Presenting: The Best Albums of 2022 featuring Sharon Van Etten, Sudan Archives, Chat Pile, billy woods, Alvvays, Moor Mother, Kokoroko, The Smile, and more!
2022 felt like a blockbuster year for not just for new music in general, but albums in particular. Some of the biggest stars on the planet from Beyoncé to Taylor Swift, The Weeknd to Bad Bunny, Harry Styles to Lizzo, all has new releases this year, perhaps finally showing the fruit of their labor after a few years holed up in the studio while waiting for the pandemic to pass. Björk dug into her groove via mushrooms, Mitski embraced '80s synth-pop, Animal Collective made a return-to-form classic, and Spiritualized continued to glide further into the deepest corners of space rock. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released three new albums in October alone, while SAULT put out five in one day less than a month later. Landmark albums seemed to drop on a weekly basis and giving attention to all of them felt like a nearly impossible task, albeit one worth taking on as a challenge. Personally, I listened to over 130 new records this year and could've made this list twice as long, but I did my best to narrow it down to what I believe are truly the best albums from an exceptional year. Pop, noise, dance, rock, country, electronic, jazz, and hip-hop are all represented here and I hope something catches your attention and exposes you to something new.
48 RACHIKA NAYAR | Heaven Come Crashing
47 HATCHIE | Giving the World Away
46 JACK J | Opening the Door
44 DAPHNI | Cherry
43 CAMP COPE | Running with the Hurricane
42 ANIMAL COLLECTIVE | Time Skiffs
41 MOOR MOTHER | Jazz Codes
40 MAGGIE ROGERS | Surrender
39 SOUL GLO | Diaspora Problems
38 ENUMCLAW | Save the Baby
37 MUNA | Muna
36 THE BETHS | Expert in a Dying Field
35 SUDAN ARCHIVES | Natural Brown Prom Queen
34 MITSKI | Laurel Hell
33 FLESHWATER | We're Not Here to be Loved
30 SAM PREKOP / JOHN MCENTIRE | Sons Of
29 BILL CALLAHAN | YTI⅃AƎЯ
27 KOKOROKO | Could We Be More
26 HARRY STYLES | Harry's House
25 SPOON | Lucifer on the Sofa
24 NILÜFER YANYA | PAINLESS
23 KENDRICK LAMAR | Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
22 BJÖRK | Fossora
21 BILL ORCUTT | Music For Four Guitars
20 CHAT PILE | God's Country
19 PAN-AMERICAN | The Patience Fader
18 SPIRITUALIZED | Everything Was Beautiful
17 WET LEG | Wet Leg
16 WIDOWSPEAK | The Jacket
15 SHARON VAN ETTEN | We've Been Going About This All Wrong
14 OREN AMBARCHI | Shebang
13 ANGEL OLSEN | Big Time
12 MJ LENDERMAN | Boat Songs
11 BILLY WOODS | Aethiopes
10 BEACH HOUSE | Once Twice Melody
In many ways, Beach House has nothing left to prove. Over seven albums, the Baltimore duo changed the landscape of ethereal dream-pop, setting new standards for the genre much like the Cocteau Twins before them. Rising to the top of their game early on in their career, they’ve never rested on their laurels and while many have claimed the band has written the same song nearly 100 times over, listening to their discography in succession highlights their evolution from homespun, bedroom pop into grandiose visions of excellence and striking elegance. Once Twice Melody won’t likely convince outsiders that the band has covered new ground, but when you’ve already cemented yourself as the most consistently rewarding and enduring band of the last two decades, you don’t really need to. However, those people would still be wrong. Incorporating slight adjustments to their sound (like trap beats) has found the band opening a door to yet another chamber of their crystalized labyrinth and exploring more possibilities we never thought were possible. It should be no surprise that this doubles as the first album the duo produced on their own as well as being their most ambitious to date. It might not be their best album, but it could perhaps serve as the best introduction for a newcomer as the ground covered continues to be astonishing and almost establishes itself as a greatest hits record, the best of everything they’ve ever done, distilled into an hour and a half of absolute bliss.
