Our Favorite Albums of 2022

From massive pop stars to indie favorites, this is the music we had on heavy rotation this year

December 7, 2022 8:45 am
Best Albums 2022
These are the albums we kept coming back to in 2022.
Angela Ricciardi/NBC/Carlijn Jacobs/Parkwood Entertainment

When we look back on 2022 years from now, we’ll probably remember it as a bit of a transitional period for the music industry. This year was the first vaguely normal-feeling one since 2019 for a field that was completely derailed by the pandemic. Bands hit the road again, and fans who were hungry for live music after two years at home came out to see them in droves. But just as it did with all facets of society, COVID highlighted problems that have previously been swept under the rug, and many artists and venues implemented new safety protocols to keep everyone healthy. Of course, there are still plenty of issues to address — like, say, the fact that Ticketmaster is a frustrating monopoly — but it’s hard to properly articulate just how incredible it feels to finally have live music back.

That said, 2022 also saw plenty of artists, new and old, churning out excellent work in the studio. Pop stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift returned to remind us why they continue to dominate the charts year after year, and indie favorites like Big Thief and Alvvays bowled us over with career-best albums. In fact, there was so much worth celebrating that you’d be forgiven for letting a few slip under your radar.

That’s why we’ve rounded up our favorite albums of 2022 below. As always, we’re steering clear of rankings or any bold declarations about which is the “best.” All of these moved us in some way or another over the past 365 days, and bickering over which ones belong in the Top 10 does them a disservice. Instead, check out our personal favorites, in no particular order, and give them a spin.

Father John Misty, Chloë And The Next 20th Century

Chloë And The Next 20th Century is markedly different than anything else Josh Tillman has put out under the Father John Misty moniker, full of horns and strings and nods to Old Hollywood. With the exception of a few tracks that feel more in line with what Father John Misty fans should be used to, it’s a departure both sonically (there’s even a bossa nova track) and lyrically. The Misty schtick is dialed back, and the songs are mostly character studies that serve as a reminder of how skilled a writer Tillman actually is. His wit is still obvious, of course, and Chloë is still full of lines that’ll make you smile — even when they’re pointing out devastating truths — but it feels less overtly jokey than his previous four records. It’s more of a slow burn, but it rewards repeat listens. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Key track: “Goodbye Mr. Blue”

Wilco, Cruel Country

Jeff Tweedy and Wilco are at the point in their career where, no matter what, every time they release a new album, fans are going to compare it to their older material. Does it harken back to the seminal alt-country sounds of Being There? To the multi-layered power-pop of Summerteeth? Or to the genre-busting studio-wizardry of the masterpiece that is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? The answer to these questions is always no: Tweedy’s been vocal about wanting to move forward as a songwriter, intent on honoring the creative process and the musical relationship he has with his bandmates above all else, and regardless of whether you particularly love Schmilco or Ode to Joy or any of the other records that have been somewhat slept on, there’s something beautiful about their insistence on trying new things. 

That said, those who’ve been loath to stick with them on their journey away from their twangier roots will find a lot to like about their 12th album, Cruel Country. Recorded mostly live at their Chicago studio/workspace The Loft, it features acoustic guitar more prominently than any Wilco record has in years, plus an incredible performance from secret weapon guitarist Pat Sansone, whose country-tinged chops are on full display throughout, and a ton of texture-adding pedal steel and slide guitar from Nels Cline. Tweedy’s singing about a lot of the same stuff he always has: it’s dark and sad and extremely self-aware but also defiantly optimistic and sweet. Even if you don’t want to give those underrated Wilco records the attention they deserve, when you factor in Cruel Country and the three solo records he’s released since 2018, all of which have in many ways been stripped-down, back-to-basics affairs, Tweedy’s on one of the most fruitful creative runs of his career.  — Mike Conklin

Key Track: “A Lifetime to Find”

Phoenix, Alpha Zulu

The rapture-inducing indie charms of Phoenix’s 2009 release Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix were the seminal soundtrack to my (read it and weep) middle-school experience, and after two studio albums, an almost-breakup and 13 long years, the French outfit’s November release Alpha Zulu is drawing me back in all over again. I’m not naive enough to suggest that the indie icons have sonically matured in line with my coming of age (at a tender 46, lead singer Thomas Mars is old enough to be my father) but there is something uncanny about the euphoric synth-heavy sounds of their seventh studio album, released on Glassnote Records, that draws to mind my own forays into Daft Punk minutia and the lo-fi sound of DJ Vegyn in recent years. That’s probably because both appear on the album — Thomas Bangalter as a guiding producer to replace the late Phillipe Zdar, and Vegyn as a much-appreicated remix feature — and both help funnel the classic indie twang and idiosyncratic vocals into a house-forward collage of mixers, autotune and droning synths. It’s altogether new and exactly what you’d expect, a welcome evolution from an already perfected indie act. And maybe this time, I’ll get to see them perform live. — Paolo Sandoval

