2022 was full of stellar albums across every genre and soundscape. Below find the Music Beat’s top albums of the year for every music taste.
— Claire Sudol, Music Beat Editor and Jack Moeser, Senior Arts Editor
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You by Big Thief
A double LP can often feel, commercially speaking, like a victory lap — the band has grown to the place where it can confidently release an hour and a half of music and not have some agent yelling at them. But Big Thief doesn’t do anything commercially, and Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You does not feel like them resting on their laurels in the slightest. They’re growing, pushing themselves and reaching out across vast landscapes, physical and emotional. There’s a life lived across this album, or many lives, from grandmas to roses drying out, with phone calls, TV shows and apocalypses interspersed. The band, consisting of lead songwriter Adrianne Lenker and creative partners Buck Meek, James Krivchenia and Max Oleartchik, taps into itself deeply on this album by tapping into a universality. By creating such a collection of songs, each with its own contained magic, Big Thief shows us the many universes each of us holds, and how these can come together.
Daily Arts Writer Fia Kaminski can be reached at email@example.com
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar
The five-year hiatus that spanned the gap between Kendrick Lamar’s two most recent solo releases was filled with grief, joy and introspection. Few experienced these sensations more than Lamar himself. Having solidified himself as one of the greatest rappers of his generation with 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly and 2017’s DAMN., Lamar opted for reclusion and welcomed two children with his partner, Whitney Alford. Five years later, he gifted the product of his hermitage to the world.
Whereas To Pimp a Butterfly scorns the condition of the Black man in America and DAMN. takes a deeper look at American culture, Lamar undertakes the most difficult subject of study yet for his fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers: himself. The focus of much of the album is Lamar’s relationships with those close to him, from relatives to friends to significant others. Lamar then translates the example of these relationships to whatever conflict is being described to a much larger societal paradigm.
This formula is followed masterfully on several occasions. “We Cry Together,” a rhythmic dramatization of a spat between a couple, serves as an indictment of Millennial relationships while simultaneously telling its own narrative. “Auntie Diaries” features Lamar detailing the story of his transgender aunt while attacking the normalization of homophobia and transphobia in the Black community. Most heartbreakingly, “Mother I Sober” chronicles the legacy of child sexual abuse both in his family and in his community and closes with the motif of Lamar “breaking the cycle” of generational trauma that has plagued his bloodline. Few albums this year, if any, synthesize complex emotions into transmittable sound waves as elegantly as Lamar did this past May, and he continues to pad his resume even as he departs Top Dawg.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Household Name by Momma
Household Name is poised to make indie rock four-piece Momma precisely that. Fraught with ’90s rock sounds, Momma is akin to the likes of Veruca Salt and The Breeders — each track is filled to the brim with grungy electric guitars, gritty female vocals and piercing bass and drum lines. The front end of the album is jam-packed with hits: “Rip Off” opens with a growing hum of distortion, and percussion that sizzles like a rattlesnake, pacing itself at a slow groove while beefy guitar and airy voices move in a swirling tandem. The dynamic fluctuations of loud and quiet in both “Medicine” and “Rockstar” are almost Pixies-esque — totally in your face in one moment and reduced to a charged lull in another. This deft use of dynamics leaves listeners with bated breath in anticipation of the next line, next song, next album. It would be remiss not to mention “Tall Home” when talking about Household Name — the guitar line repeats itself endlessly in a dense tone that any guitarist could aspire to recreate. My top pick from the album, “Tall Home” is an earworm that just won’t go away, digging its way deeper, nestling against your eardrums.
On Household Name, Momma references an imminent rise to stardom that was perhaps only achievable in the ’90s, but among the plethora of artists who find themselves in the pop-punk revival, Momma stands at the head of the pack. While pop-punk bravado can come off as a schtick in other bands, the angst-ridden sincerity and pleasantly insouciant attitude of Household Name make it so enticing.
My advice is to listen long and hard. There are surely stars to be found here.
