In every way possible, 2022 was unexpected. With 80s hits rising the charts over 30 years later, emerging indie-rock bands placing themselves right alongside older ones, and the dawn of social media skyrocketing careers overnight, it’s safe to say that 2022 did not disappoint. Musically, that is. Looking at all of the albums that were released this year, here are the top 22 to signify the end of this unpredictable year.
Nyxen – PXNK
There’s nothing so quite representative of bringing the past to the future as there is in Nyxen’s, born Chelsea Lester, debut album PXNK (pronounced Punk), released August 19. Inspired by 80s and 90s synthwave, the Sydney, Australia-based musician has developed her unique EDM sound by incorporating aspects of rock, pop, and trip. PXNK is an electric nightclub trip, equipped with hallucinogenic songs like “Synthetic”, “Tunnels”, and “Radio Silence.” Nyxen takes eleven tracks to not only develop her new wave sound, but also to immerse listeners worldwide into an energetic experience, delving deep into the human soundscape.
The Linda Lindas – Growing Up
If time has proven anything, it’s been the ability of young artists to create impactful work to spread their message. The Linda Lindas, composed of Mila de la Garza (drums, vocals), Lucia de la Garza (guitar, vocals), Eloise Wong (bass, vocals), and Bela Salazar (guitar, vocals), are living proof of this fact. Despite most of the members still being in high school, The Linda Lindas found time to create their debut album Growing Up, released June 3. Bringing in Riot Grrl, pop-punk energy, the female-fronted band covers teenage angst, oppression, and cats, all within the 10-track collection. Set out to discover their world, these women have reminded listeners “what it means to be young and growing up” while figuring it out themselves.
070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me
American musician Danielle Balbuena, also known as 070 Shake, has quickly made her way into the rap/R&B scene. Her sophomore album You Can’t Kill Me, released on June 3, was met with critical acclaim as she performed the 14-track collection while on tour over the summer with Kid Cudi. Her voice is hypnotic, and pairs perfectly with the intense, almost sexual energy that covers her songs. But, Balbuena has also shown her wide range with song producing, tracks like “Blue Velvet” using light drum beats and “Wine & Spirits” starting off with an acoustic guitar. 070 Shake is breaking into the industry, and her work is enough to back up the fact that this is where she belongs.
The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
It’s been six years since Radiohead released their last album, but leading members Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboard) and Jonny Greenwood (guitar, bass, keyboard) have more to say. The duo joined Tom Skinner (drums) and formed The Smile, an English rock band that released their debut album A Light for Attracting Attention on May 13. Reminiscent of the sounds from the 2000s New York City rock scene, and of course Radiohead, the 13-track collection is full of electric guitar riffs and techno beats. While The Smile “doesn’t know what tomorrow brings,” it’s clear that each new day that they’re creating will be filled with bass-heavy tracks and melancholic undertones.
Omar Apollo – Ivory
Mexican-American R&B musician Omar Apollo is known for his simple yet stunning notes, paired with heartfelt lyrics and diverse soundscapes. The artist released his debut full-length album, Ivory, on April 8; it’s a sixteen-track collection representative of Apollo’s strong voice and surely successful future. In songs like “Killing Me”, “En El Olvido”, and “Tamagotchi” Apollo sings verses (or entire pieces) in Spanish, taking the album to a more unique level. Covering themes of angst, relationship troubles, and falling in love, Ivory showcases his potential and promises for continued greatness throughout his life.
Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
Geminis, the third sign on the astrological calendar, are known for their double-sided nature, a characteristic beautifully depicted by Steve Lacy in his second full-length album Gemini Rights, released July 15. It’s practically impossible to limit the album, and Steve Lacy himself, to just one genre: his music is a blend of R&B, rock, neo-funk, and jazz, a melting pot of strong sounds and influences that create one eclectic collection. Gemini Rights is based on Lacy’s own experiences in a relationship, what it was like to be in love, and the inevitable breakup. The “Bad Habit” star has highlighted not only his growth as an artist in the album but left listeners grooving out to his chill rhythms.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down
In 2000, Karen O (vocals, piano), Nick Zinner (guitar, keyboard), and Brian Chase (drums) formed Yeah Yeah Yeahs, one of the leading punk-rock bands in the New York City rock scene. After nine long years, the band appeared with their fifth album Cool It Down on September 30, unveiling eight cinematic songs that solidify, once again, the band’s legacy in music history. The opening song, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” is psychedelic, jarring, and ultimately, a reminder of the power Yeah Yeah Yeahs have in their field. Experimenting with punk, bringing in elements of dream-pop, and incorporating steady beats in every track, Cool It Down asserts their place in post-modern punk for good.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
In the ever-evolving genre of folk, indie band Big Thief has always been in the conversation. Adrianne Lenker (vocals, guitar), Buck Meek (guitar, backing vocals), Max Oleartchite (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums) of Big Thief are known for their depressing, raw tracks describing heartbreak and toxic relationships. However, their latest album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, released February 11, changes their music game and focuses on the good instead of the bad. Focusing on developing that indie-folk sound — like in “Spud Infinity” with the use of fiddle — Big Thief embraces absurdism in 20 songs contemplating life and simple human pleasures.
