Records of the Year 2022
So, here they are, in an order that currently makes sense to me (but no doubt will change the second it's published). What is definite is that these records, especially those in the top 10, have been on constant rotation
1. Rich Ruth – I Survived It’s Over (Third Man) [BUY]
Recorded under a loft bed in the guest bedroom of his Nashville home, Michael Ruth aka Rich Ruth’s “I Survived, It’s Over” starts in a humble space. And while many contemporary music projects are produced in such an environment, “I Survived, It’s Over” sets itself apart in its transformative properties as well as its transparency. What we have here is honest sound exploration, session musician-level instrumentation, and a true love for nature run through the fingers of a dude who can channel some acute and undeniable magic. This music goes deep. "I conceived much of this record amidst the quiet and tumult of 2020 in my neighborhood that had recently been ravaged by a tornado," Ruth recalls, "I spent most of my days working on these pieces between bicycle rides - watching the beautiful Tennessee ecosystem flourish in Shelby Park, listening to Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert and John Coltrane’s Ascension." Underneath the swell of the strings and the shredding of the guitars, this record has hard working, rustbelt, drum-heavy roots all over it (which makes sense as Ruth hails from outside of Toledo, the album was mixed by John McEntire from Chicago band Tortoise). Many of the flutes, saxophones, pedal steel, and other instruments were recorded remotely because we live in the future, but this only adds to the collage of sampled and sample-able material that Rich Ruth has to offer. The organic relationships between the artist and other musicians on the album is evident even in the compilation style sampling that needs to occur in putting such a project together. "Working on this music is a daily meditation," says Ruth. "I constantly experiment with sound until it reflects the way I am feeling and attempt to sculpt something meaningful from it. Through years of being a touring musician, it is a constant inspiration and privilege to collaborate with the individuals that graced this record with their voices." And those relationships pay off, because “I Survived, It’s Over” is a sonic meal. It’s rich (no pun intended) with massive instrumentation that’s usually reserved for more symphonic delights. But at the same time it’s simple and leaves space to breathe–space you didn’t know you needed. In his own words; "I Survived, It’s Over is a meditation on healing, confronting trauma, surrendering, and finding peace. I wanted to encapsulate the tranquility and disarray found within this process." Ruth’s heart and the peace that his presence produces is all over this album. And despite his midwestern humility and willingness to brush off any praise, he’s put together something really special that carries its own weight. It's the kind of record that only comes around every once in a while and it's worthy of all the head-bobs, acclaim, and celebratory potlucks that Mike and the gang have coming their way. “I Survived, It’s Over” is a record you should buy for your friend, your foe, and yourself. It’ll sit perfectly on your shelf between Alice Coltrane and Hiroshi Yoshimura.
2. Peel Dream Magazine – Pad (Tough Love) [BUY]
3. Carla Dal Forno – Come Around (Kallista) [BUY}
4. Eiko Ishibashi – For McCoy (Black Truffle) [BUY]
For McCoy, a new work by Eiko Ishibashi dedicated to the widely loved character of Jack McCoy, portrayed by Sam Waterston in Law & Order. Following on from Hyakki Yagyō (BT064), For McCoy finds Ishibashi further exploring the unique space she has carved out in recent years, bringing together musique concrète techniques, ECM-inspired jazz, lush layers of synths and hints of pop into immersive and affecting structures crafted in her home studio, aided by a group of close collaborators.
5. Astrel K – Flickering i (Duophonic) [BUY]
Evolving the tactics of works like Quixotism, Hubris and Simian Angel, Oren Ambarchi invites an international all-star cast to dialogue with his guitar and triggers inventions. Intricate theme-and-variations build upon the staccato rhythms via expansive improvs from BJ Cole, Sam Dunscomb, Chris Abrahams, Jim O’Rourke and Julia Reidy. Bridging minimalism, contemporary electronics, and classic ECM stylings, and bringing together a cast of preternaturally talented contributors, Shebang is unmistakably the work of Oren Ambarchi: obsessively detailed, relentlessly rhythmic, unabashedly celebratory.
7. Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Heart’s Aglow (Sub Pop) [BUY]
Technological agitation. Narcissism fatigue. A galaxy of isolation. These are the new norms keeping Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering) up at night and the themes at the heart of her latest release, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow. The celestial-influenced folk album is her follow-up to the acclaimed Titanic Rising. While Titanic Rising was an observation of doom to come, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is about being in the thick of it: a search for an escape hatch to liberate us from algorithms and ideological chaos.
8. Szun Waves – Earth Patterns (Leaf) [BUY]
9. Mark Peters – Red Sunset Dreams (Sonic Cathedral) [BUY]
10. Bitchin Bajas - Bajascillators (Drag City) [BUY]
Bajascillators arrives almost five years since their last official full- length, 2017’s Bajas Fresh. In the eight years prior to Bajas Fresh, Bitchin Bajas issued seven albums, plus cassettes, EPs, singles... wave after wave of analogue synth tones and zones extending into a stratospheric arc. Each release its own headspace, shape and timbre, each one sliding naturally into their implacable, eternal gene pool. Its expansive grooves gathering resonance and building momentum over the four sides, from genesis to re-conclusion, cascading ecstatically. The elastic magic of time at its brightest.
