My Top Twenty albums of 2022

Hysteria by Indigo Sparke – CD bought and signed at the Louisiana, Bristol in November

2022 was the year when live music made its full return after the lockdowns and disruptions of the previous two years. I didn’t make a conscious decision to go to more concerts than ever before, but that’s what happened. 43 gigs and 6 festivals – two weekenders, four one-dayers. Put together, I saw getting on for 150 bands over the year, in a variety of genres, and they shaped my choice of albums of the year in quite a big way. That was partly because I find myself listening a lot to playlists I’ve compiled on Spotify these days, and some of those are quite retro. It explains why Spotify Wrapped told me that my fourth most played band this year was The Clash! But it also meant that I didn’t listen to all that many albums all the way through until quite late in the year – when I knew I needed to do this list!

My top band on Spotify, by the way, was Turnstile. Their show at the Roundhouse in February was one of the best of the year – uplifting punk metal, with a few musical twists thrown in. And their Glastonbury performance was highly entertaining too. They were my go-to band for an energising dose of rock’n’roll this year. Big Thief and The War on Drugs were in the top five as well – again because of great concerts and being on one of my most listened to playlists, which pulls together a whole host of Americana and folk. The final artist in that top five was Indigo Sparke, the Australian indie-folk singer, now based in New York. I loved her 2021 album Echo – No 2 in my top albums – and as for her 2022 release Hysteria, read on.

Before I get to this year’s top twenty, I’d like to mention four albums from 2021 that I didn’t really get to know until this year. They would all have been strong candidates for last year’s list, and this year’s too.

Four from 2021

Glow On by Turnstile. This one got an honourable mention after I first came across it at the end of the year in some of the end of the year selections. As I said above, Turnstile make exhilarating rock’n’roll which draws on punk, metal and rap – I’m occasionally reminded of the Beastie Boys. Don’t Play and Blackout are two of my favourite songs of the year, with their air-punching riffs. But you also get the eerie Alien Love Call, and the almost poppy Underwater Boi. Just huge fun. And I haven’t seen a better live band this year.

Twin Plagues by Wednesday. The Spotify algorithm pointed me to this one, after listening to Big Thief. There are some resemblances in the sound, particularly when Big Thief rock out. The first song I heard though was a beautiful country lament called How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do. That’s an outlier on an album that features a lot of tangled, searing guitar, a sound of angst and rage. I could hear some My Bloody Valentine – listen to One More Last One – some grunge, some shoegaze in there, as well as Neil Young when he lets go on the electric guitar. It’s an album I come back to again and again, especially the electrifying Birthday Song. The band are from North Carolina, led by Karly Hartzman. I really hope they come to the UK soon.

Space 1.8 by Nala Sinephro. This is an amazing piece of, yes, spacey, jazz. Eight tracks, Space 1, 2, 3, etc. Nala Sinephro grew up in Belgium, with roots in the Caribbean island of Martinique. She’s now based in London, and has worked with the likes of Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, two of the stars of today’s London jazz scene. She plays piano, synth and other electronic instruments. It’s such a gorgeous album, especially to listen to late at night. But it isn’t just easy listening – there is always a surprise around the corner.

Vulture Prince by Arooj Aftab. This is another beautiful, atmospheric, album, infused with the sounds of the Asian subcontinent, with reggae dub, with jazz, with sounds from around the world. Arooj Aftab was born in Saudi Arabia, lived in Pakistan as a child, spent some time in London and is now based in New York. She sings mainly in Urdu, but you don’t have to understand the words to be moved by the feeling. I’m a bit late to this one; she did actually win an Emmy this year for one of the album’s songs, Mohabbat, and was nominated for the best New Artist award.

The 2022 Top Twenty

No1. Hysteria – Indigo Sparke

Indigo Sparke is an Australian, based in New York. You could call her music indie-folk, but that wouldn’t capture the richness and intensity of her sound. It is a classic example of the sad but uplifting – duende – captured best in the song Sad is Love, which is not only beautiful, but strangely anthemic as it builds. The middle eight still gives me shivers at times – and I’ve been listening to it a lot! In fact it’s my favourite song of the year – on my favourite album. Last year I made her album Echo my No 2. This year she goes one better. Echo was a sparse beauty; this one is a little fuller, with production by Aaron Dessner – he of The National and Taylor Swift’s brilliant lockdown albums, Folklore and Evermore. He’s had a hand in the songwriting too. I’m thinking he is seeing something in Indigo Sparke that is really special. And I agree! There was never any doubt that this was going to be my No 1 album after I’d listened to it a couple of times. She is a major talent.

