Deep Voices: The 100 Best Songs of 2022
A year, in music
This is the third edition of Deep Voices’ year end list of the 100 best songs of the year. As it has been the last two years, this year’s list is not an attempt to cover all the bases of what music had to offer in 2022. It’s 100 cool songs. The Rosalia song where it sounds like the song is getting attacked by a nail gun. A bunch of jungle. Older indie rockers singing at mid-pace about love and death. Regular piano music and piano music where it sounds like the piano is on fire.
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I spent way too long sequencing this playlist. You can start anywhere, but I do hope you will listen in order, preferably with headphones. The songs can speak for themselves, but below are a few thoughts about what I thought they had to say.
On the song “I Was On a Back Road By Myself,” Wicca Phase Springs Eternal describes being on a back road by himself. “I was on a back road by myself/In Waverly Township.” Driving around Pennsylvania, he finds himself, “Totally immersed in where I was and what I felt,” concluding that it is, “Amazing how a simple drive can open my eyes to what is out there.” I know the feeling!
I have a small group chat with two of my friends who love music. One of them moved from New York to Vermont recently and has been updating us regularly about his farmhouse life. I sent him those lyrics and he said, “This is like a text I type to you guys and delete before sending.” I think that gets at why it’s such a great piece of writing, a magical lyric. It’s tossed off genius, the marriage of specific and generic, the big dumb throb of revelation. Profundity may come in many shapes, but for most of us, it can be drawn with a single line. It can be embarrassing to admit to feeling so awakened to the world. How can you be an adult and find that a backroad in Waverly Township is a portal to another dimension? An older Wicca lyric: “Most of the time, I’m blessed.” Same.
I have no use for cleverness. The world has played enough tricks on me. Songs that tell it like it is, hulkingly sad and stupidly beautiful, were especially meaningful. High Vis’ “Trauma Bonds,” a song about a friend’s suicide yields, “tears on my Goretex.” There is not a fabric I did not cry onto this year.
I can confidently say this was the worst year of my life. I would like to say that music, my stalwart, rescued me from grief. But that is not true. The best I can say is that as I have burrowed into a hole, music came along with me. I realized recently that grief no longer exists as something separate to be experienced, processed, conquered. Grief is now my bedrock, the shitty dais from which I make my vista of the world. But Bill Callahan stands beside me, holding my hand with his voice. Michael Harrison plays piano for me all day, while I attempt to work, to relax, to do the crossword, to love my wife, to see my friends, to find any reason to be grateful. DJ Python, as any regular reader of this newsletter knows, tucks me in at night.
What I mean is that discovery has held less appeal than peace. Pleading songs with grand messages, familiar sounds, music with undeniable delight. Making this playlist, I cannot tell you how many times I listened to the Cameo Blush song “Template” and wondered if it was actually good or if it was just good at doing the kind of thing I like a lot. Is there a difference? Empiricism has gone out the window along with everything else.
I’ve never been to New Zealand, but Roy Montgomery’s “On the Eve of Leaving Dunedin for Christchurch,” seems like it could also be named, “On the Eve of Leaving the Hospital for the Rest of Your Life.” It’s a plain song of guitar strumming, ruminative and aching. The song fades out, the journey continues. I paired that with Carla Dal Forno’s “Slumber,” a sort of walking blues in duet with RAP’s Thomas Bush. “Rest your gentle head and I will cradle you as I hold you close,” he sings in the most British voice you’ve ever heard in your life. “My love, there’s still so much to do and so much more I want to be,” she responds. He’s the voice in your head. Or at least the one in my head, that this year has called me more times to rest than I can comfortably admit. She wins though. She made the song.
“Sudany” by Sofie Birch and Antonina Nowacka begins with the sound of windchimes. That song could be 10,000 hours long. “Iliad” by Malibu takes nine sublime minutes to go to space and come back to earth, ending up right where it began. Bladee I am somehow not too old to get. Says as much about him as me. Auto-Tune has not lost its charm. “I saw a rainbow in the dark/I put a symbol in a song/I put a window in the wall.” Cool. Carl Stone made “Sumiya” while he was in the hospital in Japan for gallstones. It sounds nuts. Pain or relief? Two sides of the same coin. The last song on here, “Who Ate That Bread,” asks the question, “Who ate that bread?” As you can see by the shape of my face, the answer is me.
I feel like I should apologize for all the electronic songs with vocal samples. I’m a real sucker for that. rRoxymore, Gold Panda, DJ Hank, The Range. Maybe I like them in the same way you leave on the radio for your dog when you’re not home. No need to say anything profound, it’s just nice to hear someone’s voice. Molly Joyce’s “Isolation” (which is the only song not available on Apple Music) tackles the tricky desire for company. On Perspective, her concept album about disability, she asked questions of disabled people. “What is isolation for you?” was one of them. “Isolation is knowing that people are willing to go to you but not be with you.” It’s a description that works pretty well for grief. Hearing that song honestly made me feel less alone.
There are plenty of instrumental songs on here, don’t get me wrong, you’re not in for a barrage of talking. But in a world where most people don’t know what to say, when maybe there’s really nothing to say, I’ve gravitated to those who at least give it a shot.
Ultimately I think, “Do you know you’re amazing” is my lyric of the year. It’s the last line of Joan Armatrading’s “Already There,” a simple song about waiting for someone you’re in love with to fall in love with you. By the end of the song, that’s happened. Joan is celebrating. “Do you know you’re amazing?” she sings. It’s a rhetorical question.
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