Whether or not you enjoy end-of-the-year superlatives likely depends upon what you consider the role of the critic to be in 2022.
For me, I became obsessed with reading reviews at a young age and spent hours studying the art of criticism in preparation for the day that I could become a voice worth listening to. I absorbed everything that I could from writers whom I considered to be beacons in the field, because I wasn’t corrupted by the notion that having a blue check mark made someone an expert on anything.
Twitter has democratized thinking and writing about popular culture to such a harmful degree that trying to separate the bologna from the filet is pointless when 99.9% of what saturates the platform falls into the former category. The only informed, unfiltered opinions you’ll find now are from fringe sources whose reach doesn’t even begin to match the depth of analysis they bring to the table.
For example, there are currently 42 people following this site and I have no personal connection to any of them. Maybe they subscribed based on something that I wrote back in 2018 and haven’t been back since or maybe they’re a kindred sprit recognizing that the work I do is antithetical to the mainstream philosophy.
I’ll never know for sure, but what I can say is that I don’t look at any of those 42 individuals as just a number. They’re here for a reason and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t consistently deliver pieces that elevated the standard I laid out when this site began five years ago. I’ll leave the sycophancy and mindless reaction videos to everyone else, because, as the psychedelic sleuth Austin Power once quipped, that’s not my bag, baby.
I began this year by reading Chuck Klosterman’s “The Nineties,” a definitive deconstruction of a decade when authenticity was everything and a difference of opinion wasn’t viewed as a fatal personality flaw. One of the most vital insights he offers when it comes to what we’re discussing here is how Napster altered the relationship people had with music by de-emphasizing the album as a concept. Users could bypass the traditional method of investing time and money into listening to something in favor of downloading single songs from multiple artists, which became even more appealing with increasing modem speeds.
When you combine the declining interest in album consumption with the fact that so many people have lost sight of the benefits of intellectual disagreement, it’s amazing that lists such as the one you’re about to read still exist. Not only do they exist, but they continue to generate discussion regardless of how often the general public claims that critics don’t matter.
I’ve never approached this platform as a way of telling readers what to think or convincing them that my taste trumps all others. I just take this stuff seriously and like to offer my year-end lists as a way to expand the scope of what publications such as Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Spin predictably bring to the table.
If you agree, that’s nice. If not, that’s fine, too.
So, without further ado, here are 25 albums that left an impression on me during the past 12 months.
Ann Wilson – “Fierce Bliss”
Wilson tears through this collection of originals and covers like one of the greatest voices in music that she is. The Roger Dean cover design isn’t too shabby, either.
Saxon – “Carpe Diem“
If hard rock and heavy metal were treated fairly by commercial publications, this album would give Saxon the American acclaim they’ve always deserved.
Talas – “1985”
This surprise release from Buffalo’s own Billy Sheehan and Co. serves as a beautifully heavy tribute to late vocalist Phil Naro.
Meshuggah – “Immutable”
The kings of Swedish extreme metal deliver a masterpiece of aggression and technicality.
King’s X – “Three Sides of One”
Their first album in 14 years is dripping with the passion, urgency, and controlled chaos of three guys who have been playing together as a trio since 1983.
Queensryche – “Digital Noise Alliance”
I’ll be the first to admit that my expectations for the post-Geoff Tate era were tempered, but they’ve gotten better with each release and Todd LaTorre leaves nothing on the table.
Scorpions – “Rock Believer”
I couldn’t have cared less about anything after “Love at First Sting” until this gem dropped in February.
Kendrick Lamar – “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”
This is Lamar’s Evel Knievel album in that not every moment lands as he wants it to, but he gets credit for the attempt.
The Dead Daisies – “Radiance”
It’s not quite as good as last year’s “Holy Ground,” but Glenn Hughes and Doug Aldrich still bring the heat.
Jethro Tull – “The Zealot Gene”
Ian Anderson told me back in 2014 that he couldn’t envision a scenario in which he would ever release anything under the “Jethro Tull” moniker again, but he changed his mind and we’re better off for it.
Dorothy – “Gifts From the Holy Ghost”
Dorothy has gone through some shit since I first saw her in 2017, but she harnessed that adversity into a compelling artistic statement.
Porcupine Tree – “Closure/Continuation”
My affinity for all things Steven Wilson is on the record, so there was no chance that I wasn’t going to include this one.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Unlimited Love”
Having John Frusciante back makes all the difference on what I consider to be the band’s finest release since 2002’s “By the Way.”
Voivod – “Synchro Anarchy”
Highbrow thrash metal from one of the most unsung bands to emerge from the Great White North.
Amorphis – “Halo”
The Finnish legends have released 14 albums over 30 years and they continue to surprise.
Marillion – “An Hour Before It’s Dark”
Nothing will ever top the Fish era, but Steve Hogarth material has really grown on me as of late.
Pat Travers – “The Art of Time Travel”
Pat’s current trio is fiery and his songwriting is as strong as ever.
Megadeth – “The Sick, The Dying…and The Dead!”
The production is excellent and Mustaine has found another lineup capable of fully realizing his vision.
Envy of None – “Envy of None”
Once you get over the fact that Alex Lifeson isn’t interested in recreating “La Villa Strangiato,” vocalist Maiah Wynne’s dreamy soundscapes will sweep you away.
Derek Sherinian – “Vortex”
An adventurous collection from the former Dream Theater keyboardist.
Jeff Miers – “Dharma For None”
The pop music critic for the Buffalo News used his time in lockdown to craft this gem that works best when listened to from start to finish.
Beth Hart – “A Tribute to Led Zeppelin”
She doesn’t tweak the arrangements as much as some might like, but the conviction of her vocals can’t be denied.
Sass Jordan – “Bitches Blues”
Sass has found a niche the past few years as an interpreter of the blues and she crushes it yet again.
Candlemass – “Sweet Evil Sun”
The return of vocalist Johan Längqvist in 2018 reinvigorated the band and his second album back is a must for fans wishing that Black Sabbath still made new music.
Alter Bridge – “Pawns & Kings”
One of their heaviest records yet.