Jonathan’s Favorite Albums of 2022

It’s hard for me to put into words what 2022 has been like. If I’m being honest, I just feel tired. I’ve been sitting here pre Christmas through “Between-mas” STILL listening to my 2022 playlist with 20+ albums that I have yet to listen to, some I know won’t make the cut, and some I feel baffled by not having listened to already. The hardest part of this task is definitely the enormity of it: trying to listen to EVERY album released in a year is fully impossible, every minute of my waking life would have to be filled by listening to music, listening when I didn’t feel like it, when I only wanted to listen to old stuff, and when I just wanted to sit in my silence (coincidentally my car stereo died this year, so those moments were far more frequent). The task has left me with a sense of weariness that seems compounded by other matters, reminders of my various failures this past year (professional and personal), reminders of the way I regressed since last year (my EOTY article from last year asserts this), and then feeling drawn to the music of last year. One glance at my Spotify wrapped proves this, as I clung to some of my favorite albums of 2021 throughout this year. It’s no wonder this holiday season has felt more dismal than past ones, with the memories of mistakes and the longing for the past joys compounding into a blizzard like the ones that have plagued half our country, blinding us from seeing what lies ahead, depriving us of assurance that there is a light at the end of the road, that there could be a place where reconciliation and forgiveness is possible for us.

“It’s been a battle just to wake and greet the day
Then they all disappear like sugar in my coffee
A hint of sweetness but the bitterness remains
The acidity devouring my body”

I don’t have an answer to how to beat this. Work and busyness seem like only a temporary respite at times, providing only more opportunities to encounter our frailty and insufficiency. TV and movies seem to be the opiate of choice, but I sit here a broken man when I tell you that even Arrested Development rewatches haven’t proven fruitful to me (although I have watched a shit ton of Bob’s Burgers this year, and I must say Bob’s Burgers fucking rules, put that shit in the Louvre, that’s art, my guy). The problem with visual media is that every scene, every character, every conflict can only serve as a reminder of the ways in which your reality doesn’t line up with the one being presented on screen. The narrative downfalls of the protagonists feel even more relatable and bitter while their triumphs simultaneously become more distant and fleeting, resulting in the reminder that your current consequences are the result of your actions and yours alone.

“I used to feel everything like a flame
Now it’s a struggle just to feel anything
I watch the world from a window on a hill
Everyone moving as I’m standing still”

And that brings us back to music. Again, I get almost mournful that the music of this past year didn’t carry me through this year as profoundly as in 2021. But perhaps that’s an unrealistic expectation of music as a medium. To completely distract from the reality of our choices and actions would be an abusive and irresponsible use of art. Maybe we need those times in silence in somber contemplation of how we got to where we are in order to truly figure out how the hell to get out of it. Maybe that’s where art fits in. As a companion to, not a substitute for, true reflection and growth. Not to become an end of itself, but a means to process the suffering, self-imposed or not, around us. And maybe in the times when we feel overwhelmed by unbearable dread that all our machinations are fruitless endeavors, then the music of our favorite artists can rush in like military support to provide us with a bolster to our mental, emotional, and spiritual capacities. To provide encouragement and energy that could see us over the brink, to recoup our breath and venture on to the next challenge, maybe this time with renewed spirit and reinforcements. As one of my honorable mentions put so poignantly this year

“But I am learning to let go
Of everything I tried to hold
Too long ’cause they all explode
Like Roman Candles”

