The Absolute Best in Music 2022 (Albums)

By: Campbell Petschke

Currently Listening to: No Thank You by Little Simz

Here We Are Again

2022 was one of those rare years where music came out and we listened. Not like other years. It felt like this year above all so many new artists were discovered, ones that had blown up from TikTok, random side projects (The Smile), different collabs, and one off singles leaving people wanting more after being gone for years (LCD Soundsystem, Death Grips, etc.). In the case of the artists on this list, they really put out some of their best work to date, tried something new, broke genre barriers, and spoke out. Music in 2022 had something to say. This felt like a year that had something to prove. I hate bringing up the ‘c’ word, but with COVID restrictions lessening this year and more artists feeling more confident in taking off on the road, I felt like they had been cooking this whole pandemic and a boy was hungry.

I loved a shit-ton of music this year and it was honestly really hard to limit these selections to just 50 albums and 35 songs. Some of these I’ve loved as early as January and some from a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to have a recency bias so albums like the Little Simz album that dropped the day as I’m writing this will not appear, even though it sounds incredible so far. So with that being said, I will not be ranking every album that I listened to, new and old, like I did in 2020. That list took so long it came out in March. SO! I’m optimistic, maybe this will come out by at least February this time. Anyhow, here is my 2022 in music. The best year of music that I have lived through so far.

Album Time!

50. Fred Again.. – Actual Life 3 (January 1- September 9 2022)

Genre: House, Electronic

I had never heard of Fred until this past summer when I saw members of the Festiverse Discord server discuss his music. Unaware of what to expect, I dove in without even knowing what genre he represented. As someone who has come to really appreciate house music these past few years, Actual Life 3 was a nice surprise. He chops up different soundbites he finds online and through FaceTime calls he shares with his buddies and makes them into these chill, lofi, reflective tunes. It’s something I can honestly turn on whenever and not have to think too deeply into it. I enjoyed this album so much I immediately put on Actual Life 2 once this one was done.

Bump This: Delilah (pull me out of this), Berwyn (all i got is you)

49. Father John Misty – Chloe and the Next 20th Century

Genre: Chamber Pop, Rock

In 2013, I stood on the muddy hills of Grant Park. It was my second ever Lollapalooza. As I wait for Crystal Castles to melt my face off, I watch Father John Misty croon to the people watching from Lakeshore stage as he whips out a pony head on a stick and proceeds to passionately make out with it. I did not touch his music until 2016, but despite the pony incident, I forgave him because of his poetic, heartfelt tunes. The tunes that would make you want to fall in love with someone you accidentally bumped into while exiting a public bus (or whatever simps do).

Needless to say after a nearly flawless streak of releases, Chloe and the Next 20th Century drops and it’s a sophisticated, jazzy, bossa nova album with some typical FJM sounds we’re familiar with. Half this album is a total trance. The orchestral aspects are to die for and make for a perfect Sunday spin on a turntable accompanied with dreary, simmering rain hitting the windows. This is honestly what I wanted the past two Arctic Monkeys albums to sound like if they wanted to continue to head that direction. I would say he should stick to this because it sounds great, but I’d love to see FJM try more directions. He seems to really have an enhanced amount of self awareness.

Bump This: Funny Girl, Chloe, Goodbye Mr. Blue

48. Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately

Genre: Rap, Trap

There are very few artists that are as entertaining as Freddie Gibbs on social media. Leading up to this project, his Instagram stories and Twitter stories (when they were around) were the most out of pocket, bizarre videos you’ve ever seen. Most of them accompanied with his now meme-able catchphrase, “duh fuck?”

With Freddie dropping some of the best collab albums of the last decade, Pinata, Alfredo and Bandana, I had nothing but high expectations for $$$. Is it as good as the three I just listed? No. It’s still a very high quality project with many highlights. Rick Ross, Pusha T, and Scarface have some of the best features of the year. I mean how can Ross fail on a track called Lobster Omelette?

While the front half is still quality, the back half really is the highlight. The emotional highs of Grandma’s Stove and the phenomenal beat selections on tracks like Decoded and Gold Rings helped Freddie’s delivery hit just as hard. Living proof that if you have the right beats dealt to you, you can do some serious damage and that’s exactly what Freddie does here. Contender for best album of the year about doing coke and selling dope.

Bump This (Instead of Coke): Gold Rings, Grandma’s Stove, Lobster Omelette

47. Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard

Genre: Art-pop

I thought for sure The XX were going to drop something this year, or maybe I’m just delusional. At least I thought I was until I heard Oliver’s heavenly vocals slide across the lead single to Hideous Bastard, Romance With a Memory. Then the DJ said, “that was the new track from The XX bandmate Oliver Sim from his upcoming solo album.” Um… NOT WHAT I WANTED!

All jokes aside this is basically The XX minus Romy. Jamie XX, per usual, does a great job producing this album and knows how to play to Oliver’s strengths. While a handful of the albums on this list will involve heartbreak and anguish, this might be the most heart-wrenching. Take the song Saccharine and hear how much he is devastated by having his heart broken. His vulnerability oozes out of him by comparing his efforts to dip his toes into falling in love as the addictive taste of sugar, to then saying he’s “right back to sugar-free with [his] heart under lock and key.”

He also reaches vocal high points I did not expect from him. His performance on the intro track, Hideous wasn’t talked about enough this year. The heavy strings with an impassioned Jimmy Sommerville feature made this an emotional listen. One that will definitely give you the sad sighs and then write on Tumblr about how he ‘gets you’.

Bump This: Hideous, Romance With a Memory, GMT, Saccharine

46. Los Bitchos – Let the Festivities Begin!

Genre: Cumbia

This year I wanted to break out of my shell that I was stuck in last year. I mainly listened to alternative, barely any rap, and pop music. My goal was to explore more genres I typically don’t align with. Los Bitchos really struck me by the eye-catching album cover. It really reflects the bright, bombastic, colorful tunes that are on the album.

Let the Festivities Begin is an all-instrumental album that’ll make you want to dance with your Airpods in. Listening to this at the gym will raise some eyebrows, but to be fair are they listening to Los Bitchos? Probably not, so how could they understand? Despite the lack of lyrics I can somehow hear lyrics. I would love to hear what words could be put to such exciting instrumentals. This album is also produced by Alex from Franz Ferdinand, so it’s a very beat driven album as well. Give this a try if you want some lively tunes to brighten your day and dance wherever you find yourself placed while listening.

Bump This: Change of Heart, I Enjoy It, Lindsay Goes to Mykonos

45. Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

Genre: Alt-pop, Rock

A Phoenix drop is always exciting. Like Peter Bjorn and John and Beach Bunny, Phoenix can nearly effortlessly make a catchy pop tune. The title track, Alpha Zulu was a good tease for the record because it honestly doesn’t sound like anything else on the rest of it. It’s like the band’s attempt at a club track. I wasn’t blown away by the track, but it will get stuck in your head easily. It wasn’t until Tonight dropped where I was really invested in what was to come. As a kid, Vampire Weekend and Phoenix were my two bands. I knew nearly every track if you were to play a one second snippet. So to hear Ezra collab with the band on Tonight had my youthful heart soaring. It’s easily one of the best written and performed songs of the year (one that you may see on my song list, but don’t tell anyone).

The rest of the record is a pretty standard Phoenix one. That’s far from a bad thing though, they know what they’re doing and they’re good at it. Artefact actually reminds me of Room on Fire era The Strokes. It’s a sick power-pop ballad that has a riff that’ll stick with you throughout the week. After Midnight sounds like a long-lost Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix cut and Winter Solstice for Bankrupt. It’s a culmination of all the things that has made this nearly 25 year old act such a force for many in the early 2000’s onward.

Bump This: After Midnight, Tonight, Artefact

44. Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

Genre: Bedroom Pop, Neo-Soul

You can argue Steve Lacy to be the breakout artist of the year and I wouldn’t disagree. He’s been at it for years producing tracks for J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and even Vampire Weekend. Within the short amount of time that he has been active he has created a sound that is pretty recognizable at this point.

While I really enjoyed his production style and online presence, I didn’t know a whole lot else about the guy. Gemini Rights came along though and really stuck with me. His sound fits within the state of music currently, one that will probably stand the test of time the best out of the constant stream of artists trying to fit into this “vibey”, stoner era of pop music. Steve’s vocals are really strong on tracks like Mercury and Sunshine. I’m glad that Foushee makes an appearance here too. She deserves a lot more attention than her TikTok sounds, very unique voice that doesn’t sound like a try hard.

What I enjoy the most out of Gemini Rights is how fluid it feels. This is an adventurous album that goes through many styles and manages to juggle a lot of different ideas such as toxicity, prolonged love, and learning from mistakes without a resolution. This came out at the perfect time in mid-July. I hope nothing but the best for Steve’s future in music, its’ bound to be bright.

