By Jason Boucher
Here it is. There are many ‘top albums of the year’ listed all over the Internet and in magazines, but this one is mine. I try to listen to as much new music as I can every year, knowing that there are plenty of records that I either did not discover or simply ran out of time… But after a very strenuous process, I’ve chosen my top 10 albums of 2022 to share with you. There were so many incredible releases this calendar year it was wicked hard to choose the top ten, but alas, here we go! Thanks for reading.
Note: The complete list of my top 50 albums of 2022 will arrive later next week.
1. Dehd Blue Skies (Fat Possum)
This retro-sounding post-punk Chicago trio creates loud, easy to sing along in-your-face tunes. Guitarist Jason Balla’s reverb-style 80’s guitar playing combined with the powerful, yet simple drumming of Eric McGrady make this the rock trio of the year. Bassist Emily Kempf’s superpower is her amazing voice with its intentional stutters, shouting, and yelping that make her songs bigger than life. It’s unusual and certainly off-center, but I absolutely love the rawness and resonance behind her voice. Kempf’s distinctive vocal arrangements give the band a different sound than the tracks where lead vocals are either shared in harmony or when Balla or McGrady do the honors. Without Kemp’s lead vocals, those songs project a different kind of sound — The Church meets Gene Loves Jezebel (the early stuff) maybe? Signed to Fat Possum earlier this year, Dehd will only grow on you with each new listen. It’s rock music stripped down and done right. If you’re new to this band, you must check out 2020’s Flower of Devotion. It could be from a 1980s John Hughes soundtrack-no kidding. Similar artists include Cherry Glazer and Horsegirl.
2. The Smile A Light for Attracting Attention (XL Recordings)
When the Covid pandemic terminated all live music, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead wanted to keep working, even in isolation, so they created a new project called, The Smile. The two members of Radiohead enlisted Tom Skinner of Sons of Kemet to play drums and the result is… well, very similar to a Radiohead album but there are some differences. For example, many tracks on this beautiful album include the strings of the London Contemporary Orchestra and a full brass section of the best jazz musicians in London, including Byron Wallen, Theon & Nathaniel Cross, Chelsea Carmichael, Robert Stillman, and Jason Yarde. Produced by longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich, it’s a mixture of rock, post-punk, nu-jazz, and electronic. ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’ was released last May and it’s one of my favorite LPs this year. Similar artists include Radiohead and Thom Yorke.
3. Makaya McCraven In These Times (International Anthem / Nonesuch)
After seeing McCraven and his various ensembles perform live twice this year—once in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Sinclair and another a few months later at the 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival, I feel connected and more and more familiar with his amazing body of convoluted, yet satisfying works of audible art. Each time I hear In These Times, I picture him behind the drum kit, working hard to build each beat, each repetition, creating unique sounds and rhythms, and concentrating while sweating on his snare and lap—but he sets the tone and the other musicians, all super-talented in their own right, try to keep up with his changes, but sometimes he’s on his own percussion planet. McCraven is a master percussionist—he’s probably my favorite musician right now and he’s one artist you need to see live. It took him almost seven years to record this genre-bending album with various sessions in various locations. From the result, it seems the time was worth it.
Other players include guitarist Jeff Parker, Brandee Younger on harp, Junius Paul on bass, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Marta Sofia Honer on viola, Greg Ward on the alto sax, Marquis Hill on trumpet, De’Sean Jones on flute, Matt Gold on rhythm guitar, Irvin Pierce on tenor sax, and Rob Clearfield on the piano. There are no similar artists…
4. Caroline Caroline (Rough Trade)
Sometimes hard to describe, this British eight-piece band will surprise you. Let’s call it bastard-folk music for the emo generation. Seriously, it’s hard to fit this band into a single genre or compare them to another band. The British folk sound of the 70s is present, and so is the abstract sound of Appalachia, but it’s so much more than that. For example, the fourth track, IWR, showcases beautiful harmonies, and gorgeous gothic-era-sounding acoustic guitar where the song blossoms into a full jam session complete with an assortment of string instruments including a subdued violin and simple taps of percussion. There is no set verse, chorus, or bridge to these songs, you just have to go along on the journey and listen to the story that Caroline is telling. Leave structure at the door and put the album on repeat — because it’s one of the top albums of the year. Similar artists include Low, Dirty Three, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Neutral Milk Hotel, Planxty, Current 93.
5. Whatever the Weather Whatever the Weather (Ghostly)
‘Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.’
Just like that, London’s Loraine James has created an album so beautiful, it doesn’t matter how confusing the historic British tongue-twisting poem above appears. James recorded, produced, and released this album as Whatever The Weather instead of her actual name which works in various degrees. Each track is named after a different temperature and the composition’s mood correlates with every degree. Each track is a unique, inspiring, and intelligent piece of electronic music. Listen to the many layers, voices, and atmospheres James creates for us to indulge upon, especially at 17ºC, 25ºC, and 30ºC. Whether it’s hot or cold, or in between—the fluctuating temperatures and the climate of improvisation James creates are unpredictable, just like the weather, but each song is worth your time. And don’t skip over 14ºC, it shows off her gorgeous, ambient piano playing. Surprisingly, Whatever the Weather is a great album to listen to while working. It’s one of my favorite releases of 2022 and it’s been on repeat in my house pretty much all of the autumn season. Similar artists: Meitei, Nala Sinephro, Beatrice Dillon.
