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Best Albums

50 More Great Albums of the Year

From 'Wet Leg' to 'It's Almost Dry,' from 'God's Country' to 'Lucifer on the Sofa'

Wait, didn’t we do this already? Well, no — not exactly.

SPIN recently published a list titled The 22 Best Albums of 2022, rounding up picks from our editorial staff. But there were too many great records this year to cram into one piece, so…lucky you! Here’s another list, this time written by our other contributors.

The sequel is equally eclectic, running the gamut from twinkly indie-folk (Big Thief) to kaleidosopic psych (Acid Mothers Reynols) to savory sludge-metal (Chat Pile) to innovative R&B-pop (Beyoncé). Dig in.

Acid Mothers Reynols – Acid Mothers Reynols, Vol. 2



That Japanese psychedelic marathoners Acid Mothers Temple would team up with Argentine “automatic noise” unit Reynols feels, in retrospect, both inevitable and fantastical. Cosmic garage nugget “Bob Bubbles” aside, 2020’s Vol. 1 floated and swung like a frayed, interdimensional hammock, gorgeous and languid, two bands melting into a gratifyingly integrated whole. Culled from the late 2017 sessions that spawned Vol. 1, Vol. 2 represents the flip side of the hyper-oxidized Acid Mothers Reynols coin – rangy, enflamed, at moments reminiscent of Swell Maps or The Fall. “Antimatter-Sound Milkshake” spackles madcap pianos all over a loosely sketched zone-out. “Sun Inside A Silent Sun” spindles upward into a blistering groove. Vol. 2 closes, at length, with “Dimentional Brochette O’Clock,” a brain-tickling, kaleidoscopic lope — which hopefully isn’t the last we’ll hear of this nine-headed hydra. – Raymond Cummings


Alvvays – Blue Rev



Fuck nostalgia. Alvvays have now transcended their C86 influences to make the year’s best indie guitar record. If their previous (and still excellent) records embody the late John Peel’s backhanded “shambling” label, which praised the self-conscious amateurism of jangly, pop-agnostic indie rock – you too, reader, can watch (500) Days of Summer and start a band – Blue Rev kicks that backhand out the window. No, you’re not as good at writing songs as Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley. And now they’re loud. The initial buzz of Blue Rev indeed highlighted the screaming sheen crafted by a new rhythm section and super producer Shawn Everett (and best heard on album opener “Pharmacist”). Weeks later, what now stands out are the quieter details. A seemingly throwaway reference to Murder, She Wrote in a song named after a Murakami short story collection examining tragedy from a distance, and later name-checking a Belinda Carlisle song as an unironic metaphor for the future. The Beatles-y vocal harmonies on the career-high “Many Mirrors” rubbing shoulders with Kevin Shields’ whammy bar sounding as big as the ocean. Rankin in “Velveteen” singing, “Is she a perfect 10? / Have you found Christ again?”, as if she’s forgiving a friend. There are plenty more secrets left to discover. – Brady Gerber


Animal Collective – Time Skiffs



Time has been a strange, unpredictable thing for Animal Collective. Following a dream-level breakout and two divisive subsequent records, the Baltimore-borne group sounds rejuvenated on Time Skiffs. AnCo’s longest album gap yielded one of their finest-crafted releases, wielding a jam band influence in its carefree patience and tight, groove-driven dynamic. Songs like “Prester John” and “Strung with Everything” withhold their most striking harmonies for several minutes. “Cherokee” shines for its sublime, hushed whisper of a build, while Deakin carries closer “Royal and Desire” like an unhurried waltz refusing to rush through its grace. Animal Collective are cherishing the moment. – Natalie Marlin


Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture



Scotland’s Ashenspire don’t smuggle leftist politics into their music so much as they smuggle music into their agitprop. Alasdair Dunn is as eloquent as anyone in metal about class struggle and the eternally stomping boot of fascism, and his lyrics on Hostile Architecture meld personal memoir with fiery calls to action. He delivers his invective in a wild-eyed, Devil Doll-inspired sprechgesang, and the rest of the band builds a shambling cacophony of avant-garde black metal behind him, their violins and saxophones grinding against angular guitar riffs and pummeling drums (played by Dunn himself). Musically and politically, Hostile Architecture is deliberately engineered to unsettle. Ashenspire hope it will make you uncomfortable enough to act. – Brad Sanders


Bartees Strange – Farm To Table



Bartees Strange is making the most of rising indie fame: On “Cosigns,” a track from his second album, Farm to Table, he brags about touring with Phoebe Bridgers and FaceTiming with Justin Vernon. For fans, it’s been exciting to watch the career ascent following his 2020 debut, Live Forever. But as Strange also points out on “Cosigns,” he’s hungry — and always aiming higher. On Farm to Table, his sound is bigger and infinitely more self-assured, from the arena rock of “Heavy Heart” to the total pop banger “Wretched.” His star power is undeniable, but his focus on writing great songs hasn’t wavered. – Mia Hughes


Beyoncé – Renaissance



In a genre whose songwriters seem beholden to the whims of mechanical algorithms, Beyoncé’s Renaissance not only reimagines the artist, but also the contours of pop music itself. The first installment of a trilogy, Renaissance is an epic, breathtaking display of bravura that pays homage to the pioneers of dance music — Black, queer people — in the only way a Virgo could: so deeply considered and researched that the album’s samples and allusions warrant a college course. From the Clark Sisters sample on “Church Girl” to appearances by prolific producer Nile Rodgers, legendary ‘90s drag performer Moi Renee, and lauded house and techno DJ Honey Dijon, the album weaves seamlessly through decades of the tradition. Renaissance celebrates the legacy that has led Black music to become synonymous with American music — in much the same way as Beyoncé has become synonymous with excellence. – Kriska Desir


Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You 



Big Thief’s fifth offering is one of the great domestic-weirdness records, where the mere act of cooking breakfast with the radio on can be a psychedelic experience — you can just picture the happy creatures dancing on Adrianne Lenker’s lawn outside. The singer’s country yowl sounds a little more like Emmylou Harris’ with each album, and if the stealth Gram Parsons shout-out on “Simulation Swarm” is any indication, she knows it. On Dragon, she reaches into the greater tradition of American roots-rock and even suggests a Biblical origin for her songwriting on “Sparrow” — Eve talked to snakes and they guided her, and her descendants are still singing to the world. – Daniel Bromfield


Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There



One of the strangest contemporary bands to score two consecutive top-5 U.K. albums, Black Country, New Road kicks up an often dizzying cacophony, a la Nick Cave barking orders at a chamber orchestra. References to a girl with “Billie Eilish style” ground the music at least somewhat in the present, but the phased, Steve Reich-style horns, twinkling late-night piano, and a rhythm section rendered as bone dry as Slint seem grafted in from another era entirely. Skating right up to the dividing line between maddeningly obtuse and startlingly original, Ants From Up There is uncomfortably in your face at one moment and nakedly tender the next. – Jonathan Cohen


Black Midi – Hellfire



Call Black Midi what you want — Gen Z post-punk heavyweights, the second coming of jazz prog, hell-raising cabaret theater — but the band’s restless propulsion is formidable. On Hellfire, the trio sounds like the heir apparent to Larks’ Tongues-era King Crimson. Brass screeches through dizzying guitar arpeggios on “Sugar/Tzu,” and Geordie Greep barks like a feral auctioneer on “The Race Is About To Begin” amid Morgan Simpson’s lightning-fast drum fills. Black Midi are just as skilled in turning on a dime, too — in the gentle gallop of Cameron Picton-led “Still” or Greep’s bellowing turn as crooner on “The Defence.” Or, perhaps most jarringly, on “Welcome To Hell,” shifting from berserk sprint to tiptoed piano and plucked strings, then back again just as quickly. – Marlin