No2. Slugeye – Gretel Hänlyn

Gretel Hänlyn (pronounced hen-line) is my favourite new artist of the year. Slugeye, a seven track EP, came out in May and is a wonderful amalgam of indie, pop and rock’n’roll. It’s joyous music, though of course the lyrics are somewhat darker than the sounds. Gretel is a distinctive singer with quite a deep timbre, which gives her melodies a real resonance. The record veers from the rock’n’roll energy of Motorbike and Apple Juice, to the catchiness of It’s the Future Baby, the twist of Slugeye and the plaintiveness of Connie. All of them already crowd favourites – I’ve seen her perform twice this year, the first time being her debut show as a headline artist at the Bermondsey Social Club. There have been two more excellent singles, Drive and Today. Gretel Hänlyn is the future, baby!

No3. The Jacket – Widowspeak

I love this band. The music takes you back – to Mazzy Star, Velvet Underground, REM… and Dire Straits. But it feels fresh, and live at Studio 9294 in Hackney Wick it was something special. It’s a wistful, rolling sound, with Molly Hamilton’s dreamy vocals recalling Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, which is always a good thing in my book. Fellow band leader Robert Earl Thomas adds subtle guitar which rocks out just now and then. The key song on the album for me is The Drive which, over the lovely rolling beats, challenges someone who had aspirations, but never the drive. Sad or accusatory, I’m not sure. Maybe both. There are a lot of layers in Widowspeak’s music, which reveal themselves to you with each listen. Deceptively laid back – there’s a sting in the tail.

No4. Tableau – The Orielles

This is the Orielles’ third album in four years, and it’s a step change from its predecessors. While Esmé Dee Hand-Halford’s gossamer vocals and Henry Carlyle Wade’s crystalline guitars remain distinctive features, the songs are more discursive, ambient, than before. The band’s early epic Sugar Tastes Like Salt – always a highlight of their live shows – gave a hint that they might eventually head this way. The sound washes over you, envelops you. There aren’t any obvious singles on it, but there is so much to discover as you listen. A slow burn masterpiece.

No5. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You – Big Thief

Big Thief are a prolific band, and this album runs to twenty tracks. Last time I listened to it, I thought, this is Big Thief’s version of the Beatles’ White Album. Long, meandering, quite raw in places. Erring towards their folkier side, but with the occasional outburst of razor-edged guitar. And still with an element of that Radiohead weirdness. It’s a fascinating, abstract journey through the imagination of singer and guitarist Adrienne Lenker.

No6. A Light For Attracting Attention – The Smile

Talking of Radiohead, The Smile are the next best thing while the mothership remains in port. Compromising Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, and drummer Tom Skinner from Sons of Kemet, The Smile have conjured up a smorgasbord of sounds that stand on their own, but would stand up as part of the Radiohead canon too. I particularly like The Smoke, with its dub feel, Free In The Knowledge, which has the makings of a Karma Police anthem, and the wildness of You Will Never Work In Television Again.

No7. I Love You Jennifer B – Jockstrap

Jockstrap may be the worst name in music, but the duo of Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery (who also plays violin in Black Country New Road) have made an album that goes in so many directions that you either get completely confused or say, this is amazing. I’m inclined to the latter. Nothing is ever as it seems. There are bursts of melody, folk even; and then there’ll be a weird diversion, a loopy embellishment. There’s dance, electro, dubstep, musicals. It’s ridiculous on one level, brilliant on another. Every time I listen to it I like it more.

No8. Preacher’s Daughter – Ethel Cain

I’m new to this album, having been led to it by the magnificent song Sun Bleached Files, but I seriously considered putting it straight into the top three. I was bowled over on the first listen. On one level you can hear the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Sharon van Etten; and there’s a bit of today’s soul-pop production in places. But it has an eeriness and a dramatic quality that goes beyond all of that. It’s reaching out to something that can’t quite be grasped. I’m beginning to think it might be a modern Darkness on the Edge of Town.

