The Best of 2022

I almost didn’t write an annual “Best Of” post this year. Not because I didn’t buy and listen to a ton of music, but more because the blog has sort of drifted away from me over the last few years. The drop in posting frequency has been noticeable:

  • 194 posts in 2019
  • 127 posts in 2020
  • 8 posts in 2021
  • 6 posts in 2022 (not including this one)

I think its just a coincidence that this happened during COVID – if anything I’ve had more free time available over the last three years as I shifted to work-from-home and eliminated a daily 2.5 hour round trip commute from my life. Really it boils down to I just didn’t feel like I had much to say.

Some cool music-related things happened in 2022. Over the summer we got on an airplane for the first time since November, 2019 and took a trip to Chicago. I of course took the opportunity to hit up some local record shops and came home with some great stuff. I also finally attended some concerts (also for the first time since November 2019), catching Swedish House Mafia and Iron Maiden here in Seattle. Then in November we headed back to Reykjavik for our 11th Iceland Airwaves. I can’t say that I have any complaints whatsoever.

I also joined my friend Tristen on a musical odyssey of sorts, as we agreed to listen to the Top 100 albums on Rolling Stone‘s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Over the course of 11 months we worked our way down from #100 (The Band – Music From Big Pink) to #1 (Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On). A task such as this would have been near impossible in the past, but streaming, combined with working from home, helped make it a reality – though I did miss a Neil Young album when he pulled his stuff from Spotify.

But let’s get to the lists! Without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases in 2022

1. Sá Yðar Sem Syndlaus Er – Plagan (Iceland)
2. The Pearl – Sensational ft. Planteaterz (US)
3. Venezuela – Ohm & Octal Industries (Iceland)
4. Tröð – Dalalæða (Iceland)
5. Cosmic Dub Hop – DJ Kalish Youze (Iceland)

This is the first time I’ve ever done a year-end Top 5 list that doesn’t include at least one artist that could be classified as “rock”, which is a bit startling to me but does reflect how my listening habits have changed.

My favorite release was Sá Yðar Sem Syndlaus Er. While put out under the name Plagan, this is in fact the work of Þórir Georg. The music was part of Þórir’s art degree project. The piece as a whole was inspired by Mark Fisher’s concept of “boring dystopia”, which Þórir applied to the seven deadly sins by combining modern-sounding music with something considered kitsch, cross-stitching, which is, or at least was, quite common and prevalent in Icelandic households. Sonically dense and varied, it is an outstanding piece of work. You can find it on streaming services, though if you want a physical copy, good luck – only 10 copies were pressed on vinyl.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Codec & Flexor
3. Mt. Fujitive
4. Kitbuilders
5. Sameheads

I played Codec & Flexor’s “Time Has Changed” single so much this year that it sort of became a running joke in our house. I originally discovered these guys as part of The Sound of Warhammer 40.000 (see below) and immediately fell in love with this track. Kitbuilders also came to me from the same series. PPBB and Sameheads were both live discoveries at Iceland Airwaves, while Mt. Fujitive is an Icelandic artist who somehow managed to slip under my radar for years, a situation I rectified by picking up three of his vinyl releases while in Reykjavik for Airwaves. Fujitive’s sound has elements of hip hop and jazz, and his Bandcamp page uses the description “beats to lounge to”, which is actually pretty apt. Give him a listen when you’re looking to chill.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. The Sound of Warhammer 40.000 releases
2. Led Zeppelin live records
3. Novation Launchkey Mini Midi
4. Q1 – Q4U
5. First Six Dischord Records box set

My descent into the rabbit hole of The Sound of Warhammer 40.000 releases was a blast. I reached out to as many of the artists as I could track down, and a lot of them actually got back to me. The blog that came out of it was one of the best things I’ve done in a while. The only downside was the expense – I had to source most of these records and CDs out of Europe, and there were a few times that the shipping was actually more than the record. But no regrets on my end.

