2022 Albums of the Year; 20–11.
20. Ethel Cain — Preacher’s Daughter
This is such a sonic record. It sits somewhere in the concentric sound designs of Lana Del Rey, Lingua Ignota and Emma Ruth Rundle, boasting the same exposed-skin-revelations of Grouper. Of course it, too, is her own thing entirely. The instruments on the record, the backing sounds acting as a multi-tiered altar which situationally magnify and minimize Cain’s voice, whether it wants to be an all-encompassing deluge of emotion or a string of fairy light secrets. One thing that can be said about the record is that lyrically, verbally, this is some of the most powerful and honest stuff you will hear, as she reckons with home and God and her father and her Father and what all little travesties and trivialities have shaped her life in between and otherwise. You can lose your identity in this one, finding breadcrumb trails in the way that your regrets can walk beside hers. There are mirrored fuck-ups that we share as a species capable of love and mistakes and I think there are a handful few records that expose you to them as unapologetically as this one. This is a parked car in a pre-dawn parking lot record, a headphones on a walk to bedlam kind of album. Huge fan of it, though definitely not one to listen to on repeat. This is a big bite, a 75 minute trip, but one well worth doing all at once.
Check Out: Sun Bleached Flies
19. The Callous Daoboys — Celebrity Therapist
When I first started seeing the buzz about this band on social media, I assumed they were a pop-punk band or maybe even a ska band. The name was just a bit too cheeky to have an edge or anything sharp about them. BOY WAS I WRONG. This band has such a wide breadth of influence. The way that they play, the way that these songs are written, it feels like they are creating massive, punishing works of art with every session. These songs challenge the listener to keep up, to follow every thread of the music from genesis to completion. But what’s more shocking to me is how challenging the songs seem to be for the band themselves. There are time signatures being peppered from a billion angles, there are horror-chord slides and assaults ceaselessly swooping and invading, the drums heave cavalcades incessantly like hail storm bombardments. This sounds like a band who set on their journey of picking up instruments with the distinct goal of giving The Dillinger Escape Plan a run for their money. Throughout the record, there are moments of peace, times when you believe the record has let up for a little bit, long enough for a hook or a chorus to be sung. There are times when the shift happens immediately, from a calming part shifting without batting an eyelash into something blistering and abusive. And there are also times when things crescendo up slowly to the point where you don’t even know how you ended up in the middle of a roar and then the steady descent back into a different genre entirely. This is such a sick album, one that satisfies every need in just under forty minutes. Unreal breakdown parts, impressive (albeit brief) jazz snippets, intricate and full-bodied singing elements, and even some interesting narrative spoken elements that drew me into wanting to dive deeper into the lyrical portions of the record, something that I usually keep at pretty healthy arm’s length. Incredible that it exists at such a high level of quality and one that might take a few listens to really get your ears into a gear that is flexible enough to appreciate all of it in a complete listen (it took me a few times, for sure) but once it’s locked in, it’s locked in for good.
Check Out: A Brief Article Regarding Time Loops
18. Fairweather — Deluge EP
It’s sort of a miracle that this EP exists. This band has disappeared a couple of times throughout their tenure, once after a full-length that showcased a rather large transformation from their debut record. They toured and were gone, only to return around a decade later with a reunion show and a full-length to show for it shortly thereafter. This collection shows off four songs that are in some of the more mature, nuanced style of their record in the style of Lusitania with big strums, enormous spatial sounds, music to fill grand rooms at a stoic pace. This band is capable of so much, bringing the blend of pop-punk and 2000s RVA hardcore in some of their library and then this style of droney march as well. In some ways, I wish there was a bigger catalog of songs to dig through for these guys, but also, I’m glad that their output is so broad and spread apart, because the years between grant them chances to grow emotionally and stylistically. They can jump into and out of other bands, other experiences, and other headspaces, allowing them to create things that are the result of all of these unique scenarios. And no matter the expression, no matter the costume, no matter the New Design, the songs always feel like Fairweather. The identity remains in tact. ‘No Safe Corners’ is a song that I would never imagine this band would ever write, especially if I’m going back and revisiting the initial trilogy they came out with, but when you listen to it enough: of course it is. Often when asked “what are your favorite bands?”, Fairweather will be the first one that comes out of my mouth. And these four songs are extremely worthy of that title. Huge sounds with a masterful touch in production to make each mile and each marker shine.
Check Out: Untethered
17. Their/They’re/There — Their/They’re/Three
Masters of Emo
Masters of engineering, masters of getting “that new emo sound”, T/T/T is back in action and up to their old blistering guitar tricks, showcasing an absolute fireworks display of functional twinkles while still performing songs that are just as composed as they are technically impressive. The album sounds brilliant as well, full-bodied and scrumptious as if you were in the studio with them with isolated audio of each instrument and able to set the levels perfectly for your own enjoyment. Every detail is a portrait of its own design, minded with the utmost care and respect. These boys are passionate musicians, creating songs with artisanal determination and care, their fingerprints found on each tone, within each run of notes, along the neck of each solo. There is an immaculate economy of playing time, a deliberate and cautious metering of the way they open the floodgates of noodling to allow it to serve the song and not just to showboat or daredevil their way through a jam session.
Check Out: Living Will Or Living Well
16. Pianos Become the Teeth — Drift
Like men who have breathed out all of their vitriol in a zen retreat, cast it out of their pineal windows into the eternally still streets of the noospheric dark, this record is yet another step into the direction of peace and disentanglement for the guys in Pianos Become the Teeth. For most of the record, they sizzle along in a light heat, reminiscent of Kid A (and beyond) era Radiohead with light gestures upon the cymbals, percussion calmed to a rolling boil where a decade ago it had been a tempest. Vocally, not a scream nor a roar. Not even a strain to be found. The whole record sits in an almost repetitive single hum, zen and trance-like in its vibration. Movements can be observed from track to track, paragraphs reduced to psalms, chants that separate one penance from the next. But this is a far different band than the one we found in a howling rant and I think that might just be my favorite part of this record. The growth you can witness from one phase of the band to this one is jaw-dropping, louder than their loudest songs, past or present.
Check Out: Genevieve
15. The 1975 — Being Funny In a Foreign Language
Some New Mod
This year I read a book by Patricia Lockwood called ‘No One Is Talking About This’ and it was so referential of The Modern Now that it felt like reading it was a direct line to what Twitter and Instagram would be writing if these mediums themselves were authors. I think that listening to The 1975 often has a lot in common with that hyper-modern sense of referencing Exactly What’s Going On through their relatable lyrics and the way that they’re conversational. Not, of course, conversational in the sense that “we” used to consider the word, no, not at all. This isn’t anything about what we say to each other when we’re around each other and sharing a bite to eat or a drink, not about us sharing words we can hear each other say. Instead, lyrically, The 1975 sounds a lot like what we say to each other across the billion miles of wi-fi, under the covers of fathoms of screens and the glow that keeps us up at night and changes the way our brains shut down. This record sounds a lot like a John Hughes film, a Molly Ringwald vehicle. There are guitars that shine like keytars, popping and blooping along with the rhythm, enormously fat synths, saxophone solos. I’d even go so far to guarantee oversized white suits and black Ray-Ban Wayfarers. The first half of this record is littered with jukebox hits, custom-built for montages and shopping malls of the Reagan era. For me, the record peaks with ‘I’m In Love With You’, a track that feels right at home in today’s hits as well as alongside Huey Lewis and the News and The Bangles. Healy and the boys have such a sense of a timeless hit. The late portion of the record sits somewhere on the fence between pretention and art, with somber acoustic guitar, earnest piano keys, and contemplative vocal delivery. All of the fun is cast into the fire that they sit in front of, and they look back at the good times with a bottle in hand and consider the cost. These are just as taut as any great pop song, but they’re from a different angle, referencing things that hit closer to Frank Ocean and Peter Gabriel. Just such a cool, smart record. One that knows its own powers and is happy to utilize them all in varying chapters.
