Raina Douris’ Favorite Music of 2022 : NPR6 min read
NPR/Courtesy of the artist
The host of WXPN’s World Cafe presents her 10 favorite albums of 2022 in this unranked list.
Father John Misty, Chloe & the Next 20th Century
So much of popular culture is fueled by nostalgia that sometimes it feels like there are no new ideas. Every movie is a reboot or a sequel, fashion goes in circles. On the surface, his fifth album Chloe & the Next 20th Century might seem like an embrace of nostalgia, as Father John directs a series of vignettes in flickering black and white set to music that sounds like it could have been ripped from a long-lost Hollywood soundtrack. But his songwriting and persona have always occupied a space between artifice and authenticity, and he often uses that artifice to get closer to the truth. All of the stories here are deeply human, but the key to the whole thing lies in the last song: “The Next 20th Century,” which reveals not an embrace of nostalgia, but a weary truce with it: “I don’t know ’bout you / But I’ll take the love songs / And give you the future in exchange.”
Alex G, God Save the Animals
There are some feelings you just can’t put into words. Alex G is reluctant to discuss and decode the meanings of his songs, instead striving to create a feeling using the combined forces of his cryptic lyrics and endlessly creative production style. With his ninth album, God Saves the Animals, he accomplishes that many times over. I truly got freaked out listening to the demonic pitch-shifted vocals of “S.D.O.S” for the first time, alone in my empty house. I have gotten choked up listening to songs like “Mission” and “Miracles,” despite not knowing what he’s singing about. This album marks the first time Alex has chosen to record with other engineers, producers and studios instead of making music in total solitude, and the result is a collection of songs that are his most polished and accessible so far.
Kevin Morby, This Is a Photograph
Have you ever had someone show you their old family photos? Faded pictures of a bunch of people you don’t know? It’s not … interesting. Somehow, though, Kevin Morby makes his own memories feel universal. The phenomenal title track was inspired by a photo of Kevin’s dad — a small, personal memento — and it grows into a battle cry against taking life for granted. Other parts of the album were inspired by a trip to Memphis where Kevin made pilgrimages to important, morbid musical sites (such as the river Jeff Buckley drowned in, referenced in the song “Coat of Butterflies”). In those songs, Kevin reverses his previous formula — he takes cultural memory and makes it personal. And he does it all with a disarming tenderness (“Bittersweet, TN,” “Stop Before I Cry”) and sense of humor (“Rock Bottom”) that gives a reassuring warmth to an album that is ultimately a meditation on impermanence.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Questlove’s 2021 documentary Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) told the long-neglected story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a music festival that took place in the summer of 1969, the same summer as Woodstock, using extensive footage and recordings that had been packed away in a basement for decades. This year, he put out the accompanying soundtrack, filled with previously unreleased live performances from Sly & the Family Stone, The Staple Singers, B.B. King and more. The recordings are pristine, and it’s a remarkable experience, especially the stunner closing track: Nina Simone’s performance of “Are You Ready.”
Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Right around when Big Thief released Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, I saw someone tweet, “I want to live inside the new Big Thief album.” It’s not hard to understand why. It radiates coziness, even when Adrianne Lenker is exploring concepts as overwhelmingly huge as “infinity.” She doesn’t stop there, by the way. This is some of Lenker’s most impressive lyrical work to date: poetic, vivid, profound. This album is the sound of a band growing closer than it’s ever been.
Tim Heidecker, High School
Music has always been a part of Tim Heidecker’s comedy, but the release and reception of his 2020 album Fear of Death, his first truly non-comedy album, was a turning point. His new album, High School, sees him developing his voice as a storyteller and songwriter who can be nostalgic without being sappy, who can be funny while still being vulnerable and who seriously knows his way around a hook. This time around, guitars are supplied by the instantly-recognizable Mac DeMarco (love that breakdown in “Chillin’ In Alaska”) and there’s an especially fun departure in style when Kurt Vile joins in for “Sirens of Titan.” But the most resonant moments come on songs like “Future Is Uncertain” and “What Did We Do With Our Time,” when Tim ponders the way time moves and how we move through it.
Maggie Rogers, Surrender
Maggie Rogers used her sudden pandemic downtime to join a songwriting group with artists like Feist and Beck, get a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and to rediscover her love of playing music for fun, all while self-isolating at her family home in Maine. All of this contributed to her second album, Surrender. From the perfect pop of “That’s Where I Am” to the vulnerable “Horses,” which she recorded the vocals for in one take, it’s a collection of confident, slick songs from an artist who is consistently leveling up.
Kurt Vile, (watch my moves)
You might not expect an album with a lyric like “thoughts runnin’ round in my cranium like pinball machine-a-mania” to be so easy to zone out to, but that’s the beauty of Kurt Vile. He can counter all that overthinking with expert guitar playing and hypnotic grooves that produce the musical equivalent of a body high. It’s a nice parallel and real money pokies to the man himself: an ambitious artist who makes it all seem effortless.
Grace Cummings, Storm Queen
There’s a big difference between “pretty” and “beautiful.” Lots of things are pretty, but beauty is rarer, more strange. The often sparse, folk and blues-y arrangements on Grace Cummings self-produced second album Storm Queen are pretty, but her voice is beautiful: a rich, powerful alto that she uses fearlessly. She can do pretty things with it, like her subdued Nico-esque performance on “Always New Days Always,” but the true beauty emerges when she unleashes feral growls and howls and wails, like on tracks “Heaven” and “Up In Flames.” It’s in those moments when you realize just how apt the title Storm Queen is; Grace Cummings is a force of nature.
The Weeknd, Dawn FM
There was a time when The Weeknd seemed almost too serious. Sure, he still broods on Dawn FM, but he also has a lot of fun on this ambitious concept album. Complete with host breaks from fellow Canadian Jim Carrey, the album aims to give you the experience of listening to a radio station in your car … in purgatory. It’s refreshing to hear an artist who’s ascended to superstardom still embrace their weirder side while never skimping on the dance jams. The impeccable production from Max Martin and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) is reminiscent of ’80s horror soundtracks, a vibe that works perfectly with The Weeknd’s dark-edged, party guy personality.