Nightsounds' Favorite Albums of 2022
War; disinformation; rangy and dyspeptic politics AND……… Great Music. Complicated times yield maximum songcraft. My thoughts and ramblings as we slowly evolve into a world of multiple, milder ever-present pandemics and commonplace mis and dis information. And this is just a smidgen…….. Get out there and listen!
Courtney Marie Andrews “Loose Future”
Light, charming country folk; Plenty of girl-group backup ‘oohs’ and lithe, simple pop-inflected song arrangements with an indie-ethereal country vibe – floating steel guitar and layered soothing vocals. A voice of slight ache, and an accent of country warble.
The compositions are inward looking, and nothing percolates above breezy, mid-tempo. Relaxed, ruminative, but focused. Nightsounds got hooked on the title track and the single “Satellite”, a song, maybe or maybe not, about finding the right someone and how lives orbit each other in tandem; or not. Elegantly simple lyrics such as; “You only call when it’s your love on the line.” (‘On the Line’).
Or this; “I’m not used to feeling good; I’m not used to feeling right; Maybe you can change my mind?” (‘Change My Mind’). Sums up the probing, forthright self-examination of a searcher.
The Delines “The Sea Drift”
When Willy Vluatin captained the band Richmond Fontaine, his sonic palette was more dynamic rock and subject matter tended toward isolation. Add wounded vocalist Amy Boone (between the last Delines’ album and this, she’d been struck by a car) to Vluatin’s love of artists like Bobbie Gentry and Tony Jo White and you get “The Sea Drift”; modern country-soul sea shantys? Not quite, but these are literate vignettes of characters between; on the edge; in inferred but unspecific distress.
Several astute reviewers have labelled the album cinematic, with quietly majestic arrangements augmented with splendid horn charts; brooding, haunted trumpet or clipped brass and reed blasts, and sinewy strings on songs like “Hold Me Slow”
The song “Drowning in Plain Sight” became a Nightsounds stable in 2022. Unvarnished novella of jarring and mundane domestic un-bliss lyrics such as; “I just want love to remind me that love can still find me, but hurry up, hurry up, hurry up-I feel like I’m drowning in plain sight.”
Vlautin has a novelist’s eye for circumstance and detail, and Boone’s languid and bruised lamentations are perfectly paired to dimly illuminate these characters inner dreams and bitter disappointments along the gulf coast. Prepare for sadness.
Weyes Blood “And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow”
With a cautious, affirmatively titled release, Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering), raises the bar on her brand of docile, undisguised soft-rock examinations of love and one’s place in this cruel, crazy beautiful world. The album’s ethos is contained in the lead track (“It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”) - positing; ‘Living in the wake of overwhelming changes; We’ve all become strangers; Even to ourselves”, exposing the universal misgivings we all share and endure in these times.
The music glistens with a sheen of 80’s & 90’s chamber and anthemic pop (modern refractions of Kate Bush or maybe Joni Mitchell) and a disguised foreboding – the subject matter of abandonment; contemplating a celestial reconstruction; Her voice is soft, ethereal; often double-tracked and the lush backgrounds are all billowing echoes of reverbing harps, strings and cushioned floating voices. Top notch to Nightsounds was “The Worst is Done”, a deceptively carefree melody, inching toward optimism over the course of six minutes, but ultimately concluding; “They say the worst is done; and it’s time to go out; grab onto someone; they say the worst is done; but I think the worst has yet to come.”
Joan Shelley “The Spur”
So pure a folk voice, a deep respect of nature and an omniscient eye for the world as personal, Louisville’s Joan Shelley is an American treasure. Here, her musical and life partner Nathan Salsburg adds his bewitching guitar and dull voice to these gems, and friend, producer and multi-instrumentalist James Elkington leavens all with minute and buoying flourishes.
The music is plainsong; unadorned folk with spare and biting wordplay to accompany these short stories; glimpses of life both adult and childlike;
“Walls fit and formed me; Humans sweetened and flawed me”; these word from “Home”, are allegory and legacy at once as she revisits a childhood house. “Thunder” can almost be called forceful with a subdued drumbeat retelling how she was ‘rolled’ by her lover. If you can’t smell the clover or spy her rural Kentucky landscapes of “Amberlit Morning”, well you might be beyond help.
