Thursday, December 15, 2022

Top Albums of 2022

As a society, we are blessed with a few guarantees each December: Mariah Carey will return to public discourse, Patti LaBelle will demand to see that card again, and gay men will post their Spotify Wrapped or Apple Music Replay to their social media feeds. And as someone who feels it necessary to reveal his every thought on music to this website, I don't need a data aggregator to declare my homosexuality. Here's my list of top albums of the year – and yes, there are even a few men on it this time.


10. Being Funny in a Foreign Language by The 1975


The 1975 have existed as a band for over a decade – plenty long enough to have forged an identity and laid out a rubric for what defines a superior song in their own space. (In fact, this record was to be titled At Their Very Best until Healy got cold feet over the name.) It could be suspected that the dancey “Happiness” and the Tango in the Night homage “Oh Caroline” could score high on that rubric, if it so exists. What the band has learned to avoid, however, is the caricaturization of their own art form to the point that it slips into a tired piece of self-depreciation. Yes, Being Funny in a Foreign Language makes someone cock his head in disbelief at times. Yes, it might as well grind its own transmission beyond disrepair with hard tonal shifts. But it’s still fully The 1975, inheriting all of the band’s signature stunts and maximizing their impact through a footprint reduction and a display of creative restraint. Read the full review.


9. Dance Fever by Florence + The Machine


Despite its name, Dance Fever isn’t so much focused on a breakneck pace, massive hysteria, or even dancing for that matter. (Though, of course, “Choreomania” fits those three descriptors quite nicely and delivers the glorious rebuttal, “You said that rock and roll is dead, but is that just because it has not been resurrected in your image?”) Rather, it continues what Florence Welch does best: Like the records before it, Dance Fever finds power within the struggles of everyday life. It’s easily the band’s least focused record in regard to honing its sonic mission – which certainly makes it their least predictable, as well. These songs melt into the cracks left between the band’s previous work and cement their discography as a monument dedicated to an extraordinary career forever in motion – with no sign of an exhausted collapse in sight. Read the full review.


8. Love Sux by Avril Lavigne


Much of Avril Lavigne’s career has been marked with a perceived lack of agency: Her second studio album was put on a six-month deadline and her fourth was formed between the pressures of a steadfast Lavigne and bureaucratic dictations. But on Love Sux, she seems completely in control of her own legacy, no matter how juvenile or coarse it may be. (Yes, there are some forced rhymes and “nah, nah, nah” chants here. They’re standard features of an Avril Lavigne record. Oh, and she threatens to buy a Range Rover, which she will use to run over a man who did her wrong.) She’s back to living the rockstar lifestyle, and she’s doing it her own way this time. Read the full review.


7. The Dream by alt-J


The Dream is founded on style and scandal, splattering out uncomfortable stories of despair and emotional unraveling – sometimes intricate and palpable, and other times fictionalized past belief – while allowing the primal and the ornate to meet in alternative rock music. What begins as one strum of a sizzling guitar spirals into withdrawal-induced cocaine hysteria on “The Actor,” while “Philadelphia” is a medieval retelling of a man’s dying moments. On "Chicago," an unexpected house influence beats beneath a fatal Jack & Jill scenario. (If you couldn't tell, the inevitable threat of death weighs heavy on the minds of the trio.) Yet even when the album leans into melody over extraneous flair, its message is clear: There cannot be The Dream without the nightmare… even when it sounds like a dream. Read the full review.


6. MUNA by MUNA


There’s plenty of unbridled queer joy and inner peace to be harnessed on MUNA. One listen to “Solid” will bring enough of it to gloss right over the fact that the band describes a girl in the same way that a fisherman would describe his trusted boat. “Kind of Girl” cracks open a country cosplay that carries onto “Anything But Me,” both of which are near-perfect examples of how encompassing a MUNA song can be while accepting solace and strength in being alone. Whether it’s when the pedal guitar cracks off through the skyline on “Kind of Girl” or the glistening synths and pidder-padder drum skitter across “Handle Me,” there are so many small moments to embrace on a record that is full of surprises, cut incredibly taut, and feels as if it’s a complete and untarnished vision from its three creators. Read the full review.


