another hole, ad infinitum. Except this time, with Steady, a startlingly crisp, disciplined rock LP calling to mind perky coffee-rock like Supergrass, they popped up long after closing time, after the janitor had left, the lights had turned off and I was so sure I’d put them down for the count. This is the 13th album proper from the Halifax four-piece (who kind of dress like Oasis guys, appropriately enough) and I’m not sure if the disease shut down instilled in them a little good-ol’ focus and sense of urgency, or what, but never have they come across this inspired, paring their lyricism down to Cubist tongue-in-cheek, where before they let torpid episodes define their verbal palette. What’s equally surprising is that this stuff aptly qualifies as arena rock, with Patrick Pentland unleashing a brilliantly cathartic solo in the middle of “Spend the Day,” and the poignant, piano-driven “Human Nature” emanating as some ELO- or Journey-like anthem, with perhaps a little more goofy irony thrown in, which was certainly to be expected.
30 Mutilatred – Determined to Rot
Patrick McDonagh is not human. I’m convinced. Fronting the Toledo, Ohio speed metal juggernaut Mutilatred, he utters sounds that no human vocal chords, seemingly, could muster in your wildest dreams. His vocals are so rich and throaty, in fact, while being exclaimed and not sung, as it were, that they infiltrate the mix as something like physical — like as if they were encompassing another instrument, all on their own. The rest of this band are no slouches either, though — I’m particularly a sucker for Clay Lowe’s glove-tight grooves on those drums, which, like the rest of the music, embody a veritable 100-yard-dash of heavy metal mayhem, but can also stop or slow tempo on a dime. But for all the technical acrobatics, there’s a classic hook thrown in pretty much everywhere on this album, like to usher in “Smashed by a Slab of Concrete” in the form of a nerded-out Alice in Chains that just got one wicked curriculum from their private instructor.
29 Gilad Hekselman – Far Star
There’s something heroically Grateful Dead-influenced in the jazz guitar work of Gilad Hekselman, a Brooklyner hailing originally from Israel. The arrangements slink along gracefully on complex but light jazz drums courtesy of Alon Benjamini but it’s the texture of the main, featured guitar runs that really sends this music into celestial territory. It’s like it’s truly guided by a vision of a “far star,” something exotic and arcane but nonetheless shining and prominent. “Fast Moving Century” ushers some strange sound which kind of resembles a pelican exhibiting some mysterious bodily function. Then, the music clings quickly back to Hekselman’s six-string as its sonic default, the brief forays into uncomfortable texture granting this album an essential element of tension and release.
28 Scarcity – Aveilut
Brooklyn’s Scarcity take the name from “the Hebrew word for mourning,” according to Bandcamp, for their album title “Aveilut,” a project plotted down by multi-instrumentalist Brendon Randall-Myers and vocalist Doug Moore, while the two were in separate parts of the world. It would certainly, then, be hard for me to put anything more poignantly than the press release on Bandcamp itself, which details intriguing facts about how this album is a direct product of the COVID shutdown. Certainly, the frustration, the sense of desolation and the “mourning” are there on this epic death-metal feast, with the music coming across like a monochromatic fabric, but all the richer, like replacing caprice with stability and strength.
27 cktrl – yield (EP)
Third Eye Blind has this line that goes “Like a jazz DJ / You talked me into sleep”. Well, London’s “multi-instrumentalist” cktrl here might be giving new meaning to what a “jazz DJ” is (and he might be talking me into sleep as well). The guy fronts this brief EP with a series of pastoral saxophone blips, then weaving in samples of birds chirping, overseeing background vocals from someone named Ophie, who apparently keeps a pretty low online profile. “lucidly” weaves in a copious bath of strings which, in their deliberate pathos bordering on torpidity, approximate the solo work of Nico, complete with rife tension and punctilious sometimes seemingly self-defeating musical statement. But this music is nothing if not eclectic and worldly, with its relatively benign disposition and calm approach to instrumentation only affirming its sense of focus and contentedness.
