My Favorite Albums of 2022
by Dave Heaton
In 2022 most of my writing ambitions crashed against the tides of real life, but my listening exponentially grew and accelerated. That meant breadth at the expense of depth, or more like selective deep-diving while keeping one ear open to the ocean. Here are my favorite 10 albums of the year, give or take another hundred….
1. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer (Deewee)
Music for dancefloors, nice, and with this level of humor and critical thought? This duo from Belgium – “club provocateurs”, The Guardian called them – are playful and clever over sleek sounds, dissecting language and what it does and doesn’t do for us, and the ideas, assumptions, prejudices, inherited systems. Music to provoke discomfort and comfort at the same time, like life in 2022.
2. Anteloper – Pink Dolphins (International Anthem)
Here the duo of trumpeter Jaimie Branch (RIP) and drummer Jason Nazary pushed their playful jazz/electronics/beats blend further, into a new amalgamation that has free-jazz and hip-hop-oriented grooves, the messing-around-with-gadgets style of beat scientists, a punk-rock rebellious attitude and the loud immersive qualities of dub. As Branch herself wrote, “This is the shit that we want to be playing on big ass systems!” The ambling “Earthlings”, with Branch herself singing “we are not the earthlings that you know”, over producer Jeff Parker’s guitar, has rolled around my head all year like a personal anthem.
3. Rema – Rave & Roses (Mavin Records/Jonzing World)
Nigerian pop music has taken over the world – in 2022 a steady stream of singles hit high on charts across the globe, from an increasing array of superstars. Rema begins Rave & Roses with a birth story, imbued with the feeling that he’s destined for greatness. The next 15 songs are his showcase of that star quality – an edgy sweetness – within songs about love, broadly speaking (sex jams, songs of devotion, mantras of dedication), several starting with his tagline “another banger”. As much as it’s a star turn for Rema (with the mega-single “Calm Down” one of the jams of the year) it’s also one for Nigerian producer Michael “London” Hunter and a variety of collaborators, working within the over-expanding world of Afrobeats, with tentacles reaching out towards UK grime, US hip-hop, and more.
4. The Reds, Pinks & Purples – Summer at Land’s End (Slumberland)
The prolific indie-pop one-man act The Reds, Pinks & Purples (Glenn Donaldson) took his approach in a new, perfectly melancholy direction on Summer at Land’s End and its instrumental companion Mountain Lake Park. “You fell into a new way through”, Donaldson sings at one point, and he could be singing about death, or heartbreak, but his voice suggests some delicate hope to transition to something better. Song to song there’s that duality of deep sadness and a striving for something different and transporting.
5. Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time (Interscope/School Boy/604)
“After studying musical theatre for most of her school life and while in university…”, her Wikipedia entry starts. That theatrical angle to her emotional pop sound has never been clearer than on The Loneliest Time, which stands as a chronicle and dream-diary of the lovelorn and isolated. It’s her most diverse album, musically, like she’s changing sets and costumes with each song – starting with a statement of emotional courage (mantra: “I wanna be brave enough for everything….”) and ending with a fanciful Rufus Wainwright duet. In between are Western sojourns, a beach romp/dating app satire, the most perfect synth anthem to not hit the radio airwaves in the ‘80s, and so much more.
6. Porridge Radio – Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky (Secretly Canadian)
The Brighton, UK band Porridge Radio has the sort of building, driving sound that makes each song feel like an emotional journey leading to catharsis. This is the only kind of rock music I want to hear anymore, the kind where each word and sound is expressed like everyone’s life depends on it. On each of Porridge Radio’s albums, Dana Margolin and band have been constructing that approach (a kind of emo that’s actually listenable, and not whiny) – now it feels huge and stadium-ready even as the songs speak in an intimate way to everyone listening.
7. Tapani Rinne & Juha Maki-Patola – Open (Hush Hush)
I imagine the last few years of turmoil has led more listeners than just me to have go-to albums of stillness, quiet, a sense of enveloping calm and restoration. In 2022 my go-to was perhaps a more unlikely source than the epic experimental soundscapes I’m drawn to. Open is an hour of meditative ambient jazz from two Finnish musicians with decades-long careers who connected online during the pandemic and recorded this in their separate home studios. The feeling is that of pure beauty, sometimes completely still and then other times with busier but still feather-light melodic action from Rinne’s saxophone and clarinet, against Mäki-Patola’s arrangements of piano, organ, synthesizers and guitar.
8. Omah Lay – Boy Alone (Sire)
Nigerian singer Omah Lay is in a singular state of mind for much of his debut album, and it’s a dark one – fighting off depression, inner demons and the addictions and temptations they spawn; suppressing the scars of childhood to try and show the world a happy face. The smoothness and tenderness of his singing is what makes the feelings hit even harder, over of-the-moment production by a host of Nigerian up-and-comers.
9. Asake – Mr Money With the Vibe (YBNL Nation/Empire)
The debut album of Asake, a rising Nigerian star who hit new heights in 2022, has a let’s get-down-to-business efficiency that matches the stylized punchiness of his songs. All 12 tracks were produced by Magicsticks, who expands the Afrobeats palette by incorporating other dance music styles (amapiano, for one) into the sound while keeping a focused sense of spotlight on Asake’s eccentric, generous musical personality.
10. Kalia Vandever – Regrowth (New Amsterdam)
On her second album, Kalia Vandever brings a soft touch to the trombone that resembles a centering, healing force within a fast-moving flow of energy. Her compositions have a compelling sense of melody and space; she and her cracker-jack ensemble light fire with their playing.
