The following acts released quality albums in May 2022 alone: Radiohead off-shoot The Smile, Kendrick Lamar, Wilco, Arcade Fire, Sharon Van Etten, The Black Keys, Florence + the Machine, Harry Styles — we’ll stop there for space reasons. It’s been such a wild music year so far, only some of them made the following list.
Maybe 2022 was just front-loaded and the final six months will be less eventful. (Judging by the release calendar, that’s probably a bad prediction.) Either way, we had trouble even narrowing this down to 30. Let’s meet back here at year’s end and see how things shake out.
30. Caracara – New Preoccupations
Fans of classic 2000s emo — Say Anything, Dashboard Confessional, or Circa Survive, for example — are sure to find something to love in Caracara’s New Preoccupations (and not least because it features an awesome guest appearance from the latter’s Anthony Green on “Colorglut”). There are a lot of musical turns across the album, but all of them are truly affecting, giving you that instant heartache that the best emotive music does. Singer Will Lindsay writes with a deep melancholy and nostalgia, exploring the complexities of substance abuse from a personal and newly sober perspective. It’s an album for a lonesome, night-time drive. – Mia Hughes
29. Silvana Estrada – Marchita
With a poetic soul and spellbinding voice, Silvana Estrada makes an unforgettable impression on her debut solo LP. The 25-year-old singer from Veracruz, Mexico has said that Marchita is her attempt to understand sorrow — if these 11 songs are any indication, she’s arrived at a deep and intimate comprehension. Estrada sings with a beguiling combination of potency and restraint, sometimes in the same breath. Her voice is the focal point of songs with minimalist arrangements featuring Venezuelan cuatro or piano, accompanied here and there by percussion and strings. If sorrow was her starting point, she reaches a clarity of vision that borders on rapturous. – Eric R. Danton
28. Véhémence – Ordalies
French melodic black metal trio Véhémence do nothing by halves — their third album, Ordalies, is an exemplar of the style, rivaling some of its Swedish forebears like Dissection’s The Somberlain and Vinterland’s Welcome My Last Chapter. Melodies are more sweeping (obviously); the chorus chants feel like the angelic battlecries of millions; the constant battery is the ideal balance of modern velocity and classic feel. It’s not huge for the sake of huge — it’s their essence, just more. Véhémence made this record to recount mythological strifes of old. For you, this is what you may need for your perpetual campaign: to annihilate this week. – Andy O’Connor
27. Toro y Moi – Mahal
Chillwave wizard Chaz Bear, better known as Toro y Moi, took his guitar off the wall and made one of 2022’s most memorable albums to date. Mahal, his seventh LP, is named after the Tagalog for “love,” and the title demonstrates the passion poured into it. Bear weaves psych-rock, funk, and jazz-fusion, into a warm and tactile vintage sound, highlighted by the dreamy sounds of “Magazine.” the body-moving grooves of “Postman,” and the soulful, laid-back “The Loop.” Uniting every track is the sense that, above all else, Bear is prioritizing fun. – M.H.
26. Aldous Harding – Warm Chris
“Genre-defying” is an overused term, but Aldous Harding’s music seems to float just above the usual boundaries that fence off music categories. On Warm Chris, the New Zealand singer dabbles in folk, understated pop, and a hint of avant-garde that throws the rest just slightly out of whack. Harding’s lyrics are evocative but oblique enough to be enigmatic, and she surrounds them with arrangements that can veer gracefully in unexpected directions: the little burst of electric guitar on the title track or the trance-like modal horn and piano part that repeats for a few bars in the middle of “Fever.” Add in her shape-shifting vocal approach — brassy and hard here, breathy and soft there — Harding’s fourth LP is a work of unrestrained creativity. – E.R.D.
