Thursday, June 22, 2023

My favorite albums 90 albums of 2022 (plus some other opinions)

I'm publishing this a little late again this year, but hey, the competition for year-end lists is nonexistent right now. So enjoy, and I hope you find some gems to delve into.

Def Leppard
Biggest Disappointments: Arcade Fire's WE was supposed to be a big rock happening and it certainly does have ambitions, but even the best tracks never propel and often come off like second-rate Tom Petty or Bjork. A new Hoodoo Gurus album is always welcome, but Chariot of the Gods is mostly awful except two or three pretty-good tunes. Red Hot Chili Peppers really push the limits of taste and editing with Unlimited Love, which has two songs ("Not the One" and "It's Only Natural") I like and a whole slew I don't. The same can be said of the over-stuffed (I guess at least they were prolific this year) Return of the Dream Canteen. Jack White's Fear of the Dawn has lots of creative exploratory sounds but it's mostly guitar wankery bordering on rap-rock that isn't very enjoyable. Sondra Lerche's Avatars of Love has him reaching for tuneless melodies. Old Crow Medicine Show's Paint This Town is by far the least inspired effort I've ever heard from the best bluegrass rock band around. Sunflower Bean made my 2018 and 2019 lists but there's nothing memorable from Headful of Sugar. It's a little unfair to put Def Leppard's Diamond Star Halos release in this category because it's actually pretty good, but it's also pretty unneccessary. As a long-time fan, it pains me to say that of Montreal's I Feel Safe With You, Trash is too weird for me, even if it is a warped version of other greats like The Bee Gees, Prince, and Pink Floyd. Same goes for the band's Freewave Lucifer f>ck f>ck f>ck ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead's XI: BLEED HERE NOW is overblown in the band's usual way but with far fewer hooks than usual. King Princess's Hold On Baby was one I was really looking forward to but the entire thing flails wildly and unenjoyably. Broken Bells' INTO THE BLUE ends the string of strong side-project releases from the leaders of The Shins and Danger Mouse. The Smashing Pumpkins' ATUM - Act 1 has a few ok tunes, but most of it isn't good and some is just embarrasing.

Best EPs: Weezer keeps prolifically pumping out music with SZNZ: Spring and it's all excellent emo-power-pop. Same goes for SZNZ: Summer and SZNZ: Winter. If you love rock music, there’s simply no excuse for not finding something to love in the music of these consummate pros. Waxahatchee's El Deafo is a minor release for work she did for an Apple TV kids show, but any Waxahatchee is great Waxahatchee. Michael Beatty's 42nd Street Hymn displays my friend's Elton John-level piano playing with a beautiful lyrical trip around the Big Apple. PJ Western's Here I Go is three tunes of groovy rock from L.A. that I know nothing else about.

Best Reissues/Box Sets: Lemonheads' 
It's a Shame About Ray (30th Annversary) is one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite artists, and I own almost everything on offer here already, but it's a great place to start for those unaware of the magic of leader Evan Dando. While not technically a reissue, Tegan and Sara's Still Jealous is an acoustic retelling of many of their best songs and it offers more insight into how great their songwriting has been over the years. Pavement's Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal continues the massive remastering and compiling project of the band's albums, and repeat listens to this one reveal what seemed like a lesser release at the time to be a direction-changing masterpiece. Lou Reed's I'm So Free: The 1971 MCA Demos is a perfect quiet setting for this great setlist to display its beauty and, it can be said, early perfection. Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Deluxe Edition) is a massive collection of the songs in various formats from that album; for serious die-hards but also great to just shuffle all day. The Beatles' Revolver (Deluxe) is a fun and important listen once or twice, but the final versions of all these songs are so perfectly selected out of all the outtakes, that the band should be given a reward for so strikingly recognizing their best material so consistently. Blondie's Against the Odds: 1974-1982 reminded me how much I actually love this band and how much deeper its catalog of key cuts goes beyond the greatest hits.

Best Live Albums: The Beatles' Get Back (Rooftop Performance) is so similar to the Let It Be recordings that it's hardly necessary; that said, it also shows how amazing The Beatles live would have been in the second half of the band's career. Elvis Presley's Elvis on Tour is a pretty stunning box set (I honestly have only listened to the Hampton Roads show) of late-period Elvis. He was a swinging, loose, really cool dude at this point.

