Gang of Youths - Angel in Realtime
For my entire life, I have had a complicated relationship with the concept of fatherhood. My own father left my family when I was young; I have probably seen him on fewer than ten occasions since the mid-2000s. So many of my best friends growing up also had absent fathers, or estranged fathers, or fathers who were fuck-ups. Maybe that’s just what children of divorce do: They find people with the same scars and hold them close because it’s nice not to feel alone in that peculiar ache. Never mind that I had a stepfather in my life who I truly loved, someone who was there for me and who I trusted like he was my real dad. That father was a pillar of my world for more than 25 years. And then he too walked out of my life in an extremely painful fashion.
I bring all of this up because Gang of Youths’ angel in realtime is an album about complicated relationships with fathers. Frontman Dave Le'aupepe wrote these songs in the wake of his father’s death, but also after learning that his dad had been lying to him for his entire life. Unbeknownst to Le'aupepe, his father had another family – including two other sons.
Part of what makes angel in realtime remarkable is how it excavates this story – the tale of Le'aupepe meeting the brothers he never knew and bonding with them over shared grief, rage and trauma. Beyond the jaw-dropping nature of the tale itself though, this album is remarkable because of how Le'aupepe gives listeners a front-row seat to an immensely private and painful journey through the stages of grief. How do you grieve someone who betrayed you, who lied to you for your entire life, who was never really the person you thought they were? How do you hold on to the love you had for that person from before you knew what you know now? And on the other hand, how can you possibly hate someone who, for so long, was an immense force of good in your life?
On angel in realtime, Gang of Youths eschew the easy answers. And that’s because, in cases like this – and frankly, in a lot of stories of imperfect parent-child relationships – there are no easy answers. Instead of being just about grief, or just about shock, or just about rage, or just about love, angel in realtime becomes an album about all those things at once, sometimes simultaneously. The result is a staggering, life-affirming album that does as good a job as any record I’ve ever heard at capturing what it’s like to have complicated relationships with complicated people in a complicated world. In the songs, Le'aupepe finds his way toward forgiveness and grace. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there with the men I called fathers. But it’s comforting to think that I might.
Taylor Swift - Midnights
For those of you who know me, this choice might seem a little on the... strange side. Especially given that 2022 saw rock titans like Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne and Jethro Tull all release new material.
I enjoyed those albums immensely, it's true. But for me, the best piece of work released this year was by Ms Swift. If, for nothing else, the fact that I REALLY enjoyed it from start to finish should be an indicator of just how good Midnights is.
I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone about ten years ago that posed the question - Is Taylor Swift the last true rock star? This is before she became the untouchable pop demi-God that she is today. She was a fresh-faced, pseudo country star on the up who was willing to take risks. And her fandom was burgeoning at a time when RnB was still dominant in the charts.
Fast forward a decade and Ms Swift has matured like a fine malt whisky. She's done with the teeny-boppers and all that teenage angst that only Hollywood twenty and thirty-year-olds can seem to capture. Midnights is a calling card for me, a signal that Taylor Swift is ready to continue on that trajectory that will see her take over the mantle of the likes of Madonna, Elton John and Elvis as pop culture mainstays.
There's no need for me to tell you what tracks to listen to - they've ALL been huge successes since being released. Although highlights for me include Maroon, Question...? and Labyrinth - all of which display Swift's immaculate vocals and the album's commitment to a stripped back, albeit glossily produced, sound that really works.
Platinum and gold certifications across the globe also don't hurt when it comes to albums of the year, right?
Stud Count - Stud Count
There were three albums in the frame for this year’s honour - Midnights by Miss Taylor Swift, Two Ribbons by Let’s Eat Grandma (who blend beautiful synth pop with a name that highlights the importance of correct comma usage) and the self-titled debut by Stud Count.
I went with the latter because Stud Count barged its way into my Spotify playlist and kicked me right in the musical tits with a pair of cherry red DMs. It reminded me of everything I loved about music when I was in my twenties. Angry, noisy music that sounds like it’s been made by people who are constantly standing on upturned plugs in bare feet. Fuming! Proper punk like mother used to make. Not pop-punk. Not post-punk. Punky. As. Fuck.
I fell in love with their track Willow in 2020, but it took them a couple of years to pull the album together. It’s almost like some sort of global catastrophe happened in that time that might have delayed them getting into the studio. Even so, it was an unacceptable waiting period and, I’m sure we can all agree, that was the worst part of the pandemic.
