Our 2022 Midyear Report continues with our favorite albums of the year so far.
Art is not sport, there’s no such thing as a best album, and roundups like this one are built on a foundation of sand. We’d happily shove the whole thing into the ocean if we could, and we’d list our favorites in alphabetical order if such an arrangement would generate even half the clicks. But it wouldn’t. Even you, reading four sentences into an introduction, are the exception, lingering on an appetizer as the vast majority of readers scroll to the main course.
But that doesn’t mean the exercise is without value, even beyond the need for independent publications like this one to keep the lights on in an increasingly hostile media environment.
To start, there are the arguments. Oh, we love the arguments! Passion drives the artistic economy, arriving ahead of money like clouds before the rain. Is our list perfect? Of course not. Could we have done better? We’re sure you’ll let us know.
Aside from that, roundups like this have two more virtues. The first is providing a boost to smaller acts who depend on word of mouth, as well as medium-sized acts poised for the big break. And finally, they offer a snapshot of the preoccupations, politics, and musical preferences of both artists and audiences. This year’s trends will be obvious with a little historical distance, but in the moment we can attempt an educated guess.
2022 is shaping up to be the year of the big statement. These aren’t collections of singles surrounded by filler, or lengthy data dumps released in the hope that streaming numbers will push them to undeserved heights on the charts. Many of the most thrilling musical statements are leaning hard on the L in LP — and that includes a couple of great albums that came out after our vote had concluded. We’ll know more later.
For now, let’s revel in a year that seems to delight in large ideas developing over time.
— Wren Graves
30. Yard Act – The Overload
The debut LP from Leeds’ finest has everything you want out of a post-punk album: angular riffs, astute observations about class, and an extra-thick British accent. The Overload is a showcase for the band’s range, with emotive frontman James Smith showcasing both vulnerability and a sense of humor across 11 can’t-skip tracks. — Spencer Dukoff
29. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love
Consequence cover stars Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Unlimited Love is their first album with John Frusciante back in the band since 2006, and that reunion feeling is happily on display throughout the album. The band retains its usual playfulness and California-centric funk rock, but there’s a refreshing exhale from Red Hot Chili Peppers on this effort, and it’s one that finds one of the world’s biggest bands operating with freedom and vigor. — Paolo Ragusa
28. Rammstein – Zeit
When the pandemic shut down Rammstein’s plan to tour extensively in support of their 2019 untitled album, the German industrial masters hit the studio to record a new album. Ahead of their highly-anticipated North American stadium tour, the band unveiled Zeit, a new LP’s worth of wild yet infectious songs that cover such topics as plastic surgery (“ZIick Zack”), large-breasted women (“Dicke Titten”), and unprotected sex (“OK”). — Spencer Kaufman
27. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
A Light for Attracting Attention, the debut album from Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner’s The Smile project, delights in the balance of contradictions. Though Yorke’s tendency to find clarity in the murkiest of headspaces — as he does best on the darkly comforting “Free in the Knowledge” — leaves him perfectly suited to face daily uncertainties like “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings,” The Smile can at least extract some pleasure out of it. — Bryan Kress
26. Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Just when it had felt like we had been nearing the end of UK post-punk’s heyday from the last couple of years, in come Wet Leg. Our April Artist of the Month burst onto the indie scene seemingly out of nowhere and armed with witty, droll lyrics about life’s anxieties, all delivered with deadpan vocals (toss in a Mean Girls reference, too) and a wry smile. Never has ennui and casual nihilism lamented over a throbbing bass line felt so infectious; life may be pretty shit, but at least we’ve got Wet Leg. — Cady Siregar
25. Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
Nine albums in, Spiritualized are more dynamic than ever. That’s meant quite literally; the songs on Everything Was Beautiful are some of the most sonically dynamic of Jason “J. Spaceman” Pierce’s career. The pandemic affected everyone differently, with some musicians finding themselves creatively stifled and others opening themselves to the time. Spaceman falls in the latter category, leading to a lush, enchanting, and occasionally anguished sibling to 2018’s And Nothing Hurt. It’s almost like a double album released out of order, four years apart. — Ben Kaye
24. Ghost – IMPERA
Heading into the recording sessions for Ghost’s latest album, IMPERA, frontman Tobias Forge (aka Papa Emeritus IV) compared the effort to Metallica’s Black Album, not in terms of the sonic direction, but for its significance as the pivotal fifth album in the band’s career. Sonically, however, it calls to mind ‘70s arena-rock acts like Kansas, Styx, and Foreigner, juxtaposing the band’s sinister image with catchy-as-hell songs. — S.K.
23. Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point is only Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s second Tears for Fears album since 1989, and a direct follow-up to 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. That’s a stunning timeline for a band to be able to deliver a record as beautiful and poignant as anything they released in the ’80s. The fact that it came from rejecting the modern hit-making algorithm by simply sitting Orzabal and Smith together with guitars just shows how you earn the moniker “legends.” — B. Kaye
22. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve. Denzel Curry’s Melt My Eyez See Your Future is dope because it highlights his humanity. Curry flexes his considerable rap muscles when discussing his religion, wavering devotion to said religion, his hypocrisies, his family, his aspirations, and the evil thoughts he keeps hoping will go away. — Marcus Shorter
21. Jack White – Fear of the Dawn
On Fear of the Dawn, Jack White eases his grip on the earnest preserver of guitar rock pastiche and delivers a loose, sometimes jarring, and constantly intriguing set. Though July’s folk companion album Entering Heaven Alive is right around the corner, Fear has already earned its moment to shine as White’s most creatively ambitious effort (and album with the most Q-Tip features) in years. — B. Kress
20. The Weeknd – Dawn FM
Dawn FM finds The Weeknd working in his most playful and specific space since his major label debut. The narrative of Dawn FM is intended to be the soundtrack of a journey through purgatory, equally soothing as it is vibrant, and filled with self-awareness. Abel Tesfaye continues his investigation of the fraught bad boy persona that he began to truly dismantle on After Hours, but there’s a much more fantastical sense of drama to it; he shows more sides of himself than ever before and reveals a detailed look at his current state of mind. — P.R.
19. Black Country, New Road – Ants from Up There
Ants from Up There is a clear departure from Black Country, New Road’s excellent debut. They’ve abandoned aggression, reinventing themselves as sensitive and love-sick. With results this incredible, the change is welcome. The band delivers a dazzling record of dramatic and heartfelt tracks that tap into locked, sublime emotions. It feels like an epiphany for the band and therapy for the listener. — Jonah Krueger
18. Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia
It’s no secret that Irish post-punkers Fontaines D.C. are blowing up right now across the pond. But they’re slowly creeping their way into the global spotlight, too, thanks to Skinty Fia. On one of the most invigorating albums of the year, the group embraces their Irish heritage, blending lush composition and production with powerful lyrics tackling guilt, loss, change, home, and pain. It’s the Dublin quintet at their strongest. — André Heizer
17. Harry Styles – Harry’s House
There’s a chance that Harry’s House is the highest-profile album of 2022 so far. Harry Styles is a pop star who is also able to slip in and out of a rock star persona as he pleases, and he didn’t disappoint with his highly anticipated third solo record. A few weeks into its release, Harry’s House has failed to lose its shine; conversations about favorite tracks shift and persist, and will probably continue to do so for some time. — Mary Siroky
16. PUP – THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
PUP marry melodies that sound like they belong on the radio with lyrics that should be whispered to a shrink, and THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND might be their most irresistibly cracked effort yet. The Toronto punks have made a record of their own minds unspooling, and it’s so undeniably fun that you’ll be itching to shatter your own psyche, too. — W.G.
15. Charli XCX – Crash
Crash finds Charli XCX reentering with guns blazing, having perfected her pop sound with shimmery ‘80s synths and pulsating dance-pop — all while teetering slowly away from the hyperpop sound she’s had a crucial part in helming. Crash is Charli at her most complete, the final album of a five-record deal with Atlantic Records that she’s hinted has been a difficult ordeal in itself. It feels like a culmination of her journey to becoming one of our most important pop artists. When you make pop this good, you don’t really need to follow anyone else’s rules. — C.S.
14. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
Bad Bunny has conquered the Super Bowl and WrestleMania, with eyes set on Hollywood next, but the Puerto Rican polymath is still a musician first. On Un Verano Sin Ti, the multi-faceted artist demonstrates his preternatural ability to move across influences like merengue, bomba, and dembow music while pulling from the past and present of reggaeton. With Side A sticking closer to the latter and Side B featuring collaborations with alternative acts like The Marías and Bomba Estéreo, Bad Bunny brings la cultura to pop music. — Eddie Fu
13. SASAMI – Squeeze
Using Japanese folklore as a jumping off point, Squeeze moves between disparate influences from the ’90s and 2000s with ease. Our February Artist of the Month weaves System of a Down, Sheryl Crow, Jenny Lewis, and Bonnie Tyler throughout the album — sometimes on the same song — while channeling her bottled-up emotions into each track and capturing the experience of being a queer woman of color in the music industry. It’s a daunting feat other artists couldn’t even dream of attempting, and SASAMI makes it seem almost effortless. — E.F.
12. Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
Spoon’s Britt Daniel told us that their latest LP was meant to feel “kick-ass.” “Post-pandemic, I think the world needs that even more, the record that feels good blasting outta your radio,” he said. The band delivered in spades with their best top-to-bottom collection since their aughts trifecta. Capturing the sound of the band in a room (even though it was largely recorded during pandemic separation), Lucifer on the Sofa is one of the best rock albums of the year — which tells you all you need to know about Spoon’s longevity. — B. Kaye
11. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
Diaspora Problems sounds simultaneously like a mirror held up to American society and a hammer poised to break it. The Philly hardcore act (and our March Artist of the Month) has a take-no-prisoners approach to racists and capitalists, and as they are keen to point out, that includes white liberals. The resulting record is as fast and devastating as an asteroid striking the earth, with the advantage that you can experience it more than once. — W.G.
10. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
Beach House spent their first seven studio albums being patron saints of vibes, creating dream pop that felt blissfully passive and lost in the haze — and that shtick worked. But on Once Twice Melody, the duo sound more intentional, more referential, and bolder than ever, without ever losing their instantly-soothing atmosphere.
Clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, Once Twice Melody takes its time to explore and evolve, pulling you in with a subtle urgency and then immediately letting you wander. If earlier Beach House records were a galaxy — a backdrop for smoking weed, making love, crying, or some combination of those — then Once Twice Melody is a satellite, exploring on an imprecise yet enlightening journey.
When vocalist Victoria Legrand asks, “Can you fly higher than a hawk flies in a black-star sky?”, it feels possible. — Abby Jones
09. Arcade Fire – WE
The release cycle for Arcade Fire’s Everything Now, with its questionable marketing ploys and tepid critical response, incited a great humbling for the Grammy-winning group. Yet, it also perfectly set the stage for the redemption tour that the scrappy collective has garnered thanks to their fierce follow-up, WE.
Between surprise intimate shows at New York’s Bowery Ballroom that featured frontman Win Butler striding through the audience and leading a processional into the depths of the city’s subways, and an openly raw, confessional Coachella performance, the band has painstakingly paired tactile experiences with their new set to reconnect directly with their fanbase and effectively embody their songs’ characteristic over-sentimentality.
There’s no active back-pedaling on the record, and recurring themes like alienation, growing up, and apocalyptic destruction are still present on the best cuts like “The Lightning I, II” and “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid),” but their typically heavy-handed delivery arrives with more flourish and hard-earned consideration. — B. Kress
08. Rosalía – MOTOMAMI
By the time Rosalía’s third album was announced, the Spanish artist was already a superstar. MOTOMAMI, though, was a cultural reset; it’s a phrase that gets tossed around liberally, but Rosalía proved that it’s one that can still carry some weight.
With this record — one that is vibrant, inventive, and addictive — it feels like her audience has expanded massively. Rosalía epitomizes what can be so great about music when it crosses cultures, namely that listeners don’t have to always have literal translations on a first listen to understand what an artist is trying to say.
We do, of course, thankfully live in a time when lyrics in our native language are accessible at the tap of a button, and for non-Spanish speakers, MOTOMAMI feels like the gift that keeps on giving. It’s sonically absorbing, surprising in the vein of so many masterful pop records that preceded it, and a second treasure trove of discoveries when the lyrics are unpacked. — M. Siroky
07. Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
Florence Welch found inspiration for Dance Fever, her fifth album as frontwoman of Florence + the Machine, in the concept of “dance mania,” a social phenomenon dating back to the Renaissance where groups of people would dance to the point of exhaustion and collapse. Stuck inside at the height of the pandemic, that kind of unending artistic expression was exactly what the singer was craving.
The LP unfolds as a kind of fairytale wrapped in grandiose mythologies and existential uncertainty, whether on the stark realizations found in third single “Free” (“Is this how it is? Is this how it’s always been?/ To exist in the face of suffering and death and somehow/ Still keep singing”) or the clanging self-awareness of highlight “Daffodil” (“There is no bad, there is no good/ I drank every sky that I could/ Made myself mythical/ Tried to be real”).
By the time it ends with the serene “Morning Elvis,” the listener’s cup is anything but depleted — it’s filled to the brim. — Glenn Rowley
06. Mitski – Laurel Hell
Each Mitski release comes with its own set of outsize expectations, which makes the stunning achievement of Laurel Hell that much more impressive. It’s a master class in tension and release, from the slow burn of “Heat Lightning” to the dancefloor pop of “Stay Soft,” raising your spirits before cutting you down.
Compared to some of Mitski’s earlier lower-fi records, Laurel Hell is unabashedly hi-fi, with lush synths and soaring choruses made for a Broadway theater as opposed to a dingy basement club. But that doesn’t mean Mitski’s turning away from what’s made her one of the more beloved musicians of her generation, or that she’s trading vulnerability for accessibility. It’s actually the opposite: Laurel Hell is full of risks, an artifact that demonstrates Mitski’s willingness to grow and transform as an artist.
By the time you reach the album’s conclusion with “That’s Our Lamp,” you’re worn out, raw, and frankly a little exhausted — but that’s just a testament to the creative powerhouse that is Mitski Miyawaki. — S.D.
05. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Kendrick Lamar gets compared to rappers like Nas and Tupac a lot. But he’s actually this generation’s Ice Cube. Not in terms of style, but in approach. Like Cube, Kendrick composes his albums like novels, detailing a journey from start to finish using all of his musical influences as a frame. Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers is his version of Death Certificate: a sprawling double LP examining where someone is while hopeful about where they want to be in the future. And it’s all because Kendrick got himself a therapist.
Every word is precise, every bar is layered, and he bathes in an honesty normally hidden behind closed therapists’ doors. Whether detailing his daddy issues on “Father Time,” exposing his infidelities on “Worldwide Steppers,” or channeling a famous Charles Barkley ad on “Savior,” Lamar is perfectly fine exposing his raw nerve for our listening pleasure. Or sometimes displeasure.
For some, journeying this deep into an artists’ psyche is uncomfortable. But great art is like therapy: It challenges us and yeah, might make us uneasy at times. If we get through to the other side, like Kendrick shows he’s trying to do on this album, then that makes the bumps in the road worth every knee scrape. Kendrick did the work, chose himself, and created one of the best albums of the past few years. Again. — M. Shorter
04. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Sharon Van Etten’s brilliant sixth album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, finds the artist meditating on the topics of parenthood, loving one’s self, and the all-too-apparent existential darkness that we as a culture find ourselves in. It’s a powerfully realized statement, but Van Etten addresses these weighty topics with ample restraint, letting these songs patiently flourish instead of exploding all at once.
And at the center of it all is Van Etten’s deeply expressive, colorful voice; her range knows no bounds, from her booming lows to her soaring highs. “Born” and “Home to Me” are some of the biggest vocal melodies she’s ever sung, and the pop star confidence emanating from “Mistakes” is Van Etten at her most unabashed and present.
There are dozens of songwriters in Sharon Van Etten’s lane, but few possess her honorable ability to strip a song down to its essentials and let it rise to catharsis so freely and naturally. As we move into the furthest and most uncertain era of the pandemic, We’ve Been… is an emotionally vivid portrait that we can all find hope within. — P.R.
03. Nilüfer Yanya – Painless
Nilüfer Yanya first caught our attention with 2019’s genre-bending Miss Universe, but this year’s Painless trades the pop and R&B of her debut for a cohesive foray into indie rock. Of course, the LP isn’t all lo-fi power chords. Electronic beats texturize her Radiohead-inspired guitar arpeggios, and meticulous production — crisp drums actually snap in “midnight sun,” while the percussion in “chase me” crunches the way lesser minds might alter a guitar.
Across the record, Yanya sings about being alone: “She said she’s coming/ But it don’t mean nothing/ ‘Cause I’m not waiting/ For no one to save me,” she proclaims in first single “stabilise,” as her inimitable voice jumps between a husky whisper and soft cry.
Still, she stands stall, beckoning you to join in her tale of self advocacy with hooks that grab you immediately, and layers that warrant the repeated listening they demand. — Carys Anderson
02. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
On the laser-focused Daytona, Pusha T drilled down to the essence of his brand of street rap. With the Virginia native now in his mid-40s and a recent father, some critics have called for Push to bring more of his real life into his music. However, It’s Almost Dry marks a different kind of evolution, one that involves diving deeper into the downsides of drug dealing while mastering the ability to rap over different types of beats.
With Pharrell brought back into the fold, the album is sonically more varied than Daytona, challenging Push to experiment with different cadences while still boasting about being “cocaine’s Dr. Seuss.” He also delves into the impact of the fallout he had with his former manager, and fairly brings up how JAY-Z (who guests on “Neck & Wrist”) faced the same criticism in the past.
Whether or not Push has a 4:44 in his future, It’s Almost Dry represents the continued development of a rapper whose flow, delivery, and storytelling abilities are stronger than ever. Yes, the subject matter is the same, but Push has elevated his game to new heights. — E.F.
01. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You has no shortage of special tracks, from the effortless melodies of “Simulation Swarm” (our No. 1 song of 2022 so far) and “Spud Infinity,” to the propulsive oddity of “Blurred View” and the irresistible sweetness of “Wake Me Up to Drive.” And with Adrienne Lenker leading the charge, even the non-singles can suddenly ambush you with a lyric that takes your breath away.
Big Thief’s most ambitious album yet covers just about everything: modern living; fear of the end; and varieties of love overwhelming, unrequited, and joyously platonic. The album ends with “Blue Lightning” and its repeated phrase, “I want to live forever ’til I die,” which is followed with someone wondering off-mic, “What should we do now?”
It’s a good question. After you’ve covered life, death, and everything in between, how in the world do you go forward? That’s Big Thief’s problem; fans can just dive back into a world so rich it divulges new secrets with every listen. — W.G.