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.