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.

Röyksopp – Profound Mysteries [Dog Triumph]

Royksopp Profound Mysteries

It’s always thrilling to witness artists expand on their sounds and stretch their talents. With the idea of the studio album being questioned and the place of pop music in our culture – as well as blurring the boundaries of pop music and pop art – being assessed, work like Profound Mysteries elevates the conversation. But most importantly, the music on Profound Mysteries doesn’t struggle or collapse under the weight of Röyksopp’s artistic ambitions: the music is some of their canniest and most absorbing. The vast creativity and breadth of this project are impressive. Along with the great music, a suite of short films operates as a gorgeous visual interpretation of the music. Though, Röyksopp have sworn off releasing “traditional studio albums”, judging from Profound Mysteries, this new stage in their career is exciting and captivating. – Peter Piatkowski


Saba – Few Good Things [Saba Pivot, LLC]

Saba Few Good Things

A highlight of this month’s hip-hop releases, Saba‘s Few Good Things is a brilliant conscious rap album, one bursting at the seams with character and soul. The Chicago native’s third full-length is the most full-bodied work of his career thus far, jam-packed full of ideas and invention. Few Good Things‘ colorful, pathos-leaden ambition has seen its creator compared to rap auteurs such as Chance the Rapper and Andre 3000, and it’s easy to see why. Soulful charmers “Fearmonger” and “Make Believe” sit comfortably alongside the heavier “If I Had a Dollar” and “Survivor’s Guilt”, a combination that gives Few Good Things the feel of a full-bodied future classic. – Tom Morgan


Emeli Sandé – Let’s Say for Instance [Chrysalis]

Emeli Sandé’s Let’s Say for Instance is about being fearless. It’s about jumping in with both feet and never mind what others think of you. Though Sandé admits to “struggling” with her coming out, the art she’s created from that struggle is that of “surviving” – a constant theme in her work. Sandé’s music scores moments of self-doubt and apprehension, but also offers succor and hope. Let’s Say for Instance is the soul album we need in these struggle-filled cultural-political times.

There’s a pearl of relieved wisdom heard in the lyrics which sound as if they’ve come from a lifetime of experience. The songs tell stories of women who learn to love themselves and don’t allow adversity to box them in. These are wise tales of love, empowerment, and happiness, like a boxed set of the best episodes from The Oprah Winfrey Show. Sandé’s warmth dominates the record and her songs are like a loving embrace. – Peter Piatkowski


Oumou Sangaré – Timbuktu [World Circuit]

Timbuktu

Timbuktu is yet another brilliant addition to Oumou Sangaré’s repertoire. On it, she interweaves familiar sounds from her long and distinguished body of work with fresh musical ideas. Lifelong friend and collaborator Mamadou Sidibé’s ngoni, the ever-present lute accompanying Sangaré’s voice, is as lyrical as ever, its lilting patterns providing a dynamic backdrop for Sangaré’s lithe, golden voice. The distinct wailing of the dobro and slide guitar is new to her work, instruments brought into play by none other than Delgrès frontman and Timbuktu co-producer Pascal Danaë. On Timbuktu, Sangaré continues to prove how much work she puts in to maintain her reputation as a musical force and yet how open she is to worthwhile sonic change. There’s not a sound or note wasted. – Adriane Pontecorvo


Shamir – Heterosexuality [AntiFragile Music]

Heterosexuality

With his latest release, Heterosexuality, pop renaissance man Shamir channels trauma, rage, and feelings of angst, and in response to our troubled times, he’s released an album of uncommon beauty. Employing sharp, pointed lyrics and applying his gorgeous, androgynous vocals to a dark, lush industrial synthpop, Shamir’s album makes a significant musical contribution to the ongoing debates over identity, queerness, and sexuality. Looking to musical cues of the 1990s, Heterosexuality feels bracing, fresh, and ingenious. The singer embraces a bigger, more expansive, almost cinematic sound that echoes shades of Trent Reznor, Trevor Horn, and 1990s-era Prince. – Peter Piatkowski


Sarah Shook & The Disarmers – Nightroamer [Thirty Tigers]

