My Favourite Albums of 2022

I’m sitting down to type up this list, and there’s a prompt appearing in the WordPress text box, which I delete in order to write this sentence. It says: “Have you ever performed on stage, or given a speech?” The answer to that question, is yes, on both counts, but that’s not why we’re here today. If the prompt had read, “have you listened to a lot of music this year?,” then I would have been able to give a far more resounding ‘yes,’ and then offered up the following list as proof. It’s been a good year for music, but I haven’t dedicated a lot of time to writing about it, and also am not able to dedicate a lot of time to writing about it now, buried under end-of-semester exam marking and with some well-earned holidays on the calendar and approaching fast. Anyway, you’ll have to believe that I have given the choices here some serious thought, even if I’m not able to write about them. Basically, I think they’re all great. Bandcamp links included as always, deep dives encouraged (as always).

To the small audience of readers who still return to this blog on occasion, cheers. As always, I hope there’s something new in the list below, or, at the very least, a bunch of selections you agree with.

Peace,

Craig

****

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Theory of Whatever – Jamie T
  • The Great American Novel – Proper. [Bandcamp]
  • Phantasmagorialand – Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hand [Bandcamp]
  • Love of Plastic – Shinichi Atobe
  • Little Green House – Anxious [Bandcamp]
  • Hold the Girl – Rina Sawayama
  • Flood – Stella Donnelly [Bandcamp]
  • Coming Home – The Dangerous Summer [Bandcamp]
  • Bothered / Unbothered – JER [Bandcamp]

****

100-1

100. Love Me Forever – Pinkshift [Bandcamp]

99. SICK! – Earl Sweatshirt

98. In My Car – Rat Tally [Bandcamp]

97. Arlen Gun Club – Arlen Gun Club [Bandcamp]

96. Swimming Feeling – Options [Bandcamp]

95. Jodeki – Tricot

94. Sweet Tooth – Mom Jeans [Bandcamp]

93. Quitters – Christian Lee Hutson [Bandcamp]

92. Dance Fever – Florence + the Machine

91. The Shark in Your Water – Flower Face [Bandcamp]

90. MUNA – MUNA [Bandcamp]

89. Páthos – Conjurer [Bandcamp]

88. Boom. Done. – Anthony Green [Bandcamp]

87. Every Moment of Every Day – Short Fictions [Bandcamp]

86. Get Fucked – The Chats [Bandcamp]

85. it sure is sad to hope for the best while expecting the worst – atameo [Bandcamp]

84. Natural Brown Prom Queen – Sudan Archives [Bandcamp]

83. Fossora – Bjork

82. A Eulogy for Those Still Here – Counterparts [Bandcamp]

81. Pain Remains – Lorna Shore

80. False Light – White Ward [Bandcamp]

79. Unison Life – Brutus [Bandcamp]

78. ( Mutilator. ) – Gatherers [Bandcamp]

77. Anorak! – ANORAK!

76. Here Comes the Devil – Smidley [Bandcamp]

75. Laurel Hell – Mitski [Bandcamp]

74. Don’t Go Throwing Roses in My Grave – Gregor Barnett [Bandcamp]

73. Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong – Kevin Devine [Bandcamp]

72. Nothing’s Ever Fine – Oceanator [Bandcamp]

71. SHUNKA RYOUGEN – Haru Nemuri [Bandcamp]

70. Where the Heart Is – Sweet Pill [Bandcamp]

69. Big Time – Angel Olsen [Bandcamp]

68. Ugly Season – Perfume Genius [Bandcamp]

67. Household Name – Momma [Bandcamp]

66. I’m Scared That’s All There Is – Ben Quad [Bandcamp]

65. Cave World – Viagra Boys

64. Island – Asunojokei [Bandcamp]

63. Between the Botanicals – Tiny Blue Ghost [Bandcamp]

62. The Forever Story – JID

61. A Legacy of Rentals ­– Craig Finn [Bandcamp]

60. Angels & Queens: Part One – Gabriels

59. This is the Last Time – togaru [Bandcamp]

58. And I Have Been.. – Benjamin Clementine

57. SOS – SZA

56. Don’t Know What You’re in Until You’re Out – Gladie [Bandcamp]

55. Past Lives – L.S. Dunes [Bandcamp]

54. Hallelujah Hell Yeah – String Machine [Bandcamp]

53. Sore Thumb – Oso Oso [Bandcamp]

52. Prince Daddy & The Hyena – Prince Daddy & The Hyena [Bandcamp]

51. Heal My Head – Valleyheart [Bandcamp]

50. 40 Oz. to Fresno – Joyce Manor [Bandcamp]

49. Sometimes, Forever – Soccer Mommy [Bandcamp]

48. The Long Way, The Slow Way – Camp Trash [Bandcamp]

47. Hiss – Wormrot [Bandcamp]

46. DRILL MUSIC IN ZION – Lupe Fiasco

45. They Fear Us – Ithaca [Bandcamp]

44. Sunrise on Slaughter Beach – Clutch

43. Gris Klein – Birds in Row [Bandcamp]

42. The Loneliest Time – Carly Rae Jepsen

41. Their / They’re / Three – Their / They’re / Three [Bandcamp]

40. Animal Drowning – Knifeplay [Bandcamp]

39. MOSS – Maya Hawke [Bandcamp]

38. Asphalt Meadows – Death Cab for Cutie [Bandcamp]

37. Wet Leg – Wet Leg [Bandcamp]

36. Never Before Seen, Never Again Found – Arm’s Length [Bandcamp]

35. Expert in a Dying Field – The Beths [Bandcamp]

34. And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow – Weyes Blood

33. Fawn – Foxtails [Bandcamp]

32. New Preoccupations – Caracara [Bandcamp]

31. The Parts I Dread – Pictoria Vark [Bandcamp]

30. It’s Almost Dry – Pusha T

29. The Loser – Gospel [Bandcamp]

28. Farm to Table – Bartees Strange [Bandcamp]

27. Pool Kids – Pool Kids [Bandcamp]

26. Celebrity Therapist – The Callous Daoboys [Bandcamp]

25. Dimensional Bleed – Holy Fawn [Bandcamp]

24. Self Help – Future Teens [Bandcamp]

23. The Hum Goes on Forever – The Wonder Years [Bandcamp]

22. Being Funny in a Foreign Language – The 1975

21. Then the Lightness Leaves and I Become Heavy Again – Mt. Oriander [Bandcamp]

20. Please Have a Seat – NNAMDÏ [Bandcamp]

19. WHILE OF UNSOUND MIND – nouns [Bandcamp]

18. Drift – Pianos Become the Teeth [Bandcamp]

17. Hellfire – black midi [Bandcamp]

16. God’s Country – Chat Pile [Bandcamp]

15. Otherness – Alexisonfire [Bandcamp]

14. Radiant Bloom ­– Astronoid [Bandcamp]

13. Melt My Eyez See Your Future – Denzel Curry

12. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar

11. Hygiene – Drug Church [Bandcamp]

10. Ants from Up There – Black Country, New Road [Bandcamp]

9. Where Myth Becomes Memory – Rolo Tomassi [Bandcamp]

8. His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering – Backxwash [Bandcamp]

7. Diaspora Problems – Soul Glo [Bandcamp]

6. Please Don’t Take Me Back – Martha [Bandcamp]

5. Blue Rev – Alvvays [Bandcamp]

4. Running with the Hurricane – Camp Cope [Bandcamp]

3. Ritma – Piri Reis [Bandcamp]

2. ILYSM – Wild Pink [Bandcamp]

1. angel in realtime. – Gang of Youths [Bandcamp]

            I have a very clear memory of the first time I listened to angel in realtime., and it takes place on what, to me, felt like the first fully-realised day of 2022. It was February 28th, and I know this because I tweeted about it, just freed from a fortnight of online teaching and company-enforced isolation procedures which seemed to delay the beginning of the new lunar calendar year. January had been a nothing kind of month, and the celebrations that normally accompany a Chinese February had felt muted and lackluster as areas of the country were plunged into snap lockdowns and periods of uncertainty. In order to escape this malaise, and with the temperature having climbed above ten degrees for what seemed like the first time in months, I set off for a walk around the West Lake, with the only intention being that I lap it while taking in the latest record from Australia’s Gang of Youths.

            Since that day, it has seemed inevitable that I would be sitting down at the end of the year to write about why angel in realtime. is my favourite record of 2022. Knowing that though, I’m still somehow a little lost for words. This is the band’s third LP, and I’ll admit that their first two just sort of passed me by without making much of an impact. They joined the list of indie acts I listened to on occasion but not religiously, but, with this LP, that changed. It has accompanied many subsequent walks around the lake, and, each time, pushes the shadow of winter a little further back in my memory. The ten months between that first listen and now have benefitted immensely from the heavy rotation that angel in realtime. has demanded, and when I think back to the moments have defined this year for me, in some sense Gang of Youths have never been too far beyond their periphery. That’s down to the earworm, stadium hooks found throughout the LP, but what I also found in the band’s latest effort was something I don’t often find in records of a similar sonic vein. Let me explain.

