Welcome to Beandon’s Musical Corner, the only place on campus for in-depth, exhaustive reviews of the latest releases in rock, jazz, experimental…and pretty much everything else. Brandon Rupp (also known by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” under which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Student Music Director) explores a new title and gives unfiltered feedback, regardless of the genre. Feel free to send him music; he’d love to take a look!
After an entire year spent gushing relentlessly about recent releases, we finally have the chance to look back in review. We’ve seen great releases in rock, hip hop, experimental, electronic, jazz, pop, folk and more. Here’s the good news for you: I’ve prepared a pretty diverse list of records here, all of which I’d highly recommend. Particular focus will be placed on the top five albums on the list.
First, here are a few honorable mentions and albums I felt I couldn’t include one way or another. For example, “Melt My Eyez See Your Future: The Extended Edition” by Denzel Curry would be on the list, but it’s a deluxe edition, and I would be including it mainly for the Cold Blooded Soul versions of the tracks (which outshine the originals in my opinion). A few other albums that almost made my list include:
- “Ugly Season” by Perfume Genius
- “Cheat Codes” by Danger Mouse and Black Thought
- “De todas las flores” by Natalia Lafourcade
- “Big Time” by Angel Olsen
- “Fossora” by Björk
- “Baby” by Petrol Girls
- “Famously Alive” by Guerrilla Toss
- “I Love Jennifer B” by Jockstrap
- “Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento” by Meridian Brothers
- “Reset” by Panda Bear and Sonic Boom
- “Expert in a Dying Field” by the Beths
- “The Liquified Throne of Simplicity” by Širom
- “The Forever Story” by JID
Without stalling any longer, let’s get into the list:
15. “Living Torch” by Kali Malone
Kali Malone is an incredibly important talent to follow in the world of drone and post-minimalism. With a couple fantastic albums under her belt over the past few years, it’s stunning to witness the emergence of an artist this captivating in a rather overlooked genre. In this 33-minute long masterwork, “Living Torch,” she manages to nail nearly every element I search for in atmospheric, minimalist drone music: nuanced use of texture, an excellent sense of pacing and dynamic compositional skills. A must-listen for fans of the genre, but I could definitely see this album drawing in new fans.
14. “Crest” by Bladee and Ecco2k
A collaboration between cloud rap giants Bladee and Ecco2k, “Crest” is the best project to come from the prolific and amazing Drain Gang. The songs here don’t veer into the usual pitfalls of the group’s treacherous genre pairings, managing to stay buoyant, melodic and experimental (all at the same time) for a solid 30 minutes. “The Flag is Raised” is the perfect opener for this project — catchy verses from Bladee are complemented by Ecco2k’s breathy vocals on the chorus. The album offers a nearly 9 minute progressive rap epic, a two-minute pop gem named after a Cyndi Lauper song and a lot in between.
13. “Time Skiffs” by Animal Collective
One of my favorite bands returns with its finest album in about a decade. It’s really that simple! Panda Bear and Avey Tare are as spry as ever on this album, with the first three tracks ranking among my all-time favorites from these indie darlings (especially “Prester John,” a top-five Animal Collective track). With Panda Bear back on drums and a full band to ride out these tracks, the instrumentals feel much more inspired and alive. I hope this is representative of the band’s direction moving forward. The melodies are strong, the production is fantastic and it’s remarkably consistent for a band entering its 24th year. I couldn’t be happier for them.
12. “Pyreburning” by Arvid
The most underground artist on the list, Arvid has nonetheless proved his worth as a fantastic songwriter with “Pyreburning.” This album comes after “Goodnightdaydream.,” one of my favorite albums of the 2010s, which naturally led my expectations to be pretty high. Unlike the more traditionally structured “Goodnightdaydream.,” this album feels more like David Bowie’s “Low.” It features a collection of fantastic pop songs on the A-side paired with a complex multi-part suite on the B-side. “Garden’s Gone” — my favorite part of the first section of the record — is a modus operandi of sorts, combining the classic traits of a late 60s psychedelic track with an expansive and stunning soundscape. Arvid deserves more attention…so go give it to him!
11. “Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam” by The Comet is Coming
This is definitely the best jazz album of this year, probably because it’s unlike virtually any other jazz record from this year. “The Comet is Coming,” a fantastic three-piece from London, has been developing a unique and unplaceable sonic landscape over the last ten years. With equal parts funk, nu jazz, electronic and fusion, this expertly produced album progresses through hundreds of fertile ideas without missing a beat. Opener “CODE” tells you everything you need to know: it’s a driving electro beat backed with groovy saxophone licks and, eventually, an entire choir! Give me another well-made jazz album with electronic beats and an entire choir and I’ll revise my list. In the meantime, I’m going to keep listening to this.
