Our 2022 Annual Report continues with our Top 50 Albums list. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2022. You can find it all in one place here.
Something funny happened when we were putting together our list of the best albums of 2022. Obviously, we looked at our mid-year rankings in our deliberations, and while doing so, noticed how drastically things had shifted. Albums that were ranked highly six months ago had dropped down substantially — if not entirely out of consideration. Others that were squeezed into the lower numbers found themselves beating out previous favorites.
It shouldn’t be that surprising; are we really the same people we were six months ago? Are the very artists we’re here to rank? Are our perceptions of them? Name something that isn’t in a state of constant flux these days.
Just look back at your own year of listening habits. Wrapped may tell you one thing, but would it have looked the same if it were released in June? Likely not, because whatever it was that led you into summer may have been supplanted by a record that connected with you even more in fall. In a year when collections of new music geared towards thematically cohesive statements, which ideas struck home with you weren’t going to remain static.
What will never change, however, is that music has a vital impact on those who cherish it. So whether we left your favorite record off or put something on here that you never would have considered, it doesn’t make either side of the equation right or wrong. On this side of things, the Consequence staff put all our own tastes, experiences, and understandings of music with a capital M on the virtual table and pushed it around until we got an order we knew stuck a chord with us.
These are the records we loved, that impressed us, that touched us, and that we likely will keep in our rotations even through the new year. These are the 50 best albums of 2022.
— Ben Kaye
50. Ozzy Osbourne – Patient Number 9
Ozzy returned to his now-trusty producer Andrew Watt for Patient No. 9, and made a triumphant and personal record. Amid physical ailments, a bout with COVID, and a highly publicized relocation back to England, the Prince of Darkness pushed onward and released one of his most successful solo albums to date — all without losing his trademark sense of humor. As Ozzy said of the album during the interview for his Consequence cover story in November 2022, “When I’m fucking miserable and the world’s against me and my fucking butt’s on fire, I come up with the greatest ideas.” — Jon Hadusek
49. MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
Countrygaze may or may not be a real genre, but the output of the bands that carry the label is certainly compelling enough to warrant their own little subculture. Need a citation? Take Boat Songs, the newest record from Jake Lenderman (guitarist for Wednesday). Lenderman’s tunes range from upbeat, wink-and-a-nudge sing-alongs like “Hangover Game” to slow-core-adjacent tracks like “Toontown” to more indie-rock-steeped songs like “You Are Every Girl to Me.” If this is what countrygaze is, grab us a cowboy hat and a case of effect pedals. — Jonah Krueger
48. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love
Reunited and it feels so, so good: Red Hot Chili Peppers returned in 2022 with love, playfulness, and John Frusciante back in the lineup.
On Unlimited Love, the Chili Peppers take it back to the magic of four California dudes in a room jamming in whatever direction excites them the most, and making some of the strongest choices they’ve made on an album in years. — P.R.
47. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong may not feature as many “hit” tracks as Sharon Van Etten’s previous release, 2019’s Remind Me Tomorrow, but that’s very much by design. The artist’s intimate, expertly reserved sixth full-length demands the increasingly rare singular listening experience. Patiently following the mid-tempo examinations of new motherhood and simply existing will reveal just how powerfully cohesive this statement is. — B. Kaye
46. EARTHGANG – Ghetto Gods
How does one categorize EARTHGANG? One doesn’t, and that’s how they like it. Ghetto Gods represents the height of their refusal to check boxes or fit molds. Much like Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul, the duo talks real world issues without sounding preachy or sitting on their moral high horses. The album is as hedonistic as it is uplifting, which is an incredible magic trick in any genre, but especially in hip-hop. — Marcus Shorter
45. Momma – Household Name
“The ‘90s felt like the last era of rockstars,” Etta Friedman said earlier this year. And while Momma’s debut record tips its cap to forebears like Veruca Salt and Smashing Pumpkins, it’s no mere exercise in nostalgia. There’s nothing more boring than debating whether rock ‘n’ roll is dead or alive; Household Name puts that tired dialogue to rest. Rock is alive and well, and thank god it sounds a lot like Momma. — Spencer Dukoff
44. Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point
There’s something special about when a group like Tears for Fears, who might have been written off years ago as “that ’80s band,” can prove their ability to deliver a rich, rhythmic experience like The Tipping Point for the modern era. There’s a little bit of Depeche Mode in the mix here, in the best way — it only enhances Tears for Fears’ unforgettable signature sound. Recorded over nine years, the band’s seventh studio album (and first since 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending) is a deeply personal one, affected by the passing of co-founder Roland Orzabal’s wife, and that deep well of feeling gives additional weight to the album’s sweeping impact. — Liz Shannon Miller
43. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Denzel Curry’s fifth album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, might be the best rap performance of the year. Yes, the album drips in self-care, self-awareness, brags, threats, and pain, but it’s also nirvana for rap nerds who marvel at bar construction and technique. The album contains no wasted lines or moments, as it’s as close to perfect as a rap performance gets in this year — or any other year. — M. Shorter
42. Black Country, New Road – Ants from up There
To a very specific sect of hyper-online, obsessive music fans, nothing of importance happened in 2022 except for the release of Black Country, New Road’s sophomore effort, Ants from Up There. Moving away from the more post-punk-influenced tendencies of their debut, the record builds upon the group’s focus on dynamic songwriting and emotionally distraught performances. Thanks in no small part to former frontman Isaac Woods’ vocals, which seem to give a peek directly into the singer’s soul, songs like “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” and “Basketball Shoes” have become painful anthems for the British band’s fanbase — and rightfully so. — J.K.
41. Wild Pink – ILYSM
On paper, you might expect ILYSM to be Wild Pink’s darkest album yet; the project comes after songwriter John Ross’ battle with cancer. Yet, the thematic intensity is instead presented with a turn towards lightness. The songs of ILYSM showcase some of Ross’ most quietly beautiful tunes of his career, and it’s this marriage of light and dark that allows ILYSM to tap into an acute sense of the sublime, a mix of life’s most extreme emotions that result in a burst of uncomplicated, undying love. — J.K.
40. Pool Kids – Pool Kids
The emo revival has largely been paralleled by a pop punk surge — but where’s the math rock? In comes Pool Kids’ sophomore album, loaded with truly angular guitars and double-kick thunder pushing frustrated screams into the rafters. Yet for all its sonic knots, Pool Kids remains utterly earnest and plainly fun, welcoming even the most ardent emo denialists to dive in. — B. Kaye
39. Burna Boy – Love, Damini
Love, Damini is Burna Boy’s birthday gift to himself. One more revolution around the sun makes the Afrobeat star more introspective than usual, but the album never forgets to celebrate his achievements, just like any good birthday party. He remembers those he lost along the way, acknowledges his regrets, and looks fondly on his mistakes — because if not for those, he isn’t the man he is today. — M. Shorter
38. Stray Kids – MAXIDENT
K-pop group Stray Kids smashed some of their own records with MAXIDENT, their playful, love-centric 2022 release. The group’s second consecutive No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 albums chart might see the eight members traversing new territory with a focus on the joys and fears of romance, but it’s still quintessentially Stray Kid: energetic, bold, and an absurd amount of fun. — Mary Siroky
37. Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
On Natalie Mering’s fifth album as Weyes Blood, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, the catastrophe around you matters less than the way you react to it. At the beginning of the record, Mering finds herself alone at a crowded party; by its end, she’s begging to be turned into a flower, finding strength in her gentle nature and adaptability. Stunningly dramatic without ever feeling too heavy-handed, And in the Darkness turns the notion of extreme emotion into a superpower. — Abby Jones
36. Jack White – Entering Heaven Alive
This year, Jack White split his output into two distinct projects – the digital chaos of Fear of the Dawn and the acoustic wonderland of Entering Heaven Alive. While the former is White at his loudest, it’s the latter that best captures what makes him such an icon. What it lacks in hard-rockin’ fun it more than makes up for with an understated sense of play, a strong blues foundation, and some of White’s best-written tunes in recent memory. It’s albums like Entering Heaven Alive that prove sometimes less truly is more – especially when you’ve been a certified rockstar for 20 years. — J.K.
