Top 10 Albums of 2022
10. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
I’ve been vaguely aware of Sharon Van Etten for years, but this is the first of her albums I made the time to listen to, purely because of the excitement surrounding it. The album is full of massive, theatrical synth atmospheres and hooky melodies. It is definitely bleak in it’s tone, but the energy and pace of the record stop the listener from feeling dragged down by lyrics about heartbreak and existential sadness. My favourite track has to be Headspace, a song full of icy distorted synths, which at moments doesn’t sound miles away from something Trent Reznor would produce. Van Etten repeats “baby don’t turn your back to me” in the chorus, making it sound like a song about heartbreak. However, after watching the music video, it becomes clear that the ‘headspace’ she is talking about is time away from our phones, and the plea she sings is to someone ignoring her in favour of staring at their phone. The albums lyrics are a rumination on the state of things, but they’re never too on-the-nose to sound like the sort of whinging you might see on social media. It’s a strong-feeling album that, like it’s title, feels closer to a call to action than a complaint.
9. El Knight – In Light of my Contempt
El’s debut album has a real feeling of ease to it. It’s full of confident and laid back songs with hooky melodies that keep me coming back to it. The album’s opener, King, feels like a reimagining of Mazzy Star’s Into Dust, but with more immediate and electronic production. My favourite on the album has to be You Wanna Love? with its driving drums, trip-hop bass line and spacey piano textures, it definitely recall bands like Massive Attack and Portishead. Elsewhere there are breakbeats and smooth basslines which are groovy and propulsive. Little cracks in El’s voice amplify the lyrics’ emotion to great effect, and give their voice a distinct character. Throughout the album, there are programmed horn sections, a sitar, congas and more orchestration that gives it well rounded and fleshed-out feel. WFTP was lucky enough to have El perform at our second Attic Sessions: LIVE event last year, and their set perfectly suited the intimacy of our venue. The album is fantastic, and is a great soundtrack to walking home late at night.
8. Soichi Terada – Asakusa Light
A friend told me about Soichi Terada in the context of his work as a composer for video games like Ape Escape and then showed me some pictures of a smiling man in a Hawaiian shirt. My first impression left me thinking his music would have a novelty factor, and I wasn’t too confident I would like it. Obviously I was wrong, as video game soundtracks are just one thing that Terada can do, and he shouldn’t be limited to that. The ambient deep house of Asakusa Light is colourful and textured, full of chugging bass and bright synth tones. The album stays true to the structure of traditional house music but without sounding pastiche – it has a contemporary and fresh feel and plenty of variety from track to track. I found myself listening to this album a lot while working last year. That isn’t to say that I hear it as background music, but it has a peaceful quality to it that makes it work well played at low level, which is something I don’t think applies to a lot of house records.
7. Boci – We Are Each Other, This Will Set Us Free
I didn’t expect the debut album from Boci, folk musician and violin looper, to be this expansive. Boci writes performs the vast majority of the music heard on this album, which includes violin, guitar, bass, piano and percussion. The album is layered and complex, as the listener is guided through stories and mediations tackling grief, solitude, and relationships. The songs are loosely structured, full of swells and builds to contrast the more delicate, quieter moments. Highlights include the sunny All My Weight with it’s bright instrumentation and cathartic chorus section, and Eruption, which is full of lush strings and twinkling piano melodies. Seeing Boci live is quite a different experience, and to see these songs fleshed out with a seven-piece band including a drummer and synth player gave the songs a more visceral sensibility. I look forward to hearing what she releases next!
6. Oehl – Keine Blumen
I was reading up on the 50th anniversary of Neu! releasing their debut album which was in 2022, when I saw a promotion from their record label for Keine Blumen, the second album from Austrian-Icelandic duo Oehl. The two bands don’t have much in common sonically, but I immediately liked what I heard. On their website, they have a quote from a journalist who describes them as something along the lines of Europe’s answer to Tame Impala, which I can definitely hear. The album has the same crystal-clear and modern production that Tame Impala’s last two albums have, but without the saccharine lyrics and cheesy melodies. Keine Blumen has a great balance of moods throughout, engaging pop structures, and some amazing rubbery basslines. I found the album immediate and instantly likeable, and I’m sure others would too, so here’s hoping they decide to tour the UK one day.
