2022 was a chaotic year for music.
Kendrick Lamar and SZA came out of their 5-year hibernations, a bunch of 15-year-olds on TikTok got Kate Bush back to number 1 on the charts, Drake made a house album and we just let him get away with it.
Wild times. And somewhere in-between all of that crackhead energy some really great records came out.
These are the 20 I liked the most.
Honorable mentions that I wanted to give some love (in alphabetical order):
Alex Cameron – Oxy Music
Charli XCX – Crash
Dear Silas – It’s Giving Self Love
Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music in Zion
Megan Thee Stallion – Traumazine
Paolo Nutini – Last Night in the Bittersweet
Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
20. Florence + the Machine – “Dance Fever”
Single “My Love” was the bounciest the band has ever sounded on their own track, and given the title and the dance music wave that dominated 2022, it seemed like Florence Welch & co. were about to make a huge pivot in their sound.
Yeah that didn’t happen.
Welch clearly abides by ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. “Dance Fever” isn’t completely bereft of dance influence, but at the end of the day it is a Florence + the Machine record in the same vein as 2018 predecessor “High As Hope” and the rest of the band’s discography.
And as much as I wanted a change, Welch is right. She remains one of the best lyricists in art pop, and “Dance Fever” might be her most vulnerable album to date.
She discusses self-image, struggling to find fulfillment in writing music, and her unique place in the industry nearly two decades into her career with just as refreshing of a voice as ever.
As is the case with every other Florence album, the greatest strength of “Dance Fever” – it’s lyrics – is also the root of its greatest flaw. Too often, songs are over encumbered with Welch’s wordiness. As lovely as her writing is, lots of these melodies feel stunted.
That’s just what Florence + the Machine does though. And they still do it really well, no matter how tantalizing the idea of a true dance record by them may be.
Favorite Tracks: “Choreomania” “Heaven is Here” “The Bomb”
19. Metric – “Formentera”
“Formentera” opens with maybe Metric’s most ambitious track ever, the 10 minute, multi-segmented “Doomscroller”. It was the lead single for the band’s 8th studio album, and it was best the indie-rock veterans have sounded in years.
The rest of “Formentera” is not as daring, and that’s okay. It’s a patient, sleek rock record full of retrospective lyrics and melodies that don’t overstretch themselves.
It’s both a return to form and a victory lap, with plenty of self-aware commentary on the band’s career layered over the 9 tracks.
That does, however, make “Formentera” sonically and thematically unfocused, with a lackluster closing song that fails to match its bombastic opening.
Still, it’s an album for die-hard fans and newcomers alike, hard to pull off in just 9 songs. Metric don’t land the plane perfectly, but hey, even the best pilots skid on the runway sometimes.
18. Thick – “Happy Now”
Thick have been on the fringe of my radar since I first heard “Your Mom” a few years ago. I never really enjoyed anything outside of that one break-out song. The trio’s charming lyrics and high energy was never enough to overcome the overly simple…everything else.
“Happy Now” gets over that hurdle. Are any of these riffs amazing? Not really. Is there anything interesting happening in the production? Nah, it’s pretty flat. Are the vocals still underwhelming? At least half the time.
When they’re not though, “Happy Now” is a really fun album. And even when the vocal performances bore, the band’s taken a big enough leap with their songwriting to make up for it.
The longest song in the tracklist comes in at 3:54, but unlike past releases nothing feels half-baked. Even songs that barely get over the 2-minute mark are well-structured and have enough ideas for the runtime.
Whenever I get to the last 2 tracks “Disappear” and “Something Went Wrong”, I want to scream ‘just do this the whole time!’. These songs have the 2 best riffs on the record, great concepting, and the lead vocalist must’ve done a line or something before this recording session because the vocal delivery in these songs is fantastic.
Favorite Tracks: “Her Chapstick” “Disappear” “Something Went Wrong”
17. Show Me the Body – “Trouble the Water”
Banjo-wielding hardcore outfit Show Me the Body have been pretty quiet since releasing “Dog Whistle” back in 2019. That was one of my favorite albums of that year, and “Trouble the Water” – despite not quite living up to that record – is one of my favorites of this year.
Somehow by leaning into a more industrial sound, this is Show Me the Body’s most accessible record. I’m not saying you can play this for your friends that think the Foo Fighters are a metal band, but the edges have been sanded off the band’s sound, creating a cleaner sonic palette.
That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. The mix of genres the band is comfortable with manipulating is what makes them unique, not how hard you can headbang to them. They’re at their best when they blend the harsh with the familiarity of hip-hop rhythms and focused lyrics.
That last part is where “Dog Whistle” really trumps “Trouble the Water”. This record’s lyrics are too on the nose far too often, occasionally bordering on cringe with lines like: ‘I wasn’t meant for Earth, escape the hurt I reach for space’ on “Out of Place”.
Everything else comes together on pretty much every track though. “Trouble the Water” doesn’t have many true stand-out moments, but it is a very consistent listen.
Show Me the Body maybe played this one a little safe. “Trouble the Water” proves they’re talented enough to make a good record even when they’re a little bored.
Favorite Tracks: “Food From Plate” “Radiator” “Trouble the Water”
16. Joji – “Smithereens”
Calling “Smithereens” an album is a bit of a stretch.
At just a little over 24 minutes with 9 tracks and the audacity to still have an interlude, this album doesn’t feel finished. Multiple tracks don’t even cross the 2-minute mark, and structurally most of these tracks are really weak.
But that’s the point and it kinda works for me.
“Smithereens” is messy and it knows it’s messy. Perpetual sad-boi Joji is basically pulling a Pinkerton, vomiting up tear-stained diary entries and putting them in songs. It’s raw, it’s a little whiny, and it’s great.
This record feels like an overcorrection from the much more ambitious (better) “Nectar”, an album that could’ve used some trimming, yet still shares much of the sonic palette of “Smithereens”. If Joji can find the middle ground, his next album will be fantastic.
Favorite Tracks: “Die For You” “NIGHT RIDER” “1AM FREESTYLE”
15. SZA – “SOS”
One of the most anticipated albums of the 21st century, SZA’s 2nd studio album was beginning to approach “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Detox” levels of release delay infamy (still waiting Dre).
Five years later, the follow-up to the classic “Ctrl” finally arrived this month. While it definitely doesn’t compare to its predecessor, it’s still impressive “SOS” came out this well-crafted given it’s tumultuous recording and release.
The first 11.5 tracks are great. Honestly, if this was the album I would’ve been happy. It’s the most stripped back production we’ve ever heard on a SZA project, nowhere near as lush as “Ctrl” and not as stuffed as “Z”. I wouldn’t have picked that direction for the record, but it really works through most of it.
The album sputters in the middle, beginning with Phoebe Bridgers’ feature on “Ghost in the Machine” which through no real fault of her own feels tacked on. There’s a special place in hell for whatever label exec. forced a pop punk song onto this record – “F2F” is the blandest song SZA has ever released.
“Nobody Gets Me” is a song that has been written 12,987,321 times and its still vapid and boring even when SZA writes it. “Conceited” and “Too Late” are inoffensive wallpaper that should’ve been cut from the final tracklist.
The album gets it together in the final 3rd, with the 3 singles that promoted the album all fitting well and a hard closer hilariously sampling ODB.
“SOS” may not be as good as “Ctrl” but it is worth the wait. Hopefully SZA’s next record isn’t held for ransom too, because I want more soon.
Favorite Tracks: “Kill Bill” “Snooze” “Open Arms”
14. Jack White – “Fear of the Dawn”
Jack White released 2 albums this year, splitting his usual mix of home-spun blues and high-powered rock into their own records.
Only one of them managed to stand on their own, the crunchy, flashy “Fear of the Dawn”. It’s easily White’s most straightforward release since he went solo.
He’s at his best when finding a balanced blend of his sound. Still, it’s a lot of fun listening to Jack throw the kitchen sink at his guitar, yelping along with solo after solo, effect after effect.