Chat Pile – God’s Country



The most relatable metal song this year depicts getting stupid high, wanting to end your life, and hallucinating Grimace getting stupid high too. “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg” is a terminally online song title, but the terminally online are just some of the hopeless characters that Oklahoma City’s Chat Pile weave to map God’s Country. “Why” merges sludge metal with Discharge’s bluntness to decry why we let the houseless suffer unnecessarily. Solutions are obvious — cruelty, unfortunately, is always the point. Oklahoma City’s cattle industry looms large here too: “Slaughterhouse” documents the psychosis stemming from exploitation via Godflesh-like stomp, and a robber with no other options demands hostages line up like cattle in “The Mask.” We live in God’s Country — we live with the cost of paradise for the few. – Andy O’Connor


Madison Cunningham – Revealer



Sometimes I forget what songs do. At its worst, a day is un-songlike: it does not try to know the air; it does not try to wiggle “knowing” towards “singing.” I discord. But then I get to hear someone like Madison Cunningham, who names “song” for what it is: a Revealer. The album skronks and warbles, skitters and shoops. It stretches me, lengthens my longing with its guitar-art spidering (“All I’ve Ever Known”) and pops my heart in crunchy, bite-sized slabs of remember when (“Where Are You Now”) and trips me up on the names that clank my history (“Sara and the Silent Crowd”). It verbs my being. It moves me. Thanks for songs, Madison. – Frank Falisi


Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes



MF Doom gone, Gift of Gab dead, Kanye morphing into a sentient YouTube comment, still no new Roots album — look, it’s been a tough few years for fans of forward-thinking early-2000s rap. Cheat Codes, the long-promised full-length collaboration between Danger Mouse and Black Thought, is a balm: 38 minutes of unpretentious hip-hop instilled with funk and swagger. Black Thought sounds energized and virtuosic as ever, spitting bars that recall the intensity of his Game Theory/Rising Down days, and it’s a relief to hear Danger Mouse doing what Danger Mouse does best: chopping and looping grainy soul samples instead of producing mediocre albums for U2 and RHCP. Generous guest appearances from Raekwon, Run the Jewels, and a posthumous Doom bolster the sense of revival and reunion. – Zach Schonfeld


Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows



Who had Death Cab’s return to rock relevance on their 2022 bingo cards? The band’s taut 10th LP is their most urgent (and likely best) since 2008’s Narrow Stairs — what feels like a lifetime ago for Ben Gibbard and crew. Their measured melancholy finds new shape when viewed through the lens of the pandemic (when most of it was written), kicking off with the quarantine-nodding hypnosis of “I Don’t Know How I Survive.” “Roman Candles” bursts with a churn of distorted kick drums, and “Here to Forever” — their sharpest single in, well, forever — dissects the passage of time with Gibbard’s scalpel-like vocal precision. But the most ambitious track is “Foxglove Through the Clearcut,” a haunting post-punk half-spoken yarn spun about a man who lives near the ocean but fears the expanse of water. It’s an arresting epic that, like Death Cab’s best work, rewards close listening. – Bobby Olivier


Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future



Denzel Curry loves a concept record. On earlier tributes to horrorcore and ’90s street throwbacks, he showed both his love of rap history and his ability to adopt a character. But what does the real Denzel Curry sound like? Melt My Eyez See Your Future answers that question in unforgettable fashion. Polished but wiry, commercial but birthed in backpack, Eyez is as frank as it is funny, using A-list producers (Kenny Beats, Thundercat) and dynamic guests (T-Pain, Slowthai) to traverse moods and sounds with effortless bounce. At times dropping bars even more brutal than his horrorcore era (“Cops killin’ blacks when the whites do the most / And your so-called revolution ain’t nothin’ but a post,” he seethes on “The Last”), there’s immense replayability to Eyez, which doubles as both Curry’s most accessible LP and one of the year’s best rap albums. – Evan Sawdey


Lucrecia Dalt – ¡Ay!



