I’ve given up my hunt for the bleeding edge. Perhaps we’re living in an exhausted age that offers only iterative variations on deep-grooved patterns. More likely, I’m too old to catch the mind-blown thrills I felt twenty or thirty years when I first heard Boogie Down Productions, Drexciya, Autechre, and Thomas Brinkmann.

Several of my favorite albums this year came from artists who delivered my favorite albums from other years: Romance, Ralph Kinsella, Pye Corner Audio, and Kali Malone. Bohren & Der Club of Gore did not release a new album this year, but Kevin Richard Martin delivered a pair of records that filled my annual need for a soundtrack for rainy streets. I want to think my aesthetic has become more refined over the years—that by now, I know what I like. But another word for this might be stagnation.

Thankfully, the artists listed here had other plans. They’ve pulled off the neat trick of delivering the sounds I love while pushing them into unexpected nooks and alleys and, occasionally, wheeling around and smashing my assumptions to bits. My favorite records this year sounded messier than in years past: scuffed and bruised yet defiant—which sounds like the future.

Nils Frahm – Music for Animals

Leiter | Bandcamp

Nils Frahm nixes the piano and now I like Nils Frahm. This was my most-played album of 2022: three hours of shadowy pulse and thrum that sounds like it’s keeping something darker at bay. A perfect soundtrack for reading and writing.

Romance & Dean Hurley – In Every Dream Home A Heartache

Ecstatic | Bandcamp

A symphony for today’s malaise that looks backward, cribbing its title from my favorite Roxy Music song, the one where Brian Ferry reaches peak modernism and enjoys open-plan living while he romances an inflatable doll. Wrong-headed infatuations and Ballardian ennui also fill this record as soap operas swirl in a half-remembered fog of ringing telephones.

Kevin Richard Martin – Nightcrawler / Downtown

Intercranial | Bandcamp

A slightly less despondent cousin visits the house of Bohren & Der Club of Gore, where time no longer works and the only illumination is rain-streaked neon. Trapped in the hour of the wolf, Martin soaks his jazz in static and grain until it potent barrel-aged doom.

Ralph Kinsella – In The Lives That Surround You

8D Industries | Bandcamp

The guitar gets destroyed but its ghost remains. Kinsella recorded one of my favorite albums a couple of years ago, and now he’s returned to conjure visions that blister and flare like the afterimage of something that cannot be named. When I close my eyes and listen to tracks like ‘Holding On To Memory Devices’ and ‘An Ocean In The Pines,’ I see the beauty and drama of a burning cathedral.

Erasers – Distance

Moon Glyph | Bandcamp

Drowsy Casio calypso beats and dead-eyed vocals edge toward a liturgical reenactment of Murakami’s superflat theory: pure stasis, the carcass of a cold-wave song circa 1982 buried beneath a thousand layers of acrylic.

Kali Malone – Living Torch

Portraits GRM | Bandcamp

A pair of long-playing heavenly drones with bursts of science fiction at the edges. Thanks to composers like Malone, Tim Hecker, and Yosuke Fujita, the pipe organ feels essential in the 21st century. (If you worship in the church of Chain Reaction, Maxime Denuc’s Nachthorn smudges the line between novelty exercise and classic timepiece, esp. “Dusseldorf”.) With Living Torch, Malone trades the organ for trombone, bass clarinet, and sine wave generators, but her harmonics remain pure stained glass.

Civilistjävel! – Järnnätter

Felt | Bandcamp

Electronic music as topography: plenty of breathing room with miles of alpine air over pristine clicks and deep valleys of bass. This project remained clandestine for a while, harkening back to the golden age of faceless machine music distinguished by clinical names like Model 500 and Basic Channel. Now we know Civilistjävel! is the alias of a quiet Swede, but there’s still plenty of mystery in the music.

San Mateo – Exspiravit Luminaria

8D Industries | Bandcamp

100% uncut Blade Runner aesthetic: plaintive chords and endless twilight, the image of some new lifeform crossbreeding Stars of the Lid with Vangelis at the edge of the sprawl.

M. Geddes Gengras – Expressed, I Noticed Silence

Hausu Mountain | Bandcamp

If you prefer a more incense-soaked Vangelian future, M. Geddes Gengras pairs psychedelic twang with his cyborg bells. This was the first album I played when I set up my office in Vegas, where I finally have a desk large enough to enjoy a stereo field, and it’s a deep artificial dream forever looping the moment psychedelic music reached for the sitar, affirming that tomorrow’s music can also steep itself in magic.

Pye Corner Audio – Let’s Emerge

Sonic Cathedral | Bandcamp

Midnight gets dragged into the sunlight, where it’s peeled and stretched into steam-gathering drones and dreamgaze guitars. A welcome update on the blissed-out and spiritualized sound, this album plays like a movie I would very much like to see.

The Black Dog – Brutal One to Five Mix v2

Dust Science | Bandcamp

The Black Dog has held the fort since ’89, and with this one-hour mix, they melt down their recent fixation on architecture into glorious ambient exhaust.

Honour – Beg 4 Mercy

PAN | Bandcamp

Originating from points unknown, this gunky tape lurches from battered breakbeats to hypersaturated spaghetti westerns to bottomless hum. Each time I play this, I remember the teenage nights when I would drive around Detroit to watch the steam rising from the winter streets.

See also: 2021 Rotation and 2020 Rotation and 2019 Rotation and 2018 Rotation.