Tim’s 2022 Music Year in Review
It was an uncharacteristically balmy night in the desert and I was still in the afternoon’s shorty shorts, paired with knee-high tights for a little extra protection from the windblown dust. My husband and I were pushing up through the crowd, past the soundboard, stage right. We had lost our friends who had seen their fill of Harry’s House and preferred to beat the crowd back to the after-parties in Palm Springs.
Harry had just finished a One Direction singalong to the delight of both the Gen Z TikTokers and millennial moms in our midst who were passing joints and awaiting the next number, anticipation building. And then came the seven notes.
Bah bah buh bah bah bahp bahp.
Then lights and a pause. (Do you know it already?)
In the momentary silence, I hear from over my right should my man blurt out a disbelieving yet exhilarating “NOOO.”
Then the seven notes again.
Bah bah buh bah bah bahp bahp.
What is about to happen becomes apparent. Wailing and keening commences. She emerges from beneath the stage with a trademark: “Let’s go girls.”
Next comes the squealing. Ohh the squealing. Squealing that would make the pigs blush. It came from all corners of the polo grounds but it was his squeal that was closest to my ear. It was, though he might not admit it, the highlight of my country-ass husband’s gay little life.
Shania was never really for me, though I have to admit, that night on the main stage there was no doubt that she had it. Whatever the “it” is that makes someone Shania Twain, it is undoubtedly hers.
And Harry is, well, Harry. He’s not so bad to look at, if you hadn’t noticed. And easy on the ears too. This year’s Harry’s House record became a not-so-guilty pleasure, an ambient soundtrack that will mark this place in time. His tunes played in malls and NFL commercial outros and at the clubs, on For You Pages and of course all summer on our deck in West Oakland.
It is the kind of record that might not be the best of 2022. But it will be inextricable from this year. The kind of record that in 2047 will make an elder Zillennial squeal when some future artist that is not yet born brings AI Harry on stage to give their audience a reminder of a golden year. And their squeals will echo from there to here, assuring us that while it’s not the same as it was, we still have us.
Before we get to the list, I want to offer the same caveat that I did the past two years. I am merely a humble political content man and music buff. I don’t have the schooling to judge these albums on musicianship, nor the time to mine the internet for all the year’s little gems. This is simply a collection of what resonated for me in 2022, in the hope you might find something new to love too.
In that spirit, here’s a Spotify playlist of my favorite 2022 music in case you’d rather just listen.
Song That Made Me Want to Cuddle Up Under the Covers and Feel the Feels:
Lana Del Rey, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd”
Song That Most Made Me Wish I Were Dancing in Cartagena:
La Femme, “Sacatela”
Best Indie Rock Radio Song:
Grace Ives, “Lullaby”
Best Gay Club Dance Song:
and Most Requested 2022 Song by the 4-Year Old in My Car’s Backseat:
Tiesto & Charlie XCX, “Hot in It” (for both categories)
Best New Single By My Favorite Old Band:
LCD Soundsystem, “New Body Rhumba”
Best Old Song I Discovered This Year:
Hot Chocolate, “You Could’ve Been A Lady”
Best Gay Pop Album I Thought Came Out in 2022 When I Started Writing This List But Realized Later It Actually Came Out in 2021:
Magdalena Bay, Mercurial World
Arcade Fire, WE
Stripping away everything else to come, it’s important to start with the basic fact that this record is excellent. If you loved Funeral and The Suburbs, two of the best rock albums of the century, then there is no reason not to like We, which was marked by the same trademark crescendos, raw emotion, melodic whimsy that made Arcade Fire one of the biggest bands in the world.
At least, there wasn’t a reason not to like it until this summer when Pitchfork reported on four women who accused lead singer Win Butler of behavior that ranged from nonconsensual sexual contact to several instances of extremely cringeworthy sexts. (Is there such a thing as a non-cringeworthy sext? I would like to see it if so.)
As such, I planned to just ignore WE in this recap, as most of the major year-end listers seem to have done, despite Arcade Fire being one of my favorite all-time bands. That calculation changed a few weeks ago when I was reminded by my husband that we had purchased tickets to their tour stop in San Francisco, pre-cancellation. At the show that night, I was surprised by both my reaction and the crowds. For as much as I had always enjoyed Arcade Fire’s live shows, there is no doubt that they could be, at times, a shade twee. What with the goody-two-shoes calls to support foundations in Haiti, Win getting high on his own musical supply, and “Wake Up”’s set-closing yawp that might very well have been the inspiration for the much maligned “millennial whoop.”
Win tottering on stage not as an earnest band leader but as a fallen, flawed, downright creepy crooner altered that vibe. Gone was the Obama-era hopey-changey purity. In its place an empire in decline, a sinner grappling with his own complicity and having to do so while standing on stage next to his wife Regine, knowing that she knew and we knew that he succumbed to humanity’s most base desires. A gathering where everyone in attendance shared some level of knowledge that our perfervid protagonist was just another fortysomething hornball with the seven-year-itch. Another guy who thought being a star meant they let you do it.
That night at Bill Graham Auditorium it seemed as if the band nodded to the demons hanging over the room in the show’s order of operations. Regine had in the past always had a couple moments center-stage. But on this tour she was more prominent than ever. More songs, more spotlight, more Regine. It felt like an unspoken message, one that was not so far afield from White Lotus’ Daphne declaring she was going to do what is necessary to take back her power and not be a “victim of life.”
This put the whole enterprise in a different light: Win might be fallen. But his mistakes weren’t going to ruin her life, her band. They wouldn’t bring an end to this attempt to make sense of the world through music and community that We all have undertaken together for two decades now. That choice gave her a power, a presence that I hadn’t always appreciated. It added a deeper level of resonance to a show for fans who in their own way are flawed and midway through life. Who have traveled that journey with them and aren’t interested in unsubscribing from their art.
This is not to glorify or excuse Win’s gross behavior. It’s only to acknowledge that art is not about perfection. It is about interpreting and teasing out the beauty and meaning in life’s blemishes. To that end We ended up achieving something that some of Arcade Fire’s earlier records didn’t, maybe not in the way that they wished it would have, but instead by arriving at the space where heaven has gone away.
Ok, so, to be honest, this is not actually that great of a record. For a jamband’s studio effort, it’s downright listenable, but in parts it sounds kinda like a Guster tribute . . . which is not a compliment. And it doesn’t exactly accentuate what makes Goose special, making the record itself a rather unimportant sidebar in the year of the Goose.
Many, many jambands have tried to take the belt as the “Next Great Touring Act” over the years, but ever since the Widespread Panic and Phish heyday of my youth nobody has really pulled it off. And it had been so long that many folks, myself included, wondered whether it was even possible anymore. If rock is dead, then surely, surely jam-rock is as well.
But in the 2020s Goose resurrected it. The wooks, the balloons, the hours-long shows, the vibes. It was all happening. I saw them play an electric set in New Orleans this fall in front of a packed-to-the-gills weeknight crowd. Their performance was filled with all the usual jamband tropes, but executed perfectly, and modernized for the indie set.
The best encapsulation of their talent in a studio setting is probably this 20-minute rendition of Vampire Weekend’s 98-second song, 2021. That is what you would call jamband high art. Their biggest live moment of the year was this June passing of the torch at Radio City Music Hall with Phish’s Trey Anastasio: Hungersite → Arcadia
So if you are at all into that sort of thing, it is past time to get on the Goose bandwagon and have a good show.
Favorite Records of 2022:
9. Dehd, Blue Skies, and
9. Kevin Morby, This Is a Photograph
The indie-rock albums of the year (non-nostalgia category), from the two most consistent guitar acts of the 2020s.
Dehd, off Oxford Mississippi’s Fat Possum label, has mastered the hazy, surfy garage-rock genre that Girls and others explored in its 2000s heyday. The band came together during a love affair between the two lead singers, Emily Kempf and Jason Balla. Balla’s post-punk nasal style is complemented by Kempf’s deep, primal voice. When it works it’s a Lou Reed & Nico-esque pairing and marks the highlights of Blue Skies.
Morby also benefits from an indie-rock love story, having moved to the Kansas City burbs with his girlfriend, Kate Crutchfiled of Waxahatchee. They’ve put out a cover record together providing a spark for Morby’s journeyman indie-rock career. On This Is a Photograph, Morby jam-packs a modern indie arrangement with references to blues & soul greats, closing with a literal incantation to Otis Redding. He brings Cassandra Jenkins on to harmonize on a few songs to good effect and is at his best in the pounding, driving beat of the title track.
8. Earl Sweatshirt, Sick!
I fell in love with Sweatshirt back when I didn’t even realize he was just a teenage prodigy, after he released a soulful mix-tape Pitchfork perfectly described as “gutbucket” grit. His dark, alternative rap stylings in the ensuing decade had some highlights and some misses. But this year’s Sick! was my favorite album since his debut and the perfect accompaniment of 2022’s ominous early winter when it was released in January. A lyrical masterpiece that updates the famous John Prine line for the educated class “My grandfather spoke 13 languages/somehow had nothing to say,” Sweatshirt leaves you with little poetic gems to discover on every track. The haunting repeated sample of Billy Paul’s “I’m Gonna Make It This Time” on “Tabula Rasa” is a highlight.
