Thursday 29 December 2022

22 Quick Picks for 2022: Albums of my Life: an A-Z

2022 has been another year of discovery in terms of music and also of revelation. Many of the artists I enjoyed in 2021 have released new music which has been really exciting. MUNA and The Big Moon have released albums and I was lucky enough to see the latter in a record shop just a few months ago. My love for 80s music has grown and the realisation that the band, Toto, have been involved in music that I have loved for years of my life has ignited a deep love for these incredible musicians. I've walked miles to these tracks, endorphins have been overflowing in the gym and I've also shed the odd tear. I've procrastinated, dreamed, reveled, despaired, lusted and mused over these songs, listening again and again-- such is my obsession with music. I wanted to document twenty-two of my loved tracks for 2022.

All Night/ Marika Hackman

I've written about Hackman's 2017 album, I'm Not Your Man, in which I alluded to this later release. All Night is one of the tracks from Any Human Friend that has been in my most played list for 2022 and it comes as no surprise. It's brooding, sensual, explicit and hot. 

I can remember getting into Marika Hackman's music during the lockdowns after having heard a few tracks. Once I was in, I was in. She allowed me to engage with myself in a way that I hadn't for a long while. She's a fantastic songwriter with a voice that is at once soft, sensitive and strong. I can't wait to hear more from her in 2023.

Who doesn't like Earth Wind & Fire?! It's incredible to see some of the founding members still playing together, going strong. I adore them. This ballad is so sweet and powerful, radiating positivity and love. It swings.

Maurice White is an absolute hero and will never be forgotten. 

RIP Fred White (passed January 2023).

This came up as a recommendation for me, being a MUNA fan, and wow! Years ago, I thought I couldn't really connect with modern music anymore. I'd hit a roadblock. It's a beautiful thing to say that I'm once again excited about new music. The production on this song really excites me and, in combination with Katie Gavin's skating in the music video, it's euphoric.

This is a gym playlist fave.

So I was hoovering and listening to music on my headphones. I'd been listening to some Motown and Youtube music started playing random recommended songs after I'd finished an album. This voice came through which was so soulful and familiar. Oddly, it took me a second to place it. It sounded mature and sweet as honey. I almost teared up when I realised it was Michael Jackson, partly because I have been such a massive fan of his music since I was nine years old and pretty much know all of his back catalogue right through to the early Jackson 5 deep cuts. To find this album of unreleased tracks was so wonderful.

No surprises that Stevie Wonder wrote and produced this. It's just gorgeous.

A different vibe to my other pick from Earth Wind & Fire, but equally as wonderful and uplifting. I love the synths on this track, particularly at around the 1.40 mark, there's something special happening. When I read up and found out that Steve Porcaro of Toto fame was involved in the synth programming, I smiled.

There's not a lot that comes close to White and Bailey's vocals, the way they compliment each other, the effortless, spiritual feel. 

My quest into Toto's discography has been in full force this year. My first love was Rosanna and then I discovered their pre Toto IV albums which ensnared me with their prog feel. At the moment I'm listening to Isolation a lot. It took me a while to get on board with the sound of this album with Ferguson's vocal; now I love his sound and what he brought for this one album. I'd go as far as to say this is all killer, no filler for me.

Change of Heart gets a lot of replays. It's the soaring vocal, the proggy keys, the legendary drumming. Love it.

My mum liked Steely Dan and played some of the first album, Can't Buy a Thrill, as well as Pretzel Logic when I was younger. I assumed she was into them in quite a big way, but she told me recently that she first bought their music because they were what the trendy older teens were listening to when she worked in a record shop back in the 70s! 

I'm a big fan of the jazz fusion on Deacon Blues. It's so pleasing to listen to and the lyrics mesmerise me in their comforting theme of otherness. Bernard Purdie's drumming is impeccable; I've become a bit addicted to watching drummers do covers of this and other Steely tracks.

Ok, watch the video above.

These guys are just phenomenal. I love Bobby Kimball's vocal and love to see him here really letting loose. These days of Toto with Paich and Steve Porcaro playing together makes me so happy and this particular performance is so electric. The star of the show is, of course, Jeff Porcaro on the drums. 