09 WEYES BLOOD | And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
As Nick Hornsby wrote in High Fidelity “Did I listen to pop music because I’m miserable or am I miserable because I listened to pop music?” His character Rob Gordon poses the eternal question that music fans have pondered ever since and never successfully answered. While we tend to think of pop tracks, traditionally, as romantic odes (either in terms of affection or the classic break-up, but typically towards another individual or personal situation), Weyes Blood goes the route of flipping that notion and writes her hypnotic ballads with the focus on the end of the world. Haunting melodies, eerie piano, dark arrangements. Weyes Blood’s astonishing fifth record is the second in a series that chronicles her feelings as she anticipates the apocalypse, one that she appears to think is growing rather near and honestly, it’s rather hard to disagree. There’s the classic Brill Building pop charm for sure, but almost as if it’s been flipped to the upside down. One where Carole King is writing goth tunes and Joni Mitchell has moved on to writing about trips on Ayahuasca. Like the eternal beauty of Karen Carpenter’s beguiled vocals, Natalie Herring adds her name to the list of shimmering pop singer-songwriters who’ve come to define their generation’s take on the genre. These brooding tunes, while unsettling thematically, still wrap you in a cloak of magic to create something all encompassing and larger than itself. The title itself doesn’t shy away from the impending doom felt throughout, but it also refers to the positive aspect we must keep in the meantime. This record serves as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is still a light.
08 PUSHA T | It's Almost Dry
I’ll get right to it, it’s a real tragedy that half of this record was produced by the most evil villain in modern music. It’s worse that he also has a guest verse on the best song. However, I was pleased to see that when the album dropped, Pusha noted that the two had their differences and he worked through those for the sake of making the best art possible. It was better when he denounced the later anti-semitism and said there’s no place for that when things went even further off the rail. Despite this, It’s Almost Dry find Pusha T still grinding away, as maximal as ever and still finding new, energizing ways to tell roughly the same tale he’s been telling since the days of Clipse. The cocaine king of hip-hop, Pusha dials things back to bring us to a sound many of us have craved for quite some time. Over old school samples, he harkens back to the early aughts era of rapping, boasting himself all along the way as one of the best to ever do it. “Dreamin’ of the Past” is him at his best, his most confident, and the most jubilant he’s sounded in quite some time. It’s also the hallmark, old school sound from the producer many of us have been clamoring for since 2007. Getting the aforementioned villain and Pharrell to run the boards for you will surely help and pitting the two producers against each other to push them to hit their creative best is nothing short of genius. There’s no question that the year marred the reputation and potentially held the album back from its full potential, but to me there was no question from the moment this one dropped back in April that this was the hip-hop record of the year.
07 PANDA BEAR / SONIC BOOM | Reset
I never thought Panda Bear would top his musical output from 2007, yet 2022 clearly belonged to him and practically no one else. Whether it was his band’s return to form on their best album in a decade (Animal Collective’s great Time Skiffs) or lending vocals to Teebs, George FitzGerald, Nosaj Thing, or the song of the year “Step by Step” by legendary French touch producers Braxe + Falcon, Panda Bear was all over the map and crushed each project with astounding results. However the most rewarding of all came with his collaborative album with long-time producer and friend Sonic Boom. Together, the two created the transfixing Reset, another sample-based record that takes a pleasure cruise through dusty grooves and unearthed gems from Soul, Pop, and Doo Wop records from the ‘50s and ‘60s. On this kaleidoscopic journey, the two arrive in lock-step each presenting the best versions of themselves for something that is an immersive joy that captures unbridled euphoria under an enchanting experience that is sure to soothe the soul. Easily the most accessible record from Panda Bear in quite some time, it almost feels like a companion record to his landmark album Person Pitch and one that grows more and more satisfying with each listen.
06 BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD | Ants From Up There
It’s unfortunate that the second album by rising post-punk-rockers Black Country, New Road will best be remembered by the fact that the band’s lead singer quit the group the week of its release. After the glowing buzz that surrounded their debut from last year put them atop the list of bands making up the new post-punk scene in London, the expectations were high for whatever was to come next. The lead singles suggested a transformation from a band with promise to a band that had come into their own and were ready to lead the charge in an already explosive scene. Even if the headlines weren’t what the band had expected, the music would still speak for itself and Ants From Up There not only matched the hype, but introduced us to a band that had essentially peaked upon arrival. Drawing from epic post-rock numbers, seething punk, and spoken-word style vocals, the band managed to conjure up something truly remarkable and one that still hit the mark, despite fracturing on its delivery. Crescendoing anthems burst apart as visceral vocals shred through steel-laiden guitar that whirls itself into a frenzy of barbed baroque-pop that hides itself behind a metal forcefield only to also offer moments that recall that mystical feel of early Arcade Fire before being rushed through the distorted lens of Slint. There are equal moments of rousing spirits as there are wiry jabs and the band gracefully moves through all of it with utter brilliance and fortitude. It’s a shame that we’ll never get to experience any of this live, but it adds to the majesty of a record and the songs and leaves us with the best version of the notion to be glad something exists at all vs regretting never being able to experience it live and in-person. A gift for us all to share collectively really can be the best gift of all.
05 THE SMILE | A Light for Attracting Attention
Coming to terms with the fact that we may never hear from the world’s great band of the last thirty years is a tough one. Music that has come to define people and places in time and trap memories in musical amber is a hard thing to let go of, like saying goodbye to a loved one when you’re not sure of the next time you’ll see each other. Being the ones who make such seismic and life-shaping music, however, must be a heavy burden so it’s no one that you might need to take a break and free yourself from expectations. Like many of us, I’m not sure what the exact state of Radiohead is at the moment and at times, I’m too afraid to think about it for too long. Luckily, we have The Smile. Forged from the best parts of England’s best musical export since Pink Floyd, the trio of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Tom Skinner revealed themselves in the pandemic and slowly came to life in 2022. Making the declaration that they weren’t a rock band felt like an immediate red herring when we were finally treated to their brash, raw-boned, and all out glorious lead single “You Will Never Work in Television Again” and when the band finally began to tour, their live show also seemed to dismiss that notion. Freed from the expectations that have a chokehold on their main project, The Smile allowed Thom and Jonny to take unexpected risks that unsurprisingly paid off with exquisite results. If we never hear from Radiohead again, it will indeed be tragic, but The Smile is no consolation prize. They’re a group worthy of their own praise and our attention is fully being paid.
04 PLAINS | I Walked With You Aways
If Waxahatchee’s stunning record Saint Cloud found her inching closer to country music, I Walked With You A Ways, the debut album from Plains, her collaborative project with Jess Williamson, sees her embracing the twang with unbridled enthusiasm. Covered in golden-hour sunbeams and primed with honest to goodness sincerity, the record is a modern country masterpiece, bringing together the genre’s finest pleasures as the duo sing about hope and heartbreak, leaving Texas behind, and bringing Plains to the center of their collective hearts. There are elements of the classic rebel country that you’d expect from luminaries like Lucinda Williams or The Chicks, and just like those stars, Plains glow with assurance and purpose. Direct and to the point, they’re not here to waste time and if you’ve got a problem with them, they’ll give you plenty more to kick dust about. While each artist has found their ability to flourish on their own, it’s clear that together, they’re at their best. Like any good duo, neither artist steals the spotlight, each one taking turns with lead vocals while the other backs them up with sepia-toned guitar and banjo. Their admiration for one another is pure and absolute, a true partnership in the most sincere fashion. “For anyone who sings, the most satisfying feeling on Earth is to sing harmony with somebody,” Crutchfield told Pitchfork earlier this year, again highlighting the joy the two find while performing together and with Williamson at her side, she has truly found heaven on Earth and you truly can’t do better than that, babe.
03 BIG THIEF | Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Ah, the double album. One of the most ambitious statements in rock music, something many attempt, but very few pull off successfully. Luckily for us, Big Thief falls into the later category. After dropping two of the best albums of 2019, I was unsure what exactly Big Thief could do next. For a band that continuously pushed their own boundaries and continued to defy expectations, a follow-up of worthy praise seemed nearly impossible. Title aside, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is an absolute triumph of an album that once again highlights the nooks and crannies of the minds that comprise this ever-shifting rock group.When I thought to myself “what on Earth will this band do next?” I never thought rhyming “finish” with “potato knish” would be within the realm of possibility, but it just goes to show the creative measures being explored on this one. Over its nearly one and a half hour run time, the band explores various themes, sonics, and textures that make it feel like a collection of songs as much as a cohesive album. Yet, where there could be a lack of unity amongst the tracks, the brazen and sometimes left-field twists are what add to its splendor. Never knowing exactly what might come next is part of the adventure.
02 ALVVAYS | Blue Rev
The leap from niche indie darlings to genre-defining tastemakers isn’t an easy one, but Alvvays defied the expectations on their remarkable third record Blue Rev, and nailed the impressive jump with flying colors. While their first two records felt like striking statements on contemporary indie-pop, their latest is lightyears ahead in terms of sound and songwriting and firmly places them as leaders of the pack. Molly Rankin’s blissfully sweet vocals mix with epic, swirling guitars that are pumped with glowing aesthetics to create a mercurial haze of maximal euphoria. Thwarted by a studio flood, burglary, and, you know, the pandemic, the odds were stacked against the band nearly every step of the way. However, when faced with near disaster, the group gelled together to create something beyond expectations. Blue Rev is the sinister sweet spot between shoegaze and dream-pop and throughout, it packs a hefty punch all while remaining endearingly charming and cathartic. “Pharmacist” is quick out the gate, its urgency setting the tone for everything that follows, and immediately jettisons the band into the next tier of high-caliber artistry. Throughout, the band blows out speakers and revs their engine with supreme style. “Pomeranian Spinster” is a sugar-rush of unabashed pleasure and just after the twinkling intro of “Belinda Says,” the guitar roars like a jet engine and the song comes crashing through as if the band has broken into a new dimension. With the odds seemingly stacked against them, Alvvays have cleared every hurdle in near-perfect form and have crossed over the finish line into a whole new world of sparkling wonder.
01 BEYONCÉ | Renaissance
Earlier this year, the world said goodbye to the most infamous Queen of our collective lifetimes, but another, dare I even say more respected one, was already primed and ready for the throne. While some mourned, others relished in the return of pop music royalty, one unlike we’ve known in quite some time. Ever since she dropped her self-titled album without warning on a Friday morning in December of 2013, Beyonce has been atop the ladder of superstardom and has only continued to rise to the upper echelon of musical history. Sure, she’s been dominating the world ever since with landmark albums, a history-in-the-making festival performance, and setting award show records like it’s nothing, but Renaissance somehow topped all of that. When she first dropped the lead single and summer defining anthem “Break My Soul,” I foolishly thought, “aw, Beyonce is taking it easy for once.” What seemed like a back-to-basics house track was wisely just a tease of what was to come: an immediate album of the decade contender. Taking parts of R&B, dance, electronic, and Ballroom culture, the tour-de-force album cleared the way for Beyonce to join the ranks of singular named icons (Madonna, Prince, Bowie) and Jackson siblings, who not only conquered the charts, but set forth their own genres. Nothing else has ever sounded like this and while many others will try, nothing in the future will either. Even as other big name artists clapped for the chance (Megan, Taylor, Lizzo, SZA, Florence, but apparently not Rihanna), no one has come close to matching the skill of music’s reigning Queen. There’s no other Beyonce. She’s one of one. She’s number one.