An Acute Case: 61 favourite albums of 2022
Plus a few from 2021, 2020, and 2019
“If in doubt, give up.” Or so says Todd Snider—number eight on my list. So, after going nowhere with a 1,600 word preamble to that list, that’s what I’ve done. Truth is, it’s not really my decision. The Executive Junior Content Creator would have taken one look at what I’d written and binned it. I can hear them now, groaning that “This’ll never get past the Senior Executive Junior Content Creator,” who’d refuse to put their imprimatur on it for the Assistant Regional Manager of Content Creation, who has the final sign-off before any new work is presented to the Regional Content Dissemination Panel. So I’m posting my list plus a few salient notes instead. The list is at the bottom, the notes are up top. If you’re just here for the list, you know what to do.
Of the 61 albums featured on the list, the top 22 are my absolute favourites—graded A or, in the case of the runaway winner, A+. I don’t want to dazzle you with maths, but that’s 36% of my list awarded the blue riband. Minus the 5 pre-2022 albums included in those top picks, that still leaves 17, which is more than I’d expect in a single year. A peer-reviewed study into this phenomenon concluded the reason for this is that 2022 was a good year for music. You can quote me on that.
Of the 22 top picks, I was already very familiar with 14 of the lead artists, and, in the case of 10 of them, had gone bananas for at least one of their previous albums. In contrast, I gave repeat custom to just 14 of the 40 artists outside of the top picks, with 24 of them new to me/my personal canon this year. Boy, does that reek of favouritism. However, a little poke around revealed that my top 22 includes as many debuts as the remaining 40: six each. In a similar vein, the average age of the top 22 (45) is only two years higher than the average age of the remaining 40. So no strong bias against youth or newness. Must remember to pat myself on the back later.
The most significant difference was when I compared the average number of albums in back catalogues. Where the top 22 have released an average of 15 albums, the remaining 40 have released an average of nine. However (and it’s a big one), the top 22 includes Willie Nelson, the man with almost as many albums to his name (73) as years on this earth (89). In this context, including him is basically cheating. Exclude him and the average drops to 12. Still a slight bias towards experience, but nothing to concern the ethics committee.
My list is awash with grade changes. A dozen or so albums I awarded an A- don’t feature, some I awarded an A feature outside the top 22, while there are some inclusions that, based on the grades I originally awarded, shouldn’t feature at all. It’s a sorry situation. Rest assured, sanctions have been meted, CPD days have been booked, hard copies of the Capability Policy has been waved. In short, you shouldn’t expect it again. The reasons for it are simple (I think) and forgivable (I hope). I reformatted this column as a grade-giving consumer guide in June. For the first few months after that, I was still figuring out how to do it properly. As well as having to nail down some of the finer points of what my taste actually is (something I’ve learnt not to take for granted) it took me a while to realise how long I need spend with an album before I can be confident I know what I think about it and why.
Some significant victims of my early enthusiasms: Bob Vylan’s blast of murderous theatricality ended up sounding too patchy at the end and too thin throughout; Phelimuncasi’s irrepressible pulse doesn’t sound as revolutionary when compared to fellow Durbanite DJ Black Low’s extra-terrestrial Amapiano; Lalalar’s lysergic ranting and raving tends too simplistic; Water Damage’s twenty-two, seven, and twelve minute experiments in drone rock proved too marriage-destabilising. They still make the list, but in the A- slots.
Other early victims have ended up heroes. Namely, Harry Styles and Amanda Shires. After being palmed off with honourable mentions in the middle of the year, they’ve finished in the top 10. Where I mostly heard “Harry’s House” as an attenuated vocal personality cossetted in his interior world, I now hear him kid harpooning a whole-ass pop sound giddy from the hooks it can’t stop producing, and warmed through with scrapbook lyricism fascinated by the creases and ends of platonic and romantic relationships. And where I heard “Take It Like A Man” as an occasionally turgid melodrama, I now find myself melting beneath Shires’ tremolo as she turns her fractious marriage and sexual impulses into a Country/Soul hybrid at once lavishly classical and strikingly modern, not to mention frequently painful in the way it renders its dramas with a mixture of impressionistic strokes and disconcertingly private details.
To avoid passing the one-thousand-word mark—at which point the three-month internal quality assurance process kicks in—I’ll stop there. At 940 words, we can still call this a briefing paper, which means Joe public should be able to read it so long as they submit an acceptable freedom of information request. Perhaps next year I’ll find it in me to write something of worth about the state of music. Until then, here’s a list.
Tom Zé: Lìngua Brasileira
Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Buck 65: King Of Drums
Harry Styles: Harry's House
Wet Leg: Wet Leg
Amanda Shires: Take It Like A Man
Todd Snider: Live: Return of the Storyteller
DJ Black Low: Uwami (2021)
The Paranoid Style: For Executive Meeting
Homeboy Sandman: I Can’t Sell These
Emperor X: The Lakes of Zones B and C
Miranda Lambert: Palomino
Tommy Womack: I Thought I Was Fine (2021)
Black Thought & Danger Mouse: Cheat Codes
Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time
Aaron Raitiere: Single Wide Dreamer
Morgan Wade: Reckless (2021)
Mountain Goats: Bleed Out
Selo i Ludy Performance Band: Bunch One (2019)
Gogol Bordello: Solidaritine
Slum of Legs: Slum of Legs (2020)
Stro Elliot & James Brown: Black & Loud: James Brown as Reimagined by Stro Elliot
Cheekface: Too Much To Ask
The Beths: Expert In A Dying Field
Bob Vylan: Bob Vylan Presents: The Price Of Life
DJ Maphorisa X Kabza De Small: Scorpion Kings (2019)
Ashley McBryde: Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville
Derek Senn: The Big Five-O
Loudon Wainwright III: Lifetime Achievement
Bonnie Raitt: Just Like That
Dan Ex Machina: All Is Ous, Nothing Is Theirs
Dr. John: Things Happen That Way
Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Open Mike Eagle: Component System with the Auto Reverse
Regina Spektor: Home, before and after
Pillbox Patti: Florida
Homeboy Sandman: There in Spirit
Lady Aicha & Pisko Cranes Original Fulu Mziki: N'djila Wa Madjimu
Plains: I Walked With You A Ways
Phelimuncasi: Ama Gogela
Sudan Archives: Natural Brown Prom Queen
Water Damage: Repeater
JID: The Forever Story
Drive-By Truckers: Welcome 2 Club XIII
Craig Finn: A Legacy Of Rentals
Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee: Bamanan (2021)
The Front Bottoms: Theresa
Fanfare Ciocarlia: It Wasn’t Hard to Love You (2021)
Billy Woods: Aethiopes
Jeffrey Lewis: When That Really Old Cat Dies
Mammoth Penguins: There’s No Fight We Can’t Both Win (2019)
Yard Act: The Overload
Fimber Bravo: Lunar Tredd (2021)
Kady Diarra: Burkina Hakili (2021)
Lalalar: Bi Cinnete Bakar
Superchunk: Wild Loneliness
Anansy Cissé: Anansy Cissé: Anoura (2021)
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Georgia Blue (2021)
For sheer entertainment value, this is my fave year-end essay. 940 words with lots of chuckles mixed in with insight. Cool list, too!