The further we progress through 2022, the more I realise my grip on what it means to be ‘up to date’ with the latest releases is slipping. Wonderful, yes, and absolutely overwhelming. It seems like for every record I spent quality time with, there’s five to ten I should have, now clogging up a frankly ridiculous list in my phone notes. Here’s some of the ones I did catch on time, but I felt generally slipped under the radar a little too easily for how much I enjoyed them.
Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork
I was excited to see what London-based post-punk outfit Dry Cleaning would get up to after their undeniable debut, New Long Leg.
They showed up in a way bands rarely do, with an instantly recognisable ‘thing’ and a formula, that although I loved, I feared could quickly become old-hat.
On follow-up record Stumpwork, I’m happy to announce that is not the case. The core identity showcased on NLL is still prominent, but the work done to refine melody this go around won’t slip by unnoticed, and opens up yet greater avenues for the future.
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Flasher – Love is Yours
Flasher’s Love is Yours also avoided the fate of the difficult second album.
The trio that released Constant Image to deserved praise in 2018 became a duo, and with that fundamental change it was obvious things would be audibly different next outing.
Love is Yours is reflecting, that’s for certain, but not in a way that ever gets too self-serious. In fact, the main take-away is how balanced everything is. Join the navel gaze too long and you’ll get swept away by a truly danceable indie-guitar groove.
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Jam Baxter – Fetch the Poison
Jam Baxter has long since been a gem of the underground UK hip-hop scene, and by god should he get his flowers for it.
Fetch the Poison is another belter in a discography of many. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of a rapper quite as consistent, despite his sole commitment to committing to no strict sound.
Sure, you’ll always find vivid pictures of strange realities painted by his frantic stacking of multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, but to what aesthetic ends is always a mystery when you hit play. Jam is an artist that cannot stop exploring, and I’m often baffled by what else he can find.
SOAK – If I never know you like this again…
Northern Ireland’s SOAK is a criminally underrated songwriter. I say this despite the fact that their 2015 debut Before We Forgot How to Dream was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
There’s something inimitable about the actual composition of the songs, like if you wanted to cram that many (or space that few) words into a specific metre and you were literally anybody else, the whole thing would seem forced at best and collapse at worst.
It’s the mark of a truly comfortable artist just playing in the sandpit, totally effortless. This is, of course, a compliment: I’m not downplaying the actual effort it takes to come across that way. I’m just baffled. If I never know you like this again is SOAK’s most complete work yet.
Big Joanie – Back Home
It’s been an incredible few years for British alternative rock in all its many shapes.
IDLES; shame; Black Country, New Road; Wet Leg (if I had more words you’d be here!) – all have made statements and fostered a scene from the ashes of something once thought dead.
Big Joanie’s sophomore effort Back Home has studied the language of alternative rock in a way so complete it feels monolithic in that field. ‘Taut’ might’ve cropped up on Doolittle in 1989, ‘Happier Still’ on Dig Me Out in ’97. They’re still entirely their own vehicle, mind, flitting in and out of their love language of punk. The London trio are just out-and-out students of what you can do with guitar, bass, drums and a story.
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Porcupine Tree – Closer/Continuation
I’m so unbelievably glad Porcupine Tree are back.
Closer/Continuation follows the great tradition of their previous work: vast, awe-inspiring sonic tourist attractions pinned together by the ever-engaging wordsmithing talent of Steven Wilson.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the influence of Wilson’s more subdued solo efforts on the record, about how it doesn’t hit with the same punch as bygone PT classics.
While both of these statements could be argued, I never expected a band this historically envelope-pushing to ‘play the hits’ as it were. In fact, I can’t figure out how in this context. Surely you know to expect the unexpected out of Porcupine Tree by now?
Maya Hawke – MOSS
Maya Hawke has been a shock for me.
Celebrities foraying into music always comes with this knee-jerk grimace, this “please don’t” built-in before you’ve heard a note.
We’ve all been burned too many times. The Stranger Things actress is two albums deep now (lot of those today) and dear god she’s two for two.
Her brand of plinky indie-folk isn’t new, but it is good, and it’s good in the face of the most saturated I can remember that market being. She’s coming into her own as a songwriter on MOSS, and I think her best work is ahead of her. Check out ‘Thérèse.’
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Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately
Okay, so you might not have missed this as he’s fairly popular. However, if this entry gets one more human being to listen to Freddie Gibbs, then it’s worth the slot.
$oul $old $eparately is Freddie at his absolute best, which is definitely something that I’ve said before but don’t let that fact undercut the heights this man is capable of. This is his most refined work to date, and that’s interesting considering his long-held penchant for single producer collaborations is no more.
EVERYONE is on this album: Kaytranada, James Blake, The Alchemist, Anderson .Paak… every single one of them playing their hand, doing their thing and the veteran rapper says “bring it on, I can ride that.” His most melodic cuts are on here, as are his darkest, his most formidable flows; there’s really no tool left unused. This is definitely my personal favourite rap album of 2022 (sorry, Jam).
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Fred again… – Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)
Actual Life 3 is the last in what I assume to be a trilogy of albums by British record producer Fred again [sic].
This project has seen Fred create musical scrapbooks of time periods in his life, using audio from voice notes, videos, phone recordings etc. to sprinkle generously onto floor-filling house cuts and swelling synth playgrounds.
You might think this is some impenetrable for-him-by-him type deal, but the flashes of Fred’s actual life are never so excessive as to alienate: they’re refrains, manipulated samples, ad-libs, intros/outros – they fit perfectly into the landscape built for YOU.
Jakey – ROMCOM
You might know Jakey (or NakeyJakey) best as a YouTube essayist, jovially discussing the beauty and banality of video games whilst perched on a yoga ball.
The tonal switch to a dark, and deeply personal project such as ROMCOM might then be whiplash inducing; at least, it might’ve if it didn’t sound so utterly convincing. Jakey has achieved production perfection on this short collection of songs and it shouldn’t really be surprising. Internet culture is breakneck, and to maintain your position as a beloved creator in the space requires you to know how and when to switch it up. I think Jakey can easily avoid being boxed and labelled forever a ‘YouTube guy’ if this is anything to go by. The swelling majesty of ‘Pine Barrens’ second half might clinch out my pop song of the year.