That time of year again! The time of year where the talking heads all list out their own “definitive” Best Of lists and drive up their ad revenue through rage clicks. Normally I love to participate, but this year I’ve decided not to do any sort of rankings and just list a bunch of albums I enjoyed. This is because 1) some of these bands I covered in other publications, and it feels weird to insert them into a ranked list, 2) how am I supposed to compare and contrast the house revival of Beyoncé with the industrial rap of Backxwash, the the disco pop of Charli XCX with the post-hardcore of Chat Pile, the low-key jazz of King Gizzard with the high-stakes prog of King Gizzard, and 3) I’m so tired, man. So these albums are ranked only alphabetically. However, I’ve thrown in some songs for some albums I do find particularly noteworthy. I finished the year having listened to 414 albums released between January 1st and mid-December. Yes, that’s a personal record. So without further adieu, here’s 75ish albums from this year I am simply excited to talk about!
Note: The original version of this list included the album Erebos by death metal group Venom Prison, but right before I edited it, the singer got outed with some transphobic nonsense. We don’t support that here. If you’re looking for good metal, stream their album on Spotify so they don’t get paid.
The 1975 – Being Funny In A Foreign Language
I’ve been pro-1975 for a while, but their biggest fault has always been bloat. Their albums – even at their best – have been overlong and suffering from inconsistent ambitions. This one is shorter, leaner and more scaled-down while still sounding distinctly 1975. It’s a nice surprise that’s well-needed after their previous, overlong ho-hum affair.
Actor|Observer – Songs For the Newly Reclusive
The first local entry on this list also gives me the opportunity to share the best piece of writing I did all year, when I premiered this album’s lead single. The whole album that follows is effortlessly brutal hardcore that shows both an urgency in its lyrics and a patience in the songwriting, a difficult balance to pull off. This is not hardcore for the sake of hardcore, this is a band that has a lot to say, and those messages are delivered successfully and angrily. Consistently one of the most underrated groups, Actor|Observer have done it again.
Alvvays – Blue Rev
The first two Alvvays albums were great little releases of radio-friendly powerpop, so it was a shock for their third to turn up the edge and turn down the song lengths into something that feels a little more punk-inspired. It helps to round out the band’s image and distance themselves from the overall bloat of bands they resemble. Even though it sounds smaller in scale, the album feels bigger than the ones they’ve done before.
Backxwash – His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering
I’ve been a huge Backxwash fan since the moment I pressed play, so it’s no surprise that I loved her newest offering. The albums follows in the footsteps of her previous releases – finishing off a trilogy – with industrial rap/horrorcore that puts some absolute respect on the genre’s name. She’s backed up by some excellent features with Pupil Slicer and Ghais Guevara (more on him later), though as always her forceful rapping and controlled chaos beats are the focus. There’s simply no one else operating on her level.
Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
Nothing to say that hasn’t been said already; Bad Bunny is just on another platform. The man has been releasing music like crazy, all of which manages to be breezy pop for the masses that has tons of depth and personality, and all in a language foreign to half of his American listeners (myself included). What a king.
Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature
Similar to Alvvays, Beach Bunny are one of the best in a bloated genre, and this album sees them breaking out. The album feels fuller and more mature, even though a youthful immaturity was their previous selling point. Beach Bunny are destined for megastardom, and this is another wonderful stepping stone. Pretty funny that we got two straight bunny entries, huh.
Beach House – Once Twice Melody
And right into two straight Beach entries. We gotta diversify these artist names. Anyways, Beach House had really fallen off the radar prior to 2022 – only one album in seven years, after a much more regular release schedule. That was undone with this sprawling 18-song, 84 minute sectioned album. There’s sections of classic shoegaze Beach House as well as parts that see the band dive into even more lush, dreamy territory. It’s certain to be one of their best albums, which is high praise, though anyone looking for bangers should seek elsewhere.
