We have arrived at one of the most glorious days of my blogging year: the reveal of my favorite songs of the past 12 months.
I often attempt to find common threads that wind through my selections. At first I wasn’t detecting any this year. There were a few songs about dead people, but that was a small subset of the bigger list. As I was putting the final touches on my list, I realized that there is a presence of gratitude in quite a few of these tracks. Maybe not all 21 songs (spoiler alert: there’s a tie in the countdown), but many of them address gratitude from different perspectives.
I am grateful there was so much good music this year (the first eight months of the year were terrific, then the pace slackened a bit). And I’m grateful for you indulging me by reading my thoughts and listening to my playlist.
As is tradition, I have embedded videos for each song and included a Spotify playlist.
20 – “Static” – Gold Tongue
Songs that rocked made a comeback in 2022. At least in the stuff I listened to. This was a good way to get the year started, a pummeling track that is a throwback to the heady days around the turn of the millennium.
19 – “My Echo” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Nearly an automatic entry in my year end lists, RBCF hit this time with a song about the anxiety that grows from our endless exposure to screens.
18 – “GOOD TIMES” – Jungle
The world is filled with negativity. We need more songs like this, that are packed with joy and almost force you off your ass so you can shake it. (The video features a bonus song tacked on at the end.)
17 – “Oceans of Darkness” – The War on Drugs
A song recorded during the I Don’t Live Here Anymore sessions that did not make the final record, but was released this fall with the album’s deluxe edition. And a song that immediately made every TWOD fan ask, “WHY WASN’T THIS ON THE ORIGINAL ALBUM?!?!?!”
16 – “Best Left” – The Beths
Elizabeth Stokes has such a gift for making glorious songs about uncomfortable situations. Here she sings about her tendency to mess with things that don’t need messing with.
15 – “A Wave Across A Bay” – Frank Turner
Turner’s elegy for his good friend, Scott Hutchison. Scott would have loved it, as Turner sings with shocking frankness of Hutchison’s suicide. Scott was never afraid to rip the bandage away to expose the festering hurt beneath.
However, Turner does what I think all of us who have lost a loved one to suicide wish we could do: he imagines fate, the hand of God, or some other force intervening at the last moment. While it doesn’t bring his friend back, it does free the victim from the mental health demons that plagued him.
I admit this song – the most Frightened Rabbit-sounding song Turner has ever made – and the video have brought me to tears more than a few times.
14 – “ILYSM” – Wild Pink
WP leader John Ross received a cancer diagnosis a year ago just as he was beginning work on the band’s next album. One of his doctors told him to continue working, as it would take his mind away from his disease. The result is a remarkably affecting album, filled with reflections on mortality and appreciation for those who Ross loves and supported him. You hear all of that in the instrumental break that hits at 2:44, the best musical moment of the year.
13 – “Alive” – Poliça
Songs like this, that tread in dark territory and deal with intense desire, can easily go wrong. But everything about this – the music, lyrics, vocals, and tone – hit perfectly.
12 – “What’s Done Is Done” – Delta Spirit
Videos often change the meaning of songs. Here, a song that is about either a breakup, or an imminent breakup, takes on a sweet, uplifting vibe thanks its video, which features actors with Down Syndrome working through their own relationship issues.
11 – “After The Earthquake” – Alvvays
When Alvvays released their excellent Blue Rev album, Steven Hyden wrote that it was the archetypal fall album. In general I agree with him; dreamy, shoe-gazey pop sounds best in the months when the days get shorter and darker.
But this song? It’s a shot of pure, blazing, summer sunshine breaking through the clouds.
10 – “Lights On” – Hatchie
Upon signing with Indiana’s Secretly Canadian label last year, Harriette Pilbeam hinted at making a change to her sound. While that shift was largely present on her Giving the World Away album, this track was one more dose of the wonderful, lush electro-pop that made 2019’s Keepsake one of my favorites of the past decade or so.
9 – “Porta” – Sharon Van Etten
Van Etten’s music is almost always confessional. Composed during a phase of deep depression in 2020, this track is about SVE seeking positive coping mechanisms to work through that darkness and pull herself into a more healthy space. One of those techniques was doing pilates with instructor Stella Cook, who joined her in the song’s video. It is a massive, fierce, gorgeously inspiring tune.
