Favorite Records of 2022

S.G. Goodman
Teeth Marks

This Kentucky singer-songwriter’s debut, Old Time Feeling, was my favorite album of 2020, and she captured my heart once again with her second record. This one is more of a rock album, as Goodman plays with a terrific group, often sounding like a talented bar band playing in a backwoods roadhouse. (At least, that’s how I picture it.) Another critic mentioned “shoegaze” when describing Goodman’s music, which struck me as a peculiar choice of musical terms. But I understand where that idea came from: There are times when Goodman and her backing band get into a groove, repeating a riff as if hypnotized or reveling in the waves of sound. A similar intensity and focus come through in Goodman’s voice, evoking the mountain music of her home state as well as its deeper roots in British folk. Goodman’s lyrics are poetic and passionate. I enjoyed hearing her conversation with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast, and then when she performed a top-notch show at Schubas, her strong personality was on display during her delightful storytelling in between the songs. The centerpiece of this album is a pair of haunting tracks, “If You Were Someone I Loved” and “You Were Someone I Loved.” Or is it one song divided into two parts? Together, they form a moving plea for empathy—and a demand to help neighbors and friends who are in crisis and despair.

Versions of Modern Performance

I find it thrilling to hear young people here in Chicago (in this case, a trio of young women) making vital new music with instruments that might seem almost old-fashioned and out of style: guitars and drums. Horsegirl’s music sounds a bit like old post-punk, but there’s a fresh quality to this combination of catchy vocal melodies, absurdist lyrics, and surging, swelling guitars—as well as the record’s moody interludes, featuring simple piano and ambient touches of art rock. As the album title suggests, these are versions of how rock music can be performed today. It doesn’t all have to sound like slick pop music. Horsegirl offers further evidence that the kids really are all right.

Makaya McCraven
In These Times

This is the best new jazz music I’ve heard in ages. Now, I must confess that I don’t listen to nearly as much new jazz as I should, so take that proclamation with a grain of salt. But this album confirms that Makaya McCraven, a Chicago drummer and producer who has dabbled in hip-hop and other styles of music, is an outstanding composer and arranger. The textures and moods shift from track to track, but every song is evocative and memorable. While working on other projects over the past seven years, McCraven saved up some of his best original compositions for this album, and it shows. I love it from beginning to end.

The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness
The Third Wave of…

This Scottish-Spanish duo makes perfectly executed power pop, very reminiscent of bands like Teenage Fanclub, with chiming guitars and lovely harmony vocals. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but it’s really catchy.

Angel Olsen
Big Time

Angel Olsen hasn’t abandoned her roots as a folk singer, but she continues evolving and exploring. On this album, she sounds more soulful than ever, channeling grief and personal discovery into emotionally powerful songs.

The Sadies
Colder Streams

Before he died in February, Dallas Good wrote a description of his band’s latest album, commenting: “The Sadies don’t really fit tidily into any genre, or even sub-genre. We aren’t really ‘pre or post’ anything and we don’t have the right hair-cuts or hats for any particular scene. Can’t really call us modern or retro either. We certainly don’t claim to have re-invented the wheel. We just are. And have been for a very long time. So, all that matters is the music itself.” On Colder Streams, the Sadies stuck with their tried-and-true formula. And they succeeded once again, crafting yet another collection of great songs. Although his vocals were as understated as ever, Dallas had a gift for delivering a memorable melody with seemingly no effort. And as always, it was a joy to hear his guitar riffs intertwined with those of his brother, Travis. I mourned Dallas Good’s death while listening to Colder Streams, struck by lyrics such as: “When I search for answers, questions are all I find.” But think of this album is a celebration of great music, not an epitaph.

Nora O’Connor
My Heart

Ever since Nora O’Connor’s wonderful album Til the Dawn was released in 2004, I’d been hoping she would record another one. In the meantime, I saw her perform many times with the Flat Five or as a solo artist or as a guest with other musicians. My hopes finally came true this year, and her new record lived up to my expectations: a beautiful set of alt-country, Americana, and pop music with a bit of a 1970s West Coast vibe (via Chicago, of course).

Joan Shelley
The Spur

That beautiful voice, singing another set of beautiful songs. Louisville singer-songwriter Joan Shelley has expanded her sound, moving beyond acoustic guitar and fleshing out her arrangements with a full band, sometimes substituting piano for guitar. But the tunes still sound like Joan Shelley, with a soothing stillness at their core.


Oneida sometimes makes experimental and almost abstract music, but the band is as direct as ever on this album, which is filled with punchy rock songs, guitar riffs, propulsive drumming, and catchy melodies. It’s one of the long-running cult band’s most accessible records.

Cruel Country

In recent years, Jeff Tweedy released some solo albums, as well as records by a band he called Tweedy. His latest album with Wilco feels like a hybrid of his solo work and the full band: The songs are mostly rooted in acoustic guitar, but Wilco’s masterful musicians add many grace notes as they flesh out the arrangements on live takes in the Loft studio. Wilco has been making good albums all along, but this is the best in a while, with
Tweedy returning to his alt-country roots for a big batch of 21 memorable songs.

