2022 On The Record: David Veitch’s best albums of the year, including Fantastic Negrito, Father John Misty and Spoon

The end of 2022 is rapidly approaching and as I think back to the year in new music:

I am puzzled how, once again, the year’s most commercially successful music was mediocre at best and gawd-awful at worst. (Britney Spears’ comeback hit Hold Me Closer … take away the bits from Tiny Dancer and is anything left?) No wonder Kate Bush’s 37-year-old Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) blew the minds of young people who heard it for the first time.

At the same time, I am always overwhelmed by the scope and volume of exceptional new music released every year, and 2022 is no exception. Which is my way of saying what follows doesn’t represent the best albums of the past year. There are many records I haven’t heard, and I’m still in the early stages of listening to late-2022 releases by some of my favourite acts, such as Bill Callahan and Weyes Blood, who might otherwise be included here. Rather, what follows represent 20 of my favourite records of the year: records that rarely left my turntable; records that delighted me, calmed me, excited me and reminded me of why good music has the power to connect us to others, and to ourselves.

In no specific order:

I’M NOT HERE — Alex Izenberg: This L.A. singer-songwriter’s third album is a baroque-pop gem with painterly, inward-looking lyrics about loss and holding one’s life together. (Izenberg was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia a decade ago.) There’s a Harry Nilsson/Randy Newman feel throughout, enhanced by gorgeous, understated string and woodwind arrangements by the Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth. A slow-grower, I’m Not Here’s secrets and charms reveal themselves over repeat listens. 

CHLOE AND THE NEXT 20TH CENTURY — Father John Misty: Another 2022 record that draws heavily from Harry Nilsson circa A Little Touch of Schmilsson (although Goodbye Mr. Blue echoes Harry’s version of Everybody’s Talkin’) with its big band, bossa nova, orchestrated trad pop and jazz styles that complement the record’s overarching Old Hollywood theme. The proggy closing track ties everything together; a fever dream of modern woes and anxieties that reminds us those who forget the horrors of the past are doomed to repeat them.

WHITE JESUS BLACK PROBLEMS — Fantastic Negrito: Winner of multiple Grammy Awards for best contemporary blues album, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz’s fifth album as Fantastic Negrito finds the artist stretching out in multiple new directions — funk, soul, doo-wop, gospel, psych rock — to audacious effect. Stylistically sprawling, for sure, but the record’s themes of racism and redemption bring everything together into a powerful, sometimes angry but ultimately uplifting artistic statement. 

LUCIFER ON THE SOFA — Spoon: How much sonic originality can still be squeezed from a voice-guitar-bass-drum rock group? Amazingly, after nearly 30 years together, Spoon still manages to combine those standard classic-rock ingredients to whip up something somewhat familiar (earwormy melodies, sharp pop hooks, glinting guitar riffs) although, overall, the band’s 10th album remains fresh, literate and cliché-free. A step back from the more dance elements of its predecessor Hot Thoughts, Lucifer on the Sofa nevertheless affirms Spoon’s indie-rock pleasures are theirs and theirs alone. 

COLD AS WEISS — Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio: There’s nothing novel about what the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio do — it’s old-school, organ-led R&B and jazz, building on the instrumental template established by the likes of Jimmy McGriff and Booker T and the MGs. Yet Cold as Weiss is so high-spirited, energetic and tightly performed that it can’t be beat as the funky, feel-good record of 2022. 

IN THESE TIMES — Makaya McCraven/GOLD — Alabaster DePlume: The Chicago-based International Anthem label gave 2022 these two remarkable albums. Both are rooted in jazz improvisation and Teo Macero-styled tape editing and manipulation but branch out in different directions: Mancunian saxophonist DePlume into dub reggae, new-age ambience and poetry; Windy City drummer McCraven into folk, exotic polyrhythms and chamber music. Stylistically, both albums defy pigeonholing; however, they are both expansive, often beautiful, brimming with life and unfettered creativity. 

THE BOY NAMED IF — Elvis Costello and the Imposters: This year’s model of Elvis Costello turns out to be … This Year’s Model. After the stone-cold drag that was Hey Clockface, Elvis corrects course, gathering his trusty Attractions, er, Imposters, for a lean, tightly coiled album that sounds like it’s 1978 all over again. Songwriting quality control remains high so, even though he’s done this sort of thing before, the snarl of Costello’s voice, the crack of Pete Thomas’s drums and the overdriven organ of Steve Nieve are all welcome, and the special excitement that these musicians conjure together remains undiminished by time.

THE OVERLOAD — Yard Act: Wordy, expletive-laden post-punk that from a band that clearly has no patience for ignorance, intolerance, inequality and exploitive capitalism. The mix of corrugating guitar and socio-political commentary reminds me of another Leeds band from a different generation: Gang of Four. A head-turning, thought-provoking debut.

THE HIGHEST IN THE LAND — The Jazz Butcher: Grappling with terminal illness, one of Britain’s finest songwriting eccentrics writes about the inevitable with his usual mix of humour, poignancy and tunefulness. “Never give up,” he sings, “until you want to.” A posthumous triumph that’ll put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye, often simultaneously.

HAPPY HOUR — Hollie Cook: Sunny, mellifluous lover’s rock from daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. A great summer album for all future summers.

STEADY — Sloan: No concepts, no reinventions — just Canada’s four-headed power-pop monster in top form, playing to established strengths.

EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL — Spiritualized: A return to the widescreen, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink space-rock of Ladies and Gentlemen, with added romanticism.

THIS IS BRIAN JACKSON — Brian Jackson: Gil Scott-Heron’s longtime collaborator dusts off some 1977 sessions with production support from Phenomenal Handclap Band founder Daniel Collás, for Jackson’s first solo LP in 20 years. Vintage soul-jazz, highlighting his trademark flute and keyboard work, with an exuberant detour into Afro-beat (Mami Wata). 

TIMBUKTU — Oumou Sangare: The Malian singer builds on her Wassoulou soul sound, adding complementary elements of American blues, including slide guitar and dobro. Infectious and, for the uninitiated, a great entry point into her catalogue.

THE CAR — Arctic Monkeys: On their seventh album, the Sheffield quartet continues to effectively absorb influences unimaginable during their early indie-rock years: Bacharach, Bowie, even the sophisto-pop of Prefab Sprout. Thanks to Alex Turner’s maturing songcraft, the new sounds suit ‘em.

THE SPUR — Joan Shelley: The Kentucky indie-folk singer-songwriter has been releasing earthy yet elegant albums for years; this, her seventh addresses her recent life events: laying down roots, getting married, having a child. Amberlit Morning, a duet with Bill Callahan, is a particular standout. 

STUMPWORK— Dry Cleaning: No major surprises, and no sophomore jinx either. The London (England) four-piece provides a second helping of what made their debut special, particularly Tom Dowse’s manipulated guitar tones (reminiscent of the recently departed Keith Levene) and Florence Shaw’s words, a blankly enunciated stream of profundities, absurdities and head-scratching non-sequiturs.

COOL IT DOWN — Yeah Yeah Yeahs: With its ‘80s cold-wave synths, pounding techno beats and 21st century dread (leavened by love notes to ESG and Karen O’s child), the New York trio’s first album in nine years provides both the euphoric dancefloor fillers and the atmospheric comedown music for the disco at the end of the world.