Skip to content
Best Albums

The 22 Best Albums of 2022

If nothing else, 2022 was a wild one. We started the year with a surprise release by a major artist (The Weeknd’s Dawn FM) and bookended it with another album that was years in the making (SZA’s SOS). Everything in between wasn’t too shabby, either. There were thrills, disappointments, and mediocrity.

We’re cutting through the noise to give you the albums that we consider to be our favorites. You may agree or you may not, but hopefully you’ll find a gem you hadn’t heard yet. That’s what matters most: discovery. If reading this list inspires some listening, we’ve done our job. Or maybe you’ve already heard all these — if so, then bravo to you!

22. Jimmy Cliff – Refugees



Jimmy Cliff is the OG’s OG. He’s the Reggae totem, and also the last man standing of the form’s pioneers, and he’s still making great records. This is pure reggae at its finest, but also innovative and modern, with two tracks featuring Wyclef Jean, who adds his own wonderful Caribbean lilt but doesn’t upstage the master. “Racism” is an ageless track, achingly beautiful, sung with his daughter. “Bridges” is the album’s best song, a soaring sequel to Cliff’s immortal signature tune “Many Rivers To Cross.” Jimmy recalls: “A producer, Nineny, said to me one day, “Skip, that song, ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, you need one named ‘Bridges’, how can they cross otherwise? You don’t cross the rivers without some bridges!’” So, 50 years later, we’ve come full circle, and on the half-century anniversary of “Rivers” appearing on the soundtrack for The Harder They Come, we have our bridge. In more ways than one. – Bob Guccione, Jr.

21. Dropkick Murphys – This Machine Still Kills Fascists



Few things pair as perfectly as punk and politics, except, perhaps, Celtic punk and an all-acoustic album and, more specifically, Dropkick Murphys and Woody Guthrie. It’s not every day a band collaborates with one of the greatest American folk legends from beyond the grave, but with the help of Woody’s daughter Nora, that’s exactly what Dropkick Murphys have done throughout the years (including “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”). This Machine Still Kills Fascists continues the band’s long tradition of fighting for the working folk, carrying Woody’s legacy through every damned track. When I spoke with Ken Casey around the album’s release in September, he talked about the “fire and passion” that infuses these songs, and the issues that surround them. If you’re having a rough day and need a little pick-me-up (or someone to sing and scream with), this album’s got you. – Liza Lentini

20. Johnny Gandelsman – This Is America



This nearly four-hour set opens with the stunning “O” by Brazil-born Clarice Assad (inspired in part by George Floyd’s culturally galvanizing last words, “I can’t breathe”) and closes with the hypnotic “Breathe” by Tokyo native Kojiro Umezaki, and as a whole it is, truly, breathtaking. For this pandemic project, violinist Gandelsman, of the boundaries-breaking Brooklyn Rider string quartet and Yo-Yo Ma’s global Silkroad Ensemble, commissioned 25 composers (some familiar names, including Terry Riley and Rhiannon Giddens, but mostly young “discoveries”) to challenge him with new, genre-defying works. It’s a gripping expedition of richly wrought, masterfully realized performances, dazzling in their inventiveness and virtuosity — not just violin, but sometimes voices, electronics, percussion, and even electric guitar. The songs conjure the vividly, movingly illuminating experiences and emotions of the multitudinous origins, orientations, and traditions of this nation today. For Gandelsman and listeners alike, the guiding principle of this remarkable project is in the title of a conversational suite by Carnatic-rooted Anjna Swaminathan: “Surrender to Adventure.” – Steve Hochman

19. Under the Reefs Orchestra – Sakurajima



This Belgian trio’s second LP is named after Japan’s most active volcano — a fitting preview of its menacing psych-jazz. On Sakurajima, each instrument (saxophone, guitar, drums) is a crucial point in the pyramid, forming cinematic soundscapes that engulf you in lava. “Heliodrome,” with its honking baritone and dust-blown slide solos, could soundtrack a saloon shootout somewhere in deep space. Even the blissful sax lines of “Soleil Trompeur” carry an unnerving undercurrent, like the placid exposition of a horror film before the killer shows up. – Ryan Reed

18. Cliffdiver – Exercise Your Demons



Is Tulsa, Oklahoma emo band Cliffdiver doing anything super revolutionary? Not really. But it happens to have put out one of the best emo/pop-punk albums of the year (and possibly the decade) with Exercise Your Demons. It’s a blast straight out of the 2000s that’s as fresh as it is nostalgic. Co-singers Briana Wright and Joey Duffy combine to bring a wide-ranging vocal attack to many songs, and the sometimes surprising lyrical depth balances the nonstop party energy the seven-piece band brings to the stage every night. Plus, how can you not love an album with singles such as “Frankie Muniz Don’t Smoke No Mids” and “IKEA Strikes Back”? – Josh Chesler