10. “A Light for Attracting Attention” by The Smile
With this record, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead reunite, adding on drummer Tom Skinner (from Sons of Kemet) for 13 krautrock-inspired, jazzy excursions. There are a number of fantastic songs on this record, from the earworm-laden “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings” to the beautiful “Free in the Knowledge.” However, by far the most accomplished aspect of this release is how special it sounds in the context of Thom and Jonny’s discographies: as two of the greatest working musicians, they have yet again found a way to diversify their repertoire of sounds, adding odd-time signature guitar squeals over new, adventurous lyrical topics. However, this review would not be complete without special praise for Tom Skinner’s drumming, which truly makes the record stand out: it’s groovy when it needs to be, but he can easily get as angular as the best math rockers — and comfortably stay there! An impressive feat of writing and performance.
9. “Once Twice Melody” by Beach House
Beach House is a band defined by consistency. However, with “Once Twice Melody,” there is a remarkable display of versatility among the four sections that make up this ambitious double album. For one, the band is using live instruments! That’s right: those drums are really drums! This alone piqued my interest, but the duo also made a conscious effort to reinvent their songwriting technique, placing great emphasis on arrangement and instrumental variety. This is probably the only Beach House album where I can truly say that each song sounds unique. It’s a testament to their marvelous standard of quality that this double album that they released 18 years into their careers might be their best record yet.
8. “Labyrinthitis” by Destroyer
Dan Bejar (a true conversationalist) once again uses his Destroyer project to flex his lyrical prowess and ability to craft fun dance grooves. On this album, he expands the group’s sound palate a bit, providing spaces for the band to vamp while he delivers pitch-shifted spoken word (as seen on “June”) or just sits it out (“It’s In Your Heart Now”). Either way, this album documents a band at its peak, busting out song after song of solid grooves, dynamic instrumentals and nuanced performances. If you’re craving obtuse songwriting from a sophisti-pop legend, check this one out.
7. “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” by The 1975
Matty Healy and his band, The 1975, love to remain tongue in cheek, or “cheeky,” as the painfully British lead singer would put it. With this in mind, I’m happy to report that they’ve fully leaned into their finest elements with “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” — is there another album with lyrics like “And I fell in love with a boy, it was kinda lame / I was Rimbaud and he was Paul Verlaine”? One of the album highlights, “Looking for Somebody (To Love),” uses a jaunty 1980s arrangement to satrically comment on the tragic nature of school shootings (“Somebody picking up the body of somebody they were getting to know” pairs horrifically with “A supreme gentleman with a gun in his hand / looking for somebody to love”). However, above all, the band has produced some of their most beautiful material: “All I Need to Hear” is genuinely tear-inducing — it certainly gets a few out of me every time — and the Warren-Ellis-arranged shoegaze track “About You” is stunning, serving as the perfect penultimate track for the record. A powerful and socially relevant album.
6. “God Save the Animals” by Alex G
After talking with Alex G about this record, I got no closer to understanding what exactly any of it means. It’s an enigmatic yet emotionally honest and sincere work of art that is worthy of much discussion. Like his previous work, the perfect “House of Sugar,” this album follows a structure that pushes and pulls with experimental flairs. The straightforward indie rock of “Runner” is followed a few tracks later with the folk/hyperpop hybrid “No Bitterness.” The whispered experimental “Blessing” is countered with the beautiful “Miracles,” which might be the best song Neil Young never wrote. Alex’s ability to confidently reside in between the extremes which define his work is part of what makes him such a great artist. He’s casual but fearless; careful but carefree.
5. “Hellfire” by black midi
Black midi outdo themselves once again on “Hellfire.” Turning every musical element up to 11, the outfit manages to simultaneously pack a cohesive lyrical theme into these manic and eyebrow-raising compositions. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is probably music’s closest approximation to Thomas Pynchon: escalating paranoia, rampant postmodernism, funny character names, depictions of the effects of war, an appreciation for the golden-age of cartoons and relentlessly zany delivery. “Welcome to Hell” describes a story about a “Private Tristan Bongo,” who apparently gains PTSD from serving in the military. In delivering this simple message, the song changes groove, tempo and genre at least a handful of times, cycling through motifs like they were making it up on the spot. However, as is the case with the rest of the album, it is a meticulously composed masterclass in tension and dynamics. They’ll really hammer into the dissonance if they need to (or slow things to a crawl if it becomes too overwhelming). What you’ll get from this album is a band at their highest (pun intended when it sounds this drug-addled) continually trying to amuse themselves further. When your drummer is as good as Morgan Simpson, I’ll allow it — heck, I’ll even put you at number five on my list!
