I don’t know about y’all, but I’m extremely glad this year is over. 2022 may well go down as the most challenging of my life, and since we’re still living through the aftershocks of a global pandemic, I doubt I’m alone.
With all this going on, you’d be forgiven for missing out on some of the year’s best music. I gathered together five of my favorite releases that might’ve slipped past you. I hope you find something that moves you and here’s to 2023.
Jacob Banks - “Lies About the War”
There’s something about a really, really great soul record that can just get under your skin in the best way possible. That’s the case with Jacob Banks’ sophomore album, “Lies About the War,” which finds the Nigerian-born, UK-based artist digging into his own life story for musical inspiration.
The album is an artful blend of soul and gospel with elements of folk and electronic and by releasing it on his own label, Banks ensured the final product is exactly what he wants to be. Tracks like opener “Just When I Thought,” is one of the year’s best album kick-offs, while “By Design (Evel Knievel)” channels classic soul masters from decades past.
Denzel Curry - “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” (The Extended Edition)
Rap music often sounds the best during the summer, but Denzel Curry’s fifth album shines for a different reason - the way it captures the beauty and wistfulness of the season. As a rule, Curry is allergic to all things saccharine, which is all to the good - the album evokes every aspect of the perfect summer day without clobbering the listener over the head with vibes.
Speaking of atmosphere, Curry carefully selects his guests and all shine - pianist Robert Glasper is a wonderful addition to “Melt Session #1” and Rico Nasty and JID (who both released stellar albums this year) both go for show-stealing on “Ain’t No Way.” You definitely want to check out the extended version of the album, which goes beyond just providing a look behind the creative curtain and creates a vibrant, jazz-drenched feel.
Gang of Youths - “angel in realtime.”
For Dave Le’aupepe, the lead singer and songwriter of Australia’s Gang of Youths, the illness and death of his father provided an opportunity to grapple with mortality, secrets and what it means to be a member of a family.
That’s an awful lot to squeeze into one album, and “angel in realtime.” is brimming with musical and lyrical ideas. Not every one succeeds, but I love the album for its brash attempts and quiet introspection. “brothers,” one of the year’s most devastating songs, reveals that Le’aupepe’s father had secret children that thought he was already dead, and “the man himself” is a rousing sonic builder that doubles at one of the most honest explorations of grief you’re likely to find on a rock record.
A monument to a life and the cathartic power of music, this album truly did the most. And that’s the best.
Carly Rae Jepsen - “The Loneliest Time”
Let the record show, Carly Rae Jepsen had already announced the release date of her fifth album and then Taylor Swift had to come in and just totally stomp all over everything by releasing her record on the same day. Even if Swift got all the shine, in my opinion, Jepsen made the superior album.
For “The Loneliest Time,” Jepsen jettisoned much of her lyrical focus on the transformative power of love (much, not all) and instead delves into heartbreak, finding oneself and the solace of the dancefloor. Highlights include “Western Wind,” a sun-soaked California dreamscape, and “Go Find Yourself or Whatever.” But save a shout for the best disco song of the year, the Rufus Wainwright-featuring title track.
Wild Pink - “ILYSM”
The pervasiveness of cancer in our world could possibly inure a person to the impact that receiving a positive diagnosis must have. When John Ross, lead singer of New York’s Wild Pink, received his diagnosis at 34, it’s difficult to imagine what that must’ve been like. But, in a way, you don’t need to imagine - it is all over the band’s latest album.
Like most of the writers on this list, Ross doesn’t deal in the traditional or expected. His pen is as sharp as ever, and he finds sometimes jarring, sometimes breathtaking ways to take the listener along on his winding road. He can be bitter and sardonic, like on “Oversharers Anonymous,” and expansive and loving, as heard on “Hold My Hand.”
In charting his story, Ross set an example for everyone who is struggling. Which, let’s face it, feels like is everybody.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.