Nightroamer

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers play loud and fast rock and roll with a nasty country sneer. The ten songs on their latest record Nightroamer sound as if they are forgotten 45s from some roadhouse juke joint where people come to drink, dance, and fight in the parking lot as a way of wiping the dirt off the weekly grind from their lives. The instrumentation is unpretentious, and there are no showy solos. The lyrics are written in plain language. The pleasures are inherent in the music being what it is, delivered in an austere drawl with hard strummed strings and a driving beat. Because there is nothing flashy about Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, it’s easy to overlook just how damn good they are, and this album is. It’s the musical equivalent of getting a shot and a beer at the neighborhood bar or burgers and fries at a local non-chain restaurant. – Steve Horowitz 


The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention [XL Recordings]

A Light For Attracting Attention

The Smile’s A Light for Attracting Attention begins with a song named “The Same” and closely resembles the Thom Yorke song “Dawn Chorus” but with a steadier tempo. As a piano pulls up alongside the pulsating synthesizer, Yorke begs the listener to understand that “We are all the same.” The dynamics continue to grow, and every time Yorke sings the word “please”, it pierces just a little harder than it did the time before. Less a rallying cry for unity and more of a desperate gasp for understanding, “The Same” makes for an unsettling opener.

“The Opposite” follows, announcing Skinner’s arrival with an admirable impression of the late Tony Allen. After Yorke sings “lit up like a firework”, a crisscrossing of electric guitars grows into a thicket too tangled to follow. Whether or not there is a method to Greenwood’s madness here isn’t clear, but Yorke’s simple lesson of “Opposites attract” can’t be of a romantic variety when he follows up the lyric with “In ash and dust and pockets full of emptiness.” – John Garratt


SOAK – If I Never Know You Like This Again [Rough Trade]

If I Never Know You Like This Again

Some things are best left in the past. Photographs of a toxic relationship, for example, can be potent reminders of trauma; better to burn them under a full moon in some paganistic ceremony. Like our bad teenage poetry or old concert tickets, other relics can inspire rosy trips down memory lane. In “If I Never Know You Like This Again”SOAK, nom de plume of one Bridie Monds-Watson from Derry, Northern Ireland, examines their complicated past with journalistic lyrics, sweet melodies galore, and an indie-rock guitar sound steeped in nostalgia. A confident progression from 2019’s art-pop “Grim Town”, “IINKYLTA” doesn’t abandon SOAK’s folk poet roots while pushing the boat out to a broader sonic landscape. SOAK shows us that using uncomfortable past experiences for personal growth doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, it can be a blast. – Jay Honeycomb


St. Paul & The Broken Bones – The Alien Coast [ATO Records]

The Alien Coast

From start to finish, St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ The Alien Coast is a dizzying aural experience. There are faint hints of mission bells tolling at the beginning of “The Alien Coast”, alluding to the inspiration behind the album title. Paul Janeway’s reading of colonial-period historical accounts led to his discovery of the term “the alien coast” as the colonial invaders initially referred to the land on the Gulf of Mexico. The song’s content expands the impact of unwanted colonization to include the digital algorithms mining our intellectual resources to enslave us. Heady stuff, this album. Its creativity and complexity sketch out innovative new paths for this band as they approach one decade of artistry together. If The Alien Coast is any indication, we are in for boundary-defying joy in the future. – Rick Quinn


Bartees Strange – Farm to Table [4AD]

Bartees Strange Farm to Table

Farm to Table offers as much substance as it offers style. “Hennessy” hangs delicately at the intersection of jazz, hip-hop, and indie-folk, offering a stunning vocal performance from strange and a group of backing vocalists. Throughout the song, Strange owns his vulnerabilities and shortcomings, eschewing the cathartic finale in favor of something much more broken. It’s music that expertly paints the feelings in the lyrics, and that’s the real achievement: a sound distinctly his tells a story that is distinctly his. Farm to Table is a record to dwell within, not one to merely be impressed by, making it a fitting and remarkable sophomore effort for an artist whose debut turned so many heads. – Jeremy Levine


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