5. Renaissance by Beyoncé


Constructed atop a foundation of cross-generational samples – from the likes of Donna Summer, Big Freedia, and Kelis, with or without her blessing – with an abundance of self-confidence, Renaissance listens like a spontaneous amalgamation of yesterday’s unfettered funk and today’s filthy-forward vernacular. The songs are overheated and overcharged, launching out of the speakers like a water main break – a continuous stream of interdependent thumps and bumps made for the long haul of a club set, not for today's myopic playlist culture. To pull a song at random would feel like an unnatural interruption to the album's circadian rhythm as it aims to repopulate disco music with the unadulterated eroticism and amplified flamboyance it once promoted within the cloaks of black and queer nightclubs. Sometimes it's quick and sloppy; but more frequently, it beats through any external distortion to assert Beyoncé, once again, as an unshakable force in musical collaging with a purpose. Read the full review.


4. Preacher's Daughter by Ethel Cain


It’s hard to imagine how another Ethel Cain project could exist after Preacher's Daughter: The story is pretty well splattered across this record already, in enough detail to merit a content warning on songs like “Hard Times,” a graphic reflection on repeated assault and its aftermath, and to a greater extent, “Ptolemaea” and “Gibson Girl,” demented hallucinations that batter listeners with screams and grinding guitars. Scripted to elicit discomfort in ways that none of its closest musical references tried to accomplish, the album offers not a single moment of relief until the dreamy “Sun Bleached Flies,” when a sax squiggles over a postmortem moral to the tragedy of Ethel Cain: “If it’s meant to be, then it will be. I forgive it all as it comes back to me.” Maybe there’s a silver lining after all – we’ll just have to wait for the next record to learn about it. Read the full review.


3. Sometimes, Forever by Soccer Mommy


Both Soccer Mommy records leading up to Sometimes, Forever were alluring in their own right, but neither can compare to the textures brushed onto this record’s canvas. Any nods to late 20th century rock music are magnified with more progressive decoration of the genre. While lite psychedelia and dulled pop have become the primary underpinnings of her music, she shims in a subtle country guitar lick on “Feel It All The Time,” which opens with a dedication to a trusty old pick-up truck in the driveway to boot, and an unsteady mechanical churn with “Unholy Affliction.” But even when Soccer Mommy is doing what she’s always done without complication – rocking out on something like album opener “Bones” or masquerading a gruesome scene with a gentle guitar strum on “Fire in the Driveway” – she feels like she’s at the top of her game. Read the full review.


2. Giving the World Away by Hatchie


Regret so often crushes the hard-earned products of ambition, as Pilbeam realizes that every change is attached to a sacrifice: Is the result worth as much as the means to reach it? Will we want more when we get there? Is good enough ever enough? These questions are embedded in the context of Giving the World Away, but they’re coated in a dazzling presentation of comforting nostalgia – a warm, calm breeze to replace the raging cyclone of confusion. By balancing intense emotion with a lifetime’s worth of musical touchpoints, Pilbeam has managed to make a striking coming-of-age statement piece out of a scattered collage on Giving the World Away, an album that is as much an untethered celebration as it is a graceful defeat. Read the full review.


1. The Loneliest Time by Carly Rae Jepsen


Opening with a sad dance banger like “Surrender My Heart” and quickly following it with the high-octane Captain Cuts cosignature “Talking to Yourself,” The Loneliest Time can sometimes wear a fulfilling masquerade of homeostasis in the Carly Rae Jepsen cinematic universe. Love takes the forefront, and for Jepsen, it holds the power to reframe her life: “I’m living to look at your face. [...] I get all my confidence from you,” she confides on “Sideways.” However, with that much at stake, the record often admits that even hairline fractures can open a fault line – no wonder this is The Loneliest Time. But the good news? By the end, love still wins as a relationship rekindles: “And in the morning, sun hits the water. Is this nirvana?” Jepsen and Rufus Wainwright duet on the album’s title track. She is once again indebted to love. Read the full review.

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