As we come to the end of 2022, we take stock in a year where we had blockbuster albums from the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.
It was a year where streaming continued to dominate, but the demand for vinyl, in its resurgence, continued to grow. As the saying goes, "Everything old is new again."
Thanks to a placement on "Stranger Things," Kate Bush had a hit again with her 37-year-old classic, "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)." It surpassed its original chart performance, introducing the singer to a whole new generation. This song's rebirth makes odd sense. Somehow, it sounds more at home in 2022 than it did back in 1985.
In this year's annual picks of the 50 best albums released year, there will be artists you know, of course, as well as some slightly left-field choices that also really deserve your attention. New artists and seasoned ones sit side-by-side in this eclectic mix. Hopefully this list will introduce you to future favorites you may have missed over the course of this hectic, crowded year.
Here are the 50 standout albums of 2022:
50. Arctic Monkeys – "The Car" On their seventh album, this famed, rightfully celebrated British combo takes a decidedly laid-back left turn. Throughout "The Car," leader Alex Turner delivers his vocals in a carefully mannered croon. Opener and lead single "There'd Better Be a Mirrorball" sounds cinematic at a level that is nearly Mancini-esque, while perhaps also giving a slight nod to Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets." The funky "I Ain't Quite Where I Think I Am," the serenely soulful "Body Paint" and the contemplative and stately title track are all highlights. This album may baffle fans who came in on the 2006 revved-up single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor," but this is a mature, fitting bit of semi-orchestral cosplay, made all the more mighty when blasted at top volume from a decent set of speakers.
49. Beth Orton – "Weather Alive" Beth Orton's first album in six years is an expansive eight-song set. It is more of a solid mood piece than a showcase for singles, with the singer settling into warm sonic textures with slightly jazzy undertones. The title track is a perfect example of this album's profoundly focused sophistication, while "Friday Night" is a ballad that finds Orton "dreaming of Proust." Occasionally, she sinks into a deep groove. Her raspy vocals dance over "Forever Young" and "Lonely" has an after-hours chilled-out vibe with its piano and brass work. Funny thing is, for someone who partially built her name in the clubs, thanks to her collaborations with the Chemical Brothers and William Orbit, this is a decidedly downbeat offering, suited for the best kind of laid-back dinner parties.
48. Maren Morris – "Humble Quest" Three albums in and it is clear that Maren Morris is one of the smartest and most gifted singer-songwriters that modern country has to offer. Sure, there are hints of folk and rock influence all over "Humble Quest," but songs like opener "Circles Around This Town" and key standout "I Can't Love You Anymore" offer up relatable country-pop without sounding like she is pandering. These are real songs that sound more authentic when compared to some of the more transparent selections that currently populate modern country radio. The title track, the intense and slow-burning ballad "Background Music," the playful ode to "Tall Guys" and the timeless "Good Friends" are all highlights. Morris is already establishing herself as one of this generation's country greats.
47. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – "XI: Bleed Here Now" On their 11th album, this Austin, Texas, band delivers the kind of epic we have come to expect. Prog-y psychedelia, hints of power-pop and bits of classical orchestration keep things constantly shape-shifting. Again, Conrad Keely and Jason Reece lead a band that isn't as scary as their name suggests, with "Penny Candle" sounding a bit like their nod to Foo Fighters' "Everlong" and "Growing Divide" (which features Spoon's Britt Daniel) coming off like a combination between Elliott Smith and Kansas' "Dust in the Wind." Other highlights include the mighty "Field Song" and the slyly rising and falling "Taken By the Hand." As their debut album is about to hit its 25th birthday, this band still enthralls with their pure eclecticism, offering a fusion for people who miss the rock records of both the '70s and the '90s.
- 1December 28, 2021
- 3December 26, 2019
46. Charli XCX – "Crash" In under 34 minutes, "Crash" continues the winning streak that Charli XCX began on 2019's "Charli" and 2020's "How I'm Feeling Right Now." Indeed, she has built her own niche, creating electro-pop that sounds simultaneously futuristically robotic and like something left over from the '80s. "Beg For You" (featuring Rina Sawayama) is a gloriously retro club track, while "Good Ones" makes the most of its sleek synth-line. "Baby" is the kind of pseudo-reductionist disco that wouldn't sound out of place on an early Madonna record, while "Every Rule" is a strong ballad. This is cutting-edge pop that still acknowledges its lineage.
