I’ve been missing for a few…but I’m motivated tonight to tell you about 6 alternative songs in 2023 you need to jump on ASAP! Some of these from spring and summer will make my year-end list of favorite alternative songs in 2023. A few are just in my head and deserve a broader audience.
How to listen to the best alternative songs in 2023
You can listen to ALL of the songs right from this page, and use the handy links to support the artists.
“Fantastic Tales of the Sea” – The Hannah Barberas (Fantastic Tales of the Sea)
“Fantastic Tales of the Sea” may be one the catchiest alternative songs in 2023.
But first, I have to say as a frequent band name critic, let’s give credit to The Hannah Barberas for possibly best band name ever. And double win, best album art of 2023?! (Credit to London designer Sally Kelly). These guys are killing it on the aesthetics.
None of this it to take away from the title track of 2023’s fantastic, Fantastic Tales of the Sea, or my story about hearing it the first time. Among the things I DON’T have to complain about is traveling some this summer. I was listening to Fantastic Tales at Hideaways Beach in Kauai. Yes, I get it, entitled white guy story here. But the moment was still powerful.
It was our last day on the island and I’m at Hideaways with my daughter. It is one of the most picturesque beaches I’ve ever seen. Surreal. Rose is recording an Insta Reel in the water and doing what teenagers do. I was taking in the ocean, listening to The Hannah Barberas’ new album. Near the end, “Fantastic Tales” positively leaped out of the headphones. The chorus was instantly sealed with those last, fading hours of our family vacation, the way some songs are forever connected to a moment in time.
You don’t have to be in Hawaii to enjoy the clear-eyed jangle brilliance of The Hannah Barberas.
“This is Gonna Change Your Mind” – Martin Frawley (The Wannabe)
Martin Frawley’s sprechgesang “This is Gonna Change Your Mind” from his second album, The Wannabe, endears itself with repeat listening. Hearing it again, I’m tempted to buy the full album by the former member of Melbourne’s Twerps. Baggy jam at one moment, enigmatic dolewave the next, Frawley’s desultory vocals tie the whole thing together. It’s a nuanced album that begs several listens to really get it.
That said, leadoff “This is Gonna Change Your Mind” is just straightforward infectious pop!
In fact CWG guests on Bowen’s Old Kanawha (modern pronunciation: kuh-NAW), the county of West Virginia’s capital, Charleston, and the Native American word for “white rocks.” Bowen is a renowned fiddle and mandolin session musician but his vocals runs are so light they could fool you into thinking it is auto-tune.
“Vampire in Appalachia” also boasts a champion version of the “Woah oh oh oh oh” bridge mirrored in the past by The Ronettes, Baltimora and Howard Jones. Bowen owns them all with his earnest “Vampire in Appalachia,” one of the best alternative songs in 2023 in alt country.
Words really only detract from pure pop sugar like Bobsled Team’s “Analita.” The whimsical echo of the chorus begins what you think will be Icelandic dream pop, but it builds to a bit of a noisy indie jam. I’m not previously familiar with Belfast’s Bobsled Team but now greatly anticipate their second album!
“Analita,” a song about a ghost, is an instant classic.
Let’s stay in this same ethereal space with Dot Allison’s “Unchanged.” Allison has been around basically forever, originally as part of One Dove. We’re virtually the same age, a discovery I usually find surprising in a contemporary indie artist.
One Dove had just one album, 1993’s Morning Dove White, but Allison has released six albums since then, culminating in 2021’s Heart-Shaped Scars and this year’s Consciousology. If she more closely identifies with the psych/trip hop space, the chorus of “Unchanged” floats weightlessly, very nearly like a country harmonic.
Is “Unchanged” a tender homage to her lover, or bitter realization?
You’re always the same Always unchanged So he should walk away Yet his love remains...unchanged
Unchanged, like a sunrise Unchanged, like your ghost Unchanged, once a lifetime Unchanged, a seed won’t sow Unchanged, like the fractal Unchanged, shaping the snow Unchanged, if statues could move Oh the stories they could tell
You can also hear the growing trippy beats under the Scottish singer’s single, which she originally released in May.
At some point, I realize I could do these playlists all night. Let’s wrap back in the states, with Philadelphia’s Hurry.
“Beggin’ For You” sounds like a Teenage Fanclub lost classic with thrilling chamber pop flourishes. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about Matt Scottoline’s ode to 90’s power pop and its influences. He owns every Norman Blake vocal peak, Big Star guitar solo and jangly Byrds chorus.
Check out how it comes together on “Beggin’ For You.”
The best alternative songs in 2023 are yet to come
Look, we’ve got 95+ days left in 2023. These 6 songs were basically some of the last 8 or 10 I put in my phone for a post just like this — an update. I have dozens of favorite alternative songs in 2023 that I’ll catalogue at the end of the year. Last year, I listed 22 of my favorites from 2022.
Subscribe for updates as we wind up another terrific year in alternative music!
It’s been a challenge to assemble the best indie albums 2023 has produced so far. But I’ve got nine exceptional records for you here.
