The 50 Best Albums Of 2022

The 50 Best Albums Of 2022

In 2022, we couldn’t agree on anything. That statement probably applies more generally, but in this case, we’re talking about the Stereogum staff and the year’s best music. It’s never easy to put together a list of the year’s best music, especially when you’re dealing with a small crew of passionate writer types. Sometimes, though, a few overwhelming favorites emerge immediately. Sometimes, massive and generation-defining albums announce themselves in obvious fashion. That didn’t really happen this year. Instead, this year’s best albums tended to be passion projects — not just for the musicians who made the records but also for the critics who advocated for those records.

The Stereogum writers all love and respect each other, and we all love and respect you, the readers who keep us in business. But that doesn’t mean that we’re ever going to agree with each other, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that you’re going to agree with us. Some of us thought that certain albums were bulletproof locks for the top spots on this list. Others heard those albums and shrugged. Some years, that’s just how it goes.

In the end, every album on this list has loud, fervent fans on the Stereogum staff. Our writers, both full-timers and freelancers, voted on which albums would make our year-end list, and then we argued and cajoled and debated that list even further once the votes were in. The end result is a wild and jagged ride that encompasses a lot of different genres and ideas and approaches. There’s plenty of indie rock on this list. There’s also rap and country and metal and arena-pop and hardcore and emo and avant-garde weirdness. Inevitably, you’ll find something to love. —Tom Breihan

50

Angel Olsen - Big Time (Jagjaguwar)

Over the past few years, Angel Olsen left behind the intimate, crackling folk songs of her early years in favor of sweeping, operatic splendor. With Big Time, she hits on the best of both worlds. Spurred by personal tragedy and discovery, Olsen turned to the sighing, dusty country music she loved when she was younger. These songs are starry-eyed and sighing, affecting lopes about loss and the unending passing of time, but she still imbues them with her flair for the dramatic, creating a collection of songs can be both cozy and cataclysmic. —James Rettig

49

Ripped to Shreds - 劇變 (Jubian) (Relapse)

Andrew Lee’s death metal expertise is near-comprehensive. As the leader of San Jose’s Ripped To Shreds, he detonates and recombines the genre’s 35-year history into a package that oozes with his deep, abiding love for buzzsaw guitar riffs and inhuman growling. 劇變 (Jubian), the band’s third full-length, is loaded with reference points universal (Bolt Thrower), obscure (Intestine Baalism), and in-between (Dismember), but it’s the way they’re integrated into a cohesive, bulldozing whole that never feels academic that stands as Lee’s greatest feat. You don’t have to know Left Hand Path from Scream Bloody Gore to feel swept up in Jubian’s visceral tide. —Brad Sanders

48

Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn - Pigments (Merge)

Dawn Richard has never done what the mainstream music industry expected from her, trading traditional, Diddy-fied pop/R&B for intentionally left-leaning takes on both genres, then diving headlong into a stunning mix of house, funk, hip-hop, soul, and blues on last year’s Second Line. It only makes sense, then, that Richard would continue to blow minds and defy expectations by teaming up with atmospheric soundscape designer Spencer Zahn on the mesmerizing Pigments. Across 11 exploratory tracks, Richard finds new avenues to express her expanding vision, while Zahn paints textured sonic murals with classical, jazz, new age, and ambient avant-garde flourishes. True to its name, Pigments showcases a vivid rainbow of sounds — and it’s a tribute to artistic collaboration and all of its endless possibilities. —Rachel Brodsky

47

Earl Sweatshirt - SICK! (Tan Cressida/Warner)

There are very few rappers that love rapping the way Earl Sweatshirt loves to rap. After going through bouts with fame, family, Odd Future, the industry at large, and even his own self, Earl emerged on the other side, fine-tuning his craftsmanship as an emcee and an artist and making some of the best raps of his generation. With SICK!, Earl brought his left-brained, off-kilter, and abrasive style and found a happy medium between alienating casuals and still appealing to his most hardcore fanbase. It’s his best album since I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and an exciting sign of things to come. —Israel Daramola

46

Shannen Moser - The Sun Still Seems To Move (Lame-O)

