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Welcome to RARB Picks of the Year, 2022 Edition!
Reviewers who published at least seven reviews in 2022 were asked to select one Pick of the Year and one Honorable Mention from albums that they personally reviewed for RARB. Reviewers with fewer published reviews could choose only a Pick of the Year. (Albums chosen in both categories are listed as Picks only; the full listing may be found under individual reviewers.) Reviewers could submit descriptions of their picks, but were not required to.
Reviewers were also asked to select Tracks of the Year on a similar principle, again restricted to the tracks that they personally reviewed for RARB. Reviewers could also abstain from making selections in any or all categories.
Finally, our singles reviewers and editorial staff jointly chose two Singles of the Year and one Honorable Mention.
Voices in Your Head (University of Chicago) – My Day Will Come
Voices in Your Head has the golden touch for releasing songs that earn critical acclaim and compilation success. My Day Will Come was a resounding pick from the RARB staff for a 2022 Single of the Year award — the group's third such accolade. TeKay was left so affected he began his review with a simple, "Well dang!" before admitting that My Day Will Come is a "mountain of a song". Speaking to the strong sonic identity the group has crafted and maintained for itself, RARB publisher Michael Marcus noted, "You can tell this is Voices in Your Head within the first few seconds." We also praised the awe-inspiring soloist Hillary Yuen and "genius" arranger Will Cabaniss, leading to an easy proclamation of Single of the Year.
Ball in the House – Ordinary Day
This "blues-style sermon" provides both the music and the words to touch audiences. This piece is a Ball in the House original written by soloist Wallace Thomas, who yearns for the respite of an "ordinary day" in the ongoing reality of everyday gun violence. Reviewer Dan Fister deemed this a "powerful song" and surmised that listeners will "feel something, if not everything". The Boston-based group is no stranger to high-impact performances, winning its first Harmony Sweepstakes in 1998 and touring across the country ever since. With Ordinary Day, we are honored to offer this torch-bearing legacy group a Single of the Year award.
Jackson Jills (Tufts University) – Everybody Wants to Rule the World
2022 was an absolutely awesome year for the Jackson Jills, who gave listeners this sassy Tears for Fears reinterpretation (plus a full-length album, too). Reviewer TeKay wrote that Everybody Wants to Rule the World is "fronted by a trio of sublime voices", a bold approach for this nostalgic mainstay that makes the Jackson Jills's version so memorable. TeKay concludes, "The swells, the breaks, the silences, the runs — it is just so much goodness jammed-packed into four minutes of music."
This album is extraordinary. Edie Hill's Spectral Spirits suite is a tour de force, both as a composition and a performance. This suite is compelling, varied, and dramatic and deserves to be widely heard. The album's other new works, by Michael Gilbertson, are also good. Contemporary classical music at its finest.
This song will blow your mind and break your heart. Superb composition, superb singing, a swooping standout on a standout album.
This album speaks to me – I really connect with its groove and its gutsiness, and its willingness to do a lot with only three voices. The singing is terrific and the songs have a wealth of texture and variety of sound. To me this album hits the sweet spot between folk, rock, and jazz, and I'd love to hear more.
An a cappella Bollywood cover from the voices of Autorickshaw? Yes please. All the time.
Maybebop is here to save the forgotten German folk songs! The group's perfectly performed arrangements both embrace the century-old feeling of the source material while also relentlessly supplanting it with modern textures and harmonies. It shouldn't work. It should feel like a half measure that fails for failing to commit. But in Maybebop's talented hands, it works brilliantly. Displaying excellence in every conceivable category, Maybebop remains at the top of its game.
Name aside, this is one of the best written a cappella originals in recent memory. Black to Gold come together as a group to pen the most powerful ode to friendship with simple, resonant, real-life lyrics and deeply catchy melodies. That it's also arranged and sung beautifuilly is sweet icing on the cake. The track is the perfect balance of vulnerability, strength and raw emotion. Contemporary and timeless, this track deserves as many listens as possible. It's a rare gem.
Sometimes vanity projects just work. Mr. Hutton has unleashed a nostalgic bit of magic onto the world with this album. Especially alluring are the more atmospheric numbers like Reading Rainbow and I'll Be There for You. While not all of it is to my liking, there is no denying that the artistry present is mind-blowing
"Mesmerizingly moving" is a simple reduction of the effect that Juxta had on me with this one. More like a cerebral chokehold. I couldn't/can't stop thinking about this song. As stated in my review, Carter's No Time to Die is a well-constructed masterpiece, and the guys are freaking fantastic on the delivery!
Until I listened to Back to Earth — yet another atmospheric theme recording — I didn't realize the dearth of male collegiate music that I'd listened to this year. So this album was right on time for me. Solidly sexy singing simply sizzles on the senses.
There's not a lot to say about why this song made my list. The camp audacity is what makes it absolutely perfect. If you were on TikTok at all from 2020-2021, you heard the original song on thousands of videos. Well, Hutton took this childhood memory and shot it to the ends of the universe.
Coming to Terms struts across the stage and burns up notes with skill and grace. Director Gary Stroh continues to offer his students a world-class music experience.
