Modern composition / minimalism / drone
California collective Wild Up’s performances of Julius Eastman’s works (Vol. 1: Femenine / Vol. 2: Joy Boy) were two of my favourite albums of 2022, and continue to surprise me each time I relisten. Oren Ambarchi provided two excellent albums this year, both of which build directly on the intense, repetitions of his other recent releases. Ghosted is inflected with Mingus-esque bass grooves, whereas Shebang is lighter and more slippery; both are as wonderful as you might expect from Ambarchi, who rarely puts a foot wrong. Opening Performance Orchestra’s version of Phill Niblock’s Four Walls Full Of Sound is the most engrossing, enveloping drone imaginable. Equally maddening (in the best possible way) is Reich/Richter by Steve Reich, an absorbing soundtrack to Gerhard Richter’s abstract film Moving Picture (946-3). After a run of soundtrack work that doesn’t stand up well without visuals, Colin Stetson released Chimæra I, a chilly drone that features little of his ultra-physical saxophone performances of the past, but is no lesser for it. Anna von Hausswolff’s towering Live at Montreux Jazz Festival is similarly grand, with staggering vocal performances. Sow Your Gold In The White Foliated Earth by DEATHPROD deployed odd instruments designed by experimental composer Harry Partch to great effect. In Promise & Illusion, Ecka Mordecai reaches almost the same heights with her voice. Laura Cannell had a great year, with her folk-drone EP We Long to be Haunted my favourite, closely followed by the lighter but eerier Antiphony of the Trees. Living Torch by Kali Malone is another long drone that ranges from barely-there to punched-in-the-chest. Sarah Davachi continued her wonderful work with the restrained Two Sisters.
Weird / electronica
The most remarkable electronic album I heard this year was I was born by the sea by Hull-based artist Richie Culver, featuring upsettingly jarring, glitchy electronica underpinning dour Sleaford Mods-esque state-of-the-nation pronouncements like ‘There’s more mobility scooter repair shops and bookies than there are bookshops.’ I had no less than three minimal techno releases by Deepchord on regular rotation this year, my favourite of which were the EP Functional Extraits 1 and album Functional Designs. Another act to secure more than one slot on this list is Romance, whose haunting collaboration with Twin Peaks sound designer Dean Hurley, In Every Dream Home a Heartache, is wonderful – but not as wonderful as Once Upon a Time, a vaporwave oddity stretching Celine Dion vocals beyond breaking point. Mattering and Meaning by Dan Nicholls is a superficially beautiful collection of piano loops and field recordings that becomes stranger the more you listen. I loved the ambient soundscapes Nachthorn by Maxime Denuc and the more jittery Koko maailma by Olli Aarni. Finally, I don’t know how to describe Context by Lasse Marhaug, other than it’s as dark and compelling as the entrance to a train tunnel or a looming storm cloud.
Indie / rock / vocal
The Ruby Cord by Richard Dawson (or ‘Richard Dawson of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’, as the album cover emphasises) is a towering success, building on previous albums Peasant and 2020. He’s become by far my favourite vocal artist, and no matter how sweet some of his material becomes, his experimental, bloody-minded attitude shines through. Herman Dune brought the nostalgia with reworkings of favourite songs on The Portable Herman Dune. Horse Lords proved themselves reliable Beefheartians with the wonderful Comradely Objects. My favourite rock albums were Most Normal by Gilla Band and Super Champion by Otoboke Beaver, which drove my kids wild. My favourite calm albums were Gravskrift by Vessel, Ghosts by Haress, Optimism by Jana Horn and the sweet indie debut caroline by caroline.
I somehow missed Native Soul last year, but their 2021 release of South African amapiano house tracks, Teenage Dreams, has been on constant rotation whenever I’m driving alone. In 2022 they produced Native Roots, a more minor album featuring guest vocals, but great fun all the same. Twenty-One Sabar Rhythms is a terrific collection of precisely what it promises, from The Doudou Ndiaye Rose Family. Finally, I’m not connoisseur of house music, but Decius Vol. I by Decius & Lias Saoudi strikes me as the best sort imaginable.
There were some terrific compilations this year! My favourite was perhaps Music from Saharan WhatsApp (Sahel Sounds), which contains the most incredible grooves imaginable. The unlikeliest collection I loved was V4 Visions: Of Love & Androids (Numero Group), featuring 90s pop and R&B tunes that sound like hits from a parallel dimension. Very different but similarly out-there was the dark and strange Síntomas de techno – Ondas electrónicas subterráneas desde Perú (1985-1991) (Buh). I loved the uplifting Soul Jazz Records Presents Studio One Music Lab (Soul Jazz), and the first and third volumes of I Had the Craziest Dream: Modern Jazz and Hard-Bop in Post War London (Death Is Not the End). More conventional (for me) delights were found in the drone wash of Hallow Ground presents: Epiphanies (Hallow Ground). Some of the strangest and most exciting compilations I heard this year were Luke Schneider Presents… Imaginational Anthem, Vol. XI : Chrome Universal – A Survey of Modern Pedal Steel (Tompkins Square), the bizarre-but-calm Thorn Valley (World of Echo) and the completely unclassifiable Elsewhere VXIII (Rocket Recordings), which ought to be unlistenable given its breadth of artists, sounds and languages, but which comes across as the most coherent mixtape you’ve ever been gifted.
The biggest reissue release this year was the Super Deluxe edition of Revolver by The Beatles. The mournful demo of Yellow Submarine alone is worth the price of admission. Almost as exciting is the bumper ‘Farewell Horizontal’ edition of my favourite Pavement album, Terror Twilight, and a remastered version of often-overlooked electronica favourite Body Riddle by Clark. The smoky trip-hop Glass Lit Dream by Dawuna is my favourite 2021 release that I missed last year, though its reappearance in 2022 barely counts as a reissue. I played previously-hard-to-come-by Mother Is The Milky Way by Broadcast endlessly, along with the beautiful calmnesses of Tan-Tan Therapy by Tenniscoats and Sings Reign Rebuilder by Set Fire To Flames and the wonderful Peel Sessions by Movietone, and a brilliant album and band I’d never encountered before, Hydroplane by Hydroplane. The funkiest reissues I came across were Air Volta by Volta Jazz, Heart of the Congos by The Congos, Vol. 1 by Orchestre Les Volcans du Benin and the treasure trove of Charles Stepney demos, Step on Step. One of the most exciting discoveries was the Trunk release of the soundtrack to the 1976 TV show Children of the Stones, by Sidney Sager and the Ambrosian Singers.