UPDATE: I’ve posted THREE DJ sets where I played 102 songs from my best of 2022, some of which are not mentioned in the post below. Check them out!
Once again, 2022 was a fantastic year for new music, with the added bonus that I got out to see more live shows again. Favourite thing ever was finally seeing Pavement, and at the newly-renovated Massey Hall, no less. An evening of pure joy, and for me a celebration of a band that I’d once avoided seeing live. Their reputation for sloppy live shows has been put firmly behind them, I’m glad to report. Other live highlights were discovering smaller bands who released music this year. Halifax/Toronto’s Heaven for Real and Fredericton’s Motherhood are well worth seeing live, should you get the chance. I also enjoyed Chicago’s Stuck and hope they have new music to share in 2023. And seeing Nation of Language live, with Ducks Ltd., was a big surprise. Despite their “cool” sounding music, the band were a delight to see live, and much more lively and chatty on stage than I expected. And of course, I was able to see my favourite band of the year, No Frills, play a record release party that generated a real feeling of excitement about all the great music being created in my hometown these days. I hope 2023 has even more great live experiences in store.
The longer I try to write about music, the harder it gets. Especially this idea of a year-end list and trying to rank things. I find that I just don’t get enough time with each release to really compare it fairly to other stuff. So, in the way of a lame disclaimer, my Top Ten is here again, with a longer list of (very loosely) ranked releases and some that I haven’t had enough time to sit with to rank but which are definitely worthy.
I hope my post will point you in some new directions, and bring you some of the joy that music brings to me. Here’s a YouTube playlist with a whole bunch of songs from this year’s batch.
Here we go…
1. *No Frills – Downward Dog – I discovered No Frills through another local band connection. I saw that one of my Toronto favourites Ducks Ltd. were playing a DJ set at a release party for No Frills‘ album Downward Dog. In preparation for the show, I bought it on Bandcamp and listened a few times. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was being pranked. The production made it feel like I was listening to a wonky cassette, with the pitch shifting all over the place. It even started off with a gimmicky “Welcome” track. But the songs wormed their way into my brain and wouldn’t let go. Frontman and songwriter Daniel Busheikin wants to come across as a smartass, but his emotional honesty can’t be covered up with clever lyrics or even studio trickery. Despite what seem to be transparent efforts to muddy up the sound, Downward Dog is so clearly a pop record, and an exemplary one at that. “Save the Bees” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog Anymore” should be on any Best Songs of 2022 playlist, and the rest of the songs are equally fine. Maddy Wilde (Born Ruffians, Rapport)’s sweet backing vocals are especially worthy of note. Oh, and drums are by Jonathan Pappo, who also mans the kit for Ducks Ltd. I wish this record had gotten more attention, but I wonder if the existence of a Canadian grocery store chain with the same name has simply made the band rather invisible. Hopefully it’s not more cleverness as self-deprecation, because this music deserves the largest audience possible.
2. Self Improvement – Visible Damage – Hailing from Long Beach, California, Self Improvement‘s sound is based around the slightly deranged vocals of Jett Witchalls, a transplanted Brit. These are catchy post-punk songs that get in and then get out. The entire 10 songs fly by in 24 minutes, including a twitchy and nearly unrecognisable cover of The Prodigy‘s “Firestarter.”
3. Green/Blue – Paper Thin – Led by Jim Blaha, Minneapolis quartet Green/Blue have been around since 2020, and Blaha himself is a veteran of several bands (The Blind Shake, Jim and the French Vanilla, Shadow in the Cracks). In 2022, they actually released two albums, though I haven’t had the chance to listen to Offering yet. Paper Thin grabbed me right away, though, with leadoff track “In Lies” hitting my sweet spot: a little bit shoegaze, a little bit jangly. Another brisk record (10 tracks in 24 minutes), with the longest track still under 3 minutes. The vocals are buried a bit, with the excellent guitar hooks up front. It’s moody but still hooky.
4. Phoenix – Alpha Zulu – I was prepared to like the new Phoenix record, because I always like the new Phoenix record. Every release since Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009) has been an automatic buy for me, but more than any of their other recent releases, Alpha Zulu really stuck. Thomas Mars’ vocals are always soothing and pleasing to me, no matter what he’s singing about, but this time it was some of the more melancholic songs that hit hardest. “Winter Solstice” is particularly lovely.
5. Nilüfer Tanya – Painless – Nilüfer Yanya appeared on my radar back in 2017 with her song “Baby Luv” and I have to admit that her 2019 debut album Miss Universe mostly passed me by. But on this year’s Painless, her completely unique combination of gorgeous vocals (sometimes sultry and sometimes chilly), innovative guitar playing, and vaguely electronic beats really hit for me. She obviously owns a few Radiohead records. The obvious hits for me are “stablise” and “the dealer,” but after watching this incredible From The Basement performance, I’m ready to listen to the whole thing front to back again and again.
6. Onyon – Onyon – Onyon are from the same fertile Leipzig punk scene that gave us the excellent Maraudeur, and I was glad to discover them on Bandcamp through the excellent Flennen label. Onyon play fast and catchy songs that wouldn’t appear out of place on a compilation with bands like the Au Pairs or Delta 5.
