I wanted to write about music, and thought about writing about some 2022 albums I liked. I started typing it up for a private Discord and then remembered, duh, I actually have a music blog. So let's blow the dust off this thing and post about some music I liked. "Best" is meaningless here, as any of these albums might strike my fancy on any particular day, and ranking them seems extremely iffy. Will any of these albums be in regular rotation next year? Five years? I have no idea. So, this is just a list of some releases you might have missed that I liked, and maybe you should check them out.
Is that the softest intro to a music list you've ever seen? Hang on, lemme try this again: THIS LIST WAS HANDED DOWN TO ME ON STONE TABLETS FROM THE HEIGHTS OF MOUNT GOODTASTE IGNORE THEM AT PERIL TO YOUR IMMORTAL ROCKIN' SOUL
The Golden Walker, Given to the Best Album Released by a Band I've Been Listening To Since Before I Had Kids
As always, there are multiple records I could talk about in this category, which I've just made up on the spot. Old fart bands don't stop releasing music for old farts like me, and I liked a bunch of them. But I think I'm going to take Calexico's El Mirador. Calexico hasn't ever made a bad record or anything, but sometimes their stuff becomes almost too pleasant. The last full Calexico record (2018's The Thread That Keeps Us) was very mellow, at times disappearing a bit as wallpaper. Maybe I didn't spend enough time with it, that's a possibility (never dismiss the chances that I'm a dope!), but it never really hung with me. El Mirador brings things back more to their earlier sound, with a return to Tucson to record the album, and it's very trumpet forward. Songs like "El Paso" and "The El Burro Song" are some of the strongest they've turned in for years, and I found this to be something of a return to form. Again, not that their last several albums have been bad or anything, I just like "desert Calexico" the best of their various incarnations.
Honorable Mentions: I would be remiss not bringing up Cruel Country from Wilco here, as it also is a throwback for them, a record that evokes Being There more than anything else in their discography. I haven't really loved a Wilco record since Wilco (The Album), so having a set of tunes like this I could sink into was a delight.
I was surprised by the release of Reason in Decline from Archers of Loaf, but they got back together for the right reason: they just wanted to make a record together. It's not the same as the vintage records - it's less noisy, less raspy, less...uh, youthful than the early stuff. But if you judge it not as whether it continues in the musical line of their previous stuff (and how could it, after 24 years!), but instead on its own merits, it's a very nice set of melodic and kinda noisy rock. It was nice to hear from them again.
It's been seven years since we've had a full album from The Slackers, although there have been various singles and EPs released in that time. So I knew that the best band of the third wave of ska hadn't gone anywhere (yes, that's right, the best!), but it's still great to get a full length from them. I'm listening to Don't Let The Sunlight Fool Ya as I write this, actually, and there's a very good chance that this will end up being the 2022 release I spend the most time with when it all shakes out. You know, when I drop dead. Vic Ruggiero and company continue to just sound like a warm hug, with nothing but good tunes wrapping around you. It's not the place to start with the Slackers (that would probably be Wasted Days), but it's a welcome addition to the discography.
If it's not the Slackers record I end up spending the most time with, it will probably end up being Inside Problems from Andrew Bird. I always run a weird cycle with him - the release of a new record from him usually prompts me to remember that I never really spent enough time with his previous album. So, he released a new record (which seems nice) and, of course, I spent a bunch of time listening to My Finest Work Yet (his 2019 release). Which is great, although it must be noted, is not his finest work. So, check back in three years, when I'll have spent enough time with this one to really judge it. (Calexico just ended, and so I put on...My Finest Work Yet, because "Sisyphus" popped in my head. I'm weak!)
The Conlon Nancarrow Award for Excellence in Truly Baffling Music
We have all internalized the rules of music for our culture to a degree that it's inseparable from our ability to evaluate music. I have hardwired expectations for what "should" happen in a piece of music, and it's pleasing when those things happen. It's a stimulus/response thing that just taps into feedback loops that I don't really control. And yes, the rules I've internalized are those of western music, but whatever tradition I grew up in, it's programmed into me. Even avant garde stuff that explicitly breaks the rules is still experimenting within that framework by testing and expanding the boundaries of it. I recognize what they're doing as a reaction to the rules.
And then there's stuff that sounds like it's from another planet. Records that seem completely unbound by convention rules of "melody" or "aesthetics" or "predictability". There's probably some internal logic to them, but they're so far out there that it's hard to really recognize it as the same sort of thing as, I dunno, an Archers of Loaf record or whatever. Conlon Nancarrow, by writing stuff for player piano and really testing the limits of rhythm, is a good example. And so is the winner of this award, Not Arbitrary by Álvaro Domene, which sounds like it is a response record to Voyager 1's golden record. But we haven't actually been able to decipher it. Domene conjures things from his guitar that, frankly, I'm not entirely sure what they are or how he does it.
