This might be a more manageable list of records than I've written in years past, though my listening was no less wide-ranging. It might be a bit more honest, with the concision of its culling arrived at lazily, scrolling the automated iTunes playlist of 2022 records and either noting the amount of times I played it or thinking "oh, that was a good one." While a large amount of very good music came out this year, it felt maybe more than ever oriented towards the ephemeral, as if aware of how the constant release of new, very good, music creates a churn that makes every album feel meant for the moment, rather than the ages. Or else the fact that we all live in our own realities defines so much of the tenor of the times that no one could ever make a record that is in some way a "definitive record" of the year. This approach to music feels psychologically healthy, maybe even ancient: It's closer to live music's promise than investing in a record the qualities of a film or a novel, albeit in a time where "live music" feels like more of a delicate operation than it did pre-COVID, the recording stands as music's currency anyway.
So a review of the best music of the year should include the best shows I saw this year. I blessedly had a chance to see Jaimie Branch before she died. She played a solo set, relying on electronics, opening for her Fly Or Die quartet. I saw Rosali play a show with David Nance Group that was phenomenal. The Nance group backs her up on her last LP, and her forthcoming one as well -- Look out for the song "I Don't Want To Live Without You" when it drops, hearing it for the first time live it immediately felt like a hit. She played bass in the David Nance Group as well, effectively opening for herself. Both sets were so good I went to see the same people again the next night, at a gig where Rosali played lead guitar in Long Hots, her garage rock trio where the drummer sings. An insanely talented musician. I was very happy, brimming with joy, to see Fievel Is Glauque on a day in between their dates opening for Stereolab. (I am listening to their Audiotree session as I type this, the excitement of listening to their music keeping me from going to bed so I am granted the time for typing.) I saw a beautiful evening of music performed by the William Parker Heart Trio, that ended with Cooper-Moore talking about how many legends we lose every day, and so it's important we all share such moments together. Hamid Drake responded saying "You know, some mystics believe, and I believe, that since we're never really born, we never really die." It seemed like a morbid note to end on, although the recent loss of Jaimie Branch was still heavy on my mind, but then the very next day the world mourned the loss of Pharaoh Sanders together.
I also gotta mention going to see Stice and shooting the shit with Caroline Bennett after, really felt like I made a friend; going out of my way to see Myriam Gendron open for Godspeed You Black Emperor not knowing I would get the chance to see her at a much smaller venue months later, when she would complain about how the crowd at the bigger gig talked throughout her performance. Saw the longtime homies Ed Schrader's Music Beat open for Melt-Banana, saw Water From Your Eyes open for Palm, saw Aaron Dilloway in a basement, and afterwards was like "damn check out the Mary Hartman Mary Hartman bumper sticker" to a friend before noticing the Ohio plates and putting it together that it was of course Dilloway's car. But even this list is tainted by recency bias, I cannot really remember what music I saw in the early part of the year.
Also, I am just listing things. I write all of this feeling like writing about music is mostly uninteresting, or a waste of time, or I just don't want to do it, because I'm not particularly good at it. The people who write about music I most admire are not those who can expound at length, either parroting a press release or waxing pseudo-poetic, but those who can point in the direction of a record and with a few brief words of reference make it sound like the sort of thing I will like, if that is what indeed it is. In so doing, coming off as the sort of intellectually curious person worthy of listening to, due to their own willingness to listen deeply. If your taste overlaps at all with my own, just follow me on Bandcamp, where I have never once even attempted to write a blurb.
With that disclaimer, on to the records:
Weyes Blood - And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow. It's funny to read a New Yorker profile about someone coming from the noise scene that name-checks so many people I'm friends with and places I've been, in the interest of mythologizing a person I saw play many not-so-great shows, in the runup to the release of her record The Outside Room. This isn't a diss, that record blew me away, and making better records than one is able to perform live with a tape rig is one distinction between a pop songwriter and a noise act. As time has gone on, and associating Weyes Blood with the "noise scene" makes little sense, it is increasingly clear that she's making records for the ages, and nailing the vibe she's going for. I saw her perform with a full band early in 2023 and she was great, really drove home how she's got a lot of his now. This is a gorgeous soft rock tapestry, unfurling its melancholy through the halls of time.
Lucrecia Dalt - Ay! Lucrecia Dalt is the musician of year. In addition to this record, Lucrecia Dalt released two soundtracks this year, The Seed and The Baby, and they're both amazing, filled with varied miniatures of atmospheric dread and fast-moving arrangements. Her earlier records had this Badalamenti quality to them, and while this feels like a return to the poppy qualities of those after the minimalist abstraction of No Era Solida, the soundtracks have so much of their own character to them, reminding you her nostalgia is not for the standards of 1950s americana but the dance musics of Colombia.
Blanche Blanche Blanche - Fiscal, Remote, Distilled. Very happy that Fievel Is Glauque has introduced more people to the music of Zach Phillips. This record is essentially a re-recorded greatest hits of his earlier band and should provide a entry point to a very unwieldy yet rewarding discography. The arrangements sound fucking amazing, really just lovely stuff.
billy woods -Aethiopes. Woods is the best rapper out, and he made two records this year, this is the better one. Incredible writing, great production, I don't necessarily know how to talk about this stuff other than saying I spent a lot of time with it. The sort of listening that's driven by words and turns of phrase running through your head while just out walking around.
Brandon Seabrook - In The Swarm. Jazz of course exemplifies the spirit of constantly producing music, based on the joy of the circumstances of people being in a room. It is also the genre which requires the most actual working knowledge of music theory to write about well so I will make no such attempts, this felt sorta similar to that William Parker Mayan Space Station record. A little more rock-adjacent than jazz usually is, and therefore more noteworthy, even though I also loved the work of Janel Leppin, Patricia Brennan, Mary Halvorson, Ashley Paul, Mali Obomsawin, this one fits a different mood.
Eric Copeland & Josh Diamond - Riders On The Storm. Big fan of Eric Copeland, of the band Black Dice, whose solo releases vary a bit between sorta straightforward techno, weirder noise stuff, and sorta dumb deconstructed pop songs with a Ween vibe achieved through distorted vocals. I was saying this had a dubby vibe, my buddy Adam more accurately pegged it as techno with disco guitar. The guitar is presumably being played by Josh Diamond, of Gang Gang Dance, whose record God's Money is a classic, at least with the sort of people who obsessively keep up with Black Dice side-projects. Anyway this is a record that feels like it could be put on at backyard barbecues for years to come.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom - Reset. A little unclear what Sonic Boom is bringing to the table here since this is really that classic Panda Bear shit, the best Animal Collective associated record in ages (although Time Skiffs, their record from this year, was not bad - it felt like a "return to form" on a cursory first listen and then I never went back to it.
Caterina Barbieri - Spirit Exit. An electronic/synthesizer records, vocals vocoded, feels psychedelic and huge, I don't know, Barbieri's great. Not sure what the vibe would be like live, if it would be a rave vibe or a church vibe but for the proponents of each either is a spiritual proposition, transcendent.
Empath - Visitor. Feel like, in the time since this band's last record, people have collectively realized that self-identifying as an empath is most likely the act of utterly deluded narcissists, "toxic" people. It's a lucky thing the band's rock music is aggressive and joyful in a way that seems aware of the irony. A Philly band, I checked this out and immediately regretted not attending their release show, a short walk from my house. I get psyched at the start of every new song like "oh, I love this one" even though the songs are not really that different from each other.
Anadol - Felicita. I cannot remember if I wrote up the first Anadol record when that came out a few years ago. Maybe not a far leap from the Lucrecia Dalt record, in its use of electronics to present a gently-swaying type of dance music indebted to Turkish folk music. Then a saxophone plays a solo and you forget what you're listening to even though it is still very good. There's a Don Cherry recording made with Jean Schwarz at the GRM that got released for the first time in early 2023 that combines his seventies world music approach to tape music and as that is like the perfect music to me I like this too.
Dividers - Crime Of Passion. And this is like a blown out and noisy take on American country stuff, I don't know, I am just trying to post this so I don't have to think about it anymore. The reason music writers put out their year-end lists early is because once the new year starts it's on into the future and one doesn't have the energy for retrospect any longer.
Bjork - Fossora. I was not someone who was particularly into Bjork during her nineties heyday. Beyond my Michel Gondry fandom, the voice was an impediment into me getting her, but in the past few years, with enough people vouching, I got into the classics enough that I gave the new one a listen and was blown away by how crazy it was. I should spend more time with this, it feels like a serious work of art.
This is all just listing "new albums," rather than box sets/reissues - I ran out and bought a copy of that 3-CD PJ Harvey B-sides compilation as soon as I learned it existed, which was pretty late due to its major label release precluding a Bandcamp page and the attendant notifications. The archival release of Cheri Knight's American Rituals made me as proud to have gone to The Evergreen State College as a screening of Steve De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile. That Jill Kroesen reissue is super-interesting, I only wish there was an option where I could order a version of the "Stop Vicious Cycles" tank top for myself. I recommended that Ghost Riders compilation to pretty much every one, and it should be on the list if that's the point of making one. A lonely atmosphere captured from the most accessible materials imaginable.