Daily Arts Music Beat Editor Claire Sudol can be reached at email@example.com
Midnights by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift just can’t stop keeping us on our toes. Midnights, the record-breaking album of 2022, introduced the world to a new, more mature version of Swift, quickly becoming a fan favorite. The album sounds like 1989 grew up and became a blossoming masterpiece. Filled with introspective lyrics backed by Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner’s signature production style, Midnights is just as profound as it is catchy. Emotional tracks like “Labyrinth,” “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” are balanced by the bounciness of songs like “Karma” and “Bejeweled.” The main album, along with its bonus tracks, creates a storyline of Swift’s career and how she spends her restless nights thinking about all the things that have happened to her over her nearly 20-year career. If you’re a casual fan of Swift, the album features plenty of fun, made-for-radio songs that will certainly stick in your head for the whole day. If you’re a Swiftie through and through, this album is a look into Swift’s mind, taking her relationship with her fans to a much deeper level.
Daily Arts Writer Gigi Ciulla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Forever Story by JID
After four long years since rapper JID’s last solo project DiCaprio 2, he made the wait worthwhile with The Forever Story, a boldly captivating release that showcases an undeniable amount of skill and personality.
There is never a dull moment on The Forever Story, and any listener would be able to tell every fine detail within each song was carefully thought through. Nearly every element that made DiCaprio 2 so good has been improved upon even more, from the kooky, eclectic production (like on the multi-phased “Raydar” and the poignant and beautiful “Lauder Too”), to the sharp and witty bars that flow out of JID’s mouth with lightning speed and grace (the frenetic “Can’t Punk Me” is just one example, a hard-hitting track detailing JID’s humble beginnings in which he describes himself as a poor boy on the streets, fully-loaded, “ribs showin’,” doing whatever it’d take to survive). Additionally, “Surround Sound” contains arguably the most infectious chorus of any song in 2022, another testament to JID’s penmanship and creativity, enforcing it further when the beat of the song switches to a braggadocious outro full of clever bars (“.40 on his side, boy, you Mike Alstott, he on the block violent”). If The Forever Story hasn’t already solidified JID’s place in the mainstream rap industry, then I don’t know what will.
Daily Arts Writer Zachary Taglia can be reached at email@example.com
Dawn FM by The Weeknd
When pop superstar Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) abruptly released Dawn FM early last year, it was difficult to see what his creative vision was. Whereas After Hours, his previous album, was a catchy and straightforward assemblage of enjoyable and tastefully retro-futuristic pop tracks, Dawn FM leans heavily into concept and takes risks, from Tesfaye’s off-putting British accent on “Gasoline” to several spoken-word interludes by actor Jim Carrey throughout the album. While the idea of masquerading an album as a radio show has been executed countless times, Dawn FM balances its lighthearted nature with thought-provoking introspection in a way that no other radio-themed album ever has. Furthermore, the album features an outstanding collection of diverse dance tracks, from “Sacrifice,” which features an energetic rock-guitar riff, to “Out of Time,” which takes direct influence from Japanese city pop. While Dawn FM is clearly a very personal statement by Tesfaye, it’s strengthened by its features from Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne, which add variety to an already unpredictable album. With Dawn FM, it feels like Tesfaye is finally growing out of his commercially successful synth-heavy sound and exploring new avenues, avenues that are thus far leading him to an exciting place.
Senior Arts Editor Jack Moeser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Preacher’s Daughter by Ethel Cain
Ethel Cain’s debut album, Preacher’s Daughter, could not have been a more masterful introduction to the world. Cain’s songwriting combined with dreamy and unique production, ranging from Americana to gothic sounds, creates a world that the listener is immediately drawn into. Preacher’s Daughter, as Cain describes, is a concept album surrounding a story of a young girl’s journey with religion and relationships that inevitably ends in her demise, as seen in the closing tracks “Sun Bleached Flies” and “Strangers.” The story is raw and palpable, and the aching, longing and self-reflection in Cain’s songwriting cut like a knife. What makes the album so special and equally heartbreaking is the complex relationship Cain details with religion and with God. Though Ethel Cain is merely a character, the real person behind the album, Hayden Silas Anhedönia, was raised in the American south as a Southern Baptist with a deacon father. The religious backdrop of this album coupled with the gory and disturbing details of Cain’s death creates a masterpiece of an album that leaves you feeling just as whole as you are empty.
