Amid another turbulent and hectic year, recorded and live music made a huge comeback. Today, Local Spins writers reveal their picks for the best of both in 2022.
The approaching blizzard this holiday weekend serves as an appropriate metaphor for the year in music.
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Dynamic and varied releases by artists, both local and international, the flurry of post-pandemic tours and the return of summer music festivals made 2022 a milestone year in many ways.
Music industry revenues grew with strong recorded music sales (think streaming and vinyl) and big jumps in the concert ticket trade — fueled in part by ticket prices that were 18 percent higher on average for the first six months of the year. (Just ask Taylor Swift fans about that.)
Amid all that hubbub, our intrepid crew of Local Spins writers sifted through the onslaught to make their picks for best albums and songs of 2022, as well as choosing their favorite concerts of the year.
Their picks ranged from new music by superstars such as Taylor Swift, Beyonce, The Weeknd and Buddy Guy to fast-emerging acts The 1975, Big Thief and Caamp and regional charmers Djangophonique, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, May Erlewine and Messenger Birds.
As for me, I’ll just say that Spoon not only produced my most-played album of the year (“Lucifer on the Sofa”), but also delivered the best concert I saw when the Austin band’s tour stopped at Kalamazoo State Theatre in July with crazy-cool opener Bodega. (No. 2 was The Decemberists in August at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and No. 3 was The Crane Wives in an August downpour at Studio Park.)
The flood of terrific local and regional album releases makes it virtually impossible to choose a clear favorite, though it’s hard to ignore the double-whammy of two soulful, full-length rock albums unfurled by Nathan Walton & The Remedy or the mega-star-power of Ionia County bluegrass hero Billy Strings teaming up with his stepfather for “Me/And/Dad.”
But enough of the preliminaries. In lieu of our usual Thursday “Amplified” newsletter, here are the Local Spins critics’ picks for best albums, songs and concerts of the year.
THE WRITERS’ PICKS: BEST MUSIC OF 2022TROY REIMINK (Local Spins writer)
1. Beyonce, “Renaissance” – The queen commands the realm to dance, and so, as her loyal subjects, we dance. Beyonce’s seventh solo album, and first in six years, is a sweeping overview of current and historic dance music forms, with Bey acting as DJ and curator. Well-timed for a collective release of pandemic energy, “Renaissance” is a reclamation of its genre on behalf of the Black and queer innovators who tend to be overlooked whenever crowds flock back to the clubs. Musically, culturally, historically, it’s a big meal to digest. Fortunately, the dance floor is a great place to work off the calories.
2. Pusha T, “It’s Almost Dry” – The acquisition, distribution and consumption of cocaine are to Pusha T what California is to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the relationship between an artist and his area of expertise has rarely been described so colorfully as in the grandiose “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,” in which Pusha brands himself “Cocaine’s Dr. Seuss,” which is amazing. “It’s Almost Dry” is delivered with the effortlessness of a hip-hop lifer re-teamed with his two greatest collaborators, Pharrell and…yeesh, Kanye West. I realize it might be too early to suggest this, but if Ye ever wants to redeem himself, he could just shut up for a while (or forever) and produce for other artists. He’s actually still good at that.
3. Alvvays, “Blue Rev” – The instantly canonized third album by these Toronto indie-rock all-stars comes on strong despite taking several spins to fully reveal its contours. It’s an immediate grower, if that makes any sense. I kept listening to try to figure out what I was missing, only to realize Alvvays’s fuzzy guitars, pristine melodies, woozy atmospherics and weary lyricism had hooked me in the process. The band bounces against several rock subgenres — shoegaze, indie, dream-pop, surf, power-pop — but only ever lands in its own shimmering world.
4. The 1975, “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” – If there was a gun to my head, I’d probably choose the version of the 1975 that made 2020’s “Notes On a Conditional Form,” a messy, sprawling, genre-fluid album of big swings that either whiffed entirely or connected for home runs. “Being Funny in a Foreign Language,” the UK band’s fifth full-length, is a collection of base hits (to belabor the baseball metaphor) that pivots from its predecessor’s excesses toward a tighter presentation that optimizes Matty Healy and company’s pop songwriting chops. The ceiling might be a little lower here, but a concise 1975 record without a wasted moment or skippable track turns out to have a hell of a high floor.
5. Wild Pink, “ILYSM” – The follow-up to Wild Pink’s also-great 2021 album “A Billion Little Lights” is hard to separate, at least narratively, from the cancer diagnosis bandleader John Ross received halfway through writing this masterful collection of songs, whose recording had to be scheduled around surgeries to remove his lymph nodes. Less introspective than one might expect from an artist negotiating with mortality, Ross weaves a vast and intricate cosmic tapestry that connects the best strands of 21st Century Americana-adjacent indie rock: the pastoral weirdness of Big Thief, the dusty grandeur of Band of Horses, the autumnal dreamscapes of War On Drugs, the itchy experimentalism of “A Ghost Is Born”-era Wilco, the cracked deconstructionism of later Bon Iver. A band that was poised to take a big step scaled a mountain instead.
Honorable mentions (alphabetical by artist): Beach House, “Once Twice Melody”; The Beths, “Expert In a Dying Field”; Big Thief, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You”; Bjork, “Fossora”; Zach Bryan, “American Heartbreak”; Drive-By Truckers, “Welcome to Club XIII”; Holy Fawn, “Dimensional Bleed”; Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”; MUNA, “MUNA”; Porridge Radio, “Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky”; The Range, “Mercury”; Rosalia, “Motomami”; Spiritualized, “Everything Was Beautiful”; Spoon, “Lucifer On the Sofa”; Vince Staples, “Ramona Park Broke My Heart”; Sylvan Esso, “No Rules Sandy”; Sharon Van Etten, “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong”; The Weeknd, “Dawn FM”; Young Jesus, “Shepherd Head”
(Probably) Best Concert (I Can’t Believe I Missed): Low at The Pyramid Scheme (April 6)– This one is embarrassing. I skipped Low’s presumably final stop in Grand Rapids for the usual list of reasons: I’m old, it’s a weeknight, I guess there’s still COVID, I should save money, I’ll catch them next time, etc. etc. The long-running Minnesota band — led by creative/life partners Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker — was touring behind “HEY WHAT,” the capstone of a triumphant late-career resurgence that found the slowcore pioneers re-imagining their sound and creating some of the last half-decade’s most vital rock music. When Parker died in November while being treated for ovarian cancer, the outpouring of grief and love from all corners of the music world was a poignant reminder of how easy it is to take the music we love, and the people who create it, for granted. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.
TRICIA BOOT (Local Spins writer)
1. Spoon, “Wild” from “Lucifer on the Sofa” — Perfect in its ’90s-tinged simplicity and packing a considerable punch in its tidy three-minute-ish runtime, “Wild” is a textbook representation of what makes Spoon an enduring indie darling.
2. Angel Olsen, “Ghost On” from “Big Time” — In an album of standouts (“Go Home,” “Right Now,” “All the Good Times,” to name a few), this track rises to the top with a heartbreakingly honest perspective on the costs and benefits of authenticity in love: “And I don’t know if you can love / Someone stronger than what suits you / And I can’t fit into the past / That you’re used to, I refuse to.”
3. Andrew Bird, “Eight” from “Inside Problems” — The prolific singer/songwriter/violinist/whistler’s latest studio album is packed with whimsy, depth and beauty, very much keeping in line with the multi-hyphenate’s forte for charmingly weird and listenable music. The sprawling, haunting grandeur of “Eight” was likely a key in securing Bird the hotly contested* top spot on my personal Spotify Wrapped list for 2022. (*In a year where Angel Olsen AND Sharon Van Etten offered up their own masterpieces, that is no small feat.)
4. The Weeknd, “Less Than Zero” from “Dawn FM” — Well-received by critics and fans alike, this poppy New Wave gem didn’t top the charts as it should have–upbeat synths and sad-sack lyrics are always a winning combo–but this track was top of my list for summer evening drives with the windows rolled down.
5. Sharon Van Etten, “Come Back” and “Headspace” from “We’ve Been Going About it All Wrong” (tie) — The former is a classic Van Etten torch song, the latter a “Jupiter 4”-esque synthy triumph; both are among the better cuts from yet another solid studio effort by the always-interesting singer-songwriter.
Honorable Mentions: Foals, “Wake Me Up;” Lucius with Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow, “Dance Around It;” Seratones, “Two of a Kind;” Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World;” Valerie June, “Look at Miss Ohio;” Mitski, “Love Me More;” Sault, “Higher;” FKA Twigs, “Killer;” Florence + The Machine, “My Love;” The War and Treaty, “Blank Page”
BEST CONCERT: The Wild Hearts Tour featuring Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen and Julien Baker at Kalamazoo State Theatre, Aug. 11 — Following through on the promise of 2021’s single, “Like I Used To,” Van Etten and Olsen’s double-billed tour–with friend, Baker sweetening the deal–was everything it promised to be and more. Beautiful musicianship, fun stage banter, positive vibes, attentive audience, incredible lights — truly a lineup for those who cherish live performance.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Foals at KEMBA Live, Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 9; Chvrches at GLC Live at 20 Monroe, June 10
JENNIFER BARTLETT (Local Spins writer, lead singer for Lokella)
Coheed and Cambria, “Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind” – Any fan of this American progressive rock band likely already knows and appreciates the operatic nature of their songwriting. Leading the band, Claudio Sanchez openly admits to his discomfort with standing front and center and therefore uses conceptual storytelling as a shield. While this album is not a departure from their signature cinematic style of the last 20 years, “Vaxis II” comes in hot as Coheed and Cambria levels up in another captivating opus.
Ludovico Einaudi, “Underwater” – Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi got his feet wet in classical training in the ’80s at a conservatory in Milan and later shifted into composing soundtracks, incorporating more accessible elements of pop, folk and ambient world sounds garnering many awards from around the world for his film scores. The thread continues in this 2022 full-length release that seemed to pour from Einaudi during the lockdowns of 2020 “almost as if [he] wasn’t doing it [himself.]” The album immediately calms the nervous system as the virtuoso uses minimalism, melancholy and introspection to create a meditative experience for the listener.
Bush, “The Art of Survival” – Since their return in 2011 after a hiatus reaching nearly a decade, post-grunge heavyweights Bush continue to generate more thick-bodied, gravelly guitar-driven alt-rock to add to their already hefty repertoire. This 12-song album smashes previous releases with catchy anthems like opening tracks, “Heavy Is The Ocean,” “Slow Me,” and “More Than Machines.” Vulnerable slow jams like “Creatures Of The Fire” and “1000 Years” stand out and soften the rough edges of this giant release.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones, “The Alien Coast” – Erupting out of Alabama with an unmistakable Southern soul, this eight-piece band stealthily switches up the groove in their fourth studio album. With a deep celestial undertow, peculiar uses of synth patches against crisp percussion, layers of funky guitar and abstract R&B, “The Alien Coast” feels strangely spiritual. It is simultaneously reminiscent and uniquely fresh but overall deeply intriguing, revealing one more brilliant layer to this incredibly talented group.
Oxymorrons, “Think Big” (song) – One thousand percent biased, not only was I lucky enough this year to share the stage with NYC-based “too rock for hip-hop, too hip-hop for rock” crew and catch them multiple times in Grand Rapids on their relentless touring in 2022, I also had the honor of hosting the band in my home on their last stop through. Despite these guys having the ability to captivate any crowd they stand before, they are some of the most down-to-earth, positive and genuine people you can imagine. This particular banger follows a remarkably energetic seven-song 2021 release, “Mohawks & Durags,” and showcases the same high-velocity zeal that simply pours from the band, encouraging the listeners to keep reaching, dreaming and pushing no matter the obstacles they may face. Cherry on top? My neurotic pack of dogs loved them.
BEST REGIONAL ALBUM: Messenger Birds, “Tragic Comedy” – Kicking off the newest LP for Detroit rockers Parker Bengry and Chris Williams, the two reclaim their autonomy and step up to plate on the album’s first full track with lyrics like “Chained up in the free market / We’re invisible until we’re not / If no one’s gonna look my way, I’ll have to make my own parade.” The album continues to drive with hissing energy, lyrical themes of defiance, colossal riffs and no shortage of fuzz reminding the world that Detroit still hustles harder.
BEST CONCERT: The Temptations (Meijer Gardens, June 26) – “There will never, ever be another company like Motown Records,” said Otis Williams as he reminisced on stage through a giant grin before an enthralled audience. It was an unforgettable moment when the last original member of the indelible vocal group recalled the group’s history and rejoiced in celebrating their album, “The Temptations 60,” marking their years as an entity. Parading classic, synchronized doo-wop dance moves dressed in sharp pinstripe suits and patent leather Oxfords, the group swooned hit after hit, flawlessly leaving the entire sold-out amphitheater in a warm glow.
CHELSEA WHITAKER (Local Spins photographer, writer)
Dayseeker, “Dark Sun” – From beginning to end, every song on “Dark Sun” is a banger. On the surface, the opening song, “Dreamstate,” is an upbeat and dancey tune. But if you dig deeper, it’s full of truly heartbreaking lyrics about losing someone you love so much, only to have these vivid lucid dreams where you can’t decipher reality from dream. Rory Rodriguez’s vocals are equally haunting, beautiful, and angry – composing heartbreaking lyrics in a way that sounds so beautiful. The music video for “Crying While You’re Dancing” is gorgeously glitter-filled, and who doesn’t love neon colors and shimmer?
The Hunna, “The Hunna” – The band’s fourth studio album was anticipated by an angsty, anti-establishment attitude with the single “Trash,” calling out the unfairness in the music industry. I knew from the minute I heard this single, the album would be at the top of my list. The cynical humor is displayed across the album, with some softer tracks like “Circles” and “Untouched Hearts” to round it out. The multifaceted record offers upbeat rock anthems and heartwarming ballads alike.
