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The 60 Best Albums of 2022, According to Some Guy in Chicago
From Alex G to Zach Bryan, here’s what writer Josh Terry listened to most this year.
I don’t trust critics who say they hate year-end lists. They’re either lying or tedious losers. Culture writers do not get paid nearly enough to pretend like the most fun time of the year for us is anything but. Best of the Year writing was my first exposure to culture criticism and it was formative as a way to discover new things and develop my tastes. Whether it was being 16 and wondering why Roger Ebert thought Juno was a better movie than No Country For Old Men in 2007 or discovering a great LP I missed like Deerhoof’s Friend Opportunity because a year-end wrap-up compelled me to check it out, EOY list season made me want to do it myself and think more deeply about what I liked and why.
Lately, I’ve been drawn more to individual critic’s lists rather than ones from publications. You tend to find more unconventional picks and things you missed on personal ballots (Chicago musician Maxwell Allison’s EOY post is a great example of this) whereas on some of the bigger outlets’ EOY packages, the biggest difference between them is whether an album like The Weeknd’s Dawn FM is Top 40 or Top 10. This isn’t any one publication’s fault: when you build a list, you take each individual critic’s vote and end up with some sort of consensus, which tends to flatten out the artists at the fringes. When I worked at VICE, the Noisey team did a great job of going against the grain (our 2019 top 20 included bands like The Hecks, Helado Negro, Boy Harsher, and 100 Gecs).
This year as a freelance music writer I decided not to pitch any outlets about year-end stuff. One, I don’t think Stereogum or Pitchfork would appreciate some jagoff from Chicago being like “y’all OK with taking off Black Country, New Road for that great Good Looks LP?” or suggesting that it’d be a “cool and brave statement as a publication” to not include something like Beyoncé’s Renaissance. Two, I wanted an opportunity to write about artists I cared about with no expectations of pitching or getting paid for it. This year, I had a gig working for Netflix and since that layoff in late April, I’ve found that writing press bios for artists tends to pay the bills a little better than many music outlets do for similar work. Mainly, I just missed having a public outlet to champion artists who I think deserve your attention.
Below, I’ve compiled 60 of my favorite releases from 2022. 40 of those, I’ve blurbed and sorted them alphabetically. Ranked lists make more sense for publications and don’t really for just one guy. In my case, ranking them wouldn’t fly because with a handful of the artists here, I either wrote their album’s press bio (will be denoted with a *), am friendly acquaintances with them, or am close enough friends where it’d look really weird. While I wouldn’t dare write up a band of friends like PUP or Whitney in a paying outlet now, this is a Substack and I am doing this for free. It’s literally just some guy’s opinion.
I honestly hope you discover something you like here. See one of these bands live. Buy a record or a t-shirt. My taste isn’t for everyone: it’s far too pop-minded for my punk friends, too rockist for my pop friends, and a little too conventional for my experimental friends. But for what it’s worth I think it’s pretty good. These blurbs will also be a little more casual and conversational than my normal work. It’s Substack and I don’t think people want to read me write shit like “When MJ Lenderman sings about Jackass being funny on “You Are Every Girl To Me,” he’s radically redefining what it means when we laugh at someone else’s pain” or whatever. Fuck outta here with that.
Basically, I’m just happy to still be here writing about things I care about and being able to pay my bills from it (BTW: Future posts on here won’t be nearly as long lol).
You can also follow my running Spotify playlist of 2022 songs I like here. Chances are, the thing you might be mad I excluded here is there. Unless it’s Black Country, New Road or the 1975. Subscribe below if you feel like it. I know times are tough but your support, even on the free tier, would mean the world.
