Jack's Favorite
Albums Of

Yeah, I'm still doing this. Here's my favorite releases of 2022. I have done the playlist again as well, if you'd like to just sort of speed-date this list instead of reading me blab on about it all day. Thanks!

Toro y Moi – MAHAL

Dead Oceans / April 22

I've been a sort of casual Toro guy for a while, but now I'm fully on board. I think what it took is a record this solid paired with some of my favorite theming work of the year. MAHAL is all about movement on two levels; superficially it's about travel and exploration. Internally, this imagery relays the struggle of moving constantly because you lack somewhere to land; the lifestyle of the roving outsider (maybe most explicitly in The Loop, which incidentally also slaps). It's not a sad album, and it's audible that everyone's having a good time—the energy I glean is more like the indifferent acceptance of unbelonging so many of us have reached by now. I'll just say that these themes of skirting the edges and living in between circles and scenes have been extremely relatable to me this year, and I've kept coming back to MAHAL in all kinds of moods, hearing something new in it almost every time. Unless I'm projecting, in which case I still think the songs are excellent. Postman dropped as a single way back in January and absolutely sniped "Bassline of the Year."

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Brandon Coleman – Interstellar Black Space

Brainfeeder / May 20

The same guy who recommended that Laura Mvula album last year sent me this the day it came out, and folks, he's right again. Interstellar Black Space is an absolute blast: a crazy whirlpool of nu-disco, synthwave, retro funk and technically-outstanding jazz. The first time I heard the spacy ambience of the intro track shattered by the opening hit of On The One I laughed out loud with joy. This record is loaded with whiplash contrast like that; there are blowout disco bangers (Blast Off goes as hard as the title implies) and softer, more thoughtful interludes that feel like more "traditional" jazz pieces. I could sit here and make loads of comparisons—Thundercat, Casiopea, PROTODOME—but honestly I don't think I've heard anything else that occupies this record's exact position on the continuum. And if you have, I would love to know about it.

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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum

Flightless Records / April 22

We all knew I was gonna put this on here. Gizz continues to honestly dazzle me with every release. Not only will they not stop releasing new records constantly, they try new stuff on every single one. It's almost a shotgun approach to building a fanbase—if you don't like their newest record, wait like ten weeks and see if you dig the next one. Gatherum shrinks the timeline on this philosophy from months to minutes: it's one of their more varied albums yet, and it rocks. I truly don't believe there's another band on the scene today that could take the idea "Halloween-core Beastie Boys song with my grandma on it" and come up with something half as delightful as Sadie Sorceress. the general KG&TLW sound isn't gone; fuzzy psych-rock riffs and microtonal explorations abound to prop up (and enhance by contrast) the wilder innovations. O.G.'s high points in my opinion are where the established territory meets the new stuff: Presumptuous melds the warm tone and fuzzy mixing of past Gizz outings with a straight-up funk tune that feels exciting and new but instantly lovable as a result.

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Sylvan Esso – No Rules Sandy

Loma Vista / August 12

North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso have been riding the leading edge of "great bands you've maybe heard once on XM radio" at least since their 2020 album Free Love. Sylvan Esso has mastered a great kind of two-part synthesis; Amelia Meath's approachable-yet-unpredictable vocal performances interlock with Nick Sanborn's deeply creative and unique sound-design ethos (Spoiler: Nick will appear on this website again later.) The result falls somewhere between Four Tet, Stereolab, and maybe the weirder Bon Iver tracks—a sound that could comfortably score a packed club, an experiental house show in Durham, or a coffeeshop where at least one employee has an Aphex Twin tattoo. No Rules Sandy pulses and flows with delicately-engineered rhythm on both micro and macro scales: Echo Party is the obvious energy peak of side A while Sunburn holds up the danceability of B, but both are cushioned by snippets of field audio and farther-out ambient sketches. Throughout, otherworldly (plasticky? In a nice way?) synthesized sounds and immutable beats keep it moving for a wonderful straight-through listen.

