Across the Margin takes stock of the status of music in 2022, stopping at the midway point to offer its picks for the best songs of the year (so far)…
Leon Bridges and Khruangbin — “B-Side”
The teaming of R&B/Soul artist Leon Bridges and Khruangbin – the trio composed of Laura Lee (bass), Mark Speer (guitar) and Donald “DJ” Johnson (drums) – is an astounding pairing of talents. Hailing from Fort Worth and Houston respectively, their 2020 EP Texas Sun was a revelation, highlighting the wondrous music that could be made when these phenoms join forces. Their follow up EP released this year, Texas Moon, was more of the same harmonious, driving smooth funk that made their initial offering so special. Yet as the EP title implies, these songs were aimed to be the soundtrack for when that Texas sun finally relents and it’s time for the pleasures of the evening to unfold The cream of the crop in our eyes is “B-Side,” a song featuring a sultry, buoyant rhythm which lays a foundation for Bridges to breeze over, manifesting a pulsating yet danceable journey. One with the capacity to enhance any evening, be it under a Texas moon or elsewhere.
Spoon — “Wild”
Spoon continues to be one of the most consistent acts in all of rock, both with their inspired live performances as well as their prolific album output. The Britt Daniel fronted band released their tenth album this year, Lucifer on the Sofa, and it might be their most pure offering of rock and roll yet, or as Daniel puts it, “the sound of classic rock as written by a guy who never did get Eric Clapton.” The albums third single, entitled “Wild,” is a perfect example of this sentiment, featuring a track which inspired a superb Western-themed music video which can be viewed here.
Kurt Vile — “Like Exploding Stones”
Kurt Vile’s “Like Exploding Stones,” off of his recently released ninth studio album (watch my moves), is a seven minute psychedelic meandering that is as much soothing as it is dizzying to behold. In it, saxophonist James Stewart of Sun Ra Arkestra accompanies Vile’s layered guitar riffs, and feedback. “Like Exploding Stones” highlights what makes Vile such a special and unique rock composer, while also giving you a window into his innermost thoughts and anxieties, and it’s a perfect sampling of what awaits you on (watch my moves) sublime collection of songs.
Anaïs Mitchell — “Brooklyn Bridge”
Tony- and Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown, Bonny Light Horseman, Big Red Machine) released one of the most gorgeous albums you will come upon all year, a self-titled stunner which is introspective, honest, and captivating at every turn. The second single from the album, “Brooklyn Bridge,” depicts “an unbearably romantic trip over the Brooklyn Bridge” as Michael Lewis (Bon Iver) accompanies with heart-wrenching saxophone bawls. “Brooklyn Bridge” is Mitchell’s love letter to her former home and as she puts it, “Having left New York, I was able to write a love letter to it in a way I never could when I was living there. It was like, fuck it. This is how I feel. There is nothing more beautiful than riding over one of the New York bridges at night next to someone who inspires you.”
Scott Metzger — “Don’t Be a Stranger”
Guitar virtuoso Scott Metzger’s album, Too Close To Reason, exhibits the dynamic talents of a seasoned, fully-inspired player. With twenty years of experience under his belt, his first solo effort features twelve instrumental tracks and showcases a deeply reflective side to his music on an album where he plays every note of this primarily acoustic guitar-based album himself. The first single off the album, “Don’t Be a Stranger,” is a perfect example of Metzger’s wide-ranging talents, his polished finger picking and his ability to take the listener on a melodic, affecting journey.
Christian Lee Hutson — “Rubberneckers”
Los Angeles singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hudson latest album, Quitters is produced by Phoebe Bridgers and her Better Oblivion Community Center bandmate Conor Oberst, and Bridges can be found adding backing vocals to one of the stand out tracks, “Rubberneckers.” An alluring, sentimental jaunt, “Rubberneckers” finds Hutson singing of heartache and loss and the will to move on: “I am gonna be okay someday / With or without you.” Rife with vivid imagery (“I’m a self esteem vending machine / A doctor’s office magazine / A funhouse at the county fair / A staircase to nowhere”) and poetic lyricism, “Rubberneckers” exemplified just how talented a song composer Hutson persists as, and one to certainly keep an eye on moving forward.
