We’ve made it to the end of 2022, comrades! In some ways, it feels like it was long year. It was certainly a year that was chock-full of great releases, almost overwhelmingly so. In part, that’s because we’ve started to hear the fruits of the labors that songwriters and bands and artists cooked up while they were in Covid-related lockdown. A lot of really talented people had a lot of time on their collective hands and had to get creative about how they wrote and recorded and released their material, and it was to all of our benefit.
And so here we go. The top 25 of 2022. You know the drill (at least you know MY drill): studio full-lengths only; no EPs or singles or live albums. All “punk rock,” although the older I get, the more I identify with the concept of punk rock being less about three chords and Les Pauls and Marshall stacks and more about and more about people making music that’s true and authentic and that doesn’t care about fitting into sonic boxes but does care about speaking truth to power and holding mirrors up to society. If you want a broader listen to the full scope of stuff I dug this year, that playlist is here. Without any further ado…
#25 Thick – Happy Now
I don’t remember when Thick first came on my radar, but I’m glad they did. The Brooklyn-based trio followed up their dynamite 2020 album Five Years Behind with the even more dynamite Happy Now. It’s smart and it’s fun and it kicks you right in the teeth and it’s exactly the kind of record that I’m glad Epitaph got back to putting out.
#23 Michael Kane & The Morning Afters – Broke but not Broken
Michael Kane and The Morning Afters have been a staple in the Boston-area scene for a decade or so at this point. The lineup has solidified itself and the result of years of gigging and writing coalesced into Kane’s finest and most focused work to date. There are whispers of Petty and the Replacements and some old Boston street punk snarl.
#22 No Trigger – Dr. Album
I think No Trigger‘s last album, Tycoon, came out when I had only been with Dying Scene for like a year or so, and I think it was on like half the staff’s year-end best-of lists, and so I thought this would become a perennial thing. An effing decade later, the Worcester natives are back…and dare we say better than ever? Or at least weirder and more frantic and more diverse than ever, and that’s like the same thing. No wonder they’ve found a new home on Red Scare. This album takes a few listens to fully appreciate because there’s so much going on in it.
#21 Bartees Strange – Farm to Table
Bartees Strange first popped up on my radar when he appeared on Dave Hause’s Patty Smith covers EP, Patty, a couple years back. Strange’s sophomore full-length, Farm To Table, was released on 4AD this year and it’s as fun to listen to as it is hard to nail down genre-wise. It’s emo but it’s hip-hop but it’s R&B but it’s rock and roll, and it’s personal and it’s powerful and it feels important.
#20 Sarah Shook & The Disarmers – Nightroamer
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers went into the studio to record a brand new album and then, as it turns out, the world closed down for a while. That, coupled with the demise of their former label home, meant that this album took a little longer than many of us had hoped for to finally make its way to our ears. The wait was well worth it. This is a grown-up record: focused and fun and personal and experimental. They might have cut their respective teeth in whiskey-and-beer-soaked barrooms but the future is much wider for Shook and company. Here’s our interview with Shook about the album!
#19 The Venomous Pinks – Vita Mors
The Venomous Pinks formed in 2012 and finally put out their debut full-length album in 2022 and holy smokes does it rip. It’s loud and fast and aggressive and cathartic and it finds the crew full of fire and brimstone. Let’s just hope they don’t wait another decade until their second album! Here’s our (*both laugh*) episode that featured all three of the Pinks!
#18 Tim Barry – Spring Hill
There are a few things in life that we can be certain about: death, taxes, and Tim Barry putting out a killer album of high-quality, working-class anthems every couple of years. There are gut-punches and tear-jerkers and anthemic singalongs, and Barry appearing as comfortable in his skin as he ever has.
#17 The Vandoliers – The Vandoliers
The Vandoliers put it all together on their self-titled record, so perhaps it’s perfect that it’s a self-titled record. They’ve been called “country punk” for years, and they are at the core, but they’ve really morphed into their very own thing: a marauding batch of shirtless, whiskey-infused bandits singing songs of love and heartache and, occasionally, good times!
#16 Mightmare – Cruel Liars
Realistically, this should be a top-ten album for sure, but that just speaks to the strength of the music that was released this year. In case you missed it, Mightmare is the side project of Sarah Shook and the Disarmers centerpiece River Shook. It’s a project that was birthed out of quarantine isolation and it takes some of the stylistic differences they’d been hinting at on Nightroamer to new and different heights. Dark pop and fiercely independent. Here’s our recent chat about the album!