Check Out: Oh Caroline
14. The Mars Volta — The Mars Volta
Prog With Brevity
At any given time, At the Drive-In is anywhere from my #1 to my #3 favorite band. After they broke up in 2001 and The Mars Volta arose from the ashes of that splintering, Tremulant and De-Loused In the Comatorium also became some of my favorite music ever published. Those two powerful opinions stood as such strong fact in my mind that somewhere, the formula yielded the sum that The Mars Volta was also one of my favorite bands. Album after album, I ended up disappointed and in-over-my-head under the weight of sprawling and confusing prog-music, albums and songs that I ultimately didn’t enjoy. No matter what the case, I ended up liking the anatomy of the songs, but never the motion. The tips of all of the icebergs that rose from the frozen sea really caught my eye, but their meandering, their jamming, their spell-casting and semantics never landed. After about a decade, I had to ultimately resign myself to the fact that I wasn’t a Mars Volta fan. I was an At the Drive-In fan who liked two records. So when the singles for this record dropped and I didn’t enjoy them, not even one little bit, I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me, though, is that after the release of the full record, not only did I love the songs around the singles, but I found that the singles themselves were elevated to a degree where I ended up deeply enjoying them. This record on its own is what made The Mars Volta my most listened to artist on my Spotify Wrapped for the year. There are lounge grooves, there are hints of mod jazz, there’s bottled and focused experimentation. All of the things that made all of the “good parts” [for me] from their heady career were edited and restrained and even improved in directed portals that appear over and over on this record. These songs don’t take the same attention to deconstruct. They don’t beg for your attention, instead languishing in it. This has all of the cool and the weird journeys into the aural cavity of your mind that Rodriguez-Lopez’ solo projects nail, while still allowing for Bixler-Zavala’s unique voice to carry hooks and rhythms that are just as evocative as all the seances he’s conducted in previous volumes. There’s something completely different about this Mars Volta record, something that rested at the center of the labyrinth all this time.
Check Out: Blank Condolences
13. Cola — Deep In View
There are records that defy genre preference, ones that are able to be exactly what they are to whatever niche they are, but seem to pleasure more than just that intended audience. This record is exactly that. The suit it wears is one of that heroin chic, almost lazy wristed, snarled lip, hair covering the eyes, boot-tapping low energy rock record, one that feels as grimy as it does direct. There are few hooks, few choruses, and few ‘big moments’, but the sound quality, and the way that it drags you into the dive bar and fucks with you just enough for you want to come back and do it again is unmatched. It sounds like getting to your feet again in the middle of a hangover, like trying to pull together a serious conversation in the middle of an opiate black out. Lyrically, this is a style that I long for: a bewilderment at the banality of the most wonderful cities in the world, a wonderment at the self-realizations of observation and elements of detail. I would compare this sound to something along the lines of The Strokes, but with a darkness, with a pessimism.
Check Out: At Pace
12. Into It. Over It. & Hikes — Reciprocity
It feels like Evan Weiss has lived on these lists every year I’ve done one in some way, shape or side project. Well, he’s back for a second time this year on this IIOI/Hikes split, with each band providing 3 tracks to the effort. This is some of the best music that either band has put out, and I love that they collabed on a single release, as these are some of the smartest bands putting guitar to wax happening right now. It’s not only the technical expertise they show, but also the execution and placement of those parts that makes them shine. And while guitars have always been one of the biggest spotlights for Into It. Over It. from one record to the next, the drum pattern on the third track for them is a masterclass is control, precision and design. And that clockwork proceeds directly from the IIOI hemisphere into Hikes’ portion with similar staccato complexity. Both bands are showcasing their intricate ability to construct audio mandalas, and it feels like the light from the torch being passed is glowing a beautiful and nurturing shade of gold and this split is just the beginning of showing what the legacy of what one band has meant to the next. As much as I love that IIOI continue to add new songs to their library, these Hikes songs are signaling some absolutely incredible stuff for the future.
Check Out: Hikes’ Sana All
11. Sweet Pill — Where the Heart Is
Man, I love this record. It’s got so much energy to it. There are portions of this album that make me want to jump out my skin it’s so electric. The style is something that heavily showcases the gymnastics that the guitars are able to pull off which is such a huge highlight. Even when the guitars aren’t bending and twinkling, the tone that they’ve employed really does set a mood for the entire voice of the songs. They are full-bodied, vintage in a sense. That being said, the songs that surround those dynamics do not rely on just that aspect of the band, instead displaying some incredible songwriting, catchy hooks and deeply powerful vocals. I hate to make the comparison because it seems like a one-dimensional “fEmAlE fRoNtEd” line to draw, but there is something about the songs on this record that remind me of the first couple of Paramore records that used that big-time pop-punk joy and excitement to make as the centerpiece of their songs, each one of them seeming like they’re on the verge of being an enormous hit.
Check Out: Dog Song
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