Music journalists, bloggers, and fans typically rush to publish their year-end lists before the stroke of midnight on 12/31 as if all these albums will turn to pumpkin dust and immediate irrelevance. Sure, 2023 is already top-loaded with exciting new releases (the new Iggy Pop, Sam Ryder, and Angela Perley albums are incredible), but 2022’s bumper crop of A+ new releases are only beginning to reveal their amazing layers.
This is one benefit of buying physical media. While streamers have their benefits, once an album is out of sight on the app, it’s out of mind. Meanwhile, my 50+ purchases from 2022 sit on the new release shelf beckoning re-discovery. Sure this path cost a fortune more than the $10/month I pay for Amazon Music, but it’s a hobby and I plan on collecting until my last breath.
As a champion of the much-maligned compact disc in the twin eras of streaming and the vinyl comeback, I feel like a grumpy old man in the bomb shelter below my house, yelling at kids to get off my lawn through a crudely wired loudspeaker. Look at all those CDs in the cover image for this post – yeah, I bought 98% of those; there’s a few promos and gifts in there of course for which I am beyond grateful for the artists and albums I was turned onto.
Say what you will about the year that was in terms of politics, pandemics, global warming, societal collapse, or gone too soon rock stars (Christine McVie, Taylor Hawkins, Takeoff, Irene Cara, Terry Hall, Maxi Jazz, etc.) but when it came to righteous new tunes to chase away the blues, it was a mighty fine year.
Here are my picks for the best of the best of 2022 – albums I’m glad I bought, as many were slow growers as the year unfolded – and on CD, they just sound light years apart from streaming in terms of sonic glory. If you’re an aging hipster like me, I bet you’ve actually heard of many of these acts.
60-80 • Honorable Mentions • Basically all of my favorite artists from years past…
Before we even begin, let’s give props to the close but no cigars – some of my all-time favorite bands released solid new albums that were awesome, but just missed the cut of this list, including two each by Jack White and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arctic Monkeys, Gogol Bordello, Demi Lovato, Muse, Lykke Li, Let’s Eat Grandma, Erasure, Johnny Marr, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Lizzo, Betty Boo, Journey, Def Leppard, Sammy Hagar, and Radiohead… well, The Smile.
In terms of side hustles, Alex Lifesson of Rush found a totally new sound with dance-oriented Envy of None, Miles Hunt (of the Wonder Stuff) went very mellow with what may be his last album, and Dave Grohl released Dream Widow album, the fictional death metal band in Foo Fighters’ cringe fest movie bomb Studio 666. On the opposite side of the success and soundtrack spectrum, Kris Bowers and the Vitamin String Quartet released the really good Bridgerton Season Two soundtrack placing all covers and score elements on a single CD, unlike the superior Season 1 music which was never released on CD and only partially released on vinyl.
In terms of new artists, 2022 brought us Gayle who earned a grammy nomination for “ABCDEFU” off her 2CD EP set A Study of the Human Experience (Volumes 1 and 2). Perhaps my favorite new singer of 2022 is Hellcat Bloom, a sultry, jazzy voice for fans of Amy Winehouse and Celeste — she has one EP out, Semi-Sweet that includes a mesmerizing Cheap Trick cover and six spellbinding originals. NME named Rina Sawayama’s Hold the Girl their pop album of the year, so I picked it up and discovered it is a really, really good Lady Gaga album. In a similar vein, the much-loved new Weyes Blood album sounds like a really awesome Aimee Mann LP. 2022 was also the year I discovered an amazing slate of queer pop artists, including Muna, Kayley Kiyoko, and Ireland’s Pillow Queens who just missed the Top 50, and many more to come in this list.
50 • Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point
Most of us thought the jig was up with 2004’s Everyone Loves a Happy Ending, so the fact we get a new album and a world tour is living proof, never say never. Unlike ABBA’s’ instantly classic comeback Voyage, this album is a very deep slow burn that reveals more with every listen. Considering the band only has five albums (the “brand” has seven), Tears for Fears makes every moment count when it comes to their recorded output. Press interviews tend to focus on how hard these albums are to make, but so far, the gain seems to be well worth the pain.
49 • Luna Li – Duality
If you want to take an absolutely delightful trip into an endlessly array of surprising otherworldly dreamscapes, Luna Li’s genre-liberated debut album showcases all of her talents, hauntingly sweet vocals, lush songwriting, and exquisite guitar, harp, violin and keyboard performances. Duality speaks as much to Li’s Korean-Canadian heritage as it does her influences (rock and classical), and the album’s sonics — loud and whisper quiet.
