I’ve sometimes struggled to find 10 albums to put on my year-end favorite list. This year, I’ve had to expand the list. The last time I encountered a release year this packed with contenders was 2002.
Utada Hikaru, Bad MODE
Most of this album was released as singles, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced they would coalesce into a whole. Then Utada brought in the remaining pieces, and it all made sense. My attention span has gotten a lot shorter since thrift shops became my main source of music discovery, and I don’t listen to albums as deeply as I did. But I paid Bad MODE a lot of attention.
Solange is still my favorite Knowles sister, but with RENAISSANCE, I’ve finally come around to Bey herself. This album is queer af, and I’m all for that.
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up
The Linda Lindas are the band I wish the Donnas could have been.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Right Steppers
I hate to reduce the worth of an album down to a few tracks, but it’s tough to ignore the weight of “We Cry Together” and “Auntie Diaries”. The former is uncomfortably raw, while the latter is refreshingly empathetic, given hip-hop’s historic casualness with homophobia and transphobia. The rest of the album is great, but those two moments actually make it difficult to recognize there is a rest of the album.
PLASMA is something of a reset. 2018’s Future Pop was OK, but the singles preceding that album’s release fell flat. Not so with the singles on PLASMA. While I had trouble picturing Bad MODE as a complete album, I could sense immediately that PLASMA would be a keeper.
Ty Herndon, Jacob
Ty Herndon had a relapse that nearly cost him his life, but his recovery resulted in an album compelling for its honesty and vulnerability. He suffered to create great art, and let’s hope he never has to go through that again.
TwoSet Violin, Fantasia
I don’t look to TwoSet Violin to champion modern composition, but Jordan He’s score to the duo’s ambitious short film suits their common era sensibilities.
Omar Apollo, Ivory
(Don’t compare him to Frank Ocean. Don’t compare him to Frank Ocean. Don’t … aw, screw it.) Omar Apollo is what would have happened if Frank Ocean spent his formative years being a Death Cab for Cutie stan. That sounds like a dig, but I happen to like both Frank Ocean and Death Cab for Cutie.
Charlie Puth, CHARLIE
I haven’t run into a better modern day word painter than Charlie Puth. “Charlie Be Quiet!” is a master class on using pop production to reinforce lyrics.
Robin Holcomb, One Way or Another, Vol. 1
This album brings together songs from Holcomb’s catalog along side a smattering of new material and covers, all sparsely captured. Emmylou Harris sang some tight harmonies with the Nash Ramblers on “Hard Times Come Again No More”. Holcomb’s version speaks an entirely different harmonic language.
Midnight Oil, RESIST: The message on the band’s final album hasn’t changed since their start and somehow feels more urgent than ever.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point: Everything you like about classic Tears for Fears, updated to sound very much 2022.
Björk, Fossora: My favorite Björk albums reign in her avant-garde tendencies just enough to let the pop hooks shine through. Fossora is not easy listening, but it’s engaging.
Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You: During his Elektra years, I preferred Johnston’s quieter albums over his louder ones, and on this new outing, he’s got the right balance between the two.
I don’t hang out at gay bars, but I’m assuming most of this album is pumping through the PA system of every gay bar on the planet right now.
Ty Herndon, Jacob
I never want Ty Herndon to go through the hell that inspired this album ever again, but holy frak, this album is the most honest art he’s ever produced.
I really enjoyed the singles preceding the release of this album, and given that a lot of Perfume albums just collected those tracks into an album, I knew I would like PLASMA. Or perhaps this album is Future Pop: The Apology.
Don Caballero, Singles Breaking Up
Wait, hold up. This is a compilation of singles? Feels like a solid album to me.
Radio stations in Honolulu played the hit single from this album, “Toy Soldiers”, to death. So I never perceived much more of this album than that single. How unfortunate. The rest of this self-titled debut is quite the keeper.
Donna Summer, 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection
Donna Summer existed on the periphery of my musical upbringing. Yes, I heard her songs on the radio, and of course, I could recognize her voice anywhere. But I never felt much compulsion to explore her work. So this collection of hits reveals a big honking hole in that upbringing. And my 7-year-old self had no idea “Love to Love You Baby” was that naughty.
Missing Persons, Spring Session M
And here’s another hole in my musical upbringing, despite the fact I do like Warren Cuccurullo (and not just because he posed for a Brazilian gay magazine.)
easy life, Life’s a Beach
Who’s the music director for Kia car ads? It’s because of Kia that I own Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, and now this album. I stopped short of LMFAO, though.
Omar Apollo, Ivory
Frank Ocean, WHERE YOU AT? Oh, I guess dating Omar Apollo?
Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You
I could never quite get into Freedy Johnston’s more boisterous work, but on this album, he’s borrowed just enough from his quieter works to make this rocker of an album quite appealing.
It’s nice to see international artists make their catalogs available through streaming services. I don’t think I’ve had to go to the Evil Sharing Networks for active Japanese artists in a while. I haven’t really followed LOVE PSYCHEDELICO lately, but at least now, I can listen to this new album on release day.
Björk, Fossora, Sept. 30
The singles released ahead of this album seem to indicate Björk has gone back to the kind of beats she was making on Volta. I’m digging this low winds sound.
Darren Hayes, Homosexual, Oct. 7
I like the frankness of this album title.
easy life, MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE, Oct. 7
OK, I admit I got into this band because of the skeletons commercial for Kia. I’m ignoring the singles and waiting for release day to listen to the new material. I’m still enjoying the previous album, life’s a beach, way too much right now.
Robin Holcomb, One Way or Another, Vol. 1, Oct. 14
The last time Robin Holcomb recorded a singer-songwriter album was 20 years ago with her final Nonesuch album, The Big Time. This new album is just her and a piano.
Royal Wood, What Tomorrow Brings, Nov. 4
I can’t say I got into Royal Wood’s previous album, but the singles he’s released ahead of this album sound vastly different from what he’s done before. He’s gotten into beats and synths but in a way that enhances folk singer croon.
Luke Evans, A Song for You, Nov. 4
Luke Evans had some interesting song choices on his debut album. This follow-up doesn’t have many songs I immediately recognize, but given that he covers R.E.M., Donny Hathaway, Simon and Garfunkel and a traditional song in Welsh, he makes another set of bold choices. This album also contains two new songs Evans co-wrote.
Guns N’ Roses, Use Your Illusion I (Deluxe Edition), Nov. 25 Guns N’ Roses, Use Your Illusion II (Deluxe Edition), Nov. 25
Really, Use Your Illusion II is the album worth exploring, but I’m willing to throw in Use Your Illusion I out of due diligence.
Caitlin Cary, While You Weren’t Looking, Sept. 30
Any interest I had in Whiskeytown is all about Caitlin Cary and not one whit about Ryan Adams.
Beyoncé, RENAISSANCE, Oct. 7
I’m no acolyte of Beyoncé by any stretch of the imagination, but the queerness of this album is unmistakable.
Duran Duran, Medazzaland, Oct. 14
A loss of momentum on the heels of the highly successful The Wedding Album fated this album to obscurity. At the time, I thought the brilliance of this album would win out and prove the ambivalent mainstream audience wrong. I’m not so sure anymore. This album is so fiercely original that it may have been greeted with hostility than with a collective meh. A quarter century later, we get to revisit this album.
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Planet Folks, Oct. 26
How much did I not get into AKFG’s previous album Hometown? I didn’t bother to snap up the vinyl pressing before it went out of print. Planet Folks is not as good as World World World or Landmark, but I like it enough to place a preorder for this vinyl release.
