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The 20 Best Albums You May Have Missed in 2022
A (slightly late) list of the best of the year
The year 2022 was blessed with many great high-profile releases, from Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Rosalía, Valerie June, and more. But there are lots of wonderful records that get less attention, either because they’re too weird, too corny, from the wrong part of the world, too experimental, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. On this list, I’ve tried to collect some great albums that may not turn up elsewhere.
20. Glitch Princess—yeule
Singaporean singer/glitch princess Nat Ćmiel, aka yeule, exists simultaneously as cyberpop instance and self-tormented neurosis. Björk and Grimes are the obvious influences. But yeule is a lot less comfortable in her skin than her predecessors, twisting and turning on and through themself in a cascade of shoegaze/drone/darkwave that trembles between bliss and a scratch along the eyeball. The first track is a monotonous self-revelation/excoriation in which Ćmiel painfully lists her likes and dislikes in a slow robotic monotone (“I like to take up as little space as possible.”) The last track is five hours of start/stop ambient drift. In the middle is a beautiful, challenging record about hating and loving one’s too many selves.
19. Els Nous Cants De La Sibil·la— Ósserp
The third album from Catalan death-grind bludgeoners Ósserp is titled The Song of the Sibyl. And all I have to say is that that is one mightily enraged fortune-teller they found there. Els Nous Cants De La Sibil is an assault from beginning to end. The band starts with harsh, breakneck, ear-scalding pound. They finish with harsh, breakneck, ear-scalding pound. And in the middle—well, you’ve probably figured it out. If you want the flesh scalded from your bones, this is the sandblaster to deploy.
18. Zodiac Suite: Reassured—Jeong Lim Yang (feat. Gerald Cleaver & Santiago Leibson)
Bassist Jeong Lim Yang, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and pianist Santiago Leibson take Mary Lou Williams’ soulful, meditative 1945 “Zodiac Suite” for a left turn into dissonance and abstraction. Enough of the original is retained to keep a bluesy base for the freer leaps. The result is grounded, soulful, and unexpected, a trip to the stars filled with space and lovely, broken flashes of light.
17. Marlowe 3—Marlowe
North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham has a tough, rapid, earthy flow. Producer L’Orange creates MF Doom-worthy psychedelic soundscapes of old radio clips and smeared eclectic samples. Combine the two and you get Marlowe, a project whose third album is yet another tripped-out kaleidoscope of steel and streamers. “Last few weeks been the dirt, my God,” Bingham raps, “Rescue me from the Earth, my God.” Marlowe just about does.
16. French Café—Eve St. Jones
Eve St. Jones is a mystery. Literally. No one knows who she is. She’s probably a pseudonym for a Swedish group—contract performers who record jazz-for-people-who-hate-jazz to fill out Spotify playlists. French Café consists of soft bossa nova muzak versions of pop tunes that already sound like muzak—Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”, Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” Coldplay’s “Everglow.” It’s crass, tacky, seductive bathos; the sensuous husky vocals and lowest common denominator sentimentality are rolled into an anonymous sticky ball of schmaltz. Jazz purists may run screaming. But if you’ve made peace with tacky, this may be the perfect beige wallpaper for your heart.
15. Body Double—Siobhan
Detroit’s Siobhan takes dance music and hammers it in an industrial press until it is a spiky, screaming ooze of fetid noise. Body Double squeaks and skitters on the verge of melody before crawling towards ambient hiss, feedback shriek, and the interminable clatter of pistons. Body Double is a fiendishly evil ominous goth engine, perfect for your favorite creature of the night.
14. Tartit— Onom Agemo and The Disco Jumpers, Ahmed Ag Kaedy
Onom Agemo is a Berlin-based groove collective led by saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher. Ahmed Ag Kaedy is a Malian Tuareg guitarist. They team up for an album of tripped-out bliss. The Tuareg style usually recalls blues, but here the stinging, repetitive guitar lines fit easily into jazzy funk grooves. You can feel the camels undulate as they cross the desert, hips swaying beneath the slowly rotating disco ball.
