Wednesday, December 21, 2022

5 (Not Quite) Albums of the Year 2022

This is more like my list of albums I think would have been the back half of my top-ten for 2022 if I'd had time to listen to more, or if I'd been more fair to artists not named Jack White/Coheed & Cambria, or, if The Weeknd's Dawn FM had come out deeper into the year than week two that I will probably come to love, eventually. In the case of one of these entries, I have in the first two weeks of December listened to and enjoy conclusively enough to put on the ReAl LiSt, whatever that means, but out of fairness cannot call an album that came out in April (hint!) that I only started listening to on the last pages of the 2022 calendar an aLbUm Of ThE yEaR, whatever that means.

I did listen to a cartoonishly large amount of music this year, it just wasn't a very wide variety of artists (read: just one guy), I also read a fair bit (didja notice I'm sort of reviewing books on this blog? check out some recent poetry and a collection of non-fiction I wrote about). Cut me some slack: I moved, have a kid, started a new job, and so on and so on. It is hard to get into new stuff, and its hard to stay current with old stuff. Some of the records I wrote about last week I didn't remember even getting this year until I sat down to write about them. Hoping for a more normal 2023 to stay more "hip" and have a routine listening ritual, namely, a 4 day a week commute without blessed endless hours of live Jack White to listen to.

So, I present to you something like the 5 - 10 albums of the year, probably, if I would just sit down and enjoy them more than I already have:

The Loneliest Time - Carly Rae Jepsen

I am famously a Carly Rae Jepsen fan. In fact, the worst I ever got grilled by a college student was in early 2020 when I name dropped Jepsen and the class was like, "isn't 'Call Me Maybe' 10,000 years old?" and I told them yeah but Carly is still active in fact she just put out a CD last year and they couldn't decide which was more embarrassing: that I was actively listening to a meme artist like 10 years after the meme song came out or that I bought CDs so, like any good student does, they picked both options and I didn't hear the end of it.

Speaking of being torn between two options, Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift both released subdued, introspective, mellower pop records on the exact same day this year. Speaking of memes, I made this about it:

My kneejerk reaction was that The Loneliest Time was better than Midnights, so I listened to Taylor first to give it the fairest chance, but the opposite happened. When I got to Jepsen, it was boring. To my (or Carly's or everybody's?) credit, I listened to both of these albums before 6:00 a.m. the day they came out because the dogs decided to be assholes that day and I was maybe not primed for the best most fair listening experience. By the time I was headed to school for the day, I was reaching to replay Midnights.

Hindsight is a funny thing, though, because in the month and a half since those albums dropped I've found The Loneliest Time to be way more interesting. It isn't album of the year material like Dedication was back in 2019, but the more somber tracks offer nice hidden secrets, and the bops are as sunny as ever from Canada's best pop singer.

The Long Way, The Slow Way - Camp Trash

Earlier this year, I bought a copy of Weezer's Make Believe at a used CD store for like 1/100th of what I paid for it when it came out in 2005. I bring this up to say I have been thinking about two things: (1) sympathy for the best-worst Weezer album (in terms of consensus, I think Make Believe is great and not just because it came out when I was 14 years old) and (2) riffs and albums with riffs whip ass and I should listen to more of them.

Enter The Long Way, The Slow Way which is the perfect 2022 version of Make Believe (that's a compliment, and I bet indie rock's best tweeter would take it as such). In the short 12 songs of Camp Trash's debut there are pop punk songs, arena rockers, and emo tunes. There are so, so many riffs. The Long Way is a serious album by a band that doesn't take themselves too seriously, and that joy - even when songs take on heftier subject matter - is contagious. I'm pissed I didn't get around to this when it came out over the summer because it almost doesn't make sense listening to Camp Trash while walking the dogs in semi-frozen mud in the park. If I hadn't listened to ten billion hours of Jack White bootlegs this summer, I bet this album would have cracked my "official" year end list. 

Look at this shit. How can you not love it?

Lost Souls - L.S. Dunes

Two years ago at almost this exact moment I contradicted a long-held belief that I thought was true: the wide universe of hardcore/screamo/post-hardcore/emo was actually really, really good. In 2020, Touché Amore's Lament was my favorite album of the year and in the years since have gotten deeper into their catalogue, and other bands you might find on a tour filer alongside them. I'm still a tentative fan, but what I do like from those genres, I don't just like, if ya catch my meaning (and in fact Touché Amore put out some reissues this year that were in heavy rotation).

However, my real entre into that universe of bands was actually April 2010, catching Circa Survive opening for Coheed & Cambria on their Year of the Black Rainbow tour. The show being out of town and me being 19, I was still very much in the camp of "be there three hours before doors and be at the mercy of the supporting acts so I can rail-ride during "Welcome Home"." The last time I'd seen Coheed, fucking Kylessa was the opener, and my expectations were low. Then Circa came out and played this songHoly shit.

Fast forward a few years to San Francisco, where my roommate, Calvin, put me on to other Anthony Green projects (including his excellent solo album Avalon which I instantly liked, it being more singer-songwritery than hardcore) including The Sound of Animals Fighting (back from the dead and touring next year!!). I can't say I was a huge fan, but there was something about that dude's voice that just worked for me.

