In another year of outstanding music, we reflect on the albums that startled us at first listen and, in the process, left a lasting imprint. Without further ado, here are our 50 Favorite Albums of 2022. As usual, a playlist is provided below with two songs per album. 

A.A. Williams – As the Moon Rests

In a very short time, A.A. Williams has gone from a BBC favorite to headlining the Royal Albert Hall because her music was meant for the biggest stages. Her debut album, Forever Blue, which was one of 2020’s finest, was just the tipping point because the London-based artist’s sophomore album, As the Moon Rests, takes her brooding, trembling, and Gothic folk-rock to even grander theatrical heights.

Each of the LP’s tracks is disarming in its effect, as a searing guitar is often met by a cascading rhythm section. In the middle of this sonic storm lies Williams’ lavish and calm voice. Whether it is on the eye-opening “Evaporate” or “Golden”, the startling “Murmurs”, the uneasiness of “The Echo”, or the tepid weariness of “Ruin”, Williams eloquently describes multiple scenarios in which we are most vulnerable. On “For Nothing”, her line, “Hope is not a guiding light”, brilliantly captures the mood and tone of this record – one that is brutally honest yet unforgettable.

As The Moon Rests is out on Bella Union. It’s available at these links and Bandcamp.

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A.O. Gerber – Meet Me at the Gloaming

Introspection and retrospection often can be a painful experience. For A.O. Gerber, examining and analyzing her past on Meet Me at the Gloaming is about learning, understanding, and accepting who she has become. The end product is an album that is extremely tender yet honest, rich and rewarding, and one that could change how self-exploration is presented in music.

Gerber, with the assistance of fellow singer-songwriter and producer Madeline Kenny, sways between haunting, dreamy numbers to quiet, Laurel Canyon-like euphoria to share her observations. “Disciple Song”, “Hunger”, and “For” are dazzling in their effect, filled with gasping moments and chest-swelling climaxes. “Walk in the Dark” hints at Gerber moving with a skip to her step while the lovely “Mount Washington Phone Company” is a quiet vindication that Gerber will not just survive but succeed. That’s because she’s learned to live with her ghosts, demons, and herself, even if she will “lose touch with all I’ve answered”, as she emotionally sings on the soaring “Noon of Love”. We doubt, however, this will be Gerber’s fate. On the contrary, she has touched all who has listened to this magnificent record.

Meet Me At The Gloaming is released on Father / Daughter Records. Stream or purchase it here or on Bandcamp.

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Aldous Harding – Warm Chris

Aldous Harding has been an artist that’s captivated us since the beginning. Her music and performances are powerful and provocative, leading to a deep connection between the artist and the listener. Harding is able to take listeners to strange and surreal places with her unique vocal styling and by adding beauty amongst the weird. Harding’s Warm Chris is no exception, and it may be her best work yet.

The record starts with an almost charming sound with a playful keyboard opening “Ennui”. Harding’s voice floats while also cutting deep with its words. It’s followed by the jazzy throwback “Tick Tock”, which features both Harding’s distinctive deep voice clashing with some lush harmonies. Then there’s the whiplash between the classic Harding sound and a more upbeat presentation and lyricism on tracks like “Lawn”. While the LP to this point is almost jarring, it becomes stunning on “She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain”. There’s incredible depth on Warm Chris that it’s impossible to truly do justice with just words. It’s something that needs to be heard.

Warm Chris is available here and directly on Bandcamp. It is out on Flying Nun Records and 4AD.

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Alvvays – Blue Rev

It’s a testament to a band that they can sound re-energized and even better following a five-year break and a lineup change. And Alvvays have endured these two things and more (like a pandemic, having their gear stolen), which have contributed to the Canadian quintet growing and turning their dreamy, gauzy, dream-pop into pure catharsis as evidenced on Blue Rev.

Molly Rankin (vocals, guitar), Alec O’Hanley (guitar), Kerri MacLellan (keys), Abbey Blackwell (bass), and Sheridan Riley (drums) reinvigorate power-pop on their third LP. High-speed guitar-pop blasts through “After the Earthquake”; bustling, gauzy goodness rings on “Pharmacist” and “Easy On Your Own”; and a late-night drive brims on “Tom Verlaine”. The quintet also delve into new territory, namely new wave and synth-pop, on “Velveteen” and “Tile By Tile”. Although some things have changed, one constant remains: Rankin’s creative and witty lyricism. For most of Blue Rev, she examines how people can be destructive to others, whether it is breaking one’s heart (“Lottery Noises”) or trolling others behind an avatar (the clever “Very Online Guy”). Despite these heavy themes, Alvvays do it with flair, fun, and immediacy. 

Blue Rev is out on Polyvinyl Records. Stream or purchase it at these links or on Bandcamp.

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Angel Olsen – Big Time

A lot has changed for Angel Olsen since the Strange Cacti days. Those strange yet inviting songs that defined her early career created a foundation to build a discography that puts her among the best songwriters today. While the sound has shifted and filled out, Olsen hasn’t lost a single quality that makes her such a special artist. Big Time may suggest superstardom, but there’s a humble and relatable thread weaved through the entire record.

Right from the start, listeners know they’re in for an incredible ride with “All the Good Times”. Its early moments are slow and intimate, but a bubbling urgency creates the feeling that the song will launch at any moment. When it finally reaches that point, there’s a big moment of catharsis, and we’re only halfway through the first song, even if Olsen is singing about the end. While that song signifies the end of a relationship, the record’s title track signifies the intense love a relationship can bring, especially when finally being able to embrace her true self. In addition to joy, there’s darkness in the LP. “Through the Fires” is about the time shortly after finally coming out and then losing both of her parents within weeks. On Big Time, Olsen reminds us that the big time is right now and to cherish all the joys in life. 

Big Time was released on Jagjaguwar, and it’s available at these links and directly on Bandcamp.

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Anna Tivel – Outsiders

There are few artists with Anna Tivel‘s ability to create vivid, lifelike imagery with just her words. When it’s paired with her perfectly tuned brand of folk music, each line plays out like a movie or screenplay. The fact she can pack so much into her songs is incredible, and a big reason why she’s one of the most interesting songwriters out there today.

Tivel doesn’t waste any time grabbing listeners’ attention on OutsidersInstantly painting an image of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Tivel creates a connection to humanity’s common sense of wonder. The Portland-based artist has an undeniable, engaging way with words and it’s even more obvious as the record unfurls. “Black Umbrella” is a prime example, as Tivel paints a picture of a botched small town robbery. Many of the songs on Outsiders have such a sparse feeling to them, rarely more than some brushed drums and acoustic guitar, but there are times where things get intense. Just the addition of some bass and electric guitar ascends “Heroes” into something truly massive, and it’s just one great song within an outstanding collection of them.

Outsiders is out on Mama Bird Recording Co. and available on Bandcamp and at these links.

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Babehoven – Light Moving Time

Maya Bon and her friend and collaborator Ryan Albert create some truly incredible music together as Babehoven. Their first two EPs led us to name them an undeniable favorite hidden gem of 2020. Since then, it’s been an eager anticipation to hear what the duo would unleash with their debut full-length, and Light Moving Time did not disappoint.

There’s a power in Maya Bon’s voice, and she knows exactly how to use it. Her vocal slowly surfaces in the opening moments of “Break The Ice”, which then becomes something much bigger than any listener would have ever expected in those early moments. And it never fades, but rather Bon’s voice shifts, capable of dreamy moments like “Stand It”, stunning ones like “Philadelphia”, and haunting textures as heard on “Pockets”. The instrumentation on these tracks is equally fantastic. One track can be full of warm guitar chords and the next feature an intensity that Bon kicks up with her voice. Bon’s songwriting, too, is powerful, such as on “I’m On Your Team”, which is reminder that someone’s there to help. And Light Moving Time is a reminder of the greatness of Babehoven.

