How is it time to do this again? It’s not natural. It’s not right.
I’m here to present my favourite albums from 2022.
Despite everything, I’m feeling much calmer than I was this time last year, thank you.
20. Miso Extra – Great Taste
Enter the Misoverse, a world of woozy slow motion r’n’b with varispeed raps, some in Japanese, about video games and other things. She calls it “umami for the ears.” She’s right; it’s delicious.
Fave track – Great Taste
19. Band of Horses – Things Are Great
All Bands of Horses songs are unhappy songs, in a way. But this is the most nakedly emotional they’ve ever been, and few of these emotions are pretty. Most of the songs seem to be about looking back on tough times from a better place, and Ben Bridwell’s not afraid to point fingers.
The songs are strong, and the melodies still have the same effect on the heart and soul as a deep drink from a pint of well-brewed tea. But the anger’s hard to ignore, making this the first Band of Horses album to make me feel slightly uneasy. It’s thrilling.
Fave track – Lights
18. Alison Cotton – The Portrait You Painted of Me
A series of slow, smouldering vocal and viola improvisations, which sound like they were recorded by candlelight in the dead of night. Occasionally a deathly harmonium enters the mix, like a distant wailing from some misty desertshore. Wyrd drones for weirder times.
Fave track – The Tunnel Underground Seemed Neverending
17. Vacant Gardens – Obscene
Sweet fuzzy ethereal sleepcore anthems wrapped in cotton, locked in a box, buried six feet under and recorded from a distance of 30 metres. Good shoegaze sounds otherworldly. This one’s so immersed in that otherworld that sometimes you can barely discern what’s going on. This is a Good Thing.
Fave track – Three Herons
16. Healing Force Project – Drifted Entities vol. 1
Imagine if an ice cold jazz collective decided to interpret Autechre’s Amber period. Just imagine it. This is a righteous brew where cool grooves meet dusty breakbeats, and where none of the lengthy jams seems to last for quite long enough. It makes me want to smoke something as I recite something to an audience of furious beatniks who hate me.
Fave track – Everything is Frequency
15. Say She She – Prism
I picture heaven as being made out of crystals. And this is what it sounds like. Specifically, these are the floorfillers of the heavenly disco, which is a wonderful place where the music’s loud enough to move you, but not so loud that you have to shout to make yourself heard. And the drinks! Cocktails, mainly, of rainbow colours and with a taste like zesty fruit-infused springwater. Served in crystal tumblers, of course, they’re potent enough to move you but not so potent as to transform you into a sluggish mute brawler.
Fave track – Don’t Wait
14. Noon Garden – Beulah Spa
It’s yer man from Flamingods, doing his own thing, which happens to be an uplifting surge of punchy beats, bubbling synths and joyous melodies. Not quite as chilled as you might expect a trip to the spa to be, but every bit as revitalising. Enter decrepit; leave glowing.
Fave track – Annapurna Guest House
13. Ural Thomas and the Pain – Dancing Dimensions
83 year old Ural Thomas, still bringing it like a man one quarter his age. He’s been making music for more than five decades, and were the production a little less crisp, this album could have been made five decades ago. Buttery smooth soul grooves about good times, good memories, ice cream and apple pie. Despite his backing band having a name like a grindcore atrocity, it seems his only goal is to make you happy.
Fave track – Ol Safiya
12. Empty House – Mushin
I’m going to start a campaign against austerity in ambient music. I’ve had my fill of sad, barely-there washes of sound that evoke nothing but a large, empty, brightly-lit space. It’s time to demand more from your ambience – like these mysterious windswept visas that call to mind dusty marketplaces staffed by phantom poets selling memories, feelings, and curses.
Fave track – Mushin
11. Gwenno – Tresor
It’s basically Le Kov part two, which is exactly what I wanted and needed from a new Gwenno album. So it’s a further collection of haunting electrified folk laments sung in dead or dying tongues.
It’s all so utterly enchanting, but things get legendary towards the end, when the lights dim and the mood shifts to the mysterious. That’s when you remember that, if ghosts could speak, they’d speak such long forgotten words as these.
Fave track – Tonnow
10. Björk – Fossora
Every time a new Björk album comes out, I find myself declaring it to be her best since Medulla. It’s the excitement of the new; but eventually I seem to find that her forlorn vocals and jagged, austere arrangements leave me feeling rather cold. Her past few albums are more to be admired than loved.
But this one feels different. For real this time, guys, for real. It’s hallucinogenic chamber pop, or mushroom techno, if you will. It demands and rewards deep listens. And it’s a genuine pleasure to listen to.