Lainey Wilson
90. Lainey Wilson
: Bell Bottom Country (I quite like a handful of the more Gaga-like ballads on this release, but the rest is way too mainstream country cheese)
89. The Volunteered: We Fall Apart (this London band bills itself as "a less miseable Sparklehorse." I'm there)
88. Chime School: Chime School (this San Francisco outlet is perfect for anyone who prefers their rock in the jangle form of The Byrds, R.E.M., and Tom Petty)
87. Cheap Star: Wish I Could See You (this Euro band harkens to the sounds of 1990s indie more than Cheap Trick and Big Star, but it's not far from those 70s bands either)
86. Liam Gallagher: C'MON YOU KNOW (this review is the same as Lainey Wilson's above, but replace "mainstream country" with "Britpop")
85. Julia Jacklin: PRE PLEASURE (this Australian's cool dirges paint warm pictures, with the album's first four songs as the highlights)
84. Personal Trainer: Big Love Blanket (this Amsterdam outfit markets in party songs along the lines of LCD Soundsystem and the New Pornographers)
83. Neil Young with Crazy Horse: Toast (there are plenty of stinkers here but when Neil is at his best, as with about three songs on this release, he still reaches heights of beautiful glory)
82. Silversun Pickups: Physical Thrills (this band still throws back to Smashing Pumpkins territory, and it knows how to write a song, as evidenced by the five tunes I love here, but it also knows how to not sound very good, as evidenced by the rest)
81. Mason Jennings: Real Heart (the Minneapolis pop-folkster who released several really good albums in the early 2000s has laid pretty low lately, but this is an enjoyable minor return)
80. Jack Johnson: Meet the Moonlight (a pretty minor, but still quietly beautiful as always, release from the surfman)
79. Superorganism
: World Wide Pop (this isn't as good as the band's debut four long years ago, with too much vocoder and wack-job stuff thrown into the kitchen sink, and even the Stephen Malkmus contributions don't match his standards, but it's still an intriguing listen)
78. Destroyer: LABYRINTHITIS (By Destroyer standards, this is a real misfire. But he sets the bar high for himself, and while this release never really takes off, like the not-quite-great 7-minute opening track, it's still somewhat addictive)
77. Sea Power: Everything Was Forever (I'll always love this British space-rock band, even if this release is not quite as great as past records like Do You Like Rock Music and The Decline of British Sea Power)
76. Dehd: Blue Skies (this is my first exposure to this Chicago indie-rock three-piece, but their stuttering and lo-key approach is right up my alley)
75. Drive By Truckers: Welcome to Club XIII (this seems to have been inspired by a trip to a gentleman's club and is a pretty middle-of-the-road DBT release, which means pretty darn good)
74. Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time (I love Willie so much and this album has a bunch of stand-out tracks, especially on the second half)
73. Ryan Adams: Chris (this is epically long and there are very few standout tracks, but it's still a good alt-country listen throughout) 
72. Craig Finn: A Legacy of Rentals (this one from The Hold Steady's leader borders on going into the Biggest Disappointment category because it tails off severely in the second half, but there happen to be about five poetically tight jams at the top)
71. Will Sheff: Nothing Special (Okkervil River and Shearwater's frontman goes out on his own for this one and offers a tender slice into the beautiful mind and world of one of indie rocks's most compelling artists)
Steve Lacy
70. Steve Lacy
: Gemini Rights (the former Internet guitarist has a quirky, Peter Brady-voice way about him that lends originality to the world of R&B)
69. Pink Mountaintops: Peacock Pools (the Canadian freak stoner pop this band puts out is always a treat; there are a handful of greatest-hits worthy tunes and the rest is all interestingly groovy weird)
68. Josh Rouse: Going Places (I always like his pop-leaning folk and this one is no exception, lots of great little tunes to hum, kind of in the Jack Johnson mold)
67. Willie Nelson: American Rebel (prolific as always, Willie covers 18 early 60s tunes, with his usual Willie awesomeness. Highlight: Why Are You Pickin' On Me?)