26 Tedeschi Trucks Band – I am the Moon
Tedeschi Trucks Band is an interesting entity, perhaps, in and of itself, for being a rock unit that initially formed in 2010, a year that oversaw a significant downturn in the popularity of new rock music (remember those cover articles of “Is indie dead?”, etc.). But it’s like they never miss a beat and they only feed off of the adversity, with I am the Moon a great post-shutdown paean to steady but sturdy folk rock. Derek Trucks’ guitar playing profiles a great conflagrating foil, too, to Tedeschi’s (his wife’s) rich, throaty and unforgettable vocals. And if you’re like me, you really existentially needed to hear this woman belt out something a little more uplifting than “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright.” You’re in luck on I am the Moon, a mystical journey Allman’s-influenced folk that ushers in dual vocals amongst the married couple, but does anything but dissolving into kitschy romantic insipidity.
25 Nok Cultural Ensemble – Njhyi
According to Bandcamp, this album elaborates upon “Afro-diasporic percussive traditions” and “tunes into living traditions stretching back to the ancient NOK civilization,” which once settled in West Africa in the territory of what is currently Nigeria. Njhyi embodies part of what then just seems like an explosion of eclectic music out of London this year, a throng which, in keeping with this project, never seems to rest on any strategies are blueprints that are even remotely conventional. Njhyi, essentially, is a jazz album on which percussion mans the bulk of the soundscape, with little frills from other instruments (which seem to have been kept top-secret from all the uniform writeups on this act online) more like musical garnishes, the sole bastions stopping this music from sounding like a really dope, disciplined, late-night, drugged-out drum circle.
24 Jason Griff – Fireside Chats 2
Bandcamp says that this whole “Fireside Chats” series is “punk rock-inspired” but aside from the artist licentiously lifting a spoken-word sound bite of a Southern dude from a Less than Jake record, I’m not really hearing it. For a white kid from the suburbs, though, this producer does sound he knows his way around the knobs pretty well, has an extensive history in hip-hop and is privy to an army of dope friends willing to come and crash his album. I mean, there’s a track called “PB & J Flow (Ode to Dipset)” and that da** thing even bangs like an old crunk, southern rap joint with cars unnecessarily bouncing really high in the air while they’re standing still. Hey, it’s cheaper than a fu**in’ trip to Cedar Point. And it’s fun, as is “Laser Eyes,” on which Alex Ludovico pleas “That rap’s right / Sure it is / Leave it the fu** alone / You don’t see me botherin’ you at your job / On your phone”. Fireside Chats 2 unleashes an endless roster of vital underground rappers but it’s this wisdom beyond their years and hard-barked charisma that will make this a continually entertaining listen.
23 ETCH – The Creeper (EP)
Who said all my DJ’s were based in London? For this project we go 30 miles south to Brighton for some break-beat techno delight that sounds steeped in drum and bass but which keeps things percussive and in the middle registers, by and large, for a mellow and enjoyable, but rhythmic, listen. “Seeoux” contains this especially weird sound on the one beat that sounds like a warped, brief bass sound fused in with the kick drum. Freshness is the key all over The Creeper, though, and this kind of exploration on the typical range of basic channel sounds certainly helps, as does on standout “Henry” his ability to cement a bass foundation of percussion so twisted and explosive that the lithe, easy synth riff arcing over it can play as hypnotic and celestial, even in its simplicity.
22 Moin – Paste
I’m starting to think the Bandcamp World Headquarters rests squatly in London because here is, believe it or not, another musical firebrand emanating out of the land of the fog. And this is a foggy project, too, in a good way — a strange amalgamation of rock and ambient EDM which makes heavy use of samples, toward, what’s more, usually, some pretty ephemeral, vague purpose, other than just fu**ing with your head. “Foot Wrong” starts in sort of tiptoeing through a post-rock groove with resonant guitar that will call to mind Tortoise in its isolated, melancholy zeal. The song features a sample of a sound bite wherein a little kid seems to be saying something regarding a “shot” and “full metal jacket” and the enterprise of the “scary.” From there, the duo really don’t look back — Paste is an unnerving masterpiece weaving in a thick vibe of urban danger and uncertainty, and to accomplish it both virtuosically and so staunchly based on a rock platform will make this music significant for some time to come.
