Saturday, December 31, 2022

F & L Best of 2022

Hey! We've all made it through another year! Let's take a moment to appreciate that. We are heading full-speed into 2023, and landmark albums I seemingly just reviewed yesterday (Night Birds' Born To Die In Suburbia, The Connection's Let It Rock) will be celebrating their 10th anniversaries. And I'm not ready to accept that The Queers' Love Songs for the Retarded is about to be a 30-year-old album. My god, where does the time go? 

As I sit down to write my 12th annual end-of-the-year post, I'm already agonizing over all the great music I won't be mentioning. I have no evidence to back this up, but I'm guessing that more music was released in 2022 than any other year ever. And so much of it was exceptional. There are certainly dozens of releases I didn't hear that are just as good as the ones I'll be highlighting today. Today's underground music universe is truly massive, and I can only claim to be knowledgeable about a tiny portion of it. Even within my lane of punk, garage, and power pop, I'm only covering a fraction of the great stuff that's out there. That said, there were at least 50 albums I seriously considered for my top 30. Suffice it to say that this is an incredible time to be into music. The purpose of this post, as always, is to curate the music I enjoyed the most throughout the year in the hopes that you'll dig some of it. Think of this as my 2022 digital mixed tape for the world. So let's get to it! 

Top 30 Albums of 2022

30. Real Tears - Whipped Dreams
Super-catchy power pop/punk has been a go-to style for me for decades, and these Swedes are masters of the craft.

29. Freak Genes - Hologram
Somehow Freak Genes released a new album this year that I failed to write about. Today I correct that oversight. Charlie and Andrew are back to pose this essential question: How much longer can we live if we're only an image? Now that's deep! A+ synth-pop from the UK.

28. Breaklights - Wind Down
Brilliant full-length debut from this long-running Austin-based punk group gives '90s pop-punk a fresh updating. 

27. Kevin Stevenson - Reality Alley
The long, long awaited solo debut from the former Shods singer finds one of our most underappreciated modern-day songwriters blending numerous genres with a master's touch. 

The debut album from Hobart, Tasmania's RABBIT builds on the power pop/punk promise of its debut single while also venturing into new territory. A quintessential work of Aussie punk.

25. Vista Blue - Stay Gold
One of my favorite bands does a full album tribute to the classic novel/film The Outsiders? Only a soc would not love it!

24. The Chats - Get Fucked  
The Chats have achieved such a level of fame and notoriety that it's no longer necessary for this humble blog to review their records. But don't think I'm not still paying attention. The Chats have moved past their viral sensation phase and turned into an absolute steamroller of kick-ass punk rock. Get Fucked is a brilliant record.

23. The Black Halos - How the Darkness Doubled
Having reunited a few years back, o.g. Halos Billy Hopeless, Rich Jones, and Jay Millette finally deliver the proper follow-up to their classic album The Violent Years. And it does not disappoint.

22. The Young Hasselhoffs - Life Got In The Way
Back with their first new music in 11 years, The Young Hasselhoffs put on a clinic on how to make a genuinely great mature pop-punk record. Jay Prozac, who knows a thing or two about how to excel as a veteran pop-punk musician, named this his favorite album of 2022.   

21. Brad Marino - Basement Beat
I'm not always big on Ramones clone records, but Brad Marino has managed to produce one of the best Ramones clone records ever made. It literally sounds like a missing Ramones record circa 1977.

20. Trevor Blendour - Falling In Love
I'm always a sucker for pop-punk with a doo wop/early rock and roll influence. Falling In Love is almost the reverse of that. Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and the early Beatles are at the forefront here with power pop and pop-punk influences seeping in. "Carly Please" is one of the greatest pop songs I've heard in years.

As the title suggests, this album is Extra Arms' reaction to the unprecedented strangeness of 2020-21. Sidelined by a pandemic, the band finally came roaring back in 2022 with these ten tracks of powerful rocking pop. Yeah, the world is fucked. But things are always better when you can pump your fist in the air and shout along to a catchy chorus.

18. Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men - Heart Inside Your Head
On his second album with The Complicated Men, Nick Piunti cements his status as a master craftsman of melody-driven rock music. Heart Inside Your Head has a little bit of everything: power pop rockers, pure pop songs, and even a few ballads that would be monster hits if Adult Contemporary Radio were still a thing.

17. Klazo - 'Demik Dementia
How can just two people kick up this kind of racket? Wild and dangerous rock and roll from up north that will batter you senseless and leave you begging for more.

16.  The Trouble Seekers - self titled
Kevin McGovern (ex The Prostitutes) and Hillary Burton (honeychain, The Pandoras) team up to create something so new and different that words don't do it justice. Is this post-punk? Experimental punk? Synth-punk? Dark wave? Original, daring, and mind-blowing stuff. Do not miss the Madonna cover!

