20 great albums of 2022 – noize, glitch, experimentalism and pop

Every year, warofnature.com selects 20 or so unmissable new records. Albums that in some way stand out from the increasingly packed crowd.

This year, there is more on the list that is dystopian, fractured, angry and generally dysfunctional. More that has a social ‘purpose’, and confronts the world’s issues (racism, social fractures, nature disconnection and connection, technological overload).

And naturally, as we often turn to music as a means of escape, there are several records on this list which offer a vehicle to get away from the ‘issues’, and escape in fantasy worlds, the joys of pure sound, or to revel in the small stuff.

There’s more noise (noize) than usual. Experimental sounds. Ridiculous bass. And a solid wedge of pop to help us keep it together.

Here’s a playlist of songs from these records and many others this year. Hope you enjoy it.

warofnature’s Top 20 albums of 2022

The Chats - Get Fucked

20. The Chats – Get Fucked

Feeling groggy in the morning? Put this on! Opener ‘6L GTR’ hits you straight between the eyes: ‘Got my head out the window, got the breeze in my hair, rippin’ past the roadworks, they can’t help but stare.’ A big blast of bonkers, careering through 13 tracks in under half an hour.

‘Struck by Lightning’ is one of the tunes of the year, build on a simple equation of silly lyrics + high speed + do wop = fun. Matched by 3 blokes, each with 3 haircuts on their heads, who on their third album have honed their abilities to obsess about life’s day to day bullshit, put it to great music, and laugh about it at the same time.

‘Don’t need a big flash fancy car, just need a 6 litre GTR’. Indeed.

Eric Chenaux - Say Laura

19. Eric Chenaux – Say Laura

New to me this year, and really very lovely, ‘Say Laura’ is apparently Canadian multi-instrumentalist Chenaux’s 7th long player. Mostly sung in falsetto, and accompanied by guitars, keys, wahs and electronics, it brings to mind Chris Cohen. Similar in the jazz-sensibilities, key changes and glissandos/pitch shifting. Different in the lack of more straight forward song-structures and rhythm section.

There’s precious little percussion here in fact – relying instead on the pluck and strum, buzz and mute to create the patterns and movements necessary for motion. Stuff to sit back with headphones and a smile, and watch the sounds bounce around the space inside your head.

Guided by voices - Tremblers and Goggles by Rank

18. Guided By Voices – Tremblers And Goggles By Rank

To be honest it’s hard to filter out GBV – this is their third this year (albeit one a 7″s collection), 14th since their second reincarnation in 2016, and singer Robert Pollard also has multiple parallel projects running. They sped past The Fall in the ‘hard to keep up’ game years ago. Inevitably, like The Fall (don’t kill me) there is some patchiness, including in this album, but with songs as strong as ‘Lizard on the Red Brick Wall’ and ‘Roosevelt’s Marching Band’, this is pretty-much peerless indie-rock.

Azu Tiwaline - Alandazu EP

17. Azu Tiwaline – Alandazu EP

This Tunisia and Côte d’Ivoire based producer made our best of list last year with ‘Draw me a Silence’. This EP explores similar territory – maybe it’s because I miss my trips to Morocco so much that I’ve reached so often for this crackly, spacious, percussive dub this year. ‘Blue Dub’ beats like a frantic heart, ‘Light Transmission’ brings Nicolas Jaar to mind. ‘Nine Points’ has a techno drive, no doubt influenced by Al Wooton (ex-Deadboy), who collaborates on this EP. And ‘Last Scene’ is a dark, ambient soundscape that might have belonged on a Sabres of Paradise B-side. High praise.

16. Huerco S – Plonk

An album of ten tracks each called ‘Plonk‘, and numbered consecutively from I-X. ‘Plonk I’ recalls the treated piano sounds of Aphex Twin, but with a Chinese zither’s rhythm and pluck, and a flow that is both abstract and structured. Maybe that makes no sense at all. Maybe it’s just too hard to describe. But’s it IS a mesmerising foreground (not background) work. I could do a whole album of Plonk I – but there’s a lot more to this record than that. It builds, flows and evolves as a complete record, an album as they should be, a (ahem) ‘journey’.

There are other ‘Plonks’, more defined and easier to grasp. Plonk III introduces a drum machine that remains for much of the remainder of the album (though never risking predictability). By Plonk VIII my old brain is thinking Plastikman, although there’s never quite enough structure for that. Plonk IX even features a stream of consciousness flow from Washington rapper SIR E.U, sparring smoothly with the drum kicks and synth washes.

If there’s an opposite to The Chats, this is it.

TV Priest

15. TV Priest – My Other People

For those that missed new work from Protomartyr this year, there were other finds to tide you over. TV Priest’s second album on Sub Pop was one. I was lucky enough to see them do an acoustic set at Resident Records, showing they have many more dimensions up the sleeves of their army surplus (get a sense of this on ‘Breakers’). Arty, dark post-punk with a Joe Casey-esque baritone vocal, and a tight togetherness bred of growing up playing music together.

‘Bury Me In My Shoes’ is the standout track, a preacher mongering doom across a slice of angular fuzz. “Life only comes in flashes of greatness. Life only comes in flashes of past greatness”. There are flashes of greatness in this record.

Bill Orcutt

14. Bill Orcutt – Music For Four Guitars

Guitar nerds would appreciate Bill Orcutt’s description of this record as ‘bridge pickup’ music. 14 short pieces of rhythmic counter-melody from said number of guitar parts. Orcutt has the experience to make this a sticky and rewarding listen.

The looping complexity is balanced with doses of harmony and synchrony, lighter moments as counterpoint to the hard treble of the guitar sound, and the pieces are kept brief enough to avoid fatigue and encourage repeated listens.

This ain’t improv – the album even comes with a download of the full score – and whilst I have no doubt it’s operating at levels of musical intellect and theory I can’t hope to understand, it has beauty and emotion enough for the curious.

13. Show Me The Body – Trouble The Water

Another entry from New York in this year’s playlist’s New York:Brighton face off. Another that echoes Protomartyr’s post-punk doom-stomp…and another hardcore entry. You can hear DC influence in here of course, particularly Fugazi, but there’s way more variety that yer average hardcore record.

There’s New York punk (‘Radiator’ and ‘Using It’ have a Reagan Youth bounce), as well as sludgy metal (‘Trouble The Water’ is a headbanger, and the gear shift at the end of ‘Food From Plate’ conjures classic Metallica). There’s rap that sounds and feels deeply authentic (‘WW4’), and Death Grips-like, effects-driven bangers (‘Boils Up’).

Although there’s unusual stuff going on musically – vocalist and founder member Julian Cashwann-Pratt wields a banjo that is weaponised with distortion – it’s testament to their longevity, workrate and skill that ‘Trouble The Water’ is so cohesive, direct and uncluttered. Isn’t that what hardcore is, at its essence? As they say on ‘Out of Place’, “Show me what is real and what is fake, What comes from mother and what is made?”.

The lyrics are almost uniformly dark, visceral reactions to the horrors of modern America. Police violence, anti-immigration, urban gentrification all feature. And there’s a strong flavour of wanting to do something about it. “In these days of hate, it’s like a knife fight for the truth. I got my hands, that’s what I’ll use” (‘War Not Beef’).

New York is a ‘hustling city’ as they say in a Distorted Sound article and this is the sound of hardcore hustlers.

12. 100 gecs – Snake Eyes EP

It’s not cheating to include an EP in a best album list. It’s not. ‘Hey Big Man’ is my favourite – think early Beastie Boys meets Death Grips with a sense of humour (“I smoked two bricks and now I can’t pronounce anemone”). The Skrillex-tweaked ‘Torture Me’ is great glitchy pop. ‘Hyperpop’, as they say. The sweet, wonky vocoder of ‘Runaway’ finishes things off like a weird-ass version of an 80s bratpack movie soundtrack.

