I think it’s fair to say that 2022 rocked. It certainly rocked more than 2021. And absolutely, without question, rocked wayyyy more than 2020 (which rocked very little). This year, we got a massive new haul of rocking rock albums, and an avalanche of awesome rock books and rock documentaries that told some sensational rock stories. Most importantly, however, live music made an even greater comeback, and many of us finally got to rock alongside other people for the first time in years. Of all the things that rocked, that rocked the most.
Rock is a whole lot more than just a list of the best records. It’s moments. It’s people. It’s a shared experience and a way of life. When looking at all the different ways that 2022 rocked, some naturally rocked more than others. To mark the end of the year, here are a dozen awards given to bands, writers, records, and shows that rocked the hardest.
Shoutout to the winners below. You rock.
The Reunion Tour Award for Reapplied Excellence
Reunion tours can be dicey. The force of nostalgia is powerful enough to get the fans through the door, but at the end of the night, the folks onstage still gotta deliver the goods, passage of time be damned! Few bands understand this better than ‘90s indie rockers Pavement. A dozen years ago, the group staged its first reunion tour and the returns were not good. A general sloppiness was the main complaint, and for a minute, it seemed like that would be the final word on the slacker icons. But in 2022, the members of Pavement hit the road and totally redeemed themselves.
The group sold out theaters from sea to shining sea this summer, delighting new and old fans alike with eclectic setlists and good vibes. The banter was sweet. The guitar solos were immense. The popularity of “Harness Your Hopes” … inexplicable. Let’s just hope it’s not another dozen years before Pavement decides to do this all over again.
The Gatefold Double-Album of the Year
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You by Big Thief
Almost every double album since the dawn of double albums could stand a trim, but that’s not really the point. Maximalism — that’s what we’re trying to achieve here. Most artists use the format to offload a bevy of backloaded material before moving into a new phase of their career. Sometimes this works — see Physical Graffiti from Zeppelin, Led — but more often, you’re left with an incomprehensible slog that feels imposing at best.
Big Thief’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is not an incomprehensible slog. In fact, the superpower of this 20-song behemoth is how cohesive it sounds. These 80 minutes feel like a world unto themselves — a “Simulation Swarm” you can disappear into as the lines of the highway fly by the window. Big Thief traveled between studios in upstate New York, southern California, the Arizona desert, and the Colorado mountains over a span of five months while creating this shockingly intimate opus. It’s without a doubt the band’s strongest record to date, and hopefully, a harbinger of new and exciting turns to come.
That’s a First: The Debut Rock Record of the Year
Bummer Year by Good Looks
There’s a case to be made that A Light for Attracting Attention by the Smile is the best debut rock record of the year, but c’mon. That feels a little bit like cheating, right? Like, of course, Radiohead minus a few members made an awesome record. Let’s hear it instead for Bummer Year by Good Looks. This seven-track album was put together by a four-piece from Austin, Texas, and made for peak sad summer listening. Bummer Year is a psychedelic fondue of indie shimmer, southwest grit, and post-punk malaise fueled by an impending sense of doom that maybe capitalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The world can get you down. Life isn’t fair. And sometimes, like on the song “Vision Boards,” you’ve just gotta scream: “To the voice inside in my head, shut the fuck up / ‘Cause I tried my best and I am not listening.”
Set It On Fire: Wildest Onstage Moment Award
Jack White marries his longtime girlfriend Olivia Jean in Detroit
Anything can happen during a concert, and hat’s half the reason you buy the ticket. After two years of being largely locked down, music lovers around the world were eager to get out and get weird. Luckily, this year was awash in unexpected live moments that left jaws on the floor. The most inexplicable of them went down in April, when Jack White introduced his girlfriend Olivia Jean onstage during a show in Detroit, proposed to her after singing “Hotel Yorba,” carried her offstage …and then married her during the encore!
“She was very surprised,” White later told Stephen Colbert. “Luckily, Ben Swank works at Third Man Records [and] he’s also a minister of some church on the Internet. I don’t know.” Anyone can light a guitar on fire or dive into a mosh pit. Eternally wedded bliss? Punk AF.
The Use Your Illusion Award for the Most Over-the-Top Release(s)
Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen by Red Hot Chili Peppers
In a year where Guns N’ Roses released an eight-disc, nearly eight-pound reissue boxed set commemorating the Use Your Illusion albums, it felt only fitting to honor another band with similar gumption in 2022. Did the world need a new 17-song album from Red Hot Chili Peppers this year? Some would argue “no.” These people are distressingly wrong.
In these trying times, we need our SoCal funk rock legends now more than ever. The return of longtime guitarist John Frusciante to the lineup made Unlimited Love a worthy return regardless of any consideration. The Peppers are simply better in every conceivable way when he’s in the fold. The fact that “The Heavy Wing,” “Black Summer,” and “Let ‘Em Cry” are all bangers is simply icing on the cake.
Now, did the world need a SECOND new 17-song album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers this year? I suppose it doesn’t matter, because they hit us with Return of the Dream Canteen anyway. Your move, Axl.
Haven’t We Heard This Before? The Best Album Reissue Project of the Year
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Deluxe Edition) by Wilco
Wouldn’t you love to be able to hear some of your favorite records again, with fresh ears, for the very first time? That’s the dream, right? — to recapture that feeling of awe and excitement that welled up inside your chest at the recognition of something so vital and fresh and important. We can’t do that, of course, so we do the next best thing: we buy the reissue.
