Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Record of the Year
Ryuichi Sakamoto Playing the piano 12122020
Having received the news that his cancer was stage 4 in June 2020, Ryuichi Sakamoto wrote:
“I have just turned 70, but how many more times will I be able to see the full moon? But even thinking that, since I have been granted life, I am praying that I will be able to make music until my last moments, just like my beloved Bach and Debussy.”
He is doing just that. My Record of the Year was recorded piecemeal, song by song—by that time Sakamoto was too weak to perform continuously for an hour to an hour-and-a-half—and streamed from a vast empty studio in Tokyo, simulating a concert, on 12 December 2020.
Tied for 2nd Place
Binker and Moses Feeding the Machine
Sun Ra Arkestra Living Sky
Binker Golding and Moses Boyd’s album creates an astonishing soundscape, taking us well beyond the horizons of what jazz used to be. One reviewer characterizes it as “a kind of exquisite madness. The music feels as if it could tear itself apart even while mournful at its core.”
The Sun Ra Arkestra, led by Marshall Allen on alto sax, is the most joyous sound I’ve heard this year. Allen is 98 and has played with the Arkestra for over sixty years.
Rest of Top 10 (in alphabetical order)
Beach House Once Twice Melody
S. G. Goodman Teeth Marks
Hurray for the Riff Raff Life on Earth
Jockstrap I Love You Jennifer B
Angel Olsen Big Time
Plains I Walked with You a Ways
Sharon Van Etten We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Beach House got listened to a lot this year, the sound of spaced-out, endless summer: just the thing for these Endtimes.
Goodman chronicles the slow decay of the American heartland in a suite of sharp and melodic songs. “It’s about the way we leave marks on each other, and empathy or the lack thereof,” she says. Plains’ album, a collaboration between Katie Crutchfield (of Waxahatchee) and Jess Williamson, has a similar quirky country vibe, with exquisite vocal harmonies (that make songs like “Abilene” all the more chilling).
Hurray for the Riff Raff is Alynda Segarra, who hails from the Bronx but is now based in New Orleans. She’s been around a while but her previous albums are more folk/Americana. I like this reboot better. Among the “nature punk” songs on Life on Earth is “Precious Cargo,” which “shares the story of a man swimming across a river with his children, of a border crossed, a family torn apart; of shivering on a cold jail floor with a foil blanket and calling out to Allah.”
I discovered the young British duo Jockstrap (Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye) only this month from Metacritic’s Records of the Year. What a fabulously original and creative album! Even if it is sometimes a tad pretentious.
Olsen and Van Etten are both singers whose previous albums had some great individual songs (like Van Etten’s “Seventeen“) but didn’t grab me as a whole. Not so this year. These are masterpieces of skilled songwriting and vocal expression.
Alternate rest of Top 10 (in alphabetical order)
The Bad Plus The Bad Plus
Keith Jarrett Bordeaux Concert
Makaya McCraven In These Times
Caitlin Rose Cazimi
Marta Sánchez SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)
Stormzy This Is What I Mean
Sudan Archives Natural Brown Prom Queen
The Bad Plus, whom we saw a few years back at the Village Vanguard when they were a piano trio, have replaced the piano with an electric guitar and a tenor sax. It works. The Jarrett concert may turn out to be his last recording, since he’s suffered a massive stroke since that left him unable to play. If so, it’s a fine way to sign off.
Following up on Where We Come From and Universal Beings (both in my previous Albums of the Year lists), Makaya McCraven takes the looping wizardry Teo Macero started with Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew to unheard-of heights. New York-based Spanish pianist and composer Marta Sánchez (whom I hadn’t heard before) shows that the future of jazz is in good hands.
It’s great to see Caitlin Rose back after all these years (nine) with some characteristically catchy, bitter-sweet songs that get under your skin and stay there. As with her previous album The Stand-In, I love the retro-pop arrangements. And that inimitable voice, clear as a bell.
I listened to Stormzy’s record only when I read it was challenging Cliff Richard (aged 82 and saccharine as ever) for #1 in the UK album charts, which I saw as a metaphor for the culture wars dividing the country. It surprised me by its poetry and its quiet lyricism. The second album by vocalist and violinist Sudan Archives (Brittney Parks) is a joyful, sexy, exuberant blast. Both give reason to hope in the darkness.
Songs of the Year
Caroline Shaw/Attacca Quartet Other Song
and some other great songs of 2022 (in no particular order)
Rihanna Lift Me Up
Sudan Archives Selfish Soul
S. G. Goodman Work Until I Die
Hurray for the Riff Raff Rhododendron
Margo Price Lydia
Caitlin Rose Only Lies
Allison Russell + Brandi Carlile + Sista Strings You’re Not Alone
Sharon Van Etten Darkness Fades
Angel Olsen Chasing the Sun
(Yes, I do like female vocals.)