10 Great Albums You Might Have Missed in 2022
2022 was a stacked year for country, folk, and roots music, loaded with new releases from established stars and exciting newcomers. With so much to choose from, it can be easy to miss out on great music. As the year draws to a close, it's the perfect opportunity to check them out now. Here are 10 great albums you may have missed in 2022.
Kevin Kaarl, Paris Texas
Recent viral sensation Kevin Kaarl’s music has its roots in his childhood in Chihuahua, Mexico, an upbringing he recently paid homage to with a cover of "El Rey del Corrido" Chalino Sánchez’s ballad "Prenda del Alma." The title of Kaarl’s August release Paris Texas comes from the 1984 film of the same name starring Harry Dean Stanton, an atmospheric meditation on identity and connection.
The film’s kinship to the music is clear, and Paris Texas layers its folk ballads with pop-friendly textures to comment on the pains of carving out an identity in the first place. At times, this coming-of-age plays out through connection with others — "Te Quiero Tanto" offers boundless, innocent love, while "Que Te Vas" mixes a wounded kiss-off with the discovery of a self-destructive streak. On the title track, though, most of the conflict comes from within. Kaarl mourns a lost version of himself and comments on artistic creation as a strategy of emotional release. "Ven, canta una canción que te haga sentir contento," he instructs himself dryly — "Come on, sing a song that’ll make you happy."
American Aquarium, Chicamacomico
American Aquarium’s Chicamacomico opens with a bid for escape. The title track finds a weary couple leaving for a surprise beach vacation, functioning both as an ode to place and an exploration of the ways we try to leave behind tragedy — like Dave Alvin’s "King of California" for East Coasters.
What follows is an alt-country meditation on love and grief that understands neither is possible without the other. Reeling from loss and old mistakes alongside heartfelt tributes to Mother’s Day and the everyday joys of raising children, Chicamacomico weaves between emotional poles but retains its center in the comforts of home and family.
"There’s a part of death that’s magic," BJ Barnham muses on "Wildfire," a love song laced with whiskey and biblical reckoning. “Destroying something to make way for something else to grow." Accompanied by a whimsical claymation music video from Hannah Darrah, it reflects on the surrealness of love and the magic of making it work.
Skullcrusher, Quiet the Room
Helen Ballantine of Skullcrusher embarks on a hazy search for meaning in Quiet the Room, an October follow-up to her self-titled 2020 debut that mixes folk and shoegaze influences to plumb into the depths of memory and the subconscious. On haunting instrumentals like "Outside, Playing" and lyrical ruminations like "Pass Through Me," Ballantine unpacks insecurity by going straight to the wounded center, ruminating on identity and insecurity in fourteen hypnotizing tracks.
On "Building a Swing," this inner work takes the shape of a dreamlike recollection of childhood: a baseball swings on a pendulum, a backyard project falls short, and children’s games of pretend turn real and cruel. "Katie and Isa pretend they don’t remember my name," Ballantine calls over wafting guitars and building keys. "Will I make it? Will I make it?" It’s a haunting reflection on the pain of social rejection, as well as a self-soothing reminder to allow that pain and self-doubt to inform the strength you ultimately find.
Adrian Quesada, Boleros Psicodélicos
Austin-based guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada turns to the boleros of the 70s and 80s for inspiration on this June release, rearranging romantic ballads with a new sound that echoes his work with The Echocentrics and Black Pumas. With tight, psychedelic neo-soul production and a star-studded cast of contributing vocalists, original balada compositions like "El Paraguas" shine alongside renditions of favorites "Puedes Decir de Mi” and “El Muchacho de Los Ojos Tristes."
The latter song, originally performed by Spanish folk-pop singer Jeanette, mixes fuzzed-out guitars with a swinging horn section and vocals from rising indie artist Tita. Telling the tale of a dance with a mysterious stranger, "El Muchacho" swoons over its hero’s haunted eyes and the power of the rhythm to whisk you away.
Andrew Bird, Inside Problems
Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird explores anxiety and mortality across this album, with influences from indie rock, chamber pop, and folk. From classical mythology to the collapse of society and the motion of the planets, the world of Inside Problems is fraught with unanswered and unanswerable questions. In the Joan Didion-inspired "Atomized," even the self is fractured in the chaos of the digital age — over whimsical plucked strings, a sliding fiddle, and a driving percussive beat.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and Bird makes wry allusions to Bob Dylan and Lou Reed across the album, drawing comfort from art and intimacy even as he reckons with the nature of existence. In "The Night Before Your Birthday," a thoughtful gift spins out into marveling at the miraculous unlikelihood of finding love. "How the hell did you know," Bird asks, "When all you know is what you don’t know?"
