Ah…the best time of the year is here. The holidays are right around the corner, everyone is spending quality time with loved ones, and all major music publications are sharing their “Best Of” lists.
It’s also Staged Haze’s 5th year of participating in the “Best Of” tradition, which is so incredibly wild and hard to believe that I’ve been sharing these for such a long time! Thanks for being on the ride with us.
Drop a comment with your thoughts on our list. Did we snub anyone? Spill the tea.
50. Bob Moses, The Silence in Between (March 4/Domino Records)
The Silence in Between effortlessly became my plug-and-play driving option earlier this year. The tone of this album is atmospheric, wondrous, and diligent—the perfect fit for all of my long haul journeys, and just as perfect for all of my dates with city-grade standstill traffic. There’s a lot to love about this album, but the intricate depth and layering of each track steals my heart and engages my mind upon each playback. While familiar, I always find myself finding new meaning to this 45-minute play. There’s something for everyone on this studded release. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “Time and Time Again,” “Hanging On,” “The Rush”
49. Jamie T, The Theory of Whatever (July 22/Polydor Records)
Compared to other musicians, Jamie T’s a bit of a recluse. In between album cycles you rarely hear a peep from him, so when the British musician popped up on social media again earlier this year, you can’t blame fans for getting extremely excited. The Theory of Whatever, Jamie T’s fifth album, was worth getting excited for. The indie rockstar is back in form, with songs like “British Hell,” which samples the Misfits, expertly bringing together Jamie T’s punk rock sensibilities with his love of hip hop. – Erin
Standout tracks: “The Old Style Raiders,” “British Hell”
48. Charlie Burg, Infinitely Tall (August 19/FADER Label)
If I’ve learned anything in 2022, it’s that 1) Indie R&B is a genre and 2) I really quite enjoy it. Cue Charlie Burg, a Detroit native who released his debut album, Infinitely Tall, in August.
According to this article, Burg’s vision for the album was to create a chapter book structure that “mirrored the stages of his life,” first representing the nostalgia for his hometown, followed by young adulthood, and an “ejection from youth into adulthood.”
Infinitely Tall certainly sounds like a coming-of-age album. Its palatable delivery doesn’t deter from its ability to come across as a well thought out, enjoyable body of work: its accessibility makes the concept even stronger. Burg feels most at home in the tracks “97 Avalon” and “Chicago (Take It Or Leave It,”) both represent his evident interest in classic R&B music.
But the gem on the album has to be the hilariously crafted “Dancing Through The Mental Breakdown,” a song that Burg refers to as “a burst of sardonic cultural criticism” where “The wheels come off and the protagonist (me) sees all their most resented attributes of the world reflected back to them in the mirror. Many of the things I hate about the world could really be things I hate about myself.”
Find me a millennial that doesn’t relate to that statement. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “97 Avalon,” “Chicago (Take It Or Leave It),” “Dancing Through The Mental Breakdown”
47. The Wombats, Fix Yourself, Not the World (January 14/AWAL)
For a band with such a fun sound, and exuberant live shows, The Wombats have never been known for their overwhelming positivity, and nowhere is that more evident than on their fifth album Fix Yourself, Not the World. The album, written remotely while the band’s members were isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic, is bleak. They have a song called “Everything I Love Is Going to Die” if you need further proof. While that’s a bummer, the song is really about not skirting past the fact that yeah, we all will die one day. Why not have fun while we’re here? This is a perfect example of a pandemic album — it’s centered around trying to find the joy in the present moment, knowing that sometimes things totally suck, but if you try and work on yourself and make things a little better in your life, they don’t always have to be bad. – Erin
Standout tracks: “Everything I Love Is Going to Die,” “Flip Me Upside Down”
46. MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs (April 29th/Dear Life)
MJ Lenderman knows why “we get so fucked up.” Or so he declares on the Boat Songs highlight “TLC Cagematch.” The whole album is preoccupied with a fascination for the reasons why we drink, get fucked up, or really do anything self-indulgent or self-destructive. Over Lenderman’s anxious, bellowing guitars, he contemplates the consequences of these actions with a comical and ironic recognition. The Americana-meets-Daydream Nation sound is attention-holding. When he chooses for the music to electrify, the guitars spill out like a smoke machine. When he opts for placidity, it’s like a still lake. From hangovers to home cooked meals, MJ Lenderman makes the muck of life sound unusually profound. – Andy
Standout tracks: “TLC Cagematch,” “Tastes Just Like It Costs”
45. Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive (July 22/Third Man Records)
Music often brings us back to influential times in our life, and Entering Heaven Alive holds true to that notion. I first heard Entering Heaven Alive when traveling to Boulder, Colorado for the first time. As a city kid born and raised, I was absolutely blown away by the beauty nestled northwest of Denver International. To be quite honest, visiting Boulder felt like I entered my heaven. I had many conversations with my friends about how I wanted to plant my roots in this gorgeous location. Jack White influenced my attraction to this new environment; this album became the soundtrack to my front yard chill sessions, reminding me to take it easy, enjoy every moment, and live my best life. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “Help Me Along,” “Love is Selfish,” Queen of the Bees”
44. Old Sea Brigade, 5am Paradise (October 28/Nettwerk Music Group)
Confession: I think my admiration for Ozzy Osborne contributed to my road rage during my morning commutes to work. After this painstaking revelation, I had to shift my focus; I had to find an album that was at least a bit calmer than Ozzy’s Scream. That’s where Old Sea Brigade comes in—with my chillest submission for this year’s best albums of the year.