66. Robyn Hitchcock: Shufflemania (after a break from songwriting during the pandemic, the modern answer to Syd Barrett is back in rocking, weird, pop style)
65. Helen Love: This is My World (this punky pop is a fiesty slice of life in Wales, from a group that's been around for a long time but this being my first exposure to them. Depressing yet still fun)
64. Harry Styles: Harry's House (like Craig Finn's album, this one has a great batch of party-pop tunes at the beginning then tails off quite a bit in the second half)
63. My Idea: CRY MFER (this starts out with two tunes that sound like long-lost Blake Babies classics, and there are moments later but it's way too long. Makes the list for Cry Mfer and Crutch alone)
LATE ENTRY: Diners: Four Wheels and the Truth (a little twee release that has a very solid five songs and a handful of other good ones; this is a Phoenix band with several previous albums I haven't listened to yet)
62. Ryan Adams: Romeo & Juliet (this suffers from being way too long. With an editor, this release and Chris would have been two of the year's best)
61. Ryan Adams: FM (this is the best of the troubled artist's whopping three releases in 2022, partly because it's all enjoyable but mostly because he edits it down to a manageable 10 tracks, unlike his other epically long releases)
Militarie Gun
60. Militarie Gun: All Roads Lead to the Gun (Deluxe) (melodic hardcore out of Seattle that sounds like Fugazi with ultra-catchy guitars and accompanying vocals that often swoop in beautifully)
59. Christian Lee Hutson: Quitters (this L.A. songwriter is new to me, and the album is beautiful throughout, in an Elliot Smith rowdy-folk sort of way)
58. EELS: Extreme Witchcraft (this doesn't quite reach the pinnacle of early 2000s EELS, but it's still consistently catchy pop by a band that is difficult to peg into any specific genre)
57. Young Guv: GUV III (this is a nice upgrade from 2019's already-excellent gem from this L.A. power-pretty-pop band)
56. The Linda Lindas: Growing Up (this buzz band's pre-album singles conquered the world with feel goodism during covid, taking a tip from the school of Best Coast punk pop)
55. Girlpool: Forgiveness (some of these songs are throwaways, but enough of them are beautiful and weird and harken back to Girls, one of my favorite dreamy bands from a decade ago)
54. Kurt Vile: (watch my moves) (this album is way too long but it's still always listenable freak pop)
53. Leah Weller: Freedom (this is more up the Norah Jones easy-listening aisle than what I normally listen to. But she's legendary Paul Weller's daughter, and on multiple listens, it's more mellower Lady Gaga than it is Style Council)
52. Ty Segall: "Hi, Hello" (a surpringly great entry from this freak, whose releases have been hit-or-miss over the years; it's like a gorgeous update of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass)
51. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Cool It Down (this is a compact little release, but it packs a high ratio of great tunes, I would say more than the average YYY release)
50. Rhett Miller: The Misfit (the Old 97s leader starts this solo release out with a bang of several classics in a row; it tails off a bit but still ends up as a pop gem)
49. Jake Xerxes Fussell: Good and Green Again (maybe with the exception of Bill Callahan, this North Carolina sonwriter is putting out some of the very best folk music around)
Jesse Malin
48. Jesse Malin: Glitter in the Gutter (while not as great as his 2021 release, this New Yorker is experiencing a serious career resurgence, and people like Bruce Springsteen, guesting here, are noticing)
LATE ENTRY: Ben Lee: I'M FUN (I didn't hear this until Summer 2023, but the first half is classic Ben Lee singer songwriting feel-good jams)
47. Dumb: Pray for Tomorrow (this long-player from a band of Vancouver punks should satisfy those who lament the lack of any Pavement or Parquet Courts new releases in 2022)
46. The Weeknd: Dawn FM (he continues to carry the Thriller-era Michael Jackson torch, and while there is some filler, there are also a lot of dreamy big hits)
45. BaLonely: Thank You, I'm Sorry (an exciting debut from these Washington state indie-rock kids with a good sense of playfulness in their lyrics and angular guitars)
44. Jack White: Entering Heaven Alive (a catchy set of numbers ranging from jaunty bluegrass to Going to California-style Zep, this is a top-notch addition to the White Striper's catalogue)
43. Guided by Voices: Crystal Nuns Cathedral (there is a lot less bang for the buck thoughout this release from my second-favorite band, but even a more minor GBV release is better that 99.9% of the rest)