Mothica, “Nocturnal” – Step into the world of your sleep paralysis demon with Mothica’s second album, “Nocturnal.” The record opens with gentle introductory ballad, “Sleepwalk,” directly followed by a handful of dancey, dark pop tracks. The music videos and visualizers feel as though Tim Burton created a Cryptid, while the lyrics tackle difficult topics such as addiction, suicide and trauma. Tim Henson of Polyphia features on “The Reckoning,” bringing calculated, dark riffs. Mothica showcased her intent to experiment sonically, with every song interesting and anthemic in its own way.
Paramore, “The News” (Single) – First of all, I must say, I love creepy Hayley. The music video for Paramore’s latest single is creepy in a subtle way. The combination of lighting, cinematography and special effects make it feel almost like an old school horror flick. The song brings classic Paramore guitar riffs along with new vocal techniques, making it feel nostalgic, yet still new and interesting. If you didn’t listen to Hayley Williams’ solo albums, released over the pandemic, I highly suggest you do that now. It is clear that her solo work is influencing the new Paramore sound, fashioning a new era.
Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers, “Painted World” (EP) – This three-song EP is dancey and groovy – just what I needed to get up and move. I was yelling “H-E-L-P HELP!” in my car for days after the release. Then I got to see the Rainbow Seekers perform “HELP” and “What I Want” two days in a row, and I couldn’t get either of the songs out of my head. Because the band is known for its live performances, the jamming made the songs even more special. (Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers play The Pyramid Scheme to close out the year, Dec. 30 and 31.)
Honorable Mentions: Arctic Monkeys, “The Car”; Panic! At the Disco, “Viva Las Vengeance”; Demi Lovato, “Holy Fvck”; Yungblud, “Yungblud”; Scene Queen, “Bimbocore Vol 1 & 2”; Jack White, “Fear of the Dawn”; Rivals, “Bleeding Star”; Lizzo, “Special”; Lokella, “As We Unravel”; Grace Theisen, “Master of Fire”
BEST CONCERT: Local Spins Fest at Studio Park (May 21) – This year was full of amazing concerts, and picking just one was nearly impossible. This day at Local Spins Fest was my favorite concert of the year for a lot of reasons. I had only been back in Michigan for a few months at this point, and spending the day celebrating and photographing local music was a dream come true. It was raining for the first half of the day, but no one really cared. It started to clear up just in time for Public Access to take the stage. They brought out one of my favorite local musicians, Emilee Petersmark, for a rendition of “Whole Lotta Love” (which you can watch here) and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The Accidentals closed out the night, and it really felt like they were welcoming me home when they performed “Michigan and Again.”
ROSS BOISSONEAU (Local Spins writer)
Monkey House, “Remember the Audio” – Bandleader, keyboardist and vocalist Don Breithaupt is admittedly a fan of Steely Dan, and Monkey House treads some of the same jazzy pop territory. Breithaupt even wrote a book on that band’s seminal album “Aja,” as well as two books on the pop hits of the ’70s. The latter is reflected in the title track, a paean to the sound of AM radio that name-checks songs and bands from the late ’60s and early ’70s: Nathan Jones, Rolling Stones, Frijid Pink, Soul Train, “Dancing in the Moonlight,” “Maggie May,” Marvin Gaye, “Carrie Ann,” and yes, Steely Dan. “New York Owes You Nothing” and “We Will Meet Again” are both rooted in nostalgia as well, the former a mournful good-bye to The City, the latter slightly more upbeat. Breithaupt’s use of horns in their lower register, as on “Do Whatcha Gonna Do,” gives the band a unique ensemble sound. While perhaps not as immediately inviting as the band’s prior album, “Fridays” – “I’ll Drive, You Chill” was an instant classic – “Remember The Audio” is an engaging and easy-to-listen to recording. Like the best albums, it reveals new depths each time you put it on.
Michael Whalen, “Imaginary Trains” – Keyboardist and composer Whalen has crafted an intriguing album treading somewhere between New Age, ambient and progressive rock. He takes the listener on an expansive journey on the 15 tracks that make up the recording, starting with the sequencers that open the title tune. Whalen’s previous album featured progressive stalwarts Tony Levin and Simon Phillips, but the Emmy Award winner here is responsible for all the sounds save flute on “Across the World to Be With You.” That track’s textures and gentle melody are reminiscent of Happy the Man, and it’s augmented by four additional remixes, including one each by Phillips and Larry Fast (Synergy). As engaging as Whalen can be as a solo pianist (check out his “My Secret Heart”), he’s just as comfortable composing multi-tracked extravaganzas employing numerous keyboard sounds.
Snarky Puppy, “Empire Central” – This sprawling outfit reflects the jazzy-but-not-really-jazz approach of leader Michael League. While the band is big, it’s not in any way a traditional Big Band – not with only four horns alongside three guitars, four keyboards, three percussionists and three drummers. The tunes are as much collections of riffs as melodies. Still, they’re by turns engaging, interesting and illuminating. If your tastes run to jazz and avant garde, this may be the disc for you.
