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50 Favorite Albums of 2022 Part One
Kicking things off with amazing records from Artsick, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Brandon Coleman, Bonobo, Spoon, Big Thief, Tony Molina, Cool Maritime, Marci and Sean Thompson's Weird Ears!
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Since mid-year, I’ve had a gut feeling that 2022, for all of its trials, was shaping up to be one helluva year for music. Now that it’s time to summarize the calendar in fifty records, I know that notion to be even more true.
With so many records left on the cutting room floor, I present the best of the best. Some of these albums, like Brandon Coleman’s Interstellar Black Space, Endless Rooms by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever or the debut from Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears, are ones that I loved from the start. But many of them that you’ll hear over the next few weeks are ones that have thoroughly nestled into my cranium with each spin. There are excellent debuts, like Artsick’s phenomenal take on the riot grrrl genre or Marci’s slick indie-pop self-titled outing. Industry vets like Spoon, Tony Molina, and Bonobo dropped some of their best work in a long time, and some, like Big Thief, trickled singles for so long that it feels like the records are from long ago. Outside of the top 10, none of these albums are ranked this year. They could all be AOTY winners in my book.
I selected three songs for all fifty albums to make a “best-of” playlist, and I’ll continue to add more over the next few weeks. It’s a tall order when something is here because it works as a whole, but an appetizer can go a long way.
Let’s get into it, and if you enjoy something, I’d love to hear from you!
Artsick - Fingers Crossed
What I said in my review: “Fingers Crossed is full of quippy confessional lyrics lifted by uptempo melodies that give the songs a deceiving bounce and fit right in with Colleen Green’s work. In the opener, ‘Restless,’ Riley is hunting for satisfaction and is full of self-doubt. But thanks to a shuffling tambourine and McKean climbing the fretboard, there’s at least a great bounce to the search. ‘Ghost of Myself’ is another highlight, with Riley’s former self haunting the present to a boisterous soundtrack, and ‘Dealing With Tantrums’ flirts with interweaving guitars like Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. on the first two records by The Strokes.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Restless, Ghost of Myself, Be OK.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Empty Rooms
What I said in my review: “While Sideways to New Italy was a retread, Endless Rooms is bold enough to add sensational layers to the comfortable gears that drive the singles on the album's front half. ‘Tidal River’ and ‘The Way It Shatters’ address the apathy of the times, but there’s no denying the synth hooks that have found their way onto this album. It’s also worth noting how fantastic the band’s rhythm section is on the record, with Joe Russo’s driving bass and Marcel Tussie’s drum work taking a life of their own on songs like ‘My Echo.’
Everyone has scars from the past few years, but Endless Rooms is one of those records that reaps the benefits of a band being forced off the road and given the time to develop some unfamiliar tricks. We’ve been gifted so many outstanding ‘at home’ records over the past sixteen months, but Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is here with one that is ear-catching and is too good to be missed.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: The Way It Shatters, Dive Deep, Blue Eye Lake.
Brandon Coleman - Interstellar Black Space
What I said in my review: “Drop into ‘On The One,’ the opening song on Intersteller Black Space, and you’ll quickly understand why Kamasi Washington refers to Brandon Coleman as Professor Boogie.
The track is a boisterous takeoff into the funky unknown, which immediately recalls Prince’s work with Morris Day and The Time. While primarily known for his work in West Coast Jazz Wizard Washington’s band, Coleman dons his Professor Boogie persona to demonstrate why he can also be a flashy frontman while dancing up and down the keyboard.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Blast Off, We Change (featuring Kamasi Washington), Be With Me.
Spoon - Lucifer On the Sofa
What I said in my review: “After I heard 2001’s Girls Can Tell, I knew Spoon changed my music tastes forever. Put simply: without Spoon, indie rock doesn’t exist as it does today. The five-year break between albums seems to have done the band well, including leader Britt Daniel returning to Austin, the band’s hometown. By far their most rock and roll record since Ga Ga Ga Ga, Lucifer on the Sofa punches, like few others have in recent memory, thanks to the live setting and array of producers that worked on the album, like the legendary Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sleater- Kinney, and a million others). Put Lucifer on the Sofa on your turntable, crack a beer, and take a break.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: The Devil & Mister Jones, Wild, Satellite.
Bonobo - Fragments
What I said in my review: “Green (Bonobo), who in ‘normal’ times tours almost nonstop, has taken advantage of being homebound by creating a record full of organic celebration and hopefulness. This notion is felt in the lead single ‘Rosewood,’ full of piano, synth, and strings. The beat pulsates to the sampled refrain of ‘I won’t leave you,’ adding in woodwinds and building into something gorgeous before giving way to album highlight, ‘Otomo.’ Featuring O’Flynn, ‘Otomo’ is a nineties house throwback structured around a sampling of 100 Kaba-Gaidi, a Bulgarian choir. The combination of the haunting vocals and classic 808 drum machine elevate it to one of the best tracks in Bonobo’s storied career.
