Anniversaries? We’ve got ‘em. The 41st of my annual Pick Of The Year compilations, in which the best music from the previous twelve months is squashed onto the most common storage medium of the day, hits several milestones: it’s the 5th one to get a Christmas Day release, the 25th one to make it onto a CD, the 30th one that Lou has been given a copy of, and then there’s the small matter of it being 40 years this month since I first attempted to compile one. Last year, I wrapped up the 40th compilation by saying “I think ultimately, the test is going to be this: has it become a chore trying to find 80 minutes of new music that I enjoy each year? When we hit a year when that’s the case, then I guess I’ll stop. But it hasn’t happened yet.”
Still not happened.
So, with the usual season’s greetings from myself and The Belated Birthday Girl, here’s 78 minutes of the best music of 2022 in text, YouTube and Spotify form. And at the end of this page you can find the usual competition to win a copy of it as an actual CD. Can you beat Dave this year? I’ll be interested to find out.
1. RAHUL SIPLIGUNJ, KALA BHAIRAVA & M.M. KEERAVANI - Naatu Naatu (from RRR (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)) [video]
None of this Netflix, reframed for 16:9, dubbed into Hindi, Nacho Nacho bullshit for me, please. Two cinema viewings of the original Telugu language version of RRR have made it my favourite film of 2022, and its big musical number is apparently my most streamed song on Spotify. It’s pure cinema in the sense Michael Powell used to talk about, raucously restaging the age old conflict between India and its British colonisers as a literal dance-off, and then cranking it up even higher at the point where the contest is theoretically over. I’ve not personally seen people dancing in cinema aisles to this song yet: maybe a third viewing is due.
2. THE DIVINE COMEDY - I’ll Take What I Can Get (from Charmed Life/Super Deluxe Bonus Album) [video]
A recurring theme this year is live gigs that were a disappointment because I didn’t get to go to them. Thankfully, I did get to see The Divine Comedy at the London Palladium, blasting through a crowd-pleasing set of their greatest hits. Which meant that they didn’t play this one: a throwaway bit of from-the-cutting-room-floor silliness buried on a bonus disc packaged with early copies of Charmed Life, the greatest hits album being promoted by the gig. You can see why Neil Hannon could have been sitting on this for several years, with a verse structure capable of having multiple variations on the theme 'one day I'll...' slotted into it, and no real way of knowing when to stop. This particular version is a delight, but you could imagine him rewriting all the verses again in a year or two.
3. YOUNG FATHERS – Geronimo (single) [video]
As I’ve said many times before, one of the best things about going to live gigs is being surprised by a support act who go on to greater things. Kojey Radical is my biggest discovery on that score in recent years, and yes, he’s coming up soon: but accidentally catching Young Fathers propping up the bottom half of a Dizzee Rascal gig in 2007 comes a close second. This is the opening salvo from an album we won’t be getting until 2023, but its slow build to a huge climax and drop back down again – all in a pissy three and a half minutes – bodes well for what’s to come.
4. REGINA SPEKTOR - Up The Mountain (from Home, Before And After) [video]
Regina Spektor’s an infrequent visitor to these compilations, only really appearing whenever she’s released a particularly arresting single. So hooray for The DJ Formerly Known As Anne Frankenstein, who introduced me to this one at 6.45 in the morning when she was filling in on the 6 Music early breakfast show. It’s far too dramatic a record to be woken up with, to be honest, but its studied strangeness grows on you, and had weird echoes at the time of its release with Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, which was in the middle of its Stranger Things-driven revival.
5. TELEFÍS - Space Is Us (from a Dó) [video]
At the time of writing, I’m still processing the recent announcement of the death of Terry Hall, who was such a fixture of these compilations over the decades that he was the subject of 2019’s competition question. Up until then, I’d have said that the musician death that hit me the hardest thIs year was Cathal Coughlan’s: like Hall, a singer-songwriter working both solo and in bands, always coming up with new ways to showcase the black wit of his lyrics. In retrospect, Coughlan’s sudden burst of activity in the last couple of years must have been driven by the knowledge that he didn’t have much time left: and of those projects, his collaboration with Jacknife Lee in Telefis was the most surprising, combining dance rhythms and rock in unexpected ways. Taking everything full circle, this quietly understated rant about rich arseholes and their determination to spread their arseholism to other planets (‘we just matter more’) includes a reunion with former Microdisney colleague Sean O’Hagan on guitar, adding a bouncy eighties tunefulness to the proceedings.
