DC's Favorite Albums of 2022
Welcome to DC's annual favorite albums roundup! I change the format of this post a little bit each year, but the purpose remains the same. Basically, I (Nathan) love to research and listen to a lot of music, and find great joy in highlighting a selection of recommendations for readers to appreciate along with me.
On Tuesday I wrote a meandering piece about some random musical things I liked in 2022, but today's writeup is a bit more organized and formal - you know, ranked and such. But never mistake these "favorites" posts for "best of" posts. This is just one person's opinion, after all.
Alright, here comes the countdown, beginning with a couple of honorable mentions, then running from ten down to one. Oh, and notice the hyperlinks! No better way to support artists than buying some music or merch before the year's end.
Honorable mention #1: Motohiro Nakashima - Gathering the Light (FLAU) - There's always an artist or two who inexplicably chooses to share an amazing album during the lowest point of release season. That's exactly what Motohiro Nakashima did on December 1st, 2021 - literally the same day we published last year's "favorite albums" post. So is it eligible for consideration in 2022? Who knows. If not, it's at least worth a mention here. The Japanese fingerstyle guitarist is known for his bright instrumentals, and Gathering the Light contains some of his best work. The shoreline plucks of Seaglass leading into the deep breath of Night Rain Falls - it's hard to imagine music more beautiful than this.
Honorable mention #2: Dominic Voz - Right to the City (Beacon Sound/Accidental Records) - Okay, so I initially had this album in my top ten, but then realized I'd already planned to highlight a different Beacon Sound release later in the countdown. It may sound cheesy, but I wanna spread love between labels as much as I can, so I moved Right to the City into these mentions. So Dom or Andrew: if you're reading this, just know that I think this album is up there with the best of em, and truly deserves a spot near the top. Listening to Right to the City feels like living in Portland or Chicago, cities in which both the artist and I have spent some time. The music is beautiful and desperate, mired in themes of survival in these post-capitalist urban landscapes.
10. Joseph Allred - The Rambles & Rags of Shiloh (Worried Songs) - Years ago, my wife and I planted three tiny blueberry bushes in front of our house, and after many seasons of low yield, they finally exploded with fruit this past summer. I was out harvesting one morning, before the July heat would become too oppressive, when I decided to pop in some earbuds and listen to Joseph Allred's latest guitar-and-banjo offering. It was such a delightful experience, eating handfuls of blueberries and awkwardly dancing between the bushes. Hopefully any neighbors who saw me weren't too alarmed. There's a middle stretch of Shiloh that I think is just the best: Dance of the Fair Folk > Before the Lord > The Emerald City. Allred's playing evokes vivid images of people and places, both real and imagined - like a Wendell Berry novel set to strings.
9. Ian William Craig - Music For Magnesium_173 (Fatcat Records) - Even though this album was sent to me weeks in advance, I nearly missed it. You see, while I've long adored Ian William Craig's music, I've never understood video games. Didn't grow up with them. Was never good at them. Don't play them now. So when I read this album's promotional mailer and saw that Music For Magnesium_173 was the soundtrack for a computer game, I simply decided to pass. I imagined it was probably an album of tinny 8-bit snippets, but boy was I wrong! Thanks to this review, I decided to circle back, and I ended up loving it. The album (probably like the computer game it's set to) is a journey. It runs a whopping 80 minutes and features seamless track blending - one long, uninterrupted experience with plenty of peaks and valleys. Across the album, Ian William Craig builds loops of crackling noise, and then layers his voice atop the racket. When you end up listening to it, and you feel the music approaching a maximalist crescendo, just close your eyes and let the sound wash over you.
8. Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer - Recordings from the Åland Islands (International Anthem) - I've got a certain type of music I'm typically drawn to. It's usually instrumental, and somewhat ambient. A blend of electronics, acoustic instrumentation, and field recordings is my favorite combination of sound. Maybe some piano. Albums thematically rooted in memory and geography hold special places in my heart. I hate to think that if an artist (or artists) simply checks all these boxes when making an album, I'll automatically like their music, but maybe I am that predictable. In any case, on their exquisite Recordings from the Åland Islands, Jeremiah Chiu and Sofia Honer check every one of those boxes. You can read the dreamy story behind their years-in-the-making collaboration by hitting the link above, and if you order a physical copy of the album, you'll receive an accompanying booklet as well. And believe it or not, theirs isn't the only album on this countdown that is a collaboration recorded on a remote Finnish island delivered with a printed booklet. Man, 2022 was wild.
7. Andrew Oda - Back To The Body (mappa) - I always have a difficult time judging favorite November releases against other albums I've had the pleasure of enjoying throughout the rest of the year. I usually begin drafting DC's "favorite albums" post at the start of November, so when I hear an impressive new release mid-month, it throws a wrench in my plans. This was the case when I heard Andrew Oda's Back To The Body. It feels a tad strange to include it on this list, because I've only actually listened to the entire album twice through. I think that I love it, but will need to hear it many more times to be sure. There's a lot to take in across this sonically-diverse work - many styles, many movements, many layers. You'll catch field recordings, smears of strings, driving electronics, spare piano, plucked guitar, and a whole lot more. Some songs feel like brief interludes while others run well over the ten minute mark and contain stretches of drone. These are moments of calm, but other times you're absolutely pummeled with sound. Again, this is an album I'll have to revisit a few more times this winter, and I am curious to see how it grows on me.
6. Florist - S/T (Double Double Whammy) - I'm a pretty big fan of Emily Sprague's solo work (Water Memory and Mount Vision are all-timers in my book), and while I've enjoyed her full-band project, Florist, in the past, they've never really pulled me in. That is, until I heard their self-titled offering last summer. Listening to the patchwork album, full of folk songs interspersed with nature sounds, it seems as if the quartet retreated to the Hudson Valley, holed up in a house, and simply pressed "record." They captured everything: full songs, porch chimes, threads of music, rain. Strung together, these pieces form a sort of audio documentary dedicated to the band's time spent together, rather than a traditional release. There are easy entry points, sure, like standout tracks Red Bird Pt. 2 and Two Ways, but really, the album works best when enjoyed from start to finish, interludes and all. It's an absolutely gorgeous construction.
5. Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (4AD) - Big Thief is the best band in the world right now. Oh wait. Sorry. This isn't a "best" list. This is a "favorites" list. So what I really mean to say is that Big Thief is my favorite band in the world right now. I love their entire catalogue (and Adrianne Lenker's solo work), but DNWMIBIY feels like a culmination of all that they've done and all that they are. The quartet plays as a single organism with one heart and one spirit, and on this sprawling 80 minute masterpiece, they're at the top of their game, musically. Tender folk ballads? Of course! Twangy bluegrass jams? Sure! Rock songs? Might as well! Electronic cuts? Oh, okay! Honestly, there's little cohesion between tracks across the DNWMIBIY - it plays sort of like a greatest hits compilation, but that doesn't really bother me. It's light, it's heavy, it's fast, it's slow, and just as the quartet's connectedness is noticeable from the get-go, so is their feeling of overflowing joy and gratitude for one another.
4. Allegra Krieger - Precious Thing (Northern Spy) - And let's keep rolling with indie folk! Allegra Krieger's album is much shorter, time-wise, than both Florist's and Big Thief's, but no less potent. It sounds a bit more polished, too - careful arrangements and thoughtful production have rounded out any rough edges. Guitar, piano, and voice are the main melodic divers across the album, but strings, lap steel, vibraphone, horns, and other instrumental textures fill out Krieger's songs beautifully. And speaking of the songwriting: Kreiger's knack for singing about the mundane over top such interesting musical constructions is really what makes this album special. She brings attention to the small joys and sorrows we encounter each day, and asks us to consider them for the duration of her album, but also, perhaps, after the music ends.
