Maverick Life


The year in music 2022 — wrapping up or mopping up?

The year in music 2022 — wrapping up or mopping up?
Orville Peck performs onstage at the Hinterland Music Festival on August 07, 2021 in St. Charles, Iowa. Image: by Rich Fury / Getty Images

Jay Savage summarises his top tracks and delves into the artistry behind some of this year’s must-listen music.

Last year at this time — as global pandemic panic was just beginning to recede and something like a ‘life’ was just crazy enough for the optimistic amongst us to consider might be in store in the coming year — I took an immodest, impudent, entirely impotent, quixotic swipe at the music digital service providers (DSPs) generally and one platform in particular

I was righteous and indignant at said music/tech platform’s annual year-end ‘Wrapped’, a juggernaut of a crisply digestible but creepily invasive, sinister surveillance-based algorithmic capsule of our yearlong music preferences, listening patterns, fetishes and lapses of taste, not to mention the distressing data on how much time was spent in distracted procrastination avoiding all the constructive important stuff we should — but will never — get around to.

I wrote in Daily Maverick how this grotesque, generational broadside was vulgarising our musical appreciation or experience and cheapening in every sense — and specifically, for the creators of music, the material sense. Impudent and impotent yes — irrational too — I took on the task of trying to “Swat-a-fly” with an omelette. Virtually, an omelette.

This year — indeed, a fortnight or so ago — my updated listening diagnosis arrived again. Unsolicited and equally as unwelcome. An unwanted gift. And you can’t return it. The machine imparted all manner of data designed (in any case managing) to reduce you to the single grain of sand you are on a vast, vast beach. There was little I didn’t know, much, much less I needed to, and only two items I’ll share here. 

One, my favourite song of the year turned out to be the one I listened to … most times!

And two, I was heartily congratulated, complimented, and praised (by a programme that would have spent, what — a 200th of a blink of an eye? — on analysing the data) for my wide-ranging listening tastes. I had in point of data-fact listened to 41 genres (!) this past year. I was heralded as an “Adventurer”! I am suitably flattered. Of course, had I listened to two or even only one, I would surely have been lauded as a “true believer” or perhaps “heroically loyal and dedicated”. 

So, once again, in the spirit of mortal discovery — which is to say as a weary goddamn adventurer — I’ve selected a dozen songs that I, as a more-or-less living being with unreliable tastes, recommend and present here for your curiosity and delight. These are in no particular order save for my #1 song (as chosen by me and confirmed on the “What-a-lie” music delivery platform) which is …

Orville Peck: Kalahari Down” 

Orville Peck injected mystery and flair into the year and was almost alone in doing that (the only other performer to excite similarly was Rosalía). Kalahari Down”, epic and cinematically sweeping in its tale of awakening gay love in the bushveld, went where many a song has gone before but where only the rarest, great ones get better and more heartbreaking with each repeated play.

Rosalía: “Chicken Teriyaki” 

In a way the spiritual first cousin of Orville Peck, Rosalía straddled trad genres and burst through a panoply of orthodoxies with defiant, disruptive vigour. Terrifically, wickedly addictive Rosalía joins Orville in namechecking Kawasaki, likely doing for the motorcycle what Snoop Dogg did for Tanqueray Gin (on Gin And Juice) all those years ago on his first album.

Peter Doherty: You Can’t Keep It From Me Forever / Robert Forster: Tender Years

The Libertines and The Go-Betweens are two of the very last pop bands that inspired and were worthy of adoration and communal obsessiveness. Peter Doherty and Robert Forster were both the more literary talents in bands that had two lead singers and to find them so far down the line and in such splendid form is warmly reassuring to their diehard followers. Both tunes are contained humbly within their songwriting and are delightfully ‘old-fashioned’; they do nothing novel except yield the pleasures of the romantic, economic sweep of the short story: over quickly, long to be savoured and needing revisiting.

aboynamedblu: “You Don’t Cry Enough” 

The Cape Town-based artist who performs as aboynamedblu released a series of high quality, anxious and frequently beautiful eps in the past year, all restlessly chasing new paths. There are at least five songs that could have been selected here and I’m settling on the Slowthai/Cure-flavoured “You Don’t Cry Enough”. There were few more arresting and intriguing new arrivals since the lockdown era — the assured, spiky pop sensibility of aboynamedblu is startling and nearly fully realised and could be massive a year from now.