Dave Bainbridge, “To The Far Away” – The British outfit Iona disbanded in 2016, but co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Bainbridge continues to carry the Celtic progressive torch through his solo career. The best tracks on “To The Far Away” are the opening “Sea Gazer” and “Ghost Light.” The former opens with the wistful sound of Celtic pipes and whistles alongside electric guitar, with haunting background vocals enhancing the mood. The outstanding lead vocals are by Sally Minnear, a longtime cohort of Bainbridge (and daughter of Gentle Giant’s Kerry Minnear), who’s joined by Iain Hornall from Jeff Lynne’s ELO. “Ghost Light” veers back and forth from plaintive to anthemic while showcasing Bainbridge’s dynamic guitar playing, as does the brief instrumental “As Night Falls.” The following “infinitude (Region of the Stars)” features onetime Iona mate Frank Van Essen on violin and Troy Donockley on pipes and whistles.
The Trackers, “Vaudeville 8:45” – British drummer and keyboardist Gary Husband is one of the few who have played extensively with guitar gods John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. That right there tells you the man can play. Here he’s teamed up with guitarist Alf Terje Hana and a host of world-class bassists. The music brings to mind both McLaughlin’s band The Fourth Dimension and Husband’s various excursions with Holdsworth, as Hana’s fretwork is similarly astonishing, and the music is by turns melodic, riff-heavy, even experimental. In other words, 21st century fusion. With Etienne M’Bappe, Mark King, Jimmy Haslip and four other monster bass players, it would be easy to simply marvel at the musicianship, and there’s plenty of that to be sure. But give the recording a few listens and the depth of the compositions begins to shine through as well.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jeff Berlin, “Jack Songs” (Bassist Berlin pays homage to his hero Jack Bruce, building new tunes out of riffs and melodies from Cream and Bruce’s solo excursions. A fun listen, both to spot the references and to enjoy on its own terms); Generation Radio, “Generation Radio” (A guilty pleasure? Yes, and so what? Former members of Chicago, Journey and Rascal Flatts got together to craft radio-friendly commercial pop-rock, and they succeed with a sound that effectively meshes their voices, talents and inspirations); Jazz Funk Soul, “Forecast” (As its name signifies, it’s a combo platter and sure to leave you wanting more. Keyboardist Jeff Lorber and saxophonist Everette Harp invited Paul Jackson Jr. to step in following the death of original guitarist Chuck Loeb. You can hear hints of antecedents such as the Jeff Lorber Fusion (of course), Headhunters, and especially the Crusaders, but Jazz Funk Soul is its own entity, and serves up a tasty treat here).
BEST CONCERT: Steve Hackett, “Genesis Revisited Live: Seconds Out & More,” GLC Live at 29 Monroe (May 4) – Hackett has been revisiting the classic progressive material of his one-time band for over a decade, and his band is a well-oiled machine that delivers the epics Genesis was known for before turning into pop hit-makers. Lead vocalist Nad Sylvan has ably assumed the role once filled by Peter Gabriel and then Phil Collins, bringing his own dramatic flair as well as amazing pipes. Keyboardist Roger King is an underrated gem, and Rob Townsend on woodwinds, keyboards and backing vocals is Hackett’s secret weapon. It’s no secret by now that Hackett is one of rock’s most formidable and versatile guitarists, as he showed in a brief solo set and then recreating the live Genesis album, “Seconds Out.” That means this show offered a cross-section of music from where the band was when it was originally performed and recorded in 1977. The epic “Supper’s Ready,” fan favorites “Firth of Fifth” and “The Cinema Show” and the concluding “Los Endos” all showcased the band in a dazzling show. More please! (Review, photos here.)
ROBERT NOVAK (Local Spins writer)
1. Big Thief, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” – The entrancing 20-song double-LP completely immerses listeners into Adrianne Lenker’s voice. Big Thief covers all the bases with upbeat dancing tunes like “Spud Infinity” to heart wrenching tracks such as “Sparrow”. The traditionally folk-rock band also got a little experimental on this album with songs like “Blurred View.”
2. Father John Misty, “Chloë and the Next 20th Century” – Similar to his previous album, “Pure Comedy,” Father John Misty uses his unmatched storytelling ability to demonstrate similar ideas in “Chloë and the Next 20th Century.” Father John Misty creates tension and harmony inside every song with the nostalgic sounds of old-time swing and big band jazz.
3. Black Country, New Road, “Ants From Up There” – Alternative indie band, Black Country, New Road, released its second album that veered more toward post-punk with a New Age sound. “Ants From Up There” really demonstrates the English rock band’s range, especially with songs like “Good Will Hunting” and “Basketball Shoes.”
