4 January 2023
Writing about music is like singing about grammar. Rarely done well, but sometimes someone manages it.
Let’s start with Kendrick. An artist who has gone beyond the traditional confines of genre to create something bold and distinctive. Mr Morale and the Big Steppers is not a perfect record—there are a couple of stumbles, like the eminently skippable ‘We Cry Together’—but it certainly comes close, and bristles with artistry. For me, the standout is ‘Mother I Sober’ featuring Beth Gibbons from Portishead, whose presence underlines the fragility shown across the rest of the track. His performance at Glastonbury was, too, a standout. It seems wild to think that it wasn’t that long ago that the thought of hip-hop on the main stage caused an uproar when Jay Z headlined in 2008. Fast forward to 2022 and Kendrick is head and shoulders above.
Staying with live music, a personal highlight was catching one of LCD Soundsystem’s residency shows in Brooklyn. They still know how to make people dance. They also managed to release a very good standalone song—attached to the new Noah Baumbach film White Noise—in ‘New Body Rumba’, which hardly breaks new ground for them, but has a very sing-along-able hook, so doesn’t need to.
LCD Soundsystem’s work rate is the polar opposite of Taylor Swift’s, who is so productive that she managed to surprise release 6 tracks a mere 3 hours after the release of her new album Midnights. That record continues Taylor’s pandemic-era hot streak, and it feels like she’s managed to find a very happy medium between Folklore and 1989, Reputation et al. ‘Maroon’ is the highlight for me, out of a field of very strong contenders.
Sticking with pop, I didn’t love the whole album but ‘That’s Where I Am’ by Maggie Rogers was one of the best tracks of the year, a fact underlined by the fact that it was my most played track of 2022. Interestingly, it was co-written with Kid Harpoon who I worked with many years ago when he released his debut album ‘Once’ in 2009. In the intervening 13 years he’s focused on writing with other people rather than his own music, and it turns out he has a bit of a knack for it—he also co-wrote officially the biggest song of 2022 in the UK: ‘As It Was’ by Harry Styles, which—despite its ubiquity—is a banger (and also sounds a little bit like The Strokes).
The new Beyoncé record also is listed under ‘pop’, despite some arguments that it is a ‘dance’ record. Either way, for me it’s the best thing she’s done in quite some time—better songs, better vibe. ‘Alien Superstar’ is the one that clicked most for me. There was a lot of good dance and electronic music this year though, with the pendulum swinging away from hip-hop and back to the dance floor (it shifted from guitars a way ago, which maybe means they’re next in line). Gold Panda, Daphni, Four Tet and Jamie xx all deserve shoutouts, but this year surely belonged to Fred again..
The poorly formatted alias of Fred Gibson (yes, it is supposed to be written ‘Fred again..’ with two full stops) cropped up all over the place in 2022. His album ‘Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022) was a triumph, holding together as a complete body of work plus containing standout tracks like ‘Delilah (pull me out of this)’. He also produced lots of songs for other people, and released a bunch of standalone singles including highlight ‘Lights Out’ with Romy and HAAi—the HAAi remix in particular goes hard.
I want to highlight two more releases. Nilüfer Yanya’s second album ‘Painless’ really got under my skin, a significant step on from her debut. There are some Radiohead-y bits that occasionally poke through, especially in some of the guitar lines, and I think it says a lot that this record has stuck with me even more so than the one by The Smile (i.e. two-fifths of actual Radiohead, and also a very good album). Lastly, the album by Oliver Sim from The xx is a beautiful, touching listen—particularly ‘Hideous’ which features Jimmy Somerville from Bronski Beat.
I’ve not mentioned excellent releases by Arctic Monkeys (a real grower), Metronomy (fun!), Wet Leg (really fun!), Black Country, New Road, Little Simz and many more—you’ll find them all in this playlist of my favourite songs of the year on Apple Music. I’ve not attempted to rank these in order, as trying to compare songs against each other to figure out what is best is a bit like trying to take my four-year-old to a gallery; everyone ends up frustrated, and some art may have been damaged. You can also dip in and listen along with everyone else reading below if you’re an Apple Music subscriber.