A list about lists featuring (you guessed it) more music!
Listening to and collecting music isn’t a competition, which is one reason why we try to avoid using the word “best” when recommending music. An outdated conceit from the gatekeeper era of music criticism, by definition “Best of” lists are exclusionary, and many of the most predictable could be renamed “Best PR campaigns.” Using the word also implies an all-knowing understanding and absorption of everything released in a given year. That’s not humanly possible.
That asterisk out of the way, we love year-end surveys from obsessed-with-music, tasteful listeners, as they’re a remarkable resource for discovery and help to synopsize the recent past.
What follows is an overview of some of the
best most illuminating year-end lists, along with a choice excerpt from each.
Founded by the omnivorous writer-editor Joshua Minsoo Kim, the Tone Glow newsletter has become a crucial resource in the world of esoteric listening, both through Kim’s own writing and through his excellent roster of freelancers. For 2022, the Substack offered tips from 32 Tone Glow writers.
Excerpt by Tone Glow writer Jinhyung Kim:
The album I listened to the most in 2022 is Ha Van’s Tieng Hat Ha Van, a Vietnamese bolero revival record that renders its melancholy pre-Fall of Saigon nostalgia with a subtlety of arrangement and production often absent in even the classics of the genre. I got it at a Vietnamese record store in Houston’s Chinatown on an outing with fellow Tone Glower Adesh Thapliyal, who recommended it to me as a favorite of his. I listened to it for the first time while cooking mapo tofu with fresh goods I’d bought at a tofu shop nearby that record store; over the next week, I listened to it over and over again—more times than I can count, and many more since then.
The long running UK magazine’s overview is among the most highly anticipated of the year. Penned by a masthead of writers including Joe Muggs, Vanessa Ague, Marc Masters, and Simon Reynolds, the overview is bursting with excellent tips.
The Wire on Horselords’ acclaimed album Comradely Objects:
On Comradely Objects, the Baltimore quartet Horse Lords used free improvisation, just intonation and a fascination for utopian architecture as a way to eject their music beyond conventional orbits. These polyrhythmic jams sound playful, but pop with hidden complexity. Bill Meyer said: “Their rhythms gain added impact from a willingness to leave a good thing alone; instead of introducing elements that work against the grooves, as they sometimes did on The Common Task, they drive them home.”
Link: thewire.co.uk (subscription required)
The perennial hip hop bible OkayPlayer regularly produces a crucial overview of contemporary hip hop and R&B, and does so via the critical analyses of writers including Kia Turner, Mackenzie Cummings-Grady, and Thomas Hobbs.
Here’s Hobbs on Roc Marciano & The Alchemist’s The Elephant Man’s Bones:
Whether it’s boasting about the ancient gargoyles sculpted into the roof of his condo or just the joys of getting cosy inside a Hermes blanket, the best Roc Marciano verses are driven by snarky delivery and the veteran MC pushing himself to find eccentric new ways to articulate the idea of living lavish. And in a career packed with important albums that kept artsy, verbose underground hood rap alive and kicking, The Elephant Man’s Bones could just be Roc Marciano’s most accomplished project yet. With precise, crime noir-inspired production by The Alchemist, Roc’s raps are subsequently crisp and cutting, and it feels like you’re listening in on a decorated war general dictating his memoirs over a glass of whiskey.
Former New York Times jazz critic and current NPR scribe Nate Chinen has a pair of golden ears when it comes to jazz and estoterica. His work has turned us on to countless young experts, and the depth of his knowledge is astounding.
Here he is on percussionist Patricia Brennan’s More Touch.
More Touch, the stunningly realized second album by mallet percussionist Patricia Brennan, draws from a wealth of influences, including some from her native Veracruz, to shape a new sort of percussion quartet. Brennan’s expertise on vibraphone and marimba find a perfect counterweight in the churn of two drummers, Mauricio Herrera and Marcus Gilmore.
Passion of the Weiss
No one writes about hip hop like Jeff Weiss, and his Passion of the Weiss blog is dense with brilliantly feral writing on contemporary rap. The ’22 list of best rap songs begins with a disclaimer: As always, the same rules apply: one song per featured artist, “singles” prioritized over deep cuts, American rap only (sorry), West Coast over everything. Your favorite song didn’t make the list because we are spiteful and eccentric creatures. Thanks for reading. We tried.