4. Alex G, “God Save the Animals” – Straying away from his signature lo-fi folktronica style, Alex G went with a more traditional folk-rock sound on “God Save the Animals.” G uses extremely ambiguous, yet heartfelt lyricism throughout the album that keeps listeners hopefully guessing. Even still, “God Save the Animals,” paints vivid imagery with its sharp melodies.
5. The 1975, “Being Funny In A Foreign Language” – Everyone knows The 1975 for its consistently fun, and sometimes depressing, alternative indie-pop music. “Being Funny In A Foreign Language” is no different, but this time honing in on pop and using natural instrumentation.
FAVORITE LOCAL ALBUM: Djangophonique, “Introducing Djangophonique” – Some people wouldn’t believe that four guys from Michigan can play hot club jazz as authentically as Django Reinhardt himself, but that’s only because some people haven’t listened to Djangophonique. The band’s first studio album, “Introducing Djangophonique,” is an intense comprehensive collection of genuine gypsy jazz. Each song has its own distinctive sound, but the entire album is down to earth.
BEST CONCERT: Leland Blue at The Pyramid Scheme, Aug. 17 – The Michigan natives held their last concert at The Pyramid Scheme before moving to Nashville. Needless to say, it was a sentimental send-off, but the band went out with a bang. Balloons dropped on the audience as the band played their last song, “Lying to Myself.” Although bittersweet, Leland Blue played one of the most surreal shows this year.
HOLLY HOLTZCLAW (Local Spins writer, photographer)
1. Noah Kahan, “Stick Season” – Noah Kahan’s tribute to his New England hometown of Strafford, Vermont, is equal parts heartbreaking and healing. As Kahan steps away from pop music and enters further into the folk world, it feels as if he has found his true sound. With his unique voice, Kahan tells relatable tales of love, loss, and homesickness that come straight from the heart.
2. Caamp, “Lavender Days” – “Lavender Days” contains the same charm and positivity that listeners have come to expect from Caamp. The lyrics often focus on finding beauty in the small things in life and are accompanied by cheery folk instrumentals. All of these traits add up to make it the perfect summer soundtrack.
3. The Happy Fits, “Under the Shade of Green” – Infused with cello and nonstop energy, The Happy Fits unique brand of indie-rock truly lives up to the band’s name. The album presents a track list of songs that are meant to be heard while dancing and jumping along in a crowd. The Happy Fits put on one of the most high-energy live shows I’ve ever seen and it only took one set for me to fall in love with their sound.
4. 5 Seconds of Summer, “5SOS5” – 5 Seconds of Summer have come a long way from their boy-band-inspired sound. With their latest release they have stepped into a more polished pop-rock realm. The tracks on “5SOS5” not only cover the ups and downs of relationships, but also the band members’ relationships with fame and their headspace throughout the 10-year journey they’ve embarked on together.
5. State Champs, “Kings of the New Age” – It may seem like State Champs are claiming quite a bold title with the title of their 2022 release, but they’ve proven that it’s well-deserved. Like any great pop punk record should be, “Kings of the New Age” is packed with catchy guitar riffs, angsty lyrics and high-energy drum beats. State Champs have quickly become one of the mainstays of modern pop punk and this album demonstrates their confidence in that fact.
BEST MICHIGAN RELEASE: Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers, “Painted World” – Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers were a completely new discovery for me this year and hearing their music felt like finding something that had been missing from my life. Despite feeling like I’m extremely late to the party, it’s been amazing to experience their discography from start to finish all at once. Through that process it was immediately clear that the three tracks included on the “Painted World” EP are some of their best work yet. The complex instrumentals, playful lyrics and creative visuals encompass everything the Rainbow Seekers have done up to this point and I can’t help but feel excited about what will come next.
BEST CONCERT: 8123 Fest, Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix, Ariz. (Jan. 21) – Seeing my favorite band in their hometown is a bucket list item that I was lucky enough to check off this year. In January, I escaped the Michigan cold to see Arizona pop-rock band The Maine headline their own festival in Phoenix. It’s not every day I find someone who loves The Maine as much as I do, but that night I stood in a crowd with thousands of them who traveled from all over the world. Whether it was due to the adrenaline the band was feeling or my own excitement, I’ve never heard them sound better than they did that night.
KATIE ROSENDALE (Local Spins writer)
1. Taylor Swift, “Midnights (3am edition)” –– Judging by my Spotify habits for the past few weeks, nothing else could possibly go here. In my opinion, Swift is at her best in albums like “Red” and “folklore” –– but even a mid-tier Swift album is a delicious treat, complete with poetic lyrics and catchy vocals. The bonus tracks are some of the album’s best: “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is a powerful, scathing indictment of John Mayer that makes great use of religious metaphor.
