For this one, we’re going to keep it brief and let the music do the talking. In addition to our 22 album choices from the year, we’ve got a further 22 records from this year – but for these ones we’re going a bit deeper.
These are the ones that will really come to life on your best headphones, ideally in comfort, with the lights down low. They are a bit more gentle, or a bit more abstract, or a bit more minimal, and which work their magic in the fine detail.
Among them there’s cosmic jazz, minimalist composition, Norwegian and Uruguayan fourth world dub, Welsh-Senegalese harp romanticism, dreamy abstract techno and at least one dramatised therapy session.
Every one ripples with complex emotion and rich imagery, and we’ve compiled a playlist of a track from each, carefully sequenced to take you on a journey of its own through this rich diversity.
Get a glass of whatever relaxes you, sit back and come fly with us.
CARMEN VILLAIN – ‘ONLY LOVE FROM NOW ON’
The Norwegian producer/writer/instrumentalist has had a long and circuitous journey towards – as she told us in Feburary – “shifting the mind towards the more appreciative, smaller framework”.
This album is a blissful, balmy, multi-layered set of spaces made comfortable for contemplation.
ALLOY SEA – ‘XOOMIN’
Credit: Parallaxe Editions
Israeli-in-Berlin Mor Elian has formerly specialised in percussive techno with a 1990s leaning vibe.
Yet, with her Alloy Sea guise, she’s thrown all rigid grids out of the window and allowed her sound design to ripple out into all kinds of new, luxurious forms.
RROXYMORE – ‘PERPETUAL NOW’
Credit: Smalltown Supersound
French producer Hermione Frank has never toed any stylistic lines, but her latest record is her freest yet: over long, sprawling tracks, she examines ideas from all angles, allowing long and complex thoughts to unfold.
MATMOS – ‘REGARDS/UKLONY DLA BOGUSLAW SCHAEFFER’
It’s been a productive year for Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt. Solo as Soft Pink Truth, Daniel has made his richest and most danceable album yet, and together, the pair have made this – a rearrangement of forgotten Polish composer Bogusław Schaeffer’s recordings into deliciously peculiar forms.
AH! KOSMOS & BUSRA KAYIKCI – ‘BLUETS’
Credit: Arda Funda & Şeyma Tuna
Busra Kayikci has been one of our favourite discoveries lately, making intimate minimalist piano recordings often in her own Istanbul apartment.
Now, together with Basak Gunak, aka Ah! Kosmos, she’s created something much richer, a pulsing, atmospheric album that is neither classical nor electronic but in a space all its own.
PARK JIHA – ‘THE GLEAM’
Credit: Marcin T. Jozefiak
Using Korean traditional instruments – notably the elaborate saenghwang mouth-organ that adorns this album’s cover – Park Jiha (박지하 ) is generating ever more buzz around her hypnotic compositions.
This album is more stripped bare than its predecessors, but retains all their power.
LAUREN RITTER & TENESHA THE WORDSMITH – ‘PARTICLES OF SOUND’
Credit: ReSolute Management
The lead track of this bicoastal NYC-Oakland collaboration formed the start of our immense house playlist this summer – but the entire record is well worth absorbing up close and personal.
Its sound design, and the stately poetry of Tenesha The Wordsmith, get better the closer you listen.
CRISTIAN VOGEL – ‘1ZHUAYO’
Denmark-resident Chilean-British techno veteran Cristian Vogel never stands still, even on his 26th (!) album.
His synthesis has gone so far beyond anything recognisable as electronic instruments that these feel the results of natural processes, albeit possibly in a different universe.
PIP MILLETT – ‘WHEN EVERYTHING IS BETTER I’LL LET YOU KNOW’
Maybe one of the best examples yet of how the huge UK soul renaissance is fusing with hip-hop and soundsystem culture in thrilling new ways.
On her debut album, Manchester singer Pip Millett combines smoothness with ultra-real lyrics and an instinctual ability to lock into ultra-modernist rhythms, and even the basslines of drill rap.
ALABASTER DEPLUME – ‘GOLD’
Credit: International Anthem
Saxophonist, composer, poet and connector of people Alabaster DePlume is one of the most subtly important forces in music today.
This album has a cast, seemingly, of hundreds, travels all around the world, veers from ramshackle to majestic and back in a single bar, and is one you’ll want to bathe in again and again.
COBEY SEY – ‘CONDUIT’
Credit: Ksenia Burnasheva
Rapper, producer, regular collaborator with Under The Skin composer Mica Levy (aka Micachu), Cobey Sey is a sterling representative of young genre-agnostic new South London underground.
This album is harsh, abstract, disaffected, but also has a constructiveness and philosophical nature at its heart that intrigues and draws you in.
CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA – ‘ECHO’
With each collaborative album, Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita get more ambitious.
On this album, their playing and Keita’s singing tumble through oceans of strings, and the songwriting is epic in scope – one for lovers of high drama.
TUDOR ACID – ‘EMPATHY FOR CYBORGS’
The Bristol-resident electronica producer Tudor Acid has covered a lot of bases over his evolving albums but this might be his best yet.
Mixing eerie ambient atmospheres with shimmering electronic percussion that joins dots from electro to drill, he’s created a very specific, very special sound world.
LILA TIRANDO A VIOLETA – ‘DESIRE PATH’
The relentlessly prolific Uruguayan producer Camila Domínguez is another maturing release by release – and this record, packed with sublimated South American rhythms, mystical atmospheres and on point production, could easily be her best yet, or certainly her most accessible.
JASMINE MYRA – ‘HORIZONS’
It’s no surprise this is on Matthew Halsall’s label as it’s from a similar place of warm-hearted meditational jazz goodness as his work.
It veers occasionally into neo-classical and minimal composition, but it’s very hard to see where the composed stops and the improvised starts, which is all for the best – and the lovely repeated hooks will stick with you from first listen.
OREN AMBARCHI – ‘SHEBANG’
Now practically a deity in experimental circuits for his huge catalogue of hugely varied work, Oren Ambarchi delivered something straight-up beautiful this year.
In the four-part single piece, post-rock, Steve Reich style repetition, incredibly subtle jazz funk and extremely cosmic new age influences all spiral around one another to create a golden glow throughout.
COUNT – ‘0’
Nigerian-British electronic producer Ibrahim Alfa Jr has had ups and downs in his career to say the very least but he’s been on top in 2022, with no less than two albums for legendary Frankfurt experimental imprint Mille Plateaux.
This is the less beat-oriented of the two, and it’s strange and bleak like being lost in space – yet somehow very human.
KEVIN RICHARD MARTIN – ‘NIGHTCRAWLER’
Best known as The Bug, genre-traversing veteran Kevin Richard Martin has been using his own full name for a huge slew of mostly beat-free albums since Covid-129 first hit.
This one is one of the best yet, with a dark film noir and subtle jazz influences – it’s a proper mind-movie.
KIDKANEVIL – ‘BUBBLE’
British producer Kidkanevil has worked with big names like Massive Attack and MIA – but on this latest solo project he’s doing something much more fun.
Twinkly, melodic electronica, Japanese pop and trap beats dance around one another like hallucinatory cartoon characters. It’s full of delight.
ACTRESS – ‘DUMMY CORPORATION’
Credit: Jaxon Whittington
Darren Cunningham has returned to his techno roots on these long, murky grooves.
But for all that they sound subterranean, there’s a huge amount of subtle detail, that when you immerse properly takes you on some surprising journeys: it’s like a fully immersive, albeit mysterious, sci-fi radio play.
CEPHAS TEOM – ‘AUTOMATA’
Cephas Teom is a producer in the English West Country who specialises in an uncanny blurring of the electronic and organic, and the archaic and the futurist.
This detail-packed album is packed full of cute melodies and gentle funk, but every time you think you’ve got it pinned as something familiar – aping old TV themes, for example – it pulls the rug out from under you.
LUCY LIYOU – ‘WELFARE/PRACTICE’
This is a tough listen – shot through as it is with synthetic voices enacting painful and dramatic therapy sessions – but its dark ambience and mordant wit make it more than fulfilling for all that.
Another mind-movie of a record, although definitely an arthouse movie this time.
Listen to all the best headphone tunes here.
Cover Credit: Cristian Vogel, Cal McIntyre, Lila Tirando a Violeta, Mille Plateaux, Shaoyi Hou, Sorrel Higgins, Freepik, KEF
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Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.