6. Big Thief Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (4AD)
I first saw Big Thief on July 30, 2017 opening for Wilco at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine. That’s when I first recognized just how great a singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker is—the band’s stage presence was also impressive. They were a young band but seemed like old souls full of stories to share and on their newest release, which is more folk-like, it shows. The band has matured and the aspects of Americana and indie rock are present—they combine to make one of the best albums released in 2022.
From the Appalachian-infused jam on Spud Infinity, which has an incredible fiddle and a jaws harp along for the ride, to the calmness of the title track’s slide guitar, soul-stirring vocals, and gentle brush strokes softly hitting the drums. Then there’s the harmonies and beauty of Sparrow to Simulation Swarm with its uptempo, cozy folk-rock feel and inspiring lyrics. All twenty tracks offer joy, you can’t find a bad song on this LP—it’s a masterpiece. Did you know that every member of Big Thief graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston? it’s where they met and formed the band. Similar artists include Wilco, Jim James, Angel Olsen, Lucy Dacus, and Beechwood Sparks.
7. Chris Forsyth Evolution Here We Come (No Quarter)
Forsyth’s tremendous guitar work continues on Evolution Here We Come, his first studio album since 2019’s All Time Present. It’s a perfect recipe for the top album of the year because it’s all about an experimental jam band that meets raw blues outside the club using motorik fidelity, which is a 4/4 beat that was often used by Krautrock bands such as Neu! At times you could call it psychedelic rock, too. This album rocks!
Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day bass player Doug McCombs joins the cast adding his flare and pulsating electric bass all over the album with Ryan Jewell on drums and percussion. Other special guests on this record include Marshall Allen of Sun Ra Arkestra) Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate, Tom Malach of Garcia Peoples, and Stuart Bogie of Antibalas. Similar artists include Garcia Peoples, Sonic Youth, 75 Dollar Bill, Endless Boogie
8. Esmerine Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More (Constellation)
Montreal, Quebec’s Esmerine returned in the second half of 2022 with their seventh studio album and first new album in over five years. This album, and the band for that matter, simply defy being put into a category of music because there are so many moving parts including the gorgeous cello of Rebecca Foon (Set Fire To Flames, Thee Silver Mt Zion), the enthralling piano and subtle bass playing of Philippe Charbonneau with the delicate, well-timed percussion of Bruce Cawdron and Brian Sanderson’s violin and collection of woodwinds.
Call it chamber rock, if that’s a thing–if not then it should be! But seriously, this record is the soundtrack to anyone wandering Montreal’s Mile End in a scenic snowstorm toward Parc du Mont-Royal, contemplating what’s the meaning of life. It’s romantic, metaphysical, deep and it’s melancholy with a sense of hope. You might shed a tear–I did and it’s okay because the composed sounds and the magnificent music they create together make me feel safe. It’s just a gorgeous album. Similar artists include Rachel’s, HRSTA, and Sigur Ros but nothing compares to Esmerine.
9. Bitchin Bajas Bajascillators (Drag City)
Their brand-new gatefold album includes four selections of analog synth tones that will take your feet off the ground and make you feel weightless. Each new listen ends with the feeling of nirvana because —surprise—you just meditated even if you didn’t realize it. Amorpha, the opening track, has the drone-like hypnotic atmosphere and mesmerizing synth you’re looking for, but it ends so much differently with a track called, Quackenbrück, which reminds me of early German Krautrock music like Neu, or Gong but mixed with the sounds of the rainforest and Somerset, England’s Ozric Tentacles. Similar artists include Neu!, Laraaji, Orb, and Ozric Tentacles.
10. Oren Ambarchi, Ghosted (Drag City)
Australian musician and composer Oren Ambarchi released two albums this year. Shebang, the polyrhythmic minimalist jazz album, was released in September while Ghosted, featuring Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums) was released in April. Ghosted is made up of four hauntingly hypnotic parts. Its mesmerizing and minimalist repetition progress ever so slightly with evolving layers that create an ambient work of art. Each piece unravels steadily, never losing steam carrying the listener into gentle hypnotic grooves, which makes this album a candidate for album of the year. Using ingredients of jazz and experimental, each part eventually settles into a deep groove. Similar artists include Directions, Tortoise, and Philip Jeck.
Jason Boucher is a music lover and the host of Music Re:port & Port:Authority on soundwaves. He’s also a music curator, vinyl collector, and a Portsmouth, NH-based social media and digital content strategist currently working at The University of New Hampshire as director of social media. Go Wildcats!
The Music Re:port’s Top 10 albums of the year show: