Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Totally Fine: My Favorite Albums of 2022

Editor's note: Check out my podcast discussion with Jay Breitling about our favorite music of '22 on Completely Conspicuous (here's parts 1 and 2).

The album isn't what it used to be. Not in terms of quality, but stature. Sure, an album released by Taylor Swift or Adele will still do big business, but the vast majority of albums don't sell like they once did. For rock musicians, releasing albums isn't the potential ticket to success that it was 25 years ago. But fortunately for old folks like me, they still release them anyway.

Touring is a way for artists to make some money, but even that isn't a guarantee to do much more than break even. It's tough sledding if you're in a rock band these days. That said, I still found plenty of great music to enjoy last year. Here's my top 15 albums:

15. Wet Leg - s/t: This buzz bin duo from the Isle of Wight caught fire with “Chaise Longue” in 2021, but they don’t let up on their debut. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers hark back to the blog rock glory days of the early aughts with guitar-driven rockers and clever wordplay. Teasdale’s super-laid back vocal delivery implies slacker-rock, but clearly, they’re having a blast. Choice cuts: "Chaise Longue," "Ur Mum," "Wet Dream"


14. Superchunk - Wild Loneliness: The mighty Chunk dials down the fury of 2018’s What a Time to Be Alive, taking a more subdued look at big issues like climate change and pandemic life. Mac McCaughan and co. may not be yelling about Trump-era injustice on this album, but they’re still potent. Choice cuts: "Refracting," "Endless Summer," "City of the Dead"


13. Built to Spill - When the Wind Forgets Your Name: It’s a lot to ask of Doug Martsch to expect him to top the peak of Built to Spill’s ‘90s greatness. Their run of albums from There’s Nothing Wrong With Love to Perfect From Now On to Keep It Like a Secret is uniformly outstanding. The band’s four albums since then, on the other hand, are hit or miss. But this release, recorded with a band that was replaced before the latest tour, recalls some of that earlier BTS sound while also mixing in some jammier stuff. Martsch is still a terrific guitarist and he still likes to rip sweet solos, and there’s nothing wrong about that. Choice cuts: "Gonna Lose," "Comes a Day," "Fool’s Gold"


12. Kal Marks - My Name Is Hell: The Boston noise-rockers led by singer-guitarist Carl Shane (who reformed the band with new members after its split a few years ago) unleash a gnarly, ornery and unrepentantly loud album that harnesses anger into a cathartic blast. What is Shane angry about? Politics, religion, financial stability…the topics aren’t new, but the band’s post-hardcore fury feels fresh. Choice cuts: "Ovation," "Everybody Hertz," "Debt"


11. Alvvays - Blue Rev: On its third album, Toronto act takes its dream pop sound to a new level. Combining Molly Rankin’s angelic vocals with big guitars and lots of synths, Alvvays packs a lot of depth into their songs. Choice cuts: "Pharmacist," "Pomeranian Spinster," "Easy On Your Own?"   


10. Fontaines DC - Skinty Fia: London-via-Dublin post-punk band expands their sound on third album. Moody and lean, the Fontaines explore relationships, addiction and being Irish. A little more restrained than their first two records but also more pointed. Choice cuts: "Jackie Down the Line," "Roman Holiday," "Bloomsday"


9. The Smile - A Light For Attracting Attention: Radiohead doods fill the gap between Radiohead albums with a Radioheady album that sounds pretty goddamn good to these ears. Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood teamed up with drummer Tom Skinner to provide Radiohead fans with a reasonable facsimile of that band’s sound. Yorke and Greenwood trade off on guitar, bass and keyboards throughout and Yorke provides lacerating vocals, ripping into Harvey Weinstein-esque offenders at one point and delving into romantic ups and downs at others. An inspired work. Choice cuts: "You Will Never Work in Television Again," "Pana-vision," "Thin Thing"


8. Hammered Hulls - Careening: Hammered Hulls is a relatively new band, but its members have a shit ton of experience in the DC scene: Singer Alec MacKaye (brother of Ian) has sung in plenty of bands including the Untouchables, Ignition, and Faith; bassist Mary Timony is better known for Helium, Wild Flag and Ex Hex; guitarist Mark Cisneros was in Des Demonas, Kid Congo Powers and the Make Up; and drummer Chris Wilson also plays in TItus Andronicus and previously was in Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. The album’s 12 tracks are furious, righteous and downright exhilarating. Hints of Fugazi and the Minutemen; a worthy entrant into the Dischord catalog, Choice cuts: "Bog People," "Rights and Reproduction," "Needlepoint Tiger"


