Saturday, December 31, 2022

Atemporal Faves of "2022"

That time of year again, when people make lists and display lists. Musical and otherwise.

Someone of my acquaintance announced on social media that they had winnowed their list down to 118 releases. If this had been in a public place I would have had to stifle a snort. One hundred and eighteen newly released releases – and that is your shortlist? (This is someone in my approximate age range too).

Oh, I can remember making lists of similar size in the late ‘90s and continuing to do so through to the mid-to-late 2000s. I know it's possible to believe sincerely that there are that many likeable and notable releases in a single year. But I also know -  through casting my eye back at some of these lists and having to stifle an incredulous snort at my younger self – that these inventories contain quite a number of recordings about which I now remember virtually nothing. I recall also that a fair few were listened to just the once.  Now it's true that critics develop a freakish capacity for rapid-response assessment of whether a release is interesting or good. Still, a single listen doesn’t seem enough really, if you're going to put it in a list for public display.  There’s a competitive syndrome of ostentatiously liking more - and more varied - things, than the next person; an impulse to seek out things no one else seems to like, or even better, know about. In the 2010s, I tried to reverse these tendencies and cultivate restraint, restricting lists to things that really vividly stood out in the recent memory: records I’d got genuinely stuck on and that seemed (as much as you can predict, which you can't really) to be things that I'd likely be listening to for years to come. 

And then suddenly I didn’t need to make an effort – I simply didn’t like that many things in any given year. 

Nowadays I rarely review records. Uncoupled from release schedules, I don’t listen with a sense of  duty or job-related urgency. But nor is there that FOMO pressure from within: the kind of vocational-existential ravenousness that once drove me on foraging missions. I’ve become more like a regular person who listens to music for pleasure and curiosity. One side effect of that is that I’ve become an increasingly atemporal listener. In 2022, I was as likely to encounter and enjoy a record that came out in 2021 or 2020 as this year. But I was even more likely to hear something for the first time from much further back in time and be blown away by it. Playlists and “your collection” areas in streamers,  YouTube, etc provide traces of my year's listening, but they don’t include vinyl and CD, or files already in my computer. So I've had to rely on memory for the following tally. In no particular order of ranking, chronology, genre, or theme... sometimes accompanied by a short thought or impression, often not... here are my favorites listens of 2022 - only a few of which were made or released in 2022.  


Pharaoh Sanders, Jewels of Thought

I’d heard records by Sanders before, but I don’t think I’d ever heard this one – and it hit me as revelation. That warm wide tone.

Knut Wiggen, “Massa”

The entirety of the Electronic Works 1972-75 retrospective – issued a few years ago – is worth a listen, but this track is particularly wigged out.

Nia Archives

A contemporary artist! But one whose work puts into question the whole idea of "the contemporary". My kid Kieran put me onto this. I'm slightly suspicious of my own enjoyment, given that (like PinkPantheress) this is a young woman making jungle and drum & bass -  a genre-era I’ve investments in, you've probably noticed. Beyond my own nostalgia, there’s also a lingering doubt about whether it’s a healthy development for youth today to be makingmusic whose historical heyday was 27 years ago. Even the thing of having her own smoky vocals and songs weaving through it isn’t a totally fresh development (hello Nicolette). But it is absolutely gorgeous stuff – my favorite is probably “Forbidden Feelings” but it’s all very enjoyable. You can hear the whole lot of it here on this YouTube playlist  I made or with better sound and in chronological sequence (although she's only been at it for a little over a year as far as I can tell) in my Tidal playlist (I don’t think you need to be a subscriber)

(Incidentally if you want to get a sense of what's happening in current music - or a corner of current music: hyperpop, soundcloud rap, online micro-genres galore - you would do well to check out Kieran's rundown of the year's highlights, in which a different track by Nia Archives - what an odd name that is!  - features near the top. He's also helpfully made Spotify and YouTube playlists of his 2022 faves) 

Angel Rada – “Carillon”

My fave Creel Pone of this year was The Early Uraniun Recordings+  and in particular the 1983 album Upadesa and in particular particular, this track “Carillon” – a squoinky bubble-bath of  electrobliss.

Saturn Rings Songs” is another lovely squiggle of synth-froth

More about this Cuban pioneer of “Ethnosonic” music here

It was a bumper Creel year with a huge output, lots of doubles and triples, and I haven't really got to grips with it properly. But there were some great things - have a peruse of the recent releases at the site and play the soundclips, starting with the most recent release CNUCE Computer Music which is really cool. The ANS Electronic Music "box" is also brand new and notable, and eerily timely given Eduard Artemyev's death this week


Dry Cleaning -  Stumpwork

I feel bad for Dry Cleaning as this excellent album has barely figured on the end of year lists – mystifying to me, as it’s clear that they’ve pulled off that tricky trick of keeping everything good about a beloved debut but twisting things and adding things just enough for it not to feel like reiteration. I suppose the sheer shock impact of a new lyrical voice and delivery that you got with New Long Leg was always going to be hard to pull off again. And the musical approach last time – cold, dry,  slightly claustrophobic – enhanced that impact. Here, the backing boys really come into their own, exploring lots of other textures and feels, and instead of staying within the debut's postpunk zone they are referencing other historical phases of guitar reinvention / uninvention like lo-fi and bliss-rock. “Anna Calls from the Arctic” is gorgeously ethereal, a whole new mood and flow for Dry Cleaning. The second half of “Conservative Hell” (the escape from hell?) is a glowspace of abstract dream-noise worthy of A**l P**k’s The Doldrums. The dirgescapes of “Liberty Log” and “Icebergs” are wonderfully expansive ways to bring the album to its close, pointing to a third album that I for one am excited to hear.

 James Blake, “If The Car Besides You Moves Ahead”

Surprised that this quavering and glimmering "ballad"doesn’t appear to be widely heralded as some kind of career peak and pinnacle of ecstatic vocal science. I suddenly hear it as a 21st Century inverted answer record to "Roadrunner" - fragile, anxious, out of love with the modern world. 

Pause for the Cause: London Rave Adverts 1991-1996, Vol. 1 + Vol. 2

Erroneously reported in at least one place as a compilation compiled by me – in actual fact, Luke Owen, the man behind Death Is Not The End, assembled these glorious collations of pirate  radio adverts for raves and club nights. But I did contribute a couple of  choice ads. And also donated a liner note, reproduced here


Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23”

And so I find myself thrilling to some Lee Ritenour lickmanship

John Barry - The More Things Change (Film, TV & Studio Work 1968-1972)

Bob Stanley, a-sifting and a-sorting.


Sidney Sager and the Ambrosian Singers - Children of the Stones

Jonny Trunk, a-digging and a-exhuming and a-rights-procuring. 



 Duncan Browne, “Chloe in the Garden”

Metronomy – “The Look”

An odd thing about my favorite records of the year from the mid-2000s onwards is that – as I become more occupied with books than with regularly reviewing records - quite often I never actually get to write anything substantive about the record that turns out to be the one I listened to the most and out of which I derived the greatest delight. Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Dandelion Gum, I wrote a tiny review; there was an end-of-year appreciation of The Good, the Bad and the Queen, also brief . But then Micachu and the Shapes’s Jewellery, Rangers’s Suburban Tours, Metronomy’s The English Riviera – these are records I’ve emitted not a public peep about, beyond a few words on the blog and often not even that. And these are enduring records, returned to many times over the years. Perhaps that is precisely because I’ve never been obliged to think about why I like them so much, to tease out how they work or what is unique or new about them. (With reviewing a record, there is always a danger of using it up – playing it so much during the review process, extracting images and ideas from it… in more cases than you’d probably imagine, I’ve literally never played the album again, after reviewing it).  The non-reviewed record enters a protective enclosure of pure, unreflective enjoyment. (Well, being wired the way I am, there will inevitably be the odd thought or trope).   Metronomy’s wonderful English Riviera got some play this year, and “The Look” went into very heavy rotation.  I’m not even sure why I like it so much. I don’t really know what the song is about. “The look”  - is that when ravers’s eyes meet, the look of complicity and shared ooh-gosh bliss?  Just remember how we shook, shook / And all the things we took, took  does suggest drug adventures. Or perhaps it's the look of "let's go for it" - let the night ignite. But the rest of the lyric? Don’t know, don’t really care.  Whenever we play it, I always notice, as if for the first time, the drums and how perfect they are – a simple beat, really, but with a great, loose swing, and the individual parts of the kit are beautifully recorded (Joseph Mount used to make a sort of drum & bass type music before Metronomy became a band-band, right? I don't actually know much about the group or have ever felt the urge to find out). The beat dovetails sublimely with the other elements as they enter – the bobbing 'n' dipping carousel-like keyboard, the chiming curls of high-toned bass. It all adds up – almost literally adds up – to this immaculate construction. A career-defining creation. The lines “And to think they said / We'd never make anything better than this” must surely ring out strangely for Mount whenever he has to sing them at some festival or other.  Because they wouldn’t and they haven’t. But how could they? Besides, most bands, most artists, never attain this altitude even once.  