Light Moving Time is out on Double Double Whammy. These links and Bandcamp are the places to get it.

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Bartees Strange – Farm to Table

Bartees Strange has come from some fairly humble beginnings. His first EP was a compilation of overs of songs by The National, who hav been a major influence on Strange. The famed Brooklyn giants’ shadows can be felt on Farm to Table, as Strange balances the delicate with the intense.

The record launches with the bombastic rocker, “Heavy Heart”, which quickly transitions into the danceable “Mulholland Dr.”. “Wretched” mixes both styles up nicely with some loud and groovy vibes. “Cosigns” goes into some completely different territory with Strange’s voice drenched in autotune, which eventually is shed for a raucous yell. That loud and powerful ending is followed by the acoustic stunner, “Tours”. It’s incredible how Strange not only keeps listeners guessing, but also does many things proficiently and engagingly. The second half of the record keeps that unpredictability up with some more flooring tracks like “Hold The Line” and “Black Gold”. Farm To Table’s most captivating track may be “Escape This Circus”, which seamlessly blends alt-country, folk, dream-pop and ends with – as you guessed – an incredible roar.

Farm to Table is out on 4AD. It can be purchased here and on Bandcamp

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Beach House – Once Twice Melody

It’s one thing to record an album full of transcendent dream-pop. It’s a completely different endeavor to release a double LP of a genre that has limitations – or so we thought. For Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, every challenge is surmountable for their project, Beach House. The Baltimore-formed duo did reignite the dream-pop wave 16 years ago when their eponymous debut album was released. As other bands have caught up with them over the years, they once again one-up everyone with Once Twice Melody.

Beach House’s eighth album originally was released in four chapters, before being complete unveiled in February 2022. For over 100 minutes, Legrand and Scally take listeners to the far reaches of the universe and to the depths of the uncharted territory that lies below the surface of our great oceans. Regardless of the destination or direction, the pair, at a minimum, dazzle. The album’s centerpiece is “Superstar”, which is an ethereal, interstellar experience like no other. “Pink Funeral” is a trip down the black hole, “New Romance” is radiantly urgent, and “Only You Know” is fleeting ecstasy akin to New Order’s most intimate songs. The entire album is littered with such luminous adventures, offering the perfect escape in these troubling times.

Once Twice Melody is out on Sub Pop Records. Purchase or stream it here, at the label’s store, and on Bandcamp

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Bellows – Next of Kin

At a quick glance, Next of Kin is a record about loss. From its name to tracks like “Death of Dog”, Oliver Kalb – a.k.a. Bellows – navigates loss, of pets, friends, and places, and he finds strength in what grew out of those connections. This isn’t the first Bellows record about loss with Kalb counting down acquaintances at the end of 2019’s The Rose Gardener. The New York-based singer-songwriter cultivates quality relationships and demands the same from others, and it’s that intense interpersonal connection that makes Bellows’ music resonate with heart.

Kalb digs into the thought of being alone with “No One Wants To Be Without a Person to Love”, which is an upbeat track that features some playful instrumentation from some sampled voice and keyboards. His ability to transport listeners into a moment is perhaps most present on “Biggest Deposit of White Quartz”. On the song, he describes a night at a seemingly innocent interaction at a Lava bar leads to the question about whether something as simple as quartz could cause all of the world’s recent unrest. On “Thumb in the Dam”, Kalb laments a past relationship and captures how intertwined two peoples’ personalities become yet in the end they are two completely different individuals. Next of Kin may be rooted in loss, but it’s also a triumphant record. Not a defiant triumph like “The Tower”, but one that embraces all of the social connections we make and how they make us better human beings.

Next of Kin is out on Topshelf Records. It can be purchased here and on Bandcamp

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Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain, I Believe in You 

It’s virtually possible to wrap up Dragon New Warm Mountain, I Believe in You in just a short year end wrap-up. With 20 songs and clocking in at well over an hour, it’s Big Thief‘s most ambitious record yet. It’s also their masterpiece. For a band that’s among the finest of their generation and one that keeps pushing boundaries, it’s a bold statement to make. However, they’ve truly created something special and timeless. 

On its surface, it feels like Dragon New Warm Mountain, I Believe in You is a return to Adrianne Lenker, Max Oleartchik, Buck Meek, and James Krivchenia’s roots. But as the record progresses, the band’s innovation shines. There are the complex sounds on “Time Escaping”; the upbeat, campfire stomper in “Spud Infinity”, and the finger-pick explosion of “Change”. Lenker’s voice conveys emotion like few others, especially on “Sparrow” and “Little Things”. Things get heavy and dreamy on “Flower of Blood”. At its long runtime, it can be a challenge to keep listeners engaged, but even deep in the record the strangeness of “Wake Me up to Drive”, the intensity of “Simulation Swarm”, and the volume of “Love Love Love” keep things fresh. What makes it all work is that each song has its own flair, style, and authenticity. In a time where so much music feels overproduced, it’s great to hear Big Thief just let things feel natural. 

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is out on 4AD. Purchase/stream the album here or get it directly on Bandcamp.

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The Black Angels – Wilderness of Mirrors

In a career that is approaching two decades, The Black Angels have remained relevant by not solely staying true to their roots, which is creating fuzzed-out, epic psychedelic rock. Stephanie Bailey (drums), Christian Bland (guitar, organ), Alex Maas (vocal, guitar, bass, organ), Jake Garcia (guitar), and Ramiro Verdooren (bass, keys, guitar) also use their albums to convey messages. In the case of Wilderness of Mirrors, they address a single, important issue – the crumbling of the world as we know it. 

Across the LP’s 15 songs, the Austin-based quintet unveil a dystopian world, which is delivered with a John Carpenter-like eeriness and the lyrical poignancy of George Orwell and Edgar Allan Poe. The burner “Empires Falling” speaks about the devastation unleashed by a mad king while “Vermillion Eyes” describes a solitary hero’s attempt to take him down. Meanwhile, “Without a Trace” cleverly addresses greed and capitalism. “So it is possible to feed the starlet and to feed the starving?”, Maas sings with biting disdain. Even on the seductive “Firefly” that concerns a priestess or the groovy “Walk on the Outside”, the group discuss how temptation ultimately is the downfall of all. While the album’s stories are fictitious, The Black Angels have painted scenes that are too real. And this is the hallmark of a band at the top of their game.

Wilderness of Mirrors is available on Partisan Records, and it be purchased or streamed at these linksBandcamp, and the band’s online store.

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Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

2022 should have been a celebratory year for Black Country, New Road, as their sophomore album, Ants From Up There, cemented the English collective’s status as one of music’s most innovative and intelligent bands. Days before the LP’s release, principal songwriter and front-man Isaac Wood announced he was leaving for personal reasons. The news came as a shock to all, but he, Luke Mark (guitar), Tyler Hyde (bass), May Kershaw (keys), Lewis Evans (sax), Georgia Ellery (violin), and Charlie Wayne (drums) left behind an album that could be remembered as an all-time indie classic.

Ants From Up There is an astonishingly rich and emotional ride of soaring orchestral and baroque pop. It also is filled with contrasts. For instance, a light, almost festive mood gives way to pain and vulnerability, as heard on “Chaos Space Marine” and “Concorde”, and delicate intimacy turns into a gripping drama of lost, such as “Bread” and the spectacular “Snow Globes”. This interplay between the band’s theatrical and unconventional sound and Wood’s stories that come from a gentle yet deeply-wounded soul is what makes Ants one of the year’s very best. There isn’t another album quite like this nor are Black Country, New Road a band like the others, even with Wood having moved on. 

Ants From Up There is out on Ninja Tune. It can be obtained or streamed at these links, at the label‘s store, or on Bandcamp.

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Dahlia Sleeps – Overflow

For seven years, Dahlia Sleeps teased their potential to be one of England’s most dynamic indietronica bands. A culmination of a lineup changes, familial issues, and self-discovery delayed the release of their debut album. The wait, however, was worth it, as Overflow revealed Lucy Hill and Luke Hester’s ethereal purity, which is heard in their immersive trip-hop and contemplative stories. 

