So many amazing albums were released in 2022. Here I’ve listed my top 20. I’ve decided to list them alphabetically, as any of these albums could take my number 1 spot, depending on the day and mood.
1. Aoife O’Donovan – Age of Apathy
Standout track: “Sister Starling“
Genres: Folk rock, Bluegrass
This album feels both grounded, with its emphasis on acoustic guitars, as well as mystical – Aoife‘s voice swirls over elegant strings. The effect is a magical one; like stepping into an enchanted forest.
The lyrics are descriptive and, with the use of powerful imagery, each song tells a story. In my standout track, “Sister Starling“, Aoife sings: “Apples and oranges don’t make lemonade / but I press and I squeeze anyway”. It’s a reflective album about disconnection and reconnection; best listened to over a glass of red wine.
2. Aurora – The Gods We Can Touch
Standout track: “Cure for Me“
Genres: Art pop, Nordic-folk, Synth pop
Aurora is irreplicable. Every song is unique and yet all are so distinctly Aurora. She has a fascinating ability to create songs that are both extremely pretty as well as quirky, rich in interesting sounds. For example, my standout track, “Cure for Me“, uses the sound of a lighter being turned on throughout. It’s this kind of imagination that really polishes off the production on what would already be faultless tracks.
3. Blossoms – Ribbon Around the Bomb
Standout tracks: “Born Wild“
Genres: Indie pop, Indie rock, Synth pop
Blossoms are a favourite of mine, and those who know me will recognise this album cover as I often travel around with a tote bag with this emblem on it. Ribbon Around the Bomb is their fourth studio album and continues Blossoms‘ direction into more of a vintage sound.
This is their most wistful album yet – it feels more intimate and cerebral than a lot of their work, reflecting on themes of teenage melancholy (“The Sulking Poet“) and homesickness (“Born Wild“). Yet this is not a gloomy album – it’s just as playful as their predecessors, with its jangly guitars and earworm-y choruses.
4. Fatoumata Diawara – Maliba EP
Standout track: “An Ka Bin“
Genres: Folk, Wassoulou, Mali blues
This record, created in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture, is the soundtrack to an online presentation on the Timbuktu Manuscripts, as part of a project called Mali Magic, who strive to fight for the preservation of Malian culture.
Not only is it a wonderful, immersive soundtrack, it also expertly holds up as its own independent album. Fatoumata‘s voice is unique and instantly recognisable: able to transition from feather soft to guttural, as though coming up from her depths, and always carrying deep emotion. Like her voice, many of the songs shift and evolve as they go, going in directions you would not expect.
5. Ghost – IMPERA
Standout track: “Kaisarion“
Genres: Hard rock, Glam metal, Pop rock
IMPERA has to be one of the funnest albums to come out this year. The band, posing as a fictional satanic clergy headed by their anti-pope, Papa Emeritus IV, somewhat defy definition. Their albums vary in heaviness; this one takes influence from glam metal and hard rock, but also has a pop element.
Chock full of incredible power ballads, this is a truly theatrical listen. It’s probably the album I had on repeat the most this year!
6. gupi – you’re it
Standout track: “spiralcourse“
Genres: Hyperpop, Experimental pop
A mostly instrumental hyperpop album, you’re it is incredibly fun and full of experimental sounds and riffs. I love artists like this who really push the boat out and take risks – especially when they pay off as deliciously as this album does!
In an interview, gupi was asked about their influences and listed System of a Down and Britney Spears, and then stated: “[Also] I’m just looking at Sonic on my wall and like, he’s cool! Sometimes, I’ll just be like, I wanna make a song that makes me feel that way.”
Partly Sonic-induced is a perfect way to describe their music: imaginative, quirky, electro, cartoony and fast.
7. Jakey – ROMCOM
Standout track: “PINE BARRENS“
Genres: Hip pop, Synth pop
As the album artwork suggests, content warnings are needed for this album, as it deals with many difficult subjects including suicidal ideation.
I really thrive off music that looks unashamedly at these subjects, and Jakey is able to do so in a way that is both devastating as much as it is filled with good humour. “SURVIVAL HORROR” for example integrates the “I didn’t get no sleep ’cause of ya’ll” meme (and it works?!).
I also love the circular elements of this album, picking up riffs and lyrics from one song and using them in another, mimicking how thoughts can swirl and follow you everywhere, from one song to the next.
8. Katie Dey – Forever Music
Standout track: “real love“
Genres: Hyperpop, Bedroom pop, Experimental pop
Katie Dey jokingly described her music on Twitter as “chemically engineered to make 30 year old lesbians ugly cry in a parking lot”. And though I am a few years shy of 30 and not a lesbian, this description does not strike me as inaccurate.
Her music is gripping: it’s as unflinchingly emotional as much as it is experimental. Each song, with its confessional lyrics and bedroom pop aesthetic, makes me feel like I’m reading a new entry in Katie Dey‘s diary.
9. Lucius – Second Nature
Standout track: “Heartbursts“
Genres: Indie pop, Dance pop
This album has a lot of groove; rich in intoxicating harmonies, heavy bass and tinkling 80s style synths.
This is a truly mesmerising album. Whether a fast or slow song, all of them sound like they could be used during the climactic prom scene of an American high school movie set in the 80s. That description may seem a bit too specific, but after listening to the album, I’m sure you’d know exactly what I mean.
10. Mom Jeans. – Sweet Tooth
Standout track: “Hippo in the Water“
Genres: Pop punk, Midwest emo, Indie rock
This album is fun. The slow songs as well as the fast ones have a sing-along effect, making you want to shout the lyrics along with them. This quality, paired with the tumbling drums and distinct guitar riffs, is what makes the band so special.
In fact, Mom Jeans. might be the shining example of modern Midwest emo music, and this is their best album yet.
11. November Ultra – bedroom walls
Standout track: “le manège“
Genres: Chanson, Soul, Pop
You may be familiar with November Ultra‘s single “come into my arms“, which went viral on TikTok in 2022. If you liked that song, then you should definitely check out bedroom walls, her debut studio album!
November Ultra‘s voice is velvet soft and beautifully delicate. There’s something ethereal and comforting about it; something reminiscent of the 40s. I also love how she mixes English and French throughout the album; it makes for a really unique listen.
12. Obongjayar – Some Nights I Dream of Doors
Standout track: “Parasite“
Genres: Afrobeat, Soul, Spoken word
Wow, this is a magical album.
Obongjayar has an incredible voice and is a master at harnessing it to create different effects. He slides from guttural, scratchy lows to silky smooth highs in a way that is seemingly effortless. Not only this, his style also shifts between singing and spoken word. It’s a world easy to get lost in.
His lyrics are often deceptively simple, getting to the crux of issues in the matter of just a few words. “Sugar” opens with some of the best lyrics written in 2022: “We come from nothing, nothing’s promised / Break our bodies for this money / Hit that belly every day / Not too many options for my people so we pray.” From beginning to end, there is a deep tenderness to be found on this album and it feels truly personl.
13. Orville Peck – Bronco
Standout track: “Lafayette“
Genres: Country rock, Alternative rock
Strongly influenced by 70s country music, Orville Peck brings a fresh sound to the genre, worthy of scoring any Western movie.
It’s a tender album, and deliciously sappy – and I mean that as a high compliment. There is a great sense of urgency throughout the album, with twanging guitars and earnest lyrics. Full of melodrama and romanticism, Orville Peck might just be the Lana Del Rey of country music.
14. Pinegrove – 11:11
Standout track: “Respirate“
Genres: Americana, Emo, Indie rock
At the core of this album are messages surrounding taking responsibility in the face of climate action as well as the necessary though at times painful act of reckoning with and learning from the pain you cause others. This, along with Evan Stephens Hall’s sorrowful vocals, means it is hard not to become emotional when listening to 11:11.
Pinegrove have always been incredible at writing lyrics that feel so cerebral and yet deeply personal, with images or ideas that stick in your mind. From “Swimming“, which recalls a memory of almost drowning as a child: “Sputtering into the moving tress / And birds above and clouds all going on without me / They do hallucinate a ladder to the sky / I wanna be a part of it / I wanna live my life out”.
15. PUP – THE UNRAVELLNG OF PUPTHEBAND
Standout track: “Totally Fine“
Genres: Punk rock, Pop punk
There’s so much to love about this album; it’s upbeat, the drums are crashing, the guitars are screeching, it’s deliciously miserable and not ashamed to revel in its own unwashed sheets – this is pop punk perfected.
PUP write lyrics that call for you not to wallow but to shout your devastation alongside them. It’s a perfectly named album; each song reflects on some sort of spiral, whether it’s about anxiety (“Totally Fine“) or about the imagined feelings of a once-beloved, now-neglected guitar (“Matilda“). A deeply cathartic album to put on when frustrated about something
16. Reckless Love – Turborider
Standout track: “Turborider“
Genres: Glam metal, Hard rock, Synth pop
What a fun record! As the album artwork suggests, this is a glam metal album (see the typography used for Reckless Love in the left corner) with a heavy 80s synth pop influence. Like the artwork, this album is neon – sparkly, fun and alive.
It is worth mentioning that Reckless Love are a Finnish group, which maybe explains the je ne sais quoi quality that this record, along with many other Finnish rock records, has. It’s the ability to have joyously cheesy lyrics whilst also delivering unique and interesting hooks.
17. Silvana Estrada – “Marchita”
Standout track: “Te Guardo“
Genres: Acoustic, Singer-songwriter
With an album title that translates to “Withered”, this is an album that manages to both drip in pathos as well as feel light as a bird, thanks to Silvana‘s beautiful, lilting vocals.
Composition-wise, this is quite a stripped back album, with acoustic guitar as its backbone. It is this simplicity that allows Silvana‘s voice to soar. In fact, it feels like a lot is being held back on this record, as though Silvana is scared to say too much. In the moments where the other instruments, woodwinds and brass, burst through, the effect is breath-taking.
She and her band also gave a beautiful Tiny Desk Concert performance.
18. WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA – Neon
Standout track: “Orihime“
Genres: J-pop, EDM, Hip hop
Brimming with a unique blend of musical styles, this is a vibrant album, rich in influences and full of spunk. Don’t let the unlikely mix of genres worry you though – Neon manages to still be a highly approachable album.
It’s a short album – an EP really – only 26 minutes in length. But it packs a mighty punch! Singer Utaha seems to run through lyrics at breakneck speed, carrying an excitable energy throughout the record that marries the playful music perfectly.
19. White Lies – As I Try Not to Fall Apart
Standout track: “Step Outside“
Genres: Post-punk revival, Synth rock, New wave
I’ve been a fan of White Lies since their 2009 debut album To Lose My Life… and this latest album is no exception to my love for them!
I am always amazed by how they are consistently able to reinvent themselves without ever losing what makes them, them. With this latest release, they seem to be drawing more from their synth pop influences, and I’m loving the direction!
As with any White Lies album, the lyrics tend to existentialism, grief and everyday struggles. But this album presents some of their most raw lyrics to date. For example, the first track on the album, “Am I Really Going To Die” ends with a scared father being comforted by his daughter on the subject of mortality: “Am I really gonna die? / (Hey Dad don’t say that)”.
20. Yuuri – Ichi
Standout track: “Peter Pan” (ピーターパン)
Genres: J-rock, J-pop, Pop rock
I first discovered Yuuri through the anime Sk8: The Infinity, where his heavy beach vibe song “Infinity (インフィニティ)” was used as the ending theme. The full version of the song features on Ichi (meaning “One”), which is Yuuri‘s debut album.
This album feels a little like a throwback to early 2010s J-rock, yet it still manages to stay current. It is perhaps the “simplest” or most straightforward album on my list, but it speaks to a nostalgia in me.
I particularly love Yuuri‘s vocals, which flow from soaring falsettos to soft growls; he’s a real master at controlling his voice and there’s something quite performative about it too. This means it’s easy for non-Japanese speakers like myself to follow the emotions behind his songs, even without Googling the lyrics.
Thanks for reading!
What were your favourite albums of 2022?