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Jerry Paper – Free Time

Stone's Throw / April 15

I worry sometimes, as these annual lists pile up and I compare them, that I'm more just keeping track of what my favorite artists have put up instead of really exploring new things and evaluating each record holistically. But goddamnit, Jerry's done it again. They're in full force on Free Time, bringing garage-rock crunch on Kno Me and then totally shifting gears with Tennysonesque bop Just Say Play. Underpinning the oddball lyrics about busted applicances and leftover curry is a joyous defiance of labels and pigeonholes. Jerry Paper has always advocated a world where more people choose to be themselves; an end to being who other people tell you to be and a beginning to a post-ego utopia where we all feel free to express our true selves and shake some ass. "Something's getting in the way of me being me / Oh Lord, punisher that lives within," laments the track about the latter. On the strictly musical side, it's great to hear the bloopy synthesizers and drum-machine grooves from Fuzzy Logic-era Jerry reappear in a new light: back then, it was the perfect soundtrack for bummed-out introspection; today the point is knowing what you're like and refusing to be ashamed.

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Tennyson – Rot

Counter Records / February 18

A lot of my favorite music of the last couple years can be categorized as "what the pioneers of hyperpop are making now that hyperpop is basically mainstream." For years, Tennyson's signature style was unmistakably maximalist, building rich textures and dioramic little journeys within every track's bricollage soundscape. By contrast, Rot strips that approach to its bones. The essence of what's always made Tennyson's music so engaging hasn't gone anywhere, but this time it takes so comparatively few moving parts to deliver it that Rot takes on a raw and moving intimacy. Compared to the twee of an EP like Like What?, Rot is matured; melancholy and ragged, which I imagine probably mirrors the way a lot of us compare to our 2015 selves. All that said, it's not really a downer record. There's a spark of good faith yet in all these songs—the vocals are especially heightened by the space left around them, and the moments when the sparse arrangements blossom in chaos (á la Like What?) still make an impact, even if they mean something different now.

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DESKPOP / August 11

It's rare but extremely meaningful when an artist's work seems to grow and develop at the same speed you yourself are. When GAMEWAVE came out in 2015, I was a bass-seeking kid just graduating from Kirby remixes to original music, and it amazed me. FLOOR BABA has somehow been just as dead-on with every release since, despite never landing squarely in a single genre or trend (the term "digital fusion" seems most apt, but didn't exist as far as I know until maybe 2018). PREHISTORY reads like an all-in embrace of that inbetweenness, in a way both profoundly cathartic and occasionally melancholy. The Bandcamp page cites "influences as diverse as Mr. Bungle, Meshuggah, Wendy Carlos, Steve Vai, Roy Ayers [...] EarthBound and Chrono Trigger," and you can definitely hear it—but there's so much more here than the sum of those parts. This album embodies a one-in-a-million combination of technical, theoretical skill and incredible heart and sincerity. The result is an endlessly fascinating listen that would surely take as long to fully analyze as it did to make. I never have and probably never will hear another record invoke both Sapphic poetry and the Seinfeld theme song.

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Toadchurch – Fake Endorphins

August 26

Man, where to start with this one? This is an instrumental record of synth beats with a dash of noise and trap influence, but it knocks that concept clear out of the park. I can pick out some influences and similarities (Chuck Sutton, Fearofdark, maybe Glass Arrowhead?) but there's more than just a pastiche to see here. Fake Endorphins is perfectly intricate and immersive with just enough restraint to keep you from getting lost. It's fresh and inventive and feels like it's creating a new intergenre niche. There are wild chiptune solos and riffs, funky sample-salad segments, and wacky drum loops sandwiched together throughout. The emotional atmosphere is bittersweet. While jammier tracks like Slinky feel celebratory in their playful clashing of elements, the smoother ones like Ice Climbers read as a solemn goodbye to something you've outgrown. I glean a lot of moods from this album that I remember feeling in times of change, of moving to a new chapter: loneliness, drifting, numbness, but an underlying hope and determination to keep going. The final explosion on closer Sudden Death brings that determination to a head, leaving you on a beautiful note of renewed resolve.

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Lindsay Lowend – Nectarine

January 14

Nectarine is "dedicated to demoscene and tracker music between the years 2007 and 2011." It's beautiful. I fell for chiptune and hardware music early in my life, and I love it all from Anamanagughi to Zabutom. Demoscene combines two of my great loves: "using tools in ways unforseen by the manufacturer" and "making sick jams." On Nectarine, Lowend showcases a softer (read: less influenced by Scandinavian techno-house) side of demoscene, extracting remarkable and really lovely softness from a toolkit usually used for Xtreme Club Bangers. Noise and crunch provide occasional atmosphere, but most of the soundscape is pure, smooth tones and chimes, setting a series of cozy scenes with a beautiful mix of nostalgia and ingenuity. I think "cozy" is my best one-word pitch for this record, which probably sounds kind of strange in reference to chiptune, but give this one a listen and tell me the vibe isn't "digging your copy of Kirby Super Star Ultra out of storage and laying on the couch all afternoon," or whatever your life experiences have conditioned you to think is a relaxing and lightly nostalgic time.

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AWAL / September 16

Djo is the solo endeavor of Joe Keery, formerly of extremely-sick band Post Animal (and also from TV's Stranger Things, as every review is required to tell you for SEO reasons). Like all the best solo projects, Djo smears boundaries and genres, producing a range of stuff between wildly fun fuzz-rock (see 2019's Twenty Twenty) and synth-driven psychedelic pop. While the songwriting is enjoyably odd, the dedication to sonic craft on DECIDE really blows me away. It's one of those records without that many moving parts but where each part is totally fascinating and impeccably polished. Keery's vocal performance swings from smooth R&B heights to intimate bedroom hip-hop with a dash of David Byrne, which then gets piped through effects that waver between retro vocoder work and hyperpoppy granular crunch. The absolutely slabby bass tone on I Want Your Video feels like you could build a house on it. When some more familiar guitar & drums show up on penultimate track Figure You Out, it feels like someone opening the door out of one of those roadside "gravity vortex" houses back to the normal world—I'm almost not ready to leave yet.


leon chang – leon kart

December 14

Leon might be one of the most consistent heavy-hitters I know. 2017's Bird World is one of the best albums ever concieved, to me. And last year's leon mode, which flexes more fast-paced clubby production, landed on my best-of-'21 list. So of course leon kart—which blends the conceptual dinger of "imaginary game soundtrack" with the sonic joy of leon's sugared-up, glossy digital fusion—is gonna whip ass. The sound selection is obviously reminiscient of mid-aughts racing games but also of mid-teens SoundCloud dance music. select your racer sounds perfectly suited for a guest verse from Knuckles, while immediate followup peppermint parkway lands more in the ballpark of Ujico*/Snail's House. Of course, these references wouldn't work mashed together without a unique twist, and they work incredibly well under leon's crazy talent for arrangement and vibe-building. I know a lot of the material on this list is emotionally diagnosable, but this one is just unassailably Fun And Cool, and sometimes that's as much as it takes for me to really love something.

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Matt Watson – SEE YOU THERE

November 7

Sometimes an album comes out at exactly the right time to precision-strike your emotions, and so far Matt Watson has been two for two in that category. 2020's debut OUCH! dropped right when I was about to get bummed out for the rest of that year and struck the perfect chord of admittedly self-indulgent melancholy. This record came out the Monday after daylight savings, meaning it was waiting for me the first day I got home from work at 6:15 in total darkness. I can kind of pick out the influences at play here—Jack Stauber, nelward, the 100% Electronica gang—but there's more merit here than just a pastiche of stuff I already like. See You There is the perfect soundtrack to Sad Boy Fall, a season for reflection on longing, kicking yourself for longing, then getting up and getting on with it because there's no other option. Matt manages to distill this energy without losing sight of the fun parts. While there are spots where it approaches the edge, See You There manages to avoid tipping into taking itself overseriously. The songwriting migrates from soundcloud-sadboy stuff to goofier verses, and the production varies between played-straight indie-pop-rock and sillier post-vaporwave, but both of them are never a bummer at the same time.


