By August, the concept of an “endless summer” sounds less like a paradise and more like a prison. While we were busy pining for fall’s cooler temperatures, though, this muggy month delivered music that will continue to resonate long after 2022 concludes. The first full-length collaboration between Danger Mouse and Black Thought was as good in practice as it was on paper; Why Bonnie’s debut made the summer heat feel sweet, somehow; and Ezra Furman’s rallying cry of a new record rung in our ears. In determining August’s best albums, we had no shortage of contenders to choose from—but ultimately, these 10 simply would not be denied.
Listen to our Best Albums of August 2022 playlist on Spotify here.
Loss is a fundamental part of life that touches us all at some point or another—with no hope of eluding it, all we can do is find the strength to bear its weight, and the stamina to keep going until we can achieve some kind of catharsis. For Cass McCombs, that meant creating his 10th album, Heartmind, “as a way to handle the loss of some close friends. Their memories guided me throughout and hopefully they live through the music,” the singer/songwriter said in a statement. “Strange to realize, it wasn’t them who were lost, it was me.” McCombs recorded his Tip of the Sphere follow-up in Brooklyn and Burbank with co-producers Shahzad Ismaily, Buddy Ross and longtime collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid, with contributions from Wynonna Judd, Charlie Burnham, Danielle Haim, Cactus Moser, Joe Russo, Kassa Overall, The Chapin Sisters, Frank LoCrasto and Nestor Gomez. You can practically feel your soul’s battery recharging as Heartmind wanders its winding path—McCombs maintains a sense of humble wonder as he finds a way forward through his imagination, the music leading him to love, even if it means he’ll someday have to lose. —Scott Russell
Danger Mouse is a chameleon, assuming whatever identity and style are needed to allow his collaborators to shine. Philadelphia emcee Black Thought was the perfect choice. Together, the two created Cheat Codes, marrying sprawling jazz soundscapes with stream-of-consciousness raps. Whether working in seminal jazz-rap outfit The Roots or hopping on a project with Danger Mouse, Black Thought operates all the same, with a lyrical tunnel vision that challenges listeners to follow a winding trail to enlightenment. Danger Mouse adds a distinct analog-like feel, blurring the line between artificial and real as he layers drums, guitars and warm static into a playground for Black Thought to spit on. The sky is the limit on Cheat Codes, and the collaborators have only scratched the surface of their potential. —Jade Gomez
The early 2010s music scene at Purchase College in New York just keeps on giving. More formally known as the State University of New York at Purchase—or SUNY Purchase—the school can make a reasonable claim as an incubator for Mitski, Porches, Frankie Cosmos, Crying, LVL UP, Sheer Mag and the excellent Double Double Whammy record label. Anyone who was there would probably also tell you about all the great acts from Purchase whom you haven’t heard of. Maybe they’d talk about Sirs, a catchy punk band that featured Justin Jurgens’ screams backed by members of LVL UP and Sheer Mag. Or perhaps they’d point to Cende, a group of Purchase grads—including Porches drummer Cameron Wisch on lead vocals—whose 2017 album #1 Hit Single might’ve fulfilled its title in a world where the listening public craves a cross between Carl Newman’s pre-New Pornos project Zumpano and Texas poppy punk gods the Marked Men. (What a world that would be!) Cende came to an end not long after releasing #1 Hit Single, and some have—or at least one has—wondered what Wisch has been up to. Here’s the answer: Making music with his ol’ Purchase pal Jurgens from Sirs, under the name Dust Star. And get this: Their debut album Open Up That Heart sounds like a poppier Sirs and a punkier Cende. It sounds like power-pop with a serrated edge and its heart beating out of its chest. It sounds very, very good. —Ben Salmon
Ezra Furman knows that the joys and fears of trans women are doubled to either extreme compared to those of their cis counterparts, as violent transmisogyny continues to run rampant and women who share her experiences are forced to live in the shadows. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a woman,” Furman wrote in an April 2021 Instagram post, “and yes for me it’s complex, but it’s complex to be any sort of woman … Trans people deserve to pursue the lives we want, on our terms.” In an effort to imagine that better future for those like her (and mourn those lost), the jarring freneticism of her prior album, 2019’s Twelve Nudes, gave way to the collective war cry of All of Us Flames, providing what she calls her “queer girl gang” with a soundtrack rooted in emancipation, rather than tragedy. After writing the album in remote locations around Massachusetts during the early months of the pandemic, Furman settled in Los Angeles with producer John Congleton to create what might be her most cohesive effort to date. Fans of Twelve Nudes and earlier projects like 2007’s Banging Down have nothing to fear, as the crackling punk sensibilities and searching Springsteenian lyrics on which Furman built her reputation stay put, as she injects her ferocious howl into jagged tales of collective self-discovery. “Urgency” is a word that comes to mind with every lyrical turn, with each sentiment sounding like it sat dormant in her throat for ages and has only now been released, brash and immediate. —Elise Soutar
Julia Jacklin’s new album draws to a close with a plea: “Be careful with yourself,” she sings in the song of the same name. She begs someone to “please stop smoking” because she “want[s] your life to last a long time,” and later advises them to “make sure you have got a little savings” and “keep all our doctors appointments, give voice to our doubts.” As an early 30-something, the Australian singer is now, like so many millennials, faced with the realities of adulthood. “There’s nobody coming to save us,” she eventually sighs in the penultimate song of her third LP, PRE PLEASURE. While Jacklin is probably singing from the perspective of a worried friend or partner, “Be Careful With Yourself” is one of a few songs on the album that contain what sounds like advice from a concerned parent. And when her lyrics don’t lean towards the maternal, Jacklin is a sharp observer of her own internal life, hacking away at the crust of her neuroses and conditions—be they intrusive thoughts or caring too much—until some nugget of meaning is unearthed. For Jacklin, this involves a combination of revisiting childhood and confronting adulthood, a process that results in some of the Australian artist’s sharpest songwriting to date. —Ellen Johnson
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom: Reset
Reset, the latest of Noah Lennox’s releases as Panda Bear, arguably draws from his strengths as a musician perpetually unstuck in time more than any of his earlier records. Curiously enough, the person bringing this element to the forefront is Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember), previously Lennox’s producer on Tomboy and Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, taking on an equal role in performance this time around. Kember not only joins Lennox in his usual array of harmonizing vocals and synthesizers, but also offered the germ of Reset’s context—expanding on intros from records of pop’s earliest years as the primary foundation for multiple tracks. The effect is infectiously immediate from the album’s opening seconds. Even before either Lennox or Kember can be felt on the record, the triumphant acoustic guitar chords of Eddie Cochran’s “Three Steps to Heaven” burst forth. Lennox then emerges with a gleefully soaring vocal part, and the track—the magnificent tone-setter “Gettin’ to the Point”—fully becomes his and Kember’s. Much of the joy in Reset comes in instances like these, where Lennox and Kember wholeheartedly embrace the sounds of the past with a distinctly contemporary approach. —Natalie Marlin
Brooklyn experimental musician Rachika Nayar makes music that sends you into alternate dimensions, your body swelling and bursting into the atmosphere without any pain or worry. Heaven Come Crashing is heavily inspired by the emotive trance tracks of the ’90s, bubbling slowly over minutes into catharsis. Each breakbeat and wobbling guitar expands upon the never-ending backrooms of Nayar’s brilliant debut Our Hands Against The Dusk, aided by the ghostly croon of Maria BC and disjointed synth samples. Like an exploding star, Heaven Come Crashing shines a bright light and fizzles into the serenity of darkness, finding beauty in both presence and absence. —Jade Gomez
Stella Donnelly: Flood
After making a name with her fierce 2019 debut Beware of the Dogs, Perth singer/songwriter Stella Donnelly turned inward. “I’m taken out to sea in the flood / Swimmer looking for the line,” she sings on Flood’s title track, a bittersweet beauty of a centerpiece about keeping one’s head above water while awash in the emotional tumult that tends to accompany such introspection. Where Beware of the Dogs paired Donnelly’s emotionally explosive songwriting with bright indie-pop sounds and only occasional solemnity, Flood flips that script, as if to bare Donnelly’s battered heart (“Is it a pipe dream to want my children / Never to wake up and hear a woman screaming?” she considers on “Morning Silence”) with a newfound sense of peace and acceptance. Donnelly wrote Flood on piano, rather than guitar, a major contributor to the record’s more stately approach—“You’re the bit that holds us all together,” she declares on “Move Me,” as if in tribute to the instrument. It’s a serious album from a serious songwriting talent. —Scott Russell
Amid acclaim for his restrained 2018 album Kill The Lights, one particular notion stuck in Tony Molina’s craw. “I kept hearing: ‘Oh, he’s maturing, he’s getting into other shit, writing more mature stuff,” he recalls in press materials. “I thought, ‘Man, that’s kinda lame, no I’m not … ’” As if to prove that his older sounds weren’t “immature,” and that he owns every style he’s explored across his singular career, the micro-pop iconoclast made In The Fade. His longest record yet at 18 minutes, it encompasses the power-pop fuzz of Dissed and Dismissed and the swaggering guitar-monies of Ovens, as well as the ‘60s acoustic-folk flourishes of Confront the Truth and Kill the Lights, all tied together with the unerring ear for melody and wry humor that define Molina’s solo output. Simply put, it’s an album that only Tony Molina could make, made on no one’s terms but his. —Scott Russell
Though they’ve been rehearsing for this moment for some time, releasing EPs that skew towards indie pop since 2018, Why Bonnie appear fully formed on their debut album 90 in November. Out via Austin-based Keeled Scales, their warm, twangy brand of indie rock feels right at home with that of their label-mates Sun June, Good Looks and Katy Kirby. The label’s recent, glorious run has seen them uplifting a unique rock scene that captures the simultaneously grounded, yet majestic nature of their home state—90 in November is just the latest entry. Why Bonnie’s named influences are acts like Sheryl Crow, The Replacements and Townes Van Zandt. With inspiration taken from all sides of rock music, it’s easy to see how they seamlessly straddle the lines between several genres themselves. They make indie rock, sure, but there’s an undeniable current of country music in there, as well as some nods to pop songwriting in their hooky, melodic execution. These disparate influences also bolster their music with a sense of familiarity. This is music that’s made to spill out from car speakers when it’s so hot out that the summer sun burns your thighs through the windows like ants under a magnifying glass. —Eric Bennett
Listen to our Best Albums of August 2022 playlist on Spotify here.