Words by Jonathan Stout
When not doing freelance writing, Jonathan Stout is heavily involved in the NKY and Cincinnati music scenes as the Marketing Manager for Kentucky based venue The Southgate House Revival and founder of DIY Recording label Lo Fi City Recordings. He’s also an active musician, performing and recording with Sleepy Drums, Mutt Fuzz, Burnt Cabins and Uncle Fungus. Here are his top ten albums in no order.
Tim Heidecker – High School (Space Bomb)
Who would’ve expected that someone known for such goofy, oddball comedy would also be capable of such poignant and affecting songwriting. With High School, Heidecker hones in on and perfects his style, inspired by all the great “dad rock” poets; with shades of Warren Zevon, Tom Petty and Harry Nilsson throughout. It’s not fully vintage vinyl worship though, as it’s presented through a contemporary lens with the help of appearances and production credits from Kurt Vile and Mac Demarco. The final product sounds like something that would go well paired with modern day peers like War on Drugs. With lyrics that are both reflective upon both youthful coming of age and its relation to realizations that one makes upon middle age, there’s a lot of timelessly relatable themes spread throughout. It’s all presented with dashes of dry humor and the occasional smirk, but make no mistake, this isn’t a comedy album. This is no BS songwriting with a whole lot of heart.
Superchunk – Wild Loneliness (Merge)
I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this album as I usually appreciate their higher energy, punk inspired offerings, like 2018’s What a Time to Be Alive. This album is certainly more reserved, possibly due to being recorded remotely, but doesn’t hold back on emotional heft. A very reflective album, both on aging and the growing coldness and separation of America, it truly resonated with me. Maybe it’s that I’m approaching middle age and have become reflective upon my youth. Maybe it’s the alienation of the extended self quarantine I experienced over the past couple years that sent me into deep dark days of existentialism. But Wild Loneliness seems to touch upon all of those concepts, as if created for just me, reassuring me that I’m not alone. We’re all in this struggle together.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (pgLang)
As much as I tried to find a different way of describing this album, one word kept on coming to mind: brave. On Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Lamar exposes an astonishing emotional depth and honesty that is rare among his peers. From the mature range of subject matter to the stylistic twists and turns, this is truly an event that requires some personal preparation before approaching. Sure, there are still the more “typical” contemporary style songs, but they’re sandwiched between compositions filled with abstract beats that many rappers wouldn’t even try to touch. Most of all, I’m floored by how the many vocal styles he’s perfected, and how he can seemingly express multiple personalities within the same song. Many of the pieces defy genre, similarly to some of Tyler the Creator’s albums. Besides the brief moments where some well publicized problematic slurs are used, this is one of the most progressive albums that I’ve heard this year, in terms of pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved by the genre. For my money, there’s no other mainstream rapper his age that comes close to even trying to achieve what he does album after album. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a true achievement for hip hop and beyond.
Kikagaku Moyo – Kumoyo Island (Guruguru Brain)
Kumoyo Island by Kikagaku Moyo is an adventurous offering that skillfully blends different world music sounds, field recorded jams, ambient explorations and spacey stoner rock. With blended samples and sound effects throughout, this album features a strong attention to detail, as the mixing and production pair with the songwriting to create what is truly the most psychedelic offering of 2022. With a vintage sound and recording that must assuredly be analog, it has a timeless quality – like an obscure record that you take a chance on from the thrift store that ends up blowing your mind. Who knows how long this band will remain in obscurity though with album releases this stimulating and the growing popularity of psychedelic rock. Better get hip to them now when they’re still in their InnerSpeaker phase and before they enter their potential forgettable “Slow Rush” phase…
2nd Grade – Easy Listening (Double Double Whammy)
One of the most exciting younger bands of the growing power/jangle pop resurgence, Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade return after their stellar 2020 release, Hit to Hit, to deliver an even more focused release with Easy Listening. Don’t be thrown off by the title- this isn’t smooth adult contemporary, but it is, in fact, easy listening for anyone who appreciates sweet toothed rock n’ roll, full of hooks and choruses destined to stick with you long after the record stops spinning. Filled with pop cultural references from Tom Petty to Seinfeld, this is the kind of stuff that can relate to fans of 90s indie rock to the same degree as fans of 70s power pop. The album expertly blends studio recordings with 4 track and boombox lo fi compositions, giving the album a thrilling texture that blends the professional with the personal.
Los Bitchos – Let the Festivities Begin! (City Slang)
Let the Festivities Begin is such a fitting title for this album- it’s a real banger that gets the party going automatically with its first track, “The Link Is About to Die.” A band with a truly inspired sound that blends melodies from different world music styles with surf, post punk and new wave, these instrumental compositions are great for anything from road tripping to moving bodies on a dance floor. The guitarists keep things interesting with wonderful, clean, applications of chorus, reverb, tremolo and more that add depth and keep the songs interesting. One of the most immediately enjoyable albums I heard this year.
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes (BMG)
Why in the world is Black Thought’s name not mentioned more frequently in the ongoing GOAT debate? There’s only one thing I can think of- and it’s a bit of an elephant in the room by the name of Jimmy Fallon. Although becoming his house band was a great move in terms of job security and exposure it did nothing to help nurture The Roots’ hard earned credibility. To go from being a socially aware band that tackled some very heavy subjects to merely being the support for one of the least funny white cast members of SNL was a head scratcher for sure. Did it turn the public’s perception of them into some sort of novelty? Perhaps. It’s the only thing I can think of, because although it was a whack career move, it certainly didn’t weaken their musical prowess. Least of all to Black Thought who may quite possibly be at the height of his powers on his new collaborative album with Danger Mouse, Cheat Codes. Black Thoughts’ effortlessly fierce and profound delivery is paired well with features from fellow greats Raekwon, Joey Bad$$, MF DOOM, Run the Jewels and more throughout. The album is a hard-hitting tour de force of varied beat structures and approaches paired with unrelenting, unapologetically confident raps from an absolute master of their craft.
The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention (XL Recordings)
In my younger years, when I was first discovering alternative music, I viewed Radiohead as one of the main touchstones to familiarize yourself with if you wished to gain insight into the genre. As far as I was concerned, it was unanimous that they were fantastic and to gain appreciation for them would serve as a gateway in learning how to further approach other realms of intellectual music. All of this did prove to be the case for me, personally, but as I got older I discovered how polarizing the band is among other listeners.
The band didn’t polarize my view of them until the release of King of Limbs, a misstep as far as I’m concerned. It was then followed by the long awaited “final” album, A Moon Shaped Pool, which is a beautiful offering but an emotionally devastating swan song, even for a band that often specialized in emotionally devastating compositions. You’ll still be hard pressed to find a band with a better run than they experienced from OK Computer to In Rainbows.
Enter The Smile, the new band featuring Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Their debut album is the album that, in my mind, should’ve followed In Rainbows, good enough to rejuvenate my faith in their songwriting prowess. Once again, Yorke and Greenwood (joined by Tom Skinner and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich) get weird but mix the experimentalism with enough pop accessibility to make their sound fun and mysterious once again.
Kiwi Jr. continue on Chopper confidently in their definitive sound that can be mistaken for no one else. Although the songwriting structures and format is similar to their previous album, 2021’s fantastic Cooler Returns, Chopper is shrouded in a slightly melancholy veil, with lyrical tales of missing friends, restlessness, mysterious strangers, financial struggles and more. Musically, this album has very strong early aughts vibes, and with its prominent synthesizer and slight gloomy nature, it resembles The Strokes sophomore record Room on Fire more than it does Cooler Returns. It’s a refreshing nuance, as Kiwi Jr. have certainly proven their songwriting prowess, but one might wonder how they’ll keep their style interesting for future albums. I think this outing proves that with slight differences in production and arrangement they can keep things interesting without betraying their best qualities. I’m very eager to see and hear what the future holds for this band.
Telekinetic Yeti – Primordial (Tee Pee Records)
Iowa’s Telekinetic Yeti deliver an unrelenting, ear-splitting, head banging, bong smashing triumph with their new album Primordial. For anyone who enjoys doom/heavy stoner rock ala High on Fire, Monolord, Red Fang etc. there is a lot to instantly enjoy here. Filled to the gills with huge monster riffs, a very uniquely processed guitar tone, aggressively crashing and driving drums, it’s hard to believe that this gigantic sound is created by merely two members. Be that as it may, guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Rockwell Heim fill every second of space with feedback laden sludge and pounding rhythm to the point where it’s very difficult to imagine there being space for any other members to occupy. Do yourself a favor and make sure to check out this band live if they swing through your city.