On the Zeppelin front, a Seattle-area record store has a section of OG live recordings from the 1960s through the 1980s – I have to assume these were part of a collection. Tons of stuff from the Stones, Yes, Dylan, The Who, and of course the mighty Zeppelin. I unexpectedly found myself with a few dollars in my pocket around this time and went a bit hog wild, buying 16 (16!) of the Led Zeppelin records. As the year progressed I added a few more from other sources, with special emphasis on Seattle shows. The recording quality on these is all over the board, but I’m glad I picked them up.

The third item on this list isn’t media, but instead midi, as in a midi keyboard. I started making my own music in 2022 and will have a cassette release coming out in January, 2023. More to follow! Finding a used copy of the original release of Q1 was a nice score in Reykjavik, and I’m glad I jumped on that Dischord box set when it was announced, since the pressing was limited to pre-orders only. I have to admit I haven’t opened this one yet, but definitely will next year.

Top 5 Live Shows

1. Janus Rasmussen – Gaukurinn, Reykjavik
2. Revenge of Calculon – Lucky Records, Reykjavik
3. PPBB – Iceland Airwaves Center, Reykjavik
4. Swedish House Mafia – Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle
5. Iron Maiden – Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle

I read mixed reviews on Janus Rasmussen’s show at Guakurinn. All I know is for me it was transcendent, a reminder of the importance of live music and what we lost during the COVID shutdowns. Revenge of Calculon was an absolute blast as the guys entrusted me with a GoPro and told me to run wild in the crowd, which I did. PPBB forced me to get outside of my comfort zone, and for that I am grateful. As for Swedish House Mafia and Iron Maiden, these music veterans still have it and know how to put on a live show.

Top 5 Artists On Spotify

1. Bolt Thrower
2. Led Zeppelin
3. The Rolling Stones
4. Kitbuilders
5. A Tribe Called Quest

I’m not entirely sure what drives these Spotify results. My guess is that these are the artists I searched for most frequently, because I’m not convinced they are the ones I played the most. Bolt Thrower isn’t a surprise – Realm of Chaos is an afternoon go-to that I often play after my last work calls are done for the day but while I’m still tying up loose ends. Zeppelin and the Stones are great and all, but with the Stones in particular, I didn’t play them much outside the Rolling Stone Top 100 list experiment, so maybe that’s why they showed up.

Top 5 Places To Buy Records

1. Lucky Records – Reykjavik
2. Selector Records – Seattle
3. 606 Records – Chicago
4. Reykjavik Record Shop – Reykjavik
5. Space Odyssey – Reykjavik

Finally being able to travel in 2022 was amazing, and it got us back to my favorite record shopping city, Reykjavik. Lucky Records of course holds down the top spot – not only did I buy a bunch of stuff there during Airwaves, but they also serve as a venue and I ordered a bunch from them over the course of the year, which allowed me to keep up with Icelandic releases. Reykjavik Record Shop is also a must-visit while in the city, and Reynir runs a very cool label at the same time. Space Odyssey is the newest addition to the music retail scene in Reykjavik, with a focus on electronic and experimental music and an associated label. So much great stuff happening in that city.

Closer to home, Chicago’s 606 Records and Seattle’s own Selector Records offered up lots of great new electronic music for my ears. My buying this year leaned very heavily in the electronica direction, and specialty shops like these helped make that possible.

Top 5 Music Books Read

1. My Life in the Sunshine: Searching for My Father and Discovering My Family by Nabil Ayers (2022)
2. Led Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz (2021)
3. Stay Fanatic!!! Vol. 3: Frantic Rants for the Turntable Able by Henry Rollins (2022)
4. Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records by Jim Ruland (2022)
5. The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman (2022)

I think I finished nine music books so far this year, and should have a tenth done before it finally wraps up (I’m currently enjoying the first book in the 33 1/3 Genre Series entitled Death Metal). My top choice was about more than just music. Nabil Ayers gives us a very personal look at his life as the son of a famous musician whose father was basically not in his life. It’s funny, moving, and thought-provoking. For record nerds (like me) Henry Rollins serves up another dose of label-gazing, variant chasing, and general musings in the latest volume of his music listening and collecting diaries. Klosterman’s book was probably my overall favorite of the group, but given that it wasn’t music-centric I put it in the #5 spot for purposes of this list. It does have some great stuff about 90s music, though, as well as that very 90s-esque obsession with the concept of “selling out”.