While the LP is cinematic at its heights and intimate at its quietest points, one trait exists in every track – sincerity. This is achieved by the duo’s attention to detail in the soundscapes they craft and in Hill’s touching stories. The dreamy uneasiness of opener “Divided” provides the canvass for a Cain and Abel-like tale of mistrust between siblings. Gorgeous, hymnal dream-pop on “Wars” offers the setting for Hill’s plea for compassion. The pensive “White Flag”, meanwhile, is an ode to Hill’s father, whose battles with depression have weakened him. The heart of Overflow exists in the soaring “Close Your Eyes”. Melancholic at first, the track rises to euphoric heights. Hill’s lyrics, too, are moving, as she delivers a moving message of patience and empowerment. A message which she and Hester have abide by for seven years.

Overflow is available on Bandcamp.

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Dan Bejar is an artist unlike any other. His work as Destroyer has spanned decades, genres, and much more. With each twist and turn that Bejar takes, he notches yet another reason why he should be considered a modern-day folk legend. The Canadian singer-songwriter makes an emphatic claim for musical immortality with LABRYNTHITIS

Destroyer’s ability to transport listeners into these vivid and often surreal settings is incredible. He takes inspiration from religious imagery on “Tintoretto, It’s for You” and gives it a big twist – a phone call for the painter of The Last Supper. It’s continued on “Eat the Wine, Drink the Bread”. But instead of it being a Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen-esque epic, it’s this immensely danceable, dark disco track. Bejar effortlessly throws such differing styles together in a way that is completely coherent. “June” into “All My Pretty Dresses” is such a fascinating transition – two songs that are both so similar yet so different when paired with each other and, thus, telling a strange disconnected story. The latter has so many layers, from a vocoder to some ’70s easy listening flute, and some dreamy new wave guitar work. It’s this unrestrained creativity and Bejar’s willingness to mash up the unmashable that makes him such a legend.

LABYRINTHITIS is out on Merge Records. Get it here or on Bandcamp.

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Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork

One great album gets a band noticed. Two outstanding LPs make them legends even if the group was a Hidden Gem less than three years ago. Dry Cleaning‘s rise as one of the best art-punk / post-punk bands is built around a dynamic rhythm section (drummer Nicholas Hugh Andrew Buxton and bassist Lewis Maynard) and superb guitarist (Thomas Paul Dowse) that are among the very best in the business. Then there is the lyrical genius of Florence Shaw, who is unquestionably one of the best songwriters today. When four extremely gifted individuals come together, they create records that are remembered for years to come. Their debut album, New Long Leg, is considered an instant classic, and Stumpwork possesses the same charm, wit, and brilliance. 

While New Long Leg examined life’s mundanity, Stumpwork is much more personal but not in the usual sense. With Buxton, Maynard, and Dowse doing what they do best – which is creating everything from post-punk hip-shakers (“Kwenchy Kups”, “Conservative Hell”) to hallucinating jams (“Hot Penny Day”, “Stumpwork”) – Shaw does what she does best, which is tell amusing and sometimes bizarre stories. There’s a song dedicated to her family’s pet turtle (the wildly fun “Gary Ashby”), a conversation with a friend (the catchy “Anna Calls from the Arctic”), comparing a relationship to a cat on the prowl (“Don’t Press Me”), and dealing with grief by trying to ignore it (on the hazy jam, “No Decent Shoes for Rain”). Sure, the songs are different and even odd at times, but then again Dry Cleaning did not get popular by playing it safe. They did it by making the off-kilter and unexpected accessible.  

Stumpwork is out on 4AD. Pick it up or steam at these links and on Bandcamp.

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Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century

Love or dislike him, there is no refuting that Josh Tillman is a creative genius. As Father John Misty, he has dabbled in indie rock to folk, art-rock to Americana, and executed them with perfection. The genre, though, is merely the foundation on which he shares his sensational tales, which are like extravagant screenplays or fitting for a collection of short stories. With such talent, it’s unsurprising that Tillman has released some of the best albums of the 21st Century. 2017’s Pure Comedy and 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear are all-time classics, and Chloë and the Next 20th Century belongs right alongside them. 

Tillman stretches himself on his fifth album, channeling the music of Hollywood’s golden age, mostly notably the jazz-pop of the ’30s and ’40s. Like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he crafts numerous vignettes that recount the luck and misfortune of others, and he does it with widescreen appeal. Each song is a story about a different Chloë – call it the multiverse of Chloë. One is tragically introduced on the album’s opener, another falls in love with a comedian (“Funny Girl”), while one is killed en route to a soirée (“We Could Be Strangers”). Then there’s the person who loses her cat, although “Goodbye Mr. Blue” may be more about Tillman than Chloë. Whether he’s singing about the women he’s created in his mind or about actual people, Tillman does it with the flamboyance of a great entertainer. 

Chloë and The Next 20th Century is available via Bella Union and Sub Pop. Purchase and streaming links are available here and on Bandcamp.

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Florist – Florist

Florist is more than just the project of Emily Sprague. In 2019, Sprague released Emily Alone under the moniker, and, as its name suggests, it was a completely Sprague project. It was a stirring record, but it did miss the contributions of Felix Walworth (drums), Rick Spataro (bass), and Jonnie Baker (guitar). With her newest record, Sprague has her full band in tow. To embrace the people who make Florist possible, she simply named it Florist.

The album’s intro sets the scene as crickets chirp with just a faint hint of delicate if somewhat warped music underneath. The record itself is dotted with sounds of nature, filling the void between sounds and intertwining in fantastic ways, such as the short interlude, “Duet for Guitar and Rain”. Tracks like “Spring in Hours” show the full power of Florist, and how the layers from Sprague’s band mates add depth and warmth to the songs. Florist‘s 19 tracks are so easy to get lost in, like the ambient and hypnotic moments on the tail end of “43” or the spacey interludes and absolutely dreamy moments on “Sci-Fi Silence”. Despite its length, Florist is one to re-live again and again.

Florist is out on Double Double Whammy, and it’s available at the label’s store and on Bandcamp.

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Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia

Fontaines D.C. are a generational band. They are the rare outfit that can astound musically and lyrically and, thus, always leave people on the edge of their seats. The quintet, however, have no one to blame but themselves after releasing two of the 21st Century’s greatest albums in Dongrel and A Hero’s Death. Make that three with Skinty Fia.

Meaning “the damnation of the deer” in Irish, Grian Chatten, Conor Deegan III, Carlos O’Connell, Conor Curley, and Tom Coll channel this powerful image into every song. Part of the album is a critique of the world, which is done with disdain and starkness. Moody opener, “In ár gCroíthe go deo”, is a subtle protest against a critical English institution. The Brit-pop touched “Jackie Down The Line” brilliantly addresses rampant toxic masculinity. Meanwhile, the Gothic “I Love You” is a biting essay about the ruthlessness of capitalism and religion’s rigidity. Fontaines D.C. apply this same venomous approach when looking introspectively, like on the brooding “Big Shot” and the terrifically sinister “Skinty Fia”, which addresses the experiences that made us who we are. While there is a touch of hope (“Roman Holiday”), a record this startling can only end in one way – uneasy. “I did you a favor / I bled myself dry”, Chatten hollers on “Nabokov”. When this great album ends, it is us, the listener, who is completely left exhausted and dry by this generational band. 

Skinty Fia is out on Partisan Records. Purchase and streaming links are available here and directly on Bandcamp.

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Frankie Cosmos – Inner World Peace

The growth of Frankie Cosmos has been a joy to experience. Initially the project of Greta Kline, who recorded songs that resembled jingles, she has assembled a stable band that includes Alex Bailey (bass, guitar), Lauren Martin (keys, vocals), and Luke Pyenson (drummer). With a full ensemble, Kline’s music comes to life in big ways.

