2022 Albums of the Year; 10–1.
10. Vein.fm — This World Is Going to Ruin You
This is an album that cranks up every violent and punishing dial as far as it can go. It covers everything meaningful in gasoline and spits a match onto the pile. It sounds like the record is written in character, with the intent to force people to get as far away as possible from the blast zone. It’s heavy and toxic and doesn’t let up. When I listen to music with “screaming” and guitars that don’t play traditional riffs, instead opting for breakdowns and extreme distortion, I think I can talk my way through to someone and help them find the golden core, the Music within it all, that we can unite upon and understand that sometimes a metalcore song has the same appeal that a pop song has, etc. Not with this kind of sound. This is the sound of sweating out a fever, the sound of driving full-speed over a suspension bridge in a blizzard, the sound of being chased. It’s incredible: there are times when it’s difficult to really pick from one song to the next and determine how to introduce someone to a sound like this. It feels like a film. One really has to get immersed in the entire presentation of what the band is trying to put together, from the hollow and haunted keys to the buzzsaw screams distributed in layers. What’s more, the record is produced so that every voice of every instrument is distinct. It would be easy to sludge these sounds together like some kind of destroyed Monet painting, but instead there’s so much respect shown to each individual tool. Just a powerful and demented record. I fucking love it. Plus, dude, a turntable shows up? Bro. As the record ends, it does simmer out a bit, but the band has “committed to the bit” maintaining a dark and downward spiral, even though there is nothing left to burn and no structures left to raze.
Check Out: Versus Wyoming
9. Chalk Hands — Don’t Think About Death
In the early ‘10s while I was backpacking and bebopping around Brooklyn, trying to go to as many shows as I possibly could (and boy was I spoiled in how much live music was coming through and MAN did I take it for granted), there was a style of music that was flourishing, one that I couldn’t devour enough of. Sure, there was screaming, but it had a desperation that was less about inflicting rage upon others than it was pleading to its recipient. The music was less about creating “heavy” “parts” the way that hardcore and metalcore had been doing, and was using more of the pillars of indie music and rock to bolster the songs. To boost pretention, this style felt more artful than other styles with many of the same tenets. THIS record is such a revival of just that sound, an homage and a return to what it means to be clawing and tearing at a concept. Catharsis is one of the first concepts that come to mind, like journaling through screams born out of the solar plexus. This is a band that would have been at home right beside so many of the main-stays, right beside Touche Amore, beside La Dispute, beside Pianos Become the Teeth. There’s a blend of the scouring yelps from melodic hardcore, from the long and pensive instrumental breaks of post-rock that strike perfect ratios. Something that can feel a bit limiting about bands like this is, in my mind, the perfect digestion of a style like this; for me it is always in a small room, large enough that a band’s personal PA won’t quite be adequate, but intimate enough that you can make eye contact with the band members between songs, can meet them at the merch table. I often don’t think this style translates to a huge venue, but in this case, I think the ambition and the size is what makes this band indicative of the next step for the genre. Their commitment to immensity feels bigger than those that came before. I think they’ve struck a perfect balance of the small voice that rests within enormous soundscapes.
Check Out: Teeth and Nails
8. Author & Punisher — Krüller
Melodramatic and the size of the world, this record is exactly the infusion that goth and industrial music needed. This music is dark and rusted and worn and synthetic. It’s dark, glamorous in a miserably ugly way. The crunch of the guitars roll across the soundscape like hulking vehicles known more for their presence than their utility. And mostly, that’s what this record really shines with: presence. It hangs heavy in the room, intrusive and invasive. Polarizing. I can see this record being considered “cringey” and maybe even a novelty. But something like this, something this ambitious and consuming, really speaks to me in a unique way. This is unlike anything else I heard this year, and for good reason. Tristan Shone is a one-man band who creates his own instruments and controllers, each of them looking more like a piece in an enormous factory than an instrument itself. This is sonic experimentation, creation and destruction on a different level than anything I listen to on a regular basis and I love how far into the frontier this record presses. You can close your eyes during most parts of this record and feel surrounded by an atmosphere, by a different place. It’s such an escapist record, not grounded in anything analog or tangible. It shows such a unique vision by an artist willing to be consumed by their work, and to turn the result back on us just as constructed as it is the inverse.
Check Out: Maiden Star
7. No Sun — In the Interim
Sometimes the songs on this record are so heavy, I can’t imagine these guys recording and not laughing their asses off at the obsidian dirge that they’re making with their instruments. It’s slow and trudging, an infinite sadness and despair curdled into sound. It comes without murk and without hate though, more Sisyphus than Hades, more labor than war. Above the sludge is a calming lightness of vocals that hovers along the static which grants a little bit of serenity to the crushing ward. The band is masterful at wielding the feedback that comes when the instruments are pushed to their limit, at manipulating the fringes of the technical aspects of sound and bending them to their will like shifting gears in a vehicle that’s struggling to make it to the destination, turning over just one more time. There’s something beautiful within this, some observational and omnipotent calm that comes with the dichotomy of the grunge from the music and the composure of the vocals and how it all settles together. Nothing is comfortable, but it brings brief respite.