Duran Duran, All You Need Is Now, Nov. 11 Duran Duran, Astronaut, Nov. 11 Duran Duran, Red Carpet Massacre, Nov. 11
In addition to CD reissues back in August, three albums from Duran Duran’s third decade get vinyl reissues under the RSD Essentials series. I’m sorry to see Pop Trash not included in this set. It’s better than Astronaut and Red Carpet Massacre but still not really the band’s best. To be honest, any album in this set other than All You Need Is Now is really stretching the “essentials” descriptor.
Duran Duran, FUTURE PAST (Complete Deluxe Edition), Nov. 25
The original vinyl release of FUTURE PAST had fewer tracks than the CD, so this reissue includes additional tracks and the non-album single “Five Years”, which is a David Bowie cover.
BONNIE PINK, Blue Jam, Nov. 3 BONNIE PINK, Heaven’s Kitchen, Nov. 3 BONNIE PINK, evil and flowers, Nov. 3 UA, Are U Romantic?, Nov. 3 Hajime Chitose, “Wadatsumi no Ki”, Dec. 3 Quruli, “WORLD’S END SUPERNOVA”, Dec. 3
To confuse matters, Japan has it’s own commercial holiday to celebrate vinyl called Record Day, which is not to be confused with Record Store Day Japan, the spring event with its own set of domestic reissues. Unlike RSD, Record Day doesn’t restrict availability to brick and mortar stores. The main event happens Nov. 3, with a spillover day on Dec. 3. I’m skipping the BONNIE PINK reissues, but I’ve already pre-ordered UA, Hajime Chitose and Quruli.
Even after posting a preview of June, more titles were announced as May wore on. Seriously, labels, why are you all putting all this stuff out in one month? You got 12 from which to choose.
Beth Ditto, Fake Sugar, June 16
I was sad to see Gossip split up, but it did feel like the group had gone as far as it could.
Wendy and Lisa, Eroica (Deluxe Edition), June 16
I was wondering when a deluxe edition of this album would appear. Even Fruit at the Bottom got a deluxe treatment.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Tiny Screams, June 21
Onitsuka Chihiro has released a number of live DVDs, but Tiny Screams is her first live album.
Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (Deluxe Edition), June 23
Of course, I’ll be getting this reissue, but the deluxe edition on my wish list is Parade.
Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK, June 23
I picked this album up for $1 at the Seattle Public Library Book Sale back in March 2017 in an attempt to understand its appeal. I’ve encountered OK Computer over the years, but it has never left enough of an impression with me to warrant its unadulterated praise.
TLC, TLC, June 30
How is it I own every TLC album except Ooooh, On the TLC Tip!?
LOVE PSYCHEDELICO, Love Your Love, July 5
It’s been four years since Delico released an album, but the duo has never seen the need to rush.
k.d. lang, Ingenue (25th Anniversary Edition), July 14 (Vinyl, Aug. 18)
File under: The one album you would own of an artist if you bought nothing else from that artist.
Arcade Fire, Everything Now, July 28
I ended up at an Arcade Fire concert because I wanted to see Explosions in the Sky. It was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. But the only album I really own is Funeral.
Anne Dudley, Plays the Art of Noise, TBD (US/UK, out now in Japan)
Art of Noise was always so coy about who did what, but in those early years, I had inkling Anne Dudley brought in the music, while everyone else brought in the noise. Later interviews would confirm that was exactly the case.
The Cranberries, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, June 16
The soundtrack to romantic comedy movie trailers.
Helmet, Meantime, June 23
I remember reading about the bidding war to sign Helmet to a major label deal. I bought the album out of curiosity and wondered how Interscope was going to recoup its advance.
Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Elite Hotel, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Luxury Liner, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl, July 5
Did you miss out on the Record Store Day boxed set, Queen of the Silver Dollar? It looks like the box is being broken out into individual releases. Or you can find fairly decent used copies of these albums for a bargain.
Soundtrack, Pride and Prejudice, July 7
The soundtrack to the film with Keira Knightley is actually pretty good, but like everything else about Pride and Prejudice, it’s not as good as the BBC mini-series.
Beyoncé, Lemonade, July 28
Unofficial pressings of this album have been in local record shops for a while now.