Welcome to 2022! Last year, for the second year in a row my selections of the best bands of 2021, were thrown a little off course by a certain pandemic, which alongside much more serious issues, played havoc with the release schedules! With that said though my class of 2021, did produce my favourite record of the year, via Karima Walker’s magnificent Waking The Dreaming Body, as well as a number of other fantastic records that helped soundtrack the year.
One thing I noticed as 2021 drew to a close was just how little consensus there appeared to be between publications as to who were the stars of the year, which either shows a stonking array of eclectic artists with something for everyone or that no band truly grabbed the year by the horns and made it their own, or perhaps somewhere in between the two.
With that said, today I’m looking forward not back, so please welcome the Class of 2022! While not all brand-new acts, many of them fit into either new to me or newly featuring on the site, so hopefully you’ll find something to be very excited about for the year ahead.
1. Lady Pills [Plastic Miracles]
The project of Boston-based songwriter Ella Boissonault, Lady Pills is, in her own words, “all about being loud, taking up space, and saying exactly what you mean”. After spending her early twenties, “figuring out that soft is strong and honesty isn’t rude”, Ella’s debut album, What I Want, is her attempt to share that experience with the world. The album is due out in February via Plastic Miracles, the label set up by Oceanator’s Elise Okusami.
What I Want was written over the course of several months, a collection of endings that explore grief and trauma, but crucially told from the perspective of someone who got through that experience and wants to share what she learnt with the world. The record was recently previewed by the statement of intent that was Lady Pills’ latest single, My Weight. The track showcased Ella’s influences, from Angel Olsen to Sleater Kinney, resplendent with lithe guitar lines, sharp snare hits and Ella’s charismatic, swooping vocals. Lady Pills’ music feels like a celebration of self, community and keeping on, and in 2022 expect an awful lot of people to want to join Ella Boissonault’s party.
2. Alyssa Gengos [Egghunt Records]
Alyssa Gengos has already had one crack at music, releasing under the moniker Kythira since she was around 14 years old. Upon leaving New York 18 months ago to return to her native Los Angeles, the time seemed right to start making music under her own name. The result is Alyssa’s upcoming debut album, Mechanical Sweetness, an almost entirely solitary act, Alyssa produced, wrote and recorded the entire record, some drums aside, and even then she mapped them out herself before having them recorded live. It’s an experience Alyssa is used to having grown up in the isolation of the LA suburbs, as she recalls, “I don’t seek out solitude because I want to be vulnerable. I’m used to solitude, so that allows me to be vulnerable”.
Set for release via EggHunt Records, Alyssa has already shared a number of singles to whet appetites for Mechanical Sweetness’ arrival next month. Cheerleader Of The Universe is a lullaby-like tale of finding strength in following in your family’s footsteps, while Alyssa describes Gothenburg English as, “a road song in the sense of American road novels and movies” about the head-clearing qualities of travelling the world, set to a meandering keyboard. Possibly the most intriguing of the bunch is the title track, Mechanical Sweetness, a reflection on modern dating trends and how they, “have turned human interaction into a painful game“. Musically, it seeks to mirror the flow of a digital romance, from the sparse opening, all heartbeat drums and hazy synths, before growing in intensity as the emotions pour out of Alyssa, “will it ever be the same again? Or is it just nothing more than mechanical sweetness?” A celebration of solitude, Alyssa Gengos feels like an aural embrace, a reminder that sometimes putting yourself first is the only way to grow.
3. Naima Bock [Sub Pop]
Now based out of South London, Naima Bock is very much a citizen of the world. She spent her early childhood in Sao Paulo, born to a Greek/English mother and a Brazilian father, before they relocated to the UK when she was seven years old. It was there she discovered a love for live music, and by the age of fifteen, she was making music, playing in bands and eventually touring the world. After years of being a band member, she made the decision to go it alone, and also to explore a change in musical direction. Having caught the ear of the legendary Sub Pop imprint, Naima recently shared her first solo single, 30 Degrees.
30 Degrees was produced with the assistance of longtime collaborator Joel Burton, of the band Viewfinder, with whom Naima performs live as a duo. The production here adds a certain depth to the track, taking the basic structure of a folk song and adorning it with prominent bass, flourishes of keys and the addition of both string and horn arrangements. Naima has spoken of the track as, “coming from the adolescent duality of fear and freedom“, and explores the concepts of goodbyes from, “the small ones, which feel so big” through to, “the final sigh which can feel so small amidst the clutter of surviving day-to-day”. With a sound nodding to everyone from Ryley Walker to Vashti Bunyan, Naima Bock seems to have emerged fully formed, an ambitious and intriguing new talent reflecting her experiences back to the world and sounding fabulous doing it.
4. Weekend Punks [Old Cemetery Recordings]
With all due respect to Craig David, it’s a slightly odd quirk that a city like Southampton doesn’t produce more musical stars. One band who might put the city on the, admittedly quite niche indie-pop map in 2022, are the surf and reverb trio, Weekend Punks. Signed to the brand-new label, Old Cemetery Recordings, the band recently announced themselves to the world via their self-titled debut EP.
Three tracks of clattering drums, jagged, jangling guitars and singer Rosie Blacher’s, Jenny Lewis-recalling vocal tones, Weekend Punks was delightfully energetic with that lo-fi because we wanted in that way production that adds a certain swagger to proceedings. The EP opens with the band’s mission statement, The Theme From Weekend Punks, and it’s a perfect jump off into their musical world, its resplendent with Los Campesinos! like guitars and the lightly processed, quietly distant vocal style of Metric. Even better is Backseat Driver, which adds a dream-pop swirl reminiscent of bands like Life Model or Weekend Punks’ fellow South Coast superstars L I P S. Music of introverted beauty and quiet heartache, Weekend Punks are that subtle kind of devastating that might not make it into the mainstream, but for those who love it, their music might just be life-changing.
5. Grace Cummings [ATO Records]
Very much in the new to me, rather than actually new category, Grace Cummings is already well established as a singer, songwriter, producer and accomplished stage actor. Based out of Melbourne, Grace’s debut album Refuge Cove came out back in 2019 and was released by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Flightless Records. Now signed to ATO Records, Grace will release one of the year’s first albums, when her second record, Storm Queen arrives on January 14th.
The album finds Grace taking complete control, self-producing the record and much of it was captured live in just a few takes, with a cast of heavy-hitters from the Melbourne scene. This spontaneous approach to recording adds a certain turbulence and rawness to the record, particularly in evidence in Grace’s remarkable vocals. Take the record’s first single, and opening track, Heaven, the religious questioning might bring to mind fellow Australian Nick Cave, yet the rasping majesty of the vocal is closer to Grace Slick or Anna Calvi. The most recent offering is the record’s title track, Storm Queen, the last track written for the record, Grace recalls how she wanted it, “to be fucking raw, and ugly, and full of gunfire, and dirt, and ruin”. While it’s hard to imagine anything with Grace singing on sounding entirely ugly, it’s certainly a song with both a sonic vastness and a refusal to polish out any edges, with blasts of baritone saxophone and Grace’s swooping, raptor-like vocals, it certainly feels fabulously uncomfortable in places. Storm Queen is shaping up to be an album that lives up to its title, brutal, uncompromising and yet in its own primal way really quite beautiful – now give her a crown already, Grace Cummings is going to be a star.
6. Poster Paints [Olive Grove Recordings]
Poster Paints is the new project from a pair of musicians, Carla J Easton and Simon Liddel, who have already found plenty of musical acclaim via other projects. Carla has released four solo albums, as well as writing for the likes of Belle & Sebastian and BMX Bandits and being a member of Teen Canteen, while Simon was a member of Frightened Rabbit, as well as sharing his own music as Olympic Swimmers and collaborating with everyone from Aaron Dessner to Paws. Impressive CVs aside, the duo also seem to have the tunes to back up the promise, with 2021 seeing the release of two sparkling singles, Number 1 and Never Saw It Coming, via Olive Grove Recordings.
The band’s fittingly titled debut single, Number 1 is an almost anthemic take on indie-pop, full of starry-eyed reminiscences of teenage love and the untroubled joys of summer evenings. The track is a genre-blurring masterpiece, combining shoegazey-guitars with pounding drums and luxurious, distinctly poppy vocal harmonies. Never Saw It Coming is a more downbeat offering, but no less beautiful, as Carla’s reverberating vocals spiral skywards from the ground-rock of Simon’s shimmering, atmospheric guitar work. With headline shows of their own and a support slot for Belle & Sebastian already in the diary for 2022, Poster Paints look well placed to make a real splash in the year ahead.
7. Laundromat [Brace Yourself Recordings]
Hailing from Brighton, Laundromat is the project of Toby Hayes, a founding member of the much-adored (by me at least) band, Meet Me In St. Louis. Teaming up with Brace Yourself Recordings, throughout 2020 and 2021, Toby shared the three colourfully titled EPs, Blue, Green and Red, which will be compiled together into the debut Laundromat album, set for release early this year. Alongside a debut London headline show at Servant Jazz Quarters and a support tour with Villagers, 2022 is already shaping up to be a very busy one for Laundromat.
Despite them coming together to make up his debut album, Laundromat’s three EPs each possess a distinct feel of their own. The Blue EP, shared way back in the Spring of 2020, showcased a Beta Band-like kraut-pop strut alongside Toby’s hook-laden melodies, the following Green EP was more sun-drenched with the lightly psychedelic strut of Bug Eyed and Nein, a track that wouldn’t sound all that out of place on a Car Seat Headrest record. The most recent of the three, Red, was particularly intriguing, featuring three tracks of moody and creative music, reminiscent of the idiosyncratic output of Trouble In Mind Records. A particular favourite is En Block, a slow-moving strut, full of warm fuzzy vocals and icy-cool bassy rumbles. 2022 already feels like a big year for Laundromat, a chance to build on the success he’s already found with support from the likes of Lauren Laverne and Huw Stephens, and push his music out to an audience looking to find new artists to soundtrack the fresh hope we’re all hoping Spring will bring.
Click HERE for the second part of my 22 for 2022.