42. The Regrettes: Further Joy (these L.A. punkers have gone full-on Top 40 pop, and it's the right decision, with a whole slew of outta-be megahits)
41. Bill Callahan: REALITY - spelled backwards (another darkly satisfying release from the ex-Smog master; it often takes repeat listens to understand and appreciate his indie sob pop, but it's almost always a satifying experience)
40. Belle and Sebastian: A Bit of Previous (it's always great to have more lite-pop from Glasgow's second best band, behind Teenage Fanclub)
Bill Callahan
39. Soccer Mommy: Sometimes, Forever (one of the biggest stars these days on the indie scene broadens her horizons by touching on several big-guitar genres)
38. Plains (with Waxahatchee): I Walked With You A Ways (a beautiful little, alt-country, bluegrass-y side project release that is one of the undeniable uplifters of the year)
37. Alvvays: Blue Rev (these Canadians make kind of a splash when they release a new album, with only three over the past decade and this is the first in 5 years; driving dream shoegaze)
36. Sloane: Steady (the Canadian rockers release a new batch of super catchy pop gems)
35. Mapache: Roscoe's Dream (I discovered this band this year, which regales us with tales of its tour dog amidst California sunshine pop mixed with touches of Grateful Dead)
34. Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band: Dear Scott (this gorgeous soft Britpop release starts off perfect for the first six songs then tails off a bit at the end)
33. Say Sue Me: The Last Thing Left/10 (I'm grouping these two release as one by these South Koreans obsessed with indie-rock. One album focuses on original material and the other covers classic bands like Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Yo La Tengo)
Lola Kirke
32. Lola Kirke
: Lady for Sale (this is definitely a strange one for the list, with the Mozart in the Jungle actor coming along in full goofball pop Dolly Parton mode; it's infectious. "New country" should take pointers)
32. Urge Overkill: Oui (one of my favorite bands of the 1990s is back doing the same glam-pomp-rock it became known for from Pulp Fiction; while there aren't particular standouts, it should prove to be a solid listen for many years)
31. Guided By Voices: Tremblers and Goggles by Rank (this release goes a little proggier than usual, with two songs even longer than 5 minutes, but it is a hard rock-pop jam)
30. beabadoobee: Beatopia (the next-generation Julianna Hatfield always keeps listeners on their toes with inspired and creative indie pop)
29. Eddie Vedder: Earthling (I know, you love him or you hate him ... but the Pearl Jam frontman shows that he is definitely a mega part of why that band has become so legendary, writing several songs here that are as good as anything PJ has ever done)
28. Robert Pollard: Our Gaze (GBV's Pollard pulls a Taylor Swift to re-record 15 of the songs from two harder-to-find 2007 releases; there are at least five classic cuts, with plenty of others to absorb)
27. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Nightroamer (this isn't quite as great as the North Carolina band's first two LPs, but it is definitely my favorite current Uncle Tupelo-styled country punk)
26. Built to Spill: When the Wind Forgets Your Name (BTS is back with a Perfect From Now On-type set that harkens back to the band's best pop since the 1990s)
25. Conan Gray: Superache (this is the male version of Olivia Rodrigo, pleading and temperamental, but ultimately touching and confessional and innovative Top 40 pop) 
24. Lucius
: Second Nature (the dance tracks feel like ABBA and Donna Summer and the ballads take me back to the Lada Gaga-led A Star Is Born soundtrack, which was also mushy claptrap that I couldn't get enough of)
23. Tegan and Sara: Crybaby (a nice understated pop return by indie's answer to Taylor Swift)
22. Pixies: Doggerel (Frank Black and his Pixies have been treading water for a while after a tremendous hot streak from the 1980s to the 2000s, but this one brings the non-stop post-punk jams)
21. Fantastic Negrito: White Jesus Black Problems (this is groovy and poppy in places and dives into Funkadelic-style freakiness in others, cross jumping a bunch of genres. Awesome)
20. Wet Leg: Wet Leg (this British band's debut came with about as much buzz as it gets in the indie-rock world. There are a handful of hard-driving and funny pop classics, several other very good songs, and a few that will not age well)
