2022 has been a year of extremes, and music, or at least the most interesting music of the year, has followed a similar path. Recent years have been defined by the much-anticipated death of genre, but now artists have found themselves focused on making hyper-specific sounds. Call it playing to the algorithm, trying to dominate one of Spotify’s thousands of micro-genres. When artists are trying to create something that nobody else can, it grabs my attention.
Beyoncé, “BREAK MY SOUL”
If pressed to pick an album to make my point, I’d quickly look to what is certain to be the album of the year for many, Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE. Beyoncé’s last album, Lemonade, was a personal journey across the sonic landscape. Rock, country, Bey could do it all. On RENAISSANCE, she honed-in on one sound: dance music, with references moving from Diana Ross to Chic to Big Freedia.
“BREAK MY SOUL,” the album’s first single, builds off of Robin S.’s 1993 one-song time capsule “Show Me Love.” The typically bougie Beyoncé sings of being driven crazy by the 9-to-5 grind and seeks a new foundation on the dance floor. The song captures a place where people go to escape their daily miseries and dream of better futures, all with Big Freedia hyping you up. It’s a blast, and within the context of an album filled with zero skips, a true highlight.
Spoon have always been doing their own thing. The Austin, Texas-based band wanted to recreate their raucous live act on their 10th album, Lucifer on the Sofa, which opens with this mysterious track written by another mysterious minimalist, Bill Callahan (remember that name). It’s about being vulnerable as a man, with Britt Daniel’s singing letting yourself be held for the first time in your life, like a big old baby. It turns out the feeling absolutely rocks. The track's vocals devolve into shredding guitar, the minimalists filling space like only they know how.
Nilüfer Yanya, “Stabalise”
Named after the famed Turkish pop singer, the British band’s second album is a lo-fi wonder amidst the Gen Z rock revival. “Stablise,” the first single off March’s album Painless, is a fast-paced effort for the protagonist to save herself. “Late night / Up all morning / I could feel something / But it could be nothing,” she muses to herself, echoing the thoughts of anyone who’s ever nursed one too many hangovers. “And if I'm going to stabilize / And if I'm gonna stabilize / And if I'm gonna stay,” she says, never quite sure how to end that sentence. But “stabilize” starts to sound suspiciously familiar to “save a life.”
The Smile, “You Will Never Work in Television Again”
Radiohead’s later work often uses several tracks to build tension until it explodes. On the first album of Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood’s new group, it takes three songs. Letting loose with an enemy clearly in mind, “some gangster troll promising the Moon” on television, the veterans move with the intensity of a young indie band. The drums thrash, Yorke screams “Mechanical! Mechanical!”, and you can almost imagine a mosh pit breaking out.
Bill Callahan, “Partition”
A singer-songwriter who has made a career out of making extremely human music tackled the pandemic on his latest album, YTILAER (spell it backwards). His latest concerns itself with trying to re-enter the world after the many shocks of Covid, most bluntly on “Partition.” “Here's the partition / The human condition / Adam took God's woman / You do what you gotta do,” Callahan says over a speedy guitar.
The song’s ultimate aim is “the picture,” he repeats over and over again. “Meditate, ventilate, do what you’ve got to do / Microdose / change your clothes, do what you’ve got to do / to see the picture / to touch the picture.” Tired of a life lived through screens, where the outside world feels as foreign as a painting, Callahan set his priorities straight: whatever it took to get through, whatever it took to make the picture of the world feel real. It’s an engrossing take on a rough situation.
Phoenix, “Alpha Zulu”
Sometimes a great song emerges out of a mediocre album. Phoenix’s Alpha Zulu is a middle-of-the-pack album by a group that has been spinning its (admittingly pretty cool) wheels for years now. But the album’s opener is one-hit wonder material for the ages, a song I couldn’t stop listening to on repeat once I heard it. “Whoo-ah / sayin’ Hallelujah!” says lead singer Thomas Mars, amid bouncy synth beats. “Alpha Zulu'' gives the feeling of being in the middle of a fantastic party where things have just gotten interesting.
Some other fantastic tracks from this year:
“Bad Love,” Dehd
“Chaise Lounge,” Wet Leg
“Like Exploding Stones,” Kurt Vile
“Taking Me Back,” Jack White
“My Horror,” Santigold
“FITS/My Love Can’t Be,” Katie Alice Greer
“Wolf,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs