2022 has been a banner year for music I think in part because so many artists took time during the lockdown to record new music. It felt like the albums just kept dropping all year long and have just now started to slow down. As of this writing, I am not anticipating any more key albums this year, but early 2023 looks like it will be promising with new records scheduled for artists I like including Peter Gabriel, Everything But The Girl, Boy & Bear, The Arcs, Phoebe Bridgers, Zero 7, and Depeche Mode to name a few. But I have gotten ahead of myself. This year was so prolific I couldn’t narrow down my favorites to just 10, so instead I’m going to share my favorite 20 records from 2022. Here goes:
20. SIDES by Alice Merton. This German-born, London-based artist burst onto the scene in 2019 with her hit song No Roots off the album Mint which earned a spot in my favorites that year. SIDES is more of the same, which is to say really great alternative/pop tunes with a bit of a rough edge given her raspy bluesy voice.
19. Expert in a Dying Field by The Beths. This indie quartet from New Zealand released its third album in 2022 and it’s the second to make my year-end countdown. The Beths are a straightforward indie pop band that for me is reminiscent of bands like the Go-Go’s, the Bangles, and the Cranberries. Lead singer Liz Stokes writes most of the songs, sings and plays guitar, and has just enough punk ethos to put the power in power pop. The title track from the new album is a bit on the softer side, but it’s probably my favorite track from the album.
18. Nut by KT Tunstall. If you only know KT Tunstall from her huge early 2000s hit Black Horse and the Cherry Tree you have barely scratched the surface of one of the coolest pop artists around. Kate Victoria Tunstall is surely the only Scottish-Chinese artist you’ve ever heard, and she also happens to be a gifted singer-songwriter who has continually churned out great record after great record for going on 20 years. Nut is her best effort in years and for me, it’s got 10 strong songs. If you like Nut, do yourself a favor and go back and listen to her full discography — you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and she’s a super funny person and a great follow on social media.
17. Resist by Midnight Oil. Yes, Midnight Oil. I’m always skeptical when a band tries to make a comeback after 40 years, or won’t allow itself to die gracefully when time has passed them by. So yeah, I was not expecting much when I clicked play the first time on Resist. The truth is I was a huge fan of The Oils back in the day as far back as 1982 when I heard Power and the Passion the first time. I still think Blue Sky Mining is among the best albums of the generation. Resist is damn good though. It’s Peter Garrett preaching about climate change and rising oceans and everything else he’s passionate about and literally tried to fix as a member of the Australian House of Representatives and Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and the Arts. Resist is likely the swan song for The Oils, and for that I’m both appreciative and a little sad if I’m being honest. 40 years or so is a hell of a run and Resist is how you go out big.
16. The Car by Arctic Monkeys. I’ve been a fan of Arctic Monkeys for about a decade now, and what I can say is the band has really evolved from 2013’s AM (which included great upbeat songs including Do I Wanna Know? and I Want It All). But then in 2018 they released Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino which really defied categorization. It was almost as if lead singer Alex Turner was trying to be some 1940s crooner, but for some reason, for me at least, it worked. Critics loved it. It got Grammy and Mercury Award nominations. It was one of the fastest-selling albums in U.K. history. It was so different than AM, but so interesting in its own right. It was not for everyone, but with The Car it’s clear Alex and the gang don’t give a shit what you think. The Car is pretty much Tranquility Base redux. If you liked the thematic crooning and orchestration of Tranquility Base you’ll like The Car. And I sure do.
15. There is So Much Here by Glen Phillips. When Toad the Wet Sprocket released Starting Now last year, an album that came in at #6 on my year-end list, the last thing I expected was a solo Glen Phillips album less than a year later, especially not such an upbeat “Toad-like” record. Glen’s previous solo work has been good, if not a tad more acoustic and folky than Toad records. Color me happily surprised by There is So Much Here. There are some artists that have a voice you can’t get enough of and that’s how I feel about Glen Phillips. The 51-year-old Santa Barbara native is simply special. He could sing Happy Birthday and I’d buy it.
14. Home, Before and After by Regina Spektor. The first time I remember hearing Russian-born Regina Spektor was on her duet with Ben Folds on the song You Don’t Know Me which is a really great song. It’s surprising how many artists I “discover” through appearances on other artist’s songs, but sometimes a backing vocal or pure duet hits home. I “discovered” Tracey Thorn on an early Style Council track. Noah Cyrus first hit my senses on her duet with Jake Bugg. Vanessa Carlton on Counting Crows’ Big Yellow Taxi. Regina Spektor shows up in the craziest places, like on the theme songs from Orange is the New Black and Weeds. It seems to me she has a lot of fans among her musical brethren. I’m a sucker for a female piano-based singer-songwriter. Tori Amos. Vanessa Carlton. Fiona Apple. Spektor is kind of the musical version of the manic pixie dreamgirl for me. Home, Before and After is her best album in years. Plus, bonus points, she is a recurring contributor to my Jews of Rock playlist on Spotify.
13. Hold on Baby by King Princess. After the release of this, her second full-length album, 23-year-old Mikaela Mullaney Straus, AKA King Princess, is poised to be a breakout star. She’s performed on Saturday Night Live. Is making the talk show rounds. And she’s becoming a regular on the gossip pages as much for her lifestyle than for her music — what does America make of a non-binary, gay, great-great-grandchild of the Macy’s Department Store founder who most recently dated pansexual Hollywood It Girl Amandla Stenberg. King Princess is on fire and she’s taking advantage of all that fame offers. I don’t really care about all that though. I just love her music and her style. Dang, Generation Z sure is unique and interesting.
12. Surrender by Maggie Rogers. 28-year-old Maggie Rogers has had a meteoric rise to stardom in just three years and Surrender, her second album, is proof her debut album was no fluke. Her first album made my favorites list in 2019 and I was excited about her sophomore effort and it does not disappoint. Did I mention she has a master’s in divinity from Harvard? It feels like we’re in a great time for female singer-songwriters, but maybe it’s just something I gravitate toward. That’s Where I Am is such a great song…one of my favorites of the year by any artist.
11. (self-titled) by Marcus Mumford. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the first solo album from Mumford & Sons frontman Marcus Mumford. I’ve been a huge fan of the Mumfords, but I was worried Marcus would use his solo work to explore some weird subgenre of bluegrass or Civil War-era hymns. Over the summer I saw Brandi Carlile in LA and she brought Marcus out to play the song they collaborated on. It was a dark, emotional song about his experience of being sexually abused as a child. So yeah, I expected his solo album would be slow and painful. But I was wrong. Yes, there are emotional tunes like Cannibal about his childhood, but the bulk of the album sounds like Mumford & Sons — which is fantastic. The more I listened the more I enjoyed, and the more I felt like this was really the fifth Mumford & Sons record. So if like me you like the Mumfords don’t hesitate to give (self-titled) a listen. The truth is the guy is really talented.
10. The Hardest Part by Noah Cyrus. Can a 22-year-old singer-songwriter write songs that resonate with a 56-year-old man? Hell, sometimes it’s better not to overthink things and just enjoy the music. Yeah, I think Miley’s little sister has a world-class voice and a sound that is all her own. She’s a little country, but with so much soul. On her second album, Noah works with some familiar artists (like her dad Billy Ray) and some surprising ones (like Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard). The result is a really listenable album that I find myself going back to time and time again. Noah could have taken the easy way into show business by modeling her sound after her big sister and riding Miley’s coattails. Instead, she worked hard to develop her own sound and went off to make her own way. When it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t be surprised if we remember Miley for her antics and Noah for her musical artistry.
#9 Alpha Zulu by Phoenix. Thomas Mars and his pals have been putting out quality indie records for 20 years already, though I didn’t jump on the bandwagon until 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (the 2010 Grammy Award winner for Best Alternative Music Album) which was one of my favorite albums of the aughts. I’ve really liked every album since, including Alpha Zulu which just came out a few weeks ago but is getting plenty of repeat plays on my Spotify account. I love the band’s 1980s sensibility and they really seem to be enjoying themselves in their music. Thomas is kind of a doofus, but he’s the doofus that gets the amazing girl at the end of the film (in his case, Sofia Coppola who is beautiful and talented). I always root for the underdog, be it Ducky, or Watts, or Farmer Ted, which maybe says a lot about what I think of myself more than anything. As for Phoenix, they’re not an underdog anymore…just one of the most popular pop bands on the planet. Oh, and this video is crazy creative.
#8. Into the Blue — Broken Bells. Side projects can be hit or miss, especially when the band member(s) aim for a very different sound. But the side project that joined Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) has been a huge success in large part because the combination of Mercer’s voice and Burton’s production is pure genius. It’s also surprising to see a side project stick around for so long — Into the Blue is the third album by Broken Bells over the past dozen years. Both of the duo’s previous efforts have made my year-end list and Into the Blue makes it three for three. Broken Bells has stuck to the recipe over the years, with Into the Blue delivering more dance-infused alternative tracks brought home by Mercer’s unique and beautiful voice. I was fortunate to see them perform live a few years ago and I hope they tour again. By the way, if you ever feel like being impressed take a look at all the amazing artists Danger Mouse has worked with over the years.
#7. Things are Great — Band of Horses. It has been 12 years since Band of Horses released the spectacular Infinite Arms album that made me a fan, and since then I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve put out. Things Are Great is sort of a return to their earlier sound and it’s beautifully done. Band of Horses is part of a new wave of what for better or worse has been called a resurgence of southern rock, though I think that’s a misnomer. I think we need a new genre to define Band of Horses, and similar artists I love like Lord Huron, Iron & Wine, My Morning Jacket, and others. Maybe we call it southern-infused indie? Who cares really. It’s just great music.
#6. Chariot of the Gods— Hoodoo Gurus. Every once in a while something surprises me, and this year the biggest surprise came from Australia. I had long ago put Hoodoo Gurus into my oldies but goodies pile, listening to Stoneage Romeos or Mars Needs Guitars and enjoying the down-under punk sound I loved. I never expected the band to make another record in 2022, let alone one that sounds as if it belongs right in between those two alt rock classics of the early 80s. Chariot of the Gods simply kicks ass. This year a few bands from the old days made new records — Simple Minds and Crowded House to name two — but those records sucked because the bands forgot what made them great in the first place and tried to make something fresh. If I want fresh I’ll listen to King Princess. Thank you Hoodoo Gurus for sticking with what you know and producing a damn fine 80s alt rock record in 2022.
#5. The Tipping Point – Tears For Fears. I have loved Tears for Fears since 1981 and still believe The Hurting is one of the best modern rock albums of all time. I’ve seen the band live four times and will always count them among my all-time favorites. Roland and Curt can still make magic together, although the albums come with more time between them these days. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending came out in 2004, so it has been eight years of waiting for The Tipping Point. After they released the first cut late last year though I knew the album was going to be classic TFF no matter when it hit store shelves. That finally happened in February and it was indeed worth the wait. It’s brilliant from start to finish, filled with lovely alternative pop songs and that great Roland/Curt harmonizing. Here’s a taste in case you haven’t been paying attention to the band’s last few records.
#4. Dropout Boogie — Black Keys. There’s a reason why every Black Keys album since 2010’s Brothers has made my year-end list and some have sat at the top of the list. Dan and Patrick make great rock and roll records with an R&B/Blues slant and put on as good a live show as you’ll ever see. Dropout Boogie is no exception. It rocks from the first moment and doesn’t let up for 33 minutes and 55 seconds. There are no duds here…only amazing tunes meant to be played loudly. After last year’s blues covers record Delta Kream I wasn’t sure where the guys would go next but it didn’t take long for them to get back to basics and deliver another gem. If you don’t like the Black Keys I’m not sure you like rock and roll.