Sharon Van Etten — “Mistakes”
Sharon Van Etten released her sixth studio album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong the first week of May and as unfathomable as it is to ponder, the Jersey born and bred singer-songwriter appears to be getting better and better at crafting her art with each passing day. Notably, with the release of this album, Van Etten didn’t share any singles in the build up to the album drop. “I wanted to approach this release differently, Van Etten said, “to engage my fans in an intentional way, in an effort to present the album as a whole body of work,” If you were to abide by Van Etten’s wishes, you wouldn’t come upon the “Mistakes,” until the second to last song where you will find an inspiring nod to finding ways to own one’s mistakes as a path towards making one’s life better. Regrets are all about perspective, and “Mistakes” makes it known that they can sometimes “turn out great.”
Caroline Spencer with Matt Berninger — “I Know You Know Me”
Virginian songstress Caroline Spencer enlisted The National’s frontman Matt Berninger for her latest single entitled “I Know You Know Me,” a lush romantic ballad where the duo lay out an intimate tale of a deep connection. “No matter where the storm is in my mind / It’ll never be a place that you can’t find / You hold the candle, oh, you hold the key / I know you know me,” they sing together as luscious strings accompany the heartfelt lyrics. The warm song is slated to be included on Spencer’s forthcoming, and as-yet-untitled, fifth studio effort.
Monica Martin, James Blake — “Go Easy, Kid”
Renowned English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer James Blake has teamed up with Monica Martin for a new rendition of the latter’s track “Go Easy, Kid,” a represents a gorgeous re-imagining of the song. Originally released by the LA-based, Wisconsin-raised Martin back in September, “Go Easy, Kid” has been described by Blake as “my favorite song to come out in years” — a statement that makes a great deal of sense to us — and the inspired spirit he brings to Martin’s masterpiece only serves to elevate the song to wondrous heights.
Kevin Morby — “Bittersweet, TN”
Kevin Morby’s last album This is A Photograph was inspired by a box of old family photos he found in the basement of his childhood home in Kansas City. From there, snapshots of his life, then and now, conjured up a series of vignettes that acted as the backbone of an album he describes as his best yet (we agree). The title track is a stunner, but we’d like to point you to “Bittersweet, TN,” a heartfelt folk song featuring a duet with Nashville-based singer-songwriter Erin Rae. It’s as tender of a song as Morby has ever written and just one of the numerous intimate and moving moments found on his seventh studio seventh album.
Saba — “One Way of Every N***a With A Budget”
Twenty-seven year old Chicago rapper Saba released his third album this year, Few Good Things, an impressive work of art that feels like a cathartic breath of fresh air for Saba. Suffice to say the reason for this is that Few Good Things follows his 2018 album Care For Me in which Saba was struggling with the profound trauma of the murder of his cousin, rapper John Walt. There’s a newfound levity throughout his latest album, as exhibited by the airy, exuberant “One Way of Every N***a With A Budget,” an extremely hopeful song that speaks to the idea that there is more than just one correct way to live one’s life and be successful. While more at ease than its predecessor, there persists a depth and a weight throughout Few Good Things, where Saba contemplates how loss can stick with you and the systematic failures in society that were the foundation of the pain he experienced. Saba is one of the most impressive young voices in hop-hop, and Few Good Things is a shining example of not only an extremely skilled lyricist, but one that has something important to say.
Leikeli47 — “Chitty Bang”
The most cranking song on this year’s list is undoubtedly Leikeli47’s “Chitty Bang,” the lead off song on her excellent new album Shape Up. The anonymous, persistently masked, Brooklyn rapper’s third album is raw and energetic and once again named after Black beauty treatments in theme with 2017’s Wash & Set and 2018’s Acrylic. “Chitty Bang,” while a fun party/club banger, also highlights the vast musical influences that make Leikeli47 such a compelling artist, where house and dub inflections mix with old school-boom bap.