4. “Diaspora Problems” by Soul Glo
“Diaspora Problems” is the sonic equivalent of 40 simultaneous punches directly to the jaw. Beginning with a series of bong rips that sound like the 20th Century Fox introduction and ending with a barn-burning banger, “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit,” it is a truly unforgettable experience. It’s so unbelievably relentless and unforgiving that I’m not sure that it’s healthy to listen to it more than one time in a single sitting. A single listen to this album probably raises my blood pressure to stage three hypertension levels. Vocalist Pierce Jordan is a big part of why this album hits so hard — he is absolutely shredding his vocal cords with a degree of screaming I didn’t know the human voice was capable of reaching. On the other hand, the guitar lines from Ruben Polo are far more dynamic than most punk you hear, managing to move into a new motif just when he needs to. The moments where it leans towards rap, such as “Driponomics” or the aforementioned “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit,” are some of my favorite points on the album. All of this is not to mention the fantastic politics present on the album, with searing racial and Marxist critiques of modern society making up the lyrical content of most songs. You always hear the term “genre-defining” thrown around, but this is truly a modern classic in hardcore punk.
3. “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You” by Big Thief
The only record in the top six which I haven’t already reviewed, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” is both a mouthful of a title and a masterful double album from folk rockers Big Thief. DNWMIBIY is designed around simple beauties, from egg shakers buried in the mix to couplets like “Still, like a stone / Like a hill, like home.” However, as an accumulation of their past few albums, the maximalist work is probably better seen as proof that Big Thief can tackle virtually any genre or mode they attempt. On album highlight “Time Escaping,” Adrianne Lenker’s ethereal falsetto meets driving grooves for a combination unlike anything else the band has tried before. The bouncy, jaw-harp-laden “Spud Infinity” breaks new, vaguely kitschy ground; “Little Things” carries a groove that most bands would die for as if it were nothing. The title track is undoubtedly the most beautiful piece here, sounding like something a female-led, Americana Radiohead(?) might attempt in a bizarre alternate universe. Most surprising is the fact that I cannot identify any filler on this project, meaning that the band successfully made a 20 song, 80-minute double album without wasting a second. That is certainly worthy of a spot in the top three albums of the year.
2. “Ants From Up There” by Black Country, New Road
As the subject of the first column I ever wrote for the Daily, this album holds a particularly special importance for me: it’s not only a representation of the beauty of the music of 2022 but an affirmation of creativity and emotion prevailing in art. The chamber-pop bombast of “Ants From Up There” is a fully realized musical vision driven by Issac Wood’s dynamic vocals, a litany of orchestral instruments and progressive song structures. Paired with Wood’s untimely exit from the group, the album stands as a snapshot of a unique musical collective at the peak of its powers. Ambition is the unifying link to “Ants From Up There”: fearless passion is loaded into each and every note played and every line sung, making statements such as “Oh, your generous loan to me / Your crippling interest” seem like they’re being announced to the entire world. For the length of the album’s magical, 59-minute runtime, they might as well be.
1. “Blue Rev” by Alvvays
This was an easy choice for the top spot: “Blue Rev” is a mind-bogglingly cohesive collection of literate pop songs which backs simple and elegant melodies with detailed shoegaze production. The main factor guiding my decision to place this album at the top spot is its unparalleled songwriting finesse. Lead songwriter Molly Rankin often writes about unique characters in the midst of the growing pains of early adulthood — drinking cheap alcohol at the roller rink or waiting tables in town due to unplanned pregnancies. Paired with Alec O’Hanley’s kinetic guitar parts, her compositions are as bouncy and hook-laden as ever. “Belinda Says” is my favorite song from this year, and the rest of the album’s 14 tracks aren’t far behind. Of particular note is the Smiths-esque “Pressed,” the offhanded “Pharmacist” and the hypnagogic pop of “Very Online Guy.” Somehow eschewing every cliché or expected songwriting technique, the songs on “Blue Rev” weave in tasteful key changes (in an era when those feel so forgotten) and soaring vocal passages where less talented songwriters would have just ended the song. It sets a new standard for contemporary pop, valuing the listener’s time without insulting their intelligence. Most of all, it’s proof that your album doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel with 20-minute-long harsh noise passages to deserve acclaim in contemporary music criticism — all you need is a fantastic set of songs and a desire to be unflinchingly sincere. “After the Earthquake,” that is all that matters.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.