With each record, Frankie Cosmos add much to their repertoire, and Inner World Peace continues that trend in unpredictable ways. Songs like “Aftershook” tread on psych-rock territory. There are still tracks that are distinctively Frankie, such as “Sky Magnet” and “Empty Head”. Even by just the name “Prolonging Babyhood”, it’s obvious Kline’s trademark wit is on full display. “F.O.O.F”, which stands for “Freak Out On Friday”, is about surviving the week by any means necessary and embracing the freedom the weekend provides. “One Year Stand” stands out on Inner World Peace with its intimacy, stunning melody, and Kline’s most impactful lyricism. These dynamics – playful, gorgeous, sad, humorous, relatable – make  Inner World Peace more than just a great album. It’s an almanac about humanity.

Inner World Peace is available at these links and on Bandcamp via Sub Pop.

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Gemma Laurence – Lavender

Gemma Laurence can capture pretty much anything with her words. In May, she appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and participated in the Battle of the Instant Songwriters, on which she performed a song about cake that she wrote in an hour. It was funny and a bit silly, but it was a great example of Laurence’s impeccable way with words. 

On Lavender, Laurence addresses more serious topics but in her usual captivating way. The record’s title track tells a story close to Laurence’s heart, of a transgender friend embracing their true self. Then there’s the spellbinding “Watchdog”, which concerns the anxious and guarded early moments of a budding relationship. “Morningside Heights” is Laurence’s songwriting at its best, setting the tone for the entire record to follow. Although Lavender is a folk record at heart with banjo and pedal steel heard throughout, there are huge moments, like on “Canyon Moon”, that transcend classification. But at its heart, Lavender is a showcase of a songwriter with all the potential in the world, and a wordsmith well beyond what her discography would suggest.

Lavender is out on Better Company Records. Get it on Bandcamp and these links.

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Grace Cummings – Storm Queen

Should there be another True Detective series, Grace Cummings should be the one performing the music. With her deep, smokey vocal and penetrating, alt-folk melancholy, she was born to sit in the shadows while strumming her guitar and bellowing lyrics that will make one’s skin crawl. She could play new material made for the show or she could just perform the songs from Storm Queen.

Opener “Heaven” is a mesmerizing folk-rocker that channels the late ’60s. Cummings’ lyrics, too, are reminiscent of that era of great social change. “There is no God / There is no queen”, she emotively sings. A Bob Dylan quality emerges from “Up in Flames”, on which Cummings describes how not even divine intervention could prevent certain events. On the title track, she channels P.J. Harvey to deliver chilling, stark cinematic brilliance. While there are moments of tenderness and vulnerability (e.g., “Here Is the Rose” and the folky “Raglan”), the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter’s sophomore album is at its best when she is shrouded in darkness. When all that we can feel is that smokey voice whose words make the hairs on the back of our neck stand. 

Storm Queen is out on ATO Records. It can be purchased at these links and directly on Bandcamp.

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Guerilla Toss – Famously Alive

Over the course of their decade together, Guerilla Toss have kept things exciting and unpredictable. Effortlessly blending styles ranging from punk, to funk, to new wave, and incorporating jammy elements, they have become underground legends. While Kassie Carlson, Peter Negroponte, and Arian Shafiee are older and more mature, they maintain their boundary-pushing and mind-altering ways on Famously Alive.

The group’s fifth LP is more appropriate for a post-modern museum than mainstream radio, and this is where its brilliance resides. It is quirky and bizarre, it is fun and bombastic, and it is a whirlwind of sound and even color. Understanding the LP’s inspiration explains why the New York City-based group hold nothing back: it is a celebration of second chances.

For Carlson, specifically, the LP was written after she struggled with opiate addiction, which eventually landed her in the hospital and persuaded her to get clean. So when she repeats, “You’re special” on “Live Exponential”, energetically tells herself to “stay famous in your mind” on “Famously Alive”, or explains why she no longer has any concerns on the whirling “I Got Spirit”, we understand from where she’s coming. We better understand what Carlson is referring to when she says she was broken on “Cannibal Capital” or how she turned anguish into a war cry on “Happy Me”. Famously Alive might be strange and unique, but it is full of heart, soul, and emotion.

Famously Alive is released on Sub Pop Records and available on Bandcamp.

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Haru Nemuri is the very definition of an artist. Based in Tokyo, she creatively blends different styles, from J-rock to rap and all with a true punk rock heart. Her ability to merge these sounds in anthemic ways made her 2018 record, harutosyura, an underground hit. Nemuri’s follow-up, LOVETHEISM, only added more acclaim to her name even with its EP status. In 2022, Nemuri released a record far from a mini-album, the hour-long, 21-track SHUNKA RYOUGEN, and it delivered in full.

It’s hard to keep listeners’ attention for long these days, so a record the length of SHUNKA RYOUGEN has to be engaging from the start. Its haunting, layered-vocal and organ opener “sanctum sanctorum” is immediately gripping. “Deconstruction” follows, and it is Nemuri at her best, as she raps in Japanese over some vocal and percussion loops. After Nemuri asks, “where is my mind?” in English, the song erupts into a huge chorus. “Never Let You Go” is a barn-burning rocker, and it is one of the album’s most powerful with its message to be unapologetically ourselves. The record’s loud moments are balanced by her spoken word poetry and slower numbers like “Yume Wo Miteiru” and the autotuned “Sister with Sisters”. Then there’s  the titular “Shunka Ryougen”, which goes from some lush strings to Nemuri just screaming over them. After an hour, everything Nemuri does still feels fresh, making SHUNKA RYOUGEN one of the year’s best rides.

SHUNKA RYOUGEN is out on Specific Recordings. Get it on Bandcamp.

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Hurray for the Riff Raff – Life on Earth 

Alynda Lee Segarra is much more than just a songwriter. They’re one of this generation’s finest storytellers and activists. With such a unique and fascinating background, they’re able to create things like the “Navita” character that was at the center of The Navigator. That background also provided their foundation for Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s music, channeling their love for folk music, Latin music, and jazz. 

Where The Navigator was an encapsulation of city life, Life on Earth is more of a warning about a world literally on fire. Segarra describes the record as “nature punk”, and the bleak lyrics of the opening track “WOLVES” indicates that the danger is already at the door. Though it’s easy to think it’s all a hopeless cause, there’s still a warmth and a light that pulses through tracks like “POINTED AT THE SUN”. Then there’s “RODODENDRON”, in which Segarra sings about our connection with nature, and that even a simple act of preservation also can be an act of rebellion. Segarra adds even more to their sound with the rap on “PRECIOUS CARGO”, complete with some vocal modulation. The song tells the story of an immigrant with a baby’s journey to the border. Capturing these sensitive moments with compassion and humanity are what make Segarra not just an incredible storyteller but one of music’s most powerful and important.

Life on Earth is out on Nonesuch Records, and it is available here and on Bandcamp.

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iamamiwhoami – Be Here Soon

Jonna Lee released her first new record in eight years as iamamiwhoami when she released Be Here Soon in June. She’s an artist who’s left an indelible mark on anyone who’s heard her music, from her poetry to the striking compositions that make up her records. Eight years is a long time a way; it’s also a lot of time to think, cultivate, and create. Sometimes a break lends itself to new perspective, and in the case of Be Here Soon, a record for the ages.

Be Here Soon is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Blending spellbinding folk with immense cinematic instrumentation, Lee demands emotion out of her listeners. Tracks like “I Tenacious” strike right at the soul. Then there’s the intensity of “Flying or Falling”, which features some finger-picked guitar intertwined with deep synth. Then there are the ethereal tracks like “Walking on Air” and “A Thousand Years”, which carry much weight with where they’re positioned in the record. “Call My Name” is one of the record’s standout tracks with its absolutely flooring moments, especially when the harmonies kick in. A poetic beauty is present all throughout Be Here Soon, and it’s something that needs to be heard to be understood.

Pick up Be Here Soon at iamamiwhoami’s website and Bandcamp.

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Julia Jacklin – PRE PLEASURE

Since her breakthrough in 2019 with Crushing, Julia Jacklin has evolved into one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the past decade, and new artists have attempted to recapture her insightful, honest, and vulnerable lyricism. There is, however, only one Jacklin, who once turned a pool party into a tale about watching her father battle with addiction. Only few individuals could paint such contrasts and dichotomies and deliver them convincingly, and Jacklin does this once more on PRE PLEASURE

Jacklin is in full introspection mode on her third album. On the rollicking guitar-pop number, “I Was Neon”, she ponders if she can be more than she is without sacrificing her true self. “Am I gonna lose myself again? I quite like the person that I am,” she repeats. The dashing “Love, Try Not To Let Go” is Jacklin proclaiming that she wants to be loved, yet she questions if she’s ready. When the Australian is, she sings about death on “Too in Love to Die”. On the Angel Olsen-like rocker, “Be Careful with Yourself”, she tackles heartbreak by wishing her ex the best. On “Lydia Wears a Cross”, Jacklin’s talent truly shines, as she somberly describes a young girl trying to understand faith and how it can lead to isolation. As the melody opens, the gravity of the situation intensifies, and Jacklin pulls us into this beautiful but uneasy world. In the process, she has once again shown us something we did not anticipate. 

PRE PLEASURE is available at these links and on Bandcamp via Polyvinyl Record Co. 

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Julie Odell – Autumn Eve

Despite being heavily active in the New Orleans music scene for nearly a decade, Julie Odell‘s ascent to indie stardom has finally come. However, to get to this point, Odell had to reinvent herself and become more audacious. She had to step away from her comfort zones and challenge herself. This laborious effort resulted in Autumn Eve

Odell’s debut album is bold and rewarding, intertwining folk and Americana with rapturous art-rock. What’s most noticeable, however, is the urgency that explodes in every song, as a The Dodos-like cathartic rhythm section drives each track. Opener “St. Fin Barre” lures listeners in with a gentle refrain before it erupts into a cacophony of seismic sounds. Odell’s new world further expands on the surfy and groovy “Envelope”, the break-neck rocker “Cardinal Feather”, the tender throwback “Space”, and the sweeping oceanic sounds of the title track. While the LP is the celebration of Odell’s perseverance, self-doubt lingers in her words. She openly wonders if she could make it as a mother and an artist. With Autumn Eve, Odell has answered any questions if she’s worthy because she’s released a record that throws away the rulebook and stands above the crowd. 

Autumn Eve is out on Frenchkiss Records, and it is available at these links

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Kevin Morby – This Is a Photograph

Kevin Morby is undeniably one of the great songwriters on the planet. He is this generation’s Bob Dylan, as his albums poetically chronicle the plight and perseverance of humanity. On his seventh LP, This Is a Photograph, Morby takes listeners on a 500-mile trip that starts in Kansas City and ends in Memphis. Along the way, he reflects on his and his family’s history and the people who made this small stretch of Middle America. This Is a Photograph is Morby’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America, a journey filled with heart, soul, painful realizations, and, in the end, a bit of hope.

Bustling and cathartic Americana-rock burst through the opener, “This Is a Photograph”, offering the ideal canvas for Morby’s story of a young father (Morby’s granddad) preparing to head to war. Morby, himself, is ready to tackle the world, but his arsenal consists of a guitar, piano, pen, paper, and his emotive vocal. During his trek, he finds companionship on the soaring “A Random Act of Kindness”, touches on low points on the rollicking “Rock Bottom”, delves into lost on the Memphis blues-influenced “Disappearing”, and articulates the life of a wanderer on the sincere “Bittersweet, TN”. Morby, himself, is a wanderer. This is why he’s able to honestly capture a side of America most do not see. But then again, Morby is no ordinary individual; he’s a national treasure. 

This Is a Photograph is out on Dead Oceans. Stream or purchase it here or directly on Bandcamp.

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Lucky Lo – Supercarry

Lucky Lo has kept us utterly captivated with each song on SupercarryLo Ersare (vocals, keys, banjo), Asger Nordtorp Pedersen (bass), Mads Nørgaard (guitars), Anja Backmann (backing vocals), and Casper Henning Hansen (drums) take listeners on journeys thanks to Lo’s vivid and immersive lyricism that draw from her own experiences. The result is a record that’s as addicting as it is relatable.

That relatability comes from Ersare’s willingness to be open with listeners. The record starts out with “Sunrise/Sunset”, which is about the loss of a friend and how it’s an important reminder to keep living even in the depth of that sadness. On “Ever”, which Ersare dubs as “an anthem for queer love”, the Copenhagen-based outfit deliver an absolute bouncy blast. Although Supercarry is a pop record at its core, Lucky Lo venture into other styles, and the results are often stunning. “Berry Miller” is a folk rocker that reminds us to “find your people!”  The record ends with a fantastic rocker “Receiving/Giving”, which delivers another powerful message about needing to listen to each other a bit better. And more people need to listen to this great album from a hidden gem.

Supercarry is available on Bandcamp via Tambourhinoceros

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Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys – Teen Tapes (For Performing Your Own Stunts)

Three years ago, Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys initiated an ambitious project that only Peter Jackson would attempt to do, which is to write, record, and release a trilogy within three years. The first two installments – 2020’s Sleeping Tapes For Some Girls and last year’s Transit Tapes (For Women Who Move Furniture Around) – documented a stranger’s move from Cape Town to Berlin. The journey was filled with trepidation and uncertainty, yet there was excitement in the unfamiliar. For the series’ final installment, the South African reveals her heart, and she, with the support of Liú Mottes (guitar), Andreas Miranda (bass), and Martin Perret (drums, percussion), does it in her very unique way.

Teen Tapes (For Performing Your Own Stunts) is an engrossing tale of love, obsession, and letting go. It represents the balance between want and restraint, and how a single thought can paralyze a person. Kruger achieves this through a stark yet mesmerizing approach, as the gloom of her previous dark-folk efforts is given the widescreen treatment. “Warm I” and “Iscariot” are microcosms of the album’s chilling, sparse effect, as the band create the feeling that the walls are slowly closing in around her. With a trembling, dark repulsion, “Risk” concerns choices to be made. A P.J. Harvey-like grunge tone emanates from “Spinning” while “Play” channels Nick Cave and The Black Seeds on “Play”. Whereas “Amsterdam” is spine-tingling, the band deliver their most devouring single in “Autobiography of an Evening”.

The LP, however, has no definitive conclusion. Instead, “Unpack” sees Kruger still unable to shake her obsession and, thus, left in a state of perpetual paralysis. This mesmerizing album has the same effect, and like Kruger will anxiously await for the sequel and an ending this wonderful tale.

Teen Tapes (For Performing Your Own Stunts) is out on German Unique Records and Polish Schubert Music Europe. It’s available everywhere, including Bandcamp.

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Marlon Williams – My Boy

Since bursting on the scene in 2015, Marlon Williams has been trying to recapture a past that existed elsewhere. With his dizzying swoon, the New Zealand-born artist was compared to Orbison and Presley, and he relocated first to Melbourne and then Berlin to fulfill his “destiny”. For three albums, he met and exceeded expectations, particularly with 2020’s Make for Love. But then the unexpected happened – Williams stopped chasing. Instead, he returned home to Lyttleton and reconnected with the music of his childhood home, leading to the release of My Boy.

Williams’ fourth solo LP is as eclectic and diverse as ’80s AM radio in New Zealand. Like the music of that time, Williams sings about falling in love, dealing with loneliness, and reconnecting with people after years apart. Summertime, surf-pop grooves sweep through the opener, “My Boy”, on which Williams adds “Māori folk” as a nod to his homeland. This breezy, liberating quality is repeated on the made-for-beach-idling “Easy Does It” and the delightful “Morning Crystals”. On “River Rival” and “Thinking of Nina”, Williams delivers ’80s pop-pageantry a la OMD and Spandau Ballet, respectively. He also goes to the theater with the beautifully tepid “Trips”. As Williams’ voice croons with the emotion of the greats, he sings about a pirate finished with the sea life. In many ways, the song is about Williams, who has returned home to find his voice again. 

My Boy is available at these links and BandcampDead Oceans is the distributor.

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Mitski – Laurel Hell

The fact that Laurel Hell even exists at all is amazing. In 2019, Mitski announced a hiatus, deleted her social media, and stopped touring. It honestly seemed like it was a wrap for the generational singer-songwriter. Thankfully, that break was temporary, but the things that led her to taking the break left a lasting imprint on Mitski, and they became the driving force behind her return record.

Laurel Hell starts out soft, easing listeners back into the world of Mitski’s music. However those easy early moments give way for one of Mitski’s most poignant statements, “Working for the Knife”, in which she confronts the difficulties of working in the music industry. If there’s one thing Mitski has shown us over the years, is that it’s okay to dance out the anxieties and problems that resonate through her songs. Many songs feel like a warped ’80s throwback, like “The Only Heartbreaker”, which paints the picture of trying to find a way out of a relationship despite the other party having done nothing wrong. It’s followed up by the equally vintage and synthy “Love Me More”. There are some stunners too. “Heat Lightning” is as hypnotic as it is gorgeous. When Mitski ties it all up with the closer “That’s Our Lamp”, it’s undeniable that Laurel Hell is a fantastic comeback.

Laurel Hell is out on Dead Oceans. Pick it up at the label’s store, stream it at these links, or get it on Bandcamp.

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Night Shop – Forever Night

A restless energy streams across Forever Night, the new album from Justin Sullivan’s project, Night Shop, and for good reason. It was only a few years ago when the longtime The Babies drummer and touring musician almost decided to call it a career. After some time away, Sullivan exchanged his drumsticks for the electric guitar, and his long-conceived and patiently-crafted album was born. 

Forever Night is like a great adventure, and excitement is in the air at the very beginning, which is reflected in the ’80s-esque bar-room rocker, “Forever Night”. Sullivan’s words, too, describe a reinvigorated man who wants “to lose myself in the crowd” and recapture the feelings of one’s past. For the remaining nine songs, he describes moving on from the past (the rockabilly “Slow Dancing at the Wax Museum”), being reborn as the prodigal son (the hand clap-inducing “Let Me Let It Go”), and seeking redemption (the contemplative “Let Me Begin). When examining past relationships, Sullivan does not wallow in despair. He just holds on to the memories (the gorgeous “For a While”) and learns from the experience (“Just to Get Home”). There is no point in trying to change the past for Sullivan; his eyes, instead, are firmly fixed on the road ahead. 

Forever Night is out now on Dangerbird Records. Head over to Bandcamp or click these links to purchase / stream it.

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Nilüfer Yanya – Painless

Nilüfer Yanya is an absolute force of nature. Her music is powerful, from its groovier moments to its more personal storytelling. These traits made Miss Universe one of 2020’s great records. Following up on such a strong debut is difficult, but for Yanya it was a challenge she faced head on and delivered sensationally with Painless.

Yanya’s sophomore LP starts with everything that made her such a phenomenon with her debut: the groovy, infectious, and smart “the dealer”. “L/R” may be minimalist, but Yanya’s deliberate vocal bubbles with an understated intensity. The breakneck guitar-led “stabilise” is cathartic while the record’s centerpiece, “midnight sun”, has a dark vibe in its early moments that gives way to the light and warmth of Yanya’s voice. The Londoner doesn’t stay in one spot for very long, especially on the LP’s back half where the striking “company” leads into the unleashed build up of “belong with you”. Part of the magic of Yanya’s music is that she’s undeniably creative – she’s able to go from style to style effortlessly and make it all feel coherent in ways few artists could ever dream of. 

PAINLESS is available here and on Bandcamp via ATO Records.

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Sadurn – Radiator

Few records leave a first impression as powerful as Sadurn‘s debut album, Radiator.  The project of Genevieve DeGroot finds its strength in its Americana roots as well as DeGroot’s impeccable songwriting. It’s something that’s undeniable throughout Radiator, as DeGroot takes small moments and turns them into something much more with the opening track, “Snake”.

What makes Radiator a great album is its simplicity, which allows all of DeGroot’s stories to come to life. On “Golden Arm”, DeGroot’s voice gives way for a low-key guitar solo before joining in with some “oohs” in an absolutely stunning moment. There are times where the LP feels much bigger than the instruments that lay underneath it, like the incredible “Special Power”. The record closes with “icepick”, which exemplifies everything that makes Radiator and Sadurn’s music so captivating. Starting with just some drum machine and a little synth and guitar, it never launches into anything much bigger. DeGroot’s lyricism, meanwhile, paints vivid pictures of a relationship, from its hard moments to the family that comes with their significant other. 

Radiator is out on Run for Cover Records. It’s available on Bandcamp

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Sasami – Squeeze

Since releasing her self-titled debut album in 2019, Sasami Ashworth – or simply SASAMI – has been making loud statements. Specifically, she has let the world know that she is more than just another indie artist making emotive bedroom-pop. SASAMI could also roar, and “Mess” was the stepping stone for the Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer-songwriter to unleash her full identity. The resulting two-year journey led to Squeeze, which is one of the most dynamic and eclectic albums of the Century.

SASAMI’s sophomore album is an artistic triumph that surprises at every turn. It showcases how fury can be dazzlingly intimate and how vulnerability can be explosive. More importantly, it reveals how, when freed from expectations and labels, Ashworth’s multiple sides can shine. There is The Rager, where Ashworth can unleash her frustration through sludge metal to describe one person’s manipulation (“Skin a Rat”). She finds closure from someone who left her via industrial noise-rock (“To Say It”) and critiques the music industry’s desire to mold people into a box with inferno-like intensity (“Sorry Entertainer”). 

There is The Innovator, where Ashworth challenges notions of what is acceptable (“Need It to Work”, “Squeeze (No Home)”, and “Feminine Water Turmoil”). She achieves this by merging the divergent contours heard in the music of Radiohead, Joy Division, Chelsea Wolfe, Zola Jesus, and even J.S. Bach. Then there is The Showstopper – the singer who stands at the center stage and blows everyone away with a lush and dazzling number (“The Greatest” and “Call Me Home”). Despite the elegance, Ashworth’s lyrics are honest and even devastating. After all, she created an album that had one purpose – to make a profound statement and she’s undoubtedly achieved that and more.

Squeeze is out on Domino Records, and it can be ordered or streamed at these links or directly on Bandcamp.

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Secret Shame – Autonomy

Since their formation three years ago, Secret Shame have been on the slow ascent to being acknowledged as one of 21st Century’s great post-punk bands. Whereas some bands prefer brooding or explosive approaches, the Asheville, North Carolina quartet prefer to provoke through doom and gloom, which allow the fury in Matthew Thomas Boman’s bass, Nathan Landolt’s percussion, and Aster Nema’s guitar to explode more loudly. It also allows for Lena Machina’s (vocals, synth) poignant and engulfing lyrics to hit harder. The foursome perfect their craft on their sophomore album, Autonomy.

The record is not one for the faint of heart, but those that invest the time to listen will be greatly rewarded. Autonomy is a grueling, stark, and foreboding compilation that was born from endless hours in isolation. Specifically, it was written and recorded at the height of the pandemic, and each song, as such, is covered by this impenetrable, lingering shadow. “Hide”, “Accelerate”, “Luxury Bitch”, and “Persephone” capture the album’s many layers of dark intensity, which are further magnified in Machina’s introspective lyrics. She questions her purpose on this planet, whether she is worthy of existence, and how others will see her when she finally emerges from her confinement. 

While there is a brief moment of light in “Saccharine Dream” and a gauziness strikes through “Color Drain”, Machina’s unrelenting self-doubt remains. Her continuous examination of the duality that exists within her and whether she can survive by being true to herself comes to a fore on the album’s ultimate track and centerpiece “Zero”. In this one song, the group’s potential to be one of the most important bands of the century comes through. It stuns, roars, pierces, and provokes. And it is evidence that the number that Secret Shame eventually will be associated with is One. 

Autonomy can be purchased on Bandcamp.

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Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong

What more could we say about Sharon Van Etten that we haven’t already? She’s someone we’ve seen grow from playing places like Zebulon and Union Pool and now on much bigger stages all around the world. Her 2019 record, Remind Me Tomorrow, wore its influences on its sleeves. The result was a fantastic and diverse record unlike anything we’ve heard from her before. The result was a huge breakout record that showed the world what so many of us knew for years – Sharon Van Etten is a superstar.

After diving into those different sounds, Van Etten keeps things a bit more grounded We’ve Been Going About This All WrongIt’s easy to consider the record a return to her roots, especially when “Darkness Fades” would fit in right alongside “Tarifa”, but this isn’t the same Van Etten. The dark places that inspired Epic and Tramp are in the mirror, as Van Etten is a mother now and she’s finally able to see the light in the world. Her current situation begs her to question how we all go about our lives. While the record does have a softer tone, tracks like “I’ll Try” and “Headspace” still dig into an ’80s sound yet feel much more natural and refined. In the closing moments, the one-two punch of “Never Gonna Change” and “Porta” reveals that Van Etten has found a balance between past and present. In turn, she recorded arguably her best record yet.

We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is out on Jagjaguwar. It can be picked up at these links and directly on Bandcamp.

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Sinead O’Brien – Time Bend and Break the Bower

We can stay silent and ignore everything happening in this world, or we can speak out and bring attention to the numerous injustices. Irish-born singer-songwriter Sinead O’Brien refuses to be silenced because there is too much shit going on for her not to say something. And the post-punk poet has plenty to say on her biting and intelligent debut album, Time Bend and Break the Bower

At the heart of the album lies “GIRLKIND”, on which the Limerick native unleashes an endless barrage of lyrical gems. From a fawn ensnared in a trap to King Arthur references, she describes how humanity still does not know what it is to be human and to treat all with respect. She further melds contemporary issues with literary preferences on “Pain Is the Fashion of the Spirit” and the rapturous “Holy Country”. O’Brien also offers glimpses into how her growth has been stunted, such as on the krautrock-touched “Spare for My Size, Me” and the sobering “The Rarest Kind”, on which she shares the clever line, “I mine gold in coal mines.” Not everything, however, is dire. A glimmer of hope seeps through on the jittery “Good Times Are Coming” and the imaginative folklore of “Multitudes”. Of course, O’Brien delivers these songs in a stark and uneasy way because these are not the days to celebrate – at least not until there is very little to say. 

Time Bend and Break The Bower is out on Chess Club Records. It’s available here and on Bandcamp.

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Skullcrusher – Quiet the Room

The name Skullcrusher may paint a different picture than the true reality of Helen Ballantine’s music. In 2020, Ballantine released one of the year’s finest EPs with Skullcrusher, making a very brief but strong statement that she’s a songwriter to keep an eye on. Two years later, the songwriter has released her spellbinding debut, Quiet the Room, a record perfectly built on the foundation that made her instantly notable.

Quiet the Room starts out in a truly stunning manner. Lush harmonies and acoustic guitar on “They Quiet the Room” set the tone for the record, and the melancholy is disrupted when a mix of synth and strings bubbles up and overtakes Ballentine’s vocals. The LP has some intense moments, like “Whatever Fits Together”, which walks a tightrope between a folk stomper and haunting dreamscape. Under each song, it almost feels like something is bubbling just under the surface, but none more so than “Lullaby in February”. The track starts with just some finger-picked guitar and vocals, but a deep roar slowly builds and erupts in a truly intense moment. These subtle shifts and surprises and the outpouring of fragile emotion are what make Quiet The Room immersive and relatable. And one of the year’s very best.

Quiet the Room is available at these links and on Bandcamp via Secretly Canadian.

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The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention

When Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Tom Skinner announced their new project, The Smile, everyone knew that the super-group would release material on their own time. First, they shared “You Will Never Work In Television Again” just 10 days into 2022, and it sounded like phase II Radiohead – angsty, assertive, and a face-melting rocker. Yorke, too, was raging, sending two middle fingers in the direction of entertainment’s power brokers and their hyper-masculinity. Less than three weeks later came “The Smoke”, and the trio delivered a hazy, jazzy, trippy number. Appetites were now firmly whet.

More than two months would pass before The Smile would return, at which time they delivered the majestic “Skrting On The Surface”, which could have been placed perfectly on In Rainbows. The same could not be said for “Pana-Vision”, which was more Ennio Morricone than anything Radiohead or The Sons of Kemet had created. This would be the last single shared before A Light for Attracting Attention was fully revealed in May. The four singles, however, gave an indication of what to expect – that The Smile’s debut album would be more than a Radiohead side project.

There are Radiohead-like numbers, such as the interstellar “The Same”, the touching “Speech Bubbles” (which could be the sequel to “Nude”), and the urgent “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings”. The LP also sees the band incorporate elements of Yorke’s and Greenwood’s individual side projects as well as the funk-jazz of Skinner’s main group. “Opposite” is post-modern funk, “Thin Thing” is a darkwave hallucination, while “A Hairdryer” is a surrealist’s interpretation of Atoms for Peace. Despite the album’s many extensions, it is still extremely cohesive, which speaks to the brilliance of The Smile’s three leading men.

A Light for Attracting Attention is out on XL Recordings.

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Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever

Sophie Allison has become an indie music icon over the last five years. It’s so easy to see why when digging into her records, as they reveal a progression and maturity that is immediately relatable. She’s also shown she’s willing to adapt and change, whether it’s adding depth to what she’s already doing or venturing into some uncharted territory. Allison continues her progression as Soccer Mommy‘s Sometimes, Forever.

Sometimes, Forever kicks off with a pretty standard Soccer Mommy affair. Allison’s voice soars over some bubbling guitar chime, but there’s something about the production that makes it hook the listener instantly. “With U” starts the experimentation, as Allison channels a darker side. Speaking of dark, “Unholy Affliction” has Allison singing over some deep, glitchy synth and a complex drumbeat. As it builds, the track gets harsh and confronting, and the moment is absolutely incredible. From there, the LP feels completely unpredictable in the most exciting ways possible. Deep synth on “newdemo” give way way to pristine acoustic guitar while “Darkness Forever” is only a few ticks away from venturing into metal territory. Despite all this unpredictability and loud, harsh, and intense moments, Allison lands the record softly with the breathtaking “Still”, delivering a moment of familiarity after relentless originality.

Sometimes, Forever are available at these links and Bandcamp. It is out on Loma Vista Recordings.

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Stella Donnelly – Flood

Stella Donnelly is still fairly early in her musical career, but she’s already carved a place for herself among one of Australia’s great songwriters. Her debut was a laid-back LP that showcased Donnelly’s biting wit. And despite the simplicity of many of her songs, she’s able to make some big and important statements. Flood is no exception, and it’s a record that adds a ton to Donnelly’s arsenal.

The record kicks off in an almost surprising way: some booming bass and a poppy sound define “Lungs”. It’s followed up by “How Was Your Day”, on which Donnelly brings life to the mundane small talk that everyone engages in to avoid a serious discussion. There’s the powerful “Underwater” with Donnelly singing over piano and strings in what may be her most striking vocal performance to date. There’s the lockdown-inspired title track, “Flood”, where Donnelly tries to work her way through the difficulties of the time. But this song – and the entire LP – is not merely about Donnelly working her way through the complexities. It is a great songwriting documenting the collective’s struggles and finding common ground on how we deal with them. This is what makes Donnelly such a special artist.