King Princess – Hold On Baby
In 2018, Mikaela Straus’, known as King Princess, life changed forever. With the release of her single “1950,” the musician was catapulted into the limelight but, despite all the pressure, she has managed to develop her voice and produce remarkable music. Her sophomore album Hold On Baby, released July 29, illustrates Staus’ strong vocal abilities and captivating build-ups to bridges perfect for screaming out. Hold On Baby is pop, funk, rock, and more, setting King Princess as a musical force to be reckoned with.
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
Harry Styles has completely rebranded himself since his days of boy-band-stardom in One Direction, effectively having created a name that resembles, truly and wholeheartedly, who he is. Now, the Don’t Worry Darling actor has released three albums, his third one Harry’s House having been released on May 20. Unlike his last two rock-heavy collections, Harry’s House takes several moments to reflect on Styles’ growing identity as a contemporary-pop artist. However, he’s still stayed true to his contemplative, mostly somber themes in songs like “Matilda,” “Keep Driving,” and “Love of My Life.” No matter what new endeavor Styles takes on, one fact remains undeniable: his legacy, from One Direction to solo-singing to acting, will always be commended.
ODESZA – The Last Goodbye
No one has made a name for themselves in a genre other than EDM duo ODESZA, consisting of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, who continue to top what was deemed above the level. After five years of anticipation, ODESZA released The Last Goodbye on July 22, twelve songs that dig deep into the hearts of listeners with their one resounding message: we are all connected. Featuring artists like renowned soul singer Bettye LaVette, Portuguese singer MARO, and English musician Lapsley, Mills and Knight fostered a varied album full of unmistakable tones and a general feeling of being welcomed.
Alvvays – Blue Rev
Canadian indie-pop band Alvvays didn’t anticipate that it would take five years to release their third album. However, the delay was well worth the wait, and Blue Rev, released October 7, was exactly what 2022 needed. Alvvays, consisting of Molly Rankin (vocals, guitar), Kerri MacLellan (keyboards), Alec O’Hanley (guitars), Abbey Blackwell (bass), and Sheridan Riley (drums) design fourteen tracks that feel like a montage from a coming-of-age film. Each song is filled with hard-hitting lyrics covering friendships, change, and finding who you are. Blue Rev revamps not only Alvvays as a band, but also enhances their style for the future.
Beach House – Once Twice Melody
Eighteen years later, Beach House remains one of the leading musicians in the realm of dream pop, a feat truly commendable and consistently proven. Victoria Legrand (vocals, keyboard) and Alex Scally (guitar, keyboard, backup vocals) released their ninth album Once Twice Melody in four “chapters,” the first one coming out on November 10, 2021, and concluding on February 18, 2022. Over their many years of creating beautifully cinematic pieces, the duo has yet to lose their sound and has instead built upon their synth-ed-out keyboard notes and mystical guitar strums. Songs like “Pink Funeral” and “ESP” bring in orchestral elements while “Sunset” and “The Bells” enhance the music with choir-like singing. Once Twice Melody covers the human experience in a single story — one of love, joy, despair, heartbreak, and renewal — in simply four parts, and eighteen tracks.
The Weekend – Dawn FM
“You are now listening to Dawn FM” legendary actor Jim Carrey announces, the real-life neighbor to Canadian singer-songwriter The Weekend, formally known as Abel Tesfaye. On January 6, Tesfaye released his most ambitious album yet, Dawn FM. The sixteen-track album mirrors that of classic radio stations, going as far as including ad interludes and, of course, hosts like Carrey. Throughout Dawn FM, Tesfaye describes his tendency of self-destruction, reflecting on the negative consequences he’s experienced due to ill-planned actions. Furthermore, the album serves as an insight into the human life cycle, specifically, its end as Tesfaye comments repeatedly on death, the concept of Heaven and Hell, and the afterlife in general. After everything, he affirms that “you gotta be Heaven to see Heaven.”
