Picking out a best-of-the-year list when you’re only halfway through it isn’t particularly conducive to a well-thought-out process. Ignoring the fact that we have, by definition, received only half of the best records to be put out this year, we are also ignoring the gestation process some records have before their birth as bona fide bangers.
It’s strange to think that we have another dose of great music to come because, only seven months into 2022, the furore of creativity rages on in the music world. Great records have emerged from every corner of the globe and every nook and cranny that genre, style and subtext have to offer. Whether you want bedroom pop, avant-garde post-punk or a heady combination of both, 2022 promises ot be a year that delivers.
Figuring out why 2022 has produced so many great albums is difficult to put a finger on. There’s a good chance that the creativity left somewhat untapped during the locked-down years of 2020 and 2021 have burst the pipes in our sonic abodes and flooded the 2022 level with a sludge of thick and potent pop gunk. Or, it could simply be a little bit of fortuity after a forgettable few years.
Either way, what we are left with is a run of 20 amazing records from the year so far. Expect to see entries from Kendrick Lamar all the way through to Katy J Pearson as we highlight the best and brightest that 2022 has had to offer.
20 best albums of 2022 so far:
20. Fear of the Dawn – Jack White
Jack White returns after a nearly four-year hiatus with the explosive Fear of the Dawn, his most ambitious solo work and arguably his most impressive display of songcraft since his days fronting The Raconteurs. Where Blunderbuss and Lazaretto threw in splashes of flourish, the majority of the pieces here are standalone instrumental workouts, billowing listeners with a series of blistering guitar hooks. The highlights are nominally the instrumental ones: brisque, bucolic, and bristling with fire, invoking the Led Zeppelin records of his youth, albeit with a production style that is distinctly White’s alone.
White takes this as an opportunity to break out into bold, stylistic avenues, carefully designing his vocals around the pummelling hooks, his voice shrill, singular and soaked with a casing of soul.
19. Magic Sign – Martin Courtney
Being noted in the opening paragraphs of a review that you’re the frontman of another band must be taxing for an artist as accomplished as Martin Courtney. The Real Estate frontman proved that he needn’t worry about such an introduction with his album Magic Sign.
It’s a record that feels bountiful and rich, while displaying fragility and vulnerability in a chorus of charming licks and smooth hits.
18. C’mon You Know – Liam Gallagher
Is Liam Gallagher entirely fuelled by defeating his big brother in the charts? Who knows. But, what we can certainly confirm, is that Liam Gallagher’s solo career is far superior to that of Noel’s. The High Flying Birds feel very forgettable amid Liam’s penchant for a punchy chorus and the notion lodged in his perfectly quaffed barnet that every one of these songs will be sung to 50,000 people in a field somewhere.
Thankfully, C’mon You Know isn’t trying to be Oasis 2.0, and by moving with the times and embracing a pinch of weirdness, Gallagher has shown why the musical landscape is much richer with his presence.
17. Dance Fever – Florence and the Machine
OK, girls. It’s time to grab our covens and head straight for the woods. This is the soundtrack of our cottagecore witchy girl summer. All you need to do to glean this fact out of the new Florence + The Machine album Dance Fever is pick any song and hit play. If you tell me you’ve listened to ‘Heaven Is Here’ or ‘Choreomania’ and don’t come out the other end wanting to cast a spell, I simply don’t believe you.
In all seriousness, Florence + The Machine has always kept an ethereal, naturalistic quality that weaves itself into her voice perfectly time and time again. This album is no different.
16. Endless Rooms – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
While there are plenty of tracks on Endless Rooms that would sound at home on any of their previous records, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever exhibit a new expansive nature to their sound that they’ve never previously boasted. The development arrives as an extra dimension that they benefit greatly from in what can only be attributed to their evolution as a group.
If you believed Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever were a one-trick pony, think again.
15. Oxy Music – Alex Cameron
Alex Cameron returned in 2022 to give us a pop-driven masterclass in sardonic smiling. Oxy Music is an album that is so gracefully designed and invigorating on its surface, but incredibly thoughtful and complex underneath the surface, that it’s destined to be an all-time high watermark for the artist.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognise when someone is hitting their apex, but here it’s incredibly easy: Alex Cameron is at the peak of his powers right now, and he has his first certifiable classic with Oxy Music.
14. Mahal – Toro Y Moi
Toro Y Moi struck once more with a genre-defying release Mahal. While psychedelia and hip hop might be the two synonyms that pop up in descriptions the most, this record is essentially modern jazz, and it is kaleidoscopic enough to entrance listeners without them having to be aficionados in the first place.
With Mahal, the Bay Area just got a new funky frenzy to accompany a flow along the crooked coast in a convertible, with a record that would even whisk the wind through the locks of Moby and have a Yeti thinking about a trip to the beach sometime soon.
13. Warm Chris – Aldous Harding
When you spend your career as an artist creating wholly unique pieces of expression, then to have a music critic provide a single word definition for the recent iteration must feel entirely depressing. Well, for that notion of sadness spreading across the face of New Zealand’s folk-psyche hero, Aldous Harding, I am sincerely sorry. As, for the most part, her latest album Warm Chris can be summed up in one word: charming.
Before we go any further, it’s worth defining exactly what charming means in this instance. This is not a reference to some smarmy-faced indie-kid or a crooner with a shit-eating smile and too much pomade in his hair, nor even the kind of “charming” a British aristocrat could drop like an atomic bomb of appalling insult. No, Warm Chris is the kind of vibrating warmth and confounding comfort that makes good novels great and leaves one with a sense of enrichment for having caught the end of a sunset. That may sound like a grandiose statement, but with Harding’s latest effort arriving when Britain has been bathed in the glorious spring sunshine, it’s hard not to be wistful.
12. Laurel Hell – Mitski
It seems almost impossible that the apocalyptic and cynical Laurel Hell was made before the global pandemic really kicked into high gear, but it’s true: almost all of the songs were written in the immediate wake of Be the Cowboy, and Laurel Hell is most explicitly a reflection of how Mitski’s life changed in the wake of that album’s success. But whether it was good luck or bad, the album also uncannily happens to reflect the current landscape it eerily appropriate ways.
Ultimately, Laurel Hell might sound like a dour, self-conscious, stark, and introspective record — but That’s because it is, but it’s also affecting, achingly beautiful, and celebratory. I’m ready to call Laurel Hell Mitski’s best album to date, if for no other reason than because once all the surprise and novelty is worn off, this album still feels like the most unique and uncompromising work that I’ve ever heard from the singer-songwriter.
11. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You – Big Thief
The old saying goes that you can never judge a book by its cover, but perhaps we can make allowances for those wishing to take a call on Big Thief‘s new album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You using only its title as a guide. This is one record that is perfectly encapsulated by its lengthy moniker.
The record is not only long, a whopping 20 different songs are stuffed into the LP, but it is packed to the brim with a kaleidoscope of influences, inspirations, styles and sonic structures. It is a bonafide cornucopia of delicately crafted folk-rock brilliance. The songs contained within the gatefold are all wonderfully mystic, too, creating a sub-genre of modernist magic that feels at once beguiling, refreshing and, ultimately, evolutionary. While Big Thief have never been afraid to let their lyrical narratives unfurl like luscious red carpets for the Queen of Hearts, this is perhaps the band’s most musically expansive release.
10. How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars – The Weather Station
Calling all modern dancers, woodland sad-girls, and ethereal witches who love wistfully staring at large bodies of water: I have found your new favourite album. I need you to put aside your vintage Regina Spektor and Taylor Swift Folklore. You don’t need them here.
Coming back after their critically acclaimed 2021 album Ignorance, Canadian experimental folk band are back with a grounded, lullaby-esque no-skip album; How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars. Intended to be heard as a companion piece to Ignorance, this album matches their last thematically, adding to the story it tells with vulnerability and freshness.
9. A Light for Attracting Attention – The Smile
One of the most unexpected releases of the year came from Radiohead‘s off-shoot The Smile and their record A Light For Attracting Attention. Not because we doubted the talent on hand but because nobody expected a post-punk album from Thom Yorke and Johny Greenwood.
The album covers a broad range of emotions and musical styles in a seemingly effortless blend of jazz, dub, classical, electro and alt-rock. Does it cover much new ground? Not really, but did it need to? The Smile have condensed and consolidated most of the best aspects of Yorke and Greenwood’s past 30 years with Radiohead into an eclectic yet monolithic project. I’m excited to see what move they make next.
8. Everything Was Beautiful – Spiritualized
If you were looking for one album to get lost in this year, then look no further. Everything Was Beautiful is, as any Spiritualized fan would expect, yet another kaleidoscopic journey through the psyche of J. Spaceman. As usual, he holds no emotions back and takes us on a cosmic journey through melancholy, anxiety and elation as he shares the next entry in his discographic diary.
The remainder of the album lives up to the high standards set out by the previewing singles and leaves much to be excited about.
7. Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Like many a great band before them, when Wet Leg arrived at our collective consciousness there was an audible head scratch. ‘Chaise Longue‘ was the kind of debut single that could have easily flopped amid its impossible-to-avoid sardonic sneer. The song was almost comical for its deadpan delivery, and therefore, had the ability to fly past the music world like a glittering candelabra on the Generation Game. If that reference has managed to soar over your head then chances are this is the only record you’ll need this year: Wet Leg have come out fighting with an era-defining album.
Thankfully, when Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, the duo at the core of Isle of Wight’s own Wet Leg, did manage to get their novelty-adjacent single onto the airwaves everybody got the joke. They were sent back to the studio to work on a set of songs that we’re fairly certain will shape rock and roll for years to come.
6. The Overload – Yard Act
Forget the post-punk label and the needless comparison of Jarvis Cocker, the most refreshing thing about Yard Act – they actually have hooks.
Any band afraid of integrating melodies and earworms into their songs are the bands that couldn’t write any to save their lives, but Yard Act delight in the choruses that they know will get stuck in your head. It’s the siren song that brings you into the hilariously cutting commentary, and when paired with the high-energy drive that band members Ryan Needham, Sam Shjipstone, and Jay Russell conjure up. They’re not there just to back up Smith – they’re creating their own fascinating sonic space that would work with any kind of vocalist overtop.
The material isn’t always as pointed or clever as the band believes themselves to be, but their hit rate is remarkably high, especially for a relatively young band. Completely self-assured and self-confident, Yard Act are the rare act that knows exactly who they are and what they want to be on their debut.
5. Skinty Fia – Fontaines D.C.
For a band like Fontaines D.C., the battle between hometown pride and larger ambitions is what helps fuel their creative drive. That dichotomy lives within the very fabric of Skinty Fia, the band’s third studio album. The title itself is a colloquialism from Ireland, rich with symbolism but also with vulgarity. That balance between beauty and blunt anger is what Skinty Fia thrives on as Fontaines D.C. deliver their warmest and most easily accessible album to date.
Fontaines D.C. are one of the few bands that are able to successfully broaden their appeal without sacrificing what makes them so unique in the first place. For anyone who had heard the praise that this band was getting but was turned off by the darkness and intensity of A Hero’s Death, then Skinty Fia is the perfect album to take the dive. It will no doubt serve as the entry point for scores of new fans in the future, which ultimately makes the lighter turn on Skinty Fia an unquestionable success.
4. Mr Morale & The Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar has now transcended hip-hop, and on Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, the rapper stakes his claim for being the most critical voice in contemporary music. Often, artists don’t receive the flowers they deserve while alive, but we are truly fortunate to live in the same era as Pulitzer Kenny.
Lyrically, depth and nuance are bursting out of every pore of the rapper’s fifth album while Kendrick expertly travels in new territory on his most personal record. Rather than pointing the gun at society through his mercurial storytelling instincts, Kenny delivers a portion of himself on Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers and paints the full portrait of his three-dimensional character.
3. Big time – Angel Olsen
Over the past decade, Angel Olsen has been one of music’s greatest chameleons, moving through styles and genres like indie rock, stripped-down folk, and orchestral pop without ever appearing out of her depth. But on her sixth studio album Big Time, Olsen refuses to wear a guise, showcasing the highs and lows of her real life in all their ragged glory.
Although she hadn’t exactly hidden from the public over the course of her first five records, a number of life-changing events forced Olsen to reckon with the person she was and the person she wanted to be during the making of Big Time. That included the death of her parents and her coming out, two major events that coincided to bring Olsen’s songwriting to places of love and loss.
Angel Olsen makes tumult and turmoil sound polished and pristine, creating a true triumph along the way. Life doesn’t come with a guidebook, but next time you’re feeling lost, Big Time just might be the companion you’re looking for.
2. Sound of the Morning – Katy J Pearson
Its ice cream music is what it is. It’s a simple joyous balm to life that you can cram in on a full belly, a crowded head, and just about anyone worth the time of day is bound to like it. Sweet without being saccharine and refreshing without dredging up that overrated word ‘challenging’, Katy J Pearson has delivered the perfect summer accompaniment with her second album Sound of the Morning, and it soars with the ease of a bird taking to flight.
Pearson proves that she’s not only capable of writing bountiful pop hooks, or caressing the airwaves with the folk of her forefathers, but she’s able to parcel it all into one joyous package of bright and bristling perfection.
1. Farm to Table – Bartees Strange
There was never really any doubt as to who would take the top spot ofr 2022 so far. Bartees Strange’s triumphant Farm to Table remains the pinnacle of cross-pop cultivation.
The maximalism baked into the DNA of Farm to Table is alternately intoxicating and surprising, considering how the minimalist wave of the early 2020s isn’t even buried in the ground yet. To say that Strange is the kind of artist that has something for everyone is silly. To say that he’s the perfect artist for right now is anything but.
Strange’s way of sussing through his own experiences just happens to take the form of totally engrossing music. Is the world ready for Bartees Strange, Music Superstar? Who knows, but the reality isn’t as interesting as the experience of seeing Strange try to will it into existence.