“History is more arbitrary than science fiction, because history is written according to what you want it to show,” Lucrecia (Martel) reminds us. And so: Music is time travel. Because the bolero-son tempos of Lucrecia Dalt’s speculative-fiction pop triumph ¡Ay! are as much narrative anchors as they are portals: “No Tiempo” thrum-coos a flute so floating it matchcuts treeline and trumpet — Is it the Amazon’s jungle chug? Just a wood table, a teacup wafting? — and “Atemporal” makes explicit the project’s time-traveling tense intentions: rhumba and synth wonk together, our life clinks forward and back. A recallable past and a soundable future is just songwriting, Lucrecia (Dalt) implores us. We flange as we flex, two times in the same time. – Falisi


Defcee and BoatHouse – For All Debts Public and Private



To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, rap should not disappear up its own asshole. Defcee understands the hollowness of gutless formalism, instead adhering to Hemingway’s adage by bleeding in every well-sculpted bar. On For All Debts Public and Private, the Chicago rapper’s collaborative album with producer (and fellow Chicagoan) BoatHouse, he flexes the skills he fortified in the city’s renowned open mics, deftly weaving metaphors with equal confidence and earnestness. He moves between devastating salvos aimed at unnamed opponents, personal revelation, and sociopolitical analysis, flipping the paternal mundanity of washing baby bottles into a flex, skewering cancel culture alarmists, and uppercutting gerrymandering politicians. You can also find songs dedicated to teenage love (“Summer 06”) and grappling with vice (the Armand Hammer-featuring “Rossi”). BoatHouse provides a subtly brilliant update to East Coast boom-bap, every beat another soundtrack for train rides on frigid winter days. The album’s expanded Import Edition confirms that Defcee is one of Chicago’s best rappers and that the duo should reunite for a sequel. – Max Bell


Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork



Singer/spoken word maestro Florence Shaw opens Stumpwork, the second Dry Cleaning album, with a perfectly grabby question: “Should I propose friendship?” From there on, the British quartet carries their end of the bargain: They color the post-punk of their 2021 debut, New Long Leg, with artful new sounds, from saxophone cameos to dream pop melodies. But they also haven’t lost the immediacy you’ve been addicted to: “Gary Ashby” is an energetic burst you can dance to, while that bass line on “Conservative Hell” will (hopefully) have you thinking less about the lack of agency in growing up conservatively and more about that infectious hook. – Cervanté Pope


FKA Twigs – Caprisongs



From its opening of a cassette clicking into a deck, FKA Twigs’ 17-track mixtape takes us through a protean universe of dancehall, trap-flecked R&B, and dreamy pop that skirts the mainstream to stay inventive. Like the exuberant and delightfully chaotic leadup to a night at the club, carried-on-the-wind soundbytes of Twigs’ own friends rallying to uplift each other meet with powerhouse collabs (Jorja Smith, The Weekend, Daniel Caesar, Shygirl, Pa Salieu). These sounds infuse the British singer’s “narrative of healing” with a true vibe of dancing while crying, deciding to have fun at the end of the world: the songs we all need right now. – Andrea Bussell


Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old Separately



Freddie Gibbs waited over a decade to release his major label debut, $oul $old $eparately. More accurately, the Gary, Ind. native spent the years after Interscope dropped him creating an unimpeachable catalog, refining bleak tales of crack sales and sneering at record industry politics over blaring trap beats, avant-garde Madlib suites, and lugubrious Alchemist productions. $$$ doesn’t offer a different narrative so much as turn Gibbs’ life into a blockbuster. The production is grander, the varied yet collectively cohesive beats by everyone from Madlib and Kaytranada to James Blake coated in the same gloss that makes yachts glisten in the sun. Gibbs raps with more polish to match, shifting in and out of double-time cadences and delivering half-sung couplets like a long-lost member of Bone Thugs. Lyrically unstuck in time, he jumps between decades of strife and success, pouring champagne to celebrate, buying diamonds to blind him from PTSD, and blowing blunt smoke to choke lingering demons. The album’s casino theme is loose, but it speaks to the gamble Gibbs took with $$$: He made a commercial-minded album without making any artistic concessions. And he won. – Bell