7. Horsegirl - Versions of Modern Performance: This young Chicago trio (two are in college, one in high school) may be in their late teens, but they’re not afraid to wear their 90s indie influences on their collective sleeve. There’s definitely a strong Sonic Youth vibe (made stronger by the appearance of Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley on a pair of songs) with guitars to match and cryptic lyrics. The whole things add up to a pleasurable, fuzzy guitar record that’s over in a hurry and makes you want to start it again. Choice cuts: "Homage to Birdnoculars," "Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty)," "World of Pots and Pans"


6. Oceanator - Nothing’s Ever Fine: Magnificent collection of nostalgic indie rock from Elise Okusami, featuring hot guitar and heavy riffs. Songs about driving around in the summertime (The Last Summer, Beach Days (Alive Again)), dealing with life’s disappointments (Bad Brain Daze, Stuck), and touring (From the Van). Hot rocker. Choice cuts: "From the Van," "Bad Brain Daze," "The Last Summer "


 5. Kiwi Jr. - Chopper: It was a good year for Toronto-based acts. Kiwi Jr. has been bringing the heat for a few years now. On their third album in the last four years, these jangle-rock jammers mix in some synths to their propulsive sound and come up with an album of winners. Lyrically, frontman Jeremy Gaudet fills his songs with tons of pop culture references, a la Craig Finn but with a Canuck POV. Choice cuts: "Parasite II," "Night Vision," "Contract Killers"


4. Titus Andronicus - The Will to Live: Patrick “Patty Stacks” Stickles pulls out all the rock stops on the band’s 7th album. Big riffs, rollicking choruses, reflections on God and Satan writ large. Some of the songs touch on the aftermath of the death of Stickles’ cousin and occasional bandmate, Matt Miller. Backed by powerhouse drummer Chris Wilson, who also plays in Hammered Hulls (and Ted Leo’s band previously), Titus is firing on all cylinders here. Choice cuts: "(I’m) Screwed," "An Anomaly," "All Through the Night"


3. The Afghan Whigs - How Do You Burn?: Greg Dulli is back with a compelling album that calls back to past collaborations: the late Mark Lanegan is a ghostly presence, Marcy May duets with Dulli on a sequel to 1993’s My Curse, Susan Marshall and Van Hunt also contribute backing vocals. The band covers the classic Whigs gamut, from all-out rockers to R&B workouts to mournful laments. Choice cuts: "I’ll  Make You See God," "Jyja," "The Getaway"


 2.  Sloan - Steady: Power pop legends deliver yet another collection of amazingly catchy rock songs. Four songwriters, four singers, all killer, no filler. Recorded mainly in isolation over the last few years, you’d never know it from the immediacy of these songs. Choice cuts: "Scratch the Surface," "Dream It All Over Again," "Magical Thinking" 


1.  PUP - The Unraveling of PUPtheband: Concept album from Toronto pop-punk outfit about the trials and tribulation of a Toronto pop-punk outfit named PUP. They combine smartass lyrics about the ridiculousness of the music biz with catchy choruses and piledriving riffs. Never not satisfying. Choice cuts: "Waiting," "Robot Writes a Love Song," "Grim Reaping"


Honorable mention:

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Endless Rooms

Spoon - Lucifer on the Sofa

Jon Spencer & the Hitmakers - Spencer Gets It Lit!

OFF! - Free LSD

Drive-By Truckers - Welcome to Club XIII

Black Angels - Wilderness of Mirrors

Adulkt Life - Book of Curses

Sharon Van Etten - We’re Going About This All Wrong

Pet Fox - A Face In Your Life

Ex-Hyena - Moon Reflections

Preoccupations - Arrangements

Metric - Formentera

Archers of Loaf - REason In Decline

Ty Segall - Hello, Hi

Pilot to Gunner - Hail Hallucinator

Tony Molina - In the Fade

Mountain Goats - Bleed Out

The Beths - Expert in a Dying Field

Dendrons - 5-3-8

Near Beer - s/t

Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork

Osees - A Foul Form

Pink Mountaintops - Peacock Pools: 

Destroyer - Labyrinthitis

Papercuts - Past Life Regression

Savak - Human Error/Human Delight

Sasami - Squeeze

Kurt Vile - (watch my moves)

Kids on a Crime Spree - Fall in Love, Not in Line

Yard Act - The Overload

Adulkt Life - Book of Curses

Mister Goblin - Bunny

Bodega - Broken Equipment

Guided By Voices - Crystal Nuns Cathedral

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - Night Gnomes

Elvis Costello and the Imposters - The Boy Named If


Pavement - Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal

The Flashing Lights - Where the Change Is





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