45. August is Falling – "The Simple Plan - EP" Pat Finnerty is a YouTube star who posts videos and hosts a podcast called "What Makes This Song Stink." It's the Bizarro take on Rick Beato's series "What Makes This Song Great." Earlier this year, while dissecting the lazy, tone-deaf horrendousness of Machine Gun Kelly's "Emo Girl," he announced he had recorded an EP of emo/pop-punk songs under the name August is Falling. The goal was to get this "band" some play. Enough to buy Finnerty a hot tub. Weirdly, it is supposed to be a joke, but Finnerty is a great musician and songwriter, creating five songs that both lampoon the genre and pay fitting, pitch-perfect, wonderfully immature homage to bands like Blink-182. Armed with skill and heart, this EP is infinitely more than a sarcastic footnote. Behind Finnerty's criticism is love. He's obviously a devoted music fan who wants artists to deliver a better product. Now here's hoping he gets his hot tub.
44. Courtney Marie Andrews – "Loose Future" It has been four albums since indie-folk artist Courtney Marie Andrews pivoted to country with great results. She continues to have success on "Loose Future," a mighty, yet compact 10-song offering that shows that she deserves more fame. The title track, the earthy "Older Now," "On the Line" and "Let Her Go" all display her as a gifted songwriter. If the country mainstream still championed natural songwriting and production like they used to, Andrews would be considered one of the greats. She even shows great pop sense on "Satellite." This record deserves your attention.
43. Soccer Mommy – "SOMETIMES, FOREVER" This is the third full-length album by singer-songwriter Sophie Allison's Soccer Mommy project. Like "Clean" in 2018 and "Color Theory" in 2020, it continues to effectively deliver her brand of confessional alternative rock -- from the woozy psychedelic vibe of "With U" to the infectious, slyly twisting melody of key single "Shotgun." "Darkness Forever" is a haunting and eerie bit of grungy trip-hop. "Feel it All the Time" is radio-ready singer-songwriter gold.
42. The Loyal Seas – "Strange Mornings in the Garden" If you've ever loved the work of Tanya Donelly in the bands Belly and Throwing Muses, you'll probably enjoy the debut album by the Loyal Seas, her new duo with singer-songwriter Brian Sullivan, who is previously known for his work under the moniker Dylan at the Movies. "Strange Mornings in the Garden" is a relaxed set of songs, rooted in peaceful, almost dream-pop-like sonic textures and gentle melodies. The interplay between Donelly and Sullivan on standouts like "(So Far From) Silverlake," the infectious and bouncy title track, "Driving with a Ghost," the lightly new wave-infused "Milkweed" and the slightly orchestral "Swimmers in the Gold" make this an appealing, tightly focused mood piece of a record.
41. FKA Twigs – "Caprisongs" Whether she's questioning love games on "Oh My Love" or getting a club-ready makeover on the Shygirl-assisted "Papi Bones," FKA Twigs is always compelling. The soft, electro groove of "Jealousy," featuring Rema, seems perfectly suited for Twigs' gifts. What's most amazing about this set is how easy-going it all seems. In comparison to the stately, highly artistic approach heard on both 2014's "LP1" and 2019's "Magdalene," here twigs sounds ready for the party. One style isn't necessarily better than the other but it is sort of refreshing to hear this more pop-ready side.
40. Fresh – "Raise Hell" Right from the beginning of "Our Love," the opening track to the third full-length album from London rock outfit Fresh there is something different. Synths! Leader Kathryn Woods is still able to go from a conversational tone to a snarl in an instant, but the new element adds something to the mix. While the album has tracks like "Morgan & Joanne" that work with the band's signature sound, elsewhere it seems like this is a collection about further sonic expansion. Listen to the horns that burst in on "Going to Bed" and the gentle, quiet passages of "Sleepover." This is the sound of a band seemingly effortlessly expanding beyond their punk-pop roots and heading into more nuanced territory without selling out their original vision.
39. Harry Styles – "Harry's House" Since going solo, Harry Styles has done his best to establish himself away from his One Direction, boy band past. "Harry's House," his third solo effort, is where he finally fully emerges as a truly artistically respectable pop star. From the opener, "Music For a Sushi Restaurant," to the telephone vocal effect on "Grapejuice" to the slight A-Ha nod in "As It Was," there is nothing shallow about this music. The production, the presentation and the tight vocal harmonies are all meticulously put in place to make this a compelling listen. There's a surprisingly delicate vulnerability in "Little Freak," while "Matilda" is an acoustic character-study that is downright Swift-ian in its focus. The intriguing (perhaps troubling) listed lyrical turns on "Keep Driving" show that Styles is not purely out to impress a pop audience. He's trying to make an artistic statement. In the process, he's made a very strong, sophisticated pop record.
38. The Linda Lindas – "Growing Up" In May 2021, a concert event held by the Los Angeles Public Library went viral. A performance of an original punk song called "Racist, Sexist Boy," written in response to an anti-Asian comment made to the band's young drummer, caused quite a stir. The young band's debut album proves that they are every bit worth the hype that clip earned them. Two key influences (and champions of the band) come to mind when describing their sound. At times they have the righteous bile-spitting energy of Bikini Kill on tracks like the before-mentioned "Racist, Sexist Boy," "Fine," "Oh!" and "Why." Then they have a more pop-driven, more Best Coast-influenced side on cuts like "Remember," "Talking to Myself" and the transcendently anthemic title track. This album is only 25 1/2 minutes and it covers a lot of ground. There's even a song in Spanish, "Cuántas Veces," that begins as a bossa nova. This band should make us feel optimistic for the future.
37. Regina Spektor – "Home, Before and After" Regina Spektor's first album in six years continues her solid discography, whether she's having a conversation with God on the slightly Beatle-y "Becoming All Alone," or looking forward to a sunny day on "Raindrops." No doubt, the pandemic influenced this album's recurring themes of isolation. "One Man's Prayer" is about a guy praying to fall in love, while "Up the Mountain" is a half spoken word, deeply orchestral building exercise. "Spacetime Fairytale" is a nearly nine minute epic that may be among the best and most curious songs that Spektor has ever written. If you have ever appreciated Spektor, either for her intricate pop sensibilities or her oddball touches, this album will please you just as much as her previous efforts.
36. Eve 6 – "Hyper Relevisation" A year after returning with the excellent "Grim Value" EP, Eve 6 continue their stellar transformation into a dingier garage-rock band. Max Collins' wit and his knack for infectious tunes still remain among the band's biggest selling points on standouts like "Androgyne Friend," "Mr. Darkside" and "Careerist Lyricist." On "Shoulda Known Better," he sings, "John Lennon cried when he sung 'I Should've Known Better!'" On the set's excellent closer, "20 Ton Weight," he offers up one of the best and more memorable choruses of the band's career. Here's hoping for more collections like this one. Eve 6 are having a fascinating evolution and a well-earned rebirth.
35. Willow – "CopingMechanism" Aside from her perhaps questionable participation in the making of Machine Gun Kelly's "Emo Girl," Willow Smith seems to be one of the only bright spots in the mainstream pop-punk revival. "CopingMechanism" continues where last year's "Lately I Feel Everything" left off and furthers her progression. Standout cuts like "Ur a Stranger" and "Curious/Furious" show her bringing her own soulful and emotional energy to the sub-genre. In Willow's case, this doesn't feel like a trendy pose -- she's spitting acid on the title track and singing her heart out at the same time. This tight set is less than a half hour but it is an intriguing trip. Few, if any, of her "pop-punk" peers could pull off something as nuanced and intricate as "Split." You never doubt the authenticity of her emotional turmoil.
34. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – "Cool It Down" If you expect Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first album in nine years to still sound like their signature hit "Maps," you'll be disappointed. On "Cool it Down," the band is reborn with a synth-driven, dream-pop-infused sound. The opener, "Spitting Off the Edge of the World," featuring Perfume Genius, beautifully showcases this somewhat angelic transformation. "Lovebomb" and "Wolf" continue to show this intense sense of focus. Karen O's vocals remain the main focus, but this set has an extremely pin-pointed sound that effectively breathes new life into the band. At eight tracks and only 32 minutes, by the time you hit the spoken-word closer, "Mars," you still want more.
33. Tears for Fears – "The Tipping Point" Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith are back with their first album since 2004's "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending." Their sound is modernized and expanded, from the heart-felt folk of "No Such Thing" to the slick but thoughtful synth-pop sound of the title track. If you are fans of classics like "Mad World" or "Shout," you'll be impressed by how the band has grown without losing their essence. You could easily compare their embrace of modern sounds to that of latter-day Depeche Mode releases on key tracks like "Break the Man," "End of Night" and "Rivers of Mercy." There's a feeling of poignant world-weary political unrest going through this album. Tears for Fears came back with true purpose in 2022 and delivered something beautiful.
32. Eddie Vedder – "Earthling" This is Eddie Vedder's mightiest statement as a solo artist, surpassing both his "Into the Wild" soundtrack and his slightly odd "Ukulele Songs" record. "Earthling" shows the Pearl Jam leader as an alt-rock journeyman. The opening call to action on the album's first track, "Invincible," sets the album off perfectly, while standouts like "Long Way" and the quieter "The Haves" showcase his signature confidence. If you are expecting the hard rock sound of Pearl Jam, you may be disappointed, but the intriguing and catchy "Brother the Cloud" gets close at its apex. This is Vedder feeling comfortable in his maturity.
31. The Smile – "A Light For Attracting Attention" The Smile is kind of like Radiohead-lite when you consider it features both Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, along with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. By not making this a Radiohead record, Yorke and Greenwood have essentially taken the pressure off of themselves, allowing them to experiment with different sounds. The semi-rabid and rambling punk appeal of "You'll Never Work in Television Again" and the funky groove of "The Opposite" come to mind. There's a looseness here that Radiohead albums have lacked in recent years. Skinner, for his part, has come firmly to play. Listen to his drums have some effortless interplay with the bass line on "The Smoke." A light-hearted lack of pretension makes this record's casually experimental, groovy vibe sound truly refreshing.
30. NoSo – "Stay Proud of Me" The debut album from singer-songwriter NoSo is a warm, airy dream-pop-infused collection of songs. "Parasites" immediately has hit potential, as do highlights "David," "Honey Understand" and "Suburbia." This is a lush, slick but relaxed debut with a fully formed sense of purpose. The delicate "Feeling Like a Woman Lately" is the kind of hidden gem meant to soundtrack the most memorable moment of a cool indie film or television show. From beginning to end, this is an enthralling and rewarding listen.
29. Amanda Shires – "Take it Like a Man" On her seventh album, singer-songwriter Amanda Shires combines country, folk rock and blues, delivering a seriously arresting collection. From the opening bars of "Hawk for the Dove," she immediately grabs your attention. She can deliver a ballad like "Don't Be Alarmed," and on "Here He Comes," she can combine a likable bounce with a sense of mystery. The title track is made all the more effective by the unique crack in her voice, giving her words more emotional heft. Other highlights include "Bad Behavior," the soulful "Stupid Love" and the ethereal and slightly mournful "Everything Has Its Time."
28. Sloan – "Steady" On their 13th full-length album, criminally underrated, intensely skilled Canadian power-poppers Sloan deliver a tight and spiky collection of rock songs that mostly recall a retro-'70s sound. "Magical Thinking," "Scratch the Surface" and "Spend the Day" are all top-notch offerings. "She Put Up with What She Put Down" is some ace, vintage AM Radio gold. "Panic on the Runnymede" gets slightly sludgy and as they have for the last 30 years, on "Steady," Sloan really benefits from having all four members write and sing. Sloan's "Steady" is another entry in their extremely reliable discography.
27. Camila Cabello – "Familia" "Familia" is an extremely strong record, showing Camila Cabello's versatility. Listen to her great interplay with Willow on "Psychofreak" or the bounce of the stadium-ready anthem "Don't Go Yet." Even when Ed Sheeran gets slightly awkwardly miscast on the Latin love anthem duet "Bam Bam," the song still comes out winning. The strongest track on the set, however, is the quiet closer "Everyone at this Party," with its confessional, deeply personal, heartbroken tone as she practically weeps out the lines, "Everyone at this party isn't you/ I don't want to search for you in every room/ But I always do." Tenderly, this is where the album hits its true apex.
26. Mitski – "Laurel Hell" A surprisingly dark, extremely synth-y record, Mitski's latest finds the singer delivering laments with an intensity that seems to indicate her life is in the balance. "Working for the Knife" is a prime example. Even a more light-hearted sounding track like "Should've Been Me" has a tension hidden behind its Motown-meets-"Maneater" backbeat. The same goes for "Love Me More." It sounds happy at first, but listen to the lyrics. Ever since breaking out a few years back with her classic single "Your Best American Girl," Mitski's biggest strength has always been wearing her heart on her sleeve. Throughout this record, she sounds like she is purging personal demons by reaching for synth-pop immortality. You can hear her cathartically dancing the sadness away on "The Only Heartbreaker."
25. The Weeknd – "Dawn FM" "Dawn FM," like 2020's "After Hours," finds The Weeknd further exploring the sounds of retro-'80s synth-pop, granted in the form of a radio station, complete with slightly disorienting DJ breaks courtesy of Jim Carrey. Somehow, even though his lyrical content has gotten far less twisted than it was on the "Trilogy" offerings that originally started his rise to fame, The Weeknd still seems to summon his own impressively cinematic, dark mood, whether it be on the Gary Numan-esque "Gasoline," or the funk-driven, guitar-fueled groove of "Sacrifice." Again, his voice is still a key selling point. He can deliver a great ballad like "Out of Time" or give us some cutting edge pop like "Is There Someone Else?" The Weeknd remains easily one of the most impressively reliable pop stars working today.
24. Phife Dawg – "Forever" When Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest died in 2016, a hole was left in the world of hip-hop. Shortly after his death, his estate announced that he had a solo album on the way and dropped the single "Nutshell." It took until 2022 to get that record out into the world and it was worth the wait. The original "Nutshell" isn't here, but "Nutshell Pt.2" is, featuring Busta Rhymes and Redman and it is the superior version. Featuring production by 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Potatohead People, the late J Dilla and more, "Forever" should feel labored but it is a truly beautiful statement. Loads of guests, from Q-Tip, Posdnuos and Little Brother, to name a few, and more keep this set grounded rather than drowning the focus on Phife. This is the rare posthumous hip-hop record that feels like a complete work.
23. Bush – "The Art of Survival" "The Art of Survival" is Bush's strongest set since "Sixteen Stone." Their ninth proper album overall and their fifth since Gavin Rossdale rebooted the band more than a decade ago, this record immediately makes a powerful statement with the one-two punch of "Heavy is the Ocean" and "Slow Me." Not only is this a truly heavy, impressively sludgy offering but it has hooks to back it up. "Kiss Me, I'm Dead" and "May Your Love Be Pure" are both highlights with their metallic and slightly industrial cores. "Identity" is impressively dense, as is the foreboding "Gunfight." Rossdale probably doesn't get the credit he deserves. With this album, Bush has outdone many of its still-standing '90s peers.
22. Wet Leg – "Wet Leg" The debut album from Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg caused a stir long before its release, at the very moment last year when their first single, "Chaise Longue," hit the airwaves. With their cheeky, fun delivery and their post-punk grooves, these two immediately made an impression. That song was quickly followed by their also noteworthy second single, "Wet Dream." Indeed, their knack for hooks, slightly raunchy energy and deep sarcasm proved to be a compelling combination. As an album, their debut really holds together, with other standouts including "Ur Mom" and the immediately appealing "Supermarket." Members Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers both possess endless amounts of stage presence and personality.
21. Lande Hekt – "House Without a View" The second full-length solo offering from Bristol, U.K.-based Muncie Girls leader Lande Hekt effectively follows up last year's equally impressive "Going To Hell." This record is filled with often intimate '90s-style alt-rock with quite personal lyrics. There's immense joy in key single "Gay Space Cadets" and touching sadness in the breakup energy of "Half of You." "Backstreet Snow" and "Cut My Hair" are the kind of songs that would have gotten loads of airplay in 1997, while "Lola" is a strong character study where Hekt sings, "You're really nothing like me/ I wonder how we are built so differently." Her delivery is always warm and engaging.
20. Taylor Swift – "Midnights (3AM Edition)" Honestly, you know this record and you've probably been listening to it non-stop since it was released. "Anti-Hero" is great, as is "Maroon," not to mention "Snow on the Beach," the Lana Del Rey crossover track you have wanted to hear ever since you heard "Wildest Dreams" on "1989." "You're on Your Own, Kid" is also strong. Throughout the set, Swift nails a consistent mood with these synth-driven songs. With repeated listens this album really blooms. Swift has almost always benefited from longer album run-times and the 20-track "3AM Edition" should be the standard version since the seven bonus cuts add more context to the set. With each successive release, Swift gets better and more nuanced. Maturity is her friend.
19. Pete Yorn – "Hawaii" Right from the start of opening track, "Elizabeth Taylor," Pete Yorn's 10th album finds the New Jersey-bred singer-songwriter swinging for the fences. What a truly brilliant way to open the record. There's a soft intimacy to much of "Hawaii." During the verses of "'Til the End," Yorn sounds like he is singing directly in your ear, while "Never Go" has the kind of charm that has earned Yorn fans for the last two decades. "Ransom" is a pensive piano ballad. The humorously titled "Fred & Wilma" has a curiously relaxed sense of pep, while closing track "Stay Away" seems endlessly reflective and enveloping. This set perfectly conveys a somewhat singular mood in a concise way and in many ways ranks as one of Yorn's strongest offerings to date.
18. Beyonce – "RENAISSANCE" Like Taylor Swift's "Midnights," you probably don't need me to tell you about this record and how Beyonce fully embraces club and house energy and effectively infuses those elements into her signature sound. I'm guessing you have been listening to "Break My Soul," "Cuff It" or "Alien Superstar" on repeat. This is Beyonce's bold, conceptual dance record. Hopefully this kind of mainstream embrace of both retro and futuristic club sounds will bring those sounds back to the forefront in a big way.
17. Red Hot Chili Peppers– "Unlimited Love" / "Return of the Dream Canteen" In the year when both Anthony Kiedis and Flea celebrated their 60th birthdays, the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved to be more productive than ever, releasing "Unlimited Love" in April and "Return of the Dream Canteen" in October. That is 34 songs in more than 2 hours and 20 minutes. This prolific turn was set into motion when they reunited once again with guitarist John Frusciante. While these two albums don't hit the critical apex of 2002's "By the Way," they do offer up a similar, loose flavor. In truth, these sets show the Chili Peppers doing what more bands their age should be doing. They aren't necessarily aiming for hits but they are experimenting wildly. "Unlimited Love" offers standouts like "Black Summer" and "These are the Ways," while recalling their retro-funk sound on "Poster Child." "Return of the Dream Canteen" is more out there, hitting some dynamite with "Peace and Love," and the Eddie Van Halen tribute, "Eddie." Thirty-one years after "Blood Sugar Sex Magik," it is impressive to see the Chili Peppers still expanding their sound.
16. Mary J. Blige – "Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)" Fourteen albums in and Mary J. Blige is still further cementing herself as one of the true queens of R&B. She has an excellent duet with Anderson.Paak on "Here with Me" and effectively mixes roughness with soulfulness on the Dave East-assisted "Rent Money." "Come See About Me" is a mellow banger. On the title track, she sings an ode to loving one's self. At this point in Blige's career, she knows what works and still has excellent material. The expanded version of the record is the way to hear it because, again, it provides a bigger picture without sacrificing a sense of quality.
15. Sharon Van Etten – "We've Been Going About This All Wrong (Deluxe Edition)" On her sixth full-length album, Sharon Van Etten continues to show the range that made albums like 2012's "Tramp" and 2014's "Are We There" modern classics. Van Etten can have a slow-burning quality on ballads like "Darkness Fades" and "Home to Me." When she gets into this space, she can still come off like a feminine counterpart to Thom Yorke. She can also balance her contemplative side with pop-ready energy on "Mistakes." "Born" is a lighter-ready piano ballad while "Headspace" somehow sounds simultaneously angelic and hellish.
14. LIZZO – "Special" Lizzo's follow-up to her mainstream breakthrough, "Cuz I Love You," is full of the brash, profoundly charismatic energy you'd expect. This is a collection of empowering anthems like the title track and the surprisingly beautifully executed, unexpected ego boost found in "I Love You B----." If you are shocked by that title, this album isn't for you. Elsewhere, she delivers a retro, classic banger with "About That Time" and repurposes a problematic Beastie Boys song on "Grrrls." (Is that spelling a subtle nod to Kathleen Hanna?) From the more rocking "2 Be Loved (I Am Ready)" to the slyly groovy ballad "Break Up Twice," this is a much-needed shot of adrenaline from one of pop's most necessary and outspoken voices.
13. Rosalia – "Motomami +" Spanish singer Rosalia's third album, "Motomami," is a sonic marvel, as she rotates from rapping to singing while experimenting with electronic soundscapes and minimalist production. There's a world atmospheric range here between the hypnotizing pop of "Candy" and the straight-forward beats and rhymes workout of "Chicken Teriyaki." The title track is only a minute long, finding her spitting lyrics over a thrillingly experimental beat. Even if you don't understand a word of this record, it will grab you with its forward-thinking approach.
12. Kendrick Lamar – "Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers" Kendrick Lamar's latest set begins with him declaring, "I've been going through something ..." Indeed, "Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers" plays like a therapy session. At its core, this is an album about processing grief and past trauma. It's one of the most affecting and honest records of 2022 -- from the anti-materialist message on "N95," to the grim, harsh fight with a hoarse Taylour Paige on "We Cry Together." Even by hip-hop standards, this is a compellingly personal record, playing out almost like a musical taking listeners on a journey. Few performers can pull off something so nakedly dicey. Lamar does so with ease on this frequently brave, bold and vulnerable offering.
11. Denzel Curry – "Melt My Eyez See Your Future (Extended Edition)" Like Lamar's album, Denzel Curry's latest offering is challenging to succinctly summarize. Observational and sonically varied, Curry switches up his style with ease. "Walkin" is a great example where he goes from a lush, boom-bap flow to a more modern trap style. This should be seen as the career-changing, utterly expansive collection it is. Curry bridges the gap between old and new hip-hop effectively. Sure, there is violence in tracks like "John Wayne" and "The Last," but there is realism in Curry's approach that sometimes handles uncomfortable truths effectively. Pay attention to his underlying message. This album is a huge turning point for Curry.
10. SZA – "SOS" Five years after "Ctrl," SZA returns with this constantly shape-shifting 23-track album. Throughout the set, SZA tries out different styles and succeeds, all while maintaining a blunt, take-no-prisoners lyrical approach -- from the vintage, synth-driven sheen of "Kill Bill" to the chilled ballad "Blind," where she brags she's "raunchy like Bob Saget." On "Ghost in the Machine," she gets some assistance from Phoebe Bridgers, who fits in better here than you'd might expect. The long-delayed "SOS" is worth the wait and a huge step forward for those seeking some forward-thinking, eclectically minded R&B. From the smooth, gliding beat of "Shirt" to the insecure and honest "Special," there is a lot to unpack here. By the time the late Ol' Dirty Bastard shows up to help SZA close down the set on "Forgiveness," the deal is sealed. This is an important record.
9. Angel Olsen – "Big Time" Angel Olsen's "Big Time" is a kind of back-to-basics record, blending country and soul influences in a stimulating stew. Compared to 2019's hazy "All Mirrors," this offers up a clear-eyed approach. Immediately, both "All the Good Times" and the title track demand repeat listens. If traditional country fans have never listened to Olsen, this feels like an open invitation. She sings the hell out of "Go Home," with its airy backdrop and its thick bass line. "All the Flowers" possesses a ghostly folk-ballad quality. Olsen's voice changes textures on a dime. She has impressive control. This collection does not seem current -- it already seems like a vintage classic.
8. Robert Glasper – "Black Radio III" Pianist Robert Glasper is the bridge between the classic jazz cats and modern hip-hop and R&B. His third "Black Radio" collection is an immediately engaging set, from Amir Sulaiman's opening poem to the closing pop-tinged moments of "Bright Lights," featuring Ty Dolla $ign. This album plays like the best mixtape you could wish for with wide-ranging guest turns from Lalah Hathaway, Common, Posdnuos, Musiq Soulchild, H.E.R., Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Q-Tip, Esperanza Spalding, India.Arie, Gregory Porter, Ledisi, Jennifer Hudson, Killer Mike, Big K.R.I.T., Yebba and more. Together, this is a big, collaborative, uplifting party, celebrating Black culture and creating a solid through-line between three distinct styles. The amount of talent here is staggering. While this album is rightfully pointed in places, it brims with a loving, overall sense of optimism.
7. The Beths – "Expert in a Dying Field" The third album from New Zealand band The Beths features one of the most gut-wrenchingly succinct title tracks. Leader Elizabeth Stokes sings, "I can close the door on us, but the room still exists ... and I know you're in it." Soon after, declaring, "Love is learned over time until you're an expert in a dying field." If you can read or hear those words without tearing up, odds are you have never had your heart broken. This is just the beginning. Like its two predecessors, this is yet another powerful collection, from the tinnitus-inspired rocker "Silence is Golden" to the cerebrally soul-crushing and nostalgic "2 AM" or "When You Know You Know," which refreshingly sounds like it could be a lost song Fountains of Wayne might have written and recorded for their 1999 album "Utopia Parkway." If you don't know The Beths, you should give this record a spin.
6. Bjork – "Fossora" Bjork's 10th album is another beguiling masterpiece, if you understand her level of artistry. At its core, it is really a classical record that occasionally crashes into a rave. "Atopos" is a perfect example of these two sounds clashing. There's a stately elegance to "Ovule" and a chorale-driven funeral march on "Sorrowful Soil." The themes of motherhood and loss are key to this set, since Bjork lost her mother during the process of its creation. Bjork sings with her own children on "Ancestress" and "Her Mother's House," respectively. Nearly 30 years after "Debut," Bjork still remains a truly singular figure with her own, distinct approach and point of view.
5. Nas – "King's Disease III" Nas' third Hit Boy-helmed "King's Disease" release is an epic statement from start to finish. With its dusty, sample-fueled beats and Nas' straight-forward and confident lyrical approach, this record is stacked with future classics. You could just go through the track list and pick cuts like "Legit," "Thun," "Michael & Quincy," "30," "Reminisce," "I'm on Fire" or just about any other track here. Simply put, Nas is still at the top of his game. This sounds every bit like the same guy who released "Illmatic" all those years ago, only older and wiser for the years. He's been on quite a prolific run the last few years and he has damn near perfected his craft.
4. Spoon – "Lucifer on the Sofa" / "Lucifer on the Moon" Spoon's 10th album, "Lucifer on the Sofa," offers up more of the clever indie rock that has long been the Austin band's signature, but with a few new twists. Opener "Held" is actually a cover of a Smog song, written by Bill Callahan, but with a key change and Britt Daniel's strikingly different melody delivery, the members of Spoon really transform it into their own concoction. Elsewhere, key track "Wild," is co-written interestingly by Jack Antonoff. Spoon doesn't seem like they were aiming for a Taylor Swift level of success, but that is fascinating. "The Hardest Cut," "On the Radio" and "My Babe" all stand as future Spoon catalogue classics. From end to end, this album has a set, continuous vibe.
3. Maggie Rogers – "Surrender" Of course, you remember that YouTube video of Pharrell losing his mind hearing then-unsigned Maggie Rogers' "Alaska" for the first time. While her first album, 2019's "Heard it in a Past Life," was excellent, Rogers really ups her level on "Surrender." Both "That's Where I Am" and "Want Want" sound downright immense as they blast through your speakers. The same can be said for "Be Cool," or a softer moment like "Honey." Even the acoustic sing-along "I've Got a Friend" seems to subtly pack a punch. The point is, Rogers' modern folk style of writing pairs so well with dynamic, powerful, state-of-the-art pop production. If "Heard it in a Past Life" was Rogers delivering on the promise of Pharrell's excitement over "Alaska," "Surrender" is a strong assurance that she will remain someone you should watch.
2. Danger Mouse & Black Thought – "Cheat Codes" The pairing of Danger Mouse with the Roots' Black Thought is one for the history books. If you have been paying attention, Black Thought has really been tearing it up in recent years, while Danger Mouse's beat-making skills go back to when he had the Beatles and Jay-Z collide on "The Grey Album." All that considered, "Cheat Codes" is every bit as monumental as you'd expect. With its classic soul and orchestral samples, combined with Black Thought's tight flow, this record rules! The Wu-Tang-esque pogo-bounce on the title track is followed by an actual appearance of Raekwon on the Kid Sister-assisted track "The Darkest Part." British vocalist Michael Kiwanuka sings the hook on "Aquamarine," while A$AP Rocky and Run the Jewels join the party on "Strangers." This is solid hip-hop gold and throughout the set Black Thought continues make an argument that he is among the best to ever grab the mic. Danger Mouse, for his part, offers up some of his best beats to date. The real kicker on the record though is "Belize," which features a verse from the late MF Doom! Legendary!
1. Alvvays – "Blue Rev" The best album of 2022 is the third set by Canadian power-pop band Alvvays. On this collection, the band wedges 14 songs into 38 minutes and change, upping both their levels of shoegaze guitar fuzz and their melodic insistence. "Pharmacist," "Easy on Your Own" and "After the Earthquake" all leave an indelible impression. The band gets an airy quality on "Many Mirrors," while the lo-fi and super-synth-y "Very Online Guy" finds leader Molly Rankin singing over some cool, looping bits of echo. Other highlights include the very punk-y "Pomeranian Spinster," the sleek "Velveteen" and the contemplative "Belinda Says." Something tells me this might be the kind of infectious and cool record that will inherently be passed down from generation to generation. The members of Alvvays have released an indie-rock classic.
What will 2023 offer? We will just have to wait and see. All we can say for sure is that 2022 was another great year for music.