Happy New Year.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Rock
FTHC – Frank Turner
Hygiene – Drug Church
Heal My Head – Valleyheart
Rub Some Dirt on Me – Emery
Past Lives – L.S. Dunes
Hyper Relevisation – eve 6
The Long Way, The Slow Way – Camp Trash
ENDLESS HALLWAY – He Is Legend
I’m Scared That’s All There Is – Ben Quad
DENT – Signals Midwest
Angel in Realtime. – Gang of Youths
Heavy Steps – Comeback Kid
All the Truth That I Can Tell – Dashboard Confessional
Prince Daddy and the Hyena – Prince Daddy and the Hyena
Color Decay – The Devil Wears Prada
Where the Heart Is – Sweet Pill
All Girls Go to Heaven – Mint Green
Baby – Petrol Girls
3rd Times A Charm – The Kuhlies
Love Me Forever – Pinkshift
New Lords – Mindforce
When the Wind Forgets your Name – Built to Spill
You Had to Be There – Young Culture
Welcome to the Hurricane – Camp Cope
Never Before Seen, Never Found Again – Arm’s Length
Self-Titled – ANORAK!
Drift – Pianos Become the Teeth
Celebrity Therapist – The Callous Daoboys
Diaspora Problems – Soul Glo

Indie
Sidelines – Wild Rivers
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Boat Songs – MJ Lenderman
Farm to Table – Bartees Strange
Emotional Creatures – Beach Bunny
Hold on Baby – King Princess
Boom. Done. – Anthony Green
Bummer Year – Good Looks
Don’t Know What You’re in Until You’re Out – Gladie
Love Song to Life – Gungor
Asphalt Meadows – Death Cab for Cuties
American Teenager – Ethel Cain
Inside Voices /Outside Voices – K. Flay
Every Shade of Blue – The Head and the Heart
Wandering Dogs – Choir Vandals
Metamorphosis – Cloud Cult
The Parts I Dread – Pictoria Vark

Pop
Special – Lizzo
Emails I Can’t Send – Sabrina Carpenter
The Loneliest Time – Carly Rae Jepsen
Your Funeral – Glowbug
Night Call – Years and Years
Rising – mxmtoon
Leap – James Bay
SUCKERPUNCH – chloe moriondo
Crash – Charli XCX

Rap/Hip Hop/RNB
Dawn FM – The Weeknd
Lyrics to Go, Vol. 3 – Kota the Friend
Ghetto Gods – EARTHGANG
Rebel vs Rowdy – Rowdy Rebel
Jamie – Montell Fish
Her Love Still Haunts Me Like a Ghost – Montell Fish
SOS – SZA
The Family – Brockhampton
No Thank You – Little Simz
MATA – MIA
SICK! – Earl Sweatshirt
More Black Superheroes –  Westside Boogie

Country/Folk
Dispatch to 16th Avenue – Muscadine Bloodline
Bronco – Orville Peck
Humble Quest – Maren Morris
Country Coming Down – Paul Cauthen
American Heartbreak – Zach Bryan
History of Breaking Up – Alana Springsteen
Stick Season – Noah Kahan
The Hardest Part – Noah Cyrus
Ester – The Welcome Wagon
In Between: The Collection – Danielle Bradbery
This Mess We’re In – Arlo McKinley

TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2022


10. King’s Disease III – Nas

I still remember listening to this album for the first time in my kitchen and thinking, “Damn, the king’s still got it.” Truthfully, Nas’ only disease might be that he can’t put out an album that won’t sit at the top of the collection of hip-hop entries in a given year. And he isn’t changing his formula up much. With jazz-fueled instrumentation and lyricism and flow that is unrelentless, I would dare say “The King has returned!” If, of course, not for…

9. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is a Grammy AND Pulitzer Prize winner. And while barely in his mid-30’s, to top it all off he has released what might be considered his magnum opus. Using this album as a breathing therapy session, exploring issues of grief, trauma, and gender, Lamar continues to lay it bare for the listener. He might state “I’ve been goin’ through somethin’ ” plainly at the beginning, but his intricate flow throughout the rest of the album cements him as one of the greatest rappers ever. The diverse instrumentation and experimentation that he spits over on this album shows us that he is an artist looking to not just impress with his lyric delivery, but with the lengths he will go to in order to deliver his message and truth.

8. Birds in the Ceiling – John Moreland

John Moreland’s voice is in full snare mode on this record. His mellow Bazan-esque baritone in the foreground of soulful finger-picked acoustic melodies enraptures the listener as he covers topics like loneliness and regret. For someone who doesn’t modulate their voice much, the emotional weight behind everything he sings hits like a freight train and it’s both beautiful and tragic. This formula of quiet patient songs with bare-faced lyrics aching with desperation from front to back make his latest the best folk/American release of the year.

7. The Hum Goes on Forever – The Wonder Years

I’m damn thankful for The Wonder Years. While the group maintains so much of the same energy and attitude that made them heroes of the genre, they have insisted on pulling from all of their influences and experiences in order to craft music that sounds fresh and relatable. Dan Campbell has always been dutifully honest and his lyrics about becoming a parent sound no less authentic and accessible than when he was wondering if he had fallen behind in life. And yet the wear and tear of growing older and approaching **gasp** “middle age” has not eliminated the fire in this collection of songs.

6. Expert In A Dying Field – The Beths

There were so many female-led indie releases from this past year, it can feel formidable to try to work through. I’m not sure why The Beths’ third release ended up hitting me more so than any others. Maybe it was the bias due to the recommendations by friends. Maybe it’s all the relational grief that me and frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes are trying to process. Maybe it’s the undeniably magnetic indie The Beths play, at times fuzzed out garage rock, at times folky and wistful, vocal harmonies abounding throughout. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe it’s Maybelline? Whatever it is, Stokes’ ethereal voice over the bouncing melodies The Beths play is a combination we would be thankful to hear more from in the future.

5. Being Funny In A Foreign Language – The 1975

I need to apologize to my friend Parker. Parker has seen The 1975 at least four times this year. Upon my eventual listen to of this album, I told them that this would be my favorite album of the year. I apologize, Parker, I was feeling happier when I told you that. But that shouldn’t write off Matt Healy and Co. latest release. A front-to-back exuberant expression of love that makes it nearly impossible to not be in a better mood when listening to it. And while a pop album through and through, there’s enough distinct instrumentation and orchestral arrangements to make the album interesting, enjoyable, and elevating.


Top 4 Albums of 2022

4. Self Help – Future Teens (Triple Crown Records)

I don’t know if Amy Hoffman and Daniel Radin in their musical education learned that secret chord that King David once played according to legend, but they have something about melody figured out because from the opening notes of “Self-Help”, I start to cry. It’s a quality that is embedded in all of their music, and one that has only been further realized on more recent releases, like the previous “Deliberately Alive” EP, and their more recent full-length. The combination of glimmering melodic lines with earnest lyrics about personal struggles with mental health and addiction creates some of the most intimate and uplifting music put out this year. They may affectionately refer to this emo-tinged indie rock as “bummer-pop”, but there are enough swelling bridges to rousing end choruses that create so much emotional resonance, you might get finding yourself getting up from stress reading the news, putting pants on, doing some errands, meeting up for coffee with that friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Doing any little thing that might help yourself, even just a little.


3. DEATHRATTLE SING FOR ME – Norma Jean (Solid State Records)

The thin line between self-imitation and artistic progression is a hard one to toe. Finding the balance between the your early artistic work and the exciting new future that could open your endeavors up to new people. Norma Jean remains one of the few artists in the metalcore scene that has shown consistency in accomplishing this task. 2019’s All Hail at one point seemed like it would be an appropriate but untimely end to a band that has maintained dominance for nearly two decades in their scene. Time will tell if Deathrattle Sing for Me ends up being the bands’, well, death rattle, but if it is, it will end up being one of their most brutal and unforgiving albums. There is both freedom and range in the instrumentation, at times sparse, quiet, and foreboding, at other times punishing and devastating (the end of “Spearmint Revolt” being one of the heaviest speaker shattering moments I’ve ever heard). Lead vocalist Cory Branan matches this attitude with lyrics that unleash his full critical eye towards naysayers. “Prisons and graveyards are filled with heads that wore the crown”, he growls before unleashing his rage. Perhaps this is a warning spoken from experience, a final statement from one of the most prominent acts in the genre. If so, it’s one that will ring out for years to come.

