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. Even critics will 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 the commonly titled tunes ‘Happiness’ and ‘I’m In Love With You’ – but they’re 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, when of course you can be both, just like The 1975. 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.