For the first time in a number of years, I’ve had an easier time compiling my favorite new albums than catalog discoveries. Last year, I noted that I’m not finding as many eye-openers at the thrift shops. This year seems to follow that trend. The first half of this list is solid, but the second half of the list could probably be negotiated.
easy life, Life’s a Beach
Kia car commercials seem to be a new avenue of music discovery for me. First, it was the hamsters and Black Sheep. Now it’s skeletons, and uh, “Skeletons”. I’m still on the fence about the band’s new album, but this debut is a keeper.
Black, Wonderful Life
Black has always existed on the periphery of my awareness, and I even felt a bit of sadness to hear of his passing back in 2016. But I wouldn’t fully understand just how good he was till I picked up Wonderful Life from the thrift shop. He didn’t have much of a profile in the States as in the UK, which is a pity.
Cave In, Antenna
This album got quite a bit of in-store play when I worked at Waterloo Records at the time of its release. I would eventually understand this album is quite the departure from the band’s usual metal outings.
Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!
I knew Devo mostly from “Whip It” and “Working in the Coal Mine”. Then I picked up Freedom of Choice and this album from the thrift shop and discovered they were far more angular than those hits hinted at.
Mieczslaw Weinberg, Violin Concerto / Sonata for Two Violins (Gidon Kremer, Danielle Gatti, Gewandhausorchester Liepzig)
Weinberg was a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich, and it’s easy to hear the shared musical dialect between the two composers. But Weinberg isn’t Shostakovich Light. He has his own sense of lyricism and bite, which Gidon Kremer has done well to champion.
Paula Cole, This Fire
“I Don’t Wanna Wait” was so tied to the branding of the nascent WB Network that I didn’t really take Paula Cole seriously, despite loving her backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live. It turns out This Fire is a far more adventurous album than the hit single let on.
Radio stations in Honolulu only ever paid attention to “Toy Soldiers”, playing it to death. But the album got renewed attention when Eminem sampled it at the start of his career. It’s really a solid album that transcends its hit single.
Recommended if you like Kelela, Sampha, Solange and other such artists expanding the boundaries of R&B.
Kraftwerk, Techno Pop (a.k.a. Electric Cafe)
I mostly like this album because of Mike Myers’ iconic Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live. But also, this Kraftwerk album seems the most tuneful.
Club Nisei, Japanese Music of Hawaii
This compilation of traditional Japanese music performed by the Club Nisei Orchestra got quite a bit of play on the in-store system at Waterloo Records. I wasn’t much into older Japanese music at the time, but I picked it up at a record show in Seattle mostly out of nostalgia. I understand now why it was so popular among my coworkers.
Whenever I do a Google search for the best albums of the current year, I don’t recognize most of the results. So it becomes a game: how many of these best albums are made by artists I do recognize, and do I own any of them?
I have to confess a bit of disappointment when there’s an overlap between my tastes and that of the critical consensus.
These days, my favorite lists pretty much hew close to artists who’ve occupied the list before, so the lack of overlap is more an indication of my fossilizing tastes.
2022 is faring no different.
Utada Hikaru, Bad MODE: This album is definitely in the upper tier of favorite Hikki albums. Maybe right behind ULTRA BLUE, which says tons.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Right Steppers: “We Cry Together” is compellingly uncomfortable and probably most of the reason this album is on this list. Also, I find this album far more engaging than DAMN.
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up: It sounds like there’s a bit of professional polish on this album, but it’s not enough to dull the band’s rough edges. I’ve rediscovered the Donnas recently, and part of me thinks I would have liked the Donnas more if they had been even remotely indignant as the Linda Lindas.
TwoSet Violin, Fantasia: Hey guys, some of us olds wouldn’t mind even a FLAC download somewhere.
Midnight Oil, RESIST: Billed as the final album, RESIST is every bit as urgent as a Midnight Oil album at the start of the band’s career. It’s just unfortunate that the world is not listening. Still.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point: Like Duran Duran’s FUTURE PAST, The Tipping Point finds Tears for Fears sound much like themselves without being too beholden to the past.
UA, Are U Romantic?: Imagine the Horizon EP with an updated sound. This EP is the most melodic we’ve heard from UA in a while.
Black, Wonderful Life: I wish this album was a bigger deal in the States. It’s too bad I had to discover it through a thrift shop purchase.
Cave-In, Antenna: I vaguely remember this album being somewhat controversial among my metalhead co-workers at Waterloo Records in the early 2000s.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Violin Concerto / Sonata for Two Violins (Gidon Kremer): Kremer performed the concerto with the Seattle Symphony, and I came away from that concert impressed. After hearing this recoding, I understand Kremer championing the work of Weinberg, a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich.
Paula Cole, This Fire: It’s too bad Paula Cole became the Sound of the WB Network. I didn’t take this album seriously at the time of its release, despite admiring Cole’s backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Live. This Fire is a far stranger album than its big hits would indicate.
Viktor Vaughan, Vaudeville Villain: It’s fucking MF DOOM.
Kraftwerk, Techno Pop (a.k.a. Electric Café): Kraftwerk is the first band I’m discovering on vinyl instead of CD. Rather than wait for a CD to show up at the thrift store, I’ve been picking up the band’s albums as used records. I probably like this album the most because of the Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live.
I remember this album causing a bit of controversy among my record store co-workers at the time of its release. Cave In had recorded a number of metal albums till Antenna, which was the band’s major label debut. Antenna does not hide its commercial ambitions, and some of those said co-workers did not like this change in creative direction. Listening back to it, I have to say I really like it, which probably means I would not be the target market for their more metallic work.
Kraftwerk, Techno Pop (a.k.a. Electric Café)
You would think I would already have owned the entire Kraftwerk discography by now, and yet, they are the first band in decades that I’ve discovered through used vinyl instead of used CD. Yeah, I’ve dabbled with downloads of their albums in the past, but I’ve taken an earnest interest in them now. Techno Pop, a.k.a. Electric Café, is one of my favorites, mostly because of the Saturday Night Live skit Sprockets.
Bell Biv Devoe, Poison
When Poison showed up on the Record Store Day 2022 List, I immediately launched Spotify to determine if it were something for which I would want to budget. I was a teen-ager at the time of the album’s release, and I distinctly remember dismissing it as something cooler kids would like. I have since grown to appreciate new jack swing, and yes, I bought this album when RSD rolled around.
Manu Chao, Clandestino
I sold a lot of copies of this album when I worked at Waterloo Records, but I had no curiosity to find out why it was so popular. A few months into the job, I quickly sensed that Austinites on the whole did not like the same things that I liked. But I picked it up for $0.10 at Lifelong Thrift Shop, and I understand now why it’s still a popular album. Chao threads a lot of genres into his music, but he doesn’t get too clever, lest he falls into the Sting trap.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Right Steppers
The entire album is great, but “We Cry Together” is fucking devastating.
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up
“Racist Sexist Boy” could have just been a flash in the pan, but oh damn, the Linda Lindas got that righteous indignation down pat.
TwoSet Violin, Fantasia
Eddy Chen and Brett Yang are common period guys through and through. I don’t look to them to advocate for Brian Ferneyhough or Peter Sculthorpe. So this EP of original music composed by Jordan He is absolutely on-brand for the duo — contemporary but rooted very much in the 18th and 19th centuries.