Gospel – The Loser



Gospel is 2022’s most unexpected and most welcome comeback — who thought New York’s avant-hardcore mystics would ever return? Considering their initial dissolution stemmed from burning too hot, and that their debut came out in 2005(!!!), The Loser sounds surprisingly prepared to pile in the van and rip shit up with Converge once again. Keyboards, namely reliable bruisers Mellotron and organ, figure more prominently here — opener “Bravo” is how Jon Lord would say “I wanna see a fuckin’ circle pit,” and they drive “S.R.O.” from knotty hardcore rager to head-splitting ecstasy. And when it comes to pure guitar sweat muscle, “White Spaces” shows they can flex with unabated confidence. – O’Connor


JID – The Forever Story



JID had been pretty mum on specifics about his upbringing, but all that changed on The Forever Story, a sprawling, belated autobiography from the Atlanta rhymer. Here, he fuses jittery triple-time flows with precise details from his past, telling stories of beef with his sister (“Sistanem”), family street fights (“Crack Sandwich”) and resilience. “Dance Now” and the Lil Durk-featured “Bruddanem” showcase agile rhyming and imagistic storytelling, but the standout is “Kody Blu 31,” with JID’s expressive vocals, symbolic songwriting, and an unexpected gospel fusion. – Peter A. Berry


King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava



These alarmingly prolific Australian rockers have often devoted entire albums to a single genre. But rarely have they stretched out as unabashedly as they do here, with seven songs across an hour of music created from marathon, instrument-switching jam sessions. “Ice V” is pure Jerry-colored funk; “Lava” is a flute-tinged mantra about volcanoes and serpents; and the 13-minute “Hell’s Itch” wouldn’t sound out of place blaring from hippie van speakers at a Dead show parking lot. Landing in more familiar three-guitar territory, “Iron Lung” simmers with “why doesn’t my body work?” laments before exploding into a riff-tastic, Ambrose Kenny-Smith-sung finish worthy of early ‘80s AC/DC. More, please. – Cohen


Kokoroko – Could We Be More



Four years after Kokoroko’s single “Abusey Junction” earned the Internet’s attention, the eight-piece London band deliver on that promise with their debut album. Teeming with triumphant horns and intricate rhythms, the project is a deft, self-assured marriage of sounds spanning the African diaspora — from the shimmering, heavily chorused highlife guitar on “Ewà Inù” to the funk-infused grooves of “Something’s Going On” to the gospel-inflected vocals on “Those Good Times.” The album title suggests an endeavoring spirit, a striving toward the beyond; a standout track is aptly titled “Age of Ascent.” This expansive, wide-ranging LP succeeds in that aim. – Kriska Desir


Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights



Steve Lacy got a nice boost in popularity after “Bad Habit” soundtracked every type of video, from the mundane to inspirational, on TikTok. The snippet of “I bite my tongue; it’s a bad habit” fueled the song’s ascension to No. 1 on the Hot 100 back in October. Going viral with over 500,000 reported TikTok videos generated well-deserved attention for Gemini Rights, on which he bounces back from a real-life break-up and aims to love harder. The Internet guitarist and producer melds bedroom pop (“Helmet”), delicate R&B (“Mercury”), and indie funk (“Sunshine” featuring Fousheé) to form a sonic identity entirely his own. By album’s end, he’s moved on and ready to share his heart again. – Eric Diep