Lizzy McAlpine – five seconds flat
American singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine starts her sophomore album at her funeral. Portraying the bitter scene in “doomsday,” McAlpine describes the music, those who attend, and her role at the tragic event. five seconds flat, released April 8, exemplifies a side of McAlpine the world has yet to see. Even though most of her fourteen tracks, like “erase me,” “weird,” and “firearm” begin with her classic acoustic guitar, they stray from her usual indie-folk sound into something more pop-based. The inclusion of backing, choir-like vocals and synth keyboard (sometimes switching out the acoustic for electric) notes elevate, and enhance, her voice and lyricism. Although the album might have begun at the end, there is no doubt that McAlpine will continue to experiment with her music and always leave listeners a little sadder but more understood.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Kendrick Lamar has time and time again proven that he is one of the greatest names to emerge in music in the past century. The first, and only, rap musician to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize in Music, Lamar has paved the way for a new form of storytelling within the genre. After a “one-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five” day absence, he emerged, swinging, on May 13 with his fifth studio album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The 19-track album encompasses his 19-year-long career, opening with the euphoric “United in Grief” that establishes a recurring theme of Lamar’s struggle to grasp his own success, and the need to defend his identity. The album is full of his ingenious lyricism, tied together with creative beats that arise when “mental stability meets talent.”
Taylor Swift – Midnights
It’s not easy to pinpoint another artist who has controlled, and changed, the music industry in the way that Taylor Swift has. 18 years and ten albums later, Swift is still one of the biggest names in music, even with her genre jumps from country to pop to alternative to folk and now, back to her own unique style of art-pop. Midnights, released October 21, marks the musician’s tenth album and her first collection full of new, unheard songs since she began re-recording her older albums. Midnights is unmistakably Taylor Swift, with its beautiful song lyrics ranging from topics of getting revenge to falling in love, and yet, it still provides all the evidence necessary that her musical talents will be forever growing. As she welcomes listeners to “meet me at midnight,” she affirms that the journey was worth the time.
MUNA – MUNA
Indie-pop trio MUNA kickstarted their third album, MUNA, with a collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers as all four women sang a pop anthem comparing a lover to the softness of “Silk Chiffon.” Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson released MUNA on June 24, an eleven-song album that ranges from topics of love, angst, and heartbreak. Influenced by the late 90s and early 2000s, the album feels like something that would play in a disco nightclub with its heavy synth thumps and electric guitar scales. MUNA was met with critical acclaim, praise that’s well deserved for the album’s captivating sound and the trio’s beautiful use of groove-ability.
Mitski – Laurel Hell
Mitski Miyawaki transports listeners to the small town of Valentine, Texas at the start of her sixth studio album, Laurel Hell. Moving past the ignorant ideologies of small towns, Mitski uses the eleven-song album, released on February 4, to delve into her feelings of melancholy and cynicism, emotions not foreign to the American musician. In Laurel Hell, Mitski also takes the opportunity to express her thoughts on her own rising success, using tracks like “Heat Lightning” to level with her audience and affirm to them her identity in a hopeless surrender. While it might be easy to categorize Mitski as indie-rock, her music is an encompassment of every emotion ever felt and an experience that forces people to look in on the parts of them they choose to ignore; for that, she’s undefinable.
Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
Is it better to stick with what’s been made before or reinvent it into something new? To this, Brittney Parks, known as Sudan Archives, responds in her final track, “#513” of her sophomore album, “I don’t really wanna follow tricky, trendy little things.” The proof is in Natural Brown Prom Queen, released September 9, that was met with worldwide critical acclaim. There’s nothing about Parks’ life that’s ordinary; as a child, she learned violin by ear-training and now has gone on to create music that’s an embodiment of the complexities of the human brain. Natural Brown Prom Queen is experimental avant-garde R&B, coupled with moments of intense rap riffs and almost folksy interludes. And at the end of it all, Parks has managed to completely change the way that songs can be written, effectively designing something unnamable and unimaginable.
Angel Olsen – Big Time
“Walk through the fires” American singer-songwriter Angel Olsen commands in her sixth album Big Time, released June 3. It’s not a message of self-destruction, rather one of letting go and understanding the world from a greater perspective than just one’s own. Olsen’s tracks are normally dominated by the sounds of folk-rock, but the musician decided to take a step back in Big Time and create ten pieces all dedicated to the beauties of life, including herself. In a slower, more-country-esq album, Olsen reflects back on her life, focusing on love and identity in something not only stunning audibly, but heart-warming in a deeper, emotional sense. “Let go of the pain that obstructs you from higher,” she sings, on “Through the Fires,” and it’s a declaration that’s meant to be followed.
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers of Wet Leg believe, in their outro track “Too Late Now,” that “everything is going wrong.” But for the female duo, who released their debut album Wet Leg on April 8, everything is certainly heading in the right direction. Wet Leg has been the subject of worldwide viewing and constant attention for the past year; their mesmerizing voices paired with classic indie-rock beats not only makes people pause in their listening, but forces them to fully take on the sheer scope of their range. Teasdale and Chambers use Wet Leg to chronicle what it’s like to be an outsider looking in, even within the industry that they’re starting to take over. Wet Leg has stated that their second album is already completed, but until that releases, Wet Leg is an eight track ensemble meant to be played for anyone who’s felt like an uninvited member to the party of life.