Updated: Jan 1
includes albums, eps, and compilations
Listen along: Trey's Top 25 Projects of 2022 Playlist
Orange you glad I didn’t make a top 50!
Idiotic puns aside, this year would’ve been quite more tumultuous if not for all of the brilliant music that came out. I listened to a lot more projects this year than I have in a long time because, seriously, there was a lot this year that was worth it. It’s always very difficult to formulate my favorites of anything, and it always seems like a fool’s errand. With that being said, there was so much good music to choose from this year. So much, in fact, that I seriously did consider a Top 50 list (that poor joke was not made in vain, I swear). From alt, to world & jazz, to electronic, to pop, and everything in between, it’s time to count down my top 25 favorite projects of 2022. Let’s start with 10 honorable mentions (I really couldn't help myself).
Onto the list...
Jakey - ROMCOM
Cloud Rap / Alternative R&B
RIYL: Kid Cudi, Rx Papi, Matt Watson
It’s tough for an online personality to create a music project that actually pans out. Time and time again, we’ve seen YouTubers attempt and fail to create something of importance or remembrance in the music landscape. Seldom does their music ever escape the bounds of their name. Surprisingly to me, we’re starting off my top 25 with Jakey’s ROMCOM, a short little record that aims to create a distinct musical sphere for the YouTube personality. Its colorful and self-aware production meshes really well with the sometimes on-the-nose lyricism (which is fine, I’ll give him a pass for that). Most of all, I think ROMCOM represents something bigger than it is - the fact that you can always make what you want, when you want, without somebody breathing down your neck at all times. It is passion for the craft put to beats that sample vines. What more could you want?
Martín Escalante, Teté Leguía & Weasel Walter - Katyusha
European Free Jazz
RIYL: Manfred Schoof, John Coltrane, Merzbow
What do you get when you mix the already boisterous stylings of European free jazz with the ever-present gnawing of harsh noise projects like The Gerogerigegege or Merzbow? This - a behemoth of infernal rage and chaos. Katyusha takes the listener through the mindset of a serial killer mid-murder, acting quite literally as the soundtrack of some lost and gladly-forgotten snuff film. Through its deranged and neurotic saxophone squeals, distorted and chugging bass, and bone-crushing percussion, Katyusha is certainly not for the faint of heart. More so, it is an allegory for what we have been and what we may become: terried yet grossly transfixed on the macabre.
Ghais Guevara - There Will Be No Super-Slave
Hardcore Hip Hop
RIYL: Mach-Hommy, Run the Jewels, JPEGMAFIA
Up-and-coming rap superstar Ghais Guevara is all guns blazing on There Will Be No Super-Slave, an equally enlightening and entertaining affair that calls out the powers that be. The beats themselves are influenced by chipmunk soul and drill, while these bars are just some of the most clever and satirical to come out of the genre. It is no wonder that this record got so much praise this year. Be on the lookout for this guy; he’s starting some sort of revolution in the underground hip-hop world.
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - Topical Dancer
Tech House / Art Pop
RIYL: Kelly Lee Owens, Daniel Avery, Solange
Get your ass on the dance floor and be prepared to move your body to funky house tracks that touch on political correctness, cultural appropriation, and the modern socio-economic climate. Doesn’t that sound like so much fun? Well, you’d be surprised. Adigéry’s playful and earnest delivery across Topical Dancer establishes a satirical carelessness that comes along with modern political discourse. Pupul’s futuristic house is just the right blend of dystopian refuge and technopolis propaganda. With that being said, who is ready for the future? Let’s dance our cares away!
RIYL: Jack Rose, Pelt, Stara Rzeka
The Slovenian trio Širom do not call themselves “imaginary folk” for nothing. The Liquified Throne of Simplicity is ritualistic, meditative, and mysterious. Bordering on ambient, free improvisation, and the avant-garde in general, each of the five songs here exhibit a wondrous blend of musical exploration and vision. The group sees beyond the conventions of the genre itself to create a whole new experience that is sure to leave you contemplating until long after its completion.
Bailey Miller - Still Water
Ambient Pop / Psychedelic Folk
RIYL: Grouper, Julia Holter, Ana Roxanne
Bailey Miller’s strong debut album Still Water relies heavily on empty space. Subconsciously calling on influences such as Grouper, Leya, and Eartheater, a lot of tracks on here create musical tension in silence and the space between notes. The free-flowing nature of these songs justifies the dichotomy between herself and her contemporaries, casting a brilliant shadow of mysterious and unknown proportion. Lyre in hand, she is a forest nymph singing songs of charity and doubt. Big ups to Alex Scherotter, present Jazz Music Director, for sending this my way!
Daniel Rossen - You Belong There
RIYL: Joanna Newsom, Roy Harper, Fleet Foxes
Daniel Rossen is a mystic. He carved out the inside of a giant oak tree and made himself a home there. He writes songs about the human race, and the problems they will have to confront 30 years down the line. He brings apocalyptic prophecies from the future and gives us warnings through these super intricate and mesmerizing songs. “Unpeopled Space” and “Shadow in the Frame” are standouts here, allowing the listener to plunge into the depths of these truths much like Rossen did in composition.
Filho Da Mãe - Terra Dormente
RIYL: Glenn Jones, John Fahey, Ben McElroy
It is a special thing when a guitar can start to sound like a million instruments at once. This is why I love American Primitivism as a genre – not only because its sonic density can be so effortless, but also because of the ability it has to bring the listener to places they’ve never been. Terra Dormente is a passage to that unknown place. Full of awe and inspiration, the guitar sounds like a tour guide of sorts, showing the listener all of the things they would have never noticed.
Quadeca - I Didn't Mean to Haunt You
Glitch Pop / Folktronica
RIYL: Mid-Air Thief, Frank Ocean, The Books
Quadeca broke all expectations with this new album, and to be honest, it feels like we aren’t ready to accept that. Hauling the listener through its ghostly settings, I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You feels like it’s trying to make a bigger statement than any album could. In another sense, this album bites off more than it can chew. But, hidden within, there is just so much passion, angst, guilt, and sadness to a point where it becomes unbearably real. Too earnest to a fault? Or is that a positive?
Searows - Guard Dog
Indie Folk / Singer-Songwriter
RIYL: Phoebe Bridgers, Adrianne Lenker, José González
Guard Dog is breathtakingly sad, and that’s not just because of the lyrics. Even the chord progressions here are filled with a fragile nostalgia. Alec Duckart is an amazing singer who personifies his lyrics into ghostly forms. I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore – this record really has me at a loss for words sometimes. It’s super subtle. Give it a listen.
Abbatia - Fugazi!
Industrial Hip Hop / Glitch Hop
RIYL: Arca, Kenny Beats, Death Grips
The opposite of subtle, this is an oddball of a pick, for sure. Basically, this trio is making some very industrial-influenced, boundary-pushing hip-hop on Fugazi! Not only is this EP named after a band that has nothing to do with the style present, but in even more of a subversion of expectations, the band only put three songs on here, so you’re not in for something that will stick with you for very long. The energy is relentless and unmatched, while the production is some of the most colorful I’ve ever heard. They really commit to this sound to the highest degree.
Tatsuro Yamashita [山下達郎] - Softly
RIYL: Taeko Ohnuki, YUKIKA, Lamp
Tatsuro Yamashita has always been about making music that rewards the listener with sweet and almost bubblegum stylings. His first album in 11 years is here to say city pop is not dead! In various interviews before this record’s release, he described it as “earnest desire to gently and softly wrap up this turbulent era with music,” and boy does he deliver! City pop is sometimes a very cut-and-dry genre with hokey and cheesy cliches that seem to dull it down even more. While these cliches are still prevalent on Softly, Tatsuro Yamashita knows how to make them fit the composition so well, in fact, that they don’t feel like tropes anymore. This is natural for such an artist. So, if you’re in the mood for some feel-good, luscious, and sentimental pop music, give this a shot!