Vince Staples & Mustard — “Magic”
Vince Staples is proving to be one of the most prolific rappers in all of hip-hop. Just a year after the release of his fourth album, Vince Staples, the Compton, California emcee dropped Ramona Park Broke My Heart on the world, a sprawling sixteen track album featuring assists by Lil Baby, Ty Dolla $ign and Mustard with production by Kenny Beats, Cardo, and DJ Dahli. Ramona Park persists as an ode to, and examination of, the place Staples calls home. As he puts it, “I have been exploring the utility of home,” Security. Comfort. Meaning. The answer. The excuse. To outgrow is to love blindly no longer. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is the story of that growth.” The first single from the album “Magic,” exhibits Vince’s deft storytelling ability, where he paints a picture of what it was like growing up: “Crip and blood shit / That’s the only thing I ever been in love with / So I hope you know we never goin’ public / Hands full so I can’t hold grudges, nah / I be thuggin’, jumpin’ out the backseat bustin’.”
Denzel Curry — “Walkin”
Denzel Curry’s latest album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is far and away his best to date, a jaw-dropping display of Curry’s wide-ranging skillset. The album features T-Pain, 6LACK, Rico Nasty, JID, slowthai, Kenny Beats, Thundercat, Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins, JPEGMAFIA, Boi-1da, Cardo, Powers Pleasant, and Buzzy Lee, and the varying soundscapes found throughout it make it clear Curry put his everything into it. “I like traditional hip-hop, I like drum and bass, I like trap, I like poetry, so a lot of that is going to be interwoven in this album, including jazz and a lot of genres that I came up on as a kid and just being in my parents’ house,” Curry explains. “This album is made up of everything that I couldn’t give you on TA13OO or Imperial because I was going through depression and anger issues.” “Walking” presented as the lead single on the album, makes clear the grandeur of what follows. It’s a fierce song that digs deep into the inequalities and traumas that face the black community in America today.
Pusha T — “Dreaming of the Past”
Virginia rapper and one half of the Clipse, Pusha T, released his first full length studio album since 2018’s Daytona this year, a remarkable effort entitled It’s Almost Dry. Co-produced by Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, It’s Almost Dry features a variety of appearances from artists including Jay-Z, Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi, and Don Toliver. While the entire album finds Pusha T at the height of his powers, ”Dreaming of the Past” stands out lyrically and for the strength of its production. On it, Kanye West performs as both collaborator and producer, employing a sample from soul singer Donny Hathaway’s rendition of “Jealous Guy,” written by John Lennon.
JID — “Surround Sound”
While we anxiously await another album from the phenomenally talented young Atlanta rapper that goes by the moniker JID (the last being 2018’s Dicaprio 2), we fervently savor his features, singles, or any taste of his dynamic abilities we can get our hands on. A must listen is a banger entitled “Surround Sound” and featuring appearances from rappers 21 Savage and Baby Tate. “Surround Sound” is reported as being the lead single from JID’s upcoming third studio album The Forever Story, so here’s hoping we hear a lot more from JID in the second half of ‘22.
Kendrick Lamar — “N95”
Rap master Kendrick Lamar electrified the world of music this year with the release of an incredibly complex and introspective work of art, his fifth studio album entitled Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. It has received wide-spread critical acclaim and has made big splashes across the charts. The weighty, and exceedingly thought provoking album features guest appearances by Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black, Blxst, Sampha, and Summer Walker, among others. The double-disc album sees Kendrick digging deep, reflecting honestly and earnestly about fatherhood, gender identity, infidelity, masculinity, the pressures of fame, therapy, cancel culture, materialism, and beyond. Choosing one song to highlight from Big Steppers isn’t easy, but one with considerable replay value is “N95.” In it, Kendrick, aggressively at times, uses the oddly controversial N95 mask — used by many amid the COVID-19 pandemic — as a metaphor to dissect inauthentic people and actions in American society. This ambitious album is sure to be featured at the top of many “Best Of” lists for 2022 and “N95” is just one of many standout tracks on an album that cuts a wide swath across the rapper-poet’s life, and solidifies him once again as the voice of a generation.
