Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Absolute Best Records of 2022


It is, in fact, that time of the year again.  I used to love putting together my end of the year list, and in many ways I still do.  But what it seems to be turning into is a yearly reminder that I'm either getting old and falling out of touch, or that there are far fewer great records coming out than there used to be.  I'm pretty sure that it's the former and my age is finally catching up to me.  If I'm being honest, I probably spent more time listening to early 90s hip hop than I did most new records.

There are exceptions, of course.  The PLOSIVS record is pretty much the best record I have heard in the last 10 years or so.  I have been a long time supporter of John Reis and have loved pretty much every record he's ever been involved in, but even with expectations that high for his work, PLOSIVS still managed to surprise me and knock me on my ass.  I think it's perfect and I cannot wait to hear more from them. John Reis and Rob Crow are a potent combo.

It was also wonderful to see Denny from Sicko, one of my favorite songwriters, back in the saddle with The Drolls.  That's the other record I probably spent the most time with this year.  Lots of other goodies in here from long time favorites like Skimmer, Snuff, Boat, Archers of Loaf, and Built To Spill.  I also made two exceptions for the list this year.

My rule is that I never put any reissues or records that came out on PopKid on the list.  But, I had to include Dereliks and Gentlemen Rogues if I am really making a list of the best 2022 records.  Gentlemen Rogues had half of the songs on their album come out on CD a few years ago.  The other half were digital only.  Since half of them never got a physical release before and the other half was never on vinyl, I decided they needed to be on the list.  

Dereliks is a four LP set.  One of the LPs is a reissue of an old 12" that came out in 1995.  The other three LPs are either songs off of demo tapes, from an old compilation CD or songs never released before.  There's enough stuff on here that's new to some and definitely new to me, that I had to include it.  Especially considering how many times I listened to it this year.

Lots of good tunes on this list and everything is pretty much worth checking out in some capacity.  Even the Superchunk record that I was pretty down on has its moments if you can get through some of the songs that are kind of a bummer.  I have next week off from work, so I'm probably not going to fire back up with more reviews right away, but before January is out, I'll be back with more nonsense.  Merry new year.

01 - PLOSIVS - PLOSIVS - Swami (Listen)
02 - The Drolls - That Puget Sound - Snappy Little Numbers (Listen)
03 - Swami John Reis - Ride The Wild Night - Swami (Listen)
04 - DereliksBroken Cyphers: The Anthology – Self Released (Listen)
05 - Boat - No Plans to Stick the Landing - Magic Marker (Listen)
06 - Czarface - Czarmageddon - Silver Age (Listen)
07 - Quaker Wedding - Total Disarray - Salinas (Listen)
08 - Skimmer - All Fired Up - Bloated Kat / Waterslide / Council Pop (Listen)
09 - Snuff - Crepuscolo Dorato Della Bruschetta Borsetta Calzetta Cacchetta Trombetta Lambretta Giallo Ossido, Ooooooh Cosi Magnifico! - 10 Past 12 / SBÄM (Listen)
10 - Meat Wave - Malign Hex - Swami (Listen)

11 - Lawsuit Models - Unknown Ghosts -Motorcycle Potluck / Snappy Little Numbers
12 - Archers of Loaf - Reason In Decline - Merge
13 - Night Court - Nervous Birds Too - Snappy Little Numbers
14 - Gentlemen Rogues - A History of Fatalism - Snappy Little Numbers / Rocket Heart
15 - Built To Spill - When The Wind Forgets Your Name - Sub Pop
16 - Good GriefShake Your Faith - Everything Sucks / Happy Happy Birthday To Me
17 - Bear Away - A Drastic Tale of Western Living - Brassneck / Waterslide / Engineer / Sell The Heart / Shield
18 - Jacob Turnbloom - Laughter in the Forever After - Half Way Home
19 - More Kicks - Punch Drunk - Dirtnap / Stardumb
20 - Superchunk - Wild Loneliness - Merge


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Dereliks - Broken Cyphers: The Anthology 4xLP


Self Released (2022)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

The Dereliks are a group that I definitely never heard about back in the 90s.  That said, a quick perusal of their Discogs page pretty much tells me why.  They put out three self released EPs on cassette, one each in 1992, 1993 and 1994.  Then they capped it off by putting out an independently released 12" EP in 1995.  Needless to say, these guys weren't front and center on Yo! MTV Raps or The Source when I was using both as my prime methods of music discovery in rural New Jersey.

Had I heard them back during the golden era, I would have been pretty obsessed.  Luckily they carried enough support in the Bay Area and through collectors trying to get their hands on the lone 12" that the group curated a four LP anthology.  And it is pretty damn incredible.  The first LP is a recreation of their long out of print A Turn On The Wheel Is Worth More Than A Record Deal 12" from 1995.  The remaining three LPs are full of tracks from the early demo tapes along with others unearth for this release.

Being from the Bay Area, it is pretty easy to draw a line to Heiroglyphics. It's absolutely not a bad line to draw as a comparison, particularly when looking at the way the vocals interplay with the production.  But in general, I find Hieroglyphics a little more 'out there' production wise, where I think Dereliks have more in common with the jazzy beats of A Tribe Called Quest. Yes, I am very much saying Dereliks are kind of like Hieroglyphics meets A Tribe Called Quest.  I realize all of the baggage that creates for them as far as living up to expectations, but for me The Dereliks deliver on every one of these tracks.

Four LPs is going to be a lot to digest in one sitting for just about anyone.  It's a lot of songs.  But the thing is, it's a lot of really, really great songs.  I adore this release and if anything sometimes I'm frustrated that there isn't even more included.  Reading the tracklists from their cassette EPs shows me that there are even more songs that didn't make it on to this set.  Chopped Herring put out a 12" containing demos from 1994 and I've picked that up as well.  But I really want at least one more release that collects the last batch of songs that aren't on vinyl.

I can't recommend this set highly enough if you are into jazzy, early 90s hip hop.  It's simply wonderful and while the entry cost looks a little steep when you first see the price, it is a FOUR LP set after all and I think I got every penny's worth.

The Dereliks - Broken Cyphers: The Anthology:

Monday, December 19, 2022

Cyclo-Sonic - Everything Went Stupid LP


Big Neck (2022)

Cyclo-Sonics is a group of punk rock lifers, boasting a resume of bands that in some instances I'm not as familiar with (Choosey Mothers) and others whose reputation is far more well known (The Fluid).  I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into as the needle was about to hit the turntable, but I came away from Everything Went Stupid pretty damn impressed.

The thing I like about this record the most is the big, fat, chunky guitar sound.  It's deep and crunchy and the riffs that pour out of this album straddle the punk and rock lines not unlike a Supersuckers or a Hellacopters.  All of the songs are pretty hooky really, and I often find myself nodding along to the driving rhythm section as the riffs soar along side.

I can't say I love the vocals.  They tread dangerously close to the glammy side of the street, but they never really cross over to where I'm put off by them.  They've kind of old school punk rock with some good natured screaming here and there, but for the most part they are carrying the songs melodies and playing off some really fun backing group vocals.  

All in all, it's a pretty strong record.  I could nit pick little things about it that I don't love, but when I just put it on and let it play, I find myself enjoying it more often than not.

Cyclo-Sonic - Everything Went Stupid:

Friday, December 16, 2022

Built To Spill - When The Wind Forgets Your Name LP


Sub Pop (2022)

When The Wind Forgets Your Name is the first proper Built To Spill record in seven years.  And they're on Sub Pop, which kind of feels like the label they should have always been on.  When the record was announced, I was pretty excited as I've been a pretty big Built To Spill fan for decades.  When they started releasing songs from it on the internet, I was seriously underwhelmed.  The vocals sounded all weird and distorted in a way that felt just wrong.  So, I didn't buy the record when it came out.  But, for the sake of completion, I did add it to my Amazon wishlist and my wife picked it for me for my birthday.

Once I put this record on the turntable, I couldn't believe how different it sounded from the crappy videos on YouTube or whatever.  I was wrong, turns out this is, in fact, a pretty good Built To Spill record.  The vocals that I was so concerned about sound totally fine.  Maybe there's a touch more reverb on them than usual, but they don't sound blown out at all like I experienced durning the online clips.  I don't know what caused such a disparity, but it's nothing you need to worry about if you were on the fence because of this.  Though, maybe I'm the only weirdo that thought there was an issue.