Daily Arts Writer Gigi Ciulla can be reached at email@example.com
The Liquified Throne of Simplicity by Širom
It seems difficult to call this album some of the best that Avant-folk has to offer knowing that it would place it in the pantheon of artists like Tim Buckley, Arthur Russell and even The Microphones to a lesser extent, and yet the way in which the group build such hypnotically dense orchestration with only three members establishes a sense of magic out of nothing. Despite traversing across Europe, Africa and Asia with the utilization of instruments such as the balafon, rubab and brač, The Liquified Throne of Simplicity doesn’t feel situated anywhere outside of their home country of Slovenia. Taking the more long-form approach, each song averages well over 15 minutes in length, with every single development feeling monumental within the confines of the track. Širom set out to conjure a primal fantasy, in which one could — for example — imagine trekking through the forest to find an infamous Wiccan whose psilocybin cauldron cocktail will send them on another type of quest. The Liquified Throne of Simplicity is an album that embodies ritual performance. The music — which could be easily mistaken as improvisational — nonetheless feels alive in the moment, as if they all sat around in a circle trying to summon something out of the ether. It constructs a stage where quaint lightness and looming shadow foreground a rustic otherworld, a mirrored place that assembles all cultures and practices into a single polygenesis where whimsy and weariness exist untethered.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Un Verano Sin Ti by Bad Bunny
Rarely does an album in a language other than English top the prestigious Billboard 200. Before Bad Bunny did it this summer, only 10 non-English albums (four of which K-Pop superstars BTS are responsible for) and one primarily Spanish album had achieved this honor within the United States. May’s Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny’s fourth solo album, provided such an infectious summer soundtrack that it transcended language barriers. Not only did it spend 13 weeks atop the Billboard 200, but it also earned the distinction of best-performing album of the year, and shattered Spotify streaming records previously held by Drake. The Puerto Rican rapper-singer-songwriter had the biggest streaming year in the platform’s history, achieving 10.3 billion streams from July 2021 to July 2022. For the third year in a row, he was Spotify’s highest-streaming artist, illustrating both the power of the Spanish-speaking world’s music consumption as well as the artist born Benito Martínez Ocasio’s unmatchable talent and versatility.
Sonically, the album is an ode to various styles of Caribbean music, perfectly attaining the summery vibe the title “Un Verano Sin Ti” (a summer without you) purports. Some of the project’s most entertaining moments are when Bad Bunny experiments with dembow, the hard-thumping Dominican genre made famous by names like El Alfa. The album’s standout track, “Tití Me Preguntó,” is accompanied by a music video that pays homage to New York’s Dominican dembow culture, and Ocasio decidedly does the genre justice. However, he does not stick to his typical reggaeton style. The album features several forays into indie pop, including the hauntingly beautiful, “Ojitos Lindos.” All in all, it’s a worthy album to appear in the record books next to Bad Bunny’s streaming numbers.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at email@example.com
RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé
Like most years, 2022 saw a slew of underwhelming pop records that racked up mind-boggling streaming figures and garnered questionable Grammy nominations. RENAISSANCE, though, is an obvious exception, a pop masterpiece that sees Beyoncé seamlessly adopt an energetic dance-pop sound.
Filled with thrumming bass and frenzied energy, Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE is meant to be played in a packed club, with throngs of bodies rolling in waves, moved by some otherworldy force. The album is a celebration of physical movement with song titles like “ENERGY” and “MOVE” and percussive lyrics that add primarily to the musicality of the piece rather than any deeper meaning. RENAISSANCE is an album meant to be felt rather than heard, experienced actively with exuberant motion rather than passively. And it’s hard to sit in stillness on the outskirts of the club because when Beyoncé asks you to dance, you dance.
Music Beat Editor Claire Sudol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org