Here is what you haven’t been waiting for, my top fifty albums of 2022. I’m not sure about the ranking thing, but I can’t deny it’s fun to put things into some sort of order and to make grandiose claims about one of them being THE BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR EVER. All of the albums here are albums I have bought this year, and they are all wonderful in their own strange ways. No doubt something you love isn’t here, that may be because I forgot all about it, because I genuinely didn’t know about it, or because I deliberately left it out just to irritate you. I’m not proud of that. It’s just who I am.
Anyway, here are the best albums of the year, numbers 50-41…
Remember the nineties? Sure you do. And if you don’t then you’ve seen the films, and read the books. You might even be able to remember the eighties, when indie meant something more than a bucket hat and a Stone Island jacket. The point is, if you remember those dim and distant days of pop ’n’ roll history you will remember Fatima Mansions, Microdisney and their supremely gifted songwriter, Cathal Coughlan. You may not remember, or even have heard of, fellow Irish musicians, Compulsion, who were part of the “New Wave Of New Wave”…which was Britpop before Britpop. Compulsion included Garret “Jacknife” Lee, who went on to enjoy quite the career as a producer, working with the likes of REM and Robbie Williams among others. All of which is to set the scene for the pair's incredible Telefis project. This is the sort of fascinatingly glossy, gloriously unfussy, disco pop and dance floor filling wonder that normally exists only in your own head.
Emotions run wild, and free, across all twelve tracks of the latest offering from Hercules & Love Affair. This is an album full of haunting, and affecting, moments. From the dark, and urgent, pulses of the opener “Grace” and the electroclash thud and thump disco of “One”, (the first of six tracks to feature the divine Anohni), this is an album to guide you through dark nights of the soul, and still have you dancing across the floor of your own private disco.
An album that is infused with cinematic swoop, electronic beats, hip-hop breaks, and an aching sadness that could bring tears to the eyes of anyone with a heart. A debut album this strong, is both thrilling and terrifying. If things are this good at the start, how good could things get next time out?
This is the sort of thing which reminds me of a remark once made by a certain account on Twitter. Discussing the latest release from Damon Albarn they stated that it was the kind of thing which is described as “challenging” or “difficult”, before opining that this was code for things being “shit”. What this revealed was that the person making the comment wasn’t prepared to be challenged,
or to have to work to understand something, they wanted instant gratification, background music for their beige existence. “LP 8” is not music for people like that. This is immersive, beautiful, emotional, honest, and at times challenging music. There craft and grace here in abundance. A beautiful piece of work.
A wild, disturbing, unsettling, whirlpool of emotion and creativity. There are moments of wonderful melody here, but they are flashed before you and are then whipped away by noises off. The voice is distorted, the words drifting past you like ghosts, the effect is, often, unsettling. In short, this is fabulous.
Fragile X has built an album that seeks to address the nature of our existence. It offers no answers, no solutions, but, instead, asks questions and in doing so encourages, demands, that we think and grow. There are philosophical concerns here from Descarte and the belief that our existence is proven by our ability to think and on to the Aristotelian ethical concept of human flourishing, of living well; eudaimonia. These are challenging ideas, reaching far beyond the world of rock and roll…demanding more from the listener.
A difficult year for Black Country, New Road, with the departure of lead vocalist Isaac Wood, who shared concerns over his mental health as lying behind his decision to depart. The band have decided to carry on, leaving the door open for Wood to return in the future. “Ants From Up There” is the usual unusual from this most difficult to define of bands, experimental, baroque, pop, folk, post-punk, and maybe more are all present and (in)correct across the band. There are nods to the likes of Smog (Concorde is a good example of that) and others, but they always sound exactly like themselves. A nice trick if you can pull it off.
“…delves into the past to peer at the future” is how the Spotify blurb describes “The Long Count”. That seems about right for an album that seems to have a place alongside hauntological artists like Haiku Salut. If not hauntological, it is certainly haunting, and perhaps a little disturbing. Everything here is sparse, there are wide expanses of space filled with silence, and then whispers of voices and noises drift across the sonic vista. Or something. An album that has to be listened to with care.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? That is an easier question to answer than “How do you explain a band like Animal Collective?”. With Maria you just put her in charge of some sickly sweet children and let her go wild on the curtains in the nursery. Animal Collective are a more challenging proposition. If they were left in charge of the kids from “The Sound of Music” they would have them creating experimental Krautrock albums to perform at one of the glittering balls their dad threw. “Time Skiffs” is full of the usual experimentation we have grown to expect, but it is also a gorgeously melodic album. The songs reflect the cut ’n’ paste collage of the album's artwork, a mosaic of this lovely thing, and that lovely thing, all bound together to make their own lovely thing.
I think this is the fourteenth Eels studio album? That’s ignoring another five that E has released as solo projects or under other names. He’s been releasing music since 1985, it is difficult to fathom just how much music he has recorded. Despite that most of your friends probably couldn’t name a single song by Eels…if that’s the case you need better friends. One of my favourite Eels moments came when a DJ at a Britpop night dropped “Novocaine For The Soul” in their set. The reaction from some people was hilarious, inspiring and comforting. With “Extreme Witchcraft”, we have some of the most giddy, delightful, and beautiful work that E has ever released, this should have been a massive success, and “Strawberries And Popcorn” would have been a number one record in a world better than this one.