Well, it’s that time of year again, when all us music geeks get to talk about their favorite records of the year. 2022 was kind of an interesting year for me as far as my musical purchases go. There were only a few records I thought were excellent, but there wasn’t anything that I particularly despised either. Most records were just kind of somewhere in the middle for me. Maybe I’m getting older and a little bit jaded. Maybe it was a slow year. Maybe I’m just tired.
Anyway, here’s the top ten new release discs that kept my ears occupied this year.
10. Drive-By Truckers-Welcome To Club XIII
DBT is one of my all time favorite bands so it’s pretty rare when one of their albums doesn’t find its way into one of my top ten lists. This album is full of nostalgia for the band’s early days, reflective in tone, yet still somehow reflective of our time now. All the elements of the best Truckers records are on display from their alternative country style to an appreciation of Southern R&B, classic rock licks, and a punk attitude. This one came together in just a few days and was recorded quickly. Sometimes that can make for a great album, sometimes not. Welcome To Club XIII lands somewhere in between. There are some fine moments, no doubt, but a number of these songs feel like they could have been fleshed out a little more. Still, the high points are more than enough reason to keep returning to the club.
9. The Cult-Under The Midnight Sun
The Cult are one of those hard rock bands who have been around for a long time but flown just under the radar of massive popularity-though they have had their share of cult (no pun intended) success. They are mostly known as a hard rock outfit with wailing guitars by the underrated Billy Duffy and the Jim Morrison/Dave Vanian style lead vocals of Ian Astbury. They have always mixed AC/DC riffs with semi-goth imagery and pseudo-mysticism. It’s an interesting package for sure, but this album is a bit of a departure for the band. The hard rock side has been quite toned down here in favor of moodiness and slow grooves. It’s proven somewhat divisive among fans but the more time I spent with this album the more I liked it. It’s a grower for sure, but worth the effort.
8. Rolling Blackouts C.F.-Endless Rooms
I just discovered this group earlier this year while poking around the Sub Pop records store at the Seattle airport and looking for something new to listen to. This record was being pushed heavily, so I took the bait, and I’m glad I did. Rolling Blackouts C.F. (Coastal Fever) is an indie rock band who sound like American guys trying to sound British. Turns out they are Australian, which legitimizes it somehow. Anyway, the sound is somewhere between R.E.M. and Joy Division, minus the interesting front man and keys. RBCF instead has three guitarists and vocalists. While I am unfamiliar with their early work, this album uses these attributes to create an aural palate that is both familiar and fresh. It never quite works itself up into an all out rocker of an album, but it is an enjoyable and interesting listen.
7. Def Leppard-Diamond Star Halos
Like any band that has been around for decades, Def Leppard have made some really great albums and some really bad ones, with most falling somewhere in between, but more winners than losers I think. Diamond Star Halos is very nearly great, but it is also maddening when it falls short. First, the good stuff. Never ones to hide their influences, this album is at its best when the 70’s glam rock touches are focused on and come shining through. There are even a few riffs that recall the band’s pre-megastar days. There are a few surprises musically with Eastern influences and a bit of psychedelia mixed in here and there, and most of the ballads hit their mark expertly. The downside? Well, there’s a little bit too much of a cheese factor to a few of these songs, even for Def Leppard. The album is also far too long. By the time we get to the end of the record, the last few really good tracks suffer because the listener is just worn out. I’m also suspicious of the drums on some of these tracks-I think the original drum machine demo tracks were used in a few songs instead of using Rick Allen’s drum tracks. Granted, Allen plays a (mostly) electric kit, but there are at least two songs where it doesn’t sound like a human being playing at all-and believe me there is always a notable difference between man and machine. I could be wrong, but that’s the vibe I get. Still, the first half of this record is every bit as good as anything the band has put out in thirty years and is lots of fun. The second half not as much, but there are highlights to be heard throughout and it’s a great record to listen to in your car, way too loud, on a Summer’s drive. And if that isn’t reason enough to dig a Def Lep record I don’t know what is.
I have heard Sloan referred to as Canada’s finest power pop band, and while I won’t disagree, I feel that descriptor to be both limiting and misleading. Sure, there’s lots of great hooks, but these songs are also smart. All four members write and sing lead, so with any Sloan record you’re liable to hear a hook filled sing along sing followed by a punchy, riffy rocker, then a thoughtful alternative piece, topped off with some AM gold. Then song #5 kicks in. The various writing styles are all obviously different, yet the songs fit together perfectly. Sloan have made a career out of delivering well crafted, clever rock songs and Steady continues that tradition. Well worth checking out for fans and newbies alike.
5. Nikki Lane-Denim And Diamonds
My favorite alt country record this year. Nikki Lane sings with a voice that sounds like a smoky club, and her songs speak of confidence brought on by mistakes made, lessons learned, and a quick witted irreverence flying in the face of what the world expects her to be. While this record is a little bit less country than her previous collection, it’s in there all the same. This record was produced by josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, and his presence is felt early on, for better or worse. However, once he gets out of her way Nikki Lane makes some honest, observational music that makes this record a treat to listen to.
4. Off!-Free LSD
This is the punk rock record I didn’t know I was waiting for. This is aggressive music with intelligence, and a bend towards the artistic. The band consists of veterans from the hardcore scene, most notably the bands Circle Jerks and Redd Kross. While not quite as fast and angry as their debut, this record certainly carries that spirit. It also features some industrial noise style connecting tracks throughout the album in what I like to think of as punk rock’s Metal Machine Music, which I hope would make Lou Reed proud. This is a great record, and I am so happy these guys are back.
3. The Linda Lindas-Growing Up
For those who may have been living under a rock, the Linda Lindas are a pop punk band made up of teenage girls aged 12-18. They garnered national attention when their performance of “Racist, Sexist Boy” at the Los Angeles Public Library went viral and appeared on national news. While this album may have a little more polish on it than I would like, and indeed more than their EP and early singles had, there’s no denying the strength of the songs. They mix modern pop punk with early ’80s new wave structure and riot grrl attitudes. This is an album full of Girl Power anthems for Gen Z, and I am here for it. The Linda Lindas have gone from small gigs around LA to national tours, and I genuinely hope more big things are in their future.
2. Dropkick Murphys-This Machine Still Kills Fascists
Who ever thought that Celtic punks DKM would release a mostly acoustic, country tinged album of left over folk songs, and that said album would be one of their best? Nobody. probably, but here we are. The lyrics are unused pieces by the late great Woodie Guthrie. Since the band had covered some of his songs in the past to great success (Shipping Up To Boston, anyone?), Guthrie’s grand daughter Nora invited the band to go through the archives and see what they could find. Armed with a group of lyrics, the band set about writing songs that would honor Woody’s style, yet still be great DKM songs. They succeeded. Not only is this a welcome change to the catalog, but it’s just a really good, fun record that has been in constant rotation since I first heard it.
1. Eddie Vedder-Earthling
This is just a great record. Vedder is in fine voice throughout, and it actually sounds like he’s having fun making the album. These songs are all great, and the sound is fresh and upbeat, even when the lyrics might not be. Eddie brings in friends both famous and not to perform on the tracks, and the creative energy between them is felt on every song, which is infectious to the listener. Earthling is better than the last two Pearl Jam records combined, and it is hoped that some of this energy will spill over into the next PJ record so we can get another classic out of them. For now though. this will more than fit the bill and is absolutely deserving to be my record of the year.
Okay, so that’s the top ten. There were a few others I enjoyed this year that almost made the list, and I’m sure I’ll retroactively discover a record that should have made it (i always do!), but this is a pretty good representation of the music I enjoyed in 2022. Here’s to more great stuff next year and beyond!
Hey, since we won’t talk, have a happy and safe New Year’s celebration, and I’ll see you back here in 2023 for more MonDAVEs.