A couple of years ago, I was accepted into a Facebook Group called “Village Voice Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll,” which for someone like me – a guy who dreamed at age 15 of becoming the record reviews editor of Rolling Stone magazine – was like a dream come true. For the uninitiated, Pazz & Jop was begun by Robert Christgau in 1971, took a couple of years off, and then ran in the Voice annually from 1974 through the late 2010s, whenever it was that the once-great periodical finally bit the dust for good. An indispensable archive of poll results can be found on Christgau’s website.
The way that P&J worked, each participant had 100 points to distribute to 10 albums, with a maximum per-album allocation of 30 and a minimum of five. During the time that Greil Marcus participated in the poll , he was always open about the fact that he’d award 30 points to an album (for example, Bryan Ferry’s 1978 The Bride Stripped Bare) just to give it a boost in the final rankings. Others took the “10 albums, 10 points each” approach, and a third group would painstakingly attempt to assign the exactly appropriate number of points to each of the albums on their list. People who know me well will not be surprised to hear that I fall into the third group.
This year was really hard. In 2021, I had difficulty coming up with 10 albums that truly fit the definition of what I would normally call a Top Ten candidate, but this year there were probably two dozen albums that fit the bill. Complicating matters, SZA had to go and release one of the year’s best records A WEEK AGO, which required some additional thought on my part. But without further ado, presenting my Top Ten Albums of 2022:
Beyoncé, RENAISSANCE – 20 points
Mountain Goats, Bleed Out – 17
Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man – 12
Lizzo, Special – 11
SZA, SOS – 10
Wet Leg, S/T – 8
Drive-By Truckers, Welcome to Club XIII – 7
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers – 5
Miranda Lambert, Palomino – 5
The Paranoid Style, For Executive Meeting – 5
Random thoughts on the Top Ten:
· From the very first time I listened to the new Beyoncé, I suspected that it would be my #1 – but I didn’t realize how close an album would come to pushing it out of the top spot, which Bleed Out nearly did.
· Mountain Goats, like Drive-By Truckers before them, is a band to which I’m a late convert, but now I realize that I’ve really given them short shrift over the years.
· Amanda Shires has been great for a while, but she really took a quantum leap forward on the new album.
· It is nearly impossible to resist the overall positivity of the Lizzo experience, and in doing so one can have a few laughs along the way.
· Wet Leg and The Paranoid Style both made me feel like I was back in Cheney Hall at UC Berkeley (Spoiler Alert: it was a long time ago).
· Miranda Lambert continued the groundbreaking (and I’d argue under-noticed) work she’s been doing for well more than a decade now.
· DBT had scored in recent years with a series of acutely political albums, and it was a bit of a relief to hear them take the foot off that gas pedal for a bit.
· And, last but certainly not least – I don’t know I’ve spoken to or read anyone who thinks Mr. Morale is Kendrick Lamar’s best album, but the highs are incredibly high (see below for evidence of that).
The next ten, which in another year might have easily cracked my Top Ten:
Willie Nelson – A Beautiful Time
Bruce Springsteen – Only the Strong Survive
Maren Morris – Humble Quest
Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature
Taylor Swift – Midnights
Danielle Ponder – Some of Us Are Brave
Laura Benitez and the Heartache – California Centuries
Soccer Mommy – Sometimes Forever
Arcade Fire – WE
Sunny Sweeney – Married Alone
And some honorable mentions, in no particular order:
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain
The Black Keys – Dropout Boogie
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
Jack White – Entering Heaven Alive
Dylan Triplett – Who is He?
The Vandoliers – S/T
Loudon Wainwright III – Lifetime Achievement
Chris Canterbury – Quaalude Lullabies
Courtney Marie Andrews – Loose Future
Ashley MacBryde Presents: Lindeville
Plains – I Walked With You a Way
Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
Angel Olsen – Big Time
Chris Isaak – Everybody Knows It’s Christmas
Since I’m on a roll, my Top Ten Songs of 2022:
Kendrick Lamar (feat. Beth Gibbons) – Mother I Sober. Triumphant transformation.
Taylor Swift – Anti-Hero. The earworm and catch phrases of the year.
Lizzo – About Damn Time. Out on the dance floor – now!
Wet Leg – Chaise Longue. “Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother?” was the line of the year.
Laura Benitez and the California Heartache – Plaid Shirt. Just your everyday instant classic country breakup song.
Beyoncé – Virgo’s Groove. NSFW, and I learned that the hard way.
Drive-By Truckers – The Driver. In seven minutes, a distillation of everything they do best.
Bruce Springsteen – Night Shift. How had I forgotten what a great song this is?
Angel Olsen – All the Good Times. Dusty Springfield, meet Tammy Wynette.
SZA – Blind. Also NSFW, but quite likely the best verbal interplay of the year.
And what the heck, since I never got around to posting it this year, here’s my Top Ten of 2021:
1. James McMurtry, The Horses and the Hounds
2. Liz Phair, Soberish
3. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant, Raise the Roof
4. Aimee Mann, Queens of the Summer Hotel
5. Lana Del Rey, Blue Banisters
6. Sleater-Kinney, Path of Wellness
7. Courtney Barnett, Things Take Time, Take Time
8. Hayes Carll, You Get It All
9. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Georgia Blue
10. Mickey Guyton, Remember Her Name
Rock on! See you in 2023.