25. Empath – Visitor
Visitor is a record you could literally get lost in. Like the album sleeve depicting a long hallway full of open doors to unknown destinations, these 11 songs bleed into each other as if listening to one giant glob of noisy psychedelic punk-pop; that Empath bothered to include song titles seems to be beside the point. It’s not as immediately ear-catching or versatile as 2019’s Active Listening: Night on Earth, and that matters very little when an indie release like this has so much focus and a drummer who can actually play. This is a record you’ll want to crank as loud as possible. – Brady Gerber
24. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Named for the neighborhood where Staples grew up, Ramona Park Broke My Heart is another introspective, smooth-as-ice LP from the Long Beach rapper — easily one of the most affecting west coast emcees of the last decade (especially for those operating beyond the Kendrick circle). Staples’ fifth LP, forged around the same time as his 2021 self-titled album, hinges on moments of unsavory nostalgia (“East Point Prayer” featuring Lil Baby, “DJ Quik,” and the hooky lead single “Magic”). Silky cuts like “Aye! (Free The Homies)” and “Lemonade” fit Staples’ bill as surface party music hiding deeper, more somber notes to reward closer listening. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most replayable hip-hop albums so far this year. – Bobby Olivier
23. Arcade Fire – WE
Let’s get one thing straight: WE is not some beaming statement of solidarity, like “We are in this together.” It’s more like “we screwed up big time” — Arcade Fire’s grandiose sixth album is named after a 1921 Russian dystopian novel about life under perpetual surveillance. In that way, WE is a logical successor to 2017’s polarizing Everything Now, both records commenting on technological mayhem, doom-scrolling, and the immolation of human contact. We, though, is a more thoughtful, rock-steady crack at the world at hand, split into two halves. The first is all sweeping apocalyptic gloom, with Win Butler declaring “We unsubscribe … fuck season five” during the Lennon-esque, nine-minute opus “End of an Empire (I-IV).” But then some clouds lift on “Lightning (I, II),” an arena-worthy Springsteenian thumper searching for hope. In totality, the album is a big swing that mostly hits, returning the group to a place of prowess somewhere near its The Suburbs heyday a decade ago. – B.O.
22. Drug Church – Hygiene
Drug Church’s Patrick Kindlon is one of the most commanding frontpeople in modern punk rock, and he’s reliably scathing on the band’s fourth album, Hygiene. He sets his sights on American politics on “Plucked,” artistic integrity on “Piss & Quiet,” and judgemental fake friends on “Premium Offer.” His best-articulated and most polarizing lyrical statement is on “Detective Lieutenant,” exploring what it means to separate art from the artist. Backing him up is some truly energizing post-hardcore, which emulates the melodic heaviness of ‘90s greats like Helmet or Quicksand — and will psych you up for a stagedive like little else this year. – M.H.
21. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
On “The Heart Part 5,” the lead single from Kendrick Lamar’s fifth LP, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, the Pulitzer Prize-winning emcee examines the complexity of the Black male experience. And that song previewed the rapper’s most ambitious project to date, a double album examining his deepest turmoil. Mr. Morale did cause a fair share of controversy: commenting on “cancel culture,” clumsily expressing trans acceptance on “Auntie Diaries,” and recruiting Kodak Black for a cameo on “Silent Hill.” (The Florida rapper pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and battery in a 2021 plea deal, stemming from a sexual assault case.) Still, between the blunders, Lamar remains one of rap’s most thought-provoking and sonically ambitious artists, reaching new levels of introspection on standout cuts like “Mother I Sober.” – Candace McDuffie
20. Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
Despite the distance it covers, Cate Le Bon’s hazy, mournful Pompeii demands that listeners approach it instead of meeting them anywhere — certainly not in the middle. “Dirt on the Bed” is a typically languid, off-kilter opener, while the ’80s pop of “Moderation,” the Bowie-esque title track, and the bouncy “Harbour” are proof she can solidly out-write most of her indie peers. In the studio, the Welsh singer-producer draws a jagged line, sprinkling in detuned synths, heavily treated percussion and flanged guitars. It’s not quite art-rock, not quite indie-pop, and utterly Le Bon. – John Wenzel
19. billy woods – Aethiopes
Billy Woods effectively raps in buckshot; he opens his mouth and impressionistic streaks of storytelling spray out. Whether or not any of these stories are true seems besides the point. What matters: Is your mind now reeling? What matters: Did he link up with the right beatsmith? The NYC-based woods finds a kindred spirit in Preservation, a veteran producer who’s laced everyone from KRS One to RZA to Mach Hommy. On Aethiopes, Preservation lays down swatch after unnerving swatch of Earth-tone jazz and bummer boom-bap — bleak, cinematic scenery for woods and his guests to chew on. I’m especially partial to spoken word excursion “The Doldrums,” police-siren struck lope “Versailles,” and the tense, stirring drug misadventure “No Hard Feelings.” Any accusations of negativity and speciousness that might attend this vision of hip-hop overlook its author’s bottomless, emotive well of visions. – Raymond Cummings
18. Mitski – Laurel Hell
Laurel Hell is a contractual obligation album made at a moment when Mitski wanted to leave music for good, but it’s often more inspired than that description suggests. The singer-songwriter submitted to Dead Oceans a languid, Lynchian, sensuous, experimental pop/country/glam rock one-woman show — and it feels like a triumph, whether or not it was submitted under legal duress. Some songs feel like Mitski alone under a spotlight, her voice rising to reach a quiet audience in the mezzanine. Others transport us to different scenes: a desert highway or a city street. She’s telling stories in all of them, painfully human and profoundly existential, like a peak-power Joni Mitchell. Here’s hoping it isn’t really her farewell to the stage. – Beverly Bryan
17. The Weeknd – Dawn FM
Following his infamous After Hours era, Dawn FM serves as a natural sonic progression for The Weeknd, with sleek ‘80s synths (“Take My Breath”) and old-school R&B melodies (“Out of Time”) complimenting Abel Tesfaye’s sweltry croon. The album also highlights his lyrical evolution over the last decade — from past anthems reveling in drug-fueled escapades to, well, having Jim Carrey chronicle a desolate trek into the afterlife, contextualizing the dark themes Tesfaye is desperate to explore. Dawn FM isn’t just one of 2022’s best albums; it also displays The Weeknd’s innovative approach to pop construction. – C.M.
16. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
The combined length of Denzel Curry’s previous two albums is just a hair over 45 minutes — the Florida rapper’s never needed a large plot of real estate to plant his flag. But on Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Curry allows himself the luxury of exploration — using extra space to grow into an even stronger artist. Here he (mostly) trades the hard-hitting 808 beats and Carol City place names of ZUU for jazz-rap loops and samurai flicks. Curry keeps good company, joined by the likes of slowthai, T-Pain, and Thundercat on several album highlights. But Melt My Eyez hinges on some of his most intimately personal reflections; the first song alone is a dispatch from a therapy session, and he only digs deeper from there. – Jeff Terich
15. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
On this 18-song stunner, Baltimore-bred duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally sink deeper into their whirlpool of creamy synth-pop, leaving any hint of air behind. The husky twilight vibes and key-change aerobics have faded in favor of Legrand’s inches-close vocals, backed by David Campbell’s lush strings and Scally’s carousel of fuzz. Soft-peddling their sinister vibes has brought out the influences, from Misery Is a Butterfly-era Blonde Redhead and late-’90s Stereolab to Lynchian sadcore (which, to be fair, they’ve helped create). But tug at the threads and you’ll get nothing but spacey, fluid bliss. It’s vintage Beach House, mansion-sized. – J.W.
14. Messa – Close
Doom, Badalamenti-esque dark jazz, Mediterranean seaside guitar, and even grindcore come to a head on Messa’s third album, Close, which cements their status as one of metal’s most exciting new acts. As the Italian band has become more adventurous and wandered just a little closer to sunlight, vocalist Sara Bianchin remains their anchor, her performances defining every song. Closer “Serving Him” best represents their dynamic, as the band surges and falls at her whim: matching guitar crashes with unbridled release, creating stars and galaxies in the space when the band lays back to serene drones. – A.O.
13. Lucky Daye – Candydrip
The sleekness that saturates Lucky Daye’s second album, Candydrip, complements his expansive songwriting and vocal skills. The New Orleans native got a taste of mainstream success with his 2019 debut, Painted, and Daye’s 2022 Grammy win for Best Progressive R&B Album (2021’s Table for Two EP) corroborated his undeniable talent. Candydrip goes even deeper: The singer experiments with his inner Prince on “Feels Like” and indulges his status as a lovelorn suitor on “Over” (which samples neo-soul veteran Musiq Soulchild). With every track, Daye is sprightly and unpredictable in the best way possible, embodying the no-rules aesthetic of modern-day R&B. – C.M.
