Favorite music from 2022
I try to keep up with current music, to the point I rarely take time to listen to the classics, or even something from five or six years ago. There’s a lot out there, more than I can ever sample, even with the help of weekly and year-end lists and reviews and suggestions from my many treasured music friends (and brother and wife). So here’s a sampling of things I did find and like for one reason or another. Having an old brain and older ears, I often pay more attention to the musical feel of the work than to the lyrics, so some things that strike real critics as brilliant go over my head.
Here’s a list in alphabetical order, since “best” is hard and mine won’t be the same as yours or anyone else. OK, there are some I love so much there’s a star next to them, so we’ll call them the top 5 (or so). Feel free to add yours in a comment. I’ll listen to anything once! At the conclusion, you’ll find my handy guide for boomers to find new music you might like! Also, here’s my 2021 list; I imagine a lot of these are still good!
Part I: Stuff I liked
*The 1975, Being Funny in a Foreign Language–In fairness, I’ll listen repeatedly to anything this band puts out. They’ve mastered the art of simultaneously taking themselves too seriously and not a bit seriously. I think I’d classify it as dream-emo-pop, if there is such a thing. This is their fifth album and their shortest and most coherent. Matty Healy’s lyrics and vocals remain the core of their work but this one skillfully uses horns and violins as a fitting accompaniment to their guitar-keys-bass-drum. There are a ton of good songs here, but “Looking for Somebody to Love” is a favorite of mine. Strongly recommend you check out the live video they did of this and two other songs.
Bastille, Give Me the Future–This is just a simple pop band that does the same basic song, with chimy guitars, clever keyboard fills, multiple voices, and anthemic choruses. But it’s a good song!
Beeabadoobee, Beatopia–There are so many brilliant young women making great music of all genres right now! Hers are about as close to standard rock ‘n’ roll songs as you can get, but that isn’t bad. Simple guitar-bass-drum arrangements bring her voice and lyrics to the front. “Talk” is a great rocker and “10:36” is a fun update of the distorted phone call cliche.
*The Beths–Great harmony-laden guitar pop that reaches back to The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds, later Go-Gos, and Rilo Kiley. The lyrics are beyond clever and the Australian accent adds a lot to the whole mix. My favorites: the title song and the haunting “2am”.
Beyonce, Renaissance–In at least one way, this is a throwback to the days of physical media. It works best hearing the whole thing in the way the artist intended, and the flow from song to song is one of the highlights. It also leans heavily on decades of rhythm and blues history (with credit to all who made it). The various drummers nearly steal the show, but it’s Beyonce’s vision and thoughtful use of voices–her own and others–that make this a great listen.
Enumclaw, Save the Baby–This Tacoma band is firmly rooted in 90s-00s pop, in a good way. There’s nods toward grunge and power pop, with a peppering of acoustic songs. If you like Green Day or Pearl Jam, give this one a try! They are starting to get mid-level billings at festivals, so you'll have chances to hear them well into the future.
*Craig Finn, A Legacy of Rentals–I heard him interviewed about writing “Messing with the Settings” and then heard it played through. And even after dozens of listens, I’m still blown away by the song as whole and the unexpected ending. If Bruce Springsteen is the poet for the working class, Finn is the poet for the class or two below that. He writes songs about people who aren’t making it and probably never will, with a mix of empathy and wry observational humor. Strongly recommend listening to this in one sitting.
*Fontaines DC, Skinty Fia–This Irish punk band has evolved some in the two years since their incredible first record. They still channel Joy Division, but there’s a few more slow, drone-y songs and a hint of traditional Celtic music in there as well. They could well evolve into one of the great bands of their generation. Hard to pick a song because they’re all so great, but this one’s in my head right now.
GOAT, Oh Death–I like to get out of my lane from time to time and this one takes me clear off the road. They’re a Swedish band that I guess I’d call psych rock (sometimes bordering on hardcore). “Do the Dance” adds some surf rock to the mix.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth–Alynda Segarra does some amazing things on this record, and on every one they’ve made. Many of the songs are about being the immigrant experience, the most jarring of which is “Precious Cargo.” The title song is a beautiful meditation about the best and worst of being alive and what it takes to get through it.
Julia Jacklin, Pre Pleasure–Pretty record with a great voice and very good backing band. “I Was Neon” is my favorite of the rockers; it almost crosses into jam band territory. Great guitar work and vocals there.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Big2 Steppers–Wow. Brilliant and disturbing throughout. Like Beyonce, Lamar is a master of putting the right vocal in the right place. He’s telling me way more than I want to know about his life (and probably his imagination), but the artistry wins out over the discomfort throughout. ”Worldwide Steppers” is as good an example of this as any. I'm increasingly getting why Lamar wone a Pulitzer for 2017's Damn. He writes more like a novelist--Cormac McCarthy comes to mind--than a songwriter.
Panda Bear and Sonic Boom, Reset–This one’s a hoot for someone my age, an electronic update on 50s-60s pop. I hear Everly Brothers, Yellow Submarine and early The Who, and lots of other classic acts. If you’re my age (condolences!) and aren’t following current music, here’s a good one to hear. If you don’t love “Edge of the Edge” (watch the video, by all means!), you don’t need to go any further.