Other 2022 albums I love and wholeheartedly recommend (roughly by category):
Ambient-experimental-atmospheric: Anja Lauvdal – From a Story Now Lost (Smalltown Supersound); Astrid Oster Mortensen – Skaergardslyd (Discreet Music); Billow Observatory – Stareside (Felte); Carmen Villain – Only Love From Now On (Smalltown Supersound); Dania – Voz (Geographic North); Dawn Richard / Spencer Zahn – Pigments (Merge); Dominic Voz – Right to the City (Beacon Sound);Kali Malone – Living Torch (Portraits GRM); Oren Ambarchi – Shebang; Rachika Nayar – Heaven Come Crashing (NNA Tapes); Rauelsson and Tatu Rönkkö – Myriadi (Beacon Sound); Taranoya – Flying (Sound as Language).
Blockbuster albums everyone’s already talking about as best of the year, and should be: Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (4AD); Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale and the Big Steppers (TDE); Rosalía – Motomami (Columbia); Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw); SZA – SOS (TDE); The 1975 – Being Funny In a Foreign Language (Dirty Hit).
Country: Ingrid Andress – Good Person (Warner Music Nashville); Jillian Jacqueline – Honestly (self-released); Kelsea Ballerini – Subject to Change (Black River); Maren Morris – Humble Quest (Columbia Nashville); Willi Carlisle – Peculiar Missouri (Free Dirt).
Folk: Anais Mitchell – Anais Mitchell (BMG); Jake Xerxes Fussell – Good and Green Again (Paradise of Bachelors); Joan Shelley – The Spur (No Quarter); The Weather Station – How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars (Fat Possum).
Hip-Hop: Babyface Ray –FACE and MOB (Wavy Gang/Empire); Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future (PH/Loma Vista); Earthgang – Ghetto Gods (Dreamville/Interscope); J.I.D – The Forever Story (Dreamville/Interscope); Rico Nasty – Las Ruinas (Sugar Trap); Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart (Motown).
Indie-Pop: The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field (Carpark); Crystal Eyes – The Sweetness Restored (Bobo Integral); Darren Hanlon – Life Tax (Flippin Yeah); Florist – Florist (Double Double Whammy); Flowertown – Half Yesterday (Mt. St. Mtn.); Fortunato Durutti Marinetti – Memory’s Fool (Bobo Integral); Free Time – Jangle Jargon (Bedroom Suck); Friendship – Love the Stranger (Merge); Galore – Blush EP (Paisley Shirt); Gordon McIntyre – Even With the Support of Others (Lost Map); Grace Ives – Janky Star (True Panther Sounds); Hatchie – Giving the World Away (Secretly Canadian); Lande Hekt – House Without a View (Get Better); Nervous Twitch – Some People Never Change (Reckless Yes); Pete Astor – Time on Earth (Tapete); Seasoning – The Condensation EP (self-released); Stella Donnelly – Flood (Secretly Canadian); The Stroppies – Levity (Tough Love).
Jazz: Anna Butterss – Activities (Colorfield); Binker & Moses – Feeding the Machine (Gearbox); I Am – Beyond (Division 81); Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand (Blue Note); Jose Arimatea – Brejo Das Almas (Rocinante); Leo Genovese – Ritual (577); Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio – The Bottom (Cuneiform); Makaya McCraven – In These Times (International Anthem/Nonesuch); Nduduzo Makhathani – In the Spirit of Ntu (Universal); Playfield – Stepping Out (577); Tommaso Moretti – Inside Out (Bace); Tumi Mogorosi – Group Theory: Black Music (Mushroom Hour Half Hour/New Soil).
Reissues: Ana y Jaime – Dire a mi gente (Munster); The Leaf Library – Library Music: Volume One (wiaiwya); Lining Time – Strike (Hot Salvation LTD/Shadow World); The Pyramids – Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings (Strut); The Stark Reality – …Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop (Now-Again); Tinariwen – Kel Tinariwen (Wedge); Travesía – Ni Un Minuto Mas de Dolor (Vampisoul).
Surprise ‘best album yet’ candidates by alt-indie types who’ve been around: Craig Finn – A Legacy of Rentals(Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers); The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out (Merge); Rhett Miller – The Misfit (ATO); Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (Jagjaguwar).
Zigzag/ragtag list of more favorites: Beach House – Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop); Bruno Morais – Poder Supremo (Sony); Charles Stepney – Step on Step (International Anthem); Claude Cooper – Myriad Sounds (Friendly); DJ Travella – Mr Mixondo (Nyege Nyege Tapes); Dorian Concept – What We Do for Others (Brainfeeder);Hagan – Textures (Python Syndicate); Iceboy Violet – The Vanity Project; It Was All a Dream – Never Forget You Are Free EP (Some Other Planet); Kyle Kidd – Soothsayer (American Dreams); Moor Mother – Jazz Codes (Anti); Nancy Mounir – Nozhet El Nofous (Simsara); Phelimuncasi – Ama Gogela (Nyege Nyege Tapes); Pongo – Sakidila (Universal); Rae Morris – Rachel @ Fairyland (RCA); Raveena – Asha’s Awakening (Warner); Sault – Today & Tomorrow (self-released); Say She She – Prism (Karma Chief); Sessa – Estrela Acesa (Mexican Summer); Tekla Peterson – Heart Press (Geographic North); Waajeed – Memoirs of Hi-Tech Jazz (Tresor); Wizkid – More Love Less Ego (Starboy/RCA).
Happy new year, one and all….