John Amen’s 2022 Round-up

I try to practice suspending my preferences in order to connect with songs and albums in an unbiased way. That said, this year included numerous tracks and projects that were immediately enrolling – that evoked pure melancholy or joy or simply brimmed with resourcefulness, ingenuity, and/or flair. With Big Thief’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, Adrianne Lenker emerged as one of the more gifted melodists, versatile singers, and liberated lyricists of her generation. The band demonstrated their encyclopedic absorption and seminal reconfiguration of diverse genres and subgenres and employed production styles ranging from the garage-y to the celestial. billy woods’ Aethiopes is seminal for its high-Romantic lyricism and otherworldly evocations. It’s so much more than a hip-hop album. Call it post-hip-hop. Alex G’s God Save the Animals is a stellar sequence, though I found myself playing opener “After All” repeatedly. The tune is as hook-y as it gets, and the lines “Things may come and things may go away / yeah but God with me he stayed” ring as true and profoundly uplifting.

Backxwash is a rapper, singer, and producer, but she continues to exceed those roles, operating as an alchemist or sonic energy worker. She’s a bona fide magician, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense possible. Kendrick Lamar’s “Mother I Sober” from Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers redefines what hip-hop is about or can be about, Lamar absorbing and channeling everything from The 1619 Project to the MeToo Movement to BLM to power studies to perspectival shifts around gender, relational dynamics, and intergenerational trauma. Thomas Dollbaum’s Wellswood deserves a plug. Post-Springsteen’s The River, post-Killers a la Sam’s Town and Pressure Machine, it revels in alluring tunes and narratives. Which also brings to mind Chris Canterbury’s Quaalude Lullabies. At times cheesily epic yet still moving in the best ways, Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter, which could probably be adapted for a Broadway production, drips with decadence and excess, mining Southern Goth, the American travelog, and the love-gone-wrong motif. The Sadness​​​/​​​Unreqvited project is a cool mix of slowcore and black metal. Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems is a relentless assault, darkly manic hardcore brimming with rage, eloquent aspersions, and razor-blade commentary.

Music ended up finding its way into several poems I wrote this year as well. When the new Elvis film came out in the summer, I recalled the odd relationship my grandfather had with Elvis (I mean, of course, Elvis the icon). Rattle ran the poem, “Interdependence Day,” in its Poets Respond series. When Taylor Hawkins died, I had this vivid recollection of a friend I used to get high with and who played drums (pretty badly). The poem, “The Music at Hand,” unspooled in all sorts of directions but it was prompted by that tragic event.

Readers know BPM as a stellar music pub, diverse writers reviewing a wide range of projects from varying perspectives … but it’s also a cohesive community. I’ve appreciated the many Slack conversations, discussions, debates, and arguments we’ve navigated this year. I look forward to 2023, the challenges and blessings it’ll undoubtedly bring.

All my best,
John Amen