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.

Harry Styles – Harry’s House [Columbia]

Harry's House

Harry StylesHarry’s House, is, to reference his debut solo single, a “Sign of the Times”. While its title suggests its creation in both the mental and physical isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the album experiments with a variety of new sounds for Styles. On this, his third solo LP, Styles moves on from the progressive rock of his self-titled debut and the Laurel Canyon-inspired folk and funk of his hit sophomore record Fine Line, venturing into the 1980s territory of bombastic choruses backed by layered vocals and synths. Since departing One Direction, Styles has proven the elasticity of his persona and musical palette. On an album that, through its title, implies intimacy and solitude, Styles shows there are no four walls that can contain him. – Matthew Dwyer

Misha Sultan – Roots [Hive Mind]

Misha Sultan Roots

Misha’s latest album, Roots, is a collection of songs recorded between 2015 and 2022. It arrives during a rather dark time in the artist’s life—while making it, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Misha was forced to flee his home country. Now is as good a time as ever to dig deep into the multi-instrumentalist’s sonic universe. Against a backdrop of tragedy and exile, Roots showcases all the things that Misha does well. The most striking thing about the album is its bright, daydreamy tone. Despite the dark political overtones surrounding the release, it’s a little lighter and more playful than The Red Fern Road, Misha’s last LP. Both albums highlight his unique Eurasian sound, but this one has a little more pep in its step. It’s a perfect album with which to usher in the summertime. – Parker Desautell

Earl Sweatshirt – SICK! [Warner]

Perhaps its creator’s finest (half) hour, SICK! wholly reaffirms Earl Sweatshirt’s position at the forefront of contemporary experimental hip-hop. Whereas previous full-length Some Rap Songs was a taut, claustrophobic affair, SICK! sees Earl spread his wings and indulge in myriad different moods and forms. These ten tracks are varied and unique and held together by their creator’s masterful rhymes. Highlights include the beatless, emotive “God Laughs” and the Armand Hammer-featuring “Tabula Rasa”. It’s an early contender for the hip-hop album of the year. – Tom Morgan

Tennyson – Rot [Counter]

Tennyson Rot

The production throughout Tennyson’s Rot is exquisite – beats are booming, bits of synth melodies squiggle across the mix, and the various vocal effects are spacey and futuristic without ever seeming gimmicky or cliché. The opening “In My Head (Intro)” is a brief instrumental overture of weirdness and tends to belie the hooks and beats that follow. The single “Feelwitchu” is held together by an airtight funk beat, with Tennyson’s lyrics about a complicated relationship floating over the beautiful noise. “Doors” continues along the same funky road but is imbued with a more soul-inflected flavor, as Tennyson’s electronic fussiness creates something like a slow jam from another planet. Creating pop/funk masterpieces that you can dance to and also admire from a songwriting perspective can be very hard to come by. But it seems like Tennyson can do that stuff in his sleep. – Chris Ingalls

Yann Tiersen – 11 5 18 2 5 18 [Mute]

11 5 18 2 5 18

Less than ten months after Yann Tiersen’s previous album Kerber, Tiersen threw us all one massive curveball with the strangely titled 11 5 18 2 5 18. This time, the electronics are not hiding in the background, providing subtle shading. They are running the show – all of it. Shifting styles is one thing; pulling off a quality release while shifting your style is another matter. So if you’re wondering if Yann Tiersen is up for the art of the great crossover, be assured that he is. 11 5 18 2 5 18 sounds like the man has been dabbling in deeply abstract instrumental synthesizer mood music for decades. Not only is Yann Tiersen melodically reliable, he’s also a gifted arranger and tasteful experimenter. There are plenty of strange bends and odd noises, yet none of it feels out of place. All of the beauty and weirdness strive toward the same ends. Honestly, he should do things like this more often. – John Garratt

Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong [Jagjaguwar]

We've Been Going About This All Wrong

“Up the whole night…can’t stop thinking about peace and war,” Sharon Van Etten sings in the song “Anything”, from her latest album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong. The line can be seen as a fitting summary of this dense, luminous, ruminative new album. Everyone and their brother seem to be cranking out “pandemic albums”, whether it’s the result of being forced to hole up in a home studio or simply reflecting on how COVID has irrevocably changed lives. For Van Etten, her latest album is a little bit of both, with thrilling, transcendent results. The pandemic, coupled with the increase of modern-day horrors like climate change and racial injustice, made parenthood a scary challenge. Still, it also inspired her to translate this unease into some of the most beautiful music she’s ever released. – Chris Ingalls

The Weather Station – How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars [Fat Possum]

When Tamara Lindemann (The Weather Station) stresses the associative nature of this record, she means it. The songs on How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars were formed from the same fertile period that birthed Ignorance. Both collections are linked by the challenge of tackling existential threats with timeworn tropes – the kinds most any listener with a history of heartbreak can conceptualize. Yet where Ignorance bounded and galloped with a percussive backbone, How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars floats in weightless piano, saxophone, and clarinet. The heavy presence of silence and the shivering quietude of Lindemann’s voice imbues these songs with the gravity of an elegy and the incandescent flicker of low candlelight. It makes How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars no less contemplative than its older sibling but much more capable of clawing out lone tears. – Rob Moura

Wet Leg – Wet Leg [Domino]

Wet Leg

What does matter is that Wet Leg’s self-titled debut is 36 minutes of pure fun: a popcorn flick with a few slow parts but otherwise no filler. Music of this variety is tough to do right, so that is worth celebrating. Every single track is louse with hooks, from the demented guitars on “Chaise Longue” and “Oh No” to the lyrical repetition on “Wet Dream”. The words are simple enough to form universal sing-alongs, and both Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers – each with their own library of phonetic nuance – deliver them compellingly. Yet that lyrical simplicity belies enough sharp insights about the pitfalls of young adulthood to keep the record from being a guilty pleasure. – Rob Moura

Jack White – Fear of the Dawn [Third Man]

Fear of the Dawn

Fear of the Dawn grabs the listener by the lapels and doesn’t let go for 12 songs. The album is a hard-driving affair watermarked with what the Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins identified recently in his YouTube series as the patented Jack White formula,  providing songs’ harmonic information mainly through his voice and guitar work. But this is no stripped-down affair. The package contains vocal and guitar effects, genre-blurring, layered vocals, organs and synths, and idiosyncratic lyrical themes. The sound and fury of the RECORD signal the opposite of settling in or down. Jack White in 2022 certainly matches, if not surpasses, the raw intensity of his 20s. Fear of the Dawn finds one of rock’s most unique contemporary figures channeling his craft into harmonic convergence, engulfing the listener in kinetic energy while dangling promises of vistas. – Rick Quinn

Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand [Blue Note]

Immanuel Wilkins plays the saxophone with a gorgeous tone and phrasing. He has a quartet willing to push him and follow him, galloping into the musical adventure. He has a compositional direction grounded in history and is ready to shine a light into the unknown. Wilkins’ new recording, The 7th Hand, just his second—both for Blue Note at the tender age of 24—is a gorgeous achievement. It highlights the dazzling chemistry of his working quartet while inviting in some guests who supplement the project rather than distracting from the center. Wilkins’ impulse is to bring 21st-century creative music forward and reclaim the beating heart of its past without sounding retrospective. That’s no mean feat. He is not the first musician whose art does this, but he seems to be naturally adept at putting real heart into the New Jazz, giving it emotional depth as much as historical awareness. – Will Layman