It is the season of lists and best-of-the-year’s, so here’s my annual contribution: the fifteen songs released in 2022 which have most inspired and uplifted me. In keeping with precedent, there are more than fifteen songs in the list and only one of them is festive. I am indebted as always to the late, great John Peel and the inspiration of his Festive Fifty. You can find the complete Festive Fifteen 2022 on Spotify and YouTube.
This year’s cover stars (above) are my wonderful Mum and Dad, still very much in love at 80!
1.All The Good Times, Angel Olsen
From the rat-a-tat-tat drum-roll in the opening bar I love this bittersweet, end of the affair ballad, hinged around Angel Olsen’s gorgeous voice building to a string-accompanied crescendo7. “So long farewell, this is the end / I’ll always remember you just like a friend / And the way that you said, as heavy as lead / Oh you’ve always know how to get straight to my head / Thanks for the free ride / And all of the good times.”
2.Forever in Sunset, Ezra Furman
So Springsteen-esque, so full of passion and commitment, seeing Ezra Furman play the Mountain Stage was one of the most thrilling experiences of the year. Their album this year matches that intensity, as does this standout track. “Remember when we thought the world was ending? / Seems funny now / The future is a text message sending / Out, Out, Out! / I live forever in sunset / An ending not quite done yet.”
3.Gorilla, Little Simz
OMG how good is this? I got a bit addicted to Little Simz last year and she deservedly won the Mercury Prize for ‘Sometimes I am Introvert’, but it didn’t look like she would release anything in 2022 until’No Thank You’ suddenly appeared in December. Best line “I know the streets will love it / Like I brought Mike Skinner”. Hook from ‘Fun Lovin’ Criminals’?
4.Leathery Whip, Aldous Harding
Hard to decipher (“I’d be all day / Getting the velvet back to you, Bambi”) but endlessly worth the effort, there is something addictive about an Aldous Harding record. Life, apparently, wields a leathery whip, but Harding stands defiant: “I’m a little bit older but I remain unchanged / And the folks who want me don’t have the things I’m chasing / No way.”
5.Roman Holiday, Fontaines DC
Candidate for best rock video of the year with the Tarantino-esque mini-film that accompanies this son, which is the most upbeat track from Fontaines’ dark, brooding third album, musing on the downsides of musical success. “Baby come on, whose side are you on? / I don’t wanna see the Queen / I already sing her song / While they’re snuffing out hopes and they’re blotting out suns / They claim to know the form in which genius comes.”
6.100% Endurance, Yard Act
I wasn’t sure they were up to the hype after seeing them live at Green Man 2021 – a bit too clever, perhaps. But Yard Act’s debut album is fantastic and this song, featuring a brief cameo by Elton John, is brilliant, witty and tender in equal measure. “It’s all so pointless / But it’s not though is it? / It’s really real and when you feel it / You can really feel it / Grab somebody that you love / Grab anyone who needs to hear it / Shake ’em by the shoulders and scream in their face”.
7.Unconditional I (Lookout Kid), Arcade Fire
I’m getting a bit soft in my choices this year, but I love this parent to child advice. “Lookout kid, trust your heart / You don’t have to play the part they wrote for you.. / Some people want the rock without the roll / But we all know / There’s no God without soul”. Nb the line that sounds like “A lifetime of skinny” is actually “A lifetime of skinned knees”.
8.New Age Millennial Magic, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard
“I bought a ticket to the show / And now I can’t get a loan” – good life choices abound in this song about being a millennial (“Half the world is drying / It’s already begun / But I can shower for hours / It’s so much fun”), by a young Welsh band who look and sound like they’ve glam-rocked straight out of a 1970s wormhole.
9.Bad Love, Dehd
The kind of song that makes you feel like you’ve known it forever, even though you’re sure you just heard it for the first time. A driving beat that would get me running to the dance-floor in a club. The hanging guitar notes made me think of Nicolai Dunger’s ‘Last Night I Dreamt of Mississipi‘, but then I listened to it and couldn’t make the connection. Another good song though.