I’ve dug deep, listened long and sampled wide. In the process, I’ve heard a lot of dull songs, some pretty weird stuff and found the very best indie rock albums 2023 has available for your rock dollar. In some ways, the standouts seem fewer this year. Maybe 2022 was so epic, it has been hard to compare; maybe I’m setting the bar too high.
Best indie albums 2023: A few ground rules
Some notes about the 9 bands listed here, the dozen or so honorable mentions and 128,000 bands with albums this year who aren’t listed.
First, I think you can goof a little with a mid-year list, but not a lot. These are nine bands I’m serious as a heart attack about. I don’t posture as cooler-than-thou.
Second, I’m notoriously 2-4 weeks behind in my listening. This list should be good to about the first of June; I have ten or twelve records on my phone I either haven’t listened to or bought yet.
Third, your favorite nine albums are probably just as good as mine. Individual mileage may vary.
Finally, I became attached to the number 9 somewhat arbitrarily. Fifteen might have been a better number.
So read a little about these 9 albums and listen to a song from each record. If you dig it, listen to a few moe songs. Link to the release and buy it.
All on one indispensable website, because I love you.
Best alternative albums 2023, to rank or not to rank?
This list of the best indie albums 2023 has produced isn’t listed in order of preference – it’s way too early for ranking! But each album is fantastic and should already be in your collection.
They all stand a fair chance of making many Top 10 lists at the end of the year.
Shana Cleveland (Manzanita)
The lead singer for La Luz, Shana Cleveland‘s solo albums are distinctly removed from her Seattle band’s surfy good times. Manzanita is a bewitching concoction of dream pop, slithering psych folk and pedal steel. A few of the longer pieces are ornamented with more acoustic passages and discreet melodic side channels.
Of the fourteen songs on Manzanita, eleven are fuller compositions and two or three are a bit more like transition elements, including the 12-second “Bloom.” Haunting arrangments like “Quick Winter Sun,” “Bonanza Freeze” and “Gold Winter” feel like Syd Barrett’s 1960’s Pink Floyd.
But you can imagine Cleveland opening for Beach House on songs like “Mystic Mine.”
Hollywood Dog was a spring favorite of mine. Fixtures layers a terrific horn section over power pop. They make you wonder what Bob Mould would have sounded like with these kind of expansive brass arrangements.
Hollywood Dog opens with the driving “21/1” and closes with the “21/1 Reprise.” And “21/1” is a great example of the way each song on Hollywood Dog takes on added drama from Riley Cooke’s done-but-not-overdone trumpet. The brass creates a mystic quality on songs like “Ghost Relays,” which if K. Liakos decided to push his vocals to a scream would sound not unlike a lost Pixies classic.
I’ve decided I will travel up to 400 miles to see Brooklyn’s Fixtures live. Here is the 2:26 blast of title track “Hollywood Dog,” which would rip in person!
The WAEVE was the first album in 2023 to really knock me over.
I didn’t expect to love Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall’s album as much as I did. Obviously the Blur founder can turn almost anything to gold. But this is the year 2023 and my expectations were…modest. What a terrific surprise!
Everything about The WAEVE is emotive and stirring. The sequencing of the album from rocker “Kill Me Again” to the jazz-infused “Over and Over” is perfection. “Over and Over” also illustrates how exquisite Coxon and Dougall sound together. A bit of an April-September musical and literal romance, Coxon’s saxophone, guitar progressions and Dougall’s smoky vocal style just couldn’t be better suited together.
The WAEVE is an album of endless surprises, and is probably still my favorite this year.
THE SONGS ARE LONG — and really deserve the time to gradually reveal themselves. The motorik rhythm of “Drowning” is an example of an arrangement you just need to stay with. It turns into this mini-epic of strings and sax perfect for a chilled, rainy night.
At two minutes in, “Drowning” is just getting started. Give it the time it deserves.
To hear Food for Worm is to be reminded of the seminal London Calling.
Shame swings for the fences again, turning post-punk into something fresh and important. Instead of The Clash’s experiments with ska and world beats, Shame alternately drops skronky guitars and spikey rhythms into Food for Worms.
I’m anxious for Shame to play America this year. However the planned tour dates so far venture no further west than Dallas. They have to announce some West Coast dates – there is still hope to hear one of the best indie albums 2023 has produced so far!
Not surprising, Food for Worms is best played at ear-crushing decibels. Bump that VU on the arena-worthy chorus of album highlight “Adderall.”
Star Eaters Delight is an early dark horse for my favorite album of 2023.
Lael Neale retreated to her parents home in Virginia during the Corona, and the rural expanse is a felt co-producer on Star Eaters Delight. Neale’s propulsive melodies burst with a sense of clarity from those pastoral months, an extension and sort of reconnection to her previous life in LA.
As consuming as the songs are, they are spacious arrangements. I thought the comment of her producer, Guy Blakeslee, was amusing: “Lael is always telling me to play fewer notes.” Boy, can you hear it in the cavernous arrangements, which don’t seem spare but instead spotlight Neale’s perfect vibrato.
It’s hard not to see and hear a bit of Natalie Mering in Neale, though Neale is more baroque. SED is an album full of singles from one of the best indie albums 2023 has seen so far. But I can only choose one song.
Rather than the epic and enigmatic “In Verona,” here is “Faster Than the Medicine,” which I think is representative of the full recording.
Coombes’ band Supergrass was not part of my musical journey. You can’t listen to all the music. But Gaz is part of my story now. His voice sounds incredible, the compositions are rich, complex, just impeccable.
By point of comparison, many songs on Turn the Car Around are a perfect stylistic mashup of Elbow and Radiohead. “Long Live the Strange” could equally be a takeout from Leaders of the Free World or Kid A.
I believe I’ve sampled more alt country than any other genre in 2023 besides your broadly defined post punk. I mean…I’VE HEARD A LOT of alt country, and not much has hit hard. I’ve listed a few honorable mentions below, and I’ll find more for my year end list.
But The Murlocs – wow! A band doing something new under the sun!
Calm Ya Farm is a swampy, scuzzy proggy country thing that is an absolute joy. If Geddy Lee formed a bayou jam band and held drunken Friday night hootenannies for friends in low places, it would approximate half the creative energy wrapped up in the 7th album by Melbourne’s The Murlocs.
A sort of second-cousin to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, members of The Murlocs have labored a bit in King Gizzard’s shadow. The Murlocs’ singer Ambrose Kenny-Smith and bassist Cook Craig also play in King Gizzard. Also, the bands tour together and share a ton of DNA.
Here is The Murlocs’ smoking, roiling “Russian Roulette,” a cut from one of the best indie albums 2023 has seen so far — across any genre!
A song like this begs the question, does Calm Ya Farm devolve into camp? I hear an honest tribute to the genre, not goofing on alt country. And it’s new, different…it is NEEDED.
Dignan Porch is the retro DIY project of Joe Walsh, and it is amaze.
Melodies are slightly off kilter and psychedelic at times. The lofi songs are wonderfully poppy at their core but warped just enough to sound like lost cassette tracks from Marquee Moon. You can hear the late, revered Tom Verlaine in the mournful harmonized guitar of songs like “Ancestral Trail.”
Walsh moved from London to Manchester shortly before the pandemic. Other than a bit of help from his brother, Walsh wrote, performed and recorded most of Electric Threads on his own.
Who imagined this remarkable summer of live music would end with a Jockstrap Salt Lake City show!
British students Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye released my favorite album of 2022. Jennifer B, I Love You is a exquisite amalgam of funky electropop, glitchy dance beats, giant esoteric hooks and Ellery’s deliquescent vocals floating throughout.
This is — end of May? Even now, I find myself in random moments singing some loopy bridge from last year’s Jennifer B. What a gift to be able to see the Jockstrap Salt Lake City show just before the weather turns truly cold!
Here are 3 things you need to know about Jockstrap and the upcoming performance.
3 things about the Jockstrap Salt Lake City show
1. When and Where
First, Jockstrap will play the Soundwell venue on September 27. Soundwell is at 149 West on 200 South. Soundwell opened just a couple of years before The Corona and I have never been inside — however the publicity photos are a knockout.
2. How Much?
Second, only in Utah can you see a world class performance like Jockstrap for the low, low price of $22. Of course…with taxes, fees, handling, shipping and international freight, your final out-of-pocket is $32 from Tixr. Still a great value for your indie rock dollar.
3. Why Jockstrap?!
Third, dumb band name aside, Jockstrap beat out some real heavy-hitters to become my #1 album of 2022. Not persuaded? Here is Jockstrap’s “Glasgow” as a sample.
Final note. As it happens, Georgia Ellery will play Soundwell twice in three weeks.
In her spare time outside of school and touring the world with Jockstrap, Ellery plays violin for Black Country, New Road. BCNR is (also) touring the world. After releasing Ants From Up There, singer Isaac Wood departed. As a result, the band wrote and is playing from an entirely new set of music. Ellery and Black Country, New Road play Soundwell on September 8.
I’ve bought my ticket for the Jockstrap Salt Lake City show. September 28 is now on my calendar as a perfectly fitting end to Summer 2023!
Selecting the best 2022 alternative albums was only complicated by the awesome scope of releases.
2022 was a wild and rewarding year of music! Alternative country was at the vanguard of experimental sound, female singer-songwriters dominated across genres and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were relevant again. Most notably, pandemic-delayed music continued to flood into record stores and music websites.
Kids, there is SO. MUCH. MUSIC.
Picking the best 2022 alternative albums
So…a few rules of the road.
First, my basic measure of a great album. It isn’t influence or buzz or length. It’s a release that I can honestly say — YES — I’ll come back and listen to this record over and over in years to come. Second, I love albums that are full and cohesive musical statements. Those are weighted heavily on my list over simple collections of songs. Finally, I try my very best not to posture as Cooler Than Thou. Some of these bands you will know; some you may not have heard about; they all belong on my list because I genuinely love them. Nothing is here for show. In fact, some of it may be damning.
I like what I like.
I’ve tried to provide two songs for every album that you can stream straight from this page. Read, listen and disagree. And by all means, tell me what I missed!
Best 2022 alternative albums: Counting down from 20 to 11
It was harder choosing the order in the second half of this list than those at the top.
Only one of my top 10 (foreshadowing) wasn’t part of my mental list of “best 2022 alternative albums” for several months. However, it was a little harder to sequence from 11 to 20 for some reason. Any of these records could easily be another person’s favorite of the year, and all deserve your time.
20. Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
I didn’t hear Weyes Blood’s 2021 Titanic Rising to compare to this year’s And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow. The first 5 or 6 tracks are magical, though I think Hearts Aglow lags a bit near the end. If she resisted the comparison at first, it really is hard not to hear Karen Carpenter in Natalie Mering’s vocals. Not a little Jeff Lynne happening here too!
19. Mañana El Espacio – Casi Nada Es Para Siempre
What more can I say? Loved this indie pop band from Venezuela.
Band leader and song writer Ricardo Vergara now writes from Medellín, Columbia, known as the City of Eternal Spring. You’ll feel that kind of renewal in these songs that range from garage rock to a bit of psychedelic jangle. Pedals and indie hand claps included at no extra charge.
Did you hear all the Spanish-language jangle pop released in 2022? You’ll fall in love with these songs!
I deliberately place Hop Up here, not least of all because Orlando Weeks deserves it. Also because Weeks’ sincere family delight is anathema to jaded music critics, who cannot tolerate simple, unironic joy. The album pulses with late-Roxy Music vibes and a little XTC.
17. The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness – The Third Wave of…
TBWTPN collaborate across Europe on sunny indie pop songs, Gonzalo Marcos in Spain and Andrew Taylor in Scotland. However most of the hooks have the lightest touch of sweet jangle somewhere between The Byrds and Teenage Fanclub. The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness present musical elation of the highest order!
Mary Lou Lord guests on the sweet duet, “Isolation.”
16. Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
There’s a Spiritualized formula AMIRIGHT? Like Guy Garvey basically has a formula for Elbow? The answer is yes, and I’m here for every second of it.
Tell me if there has been a greater payoff than the Brian Wilson swell at 2:25 on Spiritualized’s “Always Together With You?” Like, ever in the history of music? Possibly exaggeration, but it’s my damn list. I could have dropped Spiritualized in my Top 10 without an ounce of regret.
Listen to J Spaceman only if you want to experience total exhilaration.
15. Panda Bear and Sonic Boom – Reset
It seems appropriate, if unintentional, putting Spacemen 3 alum side-by-side.
More Panda Bear than a Spacemen throwback, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Peter Kember (Sonic Boom and Spacemen 3 founder) are nevertheless kindred spirits. Lennox may never return to the sublime heights reached on Person Pitch.
Still, Reset lives in a nearby gentrified zip code.
Hey you! Looking back is good..but 2023 has already produced some great songs. CHECK THEM OUT here!
Skinty Fia could have been a Top 5 album but for a couple of stinkers (“Bloomsday,” I’m looking at you). Irish brogue, pedals, driving backbeats combined with the rich ferocity of Catherine Wheel. A sure hit on any list of best 2022 alternative albums.
13. Naima Bock – Giant Palm
Naima Bock’s patient arrangements frequently echo soft 70’s (“Instrumental” could be a lost TV score). Bock is formerly of Goat Girl and I love her airy, rounded voice.
Weyes Blood sounds like her emotive and high-maintenance younger sister. Aldous Harding is Bock’s spirit animal.
12. The Silent Boys – Sand to Pearls, Coal to Diamonds
Stop and check out these jangle pop veterans from Richmond! We’re getting dangerously close to my Top 10, and just about every one of these songs is pop perfection. Somewhere, God bless Pat Fish’s departed soul, The Jazz Butcher is listening to The Silent Boys with a smile.
Best 2022 alternative albums: Number 10 to #1 (Casey Kasem voice)
I personally don’t think you can go wrong with any of these Top 10 releases. Each is choice from beginning to end, and a highlight from the best 2022 alternative albums for music lovers everywhere.
For the most part, the top 7 or 8 albums were swirling in my head as Best Album for much of the year. It wasn’t until late November or so that I changed my #1, which I thought for sure would hold all year. For whatever reason, I over-indexed on alt country in my Top 10, for which I make no apologies so stop interrogating me like a common criminal.
10. Aurora – The Gods We Can Touch
I have zero concern for damaging what little street cred I have by including in my Top 10 albums Norway’s Aurora, for whom I am clearly not the target demo. Get over yourself and listen to what Aurora has done!
Much of The Gods We Can Touch is ethereal and intimate, and then by turns challenging and defiant. And the gothic overtones give way to a couple of unapologetic synth pop bangers. Aurora channels the chamber pop and early confidence of Kate Bush.
And I feel it’s important to say this:
In the year 2023, when a 26-year-old woman is the President and Chief freaking Executive Officer of her personal brand, positively influencing hundreds of thousands of younger women — we need to honor that.