6. KAE TEMPEST - Salt Coast (from The Line Is A Curve) [video]
There’s been a pronoun switch and a single letter dropped since we last heard from them, but to be honest things don’t seem to have changed much with Kae Tempest in terms of the records. Once again, they’ve made an album of danceable bangers and heartbreaking slow tunes, and once again it’s the slow tunes like this one that grab the ears instantly. Maybe you could argue that unlike the melancholy of something like People’s Faces from a few years ago, there’s a laser-focused passion here that isn’t attempting to hide itself at all. So maybe there’s that.
7. MEITEI - Happyaku-yacho (from Kofū II) [video]
Since the pandemic broke, The BBG and I have been dancing every Saturday night. Not out dancing, you understand: we’ve been searching the internet for collections of interesting music, cracking open a beer and having our own little kitchen disco. Time and again, it’s been DJs from Worldwide FM whose shows we’ve come back to: Mr Scruff, Rebecca Vasmant, and the collected Japanese hipsters of the Kyoto Jazzy Creative Council. Which makes it rather disappointing that a couple of months ago, Worldwide FM put a pause on their programming while they work out what to do next. It’s KJCC I’m missing the most, as they’ve introduced me to quite a lot of interesting music on the fringes of Japanese jazz and dance. Meitei's a good example of this: an electronic musician repurposing old records for dance tracks like Moby was doing two decades ago, except he’s doing it with ancient Japanese music, and he’s audibly having loads of fun doing it.
8. YARD ACT - Tall Poppies (from The Overload) [video]
I can appreciate The BBG’s attitude to Yard Act: when she hears the odd track in isolation she enjoys them, but more than three in a row and she gets a bit bored. They can be a bit of a one-trick pony, it’s true. But this showcases their trick better than anything else. If anything, this spoken word piece is closer to Half Man Half Biscuit than anything else: the line 'I know full well that there are more handsome men and better footballers out there in Greater Manchester’ is so Nigel Blackwell it’s not true.
9. CAROLINE POLACHEK – Sunset (single) [video]
It's the tricksy rhythm that grabs your attention initially: as Caroline Polachek rattles through the syllables in each line, your brain struggles to keep count. Eventually, you realise that she’s working to the Emily Dickinson scansion – te-tum te-tum te-tum te-tum, te-tum te-tum te-tum – and it’s not that tricksy after all. In fact, a simple logical deduction from the one thing everyone knows about Emily Dickinson's poetry reveals that you could actually sing the verses of Sunset to the tune of The Yellow Rose Of Texas. Sorry if I’ve just ruined it for you.
10. BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD – Concorde (from Ants From Up There) [video]
My biggest musical disappointment of the year is easy to identify: just a week before Black Country, New Road were to release their second album and headline a show at the Roundhouse, it was announced that lead singer Isaac Wood was suffering from depression and didn’t feel he could carry on. In less enlightened times, of course, they’d have pumped him full of drugs and made him go on tour anyway, and he’d possibly be dead by now. Instead, everyone made the right decision: Wood left the band to look after himself, and the remaining six members kept the name but treated it as a fresh start, insisting they’d never play any songs from the Wood era again. Which is a massive pity, because Ants From Up There – probably my favourite album of 2022 – is crammed with songs that you’d just love to hear a band cut loose on live. Still, hopefully we’ll get to hear some new stuff from both parties soon.
11. SIMON LOVE - L-O-T-H-A-R-I-O (from Love, Sex and Death Etc) [video]
This is an odd one, because I’ve been waiting for it for three years. Simon Love played support to Wreckless Eric at the latter’s 65th birthday gig at the 100 Club back in May 2019, and his set included the premiere of this little epic, which he promised would be available on record soon. Obviously the pandemic got in the way of all that, and it wasn’t until 2022 that we got to hear the finished version: the musical equivalent of a shaggy dog story, with the tune and arrangement wandering down as many side roads and digressions as the tale being sung. Bonus points have to be added for the genius approach to creating a video for a story like this, and doing it on a budget of bugger all.