12. Animal Collective – Time Skiffs
The dream of 2010 was alive and well in February 2022, when Beach House, Spoon, and Animal Collective released good-to-great albums on three consecutive Fridays. You may not have expected Time Skiffs to be the best of that bunch, but it turned out to be a revelation. The first AC album in a decade to involve all four members, it peels back the queasy synths and overcompressed arrangements to reveal a harmonious inspiration missing from their recent work. The kitchen-sink arrangement of “Walker,” named in honor of the late Scott Walker, proves Deakin’s return to the fold is a glorious thing, while the woozy, all-American travelog “Cherokee” offers up eight minutes of reflective, road-trippin’ bliss. – Zach Schonfeld
11. Oso Oso – Sore Thumb
Oso Oso’s Jade Lilitri has an ear for hooks and a deep vulnerability, and his knack for combining the two has made him a force in the Long Island emo scene. Sore Thumb is considerably looser and more eclectic than 2019’s crossover classic Basking in the Glow; its highlights include lo-fi acoustic psychedelia (“All Love”) and Britpoppy character study (“Pensacola”). As it turns out, the album’s off-the-cuff feel has a tragic meaning: Lilitri put these songs to tape with his cousin and collaborator, guitarist Tavish Maloney, in early 2021. He considered them demos, with a proper album to be recorded later. When Maloney died suddenly a month later, Lilitri decided to release the album as is, a poignant and charged monument to the memories and music he shared with his late bandmate. – Z.S.
10. Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Formed on the far-off Isle of Wight, Wet Leg went from nobodies to viral sensation to Domino signees to indie darlings faster than you could say “Is your muffin buttered?” It’s endearing how little the duo seemed to expect it, approaching every sold-out show or television appearance with the same bemused astonishment. If Wet Leg doesn’t sound like an album burdened by the pressures of sudden fame, that’s because it isn’t. It was recorded last spring before the devilishly addictive “Chaise Longue” triggered the band’s rise, and Wet Leg’s cheeky odes to bad boyfriends, bad parties, and generally bad vibes are uniformly hooky and unpretentious. A rejoinder to the weepiness of much-acclaimed indie-rock of late, Wet Leg calls back to new wave textures and smirky mid-2000s blog rock, placing a spotlight on Rhian Teasdale’s almost Phair-ian wit: “You say you think about me in the midnight hour / I know that you’re just rubbing one out up in the shower,” she croons in “Loving You.” – Z.S.
9. Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry
Pusha T has built a sizable vault of rhymes waxing poetic about being “cocaine’s Dr. Seuss.” And on his first album in four years, the Virginia native continues to prophesize the perils of coke rap with impeccable precision. Top-notch production from Pharrell (“Neck and Wrist,” “Brambleton”) and Kanye West (“Diet Coke,” “Just So You Remember”) get Pusha to reach new lyrical heights, while still relishing the subject that dictates the bulk of his discography. It’s Almost Dry, his first solo project to top the Billboard 200 chart, is a decadent one — here, the emcee’s flow is the most aggrandized it’s ever been. – C.M.
8. Rosalía – MOTOMAMI
Even the fiercest of skeptics were suddenly silenced upon hearing Rosalía’s third LP, MOTOMAMI, which showcases her consecration by deviating from pure flamenco into more experimental territory. The Catalan singer claims her own voice and narrative through progressive fusion and improvisation, proving both forward-looking and sophisticated as she pulls from reggaeton, jazz, electro-pop, and hip-hop. Gathering reflections from the whirlwind of her life since the 2018 breakthrough of El Mal Querer, MOTOMAMI emerges as Rosalía’s tour de force, solidifying her international relevance following the crossover. – Ana Leorne
7. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
Saying that a band is saving its genre is a good way to sound out of touch with the genre in question. You usually aren’t doing the band any favors either. Oh, but sometimes a band will tempt you. Soul Glo’s second album, Diaspora Problems, opens with “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)” — after the sound of a respectable bong rip, it unleashes some galloping, rough-and-ready punk in the style of Japandroids, The Men, and unhinged Suicidal Tendencies worship. That sets the standard on one of the most thrillingly thrashy, brilliantly based, and convincingly punk hardcore albums in years. Are they saving punk? Maybe not. But this album might save your life. – B.B.
6. Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
The five-year gap since 2017’s sharp, dance-ready Hot Thoughts shows in the stitching of this Austin group’s 10th album. Despite propulsive sing-alongs like “The Hardest Cut” and the Jack White-aping, octave pedal-abusing “Feels Alright,” there’s renewed patience in “The Devil and Mr. Jones” (shockingly, not a cover) and the brushed hum of “Astral Jacket.” Uniting it is Britt Daniel’s wrestling match with his isolation and demons, although the unmistakably chipper Jack Antonoff drops by to co-write an expansive “Wild,” and the opening track/Smog cover “Held” struts improbably high. It ends with the heartbreaking eponymous track, all skittering synths and whispered sax and Jim Eno’s drum sophisticated fills. God love ’em. – J.W.
5. Saba – Few Good Things
Saba may be the most versatile emcee from Chicago’s contemplative new wave, joining artists like Chance the Rapper and Noname who came to prominence parallel to the 2010s drill scene. On his third album, Few Good Things, Saba proves he can hang with rap veterans as different as Black Thought and Krayzie Bone. He also takes a brief break from his gentle, jazzy aesthetic for a harsh drill banger, “Survivor’s Guilt” with G Herbo, while still asking complicated questions about finding success after growing up in poverty: “What’s really eatin’ when you from a food desert?” – Al Shipley
4. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Big Thief are a once-in-a-generation kind of band, and they cemented that with the release of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. It’s a massive, sprawling double-LP that never drags, thanks to its palpable warmth and joy. It feels like a mixtape, given its range of styles and moods, from the folk balladry of “Change” to the brooding electronics of “Blurred View” to the rock stomp of “Love Love Love.” As always, Adrianne Lenker’s lyrics mix the pedestrian with the otherworldly in her trademark poetic way — you can find the meaning of life in “Spud Infinity” if you listen close enough. – M.H.
3. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here
It’s hard to imagine Black Country, New Road without singer-guitarist Isaac Wood, who quit the band for mental health reasons. It’s especially hard to imagine after Ants From Up There. While their 2020 debut positioned the seven-piece as their era’s elite revivalists of talky post-punk, the second album took a gentle turn toward melody. BCNR created a romantic, pastoral landscape out of their jazz-flavored noise rock, even hinting at folk and chamber music while drawing on just a bit of Revolution Summer fire. Wood sang the lyrics outright this time, revealing a U.S.-style emo warble that gave the album much of its tender tone. The band may continue, but without him, they may never recapture such fragile beauty. – B.B.
2. FKA Twigs – Caprisongs
A lockdown album billed as a mixtape, Caprisongs showed a less guarded and precise side of FKA Twigs. Perhaps that conceit served a deeper purpose, helping spur on some of her most playful and satisfying material. Throughout, she fully embraces genres she’s only flirted with in the past: rapping on “honda” and “darjeeling,” dabbling in dancehall on “papi bones,” going full hyper-pop on “pamplemousse.” It’s fun to hear her cut loose, experimenting without being experimental. The fire of Caprisongs is merely joyous, a treat both she and her audience have earned. Twigs can go back to bending the definition of pop on her next official album cycle. – B.B.
1. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
Born into a world ravaged by COVID, supply-chain shortages, and a six-year drought of new Radiohead music, A Light for Attracting Attention offered an alluring solution for one out of three: What if Radiohead, but different? Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood sound remarkably invigorated on a heady, eclectic album whose high points rank with anything they’ve done this side of In Rainbows. Brooding, majestic gems like “Open the Floodgates” and “Skrting on the Surface” are definitive versions of decade-old Yorke rarities, while jittery art-rock outbursts like “The Smoke” and “Thin Thing” are clearly new creations, steeped in drummer Tom Skinner’s off-kilter grooves. Mangled riffs and odd time signatures abound, and Yorke’s lifelong dread has never sounded more in tune with the outside world. A Light for Attracting Attention is so good, it almost makes you want to send Radiohead’s other three members a sympathy card. – Z.S.