IDK — “Taco”
Following up 2021’s USEE4YOURSELF, British-American rapper IDK released an EP entitled Simple. What is most notable about the album is who he brought on to produce it—Grammy Award-winning artist Kaytranada. The entire EP is excellent, and it is made clear right up front that IDK isn’t just a phenomenally talented rapper, but a gifted singer as well. “Taco” is the first single off the EP, and it’s a perfect exhibit of IDK’s skill set where his shrewd wordplay, nimble delivery, and knack for a catchy hook shine brightly across each track.
Alt J — “Walk A Mile”
This year the Yorkshire, England trio Alt J released their first album in five years, a gorgeous mesmerizing work entitled The Dream. Recorded with long-time producer Charlie Andrew, the lyrics of The Dream are inspired by true crime podcasts guitarist Joe Newman spent time listening to during Covid-19 lockdown. While the entire album is worth your time, we find ourselves continually returning to “Walk a Mile,” a song that commences with a nod to barbershop quartets before slowly and patiently building, layer by layer, resulting in one of the most pacifying and compelling soundscapes we’ve heard from this persistently impressive band.
Arcade Fire — “The Lightning II”
Arcade Fire returned this year, releasing their first album in five years. Building hype through a grassroots marketing campaign that included small club shows in New Orleans and New York City and cryptic messages preceding the release, it was ultimately announced on March 17th that an album entitled WE was to be born into the world. One of the first singles of the album, “The Lighting II,” drew us in immediately. It’s a song that reeked of rejuvenation and found the Montreal-based indie rockers sounding as inspired as ever two decades into their career. With the rousing and inspirational anthemic feel that Arcade Fire excels at, the repetitive lyrical arrangement of “Lighting II” (A day, a week, a month, a year / A day, a week, a month, a year / Every second brings me here / Waiting on the lightning / Waiting on the lightning / Waiting on the light, what will the light bring?) swirls around the listener feverishly and ignites the soul in the way that only Arcade Fire are capable of. Produced with an assist by longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Goodrich, WE is “as much about the forces that threaten to pull us away from the people we love, as it is inspired by the urgent need to overcome them.” according to the band’s press release. “The Lightning II” is certainly a fine window into the push and pull, darkness and light, and isolation and reconnection themes prevalent on the albums concise, seven song epic.
The Smile — “The Smoke”
There hasn’t been a release day like May 13th, 2022 in some time. On that consequential day we saw Kendrick Lamar drop the instant classic Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and Kevin Morby put forth his best album to date, This is a Photograph. To add to such a momentous day in music, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, released the debut album for their side project, a group called The Smile. Entitled, A Light for Attracting Attention, the thirteen song album is everything fans of Radiohead’s work could ever want. Take “The Smoke” for instance, a song whose driving bass, pulsating guitar loops and frantic drumming could have seamlessly fit onto such first-class Radiohead albums as In Rainbows or Hail To The Thief.
Big Thief — “Simulation Swarm”
Even though Big Thief’s latest album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, was released in early February we have not stopped spinning it and unpacking its sonic and lyrical grandeur. Manifesting as a sprawling twenty song epic, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You was the result of pent up artistic energy and spirit following the Covid-19 lockdown. As the band tells it, “To truly dig into all that the music of Adrianne Lenker, Max Oleartchik, Buck Meek, and James Krivchenia desired in 2020, the band decided to write and record a rambling account of growth as individuals, musicians, and chosen family over four distinct recording sessions. In Upstate New York, Topanga Canyon, The Rocky Mountains, and Tucson, Arizona, Big Thief spent five months in creation and came out with forty-five completed songs,” which was eventually whittled down to twenty. We urge you to dive in and experience the album inn consummate, but you’ll find a nice little taste in “Simulation Swarm,” a song whose bouncy aesthetic and feelgood vibe is a wonderfully intoxicating elixir.