12. KENDRICK LAMAR - The Heart Part 5 (single) [video]
Cards on the table: Kendrick Lamar’s album Mr Morale And The Big Steppers really doesn’t do it for me at all. The eclecticism of his earlier records has dissolved into a lack of focus, with a couple of sort-of-theatrical numbers proving as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool. Which is a surprise, given that the non-album single released at around the same time is a terrific piece of work. Sure, you could argue that as a song, it’s incomplete: you need the video to appreciate the half dozen personas that Lamar switches between from verse to verse (and even then you might need a crib sheet). But the Marvin Gaye sample it’s constructed around is beautiful, with the Beach Noise production crew weaving it into its own piece of work, topped off by the lampshaded mixing flourish that gives this CD its name.
13. HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT - Tess Of The Dormobiles (from The Voltarol Years) [video]
Who’d have thought, as the man says, we’d both end up in here? We’re approaching the fortieth anniversary of Half Man Half Biscuit’s debut, and although on the surface they’re still ploughing the same furrow – complex layers of pop culture references held together with guitar chords – those four decades have given Nigel Blackwell’s lyrics an increasingly dark edge, as ageing and the prospect of death become an ever more prominent subtext. The last two tracks on this album – Slipping The Escort and Oblong Of Dreams – take those themes and promote them to actual text, which will confound anyone who still thinks of HMHB as a comedy band. They may well be happier with this one, a look back in old age to a failed relationship using a suitably dated metaphor. And the pop culture references are still there: no other lyricist could sum up the agony of romantic incompatibility with the eight words ‘Hayley Mills, Daniel Boone / Me Tarzan, you June’.
14. KOJEY RADICAL – Gangsta (from Reason To Smile) [video]
Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. Six years after I first saw Kojey Radical in a support slot and insisted he was going to be huge, 2022 saw him release a highly acclaimed debut album, headline a Prom and come within a whisker of winning the Mercury Prize. And given how central his mum has been to his whole story, it’s only fitting that his album climaxes with a song about her and a few words from Mrs R herself. Having waited six years for this moment, I’m not entirely sure what I’m expecting next, but I’m keen to find out.
15. ABEL SELAOCOE - Ka Bohaleng / On The Sharp Side (from Where Is Home / Hae ke Kae) [video]
And following on from Kojey, here’s the headliner of the one Prom I saw in 2021, although as a classical cellist Abel Selaocoe would appear to fit better on that stage. Don’t jump to conclusions, though: that Prom, like this album, is a heady mix of pieces from the established repertoire and self-composed tunes drawing on his African background. Neither of those genres particularly lends itself to an 11/8 time signature, but here we are anyway, resulting in a piece that’s as thrilling to listen to as it’s impossible to dance to.
16. xPROPAGANDA - Ribbons Of Steel (from The Heart Is Strange) [video]
As regular readers will know, our big holiday this year – the first proper one since COVID – was a cruise around the coast of Iceland. Because we knew we’d need a negative test before we were allowed on board, we spent the three weeks before departure voluntarily self-isolating to ensure nobody gave us the lurgy. It worked, obviously, but not leaving the house for that long had some downsides. For me, the biggest one was not being able to see the former singers from Propaganda performing live in London, something I last saw them do in 1985. They may have referred to Propaganda back in the day as Abba From Hell, but Abba never had a member who didn’t sing but had a spectacular speaking voice. Here, Suzanne Freytag is deployed almost as magnificently as she was on Dream Within A Dream on their debut. Like the rest of the album, it follows on logically from its 37 year old predecessor but somehow never feels dated. And if you’ve got a problem with the way this track meanders slowly towards its conclusion, then tough: I like the meandering.
So that was 2022, and this is the paragraph where I set a competition for one person to win a CD copy of Take The Drums Out, and that person ends up being Dave. Unless you fancy your chances against him? Go on, it’s worth a try. I refer you to the picture of the CD cover at the top of the page: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tell me the latitude and longitude coordinates of the location of this year’s cover photo. Send your answers to [email protected] no later than 23:59 GMT on January 31st 2023. Closest entry to the correct answer received wins the prize: in the event of a tie (and it’s possible), the first of the tied entries received will win. Though I’m prepared to bet that it’ll be Dave either way. Being a monkey, and all.