I originally posted this list to the Facebook group “Village Voice Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll.” I decided to post it here, too, along with some comments on my choices, links to a few standout tracks from each album, and a list of honorable mentions. I’ve also repeated the disclaimer that I wrote on the P&J page. If you enjoy any of these tracks, check out the albums on your favorite streaming service — and then, most importantly, go buy the ones you like.
Disclaimer: Since I’m no longer a “professional” music critic (whatever that is) and don’t listen to nearly as wide a variety of music as I once did, I no longer do “Best” of the Year album lists based on any high-minded critical faculties that I may (or may not) have once possessed. I just don’t pay enough attention to popular culture nowadays to credibly weigh in. Instead, I compile lists of new albums that move me the most on a personal level.
There were likely many technically better albums (and certainly more obscure albums) released this year that flew under my radar — albums that speak to music and the times more than some of these do (all the crits seem to love the new Bad Bunny, Big Thief, and Beyoncé albums, some of which I also like) — but these 10 albums, the best of them conceptual works, were my personal favorites in 2022.
1. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers — In which the master storyteller unveils diary entries that are at once shocking and deeply moving over gorgeous musical shifting that runs from ambient to traditional to utterly chaotic.
Inspirational track: “Mother I Sober”
2. Rosalía, Motomami — When I first learned that Rosalía’s debut album was a collaboration with the experimental Spanish producer and musician Raül Refree, it made me that much more interested hearing her terrific 2018 follow-up, El Mar Querer, in which she took her blend of traditional flamenco, pop, and the avant-garde into the stratosphere. Motomami is a similarly seamless free flight through mixed-up genres in which she pieces the songs into a personal feminist manifesto.
Inspirational track: “Delirio de Grandeza”
3. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen — Speaking of seamless free flights, Athena, violinist Brittney Parks’ 2019 debut as Sudan Archives, was a mind-blower, and Prom Queen firmly establishes her as a compositional genius who invents, refines, and mashes multiple musical elements together to form a brand new kind of R&B. It’s somewhere in the realm of FKA Twigs (but not exactly), with lyrical themes that are decidedly not, as Parks repeats in my favorite track, “NBPQ,” average.
Inspirational track: “NBPQ”
4. Jake Blount, The New Faith — Concept albums don’t get more fleshed out than this cautionary Afro-futuristic folk tale that asks, “What would Black music sound like after climate change renders most of the world uninhabitable?” The answer: banjos and hand-clapping, beats and chants, fiddle and spoken-word interludes worthy of a character in an Octavia Butler epic.
Inspirational track: “Once There Was No Sun”
5. Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems – The most musically relevant album of hardcore punk that I’ve heard since… I dunno, Drive Like Jehu? And maybe the most socially and culturally relevant hardcore punk album ever. The hardest hitting song on the record, politically, is the punk-rap track “Driponomics” (with guest Philly rapper Mother Maryrose), but this one’s my favorite.
Inspirational track: “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”
6. Danger Mouse / Black Thought, Cheap Codes — This, kids, is hip hop.
Inspirational track: “No Gold Teeth”
7. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Nightroamer — Obligatory twangy rock album by a North Carolina artist. (aka #AddictionSucks)
Inspirational track: “It Doesn’t Change Anything”
8. Aldous Harding, Warm Chris — There’s a Velvet Underground/Nico feel to this record by New Zealander Harding, although it’s much folkier. There’s also a Robyn Hitchcock feel to the surreal lyrics. The entire album will grow on you until you’re in love with it, but what I like most about this particular track is that it’s very in keeping with what I’ve loved about New Zealand indie rock ever since the days of Chris Knox and the whole Flying Nun stable of musicians.
Inspirational track: “Leathery Whip”
9. Kikagaku Moyo, Kumoyo Island — Obligatory album of psychedelia from Japan.
Inspirational track: “Yayoi Iyayoi”
10. Freakons, Freakons — Of course I’m gong to put a Mekons album on any given year-end list. It’s what I do. Particularly since your average Mekons album is going to be light years better than your average album by your average Joe. And this one’s about as sweet as it gets: The Mekons teamed up with Kentucky troubadours Freakwater. Folk music doesn’t get much better than the voices of this duo of Carter Sisters-inspired singers mingling with those of our favorite Leeds-formed band of merry experimental agit-punk-rock-folk-Americana pranksters.
Inspirational track: “Chestnut Blight”
Below is my Spotify list of 2022 albums that I liked more than most. It’s the playlist that I listened to when deciding on my Top 10 choices. It includes all of the above albums plus the following honorable mentions (in no particular order):
FKA Twigs, Caprisongs
Angel Olsen, Big Time
Wet Leg, Wet Leg
K.O.G., Zone 6, Agege
Saba, Few Good Things
Alvvays, Blue Rev
Dan Ex Machina, All Is Ours, Nothing is Theirs
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Topical Dancer
Tom Ze, Lingua Brasileira
Abel Selaocoe, Where is Home
Daniel Johns, FutureNever
Earl Sweatshirt, Sick!
Big Chief, Dragon New Morning Mountain I Believe in You
JID, The Forever Story