The year I came back, heck, we all came back from the dead even if the pandemic’s not over yet. Regardless, we needed this—life can’t possibly be the same as before, so all we can do is seek that which inspires us to go forward. In that regard, Jessie Ware’s “Free Yourself” is the track of the year: an invitation to the dancefloor (among other activities), a commandment more than a request, it pleads for renewal, self-expression and cathartic release. Currently a standalone single (it may or may not appear on Ware’s next album, rumored for 2023), it’s also a natural progression from last year’s best song, “Like I Used To”: “Keep on moving up that mountaintop,” indeed.
Even if their albums didn’t crack my top ten, a number of veteran acts put out exceptional singles this year: Beach House fine-tuning their dream-pop gauze with “Superstar”, Alison Goldfrapp returning as a guest on Röyksopp’s burbling epic “Impossible”, Hurray For The Riff Raff’s searing, anthemic “Pierced Arrows”, Regina Spektor still a delightful weirdo on the tip-top whimsy of “Up The Mountain”, even The Dream Syndicate, having now released as many albums in the past decade as in their original 1980s incarnation proving their continued worth with “Damian”—as brisk and cool as an evening wind.
Among artists new to me in 2022: Australian Hatchie, whose “Quicksand” pays homage to late Cocteau Twins and gets away with it for being as precise and pleasurable as late Siouxsie and the Banshees; Bartees Strange, in the running to become his generation’s Stew only as a postpunk explorer instead of a showtunes guy; Alex G, an indie weirdo crafting jingle-worthy jangle pop on “Runner” while managing to turn the lyric, “Load it up, know your trigger like the back of my hand” a sing-along hook; and The xx’s Oliver Sim in his solo debut, a sly, queer commentary too jaunty and droll to fit in his band’s discography (and presented to best effect in Yann Gonzalez’s short film Hideous.)
Also: Tears For Fears reunited and made an album that didn’t suck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs reunited and made an album that was at best inconsequential save for the dramatic, searing “Burning”, Junior Boys returned with Waiting Game which lacked actual tunes expect for the evocative closer of a title track and First Aid Kit showed they’re ready for world domination even if the Fleetwood Mac-worthy “Out of My Head” won’t actually accomplish it. What I’m craving in the year to come, however, is more stuff like Christine and The Queens’ “Combien de Temps”, an eight-and-a-half-minute vamp that gradually feels more knowing than it initially lets on while fully sustaining its stoned groove as if it were Traffic (or perhaps Morcheeba.) Supposedly, there’s more to come from that project in 2023 along with Emm Gryner, who previewed her forthcoming Business and Pleasure with “Valencia”, a yacht rock homage that acknowledges regret but firmly pushes towards brighter days ahead.
My favorite songs of 2022: