No Rules Sandy, Sylvan Esso
To commence the list we have No Rules Sandy from Grammy-nominated, electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso. Like many recent albums, it was written and recorded during lockdown, with the married pair – Amelia Heath and Nick Sandborn – going their separate ways each morning before reconvening to record around noon each day. The result is there to listen to, with a fine balance of Heath’s fluttering vocals sitting above Sandborn’s intricate production. What’s more, the record is an intimate offering into their lives at the time, with birdsong, voicemail and other personal recordings weaving their way onto the record.
We said goodbye to Brockhampton this year. The band are set to leave a solid legacy, perhaps without ever really reaching the heights they could or should have. Embroiled by scandal and internal divisions in recent years, the drama shows, as TM is predominantly Kevin Abstract by himself. The album might not go down as many Brockhampton fan’s favourite, but it’s still more than an acceptable goodbye.
Entering Heaven Alive, Jack White
2022 was a productive year for Jack White, with Entering Heaven Alive shortly following Fear Of The Dawn just four months later. We’ve gone with the first of the two for this list: a bluesy, acoustic offering with the theme of love placed front and centre. The album’s midpoint, ‘I’ve Got You Surrounded (With My Love)’, is a sauntering headrush of piano and guitar riffs, whilst penultimate track ‘A Madman from Manhattan’ has an eerie, Jim White-esque beauty to its storytelling.
This quiet, at times haunting eponymous album from Brooklyn band Florist is a beautiful 19-track undertaking. Combining the poetic lyricism of lead vocalist Emily Sprague with her band’s deft instrumentals, the album takes sounds that feel derived from nature – the trickling of water, the fluttering of air – and arranges them into a peaceful, but never dull offering. Like any good florist would acheive.
Ireland has had quite the year for music – as we’ll see later on in the list. Dublin five-piece MELTS are the first ambassadors to represent the island with their powerful, whirring debut album. With production from Gilla Band bassist Daniel Fox, the record feels like it has a powerful charge throughout, driving the tracks toward their well-earned crescendo on album closer ‘Tides’. The more wistful ‘Spectral’, however, shows this band have room to stop and ponder along the way. We wait for what more they can offer down the line, as we do for some of their Irish counterparts.
Flood, Stella Donnelly
When Aussie indie-rocker Stella Donnelly was hunkered down in the small town of Bellingen, New South Wales, two things helped her through: birdwatching and piano-playing. Both have made their way onto her latest record, Flood, the follow-up to her 2019 debut Beware of the Dogs. A flock of banded stilt birds native to Australia adorns the front cover, as twinkling keys sit beneath Stella’s soft balladry throughout the album. Beginning and ending with faster-paced ‘Lungs’ and ‘Cold’, respectively, ensures this isn’t all an album set in lockdown pace, but rather a brilliant reflection of us being set free.
AMERICAN GURL, Kilo Kish
A fun, pop, concept album from Kilo Kish – the moniker of American singer, rapper and designer Lakisha Kimberly Robinson. American Gurl has some real high points, none more so than the title track, as the longtime collaborator of artists including Donald Glover and Vince Staples takes another impressive step in her solo career.
Where I’m Meant To Be, Ezra Collective
When lockdown began, one of the few genres you thought would really take a hit was jazz, especially the vibrant resurgence it’s experienced in London, which thrives on the physical call-and-response between band and audience. In that way, the capital’s shining lights of the scene, Ezra Collective, were dealt a sudden pause to their ten years of near-continuous touring. Thankfully, they used the eighteen months it took to record Where I’m Meant To Be wisely, enlisting the likes of Sampa the Great, Kojey Radical and Emeli Sandé for an album that’s as joyous and tight as the album cover, which depicts all five members: Femi, Joe, James, TJ and Ife.
Supernova, Nova Twins
To say Nova Twins are continuing to rewrite the rules would be somewhat reductionist. As their letter asking the MOBOs for a new Rock category two years ago pointed out, the origins of rock n’ roll have a deep-rooted, inextricable history with black artists. The MOBOs duly complied, introducing a Best Alternative Music Act – and the same plainspoken urgency that Amy Love and Georgia South had asked for it is present on their Mercury-nominated album, Supernova. “I’m a straight talker / Fucking say what you mean,” they demand on ‘Cleopatra’, for instance, with a directness present throughout the album. The album is true to its name in more ways than one: both pitching Love and South at their (super) best and burning with a ferocity that feels needed for these times.
Topical Dancer, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul
As Beyoncé and Fred Again… both helped make sure of, for all its troubles, 2022 was a year to dance. The lyrical wit and sarcasm that underpins this debut album from Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul also ensures we’re having a laugh as we do so. With an electro-pop and twisted house that recalls Hercules & Love Affair, the album bears such 21st-century-based quips as “Siri, can you tell me where I belong?” (‘Blenda’) and an instructive episode on “How to flirt with food in four steps” (‘It Hit Me’). Such playful lines are also melded with more serious matters, including themes of sexism and everyday racism, which has an effective way of unpicking them – akin to someone being told at a club to, quite simply, stop being a dick. Pupul’s infectious beats propelling the whole record ensures Adigéry’s words are far from gimmicky – instead the pair stand as Europe’s compelling club provocateurs.
Only Built For Infinity Links, Quavo & Takeoff
Released just three weeks before Takeoff’s untimely death, Only Built... is a worthy curtain call for one of trap’s most influential artists. The bond between the uncle-nephew duo is palpable, as Quavo’s melodic flow that often dips into singing is complemented by Takeoff’s equally recognisable, hard-hitting triplets. The stakes are low on the record; the pair don’t try anything they haven’t done before as a trio with Offset, but overall it’s a much tighter project than perhaps the entire Culture trilogy. ‘Hotel Lobby’ is a viral hit and club mainstay, largely due to Takeoff’s catchy opening verse, whilst tracks such as ‘Hell Yeah’ and ‘Infinity Links’ are genuinely good songs. OBFIL is a bittersweet moment that may have felt more complete had Offset been included in some form, but Takeoff and Quavo create a suitable bookend to Takeoff’s (and perhaps Migo’s) careers.
This history-making album from Welsh musician Gwenno shouldn’t be overlooked musically for the novel fact it’s the first non-English album to ever be nominated for the Mercury Prize. Predominantly sung in Cornish, the record is truly as enchanting as the Cornish coasts. (Gwenno had in fact chosen to write and record the album in Cornwall, to be fully immersed in the landscape). Glittering synths and Gwenno’s lullaby-like cries gives Tresor an arresting quality, whilst the one track in Welsh – ‘N.Y.C.A.W.’, an acronym for Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (which translates as ‘Wales is not for Sale’) – typifies the record’s propulsive spirit.
Not many 22-year-old’s can claim to have five LPs to their name, not least with as much streaming clout or as many sonic changes as Willow. Granted, she’s from an atypical, well-connected background, but at this stage in her career, we can begin to judge her in her own artistic light. <COPINGMECHANISM> builds on the singer’s pop-punk sensibilities of 2021 record lately I feel EVERYTHING – proving it to be more than a mere emo phase. The album may pummel with aplomb, but there are often mature moments where it catches itself, as on the more ethereal ‘Split’ or midway through subsequent track ‘hover like a GODDESS’. The mystery and intrigue that surrounds an artist like Yves Tumor – the one feature on the album – marks the kind of artistic road Willow may well be heading towards.
Lucky Me, Phoebe Green
Breaking free from the indie rock of her previous releases, Phoebe Green turned to a pop sensibility she’d previously looked down upon. The result is a considered, relatable record of ‘Sweat’ and ‘Crying in the Club’; the latter track also embodying the album’s existential underpinning (“Nothing changes if nothing changes”, it repeats). Whirring, synth-led ‘Diediedie’ has a similar interesting angst. It’s not all doom and gloom by any means. Quite the opposite in fact. There might be plenty of heartache but tunes like ‘Clean’ and auto-tuned ‘I Wish You Never Saw Me Cry’ ensure plenty of catharsis in an album that epitomises twenty-something life.
Unlimited Love, Red Hot Chilli Peppers
2022 saw the return of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The band released two-and-a-half hours of music this year, with April’s Unlimited Love being the high-point of it. On top of a stadium tour and yet more new music already being released, Anthony Kiedis and co. are still going strong even as the core of the band are now all past 60.
The Other Side of Make-Believe, Interpol
There’s a brilliant juxtaposition between Interpol frontman Paul Banks’ demand for it being “time we made something stable” and the quivering manner in which he asks it on track ‘Fables’ – the second track on the band’s seventh studio album, The Other Side of Make-Believe. It’s an anxiety that captures the spirit of our times: the desire, even hope, for a brighter future facing the reality of the troubled world we live in. Yes, it might be a little less moody than the New York trio’s previous output – an oeuvre situated among the post-punk revival of the early noughties – but there’s still enough there for all you existential folks to mull over. After a quarter of a century as a cult rock group, Interpol made a sure-fire statement on this album that they’re not done yet. In fact, as Banks self-referentially states in album opener ‘Toni’, the band are “Still in shape, my methods refined”.
Smithereens, the third studio album from the enigmatic Joji, is, at its best, a tour de force of emotive vocal styling and thought-provoking lyricism. A record centred around Joji’s emotions as he navigates love loss and self-discovery, Smithereens can often find itself sounding more pitiful than poignant. Yet on standout tracks such as ‘Die For You’, the record can feel transcendent. It’s not a perfect attempt, but it’s certainly a step-up from the wallowing Nectar.
DRILL MUSIC IN ZION, Lupe Fiasco
Allegedly made over just three days in a spur-of-the-moment creative flurry, Drill Music In Zion is a welcome step away from the 40-year-old’s chart-chasing days. Whilst Lupe’s rushed recording leaves the album with imperfections, these are easily glossed over when delving into Lupe’s lyrics and mind-behind ten Soundtrakk-produced beats. Lupe is concerned with the macabre state of hip-hop, and uses his ever-improving storytelling on tracks such as ‘Kiosk’ and ‘Ms. Mural’ to reflect his sombre perception of the genre. He has dubbed it his Illmatic, which is no doubt a bold claim, and whilst it remains to be seen whether Drill Music In Zion will have the same timeless, cultural impact as Nas’ debut, it makes for a welcome addition to Lupe’s catalogue.
Last Night In The Bittersweet, Paolo Nutini
The first album in eight years from Paolo Nutini, Last Night In The Bittersweet was always going to be worth the wait for the Paisley-born singer’s adoring fanbase. But this is an album with an appeal that stretches well beyond the ears of the affectionately termed ‘Nutters’. A love album from start to finish, it expresses this in a variety of ways from soft acoustic balladry to powerful, soulful rock. Track ‘Everywhere’ does a remarkable job of skirting almost every cliché without ever actually becoming so. And therein lies the album’s secret power: Paolo’s sincerity. Having been away for some time prior, he’s clearly become entirely comfortable, without being safe, in his artistic skin.
beabadoobee was an artist whose stock began to rise during the pandemic – especially thanks to the popularity of a remix of her single ‘Coffee’, by rapper Powfu, on TikTok. Since then she’s kicked-on considerably, devising her own world on her sophomore album, Beatopia. Applying a dreamy veneer to the pop radio she grew up listening to, we’re let into a swirl of nostalgic guitar melodies over feather-like vocals.
Forest Floor, Fergus McCreadie
The lesser-known Mercury Prize nominee on the list – if only for the niche genre he’s wedded to, compared to say… Harry Styles – Fergus McCreadie has shown why he is one of the most scintillating jazz pianists around. Forest Floor, his third studio album, is one suffused in the beauty of Scotland’s natural offerings. The oomph spread out between opener ‘Law Hill’, ‘Landslide’ and penultimate tune ‘White Water’ rise and falls like a flock of Scottish crossbills amid the Highlands, dovetailing the sheer bliss of tunes like ‘Morning Moon’ and closer ‘Glade’. All in all it’s no wee feat, but is in fact a thing of beauty.
Joyous empowerment is the overriding sentiment of Lizzo’s Chic-flavoured, disco-pop album Special. It would be easy for such an unwavering energy to fall into anodyne territory; and whilst there is the odd cringe, albeit well-intentioned lyric (“‘Cause you’re beautiful and smart, fuckin’ talented”), it’s a realm the album largely avoids. Something undeniable is the singer’s remarkable vocal range, which, paired with her fiery panache, has created a pick-me-up album we could all do with.
Chloë and the Next 20th Century, Father John Misty
Charming and warm, Chloë and the Next 20th Century – the fifth studio album from Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty – is ripe for winter. It’s the sort of meandering, crackling listen that could soundtrack a frosty walk through New York, replete with nostalgia and dripping in feelings of heartache. There’s a reason why the title toys with time: this is a vintage-sounding record designed to feel both old and yet forward-facing.
Cool It Down, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Almost a decade on since their previous release, New York indie rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs returned with a shimmering, anthemic album. This eight-track project marked some return, with a knack for sounding both of-old and electrifyingly new – especially on sauntering, synth-led ‘Wolf’. Equally, if the intervening years had added any pressure to this record, you’d be hard-pressed to identify it; the likes of ‘Fleez’ and ‘Different Today’ have as much free-spirited abandon as any indie-rock upstarts.
Most Normal, Gilla Band
A more experimental, electronic album than their previous releases, Most Normal has a warped, tub-thumping power. The excruciatingly challenging listen of opener ‘The Gum’, which sounds like white noise on steroids, sets out this stall from the off, with frontman Dara Kiely’s almost tormented vocals persisting throughout the album. That might not sound like much of a sell, but if this album does anything, it’s wake you from a slumber, combining some of the ominous noise rock of Just Mustard with the surrealist lyricism of Dry Cleaning (both, of course, also feature on our full list of 2022 albums).
Heroes & Villains, Metro Boomin
Metro Boomin released what is possibly the trap album of the year with Heroes & Villains, not least due to exceptional performances from its guest features. However, what separates this project from, say, DJ Khaled’s God Did, is that whilst he calls on his industry connections, Metro isn’t reckless with them. Instead, he employs an array of people, but chooses a select few, namely Future, 21 Savage, Travis Scott, and Don Toliver, to carry the artistic bulk. It’s because of this that Heroes & Villains feels much more cohesive; less like a mixtape, and more like a credible album. It further helps when you have a tried and tested production style that has achieved number ones for numerous rap stars. Heroes & Villains doesn’t break any new boundaries, but it should be a benchmark for any producers aspiring to create their own projects.
Cruel Country, Wilco
A lengthy record on the list, Cruel Country is split into a double album – something that only really works without becoming tedious when the tracks are strong enough. Thankfully, the album contains sweeping, heartrending tracks that are exactly so. Frontman Jeff Tweedy (formerly of alt-country group Uncle Tupelo) described the album as the band fully embracing country music and indeed it bears that greatest of all country music traits, weaving tales and personal stories beneath beautiful, rickety guitar-plucking.
Pompeii, Cate Le Bon
Cate Le Bon’s Pompeii was written in complete isolation in Cardiff during 2021’s lockdown, which in part explains the air of unease and surrealism surrounding the project. The singer has stated that during her recording process she fluctuated between “hope and existential dread”. Bon finds refuge in a selection of songs largely centred around bass grooves and brass spurts, as tracks such as ‘Moderation’ sees Le Bon reject mediocrity, whilst the title track sees her confront a realisation that human suffering is often trivialised. Pompeii has an air of nostalgia about it, too, and when excavating the contents of the record, you find an introspective gaze into the Welsh artist’s mind.
Wunderhorse (aka Jacob Slater) has found an impressive blend of meaty guitar rock with more pensive moments on his debut album, Cub – in much the same way as Fontaines D.C., who Wunderhorse supported on tour this year. There’s still of course a leaning towards the punk spirit of Slater’s former band, Dead Pretties, but having moved to Cornwall following his former band’s ending, there’s evidently a calmer side with something to say beyond kicking and screaming. Standout track ‘Leader Of The Pack’, for instance, reflects on betrayal in a heartfelt manner, whilst lead single ‘Teal’ is a lovelorn, coming-of-age anthem.
The Spoon, Oscar Jerome
Recorded in Berlin and finished in a shed in Oscar Jerome’s hometown of Norwich, The Spoon bears a composure that could put even the most restless at ease. For a good few years, the revival of London’s jazz scene has been heralded for its frenetic euphoria, fronted by the likes of Ezra Collective and Mr. Jerome. The Spoon takes an altogether different turn – an inevitable consequence of the introspective period it was largely created in. None of that makes this an album of tedium, though. The album’s titular track is one of the most soulful tunes of this year, and ‘Feed the pigs’ calls out tiring city life with vivacity.
Angels & Queens – Part I, Gabriels
The first instalment of Gabriels’ Angels & Queens might be a slight 27 minutes, but my word it sounds weighty. With a vocal grandeur few on this list can rival, Jacob Lusk’s voice sits beneath a well-arranged smattering of piano and strings. The purity of the baptism depicted on the album cover is apt: this gospel-soaked album is a deeply cleansing listen from start to finish, especially the crescendo of ‘To the Moon and Back’ and its pain-ridden counterweight ‘The Blind’. It’s hardly a surprise the trio endeared themselves with ease to festival-goers at Glastonbury earlier this year.
(watch my moves), Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile has often produced works that swirl around your head like dreams; taking off into the distance, leaving you quite unsure where exactly they’ll land. His exceptionally accompanied musicianship (he was of course the former lead guitarist for The War on Drugs) is the driving force behind that. (watch my moves) has that exact same intoxicating blend with a Connan Mockasin-like haze of psych folk-rock. At a healthy one hour, thirteen minutes, it has a meticulous build that eventually regains your focus for the brilliant cover of Springsteen deep cut ‘Wages of Sin’.
PRE PLEASURE, Julia Jacklin
Aussie singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s third studio album, PRE PLEASURE is a record that bristles with self-confessional lyricism. From the awkward sexual encounters of ‘Ignore Tenderness’ to the lack of connection with her mother on ‘Less of a Stranger’, Jacklin doesn’t hold back – and finds a way to weave her tails between hushed, piano-backed ballads and thrumming indie-rock. An album to console yourself when life gets you down, its greatest asset is its honesty.
Anywhere But Here, Sorry
It was always going to be difficult to follow up 925, but Anywhere But Here makes a brilliant effort at it. Opener ‘Let The Lights On’ has a listless quality to it, and the second half of the album is a fantastic sequence of songs. ‘Screaming In The Rain’ highlights everything that Sorry do so well – vulnerability and emotion – while ‘Baltimore’, ‘Closer’ and ‘Hem of the Fray’ are equally superb.
Hold The Girl, Rina Sawayama
With more gear shifts than a cab driver, Hold The Girl draws on the multitude of Rina Sawayama’s musical inspirations. The follow-up to her 2020 sophomore album, SAWAYAMA, Hold The Girl delves into the sensibilities of being British-Japanese, of being queer, of being outside the norm of cultural standards, in an aptly indefinable number of genres. Slipping between the soft rock of ‘This Hell’, the pop-punk of ‘Your Age’ and even the hyper pop-inspired elements of ‘Imagining’, this is an album of diverse intent yet somehow held together by clear artistic vision and the soaring vocals of its creator.
Life Is Yours, Foals
When we all needed a pick-me-up, Oxford outfit Foals took a welcome sonic turn, with an album of hedonistic dance-rock on Life Is Yours. Written in the lockdown period (when else?) in Peckham, the album posited all the caution-to-the-wind freedom a night out in such a part of the capital can offer. Lead single ‘Wake Me Up’ and subsequent tune ‘2am’ – as both their titles suggest – lead this charge, as tunes built for the early hours. The band might have been without keyboardist Edwin Congreave for their latest record (who nobly left the band to study ways to help mitigate the climate crisis), but the trio make light work with what remains – including, of course, the possessive vocals of frontman Yannis Philippakis.
Harry’s House, Harry Styles
If Swift was 2022’s pop princess, Styles was its record-breaking prince. Just two hours after its release on Apple Music, Harry’s House received the most first-day streams for a pop album in 2022, and became the fastest-selling album of 2022 prior to Midnights. Its lead single, the irresistibly sepia-toned ‘As It Was’, held onto an impressive ten-week stay at the top of the singles chart, requiring Kate Bush and an entire Netflix series to knock it off its perch. The full record has some other gems, such as equally upbeat ‘Late Night Talking’ and gently swaying ‘Daylight’. Inspired by Hosono’s House, a 1973 album by Japanese artist Haruomi Hosono, Styles’ Mercury-nominated record constitutes the house as an intimate space where he lets us into more introspective matters than he has before, dissecting his love life and wine-drinking habits in a way that makes him both a sex symbol and incredibly wholesome.
When South London’s Wu-Lu signed to Warp Records last year, those who’ve followed him for some time knew it was an exciting prospect; the hard-to-define and impossible-to-forget artist was pairing with a label known for its experimental roots. The resultant album doesn’t fail to satisfy the buzz, with LOGGERHEAD embodying both the artist’s cathartic punk roots and his brooding, thoughtful essence. Tracks like ‘Calo Paste’ take on the subject of mental health whilst closer ‘Broken Homes’ dissects the tribulations of poverty with a genuinely harrowing energy. There’s both an angst, an anger and a degree of empathy across the record – a tough combination of attitudes to combine, and something that should be cherished when it is so effectively.
Dance Fever, Florence + The Machine
An artist that needs little introduction: Florence Welch and her well-oiled machine. The red-headed star has always had a slight mystique around her, an ethereal presence with the most powerful of voices, and it seems to only enhance the longer she goes. Despite its title, Dance Fever sees Welch turn her attention inwards, focusing on herself and her relationships in a memorable, personal post-pandemic album, with lyrics reflecting on her need to be ‘Free’ and the ‘Choreomania’ or “dancing plague” phenomenon she read about before the pandemic.
Time Bend and Break The Bower, Sinead O Brien
Sinead O’Brien’s Irish brand of Sprechgesang (a combination of singing and speaking) was yet another unique work of art to have reared its poetic head from Ireland this year. The punk-poet enunciates every word with intention, her delightful lilt rising above the clamour of heavy grooves and the odd disco-inflected tune. Lines like “No-one grieves the loss of the day to the night / Until the last of the day and the last of the light” demonstrate just what musical power the Irish accent can hold, dovetailing the grooves of the guitar. There’s plenty O’Brien has to say too, such as on hopeful ‘There Are Good Times Coming’ and, albeit in a more fragmentary sense, on the album closer ‘Go Again’, which reads like a Frank O’Hara poem.
Her Loss, Drake & 21 Savage
Whilst Her Loss sometimes plays like a Drake solo album, with consistent 21 Savage features, it’s a welcome callback to the days when it seemed Drake cared about his craft. Fans have obviously appreciated Drake’s step away from house music, resulting in Her Loss selling almost double that of Honestly, Nevermind, and the project feels much more complete than 2021’s Certified Lover Boy. Her Loss genuinely features some of Drake’s best lyricism since 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. That, coupled with the “ft. 21 Savage” allure, and standout features such as Travis Scott on ‘Pussy & Millions’, and you get a fan favourite. Once you get past some of the glaring displays of misogyny, and the occasional underwhelming performance from both parties, Her Loss is a welcome return to form for Drake.
$oul $old $eperately, Freddie Gibbs
Freddie Gibbs is quickly making a name for himself as a mainstream outsider knocking on the door, whether he likes it or not. He admits as much on ‘CIA’, stating “Al took me to the grammys, I wasn’t expecting that.” On his major-label debut, he picks up largely where he left off on 2020’s Alfredo, whilst attempting to increase his accessibility. Features from the likes of Offset and Moneybagg Yo demonstrate the slight shift in Freddie’s direction, albeit with limited success; yet it’s when he’s at his most grimy, his most authentic, that he shines. ‘PYS’ showcases Freddie’s tongue-in-cheek dry humour, whilst ‘CIA’ is a friendly callback to his Pinata days with Madlib. A step away from his rapper-producer endeavours of the past, $oul $old $eparately is quite possibly the best solo attempt of Freddie’s career.
Electricity, Ibibio Sound Machine
London-based afro-funk band Ibibio Sound Machine have created a vibrant, high-energy swirl of disco, west African funk, tech-house and leftfield electro – and in so doing, they’ve created perhaps one of the most underrated dance tracks of the year. Perhaps that’s unsurprising given the band enlisted the help of Hot Chip to produce the record. True to its name, the album feels somehow supercharged, yet equally knowing about when to be overpowering, and when to lighten the mood. Tracks like ‘Wanna See Your Face Again’ and ‘17 18 19’ sound like a throwback, as though ripe for a Frankie Knuckles set; the songs that open and close the album, meanwhile, ‘Protection From Evil’ and ‘Freedom’ respectively, have an undercurrent of progressive, forward-facing electronics.
“Hello, Hi”, Ty Seagall
“Hello, Hi” remarkably stands as 35-year-old Ty Seagall’s fourteenth proper studio album – and that’s without all the collabs, live recordings, film soundtracks, cover albums and other musical endeavours he’s been involved in. The prolific California songwriter and producer is in fact a current member of at least five bands, and a former member of at least five more. His output is, quite simply, relentless, and that’s where we find him on his 2022 project. The project may be more sparse than previous releases – not least its preceding 2021 Harmonizer (named after the same Harmonizer Studios installed in Seagall’s home where “Hello, Hi” was recorded) – but there’s still a buzzy, sometimes tortured aspect. Third track ‘Over’ has an ennui in the same ilk as Elliott Smith – a mood that appears frequently throughout the record.
Laurel Hell, Mitski
Mitski has engendered one of those rare feats among her fans: the belief that she gets you like no one else, and that you in turn understand her. Perhaps the air of mystique that surrounds her helps, after she quit social media in 2019, with management now running accounts. Laurel Hell, with its emotional 80s synth-pop, further adds to the fuel of those wanting to be close to her, opening up about her relationships: with her career, her romantic partners and, above all, herself.
Few Good Things, Saba
2017’s Care For Me saw Saba appeal to a generation through his story of trauma and his subsequent depression as a youth growing up in the west side of Chicago. Few Good Things, by comparison, situates Saba in a place adapting to the success he’s garnered since the release of his debut, whilst struggling to let go of much of his past. Homely collaborations from the likes of Smino and G Herbo retain an authenticity to the project, whilst a Krayzie Bone feature on ‘Come My Way’ highlights Saba’s strength in melodic rap. Overall, this is a feel-good, soulful project, which equally doesn’t divert attention away from many of the weighty issues in Saba’s life.
This Is What I Mean, Stormzy
One of the many things to celebrate about the musical output this year is the number of heavyweights who did things exactly as they wished, rather than playing to the gallery. Kendrick, Arctic Monkeys, even Beyoncé. All of them embraced styles and directions that diverged from their previous catalogue in some sonic shape or form. Stormz was no different. This Is What I Mean wasn’t the mosh pit-inducing grime of years gone by. Instead, this was a spiritual undertaking with themes of forgiveness, love and staying true to oneself at its core. Made largely in a studio on the secluded island of Essex’s Osea Island, this isn’t an album of grand big-name features, but one of simple, gospel influenced beauty. Our man Stormz is all grown up.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, Big Thief
A release that feels like much longer ago than February 2022, which is a testament to the brilliance of Big Thief’s twenty-track project, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. The band make beautiful music (this much was already clear), but they’re at their very best yet on Dragon…, with everything about their output sounding prettier than it already did before, and made all the more sweeter by their seeming reluctance to be there.
10, Westside Gunn
Westside Gunn’s appearances, or lack thereof, make and break this record. On the one hand, you would expect the lead artist to provide the bulk of the material on the record. On the other, when you can recruit the likes of Black Star and members of Wu Tang, it doesn’t really matter. Whilst ‘Flygod Jr’ threatens to compromise the record before it’s even started, subsequent tracks ‘Super Kick Party’ and ‘Peppas’ are prime examples as to why the versatility and vision of Westside Gunn shouldn’t be questioned, even if his experiments sometimes don’t always pay off. Gunn is on top form when he does appear, namely on ‘BDP’, and the consistent feature of Stove God Cooks makes 10 feel like a Westside Gunn/Griselda record despite the range of featured artists. Gunn would perhaps serve better if he reserved some more space for his solo efforts, but his primary role as curator on 10 still results in one of the standout hip-hop projects this year.
Provocative and humorous at times, Shygirl’s debut album is a lusciously produced project with sexual liberation being its overarching theme. Dabbling between an experimental hyper-pop and minimal tech-house (‘Honey’ is a tune designed for the comedown), someone coming to it for a first might consider it too niche a project to wrap your ears round. But in truth, there’s plenty of accessible, charming melody – and sumptuous vocals from Shygirl (real name Blane Muise) to match. Tracks like ‘Shlut’, ‘Coochie (a bedtime story)’ and ‘Nike’ (with the lyrical refrain “He told me ‘Nike, just do it’ / Hands on my breast and my batty like he knew it”) are an ode to the sexual freedom of our times.
Crash, Charli XCX
CRASH was the last album released under the terms of Charli XCX’s five-album recording contract with Atlantic Records. Yet far from going out with a… crash… the pop star showed she could embrace a more typical dance-pop approach compared to previous releases, whilst still remaining authentic to herself. The Rina Sawayama-featuring ‘Beg For You’ has an impressive skill in sounding Capital Xtra-ready without being tedious or crass, whilst relatable ‘Good Ones’ is a certified banger. The commercial success of the record has also done a lot of the talking, bagging the singer her first UK Number album.
The fact Björk’s tenth studio album is now essential listening from her catalogue is a remarkable feat. Dark, compelling and often challenging, Fossora fulfils what the cultural icon does best, leaving you never quite knowing which way it will twist or turn. Tracks ‘Sorrowful Soil’ and ‘Ancestress’ – written before and after the passing of Björk’s mother, environmental activist Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, respectively – embody the album’s ability for both anguish and rapturous redemption. The warped beat and trombones of ‘Ovule’ help make it a triumphant celebration of femininity, embedded in an album of majesty.
Gemini Rights, Steve Lacy
A clear step up from 2019’s iPhone-recorded Apollo XXI, Gemini Rights demonstrates that Steve Lacy has found his sound and place within the industry. Featuring delicate melodies and elegant, almost nonchalant vocals, the project explores his first heartbreak, whilst often referring to Lacy’s relationship with his fans. ‘Static’ speaks to this, the lyrics “Do you even really like this track?/ Take away the drugs do you feel the noise?” almost pre-empting Lacy’s tour controversy, questioning whether fans actually know his music. However, when a song as big as ‘Bad Habit’ catches onto TikTok, there’s little else you can expect. Aside from this, however, Gemini Rights is a warm, genuinely tender look into Steve Lacy’s mind.
King’s Disease III, Nas
Nas once again proves age is but a number on his fourth collaboration in three years with producer Hit-Boy. On the King’s Disease series’ finale, Nas once again demonstrates his masterful control of the English language coupled with his intricate storytelling throughout, yet KD3 just feels a level above its predecessors. There’s less venturing into other sub-genres of rap, Hit-Boy’s samples feel tighter and more to the point, and Nas is rapping less as if he has a point to prove, and more as if he’s taking a victory lap as his career approaches its thirtieth year. ‘Thun’ illustrates this further, as Nas couples storytelling of his time in the streets with playful banter about his feud with Jay-Z, with signature mafioso swagger. Nas himself believes this project is his Hit-Boy-era opus, stating as much on the opening track. The question now isn’t when Nas will slow down, it’s if.
PAINLESS, Nilüfer Yanya
The 2022 project from singer Nilüfer Yanya impresses from top to bottom. The guitar rock she’s moved in the direction of has been well worth it, with ‘Midnight Sun’ being one of the best tracks of the year, transitioning into shoegaze as the song progresses. The space that makes shoegaze music so good is present throughout the album, with the title track ‘Painless’ and ‘Stabilise’ also being standouts.
Ultra Truth, Daniel Avery
Few electronic albums have made it onto this list, for the simple fact they operate in a fairly niche world. Daniel Avery’s Ultra Truth, however, is an exception. It strikes a fine balance of intense, murky techno and a shimmering, hopeful surface; the HAAi-featuring ‘Wall Of Sleep’ epitomises this sonic blend, as too does final track ‘Heavy Rain’, which concludes with words from South London poet and musician James Massiah, neatly tying-up an exceptionally well-rounded album that has plenty to offer even for those who aren’t a fan of techno.
Sound of the Morning, Katy J Pearson
Katy J Pearson gives us a sweet free-spiritedness that embodies her native Bristol on the follow-up to her 2020 debut Return. But Sound of the Morning is far from a breezy, light listen. There are moments of dulcet folk-rock, sure, complimenting Pearson’s soaring vocals, but there’s also a vigour and tub-thumping energy to tracks like ‘Confession’ and a sweeping emotional yearning on ‘Float’. The album’s grittier songs are in-part down to the added production from Speedy Wunderground label boss Dan Carey – someone who’s also had quite the year.
In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Weyes Blood
Beautifully crafted and sounding like an even more ethereal Joni Mitchell, Weyes Blood’s In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is a treasure trove of atmospherics and angelic vocals. The introspective storytelling of opener ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’ sets the scene of an album that feels both otherworldly and rooted in the present, exploring topics such as social anxiety and connectivity (or lack thereof, during the pandemic). Album closer ‘A Given Thing’ is as arresting as the image of Weyes Blood (real name Natalie Mering) on the album cover, her heart burning bright.
Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Vince Staples
Vince Staples knows his craft and it shows with Ramona Park Broke My Heart. Fusing styles of hip-hop, the album is united by Vince Staples’ quality, as he harks back to the area where he grew up: Ramona Park. Seagulls open the album and appear throughout. The interludes are not wasted. Lil Baby’s verse on ‘East Point Prayer’ is a standout, as is the rest of the track, while ‘When Sparks Fly’ – a love song subtly written to his own gun – is a clever piece of songwriting. Vince Staples is in complete control.
Reason to Smile, Kojey Radical
After a number of singles, EP releases and features – all of which demonstrate Kojey Radical’s ability to take on weighty subject matter – to say the London rapper’s debut full-length album was highly-anticipated is an understatement. Blending grime, jazz, neo-soul and afro-bashment in a way so seamless it makes such labels seem redundant, Reason to Smile is a celebration of Blackness. Indeed, much of the album has an uplifting tone – in-line with its upbeat title and album cover. ‘Payback’ for instance, raps lyrical about being Black as much as being rich; featuring MOBO-joint-winner Knucks it also embodies the album’s healthy balance of strong supporting additions, whilst preserving its creator as the star man in the limelight.
Hellfire, black midi
There’s nobody quite like black midi. Listening to Hellfire isn’t an easy or even always enjoyable experience, the band not just exploring a series of different genres and styles, but doing them all at once. It sounds a bit like a surreal play. Cabaret dominates the opening, before the fantastic ‘Eat Men Eat’ which also has a theatrical quality. Only the band can know for sure what Hellfire is really about, but it’s one of the most consuming, impressive records of the year.
Sick!, Earl Sweatshirt
The Odd Future alumni returned with an album that went a little under the radar in Sick!. Neither as consistent or as concise as his brilliant 2019 project, Some Rap Songs, Sick! was still an impressive offering, adding to Earl Sweatshirt’s solo canon of work, as well as being perhaps a little more sanguine than his previous releases. It’s still not – and, with him, never will be – all sunshine and daisies, but the experience of fatherhood and added maturity make for a slightly more assured Earl.
19 Masters, Saya Gray
Few albums this year were as textured as Saya Gray’s 19 Masters — making it all the more remarkable this was in fact her debut. The degree of intricacy as well as the flow, including an audacious moment of silence on ‘TOOO LOUD!’, makes it an album that implores you to listen from start to finish. There are no hit singles, no one-offs. Although it feels occasionally like a scrapbook of sounds and singing, the crescendo of the final tune wraps the whole record into one spirited, cohesive work of art.
Big Time, Angel Olson
Angel Olsen’s sixth studio album has that cinematic quality; a sound, symphonic at times, which transports you to the hilltop of an American country desert, like the kind seen on the album cover. In the space of two years, the Missouri singer-songwriter lost both her parents and came out publicly. A hushed, tender struggle really comes through on this beautiful album.
ALPHA PLACE, Knucks
Alpha Place is a successful debut attempt from one of the UK’s most promising rappers. What’s most impressive about Alpha Place is how Knucks seems to merge all types of UK rap styles. His delivery seems to mimic drill, yet the content of his raps display someone who is self-aware and socially conscious, whilst the instrumentals are lowkey and jazz-infused. Knucks is also apt at storytelling; ‘Leon’ is a step above perhaps anything we’ve heard out of the UK when it comes to telling stories through raps. Whether it be the intricate rhyme schemes, flow switches, or overall attention to detail, the track represents the fact that Knucks is moving the needle when it comes to UK rap.
Dawn FM, The Weeknd
There’s a reason Abel Tesfaye is the biggest artist on the globe. Dawn FM, whilst it doesn’t reach the same commercial heights as After Hours, can be considered a masterpiece in its own right. The Weeknd’s blend of his continued 80’s-inspired RnB and classic synth-pop sound perhaps has never been as refined as it is on this project. The loose concept of the album, inspired by Tesfaye’s self-proclaimed nihilism, combined with his usual hedonistic tendencies makes Dawn FM a truly captivating album.
Hideous Bastard, Oliver Sim
The excruciating self-deprecation on Oliver Sim’s debut solo record, makes you want to reach through and comfort the xx singer. The fact is, although it bears unique, honest insight – not least the line “Been living with HIV since 17/ Am I hideous?” on the opening track – Hideous Bastard reminds us there exists a self-loathing demon within us all. It might not have the masterly-crafted production from Jamie xx, but this record nonetheless has a pulsating edge which, through the tribulations, make you feel there is hope in overcoming them. The rousing vocals on ‘Sensitive Child’, Sim harmonising with a chorus of himself, has such a determined outlook.
Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Denzel Curry
It feels like longer ago than March that Denzel Curry released Melt My Eyez See Your Future, but that’s probably because it’s got so much replay value. What a project it is, one of the year’s best hip-hop records, in a year that’s been filled with great rap releases. ‘Walkin’, ‘The Last’ and the T-Pain-featuring ‘Troubles’ are all great songs. With Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Curry moved away from some of the rage and darkness that shaped previous releases, allowing more of himself, and his sense of humour, to come through.
CAPRISONGS, FKA Twigs
It’s difficult to assign FKA Twigs to one genre alone. On the one hand, she’s singing about her lust for desire on the beautiful ‘Meta Angel’ ballad; on the track prior, she’s exploring the alternative UK rap sound with Pa Salieu, behind relentless afrobeat drums and an eerie vocal sample. Twigs is an enigma and demonstrates it throughout the entirety of CAPRISONGS. She hardly stays put for more than a song before venturing into other genres and sounds. The result of her versatility? Her funnest, most accessible project to date.
More Love, Less Ego, Wizkid
Nigerian superstar Wizkid titled his 2022 as such because, as he told The Guardian, “I’m still trying to shed my ego, like everyone else”. The album might still express plentiful sexual escapades, but thankfully on the whole Wizkid (real name Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun) left his ego at the door, to create a genuine work of art that also allows space for a number of impressive features, including Ayra Starr, Don Toliver and Tottenham-born, British-Nigerian grime legend Skepta. Weaving RnB, the house music style Amapiano, and of course the Afropop genre that’s made Wizkid a household name over the past decade, More Love, Less Ego is a silky, sensual listen.
Midnights, Taylor Swift
Of course, Swifties will be apoplectic we haven’t placed Midnights at least in the top ten. Numbers-wise, they’d have a point. 2022 was one for Taylor Swift writing her name into the history books yet again, breaking a reported 73 (yes, 73) records in its first week alone. The best-selling record of the year, it meant Swift became the first artist in history to claim all top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 in a single period; had the largest streaming week ever for an album by a female artist; and became Spotify’s most-streamed album in a single day. The list, of course, goes on. But beneath the records lies a beautiful, albeit sorrowful electro-pop album that has an obvious departure from the alt-folk style of pandemic sister albums, folkore and evermore. Tracks ‘Vigilante Shit’ and ‘Karma’ ensure a healthy dose of self-assurance and empowerment amid some of the self-deprecation of ‘Anti-Hero’ and recounting troubled romances like ‘Question… ?’. Credit of course should be given to in-demand producer-of-the-moment Jack Antonoff who co-produced all 13 tracks and co-wrote 12 of them. But that shouldn’t take any of the shine off the pop princess. (It’s just not as deep, innovative or memorable as some of the other albums below).
Traumazine, Megan Thee Stallion
Some of the more troubling stories towards the end of this year have revolved around the ordeal Megan Thee Stallion has faced. Not only has she faced trouble with own label, forcing her to eventually seek a restraining order against 1501 Certified Entertainment, but the recent trial involving the shooting by Tory Lanez two years ago brought up some troubling moments. Nonetheless, none of that has led to Megan holding back on her fiery second album, Traumazine – and a pity party is the last thing one of the most powerful performers currently in the game is after. In fact, Megan has found a way to turn such incidents to her advantage, to “walk up in the studio pissed off and lay that shit down”, as she states on opener ‘NDA’. Inevitably, there’s unapologetic sexual mores (aka real hot girl shit) throughout the album too. But there’s also tender vulnerability, notably on ‘Anxiety’, with its memorable quip “bad bitches have bad days too”, and on her honest account on ‘Flip Flop’ of how she’s felt since the death of her mother in 2019. Like many at the top of their game, Megan makes a point about using her platform to lift up others, ensuring Traumazine has a particular flavour of her native Texas, with a host of Texan rappers coming together on penultimate track ‘Southside Royalty Freestyle’.
At The Hotspot, Warmduscher
As sleazily and provocative as ever, Warmduscher make being At The Hotspot the only place to be. An atmosphere of debauchery ripples through the whole album, reeling you in with funk-laden grooves and Clams Baker Jr’s seductive, grizzly sing-speak. In devising this sense of a night out in some 80s American bar, with characters along the way like ‘Baby Toe Joe’, there is of course a sense of irony to the whole thing; the vague ‘Hotspot’ being a vague, fictitious venue the London-based band and Fat White Family offshoot have created. And one, it feels, that lives and dies on their freewheeling imagination. The refrain on the techno-inflected penultimate track becomes a summary for the album as a whole: “here comes super cool”.
WASTELAND, Brent Faiyaz
Only the second album from Brent Faiyaz, WASTELAND arrived this summer with predictably warm and effortlessly smooth vocals. Faiyaz has built himself an impressive little collection of friends to call upon, with Drake and Tyler, The Creator being two of the massive names appearing on the album, but he is a star in his own right at this point. Like Drake, Faiyaz has a shameless, braggadocious quality – it only works if you can back it up. On WASTELAND, Faiyaz shows he can do exactly that.
This Is A Photograph, Kevin Morby
Kevin Morby is not the first male singer-songwriter to tap into the middle of America, but he’s got his own thing going and it’s really rather brilliant. There have been flashes before – ‘All Of My Life’ and ‘Come To Me Now’ in particular – but This Is A Photograph is his best, most consistent album yet. The album’s third track, ‘A Random Act Of Kindness’, is a great example of his simultaneously brooding and warm voice, Bob Dylan-esque in moments. Erin Rae joins him on ‘Bittersweet, TN’, another of the album’s best moments, the pair reminiscing over Tennessee like so many American crooners in years gone by – but all with that special Morby touch.
Being Funny In A Foreign Language, The 1975
“It’s tiring being the best band in the world,” Matt Healy opined at a recent gig as part of The 1975’s mammoth touring efforts in support of their 2022 album. Such a line is classic Healy: whipping up support of those who believe it and challenging those who don’t (who, even then, respect the chutzpah). Being Funny In A Foreign Language gives us more of the same in parts but by comparison to previous bouts of excess, this record is more focussed, more refined, more centred around love. That might at times be in a cliché manner – especially on commonly titled tracks ‘Happiness’ and ‘I’m In Love With You’ – but the band’s great skill is that none of that matters. Just as Healy asks on ‘Part of the Band’, “Am I ironically woke?”, we’re reminded that irony has become his greatest songwriting asset, blurring the lines between the cliché and the heartfelt. And with all this meta state of being, no wonder it’s tiring being the best band in the world.
Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022), Fred Again..
If this list judged best live shows or even the biggest breakthrough of the year, Fred Again.. would definitely be a contender. The DJ and producer has stepped out of the limelight of making others sound good, like big-hitters Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and FKA Twigs, to name a few. Instead, he’s kicked-on with his finely tuned Actual Life series, providing us the third instalment this year, which captures nine months of 2022. Using his distinctive technique of sampling real-life voice notes and messages from friends, the album is an ode to dancing through the tough times with “a smile on my face”. When we look back at this period in years gone by, many of us will have felt that Fred Again.. provided a welcome soundtrack.
Love, Damini, Burna Boy
Such is the standing of Nigerian artist Burna Boy that Spotify’s most-streamed artist Ed Sheeran comes and goes on his album with barely a rise in Love, Damini’s temperature. That’s not to discredit ‘For My Hand’, the track Sheeran features on, but is a testament to the quality of the whole album. Originally set for release on the same day as The African Giant’s birthday – hence the birthday-themed album art – it was in fact delayed until the week after. But that didn’t stop it being a gift to us all, with the album going on to become the highest debut of an African album on Billboard, the UK Charts and elsewhere. Its global appeal is unsurprising given it stretches the genre limits of what Burna’s self-described Afro-fusion can produce, flipping between RnB, hip-hop, dancehall, and reggae. Two standout contributions both come from Js: J Hus on ‘Cloak & Dagger’ and J Balvin on the reggaeton-influenced ‘Rollercoaster’. Fans of Burna Boy in the UK will of course get to see his history-making London Stadium show next year, which will make him the first-ever African artist to headline a UK stadium.
A Light for Attracting Attention, The Smile
The Smile, you feel, won’t want Radiohead comparisons to dominate discussion of their releases. Nonetheless there’s plenty that fans of Britain’s leading existential outfit will enjoy on A Light For Attracting Attention, with moments of A Moon Shaped Pool, parts of Hail to the Thief and some of the atmosphere of The King of Limbs all present. There’s also some of that haunting aspect reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s soundtrack for the 2018 remake of Suspiria, notably on ‘Pana-vision’. The tightness of ‘The Smoke’, and its wondrous rift, shows The Smile are an impressive unit, also eking out the many talents of Jonny Greenwood and drummer Tom Skinner.
It’s Almost Dry, Pusha T
The only way Pusha T could drop a bad album, even at 45, is if he got careless. It seemed possible that after Daytona, the scope would widen, and Push’s follow-up would lack the succinctness that helped make Daytona a great. The scope did indeed widen for It’s Almost Dry, but the album was better for it. ‘Neck & Wrist’ with Jay-Z and Pharrell was a standout, as were the Kanye West featuring ‘Dreamin Of The Past’ and ‘Rock N Roll’ (despite Push since distancing himself Ye and G.O.O.D. music). The production throughout is elite.
Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny
The achievements of Bad Bunny should not be overlooked for a moment. The Puerto Rican superstar has been the most-streamed Spotify artist three years in a row since 2020, raising the global profile of Spanish-language music almost single-handedly. His pitch for Un Verano Sin Ti (which translates as “a summer without you”) was that it was “a record to play in the summer, on the beach, as a playlist” – but, in truth, this is an undersell. Flipping between wild reggaeton, brilliant bossa nova and even some slightly more unhinged offerings, there’s a varied scope but all with a sensual, exhilarating thread running throughout. At 23 tracks long (and an 81-minute runtime), the album is split between an A and B side – the latter being where Bad Bunny pushes his musical palette in its most inventive ways. As Drake said, prior to namedropping him on Her Loss’s ‘Major Distribution’, Bad Bunny is simply “moving different”.
I Love You Jennifer B, Jockstrap
The enigmatic London duo Jockstrap released their best project to date with I Love You Jennifer B. Still boundary-pushing and left-field, the pair of Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery better controlled their sound, best shown in the stunning ‘Concrete Over Water’. The Guildhall graduates come from an esteemed list of musical alumni, and the classical training and ability is ever-present in their music. What makes Jockstrap so good is the pair’s wonderful, unique touch. The sky’s the limit for this prodigiously talented duo.
You Can’t Kill Me, 070 Shake
Like opening track ‘Web’, You Can’t Kill Me builds on grand, expansive synths that enwrap you before you’ve even realised. Whilst it’s less varied than 070 Shake’s 2020 debut, Modus Vivendi, in many ways that’s indicative of an artist more at ease on their sophomore album – although the desire to push boundaries is never out of sight. Atmospheric ‘Skin and Bones’ is delivered with a spacey aspect, with the atmospherics of Mulholland Drive or 1982’s Tron. There’s plenty of earthly matters as well, not least on the sensuous ‘Body’, featuring Christine and the Queens.
God Don’t Make Mistakes, Conway the Machine
In God Don’t Make Mistakes, Conway has managed to create a record accessible enough to be released on a label such as Shady Records, yet authentic enough to satisfy fans of his more hardcore, underground material. It’s the fact Conway is so uncompromising that makes GDMM so special. Producer Daringer is recruited for the majority of the beats, which is largely responsible for giving the project the classic Griselda Records feel, and he’s able to retain the stories of street life whilst revealing a host of personal issues that places the Buffalo native in his most vulnerable state to date. Heart-wrenching revelations of him losing a son and an intimate detailing of being shot in the face, coupled with the usual hard-hitting street anthems such as ‘John Woo Flick’ make God Don’t Make Mistakes one of, if not the, most complete albums ever released by a Griselda artist.
The Overload, Yard Act
Without doubt the wittiest, most acerbic record out this year, The Overload – another Mercury-nominated album – makes it nigh impossible not to fall in love with Yard Act. Beyond the sarcasm, the lads from Leeds, offer up plenty of wry commentary on today’s Britain, with frontman James Smith adopting various personas throughout; these are characters that rile us for the very fact of how close to home we deem them to be. In many ways too, although released at the very start of the year, the album is a pitch-perfect listen for the current cost-of-living crisis, decrying capitalist greed and the hoarding of wealth. Cut a little deeper, too, as on tracks ‘100% Endurance’ and ‘Tall Poppies’, and there’s an existential aspect that reels you in with an even greater affection than you had for them before.
ROSALÍA is the daring queen of flamenco-influenced pop and MOTOMAMI is more of the experimental drive that’s made us grown to love her even more . Despite having signed with a new major label in Columbia Records, following the success of her outstanding El mal querer album, there’s still a vibrant sense of range. The free-flowing jazz weaving its way between the heavy synths on opener ‘SAOKO’ are an indicator of the variety throughout the album. And, of course, there’s chicken teriyaki – an inclusion which shows ROSALíA’s ability to make serious artistic clout out of something so humorous.
For many music fans this year, nothing will matter more than Beyoncé’s return. The most influential female artist of the century, this was never going to be a straightforward album drop but engender a mammoth reception – and add to the wider Queen Bey project. What Renaissance does with spectacular grandeur is fill the dance-floor, replete with cultural references to the club and Black America’s historical relation with it. A place of freedom and liberation. From the moment the lead single ‘Break My Soul’ dropped, Bey was declaring a rebirth – a renaissance, if you will – in the spirit of 90s house music; the track sampling the 1993 Robin S hit ‘Show Me Love’ and interpolating it with bounce music pioneer Big Freedia’s 2014 track ‘Explode’. What the album achieves is a remarkable continuation of making the dancefloor somewhere you can let loose whilst still having something to say. Listen no further than body positive ‘Thique’ or floor filler ‘Cozy’, which pays homage to voguing culture. Thankfully, notes for the album’s vinyl release suggest this is just the first of three parts. Beyoncé isn’t just back, she’s got a hell of a lot to give.
Hugo, Loyle Carner
Loyle Carner’s latest offering, Hugo, almost seemed to go under the radar. Gone is some of the bravado he arrived on the scene with; but the thoughtful songwriting remains, with an understated confidence and the wisdom of fatherhood arguably serving him better than ever before. They make for a fantastic combination on Hugo, the highlight of which is the impassioned outro, ‘HGU’. ‘Another Place’ is an equally beautiful tune. The impact of Loyle Carner’s absent father has long been referenced in his music, but on Hugo it’s explored in a nuanced, human way that allows Carner to add an impressive third album to his growing canon.
She’s just so damn good. An absolute master of turning her life into relatable music, SZA’s lyrics are witty and profound, her vocals as masterful as ever. As Top Dawg Entertainment’s lone female artist, SZA shows she can rap as well; the outro ‘Forgiveless’, with the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, is a treat tucked away at the end. Labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s five-year hiatus fetched the early headlines, but SZA had been away just as long, and overlooked nothing in her own anticipated return. Moments of doubt and tenderness are still expressed, but there’s a comforting confidence to SOS. SZA knows just how good she is.
Heart Under, Just Mustard
2022 should be recognised as the year Ireland relaid down a marker for being a home to exceptional music — with Dundalk five-piece Just Mustard helping fly the flag. Their album Heart Under lives up to its title, as an emotional heavyweight to have emerged amid the post-lockdown output. Vocalist Katie Ball’s piercing voice cuts through the album’s clamour of noise rock, to create a sound few can rival when it comes to existential angst. From the whirring opener ‘23’ through to the near-tormented overthinking of ‘I Am You’, this is an album riddled with an honest kind of anguish; the world is ablaze and there’s nothing you can do about it save for wail into the distance. There’s beauty too, mind. ‘Mirrors’ ripples elegantly, much like the watery veneer on the music video accompanying it. ‘Rivers’, meanwhile, plucks at the heartstrings with its opening line “Where have you been lately?” — a line which, like the rest of the album, makes you sit up and take stock.
Stumpwork, Dry Cleaning
Dry Cleaning have developed an absurd way with words that reflects the unprecedented times we’re in – a post-post-ironic world, if you will. Remarkably, Stumpwork, the follow-up to debut album New Long Leg the year prior, continues this feat without being gimmicky or foregoing any of the jokes. In fact, beyond the pubic album cover, there seems to be something rather potent that’s being said at the heart of it, with ‘Conservative Hell’ and the psychedelia of ‘Liberty Log’ providing a rattling assessment of modern life. The use of tedious phrases – “it’s a weird premise for a show but I like it”, “half its potential / Medium” – and even devising whole characters like Gary Ashby give the album a poetic cut-through akin to Philip Larkin. Things are ever so sad, because they’re ever so mundane; a reminder that the safe life we build for ourselves is what entraps us.
Wet Leg, Wet Leg
2022 was the year Wet Leg became as much of a mantra as “chaise longue” is in the duo’s breakout hit from last year. There was a lot of anticipation for their debut – and, thankfully, it worked a charm when it arrived, going to number one. Not bad for an age where guitar music hasn’t always had the warmest reception. The Mercury-nominated album often depicts the broad malaise of modern life with such zingers as “I try to meditate but I just medicate” (‘Being In Love’) or the social anxiety captured in ‘Angelica’ or ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Out’. Since its release, the pair have hit the road and festival circuit with aplomb. Album two is said to be on its way next year. Given the sense of zeitgeist around their eponymous debut, that already stands out as one of 2023’s most intriguing prospects.
The Car, Arctic Monkeys
The 21-year-old iPod has been discontinued. TV show Neighbours was brought to an end. The UK Singles Chart turned 70, and Love Actually celebrated its 20th birthday. Indeed, 2022 has seen a cascade of news stories that made us feel old. Arctic Monkey’s The Car, the band’s seventh studio album and the follow-up to 2018’s Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, did likewise. Far from recounting drunken nights out and “get[ting] it in your fishnets”, The Car drives at an altogether more mature, debonair speed. Its lead singles ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ and ‘Body Paint’, both made better by beautifully arranged strings, are stunning and remain not just album’s best work, but are two of the best songs of the year. There’s a meandering pain to the record as a whole; one that situates Alex Turner as a self-contained, Bond-like protagonist driving through the sunny climes in an old, stylish convertible. He’s had the ‘Big Ideas’, “the band were so excited”, and the “travel size champagne” in the titular track. None of it phases him. The wistful conclusion of ‘Perfect Sense’ ties the album’s philosophical core neatly together. Here’s a band, seven albums deep, driving at their own pace – and still showing their one of the most influential of their generation.
Cheat Codes, Danger Mouse & Black Thought
Cheat Codes is the product of a master lyricist who has continued to develop and perfect his craft over 35-odd years, coupled with one of the most prominent hip-hop and soul producers of his generation. Black Thought demonstrates his relentless dexterity of the English language throughout, whilst simultaneously providing food for thought on a number of issues, including racial injustice and reflection of his time in the game. The album has a vintage feel, whether it be Raekwon’s appearance on the thought-provoking ‘The Darkest Part’ or a posthumous MF Doom verse on ‘Belize’ from the Danger Doom era. Michael Kiwanuka’s soul-stirring vocals on the exceptional ‘Aquamarine’ is just one highlight on an album laced with lush soul samples and piano heavy beats. Cheat Codes is the post-Roots Black Thought album we’ve been building up to over the years. His Streams Of Thought series now feels like a prologue to this moment, building up anticipation of what could be. And even with that anticipation, Cheat Codes exceeds expectations.
God Save The Animals, Alex G
The fact this is Alex G’s ninth studio album is grounds enough for praising the Philly indie-rocker. But quantity has certainly not diminished quality. Far from it. God Save The Animals has some of Alex Giannascoli’s most compelling, lyrically adept music to date – and some of his most experimental, such as through the childlike autotune of ‘S.D.O.S’ and the sinister whisperings on ‘Blessing’. With the help of his partner, singer and string player Molly Germer, Alex G weaves a wealthy tapestry that sees the sunshine as well as the storms, and straddles between the fictional and the autobiographical. The album’s title shouldn’t mistake you for thinking this is just an album with religious fervour – it’s more nuanced and intricate than that. Nonetheless, as in the Elliott Smith-sounding penultimate track ‘Miracles’ and album closer ‘Forgive’, the album offers plenty of divine moments.
NO THANK YOU, Little Simz
If Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was Little Simz’ coronation as the queen of hip-hop, No Thank You is her victory lap. Whilst a project which at its essence is an unburdening, as Simbi address the recent fallout with her manager of seven years, and several lines that seem to suggest all is not well with her contractually, No Thank You leaves more than enough space to appreciate Little Simz’ rapping ability. This is reflected in the first two tracks, ‘Angel’ and ‘Gorilla’. The first seems to be almost a venting ground for the rapper, featuring lush, soulful vocals from Cleo Sol, including weighty bars such as “I refuse to be on a slave ship / Give me all my masters and lower your wages”. ‘Gorilla’ acts as a direct contrast, opening with triumphant horns before Simz flaunts her lyrical prowess for four relentless minutes. No Thank You is more cohesive, if not as epic, than its 2021 predecessor, and makes for a perfect sequel in Little Simz’ ever-improving discography.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar
It becomes difficult to accurately assess albums from artists as revered as Kendrick Lamar. Is it branded genius just because it’s Kendrick, or is it still just genius? In the case of king Kenny’s latest offering, the latter is true. He’s peerless. Mr. Morale… is impressive on first listening, but it only gets better the more you hear; the control he exerts so extensive and exact, the level of understanding and self-awareness so profound. ‘Father Time’ and ‘Count Me Out’ are phenomenal songs. ‘Aunties Diaries’ and ‘Mother I Sober’ are haunting, exploring some of society’s most taboo topics with assuredness and humility. Even with the repeated inclusion of Kodak Black, Kendrick is making a nuanced statement, whilst also making one of rap’s more unlikely crossovers work sonically. Not always easy listening, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is still an instant great, taking its place as the fourth consecutive classic from Kendrick Lamar.
The Forever Story, JID
A concept project that weaves in and out of JID’s past, through playing football in high school, to getting kicked out for stealing, to pursuing a career in rap, The Forever Story is a crowning moment for the Dreamville talent who has seemed destined for greatness since his debut album The Never Story in 2017. On The Forever Story, JID finds the perfect balance between the hard-hitting, almost club-worthy hits, and tender moments of introspection and reflection.
It’s a talent in itself to incorporate both styles into any album, let alone a concept album, but JID manages to intertwine fan favourites such as ‘Surround Sound’, which recruits 21 Savage for a feature, with slower, thought-provoking joints such as ‘Kody Blu 31’ or ‘Sistanem’, which tackle more troubling parts of the rapper’s life. The latter demonstrates how far JID has come from being a J Cole protégé, featuring an almost-broken JID battling a fractured relationship with his sister, and perhaps the best chorus in rap this year. The Forever Story proves that whilst JID’s technical ability has never been in question, he’s capable of bringing it all together to create something special.
Ants From Up There, Black Country, New Road
Black Country, New Road find the perfect middle ground between artistic ambition and mainstream accessibility on Ants From Up There, which sees the band return to more traditional song structures and mainstream indie-rock sounds. ‘Chaos Space Machine,’ the self described “best song we’ve ever written”, is the closest the band have come to a radio single, and sounds like something that could have been pulled straight from a musical. ‘Concorde’ and ‘Bread Song’ add pacing to the project, with the former coming to a crushing crescendo.
Whilst the anthemic ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’ is a beautiful journey through the trauma and despair of past relationships, the album ultimately seems to be leading up to ‘Basketball Shoes’, the band’s longtime centrepiece at their shows. The 12-minute closer sees the band reach a colossal crescendo as the lyrics “Your generous loan to me/ Your crippling interest” are half-sung, half-screamed. It makes this moment all the more poignant once you learn that just days before Ants From Up There’s release, lead singer-songwriter Isaac Wood announced his departure; an almost storyline ending to an album focused on breakups. If this is therefore the last we hear of Black Country, New Road at their best, then so be it. Ants From Up There is a future cult classic that will be played in decades to come.
Skinty Fia, Fontaines D.C.
And so we arrive at the top spot, where there can only be one album. Our journey takes us to Irish post-punkers Fontaines D.C. and their superb third studio album, Skinty Fia – one that will likely prove seminal among their catalogue as the one where they truly found their sound.
The album is steeped in a sense of dislocation, derived from the band’s move to London some two years ago. That might sound a unique prospect, but in doing so, it’s an album for our fractured times, balanced as-near-to-perfect-as-you-can-get between glimmers of hope and the prevailing doom. Just as the deer adorning the album cover looks majestic from afar yet skittish up-close, so too does this record envelop momentary pangs of relieving guitar riffs with gritty arrangements. Couple that with frontman Grian Chatten’s almost nonchalant singing (straining only when it matters), and it’s an album that lodges itself deep in the soul.
From the off, “Gone is the day, gone is the night” is the mantra, in a song inspired by an Irish Post story about the death of Margaret Keane, whose gravestone couldn’t bear the song’s title ‘In ár gcroíthe go deo’ (“in our hearts forever”) without an English translation. Both near-hypnotic repetition and real-world references are employed throughout the record, with this opening track setting out this stall.
‘Roman Holiday’ is a murky-sounding documentation of the band’s journey to London, its pure rock guitar making it hard to dispute the fact Fontaines D.C. are our 2022 Oasis, our Stone Roses, the current best band in the world – in sound, sentiment and sexual prowess.
Subsequent track ‘The Couple Across The Way’ – delivered by just a man and his accordion – adds just enough moment’s respite to the whole project. The album’s climax, ‘I Love You’ (unassumingly titled because that was the challenge Chatten set himself), builds into a conflicted headrush dissecting Irish turmoil, the band observing their homeland from afar.
If music’s purpose is anything, it’s to make us feel. And that’s precisely what Skinty Fia achieves.
It’s a win not just for the resurgence of guitar music, but for one particular label who’ve had an exceptional year: Speedy Wunderground, helmed by producer Dan Carey. Carey has had something of a Midas touch with releases this year, also producing Wet Leg’s quality eponymous debut – another number one album. The label requires a strict set of rules for artists and bands to follow, to capture a live, raw essence of their playing – something that’s so evidently present on Skinty Fia, which paces beautifully between tracks, and provides another reason among many as to why it’s our number one album of 2022.