Open Mike Eagle
a tape called component system with the auto reverse
One of the world’s most exciting and unique rappers right now, Open Mike Eagle effortlessly communicates the giddy pleasures to be found in off-kilter, colorful underground hip-hop. Component System with the Auto Reverse might be his masterpiece, 14 tracks that kaleidoscopically tilt between whimsy, wisdom, and wonder. While solo cuts like “For DOOM” and “Crenshaw and Homeland” detail their creator’s free-association brilliance, features with the likes of RAP Ferriera and Aesop Rock and particularly Armand Hammer elevate Component System with the Auto Reverse to the level of 2022 hip-hop highlight. – Tom Morgan
Carly Rae Jepsen
The Loneliest Time
With her latest LP The Loneliest Time, a title undoubtedly inspired by periods of pandemic isolation, Carly Rae Jepsen’s wide range of diverse influences is still on display, but she’s the most mature and refined that she has ever sounded. Away from her family during the pandemic, Jepsen turned to songwriting to pass the time and started producing some of her most personal work. Kept in what she called a “cave of secrets” of songs she thought weren’t going to land, this would be the creative direction that would set the album’s pace.
The Loneliest Time stands out from its predecessors not only because of its depth, but its distinct lack of overtly bubblegum-pop offerings in order to gage some mainstream attention. This time around, however, Jepsen would rather devote time to promoting a disco collaboration with Rufus Wainwright than pander to the heteronormative pop music market that comprises people who still think she peaked with “Call Me Maybe”. Addressing grief, therapy, and toxicity in her latest work, The Loneliest Time solidifies Jepsen as the queer hero she was born to be, one who champions that being lonely doesn’t necessarily have to mean being alone. – Jeffrey Davies
There are a lot of discussions right now about post-genre music. Internet culture has collapsed stylistic boundaries, generating music that blends different forms into new alchemical creations. London’s Wu-Lu is an especially strong example of this trend. His debut for the esteemed Warp Records, LOGGERHEAD, is a wild fusion that journeys through disparate styles such as hip-hop, punk, grunge, and drum ‘n’ bass. Tracks like “Blame” and “Ten” feature what could be considered rapping, but of the most unorthodox kind. Better reference points would be the moody experimentalism of Ghostpoet or the uncategorizable Sleaford Mods. It’s a compelling and unique album that pushes hip-hop to its furthest edges. – Tom Morgan
Breaking the Thermometer
Now and then, an album comes along that speaks to and enacts the cultural power of music with its attendant abilities to name, liberate, and root self-identification over and against the forces that seek to suppress it. Leyla McCalla’s deft and profound 2022 album, Breaking the Thermometer, is such a work. The album was conceived out of an invitation by Duke University to the classical and folk musician. The university approached McCalla to develop a multi-disciplinary project exploring the school’s custodianship of the archives of Radio Haiti, which in 1971 became the first media outlet of the island nation to broadcast in Kreyòl, the language of the overwhelming percentage of the population.
McCalla combines samples of the archival recordings from Radio Haiti with natural ocean sounds, personal recordings between her and her mother, and classical and indigenous folk instruments in a polyphonic, intertextual commentary on place and its power. The album combines original compositions with traditional Haitian folk songs. Leyla McCalla moves between English and Kreyòl lyrics in a performative testament to her journey of discovery and a lesson to her listeners of the deep Afro-Caribbean streams within American roots music. It is a complex and rewarding work of art that—among its multiple acts of witness—testifies to Leyla McCalla’s immense talent and promise as an artist. – Rick Quinn
Gang of Youths
Angel in Realtime
(Mosy / Warner)
The string sections soar and crash. The lithe guitar hooks feel ready to back stadium sing-alongs. Yet behind the musical confidence that exudes out of Angel in Realtime, the brilliant and endlessly replayable third full-length from Australia’s Gang of Youths, there is a deep sense of uncertainty. Following lead singer David Le’aupepe’s father passing in 2018, a routine sifting through his belongings revealed that his father lied about a lot of his life, partly as a means of protecting his family and partly for reasons unknown.
Le’aupepe explores these emotions in full, his gorgeous lyrics oscillating between admiration and confusion, all while the band sets his thoughts against densely layered compositions that are as thrilling as they are empathetic. Yet Le’aupepe’s lyrics are the star here, as nothing captures the feeling of reverent grief quite like “[chasing] the morsels of your voice,” as he states in the opener “You in Everything”. Whether balladry or fuzz-rock, the specificity of Gang of Youths’ journey through a family past gives it universal appeal. We all see ourselves in Le’aupepe’s story and are going through his own pain and questions in realtime. – Evan Sawdey
Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Denzel Curry had become known for his voices. From grizzly guttural growls to high-pitched cartoon tones to staid and solemn mid-range flow, Curry’s diverse inflections proved divisive: a deterrent to some, a highlight for others. Often hiding behind concept records that paid homage to oft-neglected rap subgenres like horrorcore, Curry’s reverence for his craft was so intense it prevented some people from knowing who the real Denzel Curry was. Melt My Eyez See Your Future fixes this in a huge way, announcing itself as a record that’s unafraid to be contemporary while still retaining Curry’s oddball lyrical sensibility.