2. The 1975, “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” –– It’s been almost a decade since the release of “The 1975,” arguably the band’s most iconic album. But “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” proves they’ve still got it: “Oh Caroline,” “I’m In Love With You” and the wispy-voiced bridge of “About You” are some of the 1975’s most addictive releases yet.
3. Peach Pit, “From 2 to 3” –– This is indie pop-rock at its most relaxing. Lead singer Smith’s voice is soft and smooth, sometimes melancholy but always pleasant. Listeners will find themselves drawn in, as if by a lullaby.
4. Djo, “DECIDE” –– Turns out Steve Harrington can make music –– and damn good music, at that! “DECIDE” is an exciting collection of synth-pop magic, with “Gloom” and “Figure You Out” as clear highlights.
5. The Wombats, “Fix Yourself, Not the World” –– Imagine this: You’re in Liverpool on a chilly January evening. Inside a local music venue, The Wombats are playing a packed hometown release show for their brand new album, “Fix Yourself, Not the World.” The crowd is electric; everything is magical. Now, every time you listen to the album, you’re transported back to the exhilaration of that night. Admittedly, this is not the highest quality album of 2022, nor is it, even, The Wombats’ best album. But the album is –– in a word –– truly fun. And “If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You” is an upbeat love song that ranks among the band’s best.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Lake Street Dive, “Fun Machine: The Sequel”; Florence + the Machine, “Dance Fever”; ella jane, “Marginalia”; flipturn, “Shadowglow”
BEST LOCAL ALBUM: Mercury Salad, “Mercury Salad, Vol. 3” –– Funk? Folk? I’m not sure, but this Ypsilanti group certainly makes a great record.
BEST CONCERT: Bad Bad Hats at The Pyramid Scheme, Aug. 11 –– At this point, I’ve seen Minneapolis’ Bad Bad Hats play in support of their most recent album, “Walkman,” three times. But somehow, I’ve never gotten bored. The band always sounds great live, and lead singer Alexander’s little anecdotes are funny enough to hear three times. Plus, “Kiss the Tiger” was a stellar opener.
BENJAMIN BLACKBURN (Local Spins writer)
Velveteen, “Empty Crush” – After first hearing of Velveteen through their 2020 EP, “Bluest Sunshine,” I was excited to see just how well the band would deliver an LP full of interesting shoegaze material. The answer: effortlessly. Remaining consistently interesting throughout, Velveteen compiles 30 years of shoegaze experimentation into a neat psychedelic package bursting at the seams with dreamy soundscapes and blissful noise.
Lacing, “Never” – Hailing from Chattanooga, Tenn., the third full-length from criminally underrated shoegaze band Lacing features yet another batch of dark and thick alt-rock crushers. With Lacing’s previous two albums also being very good in their own sense, “Never” is easily their most well-produced and experimental outing to date.
Autonoesis, “Moon of Foul Magics” – Pulling elements from all over the extreme metal landscape, Autonoesis incorporates sounds from thrash, death, black and folk metal to deliver one of the most brutal and blood-pumping musical experiences of the year.
Beach House, “Once Twice Melody” – Piecemealed to us through a collection of 4 EPs, Beach House cement the band’s importance to modern dream-pop with a more mature-sounding collection of songs. Although “Once Twice Melody” runs a bit long at 84 minutes, the experience is a cohesive one, sporting some of Beach Houses’ best cuts to date.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples, “Summer at Land’s End” – Combining the joyously youthful feel of ’90s jangle-pop and the cleanliness of modern indie-rock production, The Reds, Pinks and Purples churn out a record so charmingly light and breezy, it manages to elicit nostalgic visions of youthful summertime shenanigans on even the coldest winter day.
BEST LOCAL RECORD: The Stay-In-Place Boat, “Where My Head’s Been” – Acting as mainly a great piece of minimal electronic music, Grand Rapids’ The Stay-In-Place Boat brings in elements of ambient music, noise rock, drone and slowcore culminating in a collection of sounds that are intensely calming as well as emotionally hard-hitting.
BEST CONCERT: Sun Kil Moon, The Magic Bag in Ferndale (Nov. 6) – Having performed only two shows before this one since December 2019, founding/solo remaining member Mark Kozelek provided listeners with a beautiful three-hour-long set filled with tunes spanning the entirety of his 20-year back catalog. Equipped with an acoustic guitar and a folder overflowing with lyric sheets, Kozeek treated the crowd with newer material like “Snowbound” and ”Young Road Trips” along with fan favorites including “Carissa,” “Alesund,” and “Duk Koo Kim.” With Sun Kil Moon being my all-time favorite band, a live Kozelek show has been something I have been hoping to attend for years. The only major problem with the show is that I desperately want to see it again.
MATT MARN (Local Spins writer)
Andrew Duhon, “Emerald Blue” – New Orleans singer-songwriter Andrew Duhon first grabbed my attention when I read about him in a magazine feature, elaborating on his powerful songwriting style and soulful words. He grabbed my attention then, and he hasn’t let go since. His words and imagery are more than inspired: They are inspiring. So many of his lyrics are more than just words on a page that rhyme; they take you with them as they tell a story. But to me, the unique part of those stories he tells is that they teach as well as tell the story. They help paint a picture of how we should be, how we should live… and how we should treat each other.
Djangophonique, “Introducing Djangophonique” – From the first notes I heard from Ann Arbor jazz quartet Djangophonique – featured first on none other than Grand Rapids radio station, WYCE – I knew I would hardly be able to wait until this album was released. The proficient, upbeat tones flowing from each players’ instruments give the listener a wide array of sounds and styles. It is no surprise the quartet has helped light up events from Ann Arbor to Mackinac Island, to Wheatland Music Festival and beyond. The group’s debut studio-length album continues Djangophonique’s tribute to the wildly entertaining stylings of the late jazz guitar icon Django Reinhardt. Djangophonique founder, Ypsilanti guitarist Andrew Brown, leads his crew in a wonderful channeling of the spirit of swinging, uptempo jazz – the likes of which I haven’t been treated to like this in quite some time.
Larkin Poe, “Blood Harmony” – The lines from one chorus out of Larkin Poe’s newest album, “Blood Harmony,” pretty well sum it up: “You cast a bad spell on me.” Rebecca and Megan Lovell, the heart and soul of the blues-rock group Larkin Poe, have that effect on each and every lover of the blues. Their blend of classic blues with a new twist helps keep their original home of Georgia, as well as their new Nashville base, fresh on everyone’s mind. From their power-driven, don’t-give-a-damn rock tones throughout the album to a softer, more heartfelt ballad-feel from tunes like “Might As Well Be Me,” to the traditional, acoustic slide guitar tones on display to start the track, “The Deep Stays Down,” the group does a fantastic job carrying on the legacy of the blues. While there are plenty of nods to so many blues icons who have gone before, the group also works hard to put their own, new spin on the genre.
May Erlewine, “Tiny Beautiful Things” – May Erlewine has, once again, created a masterpiece. If you are a fan of amazing local West Michigan talent, that statement will likely come as no surprise at all. Each and every song on her newest album, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” has an amazing message to back up the profound melodies – each performed by an impressive cast of Michigan artists supporting Erlewine on each track. The words – and the messages they deliver – are as soothing, as encouraging, and as full of heart-embracing life as she has ever been. No matter what season of life you may be working through, there is a message you can take to heart somewhere in this album. And if you are anything like me, you will find encouragement and strength in every song, in every line. Again, a masterpiece.
Buddy Guy, “The Blues Don’t Lie” – Buddy Guy’s newest album is a masterclass in the blues. And while he relates in his lyrics to some of his iconic background of how he got his big break, for the most part he stays true to the first track’s title: “I Let My Guitar Do the Talking.” In between blazing blues riffs and collaborations with other iconic names in music, Guy spends much of his lyrics relating to recent issues and struggles we have been going through as a culture, helping pass along not only the messages of the blues, but the lessons those lyrics can help teach us — about being kind to one another, no matter what the differences between us.
BEST CONCERT: Tre Burt at Listening Room/Midtown (April 8) – The powerful songwriting of songwriter Tré Burt truly wowed the Grand Rapids crowd on a Friday night in April. While paying a strong tribute to Burt’s mentor, late Americana-folk icon John Prine, he had a style and wit all his own, with lyrics about staying true to yourself, and standing up for what you believe in. And as a child of two avid John Prine fans and performers, I was grateful to see someone who carries Prine’s torch — a singer-songwriter with a profound tone and inspired lyrics.
SPECIAL CONCERT OF NOTE: Stephen Kellogg at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake (Dec. 10) – I remain nearly at a loss for words. Seven Steps Up is no more. I was not able to attend this, the final show held at Seven Steps Up, but I know it was amazing, with zero doubt in my mind. I know because every show held at this venue was one for the books. The venue owners, Gary and Michelle Hanks, put every ounce of energy and heart they had into making Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake a venue to be proud of.
Gary Hanks passed away in October, and I never got to say a proper goodbye. I was unable to attend this sold-out show, so nor was I able to say a proper goodbye to the venue. (Check out the Local Spins review/story here.) But rest assured, everyone who has been to Seven Steps Up – from a single show, to a veteran who doesn’t go a week without sitting in that room – knows what I mean, and says it with me, when I say to Michelle, Gary and all of the crew: Thank you. Thank you for what you have done, for all of us. And thank you for doing your part, to help change your community, through the power of music.
Music on. World off.
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