Shannen Moser’s sophomore album ended on a declaration of “I’ll Sing”; on their follow-up The Sun Still Seems To Move, they do that and so much more. Moser’s world, once intimate, has grown intricate with lush, verdant arrangements and unspooling narratives that tackle problems of all shapes and sizes. Their songs are about the passing of time and the aging of trees, broken hearts and small-town tragedy. Though the scope has expanded, Moser’s music is still warm and inviting. Take the gliding melodies of “Paint By Number,” which sounds like overlapping waves on a shore and contains the reminder: “A series of quiet moments makes forever.” —James Rettig

45

Weyes Blood - And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow (Sub Pop)

As the sonic worlds Natalie Mering explores as Weyes Blood have expanded outward, her insights have only sharpened. Her fifth album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, finds the songwriter staring into an abyss of digital narcissism and pandemic-induced isolation and discovering some of her most inspired, sagacious music yet. Her patented millennial update on Laurel Canyon folk-pop is as refined as ever, but the side trips are often just as brilliant. “God Turn Me Into A Flower” is a lush, slow-burning symphony of strings and synths, while “Twin Flame” nods to ’80s Phil Collins in its combination of electronic and organic drum sounds. Through it all, Mering sounds like your wisest, coolest friend, perpetually calm and collected in the face of crisis. —Brad Sanders

44

Bandmanrill - Club Godfather (100% Pure/1865/Defiant/Warner)

Club Godfather can make sitting at your desk feel like a party, and out in public it might make you believe you’re invincible. Rapping over pulse-pounding Jersey club beats, Bandmanrill talks his shit with pizzazz, seemingly never breaking a sweat even when breathlessly spitting. Occasionally the album veers into Polo G-style crooned laments or drill at both its ice-cold and brightly poppy extremes. Yet none of its textural shifts undermine the album’s tendency to get bodies moving and endorphins rushing. —Chris DeVille

43

Bartees Strange – Farm To Table (4AD)

Bartees Strange continued his ascent as an artist to watch this year with Farm To Table, his sophomore album and the follow-up to 2020’s Live Forever. Bartees is bringing indie rock into the future, updating and digitizing it without ever robbing the soulfulness and naked vulnerability of his midwestern emo influences. The deeply personal Farm To Table is reflective of his family history and upbringing, and the honesty penetrates thorougly. It’s impossible not to get lost in the vastness of the album’s emotional landscape. —Israel Daramola

42

Pool Kids - Pool Kids (Skeletal Lightning)

There’s so much that’s impressive about Pool Kids’ sophomore effort: the technical prowess of the breakdowns, the carefully calibrated vocal performance that lets in just the right amount of emotion, and the production that balances it all. But vocalist Christine Goodwyne wanted to make catchy music and, ultimately, that’s what Pool Kids delivered. The melodies bounce and soar with an unexpected energy, despite the heft of the confessional lyrics. The songs meld together dreaminess and a shocking roughness. And from the shimmery synths to the crackling guitars, Pool Kids truly stun. —Aliya Chaudhry

41

Roc Marciano & The Alchemist - The Elephant Man's Bones (ALC/Marci Enterprises/EMPIRE)

Roc Marciano’s run remains as seductive and Blaxploitation-like as ever on his album with the Alchemist. Using new and soulful production, Roc crafts an album full of regal lyrics and sweat-free cool. “Trillion Cut” mentions old-school Champion sweaters; the ’90s are always the epicenter of Roc Marciano’s aesthetics. Action Bronson shows up on “Daddy Kane,” rhyming about Jadakiss at the Garden. On The Elephant Man’s Bones, it is clear that Roc Marciano thinks his work is equivalent to high fashion. I wouldn’t dispute that opinion. Just because someone is a specialist doesn’t mean he isn’t doing some of the most vital rap work in the game. —Jayson Buford

40

Joyce Manor - 40 Oz. To Fresno (Epitaph)

At only 16 minutes, 40 Oz. To Fresno — a Sublime-referencing title that captures the wit, intoxication, and California-ness of Joyce Manor — does not have a lot of time to impress its listener. Luckily, the Torrance-based band always packs a punch. On “You’re Not Famous Anymore,” they use nursery rhyme-like melodies to play with themes of disillusionment: “If life’s a gift you get, then get a gift receipt.” They go full power-pop with the anti-apocalypse anthem “Dance With Me”: “We’re on a burning planet/ But upon it there is magic/ If you reach out you can grab it/ But you always seem to panic.” With this new album, they’ve proved their ability to fit existential concepts into endearing, bitable lines. —Danielle Chelosky

39

Oso Oso - sore thumb (Triple Crown)

In spite of Oso Oso’s bratty sound, the band seems to exist in a different universe than its peers. The Long Island emo act’s latest, sore thumb, is a collection of demos that were recorded shortly before the unexpected passing of guitarist Tavish Maloney. Stripped down but nonetheless searing, these 12 songs capture the band’s raw introspection at its finest. “Some places aren’t quite like you remember,” frontperson Jade Lilitri sings on the lopsided power pop track “Pensacola.” sore thumb offers a snapshot of Oso Oso like you’ve never heard them before, on the unwitting precipice of tragic change. —Ted Davis

38

Wild Pink - ILYSM (Royal Mountain)

On its kaleidoscopic opener, frontman John Ross nods to Terrence Malick, and, like The Tree Of Life, ILYSM treks through the cosmos, jagging between moonlit acoustics and shoegaze thunderclaps, touching down for the briefest sojourns in the banal to source God in an ashtray, a beat-up Camry, a hospital bed. The characters that animate Wild Pink’s stellar fourth record are cognoscenti of solitude — subdivision ramblers, a wayward runaway, an alien abductee — but Ross is never alone, not only party to the riotous presence of J Mascis and Ryley Walker’s guitars, but also twinned by his own doubled vocals, as if harmonizing with the ghost he knows is coming for him. —Hannah Seidlitz

37

Makaya McCraven - In These Times (International Anthem/Nonesuch)

The year’s best music book is Dan Charnas’ astounding Dilla Time, and in 2022 no artist better embodied the spirit of James Dewitt Yancey than Makaya McCraven. On In These Times, the Chicago-based “beat scientist” plays with rhythm in ways that recall Dilla’s innovations, unlocking tempos from their gridlines, and splicing and sampling his own instrumentation in real time, inverting the live performance of jazz into something more ambiguous but no less alive. As with Dilla, you feel in your body McCraven’s mastery before you can understand it on a technical level. It’s demanding music that generously demands nothing of you. —Pranav Trewn

36

BabyTron - Bin Reaper 3: Old Testament (The Hip Hop Lab/EMPIRE)

If Michigan rap were a TV show, BabyTron would be Roman Roy — a sick puppy hellbent on crass humor, with a boyish voice that sounds like he’s narrating a television commercial. Where before Tron was full of songs with no hooks and short runtimes, the third installment of the Bin Reaper series is music that’s trying to reach the masses. That doesn’t mean that Tron is stopping short of his trademark dirtbag raps; they’re all over the record. On “’15-16 Curry,” he says, “Bitch, I’m locked in like a prisoner/ In your city scoring, you can’t stop the visitors.” He might look scrawny but he’s mighty. —Jayson Buford

35

Rachika Nayar - Heaven Come Crashing (NNA Tapes)

In Rachika Nayar’s deft hands, the guitar becomes a synthetic, percussive tool. On her second album, the instrument meets electronic compositions and soft vocals with equal deference; the resulting songs beckon to the dance floor and its dreamy afterglow in equal measure. Nayar builds woozy fantasies out of chiming synths and echoing arpeggios. On the towering title track, she partners with ambient vocalist Maria BC to create an ethereal, gossamer world before shattering it with pummeling drum’n’bass breaks. On Heaven Come Crashing, she finds twin beauty in tension and its release. —Arielle Gordon

34

Miranda Lambert - Palomino (Vanner)

For the past few years, arena-country great Miranda Lambert has kept herself busy with side projects and lo-fi experiments. With Palomino, she returns to the business of making huge, gleaming hookfests. Here, Lambert repurposes some of the songs from her gorgeous 2021 campfire detour The Marfa Tapes as grand, slick productions. She also adds a few more leftfield ideas — a solo Mick Jagger cover, a party-up B-52’s collab. The whole thing bursts with energy and empathy and life; it’s one more triumph in a career full of them. —Tom Breihan

33

Drug Church - Hygiene (Pure Noise)