13. Love & Algorhythms—Seratones
Shreveport’s Seratones are led by AJ Haynes, a vocalist with the skill to caress a lyric like a jazz singer and the power to call hogs in from the bayou. Love & Algorhythms allows her to use the full range of her instrument. “I’ll Be” is a breathy torch song. “Get Free” shakes and stomps like Sly Stone funk. “Pleasure” is Afrofuturist disco, with Donna Summer’s avatar shimmying through the cyberpunk wires. Love & Algorhythms takes sex positivity, Black liberation, and science-fiction, builds from them a joyous cyborg, and shakes that thing
12. Parallel Prints —Marcel Zaes (w/ Yarn/Wire)
Swiss composer Marcel Zaes created this work for Yarn/Wire, an NYC group with two pianists and two percussionists. On the first track, all four musicians hammer and thump on a single piano for 42 minutes, creating microtonal rhythms based on a color-coded score. The rest of the album is 19 tracks using computers to rejigger the same rhythmic components. The music sounds like minimalism with large chunks removed, with meandering chunks that throb and interweave and then throb again. Parallel Prints is an odd, lovely, and mesmerizing album.
11. Unity—Nina Hagen
Glorious German oddball Nina Hagen remains gloriously odd at 67. Her voice has roughened with age, and she sounds more like she is gargling sandpaper than ever. She bellows the worker’s anthem “16 Tons" with enthusiasm, and croaks her way through the uber-echoey New Wave sexy threat original “Venusfliegenfalle” (“Venus Fly Trap.”) Other hippie freak icons like George Clinton and Liz Mitchell of Bonny M show up for guest spots to thrust home the message of justice, freedom, solidarity, and fabulous camp for all.
10. Wellswood—Thomas Dollbaum
“Nothing good comes from Florida, including you,” Tampa singer/songwriter Thomas Dollbaum sighs at the opening of his debut album. His Americana is populated with grey-lit strip malls and dirty hotel rooms, bad relationships, bad nights, and bad drugs, from which his tenor lifts exhaustedly in and out of a light falsetto like an exhausted Paul Simon. The mid-tempo guitar strum shuffles from one song to another, too tired and numb to even feel bitter. Wellswood is a landscape of bleak, beautiful mope.
9. Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento— Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento
Bogota’s Eblis Álvarez sets loose his imaginary band the Meridian Brothers on a group of “classic” Latin tunes from the imaginary 70s salsa band El Grupo Renacimiento. That repertoire, (apparently), includes shoulda-been classics about police brutality, the atomic bomb, and transforming into a robot. The beats are unflagging and unflaggingly off. Everything is just a little out of tune, with harmonies a little off, and echo effects slightly too over the top. It’s like watching a tropical documentary underwater. Bizarrely entertaining, entertainingly bizarre, and completely unrestrained by the mundane demands of actually existing, The Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento is the best party that never was.
8. Component System With the Auto Reverse—Open Mike Eagle
“My insides was out. It felt weird,” Chicago-born, LA-based Open Mike Eagle declares with cross-eyed snark on his latest album. It’s a good summary of his cannily concussed approach—loopy, satiric, and unexpectedly vulnerable. His hyper-loquacious, laid-back flow touches on disillusion with Kanye, watching TV with his kid, and showing up on a playlist with Mitski, as a potpourri of modern detritus is sucked into his brain and blasted out of the stereo that is also his brain. Mike moves your head and your heart while making you giggle uncontrollably.
7. At First There Was Nothing—Anthony D’ Amato
As befits a performer from the land of the Boss, New Jersey singer/songwriter Anthony D’Amato has more than a bit of meat-and-potatoes roots rock in his make-up. But he mixes that with arrangements ornate enough to qualify as orchestral pop, adding Beach Boys harmonies to “Long Haul” and a plaintive trumpet on “Kinda Strange.” This is Americana of delicate grit, as comfortable in the clouds drifting in as on the dirt road heading out of town.
6. Seeping Evocation—Acausal Intrusion
Extreme metal often teeters on the edge of noise. But drummer Cave Ritual and guitarist Nythroth of Acausal Intrusion ask, “Why teeter when you can fall eternally into an abyss of filth?” Death, doom, and black metal all boil in an iron pot of ichorous riffs and raging blast beats. Acausal Intrusion is at home on the very evil experimental I, Voldhanger label with bands like Esoctrilihum and Zos. Even compared to its brethren, though, Acausal Intrusion is fiercely opposed to hooks, melody, rhythm, and pleasure. Listening to Seeping Evocation is like being beaten about the head with tombstones and a jackhammer. Not for everyone. But if it chooses you, prepare to be devoured.
5. Belladonna— Mary Halvorson (feat. The Mivos Quartet)
New York avant-garde jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson teams up with a new music string quartet for five tracks of transcendentally lurching bliss. Melodies fracture into stochastic plonking, and oceanic lyricism smooshes the sawing dissonance. Sometimes Belladonna sounds like an argument between Halvorson and the Mivos Quartet, with each plink and plonk demanding autonomy from the classical rush. And then, at other times, the five musicians join together in a single gracefully awkward Voltron of strings.
4. Dark Humor—Jana Rush
Chicago composer Jana Rush’s debut album Painful Enlightenment broke apart the frenetic pace of Chicago footwork into drifting paranoid shards and mournful jazz samples. The 2021 album was an intense exploration of depression, beats, and mental illness. A year later, her shorter follow-up, Dark Humor, staggers and lurches back towards dance music. The splashes of uptempo enthusiasm and horniness make this album even weirder than its predecessor. The burping, ominous “Clown” serves as a statement of purpose; each “ha, ha” scrapes like a knife. When the sample declares, “I’m just a clown,” the painted-on grin hides an expression that could be a smile, but might also be bared teeth.
3. Snakeskin— Julia Sabra and Fadi Tabbal
Julia Sabra’s vocals are high, sweet pop. Tabbal’s production wavers between experimental ambient and noise, all static clicks and abstract feedback. The Lebanese duo combines to make music of ravishing abstraction, simultaneously barren and lush. The album is a response to the Beirut port explosion of 2020, which left 300,000 homeless. Tracks like the sweeping choral “One by One,” are suffused with an oceanic, painfully numb grief.
2. I Am Servant of Your Voice (March 1917-June 1918)—Zabelle Panosian
Panosian was an Armenian singer of the early 20th century who, like many of her peers, fled the Ottoman genocide for the US. A classically trained soprano, her repertoire was focused on Armenian folk material, which she performs with aching vibrato. The tracks collected here, including her signature song “Groung (Crane)” are high, lonesome laments for a lost homeland and a traumatized people. The album, compiled by Canary Record’s Ian Nagoski, is an essential document of a forgotten American folk diaspora tradition. It reaches across a distance so great it seems unbridgeable. Then Panosian sings, and it is.
1. Where’s the One?—Congotronics International
In the early 2000s, the Belgian experimental label Crammed Discs released a couple of albums by Konono No.1, an amazing Congolese collective that uses electrified thumb pianos and walls of amplifiers to create a shattering assault of polyrhythmic noise funk. In 2011, fans of the group, including Argentinian electronica oddball Juana Molina, alt-rock legends Deerhoof, Congolese fellow travelers the Kasai Allstars, and more, performed a series of concerts with 19 musicians from four continents. An album documenting the tour was finally released this year, and it is ear-shattering, relentless, funny, weird, and glorious. If you like world music, rock, metal, electronica, dance, or having your brain melted down for slag, you need to listen to this immediately.
I could go on almost indefinitely. The last albums I took off the list were Jennifer Lopez’s Marry Me soundtrack (I know, but it’s so catchy!) and Santigold’s wonderful Spirituals. Shemekia Copeland’s excellent blues-rock release Done Come Too Far could have made it on another day. April March’s indie rock In Cinerama might have as well. You can’t listen to or list everything before the year ends. It’s fun to try, though.
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