Beyoncé – Renaissance
The Queen was in a tough position after her album Lemonade, a decade-defining, genre-sprawling masterclass destined for the record books. No follow-up was going to feel as important or immediate, so she instead did a lower stakes house revival album. It was a necessary and perfect left turn; far from her best work, but it isn’t meant to be, and what it is still damn near perfect.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Similar to Beach House, this is a behemoth, brass ring-grabbing mission statement of an album; it even came out the same week! Possibly the best indie release of the year, it sees the band take their normally reserved album ideas and stretch them into grander territory. Everything feels expanded and yet distinctly Big Thief – warm, earthy melodies accompanied by Adrienne Lenker’s tender voice and emotionally crippling lyrics. In an era where album bloat plagues every genre, Big Thief delivered an 80-minute album that still leaves the listener begging for more. They elevated themselves to Best Indie Band in 2019, a title that I believe they still hold.
billy woods – Aethiopes and Church
First double-entry! The Armand Hammer member has had a wildly prolific solo career, and both of his 2022 offerings are just great, low-stakes hip-hop albums. While the alphabetical and chronological antecedent was the better of the two albums, both showcase woods as a humble and intelligent master, unafraid to challenge rhythm and tropes.
Birds In Row – Gris Klein
Straight up one of my favorite groups, France’s Birds In Row have delivered another visceral, powerful and understated album of hardcore that establishes them as one of the genre’s most creative forces. Too many hardcore bands sound interchangeable, but Birds have always been sonically challenging, genre-defying and socially conscious, trends that have all kept up on Klein. One of the most criminally underrated groups in all of music, even if they set themselves up to have a limited audience.
Björk – Fossora
There’s a number of entries in this post that feel pointless to write – if you’re reading this on my blog, with the type of stuff I cover, then you’ve already heard Fossora. Björk rarely misses, and hasn’t missed in many years, but even for her this is a triumph. Few artists could think about the concept of mushrooms and produce an album that actually feels like the damp moss of a forest floor, but that’s what Fossora is. The mysteriousness of the forest – both innocent and unforgiving – litters this album in a way that’s pleasant and so entirely original. Quintessential Björk.
Black Dresses – Forget Your Own Face
Hyperpop is maybe the first thing to come around in music that makes me feel like I’m too old to understand, and truthfully I don’t really “get” all of this, but I do love it. This doesn’t so much move the goalposts of what “pop” can be but uproots and incinerates them. The chaotic outbursts of glitchy synth, the pessimistic lyrics and the demon-fueled screams from Ada Rook (one of the best screamers in the game today) all make this a brief album that’s equal parts fun and terrifying. Pretty good for a duo that’s technically broken up!
black midi – Hellfire
Coming into Hellfire I was hit and miss on black midi – literally, I thought their debut was a hit and the sophomore record was a miss. So I had a little trepidation, but this is easily my favorite of the three. This is extremely “me” music. Hellfire is a ton of absolutely chaotic, noisy indie songs that sound like a frustrated band taking it out in studio. I’m sure these songs are written precisely, but they often sound improvised. A little noisier and they could be mistaken for prime era Lightning Bolt. Really loved this one.
Bonny Light Horseman – Rolling Golden Holy
I’m not 100% positive this one would’ve made the list if I hadn’t just seen this band a couple weeks ago, but it’s totally deserving either way. The folk supergroup released their second album in November and it follows their debut exactly. Soft acoustic folk is met with gorgeous harmonized vocals in a collection of songs that you want to just disappear into forever. The group sounds like Fleet Foxes if they had less of an indie bend and didn’t subscribe to the concept of a frontman; the three musicians here all work equally and in tandem with one another. It’s quite possibly the prettiest album I heard all year.
Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
My my, there were a lot of B artists for some reason. Carly is here to dance us out of it with another album of pure pop bangers. Her previous album Dedicated was a moderately solid release, but a drop in the bucket to 2015’s game-changing E*MO*TION. This album feels closer to the latter, a self-contained collection of bangers and ballads that never tries to reinvent the wheel, just makes sure it runs as smoothly as it ever has. Anyone that doesn’t like Carly is either lying or just simply hates everything fun.
Chat Pile – God’s Country
My god, where did this one come from? The best debut album of the year is also maybe the best damn rock album of the year, too. An uncompromising, bold and enjoyable noise rock album that takes itself very seriously even if it closes with a song called “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg.” While most post-hardcore bands try to eschew any metal influences from their music, Chat Pile lean right into it with gnarly vocals, screams and – especially on “Pamela” – riffs. This is a major play by a fearsome young group.