17. Sam Prekop and John McEntire – Sons Of



For the past 30-plus years, Prekop and McEntire have been involved in some of the best off-the-beaten-path music to emerge from the Chicago experimental/indie scene, be it together as members of the Sea and Cake or as solo artists and producers. It’s no surprise then that their first album as a duo is a stone-cold stunner, filtering their distinct sensibilities through all manner of vintage synthesizers, effects, and samplers. With its Kraftwerk-ian electronic framework, the four-song, nearly hour-long Sons Of feels both refined and improvisational, particularly on the ever-morphing 23-minute “A Yellow Robe.” Indeed, Sons Of is the rare album capable of soundtracking dead-of-night, soul-searching drives, one-man dance parties, and impromptu romance — maybe all in the same evening. – Jonathan Cohen

16. Brock Zeman – mostly peaceful



A fierce February of a record — you know how February can be? Shortest month is the longest month, feels like the end of the world. This is more like a prison release than a record release. from the kind of a guy who gigs, packs his gear, and moves on down the road, leaving the bartender stuck with a song sawing notches in his skull. How often do “singer-songwriter” and “pedal steel guitar” and “Canadian” spell out “fucking ferocious?” The guy is amazing — a great, great producer of his own records and others, but he’s damn sure one of the finest singer-songwriters I’ve come across in decades, complete with that snake-bit luck that sometimes comes with being both gifted and daring. He’s been gigging and touring and making stunning, startling record after record and remaining near-perfectly unnoticed. Except that bartender just can’t seem to get that last song out of his brain, can’t wring it out of his bar rag as he wipes the place down. – Bart Bull

15. Guerilla Toss – Famously Alive



“Stay famous in your mind,” deadpans Guerilla Toss frontperson Kassie Carlson on the title track of Famously Alive, as autotune harmonies and gang vocals fuse hyperpop and punk. The group’s fifth album and debut for Sub Pop was co-produced by drummer Peter Negroponte, guitarist Arian Shafiee, and Carlson herself, and it’s a maximalist embrace of life’s beauty, partly inspired by recovery from addiction. The genre-hopping Guerilla Toss has flirted with hardcore and psychedelia, but never so directly approached electronic pop before now. Its version is fantastical, and Famously Alive is a glossy ode to living sensuously, teased out in technicolor. – Sadie Dupuis

14. Anxious – Little Green House



If there was a Grammy category for Emo Album of the Year, Anxious probably deserves to be nominated. The Connecticut band continued Run for Cover Records’ stretch of dominating the current emo scene with Little Green House, and the January release sounds like it just as easily could’ve come out decades ago from a peer of the Get Up Kids or Sunny Day Real Estate. “Call From You” could be on every emo playlist from the last 30 years, and “Wayne” even keeps the tradition of having a random acoustic song thrown in there for kids learning to play guitar. Emo fans should eagerly await what this young band led by vocalist Grady Allen will pull off going forward. – J. Chesler

13. Flo Milli – You Still Here, Ho?



While everyone was freaking out about free speech this year, this 22-year-old rapper from Mobile, Ala., was living her best life, aggressively offending whomever she damn pleased. Have a problem? “I’m too mean, call me Listerine,” she snaps on “Pretty Girls.” Milli hop-scotches over men from every income bracket: Brooklynites (“He think he slangin’ wood, okay lumberjack, I got standards” from “On My Nerves”) to Amex Black-types (“I’m the type to make my sugar daddy pull out his teeth” on “No Face.”) She fishes from the cultural gutter of reality TV (“PBC” samples America’s Next Top Model) and Flavor of Love contestant Tiffany “New York” Pollard is her hype woman (“Get in line, peasants!”) It’s clever, cloying, and, not unlike the Dadaists of 1916 Berlin, devilishly original. – Sarah Grant

12. SZA – SOS



SZA’s aqueous melodies glide like she’s pleading for a life, even when she muses about taking her ex’s as on revenge boogie “Kill Bill.” Five years in the making, SOS confidently showcases SZA’s songwriting range: seasick guitars guide twisted R&B ballads like “Snooze,” Phoebe Bridgers-featuring “Ghost in the Machine,” and Matrix-esque aughties rocker “F2F,” which feels destined for karaoke belt-alongs. Self-disparaging blind items remain SZA’s M.O., as on bratty rap track “Smoking on My Ex Pack.” But if SOS is a distress call, it’s masterful in its adventurousness, and never as sullen as the sad girl bit suggests. – Sadie Dupuis

11. Plains – I Walked With You a Ways



The only road that matters in country music is the one you drive down with a broken heart. It’s been paved by all the greats — Hank, George, Johnny — so what a surprising thrill to hear indie rockers Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson take the wheel as country-folk duo Plains. “I remember the air when I drove out of town / Crying on the highway with my windows down,” they sing on the searing ballad “Abilene.” The album is a tribute to their combined southern roots (Texas and Alabama) and a love letter to all the harmony-laden groups they grew up on like the Chicks, the Judds, and of course, Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou’s records as Trio. – SG

10. Drug Church – Hygiene



Back in May, I was asked what albums I thought should be included on SPIN’s mid-year best-of list. My response was. “I have a few ideas, but it’s not like we’ll agree to put Drug Church on there.” I was wrong. Hygiene is almost certainly the most accessible Drug Church album to date, and it’s nice to see Patrick Kindlon get the appreciation he deserves. I don’t know if Hygiene is actually any better than the previous Drug Church albums or anything Kindlon’s done with Self Defense Family, but I’m glad it’s getting recognition from people outside of the hardcore/punk world. It’s one of the best punk albums of the year (and a perfect fusion between the band’s mosh-friendly sound and Kindlon’s over-the-top lyrics), and it even comes complete with borderline-singalong choruses on singles like “Million Miles of Fun” and “World Impact.” The moral of this all? Listen to Drug Church. – J. Chesler




All hail new voices in jazz, none more irreverent and exciting than octopus-armed 22-year-old keyboardist DOMi and frenetic 19-year-old drummer BECK. The pair’s astonishing debut album is a natural extension of its professional mentorship by Thundercat and Anderson .Paak, both of whom appear as guests alongside Herbie Hancock (!), Mac DeMarco, and Snoop Dogg. Elements of soft rock, inscrutable Steely Dan-ish chord theory, and high-BPM instrumental hip-hop are deliciously rendered here with jaw-dropping virtuosity and the brash, “we don’t give a fuck” attitude of two future stars hellbent on turning jazz on its bulbous, elderly ear. DeMarco puts it best on “TWO SHRiMPS”: “Old man sings a young song / here for now, but soon gone.” – J. Cohen

8. The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta



With each album, The Mars Volta has added a new ingredient to its restless prog recipe: the barbed-wire maximalist noise of 2007’s The Bedlam in Goliath, the twinkling acoustic reveries of 2009’s Octahedron, the acidic “future punk” of 2012’s Noctourniquet. But the band’s self-titled LP, its first after a decade-long pause, flirts with a more surprising aesthetic: hook-driven art-pop. Chiseling away at their typically busy arrangements, Omar Rodriguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala highlight an underrated gift for melody, from the electronic throb of “Graveyard Love” to the stirring balladry of “Tourmaline.” – RR

7. Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive



After four years on the sidelines, Jack White made up for lost time in a big way. White released two albums in 2022: the Beefheart-ian Fear of the Dawn, which featured his signature single “Taking Me Back,” and the elegant Entering Heaven Alive. While the former received most of the attention (including our March cover story), the latter is a career achievement. Featuring some of White’s most intimate songs, initially crafted during the pandemic on piano, the record once again shows his versatility. Thematically, each song fits together as delicately as anything he’s done in his decade-long solo career. Entering Heaven Alive sees White at his most reflective (“If I Die Tomorrow,” “Help Me Along,” “Love Is Selfish”), showing that, after all these years, he can still tap into universally relatable emotions. – Daniel Kohn

6. Angelique Kidjo and Ibrahim Maalouf – Queen of Sheba



For decades, Benin-born Kidjo has challenged herself as an artist and our perceptions of African music and African women. So no surprise that she would find kinship in the legends of the medieval African monarch, Mekeda, who traveled across the continent to test the worthiness and wisdom of King Solomon. The project grew out of her and Lebanese trumpeter-composer Maalouf discovering that these stories were prominent in both of their cultures. With her words (sung in West African Yoruba) paired with Maalouf’s exuberant pan-Mediterranean music, questions posed by one ruler and answered by the other come to life, pointedly and playfully, reaching across the centuries, across borders and across language. The rich collaboration is not just one of the most compelling world music albums of 2022 — a label that could never contain either of them in any case — but some of the most exciting music of any form. – SH

5. Brian Ennals & Infinity Knives – King Cobra



Brian Ennals and Infinity Knives are still relatively unknown outside Baltimore. King Cobra, the group’s brilliant, incendiary, and daring sophomore album, will change that. Produced, mixed, and mastered by Infinity Knives, the album answers the question, “What would Def Jux sound like in 2022?” Knives provides shifting and dystopian hybrids, splicing reverent yet inventive ’80s hip-hop, boogie, and R&B with modern takes on early El-P productions. For instance, opener “Coke Jaw” sounds like Knives crossbred Outkast’s “B.O.B.” with a glitching Pac-Man game. Ennals narrates that song and the album while chasing white bumps around his Baltimorean maze, with the specters of past traumas, existential dread, and faux-liberal politicians trailing closely behind. While he keeps pace with Knives’ production, Ennals also rages against heartless landlords and late-stage capitalism with pointed couplets and some of the most vivid, thematically rich narratives in recent memory (“The Badger”). King Cobra is as jolting as an eight-ball, and it won’t be long before everyone outside of Baltimore wants a hit. – Max Bell

4. Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point



When I profiled this album, the band’s first in nearly two decades, I made the prophetic call that it was one of the best albums of the year. And now, I stand by it. Forty years after the release of its enduringly poignant single “Mad World,” this empathic duo somehow knows exactly what we need — powerful, yet intimate songs that make us think and feel. The Tipping Point is something a bit different musically, but no less thoughtful, brilliant, and epic. Its release on Feb. 25, 2022 deliberately fell exactly 37 years to the day after 1985’s Songs From the Big Chair. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have again demonstrated true musical artistry. – Liza Lentini

3. The Bad Plus – The Bad Plus



When it first emerged in the early 2000s, the Bad Plus was known as the jazz trio that tackled rock and pop standards, from Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” On its marvelously rich 15th studio LP, the group sounds more than ever like a rock band, full stop, thanks to a new lineup that subs out pianist Orrin Evans (who himself replaced co-founder Ethan Iverson in 2018) for guitarist Ben Monder, who lent his patented atmospheric shred to David Bowie’s Blackstar, and reed player Chris Speed. On “You Won’t See Me Before I Come Back,” Speed’s hazy tenor-sax tone and Monder’s aqueous sonic halo give bassist Reid Anderson’s composition the ghostly glow of a forgotten AM classic, while on “Sick Fire,” the band turns a knotty piece by drummer Dave King into a turbulent prog-gone-free-jazz excursion. Elsewhere, whether the band is uncovering the art-rock muscle beneath Anderson ballad “In the Bright Future” or digging into the anthemic crunch of King’s “Not Even Close to Far Off,” it becomes clear that the Bad Plus is still playing standards — the only difference now is that these are ones you haven’t heard before. – Hank Shteamer

2. Special Interest – Endure



New Orleans quartet Special Interest’s frenetic punk explodes across the dance floor on Endure. Introducing glam studio gestures to the DIY catharsis that guided previous releases, the band’s third LP explores Black revolutionary activism and queer politics with an arty angularity. Ruth Mascelli’s scalpel-sharp drums and synths cut against guitarist Maria Elena’s soaring discord, while bassist Nathan Cassiani’s driving lines lock into vocalist Alli Logout’s vignettes, which are delivered in frayed sneers, ecstatic yelps, and powerhouse riffs. Cinematic “Love Scene” zooms in on pleasure and power, while “Impulse Control” eviscerates phonies with Logout’s singular quips (“Eighty-six my life,” they wail in its bookending refrain). Though the record wrestles with brutality, Special Interest’s affirmations of life — and nightlife — shimmer with sweat, tears, and glitter. – SD

1. Weyes Blood – And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow



Natalie Mering, SPIN’s 2022 Artist of the Year, made an album of our time, embracing the connections, the isolations, the breakups, the coming-togethers, the hopes and the dreads with focus intimately personal and vision expansively communal. She wraps this in lush, often majestic music, as poetic as her words and as vibrant as her spirit — and as inviting as her voice, in which you may hear echos of Karen Carpenter, Aimee Mann and, oh, June Christy. Never is anything just one thing here: The opening “It’s Not Just Me (It’s Everybody)” is both reassuring and disturbing. “Children of the Empire” looks at a generation promised the world, but standing on the precipice of collapse. In “God Turn Me Into a Flower,” we mock Narcissus, only to envy him being granted his wish, portrayed in a fluttering electronic-orchestral coda. And she leaves us with “A Given Thing,” its tantalizing hope for love everlasting amorphous and uncertain. Throughout Mering does embody hope, and we can’t help but share the joy and wonder she holds. But she poses difficult questions to herself and to us. Answers? None yet. “The worst is yet to come,” she cautions. But she’ll let us know if she finds ‘em. Beautifully. We can hardly wait. – SH