From Black Country, New Road’s masterclass in stylistic evolution to The Mars Volta’s long-awaited return.
From the outset 2022 seemed fated to be a fruitful year in terms of artistic output, succeeding the anomalous circumstances of musical acts throughout the world being able to draw from the experiences of both two years largely spent at home in solitude and the recent acclimatisation to an accelerating pace of life post-pandemic.
Spanning overwhelming favourites to secluded jewels that may have evaded the radars of some, find our ten favourite albums of the year presented in alphabetical order below.
Black Country, New Road
Ants From Up There
High hopes have always been synonymous with Black Country, New Road. Hailed during their infancy as ‘the best band in the world’, thereafter the London septet’s barn-burning debut album For the first time made a formidable impression on the musical landscape of 2021: bagging instant critical acclaim, a Mercury Prize nomination and lofty expectations among legions of fans regarding what stood to come next.
Reemerging just one year later with the dust afforded a mere fragment of time to settle Ants From Up There delivered both a masterclass in stylistic evolution and a remarkable swan song for departed vocalist/guitarist Isaac Wood that would leave listeners hanging on his every measure and word. A softer counterpoint to its wiry and austere predecessor, the immediacy that previously rattled the bones of audiences within South London institution The Windmill and a singular mastery of dynamic shifts remain in tact and as effective as ever, deftly punctuating the group’s hairpin turn in to pastoral chamber pop realms and lyrical matter that exhibits Woods’ unrivalled powers of introspection.
Recommended track(s): ‘Bread Song’, ‘Snow Globes’, ‘Basketball Shoes’
(Rough Trade Records)
Extracting meaning from the minutiae and thriving in its carefully cultivated quietude, the long-awaited debut album from London ensemble caroline marked one of the most understated yet rewarding listens of the year.
Through a rustic palette largely centred around vocals, guitars, orchestral strings and most critically, a bewitching use of space, short motifs and simple chord repetitions wash over the album in wave-like cycles, each reprisal more hypnotic than the last. A must-listen for both post-rock enthusiasts and those seeking respite from a rapidly accelerating pace of life post-pandemic. Hit play, turn off the noise of the world outside and drift away.
Recommended track(s): ‘Dark blue’, ‘IWR’, ‘Skydiving onto the library roof’
DOMi & JD Beck
(Blue Note Records/APESHIT, Inc.)
The intercontinental duo of DOMi & JD Beck were firmly en route to their rightful place at the vanguard of contemporary jazz long before details of their debut album emerged. First garnering plaudits for electrifying live takes on songs by the likes of MF DOOM and John Coltrane shared within the digital realm, the chutzpah required to tackle and artfully reconfigure such imposing works later captured the attentions of Anderson .Paak and Blue Note Records who signed on to provide a springboard for the pair’s prodigious abilities.
Composed and articulated to near perfection, NOT TiGHT proved wholly worth the wait to swathes of fans upon its release, deploying rapid-fire keyboard runs, drunken grooves that slink around the pocket and a liberal dose of dizzying rudiment combinations with aplomb, tempered only by a playfulness that lends fresh perspective and seldom-seen approachability to an oft-daunting musical sphere. With a debut artistic statement as focused, formidable and virtuosic as theirs, the future of jazz appears to be in safe hands.
Recommended track(s): ‘SMiLE’, ‘TAKE A CHANCE’, ‘PiLOT’
Brookyn’s Nick Hakim knows no other way than to bear his soul for all to see. Since the release of 2017’s Green Twins the singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer has sustained an enchanting presence within his stirring musical domain, bolstered by testimonials from a far-reaching spectrum of peers spanning neo soul luminary Erykah Badu to such troubadours of New York’s fringes as Arto Lindsay and Roy Nathanson.
Released in succession of his collaboration with the aforesaid Lounge Lizards alumnus COMETA may well mark Hakim’s finest work to date, presenting a joyful portrait of love through hair-raising, rasped vocals that levitate over the musician’s delicate assemblage of warm and enveloping lo-fi tones. Whilst an understated song cycle at face value repeat listens will yield rewards to those that pursue, clearing heady plumes of tape hiss to reveal the layered and rich complexities of Hakim’s creative nous.
Recommended track(s): ‘Happen’, ‘Feeling Myself’, ‘M1’, ‘Perfume’
West Yorkshire boogie merchants Holodrum were an auspicious prospect from their inception, signalling a congregation of various longstanding and venerable fixtures from the vibrant musical community of Leeds whose collective resume spans time served with *inhales deeply* Cowtown, Drahla, Hookworms, Mucky Sailor, XAM Duo, Yard Act and more.
Moulding their far-reaching individual experiences in to fervent dance floor mutations that call to mind the unmistakeable lens of early 1980s era New York, the septet’s debut album skilfully coalesces gauzy driving guitars, frenzied horns, astral synthesis and a taut, sweat-soaked rhythmic backdrop for enrapturing results that allow touchstones to be known without ever overstaying their welcome.