Not cheating.

Marlow III

11. Marlow, L’Orange, Solemn Brigham – Marlowe Three

Get a big bucket of ice water on a hot North Carolina summer’s day. Put two ice lollies in your mouth, and pour that big bucket of water over your head. Refreshing, like this record.

Just the opening 1’25” (‘Marlow Three’) is stuffed with invention and sets the tone for the record in its variety. Then into ‘Past Life’ and the pass and run between Solemn Brigham and…himself…is something to behold (behear?). Honeyed flows from Brigham across L’Orange’s intriguing production that blends swing, psychedelia alongside the organ-heavy jazz, soul and funk.

This is upbeat, bouncing stuff, with big hooks and real skill and dexterity in the delivery of vocal and production (nerds – check out where the hi-hat sits in ‘President The Rock’). Tales of injustice, hard knocks, and the rough route up. Interlaced with what sounds like extracts from The Big Sleep. And with positivity – as Brigham says on ‘The Jeweler’, ‘No matter how much you had you can make it back’.

Oh, and there’s a skit from Romesh Ranganathan.

10. Alex G – God Save the Animals

There’s a light hand on the tiller on this ninth album from Alex G. The productions are lovely, simple, spacious things, often introducing the various elements (piano, drums, strings, guitar, vocals) individually before bringing them together. The result is an honouring and shining of the component parts, as well as a cohesive and melodic whole.

See how the guiro sits forwards on ‘S.D.O.S’, the zither in the background, and how the piano and tweaked vocals arrive later to stir up the drama (“God is my designer, Jesus is my lawyer”). Enjoy the many hooks in ‘Runner’ – something Kevin Morby and Ezra Furman could have dreamt up together – and its lovely hanging pauses. The reverb that drenches and almost drowns collaborator Molly Germer on ‘Headroom Piano’.

The songs are full of autobiographical snippets, and a faith-based theme…one senses less about formal religion, more about a need to believe in something. One of the many stand-outs is ‘Blessing’, which adds a Loveless-era tremolo fuzz to a spooky whispered vocal, Pixies-style lead guitar, and marching keyboard coda: “Every day (Every day) Is a blessing (Is a blessing) As I walk (As I walk) Through the mud (Through the mud).”

billy woods

9. Billy Woods – Aethiopes

There are two Billy Woods albums this year, and I confess not to have listened to the other one yet (‘Church’ on Backwoodz Studioz). Bet it’s good though. On ‘Aethiopes’, Woods teams up with fellow NY-er Preservation, who has worked with such luminaries as Yasiin Bey. El-P features, as well as E U C L I D, who Woods teamed up with to create ‘Haram’ in 2021 under the name Armand Hammer (album cover warning for vegans & veggies).

The E U C L I D track, ‘NYNEX” is the closest thing to a banger this record offers. Elsewhere we’re talking about more of a strong jazz flavour – the El-P track (‘Heavy Water’) a constant flowing stream driven by a ride cymbal and flute. ‘Aethiopes’ is beautifully produced. Preservation brings gamelan, news reports, field noises as well as wide range of frankly unrecognisable but cool-sounding shit. There’s crackling vinyl and bursts of dub on ‘Versailles’, and more Jamaican flavour on ‘Protoevangelium’ thanks to NY Dancehall veteran Shinehead.

And in and around the guests, Woods holds centre with a warm and steady tone, slow and steady tempo, classy flow and top drawer lyrics “Cold fryer full of old grease, You don’t work, you don’t eat, The wind didn’t blow for a week. Birds fly east searchin’ for green. Open beaks in the nest, money machines. Flutterin’, flags, covetous hags. It’s not really movin’ if it’s not movin’ fast” (‘Doldrums).