Come Together is gritty and timeless, just like the Crosbys.
Wide Awake features complex, demanding arrangements with techno infusions from the studio. The fresh, modern soundscape feels hand-picked today, the singers are wildly talented, and Black to Gold just made a huge splash with this debut release.
Panama has an adrenaline-fueled, hair-raising energy that sounds just as revved up listen after awesome listen.
FreePlay gave itself a challenge during the pandemic, livestreaming weekly concerts from home and expanding its repertoire with songs that ended up on the album Talk To Me. These arrangements are fantastic; the duo tackles a breadth of genres and styles with just two voices, and this collection is infinitely engaging, from top to bottom.
I reviewed two different TAG albums this year; both were lovely, but Losing Game is the song that stands out for this group across the two. Soloist and songwriter Kristen Noble does a beautiful job with the lead here, and the group performs Tom Anderson’s compelling arrangement with emotion, engagement, and movement. On my first listen, I could hear how guitars, bass, and drums would’ve sounded if this were a rock band, but even though such a version may never have been recorded, Noble, Anderson, and TAG deliver a rich and full sound on this stunning song.
Couches & Crosswalks is an album that does not shy away from owning the spotlight! The project is full of big vocals, massive energy, and ample consideration toward musical creativity. The Jackson Jills have produced a sensational collection of tracks that are not only memorable; as a whole, the album stands triumphantly as one of the year's best.
The spirit of LAX alone is enough to catapult it as one of the best tracks I have heard all year. The song's feel-good energy, ability to push the creative envelope and the simple fact that it stands out among so many popular hits being tackled by other artists in this space is a winning combo that cannot be denied.
It is a rare feat for a debut album to sizzle and provide a spark in a way that leaves you questioning whether this is a group's first foray into the studio, but Bronze by Pipeline Vocal Project does just that. The trio showcases endless potential as they demonstrate style and grace in their unique interpretations of popular hits that are both remarkable and full of flair. This is one group to keep your eyes on!
There is something to be said about a track that just checks off all the boxes on what modern music can and should sound like. still feel. does all of that while continuing to build audibly, innovatively, and dynamically as the track progresses. The Buffalo Chips push all of their chips to the middle of the table with this track and the risk absolutely pays off!
This is an extraordinary reimagination of folk music by an extraordinary vocal group. The stylistic range that Maybebop explores while adhering to a theme is thoroughly laudable, and I can't suggest picking up this album soon enough.
The harder metal style is far from my usual bag, but if you're looking for a standout track of the year, look no further than Mädel ruck ruck ruck. On an album full of folk song adaptation surprises, an effective blend of filters and an intelligent vocal arrangement presents hard rock bookends with a bridge that could very well emanate from a music box. There are many viable choices for this honor from Die Gedanken sind frei, but this number stands out.
Perennial academic a cappella powerhouse OneVoice delivers another strong album to add to its already storied discography.
Rak Shalom shoots out of the gate like a cannon with this opening number, an energetic blend of strong, carefully crafted elements.
TAG does it again, delivering an album that is rhythmically intriguing, sonically colorful, and brimming with energy. There are emotional highs and lows flowing through Coming to Terms, letting the listener not only hear it all but think and absorb, too. This album will make you smile one minute and cry the next. It's everything a top release should be and an easy pick for Album of the Year.
This song is an original, both written and arranged by high school students, performed with all of the musical complexity and emotional depth of seasoned professionals. This piece is exactly what an a cappella performance should be: members singing with their hearts on their sleeves and giving the listener every opportunity to connect to the music.
Once again, OneVoice dazzles. These high school students perform well beyond their years, delivering a tremendously polished product.
Sanctify is a perfect opening statement by the Pitchforks, stating exactly who the Pitchforks are and what they intend to present. With a slick and haunting solo supported by an arrangement that is interesting as a standalone product but perfectly supportive, this track forces the listener to stop and appreciate just how impressive this all is.
What a great return to form for The Pitchforks this past year! Back to Earth, of course, maintains the group's standard of amazing vocals combined with great arrangements. The extremely smooth, efficient, and polished production work by Pablo Vega & Liquid 5th Productions cannot be understated either, ensuring distractions from these strengths are minimized. Whether it's for the infectious groove of Lost in Japan, the unbridled fun factor of Calma, the surprisingly gripping execution of Perfect, or the virtues of any other great track, Back to Earth is a "refreshing" listen, as fellow writer TeKay notes.
The moment I heard Jonathan Chou sing the second chorus of Too Good at Goodbyes, I knew this would be my pick. I'm a sucker for good ballads and The Pitchforks know how to make all the hills and valleys really pop on theirs. An underratedly important feature of a good ballad, however, is making repeated lyrics feel meaningfully different and more important upon each revisit. And Chou does exactly this on each chorus of this track. The first chorus is intimate and an admission of a problem, the second full of both anger and self-hate, and the third a defeated resignation. Everything in between ties together these pillar points in a smooth and intense manner. This arc makes relistens gripping all over again, and it's why Too Good at Goodbyes is my favorite track I reviewed this year.
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