Well here we are, at the end of another year. As far as the last couple years have gone I’d say this one was mildly more successful in not driving me to the brink. 2020 was, well, 2020. Isolation, pandemic, masks became a thing, and the truly stupid made their presence known(and continue to.) 2021, strangely enough, was worse for me than 2020. Even getting Covid in November of 2020 was like a warm bath on a cold winter’s eve compared to the succession of calamities bestowed upon our family in 2021.
I wasn’t going into 2022 with much hope.
Despite those low expectations 2022 held its own. The family is doing well, and we’re still gainfully employed. The kids are doing their thing, with only one left to graduate(which he’ll do in May of 2023.) I even made an album of weird electronic music, so that was nice.
The one thing that these last couple years have in common is that they were filled with plenty of great music. The music, the independent artists, and independent record labels kept everything from completely spiraling for me, honestly. Every month there was something to look forward to release-wise from labels like Spun Out Of Control, Behind The Sky, Azure Vista, El Paraiso, and too many more to name here. The music over the last couple years has been inspiring, to say the least. While a pandemic and political/social strife raged throughout the world, music continued to be the salve that healed fractured psyches.
2022 was no different. Looking back on this year in music I was astounded at the amount of amazing releases that hit my ears. And not only the amount, but the amount of albums that hit me on so many levels. I honestly found it difficult to rank this year. I do have a top ten which I’ll get to before Santa arrives, but I wanted to start out with a couple posts on just some albums I loved. Ranked or not, these releases were important to me. If you haven’t heard them yet, maybe they’ll be important to you.
Let’s get started.
Adrian Belew : Elevator
Guitarist extraordinaire, songwriter, composer, and pretty much jack-of-all-trades Adrian Belew has made a name for himself as the go-to guitarist for artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Talking Heads, and was of course a core member of King Crimson for many years. But for me, it was always Belew’s pop albums that were his true genius. So much so that Adrian Belew was my first big influence. He was my Beatles. From Mr. Music Head to Here was a four album run that defined for me what perfect experimental pop could be.
Adrian Belew continues to write and record solo records completely on his own, and his latest called Elevator is his best solo album in years. Full of his quirky compositions, Beatles-esque pop songs, and his sense of musical adventure still fully intact, Belew made a wondrous album that contains some of his best pop songs in nearly three decades.
Ogre : Cybercism
Ogre’s latest release, the kinetic and propulsive Cybercism, is an all-out dystopian 80s electro trip of the highest order. Touches of Kraftwerk, Pye Corner Audio, and Brad Fiedel’s Terminator score come through Robin Ogden’s hard robo strut. Ogden, aka Ogre, has been making sci-fi electronic music for years now, combining the cinematic with techno bangers. Cybercism is a mainline into the circuit boards; a kinetic shock to the system.
Cory Kilduff : You Will Be Safe
With Cory Kilduff’s 2019 album When It All Gets To Be Too Much, the electronic musician made an album with melodic synth tracks made for emotionally heavy moments. His ode to the 80s John Hughes films, and heartbreak. With his second album for Burning Witches Records, the hard-hitting You Will Be Safe, Kilduff goes for a rhythmically heavy record. Full of propulsive percussion, grand melancholy synth melodies, and a sense of urgency. That’s not to say it’s all a heavy trip. There’s moments of light and buoyancy, but You Will Be Safe never feels trite. This is a dense and heady electronic album.
Kuma : Hounds and Echo In Conjunction
Electronic musician/composer Kuma makes music that feels more like a mirage than something tangible. His music is whispers, moans, and the sound of air rushing through your skull when you try to sleep. Drones and tones promising something wicked this way comes. On his Waxing Crescent Records release Hounds and Echo In Conjunction Kuma has made an album of haunted ambient, melancholy industrial, and psychedelic drone. I imagine the sounds on this album are what echo through David Lynch’s head on a daily basis.
Metavari : Soft Continuum(Studies Vol.2)
Once again Nate Utesch, aka Metavari, finds ways to evolve the music project that started out in 2008 as a full post-rock outfit. But as time moved on Metavari became Nate Utesch’ one-man project. The only member left from those post-rock days was bassist Ty Brinneman. Brinneman passed away from Mesothelioma in 2018. Soft Continuum(Studies Vol.2) is both a reworking of tracks from Metavari’s debut release and also a tribute to Utesch’ friend and band mate Brinneman. Utesch is doing something wholly unique in his sonic world, and every album released is a step forward into new territory. Soft Continuum is a further step into the sonic unknown, and it’s stunning in every way possible.
zake and City Of Dawn : Agape
On zake and City Of Dawn’s fantastic Agape, the two ambient producers/musicians set their sights on a vast sound world. Cavernous melodies slow burn through the air, creating something overwhelming and mysterious. zake, aka Zach Frizzell and City Of Dawn, aka Damien Duque, have proven masters of ambient/new age music, and their unique ability to make sparse soundscapes into something dense, heady, and emotionally potent is nothing short of brilliant. These two are heading the charge of the ambient music scene, giving weight and credence to a genre that has much to offer, both for the head and heart.
Kurt Vile : (watch my moves)
Kurt Vile’s Verve Records debut sort of swooped in and swooped out of ear shot for me this year. When it dropped I gave it some decent listening time and really dug it, but at the time I hadn’t unlocked all of the layers and sonic intent. I’ve been revisiting this one a lot over the last month or so and I’ve come to love (watch my moves). Much like most of Vile’s output, it’s a dense record and one you need time with. If you look up artists that release “grower” albums, Vile is right at the top. You don’t pick it all up after just a few listens. 2018s Bottle It In may be the biggest grower of all, while (watch my moves) sounds like Vile finally has a handle on his art, and that’s a pretty profound thing.
Blood Incantation : Timewave Zero
Cosmic death metal giants Blood Incantation set their guitars in their respective cases, locked up the drum sticks, and everybody was assigned an analog synth. The results became the Komische-heavy Timewave Zero, a 40-minute heavy synth excursion into deep space and the unknowns that come with that journey. Think early Froese, Schulze, and even new age cats like JD Emmanuel. Singer/guitarist Paul Riedl has released a series of next level ambient/new age albums under his own name, and Timewave Zero does echo some sonic similarities, but Blood Incantation’s stab at heavy synth carries with it a certain darkness, as only it should. This is a headphone journey of the highest order.
Preoccupations : Arrangements
The Canadian post-punk four-piece Preoccupations returned in 2022 after a four-year absence thanks to Covid. The band self-produced and self released the excellent Arrangements and it sounds and feels like their most personal album yet. The jagged post-punk is still there, as is their knack for melody among the angst. Touches of Joy Division, New Order, Wire, and Mission Of Burma still haunt Preoccupations’ songs, but more and more what’s emerging from their songs is them. On the band’s fourth full-length, they’ve found their groove and I’m excited to see where they go from here.
Jason Priest : For Your Consideration
On Antoni Maoivvi’s second album as alter ego Jason Priest, the catchy and exuberant For Your Consideration, Maoivvi goes all in. Giving his post-punk casualty with nine lives his moment of redemption, this second outing for the clean and sober Priest sees a man in top form. Pop-heavy melodies, jagged and thoughtful lyrics, and the sound of an artist with nothing to lose but the clothes off his back, Jason Priest’s For Your Consideration is a stunning record with no signs of a sophomore slump.
There’s more to come. If you haven’t dug into any of the above yet, you should. See you soon with another ten to binge. We’ll be slowly working towards the top ten, so keep checking back. Until then, time for some more coffee. -J Hubner