Bump This: Mercury, Sunshine, Helmet, Bad Habits

43. Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance

Genre: Rock, Post Punk

Horsegirl were the dark horse of my 2022. Ballroom Dance Scene existed in the background ever since it dropped nearly two years ago now. I was really intrigued by how melancholy and hopeless it sounded, but also the fact that they were from Chicago. Anti-Glory dropped earlier this year and really caught my attention with how unpredictable it was with how surprisingly punk it was at times. They also put on a very solid Lollapalooza performance. Horsegirl did everything right, except for choosing their band name.

This record is a post punk journey through misguided expectations. It’s never a rough one, but wow is it all over the place. Sometimes the tracks feel abrupt, sometimes they feel like radio hits, some feel like long-lost grunge era tunes, and other times they’re having soft piano driven interludes. I loved the transition of Option 8 into World of Pots and Pans. Those two work as a really nice companion piece. There’s a lot to commend here, I just hope they continue to grow more and more by year.

Bump This: Option 8, Anti-glory, Billy

42. Drake & 21 Savage – Her Loss

Genre: Rap, Trap

I’ll preface by saying this, I haven’t liked a Drake album since 2016’s Views. Everything else has either been boring or way too bloated. There have been some great singles since, but as an album hell no. With Honestly, Nevermind being the first of his two releases in 2022, I was mildly disappointed not because it was bad, but also because he tried something new and it really didn’t work. What DID work on that album was Jimmy Cooks, the final track of the album featuring a 21 Savage collab. So that is really what had me looking forward to Her Loss.

Not only is this the best Drake album in years, it is the hungriest he has sounded too. Some of his fans will disagree I’m sure, but this felt like Drake had some shit talking to do and brought 21 out with him. There are so many quotable lines from this project like “she a ten tryna rap, it’s good on mute” or “yeah I got the stripes, but fuck Adidas”, which is something I missed from him. Sure he had “say that you a lesbian girl, me too” but is that really what you want people to quote from your album? The lyrics may be toxic at times, but that’s what Drake is good at doing, talking his shit. A man can only watch from the sidelines.

21 and Drake have very good chemistry and rarely miss a beat on this hour long, 16 track album. Let’s hope that 21 is more open to doing a collab album with J. Cole now. That one would break me like Action Bronson on a kids stool.

Bump This: BackOutsideBoyz, Rich Flex, Broke Boys, 3AM on Glenwood

41. Rosalia – MOTOMAMI

Genre: Reggaeton, Art-Pop

Rosalia is one of the biggest forces in reggaeton and arguably the most popular artist not named Bad Bunny. As I said before, my mission this year was to venture further into genres I’m not entirely familiar with and reggaeton was definitely one I needed work on. I’ve dug Rosalia in the past, I don’t remember a lot from El Mar Querer, but I did remember liking it. MOTOMAMI is a very special release with how much it experiments and all the risks that it takes sonically. The production on tracks like BIZCOCHITO and BULERIAS is so crisp and smooth.

There are a handful of moments where she’s able to show off her pipes aside from her powerful delivery when she raps. SAKURA and DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA being the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard from most singers of any genre this year. Having an artist like Rosalia is very exciting for the future of music. She has the opportunity to inspire so many artists the way she has captivated the globe already.

Bump This: SAKURA, BIZCOCHITO, DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA

40. Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows

Genre: Alternative

This is the best that Death Cab has sounded since Kintsugi. What I really respect about DCFC and Ben Gibbard in general is that he pays attention. Asphalt Meadows sounds like a more polished, modern Death Cab album. One that still sounds like their signature sound, but suits this modern alternative sound. The title track nails this atmospheric, speedy ballad that you can only imagining what that sounds echoing throughout a crowded venue full of dedicated fans. Leading into my next point, this feels like the album that if you didn’t like Kintsugi or Thank You for Today, this will more than likely win you back.

Ben knows how to tell a story really well. That’s no secret, but hearing a song like Rand McNally is a nice reminder of what he’s capable. I wouldn’t put it on the same level of something like their classic Cath.. but it definitely pulls an emotional punch similar. Here to Forever also feels like classic DCFC. Ben plays with our emotions once again with this confessional track that shows he is willing to do anything for love Meatloaf style.

Can you tell I’m glad this band is back to doing what they’re so good at? Asphalt Meadows took a few listens, but it’s totally worth the first shot to appreciate how well written these atmospheric, heartfelt tunes will carry you through the day.

Bump This: Asphalt Meadows, I Miss Strangers, Fragments from the Decade

39. Beyonce – RENAISSANCE

Genre: Dance- Pop, House

I gave RENAISSANCE a try back when it first dropped and bailed a few tracks in. Must’ve not been in the right mood because months later I returned and thought it was dope! I don’t know what the fascination was with artists giving house music a try, but I’m glad it worked out for Beyonce.

It had been six years since Beyonce had released Lemonade, an album I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. Despite me being mildly allergic to bees, the Be-Hive had reeled me in. She has such ferocity in her delivery. The kind that’ll make men whimper to their knees and say “anything for you Mrs. Carter!” She really knows how to let the audience know she is in command and that’s definitely apparent here.

I appreciate how Beyonce didn’t just go out on a whim and just dabble in this new genre. There’s a lot of love put into the style and vocal delivery that makes it feel sort of timeless. Songs like Cuff It and especially the dazzling closer Summer Renaissance, which interpolates Donna Summer’s classic, I Feel Love, show that she is dedicated to putting on this show for us.

As much as I want to not like these big name pop stars at times, RENAISSANCE makes the crave for more material like this. It’s bright, bumpin, impactful, and a good time all around.

Bump This: CUFF IT, SUMMER RENAISSANC, VIRGO’S GROOVE

38. Flipturn – Shadowglow

Genre: Indie-Pop

In an interview with the band talking about their record purchases, one of the members stated that he loved John Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme because it’s how it made him feel what words sometimes can’t do. Well, sonically Shadowglow makes you feel like you’re taking flight. A flight with your best friends on a journey of who knows where.

Bands like Flipturn give me a lot of hope for the future of mainstream indie. The writing in a lot of these songs feel like they’re singing to their family and friends. They speak and sing with passion that’s impossible to ignore on any given track. The guy’s vocals remind me a bit of the lead singer of Chicago band Whitney. They have a sort of willowy whine to their voice that I’m really into. The only difference is that the singer of Flipturn really could crank it up at any given moment. Part of what makes them so exciting is you don’t know where they’ll go next on the following track, but they all transition VERY well into the next.

This is an album that was made with a lot of love. One that I would appreciate just as much ten years ago as I would now. Flipturn is definitely one to look out for in the coming years.

Bump This: Burn, Playground, Sad Disco

37. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry

Genre: Rap

Getting the obvious out of the way, no it is not as good as Daytona… but that’s a high bar to set. It’s Almost Dry is easily one of the highest quality rap albums of the year. Half the tracks are produced by Kanye (sigh) and the other half are by Pharrell. Both sides definitely have high highs. The Kanye beats sample more classic sounds from the 60s and 70s, the most iconic being the John Lennon sample on Dreamin of the Past. That sample is utilized so well and Push does a kickass job flowing through it all (even if the Kanye feature is kinda garbage).

The Pharrell side isn’t as strong as the Kanye side, but still has a lot to appreciate. Labrinth’s contribution following his success on Euphoria was exciting and easily the best song on the back half. Nigo’s involvement is a fun time as well, I’m glad that he was able to make this presence worthwhile here too. Overall, it’s pretty much what you expect lyrically from Push, strong wordplay, really unique adlibs and punchlines. Cocaine’s Dr Seuss continues to kick ass with song writing and deciding who he wants involved in his work.

Bump This: Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes, Dreamin of the Past, Diet Coke, I Pray For You

36. Rina Sawayama – Hold the Girl

Genre: Dance-Pop, Pop

Rina Sawayama was one of the most exciting names to come out of 2020. Her blend of 2000s pop and alt-rock was unlike anything that was out at the time. It still is a great album, but now with Hold the Girl, this proves she is more than just her debut.

Rina really knows how to play to her strengths. She has a powerhouse of a voice, one that was meant for these booming, echoey choruses that feel like they’re being sent into outer space. This Hell has this 2000s power ballad essence with a really unexpectedly great guitar solo towards the end. Then there’s songs like one of my personal favorites, Holy (Till You Let Me Go), which sounds like a lost 90’s club anthem with one of my favorite vocal performances of the year.

I really appreciate the heartfelt, slower moments on Hold the Girl too. Send My Love to John being a love letter to her friend that had struggled with coming out to his family. It’s a nice moment towards the end of the record that stuck with me every time I revisited. I hope that I can catch Rina on the road sometime soon because these past albums sound sensational through headphones.

Bump This: This Hell, Frankenstein, Holy (Til You Let Me Go)

35. Jack White – Fear of the Dawn

Genre: Blues Rock, Experimental Rock

It could’ve gone either way with which Jack White release to put here, but I find myself returning to Fear of the Dawn more. This is the most fun I’ve had listening to a Jack White record in a while. While Boarding House Reach is a great album in its’ own respects, this one just feels like Jack is saying, “fuck it, let’s just get weird!”

