Another year is in the books, so let’s take a look at my favorite consumed art of 2022. That means my favorite new albums of 2022, plus my favorite albums and books that I read for the first time over the past 12 months. Historically, I’ve ranked movies, too, but I’ve watched so few movies recently (thanks to being a father) that making a list of my favorites would be pointless.
So here you go: the Third Annual Mikeys. Just remember, this isn’t meant to be an objective Best of the Year list. It’s completely subjective, meaning unapologetically biased.
Best New Albums of 2022
10. Billy Woods: Aethiopes
I dropped the ball on listening to rap this year (maybe because most of the stuff I listen to nowadays are instrumentals), but this darkly intelligent album caught my ear enough to crack the top 10. Woods seems to be rapping from the underworld on these tracks, and while listening to them I can’t help but feel he’s inviting me down there with him. For a guy mostly known for his deft lyricism, he’s not bad with a hook, either. If you don’t believe me just listen to a song like “Wharves.”
9. Weyes Blood: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
This is a mighty fine album, perhaps even a classic, yet the only thing keeping me from ranking it higher is that it kind of puts me to sleep. This is fine when I’m listening to it on my headphones while lying in bed, but not so great when I’m sleep-deprived and driving curvy country roads. Nevertheless, Natalie Mering’s voice is as timeless as ever, the songs are subtly hooky, the lyrics are as timely as anything on Titantic Rising (also maybe a classic) and the sparkly spacious production brings it all together. An engrossing listen, start to finish.
8. Oren Ambarchi: Ghosted and Shebang
What can I say? I’m a sucker for anything that sounds remotely similar to In a Silent Way-era Miles Davis, and both of these albums from Oren Ambarchi hit the mark. What I like most about what Amarchi’s music is that it’s river-like. I can put it on while I’m writing, or doing whatever it is I’m doing, and before I know it I’m being swept away by pleasant waters. I probably played Ghosted more than any other album during the first half of 2022, if that tells you how much I dug it.
7. Destroyer: Labyrinthitis
I haven’t spent as much time with this record as I would’ve liked, but I’m a big Destroyer fan, and the five or so times I’ve listened to this one the whole way through it seems as though it’s every bit as good as 2020’s Have We Met, which was my second-favorite record of that year. Destroyer is truly a singular artist, a Dylan-esque lyricist who’s able to create meaning from words that, upon first listen, seem absurd and completely unintelligible. But the more you listen, the more it gels, the more significance is revealed.
6. William Basinski: …on reflection
This is my go-to bedtime record of 2022. I’ve struggled with sleep all year, often waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning for no reason whatsoever and rolling around for a few hours until the sun comes up. On the rare occasion that I have been able to go back to sleep, music has often been the reason why, and this album in particular. I’m usually out by the end of the first song, lulled into the land of dreams by twinkling piano dancing in every nook and cranny of my noise-canceling headphones. I’m assuming the rest of the album is just as dreamy, though I’ve rarely been awake to hear it.
5. Soft Pink Truth: Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This?
Talk about groove. And not the punch-you-in-the-face kind of groove, either. It’s that ambient style of electronic music, or IDM if you wish to call it that, which I love. The kind of with a muted pulsing beat for grounding the body and twinkling musical accents that lift the mind into orbit.
4. Carlos Nino: Extra Presence
This is the ultimate headphones record. So much of the fantasy-building nuance gets lost when listening to it on traditional speakers. I can’t remember the last time I felt so pleasantly immersed in an album as I did with this one, lying in my hammock on a warm day in late summer. The barrier between my internal life and the external world dissolved and I was in heaven. In a lot of ways, Extra Presence helped me rediscover my love of deep listening. By that I mean focusing on the music, fully and presently, until my ego disappears completely.
3. Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
It’s bloated, sure, and probably could’ve been pared down a bit to create a truly great album. But excess, not brevity, seems to have been the point on this one. Like Vampire Weekend with Father of the Bride in 2019, Big Thief have stretched themselves beyond their comfort zones to often successful results. It helps that Adrienne Lenker is one of the best lyricists working today, and to that point, “Certainty” and “Spud Infinity” are two of my favorite songs of 2022.
2. Makaya McCraven: In These Times
I originally had this one at number eight or nine on the ilist (in fact I don’t even think it was on the list to begin with), but after spending more time with it over the past week or so, it’s quickly become one of my favorite albums of the year. The rhythm is just phenomenal (as it should be, considering McCraven is a drummer by trade), so too is the dreamy accompanying instrumentation, which compliments McCraven’s stellar percussion work and gives the album the feel of smooth water passing by. There are no hiccups, no dull points, and it manages to be meditative without being sleepy. A couple more days of listening to this one could’ve forced me to raise it to numero uno on the best records of 2022.
1. Jeff Parker: Mondays at Enfield Tennis Academy
I haven’t even listened to this full album (because it isn’t available on Amazon Music and that’s where I steal, I mean, stream my music from), but I’ve heard enough of it on YouTube to know it’s a classic. Parker is probably my favorite contemporary guitarist. He’s a fantastic blend of prowess, originality and chill. To hear him recording 20-minute grooves on Mondays – grooves I can settle into like bean bag chairs – makes me warm with happiness. There’s no indulgence here. Just a generational talent doing what he does best, while hitting all the right notes.
Best New Albums of 2022: Honorable Mention
Anteloper: Pink Dolphins
Fred Hersch: Breath by Breath
Samara Joy: Linger Awhile
MJ Lenderman: Boat Songs
Fennec: a couple of good days
Bill Woods: Aethiopes
Claire Rousay: everything beautiful is already here
Sonic Youth: In/Out/In
Tomorrow DJ: Half-Moon Bay
Andrew Tuttle: Fleeting Adventure
Bitchin Bajas: Bajascillators
Open Ambarchi: Shebang
Horse Lords: Comradely Objects
Sam Prekop: Sons of
Duval Timothy: Meeting with a Judas Tree
Mavi: Laughing So Hard it Hurts
Best Albums First Heard in 2022
10. Jack Dejohnette: In Movement
9. Cecile McLorin Savant: Dreams and Daggers
8. potsu: Just Friends
7. John Cougar Mellencamp: Scarecrow
6. Brendan Eder Ensemble: Cape Cod Cottage
5. Neil Young: Live Carnegie Hall 1970
4. Joni Mitchell: Hejira
3. Frank Sinatra: Watertown
2. The Gourds: Blood of the Ram
1. Pharoah Sanders: Promises
Best Albums First Heard in 2022: Honorable Mention
Rob Mazurek: Playground
Miles Davis: Waiting for My Prince to Come
Ashra: New Age of Earth
Lee Hazlewood: Trouble is a Lonesome Town
Madeleine Cocolas: Ithaca
Eli Keszler: Icons
Chet Baker: No Problem
Best Books First Read in 2022
15. Ploughshares Fall 2007
There are some real gems in this collection, which I found for the reasonable price of $3.95 at a local used bookstore. Bret Anthony Johnson’s “Republican” is probably the best of the bunch, but every entry is redeeming in some way, not the least of which being Jill Gilbreth’s “When the Stars Begin to Fall,” which focuses on one of my favorite topics: crazy snake-handling Christians. All of this to say, I’d really like to get my hands on more vintage copies of Ploughshares, because this was an enjoyable read.
14. “Love in Infant Monkeys” by Lydia Millet
Millet’s biggest triumph in “Love in Infant Monkeys” somehow making a ridiculously niche theme work. A collection of stories about celebrities and their pets doesn’t sound the least bit interesting in theory, yet Millet’s execution is perfect. Her prose is humorous and thought-provoking, and the celebrities she chooses to highlight (Chomsky and his rodents, for instance) are quirky enough to make diving into each new story worthwhile.
13. “Our Story Begins” by Tobias Wolff
Tobias Wolff is a writer’s writer, a master craftsman who clearly labors over every sentence, every word, as if the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. Which, in most of Wolff’s stories, turns out to be the case, because many of his characters face great moral struggles. I can’t but help but think about what Wolff once said in an interview: that if people ever read his first drafts, they’d wonder how he ever succeeded as a writer. This is as much an endorsement of the power of stringent editing as it is a testament to Wolff’s dedication to creating literature. There’s simply no denying it: he’s one of the greatest realists of all time.
12. “Klosterman IV” by Chuck Klosterman
He may not be our generation’s Hunter Thompson (though seemingly everyone wants to call him that), but Klosterman is a stylistic master and a damn good humorist. The best compliment I can give him is that I always want to continue reading his stuff, which isn’t something I can say about every quote-unquote good author I’ve read. Klosterman’s work never feels like a slog, and it never takes itself too seriously, and this is precisely why I’ll never stop enjoying him.
11. “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson
No writer captures the feeling of being on drugs better than Denis Johnson. But to pigeonhole him as merely a writer of drugged-out fiction would be to sell him short: he’s a master of weaving narratives that initially seem disjointed yet slowly reveal themselves as self-contained tapestries. Strange tapestries, sure, but it’s this very weirdness that make his work so unexpectedly beautiful.
10. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
This classic sticks in the mind mainly because of the ultra-clever one-liners Lord Henry drops every time he opens his mouth, but also because Wilde grapples with the most harrowing of human truths – death – in a wildly imaginative way. Here’s a character, Dorian, who seems to have it all, who seems to have transcended even mortality itself. Yet in the end not even he can avoid the sinful trappings of existence, and in the end, death comes for him, too, in the most strange and stunning way imaginable.
9. “Life” by Richard Fortey
I haven’t read much non-fiction recently, and it’s been probably, oh, five years since I read a legitimate science book (“Sapiens,” I think, was the last one, and a good one at that). I’m glad I broke that streak with “Life,” which was an informative, enjoyable and surprisingly literary work, although an estimated 65-percent of the content flew over my head. This book could’ve been condensed a bit and still been effective, yet by the time I finished I was undeniably smarter than when I began. That’s all you can really ask for in a science book, isn’t it?
8. “Where I’m Calling From” by Raymond Carver
Carver is known as one of the greatest short story writers of all-time and this collection is penultimate proof of why he’s held in such high regard. He’s a master of subtlety, of saying profound things without actually saying them, of making it all look so easy. Newsflash: it ain’t that easy, nowhere close to that easy, and if you think it is, try to do what he does. Let me know how it goes. If you’re like me, your stories will end up flat like dead fish, where Carver’s overflow with meaning at every turn. No, you can’t do what he did, but that’s OK. Few can.
7. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward
In this era of racial reckoning, I don’t think there’s a more important writer than Jesmyn Ward. She’s truly a writer for These American Times. The two books of hers I’ve read (this one and “Salvage the Bones”) are objective classics, the kind of stuff that deserves to be taught in high school lit classes for years to come. Ward never WRITES ABOUT BLACK IDENTITY, in call caps, no, her books are great stories first and foremost, great works of literature that just happen to grapple with what it means to be black in a country that viewed blackness as repulsive for so very long. That’s not an easy history to deal with, to be sure, but it’s one that Ward consistently tackles with grace, directness and courage. All of this to say “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is a classic everyone should read.
6. “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis“
With this collection, Lydia Davis, the great American short story writer whom I knew nothing about a week ago, has wriggled her way onto my Mt. Rushmore of favorite author. She’s up there with Miriam Toews, Kent Haruf, DFW, Scott McClanahan, John Jeremiah Sullivan, et cetera. She may very well be the one writer who best represents what I believe “good writing” to be: weird, incisive, universal, lyrical, concise, profound, funny and absurd. The following is a bold statement, I know, but she’s every bit as good as David Foster Wallace at articulating those cobweb-covered corners of the human spirit that often seem inexpressible, and in fact may be even better than DFW, because Davis is never pretentious and always direct, while DFW had a tendency to lose himself in his own logic and ego. All of this to say that, yes, Lydia Davis just may be my favorite writer of all time.