9. Alvvays – Blue Rev
Alvvays’Blue Rev might have more pop hooks per song than anything else I heard this year.
After their October show in Salt Lake, I remarked they felt like a band making a new leap of confidence. You can’t say enough about the cool stage presence of Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley and the perfect, desultory voice Rankin gives to songs like “Many Mirrors” and “Lottery Noises.”
So did you get to see Alvvays in 2023? I did — and they were amaze. Read about their SLC set here!
Gleeful jangle that ranges from power pop to fuzzy garage – even a tasty bit of cow punk.
Nearly every song on Proclaimer of Things is a windows open-wide singalong. Hilarie Sidney of Elephant 6 collective and Apples in Stereo and husband Per Ole Bratset share songwriting and vocals. This may explain why shimmering chords alternate with sludgier guitars.
Among the best 2022 alternative albums, this record was absolutely bursting with singles.
7. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is an album of mini-epics, for which I am a sucker. Sharon Van Etten begins each song with the calmest of strums and finishes in tremendous crashing things with giant, earned emotion. She sings with such beautiful, deep tones.
This has been on repeat for me all year.
6. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here
Black Country, New Road are doing something new under the sun. At one moment, they pervert Van Morrison on “Concorde.” In another they descend into free form jazz cacophony on “Snow Globes.”
Without their heat-seeking sensibilities of melody, BCNR would just be a discordant band only music critics love. But they deliver the hooks in another brilliant experiment. Just one example, the 14 second full stop inside “Mark’s Theme” that only elevates the resolve.
A triumphant sophomore album.
DUDE I SWEAR these are 22 songs you need to listen to! Click here and start streaming!
So many memorable, infectious songs on Warm Chris, each stamped with Aldous Harding’s eccentricity. Harding isn’t just a blithe oddball, she may also be music’s most elliptical lyricist.
Also can someone PLEASE help me with “Coming Round the Mountain?” I swear that keyboard samples a movie score that I just can’t place.
4. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
I ended the year where I began, Once Twice Melody by Beach House near the very top of my favorite albums list. Chapters I and II came out in late 2021…while III and IV completed the release by February of 2022.
Of any record I listened to this year, no question, Once Twice Melody touches the stars most often.
3. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
It is difficult to understate the scope of what Big Thief has done on Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. Because when we say, “what Big Thief has done,” we really mean “what Adrianne Lenker has done.” No matter how democratic Big Thief may be, Lenker is the center of their universe.
That Big Thief originally produced NEARLY 50 SONGS whittled down (with no little pain) to 20 songs, defies creative description. As we say in marketing, this is a mature brand. At the same time, Big Thief is still becoming something fearless and new.
Dragon New Warm Mountain toggles seamlessly between casual hootenanny, psych folk and esoteric indie hooks. Although not streamed here, the holiest moment may be the simple harmony between Lenker and bandmate/ex-husband Buck Meek on “12,000 Lines.”
Whoa STOP RIGHT THERE! Check out the alternative country you missed in 2022!
For reasons I can’t exactly articulate, I was deeply affected by Big Time. I was visiting my childhood home in West Virginia as I streamed Angel Olsen’s cathartic album. In that way, it will be inextricably tied to my return home, the way great music attaches itself to a place and moment in time.
“Go Home” has been voted Most Likely to Make You Cry in an Unguarded Moment. In it, Olsen sings:
I wanna go home, Go back to small things. I don’t belong here. Nobody knows me.
I am the ghost now, Walking those old scenes. How can I go on?
Forget the old dream. I got a new thing.
An album of aching beauty. Olsen’s voice is unrivaled, shouting down the mountains and, in turns, an intensely vulnerable, quaking vibrato.
1. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
What has become of me, that I herald a band called Jockstrap? Me, perpetual critic of stupid band names.
Jockstrap (I can’t believe I continue typing that word) are Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, London art school students. Ellery is also violinist for Black Country, New Road. Her wild vocal range drives the arrangements of Jennifer B I Love You.
Let’s not forget that, at the end of the day, rock and roll should be fun. Or it should evoke equally deep emotions of despair, anxiety or elation. If you haven’t heard of Jockstrap, allow me to introduce you to Jennifer B. Sprawling decade-defining albums are one thing. It’s another to adroitly stitch 1,000 musical ideas inside a taut 40 minute statement, some which continue to reveal themselves on listens 6, 7…12.
Is it synth pop? Post-pop? Is that even a word? Does it matter?
EVERYTHING WORKS on Jennifer B.
Best 2022 alternative albums: Way cool albums not in my Top 20
Records that were really good but not quite in my top tier, wherein I try to impress you with my broad musical taste. I bought and listened to each of these. They are good stuff!
Top 2022 alternative albums, more albums Part 1:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Cool It Down) Karen O has never sounded better, now singing about motherhood!
Big Joanie (Back Home) Darkwave, riot girrrl mashup gave me all the feels
Porridge Radio (Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky) Waterslide sat just outside my Top 20 all year
Best alternative albums of 2022: Not feeling these
I started the year on kind of a tear, buying a few releases without sampling. We all do this, right? Like I’ll buy on faith about anything Elbow or Sloan put out. It’s a trust relationship. I became a little too trusting this year and bought some CD’s (yes I mostly still buy physical media) that didn’t live up to reputation. And then a couple of stinkers just generally.
Cate Le Bon (Pompeii) Hey I like weird and I like eccentric. At the end of the day you have to produce songs people actually like
Kendrick Lamar (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers) Boy, this has really divided opinion. Mark me down for a giant No. Also, half as long next time, please
Animal Collective (Time Skiffs) It’s not NOT good. But it’s a far cry from the Merriweather days
Mitski (Laurel Hell) What the hell with Laurel Hell. I was expecting more
A Place to Bury Strangers (See Through You) You know what I wasn’t thinking last year? “I’d like to hear Oliver Ackerman sing a ballad”
Spoon (Lucifer on the Sofa) I think I’m mostly alone on this one. I thought Lucifer was pedestrian
Oliver Sim(Hideous Bastard) The shame here is I think the XX founder had some good musical ideas. But it never punched through
Sloan (Steady) Initially slated my favorite Canadians’ album as an honorable mention. Now it’s feeling routine
A bit more than a baker’s dozen, here are 22 alternative songs in 2022 out of a few thousand that I listened to this year. Most have streams of the full songs that you can play right from your phone. I hope you fall in love with them and buy them!
First things first, these are in no real order other than what I can readily find on my Best Songs list on Evernote and scrolling through downloads or discs I’ve already bought. It’s a mess, frankly, but I’m going to try and bring some order to the chaos. And for you, that means curated top shelf listening. Most, not all, are not from albums that will end up on my Top 10 or 20 list. But they’re all amaze.
These 22 alternative songs in 2022 are numbered, but just help me keep track of when I get to 22 tunes. They are not in order of preference or awesomeness!
1. “Wild” – Spoon (Lucifer on the Sofa)
How many bands can compare to Spoon, album for album, for almost 30 years? It’s rarified air. Having said that I liked, didn’t love, Lucifer on the Sofa. Several bangers, and Spoon remain an American original. Here is early single “Wild,” which I cannot be on drugs, is an absolute straight-up tribute to INXS.
I can’t imagine a better way to start a list of the best alternative songs in 2022.
2. “(Wishing I Had) Tickets for Saint Etienne” – The Photocopies (Holiday Romance EP)
Michigan-by-London songwriter Sean Turner has released probably 100 songs as The Photocopies since the start of the year. They come in batches of singles, b-sides, EP’s, full-lengths and remixes.
I’m feeling guilty enough not including the Holiday Romance EPamong my favorite EP’s of 2022 — an oversight — that I want to highlight “Saint Etienne” from that EP. Fuzzy jangle pop without fuss or needless ambition. Just a perfect pop song, like almost everything Turner does.
3. “Wrong Side of the Sun” – Best Bets (On An Unhistoric Night)
Voted by me the #1 song to see live in 2022, I present Best Bets‘ “Wrong Side of the Sun.” They must call the riot police and water cannons when the kids hear this insanely catchy chorus. Growing out of New Zealands’ Transistors, Best Bets rockin’ On An Unhistoric Night belongs on the shelf of every post punk fan of TheRamones or Replacements.
Has to be one of the catchiest alternative songs in 2022. Hit play and rock.
4. “Dressed in Black” – Ezra Furman (All of Us Flames)
I ultimately didn’t put All of Us Flames on my list of records to buy this year. You can’t own everything.
But I love this musky 60’s love song, “Dressed in Black.” Transgender woman Ezra Furman’s lyrics throughout reflect darker tensions of love, sex and gender. The album is sometimes distorted and menacing but still frequently reinterprets AOR.
5. “End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius)” – Arcade Fire (WE)
Arcade Fire’s 6th album WE adds to the Montreal legends’ nearly 20-year legacy since the influential Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs. It will also inevitably be conflated with the allegations of sexual misconduct by founder Win Butler. When looking for top alternative songs in 2022, WE has moments, if not the consistency of their early records.
The instrumentation and art rock arrangements, like the 4-part “End of the Empire” sound very much like The Flaming Lips here.
6. “Old Picture of Ourselves” – The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness (The Third Wave of…)
Next, a multi-continent jangle pop supergroup of sorts, The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness may actually end up on my best album list. But I had to share one of their songs from The Third Wave of… TBWTPN are Scotland’s Andrew Taylor, also in Dropkick…and Spain’s Gonzalo Marcos, who plays in El Palacio de Linares. (Note to self: check out El Palacio de Linares.!)
For fans of Teenage Fanclub and lovers of all things jangle.
7. “Sick of Everything” – Gorgeous Bully (Am I Really Going to Die Here)
Daniel Johnston, exemplar of melodic sincerity to Kurt Cobain and Yo La Tengo, grew up in West Virginia and is revered in many circles as an Appalachian prodigy. An acquaintance of mine actually gave him a place to live in the late 80’s. This was either before or during some of Johnston’s drug use and increasing mental health struggles, which eventually saw him committed.
