We’ve hit the halfway mark of 2022 ~ intermission time! We’ve invited our staffers to pore over their playlists and select a group of first half highlights: albums making an impact now, that may become contenders at year’s end.
The only criteria were that the albums had to have been released in 2022 and featured on our site. This year’s big surprise was that every staffer’s picks were different. Were this the end of the year, we’d have a 20-way tie for #1! Fortunately, as with our early year-end lists, these albums are presented in alphabetical order rather than ranked. We hope that you’ll enjoy A Closer Listen‘s selection of first half highlights, and perhaps even find some surprises of your own!
Anteloper ~ Pink Dolphins (International Anthem, 17 June)
This is a trippy and slippery album, somewhat like the dolphin of its namesake. Just when one decides that the album is jazz, it becomes trip-hop. Once one grows acclimated to instrumentals, one of the members starts singing. The side-long closer is a rock eruption, until it turns ambient. The whole endeavor is held together by a twin sense of sonic exploration and fun.
Cafe Kaput ~ Maritime Themes and Textures (Clay Pipe Music, 11 March)
Fewer people were sailing in March than they are now, but warmer waters and pleasant winds have carried this music across the calendar to its proper time. The effect is akin to drifting on a current, dipping one’s hand in the water, having not a care in the world.
Corey Fuller, Richard Skelton ~ Isolarii (THESIS, 7 January)
Isolarri is an sonic travelogue inspired by “island books,” in particular the Atlas of Remote Islands. During the pandemic, few people traveled; armchair travel became the new flight. When one is using the imagination, it matters not if one’s destination is real or fictional; the point is to dream.
Drum & Lace ~ Natura (Past Inside the Present, 8 April)
Ambience, electronics and modern composition swirl on this warm release, lush and green, save for a splash of canary yellow. The music lives in the liminal space between nature and technology, history and sci-fi, seeking synthesis while implying that harmony may still be a realistic goal.
Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch ~ Ravage (FatCat, 27 May)
Perhaps not the album we expected from the pianist, instead a blast of drone across the ivories. The music was born from loss, as the artist was grieving her father and searching for words. In this instance, music spoke louder and more eloquently. The listener can sense the sadness, the anger, and toward the end, the tentative – but not final – resolution.
Ginevra Nervi ~ The Disorder of Appearances (La Tempesta Dischi, 10 June)
With film scores and pop songs under her belt, Ginevra Nervi extracts the most distinctive timbres of each and combines them in a set that shifts beneath the ears. Nothing is what it seems on this album that is more about what we don’t know than what we do, and what we might learn if we were willing to listen.
Hatis Noit ~ Aura (Erased Tapes, 24 June)
Aura is an exultation of awe and wonder, produced with nothing but the human voice, not a lyric in sight. Hatis Noit’s debut album is reverent, playful and joyful, a cavalcade of emotions swirling into a revelation.
James Heather ~ Invisible Forces (Ahead of Our Time, 22 April)
Solo piano possesses an incredible potential for expressiveness, which Heather demonstrates by connecting a near-fatal accident, the death of a loved one and an unsent letter from Beethoven to create a tapestry of life, love, death and the great beyond. Surrounded by invisible forces, Heather channels musings into meaningful music.
Katarina Gryvul ~ Tysha (Standard Deviation, 9 February)
This accidentally hyper-relevant album was written as a study in the types of tysha (the Ukrainian word for silence). During the pandemic, silence could be golden or golem-like; after the invasion, silence could mean death, cease-fire or both. No matter what the genesis, the album strikes at the mind and tugs at the heart.
Kinbrae & Clare Archibald ~ Birl of Unmap (Full Spectrum/The Dark Outside, 11 February)
All manner of magic is represented on this album, a fever dream of field recordings, poetry, spoken word, languid strings, boisterous brass and more. The music pays tribute to Scotland’s Kingdom of Fife, tracing geography, history and folklore through impressionistic soundscapes and memories, accumulating wonder as it goes.
KMRU & Aho Ssan ~ Limen (Subtext Recordings, 29 April)
Two keen musical minds team up to produce a set that sounds like both and neither. Limen is as volcanic as its cover, a blast of pure power that melts everything in its wake. The levels are so high that even the distortion is distorted. The neighbors won’t like it, but listeners may feel cleansed.
Koloah ~ Serenity (Salon Imaginalis, 15 April)
One would not expect an album named Serenity to be born of the chaos in Ukraine, but that’s exactly what Koloah pursued ~ and in some part found ~ while struggling with the savaging of his country. The entire album builds to a choral finale that removes the heart and staples it back in.
KYOTY ~ Isolation (Deafening Assembly, 25 February)
Oh yes, we’ve got sludge on this list. Isolation was written and released a track at a time during the pandemic, a real-time diary of mangled emotion. Hearing it all at once can be overwhelming, especially “Ventilate,” but as a means of channelling aggression, the album can’t be topped.
Monoconda ~ Identity (Kashtan, 1 May)
This Ukrainian ambient-dance album was recorded just before the invasion, and released in its midst. It serves as a snapshot of the idyllic time before, as well as a yearning for what might arrive after. In retrospect, the music now sounds less like dance beats than heartbeats, the life blood of a beleaguered nation.
Natasha Barrett ~ Heterotopia (Past Inside the Present, 4 March)
Some might refer to this as the “ping-pong record,” and they wouldn’t be wrong, thanks to high-energy highlight “Urban Melt in Park Palais Milan.” But there’s much more to this album, which investigates heterotopia, the spaces that feel “other” and undetermined. In Barrett’s hands, even the familiar can seem foreign, as she transforms the ordinary into the beguiling.
Ralph Heidel ~ MODERN LIFE (Kryptox, 3 June)
Not simply a saxophonist, not just a figure on the German rap scene, but a true iconoclast, Ralph Heidel demonstrates his range on this incredibly diverse album. The music is also a commentary on the title; shall we grow increasingly nihilistic, or crack the window to feel a fresh breeze of optimism? Heidel embraces both possibilities, inviting listeners to choose their own paths.
Širom ~ The Liquified Throne of Simplicity (Glitterbeat, 8 April)
Širom’s music is anything but simple. Drawing from multiple influences and instruments, the trio creates an “imaginary folk music” that seems to stem from all places and none: an idealized fairy tale concoction that sounds like home, wherever home may be.
Sontag Shogun + Lau Nau ~ Valo Siroutuu (Beacon Sound/Ricco, 8 April)
The album that sounds like a beach vacation because it is a beach vacation, replete with the sounds of the sea and the local populace. Two artists, two countries, two labels, two languages, one mind. The set sings of simple pleasures. A found object can become an instrument. Peace is attainable.
у + злюка ~ хуйня (ria, 26 March)
This highly unusual pairing makes sense when one considers that one translation of the album title is nonsense. These collaborators find the patterns in chaos, the signal in the noise, allowing worlds to collide and produce sparks that they mine into new experimental forms.
Various Artists ~ SESTRO (система | system, 29 April)
Over the past few months, we’ve been plunging into the music of Ukraine at the same time as it is being destroyed: a bittersweet pairing. This diverse Odessa compilation makes a great entry point to a scene under siege: discovery upon discovery, waiting to be made.