Top of the pops.
Welcome back for the final time to my Top 50 Songs of 2022 countdown. On Monday, we browsed through #50 to #31, and yesterday gave #30 to #11 their flowers. You can click on those respective links to get caught up if you’re joining us partway through. Today, it’s the Top 10.
10] Kae Tempest
“More Pressure (Feat. Kevin Abstract)”
The Line is a Curve
“More Pressure” is a song I found myself surprised by how often I returned , this year. I always thought it was a good song – Kae’s flow and emotional vocal delivery are captivating, and those strobing synths from producer Dan Carey hypnotise – but didn’t think much more deeply about it upon first listen. But as I kept being drawn to the song throughout 2022, listening closer and deeper each time, I realised that it spoke right to a vulnerable part of me. Specifically, it’s about Kae’s acceptance of their non-binary self (“I saw the truth in the curls of the vanishing girl… She said ‘stop worrying, man/stop panicking’”) and how that knowledge both centres and comforts them whilst also introducing new anxieties and struggles to work through. “More pressure/More release.” An honest depiction of how a person’s insecurities and worries don’t completely disappear when they come out, but how at least the certainty of solving one of the root causes of deep pain can help power you through to further growth and change. As someone still haunted by how easily they can pass for cis-male despite being non-binary, this was the kind of song I didn’t know I needed to hear.
09] SOUL GLO
“Spiritual Level of Gang Shit (Feat. McKinley Dixon & Lojii)”
I know what you’re thinking. Picking the track off of Diaspora Problems – an album which is otherwise a relentlessly heavy series of machine-piston-fast uppercuts to the jaw; throwing the hardest of hardcore punk, uncommon time-signatures, and noise into a blender and snorting the results – which is most like a straightforward rap number. Except, as much as I do love the song’s first half, where SOUL GLO go for a slinking build that’s more about menacingly circling the listener whilst the vocals (from guest rappers McKinley Dixon and Lojii) are for once intelligible without a lyric sheet, that’s not the part which sticks with me. That’s not the part which made me, at 12:30am when I was finishing up my very first listen, want to fling my entire body through the nearest wall. Nah. Once the build is complete and SOUL GLO re-take the stage, that’s where shit gets real. Like, holy fuck, the triumphant ‘FUCK ALL OF YOU’ energy in that nitrous-boosted charge to the line and Pierce Jordan’s “it’s a spiritual level of GAANG SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!!!!” scream could run entire cities for a year, if we were able to convert audio vibes into a power source! I’ve actually had to pause the song in order to do this write-up cos I can’t help myself from shaking my body all over the office.
08] Sudan Archives
Natural Brown Prom Queen
Normally, an artist for whom I have a real hard time figuring out which song they released in a year gets to be the shortlist representative has their eventual position severely stunted. The nature of my Top 50 being weighted towards that one killer song meaning sometimes the Syndrome thing of ‘when everybody’s special, nobody is’ inadvertently rears its head; this is why The Beths were way down at #49. A near-third of Natural Brown Prom Queen’s 19 tracks were in competition for the shortlist and, even with that potential handicap, “Home Maker” still managed to break the Top 10. How? Well, having the vast majority of the runner-up candidates for Best Two Seconds in 2022 Music contained in just one track undoubtedly helps. Which is your personal favourite? The opening drum fill? The bit where the intro properly snaps into place? “Only bad bitches in my trellis/And baby, I’m the baddest”? The handclaps on the chorus? The striiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings? The falsetto on “I cry when I’m alone”? The accentuation repetition on the last word of each line in the bridge (that one’s mine)?
07] Denzel Curry
“Zatoichi (Feat. slowthai)”
Melt My Eyez, See Your Future
Powers Pleasant is crazy for this one. How he gonna so perfectly recreate 00s drum & bass sonics, complete with an “Amen, Brother” sample in the chorus and atmospheric Gaby Duran vocals swimming around in the background, that takes me straight back to my teenage years playing Need for Speed games til the dead of night? Maybe my favourite musical soundscape of 2022, this. Then we bring Denzel Curry into the equation, and specifically Denzel Curry in focussed album artist mode like on TA13OO, dropping socially-conscious bars about the weight that merely trying to survive as a Black man in America crushes upon his mental health. When paired with Powers’ beat, it really does sound like a man in active war against his own mind to remain on the straight and narrow whilst trying to elevate and educate his fellow man. The layers of meaning and feeling in “Zatoichi” whilst still remaining endlessly replayable and accessible are endemic of 2022’s best rap album y’all fucking heard me.