Best Track: “Lye”
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cool It Down
So It Is Written: When a premium cable channel releases a wistful documentary memorializing the bands of your formative years, it officially marks the moment you enter boomer-hood. Sadly, 2022 was that year for me. Meet Me in the Bathroom was Get Back for the geriatric millennial hipsters and featured the coming-of-age story for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem et al. . . . So, the pleasant surprise of the year was that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did not take that moment to make their Dirty Work, instead producing a beautiful, cinematic, apocalyptic triumph that achieved the ultimate nostalgia album objective: being simultaneously fresh and familiar.
Best Track: “Spitting Off The Edge Of The World”
6. Sault, 11
The most prolific, mysterious band in the world, Sault is a collective of British musicians led by Inflo and whose membership is not fully known. They released five (I think, who can keep track?) albums this year, ranging from elite to a slightly self-indulgent missionary claptrap. The highlight of the bunch was 11 which shows the groups range, hopping from afrobeat to neo-soul to blues to coffeehouse. Have not stopped spinning it.
5. Michael Rault, Michael Rault
Are you in the market for the kind of beautiful, textured Harry Nilsson/T. Rex soft rock that nobody makes anymore? Well do I have the artist for you: Michael Rault! Rault’s acoustic, falsetto ballads will be exactly what you need if you are a dad or a dad at heart. It might even have you whistlin “I feel fine” while you are out mowing the lawn.
Best Track: “Exactly What I Needed”
4. Orville Peck, Bronco
The masked, gay, South African, Canadian, country musician, Orville Peck has brought a globalist, fashionista’s panache to a genre that’s red-blooded self-impression is offset by a flair for the flamboyant. With this record Orville hoped to bring the country back to his new home in Hollywood, so he produced a monumental epic begging for the upgrade from appearances on Euphoria & TV commercials to big-budget blockbuster soundtrack.
Bronco is one part Kenny Chesney pop country, one part psychedelic outlaw country, one part drag-king Lee Hazelwood, and a whole lotta Elvis. “Outta Time” is a single that wouldn’t be out of place with the other summertime hits blaring at an Alabama public pool and in one verse makes his musical references to The King explicit: “She tells me she don’t like Elvis; I say, I want a little less conversation, please.”
Much of the rest of the record is operatic, and Orville’s baritone echoed off the walls of the Fox Theatre as he belted out their refrain this fall. It’s a country record to drown in and I hope it gets the big screen send up it deserves.
There was a massive gap separating these top three records from the rest as the pop, hip hop, and R&B prom king and queens stole the show.
First of course was Queen B. I hadn’t really L-O-V-E-D a Beyoncé record since B-Day, (blasphemy, I know). There were objectively good tracks, and unreal performances, of course. But I sensed that Renaissance would be the one that connected from the moment Big Freedia’s voice bounced in on the first second of the first single “Break My Soul.” The rest of the record didn’t disappoint. At its core it is a send-up to the ’70s and ’80s club-girl era of disco and house and POSE. It was a pandemic record that provided everything Bey’s core fans were yearning for (face-licking, mostly). And she packs it with guests from big names like Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers to lesser-known house music pioneers who receive an overdue mass market send-up. At an hour plus you’d think there’d be some bloat, but nah, on this record Bey is that girl. I wish it were a double.
2. Sudan Archives, Natural Born Prom Queen
At risk of making the obvious comparison Sudan Archives (Brittney Parks) seems poised to be 2022’s Lizzo-style breakout, just subbing the flute for a violin. The avant garde-R&B-hip hop-electronic-dance-singer-songwriter dropped a record that is genre-defying, a technical marvel, and more colloquially, a banger. The record’s highlight “Selfish Soul” could somehow simultaneously work as a guest track on Animal Collective’s MPP or The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as Parks unites looping electric violins and a hip hop back beat with mesmerizing rhythmic chanting in ode to black women’s hair.
On “NBPQ (Topless)” she addresses the unfounded skepticism she’s encountered and manifests the truth about this album, her talent, and what’s to come. It ends with the refrain, “cause I’m not average. average. average.” Indeed she is not.
1. Pusha T, It’s Almost Dry
All three of these records held the number one slot in my mind over the past month at one time or another, but the point of this exercise was to determine what album I loved the most this year, which one I could just not turn off. And on that score It’s Almost Dry was prime (even knowing that a few of the tracks were produced by hip hop’s Manic Himmler).
Pusha describes himself as “cocaine’s Dr. Seuss” on the album’s best track, “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes” and honestly that about covers it. This dad rap reveals a grown-ass man at the top of his rhyming game with hilarious two-liners and a distinctive, unmistakable voice. He drops hit after hit, with A-list guests and flawless samples without anything resembling a skip.
Pusha’s bars are elevated in particular by the Pharrell-produced tracks that The Ringer aptly described as a “backdrop that’s at once ethereal, weightless, and spectral.” King Push was no more modest in describing himself, telling them there is “no other rapper I’m competing with.”