The album does lack a bit of variety (duh). It’s not completely one dimensional though, the truly bizarre, Q-Tip assisted “Hi-De-Ho”, being one of the record’s highlights.
Jack White is arguably the only stalwart of rock music still pushing the genre forward. “Fear of the Dawn” is full of swings for the fences, and he at least gets a double every time.
Favorite Tracks: “The White Raven” “Hi-De-Ho” “What’s the Trick?”
13. Soul Glo – “Diaspora Problems”
This is comfortably the loudest album on this list, and that’s saying something with a Show Me the Body record making the cut.
And despite the punishing sound, and dense, politically charged lyrics “Diaspora Problems” is also one of the funniest records of the year. Right from the opener (subtitled “whogonbeatmyass”), Soul Glo prove to be one of the more self-aware hardcore acts in the scene right now, a very common downfall of otherwise talented bands.
Beyond just the furious, rhythmic delivery of lead singer Pierce Jordan, the album dips its toes into hip-hop from time to time, most obviously on stand-out single “Driponomics”.
“Diaspora Problems” is relentless from front to back, and on repeated listens I did find myself wanting a moment to breath. The tracklist isn’t quite tight enough to be as one note as it is. Still, this is my favorite punk album of the year.
Favorite Tracks: “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass)” “Driponomics” “GODBLESSYALLREALGOOD”
12. The Mysterines – “Reeling”
This album has grown on me more than any other this year.
When I first wrote about “Reeling” I was a little underwhelmed by The Mysterines’ debut album after being impressed by its singles.
The record really loses steam at the end, and I think on early listens that left a strong impression.
“Still Call You Home” and in particular “The Confession Song” are such huge deviations from what works on this record. They really leave you scratching your head when the album ends.
But what does work is great. The guitars on “Reeling” aren’t that heavily distorted, but there’s a layer of production to the record that gives them some real heft in the right spots.
Lead singer Lia Metcalfe is dynamic, fuming on tracks on like “Life’s A Bitch (But I Like it So Much)”, sultry on tracks like “Old Friends Die Hard”. The Mysterines are one of those bands that sound like they’re great live even listening to a studio recording.
Favorite Tracks: “Life’s a Bitch (But I Like it So Much)” “Old Friends Die Hard” “Means to Bleed”
11. Just Mustard – “Heart Under”
Out of all the albums on this list, I’ve probably listened to “Heart Under” the least.
Obviously I’m not saying it’s my least favorite – it’s at number 11, that’s not how lists work. It’s just a very specific listening experience.
Most (good) albums are at their best listened to in-full, in-sequence. “Heart Under” only works in-full, in-sequence.
Is that a criticism, something that brings down the album’s replayability? Yeah, sure. These tracks don’t really hold up on their own, thrown into shuffle and sandwiched between Rich Brian and Madonna.
“Heart Under” blends into itself in a really satisfying way. There’s a foreboding presence across the album. Like it should soundtrack a long walk down a dark alley, and you keep expecting something to jump out but it never does.
It’s one of the most cohesive albums of the year, in a time when album sequencing is mostly being thrown out the window. I didn’t expect to love an album by a band called Just Mustard and I definitely didn’t expect to love it in this way.
Industrial shoegaze doesn’t make a ton of sense on paper, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but if that combination of words interests you, I highly recommend.
10. Little Simz – “No Thank You”
I have (jokingly) said before that 21 Savage is my favorite British rapper, but “No Thank You” has solidified Little Simz in that spot.
Last year’s “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” was my favorite traditional hip-hop record of the year. It was sonically diverse, dipping into all kinds of subgenres. Loud, quiet, introspective, bragadocious. It was so many things at once, and did them all well.
It feels insulting to say “No Thank You” is smaller, but it is. Where “Introvert” is an explosion of thoughts and ideas, “No Thank You” is more concerned with being thoughtful about a few ideas. It has a smaller scope while being just as polished.