This album couldn’t have started any better than with the roaring, abrasive Taking Me Back. A track that feels like a classic jam from him, but also refreshingly new. The sounds you here all across this record caught me by surprise, which is the best part about it. A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip is featured on Hi-De-Ho, a fast paced, groovy tune that still manages to feel normal within this album’s zaniness.

Upon first listen, the transition from Taking Me Back Into the title track snuck in very seamlessly. Relistening to it now I feel as though the whole project functions the same way. The way these tracks flow into each other and offer up their own unique sounds and personalities makes this feel like a more complete record than it proves. It’s a blast from beginning to end.

Bump This: Taking Me Back (also try the gentle version!), This Was Then, This is Now, Hi-De-Ho

34. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it Down

Genre: Rock

The first time I heard Spitting Off the Edge of the World, I was invested. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been off the map for years now so I clung onto my steering wheel desperately as the song premiered globally on the indie station. Nearly a whole decade has passed since Mosquito was first purchased on my iPod Touch. Karen O did a cool album with Danger Mouse, but still… I WANT THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS!

This album was a really interesting first listen and an even better second. This is unlike anything the group has done thus far in their nearing 20 year career. Instead of an all out rager of a dance-rock album like Fever to Tell or a rhythmic alternative album like Show Your Bones, Cool it Down does exactly what the title speaks for about half the record. This is a slow burning, apocalyptic, melodramatic force. Songs like Burning and Wolf come off pretty corny at times as they feel like final boss video game music during their highest altitudes, but it really works.

Fleez is probably the closest you’ll get to a “quintessential” YYYs track. As a long time, loving fan of Fever to Tell that track really stuck with me with how distorted the guitars were and how sassy Karen’s vocals are too. For people who thought Mosquito was a step backwards and wanna whine about how their best days are behind them, go choke on Karen’s spit, this is great shit.

Bump This: Spitting Off the Edge of the World, Fleez, Blacktop, Lovebomb

33. Metro Boomin – HEROES AND VILLAINS

Genre: Trap

I’ll spare you the “you can trust Metro” puns, this was quite delightful.

Metro continues to show why you should respect his craft, especially when put aside other producer albums like DJ Khaled’s God Did. There was a lot of love put into this project and the features he had elected to spotlight this were near perfect. 21 Savage and Future THAT good behind a Metro beat should be no surprise at this point. 21 needed some redemption anyway after his awkward performance on that Calvin Harris track. Travis also steals the spotlight whenever he shows too, which really builds up more anticipation for Utopia next year. This is also narrated by Morgan Freeman just like Savage Mode II was in 2020. He didn’t spit any bars, but maybe on the next in the series.

I don’t have much else to say other than it’s hard to come across a producer’s album FULL of guest features that nearly all hit. HEROES AND VILLAINS is a rare case. Are some songs better than others? Of course, but this has endless replay value. He also found a way to include the recently deceased Migos member, Takeoff in a very honorable way. Great way to end the mixtape.

Bump This: Umbrella, Raindrops (Insane), Metro Spider

32. brakence – hypochondriac

Genre: Glitch-pop, emo rap

There was a 100 Gecs sized hole in my hyper-pop heart this year. There were new discoveries like The Underscores and Glaive that I enjoyed quite a bit, but nothing stuck. Then I see come upon this brakence record and now that hole is cemented. Locked tight.

What an experience this was, man. If you thought 100 Gecs were genre pushers, give brakence his flowers. All the daffodils, roses, although he’d probably prefer cannabis if we’re talking plants am I right? This is a very downward spiral of an album. In a mind-warping way, he raps, rocks, sings and dances to his own sad horn in the best way. Deepfake will go down as one of the best alt/hyper-pop meshed tracks of all time. The theme of being obsessed with being your inauthentic self to cope with mental pain is hard to hear since he really pours it out on this track in particular.

Hypochondriac deals with many hard handed discussions. Suicide, addiction, mental struggles… and you may think that sounds cringe because topics like that are usually mistreated in modern music for popularity. This is different. brakence has crafted the messiest, polished album this year (that I’ve heard) and it’s not even close. I appreciate what he does for this genre if you can limit him to one. He also kills the trope that glitch/hyper-pop needs a shitload of autotune and vocoding to sound good, which typically turns me away from the genre. This is nice. brakence… yeah he’s nice.

Bump This: cbd, deepfake, caffeine

31. Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa

Genre: Rock, Post-Punk

Spoon can easily be a contender for having the best album covers. Look how bold and striking it is! Enough playing art critic, let’s play Spoon enjoyer.

I had this conversation with my dad about how Spoon can drop an album and won’t get excited no matter how good it sounds. It’s weird though because every time I hear a song or album by them I really enjoy myself. This was no different, The Hardest Cut, great track! Wild? Also great! So why did I put it off? I have no excuse other than I was probably listening to something in the top ten for the hundredth time.

Lucifer on the Sofa is a great time. This could honestly be labeled a blues rock record if not for maybe one or two tracks. Spoon didn’t need to switch up their sound, but this definitely sticks out to me more than their last project, Hot Thoughts in 2017. The blues comes full force as the band slaps me in the face with Held, this slightly ferocious (by Spoon standards) tune that only teases other bluesy tracks like The Devil and Mister Jones, which feels more blues than it sounds. The storytelling and conveying of emotion on this feels a lot like that style. Almost like a Gary Clark Jr. on his latest album.

You’ll get classic sounds you’d expect from the group too like The Hardest Cut and My Babe, but Spoon is so good at doing what they do at this point. They can make twenty more records that sound like this, I’ll put it off for three months and then finally love it because I remember how much I dig this group.

Bump This: Satellite, The Devil and Mister Jones, The Hardest Cut, Wild

30. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

Genre: Indie rock, Post-Punk

Wet Leg might be the coolest duo out there. These two have so much chemistry on and offstage and it really reflects in their musicality. This really just feels like an album of two friends exchanging stories. Stories that range from awkward as hell to relatable in some respects.

I love how crude or blatantly absurd some of this project is at times. There’s “is your muffin buttered, would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” or the part in Ur Mom where the lyrics are, “okay, I’ve been practicing my longest and loudest scream” and then screams for an admittedly long time. There’s a lot of charm that comes from them for that reason.

I also kind of hate this album because half the songs get stuck in my head at least once a week. Most times it’s Chaise Longue, which I like so much because of how much it reminds me of early 2000s post-punk revival. Angelica has this sort of la di da delivery that annoys me constantly, but in a way that I’d still forgive them.

Wet Leg has my full attention after dropping something as awesome as this.

Bump This: Wet Dream, Ur Mom, Chaise Longue, Angelica

29. Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

Genre: Art-pop

My expectations were completely unreasonable for this album. So much so that I was disappointed the first time listening. Thankfully, I sat with it a little longer and thought a bit more rationally. Not every album can be Titanic Rising and that’s okay.

Even though it isn’t as good as Titanic Rising, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is still one of the best pop albums of the year. The best part of the project is how deep you can sink into Natalie’s vocals. She really hits the right emotional strokes. Any of the instrumentals on these songs could standalone and be called a classic record. The emotional impact of something like God Turn Me Into a Flower or The Worst is Done will stick with you. The Worst is Done is also one of the year’s most intoxicating pop tracks. This feels like the radio hit that’ll never be. I love the part where she sings, “In the world’s loneliest city, we’re not meant to be our own angels all the time.” Lyrical content of that quality and cleverness is something to expect from her songwriting at this point.

If you want your feelings to be hurt alongside a very passionate, soothing voice and lose yourself into a spiral of euphoria mixed with devastation… you’ll love this the way I do.

Bump This: The Worst is Done, God Turn Me Into a Flower, It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody

28. The Backseat Lovers – Waiting to Spill

Genre: Alternative, Folk Rock

Who would’ve guessed that Kilby Girl could launch The Backseat Lovers to make an album as spectacular as this. I caught this album at the tail-end of the year and it really just blew me away with how much of departure this is from their sound that made them break so big. When We Were Friends is a solid album with a lot of really strong singles and an established sound that kind of stuck with the popular alternative of that time. Waiting to Spill feels like The Backseat Lovers spent a year of only listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Hail to the Thief. The singer sounds like he’s channeling his inner Thom Yorke on a handful of tracks.

What I love about Waiting to Spill the most is the simplicity of the lyrics. They aren’t easy or basic, but they really reflect the tone and the style of the record. One of the few albums this year that really has an album artwork that matches the tone of the record really well (yes, that makes the album better). Silhouette is one of the best openers of the year. It’s a six minute autumnal wet dream. There’s only 23 words spoken in this mostly instrumental track that doesn’t overstay its’ welcome at all.

I think what really makes me fall for this album is how much spirit was put into it. Not all these tracks sound alike. One song sounds like classic Backseat Lovers, while another track like Follow the Sound resembles a Belle and Sebastian track from The Boy with the Arab Strap era. It’s a wonderful album that gives life to mainstream folk-rock, which has not garnered any attention of mine for years.

Bump This: Silhouette, Follow the Sound, Know Your Name

27. Ari Lennox – age/sex/location

Genre: R&B, Neo-Soul

Dreamville had an amazing year in 2022. J. Cole had some great features, JID consistently proved why he’s the hottest rapper this decade so far, and Ari Lennox shattered expectations with an instant, soulful, classy, dirty record.

age/sex/location sometimes puts a song like WAP to shame. This is a very honest and upfront record that has Ari really explaining in detail what this love and attraction has her feeling. It is seriously the horniest album of the year by a mile. Of course that’s not why I placed it at this position. Ari also shows why she is to be in discussion for best powerhouse voices of this generation.

For every time Ari is saying she wants to be worn like a hoodie (Hoodie) or having her back blown out and waste her time (Waste My Time), there’s a beautiful vocal performance to back it up. It’s one of those voices where it has so much demeanor and strength that you believe every word of what she’s saying. Her conviction carries this record a long way.

This is a very soft, sultry, and tasteful album. An album that has many amazing memorable moments whether it be Ari’s bubbly, confident persona beaming or the often intoxicating instrumentals/beats. One that I hope will have a lot more people hop on the Ari Lennox train.

Bump (and grind) This: POF, Pressure, Waste My Time, Boy Bye

26. redveil – learn 2 swim

Genre: Jazz Rap

redveil has had a pretty big past few years. For someone who has barely become of age, he has blown up in the underground hip-hop scene. I first found out about him during quarantine when he dropped his debut, which was solid. Nothing that really gripped me, not like learn 2 swim did this year.

L2S is an album that hit an emotional chord for me. This feels like the type of music the late, great Mac Miller would’ve made back in his GO:OD AM era. It’s very jazzy, redveil’s flow and cadence are very chill and reserved, the production he did on this too is well beyond what anyone would expect of him this early in his career. I’m pretty sure he’s aware of it too. Morphine and Diving Board both cover what stage he’s at in his career and what seems to be expected of him. It’s also advice that he has been given, but feels like he’s sort of reminding himself to stay true to his ways too. Speaking what he’s been told and embodying it.

I’ve heard this album a bunch of times this year and it impresses me every time. An artist like redveil will make you want to pick up a pen and paper and start writing your own material. His lyrics and style have paid off big time, this is the jazzy rap album that a post Mac world deserves.

Bump This: pg baby, diving board, morphine, mars

25. Cheekface – Too Much to Ask

Genre: Dance-Punk, Power Pop

Thanks TikTok! You put me onto this weird ass album and I love it (please don’t steal my info).

I have no clue where Cheekface came from. They’re a band that is like if Ariel Pink and LCD Soundsystem had a child that ate dirt. This is mosh pit music for the weird kids. I know it sounds like I’m insulting this project, but I promise it’s more charming than I’m making it seem. For example, the opening track of this album has a part where the singer yelps, “life hands you problems, make problemade”. If goofiness like that turns you off, you probably won’t love the track where he shouts “A BIG CUP OF NOODLES!” for 56 seconds.

This album is very quirky and off the walls, but it’s a really creative and pretty fun dance party. One of my favorite tracks of the year falls on this album, You Always Want to Bomb the Middle East. It’s this indie pop banger that is pretty much least serious anti-war ballad of all time. It’s a total earworm and the lyrics are once again really clever and bizarre as anything from this year. There’s also a somewhat parody (if you can call it that) of LCD Soundsystem’s Losing My Edge, which essentially covers the same concept, but instead the singer proclaims he wants to be the singer on an EDM song. It’s a clever moment that shows the self-awareness Cheekface has on this entire record.

Trust me, this is some of the smartest satire you’ll hear all year.

Bump This: You Always Want to Bomb the Middle East, We Need a Bigger Dumpster, Featured Singer

24. JER – Bothered/Unbothered

Genre: Ska

It feels almost purposeful to put JER’s album next to Cheekface’s. Both of them have their own unique way of addressing the political state of the world (better than Jaden Smith did this year).

JER is part of the YouTube channel Skatune Network, a channel that specializes and highlights modern ska. While I had never really knew about him before, Bothered/Unbothered makes you want to know more. The album is like the embodiment of Hey Ya! syndrome. You can easily throw some ass or start a mosh pit to any of these tracks and it’d make sense, but the lyrics go a little deeper than just a party song.

There’s You Got Yr Card Revoked! where JER sings about not wishing he had to prove himself to be something more than just his race and being instantly profiled. The opener, Bothered, has a pop-punk friendly intro that poses the question that equality won’t mean fairness until it’s accurately demonstrated. We still live with these stereotypes and prejudices that stick into many people’s minds. To JER, this would still not be living free since “to agree to disagree is to live in complacency”. As stated earlier, as heavy handed as the lyrical content is on this album, the instrumentals are still a total blast. It’ll make you feel like ska never went anywhere.

JER makes a lot of great points and demonstrates that this genre still has air to breathe yet, as this album I believe will inspire a lot of people to take on the genre again if it blows up the way it deserves to.

Bump This: You Got Yr Card Revoked!, Cold Truth, Decolonize Yr Mind, You Can Get it if You Really Want

23. Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time

Genre: Dance-Pop

For years I’ve felt I’m one of the few people that doesn’t get EMOTION. I’ve tried to enjoy that album, but for some reason something does not click. Not to say there weren’t good singles, but something Dedicated or The Loneliest Time are more my speed.

Carly Rae Jepsen did what Dua Lipa had done in 2020 with Future Nostalgia, a groovy, modern take on 80s pop. This couldn’t be more visible than on Sideways, which feels like a slow jam at the classiest prom you can imagine. This 80s energy continues on Shooting Star, a cheesy, but cute bop about love, astrology, and dancing your life away. Plus I really like her “I’d like to let your bed get to know me” line. I’ve never heard that before and it got a laugh out of me.

As every CRJ album has, there’s a lot of memorable radio friendly hits like Surrender My Heart and Talking to Yourself that BEG to be blasted through speakers. Her voice hits those high notes really well at certain moments on those songs in particular. Beach House can also fall under that category if not for the stupid part towards the end where multiple voices come in saying they have beach houses in Malibu.

Believe the hype around this one. This is CRJ’s best album to date and will be blasting through my speakers shamelessly next summer.

Bump This: The Loneliest Time, Sideways, Western Wind, Surrender My Heart

22. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

Genre: Synth-Pop

It’s a shame that Abel’s performance of I’m a Virgin from American Dad couldn’t make it on Dawn FM.

Dawn FM feels like the perfect companion piece to After Hours. Abel really finds a lot of success when it comes to synth pop, so to see him come up with this multi-layered conceptual album was really cool. This album gets bonus points for having it narrated by Jim Carrey, who seems to have become this trendy figure to have around again all a sudden. His narration is suave like a late night radio DJ giving the most sinister and creepy vibe to this somewhat colder record.

This album is very reminiscent of how scattered Starboy was in 2016. There’s so many different styles that Abel covers. The performance on Gasoline feels like a confident, yet antagonistic delivery. The concept is pretty dark how he says he wants to be put in a sheet and set on fire if he dies from OD’ing. Abel’s desperation is a recurring theme throughout the record. He’s a toxic lover that you don’t really want to relate to, but you find some habits of his behavior in. It’s to the point where the tracks reflect this idea, How Do I Make You Love Me and Is There Someone Else.

Dawn FM has a lot of very epic moments too. The transition of How Do I Make You Love Me into the night drive, synth banger, Take My Breath really kicks it off. This is a BIG song. One that has a lot of atmosphere the way that Starboy and Blinding Lights did too. This however has nothing on what is arguably the pop song of the year, Less Than Zero, which has the best instrumental and emotional downpour of the entire record. It fits very snuggly at the end of the record, which provided the little boost it needed.

It’s another great The Weeknd album that feels like a worthy second helping of After Hours greatness.

Bump This: Take My Breath, Less Than Zero, Best Friends, Gasoline

21. Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter

Genre: Dream-Pop

I came across Ethel Cain by mistake. I was listening to Lorem Life, the podcast hosted by Dev Lemons on Spotify thinking it was the Beach Bunny interview and instead came upon the Ethel Cain interview instead. They had some very nice things to say about Preacher’s Daughter and Ethel seemed pretty down to earth, so why not give it a go?

I figured since this was on Lorem Life that it would be an upbeat record. Nope. Not even close. This is one of the darkest albums I’ve heard in recent years. It’s a concept album about Ethel running away from her family and falls in love with a cannibal she meets along the way… I’m sure you can guess what happens there. This isn’t a Bones and All record.

There’s too many moments on Preacher’s Daughter to list that just wowed me. The explosiveness in drowned out, shoogazey instrumentals really make some parts of this story hit harder than it should. I realize that some of the albums on this list are pretty melodramatic, but this feels properly dramatic. Running away from home is not meant to sound pleasant. She sings about the reasons as to why she ran away and the effects that left her feeling traumatized in ways that will make you think about your own relationship with your parents.

I won’t spoil the ending of the record if you’re interested, but if you’re in for a hauntingly, miraculous pop record I implore you to check Ethel’s masterpiece out. There’s near ten minute tracks that will rip your heart out and shorter tracks that highlight how talented of a vocalist she is too. It often times gets drowned out by the guitars and apocalyptic drums, but it’s almost melodic. Can’t recommend this one more.

Bump This: *This one should be listened to in full, but the first track will hook you*

20. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention

Genre: Rock

From day one there’s no way this was going to fail. When you have a song like You Will Never Work in Television Again as your lead single, you’re gonna get the Radiohead fans excited. Not just any Radiohead fans though… OLD SCHOOL Radiohead fans.

Thom Yorke has been pretty active doing solo work these years following Radiohead’s last album in 2016. Same goes for Johnny Greenwood, who has been a part of a lot of great film scores in recent years too. Pair those two with the drummer of Sons of Kemet and some magic happens. This is a beautiful nightmare of an album. A Light For Attracting Attention isn’t a dominating, breakthrough, album… It’s just really really high quality.

Take the second single The Smoke, which has probably the catchiest bassline this year. It’s a total earworm that will slip into your brain and make you wanna practice it on your own bass guitar. Like many tracks, this one also has a soothing sax that seeps through Thom’s very subtle vocal performance. Pana-Vision illustrates a similar vibe where instead of the sax playing backup it is the core aspect. The underlying themes of classism on this one hit especially hard. Seeing people for who they are without their metaphorical clothing.

This album succeeds of saying a lot with a little. The Opposite is carried by these cool, borderline breakdown level of guitars and again, a really awesome bassline. It’s also very hypnotic the way Thom’s vocals get distorted and weepy during the “bridge”. It plays to this paranoid and hopeless atmosphere you hear throughout the record. For it being sort of a downer, A Light for Attracting Attention still has a good replay value.

Bump This: Speech Bubbles, You Will Never Work in Television Again, Thin Thing, The Smoke

19. Orville Peck – Bronco

Genre: Country

On the very rare occasion a country album will totally wow me the way that Chris Stapleton did with Traveler, Kacey Musgraves with Same Trailer Different Park, and Orville Peck with Bronco.

Orville is an interesting dude. He stands out in the country scene for the reason of not wanting to be like any of his peers in his genre. He plays up the gay cowboy persona to the max as I’ve seen him perform live as well. He’s got a powerful voice that really has an emotional pull. A fair amount of times he discusses his narrow glimpses he’s had with death and suicide. The way he croons and even bellows on The Curse of the Blackened Eye about these feelings is heartbreaking. It’s a slow burn that really pays off big time.

It’s no secret that he knows how to nail a soft, acoustic track with very minimal, showy instrumentals, but there’s a lot of bangers here too! The lead single Daytona Sand has a boot stomping beat and feels especially hype when the tempo speeds up during the chorus. Lafayette, while a somber track about heartache, is a tonally upbeat track that strikes as a true and traditional country song.

Hexie Mountains is a definitive track here as well. It’s all you could ask for with sad cowboy music. It’s a defeat of mental anguish that instead of there being a happy ending, just leaves you feeling his pain and doubt. Orville will play your heart the way he plucks and strums his guitar so well on Bronco. One of the brightest voices in country.

Bump This: Daytona Sand, The Curse of the Blackened Eye, Hexie Mountains, C’mon Baby, Cry

18. Djo – Decide

Genre: Psychedelic Pop

Joe Keery has been everywhere in 2022. When he’s not playing Steve Harrington on Stranger Things, he can be found playing for his project Djo. A psychedelic pop trip that feels like Blade Runner put into an album.

This dystopian album made me feel many things. Joy above all, as this is a very synth heavy album with many grooves and sways. The opener Runner painted the best picture possible. It’s a chaotic, blippy bloopy, jam that feeds perfectly into Gloom. While Joe chants “and now I’m ready to go” so am I. This album kicks off reaching the highest of highs I could’ve expected. Tracks like Half Life show that Decide isn’t as predictable as you may think. There’s explosiveness and a guitar breakdown in between these Tame Impala like keyboards. Even if the drumming is a little one note, the instrumentals still are all over the wall and exciting.

End of Beginning may be a cheat code for my heart since he’s singing about how much he feels like himself when he’s back home in Chicago. The song feels like a gust of wind blowing in from the windows going down Michigan Ave.

Decide is a total blast from start to end. It almost feels too short even at 13 songs. There’s a lot of creativity and inspiration put behind the instrumental arrangements. A handful of times Djo just happens to say the right thing at the right time. Whether he’s talking about changing his persona and name or critiquing the seemingly empty world he builds on this record, he does it well.

Bump This: End of Beginning, Gloom, Change, Figure it Out, Runner

17. Kenny Beats – Louie

Genre: Instrumental Hip-Hop

Kenny Beats seems like the coolest hip-hop producer out there. His show Don’t Overthink Shit is really impressive. He knows how to craft beats to match the artist’s style. On Louie though he ditches working with any artist to craft an album full of instrumentals. Ones that range to lo/fi YouTube beats, to ones that feel like they were made for someone like Vince Staples or Denzel Curry on a hype track.

There are a few small artist appearances on Louie like JPEGMAFIA on Still, who shouts his instantly recognizable “Double Up” adlib or Slowthai’s vocals on Family Tree. It’s not at the forefront of the songs though, it’s mainly meant to act as maybe a pause in between a rapper’s bars (if one chose to rap over it).

There’s not a ton I can say other than I’ve probably listened to this album more than probably any other album this year with maybe one or two exceptions. I can pop this on while I’m working, driving, or just talking to people and it creates this fresh, chill environment with beats ranging from 70’s influenced (Drop 10) to bedroom pop inspired (Family Tree). It’s a nice moment in hip-hop I didn’t know I needed this year.

Bump This: Still, Hold My Head, Family Tree, Drop 10

16. Viagra Boys – Cave World

Genre: Post-Punk

Cave World feels like a joke. It pokes fun at us, calls people apes, and have songs called Baby Criminal and Creepy Crawlers. The type of album that makes it feel like you’re being bullied by big hulking Swedish man.

I love when a band like Viagra Boys comes around. It’s no secret that politics seep their way into a lot of modern music, but I like the way they go about it on Cave World. The delivery of the singer’s lyrics feels like a high school government teacher who doesn’t get paid enough to deal with shitty kids and is just on their last leg. Even if its sometimes a bit over the top, their attack on COVID deniers, flat earthers, and conspiracy theorists is brutal. As is said before, they’re often times comparing these people as monkeys and that if they want to act like monkeys, then they can leave society and throw shit at each other. Their words not mine.

Point is, Viagra Boys are the perfect group for gen z and meme culture. It’s not dumbed down for that demographic in particular, but their sense of humor is more on the nose and in tune with this internet culture and meme centered humor that you can find on Twitter (spelling monkey like monke or addressing absurd COVID theories). This is an aggressive, in-your-face album that will make you mentally stand up and cheer. It’s like the politically active band kid’s voices in their head spoke up and made a record… but it actually sounds great.

Bump This: Troglodyte, Creepy Crawlers, Return to Monke

15. Joey Bada$$ – 2000

Genre: Rap, Boom-Bap

There’s very few artists that can pull off a sequel/series of albums, let alone having the second one coming out over a decade after the original. Joey’s 1999 is held in a very high regard. One that a handful consider to be one of the best mixtapes of all time and I would agree. I loved how his narration felt like a guide into his adolescence and how he came to be who he is today. It didn’t feel traditional. It felt like a good kid, m.a.a.d. city arrangement. Might be a hot take buuuuuuuuut… 2000 is even better than 1999.

Joey did everything right. His projects that have followed since 1999 had dropped have had a wide array of sound and ideas, not disbanding the sound he created on that mixtape but more-so evolving it. The fact that he was able to recreate the essence of that original tape and modernize it was spectacular.

The emotional high points on this mixtape like Eulogy and the heartbreak of Survivor’s Guilt was something I did not expect. Joey talks about how much he grieves the deaths of those he has held close over the years. To the point where he says he won’t be forgiven for the death of his childhood friend from his friend’s family, nor himself. Songs with that much vulnerability on a tape that has equal amounts of bangers isn’t easy to balance. It’s not a problem here in the slightest, since after the somber energy coming off of Eulogy we get treated to the catchiest track, Zipcodes. I mean this in the best way possible, but the sample horns that are littered in between verses make it sound like something you’d hear on a NBA 2K soundtrack. Again, not a bad thing, if anything it helps relay this nostalgic feeling that I can only imagine Joey meant to do here anyway.

In any other year in recent history, I’d probably say this would be the best rap project that came out, but there’s more that somehow beat this. 2000 is a must if you enjoy jazzy, lyrical, boom-bap hip-hop. Joey Bada$$ has been doing great shit like this for years, but here I think is where he mastered it.

Bump This: Zipcodes, Survivor’s Guilt, Show Me, Wanna Be Loved, Eulogy

14. Beach House – Once Twice Melody

Genre: Dream Pop

The rollout for Beach House’s eighth album was my favorite of the whole year. It extended back as far back as November 2021 where the first four songs dropped. Those four songs were all BANGERS to no ones surprise. According to my Last.fm, I had streamed that EP over a dozen times and was shocked that it was not on my Spotify Wrapped. In case you aren’t familiar with how BH rolled this out, they dropped three EPs each with about four or five songs in the months leading up to the album. There weren’t a lot of surprises when it came out as a collective package in February, but hearing it all together with an additional five songs upon release was a transcendental listening experience.

Each of these four different EPs were wonderful in their own respects, but there were definitely moments that stuck out most. Pink Funeral and Masquerade have these haunting beats that I’ve never heard from them before. Victoria’s vocals soar on both as the beat carries you into this feeling that reminds me of when you close your eyelids really sharply and you see the streaky colors glide across your vision.

I don’t think you could’ve asked for a better lead single for this record either. Once Twice Melody felt like Beach House on crack. This was a groovy, mesmerizing, emotional ride. One I did not think would be topped until the next EPs started dropping and we got songs like Sunset and Over and Over. Ever get mad at how good an album sounds? That’s me typing about this album as I’m revisiting this wonderful time.

Beach House have slowly become one of my favorite bands ever these past few years. College really turned me onto them again, so having Once Twice Melody drop a semester after I graduated felt like my parting gift. In this four chapter ride, this solidified them as legends in dream pop and indie as a whole. Nobody is doing what these guys do.

Bump This: Once Twice Melody, Hurts to Love, Sunset, Superstar, Runaway

13. Alvvays – Blue Rev

Genre: Indie Pop, Shoegaze

YES! Yes, yes, yes. After five long years they’re finally back and arguably better than ever. Alvvays had a lot to live up to, at least by my standards. Their self titled and Antisocialites were the soundtrack to my early college years and if it didn’t sound good, well… I would… I would just explode. My heart would go pop as if it was Dollar Tree party popper and if you knew anything about Dollar Tree party poppers you’d know that they’re mostly defective and leave you and your fellow partygoers disappointed because they didn’t pop. Oh yeah, I’m still talking about an album.

Blue Rev is indie pop album of the year. While Antisocialites was a more bubbly and brighter shoegaze listen, Blue Rev feels like the grungier cousin. There’s like twice the amount of distortion and fuzz and vocals that I did not expect from Molly. She did not have to go THAT hard on Easy On Your Own. Molly’s vocals feel big here. The chorus elevates this burst of indie wonder as she exudes this final verse that has a fantastic build-up. One that is almost as good as the following track, After the Earthquake. This was the song that I’ve always wanted from the group. A jangle-pop sensation with a surprise second breath that makes me feel like Max from Stranger Things as she levitates listening to Kate Bush.

Alvvays is not without their smart lyrics and social commentary either. Very Online Guy follows this man who craves relevancy and validation from strangers online instead of those around him. Belinda Says is supposed to be a hint at what the afterlife is like and even credits Belinda Carlisle’s classic, Heaven is a Place on Earth as inspiration. Pomeranian Spinster is a fuck you ballad that almost begs a mosh pit. It might be the most aggressive song that Alvvays have ever made as it has layers of guitar fuzz, distorted vocals, and some punchiness that once again provide a second breath to an already great album.

Alvvays came at the right time. I can’t predict the future, but in my eyes this will be a classic in the coming years. One that I plan spinning on my turntable for time to come.

Bump This: Belinda Says, After the Earthquake, Very Online Guy, Pomeranian Spinster, Pressed, Pharmacist

12. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

Genre: Hardcore

Say what you want about Anthony Fantano, but I got to give credit to him for putting me onto Diaspora Problems. What the hell is this, man? I love when surprises like Soul Glo come around. This is the most exciting album I’ve heard in 2022.

Diaspora Problems is a culmination of many things. It’s a hardcore act that stands out very much from others in the genre and they know it. They own it in fact. I love their many different genre inclusions like hip-hop and hardcore, but also a little bit of electronic elements as well like on Driponomics. This track felt like Soul Glo’s answer to Death Grips as this beat and lyrical delivery melt my face off with how insane it sounds. A track that asks the question of how much you’re willing to pay for stupid name brand shit. I had also never heard of Mother Maryrose before this track, but her feature was sick enough for me to check out some of her material too.

My favorite aspects of this album is when the group meshes all their powers together. Gold Chain Punk has this beautifully skull crushing finale that highlights that the group has more than just one talented vocalist. Thumbsucker has this awesome, unexpected horns section in between the verses. Verses that cover how disguising your emotions will end up giving more pain than it would in the moment had you just faced it head on.

The album has my favorite closer of the entire year with Spiritual Level of Gang Shit. This song fucking rips. It starts off with a rap intro which then translates into this uproar of hardcore with a massive horn buildup mixed with some of the most passionate screams I’ve heard in any album this decade. Diaspora Problems is nothing less than a future classic. The themes and sounds on this already feel timeless and are totally worth every minute of its’ 40 minute runtime.

Bump This: Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?), Thumbsucker, Driponomics, Spiritual Level of Gang Shit

11. The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language

Genre: Alt-pop

The 1975 are like a box of chocolates, you really never know what you’re gonna get. The album before this had a handful of their typical indie pop love songs, but also some house music and even a pretty hard rock song for their standards at least. That album seemed to divide a lot of the fanbase, but this one really felt like it was for everyone.

LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends is interpolated in the opening track and is instantly recognizable. It’s Matt Healy’s favorite song, but the way that he pulled it off to illustrate what the album was going to be like was impressive. It alludes to how Matt is going to push his interesting mind onto you and tell you that you’re stupid, while also telling you how much he loves you. Happiness is probably the closest you’ll get to a really solid, self-titled album song anytime soon. Give the saxophonist his flowers here too by the way, I heard this song live a few weeks ago and he puts his all into that performance.

Being Funny in a Foreign Language never runs thin on ideas either. I really respect how Jack Antonoff’s production ideas on this album feel very balanced with the band’s sound, but also help them venture off into different genres too. Part of the Band was the lead single to this project, which sounds like the cutest Bon Iver song for douchebags you’ll ever hear. I know that sounds like an insult, but Matty’s cynical persona oozes on this track. This track, however, had the unfortunate task of following Looking for Somebody to Love which is easily my favorite song the band has done in years.

LFSTL this extremely Antonoff influenced pop banger with the catchiest little quirky riff. Of course in typical The 1975 fashion though there’s something a little deeper and darker than just a catchy song. It’s about how gun violence and toxic masculinity draw parallels in ways that are inhumane and ridiculous. I’m underselling this description, but trust me it’s an amazing track. About You is the sweetest post-breakup song the band has written. Saying that no matter how it ended, I still will always remember you. You can’t always recollect the specific memory, but you might remember how it made you feel. The 1975 is very good at pointing out these little things that we don’t think to think about.

The tour for this album cycle was “The 1975 at Their Very Best” and I agree. This might be the band at their very best. It’s a short, sweet, yet concise record that I really have not been able to stop listening to since it dropped in October.

Bump This: About You, The 1975, Oh Caroline, Looking for Somebody to Love, Wintering

TOP TEN TIME!

10. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future

Genre: Rap, Boom Bap, Jazz Rap

Every time Denzel Curry drops an album I never think that he’ll top it. Every time I am proven wrong. Melt My Eyez See Your Future is Denzel’s best project to date (even he thinks so too!)

Denzel is one of very few rappers that really knows how to consistently and creatively rap about mental health. The song Mental delves into Zel’s experience with suicide and how much he tells himself that there’s more than meets the eye and less that should exist in your mind. Simultaneously giving some really memorable wordplay before the first verse is over. I love how effortless it feels coming out of him.

Walkin’ was one of the first songs I’ve seen from Zel that pretty much had everyone in agreement with how much this song fucking rules. This western-like beat starts with him preaching that it’s him against the world and how he walks with his back of the sun and his head to the sky. A moment that really preludes the concept of Denzel’s struggles and strife whether it be related to race, pressured by capitalistic society, or how he has felt spending his time in the industry.

MMESYF has a great balance of jazzy tunes, radio friendly hits, and journalistic raps. This is one of the few albums, if any, that really is worth listening to the deluxe too. A handful of the tracks on it are done without a beat and subbed out with the Cold Blooded Soul version. A jazz collective who really elevate these already great tracks. If you love lyrical hip-hop and haven’t checked out Denzel before, please do. He only gets better.

Bump This: Walkin, Worst Comes to Worst, Mental, Zaitoichi, X-Wing

9. Black Thought & Danger Mouse – Cheat Codes

Genre: Rap

I’ll start by saying a few things that have nothing to pertain to the sound. Firstly, this album art is fantastic. It’s bold, it’s memorable, and it really suits the style of the album. Danger Mouse really is one of the best cheat code with modern rap. Aside from this and the obvious, legendary Danger Doom (MF DOOM) collab, he’s collaborated with A$AP Rocky (Sundress) and Jemini too. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of his production. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is easily the best produced rap album of the year.

So many different sounds, vibes, and features keep Cheat Codes at the highest echelon. Black Thought was a perfect choice to work with Mr. Mouse. His style with The Roots really translates to this alternative, citylike atmosphere. The Darkest Part feels like a train ride I’ve taken into Chicago. You see the cityscape in the distance through the fogged, tinted windows as your feet are perched on the chair in front of you. Same applies to the booming Strangers. It feels like a walk through a city neighborhood with some good friends. The good friends in this case are none other than Run the Jewels and a surprising A$AP Rocky feature too. It’s an attack on the distractions that conquer our minds as the true struggles run frantically in front of you.

Speaking of features, there’s an all star cast to jam with Black Thought. Conway the Machine, Raekwon, MF DOOM, Michael Kiwanuka, and a shockingly great Russ feature. The way that all these collabs work so well really begs the question why doesn’t Danger Mouse drop a mixtape of features? He knows how to bring out the best in a lot of these people.

Cheat Codes keep you hooked by the stories and metaphors Black Thought is naturally talented at producing. Pair that with what is now my favorite Danger Mouse project to date and you’ve got a very addictive east coast hip-hop experience. I’ve listened to this while working out, driving, and writing and get something new from it every time.

Bump This: Strangers, Because, The Darkest Part, Belize, Aquamarine

8. Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature

Genre: Power Pop

Chicagoan Lili Trifilio’s project Beach Bunny hits me hard for some reason. I feel very inspired by her musicianship and the songs she makes are simple, but really intoxicating. She has done this multiple times in the past, but many times on Emotional Creature too.

Entropy, Oxygen, and Deadweight can be argued as one of the better three track runs this year. Entropy is one of those inescapable songs that pops in at the most random times. It’s also a very good shower song the way she sweetly sings “somebody’s gonna fiiiiiiiigure us out and I hope they do”. To be fair many of these songs have that quality. Oxygen was my most streamed song this year at about 32 times I believe? Honestly a rare quality in a song, at least for me, where I can listen to it many times even within a day.

On first listen I was stunned at how confessional Lili is about how much love is in her. Honeymoon was all about being hopelessly in love and making sadgirl bedroom pop. I listened to this album the first time in the car with my girlfriend and just the feelings we shared while listening to Emotional Creature felt similar to a lot of the themes of her lyrics. Sure there’s songs like Deadweight and Gone that have a touch of heartache, but at the core there’s no love without a little ache.

This is the cutest album of the whole year. There’s so many moments where I started getting goosebumps because Lili’s vocals and really catchy instrumentals on tracks like Karaoke and Gone tug on my heart just that much harder than the average love song. This is a special album that unlike a few entries higher than this one, I will be playing many of times.

Bump This: Entropy, Oxygen, Karaoke, Deadweight, Scream

7. Black Midi – Hellfire

Genre: Experimental Rock, Avant-Prog

Black Midi is a fucking force. Them and another band you’ll see later on this list put out albums in 2021 and then dropped an even better one THIS year. Cavalcade could easily be any group’s best record, but Hellfire is the bigger, bolder art piece. It has a lot to say without outright saying it. Welcome to Hell is an anti-war track about how the casualties of war for your country isn’t what wins the war, but rather killing for your country is what will win it. This album has lots of macabre themes and lines like that.

Sugar/Tzu is the most batshit rock song you’ll probably hear all year. It opens with an announcer of what sounds like a wrestling match. When he shouts “let’s see some thunder!” as it drones out into the melody, you know shit is going down. It wastes no time as this quick, tight instrumental that resembles a chase scene in a video game plays out into a roar of sax and drums that sound like Animal from the Muppets is letting completely loose.

The political motives and relatively unbiased views really make for an interesting concept. They split this album and give us a breather in between separating the ideas they had with Still. A song that gives the other vocalist a time to shine. The main vocalist returns pretty much next song with his kinda villainous delivery. I’m pretty sure I said this about Cavalcade last year, but his off-kilter performance on so many of their tracks is nothing less than admirable. Even if you absolutely hate his style, you can’t deny how impressive this group’s musicianship comes across. 27 Questions and The Race is About to Begin are tracks that couldn’t exist if the group didn’t have a high level of chemistry. One that you don’t come across often.

This is a modern nightmare of an album with a lot to say if you’re willing to buy into the insanity.

Bump This: The Race is About to Begin, Welcome to Hell, Sugar/Tzu, Still, Eat Men Eat

6. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Genre: Rap

Kendrick announced his album dropping this year by quoting a tweet from a fan that said he was ready to just accept his career was over. He then dropped The Heart Part V, which is one of the most powerful pieces of not only music, but visual media as well. That music video with the deepfakes was done immaculately well. I had no idea what to expect from this album since the last we heard of Kendrick was the Black Panther soundtrack from 2018. Man, did I miss his artistry.

I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert regurgitating what Kendrick meant by certain things or describe the album’s meaning in excruciating detail in like 70% accuracy. You can go to Twitter for that. I am going to tell you why I think it’s the most important piece of rap music since To Pimp a Butterfly though. This is an album I feel only Kendrick could make and have it have the impact it possesses. A two disc album that separates his past self as an ignorant, toxic man with fragile masculinity into the “Mr. Morale” side where he sought out therapy and discusses how he is trying to conquer some deeply rooted trauma.

The first disc has some very artistic choices. We Cry Together was a total meme which proved the point of it being on here. It’s simply just a couple fighting and throwing old shit in each other’s faces. Two people that should not be a couple whatsoever, but seem to thrive off that toxic energy. People saw it as a joke, but it’s really showing the irony of it all. Father Time has this beautiful beat with a Sampha beat that blends in perfectly. Kendrick covers how his father is to blame for how he is today and how men having daddy issues is something that was hard for him to accept and that it affects more people than they’d like to admit. This isn’t the first time this topic comes up either.

On the Mr. Morale side we are gifted with some great features, very healing lyrics, but most notably two of the most therapeutics and shocking pieces I may have ever heard in rap. Auntie Diaries is the story of his aunt having a sex change into a male and how as a kid that was hard for him to understand. The usage of the ‘f’ slur is done in a powerful way that doesn’t come off as insensitive, but honorable. I say honorable because he goes on afterwards saying how ignorant him and his peers were when it came to that concept when he was younger.

Mother I Sober broke me. This piece of music was therapeutic for me and I can only imagine how many others. Kendrick covers generational trauma and all the impactful events that shaped him negatively when he was just a child. His mother had faced sexual abuse growing up and in turn had invoked this fear into him or pain that something bad would happen to her. What follows are lyrics that feel as though Kendrick is sitting on the therapy couch as we sit down and nod our heads as we paper through these thoughts he has to share. The ending is really what makes this work. What is a very deeply affecting tune thanks to this miraculously somber beat and Beth Gibbons ‘chorus’ if you can call it that, shifts into a positive note on how we can break these generational curses as this is something bigger than just a song.

Many people took issue to Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers not being as replayable as his past works. Why would you want it to be like that? This felt like an album that took everything inside of him to make and show how someone held at such a high regard in the music industry has changed his ways. He is a role model that I feel touched a lot of hearts as well as my own. I won’t listen to this one as much as good kid, m.a.a.d. city, but I will always be grateful that an album as confessional and real as this one exists.

Bump This: N95, Rich Spirit, Father Time, Auntie Diaries, Mother I Sober

5. SZA – SOS

Genre: R&B, Pop, Rap

I am in just as much awe that a SZA album came out this year than Kendrick’s did. CTRL celebrated its’ five year anniversary this year and it would mark two years since her best song at the time, Good Days had dropped. It was a long wait, but damn is S.O.S. more than worth it.

SZA could’ve taken another three years and I would still say how worth it was to wait. Her voice is as booming and bodacious as ever. She feels like someone I’ve met from college or from hometown. Her personality is really beaming and honestly really cool. She is an artist that is free from being caged into one genre and isn’t afraid to try out new styles either. With a 23 song album, you’d almost hope that it would. Usually in this modern era of R&B or rap when I see over 20 songs I groan or roll my eyes (Chris Brown, Gucci Mane), but here I get mad with how well this works. I get mad because all of a sudden there’s an exception to this 20+ song unwritten rule.

As much as I love CTRL, SOS shits on it when it comes to the production. There’s typical SZA bangers like Gone Girl, Nobody Gets Me, and Shirt where her voice is really what steers the song to greatness, but there’s tracks like Kill Bill, Good Days, and I Hate U where the beat really will not leave your head. Sometimes you can be recognized for having memorable lines for the wrong reason, but SZA doesn’t believe in that. Again, this is a 20+ song album that has quotable lines littered through nearly every song. Shirt and and I Hate U being ones begging to be screamed in the car. F2F will polarize some people with how jarring if a shift tonally it is, but it really is the closest we’ll get to that rumored SZA and Hayley Williams collab.

SOS is an album I never thought we’d get. It’s an album that far exceeded any expectation I could fathom. There are wonderous moments like Open Arms and Forgiveless that I never knew I needed this year, but more than scratch any itch. It’s a consistently great project that whenever it feels like it might lose steam gets a second breath of life. If SZA and Kendrick can drop in 2022… Frank Ocean better drop in 2023.

Bump This: Forgiveless, Good Days, Nobody Gets Me, Kill Bill, Seek and Destroy, Open Arms

4. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

Genre: Folk, Indie

Confession time, I never have really struck a chord with Big Thief. Something about Adrianne Lenker’s vocals just didn’t work for me all these years. I really don’t know what the hell happened, but I fell so hard for this album when it came out. I really couldn’t be more thankful for DNWMIBIY to drop when it did. I was grieving a loss that was very sudden and recent at the time and something about this album just made me feel better.

Even if I didn’t care as much for Big Thief before this album, there were still singles I enjoyed. The common theme of the ones I did like was that they were pretty viciously sad. Well this album more than delivered as this is the only album that evoked tears out of me this year. Sparrow is the culprit here. What the hell are they trying to do to me? Adrianne’s vocal performance is devastating alongside that slow strumming and light snares. It’s a deep exhale of a breather after the previous songs also try to politely bum you out.

The beautiful thing about DNWMIBIY is that beyond the somber and grim aspects about mourning and recovery is that it remains hopeful and that’s what is so freeing about it. There’s passionate love proclamations like the title track and the obvious Love Love Love. Whether these proclamations are healthy is left to imagination, but point is this is an album that nails the different struggles of modern life and love. The more folksy songs are really creative and unique, while the more alt-radio friendly tracks have some edge that make them a little tougher to digest.

This isn’t an easy album to listen to all the way through, but the payoff is very much worth the 20 track runtime. I can’t promise that if you didn’t care for Big Thief before that this’ll win you over, but it sure as hell did for me. I bought the vinyl almost immediately after streaming it the first time.

Bump This: Simulation Swarm, Sparrow, Certainty, Title Track, Spud Infinity, Dried Roses

3. JID – The Forever Story

Genre: Rap

I’ve been a JID fan for years now. This is the album he was born to put out.

Rap needs a hero like JID around to remind everyone why rap is the most important genre of this generation. Denzel Curry tweeted the day this album dropped that The Forever Story inspired him to get back into the studio after believing he had dropped album of the year.

God this album is a victory lap that keeps taking victory laps. Once Raydar kicks in you’re sucked in immediately. The lyricism is insane. Just for taste, I’ll leave this sample here: “In the danger, boys been endangered, been indentured, now my boys got business ventures, with my .9, I’m like ten avengers, snap a finger I can end avengers.” This is only in the second track too. This album starts off strong and never slows down. Dance Now is a song that highlights him coming back to his city and how he approaches the criticism that he receives in spite of his successes. It also demands to be blasted on the loudest setting of your speakers. And while you’re at it keep it on for the next three songs because they’re all flawless hype tracks that still have incredible lyricism and storytelling.

JID has the power to get an audience on board with is slower material too in between the hype. Kody Blu 31 has a very soulful vocal performance that I wasn’t expecting. It’s a heartbreaking moment about one of JID’s friend who bore the number 31 playing football and how JID is motivating the family to keep their heads high. I’m underselling the levity here, but it stands out as the first of few times JID slows things down to talk about the importance of family bonds and keeping strong.

Bruddanem and Sistanem follow Kody Blu 31 staying consistent with the theme of familial value. Bruddanem is about the brotherly bond that him and his friends share as he reminisces about how harder times strengthened the tightness of the group, while Sistanem is JID’s confession/apology to his sister for sacrificing their relationship when he began to take off. It’s a highlight that even with successes there come drawbacks and remaining faithful to those who helped get you to where you are. This could easily be a ‘fuck you’ track, but opts for the more meaningful.

The Forever Story dropped right at the end of summer and has stayed in rotations ever since. I love this album and the effect that it had on the rap community this past year too. JID flexes his writing and singing abilities as well as how good of a lyricist he has become too. He has eased his way into my top 10 with this one no doubt.

Bump This: 2007, Dance Now, Sistanem, Kody Blu 31, Crack Sandwich, Just in Time

2. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

Genre: Art-Rock

It’s a heartbreaking, yet fulfilling year to be a Black Country, New Road fan. Days before this album dropped, the lead singer Isaac announced he would not be continuing on with the band. The project will live on, but it’s a massive loss to miss out on such an amazing singer/songwriter as an asset here. Just hear his performances on the heart-wrenching Concorde or the nostalgic kick of The Place Where He Inserted the Blade. The dude desperately pleads the last chorus of Concorde as if it’s his final breath. Whatever he decides to do in the future, I hope it’s something more relieving for his mental health, which is why he left the band.

Last year I wrote about how Opus was one of my favorite tracks of 2021 for how off the wall, batshit insane it was to close out their near flawless debut, For the First Time. The instrumentals and musicianship on that track blew my mind. The same can be said for the entirety of Ants From Up There. BC,NR just seem to get high off of making music that is instrumentally unlike anything you’ll hear in indie while also actively tearing you apart. I’ve never been so moved by a song about waking up with toast crumbs in a bed or cleaning out a soup maker.

This is lyrically dense too. I already mentioned the bread and soup maker metaphors, but like SZA’s album, AFUT has a lot of memorable quotes too. Having Billie Eilish style is mentioned in a few tracks (still don’t know what it means) and the shouts of “GOOD MORNING!” on The Place Where He Inserted the Blade. Let’s talk about that track above all these because it’s an achievement. The tune is a slow dance into madness as Isaac is unable to decipher the euphoria of his love life being a dream or reality. There’s a clip of the recording of this song in the studio and it’s exactly how you think it would look. All these talented musicians performing a ballad for the modern era with smiles and beaming energy across all four walls.

Ants From Up There is a celebration in modern indie rock. Any band that has THIS tight of chemistry and THIS high of a level in songwriting and musicianship needs to be protected at all costs. I have no clue what is in store for BC, NR’s future but all I know is I’ll be front row.

1. Quadeca – I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You

Genre: Art-Pop, Experimental Hip-Hop

I went all the way into October thinking Black Country, New Road would be my album of the year. After all the nice things I said about it a paragraph before and it’s not the top? Nope. I went back and forth between these two many times and after a relisten this week, Quadeca’s I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You is my album of the year.

A handful of you probably have never heard of Ben Laskey before or if you did maybe you knew him from YouTube off of one or two viral videos. I couldn’t think of a better introduction to his music than this masterpiece. This album is about a ghost. The ghost of a man who just ended his life and is now facing the emotional turmoil of what he has gone through in his lifetime and what he has caused as well.

Tell Me a Joke starts off the album after the death has occurred in sorry4dying. Quadeca sees himself as a joke in the life he left behind. It’s a joke that his death was something that no one saw coming, but he firmly believed it to be clearly present. The explosivity of the last minute and a half can’t be put to words. It’s a distortion heavy tearjerker that captivated me instantly. From here on into the next few tracks, Ben is going through the afterlife seeing how it has affected those around him and how he’s starting to see the damage he has done.

There’s a variety of instrumentals and experiments through here too as coming off of Tell Me a Joke. There’s a bright twinkling beat that reminds me of Radiohead’s Daydreaming without the piano on Don’t Mind Me. The production was done entirely by Quadeca too, which shows how solidified this idea was before initial recording. I love how he was able to make his vocals sound as if they were ghostly and ominous as they narrate the struggles they didn’t foresee in the afterlife.

I don’t want to spoil the concept of this album any further because my hope is that everyone who has never listened before can be impacted the way I was. I knew nothing about Quadeca other than his appearances on the Hivemind YouTube channel before I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You. The sonics of this album range from experimental pop, to emo-rap, to singer/songwriter-like, to even noise compared to Death Grips. This album has so many great features where I had no clue how they would fit in. Danny Brown’s feature had me nervous because as much as I love his music I had no clue where his style would mix in with the overall aesthetic, but somehow I was proven wrong to worry.

I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You is my album of the year for taking on a challenging task of discussing such a pressing issue in the world like suicide and depression and making it something unique like this. I see a lot of myself in Quadeca’s lyrics and I know many other people will identify with his style and words too. This is a masterpiece in every sense of my definition.

Published by cpetschke

College student, writer, music lover, listener, learner.

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