Here it is. There are many ‘top albums of the year’ listed all over the Internet and in magazines, but this one is mine. I try to listen to as much new music as I can every year, knowing that there are plenty of records that I either did not discover or simply ran out of time… But after a very strenuous process, I’ve chosen my top 50 albums of 2022. There were so many incredible releases this calendar year it was wicked hard to choose the top fifty, but alas, here we go! Thanks for reading.
1. Dehd Blue Skies (Fat Possum)
This retro-sounding post-punk Chicago trio creates loud, easy to sing along in-your-face tunes. Guitarist Jason Balla’s reverb-style 80’s guitar playing combined with the powerful, yet simple drumming of Eric McGrady make this the rock trio of the year. Bassist Emily Kempf’s superpower is her amazing voice with its intentional stutters, shouting, and yelping that make her songs bigger than life. It’s unusual and certainly off-center, but I absolutely love the rawness and resonance behind her voice. Kempf’s distinctive vocal arrangements give the band a different sound than the tracks where lead vocals are either shared in harmony or when Balla or McGrady do the honors. Without Kemp’s lead vocals, those songs project a different kind of sound — The Church meets Gene Loves Jezebel (the early stuff) maybe? Signed to Fat Possum earlier this year, Dehd will only grow on you with each new listen. It’s rock music stripped down and done right. If you’re new to this band, you must check out 2020’s Flower of Devotion. It could be from a 1980s John Hughes soundtrack-no kidding. Similar artists include Cherry Glazer and Horsegirl.
2. The Smile A Light for Attracting Attention (XL Recordings)
When the Covid pandemic terminated all live music, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead wanted to keep working, even in isolation, so they created a new project called, The Smile. The two members of Radiohead enlisted Tom Skinner of Sons of Kemet to play drums and the result is… well, very similar to a Radiohead album but there are some differences. For example, many tracks on this beautiful album include the strings of the London Contemporary Orchestra and a full brass section of the best jazz musicians in London, including Byron Wallen, Theon & Nathaniel Cross, Chelsea Carmichael, Robert Stillman, and Jason Yarde. Produced by longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich, it’s a mixture of rock, post-punk, nu-jazz, and electronic. ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’ was released last May and it’s one of my favorite LPs this year. Similar artists include Radiohead and Thom Yorke.
3. Makaya McCraven In These Times (International Anthem / Nonesuch)
After seeing McCraven and his various ensembles perform live twice this year—once in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Sinclair and another a few months later at the 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival, I feel connected and more and more familiar with his amazing body of convoluted, yet satisfying works of audible art. Each time I hear In These Times, I picture him behind the drum kit, working hard to build each beat, each repetition, creating unique sounds and rhythms, and concentrating while sweating on his snare and lap—but he sets the tone and the other musicians, all super-talented in their own right, try to keep up with his changes, but sometimes he’s on his own percussion planet. McCraven is a master percussionist—he’s probably my favorite musician right now and he’s one artist you need to see live. It took him almost seven years to record this genre-bending album with various sessions in various locations. From the result, it seems the time was worth it.
Other players include guitarist Jeff Parker, Brandee Younger on harp, Junius Paul on bass, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Marta Sofia Honer on viola, Greg Ward on the alto sax, Marquis Hill on trumpet, De’Sean Jones on flute, Matt Gold on rhythm guitar, Irvin Pierce on tenor sax, and Rob Clearfield on the piano. There are no similar artists…
4. Caroline Caroline (Rough Trade)
Sometimes hard to describe, this British eight-piece band will surprise you. Let’s call it bastard-folk music for the emo generation. Seriously, it’s hard to fit this band into a single genre or compare them to another band. The British folk sound of the 70s is present, and so is the abstract sound of Appalachia, but it’s so much more than that. For example, the fourth track, IWR, showcases beautiful harmonies, and gorgeous gothic-era-sounding acoustic guitar where the song blossoms into a full jam session complete with an assortment of string instruments including a subdued violin and simple taps of percussion. There is no set verse, chorus, or bridge to these songs, you just have to go along on the journey and listen to the story that Caroline is telling. Leave structure at the door and put the album on repeat — because it’s one of the top albums of the year. Similar artists include Low, Dirty Three, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Neutral Milk Hotel, Planxty, Current 93.
5. Whatever the Weather Whatever the Weather (Ghostly)
‘Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.’