God Save the Animals
Here’s a conservation starter to try on your friends: Imagine that every artist, no matter how great they are at making music, is judged on a continuum based solely on the quality of the artists they inspire. The Beatles are a wash since they inspired everyone. Jason Molina and Fleetwood Mac probably have great karma. Animal Collective? Going straight to hell. Neutral Milk Hotel? Prison. Ask Ian Cohen how he thinks Neil Young fares in this hypothetical. It’s a fun, low-stakes, and totally subjective thought experiment. I bring this up because I think Alex G, one of my favorite artists of the last decade who has made essential and arguably unmatched music, has inspired a lot of folks who make mediocre music and don’t quite get why he works so well. They’ll either capture his songs’ gentleness or their menace but never both. I don’t know yet if God Save the Animals is my top Alex G LP yet but “Runner” is my favorite song he’s ever written.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
My Spotify Wrapped had Big Thief occupying both the top artist spot and all top five song spots. This shocked me as a guy who will listen to every Bob Dylan album front to back at least once a year (Bob has been my top artist since 2020, top five since Spotify Wrapped became a thing) but I clearly totally rinsed DNWMIBIY. My ideal album is 10 songs and 35 minutes tops so the fact that a 20-track, debut feature for A24-sized double LP had such a hold on me speaks to its charm. It’s been a long time since I heard an album that feels so lived-in and alive, a document of four people in a room so attuned to each other’s energy. There’s just something about this LP, man. I think about my friends and my family when I hear it: summertime in Michigan, sitting on a porch with buds and cold beer, that kind of thing. There are many all-timers on here but especially “Spud Infinity,” “Certainty,” and “Little Things.”
Made In America*
I first met Brad Goodall during his time playing keys with West Virginia’s Ona, one of the best, underappreciated rock bands of the last decade. Brad’s sensibility as a solo artist is less Band-inspired rock’n’roll like his old band and more Nightfly piano man-vibes meets Zevon-snark. His debut Made In America is full of laugh-out-loud moments, not just for his self-effacing and witty lyrics but for how good the LP is—he is one of the most impressive keyboardists going in terms of sheer virtuosic ability. There are so many clever flourishes here whether it’s the “goes to therapy once” punchline of opener “Changed Man,” the corporate drone anthem in “Company Dime,” and the meta, jam-minded closer “Party in the Stu.” It’s hilarious but it’s not a comedy album—the sophistication and sneaky earnestness of his songwriting transcend that. Show it to a head—they won’t be disappointed.
Charlie Reed is a band, not a person, and one of the best in Chicago. Lead songwriter Luke Trimbie makes delicate, subdued, and gorgeous folk-rock tunes that swirl and swell with ample strings and pedal steel. They've long been one of my favorite local live bands—they had a great Karen Dalton cover and I respected the fact that there were often more than eight people onstage even for an opening set. Right before the pandemic, the band had most of the tunes recorded and tracked but over two years later, they finally got it out to the world. I don’t know what it’s like to release an album, especially the feeling of having to sit on something you worked on for multiple years before you can show anyone. I’m happy they stuck with it.“Your Hair Is Nice,” “Helpless,” and “Holding On” are the highlights.
Dazy is pretty much everything I’d ever want in a band: no-second-wasted fuzzed-out rock tracks with huge hooks. Imagine if every Fountains of Wayne song was written to be played at ear-shattering volumes and you get this project from James Goodson (I’ve emailed him a handful of times over the years from his day job as a publicist but other than that I’m just a fan). While I’m partial to his 24-song everything-so-far compilation from 2021 MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD, you can hear his songwriting get tighter and somehow even more inviting on the much leaner OUTOFBODY, which comes in at a gentleman’s 12 songs and 26 minutes.
I spent a ton of time this year listening to How Long Gone, the podcast from fashion guy and Cartel’s former manager Chris Black and Jason Stewart aka DJ Them Jeans. The two have easygoing chemistry and can disarm their guests pretty effortlessly, getting indie rockers, media types, and character actors to talk about nice restaurants and money, as well as making them feel comfortable enough to be haters on air. It’s great. Anyway, after their interview with Dehd, the hosts quoted someone (I forget but I think it was another HLG guest Kevin Morby) saying that if Dehd were produced the same way as The Killers, they’d be one of the biggest bands in the world. They’re right but I hope Dehd never do that—they’re great as they are. While they’ve always felt like one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets, Emily Kempf’s voice, Jason Balla’s harmonies, and Eric McGrady’s drumming work too well together to not see them have a major ascension post-Blue Skies. They’re just locked in now.
Great American Painting
Philadelphia’s The Districts were one of the first bands I ever wrote and raved about. I saw them open up for White Denim at the Metro in 2013 when they were teenagers and they blew my mind. It’s rare to see a group so energetic and engaging as if this random opening gig for them has life-or-death stakes. While they haven’t had the critical and commercial breakthrough a band that tours as hard as they do and pushes themselves to make something different for each album deserves, they’ve managed to be a model for how to spend your twenties working tirelessly in a sustainable touring band. Their five albums are all excellent and each documents their evolving tastes. Great American Painting finds them making their sound more massive than it’s ever been. In a perfect world, these guys would be ruling rock and alternative radio because while this is produced like an arena-aspiring rock band, it’s all tasteful thanks to their decade’s worth of chemistry and Robby Grote’s evocative lyrics. Album title of the year too.
The Last Spa on Earth*
No band made a bigger leap this year than Chicago’s Divino Niño. They’ve always made immaculately written songs but something happened wild to them during the pandemic. Deprived of the local music community, they turned to the internet where their tastes got darker, more experimental, and more danceable. Where the band’s last album Foam brought City Pop-inspired sleek and vibe-heavy tunes, their follow-up The Last Spa on Earth is much more bizarre and ambitious combining neoperreo with Miami Club music, hip-hop, and punk. Most of the LP is sung entirely in Spanish and it’s the most exciting thing to come out of Chicago this year. Grateful to have written their bios for Foam and this one—an incredible experience seeing their growth. If there’s one Chicago album you hear in 2022, make it this.
Lighten Up sounds timeless. Erin Rae’s got one of the best voices—it’s somehow strong and delicate as well as full of texture and personality while being technically impressive too—but more than that she has an impeccable ear for great melodies. While you can hear flourishes from a more golden age of AM radio in these songs, they’re never kitschy or overly nostalgic. The Nashville songwriter strikes a perfect balance throughout, letting the songs speak for themselves. Every arrangement is tasteful. Just as Rae guested on Morby’s This is a Photograph, he returns the favor on “Can’t See Stars” but I think my favorite has to be “Mind/Heart” which really flexes her writing. A perfect song. When I meet an artist I’m a fan of, I try not to gush but I failed to play it cool meeting her in Nashville this year.
Bummer Year floored me the first time I heard it. There are rare albums where you relate so deeply you wish you wrote them and this is one. (Strangely, the last album I felt this way about was Katy Kirby’s Cool Dry Place in 2021, which also came out on label Keeled Scales). Like Kirby, Good Looks are from Texas and write incredibly humane and thoughtful songs that grapple with complicated thoughts about home and your place in the world. On this album, the Bummer Year in question refers to 2016 where the title track talks about growing up around conservatives (“I don’t think they’re evil / even when they’re awful”). While the opening single “Almost Automatic” gets a lot of the press praise here, especially for guitarist Jake Ames’ absolutely ripping on it, it’s “First Crossing” that gets me every time. Even though this is just a debut, Tyler Jordan is already one of my favorite songwriters for his clarity as well as the way he can clear the air by singing about uncomfortable things plainly and honestly. I took them out for pizza after their debut show at Cole’s in Chicago and the kind and thoughtful energy they project on the record comes through in real life too.
Versions of Modern Performance
If you’re over or nearing 30, try to imagine how your music taste would be different now if you had streaming as a teenager. In the pre-YouTube days, I’d buy CDs at Best Buy or FYE based on the cover or just play 30-second snippets on iTunes from my favorite bands’ related artists. The artists who make up Chicago’s Horsegirl are at least 11 years younger than I am and have the best taste I’ve ever seen in a young band. It’s on full display on their debut LP Versions of Modern Performance, an efficient and engaging romp through indie rock’s fringes (recorded by the legend John Agnello). You can also see for yourself on their Horsegirl Sounds Spotify playlist they regularly update. There’s a whole generation of extremely talented and extremely cool young indie rock musicians in Chicago like Dwaal Troupe, Lifeguard, Friko, and Free Range who make me excited about the future of music in this city. Horsegirl is leading the charge. I bet their next LP will be a classic.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
LIFE ON EARTH
Back in 2014, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Small Town Heroes got so many plays from me that it ranked just below Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness as my AOTY. Alynda Lee Segarra has such humanity and depth to their songwriting as they’ve evolved from New Orleans-infused folk to something more electric and larger in scope. For this LP, they worked with one of my favorite producers in Brad Cook. (I’m still not sure if Brad Cook has such great taste that he just works with my favorite artists all the time or if my favorite artists have such great taste that they just work with Brad Cook all the time. It’s probably both). “PIERCED ARROWS” has a near-perfect chorus and the big single “RHODODENDRON” might be the best song Segarra has written.
Sometimes albums don’t need to make a grand statement; they just need to hit the sweet spots and do the small things right to stick with you. Extra Medium from Montana’s Izaak Opatz always did the trick whenever I put it on. Opatz’s music is often called “anti-country” and he likes to refer to it as “dirtwave” but honestly it’s just smartly written, unfussy, and mildly twangy folk. Some of the songs remind me of bands like Bahamas or Andy Shauf. My girlfriend thinks his voice sounds like “folk rock Anthony Keidis.” I don’t think that’s a knock, at least it isn’t for me. Check out “Married with Kids” and “Shampoo.”
Joshua Virtue is a criminally underrated rapper/producer from Chicago, the co-founder of the essential underground local label WHY? Records and one-half of my favorite current rap group UDABABY with Davis, another criminally underrated rapper/producer from Chicago. Those two, along with Florida’s They Hate Change, another duo, feel like the future to me. But Virtue’s solo effort RAMA, which he both performs on and produces entirely, is a total trip. A disorienting and mesmerizing journey through his psyche, the first thing that strikes you is how unconventional his production style is. These beats are nuts—they zig where you think they are going to zag and switch or fade out when you think it’s building up—but Virtue’s cool and versatile flow consistently anchors the chaos. “Bust” and “Insecure!” are favorites.
It Was a Home
There’s tangible nostalgia and kindness in KAINA’s songs that I don’t think anyone could come up with a better album title than she did for her second LP It Was a Home. She’s been one of my favorite artists ever since her SOOPER days and her time when she’d make her part the highlight of every song she guested on. It Was a Home is a solid introduction to her strengths as a solo artist—the way her voice shines, and the way she always locks into a quiet groove with her band—as it’s her first on the label City Slang. Kaina is so talented, I hope that her next LP finds her exploring faster tempos and new genres because listening to this LP, it’s impossible to imagine her not sounding perfectly comfortable over any kind of arrangement.
This Is a Photograph
I used to have a column at RedEye and later VICE called Blind Spots. The premise was that I’d have an artist choose the most famous and canonical album they’ve never heard, I’d research the LP, we’d listen to it together, and I’d transcribe the conversation. It was a fun way to talk music with a stranger, a needed break from the monotony of the press cycle interview for the artist, and a low-stakes chance to demystify the pop music canon. In 2019, Kevin Morby had wanted to do one so I suggested Jeff Buckley’s Grace, since it was celebrating its 25th anniversary. We did the interview and while I noticed then Buckley’s story resonated with him in the moment, over the next year he’d tell me it became a source of inspiration for his next LP This is a Photograph, specifically the song “A Coat of Butterflies,” which is about Buckley. That an interview I conducted helped someone make lasting art is an incredible feeling and probably the coolest thing to come out of the 10 years I’ve been doing this job. All that said, this album would be in my top ranking with or without that interview. It’s Morby’s best, and that’s saying a lot.
Bell Bottom Country
If you’re someone who doesn’t really keep tabs on what’s happening in country music but loved Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, here is your sign to finally check out Lainey Wilson. If you’re a country journalist or country fan reading this, you’re probably rolling your eyes like “no shit.” (I know, sorry, but the people who read my writing are mostly bearded dudes in hoodies who like light beer and indie rock). Bell Bottom Country, Wilson’s second album, is a ton of fun and there are enough unconventional production choices (courtesy of Jay Joyce) to subvert a non-country fan’s expectations (“Grease” is a good example). Like most great mainstream country LPs, there are a lot of good different types of songs: the radio hit (“Heart Like a Truck,”) the country thesis statement (“Hillbilly Hippie”), the bluesy stomp-and-holler (“This One’s Gonna Cost Me”), and the personality-filled bummer jam (“Weak-End”).
New Orleans’ Lawn has been a favorite of mine for a few years (I checked out one of their earlier records on a whim solely because they called it Blood on the Tracks and I thought that was hilarious—their follow-up Johnny featured prominently on my 2020 list). I’m not sure Bigger Sprout is an album—it’s 7 songs and 25 minutes long—but there are no skips. Co-songwriters Rui Gabriel and Mac Folger tend to split the difference between pristine and breezy power-pop with nervy post-punk and do a great job of making each mood relentlessly catchy and well-written. With all the talk about power-pop making a comeback in bands like Dazy, 2nd Grade, and Mo Troper, I hope Lawn enters the conversation. Also this year, Rui moved to the city with his family so I’m going to start calling them a Chicago band.
When I interviewed Devin McKnight, the Brooklyn-based artist behind Maneka (pronounced Monica), about his new LP Dark Matters before writing its press bio, I told him I couldn’t stop playing the song “Maintain.” He then told me that was his least favorite song on the album. I’m not going to say that an artist is wrong about their own material (he is though—that song rips) but I will say that it’s a testament to how many great moments are on Dark Matters. McKnight’s known first as a guitarist but it’s his songwriting here where he’s unafraid to get brutally heavy and downright weird that makes him one of the most essential and underrated indie rock acts going. “Maintain” and “Zipline” are the ones.
Livvy Bennett, who fronts Atlanta’s Mamalarky, is, in my opinion, the most inventive and interesting guitarist in indie rock right now. That she’s able to shred and write riffs that are clearly complicated but sound effortless all while fronting one of the best art-rock bands is just unreal. In 2020, I told everyone who would listen about their self-titled debut and their follow-up Pocket Fantasy (both came out on my favorite label Fire Talk) is just as good. Songs like “Mythical Bonds” are so frenetic and immediate while other highlights include the woozy “Shining Armor” and the mesmerizing “Dance Together.”
In the decade I’ve been writing about music, one of the things I’m most proud of is putting local punks Meat Wave on the cover of the RedEye. I interviewed them in 2015 right before their album Delusion Moon came out. For the piece, we drank Half Acre’s Meat Wave beer at the brewery’s old Lincoln Ave. taproom (Meat Wave the band, and Meat Wave the beer, both borrowed their name from an Onion headline titled “Dozens Dead in Chicago-area Meat Wave”). The band however keeps getting better and more menacing. While 2017’s The Incessant boasted the best song they had written so far in “No Light,” there are even more contenders on this year’s Malign Hex, a gnarly and angry LP. This album will make you feel like you can run through a wall.
An album that’s climbing my personal 2022 rankings the fastest is MJ Lenderman’s Boat Songs. A few weeks ago I saw him backed by a full band open for Plains (the Jess Williamson / Katie Crutchfield project) and was blown away. Then, last week, I caught him solo before Advance Base at Beat Kitchen and then be joined by fellow opener Spencer Radcliffe and his band. Big fan of his humor on songs like “Hangover Game” and “You Are Every Girl To Me” but I really appreciate his obvious appreciation for Songs: Ohia on tracks like “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat” and my personal favorite, “Tastes Just Like It Costs.” That tune is basically perfect and the rest of the LP is well worth your time too.
Hearing a song in the exact perfect context can make you a lifelong fan. That’s what happened to me being three beers deep hearing Nick Hakim’s “Vertigo” with my buds in a car en route to Sportsman’s Club. My friend put the track on so loud that I was worried my sober buddy who was driving’s speakers were going to blow but the song hit so hard I don’t know if any of us would’ve cared. It was still summer, closing in on midnight, and I felt like I was having one of the best nights in a long time. The rest of the album is great. Hakim’s a very left-field songwriter even if his palate is incredibly accessible. This LP fills the 2022 void that Dijon’s last album left.
Please Have a Seat*
NNAMDÏ’s Chicago music community bonafides don’t need reiterating. He’s more essential and arguably more talented than anyone here, an artist so singular and himself it’s hard to even try to describe him. I tried in 2020 at VICE and tried again writing the press bio for his masterful album Please Have a Seat, his Secretly Canadian debut. It’s the best introduction to his genius so far: he raps, he sings, he plays every instrument extremely well, he throws his voice around like a cartoon character, and he writes some of the rawest and most relatable lyrics. I cried the first time I heard “Dedication.” He also worked with Chicago direcotr Austin Vesely for a couple of music videos.
In 2018, I ordered Nu Genea’s first album (the Italian band was then called Nu Guinea) on a whim off Bandcamp after hearing a song on a blog and loving its lowkey funk and disco grooves. Since then I’ve heard that LP played at every vinyl DJ set around town and now it’s selling for $100+ on Discogs. Their follow-up Bar Mediterraneo is simultaneously more understated and locked in (funnily enough, Bandcamp limited vinyl purchases to one per person like this album is an Air Jordan 1). Some of the songs are sung in French, some in Italian, and some in a Tunisian dialect. Recommended if you dig Khruangbin.
Indie rock has gotten noticeably smaller since the aughts, not necessarily in commercial appeal (well, that too) but in how it sounds. Compared to acts like TV on the Radio, Bloc Party, and Interpol, many of the most recent acclaimed offerings from the genre have felt claustrophobic and insular for better and worse. Nilüfer Yanya writes cutting-edge songs on Painless that are presented in a way that feels like a throwback to an era where artists Really Went For It and wanted to sound big. I’ll bet her favorite Radiohead album is In Rainbows too. “midnight sun” and “stabilise” are the two I keep coming back to. No surprises here that those two were singles.
Besides a couple Twitter mutuals recommending this LP, it’s utterly baffling to me that The Orielles’ latest album Tableau hasn’t made it onto as many Best Of Lists as it deserves. It’s a massive album that clocks in over an hour but it’s a surprisingly breezy listen that’s jam-packed with disparate ideas. You can spot the Portishead and Stereolab influences pretty quickly but the songs on Tableau go for something louder and rougher around the edges. Tracks like “Television” with its jangly guitars and hypnotic rhythms brush up against eight-minute epics like “Beam/s” and it all works.
THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
When Pup put out their self-titled debut album in 2014, I was one of the first American music journalists to review it favorably (the site I worked for would soon switch their star-based rating rubric to a letter system so the review now reads that I gave it a measly B-, which is funny to think about years later). At their next Chicago show, the band and I began a friendship where now I can no longer recommend them professionally in any ethical sense (Substack is fine though). It’s been a blast seeing them become punk’s foremost chroniclers of band dysfunction and self-lacerating anxiety and going from second of five at the Bottom Lounge to selling out places like the Riviera. More than that, just seeing how their fans so obviously give a shit about this music and how much the band’s songs have clearly gotten them through some dark times, I remember why these dudes devote their lives to being in a band. It makes me emotional. Pup forever.
Chicago-raised artist Ravyn Lenae was signed to a major label when she was just 16 and didn’t end up releasing her debut album HYPNOS this year until she was 23. Where lesser artists would’ve succumbed to the pressure to put something out sooner, she held firm to her vision and it paid dividends. Her voice is astounding but I think her biggest strength is being able to curate her collaborators (Luke Titus, Steve Lacy, Kaytranada, etc) and execute her vision. Few albums sound as otherworldly and future-forward as this one. “Satellites” is one of the best songs of the year. I also interviewed her for Chicago Mag back in August.
Picnic in the Dark
New York’s Renata Zeiguer had one of my favorite songs of the last decade “Follow Me Down,” which came out in 2018. Picnic in the Dark is also excellent and also underrated. The arrangements on these songs feel at home in a neon-lit dive bar somewhere out west recalling acts like Timber Timbre or Jim O’Sullivan. Her voice feels spectral, able to lean into both the beauty and the subtle spookiness in these tracks. “Eloise” is a favorite here.
Few Good Things
My favorite rapper going right now is Saba, no question. He has been for years. Profiling him for the RedEye in 2016 for Bucket List Project and putting him on the cover charmed me to his quiet brilliance as a songwriter and his thoughtfulness as a person. Since then, he’s only topped himself in 2018’s heartbreaking Care for Me and 2022’s ultimately hopeful Few Good Things. There’s a soulfulness and resilience to Saba’s writing that makes for some painful catharsis throughout the tracks here. Songs like “2012” manage to tackle nostalgia without any cloyingness, “Survivor’s Guilt” has bass-heavy aggression, and “Soldier” boasts some immaculate hooks and verses from Pivot Gang. I hope Saba makes records for decades to come. A future all-time great.
Here Comes the Devil
While I’ve dug Foxing for almost a decade, I honestly had no idea about frontman Conor Murphy’s solo project, Smidley. I didn’t find out about the band until after I realized I missed his set at Thalia Hall opening up for They Hate Change, KAINA, and Bartees Strange. (Embarrassing story time: I was introduced to Murphy that night and asked him like a total dumbass why he was there in Chicago not knowing he just played—In my defense, he went on before the time on the ticket said the show started). While the solo stuff is more contained in scope than Foxing (most everything is at this point, to be honest), I’m almost more drawn to this material—it does everything right and isn’t afraid to get as demonic as a band like Spirit of the Beehive. There are three songs here I count as 2022 all-timers: the massive Shinra Knives-assisted single “Another Devil,” the irresistibly funky “Breaking My Own Heart,” and the ethereal folk-pop of “Table Rock Antichrist.”
Luv 4 Rent
Writing that Smino raps doesn’t quite capture his dexterity and versatility as a performer. He doesn’t just rap or croon, he floats between the two at a sometimes disorienting pace. No one sounds cooler than Smino on a record. Longtime production collaborators in Monte Booker and Phoelix join him for his third and best LP yet. “90 Proof” is a good example of how thrilling and left-field his whole vibe is and my count, the most I’ve ever liked J Cole on a track. A few rappers have tried to copy him and it’s always turned out terribly. He’s a singular talent and a total character. Still can’t believe we put him on the cover of the RedEye in 2016.
They Hate Change
Go see They Hate Change live. I was lucky enough to catch the Tampa-based rap duo twice at Thalia Hall, first opening for Shame and then opening for Bartees Strange. Vonne Parks and Andre Gainey have just the most incredible chemistry, their rapid-fire flows snake in and out of each other throughout these songs. But more than just their technical ability behind the mic, it’s their production: gnarly, breakneck-paced, glitchy, and totally enveloping. A lot of artists aspire to sound as abrasive and compelling as these two. They’re also both contenders for “most talented person I’ve ever made try Malört.”
How It Ends*
Jordan Dunn-Pilz and Dan Alvarez, the two guys that make up TOLEDO, aren’t brothers but they might as well be. On their stellar debut album How It Ends, most every line on the LP is sung in harmony—voices of angels on them both. It’s the kind of finish-each-other’s-sentences kind of chemistry and relationship between the two that makes this album such a thrilling listen (“Boxcutter,” “Keep It Down,” and “Climber” are good examples of this). I wrote their album bio for this and met them for the first time during the interview but I can’t wait to see them live for the first time. They’re excellent songwriters in the vein of Elliott Smith and Golden Daze as a unit but I can also see them both becoming behind-the-scenes guys writing absolute hits for big artists as well.
Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
I first saw Tyler Childers in 2015 play the Burlington Bar in Chicago, as part of a West Virginia/Kentucky CIMMFest showcase that featured Ona, William Matheny, and a band that’d become Sea Scout. Besides the bands playing, I was maybe one of maybe three people there. It was still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. He played “Feathered Indians,” which at the time was unreleased and wasn’t even on YouTube, but it nearly moved me to tears. I remember buying him and some of his bandmates beers apologizing that more people didn’t show up. But they didn’t have to play underattended shows long: seeing his career’s ascent has been one of the coolest things I’ve seen happen. While I didn’t do shit to help him professionally besides a few RedEye and VICE blurbs and those free beers, it was so validating as a young music writer to see others be just as floored by him as I was that night. Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is a divisive LP, especially among his diehard fans (fuck ‘em), but it’s one I keep coming back to. It’s one album, recorded and presented three different ways with one version completely throwing a wrench in what you’d expect from Childers. (I rank ‘em this way: Joyful Noise, Hallelujah, Jubilee).
On paper, Wet Leg’s arc so far would usually make me dislike them or at least approach their music with very intense skepticism. Bands don’t usually come out of nowhere like this, sell out 1,000 cap rooms in different countries off only one song, and get the boatloads of great press they received without there being some sort of collective hype delusion going on. I admit I pressed play on “Chaise Longue” and after 30 seconds thought, “not for me.” But I gave their debut album another shot and I’m so glad I did. Opener “Being In Love” and single “Ur Mum” sold me instantly. They make indie rock fun again.
The guys in this band are my very close friends so take all this with that added context. The first songs I heard off SPARK were demos Julien and Max texted over in summer 2020 (“Nothing Remains” and “Never Crossed My Mind”). They had moved to Portland, Oregon right before the pandemic and I hadn’t seen them in months. It was a super isolating year for all of us where regular Facetimes about how bored and depressed we all were counted as highlights. But seeing them hit a stride writing, breaking out from the way they did things for their first records was one of the few rewarding and exhilarating things from that year for me. Watching your friends get excited about their art is the best feeling and seeing how the songs evolved from largely acoustic demos to the ambitious and left-field recordings they cooked up at Sonic Ranch with Brad Cook and John Congleton is something I’ll remember for a long time. It’s their best record and time will be kinder to it than some of the earlier mixed reviews.
A few weeks ago I went to the new northwest side Chicago venue Color Club to see New York’s Wilder Maker and locals Minor Moon. It was one of the best shows I’d seen all year. Wilder Maker especially ripped thanks to them adding guitarist Adam Brisbin to their lineup. Frontman Gabe Birnbaum has always written great songs but on their latest LP Male Models, he decided to cede much of the vocal duties to other artists like Mutual Benefit, Yellow Ostrich, V.V. Lightbody, and Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz. It’s a thrilling listen throughout, full of extended guitar jams, and endlessly replayable choruses. Birnbaum’s a great writer and it’s incredible to hear some of these tunes in different contexts between the show and the record. Both rock.
On one major publication’s year-end list, their top five boasted only artists on Harry Styles and Beyoncé’s level, which is functionally the Mr. Show “More Money = Better Than” sketch as editorial strategy. I like McDonald's but you won’t see a Big Mac on a list of the best things I ate this year. At this point, especially if you look at his streaming numbers, country songwriter Zach Bryan is pretty close to that level but hearing his music is like having a Big Mac for the first time. His debut album American Heartbreak comes in at 34 songs that are so unfussy and earnest it’s disorienting. The only true skip on here is a cover. He’s got such a strong melodic sensibility that his breathless prolificacy isn’t grating. While some of his lyrics feel like songs I would’ve tried to write as a moody teenager, his simplicity and frankness are assets. It depends on who headlines Pitchfork Friday next year but there aren’t many acts that would make me skip his Windy City Smokeout set on the same night.
Other albums I didn’t get around to blurbing but are still favorites:
Tenci, A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing / Yaya Bey, Remember Your North Star / Beach Bunny, Emotional Creature / Elizabeth Moen, Wherever You Aren’t / Oceanator, Nothing’s Ever Fine / Friendship, Love the Stranger / Field Medic, grow your hair long if you're wanting to see something you can change* / Paul Cherry, Back on the Music! / Wilco, Cruel Country / Alvvays, Blue Rev / Bartees Strange, Farm to Table / Grace Ives, Janky Star / Lifeguard, Crowd Can Talk / Jeremy Cunningham, Dustin Laurenzi, Paul Bryan A Better Ghost / Sadurn, Radiator / Friko, Whenever Forever / Ganser, Nothing You Do Matters / ghost orchard, rainbow music / Georgia Harmer, Stay in Touch / Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights