Music Review 2022: The Last Year
Previous years’ write-ups have begun with me allowing myself the indulgence of commenting on the year itself — what’s happened in wider society; the cultural impact of those events and also the micro-influences that those tectonic shifts had in my own life. I’m not going to do that this time. I am so, so tired. Instead let’s focus on the only consistent in life — music. Thank you to everyone who listened with me this year.
This one is dedicated to Dixie, who loved music — we’re putting something on the speaker for you.
My Favourite 100 Songs from 2022
The numbers say I listened to more music this year than I have since I was 18 years old — figures. I’m pretty confident that if I looked into it, I probably repeated songs more than I had for years in 2022 as well. I found myself getting really fixated on sounds and lyrics and needing to hear them over and over again which I haven’t done since I was a kid. Like we always do at this time, I’ve put my 100 favourite songs released this year into an un-ordered playlist for you to just stick on and get a feel for what I was drawn to over the last 12 months. While there’s no hierarchy here, what I can tell you are my 5 most played songs released this year:
- ‘Over’ by Lucky Daye
- ‘Electric’ by Jeshi
- ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ by Arctic Monkeys
- ‘Radiation’ by Killstation (feat. Tim Henson of Polyphia)
- ‘United in Grief’ by Kendrick Lamar
Save the playlist, stick it on shuffle and I hope you find something new to get obssessed with just like I have.
LP Honourable Mentions
This year I somehow listened to over 350 albums released in 2022. Every year I say I’m not going to listen to music like this, that I’m going to go back and re-experience old favourites and discover more music from the decades before I was born. But every year I get obsessed with new releases all over again and this year was the most intense yet. Nevermind, it made me happy. What was hard though, was the task of whittling down that list to just 100 (which I know sounds crazy) As such, I’m gonna just reel off 25 further favourites in alphabetical order because I won’t sleep at night without giving them some kind of nod.
I loved but couldn’t fit into my list albums from: Alex G, Arcade Fire, Beach House, caroline, Cave In, Chat Pile, Daniel Rossen, Duval Timothy, George FitzGerald, George Riley, Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler, Kilo Kish, M.I.A., Metro Boomin, The Orielles, Porridge Radio, PVA, redveil, Rival Consoles, Roc Marciano & The Alchemist, Rome Streetz, Soccer Mommy, Toro y Moi, Weyes Blood and Yard Act. All exceptional records, all very worth your time to check out if you haven’t.
But without further ado, let’s look at my Top 100.
My Favourite 100 Albums from 2022
100. Quavo & Takeoff — Only Built for Infinity Links: 2/3 of Migos release freewheeling, best work for half a decade only for Takeoff to be tragically shot and killed a month later. Life is cruel.
99. Fleshwater — We’re Not Here To Be Loved: An unexpected but visceral ride down memory lane as the album calls to mind the great alternative rock I loved growing up in the ’90s.
98. Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T., Smoke DZA & Girl Talk — Full Court Press: Sometimes low stakes reap the biggest joys; 3 of the most laid back rappers team up with Girl Talk and just vibe out.
97. PUP — The Unraveling of Puptheband: My favourite pop punk band returned for another collection of heart-on-sleeve shout-alongs; christened for me by an amazing Brighton gig.
96. Buddy — Superghetto: Even with cosigns from Kaytranada, J. Cole and the late Nipsey Hussle, Buddy remains criminally overlooked. His second album made his talents undeniable.
95. $ilkMoney — I Don’t Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit… Virginia-based $ilkMoney sounds like if Busta Rhymes was in ’96, took psychedelics and rapped about critical race theory.
94. Nosaj Thing — Continua: Unsung hero of early 2010’s post-dubstep returned with his 5th album; this time with famous friends serpentwithfeet, Panda Bear, Duval Timothy and more.
93. Just Mustard — Heart Under: Another electrifying Irish post-punk act in the same crowd as Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital; Katie Ball’s mesmerising vocals set them apart.
92. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard — Omnsium Gatherum: Gizztober may have gifted us 3 new albums from the jam band but April’s OG was the jewels of their year for me.
91. Mount Kimbie — MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning: The Speakerboxxx / Love Below of British electronic music, Mount Kimbie released an album each this year, pleasing everyone.
90. Spiritualized — Everything Was Beautiful: Now 25 years removed from his seminal Ladies & Gentlemen record, J Spaceman returned with another life-affirming collection of beauty.
89. Sampa the Great — As Above So Below: Blending hip hop with the Zamrock of her native country Sampa brought Denzel Curry and Joey Bada$$ alongside African stars for a thrill ride.
88. Wu-Lu — Loggerhead: Wu-Lu’s album hit like something completely different this year; melding nu-jazz, hip hop, rock and jungle to sound like King Krule on a Dean Blunt song.
87. alt-J — The Dream: I had not been following the recent movements of alt-J until unanimously glowing reviews made me check this out and it blew my mind. V weird and v wonderful
86. Benny the Butcher — Tana Talk 4: One third of Griselda’s founding fathers returned with a keenly anticipated instalment to his TT series. Now with added J. Cole and Diddy. 4
85. EarthGang — Ghetto Gods: Atlanta’s best duo working returned with another jittery, technicolour record of modern Southern rap; bouncing off each other effortlessly.
84. Brockhampton — The Family: A misnamed Kevin Abstract solo album released under contractual duress should not have sounded this fun. Fully leaning into early Kanye.
83. Moor Mother — Jazz Codes: Other than her collab with billy woods, I’d often found Moor Mother’s work harder to admire than enjoy. But her latest opened itself out to me like a flower.
82. tobi lou — Non-Perishable: 2020’s Lingo Starr EP cemented tobi lou as a visionary to me, so I was very excited for his next full-length which didn’t dissapoint. T-Pain feat says it all.
81. 404 Guild — False Dawn: After the tragic suicide of frontwoman Mina Topley-Bird, the group continued as Eastbourne’s answer to Injury Reserve with breath-taking results.
80. Saba — Few Good Things: It was always gonna be hard to follow up the sensation that was CARE FOR ME but the Chicago rapper’s 3rd was a varied journey through his psyche.
79. Sharon Van Etten — We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong: An album that stuns from the beginning and just doesn’t let up for an hour. Her voice is more powerful than ever.
78. Lucky Daye — Candydrip: This was the year I heard Lucky Daye’s voice and was blown away. ‘Over’ is probably my most played song of 2022 but the whole album is silky and gorgeous.
77. Drake & 21 Savage — Her Loss: Was Drake borrowing cred from 21 to compensate for his lukewarm house album? Maybe. But it the most fun he’s sounded since More Life.
76. Fennec — A Couple of Good Days: I can’t even remember where I heard about this house producer with only 25K monthly listeners but this album is a treat, like cocktails at home.
75. SOHN — Trust: Over the past 8 years SOHN has been quietly making some of the most interesting neo-soul and experiemental pop music in the UK and his latest is no different.
74. Jae Skeese & Big Ghost Ltd. — Authenticity Check: I feel like Jae Skeese steals the song whenever he features, so it was a thrill to hear him absolutely step up for a solo full length.
73. Armani Caesar — The Liz 2: Is there anything smoother than coke raps from a beautiful woman who might kill you if she wanted? The coolest and most dangerous album of the year.
72. Björk — Fossora: Another plunge into the Icelandic seeress’ twisting, shifting landscape. Her career is almost as old as I am and yet she remains impossible to pin down. Who else?
71. Fly Anakin — Frank: This was the record that finally showed that Fly Anakin had something no one else had. Like the album cover, it was psychadelic & jazzy but urgent and crisp.
70. Viagra Boys — Cave World: Taking the piss out of internet trolls and anti-vaxxers alike, Cave World faces the insanity of modern life and all its miseries and decides to boot it all.
69. On Man — On Man: I love it when an album just comes completely out of nowhere and becomes a word of mouth success. On Man’s production creates a twisted beauty.
68. Hagop Tchaparian — Bolts: The best name in electronic music made his intro via Four Tet’s Text Records this year; blending the sounds of urban London with his motherland Armenia.
67. Lil Silva — Yesterday Is Heavy: Crazy to think this was Silva’s debut album after being a pioneer for well over a decade. Fittingly, old comrade Sampha returns to assist the greatness.
66. FKA twigs — Caprisongs: After her last album was top 3 for me in 2019, it was refreshing to hear twigs let loose with the freedom and collaboration in an upbeat mixtape.
65. Lupe Fiasco — Drill Music in Zion: Lupe wrote & recorded this album in just 3 days and yet somehow it’s taken over 6 months and still haven’t got my head round how good it is.
64. Sudan Archives — Natural Brown Prom Queen: The last Sudan album felt like the classical sculpture on the cover, where NBPQ feels like the artist following every wild, brilliant instinct.
63. Brent Faiyaz — Wasteland: It was a thrill to see Faiyaz step into the star he’d been threatening to be. The album showed the dark side of toxic fame and the hurt it brings loved ones.
62. Arctic Monkeys — The Car: The Sheffield lads continued their journey through the sonic cosmos but this time set their writing on the interpersonal matters again; as they do best.
61. Eliza — A Sky Without Stars: Mad to think that 12 years ago this was the same artist we hear here. ASWS repositioned her as some kind of modern Tracey Thorn with more mystery.
60. Kojey Radical — Reason To Smile: Hoxton’s own Kojey Radical finally had his victory lap this year with Mercury Prize nominated Reason To Smile. Perfect showcase for his star power.
59. Westside Gunn — 10: WSG is quickly becoming one of the best curators in the game. ASAP Rocky, RTJ, Black Star and Raekwon on one album?! And the closer; best posse cut of the decade so far.
58. Wiki & Subjxct 5 — Cold Cuts: I love Wiki, but I didn’t realise quite how much I could love him until I heard him over Subjxct 5’s bright, chopped up and addictive beats; perfect.
57. Che Noir — Food for Thought: Released back in Jan, it could be easy to forget just how incredible this album is. Che Noir might be the best female MC and needs her flowers.
56. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul — Topical Dancer: Soulwax lent their equipment to the making of this album & it pays off big. Anti-racism, anti-sexism dance smashes.
55. Future — I Never Liked You: Yes he wears Toxic as a badge of honour at nearly 40 years old but it was his best album in half a decade with no skips (if you’re working out)
54. Boldy James & Real Bad Man — Killing Nothing: Another quiet year for the Detroit rapper who released 4(!) albums in 2022. This team-up with Real Bad Man was the hardest.
53. Conway the Machine — God Don’t Make Mistakes: This stood out as the best Griselda Records release of 2022 for its sheer vulnerability and emotion. Conway is not a machine.
52. Gold Panda — The Work: One of the first electronic producers I ever adored returned after a 6 year gap between solo albums and it was so good to have him back. Fuzzy and enveloping.
51. Vince Staples — Ramona Park Broke My Heart: It was a joy to have Vince back so soon,with what felt like a send-off to his North Long Beach upbringing; good and bad.
50. Meechy Darko — Gothic Luxury
To those who know, Flatbush Zombies’ Meechy Darko has undoubtedly been one of the best voices in hip hop over the last 10 years, so it was exciting to hear he would be putting out his first solo album. Linking up with legendary producer Dot Da Genius for many of the songs was a great shout — the beats are cinematic; accentuating his demonic timbre to leap out the speakers.
49. Oliver Sim — Hideous Bastard
On paper, a solo album from 1/3 of The xx, produced by another 1/3 of the band seemed like an odd outing — but one listen to Hideous Bastard immediately proves why this record needed to be made. Sim absolutely shines here; experimenting with his singular voice while digging deep to boldly and brilliantly explore the HIV diagnosis he’d been living with since he was 17.
48. Black Star — No Fear of Time
Yes — after waiting a quarter of a century — you had to download a podcast app just to listen to the follow up to Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli’s legendary collab album. But it helped that the legendary Madlib produced the whole thing; making this a trio of hip hop heroes rather than just a duo. It was a murky and at times challenging listen, but one that kept revealing itself more with time.
47. Amber Mark — Three Dimensions Deep
I got into Amber Marks through her stunning Colors performance back in January. It perfectly demonstrates the timeless allure that could have made her an R’n’B star in any of the last four decades. The album itself is a feat to behold, as the singer commands a full hour with no features — just her flawlessly sensual songwriting and sugary but addictive vocal style. A star in waiting.
46. Fontaines D.C. — Skinty Fia
On their third album in 4 years, Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. are now 3 for 3. It’s almost scary how quickly they’ve become the most important post-punk band of the new decade through sheer quality of songwriting. Skinty Fia dials up their impulses for reverbing, jangling guitars up to 11, while Grian Chatten sounds even more beautifully burdened than ever, like an Irish Ian Curtis.
45. Beyoncé — Renaissance
When the incendiary lead single ends up being the least interesting song on the album, you know you’ve got another cultural shift on your hands. The queen returned from her 2016 infidelity record with a sparkling gem of a record that sounded daring, inimitable & free. Celebrating black dance music through the ages, it payed homage while adding to the lineage with complete joy.
44. Kali Malone — Living Torch
I was surprised to find that an album of just two 15minute+ songs from a minimalist pipe organ composer crack my top 50 this year, but Malone’s work is undeniable. The first song has a creeping funereal feel to it; a warm analogue fuzz that slowly evolves. While ‘Living Torch II’ begins with a doomy plucked guitar which thrashes into enveloping static. Both immediate & eternal.
43. Rachika Nayar — Heaven Come Crashing
Sometimes the sheer beauty of an album’s artwork is what moves you to try it out and Heaven Come Crashing was definitely one of those. I’m so glad I did — the ambient guitarist evolved on her sound here to bring the elation and transcendence of rave culture into her dreamy world. The result is nothing short of electrifying as the build and release of the songs crash like a fantasy.
42. Ethel Cain — Preacher’s Daughter
I became fascinated with Ethel Cain in 2022 — a transgender woman raised by a baptist deacon father in Florida. Her music is influenced by Christianity and Southern Gothic themes but with touchpoints in both Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey’s aesthetics. But there is something deeper and darker here; as on the terrifying ‘Ptolmaea’ where she howls like a demon out of hell.
41. HAAi — Baby, We’re Ascending
The long awaited debut album from Austrailian producer HAAi was exactly what we needed and more. The title track collaboration with Jon Hopkins set out the stall for the level of grandiosity she was reaching for, but the whole LP was a consistently surprising and elative run through modern electronic music. Unsurprisingly, it became my running album of the year for its power.
40. SHIRT & Jack Splash — I Turned Myself Into Myself
You might remember SHIRT as the first rapper on Jack White’s Third Man Records (the album now inexplicably largely removed from streamers) A true Queens, NYC artist; his flow pummels like concrete, but his avant-garde fixations elevate his work into higher echelons. Here, the Jack Splash beats are perfect for his flow; giving him punchy pockets in which to take centre stage.
39. Shygirl — Nymph
After the tragic passing of SOPHIE 2 years ago, a huge gulf seemed to appear in the British electronic music scene. Nothing could replace her, but somehow Shygirl’s debut album feels like the ultimate homage. Production comes from the late artist’s friends and collaborators Sega Bodega, Arca, Danny L Harle and more, while Shygirl’s otherworldly sexuality shone bright as an avatar.
38. Stromae — Multitude
My Little Brother Spent The Last Two Years In France And All I Got Was This Obsessive Fandom Of Stromae. From the moment I saw his jaw-dropping performance on a French news network I knew he was something special. The lyrics (thanks to the subtitles) spoke frankly about mental health in a way I feel no other popstar is at the moment. The album is full of it.
37. Little Simz — NO THANK YOU
Islington’s own Little Simz is now being discussed in the same terms that Kendrick Lamar was 5 years ago — and rightly so. How could she release something as monumental as last year’s S.I.M.B.I and then follow it up so quickly with something so effortlessly cool? Inflo’s production flair is all over this; to the point where is sounds a bit like a SAULT record, but more power to them.
36. Smino — Luv 4 Rent
If there’s one thing that brought me great joy in 2022 it was seeing Smino absolutely win for 50 straight minutes on his latest album. The man just brims melody and playfulness in a way that’s rare in hip hop right now. Amazing features from Lucky Daye, J Cole, Doechii sounded as they should do; happy guests in Smino’s technicolour world of blunt smoke and dance moves.
35. The Weeknd — Dawn FM
I felt like After Hours had Abel Tesfaye with a foot in two camps which stopped me really enjoying what he was doing, but on Dawn FM he goes full 80’s popstar and I just embraced it. ‘Take My Breath’, ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Less Than Zero’ were just absolutely undeniable. Then add in Jim Carrey reading his own poetry about the cosmic journey our soul takes from life to death? Sold.
34. Westside Boogie — More Black Superheroes
Over the last 8 years (Westside) Boogie has been steadily becoming one of the most consistent and impressive rappers on the West Coast. This year’s entry to his collection grappled with the role of therapy in the life of a young black man; his lispy and urgent delivery standing him apart from anyone else right now. I really hope he keeps doing what he’s doing and people tune in.
33. Ab-Soul — Herbert
Album title the artist’s government name? Check. Artwork a childhood photo? Check. The signs were there for a grand return and Ab-Soul did not disappoint. The content of the record discussed an attempt to take his own life at some point since his last album and I’m so grateful that he was able to move forwards and release this empowering and hungry return. Don’t miss it.
32. black midi — Hellfire
black midi have always been a lot. There have been times, particularly on their last album, that I felt my appetite for their brand of oddball wane slightly. But on Hellfire they pulled me right back in. There was something about their house-band-in-hell thing that connected with me this time, but crucially when the musicianship is this insanely proficient they become hard to deny.
31. Earl Sweatshirt — SICK!
After the experimentatal fog of Earl’s previous few releases, the cold, laser-focus of SICK! hit like a slap to the face and still does 11 months later. On beats from Black Noi$e & The Alchemist he danced across the short 24 minute run time like this was his debut. But excitingly, he also sounded like the time spent at home, both due to the pandemic and fatherhood had given him an elders wisdom.
30. Richard Dawson — The Ruby Cord
There is no-one out there right now quite like Richard Dawson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Have explored the years 400-600 CE on Peasant and then the present day on 2020 — this time he travelled forward, 500 years into a dystopian future. Yes, the album opens with a 40-minute(!) song and yes, he sounds a bit like a Geordie Joanna Newsom. But this is full of absolutely singular treasures.
29. The Range — Mercury
I’d been highly anticipating another album from The Range since his 2016 Potential became one of my favourite electronic albums of the decade. While this wasn’t as impactful, this was another life-affirming demonstration of quite how powerful the well-chosen vocal sample really can be — see the masterful R’n’B chop on ‘Ricercar’ for one of the best of the year.
28. Joji — SMITHEREENS
After the year I’d had in my personal life, I was warned off this mini-album; which for all intents and purposes seemed to be a break-up record with no light at the end of the tunnel. Unsurprisingly it made me sob more than once, but it’s unshowy honesty of it really connected with me, and on ‘Glimpse Of Us’ he may have written the topic’s ultimate anthem. Grateful for it.
27. Joey Bada$$ — 2000
Crazy to think it’s been a full 5 years since the last Joey Bad album; and crazier still that his breakout mixtape 1999 was a whole 10 years ago. As is required for any significant sequel, the (still only 27 year old!) MC rose to the occasion and delivered his best beat selection and wordplay in a long time; ruminating on the tragic losses of his friends, new fatherhood and his place in rap history.
26. Danger Mouse & Black Thought — Cheat Codes
After Black Thought’s captivating Streams Of Thought trilogy and Danger Mouse’s 15 year hiatus from hip hop; the stage was more than set for this meeting of titans. It didn’t disappoint; this was the sound of 2 statesmen still at the peak of their powers. Features from Raekwon, Run The Jewels and the late MF DOOM were bonuses. Still shoulda called it Dangerous Thoughts, though.
25. White Ward — False Light
I say it every year, but generally I tend to discover one ‘super heavy’ album that I welcome into my heart and get really into but that seems to be my capacity for that genre. This year it was the turn of Odessa, Ukraine’s White Ward; a black metal band complete with a saxophonist. To the untrained ear — who has only really listened to the likes of Deafheaven and Oathbreaker in this lane — I was immediately bowled over by the power and the doomy majesty on show here. But on sharing it with my more metalhead friends I realised that this was something special to everyone. But the suffering of the band’s countrymen this year was hard to detach from the music.
24. Fred again.. — Actual Life 3 (Jan 1 — Sep 9 2022)
After anointing both Fred again’s 2021 releases as Top 5 albums of last year, when I heard the release of the third Actual Life instalment was dropping in October, I mentally created space at the top again. When it came, that same special blend of intimacy and energy was once again present but it didn’t hit quite as hard. Maybe it was just becasuse it was more of the (admittedly beautiful) same, maybe it was that some of the most exciting songs from his Boiler Room set this summer were absent (seriously, where is ‘Rumble’ with Flowdan?!) But the highlights were exceptional; bringing talents like BERWYN and Mustafa into his world while ‘Kammy’ may have been his strongest yet.
23. Knucks — Alpha Place
Much like Knucks himself, Alpha Place seemed content to arrive without fanfare and cool enough to let the work speak for itself — the result being one of the most flawless UK hip hop releases of the year. Ever since he merged grime-adjacent instrumentals with gorgeous live saxophone lines on breakthrough single ‘Home’ the MC has mastered his lane. This album feels like a victory lap despite being his first full-length proper since he really started getting major attention. He sounds laid back and locked in across the 13 songs — so much so that he makes Stormzy sound out of place among more low-key vocalists Lex Amor and SL who are a much better fit here.
22. Perfume Genius — Ugly Season
There was something about Mike Hadreas’s 2020 record that lost me slightly, despite the universal acclaim. Uncomfortably, Ugly Season forced me to admit that it hadn’t been dark enough for me. This was remedied tenfold on his album that was originally composed as the music for a contemporary dance piece. You can hear the harsh physicality of movement in the songs here, and the artist fully flexes his artistry with entirely instrumental passages, unusual and unexpected instruments and phases of abject darkness that call to mind the work of Xiu Xiu. Only the winkingly-titled ‘Pop Song’ offers a reprieve from the dense forest of this beguiling album.
21. SZA — SOS
If SZA is the female Frank Ocean, then she went away for half a decade and came back with a second channel ORANGE; but this is not a bad thing. After the drought of new SZA music following 2017’s CTRL, it was absolute bliss to be gifted over an hour of new music; even if she wasn’t moving a million miles away from the music that made us love her to begin with. There are evolutions though; the fierce rap style on ‘Low’ and ‘Smoking On My Ex Pack’ are particularly fun. And then, on ‘Blind’ she perfects her vocal range and conjures the melody she was born to sing — honestly one of the best songs of the year immediately and it dropped in December. Totally worth the wait.
20. Kae Tempest — The Line Is A Curve
Let 2022 go down as the year that Kae Tempest reached their greatest form. Backed by a largely icy, electronic palette courtesy of Dan Carey, Tempest rails through some of the most seething and penetrating lyrics of their already intimidating catalogue. Some famous friends appear — Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton, Grian Chatten of Fontaines D.C. — but it’s the MC that truly takes and holds centre stage throughout. Songs like ‘Nothing To Prove’ and ‘Salt Coast’ are reminiscent of the urgency of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser in its sheer grinding coldness, while ‘More Pressure’ ironically alleviates it with a breezy and freeing groove. Kae Tempest, Poet Laureate when please?
19. Freddie Gibbs — $oul $old $eparately
Ater Gibbs’ last two; possibly best albums were single-producer collaborations (with The Alchemist and Madlib respectively) there was some worry that one with a different producer behind the decks for each of the 15 songs would feel disjointed. However, anyone who was as big a fan of his 2015 album Shadow Of A Doubt as I was knew that this was simply another self-set challenge the Gary, Indiana rapper would absolutely smash through. There were beats from familiar faces, along with surprises like James Blake and DJ Paul but Freddie’s inimitable humour and menace danced through every single song; crafting another glistening work of hip hop gold.
18. billy woods — Aethiopes
Over the last 10+ years, billy woods has been quietly becoming one of the best MCs alive. Either with ELUCID as Armand Hammer or solo; his high-brow lyricism and jagged flow always hit hard. But this year, by teaming up with legendary underground producer Preservation (best known for his work with Ka and Yasiin Bey) it felt like he reached new heights in artistry. The soundscapes are living and breathing with the vinyl crackle or traditional African instruments being sampled; often beatlessly. Thematically, much of it focuses in on his time living in Zimbabwe where his father was a political activist; the tension and disorder permeating each heady bar.
17. Rosalía — MOTOMAMI
Between 2018’s beguiling El Mal Querer and the blockbuster release of this year’s follow up, Catalonia’s Rosalía became something that resembled a megastar. Between collabs with The Weeknd & Travis Scott, as well as a spot on the Game Of Thrones album; I worried she’d have lost some of the crystalline beauty that made me fall for her last album. I needn’t have — as although there were big reggaeton and urbano hits here, the singer held firm to her artistic flair, delivering more of the surreal and the breathlessly fragile among the madness. Who else could make a song called ‘HENTAI’ so gorgeous, or to interpolate Ray J’s famous Burial melody? Rosalía is one of one.
16. Pusha T — It’s Almost Dry
Yes, Pusha T has been rapping about selling cocaine for over twenty years now — but you don’t get to be called King Push without reaching the absolute top of your game. On It’s Almost Dry he worked with his 2 biggest mentors sonically; Pharrell Williams (responsible for the rise of Clipse) and Kanye West (responsible for Push’s solo success) The result sounded like a Greatest Hits collection or some unholy victory lap. Apparently the rapper played Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker on a loop in the studio and that unhinged villainy clearly seeped into the album. Push sounds better than ever, especially alongside his brother again.
15. Ka — Languish Arts / Woeful Studies
This marks the third year in a row that Ka has earned a spot in my Top 20, and for very good reason. This year, he’s done it with not one but two albums — who else is capable of achieving that level of both quality and quantity? By now, Ka has seems to have largely departed from the strict thematic structures that made up his 2010s discography and now — at the grand age of 50(!) — is now laser-focused on himself, his home and the climate of his upbringing. I’ve included both the albums he self-released on the same day in Sept because they both very much feel part of the same statement; like a hip hop film-noir - full of mystery, tragedy and of course, sin.
14. Black Country, New Road — Ants From Up There
What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said so many times before? It would of course become the swan song for the band as fronted by singer and chief songwriter Isaac Wood, who left the band (admirably) for his mental health the week it came out. As for the music — there were hints of the majestic direction they were heading in across their stunning debut released just 364 days previous; but here they fully made the jump from ‘the British Slint’ to — wondrously — ‘the British Arcade Fire’ Half the songs are over 6 minutes long but not a moment drags; each minute detail is achingly special. It’s life-affirming, heart-bursting stuff. Big love Isaac.
13. Denzel Curry — Melt My Eyez See Your Future
At this point — along with death and taxes — the only certainty in life is that Denzel Curry does not miss. After the blood-letting of TABOO and the rap fireworks of ZUU and Kenny Beats collab UNLOCKED it was surprising to hear Curry mellow out slightly. But what he sacrificed in ferocity, he picked up in craftsmanship, lyricism and experimentation. He noted Kendrick’s TPAB as being an influence and you can hear it in the scope of the record. Production from Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins bring a jazzy depth to the songs, but you can still hear why Zeltron is one of the most fiery talents in hip hop right now. And on ‘Walkin’, we’re privileged to hear him evolve again.
12. The Smile — A Light for Attracting Attention
On which, confoundingly the first taste of their new collaboration ‘…Work In Television Again’ ended up being the least interesting song on the album. Maybe it’s just me, but the punky sound of the lead single made me yearn for the guys to go back to the day job — but I needn’t have worried. Thom and Jonny’s team up with Sons Of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner proved to be every bit as fascinating and beautiful as the best Radiohead work of the last 10 years. There were feather-light flourishes of ‘Open The Floodgates’ and ‘Waving A White Flag’ alongside skittering anxiety attacks on ‘Thin Thing’ and ‘…What Tomorrow Brings’, that showed how little a name means.
11. Backxwash — His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering
I wasn’t ready for another Backxwash album after only just over a year to recover from the last one. I put it on for a long run at night, and moment the choir from Mozart’s ‘Lacrimosa’ came in it started to rain and I knew I was in for a monumental experience. Billed as the final piece of a trilogy of albums processing early stages of the artist’s life, His Happiness explores “her youth and times pre-dating her existence” and indeed this time round seems to explore her blackness more; sampling both Angela Davis and Malcom X. Her flow has become even more pummelling; like El-P possessed by a tormented witch. It’s a white-knuckle ride another jewel in her twisted crown.
10. Nilüfer Yanya — PAINLESS
I had no idea how much this year I needed an indie rock album that sounds like 90s Radiohead fronted by Sade — but from the first play through it I knew it was flawless. I mean, ‘stabilise’ is ultimately ‘Weird Fishes Pt. 2’ but with added Silent Alarm guitars — what more could an ageing indie boy ask for in 2022?? Yanya doesn’t let up for a moment on PAINLESS so that when it’s over you feel compelled to press play again. Each instrument bursts out the speakers while her voice charms effortlessly — it’s like listening to an entire army of the singer at points; completely enveloping and impossible to resist. A daring, mesmerising and completely standalone release for 2022; and one that gave us one of the coolest, smoothest late night live performances of the year on with ‘midnight sun’ on Jimmy Fallon. A support slot for Adele’s massive Hyde Park shows in the summer confirmed her star power, and her note-perfect cover of PJ Harvey’s ‘Rid Of Me’ that followed later in the year just cemented the lineage she so firmly belongs in.
9. Jockstrap — I Love You Jennifer B
This singular record is the sound of two exceptionally talented artists creating a body of work completely unbound from expectation, form, tradition or rules. Featuring violinist and singer Georgia Ellery from Black Country, New Road alongside Guildhall School of Music classmate Taylor Skye on production — they’ve crafted something that just gets more wonderfully confounding the more you listen to it. From the astounding surprise of opener ‘Neon’ which begins with delicate acoustic guitar then gradually explodes into electronic violence with Ellery demanding “But is it working?” as the instrumental reflects her existential reflection. From there on it’s a complete rollercoaster ride. Album centre-point ‘Concrete Over Water’ feels falling in love in space, ‘Angst’ is like Joanna Newsom remixed by Thom Yorke and ‘Glasgow’ sounds like if all of Dev Hynes’ project over the past two decades formed a supergroup. If that sounds like A Lot, it’s because it is. But it reflected the year and the state of music perfectly. Black Country who??
8. Sault — Air
First of all, yes that’s the inside cover of the album above, because it more perfectly captures how this record feels and for that reason is my favourite cover of 2022. Inflo, Cleo Sol and their elusive counterparts took it up a notch this year, releasing six albums in 2022. This, their first was the biggest surprise; a stunningly grandiose masterpiece built around choral music and neo-classical sensibilities. Only ‘Time Is Precious’ features the familiar warmth of Sol’s vocals, while the rest of the music soars far above the concerns of earthly music until; with headphones cradling your head, you feel as though you are inhabiting the air at the very outer reaches of our planet’s atmosphere like the figure on the cover. If this sounds a bit lofty, it is. But for anyone who enjoyed bold statements like These New Puritans’ Hidden or last years SIMBI by Little Simz — or have ever found yourself returning to a film or documentary score long after you’ve finished watching — this is for you. The angelic choir assembled feels wondrously impossible, ascendent.
7. Jeshi — Universal Credit
I discovered Walthamstow’s own Jeshi last year through his work with the producer Vegyn and quickly devoured each release leading up to his debut proper. He provided a voice to the austerity-brand spiral it’s so easy for young people in the UK to so easily slip into. The first song on the album asks “Sick of things going wrong; why they never going right?” which accurately lays out the stall for the rest of the album. Jeshi details persistent debt, bad drugs, worse comedowns, cigarette butts, angry cabbies and a complete lack of prospects. If it sounds bleak, it’s because it is. On ‘Generation’ he voices his concerns that the situation for Gen Z after him will be worse still. The appeal of Jeshi’s album is the unflinching way he details how life really is in this country right now, over a decade under disastrous T*ry rule and fresh off the back of a ruinous pandemic. There are glimmers of light, as on ‘Two Mums’ where we’re reminded that when there’s no hope out there, we have to look after each other. If the realism of the album’s this sad; ask yourself why.
6. JID — The Forever Story
Ever since The Never Story dropped 5 years ago, it was immediately clear that JID was to be a generational talent. The follow ups DiCaprio 2 and Spilligion with Spillage Village were both stunning too, but we knew that this would be the true spiritual successor. Even the artwork poetically seems to present a fleshed out, 3D version of that early album’s blueprint. What’s special about this album is how focussed on the rapper’s family it is. Not least between one-two punch ‘Bruddanem’ & ‘Sistanem’ but through the vivid family storytelling of songs like ‘Crack Sandwich’ with explode out the speakers with vivid detail. Sonically it’s flawless — with go-to producer Christo continuing to wow; but this time joined by the likes of Kaytranada, James Blake and BADBADNOTGOOD to further demonstrate JID’s versatility. There are so many highlights but it’s the gospel singing on ‘Kody Blu 31’ that stuck out most to me “Get your back up off the ropes, keep swangin’ on” ringing out. And in true closing song ‘2007’ you get the ultimate rapper origin story that JID has truly earned.
5. Loyle Carner — Hugo
Hugo — Loyle Carner’s 3rd album (as well as closing song ‘HGU’) is named after his father’s car; which he was taught to drive in by the man himself during lockdown. But it’s far from a cutesy tribute to a father-figure; listening to the album reveals that the artist has had to rebuild this relationship in his adulthood, deciding “I forgive you cos I know that it’s within you and I’m better when I’m with you” It’s one of countless moments on the album that show just how much the 28 year old has grown beyond his years — also becoming a father himself in late 2020. The record sounds absolutely beautiful as well, with frequent collaborator kwes. executive producing, alongside familiar nu-jazz names Alfa Mist & Jordan Rakei taking the stage. I’m an easy mark for a heavy Pastor TL Barret sample so ‘Ladas Road’ was an immediate favourite. But I also love that the beat on the closing track was discovered by simply searching “loyle carner type beat” on YouTube. The whole album feels so homegrown and personal and has reduced me to tears more than once.
4. Ghais Guevara — There Will Be No Super-Slave
I can safely say this is the only release on the list by a self-described ‘Islamo-Communist’ but Ghais Guevara is clearly not here to fit in with the crowd. Hailing from Philadelphia, I can’t even remember how I came across the MC but I think it was a case of organic buzz bubbling online; many comparing him to JPEGMAFIA. But aside from producing his own off-the-wall beats (and hilarious song titles) one play through his album showed that he was entirely his own artist. This is a man who has done his homework and passionately knows his post-collonial history. Instrumentally it often sounds like good fun — sampling everything from The Simpsons & Spongebob, to N*SYNC & Stevie Wonder. But a closer reading of the lyrics shows a burning rage for the European forefather who once settled in Africa, as we hear Guevara demand atonement on behalf of his sancestors. Even from the first verse on the album: “Knew I was ready to die when I saw the chaos and I ain’t even flinch” you can tell he’s the real deal and he really means every single word.
3. Real Lies — Lad Ash
Huge shout-out to my friend Andy in Manchester for switching me onto these guys. The sound of Real Lies seems to come from a rich lineage of British party people with their gaze firmly locked to the stars — Underworld, Faithless, The Streets. Like those before them; they seem to effortlessly capture the wide (dilated) eyed wonder of UK nightlife; particularly in spite of the powers that be attempting to shut it all down and ramp up the prices of everything. The spirit of Real Lies lives in the communal magic that only occurs when groups of people come together to have fun. Early highlight ‘Boss Trick’ provides us with the beautiful mantra “I felt like I was part of something” perfectly capturing that pure elation. They run through formative love stories, missing friends and so many parties, often transcending the four walls of banging music to reach those almost religious heights of elation. ‘Your Guiding Hand’ does this best, transporting any listener whose life has ever been changed on a dancefloor immediately back to that holy ground.
2. Kendrick Lamar — Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
The journey of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth over the last 10 years has been absolutely stunning to watch. From the rap high-watermark origin story of GKMC, through the jazz-funk socio-political masterpiece TPAB into varied victory lap DAMN - it’s safe to say it had become impossible to predict where the artist would go next. The answer, it turned out, was simply: inward. The lyrical master-key to understanding his mindset comes in the album’s closing song ‘Mirror’ - “Sorry I didn’t save the world, my friend / I was too busy building mine again; I choose me, I’m sorry” Understandably, many listeners felt the record was too heavy-going; too much hard work to witness. Perhaps then, it helped that it came to me at a time when I was beginning to critically re-evaluate my own place in the world as a man and as a father. The central motive here seems to be for Lamar’s listeners to understand that he cannot offer their salvation; he can only affect the lives of those immediately around him. He does the work to better himself and in turn his family and shares it with us as he does. When his partner congratulates him at the end “You did it, I’m proud of you…Say ‘Thank you, Dad’” it really feels like you’ve been on the journey with him — I swallow the lump in my throat; glad for him.
1. Kai Whiston – Quiet as Kept, F.O.G.
When I came to try and sculpt this wonderous and disparate collection of albums into something resembling a gratuitous ranking I surprised myself at the record that bubbled to the #1 spot. I’d initially become aware of the young producer from Dorset a few years ago; first through a Clarence Clarity feature on his first album, then on a full collaborative project with Iglooghost and BABii in 2019. But to hear his latest solo project; it is astounding just how far he’s come — and he’s still only 23 years old. Quiet as Kept, F.O.G. is the best kind of concept album in that its central function is to pay homage. In this case, Whiston dedicates the theme to his mother, her life as a New Age Traveller in the 1990’s, and how his birth changed his family’s trajectory (That’s also her cocooned on the art work.) It’s a stunning reminder of how vivid a history can be told simply through musical styles, found sounds and voicemails in place of much lyrical content at all.
Whiston recorded the album with a live string quartet at George Martin’s Air Studios which adds a real cinematic grandeur to the breakbeats, techno and 90's-tinged rave electronics on display. Across the record’s 10 songs we learn how Kai’s mother Helene grew up around rave culture, living in warehouses and being drawn to the magic of it all like a moth to a flame. However the nomadic nature of the lifestyle didn’t prove easy in raising a child and sadly, it proved too much for Whiston’s father who died of a heroin overdose when the artist was just a baby. There is a ringing note of tragedy that runs through the album’s core so that every pummelling rhythm and electrifying beat is tinged with a deep sadness. He has talked in interviews about having to come to terms with where he came from; and this is thrillingly brought to life in the self-directed video for ‘Between Lures’ (below) where Whiston is seen pulling the weight of a caravan up a hill with just a length of rope, and sets fire to it among the mist.
The album takes us on many twists and turns, peaks and troughs; winding in perfectly deployed guests who either amplify the drama or completely turn it on its head. The various phone messaged from Helene Whiston though are the album’s true star; and they reach their stunning climax on the album’s closing song ‘10–10–73’ (presumably her date of birth) Here, she gives her full account of the sheer intoxicating wonder that she experienced; breathlessly convincing her son “It was just a big package of wonderful…honey — it was amazing!” as the strings and sub-bass meet into a heart-wrenching crescendo. Kai’s own vocals take over, with a robotic effect on top of them as he draws it all to a close with a synthetic incantation:
“In the fog, all is hidden
In the fog, all is concealed
In the fog, I lost my father
In the fog, my mum can heal
…She told me she would have ended her life
If it weren’t for what I give”
My Favourite 10 EPs from 2022
And finally — a closing note recognising some of the best EPs I enjoyed this year. Burial kickstarted the year with the Antidawn EP — longer than most of the albums on the list above it was a whole new world to explore. Manchester’s Iceboy Violet and Lancashire’s Blackhaine astounded on their crystalline Vanity Project and Armour II EPs respectively, showing the most exciting music in England is coming out the North. Two Shell dropped their incredible Icons EP cementing them as the most exciting production duo out right now. Floating Points picked up where he left off from the Crush album in 2019 with 4 track Someone Close containing some of his best work.
The legendary Jacques Greene treated us to new music in the form of the Fantasy EP showcasing why he’s still the best. Tokyo’s Jazztronik released Winter Flower Reimagined full of graceful remixes from Clams Casino’s last album. One of my favourite producers Kaytranada teamed up for a project with one of the most underrated MCs around IDK on Simple — amazing but left me wanting a full length. Kanye writer Kaycyy proved (again) that the hype is warranted on both a collab with Gesaffelstein (TW20 50) and again on the stunning and varied Get Used To It EP. And last but not least, the beguiling Gabriels continued to build their majestic names with Angels & Queens Part 1 ahead of the second part in 2023.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I really hope that this proved a welcome distraction and that you can find something here to fall in love with. I wish every love and joy to you into the next year xx Cal