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Best of 2022: Indie Sleaze Was An Inside Job
2022's albums and singles/EPs of the year too!!
I experienced 2002 twice, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. And I’m here to tell you: indie sleaze was an inside job.
Not in the literal sense — this isn’t an industry plant exposé — but 2022 was a suffocating year of nostalgia, re-packagings, and yearning for the past at the expense of celebrating records willing to give us a glimpse of what the future might hold.
The corroding power of nostalgia felt extra damaging this year, as new music still failed to rekindle its rhythm post-COVID. Ted Gioia wrote a viral post in January about how old music is killing new music, and (rightly) called out how labels don’t seem to mind it this way, or just aren’t as interested in building the muscle to develop new artists. Halsey, to that point, got into a public spat with her label about being left on her own to beat the TikTok algorithm if she wanted support for her new single.
Meanwhile, major and indie labels alike doubled down on exploiting the COVID-inspired emotional regression of Millennials, selling them back their youth with an increasingly exorbitant price tag. 20th anniversary tours, vinyl sets, documentaries, remasters, books — nostalgia for the early 00s became a regular part of day-to-day music news.
And you know what? I bought a ton of that shit. I watched Meet Me In The Bathroom, I read the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ comeback pieces, I saw Wilco perform their best record live. But looking back on 2022, none of those moments bristled with energy, or inspired inclusion on any year-end list. They were empty calories, even if these were bands and records I deeply, deeply care about.
Ultimately, what was most exciting about those records back in the 2000s was how they helped make the (then) future of pop music appear wide-open, strange, and conspiratorial, a feeling that’s been strangled out of what hits on most New Music Fridays.
Even the narrow branding of 2000s nostalgia to “indie sleaze” eliminates the most thrilling music of the era by its very definition. The most thrilling artists at that time were spending their cultural capital to take risks, not hoarding it through reminiscence. 2002 was the year of “Grindin’,” “Work It,” “Cry Me A River”— the most popular music in America was grabbing us by the hand, taking us to dimly lit dance floors and showing us new ways to move, not selling tickets to their “Eras” tour.
Likewise, the most thrilling records of 2022 dove into the uncanny valley between where we are and where we might go, swimming defiantly against the tides of nostalgia. Rosalía’s MOTOMAMI felt like the biggest swing of the year, her front-and-central vocal showcases leading the way through a mishmash of textures, references, and genres to point to the future.
The opposite of Renaissance, the album leverages Rosalía’s incredible performances to force once-disparate sounds together into something newly harmonious, as opposed to leaning on a familiar musical references and touchpoints to imbue performances with meaning.
Even the Weeknd, who (as always) leans heavily on 80’s VHS glow, drenched his album Dawn FM in Oneohtrix Point Never-driven synthetic unease, resulting in a defiant use of his imperial period — a darkly insular radio tape to listen to on the way to the afterlife.
Janky Star by Grace Ives busted at the seams with incandescent hooks and ideas that defied its hand-hewn sonics; DJ Koze’s Peggy Gou remix found plasticine joy by stretching her vocal over one neon-pink synthesizer; Oliver Sim’s Hideous Bastard played like it was left in the darkroom, its inverted sonic palette diving into the pitch black where you would expect to see light; and Beach House rolled out a twenty song elegy that felt in harmony with a never-ending sunset.
The tension between these records’ reach and grasp are where I hear a path from where we are, stuck in a loop, to where we might go — the moments that most defined 2022 to me did so by simply sounding like nowhere we’ve been before.
So here’s my best of the year - and also last newsletter of the year! Thanks so much for reading and listening with me this year. S/O to edit lord Ross Scarano for notes on this week’s newsletter, and eternal thanks to Lindsay Schrupp for putting up with reading this every week.
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Rosalía - MOTOMAMI
Beach House - Once Twice Melody
The Weeknd - Dawn FM
Pusha T - It’s Almost Dry
Oliver Sim - Hideous Bastard
Grace Ives - Janky Star
Weyes Blood - And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Tove Lo - Dirt Femme
Phoenix - Alpha Zulu
Vince Staples - RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART
SINGLES & EPs OF THE YEAR
Zach Bryan - Summertime Blues
Mr. Twin Sister - Uptight and Even
Two Shell - “Home”
Peggy Gou - “I Go (DJ Koze Remix)”
Q - “Today”
Margaret Glaspy - “Love Is Real”
Shygirl - “Nike”
FKA Twigs feat. The Weeknd - “tears in the club”
KH - “Looking At Your Pager”
The Dare - “Girls”
HONORABLE MENTIONS / THE BEST OF THE REST
Toro Y Moi - MAHAL
Healing Potpourri - Paradise
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - Topical Dancer
SAULT - Untitled (God)
Mo Troper - MTV
Cola - Deep in View
Spoon - Lucifer on the Sofa
Jenny Hval - Classic Objects
yuele - Glitch Princess
Roc Marciano / The Alchemist - The Elephant Man's Bones
Oren Ambarchi - Shebang
Every Soulwax remix
Every Joe Goddard remix
RIP Angelo Badalamenti
That’s all for 2022 – see everyone next year!
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