19: I Was a King: Follow Me Home (these Norwegians almost out-Elf Power Elf Power with their gentle psychedelic pop-rock; I wish more bands played this type of music this well)
18. Elf Power: Artificial Countrysides (these Athens, Georgia psych-poppers might be incapable of making a bad song, meeting somewhere between Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Sebadoh)
17. Carley Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (for my money, Jepsen is the closest artist to a threat in the Taylor Swift genre of dance/good-mood Top 40 pop; like Swift, she rarely has a less-than-stellar song these days)
16. Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa (this Austin band just keeps getting better. In a more just world there would be a large handful of Top 10 hits from this release, with several interludes of beautiful ambient pop-rock to round it out)
Spiral Stairs
15: Spiral Stairs
: Medley Attack (often unfairly forgotten in the brilliance of Stephen Malkmus and Pavement is Spiral Stairs, and he comes back with an understated and, frankly, very fun and humorous blast of throwing a lot of pop at the walls. It all sticks)
14: Wilco: Cruel Country (a massive injection of mellow country into the band's catalog, this one keeps growing and growing on me, like Uncle Tupelo's March 16-20, 1992 did all those years ago)
13: Band of Horses: Things Are Great (this is no great step forward for the band, but the record as a whole is just kind of perfect, refining all the best elements of past releases into a solid and constant beautiful flow)
12: Orville Peck: Bronco (this is my favorite country - with some twists - artist in a long time. His second full-length proves Peck is no flash in the pan, and there is a good laugh or chuckle on average at least once a song)
11. Freedy Johnston: Back on the Road to You (this is another blast from the past, with this album maybe being even better than his classic ‘90s This Perfect World. If you want straight-forward singer-songwriter pop, this is as good as it gets)
10. Archers of Loaf: Reason in Decline (the Chapel Hill legends' first album in 24 years may be 2022's biggest treat; the band is angry at the times we're living in, turning it into essential melodic post-punk)
Archers of Loaf
09: Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings
: The Butterfly Effect (it's amazing how much Foxton's voice sounds Paul Weller's voice from late-era Jam, as the band swayed a bit from the punk more into the pop that would become The Style Council; this might be the best Jam-related release since that prime era, which is saying a lot)
08. Big Joanie: Back Home (this British band of punk girls fuzzes a complicated and buzzy collection of songs that are a little like Pixies if that group were still great)
07. Superchunk: Wild Loneliness (this is simply a perfect collection of songs, and there is ample reason to think it may go down as Superchunk's most epic, greatest album, which is saying a lot)
06. Alex Cameron: Oxy Music (this play on Roxy Music may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's an innovative soft pop masterpiece in a growing line of the like from this artsy Aussie)
05. Kiwi Jr.: Chopper (this Toronto band has been simmering at the border of greatness throughout their first two albums and they hit on all cylinders for release #3; plus, if we can't have a new Pavement album, at least we have this)
04. Phoenix: Alpha Zulu (this is a joyous collection of new music from France's finest; I wasn't expecting a comeback this great, essential, timeless, and dancefloor-ready)
03. The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field (New Zealand's answer to Courtney Barnett takes a top-3 spot on my list for a second time, after 2020's Jump Rope Gazers did so. The band makes pop that cheers me up every time I hear it)
Taylor Swift
02. The Afghan Whigs
: How Do You Burn? (I didn't foresee this happening, and maybe I love it so much because I binged it over and over while finally down with my first-ever count of covid, but this is a gorgeous slow-grower from one of my favorite bands of the 1990s. Greg Dulli and company issue their finest release since 1993's Gentlemen. It starts off sounding like 1990's Up in It and progresses to more of a Gentlemen vibe, even including Dulli's female double Susan Marshall back in the mix on some vocals) 
01. Taylor Swift: Midnights (she is an unstoppable force; the only thing negative I can say is maybe the last two songs on the 3 am edition aren't necessary. The rest is perfect, conversational lyrics to the max and all)

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