This was the hardest list I’ve had to make, in part because no albums this year felt particularly great to me. So what follows is a list of good albums that I liked listening to, but the gaps between all of these are smaller than usual, I don’t feel particularly confident about the order, and I don’t feel like any of these are going to be releases I revisit constantly for the rest of my life. Next year we’ll see if I’ve just become a jaded old man or if there was just something missing with all of these releases. (Also, I likely straight-up missed out on some great albums, since I disconnected pretty hard from music writing/discussion this year).
20. Angel Olsen – Big Time
Let’s start with what will be a common theme in this list: I wanted to like this album more than I did. On 2019’s All Mirrors, Angel Olsen moved from mopey indie to the big stage, coming off as a star in sweeping, majestic songs that were dizzyingly ambitious and expressive. It’s hard for me to see the ironically-named Big Time as anything but a regression from that album, as Olsen retreats into what I assume is her more natural comfort zone of country-tinged indie folk. It’s still a good album, because Angel Olsen is singing and writing the songs, but it also signals that her most powerful artistic statement is likely going to end up being seen as an outlier rather than an arrival.
19. Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
This is the first Cate Le Bon album to grab me in a few years, though I didn’t get much deeper than enjoying the sound, the songwriting, and her weird charisma. It kind of exemplifies the 2022 feeling of the music being good but not mindblowing enough to want to write 9 paragraphs and shout to the heavens about its greatness.
18. Nina Nastasia – Riderless Horse
Nastasia’s first album in 12 years has about as dark of a backstory as possible, which is outlined on her Bandcamp page in fairly unflinching detail. She’s always specialized in spare, haunting folk, and Riderless Horse is in line with her other albums sonically and is as pretty and devastating as expected. Nastasia’s gritty authenticity and total lack of performative elements is what makes this worth recommending over similar dour folk, and there is enough life and humanity in the recordings that it isn’t purely an exercise in misery for the listener.
17. Peel Dream Magazine – Pad
In a surprising move, Joe Stevens abandons the fuzz pop of his project’s previous album (the great Agitprop Alterna) on Pad in favor of a more quiet, meditative style built around vintage organs and other pillowy sounds. The end result still owes a lot to Stereolab, with a touch of wispy Sufjan Stevens folk also, and over 15 songs it sometimes gets a little too quiet and repetitive for its own good. I continue to like all of the influences and ideas Stevens is playing with, but this fell a little short of my expectations as someone who loved the more up-tempo side of his work.
16. Alvvays – Blue Rev
This is where I might just be too picky: Blue Rev is one of the easiest albums of the year to like, and was raved about fairly universally for its addictive pop songs, bright production, and the classic indie pop vocals and lyrics of Molly Rankin. The thing I can’t quite get past with Alvvays is the lack of friction or messiness in their music. I enjoy listening to these songs, but there is also an impenetrable glossy sheen around them, as well as the underlying feeling that they’re focus-grouped to be played at an Urban Outfitters or some other vaguely hip destination. I’m still not going to turn down guitar pop that’s this catchy but I couldn’t quite get behind this as a great or special album.
15. Papercuts – Past Life Regression
An ultra-solid album from veteran songwriter Jason Quever, Past Life Regression has a timeless and familiar sound of 60s psych with some shogaze mixed in. There’s a studied, professional quality to the melodies and the sound, and I think I have a tendency to underrate albums like this that maybe don’t have tons of personality but are executed in an uncommonly smooth and pleasant way.
14. Gwenno – Tresor
A former member of the Pipettes, Gwenno now makes dreamy folk in the Cornish tongue; the Celtic flavor of Tresor helps make it stand out compared to a lot of similar releases, even if the lyrics are foreign. All of the vibes are familiar enough, and Gwenno’s singing is a bewitching presence that adds some mysterious intrigue to the songs.
13. Terra Pines – Downbeats
This Aussie band makes the kind of tightly-wound rock music I like, with driving rhythms and vocals that alternate between dreamy and intense.
12. The Gabys – The Gabys
Even though it’s only four songs and like 10 minutes long, I wanted to single out this EP as maybe the most perfect release of the year. The Gabys themselves are completely anonymous; I like to think I’m pretty good at digging up info on these bands and could find nothing. This means their music speaks for itself, and it’s about the most ideal recreation of early Slumberland indie pop possible, with the voices of the already-anonymous members buried beneath layers of pretty fuzz and warm melodies. There’s not a big audience for this kind of thing, but anyone who is into this sort of music should love this.
11. Widowspeak – The Jacket
Widowspeak can always be relied on for a good, if not necessarily exciting, album, and The Jacket offers more refinement of their classic sound and more heartfelt personal songwriting from Molly Hamilton. It’s hard not to feel like this band gets punished for their own consistency, as they’ve been churning out enjoyable albums for years now with not a lot of hype to show for it. But for listeners who have stuck with the band, there’s a satisfying reliability and comfort in these songs that has been earned over the years.
10. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Emotional Eternal
Melody Prochet’s previous album, Bon Voyage, was an all-time favorite of mine due to is delightful kookiness that captured imagination and joy in a very unique way. Emotional Eternal is back to being more normal, solidly-written dream pop, with Prochet’s vocals being the main selling point compared to other groups. Like a lot of 2022 albums, it’s an enjoyable listen, but also a bit of a regression after all the wildness and creativity of her last album.
9. Katie Bejsiuk – The Woman on the Moon
Bejsiuk used to record as Free Cake For Every Creature, which was one of my favorite acts of the last decade and one I still think should have been a bigger deal considering all the frankly much worse songwriters in a similar vein who get non-stop publicity blitzes. The Woman on the Moon is not too different from what she’s done in the past, with a quiet, reverby folk style that is accentuated by her whispery vocals and detailed personal songwriting.
8. Mitski – Laurel Hell
I’ve had a full annoying contrarian arc with Mitski: I was in on the ground floor as a fan of Bury Me at Makeout Creek in 2013, then she blew up with Puberty 2 and Be the Cowboy, albums that I didn’t find to be particularly remarkable relative to their hype. Now I’m back on board with Laurel Hell while others seem to be losing interest. This synth pop direction isn’t particularly original — in fact, it seems to be an ordained phase of every artist’s career now — but Mitski for the most part stays true to herself and I think it’s commendably honest when an artist who has gotten as popular as Mitski embraces their status with a poppier album instead of pretending to still be an outcast on the fringes of the industry. Just the existence of the haunting “Working for the Knife” makes this her best album, and it’s joined by some listenable pop like “The Last Heartbreaker” and the quirkier “Should’ve Been Me.” Top to bottom, this is her sharpest songwriting and a good example of an indie artist going poppy without losing themselves in the process.
7. Tess Parks – And Those Who Were Seen Dancing
This is the third album by Parks, and they’ve all kind of been the same thing, but I’m a big enough fan of her voice and style that I don’t mind. Her raspy rock vocals are in prime form on And Those Who Were Seen Dancing, and it’s another collection of songs that is druggy and psychedelic while being powered by Parks’ unique charisma.
6. Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow never really separates itself from Weyes Blood’s previous album, Titanic Rising. It’s the same gorgeous, immaculately produced and performed pop, and the high points like “Children of an Empire” and “Grapevine” are significant enough that it seems worth placing near the top, even though I wish the whole thing felt like more of a progression.
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it Down
This was a pleasant surprise for me, since Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the first indie rock bands I really liked and I had sort of assumed they were done making music. Cool it Down pretty much hits all of the high points of the band’s sound, and even has some extra pathos that has come with maturity from the group. As far as balancing expectations and going somewhere new for a band in this position, it’s hard to do a lot better than this, and Karen O being an actual charismatic rockstar really makes them stand out compared to today’s dull indie acts. The only real complaint here is that it felt like it could have used a couple more songs.
4. Vero – Unsoothing Interior
I kind of think Vero should be famous, at least on the indie scale. As far as personality-driven hooky guitar rock goes, I find this to be superior in every way to the much-ballyhooed Wet Leg album that came out this year, and I assume the biggest difference between the two bands is PR connections. The songs on Unsoothing Interior are full of catchy riffs and sass, and this is the closest anyone has come in awhile to capturing the energy of The Breeders.
3. Essential Logic – Land of Kali
Where did this album come from? The name Lora Logic may be familiar to people deep into the early days of punk — she was most known for her saxophone contributions to the pioneering X-Ray Spex, and later formed Essential Logic, which released one album in 1979 and a few singles. This all happened when she was a teenager; since then she’s made spare contributions to music while apparently getting into the Hare Krishna religion. All of this leads to the most unlikely comeback album of the year: 43 years later, Essential Logic is back with Land of Kali, and it’s got this totally off-kilter and loopy old punk energy that is hard to describe. The focus is mostly on the rhythms and Logic’s saxophone parts while the lyrics often have the Krishna spiritual element in them. The most surprising part of this album is how downright groovy and poppy it is — it’s very different from the dissonant, atonal style that I associate with bands like X-Ray Spex or The Raincoats, yet it retains the same free spirit vibe that makes early punk exciting. Very literally nobody has written about or discussed this album, which I guess isn’t surprising. It’s one of the only releases this year I found genuinely interesting and exciting.
2. Modal Melodies – Modal Melodies
This Australian duo (Violetta Del Conte-Race and Jake Robertson) is very reminiscent of one of my favorite bands, The Green Child; both are playing around with the same synth pop kind of influences while trying to take them in a more spacey and intangible direction. This debut feels a little more direct and less magical than Shimmering Bassett but it’s still a woozy and intriguing collection of songs that should appeal to Broadcast fans.
1. Björk – Fossora
I sort of settled on Fossora at #1 because it’s Björk, which means it’s going to be something unique, thoughtful, and compelling, traits that stand out even more than usual this year. This isn’t one of her best albums but it still feels like it’s on a different level of artistry than anything else I heard this year. It has all the Björky elements with her voice and the metaphorical nature themes, and it’s overall an album that is actually offering something to the listener that is worth thinking about and obsessing over. It is a little lacking in the pop hooks of her mid-90s work, but there still isn’t anyone making music like this and I’m going to keep treasuring any output I get from her.