            I realise, the older I get, that what I really want from music, what I crave more than anything, is narrative. That didn’t used to be the case. In my teens, I wanted aggression, and any meaning I could pull from music was secondary to the chaos that channeled it. In my early twenties, I wanted emotion, not caring if it stemmed from genre cliches or surface-level observations. In my late-twenties, at present, I want a story. This is where angel in realtime. truly comes into its own – in the narrative. For those unfamiliar with the LP, the thirteen tracks centre around frontman David Le’aupepe’s late father, Tattersall, his life and death informing every second of the content found here. Following his passing, Le’aupepe set out to learn more about his father, peeling back the years, and found more than he could have expected; the record is shaped by these relevations. What he discovered was that his father was a man he had only half-known, and angel in realtime. chronicles these findings in such a way that listening to the album is also to piece together this picture. “The journey [Tattersall] made from Samoa to NZ to Australia was a difficult and inspiring one, but also fraught with mistakes, regret and terrible choices,” Le’aupepe said in the build-up to the LPs release, these choices involving the concealment of another family, on the other side of the world. We learn that Le’aupepe’s father led his Samoan relatives to believe he’d died fourty years prior, and that Le’aupepe’ only learned his true age after he passed on. His father was a whole decade older than he thought him to be, that he had been ‘pretending he was half white / to give his kids a better chance’ (as Le’aupepe sings on “Brothers”). When Le’aupepe learns of these things, we, as a listener, are there alongside him, stunned by the birth certificate, or meeting the siblings he never knew he had for the first time at a music festival in 2019. angel in realtime., with Tattersall portrayed on the album art, embraces the flaws of being human, and is graceful in the handling and delivery of such intimate subject matter. Le’aupepe, throughout this record, is moving closer not only to his father, but to the true image of himself, recalibrating his relationships and place within the world, funnily enough, in realtime. In the timeframe of the album, he has recently gotten married and moved to London, and the rowdier cuts in the earlier stages of the tracklist bounce with a newfound energy and love for life. This is not a bleak, grief-laden listen, but is in fact the total opposite. At times, it is absolutely exultant.

            In terms of the personal lyrical content, Le’aupepe says in another interview that “there’s always a hesitance for me to say anything about what and who I am. I’m a custodian of a story that’s bigger than me, that exceeds my purview. But I can’t do anything else – I don’t want to really do anything else – I want to tell stories and have access to this vulnerable spot, this kind of thing that’s so close to me but can also be universalised.” For me, observing from the outside but invited in, there were elements of angel in realtime. that did feel universal and accessible, the hospital-room waiting of opener “you in everything,” to the funeral spectatorship of “in the wake of your leave” – the helplessness that comes in losing a loved one and being unable to change or contribute meaningfully to what follows. I recognise some of my own father in the way Le’aupepe writes of his own, a complicated man who may often hold back from sharing the depths of his feelings, and so when Le’aupepe adopts his father’s perspective on “tend the garden” and “the kingdom is within you,” I am forced to consider my own father in a way that I’ve lacked the curiosity to in the past. That we never truly know somebody, and nor can we ever hope to, even after they have gone, is a struggle that permeates angel in realtime., but is a struggle that does bring understanding, even if it is only the understanding of this truth. Gang of Youth’s third LP, though it would be understandable if it was, is not coming from a place of judgement, or anger. It is an album of reverence and celebration, of the human condition, of identity, of the laying bare of the soul in pursuit of both craft and closure.