Check Out: Through the Mirrored Door
6. Band of Horses — Things Are Great
This is such a great record but it’s unsettling in a hundred different ways. This album is light and catchy with massive hooks and fun choruses, but within the themes of the songs themselves, there’s something amiss. There’s distrust, heartbreak, lack of empathy, shortcoming. It all feels like getting to a beautiful island or coastal paradise only to never quite get the sun to come out in all its glory. These are some of Band of Horses most well-written songs to date, furthering the maturation of the style they’ve been honing for years. This is the next logical step in their sound coming from Why Are You OK six years ago, maintaining the unique tone of Ben Bridwell’s high-pitched falsetto-adjacent singing voice. I think this is a record that gives and gives and doesn’t quit giving, even when there’s nothing left and even when everything is lost, the songs continue to pour out, whether it’s a cry for help or a need to be released and emptied. Just like their other records, this is an album that has a sadness in its core that often won’t be found until you’re left alone with it and you catch a line that sounds like it was written for you, and as you pull the thread, you’ll unravel it to find a letter to the weakest parts of you, the parts that have failed and the misgivings you’ve yet to allay. This record will make eye contact with you as it stumbles into a bar, laughing as it goes. Light, even poppy on its surface, this is a record you can play in the best of moods with the best of intentions. I think this may be the best record of the second half of the band’s career, doing all of the things that made their first couple of albums remarkable.
Check Out: Lights
5. Ithaca — They Fear Us
Where do I start? These guys bring a fresh energy to a genre that is tried and true and well-worn. Chugging and horror chords and breakdowns are such an integral part of one of the core styles of music I gravitate towards and this record has them all. Combine that with a vocalist who has the remarkable capability of elongating and relaxing their voice to create an enormous space, a pulse of ambient light, and we have an incredible recipe for one of my favorite records of the year. From track to track, I’m making the ugliest faces, the meanest mugs while jamming along with this one. It’s a metalcore classic. Each track has a memorable aspect to it, whether it’s a transition to or from a singing part, whether it’s a big chorus or even in the case of the final track of the record, a huge power ballad to seal the deal. If the rest of the record is the Deftones’ ‘Elite’, this final song is Palms’ ‘Antarctic Handshake’. The fury is tangible, a heat coming off of a writhing machine. In a genre that has been stalwart for so many years, dominated by mosh calls and seven-string bedlam, this record returns to the places that Misery Signals ventured into with sweeping and thoughtful guitar parts ushering in the ruination. It mirrors the consideration of As Cities Burn and the way that demolition is more than body count and conquering. There is a joy to the word Flare that I don’t think belongs here, but there is some je ne sais quoi that’s added to the tincture, that laces this record’s inertia which is going to carry its legacy forward for me.
Check Out: Cremation Party
4. Allegra Krieger — Precious Thing
This was initially a record I spun for the first time late at night while walking my dog. It begins slowly, spiraling through its notes and coiling the listener into a mental swaddle. That first night was so dark, and this music so calming it was hard to stay present in the moment of walking through my neighborhood, instead allowing my mind to wander through the willows and the gossamer of the vocals and the delicate string play that were creating ripples on my mental pond. I wasn’t able to finish the record my first time with it, but coming back to it the next day during my drive to work, I got transported back to that same place where I couldn’t get my mind into its right place. I eagerly returned to it again on that nightly walk, the blackness swallowing me alive, this record granting a simulated vortex which brought me to a completely different realm. It takes a special entry in the folky, wispy, diaphanous musical world to really catch my attention. There has to be something alive at its roots, something vivacious despite its restraint. And this record shows exactly that. It’s a complete and organic being through and through, a genuine companion, an engulfing mood. There are certain frequencies that meet with visions in my mind, and this is one of those that has struck a beautiful chord to create an entirely new entry. It has been a go-to for me during those night walks, to dip into a daydream, to dip a foot into a pool that rests beyond a milky portal. This is the pensieve that reveals a bridge between that which lies both within and without.
