“Some of Us Are Brave” by Danielle Ponder
“Some of Us are Brave” caught Rochester’s reigning queen of soul at her breakthrough moment, as she catapulted into the national eye with a series of high-profile media appearances and big-time gigs. If any single local musician won 2022, it was unquestionably Ponder. Any one of her eight songs blending soul, hip-hop, and pop are radio-worthy, but “Someone Like You” is star-making stuff.
— DANIEL J. KUSHNER
“Freedom” by Charles Emanuel
It’s been years since I first heard Charles Emanuel busking outside Bernunzio’s on East Avenue downtown. His music struck me then, and it has only become more refined. The hooks and graceful singing on “Freedom” immediately had me smiling. This seven-song collection could also be your feel-good album of the year. Emanuel has since left Rochester for Los Angeles, but I hope we hear more from him soon.
— MONA SEGHATOLESLAMI
“Headed Home” by Bellwether Breaks
The retro-rock quintet Bellwether Breaks hit its stride with the three-song EP “Headed Home.” Led by the easy confidence of singer Elyse Gayann and keyboardist Chris Coon’s ’60s Mellotron vibes, the band’s blues-laden approach to classic rock felt utterly familiar yet delightfully fresh. The title track nailed the style note-for-note. — DK
“Habits of the Average Degenerate” by Turkey Blaster Omega
“Habits of the Average Degenerate” was the fourth-wave ska worshippers’ debut release, and presented a polished, tight iteration of the Catch 22-era sound. The title track hit listeners with crisp horns, pumping out catchy melodies as a backdrop to vocalist Katie Mangiamele’s somewhat punky, somewhat crooning delivery. Her vocals were refreshingly distinctive, in a genre rife with indiscernible patter-song vocals. But the standout to me was “Spaghetti Feet,” a groovy-as-all-hell instrumental track that added a tinge of psychedelia to a well-worn genre.
— GINO FANELLI
“Hard to Look At” by Cammy Enaharo
Two of the things I loved most about this album from Cammy Enaharo were the warmth of her voice and the way her baritone ukulele mixed with the other instruments on every song. Enaharo’s lyrics celebrate the beauty in awkward and difficult times, while also offering a way forward. — MS
“Pass the Gabagool” by The Pickle Mafia
The band name is wonderfully silly, and the album title knowingly stereotypical, but if you stopped right there without listening, it was your loss. The Pickle Mafia is one of the most exciting jazz groups in Rochester, and arguably the best at blending playfulness with musical wit. Led by pianist Charlie Lindner, the trio especially cooks with the dizzying prog-jazz of “Flying Pineapple.” — DK
“Friend of a Friend” by Katie Morey
On “Friend of a Friend,” Katie Morey’s thoughtful and metaphorical songwriting was complemented perfectly by her many collaborators. The songs catch the ear with wry, lyrical and harmonic twists that tend toward the bittersweet. — MS
“Duos and Trios” by American Wild Ensemble
Since creating American Wild Ensemble with performances in national parks in 2016, flutist Emlyn Johnson and cellist Dan Ketter have continued to find meaningful ways to make music inspired by the natural world with such collaborators as composer and fellow Eastman alum David “Clay” Mettens. Th album’s music for flute, cello, and clarinet varied in mood, from the startling, even threatening “Fear, Hiding, Play” by Margaret Brouwer to composer Aaron Travers’s serene evocation of birds flying over a midwestern marsh. — MS
“It’s Time…to Rise From the Grave” by Undeath
Undeath’s 2022 album “It’s Time…to Rise From the Grave” created a truly grotesque patchwork of tales about chandeliers made from human corpses, bioengineering cadavers into undead warriors, and the varying ways to splatter a human head. Underlying the sheer carnage were surprisingly catchy songwriting and meticulous instrumentals that led to a headbanging groove. — GF
“Man on the Moon” by DM Stith
R.E.M.’s hit single “Man on the Moon” from 1992 was transformed here by DM Stith into a 13-minute layered soundscape of voices and dreamy synthesizers. At first, I was struck by a sense of peacefulness in the ethereal wash of sound; then slowly and subtly, elements of distortion crept into the mix. This music invited careful re-listening and a pair of good headphones. — MS