            Listening to angel in realtime. I often wonder if the lyrical content here alone would be enough to sustain the album’s 67-minute run-time. I’m often left realising that it probably would be. Though the narrative here does take centre-stage, the instrumentals and production are also indications of the band’s larger-than-life approach to songwriting. The record flirts with a variety of styles, and uses each to elevate the lyrical side of the record. Take “spirit boy,” which brings in element of Britpop reminiscent of The Verve, or the dulcet hymnal backdrop of “hand of god.” There’s the influence of UK garage and drum-n-bass on “the kingdom is within you,” which buoys a memorable chorus, and then there are numerous moments at which the band utilise strings and orchestral notes to both punctuate and punch, such as on the full-blooded and tongue-in-cheek “returner.” There’s the charismatic vocal performance of Le’aupepe also, who, after affirming that the heart is a muscle previously, showcases that the voice is an instrument. His presence is huge on angel in realtime. in both the fuller moments (straining during “the man himself”) and quieter moments (lamenting on “hand of god”). He dances amidst the tracks here with bravado and aplomb, and the instrumentals move about him and with him in a way that is frequently spellbinding. There are the more typical singles on the LP, namely second track “in the wake of your leave,” and “the angel of 8th ave.,” the latter of which finds Le’aupepe recounting meeting his wife over a driving drum beat, and ends with resounding affirmations of love, the refrain of ‘There’s heaven in you now,’ gaining intensity and meaning as they progress.

            During moments like those above, and notably in the second-half of “unison,” angel in realtime. becomes notably poetic, as it digs into the finer details of living, losing, and moving on. It is when the instrumentation fades slightly, and when the lights narrow to a spotlight upon Le’aupepe that another curtain is pulled back. I find it in the closing moments of “unison,” on which he sings ‘when I’ve made by bed and I’ve paid my dues / at least you’ll know that I loved you.” I find it in the closest remark of “returner,” on which he muses, ‘anyway I’ll tell the guys you said hello,” and I find it most on the final track. Taken with the preceding track, “hand of god,” and combining the two, “goal of the century” is the point at which every piece of narrative thread on angel in realtime. is woven together. The result, an 11-minute epic, upon finishing, constantly leaves me floored, requiring a couple of minutes afterwards to recollect myself, shaken and awed. Le’aupepe, across these two tracks, analyses his own flaws, ‘the inexorable asshole in a Cuban heel,’ only to find that ‘the sum of a life contains / every bad vibe, every undivided groove,’ before the instrumentation vanishes, aside from intermittent strings and gospel stirrings. As a listener, you burst suddenly from the centre of a church, and stumble into a quiet suburban bedroom. The prior 65-minutes of music coalesce and then disperse, as if contained in a water balloon which has been dropped and burst upon the hardwood floor of his London home. Here, you (or I, for this always feels like a private moment) find Le’aupepe typing up notes in his phone of the things he wishes to tell his father. His wife is asleep beside him, and there is a storm outside inaudible. For all of its energy, intensity, and passionate vibrancy, angel in realtime. hits me the hardest here. I feel something inside myself crack, and suddenly I am hollowed out and emptied. This interior shift puts everything into perspective, and I am transported again, but this time, in the process, I recontextualise the relationship with my own family. It has been four years and three months since I last saw my parents and brother in-person, and sometimes when I write poems, or stories, I imagine that part of me is speaking to them, knowing that they are asleep on the other side of the world. angel in realtime. is a record that places our loved ones within reach, regardless of where or how they are.

            For all of its intimacy though, this is a wide-reaching record. It is grand in ambition and it is grand in scope. That it manages to capture such a personal narrative while delivering such a wide spectrum of sounds and styles so confidently is a miracle in itself. I’ve written all of the above without really mentioning my favourite track from the project, “forbearance,” or the piano ballad which is “brothers,” both of which add a great deal to this narrative. There is a lot that I have not said about angel in realtime., but I hope that what I have written here gives an idea of how highly I regard this record, one which has managed to somehow dwarf each of the others on this list. I’d like to end by saying that, perhaps one of its biggest merits, is that angel in realtime. is a rare record also in that it demands to be listened to in one sitting, and flies by despite its length. I find that, increasingly, I struggle to listen to a record from start to finish, always pulled away by thoughts of other songs, or by something I read on Twitter, or by life throwing something my way that diverts my attention and causes for a pause. I’ve gone through records once or twice but only returned to select songs afterwards this year, or have become obsessed with singles without clicking with full projects. In 2022, angel in realtime. has been the only real exception. If I listen to one track, then I want to start again from the beginning. If I were interrupted midway through the tracklist, I’d feel cheated that I hadn’t been able to make it to the end of “goal of the century” and experience that moment of transcendence. angel in realtime., in this sense, is cinematic, and a rare piece of art – one which, from the opening line, has the power and craftsmanship needed to keep a listener fully present. For the thirteen tracks that run, I inhabit each, and I end the experience feeling better off – electrified, alive, and profoundly glad to be so. Long may I continue to be so, with albums like this one accompanying sunny lakeside strolls on the first day of spring.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s