Jeff's drumming and presence is something so special and it has been a privilege to discover his incredible influence on the music industry this year. The music that I have listened to for years of my life has had Jeff (and other Toto members) on, to the point where all these links have been made. For example, Wait, a track on The Jacksons' Victory album that has been a mainstay in my playlists was co-written with David Paich and features Jeff and Steve Porcaro as well as Steve Lukather. I was so sad to hear of Jeff's passing at such a young age. It seems that I was destined to be properly acquainted with Toto sooner or later and they are now firmly in my most loved bands of all time. 

This duo were an amazing discovery a year or so ago. Composed of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, these British multi-instrumentalists' unique whimsy drew me to them as soon as I saw them perform. Some of their earlier performances are fascinating examples of how there is still room, if not a gaping hole in the industry for theatrical musicianship, just as there was for the likes of Kate Bush in the late 70s and 80s. Like Bush, these two have been known to combine movement with their singing and instrumentation-- but never as gimmick. 

Two Ribbons comes after time apart and time for Hollingworth to deal with the death of her partner.  Some tracks on this album are hugely emotive. There has always been some sadness amongst the jubilance of Let's Eat Grandma, but it's more vivid on their third album and for good reason. Insect Loop is upbeat and powerful (with a delicious, distinctive guitar riff), yet fragile and delicate in places. Their vocals have only got better as they've matured. Highly recommend their music.

Lady Love Me (One More Time)/ George Benson

80s soul at its finest! This is another example of a song that is only made sweeter by Jeff Porcaro's playing. David Paich also played keyboard and co-wrote!

The key change as a phenomena in modern music is almost obsolete nowadays which makes it such a nostalgic element of this tune. Benson's soulful voice is so easy on the ear and Porcaro's drum fills effortlessly compliment. I've played this to the point where if it were a cassette tape it might have been eaten by now.

Again, watch the video!

The groove is sublime. The strings, the bassline, the drums. I've always loved funk and disco music, but this year I've gravitated to this song, especially on darker days.

I was introduced to Anderson Paak a few years ago, whereas Bruno Mars was always a name I associated with music aimed at a certain (younger, hip-happening) audience. When I gave this album a listen I fell in love. It was one of those listening experiences where every turn of a song makes you beam. I can remember being on the treadmill in the gym and pressing the incline button to the soaring harmonies of this song, probably with mouth agape in awe.

The concept album feels pastiche by way of its more humourous 90s R'nB satirising lyrics, yet is equally so authentic in its use of funk, soul and Motown musical tropes. I need this on vinyl!

This song is probably one of my favourite songs ever. I stumbled across the psychedelic wonder of Crumb a couple of years ago and this was my gateway drug. Lila Ramani's vocal is mesmeric and the vintage feel of this song is even somewhat creepy. I love the production of it too with its distortion effects and the way the vocal switches from lo-fi only in the second verse. 

This band is so, so talented and would be incredible to see live. They're EP with this song on it has some other masterpieces on it, such as the jazz-fusion of Bones with a great sax solo at the end and Vinta where the drums and bass are exhilerating.

Another great discovery this year was multi-instrumentalist Cameron Lew AKA Ginger Root. The vibe of Loretta and other offerings from Ginger Root is 80s pop/ funk, which embraces the cheesiness and shameless optimism of this era. It's no wonder that in these darker times, many of us crave this kind of music. The videos are really tongue in cheek and fun to watch.

Loretta is one of those songs that gets in your head and you find yourself singing 'Lor-ret-ahhh!' when you're going about your daily business, often out loud and often to the bemusement of anyone in earshot. Listen, and I dare you not to do the same.

Her's were two young musicians from Liverpool (Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading) who tragically passed way too early in 2019 in a road accident. 

I discovered them through recommendations and loved their throwback sound, Fitzpatrick's unique vocal range and the dreamy, underdog feel of their lyrics. Low Beam is a favourite of mine as well as What Once Was.