Joe Unknown: “Silent”  

The UK poet/rapper burns through these 150 seconds with deadpan pace and ferocity, his lightning delivery fired out seemingly without breaking a sweat. The beat and brakes chase Joe Unknown down and the lasting sense is of each outdrawing the other. Exhilarating.

Benjamin Fisher: “What it Was” 

The Cape Town musical prodigy has the full creative toolbox — talent, skill, charisma and drive. On only his second single listeners quickly identified something nostalgic and authentic in his sound — “I just need to go back to what it was…” — the 21-year-old singing in a voice that belies his youth. His sound is in fact more “classic” than nostalgic but it is authentic. A great swelling wave of a song that never breaks, the singer doesn’t show his hand. For now, however, he remains South Africa’s best-kept secret.

Young Fathers: “I Saw”  

Young Fathers have been making deliriously uncategorisable music for nearly a decade (they cite Enya and Suicide as equal influences) and it feels like the trio is just getting going, certainly not settling down. For this listener, they deliver what The Weeknd promised and hinted at but in the end, could not follow through on. “I Saw” feels — like much of their output — at once transgressive and soulful, menacing and inviting. You’ll want to listen again.

Felix Laband: “Snug Retreat”  

In 2022 the very storied career of Felix Laband scaled a new creative peak with the sprawling magnum opus that is “Soft White Hand”, his most fully realised and cohesive album to date; it demands to be listened to from start to finish in one sitting (the way great works from Beethoven to the long player Beatles do). That said, “Snug Retreat” is the perfect single and finds the genius producer excavating his indie roots and, as ever, surging forward to an uneasy future, his insistent guitar figure placed at the base of layers of found, sound images.  

Yard Act: “100% Endurance” 

I was woken by a bang” sing the new indie darlings on the single and highlight from their debut album, a song that could be a companion piece to the Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life”. An earnest but wry musing on the meaninglessness of existence, it is conversational yet anthemic and oddly moving — a little bit off-the-cuff Arctic Monkeys with the singer declaring “It’s all so pointless… It is, and that’s beautiful” and, finally, adding ‘It’s hippy bullshit, but it’s true…”. 

Ezra Furman: “Dressed in Black” 

Ezra Furman the trans artist and rabbinical scholar made a big statement, old-time political protest album this year and it deserves to be widely heard. Much less inward-facing than previous works All Of Us Flames is a splendid, frequently splenetic album full of anger and absent of complaint. It’s bloody-minded and uplifting and on “Dressed in Black” her fondness for doo-wop, the bruised and battered narratives that are often cloaked in its wall of sound and big beat, is on formal, haunting display. 

Barbra Streisand – “Napoleon”  

On an album recorded 60 years ago — Live At The Bon Soir — and released for the first time a few months ago, Barbra Streisand is an irrepressible force of nature. The impeccable recording captures her at 20 years of age and her reading of every line and inhabiting of every syllable, her timing — the sheer mathematics of her delivery — are sensational to behold. Coy, gutsy, knowing, giddily present and so sheerly at the centre of each song, Streisand is utterly in command of a talent that could capsise nearly anyone else including perhaps even herself in the years to come. “Napoleon” is just one example of the vocal feats she assigns herself and meets without hesitation or stumble.

The next ten most worthy (22 for ’22):

  1. The 1975: “Part Of the Band”
  2. Scotty Tee: “Mpho”
  3. SZA: “Nobody Gets Me”
  4. Big Thief: “Certainty”
  5. Hurray For The Riff Raff: “Rhododendron”
  6. Meeskerem Mees: “Charlemagne”
  7. Plains: “Problem With It”
  8. Andy Shauf: “Satan”
  9. Conway the Machine feat Rick Ross and Lil Wayne: “Tear Gas”
  10. Nia Archives: “So Tell Me” DM/ ML

Jay Savage has spent a lifetime listening to music and almost as long talking to musicians. He is a consultant in the music business and co-director of The Good Times Co and Present Records. 

In case you missed it, also read Spotify Wrapped, Apple Music Replay and Instafest: what do end of year music wrap-ups say about our listening habits?

Spotify Wrapped, Apple Music Replay and Instafest: what do end of year music wrap-ups say about our listening habits?


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