Any calendar year’s fourth quarter act invariably sprouts summational thinking on the part of music pundits the world over, thrusting them into cynically whittled down crop of best (and worst…) of new music as if their life depended on it. As it turns out, 2022 appears to be making said faux-editorialized process ever so slightly more difficult, by virtue of above-average quality drops peppered throughout the last two eligible months of October and November. We’d go as far as to claim that the current one might be the most backloaded revolution around the sun in semi-recent memory—potentially of the last decade. This essay sets out to highlight a round up of but a few of the miscellaneous late-into-the-year releases standing to corroborate and qualify such advanced hypothesis. And to think it’s doing so without exhibiting other potential heavyweight honourable mentions worthy of making the cut, such as the intelligently composed and astutely assembled The Car by the Arctic Monkeys, Freddie Gibbs‘s aspirational glam rap opera $oul $old $eparately, and Canadian treasure Neil Young‘s self-effacing fifteenth studio album with Crazy Horse, World Record. Or even Taylor Swift’s open-hearted confessional Midnights, rounding up with Nas’ latter-day-high King’s Disease, attained via his third cold-blooded single-handed trilogy instalment.
A subdued and unsuspecting mid-October Friday saw the return of exquisite Mississippi-hailing singer/songwriter Cory Branan, who with his latest 11-track exploit When I Go I Ghost fiercely put an end to a five year mouthwatering musical drought, dating back to his last studio body of work: 2017’s mixed bag Adios. Unlike his previous, his newest record is a superlative exercise in no frills alt country and then some—flirting equally exuberantly with blue collar heartland rock (particularly on lead single “When In Rome, When In Memphis“, but also on “Room 101” and “Come On If You Wanna Come”), heavy garage rock (“When I Leave Here”), as well as lightweight power pop (“One Happy New Year”). It might be stating the plain as far as the Branan-initiated are concerned, but one of the sharpest traits that sets him apart from the dime-a-dozen pack of mainstream-adjacent country exponents is his refined lyrical sensibility, exhuming a supremely distilled ability to sound both emotionally relatable and eruditely unrivalled at the same time.
When I Go I Ghost is no exception in how it launders and delivers witty quotables and earnest diaristic entries alike—all set to carefully curated rootsy sonic backdrops, relying primarily on Branan’s still criminally underrated guitar playing, as well as sparsely interwoven keys of all strands. Frankly, each of the eleven records sequenced on the project could warrant at the very minimum one sampled litmus test, yet we’ll limit the textual road show to just a few here. Start with “O Charlene“‘s sudden lightheartedness of surrender, which might be one of the most unexplored themes in rock music—especially by men: “Cause the birds are still singing and the sun still burns / Swing low, diminishing returns / And I’m finally done with all my trying to get it right / I drink a flat Coca Cola in the cold sunlight“). Meanwhile, “That Look I Lost“‘s romantic ambivalence, doubling as one of the stickiest refrains on the album, makes for an all too familiar internal struggle to those fighting back their natural ageing inertia: “And I’ll spend the rest of my life / Dying to find / That look I lost, that look I lost / Dying to find that look I lost in her eye“.
Another unassuming dark horse eruptively claiming high altitude spots on many a year-end lists in 2022 has got to be The Loneliest Time, 36-year-old Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s sixth studio album. On our part, we did our best by warning Interweb argonauts about CRJ’s impending pop doom ahead of time, but boy did the feast not disappoint. Hitting the shelves one week after Branan on 21st October, the Interscope-corralled set of synth-pop galore aptly packs thirteen anthemic vignettes of prima facie alienated melancholic catchiness. Case in point, third promo single leading up to the full release, “Talking to Yourself“, culling the immediate resonance and impact of few other modern pop cuts. Everything from its slick and glossy production to the undeniably familiar verse-pre-chorus-bridge-chorus leitmotiv is bona fide song crafting perfection. In the same breath, “Joshua Tree“, at number two on the tracklist, dabbles as much in pop rock instrumentation as in synthetic pop incantation, only to fold before the melted cheese stickiness of its refrain: “I need it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I feel it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I see it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I know it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I own it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I show it (Da, da-da-da-da-da)”.
