Joey’s Top Fifteen TV Shows of 2022

I know I tend to stick to ten with these, but I was too heartbroken by the things I’d have had to leave off this list that I’ve expanded to fifteen. This is in part because I watched a crapload of TV this year – I watched well north of forty shows from this year – but also because 2022 wildly surpasses 2020 and 2021 to the point where it felt unfair to feature 2021’s #10 but not 2022’s #15.

Before I begin, let me mention a few shows that wrapped things up in 2022. The Expanse finished its run with two episodes this year, and while it ended well it’s a shame they’re not continuing to the final third of the source material. Station Eleven and Yellowjackets each had three episodes this year, with Station Eleven finishing its limited run spectacularly and Yellowjackets setting things up for its return this coming March. Ranking of Kings narrowly missed this list wrapping up its fantastic first season, but I mostly wanted to mention it because its 2022 OP is so cool. Check that out.

Finally, 2021 made me think that the future of television would be defined by the miniseries. Then 2022 proceeded to have almost zero miniseries. Go figure! Long live the long-running series.

This is the last of my 2022 lists. Thanks so much for reading. If you haven’t, be sure to check out my top songs, albums, and TV episodes of the year. See you next year for the next round.

15. The Rehearsal
season 1
6 episodes
stream: HBO Max

The Rehearsal‘s first episode, in which Nathan Fielder helps a guy have an uncomfortable conversation through extravagantly realistic rehearsals, is enthralling, but The Rehearsal quickly pivots to deeper scenarios. The show can feel a little stuck in the mud with Fielder’s parental rehearsal, making all side plots feel greatly refreshing. But the A-plot still goes to some pretty confounding places, and the finale properly interrogates the ethics of the show even if the announcement of a second season might cheapen that a bit. Problems aside, there is nothing like this show, not even close, and I’m fascinated to see how it manages to disappear up its own ass even further next time around.

14. The Owl House
seasons 2 & 3
22 episodes (41 total, 12 in 2022)
stream: Disney+

Finally. For so long now, The Owl House, essentially Gravity Falls if it was an isekai into a wizarding world, has been promising pretty big things, and while it’s been a joy to watch it chip along, it’s withheld its deepest secrets and taken great care to not reveal the obviously dark places it was sure to go. No longer. The Owl House has finally lined up all its dominos and revealed its endgame. It’s just a shame that Disney Channel has contracted its final act. In related news, things continue to get gayer.

13. For All Mankind
season 3
10 episodes (30 total)
stream: Apple TV+

Here we go. This is surely one of the great things they had in mind when they made For All Mankind, a piece of speculative fiction about a space race that never ended. This is where its historical fiction crashes into its science fiction and sees a three-way race to Mars. Though the show has sometimes lacked the perverse delight in twisting history found in its first season, For All Mankind‘s third season is easily its most fun and contains its most brazen historical twist yet.

12. Kaguya-sama: Love Is War
season 3
13 episodes (37 total)
stream: Crunchyroll

Kaguya has spent the last couple seasons establishing itself as one of the strongest still-running anime, but its third season – subtitled Ultra Romantic – elevates the show from great to classic. This show, a romantic comedy where the leads are engaged in a Death Note-like game of cat mouse, can only get away with its bullshit for so long without meaningfully rolling the ball forward. Kaguya‘s epic school festival arc rolls that ball just brilliantly, though it remains to be seen how its hook can survive such a progression. Manga readers promise that Kaguya will remain a classic up until its end.

11. Mob Psycho 100
season 3
12 episodes (37 total)
stream: Crunchyroll

Though One-Punch Man got more eyeballs, Mob Psycho 100 has proven to be mangaka ONE’s masterpiece, its premise fuller and its adaptation more wholly realized. Awkward junior high schooler Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama has the most powerful psychic powers in the world, and instead of seeking to conquer his talent and build his life through that God-given path, he instead chooses to work on his weaknesses, working hard to improve his body and gain social ability. Mob‘s third and final season continues to dazzle with its unique perspective on what it means to really work on oneself. And quite appropriately, the climaxes of its lengthy arcs are less wowing than the ending of a humble, two-episode story. Mob Psycho 100 ends its run as one of the most significant anime of the last ten years.

Also, just look at that intro. One of the finest I’ve ever seen.

10. Smiling Friends
season 1
9 episodes
stream: HBO Max

Netflix import Tuca & Bertie aside, it feels like Adult Swim’s animated comedy canon hasn’t had any new entries since Rick & Morty premiered… almost ten years ago??? But unlike Rick & Morty‘s high concept Dan Harmon bullshit, Smiling Friends brings Adult Swim back to its basics: realistically awkward conversation, a creative approach that suggests drug-use either on your part or the writers’, and casually-employed insanity. The childrens’ show premise in which our heroes are part of an organization that sets out to put a smile on unhappy faces of course disintegrates quickly and is a fairly loose setup. Smiling Friends is most impressive as a love letter to the age of internet animation that bred it: Newgrounds’ Tom Fulp, David Firth of Salad Fingers fame, and Mike Stoklasa of RedLetterMedia are just a few of the internet personalities that have voice roles in Smiling Friends, and it’s an overdue reminder of the type of show that couldn’t really exist without Adult Swim around.

9. Industry
season 2
8 episodes (16 total)
stream: HBO Max

The hook of Industry‘s first season was that scores of recent graduates, among them our four heroes, were undergoing a competitive intern program at a premier investment bank in London. So Industry‘s second season sees them on the other end and has to find a new way to impress. Each of our main characters is put into a far different context, most notably in Harper’s pursuit of a major, eccentric hedge fund manager as a client that tests both her abilities and her loyalties. It’s hard not to compare Industry to Succession despite the difference in both tone and financial situation of its characters, but the main bit is that Industry‘s craft is around the quality of Succession‘s, no small feat. It’s not quite there, but Industry does provide it sturdy competition for the best show on television built around money and business. In part because its characters, though less monstrously harmful, are every bit as depraved and sick.

8. The Bear
season 1
8 episodes
stream: Hulu

The Bear doesn’t really have a hook. After his brother commits suicide, Carmy tries to use his culinary talent to make something of the Chicago beef restaurant his brother left him. There’s a lot to work with there, but don’t be surprised if The Bear doesn’t grab you right away. Expect the show to win you over on execution, especially in its wonderful final two episodes. The Bear clearly has things to say about the culture of cooking, which makes it very cruel how forcefully it makes you feel the anxiety of that work.

7. Reservation Dogs
season 2
10 episodes (18 total)
stream: Hulu

Though Reservation Dogs arrived last year surprisingly fully-formed, season two came rocking even more freedom and confidence. Our four Oklahoman reservation heroes find themselves in more interesting spots than before: the world’s creepiest man picks up hitchhiking Elora, Cheese is thrown into a Kafkaesque foster home nightmare, Willie Jack gets fed up with dubious decolonization lessons from a city-slicking “Young Elder,” and Bear…gets a job? And as the shows prophecy of California is finally fulfilled, it’s striking how easy things feel for Reservation Dogs. In an era where the best TV comedies have gotten a bit artsier and become a bit more dramatically focused, Reservation Dogs is at the vanguard.

6. Pachinko
season 1
10 episodes
stream: Apple TV+

Pachinko is the story of Korean Kim Sunja’s immigration to Japan in the 1920s and the lives of her family for the next two generations, and the show’s strength in depicting each time period reverberates. Though the show is at its strongest when depicting the Japanese occupation of Korea, this bolsters its 1989 story of Sunja’s grandson trying to convince a woman his grandmother’s age to sell her home to a large Japanese corporation. Pachinko is a wonder, and though I haven’t read its source material, it feels clear that season one leaves a lot on the table for what’s next.

5. Atlanta
seasons 3 & 4
20 episodes (41 total)
stream: Hulu

It’s a shocker to think that Atlanta is definitively over. Unlike other shows on this list that ended in 2022, it wasn’t apparent that this would be it until its fourth season was surprise-announced as its last. But it’s not surprising in retrospect, it had been four years since its fantastic second season, and a full quarter of its final twenty episodes – yes, this year’s offerings doubled the show’s length – shift focus entirely away from its characters. So while Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van travel Europe, we also see a horror story about a black boy fostered by two white women, some white guy suffering the repercussions of real actual reparations, and a white-passing high school senior taking a flamethrower to his school when he’s denied a college scholarship meant for black teens. Meanwhile, season four takes everyone back to the titular city and gives us some final time with everyone. Atlanta goes out as arguably the most essential and imaginative show of the last decade.

4. Severance
season 1
9 episodes
stream: Apple TV+

Imagine if you could separate your consciousness so you were entirely oblivious to your work self and your work self knew nothing about who you were outside the office. How would your “innie” feel about this reality it did not choose? Severance‘s premise is dynamite, but just so harrowing, and its first season’s nine episodes are psychically brutal. The offices of Lumon Industries are instantly one of the most iconic prisons in all of fiction, and it’s hard not to shake the feeling that something like this is happening to you, too.

Though I liked some shows better, it’s hard to deny that Severance was the show that defined 2022.

3. Barry
season 3
8 episodes (24 total)
stream: HBO Max

Barry was once a show about a hitman who tried to escape his dark past through the joy of acting class. No longer. Barry‘s core relationships have all been a little too disturbed, and through the first half of the season it feels eerie and alarming to feel so disconnected from what once was. Then the show becomes all things: as suspenseful and explosive as Breaking Bad, as artfully contemplative as The Sopranos, and still somehow one of the funniest shows on TV in a style all its own. Its fourth season will be its last, but as with Succession, Barry‘s third season has become a defining moment where the show lifts from one of the best things on TV to outright modern classic status.

2. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal
season 2
10 episodes (20 total)
stream: HBO Max

I actually wasn’t even excited for Primal‘s second season. Season one was a great showcase of Genndy Tartakovsky doing his silent storytelling even more stripped down than in Samurai Jack, but despite the finale promising something a bit more, I thought its ten episodes, all pretty self-contained, did the job well enough.

The second season’s first episode is really more of the same. But from then on Primal becomes an entirely new animal. Season one was all about caveman Spear and T-Rex Fang, each recently widowed, teaming up to kick some ass in a brutal world openly hostile to their survival. Season two is about love, revenge, saving lives, saving souls, Gods, evolution, slavery, civilization, death, and birth. With Primal‘s second – and presumably final this time – season, Genndy Tartakovsky once again establishes himself as one of the greatest working storytellers in animation. We can only pray that his huge creative deal with WB survived the merger from hell with Discovery.

1. Better Call Saul
season 6
13 episodes (63 total)
stream: Netflix (eventually 🏴‍☠️)

Better Call Saul may not have the dynamite premise of Breaking Bad, and Jimmy McGill’s known destiny might remove a layer of suspense from the proceedings. But Better Call Saul stands as a near-equal to its revolutionary predecessor for two reasons: 1. It plays with your knowledge and makes you suffer even worse than if you didn’t know and 2. Much of the team behind Breaking Bad is simply more learned now at how to make good television. Better Call Saul‘s sixth and final season is the creative team showing off. You’re reminded that even though it’s really not essential for this show, Better Call Saul is the best-looking long-running series there is, the knack for cinematography simply unparalleled on television aside from 18-hour-film Twin Peaks: The Return. The writers creatively approach the need to conclude the stories of both Jimmy McGill and Gene Takovic. Better Call Saul continues to be the most well-acted show since Breaking Bad, with Odenkirk, Seehorn, Mando, Esposito, Banks, and Dalton all giving way to unexpected MVP Patrick Fabian.

