Gray Days and Gold: Best music releases of 2022

Hello, friends. Being off the air for 1/3 of 2022—during which time I literally wasn’t listening to music—left me feeling so perpetually behind all year long that I’ve had little enthusiasm for assembling a Best Of. The prospect of assigning ‘fave’ status to music that I perhaps never got a chance to feature on the show felt somehow disingenuous.

But then I perused the music magazines’ 2022 roundups and, as happens every year, found myself disappointed by their predictability. (Nothing against Wilco, but they could probably release an album of their farts and MOJO would give it four stars.) Thus I was reminded that those media outlets have their vocations, and I have mine: to shine my little 1-watt bulb on outstanding music that otherwise might not receive deserved attention.

And so, herewith I submit for your consideration the Gray Days and Gold Best of 2022, accompanied by a Spotify playlist. For the most part, I’ve chosen different tracks than the ones originally featured on the monthly episodes of the show. (And in case you’re not a Spotify fan, I feel ya—there’s also an Apple Music version.)

Also included is an extra playlist of ‘redheaded stepchildren’—artists I enjoyed last year but who never made it into an episode. Alsø alsø, there are links to the only other Best Of that’s worth a damn: Chris Evans’s The Curve Ball (broadcasting on Cannock Chase Radio in the UK), which managed to play all the excellent left-field, uncategorizable music that I didn’t find time for.

As always, there’s no ranking and rating in my year-end list. Every artist featured on the show in the past year is someone I’ve considered remarkable, and there are many excellent albums, EPs and singles that aren’t represented here. These are just the artists whose work, for entirely subjective reasons, resonated with me a bit more than others.

If you like what you hear, there’s all of this and more in the archives. More importantly, please consider supporting the artists; you’ll find buy links to all the releases below.

Gray Days and Gold: Best of 2022

a Haon and a Dó by Telefís

Telefís — a hAon / a DóBUY

If I could convince you to listen to only one artist from 2022, it’d be this remarkable one-two punch by the Irish duo of Garret “Jacknife” Lee and the late Cathal Coughlin (ex-Microdisney). I’m a late convert to Coughlin’s genius, and the ferocious, funny, vital a hAon is made only more poignant by the fact that he faced down the abyss by recording a follow-up which posthumously arrived a mere seven months after the first. Essential.

Bala Desejo — SIM SIM SIMBUY

A joyous reinvention of classic Brazilian pop, which deservedly won a Latin Grammy.

СОЮЗ / SOYUZ — Force of the Wind (​С​и​л​а в​е​т​р​а​)BUY

Likewise, a love of vintage Brazilian music informs this Belarussian duo’s gentle, melodic psychedelia.

Icarus Liquorice by Derek Thomson

Derek Thomson — Icarus LiquoriceBUY

After decades as a sideman, Dundee native Thomson’s debut solo album is like a wine that’s aged to perfection—pop/rock songwriting so breezily confident, inventive, catchy and harmonically elegant as to tickle the Steely Dan receptors in your brain (and that’s not a comparison I make often or lightly).

Jesca Hoop — Order of RomanceBUY

A masterclass in songwriting, not dissimilar from Kate Bush’s The Dreaming in that Hoop’s paving her own path, inventing modes of expression that are utterly unique. I’m at rapt attention with each listen.

Baku Furukawa — X​ì​nBUY

Lush, sophisticated, jazz-inflected pop from this American born, Tokyo-based artist. I was so knocked out, I bought his entire discography.

Burung by Vic Bang

Vic Bang — BurungBUY

Argentinian composer Victoria Barca seems to have imagined what the sounds of the natural world would be if generated in a digital world instead. This is a meticulously-crafted tapestry of percussive and electronic tones, simultaneously full of activity yet airy, often evocative of flitting birds and insects within a landscape of buoyant musicality, but without any actual melodies. It’s also somehow like a musical version of pointillism—listen with headphones (recommended) and you’re in the spaces between the sounds; pull back, like viewing a Seurat from across the room, and the experience coalesces differently. Mesmerizing.

Sun’s SignatureBUY

In her post Cocteau Twins years of guesting on other artist’s tracks, Liz Fraser’s rarely (read: never) been paired with songs that rise to the sublimity she’s capable of. At last, it took her partner Damon Reece (Massive Attack) to create a worthy musical backdrop over which she can properly soar.