Runners-up, in alphabetical order:

Arcade Fire, We
Big Thief, Dragon Warm New Mountain I Believe in You
Andrew Bird, Inside Problems
Bitchin Bajas, Bajascillators
Björk, Fossora
Naima Bock, Giant Palm
Nora Brown, Long Time to Be Gone
Bill Callahan, YTILAER
Ceramic Animal, Sweet Unknown
Cola, Deep in View
Crystal Eyes, The Sweetness Restored
Dehd, Blue Skies
Drive-By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII
Guided By Voices, Tremblers and Goggles by Rank
I Was a King, Follow Me Home
Julia Jacklin, Pre Pleasure
Damien Jurado, Reggae Film Star
Cate Le Bon, Pompeii
MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs
Cass McCombs, Heartmind
Mdou Moctar, Niger EP Vol. 2
Kevin Morby, This Is a Photograph
Nina Nastasia, Riderless Horse
Onyon, Onyon
Partner Look, By the Book
Plains, I Walked With You a Ways
Porridge Radio, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky
Ty Segall, “Hello, Hi”
The Smile, A Light for Attracting Attention
Kelley Stoltz, The Stylist
Kelley Stoltz, Transnational Series Volume 1 (EP)
Superchunk, Wild Loneliness
Sharon Van Etten, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Spiritualized, Everything Was Beautiful
Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa
Laura Veirs, Found Light
Wet Leg, Wet Leg
Weyes Blood, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

Best Records of 2010

myspace / artist website

From the opening notes to the very end, High Violet continually strikes that tricky balance that the National is known for — somehow sounding dazed and tense at the same time. The National has made some great records before, particularly 2007’s Boxer, but this one feels like an almost perfect distillation of its tightly wound, tamped-down anthems. Unsettling phobias run through the lyrics about ghosts, zombies, circus geeks and swarms of bees, but the majestic music feels more like a tonic to scare off the fear.

myspace /artist website / free mp3 of “I Don’t Get That”

San Francisco singer-songwriter and all-round musical genius Kelley Stoltz has made a string of top-notch records that hearken back to the golden era of the ’60s, playing most of the instruments himself. His latest record continues in that vein, but it leans more toward the Kinks and the Troggs, with the rawer sounds of ’60s garage rock. The compositions are still beautiful, with smart chord changes and guitar and bass lines that accomplish so much in a few simple turns, but it’s all a bit rougher around the edges. There’s one cover, a catchy take on an obscure 1965 British single, “Baby I’ve Got News For You,” by Big Boy Pete — and it’s a terrific match with Stoltz’s originals.

Click here to see Crawdaddy’s video of Stoltz playing an acoustic version of the same song.

label website / myspace / artist website

Will Oldham, who most often calls himself Bonnie “Prince” Billy these days, is one highly prolific singer-songwriter, with a complex, hard-to-track discography. He’s been on something of a roll with his last several recordings, and the latest is one of his best yet, a collaboration with the Cairo Gang, otherwise known as Emmett Kelly, a talented Chicago musician with a sensitive approach to playing the guitar. When the two of them play live together (something that really ought to be seen), you can feel how they’re feeding off one another. And that comes through on this strong set of 10 mostly acoustic songs. In a review earlier this year for Signal to Noise magazine, I wrote: Oldham has never sung better, gently catching all the subtle nuances of his melodies. His lyrics read like poetry on the page, but somehow even his archaic turns of phrase feel natural when he sings them. … Oldham dares to let his mind take him to places other songwriters avoid. On the last track, the elegiac “Kids,” he sings from the perspective of an aging man who’s afraid of moving, fearful of losing his ability to sing. If anything, Oldham sounds more fearless than ever. The two Bonnie “Prince” Billy shows I saw Chicago this fall were great, featuring Kelly and a full band. But this earlier, apparently unamplified duo concert by Oldhan and Kelly — captured on amateur video at Monster Island Basement in Brooklyn — looks even more amazing. The clip below begins in the middle of one song, “With Cornstalks or Among Them,” and continues with the song, “The Sounds Are Always Begging.”

label website / fan website

Arvo Pärt is one of the great living composers, and this year ECM released a recording of the first symphony he’s written in 37 years. The symphony is not really the form of music he’s known for, and this is not a typical symphony. Although Pärt has a full orchestra at his disposal — the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in 2009 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall — the symphony often sounds more like a piece of chamber music. It opens with serenity and stillness, like glimmers of light blinking in a night sky. But the same formulas that bind together the stars take on another, more menacing aspect as the symphony unravels over the course of three movements, arriving at a strangely tense and unresolved climax — unresolved except for the slight, almost passing resonance of a bell ringing at the very end. Like much of Pärt’s music, it feels mystical and soulful. (Here is a short essay I wrote about Pärt for a feature on classical music’s most inspiring people in the summer 2010 issue of Listen magazine.)

label website / myspace / buy at Bandcamp

The 1900s have been one of Chicago’s best bands over the past few years, and they emerged from some apparent turmoil with a slightly reconfigured lineup on this new record —sounding as strong as ever. The music isn’t quite as lushly orchestrated as it was on their superb 2007 album Cold and Kind, but the melodies are just as inventive, the words are great pop-song poetry, and the vocals by the trio of lead singers have never been so lovely. Another addictive collection of sweet songs with a bittersweet tinge.

myspace / label website / free mp3 of “Mermaid Parade”

Phosphorescent — which is essentially one guy, singer Matthew Houck, plus whatever musicians he assembles — has made good records in the past, but he/they seem to have found a new sense of purpose after doing a Willie Nelson tribute record in 2009. The result is the year’s best country record — or should we say alt-country? Country-rock? Forget all those labels. These are just great songs from top to bottom, with arrangements reminiscent of classic, old-time country and western.

label website /band website / myspace

No doubt, the Sadies are one of the most talented guitar bands you’ll ever see in concert. Using barely any effects pedals, they’ll show you how guitar, bass and drums are played by people who really, really know how to do it — but they also put that virtuosity to the service of the songs they’re playing, rather than simply showing off. And over their past few records, they’ve also matured into strong songwriters. The Sadies’ previous album, New Seasons, was my favorite of 2007. The new one ranks a notch below that one, but it’s a nearly unassailable bunch of tightly arranged roots-rock tunes, concluding with an incredible overture of sorts — the accurately named track “10 More Songs,” which crams a whole album’s worth of majestic guitar riffs into 4 minutes and 15 seconds.

myspace / label website / free mp3 of “King of Spain”

The Tallest Man on Earth — the stage name for Sweden’s Kristian Matsson — is a very traditional, acoustic-guitar-picking folk-rock singer-songwriter. It’s an old genre, but it’s far from exhausted, and Matsson is doing it as well as just about anyone right now. His dexterity on the guitar is impressive, and he’s surprisingly lively in concert, rarely standing still for more than a minute or two. But he’s mostly worth watching because of his gift for memorable melodies and words.

band website / myspace

It was hard not to wonder if the first Grinderman record would turn out to be a one-off stunt by Nick Cave. He recorded under a different name than usual, working with a subset of the musicians who play in his bigger band, the Bad Seeds, and the experience seemed to give him a jolt of electricity. It’s a good thing Cave reassembled Grinderman for a sophomore record, which is just as raging and raw as the first one, running over with black humor in the lyrics and an unstoppable power in the ragged blues-punk guitar riffs. This year, the middle-aged Cave showed the kids how to rock. (Warning: The first of the videos below, “Heathen Child,” is NSFW. It’s also insanely, wonderfully weird.)

artist website / myspace / video trailer

If only other young pop and R&B divas were as inventive and daring as Janelle Monáe. Her ambitious debut runs a wide gamut, from an orchestral introduction to bouncy dance music and elegant ballads, with a sci-fi theme running through the whole thing. She made her record the way she wanted to, and she had the director’s vision — and the powerful, nimble voice — required to pull it off.

AND THE NEXT 50 … in roughly descending order:
11. Kings Go Forth: The Outsiders Are Back (Luaka Bop)
12. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin)
13. The Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge)
14. She & Him: Vol. 2 (Merge)
15. Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone (Anti-)
16. Nina Nastasia: Outlaster (Fat Cat)
17. Dios: We Are Dios (Buddyhead)
18. Sharon Van Etten: Epic (Ba Da Bing)
19. Tunng: …And Then We Saw Land (Thrill Jockey)
20. Best Coast: Crazy For You (Mexican Summer)
21. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD)
22. Caribou: Swim (Merge)
23. Avi Buffalo: Avi Buffalo (Sub Pop)
24. Midlake: Courage of Others (Bella Union)
25. Kronos Quartet with Alim & Fargana Qasimov and Homayun Sakhi: Rainbow: Music of Central Asia Vol. 8 (Smithsonian Folkways)
26. Dr. Dog: Shame, Shame (Anti-)
27. Black Mountain: Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar)
28. A Broken Consort: Crow Autumn (Tompkins Square)
29. Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can (Astralwerks)
30. The Vaselines: Sex With an Ex (Sub Pop)
31. Spoon: Transference (Merge)
32. The Black Angels: Phosphone Dream (Blue Horizon)
33. The Besnard Lakes: The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)
34. Owen Pallett: Heartland (Domino)
35. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Kollaps Tradixionales (Constellation)
36. Woods: At Echo Lake (Woodsist)
37. Cave: Pure Moods (Drag City)
38. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone)
39. Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot)
40. The Fall: Your Future Our Clutter (Domino)
41. Laura Veirs: July Flame (Raven Marching Band)
42. White Hills: White Hills (Thrill Jockey)
43. The Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.: In O to Infinity (Important)
44. Belle & Sebastian: Write About Love (Matador)
45. Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM (Elektra/Asylum)
46. Clogs: The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton (Brassland)
47. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here (XL)
48. Jónsi: Go (XL)
49. The Love Language: Libraries (Merge)
50. Barn Owl: Ancestral Star (Thrill Jockey)

And then there were, oh, about a hundred more records I heard from 2010 that I liked — if only I had more time to absorb them all.