Dreamwell members KZ & Aki tell us about their favorite albums of 2022
Since releasing their great sophomore album Modern Grotesque last year, Providence screamo/post-hardcore band Dreamwell stayed busy on the road in 2022, and they'll keep that going in 2023 when they open the first leg of TWIABP's Whenever, If Ever 10th anniversary tour. Guitarist/backing vocalist Aki McCullough also had a busy 2022 outside of Dreamwell, with the release of her funeral doom duo Necroplanet's album Negative Space, an appearance on the great new Thotcrime album, and a contribution to the Felony For Existing album, a many-membered screamo project with over 20 different trans and/or non-binary performers.
With 2022 coming to a close, Aki and lead Dreamwell vocalist KZ Staska have both made us lists of their favorite albums of the year. There lists are full of great albums, with no overlap between the two lists, and they include Pool Kids, The Callous Daoboys, Soul Glo, Birds In Row, Backxwash, Static Dress, Denzel Curry, The Mountain Goats, Wounded Touch, billy woods, Holy Fawn, Beach House, Chat Pile, Ethel Cain, Ashenspire, and more, with commentary on every pick that's very worth reading. Check out their full lists below...
KZ Staska's Top Ten Albums of 2022
In years past, I’ve listened to very few albums and making my year end list has been fairly easy, but I also walked away realizing how many tremendous albums I missed. This year, I dedicated myself to listening to as many new albums as I possibly could, and I wound up listening to 120 records. Fifty-seven of them were artists I had never previously listened to, whether that be because I had never heard of them, this year was their debut, or I had previously written them off as something I wouldn’t like. While I did have to suffer more than a few records that were aggressively not my thing, my dedication to this venture proved fruitful, as exactly half of my final year end list is made up of bands I had never listened to before.
10. Helpless - Caged in Gold
No band has ever filled the Gaza gap in my heart quite as well as when I heard this band for the first time through this album. I still haven’t dug into their other work because I’ve been so overwhelmed by how crushing, harsh and chaotic this one is.
9. The Mountain Goats - Bleed Out
Darnielle and company decided that their 21st studio album would be when they dabbled in massive, soaring rock choruses, apparently, and they delivered in full force. On top of that, historically the Goats’ albums that focus heavily on a very specific topic or aesthetic (Beat the Champ, In League With Dragons) have been among my least favorite of their output, but the action movie theme produces a lot of tracks that stand out in interesting ways among their other songs (“Hostages” in particular comes to mind), and I have found this to be their most lyrically engaging work in a few years for my personal taste.
8. Pool Kids - Pool Kids
I think this is probably a band that, had this been last year, I would have written off as a band that isn’t for me. But this album has something undeniably wonderful about it. Really expertly crafted songs with massive, emotional hooks that are beautifully sung but maintain a bit of grit to really sell the lyrics. This serves as a reminder that your indie, emo, or even metalcore/screamo band should embrace some element of pop sensibility, because that shit hits for a reason. This album is song after song after song that made me say “yeah man that’s really good” every single time. This album does more or less stay in a lane which holds it back from being higher on the list, but…more on that later. Overall just a solid, fun, satisfying album.
7. Denzel Curry - Melt My Eyez See Your Future (The Extended Edition)
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t consider an extended or deluxe edition its own album I don’t think. The first version of this album was exceptional on its own merit, and probably would have still made my list. It’s an incredibly versatile rap album, moving effortlessly between styles that Denzel kills in his distinctive voice and approach. The song “Walkin” starts with a classic '90s hip hop feel, with Denzel’s flow a little smooth to lean into that more boom-bap style. By the end, it slowly evolves into a more modern trap type beat, with the hi-hats getting more prevalent and the bass louder, and Denzel’s flow becoming more aggressive and embracing those fast flows he’s known for. This song is analogous for the album as a whole, as it similarly embraces and morphs eras and traditions into a cohesive, refreshing project. Pretty much every feature on this album crushes too. I never thought I would hear Saul Williams and a really good T-Pain verse on the same record. This album has a very classic feel at times, but unquestionably still sits comfortably alongside his contemporaries. The extended edition only further emphasizes this, because it’s not just a collection of scrapped B sides or remixes. The extended edition sees Denzel performing most of the tracks from the album live with an accompanying jazz band and it’s one of the most fascinating things I heard all year.
6. Wounded Touch - Americanxiety
This album was immediately a strong contender for the top ten because of how unique vocalist Nick Holland’s bizarre, harsh, screeching vocals are. But it was boosted up the list by the ugly riffs and heavy feedback breakdowns littered through this album. Really heavy, really gross metalcore with great lyrics and gnarly, moshy breakdowns that made me punch my headrest when I was driving. This album really lets you know from the very first vocal what you’re getting yourself into, and seldom lets up from there.
5. Static Dress - Rouge Carpet Disaster
I had never heard of this band until it came on shuffle, and it had enough going on that, while it wasn’t striking me as something I would typically enjoy all that much, I still felt compelled to try the album out when I saw it was new. Frequently throughout my first listen I caught myself thinking that the band’s sound really was something that would ordinarily do nothing for me, but every song on this album is impeccable nonetheless. It somehow seamlessly splices heavy, chaotic metalcore passages into these songs that have a huge arena rock level of pop sensibility to them. The heavy bits pull no punches, water nothing down. And yet they still have the appeal and approachability of a hugely successful alt rock band. There’s no real reason this band shouldn’t be as big as Deftones, perfectly utilizing their ability to write catchy melodies to really sell themselves as masterful songwriters within the heavy music space. There are some moments on this album that are so dissonant and chaotic that it’s offensive, and yet they manage to pull it off with grace and tie everything together by remembering the almighty power of the hook.
4. Soul Glo - Diaspora Problems
Objectively the greatest opening track of the year. Just a really perfect, unrelenting and incomparable hardcore record that fully establishes Soul Glo as a band entirely their own. The rap features blend in with the frenzied hardcore perfectly, and Pierce Jordan’s unending wall of lyrics produce a lot of memorable and pointed lines.
3. Mizmor & Thou - Myopia
Thou’s trademark brand of heavy sludge merged with Mizmor’s approach to doom-heavy black metal and A.L.N.’s unmistakable, horrifying vocals make this the best doom release of the year by a substantial margin in my opinion. It succeeds as a collaboration by really marrying the best parts of each outfit together, with each pounding riff a monstrous wind-whistle vocal passage leading the listener through an unforgiving, emotional album experience.
2. Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
It is a testament to how great this album is that it’s well over an hour long and every time I listen to it I only think there’s one song that even could have been left on the cutting room floor (“Wake Me Up to Drive”). I think “Sparrow” might be my song of the year. This album is very diverse, venturing outside of its baseline folky bluegrass type sound to explore aesthetics of psych rock, shoegaze and other various genres in ways that still play into their style, all while keeping the long runtime from ever feeling stagnant. It is constantly shifting and presenting new ideas and making the hour and twenty minutes fully engaging the entire time. While there are a lot of devastating songs on here, this album scored such high points for me because listening to it has made me very deeply happy at times, and it is very rare that an album is able to make me feel emotions intensely that are not negative. That’s something truly special.
1 . billy woods - Aethiopes
Listening to new albums was occasionally a struggle because I kept constantly wanting to go back to this. This album is incredibly focused and consistent, from its production and sequencing to its lyrical themes. The lyrics tell stories that are largely variations of a theme of generational trauma, and the stories get richer as they unfold further and further with each listen. Incredibly emotional lyrics, particularly in songs like “Christine” which explores various characters whose individual traumas and heartbreaks link to cars (“Asleep at the wheel / gently over the guard rail, flipped heads or tails / One died, she survived / Asked why, I replied, ‘God’s not real’”). A series of incredible features strengthen the tracks. My two standouts are Fatboi Sharif on “Haarlem”, whose uncomfortable moaning bars fit incomprehensibly well over the beat’s free jazz piano solo, and Despot on “Versailles” who spits not only the coldest bars on the album, but some of the coldest bars I’ve ever heard in my life (“If you got mouths to feed, I’mma make sure they stay hungry”). The beats on this album venture into extremes of minimalism (“Doldrums”) and maximal unhinged absurdity (the aforementioned “Haarlem”) and prove that woods’ is a rapper equipped to expertly flow over anything he finds himself in front of in a way few others could.
Aki McCullough's Top Ten Albums of 2022
Ethel Cain - Preacher’s Daughter
Every year there is That One Album I only listen to 3-4 times but each time is both a formative and devastating experience. Ethel Cain’s songwriting leaves me hanging onto every note and looking for the deeper meaning behind every word. Ever since I started transitioning, every emotion is magnitudes more intense, and this record has been my soundtrack for the soaring highs of euphoria and the lows of heartbreak.
Chat Pile - God’s Country
There is no band right now that better captures the experience of living in the hellscape that is the US in 2022. Every song is another all too real horror story, and you can nearly taste the rot and the hopelessness in the guitar & bass tone alone.
Backxwash - His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering
I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES was my AOTY in 2021 and Backxwash does it again hardly a year later. Everything that made RINGS a masterpiece, from the industrial influenced beats to the cathartic lyrics, is back on this record. Shoutout to our friend Kate [Davies, of Pupil Slicer] for their absolutely unhinged feature on "NYAMA."
Drowse - Wane Into It
In case you couldn’t tell by my guitar playing and major depressive disorder, I am Dreamwell’s resident slowcore slut. The moody atmospheres, minimalistic arrangements, and crushed percussion are all the ear candy that my heavily disordered brain craves. While many of my slowcore favorites are meant for rock bottom, Wane Into It straddles the line between melancholic and euphoric and is a wonderful and lush album at every point in my mood cycle.
Beach House - Once Twice Melody
When I put on Beach House, I am trying to listen to Beach House for a good 5-6 hours. Apparently they got the memo because a 3-part 85 minute Beach House album was exactly what I needed in my life.
Ada Rook - Ugly Death No Redemption Angel Curse I Love You
More face crushing noisy beats from half of Black Dresses. The perfect soundtrack for Trans Revenge which I obviously fuck with.
Birds in Row - Gris Klein
Birds in Row are some of the best songwriters in screamo today. While they aren’t reinventing the wheel, their music just feels more urgent and pressing, like finding love & purpose at the end of the world. The DL4 guitar riffs are a welcome addition to their sound.
Holy Fawn - Dimensional Bleed
Holy Fawn has been my comfort band for like the last 4 years. Dimensional Bleed is another 50 minutes of chimey leads and spacious doom chords for when I’m driving, sleeping, working, or just generally 30% of my life. Highlights include the ending drum beat on "Lift Your Head" which
is deeper in the pocket than a pair of cargo pants, and the haunting guitar melody that carries "Sightless."
The Callous Daoboys - Celebrity Therapist
One for the ages from the modern day mathcore GOATs, but y'all already know that.
Ashenspire - Hostile Architecture
In a genre full of reactionaries and apathy, an anti-capitalist thinkpiece in album form is a welcome breath of fresh air. Musically its equal parts Godspeed and Oranssi Pazuzu, absolutely my kind of shit.
Catch Dreamwell on tour next year supporting the first leg of The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die's Whenever, If Ever 10th anniversary tour. The second leg is with For Your Health, and that one hits NYC on May 19 at LPR.