Perfume Genius - Ugly Season
Art Pop / Experimental
RIYL: Björk, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie
Every time Perfume Genius releases something, I always find myself asking “How did they do it again?” Because, every single time, I’m left in awe with the amount of creativity and sheer personality that presents itself through their music. There is something so magical about Ugly Season, something I can’t really pin down. Is it the subtle nods to impressionist classical music, the way they blend experimental music with beloved pop sensibilities, or just the outright IDGAF nature? Everything here blends together to create a masterful merge of experimental music and the art pop that Perfume Genius has become known to do so well. It’s their best album so far, and a record I kept coming back to time and time again this year. I’ll continue to do so for as long as I can foresee.
Richard Dawson - The Ruby Cord
RIYL: Comus, Matt Elliott, Harmonium
Talk about the cliche of music being a journey — this record is something else. Richard Dawson is cementing himself to be an incredible songwriter, pushing the boundaries of the writing process itself on The Ruby Cord. It starts with “The Hermit”, 41-minute fanfare of epic proportions that actually keeps the listener engaged throughout its entire runtime. I mean, how bold can you be? Apparently, not bold enough, because the highs of the album are still to come, found in the fragility and majesty of tracks like “Horse and Rider” and “The Fool”. So many beautiful stories are told on The Ruby Cord. I hope you’ll join me for their listening.
Cloud Rap / Experimental Hip Hop
RIYL: it's Viper
I kid you not. This is one of the most important hip-hop releases of the past decade. Viper’s discography spans many different styles of cloud rap, all present on this wonderfully remastered compilation. You get his lo-fi, crusty side of albums like Ready and Willing at You’ll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack, but also the rarely-heard, more modern side of projects like Kill Urself My Man and They Hate Me Cuz I’m Vaporwave. These are all inherently “Viper” projects, but the classic tracks are few and far between. This compilation breaks that mold, and allows his best songs to truly shine in their own right.
Branko Mataja - Over Fields and Mountains
Slavic Folk Music
RIYL: Beirut, Buena Vista Social Club
Instrumental music can sometimes speak much deeper and more meaningfully than any lyrical counterpart. Take the latest tribute to Croatian guitarist Branko Mataja, Over Fields and Mountains, a breathtakingly quaint and deliberate release under Numero Group. This record is drenched in a nostalgic echo that resonates of years passed and initiates the brain to think thoughts long since forgotten. Its use of multi-tracking signifies a desire to keep these songs alive with every take, and with every listen I am transported back to simpler days for which I yearn once more.
Regina Spektor - Home, before and after
Singer-Songwriter / Chamber Pop
RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Carole King
While I did really enjoy this record when it came out in June, I never would’ve guessed it would be this high on the list. Home, before and after had its biggest grip on me towards the end of the year. Was it the simplistic yet remorseful lyrics, the repeated nostalgia of another year gone by, or a combination of the two? Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to deny the melodramatic nature of her modern sound as a whole: the sweltering string sections, elementary song forms, and theatrical vocal performance. Yet, I am called back to this album a lot – it’s not everyday you hear such honesty, brutality, and simplicity all in the same place.
Kali Malone - Living Torch
Drone / Electroacoustic
RIYL: Stars of the Lid, Tim Hecker, Natural Snow Buildings
I have always said that ambient music is the most adaptable. Whatever the listener’s emotional state may be, one can be transfixed to its languid, hypnotic, and atmospheric style of composition. While most of the time, ambient music is grounded to the listener’s life, Living Torch is heavy, both in its subject matter and soundscape. In art direction and sound, there is a deep-seated anguish and darkness that is much more felt than understood. The mix is vast and wide, exhibiting a cave-like quality that feels claustrophobic and muggy. Not a record for a rainy day, but a record for the last day the sun rises.
Natalia Lafourcade - De todas las flores
Chamber Folk / Vocal Jazz
RIYL: Amparo Ochoa, Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake
If you are a regular at KAMP meetings, then let me spare you the details; no need to keep reading. You’ve heard all the praise you can get for this record. However, if you have not been able to make these meetings, I’ll tell you this: there was no other record this year that was more talked-about than Natalia Lafourcade’s De todas las flores. I’m glad that this brilliant brew of vocal jazz, chamber music, and Mexican folk music did not go underrepresented, because this record is seriously something to behold.