Yes, listening to this album mellows me right out and puts me in a more manageable mindset for the long work day ahead. The simplicity of the lyricism, the instrumentation, and the message nearly lulls me to sleep—a stark opposition to what formerly caused me to flip the bird more often than not. It reminds me most of last year’s top pick from Big Red Machine. Music is powerful; Old Sea Brigade will help you slow down and recognize the simple things in life. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “5am Paradise,” “Man Made by Delusion,” “Somedays”
43. Allison Ponthier, Shaking Hands With Elvis (June 10/Interscope)
If you can imagine combining the sounds of Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and Phoebe Bridgers, you’d get Allison Ponthier: a newcomer out of Texas (based in New York), who has been picking up steam as an artist to watch, thanks to her genre-bending sound that can only be described as “emo country.” Ponthier (pronounced ‘pon-tee-aye’)’s sophomore EP Shaking Hands With Elvis happens to be the only EP to make our year end list, and though it is short, clocking in at six songs that last just over 20 minutes, Ponthier manages to convince listeners that her ideas have been fully realized and that she’s more than capable of releasing a full length LP this early into her career (her debut single was released just last year).
“Autopilot,” a personal favorite of mine, was penned with the help of some other big-named indie artists (Adam Melchor and Ethan Gruska), and “Hardcore” by Ariel Rechtshaid (Charli XCX, Haim, Vampire Weekend, to name a few) and Nick Long (Machine Gun Kelly, King Princess). It’s safe to say that Ponthier, who has toured with the likes of Bleachers and Holly Humberstone, is in great company going into 2023. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “Autopilot,” “Hardcore,” “Late Bloomer”
42. Pusha T, It’s Almost Dry (April 22/Def Jam, GOOD Music)
Origin of my Pusha T admiration montage: Shazaming an Arby’s commercial during freshman year of high school and learning that “Burial” by Yogi and PT is an absolute banger. End montage. Needless to say, I’ve been a fan of Pusha for a while now and after learning that Ye and Pharell Williams were going to help him produce a project, I was hooked. This album has its series of Grade-A bangers including “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes” and “Neck and Wrist” with Jay-Z. It’s a gritty bout that proves risks yield rewards. I’ll let you be the judge of this nearly perfect piece. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,”Neck and Wrist,” “Just So You Remember”
41. Kevin Morby, This is a Photograph (May 13/Dead Oceans)
Kevin Morby’s indie folk serenades harken back to a sound that’s losing its salience in today’s age, a sound that draws from the playbooks of musicians long past. On This Is a Photograph, Morby expands on, rather than recreates, this core sound – a soulful, polished record with roots in bluegrass, rock, gospel and soul. Surprisingly contained yet sprawling with subtle detail, the project touches on topics from the joys of love, mortality, and the small, everyday occurrences that contribute to the human existence. Almost historical in nature – taking you through vivid scenes of Memphis, Kansas City, and more—This is a Photograph is an even-tempered trip you won’t want to miss out on. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Bittersweet, TN,” “Rock Bottom,” “A Random Act of Kindness”
40. Brockhampton, TM (November 18 / RCA Records)
2023 was full of rumors and speculation, but nobody held my attention more prominently than Kevin Abstract and his former bandmates. While many of these rumors were admittedly self-induced, I believe this was tactical and purposeful. I found myself scouring sources like Twitter and Reddit almost daily in search of news on the final BROCKHAMPTON project.
Initially, I was devastated because I thought The Family was the pop-juggernaut’s last release, and let’s just say…I’m glad the band proved me wrong only one day later with the release of TM. This album has a fair share of BROCKHAMPTON-brand bangers and quieter, thought-provoking tracks. To that end, there’s something for everyone on this exit ticket. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “LISTERINE,” “ANIMAL,” “KEEP IT SOUTHERN”
39. Odesza, The Last Goodbye (July 22, Ninja Tune/Foreign Family Collective)
I describe The Last Goodbye as an album you can visualize – bursting at the seams with so much life and vitality that it’s easy to feel the album envelop you. Billed as ODESZA’s ode to the friends, family, and fans who built them up and simultaneously supported their sound, The Last Goodbye is the duo’s most ambitious album to date. It has everything condensed into 13 tightly crafted tracks: clublike EDM beats, melodious hooks, and atmospheric arena sounds. The journey the album presents is a fulfilling one, one that leaves you with a little more pep in your step and a shared love for the community that music brings. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Wide Awake,” “Love Letter,” “The Last Goodbye”
38. Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti (May 6/Rimas)
It’s hard to believe that Bad Bunny released his first album just four years ago. Somehow, despite that, Un Verano Sin Ti is the reggaeton superstar’s fifth album (including 2019’s Oasis, a collaborative release with J Balvin). I don’t think he’s slept in the past several years. It’s unbelievable the rate at which he’s producing work, and it’s also unbelievable that none of it has ever been bad, especially not Un Verano Sin Ti.