Check my review and pictures of Norma Jean in concert here.


2. RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART – Vince Staples (Motown Records)

I tried REALLY hard to somehow avoid putting this album in my top four. Listing an artist in your favorites twice in a five year period is fandom. Three times is borderline fetishism. But seeing as the Long Beach native’s fifth album was one of the only albums from the last year to end up in my Spotify wrapped, and with him being my most listened artist, I had to listen to the data. It was hard for me to imagine Staples’ topping his self-titled release from last year, let alone release, well, ANYTHING a year later. But Ramona Park Broke My Heart continues what he began last year, a soulful groove influenced exploration of his hometown. Staples exercises emcee range throughout, sounding buoyant on lead single “Magic”, to resigned on numbers like “East Point Prayer”. But regardless of tone, the reflections are extremely inviting looks into the struggles faced in disenfranchised communities. Staples continues to find ways to wring out his experience and history for the listener in memorable ways, and if he keeps on this pace, he might end up being Long Beach’s definitive artistic voice.


1. A Place For Owls – A Place For Owls (Broom of Destruction Records)

“There’s a book that I am trying to read.
There’s a hammer in my head that is talking to me.
There’s a lover in my heart I can’t see.
There’s a book that I am trying to read to me.”

Following all of the arcade machine din and midi chords of album opener “Press Start”, Ben Sooy sings those words in verse one of the song “Book”. They are simple words, describing some of the most basic human desires: the desire to know, the desire to be known, and the desire to resist the rash impulses of our psyche, to resist the impulse to destroy. And yet, the irony of the human experience is that these tasks are infinitely harder in execution than in description. Some people struggle harder with them than others. But it’s the promised itinerary for all of us on this journey, from the day we inhale that first breath to the day that we expel our last.

I talked in the introduction about how the navigation of these issues has proved formidable for many, including myself, especially in the years during and following the pandemic. I mentioned how art becomes unhelpful if it is used to distract us from our realities, a toxic deceiver slowly numbing us from experiencing life. But at its best it can ground us, not just in the reality of our present successes and failures, but in the hope of future joy and the work of pursuing that.

Hope. What a concept. Has baffled humanity through the ages. How confounding the illogic of hope! Whether amidst global viral devastation, during unrelenting foreign invasion or occupation, through festering economic desolation caused by global machinations and systems, or lingering through the growing isolation from those you care for, from those you’ve hurt. This unspoken, unseen, elusive companion, one of the most essential to our lives.

Jesus, Jonathan, why this fucking pretentious rambling on about hope? Because in the midst of a fairly low holiday season, I found A Place for Owls debut self-titled full length, and the depths to which it is immersed and enwrapped in hope provided me the salve that I needed to make me feel like myself again. Yes, I will talk about the instrumentation (it’s great), and the vocals (Andy Hull better watch out), but the true triumph of this record is that it succeeds at taking its focal influence and theme, that elusive thing we call hope, and finding a sonic way to offer that to the listener in a way that binds them to the artist themselves.

It’s encouraging to note that it doesn’t necessarily take complicated musicianship to accomplish this. I mean, this doesn’t mean vocalist and guitarist Ben Sooy, guitarist Daniel Perez, keyboardist and guitarist Nick Webber, bassist Ryan Day, and drummer Jesse Cowan aren’t deft handlers of their own instruments. There is absolute shredding on “I Can’t Write it Down” and one need not look further than midwest emo ear candy “Something is Not Right”, where every member effectively just BALLS out during Sooy’s reverberating reiterations that “Something is not right in myself / Something is not right in my heart”. Each member builds their own melody line into an emotional eruption that led to me bawling out as well (my eyes, I mean). But it’s a sign of adept calculation and intention when an ensemble can choose when to lean on their technical mastery or the enduring equation of a simple melodic backbone and emotion. Whether through rousing midwest emo, twinkling indie rock, or classic folk/Americana the group consistently employs soaring harmonies and rapturous melodies and Ben Sooy’s desperate declarations to elevate the listener.