8. Porridge Radio – Waterslide, Diving Board, ladder to the sky

To this listener, WDBLTTS seems to sum up the restless negativity and nihilism of being young in today’s anxious, post-Covid world (England in particular). Or what I imagine that to be – and experience through my own daughters. It’s indie-pop I suppose, but with deep emotion and musicality, and a female vocal that at times trembles with feeling – and at others tips over into rage.

Porridge radio are from Brighton – a knowing and sometimes self-conscious place where individuality and personal expression are not so much expected as encouraged. The band rise to the occasion behind the vocal, building layers of repetition that lead to lift-off on stand-out tracks like ‘Birthday Party’ and ‘The Rip’.

Brighton is also a place where’s it’s OK to not be OK – to have hope, to be inclusive, to be positive. But in the end the swelling energy of the music loses the fight to an angry and existentially bleak world view. It will be fascinating to see what the fight looks like in future.

7. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

Here’s a counterpoint to yeule, then. Acoustic, crafted, hand-involved music that belongs up a tree-clad mountainside in a log cabin, wearing plaid and a Carhaart cap. Moustaches for the men, wonky bangs for the girls. Never been anywhere near an urban dystopia, this lot, unless you count Portland, Or.

Anyway you know Big Thief by now. It’s a Top 10, 20 or 50 record in most places shis year, so it’s not just me saying listen to it. Do they ever put a foot wrong? Maybe a toe at most on this their 5th album, but then it’s got 20 tracks and is bigger, wider and taller than anything they’ve done so far. ‘Certainty’ is one of their best ever and a top single for me this year. ‘Simulation Swarm’ shows what an inventive, original and interesting guitar player Lenker has blossomed into.

Blossom-laden, tree-clad mountainsides indeed.

Gospel the loser

6. Gospel – The Loser

Fans of At The Drive-In, or And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead will love this. ‘The Loser’ is a bit late-90s/early 00s, but with every time signature change, snare roll and tortured scream you can forgive them a little more. And then you’ll be in love.

Gospel released their first record in 2005, then broke up only to re-emerge with this. So it makes sense there’s echoes of the past here. But it isn’t out of place in 2022. It’s got the aggression and drive of the aforementioned alt-rockers, but with a ton of prog and math-style instrumentalism, as well as a big scoop of post-punk Protomartyr that hits you with the old doom/uplift one-two. ‘S.R.O.’ does all these things on a single song, so perhaps start there on your love affair.

yeule

5. yeule – Glitch Princess

“I am 22 years old. I like music, ballet, crushing up rocks and snorting them…’” Cyber dimension hyperpop that makes living as Porridge Radio seem like a happy holiday somewhere sunny. I mean, ‘Glitch Princess’ includes songs that are literally about death, but with a degree of splintering, dissociation and separation in the vocal and accompaniment you could miss it. Yeule is, after all, princess of glitch.

And anyway, surely the dissociation is just a survival tactic – allowing perspective and examination of feelings and emotions without risk of personal injury. On ‘Fragments’ there is hope – “I will hold you until I stop the pain hurting you” Is that yeule speaking to themselves, or another?

Nevertheless there is so much beauty and delicacy here, in tracks like ‘Electric’, or ‘Don’t be so hard on your own beauty’ – which reminds me of the bones of an old My Bloody Valentine tune before Kevin layered on the fuzz. Wondrous, shimmering electronic soundscapes as well as noise, and so much s p a c e.

4. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B

This is a debut. Far too self-assured and sophisticated to be one, but it is. I mean, there’s even a track called ‘Greatest hits’, and if that ain’t a sign of self-confidence I don’t know what is.

And it’s an album with the self-confidence to wear the masks of others, play a range of roles, and yet provide a joined up performance. Jockstrap gather from a range of apparent influences as diverse as Moroder, Van Dyke Parks, Geoff Barrow and Soulwax. Each track is a different act…maybe their Guildhall training helps..and yet this doesn’t sound as academic or contrived as you might think.