This music is calm, even passive in its sneaking emotional impact. Rugged, intelligent and humane – a language of primitive elegance and a song cycle for life. This is how and why folk music survives and thrives.
Bonny Light Horseman “Rolling Golden Holy”
No matter how Bonny Light Horseman got together, let’s hope this release is not a ‘one-off’ (they claim it is not). Anais Mitchell is a solo artist and Tony Award-winning musical author of “Hadestown” and here she joins Eric Johnson, leader of the indie darlings Fruit Bats and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman.
A folksy, porch swing ease permeates this album; strummed six-strings and a dollop of plucked banjo; a fainting electric guitar figure intertwines here and there. The songs are reflective, vulnerable yet subtly a youthful expansion of the tried-and-true folk formula. Accessible, familiar and fresh all at once.
The Nightsounds were chock-full with BLH in each season with “Summer Dream”, evoking the humid languor of a mid-August evening; “Gone by Fall” with its gentle finger-picked melody and crisp three-part chorus recounting the June to October romance; on to the scouring fuzz guitar ballast of “Cold Rain and Snow” it’s descending phrase and lyrics begging “Where we gonna go?”
The Lone Bellow “Love Songs for Losers”-
Prepare for the personal, the tragic and the triumph – here come the stellar three-part harmonies of Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist; the Lone Bellow offer first-rate songwriting and generous, heartbreaking yet accordant music.
And to the trio’s credit, they continue to expand the sonic production palette that emerged on 2020’s “Half Moon Light”, which augmented their rootsy, folk-acoustic bedrock songcraft with a higher level of production – a trend refined herein. This hedges at anthemic indie-power rock at times; fist-pumping and punchy; pile driving tempos and roiling bass and drums.
The opener and terrific single “Honey “with its atmospheric, pulsing and floating synth bed and chiming guitars and booming bass drum is pure pop ingenuity and a future road trip anthem. Contrast this with the R&B horn blast of “Caught Me Thinking”; the original Lone Bellow recipe of ripe, gospely harmonies belting out loud and proud.
This record has a contrasting emotional core; parallel damaged souls and redeemed grace, with pulse-pounding delivery.
Also Noted: A Few of the Individual Songs of 2022 that Nightsounds' shared:
Wilco - “Falling Apart – Right Now” – Still more ‘Wilco’ than ‘country’ to these ears, but solid form Wilco.
Jana Pochop - “Headspin” – A mild and catchy head trip from a very nice album
Hurray for the Riff Raff “Jupiter’s Dance” – Clever track from an album Ms. Segarra calls ‘nature punk’.
Lyle Lovett - “12th of June” – Tender ode to the birth of his twins.
Nora O’Connor - “Grace” – Lovely ballad from Chicagoan who deserves a higher profile
Alela Diane - “Paloma” – Eloquent return after a four-year absence
First Aid Kit - “Out of My Head” – Swedish sisters rocking it on a fine release.
Luke Sital Singh - “Summer Somewhere” – Nightsounds staple from June to September
The Whitlams - “Nobody Knows I Love You”– Longtime listeners know I adore Tim Freedman and these blokes from Oz. Gnarly emotions and recovering from loss-again.
Father John Misty - “Goodbye Mister Blue” – Is Mr. Tillman really this sad; or just ironic?
Shakey Graves - “Ready or Not” – Instantly catchy sing-song with the great Sierra Ferrell
Cactus Blossoms - “ One Day” – Could be any of the songs from their 2022 release, and I know it’s an homage to the Everly Brothers – but the songs are plain solid.
Plains - “Problem with It” – Catchy collaboration of Waxahatchee & Jess Williamson
Dave Leonatti, Nightsounds
A favorite 2022 quote from musician Tim Freedman of The Whitlams:
“The easiest way to find meaning in life is to keep doing what you are actually quite good at and take a little bit of pleasure in occasionally being excellent”.