Even in 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic still looms large over popular music. Many of these albums were affected by events – forcing delays or changes in personnel. As always, there was a wealth of excellent music recorded in 2022 – here are my ten favourites that I covered through this year.
As always, to show where my choices register among general critical consensus, I’ve included each album’s rankings from the end-of-year-list aggregator Album of the Year. I agreed with critical consensus less than usual – it didn’t help that a couple of the below records slipped out after many lists were already published in mid-November.
10 BEST ALBUMS OF 2022
#10 Marlon Williams – My Boy
After a decade of crooning his way through serious-minded country fare, New Zealand’s Marlon Williams loosened up for his third solo album. The change is signalled by the title track, powered by a joyful Maori strum. Even more impressive is the 1980s weirdness of ‘Thinking of Nina’, Williams weaponising prime Bowie levels of ambiguity.
AotY Position: Honourable mention
#9 Nilüfer Yanya – Painless
London’s Nilüfer Yanya impressed with her debut, colliding a sultry voice with her chunky guitar lines. Her sophomore album Painless refines her approach – it’s sharper and more focused than her debut, while COVID isolation led to more introspection. There are simple but effective guitar hooks – the echoing notes of ‘Anotherlife’ and the arpeggios of ‘Stabilise’. Single ‘Midnight Sun’ gets heavy and cathartic, reminiscent of PJ Harvey.
AotY Position: #26
#8 Richard Dawson – The Ruby Cord
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’s Richard Dawson was unlucky to miss out of this site’s top ten last year – his botanical collaboration with experimental Finnish band Circle just dipped out. This year he’s back with a more conventional folk album – although conventional is hardly the right word for Dawson’s free-ranging vocals, inspired by Faith No More’s Mike Patton. Dawson made a short film to accompany the forty-minute opening track ‘The Hermit’, although the remainder of the album is perhaps even more impressive.
AotY Position: –
#7 Let’s Eat Grandma – Two Ribbons
Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton met at four years old, at school in Norwich. Their early music together was quirky, but their third album is more serious and heartfelt. Hollingworth lost her 22-year-old boyfriend to bone cancer, while the pair struggled to reconnect with each other after time apart. Two Ribbons is still fun and tuneful, but the serious undertones to songs like ‘Watching You Go’ and ‘Levitation’ give the album depth.
AotY Position: Honourable mention
#6 Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny is a superstar, Spotify’s most-streamed artist in 2022. Yet he uses the length of Un Verano Sin Ti (“A Summer Without You”) to stretch out – Wikipedia describes it as “album is “primarily a reggaeton, cumbia and indie pop record.” The reggaeton singles at the start of the record are fine, but the fun happens in the back half. The Bomba Estereo collaboration on ‘Ojitos Lindos’ and the delicacy of ‘Andrea’ are great moments.
AotY Position: #12
#5 Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
Wales’ Cate Le Bon took up the bass for her sixth studio album, recorded at the home of Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys. Her basslines are beautifully melodic, underpinning her City Pop-influenced synth work and glassy vocals. Pompeii starts gently, building to its catchiest material, like ‘Harbour’ and ‘Moderation’
AotY Position: #42
#4 Alvvays – Blue Rev
Canadian indie band Alvvays turn up the guitars for their third album, named after an alcoholic beverage. With the combination of dreamy vocals and heavy guitars, Blue Rev sometimes recalls My Bloody Valentine. The record had a troubled genesis – with theft, flooding, and the COVID-19 pandemic all slowing its arrival. But you wouldn’t know to hear it, full of perky tunes, albeit less twee than the band’s previous work.
AotY Position: #6
#3 Real Lies – Lad Ash
London’s Real Lies endured a tough time between their first two albums. A record company backed out of a lucrative deal at the 11th hour, while they became a duo after singer Tom Watson quit. Watson’s departure puts the focus on Kev Kharas’ spoken vocals, making Lad Ash more unique. Kharas’ lyrics are often beautiful, like the standout track ‘An Oral History of My First Kiss’.
AotY Position: –
It happened on a main road and I was embarrassed without really knowing why. There’s an awkward gap between childhood and being properly teenage. A peripheral shadowland of not quite being enough. From early on, I was obsessed with the adult world, staying up late with talk radio and strange Channel 5 sex comedies, and at wedding parties I’d be trapped in the glare of the full beams, groups of family friends and older second cousins stood about in circles – drinking, flirting, smoking… telling jokes and working up a sweat to early 90s ‘chart dance’ – less a genre or a scene, more a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d eat chicken legs and wonder what it was that they were all so excited about, at the same time dimly aware there were conversations happening close by between girls who were weighing up the prospect of you and laughing.An Oral History of My First Kiss
#2 SZA – SOS
Embarrassing a host of premature November list makers, SZA dropped her much-anticipated second album of 9 December. Following 2017’s acclaimed CTRL, it topped the Billboard charts. With durable melodies, confessional lyrics, and gorgeous vocals, it’s accessible and accomplished, barely losing momentum over its 23 tracks. It’s also diverse, with Phoebe Bridgers and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard both contributing vocals.
AotY Position: Honourable mention
#1 Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Brooklyn-based Indie folk-rock Big Thief also topped my 2019 best album list – they’re back on top with their sprawling double album. Winnowed down from 45 completed tracks, Dragon New Warm Mountain was recorded in four different locations to capture the breadth of Adrienne Lenker’s songwriting. Big Thief still recall the intuitive interplay of The Band and the singular vision of Neil Young. Dragon New Warm Mountain is a triumph, ranging from the downhome country sound of ‘Spud Infinity’ to the psychedelia of ‘Simulation Swarm’.
AotY Position: #5
Did I miss your favourite 2022 album?
- Ten Best Albums of 2021
- Ten Best Albums of 2020
- Ten Best Albums of 2019
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Zero overlap with “my” 2022 albums!😀
But my list was smaller to begin with. More importantly, while I’ve started to stretch out a bit in my weekly new music (song) reviews, I guess when it came to albums, I stood in my traditional lane with Bonnie Raitt (my favorite new album of 2022), Jane Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Goodbye June and Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The only pick that fell a bit outside more core wheelhouse is Delvon Lamarr Trio, though I’ve started to frequently feature jazz. As such, one could say my core wheelhouse has been expanded.
Big Thief are pretty traditional, I reckon. A bit like Neil Young or The Band.
I actually listened to Big Thief’s most recent album in the meantime and like it! 🙂
Am listening to the playlist right now. I’m woefully out of the loop on new music.
Hope you found something to enjoy.
Yes, I did! I want to listen to it a few more times to see what jumps out at me to pursue further.
Choices I like after multiple listens: 1, 6, 7, 10
Scratch those #s above. My favorites (songs on your playlist):
Marlon Williams — Thinking of Nina
Cate Le Bon — Harbour
Alvvays — After the Earthquake
Big Thief — Simulation Swarm
Big Thief’s is definitely on my list – it’s a real aural delight. I’m curious what’ll happen to those other tracks, whether we’ll see them released this year or, given how prolific they are, they’ll be scrapped in favour of yet another new batch.
You’d think there’d be some more top drawer songs in there. Would be great to get some outtakes.
Nice list. I didn’t listen to any of those albums! But I didn’t listen to a lot of new stuff this year. I few of these I will need to check out.
We would have had more in common if it wasn’t for those pesky indie bands and rappers..
Ha! Yeah, if I only liked those.
There was so much great music released last year that it was impossible to keep up with more than a tiny fraction of it all. Though not my favorite, Big Thief’s album was clearly a favorite for many. Of your picks, I especially liked the one by Marlon Williams.
While I don’t have a particular favorite, I especially liked Spoon’s “Lucifer On The Sofa”, Foals’ “Life is Yours” Fontaines DC’s “Skinty Fia” and Raw Poetic’s “Space Beyond the Solar System”.
Yeah, there are only so many albums I can cover. I liked that Spoon album a lot – Jim Eno is one of my favourite drummers. I don’t really know Foals or Raw Poetic. Thanks for reading last year.
I didn’t know Big Thief were from Brooklyn. I might have to listen to that. I guess Real Lies really is one of the best albums of the year, even though I really haven’t heard a whole shitload of new albums from last year other than people I already liked. But that is a good album and I like it. I’ve listened to the whole thing but not that many times, but I really liked it on the first few listens. I didn’t like that first album as much except for that one I think it’s called North Circular or Northern Circular or something like that. I like that song a lot.
Big Thief don’t sound like they’re from Brooklyn – they sound like they’re from the Appalachians or something.
The first Real Lies album has some good tracks – I liked North Circular too – but the second one is much stronger.
I’ve heard quite a few new songs this year by bands but not entire albums except The Beths and Sloan…those I did listen to the entire albums. I liked both quite a bit. I think it’s more but it’s not coming to me now.
I do like what I heard from Big Thief which shouldn’t surprise you.
I didn’t get to Sloan, but that Beths album was close to top ten for me. Alvvays took the power pop slot and Marlon Williams took the NZ slot – not that I was rationing things like that.
I’m not surprised Big Thief topped your list. You were pretty adamant months ago it would remain on top. A widely eclectic listening experience and not one cross over with my list except Big Thief.
I’ve put that Anna Tivel album on my list to check out – it sounds like something I’d enjoy.