Just like that, London’s Loraine James has created an album so beautiful, it doesn’t matter how confusing the historic British tongue-twisting poem above appears. James recorded, produced, and released this album as Whatever The Weather instead of her actual name which works in various degrees. Each track is named after a different temperature and the composition’s mood correlates with every degree. Each track is a unique, inspiring, and intelligent piece of electronic music. Listen to the many layers, voices, and atmospheres James creates for us to indulge upon, especially at 17ºC, 25ºC, and 30ºC. Whether it’s hot or cold, or in between—the fluctuating temperatures and the climate of improvisation James creates are unpredictable, just like the weather, but each song is worth your time. And don’t skip over 14ºC, it shows off her gorgeous, ambient piano playing. Surprisingly, Whatever the Weather is a great album to listen to while working. It’s one of my favorite releases of 2022 and it’s been on repeat in my house pretty much all of the autumn season. Similar artists: Meitei, Nala Sinephro, Beatrice Dillon.
6. Big Thief Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (4AD)
I first saw Big Thief on July 30, 2017 opening for Wilco at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine. That’s when I first recognized just how great a singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker is—the band’s stage presence was also impressive. They were a young band but seemed like old souls full of stories to share and on their newest release, which is more folk-like, it shows. The band has matured and the aspects of Americana and indie rock are present—they combine to make one of the best albums released in 2022.
From the Appalachian-infused jam on Spud Infinity, which has an incredible fiddle and a jaws harp along for the ride, to the calmness of the title track’s slide guitar, soul-stirring vocals, and gentle brush strokes softly hitting the drums. Then there’s the harmonies and beauty of Sparrow to Simulation Swarm with its uptempo, cozy folk-rock feel and inspiring lyrics. All twenty tracks offer joy, you can’t find a bad song on this LP—it’s a masterpiece. Did you know that every member of Big Thief graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston? it’s where they met and formed the band. Similar artists include Wilco, Jim James, Angel Olsen, Lucy Dacus, and Beechwood Sparks.
7. Chris Forsyth Evolution Here We Come (No Quarter)
Forsyth’s tremendous guitar work continues on Evolution Here We Come, his first studio album since 2019’s All Time Present. It’s a perfect recipe for the top album of the year because it’s all about an experimental jam band that meets raw blues outside the club using motorik fidelity, which is a 4/4 beat that was often used by Krautrock bands such as Neu! At times you could call it psychedelic rock, too. This album rocks!
Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day bass player Doug McCombs joins the cast adding his flare and pulsating electric bass all over the album with Ryan Jewell on drums and percussion. Other special guests on this record include Marshall Allen of Sun Ra Arkestra) Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate, Tom Malach of Garcia Peoples, and Stuart Bogie of Antibalas. Similar artists include Garcia Peoples, Sonic Youth, 75 Dollar Bill, Endless Boogie
8. Esmerine Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More (Constellation)
Montreal, Quebec’s Esmerine returns with their seventh studio album first new album in five over years. This is another 2022 release that defies being put into a category because the cello of Rebecca Foon from Set Fire To Flames and Thee Silver Mt Zion, is present throughout, and it’s gorgeous. Call it chamber rock, but this is a soundtrack to walking in a scenic snowstorm atop Mount Royal. It’s romantic and melancholy with a sense of hope for the future of this world. You might shed a tear, I did simply because of how serene and wonderful this music makes me feel. Similar artists include Rachel’s, HRSTA, and Sigur Ros.
9. Bitchin Bajas Bajascillators (Drag City)
Their brand-new gatefold album includes four selections of analog synth tones that will take your feet off the ground and make you feel weightless. Each new listen ends with the feeling of nirvana because —surprise—you just meditated even if you didn’t realize it. Amorpha, the opening track, has the drone-like hypnotic atmosphere and mesmerizing synth you’re looking for, but it ends so much differently with a track called, Quackenbrück, which reminds me of early German Krautrock music like Neu, or Gong but mixed with the sounds of the rainforest and Somerset, England’s Ozric Tentacles. Similar artists include Neu!, Laraaji, Orb, and Ozric Tentacles.
10. Oren Ambarchi, Ghosted (Drag City)
Australian musician and composer Oren Ambarchi released two albums this year. Shebang, the polyrhythmic minimalist jazz album, was released in September while Ghosted, featuring Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums) was released in April. Ghosted is made up of four hauntingly hypnotic parts. Its mesmerizing and minimalist repetition progress ever so slightly with evolving layers that create an ambient work of art. Each piece unravels steadily, never losing steam carrying the listener into gentle hypnotic grooves, which makes this album a candidate for album of the year. Using ingredients of jazz and experimental, each part eventually settles into a deep groove. Similar artists include Directions, Tortoise, and Philip Jeck.
11. Anteloper, Pink Dolphins (International Anthem)
A record full of layers, transfigured for the listener to hear something new with each listen. We’ll miss you, Jaimie Branch. Album produced & mixed by Jeff Parker.