Why do I like this? I dunno, sometimes it's fun to be disoriented. If I want something that tickles my brain with pattern recognition joy, I have literally thousands of records in my collection that can do that. If I want something that, every time, will make me go "what in the hell was that?", I only have a small handful. And that's a rare gift.
Honorable Mention: This was a late year find, thanks to the Plague Rages year-end roundup, but what even is going on with Effluence? Liquified is more EP length in running time than it is an album, but hell, there are certainly enough ideas going on here for it to count. It's kinda...brutal death metal and free jazz? One of the tags on the Bandcamp page is "annoying", which seems fair. Everything in here is baffling, but since I also listen to John Zorn squawking over grind, this is worryingly totally up my alley. Go ahead and press play on that, though, and you'll instantly be able to determine if it's for you. Hopefully it isn't.
We're Sorry, We Can't Hear The Name of This Award Over All That Racket
I listened to a lot of metal this year, at least in large part because I have found plenty of metal writers that I like. It's probably the only scene that I do a reasonable job of keeping up with these days, but at least there's one. And if there's something I've learned about my tastes in metal, it's that I like it when saxes are involved. I mean, just look at Effluence above. Anyway, KEN Mode put out a new record this year, NULL, and it smokes. Kathryn Kerr is now a full member of the band, and she lends sax and keys to the proceedings, and it really fills out the bill nicely. KEN Mode aren't metal all the way, they instead play stuff from across the heavy spectrum: there's some sludge here, plenty of noise rock, some no-wave, a little industrial, just a full menu of stuff. But if you don't know what any of that means, it doesn't matter. It's all very, very heavy, very loud, very angry, and very cathartic. My heart will always be with noise rock, and if I can get top-tier noise rock and a bunch of other stuff along with it, said heart will be very happy indeed.
Honorable Mentions: Chat Pile got a lot of traction for their, yes, noise rock debut album God's Country after building up momentum with a couple of great EPs. I'm not entirely sure why. Yes, it's a more accessible record than NULL, but it's not exactly destined for wide appeal. But whatever the reason, the zeitgeist picked well. There's an urgency to these songs, even the downtempo ones, that makes it all sound propulsive even when it's not going anywhere particularly quickly. It's nice to hear a band like this be capable of dialing down the tempo and still keeping the tension up.
I love John Cobbett. Ludicra ruled, both of the Vohl records are awesome, he's fantastic. But I've never gotten on that well with Hammers of Misfortune, his main post-Ludicra band. It's just a little bit too corny for my tastes. I don't mind it sometimes, but I've never really loved any of their releases. That is, until this year's Overtaker, which is a scorcher. Yeah, it's still got some corny stuff going on, but who cares? It gallops, it slashes, it wheedly-wheedly-whees with wild abandon. There's a certain hardcore vibe to some of the rhythms here that makes me really happy. In a lot of ways, this stuff reminds me of vintage Iron Maiden, in the best kind of way. It's an extremely metal album, but it's such a pleasure to listen to.
Metal, as a genre, loves categorizing things so much. Sorting things into bins of brutal this, death that, blackened the other appears to be one of the major pastimes of metal fans. If you're familiar with the genres, it can be convenient shorthand to orient you on what to expect from bands. If you're not, it's impenetrable nonsense and is an active impediment to learning about the stuff. But, even recognizing that the shorthand is a barrier, I use it anyway, because it is convenient. That said, the shorthand fails sometimes. What do you do with a band like Mico? Zigurat is all over the place. It cheerfully combines most of extreme metal's subgenres with wild abandon, in the end resulting in something that is more or less indescribable but very impressive and primal. Oh, and they also indulge in some good ol' fashioned pure noise (watch out for "Pulso Corrupto").
Is it possible for death metal to be easy listening? It probably isn't, unless you've got a problem. But that said, some death metal is very easy to listen to. It just wants to bludgeon you with riff after riff after riff, and doesn't let anything else get in the way. And so, Undeath's It's Time...To Rise From The Grave is here. It's not a very nuanced record. It's just a brick hammering away at your head. There's no subtlety, it's exactly what it purports to be, but it's fun.
Damn, this is getting long. I really did listen to a lot of loud stuff this year! Sorry to Scarcity's Aveilut, Wormrot's Hiss, Vermin Womb's Retaliation, Five Songs' favorite Krallice (who released Psychagogue and Crystalline Exhaustion this year and both rule), Pyrithe's Monuments to Impermanence (god that record is good), Imperial Triumphant's Spirit of Ecstasy (which isn't on Bandcamp, so no link), Helms Alee's Keep This Be The Way, Mizmor & Thou's tremendous collab Myopia - damn, I could keep going. Moving on!