10.Getting it Right, Caitlin Rose ft. Courtney Marie Andrews
Just knowing Caitlin Rose had made another record after a nine year hiatus was cause for celebration, but discovering it is both brilliant and includes this wonderful duet with another alt-country star, Courtney Marie Andrews, was an early Xmas present. She’s clearly still struggling, but at least while singing again: “I talk too much / Or not enough / Everything tender always comes out rough / I’m just workin’ on getting it right”.
11.Nobody Knows (Ladas Road), Loyle Carner
Starting with a nod to ‘Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen’, London rapper, Loyle Carner, has drawn another amazing song out of the pain of suffering a neglectful father: “So who am I? / You can’t hate the roots of the tree, and not hate the tree / So how can I hate my father / Without hating me?”
12.Ur Mum, Wet Leg
Even though Chaise Longue was on last year’s Festive Fifteen, Wet Leg’s debut album only came out this year and they have been the indie sensation of 2022. Seeing them as part of a huge, squeeze-packed crowd on the Park Stage was a true Glastonbury moment, but their 45 minutes of perfect pop at Kentish Town Forum was my musical highlight of the year, not least for that minute-long, two-thousand strong LOUDEST SCREAM!!
13.Robbery, Lime Cordiale
So good we saw them twice at Latitude. Fun and upbeat music from an Aussie band that want their crowd to feel as good as they do. The plot to this song’s video involves chasing a lover from Paris to Brighton, apparently unaware of the Brexit-era queues for the Eurostar. “Hey, there’s been a robbery / She stole my heart and then took off on me”.
14.Adar Newlan, Imarhan ft Gruff Rhys
A collaboration between Tuareg band, Imarhan, and Welsh singer-songwriter/stoner-genius, Gruff Rhys. Adar Newlan apparently means ‘blazing rocks’, not a phenomenon associated with Wales before climate breakdown, but the main point of cultural unity appears to be hot drinks and a shared sense of struggle: “We celebrate our existence / Our histories long / We sing a song for our heroes / Comrades under one sky” accompanied by a chorus of “Te Cryf / Te Cryf / Te Cryf (Strong tea / Strong tea / Strong tea)”. The beautiful cartoon video is a must-watch.
15.Wild Horses II, First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit seem to be at their best when they are writing songs about other bands. “You prefer the Rolling Stones / And I like Gram“. It doesn’t matter whose version of Wild Horses you prefer, this gorgeous, folky homage, describing a road trip with that seminal song playing on the car stereo was an instant favourite for me. A song to smile wistfully too.
And now to the bonus tracks, which as usual pay homage to a musical great we lost this year, but this time also adding a Welsh football song, a rare festive number, and the obligatory Half Man Half Biscuit track.
In the Bleak Midwinter, Wolf Alice
I couldn’t go a year without including a Wolf Alice song and this is a cracking Xmas carol cover.
Yma o Hyd Cwpan y Byd, Dafydd Iwan
A Welsh nationalist song that became a second anthem as the Welsh men’s football team progressed to the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Surely the most progressive football song ever, telling a tale of struggle, hope and unity. Gives me goosebumps. “We’re still here today!”. And obviously, has to be accompanied by Michael Sheen’s stirring impromptu crimson thunder speech.
Ghost Town, The Specials
And in memory to the sadly lost Terry Hall, lead singer of a band who also preached anti-racist unity, I so strongly remember hearing this song for the first time as a ten year old.
I’m Getting Buried in the Morning, Half Man Half Biscuit
Four boys who shook the Wirral: if there’s a new Half Man Half Biscuit album in the year, then a song is getting on the Festive Fifteen. This is a song about imminent execution: “See you later undertaker / In a while necrophile / I’m getting buried in the morning / So get me to the chair on time.”