Celebrity has never held much appeal for me. Chasing autographs. Intrusive selfies. Worming my way onto tour busses. Not for me. The one glaring exception was when I met Tori Amos in Kansas City. We hugged and I remember babbling something about how much I loved her and asking if she would sign my concert poster.
As I drifted away down the hall, I realized my signed poster was left sitting on the seat next to her. I was embarrassed but had to go back. Tori (we’re on a first name basis now) was patiently waiting and handed me the poster with a wry smile that was equal parts gratitude and amusement. Her body sparkled like a vampire in the sun. Stunning.
But why her? It’s all about that emotional connection. She pours herself into her music. Her fans know her, and on some level she knows us too. It’s intimate. The unfortunate flip-side of this connection is celebrity death. The loss of Low’s Mimi Parker in early November hit unexpectedly hard. The band pumped out so much quality music over the years (thirteen albums over twenty-seven years).
But we’re not here to get all sappy & depressed. Instead, I want to encourage everyone to check out their catalog. From the slowcore classic debut, “I Could Live in Hope,” to the last year’s final-act masterpiece, “Hey What,” there is plenty to celebrate.
Alright, let’s get to this year’s music. The best part about writing a piece like this is I don’t have to review albums I don’t like. I listen to literally hundreds of new releases each year. For every 2022 release on this list, there’s a steaming pile of albums cast to the wayside. Hours and days of my life spent wading through the sludge. I do this for you, dear reader. Psyche! I do it because that’s the way I’m wired. I’m an “Okay, what’s next?” type of listener. Luckily, I don’t have to waste time writing about art that wasn’t made for me. It’s all subjective anyway. One person’s butt-rock is another person’s party anthem.
My goal here is to feature great albums in various styles that you won’t see on every other year-end list. Did I intentionally set out to load the list with female artists? No. Did I lean into it when I realized it was coming in girl heavy? You’re damn right I did. It’s been a particularly rough year for the ladies. They deserve an extra bit of recognition.
As always, for each album selected I try to include an official music video whenever possible in an effort to keep the artform alive.
Grace Ives – Janky Star
Grace Ives makes unconventional pop music. In the follow-up to the 2019 album 2nd, Ives took a huge step forward with Janky Star. It’s an album full of layered, catchy beats. The songs never get stale due to diversity in beat composition and the way Ives keeps her songs short enough to avoid repetition. The 10-track album has a run time of only 27 minutes.
Standout tracks include “On The Ground” highlighting Ives vocal talent and “Loose” with its fuzzed out synth beats. Janky Star saves the showstopper for last. The final track, “Lullaby,” is flat out one of the best songs of the year. Through it all, Grace Ives seems like she’s having a lot of fun.
If you like this, you might also dig: Phoebe Green – Lucky Me, Jenny Hval – Classic Objects, AURORA – The Gods We Can Touch
Gabriels – Angels & Queens, Part 1
Unique sounds are hard to come by these days. It’s all been done before, right? Wrong. Gabriels is undeniably breaking new ground. The band delivers a haunting mix of piano, strings, & brass. All showcasing the otherworldly falsetto vocals of Jacob Lusk. Where did this guy come from?
Come to find out, Lusk was a finalist in the tenth season of American Idol. Wait, what? The pretentious music snob in me was floored. I felt betrayed. Bamboozled.
That’s not my bag. But I’d be an insincere hack if I let a little taste of mainstream success cause me to turn my nose at this captivating debut album.
We need to let the ego die to preserve objectivity. Angels & Queens, Part 1 is an objectively great album.
If you like this, you might also dig: King Hannah – I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me, Saba – Few Good Things, Aldous Harding – Warm Chris
Plains – I Walked With You A Ways
Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The expression proves true for indie folk artists Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee) and Jess Williamson. The two teamed up to make a traditional country album under the band name Plains. I’ll admit I had low expectations for this album. As usual, my assumptions made an ass out of me. These girls go together like pizza & potato chips (trust me. it’s good). I Walked With You A Ways isn’t an album that’s trying to be country. It’s an album that is country. The vocal harmonies feel organic and familial, which is immediately on display in the opening track, “Summer Sun.” The duo sound equally at ease making catchy, radio-friendly tunes like “Problem With It” as they do with slower, story-telling ballads like “Bellafatima.”
Plains was designed to be a one-and-done project. Based on how well it worked, here’s hoping there’s a reunion (and follow-up album) somewhere down the road.
If you like this, you might also dig: Kelsey Waldon – No Regular Dog, The Dead South – Easy Listening for Jerks, Pt 1 & 2, Silvana Estrada – Marchita, Arlo McKinley – This Mess We’re In
Saya Gray – 19 MASTERS
You can’t really say Japanese-Canadian artist Saya Gray “burst onto the scene” with her debut album. It’s more accurate to say she drifted through the scene, careening off walls and opening doors that lead to ever smaller doors. 19 MASTERS is a quicky little album of dream-state ditties. It’s impossible to predict where this album is going from one track to the next, or even within an individual song. My advice: Don’t try. Enjoy the ride. The album exists beyond genre labels and without any semblance of accepted structure. Yet somehow 19 MASTERS works as a cohesive album. Just when you think you’re meandering with no purpose, there are moments that pull it all together. One such moment occurs in track 6, “GREEN APPLE (EVERY NIGHT I RIDE NIGHT MARES).” The song features Gray’s flowing vocals over understated, warbly acoustic guitar. A soaring electric guitar kicks in and the drum & bass build foreshadows an inevitable drop. But the drop never comes. She simply moves on. I don’t have the training or audacity to psychoanalyze Gray’s album. This is one that’s meant to be appreciated, not understood. Don’t overthink it.