7. *Motherhood – Winded – I can’t recall how I discovered Motherhood, a veteran trio from tiny Fredericton, New Brunswick, but they put on one of the tightest live shows I saw in 2022, in front of a pitifully small crowd. I was visibly angry when I caught vocalist/guitarist Brydon Crain smoking outside after the gig. “You guys should be playing to crowds ten times bigger,” I raged. Brydon thanked me with a wistful smile that showed that perhaps he thought so, too. They’ve been releasing music since 2013, and relentlessly touring even the smallest towns in Canada and the Northeast US, and I sincerely hope that more people get to hear them. They describe themselves as an “avant-rock” band, and there’s also a bit of math rock, but with more warmth. Winded is simply a great and unique record, and I beg you to give it a listen. “Crawly I” is not a bad place to start.
8. *Alvvays – Blue Rev – I’ve been a huge fan of Alvvays since way back. I’ve seen them live a bunch of times and I’m delighted for their success. Each year since Antisocialites came out back in 2017, I’ve watched the skies for news of a new record, and so I was crazy excited to hear that they’d be releasing new music in 2022. So why isn’t this record higher in my list? I think it might be a few things. I’m not a huge fan of the production on the record, which sounds muddy to me, with Molly Rankin’s vocals buried beneath layers of sludge. I also think that their records tend to need time for me to digest them and begin to distinguish between the songs. This came out in October, which is fairly late in the year. Check with me again in May or June and I’m sure this will have climbed a few places. I’m just glad to have more music from one of Canada’s finest working bands.
9. Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance – Definitely one of the buzziest bands on the list, Chicago’s Horsegirl drew attention as much for their youth (the members were just finishing high school while making this record) as for their music. Clearly showing their influences (one critic said, not in a negative way, that they combined the best bits of shoegaze, C86, jangle, grunge and alt-rock), the trio transcend the nostalgia with the force of their youthful enthusiasm. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
10. *Tallies – Patina – Ah, the difficult tenth spot on a Top Ten list. I chose Tallies over Suede for several reasons. Suede made a fantastic late career record, but they’re seasoned professionals and their record got more than ample attention. I chose Tallies because, partially, they’re another Toronto band of whom I can be proud. Although they’re mining the same dream pop territory as many other bands, there is a real warmth to singer Sarah Cogan’s moody vocals. Yes, they’re reminiscent of bands like The Sundays and Tamaryn, but that’s a wonderful thing; at least I think so. They’re signed to Bella Union, a label run by former Cocteau Twins‘ bassist Simon Raymonde, so I’m not the only one.
Once again, and with a tinge of regret, I really went hard trying to listen to a lot of new music in 2022, though of course nobody can listen to it all. Here are the rest of my ranked picks, although the rankings are very loose. I’ve also listed a couple of unranked releases, which I just haven’t had the time to listen to enough to form a strong opinion yet. They are ALL worthy of your attention. As in the Top Ten above, Canadian bands get an asterisk.
- Suede – Autofiction
- *Heaven for Real – Energy Bar
- Delivery – Forever Giving Handshakes
- *Kiwi Jr. – Chopper
- Ex-Vöid – Bigger Than Before
- The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field
- Metronomy – Small World
- Beach House – Once Twice Melody
- Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
- *Young Guv – GUV III/GUV IV
- *The Weeknd – FM Dawn
- String Machine – Hallelujah Hell Yeah
- The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
- Mo Troper – MTV
- Lassie – Behold
- Just Mustard – Heart Under
- The Soundcarriers – Wilds
- Yard Act – The Overload
- The Reds, Pinks, and Purples – Summer at Land’s End
- Lawn – Bigger Sprout
- Launder – Happening
- Vision 3D – Hypnose
- MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
- Bartees Strange – Farm to Table
- Blushing – Possessions
- Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
- Smirk – Material
- CLASS – Epoca de Los Vaqueros
- Mick Trouble – It’s Mick Trouble’s Second LP
- Johnny Marr – Fever Dreams, Pts. 1-4
Unranked for now
- Spread Joy – II
- *The Weather Station – How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars?
- Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
- Wilco – Cruel Country
- Papé Nziengui – Kadi Yombo
- Freak Genes – Hologram
- The Orchids – Dreaming Kind
- Dot Dash – Madman in the Rain
- The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness – The Third Wave Of…
- KT Tunstall – NUT
- Glaas – Qualm
- Mitraille – Mitraille
- *Bliss Fields – Slowly, Forever
- Crime of Passing – Crime of Passing
- Kindsight – Swedish Punk
- Syndrome 81 – Prisons Imaginaires
- Kpax! – Kpax!
- Pale Blue Eyes – Souvenir
- Die Verlierer – Die Verlierer
- Public Body – Flavour of Labour (EP)
- Khruangbin and Leon Bridges – Texas Moon (EP)
- *Rapport – Floating Through the Wonderwave (EP)
- *Rare Spam – EP (EP)
- Arny Margret – intertwined (EP)
- Fugitive – Maniac (EP)
- Trauma Ray – Transmissions (EP)
- Mo Dotti – Guided Imagery (EP)
- Private Lives – Private Lives (EP)
- Lifeguard – Crowd Can Talk (EP)
- *Coins Parallèles – Démo (EP)
- Rouge – Rouge (EP)
- Clear Capsule – Gravity Licker
- His Lordship – His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume 1
Best 2021 Albums Discovered in 2022
- Snapped Ankles – Forest of Your Problems
- Nation of Language – A Way Forward
- feeble little horse – Hayday
As always, music helped me through this year’s highs and lows, reinforcing my belief that music is as essential to my life as food, oxygen, and love.
Just for fun, here are some of my previous lists:
- My Best of 2021
- My Best of 2020
- My Best of 2019
- My Best of 2018
- My Best of 2015
- My Best of 2014
- My Best of 2013
- My Best of 2012
- My Best of 2009
- My Best of 2008
- My Best of 2007
How about you? What were some of your favourites?