Best Albums of 2022

After taking a year off, now’s the time to dust off the danger zone and bring Kenny Bloggins back with 10 albums you absolutely need to hear—all released in 2022. Without further delay, here are the best and most important records of the year (according to a recovering music addict).

Curated Playlists:

1) The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta

Standout tracks:

  • Blacklight Shine
  • Graveyard Love
  • No Case Gain
  • Equus 3

The Mars Volta have a history. Those who need a quick lesson can continue reading here, while TMV theologians can fast forward to the next paragraph. In 2000, the band At The Drive-In released a critically acclaimed post-hardcore album and were on the precipice of becoming widely successful when suddenly, they called it quits (seemingly out of nowhere, but tensions in the band had been brewing for some time). Out of the ashes were born a pair of bands, splitting the group into two factions hereafter known as The Mars Volta and Sparta. The Mars Volta became well known for exploring complex storylines, atypical time signatures, and unique melodies while Sparta chose to produce more straightforward post-hardcore rock.

22 years later, The Mars Volta have released a new self-titled album, the first in 10 years (Sparta also put out a new record in 2022, which is also self-titled, and also great). Shimmering with golden album art, this is easily the most accessible collection of The Mars Volta songs, with listeners being rewarded by the bands ability to be more direct as the occasional oddity hits even harder than on previous work. Yet, this is not The Mars Volta “lite” nor does it travel down the same path as Sparta. Plenty of rapturous convolutions lurk from beneath the floorboards, likely since the material was born out of anger, danger, and fear stemming from trauma experienced by lyricist/singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s family as portrayed via a public trial of assault, Scientology, and conspiracy caused by a has-been 90s sitcom actor making very poor life decisions. This is dramatic, poignant, Latin-infused progressive rock at its best.

2) Anthony Green – Boom. Done.

Standout tracks:

  • So It Goes
  • Pleasure of the Feast
  • Center of It All
  • Maybe This Will Be the One

Boom. Done. dances in arduous circles around addiction—tales of how the entanglement of dark thoughts can break us down, how overindulgences can be used to heal, and how we can find light on the other side through the love of healing. While chemical dependency might be the primary muse, the lyrics can be interpreted through the lens of any form of addiction. There is pain throughout but also much to celebrate. Anthony Green’s heavy words are crooned with heady falsetto, creating tension. Masterful instrumentation coming from Tom Goodwin and Tim Arnold (longtime collaborators of Green’s, from the band Good Old War) then help to revitalize. Boom. Done. is a challenging excursion, especially if you pay close attention to the stories being told, but it’s ultimately an astonishingly rewarding undertaking for those who take a ride.  

3) St. Paul & The Broken Bones – The Alien Coast

Standout tracks:

  • Bermejo And The Devil
  • Minotaur
  • The Last Dance
  • Love Letter From A Red Roof Inn

St. Paul & The Broken Bones are new to me. All I knew was how groovy and unique their sound was (imagine if Cee Lo Green could actually rock and could get as gritty as Tom Waits, with backing from a band nearly good enough to give The Funk Brothers a run for their money). I recently learned that St Paul & co. are an eight-piece group from Birmingham, Alabama and have been around for some time, releasing their first record in 2014 and appearing on nearly all the late-night shows. What makes The Alien Coast stand out from other more traditional funk rock records are the uses of psychedelic textures, fuzzed-out synths, modern hip-hop production, and ultra-heavy rhythms. This is an explosive, soulful rock record from front to back.

4) The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention

Standout Tracks:

  • The Smoke
  • We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
  • Free in the Knowledge
  • Pana-vision

Endless magic seems to consistently flow from the boys in Radiohead. But with only two-fifths of the Kid A stalwarts here to form The Smile, you might expect a partially guillotined Radiohead. That’s just not the case—A Light for Attracting Attention may echo past work but with a more limited roster, including jazz drummer Tom Skinner, Johnny Greenwood’s arpeggiated genius shines even brighter without being abstracted, and perhaps Thom Yorke is able to deliver his classic howls more candidly in a groovier, less melancholic manner. It might seem like a patchwork group of songs upon first listen, but culminates into a spellbinding and cohesive collection of music over time.

5) Bartees Strange – Farm to Table

Standout tracks:

  • Heavy Heart
  • Mulholland Dr.
  • Hold the Line
  • Escape This Circus

Let’s clear the air—the hype surrounding Bartees Strange is justified. Listening to all of Farm to Table takes just 34 minutes and comes through like a journey across a vast valley of musical lexicons; rock, neo-soul, R&B, and even Midwest emo. This means Bartees carefully chooses which form each song should take based on the story he wishes to tell, and he does it well. Listeners who can break down the compartmentalization of styles will most enjoy Farm to Table for what it is—a fantastic genre-bending album from an artist who is just getting started. The resulting beauty of Farm to Table is heard in how full these songs sound, with moments of vulnerability ending in grandiose exclamations, and cautious falsettos leading to invigorating choruses.  

6) Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows

Standout tracks:

  • Rand McNally
  • Fragments From the Decade
  • Pepper
  • Here to Forever

Existing fans of Death Cab for Cutie will love Asphalt Meadows (you can even stop reading now and put the record on if Transatlanticism or Plans are still in your constant rotation). It’s been accurately hailed as a mature midlife work that’s among their best. I’ve personally been watching Ben Gibbard grow from quirky indie rocker during the early aughts into a well-respected songwriter, which has been one of my favorite music encounters—all this in parallel with finishing college, starting a family, and moving away from California to make my homestead in Death Cab’s stomping grounds near Seattle, Washington. Asphalt Meadows became the perfect soundtrack for my daughter and I this winter while driving her to school on white snow-covered streets, smiling at horses covered in heavy blankets as we passed, and breathing in the cold winter air. These songs bring me back to the first time I heard Death Cab but also benefit from Gibbard’s improved songmanship over the years, and are sure to be at the top of the DCFC cannon.

7) Anchor & Bear – No More Nights On the Roof

Standout tracks:

  • I’ll Give You Fire
  • Red Ink
  • Glad It’s Over
  • Red Letter Days

There’s no need to hide my connection to Anchor & Bear, a band created by my older brother and sister-in-law, which I have also had the opportunity to play in. There’s also no need for me to feel obligated to include their latest release No More Nights On the Roof on this list other than the fact that this is a masterwork in power pop that deserves significant recognition. No More Nights sees the California outfit painting a portrait that takes the best elements of their previous works (beautiful bridges, tasteful echo/reverb, crafty songwriting) and lifts them to new textures on a canvas that is uniformly enjoyable and unbelievably catchy, sometimes brilliantly so. This is the record for late nights, on the roof or not.

8) Andrew Bird – Inside Problems

Standout tracks:

  • Underlands
  • Never Fall Apart
  • Make a Picture
  • Faithless Ghost

I’m new to Andrew Bird and it’s clear to see I’ve been missing out on an extraordinary artist. Inside Problems is chock full of some of my favorite folk-rock musical elements; featured throughout are punchy and warm 60s bass, smooth drumming, string accompaniment (the violin playing is handled by Andrew himself), and well-constructed melodies. This would be much higher on the list had I discovered Bird earlier in the year and I’m sure this vinyl will eat away at my record player needle in the decades to come.

9) Brent Faiyaz – Wasteland

Standout tracks:

  • Price of Fame
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Role Model
  • Bad Luck

Wasteland is a brutally honest R&B album from Columbian-born artist Brent Faiyaz with heavy beats and frictionless vocals. The guest spots (Alicia Keys, Drake, The Neptunes) are notable but aren’t particularly even album highlights. Wasteland really excels when Brent Faiyaz’s soulful, smooth, and slippery hymns are front-and-center in the mix, sliding alongside remarkably fresh production.  

10) Frontperson – Parade

Standout tracks:

  • Ostalgie (Fur C. Bishoff)
  • Messy Roomz
  • Parade
  • I Fall Out

Parade comes off like a Sangria Lemonade, or maybe a fresh Bellini during Sunday Brunch. Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers) and Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) make up the Canadian indie pop duo Frontperson; they are like two simple ingredients that when mixed together create something fizzy and refreshing. The songs here twinkle and shine, but are by no means simple, having enough underlying rock tension to keep you curious about what’s to come after Parade.

Vinyl View: Harry Nilsson – A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night

Delicately crafted orchestral arrangements accompany impeccable vocals from one of the ’70s greatest artists. Comfort music at it’s finest.  

It was between McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney, the new Rx Bandits LP Gemini, Her Majesty or a third record, and more importantly an artist that I had shrugged off for years — an artist I knew had some serious clout (this musician had been recommended to me by my musical pundit brother many times before) but was never given a fair chance.

Listening to a Harry Nilsson record always felt like a gamble — a Russian roulette of the turntable that could result in 45 minutes of precious vinyl time I could never get back. His name would pop up in conversations both familial and semi-social and I figured I would half like it, half think it was unworthy of spinning again. Thankfully, I finally gave this aforementioned artist a chance.

130717_CBOX_Nilsson.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeA Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night is incredible and sounds like something you would hear in a dimly lit café somewhere in Venice. The arrangements are spectacular (a tip of the cap to conductor and arranger Gordon Jenkins) and the production is absolutely perfect (thanks to Derek Taylor’s clean and crisp vision). This record is one part comfort and two parts fervor.