#3. WE — Arcade Fire. Well, here goes. The question of our times seems to be can you enjoy the art if the artist is a bad person? Louis C.K.? Canceled. Kevin Spacey? Canceled. Kevin Hart? Canceled. And rightfully so on all three of the aforementioned. But what are you to do when one of your favorite artists turns out to be a pig? 2022 was the year the chickens came home to roost for Arcade Fire lead singer Win Butler as he was accused by multiple women of sexually assaulting them — coming to public light after opening act Leslie Feist left the recent Arcade Fire tour because she could no longer perform with a man she believed to be a sexual predator.
This is not the first time I’ve struggled with the question of what to do in these situations and it will not be the last. A few years ago I stopped listening to Ryan Adams because he was a serial abuser. But I don’t like Ryan Adams as much as I like Arcade Fire, so this one is harder. I’ve asked a few friends what they do in this kind of situation, but nobody really seemed to care that much. I care a lot. There’s no fucking way I’m going to ever listen to Michael Jackson again, or pay to see Louis CK in concert.
Of course, not all situations are the same. Or as serious. Or as clear. Over the years I think a few celebrities have been accused without much proof. And while I know the right thing to do is to start by believing, again, it’s not always so cut and dry. Woody Allen is a good example. Is he guilty of sexual misconduct because he married his girlfriend’s adopted daughter? Not in my mind. Nor is there any proof that he molested anyone. Is there room to think Woody is disgusting for marrying Soon-Yi but still not someone who deserves to be canceled? In my mind, the answer is yes. But your mind might lead you on a different path. But I digress.
What have I decided to do about Arcade Fire? I’ve decided to continue to listen to one of my favorite bands, but not to buy albums or merchandise, or concert tickets. That’s what I’ve decided to do. Does that make sense? Who knows. But I do know WE is a fabulous album.
#2. Lucifer on the Sofa–Spoon. Austin-based Spoon is a band that sort of crept up on me. I remember liking The Underdog way back in 2007, but it wasn’t until 10 years later with the release of Hot Thoughts that I really jumped on the Spoon bandwagon. Hot Thoughts was a great record that made my year-end list in 2017, but even I couldn’t have predicted how much I’d come to like them when Lucifer on the Sofa was released this year. I can say that no album got more play time for me in 2022 than Lucifer on the Sofa. From the first song to the last I love it. Honestly, the first time I heard The Hardest Cut I was hooked. Spoon delivers straight-forward alt rock and for my money, they seem to keep getting better with each record.
#1. Asphalt Meadows – Death Cab for Cutie. Speaking of bands that keep getting better, Death Cab For Cutie tops my list this year with their late 2022 release Asphalt Meadows. I am a longtime fan and consider DCFC as one of my favorite bands, so this album topping the list should come as no surprise to anyone. Asphalt Meadows is their best album in years, but truthfully I love all their albums going back to the late 1990s. This record, the band’s 10th, is chock full of upbeat indie pop that the band recorded during Covid. In fact, the first time I heard some of these songs was on lead singer Ben Gibbard’s Facebook live streams during the lockdown. He played keyboards and guitar and took requests for several weeks during the pandemic and it was the first thing that made me feel normal during Covid. I think Ben Gibbard is the best singer-songwriter in the alt rock world and I always find myself going back to Death Cab time and time again. What other band delivers a shoutout to 80s Brit Pop legends Prefab Sprout in one of their songs? Here to Forever is classic DCFC.
In every movie I watch from the ’50s
There’s only one thought that swirls
Around my head now
And that’s that everyone there on the screen
Yeah, everyone there on the screen
Well, they’re all dead now
They’re all dead now