Ear Traffic’s top 10 albums and the HI-35 for 2022


The competition was absurdly tough in choosing Ear Traffic’s top 10 overall albums of 2022 and (especially) for picking the top 35 tracks of the year, aka the HI-35. I suppose that from my perspective, that would have to make it a fine year for music. Here are the albums and songs that top my list for the year that just concluded.

10. Yard Act, The Overload

Dating back to the Stones, there’s something just uniquely satisfying and reliable about the swagger in Britain’s best no-additives rock. On its debut album, Leeds’ Yard Act is topical, observational, confident, charged and even a bit funky. You could see them as one of the near-future leaders of one of those “rock ‘n’ roll is back” kicks like we saw in 2001-04.

9. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Endless Rooms

Rolling Blackouts C.F. quietly (in the American market, anyway) continue to be one of the best pure guitar rock bands going. Seemingly, “Talking Straight” put this Aussie group with three guitarist/alternating vocalists briefly on the American indie map, and then they slowly faded from view. But listen to Endless Rooms and keep on marveling at how they come up with an endless supply of tasty leads and interplay (“My Echo”), and how the atmosphere can shift from insistent and sardonic (“Tidal River”) to starker, dystopian-toned post-punk (“Saw You at the Eastern Shore.”)

8. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen

As direct in her lyrics as she is musically imaginative, Brittney Parks carved out an electro-R&B-hip-hop masterpiece here, reminding me at times of Janelle Monae but also sounding unlike exactly anything you’ve heard before. Declarations of self-love and affirmation, cliched and over-earnest in the hands of many other artists, are where she shines the most (“Cause I’m not average,” “Time I feed my selfish soul”), and everything from her often-restrained delivery to the unintrusively perfect production has just the right touch.

7. Soccer Mommy, Sometimes, Forever

Darkness with a beam of bright vocal light has always been Sophie Allison’s gift. On Sometimes, Forever, she goes a bit deeper into the dark, spelunking her way to an extremely strong record. “Unholy Affliction” is a captivating drill into the industrial gutter, while “Bones” and the hummable “Shotgun” are Soccer Mommy at her “classic” best and “Don’t Ask Me” distinguishes itself with a tasty indie guitar-solo outro straight outta 1996. Still just 25, Allison is now a college/indie fixture who appears to reaching a crest.

6. Bartees Strange, Farm to Table

Mr. Strange (Bartees Cox, Jr. on the birth certificate) possesses a wide-ranging musical versatility that seemingly mirrors his well-traveled background: born in England, Oklahoma-raised, time in Brooklyn (where he played in post-hardcore band Stay Inside) and now based in D.C. That flair for variety comes out tasting fully fresh on Farm to Table, where songs can bleed out slowly (“Tours,” “Hold the Line”), slowly build and explode into TV On the Radio-like anthems (“Wretched”), delve into Auto-Tuned melodic hip-hop (“Cosigns”) or even recall the breezy indie-rock of Real Estate and explode into speaker-rattling heavy-rock noise in the same song (“Escape This Circus”). Cox’s songwriting is confessional, but with an invitingly freewheeling feel that keeps it from excessive heaviness.

5. Automatic, Excess

Is saying that Excess synthesizes everything great about today’s rock music a bit of hyperbole? Eh, possibly. Does it feel right? Yeah, it does. Joyously repetitive post-punk beats, synth textures and ominous, primitive and airy vocal work make nearly every song on Automatic’s second record memorable. “In the service of desire, we will travel far away/In the service of desire, every night and every day” is a robotically unique couplet that gives this L.A. trio what might be their perfect mission statement.

4. Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth

When “Precious Cargo” dropped in as track eight on this one, that was it — Hurray for the Riff Raff’s eighth album was destined for a spot on this list, and a pretty high one. I was initially cautious when they billed this record as “nature punk,” wondering what the hell that would mean and whether it would constitute a misstep. It didn’t. Instead, Alynda Segarra came up with a fairly magnificent piece of work here, as deft with the metaphorical imagery (“Pierced arrows from the sky fall through me every time”) as she is with the pictures that are all too reality-based, like all of “Precious Cargo.” That song’s bleak invocation of an immigrant’s journey to the U.S., with 17 days sleeping on the floor and the terrible “man from the I.C.E.”, will stick with you for as long as your memory is healthy.

