2022 saw no shortage of fantastic music, which is perhaps why there’s so much disagreement as to what the year’s big, standout releases were. With this list, I attempt to break through the noise and put aside any personal biases to objectively assess the most important releases from this year.
#10. Alvvays – ‘Blue Rev’
Alvvays enjoyed a cult following before the release of Blue Rev and were already responsible for creating some of the best power pop songs of the 2010s (“Archie, Marry Me” and “Plimsoll Punks” among them). But their third album implicitly felt like a make-or-break moment – a test as to whether Molly Raskin’s band could finally enter the highest tier of indie stardom and solidify their legacy. That they did with Blue Rev, a dense, loveable, and disarmingly vulnerable set of shoegaze-inspired, distortion-heavy pop songs with some of the most irresistible melodies of the year. It’s no wonder the LP has already topped six separate year-end lists and broken many personal chart bests for the band.
#9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Cool It Down’
Karen O and her band were inescapable for much of the 2000s. A series of early EPs sent hype levels to a fever-pitch and their debut Fever To Tell somehow met and transcended the hype – with its hit “Maps” remaining one of the most enduring and iconic songs of that era. But O and co spent much of the last decade MIA after a disappointing showing with 2013’s Mosquito. While the title of the band’s comeback LP, Cool It Down, suggested a tepid return, it instead was more of a return to form. Leading singles “Spitting Off The Edge of the World” and “Burning” made for alt-rock gold that sent the band up to the highest echelons of the alternative and rock charts – and the album itself received a well-earned Grammy nomination.
#8. SZA – ‘SOS’
SZA’s debut Ctrl gave her the double-edged designation of “promising” – which is as much an endorsement as a reminder of quite how high the stakes come time to follow-up. It wasn’t always clear that the follow-up would do what was needed – the rollout was messy and confounding and, the long wait threatened to manifest in disinterest among listeners. Yet, in spite of all of that, the music of SOS turned out to simply be too good to not be a success. The album debuted at the top spot of the US charts and its breakout hit “Kill Bill” may be about to enjoy the same feat on the Hot 100.
#7. Black Country, New Road – ‘Ants From Up There’
Ask your music-nerd friends what their favorite album from 2022 is and the answer you’ll likely get the most is Ants From Up There – the thrillingly bold sophomore rock album from the London seven-piece (and the band’s last with lead singer Isaac Wood). One could spend all day listing the album’s various accolades – its Top 3 chart placement in the U.K. and the countless 5-star reviews it received, among them – but the most powerful testament to its importance is how dearly it’s held by so many already. That is what guarantees its placement among the likes of Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher as a beloved cult classic.
#6. Big Thief – ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’
Since their 2016 debut, this American quartet has been on a prolific roll – releasing one acclaimed indie-folk album after another. No one would have blamed the group for releasing more of the same but instead, they opted to solidify their legacy with an ambitious double album that sent them to the Top 5 of three separate Billboard charts and earned them the most critical admiration of their career thus far.
#5. Wet Leg – ‘Wet Leg’
If you were British in 2022 and regularly watched late-night TV, read the culture section of any major newspaper, or turned on the radio for any extended period of time, you know who Wet Leg is. The Isle of Wight, the best-friend duo earned hype from pretty much every section of the British entertainment industry – and from many corners outside the island – for their fun-loving, dryly humorous take on indie-rock. Though the deep cuts of their chart-topping debut didn’t quite match the expectations set by the pre-released singles, their carefree attitude and radiant joyousness proved a perfect soundtrack for a world newly reopened.
#4. Rosalía – ‘MOTOMAMI’
Rosalía may have already enjoyed her fair share of hits prior to the release of her third, Grammy-nominated LP, but it was MOTOMAMI that made her a star. A heady mixture of jazz, reggaetón, alternative and ambient sounds, nothing about it should work – and yet it all somehow does. Even its #1 single, and most obvious radio bait, “Chicken Teriyaki”, sounds unlike anything else you’ve heard.
#3. Taylor Swift – ‘Midnights’
No one holds the power that Taylor Swift does in the music industry. Her tenth album broke records before it was even released, it propelled vinyl sales to their highest in a generation and saw fans wait up night after night to see Swift gradually unveil the tracklist via TikTok. Oh, and the upcoming tour in support of the album quite literally broke Ticketmaster and led to a Congressional investigation. The magic of Midnights then is that it finds Swift as grounded as ever, doing what she’s always done best – penning deeply personal yet widely relatable tales of love and loss; zooming in on little moments of magic and rewriting these small intimacies with her sparkling glitter gel pen.
#2. Kendrick Lamar – ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’
It goes without saying to expect the unexpected from Kendrick Lamar – a man who has made multiple classics over the course of a decade by constantly subverting and exceeding expectations. Yet, the TDE rapper’s fifth LP truly feels like his biggest left-turn yet; a deeply personal double album that excavates trauma with disarming self-awareness and bluntness. It may not be another Pimp A Butterfly, but in giving permission for chart-topping musicians like himself to write so authentically, it may turn out to hold equal revelatory powers.
#1. Beyoncé – ‘RENAISSANCE’
“Please do not be alarmed, remain calm // Do not attempt to leave the dance floor,” goes the sample at the start of “Alien Superstar” – the first-leg highlight of Beyoncé’s seventh solo LP that has become a fan favorite. The warning though is superfluous because why would anyone want to leave a dancefloor playing the exemplary dance music that makes up RENAISSANCE? Indeed, no one did seem to want to leave her dance floor with Beyoncé scoring a rare chart double with the album.