Flood is out on Secretly Canadian. It’s available at these links and on Bandcamp.

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Tomberlin – i don’t know who needs to hear this…

At times it feels like Sarah Beth Tomberlin is stuck flying under the radar. Every Tomberlin release has been fantastic, which includes her debut album, At Weddings, to her recent EP, Projections. Tomberlin has many of the same qualities as Julien Baker, Soccer Mommy, and Lucy Dacus, so her breakout is coming. Actually, it happened this year, as her sophomore LP, i don’t know who needs to hear this…, has made people truly take notice.

The album’s opening, “easy”, starts things off incredibly with some sparse instrumentation underneath Tomberlin’s voice. “born again runner” is a fantastic indie-folk track, on which Tomberlin tries to navigate her religious past. Quiet and solitary singles, “tap”, and “unsaid”, are balance by the warmth of “Sunstruck” and “Collect Caller”. But if there is one tune that shines on i don’t know who needs to hear this…, it is “happy accident”, which is one of the year’s finest singles and the loudest on the record thanks to an assist from Cass McCombs and Felix Walworth. It’s the type of song that never relinquishes its grips once it grabs hold of your soul. A song that sticks with you for a very long time and raises the gravity of the album’s message of finding strength in the face of uncertainty.

i don’t know who needs to hear this… is out Saddle Creek Records. Purchase and streaming links are here or on Bandcamp.

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Wet Leg – Wet Leg

Wet Leg are arguably the year’s biggest indie success story. Only 18 months have passed since Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers released their debut single, “Chaise Longue”, which became an immediate viral hit. The song was catchy, witty, and amusing, as the duo sang about how getting the “Big D” – or a degree – guaranteed nothing. It became the anthem for a young generation frustrated with society’s requirements that to be someone necessitates spending inconceivable amounts of money for a piece of paper. Teasdale and Chambers would continue to capture society’s oddities on their entertaining debut album, Wet Leg.

The Isle of Wight natives tackle everything imaginable, and they do so with humor and pizzazz. Creepy, horny, middle-aged men who prey on college-aged women is at the heart of “Wet Dream”. The rollicking “Angelica” recounts how some people grow out of house parties and others do not. Social media obsession is the focus on the euphoric art-rocker “Oh, No”, while telling an ex to move on is sung on the super-groovy “Ur Mom”. The duo also get introspective. On the chiming yet cathartic closer, “Too Late Now”, self-doubt lingers. “Too late now, lost track somehow / Well, if I fuck this up, I’m taking you down with me,” the pair share in preparation of their potential demise. Given what Teasdale and Chambers have experienced, it’s unlikely they will fall anytime soon. But if they do, they’ll have a legion of fans joining them, likely dancing and laughing all the way.

Wet Leg is available via Domino Recording Co., and it can be purchased or streamed here and on Bandcamp.

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Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow

Weyes Blood‘s Titanic Rising was a masterpiece. It was a culmination of what Natalie Mering has built under the moniker for a decade. Lush, beautiful, and immersive songs transplanted listeners right into her meticulously crafted universe. There are many instances where a big breakout record is followed by something that doesn’t quite live up to new lofty expectations, but with And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Mering smashes all expectations and creates one of 2022’s best records.

A lot of times, cinematic music can have a defeated sentiment, as even the best songwriters draw from the darkness. Right from the start of Darkness, Mering tries to find some light. “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” is the realization that these dark and frustrating times are affecting everyone and she’s not in it alone. That theme carries throughout the entire record. Even when she’s trying to navigate loneliness, a hopefulness in the human connection comes out on “Hearts Aglow”. On top of the fantastic instrumentation, the record also features appearances from Mary Lattimore and Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), who are perfectly suited for amplifying Mering’s unique artistry. The result is another masterpiece from one of the most enchanting songwriters out there.

And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is available at these links and Bandcamp. Sub Pop has the honors.

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Widowspeak – The Jacket

Two characteristics have defined Widowspeak‘s music: a sobering yet cinematic dreaminess and small stories enlarged for the big screen. Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, in many ways, are the Spike Jonzes, Wes Andersons, and Paul Thomas Andersons of music, and their lush and engrossing sixth album, The Jacket, magnifies their cinematic talents. 

The dreamy “While You Wait” introduces listeners to a satin worker with grand dreams while jangly, country-inflicted “Salt” and the quietly smouldering “True Blue” describe how admiration and jealously can tear a person apart. With “The Jacket” and “The Drive”, however, the duo have written arguably the grandest songs. While a gentle tone emanates on the former, an uneasiness exists in Hamilton’s words, as she cleverly describes the many encounters the jacket has experienced. Meanwhile, as Thomas delivers a Nels Cline-like riff on the latter, Hamilton voice rises with a tinge of urgency, sharing a tale about seeking comfort as opposed to chasing dreams. Yet in Widowspeak’s music, we find ourselves always in a state of going after the impossible, which is what makes Hamilton and Thomas one of indie’s finest bands of the past decade.

The Jacket is available at these links and directly on Bandcamp via Captured Tracks.

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Womb – Dreaming of the Future Again

Some albums are masterful pieces of escapism while others are the equivalent to the most intoxicating and surreal dreams. Womb‘s sophomore album, Dreaming of the Future Again, is both. Every track, including the minimalist opener, “Sylvan’s Song”, induces gasps and is breathtaking. Cello Forrester (vocals, guitar), Haz Forrester (synths, keys), and Georgette Brown’s (drums) gripping power, though, comes in the one-two-three punch of “Like in a Dream”, “Oceans”, and “Clip Your Wings”. While they all elicit the same response, they achieve it through different means. “Like in a Dream” is equivalent to a long, unflinching gaze into another person’s eyes; “Oceans” is akin to a late-night sail across open water with a loved one; and “Clip Your Wings” is desperation delivered with crushing effect. 

Then there is the solemn fragility of “The Dove” and the Mazzy Star-esque “When I See You”, which reveal the many ways that the Te Whanganui-a-Tara (or Wellington) trio can provoke and lavish. These emotions are further evidenced on the Gothic-touched “Dreaming of the Future Again”, which is gloomier and more mournful than anything else on the album. Yet, it still astounds, proving that Womb are among the few that can turn desperation, longing, and uncertainty into startling art. They are among the few that can dive directly into the heart of our emotional vulnerability

Dreaming of the Future Again is out on Flying Nun Records. Purchase or stream it on Bandcamp and at these links.

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down

For a while, it seemed like there was a chance Mosquito would be the final Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. The band officially entered a hiatus in 2014, having been sparsely active throughout the previous few years. While it was a good record, it felt like one of the greatest bands of the 2000s deserved a much grander finale than what Karen O described as “extremely lo-fi”. It’s incredibly hard for a band to get back to it after 8 years, but Karen O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chasethere triumphantly return with Cool It Down.

Despite the LP’s title, Cool It Down is a complete return to form for the indie legends. Right from the opening moments of “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”, it’s obvious the album is going to be an untamable beast. Huge guitar and synth kick things off while Karen O and Perfume Genius exchange lines. The synth sounds on the record are just sublime, particularly on the churning of “Wolf” to the understated layers on “Blacktop”. Then there’s the album’s centerpiece, “Burning”, which is a perfect combination of everything Yeah Yeah Yeahs and features what may be Karen O’s greatest vocal performance. The trio tie it all up beautifully with “Mars”, a spoken-word track with just a sparse melody, as Karen O’s voice gets more distorted as the song progresses. It’s a haunting conclusion that makes it an irresistible urge to hit that repeat button.

Cool It Down is available at these links and on Bandcamp. Secretly Canadian released it.

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