The real genius in this record lies within Harry’s ability to take a bunch of standards, sung previously by the likes of Nat Cole, Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra, and transform them into songs that feel more like “In My Life” (Beatles) than “That’s Life” (Sinatra). Nilsson was capable of taking these classic cuts and nudging them into the modern era with a contemporary twist. Even in 2014, these songs feel more like tracks from a lost Ben Folds album rather than songs you might hear at a rundown karaoke bar.

Nilsson’s tone is welcoming on nearly every song, especially album opener “Lazy Moon” and “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It).” Delicate string arrangements accompany his captivating voice all throughout A Little Touch with a prime example being the echoing orchestration on “For Me And My Gal.” But the highlight of his singing abilities is shown during the falsetto breakdown of “This Is All I Ask.”

Nilsson and Lennon John Lennon always spoke of Harry with very high regard and is reported as saying, “Nilsson’s my favorite group.” Nilsson has clearly mastered the art of dynamics with a perfect vocal delivery on every song. The album’s closer “As Time Goes By” sounds familiar at first but it quickly becomes apparent that Harry’s take feels warmer than any previous versions.

Each song takes the listener to a place where wine glasses never empty, the fireplace never goes out and good conversation never ends with tracks both full of comfort (“What’ll I Do”) and familiarity (“Always”).

Final View:  While the songs are borrowed, the passion is unique and Harry’s vocals are unmatched. Whether or not they realize it, the Adeles and Bublés owe something to Mr. Nilsson for bridging the gap between vintage 1940s singers and contemporary artists. A Little Touch gives you a taste of life where everything feels settled and placed right where it should be.

Overall score: 8.5/10

Lovedrug – Wild Blood : It’s A Killer, Not A Filler

What makes an album great? Is it the slick production that gets you? Maybe it’s the goosebumps that show up when you’re cruising down a dark highway and you hear a melody that just wont escape your head.

For me, it can be simple at times to tell when an album is great. The instruments will blend together like they were born for each other. In the same sense, vocals will sound like they don’t need any instrumental accompaniment to make sense and the lyrics that make an instant impact.

But usually, it takes a much more complicated scenario combined with the above to formulate what I consider to be a “great” album. Sometimes it’s a carefully choreographed soundscape consisting of one crunching guitar resounding through my left ear – while my right side is treated to a glistening lead guitar riff full of reverb and treble.  One factor that remains consistent is the need for me to listen to the album over and over (when I wake up all I want is to hear that one part of that one song). 

This “complicated” scenario can be found all over Lovedrug’s latest release titled Wild Blood. To categorize Lovedrug as an alternative band or even put them somewhere near the rock genre  immediately places restraints on a group of artists that have developed an album worthy of being described as entrancingly ingenious. Wild Blood combines beauty, sadness, virtue, energy and hope into an album that constantly blurs genres and rules.

One of my favorite tracks of the last year can be found on this album, the prehistorically named Dinosaur.  It starts with the bold lyric, “Fever – drugs – money – blood. Is it bad for love?”.  Dinosaur is a very different song both lyrically and musicaly compared to what I would usually consider to be my favorite cut on an album. The chugging rhythm guitar is answered with a clean lead guitar melody that gets you prepared for the chorus. “We were dinosaurs in the end…like we’d opt out of survival in lieu of some survival pretense”, referring to a companionship doomed from the start for extinction – something every romantic can relate to with a past relationship. In the middle of the song lead singer Michael Shepard whispers “we were”, making sure you are still listening and ready to be haunted for the rest of the cut.

Listen to Dinosaur here:

Another standout track, Pink Champagne, begins with circling cymbals and solid snare drum snaps. Everything feels like a pop song trudging through molasses until the chorus hits and everything changes. “Sure shot – you were always my sure shot” – describes someone whose guaranteed plans fell completely apart. As with every song on Wild Blood, this track combines solid rhythm work with a remarkable vocal melody.  Happiness can be found in the sadness (at least for the listener) because of the melancholic beauty trembling from this track.

Listen to Pink Champagne here:

Other notable tracks include the simplistically epic Premonition, the insanely catchy Your Country and the tender ballad Girl where Shepard’s vocals have never sounded better.

Overall this album contains some serious guitar work coupled with impressive drumming and solid bass backing. The vocals are on a whole different level as most songs could be listened to with no instrumentation needed. While Shepard previously resembled a young Billy Corgan, on Wild Blood he has found a home for his voice. That home is right at the point where beauty and chaos meet.

*Recommended if you like: Muse, Thrice – Beggars, and anything from piano rock to 90’s alternative

Download this album here:

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