21 DEEP LEARNING – Evergreen
DEEP LEARNING is the solo musical project of Richard Pike, an experimental musician originally from Essex, UK and currently based in Australia. Bandcamp makes light of his founding technique on Evergreen of “taking a screwdriver to self-recorded CD-R’s” and rendering music that’s “constructed around skipping and CD glitch textures.” I dunno about you but I find these tunes way less annoying than that and to me, despite the fairly academic “mission statement” that lends itself buoyantly the world of press releases and revisions, Evergreen pares down ironically to a succinct, digestible ambient IDM album, and one on which the digital rudiments are belied by Pike’s penchant for erecting organic, earthy and percussive sounds. All over this album, too, in the titles, there’s an emphasis on light and landscape, as if Pike, in his desert environs, has been pushed into a piqued quest and appreciation for natural transcendence and environmental evolution.
20 Nas – King’s Disease III
Right away on King’s Disease III Nas just sounds different — I mean ok, it’s like dad rap, but he sounds so vital and engaged in these big-picture pontifications that this stuff naturally concludes Nas’ essential evolution from gun-toting weed-sniffing Don Juan to grown man with an eye for the future generation. And sure, that was never what it was supposed to be about. Maybe that’s why it took him so long, to declare the “Cold-hearted monsters / The whole city goin’ bonkers” and that “Ain’t nobody recession proof”. So we get Nas the politician and municipal suit-and-tied spokesperson, but equally is King’s Disease III clouded with b-boy bangers like “Michael & Quincy,” a reference to Michael Jackson and his producer Quincy Jones, and the subversive sneer of the line “Gang members got nothin’ on these congressmen”. Plus this Chauncey Willis III beat goes bananas toward the end, with this techno-glitchy breakdown that’s super bass-y, and really, this kind of thing is what this album doesn’t really have enough of: earmarks of the futuristic of vanguard. But Nas’ flow is tighter and wittier than ever, to the point where I usually had to rewind to catch what the He** he was saying, an especially commendable facet in this day when it seems like a requirement to repeat everything six times in rap songs.
19 Tribal Gaze – The Nine Choirs
Dallas grind metal doomsters Tribal Gaze put out two albums in 2022, with The Nine Choirs having come in September with a smoldering, precise focus and a wolverine, uncontrollable energy of well-mixed rock. Like seems to be true of all great albums, there’s not even a brief press release transcribed on the album’s Bandcamp page, let alone a 1,000-word primer on how the artist went on a bird-watching retreat in Tanzania and reached a heightened state of enlightenment. There is, however, a comment from a dude eloquently dubbed “sh**arsis,” and I quoth: “Words to describe how much I enjoy this album… 200 stab wounds… Is this really happening?” There’s a definite religious tinge to the song titles on this album (“And How They Wept for Eternity”/“Jealous Messiah”) but it’s foiled by a maniacal, defiantly original approach to the craft, the pinnacle of which might be “With This Creature I Return” and its frenetic and rhythmically intricate explosion flanking a natural progression back into the systematic, hypnotic groove.
18 SONJA – Loud Arriver
Lead singer/guitarist of Philadelphia’s hard rock outfit SONJA, Melissa Moore, is transsexual, and was kicked out of her prior band, Absu, because of this. So the backstory is nice, you’ve gotta admit, and would certainly be tempting to say that SONJA, on the beautifully terse and succinct Loud Arriver, rock out like some righteous firebrand “avenged sevenfold,” as it were. And sure, the vast majority of these songs could soundtrack a game scene in Remember the Titans. “Fu**, Then Die,” then, might be the semantic outlier, wherein Moore pretty much details this to be the sum total of her interface of her life on this planet. The busy, kinetic groove of the music, though, and the expedited transitions from verse to chorus and back, help the whole thing come across tongue-in-cheek, or even satirical, lending itself less and less toward moral analysis of this stuff and more and more toward just putting this great rock album on and letting it rip.
17 Dazy – OUTOFBODY
Richmond, Virginia’s Dazy is a band (really the solo project of James Goodson) that really amazes me for its decision not to amass like a 400-word introduction on the album’s Bandcamp page. Actually, there’s no press release at all, despite the fact that the succinct, poignant structures of these pop-punk songs and the sugary hooks bespeak a bulbous, even overwhelming presence of life experience and emotion. Once in a while a band comes around like this, though, and these songs are patient, disciplined and texturally dynamic, with Goodson’s guitar fuzzing out like a more light-hearted reincarnation of Billy Corgan with just as much technical wizardry in his hip pocket. The classic songs abound on this LP but my favorites are probably “Rollercoaster Ride” and “Motionless Parade,” which play with tension and release like the classic Fountains of Wayne songs, with a little less annoying bombast, and, of course, without a head-scratcher of a band name, of course. Well, kinda.
16 Open Mike Eagle – Component System with the Auto Reverse
I’ll admit that when this guy burst onto the scene in 2020, I was on such overload of new music that I pretty much ignored him, not really finding his name too inspiring, in the process. It’s ironic, then, that he coaxed me out of this neurosis, and this fear of excessive fanfare, with pretty much the exact opposite — a direct, almost plain manner of communicating facets of his everyday life, with no reticence to dive into metaphor. He gets help on Component System with the Auto Reverse from an all-star production team that includes Madlib and Quelle Chris, whose beat on “79th and Stony Island” is stridently bouncy but with a dark undertone to match Eagle’s oft-ominous diction. But the emcee keeps things light and doesn’t beat you over the head with his calamity and he might be the most adept Chicago rapper at employing slang since Common.
15 Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
I remember giving this album a 10 out of 10 when I reviewed it earlier this year. Since then, though, a lot of time has passed wherein I haven’t listened to it at all, so I thought I’d have to give it a full additional run-through to figure out what I might have been talking about. And then I went ahead and put on “Held,” heard the studio goof-off preface to the music and thought, man, these piano sounds are just so cool. This album just sounds so organic, as a general rule, that it’s easy to give the benefit of the doubt to the songs themselves, which, also, while not only wielding great chord progressions and pithy structures, which should hardly be surprising, also sound like the product of bona fide band evolution. These tunes just GROOVE more so than any other Spoon project, to date, and they sound comfortable in their own skins as products of a band that likes more than anything else to just get together and jam. It’s got a way of providing a constantly changing landscape of what my favorite song on it is, too — this time the busy, boisterous “The Hardest Cut” seemed to place itself at the top, with some good ol’ throwback indie rock rancor: “But following the lead’s gonna turn me off the religion”.
14 Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double – March
It’s a free jazz mega-blitz when this New York collective takes the stage, drummer Tomas Fujiwara unleashes Ralph Alessi for some serious improvisational trumpet runs. Refreshingly, March undulates emotionally with great range from track to track, as on “Life Only Gets More,” Fujiwara’s vibraphone makes its presence felt with some serious ease, complementing the trumpet explosions that are pretty much omnipresent. By “Wave Shake and Angie Bounce,” then, the edict has been administered of caffeinated jazz cornucopia, wherein the only blueprint seems to be to not have one, with the songs oozing in and out of rhythmic order like a little kid playing on the floor.
13 Emaenuel – SUKISTAN
This Emaenuel chap takes what seems like a hilariously glib and dramatic approach to publicizing himself, describing his own m.o. on Bandcamp as “an artist from the equator” and naming “Kolkata,” a city in India, as the locale of this creation, as if that city is so near and dear to our hearts. If you can sift through the cinematic packaging, though, SUKISTAN makes for a more than rewarding listen, brimming and brimming with texture and atmosphere as sonic flanks for its masterly spotlighting of advances in guitar texture and percussion ambience. This probably isn’t music for putting on at work, unless you work at a record store or around people who aren’t made uncomfortable by their own good feelings. “Rivers of Blood” opens beautifully with a broad, languid sitar hum, leading to what I think might be the first ever recording of sitar feedback, then devolving into a veritable battle of spliced percussion sounds which could well backdrop a light saber war, if such a thing were in desperate need of background music, or whatever.
12 Szun Waves – Earth Patterns
Szun Waves is classified as “experimental jazz” on Wikipedia but their influences always seem to stretch far beyond the basic Harlem/Kansas City interface that typically informs the genre. It’s more like ambient electro with saxophone, actually, as “electronic producer Luke Abbott” enlists as one figure in this operation, and this stuff just evaporates out of the speakers like a more stoned-out reincarnation of Four Tet, or one of those heady and impeccably influenced London acts along those lines. The piano-driven “In the Moon House” helps the album cohere, too, and balloon out as an expansive and thoroughly enjoyable project in chamber electronica.
11 gladie – Don’t Know What You’re in until You’re out
I remembered Don’t Know What You’re in until You’re out as a crisp, concise, sometimes goofy, sometimes gross statement in pop-punk from this Philadelphia quintet. So when I went back to it and beheld this deliberate, stately and orchestral intro “Purple Year,” I have to say I was impressed with the band’s penchant for dynamic and emotional range. Now, to me, it’s almost impossible to imagine this album getting the proper treatment in the realm of stacking it up against the legends like Green Day’s Dookie and XTC’s English Settlement. But I’m here to shout about it from my own mole hole, about the astounding set of influences and the disciplined, tight approach to sound and songwriting prevalent in these guys. Plus, this girl just sounds cool: actually, she reminds me of the lead singer of this one small-fry indie band my dad was into, Carol Van Dijk of Bettie Serveert. It’s one of those vocal sets that just seems primordially nasal for the sole purpose of coming across crass and wrapping itself around the mic and your mind like a crazy, overgrown shrub. This is her album, without any question.
10 Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
I’m tempted to just come out and say “This is Pharrell’s album” and talk solely about him on this entire blurb. Right now I’m listening to “Brambleton,” the opener, on which the beat is way darker, more ominous and more “trap” than anything has any right being coming from the dude who sang “Happy.” It earmarks way more artistic evolution than any sentient agent typically has any claim to ownership of — it’s the mark of a producer who’s dedicated to hip-hop and who feels its natural, progressive metamorphoses deep within his muse. This album is an overall great final product, with tons of troubadours onhand for the festivities like Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil Uzi Vert and of course Malice, Pusha’s brother and old rapping partner in Clipse. For the record I probably still prefer Malice to Pusha T for the former’s increased intensity and clear delivery. Interestingly, Malice raps on all of the #2 verses on He** Hath No Fury and Pusha always leads off. What this LP will mean for Pusha T’s career and if it will establish him as any kind of legend is up in the air at best. It is, nonetheless, an emblem of what can happen if a lot of great rappers go into the studio and focus on making some bangers, buoyed exorbitantly by Kanye’s beautiful sample work of approximating John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” in “Dreamin of the Past.”
9 ELLES – A Celebration of the Euphoria of Life
Our next electro-pop diva hails from… you guessed it… London. She makes a pointed practice of, over juicy synth hooks and funky beats, taking us on rollercoaster rides of everyday life, getting at key pressure points in our society like work and sex and massaging them until they feel vital and, if not merited, at least real, again. Work seems to be a copious theme even early on, with the first song titled “Out of Office” and on the second, “Hope,” ELLES articulating the troubling lines “Stuck in an endless cycle / Every day feels the same”, the declaration made even more ominous by the damaged, hurt inflections in her voice. “Hope” does anything but rest on its melancholic laurels, though, glitching along like Amnesiac-era Radiohead with a futuristic, undulating beat and subtle but poignant bassline. And refreshingly enough, in this age of pin-up pop stars who actually seem pinned up, A Celebration of the Euphoria of Life is self-produced, and seems to blend beats and lyricism with the fluidity and sexual swagger in a way of which only women are capable. Maybe she should thank her Aunt Bjork for that one.
8 Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli
There’s some fu**ed up, Satanic sh** going on in Pittsburgh. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Latest DD installment Tzompantli hails from the steel city notifies us that, apropos of their name selection, “A Tzompantli, in bygone days, was a rack used to display human skulls.” But then, Pittsburgh’s got one of those music scenes that’s combustive, vital and alive — it’s bound to continually surprise you by the freed, almost vindictive approach artists to take to establishing creativity, or just to fu**ing with your head, maybe. Anyway, Tlazcaltiliztli, their 2022 offering, is a concise, textural slab of cutting-edge death metal, with Erol Ulug’s “Session Drums” toggling almost inhumanly between backbeat and frenetic four-on-the-floor on “Tlazcaltiliztli,” all while maintaining the hammering-out of crisp sixteenth notes on the tom. Christ, guys, you guys can’t let this dude join the band permanently? I shudder to think of what the rite of passage is for becoming a permanent member here. Anyway, this is the centerpiece on this awesomely succinct and otherworldly rock album complete with structural dynamic and some of the deepest, darkest breaths from He** any earthly mind has ever conceived.
7 Paddy Thorne – Lost Cause (Part Two)
Legend has it that UK DJ Paddy Thorne started working on this “Lost Cause” project in 1997, while “Hailing from the sunny south coast town of Bournemouth,” according to ra.co. In his bio on this site, Thorne can be seen emitting this sort of goofy expression of enthusiasm and mania, summoning impressions of him being completely free and living in the moment. As a result, we get music that’s more playful, light and breezy than it is semantic or ham-handed — this is electro music as a celebration of life and not an attack on any living being or agenda. On “E.a.one,” the synths and organs seem infinitely draped over each other, for a labyrinthine bath of rhythm and melody, over soft high hats, that’s sure to hypnotize. Centerpiece “Green Theme” gallops along like a mystic, equally, with a groove that invites a wide range of synthesizer (from medium tones to touch-tone phone sounds, roughly) and stays light and steady. This is music for daydreaming to as much as it is for dancing.
6 A TRAVERS – Boustrophedon
The third LP from Parisian post-rock duo A TRAVERS comes in like a hearty, redolent helping of spacey sound, subtle rhythms and a musical m.o. that just seems deliciously obtuse and wayward. These endless songs furnish stable background grooves for gentle, textural guitar improv., and, most importantly, just this tense reality of being expectant of anything. It’s like music for manning a lighthouse during an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse, but the vibe is hopeful, not doomed and vengeful. On Bandcamp they describe this album as “8 epic implosive pieces to venture through space-time.” Indeed, it’s got that crouching tiger, hidden dragon feel of just “traversing” time, with a minimalist approach to song construction belying an incredibly eclectic sound palette.
5 Kenji Araki – Leidenzwang
Kenji Araki is a “digital artist” from Austria displaying an incredible amount of originality and artistic arsenal for a debut album, Leidenzwang. This is electro-pop built sturdily on samples and glitch techno, marrying pop song structures with ranges of sounds that are continually abrasive, interesting and rewarding. Leidenzwang clambers along with the attitude of a club DJ bent on making you move. Still, this music garners sit-down listens quite well with its creativity and attention to detail… check the gorgeous guitar sound that ushers in “Gel & Gewalt.” Araki shows the intriguing tendency and ability to marry sampled vocal with sampled vocal, one draped over the other, creating a whole expansive universe of mood and psychedelic setting. Then, he won’t let any of these sounds roam freely or unfurl as their mundane selves, constantly splicing, shifting tempos and prematurely truncating ideas, all for the sake of freshness. This is without question one of the most promising young European DJ’s out there today.
4 Khruangbin & Vieux Farka Toure – Ali
Houston’s Khruangbin have struck again. The best da** band on the planet is back, this time in tandem with songwriter and guitarist Vieux Farka Toure for an effort that’s as gorgeous as it is academic and impossible to marry to any mainstream objectives or manifestations. Ali exists entirely on its own plane of worldly energy and emotion, with Khruangbin’s general funk-rock default sidling as more of a backdrop for Toure’s expressive crooning than any attempt at a rump-shaking expedition. Generally, this is refreshing and befitting for a year when we all seem to be going through a lot of sh** and will be aided by any antidote which helps us slow down, relax and contemplate. The way they establish such a guitar-based groove on “Lobbo” which is also so forceful and purposeful is pedagogical stuff for every band out there. Then, Toure’s chops on that axe are highlighted ideally on “Diarabi,” weaving tapestries of melody and velvety sound and compiling an exhaustive endorsement in favor of blissed-out oblivion.
