Favourites from the first half of 2022
Part Two: Folk, Pop, & Pop Adjacent
Part Four: Jazz & Experimental
Continuing on from the electronic and pop-adjacent selections of the first two posts, these 10 albums and EPs run the gamut from wiry post-punk to ocean-breeze dream-pop, with an emphasis on reverb, echo, and lysergic tendencies. Most of the artists here have found a way to balance nostalgic tendencies with forward-thinking restlessness, carving new niches in old sounds and proving there’s still plenty of mileage to be wrung from six strings and a distortion pedal.
Cola – Deep in View
Post-punk from two of the folks who brought you Ought, and Cola definitely sips from the same mug of angular post-punk guitars, elliptical lyrics, and caffeinated rhythms that fueled that earlier project. Tim Darcy’s songwriting is more concise here, and his melodies are more fleshed out, but the songs still have that blend of urgency and inscrutability that has always made him such a fascinating voice.
Congotronics International – Where’s the One?
Overkill in every sense, but if you approach this maximalist intercontinental collaboration in the right frame of mind, be ready to be overwhelmed by sheer joy. A decade in the making and recorded via fragments traded between 19 musicians across four continents (including members of Konono No. 1, Deerhoof, Juana Molina, and more), the songs are understandably eclectic, with distorted likembé rave-ups, indie-rock stompers, live fragments, and call-and-response anthems bubbling up for a minute or two, jamming on a theme, and moving on to the next idea. It’s all a bit much, but you rarely find music this freewheeling.
Exek – Advertise Here
Fusing elements of dub, post-punk, and psychedelic pop, Melbourne’s Exek make music that feels perpetually off-kilter, teetering on the brink of accessibility but always ready to wobble into realms of high weirdness. Picture pre-ambient Brian Eno fronting PiL and you wouldn’t be worlds way from the sound of Advertise Here; dispassionate vocals and deadpan grooves, woozy synths and motorik beats, this is serious strangeness delivered with a wink and a barely visible smile.
gerry – gerry EP
Four stoned krautrock jams that throb with consciousness-expanding joy. The gnarled synths on “Grimpy” are what initially caught my ear, but each of the four instrumentals is a gem in its own right, from the rollicking opener “Tune2” to the big-beat bliss of “Bloody” and the end-credit crawl of mid-tempo closer “Low Prophie.” Here’s hoping this project amounts to more than just a one-off EP.
Ghostkeeper – Multidimensional Culture
After the synth-heavy atmospherics of 2017’s Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks, it’s tempting to call Multidimensional Culture a return to form, but that doesn’t give credit to the last album’s quality, or to the new one’s adventurousness. Still, as a long-time fan of Shane Ghostkeeper’s corkscrew solos and occasional Beefheartian skronk, it’s nice to hear him returning to the guitar. Multidimensional Culture finds the band embracing a rich sense of melody, with string arrangements, choral backings, and gospel energy enriching Shane’s usual singsong-spoken delivery—his growth as a singer is startling. It’s the sentimental moments that really stun here, though, the gorgeous “This is How I Know You” and psychedelic ballad “Summer Child” showing a sweetness that suits the band surprisingly well.
Kikagaku Moyo – Kumoyo Island
There’s something to be said for going out on a high note, but it still seems slightly unfair that Kikagaku Moyo would choose their swan song to release their most focused, infectious, exhuberant album. In a way it’s almost an antithesis to last year’s Ryley Walker collaboration Deep Fried Grandeur, trading in that album’s two side-long jams for some of the catchiest tunes the band has put to wax. Things still get plenty spacy—”Meu Mar” is vintage Moyo in that regard—but the sitar hook and wah-wah guitar on “Monaka” and the woozy groove of “Dancing Blue” open the album with a pop flourish that they’ve only hinted at before. Clearly the band felt the project has run its course, but there’s no sign of creative fatigue on Kumoyo Island.
Large Plants – The Carrier
The artists on Ghost Box recordings are frequently steeped in nostalgia, but they usually lean towards haunted synths and radiophonic sound effects to conjure their vintage atmospheres. Wolf People’s Jack Sharp takes a different approach for his debut as Large Plants, channeling a strain of fuzzed-out folk-psych that sounds like it was summened straight from the 1960s via an acid-tinged ritual. Still, it’s not hard to see why The Carrier ended up on the Ghost Box roster. Listen to the library-funk groove on “How Far” or the mournful melody of “Hold Onto,” and you’ll find that this is every bit as haunted as anything from the Advisory Circle or Belbury Poly—just with distorted guitars and the occasional cowbell.
Modern Nature – Island of Noise
This one’s here on a technicality, as it was officially released in 2021 as a vinyl box set, but the digital release didn’t come until January, 2022. That scarcity was certainly part of the album’s initial appeal, but Island of Noise isn’t one of the year’s best albums because of a marketing approach. Jack Cooper’s post-Ultimate Painting project shares his former band’s impeccable taste, but nothing in that catalogue foreshadowed the nuanced arrangement and improvisatory feel that have come to define Modern Nature. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Island’s songs feel timeless, even elemental. The music more an ecosystem than a collection of songs, themes decaying and re-emerging, new patterns growing like wildflowers in fields, comforting and unpredictable all at once.
Persica 3 – Tangerine
A too-brief collection of lush dream-pop released on France’s always-reliable Hidden Bay Records. There’s a distinctly coastal feel to this mini-LP despite its Parisian origins, a modern extrapolation of the Beach Boys’ proto-dream pop in its sun-soaked synths and reverb-heavy harmonies, refreshing as an ocean breeze. Album closers “Elliot” and “Unflattering / Untitled” end Tangerine on a melancholy note, but the impression the album leaves you with isn’t of sadness or even bittersweet; it’s the lighter-than-air feeling of a pleasant memory, distant in time but alive in the mind and ready to be recalled again.
Yoo Doo Right – A Murmur, Boundless to the East
Clocking in at nearly 45 minutes over the course of just five songs, it’s fair to say Yoo Doo Right approach their songwriting with a fair bit of ambition. Refining their heady blend of krautrock, shoegaze and Montreal post-rock, A Murmur, Boundless to the East is a more subdued patient record than last year’s Don’t Think You Can Escape Your Purpose, and more patient, too. The Morricone-in-space atmspherics of “The Failure of Stiff, Tired Friends” (just over six minutes long and still the album’s shortest track) makes for a solid entry point, but the closer “Feet Together, Face Up on the Front Lawn” is the album’s highpoint, showing off everything Yoo Doo Right do right. With apocalyptic strings courtesy of Jessica Moss, pounding motorik drums, and car-crash guitar, it’s up there with the peaks of Constellation’s dystopian post-rock, cacophany and catharsis doled out over 16 thundering minutes.