Best of the Year So Far: Q1

In what’s sure to be a shock to everyone who still feels like 2019 was a couple months ago, we are now one quarter of the way through 2022. And let me tell you: this is already shaping up to be an absolutely incredible year for music.

We’ve listened to a whole lot of new music over here at TunedUp, and a lot of it has even been pretty good (note: UNDERSTATEMENT). Here are our contributors’ favorite albums so far.

Cameron Carr

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

This sprawling record could easily have been two albums. There are distinct styles that can be traced fairly distinctly to the four separate recording sessions that make up DNWMIBIY. There’s dreamy, lo-fi, swaggering indie rock, delicate folk, and twangy country. It’s a lot to grasp at once, but it’s full of worthy gems.

Recommend track: “Simulation Swarm”

Mitski – Laurel Hell

In 2018, Mitski seemed to be at a peak. She’d transitioned from noisy basements to the top of critics’ year-end lists. But Laurel Hell is proof of even greater pop ambition. Without giving up her dark and syncopated sound, Mitski aims well beyond her indie roots. The lyrics center around stepping willingly into the dark, but on tracks like “The Only Heartbreaker”—her first co-write, and with one of the writers from “Someone Like You” and “Closing Time,” no less—Mitski’s is glowing. 

Recommended track: “That’s Our Lamp”

Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

A highly anticipated debut full-length in 2021 established Black Country, New Road at the forefront of a burgeoning wave of experimental post-punk. A day short of one year later, the septet returns with an album that manages to be both more extravagant and accessible. Heavily influenced by Arcade Fire, Ants From Up There uses indie rock bombast as fuel for an expansive post-rock epic. On paper, it’s an album of contradictions, but Black Country, New Road makes an astounding and, at times, heart wrenching success of it. 

Recommended track: “Good Will Hunting”

Alex Dye

Pedro the Lion – Havasu

When Havasu was released earlier this year, nobody knew that Bazan and Company were writing a new album, let alone that it was already recorded and mixed. But from the opening guitar notes of “Don’t Wanna Move,” it’s clear that the success of their first post-hiatus album was no fluke. Havasu continues the themes started in 2019’s Phoenix, telling stories of Dave Bazan’s childhood, this time focusing on the time he and his family lived in Lake Havasu.  Havasu has the heartfelt, downtempo indie-rock that you’ve come to expect and love from a Pedro the Lion record.

Recommended Track: “First Drum Set” 

KRS-One – IMAMCRU12

Legendary hip-hopper KRS-One is back with his newest self-released project, IMAMCRU12 (I am a emcee, are you one too?). KRS-One has been in the game since 1987 with Boogie Down Productions, and he is out to prove that rap isn’t just a young man’s game. His flow is fast and strong, his rhymes and clever, and as a man in his late-50s, he hasn’t lost a step along the way. Although it’s still boom-bap at the core, IMAMCRU12 leans into newer sounds being created by producers like Alchemist that show you don’t have to completely change you’re DNA as an artist to remain relevant.

Recommended Track: “Raw Hip Hop”

The Weeknd – Dawn FM

The Weeknd went hard out the gate in 2022 with his release of pop-opus Dawn FM. Stylized as a radio-program on the fictional Dawn FM station and narrated by Jim Carrey, Dawn FM is the next evolution of Abel Tesfaye’s 80’s pop sensibilities bathed in the doom of a worldwide pandemic. He wrestles with many of the same themes found throughout other albums, love, sex, connection, fame, but also questions what it means to be an aging pop star in light of these realities.  Dawn FM is art as much as it is pop and reflects the melancholy landscape of a world in the shadow of apocalypse.

Recommended Track: “Gasoline”

Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

Soul Glo has been around for a few years now, making a name for themselves in the DIY scene as brash, energetic, hardcore heroes who both pay homage to past acts that have influenced them, such as Bad Brains and Minor Threat, while also innovating the genre with hip-hop sensibilities.  With their major label debut Diaspora Problems being released on Epitaph Records, Soul Glo is poised to take over the scene with their noisy, fast, and spastic style. Lyrics are spit out at a furious pace, at a screech that exudes rage and desperation. And the lyrics, though largely indecipherable, are worth exploring as insight into the black experience in a genre largely dominated by white people. 

Recommended Track: “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)((by the future))

Superchunk – Wild Loneliness

Alternative/Indie/Punk outfit Superchunk are back after 2018’s unbelievable What a Time to Be Alive with their newest offering Wild Loneliness. Having come up in the indie scene in the early 90’s alongside contemporaries such as Archers of Loaf, Teenage Fanclub, and even Jawbreaker, where other bands have long since called it quit Superchunk has continued to create and evolve their sound. With driving guitars, infectious hooks, and relatable lyrics, Wild Loneliness does not sound like a band whose best days are behind them as they make a case for the continued relevance of guitar driven rock.

Recommended Track: “If You’re Not Dark”

Zeal & Ardor – Self Titled

Starting as an experimental marriage between black metal and slave spirituals, Manuel Gagneaux’s Zeal & Ardor have released their third full length album, cementing the avante-garde metal band’s place as more than just a one-off curiosity. After last year’s EP Wake of a Nation, which was largely a response to the George Floyd murder, Gagneaux has returned to his previous themes criticizing the church and organized religion. With his brash lyrics that occasionally delve into witchcraft and “Satanism,” Zeal & Ardor may understandably make some listeners uncomfortable. But there are significant truths behind his critiques that should absolutely be paid attention to by Christians if they want to be taken seriously in today’s culture.  

Recommended Track: “Gotterdammerung”

Nathaniel FitzGerald

SOM – The Shape of Everything

I’ve been a huge fan of SOM since I wandered into their set at 2019’s Post Fest. Their debut The Fall has never left my rotation since. But The Shape of Everything might blow it out of the water. Their specific mixture of crushing heaviness and dreamlike atmospheres has always been just right, but on the follow up, they push further to both sides of the spectrum, with brilliant results.

Recommended track: Clocks

Chalk Hands – Try Not to Think About Death

I’m not typically a big fan of screamo, but every so often a screamo album comes around that I can’t ignore. Brighton’s Chalk Hands (named for a 30 Rock insult) joins the ranks of acts like Envy and Boneflower, mixing the blistering catharsis of screamo with the compositional sensibilities of post rock, with plenty of math rock and emo thrown in. Try Not to Think About Death is only thirty-six minutes long, but it leaves a larger impact crater than much longer albums.

Recommended track: February’s New Friend

Absent in Body – Plague God

This sludge metal supergroup has a heavy resumé, and Plague God is even heavier. Absent in Body, featuring members of Amenra, Neurosis, and Sepultra, offer up a sickeningly heavy collection of songs that stare unflinchly into the eyes of our collective trauma through pandemic, political upheaval, and economic crises, and scream into the void. It’s as reverent as it is revolutionary, as despairing as it is hopeful, and heavy as hell. But for all its sonic violence, there’s a tenderness that remains unhardened.

Recommended track: The Acres/The Ache

Blushing – Possessions

Austin dreamgazers Blushing made an impressive name for themselves with their self-titled debut, but Possessions raises the ante—and hard. Their brand of gauzy shoegaze is supported by a strong foundation that would make these songs delightful even without billows of guitar effects. They get a boost from shoegaze legends like Lush’s Miki Berenyi and Ride’s Mike Gardener, but they don’t need their help to do justice to the legacy of 90s shoegaze, mixing infectious pop songs with walls of whirling noise with the best of them.

Recommended track: Bed

Painted Light – Comfort In Consistency

For my money, the best indie rock record of all time is Hummingbird by Local Natives. And as much as I love everything they’ve done since, not even newer Local Natives records make me feel that way.

Comfort In Consistency, the debut record from Friend Club Record’s Painted Light, taps into exactly what makes that record feel so special to me with sophisticated arrangements, honey-sweet melodies, spacious production, and drums that will. not. quit.

Recommended track: Stationary

Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory

I have a profound weakness for music that mixes heavy elements and more delicate sounds. Usually, these ingredients are mixed to create a cohesive whole (e.g., the aforementioned SOM). In the case of Rolo Tomassi’s seventh album Where Myth Becomes Memory however, the blackgaze/prog metal/tech death/post rock outfit switches between undiluted versions of each.

It can seem like a nasty trick at first (one friend of mine said, “why would you ruin a perfectly good song like that?”), but as the record goes on, the swings from female-led piano ballads to djenty, screamed prog metal feel less like a band whose songwriters diverged a long time ago and more a carefully orchestrated journey through the human experience.

Recommended track: Mutual Ruin

Casey Gallenberger

Glowbug – Your Funeral

It’s a rare occurrence that an electronic album of sorts lands with a eulogy as an intro, but this kind of quirky characterization is what makes Daniel Anderson’s work as Glowbug so compelling. On this release, a decade past his debut record, he has truly come into his own as a songwriter and producer and continues to defy genre expectations with infectious songwriting. 

Caracara – New Preoccupations

Every now and then, a record comes that I’ve been anticipating for years. While this Philly band caught attention with their debut album, it was the releases that followed after which cemented them as one of the most lyrically-interesting bands within the indie-emo scene. This time around, they’ve captured their dynamic into a more concise format. But the emphasis on keys, negative space, and ruminations of time and place make New Preoccupations an album worth wrestling with. It’s not a perfect first listen, but it grows. It’s an album to soak in, surely. 

String Machine – Hallelujah Hell Yeah

Nine times out of ten, I’m down for a good chamber album of sorts. String Machine blend a sort of bedroom rawness with the energy of the defunct Anathallo, injecting brass, harmonies, and keys into otherwise-singer-songwriter type tracks for a result that is celebratory and unpredictable. It’s not too heady that it will miss the core fanbase of Midwest emo lovers, but it’s just artistic enough to perhaps act as a gateway to more esoteric bands.

Ryan Getz

Lo Moon – A Modern Life

The band that released the sleeper hit of 2018 (for me, anyway

) are back with a record that seems to pick up right where they left off. The band makes music fitting for a nightcap at your favorite cocktail bar. Be sure you’re sipping a smoky cocktail – that will complete the effect. The sound this band delivers is simply effortlessly cool, and ought to have appeal that crosses generations. What was surprising to me about this record was that there were moments where the band wasn’t afraid to be a little more jarring.

Recommended tracks: Expectations, Carried Away.

Bob Moses – The Silence in Between

This cinematic electronic pop duo surprised me this year with an infectious, cool record. “Seen it Coming” grabbed me right away. An analogy of a fishhook pulling into the band’s universe comes to mind. Listening to this album, I feel like I need to experience the band’s live show. They have proven their mastery of emotional build-ups.

Recommended tracks: Seen it Coming, Time and Time Again

El Camino Acid – Sunset Motel

With the exception of The Weeknd’s Dawn FM, this is the record I’ve found myself returning to the most often so far this year. I’ve heard beachy indie rock what feels like a million times before, yet El Camino Acid delivers all the best elements of this subgenre in an extremely palatable, satisfying manner.

Recommended tracks: Near or Far, Mirror Mirror

Phil Hawkins

Wolves at the Gate: Eulogies

It’s been 3 years since the release of Eclipse and the guys in WATG have released what may be their best album to date with Eulogies. It’s raw, heavy and holds a strong faith based lyricism that long time fans have come to appreciate. While they may not be as prolific with material as some of their musical peers and/or labelmates, the time in between albums shows that their craft is an intricate process and each new endeavour is well worth the wait.

Recommended Tracks: “Shadows,” “Weight of Glory” & “Deadweight”

Ronnie Martin: From the Womb of the Morning, The Dew of Your Youth Will Be Yours

For some the name Ronnie Martin might be new, but to those that are familiar with his collective body of work (which spans across 30 years) the synthesized sounds on FTWOTMTDOYYWBY are something that long time fans have missed. Ronnie released his last album of original content under Joy Electric (his most prominent moniker) back in 2008, but this album feels like both a continuation and evolution of what would/could have been had Joy Electric continued. As a whole the album is solid and remarkably crafted. Here’s hoping that it’s not another decade before we hear more from Ronnie.

Recommended Track: “FTWOTMTDOYYWBY”

Dashboard Confessional: All The Truth That I Can Tell

It’s been several years since we’ve heard from Dashboard Confessional and a lot has happened in that time period. In 2020 Chris Carraba was in a major motorcycle accident that left some questioning if it was the end of the road for Dashboard. After double shoulder surgery and physical therapy it was clear that Carraba was not ready to hang it up and still had stories to tell. ATTTICT was birthed in that chapter and delivers some of Carraba’s most raw material in years. ATTTICT is more reminiscent to the earlier days of Dashboard and is more acoustic driven which seems to be where Carraba shines as an artist.

Recommended Tracks: “Here’s To Moving On” & “All The Truth That I Can Tell”

Topher Parks

Rosalía – MOTOMAMI

Her most diverse effort yet, MOTOMAMI takes all of Rosalía’s styles and influences and melds them all into this 16-track journey that, at 42 minutes, is over far too soon. It’s easily my favorite release of the year thus far. Read my track-by-track breakdown of the record here.

Recommended tracks: “MOTOMAMI,” “DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA”

St. Paul & The Broken Bones – The Alien Coast

Why work harder when you can work smarter? To steal my own wordsThe Alien Coast somehow feels firmly planted in the past, present, and future—both sonically and thematically. It is the stunning next step in the Alabama natives’ sonic evolution, taking the signature sound from their first three efforts and rendering it simply as a stepping stone to their next great moment, now.

Recommended track: “Alien Coast”

Hembree – It’s a Dream!

Dreamy as ever and significantly wide-spanning sonically, Hembree’s sophomore LP sees the Kansas City natives easily outdoing their 2019 debut full-length House On Fire. At the risk of sounding redundant, yes, truly, it’s a dream!

Recommended track: “I Don’t Believe You”

4. Trenches – Reckoner

Thirteen years after their groundbreaking debut, Trenches has finally returned with the rousing Reckoner, an LP that will no doubt remain one of my favorite heavy releases of the year come December. Read Alex’s review of the album here

Recommended track: “Lenticular Clouds”

5. alt-J – The Dream

I guess “dreams” is a popular theme in 2022 releases. The new album from alt-J feels like the perfect nighttime listen, not to mention, as Taylor made note of in his review, its “ability to transport us from one state to another.” 

Recommended track: “Losing My Mind”

Listen to a Playlist of recommended tracks on Spotify.

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