Fast forward ten years and before Coheed & Cambria guitarist Travis Stever could catch his breath after touring one of my top albums of this year, L.S. Dunes was announced. A post-hardcore super group including Stever, a guy from My Chemical Romance (who I went all-in on in 2021) and this Anthony Green character. The Coheed co-sign was all I needed to check this record out.

And its awesome. It sounds like the component sum of the super group's parts (that I'm familiar with). Stever gets to shred, the MXC dude gets to shred (but less metal-y) and Green does what Green does, and at this point, I would probably listen to him sing the phonebook. Though, it is probably more exciting to listen to him sing songs:

I'm looking forward to spending more time with this album next year.

Boat Songs - MJ Lenderman

This album probably could be on my year end list, it is quite simply, the shit. Lenderman's unassuming collection of songs are funny; he's a storyteller in the same vein as Craig Finn of The Hold Steady or Bruce Springsteen, both apt comparisons for the bar band dudes-rock ethos of Boat Songs. What does Lenderman have going for him? His voice is incredible, it sounds like Dr. Pepper tastes. He can play the guitar like a whiz, but knows how to tone it back (though he can, and does, shred - stop reading and go listen to "Tastes Just Like it Costs" right now) weaving genre all the way around country, to Americana, to garage rock, to arena-ready big bangers, and back again. Shit, there's even a lo-fi bedroom recording (possibly the closest thing on the CD to a dud - the what I'm sure will grow on me late-album slow jam "Dan Marino").

Choogle entered the music writing discourse earlier this year, and while I can't define it for you, I can tell you MJ Lenderman choogles. In "You Have Bought Yourself a Boat," there's an impossibly good drum fill that will make you set down your Miller High Life bottle to pantomime every time. "Toon Town" drops some effervescent lovesickness: "did you find my Disney World? / did it make you dizzy, girl? / When it fell apart / did it break your heart?" You're too busy reeling over the Disney World/dizzy girl rhyme to get knocked over by the lyrics. "Still trying to be funny," he later sings, yeah dude, we know.

I'm inclined to underwrite this one: Boat Songs is so good, especially when so many others have written better pieces about it than I could. I'm pissed at myself for waiting nearly 8 months to check out this album. Though, I couldn't help but notice that the CD is exactly as long as my commute to work and a half, which means for a few weeks here I was shotgunning three Boat Songs a day. And it did not get old even once.

Cruel Country/Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Super Duper Mega Deluxe Dad Rock Essentials Edition* - Wilco

There's a famous line in Rob Mitchum's scathing Pitchfork review of Wilco's Sky Blue Sky from 2007. He calls it "an album that exposes the dad-rock genre the band has always carried but attempted to disguise - the stylistic equivalent of a wardrobe change into sweatpants and a tank top." Rob, if you had really wanted to get their asses, you should have said "an all-grey outfit of sweatpants and a pit-stained t-shirt working way too hard in the chest," but don't let me write a review for an album that came out when I was sixteen that, from my vantage point at the dishwasher, seemed to be enjoyed by the catering chef who was going through a messy divorce. To hear her tell it, Wilco was the truth, man, and "Sky Blue Sky" was the second best thing she'd ever heard outside of her attorney's wild speculations about a cash prize at the end of the hellish tunnel she was wandering towards the light in.

How's that for an overshare? Look, to me, Wilco is a band that always was and always will be, an alpha, and omega, if you will. It is hard to imagine that with their seminal text, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, indie darlings with no promises of the legacy act they would come to be twenty-one years later. 

And in that 21st year after YHT, Wilco releases Cruel Country which is itself a rhyming echo of Sky Blue Sky: a more sparse, "back to basics" (which is a stupid thing to say about a band in its 3rd decade) double-album of no-bullshit country tunes. As advertised, Cruel Country showcases some thinly veiled barbs at these United States, but really, sounds like an immensely dialed in band writing and performing solid songs. I would share my favorite tracks, but its just the first three songs and then "Many Worlds," which I think is the opening track on the second CD. 

Cruel Country is an album that's better because it is too long. Its a good car album and even just for fun, hit shuffle. The 21 tracks do and don't blend into each other and it is clear that the band was more interested in jamming out some songs; you can tell these are live-studio cuts as opposed to the meticulous studio-computer tinkering of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

To that point: one of the (many, many, many) treats in the YHT Super Deluxe Edition** are four alternate mixes of the entire album. Songwriter and frontman - Wilco's Willy Wonka - Jeff Tweedy is a tinkerer in addition to a very good singer and songwriter, and listening to deeeeeeeeep cuts on the Super Deluxe, and then having a palette cleanse on Cruel Country made for a really nice full picture on Tweedy and Wilco as a process band. And to that point, I don't want to dwell on extra-textual material: the demos are cool, the live album is cool, the radio interview discussing 9/11 the literal week after it happened is cool, but the songs on both these albums are very good.

And I'm a dad, so with respect to Mr. Mitchum, thank you for seeing me in what I wear. You gotta cut Wilco some slack, the sweatsuit album they put out this year is just as listenable as the tortured masterpiece. There's room for both in the music fan's wardrobe.

*that might not be the exact name of the edition, don't quote me on it.
** that is what the edition is called, quote me.

No comments:

Post a Comment