The Carmelittles — ApiaryBUY

A perennial favorite around here, Chicago’s Henri Poilevey finds more musical directness than in his previous work but without sacrificing the wealth of unexpected musical and lyrical turns that make his songs so intriguing.

JayWood — SlingshotBUY

An assured leap forward by Winnipeg artist Jeremy Haywood-Smith: excellent songwriting, sharply sociopolitical and deeply personal, musically melding experimental art pop, hip hop, alternative R&B, even Council-style groovy sophistipop. Definitely play this one from front to back, because it’s too multifaceted to be judged by any one track.

Between All Things by OHMA

OHMA — Between All ThingsBUY

Impeccably composed and arranged, deeply meditative while also inviting attentive listening, this is probably the most satisfying all-instrumental album I heard this year.

Sondre Lerche — Avatars of LoveBUY

Just when I was starting to think he could no longer surprise me, he stretched himself to new territory and released his most challenging album in … ever? At double-album length, with a couple of tracks tipping past the ten-minute mark, patience is rewarded.

One More Morning — A Constant of SortsBUY

James Olson of Kalamazoo is still as much a mystery to me now as when I stumbled across his album in August. With no discernible backstory or web/social media presence, he’s offered no clues as to the origins of his songwriting skill, breadth of ideas, and confident execution across a variety of styles. That artistry of this caliber can sit unnoticed in the dark corners of the internet demonstrates why I started GD&G in the first place.

Render GhostsBUY

A rarity—synthpop that I actually want to listen to. While grooves abound on the debut by this London-Utrecht trio, it’s the songwriting that really shines here, and the tenderness in singer Tamara van Esch’s voice yields something altogether more complex and human than most commercial pop.

Strings on Land by Ellen Tsai

Ellen Tsai — Strings on LandBUY

An EP of wonderful original chamber music inspired by nature. Not content to be merely a deft composer and arranger, her interest in felting and stop-motion animation resulted in this impressive video for a Christmas carol medley. I can only assume she never sleeps.

Quiet Rhythms Book I and Scatter My Ashes by William Susman et al.

William Susman & Nicolas HorvathQuiet Rhythms Book IBUY

William Susman & Octet Ensemble — Scatter My AshesBUY

Susman, one of my favorite contemporary composers, released two excellent albums in 2022: a collection of his Quiet Rhythms pieces for solo piano (with Horvath) and a more texturally-varied set with his New York-based Octet Ensemble (essentially a miniature big band with vocals), blending minimalism, jazz and classical. Both are equally rich, for very different reasons.

That London by The Cleaners from Venus

The Cleaners from Venus — That LondonBUY

Portraits of a bygone London’s characters, mythologies and ghosts, painted with a mix of jaundice and youthful romanticism, and a pervasive melancholy.

Ernest Hood — Back to the WoodlandsBUY

Between 1972–82 the late Oregonian self-recorded these gossamer, shimmering, pastoral compositions (enhanced with field recordings), which only saw the light of day this year. Transportive.

The Autumn Waltz by Luke Saxton

Luke Saxton — The Autumn WaltzBUY

Timeless, lovely, masterful songwriting of a sort that might even make Louis Philippe or Ron Sexsmith a little jealous.

David Ian Roberts — In CloverBUY

After a couple of primarily instrumental records, this Cardiff, UK artist has returned to his unique mode of songwritery-folk, one foot in tradition and the other floating off into the troposphere. Like the cover, the music glows with warmth.

2022 Redheaded Stepchildren playlist

Even in a good year I hear so much great music that never finds a place in the show—especially true of one-off singles and compilation albums—but this year the phenomenon was even more pronounced. As such, here’s a playlist of some unjustly overlooked songs. (Again, there’s also an Apple Music version.)

See also: The Curve Ball Top 30 Albums of 2022

I heartily endorse many of Chris Evans’s top picks—Maja Lena, LINDE, Owen Duff, Boris Maurusanne, Craig Fortnam, Scott Hardware, just to name a few—and I’d have included them on my own list except he’s already done the work and I’m lazy. Please go listen to his three-part roundup, or at least review the list.

Happy new year, and I look forward to more music discoveries with you in 2023. If you have questions, suggestions, opinions, etc. please feel free to contact me. And if you’d like to receive these posts via email, you can sign up here.

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    Gray Days and Gold