2022 was an astonishing year for music... Why seem so surprised. It is plausible after all, that with the pandemic taking so many musicians off the touring and promotion treadmill that something good musically could come of that. And love or hate the Spotify, YouTube, Bandcamp streaming nexus, they open up the opportunity to hear music not provided by the traditional media gatekeepers, which in the UK means you'd get your new music approved by British Broadcasting Corporation or Bauer produced magazines. You did know that 8 of the 10 most popular LPs on 6Music in 2022 were coincidentally the property of one music publishing company. So look, our writers have faced impossible choices... Of all of those recordings in their in ear bugs in 2022 whittling the titles down to just a few... So many LPs, so little time...
Loose Futures (Fat Possum)
Courtney Marie Andrews
'Life is better without plans...' -Courtney Marie Andrews - Older Now
The heartache at the core of Andrews 'GRAMMY-nominated 'Old Flowers' (2020) was immense. Almost to the extent that you wondered whether there was any hope at all for the narrator. The visceral honesty of her lyrics is one of Andrews' great strengths so when she sang 'I may never let love in again' on the quiet country-tinged piano ballad 'Carnival Dream' (think Maria McKee at her most devastated) you believed her!
'Loose Futures' is, thankfully, a relief. There may be light at the end of the tunnel. Possibly. Within the first minute of the title track, she admits that she's 'learned from her mistakes' but that, wisely, she just wants to take things slowly. Here are tales of moving cautiously forward, learning to live again, the romance of '...my favourite piece of sky' on the gentle 'Satellite' and taking-each-day as-it-comes wisdom of 'These are the Good Old Days'. Best of all is the yearning of 'Thinkin' on You,' her voice aching for someone to return, the 'empty bed and frying pan' reminiscent of Joni's 'My Old Man'.
'Loose Futures' is an album about moving on from painful experiences, the need for change, and of hoping for a better, more stable, tomorrow. It is a move out of the darkness, a journey that you will want to follow Andrews on.
The Ruby Cord
(Daughters of Can Records)
The cover for Preacher’s Daughter perfectly surmises the nature of the album-a blurred photograph of Cain against a brown murky backdrop watched over by a darkened picture of Jesus Christ. The environment is one of rigid conformity hiding a deeper, carnal menace.
Ethel Cain, the creation of 24-year-old Hayden Anhedönia, is a figure who is trying to find her place in rural southern American only to lose everything except a haunting melody.
First and foremost Preacher’s Daughter serves as a concept album. Each song details the life of the aforementioned character of Ethel Cain- she grows up in rural America under the guidance of her preacher father and then, following his death, she begins to spiral before running away, falling in love, and then ending the album dead, being cannibalised by a lover. Anhedönia has drawn explicit links to herself through the character of Ethel Cain, calling her “my scapegoat — she kept running and ends up chained to a bed in an attic…. If I’m the good ending, she’s the bad one.”
The album has a deeply humane story at the core, one that not only resonates with Hayden herself but many other queer people who have sought to escape repressive environments. Ethel Cain is just the hyperbolic embodiment- whilst not everyone gets eaten alive by a person with a demonic cadence many people lose their very essence or even their lives because they ran from an environment that tried to choke their authenticity out of them.
But to frame the album solely as a concept album feels almost reductive as Ethel Cain uses the album to explore so much more. The song ‘A House in Nebraska’ is a haunting portrayal of grief and mourning the loss of a loved one - being confronted with all the small ways their presence impacted you, only come to see that through their absence and feeling personally responsible for this loss. The song is a nearly eight minutes long cry of pain built exclusively around simple, melancholy piano chords and Ethel cains powerful voice. A similar effect is achieved on ‘American Teenager’ which is aesthetically drastically different but contains the same aching emotion. Framed around synth lines and guitar riffs that could turn this track into the best Taylor Swift song of the year Cain opts not to frame this song around shallow confessions of love but the hollowness of the American Dream. Cain details how “The neighbours brother came home in a box” but that “he wanted to go, so maybe it was his fault”. As the song builds up Cain cries out that “I’m doing what I want and damn I’m doing it well” only for the music to collapse around her sensing the fragility of these emotions that run through the rest of the album.
Cain weaves through rural America until she reaches her demise on the song 'Ptolemea'. Here, Ethel begin to hallucinate under the influence of drugs given to her by her partner and attempts to confront the darkness. The song draws its name from Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (specifically Dante’s Inferno) Ptolemea, named after Ptolemy, is a circle of Hell in which the traitorous reside. The suffering Cain endures grows more and more violent until all she is able to do is scream out in pain. The scream, however, is in vain as the chorus begins again with the cries of Ethel in the background finally resigning to the abuse she has been subjected to at the hands of Isaiah- the biblical name possibly alluding the cyclical nature of the life Cain has been subjected to - running from one form of subjugation at the hands of the religious to another. It is a haunting piece that embodies everything that Cain sets out to achieve on the album in the simplest of ways and continues to haunt the listener even after the album has finished.
Whether you listen to the album for the beautiful storytelling, gothic folk inspired instrumentals or the powerful messaging and commentary on life in Americas religious affiliated south, there is no escaping the fact that Ethel Cain's 'Preachers Daughter' is a brilliant album that contains multitudes of worlds within it that can connect to many on both an emotional and spiritual level.
Working Men's Club
Young, loud and snotty...d you can dance to it! What's not to like?
Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band
So this album is most mainstream mags album of the year,however those of us who've been listening to Mick Head since the dark ages will know that the first half of the album is almost Mick by numbers,however the second half of the album almost turns on a sixpence and the hairs on the back of the neck go and you're suddenly in a different place....his best album ever, nah, but certainly his best album in over 20 years.
Natural Brown Prom Queen
Sudan Archives... While Beyonce was sampling I'm Too Sexy Brittney Parks was writing songs like this.Natural Brown Prom Queen is an absolute gobsmacker of an album and this is the pinnacle amongst a whole album of highlights. Wonderful!
Another Life only arrived in November but this is like the record I have been waiting for forever. Nadine Khouri, a former child refugee from the civil war in Lebanon has rootlessly not come to rest anywhere yet. Once a refugee, are you always one? How is that? Nadine's voice is religious. One listen and you'll be a worshipper. Within the single, Keep on Pushing These Walls (or focus track as they are now designated), there is something so perfect for laconic optimists. Nadine’s music, oh so many miles behind her voice, before her guitar abandons the tremulous tremolo subtlety and outrageously begins to tear at your speakers. Quietly still. Redolent, a little, of Natalie Bergman's great records. Nadine Khouri is a giantess of graceful understated beauty for sure. This record, damn! Gets better with every play. Got me thinking, well, at least we can still have nice things.
The Sea Drift
"It’s a soul/Tony Joe White inspired groove.,” Willy Vlautin says. Vlautin is an artistic polymath for sure, for his award winning stories of itinerant lovable losers - check Motel Life - and for his disbanded band, Richmond Fontaine. Now working with singer Amy Boone as The Delines. Their The Sea Drift LP is the Edward Hopper painting of your dreams. Nighthawks on the Gulf Coast. It’s as if Amy is whispering so soothingly and insidiously, “come to me, give your life over to entropy…” “Oh alright then, if you ask like that, I’ve done it before. Never ends well, but…” Do you have a conversation with your records? With the characters on your records? Don’t do it. A gorgeous horny country palette awash in a blood loss pallor. Hearts are for laying on the line, after all. Willy and Amy know that.
Ghost In The Machine
(Devil in the Woods Records)
The year began with Unfuckable Marion’s single -really, right there, A Star Was Born. She has that Julian Cope catastroph-osy element allied to her very stripped songs. It’s unencumbered. Sweetly unhinged. When the Ghost In The Machine arrived there was nothing to dispel that feeling. Therein lies a minor threat. When your group therapy drives you down a dreampop rabbit hole with ever more marginal rabbit co-habitues, there’s Marion, skirt maybe hiked up a little more than is comfortable for a man my age. Amazing guitars. I can’t stop looking. The person who invented the big ol’ semi has a lot to answer for.
Running with the Hurricane
(Run For Cover)
This record spent the best part of the year staring at me from the margins of the record rack. I so loved their LP How To Socialise and Make Friends. From the opening bass moments and the lyrics about confused defensive loser boys. I want my Australian feminists to sound punky and puckish. I want them to do the same thing over and over again. Running with the Hurricane does nothing I want or expect. Singer Georgia Mac takes singing lessons, the Buffalo acoustics and harmonies ache more than you’d expect. “If this is the bottom, I’ll show you around…” What is here is Punk Rock ready Fleetwood Mac for your FM radio transmitter. It’s a good thing. Lyrically, they’re still pointing fingers in all the right directions, and that can hurt at any tempo and timbre. In the end, everything they do just makes them better than before. Amazing.
El Michels Affair meets Liam Bailey
I write a lot, all the thyme. Recipes. Inedible indelible food for thoughts. And mainly while writing I play a lot of instrumental music. It washes over, it paces everything. The El Michels instrumental LP, Ekundayo Inversions, with its moments of soulful reggae, broke up beats, dub, tracks stopping where they might start. And staying stopped for too long. Genius paints these pictures. I way overpaid for mine, I bought it immediately upon seeing the tiger on the sleeve. Momma. With some jealously, I am sharing with you an opportunity to get your own UK version at half the price I paid. Do it. It’s right here, within reach .The El Michels, they are the instrumental everything everything.
Am thinking this dude Daniel might be the coolest man on earth right now, right? What do you think? Even his slow motion videos… He manages to look good in slow motion. Daniel Villareal even grooves in slow motion. And if you don’t like his records he can still teach you a thing or two about dressing up. I look forward to releases from International Anthem, like Big Crown Records, an imprimatur for great, great sounds this season. Anyone else agree with that? I feel so alone here sometimes.
(Planet Paulie Records)
OMG! I see a few lists here where people profess an affinity for rock records so either I am mistaken and Orange County, CA’s The Steens aren’t the authentic maniacal bastard offspring of the Stooges or they are? Rock fans tell me! Did that just sound like they were jumping on the piano? I am thinking it might be the only way to play it. Life One is a 7 song, 16 minute LP, probably because we just couldn’t take anymore.
5 To the Eye with Stars
Just 23 mins. But 23 of your better minutes this year. You can listen while you’re drying up after bedwetting or whatever it is you do at night when you’re scared because when nothing else can be “epic poetry that keeps the cosmos orbiting.” R.A.P. Ferreira can bring it. What’s exciting are the loops, feeling at times busted less jazzy than perhaps some of those more conscious content providers. I won’t kid you. If you wanna go there It is easy listening for sure. Intuit. R.A.P. Ferreira writes.