Plains, I Walked with You Awhile–This collaboration of Katie Crutchfield from Waxahatchee and
Jess Williamson is a throwback to earlier country music. It would have been at home in the 1990s but there’s echoes of Grand Ole Opry in here as well. It’s about relationships ending and moving on, as exemplified in “Abilene” and many others.
Bonnie Raitt, Just Like That–I didn’t know this existed until she won a Grammy for the title song. That one didn’t blow me away, but the lyrics and the story she tells there are riveting. Not sure she’ll ever match her incredible early records or her string of blues-pop gems around 1990, but “When We Say Goodnight” and “Blame it on Me” both fuse the best of those two eras. The guitar work is brilliant, the soulful organ only makes it better, and there is no voice like Raitt's on the planet.
Jeff Rosenstock and Laura Stevenson, Younger Still–Just a 4-song EP you can listen to or buy on Bandcamp. I’ve often wished Neil Young would find a great singer to match the brilliant songs he writes, and this record does just that. The sped-up version of “Comes a Time” is the highlight, but the beautiful slow version of “Razor Love” is great, too. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” is different from but just as raggedy fun as the original. Their earlier EP, Still Young is great, too.
Soccer Mommy, Sometimes Forever–My favorite of hers so far. A hit single isn’t going to happen in alternative-world, but “Shotgun” is a great love song and deserves the attention it got. Check out the great bass intro, clever lyrics, and infectious chorus. There’s also some cool, crunchy, goth sounds elsewhere in the album.
*Bartees Strange, Farm to Table–Second record from the Oklahoma-raised rocker. Haven’t heard anything from him I didn’t like and this one is brilliant throughout. From the guitar-led openers “Heavy Heart” and “Mulholland Drive” to the closing soon-to-be-a-soul-classic “Hennessey,” this is not to be missed. Also, if you like that live music scene, he did two of my three favorite shows of the year.
Stromae, Multitude–Belgian rapper, jazz band leader, and cool guy. This is his first release since 2013 and it’s cool as background listening but equally great to listen intently. Sings in French. Here’s one of the most interesting songs and his NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which is delightful.
SZA, SOS–Just her second full release, five years after the first. Just one of what seems like a dozen superb R&B albums this year (like Beyonce, Sudan Archives, FKA Twigs, many others). “F2F” is a pop gem, while “Far” is crazy soulful, and “SOS” brings a rapper’s sense of flow and lyrics to classic R&B.
*Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen–Just the second full-length from violinist Brittany Parks. It’s on a par with Beyonce’s release this year and that’s saying a lot. “Selfish Soul” is a good example of how a handful of voices and some percussion grow into an anthem.
Vieux Farka Toure and Khruangbin, Ali–There’s always going to be an African blues guitar record on my favorites list, but this may be the only time it involves a band from Houston. Toure made this record as a tribute to his father, also a guitarist from Mali, and covers songs his father wrote. These come with a more interesting percussion accompaniment than most North African blues, and they also come in French, so I can understand more than the great bands that use the pre-colonial languages.
Taylor Swift, Midnights–I wasn’t captivated at first listen, as it just doesn’t stand up to here recent work. But on reflection, that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty good! Songs I like best are “Question...?”, “Vigilante Shit” and “Karma”, which could have been a hit by the Pointer Sisters in the 70s.
Vince Staples, Ramona Park Broke My Heart–Accessible for those who don’t know/like rap, this is a story about getting past gang days and embracing love. “Are You With It” is insightful and pretty!
Wet Leg, Wet Leg–This is fun!!! And it’s just the first from this English duo. Clever lyrics, great instrumentals, and a nearly spoken word vocal bring it all together. Like The Beths, they owe a lot to the Go-Gos; if you like them you’ll love this. Check out “Chaise Lounge,” a hilarious ode to Gen-Z life.
*Nilufer Yanya, Painless–Much like Sudan Archives, she’s reached an amazing high level on just her second full-length release, at age 27. Songs about relationships and life in general seem urgent thanks to her fuzzy vocals, and simple guitar, keys and drum tracks that are played like something important is going to happen. Every song is great, but “stabilize” is a highlight.
*Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cool It Down–This is just great work from a mega-talented band. The highlight, as always, is Karen O’s voice, which is sometimes whispered (on “Mars”), sometimes a sweet throwback to 60s girl groups (on “Different Today”), and sometimes woozy but anthemic (on “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”). The instrumentation throughout makes it sound majestic. If you ever wondered what would happen if Genesis hired Madonna as their lead singer, this is it.
Part 2: If you like(d)... then try…..
Frank Zappa, The B-52s…GOAT
The Go-Gos (did I mention them? how many times?)...The Beths, Wet Leg
Yes…Yeah Yeah Yeahs (that works, right?)
Neil Young…Jeff Rosenstock (the Young covers mentioned above and anything else Rosenstock has done).
The early Beatles…The Beths
The later Beatles…Panda Bear and Sonic
Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, maybe even Garth Brooks?…Craig Finn (and his band The Hold Steady)
Pat Benatar…Julia Jacklin
Stevie Wonder (in many ways the great grandfather of hip hop), The Ramones (hip hop is the new punk, right?)…Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar
Aretha…Beyonce, Sudan Archives
Carole King…Taylor Swift (King fans may not see it, but there’s a quality of Swift’s writing, singing, choice of musicians, and production that remind me of King’s talents, musical evolution, and assuredness. Nobody since has come close, except maybe….)