12. Toro y Moi, MAHAL (Dead Oceans)
Chaz Bear’s seventh studio album doesn’t disappoint. A fun record to listen to with friends and on backyard barbecues.
13. Wet Leg, Wet Leg (Domino)
I went to school and I got the big D. This Isle of Wight duo does not disappoint.
14. Spiritualized, Everything Was Beautiful (Fat Possum)
Indeed, everything in this record is beautiful. J Spaceman does it again.
15. Jeff Parker, Forfolks (International Anthem)
Intimate and unconventional guitar work from one of the hardest-working guitar players out there.
16. Mourning [A] BLKstar, Celestial Bodies (Don Giovanni Records)
This album represents collaborations with Company Christoph Winkler (A Berlin-based dance company), Adult Swim, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. A blend of modern soul, blues, electronic, and avant-garde with future beats.
17. Ludovico Einaudi, Underwater (Decca)
First new solo piano recording in almost 22 years from this amazing Italian classical composer. His newest album was written with songwriting in mind and not strictly about composing. Ludovico says, “a song is like a breath, it needs nothing more. An album is a place to freely reflect, a place without boundaries.”
18. Glenn Jones, Vade Macum (Thrill Jockey Records)
The best American primitive-style guitarist alive. No joke—If you’re not familiar with him, it’s not too late! Mostly acoustic, instrumental guitar in the style of John Fahey and Robbie Basho. A wicked nice guy, too.
19. Khruangbin & Vieux Farke Toure, Ali (Dead Oceans)
This is an album of Ali Fake Toure’s beautiful music reinterpreted by his son Vieux and the Houston, Texas psychedelic/surf/funk/ trio Khruangbin. It’s gorgeously executed with all the hallmarks of both artists plainly visible — Vieux is a champion of Malian music and this collaboration with Khruangbin pays homage to his father.
20. Jake Xerxes Fussell, Good and Green Again (Paradise of Bachelors)
Amazing guitar work, great original songwriting with such a unique voice. Durham, North Carolina’s Fussell has a peculiar take on traditional blues and folk music. This being his fourth album it’s the first to feature all original songs with backup vocal help from Will Oldham and multi-instrumentalist James Elkington.
21. Jana Horn, Optimism (No Quarter)
Austin, Texas has many fine musicians—add another one, as Horn delivers beautiful folk-influenced tunes that were originally written and self-released in 2018 before No Quarter thankfully released it this year for a much larger audience. It’s Slowcore. It’s indie folk-rock. It’s sublime.
22. Dry Cleaning, Stumpwork (4AD)
The sophomore album delivers even more by adding saxophone and some acoustic guitars to their absurd, but genius studio recordings. I love the spoken word style of singer Florence Shaw and the unorthodox style of lyrics the band creates in this post-punk London world.
23. Ghost Woman, Ghost Woman (Full Time Hobby)
The reverb guitars, simple drum beats, and bass line are reminiscent of early 60s surf rock records, with some psych, and punk aspects as well. Great songwriting from Evan Uschenko, a.k.a. Ghost Woman.
24. Florist, Florist (Double Whammy Records)
Four-piece Brooklyn indie folk-pop band with found sounds and improv heard throughout the new record. It’s an entire story that you get to hear unfold.
25. Fontaines DC, Skinty Fia (Partisan Records)
Dublin’s finest return with a full-length studio record that’s their best one yet. I first learned about this band in 2017 inside Rough Trade East in London where they were selling a 7” for only 7£. I’ve been hooked on their post-punk, The Clash meets The Fall sound ever since.
26. Destroyer, Labyrinthitis (Merge Records)
Channeling the 80s on many tracks, Dan Bejar is back with his whimsical lyrics and state-of-the-art production.
27. Jenny Hval, Classic Objects (4AD)
An amazing Norwegian singer-songwriter, Hval returns with her debut release for 4AD records. It’s her version of a pop album and each song has structure—verse and a chorus, unlike past albums. There are interchangeable moments of complexity, curious melodies, and more.
28. Angel Olsen, Big Time (Jagjaguwar)
One of the best voices in music, Olsen’s new album shows off her songwriting skills, and haunting and graceful voice, and expands with strings, and even horns to deliver an incredible album.
29. Alvvays, Blue Rev (Polyvinyl)
Toronto’s top indie pop band returns with a beautifully produced record full of catchy tracks, great transitions, and well-written lyrics by Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley. My favorite jingle pop track is After the Earthquake—it reminds me of music I heard on the 90s Sarah Records compilations.
30. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw)
It’s futuristic R&B/Soul and I’m not sure we’re ready for this amazing talent and genre-defying artist’s new album. Full of great beats, experimental violin, and top-notch self-production. I dare you to listen.
31. Baywitch, Apocatropica (Half Shell Records)
Surf trio from Seattle with a great retro sound and dark lyrics. Dick Dale’s spirit is strong in this band.
32. Ibibio Sound Machine, Electricity (Merge Records)
Produced by Hot Chip, this blaring energy force of a record is different. It’s a disco-like album with a structure similar to !!! but with an African flare.
33. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (PGLang)
With his first new studio album since 2017’s DAMN, Kendrick Lamar is back with a highly personal concept album full of stories and experiences. Incredibly creative with his words, it’s no wonder Lamar won the Pulitzer.
34. Wu-Lu, Loggerhead (Warp)
Hip Hop meets drum and bass meets metal. Each track is unique, each track has a different sound — it’s Tekken 7, or 8 on LP.
35. Horace Andy, Midnight Rocker (On U-Sound)
One of the most respected and influential singers from Jamaica is back with a new album. He is also a collaborator with Massive Attack and even shares a new version of their early single, ‘Safe From Home’ on this new well-produced LP. Produced by Adrian Sherwood, a true legend in the reggae and dub world.
36. Lucrecia Dalt, Ay! (RVNG Intl.)
This entire album is sung in Spanish and it’s hauntingly elegant. “…sound and syncopation of tropical music encounter adventurous impulse, lush instrumentation, and metaphysical sci-fi meditations in an exclamation of liminal delight.” – RVNG Intl.
37. Nico Georis, Desert Mirror (Leaving Records)
Californian pianist and composer Nico Georis delivers celestial piano music with minimal tape loops and drones. It’s just beautiful soundscapes of ambiance for your listening pleasure.
38. HOORSEES, A Superior Athlete (Kanine Records)
Great indie rock sound from this Paris, France quartet with snappy and upbeat guitar pop. Sort of a throwback to 90s indie rock with influence from bands like Sonic Youth, Pavement, Yo La Tango, and Unrest. All can be heard here.
39. The William Loveday Intention, Paralysed By The Mountains (Damaged Goods)
Billy Childish (Thee Headcoats) has released so much new music in the last three years — albums, EPs, singles, box sets — but in 2022, the album I enjoyed the most from this project was Paralyzed By the Mountains. A combination of Bob Dylan meets Billy Bragg — Americana and blues combine in a way that only Billy Childish can deliver.
40. Los Bitchos, Let the Festivities Begin! (City Slang)
Psychedelic-style surf music by four amazing British women. Enough said.
41. Melody’s Echo Chamber, Emotional Eternal (Fat Possum)
Never before released and ten years later— these hypnotic indie rock songs are forever delightful.
42. White Flowers, Are You (Tough Love)
Retro romantic goth from England. I saw them perform in a church where Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin are buried. How fitting!
43. Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses: Phantom Limb (Sub Pop)
Jenn Wasner, part of the Wye Oak duo, shares a collection of unreleased tracks written around the same time as last year’s Head of Roses, but these are previously unheard demos, favorite live performances, and a few covers.
44. Ty Segall, Hello, Hi (Drag City)
Psychedelic Ty does more T Rex impersonations but with acoustic guitars mixed in this round. The album flows—go ahead, sing along!
45. Doomcannon, Black Liberation (Brownswood)
As a London-based composer, producer & multi-instrumentalist, DoomCannon spearheaded a plethora of forward-thinking, improvised Jazz-inspired outfits. This is his latest —call it Free Jazz, London Jazz, or Nu-Jazz but you must also call it a simply phenomenal record.
46. Death Bells, Between Here and Everywhere (Dais)
This Australian duo return with a third album that keeps the spirit of Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, and Christina Death alive with their take on gloomy pop.
47. Jon Porras, Arroyo (Thrill Jockey Records)
Creative, minimal ambient, and drone music with a clear sense of atmosphere and balance. Porras creates warm, cavernous layers of sound to enjoy.
48. Stormzy, This Is What I Mean (Def Jam)
A beautiful R&B soul record from Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr., otherwise known as Stormzy, who began his career in London’s underground hip-hop and grime scene.
49. Ross Gentry, September (Ceremony of Seasons)
Created to be paired with a California wine. “Gentry leads listeners through a multiplicity of stations, offering both discoveries of luminous clarity and opportunities to meld into exquisite shadow.” – drinkvisuals.com
50. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cool it Down (Secretly Canadian)
First release since 2013 and this former Touch and Go band has grown and what a start to a new record—a Perfume Genius duet! The album takes off from there with plenty of that NYC dance-rock we learned about from Meet Me in the Bathroom.
Stay tuned for my top 30 jazz albums and the best reissues of 2022 coming later this month.
❤️ Thank you for reading and have a safe and happy holiday season! – JB