Jepsen—who on The Loneliest Time enjoyed studio co-signs from behind-the-scenes songwriting royalties Rostam Batmanglij and Alex Hope, as well as her longtime collaborator Tavish Crowe—is the type of music creator who can disguise a quasi-interlude into one of the strongest takeaway from a premiere body of work (“Sideways“), in spite (or precisely because of) sugary and borderline cringeworthy verses such as “One more cutе disaster / Said, ‘I love you’ twice / Bеfore you could even answer / It’s hard here in paradise“. Contemporaneously, the Grammy-nominated artist is one to sequence absolute album standout “Bad Thing Twice” as late as number ten on the record’s D-side, willingly entering into the risk of leaking potential listenership along the way before delivering a masterclass in Dua Lipa-like heartbreak slapper material. Sonically and thematically, The Loneliest Time is such a resiliently robust collection of songs; one’d be hard-pressed to spot a lull moment or snoozer on this thing (perhaps “So Nice” on an antonymic day?). Even its pocket of digital-only bonus tracks is worth sticking around for.
Surely, the heaviest name to drop on this year’s backload is Bruce Springsteen‘s, whose 21st studio album Only The Strong Survive sees him interpreting custom solo renditions of fifteen classic soul exploits. Stemming from the storied and iconic back-catalogues of Motown, Gamble & Huff, Stax, and similar fixtures, these recordings double as The Boss’s second collection of covers to date (following the Grammy-winning We Shall Overcome in 2006). By his own admission, the handpicked selection of evergreen R&B tunes enabled the 73-year old “to make an album where I just sang. […] I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others.” Further elaborating on the revisited creative concept through a dedicated announcement clip, the OG New Jerseyan declared: “I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music. My goal is for the modern audience to experience its beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it. I hope you love listening to it as much as I loved making it.”
As far as the lead up to the full release on 11th November was concerned, the initial electric sprawl and edginess of “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)“, originally written and performed by Frank Wilson in 1965, gave way to the beloved Commodores classic “Nightshift“—easily one of the album’s pièces de résistance, and an improbable rendition for the heartland rocker to hop on if there ever was one. It’s arguably on this track, more than any other in this retro crop, that Springsteen reached a vocal apex insofar as how clear, tight-commanded, and ebullient his windpipes sound. The watertight and sturdy “Don’t Play That Song” served as the final advance preview for the project, turning a bona fide chart-topper originally authored by Ahmet Ertegun and Betty Nelson (later popularized by Aretha Franklin in 1970) into a carefree brass fest set to Bruce’s cheeky yet wholly believable croonerisms. Elsewhere on the record, “When She Was My Girl“, “Turn Back the Hands of Time“, and “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” stand as further unmissable highlights—decisively turning Only The Strong Survive into an unavoidable candidate in any AOTY race.
At long last, on 17th November trailblazing and envelope-pushing LA boyband BROCKHAMPTON found good riddance of its interior demons by demystifying unreasonable longevity expectations for a coming-of-age group of a dozen through the purge of their swan-song, The Family. Just about making this year’s consideration’s cut, this is the Kevin Abstract-led group’s seventh and final album in six years. It follows their 2021 bloated mixed bag ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, and rides on the sappy coattails of their hiatus announcement at the beginning of this year. In keeping with the San Marcos, Texas-gestated collective’s unhinged explicitness, lead feline single “Big Pussy” came through from out of left field with a sprawling and out-of-control free jazz instrumental hold, shape-shifting into patch-worked tape-montage wizardry, only to feature the sole Abstract on the mic—much like on the rest of the project—dishing out inflammatory 16s about finessing unfulfilled record deals (“The label needed thirty-five minutes of music“) and the wedges of fandom (“The show is over ni**a, please stop harassing me / Stop asking me, it’s bad enough for me to deal with this tragedy / On my own“).
You guessed it: The Family packs a blitzkrieg 17 records into, well, 35 minutes of runtime—mind you, with as many as ten joints in the bag not even reaching the two minute mark. Everything but the kitchen sink notwithstanding, the off-the-wall raison d’être that has permeated the collective’s MO since its inception seems to take a time-out breather on the subdued and soulful “The Ending“. Dropped just a handful days before release date as conclusive project teaser, the intermezzo is less a fully-fledged single than a semantic coda sermon to BROCKHAMPTON‘s erratic conduct. Sequenced as penultimate offering on the tracklist, sandwiched between the raucous bareness of “My American Life” and their eponymous coda’s blistering prowess, such a concluding triptych makes for a momentous and poignant finishing. Before it, baked somewhere in there is another candid half-hour of heart-on-sleeve primordial soup of boundless hip-hop virtuosity, albeit Abstract-only. At any rate, it’s the last exhibit of a tail end of album drops amounting to as much as any other year top 10’s worth of material, coming to fruition in the last two months of the year alone—if a rising tide lifts all boats…
I’d like to thank you sincerely or taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
WHEN I GO I GHOST
2022, Blue Elan Records
CARLY RAE JEPSEN
THE LONELIEST TIME
2022, Interscope Records
ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE
2022, Columbia Records
2022, RCA Records