One of my annual traditions is to spend the last few weeks of the year taking time off from work and focusing on what really matters: making top 10 lists. Usually, when it comes to music, I re-listen to albums I liked and discover new favorites from other best of the year posts while playing Destiny 2, the alien shooting video game that I really like. But this time, things were different. This year, I decided to get an early start on my New Year’s resolution to stop wasting time and money on live service games by myself (a carefully worded goal that allows a Final Fantasy and Fortnite loophole). So I didn’t get to do mindless gaming mixed with music listening as 2022 burned out of the blue and into the black. Instead, I acted like a real normie and played a bunch of holiday tunes, especially Low’s legendary Christmas EP which has seemed even more essential following Mimi Parker’s death in November. I think we all agree that “Just Like Christmas” is an essential part of the canon now.
All this is to say that I immediately regret my decisions because I both a) miss Destiny and Genshin Impact (which probably means it was a good resolution, but that’s not helping me right now) and b) I sat down to start writing this post with a list of 31 albums to sort through… and probably another 20+ that could have made it if I listened to them more. So forgive me any typos and the inevitable brevity. As this morning gives way to the afternoon and then the evening and likely tomorrow morning and hopefully not tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to have to make some quick, arbitrary calls on what I write about. This is just as important for you to know as it is to Future Sean, who is possibly working on his best of the 2020s list and revisiting this post. To him I say: hey dude, hope things are better. Please go back and look at the spreadsheet we made. There are some really good records on there that we might like even more than the ones I’m about to list below!
Alex G – God Save the Animals
Anaïs Mitchell – Anaïs Mitchell
Bartees Strange – Farm To Table
The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field
Caitlin Rose – CAZIMI
Makaya McCraven – In These Times
Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever
Sylvan Esso – No Rules Sandy
One thing all those stellar honorable mentions up there don’t reveal is an undeniable personal truth: I listened to Life on Earth more than any of them. Possibly more than all of them combined. According to the 2022 Apple Music Replay, this was my eighth most listened to album of the whole year. That includes not new music! So I’m not gonna overthink it, Hurray for the Riff Raff gets this spot. Alynda Segarra is the first of several New Yorker singer/songwriters I’ll have on this list, and I think the reason that I listened to Life on Earth so many times is that I missed them so much. They released The Navigator in early 2017, at the start of the last presidency, and it just feels like so much has happened since then. It’s almost as if life on earth is long.
Rachika Nayar’s Heaven Come Crashing features her melodic, droning guitar finding a middle ground between ambient and dance music. I read that sentence, or something like it, somewhere (likely Pitchfork) and was immediately sold on this album. That’s enough that in a time long ago, I would have gone to a record store and bought this CD without even taking it to the like sample headphones thing. But we don’t live in those times anymore, I just had to copy and paste her name into my phone and I was all set to listen to Nayar’s maximalist musical mutations wherever and whenever I wanted. Well, maybe not… Heaven Come Crashing may be kind of a spooky choice to listen to while walking the streets at night. It’s more for when it’s 2 am and you’re still sitting at your computer — or even doing something cooler than that.
Along with Expert in a Dying Field, this was a great year for Beths! Weather Alive came out in September but I hadn’t heard of it, or Beth Orton, until exactly three weeks ago today, when Colin posted about it. He compared it to The Weather Station (who had another album out this year that was pretty good, by the way) and Cassandra Jenkins, so I knew I had to listen to it and I basically had it on repeat throughout my last working week of 2022. This is the kind of thing that makes me insecure about music. It had been out for months and I’d never heard of it. Beth Orton has been putting out albums for 30 years and I’d never heard of her. Stay vigilant, kiddos. Your favorite album of all time is probably one you haven’t even heard yet.
Emily Sprague, like Rachika Nayar, is an ambient artist from Brooklyn. But she spends some of her time fronting a band called Florist, which went extremely Bon Iver in 2022: after being basically Sprague’s solo project for a couple albums, the group reunited at a rental house in the Hudson Valley and started recording music from their porch. I know what you’re thinking, but I believe this started way back in 2019, before the pandemic made doing this sort of thing extremely bougie. The resulting hour-long album is, at least to me, incredibly pleasant and relaxing to listen to. The type of record you could listen to comfortably laying in a meadow on a warm summer’s evening or while you nestle into cryosleep as your spaceship hurtles into intergalactic space on your way to Andromeda. You know, one of those.
I mean, Colin pretty much already wrote it. Destroyer probably peaked with Kaputt more than a decade ago (or Rubies fully five years before that) but the four albums that Dan Bejar et al. have released since then have consistently provided a fresh dose of the magic that is this band. It’s weirdly tricky to try to explain, because I wouldn’t even say that the group has stagnated… they’re still evolving, just without leaving their specific niche. As the band matures and I get older, I value even more how reliable Destroyer is. It’s always a good idea to put them on, everyone likes them, they work in basically every context. They’re not destoryers at all! We should call them Builder.
Speaking of Canadian bands, I really liked Alvvays (the album) and Antisocialites but 2017 seems so long ago I kind of forgot about Alvvays (the band) and the possibility they could come out with a third album. This was a reference to a Game of Thrones meme, you’re welcome. Unlike Game of Thrones, Alvvays seems to be getting even better as they go on, if you couldn’t tell by the widespread praise Blue Rev has gotten.
I’ve liked Big Thief ever since they had the audacity to name their first track and first album Masterpiece. Things got complicated this summer when they announced plans to play shows in Tel Aviv, the hometown of bassist Max Oleartchik, which flies in the face of the BDS Movement, despite the band’s stated support for Palestine. After a social media backlash, the shows were cancelled and the band apologized but it seems like they lost a lot of fans regardless. The whole thing makes me really anxious. In truth, I’ve always been skeptical that boycotts can actually accomplish anything and I love this double album too much to let geopolitics get in the way of enjoying it… But I have been a lot quieter about it though. I don’t know man. What’s the right thing to do?
If you type “Nilüfer Yanya” into your browser it gets the red squiggly misspelling lines and if you right click on that for a suggestions it says “Sniffer Tanya.” That’s brutal, man. That’s her real name. Anyway, I’m still not sure if I like PAINLESS more than Miss Universe but I am more certain than ever that I love Yanya’s powerful voice and chunky guitar.
Running with the Hurricane is one of those rare, instant classic albums where every single song is good. Not even one clunker in there. The eponymous second track had me immediately thinking of another all-timer, Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone, and I think Camp Cope stands up favorably to that comparison. Also, I love how extremely Australian Georgia Maq’s vocals are. Not since Courtney Barnett have I been so immediately certain where a singer was from. She comes from a land down under! Oh boy, my reference game is really awful right now. Sorry about that, we’ve gone into Friday morning at this point and I need to get this done.
There are certain bands that, when they put out a new album, will almost certainly make my favorites of the year list. I’m talking the Destroyers and the Sylvan Essos of the world. Then, a tier above them, are an elite few who will pretty much always be #1 that year. Bon Iver is probably there, maybe Wye Oak. The one duo that I know for sure I hold in that high esteem is Beach House (note: I looked it up after I wrote this and I am wrong, 2018 proves it and also makes me wish I liked Laurel Hell more than I did (it was fine)). The Baltimore-based dream pop group is as close as I have to a favorite band, and I was overjoyed to find out they topped their dual releases of 2015 by putting out their first double album in 2022. Like Big Thief but better! Is Once Twice Melody too much for normal people? Probably. Is it heaven for those who worship at this particular altar? Yeah dude. I know there’s a lot of really popular music that I totally missed out on this year because I was happy just listening to this album. It may be out of sight, but never out of mind.