It’s hard to believe that 2022 is already halfway there. If we rank it compared to the hell of the past few years, there is evidence that some things have improved and yet the world is just as terrible as ever. Fortunately, there’s something that can help us cope with our ongoing, somewhat futile struggle to hell: great music. This year has seen great music released locally and nationally, from punk barnburners and glittering pop to stoic indie rock and frill-free grunge. Maybe these songs can’t make us forget what’s happening, but playing them over and over might make the journey a little more fun.
UPSAHL, ‘Monica Lewinsky’
Taylor Upsahl is not just a talented singer; she also has an endlessly sharp wit and an eye for artistic choices that push buttons without ever feeling forced. You can see it in album/EP titles like Young Life Crisis and Lady Jesusor calling fight club with the video for “MoneyOnMyMind.” But a real highlight in his career of this tendency is the single ‘Monica Lewinsky’, which debuted in late spring. It wouldn’t be enough to call this a rough female empowerment song for our age. No, Upsahl confronts our societal prejudices and attitudes toward women with poison and passion that both shames and seduces any listener.
Dadadoh + The POC, ‘Sacks’
With their latest album, HOOLIGANS, Phoenix’ own Dadadoh + The POC tells the story of Phoenix. And how do they see our piece of the Copper State? Wrap your ears around that LP’s undisputed standout, “Pockets”. It’s practically the sonic version of the city itself, with oddly layered beats of twisted surf rock and frenetic hip-hop that feel both deeply festive and also slightly depressed. In short, a photogenic look at our bizarre and beautiful cityscape.
The Darts, ‘Shit Show’
And while we’re on the subject of a bona fide “Shit Show,” The Darts’ standout single from April’s Love Tsunami EP feels like it could be about the Valley too. Or maybe a terrible ex-boyfriend, or just a weird moment in someone’s life. Either way, this desert-rock-with-a-side-of glamor anthem is a powerful expression of contempt and the need to burn it all down. It may lack subtlety in phrases like “This is a shit show / A shitty shit show,” but The Darts have the guts and charisma to make it into something akin to real rock ‘n’ roll poetry.
Joyce Manor, ‘I have to let it go’
Joyce Manor especially won the year they named their new album 40 oz. to Fresno† (How do you feel, Sublime fans?) But as if that weren’t enough, the album itself, which came out in mid-June, feels like a radiant continuation of the manic punk that has long made the band a favorite. That is certainly evident with the first single from the nine-track record, “Gotta Let It Go”. It’s everything you could want in a punk anthem: a solid two-minute runtime; lots of big hooks and a huge chorus; and a simple message about moving on with your life. When you cut the fat of life and get to the point, something magical seems to happen.
The Black Moods, ‘Saturday Night’
Around these parts, The Black Moods have always been treated like royalty. And they’ve clearly recognized this abundance of love over the years and have been constantly improving their game to become a bigger, sturdier rock band. That growth continued with this year During the night, a collection of sweat-soaked odes to hedonism and the simple pleasures of life (read: friends, booze, and crazy parties). And “Saturday Night” is arguably the best summary of that, a tribute to the best night of the week that also happens to be one of the band’s catchiest and perfectly constructed tunes. Rock on!
Diva Bleach, ‘White Noise’
Technically, Diva Beach released “White Noise” in the summer of 2021. However, it is also the strongest song of this spring. Not fun EP, and so definitely deserves a first place on this list. Does the EP have other stars? Sure, “Ashes” is a surprisingly uplifting ballad, and “Pillowcase” will probably stab you right in the old gut. But it’s “White Noise” that shimmers with the brightest sparkles, as the song marries the band’s core strengths of serious songwriting, gigantic hooks and a squirt of pure fun. Because time means nothing with this kind of licking, folks.
Rex Orange County, ‘Keep It Up’
We’ve been hyped for the new Rex Orange County since the announcement of WHO CARES? earlier this year. But even before the album got its teeth into hapless listeners, the single “Keep It Up” wormed its way into our hearts and minds. And how could it not, while Mr. OC continued to refine its ironic, pseudo-millennial Brian Wilson-shtick with a romantic ballad for a generation that is both wildly cynical and voracious in search of pop songs to soothe and lull. The album itself delivers on that same promise and then some, but it really is “Keep It Up” that defined this exciting new era for the English crooner.
Hank Topless, ‘Cut my head off’
There are quite a few reasons to love Arizona’s very own Hank Topless. For example, the singer’s name is the best form of satirical celebration of country and Americana music. Or there are some of his song titles, including “The Ghost of Bad Love” and “Country Western Crackhead Hippy”, from the Thank your dirty stars. But it’s the music, namely “Cut My Head Off” from that album, that makes this guy from Tucson a real star. It’s a song that’s both a poignant slice of country and something bizarre put together – and in that cramped space, Mr. Topless as a postmodern Conway Twitty.
Weston Smith, ‘Dry Dry Desert’
In January Weston Smith released the 10-track DUNGEON† With descriptions of Weston as a “melancholic wizard”, you could easily think of these as a bunch of crazy little gimmicks and unnecessary world building. Until you hear the album ‘Dry Dry Desert’, and all those crazy gimmicks and nerdy tendencies disappear pretty quickly. Because whether it’s its exuberant, slightly aloof vocals, the barrage of ’80s synth magic, or its pulsating rhythms, the song is a transcendent experience that transcends any marketing gimmick or other unnecessary context. And that’s true even with a truly epic album cover.
Wet leg, ‘Your mama’
England’s own Wet Leg has been making quite a few waves in recent months. It helps that they are one of those huge online bands; their single “Chaise Longue” became a viral hit on TikTok. But they’re not a one-hit wonder (if they still exist), nor are they the happy byproduct of obsessive internet tweens. Case in point: The arguably real highlight of their self-titled debut album, ‘Ur Mum’. Get past the LOL-worthy title ASAP, because what awaits next is a deliciously insane pop-rock jam that’s either about the pointless commercial music, escaping your circumstances, or the power of mayonnaise.
Secret Attraction, ‘Trust/Forget’
Everyone who has read Phoenix New Times for the last few years will know about Secret Attraction. Derek Wise’s 80s-inspired synth-pop project has spent the same time handing out a string of sexy, super nostalgic EPs and LPs, featuring the latest, replica, debuts at the end of February. The first single from that album, “Trust/Forget”, is an interesting addition to the nine-track collection. Is it necessarily the best? No, and you could give that credit to the catchy “Fade” or the sensual “Control”. However, it’s a powerful reminder of Wise’s skills and a great preview of how he’s both refining and expanding his retro-leaning skills.
Dunza, ‘Strong Customer’
Was Ist Das? describes itself as the “best Yorkshire record label with a German name in all of Arizona.” None of that really matters, other than the fact that they are here in our beautiful city putting together some really interesting and unusual music. That includes the work of James Jackson Toth, who, in addition to projects like One Eleven Heavy and Wooden Wand, also releases music like Dunza. That project is completely four-track star client EP is worth your time, but beware of ‘Disowned’. It’s eight minutes of long ambient-meets-dub-meets-krautrock, and you’ll be exclaiming with delight, “What the hell is this?”
Tegan and Sara, ‘F*****g Up What Matters’
The new era for Tegan and Sara seems simpler. Earlier this year, the twins signed to indie label Mom + Pop, where they will release their untitled 10th studio album. In the meantime, however, they debuted a brand new single, the amazingly titled “F*****g Up With Matters”. Here the Quin siblings tackle life in the midst of COVID, forging a power pop banger with signature quips like, “I’ll treat you like a cigarette, such a bad habit / Avoid loving alcohol, I can take it.” really not against it.” If we can expect more of this from the actual record, we might come out of the pandemic era with a tad healthier than we ever expected.
Mississippi Nova, ‘No Time for Buffalo’
In January, Phoenix blues rockers Mississippi Nova released their latest album, The desert in winter† There were a few highlights on the 11-track album, including the nihilistic, Candlebox-esque jam “Sunrise Rider”. But in the months since, it’s been the album track “No Time For Buffalo” that helped encapsulate the group’s “swampy space blues” brand. Maybe it’s the extra crunchy guitar; those big, brash drums; or a certain undeniable swagger – either way, it’s the perfect anthem for our weird and wild times.
Katastro, ‘Give you my love’
In May, Andy Chaves, frontman of the Tempe reggae rock band Katastro, died after a car accident. In the days following the incident, fans and friends alike released a series of touching tributes, honoring the great music released during the band’s nearly decade-long career. One of the last such contributions was “Give You My Love”, which was released in February as part of a deluxe edition of suction cup† The song itself, at least in hindsight, feels like an extra powerful farewell, as Chaves and his company forged a truly gripping ballad that still imbues with their signature intensity and charisma. It’s a song that proved that Katastro had more than enough love to offer to anyone who dared to stop and listen.
Tears of Fear, ‘The Tipping Point’
Tears for Fears remains one of the most important and influential bands of the ’80s (and that’s, again, a lot† So it felt like a party when they came out earlier this year The tipping point, their first new album in about 18 years. The record itself was another triumph for the band, filled with lost serious songwriting and genuine vulnerability. Case in point: the title track, a compelling, wonderfully melodramatic synth-pop anthem that balanced the band’s core while also breaking new ground in terms of scale and structure. With any luck, we may not have to wait nearly two decades for the follow-up.