Key track: “Winter Solstice”

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ghost Song

Ghost Song is best listened to like you’re at a Cécile McLorin Salvant show. Shake yourself a martini, turn on your high-quality stereo equipment, dim the lights, and sit back and let the preeminent jazz vocalist of our time take you on a journey through the boundaries of the genre as they stand in the 21st century. If the phrase “jazz vocalist” makes you think of crooners doing the Great American Songbook, Salvant has some tunes to satisfy your easy listening appetite, such as “Moon Song” and “Thunderclouds.” But as she’s hinted at in her previous releases, and makes abundantly clear in this wide-ranging collection, she’s not afraid to take chances on anything and everything that piques her interest: There’s a cover of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,” the pipe organ-backed original “I Lost My Mind” and a haunting take on the English folk song “Unquiet Grave” to end the night — er, the album. (Do yourself a favor and see if she’s coming to a city near you in the new year.) — Alex Lauer

Key track: “Until”

Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems

Philly’s Soul Glo has a Bad Brains problem — just because SG’s members are Black and they play a brilliantly frenzied take on hardcore, it does not mean they’re a carbon copy of the iconic punk band. The four-piece parodies this lazy take in the video for the standout track “Gold Chain Punk” and for good reason (besides the drummer being white) — this is a band that pulls influences not just from punk but also hip-hop, screamo and, why not, ska (witness the horns in the chaotic “Thumbsucker”). — Kirk Miller

Key track: “Gold Chain Punk”

Plains, I Walked With You a Ways

For the unfamiliar: Plains is a collaborative project between Texas-born, LA-based songwriter Jess Williamson and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, two artists who released outstanding roots-adjacent albums in 2020. Their first album as Plains, I Walked With You a Ways, sees them more fully embracing the country music they both grew up with and briefly eschewed as an influence in their own music. Setlists during the tour in support of the album included  rousing covers of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” and The Chicks’ iconic “Goodbye Earl,” which should give you a pretty good idea what we’re dealing with here. It’s all twangy and warm, alternating between lilting ballads and upbeat country-pop that feels instantly familiar, with carefully crafted lyrics about loss and overcoming self-doubt and forging a path forward. Crutchfield and Williamson have both hit their stride over the past few years, and I could not be more excited to see what they do next, whether it’s together or apart.  — Mike Conklin

Key Track: “Abilene”

Florence + the Machine, Dance Fever

Florence Welch described Florence & the Machine’s fifth album, Dance Fever, as a “fairytale in 14 songs,” and from the release of the album’s first single, the booming, conquering battle song “King,” that description was proven correct. Welch has never been as exposed to her demons as she is on this album. It’s a fairytale, certainly, but one where our lead shifts between a white knight and the dragon that needs slaying. Tracks like “Morning Elvis” take us onto the bathroom floor with her while she experiences a breakdown, while “Dream Girl Evil” challenges the idea of what it means to be a woman on stage (“Did mommy make you sad?/Do I at least remind you/Of every girl that made you mad?”). It’s not all dragon-slaying though; celebration wins out on songs like “Free,” where our heroine conquers triumphantly over herself and her anxieties through joyful movement. With visuals from Autumn de Wilde and a tour cut short by Welch literally dancing herself to…well, at least a broken foot, Dance Fever is a mythical tour de force by a true rockstar. — Trish Rooney

Key track: “King”

Beyoncé, Renaissance

This year, Beyoncé made her triumphant return with Renaissance, her first studio album since Lemonade, and while it’s not as overtly political as her previous work, it still serves as confirmation that she absolutely deserves to be taken seriously as an album artist who isn’t particularly concerned with making marketable, radio-friendly hits anymore. Renaissance is a celebration of Black dance music, from ’70s disco to Chicago house, Detroit techno and New Orleans bounce. Its sequencing is flawless, each track bleeding into the next, and each sample feels meticulously chosen. Beyoncé isn’t just relying on assists from legends like Nile Rodgers and Grace Jones (who appear on “Cuff It” and “Move,” respectively); she’s using her star power to make sure we all know our history, elevating the sounds and styles of too-often-unsung heroes because she’s in the unique position to do so.  — Bonnie Stiernberg

Key track: “Cuff It”

Rosalia, Motomami

Rarely does an album as masterfully crafted and deceptively nuanced as Motomami demand collective consciousness in a way that Rosalia’s third album has — typically, a mash of everything from the Catalan megastar’s native flamenco pop to thumping reggaeton to Soundcloud trap (let alone a Spanish-language album) would prove too eclectic for a traditional genre-divided public. But indeed, every girl, gay and they under the sun has claimed Motomami as their 2022 anthem of choice, and for good reason. It’s frantic, intimate and so very good to dance to — due in part to Rosalia’s clear rave palette tendencies and in part to her delicate rhymes and monstrous voice, no more apparent than on “Hentai.” To put it bluntly, girlie’s serving…. arguably the best album of the year. — Paolo Sandoval

Key track: “Hentai”

Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

Despite the fact that it’s Big Thief’s fifth full-length albun, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You feels like a mission statement from the band: it’s sprawling and overstuffed, featuring 20 songs and a total runtime of over 80 minutes. The melodies are extremely effective in conveying emotion even as the lyrics are kooky enough that you never quite know what the hell singer and main songwriter Adriene Lenker is talking about. There’s a playfulness to these songs that’s been somewhat lacking on their previous albums, and a warmth and low-key virtuosity to the recording and performance, respectively, that makes it very easy to get lost within its universe. Turns out 80 minutes isn’t that long after all. — Mike Conklin

Key Track: “Spud Infinity”

Death Cab for Cutie, Asphalt Meadows

If you’ve been waiting for a Death Cab album as catchy and instantly personal (where it feels as if Ben Gibbard knows your innermost thoughts, despite the exactness of the lyrics) as 2003’s Transatlanticism or 2005’s Plans, this is it. Not that they’ve gone back to an old formula. After all, Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr, the three members who have anchored the group for over 20 years, are now in their mid-40s, not their 20s, and they’ve got two relative newcomers in Dave Depper and Zac Rae. It seems as if all of the band’s hard-earned life lessons and COVID-induced despondency have been dumped into Asphalt Meadows, but it’s cut with a renewed zest for life despite the apocalyptic smell in the air. (It’s been a battle just to wake and greet the day / then they all disappear like sugar in my coffee,” Gibbard sings on “Roman Candles.” A couple lines later he adds, “But I am learning to let go / of everything I tried to hold.”) Did Grammy Award-winning producer John Congleton, who worked with Death Cab here for the first time, have a heavy hand in this unexpected slate of hit after hit after hit? Possibly, but let’s call it a group effort, and let’s hope there’s more where this came from. — Alex Lauer

Key track: “Roman Candles”

Alvvays, Blue Rev

Tastes vary, and popularity should by no means be the only measure of whether or not a record is actually any good, but it feels worth noting that I am not aware of a single person who has heard this album and disliked it. Critical consensus is a rare thing these days, but seemingly everyone can agree that Alvvays have outdone themselves with Blue Rev. At the center of it all are Molly Rankin’s sweet vocals, backed by plenty of fuzz and reverb to prevent them from ever sounding too twee. It’s an insanely catchy record, full of clever lyricism (see “Very Online Guy”), and if all you know of this band is their equally universally beloved 2014 hit “Archie, Marry Me,” you’ve got some catching up to do. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Key track: “Belinda Says”

Alex G, God Save the Animals

In a November viral tweet, @morekissing cheerfully suggested that any attendant of Alex G’s Philly, formerly Sandy Alex G, should probably get checked for lice. While the tweet proved fake, it was one that I admittedly believed (I was not alone), and, though gross, speaks in a roundabout to the type of sparse, choral soundscape, crunchy proclivities and communal predilection that Alexander Giannascoli has cultivated with his singer-songwriter act. On his newest album, God Save the Animals, Giannascoli overlays vibrant songwriting with a variety of captivating sounds, peppering tracks like “Blessing” and “immunity” with lyrical bits and bobs that spiral into chill-inducing earworms. It’s simultaneously raw and open and more polished and produced than the likes of “Rocket” could manage, an incredible feat that we suspect accounts for its borderline endless replayability. — Paolo Sandoval

Key track: “Blessing”

Angel Olsen, Big Time

Angel Olsen has certainly never had a hard time making her songs resonate on an emotional level; she’s never made a bad record, and she’s gifted with a voice that’ll make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up and make you feel as though she’s singing directly to you specifically. But her sixth studio album, Big Time, takes things to a new a level. It’s her most personal album to date, written during a period of time where she started dating a new partner, came out as gay and lost both of her parents within weeks of each other. It’s full of devastatingly gorgeous mediations on love and loss, and it’s her most overtly country effort as well. If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking that her voice demands to be backed by a pedal steel, you are 1) correct and 2) in for a real treat with Big Time. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Key track: “Right Now”

Charli XCX, Crash

At the risk of sounding crass, Charli XCX is a certified baddie. It’s also something she’s fully aware of (how could she not be?) and something she fully uses to her advantage on Crash, a frenetic hyperpop mash of iconic ‘80s references and new-age techno sounds. Ballads like “Lighting” and “Beg For You” demand to be heard and belted, while “Yuck” feels decidedly 2022 despite its Y2k production. It’s club music, but not just club music — a joy of an album, all the way through. — Paolo Sandoval

Key track: “Lightning”

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