Better Call Saul‘s unique approach to its finale is one I’m still processing. It always had a hard job in front of it, by design serving mostly as prequel but also partly sequel. But I think its ending is at least as successful as Breaking Bad‘s great-but-not-all-time-great conclusion. But that’s more than enough to count Better Call Saul‘s sixth season as a wild success, a successor that rose to the occasion set by the titan preceding it and the greatest drama of the last ten years.

Honorable Mentions

Abbott Elementary, seasons 1 & 2
Amphibia, season 3
Andor, season 1
Blue Lock, season 1
Bob’s Burgers, seasons 12 & 13
Bocchi the Rock!, season 1
Chainsaw Man, season 1
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, limited series
Dead End: Paranormal Park, seasons 1 & 2
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, limited series
Hacks, season 2
Heartstopper, season 1
Pantheon, season 1
Ranking of Kings, season 1
Russian Doll, season 2
Stranger Things, season 4
The White Lotus, season 2
Tuca & Bertie, season 3
Undone, season 2

Joey’s Top Ten TV Episodes of 2022

Honestly, 2022 was such a strong year of television that it’s alarming to think of what little we had in 2020 and 2021. Clearly a lot of the best stuff was saved for the first full year of post-lockdown, and while I’ll celebrate the shows themselves tomorrow, here were the individual episodes that most stood out to me this year.

10. “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”
season 2, episode 5
stream: HBO Max

I’ve mostly found myself poo-pooing Euphoria‘s hype train. Though immaculately crafted, its plot is an absolute train wreck and it just generally leaves me feeling fairly gross. Before Euphoria turned in one of the most inept season finales in recent memory, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” was a visceral dive fully back into the plot that really keeps this show moving: Rue’s fight with addiction. Rue frantically running around town to avoid further addressing her struggle is enormously successful and for a moment justifies the large platform this show has found itself.

It does, of course, commit the sin of kicking off the hype cycle of Maddy vs Cassie, HBO’s second Cleganebowl, to put it unkindly.

9. “Shadow of Fate”
season 2, episode 2
stream: HBO Max

Up until this very episode, Primal had been a string of one-offs, with only very occasional gestures towards continuity. Its second season’s first episode felt like the language-speaker Spear and Fang met would only alter the locations of the action, seeing them struggle while crossing the sea. Then, “Shadow of Fate” proceeds to do absolutely everything. Fang finds herself in a relationship with a red T-Rex while Spear finds himself being taken in by a moderately more advanced civilization. The two plots collide, and it’s immediately apparent how much more complicated the emotions of this show would be from this point forward.

Also Considered: “The Red Mist” (season 2, episode 4), “The Primal Theory” (season 2, episode 5)

8. “The Fielder Method”
The Rehearsal
season 1, episode 4
stream: HBO Max

Nathan gets away from his fake household to teach a class on his method, but in trying to be a better teacher, he finds himself tumbling down a Kaufmanesque rabbit hole. When he returns “home,” he demands that his relationship with his son take on a gritty realism. Two of The Rehearsal‘s most memorable turns are both in this one episode.

7. “Nippy”
Better Call Saul
season 6, episode 10
stream: Netflix (eventually 🏴‍☠️)

There are a lot of ways to go with this slot given Better Call Saul‘s stellar final season, so I’ve chosen the episode most unlike the others: Gene Takovic’s black and white heist in a closed mall. This episode might have been frustrating given how little time they had to still wind things down for the show (only three episodes came after), but this was great showing off by a team that can’t help but make good television, culminating in the most stressful episode of the year in one that had Severance and The Bear. Though Gene sets this heist in motion to satiate the man who’s recognized him, it’s clear that the process sees him slipping back into the man he spent this series becoming.

Also Considered: “Rock and Hard Place” (season 6, episode 3), “Plan and Execution” (season 6, episode 7), “Saul Gone” (season 6, episode 13)

6. “Three Slaps”
season 3, episode 1
stream: Hulu

With “Teddy Perkins,” Atlanta began the trend that would come to define its third season: shoving the main story aside to just be bold. Inspired by the Hart family murders, “Three Slaps” follows young Laquareeous as he accidentally tumbles into the foster system. The white lesbian couple that adopts him puts him and their other black adoptees to work and feeds them like shit. Things deteriorate, and without getting too far into it, Atlanta makes the climactic scene with the van almost operatic. A dizzying episode of television.

Also Considered: “Crank Dat Killer” (season 4, episode 6), “The Goof Who Sat By the Door” (season 4, episode 8)

5. “Chapter 7”
season 1, episode 7
stream: Apple TV+

Though its 1989 plot dovetails so well in its fourth episode, Pachinko‘s strongest mode is when it’s following young Sunja in Korea and Japan in the 1920s. So it makes sense that its strongest episode focuses entirely on that period: “Chapter 7” takes place mostly on the day of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Kanto Massacre of Koreans in Japan that immediately followed. But “Chapter 7” focuses on the backstory of Koh Hansu, who was up to some mustache-twirling manipulation of Sunja just an episode ago. Pachinko‘s use of the history of the occupation of Korea by Imperial Japan is a large part of what makes it such a great show, and “Chapter 7” sees its strongest foot forward.

Also Considered: “Chapter 4” (season 1, episode 4)

4. “710N”
season 3, episode 6
stream: HBO Max

Barry‘s third season is on shaky ground, and it knows it. Its status quo has been too upset and all of its characters aren’t in the houses the story had given them. So the moment Barry‘s brilliant third season snaps into place is when shit finally gets maximally chaotic. The motorcycle chase at the end of this episode is the best individual scene this year.

Also Considered: “candy asses” (season 3, episode 7)

3. “Dual Confessions, Part 2 / The Shuchiin Afterparty”
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War
season 3, episode 13
stream: Crunchyroll

Kaguya finally gets to it. Up until now, the show has constantly reset to its status quo – that’s kind of its whole thing, really – and this stone is finally split in two. The tension of the moment is really earned, and the show goes all out in presentation, bringing back some key music and making all of its balls in the air crash down dramatically. “Dual Confessions, Part 2” is one of the most well-executed climaxes in all of anime.

2. “Review”
The Bear
season 1, episode 7
stream: Hulu

Oh, god. After a very cool montage of Chicago set to Sufjan Stevens, “Review” begins a single, unbroken shot of the kitchen to throw you into the chaos. The Original Beef trials Sydney’s new ordering system, and the store gets slammed when she fails to turn off the pre-order option. What follows is pandemonium, including two blow-ups and knife. And you’re trapped in the kitchen with all of this for about twenty minutes.

Also Considered: “Braciole” (season 1, episode 8)

1. “The Plight Before Christmas”
Bob’s Burgers
season 13, episode 10
stream: Hulu

Bob’s Burgers in its thirteenth season is a bit like King of the Hill in its thirteenth season: still very good, but no longer special and essential. But “The Plight Before Christmas” is yet another demonstration that this show steps up for its holiday episodes. Bob and Linda are in a pinch: Tina, Gene, and Louise all have Christmas events at the same time, and obviously between them they can only see two. Hearing that Louise just wants to gross out everyone at a poetry reading, Bob and Linda opt for the more wholesome offerings of Gene’s xylophone performance and Tina’s turn as a star – not the star, a star – in the play. But to their horror, they learn too late that Louise’s story was a cover for her doing a reading of a sincere Christmas poem she wrote.

In a year where Bob’s Burgers released a theatrical film, Louise’s moment of sincerity in “The Plight Before Christmas” feels like the show’s biggest landmark in years. “The Plight Before Christmas” makes a serious play for the show’s best holiday episode when there’s already plenty of competition for that, and it might be the show’s best episode. A fantastic note on which to end 2022.

Honorable Mentions

“Chapter Four: Dear Billy,” Stranger Things, season 4 episode 4
“Defiant Jazz,” Severance, season 1 episode 7
“Doomcoming,” Yellowjackets, season 1 episode 9
“Dr. Chaudhary,” Station Eleven, episode 9
“Driftmark,” House of the Dragon, season 1 episode 7
“Go Flip Yourself,” What We Do in the Shadows, season 4 episode 8
“Jerusalem,” Industry, season 2 episode 8
“King’s Tide,” The Owl House, season 2 episode 21
“Mabel,” Reservation Dogs, season 2 episode 4
“Morning Light Falls on You,” Bocchi the Rock!, season 1 episode 12
“Night Family,” Rick & Morty, season 6 episode 4
“Rix Road,” Andor, season 1 episode 12
“The Hardest Thing,” Amphibia, season 3 episode 18
“Transmission 2 ~Encountering the Unknown~,”
Mob Psycho 100, season 3 episode 8

Joey’s Top Ten Albums of 2022

Here it is folks, the big event. I went all in on this feature last year, and I think I’ve done even better this year. I was pretty shocked at how many very good albums I had to cut even from the honorable mentions.

You’ve maybe noticed there’s no section this year for stuff I missed in 2021. That’s because I both did a great job in 2021 and because I didn’t go back looking for a lot.

Here we go! See you next week for the best TV of 2022.

10. Wet Leg
by Wet Leg

Nothing here touches their three 2021 singles, but they apply the same lessons: the arena rock moves of “Too Late Now” are on “Angelica,” the perfect pop bullying of “Wet Dream” is on “Ur Mom,” and while they don’t repeat their mission statement “Chaise Longue,” everything here serves it in its own way. In the year where I’ve finally had it with British talky postpunk, I’m entirely relieved to receive the one with some pop sense. And “Too Late Now” comes alive as a conclusion, a sincere moment after a half hour of irony.

Listen: “Ur Mum”

9. SOS
by SZA

You see? This is why I don’t put these out in December. It’s true that December is mostly barren, but just in the last ten years we’ve had monster albums by Beyoncé, D’Angelo, Run the Jewels, Taylor Swift, and now SZA come out after most editorial lists are already released. Anyway, expect an apology tour next December, because SZA has realized she can start swinging. Ctrl was clean and sensible, SOS is a glorious mess, fun and spontaneous in ways its predecessor lacked. She goes many places here, but shitty exes might want to skip this one: “Smoking On My Ex Pack,” “I Hate U,” “Ghost in the Machine,” and “F2F” are a murderer’s row. It’s been great to see SZA’s ascent, and SOS cements her status as one of the most singular artists of the era.

Listen: “F2F”

8. Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville
by Ashley McBryde

Ashley McBryde put together this ensemble concept album by locking herself and her collaborators in a house for a week and just writing. The result is something like a country The Who Sell Out, complete with fictional advertisements to remind you of the concept. Lindeville paints its so-named fictional town through its personals section, its canine friends who know too much, and its communal bonfires whenever some asshole guy gets caught cheating. So there must be a few of them, because an alarming number of these songs insist that everyone is cheating on everyone. Kooky as hell and brief but not slight, Lindeville is the best country music of the year.