Much of the album focuses on Simz continued fight to assert herself as an individual in hip-hop and in her personal life, beyond the expectations forced on artists by labels or the public, particularly on women.
There are tracks like the 7+ minute “Broken” that dive into depression. Simz also closes the album touching on her romantic relationship, and while the final tracks are weaker than the rest, it’s still refreshing subject matter for her.
What really sets this album apart is Simz’s ability as an MC. On “Angel” and “Gorilla” she truly sounds like she can go toe-to-toe with any rapper in the world – the flow on the latter is absolute butter. “No Thank You” feels like a perfect snapshot of where Simz is as an artist and as a person right now.
Favorite Tracks: “Angel” “Gorilla” “No Merci” “Broken”
9. Wet Leg – “Wet Leg”
“Wet Leg” came out in April but it feels like it came out ages ago because I’ve been writing about this record for a year and a half.
Wet Leg were an almost overnight success when “Chaise Longue” became an underground hit last summer. Pretty soon a self-titled debut was announced, more singles that were just as good dropped, and the anticipation mounted.
And they lived up to it. “Wet Leg” is a super-immediate, danceable indie rock album.
There’s not a ton of depth to it, but the Isle of Wight based duo are self-aware and don’t pretend there is. The last thing we need is another rock band that can’t laugh at themselves, or just make a fun record.
“Wet Leg” – the album and the band – is at it’s best building songs around simple, ear worm riffs and clever, genuinely funny songwriting. There’s plenty of that here.
Towards the end of the tracklist things do begin to feel a bit one-dimensional. Some songs don’t have the charm of “Angelica” or as strong a hook as “Wet Dream”, and the lack of depth begins to creep towards being boring.
Luckily, the album doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, closing with the most thoughtful track here, “Too Late Now”, leaving me with optimism Wet Leg still have interesting ideas to come.
8. Yard Act – “The Overload”
It was a quiet year for post-punk, but early on we got “The Overload”, the long-anticipated debut album from Yard Act, everyone’s favorite ‘I knew them before they were cool’ band of the last couple years.
I did not know them before they were cool, except from other people telling me they knew them before they were cool. This record was my first exposure to their music.
Great way to start.
There aren’t many bands that pull off spoken-word style lead vocals. A lot of the bands that try to are way too self-serious or preachy.
That is not Yard Act. He may have world’s most boring name, but James Smith is anything but behind a mic. His cool, calm, collected, often tongue-in-cheek delivery matches up with the danceable rhythms on “The Overload” to make for a weirdly jaunty listen, in the best way.
The album is not so much concerned with politics as it is with the ramifications of politics. Class inequity, small town UK culture, and existentialism are all viewed with a ground-level sardonicism that always nods towards takedowns of 21st century right-wing politics, without bashing you over the head with yet another anti-Tory anthem.
Yard Act trusts it’s audience to read between the lines when they feel like it, making “The Overload” really fun or really cutting, depending on how you want to listen to it that day.
Favorite Tracks: “Dead Horse” “Rich” “Land of the Blind” “100% Endurance”
7. Kendrick Lamar – “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”
“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is…a lot. Lacking the focus of Kendrick’s best work, it’s easily his most bloated record.
That’s not to say there’s anything here I would necessarily say is fat that needs to be trimmed, at least not because of quality. There are just a few too many ideas for its own good.
That being said, Kendrick Lamar is one of the most creative musicians ever, let alone in hip-hop. What this album lacks in cohesion and focus it makes up for in imagination.
Kendrick is more vulnerable than ever here. All of his work before this has been about himself, but from an outward facing perspective. We heard about things Kendrick has been through on “good kid, M.A.A.D. City” or “To Pimp A Butterfly” and how those experiences affected him.
“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is Kendrick’s first record that is about Kendrick the person, fully facing inward. Sure, trauma informing our actions (particularly generational trauma being passed down) is a big theme on the album, but there’s no wider story or concept being told to us. Kendrick is being raw about insecurities and his flaws, separate from the world around him.
Like any person, Kendrick is messy and imperfect. This album reflects that. It’s one of the most ambitious records of the year and nearly pulls it all off.
Favorite Tracks: “Die Hard” “Count Me Out” “Savior” “Mr. Morale”
6. Methyl Ethel – “Are You Haunted?”
I think I found the announcement for this record on twitter and thought something along the lines of ‘oh the “Ubu” band is putting out a new album, ok’
Yes, before this I pretty much didn’t care about anything they’d released except “Ubu”, a song that was played at pretty much every house party I’ve ever attended in Australia. Things change.
“Are You Haunted?” is hard to put into words other than ‘really good’ or ‘great’. It’s oddly dramatic, while still being pretty simple. There’s an anthemic, gospel undertone musically, that I can’t quite put my finger on.
It’s not a very cohesive album. I don’t really mind when all the stylistic diversions are all executed so well, even lowlight “Matters” is good enough at what it does, a simple pop-rock song you’d hear on a video game commercial.
Maybe I’m just really happy to hear one of these indie-rock Aussie bands try something interesting for once.
Favorite Tracks: “Proof” “Kids on Holiday” “Castigat Rigendo Mores” “In A Minute, Sublime”
5. JID – “The Forever Story”
This album made me a JID fan.
I’ve always been impressed with his ability, enjoyed his features. His own projects just never grabbed me. He was just a compelling rapper, not really a compelling artist to me.
“The Forever Story” is compelling. Despite its name, there isn’t quite a narrative throughline. JID takes a more mosaic approach, with cuts like “Crack Sandwich” leaning on retrospective storytelling, and songs like “Sistanem” giving us a snapshot of where he’s at now.
This back and forth works really well, balancing introspection with storytelling and peppering in bangers like “Dance Now”, “Can’t Punk Me” or “Just In Time”.
The features mostly disappoint. Earthgang and Ari Lennox pull their weight, everyone else didn’t get the memo that this album is actually really good and they should, y’know, try.
“2007” – JID being the latest rapper taking his turn at copying Ye’s “Last Call” from “The College Dropout” – is also a pretty stale take on this trope that feels unnecessary as a closer.
I have nothing else to whine about though because JID absolutely kills it one every track here. He is never the problem, coming with dope flows, bar after bar, and sounding like he had a vision for the album for the 1st time. There are no skips here.
Favorite Tracks: “Raydar” “Can’t Punk Me” “Kody Blu 31” “Sistanem” “Stars”
4. Beyonce – “Renaissance”
If you’d told me a year ago Beyonce was going to make the best dance record of 2022, I would not have believed you.
If you’d told me 6 months ago when “Break My Soul” – the most boiler-plate, license-free-sounding nothing of a house song – came out that Beyonce was going to make the best dance record of 2022, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you.
“Renaissance” dips in and out of house, dancehall, disco – all kinds of dance music – and still sounds distinct and cohesive. This is Beyonce at her most braggadocios we’ve ever heard her. It feels like she’s enjoying herself more than ever, and it’s infectious.
Beyond her performances, “Renaissance” is immaculately produced. Everything sounds so clean, all the percussion has a real sense of depth to it. This album sounds like it was made by a billionaire.
It’s not perfect – some of the tracks later in the tracklist have not grown on me since I first wrote about them, although “Pure/Honey” and “Summer Renaissance” have. “Break My Soul” is hot garbage, I’ll say it as many times as you want.
The highs of “Renaissance” more than make up for the lows though.
Favorite Tracks: “I’m That Girl” “Cuff It” “Church Girl” “Virgo’s Groove” “Heated”
3. Smino – “Luv 4 Rent”
2022 was full of surprises. There is no universe in which I would’ve predicted Smino would drop my favorite hip-hop record of the year.
Smino has always been a great feature, oozing charisma to make up for not having the same pen game as some of his contemporaries. He’s always been able to make a fun song, but never a full project that carried that energy all the way through.
He pulled it off this time.
“Luv 4 Rent” is so full of personality. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s nostalgic. Smino is a great feature because he creates moments in songs, quotables and earworms that stick with you. This is just an album full of that.
