After a fun first year, I’m looking forward to what promises to be another twelve months of incredible albums. The Baying of Kazak’s recommendations will take a slightly different format this month, giving greater emphasis to those gems that readers might not have encountered elsewhere.
WARNING: All albums and their accompanying videos are completely uncensored. A number of them contain bad language that is unsuitable for children, NSFW topics and images, and/or political commentary that may offend or disturb some.
Please follow the following links if you wish to skip to Four Great Albums from January You Might Not Have Heard, Three That You Might, or Ones to Watch.
Firstly, a Mea Culpa from December…
Oh dear. The music industry’s tendency to declare Album of the Year lists in early December ultimately doesn’t tend to make much of a difference to their accuracy. More often than not very little of any note is released in that month – the likes of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Beyoncé’s self-titled album are the very rare exceptions that prove the general trend. I got caught up in the end-of-year excitement in early December 2021 and decided to release my own list, hoping that I wouldn’t get punished. That turned out to be a miscalculation, as tricot released something special:
tricot – Jodeki (Rock, AVEX Entertainment, Inc.)
The Skinny: tricot are one of the most impressive bands in rock music right now. The Japanese four-piece first came to my attention in 2020 with their brilliant album 10, a perfect distillation of their self-described “harmonization of pop and emotional vocals with… complex rhythm[s].” Previously this penchant for experimenting with time signatures and whiplash-inducing changes in tempo saw European and American commentators often categorise them as ‘math-rock’ (something which the band themselves strongly refute and characterise as pure coincidence).
Jodeki serves as further evidence that tricot’s music offers far more than the unimaginative tropes assigned to it by others. Here they prove themselves to be a perfectly-balanced force. On the one hand, the command of melody and harmony on display (especially in the vocals) allows the band to consistently create moments of breath-taking beauty like those in TALK and Tissue. At the same time, tricot clearly appreciate the sense of sheer exhilaration that more explosive rock music can still produce when executed correctly, be it the anthemic drive of BAKURO or the ragged thrash of INAI and SUPER SUMMER. Even slower numbers (Tissue) and experimentation with potentially unfashionable styles and sounds (Walking) are pulled off effortlessly. This is clearly a band who are confident in their musical abilities and completely unafraid to take artistic risks in order to create the music that they want. As well they might – Jodeki justifies that self-assurance at every turn.
Simply put, if I had heard Jodeki before I compiled my end of year list for 2021, it very likely would have made the top twenty. As you move on to 2022’s musical treasures, I would highly recommend that you take the time to get yourself acquainted with last year’s last masterpiece.
Standout tracks: Bakuro, Jodeki
For fans of: Sleater-Kinney, Black Midi, Really From
Having cleared that up, let’s move on to Janaury….
Four Great Albums You Might Not Have Heard from January 2022
Grace Cummings – Storm Queen (Folk/Singer-Songwriter, ATO Records)
The Skinny: Grace Cummings’ self-produced second album has been a completely unexpected and delightful discovery for me this month. Storm Queen finds the Melbourne-based folk artist firing on all cylinders as a songwriter and a performer, already possessing a fully-formed musical identity and operating at a level that few achieve so early in their careers. The most immediately obvious draw here is Cummings’ distinctive voice, which soars and snarls throughout in an awe-inspiring performance. Equally impressive, however, is her talent for instantly memorable melodies and chord progressions. Up In Flames’ descending guitar, for example, sounds about as classic a folk arrangement as one could find, albeit one delivered with an intensity that goes toe-to-toe with its captivating, nearly-deranged vocals. On more than one occasion whilst listening to Storm Queen, I’m left thinking “surely this can’t be the first time that someone has come up with such brilliantly simple tunes.” I guess that Storm Queen must be a work of aural magic.
Standout tracks: Up in Flames, Fly A Kite
For fans of: Janis Joplin, Aldous Harding, Angel Olsen
Eiko Ishibashi – Drive My Car Original Soundtrack (Soundtrack/Art Pop/Jazz Pop, NewHere Music / Space Shower Music)
The Skinny: January saw the official release of Eiko Ishibashi’s soundtrack to Drive My Car, one of 2021’s best-received films based on a short story by legendary author Haruki Murakami. I adore Ishibashi’s 2014 album Car and Freezer, which bridged a gap between ornate chamber pop and jazz rhythms (amongst other things), so personally it’s very rewarding to hear her draw from a related sonic palette with further success for Drive My Car. Ishibashi’s vocals are completely removed from the equation here, meaning that her talent for instrumental arrangement and enchanting piano melodies are required to take centre stage. The latter in particular is more than sufficiently expressive to conjure up the moods and emotions dictated by the film; on the opening title track and The Important Thing Is to Work, the piano melodies interweave with flute and melodion to create comforting, unhurried small-town vibes whilst on We’ll Live Through the Long, Long Days, and Through the Long Nights, their mysterious chord progressions build a sense of genuine intrigue. As a piece of music in its own right the Drive My Car Original Soundtrack is a beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable work.
Standout tracks: We’ll Live Through the Long, Long Days, and Through the Long Nights, Drive My Car (The Truth, No Matter What It Is, Isn’t That Frightening)
For further streaming options or to purchase this album please head to https://ssm.lnk.to/DMCOSwbt
Mydreamfever – Rough and Beautiful Place (Modern Classical/Ambient)
The Skinny: The rise of anonymous Korean artist Parannoul (파란노을) was one of the most heart-warming surprise stories of 2021. His second album To See the Next Part of the Dream was initially released only on Bandcamp, yet the emotional heft of its lyrical themes and composition resonated deeply with so many of those who listened to it. The album built such a sizeable grassroots following on the internet that by the end of the year it was added to major streaming services and even reviewed in major American publications like Pitchfork. Even now, a year later, it sits in the top fifteen of influential online music database RateYourMusic’s best albums of 2021 (as voted for by listeners).
