What a year we have had. With many hyped-up returns, exciting debuts, and style switch-ups 2022 did not disappoint. It is a shame many of its albums did. I am looking at you Mr. Healy. Nonetheless, as the worst guy you’ll meet in the smoking area of Bridge (is this garage?) I thought I’d compile the definitive list of this year’s offerings from the music gods. Feel free to cry, I won’t back down.
10. Courting – Guitar Music
It is the Sunday of Reading Festival. You are sweaty, you smell, you are sleepless and confused. You’ve just seen 100 Gecs drop an ethereal set. Your mate is telling you to sprint across the site to see some scouse band you’ve never heard of. “They supported Sports Team!” he exclaims, expecting some sort of fanfare. When you arrive, you are bombarded by about two hundred 20-year-olds wearing bucket hats and Oasis t-shirts. But by God, the band can bloody play.
Their debut Guitar Music is as if K**ye W**t produced a Car Seat Headrest Album, with a healthy dollop of SOPHIE.
Liverpool’s Courting entered the crowded scene of wry British post-punk bands with a refreshing electronic twist. Their debut Guitar Music is as if K**ye W**t produced a Car Seat Headrest Album, with a healthy dollop of SOPHIE. It is an album sonically diverse, held together by producer James Gring’s electronic tweaks. Like much of Murphy-O’Neill’s lyrics, the album’s name is ironic – this is far from a straightforward rock album.
Track of the Album: Famous
Lyric of the Album: “Everyone’s on Letterboxd now” – from “Jumper”
9. Fontaines D.C – Skinty Fia
From one post-punk album to another (there is a theme), coming in at number 9 is the third effort from Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. I changed my mind on this one,and am willing to suggest it is their best record to date. Certainly, it is their most adventurous and Grian Chatten’s songwriting has matured. Not only this, but Skinty Fia is more consistent than their previous efforts, without losing Grian’s vocal delivery or the band’s raw moodiness.
…the band show they can write about love with poppy hooks, albeit dark and twisted tales of self-reflection and rejection.
Grian grapples with his usual themes of Irishness, political and economy inequality, and the desperation of youth. Yet, on “I Love You” and “Jackie Down The Line”, the band show they can write about love with poppy hooks, albeit dark and twisted tales of self-reflection and rejection. It closes emphatically with the devastating “Nabokov”, which hits you with a wall of desperation from its outset. The fact that this album sits at nine is testament to the quality of records this year – it really is superb.
Track of the Album: Skinty Fia
Lyric of the Album: “I did you a favour// I bled myself dry” – from “Nabokov”
8. Arctic Monkeys – The Car
Alex Turner is back. Yet rather than with a ‘bang’, the titans of indie rock instead returned with cinematic strings and a mirrorball. We get it, they are in their 30s now. Gone are the days of sweaty underground gigs in Sheffield and singing about getting drunk with your mates out at the club and having a laugh and seeing a bird over there etc etc etc. And in my view, good riddance.
Whilst distinctly glossy and bordering on dramatic at times, Turner does give the fans some undisputed classics to add to their setlists.
The Car is not a perfect album by their standards, nor does it necessarily live up to its unexpectedly excellent predecessor Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino. Nonetheless, this is still a great sounding record, and has Turner returning to earth lyrically with a candour we rarely see. Many have interpreted the opening track “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball” as a direct conversation with those fans who claim they’ve changed for the worse. Whilst distinctly glossy and bordering on dramatic at times, Turner does give the fans some undisputed classics to add to their setlists. For example, “Body Paint”, with its tension building guitars, sing-along outro, and Beatle-esque bridge. This is definitely an album worthy of its creator and deserves its eighth-place spot.
