Top Ten Albums of 2022 – Cathy Brown
We’ve asked some of our writers for their thoughts on the Best Albums of the year. you can see Cathy’s thoughts below…
10. Loose Future – Courtney Marie Andrews
Do not let Courtney’s sweet vocal fool you, on Loose Future, she embraces grit, depth and real musical maturity. Lyrically Loose Future might tread similar ground to Andrews’ previous work, but this is an expansive album, both in words and sounds. The arrangements are playful and experimental, combining unusual tones, tight harmonies, sweeping orchestral backdrops and shifting textures to surprise and delight. Best of all is Andrews’ vocal – always able to convey a depth of feeling and reverberating with tangible exhilaration.
9. How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars – The Weather Station
Recorded over three days in March 2020 as the world went into lockdown and performed almost entirely at the piano, Tamara Lindeman’s follow-up to her brilliant 2021 album Ignorance is an intimate, thoughtful affair. These discreet songs about love and sorrow and the confusion of lockdown feel spacious and adrift, mainly due to the lack of percussion. Saxophone, steel guitar, clarinet and electric organ add warmth to the arrangements but this is all about the voice and the songwriting, often bringing to mind Lindeman’s fellow Canadian, Joni Mitchell.
8. Warm Chris – Aldous Harding
Aldous Harding once again defies categorisation on Warm Chris, an album of psychedelic-adjacent folk-pop which highlights that stunning voice through direct melodies and warm arrangements. In some ways, it is a gentle album, sparing on the percussion and rounded out with balmy brass and yet Harding throws in some curveballs like ‘Leathery Whip’, which features vocals from Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson, just in case the listener might be getting too comfortable. A complex and intriguing album that grows better with every listen.
7. Voids – Old Fire
Old Fire is the recording project of composer and producer John Mark Lapham and Voids explores themes of isolation, decay and his life growing up in West Texas. Almost half of these tracks are cinematic instrumentals, but Lapham also employs the talents of vocalists like Julia Holter and Bill Callaghan to create a cohesive collection of songs that span country, folk, dream pop and jazz. It is not an easy album, but it’s an intriguing one and the weathered baritone of Callaghan comes to define it. Their cover of John Martyn’s ‘Don’t You Go’, a desperate plea to stop young men being sent off to war, earns it a place on this list in its own right.
6. Cruel Country – Wilco
Wilco are the unmistakable godfathers of the alt-country genre, but on this new album, the notion of country works two ways, a nod to a genre as much as to a location. Cruel Country is Jeff Tweedy’s state of the nation treatise on the political upheavals in America. The country music tropes are used sparingly and subtly and the band explore them in a way that avoids pastiche and keeps their sound expansive. The result is an album that sounds gorgeous but is shot through with a rich vein of conflicted anger. “I love my country, stupid and cruel, red white and blue” sings Tweedy on an album that showcases a band who are constantly pushing the musical boundaries in unexpected and satisfying ways.
5. Sound of the Morning – Katy J Pearson
There is so much to enjoy on this album – from insightful lyrics to lush instrumentation, intimate arrangements to sweeping melodies – all executed with an infectious and irresistible openness. The most impressive thing about Sound of the Morning is how Pearson makes every style feel like an extension of her own striking voice and her own intriguing creative sensibility. Sound of the Morning is a potent and optimistic album which confirms that Katy J Pearson as the real deal.
4. Some Kind of Peace – Piano Reworks – Ólafur Arnalds
According to Spotify, this was my most played album of the year and it is easy to see why. Innovative Icelandic modern classical composer, performer and producer Ólafur Arnalds produced a new version of his 2020 album Some Kind Of Peace featuring recreated versions of his songs on piano by other artists. Featuring Dustin O’Halloran, Lambert and Sophie Hutchings amongst others, the album is an ode to collaboration, keeping each artist’s personal style while celebrating Arnalds moving and expansive piano music.
3. And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow – Weyes Blood
Natalie Mering, the sweet-voiced powerhouse behind Weyes Blood, continues to focus on ‘70s sounds and lush arrangements, on an album that is as easy on the ear as it is delicately unnerving. And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is rich in orchestration and lush romanticism, expertly cocooning her crystalline, distinctive vocal. The dream-like nature of her cinematic vision and the skilful juxtaposition of the vintage and the contemporary makes for a convincing and commanding sound.
2. Laurel Hell – Mitski
Japanese American indie artist Mitski delivered a fifth album full of sharp pop hooks and atmospheric electronica. “I left the door open to the dark”, she sings on ‘Stay Soft’ and this is an album that mixes retro disco sounds, electronic beats, atmospheric drone and searching lyrics to create a collection of songs that will make you cry or make you dance in equal measure. A perfect fusion of her trademark melancholy and ‘80s revivalist sound.
1. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You – Big Thief
Featuring twenty tracks coming in at a listening time of over 80 minutes, Big Thief’s 2022 offering could try the patience of even the most ardent fan, but Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is such a joy that you will wish that they had included the other 25 discarded songs. They slide effortlessly through styles and genres, with Adrienne Lenker’s intricate lyrics and vulnerable vocals leading the way, in songs that range from country to folk, classic Americana to indie-rock with a bit of shoe-gazing thrown in for good measure. Full of whimsical charm, song-writing magic and pitch-perfect arrangements, this is an album of collective, effortless brilliance.
SPECIAL MENTION: SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Undo the Blue – Iraina Mancini
Including this is a bit of a cheat, but ‘Undo the Blue’ was without doubt my favourite single of the year. Produced by Jagz Kooner (Primal Scream) it is a blinder of a song; a dreamy slice of ‘70s psychedelic soul, embellished with brass, lush harmonies, strings and Iraina’s soaring vocals. Its infectious beauty builds to a climax worthy of ‘Les Fleurs’ by Minnie Ripperton. ‘Undo the Blue’ is a song that sounds vibrantly fresh and pleasingly retro all at the same time and marks Mancini out as a real talent to watch. Here’s hoping for an album in 2023!