There's only nine songs on the album, but as is the case with most later era Built To Spill, the songs are all pretty long.  You're getting your money's worth.  In general, things are on the mellow side of the band's catalog.  Good hooks throughout, but not too many upbeat pure pop gems.  There's a part of me that's always going to wish for a record full of songs like "Joyride," even though I'm sure that ship has sailed many moons ago.

At the end of the day, it's a fun, good record.  Not the best Built To Spill album, but certainly not one I would ever call the 'worst.'  If you like the band, you'll like this.  I like Built To Spill, therefore...

Built To Spill - When The Wind Forgets Your Name:

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Hard Knocks - School of Hard Knocks LP


Wild Pitch (1992)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

One thing I haver to say, Wild Pitch had a hell of a roster in the early 90s.  In addition to the groups I knew about at the time, I've discovered gem after gem with their logo pasted on the sleeve.  Hard Knocks is another feather in their cap.

I don't remember ever hearing about these guys when this record came out in 1992, but man, is this record great.  Hard Knocks consists of MC Hardhead and DJ Stoneface and while coming up with names isn't the group's strong suit, politically conscious lyrics over hard hitting beats definitely is.  The production runs the gamut of laid back tracks with smooth funk samples to upbeat anthems powered by basslines lifted from the great American soul playbook.  While I prefer the faster paced tracks, I can't say there's a bad one in the bunch.

Lyrically, MC hardhead doesn't have a fiery delivery.  He sits more in that monotone delivery not too dissimilar from Guru, but not quite as smooth.  But his flow allows him the space to deliver intelligent stories that tackle poverty, racism and many other issues that unfortunately haven't changed much since 1992.  The content sounds just as fresh and relevant in 2022 as it did thirty years ago. 

I found this copy on Discogs, and while there is a big old hole punch through the sleeve, it was still sealed after all of these years.  I'll take a slightly damaged cover to get a pristine slab of vinyl every single time.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Skimmer - All Fired Up CD


Bloated Kat / Waterslide / Council Pop (2022)

It's possible that I'm going to write a few things that might sound vaguely like complaints, but I want to assure you that I mean them as compliments.  This is a great album and the only thing that I could say that might be a complaint is that I wish it had come out on vinyl in addition to CD.  But as far as the music goes, this is just what I want from a Skimmer album.

Skimmer has been around for quite a long time.  Formed from the ashes of The Sect, they were one of the corner stone bands of UK melodic punk that really captured my attention in the mid 90s.  Along with Broccoli, Chopper, Hooton 3 Car, Crocodile God and Travis Cut, Skimmer was a band whose singles I desperately sought out in a (mostly) pre internet era.  I even had to go to England eventually to round out my collections of most of these bands.

Skimmer was always the fast, melodic buzzsaw pop band.  At times I felt they were vocally similar to Mega City Four, but almost always playing twice as fast with the guitar distortion permanently locked as high as it would go.  In the intervening nearly 30 years, Skimmer reliably kept putting out records and their sound never really changed that much.  That's the thing that I worry could be construed as a criticism.  But I can't tell you how great it feels that as the years go barreling by, I can still get a new Skimmer release and I'm immediately transported back to 1997.

This isn't one of those 'the songs all sound the same' deals, but they certainly all have an interconnected feeling.  Flat out, they're just one of the best and most consistent bands to come out of my favorite scene in the history of the earth.  While many of their peers packed it in, Skimmer persevered and the fact that they are still releasing killed melodic pop punk in 2022 is nothing short of a miracle.

Skimmer - All Fired Up:

Bloated Kat (US)

Waterslide (Japan)

Council Pop (UK)

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

O.C. - Word...Life 2xLP


ReIssue / Fat Beats (2004, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo! MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

Word...Life originally came out in October of 1994, so it's not a complete shock that I missed it the first time around,  As I've explained in the past, 1994 was a major transitional year for me when it comes to music.  It's when punk and indie rock started to take over for me because there were fewer and fewer hip hop records that were interesting to me.  By 1995, I could hardly ever find anything of interest in hip hop.  Though I have backtracked and found a few gems, for the most part I persoanlly define 1994 as the last year of the Golden Era.

It's only within the last few years that O.C. ended up on my radar.  Backed by production on the majority of the album from Organized Konfusion and Buckwild of the Diggin' In The Crates crew, O.C. stepped up to the mic and really delivered on every song.  The production is mostly laid back with jazzy samples.  It wouldn't be what I'd call top tier Golden Era production, as it does show its age a bit by being close to 1995 and leaning into some of those sounds a bit.  Also, the hooks (or choruses, depending on what you'd prefer to call them) borderline on cheesy on a few songs.  But those two minor complaints aside, it is a pretty strong record overall.

