We really are living in a golden age of music right now. Boomers might disagree, but “the kids these days” know that music has never been more accessible, proliferated and experimental. This year’s list of 10 best albums was hard to compile due to the sheer amount of incredible work that came out this year, and I wish I had the page length to mention so many other extraordinary albums. Here are my 10 favorite albums of 2022.
10. “Hold the Girl”- Rina Sawayama
“Hold the Girl” is an intimate, vulnerable and explosive exploration of Sawayama’s psyche; in her songs, she tackles the trials of her childhood, her relationship with faith as well as her parents and delivers a declaration of hope and optimism in the face of an unalterable reality. While the execution of performances and mixing quality can sometimes falter, they always resonate with the ambition and scope of the project. Throughout her songs, Sawayama offers hope and optimism to her listeners, which I’m starting to appreciate more than the resolutely depressed work extra-prevalent in contemporary music. I respect her celebration of life at a time when it’s so easy to be crushed and wrung by cynicism.
9. “Super Champon”- Otoboke Beaver
Otoboke Beaver comes back with ANOTHER collection of knuckle punching, hair raising songs. They’re short and sweet, yet violent and virulent. They know what they’re doing, and they’re good at what they do. For punk music, this is at a superior level of excellence, both in ferocity and content as well as musicianship and execution. For any die-hard punk fans, or anyone looking to scream bloody murder into their pillows while tearing their hair out, this one’s for you.
8.“Bronco”- Orville Peck
This is the breath of fresh air country music has been grasping for. The industry will deny it and baby boomers will reject it, but it’s what the new generation is craving. Country music that appeals to all sorts of fans, relishes in campy embellishments and shines with an amber colored spotlight on what makes country music great. It’s a little glossy, and a little clean, but it also projects so much promise and potential for Peck as an artist. The sky is the limit for Peck and it’s about time the country regulars get the boot.
7. “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” – Denzel Curry
The excellence and inventiveness of this project was as clear as day to anyone who gave it a listen. While I’ve heard friends complain that it wasn’t as thematic or boundary-breaking as other hip hop albums this year, I think its perfection is what makes it fly under the radar. It delves deeply, it explores rhythmically and it stands out surreptitiously, due to its excellence. While not the most elaborate album of the year, it is the most near-perfect album at being what it is trying to be. In my opinion, an instant classic that will only ameliorate with age.
6.“Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers”- Kendrick Lamar
Mr. Lamar has no fear. Or, at least, no fear of expressing his fear with his fans. Album after album, Lamar never shies away from expressing his vulnerability, his doubt,and his sin with his listener. “Mr. Morale” was a tough listen, especially songs like, “Father Time” and “We Cry Together,” but it’s rewarding and enriching as a listener to be exposed to something so uncomfortable and revealing. Lamar constantly challenges his listeners and that doesn’t let up on this project. Lamar carries a lot of momentum into every album, and I feel lucky to be alive at a time when he is putting out such incredible albums, back-to-back.
5. “Renaissance”- Beyonce
Beyonce displays her boundless versatility on this project, as well as the power of collaboration. Her drive and ambition breed creativity, which is especially impressive working with a style of music that is already established and thriving. Beyonce and her team offer something new and refreshing, yet tributary to a variety of styles of dance music. It’s further evidence that she has the Midas Touch when it comes to exploring music outside of her usual wheelhouse. There’s not much to be said; Beyonce does it again, folks.
4. “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” – Big Thief
It’s rare in our time to hear a folk album as explorative and progressive as this one; Big Thief pushes past the nostalgia soup their contemporaries are serving, to create and experiment. “Dragon New Warm Mountain” sounds like a step away from the band’s rock and roll focus, sounding almost like an extension of singer/band leader Adrienne Lenker’s solo career, yet without sacrificing the voices of the rest of the band members. It’s thoughtful without being pretentious and insightful without being pedantic. From old to new, and from front to back, everything about this album is perfectly balanced.
3. “The Forever Story”- JID
Nobody asked for this. But JID gave it to us. How dare he? How dare he drop the best hip hop album of the year like that? Inventive wordplay, immaculate, expressive delivery, powerful narrative elements, rigid, conclusive thematic lyricism. How dare he bless us with such a fire project? In a year full of instant-classics this takes the cake and yet sets the bar really really high for a follow-up album. That said, this album is long and has enough creative and resonant material to qualify years of repeated listening. If you haven’t heard it yet, do yourself a favor and go check it out.
2. “Being Funny In A Foreign Language” – The 1975
Bouncing back from the mixed reviews of their previous album, The 1975 came out swinging this year with an album that stepped back from the experimental precipice they were hanging onto, to remind fans that they really do know what they’re doing. This collection of songs is their tightest, punchiest and best produced yet. It contains the energy and chemistry of a live-album, with the production and clarity of one of the best produced pop albums of the ’80s. This really is The 1975 at their very best.
1. “De Todas Las Floras”- Natalia Lafourcade
At first listen I knew this would be my favorite album of the year. There was nothing else like it this year; something so personal, intimate, dark, depthful and so potently inspired. Lafourcade has done nothing but establish her excellence and proficiency over the last few years, returning to covers and new renditions of traditional Mexican music, so now that she returns to her own songwriting, I can hear, I can SEE, the intentionality in her music. In a year of music that broke boundaries and explored the wonders of inventiveness, it was this return to simplicity and minuteness that stole my heart.