Track of the Album: Big Ideas
Lyric of the Album: “Is that vague sense of longing kinda trying to cause a scene?” – from “Sculptures of Anything Goes”
7. Alvvays – Blue Rev
Canada’s Alvvays gave us a real gem this year. Blue Rev is dreamy, escapist, and beautiful from the minute the distorted guitars begin in opener “Pharmacist” to the synths of closer “Fourth Figure”. Shoegaze, whilst often considered the uglier cousin of Grunge in the 90s, has outlived its contemporary and sounds as fresh as ever on this record. Whilst more delicate than other albums within this genre, Alvvays continue to mix in more comfortable indie pop sounds with their Cocteau Twins-esque sonic style. It is the sort of dream pop or shoegaze you’d show your grandma, and I mean that as a compliment.
It is the sort of dream pop or shoegaze you’d show your grandma, and I mean that as a compliment.
To call this just a shoegaze record, however, is a simplification. The jangle-pop of “After the Earthquake” is reminiscent of the Go-Betweens or, for their sins, The Smiths. Kevin Shield’s “glide-guitar” from My Bloody Valentine is present throughout, but it sits alongside the punchier vocals and lyrics of frontwoman Molly Rankin. It is Rankin’s songwriting that separates this album from other 90s throwback records from female-led bands that came out this year (looking at you Beabadoobee and Pale Waves). Her lyricism is almost stream-of-consciousness, a perfect accompaniment to the whirling harmonies provided by the rest of the band. Whenever this album feels like it’s tiring, it Alvvays swings round again.
Track of the Album: Easy On Your Own
Lyric of the Album: “I’ll always be looking for ways/To remember the sound of the lottery noises/That I can’t believe rang for me” – from “Lottery Noises”
6. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
Whilst Alvvays border shoegaze and dream pop, Beach House are the emphatic torchbearers of the latter in current music. Once Twice Melody is the eighth effort by the duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, and whilst it might not hit the heights of 2015’s Depression Cherry or 2010’s Teen Dream, this is still a glistening record. As ever, it is phenomenally produced with the duo’s vocals resting perfectly atop glorious synth harmonies that are utterly enthralling.
Sonically, it is the equivalent of a memory foam mattress that you could sink into forever and disappear.
This is a record that is immersive. Sonically, it is the equivalent of a memory foam mattress that you could sink into forever and disappear. Lyrically, Beach House uses their characteristic habit of painting an image half finished. What this allows the listener to do is to turn these songs into their story. In this way, this double album could easily accompany a break-up, or a blossoming romance. The vocals echo as in “Only You Know”, asking us to “Don’t Blink” and melt into bliss in “Sunset”, always fitting the accompaniment perfectly. The only fault of this album is perhaps its length, and lack of huge variety. Yet, what it does, it does faultlessly.
Track of the Album: Superstar
Lyric of the Album: “I can’t live without you, I’ll be the last one at the bar” – from “The Bells”
5. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Who gave Radiohead a jazz drummer? Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood teamed up with drummer Tom Skinner this year for an alternative rock epic. KID A MNESIA aside, this is the nearest us insufferable male manipulators have got to a Radiohead since 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool and this did not disappoint. The Smile is dirtier and perhaps rawer than the polished efforts of their other project. Nonetheless, Yorke and Greenwood balance the infectiousness of “You Will Never Work In Television Again” with more eerily and delicate tracks such as “Speech Bubbles” and “Pana-vision”.
…this is the nearest us insufferable male manipulators have got to a Radiohead since 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool…
There is enough difference in this album to justify a separate project, and that generally stems from the drumming of Skinner. His nervous and skittish hi-hat motors the otherwise ungrounded “A Hairdryer”, whilst “The Opposite” is elevated by the off-kilter beat Skinner provides. Yorke’s vocals and lyricism are characteristically haunting, candidly acknowledging our morbidity in “Free in the Knowledge” and depicting the horrors of climate catastrophe in “The Smoke” and “Speech Bubbles”. The Smile’s debut effort thus excellently balances the beauty and darkness of Radiohead with a jazz tinge that adds an earthiness.
Track of the Album: You Will Never Work In Television Again
Lyric of the Album: “Our echo doesn’t hear us/Anymore/Hanging on a cloth edge/By its fingers.” – from “Thin Thing”
4. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Big Thief can be accused of many things, but they cannot be accused of a lack of ambition. This 20-track record is sprawling and magnificent in its fragility. This is folk-rock for the twenty-first century: innovative, kaleidoscopic, but grounded in humility. It is expansive, but rarely overstays its welcome. Adrianne Lenker, the group’s singer-guitarist, adds complexity tonally with her voice and depth with her quirky lyrics. Melodically, the band continue their knack for catchiness, without sacrificing beauty.
In a crowded art-folk scene, this album stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries because it feels real.
In a crowded art-folk scene, this album stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries because it feels real. Each song feels crafted or dug carefully from the earth. It has been compared to The Beatles “White Album” in its sheer size and variance but I almost feel this is unfair. The White Album is distinctly and often horribly experimental (think Piggies), yet DNWMIBIY remains gleeful and ornate, without being pretentious. Twenty tracks is daunting, so be sure to check out the playlist below for several of my favourites from this album.
Track of the Album: Simulation Swarm
Lyric of the Album: “Could I feel happy for you/When I hear you talk with her like we used to?” – from “Change”
3. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
2022 saw Kendrick return for his fifth studio album and he did not disappoint. In “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick is introspective, turning his knack for storytelling onto himself. This is an untidy album, with the polish of “Damn” and the sprawling nature of its stories eschewed for a chaotic skittishness that reflects Kendrick’s state of mind on this record. But it is this messiness that makes this album so raw, and its almost crooked production feeds into that soundscape.
This is an emphatic return by Kendrick to his place at the top of the hip hop hierarchy, and proves he is still capable of innovating whilst remaining true to his sound.
Bangers are still to be found, such as “N95”, “Silent Hill” (featuring a clean verse from Kodak Black), and “Rich Spirit”. On “We Cry Together”, he is joined by Taylour Paige to dramatically recreate a toxic and abusive relationship. It recalls earlier Kendrick tracks that are equally theatrical such as “For Free?”. Yet, the keys and syncopation give it a seriousness that feels like a more sophisticated Eminem song. This is an emphatic return by Kendrick to his place at the top of the hip hop hierarchy, and proves he is still capable of innovating whilst remaining true to his sound.
The major drawback of this album, however, cannot be ignored. On “Auntie Diaries”, Kendrick tries to clumsily tell a redemption story of understanding his relatives’ experiences with gender…only to completely miss the point by using a slur. This is inexcusable.
Track of the Album: Father Time
Lyric of the Album: “My life is a plot, twisted from directions I can’t see” – from “Father Time”
2. Black Midi – Hellfire
According to Geordie Greep, Black Midi’s emblematic frontman, whilst their previous album Cavalcade “was a drama”, Hellfire is “an epic action film”. He is certainly correct. This album is an incredible journey in both subject matter and genre. Prior to this record, Black Midi were already renowned for their chaotic mix of experimental rock, jazz, post-punk, and avant-garde reflected in their ranging instrumentation and virtuosic capabilities. On Hellfire, they take this to another level.
Conceptually, Hellfire is a story of war, but not in a conventional sense. Greep, and Cameron Picton in his excellent vocal performances, tell the stories that occur behind the frontlines. Tracks such as “Eat Men Eat”, where Picton tells the horror of two men in love being poisoned by their Captain and having their stomachs pumped for the production of red wine in a desert mine facility. Similarly, on “Welcome to Hell”, Greep tells of the superficial freedom of shore leave, where soldiers are encouraged to engage in depravity to distract themselves from trauma. Greep’s character, Private Bongo, instead declines and sinks deeper into his mental health issues. Thematically and lyrically, this is a creative masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of delivery within contemporary rock music.
Greep’s vocal delivery continues the theatrics, evoking black-and-white Hollywood newsreels in wartime or a classical Hollywood actor.