It’s another extremely pleasant surprise then that less than a year after To See the Next Part of the Dream‘s release we have new album Rough and Beautiful Place, which might be even better. It’s a significant shift in musical style (perhaps explaining its release under a different name) in which peaceful, reflective piano and ambient field recordings of nature strongly evoke the scenery suggested by its title and cover artwork. Much like my Album of the Month in January 2021, Norvik’s The Drawing Board II, it’s amazing how masterfully this artist is able to draw out such diverging emotions and moods from mostly one instrument. From the exquisite serenity of Sprout to the jubilant waltz of Moment Is Now and the despairing, frantic drama at the climax of Spirit of Love, Rough and Beautiful Place is a treat both aurally and spiritually.
Standout tracks: Sprout, Moment Is Now
For fans of: Norvik
Soichi Terada – Asakusa Light (House/Dance, Rush Hour)
The Skinny: This is my first encounter with Soichi Terada’s music, but he has been composing and producing records in Japan’s house and electronic scenes for over forty years (in particular readers might have come across his work on the Ape Escape videogame soundtrack). In 2015 his back catalogue underwent/experienced renewed interest with the release of compilation Sounds from the Far East by Dutch label Rush Hour, which Terada followed with tour dates in North America and Europe for the first time. Asakusa Lightis, as far as I can tell, his first studio album since, and it’s a real charmer of a record. It perfectly captures a sense of noir-ish cityscapes with punchy synth bass, shuffling percussion, and fuzzy synth pads that display a greater emphasis on melody than most dance records achieve. Runners is a particular highlight where the usual kick drum and synth bass combination is reshaped into an almost haunting atmosphere by a twinkling glockenspiel line, unresolved house piano, and, bizarrely, even playful pan pipes.
Standout tracks: Double Spire, Runners
For fans of: Eris Drew, Fatima Yamaha, Ross From Friends
… and Three That You Might
Bonobo – Fragments (House/Electronic, Ninja Tune)
The Skinny: Readers of this blog should hopefully already have Fragments on their to-listen list, as brilliant preview singles Rosewood and Otomo have both featured in previous Tracks of the Month playlists. Thankfully the album as a whole lives up to the promise of those tracks, delivering an immersive experience that combines foot-tapping house with contemplative electronics as well as moments of lush orchestration and soulful guest vocals.
Standout tracks: Otomo, Rosewood
For fans of: Bicep
Earl Sweatshirt – SICK! (Rap, Tan Cressida, Inc.)
The Skinny: Earl Sweatshirt’s unique and lauded brand of rap has honestly never held my attention across the course of an entire album before, but SICK! looks set to buck that trend. His style is still curious, producing truncated and deconstructed pieces that rarely last over two minutes and often feel like they’re wandering around rather than charging at the listener. On SICK!, however, the recipe personally seems to make a lot more sense, and tracks like 2010 and Fire in the Hole are sure to remain some of the year’s best even when December rolls around again.
Standout tracks: 2010, Fire in the Hole
For fans of: Armand Hammer
The Weeknd – Dawn FM (R&B, Republic Records)
The Skinny: The Weeknd continues his world domination tour with another release less than two years after his smash album After Hours and less than a year after his Superbowl half-time performance. Dawn FM is not without flaws (it’s too long, for a starters), but it is chock full of fantastic songs, and the opening five-track run is one of the most invigorating collections of big-budget pop/R&B that I’ve heard in a long time. This is arguably his best album since the iconic House of Balloons.
Standout tracks: Sacrifice, Less Than Zero
Ones to Watch
Silvana Estrada – Marchita (Folk, Glassnote Music)
The Skinny: Sumptuous folk music that draws from the influence of Estrada’s native Mexico and features the gorgeous Venezuelan cuatro (a four-stringed guitar that is similar in shape and tuning yet sonically very different to the ukulele).
Standout tracks: La Corriente
For fans of: María Lafourcade
Onsloow – S/T (Rock, How Is Annie Records)
The Skinny: Scrappy Norwegian indie rock with plenty of hooks and memorable choruses.
Standout tracks: A Good Day to Forget
For fans of: Sløtface
Anxious – Little Green House (Emo, Run For Cover Records)
The Skinny: Outstanding mid-00’s emo that’s also filled with hooky guitar lines and singalong choruses.
Standout tracks: Your One Way Street
For fans of: The Hotelier
iANO – Break the Sky, No One Cares EP (Electronic/Singer-Songwriter/Experimental, iANO)
The Skinny: Mysterious and often beautiful soundscapes balancing both naturalistic and artificial tones.
Standout tracks: Stay Awake
For fans of: Lyra Pramuk
Spank Hair – Just Like Me EP (Emo/Rock)
The Skinny: More thoroughly enjoyable emo, this time from Oxford locals Spank Hair. Tracks like Tony Hawk and Big Brain display an impressive skill at winding guitar riffs.
Standout tracks: Tony Hawk
BAYNK – ADOLESCENCE (Alt-Pop/R&B/Dance, Allpoints/Believe)
The Skinny: Genre-hopping alt-pop that specialises in excellent sad bangers.
Standout tracks: Remember (feat. Rainsford)
For fans of: Fred Again.., Metronomy
Trenches – Reckoner (Metal, Trenches)
The Skinny: Heavy metal with an inclination for interesting melodies alongside the crunching riffs and screaming. I honestly could not tell you what a single lyric said, however.
Standout tracks: The Raging Sea
For fans of: Gojira
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