The Good, the Bad, and the Queen - “Three Changes”

Talking of which…. The drums, the drums, the drums. 

Huerco S.  – “Plonk I”

There’s a pained beauty to the plucked-sounding irregular patterns of “Plonk I”, like a player tentatively grappling with a harp that's been fitted with serrated strings, as somebody said. (Rest of the album is also excellent).

A.C. Marias, “One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing” (the single and the album)

A real snowblinder of a single, as somebody said. Whole album is lost treasure. 

Robert Haigh, Human Remains

 People Like Us, “World of Wonder (Why We’re Here)”

Inducing a hyper-ventilating high through saturating the ear with treble frequencies (falsetto, female vocal harmonies, strings, etc), this is a swoony samplescape on a par with The Avalanches's Since I Left You. A celebration of the consoling power of pop's prettiness.  

Moon Wiring Club – Medieval Ice Cream 

At once dependable and a departure. What you want in one of your favorite artists. 

Nick Edwards - Landfill Elektronikz Vol. 1 

Santana, Lotus

Really not far from the Miles Davis live albums of this era. Yes, I was surprised too. 

Burial, Antidawn

The mark of achieved style for an artist is when you can be parodied – by yourself as much as by others.  Rather than formulaic or deja, though, this impacts with feels-like-the-first-time freshness. And it doesn’t hurt that the hurt in this music - Burial's music’s signature mood of orphaned desolation - fits the raw-feeling fragility of life in these times.

Wet Leg – “Oh No,” "Chaise Longue" etc

Perhaps it’s the image, the droll dry vocals,  the amusing / annoying lyrics  (annoying in the case of “Oh No” – or so I’m told, anyway, by members of the same generation, who know what is cringe and what is not ), perhaps these things get in the way.  But I feel that it is rarely remarked how beautiful - as rock music – the best Wet Leg tunes are – a sense of glistening tensile structure that puts me in mind of Buzzcocks’s “stainless steel love songs”, Chairs Missing Wire, even Neu! in moments... 

Solange, When I Get Home


Doja Cat, "Juicy" 

Simply the loveliest pop song of the last five years. The horchata-like savory-sweetness of Doja's voice, the silky-slinky curls 'n' folds of the rhythmelody, the spangle-stuff entwined around that pert groove - "Juicy" is possibly the most gorgeous thing of its approximate sort since Tinashe's "2 On". And yet... the lyrics are profane ("body-positive" my ass, or rather her ass)... the video is gross... DC seems to be a fairly objectionable figure. Still, whenever it's comes on the radio, I manage to push all that out of my mind. 

Nil├╝fer Yanya - "trouble" 


Bobby Brown, The Enlightening Beam


Curtis Mayfield, “Pusherman”

Herbie Hancock, “Bubbles”

Mahavishnu  Orchestra, “You Know, You Know”

Weather Report, “Non-Stop Home”, “125th Street Congress”, “Cucumber Slumber”

Kool and the Gang, “Summer Madness”

Idris Muhammad, “Piece of Mind”

The Crusaders featuring Randy Crawford, “Street Life”

(the above and a heap of that kind of 70s smoov groov collated here)  

Al Green, “Love Ritual”

Bill Frisell, In Line

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! 

As radical a reinvention / revitalization of rock form as any mounted at that time. 

And also the second album’s  “Clockout” - mostly for the drum roll.

Wire, Chairs Missing

As radical a reinvention / revitalization of rock form as any mounted at that time. 

Also the third album's "The 15th" and "Map Ref 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees W" 

Nineties Nuum

This year, like every year, I listened to a huge amount of hardcore, darkcore, jungle, etc and amazingly still managed to hear for the very first time a number of minor delights and the occasional astonishing tune that somehow I'd never come across in the previous 30 years of listening to, collecting, thinking about, and returning to again and again.  So much music was made then it is still possible to have discoveries. Even the second-division and third-division specimens are charged with the electricity of the Zeitgeist. Extracting this year's discoveries and rediscoveries from memory is challenging, so habitual and engrained is my listening to this area. Things come and go, get remembered and then forgotten again.

