After sometimes getting lost in the constant stream of new music that comes out, I worked a little harder at really listening to everything that came my way this year. The introduction of the Medium Rotation feature was a way to force that into being, compelling me to write about every full album I listened to the same way that every film I watch, whether it’s new or old, gets some digital column inches. I don’t know if that conviction propels this annual end-of-the-year exercise in list making and sharing into a space of greater legitimacy, but I feel a little more assured about my choices than I have in some years past. Anyway, here are the ten 2022 albums that most rattled, elevated, thrilled, touched, and dazzled me.
1. Wet Leg, Wet Leg — The self-titled debut from the band led by Isle of Wight compatriots Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers is a breezy delight. They construct smooth, lither pop songs, and their lyrics reverberate with a withering wit that appraises our modern forms of discontent with aplomb (“But I don’t wanna follow you on the ‘Gram” is the protest song rallying cry that we all need now). If pressed, I might identify other albums from this year as better, but there’s none that brought me more delight.
2. Alvvays, Blue Rev — On their third album, and first in five years, Alvvays provide entry to a magnificent slipstream of pop. It’s all luxuriant synths, burbling guitars, and basslines that press and pummel like the knuckles of a determined masseuse, with the lovely, melancholy vocals of Molly Rankin nestled within. It often sounds like classic shoegaze all spruced up with a modern sheen, as if to hook in the indie-curious kids who’ve worn out their Olivia Rodrigo playlists, and its impeccable construction means it makes for enticing bait indeed.
3. Aldous Harding, Warm Chris — Stately and shrewd, the latest from New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding finds her hoisting herself a few rungs higher on the ladder of great pop iconoclasts. Warm Chris is akin to peering at a funhouse mirror through a warped kaleidoscope and yet having it all make more sense than if it took your gaze straight on. Harding’s creativity endlessly regenerates, making it feel like she goes through wholesale transformations from track to track.
4. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen — Hypnotic beats and the potency of personal voice drive the sophomore outing of Brittney Parks in the guise of Sudan Archives. Natural Brown Prom Queen is rife with jazz-grounded soul music that approaches the bracing inventiveness of Neneh Cherry at her commanding best. Genre boundaries are stampeded across in an implicit declaration that divisions in music are needless when an artist is truly in command.
5. The Beths, Expert in a Dying Field — Practically perfect pop-rock from a New Zealand band that started off dandy and has improved dramatically with each new record. The songs are catchy as can be, and Elizabeth Stokes’s lyrics traffic freely in wry cynicism that’s tinged with the faintest glimmer of hope, making them perfect to fill the hymnal dedicated to our eternal pandemic age.
6. Beyoncé, Renaissance — This parade of empowerment thumpers proves Queen Bey still reigns six years after her last solo studio album, the unbeatable Lemonade. Beyoncé takes it as her mission to celebrate all manner of dance music and masters every variant she takes on, seemingly with the greatest of ease. She and her battalion of well-chosen collaborators makes what feels like a full club playlist for anyone’s last, best night beneath the flashing lights keeping the beat with the rest of the sweaty, swarming masses.
7. Amanda Shire, Take It Like a Man — This album of aching country music draws on Dolly and Loretta and Tanya and all the important ancestresses. It’s also bracingly of the moment, largely thanks to the candor Amanda Shires brings to her songwriting. Every last line — every last word — hits hard.
8. Horsegirl, Versions of Modern Performance — A trio of whippersnappers from Chicago, Horsegirl pack their debut album with grinding, gooey goodness that draws on the spirit of countless indie rock forebears. It’s thick and thunderous, delicate and intricate. In the fingertips of Horsegirl, rock’s not dead; it’s been resurrected into a thistly fog that’s coming to envelop us all.
9. Plains, I Walked with You a Ways — This exquisite collaboration between Jess Williamson and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield features precise, fiercely evocative county-tinged songwriting that approaches the daunting heights of Lucinda Williams in her prime. They’ve suggested that working together as Plains is a one-off, which only makes the clarity and heart of this record all the more special.
10. The Linda Lindas, Growing Up — I will defer to the assessment of the nine-year-old budding critic who was quoted in a New York Times story about kids getting their first moshy blast of live punk rock at club dates by the Linda Lindas: “Angry sounds better.” Keep on rocking, girls.
—Top Ten Albums of 2011
—Top Ten Albums of 2012
—Top Ten Albums of 2013
—Top Ten Albums of 2014
—Top Ten Albums of 2015
—Top Ten Albums of 2016
—Top Ten Albums of 2017
—Top Ten Albums of 2018
—Top Ten Albums of 2019
—Top Ten Albums of 2020
—Top Ten Albums of 2021