“Sometimes I say we make radio music that can’t be played on the radio,” singer Patrick Kindlon has said about Drug Church’s positively ripping fourth album, Hygiene. It’s an astute observation about his own band, and I doubt any critic could put it better than that: Across Hygiene‘s 10 tracks, Drug Church cherry pick chugging guitar riffs, gloomy effects, and harmonized vocal howls from a spectrum of influences, such as ’90s alt-rock and post-grunge machismo, not to mention straight-up pop. The way Drug Church — ostensibly a hardcore band, but so much more — combine classic and contemporary styles makes Hygiene all the more innovative and welcoming to fans that might not otherwise listen to hardcore. —Rachel Brodsky

32

Cate Le Bon - Pompeii (Mexican Summer)

If 2019’s Reward was the culmination of Cate Le Bon’s career to that point, Pompeii might be more of a refinement of its predecessor than another leap. What that really means is Pompeii feels like Le Bon’s finest, most realized work yet — taking her sound to a mutated extreme, where saxes and synths and glassy vocals all melt together like the history of high art from which she drew inspiration. On highlights like “Running Away” and “Remembering Me,” Le Bon has perfected an otherworldly aesthetic that could only be summed up with a reference as ancient and mysterious as the album’s namesake. —Ryan Leas

31

​​MUNA - MUNA (Saddest Factory/Dead Oceans)

MUNA have been making sparkling, effervescent pop music for years. But they’ve never made a record as immaculate as the one they released upon leaving RCA to go indie with an assist from Phoebe Bridgers. On their self-titled album, the trio shows off its expertise in many realms, from throttling synth-pop to country-tinged power ballads to contagiously shuffling adult contemporary. It’s like a 20th century VH1 playlist transmuted into something unmistakably modern, proudly queer, and endlessly euphoric. —Chris DeVille

30

Chat Pile - God's Country (The Flenser)

Chat Pile make music for the “real American horror story” — the psychic trauma of capitalism’s brutal indifference, a drug-fueled nihilism that spirals into despair. Anguish takes on many faces throughout the Oklahoma City band’s crushing debut: Jason Vorhees’ vengeful mother, a serial killer exacting revenge, a slaughterhouse employee on the verge of a breakdown. Frontman Raygun Busch embodies these characters through shredded screams, but he’s scariest when his vocals ring clearly, his flat affect falling somewhere between inebriated contract killer and escaped mental patient. Behind him, guitars echo ominously with reverb, like Slint covering the Beach Boys; the bass manifests as an almost inaudible rumble. They close with perhaps the scariest image of all: Grimace, towering above, pushing our strung-out narrator into suicide. —Arielle Gordon

29

Spiritualized - Everything Was Beautiful (Fat Possum)

You know the voice, the cracked and overwhelmed murmur of a man who sounds permanently shocked that he’s still alive. You know the sound, too: the slow orchestral crests, the overdriven fuzz, the garage rock riffs played with gospel devotion. J Spaceman has been making music as Spiritualized for decades and his sound remains a crushingly beautiful comfort that can still, when it hits right, raise goosebumps. On Everything Was Beautiful, Spaceman sounds majestic and larger-than-life, and he also sounds like he could fall apart at any moment. He hasn’t, and we’re all better for it. —Tom Breihan

28

Anxious - Little Green House (Run For Cover)

Anxious frontman Grady Allen spent the pandemic lockdown on the cusp of his twenties, living in his mom’s Connecticut home (the titular little green house). It’s during this time that he and his band wrote their debut album, a perfect, lightning-in-a-bottle document of formative interpersonal experiences and comfortable, yearning suburbia. Put more simply: emo at its best. The sound of Little Green House calls back to plenty of East Coast hardcore-infused pop-punk bands of yore, but it’s explosive and full-hearted and real. The next generation of sensitive punks will cite this album as its own gospel. —Mia Hughes

27

High Vis - Blending (Dais)

Blending is a great title for what High Vis do on their second album. Building on a foundation of hardcore, the London quintet piles heavy servings of Madchester (at its most arms-wide-open expansive) and Britpop (at its most shout-to-the-heavens anthemic) into songs about getting in touch with yourself and working through your shit. The result is tracks like “0151,” in which Graham Sayle sounds like a sneering Ad-Rock on the verse and a soaring Liam Gallagher on the chorus. From start to finish, it’s some of the most concrete-hard pop music you could ever rock out to. —Chris DeVille

26

Knifeplay - Animal Drowning (Topshelf)

The streets of Philadelphia are no stranger to the bruised and battered, and Knifeplay’s Animal Drowning can hang with the most bruised and battered of them. The shoegazy five-piece spent three years working on its sophomore album, and that hard work paid off. You can hear the effort in every one of Animal Drowning‘s dense, tortured layers, bleeding through a series of songs that scree and salve. Knifeplay wield an impressive hold on the listener, from the immediacy of something like “Ryan Song,” choral and stark, to the shambling “Promise,” which cracks open into light by the time it finishes up. —James Rettig

25

Sorry - Anywhere But Here (Domino)

If moody London dwellers Sorry understand anything about depression, longing, and general heartache, it’s that none of those things move in a straight line. The chaotic nature of, well, feelings is the focal point on Sorry’s sophomore effort, Anywhere But Here, which has singer/guitarist Asha Lorenz quoting Prince (now King) Charles: “I still love you, whatever love means.” From an instrumental standpoint, Sorry have never been satiated by one or two genres, instead pouring on trip-hop, grunge, post-punk, and straightforward acoustic balladry. These sharp pivots mirror Anywhere But Here‘s breakup-minded despair, which whips from manic and spiraling to dejected and muttering. Ain’t love grand? —Rachel Brodsky

24

Naima Bock - Giant Palm (Sub Pop)

Under most circumstances, an album so packed with ideas and contributors risks sounding heavy, cluttered, and aimless. Not Giant Palm. Naima Bock’s richly elegant debut LP was clearly born of an artist who feels at home in communal spaces, who pulls from a wealth of decades and genres, who grew up among multiple cultures, and who finds freedom in wandering footpaths both literal and metaphorical. Created in collaboration with arranger Joel Burton and more than 30 instrumentalists, Giant Palm is a sonically eclectic, utterly timeless look at what it sounds like to wander off on your own, no set plan — just you, your thoughts, and the earth beneath your feet. —Rachel Brodsky

23

Beach House - Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop)

An hour-and-a-half of Beach House music — who could say no? The Baltimore band is at the height of its ambitions with Once Twice Melody, an album that started out in a whole different calendar year and finished in this one. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally doled out four perfectly sweeping segments for their eighth full-length; taken together, they represent the pinnacle of the band’s craft. There are far too many highlights to single just one or two out: Once Twice Melody is an album that keeps on giving, immersive and rewarding, a marvel to get lost in. —James Rettig

22

The Smile - A Light For Attracting Attention (XL)

How does Thom Yorke get your attention? How does he get you to feel the beating of your own heart? Does he really need to plead? On the debut album from the Smile — a trio comprising Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and drummer Tom Skinner of the London jazz quartet Sons of Kemet — Yorke presents a simple call to humanity over anxious, digressive, scurrying grooves. “People in the street, PLEASE!” he resolutely moans, not so much grabbing you by the shoulders but gently shaking you awake. From there, the trio devilishly shifts between the familiar and the flustering; Yorke’s smooth, pellucid vocals make you feel the ease of sleep while Greenwood’s darting riffs and Skinner’s peculiar time signatures force you to feel the terror of falling into nightmarish dreams. As disquieting as it is straight up beautiful, A Light For Atttacting Attention makes you feel moth-like; unable to do anything but move closer to the music, to be lit up by Yorke’s generative plea. —Emma Madden

21

Panda Bear & Sonic Boom - Reset (Domino)

Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) has long been a master of sampledelia. But Reset — his collaborative album with Spaceman 3 singer/guitarist Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom) — somehow takes things to the next level. The duo weaves deep melodies and heady electronics with snippets taken from ‘60s acts like Randy & The Rainbows and Eddie Cochran. The end result is warm, crunchy, and wonderfully esoteric. Coming from someone with a Tomboy tattoo (look, we all did some dumb shit when we were 19), this stands as Lennox’s most inviting solo record since his 2007 opus Person Pitch. —Ted Davis

20

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

It wasn’t the triumphant return that we wanted. Instead, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a tangled, anguished internal interrogation without a single anthem on the level of “Alright” or “Humble.” Its production is splintered, its politics are thorny, and nobody really needed to hear Kendrick and a romantic partner screaming at each other for six excruciating minutes. But Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is an album with big ideas and a bigger heart, and it gives us a version of Kendrick that’s still a bewitching writer and technician who’s willing to spill his guts for a global audience. That’s still a powerful thing. —Tom Breihan

19

Nilüfer Yanya - PAINLESS (ATO)

Nilüfer Yanya’s songs are itchy and interior. On PAINLESS, her second full-length album, the British virtuoso descends further into the recesses of her own head, which is rife with anxieties and a seemingly unending pile of hooks that have a way of getting under your skin. She teases out narratives in sighed-out gasps that keep you wanting more: “There’s nothing out there for you and me/ I’m going nowhere until it bleeds”; “Sometimes it feels like you’re so violent, autopilot”; “Always I did it for you/ Never felt so sure.” The result is an album that’s shadowy and subtle and oh so satisfying. —James Rettig

18

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

“I don’t know who needs to hear this/ Sometimes it’s good to sing your feelings,” goes a rousing round at the end of Sarah Beth Tomberlin’s second album, a moment of communal release that feels appropriate for the twilit campfire songs that the folk musician painstakingly creates. The album named after that refrain builds out the stark vulnerability expressed on Tomberlin’s debut, adding in needling guitar lines and crackling tension and an abundance of graceful, haunting melodies. I don’t know who needs to hear this… sounds lived-in in the best way, creaking under the weight of a whole lot of feelings. —James Rettig

17

The 1975 - Being Funny In A Foreign Language (Dirty Hit/Interscope)

On the current tour for the 1975’s fifth album, Matty Healy kisses fans, performs pushups on stage, and eats a raw steak, shirtless. He’s searching, as he does across Being Funny In A Foreign Language, for a fully embodied earnestness, a rebellion against defensive layers of irony. Healy isn’t one for subtlety, and here, his excess is a push for candor, even if that means repeating “I’m in love with you” several dozen times in one song or rhyming “woke” and “post-coke.” That directness manifests in the record’s distinct liveness, with tender piano ballads, booming toms, and baroque strings. It’s the 1975 at their most serious, but unlike their previous albums, Healy sounds like he actually enjoyed making it. —Arielle Gordon

16

Mindforce - New Lords (Triple B)

A sick riff does not have to be a means to an end. A sick riff can be an end in itself. New Lords, the second LP from Hudson Valley hardcore skullcrushers Mindforce, is a feast of sick riffs. Guitarist Mike Shaw brings the juddering brutalist neck-jerks, the evil thrashed-out pinch harmonics, the stampeding gallops. The rest of the band locks in with those riffs, elevating them and pushing them forward. Even frontman Jay Peta, owner of one of hardcore’s great fuck-you-up barks, seems to organize his choppy, spinkick-happy delivery around the primacy of all those sick riffs. New Lords only lasts 17 minutes, and you won’t soon find another record with its ratio of sick riffs per second. —Tom Breihan

15

Horsegirl - Versions Of Modern Performance (Matador)

You already know the sales pitch with Horsegirl: three Chicago wunderkinds presenting a melting pot of hallowed indie touchstones from across the last 30-odd years. On paper, Versions Of Modern Performance might seem like the result of an AI-programmed fever dream resurrecting 120 Minutes‘ heyday. In reality, it’s one of the most vital debuts of the year, with tracks like “Anti-Glory” and “Billy” challenging the throne of the classics that inspired them. For aging indie nerds, Horsegirl are a best-case scenario: a great band that takes fragments of the past and makes it their own, familiar sounds turned alien and invigorating once more. —Ryan Leas

14

Ashley McBryde - Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville (Warner Music Nashville)

There’s world-building, and then there’s Lindeville, an album-length portrait of a fictional community created by a very real one. Fresh off the biggest hit of her career, with a new solo album already in the can, Ashley McBryde convened five fellow Nashville songwriters in a cabin. They came away with a Broadway musical’s worth of vivid character sketches that could also pass for country radio staples. It’s an ideal project for McBryde, who’s been making small-town environments leap from the speakers since breakthrough hit “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” — and as usual, she nailed the assignment. —Chris DeVille

13

Wet Leg - Wet Leg (Domino)

On their debut album, Wet Leg tackle grocery shopping during the pandemic, being at a party you’d rather not be at, and navigating adulthood with the necessary irreverence (and, yes, even a scream for good measure). But mixed into the bright melodies, breezy vocals, and absurdist non-sequiturs are moments of direct sincerity. With their seemingly overnight success and very-2022 references, it would have been easy to have written Wet Leg off as a short-lived trend, but it’s that combination of vulnerability and their willingness to not take themselves too seriously that’s given them staying power. —Aliya Chaudhry

12

Steve Lacy - Gemini Rights (RCA)

Steve Lacy’s eclectic soul-funk has always had its charms, but it truly hit its stride this year with Gemini Rights. The short and sweet statement record charms the whole way through. It’s a mosaic of different styles and influences: from the Velvet Underground to Frank Ocean, Bootsy Collins to Vampire Weekend. Steve Lacy announces himself as a Gen Z lothario, singing about love in the age of social media. It’s music to set your Instagram Live to, but with way more depth than expected. —Israel Daramola

11

MJ Lenderman - Boat Songs (Dear Life)

Like the video of the “British lads” smashing each other over the back with a folding chair, MJ Lenderman wears manhood like a wink and a pair of worn-in boots. Boat Songs belongs on the river, reeling in a crushed Natty Light. While Lenderman spins love songs with all of Jason Molina’s tremulous pedal steel wit, he reserves his real affection for the boys (his father, Michael Jordan and Dan Marino, the WWE fighters) and their lexicon (steroids, the butcher shop, Jackass). With a new poetics of masculinity, populist swagger, and a prodigious instinct for backroads riffs, Lenderman resurrects tractor punk for good. —Hannah Seidlitz

10

The Weeknd - Dawn FM (XO/Republic)

The Weeknd has flirted with mortality across his catalog of noir-pop, but he really commits to the bit on his immaculately stylized fifth studio album. The notoriously hedonistic singer looks back on a presumed life of regrets alongside famous friends — from Quincy Jones recounting the lasting effects of childhood trauma to Tyler, The Creator promoting prenups. Yet the immaculate sweep of disco grooves, city pop samples, and retro-futurist production contributed by the dichotomous talents of Oneohtrix Point Never and Max Martin, among other heavyweights, belies all the remorse and nihilism. Forget the Top 40 — the best jams are on commercial free-yourself radio. —Pranav Trewn

09

Soul Glo - Diaspora Problems (Epitaph)

Over the course of a dozen electrifying tracks clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Philadelphia’s Soul Glo capture the experience of being Black in America. Pierce Jordan’s lightning-fast vocals take sharp aim at capitalism, generational trauma, and mental health, among other issues, while meshing hardcore seamlessly with hip-hop. The lyrics range from colloquial call-to-actions to profound poeticism, with lines that reveal more with more reflection. This is the kind of rage and resistance hardcore was meant for. —Aliya Chaudhry

08

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

This is the release where Big Thief went big: a 20-track double album recorded across four studios in four different states. Musically, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You feels like a mixtape, on which gentle folk and raucous country and grimy rock and glitchy electronics take the stage from one song to the next. The songs themselves are gifts — warm, curious, rapturous explorations of how to feel peaceful and human. Big Thief’s philosophy is simple and down-to-earth; you find the answers when you’re chopping onions, stirring tea, driving at night. —Mia Hughes

07

The Beths - Expert In A Dying Field (Carpark)

“How does it feel to be an expert in a dying field?” the Beths ask right out of the gate on their stupendously fun, characteristically sardonic third album. Anyone who majored in the humanities will relate a little too much to that question, but the Beths’ overall thesis extends far beyond employment and that opening track. Across Expert In A Dying Field, which wraps existential angst in wry lyricism and fuzzy guitar-pop hooks, the New Zealand quartet unpacks the inherent unfairness in simply being alive in 2022, when — whether due to a pandemic, technology, or the ever-worsening economy — it can feel like the goal posts are constantly moving, but you’re not. That might sound too soul-crushing to bear, but the Beths aren’t interested in wallowing. Quite the opposite: They get through it with wit, self-awareness, and effusive, sugar-rushing melodies. —Rachel Brodsky

06

Alex G - God Save The Animals (Domino)

When Alex G released lead single “Blessing,” it was a hint that God Save The Animals would be one of the best albums of the year. The song is hypnotic off the bat, packed with spellbinding synthesizers and whispered vocals that repeat poetic lines like incantations. The entire LP is layered with magical moments that sound very little like “Blessing” or each other, even as they maintain Alex Giannascoli’s unmistakable essence — the colorful, buzzing instrumentation of “S.D.O.S”; the unpredictable Bladee-like Auto-Tuned rap on “Immunity” (“I have to put the cocaine in the vaccine,” he mumbles); the stripped-down sincerity of “Miracles.” Every second breathes life, especially the twangy, hopeful closer, “Forgive,” a perfect conclusion. —Danielle Chelosky

05

billy woods - Aethioples (Backwoodz Studioz)

There may not be a rapper on Earth who captures — or even attempts to capture — feelings of stasis so successfully as billy woods. Aethiopes, his first of two albums this year, is not only an extraordinary meditation on cannibalism and colonialism but a futureless, borderless, mapless breadth of stillness. Listening to it feels like being placed in the doldrums with woods’ voice pulling you forward, as exhilarating as a sudden gust of wind. One of the greatest living masters of the form, he raps with complicated internal rhyme schemes as effortlessly as a millennial communicates with emojis. At each and every turn, woods’ lyrical and metrical complexity is supported by Preservation’s high-concept production, with loops that sound as though they were excavated by an archaeologist. It sounds both ancient and like nothing ever heard before. —Emma Madden

04

Soccer Mommy - Sometimes, Forever (Loma Vista)

Now this is how you execute the time-honored experimental third album. Evolution is, by definition, a natural process, and Sophie Allison makes the artistic growth and creative risks on Sometimes, Forever feel so much smoother and more inevitable than you might expect from a collaboration with avant-pop production mastermind Daniel Lopatin. She’s still making the same achingly vulnerable, heartrendingly pretty pop-rock we’ve come to expect from Soccer Mommy, but with weird, inspired twists around every corner. The possibilities for this project have never been broader, and its reality has never been better. —Chris DeVille

03

Beyoncé - Renaissance (Parkwood/Columbia)

She’s one of one. She’s number one. She’s the only one. Beyoncé Knowles has done a lot of amazing things in a pop career that’s stretched back a quarter-century, but she’s never attempted anything quite like this. Renaissance is a heady swirl of Black dance music, of house and disco and soul and dancehall and Afrobeats and bounce. Beyoncé has points to make, but those points arrive in the context of thumping cinematic party music that bangs and twirls and struts with joyously dazzling fury. Nobody anywhere near Beyoncé’s level is attempting anything remotely like this, and that’s fine. Nobody else could pull it off. —Tom Breihan

02

Rosalía - MOTOMAMI (Columbia)

Upending genre norms is nothing new for modern musicians, but few have gone as far in breaking their sound into as many pieces as Rosalía. The Catalan iconoclast interpolates reggaeton classics with free jazz breakdowns, smears auto-tune over flamenco, seamlessly strings together a Cuban jam from the ’60s into a Soulja Boy sample. MOTOMAMI sounds like nothing else from this present moment, but it also sounds distinctly like the present: rapidly scrolling through bite-sized earworms, embodying masculine aggression simultaneously and without contradiction to high femininity, and repurposing old traditions from the last 50 years to envision the future. —Pranav Trewn

01

Alvvays - Blue Rev (Polyvinyl)

Blue Rev is a feat of alchemy, an album whose pleasures are simple but whose execution is complex. Every time I listen to it, I wonder how Alvvays managed to pull it off. It seemed like fate might have been conspiring against them — a flood, a thief, and a pandemic threatened to derail the band — but they forged ahead and created a marvel.

The songs on Blue Rev are hooky and heartfelt, a series of powder-keg explosions that burst with emotion. Molly Rankin sings about stumbling, succumbing to pressure, feeling unfulfilled and uninspired. But she also channels the moments when everything seems okay, where you have no choice but to embrace what’s alright and good in the world. The band blends effervescence and melancholy in a way that is as satisfying as it is true to life. I’ve cried more tears to Blue Rev than I have anything else this year, always at the most unexpected of times, when a lyric or a guitar hits just right.

Alvvays songs have a way of sneaking up on you like that. Blue Rev is purposefully overwhelming — with sounds, with the constant churn of a mind left to wander — but it always comes back around to something so elemental that it’s undeniable. —James Rettig

Stream tracks from all 50 albums in this playlist:

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