GRRL x Made of Oak – Inertia

Psychic Hotline / September 2

This EP is four tracks long and they're the four wildest-sounding tracks I heard all year. Made of Oak (aka Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso) and GRRL "make and spin very different music but often end up playing the same parties, thanks to the eclecticism of the North Carolina dance scene," reads the Bandcamp page. As it turns out, the matchup at hand—between GRRL's edgy, kick-forward production and Made of Oak's more fringy, neo-pop soundwork—results in some absolutely sick music. Each track is anchored by a strong kick and tactile beat while the higher layers dissolve into glitchy noise and wild tones. This combination of visceral, chest-thumping bass and ethereal experimentation is, in practice, incredibly satisfying. I remember showing a friend Aerial by playing it in their car at dashboard-rattling volume in the parking lot at Ollie's, an experience I highly recommend if you have the means.

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TOBACCO – Skids and Angels

December 2

Years ago I was briefly obsessed with the musical artifact Sludgefest (the word "album" feels insufficient?), and at the time its top Youtube comment was something like "This music is peeling the paint off my walls." Since then, I've always been gratified when I find something else worthy of that description, and TOBACCO's greasy, highly textural, lightly unnerving synthscapes are some real paint-peelers. Their past works sound like an atmospheric exploration of the grimy, raw, and obscene; mechanically complex but in service of a dirtbag aesthetic. On this new offering, TOBACCO holds tight to what worked best—the sandpapery kaleidoscopia of something like Sweatbox Dynasty—and takes it to new places with a renewed crispness and a stronger foundation of hardware beats. At the same time, the previous harshness is considerably mellowed: there are chunks of S&A that lighten up to the level of regular, lightweight synth music. I think this increased internal contrast is a strength on the same principle as a YouTube video of someone restoring a tool they found in a barn: the grime and crust carries a harder punch when we can see what's under it from time to time.

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Self-Help – When You Wear My Clothes

December 9

Math rock! That's the thing I like! Don't be a doofus like me and avoid looking into it because the name sounds like it's for nerds. Self-Help's seminal (and mathy!) If I Left The Country... is high on my all-time favorites page, and I'm happy to share that the followup album takes everything I loved and cranks it to the max. When You Wear My Clothes is packed with chiptune snippets, constantly-shifting instrumentation, and wild surround-sound layering. It's an "eyes closed laying down" listen for sure—incredibly rich, immersive, and even sometimes dizzying. But none of these qualities raise the bar to enjoyment at all. WYWMC is deeply approachable and relatable in its writing, and those themes serve as an excellent on-ramp to the advanced technical soundcraft holding it all up.

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Up next is some stuff I really enjoyed this year but was released previously! Read on if you're not a 2022 purist. If you do bail at this point, I understand. Safe travels.

Wizard of Loneliness – Last Words

Business Casual / June '21

Yeah, I was seven to eight months late to this record. Like a chump, I didn't hear it until it landed on Vapor Memory. But when I did, in the dismal early months of 2022, it really clicked with me. W.O.L. combines appealingly self-underious vaporwave influences and plunderphonic tendencies with lo-fi shoegaze production, and the result is a perfectly-engineered listen for shitty weather—whether that was a bitter North Carolina March or a soggy Pittsburgh November. The writing is deeply earnest; unpacking and exploding little moments of screwing up that feel shamefully familiar like tonguing a chipped tooth. But even if (or maybe because) Last Words scored some of my lower phases this year, I'll uphold it as a great one. The niche of "softer, slightly goofier Molchat Doma for English speakers" has finally been filled in my mind, and I never knew how desperately empty it was.

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Dougie Poole – The Freelancer's Blues

Wharf Cat Records / June '20

I saw Dougie open for Jerry Paper this summer, and I don't think I can remember another time that my horizons have expanded so fast. As a kid who pointedly rejected the rural aesthetics of my peers, I had long ago written off country music as mass-produced validation for jingoists and truck guys. I was wrong! It turns out, as usual, the good stuff is hiding on the fringe. The Freelancer's Blues is pitched as "the story-telling backbone of country music... [updated] for an audience that is young, urban, romantically alienated and financially pre-carious," and it executes this premise in a way that's both faithful to its roots (I assume) and engagingly innovative. Opener Vaping on the Job tells the intertwining stories of folks coping with deferred dreams, while Los Angeles explores the humiliation of the moment running away from your problems stops working; the line "Maybe winter's not a season, it's a state of being that just being in a warmer state won't help me lose" absolutely kicked me in the chest. There's not a second of this record that feels like the slightest wink that a honky-tonk song about Tinder is a goofy idea. Instead, it's treated as fact that this is just the future of the genre—and I'm all in.

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Donny Benét – Mr. Experience

May '20

Donny Benét has been cultivating a very specific vibe for years under my radar; the kind of intentionally-goofy faux-'80s energy a buddy of mine calls "powercheese." And it rocks! From face-scrunching bass and goofy synth tones to the occasional wailing saxophone solo, Mr. Experience brings some truly powerful cheese. Standout Negroni Summer bemoans the mental expense of capitalism wrapped in a gleaming yacht-rock ballad, while the funkier stuff—peep the bass work on Second Dinner—goes all-in on danceability like a less-unhinged Cobra Man (sorry Cobra Man, love you guys). The lyrical tone is mostly tongue-in-cheek, featuring verse about a late-night fridge raid or the struggle of aging sexily. But these lyrics are held up by a built-to-last foundation of impeccable groove and well-oiled pacing. The slide here from ironic kitsch to earnest delight is beautiful. It's the album version of buying a crazy vintage Hawaiian shirt at the thrift store half-as-a-joke and then realizing it's your new favorite thing you own.

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GUM – Glamorous Damage

Spinning Top Records / November '15

Every single song on this album is on my Spotify Wrapped playlist in almost the right order. I honestly think it was all I listened to for most of April. Jay Watson is somewhat better known as the founder of Pond and a touring member of Tame Impala—both of which I also like—but I loudly disagree with reviewers' habit of framing his solo work as a knockoff or imitation of one or both. GUM achieves an incredible synthesis of indie-rock melody, vintage synth fuzz, and psychedelic structure. Glamorous Damage crackles with static electricity—every element, from the spacy layered synths to what I think might be a kazoo on Notorious Gold, meshes and melds without compromising an ounce of personality. Mechanical drum loops and reprised lead-guitar riffs underpin dreamy vocals and sometimes outright wacky analog effects as the album shifts from funky to proggy to fully spaced-out. Absolutely radical stuff.


Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World

Luminelle / October '21

I guess I could have put the "Deluxe" version of this album on the non-bonus list, since it came out in September, but that feels like cheating. And now I'm doing this bonus section, which is a different kind of cheating around a rule I made up for myself that's somehow more acceptable to me. Whatever. Mercurial World is, like a lot of my favorite stuff, kind of hard to describe in a genre sense. It's a synthpop record with a lot of influence from FM synthesis, y2k rave tunes, hyperpop, nu-disco & keyboard demos, and every song on it rules. The first set of orchestra hits on Secrets (Your Fire) may have resulted in one of my top ten smiles of 2022. Mercurial World is a beautiful showcase of incredibly slick production; it sounds pretty straightforward at first, but each song peels apart under repeat listens to reveal a tightly-woven but airy and delicate system of parts; the sound whiplashes effortlessly between misty ethereality and meaty cyberfunk. The synth work, basslines and percussion are absolutely airtight, and the vocals wrap it all up with a softness that disguises all that laser-precision—meaning I listened to this record like a dozen times while wondering what about it was so addicting.

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