Drekka – “Examinations: 2016-2018” (2020)

I’m writing this on a Friday. I took the day off of work because, frankly, I needed a break. I’m not certain how 2020 will be viewed through the lens of history, but mired in it in the here and now has been a mental grind. Part of the problem, at least for me, is with no way to go anywhere on vacation there hasn’t been motivation to take time away from work. Normally by the end of September we’d have a minimum of one long trip under our belts, quite possible two, and we’d be looking forward to Iceland Airwaves in just a couple of months. But 2020 had other plans. We’ve also both been working from home for seven months now, and while I don’t think we’re getting on each other’s nerves there’s a point where you just want some variety. If you don’t make a point of going somewhere, even to grab a cup of coffee, you suddenly realize that for the last three days the only time you’ve left your house or yard was to walk to the mailbox and you start to fray around the edges.

While the songs on Drekka’s Examinations: 2016-2018 pre-date the COVID malaise, to my ears right here, right now, this music embodies the contemporary experience. Mind you, we’re all grasping at ways to try to bring it all together, so it’s quite possible I’d be saying the same thing if I was listening to this on my headphones while flying someplace cool. But this morning these tracks just seemed to fit. The foggy, slow-paced morning, the smell of hot coffee helping me boot up my mental hard drive. Looking at last night’s work emails, even though I’m off today, because of course I am, because we can’t truly disconnect from work, especially when your laptop and monitor are sitting there on the dining room table silently judging you. Taking a conference call because it was one I felt I needed to be on. Them casually making a decision to spend six figures of the company’s money before finally closing the laptop and trying to take at least a half day for myself.

Examinations: 2016-2018 was the background of my morning. “Spring Rain, Indian Summer” was the quiet start of the day, while the subtle oppressiveness of “Sense of Sense” guided me zombie-like through close to a hundred overnight emails, most of them automated IT stuff, but since every now and then something important pops up you can’t just delete them all. Each track has its own unique character, its own sense of ambience, aided and abetted by Drekka and his relationship with his collaborators, and they helped me navigate though emails, a call, a few more emails, and then the high point of the day, cleaning some records (including this one). It also includes my favorite of Drekka’s compositions, “Call to Prayer”, which alone would be enough reason to buy this compilation, and I was excited to hear a piece he did with Þórir Georg as well.

Examinations: 2016-2018 originally came out digitally in 2018, and a limited edition (of 300) CD run followed. This year it got the vinyl treatment, with 500 copies pressed on black and a super-limited run of 33 copies also on black vinyl but also including a third, hand-cut 12″ (with a screened reverse) and a custom cork slip mat. All three physical formats are available on Drekka’s Bandcamp page HERE. I picked up a vinyl copy from the edition of 33 and it’s a great item – beautiful gatefold, three records, and the slip mat. I highly recommend it.

Hvörf – “Music Library 01” (2019)

Jóhannes Birgir Pálmason is best known for his work as Epic Rain, and in fact the fourth Epic Rain album came out earlier this month (review to follow in the upcoming weeks…). However, that’s not the only record Jóhannes released in 2019. Hell, it’s not even the only album he released in November, because on the same day that Epic Rain’s All Things Turn To Rust came out, so too did Music Library 01 from his new project Hvörf. Joining him as part of Hvörf is none other than Þórir Georg, who has appeared on Life in the Vinyl Lane many times for his solo work as well as with Fighting Shit, Óreiða, Roht, and probably a dozen other bands I’m forgetting. Between them the pair have covered a wide range of musical genres from electronic to hip hop, singer-songwriter to hardcore, indie to black metal, so when I first heard about Hvörf I was curious as to what kind of sounds they’d make together.

I was not expecting library music.