Here’s Weiss on Kendrick Lamar’s “Rich Spirit.”
At a time where everyone needs everything to be explained, every last ounce of nuance dissected and destroyed, Kendrick refuses to give in. This is as subversive as anything this popular gets, the best song from an album that refuses to bend to the whims of the omnipresent algorithm truncheon clubbing us over the back of our heads. He gave no interviews, barely did any promo. Instead, he summoned the whispers heard in the wind during a spell where he was able to clear away the toxins and pollution, personal commandments revealed from high and low.
Drawing from a range of genres from electronic beat music to metal to free jazz, the Quietus’ annual list, as always, jumps all over the place. In the process, the 100-album overview overs countless portals into possible new obsessions, and will no doubt turn you on to stuff you don’t yet know.
Here’s David McKenna on Emmanuelle Parrenin’s Targala, la maison qui n’en est pas une:
With Targala, la maison qui n’en est pas une, experimental folk artist Emmanuelle Parrenin has completed the ‘house’ trilogy that began with 1977’s Maison Rose. Released in March, it deserves a lot more attention than it has had so far, because it is at the very least the equal of Maison Rose. Were it just to feature the billowing, raga-ish folk of ‘La Rêvelinère’ and ‘Entre Moi’, which are woven from the same flaxen thread as much of the 1977 material, it would already be a wonder. But there are also signs that the techno experiments over the years (which include a collaboration with Etienne Jaumet, who also appears on the album) have left their mark – there’s an increase in bass weight in places, while ‘Delyade’ is run through with a steady synth pulse – and she gives free reign to her psychedelic impulses on ‘Epinette Noire’, with its spiralling sax and backwards-sucked percussion.
No list is as essential in 2022 as Aquarium Drunkard’s Year in Review. A fount of knowledge and curatorial brilliance from a bunch of true heads, the overview is a uniformly fascinating document. Plumb its depths and discover treasure every time.
Here’s AD on Eiko Ishibashi’s For McCoy:
Eiko Ishibashi’s tribute to Jack McCoy, the Law & Order character played by Sam Waterston, might seem like a silly concept, but her music transcends this concern. Tied together by the airy flutes in its opening fanfare, the album descends into ominous electronic tones and sparse instrumentation before Ishibashi’s voice finally appears. For McCoy concludes with a smoky noir-jazz coda as comforting as the words “Executive Producer Dick Wolf.”
Boomkat’s end-of-the-year charts feature their own selections as well as guest top ten picks from artists, DJs, and curators from around the world. There are so many amazing ones to dive into this year… A few highlights include the great Jim O’Rourke, Jonnine Standish from HTRK, Jamaican collective Equiknoxx, NTS’ Time is Away, DJ Sundae (man behind the Sky Girl compilation on Efficient Space), and Huerco S – who put together a killer selection of underground trap, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Check their review of the incredible Voice Actor album on Stroom (which we totally missed on our year-end list):
This one’s a lot but bear with us! Four-and-a-half-hours of sketchbook style cut-and-paste creations that sit at the intersection of Broadcast, Lolina, Fonal, Mark Leckey, Dean Blunt, Félicia Atkinson and Mica Levi. Stroom has properly outdone itself with this one – huge recommendation, with an emphasis on huge. When we got sent this we were a little apprehensive. At 110 tracks and four-and-a-half-hours it’s not for the faint of heart, but a few tracks in and you honestly can’t help but stay for the duration; we’re not gonna lie, we’ve listened all the way through more than once.
World of Echo
One of our favorite labels and shops, London-based World of Echo releases a limited (56 page!) Hindsight booklet each year featuring all their favorite releases. The presentation is beautiful with the black & white design of the booklet and in-depth write-ups that come from a crew of curators who clearly care deeply about the music. Better yet, almost all of the picks are available for sale on their online shop!
Check the introduction here:
2022. The year after the storm, with a few more storms all its own. Still, we’re still standing, four years in now. There was the Thorn Valley compilation and related event at Cafe OTO to help memorialise that achievement, and we bookended that with The Cat’s Miaow retrospective and the O Yuki Conjugate record one side and the Movietone reissue announcement the other, and not forgetting the numerous commissions for our Inner World mix series spread throughout. Does that amount to a lot when written down? I dunno, but it felt like a fair bit of work at the time. No complaints, no regrets.