More 2022 favourites:
Lucrecia Dalt - ¡Ay! [BUY]
Channeling innate sensory echoes of growing up in Colombia, where traditional instrumentation encounters adventurous impulse and sci-fi meditations
Group Listening – Piano & Clarinet Selected Works Vol.2 [BUY]
A haunting, meditative and lovingly considered selection box of clarinet and piano re-works of songs by Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Robbie Basho, Laraaji, Neu!, Grand River, and more.
Movietone – Peel Sessions [BUY]
Movietone did their first John Peel Session a few weeks after the release if their debut single she smiled mandarine like in 1994. They went on to do three Peel Sessions in total between 1994-1997. These sessions do not exist online and have never previously been heard by anyone other than those who listened to the original broadcasts, making this essentially a new release from Bristol's finest
The Reds, Pinks & Purples – Summer At Land’s End [BUY]
Combining Glenn Donaldson’s rueful pop sensibility with a parallel musical universe, one composed of pictures, dreams, and feelings without words. Even if the underlying theme of this collection is one of conflict or unhappiness, the vision of the music presents an escape to a new world, always fading in and out of sight.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You [BUY]
A sprawling double-LP exploring the outer edges of their kaleidoscopic wigged-out folk-rock
Eric Chenaux – Say Laura [BUY]
The five wandering, wondering ballads on Say Laura bring Chenaux's semi-improvised but keenly intentional songwriting to its fullest, clearest, warmest and coolest articulation; uncompromising and generous, hyper-specific and loose, spartan and luxurious, elemental and ornate.
Caroline – Caroline [BUY]
These songs are expansive and emotive pieces, their rich palette drawing on a mixture of choral singing, Midwestern emo and Appalachian folk.
K. Freund – Hunter On The Wing [BUY]
Piano, handmade electronics, tenor sax, couple strings. Sounds you could roll around in your palm and consider different, complex, and flawed textures. Feel the weight
Modern Nature – Island Of Noise [BUY]
Island Of Noise represents an absolute career highlight, combining Cooper’s celebrated songwriting and compositional skills with a free flowing expansiveness coloured by British free music luminaries
Yasuaki Shimizu - Kiren [BUY]
Following the release of his widely regarded solo classic Kakashi, from 1982, and the otherworldly Utakata No Hibi, by Mariah in 1983, he went into the studio the following year to record a mystifying collection of experimental dance music, utilizing cutting-edge technology and studio trickery
Aldous Harding – Warm Chris [BUY]
A sparse and oblique return from the New Zealander, whose gentle psychedelic folk and beguiling free association proudly resist interpretation
Isik Kural – In February [BUY]
Across the album’s twelve songs, each composed from chance loops and cocooned within the soft container of Isik’s memorable voice and melody play, time is held on to hopefully, impossibly, eternally
Masahiro Takahashi – Flowering Tree, Distant Moon [BUY]
Following a harsh Toronto winter, Takahashi began crafting hushed, lush vignettes of color wheel electronics with an array of software synthesizers, granular samplers, plug-in FX, MIDI controllers, and a shruti box based on the seasons
BAIT – Sea Change [BUY]
A digital post-punk lockdown docu-record which watches the clock, gets the jitters, and lashes out just like the rest of us. It’s an internal monologue that accounts the anxiety, the struggles, the pressures experienced living by the sea during a global pandemic.
Pye Corner Audio – Let's Emerge! [BUY]
Bathed in sunlight and acid-bright psychedelia - "The Beach Boys, tremolo guitars, infinite drones, Spacemen 3. Let’s emerge from this darkened era and feel the Warmth Of The Sun"
Ghost Power – Ghost Power [BUY]
Ghost Power are Jeremy Novak [Dymaxion] and Timothy Gane. Closer in sound to Cavern of Anti-Matter, than Gane's day job, but no less great
The Soundcarriers – Wilds [BUY]
Eschewing fads and trends, they have instead focused on honing their own sonic world that glides between woozy psychedelia, immersive grooves, subtle pop and rich, enveloping soundscapes
Beach House – Once Twice Melody [BUY]
Panoramic, unapologetically lush, but strangely intimate eighth album from the dream-pop duo
Alison Cotton – The Portrait You Painted Of Me [BUY]
The touchstones of her immersive sound are viola, harmonium and voice, merged together to create a rich suite of songs. Haunted dolorous harmonium and viola folk for dark winter nights
Cool Maritime – Big Earth Energy [BUY]
Cool Maritime has swapped the mossy analog synth improvisations of his prior output for refined melodic arrangements dressed in sprightly dawn-of-digital textures. Spinning an impressionistic narrative world off of cultural touchstones like the PC game MYST, and the work of Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi
Steven R Smith - Spring [BUY]
Exploring small notions that shift and expand to reveal a private sort of grandeur. The restrained interplay between Smith (on guitar, piano, percussion etc.) and Davis create a warmth and intimacy akin to Mark Hollis' masterful eponymous solo LP.
Better Corners – Modern Dance Gold [BUY]
A jagged sound-scape of a remote interaction shaping up across the ether. Grouper meeting Thelonious Monk for an impromptu jam with the Incapacitants, Muslimgauze, Della Derbyshire, Stars of the Lid, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Kim Gordon, The Creatures, Sunn o))), and Sun Ra
Michael Head – Dear Scott [BUY]
Finding that luck, love and letting things roll works out for him just fine, Michael Head leads his Red Elastic Band into a fresh chapter with optimism and some of the best music of his career
Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance [BUY]
Versions of Modern Performance offers many pathways. You can hear elements of the ‘80s and ‘90s independent music the band love so deeply and sincerely—the scuzzy melodicism of what used to be called "college rock," the cool, bubbly space-age sheen of the ‘90s vamps on lounge and noir; the warm, noisy roar of shoegaze; the economical hooks and rhythms of post-punk.
Kelly Lee Owens – LP.8 [BUY]
Recorded in Oslo, with noted noise musician Lasse Marhaug, LP.8 pairs tough, industrial sounds with ethereal Celtic mysticism, creating music that ebbs and flows between tension and release
The Utopia Strong – International Treasure [BUY]
The Utopia Strong’s formidable conflagration of psychedelic radiance and beatific harmony has evolved way beyond all or any expectations, a deeply rewarding voyage into inner space which moves into darker and still more evocative sound-worlds whilst remaining fundamentally off the map.
XAM Duo - II [BUY]
The journey begins and ends with the beat-driven songs, taking in shorter ambient jams along the way, making use of saxophone, drawn out tape chords, floating Rhodes piano and spaced-out synths, alongside very precise and intentional, sequenced and punchy synth tones
Joys Union Group – Boredom Euphoria [BUY]
Blurring the lines between new age, jazz and "New Weird America"-esque psychedelia, Joys Union Group fully feels like an organic, living entity, rather than a sequence of electronic signals; heady, deep, jammy & blissful
Flowertown – Half Yesterday [BUY]
Twangy lead guitar, high-neck bass notes, and percussion woven together in the decay of a warm reverb, tells the dreamy, temperate, story of the people in a living, thriving, city.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Let’s Turn It Into Sound [BUY]
Though ambient and modern new age circles have embraced Smith’s catalog, Let’s Turn it Into Sound favors a more baroque and robust form of avant-pop. The music bursts with vertiginous vocal harmonies and detailed sound design, forming a truly unique sonic vision.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale & The Big Steppers [BUY]
Kendrick Lamar's first album in 5 years, the sprawling and dense double Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is a cathartic, soul-baring autobiography
Makaya McCraven – In These Times [BUY]
A collection of polytemporal compositions inspired as much by broader cultural struggles as his personal experience as a product of a multinational, working class musician community. Featuring orchestral, large ensemble arrangements interwoven with the signature ‘organic beat music’ sound that’s become his signature
Vieux Farka Toure & Khruangbin – Ali [BUY]
Vieux, aka ‘the Hendrix of the Sahara’, pays homage to his father, Ali (‘the African John Lee Hooker’) by recreating some of his most resonant work, putting new twists on it while maintaining the original’s integrity. The result is a rightful ode to a legend.
Brian Eno - Foreverandevermore [BUY]
A sonically beguiling, ultimately optimistic exploration of the narrowing, precarious future of humanity and our planet. As Eno himself concludes, "Briefly, we need to fall in love again, but this time with Nature, with Civilisation and with our hopes for the future."
Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork [BUY]
Furious alt-rock anthems combine across the record with jangle pop and ambient noise, demonstrating the wealth of influences the band feed off and their deep musicality
Asylums – Signs of Life [BUY]
Drawing inspiration from a spectrum of human emotions and examining how they intersected with technology during the accelerated change of the last few years. As well as dialling their manic rock sound up to 10 this record also draws from the likes of R.E.M., The Magnetic Fields and The Beatles, who all arguably made some of their best work during a live hiatus
Molly Lewis - Mirage [BUY]
Molly Lewis’s compositions seem to float into our ears from distant shores, they’re otherworldly, drawn more from landscapes of dream than from anywhere you could find on a map. Her trademark whistle has graced recordings of everything from Schumann lieder and Brazilian jazz to Spaghetti Western ballads and noir lounge. Capacious and atmospheric, Mirage is Lewis’s most hypnotic effort yet.
Darren Hayman – You Will Not Die [BUY]
24 brooding and soulful drum machine and synth songs, that sit among the ex-Hefner mans most emotive work
Fenella – The Metallic Index [BUY]
Jane Weavers experimental ensemble in collaboration with Peter Philipson and Raz Ullah, Fenella return with an hallucinogenic excursion into ambient textures and hypnagogic drones
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom - Reset [BUY]
Nine gloriously, feverishly hook-bound tracks. Loops crafter from the ornate intros of Eddie Cochran or the Everly Brothers, twisting and bending the parts like scrap metal