Leagues O’Toole is a music promoter and label owner with Foggy Notions based in Dublin.
See all Guestlist of 2022 choices
See his previous choices from 2021. Over to Leagues.
Every year is a great year for music but your feelings regarding the music of each year are largely determined by your personal circumstances and mood, as music itself is such an emotional energy. Music came thick and fast for me this year, a constantly ebbing and flowing force of which I had very little time to reflect on because life was often chaotic as we navigated a new company and started a record label in a transitioning society, on top of all the usual ongoing personal anguish. So after some reflection here are 12 songs that signposted 2022 for me in the style of a playlist. Niall, sorry I’ve gone over by two, couldn’t separate them. Thank you for asking me.
Aldous Harding – Tick Tock
Aldous is a songwriting genius and what makes it even more interesting is that she is unrelentingly weird. Throughout the Warm Chris album she tries out all these different voices which in some ways seems kind of like an absurd approach but each voice seems to characterize the song perfectly. There’s three or four absolute beauts on this album but I’ve gone with ‘Tick Tock’. Her delivery is so languid and effortlessly deadpan, and even within this song her voice flips styles. Compared to many of her contemporaries there’s a sense that Aldous doesn’t care a huge amount about the stuff that is peripheral to the actual songwriting and performance. Maybe that’s her inner artist protecting her. I hope she keeps writing and recording for a very long time as she’s one of the greats of her generation.
Anna Mieke – Twin
I only recently started listening to Anna Mieke. Her second album, Theatre, is a classic, no question. Anna just has her own unique style, a really ambitious approach to arrangement and instrumentation. ‘Twin’ is an incredible opener, an infectious, irresistible piece of music that just reels you into the whole album.
“Sometimes things are better left unsaid instеad
Waited in the wings of the morning for you
Somеtimes things are better left unsaid instead
Linger if you will, we are strangers still.”
I love lines like these that cinematically portray the uncertainty of modern life. I think it’s really important there are two or three great Irish albums each year, just to keep the show on the road, to give us hope, something to reflect on with pride at the end of the year. Theatre is one of those alongside Junior Brother, and Elaine Howley.
Pretty Happy – Conn Boxing
irstly, massive declaration of interest, we released this on our Foggy Notions label and we manage Pretty Happy, but I could not leave it out largely because I feel it’s one of the most important pieces of music I’ve heard in recent times. ‘Conn Boxing’ is Abbey Blake’s startling portrayal of Irish rape culture and the systems in place that protect male perpetrators. The timing, the rhythm, the narrative voice, the momentum, the tonal shifts in the composition and the controlled anger all contribute to something genuinely powerful.
Blackhaine – Stained Materials
Blackhaine is another artist who doesn’t shy away from intense truths either. A Lancashire polymath, he has been dropping unbelievable tracks for the last few years, each one a grenade packed with self-loathing, always fearless, and brutally poetic. ‘Stained Materials’ – a late-night paranoid trip through Salford – showcases both the classic tenets associated with rap music’s delivery and wordplay and the menacing horrorscapes and contorted build-ups that Blackhaine is defining as his own.
Rainy Miller – ii Preface, Benevolence
Desquamation is the title of Rainy’s album, meaning some sort of infection of the skin, I think. This kid is a special talent, a visionary I’d go as far to say. This record reminds me of those moments in British music history when someone like Tricky, Massive Attack or Burial captures the mood that is somehow cinematic, foreboding, and vulnerable all at the same time. This opening track sets a disconcerting tone, a panicked vocal in the midst of a serene noise edited beautifully with glitches, silence and radiant keys as our narrator spirals. Rainy and Blackhaine and many connected artists are at the vanguard of something truly unique, truthful and modern.
Mabe Fratti – Cada Músculo
Just, perfection. David was speaking effusively about this record in the Foggy office. I scribbled it down on a list and finally got to it and was instantly hooked. A Mexico city based cellist and composer, she has kindred spirits with such outlier artists as Owen Pallett, Arthur Russell or even Kate Bush who almost feels like a direct influence on this particular song. The wrought cello scrapes, a voice so pure you’d die for and a chaotic storm of strings at the end.
Rosalia – Saoko
For various reasons, actual pop music has never felt more free, interesting and discoverable as it is now and Catalan musicologist turned global pop star Rosalía’s success has been a joy. Her playful videos, mind-boggling assimilation of traditional styles and unquenchable desire to experiment is frankly inspirational. ‘Saoko’ is the opening track of her third album Motomami and she goes hard over that buzzing synth and tough reggaeton rhythm. There’s some fun Arca mash-ups with this track out there too. Yo me transformo!
Destroyer – It’s In Your Heart Now
Those who are fans of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer have a deep investment in the man’s brilliant and cryptic work, so anticipation for each new record has an almost anxious levels of expectation. Labyrinthitis didn’t disappoint anyone, with several tracks that would stand alone as ambitious curveballs by anyone else’s standards but I’ve gone with the opening song because it swept me away with its heart-swelling warmth. It took me on long, languid headphone walks when the world was re-opening and spring was in the air and Bejar was crooning a mantra in my ear, “You want to go home /You want to know the way / And the when / And then why, somehow.”
Alex G – Runner
One of my favourite songwriters ever Alex G makes everything seem so simple and unfussy. The combination of his unassuming persona and gifted songwriting touch is such a feelgood combo, and the fact that he writes songs about dogs and their experiences makes him even more lovable. This could be a Tom Petty song, it just motors along hitting all the right spots, those subtle vocal tweaks gently elevating the production. Perfection.
Dehd – Bad Love
As good a modern surf-pop song as you’ll hear and a revitalising little explosion for wounded hearts fleeing one situation to the next opportunity. ‘Bad Love’ is insanely catchy but what makes it really brilliant is Emily Kempf’s infectious stuttering delivery when she huffs “I got a heartful of re-re-redemption.” This is a band who understand the power of music that’s performed with authentic emotion. Impossible not to love this.
Weyes Blood – Grapevine
Natalie Mering doesn’t do things by halves. She cruised over the horizon with 2019’s stately pop statement Titanic Rising. But on this album And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, apparently the second instalment of a trilogy, the songs feel more like lush ambient alien broadcasts, huge empathetic ballads, universal hymns from the heart. This song crushes me in the best possible sense, not least its devastating melody and that voice, but killer line after killer line. Weyes Blood can punch with the biggest 60s, 70s songwriters, but more importantly her songs connect in the uncertain darkness of 2022. I needed this song. I needed the whole album.
Elaine Howley – To The Test
To find our balance again we close out with a locked groove from Elaine Howley’s brilliant solo debut album The Distance Between Heart and Mouth. Music as a meditative force was never more important than it is now. Everything Elaine does is subtle, the psychedelic flourishes, the pop melodies, the ghostly vocals, and the absolutely smoking loops such as the one on ‘To The Test’, a bewitching late-night trip that’s been helping me wind-down before sleep.
See all Guestlist of 2022 choices