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best of wordless (2022)

It was a milestone year for our little playlist-that-could. Long story short: after years of sitting in this igloo with no one to look at but each other, we are now an actual collective!

Two of our longtime friends and collaborators, Mike and Ayla, generously curated their own playlists of wordless music – 100 songs each – and wrote blog posts describing their picks and process. Check out Ayla’s mix & write-up and Mike’s mix & write-up. Thanks, you two!

Stay tuned for more collaborator mixes in 2023… and if you want to make one, email us! In the meantime, whenever you hear a great song without words, drop it on our public collaborative playlist.

Now, onto 2022. Last year we added 11 hours to our master playlist, which now runs to 850+ songs and almost 66 hours of wordless music. Our best of 2022 mix has our favorite 100 discoveries from last year, which like always is a mix of actually new and “new (ish) to us.”

Favorite “actually new” in 2022

Our 2022 mix is maybe our most eclectic yet and it's all over the genre map. In terms of totally new music, we discovered and promptly fell in love with British multi-instrumentalist Richard Houghten’s “guitar-driven electronic music” – and he really churns it out, with two new and highly listenable, foot-tapping albums last year. Two of our long-time favorite wordless artists, Ambient Jazz Ensemble and GoGo Penguin, also released new records that reignited our love for their instrumental-electronic-jazz melange. Rounding out our top five “actually new” in ‘22 are albums by two American guitarists: the soothing and chilled-out virtuosic melodies of Julian Lage (a former child guitar prodigy who at age 8 had a documentary made about him and performed at the Grammys by 12, like a wordless Bieber) and the rhythmic twangs of Delicate Steve, whose breezy new album was a surprisingly welcome change from some of his harder-charging fare.

Honorable mentions include another solid album from Bonobo, the legendarily smooth UK electronic veteran. In 2022 we discovered Swiss-Ecuadorian brothers Hermanos Gutiérrez through their new album El Bueno y El Malo – inspired by Ennio Morricone’s score to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and described by Rolling Stone as “music that sings without needing a singer, that’s lyrical without needing words.” Agreed. We also fell for the soulful jazzy beats of French multi-instrumentalist FKJ, aka French Kiwi Juice, who in 2022 released a new album (with words on several songs, but most are either French words or highly mumbled) and also showed off his process on a delightful Tiny Desk. British artist Robohands put out another chill, moody album of modern jazz. And the latest release from Moroccan beat-maker and guitarist Saib is fun and genre-wandering.

A second tier of honorable mentions, since we can’t help ourselves. Electronic jazz phenoms Portico Quartet put out a solid EP and legendary Mexican guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela covered Radiohead and Mozart (strange bedfellows, but awesome). American duo Arms & Sleepers put out new music – our favorite was “Baby - Guitar Edit” with Richard Houghten, which must be good because we noticed it on Mike & Ayla’s playlists, too. We appreciated the new full-length album from veteran wordlesser Blue States and enjoyed Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds’ new piano covers, even if they weren’t as transporting as his classic stuff. That album led us to German composer Lambert, whose quiet and spare piano music is perfect when you’re in that kind of mood.

Finally, we happened upon a few great “wordy” bands that put out wordless tunes last year (or tunes with lyrics so garbled they’re effectively wordless). We liked the new songs-without-lyrics from American folk heroes The Punch Brothers, indie legends Calexico and Beirut, likewise legendary but slightly weirder Andrew Bird, and rapper and actor Common (with jazz and hip-hop legend Karriem Riggins from the soundtrack for Mo, a Netflix show based on the life of a Palestinian refugee in Texas).

Favorite “new-ish to us” in 2022

“Wordless tunes by wordy artists” must have been in our water last year, since we somehow landed on a ton of old songs by famous musicians that happened to be wordless. In relative chronological order, our master playlist now wields wordless gems by Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Nickel Creek, Damien Rice, MF DOOM, Wu-Tang Clan, José González, Mac DeMarco, and Frank Ocean (with John Mayer). Many of these were likely produced as “filler” songs between hit singles on hit albums. But for us, they’re the main event. At the other end of the spectrum, last year we dug into Charles Bradley’s old session players, the funk/soul Menahan Street Band – whose first album got sampled by none other than Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, and Kendrick Lamar. Over the last decade, they’ve released three great instrumental versions of Bradley albums (perhaps sad without the late great’s inimitable voice, but perfect for our purposes).

Other old “new to us” wordless music in 2022 really ran the gamut. We loved discovering the wild tracks of wild ‘60s Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó, digging deeper into jams by the irrepressible Khruangbin and the equally eternal Nightmares on Wax, and dabbling into strange a capella by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell from the soundtrack for Swiss Army Man – the Daniel Radcliffe farting-corpse film by the Daniels, which we revisited musically after watching EEAAO. Speaking of soundtracks, we also happened upon Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's spare acoustic ballad for the Japanese adaptation of Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood (which itself references a Beatles song). And speaking of spareness, we fell for the off-kilter ear-wormy jazz of Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes (whose quirky brilliance/brilliant quirkiness was recently profiled in the New Yorker). In the realm of guitar music, we discovered the spare power of Laurel Premo, found more to love from William Tyler and Marisa Anderson, and wandered deeper into Yasmin Williams's acoustic labyrinths. We couldn’t turn away from the mystifying choral murmurings of Alabaster DePlume, and we discovered prolific beat-maker Otis McDonald and pensive-rhythm-maker Ashley Henry.

Other stuff

  • If you find our main mix “a little too eclectic, guys” then we recommend checking out one of our genre mixes, where we’ve sorted things into: instrumental, electronic, post-rock, and other (despite its unappetizing name, we recommend other!)

  • Let us know what you think! We love hearing from you about the music or these occasional words, even if it’s mostly critical :-|

  • Better yet, join us: drag-n-drop any wordless songs you like onto our collaborative playlist. Thanks to 2022's most generous new collaborator (and major krautrock evangelist), Craig aka Fortune Dweller! If you don’t use Spotify but want in on the fun, let us know – we’re toying with making a mirrored Apple Music playlist...

  • Even better yet, curate your own playlist and write some thoughts about it, à la Mike and Ayla! Send us a note if that sounds like fun.

Ok, that does it. See you next year! Same wordless time (give or take), same wordless place (Spotify, for better or maybe worse).

--> Greg & DJ


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