‘I love you…’ can fill dancefloors with Bollywood bangers like ‘Debra’ (something M.I.A. would be proud of), or ’50/50′, which sounds like Soulwax chopped up by Scratch Perverts (I don’t recommend Googling ‘Jockstrap 50/50’ by the way). ‘Neon’ is a glorious Dummy-era Portishead throwback. ‘Greatest hits’ is Donna Summer, noughties-style. ‘Glasgow’ is a perfect break-up song that swells with a glorious, 18-piece orchestra, and has a set up singalong chorus “I touch myself every time I see what’s missing from my life”. Maybe this album has been missing from yours?

3. Hagop Tchaparian – Bolts

Pity poor Kieran Hebden, signing this guy to his Text label for his first solo album, and being so thoroughly outclassed. Compare to Four Test’s new single ‘Mango Feedback’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, like Four Tet a lot, but this is something else. Just listen to the way the drums on the opener ‘Timelapse’ sway and stray from the beat with a jazz like feel. Feel is the operative word throughout this record. Whether it’s percussive dance tracks like ‘GL’ which conjour Dead Can Dance on 2 pills and a snort of ket, or the dark, droning, mysterious dub of ‘Raining’, this is pure class from start to finish.

Tchaparian is British-Armenian, and collected sounds from round the world for this album – including the qanun, a type of Assyrian zither, fireworks from a Lebanese football match, and a New Zealand rain forest. It’s a personal history, a cultural commentary, and a rich, enjoyable and rewarding record. And it feels great.

Soul Glo - Diaspora problems

2. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

Maybe it’s because I’ve recently bought a new bass that I’m such a sucker for this record. Soul Glo hit HARD on every single track, with a fuzzy bass clank that runs up your spine. Maybe it’s the sheer ‘fuck you’ energy. Or my discomfort at being one of the white liberals this Philly punk band distrust so much. Or that I fear for the guy’s larynx, and for my ears. Whatever. It’s an enjoyable bounce, grin, flail kind of record that makes me wish I was 20 years younger in a basement mosh pit.

It’s longer, but way more listenable and together, than a hardcore album would ever normally be. Horns flesh things out. Guest vocals appear from Bearcat, Kathryn Edwards and others. ‘(Five Years And) My Family’ has a riff Turnstile would kill for. ‘Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass)’ takes a Wedding Present guitar wrist flick and spins it into roaring call and response. The electronic/rap/sub bass dirt of ‘Driponomics’ stands as one of the tracks of the year. Period.

ditz

1. Ditz – The Great Regression

Hand on heart, I didn’t know this band was from my hometown of Brighton before I picked it for the No. 1 spot. That makes 2 Brighton bands in a short end of year list – must be something in the water.

Anyway, The Great Regression is just ridiculously good, from its title on down. Too experimental to be just ‘hardcore’, this is still thrilling music that is even tougher, more taut, and uncompromising than influences like At The Drive In, or Black Flag. The first time I heard the blast of white noise on opening track ‘Clocks’ I was grinning – I want one of those pedals! Imagine the mayhem you could create!

Formed in 2016, this is Ditz’ debut album. All those years have honed a brutal and original sound. Interviewed for a North East music outlet, Ditz talk about how fun it is to shout ‘really loud’, and that they do. They also talk about being and feeling alienated from the mainstream, about contradictions and identity. “Passive extrovert, red inside and out, Dick sprung inertia creeps like ivy, Surprising me at first before it wilts and sets in” (‘Instinct’). Or “I cut a striking figure. And it cuts me back.” (‘I am Kate Moss’).

But there’s optimism and hope (“I will get by, by the skin of my teeth” on ‘Teeth’), and humour and irony (“I’ll make you smile, a fantastic smile, And I’ll smile one too.”). In a piece for ‘Loud and Quiet‘ they talk about their diverse interests – the experimental as well as the classic rock – and that creative tension makes sense, as well as the time element.

Go Brighton. Go hardcore. Go Ditz.

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