15. More Kicks - Punch Drunk
James Sullivan has long been one of the finest songwriters in the power pop/punk rock scene. On Punch Drunk, he and his bandmates are all over the place with influences (Brit-pop, indie rock, new wave) yet still deliver, in broad terms, a brilliant power pop album.

14. New Brutarians - Hysteria
Favorites of this blog since the dawn of COVID, the New Brutarians were finally able to release their debut album in 2022 (on the venerable Alien Snatch Records, no less!). Hysteria features 11 (or 12) tracks of proto-punk/glam/pop art goodness from this dynamic duo out of Florida. 

13. Beach Patrol - Festivus
This is my fifth time putting Beach Patrol on one of my "top albums of the year" lists. This is becoming quite a tradition. This band never gets enough acclaim, although I doubt Domenic is seeking that anyway. His focus is on writing songs, and what a songwriter he is. I feel like every time a new Beach Patrol album comes into my life, I become smarter and wiser.

On its full-length debut, this Berlin-based band delivers 11 tracks of energetic old style punk that will have you dancing because you want to.

11. Norcos Y Horchata - Forever Disheveled
This debut album from the Detroit-based trio fronted by Amado Movado is a quintessential Midwestern rock and roll record. If you like catchy punk tunes with gruff vocals and all kinds of heart, this album is for you. I envision it playing non-stop at every Coney dog joint in southeastern Michigan. 

10. Miss Georgia Peach - Aloha from Kentucky
I would not ordinarily give such a high ranking to an album that's 80 percent covers. But Aloha from Kentucky is not an ordinary covers album. Backed by an all-star band that includes her husband Travis Ramin and several members of Nine Pound Hammer/Nashville Pussy, MGP has crafted a love letter to the country music of the 1960s and '70s. I wore out this CD in my car player, and I was pumped to hear there's a sequel in the works!

9. Lorne Behrman - A Little Midnight
Behrman, an extraordinary guitarist in the punk world for decades, proves himself to be an equally exceptional songwriter on this stunning debut album. Seriously: this man is a poet! A Little Midnight is full of profound, deeply moving songs that bring to mind the art/punk fusion of 1970s New York. If "Black Cars" doesn't move you to tears, you might be a robot.

8. The Cheap Cassettes - Ever Since Ever Since
This album came out so early in 2022 that a lot of people might have forgotten about it. I wasn't going to make that mistake. If you want to hear some great American power pop rock and roll, look no further.

7. Split System - Vol. 1
Aussie punk super-group makes a vintage Aussie punk album. Essential listening!

6. The Melmacs - Good Advice
As promised, this Leipzig/Dresden based foursome dispenses all kinds of good life advice on this absolute gem of a power pop/punk record.

5. The Chelsea Curve - All the Things
Arriving on the heels of last year's remarkable run of singles, All the Things was every bit the blockbuster debut album I was expecting from this Boston-based mod-pop trio.

4. The Airport 77s - We Realize You Have a Choice
Call it power pop or pop rock or new wave revival or whatever you like. There is no band doing it better.

3. Shanda & The Howlers - It Ain't Easy
The Howlers' third album is an old school r & b/soul record that can stand toe-to-toe with the classics it emulates. That only happens if you've got a powerhouse singer, a massively gifted songwriter, and exceptional musicians. Check, check, and check!

2. The Speedways - Talk of the Town
On its third album, the most prominent power pop band of recent times has somehow managed to typify power pop and transcend it at the same time. If you love the more cinematic side of The Speedways (as I do), you've got to be digging the direction this album takes.

1. Hayley and the Crushers - Modern Adult Kicks
As was the case two years ago, my top two albums came down to The Speedways and Hayley and the Crushers. Both bands followed up their 2020 efforts in remarkable fashion. But what Hayley, Reid, and friends have done with Modern Adult Kicks is something special. They channeled the trials and tribulations of pandemic misery into a grown-up punk/pop record that's powerful and profound yet still a lot of fun. And it's not really about two or three standout tracks; it's about a full album of excellent songs that flow into one another perfectly. If Modern Adult Kicks makes it sound like Hayley and the Crushers have fast-forwarded ten years since 2020, that's because we all have. This album doesn't wallow in misery, but it confronts some heavy stuff...all the while reminding us to keep dancing no matter what happens. 

Honorable mentions:
It caused me great pain and misery to omit the following, so please check them out:
Mikey Erg - Love At Leeds
Ricky Rat - Ghosts of Isolation
Outtacontroller - Come Alive

Top 15 EPs of 2022

15. Vista Blue - No Cliques, No Trends
"Remember those guys who said we're wasting our time? 'The only songs worth writing are about girls.' They might not understand things like sabermetrics, but they should give it a whirl."

14. Continental Lovers - Dale Arden
Spectacular up-and-coming band from Nottingham, UK plays power pop influenced '77 glam punk that is right up my alley.

13. Chinese Junk - Raw Deal
London's "kings of pound shop rock" turn out an EP that sounds like the best thing Rip Off Records never released. With songs about dead-end towns, poverty, cheating girlfriends, and X-ray vision, this is fun for the entire family.

12. the SUCK - The America 2021 EP
Even if you ordinarily pass on bands' "COVID" releases, this one from the world champions of street rock is well worth your time. It could have alternately been titled the SUCK Drink Beer, which I suppose is true of all this band's releases.   

11. The Sad Tomorrows - self titled
New Jersey punk veterans get together to revive the heyday of poppy, punky alternative rock. RIYL Husker Du, Lemonheads, and early Goo Goo Dolls.

10. The Neuros - self titled
Another incredible Aussie punk band. Who could have imagined that?

9. MOM - Fun 'N' Games
Four more unshakeable gems from the most pop band on the planet.

8. The Ergs! - Renovations
Oddly enough, I like this Ergs! country record even more than the more classically Ergs-ish Time and the Season EP. Who knows if we'll ever get more Ergs! music, so I'm enjoying both.

7. TJ Cabot - SD Action EP
I really could have put any of this year's TJ Cabot EPs in this slot. If Tyler had thought to compile his EP trilogy into a single digital LP, he would have had a top 20 album! Classic DIY budget punk trash from Tyler's laptop to your bleeding ears. "SD Action" is an anthem for our times and all others.  

6. The Battlebeats - Get Lost
With the recent breakup of Phone Jerks, I've challenged Andresa Nugraha and his one-man show to fill the vacancy of greatest garage punk band on Earth. Expect a televised coronation soon.

5. Nasty Party - Monochromatic TV
Political punk/new wave from Sydney that will get you fired up and dancing to boot.

4. The Dogmatics - Drop That Needle
One of my favorite garage/punk/rock and roll bands of all-time is sounding just as good in 2022 as it did in the '80s.

3. Slow Faction - Culture and Other Wars
I had a hard time deciding if this was an album or EP. It only has six songs, but the running time is 25 minutes. And in the digital age, does it really matter what you call it? Either way, Culture & Other Wars finds Slow Faction doing what Slow Faction does best: classic style punk rock that rages against the rising tide of fascism. At a time when "social justice warrior" has become a putdown, I'm thrilled to hear Slow Faction wearing it as a badge honor.

2. The Prize - Wrong Side of Town
Of course people in our underground punk/power pop community went absolutely crazy for this record. Wrong Side of Town is the most promising debut release I've heard in some time. The Prize brings together elements of punk, power pop, and straight-up rock and roll in a way that's absolutely thrilling. Please make another record soon! 

1. The Sorels - Love Your Rock N' Roll
I've long considered The Sorels the best band on the planet that hasn't made a full-length album. 2022 did not bring us a Sorels LP, but it did find the band doubling its recorded output with the four-track release Love Your Rock N' Roll. If you only buy one release from this entire blog post, I'd encourage you to make it this one. If The Shangri-Las had been reborn as a glam rock band and made a punk record in 1977, it would have sounded an awful lot like this. Will 2023 finally bring us that Sorels album? A man can dream!

Top 15 Singles of 2022

15. Culture Trap - "Different Kind Of Summer"
Debut single from Helsinki-based foursome is a quintessential blast of punk/power pop.

Everyone's favorite '80s themed new wave band is back with a love letter to independent radio.

13. The Jacklights - "Womanchild"/"Underachiever"
Two more great cuts of melodic punk from this Boston trio present youthful hubris and the wisdom of maturity as two sides of the same coin.

12. The Keefs -"Dim City Nights"
Delaware's premiere punk rock and roll hitmakers blow your head off with their first new studio tracks in eight years. Does Randy America's appearance on lead guitar make this authentic Detroit rock? 

11. Candy Snatchers - "Shame Shivers"
As part of I-94 Recordings' "Detroit B-side covers" series, the almighty Candy Snatchers return with new music for the first time in over a decade...and absolutely kill it!

10. Tommy Ray! - "Everyway I'm Moving"
The former Cry! front-man continues to excel at writing perfect pop songs that are like bitter pills with sweet candy shells.

9. Muck and the Mires - "Beat Revolution" 
If you wanna listen to the sounds you've been missin', be sure to volunteer today!

