The best songs of 2022 … you may not have heard

The best songs of 2022 … you may not have heard

From funk to pop to country, Guardian writers pick their favourite songs of the year that seem to have passed most listeners by

Samora Pinderhughes, Véyah and Eddie Chacon
Samora Pinderhughes, Véyah and Eddie Chacon Composite: PR

Eddie Chacon – Holy Hell

Picture the scene: you’re floating around your Frank Lloyd Wright bungalow a little lovelorn, but not so lovelorn that you can’t shuffle out a little two-step to the stereo and make yourself a cocktail. Here’s the world suggested by the bone-dry funk of Holy Hell, the lead single from the second album by Eddie Chacon. You might know him as one half of 90s duo Charles and Eddie (of Would I Lie to You? fame). After the band split in 1997 and Charles Pettigrew died in 2001, Chacon entered a wilderness period, wrestling with his ego and motivation for making music before stopping altogether. After meeting pianist and producer John Carroll Kirby (Solange, Blood Orange, Harry Styles), Chacon made the remarkable comeback album Pleasure, Joy and Happiness in 2020. Next year sees an equally fantastic follow-up, heralded by a song so addictive it put the rest of my Spotify Unwrapped in the shade. The sublime drums snap like turtles, the synths bubble as languidly as lava lamp orbs; Chacon’s ghostly croon rises to a brushed-velvet falsetto, just ready to go up in flames as he entreats a lover to choose between pleasure and pain. Laura Snapes

Véyah – Almost

In a year of over-hyped yet under-powered new pop star albums, it was a far less-radio-played new singer-songwriter who scratched that top 40 itch for me. The 18-year-old Indian-American Véyah kicks off her punchy debut single, Almost, sigh-saying the never-not-relatable “He’s such a fucking idiot” before telling a brief story of a dalliance that was luckily cut short before it got serious. She’s mad (although not as mad as she gets on later single h8 u) but mostly relieved, focusing on the positives that come from a negative (“I guess there’s some good in a goodbye”). There’s something undeniably Ariana Grande-adjacent both about her slick, silky R&B vocals, but also about her enjoyably middle-finger-up attitude. A watch of an impressive acoustic video on her TikTok, which has a pleasingly robust following, also shows that she’s worth far more than just production value. Benjamin Lee

Gilded Forest – 94 Revolution

Galling overtimeDizzying rent hikesTwenty percent youth unemploymentIncome and concert disrupting lockdowns. Yes, disaffected Chinese underground music fans are finding solace in Queyue’s 94 Revolution lyrics, which she sings in English with sturdy resolve. The singer for Beijing alt-folk trio Gilded Forest furthers lyrics about rent and overtime, and the titular reference to her birth year, by singing achingly about her parents’ standardized test fixation and derision for the arts. Shouxi’s cavernous-echo drumming evokes those hollowing woes. Steely-grit guitar comes courtesy of Dave C (given China’s fraught media climate, the band asks to drop surnames when being covered). That Irish expat also co-founded nugget, an indie label and venue platforming promising newbies in China’s increasingly commercial and notoriously restricted industry. As pandemic restrictions ease, hopefully this trio can play again for eager Chinese gig-goers. Meanwhile, listeners abroad are sure to be awed by all that Gilded Forest and their ilk are facing down. Kyle Mullin

Easyfun – Audio

In a certain corner of the internet, the return of Easyfun was as big as – bigger, even – than the return of Beyoncé. The British songwriter, real name Finn Keane, released two fabulously weird EPs in the mid-2010s, and has mostly worked on other peoples’ projects since, including tracks by Charli XCX, Rita Ora and Bree Runway. But it’s Easyfun music that the people are thirsting for – ostentatious, high-energy synth-pop songs that crackle and combust like fireworks. Audio, released this year, is one such song, and it was worth the years of waiting – sprightly and energising, it’s structured around a spine-tingling build that would do any big-tent Ibiza EDM DJ proud. The hallmarks of the Easyfun sound – synths that spring back and forward like stretched dough, manipulated, androgynous vocal samples – are still there, but this time around they’re crammed into a bracingly high-octane package. Ecstatic and joyous, Audio felt like a club hit from a better world than ours. Shaad D’Souza

Vlossom – Take Another Minute

An electro-pop duo of musicians from down under managed to craft the sparkly sleeper gem of 2022. Vlossom, comprising Nick Littlemore (known for his work with PNAU and Empire of the Sun) along with Alister Wright (hailing from the longtime indie rock band Cloud Control), joined forces during the pandemic to concoct an array of buoyant jams. The result is the unique production akin to Empire of the Sun’s eccentric discography and ear-candy songwriting, as well as the guitar-driven hooks of an indie rock outfit. Both of these qualities are on full display in Take Another Minute, which amounts to just over three minutes of the most infectious melody of the year, deliciously cascading into listener’s ears with nostalgic verses and a joyful chorus. “Take another minute tell me what you’re thinkin,’” it proclaims. “Take another moment, tell em what you’re wishin.’” It’s actually time to take another listen. Rob LeDonne

Tommy McLain – I Ran Down Every Dream

In I Ran Down Every Dream, a man in the final phase of his life looks back. Whiffs of loss cloud his view – “I recall when time stood still/Now the clock is ticking.” But there’s a sense of renewal too – “when I wake up with a brand-new tune/that’s how I know I’m still livin’.” Mainly, he simply reports his life, dividing it into a series of dreams, “some good, some bad, some we shall not ever mention.” It’s the down-to-earth attitude in McLain’s song – its refusal to offer pat conclusions or make grand declarations – that makes it so moving. So does the man who sings it. Now in his 82nd year, McLain delivers this country song with the authority that only that much living can bring. He also sings it with patience, born of decades of having to wait to re-enter a recording studio. Though McLain had a national American hit in the 60s with a cover of the country classic Sweet Dreams, he spent most of the years since then playing bars in his native Louisiana where he’s known as a pioneer of the swamp-pop sound. That deeply American style also attracted a cult audience in the UK, including fans as starry as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. With their help, McLain was able to release his first album in four full decades this year, titled for this song. Delivered in a sure and knowing voice, I Ran Down Every Dream offers an ideal antidote to blustery anthems like My Way, viewing life instead as an experience that can never be fully assessed or measured. Jim Farber

Samora Pinderhughes – Masculinity

In 2022, a song titled Masculinity could lead anywhere and the opening plea (“young man come down from that tower, it isn’t yet your time / I’ll tell you five years later, you make it out alive”) is an unsettling start. Samora Pinderhughes is acclaimed in jazz circles, but still an ‘if you know, you know’ composer, vocalist and pianist. His album Grief is part of a three-part project called Healing Process, informed by over 100 interviews with people of color who have experienced loss and structural violence. Pinderhughes’ urgency builds before dropping out barely two minutes into the almost six-minute song. Enter Jazz saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, whose frantic meditation makes you forget how the song started in the first place. His solo only relents long enough for the low notes to punch you in the gut before he jolts back into a frenzy. It’s haunting, beautiful and you’ll have to replay it at least twice. Grace Shutti

Plains – Line of Sight

Line of Sight, off the debut album by Plains (the duo that is Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson), conjures the freedom of the open road: a classic country guitar twang I can only associate with a hand out the window, harmonies like a friend’s banter from the passenger seat, a soaring chorus that summons a jewel-blue sky. Crutchfield’s crystalline voice slouches off lines of acceptance – “I’ll get it right,” “I can’t hide / in your line of sight” – the way I’d lean back in my seat, one hand on the wheel. I Walked With You A Ways hasn’t gotten quite the attention as Waxahatchee’s sublime 2020 album Saint Cloud, but her partnership with Williamson pays off, with give-and-take harmonies and scene-setting lyrics that recall the best country duos. Line of Sight feels like a hard-won, beautiful fantasy: that if you just got out of town, you could see everything a little bit clearer. Adrian Horton.

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