Check Out: Let Go
3. SOM — The Shape of Everything
I am an absolute sucker for records that don’t sound like they were written on this planet. And this, The Shape of Everything, is something that feels like it has touched the far reaches of space where gas clusters fold into colonies of cloud so dense that they resemble tangible reeds bearing an indescribable hue. Where the atmosphere is so dense that even the weightiest material floats heavenward as if a pulse in time has erased all laws of gravity. This music is all about suspension. As heavy as the guitars get (and they sound absolutely gnarly), the vocals from Will Benoit drift through the channels of sound effortlessly, sustained by the dancing and fluttering reverbs, shockwaves and transmissions that rattle off of the swelling waves of the instruments. There’s marriage in these opposites that create a Venn diagram of hope amidst the wrenching damage that swings down, and you can sit right within its eye. This is a record that takes lessons from bands like Hum, The Deftones, Hopesfall and Codeseven then proceeds to turn them into something completely their own. It is alchemy. There is no lack of exploration within the fathoms of this sound, as there are just so many layers to tuck yourself in the corner of, as if nestled in a corridor of the Borges’ library of Babel. The conflict within the styles at play, the light within the darkest core and the sound of the canary still singing from a crevasse in the coal mine deep below the water table, constantly begs a curiosity of just how far the band will stretch the elastic of diverting styles. It gets so heavy. It becomes so beautiful. The symmetry and respect paid to both styles is unforgettable. They’ve struck a balance so pure that there are few places to go outside of this record, so you continue to tunnel within it.
Check Out: Heart Attack
2. Catcher — The Fat of a Broken Heart
Theatrics in a black out. Grotesque angles of a man through strobe lights. Roadkill on the two-lane, silhouetted in the guillotine of your headlights. This record captures something thrilling about the darkest spaces, the gaps between hope. I understand that Twitter isn’t typically a place we go to find wisdom, but this is a nugget I saw from a user several years ago, and while I didn’t need it specifically, I think it’s a piece of imagery that I’ve applied to dozens of things over the decade: “Jerking off isn’t going to bring her back.” Now I know this might not qualify as “wisdom” or even an offering from “the wise” (though for my money, in metaphor, it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in years), but I will share this: my year has been awful. It’s tested a lot of my patience, my limits, my boundaries, my perception. It’s gone beyond the meter stick and I’m out of my depth, gulping for air and swinging at every noise I hear. And I know it’s always time to stay present in the now. To appreciate what we have before us. To know that the sand will fall out of the hourglass. To know that there are endings to all things. To not get shanghai’d by a future that hasn’t snatched us yet, nor gobsmacked by a past we have survived. I know it’s best not to wear the blood we’ve shed. But sometimes, I must admit, it feels good in some vengeful and masochistic way to stand knee-deep in FUCKED and stare at the light from the bottom of the well. This record is that well and it is that light and it feels good to rub it on what’s wrong and feel it burn. It feels good to touch the broken tooth. One day, it’ll be better, but some days I need the terrible mineral that’s mined from this record. It’s slow and baleful, guitars wailing like deep-sea mammals descending from the surface. The drums it peddles out are meager and heavy, cymbals crashing like flashbacks. If you’re in any way familiar with Poison the Well’s Versions, you’ll find many similarities here, though instead of Moreira’s roar, you’ll find a matter-of-fact flatness delivered through the microphone, one that makes you reckon with the seed of humanity’s fertile overgrowth. The guitars similarly groan and hang over a month’s worth of dusks, ache over plains before being choked into cities, then ground into valleys. This is menacing the way despair is, with no boundaries or limit. It’s so rad, man. I love it.
Check Out: Hunger
- The Smile — A Light For Attracting Attention
Lately, my mind has been a tangle of fiber, thin and coarse like fishing wire. Each strand encircles and becomes the next like barbs, thought no longer a running spool nor a vision cloud, instead shaping itself into a colony of spinal curvature, ribbed and looped and creating a gnarled alphabet of illegible handwriting. Internal dialog is like the spoken missive of a dream you can barely remember, the hushed whisper of vesper anesthetics. Where I thought I would need a bit of clarity to find what made this record special, instead it has worked as a comb that has sorted out the ratking into individual tails to lay upon the loom. It has been a will o’ the wisp to guide me out of the labyrinth, each new track a calming corridor of delicate echo that works to hover me above hazard. That’s not to say that Greenwood, Godrich and Yorke haven’t constructed their own riddles throughout this record as they always have, but here they wear the guise of Virgil more than the horns of the minotaur. Reverbs linger and find their own timelines, vocal lines haunt new portions of the songs each time I hear them. Tom Skinner’s drums are tight and sparse, even on the songs that beg for more of a rock presence, allowing for an airy experience across all tracks. While this does feel like a Radiohead offshoot (as it should), I think this record really feels more like the next step in the Thom Yorke creationverse, the next progression from his work on the Suspiria soundtrack. There’s a lot of direction that feels directly linked to the same ideas that he was employing there which I don’t believe received enough attention when it dropped. The seeds seem to yield the same fruit. And to add the work of Johnny Greenwood and newcomer Tom Skinner along for the ride, it feels like this band is just getting started on some of the twilight years for one of our generation’s greatest writers and composers. This is the salve that seals the wound, the way out when once there was no way through.
Check Out: Pana-vision