For the first time ever, Spotify released its “Wrapped” year-end reports on listening habits in November. Streaming competitor Apple Music did the same with its own lists. Perhaps it is their way of moving on from 2022 as soon as possible.
Because the year was bad, and nobody knows that more than Spotify. After its star podcaster Joe Rogan was lambasted for spreading possible misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, artists including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their catalogues from the platform in protest.
Live music had a particularly rough time. The industry was plagued by inflated touring costs, equipment scarcity, pandemic-related interruptions and a concert glut caused by artists crowding the road after pandemic COVID-19 were lifted. It was all too much for some: The American singer-songwriter Santigold and others cancelled tours, citing financial stress and mental burnout.
Ticketmaster emerged as the year’s top villain when its website was overwhelmed by millions of Taylor Swift fans who struggled to buy seats to the singer’s upcoming Eras Tour.
Even a feel-good story was tarnished. After the Library of Congress briefly loaned Lizzo a crystal flute that once belonged to James Madison, pearl-clutching politicians accused the twerking pop star of desecrating American history.
Still, there were flashes of light: Joni Mitchell’s comeback performance at the Newport Folk Festival and pair of tribute concerts to the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins brought music fans together.
Highlights for me were the Weeknd’s stunning After Hours Til Dawn stadium show and something much, much smaller. As part of a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot at the Mariposa Folk Festival, the folk duo Dala serenaded the iconic troubadour with a haunting version of If You Could Read My Mind.
Spotify and Apple tell us that the Puerto Rican reggaeton/rap star Bad Bunny was the year’s most-streamed artist. But while new albums by him, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and Harry Styles topped the charts, there were ones farther down the list that moved me more:
Tami Neilson’s Kingmaker, Sudan Archives’ Natural Brown Prom Queen, Black Thought and Danger Mouse’s Cheat Codes, Snotty Nose Rez Kids’s I’m Good, HBU?, Julian Taylor’s Beyond the Reservoir, Tears for Fears’ Tipping Point, the Sadies’ Colder Streams, Earl Sweatshirt’s Sick!, Weyes Blood’s And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Jason Collett’s Head Full of Wonder, the Weeknd’s Dawn FM, Selina Martin’s Time Spent Swimming, Julie Doiron and Dany Placard’s Julie & Dany, and, my favourite, Big Thief’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You.
As for top-notch songs, there are more than I could count. Fortunately, my editors only allow me to count to 10 (and in no particular order).
Kevin Morby: This is A Photograph
The sound from the American indie-rocker is hypnotic, looping Malian blues. The lyrics are inspired by a scrapbook and a sudden sense of mortality. The result is the musical version of a life flashed before one’s eyes: “This is what I’ll miss about being alive.”
Kendrick Lamar: Mother I Sober
On the penultimate song from the hip-hop auteur’s sprawling Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, the piano notes as well as the background vocals from Portishead’s Beth Gibbon are soft. Nothing else about this intense confession is.
Tanya Tagaq: Colonizer
There are two lines of repeated lyrics in this ominous sonic confrontation from the Inuit avant-garde star Tanya Tagaq: “Colonizer” and “Oh, you’re guilty.” Have a nice day.
The lead track from the Spanish superstar’s genre-colliding Motomami album moves slowly to an unstoppable groove and with a suggestion of reggaeton. The piano break seems like jazz parody, but all in good fun/chaos.
Steve Lacy: Bad Habit
Did we have a song of the summer? Did I miss it? When the 16-year-olds look back on 2022 two decades from now, this slice of light R&B sunshine will be the stuff of nostalgia-basking.
Gord Downie and Bob Rock: Lustre Parfait
Blow at High Dough, this ain’t. Recorded years ago and unearthed for a forthcoming album, Lustre Parfait is big, brassy and unabashedly commercial – this is the late Downie and producer Rock swinging for the fences.
Wet Leg: Ur Mom
Nobody does pop-rock insouciance more tunefully than the Brits. Ur Mom, the fifth single from the Isle of Wight quintet’s debut album, is peppy and slack simultaneously, with a New Wave flair that old Cars fans might appreciate.
A sultry slow burner conjures Bobbie Gentry and summertime Sundays. If he had heard the song, Billie Joe McAllister would have never jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.
Tyler Childers: Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? (Hallelujah version)
With this gospel-country number – imagine the Band in Appalachia instead of the Catskills – the neotraditional Kentuckian tells how he’d rather spend purgatory with his dogs than be in heaven alone.
Begonia: Right Here
Winnipeg’s Alexa Dirks found herself on tour, disconnected from friends. A funky, lurching and euphoric single from her forthcoming album Blue Powder makes up for all the phone calls and birthday parties the apologetic singer was too busy to attend to.