The sparse and hypnotic beat to “Walkin'” makes for one of 2022’s best rap singles, and the backpacker beats keep tracks like “Ain’t No Way” sounding timeless. Yet even with guest spots from Slowthai and T-Pain, Curry is the star of the show, and even with the voices toned down and his lyrics more focused, Curry will always be one of the genre’s most ardent scholars. Few rappers could conceive of a line as dexterous as “Run the jewels ‘cos I kill a Mic on any LP,” much less deliver it with pizazz, but this wild, political, comical, and brilliant Denzel Curry proves he’s only now coming into his prime. – Evan Sawdey
The New Faith
The New Faith is as multisided in its musical composition as in its human nuances. As an exploration of Black roots music, it excels as Jake Blount always has; since he first started perking ears with his adroit fiddle, he has made it a point to highlight the whitewashed history behind the traditional folk music that he often showcases. But here, it’s a deeper dig.
A queer, Black folk artist and scholar, Blount calls himself as an “unlikely devotee” to Christianity in the record’s liner notes. The New Faith is reverent in its religious emphasis but with an Afrofuturist lean. The story is told not just through song but from the pulpit. Blount delivers speeches during intermissions telling the tale of Black pioneers—people who have survived the environmental destruction of the world as we know it and are revisiting vintage roots songs through new eyes.
It’s deeply spiritual, musically rich, and not quite like anything that’s come before it. Blount expertly weaves elements of folk, gospel, blues, and more into a hopeful, unsettling, idiosyncratic package. Coming along for the ride is a captivating drama told through vignettes and song—and by connecting this post-apocalyptic future with our present, Blount presents at his most ingeniously human. As a concept album, The New Faith presents discomforting truths told through fable—and as a strictly musical experience, it sure does sound good. – Jonathan Frahm
Reason to Smile
One of the most exciting talents in UK music right now, Kojey Radical, is making a bid for stardom. The East Londoner is both versatile and productive and seems to have featured on endless streams of music, art, and fashion collaborations over the last few years. His ambitious music blurs the lines between myriad contemporary UK rap styles as well as funk and neo-soul – a fluidity brilliantly exemplified by Reason to Smile. The album contains countless highlights and surprises, from the bouncy, optimistic tone to its numerous guest features. This is the first major full-length release by this soon-to-be major artist. – Tom Morgan
God Save the Animals
Alex G has never shied away from the most perplexing phenomena of human existence with his music, nor has he bristled at orchestrating a monogeneric catalog of records that refuse to adhere to a sole style, theme, or attitude. That’s why God Save the Animals, his ninth studio album, comes across as striking as it does. It’s not that Giannascoli, the 29-year-old internet prodigy, has forgone his past and arrived at a new mode of creating music. It’s just that here he’s honed his craft down to its most unparalleled essence, focusing on the production idiosyncrasies and audacious lyricism that make him shine in an oversaturated singer-songwriter minefield.
On God Save the Animals, animals—and all the ways are and aren’t just like we humans—take center stage. “Mission” and “Miracles” teem with references to man’s best friend. “Runner” stands out as a folksy alternative rock song that marches along purposefully, detailing Giannascoli’s admiration for whom we can only assume is a friend or lover before tossing out, “They hit you with a rolled-up magazine” like a bad dog, re-contextualizing everything that’d come before.
The album is filled with similar moments of introspection and existential queries as well as subtle, peculiar production embellishments that elevate the record to something that’s both human not, animal yet machine. While the notion of God floats conspicuously within the title, Giannascoli’s preoccupations are less spiritual in nature than concerned with the intimate world around him. “I pray for the children and the sinners and the animals too,” he sings toward the end of the album, before adding, with fear and love battling for dominance in his voice, “And I, I pray for you.” – Michael Savio
Weather Alive might be Beth Orton’s quietest album in the more than 25 years since her gold-selling solo debut. It may also be her most dramatic, and her best. Self-produced during the pandemic lockdown from beginnings picked out on an upright piano in a shed in her garden, the album’s eight long songs are hushed, imbued with the natural world, and radiate despair, solitude, and a craving for connection. Opener “Weather Alive” and closer “Unwritten”, each of which clocks in at over seven minutes, beautifully channel the meandering grandeur of Van Morrison’s experimental 1980s period, from “Haunts of Ancient Peace” to “Hymns to the Silence”.
But Orton’s truncated growl swallows the words into the rivetingly spare arrangements rather than floating over them, especially in the dark, foreboding sequence of four songs from “Haunted Satellite” to “Arms Around a Memory”. A repeating piano motif and saxophone promise a bit of swing and respite in “Lonely”. Instead, the growl resolves into a harrowing repeated invocation of the title word. In between are two more conventionally dazzling songs: “Friday Night”, with a bass line and a lyric that seem to unfurl magically and ironically into Proust out of a single line in Bruce Springsteen’s early epic masterpiece “Incident on 57th Street” about a band upstairs, and the funky outlier “Fractals”, which punches back and forth between despair and belief. Memory has seldom offered so little consolation. And isolation has seldom sounded so welcoming. – David Pike