Stereogum

The 50 Best Albums Of 2022 So Far

Even as the music industry attempts, sometimes unsuccessfully, to get back to normal, our collective COVID-era time warp hasn’t really resolved itself here in June 2022. In that sense, it feels especially weird and surprising to be running down the best albums of 2022’s first half right now. (Are we sure it’s not still 2021? Are we sure 2020 even happened?) Even more disorienting, any album scheduled to be released by June 30 was eligible for this list, so some of these records are from the future.

Viewed another way, in light of the bounty of great new albums already released this year, it’s not at all difficult to believe we’re closing in on the halfway point. Perhaps as a result of artists sitting on new music during the pandemic’s early phases and dumping it all on us at the same time, it was unusually difficult to pare down the list to just 50 albums this time around. Both in terms of widely acclaimed consensus favorites and personally beloved sleeper picks, there have just been so many albums to love. At the moment, the following are the ones the Stereogum staff loves the most. —Chris DeVille

Stereogum’s mid-year list is presented by TIDAL, the global music streaming service that offers the highest sound quality and Fan-Centered Royalties. You’ll find a playlist of tracks from the albums on this list here on TIDAL.

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50 - Silverbacks - Archive Material (Full Time Hobby)

Don’t let the name fool you: Archive Material is, in fact, a new Silverbacks album, the Irish indie quintet’s return with another batch of bulletproof songs. Tracks like “A Job Worth Something” and “Central Tones” find them refining their core sound, while stuff like “Different Kind Of Holiday” and the title track suggest groovier, spindlier directions the band could explore. Still anchored by Daniel O’Kelly’s sardonic, occasionally surreal lyrics and Kilian O’Kelly’s guitar wizardry, Archive Material is full of infectious hooks that simultaneously point to the weirder iterations of this band that could someday exist. —Ryan Leas

49 - Rolo Tomassi - Where Myth Becomes Memory (MNRK)

The long-running British art-metal band Rolo Tomassi had to record Where Myth Becomes Memory in remote trans-Atlantic fashion since leader Eva Korman moved to New Jersey just before the start of the pandemic. That could’ve killed a lot of bands. With Rolo Tomassi, that sense of distance may have helped give purpose and clarity. On Where Myth Becomes Memory, their already-vast genre-agnostic roar becomes even bigger and stranger. The pretty parts are prettier, and they draw as much from classical and ambient as they do from shoegaze. The heavy parts have become heavier, while keeping the band’s math-splatter prog inclinations intact. It all makes for an immersive dive into soothing noise, an album that reassures even as it tramples. —Tom Breihan

48 - SASAMI - Squeeze (Domino)

“Do you like me? Do you notice me? I need it to work! I need it to work!” Sasami Ashworth growls on Squeeze, an album that is intent on capturing and holding your attention. That desire manifests itself in whiplashes between a lot of different sounds. There are noxious nu-metal screeds and blissed-out, shaggy, classic rock jams. There’s a mangled Daniel Johnston cover and a song that sounds like an alternate-reality Sheryl Crow classic. The result is a showcase for a dynamic musician that refuses to be pigeonholed into being any one thing, a feverish desperation that’s ambitious and also infectious. —James Rettig

47 - Warpaint - Radiate Like This (Virgin)

Since their atmospheric dream rock was a sonic touchstone for the early ’10s, it’s easy to forget that Warpaint have been doing this for almost 20 years. It would also be understandable if they’d lost track of one another since releasing 2016’s Heads Up, but the California quartet’s sisterhood is reaffirmed on the glowing, effortlessly delivered Radiate Like This. As Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Stella Mozgawa approach new life phases — solo projects, kids, relocations — they arrive at a more soothing, whimsical place. Songs like “Stevie,” “Hard To Tell You,” and “Altar” groove with warm ’70s tones, while the crisply harmonized “Send Nudes” closes things out with a suggestive wink. It’s hard to imagine a more apt title than Radiate Like This — for Warpaint, it’s always been about the vibes. —Rachel Brodsky

46 - Gang Of Youths - angel in realtime. (Warner)