Does Manchester’s Gorgeous Bully mimic Johnston’s arch low fidelity cassette recordings? Mostly, no. GB builds more traditional song structures of bedroom pop. The lo-fi soundscapes and lyrics are relatively dynamic compared to Johnston’s arrested development.
And Thomas Crang recognizes a pop hook when he finds it. “Sick of Everything,” originally a 2021 single, is a cleaned-up version of Gorgeous Bully that leads off 2022’s Am I Really Going to Die Here. Just 90 seconds makes it one of the top alternative songs in 2022.
8. “Watercolours” – Neil Brogan (Things Keep Getting in the Way)
Irish musician, host of this year’s new music podcast Brogan’s Run and former Sea Pinks lead Neil Brogan writes perfect, economical guitar pop on his new album Things Keep Getting in the Way. Brogan will take you back to pristine 90’s indie pop like The Lucksmiths and Trash Can Sinatras.
9. “Our Songbird Has Gone” – The Chesterf¡elds (New Modern Homes)
Let’s stay in this tasty indie pop space for a moment so that I can share one of my very favorite songs of the last year.
Cult favorites The Chesterf¡elds reunited in 2022, despite the untimely death of their band mate Davy Chesterfield in 2003. This delightful tribute to Chesterfield namechecks and evokes everything about C86 bands that birthed The Chesterf¡elds nearly 40 years ago.
Clearly one of the best alternative songs in 2022. I have probably sung the chorus to “Our Songbird” in my car more than any other this year.
10. “Pana-vision” – The Smile (A Light for Attracting Attention)
In the winter and spring of 2022, I bought a clutch of new releases by well-known artists sight unseen. I rarely do that — I sample almost everything. However, a few artists I will buy on faith. As it turned out, I was unimpressed by many of them…including The Smile’sA Light for Attracting Attention.
This summer, a friend persuaded me to revisit The Smile and some of my other impetuous purchases. I can report, of the 4 or 5 discs, I was most glad to return to The Smile. I had listened to Attention probably a half dozen times on earbuds. This is a terrible way to consume dense production, particularly a Radiohead side project.
In the end, however, the sum is less than the parts.
Thom Yorke is one of the two or three most influential songwriters of the last 50 years, so I think it’s fair to hold him to a high standard. Attention is front-loaded and musical ideas are hit or miss after the first five tracks. Attention reminds me of Yorke’s debut solo The Eraser in some ways. Tom Skinner’s complex syncopation is a revelation and it is rewarding to hear Jonny Greenwood playing guitar again for God’s sake.
Ironically, though, my favorite songs are keyboard numbers…”Open the Floodgates” and April single “Pana-vision.”
Don’t let the absence of blog coverage of Maccabee’s singer Orlando Weeks dissuade you from buying his second solo, Hop Up. Brimming with the joys of fatherhood and watching his young son emerge as a new personality, it is far too loving and un-ironic for beat hipsters to tolerate. The album has been criminally ignored.
Light as air and irrepressible with new life, it is impossible not to hear Roxy Music’sAvalon on songs like “No End to Love.”
Thinking about settling up, Kicking off the dust, Removing all the rust that keeps me still. I think it’s my time to go. Say goodbye to everyone I know And I hope someday I’ll be forgiven For the bonds that I broke.
I wish I could take you with me, But this road I must walk alone. I gotta get out of the city. Good God, I gotta lose myself just to find my way back home.
Every song, like “I Wish I,” on This Mess We’re In is genuine and moving.
I’m a little late to the Perfume Genius party but was quite enthralled by his 5th album, 2020’s Set My Heart on Fire Immediately. For fans looking for relatively simple song structures after that album, Ugly Season may not satisfy. The album is a score to the dance performance The Sun Still Burns Here. Much of it reflects the abstraction of dance.
I try to post only audio streams but here you’ll need to rely on the video. The brittle melody and especially Mike Hadreas’ delicate falsetto are a marvel that place it among the top alternative songs in 2022.
San Francisco’s gazey power pop outfit Aluminum released the Windowpane EP about two months ago. Their guitar pop and electronica is smartly interspersed with pedals worthy of My Bloody Valentine. For examples, listen to “Solar” and early single, “Windowpane.”
15. “Celebran Por Nosotros” – Mañana el Espacio (Casi Nada es Para Siempre)
How have I gotten this far into my list of alternative songs in 2022 without a Spanish language tune? This is like my signature thing now, and I speak barely a word of Spanish beyond “carnita.” Stupid American.
This year I’ve absolutely fallen in love with bands like Mañana el Espacio (South America) and Torres Satélite (Spain). It is so connecting and universal — and something needed right now — to know that Mañana singer Ricardo José Vergara is creating these pop gems, possibly raised on the same Sonic Youth records as you and me.
“Celebran Por Nosotros” lyrics
Ricardo is a gifted lyricist and has been kind enough to send the translation for his lovely album Casi Nada es Para Siempre. He plans to post them on Musixmatch and Spotify as well. The translated opening of “Celebran Por Nosotros”…
We watch the stars mutliply. The city looks peaceful from here. The moment is unforgettable But I’ll have to wake up.
Color gets all over our faces. I’m sure better times will come And meanwhile, I ask myself,
Do they celebrate for us? Is that why they’re lighting the city up? Or is it my imagination? Is that why they’re lighting the city up? Or is it my imagination?
Okay I’m going to cheat on my 22 songs and drop an extra Mañana song here, because they range way outside of shoegaze to the most delightful indie pop. Check out the crazy flanged guitar at the end of “Yo No Ma Haces Falta,” (“I Don’t Need You Anymore.”)
16. “Dreamin of the Past” – Pusha T (It’s Almost Dry)
Kids I have to tell you.
As I wind into my 50’s, it is harder to find hardcore bands or rap music that I authentically connect with. Possibly, just possibly, I’m not the target audience. But I did find a few hip hop releases that I liked which specifically DID NOT include Kendrick Lamar. Both Radiohead and Lamar could publish 50 minutes of fax noise and the bloggers swoon.
“I begged for the beat,” he said. “It was just one of those ones that I kept going back to and was like, ‘Listen, man, I need this. I need this record.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? You should be on the record too.’ That’s the compromise.”
Here is “Dreamin of the Past” featuring a few bars of Kanye at the end as “the compromise.”
17. “Coke Jaw” – Infinity Knives and Brian Ennals (King Cobra)
Let’s establish up front that by posting two hip hop songs in a row, I am in no way implying I have street cred in urban music. But I really did sample a good bit of rap this year. Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals is one I want to spend a little more time with before the end of the year for my favorite albums list.
These guys have all the buzzy descriptions, experimental hip hop…fusion. It’s a bit hard to categorize but I kind of dig it. Infinity Knives (NPR’s Tariq Ravelomanana) provides the electronics and Baltimore’s Brian Ennals brings the rhymes. If there is a bridge too far, it is incorporating Infinity Knives’ orchestration into the album and not hearing them simply as interludes.
“Coke Jaw” is a good example of the mashup that makes them so different.
“Doers” is the maddeningly catchy portrait of modern life by Brooklyn punks Bodega. I bought Broken Equipment early in 2022. It was such a joy to come back to it tonight and hear the ramped intensity in “Doers,” the extension beyond sprechgesang.
If “this “Doers” doesn’t encapsulate work life in 2022, I don’t know what does:
Ten minutes : calendar 10 minutes : Bandcamp Ten minutes : wiki browse 10 minutes: planning my next ten minutes It’s all about auto bio of Benjamin.
Ten minutes: Ted talk 10 minutes: Notepad Ten minutes: Amazon 10 minutes : planning my next ten minutes To thine own shelf be true.
This city’s made for the doers. The movers. shakers. Non-connoisseurs. This city’s made for the doers. The humors. Tubers. entrepreneurs.
You didn’t know you needed Bodega until you heard “Doers.” An angry song for angry times, as we explore the best alternative songs in 2022.
Look, I’m not entirely crazy about the arrangement on “Backseat Politic” but behold Mike Ness fans, the locomotive of fun that Leeds’ post punk bank Eades creates on Delusion Spree. Give them just. one. minute. and dig the groove. More mathy than Social Distortion but HOLY CATS what a churning beat on that chorus!
Her songs are indie perfect, cagey and cynical. On Sometimes, Forever she has sharpened her hooks and her knives. Both “newdemo” and “Shotgun” show off the singer-songwriter who has emerged since 2018’s Clean. “Shotgun” also displays Allison’s sweeping hooks and Soccer Mommy at her most accessible.
21. “Fatal Folly” – The Silent Boys (Sand to Pearls, Coal to Diamonds)
A late entrant on my best music dashboard this year, Sand to Pearls, Coal to Diamonds came out November 4. Richmond, Virginia indie pop veterans The Silent Boys’ ninth album is getting tons of recognition that it rightly deserves. A little twee, a lot of jangle, The Silent Boys hit on just about every song here.
If you don’t fall in love with the simple joy of “Fatal Folly,” then we have nothing further to discuss.
Finally, my last song for you is a bit of a cheat. I found out this weekend it was originally released a decade ago.
Still, I could listen to this November single by Semiwestern 1,000 times and still feel teary about it. The haunting guitar on the chorus to “Velvet Sea” hearkens to Dean Wareham’s post-Galaxie 500 luminaries Luna. The transcendent line hits at 1:15. It is guaranteed to be the best five minutes of your 2022.
That said, I learned from The Google that this is a remix of an earlier “Velvet Sun” released in 2012 by Austin’s The Vliets. Semiwestern is the new incarnation of The Vliets(pronounced VLEETS).
I’ll touch on two things. First, by any measure this remix is a superior, more mature and elegant version of the original. BUY IT! Second, ten years later, it begs the question: Why now? Should we look forward to a longer release from Semiwestern soon? No word yet from California lo-fi label Spirit Goth but I will let you know!