It makes me so sad to think of what success they would have gone on to have. RIP.

I wanted to mention
Mushanga because it is a gorgeous sounding song which showcases Jeff's creativity on the drums. His agility and dynamics are so stunning to me. This is one of the standout tracks from The Seventh One, which takes you to another place through the feel and lyrics.

It also features Joseph Williams on vocals which is a different era for Toto and an equally pleasing one in my view. What impresses me about this band is how they had so many singers, even back in the days of Kimball, Paich, Lukather and Steve Porcaro took lead vocals on different tracks. 

I like the sultriness of this song and the chord progression that helps to lift that until it becomes reminiscent of something 70s feeling and optimistic.

I'm going to see this band in 2023 which will be exciting because they're very talented and unique.

Hunnybee from Sex & Food is also a funky tune to check out.

Slow Song
/ The Knocks with Dragonette

I really enjoyed this song in the Summer of 2022. Unsurprisingly (for me), it has a retro sound (think Kylie Minogue in the later 90s), a funky bassline, synths, soaring strings-- all the things I like! 

I played this on repeat when in need of a pick-me-up (which was a lot) and it never failed to hit the spot. 

Whilst my heart lies with the authentic beauty of live playing and real instrumentation, I have a penchant for the likes of The Knocks' production skills and the way they fuse old and new sounds.

And on the subject of great production, we have MUNA. This new album is really great, an example of how musicianship can be elevated with modern tech. 

I liked this track, Solid, from the first listen. It has an 80s sound, an ode of sorts which in turn empowers the listener if you make-believe Katie Gavin is singing to you! I swear my walk gets sassier when I'm plugged into this treasure. 

MUNA's previous albums are far more angsty compared to this one, so its nice to see the progression (however, there's room for angsty, sad- girl music any day of the week as far as I'm concerned). I was tempted to include Stayaway from Saves the World in this list because I've played that song like an obsessive this year as well as last. I think the two actually pair really well as a kind of yin yang to relationships; whilst Stayaway is the raw end of a dysfunctional love, Solid is the beginning of a better situation. 

This was one of my most-played songs this year according to Youtube. Perhaps it's rather telling that it was last year too.

I've written about The Japanese House's 2019 album, Good at Falling, here. In that post I talk about the acclimatisation I went through to the sound of Amber Bain's music. This song was what made me double take and see past some of the over-production of the vocals. It is a catchy song, sure, but it's far more than that for me with this artist. Her vulnerability and sensitivity somehow gives us permission to feel as listeners. In Something Has to Change, there's a desperation and sadness which is only realised more vividly in the repetition. 

The music video's pretty cool too!
Think Of Me As Your Soldier/ Stevie Wonder

I really rate this album from 1971. I discovered it this year and really fell for Think Of Me... It's simple, sweet and intensely romantic. I love the pairing of the guitar with Stevie's vocal (how they mirror each other) and the minor chords Stevie uses.

Some other honourable mentions from the album are Something Out of the Blue which has some sweet instrumentation on it, and Sunshine In Their Eyes: the bittersweet hymn-like song which transitions into Everything is Happenin' with its upbeat call for hope. 

This album is underrated and one I would like to add to my physical record collection someday.

A great song to end on, Wide Eyes is the first single to be released from The Big Moon's 2022 album, Here Is Everything. The album focuses on the lead singer's experience of becoming a parent for the first time with unflinching honesty. When I saw the music video to this song I welled up with joy. The sound of this track is big and beautiful (think a driving bassline, euphoric keys, swelling harmonies). 

The way the song develops and the band members gradually join in, perfectly matches the music video (which is a must watch). Friendship is a thing to cherish and this song encapsulates the experience that 
Jules had becoming a mother for the first time and the support she had from her bandmates during that time. It was really great to see The Big Moon play an acoustic set this year with tracks from this album and I hope to see them again next year live.

Do you have a favourite album beginning with Q?

I couldn't authentically name any as favourites, hence this end of year post!

I'm looking to continue my A-Z next year and maybe do a photography challenge... we'll see!

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