3. Wet Leg, Wet Leg

Did it live up to the hype Wet Leg generated with a couple of great singles in the second half of 2021? Generally, yes. The Isle of Wight duo with an accessible postpunk-garage sound and a gently edgy wit showed they had a whole record’s worth of gems in them, augmenting previous killer releases “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” with more smirking, picture-painting, life-of-the-young documents like “Angelica” and “Ur Mum.” The former’s “But I don’t wanna follow you on the ‘gram/I don’t wanna listen to your band” is one of my favorite lines in recent memory. Several of the others belong to this band, and this album, as well.

2. Alvvays, Blue Rev

Maybe Alvvays’ commitment to polished earworm melody was dialed back evver so slightly (see what I did there?), and on the other end, maybe the guitar distortion got a barely perceptible boost. But mostly, Alvvays just made a spectacular album by maximizing what it’s good at, writing one knockout indie-power-pop song after another. Blue Rev is stuffed not just with sweet-and-salty riffage, but also nostalgic reflection, disillusionment and thought-provoking metaphor, all wrapped in an album conceptually focused on hometown roots and past love. There probably wasn’t a better opening 1-2-3 punch to a record in 2022 than “Pharmacist,” “Easy On Your Own?” and “After the Earthquake.” And the deeper you go, stumbling into surprises like the off-center, new-wave-ish electro of “Very Online Guy,” the more you’re rewarded.

1. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

Upon hearing Dragon New Warm Mountain (top image) shortly after its February release, I already knew it was a top-tier candidate for my favorite record of the year, and that it would be pretty tough for anything to come along and best it over the 10 months to follow. Nothing did, because Adrienne Lenker, Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia gave us everything Big Thief had, and then found more. Twenty songs, 80 minutes and a diverse expansion of this already-great band’s moody indie-folk added up to the kind of exciting quantity-quality balance you rarely get in a studio album anymore, from anybody. The stately poetry of “Change,” the hoedown-by-the-porch vibe of “Spud Infinity” and the muffled, synth-and-drum darkness of “Blurred View” are all different, captivating sides of Lenker and Big Thief; “Simulation Swarm,” which doesn’t even hit until deeeep in the record, is gently rolling magic that’s so poetic it scarcely seems real. The only question left at the end was whether there’s anything Big Thief can’t do. I don’t expect them to prove they can blow us away with a face-melting garage-rock masterpiece next time  … but don’t rule it out.

HI-35: Top 35 tracks of 2022

35. Uwade, “Do You See the Light Around Me?”
34. Bob Moses, “Love Brand New”
33. Angel Olsen, “Big Time”
32. beabadoobee, “10:36”
31. Hazel English, “Summer Nights”
30. Mallrat, “Teeth”
29. The Happy Fits, “Do Your Worst”
28. DDG feat. Gunna, “Elon Musk”
27. The Smile, “You Will Never Work in Television Again”
26. Big Thief, “Blurred View”
25. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Burning”
24. Alvvays, “Easy on Your Own?”
23. Hatchie, “Quicksand”
22. Alex G, “Runner”
21. Pusha T, “Brambleton”
20. Weird Nightmare feat. Bully, “Wrecked”
19. Momma, “Speeding 72”
18. Billy Nomates, “spite”
17. Sharon van Etten, “Mistakes”
16. Belle and Sebastian, “Unnecessary Drama”
15. Alice Merton, “Same Team”
14. yot club, “u dont kno me”
13. Sudan Archives, “Selfish Soul”
12. Fontaines D.C., “Jackie Down the Line”
11. Bartees Strange, “Wretched”
10. Sea Lemon, “Turn Away”
9. Soccer Mommy, “Shotgun”
8. Wet Leg, “Angelica”
7. Lucius, “Next to Normal”
6. Panda Bear and Sonic Boom, “Edge of the Edge”
5. Alvvays, “After the Earthquake”
4. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Precious Cargo”
3. Automatic, “New Beginning”
2. Big Thief, “Simulation Swarm”
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”