It’s very nice of Spotify to tell me what I listened to most this year. But a couple of flowery words about my tastes just won’t cut it. Here are the top 6 songs I listened to this year and my reflections on them.
Vérité- By Now
“I was overflowing, hoping you would notice
And my mind was breaking, hoping it could take me out
And darling, you ought to know by now”
Listen, I probably don’t have to cover in depth why the number one song I listened to in 2022 is a simmering, intense, electro-pop meditation on depression and disconnection, but to be fair the first thing that always captures me about my favorite songs isn’t the lyrics–it’s the sound, and this one really hit all the right notes for me. If after getting hooked it had turned out the song was about jeans or a pickup truck (or both), I can’t say for sure I would have listened to it quite as much, but the vibe of this piece is enough to make me think about it regularly, so I end up playing it a lot. It puts me in a state. I don’t think I had listened to Vérité before I heard this one, but her delivery and production both really solidified her as an artist to follow. As it turns out, the lyrics are about a creeping, insidious force that I should have all seen coming by the time it breaks in an overwhelming climax. That chorus phrase alone is brilliant and pithy “Darling you ought to know by now”, easily invoking the universal experience of the dormant and obvious, the latent and lingering and looming. I began this year with a return to treatment for depression, anxiety, and a resurgence of mental health needs related to the death of my daughter.
Aesop Rock – Pigs
“Two-track brainiac using the food and payroll
To chew up and consume every cookie, crumb, and peso
And place a cloven hoof on the lucrative when convenient
As the bourbon-odor smokers’ coughs smolder off the Cohiba
If Noah had the benefit of hindsight on his ship
He could’ve snatched two unicorns and left behind the motherfucking pigs”
Aesop Rock is far and away my favorite rapper. Open Mike Eagle comes close, but I go back to Aes more and I’ve been listening to him for at least 20 years at this point. The song “Pigs” came to my attention on the latest release of remixes by Blockhead so I was surprised to hear that the original release of it was way back in 2007 as a hidden track on my favorite Aes album None Shall Pass. Whenever I need to reflect on one of his tracks, I always reference Genius because his lyrics require serious study in order to actually have a clue what he’s talking about. If you weren’t already familiar, Aes is arguably one of the best lyricists alive (though one could reasonably argue that the best lyrics shouldn’t require references lol). His writing is incredibly dense and chock full of obscure references and allusions, reminding me a bit of romantic poets. That said, “Pigs” is one of his more straightforward tracks, with pigs representing greedy capitalists running the corporations he’s critiquing. The piece is a nice little anti-capitalist jaunt, focusing on the blind and selfish ambition of those who force others to pay the price for their materialist gain. Aes alludes to an uprising of sorts in which the pigs are overthrown, and the vibe of the mix that Blockhead released this year fits that epic tumult nicely. Another quote to finish this one off:
“When all the wolves in woolly wigs
Have huffed, and puffed, and blew the bricks
The skulls of Brooklyn’s cruelest pigs
Will rain on Fulton’s newest kicks
As mulish swine of all surrounding counties sniff the gruesomeness
We pass around the pineapples and pull the pins in unison”
It Gets Dark – Sigrid
“I’ve never, ever been this far away from home, and now I know
It gets dark, yeah, it gets dark and I
I’m moving at the speed of light, I have to go
But now I know, it gets dark so I can see the stars”
I already wrote a whole blog post about this song when I found it in March of this year. The song is a certified electro-pop bop, but what really hooked me with this one were the lyrics quoted above. I have a low-key obsession with light-pollution. Anytime I’m outside at night I’m thinking about just how much I can and can’t see what I know is supposed to be a brilliantly overwhelming blanket of stars. I love going to dark-sky locations just to stargaze, and 8 months ago I got my first crack at astrophotography (see image below for one of my favorites from that outing). The idea that we are becoming increasingly detached from awareness of the infinity of space and our presence as a mere pale blue dot honestly fills me with anxiety, so I latched onto this narrative of someone leaving home in the city and realizing what actual darkness and nighttime skies can be like. Of course there’s clearly a secondary message here relating to a metaphorical “darkness” that enables you to see the stars–perhaps relating to meaning achieved through hardship. Either way, I like it.
Glass Piano – Kathleen
“Push and pull me, build then ruin me
How close is your past? ‘Cause it consumes me
Bend and break, ignore then take, you
Play me like a hammer on a glass piano”
I was shocked when I found the artist Kathleen because it didn’t make sense to me that she wasn’t already on my radar. This song was #4 on my most-listened this year and her song “Can’t Sleep” came in at #8. Her combination of vocal chops and creative songwriting render me confused about her current degree of recognition. Either way, I was enormously pleased to add this artist to the ones I follow, and her back-catalogue is full of solid works in a range of sounds. Check out “San Andreas Fault” and “Fever Dream” for more goodness.
Magnificent – Oh Wonder
“And if I never told you my name, we would be strangers
And I wonder what we’d have made if we were two
Nothing as magnificent
Got nothing on me and you“
Almost all of the songs I’ve heard by Oh Wonder are delivered in this soft unison of their two voices and it’s kinda amazing. The employment of zero harmony is such an interesting deliberate choice that you almost never hear from anyone else and it makes them sound unique and oddly sparse. I don’t listen to a lot of love songs that don’t have some element of cynicism to them, but I think I’ve been giving myself permission to just enjoy stuff that’s enjoyable, and the message here is sweet and sincere.
Skott – Kodak & Codeine
“You call on me
only when on your knees
Kodak and codeine
And I let you in ’cause of our history
You and me the same“
Another Skott song called “Once in a While” came in at number 6 on my list for 2022, but I actually like this one better even though it came in at #14. This actually came out last year and the musicality of it blew me away. Skott has been a favorite artist of mine ever since I heard the song “Amelia“. Her East-European folk/traditional music roots really shine through in songs like this, in a way that augments what to me sounds like electronic pop. The scale she uses in the chorus is super weird for the style of music she’s putting out and that catches my attention and interest every time I hear it.
So yeah… that’s some music I like.