The Best Pork Chop Inside Your Danelectro Amplifier
Yes, I stole that line from Jay Mumford of the Du-Rites, from 2020's "Can't Buy Groove". But that's because this category goes out to him for the Du-Rites' 2022 release, Plug It In. I've loved the Du-Rites from the beginning, so it's no small thing to say that this is my favorite album from them. "Tripwire" might be my favorite tune of the year, a triumphant burst of funk absolutely carried by the kalimba on it, sounding like a dream. If the album were just that tune, that would be enough, but it doesn't stop there. I think it's their funkiest record, even more than the cop funk record Gamma Ray Jones, and it's a perfect starting point for getting into the band. Or just listen to "Tripwire" in a loop, that works too.
Honorable Mentions: There's a property of some records, that they feel cinematic in feel. It's an association that feels somehow implanted in my brain - I'm not sure exactly which movies cinematic records are evoking. Bond movies? I dunno. But nevertheless, some records turn out that way. Ghost Funk Orchestra's A New Kind of Love is extremely cinematic. It's cool, it's sexy, it's funky, it's impeccably down, it's delightful.
I'm familiar with Chris Lujan through The M-Tet, and he put out an album this year with Chris Lujan & Electric Butter that is a real jewel of neo-soul, The Real Thing. Neo-soul can sometimes feel like it's a diorama, a faithful recreation with every button, outfit, and note in careful place, but without necessarily a creative spark. I definitely don't think that applies to all of it by any stretch, though, and the best of neo-soul takes the ingredients that worked and does their own thing. And it's funny, I don't really dock bands that are trying to...oh, re-create mid-90s Cannibal Corpse's guitar sound. So why worry about neo-soul? Anyway, The Real Thing is exactly that, a batch of super tight songs that will slap a smile on your face right away.
The "How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?" Award
I'm going to level with you: I have no earthly idea what the youths of today actually listen to, despite the presence of two actual teenagers living in this house. No, my attempt to stay in touch here, at best, keeps up with the music of late-20s people. Maybe? I dunno, the people on some Discords that I'm on who seem to be that age like these records. Anyway, THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND is a ton of fun. "Matilda" is probably my second favorite song of the year, "Robot Writes a Love Song" is tremendous, it's just an excellent record all around. As good as Morbid Stuff? Well, no, but that's one of my favorite albums period and is an unreasonable standard to live up to, and "not quite as good as one of the best punk albums" still rates top in this category.
Honorable Mentions: It's on tons and tons of lists, but Wet Leg's self-titled debut record (Wet Leg, if you aren't paying attention) is pretty fun. There's some real mid-2000's vibes going on here, a certain kind of insistent dance-punk aesthetic that I found tiring when it was everywhere but sounds pretty fresh here. The droll humor helps as well, with a certain Art Brut feel to the breakout hit "Chaise Longue". Do I think that this album has a ton of staying power? No, not really. But that's OK, it's fine to just enjoy something in the moment.
Hm. I suppose that's all that really plausibly fits in here? I'm very out of touch.
The Up Jump The Boogie Award
Yes, that's about the oldest hip-hop reference it is possible to make, befitting me being old as hell. Anyway, I don't listen to as much hip-hop as I would like, but it's not zero, and there were some records I loved this year. Front of that list was a late discovery for me, billy woods's Aethiopes hit me hard. Just listen to the jittery drums and tolling beat of "Wharves" followed by the paranoid rumble of "Sauvage" and tell me you don't agree. I've always really appreciated the coherence of records that are produced entirely by the same people, and that's the case here with Preservation doing all the tracks. It's a masterpiece, front-to-back.
Honorable Mentions: In that same vein, RJD2 produced all of Escape From Sweet Auburn, his follow-up to STS x RJD2, both collaborations with, uh, STS. Anyway, RJD2's funk game is totally on-point again, and STS holds up his end of the bargain, which is to provide some fun rhymes on top of things. Like the Wet Leg album, I don't know if this thing is going to have a ton of longevity, but it's a very fun spin right now, and that's plenty.
It's Almost Dry from Pusha T is the sort of record that I mostly want to listen to super loud. The sort of thing I crank in the car, or obliterate my brain when I'm out for a walk. It's a big album in every way, and that bigness is very much a virtue here. (It's not on Bandcamp, so no link.)
I haven't spent time with Kendrick Lamar's latest record, which is a damn shame, and I really need to fix that, so consider this category incomplete at best.
I'm forgetting lots of records here, I'm sure, and I know there are ones I wanted to mention that I'm going to kick myself about. But I have to stop at some point, and I suppose that point is now.