But I did reimmerse deeply with the genius of Gurley and in particular his Rogue Unit remixes, collated here

I rediscovered Cold Mission's compact, immaculate body of work right at the start of the year - artcore without any rufige removed or smoothed away

That then propelled me into a daft personal project of listening to the entire Reinforced discography (well, up to a certain date). Only some of that first half-90s surgeburst of scenius is gathered here. Not forgetting the often glorious Tom and Jerry stuff - a second front of dancefloor-aimed material opened up by 4 Hero under an alias. 


(The second half of the RIVET '90s is partially collated here , and then again as a crowd-sourced highlight reel here, while my struggles with it are explored here).   

Out of all the Reinforced-related wonderwork, this tune struck me again most forcefully as a miracle: the 4 Hero remix of Scarface's "Seen A Man Die."  It even made me listen finally to the original Scarface tune and its album. 


Ed said...

Jewels of Thought and Lotus were two albums I listened to for the first time in 2022, too. Jewels I acquired on a 2-albums-on-1-CD Impulse reissue along with Tauhid, which was the first Sanders album I ever heard and remains my favorite. Lotus as you say is not at all far from the music Miles Davis was making at that time. In live albums from the period 1972-75, you can hear a remarkable convergence in sound and approach from bands coming out of quite different traditions: Miles’s groups, Santana, King Crimson, Can. In some of these cases I guess there may have been some parallel evolution, but for Santana there was clearly also some conscious imitation. Also last year I watched the documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, in which Carlos Santana crops up as a thoughtful and eloquent advocate for the merits of Miles’s electric music.
In fact 2022 was a year when I kept coming across Santana. I think I picked up Lotus in memoriam Greg Tate: I remember rushing out to hear Santana after reading Flyboy in the Buttermilk, and being a bit underwhelmed by the early studio albums. It was good to hear a record of theirs that unequivocally lives up to the hype.
And then the other place I saw Santana was in the restored “director’s cut” of the Woodstock festival movie. I actually went to the cinema to see it, and managed to stay awake for the whole thing, which is not a feat I have ever managed before. One thing it did make me think was that old music was rubbish. The general standard was humdrum, and some acts - Ten Years After, John Sebastian - were downright awful. You have to wait a long time for the real stars - Sly Stone, The Who, Hendrix - and Santana are certainly among them.
There is a marked contrast with the wonderful Summer of Soul documentary, shot the same year and in the same state. In that film, all the music is good, even from widely-mocked pop sellouts the Fifth Dimension, and much of it - eg Nina Simone - is astonishing.
One thing the Woodstock movie is worth seeing for, though, is the audience vox pops. They all seem like great kids, having the time of their lives. A bit wrenching to wonder about where they all are now.


I seem to remember liking Caravanserai quite a bit, but yeah for the most part Santana studio albums are underwhelming, so I was quite surprised by Lotus. Perhaps they are one of those groups that really smoked live rather than in the studio.

I remember reading Greg Tate on Santana in the Village Voice at some point (late '90s? early 2000s?) and being struck by the tone of veneration - but then he was a guitarist, Greg, so perhaps that is part of it, the "how does he do it? factor. He also wrote some extremely effusive about Jeff Beck, I seem to remember.

I'm with you on the shitness of Woodstock - in fact seeing it on TV ages ago prompted this blog about 1969 as possibly the worst year for music ever. (Well, there's what was happening in black music - so let's say, the worst year for rock music ever. (However, given what happened in rock music in the 21st Century one might have to revise that viewpoint - or modify it to the "worst year for rock music within the alleged Golden Age of Rock").

Richie Havens, unexpectedly, I found to be a highlight of Woodstock and have been meaning to listen to his albums Richard P. Havens, 1983 and Stonehenge for a while now but never quite got round to it.

Tim 'Space Debris' said...

I was wondering where your year end list had got to. Here it is hiding away...

Metronomy's The Look borrows heavily from KC & The Sunshine Band's sublime classic Keep It Comin' Love from 1976.

Sorry if this bursts your bubble but I too was once transfixed by "The Look" until I heard "Keep It Comin' Love" again.

I wrote about here as linked with the connected track "I'm You're Boogie Man"

Happy New Year


Well I wasn't expecting that bit of info! I'm scared to go listen now (although KC & the Sunshine Band had some great tunes so I'm not put off by that)


PS happy new year to you too, and keep on blogging