48 • Wet Leg
I don’t think I’ve seen music bloggers and journalists trip over their frothing jaws this hard over a band BEFORE their debut dropped since Veruca Salt in the 1990s. Thankfully, Wet Leg more than lives up to the hype – the band name, a reference to the slang term for foreigners landing their boats on the Isle of Wight shoreline. Now that Arctic Monkeys are an art band, its great to have someone carry the torch for the fun and fizzy, sardonic alt rock we all desperately need post pandemic, post Trump, and post punk.
47 • Arcade Fire – We
Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler faced the cancel culture police when it was revealed he was an asshole, a cheat, a liar, and a damaged person – but so far, it appears he did nothing illegal. Bummer timing, because “We” was the best Arcade Fire album in ages. Creatively, at least, the band shed their “we’re satirizing pop star excess” schtick that bogged down previous albums – clearly that ‘act’ was far from satire – but if the band can keep up this sonic momentum, perhaps redemption can be found.
46 • Edgar Winter • Brother Johnny: A Tribute to Johnny Winter
I wasn’t too familiar with the career of blues-legend Johnny Winter, but thanks to this all-star lineup led by his brother, ringleader and bandleader Edgar Winter, I am a new fan. I bought it for the Taylor Hawkins track, one of his final vocal performances makes it worth the buy alone, but plenty of other ringers –including Ringo Starr, Billy Gibbons, Keb Mo, Joe Walsh, and Phil X – ensure each of the other 17 tracks delivers the thunder as well.
45 • Enumclaw • Save the Baby
I’ll admit, I was more into Folk Implosion than Dinosaur Jr., more into Nirvana than the Melvins, more into Pulp than Oasis, so why I love this album that favors all those latter acts is beyond me. Within a week or so, Tacoma’s Enumclaw went from doing an in-store at my local West Seattle record shop to being featured on NME.com across the pond. Raw. Abrasive. Urgent. Addicting. This album definitely swam against the tide of most every other release on this list, which made it one of the most exciting releases of the year. The band is ambitious as hell, knowing all too well, this one album may be their one shot to change the trajectory of their lives, career, and finances. You only get to be a critical darling once before the shadow of the Sophomore Jinx looms large. But as great as Save the Baby is, it feels like the prelude to something even greater. Perhaps it will be the Bleach before their well…, whatever, Nevermind.
44 • Carly Rae Jepsen • The Loneliest Time
It’s been a decade since “Call Me Maybe”, and across four album cycles, Jepsen has delivered some of the most ambitious, memorable, and delightful songs in sophisticated mainstream pop. Every Jepsen album-release cycle typically includes a proper album, an expanded Japanese edition, a remix CD, and an eventual “Side B” type album filled with bonus tracks. I went all in on this title, getting the Target Special Edition (US) and the Japanese version. Her debut single could have been a flash in the pan, but like Beck, Radiohead, The Beastie Boys, and Nada Surf before her, Jepsen has proven there’s staying power in the masterful albums that house those earworm singles.
43 • Lightning Seeds • See You In The Stars
Earlier this year, Ian Broudie took writer David Medsker and our beloved Popdose readers on a deep dive into this epic new album and his life since the last one. The interview makes the perfect digital liner notes to augment the listening experience, as this album will easily please die-hard fans while welcoming new generations into the fold. “Life of Riley” seems like a lifetime ago, but from the opening moment of Stars onward, it feels like not a moment has passed.
42 • Beabadoobe • Beatopia
Her debut, 2020’s Fake it Flowers was a 90’s rocker, setting the stage for Olivia Rodrigo’s 2021 smash Sour. For her second full length album (beyond a stack of killer EPs), Queen Bea goes in the opposite direction delivering a sonic experience that is trippy, dreamy, and untethered to any graspable genre. Much like Luna Li, Bea Kristi channels the duality of her Filipino heritage with expat life in London — Beatopia being the place she escaped to during challenging times during the transition. Much of the record has that Narnia, through the magic wardrobe feel, where dropping the needle on the record transports you to an otherworldly landscape — colorful, magical, trippy, with surprises at every turn — no gummies needed.
41 • Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott • NK-POP
The Beautiful South has been gone as long as they were around (17 years), but that hasn’t kept their signature sound from still carrying on up the UK charts. NK-POP, a playful dig at North Korea in the cover art, delivers more of the same – sunny melodies barbed with razor sharp wit, dark humor, lots of beer, and a big heart. Abbott was the second of three vocalists to spar with Heaton in the original Housemartins spinoff band, but the success of this solo duo may just outlast them all.
40 • 39 Nation of Language • A Way Forward
Blancmange • Private View
I discovered the early OMD-leaning Nation of Language just about a year ago this week and it feels like that was centuries ago. The trio’s second album was a bear to track down on CD, but is now more readily available as they’ve toured the world and built up a rabid fanbase. Trippy, heart on sleeve, minimalist synth pop blasting through a wormhole from the early 1980’s into the long distant future. Meanwhile, the absurdly prolific Neil Arthur who only put out 5 albums in his first 30 or so years as Blancmange, now releases 2-3 albums per year under the monikers Blancmange, Fader, and Near Future. Private View returns Arthur to London Records, who released Blancmange’s massive hit albums (Happy Families, Mange Tout, Believe You Me) in the duo era with Stephen Luscombe.
38 • Frank Turner • FTHC
It’s kind of ridiculous to call Frank Turner albums “solo” works, as his output has more than eclipsed what he did playing for bands I’ve never heard of. His latest landed at #1 in the UK. Unlike much of his more delicate and nuanced work in recent years, FTHC (Frank Turner Hardcore) is a balls to the wall, full throttle hard rocker. The “Be More Kind” singer proves he can be just as poignant of a songwriter while being more loud.
37 • Orianthi • Rock Candy
In the States, Orianthi is widely recognized for the icons she’s shared the stage with – Michael Jackson (This is It), Carrie Underwood (the Grammys), Alice Cooper (touring guitarist) and Richie Sambora (RSO), but her sixth studio album explodes out of the gate, fulfilling her destiny of being one of this generation’s best rock guitarists and pop singer/songwriters. Fans of Lita Ford and Vixen as well as Bon Jovi, Def Lep, and Lady Gaga’s arena rock leanings, will find Orianthi’s brand of hard rock candy absolutely delicious.
36 • Ozzy Osbourne • Patient Number 9
If you had told 13 year old me that one day I would buy, let alone love, an album by the “Prince of Fucking Darkness”, I’d a told you, no way (with dramatic embelishment). I never truly appreciated the Blizzard of Oz, beyond his charms on MTV’s The Osbournes, until seeing a few recent documentaries about him. His lucky 13th album, produced by Andrew Watt, is the first of a trilogy that continues with Iggy Pop’s Every Loser and Morrissey’s delayed next one (each packed with ringers like Chad Smith, the late Taylor Hawkins, Duff McKegan, and a murderer’s row of A-list cameos). Factor in Eddie Vedder’s all-star Earthling from earlier in the year and Watt bat 1000 in 2022. As for the Ozzy record, it feels like a blistering cohesive whole from someone in his 20’s in the 1980’s versus someone in his 70’s in the 2020’s.
35 • Delta Spirit • One is One
Everything seems to come in twos for San Diego’s Delta Spirit. They first released two mighty fine Americana albums. Then they released two absolute genre-defying masterpieces, 2012’s self-titled album and Into The Wide two years later. After lead singer Matthew Logan Vasquez released three solo records (ruining my two’s metaphor here), the band returned with two lovely affairs, the latter being released in late 2022 many months after the initial digital release. While not as arena-centric and gonzo creative as their peak era albums, the band returns to Earth with a suite of songs that showcase their heart on sleeve brand of haunting indie guitar rock.
34 • Meghan Trainor • Takin’ it Back
When Trainor took the world by storm with her first self-love anthem, “All About That Bass”, I totally tuned out, thinking it was not for me. But when Amy Schumer strutted down the street to Trainor’s other smash self-love anthem, “Me Too” in the film, I Feel Pretty, I was absolutely hooked. I now own all her albums and there’s nary a dud track in the bunch. Takin’ it Back takes it up a notch with her trademark blend of 1950’s do wop, 1980’s bubblebum pop, and modern dancefloor packers. Much like Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott (elsewhere in the list), Trainor has a knack for swirling in deliciously dark lyrics into her boffo “taste the rainbow” productions.
33 • xPropaganda • The Heart is Strange
One would think a reunion of roughly half of the original band members responsible for my all-time favorite album, 1985’s A Secret Wish by Propaganda would be the recipe for a #1 on this list and, well, you’d be close. But this decades-in-the-making follow-up is a lighter, more nuanced and sophisticated affair. The original’s wall of synth sound still sounds ahead of its time some 37 years on, while The Heart is Strange is more of a throwback to vintage Saint Etienne (Finistere), Madonna (Bedtime Stories), or Goldfrapp (Supernature). Still, singers Claudia Brucken and Susanne Freytag, along with A Secret Wish producer Stephen Lipson capture much of the original’s charm, leaning more on the lite lounge of the classic single “Duel” than its sinister alter ego “Jewel”.
32 • Popular Creeps • All of This Will End in Tears
The band takes its name from a single by the late great Replacements drummer Chris Mars, and the album truly delivers on that promise. A truly solid set of old school rockers recorded in basements around Detroit. The Creeps formed in 2017 and soon made waves with some smash singles on Big Stir Records‘ reliably blockbuster label compilations. While the coasts tend to vacuum much of the culture’s attention these days, the Creeps remind of of the hey day when Detroit, Dayton, Cleveland, Akron, Madison, and Minneapolis were thriving scenes on the national stage. They proudly carry the torch from Michigan’s Iggy Pop, The White Stripes, and MC5, plus regional legends Husker Du, Guided by Voices, the Black Keys, and the Replacements.
31 • King Princess • Hold On Baby
The Dressner brothers (Aaron and Bryce) found time away from The National and ultimate side hustle (Taylor Swift) to lend their talents to the all-star second album by King Princess (Mikaela Straus). It’s one of three albums in this list (see if you can spot the others) that I bought solely for the Taylor Hawkins contribution (he played drums on album closer, the unfortunately titled “Let Us Die”). As sad as the circumstances were that led me to this album, it was an absolute delight to listen to – a lot – start to finish as the year played out. Heartfelt and candid lyrics, impeccable production (courtesy of Mark Ronson), and a perfect fit for the mainstream queer-pop I immersed myself in year-round.
30 • Ken Sharp • I’ll Remember the Laughter
Can you have too much of a good thing? Music journalist and power pop auteur Ken Sharp begs the question with a 50-track opus that pushes the capacities of the two CD format to the limit. It’s one thing to drop in some well-chosen covers (big hits by The Who and Davy Jones; a deep cut off a Gene Simmons solo album), it’s another to get the actual artist to guest on it, in this case Rick Springfield showing up on “Comic Book Heroes”. A half century after the 1970’s, Sharp still lives in a world where the reigning pop stars are The Monkees, Sweet, The Partridge Family, and the Osmonds. He would have made a great host of his very own rock and roll themed Saturday morning TV show to rival the Kroft Superstars. Sharp’s songs are lighthearted, silly, colorful, and dreamy but the musicianship is deadly serious with deft hooks and crackling production. For me, I broke it up into four 12-13 song albums that I discovered as the year played out, because as I learned back in the 1970s, it’s best to not consume too much sugar all at once.
29 • Simple Minds • Direction of the Heart
Had I first heard this album with album artwork and identity sight unseen, I would have thought it was BritPop’s next big thing and not a new release by the timeless Scottish icons. “Vision Thing” is not a Sisters of Mercy cover, but the opening salvo of an energized band with plenty more to say. Jim Kerr’s vocals never sounded better and much like a slightly younger James (the band), it appears the Minds are in a new creative renaissance.
28/27 • Amanda Shires • Take it Like a Man
Maren Morris • Humble Quest
In 2022, Maren Morris gained as many headlines for her LGBT support as she did for her amazing new album. For years, I avoided mainstream radio country for its limited range, formulaic, male-centric playlists and relative lack of newcomers (look at the CMA Awards across decades and it’s always the same two dozen acts). While “alt country” has always been a thriving underground scene, there’s now a thriving above ground scene thanks to Morris, her Highwomen bandmates Brandi Carlisle and Natalie Hemby, Kacey Musgraves, Lil Nas X, Mickey Guyton, Neko Case, the trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley (solo and as Pistol Annies). Shires’ latest is a masterclass in songwriting, much like Case’s classic Blacklisted, floating in the wee hours between downtown Nashville and the woodlands of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Morris keeps her feet grounded in the worlds of country and pop, bringing an A-game on par with Taylor Swift and Shania Twain.
26 • Jarv Is… • This is Gonna Hurt (OST)
Hot on the heels of their debut album, Beyond the Pale in 2020, the “other” band of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker slyly released their full-length follow-up in the form of a soundtrack to the BBC series starring Ben Wishaw. Cocker calls the collection their “love song to the NHS.” Vocal tracks entwine with instrumental pieces throughout; ambient score music this is not. Hurt holds up as a proper Jarv Is… album which is as close to a proper Pulp album as Cocker fans have gotten since the band dissolved more than 20 years ago. Pulp is headlining some festivals this summer, will new music precede or follow? Yet to be seen, but in between these last two albums, Cocker also released CHANSONS d’ENNUI TIP-TOP, a stellar soundtrack companion album to Wes Anderson’s score for The French Dispatch. Note: This Is Gonna Hurt was only released digitally and on vinyl; I sprung for the .flac lossless version.
25 • Charli XCX • Crash
Charli is one of two artists from this century (the other being Against Me!) to have an album on my list of all-time Top 15 albums (2013’s goth pop masterpiece True Romance). Since her debut, most of her best songs have wound up on other people’s albums (Icona Pop. Iggy Azalea, Bleachers, Blondie, Giorgio Moroder), or soundtracks (Angry Birds, The Hunger Games, Vinyl). I’ve kept collecting her increasingly jarring brand of electro/Scandi/pop releases, but it wasn’t until this Atlantic Records contract-ending album that I can groove to her sound once again. Crash (available on CD in regular format, on digital with four great additional cuts) brings Charli full circle to the earworm, radio and club friendly gothic ear candy she does so perfectly.
24 • Superorganism • World Wide Pop
As of this writing, I have no idea if this band, like Arcade Fire, has been canceled by the snowflake woke police. After this album came out, the group expunged its more controversial members, whose non-legal crimes appear to be writing misogynistic lyrics in their previous band the Eversons, not to mention a truly ill-conceived music video. It’s a bummer, because this group, led by a woman, Japanese singer Orono Noguchi, delivered two absolutely fabulous, eccentric, dizzyingly creative sound collage pop masterpieces. World Wide Pop throws left field hooks, samples, twists and turns nonstop in its breakneck 40 minutes, sort of taking Arcade Fire and Le Tigre through a Cartoon Network-fueled acid trip. It will be interesting to see what the remaining members do next.
23 • Richard Öhrn • Sounds in English
This magnificent album delivers immediate rewards, but reveals more and more with subsequent listens, getting more vibrant and glorious with every turn. Sonically, it connects to one of my favorite compilations of 2022: Now That’s What I Call Forgotten Hits of the 1960’s. Every one of Öhrn’s songs, slow-crafted over the past decade, could fit in on such a comp and listeners would be none the wiser that his songs are of the modern era. At times evoking The Moody Blues, The Hollies, Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, the wall of sound and stacks of harmonies – right down to the photographs used on the CD – are all his alone, operating in pure Prince mode. Taken as a whole experience versus plucking singles, Sounds is a transcendent journey down the rabbit hole or through the kaleidoscope depending on your mood for metaphors.
22 • K. Flay • Inside Voices/Outside Voices
K. Flay is one of this generation’s most provocative and talented lyricists, bringing an A+ level rap and singing game to her art. Her monster catalog was relegated to streamers for most of the past few years, but now it’s steadily being made available on LP and CD and thank god. The last thing this artist needs is digital compression to clip the wings from her sonic output. Flay’s beats and hooks are as massive and sharp as her brutally candid wordplay and spitfire delivery.
21 • Librarians with Hickeys • Handclaps and Tambourines
I grew up near Akron, OH, and take pride in the many iconic acts that grew up in and around the area – Devo, Chrissie Hynde, the Black Keys, Rachel Sweet, and regional darlings The Twist Offs, so needless to say, I was thrilled to discover one of my favorite new bands hailed from there. Librarians With Hickeys easily wins the “best band name” of the year, and the raucous album delivers the goods. As with many power pop acts on Big Stir Records, the Librarians’ sound is steeped in decades of rock and roll history. The church organ and on-cue “hey” chorus driven “I Better Get Home” kicks off an album that at times echoes The Monkees, The Kinks, and The Beatles from the 1960s as well as the 1980’s indie guitar pop scene in the UK (The Wild Swans, Josef K, The Bluebells, etc.) and 1990’s darlings like the Charlatans and The Farm.
20 • Dropkick Murphys • This Machine Still Kills Fascists
In 2022, Woody Guthrie has now been gone for as long as he was ever here (55 years), but there’s still thousands of unexplored lyrics and prose writings he left behind worth ushering into the modern age. Billy Bragg and Wilco have recorded three albums of Guthrie’s words set to new music, just as Boston’s Dropkick Murphys have tapped Guthrie twice for previous singles (“Shipping Up To Boston” and “Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight”). So when COVID and family obligations sidelined co-lead singer Al Barr, the rest of the Murphys dove into Guthrie’s writings to create a complete acoustic-leaning album, one that ranks among the best in their near perfect catalog.
19 • Black Swan Lane • Blind
The gorgeous, shimmering guitar post punk sound popularized by The Chameleons and The Church is deep within the DNA of Atlanta’s Black Swan Lane – so much so that Chameleons vocalist Mark Burgess was on board for the band’s first three albums and Dave Fielding appeared on one later on (as did many members of Burgess’s solo work and offshoot The Sun and the Moon). But that was then, and this is now. Jack Sobel has been the sole surviving member for many recent BSL albums, and that focus keeps paying off with stellar releases. As Album #10 in their discography. Blind keeps expanding the haunting, dark wave, indie rock sound into bold new directions for the modern era.
18 • Night Crickets • A Free Society
This under-the-radar supergroup consists of David J. (Love and Rockets, Bauhaus), Victor DeLorenzo (Violent Femmes), and solo artist Darwin Meiners. During the pandemic, they file swapped together this ridiculously addictive and mesmerizing sonic tapestry, one that defies genres or any conceivable categorization, yet is fueled by earworm hooks and infectious rhythms (OK, perhaps a bad choice of words for a COVID era album). I have a feeling this will be a cult collectible years from now, on par with Tones on Tail, the timeless one-off by J’s bandmates Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins.
17 • The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s • Cool It Down
Nine years between YYY’s albums sure flew by in a blink, not that Karen O wasn’t omnipresent with solo projects. The long overdue reunion picks up where the last album, Mosquito, left off by being a fresh departure from their other three records. Brief, trippy, enchanting, and dreamy, Cool it Down is light years from the blistering thunder of “Date With The Night” off Fever to Tell, but continues the story as a transcendent date with the dawn.
16 • The Interrupters • In The Wild
In the 1990’s, Rancid’s Hellcat Records partnership with Epitaph was a fertile garden of hot new talent, including Dropkick Murphys, The Distillers, Tiger Army, and just about everyone who appeared on the Give Em’ The Boot CD series. The Interrupters are the latest Hellcat act to hit the big time, with “She’s Kerosene” off their third album being a constant rotation KROQ hit. Album #4 once again delivers the goods. Ska/punk is a hard genre to mess up, but the predictability of the beat makes it equally hard to stand out. Aimee Interrupter and the Binova boys succeed on all fronts with songwriting, production, performance, and being easily one of the most likable bands in rock and roll.
15 • Bananarama • Masquerade
Whoda’ thunk that in 2022, some 40+ years after their debut, Bananarama would deliver what is arguably their best album. Sure they’ve had bigger singles – but those have had decades to establish their earworm dominance. Masquerade, helmed by co founders Keren Woodward and Sarah Dallin, doesn’t look back to hits like “Venus” and “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” but instead moves way forward building momentum off recent dancefloor bangers by Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, and Jesse Ware.
14 • Fletcher • Girl of My Dreams
“Becky’s So Hot” was the song of the summer, where our heroine lusts after the girl who stole her girlfriend. Queer Pop is officially mainstream (as amazing releases by Hayley Kiyoko, Muna, and Pillow Queens attest), stories that are both true to LGBTQIA+ experiences while still channeling universal themes of love, lust, heartbreak and resistance. If you have yet to see the songs Fletcher performed solo and with host Miley Cyrus on New Years Eve, they are essential viewing.
13 • Steven Page • Excelsior
Always the most interesting of the Barenaked Ladies, Page’s epic solo career realizes the greatness that could have been for the band he left behind. His latest slowly sets its hooks into you and claws deep, pairing big huge arrangements with wry and poignant lyrics. The title conjures images of a valiant knight riding into battle across a majestic landscape, while the album it’s attached to was very much the product of life trapped inside the castle (in this case Page’s house in Upstate New York). Tracks began life as seeds that grew out of his popular “Live From Home” Zoom series, as Page joined many of his A-list contemporaries in broadcasting from bedrooms to get us all through the pandemic. Themes of love and loss loom large in these songs, but keeping in the spirit of victory in battle, there’s also much joy and gratitude to be found. For those of us lucky enough to be listening to this, we survived. Onward and upward indeed.
12 • !!! • Let it Be Blue
Since the turn of the century, the collective commonly pronounced as “chk chk chk” has consistently delivered the most reliable catalog in indie music – Rock? Dance? Psychedelic? Futuristic? Their music is impossible to pigeonhole but is always spellbinding on record and in concert. Blue is a dreamy, trippy, sweaty dance floor workout, entrancing with an instantly recognizable sound that no other act can duplicate. Beyond the CDs and vinyl you can find in record shops, !!!’s bandcamp store is packed with delicious one-off singles and EPs.
11 • Tove Lo • Dirt Femme
I’ve been mispronouncing this Scandi-pop superstar’s name for years (too-vah-loo and not what rhymes with Stove Low). Her first album after a solid run in the major label arena is perhaps her most delicious yet; banger after banger, proving she doesn’t need X-rated lyrics to still pack a punch. Much like the rest of her catalog, Dirt Femme is sinister, wicked, dangerous, scuzzy, and euphoric at every turn — no strobe lights needed, just push play on the CD and the room turns into a glittering futuristic disco.
10 • Flogging Molly • Anthem
In 2022, the world needed some new protest songs and Flogging Molly was one of several bands who truly delivered in 2022 (the others being Midnight Oil, Dropkick Murphys, Frank Turner, and Gogol Bordello). This is by far the Molly album in ages, a potent mix of punk rock and Irish traditional music built to blow the roof off local pubs and city arenas. Opening track, “These Times Have Got Me Drinking/Tripping Up the Stairs” kick ceremonies off in high style and the party just never stops.
9 • The Cult • Under the Midnight Sun
For many soft hearted new wave goth kids in the 80s, The Cult’s “Electric” album committed the ultimate betrayal as it jettisoned the eyeliner strewn club anthems of Love for AC/DC arena rock vibes. Well, some 30 years on, they’ve come full circle in sonic realignment with their Dreamtime, Love, and Peace eras with exquisite results. While the ecopak for this CD is minimalistic, an essential companion piece is available in the form of Ian Astbury’s fascinating interview and rags to riches tale in the new book The Unlocked Interviews by Richard Blade.
8 • Ward White • Ice Cream Chords
For decades, the lion’s share of the world’s precious supply of witty, dapper, rock and roll troubadours has been shored on the other side of the pond, with the Europe’s Paul Weller, Jarvis Cocker, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Martin Fry, and Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) keeping the globe well-stocked on razor sharp lyrics, earworm hooks, and sophisticated melodies. At long last, LA-based Ward White debuts on the scene with the absolutely gorgeous Ice Cream Chords…. wait, what? This is his 14th album? Well, clearly I have a lot to catch up on as 2023 plays out. Chords is a musical ice cream truck packed with delicious bon mots and sonic sundaes. “Mezcal Moth” is a modern classic, one of those songs you wonder how you ever lived without it, made even better with the video that echoes Glen Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” and ABC’s mini-movie “Mantrap”.
7 • Wolfgang Flür • Magazine 1
Wolfgang Flür, original drummer for Kraftwerk and driving force on all their essential albums, just may have released the best album of his career. Magazine 1 is packed with massive synths, huge beats, and riveting turns from a variety of guest stars. In my opinion, it’s the best avant dance album since Felix da Housecat’s 2001 masterwork Kittenz and thee Glitz. As sophisticated as the aforementioned xPropaganda album is, what I missed most about that title was the lack of darkwave stadium sized synths. Thankfully singer Claudia Brücken delivers those goods in spades on this set, contributing to the song “Birmingham” with New Order’s Peter Hook. “Das Beats” features Midge Ure of Ultravox and just might be the best song early OMD never made and album closer “Say No! (featuring MAPS)” shows you don’t need guitars to deliver a banger of a protest song.
6 • The Nervous Eaters • Monsters and Angels
This band has been around since the CBGB era and perhaps finally might get their long overdue regional, national, or global success with this epic album released on Steve Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records. Tripping through punk, post punk, garage rock, blues and soul, each song is its own sonic beast that works as a collective whole. If this album came out in 1979, it would be considered an absolute classic. Worth tracking down and playing loud for both aging hipsters like me and whoever is buying those fake vintage tees at Forever 21.