Now, don’t be confused. Music Library 01 isn’t some kind of generic collection of music and sound designed with TV and film producers in mind. At least not entirely. There are absolutely some delicate tracks such as “The Cosmic Connection”, with it’s piano and gentle guitar foundation, that would be absolutely perfect for a movie score. But we also have more experimental works like “Life On Other Planets” that utilize dialog samples from other media as part of the sonic composition. When viewed as a whole we see that Music Library 01 is anchored by these two styles, and in fact they alternate across the albums eight tracks – the odd numbered songs played as low key and at times dramatic instrumentals while the even numbered tracks have a more sci-fi sensibility and use dialog sampling all of which seems to be tied to aliens and/or a possible nuclear apocalypse, giving them a somewhat dystopian feel. It’s like two four-song EPs, except instead of each EP taking up one thematically consistent side the songs are shuffled together like a deck of cards. The effect is not as obvious as you might think, because while the two styles are different they retain some similar stylistic elements, the underlying atmospheric foundation the same for all eight compositions. It’s some exception chill out music.

Music Library 01 is available for listening at Bandcamp HERE. The vinyl was put out on the Lucky Records imprint, and while not for sale on Bandcamp it is available through their store in Reykjavik. Discogs indicates it’s a relatively small pressing of 250 copies, so make sure to get yours.

Þórir Georg – “Fallið Er Dáið” (2019)

Þórir Georg has a broad musical palette – indie, folk, hardcore, metal… his musical travels are far and wide, and the one thing you always know you’re going to get from Georg is 100% sincerity. Whatever he is working on at the moment, he’s pouring everything he has into the music.

Georg’s latest release is a 19-minute ambient track recorded on the day he learned of the passing of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Somber ambient, it captures the damp cold of a Reykjavik winter, the wind penetrating even the thickest leather jacket, your pant cuffs soaked and wicking up cold water as you trudge through the few hours of twilight before darkness arrives again. It’s a reflective piece that captures the sense of loss we feel when someone important to us dies. It doesn’t matter that we never met them, because their art touched us at times in our lives when that was of paramount importance. It’s a different kind of mourning than one experiences for a friend or loved one, but a strong feeling nonetheless, one still capable of dampening our mood.

Bluesanct put out Fallið Er Dáið (which translates to The Fall Is Dead) in a limited edition of 50 cassettes. It’s available both in physical format as well as digital at the label’s Bandcamp page HERE, and you can also listen to the entire thing for free.

Þórir Georg – “Pantophobic” Cassette (2017)

Pantophobia is defined as the “fear of everything”. The term was first used by Théodule-Armand Ribot who explained it a bit more eloquently and certainly a little more romantically as “a state in which a patient fears everything or nothing, where anxiety, instead of being riveted on one object, floats as in a dream, and only becomes fixed for an instant at a time, passing from one object to another, as circumstances may determine.”

It’s a fitting title for the latest release by Þórir Georg, especially the floating on a dream bit. Georg’s compositions are fairly stripped down, though perhaps not as much so as on some of his other works, while his voice flows through (not over) his musical compositions like a creek – not too fast, but hardly at rest either, with a certain restlessness, a sense of needing to get somewhere soon but not actually going anywhere in particular. The vocals give the sense of a certain resigned intensity, not fully desperate but more moderately anxious, as if he recognizes this as his normal state and has come to resignedly accept it. The music builds in intensity across the first side of the cassette giving the listener an increased sense of anxiety, moving from slowly acoustic to fuller-sounding to discordant in a way to change the listener’s emotional state.

I’ve run across Þórir Georg a few times in Reykjavik, but never introduced myself. He’s one of those guys who sort of seems to have a bit of a wall around him, not in an arrogant or egotistical way, but more of a shield of privacy that I feel compelled to respect. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve seen him has been at Lucky Records, which is probably not surprising given that the cover photo to Pantophobic was obviously taken in that store. Maybe this year when we’re in town for Airwaves I’ll make a point of saying “hi”.

You can go HERE to experience Georg and Pantophobic in all of its glory. His catalog runs fairly deep, so I encourage you to poke around while you’re paying his Bandcamp page a visit, because there’s a lot to like there.