5. “Garbage Times/White Ibis” by Sam Pink
At first glance, Pink’s style seems juvenile, derivative (of Bukowski) and even non-literary, but the” deeper you dive into his work the clearer it becomes that he’s a singular writer blessed with the most elusive of gifts: a voice. There are thousands, probably millions, of good writers out there, but only those with a distinct way of looking at the world – and an ability to articulate that perspective – are able to elevate themselves above the fray. It’s no wonder, then, that Pink has amassed a small but loyal following. His minimalistic style (one-sentence paragraphs, always) is undoubtedly a turn-off for some, but those who stick around will find a writer capable of great empathy, as well as great disgust.
4. “Book of Delights” by Ross Gay
This book could’ve been something else, something more straightforward, but I’m glad it isn’t, because what Mr. Gay has written is a fine little volume that goes beyond mere delight. Where he could’ve taken the easy route and talked about the beauty of butterflies and honeybees (which, he does, too, but still), Mr. Gay instead chooses to find his delights in more uncommon places, and even when his delights do dip into the common, he does an uncommon job of describing the joy they contain.
3. “Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf
Haruf’s shortest book is a delicate ode to the power of love in the twilight of one’s life. Fitting that it’s also Haruf’s last book, finished just before he died of lung disease at the age of 71. Souls is a perfect distillation of Haruf’s talent: his directness, his Hemingway-esque simplicity, his knack for bringing great meaning to the most mundane events (i.e. finding a mouse nest, etc). After finishing Souls, you’ll wish Haruf was still alive so you could thank him for penning such an authentic work of human hope and frailty.
2. “The Collected Works Vol. 1” by Scott McClanahan
McClanahan writes with the directness of Bukowski, the line-blurring egoism of Hunter Thompson and the suspense of Stephen King. If that sounds like a strange combination, it damn sure is, but its not untenable, and McClanahan never disappoints. This is partly because he writes what he knows, but going further than that, his stories never end up where you think they’re headed: most begin as straight realism, then slowly spiral outward into dark surrealism and sometimes even horror. I’m sold on the idea of McClanahan being a low-key literary giant, and needless to say, I’ll be devouring the rest of his catalog in the near future.
1. “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt
First of all, I mean, what a damn story. I would’ve been entertained if this had been fiction, but no, Frankie McCourt actually lived it, actually transcended it, to become the revered writer he was when he died. “Angela’s Ashes” is the opposite of poverty tourism, or whatever you’d like to call it. This is a from-the-trenches tale of the dirt poor, a first-hand account of what it’s like to really grow up with nothing, and sometimes less than nothing. We’re talking about a kid who occasionally licked newspapers “For the oil” because he was so hungry, a kid who lost two baby brothers and a baby sister because his father was off getting drunk instead of providing for his family. The heartbreak is almost too much to bear at times, but if Frankie lived it, surely we, the readers, can muster the strength to experience it second-hand.
Yet there is an immense amount of comedy in this book, a testament to McCourt’s will, his spirit, and his determination to make the best of his atrocious upbringing. The descriptions of young Frankie wankin’ it around Limerick are some of my favorite passages of the book. Yet all of that masturbation is offset by Frankie’s indomitable determination to save up enough money to move (back) to the states, far away from the river that kills, far away from oppressive devout foolish Catholicism, far away from know-nothing adults who’ve nothing better to do than bitch, moan and shoot down the dreams of every young Irish boy. I could write a book about the awfulness of the adults in “Ashes”.
At the end of this story, at the end of Frankie’s childhood, we’re left with the promise of the American Dream boiled to its essence: a young man aboard a ship to NYC, with no money and no family or friends in the New Country. In a time like our own in which the idea behind the American Dream has been called into sharp criticism (and for good reason), it’s refreshing to find someone for whom it actually worked. Frankie went from literal rags and starvation to respected school teacher and (many years later) a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. What a story, what a hell of a life. God bless you, Frankie M. You’ve opened my eyes to all the creature comforts I take for granted every day in this rich and privileged country.
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