Also, this is the annual “Song I just liked when I started editing this list but fell completely in love with as I was re-listening to it constantly in November/December” entry. Which means it is either three spots too high or too low.
8 – “Talk For Hours” – High Vis
Derek Thompson, on his Plain English podcast, recently had an episode about the “Friendship Recession.” This song can be taken as a counter to that idea, and a hint that we all need to rediscover our senses of empathy, shut our mouths, and listen when people around us need to vent.
7 – “Angelica” – Wet Leg
THE buzz band of the year, these ladies absolutely delivered with their debut album after the hype built by their lead singles “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream.” The album is filled with songs that still make me laugh every time I hear them. While some listeners were put off by their vibe, I loved the band’s sly silliness. The twinkles in their eyes and tongues in their cheeks are reminders that rock music is supposed to be fun.
6 – “Full Round Table” – Chappaqua Wrestling
The roots of rock music are in the celebration of being young, free, and totally alive. That’s tough to do in today’s world, where the outlook for the future seems bleak. This rousing track is an ode to not letting all the bad news get you down and celebrating the possibilities that come with youth. The glass is full and the future’s bright.
5 – “The Night Before Your Birthday” – Andrew Bird
Good Lord, how many gorgeous songs has Bird made over the years? Each time he releases a new album I know there will be at least one song that absolutely floors me. Here it is about the mundane moments with the one you love, and how recalling those together are as thoughtful of a gift as the brightest diamond.
4 – “Brother the Cloud” – Eddie Vedder
The first single off EdVed’s first solo album, “Long Way,” was my #6 song of 2021. Despite that track’s greatness, I was still surprised by how good the entire album was, one of my favorite and most listened to LPs of this year. This tribute to Ed’s late brother may be the ultimate Vedder song: heartfelt, passionate, and filled with poppy-yet-punky riffs.
3 – “Anything But Me” – MUNA
I love breakup songs, as my loyal readers know. This is a different take on the genre. Here the narrator is ready to move on, willing to let bygones be bygones and remain friendly with her ex. But she isn’t about to let them keep their hooks in her. An absolute banger.
It also features my favorite lines of the year:
You’re gonna say that I’m on a high horse
I think that my horse is regular sized
Did ya ever think maybe
You’re on a pony
Going in circles on a carousal ride?
2 – “Wild” – Spoon
Spoon has been around almost as long as Pearl Jam. They haven’t sold as many records and can’t tour the world in front of sold-out arenas, but Pearl Jam isn’t still making songs this good. So tie?
This is the best song Spoon has ever made, taking all of the swagger that has been in their music since day one and amping it up to a whole new level.
1A/1B – “the man himself” / “in the wake of your leave” – Gang of Youths
For the second time in the history of my chart, I have co-Number Ones.
Gang of Youth’s angel in realtime was my favorite and most listened to album of 2022, and the one that impacted me the most.
It is primarily about lead singer David Le’aupepe’s emotional journey following the death of his father. The album travels a beautiful arc, from the final moments of Telesco Le’aupepe’s life, through David’s process of grieving, to learning about his father’s secret life and the ethnic background he kept hidden, to reaching out to the half-brothers he did not know existed, and finally to being ready to move on and focus on his new family with his father’s memory as a guide.
These two songs tackle the subject of grief from different angles. “in the wake of your leave” is about the various ways that pain can take over our lives. Meanwhile, “the man himself” focuses on how we cope when the person we relied on for wisdom and direction is gone. It also pulls in the traditional sounds of the Pacific that Le’aupepe included to honor his (and his father’s) Samoan heritage.
The LP was filled with wonderful songs that stand out on their own. Combined, though, they built a deeply emotional album that was equally difficult and rewarding to sit through. It seems proper to honor it by selecting two of the tracks that I connected with the most to cap this year’s list of favorites.
(“angel of 8th ave,” the lead single from the album released in the summer of 2021, was my #3 favorite song of last year.)