Feature: Best Songs of the Year (2022)

Bill Callahan – “Partition” [Drag City Records]

It was quite the year for Bill Callahan, everybody’s favorite bass-inflected singer-songwriter, who started 2022 releasing a playful covers LP with the likes of Bonnie “Prince” Billy and continued to unravel the 365 with a soul-searching and brilliantly new-sounding solo record, his third in as many years.

“Partition” is one of the more direct tracks off the awkwardly titled YTILAER, where Callahan takes “big pigs” potshots at those who traffic in commercial transcendence. “Microdose!/Change your clothes!,” he sings at one point. “Do what you’ve got to do … To see the picture.” The song is classic Smog minimalism, with a driving, unchanged acoustic guitar line exorcised by beatific supporting guitar lines and some incredible drumming courtesy of Jim White. What distinguishes “Partition,” though, from being just another faux-linear romp is an incredible sense of vitality, as if Callahan were trying to shake the listener from their sleep and to lightning-specific attention.

“With each [LP] he has edged closer towards some kind of essential purpose,” one critic wrote, “embracing his sense of responsibility to his fellow man with a tentative joy, and radiating a euphoric humility about the idea that maybe there’s something even bigger out there.” That’s a lot juice for the squeeze but Callahan nakedly lays out his intents on YTILAER and “Partition” is one of the LP’s most engaging shots across the bow.

Danger Mouse and Black Thought – “Aquamarine (feat. Michael Kiwanuka)” [BMG]

Was it a key collaboration of 2022? Maybe. Producer Danger Mouse, who boldly introduced himself to the world with {The Grey Album} back in ’04, laid down some seriously scorching foundations for rapper Black Thought to paint word-pictures on {Cheat Codes}, a ’22 gem and the duo’s long-anticipated full-length. On the stand-out “Aquamarine,” where Michael Kiwanuka guests, Black Thought spits out verses with beautiful, don’t-flinch-or-think twice instinct and even more beautiful rage, the words like bullets piercing the body armor.

But is it an entry worthy of Black Thought’s {Streams of Thought} series? While Danger Mouse was doing the Broken Bells thing with The Shins’ James Mercer or producing The Black Keys, Black Thought, yes, yes, was running with Fallon but he also was putting out work that was structurally similar to what the two cook up here. Is it in the same voice that Black Thought wraps his arms around this project?

Regardless of the lineage, {Cheat Codes} was one of the more vibrant collaborations of the year, standing right alongside Danger Mouse’s work with MF Doom. (Insert {The Mouse and The Mask} reference here.) “Aquamarine” features some of Black Thought’s most blistering stuff from the LP, and Danger Mouse sets him up with a lazy Sunday funk refrain built for a little vocal attack. Let’s hope these guys have another LP-shot in the chamber. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Dec. 20, 2022


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.