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.
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.
The original list from 1994 didn’t even include an extended list. That’s how austere the selections from the year were.
Talitha Mackenzie, Solas
Freedy Johnston, This Perfect World
Wayne Horvitz/Pigpen, V as in Victim
Harry Connick, Jr., She
Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand
Everything But the Girl, Amplified Heart
Kronos Quartet, Night Prayers
Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters, Cheerful & Optimistic
John Zorn/Masada, Alef
Madonna, Bedtime Stories
Other favorites from the year:
Prince, The Black Album
Pizzicato Five, Made in USA
Shudder to Think, Pony Express Record
Elliott Goldenthal, Interview with a Vampire
At the time of its limited release, I was actually very curious about The Black Album. Part of it was all the hype surrounding its initial aborted release, but I was still mostly ambivalent about Prince to pass on it. Its underdog status among Prince’s work makes me like it just a bit more.
A top 10 list I would have compiled in 1994 would have listed the Interview with a Vampire soundtrack. It’s actually a really good score. It’s too bad the movie sucked eggs. I watched twice — the first time to evaluate its faithfulness to the novel (somewhat), the second to evaluate it as a film (awful). The only thing that mars the soundtrack is the unfortunate cover of Sympathy for the Devil by Guns N’ Roses.
When you can find a second-hand vinyl copy of Suzanne Vega’s Solitutde Standing for $1, does the world really need a reissue that costs $30? Same goes for the soundtrack to Top Gun — was it really such a cultural watershed?
Vinyl reissues make up just a sliver of recorded music sales, but it’s the only sector experiencing rapid growth. So if Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em by MC Hammer can get a reissue, then nothing should stop the following titles from showing up on wax. From what I can tell, none of these titles have ever been issued on vinyl.
Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy
The stars aligned for Fastball on this album, but tensions in the band prevented them from capitalizing on that momentum. It still holds up well after nearly 20 years. Reissued on Nov. 9, 2018.
Patty Griffin, Flaming Red
You need look no further than Silver Bell to hear how well Flaming Red would sound on vinyl. Griffin doesn’t usually indulge her rock side, but like the title of this album, she burns when she does.
Freedy Johnston, This Perfect World
This album was in constant rotation on my player back in 1994, and I didn’t care if it storm up the charts. It didn’t, so the likelihood for a reissue are slim. Reissued Feb. 2019.
Hajime Chitose, Hainumikaze
I’ve so far not been impressed by vinyl pressings of domestic Japanese albums. The market is still driven mostly by CDs, so Japanese labels don’t put much care into the sound of vinyl releases. In my fantasy world where they did, I would so want to hear Hajime Chitose’s voice on vinyl.
Onitsuka Chihiro, INSOMNIA
All the ballads on this album should make remastering it for vinyl not insurmountable. Right?
Hem, Rabbit Songs
I’m surprised the only album in Hem’s discography available on vinyl is Departures and Farewells. I would have thought Rabbit Songs had been reissued a long time ago.
Utada Hikaru, Ultra Blue
The last Utada album to be issued on vinyl was DEEP RIVER. Reissued April 27, 2022
Duran Duran, Medazzaland
The masters for Duran Duran’s most underrated album is owned by the band, so the fate of a vinyl reissue is entirely up to them. Nick Rhodes has mentioned he would love to see it happen. Reissued Oct. 14, 2022.