The Chats – Get Fucked
The Australian drunk punk band is rising in popularity and facing the same issue that’s plagued many similar bands prior – soften the sound for a bigger audience, or lean into the niche. Well the album is titled Get Fucked so they sealed their own deal. This is just great, old school punk twisted through ridiculously delightful Aussie accents. Coming in at 13 songs and 28 minutes, with titles like “The Price of Smokes” and “I’ve Been Drunk in Every Pub in Brisbane,” this is a loud and raucous good time.
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
Danger Mouse, as both a producer and active musician, has always been one to ignore trends and musical climates. His full-album collaboration with arguably the most underrated rapper in the world is a very fun whirlwind that combines a lot of soul, prog and psychedelic influences that flies right by. It’s very much a throwback album to older hip-hop and something that sounds totally unique in 2022.
Demi Lovato – HOLY FVCK
Following up on the Chats is another album title that makes a statement. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lovato’s music, more so than most, and this turn back to a pop-punk/rock base is a very interesting one for her. There’s a distinct and intentional lack in subtlety, filling the album with confrontational statements that jump between honesty, heartbreak and horniness. It’s a great rebirth after a difficult period for the artist, and an album that I feel got buried too quickly.
Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Curry is one of the most interesting and energetic rappers in the world today, which makes it all the more interesting that this album opens with some slower, reflective tunes. As it moves on, we get some of Curry’s more forceful songs, but it’s a surprising left turn by an artist that specializes in messing with the formula. All of Curry’s albums are great, but this is his best since TA13OO.
Diane Coffee – With People
This absolute indie gem from the former Foxygen drummer might end up being the most overlooked album of the year. Seven of the album’s ten tracks haven’t cracked 10,000 plays on Spotify yet, people are really missing out. It’s airy and fun in the way that Foxygen is, without any of the bloated ambition. It feels similar to some of Will Butler’s solo stuff – messy, low-stakes indie music that’s a lot more playful than you might expect. There’s some really fun stuff going on here.
Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter
The very last album I listened to this year that made the list – listened to on 12/30! – is something I didn’t even realize I was sleeping on. This name was not on my radar until Obama of all people put it on his year end list. Cain is like Lana Del Rey filtered through the horror puritanism of Flannery O’Connor. Daughter is a lengthy, bold debut full of Southern gothic dream-pop ballads and old school Baptist existentialism. Every song sounds similar on paper, but there’s elements of everything from gospel to sludge metal across the album, a truly unpredictable concoction. That all of this was devised by a 24 year old is wild; the future is hers.
Florence & The Machine – Dance Fever
When it comes to the unique indie/baroque pop of Flo & co, there’s really nothing wrong with “more of the same.” This excellent album sees the group treading some similar waters, although there is blendings of many different facets; it’s as synthy and danceable as it is chamber pop, which still leads to some unpredictability. We can belabor about rankings, but this might be the most fun album from them.
foxtails – fawn
I went into this totally blind, and given the album’s title and very plains-inspired cover painting, I was expecting some soft indie. So credit me surprised when the screams started; this band is legit. Mixing classic screamo with post-hardcore, indie and even some jazz elements, this is stuff that’s supremely heavy and completely unique. I immediately ran through their other albums; not a bad song among them.
Gang of Youths – Angel in Realtime
The band name might imply some tongue-in-cheek rascalness, but this is a truly serious record written as an ode to the frontman’s father. The alternative band made an early AOTY contender with an impenetrable and difficult record, one that presents a ton of sonic ideas washed over by emotional lyrics. It’s too long – much too long – but it is super rewarding, comprehensive and effortlessly intelligent music.
Ghais Guevara – There Will Be No Super-Slave
One of the best underground releases of 2022 comes from experimental rapper Ghais Guevara, who litters his album with astounding beats, experimental structures and explicitly leftist lyrics. Songs like “This Ski Mask Ain’t For COVID” and “I Personally Wouldn’t Have Released John McCain” don’t just come out of nowhere. It’s witty, earnest, extremely loud and extremely engaging. Also, check out the “Breakfast in America” sample.