Fun fact: I just learned while interviewing Nervous Eaters’ bassist and album co-producer Brad Hallen on the Planet LP Podcast — among the countless records he’s played on over the years, he played bass on a few cuts off my beloved Ministry album, With Sympathy, including the club smash “Effigy (I’m not an)”.
5 • NHC – Navarro Hawkins Chaney
Much like how Sublime, The Exploding Hearts, and Mother Love Bone imploded upon takeoff due to tragic deaths in the band, so too sinks the “Yacht Rock Supergroup” led by Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney of Jane’s Addiction and the late Taylor Hawkins who died mid-way through this album’s staggered digital release. 8 tracks have surfaced so far, and hopefully a full-length CD is en route because it’s a trippy, classic rock-drenched supernova. Beyond his work with the Foo Fighters, Hawkins leaves behind an epic legacy as a frontman, including three albums with the Coattail Riders, one with The Birds of Satan (his cover band Chevy Metal re-imagined as prog rockers), a solo EP (Kota), and two tracks by Nighttime Boogie Association (with Pearl Jam/Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron). As the year progressed, Taylor’s final work also surfaced on albums by King Princess, Ozzy Osbourne, Edgar Winter, and Iggy Pop.
4 • Sabrina Carpenter • Emails I Can’t Send
While it’s easy to dismiss singers who start off acting on Disney, Nick, and other TV platforms, you gotta be impressed by the rocket booster of brand name recognition that mints one A-list pop star after another. In 2021, Olivia Rodrigo released one of the year’s best albums, buoyed by the mega smash heartbreak anthem “Driver’s License” where she laments the blonde her ex is now spending more time with. Well, that blonde finally gets to tell her side of the story in the equally riveting “Because I Liked a Boy.” Track for track, the wide range of huge pop songs and charming ballads that make up Carpenter’s fifth album add up to one of the best pop albums of both the year and the past decade. Throughout last year, I tracked down all of her albums on CD to better appreciate the steady build that got her here. Sabrina is an amazing performer, vocalist, songwriter, and collaborator – the perfect package for longevity in a daunting business. The timelessness of these tracks and her endless talent bode very well that have another potential EGOT in the making.
3 • The Weeknd – The Dawn FM
By far the biggest act in this list, The Weeknd has never even busted the top 50 on any of my year-end lists before 2022 – but holy crap, this one is a dazzler. A very high concept dance record – imagine this radio station being the last thing you hear as you transition from this life into the next. Jim Carrey plays an amazing late night/late life DJ, ushering you serenely into the light. Quincy Jones shares some wisdom midway through your journey. But most importantly, the Weeknd delivers the long-awaited payoff to the cryptic “May U Live to C the Dawn” message that was on many of Prince’s Genius Era albums before he abandoned the concept as a “Holy River” cassingle B-side (“Welcome 2 The Dawn”). Had Prince’s genius era continued, this is what it could have sounded like, and with Prince and the King of Pop already in the great beyond, I take comfort The Weeknd is here to carry the torch for those of us still here.
2 • Altered Images • Mascara Streakz
Much like ABBA did last year, Clare Grogran’s Altered Images dropped its first album in nearly 40 years, and they didn’t miss a beat from heyday classics like “Happy Birthday” and “Don’t Talk To Me About Love”. As a modern dance album, Mascara Streakz builds upon recent disco smashes by Dua Lipa, Jesse Ware, and Kylie Minogue. As a new wave legacy album, it honors the magical Altered Images sound and ushers it into the modern age. Joining Grogan in the fun are Steve Lironi (who joined the band in time for 1983’s Bite), Bobby Bluebell of the Bluebells, and Bernard Butler, formerly of Suede. Streakz includes music written by original AI bassist Johnny McElhone who went on to play in the band Texas.
1 • The Linda Linda’s – Growing Up
Perhaps the brightest spot of this dark year has been witnessing four school girls from Los Angeles ascend from playing the LA Public Library to arenas and festivals around the world – just aged 9-15 when they started out, now with the youngest age 12, they are already seasoned headliners. Each member sings lead on one or more of the album’s 10 tracks which is such a genius move in terms of giving the band longevity. Songs range from blistering riot-girl to pop punk, delivering a rush I haven’t felt since first-hearing the Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat. The album clocks in about 30 minutes, but there’s close to another full-album of material available on the band’s bandcamp, plus an all-star charity comp, and Amy Poehler’s Moxie soundtrack.