06] Rina Sawayama
Hold the Girl
I did not have “Rina Sawayama comes back with the demented fusion-gem of Shania Twain and Lady Gaga” on my 2022 Bingo Card but, frankly, every other year going forward that doesn’t feature another one of these is gonna be getting marked down off the bat. God, this one is just so much camp gay fuckin’ fun! The horse-bray in the first pre-chorus? All of Clarence Clarity and Vic Jamieson’s shredding guitar work? The friggin’ Paris Hilton catchphrase drop before the second chorus?! All wonderful! Plus, dunno if you’re aware of this, it’s been kind of another miserable year for many of us on the LGBTQA+ spectrum, especially the Trans end of the coalition, and I’ve found a lot of comfort in a defiantly pro-queer anthem this loud and proud by a pansexual artist determined to shake the mainstream into being less shitty. “This hell is better with you.” My hip confirmed homophobic for not letting me go to the Rina show and lose my shit to this.
Now, you wanna talk loud and proud queer anthems, I can guarantee you that drag artists and gays the world over were in the middle of conceptualising their elaborate dance routines before “PURE” had even hinted at that heavenly transition into “HONEY.” Beyoncé’s hyper-faithful tribute to ballroom house and 70s disco, the switch between the two acting as evidence for both genres’ close historical connection to each other, is an entire album’s worth of ‘wow’ moments packed into a five-minute feast. My friend Kelechi and I live-messaged our respective first listens of RENAISSANCE and I’m pretty sure I sent 15 different variations on ‘OH MY GOD, THIS WOMAN IS A GENIUS’ throughout “PURE/HONEY.” Shit, I was voguing instinctually during “four… three… two fuckin’ busy,” getting “On Sight” vibes from the first glimpse of the transition, and ascending at the vocal harmonies during the final verse. I legit cannot envision the kind of person who would hear this song and not end up dancing their arses off by the outro, the person who’d be whining about ‘real music’ or some shit. They must be truly miserable bastards.
04] Confidence Man
The big question hanging over Confidence Man as I awaited their follow-up to my Album of 2018 was simple but potentially devastating: ‘can the joke work a second time?’ Their initial appeal came from the deliberate invocation of kitschy 90s alternative and Eurodance staples with lyrics by self-centred mean girl and himbo stereotypes (who are characters played by reformed members of Australia’s psychedelia scene). It’s a really fun joke, especially when the tunes back up the bit and the live show is so immensely fun, but one which nonetheless risks coming with a shelf-life. This was the fear I had when my review copy of TILT dropped in the inbox. It was also a fear which dissipated within the first chorus of “Woman;” off the back of “Gypsy Woman” keys, Ibiza club bounce, and Janet Planet’s Madison Avenue vocal delivery. And any lingering doubts were killed stone-dead when the drop at 3:20 hit and I started pogoing around on my chair like it’s the peak of a DJ set on the best night of my life. Confidence Man are pretty darn good at this whole ‘making music’ thing.
03] The Smile
“Open the Floodgates”
A Light for Attracting Attention
I am a Radiohead fan but I’m not a Radiohead Fan. I love their work but I’m not the kind of person who commits their B-sides to memory and hunts down high-quality live-rips of unreleased tracks they workshop for (sometimes) decades. So, when one of these finally gets out in the wild in an official capacity, I have the pleasure of being bowled over by their beauty for the first time. To wit, “Open the Floodgates” had been a staple at Thom Yorke solo shows and the Radiohead forums for almost 15 years by the time that Yorke and Johnny Greenwood resurrected it for The Smile with drummer Tom Skinner, but this was my first time hearing it and it may be one of the most beautiful tracks to ever come out of the Radiohead sphere. I’m reminded heavily of A Moon Shaped Pool’s “Daydreaming,” except warmer, more hopeful (as much as a Radiohead song can be hopeful anyway). The sequencer that tiptoes around the track, twinkling during the chorus like stars in the sky; Greenwood’s arpeggio guitars slotting between the descending piano chords; and one of my favourite Yorke vocal takes ever. When I felt down in 2022, this was the track I most crawled into.
02] Big Thief
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
You ever come across a song that just feels perfect? A song where every single note and word just feels like it’s in exactly the place it needs to be? A song where the recording feels so immediately crisp and warm that it’s almost like being in the room as the band lays the track down? A song that feels utterly timeless, like it’s always been here somehow, and never ever loses its lustre even after, as my Spotify Wrapped grossly underestimates, 150-odd plays? For me in 2022, that song was “Simulation Swarm.” Do I have any idea what Adrienne Lenker is singing about exactly with her usual opaque lyrics? Not a clue. But do I feel every single word in the core of my soul, every single bass slide, every single delightfully clumsy note in the guitar breaks, every single snare that James Krivchenia hits with exactly the right force? Oh, absolutely. The second-best two seconds in music this year are the repetition of “I’d fly to you tomorrow/I’m not fighting in this war” as the keys briefly swell in the last chorus. You could analyse “Simulation Swarm” for hours, every microscopic detail, and still come away with the TL;DR of ‘it’s perfect.’
01] The 1975
Being Funny in a Foreign Language
I’m not sure when it happened but, at some point, The 1975 became my most-listened to and maybe even favourite artist right now. Their preternatural way with hooky melodies. Their immaculate musicianship. Matty Healey’s gift with a memorable turn of phrase, self-aware humour, and ability to speak to the moment both personal and generational. Their unashamed desire to go for it on pretty much everything they do, and demand to be somebody’s favourite band, regardless of the potential embarrassment their latest genre excursion risks causing. I’ve liked and even loved them right from 2012 when NME TV dropped the video for the original (superior) version of “Sex” in the dead of some weeknight, even if it took a while for me to get over myself regarding their artsier tendencies and giant self-belief in their abilities. But, at some point in the last three years, that love has freely turned into an obsession.
They’ve been a constant on these lists ever since 2013 – although I’m fairly certain they were on the un-broadcasted parts of my 2012 list that got lost to the ether because I was an idiot who forgot to archive the pre-#31 spots anywhere – and I suppose it was only gonna be a matter of time before they finally topped the damn thing (not counting their guest work on last year’s #1). Sixth time of asking, it’s happened. “Happiness” is my favourite song of 2022 and it wasn’t a contest. No disrespect to Big Thief, who held down the fort from February to the start of August, but the second that John Waugh’s saxophone roared into view, and again in the outro, it was all over but the happy-crying. Despite overall being a pretty decent year for me personally, 2022 was home to a lot of tough crushing moments, particularly whenever I turned on the news, and growing feelings of loneliness as adult lives once again exposed how limited my friend circle is. And in those moments, when having a commiserating curl-up simply wasn’t an option, I’d put “Happiness” back on and ride the instant serotonin boost it provides back out of bed.
There’s just something so simply, joyfully pure in hearing a band or artist do the thing they’re most well-known for better than anybody else. “Happiness” is The 1975 firmly in their 80s pop-rock comfort zone; the ground that their 2013 debut, 2016 sophomore, plus later singles “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” were built upon. It does not re-invent the formula. It barely has a traditional structure; you could almost call this thing all-chorus. Befitting the jam nature of its creation, Matty’s lyrics are dirt-simple and borderline improvised. And yet, nobody else does this kind of song this good. It is all so utterly effortless and there’s a magical purity to that alchemy which radiates outwards. The “She Way Out” guitars, George Daniel’s clean-af drums, the call-and-response bridge. Every piece of this thing is solid gold.
Hip-willing, I am going to go completely apeshit to this song in-concert on the 20th of January. Nobody else is hitting me right now like The 1975 do and “Happiness” is the best thing they’ve ever done. It took them 10 years, but they’ve finally done it. Best band in the world.
And there! My Top 50 Songs of 2022, all written-up and done their due. I honestly am not sure whether I’ll end up doing this again in 2023, because it’s becoming a lot more difficult to do these intensive write-ups as the years go by, even though I enjoy the process and most of the results. But if this is my swansong for the old way of doing these countdowns, at least it commemorates the best year for music in the decade I’ve been covering them.
Thank you all so much for reading. The Spotify playlist, in reverse-order cos who starts off with the Best song honestly, is below but, as mentioned at the series’ intro, please consider buying from each artist’s Bandcamp where you can. Creatively, music is in a phenomenal place right now. Financially, things are a lot more precarious and so many artists lower down the rungs would most certainly appreciate your direct support.