And then, when the album did eventually turn up it was over all too quickly. They rattle through 12 tracks in 21 minutes but it packs a lot into the time it has. In between the shouting and banging and racket, there are also fuzzy, melodic moments that elevate the album. Is it technically as good as the other two albums on my shortlist? No, is it bollocks, it sounds like it’s been recorded in the middle of a Philadelphia street fight, but if you’re looking for a quick bit of dirt down a seedy back alley, Stud Count will sort you out REAL nice. Just check your wallet afterwards.
Arctic Monkeys - The Car
On hearing the news that this record was on its way, I experienced a dilemma. Firstly, there was joy, that one of my favourite bands were feeding us more material, but also a slight feeling of tension. The previous six Arctic Monkeys albums were all perfect to me in their own way, despite each one being either slightly different or wholly unrecognisable to its predecessor. Would this new offering be able to match the others?
It turned out there was no need for concern.
The Car is the soundtrack to the greatest, coolest, most interesting movie we’ll never see. It’s unlike anything the band have ever done, and unlike anything else I’ve heard. Every time I play this album, it somehow doesn’t feel as if I’m doing enough. There are times when I actually want to be IN it.
It’s mellow and sad, sinister and cunning, poppy and light, dry and funky, and just plain beautiful.
For those of us who have long worshipped at the altar of Alex Turner’s clever lyrics and wordplay, will find that on this record, he’s built a whole cathedral for us to hang out in. Every line is essential, every whoop and holler perfectly pitched. I honestly cannot work out how he does it.
Some feel that Artic Monkeys have ‘gone lounge’ on this record. People seem to be pining for the days of four indie lads bashing the life out of their instruments while singing about waiting in a queue to get into a nightclub in Sheffield.
The four members of this band are now in their late thirties. They’ve changed. And this is at the heart of the Arctic Monkeys' whole reason for existing. They want to go somewhere different each time. Sometimes you get the feeling they don’t know exactly where that is, but we’ll all feel so much better when we get there.
This is a rare band. One that operates in their own space and time continuum. They’ll always be slightly ahead of us. Our job is to try to keep up with them.
The Beths - Expert in a Dying Field
This was a really difficult question to answer this year and there were two or three albums that I could easily have chosen. Big Thief came very close with their amazing double album and I’ve enjoyed albums from Jamie T, Craig Finn and Jill Lorean, to name but a few. There have also been some brilliant singles this year with my two current favourites being Throne by Ezra Furman and Belize by Danger Mouse. In the end though, I have gone for Expert in a Dying Field by The Beths.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Antipodean Rock and Pop, from my pre-teen love of Kylie and Jason through to Silverchair and Natalie Imbruglia in the ‘90s and more recently Courtney Barnett and Julia Jacklin. There’s something about the accent and the sunshine slacker vibes that has always appealed to me.
The Beths are everything I love in a band, combining poppy guitar melodies with introspective melancholy lyrics. The title track is a glorious earworm of a song which, although about a break-up, still makes you want to dance around your kitchen. Knees Deep is joyous and upbeat with Liz Stokes singing about wishing she was brave enough to dive right in rather than being so cautious all the time. The accompanying video shows the band not taking themselves too seriously as, one by one, they go bungee jumping.
I heard Liz Stokes talk recently about three songs which had made a big impression on her, two of which were by Rilo Kiley and Pixies. Anyone who cites influences such as these is always going to make a fan of me!
Confidence Man – TILT
This is not my album of the year, this is not the second-best album of 2022 in my opinion, but I was asked to write about an album from 2022 that's had an impact on me and this album stands alone as this.
Now anyone that knows me, knows I'm a miserable Yorkshireman. Dour, deep and a dark sense of humour. If you don't know me, check out my eightalbums. I'm a grunge kid, most of my heroes killed themselves. Every song needs a story, a meaning, a hidden meaning, deep, thoughtful and usually, as in this genre, a touch of the macabre dealing with and moaning about life’s problems. Don't get me wrong this is still very much my bag but as I get older, balder and caught up in the stresses of life, work, kids and the rising cost of living this album has lifted the gloom and brought out so much fun and joy.
I first heard of the band on a radio interview just before they played Glastonbury. The interview was hilarious - the personas that the two Aussie members of the band, Janet Planet and Sugar Bones have created, play up to their tongue in cheek roles of the greatest, sexiest band in the world were brilliant. Later that day I knew I had to check their set out. It didn't disappoint - the outfits, the costume changes, the dance routines and the songs were brilliant (but remember I'm a cool grunge kid really…). I immediately introduced the music to my wife and kids and they instantly loved it. The ‘90s dance/electro pop vibe conjured up memories of bad nightclubs back in the day and the hooky choruses had the kids singing along within a few minutes. The Family Kitchen Disco was reborn and it had a new soundtrack. That feeling of the four of us dancing around singing with smiles on our faces is one of the main reasons for picking this album - but remember I'm a cool grunge kid, yeah?
