2022 saw the world back in full swing, and we got a crop of fantastic albums exploring the places we have been collectively, but also the inner journeys we have taken. There are debuts of stunning brilliance, reimaginings of what a studio album could be, and even an amalgamation of diverse artists into a beautiful cacophony. I started off with 25 albums that had grabbed my attention and worked it down to 9, leaving off some incredible LPs. In the end, these are what I found most moving and told our story of this year. So, in no particular order……
Duster - Together
Lofi / Shoegaze champions are back with a follow-up to 2019's self-titled comeback affair. Like last year's excellent lp by Low, Duster keeps slow-core alive and well. This album can be meditative for one second and quickly turn to a dense transcendental swirling as in the opener 'New Directions' or 'Familiar Fields.'
Gabriels - Angels & Queens – Part I
Reminiscent of the best of 70s soul, almost cinematic in its scope, seeming timeless in the wash of the orchestra, the music of Los Angeles trio Gabriels truly is of Angels and Queens. Produced by Kendrick Lamar’s go-to producer, Sounwave, we find an album you can chill to as easily as you can dance to. Standouts are the title track and the slow burn of Taboo.
Guerilla Toss – Famously Alive
On their first full-length lp for SubPop, Guerilla Toss settles into their noisy brand of psych-pop and then accents it. One might call it art rock, but I think that betrays what they do. Convention is thrown out the window, and that blank canvas allows the band to shine. They are quirky and full of the optimism of Kassie Carlson's lyrics. Lyrics that explore the places we have been collectively thru the last few years, but also the inner journeys she has taken that, on many levels, reflect mine. The title track alone is worth the price of admission.
Tyler Childers – Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven
Do you like country music? The real country, all crooner style with a tight band? Well, then, this one's for you. Presented as a triple album, what we get are three interpretations of an eight song set, and it is brilliant. The Hallelujah versions are live in the studio, The Jubilee versions have augmentation with brass and strings, and the Joyful Noise versions are modern takes with samples and remixing. Oh, and they are all religious tunes. All three versions of Two Coats stand out, while some songs, like Old Country Church, seem best in the Hallelujah version. A welcome addition to Childers discography and some of his best singing and playing ever.
Congotronics International – Where’s the One?
Something I stumbled across this project reading about Deerhoof and dove in just from the idea of such a diverse group of musicians, and a huge group, coming together. The bands - Konono No. 1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Juana Molina, and Matt Mehlan - consist of five guitarists, three likembe players, five percussionists, two bass players, and three drummers. It is almost like a fantastic mixtape where soundscapes weave in and out of one another. The brilliance lies in that you can pick out the individual contributions, but they may only make sense with this group of musicians. In an album full of standouts, ‘The Chief Enters Again,’ and the title track are my favorites.
Elephant Gym - Dreams
I learned a new term this year, ‘math rock,’ and it got me, specifically Taiwan’s Elephant Gym. From straight-ahead rockers like Witches to more jazzy fare like Anima, they seem to have mastered with an acute deftness everything they try. Deity’s Party is my favorite and a song I will return to. I look forward to seeing where this band goes with its ever-expanding pallet of styles.
Umphrey’s McGee – Asking For a Friend
The problem with most ‘jamband’ albums is that the songs weren’t necessarily written for the studio. They tend to focus on their improved value as much as being a constructed piece that is set in its form. Umphrey’s avoids that trap with the strongest effort of their 25-year career. They finally figured out how to use the studio, and cuts like I Don’t Know What I Want and It’s Not Your Fault really benefited from the time they had to explore them in a studio setting.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones – The Alien Coast
Upon first listen, this sounds like the other albums St. Paul & The Broken Bones have released, a little funk, a little soul, and some classic R&B vocal stylings. Diggin deeper, it becomes so much more than that. Paul Janeway takes on a purposefully dark world in this quasi-concept effort, allowing him to take on a ‘fire and brimstone’ tone that complements the murky soundscape. My go-tos are Bermejo and the Devil and Atlas.
Psycada - Hiking Lung
A fantastic debut of neo-psychedelia full of guitar noise and echoey vocals. They wear their influences on their sleeve but bring them together into something unique in the current musical landscape. Take 2 or 3 listens and lose yourself in the way the album builds, drawing you in. I can’t wait to see what is next for these guys.
black midi - Welcome To Hell
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - Dear Scott
Amanda Shires - Take It Like A Man