These days, when I return to any of her albums from Volta to Utopia, I find my reaction to be an approving nod accompanied by a slight frown. But Fossora feels like her first album in a long time that you can embrace knowing it will embrace you right back.
Fave track – Her Mother’s House
9. Al Lover – Cosmic Joke
Vintage synths set to rain-soaked trip hop beats. Like one of Tangerine Dream’s soundtracks as remixed by Tricky – or Nathan Fake before he got boring.
If the music videos they show in my gym are anything to go by, these days even the least imaginative minds are obsessed with the idea of driving a red sports car down a neon highway in the 80s at night. If that’s your jam, let Al Lover provide the perfect soundtrack for your outrunnin’. It’s transcendent without sounding like a tired pastiche.
Fave track – Deep Time/Complex System
8. Sunburned Hand of the Man – Live/Burn 10 – Sunburned with Herb Diamante
I was there! In a small room in the back of a pub somewhere far left in Leeds, a bunch of masked maniacs huddled on a cramped stage to summon new worlds out of thin air while a bespectacled bookish sort in a scarf mumbled about eggs, or something.
Truth be told, I was very, very drunk that night. The whole thing’s a barely-remembered blur for me. So it’s nice to revisit these sounds when sober. And when I do so, I find it sounds utterly demented.
Fave track – Wasp in a Jam Jar
7. Yama Warashi – Crispy Moon
At times this sounds like the sort of surreal anti-pop that Robert Wyatt would be proud to call his own. But it never sits still for long. This is an immersive technicolour dream, as wildly inventive and mercurial as you’d expect from a founding member of the much-missed Zun Zun Egui.
Fave track – Saku Saku
6. Pneumatic Tubes – A Letter From TreeTops
Look at that cover. It could only be Ghost Box. Well, quite. It says so right there, at the top.
Though most Ghost Box releases infuse their nostalgic memories with a vague or overt sense of dread, this one’s happy to just be.
Some hauntings are welcome. And sometimes browsing through an album of faded photographs can leave you feeling warmed without feeling like something’s been lost forever.
Fave track – TreeTops
5. Animal Collective – Time Skiffs
They’re back! But then, they never went away. Yet this is their first offering as a full-strength fourpiece in years, and my word, have they mellowed.
The songs still drift like lazy vapours over glowing campfires, but they’ve taken a giant step out of their oblique private realm and opened the door to let us – and the light – inside.
The easiest and most pleasant album they’ve ever put out. One I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who may have previously written them off. Some hardcore fans may dismiss it for being so… accessible? But this is just the sound of four good friends who are good at what they do having a good time together. And who could begrudge them that?
Fave track – Prester John
4. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Some asinine critics described it as “the best Radiohead album in years”, but to do so diminishes the astounding talents of O’Brian, Selway, and the other Greenwood.
But though I hate to admit it, they’re onto something. I don’t think Radiohead have put out a less than stellar album since 1993. But all the same, when did they last sound this focused, this vital, this hungry? And when did you last hear a Jonny Greeenwood part and think “just how the hell is he making that sound?”
Fave track – Speech Bubbles
3. Medusa Phase – Negative Space
An short yet very sweet album of slightly odd yet highly pleasing synth pop nuggets, sounding like long-lost demos from an ancient Stereolab session.
It bears repeat listens and I should know – initially this was one I nodded along to, and filed under “pleasant”. But its draw is irresistible. I kept coming back, and each time I did, I found something new to love and realised, to my intense delight, that there’s a deep sadness to these sleepy gems.
At the time of writing, they only have 21 monthly listeners on Spotify. There’s a whole world out there, isn’t there?
Fave track – Learning
2. Oskana Linde – Aquatic and Other Worlds
This was recorded between 1983 and 1989 by a Venezuelan scientist, but only released this year. These beautifully evocative electric dreams would plunge you into subaquatic alien worlds even if the titles didn’t lead you down such murky garden paths.
How many more masterpieces by outsider synth witches and wizards are currently slumbering in attics and archives, awaiting rediscovery?
Again: There really is a whole world out there, isn’t there?
Fave track – Playa Caribe
1. Wax Machine – Hermit’s Grove
2020’s Earthsong of Silence was a powerful crepuscular ray in an otherwise relentlessly miserable year. It wasn’t just wonderful – it was absolutely necessary.
Hermit’s Grove simply establishes the group as one of the most vital bands operating in Britain today. They announced themselves with stoned grooves and tea-soaked whimsy. But this time they lean heavily into Brazilian tropicalia and funky library music to create a heady, deeply satisfying kaleidoscope of an album that’s somehow even better than their near-perfect debut.
Let it go, let it go. Leave it in the past.
Fave track – Gaian Dream
It contains all the songs apart from those that aren’t on Spotify.