Gang Of Youths have always been defined by unabashed big-tent ambition, and on an album that traces the life of singer Dave Le’aupepe’s late father (and its fallout), they blow out a deeply personal story to global scale. Geographically, angel in realtime. hops between America, Australia, England, New Zealand, and Samoa, unfurling a narrative of oppression, shame, abandonment, sacrifice, redemption, faith, and familial tenderness. The soundtrack for this journey pulls from stadium-scale masters like U2 and Springsteen, their artful 21st century descendents like the National and Wilco, and even Polynesian field recordings. The end product is intricate and layered but aimed directly at the heart. —Chris

45 - Charli XCX - CRASH (Atlantic / Asylum)

When does authenticity die at the hands of business? Are you still selling authenticity if you’re, well, selling something? Charli XCX has been toying with these opposing forces in pop for years, particularly on 2017’s excellent Pop 2, and absolutely since she cooled on 2014’s viral “Fancy,” which she later said felt “fake.” Though it is moderately less experimental than her recent run of PC Music-packed releases, Crash combines Charli’s sincere love for hooks on “Good Ones” and “New Shapes” while still finding places to get weird (“Lightning”). After years of feeling like she had to pick a team — stadium-filling celebrity or IYKYN cult status — Charli dares to ask here, why not both? —Rachel

44 - Black Country, New Road - Ants From Up There (Ninja Tune)

On their final album with charismatic-weirdo singer Isaac Wood — though they didn’t know it at the time — the young UK art-rock band Black Country, New Road go fully epic. Wood bellows and shouts about a breakup with a trembling audacity, citing Billie Eilish and “Bound 2” along the way. Meanwhile his bandmates steer the heavy emotionalism of prime Arcade Fire into dense, proggy thickets and off theatrical cliffs, threading every song with the classical and klezmer elements that have always distinguished them from the pack. As an unexpected finale for this era of the band, Ants From Up There sure is grand. —Chris

43 - Miranda Lambert - Palomino (Sony Music Nashville)

Palomino marks a return of sorts. Miranda Lambert spent the first two years of the pandemic on experiments, side projects, and one-off singles. With Palomino, she’s back to the business of being the most charming, dependable star in the entire Nashville country establishment, making bright and immediate twang-pop songs that will sound good in your car. This time, though, she’s got some new weapons. Some of the best tracks on Palomino are grand, slick remakes of the gorgeously dusty acoustic songs from last year’s The Marfa Tapes. Others are fun, sideways rockers that reflect a sense of happy fearlessness. The whole thing drips with personality, especially when the B-52’s show up to the party. —Tom

42 - Toro y Moi - MAHAL (Dead Oceans)

Chaz Bear’s latest shapeshift is one of his greatest. On MAHAL, the veteran talent takes his eclectic Toro y Moi project into the realm of retro psychedelic rock, tinged with funk and jazz and teeming with pop appeal. It’s a summer album through and through; from the woozy “Goes By Too Fast” to the plainly stated “Way Too Hot,” you can practically hear the sweat on these songs. Yet they play like smooth refreshment on sweltering sun-drenched days, each groovy bassline and backmasked fuzz guitar inviting you to grab an ice-cold beverage and chill out. —Chris

41 - Anxious - Little Green House (Run For Cover)

As a forever-teen in a 30-something’s body, I didn’t stand a chance upon hearing Anxious’ emo nostalgia-core debut Little Green House — such a satisfying listen that it makes me a little less sad about waiting for a new Hotelier album. Mining decades of hardcore, punk, and emo — from Rites Of Spring to Texas Is The Reason to Jimmy Eat World to Death Cab For Cutie — these Connecticut shout-singers pay homage to their elders and use Little Green House as a potent vehicle to get some stuff off their chests, too. Across 10 minor-key power ballads, Anxious achieve catharsis and set an exciting precedent for future releases. —Rachel

40 - Harry Styles - Harry's House (Columbia)

Given his beginnings in a global teen sensation like One Direction, I can’t imagine the kind of pressure Harry Styles must face every time he puts out a solo LP — even now, three albums in. On his latest outing, Harry’s House (a nod to both Haruomi Hosono’s 1973 debut Hosono House and Joni Mitchell’s “Harry’s House”), Styles proves an adept interior designer and lets us peek through the curtains into a “day in the life,” as he recently described to Zane Lowe. We see Harry in love on the sexy synth-funk song “Cinema” and R&R Harry in the backyard on the wine-soaked “Grapejuice.” He takes us on multiple kitchen tours on the indie-pop “Late Night Talking” and the Prince-like “Music For A Sushi Restaurant.” A skeptic might expect Harry’s House to be the sonic equivalent of one of those decades-themed AirBnBs, but Styles’ vision is ultimately his own. —Rachel

39 - Destroyer - LABYRINTHITIS (Merge / Bella Union)

For his last several albums, Dan Bejar has been taking synth-pop and dance music and throwing them through the idiosyncratic Destroyer filter. LABYRINTHITIS is the culmination of this era. Veering wildly from unabashedly pretty material like “It’s In Your Heart Now” and “Suffer” to the bug-eyed “Tintoretto, It’s For You” or the spoken-word scrawl in “June,” LABYRINTHITIS pushes this iteration of Destroyer to its extremes — simultaneously its most accessible and its strangest. As ever, it sounds like something only Bejar could concoct, concluding his recent Destroyer trilogy with something equal parts frazzled and shimmering. —Ryan

38 - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Endless Rooms (Sub Pop)

For their third album, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever retreated to the countryside and let their songs breathe. From “Dive Deep” to its title track, Endless Rooms finds RBCF loosening up and stretching out. At the same time, the precise machinery of this band is running better than ever; “The Way It Shatters,” “Blue Eye Lake,” and “Saw You At The Eastern Beach” are instant additions to the canon of peak RBCF bangers. With three albums over four years, this band keeps returning with the goods. At this rate, they’re on their way to becoming a beloved indie rock institution. —Ryan

37 - Earl Sweatshirt - SICK! (Tan Cressida / Warner)

Earl Sweatshirt is just 28, but he’s already been living in the public eye for well over a decade, and he’s kept evolving the whole time. On SICK!, Earl sounds more confident than ever. This time around, his sound is esoteric but tangible. His beats warp and gurgle, but they’re linear enough to work as head-nod music. His lyrics demand to be parsed, but he’s quit murmuring them half-inaudibly, pushing his voice deep in the mix. Earl still makes insular, interior-driven rap, but his music, as distinct as it’s ever been, now makes for a more welcoming world, a nice place to get lost. —Tom

36 - Maria BC - Hyaline (Father/Daughter / Fear Of Missing Out)

Hyaline, adjective: having a glassy, translucent appearance. There’s not a better word to describe the sounds that Maria BC makes, so it’s a good thing they named their debut album after it. Recorded while the ambient-folk musician was living in Brooklyn — after they moved from their hometown in Ohio but before they relocated to Oakland — the main thrust of Hyaline is displacement, but it feels wholly transparent and self-assured. It sounds less like the discomfort of being somewhere unfamiliar and more like the confidence that comes with finding solace in one’s self wherever one might happen to be physically located. —James

35 - Cave In - Heavy Pendulum (Relapse)

Boston’s Cave In have been a band for more than a quarter century, and their career has been rich and varied; in just their first two albums, they went from underground metalcore pioneers to major-label rock ‘n’ roll wailers. Heavy Pendulum finds the band at a crucial inflection point. It’s their first album recorded without bassist Caleb Scofield, who died in a 2018 car accident, and with Converge’s Nate Newton instead. Scofield’s loss haunts these songs, but Heavy Pendulum isn’t a sad record. It’s a vast, overwhelming riff-maelstrom that pulls from every period of the band’s run and attests the the cathartic power of a thundering jam. Bands aren’t supposed to sound this vital this late in their careers, but apparently nobody told Cave In. —Tom

34 - Girlpool - Forgiveness (ANTI-)

Before the world was big, Girlpool’s Harmony Tividad and Avery Tucker were intent on facing it together. On Forgiveness, their fourth album, they’re still connected by that chemistry even as their viewpoints diverge in brilliant fireworks. It’s their most sonically adventurous album yet, veering between intense shoegaze and floaty hyperpop ballads and everything in between. And it contains two of Tividad and Tucker’s most accomplished achievements as songwriters: the lullaby-esque “Faultline” and crackling “Violet” stand alongside the best that Girlpool have ever done, boding well for this partnership well into the future. —James

33 - Oso Oso - sore thumb (Triple Crown)