Sonically, the boundaries are further pushed. Song structures are pushed aside for theatrical shifts in keys, tempo, and volume. In terms of genre, it is impossible to pin down. The opening track begins with a march rhythm, pushing on to the curtain raising “Sugar/Tzu” that has a distinct cabaret feel. Greep’s vocal delivery continues the theatrics, evoking black-and-white Hollywood newsreels in wartime or a classical Hollywood actor. “Still” sees Picton establish almost a western feel that continues the windswept desert theme established in “Eat Men Eat”, whilst “The Defence” has a bossa nova feel before descending into dramatic cinematics with full orchestra.
This album continues the band’s epic and unpredictable development. Thrilling, fast-paced, yet beautiful in its serene “numbers”, this is a record I won’t easily forget.
Track of the Album: Welcome to Hell.
Lyric of the Album: “As a farmhand I had/No aversion to killing/But to murder a man in cold blood/Was something entirely different” – from “Dangerous Liaisons”
1. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
A certain type of music fan says all modern music is trash. Nothing good has come out since the 1990s. It is all the same old rubbish. They are wrong. Black Country, New Road have proven them so very wrong. Their second album is, in my humble opinion, easily one of the greatest albums ever made.
Much like Black Midi, who happen to be the band’s good friends, BCNR are boundary-pushers loosely within the post-punk bracket. Unlike Black Midi, whose weapon is abrasiveness, humour, and dramatics, BCNR instead are cripplingly sad. The intensity of the album, felt in every note and every lyric, was so much that chief songwriter and vocalist Isaac Wood immediately left the band after its release this year. Ants From Up There therefore comes with a strong warning. But in its desperateness, you find beauty.
On first listen, I was wiped out.
Woods’ lyrics and vocal delivery set the standard of this record. It is characterised by reoccurring metaphors such as Concorde, introduced properly in the song of the same name. Here, Wood uses the metaphor of this expensive and seemingly futile project to anxiously reveal his unrequited love for a past partner who has moved on. He would do anything to be with her, to have even a chance to get her back, but she does not feel the same. In “Good Will Hunting”, Wood continues the theme of anxious attachment to a disinterested lover. He dreams of a future together, with children teaching them to play piano, despite only spending a weekend together. In “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade”, Wood once more can’t let go as this woman permeates all his thoughts. Every time he tries to “make lunch” for anyone else in his mind he ends up picturing her. The epic closer “Basketball Shoes” summarises the key themes and metaphors in one last despairing plea. On first listen, I was wiped out.
Musically, the album rises and falls, rumbles dramatically, softens delicately, and screams in agony throughout.
Musically, the album rises and falls, rumbles dramatically, softens delicately, and screams in agony throughout. The saxophone on “Mark’s Theme”, an instrumental dedicated to a family friend who had passed, is heart-wrenching. As is the almost incessant free jazz drumming on “Snow Globes” that gathers pace and volume as Wood screeches its lyrical motif that “snow globes don’t shake on their own”. The piano intro on “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade” is reminiscent of Mozart and portrays in its duplicitous innocence the very nature of Woods’ delusional romance. “Chaos Space Marine” uses a traditional pop song, inverted with a rising chord progression structure to build momentum to a crashing chorus with the entire band introducing the key musical and conceptual themes of the album into the outro.
It is perfect. If you have made it this far, please, please listen.
Track of the Album: Basketball Shoes
Lyric of the Album: “Your generous loan to me, your crippling interest” – from “Basketball Shoes”
So there ends my definitive and far too long list. Please give the playlist a listen, especially if you disagree. It includes a selection of songs from these albums in addition to a few honourable mentions from other albums that didn’t quite make the cut (don’t worry Swifties). Let’s hope I listen to more cheerful stuff in 2023, and that the music is just as good!
Listen to the playlist here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3N7BJa8eGrq5t0mmOkZm8I?si=7454d71bed974b17
Image Credit: Kieran Wetherick
Image Description: Two vinyl albums – Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There and Black Midi’s Hellfire – displayed on top of a record player. In the background is a shelf with a collection of other vinyl records.