8. Dirt Royal - "Shoot Me Now"
A brilliant slice of political commentary meets mod/punk/power pop earworm from this Brighton-based trio.

7. Kurt Baker - "Move Up" 
Kurt Baker goes disco, and I am here for it!

6. Guerrilla Teens - "Halfway To Maybe"
The long-awaited proper debut from Scott "Deluxe" Drake's new outfit featuring ex Humpers/Lovesores and some other PDX punk superstars. Come on: you know it's gotta be great!

5. Andrea Gillis - "About a Girl"
Andrea Gillis is such an incredible singer and performer that her songwriting talents are sometimes overlooked. They shouldn't be. For the second year in a row, she delivers one of the year's most magnificent singles. 

4. The Kickboy - "Kids"
Pure punk rock from the first state. This band is gonna make serious noise in 2023.

3. The Crankees - "Punch the Boss"
Another great Aussie band delivering the feelgood hit of the year. The B-side smokes as well.

2. Miesha and the Spanks - "I Can't Wait"/"Dig Me Out"
Am I cheating here because both of these songs were separate digital singles? No way! Jamie at Reta Records got them pressed onto one slab of 7" vinyl, making this the ultimate double A-side release.

1. Natalie Sweet and Brad Marino - "Second Time"/"Over My Head"
Wasn't I just talking about Reta Records and double A-sides? Two of my favorite people in music made a record together, and there was just no way it wasn't going to be a power pop/punk sensation. Rum Bar Records partnered with Reta Records to bring this dream team-up into the world. Fingers crossed that this duo isn't done making music!

2022 Song of the Year
Norcos Y Horchata - "Almost Lost My Thumb (to the Pinewood Derby)"
This song was released very early in 2022. And while many more great songs came along throughout the year, "Almost Lost My Thumb (to the Pinewood Derby)" stuck with me as my favorite. First of all, I don't think a catchier chorus could ever be written. More importantly, this song has heart. It tells a true story, and it's a tribute to Amado's grandfather. Very few of us might be able to relate to nearly dismembering ourselves with an exceptionally sharp knife, but almost all of us have a memory of a grandparent being like a superhero to us. Having an actual chorus of kids sing backing vocals was the perfect icing on the cake. This song makes me feel proud to be a human being.

2022 Master Class Album of the Year 
Hoodoo Gurus - Chariot of the Gods
On their first new album in 12 years, the legendary Hoodoo Gurus still sound like a band in its prime. 

Best Compilation Album of 2022 (Single Artist)
Stars Like Ours - self-titled
Boston-based trio Stars Like Ours will take you back to the early '90s, when indie rock and college radio ruled. Collecting three EPs released from 2015 through 2018, this flows like a true album — one I might have worn out on cassette in my dorm room 30 years ago!

Best Compilation Album of 2022 (Various Artists)
Released by the legendary Sympathy for the Record Industry and curated & produced by the illustrious Travis Ramin with the full blessing of The Go-Go's themselves, this is truly a tribute worthy of one of the greatest and most influential bands to ever exist. Vinyl still coming! 

Best Reissue of 2022
Tina and the Total Babes - She's So Tuff
Courtesy of Surfin' Ki Records and Rum Bar Records, my favorite album of the 21st Century finally got its 20th anniversary reissue 21 years after its release. This is one of the greatest power pop albums ever made, and its influence on the modern power pop revival is undeniable. If you hustle, you can probably still order it on vinyl. This was the year of Travis Ramin! 

Best Music Video of 2022
The Shang Hi Los - "Takes One To Know One"
Joan Hathaway is a genius.

Best Record Label of 2022
This one was an easy call. Just look at my lists. Both my #1 EP and top two singles of the year were released by Reta Records. What Jamie has been doing with the label over the years is incredible. She only works with bands she loves, and she only releases 7" vinyl (in all kinds of cool colors!). Most importantly, there's a taste factor there where if I know she's working with a band, that's a band I need to hear. If I had gone deeper than 15 picks for my top singles list this year, QWAM would have made the cut for sure! If you're not already following Reta Records on the socials, be sure to do so now so you don't miss the next exciting release!

Well, there you have it. 2022 was full of excellent music, and it has been my pleasure to highlight some of it. If you enjoyed my end-of-the-year post, I encourage you to also check out the best-of-2022 wrap-ups from the likes of Scott Hudson at The Ledge, Mick Fletcher at Just Some Punk Songs, and Dennis & Niek at Add To Wantlist. All of these individuals listen to way more new music than I do and truly have their fingers on the pulse of what's shaking in underground music. Bring on 2023! I wish you all a happy and fulfilling New Year and apologize if I've caused you to go broke buying records. 

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