The boxed set business is booming these days, as more and more artists plumb their vaults and re-emerge with treasures our ears never realized we were missing. Most reissues are overstuffed with superfluous takes or needless edits designed to get more buck for less bang. But every so often, along will come something like this immersive eight-disc deep dive into the universe of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which breathes new life into these cherished tunes.
It won’t feel like hearing this music again for the first time, but the energy in the so-called Unified Theory of Everything version of tracks like “Jesus, Etc.” “Kamera,” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” is simply bracing. Shoutout to Replacements biographer Bob Mehr for the illuminating liner notes as well.
Lighters in the Sky: Most Iconic Concert of the Year
Taylor Hawkins Tribute Show at Wembley Stadium and the Kia Forum
Many of us are still coming to grips with the unexpected loss of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins in March. He was a seminal figure in the rock world — an otherworldly percussionist of course, but a true rock fan first and foremost. His passion leapt out of the speakers.
Hawkins was seemingly down to play with anyone, at any time. The twin, star-studded tribute concerts hosted by his friends, family, and bandmates in London and Los Angeles in September made for an immortal sendoff and fitting tribute to a guy who simply yearned to rock. Members of Queen, Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Police, Oasis, and damn near every other band on the planet showed up to play and spread the love. It’s difficult (bordering on impossible) to pick a favorite moment, but you are broken inside if the footage of Hawkins’ son Shane playing “My Hero” with Dave Grohl doesn’t bring a tear to your eye.
The Don’t Look Back Documentary of the Year
Neil Young: Harvest Time
A lot of music journalism boils down to one essential question: “How’d you do it?” I’ve personally posed some form of that question hundreds of ways to hundreds of artists and producers through the years. “How’d you record that song? How’d you write that line? How’d you pick that take? How’d you do it?”
That’s what makes Neil Young: Harvest Time such a thrilling experience. We don’t have to ask how one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century wrote and recorded his most enduring album, Harvest. It’s all right there on the screen. Like a truncated, flannel-adorned spin on the Beatles’ Get Back, Harvest Time lets you be in the room while the guitars are unboxed and the tape starts rolling. It’s a film that’s sure to become a seminal document for Neil Young fans across the world, and a critical, historic record of a special time and place.
The What Goes Around Comes Around, Comeback Album of the Year
Cool It Down by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Nine years is a long damn time to make people wait between album releases, and you could be forgiven for wondering if Yeah Yeah Yeahs still had it after all that time apart. Could the trio nail another “Gold Lion” and recreate a “Phenomena?” There was reason for concern. After all, while the rockers’ 2013 record Mosquito had its moments, it was certainly no Fever To Tell.
You could almost feel a wave of enthusiastic relief wash over the country when Cool It Down finally landed in September. While the album lacks some of the fuzzed-out bombast of their youth, Karen O is still as dynamic as any frontman, woman, or alien on Earth behind a microphone. Special shoutout to “Wolf,” “Fleez” and “Different Today,” which only get better with repeated spins. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are back, and not a moment too soon.
Elements of Style: Best Rock Biography
Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation by Steven Hyden
Do you want to know why Pearl Jam has endured as one of the most popular bands in the world over the last three decades? Or why armies of fans travel across the world to see the group year in and year out? Why Eddie Vedder and company are maybe the most Gen X of all the Gen X bands? Why its second drummer is criminally underrated and its best album may be a collection of 72 concert bootlegs recorded on tour in the year 2000? Steven Hyden has all the answers and delivers them with the kind of wittily insightful analysis you only get from an obsessed fan and expert critic. Maybe you won’t discover a newfound love for the band’s fifth album, Yield, but the entire experience makes for one helluva Riot Act.
Play it F*cking Loud: Best Live Album
Live at the Fillmore, 1997 by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
To those who never got to witness the greatness of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live and in person, you have my eternal regret. They ruled. Don’t just take my word for it, though. Give this four-hour collection of hits, covers, and deep cuts a spin and then try to call me a liar. That 10-minute-long jam on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance?” The cover of “Goldfinger?” The duets with John Lee Hooker? Yeah, exactly.
Recorded over multiple shows at the intimate Fillmore Theater in San Francisco in 1997, this live set captures Petty and the Heartbreakers at the peak of their powers. As the group’s guitarist Mike Campbell told me recently, “Playing the Fillmore was a chance to get back to how it felt to start a band … to feel that energy with the fans up close and the freedom to change the set every night, which was a luxury we didn’t really have in the arenas. We could just do whatever we want and really enjoy being musicians just for the sake of being musicians.”
The Best Rock Album of 2022
Lucifer on the Sofa by Spoon
This isn’t supposed to happen. How did it get this far? Spoon is nearly 30 years deep into its career at this point. The Austin art-rockers have released 10 studio albums, endured lineup changes of all kinds, and still seem to level up with each succeeding release. Personally, I thought they pushed it as far as they could go with the electronically tinged 2017 album Hot Thoughts. I didn’t anticipate they had any worlds left to conquer. Then they go ahead and drop the literal best rock record of 2022.
Lucifer on the Sofa is everything you could conceivably want in a rock record. 10 tracks. 38 minutes. You’re in, you’re singing, you’re dancing, you’re ripping invisible guitar solos, and you’re out. The choruses on songs like “The Hardest Cut” and “On the Radio” stick to your brain like rubber cement. The drums are always on time and smack with purpose. And then there’s Britt Daniel, who remains an utterly fascinating master of ceremonies. At one moment, he’s pleading with tender righteousness on “Satellite” and in another, crooning with evil intent on “The Devil & Mister Jones.”