In many ways this past year has been a special one for musicians–and much of it had to do with the pandemic. In the two years preceding 2022, concerts, festivals and other live gigs were cancelled, postponed or put on hold indefinitely. Lockdowns, quarantines and isolation meant musicians and bands had to find other ways of creating and recording music—for instance, by using technology to get around the restrictions of social distancing that the pandemic brought in its wake.
In 2022, gigs and festivals were back and bands were able to tour and perform live. What made this special was that during the worst phase of the pandemic, many bands had the time to create more music, write more songs, and spend more time in recording studios. So, even a casual check shows 2022 has witnessed a bonanza in terms of the number of contemporary music albums released.
So to try and choose just a few from the thousands of albums that came out last year can be daunting. Nevertheless, here is a list (in no particular order) of 10 that I would recommend listening to. My list, as readers will notice, has a sprinkling of everything: different genres, releases from familiar bands as well as completely new ones.
Also read: Neil Young is a gift that never stops giving
Let’s start with the oldies. One of my favourite albums this year was the release of Garcia Live Volume 19. It’s the recording of a concert by the Jerry Garcia Band (JGB was the late Grateful Dead guitarist’s own band) on Halloween in 1992 that has only been released this year. His band, comprising Melvin Seals on keyboards and John Kahn on bass, played two sets at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in California.
That was a phase when a very ill Garcia had to change his lifestyle. No one knew he would live less than three years.
For Deadheads and Garcia fans, then, the album is a delight because the songs, mostly covers (JGB covered Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue; the Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and many more), get a special twist that only Garcia’s vocals and guitar could provide.
The second oldie on the list is another blast from the past: the psychedelic country rock band from the 1970s, New Riders of the Purple Sage’s (NRPS) live album, recorded at a gig in 1972.
Like the Garcia Live album, Lyceum ’72 was released this year, and, for fans of NRPS, it is a nostalgic trip back to the band’s early years and their iconic songs, such as Hello Mary Lou, Truck Drivin’ Man, and I Don’t Need No Doctor.
The third oldie on the album is what I call a “current oldie”. It’s Neil Young’s latest album, his 42nd studio recording, titled World Record. Young teamed up with his favourite back-up band, Crazy Horse (everybody in the band, as well as Young himself, is well into their 70s), and the songs on the album deal with issues he is passionate about, such as protection of the Earth and against environmental degradation, fossil fuels, and corporate farming. Incredibly, Young’s characteristic raspy nasal voice intact at 77 and his music, a sort of proto-grunge that has influenced many younger musicians, has the same appeal as it did in the 1970s.
Now for the seven new albums from more contemporary bands and musicians. First on my list are the Brooklyn-based indie folk rockers Big Thief. Their new album, verbosely titled Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, is a masterpiece. A double album, comprising 20 songs, it was recorded at four different locations chosen for sonic diversity and is a riveting listen. Intelligently lyricised folk songs, bouncy upbeat indie rock songs, tightly arranged ambient rock, Big Thief’s new 80-minute-plus album has it all.
Also read: The once angry Pixies turn sensibly mellow
This year’s high point from the world of hip hop was Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, from the genre’s celebrated maestro and Pulitzer prize winner Kendrick Lamar. On Mr. Morale, Lamar deals with family crises and pandemic-related stress but also lays bare his own self, questioning and debunking the iconic influential giant figure that he has become. Clearly, it is hip hop’s best album of the year.
The remaining five on my list are made up by the following: New Orleans band Special Interest’s new album Endure, which fuses post-punk with danceable funk and politically charged lyrics; the Swedish punk band Viagra Boys’ Cave World, which is a set of raw and sinister songs that only they can pull off with such elan; the British band Wet Leg’s eponymous debut album, which pitchforked it to fame this year– their post-punk Britpop laced with wit and humour is a treat; rapper Black Thought and producer Danger Mouse’s collaboration, titled Cheat Code, which is a true meeting of a rap wordsmith and an eclectic musician, an album that typifies how exponentially hip hop has evolved; and, finally, the jazz percussionist Makaya McCraven’s (who is known as the Beat Scientist) new album, In These Times, which pushes the boundaries of jazz and questions our preset views about the genre—in an intriguingly enjoyable way.
THE LOUNGE LIST
(Five songs to bookend your week)
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.