The 50 Best Albums of 2022 So Far

The 50 best albums of 2022 offer sublime music as major artists return with new albums and brilliant new sounds bubble up from the underground and worldwide.

Joywave – Cleanse [Hollywood]

Joywave Cleanse

Joywave have long been able to dial-up previous pop eras at the touch of a button. With Cleanse, though, they rise above the mechanical mimicry that’s stifled them in the past. This time, Joywave synthesize a slew of dance-pop touchstones—from classic Tears for Fears to LCD Soundsystem and beyond—into a fresh sound that brims with life. Meanwhile, highly organic-sounding beats from drummer Paul Brenner crackle within an otherwise digitized rush of sounds, infusing the music with some space to breathe. And strangely enough, by broadening his perspective, Armbruster speaks to individual experience with more acuity than ever. Joywave have clearly been changed by what we’ve all lived through. They’ve also emerged with their most moving work yet. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


Rokia Koné and Jacknife Lee – Bamanan [Real World]

Bamanan

Within her home country of Mali, Rokia Koné is nicknamed “The Rose of Bamako”, a name that fits the beautiful intensity of her voice. Internationally, she’s best known for her work with supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique, one of the few members present on both of the ensemble’s albums so far and a standout performer, leading tracks like “Queens” and “Mansa Soyari” with aplomb. Now, she ventures into the solo world with Bamanan, collaborating with Jacknife Lee. Lee’s production work has included some of the most critically acclaimed albums of famed acts like U2, R.E.M., and Taylor Swift. Now, he gives Koné the royal treatment, framing her agile voice within a dynamic soundscape of guitars, synths, and drums that offer her the space she deserves. – Adriane Pontecorvo


Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers [Top Dawg Entertainment]

Mr Morale and The Big Steppers

Kendrick Lamar is not perfect. He’s not a monster either. But the clear takeaway from Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is that he’s no longer entertaining the ridiculous idea that you might regard him – or Oprah, or Kobe, or Kanye, or even R. Kelly – in black and white terms. The record’s final track, and what might be his last one for a while, revolves around choice words: “I choose me, I’m sorry.” It’s directed to us: every fan, every enemy, every listener, every critic, every influencer, and person with their own idea of what Kendrick Lamar as a public person means to them. When the track closes abruptly, we’re left with an empty pedestal and the notion that if Lamar believes he’s good enough for himself, so should we feel for ourselves: each of us, like the album, is perfect in our imperfection. – Rob Moura


Miranda Lambert – Palomino [Vanner / RCA Nashville]

Miranda Lambert Palomino

Country music superstar Miranda Lambert’s latest album, Palomino, is a damn fine record. The singer-songwriter offers 15 tales of love and the American Dream in a robust, declarative yet tender voice. Life is a carnival, Lambert suggests. Her narrators may be chasing a gold ring but not a wedding band in their search for happiness. They want something more out of life, even if they don’t know what it is, and they are usually anxious to move on in search.

Lambert frequently sings in the first person, so we identify her with these restless women. That makes for deliciously gossipy fun reading between the lines about her marriage and divorce. It doesn’t matter if Lambert is truthful or therapeutic in her songs. Her ability to express her feelings as if they convey some profound truth counts more. “Times like these make me feel strange,” Lambert sings, and who doesn’t and hasn’t felt weird the last few years. By conveying this in the first person, we all become the “I” of the songs. The point is we are all in this together, alone. – Steve Horowitz


Leyla McCalla – Breaking the Thermometer [ANTI-]

Breaking the Thermometer

Leyla McCalla’s Breaking the Thermometer embraces the beauty and complexity of the Haitian—and Haitian-American—cultural and political landscape. Here the interweaving of archival recordings, contemporary interviews, and new and traditional music flesh out the nuance and ambiguity of a people and land while emphasizing the radicality of voice and rhythm in the service of freedom of expression. She uses the music and archival recordings throughout the album to illuminate the interplay between revolutionary spirit and repressive authoritarianism. This interplay is multi-dimensional and addresses multiple expressions: western colonialism and the slave trade, brutal internal dictatorships propped up by outside interests, and the repression of identity and free expression in resistance to pluralistic cultures. – Rick Quinn


MUNA – MUNA [Saddest Factory]

MUNA Album Art

“Used to wear my sadness like a choker, yeah, it had me by the throat / Tonight I feel I’m draped in it, like a loose garment,” proclaims synthpop trio MUNA on their self-titled third LP. “I just let it flow.” Although these lyrics may feel tainted by depression and lost love, the group is entirely in their element with their latest work. Combining intensely emotional and often melodramatic lyrics over pulsating beats that bring the experiences of queer women to the forefront, MUNA know how to take the harsh facts of life—in this case, the oppression and marginalization of queer people—and turn them into pop anthems to dance the tears away. On MUNA, the group has crafted a collection boldly exploring how being queer is composed of joys and traumas, and there’s no shame in messily embracing both. – Jeffrey Davies


OHYUNG – imagine naked! [NNA Tapes]

imagine naked

With the 15-minute opener of imagine naked! “my torn cuticles!” and the 37-minute closer “release like gloves!”, OHYUNG wastes no time throwing a listener into the deep end. Going full William Basinski with these two mirrored pieces, simple melodic phrases (played on similarly ghostlike synth pads) get repeated ad nauseam. There are no significant shifts or changes throughout these pieces, as the intended effect is that of great ambient drone music: to displace the listener’s mind and keep them locked in a calm, endless dreamscape. The track lengths alone may be too high a bar of entry for some (the entire album clocks in at a weighty 114 minutes), but the biggest success of imagine naked! is how it achieves its aims through various techniques, moods, and styles. This record is calm in an eternal storm, a welcome and earned peace. – Evan Sawdey


Perfume Genius – Ugly Season [Matador]

Perfume Genius Ugly Season

Michael Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) has always proven to be a gifted lyricist and composer, at once headstrong and impossibly fragile, who knows how to tell stories filled with tragedy, theatrics, and even a dash of humor. On Ugly Season though, gone are his self-immolating cries of loneliness and clever takedowns of heterosexual establishmentarianism that embellished the genesis of his career. What takes their place are enigmatic musings on grief, tracks that swell beyond the eight-minute mark, and uncanny arrangements stitched together in a Frankensteinian patchwork of phantasmagorical harmonies. – Michael Savio


Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile [Atlantic]

Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile

One of the most exciting talents in UK music right now, Kojey Radical, is making a bid for stardom. The East Londoner is both versatile and productive and seems to have featured on endless streams of music, art, and fashion collaborations over the last few years. His ambitious music blurs the lines between myriad contemporary UK rap styles as well as funk and neo-soul – a fluidity brilliantly exemplified by Reason to Smile. The album contains countless highlights and surprises, from the bouncy, optimistic tone to its numerous guest features. This is the first major full-length release by this soon-to-be major artist. – Tom Morgan


Rosalía – MOTOMAMI [Columbia]

Motomami

“Post-modernism is dead,” wrote Nicolas Bourriaud in his Altermodern Manifesto for Tate Triennial 2009. The art critic and curator proposes a new term for the multicultural reality we are experiencing and for which the idea of postmodernism no longer suffices: altermodernism. According to Bourriaud, “artists are responding to a new globalized perception”, they “traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication”. Rosalía’s MOTOMAMI falls within this conception. The third album by the Spanish singer, songwriter, and producer is a feast of sounds, words, and references – all ganged for a deliberately fragmented outcome. Rhapsodies become canonic song structures. Genre hybridization becomes the norm. The album aims for the point where it won’t make sense if it makes too much sense. Exploration is the means and the end. – Ana Clara Ribeiro


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