The dancefloor-ready numbers may initially stick out, but the more soothing numbers appear perfectly throughout. Whether Green has support from Jamila Woods on ‘Tides’ or running solo on ‘Counterpart’ and ‘Sapien,’ Fragments is easily the best Bonobo outing in some time.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Rosewood, Otomo, Sapien.
Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
What I said in my review: “Now in a time when albums mostly hover around the thirty minutes and Tik Tok makes tunes that fall below the minute mark wildly popular, Big Thief is bucking the trend with their new landmark epic, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. At twenty songs and an 80-minute runtime, which harkens back to the compact disc’s apex, Big Thief has made the bold choice of testing the modern attention span by releasing an album of disparate sketches recorded all over the country.
And damn, does it work.
In the past, it has taken me multiple listens to get into Big Thief’s work, like their debut Masterpiece or break-out record Capacity. But Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is immediate in its intimacy. Rolling somewhere between the hodgepodge of The Beatles’ White Album or the relaxed earthiness of when Bob Dylan and The Band got together for The Basement Tapes, it’s the sound of Big Thief at the top of their game.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Time Escaping, Little Things, Red Moon.
Tony Molina - In the Fade
What I said in my review: “When it comes to modern power pop, there are few in the company of Tony Molina. The former Ovens member has crafted his own Bay Area niche, one in which he continues to release short records of freewheeling perfection. With songs that typically don’t run longer than a minute and a half, fans will appreciate that his third record, In the Fade, runs at a whopping 18 minutes. Molina knows the ingredients to what goes into the perfect pop formula and also knows it’s not worth repeating a chorus a million times. Molina’s solo work is often lazily compared to Weezer, and if anything, sounds like Pinkerton-era b-sides (a good thing), but more often sounds like ex-bassist Matt Sharp’s The Rentals project (a great thing). With Sarah Rose Janko lending vocals to many songs, this comparison to The Rentals rings even more authentic, combined with some Teenage Fanclub for good measure. There are plenty of new songs here, but much comes from Molina revisiting unfinished songs and demos from his Oven days, which lends to the compilation feel of In the Fade. Add a cover of Tony Iommi’s ‘Fluff,’ an acoustic take from Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Molina is an easy three-for-three on solo releases.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Not Worth Knowing, Leave This Town, I Don’t Like That He.
Cool Maritime - Big Earth Energy
What I said in my review: “If you’re an older Millenial, Sean Hellfritsch’s latest release as Cool Maritime is undoubtedly going to take you to a place. Based upon 90s RPG soundtracks for games like MYST and Studio Ghibli film scores, Big Earth Energy easily sounds like it came out 30 years ago. Atmospheric, meditative, and always playful, Big Earth Energy works so well by combining era-specific equipment, Hellfritsch’s genuine love for nature, and his cinematic mind as a filmmaker. The record may have come out earlier this year, but I completely missed it… Big Earth Energy has won me over with its bold New Age spirit and is the album I’ve had on repeat for the last week plus.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Amphibia, Temporal Dryft, Secret of the Megafauna.
Marci - Marci
What I said in my review: “My love of Montreal dream pop group TOPS is no secret, as they always scratch the itch when I need that chilled-out pick-me-up that only northern soft rock can offer. Marta Cikojevic is integral to crafting their perfect formula, lending her keyboard expertise to their last few albums over the previous five years. Stepping out as Marci, Cikojevic’s solo debut is one of the feel-good records of the summer, drifting somewhere in a late 80s analog synth haze. Marci never leaves second gear, and that’s a great thing in this case, as Cikojevic doesn’t shy away from her indie-pop hook expertise. This record is one that I’m glad I’ve let stew for the month, as its small sophisti-pop accents bloom with each listen, and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch on this breezy 33-minute set.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: Entertainment, Terminal, Electricity.
Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears - Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears
What I said in my review: “…Thompson is ready to take center stage with his debut album, Weird Ears, a blazing eleven-song set of fully cooked old-time country, with a side of early Dead grooves for good measure. Backed by the top-notch Teddy and the Roughriders, there’s a steady theme to Thompson’s lyrics of spending your time outside, preferably with a doobie behind the ear and a canine companion’s nose to the trail. ‘New Trailway Boogie,’ a name play on ‘New Speedway Boogie,’ finds Thompson spending a little time on the mountain, and a little time on the hill, as Weird Ears is another pandemic snapshot of an artist learning life without the road. The song’s main riff ascends and descends like the ridgeline Thompson is hiking, and it’s an instant grab to bring the listener into the Weird Ears world. The record’s first single, ‘Saturday Drive,’ takes the open-air vibes to the car as the Roughriders stomp right on down the road.”
Songs Ya Gotta Hear: New Trailway Boogie, Saturday Drive, Head to the Smokies.