Miko Marks and the Resurrectors, Feel Like Going Home
Miko Marks teams up with her regular backing band The Resurrectors on this newest release to imbue her country reclamation with some of its long hushed-up influences, pairing Western guitars with a taste of gospel, blues, folk, and Motown. The expansive work celebrates this homecoming with joyful noise — as well as a recognition of the pain caused by marginalization and oppression.
On the John Lewis-referencing "Trouble," Marks channels that energy into momentum, furthering the fight for liberation while also decrying decades of re-hashing the same battles. Over driving guitars and a stomping beat, Marks’ vocals soar with critiques of political, religious, and social systems, calling listeners to action while also paying homage to those who have done so before.
Ambient-country pioneers SUSS entered 2022 reeling from the loss of founding member Gary Lieb. Their 2022 self-titled quadruple LP reflects on Lieb’s loss and casts an eye towards the bands’ future in a series of interconnected EPs that follow as they chart a new musical course.
SUSS’s soundscapes draw from Brian Eno, Hank Williams, and Ry Cooder, layering pedal steels with soft guitars and synths to create the perfect soundtrack for long stretches of highways and neon lights. While June’s EP Heat Haze continues their preoccupation with the American Southwest, Winter Was Hard finds SUSS seeking colder climates, expressed sonically with a new focus on piano. The music video for the title track hints at the band’s loss as a passenger-seat camera drifts by rolling hills and graveyards, with the trio superimposed overtop as they play. It’s a tender sendoff to a fellow traveler, and a hint to new journeys to come.
Taylor Kingman, Hollow Sound
Taylor Kingman’s stripped-down Americana illustrates a long dark night of the soul on this follow-up to 2017’s Wannabe. Casting an unflinching eye to insecurity, love, and addiction, Kingman’s lyrics are unafraid to get ugly — in fact, they treat ugliness as equally sacred to beauty. Across the album, a beloved hound wards off her owner’s inner demons and birds of all sorts come home to roost while Kingman alternates between keeping on and the self-destructive urge to give up entirely. "I climbed from that cage and kept climbing," he confesses in "Nothing at All." "It’s cages all the way up."
Recorded live to tape in a hundred-year-old schoolhouse in Oregon that Kingman grew up in, Hollow Sound relies on minimal backing from guitars and pedal steel to allow this writing to shine. "Dead Bird’s Wing" sets the stage for these sparse, intimate arrangements, as Kingman’s guitar slips into a delicate dance with Jason Montgomery’s pedal steel.
Anna Tivel, Outsiders
Anna Tivel’s Outsiders has an expansive scale. The August release dwells initially on intergalactic imagery and the sight of the sunrise from space, but immediately follows this outward look with "Black Umbrella," a perspective of a town where "nothing big enough for headlines" happens until an addiction-laced tragedy strikes. As the narrative expands and contracts, so does the sound — Outsiders is rooted in guitar-centric indie folk, but synths and drum machines stop by like supporting characters in its small-town paean.
With these tools Tivel makes an art of making big things seem small and small things big, uplifting tiny details to a state of grace. The album moves through dive bars and car hookups, treating its subjects with empathy and warmth while simultaneously recognizing a need to break out. In "Two Dark Horses," for instance, foul weather looms on the horizon as two underdogs stand ready to escape, their "breath like engines" in the fog. Come "Royal Blue," however, and the specter of self-doubt still looms — "What if flying doesn’t take?"
Deer Scout, Woodpecker
After previously sharing a stage with Waxahatchee during her time in Philadelphia, Dena Miller of Deer Scout moved back to New York to release her full-length debut Woodpecker in April. The intimate album pairs folk influences with lo-fi punk sensibilities, tracking early-adulthood aimlessness on the Midnight Cowboy ode "Cowboy" and grief over hurting a loved one on "Breaking the Rock." Miller flows confidently across the spectrums of those influences, letting the lyrics of "Cowboy" drift over a simple arpeggio and a carnie-inspired music video. On the latter song, a distorted roots-rock sound echoes Jason Molina.
"Synesthesia" is far more at ease, with a grounding fiddle supporting imagery of a long train ride and letting go of the creatures you love so they can find their way back to you. "Cradle my soul," Miller sings, then "cradle me home" — an invitation, despite the fear and pain, to come closer.