Top 10 Albums of 2022

10. Bombino – Sahel

In recent years I have been delving further and further into traditional music from Africa & the Middle East. This has lead me to find contemporary artists who put their spin on those traditional forms and bring it into the 21st century. Bombino’s Sahel is a fresh take on Tuareg blues music, mixed with his personal taste for Western guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. It’s a fantastic album of virtuosic guitar playing, but without what I find so off-putting about most music labelled that way – gimmicks and excess. The musicianship displayed is tasteful, creative, and engaging throughout.

9. OSEES – Intercepted Message

Whatever Jon Dwyer does with his various line-ups and configuration of his band over the years keeps me interested. It’s not always perfect – 2018’s Smote Reverser for example, felt bloated and a little aimless – but releasing an album nearly every year is bound to yield some weak moments. In this phase of the band’s career, Osees are at their best when writing tight, concise songs with driving rhythms from their double drummer setup. Intercepted Message is full of those, with a previously unheard focus on Tom Dolas’ synth playing, which adds a new flavour to their sound. 

8. Cautious Clay – KARPEH

A lot of modern jazz influenced records lack the loose and human feeling that helps to make classic jazz records so appealing. Modern production methods can leave albums sounding flat, rigid, and overly shiny. Cautious Clay’s Karpeh captures that looseness well, with a fresh and human feeling all over the record, with effects adding colour and depth. There is a clear Thundercat influence on some tracks with rubbery flanger bass guitar, though where Thundercat would sing about cartoons, Clay keeps things more vague and open to interpretation. The album, which takes his family’s name, feels highly personal though – answerphone messages about family and racial injustice punctuate the album. The rhythms are infectious, and the instrumentation is rich and varied. The album is released on storied jazz label Blue Note, which proves they are still looking for boundary pushing artists and new takes on jazz, as it nears it’s 90th birthday.

7. Clark – Sus Dog

Tiny fragments of hooky melody pop out from layered synth patterns making Sus Dog immediate, but never boring. The swelling builds and explosions are powerful and sometime overwhelming. Something that works well throughout the record is the counterpoint between Clark’s so falsetto vocals and the heavy and distorted synth basslines. They offset each other perfectly, creating a strangely intense emotional atmosphere. The album’s character is cinematic and grandiose, with plenty of detail to warrant repeat listens.

6. Amy May Ellis – Over Ling and Bell

A beautiful, delicate and melodic album from the first track, Over Ling and Bell is a fully realised and fantastic debut. The record is wistful and melancholic, full Amy’s of warm and personal lyrics about friendships, folk tales, and her home county of Yorkshire. The variety of instrumentation and creative production techniques makes the album stand apart from many folk albums, which I can find overly simplified, and leaves plenty to be found on repeat listens. I had a chat with Amy about the making of her album around the time of it’s release, which you can watch here.

5. Oneohtrix Point Never – Again

‘Again’ feels like a journey back through all of the various different sounds and styles Oneohtrix Point Never has explored over his career. There are acoustic strong sections, warbled vocal effects, sweeping MIDI arpeggios, and eerie pads and synths. Something I hear in a lot of OPN’s work is a strange nostalgic dreamy quality that is both engaging and uneasy. This quality is harder to explain than the nostalgic mood of Boards of Canada for example, who use lo-fi techniques, gear, and samples to achieve their mood. A Barely Lit Path sounds crisp clear and modern, but manages to evoke nostalgia and an otherworldliness I can’t quite explain.

4. Earl Sweatshirt – VOIR DIRE

The last few releases from Earl Sweatshirt have fit a similar structure: Roughly half hour albums, short songs, dense poetic lyrics, and off-kilter beats. This format still really works – Sweatshirt’s laid back and sleepy delivery sits nicely in contrast to The Alchemists vibrant instrumentals, and his lyrics and flows are colourful and inventive. It feels as though Sweatshirt is working on tightening up his sound rather than experimenting with anything especially new, which sounds like it could get repetitive, but there are enough subtle changes and differences for you to be left wanting more.

3. ML Buch – Suntub

I heard ML Buch’s 2020 release Skinned early last year and immediately fell in love with it. It was weird to read her describe the album as a guitar album, as there are so many effects used across it, that it’s hard to work out what you’re listening to – but that’s the point. Both Skinned and now Suntub are albums focussed on atmosphere and texture, creating fluid and floating songs with a mixture of vulnerable and surrealist lyrics. There are sounds reminiscent of 1980’s alternative bands like Cocteau Twins, as well as production that feels like some of Oneohtrix Point Never’s 2010s work, but Buch definitely offers something new with her strangely warm and emotional worlds.

2. Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

This album is full of addictive and expertly crafted songs. I had it on repeat for a good couple of months after its release, and it still hold up when I go back to it now. Like many people, problem with a lot of pop music is how throwaway it can feel. Using pop sensibilities mixed with creative structures, adventurous production and some fantastic features – as proven on this record – can result in an album that is equal parts immediate and complex. I have read in a few places people saying she’s ‘this generation’s Björk” which I think is a pointless comparison as they are both huge talents who offer unique and exciting work, why can’t both artists be their own thing?

1. James Blake – Playing Robots Into Heaven

James Blake’s albums like Assume Form and Friends That Break Your Heart are heavily focussed on traditional song writing and structures. His early work was far more experimental and loose, rooted more in club culture, bass music and post-dubstep, and there was a big shift in his fanbase and the size of his audience when he made this change. A sizeable chunk of the press Blake did promoting Playing Robots Into Heaven mentioned what he was calling a return to his earlier styles and influences, with the added feature of modular synths. I actually think it falls quite nicely between the two opposite ends of Blake’s career, feeling like a fully realised expression of everything he’s in to. There’s spells of Ambient, R&B, and Dancehall, all with Blake’s beautiful chord voicings and production – no weak tracks or dull moments. Quite possibly his best.

List by Alex Wilson

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