No9. Pre-Pleasure – Julia Jacklin

In Pressure to Party from her last album, Crushing, Julia Jacklin sings I’ll open up the door and try to love again soon. Pre-Pleasure is the sound of Julia tentatively making her way back into the world of love and relationships. It’s a fragile balance though – on the song Neon she muses, am I gonna lose myself again? The music fits this mood. More piano-based than before, it’s mostly subdued, reflective – and rather beautiful, as always. Julia is channelling her inner Fleetwood Mac at times too, notably on Love, Try Not To Let Go.

No10. Caroline – Caroline

In a record shop you could file Caroline’s debut album under folk, indie, world, prog, even jazz. It has elements of all these, and more. It’s an intriguing, and yes, challenging listen; but the more you do, the more it rewards you. And live, where the songs are bent, stretched, embellished in all sorts of ways, it is truly astonishing. An eight strong music collective from south London, Caroline are on a musical journey that could lead anywhere.

No11. I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me – King Hannah

King Hannah operate in a space where Mazzy Star meet Neil Young and the blues. Craig Whittle’s guitar playing is a thing of wonder.

No12. Big Time – Angel Olsen

Big Time is Angel Olsen’s coming out album, and she celebrates the moment by delving further into the sounds of country music than previously. A warm, affecting collection of heartfelt songs.

No13. Fear Fear – Working Men’s Club

WMC have always sounded like New Order were an influence, but never more so than on this album. Back to the 80s with some truly infectious beats.

No14. Se Ve Desde Aqui – Mabe Fratti

More beguiling sounds from Mabe Fratti, a Guatemalan cellist based in Mexico. Her music combines the cello with swirling synths, discordant sax, jagged guitar and juddering drums, as her voice, Kate Bush-like floats over it all. The title in English is It is seen from here. I’m none the wiser!

No15. Midnights – Taylor Swift

Taylor returns to her pop base after the more contemplative diversions of Folklore and Evermore. But those albums have left their mark, and she is still looking back and asking questions. Maroon and Karma are highlights for me, but there will more, I’m sure.

No16. Third Page: Resonance – Sun Mi Hong

I bought the CD of this album after seeing Netherlands-based Korean drummer Sun Mi Hong and her band play in the Purcell Room during the London Jazz Festival. It fits the avant-garde bill, but there are moments of real beauty too, especially on the poignant Letter With No Words, addressed to her father.

No17. Reflections – Alina Bzhezinska and the Hip Harp Collective

I saw Ukrainian harpist Alina Bzhezinska and her band play at King’s Place this year. The harp adds a lovely dimension to this collection, which has a Parisian sheen and pays tribute to the music of John and Alice Coltrane.

No18. Life and Life Only – The Heavy Heavy

This seven track EP – the band’s debut – is an unashamedly retro celebration of 60s and 70s rock, particularly as played on the US west coast. Live, the Heavy Heavy are an absolute joy. Highlights here are the rolling rhythms of Miles and Miles and the soulful Go Down River.

No19. We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong – Sharon van Etten

Tender and bruised, angry and defiant, with music to match, this album, billed as her reflections on life in the pandemic, covers all of Sharon van Etten’s bases. Intense and engaging as always.

No20. Hyper Dimensional Expansion Beam – The Comet Is Coming

The title says it all! Cosmic electro-jazz, powered along by the extraordinary saxophone sounds of Shabaka Hutchings – the master.

Honourable Mentions

Warm Chris – Aldous Harding; Blue Water Road – Kehlani; Remember Your North Star – Yaya Bey; Where I’m Meant To Be – Ezra Collective; When Everything Is Better I’ll Let You Know – Pip Millett; Could We Be More – Kokoroko; Feeding The Machine – Binker and Moses; 11 – Sault; Sometimes, Forever – Soccer Mommy; Congregation – Witch Fever; Skinty Fia – Fontaines DC; LP8 – Kelly Lee Owens; Loggerhead – Wu Lu; Conduit – Coby Sey; Blue Rev – Alvvays; Being Funny In A Foreign Language – The 1975; Same Moon In The Same World – Ant Law and Alex Hitchcock; Sorrows Away – The Unthanks; The Car – Arctic Monkeys, Cub – Wunderhorse; Tired Of Liberty – The Lounge Society, Autofiction – Suede; Void – Scalping.