Listen: “Brenda Put Your Bra On”

7. Aethiopes
by billy woods

It’s been interesting to see billy woods finally catching on, but it’s understandable that it’s been slow-going. People aren’t really looking for albums that open with “I think Mengistu Haile Mariam is my neighbor” when they’re thinking about their top five rappers of the moment. So I submit Aethiopes for your consideration: “Multiverse Benzino/Rode back on a black Pegasus/Medusa’s head in a sack/Senegalese twists snakin’ out the bag” gives you an idea of how his flow is more like a tumble, and it’s in character to catch him rhyming “blessin'” with “rhododendron” and “thickness” with “rictus.” Deep dive essays like this (I genuinely highly recommend this) into woods not only escape ridiculousness, it feels like his works demand them. I slightly prefer his 2019 album hiding places with Kenny Segal because its powerful music more effectively punctuates his intense train of thought, but producer Preservation’s ear for international music very well serves these anxiety-inducing beats. Aethiopes is that gift of an album that never gets old because your job as a listener is never truly done, which is rough because with five albums since 2019, woods is extremely prolific. The work is never done.

Listen: “No Hard Feelings”

6. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
by Big Thief

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is a real statement album, a coronation of sorts for a group that’s been in the conversation for best band for a bit now. Their great 2019 efforts U.F.O.F. and Two Hands were entirely separate styles cordoned off from each other, so here they’ve put it all in one place, modeled after those legendary double albums you hear about where a band tries anything and can’t fail because their chemistry is just too good. The throw-everything-at-the-wall approach especially works well for Lenker, whose lyrics have gotten substantially more surreal, on some real Bringing It All Back Home shit. Rock to “Little Things,” boogie to “Spud Infinity,” just vibe to “Time Escaping,” because Dragon New Warm Mountain pleases in so many different ways.

Listen: “Time Escaping”

5. The Lakes of Zones B and C
by Emperor X

The Lakes of Zones B and C is successful largely for the same reasons Western Teleport and Oversleepers International were – you should revisit those albums, there’s a great chance you’re underrating them – but this outing is characterized by a feeling of despair, sardonically inserting “There’s no need to give ourselves a hernia, the real heavy lifting’s for the young” into the colossal opener. It keeps going: “God built an arsenal, and now there’s a hole in the beach,” “No one imagined we’d be winners in the long run,” and uh, “We’ll die.” But despite the heaviness, Chad Matheny’s music is never a downer, because the way he paints this bleak picture is too engaging. People cry “like luminant plankton,” Matheny calls out the Metaverse, and he includes various assertions about the afterlife’s transit situation (no one’s on the freeway or the bicycle lane in Heaven, there’s no parallel parking in Hell). If that’s still too heavy for you, there’s a quietly catchy song about a brave hummingbird making it through a storm. We can only hope for that.

Listen: “Communists in Luxury”

4. Blue Rev
by Alvvays

Twee torchbearers Alvvays have shapeshifted. I mean, they still write a lot of twee pop songs, but now there’s a bit more push and pull, more drama, more variety. And they’re drenched in guitar. Blue Rev is proof of five years well spent, a great demonstration that just as importantly as writing big choruses they’re executing the heck out of them. After just one listen you’ll be along for the big rousers: “When you walk away better be for good,” “You know it happens all the time, it’s all right,” “Moving to the country, gonna have this baby,” “He’s only one follow away!” It definitely thins towards the end, but that doesn’t lessen the thrill of a long dormant band so strongly realizing itself.

Listen: “After the Earthquake”

3. Natural Brown Prom Queen
by Sudan Archives

Natural Brown Prom Queen is a flex. Sudan Archives can do it all: she can sing, she can rap, she can write, she can produce, but her foundational skill is actually her training in the violin. Though this album’s main theme is her struggles with body image and her path through it with self-love, the star is simply her talent, turning in a casually great R&B song on “Ciara,” a gentle earworm on “Freakalizer,” a buzzsaw banger on “OMG BRITT,” a dizzying rap display on “NBPQ (Topless),” and obviously the crown jewel that is “Home Maker.” It really feels like she can do anything, and more importantly, it feels like she knows it.

Listen: “Home Maker”

2. Expert in a Dying Field
by The Beths

The band that sang “You Wouldn’t Like Me” seemed to shrink down even further on its second outing, so it was quite the experience to hear their sound completely open up this cycle. There is suddenly a confidence in their anthems about their own tepidness.

Their power pop has both more power and more pop, “Silence Is Golden” more vicious than previous rockers “Uptown Girl” and “Not Getting Excited,” and “Knees Deep” is their strongest hook to date. I’ve sometimes not been sold on their epics (“Little Death,” “Not Running”), but “2am” is such a strong finale, a truly convincing piece of evidence for Elizabeth Stokes mastering even more than just her bread and butter power pop. Expert in a Dying Field is a bold evolution from one of my personal favorite bands to one of the best rock bands working today. Experts in, well, yes. You get it.

Listen: “Head in the Clouds”

by Beyoncé

This time last year, I was pretty unsure about how the new Beyoncé album cycle would go. Ages have passed since Lemonade, and while she hasn’t been absent since, EVERYTHING IS LOVE and The Lion King: The Gift weren’t especially encouraging signs. Had her dominance run its course? Was there still space for an unchallenged Queen?

Well, there is: Donna Summer. While RENAISSANCE didn’t command discourse the way Lemonade did, it brilliantly sidesteps these unreasonable expectations by putting out her most fun album since B’Day, a dance album not just for the dancers, but for nerds. Beyoncé doesn’t attempt to conquer this music. Though her braggadocio hasn’t lost a step, this is a deeply humble album, paying respect to dance music legends like Robin S, Grace Jones, and of course Nile Rodgers and Donna Summer. You can spend hours scanning the writer and producer credits and WhoSampled, finding songs you don’t know and songs you don’t know that you know. Or just learning about people. I was listening to “PURE/HONEY,” was like, “who’s that?” and learned about Moi Renee, a New York City drag queen legend.

But of course it’s not just that she’s done her homework. RENAISSANCE is the album of the year not just for the head but for the hips. “VIRGO’S GROOVE” sounds like a classic Michael Jackson song. “CUFF IT” sounds like peak Chic. “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND” lets A.G. cook. And while “SUMMER RENAISSANCE” might not be among the album’s finest songs, ending with Donna Summer is the gesture that embodies the album: by going back in time and paying such tribute to the history of the music, Beyoncé has made her own entry in the dance music canon, and it’s one of the finest dance albums ever made. It’s also, and this is saying quite a bit, her finest album. Too classy.


The Next 15

11. Miranda Lambert: Palomino (Listen: “Geraldene”)
12. Let’s Eat Grandma: Two Ribbons (Listen: “Levitation”)
13. The Mountain Goats: Bleed Out (Listen: “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome”)
14. Soul Glo: Diaspora Problems (Listen: “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”)
15. Plains: I Walked With You A Ways (Listen: “Abilene”)
16. Pusha T: It’s Almost Dry (Listen: “Diet Coke”)
17. Grace Ives: Janky Star (Listen: “Lullaby”)
18. Camp Cope: Running with the Hurricane (Listen: “Sing Your Heart Out”)
19. Craig Finn: A Legacy of Rentals (Listen: “Birthdays”)
20. The Regrettes: Further Joy (Listen: “Show Me You Want Me”)
21. MUNA: MUNA (Listen: “Home By Now”)
22. The Paranoid Style: For Executive Meeting (Listen: “Barney Bubbles”)
23. Cheekface: Too Much To Ask (Listen: “We Need A Bigger Dumpster”)
24. Horsegirl: Versions of Modern Performance (Listen: “Anti-glory”)
25. Romero: Turn It On! (Listen: “Talk About It”)

Further Top 50

Amanda Shires: Take It Like A Man (Listen: “Hawk for the Dove”)
billy woods: Church (Listen: “Pollo Rico”)
Charli XCX: CRASH (Listen: “Constant Repeat”)
FKA twigs: CAPRISONGS (Listen: “tears in the club” (ft. The Weeknd))
Gangs of Youth: angel in realtime. (Listen: “in the wake of your leave”)
Gogol Bordello: Solidaritine (Listen: “Take Only What You Can Carry” (ft. KAZKA))
JID: The Forever Story (Listen: “Dance Now” (ft. Kenny Mason))
Jockstrap: I Love You Jennifer B (Listen: “Greatest Hits”)
Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (Listen: “N95”)
Kiwi jr: Chopper (Listen: “Unspeakable Things”)
Momma: Household Name (Listen: “Rockstar”)
My Idea: CRY MFER (Listen: “Cry Mfer”)
Petrol Girls: Baby (Listen: “Baby, I Had An Abortion”)
Pillbox Patti: Florida (Listen: “Suwannee”)
Porridge Radio: Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky (Listen: “Back to the Radio”)
Sabrina Carpenter: emails i can’t send (Listen: “Vicious”)
SASAMI: Squeeze (Listen: “Make It Right”)
S.G. Goodman: Teeth Marks (Listen: “All My Love Is Coming Back To Me”)
Sorry: Anywhere But Here (Listen: “Let The Lights On”)
Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa (Listen: “The Hardest Cut”)
The Interrupters: In The Wild (Listen: “In The Mirror”)
The Smile: A Light For Attracting Attention (Listen: “You Will Never Work In Television Again”)
The Weeknd: Dawn FM (Listen: “How Do I Make You Love Me?”)
The 1975: Being Funny in a Foreign Language (Listen: “I’m In Love With You”)

Honorable Mentions

Alex G: God Save The Animals (Listen: “Blessing”)
Amber Mark: Three Dimensions Deep (Listen: “What It Is”)
Anxious: Little Green House (Listen: “In April”)
Arctic Monkeys: The Car (Listen: “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball”)
BabyTron: Bin Reaper 3: Old Testament (Listen: “MySpace”)
Bad Bunny: Un Verano Sin Ti (Listen: “Tití Me Preguntó”)
Bartees Strange: Farm to Table (Listen: “Heavy Heart”)
beabadoobee: Beatopia (Listen: “the perfect pair”)
Beach Bunny: Emotional Creature (Listen: “Karaoke”)
Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (Listen: “The Loneliest Time” (ft. Rufus Wainwright)
Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer (Listen: “Mantra”)
Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes (Listen: “Belize” (ft. MF DOOM))
Daphni: Cherry (Listen: “Cherry”)
Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork (Listen: “Don’t Press Me”)
DYLAN: No Romeo (Listen: “Someone Else”)
dynastic: I know there’s something left for you (Listen: “caldecott” (ft. Polygon Cove))
Future Girls: Year Long Winter (Listen: “Defeat Repeat”)
GloRilla: Anyways, Life’s Great (Listen: “Tomorrow 2” (ft. Cardi B))
Harry Styles: Harry’s House (Listen: “Late Night Talking”)
Hatchie: Giving the World Away (Listen: “This Enchanted”)
Hurray for the Riff Raff: LIFE ON EARTH (Listen: “PIERCED ARROWS”)
JER: Bothered/Unbothered (Listen: “Clout Chasers!”)
King Princess: Hold On Baby (Listen: “For My Friends”)
Little Simz: NO THANK YOU (Listen: “Gorilla”)
Maren Morris: Humble Quest (Listen: “Humble Quest”)
MJ Lenderman: Boat Songs (Listen: “You Have Bought Yourself A Boat”)
Nilüfer Yanya: PAINLESS (Listen: “stabilise”)
No Age: People Helping People (Listen: “Compact Flashes”)
Oso Oso: sore thumb (Listen: “pensacola”)
Pictoria Vark: The Parts I Dread (Listen: “Wyoming”)
Pigeon Pit: Feather River Canyon Blues (Listen: “Milk Crates”)
Pool Kids: Pool Kids (Listen: “That’s Physics, Baby”)
Ribbon Stage: Hit with the Most (Listen: “Playing Possum”)
Saba: Few Good Things (Listen: “Come My Way” (ft. Krayzie Bone))
$ilkMoney: I Don’t Give A Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don’t Feel Like It Anymore (Listen: “I Ate 14gs of Mushrooms and Bwoy Oh Bwoy”)
Special Interest: Endure (Listen: “Concerning Peace”)
Steve Lacy: Gemini Rights (Listen: “Mercury”)
Superchunk: Wild Loneliness (Listen: “Wild Loneliness”)
talker: In Awe of Insignificance (Listen: “For The Sake Of It”)
Tegan & Sara: Crybaby (Listen: “Smoking Weed Alone”)
The Chats: Get Fucked (Listen: “6L GTR”)
The Linda Lindas: Growing Up (Listen: “Oh!”)
The Wonder Years: The Hum Goes On Forever (Listen: “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name)”)
Tom Zé: Língua Brasileira (Listen: “Metro Guide”)
Two Shell: Icons (Listen: “Pods”)
Various Artists: Dig Me In: A Dig Me Out Covers Album (Listen: “The Drama You’ve Been Craving” by Tunde Adebimpe)
Wednesday: Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ’em Up (Listen: “Perfect” (ft. MJ Lenderman))
Yumi Zouma: Present Tense (Listen: “Astral Projection”)
100 gecs: Snake Eyes (Listen: “Torture Me” (ft. Skrillex))

As always, here are some Spotify playlists. The first includes a song from all of the albums in this article, the other is just the top ten albums in their entirety. See you next year (or next week if you care about TV).

Joey’s Top Ten Songs of 2022

I had a blast with music in 2021, and for most of 2022 I figured I couldn’t bring the same heat to this year’s lists. And though I’ve done a bit more December cramming than usual, I’m pleased to say that I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve got here, especially because now it’s become more difficult than ever to stay on the pulse of popular music, especially without immersing myself in TikTok. Maybe I’ll have to take the dive in 2023.

As always, I’m featuring my top ten songs and then giving you some further listening after, complete with Spotify playlists.

10. “Simulation Swarm”
by Big Thief

On an album with so many directions and so many standouts, this is the one that stops the show. Originally unveiled in an Instagram Live the first month of the pandemic, “Simulation Swarm” eagerly takes the “Shine A Light” position as the emotional climax in the album’s seventeenth slot. Three vivid yet vague verses start to come into focus before the reveal: Adrianne Lenker is thinking about Andrew, the older biological brother she’s never met. It’s quite the twist that Lenker has dedicated her sweetest, most tender love song not to a lover, but to a brother.

9. “Pharmacist”
by Alvvays

One of the finest moments in music this year was the instant the guitars hit on “Pharmacist,” letting loose Alvvays’ dreamier, louder sound five years after their last album. Short, sweet, to the point, “Pharmacist” is the despair at someone else’s happiness, trying to go home only to realize it’s a time, not a place. Then the self-reassurance “it happens all the time” – the wilting “happens” another of the year’s finest moments, as Jeff Tweedy noticed – ultimately only giving way to an even more tragic thought: “I know I never crossed your mind.” Alvvays has other more impressive lyric sheets this time out for sure, but “Pharmacist” just lands such a punch.

by Beyoncé

I didn’t expect to be up for more Beygency propaganda, but she’s pulled me back in. No longer satisfied with her command over this world, she’s making like Goku and taking on the universe. Though she keeps the WhoSampled page fresh throughout, it’s that close encounter with the hovering synth over the chorus that puts this into orbit, those “Oh baby, I’m…” bits enough to make one never doubt her again.

7. “Speeding 72”
by Momma

Narrowly defeating yet another worthy entry from Maren Morris, “Speeding 72” is the driving anthem of the year. Funny enough, I less hear the direct influences in this than I hear ghosts of ’90s revivalists past Yuck, but of course I’m won over by the Pavement shout out, even if “Harness Your Hopes” and Beabadoobee mean they’re en vogue anyway. But at its heart, “Speeding 72” is about the excitement of moving to the next thing, coming from a complicated place (at best) but then finding someone clamoring “keep me in your car.”

6. “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”
by Hitkidd & GloRilla

A breakup?! No way. A block party. If there’s discussion at all about GloRilla’s ex-as-of-ten-seconds-ago, it’s purely incidental. “F.N.F.” is focused on the freedom: “Hoppin’ out in red lights, twerkin’ on them headlights.” Finally, a breakup anthem to pump you up.

5. “Cate’s Brother”
by Maisie Peters

Trial ballooned on TikTok, “Cate’s Brother” was so ferociously beloved by Maisie’s fans (even before they’d heard its incredible refrain) that she was pressured into pumping this song out ASAP. And it’s catnip, the gushing ’80s guitars perfectly carrying a three minute diatribe about the millisecond you get a little too obsessed with someone before even hearing a word. Taylor Swift: This could be you right now, but you playin’.


i played cate the verse i wrote about her brother and it went like this u gotta watch til the end #originalsong #bestfriends #livelaughlove

♬ original sound – maisie peters

4. “Bad Habit”
by Steve Lacy

Steve Lacy’s name has definitely been out there for a while, obviously with his band The Internet but also with a few odd features, but this was usually as a secondary figure. So it’s pretty shocking that he’s front and center in the pop song of the year, but it also makes sense that said song is about a guy in the background. “Bad Habit” is just too broadly relatable, a moment of romantic fright focused less on the missed opportunity and more on the mental situation that will create more of them. The year’s most inescapable yet undeniable song.

3. “American Teenager”
by Ethel Cain

Not since “Merry Go ‘Round” has a great song been so biting about small town USA, but Ethel Cain sets “American Teenager” apart by instead sending things skyward, putting together such an emotionally convincing piece of heartland rock that Obama missed the implications. The point is actually that the hopefulness is the tragedy, the character begging “Jesus, if you’re listening, let me handle my liquor” and fighting off doubt with promises of better things to come: “Just give it one more day, and you’re done,” “It’s just not my year.” Like the next one will be.

2. “Happy New Year”
by Let’s Eat Grandma

In addition to genius collaborator SOPHIE dying in 2021, co-lead Jenny Hollingworth’s boyfriend Billy Clayton died after a battle with cancer in the spring of 2019, after which the childhood best friends canceled their US tour and found themselves living apart for the first time. Communication between the two broke down, and they struggled to get to the bottom of their rocky period. And despite all that, through multiple deaths and hardship, here we are. Two Ribbons is one of the year’s most underrated albums, an emotional wallop, and its finest song is its opener by Walton about how the two found each other again: “I’d wanted the old us back,” “and now we’ve grown in different ways.”

“Because you know you’ll always be my best friend, and look at what we made it through.”

Happy new year to you.

1. “Expert in a Dying Field”
by The Beths

Sometimes you hear a song and think, okay that’s the best thing they’ll ever write. “Expert in a Dying Field” is such a moment, Elizabeth Stokes absolutely stuffing the thing with heartstabbers: “I can flee the country for the worst of the year, but I’ll come back to it,” “All of my notes in a desolate pile I haven’t touched in an age,” “I can close the door on us but the room still exists,” “Love is learned over time!” And then she repeats that desperate, mocking HOW DOES IT FEEL as rueful and haunting as Bob Dylan’s.

With this, Stokes puts herself in the company of today’s greatest songwriters. “Expert in a Dying Field” is the best rock song of the last several years.

The Next 15

11. Beyoncé: “CUFF IT”
12. Emperor X: “False Metal”
13. The Mountain Goats: “Training Montage”
14. The Beths: “2am”
15. MUNA: “What I Want”
16. FKA twigs (ft. Shygirl): “papi bones”
17. Ashley McBryde, Caylee Hammack, Brandy Clark, & Pillbox Patti: “Bonfire at Tina’s”
18. Special Interest (ft. Mykki Blanco): “Midnight Legend”
19. The Regrettes: “Barely on My Mind”
20. Maren Morris: “Circles Around This Town”
21. MUNA: “Anything But Me”
22. Camp Cope: “Running with the Hurricane”
23. The Beths: “Knees Deep”
24. Baby Queen: “LAZY”
25. The Weeknd: “Take My Breath”

Honorable Mentions

Alex G: “Runner”
Amanda Shires & Jason Isbell: “Not What You Want”
Beyoncé x Ellie Goulding: “BREAK MY SOUL (Girl Talk Remix)”
Chat Pile: “Why”
Megan Thee Stallion: “Plan B”
Phoenix (ft. Ezra Koenig): “Tonight”
Plains: “Problem With It”
SASAMI: “The Greatest”
Sudan Archives: “NBPQ (Topless)”
talker: “Don’t Want You To Love Me”
The 1975: “Part of the Band”

And as always, here are Spotify playlists to go with this feature, first of all the songs listed and then of just the top ten.

Joey’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2021

Yes, 2021 again! A year of TV good enough that it inspired me to make these lists, but not good enough to inspire me to finish them. And 2022 has shown just how good a year of TV can really be. So after my best songs and albums list on January 1 and 2, expect an even more stacked TV list the following week.

10. The Owl House
season 2, first half
10 episodes (now 41 total)
stream: Disney+

Like the path that Gravity Falls took before it, The Owl House was assuredly going to get more dark and plot-intensive after its lighter first season. Though 2021 only offered us ten half-hours, The Owl House met the challenge and upped the ante, especially shining in triptych episode “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Hooty’s Door.”

9. Reservation Dogs
season 1
8 episodes (now 18 total)
stream: Hulu

Reservation Dogs is about both the ordinary and the extraordinary, well-defining the Oklahoma reservation and the hope-crushing monotony our heroes feel subsumed by while also occasionally popping off into dreamlike zaniness. While the first half of the first season is a great introduction, the show starts really going for it in the latter four episodes.

8. Ranking of Kings
season 1, first cour
11 episodes (23 in season 1)
stream: Crunchyroll

Not many anime have felt as good as Ranking of Kings, the fantasy tale about a deaf child whose birthright is stolen from him. The story of Bojji is the main attraction, but while the show introduces many of its other characters as caricatures – like Bojji’s wicked stepmother and stepbrother – where it really shines is expanding these characters and making Bojji just the largest branch of a wildly satisfying plot. It’s also just so refreshing for a shonen anime to look like this does.

7. Arcane
season 1
9 episodes
stream: Netflix

It’s bewildering to see animation look so unique and so expensive. If you can make it past Imagine Dragons in the opening credits, your eyes will be instantly treated to the best-looking show around. Likewise, it’s gone pretty all out with its story, its three-act structure expertly working its major beats through the whole cast. With a bit of an edge, Arcane is a rare Western cartoon geared towards more mature audiences, and it’ll be a joy when it comes back, I dunno, three years later.

6. Station Eleven
limited series
10 episodes (7 in 2021)
stream: HBO Max

The narrative ambition of Station Eleven is pretty astonishing. Jumping liberally across space and time, each episode has its own hook, whether it takes place in a collapsing city, an airport, a small apartment, or a hospital. A startling beginning and an emotional ending put Station Eleven in rare esteem among limited series.

5. How To With John Wilson
season 2
6 episodes (12 total)
stream: HBO Max

There’s really nothing like How To With John Wilson. I get how that’s a pretty easy statement for anything with Nathan Fielder involvement, but the vibe of watching the man with the camera giving often trite narration to plain moments is so uniquely captivating. Then suddenly, John Wilson will find a weirdo. Perhaps it’s a person obsessed with Avatar (2009). Perhaps it is a Second Life land baron. It will always be a total marvel that John Wilson gets these people to open up to him. Season two is a step up for this main reason: John has found more weirdos this time out.

limited series
13 episodes
stream: Crunchyroll

ODDTAXI is truly humble. It weaves its web of mischievous, city-slacking animals so casually, not trying too hard to sell a rapping porcupine, a puma hellbent on fulfilling his dreams with a gacha game, or a gibbon trying to salvage his happiness through dating apps. A bit like the first act of Durarara!!, ODDTAXI builds an interconnected city and brings it all together in the best anime miniseries in a long time.

3. Mare of Easttown
limited series
7 episodes
stream: HBO Max

Two mysteries, a murder and a disappearance, hang over Easttown, and the disgruntled people of the small town hang all of their frustrations on Mare, who in turn has a recent divorce and the suicide of her eldest child hanging over her. The character drama is fantastic, but the whodunnit is the beast that sends Mare over the top, with so many suspects, twists, and shocking action setpieces. In the era of the prestige miniseries, Mare of Easttown is among the very finest.

2. Yellowjackets
season 1
10 episodes (7 in 2021)
stream: SHOWTIME

Dynamite. Yellowjackets is clearly something special from the jump: a ’90s high school girls’ soccer team flies to the national championship only to crash into the Canadian wilderness. As we follow the girls devolving and the wilderness getting spooky, we also see the survivors living their lives in the present day until their past starts bubbling up again. Though filled with death and horror, Yellowjackets is an absolute blast, and it’ll be great to greet it in early 2023.

1. Succession
season 3
9 episodes (29 total)
stream: HBO Max

Now they’re just showing off. The story of four siblings vying for their megabillionaire daddy’s favor has been great its past two seasons, but only now has stepped into rarefied territory and is making a serious run to join the greatest live action dramas of the past twenty years. The characters and dialogue are all clicking in that special way you sometimes see, and now more than ever its comedy makes its drama seem that much less strained, particularly when something so cringeworthy occurs that you have to pause and pace around for ten minutes before continuing. And of course, even before this season Succession was notable for its killer tentpole moments, and “All The Bells Say” did not disappoint. If they can keep this up, we’ll be talking about Succession for a very long time.

Honorable Mentions

For All Mankind, season 2
Hacks, season 1
Invincible, season 1
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, season 2
Only Murders in the Building, season 1
Squid Game, season 1
The Expanse, seasons 5 & 6
The Underground Railroad, limited series
The White Lotus, season 1

Joey’s Top 10 TV Episodes of 2021

Yeah, this is a little late! Got really bogged down when it should have come out and then it became a whole thing. But I’m getting this out of the way now to unclog this drain for when I put the 2022 TV lists down it in early January.

Let’s get started, yeah?

10. “Wheel of Fire”
Station Eleven
episode 1
stream: HBO Max

Oh. Great. Just what we needed in December, 2021. An hourlong episode about the swift disintegration of Chicago as a kill-everyone pandemic hits it like a tidal wave. This is a panic attack of an episode, and while the show’s ultimate worth lies in its emotional conclusion, this hour sticks in my memory the firmest.

9. “Together Again”
Adventure Time: Distant Lands
episode 3?
stream: HBO Max

It’s no “Obsidian,” but the final Adventure Time chapter – “Wizard City” was released out of order – brought us deep into the future to see the final chapter of Finn and Jake’s friendship: death. An old tension between the two arises when Jake waxes philosophic, appreciating the poetry and beauty of the end, but Finn still needs his friend. A beautiful second ending to an incredible series.

8. “The Monster You Created”
season 1, episode 9
stream: Netflix

Though I imagine the cliffhanger won’t wind up as cataclysmic as it feels in the moment, this pressure cooker of an episode is an excellent culmination of a wild season, and it promises a second season which tears down the walls of the first.

7. “Where I Really Come From”
season 1, episode 8
stream: Amazon Prime

Invincible’s premier ends with a real doozy of a twist, and “Where I Really Come From” pays it off so wildly with some of the most brutal cartoon violence I can remember, and the conversation that follows its horrifying climactic fight is just as harsh.

6. “California Dreamin’”
Reservation Dogs
season 1, episode 7
stream: Hulu

As Reservation Dogs finally gets to That Thing we’ve been waiting to learn about, it also gets to That Thing that Elora has been dying to know. All of this on the back of the longest driver’s test ever.

5. “True Colors”
season 2, episode 20
stream: Disney+

Amphibia is perhaps the most humble of this new wave of story-focused children’s cartoons, forwarding its plot with occasional nudges and then with slightly more frequent nudges. Which is why it’s totally fucking nuts when “True Colors” cold knocks the dominoes down, beginning with like five different payoffs and ending with about five different twists.

4. “Gganbu”
Squid Game
season 1, episode 6
stream: Netflix

Though Squid Game went massively viral due to the insidious theatricality of its games, the fourth event drops all of this and gives us a heartrending but suspenseful episode focused on character relationships. Of course, the show proceeds to eventually waste basically all of this and even actively tries to ruin this episode. Still! This one’s a real triumph while it lasts.

3. “How To Appreciate Wine”
How To With John Wilson
season 2, episode 2
stream: HBO Max

Most episodes of How To With John Wilson revel in mundane absurdity, and for a while “How To Appreciate Wine” seems like more of this, beginning with a young man whose hobby is collecting and eating expired military rations and a bowling ball company whose hook is that it scents its balls. But even there, the outrageous moments are already more frequent, and by the time you get to John’s story about his college a capella group or the journey to meet the CEO of Bang energy drinks, you’ll be spinning. It’s disorienting, and it doesn’t help you to appreciate wine in the least.

2. “All The Bells Say”
season 3, episode 9
stream: HBO Max

You could really pick anything from the last three or four episodes of Succession’s third season, but “All The Bells Say” in particular rises to the occasion, bringing you the seismic shifts of past season finales and then some.

1. “The Last One”
To Your Eternity
season 1, episode 1
stream: Crunchyroll

Maybe it’s a little unfair to credit “The Last One” quite so much. After all, it’s mostly just a straight upreplication of Yoshitoki Ōima’s first chapter of her manga of the same name, probably one of the best individual chapters of manga ever.

A white orb is sent to earth, where it takes the form of a rock in the snow. One day a wolf dies near it, and it takes the form of that wolf. It sets off, where it meets a boy, the fallen wolf’s owner, who’s delighted to see his dear pet again. This boy was left years ago to care for the sick and elderly while most of his people set out hoping to find greener, warmer land. Now he’s alone, and upon the return of his pet wolf he decides to set out himself and find his tribe again. He and “Joann” embark on their quest, with the boy cheerfully imagining what “fruit” might be like.

I won’t spoil how it ends, because you should watch it right now even if you don’t plan on picking up the series – the above embedded video is the whole thing put on YouTube for free by Crunchyroll. “The Last One” is powerfully simple, packed with gutpunching moments and a mindblowing resolution.

Building A Better Lover

Sometimes when an artist puts out an album of 18 or 19 songs, it signifies confidence, a point in an artist’s career where they’ve found a can’t-fail groove in their creative process. Even the filler sounds like magic. So is Lover Taylor’s Sign o’ The Times?

I mean, you already know the answer. Lover, though not among her very worst, is probably on the lower end of Taylor’s discography. Still, there’s a lot of promise, right? That front half is really nice.

So I asked Twitter earlier this year to rank all 18 tracks on Lover with the hope of being able to authoritatively pare it down without anyone accusing me of playing favorites. Depending on how the tiers shake out, I planned on keeping 10-14 tracks. In parentheses are the mean rankings of each song.

The Classics

1. “Cruel Summer” (3.15)

“Cruel Summer” is a very odd Taylor Swift song. It’s such a unique bit of pop alchemy, which is maybe why she neglected to release it as a single (instead opting for “ME!,” “You Need To Calm Down,” “Lover,” and “The Man”). She managed to release six (!) singles for Reputation, so it’s a little odd she couldn’t do the same for the better, deeper album. But yeah, not a shock to see “Cruel Summer” up top. It’s probably her most beloved post-1989 song. Its median ranking was a flat 2.0. 30% of voters rated it #1. 55% rated it top two. 75% rated it top three. “Cruel Summer” is real good, y’all.

2. “Cornelia Street” (3.45)

For listeners eager for a new masterpiece to go with “All Too Well” or “Enchanted,” “Cornelia Street” was pretty quickly identified. I think it feels probably a little less special than those do, but that’s a tall comparison and this is still top tier Taylor.

The Choice Cuts

3. “Lover” (5.85)

People love “Lover.” I think its music is a little too gentle and compared to her best love songs doesn’t give me a ton to latch onto. I’d go as far as saying it’s a little plain. But it’s a strong third, per The People, and it’s not particularly controversial.

4. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” (6.25)

Kind of a cool kid pick for best song here, yeah? It’s one of those songs that reminds you that she could just kind of do this forever. Listening to it makes me dearly miss when her music had a bit more zip. Hope we can get back to that.

5. “Paper Rings” (6.35)

A lot of cringe Taylor moments come from when she tries to have it both ways. You can’t be both cool and uncool, and here she goes full uncool and it’s always magic when she does that.

Still Killer

6. “The Archer” (8.35)

A favorite of fans who don’t really like Taylor Swift very much and regard 1989 as far greater than anything else she’s done. A very good dream pop song, but not the kind of thing I subscribe for.

7. “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” (8.55)

Hard to imagine, but here she writes a song even more Lana Del Rey than “Wildest Dreams,” complete with chirpy little “okay!” bits that would slot right at home on Born To Die. It’s good.

8. “Daylight” (8.70)

Massively popular with fans who think “Clean” is top ten Taylor. It has the highest standard deviation of any song here (5.45!), possibly revealing that some people have just not made it to track 18 of Lover very often.

9. “The Man” (8.95)

Obviously this it Taylor at her most indulgently girlboss outside of the “Bad Blood” music video, but she definitely pulls it off. Come on! This shit’s a blast. Cringe, but the kind I’ve signed up for.

10. “I Think He Knows” (9.40)

I’m a little baffled here. Most people that voted preferred “I Forgot That You Existed” to “I Think He Knows,” which I think is a perfect little pop song that’s emblematic of the strengths of her approach in her pop era.


11. “I Forgot That You Existed” (10.30)

“I Forgot That You Existed” puts Taylor’s most annoying foot forward, doing the weird rap thing where she goes “in my feelings more than Drake” and the like. Its median ranking was 9, even beating “I Think He Knows” and obliterating “False God” and “Soon You’ll Get Better.” But it’s controversial. Its standard deviation of 5.36 is only lower than that of “Daylight.” Two people had this at #2, which is just entirely inexcusable, but unlike other songs in the front half of the album, some folks dared to put this one low.

12. “False God” (11.05)

Very interested to hear “False God” supporters explain themselves because this one is so fucking weird to me. I suppose it’s good that irreverence is clearly the point because the sexual imagery just comes out wrong. Sonically fits the album pretty darn well but ends up feeling tedious anyway.

13. “Soon You’ll Get Better” (11.35)

Very sweet. It’s great that she wanted to do another “The Best Day,” because that’s just one of her best songs. But it feels a little stiff, so it’s a little less successful at jerking any tears out.

The Filler

14. “Afterglow” (12.70)

Kind of occupying the role of “The Lucky One,” where it’s the thing that most people will forget was even here. “The Lucky One” deserves better. I don’t really think this does. Solid, serviceable, not more. Should probably be above “False God,” though.

15. “London Boy” (12.85)

Look, maybe I’m a dick about this cringe-ass song. The Clash got to make “Ivan Meets GI Joe” on their longest album and everyone’s fine with that. Some sick fucks like “Piggies” or “Wild Honey Pie.” I actually think the verses on this sound fine, but my goodness the chorus and bridge are decidedly Not It.


16. “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” (13.85)

A strong candidate for Taylor’s most boring song, pre-2020 division. So-named because it doesn’t have any itself.

17. “You Need To Calm Down” (14.30)

The music video for “Mean,” a great song about how critics (perhaps correctly…) criticized Taylor’s Grammy performance with Stevie Nicks, opens with a gay-coded young man being bullied by football players. Certainly a worthy cause for 2011, but an odd conflation of conflicts, no? Whatever, not a big deal. Fast forward to 2019, and the first verse of “You Need To Calm Down” is about haters in Taylor Swift’s mentions and the second is about homophobia. I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, two nickels isn’t very many, but it’s weird that it happened twice, right? I think Taylor has trouble compellingly framing the songs about her haters. I think “Mean” worked because it’s detached enough to achieve a sort of universality. I mean, also because it sounds good and doesn’t feature Taylor rapping. I’m not sure how she figured people had the stomach for two straight indulgently irritating lead singles. Speaking of…

The Abomination

18. “ME!” (16.20)

It is absolutely heartbreaking that Taylor believed in this Playhouse Disney self-belief anthem so much that she made it this album’s lead single and enlisted Brendon “High Hopes” Urie to turn in what might just be the most annoying vocal performance of all time. This kind of thing might be more appreciated if she debuted it on Yo Gabba Gabba! (and again, leave Brendon at home).

The New Album

The top ten are obviously in. The question is whether to leave it at that, add just “I Forgot That You Existed,” or add that plus “False God” and “Soon You’ll Get Better.” I’m pretty torn!

Over half of people think “I Forgot That You Existed” should be in a nine-songs-long version, so I suppose I’ll keep that – though I’ll note the 25th and 75th percentile ranks for “I Think He Knows” are 4.75 and 12.25 vs “I Forgot That You Existed”‘s 6.00 and 15.00 (!). I kind of think both “False God” and “Soon You’ll Get Better” are very clearly below the clearly-in songs. And they’re both so awkwardly slow and weighty that they muck up sequencing. You can crucify me for this, but I really did try to include them. Nothing worked!

So…it’s the first ten songs of the album plus “Daylight.” Maybe we didn’t need a poll to figure it out. But at least we’ve verified this truth with science.

Here is Lover in brief…Lvr.

1. “I Think He Knows”
2. “Cruel Summer”
3. “Paper Rings”
4. “Lover”
5. “The Man”
6. “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince”
7. “Cornelia Street”
8. “The Archer”
9. “I Forgot That You Existed”
10. “Death By A Thousand Cuts”
11. “Daylight”

Joey’s Top Ten Albums of 2021

Here it is, the main event.

The thing I was most struck by in 2021 was the lack of consensus on an album of the year. In a rare occurrence, Pitchfork (Jazmine Sullivan), Rolling Stone (Olivia Rodrigo), the (now Uproxx) critics’ poll (Japanese Breakfast), and the Metacritic meta-list (Little Simz) all had differing takes on the album of the year, and it still doesn’t feel like those contenders are significantly ahead of the rest of the field. Perhaps consequently, my list looks less like a consensus list than it basically ever has. Which is just peachy with me!

I did a great job of finding and listening to new music that I enjoy this year, so much so that this feature contains one hundred albums released in 2021. Earlier this week I expected to have about 70, so I was pretty surprised to add everything up. Which just makes me all the more excited to share the product of my hard work with you.

As a final note about my list, it’s pretty cool to see all of my top three albums by artists who owe a lot to Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is one of the biggest recording artists of the last twenty years, but I’ve always felt like not a ton of artists were very obviously influenced by her. That’s changing! And I’m clearly a big fan of that development.

I’m doing this a bit differently (and more thoroughly!) than in recent years, so here’s a rundown of the order of things. First, I’ll be going over some fantastic albums that I won’t include as 2021 albums for whatever reason. Then I’ll dive into the top ten of 2021. After that, I’ll show the remaining ranked top 25, the remaining unranked top 50, and then a lot of honorable mentions.

I’ve also given one song recommendation for each album, each of which is among the album’s best but is not one of the 40 songs included in yesterday’s best songs of 2021 feature.

Here we go! I’ll see you next week for the best TV episodes and TV shows of 2021.

Ineligible But Worthy

Low Cut Connie: Tough Cookies: The Best of the Quarantine Broadcasts

Excluded because it’s kind of a live album (the rare sort of those recorded in 2020), Tough Cookies is an essential document of the 2020 Instagram Live quarantine concert era. Everyone who’s heard it rightly praises “Little Red Corvette,” but I think the cover of Cardi B’s “Be Careful” is really nasty, too.

Listen: “Little Red Corvette”

Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor’s Version) & Red (Taylor’s Version)

It would feel weird to compare remastered/expanded editions to actually 2021 music, but it’s not like there was nothing new (or new-to-us, anyhow) on these versions Taylor, and while for the most part it’s understandable why these are the vault tracks and not the album tracks, they still represent output from the periods surrounding her two finest albums.

Listen: “Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”
Listen: “Message In A Bottle (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”

Baby Queen: Medicine

Discovered less than a month too late for my last list, Medicine became by far my most listened to release of this year. Songs about technology are hard to write, but “Pretty Girl Lie” and “Internet Religion” work because yeah, her psyche has been wildly impacted by screens and algorithms. Heck, she writes this awesome thankful-but-glib song about SSRIs and it’s somehow the fifth best of six songs here.

Listen: “Pretty Girl Lie”

Top Ten

10. illuminati hotties: Let Me Do One More

The one we’ve been waiting for. After spurts of pop brilliance on last year’s mixtape, Sarah Tudzin does anything she wants here. An anticapitalist ballad? Check. Surf rock with a country twang? Absolutely. Straight up Bikini Kill shit? She’s here with it. And because one of her best skills is putting on so many faces, it’s that much more meaningful when she finishes with easily her most sincere and vulnerable song.

Listen: “Pool Hopping”

9. Lori McKenna: Christmas Is Right Here

I finally hear it! I finally hear the beautiful song hidden within Paul McCartney’s horrible house of mirrors known as “Wonderful Christmastime.” Then right after McKenna conquers that song and makes it hers, she wallops us with two tearjerkers about how Christmas illuminates the sad little ways that life changes.

Listen: “Christmas Without Crying”

8. McKinley Dixon: For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her

Despite all of the obvious comparisons (which all speak very well of this album), McKinley Dixon insists he wasn’t influenced by To Pimp A Butterfly so much as he was influenced by everyone who happened to make that album. In interviews, he’ll light up about Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin. And indeed, the most important comparison point between the two works is the use of live music, brought to life here by Dixon’s perennial producer Onirologia. All this supports Dixon emerging as one of the finest emcees right now. Every single thing about this album works so well that it’s a little alarming that it’s a debut.

Listen: “make a poet Black”

7. We Are The Union: Ordinary Life

In announcing Ordinary Life, We Are The Union lead vocalist came out as a trans woman, and the album is one big coming out party in the way only a ska album really can be. Some songs are loudly about that theme, “Boys Will Be Girls” is a lovely fuck-you to anti-trans motherfuckers everywhere, but there’s also a lot of giddy stuff about the weird ways that brains occasionally are, like on earworm “Short Circuit” or on what should be the new ADHD wave’s anthem, “Broken Brain.”

Listen: “Morbid Obsessions”

6. Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever

Billie’s left behind the bells and whistles from her debut, but in turn her writing has gotten a fair bit deeper. Her story of growing up with superstardom is well-trodden ground, but her approach and meditation on the subject are not only good for her but genuinely captivating.

Listen: “Getting Older”

5. Carly Pearce: 29: Written In Stone

Though some of it is also about the recent death of Pearce’s longtime producer busbee, 29: Written In Stone is largely about her divorce from fellow country singer Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage (so, “the year that I got married and divorced”). Pearce seemingly can’t help herself from writing classic country divorce songs, warning the next girl to mess around with this guy, dreading the many painful milestones of losing someone, recounting what he, uh, didn’t do. She even dares to call out to the god of the genre herself. With 29: Unwritten In Stone, Pearce has done Loretta more than proud and released one of the best country albums of the last ten years.

Listen: “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” (ft. Ashley McBryde)

4. No-No Boy: 1975

Occasionally I think that some albums should come with lengthy footnotes, but Julian Saporiti’s 1975 is actually part of his PhD dissertation in American Studies. He tells many stories of Asian American history throughout 1975 (and one about crossing the US-Mexico border), and the most impactful are those that trace history and trauma directly through family lines, as he does through his mother and his mother’s mother on “Tell Hanoi I Love Her” and “St. Denis or Bangkok” and through one of his Cambodian American Students on “Khmerica” (“be my eyes, father”). 1975 is wondrous because Saporiti sings with a tenderness that doesn’t let these songs be merely sorrowful while still giving room to their emotional weight.

Listen: “Tell Hanoi I Love Her”

3. Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR

SOUR is wonderful because Rodrigo relays her breakup like a car crash where every microsecond is remembered. Take one of the lesser singles, “traitor,” and look at how the drama of the chorus just spills out. She captures these things so well so consistently likely thanks to a central anxiety that emerges throughout the album: that she might not be exciting, interesting or smart. And that relatable element helps her almost too-detailed teardown of some “not the compliment type” asshole really stick.

Listen: “drivers license”

2. Kalie Shorr: I Got Here By Accident

Straight up, Kalie Shorr is the most sure-thing songwriter right now. You could set your watch to her next song being a great one. I barely missed Open Book in 2019 and now reckon it’s probably just the best album of that year, so it’s no surprise that she hits five for five here, snarling through “Amy” and making us sob to “Love Child.” And even when she’s feeling some contentedness, she either hates the way it feels or expresses her friendship through murder. Her writing is so consistently sharp and her new turn towards guitar rock works perfectly.

Listen: “I Heard You Got A Girl”

1. Baby Queen: The Yearbook

Sure, it’s pretty brief, and sure, it’s not a perfect album (in fact, Bella herself calls this a mixtape so we can properly anticipate her true debut album this year). Still! Still. No 2021 release gave me even close to as much listening pleasure as The Yearbook.

Bella Latham is a pop savant. “American Dream” is like the median-quality song here and it’s basically perfect. She understands the importance of a well-placed bridge, the “damned if I do and bored if I don’t” bit on “These Drugs” killing me every time. She expands on her the-internet-broke-me themes of Medicine by turning back her anger on the generations who created the internet’s algorithm factory yet bemoan gen Z’s vanity.

And she ends it with a song that goes, “I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m ashamed.” It’s quite a way to go out. I hope Bella has a better 2022. I hope we all do.

Thank you for reading.

Listen: “American Dream” (ft. MAY-A)

The Next 15

11. The Buoys: Unsolicited Advice For Your DIY Disaster (Listen: “Lie To Me Again”)
12. The Weather Station: Ignorance (Listen: “Atlantic”)
13. Tinashe: 333 (Listen: “I Can See The Future”)
14. Kiwi Jr.: Cooler Returns (Listen: “Waiting In Line”)
15. Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales (Listen: “Put It Down”)
16. Lil Nas X: MONTERO (Listen: “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”)
17. James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (Listen: “Operation Never Mind”)
18. Lucy Dacus: Home Video (Listen: “VBS”)
19. Carsie Blanton: Love & Rage (Listen: “Down In The Streets”)
20. Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (Listen: “Chaeri”)
21. Japanese Breakfast: Jubilee (Listen: “Savage Good Boy”)
22. Turnstile: Glow On (Listen: “Blackout”)
23. Mach-Hommy: Pray For Haiti (Listen: “Kriminel”)
24. girl in red: if i could make it go quiet (Listen: “Serotonin”)
25. Gully Boys: Favorite Son (Listen: “The Way”)

Further Top 50

Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange (Listen: “Black Myself”)
Arlo Parks: Collapsed In Sunbeams (Listen: “Black Dog”)
Ashnikko: Demidevil (Listen: “Deal With It” ft. Kelis)
Beach Bunny: Blame Game (Listen: “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)”)
Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (Listen: “Scratchcard Lanyard”)
Genesis Owusu: Smiling With No Teeth (Listen: “The Other Black Dog”)
Home Is Where: i became birds (Listen: “long distance conjoined twins”)
Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take (Listen: “Kill Me”)
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert & Jon Randall: The Marfa Tapes (Listen: “Waxahachie”)
Jlin: Embryo (Listen: “Embyro”)
Lande Hekt: Going To Hell (Listen: “80 Days Of Rain”)
Lily Konigsberg: Lily We Need To Talk Now (Listen: “That’s The Way I Like It”)
Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Listen: “Introvert”)
Mannequin Pussy: Perfect (Listen: “To Lose You”)
Mike: Disco! (Listen: “Crystal Ball”)
Nervous Dater: Call In The Mess (Listen: “Red String Map”)
Parquet Courts: Sympathy For Life (Listen: “Walking At A Downtown Pace”)
PinkPantheress: to hell with it (Listen: “Pain”)
Pinkshift: Saccharine (Listen: “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you”)
Remember Sports: Like A Stone (Listen: “Pinky Ring”)
Self Esteem: Prioritise Pleasure (Listen: “Fucking Wizardry”)
Sir Babygirl: Golden Bday: The Mixtape (Listen: “Bed”)
tUnE-yArDs: sketchy. (Listen: “hypnotized”)
Tyler, The Creator: CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST (Listen: “LUMBERJACK”)
WILLOW: lately i feel EVERYTHING (Listen: “Gaslight” ft. Travis Barker)

Honorable Mentions

Adele: 30 (Listen: “Oh My God”)
Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (Listen: “Emergency Telephone”)
Black Country, New Road: For the first time (Listen: “Track X”)
Bo Burnham: Inside (The Songs) (Listen: “That Funny Feeling”)
Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview On Phenomenal Nature (Listen: “Hailey”)
Colleen Green: Cool (Listen: “I Wanna Be A Dog”)
Dijon: Absolutely (Listen: “Many Times”)
dltzk: Frailty (Listen: “your clothes”)
Doja Cat: Planet Her (Listen: “Need To Know”)
Doss: 4 New Hit Songs (Listen: “Puppy”)
Erika de Casier: Sensational (Listen: “Busy”)
Origami Angel: GAMI GANG (Listen: “Self-Destruct”)
Injury Reserve: By The Time I Get To Phoenix (Listen: “Knees”)
Isaiah Rashad: The House Is Burning (Listen: “Headshots (4r Da Locals)”)
Ka: A Martyr’s Reward (Listen: “I Notice”)
Kacey Musgraves: star-crossed (Listen: “breadwinner”)
Kiss The Tiger: Vicious Kid (Listen: “Motel Room”)
Lainey Wilson: Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ (Listen: “Things A Man Oughta Know”)
Liz Phair: Soberish (Listen: “Soberish”)
Lorraine James: Reflection (Listen: “Running Like That” ft. Eden Samara)
Mach-Hommy: Balens Cho (Hot Candles) (Listen: “TRADITIONAL”)
Madlib: Sound Ancestors (Listen: “Road Of The Lonely Ones”)
Maisie Peters: You Signed Up For This (Listen: “Brooklyn”)
MAY-A: Don’t Kiss Ur Friends (Listen: “Swing Of Things”)
Meet Me @ The Altar: Model Citizen (Listen: “Feel A Thing”)
Miguel: Art Dealer Chic 4 (Listen: “So I Lie”)
Octo Octa: She’s Calling (Listen: “Goddess Calling”)
Palberta: Palberta5000 (Listen: “Big Bad Want”)
Pale Waves: Who Am I? (Listen: “Tomorrow”)
파란노을 (Parannoul): To See The Next Part Of The Dream (Listen: “아름다운 세상 (Beautiful World)”)
Pardoner: Came Down Different (Listen: “Donna Said”)
POLO G: Hall Of Fame (Listen: “RAPSTAR”)
Pom Pom Squad: Death Of A Cheerleader (Listen: “Red With Love”)
PONY: TV BABY (Listen: “Swore”)
Remi Wolf: Juno (Listen: “Sexy Villain”)
RP Boo: Established! (Listen: “All My Life”)
Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby (Listen: “Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby”)
Silk Sonic: An Evening With Silk Sonic (Listen: “Skate”)
Sleater-Kinney: Path Of Wellness (Listen: “Shadow Town”)
Sleigh Bells: Texis (Listen: “Locust Laced”)
Snail Mail: Valentine (Listen: “Headlock”)
Sofia Kourtesis: Fresia Magdalena (Listen: “La Perla”)
Squid: Bright Green Field (Listen: “Pamphlets”)
The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy (Listen: “Family Farm”)
Toby Fox: DELTARUNE Chapter 2 OST (Listen: “A CYBER’S WORLD?”)
VIAL: LOUDMOUTH (Listen: “Something More”)
Vince Staples: Vince Staples (Listen: “ARE YOU WITH THAT?”)
Wednesday: Twin Plagues (Listen: “Handsome Man”)
Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend (Listen: “No Hard Feelings”)

The first playlist below features the suggested songs from every album (except Sir Babygirl’s, which is not on Spotify) in this feature. The second is just the top ten albums of 2021 in their entirety.

Joey’s Top Ten Songs of 2021

Folks, this is a good one.

To me, the last truly great year for music was 2016. 2017 and on have been solid, but more and more my decision to focus on the top ten for this annual feature instead of a top 25 like I used to seemed like the wiser and wiser choice.

Then, this year! After a wild decrease in music releases in 2020, 2021 is solidly the best year for music over the last five.

Here, we go over the best songs of the year. We begin with two songs that weren’t eligible for this year’s list but I missed last year for whatever reason (late 2020 release, pre-album single), and then dive into the top ten. In addition, I’ve ranked the entire top 25 below that and also list fifteen honorable mentions.

Tomorrow, I’ll be releasing my best albums of 2021 list (featuring well over 50 albums), and in the next couple of weeks I’ll be going over the ten best TV episodes and TV shows of 2021, something I’ve never done before.

PS, if you want more song recommendations, I give you a lot more tomorrow.

Here we go.

Ineligible But Worthy

Carly Pearce: “Next Girl”

On Valentine’s Day of 2020, Carly Pearce released her second album, partly inspired by her new marriage. Just half a year but many world events later, Pearce dropped this absolute scorcher warning anyone who finds themselves involved with Michael Ray. Co-written with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne of “Merry Go Round” fame, to wildly understate their prolificness, it’s no real surprise that “Next Girl” is the best country song of the past few years, and an easy top five song of 2020.

Baby Queen: “Want Me”

I’m just not aware of many songs as infectious as this, a shameless embrace of unhealthy obsession (that’s actually about Jodie Comer). Its finale is unrivaled. Everyone should pay attention to the movements of producer King Ed, clearly a genius who’s just getting started. More on Bella herself later. Song of 2020.

Top Ten

10. Maisie Peters: “Psycho”

Yeah, it’s a lot. “Psycho” is aggressive as hell in its catchiness, Steve Mac’s production bringing out the manic glee on the other side of getting two-timed. Easily the best thing with Ed Sheeran’s name attached.

9. Kalie Shorr: “Amy”

Wronging Kalie Shorr seems like a preposterously poor idea. My goodness, this is the most thorough musical evisceration put to tape since “The Story of Adidon.”

8. WILLOW (ft. Travis Barker): “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”

Travis Barker continues his silent mission to bring back pop punk by lending his bonafides to preexisting superstars trying their hand at the genre, and while “running like the Flash” shows us the limitation of the lyric sheet, pop punk vocals fit Willow Smith like a glove. Kickass song, no two ways about it.

7. illuminati hotties: “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA”

I’ve always found Sarah Tudzin slightly terrifying, here more so than ever. Listening to her effortlessly leap between her dozens of voices is like standing on shifting sands. Guessing which layer of irony she’s on always feels so uncertain. Do you reckon “the DNC is playing dirty” is an odd or even-numbered layer?

6. MUNA (ft. Phoebe Bridgers): “Silk Chiffon”

Naomi McPherson (guitarist, MUNA): “We should define queer music as music of longing.”
Josette Maskin (other guitarist, MUNA): “That’s literally the gayest thing ever.”

5. Billie Eilish: “Happier Than Ever”

I love Happier Than Ever but I sympathize with those that find it kinda sleepy. So when she sneaks up on you at the two minute mark with the most fun thing she’s ever done (saying something), you get that much more into it. Maybe she’s not talking shit about this guy on the internet, so here she is on record.

4. Olivia Rodrigo: “good 4 u”

SOUR made its bones on Olivia Rodrigo’s hyperspecific details, so it’s funny that its finest song is its broadest. She keeps things as simple as possible here, methodically outlining that her ex’s happiness is not only at her expense but in fact because of her in the first place, Rodrigo finding no consolation that her efforts to find him a therapist will make things smoother for the next girl. Rodrigo’s sour grapes kick tons of ass, her hair-raising backing vocals and “LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH!!!” should put the fear of God in this guy, however happy he was before this sucker dropped.

3. Baby Queen: “Raw Thoughts”

Not her best lyric sheet, but that’s because she’s so dedicated to the rawness of these thoughts, best expressed in the double somersault, “They’ll never get it unless they sat under my skin/And saw what I did/Actually fuck that god forbid/They see what I did.” But this is here for that big, big, big hook, an absolute monster of a refrain that makes you wonder why no pop song has punctuated “I got fucked up” quite like this. But what makes “Raw Thoughts” is that it really, really sounds like Bella had a truly awful night.

2. Indigo De Souza: “Hold U”

At no point this year did my ears perk up the way they did when I heard “Hold U” bloom. A celebration of romance and camaraderie and everything in between, De Souza’s band locks the fuck in for this one, thrilling with every dramatic strum of the guitar.

1. No-No Boy: “The Best God Damn Band In Wyoming”

Graduate student Julian Saporiti was making his way through a Wyoming museum when he came upon a picture of a band at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp. He was so blown away to find such a thing existed that he tracked down singer Joy Teraoka, struck up a friendship, and wrote this song to help the history endure.

Saporiti’s songwriting and performing approaches are pretty simple, but he gets a lift from the tenderness with which he approaches his topics. Here, he gets into this one like it was the song he was put on this earth to sing. Indeed, the topic is particularly close to him, and set him on the path of writing these songs for his dissertation in American Studies.

And though this is a tale of finding joy in tragedy, it still can’t escape the dark conclusion underneath. The story ends with Yone going to fight for the country that just imprisoned him. Still, the epilogue finishes with the only line that could have ended this song: “Locked up in prison camps for no fucking reason, but they still found a reason to sing.”

At a time when hate towards Asian Americans and use of prison camps are again spiking in this country, “The Best God Damn Band In Wyoming” is at once essential history and eerily prescient.

The Next 15

11. Baby Queen: “Dover Beach”
12. McKinley Dixon (ft. Micah James, Gold Midas): “Never Will Know”
13. Kalie Shorr: “Love Child”
14. Dawn Richard: “Bussifame”
15. The Buoys: “Carpark”
16. Jazmine Sullivan: “Pick Up Your Feelings”
17. Lil Nas X: “THATS WHAT I WANT”
18. Tinashe: “Bouncin”
19. TORRES: “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes In My Head”
20. Japanese Breakfast: “Be Sweet”
21. Doss: “Strawberry”
22. Wet Leg: “Chaise Longue”
23. Olivia Rodrigo: “deja vu”
24. PinkPantheress: “Just for me”
25. Remi Wolf: “Liquor Store”

Honorable Mentions

Adele: “Easy On Me”
Caroline Polachek: “Bunny Is A Rider”
Cassandra Jenkins: “Hard Drive”
Doja Cat (ft. SZA): “Kiss Me More”
Kacey Musgraves: “justified”
Low: “Days Like These”
Maisie Peters: “John Hughes Movie”
Mannequin Pussy: “Control”
MAY-A: “Time I Love To Waste”
Megan Thee Stallion: “Thot Shit”
Noname: “Rainforest”
Olivia Rodrigo: “brutal”
Snail Mail: “Valentine”
tUnE-yArDs: “hold yourself.”
Wet Leg: “Wet Dream”

First, here’s a playlist of all the songs in this article. Then, one of just the top ten.

Joey’s Top Ten Albums of 2020

Let’s get right to it, yeah?

Cursed By Calendar
Kiwi jr: Football Money

Big fan of Pavement and The Velvet Underground but tired of waiting for a new Parquet Courts? Well, do I have good news for you. Kiwi jr rereleased their debut this year and it’s just the thing to scratch the itch.

Even better, their second album comes out this month.

Listen: “Wicked Witches”

Cursed By Calendar
Kalie Shorr: Open Book

It was only a matter of time before an artist emerged who so obviously wore Taylor Swift’s influence, but Kalie Shorr’s debut (released late 2019 but given a great deluxe edition update last month) is also as fiery as early Miranda Lambert. Get in on the ground floor. Now.

Listen: “F U Forever”

10. Taylor Swift: evermore

It has a slightly lower batting average than folklore, but I still can’t enough of this side of her: doing what so many of us did this year, hitting pause, and staring unceasingly inward and looking back. Sometimes years. Sometimes generations.

Listen: “Gold Rush”

9. Beach Bunny: Honeymoon

Their debut sounds so effortless, but what takes it to the next level is just how much Lili Trifilio lets herself feel her songs, the ache in her voice as she sighs, “everything’s better in California.” And it gets in and out in just about one Wild Honey, brevity that’s all too rare these days.

Listen: “Ms. California”

8. Run the Jewels: RTJ4

Though their novelty has worn off, here they show us they can really keep this up forever, that they can keep making music that guides us to think deep and then properly channel our rage.

Listen: “JU$T”

7. HAIM: Women in Music Pt. III

After struggling to replicate the dynamite of the first half of Days Are Gone, Danielle Haim’s songwriting has taken a major leap forward, not only turning up the details in her trains of thought but also broadening stylistically. Women In Music Pt. III sounds like the Haim sisters going exploring. Look what they brought back.

Listen: “The Steps”

6. Lori McKenna: The Balladeer

No flash, all substance. Just storytelling chops for days. Even the sappiest track, “When You’re My Age,” might just end up getting you a little emotional when she dips the narrative another generation deeper.

Listen: “Marie”

5. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath

It’s a little shocking that Elizabeth Cook lacks notoriety to the point where people aren’t giving Wikipedia pages to her new albums, because to my ears she keeps getting more intense, her lyrics both sharper and more beguiling. Stream Aftermath!

Listen: “Perfect Girls of Pop”

4. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud

If her love songs sound a little sedate, it’s because Katie Crutchfield has been doing the hard work of kicking the substance abuse that she’s been singing about for the last decade. Of course she sounds exhausted, she’s climbed the mountain. It makes the twinges of joy she expresses as she looks out at the horizon just that much more meaningful.

Listen: “Fire”

3. Taylor Swift: folklore

Not quite the return to pop country I was hoping for, but I’m all for this detour, and even if there’s sometimes a little less bounce than I like from Taylor, her lyric sheets keep getting more and more incredible. Just look at the key change on “betty” or the prestige on “the last great american dynasty” (“and then it was bought by me”) and marvel at how effortlessly she keeps pulling out new tricks over three albums in just over a year. folklore is a strong case for Taylor Swift as the greatest American songwriter.

Listen: “Mirrorball”

2. Rina Sawayama: SAWAYAMA

Borrowing from Grimes and Gaga and putting out a better album than they ever have, Rina will often take a simple phrase (“shut the fuck up,” “who’s gonna save you now,” “I’m so confident,” “fuck this world, I’m leaving you”) and then building around that. But fuck a blueprint! Though she clearly has an ear for song structure, Rina isn’t exactly coloring inside the lines. Each track is entirely its own, and the chaos creates magnificent earned moments of sincerity in “Bad Friend” and the beautifully sappy “Chosen Family.”

Listen: “Paradisin'”

1. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

That’s four straight top of the line albums in four separate decades now. Here, Fiona expands on the ideas of “Hot Knife” and the children’s screams of “Werewolf,” giving us an album rooted not in melody but in percussion. There’s an almost improvised feel to a lot of this music, best exemplified by the tUnE-yArDs-esque outro to “Relay.” She’s coincidentally given us a homemade album that sure sounds like it during a time where that was the only place to be.

Her lyrics are deep and even inscrutably personal at times (“Hurricane Gloria in excelsis Deo” is literally her bird in her tree), but there’s a strong thread of thankfulness for women and rage on their behalf, from incalculable kindness of “Shameika” to the defiance of “Under the Table” onto the complicated emotions of shared secrets on “Newspaper” and finally the painful, horrifying climax of “For Her.”

There’s something about this music. Fiona Apple sounds so unrestrained and so comfortable, so confident that the world wants to hear her fucking scream “START IT OFF, START IT OFF, BABY, START IT OFF, START IT OFF, START IT OFF NOW!!!”

Pull up any one of her fantastic interviews from this album cycle. Read it. Turn this on. Enjoy her freedom.

Listen: “I Want You to Love Me”

Honorable Mentions, First Class:
Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia
Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure?
Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates
Flo Milli: Ho, Why Is You Here?
Dogleg: Melee
Lianne La Havas: Lianne La Havas
Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher
Chubby and the Gang: Speed Kills
Soccer Mommy: color theory
Juice WRLD: Legends Never Die
Bree Runway: 2000AND4EVA
Jeff Rosenstock: N O D R E A M

Honorable Mentions, Second Class:
Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B
Grimes: Miss Anthropocene
Diet Cig: Do You Wonder About Me?
Hayley Williams: Petals for Armor
Miley Cyrus: Plastic Heart
Charli XCX: how i’m feeling now
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist: Alfredo
Drakeo the Ruler & JoogSZN: Thank You For Using GTL
City Girls: City On Lock
illuminati hotties: Free I.H.: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For
Open Mike Eagle: Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Touché Amoré: Lament
Adrianne Lenker: songs
Phoebe Bridgers: If We Make It Through December
The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form
Hinds: The Prettiest Curse
The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers
Dramarama: Color TV
The Mountain Goats: Songs for Pierre Chuvin
Emperor X: United Earth League of Quarantine Aerobics
KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl
Lil Uzi Vert: Eternal Atake
Porridge Radio: Every Bad
Jay Electronica: A Written Testimony
Princess Nokia: Everything Is Beautiful
Bartees Strange: Live Forever
beabadoobee: Fake It Flowers
Ariana Grande: Positions
SAULT: Untitled (Black Is)
SAULT: Untitled (Rise)
Megan Thee Stallion: Bad News
Backxwash: God Has Nothing To Do With This And Leave Him Out Of It