3. Rob Winstone - I dreamt we found a way (Warm Winters Ltd.) - Now for something much darker. According to Bandcamp liner notes, the title of sound artist Rob Winstone's I dreamt we found a way is "an expression of a deep yearning to overcome the alienating byproducts of capitalism and the subsequent dislocation of the human soul." So yeah, that's a pretty good preview of the mood permeating across Winstone's dreamy (nightmarish?) cassette. And yet, the album is not completely devoid of light. Winstone hasn't installed blackout curtains here, but instead sheers, allowing some visibility through the black. Musically, Winstone cuts longform ambient pieces with fuzzed-out classical vignettes, including a few vocal samples here and there. The mix is warbly and plays like a distressed tape, and hauntologic undertones run throughout the artist's work. I think that the pacing of this album is superb. Right when a track has droned on long enough, Winstone brings the listener back into the light for a moment with a shorter melody, before dimming things again. It's surprisingly engaging for the type of music that it is, and part of what makes I dreamt we found a way one of my favorite albums of the year.
(TW ahead: miscarriage)
2. Alex G - God Save The Animals (Domino) - On September 13th, my wife and I experienced our fourth miscarriage in five years. This particular miscarriage occurred far enough along in our pregnancy that hospitalization was necessary. That's all I'll write about it on this platform - just know that it was very traumatic for us both, we are still grieving, but also that we are healthy now and feel very supported by our community. The reason I bring this up at all is because it contextualizes my relationship with Alex G's most recent album, which came out exactly 10 days after our miscarriage. I was driving home in late September after picking up some takeout, and Miracles, the album's penultimate track came on. Doing his best Neil Young impression, Alex G sings about sunsets and loneliness, struggles and fears, prayers and miracles, and even babies. Listening to the song affected me deeply, and sitting at a red light, I fell apart after the final note faded. It's such a simple little tune, but one I will hold close to my heart forever.
I want part of this review to be a little lighter and cheerier, so I'm just gonna paragraph break here and change tone abruptly. I've said a few times before that Philly artists are making the best indie music nowadays, and the scene's unique sound can be heard throughout God Save The Animals. Autotune bubbles up from time to time. Songs feel chopped up and glued back together. Acoustic and electronic instrumentation are used equally. The music feels unpredictable, and that's what makes it so interesting. I mean, just listen to lead single, Runner, to hear what I'm talking about. In fact, I've linked that song along with Miracles below, so you can hear both. I think the entire album is incredible, though, so be sure to devote some time to the entire piece if you have not already done so.
1. Sontag Shogun x Lau Nau - Valo Siroutuu (Beacon Sound) - We've reached the end of this countdown, arriving at my favorite album of the year. A few days ago, when I sat down to write this glowing review, I had a hard time deciding what anecdote to share. I could have detailed my first experience with the album, listening to it while walking home from work last February, and shooting Andrew (from Beacon Sound) a text about three songs in, gushing about the album while using all of the superlatives I could think of. I could have reframed much of what I wrote in this post last March, when I had the great honor of premiering what I believe to be the album's best track, Leikkikalu. Heck, maybe I should have written about watching the quartet perform songs from the album live last May, and being so moved (and sure, a little drunk) that I bought a SECOND copy of the vinyl to gift to a friend - I just believed in the music that much. But I don't honestly think that any of these stories effectively introduce Valo Siroutuu. Sometimes, when a piece of music is so perfect, and words can't capture its beauty, you've just gotta hear it for yourself.
So I've embedded a preview track below, as I've done for all other albums on this list, but you've absolutely gotta click through to hear the whole thing. Be sure to read the liner notes before you jump into the music, in order to contextualize what you hear. It makes for a much richer listening experience. Or better yet, order the vinyl and booklet to view pictures of the quartet's adventures together as you sit with their music. Shit, you might as well order double copies to share with a friend. Sontag Shogun x Lau Nau's Valo Siroutuu is just that good.
And that's a wrap on another annual DC favorites list! I don't know exactly what this site will look like in 2023, as I've slowed down considerably, but I would still like to amplify music I love in some capacity, even if I scale things down. Oh, and I wanna mention that DC's first PRINTED project will be coming out in the next month or so. I'll be sure to announce details in this space, so stay tuned for that. And as always, thanks for reading. Now go buy some music!