Plenty of people seem to stop looking for new music as they get older, with the responsibilities of life piling up and the music of their younger years acting a balm to soothe themselves in the face of those responsibilities. And while I completely understand that, I seem to be going the complete opposite direction. I turned 30 this year, and despite my now deeply advanced age, I listened to more new releases this year than any other year that I can remember. And sure, a big chunk of those albums may not have stuck with me past a handful of listens, and I may have often gone back to those comforting classic albums. But there were also plenty of records I absolutely adored and couldn’t stop listening to. Here’s 15 of them.
15. The Callous Daoboys – Celebrity Therapist
Ever since The Dillinger Escape Plan called in quits in 2017, I’ve had a hole in my musical heart that has never quite been filled. Thankfully, their inspiration is still carrying on today in bands like SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Pupil Slicer, and The Callous Daoboys. And on the Daoboys’ Celebrity Therapist, they do take inspiration from that legendary mathcore band, but they’ve also used it as a launch pad on which to build their own thing as well. For every bit of frenzied math metal you’ll find alt rock hooks that would feel more at home on a System of a Down record, and a strong sense of melodic songwriting that ties those moments of craziness together. I liked the previous album Die on Mars well enough, but they’ve really upped their game and become something truly great on Celebrity Therapist.
14. Mothica – Nocturnal
Mothica is an artist that I hadn’t even HEARD of before catching her opening up for Coheed and Cambria this year. Her show instantly won me over with her intense and captivating stage presence, confessional lyricism, and the wide variety of sounds she was working with. On Nocturnal, Mothica blends electronic beats, hard-edged guitars, tinges of 2000s emo, and even the occasional bit of inspiration from the 1950s in order to spill her pain over music that is filled with hooks, ear-worm melodies, and intense honesty. These songs detail struggles with depression, suicide attempts, insecurity, social anxiety, and just the vicissitudes of modern life that we all deal with, and Mothica does it in a way that’s both deeply entertaining and easy to sing along with as it is emotionally cutting.
13. Hikaru Utada – Bad Mode
Hikaru Utada has always had an incredible voice, one which always feels wistful, longing, and full of grace. On Bad Mode, nothing has changed in that department, which Utada giving another standout vocal performance that always manages to somehow stir up feelings of nostalgia and warmth in me despite me not speaking Japanese. What HAS changed is the music backing her up: on Bad Mode, Utada has hired a wealth of amazing jazz musicians, including members of the ensemble Badbadnotgood, and the results are astounding. The music is buttery smooth, sensual, groovy, and even dance-able at times, and does that all without ever leaving the chilled out, late-night afterparty texture that Bad Mode invokes. It’s a wonderful album to put on when you’re assailed by the whirlpool of late night emotions.
12. Anthony Green – Boom. Done.
Anthony Green has had a hell of a year. After a relapse, a divorce, and his main band Circa Survive falling into a hiatus, there was plenty going wrong. But because he’s always been one of the bravest and most open songwriters of his era, he came through with a painfully brutal, honest, and soul-baring solo record in the form of Boom. Done. On this album he documents his battle with drugs, addiction, depression, and what sounds very much like a survived suicide type, and it makes for an absolutely harrowing listen. So – likely with a touch of intentional irony – he chose to couch these grim confessionals in the sound of crunchy ’90s grunge guitars and layers of spunky horn sections to liven things up. The contrast isn’t lost on me, and it makes for what is possibly the most compelling record he’s ever put his own name on.
11. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
I’ve said for years that punk and rap are genres more closely related than most people think they are from a surface level view. Both are made by groups of people that are often downtrodden by society, oppressed in some form or another, and fueled by the anger that comes from living lives that are so often rated as second class by others. So when I heard Soul Glo fuse the burning passion of hardcore punk with the attitude and swagger of rap, I was instantly in love with what I heard. Diaspora Problems is a relentlessly furious record that takes aim at modern society and its love of shallow consumerism, its deep racial divisions, and the twisted politics that are threatening the fabric of our world. It’s a vital, pissed off record with a lot to say, and it’s worth cranking up to make sure you hear that message.
10. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
Sure, Pusha T has been rapping about selling coke for decades at this point. Any other rapper would’ve run out of steam years ago, but somehow, Pusha always manages to keep things fresh and entertaining. On It’s Almost Dry, he’s joined by Kanye West and Pharrell on the boards, evenly splitting production duties. The result is an album full of varied, exciting beats and production that effortlessly match Pusha’s smooth coke bars. This is an album full of attitude, swagger, and confidence, and it’s a great listen for any rap fan.
9. Royal Coda – To Only A Few At First
This year was the year Dance Gavin Dance seemed to fall apart, and their new album Jackpot Juicer failed to inspire anything beyond apathy in me. Thankfully, we have Royal Coda, which notably features former DGD vocalist Kurt Travis as well as lead guitarist Will Swan, essentially recreating a big part of the magic from Happiness-era DGD. And this album fires on all cylinders, chock full of spidery guitar playing, great use of space and texture, and a powerhouse vocal performance from Kurt Travis. After so many years and so many bands, it’s incredible how Kurt only seems to get better at his craft with every passing year, and for me, it’s easy to say that Royal Coda is doing it better than Dance Gavin Dance.
8. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez, See Your Future
2022 seems to have been the year of therapy rap. Kendrick Lamar waded into these waters with his album Mr. Morale, but I found myself enjoying Denzel Curry’s take a bit more. Melt My Eyez is, simply put, one hell of a smooth record. Backed by a collection of jazz musicians and live performance takes, this is the most musical a Denzel record has ever sounded, effortlessly blending hip hop beats with stunning instrumentation. And over the top of these smooth tracks, Denzel switches gear from the revved up, near-metal singer energy he usually turns in to something that’s more refined, more inward, more introspective. Denzel deals with generational trauma, how those traumas have shaped him and even pushed him towards causing harm to others himself, and by the end of the album, offers himself and everyone else a path towards doing the work and becoming a better person not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us.
7. The Weeknd – Dawn FM
Abel Tesfaye, AKA The Weeknd, once kicked his career off with a trilogy of fantastically moody and sleazy dark R&B albums. Now, at the absolute height of his career, it seems he’s once again creating a trilogy. On 2019’s After Hours, Abel mined the excess and heartbreak that have been familiar themes in his work, but did it inside of a creative arc that seemingly ended with him (or his character) dying. Now on Dawn FM, Abel treats us to a warped version of ’80s nostalgia filtered through the eerie sounds of producer Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never. Dawn FM swerves through earnest, gorgeous takes on ’80s love ballads and heartbreak tunes, but does so in a way that feels just ever so slightly off, uncanny, even supernatural. And combined with Jim Carey’s radio DJ-esque interjections that speak of the afterlife and what one has to do to move their soul forward, it makes for a wonderful through line that holds this collection of great songs even more tightly together.
6. Ibaraki – Rashomon
Despite knowing of Matt Heafy and Trivium for, well, over a decade at this point, I’d never taken much time to explore them. That all changed after seeing Trivium life with Between the Buried and Me late this year, and I immediately dove into Trivium’s catalog. Along that journey, I found Matt Heafy’s new black metal inspired project Ibaraki, and it instantly became one of my favorite albums of the year. Immediately progressive, musically ambitious, conceptual in scope, and at times breathtakingly heavy, Rashomon is some of the best work Matt has ever done. I love how this album blends some of the traditional elements of black metal with a more operatic, dramatic feel, as well as blending in a lot of extra instruments and themes that often lie well outside of black metal’s purview (c’mon, how many black metal albums do you know of that focus solely on Japanese mythology?). It’s a fantastic album that I haven’t been able to stop listening to, and I hope there’s more to come under the Ibaraki name.
5. Greg Puciato – Mirrorcell
In 2020, Greg Puciato’s debut solo album was one of my favorite albums of the year. It was an adventurous record that covered a ton of stylistic ground, sometimes to a fault. However, on his second album Mirrorcell, Greg has locked into a consistent, steady groove across its 9 tracks. Greatly influenced by his time touring with Jerry Cantrell, this album is chock full of nods to ’90s grunge and alt rock, both musically and vocally. And while you’ll hear very little of his trademark paint-peeling screams here, there’s still plenty of aggression and emotional angst to be found, Greg has just found new avenues to channel that through. Mirrorcell is a pulsing, powerful album, and it proudly continues the creative winning streak that Greg has been on since the dissolution of The Dillinger Escape Plan.