Holed up in the studio with drugs, video games, a sound engineer, and his bandmate/cousin/lifelong best friend Tavish Maloney, Jade Lilitri laid down what he thought were demos for the follow-up to Oso Oso’s 2019 stunner Basking In The Glow. Instead, when Maloney suddenly died just weeks after the sessions, Lilitri opted to release those recordings as the finished product. The result is sore thumb, another study in startlingly melodic aching splendor, stripped-down in feel yet loaded with dazzling lyrics and fascinating sounds. —Chris

32 - Vince Staples - RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART (Blacksmith / Motown)

“AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)” feels like classic West Coast G-funk, but the party is infected with a piercing sadness. Arriving early on, it sets the vibe for Vince Staples’ latest exercise in autobiography, holding the hope of a future celebration in tension with an ever-present despair. Staples’ writing has never been sharper, and his producers are doing equally exquisite work. The breezy Ty Dolla $ign collab “Lemonade” sums up the RAMONA PARK ethos well: “Feelin’ like ice cold lemonade/ Nowhere to go when we in the shade/ Nowhere to go when we in a cage/ Sometimes life tastes bittersweet.” —Chris

31 - Conway The Machine - God Don't Make Mistakes (Drumwork Music Group / Shady / Griselda / Interscope)

Buffalo’s Conway The Machine has always come off a bit like the enforcer of the Griselda Records crew — the toughest rapper on a team full of tough rappers. In some ways, Conway’s major-label debut doesn’t fix what’s not broken. Conway once again raps hard shit over lurching beats from his favorite producers, with various rap legends (Beanie Sigel, Lil Wayne) stopping by. But God Don’t Make Mistakes also finds Conway in an emotional space, processing traumas like his gunshot wounds and his resulting Bell’s palsy in powerfully forthright terms. It adds a whole new dimension to a rapper who was already deeply compelling. —Tom

30 - Praise - All In A Dream (Revelation Records)

Hardcore bands don’t tend to last a long time, and Baltimore’s Praise went six years without releasing anything. Especially after drummer Daniel Fang got busy with Turnstile and Angel Du$t, it seemed safe to assume that Praise were done. Instead, they came back with a surging, heartfelt record that draws on classic DC hardcore without ever sounding like revivalism. With Be Well’s Brian McTiernan on the boards, Praise’s emotive melodies and skyward guitars hit with sharp clarity, and they feel like a long hug from an old friend who you haven’t seen in too long. —Tom

29 - Guerilla Toss - Famously Alive (Sub Pop)

On Famously Alive, Guerilla Toss turn their pulse-pounding, dance-psych sights on how exciting it is just to be able to wake up and live life every day. “I’m feeling godly/ But just for me,” Kassie Carlson sings on the infectious “Live Exponential.” “I’m special/ High level/ I’m special/ You’re special.” These expressive, high-energy, affirmative jams are packed with hooks and personality. Famously Alive is one of this year’s most invigorating, positive listens — a true breakthrough for a band that has often wrestled with its darkest impulses. —James

28 - Nilüfer Yanya - PAINLESS (ATO)

Nilüfer Yanya’s music can come across as restrained and formalistic. The British musician places a heavy emphasis on texture: slippery guitar tones and watery, hard-to-grasp melodies. PAINLESS, her sophomore album, is perhaps even more in its own head and on its own wavelength than her debut. But once you lock into what Yanya is doing, it’s impossible to tune out. PAINLESS is home to some of the most technically impressive, emotionally expressive rock songs out there. They might be subtle, but they also have a way of worming into your brain, a welcome salve for when life gets too loud. —James

27 - Father John Misty - Chloe & The Next 20th Century (Sub Pop / Bella Union)

When Chloë & The Next 20th Century came out, Josh Tillman offered precious little context for his most severe left turn yet. But at a release show, a comment about “the ever-present past” partially explained the mid-century stylings and orchestrations of this fifth FJM album. It takes some getting used to, but soon the subtle beauty of “(Everything But) Her Love” or “Buddy’s Rendezvous” lure you into a cinematic, forlorn dream noir, before the towering closer “The Next 20th Century” surveys the cultural tailspin and American wasteland we’re all forced to navigate with each other, casting the whole album in a different light. —Ryan

26 - Duster - Together (Numero Group)

Duster were already a band with a low-key legacy before they came out of retirement. Together, their fourth album overall and second since reuniting, was dropped on the eve of April Fool’s Day with no warning. Its unceremonious existence acts sort of like a cosmic joke — like it’s impossible that the San Jose trio is still putting out music and keeping the slowcore fire burning. But Together is no joke. It’s immersive and meditative and magnetically lethargic, and it more than stacks up with the rest of a discography that hasn’t changed much but is still deeply satisfying. —James

25 - Arcade Fire - WE (Columbia)

Right on schedule, WE is Arcade Fire’s return-to-form LP, but rather than superficially rehashing old glories, it sounds like lightning really struck again. Fresh off a decade-long dalliance with irony, the band leaned all the way back into melodrama and crowd-pleasing grandeur on its first album in five years. And while the too-much-ness of it all had some listeners bellowing Win Butler’s “End Of The Empire IV” lyrics back at him (“I unsubscribe/ This ain’t no way of life/ I don’t believe the hype,” et al), those on the band’s wavelength were greeted by anthem after anthem. When everything ends, invariably, I want to do it again. —Chris

24 - Denzel Curry - Melt My Eyez See Your Future (PH / Loma Vista)

On Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Denzel Curry continues to evolve unpredictably, firing off into a dizzying amount of directions from song to song. In the singles alone, he collided old-school boom-bap and trap on “Walkin” and pivoted to drum ‘n’ bass on “Zatoichi.” Somehow it all hangs together in a sound that is spacious and psychedelic, an otherworldly haze that allows Curry to go deep inside his head, reckoning with failings and demons in a wiser and heavier tone than ever before. He masters everything new he tries here — who knows what he can do next. —Ryan

23 - MJ Lenderman - Boat Songs (Dear Life Records)

Channeling brilliant songwriters like Jason Molina, David Berman, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty, Wednesday guitarist Jake Lenderman’s latest solo joint hones in on an appealing strain of Southern-fried indie rock, at turns both humorous and devastating. The guitars play big, blocky distorted chords and bend into twangy riffs that sometimes swirl together with aching pedal steel. The lyrics use American cultural ephemera (Michael Jordan, Six Flags, pro wrestling, Dan Marino, Toontown) as jumpoff points into the depths of the soul, seasoned with gravitas by Lenderman’s punchy drawl. When he announces, “I know why we get so fucked up,” you believe him. —Chris

22 - Cate Le Bon - Pompeii (Mexican Summer)

“Moderation/ I can’t have it/ I don’t want it/ I wanna touch it.” So goes one of the highlights from Pompeii, which is spiky and squelching, consistently funny and odd and surprising at every turn. Another memorable lyrical moment: “I’m not cold by nature/ But this could bring me to my knees.” Cate Le Bon’s music has always operated with a curious push-and-pull between aspiration and introversion, ambition undercut with genuine human emotion. It ends up sounding like some abstract gallery piece you can’t look away from. —James

21 - Jenny Hval - Classic Objects (4AD)

It’s all in the journey. Jenny Hval has always favored songs that start in one place and end somewhere else. Typically, those songs took the form of essayistic reflections on society, her mind, herself. But on Classic Objects, they sound more like traditional pop songs, with verses and choruses and swelling bridges. But the Norwegian artist still hasn’t sacrificed that sense of progression. Take “American Coffee,” which starts with Hval’s mother giving birth to her and ends with Hval questioning every choice she’s ever made. While Classic Objects might be her most straightforward work, it’s still knotty and complicated in the way that life always is. —James

20 - Yumi Zouma - Present Tense (Polyvinyl)

Present Tense is so pretty, so effervescent, so delicate yet powerful. It is the sound of longtime vibe merchants Yumi Zouma coming into their own as songwriters, arrangers, and performers, maturing into the most spectacular version of themselves. The sighing background vocals! The glimmering guitars! The generous dollops of saxophone and strings! It’s like someone combined the best parts of mid-period Belle & Sebastian, Phoenix, Haim, Alvvays, Camera Obscura, and umpteen other indie-pop greats into one immaculate record. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure. —Chris

19 - Pusha T - It's Almost Dry (GOOD / Def Jam)

Look, Pusha T knows what he does — as he put it recently, “You don’t go to Martin Scorsese for a romance movie.” Perhaps It’s Almost Dry won’t win over people who were previously uninterested in or bored by Pusha’s well-defined coke-rap style. But fueled by a minor production arms race between Pharrell and Kanye (and playing Joker on loop), It’s Almost Dry is Pusha fully crystallizing and committing to the character. From “Brambleton” to “Call My Bluff,” you can hear his trademark snarl, cooked into perfection. —Ryan

18 - Spiritualized - Everything Was Beautiful (Fat Possum / Bella Union)

How is he still doing this? Jason Pierce has been making starry-eyed psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll lullabies since he started off with Spacemen 3 four decades ago, and his gift is as strong as it’s ever been. Pierce has had an eventful life — a band breakup, a painful public divorce, addictions gained and lost, car commercials soundtracked. But on Everything Was Beautiful, he locks right back into all his favorite sounds — Stones boogie, gospel stomp-howls, staring-into-infinity melodic spirals — and he makes them sound as grand and vital as ever. Scientists should study this man and his inability to miss. —Tom

17 - Horsegirl - Versions Of Modern Performance (Matador)

Rising above your influences can be a challenge for a young band. Horsegirl turn that challenge into something of a practical joke. The young Chicago group’s debut album Versions Of Modern Performance sounds like an amalgam of every artist that Matador Records has put out over the past three decades; it seems like only fate that Horsegirl would find themselves among that elite crew. But their woozy, hypnotizing, melodic rock songs show that there are still new paths to find in well-trod ground. The trio, fresh out of high school, proves that bread-and-butter indie rock can still feel exciting and youthful and vital. —James

16 - Soccer Mommy - Sometimes, Forever (Loma Vista)

Sometimes, Forever sounds bigger, lusher, and more immersive than anything Soccer Mommy’s done before. With production wizardry from Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, Sophie Allison navigates tight, Y2K-echoing pop tracks like opener “Bones” and the lusty “Shotgun,” and toys with genre more than ever on the somber, vertigo-inducing “Unholy Affliction,” which mashes post-rock, jazz, trip-hop, and electronica into a gothic tour de force. Meanwhile, Sylvia Plath gets a reference on the sludgy, bone-chilling “Darkness Forever.” Allison’s ethereal musings on romance, apathy, and opposing forces like good and evil tie back to what made us love her in the first place: No one captures gnawing — and at times bittersweet — growing pains like her. —Rachel

15 - Sharon Van Etten - We've Been Going About This All Wrong (Jagjaguwar)

We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is unabashedly a COVID-era artifact, recorded in Sharon Van Etten’s home studio and rooted in the desire to find something worth fighting for in a world being torn apart by destructive forces. The resulting project sounds as big as the questions within; a number of tracks start slow and quiet and build to howling crescendos. For all of its expansive themes, Van Etten also spends an ample amount of time in her own house, figuratively speaking, singing to her son on “Home To Me” and “Far Away” and observing the sweetness of an ordinary moment like cooking dinner with her partner (“Anything”). “It’s too much,” Van Etten sighs over the trauma she — and we — have endured over the last few years. “But I’ll try.” If Etten can find the light, so can we. —Rachel

14 - Angel Olsen - Big Time (Jagjaguwar)

After the soaring drama and loud-quiet-loud dynamics of All Mirrors, Angel Olsen settles into a dreamy simmer on Big Time. It suits her. Fueled by self-discovery, heartbreak, grief, and new love, these new songs are heavy with emotion, and they never cease to be mesmerizing. Sterling arrangements render Olsen’s blend of classic country, jazz, and mid-20th century pop as a series of celestial swoons. And though there are moments that outright rock, like the chaotic finale of “Right Now,” she’s refined her songwriting so spectacularly that she can now equal the impact of a howling climax with an understated sigh. —Chris

13 - Fontaines D.C. - Skinty Fia (Partisan)

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but Fontaines D.C.’s heart has turned harder and more demanding. Written as most of the members of the emphatically Irish band made the move across the sea to England, Skinty Fia has some nostalgia for their homeland but also questions everything about it. Just listen to the conflicted anger of “I Love You,” in which the band’s magnetic leader Grian Chatten laments his upbringing, or the haunted scurry of opener “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” and you’ll hear how tangled Fontaines D.C.’s relationship with their origins has become. But on their third album in four years, they find something worth fighting for within those darker shadows. —James

12 - Drug Church - Hygiene (Pure Noise Records)

Patrick Kindlon is one of the most withering writers working in the field of guitar-based rock music. Drug Church, the bigger of Kindlon’s two bands, transform his rants about doomscrolling and knife fights into catchy, energetic bangers. Their sound, especially Kindlon’s full-throated bellow, draws a lot from hardcore, but it also draws from ’90s alt-rock and shoegaze and post-punk, combining all those things into an edgy and energetic rush of hooks and riffs. The sounds on Hygiene, the first new Drug Church album in too long, are a perfect soundtrack for people launching their bodies offstage, and if you go to a Drug Church show, that is exactly what you’ll see. —Tom

11 - The Smile - A Light for Attracting Attention (XL)

A Light For Attracting Attention lacks none of the End Times anxiety that’s long coursed through the music of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, whether with Radiohead or in their various side projects. But while it might take after Hail To The Thief in its grab-bag array of ideas and sounds, it doesn’t have the same bleakness that so often weighs on their writing. Whether in the math-y, kraut-y fusions of material like “Thin Thing,” the languid vibes of “The Smoke,” raucous outbursts like “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” or moving slow-burns like “Skrting On The Surface,” Yorke and Greenwood sound invigorated by their new partnership with drummer Tom Skinner; the Smile have arrived with an album that is vivid and, perhaps surprisingly, fun. —Ryan

10 - Tomberlin - i don't know who needs to hear this... (Saddle Creek)

Tomberlin’s second album somehow maintains the sparse intimacy of her debut while feeling bigger and bolder. i don’t know who needs to hear this… puts a sophisticated spin on the trembling singer-songwriter archetype, be it the droning notes eerily bending through empty space on “easy” or the busily skittering percussion, piano, and strings that animate “tap.” Sometimes the accents are as simple as the voice of Told Slant’s Felix Walworth buoying “idkwntht.” Yet amidst all the impeccable production, the draw remains Sarah Beth Tomberlin gently, firmly asserting herself one staggering lyric at a time. “I know I’m not Jesus,” she protests, “but Jesus, I’m trying to be enough.” She is. —Chris

09 - Spoon - Lucifer On The Sofa (Matador)

Mirroring Britt Daniel’s move from LA back to Austin, the back-to-basics Lucifer On The Sofa is something of a rebirth for indie greats Spoon, a counterpoint to their more synth-driven 2017 effort, Hot Thoughts. From the choppy, stomp-kicking Smog cover “Held” to the honky-tonking “The Hardest Cut” to the horn-accented “The Devil & Mr. Jones” and the melodic, free-spirited “Wild” co-written with Jack Antonoff, Lucifer transports the listener to a smoky dive bar where guitar picks litter a beer-sticky floor. A never-boring showcase for Spoon’s taut, wiry compositions, the album confirms what Daniel declares on the piano-pounding “On The Radio”: He was born to this. —Rachel

08 - Soul Glo - Diaspora Problems (Epitaph / Secret Voice)

For many years, Soul Glo have been creatures of the DIY underground — splattering hardcore expressionists whose frantic, feverish music digs deep into the discomforts of being Black in a predominantly white subculture and a white-supremacist culture. They were always great, but in their jump to big label Epitaph, they’ve leveled up. The lyrics are more dense and pointed. The music is spikier and more experimental. The punk songs thrash harder. The rap songs are more deeply felt. Diaspora Problems is a great work of American punk rock that never flatters its listener and never falls into ritualistic repetition. It’s a true example of what punk can be in 2022. —Tom

07 - The Weeknd - Dawn FM (XO / Republic)

Perhaps Dawn FM is helped by its organizing radio station conceit — borrowed from Oneohtrix Point Never, one of the album’s executive producers alongside Max Martin — but it feels like Abel Tesfaye has finally made his quintessential album-length statement as the Weeknd. Or perhaps it’s the way Tesfaye lets regret and maturity creep into his worldview while he’s carried away by synth-funk even more addictive than his cocaine jams of the past. The opening stretch of “Gasoline” into “How Do I Make You Love Me?” into “Take My Breath” into “Sacrifice” is a marvel on its own, and that’s just the beginning of Dawn FM‘s vibrant journey through the night and, supposedly, into the light. It’s a hell of a ride. —Ryan

06 - Wet Leg - Wet Leg (Domino)

On their debut LP, Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers more than fulfill the promise of fun and funny early singles “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” There’s the distortion-packed “Angelica,” the everything-is-wrong anthem “Oh No,” the chiming, bass-led “Too Late Now,” and plenty more bangers. How they became Harry Styles-cosigned so fast hardly matters at this point: the Isle of Wight duo found an irresistibly charming way to muse about contemporary flotsam and jetsam — social media, indecision, existential dread, being horny, and having social anxiety — without forgetting to have a laugh. —Rachel

05 - Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (pgLang / TDE / Aftermath / Interscope)

In hindsight, perhaps it was foolish to think that Kendrick Lamar would ever follow the world-conquering DAMN. with an album at all interested in actual mainstream domination. Still, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a complex, messy journey — bleary and interior, at times willfully ugly and others strikingly beautiful. There are missteps and flaws along the way, and they are part of the story, eventually climaxing with the thunderously quiet “Mother I Sober.” Maybe Kendrick finally finds some peace by the album’s end. In the meantime, he is operating like only a few artists in pop history — a superstar at the height of his powers confounding everyone’s expectations while trying to transcend his own. —Ryan

04 - Beach House - Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop / Bella Union / Mistletone)

Can you have too much of a good thing? In Beach House’s case: no. The Baltimore duo’s eighth album, Once Twice Melody, luxuriates over an hour-and-a-half of impeccable vibes and crystalline moods. Their decision to parcel it out in segments was wise — the album is certainly dense — but to take it all in on its own reveals that it is perhaps their definitive statement. Other albums of theirs might be more concise, but none is as impactful as this staggering showcase of the mystical energy that Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have channeled since the start of their career. —James

03 - billy woods - Aethioples (Backwoodz Studioz)

Here’s a piece of writing worth untangling: “The future isn’t flying cars, it’s Rachel Dolezal absolved/ It’s autonomous computers sending shooters back in time at the behest of defunct message boards.” Both as a solo artist and as half of Armand Hammer, billy woods has been smashing the world with that kind of dense verbiage for years. Aethiopes, a full-length team-up with producer Preservation, puts woods’ hard delivery and dense writing over sounds just as knotty and experimental as his words. There are underground rap titans all over Aethiopes — El-P, Boldy James, Quelle Chris — but the real meat is in hearing woods and Preservation dig deep into a culture that’s hostile to humanity in general and to Blackness in particular. —Tom

02 - Rosalía - MOTOMAMI (Columbia)

“A butterfly, I transform.” The lyrics to “SAOKO” might as well serve as a mission statement for Rosalía’s triumphant third LP. Already a major crossover success thanks to 2018’s El Mal Querer, the Spanish pop titan uses MOTOMAMI as a vehicle to cover so much more ground than her traditional flamenco and Latin urban styles. Acting not only as a stage for sonic experimentation — blending reggaeton rhythms with rap (“SAOKO,” “Chicken Teriyaki”), bachata (“La Fama” featuring the Weeknd), dancehall (“La Combi Versace” featuring Tokischa), and her familiar flamenco (“Bulerías”) — MOTOMAMI represents a gear switch from arms-length storytelling to something more personal. It goes hardest when Rosalía plays with contradiction: in music, in gender, in simply being a living human being. Metamorphosis never sounded so exciting. —Rachel

01 - Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (4AD)

After their phenomenal pair of 2019 albums, it was hard to believe Big Thief had anywhere to go but down, both creatively and in terms of the frothing hype surrounding them. And yet here they are with both their most acclaimed and accomplished collection of music yet. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is, on some level, just another result of the quartet’s ludicrous prolificacy. But the double album, as loose and easygoing as many of its songs are, is also a steamroller. Just when some of us might have wanted to ask if Big Thief are really that good, they come back with an album that leaves no room for argument.

It is, frankly, ridiculous to have a 20-song album with this many standouts. The gnarled tangle and gorgeous sighed chorus of “Time Escaping”? The goofy country sproings of “Spud Infinity” and then the winsome twang of “Red Moon”? The crunchy organic dream-pop of “Little Things”? Going full Radiohead for “Blurred View”? The dusty pop lullaby of “Wake Me Up To Drive”? Channeling their inner Crazy Horse for “Love Love Love”? Every time you listen to Dragon, it’s daunting to remember all these songs are on the same album, that the band can level you once and then do it again and again. Here, Big Thief don’t just prove they’re actually that good. They sound like they can do anything. —Ryan

Listen to a TIDAL playlist of tracks from the albums on this list below.