The Kitchen Disco moved to car journeys and if I ever got the chance to play music at parties, introducing this album to others, I took it and the effect seemed to be the same. The hint of nostalgia and the energy of the songs did nothing but lift spirits and get people moving
My wife and I went to see them live with friends recently at New Century Hall in Manchester, a new venue and the perfect setting for what was to come - discolights, lasers, confetti cannons, dancing, glitter, sparkle, Camp with a capital C, light up bras and shoulder pads! I've seen a lot of gigs this year and this was definitely and most unexpectedly the best night of the year.
The feeling this album has given me, my family and friends has been the perfect tonic for a lot that's gone on in 2022. The fun times we've had dancing as a family in the kitchen or at parties and singing in the car, to one of the best nights out I've had in ages are testament to a band and an album I never thought I'd be picking as the most impactful album of the year, but it is and you should all listen to it - but remember I'm still a cool grunge kid, yeah? I’ve just added a little sparkle to my plaid shirt.
Benjamin Amos – Letters
Ben’s name should be a household one - I’ve thought this for nearly twenty years. We are from the same town in Northern Ireland, and he has soundtracked my life from age 13 onwards. His band, The Good Fight, fused soaring melodies with distorted guitar. They were the first ‘local’ band that I ever saw make a music video. His next venture, Sullivan And Gold, were a folk duo who pushed the envelope with their stellar (and only) album ‘For Foes’. And now, after nearly a decade without newly recorded music, he is back with a solo album, and my original statement remains: Benjamin Amos should be a household name.
Letters is a stunning collection of songs. Missives in musical form. Each song a letter (either sent or unsent) to someone in Ben’s life. Some of the topics include missing a friend, finding out you’re going to become a parent, and hating your job. They are universal themes, and themes that resonate. This makes the record an honest, intimate one.
Ben’s guitar is accompanied, at times, by cello, violin and drums. These moments are well chosen, and only serve to highlight Ben’s ear for a song. I’ve not been able to get back to Northern Ireland anywhere near as much as I wanted to this year, and hearing Ben’s Coleraine twang has really helped with my homesickness. My only hope is that another collection of songs is closer at hand than another eight years, and that in that time, Ben finds the fame he so richly deserves.
Billy Nomates - CACTI
My album of 2022 is CACTI by Billy Nomates, though it also stands a chance of being my album of 2023, because it isn’t out until next year. “Why do this?” you might ask. “Why be unnecessarily contrarian when it would be so easy to highlight an album that actually came out in 2022, like Big Thief’s stunning Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You? God, you’re such an arsehole.” This would be a fair response but please, stick with me on this.
Over the last few days, you might have noticed a bunch of folks on social media creating those Instafest festival line-ups, generated by their Spotify listening habits, which can be filtered based on the last 4 weeks, 6 months or all-time streams. When I created my own there were the acts I expected to see, like dEUS, Morphine, Jane’s Addiction and Sparklehorse, musicians I’ve spent decades listening to. But prominent in each list, regardless of how I filtered them, was also Billy Nomates (aka Tor Maries), a very solo artist (Maries gigs without a band) who has only released one album (their self-titled 2020 debut), with a follow-up, CACTI, yet to drop. However, four tracks from that album have so far been released - spite, saboteur forcefield, balance is gone and blue bones (deathwish) – songs I’ve listened to with such enthusiasm and consistency that, based on my last month of Spotify activity, they’ve elevated Billy Nomates to the Friday night headlining slot over Soundgarden. This is a commitment to their music that has likely earned them 27p in streaming royalties.
Their music doesn’t really fit in with what usually floats my boat (which this year Spotify Wrapped tells me is defined by ‘Yearning Gentle Cottagecore’) and, sonically, it’s not unlike getting told off. But the melodies are direct and infectious, the lyrics forthright and incisive, the guitars and synths muscular and spikey. Maries’ vocal lines in particular weave between a snarl and classic pop brilliance. A sound like sugar studded with broken glass. On the strength of just these four tracks (of the album’s expected twelve), I am hooked and am not done listening. At the very least, CACTI is my One Third of an Album of the Year and that’s good enough for me.
Previous Eight Albums entries can be found on the Archive page.