35. Rico Nasty – Las Ruinas
Maryland rapper Rico Nasty deconstructs hip-hop conventions by sheer force with her feature-length mixtape, Las Ruinas. She lyrically dances while “heads roll, bodies rock” in the cataclysmic opening track “Intrusive,” then promptly begins to build a new world of fresh ideas using fragments of punk, electronic, metal, and her own brand of “sugar trap.” She experiments with unlikely collaborators like 100 gecs, Marshmello, and Fred again… while exploring her lyrical range. It all comes together to further cement Rico’s singular lane in the genre. — Bryan Kress
34. Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
The guitar-powered grit of Spoon’s Lucifer on the Sofa is transportive, like you’re sitting in the back of a dive bar, listening to the unknown band on stage play their heart out — knowing that whoever they are, they just became your new favorite. But while the band’s 10th album has the feel of a band early in their career, in love with what they’ve discovered about their sound, it’s still delivered with the confidence that only comes with years of experience. May Spoon be able to bring that level of vitality into their music for years to come. — L.S.M.
33. Julia Jacklin – PREPLEASURE
Since debuting in 2016 with Don’t Let the Kids Win, Julia Jacklin has incrementally cemented her reputation as a preternaturally gifted songwriter. The Aussie’s third album, PREPLEASURE, continues that legacy of brilliance. PREPLEASURE represents an exercise in dynamics, ranging from the stark intimacy of the acoustic ballad “Less of a Stranger” to the steady rocker “Lydia Wears a Cross.” All in all, it’s 38 minutes of bliss. — S.D.
32. Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
The era of producer/rapper projects perhaps reached its zenith with Black Thought and Danger Mouse’s Cheat Codes. The meeting of two of hip-hop’s finest minds yields chemistry that should take years to develop in roughly 30 minutes, balancing societal solicitudes with eclectic, sample-fueled production. As focal figures for the genre, Cheat Codes allows the duo to take their victory lap. — Joe Eckstein
31. Lamb of God – Omens
Lamb of God continue to be one of modern metal’s most consistent acts, delivering studio albums that are packed with memorable groove riffs and thought-provoking lyrical content. Omens meets the high benchmark we’ve come to expect from the band. It’s a 10-track bombardment of thrash-meets-metalcore, anchored by the imitable barks and howls of frontman Randy Blythe. — J.H.
30. Alvvays – Blue Rev
For a band so frequently dubbed dream-pop, Alvvays’ third album, Blue Rev, feels indisputably connected to Earth. Grounded in a hefty rhythm sections, raging shoegazey guitars, and, of course, Molly Rankin’s pristine vocals, the Canadian band use big sounds to convey the impact of small, irritating occurrences: Running into your ex’s sister during a visit to your hometown, wondering what to do once you’re no longer in college, watching dudes embarrass themselves online. Nothing and everything matters at the same time — what could ever be so black and white? — A.J.
29. SASAMI – Squeeze
SASAMI burst onto the music scene in 2019 with her shoegaze-inflected self-titled debut, but Squeeze is much more than the classic sophomore level-up: A pinch of ’90s radio rock, a dash of nu-metal, and heavy sprinkling of Japanese folklore yields an extra spicy 32-minute serving of musical power. From the opening onslaught of “Skin a Rat” through the warmth of “Not a Love Song,” SASAMI unleashes a torrent of rich ideas, unexpected musical references, and a ferocious, untamable ambition. — Wren Graves
28. Taylor Swift – Midnights
Was there an album accompanied by more hype in 2022 than Taylor Swift’s 10th studio album? Midnights is a triumph because it blends hallmarks of the artist’s previous eras — Reputation’s attitude, 1989’s unimpeachable hooks, Lover’s heart-on-its-sleeve vulnerability — while firmly moving forward and jumpstarting a new chapter. Though 15 years have passed since she released her first record, Midnights demonstrates just how much of an absolute force Taylor Swift remains in the world of pop music. — S.D.
27. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Tom Skinner’s The Smile caught a lot of attention — and a lot of flack — for resembling Yorke and Greenwood’s other band. You know… the one with the alright computers and alphabetical children. But for all of the similarities in both makeup and output, when stripped of its baggage, A Light for Attracting Attention is simply an album of compelling, even moving music. Running the gambit from loud and fast (“You Will Never Work in Television Again”) to angular and artsy (“Thin Thing”) to hauntingly beautiful (“Free in the Knowledge”), A Light for Attracting Attention may be shamelessly Radiohead-esque, but with songs this good, who really cares? — J.K.
26. Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
Carly Rae Jepsen told us that the title of 2022’s The Loneliest Time references a moment she was perched atop a roof watching the moon. That’s a pretty reliable source of inspiration, and her songwriting is equally tried and true. That’s not to say Jepsen’s sixth album is rote; far from it, with its playful range of inspirations from funk to disco to folk pop. On the contrary, it speaks to the purity of CRJ’s approach, something she’s long used to create some of the most undeniable pop music of her generation — The Loneliest Time is just the latest example. — B. Kaye
25. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
On his fifth and final album for TDE, Kendrick Lamar closes the book on one era of his celebrated career with a statement double-LP that leaves conclusions about his future up to interpretation. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers unburdens the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper from his hip-hop “Savior” status, as he turns inward and openly explores his own fallibility. He’s eager to divulge insights from therapy, leaving his raw and often complicated thoughts unvarnished by his pen, which leads to some of his most compelling songwriting yet. Though he spends the album leaving his prophetic ways behind to embrace his newfound self-empowerment (which he affirms on the final hook, “I choose me, I’m sorry”), he can’t help but show others the way to follow. — B. Kress
24. Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
Thank goodness for King Florence Welch. “I am no mother/ I am no bride/ I am King,” she says by way of introduction on the opening to Dance Fever, Welch’s transcendent fifth studio album. There’s no one quite like Florence Welch — anyone lucky enough to watch her flit and fly about the stage, this year or any other, can confirm as much — and her mystical power was well-communicated in this record. — M. Siroky
23. Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately
Freddie Gibbs has continued to elevate his stature in the rap game with his fifth album, $oul $old $eparately, but at a cost that seems to take an increasingly heavier toll on him. Though he indulges himself at the fictitious “Triple-S Hotel Resort and Casino” and delights in ditching Jeff Ross (on “Space Rabbit”), Gangsta Gibbs can’t completely escape the mounting pressures looming on tracks like “Too Much.” By sharing the struggle to keep his soul intact, Gibbs inadvertently gives the next generation — as Houston legend Scarface puts it in the album’s closing verse — “that shit that they can live by.” — B. Kress
22. Mitski – Laurel Hell
Mitski’s music is just dripping in emotion; her musical vocabulary highlights the most grandiose feelings, the smallest doubts, and everywhere in between. For her sixth studio album, Laurel Hell, Mitski challenged herself to find wildly different ways to express those same fraught emotions. Through synth pop, power ballads, and a refreshing sense of confidence and determination, Laurel Hell was a rewarding return for Mitski. — P.R.
21. Nova Twins – Supernova
Effectively their breakout project thanks to the unfortunate timing of Nova Twins’ debut, Supernova has a lot going for it. Thirty minutes of righteous political rebellion backed by snarling, genre-skewing hard rock? What’s not to love? From the theme-building of “Power (Intro)” to the final blood-curdling scream of “Sleep Paralysis,” the album rarely takes its foot off the gas — and there’s no reason it should. It’s here to be heard, and damn it, it will be heard loud and clear. — J.K.
20. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
Excitement for Jockstrap’s proper full-length debut has been mounting for a while now. Georgia Ellery (also of Black Country, New Road) and Taylor Skye’s eclectic mix of indie, dance, classical, and just about every other style under the sun became increasingly impressive with every single and EP released. And yet, somehow, I Love You Jennifer B exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. With not a dull moment to be found, the record is limitless in scope and creatively unmatched. The first listen is like walking into a cornfield while on psychedelics: What at first seems random and overwhelming soon melts into a perfectly constructed path. It’s meticulously crafted chaos, and it’s a joy to listen to. — J.K.
19. Harry Styles – Harry’s House
Harry Styles constructed Harry’s House board by board and brick by brick with what feels like his own metaphorical two hands. The megastar’s third studio solo album is his most personal yet, and the result is a lovely A-frame in which we can spend some time. If nothing else, Styles ought to be applauded for making the music he wants to make, and making it well; with each outing, he invites the listener in just a bit more. — M. Siroky
18. MUNA – MUNA
Life, at times, is not so fun. There’s heartache and adversity, injustice and misery. There are days where you don’t feel like getting out of bed, let alone dancing. But certain albums honor those difficult feelings while simultaneously giving you an outlet to grieve, grow, and get back on the right track. MUNA’s self-titled album builds upon the blueprint the trio crafted across their first two synth-heavy, hook-laden dance pop records. It manages to transcend those earlier efforts, however, with flawless production, bold forays into rock and country music, and an overwhelming sense of self-assuredness. — S.D.
17. Saba – Few Good Things
Artists recording albums at crossroads in their lives often create the best material. They remember who they were, understand who they are, and vaguely see who they’re becoming. Few Good Things is no different, as it finds Saba in and out of social circles he only dreamt of years ago, but realizing everything that glitters isn’t all it seems to be. Or, as he puts it, “the bagger that comes with the bag.” — M. Shorter
16. Rina Sawayama – Hold the Girl
“I took your stones and built a cathedral,” Rina Sawayama sings on “Holy,” one of the multiple deeply personal and cathartic songs on Hold the Girl. Following the success of her eponymous debut album, Sawayama’s sophomore effort digs deep into her own story. There’s a lot that can be said about the healing power of pop music, but Hold the Girl proves that the phrase still carries weight. — M. Siroky
15. PUP – THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
PUP always feel like they’re on the verge of utter collapse, both lyrically (“Totally Fine,” “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing for Bankruptcy”) and sonically (“Grim Reaping,” “Matilda”). Yet every psyche-shattering sound that comes out of this band is juiced with an almost perverse joy. THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND is just the latest in the punks’ string of haywire, high-spirited successes. — B. Kaye
14. Alex G – God Save the Animals
Alex G is a master of evolving within his own universe. On God Save the Animals, the prolific singer-songwriter’s ninth album and most polished-sounding yet, he seems to examine that universe from lightyears away — with a looming voice that reminds you to savor each day or reap the consequences, and another that promises to catch you when you slip. The titular “God” on the record might be the Son incarnate or your pet dog who catches you in your most vulnerable day-to-day moments. Either way, it can’t hurt to see yourself through a different lens. — A.J.
13. JID – The Forever Story
Arguably the best technical rapper on Dreamville, JID has spent the past half-decade showing off densely packed rhymes and the ability to start and stop his delivery at the drop of a dime. The Forever Story builds on that reputation with an impressive guest list — including Lil Wayne, 21 Savage, and Yasiin Bey — while also calling attention to his versatility as both an MC and singer. Not only does JID express more vulnerability than ever before, but he also opens up about familial relationships without sacrificing any of the pure rapping mastery that got him here. — Eddie Fu
12. Bartees Strange – Farm to Table
Across his sophomore album Farm to Table, indie rocker Bartees Strange interweaves elements of emo-leaning guitar riffs, melodic hip-hop, and anthemic choruses that remind you this is still the same guy who once released an EP comprised of covers of The National, one of his favorite bands. As its name implies, this latest LP seems to trace back all the complex influences — sonically and politically — that make Strange one of the best in his class. — A.J.
11. SZA – S.O.S
In the five years that have passed since SZA’s beloved 2017 debut, Ctrl, she’s clearly lived some life; the 23 songs on S.O.S run the gamut, whether she’s singing about a devoted love (“Open Arms” feat. Travis Scott) or a relationship gone sideways: “I just killed my ex, not the best idea/ Killed his girlfriend next, how’d I get here?” she croons on the deceptively cheerful “Kill Bill.” Her sense of humor is evidently intact, but there’s an undercurrent of truth, too, when she admits, “Rather be in hell than alone.”
The already much-talked-about features are well-chosen — other than Scott, there are turns from Phoebe Bridgers, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (album closer “Forgiveless” samples “The Stomp” from his 1995 solo album), and Don Toliver. In one of the project’s highlights, Bridgers gets to give an “asshole” the middle finger. “Look where that got me, standing on my own in an airport bar or hotel lobby/ Waiting to feel clean,” she recounts before yelling, “It’s so fucking boring!”
That confidence is all over S.O.S, but SZA’s personal anxieties and self-doubts are on display, too. “It’s so embarrassing/ All of the things I need living inside of me/ I can’t see it,” she sings on “Blind,” peeling back the layers on the insecure thirty-something beneath the superstar. It’s these glimpses that make S.O.S a masterclass — beyond SZA’s emotional range as a songwriter, she’s accepted the vulnerability that is required to share such thoughts with the world. If that’s not worth saving, then what is? — Gab Ginsberg
10. Nilufer Yanya – PAINLESS
Believe it or not, Nilüfer Yanya’s PAINLESS is not exactly devoid of pain. There’s tension everywhere: The guitar work rattles and sedates in the span of an instant, her alto vocals swirl around before hitting vulnerable truths. There’s an open wound that drives PAINLESS, a deeply considerate attempt to express the inexpressible, and the work Yanya mines from that place is astounding.
A track like “midnight sun” represents Yanya’s masterful songwriting perfectly. Her arpeggiated guitar lines set the scene for fraught contemplation, until a riptide of distortion floods in and she cries, “Always, I did it for you,” her voice raw and immediate. The chorus of “stabilise” manages to achieve the same feeling, filled with bustling drums, high-octane guitars, and a sense of urgency that jolts you out of your seat.
PAINLESS is full of smart choices and meticulous details like these, and it cements Nilüfer Yanya as one of the most exciting songwriters in indie rock. — P.R.
09. Rosalía – MOTOMAMI
The third studio album from Spanish superstar Rosalía can only be described as a true listening experience. It’s as mind-bending as it is genre-bending, a delicious, rich blend of styles that come together into one fascinating and gratifying concept album. She’s been vocal about the themes that were poured into the record, namely the double-edged sword of fame, feelings of isolation, and the many other emotions that stemmed from living through a global pandemic.
As many great albums are, MOTOMAMI was somewhat risky, but Rosalía’s take on pop music can be analyzed as something optimistic. Why not pull from reggaeton, electronica, and flamenco? It’s exciting, but more importantly, it all somehow works. We included MOTOMAMI on our list of 30 Best Albums back at the halfway point of 2022, and the record has proven itself to be the gift that keeps on giving we hoped it would be. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other 2022 albums as wide-reaching — and rewarding — as this one. — M. Siroky
08. Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
“I’m not average,” Sudan Archives (born Brittney Parks) sings on “NBPQ (Topless),” and from the opening moments of Natural Brown Prom Queen it’s hard to disagree. The self-taught violinist’s latest album feels like a three-act opera: The first third flexes her self-assurance, from the warmth of “Homemaker” through the irresistible bounce of “Selfish Soul” to the effervescent strut of “OMG BRITT.”
Then it’s time for the second act, which finds the artist in a more reflective mood, including the soulful strings “TDLY (Homegrown Land)” and her mother’s encouraging words on “Do Your Thing (Refreshing Springs).” Finally, Sudan Archives goes on an urgently horny bender, grinding through “Freakalizer,” “Homesick (Gorgeous and Arrogant),” and “Milk Me.”
Natural Brown Prom Queen closes with the sonic sunshine of “Yellow Brick Road,” and the homecoming of “513,” an area code around Cincinnati and a brief peek at heaven. As the curtains close on the LP, we’re left in wonder at the work of an intensely uncommon artist.– W.G.
07. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Big Thief’s fifth album is a balm for the soul. At turns jubilant, contemplative, boisterous, and esoteric, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is the rare record that manages to embrace experimentalism and risk-taking while remaining accessible and inviting.
A 20-song album should simply not work in this age of wizened attention spans, but the LP succeeds because of — and not in spite of — its length. With all that space for the band to stretch themselves creatively, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You functions as a showcase of a band in its prime, traversing folk, country, rock, and all the shades that have carried them as a group since their 2016 debut.
There’s something for everyone — moody reverb on “Flower of Blood,” hushed balladry on “Promise Is a Pendulum,” distortion-soaked catharsis on “Little Things” — but it’s not pandering to their existing fan base or self-consciously seeking to expand its audience. It’s an album whose resonance only grows with time, allowing you to wrap yourself inside it and better appreciate its varied gifts. — S.D.
06. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
From the repeated opening lines of “Can I live?”, Soul Glo’s Pierce Jordan sets the pace for Diaspora Problems with his mile-a-minute delivery. Check that, it’s more accurate to say the Philly hardcore band doesn’t adhere to a set tempo, sound, or topic on their Epitaph debut.
Tackling subjects ranging from racism and capitalism to self-acceptance and generational trauma, Soul Glo’s only approach to Diaspora Problems is to have none. Whether a song is influenced by Rage Against the Machine, Sly & The Family Stone, or System of a Down, it’s all part of an exploration of what Jordan considers “American music,” as he told us in March of this year.
Hurtling downhill at a breakneck pace while playing an often chaotic mix of punk rock, post-hardcore, ska, hip-hop, and metal, Soul Glo swing for the fences. There’s nothing subtle about the album — just hold on tight and try to keep up. — E.F.
05. Zach Bryan – American Heartbreak
Across two brisk hours and 34 stirring tracks, Zach Bryan has reinvented the American epic. There’s the lovelorn desperation of “Something in the Orange”; homesick discomfort on “Oklahoma City”; Nicholas-Sparks-novel-level emotion on “Billy Stay”; exhaustion at the Christians who “are talking so often of coffins”; and on “Ninth Cloud,” Bryan oscillates between sweet, sentimental, and savage humor. And of course, not all relationships are romantic, as he conveys through the ripping “Whiskey Fever,” whereas “Highway Boys” is a mournful ditty about old friends who haven’t visited you just as much as you haven’t visited them.
Remarkably, American Heartbreak never feels like too much of a good thing. The pacing is exquisite, and some of the most surprising moments are saved for the final third. “From Austin” would have been many artists’ lead single, while Bryan drops it like a bomb on track 25 — and he follows it with “If She Wants a Cowboy,” which uses sudden, wholly unexpected autotune to viciously mock the song’s narrator. American Heartbreak feels like an instant classic. — W.G.
04. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down
It’s been nearly a decade since we last heard from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and another decade since they helped kickstart a rock revolution with the rest of the New York scene. With indie sleaze fully in vogue, Karen O, Brian Chase, and Nick Zinner (alongside unofficial fourth member, producer David Sitek) could have recreated Fever to Tell and thrilled fans. Regardless of how much Meet Me in the Bathroom is on everyone’s mind, however, the trio chose not to make a nostalgia play.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ dance-punk bona fides are still here on bangers like “Wolf,” “Burning,” and the grooving hypnosis of “Fleez.” But even then, Cool It Down breathes with almost baroque synths as it hunts for beauty in the cinders of a scorched world. It’s a direction signaled with the stunning lead single “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” a moody track with themes that pervade much of the album. “Lovebomb” finds O literally searching for light in the darkness (“Stars, don’t fail me now”), while she locks arms with those seeking the comfort of love on “Blacktop” (“One to one, we sway and all the pain flows”).
There’s something comforting in seeing a band that had well established themselves return with something fresh and present, proof that even as the world “goes spinnin’ out of control,” we’re capable of growth and hope. — B. Kaye
03. Beyoncé – Renaissance
Beyoncé has outdone herself once again. It’s one thing to emerge from the pandemic with a dance floor-centric album, beckoning her audience to join her on a freeing, joyous exploration of house music, disco, and various other styles of dance. But it’s another for her to do it with such meticulous detail and ambition.
Renaissance is indebted to the Black and queer pioneers of dance music, and each song — filled with flurries of complicated harmonies, samples of classic house and disco, and truly captivating vocal melodies — is a studied, carefully drawn journey. It’s also deeply personal. Her explorations of desire are more nuanced (“VIRGO’S GROOVE”), her reflections on family and empathy more poignant (“PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA”), her empowering visions of the future more specific and urgent (“BREAK MY SOUL”).
With Renaissance, Beyoncé has achieved a masterwork of dance music that demands you to surrender to the groove. She urges us to relish in the immediacy, in the repetition, in the freedom that the beat can grant those who have been kept down, oppressed, or taught to bury that which makes them unique. In short, it’s prolific, it’s empowering, and it sounds so damn good. — P.R.
02. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
Bad Bunny is the master of the moment before — the delicious tension before the rhythm hits you like an elbow off the top rope. Lots of artists think about beat drops, but Benito Ocasio has nearly perfected this skill, in part because you can never anticipate what sound is coming.
Be it reggaeton, merengue, bomba, dembow, American trap, or Europop, nothing is off limits, and rarely has an artist cast their net this wide to bring such a fantastic variety of sounds to mainstream music. Un Verano Sin Ti remains a streaming sensation, by some measures the most popular album of 2022 and one of the most successful Spanish-language albums of all time.
It’s a credit to the irresistible melodies, but also his ear for beats, which carry the variety of a well-focused playlist while never sounding like anyone other than Bad Bunny. — W.G.
01. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
Pusha T evolved between Daytona and It’s Almost Dry. If you skim music rather than listen to it, you probably think he’s the same guy talking about the same things. But a thorough analysis shows a rapper more comfortable with using different flows, varying perspectives, and peeling back layers on the “rap superhero” persona he spent decades cultivating. Whether it’s “Brambleton,” which chronicles a friendship gone sour, or littering the album with lines like, “The dope game destroyed my youth/ Now Kim Jones Dior my suits,” Pusha stays limitless.
Anytime it feels like he’s simply glamorizing his drug-filled past, he subverts expectations and makes sure the world knows the darkness that comes from selling white. It’s Almost Dry even brings Malice out of retirement and whets appetites for a Clipse reunion that, Lord willin’, might finally happen.
Ultimately, It’s Almost Dry paints Pusha as an emcee truly at his most confident, motivated by the two producers who know him best while their personal competition for best beatmaker plays out over 12 songs. — M. Shorter