Yes, it’s time for the least anticipated post of the year. I’ve been doing this daily countdown over on Instagram (pity my followers) so here it is all gathered into one self-indulgent post. I’ve gone for a top 15 this year, with the caveat the entries and order would probably change if I did it all again tomorrow. My criteria for inclusion is albums I think I listen to a lot over the next few years. This isn’t always the same as critically interesting albums. So, here goes pop pickers:
No 15 – First Aid Kit: Palomino.
First Aid Kit’s release this year is a good case in point. It doesn’t branch out in any new directions particularly but it is a mature, confident record after a break since Ruins. Every track is a winning, carefully crafted pop folk tune. It is a brilliant First Aid Kit album & sometimes you want an artist to do the thing they are good at and do it really well.
No 14 – Beabadoobee – Beatopia.
Bea Kristi created the imaginary world of Beatopia when she relocated from the Philippines to London as a child & this apparently frames her second album. She’s 22 and it’s interesting for an oldie like me to hear an artist influenced by & reinterpreting the music of their youth (the 00s) which still seems recent to me. I guess this would be classified as grunge pop, but it’s also rich and varied. Pitchfork described it as “simultaneously heavy and light, dense and playful, melodic and dissonant” which sums it up well. It may be a bit too Gen Z for me to get all the references but I love an artist creating a world and sound of their own.
No 13 – Mitski: Laurel Hell.
Big grand pop with lush synths, all overlaid with a darker mood than her previous outings. Some belting tunes on this (the only heartbreaker, working for the knife) as Mitski struggles to answer the question of what do you do when you get what you wanted?
No 12 – Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever.
In which National Treasure Florence Welch returns with a vibrant album. The first 3 tracks are amongst her best, as she reconnects with the feeling of being together again post pandemic. She’s very much a performer but had struggled with touring & the lockdown provided an opportunity to rediscover the pleasure in performing. As such it’s a very celebratory album & a perfect post pandemic mood shaker.
No 11 – The Ezra Collective: Where I’m Meant To Be.
Joyous, life-affirming hip hop infused jazz. Every note is vibrant and full of the love of music. If I was ridiculously rich then the Ezra Collective would be the band I’d pay a ludicrous sum to perform at my birthday party.
No 10 – Beth Orton: Weather Alive.
It was a good year for Ortonites (I made that term up) with the reissue of Central Reservation & Trailer Park, and then in September a new album. This was her first self produced record, and it sees her meditating on motherhood, loneliness & the weather (you can tell she’s moved back to the UK). It’s fragility as a mood scape and probably the best thing she has done since those two folktronica albums.
No 9 – Soccer Mommy: Sometimes Forever
I was a big fan of Soccer Mommy’s (Sophie Allison) last outing, color theory, but this year’s release really developed her sound. There is her trademark indie rock but smeared across it all is a darker, industrial undertone. Sort of My Bloody Valentine meets the Primitives, with some moody synths. It’s great to witness an artist maturing and developing their sound while still retaining their core elements.
No 8 – The Smile: A Light For Attracting Attention
The addition of Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood is key to the success of this project. It sounds about 2/3rds Radiohead but with enough other influences to be it’s own thing. Like Radiohead but they’re enjoying themselves (which is not to say it’s a light album – it’s angry & moody & funky by turns).
No 7 – Arctic Monkeys: The Car
The Arctics could be releasing the 10 version of Whatever People Say, but they continually try to take their sound in a new direction. This is borne out by searching for rankings of their albums which all disagree with each other.
This year’s release continued the falsetto lounge lizard take Tranquility but with added 70s grime & funk. Can we please be absolutely sure that there’s a mirrorball?
No 6 – Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You.
Certainly the winner of oddest album title of the year. I have a few Big Thief/Adrianne Lenker albums & they’re worth a listen, but I find they can get a bit samey. Not so Dragon – it’s their White Album in that they’ve opted for “let’s chuck it all in the mix” approach. There’s the usual indie folk rock, some pop, some disco tunes & even some honky tonk. And they all work to give their best album to date. It’s all surprisingly upbeat and downright boppy in places.
No 5 – Hurray for the Riff Raff: Life on Earth.
They describe their sound in this album as Nature Punk. It’s angry & also hopeful, documenting topics the immigrant experience at the hands of ICE & surviving an abusive relationship. That sounds heavyweight & it is, but they craft the music so carefully that you find yourself bopping along to lines like “We sleep on the floor for 17 days/ We sleep on the floor like a dog”. As if Crass decided to release a pop album. It’s great stuff.
No 4 – Toro y Moi: Mahal
Effortlessly hip, these album glides smoothly from one laid back dance number to the next. Console yourself that no matter how cool you are, you will never be as cool as this album.
No 3 – Julia Jacklin: Pre Pleasure.
Aussie singer songwriter Jacklin’s release this year was full of charm, wit & singable tunes. Not many people can get away with middle-aged lyrics like “Please make sure you have got a little savings/
We have to try to be prepared for things changing” but she makes it work as she dissects the joys of being in love. A delightful album amongst the chaos of 2022.
No 2 – Damien Jurado: Reggae Film Star
We’re deep into “albums Martin liked more than most people” territory here. For Jurado’s 18th album he created a loose concept around faded 70s TV stars. This gives his lyrics a focus but the themes are universal,such as on the heart breaking “Roger”. Little slivers of everyday life that render the whole.
No 1 – The Delines: The Sea Drift.
About 18 years ago I bought Richmond Fontaine’s Post to Wire on a whim. I absolutely loved Willy Vlautin’s literate tales of low-lifes and losers. It remains one of my favourite albums.
After Richmond Fontaine formed the Delines with vocalist Amy Boone, describing themselves as a retro-country band. Their 3rd album continues Vlautin’s narrative style, told with disarmingly simple lyrics full of pathos (I could lie and say I’ll get a thicker skin/I’ve been trying my whole life to get a thicker skin). Boone’s bluesy voice is perfect to render these little slices of Americana.
It turned into a good year, after a slow start I thought. Here is a playlist of these and all the other new release vinyl I bought this year if you fancy a listen: