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”
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.
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”
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
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”
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.
Listen: “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA”
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”)
Vince Staples: RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART (Listen: “AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)”)
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”)
PUP: THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND (Listen: “Totally Fine”)
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).