He even manages to make me not skip skits – his call to Krogers looking for backwoods at the end of “Modennaminute” actually made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it.
“Luv 4 Rent” is a light-hearted, fun album at its core, yet still manages to land more serious moments. There’s more introspection on this album than any past Smino project, and songs about his love life feel fully realized, not just serving as extended punchlines.
The R&B lathered production is amazing. There are at least a dozen producers credited, but it feels like one, giving the album a really strong sonic identity while still keeping things varied.
My only gripe with this record is that “Curtains” should have been the last track. “Lee & Lovie” just doesn’t feel satisfying as a send-off.
Hip-hop has been the musical zeitgeist for a while now, and the genre is starting to homogenize into a handful of sounds. It’s nice to hear an album separate itself from that while still being through and through, hip-hop.
Favorite Tracks: “No L’s” “Blu Billy” “Matinee” “Modennaminute” “Curtains”
2. The Weeknd – “Dawn FM”
I don’t think I’ve ever loved a Weeknd project front to back. I haven’t even liked one front to back since 2015. He’s always had great moments on records, but I went into “Dawn FM” with low expectations.
And they were blown out of the water. I love an album that commits to an identity, and “Dawn FM” leans 1000% into it’s sound.
It’s a concept album that’s kind of light on concept. The Weeknd finds himself in a radio purgatory, moving towards some kind of self-actualization, guided by smarmy DJ.
The soundscape of the album is what sells this, with an eerie, cavernous quality to the music. The radio jockey inserts only land as menacing because the production has such presence.
“Dawn FM” is so 80’s and so modern at the same time, something I didn’t think The Weeknd quite pulled off on “After Hours”, where the blend sounded forced and awkward. Tracks like “Out of Time” wear their red leather jacket influences on their sleeve and then rip off the jacket entirely, feeling nostalgic and cutting edge all at once.
Just like he did on “The Forever Story” Lil Wayne disappoints here, and “I Heard You’re Married” is the one moment where the record sounds dated and cringey. Everything else works, to the point where “Phantom Regret by Jim” – reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” – even feels satisfying as a closer.
This is apparently the 2nd in another trilogy for The Weeknd. I’m hoping the final album is more like this record than “After Hours”, but “Dawn FM” is so good, I’d be more than happy to just pretend the other 2 don’t exist.
Favorite Tracks: “Gasoline” “Out of Time” “Here We Go…Again” “Is There Someone Else?” “Less Than Zero”
1. Black Country, New Road – “Ants From Up There”
Last year I really struggled singling out one album as the best of the year. I did not have that problem in 2022.
“Ants From Up There” has been my favorite album of the year pretty much since I got halfway through my 1st listen.
There is no band that sounds like Black Country, New Road and my dumbass thinking there was one (Arcade Fire, ew) meant I was very late getting on their bandwagon.
Well, I am driving the cart now. They’ve been the first band I recommend to people all year, and I’ve been singing this album’s praises to anyone who will listen.
There’s just nothing missing from “Ants From Up There”. It is entirely unique in its composition, instrumentation, performance, songwriting. Everything is so idiosyncratic, yet so easy to buy into as a listener.
“Good Will Hunting” was my most played song on Spotify this year. The opening verse still gets me every damn time.
Pigeonholing “Ants From Up There” as an experimental rock album is like calling a smartphone a calculator. I’ve tried to describe the album to people and never felt like I was doing it justice, ultimately settling on ‘just listen to it, it’s amazing’.
And y’know what, I’m not stopping now. I could go on about Isaac Wood’s ability to be theatrical one moment and then heart-wrenchingly raw and understated in the next. How inexplicable it is that this blend of instruments makes such catchy, yet intricate music. How I will never look at a breadcrumb the same way ever again.
I’m not going to. All I’m going to say is go listen to “Ants From Up There”, it’s amazing and if you don’t like it, I won’t like you anymore so don’t tell me.
Favorite Tracks: “Bread Song” “Good Will Hunting” “Haldern” “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” “Snow Globes”