5. Medicine – Drugs
I interviewed Brad Laner, the only member of Medicine who’s been in the band since their foundation in 1990, on the WFTP podcast last year. He mentioned that he still uses a lot of the same pedals and effects that he has done from the start, which is probably what gives the band their distinct distorted and angular sound. The only other musician performing is drummer Jim Goodall who is in his 70’s, and Laner is 56, which he pointed out to me is pretty old to be making a high-energy psychedelic noise-rock album. Goodall’s drums are frantic and loud, and often forefront in the mix. Laner’s production is unique, and he will often put jarring noises in strange places which keep the listener on their toes. I’ve always enjoyed how heady and wild his songs sound, and that energy is present throughout this record. Laner uses modular synths, something not often present on Medicine albums, to add a new flavour of sonic experimentation to his songs, which places the album even further away from the shoegaze label that used to be slapped on Medicine’s albums. Medicine is still making fresh and exciting music late into their career, and I hope they continue to do so.
Listen to the full interview with Brad Laner here.
4. Sarah Davachi – In Concert & In Residence
This album is a bit of an outlier on this list. It isn’t structured into songs, there’s no vocal, and it’s hard to pick out favourite moments, as it works so completely as a whole. It’s hypnotic ambient drones draw you in and soothe you, as new musical elements, often singular notes, are gradually added and taken away from the mix. It’s effect is different from music that Brian Eno would classify as ambient: “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. There’s nothing ignorable about these pieces, they have a strange intensity to them and the simplicity of the compositions leave you entirely focussed on their developments, preventing their slipping into the background. I’ve watched some videos of Sarah performing, and for her it seems like a mediative process. Glimpses of the notation she is reading from reveal that there is a lot more going on than may first be apparent, which is perhaps why her music is so engaging.
3. Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!
Since 2013’s Doris, I’ve enjoyed everything Earl Sweatshirt has released. I never liked the shock-rap thing that he did with Odd Future, but everything after he left OF has been great. His deep, lazy sounding voice is often compared to MF DOOM, but the wonky loops and muddy production on releases like Some Rap Songs give Sweatshirts sound its own distinct feel. SICK! is an extension of that sound, with lyrics about personal relationships, race, society, and other serious subjects. You can hear samples of speeches and interviews on the album, giving the impression that Sweatshirt has been seriously studying what he is rapping about, and that there is a lot weighing on his mind. While OF leader Tyler the Creator has gone stratospheric, Earl Sweatshirt seems happy to be working (relatively) away from the limelight, often featuring artists with a far smaller audience to him. Sweatshirt’s lyrics are often abstract or obscured in the production, emphasising the woozy feel of the songs. Earl Sweatshirt seems to have found his sound, and keeps gradually improving on it.
2. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
The band is made up of Thom & Jonny from Radiohead, and jazz drummer Tom Skinner, from Sons of Kemet. I’ve enjoyed nearly all of the Radiohead side projects, and I really love how each of them has a distinct character. The Smile’s debut album is full of irregular time signatures and rhythms which fully make use of Skinner’s background in Jazz. Thin Thing is the album’s highlight for me, and Jonny’s fidgety, percussive guitar riff is proof that even after 50, he can still come up with a new way to play the guitar. The way the riff awkwardly slips into the distorted chorus gives the whole song an anxious and unsettled feeling which I think puts it up with some of Radiohead’s best. The band have realised live videos of 2 or 3 new songs since the release of this album already, and it seems that they are trying things that Radiohead never have. For example, Bodies Laughing is the most obviously not-Radiohead tune, with a phased psychedelic guitar part and a bassline that shows their love of CAN clearly. Jonny spoke in an interview about how this project felt like he had been given a second chance, so it will be exciting to watch the development of these reinvigorated musicians.
I interviewed Jonny a little while before this album was announced, about all of his solo work and Radiohead. You can watch the video here.
1. Just Mustard – Heart Under
I don’t like how every band who gets labelled “shoegaze”, or compared to My Bloody Valentine tends to just be a band who use loads of distortion and make everything sound washed out and distant. What I love about the genre, and MBV, is the creative use of effects to make something that sounds nothing like the instrument thats playing it is meant to sound. These exciting textures and weird sonic ideas make for an engaging and intense listening experience. Heart Under is a perfect example of this kind of sonic experimentation. The songs are abrasive, layered, and dense. Katie Ball’s vocals are eerie and distant, and her lyrics are often lost in effects, so her voice is used more as an instrument. I saw Just Mustard live in Bristol’s Exchange last year, and the audience at this sold-out show were totally engaged by the performance. The gaps between songs were nearly silent, and I felt this was because the audience was too mesmerised for cheering.
Listen to my interview with Katie here.
List by Alex Wilson