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.
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.
Kronos Quartet with Mahsa and Marjan Vadat, Placeless, March 22
This album is already available on streaming services, which means I’ve had a chance to listen to it. Unfortunately for Kronos and the Vadats, the new Solange album has also monopolized my attention.
Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Beth Gibbons, Krzysztov Penderecki, Polish National Radio Symphony), March 29
I don’t know about this one. Portished has never been a band I could internalize, and while I like Górecki’s third symphony, its reputation has become a bit outsize. I’m wondering how Penderecki got roped into it.
Emerson String Quartet and Evgeny Kissin, The New York Concert, April 12
The works on this program are tamer than what I normally pursue, but I like both the Emerson and Kissin.
Björk, Vespertine: A Pop Album as an Opera (Nationaltheater Mannheim), April 12
I’m willing to give this one a chance, if only because Vespertine is one of the few Björk albums I no longer own. I couldn’t get into it when it came out, so I welcome a chance to hear it in another context.
Jack Ingram, Ridin’ High … Again, April 26
I’ve been wondering what’s up with Jack Ingram. I stopped following him when he decided to make friends with country radio, but he left that behind at the end of his Big Machine contract. His 2016 album, Midnight Motel, is breezy and off-the-cuff, so I’m curious to hear what’s next.
NUMBER GIRL, OMOIDE IN MY HEAD 1 ~BEST & B-SIDES~, May 1
More time has passed since NUMBER GIRL’s break-up than the band was ever together, and a large portion of the band’s discography is out of print. So on the heels of their reunion tour, this collection of singles and b-sides gets reissued for a generation who missed out the first time.
A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
1990 has always felt more like 1989 v.2.0 than 1990 v.1.0. It was clearly the start of a pivot that wouldn’t really end till 1992, but the ’80s held its grip on that first year of the decade (if you’re using a 0-based system.)
Kronos Quartet, Black Angels
Robin Holcomb, Robin Holcomb
John Zorn / Naked City, Naked City
Midnight Oil, Blue Sky Mining
Sonic Youth, Goo
The Waitresses, Best of the Waitresses
Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Akira Original Soundtrack
Madonna, I’m Breathless
The Sundays, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
Living Colour, Time’s Up
Other favorites from the year:
Duran Duran, Liberty
Depeche Mode, Violator
Deee-Lite, World Clique
Enigma, MCMXC a.D.
Meredith Monk, Book of Days
Joan Tower, Silver Ladders / Island Prelude / Music for Cello and Orchestra / Sequoia
Uncle Tupelo, No Depression
Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual
Information Society, Hack
Wendy and Lisa, Eroica
Lisa Stansfield, Affection
Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
1990-me would have protested the inclusion of Uncle Tupelo on this list. 1995-me would have had to slap some sense into him.
1990-me would have also questioned the addition of Lisa Stansfield, and 2008-me would have had to confront him about how he secretly loved “All Around the World.”
1990-me would have also wondered why 2008-me didn’t include Jane’s Addiction the first time around. 2008-me would have shrugged.
I would like to think 2008-me relished introducing 1990-me to Fugazi. 1990-me would not have been prepared for them, however.
All of us are still wondering how I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got manages to stay on the list.