If you like this, you might also dig: Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B, Goat – Oh Death, Tomberlin – i don’t know who needs to hear this, Dehd – Blue Skies
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
It appears the demise of punk has been greatly exaggerated. Soul Glo is here to kick in the door and post up at the bar of a genre historically lacking in racial diversity. The band is cranking out seriously hardcore, in-your-face jams. Released under legendary punk label, Epitaph Records, Diaspora Problems feels spontaneous and, believe it or not, funny at times. Songs like “Driponomics” mix in hip-hop elements with slick guest rhymes by Mother Maryrose. While other tracks like “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)((by the future))” sound as manic as Death Grips. Soul Glo finishes us off with ”Spiritual Level of Gang Shit,” a track that could be the twisted lovechild of Rage Against the Machine and Sublime. There are no rules to punk. Make it loud (check). Make it hard (check). Make it fun (check!).
If you like this, you might also dig: Gilla Band – Most Normal, Mindforce – New Lords, PUP – THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
foxtails – fawn
If you’re into rowdy jazz screamo (who isn’t, right?), then you’re going to love foxtails. The band was putting out interesting work with their early catalog. Adding violinist Jared Schmidt to the lineup has taken foxtails to another level. Blue Luno Solaz dazzles on lead, switching effortlessly between soft, traditional vocals and raw, vulnerable screams. June Benham on guitar and Michael Larocca on percussion round out the quartet. The musicianship is tight and wonderfully disjointed.
Lyrically and thematically, foxtails is a band with one finger jabbed firmly into the open wound of society. They’re frustrated and mad as hell, but not without hope. They aren’t screaming into the void. They’re screaming in chorus with us.
If you like this, you might also dig: Black Dresses – Forget Your Own Face, Gospel – The Loser, Nova Twins – Supernova, Black Midi – Hellfire
Ibibio Sound Machine – Electricity
Are you bored? Low energy? Unmotivated to bust a move? Well not anymore. Ibibio Sound Machine is here from the future to get your booty shaking. With members hailing from the UK, Nigeria, Ghana, & Brazil, ISM is a fun international project that pulls in elements of afrobeat, funk, disco, and drum & bass. On Electricity, their 4th full length album, the band recruited the production skills of synthpop mainstays Hot Chip. As expected, the partnership takes the band in a more synth-heavy direction, but without overshadowing the musicianship showcased in their earlier work.
The name Ibibio comes from frontwoman Eno Williams’ native Nigerian tongue, and she slides fluently between English and Ibibio vocals. I’ll go out on a limb and say you probably don’t speak Ibibio. Don’t let that detract you. The feeling comes through, and the groove transcends language. Right out of the gate, Electricity gets you moving with “Protection From Evil” (video link below), a track that perfectly sets the stage for the upcoming auditory journey. Another favorite is “Something We’ll Remember,” propelled by an infectious funk bass line. There are a few more subdued tracks mixed in, but the album is at its best when ISM delivers the beats. Electricity brings a much needed hopeful and uplifting vibe to a world overstocked with negativity.
If you like this, you might also dig: Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen, Loyle Carner – hugo, Meridian Brothers – Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento
Absent In Body – Plague God
Finally, it’s metal time! Sometimes heavy supergroups work (Down, Bloodbath) and sometimes they don’t (looking at you, Metallica / Lou Reed). Absent In Body falls easily into the former category. Comprised of members of metal heavyweights Sepultura, Neurosis, & Amenra, the band somehow manages to sound like none of them. Plague God is a dark, atmospheric album. It’s a horror film in music form. The mood is driven by the brutal riffs of Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove (Amenra) and haunting, sludgy drums of Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura). They form the ambience without relying on speed guitar or double bass drumming, proving metal doesn’t have to be fast to be heavy. The vocals, handled by Colin H. van Eeckhout (Amenra) with support from Scott Kelly (Neurosis), transition in & out from blood-curdling shrieks to clean vocals to spoken word. Individually, these dudes all know what they are doing. The most impressive aspect of Plague God is how well the members coalesced around a common vision. They set out to create a dystopian hellscape album and executed the concept to disturbing perfection.
If you like this, you might also dig: Vein.fm – This World Is Going to Ruin You, Chat Pile – God’s Country, Thou / Mizmor – Myopia
Sad Daddy – Way Up In The Hills
With members residing in Arkansas and Texas, I’m not sure if Sad Daddy is considered a true “local” band, but they undeniably have roots in NWA and their latest album was recorded in Greers Ferry, AR. I think that counts. Many of us have watched Sad Daddy play and grow over the years at local mainstay venues like Chelsea’s in Eureka Springs and Smoke & Barrel here in Fayetteville. They always deliver a good time and an opportunity to hit the dance floor (Watch out! I’m all knees & elbows).
Given their geographic challenges, all four band members have side projects, but there is no denying the chemistry when they team-up. For Sad Daddy, making an album is a true team effort. Each person is involved in the song writing and composition. Way Up In The Hills is their best album to date. They managed to capture a sound that is both old-timey and innovative.
The album integrates so many different elements. Everything from stomp percussion to kazoos to sizzling bacon is utilized. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the literal kitchen sink was worked in somehow. The result is an album that pays homage to classic country, bluegrass, & Americana, while blazing a trail that is uniquely their own.
Other local(ish) releases to check out: Modeling – Somewhere Before, Rocket Coma – Vs. The End of the World, Whoa Dakota – Rhinestones & Rodeos