“I am holding onto something
Greater than myself
Hope is hard to come by these days
Calling for some help.”

These stirring statements aren’t proclaimed with an air of proud assuredness, in fact, they frequently accompany Sooy’s other favorite lyrical device, questions. For instance, “Do I Feel at Home Here”, is completely made up of questions. Third track, “Dissolver” is highlighted by the back and forth between the lyrics “How else do I get ready for death?” and “I need more grace than I thought.” The most effective part of these lyrical techniques is the way in which Sooy conveys a sense of yearning and hope through them. His questions and statements have the shared quality of desperation that allows for an immediate connection to the listener. His vulnerability allows for you the listener to be vulnerable, to wonder in the face of inquiries he shares, and to boldy rally with the answers you may not feel, you may not fully know, but that you hope.

“I’m counting my blessings by twos and by tens
I’m seeing my life through a scratch on the lens
But I’m leaning in close to the people who ache
God’s present in weakness and all my mistakes”

And yet for all the power of the statements made throughout the album, like the one above featured on song “Deliberate Practice”, A Place for Owls decides to close the album with two lingering thoughts. Penultimate track “Smoke Monster” (ya didn’t have to reference LOST, boys, ya had me even without it) restates the matter of reconciliation and restoration. “If I come to you for absolution / Would that do anything for all I’ve wronged? . . . Can I clean out my heart myself?” Sooy posits. The track is probably one of the most barefaced about his struggles, and it’s a fitting setup for the bands’ response on album closer, “Is It Love?”

“When my words become a tangle in which I’m knotted up. When you can’t stand my presence, ’cause I’m feeling stuck. When I’ve got a sickness that won’t let up.
Is it love that rebuilds us all?

When I feel my throat tighten and I freeze with fear. I’m at the bottom of the ocean and I think I’ll disappear. With a cry in the night only God can hear.
Is it love that rebuilds us all?

Breathe in so deeply the fear can’t sneak in. Is it love that rebuilds us all?
Search for the daylight and wait ’til the end. Is it love that rebuilds us all?
Friendship in motion some near and some gone. Is it love that rebuilds us all?
With all my bad habits you still take me in. Is it love that rebuilds us all?

Is it love that rebuilds us all?
Is it love that rebuilds us all?

I’m not sure. I don’t know.
But I hope.


Check out playlists for my year in music below.

Spotify Wrapped of 2022 (WordPress, fix your damn embed functionality) https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1F0sijgNaJdgit?si=dadfb64526654f8e

If you liked what you read here, then follow me on Twitter and Instagram and Spotify and bookmark my author page.

Be sure to follow my cohorts as well at @bewareoftrees@thegrigsbybear@5dollarwrench, and @zacoldenburg.

…also follow us on Twitter at @middleofrow.

…and be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or listen here at www.middleofrow.com.

3 thoughts on “Jonathan’s Favorite Albums of 2022

  1. I can probably count the number of new albums I listened to this year on my hands, most of which were likely game soundtracks – shout-out Plague Tale: Requiem – along with a couple fantastic instrumental albums Critical Role put out. I’m the worst at keeping up with bands I love too – this is me learning Death Cab released a new album, so thanks for that!

    That said, Beach Bunny’s Emotional Creature was my fav album of the year.

      1. I think the closest they’re coming to STL is Kansas City, so nah. Honestly I think my concert days may be over since it’s a guaranteed migraine for this 84 year old. Unless it’s Julien Baker.

Have Something to Say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s