There’s some great music in this list. In many cases the albums could easily be in the top twenty if I’d been able to listen to them more. But then again, what would I leave out? If jazz, funk and worldwide sounds are your thing, Ezra Collective and Kokoroko might appeal. If it’s jazzy soul, with hip hop and reggae influences, Kehlani, Yaya Bey and Pip Millett are recommended. Pip Millett is a favourite of my daughters. Erykah Badu and Amy Whitehouse are clear influences. Sault cover all of the above. Led, we now know, by producer Inflo, they released five albums on the same day in November! I haven’t had time to absorb them yet, but there are some lovely soul sounds on 11, reminiscent of 2020’s masterpiece Black Is. For some hardcore, driving jazz, try Binker and Moses. That’s the ace drummer, Moses Boyd. For a more mellow jazz experience, Ant Law and Alex Hitchcock, who I saw with Sun Mi Hong (No16 above) do the trick very nicely. Coby Sey’s album is darkly atmospheric, in the mould of Tirzah, in whose band he plays. And Wu Lu fuses rap with hardcore punk and rock. At its best – the song South especially – it is visceral.

There’s a variety of what might be categorised as indie records on the list. Very new to me is the angry punk sound of Witch Fever from Manchester. Lounge Society are this year’s sound a bit like Squid entry, with a bit of the Libertines in the mix. They’re good live. I love Alvvays but have only listened to Blue Rev once. It’s bound to grow on me. Soccer Mommy’s album is grungier than earlier efforts and worked well live. The 1975 took me back to, well… 1975. Suede’s latest is impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing them live next year. Wunderhorse occasionally fly too close to Britpop, but there are some epic guitars on the likes of Butterflies. Meanwhile, if you enjoy piledriving industrial beats, then Scalping might be for you.

The Unthanks album is a rich blend of folk sounds, old and new, with the voices of sisters Rachel and Becky beautiful as ever. Half of Aldous Harding’s Warm Chris is of the usual high standards, but I found it petered out a bit towards the end. Brilliant live at End of the Road though. Kelly Lee Owen’s LP8 conjures up a brooding atmosphere, but has one or two cringe moments. I’ve tried hard with Fontaines DC’s Skinty Fia, and Jackie Down The Line is good, but it’s just rather dull – as was their recent concert at Hammersmith Apollo. A rethink needed, I’d say. That leaves Arctic Monkeys. The Car has had some rave reviews. I thought they were very good on Jules Holland. But Alex Turner doing his David Bowie croon doesn’t really do it for me over a whole album. Give me I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor any time!

So, another great musical year, and I’m already looking forward to another in 2023. Already have a nice line-up of gigs in addition to the festivals, including Gretel Hänlyn, The Murder Capital ( back at last!) Gwenifer Raymond, Killing Joke, Biig Piig, Suede, a couple of jazz guitarists, Lee Ritenour and Matt Schofield, Alvvays, and then…. Turnstile! AND then…. Brooooooce!!! Hyde Park in July.

Which reminds me, I’ve completely forgotten to listen to Bruce’s soul covers album, Only the Strong Survive, all the way through. On the basis of what I have heard I think I can live without it.

Terry Hall, RIP

And finally, respect to Terry Hall, singer with The Specials, as well as Fun Boy Three and the Colourfield, who died recently. His droll but incisive delivery was an important part of The Specials’ appeal. As part of the 2 Tone label they played such an important part in bringing people of all backgrounds together for the love of ska and reggae music. And it was music with a message, notably on the classic Ghost Town – an indictment of the state of Britain in the early 80s, as the Thatcher government fought inflation (and the unions) with the most brutal of recessions. More than anything though, the best Specials music just made you want to dance. Gangsters, Message To You Rudi, Too Much Too Young, all wonderful. Of their time, and timeless. Rest in Peace, Terry.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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3 Responses to My Top Twenty albums of 2022

  1. Dood says:

    Wow. Finally got round to this after Christmas, John, but I obviously have a lot more follow-up to do.

    Very helpful that you clearly categorised (where you could) a number of the acts, which enables the Spotty grazer like me to pick and choose. I’m sure I’ll be feeding back on some of these albums in due course.

    Great work!

  2. Dood says:

    Wow. Finally got round to this after Christmas, John, but I obviously have a lot more follow-up to do.

    Very helpful that you clearly categorised (where you could) a number of the acts, which enables the Spotty grazer like me to pick and choose. I’m sure I’ll be feeding back on some of these albums in due course.

    Great work!

    (This might be re-posted – not clear if the first one went through.)

    • John S says:

      Good luck with the listening. I fear there may not be too much in the top twenty that tickles your fancy. Nala Sinephro from 2021 may do it for you.

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