Sunday, January 15, 2023

My Favorite New Albums of 2022 (and Late 2021)

In additional to listening to several podcasts focused on new releases, I spend a lot of time listening to whole albums of new music (often more than once). In 2022, I did more album listening than ever—I listened to 43% more new albums than in 2021, for a total of 73 new albums. Also, I decided that it was unfair of me to not consider late 2021 albums that I didn’t learn about until 2022, so that brings the total to 83 albums under consideration. From those 83 albums, I picked my favorite 6 to highlight for you; curiously (or not), all but one of the artists I’m highlighting have showed up in my previous favorite albums lists in the past four years. One note: although my final highlight list does not include any albums by People of Color, about 30% of the new albums I listened to were by People of Color—many of those that I loved, I included in my yearly playlist, which I will post next week. Here are my 6 picks, listed in the order I heard them:

Hell on Church Street by the Punch Brothers – The Punch Brothers releases often make my top albums (last time for All Ashore in 2018, I think), but this is a strange (yet familiar) project where they covered not just one song, but an entire album by Tony Rice, Church Street Blues (1983), which itself was an album of covers. Of course, they put their own spin on the songs. Check out the first and last tracks, “Church Street Blues” and the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

El Sur by Girl Ultra – Spanish electrodance/pop singer Girl Ultra was a new discovery for me this year, but I might actually join a dance party if this album was on; it has great production and catchy melodies. “Bombay” is the off-balance hit from this brief album, but I can imagine that the whispering and repeated “zzz” in the chorus could be annoy for some people—I decided I like it. Check out El Sur if you are looking for an alternative to more stereotypical Spanish-language music. Warning: some explicit (Spanish) language (at least Spotify says there is; I haven’t been able to figure out where).

Emotional Creature by Beach Bunny – Their previous album, Honeymoon was one of my favorite albums from 2020, and Beach Bunny caught my attention again with even more alt-rock, tightly-constructed musical vignettes. This album is more upbeat than their first album, with more happy moments describing the first sparks of love—but digging into the lyrics, there is always something more complicated. While the chord progressions aren’t novel, the band finds lots of ways to make the arrangements interesting. I especially recommend “Entropy” and “Weeds,” but all the songs are solid writing.

Expert in a Dying Field by The Beths – The New Zealand group’s previous album, Jump Rope Gazers, was also one of my favorite albums from 2020, but this albums is even better. They combine catchy melodies, smart lyrics, clever insights, and charming harmony vocals. The memorable title track takes an academic saying and applies it to a long-term relationship that is about to end. Also check out the very loud track “Silence is Golden,” but all the songs are good.

Sleeping Spirals by Hannah James and Toby Kuhn – Even though Hannah James’s album The Woman and Her Words was one my top albums of 2019, I somehow didn’t find out about this late-2021 album until sometime in 2022. James is working with a smaller ensemble this time with some overdubbing, but you’d never guess that just two people made the mix of cello, accordion, foot percussion, and voice. I love her new (“The Giant”) and traditional (“There Ravens”) folk-y storytelling songs, even if it is cryptic sometimes; there are also several beautiful purely instrumental (include voice-as-instrument) tracks. If you want the best of storytelling and instrumental, you could try “Jealousy,” treating a timeless theme that also is pointedly about today's social media.

The Loneliest Time by Carly Rae Jepsen – Jepsen’s Dedicated made my 2019 favorite album list. This album doesn’t quite rise to that level, but I will say this—this album came out on the same day as Taylor Swift’s Midnights (one of the biggest albums of 2022) and I listened to them both back-to-back on a road trip. This album was hands-down better than Swift’s—Jepsen keeps coming up with original and surprising song ideas (both musically and lyrically) and then expertly executes them (maybe she is better at working with collaborators...?). You might think from the title that this was a pandemic album, and much of it probably was made during the pandemic, but that theme doesn’t take front seat. I think my favorite tracks of this stuffed album are the very funny “Beach House,” about a string of very bad dates where first impressions didn’t always match up with reality; the breezy and cheerful “So Nice”; and the trippy “No Thinking Over the Weekend” (maybe it is the flutes that won me over?), one of the three “bonus tracks.” But there is really something for everyone here.

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