#15 Donaher – Gravity And The Stars Above
I’ve been doing year-end best-of lists for Dying Scene since like 2011, so I’ve got a couple of hundred albums that have been present and accounted for, and yet I’m about 99.9% sure this is the first album to hail from the great State of New Hampshire, where I was born and raised and first introduced to this thing we call punk rock. Donaher play a super catchy, super fun, wicked joyful brand of power-pop that sounds like the Smoking Popes if they hailed from the Chicken Tender Capital of the World!
#14 Adeem The Artist – White Trash Revelry
Okay so holy shit this record is great. This record is great enough that it came out this month, after I’d already completed my year-end list, and forced me to completely reevaluate it. I can think of very few things as punk rock as growing up outwardly non-binary and pansexual in a Christian household in the working-class South. Adeem is unafraid to call out hatred and bigotry and at the same time to embrace love and compassion and has crafted a wonderful record that’s equal parts Against Me! and Homeless Gospel Choir but with, like, Will Hoge or American Aquarium’s pop-infused country melodies. If we re-rank this list a year from now, White Trash Revelry might end up quite a bit higher.
#13 American Aquarium – Chicamacomico
I remember first hearing American Aquarium a number of years ago and thinking “hey that’s kinda good but I think it’s a little too country for me.” The lineup has changed a few times and frontman BJ Barham has gotten sober and has himself a family and, with it, I think a newfound focus, and he’s become one of my favorite songwriters – and figures, really – in the scene. There’s a recurring theme here about people growing up in the South and yet not standing for the sort of traditional negative Southern stereotypes and railing against some of the bigotry and backwardness and I’m here for it. Also, the title track is one of my most-listened-to songs of the year.
#12 Frank Turner – FTHC
Hey, remember when Frank Turner put out the most “punk rock” record of his career and it also happened to be his first #1 album in his native UK, and then we spoke to him the morning after receiving that award for our quarantine-inspired podcast and coincidentally, the day before he announced his “50 States In 50 Days” tour which he told us about off the record after we stopped recording, so we knew about it first? That was just this year! (Also, yes, FTHC has the most nods to his hardcore past as any record in the Turner oeuvre, but his somber ode to the life of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison is among the album’s standouts.)
#11 New Junk City – Beg A Promise
Okay so I get a lot of press emails. Like…A LOT of them, spread out through the various different Dying Scene email accounts. I have to say that I don’t always read beyond the headlines or the opening paragraphs, but this one caught my eye. I don’t know why I’d never heard New Junk City before, but I chalk it up to my history of not reading all the way through emails…but I’m glad I got this one. Anytime a band is referred to as “Tom Petty as played by Green Day,” I’m going to stop and honestly probably roll my eyes because really…but then I’ll also listen because what if it’s actually as good as that portends to be. And I’ll tell you what…New Junk City is exactly as good as that portends to be. It’s like the best parts of 90s alternative and early 00s emo but with a classic Americana rock filter.
#10 Lenny Lashley’s Gang Of One – Five Great Egrets
It’s a pretty remarkable thing when a person who has been in the game for as long as Lenny Lashley has continues to raise the bar for themselves musically and professionally, but that’s what we’ve got on Five Great Egrets. There’s nobody quite like Lenny, who can write a gut-wrenching song about relationship troubles and then a ballad dedicated to Boston-based 1930s comic Eddie “Parkyakarkus” Cantore, and have them both come across as genuine and sincere.
#9 Will Hoge – Wings On My Shoes
We’re starting to get into the territory where o the right day and in the right light, any of these albums could realistically be #1 on the list. Will Hoge might be alt-country or just Americana or Southern rock-and-roll or he might be all of those things together. What he definitely is is a guy who can write a down-and-dirty concise rock song and he can also write a lengthy narrative that’s both smart and thoughtful and razor-tongued and that will make you appreciate it more the more times you listen to it. Plus, the very first line on the album is “Meatloaf and mashed potatoes/Jesus Christ ain’t gonna save us” and that’s about the most John Prine intro to a song that wasn’t written by John Prine.
#8 Proper. – The Great American Novel
Every now and then you come across an album that becomes a benchmark moment for you; like, life existed before that album and then the world shifted and things weren’t the same after that. My own personal list includes the likes of: Vs. Recipe For Hate. Question The Answers. Badmotorfinger. The ’59 Sound. The Low End Theory. Stay Positive. 36 Chambers. Caution. 1372 Overton Park. And now, realistically, The Great American Novel.
#7 Sweet Pill – Where The Heart Is
Leave it to the greater Philadelphia area to come out with another one of those “where have you been all my life” bands. Where The Heart Is came out in May and I was maybe a little slow on the uptake at first but I’ve since made up for lost time. This band rules. This album rules. It’s poppy (in a good way, not a cheesy overproduced way) but it’s also super intense melodic hardcore and it fills a lot of gaps in my catalog that I didn’t know existed.
#6 Mercy Union – White Tiger
Whether through The Scandals or his solo career or now Mercy Union, we’ve been big fans of Jared Hart’s musical output since the earliest days of Dying Scene. White Tiger raises the bar on that previous output in every possible way (in no small part due to the noted presence of fellow scene vets Rocky Catanese and Nick Jorgensen and, in his last appearance on a Mercy Union record, Benny Horowitz). Much like the Sweet Pill record above, it fills a gap in the record catalog that you didn’t necessarily know existed, blending a sort of Americana rock with hook-infused late-90s alternative rock. A wonderful amalgam of styles and big swirling guitars and vocal harmonies for days.
#5 The Interrupters – In The Wild
Okay so I know that the idea of scene vets putting out their best work this deep into their respective careers is a bit of a recurring theme twenty albums deep into this list, but this might be the best example of that yet. You’d think that writing and recording the album from the comforts of your own garage/practice space/studio might make you develop lazy habits, but on In The Wild, The Interrupters managed to pull off an album that remains true to the band’s stylistic roots but does everything better. It doesn’t hurt that Aimee wrote her most personal – and powerful – songs to date.
#4 Hot Water Music – Feel The Void
Yet another dynamite album that found a group of veterans having to switch up their normal processes during quarantine and having the results bear serious fruit. Hot Water Music reconnected with producer Brian McTernan (whose own band, Be Well, put out my favorite EP of the year, Hello Sun) for their first full-length since Chris Cresswell joined the ranks and turned the forever four-piece into a five-piece. Hot Water Music have expanded their sound in myriad ways over the years, and on Feel The Void, it sounds like they’re still having fun doing so.
#3 Kayleigh Goldsworthy – Learning To Be Happy
If I weren’t using the base ten number system, this album might actually be #1a or 1b. If you’ve been a fan of the punk and punk-adjacent scenes at any point over the last, say, decade, you know doubt know Kayleigh Goldsworthy from her Revival Tour spots or for filling out the sound in Dave Hause and the Mermaid for a while or for Frank Iero and the Future Violents or with Bayside or with Kevin Devine, and she’s a wonderfully talented addition to each and every project she joins. But all of that glosses over the fact that she’s also been a powerhouse songwriter in her own right for a long time, and that shines as bright and as focused as ever on Learning To Be Happy. It’s honest and it’s melancholy but it doesn’t wallow in the dark parts, but it instead cherishes the bright parts and life’s harmonies. Opening track “Losing My Mind” is probably my favorite song of the year, and “Little Ghost” and “You’re Good” aren’t far behind. Probably should have actually reviewed this album when it came out so I didn’t have to spend 500 words extolling its virtues at the end of the year.
#2 Cory Branan – When I Go I Ghost
It’s been just about 20 years since Lucero’s “Tears Don’t Matter Much” was released; in it, Ben Nichols states emphatically that “Cory Branan‘s got an evil streak / and a way with words that’ll bring you to your knees.” I’m not sure that’s ever been more true than it is on When I Go I Ghost. The haunting parts are more haunting; the evil parts are more sinister (see “The Pocket Of God,”) and the rare occasions where he’s writing about his on life (see “That Look I Lost”) are gut-punches, albeit with Memphis horns to lighten up the mood. Read our recent interview with Cory here.
#1 The Flatliners – New Ruin
Okay, so we’ve reached the pinnacle. Numero uno. The Album Of The Year (AOTY if you’re nasty). It of course belongs to none other than The Flatliners. The Flats’ career arc has been really impressive to behold. From starting out as upstroke-infused punk rock whippersnappers to signing to Fat Wreck and sharpening their teeth in the process for a series of increasingly caustic, anthem-driven albums, to the stylistic left-hand turn that was Inviting Light to the absolute kick-in-the-teeth that is New Ruin right from the time you drop the needle on track one. More than two decades into their career, Canada’s finest are as sharp and focused and targeted as ever, and have another benchmark album to show for it.