Everything Everything - Raw Data Feel
Alternative Dance / Indietronica
RIYL: Gorillaz, New Order, Stereolab
The following is an excerpt from my full review of this record, which you can find here.
“Exhibiting a tight concept about the troubling future of humankind, [Raw Data Feel] makes the listener feel like they’re on a dance floor at an apocalypse party. Everybody around you knows the dark fate of the human race, but there’s a nostalgic, bittersweet sense in the air - even though everything might be gone in a few moments, we’re living, and that’s all that matters.”
Black Midi - Hellfire
Brutal Progressive Rock / Avant-Prog
RIYL: Magma, The Mothers of Invention, King Crimson
I know I’m not the first to say this, but all members of Black Midi are aliens that have been stuffed into human bodies. You think I’m kidding? Geordie Greep is screaming and crooning his guts out about Tristan Bongo and his existential horse race. Cameron Picton is playing guitar lines that seem quite impossible with mere human skill. Morgan Simpson is making his drum kit, for lack of a better word, his bitch. Everything on Hellfire is really coming together to create something that calls back to early progressive rock, but sounds like a totally new genre altogether.
Jens Lekman - The Linden Trees are Still in Blossom
Chamber Pop / Singer-Songwriter
RIYL: Belle & Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens, Destroyer
Don’t get me wrong, I love 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, of which this is a remaster and deluxe version, but the six bonus tracks really do add a sense of devotion and familiarity to the album as a whole. The Linden Trees Are Still in Blossom is a love letter to a younger self, one who is filled with wonder and excitement towards many things in life – they see much more beauty in the things around them: the apples taste sweeter, the trees are greener, the water is warmer. The sense of comfort that this record gives me is immense, and no matter how many times I listen, that sense of wonder and excitement is all the more revitalized.
Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Folk Rock / Indie Folk
RIYL: Silver Jews, The Microphones, Gregory & the Hawk
On their latest release, Big Thief finally perfect their blend of indie folk and alt-country. Spanning a whole 20 songs, your attention will never linger, nor will your curiosity, as Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is Big Thief’s strongest album to-date. They finally created a household name for themselves through their earnest and humble songs, especially with the future classics on here like “Simulation Swarm”, “Spud Infinity”, and “Certainty”.
Tamino - Sahar
Singer-Songwriter / Contemporary Folk
RIYL: Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Elliott Smith
I don’t know guys. Sometimes it gets tough to go on and on about the music you like. Part of you feels like you’re selling it, while the other part feels like you are regurgitating language deemed fit for “art criticism and exploration”, whatever that may mean to you. But, when I tell you that Tamino’s Sahar speaks for itself, would you believe me? Far from a sophomore slump, Sahar has some brilliant lyricism to go along with its engaging instrumental choices. Across this singer-songwriter record, there are hints of Arabic folk music, slowcore, chamber instrumentation, giving it a sort-of lavish and fragile quality. There is something so special about this record, and when I talk about it, I get to a point where I have to stop myself and say “Don’t overdo it. Sahar will speak for itself.”
Black Country, New Road - Ants From Up There
Post-Rock / Chamber Pop
RIYL: Arcade Fire, Gang of Youths, Andrew Bird
In no way can I do Ants From Up There justice within a small paragraph like this, nor can I carry the details that it holds. Either way, I’ll feel like I’m rehashing all the things that have been said already across many music communities and groups. That being said, I get it – this is somewhat of a cop-out on my part, but I think, specifically, this record’s grandiosity and fervor are undermined and underrepresented when talked about in conversation. It’s so… big! Everything about this record is undercut when you try to inspect it closely. But, it is my album of the year, so I’m not kidding when I say it spoke to me in ways I cannot describe verbally!
You just know I can't go without including a chart version of the entire thing. Who do you think I am?
And that's the list. In ending this long-winded nerd romp, I couldn't really wish for a better 2023, as that would be almost impossible! We got so many classics this year, so we can at least appreciate these for the time being, right?
tl;dr: and I thought 2021 was good.