3 x.y.r. – Aquarealm
This had all the earmarks of an upstart with a scrappy, alt-minded name. So imagine my astonishment when I learn Aquarealm to be “The tenth official full-length by St. Petersburg synth savant Vladimir Karpov aka X.Y.R. (sic).” Those Russians can sure keep a low profile when they want to. Compared to most of the other top ambient releases this year, anyway, this stuff has a way of coming across as systematic and disciplined. Even though, that is, “The Signals from the Abyss” seems, or seem, should I say, so scattered, arbitrary and haphazard, they’re all draped this methodical organ chord progression that infuses a vital element of “songwriting” into what’s otherwise reportedly intended as “soundtracking the shimmering mysteries of underwater life.” The fact of him, too, residing in Russia and taking on a musical mission statement so decidedly apolitical, is worth noting, and quite refreshing. Indeed, ultimately, this music plays as a serene, melodic and oblivious respite from the hectic travails of everyday life.
2 Jack White – Entering Heaven Alive
This is one of those albums I got word of from a source other than Bandcamp. It was released to what seemed like so little buzz, too, that I almost missed it entirely. I think I got an email about it from Relix magazine, if memory serves correctly. This is especially ironic because this definitely isn’t one of those angular, “experimental” White releases with seven-minute songs and a bunch of difficult, cathartic grunting, and whatnot. Entering Heaven Alive plays as a beautiful pop album, full of a complete realization of the gospel influence White hinted at on Get behind Me Satan, the album with his old band, The White Stripes. Right away on opener “A Tip from You to Me,” he stages an effortless ability to fill empty spaces with piano riffing, whereas, as we all know, he came up with guitar as his primary instrument. This artistic growth seems confluent with a certain emotional maturity which manifests delightfully as this sardonic ability to rattle off little bits of wisdom like they’re sentences on fortune cookies. “All along the Way” comes to the beautiful lyrical head of “I trust so much / That we’ll find a way / We’ll have our love / All along the way”. And I mean, it’s Jack White, so you kinda knew it wasn’t in any danger of falling into corniness — even as strings adorn “Help Me Along,” the result strikes the listener as eclecticism and creativity, not pomp and fanfare.
1 The Bad Plus – the bad plus
How about jazz representing at number one on this list this year? I’m pretty sure this is the first jazz album I’ve ever ranked first of any year, which gives me I guess a kind of egotistical reassurance that I’m not being TOO systematic and that I’m actually picking the albums I enjoy the most. Academic, stuffy and antiquated, anyway, the bad plus is not — right away on opener “Motivations II,” Chris Speed’s tenor saxophone pipes in with a tinge that’s expressly mournful. Instrumentally, the landscape is beautiful here, with celestial guitar not unlike Vieux Parka Toure’s on the new Khruangbin album adding a gorgeous, weeping channel to the proceedings, with bass and drums phenomenologically “chill” in that preternatural way that requires a certain sort of musician, one with the vision of fitting aptly into a band and not hogging the spotlight. And these guys make my life as a blogger nice and easy because it’s only four members and they’re all listed clearly on the album’s Bandcamp page — saxophonist/clarinetist, guitarist, bass and drummer. For how often this stuff comes off as art rock, it’s hard to believe there’s no keyboardist involved — credit guitarist Ben Monder for keeping his sound thick and polymorphous enough to keep this tunes sounding full and lively. And sure, there are times when this stuff actually sounds like jazz, with Monder contributing robustly to this phase, too, in the form of, among other things, one righteous axe solo on “Sun Wall.” I guess that Van Halen fan in me is getting some serious T.L.C. from this stuff after all.
<script async src=“https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js?client=ca-pub-5127494401132808”