Teen Suicide’s Sam Ray tells us about his favorite music of 2022
Having returned this year with honeybee table at the butterfly feast, the first Teen Suicide album in six years, band leader Sam Ray has now made us a list of his favorite music of 2022. The list is mostly albums, but a few singles/EPs too, and Sam provided interesting, in-depth commentary on each pick. The list is in no particular order, but he says there's "no better piece of music this year" than the 2 Guys 2 Hammers EP by Peek (who recently opened for Teen Suicide), and Sam included Peek's two-song "Holy Cow" single on the list too. He's also got Mo Troper, Open Mike Eagle, The Callous Daoboys, The 1975, and more. Read on for everything Sam had to say.
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1. Peek - 2 Guys 2 Hammers
This list is in no order at all whatsoever, but there's no better piece of music this year than Peek's 2 Guys 2 Hammers. The whole release is phenomenal, with three of the best songs I've heard in such a long, long time, but the title track in particular is the indisputable standout. It's just perfect; it's completely alien while also pure pop, in that rare way that feels like it's sliding under your fingernails and squeezing through your veins and bones, all the way up into the back of your neck. It's one of those songs that pulls the rug out from under the earth, leaving everything and everybody, all of this shit, floating in void darkness. All the living, all the dead, the plants, the animals, rocks, clouds, computers, bugs, drugs, books, ideas, thoughts, grievances, terrors, dreams - all returned to one singular thing, one totally-connected nothingness, for just a second, just long enough to knock you off your feet, until it all swings back together again.
2. Mo Troper - MTV
Nobody can write a pop song like Mo Troper, he's a monster, a mutant, a toxic avenger. Nobody can write a hook like Mo. He can break a song into a thousand pieces without even needing to put it back together, it's incredible. I can't think of many songwriters and musicians who inspire me - and our band - more. His songs are perfect. His record Dilettante was probably my favorite that came out last year (in particular the absolutely perfect song "The Expendables Ride Again"), and as a follow-up, MTV doesn't disappoint. It reminds me of sprawling, experimental masterpieces like Why's Oaklandazulasylum, Sebadoh's III, Eric's Trip's Love Tara, and especially of Montreal's early (and best) records The Gay Parade, Cherry Peel, and The Bedside Drama. In particular, the hyper-specific way that songs stop and vanish mid-verse or chorus, in a sudden warbling of tape or blast of noise, static, and fuzz, only to be suddenly intruded on by a completely different, equally perfect melody, as if some bizarre, all-powerful radio dial is flipping through the best power-pop hits from another dimension. Every song is wonderful, but for me "Royal Jelly" stands out, much in the same way that "Montreal" did on Cherry Peel, and the same way that "Early Whitney" towered over the rest of Oaklandazulasylum. Incredible.
3. OLA SZMIDT - EP3
Ola Szmidt has made some of the most haunting, beautiful, and strange music of the last few years. I first discovered her work via the song "Moja," from 2017's EP1, and still to this day it stops me in my tracks whenever I hear it - it's a masterpiece, and one of those extraordinarily rare pieces of music that seems to exist totally outside of conventional styles and sounds. Her newest release, EP3, is fantastic and all that I'd hope for & expect from an artist so promising. Szmidt continues pushing music - particularly electronic music - into new places, largely through minimalism & unique looping techniques. It's no wonder that since 2016 she's been mentored by Four Tet, as he's one of the only producers who's consistently pushed electronic music in new directions for decades without fail.
4. Peek - Holy Cow
The two songs on Holy Cow are two of the best tracks I've ever heard, and if it weren't for 2 Guys 2 Hammers later in the year, they'd be my #1 pick on this otherwise unordered list. Like that later release, these songs are incomparable - even the few influences they do evoke (and everyone I've spoken with has heard different bits - for me, I hear a bit of early Xiu Xiu & Ten in the Swear Jar, like the latter's "Helsabot" or "When You Write" and the former's "Clowne Towne") are fleeting and ghostly, rain from a clear sky. Everyone who loves music at all should listen to Peek's two 2022 releases, listen to them until you've made sense of them through & through. Like learning a new language.
5. G Jones - Illusory Tracks
At what point can we say that Greg Jones is our Aphex Twin? Anyone who knows his music knows how quickly he's gone from inspired but still-conventional EDM/Trap styles to something so brilliant, new, and utterly his own that it can't even be burdened by classifying it as any genre or sub-genre anymore. His 2018 full length The Ineffable Truth was the big turning point, in my eyes, and he's only continued on the trajectory sense. His 2022 releases are more collection-based than brand-new, with Illusory Tracks being a quick compiling of his most-recent singles, including collaborations with frequent partner Eprom & the brilliant ISOxo, and Acid Disk 2 being, as the name suggests, a collection of acid-tinged dance tracks. Both releases are great, with standout tracks that rival anything else he's released to date, but it's Illusory Tracks which I find most exciting. Without the room to sprawl a full length release offers, he works mostly in dance-floor/warehouse/festival annihilation mode, grabbing wildly and madly at contemporary & classic dance styles alike and interpolating them all into something that exists as both a Derrida-esque deconstruction of these tropes and also a near-perfect, Platonic ideal of them. In other words these songs are fucking huge. The absolute standouts for me though, are "Patterns Emerge" and "Thought Tracing" - two songs that move away from the dance floor. Both start out with one idea or pattern (a melodic idea in the former, and an old 808-cowbell like chiming tone in the latter) and build upon it endlessly, until the entire foundation trembles and collapses, leaving the latter half of each track in some new, broken space, void of all laws of physics. It's dance music as fractals, (and not in a Shpongle-y way). There's nothing else out there like it.
6. Open Mike Eagle - Component System with the Auto Reverse
Somehow it feels like every Open Mike Eagle record is the best Open Mike Eagle record. Every time he seems to come back rapping even better than before, lyrics even sharper, funnier, production bigger and yet also more idiosyncratic and seemingly tailored solely to him and his increasingly idiosyncratic writing style. But also he gets older, like all of us (something that god knows is weighing on every musician and artist's mind heavier these days with Armageddon looming more clearly on the horizon), he gets funnier, he gets bleaker, he gets more introspective yet also more self-effacing about it all. This new record feels (to me) a bit less immediate than his most recent two - What Happens When I Try to Relax or Anime, Trauma and Divorce - instead it reminds me most of his 2017 masterpiece Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. If Brick Body was a summer's day album - daydreaming, hazy, stoned, nostalgic, melancholy - this new one's more like the hot summer night that follows, once everyone's gone home & the weed's worn off a bit. It's brilliant.
7. The Callous Daoboys - Celebrity Therapist
No band is doing the shit that the Daoboys are, let alone doing it so good. Maybe Greyhaven's This Bright and Beautiful World - another great record which could scratch the itch to a slight extent. For my money though, there's nothing out there remotely like this. There are parts that feel like continuations of the classic Botch/ Dillinger Escape Plan type of math-core demon hell metal, sure, and the band surely deals with constant references to those & others, but that's only a small part of it. There are half-sung, half-screamed hooks of total melodic-brilliance that would be at home among the heavier riffing bits of Is a Real Boy. There are strange & mournful horns & guitars which recall Ennio Morricone, Sun City Girls, and narco-corrido ballads. There are fraying, melting synths akin to an old Horse The Band breakdown, violins & strings piped in from the most funereal parts of a Carissa's Wierd song, DnB & Jungle breaks somewhere between Vein's Errorzone and Slipknot's self-titled debut from '99. There are absolutely classic Faith No More/Mr Bungle Mike Patton style vocals & hooks, absolutely beautiful little harmonized vocals & clean/classical guitars which bring to mind the whiplash you get when you first hear Ulver go chorale on Bergtatt - hell, there's a part that reminds me of the "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast" outro. But like, best of all, there are fucking riffs. There are breakdowns. These are songs. None of it's gimmicky, none of it's kitschy, nothing's ever thrown in haphazardly or without thought - it's a complete and perfect whole. Heavy, horrifying, brutal music from an alien universe. It'll make you gouge your eyes out, in a good way. A truly great record. I looked forward to it every day since I first heard Die on Mars, and it did not disappoint at all. They should conquer the world.
8. Carly Rae Jepsen - The Loneliest Time
The album's great! I listened to it - Kitty & I listened to it, late at night on a 15 hour drive, and it's really great. Really perfect music for a long, late night drive especially. Carly's got a gift for pop, I don't think anyone can dispute that. Her last record, 2019's Dedicated, didn't have as much of an impact with me personally as I'd hoped it would, though a large part of that is undoubtedly the impossibly long shadow cast by EMOTION (& its almost-equally-great B-sides/outtakes, released years later). It did, however, contain one of my absolute favorite songs, the utterly phenomenal track "Everything He Needs," as perfect a piece of pop as anyone's ever recorded, and almost positively the best to ever interpolate Harry Nilsson & Shelley Duvall's iconic collaboration from the Robin Williams-starring Popeye. So it's great to hear her return to form with a record that reminds me a good bit at times of Ellie Goulding's massive, hit-filled Delirium, as well as Susanne Sundfør's soaring 10 Love Songs. I hope she gets a huge hit out of it. Everything aside though, I want to focus on the title track. While the album itself is great (and it is great), it's the title (and final, as far as official tracklisting goes) track which earns it a spot in my favorites. It goes for broke in a way that almost all pop music is too afraid to do lately. In our current era of glamorous internet ennui, rote prefab beat-production constructed from over-used Splice Packs, dull Tik-Tok-baiting 'edginess' decided by committee, & dispassionate 'rock/pop-punk' type genre pastiche too soft for a 2002-era Disney Channel Original Movie soundtrack tie-in, it's enlivening to press play on a major pop release & hear something like this. First of all - there's Rufus Wainwright - that beautiful, honey-voiced angel of baroque pop past, that beautiful specter of my bisexual middle-school loneliness. It also goes full Abba-disco in a way that regular radio-disco is afraid to - even that fun new Dua Lipa song that goes radio-disco doesn't go anywhere near Abba-disco. The chord changes are strange & wonderful. Voices are allowed to waver off key for a moment before finding their way to perfect harmony - a strange and asynchronous choice that adds a delicious tension to the song as it builds, giving it the feeling of a proper duet. Between the huge chorus and the sweeping, gorgeously arranged coda, it feels like the perfect combination of both artist’s styles & strengths, rather than the single-verse-stunt-casting so gallingly prevalent among so many Spotify-discover-pop-songs. It reminds me of "Sine from Above," Lady Gaga & Elton John's Chromatica collaboration, the best case scenario of two superstars from two eras joining powers. In both cases, the artists are clearly brought together not by public relations convenience but mutual respect & admiration, and the resulting songs are both brilliant & totally unique among their respective oeuvres. This is what happens when major-label pop stars are allowed to take risks - it might not work out every time, but it has the potential to create something properly vital, something alive.
9. Lil Ugly Mane - "Low Tide at the Drying Out Facility"
It's not a record, just a single - a single song - but it's one of the best songs I've heard, this year or otherwise. It's so good there's not that much you can even say about it really. His 2012 masterpiece Mista Thug Isolation is a looming tower, a record that reshaped so much of internet rap music in its wake like the tides being pulled & shifted by the moon. While anyone paying attention would recognize the broader scope of his abilities (he's self-produced essentially every song he's released under his alias Shawn Kemp, for example) & his bigger genre aspirations, especially with his most recent full length Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern, it's still shocking to realizing the rapper behind classic songs like "Bitch I'm Lugubrious" and "Lookin 4 Tha Suckin" has written one of the greatest new Silver Jews or Country Teasers songs of our time. A discordant, fairly low fidelity country track crafted with barely more than a few dirty guitar chords and Miller's deep, torn-up voice, it also recalls classic cult songwriters like David Allen Coe and Blaze Foley at their most elemental. Sonically, it reminds me a bit of Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston's "Chords of Fame," a warped cover of the Phil Ochs song as well as Buck Owens' "Act Naturally," though their collaboration is a bit more frantic & a far more detuned. More than anything though, it's the lyrics to "Low Tide" that are key - bleak as all hell and very funny, much like the aforementioned David Berman was (RIP). It can be read as a darkly nihilistic love song, one sung from a (seemingly) mandated rehab stint. It can also be read as an unbroken loop of suffering, a Sisyphean bit that leaves the listener unsure if they're meant to laugh or cry. It's great!
10. The 1975 - "Part of the Band"
I don't listen to much new music - it's part of the deal when you make art or whatever, you have to abstain a good bit. I can't bring myself to elaborate much more as it's just too much to get into. The 1975 are absolutely great, my favorite boy band for many years now, and slightly paradoxically (though unsurprisingly) one of my favorite experimental strange-studio pop bands too. One of the artists my sister in law & I really bond over, which rocks (along with Harry Styles, among others). I love them, I love their fantastic & deceptively strange pop songs, I love their utterly unsubtle heroin odes, I love their equally unsubtle George Michael-style '80s pop singles of late, it's all pretty great to me. A few of their songs stand high above the rest - like "Sincerity is Scary," a song that should have monuments built to it, it's that great, and which really opened my eyes to just how strange & cool they could be. So - that's me & the 1975. I haven't heard their new record yet. I've heard a few other other singles and I like them quite a bit, they're a ton of fun - at times they come close to the raw pop power of something like Somebody Else, one of their best songs. Maybe I'll finally get to listen to the record in full soon, who knows, it's not really up to me - whenever I do, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. This song, though - "Part of the Band" - it's special. It's really special. I'd say it's a once-in-a-career type of song but "Sincerity is Scary"... It sounds like The Books, for some reason, and then it's also got this awesome paper-thin sort of horn lead reminiscent of Bowie's "Soul Love" & also old library music (another bit shared with "Sincerity," though in that case it was more of a lush flurry of horns, a bit like a million snowflakes all falling). The lyrics are personal to the extreme - narcissistically self-mythologizing & a masochistically self-deprecating at once - referential, beautiful, divine, utterly cringe - it's a tightrope act, and it's pop perfection. It's just so good, it's almost a shame to have to finally contextualize it within a record, as it works so well as a standalone statement (though releasing it as a lead single gives it a separately bizarre context which I also appreciate). It's just great! He does the Elvis Voice in it! It's great. A great song. Really, truly, a great song.
Teen Suicide's honeybee table at the butterfly feast is out now via Run For Cover. Pick it up on limited-to-200 deep blue vinyl.