As artists continue to reassemble themselves after being perpetually shut inside for over a year and a half–many of them refusing to release music until they’re able to tour again–new records in 2022 are continuing to illuminate what each artist’s process of self re-examination looks like in light of the pandemic.
Here is a list of some my favorite records of the year so far by womxn and non-binary artists.
Guerilla Toss: Famously Alive
This is the sound of Guerilla Toss at their euphoric peak. Lead singer Kassie Carlson has spoken at length about taking an active role in her self-healing in the midst of 2020 lockdown, and that sense of peace is apparent on the album in the most quintessential Guerilla Toss way, complete with driving percussion, schizophrenic synths distorted to high heaven, and lyrics about treating the body as a sanctuary rather than a prison.
Sunflower Bean: Headful of Sugar
Just in the last few weeks, Sunflower Bean has gained legions of new followers since their song “Moment in the Sun” was featured in the viral web-comic-turned-Netflix-series Heartstopper–a therapeutic gift to the LGBTQIA+ community if there ever was one–just in time for their album release, too! And for people already familiar with the band’s work, this record is an undeniable breakthrough. I got to hear Headful of Sugar in advance of the release, and I was utterly floored by every artistic decision, from Julia Cumming’s euphoric melodies on the breezy dancefloor paean “Post Love,” to Nick Kivlen’s starry Marquee Moon-esque guitar solos on “Who Put You Up to This,” and the immediate, clashing orchestrations on the dystopian “Roll the Dice.” This album is an entirely new introduction to the trio who’ve been proclaimed “the hardest working band in New York City,” and they deserve every ounce of meteoric success that’s headed their way.
Wet Leg: Wet Leg
Consider my muffin buttered. Ever since their 2021 debut single “Chaise Longue” went viral, Isle of Wight post punk duo Wet Leg have been touted one of the most promising new bands of the decade by nearly every music publication in existence. Lead singer Rhian Teasdale’s trademark sardonic and hilarious lyrics (“Suck the life from my eyes/It feels nice, I’m scrolling, I’m scrolling, ahhhhh”) paired with accented downstrokes make for a potent elixir, combining all the driving musical elements of our favorite garage rock revival bands (The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) with the introspective, belly laugh-inducing lyrics of their whip-smart ’80s forbears (Delta 5, Gang of Four).
Warpaint: Radiate Like This
Recorded and pieced together from separate locations in the midst of lockdown, Radiate Like This is a wholly different Warpaint experience. Each dreamy track is sparse and ethereal with eerie, warm tones. Each band member’s respective parts are layered together masterfully in equal measure. Hearing Emily Kokal’s soft and inviting croons on the lead single “Stevie” feels like the most warm and enveloping hug from a dear friend I haven’t seen in ages. It is the perfect reintroduction to the band after their six-year hiatus.
Chelsea Jade: Soft Spot
When Chelsea Jade isn’t writing songs for global pop stars, dancing in Lorde’s music videos, or creating graphic designs for bands like Deafheaven, she’s building an immersive world of buzzing and intelligent pop. Whether she’s musing on vulnerability and desire on “Optimist,” waxing philosophical about the concept of idol worship on “Superfan,” or bringing listeners to the dance floor on “Best Behavior,” it’s obvious that in addition to knowing exactly what she’s talking about, Jade has also had a blast making this album.
Squeeze opens with “Skin a Rat,” a violent sludge metal polemic on the perils of late capitalism with Megadeth’s Dirk Verbeuren on drums. If that alone isn’t enough to get listeners onboard with this project, I don’t know what is. SASAMI is an agent of pure chaos on several cuts on this album. But she balances the chaos superbly with a capacity for restraint, as can be heard on sparser cuts like “Call Me Home,” and “Not a Love Song.” But my favorite has got to be “The Greatest,” which achieves a perfect middle ground between both extremes. If this album doesn’t get to the top of everybody’s “Best Of” lists by the end of the year, I will riot. That’s a promise.
Mitski: Laurel Hell
Named after the dense laurel bush thickets in the Southern Appalachian mountains, emotional entanglement is the most prescient theme on Laurel Hell. Mitski reflects on her turbulent, co-dependent relationship to music on tracks like “Everyone,” and “Working for the Knife.” Laurel Hell is also her most sonically expansive record yet, from the warm synth pads to the clashing pianos, clanging percussion, and soaring guitar feedback that is at times dissonant and overwhelming. Mitski knows that her painstaking self-awareness is both a strength and a hindrance. She’s not yet comfortable fitting into that liminal space between the two, but she’s working on it. And isn’t that all we really can do?