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.
Find out what our best albums of 2022, from 50th to 25th, are tomorrow.