February 8, 2023

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12 best albums of 2022

All creative industries are tied to trends. Hollywood has its superhero blockbuster. The fashion world is your seasonal prodigy. Silicon Valley loves disruptors. Before the excessive age of streaming, prestige dramas on TV were all the rage. Increasingly, the machinations that contribute to success in the music business—beyond mere talent, of course—are defined by digital launch pads: a viral TikTok hit, placement on a streaming playlist, or an expertly mapped hype cycle.

Thankfully, in a year of exceptional creative output, some of our most inspiring artists have chosen not to abide by these rules. Great music is all about deviations. It doesn’t care about the crowd. It doesn’t hijack the moment by optimizing artistry for the social media wind. The outstanding albums of the year were neither trendsetters nor trend-hunters. In fact, what holds their remarkable originality together is a departure from expectation. Everyone rejected the sugar-sweet ban of the algorithm. Everyone suggested the most valuable resource we have: opportunity.

With the reality of social automation edging closer and machines dictating so much of our lives, the 12 albums that followed felt like supernovas. Some broke the genre. Others have made a home in it. All were unique reflections of what the past year has demanded: the need to cultivate joy – to find clarity above all – amidst the gathering darkness. Call it survival. Give it a reason to keep going.

12. The Everlasting Story, JID

Torchbearers of a new Southern rap avant-garde. Georgia son. heir to the throne. Graduated from Andre 3000 and Goodie Mob’s school. There’s no other way to put it: it’s JID’s turn.

11. Black Girl Magic, Honey Dijon

Honey Dijon is more than a DJ. She’s the godmother of Chicago House. Empress of the dance floor. A spell caster and summoner of the divine. A staple of queer nightlife, she has a knack for igniting the primal longings that lie dormant in all of us. Black Girl Magic is her glittering ode to community and a call to celebration. As the lyrics on “Downtown” affirm, “Keep your worries and worries on the ground.”

10. Windward 4 rent, Smino

Imagine this: A film about a lovestruck millennial who goes on a supernatural road trip through the Midwest. It is directed by Terence Nance and produced by A24. It stars Jerrod Carmichael, Keke Palmer and Sheryl Lee Ralph. You’re told that winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards is an outsider, which of course you scoff at, having been quick to spot its subtle, enduring magnificence and told anyone who would listen. When it ends up winning, everyone is shocked and all you can think is, “Well, duh.” That’s Luv 4 Rent.

9. Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny

Shifting seamlessly between reggaeton, dembow, bachata and cumbia without losing its pop sensibility, the Puerto Rican hitmaker delivers a summery evocation of infectious love songs. Un Verano Sin Ti was the most streamed album of 2022 on Apple Music and Spotify. It is a light work of sound and place, meaning and message, pleasure and play. The mathematics – rather the magnetism of Bad Bunny – speaks for itself.

8. Shape Up, Leikeli47

The wild rattle of “Chitty Bang”. The hypnotic storytelling of “Secret Service”. The delicious ballroom bass from “BITM”. The sweet R&B tunes of “Baseball”. The utter fearlessness of Carry Anne. At a time when everyone wants to be seen, liked and famous on TikTok, Leikeli47 indulges in refreshing anonymity — literally (she always wears a mask). Her compelling stories about black femininity are not bound to any genre or structure. She does what she wants. What’s not to love?

7. Fantasy Getaway, Cuco

It’s easy to underestimate Cuco. His sound hovers between subtle stoner pop and searching psychedelic rock, occasionally drifting into cozy soul grooves. (The concluding horns on “Artificial Intelligence” are exquisite indeed.) The effect of his music is not unlike an LSD trip, a slow seething build followed by a sudden surge of emotion. This time, the Mexican-American ballad singer explores a darker emotional landscape with the strong support of Kasey Musgraves and Adriel Favela. But even when the romance melds into regret and what-ifs, it stays with the journey. The end product is something like dreamlike bliss.

6. Spirituals, Santigold

There’s only one term that sums up the flare-up, sometimes category-averse beauty of Santigold’s music: futurepop. Simultaneously space-age, mystical, and teleporting, the Philadelphia High Priestess returned with the aptly titled Spirituals in September after a year-long absence. The album, like the best of Santi White’s catalogue, comes from a place we haven’t been but aspire to.

5. 11 and Untitled (God), Sault

In November, British collective Sault released five albums via a password-protected WeTransfer file on their website. The approach of the albums varied, and the consensus seemed to be that Airir was the fan favourite. It made sense, of course; In early April, the group had released their counterpart – a similar-sounding arrangement of orchestral brilliance entitled Air (originally spelled with an “i”) – to critical acclaim. But I do have a fondness for 11 and Untitled (God), which decoratively mix funk, R&B and gospel. The songs complement each other in a way that hints at the true heart of Sault’s calling: the work of bringing people together while showing us that we’re more alike than we think.

4. Um, hello, LAYA

Of all the artists on this list, I’m most surprised by LAYA, whose debut EP is an astral mood-maker that takes the best of R&B and twists it into an exciting new whole. In June, she released the single “Sock It 2 ​​Me,” an ambient cover of the Missy Elliott classic, and delivered the goods: It’s a sexy, downtempo version of the original. The vibe is impeccable.

3. Twin Rights, Steve Lacy

The Austrian writer Robert Musil once remarked that “no thing, no self, no form, no principle is certain, everything undergoes an invisible but ceaseless transformation, the unsettled holds more future than the fixed”. Gemini Rights, Lacy’s second solo album, continues down this path: gleefully slinking between genres, exploring the restless with eager ears. The album – which is about heartbreak and love and the sticky metamorphosis of relationships – lives between and beyond the binaries that have typically defined the Compton crooner’s music brand, which is as slippery as the various identities he carries.

2. Ramona Park broke my heart, Vince Staples

It’s the best rap album of the year that features one of the best songs of the year, and it’s nowhere near. As I wrote in April, Staples navigates the gnarly realism of growing up in North Long Beach, and “the result is a remarkable achievement in an aesthetic project of his that has long been concerned with finding meaning in the inevitable realities that hold us captive.” So, yes: Best Rap Album of the Year!

1. Renaissance, Beyonce

Tragedy ensues. deaths are increasing. Darkness is everywhere. The hour calls us to the dance floor. The Hour is calling us to move and let go. To shake off everything that weighs us down. At Renaissance, Beyoncé not only demanded our participation in the coming renewal, promising brighter days and tender nights, she wanted it. To be clear, this was more than an album, more than a collection of sharply juxtaposed songs, more than an ode to disco and house music sprouts, to queer havens long relegated to the underground. Her mission was greater, greater in scope. Beyoncé wanted to heal. The Renaissance should not act as a reflection of that moment, as music often does. It did something else, something necessary. It reminded us of all the options we have. It gave us hope.

And because it’s been such a fantastic year in music, eight more albums (in alphabetical order) worth your time:

Age/Sex/Location, Ari LennoxCometa, Nick Hakim, Dance Fever, Florence + the MachineGod Save the Animals, Alex GHonestly, Nevermind, DrakeMr. Moral & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar My Shadow, Quinton Brock Natural Brown Prom Queen, Sudan Archives