Gladie – Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out
My big criticism of the bands that straddle the pop-punk/indie line is that they often play it safe and don’t explore their own energy. Gladie isn’t one of those bands. The band’s sophomore album (I have yet to hear the debut!) sees them masterfully navigate both tender pop songs and raucous punk, like in the fierce opener “Born Yesterday.” It’s simply a stellar record that is comprehensive and – most importantly – simply fun.
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
I still like his debut solo album more, but his third offering is such a delightful statement release. This is fun, humble and low-key pop, an album that was sorely needed in a year where his personal life was thrust into the spotlight (due to a bad film). He’s just great at this stuff!
Interpol – The Other Side of Make Believe
After the initial hot streak Interpol went on to start their career, it became apparent that they did slower ballads better than bangers (all exceptions to “The Rover”). Their last album, Marauder, was all bangers and it’s their only album I dislike. Thankfully they slowed things down for this somber, post-punk affair. They’ll never reclaim their highs again, but I do think this is genuinely one of their best records.
Ithaca – They Fear Us
Although I felt this year wasn’t as strong as most recent years in general, it was a standout for post-hardcore groups. This album blends those influences through traditional metal/hardcore into one of the rawest releases of the year. This is not music for the faint of heart, but it is a thrilling and emotional listen. Got this one via recommendation, I will be checking out their other releases.
Jack White – Fear of the Dawn
When Jack White announced two albums – a blistering blues record and an acoustic folk one – I knew I was going to like the former more. This packs all the punches of standard wild White stuff, from blues melodies to dizzying guitar licks. There’s even a Q-Tip feature, randomly. Some people might be tired of his schtick, but I’ll always take these records.
JID – The Forever Story
Many of the rap records on this list are here because they’re innovative, nostalgic or just different from anything mainstream. But for JID, this is just a good ass rap album. His flow is impeccable across The Forever Story, which helps bolster his convincingly autobiographical lyrics. It’s a soulful album too, and one complete with some guest spots from festival big-prints like Lil Wayne and Yasiin Bey. Top notch stuff!
Jobber – Hell In A Cell
This is a band called Jobber with an EP called Hell In A Cell, of course I’m into this. It’s an extension on the Mountain Goats album Beat The Champ in that it’s centered entirely around pro wrestling (more on them later). But even if you don’t have an appreciation for the art or aren’t familiar with the brilliance of Mankind, you can still appreciate the tunes. These are four energetic indie tunes with deceptively great vocals in a wonderfully fun debut. I’m not sure if the wrestling gimmick can stay fresh over time, but I’m positive the band can.
Julia, Julia – Derealization
The debut album from the lead singer of long-running punk band The Coathangers is anything but. The album tosses away all of the politically-charged punk energy in favor of soft folk. Most of these tracks are nothing but acoustic guitar and dreamy vocals from Julia. Hell it’s often barely audible! These songs mimic a soft spring day, a pleasant morning as the sun rises. This is probably the softest record on this list.
Kal Marks – My Name Is Hell
This is one of a handful of local entries on my list, but this list would be incomplete without it. Hell is simply one of the best rock albums of the year, filled with post-hardcore tracks that are both patient and angry, heavy and melodic. The band really lays into the same space occupied by IDLES on this one, and for good reason, as they pull the sound off completely. It’s urgent and bitter, but without sacrificing some tongue-in-cheek funk as well. Absolutely hard-hitting stuff and this album should serve as a firm rebuttal to any inane person saying “rock is dead.”
Kim Petras – Slut Pop
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum and Changes
Another double entry, although in Gizz terms that’s a poor year – this is just two of the five albums they released this year (six if you count a remix album)! I enjoyed all five, though none were among the highs in their still-young, dummy prolific 23 album career so far. And the two albums selected could not be more different; Gatherum is their most expansive album yet, clocking in at 80 minutes and filled with heady concepts and challenging prog elements (sometimes). Changes meanwhile is a fun, lowkey album of breezy, jazzy pop that acts as a follow-up to their delightful Sketches of Brunswick East. Gizz celebrated their second five-album year, and while it wasn’t nearly as unmissable as 2017, there was still a lot to love.
L. S. Dunes – Past Lives
I am always a little weary of supergroups, especially emo supergroups – they often produce some ho-hum music that is a fun change of pace for the performers, but not necessarily enjoyable for the listener. But L. S. Dunes, comprised of members of My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Coheed and Cambria, and Saosin, gave us a mission statement debut album. It sounds like all of their respective bands distilled, combined, and refined, into something that is both familiar and progressive. The album hits a wide range from personal to raucous, and it’s a high recommendation if you like all – or any – of the bands that contributed members.
Leikeli47 – Shape Up
One of the best breakthroughs of the year was that of New York rapper Leikeli47, whose album Shape Up is filled top-to-bottom with short, loud bangers that all flow together in constant whiplash. You’ve probably heard the album’s first track “Chitty Bang” in a (car?) commercial, but it’s such a great track and indicative of the whole rest of the album. Though she performs behind a mask, she’s destined to breakthrough much further than she already has.
Little Simz – No Thank You
My favorite album from 2021 came from British rapper Little Simz, who pushed herself out of her comfort zone with an uncharacteristically bombastic, overstuffed mission statement album. But the spotlight wasn’t kind, and her follow-up is a much more cynical release aimed at the music industry and at the very fans that propped her up. It’s tough and fair, and an extremely deep record that does not sacrifice energy or melody for its goal. It was also released mid-December, probably to avoid all of the gun-jumping publications that publish their best of lists a month early. We wait til New Year’s Eve, here.
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – The Harvest
I wrote in my songs post about the title track from this album and how it advances doom metal beyond its shriveling template. Well, the album follows it, an absolute sonic pummeling of riffs, synths, and dreamy moments. It feels like a record that is not supposed to take place on Earth, something from a space wasteland. It is, simply, really cool music. Plus ten points for having my favorite band name.
The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta
I don’t think anyone saw a full Mars Volta reunion & album coming, especially after a full At the Drive-In reunion and album. And if anyone did, they surely did not predict that the band would entirely leave their prog-rock comfort roots in favor of shorter, blunter pop songs with Latin flare. Naturally, the group pulled it off, a totally enjoyable clean slate of a record. The lyrics are also less cryptic and often deal with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s wife’s battle with the Church of Scientology – a heartbreaking and disgusting story, should you choose to look into it.
Meat Wave – Malign Hex
I’m a sucker for any kind of fuzzed-out garage punk, from The Trashmen to Ty Segall, and this album more than scratches that itch for me. This band does one thing and they do it remarkably well, just a full sonic blast of pedal-heavy guitar and drums. The lyrics range from tongue-in-cheek to political to honest, though the band’s punk energy is what the listener is more directed towards, anyways.
MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
Lenderman’s name has been on my radar for a while but I had never listened until this album, as I was expecting more of a tepid, sad boy indie schtick a la FJM. To my surprise, it was an album of fun, humorous and fuzzed-out indie that sounded closer to the days of Pavement than anything else. It feels unserious and off-the-cuff, in all the best ways.
The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out
The Goats are never bad, but in their current prolific period, they’ve released some albums that don’t stand against their best. Bleed Out does. Like some other recent Goats albums, this is one is hyper-focused on a concept John Darnielle finds interesting; this time around we get songs about action films. This is also the loudest Goats album – the first to center around electric guitar and rock-driven songs, courtesy of production from Alicia Bognanno, from one of my favorite groups Bully. It’s one of my favorites of the year, and I think it’s a contender for top 5 Goats albums; impressive when you remember it’s their 21st (!!) studio album.
Nerina Pallot – I Don’t Know What I’m Doing
One of the most talented and underrated songwriters in all of music delivered again on her seventh studio album, a work filled with homely, lush and self-reflective ballads. She’s a talented musician, but her strength has always been her beautiful voice and her brutally honest lyrics. Her music has remained popular in the UK but she’s never been even a blip here in the States, I yearn for that to change.
Nikki Lane – Denim & Diamonds
One of the joys of maturity is realizing how stupid I used to sound when I would say something dismissive like “I don’t like country music.” While it’s true that the country-pop that dominated the charts when I was a teen still doesn’t appeal to me, I’ve come to appreciate outlaw country. This is the best country release I heard all year, a collection of low-stakes, unassuming country tunes that are simply fun as hell. These songs are personal, but they’re bops. The album is earworms galore. It’s an album that may not leave a huge impression on first listen, but one that draws you back multiple times. Really fun stuff and a nice antidote to many of the other entries on my list.
Oceanator – Nothing’s Ever Fine
This one was a nice surprise! I checked this one out as sole Oceanator member Elise Okusami was on tour with Jeff Rosenstock, an automatic win in my book. It’s a ripping, fun and earnest indie debut with a bit of edge on some tracks. There’s still room for some folksy elements too. It sounds well-worn and patient, all the more impressive for a debut!
Orville Peck – Bronco
I think it’s no secret that I’m a devoted Peck-head, his debut album Pony rapidly became one of my all-time favorites. I was a little concerned after his follow-up EP was frustratingly saccharine, but the proper sophomore album picks up exactly where Pony left off: alt-country bangers and ballads, all sung from behind a mask, from a gravelly voice with the gravitas of an old West gunslinger. But also, it’s queer. If I really had to choose – and the point of this list is that I don’t – this might be my favorite album of the year.
Otoboke Beaver – Super Champon
I knew in my heart that a band like Otoboke Beaver existed, such a delight to finally find them. The group mixes Japanese pop and noise influences into a blend of punk that’s both absolutely ripping and completely fun. It’s a balance of J-pop and Melt Banana, with bouncy, gang vocals and lyrics inspired by both feminism and comedy, all delivered in a micro package. With song titles like “Dirty Old Fart Is Waiting For My Reaction” and only two songs over two minutes, this is an absolute riotous, unique blast.
Perennial – In the Midnight Hour
I had the immense pleasure of interviewing 2/3rds of this band and hosting the album premiere, so I am a little biased here, but 11 months later and this remains in my top 5 releases for the year. The band, inspired heavily by noise-punk groups like Be Your Own Pet, mesh punk, post-hardcore and experimental elements into something that is as chaotic as it is fun. This album is an unabashed good time, an apocalypse party, full of spooky influences. My only complaint is that it’s over too soon; 10 of the 12 tracks don’t hit the two minute mark!
Perfume Genius – Ugly Genius
Perfume Genius is always an automatic shoo-in for any best of lists, and this year’s offering is no different. After his surprisingly guitar-driven album Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, he tones things way down for a sparse, dreamy production. It’s as brilliant and heartbreaking as anything he’s done before, and by this point I think he’s incapable of producing something that isn’t like this.
Petrol Girls – Baby
This album is a pure refusal of complacency. Loud, brash, dissonant and angry, this is what hardcore punk is really about. The British group funnels explicitly feminist lyrics and harsh vocals through pumping drums and power chords. Not every track kicks into the highest gear, but every one does crack with earnest fury and political anxiety that resonates across the pond. Punk can never, and will never die.
Porridge Radio – Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky
I never know quite what to make of Porridge Radio. On paper, you can call them an indie band, but they rope in many outside influences from post-punk to pop. It’s often loud, and it’s horribly depressing. Their unique sound is on full display here, through melancholic ballads and rhythmic ennui. It’s a top-heavy album, but the good is very good. Not for someone with a cheery disposition.
Pretty Sick – Makes Me Sick Makes Me Smile
It’s always refreshing to me, a total grunge head, to hear any band that hearkens back to the cursed early 90’s. Pretty Sick sounds like one step forward from bands like Hole, Lunachicks and L7, with a messy, angry and riot grrrl-adjacent sound. Pretty Sick doesn’t always push up the volume here, but when they do, their curated sloppiness could mark a dead ringer for a band thirty years their prior. What I’m saying is, this is extremely me music.
PUP – The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND
Another contender for my favorite album of the whole damn year comes from Canada’s pop-punk-kinda group PUP, who stuck a necessary landing. Each album of theirs has seen increased visibility and fans, as well as just being better than the one prior. So for their fourth album to be a meta concept album about whether they should sell out and go big or make a weird concept punk album, and how it tears the band apart, is bold, brilliant and damn near perfect. It’s fierce and rough, tongue-in-cheek while also being brutally critical of the music industry. It warrants repeated listens, especially to catch little narrative details.
Saba – Few Good Things
One of the most flawless rap albums of the year comes from Saba, who spends each track on his album wearing his heart on his sleeve and masking it at the same time. These lyrics are brutally honest and deep in a way rap lyrics often aren’t (and don’t have to be!). And yet, the music is soft and dense, mimicking the flowers on the album’s cover. There’s an affirming warmness to this record that separates it from the year’s other rap records, even the ones on this list. It’s a shame this one has yet to pull in a wider audience.
SAULT – Today & Tomorrow
I’ve been preaching the gospel of SAULT to anyone who will listen for a couple years now, so imagine my childish grin when the anonymous R&B group released not one but six albums this year. They range from their standard R&B, to borderline gospel and even an atmospheric ambient album. The best was this one, which sees them take their standard crisply produced R&B and up the ante with funk, disco and even some punk elements. This one was a party album, which perfectly soundtracked me wrapped Christmas presents. Long Live SAULT.
Slipknot – The End, So Far
Well, it finally happened – Slipknot made their critical darling record. Their sound, and more importantly their misanthropic angst, was never going to keep up through all the years. This aptly-titled album could serve as a turning point, as it does feature some loud, abrasive metal tracks but a softer side as well. It doesn’t always work – quiet opener “Adderall” is ironically interminable – but the signs point to a changing band, one ready to experiment and embrace the adulthood that washes away all that juvenile anger. It should’ve happened a few albums ago, but hey the formula still worked.
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Yeah, yeah, Radiohead is my desert island band so naturally I loved this offshoot project. It allows Thom & Jonny et al to let loose and have fun, while also making some songs that would be minimalistic even by Radiohead standards. It’s tough not to compare it to Radiohead albums – it doesn’t stand up to most – but that’s a high grading curve. It’s a great debut and a record that has deserved more of my time this year.
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
Credit to any band who can find a way to innovate within a scorned genre. Soul Glo are, by all descriptions, a rap-rock group, but one that play with full intensity and unpredictably. It’s part Death Grips, part 80’s experimentation, and no parts 00’s chuggy riffs and cringey lyrics. This is direct, honest and political stuff and it’s one of the most exciting records of 2022. It has no trouble getting abrasive and confrontational – it is supposed to be a shocking genre, after all.
Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
One of the very first albums I heard in 2022 was a welcoming breath of, well, stale air. Spoon’s tenth album sees the band reverting back to the fundamental indie music of their mid-00’s heyday. It’s a welcome joy, as the band proves they can still write some indie bangers, and it’s their best album in years. Focused, pleasant and timeless, this is a high notch in their catalog. Spoon is back, baby.
Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
The first Sudan Archives album was a patient and well-rounded R&B record that seemed to promise better things. Well, her sophomore album is the better thing. One of the best albums of the year sees the singer/violinist assume a first-person role in a concept album taking place in her Cincinnati hometown. It’s an overstuffed, comprehensive and funky release that never overstays its welcome and never teeters on self-indulgence when it could easily do both. It’s earnest and it’s refreshingly original. Truly remarkable piece of work.
Sylvan Esso – No Rules Sandy
This is easily the most ambitious album from the vibes-heavy indie band, a band who approach their albums with a “try anything” attitude. Although it rests at 16 tracks, it’s really made up of 5 or so sections with interludes, split into more bite-sized songs. It creates more of a nightclub DJ feel than their previous, minimalistic dance tracks. It’s still the same fun, warm and light-hearted music as always, though.
They Are Gutting A Body Of Water – s
This one was a wrench thrown into this list – I listened to it after 50+ of the entries in this post had already been written! I’d heard multiple people sing their praises but I jumped in totally blind. It’s shoegaze-based music, but with elements of trap, DNB and chiptune – really a hodgepodge of “off the beaten path” genres tossed into a blender. The result is something totally unique and nearly indescribable – all rules tossed out the window. I really dig this.
Titus Andronicus – The Will to Live
I wrote extensively about this album when I covered their live show, but what I’ll say here is that this is the first time Patty Stix et co. have successfully wrangled their ambitious side with their complying side; it’s really the first time they’ve even tried. This is a concept album, albeit a loose one, but not a hyper-inflated overlong grand affair like their other two concept albums (their best and worst releases, respectively). Instead, it’s a controlled record, one of a band recognizing their own heights but still reaching them. Seeing some of these tracks live helped me to contextualize how this is not a punk record but a rock and roll one, and even if this album was birthed from grief, they’re settling into adulthood surprisingly nicely.
Van Buren Records – DSM
Another local release that ranks among my very favorites from this year comes from Brockton MA’s rap collective. The album is bold and boisterous, with a cascade of different vocalists that allows each song and hell, each verse to sound fresh and fun. This album stays well within the realm of comfortability, and when the group is as good as they are, there’s no reason not to. It’s a blast, turn it up.
Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Ramona Park acts as a follow-up to 2021’s weirdly disappointing self-titled release, and thankfully it reclaims the magic of older days. And yet, this doesn’t sound like Vince. Gone are the abrasive beats, experimental rhythms and worrying lyrics, replaced with beats and melodies that are crisp, fluid and conventional. Vince is still Vince though, and these tunes are grippingly reflective and earnest. This is as good as anything Staples has ever done. He barely misses.
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
I was absolutely delighted that the new duo Wet Leg was able to capitalize on their surprise debut hit “Chaise Longue” with a great first album. It did exactly what it needed to – prove the group wasn’t a one-trick pony, with a collection of songs that don’t exactly sound similar but feel similar. It’s infectious and hysterical, with tons of pop hooks and plenty of curveballs. The band sounds wise beyond their years, and yet songs like “Piece of Shit” and “Ur Mom” show off their playful immaturity. If by any chance you’re still reading this, then you’ve probably already heard this record, but what was I gonna do, not include it?
Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like Titanic Rising as much as most, so I approached this one with caution. It floored me. This album is filled with stunningly beautiful chamber pop that feels warm despite the cold, cynical lyrics. It really is unpleasant stuff but presented in a more welcoming fashion. After some disappointments from the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, we needed a late-year album of breathtaking ballads like this.
Wilco – Cruel Country
In a way, this is Wilco coming full circle. They toyed early on with country influences before mostly abandoning them for an indie sound. And now, twelve albums in, they’ve embraced it entirely. After a few albums of comfortable complacency, Wilco gifted us with a double album of moody country that welcomes the sound Wilco pushed off twenty years ago. It’s maybe too long and a bit unnecessary, but it stands as a fun and welcome outlier in the catalog – their best albums usually are.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down
What a relief this album was. The band’s quest for a total reinvention with each album petered out after 2013’s unlistenable record Mosquito. After nearly a decade of radio silence, they’ve done another full 180. Cool It Down, another in a series of aptly-named records on this list, comes close to ambient territory, with its atmospheric rhythms and airborne feel. It’s clearly a new territory for all members, and if the album had run beyond it’s short runtime it could’ve easily fallen repetitive, but the band keeps it tight. Fans looking for bruisers like “Man” are going to be severely disappointed, but this is a fascinating rebirth.
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor
My favorite type of metal is usually “whatever would make the purists mad” and I figure this counts. Black metal, as much as I love it, has a storied history intertwined with full-on Nazism, so it is refreshing to hear a black metal artist who is, well, black. The album combines traditional black metal sounds with African influences, jazz, even a damn stomp-clap. It is sonically and lyrically subversive, a meting pot of influences determined to keep you guessing, especially in a genre where repetition is usually the biggest fault. I recommend this to anyone who even remotely likes metal.
Zola Jesus – Arkhon
Zola’s music expertly walks a line between conventional pop/indie and synthy goth throwback to the 80’s post-punk scene. Arkhon is no exception, as songs bounce to and from these competing influences to create a landscape that is hypnotically catchy and yet grim and moody. It’s often very fun and unpredictable, as some songs search for that catchy rhythm and others eschew it completely. This one flew well under the radar, and I wish it hadn’t.
Just for fun and self-indulgence, here’s some other albums I nearly included in this list:
Charli XCX – Crash (pop/hyperpop), Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia (indie/post-punk/Ireland), Froglord – Army of Frogs (stoner metal band that sings about frogs), Lizzo – Special (pop/R&B/it’s Lizzo), Sasami – Squeeze (indie/noise rock), Thee Oh Sees – A Foul Form (80’s thrash metal/hardcore throwback)
By Andrew McNally