Lyrically, O.C. is great.  He's not doing anything particularly complex or innovative, but this dude knows how to spin a narrative.  The rhymes are really tight and never feel forced just to end a couplet.  The songs have a very conversational feel to them and the stories told are compelling.  And when the lyrics combine with production on a song like "Time's Up," the results can be spectacular.  So, I wouldn't call this a stone cold classic, but it's very good overall and great at times.  Worth checking out if you missed it the first time around.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Jacob Turnbloom - Laughter in the Forever After 2xLP - Blue w/ Splatter Vinyl


Half Way Home (2022)

Jacob Turnbloom is one of my favorite artists.  Primarily because of his work in the amazing Mrs. Magician, but he has also released several solo efforts, all of which are worth your while.  Laughter in the Forever After is no exception.

I will get the two minor criticisms out of the way first.  First, I don't find this album to be as consistently great as I do Mrs. Magician records.  And I think that's because of my second issue, there are more synthy 80s sounding songs than I typically prefer.  "Ray's Occult" and "Pink Flamingos" are probably the two songs I would point to as being examples of this.  They're just a little too Stranger Things for me to really get behind.  That said, I am notorious for having very little patience for any sort of 80s or synth heavy music, so my bias is definitely going to show through here more than others might.

But when the album is at the more upbeat end of the spectrum and guitars are the primary driving force, this album soars and can hold its own with anything Jacob has released in the past.  "Balboa Park," "Hey Allison" and "Love is a Spaceship" are three of the best songs on this album and really showcase what makes Jacob Turnbloom so great.  He has a knack for hooks that aren't immediately obvious.  They're not always anthemic singalongs, but they melodies will get imprinted on your brain after a few listens.  He's also one of the better lyricists going these days, managing to tie together equal parts of frustration, optimism, joy and sarcasm in a way I'm not sure anyone else can.

All in all, it's a really good record.  Yeah, there's a few songs that don't engage me the same way as the others, but viewed as a whole there's a lot going on that I really dig.  Plus, there's the great news that Mrs. Magician is working on their third full length and I don't know if it's possible for me to be more excited about that one coming out eventually.

Jacob Turnbloom - Laughter in the Forever After:

Friday, December 2, 2022

Meat Wave - Malign Hex LP


Swami (2022)

Well, it's happened again and I'm scrambling to write about several records from this year that I haven't gotten to yet.  I like to try to get just about everything covered before I do my end of the year list, but it seems like I'm always struggling through December with too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Enter Meat Wave.

I saw Meat Wave open up for Plosivs in Philadelphia earlier this year.  Plosivs were other-worldly, just so damn great.  Meat Wave didn't really stand out to me at the show.  They were fine, even enjoyable at times, but nothing about them really clicked on a high level with me for whatever reason.  Though part of that might have been the fact that it was my first show since the pandemic had started and I'm not sure I was really in the game yet.

When the record was released via the Swami webstore (which is where the more limited black vinyl version is from, though I assume Meat Wave has or had the black version at shows as well) I picked up a copy.  Mostly because that's just what I do.  I support and buy everything that Swami puts out.  I haven't loved everything, but I've certainly discovered some incredible bands as well.  But I can't say I had super high expectations going into my first listen.

I probably set the bar too low, because this is a pretty great record.  I can't say I love the first song, "Disney."  It's kind of slow and feels like an odd album opener to me, but once we get to the second song, "Honest Living," the record takes off and soars for the entire time.  There's definitely something of a Hot Snakes vibe to some songs, particularly in the way the guitar riffs flow, so Swami fans should appreciate the album.  

For me, I think the Meat Wave has the most in common with the band Survival Knife (and by proxy to Unwound.). On a songs like "Complaint" and "Waveless" the searing guitar work overtop a positively rumbling rhythm section has such energy and potency.  Justin Trosper would be very proud of these guys.

Again, I wasn't expecting to like this album as much as do.  I was anticipating a solid record, but what I got was gut punch and a kick in the face on the way down.  Great stuff.

Meat Wave - Malign Hex: