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, 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.
Find out what our best albums of 2022, from 25th to 1st, are tomorrow.