I say this every time Bad Bunny releases a new album, but it’s arguably his best work yet. The album is a vast exploration of Latin and Caribbean genres, from reggaeton, of course, Benito also weaves his way bomba, bachata and many more genres without ever feeling messy or muddled. Not only is it a bop-filled, emotionally-driven masterwork, but it’s also an album of historic feats: the second-best selling non-English language album in US history, and the first Spanish language album to receive a nomination for Album of the Year at the Grammys. I can’t wait to see what Benito does next, but first, I need him to take a nap and relax. – Erin
Standout tracks: “Tití Me Preguntó,” “Callaíta,” “Ojitos Lindos”
37. Maggie Rogers, Surrender (July 29, Debay Sounds/Capitol)
A supremely layered, magnificent album that had the difficult task of following up her 2019 Heard It In a Past Life, Surrender is Maggie Rogers reaching a new artistic height. As I wrote in our July review, “Surrender simultaneously cements and signals that Rogers is here to stay, and that she has unfinished business and exploration to uncover.” Filled with more complex instrumentation compared to her previous music, Rogers flexes her vocal abilities and pushes them to the limits, sounding freer and more expressive in the process.
“Transformation” is too strong of a word to describe the sound of Surrender, but what unfolds across the album is unbounded personal growth and emotional release – a sign of the self-assuredness and transformation to come from Rogers. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Be Cool,” “Anywhere With You,” “Shatter”
36. Mitski, Laurel Hell (February 4, Dead Oceans)
The mysterious, alluring Mitski returns with Laurel Hell, a densely acute project that’s filled with an inherent lyrical knowing and accuracy. As any fan of Mitski’s will likely tell you, she takes an indelible hold of you through her music, striking at our deepest emotions and tendencies by crafting expert lines with universal human appeal. Though the production is softer around the edges on Laurel Hell, the impact is just as real as past projects, sounding equal parts menacing and liberating. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Valentine, Texas,” “Working for the Knife,” “Heat Lightning”
35. Yumi Zouma, Present Tense (March 18 / PIAS)
March was a good month for new releases and Yumi Zouma is substantially responsible for that. The indie-pop wonder stole the show with Present Tense and, according to Spotify Wrapped, this album quickly became my most played this year. Lead singer Christie Simpson’s vocals are heavenly and breezy, gently accompanying any melody the band crafts. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “If I Had the Heart for Chasing,” “Of Me and You,” “Astral Projection”
34. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, When the Lights Go Out (September 9, Nice Age)
There’s so much nuance and variety packed into TEED’s When the Lights Go Out that it’s difficult to convey in a few short sentences. But TEED – real name Orlando Higginbottom – has excelled in creating a buoyant house album suited for any situation. Though lyrically the album is over directed and on-the-nose at times, TEED’s mastery shines through in many ways, most notably magnificent production. When the Lights Go Out is a triumphant, beautiful project from a too often overlooked master of the craft. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Never Seen You Dance,” “The Sleeper,” “Blood in the Snow”
33. DJO, DECIDE (September 16/AWAL)
Though he’s best known as the affable Steve Harrington on Stranger Things, Joe Keery steps into his frontman trappings on his second album under the DJO moniker. With a David Byrne vocal sensibility and Daft Punk-ian synth palette, Keery unpacks friendship, identity, and fame with a natural charisma and subtle darkness. As playful as it is self-aware, DECIDE has a unique point of view from someone who has a nuanced experience with fame and the entertainment industry. “I will be your fool…I’m a jester and I’m yours,” he sings on “Fool.” That may be true, but we’re the ones under his spell. – Emma
Stand-out Tracks: “I Want Your Video,” “End of Beginning,” “Climax”
32. Wallows, Tell Me That It’s Over (March 25/Atlantic)
Tell Me That It’s Over is an ironic name, in a sense. The album, one of the most fun ones released this year, is one of the ones that I never want to end. Despite being their second release, Tell Me That It’s Over was the first album I’ve ever listened to by Wallows, and it’s a rare listening occurrence when an album becomes an instant no-skip classic on a first listen for me, but there’s no songs on this that really falter. On this album, Wallows isn’t really reinventing the genre, instead, they’re just making really solid power pop songs that I’ve been going back to all year long. – Erin
Standout tracks: “Missing Out,” “At the End of the Day,” “Hard to Believe”
31. Niki, Nicole (August 12, 2022/88rising Records)
One of 88rising’s rising stars (see what I did there?) Niki Zefanya caught my ears earlier this year when I heard her single “Before,” one of my favorite songs of the year, thanks to Zefayna’s incredible, imaginative storytelling ability that paints a picture for the listener in the same way Taylor Swift can (I know this is a heavy compliment, and I wholeheartedly believe it). After hearing the full album, Niki, that comparison grew even stronger in my mind, thanks to songs like “Facebook Friends,” “High School in Jakarta,” and “Backburner.”
Niki’s music is heavily influenced by artists like Destiny’s Child and Aaliyah, but also by folk and pop artists like Taylor Swift (of course). She cites growing up in Indonesia as influencing her worldview as well as her music. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “Before,” “High School in Jakarta,” “Backburner”
30. Harry Styles, Harry’s House (May 20/Columbia)
When I first heard the opening melody on the first track of Harry‘s House, I knew something seismic was coming. For a musician who once seemed trapped as primarily one of five in a now defunct boy band, Styles has been forced to prove himself as a worthy solo artist time and time again, this time, finding mass appeal as a pop artist. This isn’t to say he wasn’t at this level of superstardom before, but the success of Harry’s House has grabbed even the most nonchalant pop culture consumers’ attention. With two albums already under his belt, a massive North American stint of residencies across major music markets, and now, six Grammy nominations for Harry’s House.
Styles seems more relaxed and at ease in the aptly titled project, breezing through songs about music in a sushi restaurant, complete with scatting, sex with his (now rumored ex) girlfriend, and childhood trauma that oozes a sense of unattainable cool, yet simultaneously relatable at the same time. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “As It Was,” “Little Freak,” “Satellite”
29. Denzel Curry, Melt My Eyez See Your Future (March 25 / PH Recordings)
This is likely going to be viewed as a ghost pepper grade take, but Melt My Eyez See Your Future is easily my rap album of the year. I listen to this album at least fifteen times a week, especially after Curry released his extended cut with the “Cold Soul” jazz instrumental versions. I knew that Curry played basketball, either currently or at some point, but aside from that, that’s all I knew about him until stumbling upon this project. I was completely shocked by his talent. His bars, his flow, his melodies…everything about this project gets me on my feet and fired up whenever I tune in. Curry earned a spot on my watch list because damn, Melt My Eyez was a treat. – Sean
Standout Tracks:: “Melt Session #1,” “Worst Comes to Worst,” “Mental”
28. Nilüfer Yanya, PAINLESS (March 4/Tower Records)
As one of my pleasant surprises of the year, Nilüfer Yanya enthralled my mind from start to finish with PAINLESS. This indie-rock album released during the first quarter of the year, which means I’ve shared many adventures with this album. Its effortless beach-rock groove gets my head bumping at a moment’s notice. The darker and grungier tracks are perfect for those days when you can’t escape your feels. There’s a lot to love about this emerging British singer / songwriter that has supplanted herself firmly upon my top artists to watch. – Sean
Standout Tracks “chase me,” “midnight sun,” “the dealer”
27. Black Country, New Road: Ants From Up There (February 2/Ninja Tune)
Black Country, New Road doesn’t play songs so much as they wring them out. Every track off the UK group’s sophomore album has an air of resistance, like they were pushed uphill through the recording process. Between its intricate, classically-minded arrangements and tense, neurotic outbursts, Ants certainly doesn’t sound like it was a breeze to create. It’s that emotional labor and exerted effort that makes this album so rewarding. Ants From Up There is the product of a band putting their entire hearts into a piece of music. – Andy
Standout Tracks: “Chaos Space Marine,” “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade,” “Basketball Shoes”
26. Lizzy McAlpine, Five Seconds Flat (April 8/AWAL)
While I’d certainly never consider myself one to be an expert in the technical execution of creating music, every once in a while, an artist comes along who is so absolutely well-trained in their genre that completely blows men away. Lizzy McAlpine is one of those people: when I first heard her song “Erase Me” with the equally brilliant Jacob Collier, I knew I had stumbled onto a once-in-a-generation artist. How many artists can say they’ve released a song with none other than John Mayer at the age of 23?
Five Seconds Flat successfully paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of a relationship ending, following a linear narrative from start to finish (in other words, don’t ever listen to it out of order). With each listen, I uncover a new favorite song, carefully crafted with intricate moments that highlight the lyrics and the production with equal intensity. “all my ghosts” is a beautiful ode to a blossoming relationship and the baggage that inherently comes with it: “reckless driver” about refusing to let go when it comes to falling in love. The ending of the track is so brilliantly executed, you just may miss it. – Kristin
Standout tracks: “all my ghosts,” “reckless driving,” “what a shame”
25. Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa (February 11/Matador)
Legacy rock bands’ track record for releasing solid albums in the 2020s has been disappointing (and I’m airing on the side of politeness). I hoped we could depend on the ever-steadfast Spoon to break the curse, and as usual, they delivered an excellent indie rock project in Lucifer on the Sofa. Ten albums in, and they still haven’t surrendered to any self-indulgent urges to either slack off or over-complicate. A vivid ode to the Texas rock n’ roll sound they’re famous for, Lucifer on the Sofa feels like an effortless addition to a nearly pristine discography. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “Held,” “Wild,” “My Babe”
24. The Weeknd, Dawn FM (January 6/Republic)
At this point in his career, The Weeknd can release any project he wants and still end up on top. Too many factors work in The Weeknd’s favor – he has an indisputably unique and captivating voice; his cinematic storytelling abilities capture attention; and he feels at home on whatever song or beat he finds himself singing over. Though a bit less ambitious than After Hours or his previous projects, where Dawn FM excels is in its curatorial and consistent narrative that draws you in from the very first track and takes you for an ethereal ride. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Take My Breath,” “Is There Someone Else?,” “Less Than Zero”
23. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (February 11/4AD)
For all its high-minded, poetic, contemplativeness, Big Thief’s music never sounds too toiled over. Whether they’re fueling fire to a jam (“Little Things”), channeling their grandma-folk energy (“Red Moon”), or pausing in tranquility (“Promise is a Pendulum”), they always sound off-the-cuff. They’re the animal sketches on the cover, cultivating brilliance over the campfire like it’s an ordinary day. Dragon New Warm Mountain is a miraculous album drawn from the band’s endless creative well. – Andy
Standout tracks: “Spud Infinity,” “Little Things,” “Simulation Swarm”
22. Willow, <COPINGMECHANISM> (October 7 / MSFTS, Roc Nation)
…Did I get my point across?
WILLOW takes the cake as my surprise artist of the year. I never once considered listening to her work, and never did until I was assisting Kristin with a New Music Sunday post. I found this album a short sixty days ago but it feels like I’ve known these songs for my entire life. For WILLOW to ensnare me with these tracks, molding them as fresh yet familiar—genius. It’s the perfect balance of teenage angst and bedroom pop. I’m hooked, keep it coming. She’s got a fan in me, that’s for sure. – Sean
Standout Tracks: “<maybe> it’s my fault,” “curious / furious,” “WHY?”
21. Sasami, Squeeze (February 25/Domino)
Squeeze is not particularly easy to listen to from start to finish. Now, that certainly doesn’t diminish the quality of the project, but it is something interesting to point out. From one look of the album cover, I’m sure you’re wondering what Squeeze sounds like. After several months of sitting with it, I still don’t really know. The 32-minute project spans several genres, from nu metal to alternative country to even folk. Sasami Ashworth, a musician known for her previous work in the band Cherry Glazerr, bounces between genres with ease: one minute, she sounds like Sheryl Crow (“Tried To Understand,”) another she sounds like Grimes (“Say It,”) and one more for “Skin A Rat” sounding like Rage Against The Machine or Linkin Park. – Kristin
Standout tracks: “The Greatest,” “Call Me Home,” “Tried To Understand”
20. Florence + The Machine, Dance Fever (May 13/Polydor Records)
An album called “Dance Fever” should be fun, but Florence + the Machine’s fifth record is so much more than that, it’s an album about pressure, about power and well, dancing of course. “Dance Fever” mark’s the band’s first time working with Jack Antonoff as a producer on the album. Anyone who has been paying attention to pop music in the past decade has been aware of the rise of Antonoff, and his signature sound is absolutely found on this album, but not too much that it’s distracting. It still captures the ethereal, powerful songwriting that singer Florence Welch has always been a master of since the band’s breakthrough more than a decade ago. – Erin
Standout tracks: “King,” “Choreomania,” “Dream Girl Evil”
19. Angel Olsen, Big Time (June 3/Jagjaguwar)
In the world of Angel Olsen’s Big Time, processing grief and transition feels like driving down an infinite, sun-soaked road. It’s always beautiful, mostly melancholy, and somehow sublime. Bolstered by a twangy sonic landscape, Olsen’s vocals sift through her emotions gently, with acceptance even in the midst of confusion. On Big Time, there’s all the time in the world to get to the other side. For now, it’s okay to simply drive. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “All the Good Times,” “Ghost On,” “This Is How It Works”
18. Alex G, God Save the Animals (September 23/Domino)
When Alex G reaches for the word “Forgive” on the God Save the Animals closer, his voice nearly cracks with urgency. It’s a rare display of fragility from a songwriter who mostly relies on the ambiguity of sketches and impressions. The majority of Alex G’s ninth album is business as usual for the songwriter. His music unites eerie disquiet and folk-like intimacy, threading electronics through his rock arrangements. But the final song is a push for mercy, shifting the album’s title into a critical plea. God Save the Animals is Alex G’s most empathetic album yet, pressing for salvation for his animals, his characters, and himself. – Andy
Standout Tracks: “Runner,” “No Bitterness,” “Forgive”
17. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen (September 9/Stones Throw)
Sudan Archives’ Brittney Parks got her start as a violinist; she learned mostly by ear during her childhood in Cincinnati. It wasn’t long until she decided to, in her own words, “show the blackness of the violin” by making her own music. That sonic innovation practically explodes on Natural Brown Prom Queen, a project that draws on a litany of musical traditions: rap, R&B, electronica, pop, and more. While tempting, it would be a mistake to overlook the lyrics in favor of the exciting production; Parks’ sense of storytelling is remarkably well-honed. This is a once-in-a-generation kind of album, and I look forward to witnessing how it influences Parks’ peers for years to come. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “Selfish Soul,” “Homemaker,” “NBPQ (Topless)”
16. Ethel Cain, Preacher’s Daughter (May 12/Daughters of Cain)
Preacher’s Daughter is less of an album and more of a musical experiment in world building. It tells the tale of Ethel Cain, the character, who runs away from a traumatic home in the American heartland, latches onto a lover, and meets an untimely and gruesome death at his hands.. It sounds melodramatic, but Cain unfolds the story itself delicately, focusing most of her lyrical attention on the themes at hand: poverty, religion, domestic violence, and trauma.
Sonically, the album leans ambient pop-rock but draws on the country, folk, and gospel traditions that the story itself is inspired by. Sprawling and dark, Preacher’s Daughter is an exciting show of creativity, a masterclass in storytelling, and unquestionably the meatiest album I listened to this year. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “American Teenager,” “A House in Nebraska,” “Sun-Bleached Flies”
15. JID, The Forever Story (August 26, Dreamville/Interscope)
The effervescent JID releases one of the year’s best rap albums in The Forever Story, his first project since 2018’s DiCaprio 2. The Dreamville protege plays into his distinct strengths as a lyricist and floats effortlessly up and down the album over some of the sharpest, most proficient beats in recent memory. Loaded with sound features that never manage to steal his limelight, The Forever Story finds JID continuing to occupy his unique space in hip hop: an introspective, dexterous MC who throws down verses with a cool, pugilistic efficiency. On The Forever Story, he makes every word count. – Mitch
Standout tracks: “Surround Sound,” “Stars,” “Raydar”
14. Oso Oso, Sore Thumb (March 18/Triple Crown Records)
In early 2021, Oso Oso recorded 12 songs, which would eventually form their 2022 release “Sore Thumb.” Not long after the songs were recorded, guitarist Tavish Maloney died at the age of 24. Rather than polishing up anything that they had originally recorded, Oso Oso had the album mixed, mastered and sent out as is. Because of that, this album is the band at their most raw, and it’s all the better for it. Somehow in not scrubbing out any imperfections, Oso Oso has made themselves seem effortlessly talented.
Their most untouched record has become their best — and that’s not a knock against any of the three others, which are all great. Our editor Kristin described “Sore Thumb” as punk Jonas Brothers, and there is a very familial bro-love feeling in both group’s work, which can especially be heard on the vinyl-only album closer “Tav World,” a tribute to Maloney and the group’s love of him and each other. – Erin
Standout tracks: “Because I Want To,” “Computer Exploder,” “Pensacola”
13. Tove Lo, Dirt Femme (October 14/Pretty Swede Records)
For someone who’s always been a casual fan of Tove Lo’s, I have to say: Dirt Femme has convinced me of moving to the next phase as a “real”fan. One of the most underrated albums of the year and arguably one of the solid pop albums of the year, Dirt Femme is a near perfect curation of Tove Lo’s best: breezing through topics of love, motherhood, body image, and sex so easily and cohesively.
Tove Lo’s storytelling is what shines on this album: sonically, her music has always been catchy, but the lyricism of Dirt Femme takes her “it” factor to the next level. “Suburbia” is a song that surely the majority of American women in their early adulthood can relate to: the battle we tend to face when making decisions about marriage and having kids (“Just let me talk this through / So if we had a baby / You’d love that more than me? / What if I’m way too lazy / For the Mom-Olympic team? / Will we still be romantic? / Will I still get my sleep? / Will you be less pedantic?”).
“Grapefruit” is a painful yet breathtaking song about body image and eating disorders: an epidemic that affects millions of people but is rarely explored in contemporary music, let alone by an artist whose music gets played on the radio.
For those of us who also want to hear bangers from Tove Lo like we’ve gotten in the past, you can still find those in tracks on the second half of the album, including tracks that feature SG Lewis and Channel Tres. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “Suburbia,” Grapefruit,” “Call On Me”
12. Rosalia, Motomami (March 18/Columbia Records)
The first time I heard Motomami I was on a train in northern Spain going to Madrid. When I stepped out of the city’s subway and started walking to my Airbnb, I saw a huge billboard for Motomami plastered across an entire apartment building, literally covering all of the windows in the building. When the people who lived in that building looked outside, all they could see was Rosalia in a motorcycle helmet. I’m glad I was there to take in this album as an event, rather than just another pop release, because that’s ultimately what it is. Motomami is the Spanish artist, who was arguably best known for her features on reggaeton tracks before the album’s release, declaring that she is ready to become a superstar, even if the lyrics don’t reflect that.
For such a statement album, Motomami is all about Rosalia’s fears of success, troubles with fame and homesickness, and it weaves the listener through the singer’s Latin music influences, from the bachata track “La Fama” where The Weeknd’s voice serves as the guitar track, to her tribute to reggaeton on “Saoko.” Motomami is a masterwork, and while she’s not yet a superstar in the United States like she is in her native Spain, it’s only a matter of time. – Erin
Standout Tracks: “Saoko,” “Delirio de Grandeza,” “Como un G”
11. Let’s Eat Grandma, Two Ribbons (April 29/Transgressive)
Hearing one great song dedicated to the complexities of platonic friendship is enough of a treat, so a full album feels like a miracle- especially if it’s an album as magical as Two Ribbons. On their third record, Let’s Eat Grandma’s Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth retrace their steps from the last few years, representing moments of intimacy, conflict, and distance equally across ten glittery synth tracks. Any fan of CHVRCHES, Porter Robinson, or Robyn would be enchanted by this ode to friendship and timeless pop hooks. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “Happy New Year,” “Hall of Mirrors,” “Sunday”
10. Charli XCX, CRASH (March 18/Atlantic)
Charli XCX has always flirted with capital-P Pop Stardom, but CRASH is the first album in which her non-mainstream status is totally inexcusable. Blending her usual glitch-pop tendencies with a Britney-esque retro flavor (see “Baby”), Charli and her “fuck it” attitude are at their best on this project. As she processes the end of the relationship that inspired how i’m feeling now and Charli, her self-destructiveness (“Crash”) transforms into resignation (“Twice”). Fellow off-kilter pop girls Christine and the Queens, Caroline Polachek, and Rina Sawayama, who feature on the album, function as Charli’s Angels-style teammates in her quest for closure. The whole thing is campy, sexy, audacious, and- in my opinion- her only no-skip album. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “Crash,” “Constant Repeat,” “Baby”
9. Julia Jacklin, PRE PLEASURE (August 26/Polyvinyl)
With remarkable vulnerability, Australian indie darling Julia Jacklin distills some of life’s most unwieldy emotional experiences into whip-smart songs. Not a word wasted as she explores daughterhood, aging, friendship, intimacy, and religion in thirty-eight minutes of graceful indie-rock. “Ever since I was 13, I’ve been pulled in every direction- such a good student of all that conflicting advice,” she sings on “Ignore Tenderness.” Pre-Pleasure is proof that lifelong confusion, if thoughtfully processed in adulthood, can produce extraordinary art. It’s instant-classic caliber. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “Lydia Wears a Cross,” “Less of a Stranger,” “Ignore Tenderness”
8. Alvvays, Blue Rev (October 14/Polyvinyl)
The Toronto quintet have a distinctly collegiate vibe. Maybe it’s from Molly Rankin’s verbose lyrics, full of multi-syllable vocabulary words like “monochromatic,” “accosted,” and “pedantic.” Maybe it’s how the band draws from erudite “college rock,” informed by the bands that dominated university radio stations in the ‘90s like Pavement, R.E.M., and Teenage Fanclub. Maybe it’s just that I really loved Alvvays when I was in college. They’re a perfect soundtrack for dreary dormitory days. The songs on Blue Rev pass like semesters: fleeting in retrospect, but full of their own plots and twists and turns. The album proves that you don’t need a big wall to make a mural. – Andy
Standout Tracks: “Pharmacist,” “Easy On Your Own?” “Belinda Says”
7. MUNA, Muna (June 24/Saddest Factory)
Getting dropped by a label can absolutely break some bands, but for Muna, it might arguably be the best thing that ever happened to them. After the success of the band’s sophomore album Saves the World in 2019, they were dropped by RCA Records in 2020. One year later they were signed by Phoebe Bridgers’ imprint, Saddest Factory, and you know what they say — the rest is history. But really, the rest is the band releasing “Silk Chiffon,” their fantastic single featuring Bridgers in 2021, which is the leadoff song on 2022’s MUNA. The album sees the band move on from there, playing with genres and experimenting in ways that they never had before. MUNA is an adventurous leap for an exciting band, and a successful one at that. – Erin
Standout Tracks: “Silk Chiffon,” “Runner’s High,” “Kind of Girl”
6. Wet Leg, Wet Leg (April 8/Domino Recording)
A British duo that sells out their North American tour dates before even dropping an album is one to take notice of: and Wet Leg did exactly that in late 2021. After returning to the states in the spring of 2022 to promote their self-titled debut album and an appearance at South By Southwest, Wet Leg’s popularity nearly quadrupled in size after the announcement of their tour dates with none other than Harry Styles, who also did a BBC Radio Live Lounge cover of “Wet Dream.”
If you care to look past the hundreds, if not thousands of internet comments questioning the legitimacy of Wet Leg (I’d venture to assume members Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers are doing literally the same thing, considering they decided to form a band at the top of a ferris wheel at a music festival), you’ll find hilariously crafted indie rock songs full of irony and self deprecation. In a genre that takes itself way too seriously, Wet Leg‘s act of rebellion is doing the complete opposite. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “Chaise Lounge,” “Wet Dream,” “Ur Mum”
5. Amber Mark, Three Dimensions Deep (Release Date, PMR/Interscope)
Three Dimensions Deep is the work of an artist who is secure in her sound and uses it as a vehicle to ask big questions. For Amber Mark, that sound is a delicious, rhythm-driven blend of pop and R&B, and those questions are about self-doubt, identity, and grief. References to celestial bodies are rife on this project, but they serve a purpose; they convey a boundlessness, a curiosity, and a sense of possibility about Mark’s music. As thoughtful as it is fun, this full-length debut is essential listening for any pop fan. Here’s to hoping she continues to shoot for the stars. – Emma
Standout Tracks: “Darkside,” “Worth It,” “What It Is”
4. Taylor Swift, Midnights (October 21/Republic Records)
At this point what else can be said about Taylor Swift? She’s arguably the most famous artist on the planet, she sent her fans into the seven depths of hell as they attempted to get tickets for her upcoming tour, and yet again, she released a great album with 2022’s Midnights.
One of the highlights of Midnights came a few hours after its release, when Swift announced that she recorded several more songs, as part of the 3am Edition of the album, including “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” a high point in a career which has had countless high points. It’s also a baffling choice to not include in the original album, but at least it’s available somewhere because the song is a beautiful meditation on a teenage romantic experience, but from a wizened adult perspective, something that Swift has proven she can do so well, especially after the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”
Midnights has reaffirmed that no matter which avenue Swift takes in her career, she can always come back and be the biggest pop star in the world, not as if that ever hasn’t been the case in the past decade. No one ever doubted it, but it’s impressive nonetheless that Swift can take a leap into a poetic cottagecore era, and seamlessly create tracks that are popping up in commercials and over the radio in department stores. – Erin
Standout Tracks: “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” “Lavender Haze,” “Karma”
3. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (May 13/Interscope)
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers refuses to be easy. Even its friendlier songs—the heavy-lifter “Purple Hearts,” trappy “Silent Hill,” and almost-hype “N95”—rebuff any pop ambition or potential for hits. Kendrick Lamar’s long-awaited return is a confessional and provocative album. Ironically, as much as Mr. Morale refutes the narrative that Kendrick is some kind of genius or savior figure, it also displays the technical prowess, incisive storytelling, and cutting lines that merited this title in the first place. Whether he’s unearthing childhood trauma or calling out white hypocrisy, no one can get to the heart of the matter quite like Kendrick. – Andy
Standout Tracks: “Father Time (feat. Sampha),” “Count Me Out,” “Mirror”
2. The 1975, Being Funny In A Foreign Language (October 14/Dirty Hit)
The 1975’s massive North American tour is called “The 1975: At Their Very Best,” which also happens to describe my thoughts on their fifth LP. As a fan of the British band since their breakthrough in 2013, The 1975 have never had to convince me of being a fan of theirs. But that’s definitely not how it’s been for many music fans and critics alike, who have consistently questioned The 1975’s talent and self-awareness: after all, Matty Healy really did become the poster child for 2010s indie rock bands with lead singers that make questionable statements and drink themselves into oblivion whilst onstage.
Being Funny In A Foreign Language shows Matty & co. at their most relatable, their most raw, their most vulnerable. Healy finally seems to question who he is and how he has grown over the years during highs and lows of his career: (“I’m sorry about my twenties, I was learning the ropes. I had a tendency of thinking ’bout it after I spoke”), (“Am I ironically woke? The butt of my joke? / Or am I just some post-coke, average, skinny bloke / Calling his ego imagination?”) unpacking the concepts of everything from love and insatiability to toxic masculinity and Q Anon.
With stadium-friendly songs like “Happiness”and “I’m In Love With You,” The 1975 have found their sound as a band that can in fact create music for the masses without sacrificing the angst and cynicism that accumulated them so many fans in the first place. – Kristin
Standout Tracks: “Looking For Somebody (To Love),” “Part of The Band,” “I’m In Love With You”
1. Beyoncé, RENAISSANCE (July 29/Columbia)
Let’s start with the obvious: Beyoncé has absolutely nothing to prove. After decades at the top of the music industry, multiple culture-defining releases, and earning the undisputed title of greatest performer alive, Ms. Knowles-Carter could comfortably rest her laurels. Obviously, she doesn’t. Every single Beyoncé album feels hard-won and hungry. With each successive release—BEYONCÉ, Lemonade, The Lion King, and now RENAISSANCE—she dives into new cultural references with fierceness and the sensitivity of a historian. It’s quite clear that Queen B just gets better and better. Beyoncé is a supernatural force. An alien superstar.
RENAISSANCE is her ode to the joy of the club. It’s a seamlessly sequenced and perfectly arranged record that showcases the history of dance music like jewels in a crown. Beyoncé gives credit to her forebearers just as much as she makes these styles her own—sampling disco queen Donna Summer and ball legend Kevin Aviance while she vogues, skirts, and glitters under the disco ball. The whole thing drips in confidence and bliss. It’s comforting and moving, vintage and inventive. For someone who is already a permanent cultural fixture, Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE makes you believe that the best is still to come. – Andy
Standout Tracks: “ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” “PURE/HONEY,” “SUMMER RENAISSANCE”