Now that I have entered the chat as a full-blown music critic. I must offer my inaugural opinion on the state of great albums in our first fiscal Quarter of 2022. These are the albums that stand above the rest between 01/01/22 and 03/31/22.
In Chronological order!
Pedro The Lion – Havasu
Released January 20th on Polyvinyl
Havasu is the second album since David Bazan’s return to the Pedro the Lion moniker.
Since returning to the Pedro the Lion moniker in 2019 with Phoenix the subject matter of the band’s songs are far more personal to Bazan and less overtly about God. Bazan as Pedro is now 20 years removed from his seminal record Control. With time, Bazan has hung up his vitriol for introspection. Havasu has recognizable conflicts with faith but they play out more like cool-headed conversations than all-out brawls. Havasu gets its name from Lake Havasu, Arizona where Bazan spent ages 12 to 13. Bazan gives credence to the powerful metamorphosis that takes place from being a child to becoming a teenger. An important inflection in Bazan’s life is felt in the pivotal switch in First Drum Set. Before Bazan was another weak-lipped clarinet player until the school band director off-handedly admitted “I could really use another drummer”. The excitement in Bazan’s drumming from this point on in the song is palpable and marks one of the rare good feelings in the record. The budding romance described in “Own Valentine” and “Stranger” is gut-wrenching. You really feel for young Bazan in these stories about the complexities of love at a young age. As an adult it’s easy to be critical of your younger self, especially if you’ve changed your opinion or successfully traversed what was once anxiety-inducing. It would be easy for Bazan to do so and punch down on his younger self. Instead of harshness though, this story of an adolescent boy is told with tenderness and honest hurt. Gone but not forgotten are Bazan’s day’s in Havasu.
Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
Released February 4th on Ninja Tune
While Havasu came as a welcome surprise, the announcement of Isaac Wood’s departure from Black Country, New Road was an absolute shock. Anticipation for the record turned from excitement to speculation about this dramatic lineup change. Though BC,NR stated their intent to continue as a group past Wood’s departure, there is a deep acknowledgement of his contribution to the band’s sound.
Ants From Up There comes with so many emotions. I was looking forward to it after finding For the first time on a few 2021 year-end lists. As the due date for Black Country, New Road’s second record approached the news came that fronting-guitarist, Isaac Wood, was not continuing on with the group. Wood’s unique voice seemed like an inexorable component of BC,NR’s sound, so the news of his departure was surprising to say the least. Upon the release of Ants From Up There it was hard to listen to the record without the shroud of Wood’s absence from BC,NR’s future. The opening lines are hard to associate with anything outside the band “And though England is mine / I must leave it all behind / The war is over / Lift the anchor, set an open course”. What might have seemed intentionally opaque now seems obviously referential. If you let your mind over activate on Wood’s leaving though the whole of a great record will pass you by. Ants From Up There contains many moments of instrumental reverie. BC,NR is at their most intricate and interesting on “Intro” and “Chaos Space Marine.” “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” is a dynamic ballad rich with saxophone, strings and the bright harmonies that elevated the band in the first place. And yeah, Isaac has some good parts too. An unlikely line referencing Billie Eilish is the strangest of ear worms. Wood’s allegory of a failed airline on “Concorde” is his soaring lyrical achievement on the record. Though Wood is not continuing with BC,NR his contribution is the gold standard of which whatever comes next will likely be held in comparison to.
Oso Oso – Sore Thumb
Released March 18th on Triple Crown Records
The sudden passing of Tavish Maloney just a month after the original sessions for Sore Thumb shocked the scene. Ultimately Lilitri decided that Maloney’s passing solidified what the two had created over their month in the studio. What stands out most beautifully on Sore Thumb is the obvious fun that this album was to make. According to Lilitri the two spent their days getting high and doing the thing that kept them from getting real jobs, making music. The record oozes with chill energy and intoxication, the substance for all intents and purposes was friendship. Songs feel captured in the residual aura of good vibes. This line from Ian Cohen’s interview with Lilitri is the smoking gun “[Sore Thumb] is the product of two guys taking acid, getting into Nerf fights, and letting the influence of late ’90s Gap soundtracks take proper hold.” Sore Thumb is a reminder to hold your friends close and be thankful for the stupid shit that only one other person understands about you.
Drug Church – Hygiene
Released on March 25th on Pure Noise Records
My interest in Drug Church before Hygiene had been a slow build. I liked one or two songs from the bands breakout record Cheer (2018) and the following Tawny EP (2021) piqued my interest even more, especially “Bliss Out.” What kept me coming back for more of a band that I was lukewarm on? Easy answer, frontman Patrick Kindlon. Kindlon is a character all his own, he’s a loud-mouth who takes song length talk breaks in the band’s sets to speak his mind, it’s incredible. Now having spent time with Hygiene I am fully sold on Drug Church. Hygiene stands out as Drug Church’s best album to date offering a resonant statement about modern day personal frustration with punchy guitar riffs.
On Hygiene Kindlon hasn’t broken character. Energy remains high throughout thanks to lead guitarist Nick Cogan’s (Militarie Gun, Pile of Love) guitar lines that dance playfully over the band’s post-hardcore grittiness. While Drug Church is down to party they certainly don’t want anyone killing their buzz. Kindlon is adamant in Hygiene’s lyrics that he will suffer no fool but will admit he isn’t sure himself what the right answer is. More than hot takes, Hygiene is offering a window into Kindlon’s own opinions. Whether it’s industry politics, cancel-culture or the 24-hour news cycle the talkative frontman is offering his summary thoughts. These thoughts swirl through Kindlon’s head and as a listener their release feels cathartic even if the message isn’t 100% relatable.
Caracara – New Preoccupations
Released March 25th on Memory Music
On New Preoccupations delivers a thought provoking discourse between the topics of personal struggle and global hardship. The record is emotionally dynamic, dialing between feelings of alienation and profound love. On the single “Strange Interactions in the Night,” these polar feelings collide and collapse into each other. Singer Will Lindsay does not take a binary view of substance in his life, he doesn’t think all his intoxicated times were bad. New Preoccupations as a whole confronts the complexities of personal struggles that can at times be joyful. Tracks like “Song for Montanta Wildhack” and “Ohio” seem to be concerned with wholly different things. Though different they are connected in the track list by “Peeling Open My Eyelids” which acts as an imperceptible gradient between darkness and light, even reprising a line from Nocturnalia “looking towards the glowing souther horizon…”. New Preoccupations lives in the cool midnight air between the best and worst days.
Let me know what your favorite records of the year are so far!