4. The Mars Volta – Self Titled
It’s been a long time since we got new TMV. Even before their breakup, they had been trending away from the insanely complex prog rock they started off making, and into more streamlined, refined, traditional songwriting and structures. So while a lot of people were shocked when they came back with a record that bordered on pop (well, by TMV standards, anyway), I wasn’t. To me, this smooth, sensual sounding album feels like the next logical step after 2012’s Noctourniquet, trading guitar fireworks for powerful vocal melodies, sparse yet effective guitar atmospherics, and concise song lengths. And while this album sounds pretty and even upbeat for a large chunk of its runtime, a quick peek into its lyrics reveals a much darker, more traumatized core, making this album one hell of a compelling listen and a worthwhile comeback for the band.
3. Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind
At first, I really didn’t like this album. My gut reaction was to be repelled at the idea of Coheed making something so akin to a pop rock album, especially after the return to their proggier roots on the preceeding album, Vaxis I. And yet, for whatever reason, I kept found myself thinking “eh, I’ll give it another try”. Then I had realized that just about every single song from it was mercilessly stuck in my head, and that was when I realized that Coheed was right all along. Yeah, Vaxis II does lean towards the straightforward (and I still can’t get over how badly they used autotune on some of the electronic tracks), but the songs are absolutely undeniable. Fun, energetic, hopeful, and just as cinematically conceptual as ever, Vaxis II spent a lot of time in my rotation this year.
2. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
With The Smile, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have found a way to free themselves of the weight that the Radiohead name bears. Without the spectre of that band’s legacy hanging over their heads, they’ve turned in an album that – yes, sounds quite a bit like Radiohead – but is also more free, more loose, and more energetic than anything they’ve done under that banner since at least In Rainbows. On A Light…, the band powers through rollicking rock riffs, hazy dream like explorations of sonic tension, nervy kraut rock, and plenty more, with the band approaching the songs with a sense of recklessness and fire that gives this band plenty of reason to stand alone from its’ parent band. And after seeing them debut a slew of live material in November, I’m excited for what they do next.
1. The Wonder Years – The Hum Goes on Forever
I’ve known about the Wonder Years since about 2015 or so, but it wasn’t until late 2021 that they clicked for me and I became a full on super fan. Luckily for me, the timing couldn’t have been better, with them working on a brand new album and coming out of post-covid touring shutdowns recharged and ready to hit the road. And their new album, The Hum Goes On Forever, almost instantly took the title of not only my album of the year, but TWY’s best album. This record is packed full of heartbreaking emotional lows, life-affirming highs, and everything in between. On it, singer Dan Campbell explores the crushing clinical depression that has dogged him his entire life, hitting home for me in so many ways and putting words to things I’ve tried to explain for years. But at the same time, he’s not wallowing in that sadness, instead he spends much of the record working through it, trying to be better, trying to escape the clutches of this devil that has been in his bloodstream. Why? Because in the past few years, he became a new father. Now more than ever, he had a reason to fight this demon, a reason to be the best man he can be so that his children can be the best men THEY can be. So not only did I come away with a better perspective on my own depression through Dan’s lyrics, I also got a glimpse into what it must be like for my father, struggling with his own demons and seeing my struggle with my own. The Hum Goes On Forever is an absolute triumph of a record, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since its release. I hope you give it a listen, too.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
Chat Pile – God’s Country
LS Dunes – Past Lives
Armor for Sleep – The Rain Museum
The Devil Wears Prada – Color Decay
Crosses – Permanent.Radiant
Bartees Strange – Farm to Table
Oso Oso – Sore Thumb
Silversun Pickups – Phyiscal Thrills
For Tracy Hyde – Hotel Insomnia
Mares of Thrace – The Exile