Recommended track(s): ‘No Dither’, ‘Low Light’
The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta
In the thick of their elaborate and bombastic first life as a band it’s likely that few fans saw a plausible future in The Mars Volta‘s emerging aspirations to craft an album of music able to sit loosely within the confinements of the term ‘pop’.
Returning to action with amends made and renewed focus some eleven years after the lionised group’s untimely dissolution, core members Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López swiftly acted to quash the rumblings of naysayers through the creation of an eponymous seventh album that fully realised their defiant vision, steering a fabled and labyrinthine legacy in to newfound terrain shaped by brevity and forthright, sobering lyricism.
A divisive move? Perhaps, but with great risk comes great reward. 2022 will go down in the history books as the year Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López skilfully affirmed to a fanbase who largely relish technicality that if a song is great, neither brevity or simplicity will threaten its greatness. In fact, it can often serve as an enhancement and leave you wanting more.
Recommended track(s): ‘Blacklight Shine’, ‘Graveyard Love’, ‘Blank Condolences’
(Forever Living Originals)
This year saw elusive UK collective SAULT release not one, nor two, but six full-length projects. Peerless in their eclecticism and proliferation, the Inflo-helmed group’s latest collection of works traversed typically disparate ground from swooning orchestral movements to guttural punk-leaning eruptions.
Though all commendable in their scope 11 would ultimately prove the victor when faced with a process of elimination, honing in with a clockwork exactitude on hallmarks of the group’s most enduring prior works from bold gospel mantras to tightly coiled funk grooves.
Recommended track(s): ‘Together’, ‘Higher’, ‘Fight For Love’
The Liquified Throne Of Simplicity
Those seeking a transportive and left of field listening experience needn’t look further than Slovenian folk trio Širom‘s fourth album The Liquified Throne Of Simplicity, provided that you have the required eighty minutes to spare.
An ambitious statement that brandishes huge potential whilst running the gamut of acoustic instrumentation from the globe’s farthest corners, each of the project’s five constituent parts are deeply vivid, whether leading an orchestra of drones to fever pitch or reducing its palette down to little more than a duet of arresting vocals and gently thumbed strings.
Recommended track(s): ‘Wilted Superstition Engaged in Copulation’, ‘Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts into Sleep’, ‘A Blueish Flickering’
Toro y Moi
One would be forgiving if an artist of Toro Y Moi’s accolades and tenure wished to loosen the reigns, sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour after over ten years of output, yet San Fran multi-hyphenate Chaz Bear has time and time again proven himself to not bear an inclination to rest on laurels.
MAHAL serves as a testament Bear’s lasting longevity, deftly encompassing the best moments of his celebrated discography under the Toro Y Moi moniker to date from shaggy psych rock dripping with modulation to heady, synth-laden chillwave splendour. If the rubbery funk strut of ‘Postman’ doesn’t propel you to the dance floor with paramount urgency then you may need to check your pulse.
Recommended track(s): ‘Goes By So Fast’, ‘Magazine’, ‘Postman’, ‘The Loop’
And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
The music of Weyes Blood has long been viewed with reverence by folks of a particular crowd, but it was through the craft displayed on 2019’s sensational Titantic Rising that singer-songwriter Natalie Mering arose to stardom and received critical acclaim from a wider public. Marking the second in a trilogy of releases, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow steadfastly continues down the intricate and lavish path forged by its predecessor, carrying forward the same sprawling scope and transfixing emotional pull. Comparisons to the perennial canons of Karen Carpenter et al are becoming fair game at this juncture in Mering’s similarly accomplished career.
Recommended track(s): ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’, ‘God Turn Me Into A Flower’
billy woods – Aethiopes (Backwoodz Studioz) – Buy / Stream
black midi – Hellfire (Rough Trade Records) – Buy / Stream
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes (BMG) – Buy / Stream
Alabaster dePlume – GOLD (International Anthem) – Buy / Stream
Disheveled Cuss – Into The Couch (Self released) – Buy / Stream
Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B (Rough Trade Records) – Buy / Stream
John Carroll Kirby – Dance Ancestral (Stones Throw Records) – Buy / Stream
Ravyn Lenae – Hypnos (Atlantic Records) – Stream
MIKE – Beware Of The Monkey (10k) – Buy / Stream
Saâda Bonaire – 1992 (Captured Tracks) – Buy / Stream
Loris S. Sarid & Innis Chonnel – Where The Round Things Live (12th Isle) – Buy / Stream
Danny Scott Lane – Wave To Mikey (Glossy Mistakes) – Buy / Stream
Sun Ra Arkestra – Living Sky (Omni Sound LLC) – Buy / Stream
Leland Whitty – Anyhow (Innovative Leisure) – Buy / Stream
Anand Wilder – I Don’t Know My Words (Last Gang Records) – Buy / Stream
Words by Sam Wilkinson.
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