Cate Le Bon – Pompeii



Cate Le Bon already made a lockdown album before her lockdown album, having decamped to a remote, mountainous region in England to craft her sublime and delicate 2019 album, Reward. But when similar circumstances came to bear, not of her own choice, during the making of follow-up Pompeii, the Welsh songwriter took a sledgehammer to that album’s stillness, making expressionist sculptures from its shattered fragments. A marvelous work of art-pop dadaism routed through ‘80s post-punk and Berlin-era Bowie, Pompeii pairs oblique observations (like “Picture the party where you’re standing on a modern age” or “In the remake of my life, I moved in straight lines”) with playfully askew arrangements. Le Bon’s take on escapism has no set destination — she simply sets her compass to somewhere else, savoring the unfamiliar scenery as she rediscovers the pleasure of getting lost. – Jeff Terich


Lucky Daye – Candydrip



Lucky Daye has been kicking around the industry a long time, auditioning for American Idol in 2005 and co-writing Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx’s 2008 hit “She Got Her Own.” But the New Orleans singer, who recently turned 37, finally reached a tipping point this year, winning his first Grammy and scoring his first Hot 100 hit with the Music Soulchild-sampling “Over.” He even penned a country hit, Ingrid Andress and Sam Hunt’s “Wishful Drinking.” His second album, Candydrip, is the peak after that slow-building career ascent — a triumph of densely textured ballads, smooth falsettos, and ruminative lyrics about toxic relationships. – Al Shipley


Makaya McCraven – In These Times 



Beat-splicer Makaya McCraven has spent the best part of the last decade deconstructing collaborative live shows into a collage of his own imagination. It is a singular practice, cutting sections of onstage improvisation from different time periods and players into an intuitive new experience. Yet In These Times places the Chicago drummer’s ear for composition back into the studio live room, with minimal production surgery. The resulting soft melodies played by guitarist Jeff Parker and harpist Brandee Younger permeate through McCraven’s frenetic rhythms, creating his warmest and most straightforwardly engaging record to date. A testament to artistic power in the here and now. – Ammar Kalia


Melody’s Echo Chamber – Emotional Eternal



At the time, Melody Prochet considered 2018’s Bon Voyage the end of Melody’s Echo Chamber — a time for a bow and an exit. And considering that it took six years to follow up her 2012 self-titled debut — and that she suffered a “serious accident” in 2017 — it seems reasonable to take her at her word. It was something of a surprise, then, that she arrived with a new album (relatively) quickly, returning from a restorative few years raising a family in the French Alps, with Emotional Eternal, a glittering smorgasbord of baroque psychedelia. If Melody’s Echo Chamber was a record of fawn-legged discovery, and Bon Voyage was a bonkers, kangaroo-ing trip into the beyond, Emotional Eternal is Prochet finding (relatively) calm, steady waters. Like an echo pinging unpredictably off the walls, the voyage continues. – Nate Rogers


Messa – Close



Messa once described their sound as “scarlet doom,” and you don’t need synesthesia to hear why. The Italian band’s vivid, dramatic music is the color of blood, the color of wine, the color of films by their countrymen Mario Bava and Dario Argento. On their third album, Close, they add liberal doses of oud, mandolin, and duduk to a sonic palette that already included Rhodes piano and saxophone. Doom metal isn’t a set of constraints for Messa but an organizing principle. Every new sound they incorporate serves their thunderous vision. By the time frontwoman Sara Bianchin drapes the rich velvet of her voice over songs like “Suspended” and “Pilgrim,” you’re already in Messa’s thrall, swept up in their scarlet tide. – Sanders


Mitski – Laurel Hell 



Mitski’s sixth album, Laurel Hell, is a triumph — of haunted bops, of complex feelings, and of sublime synth. It’s hard to pick one standout track: the major-minor play of “Working for the Knife,” the anthemic piano and peppy beat of “Stay Soft,” the synthy thrums of “The Only Heartbreaker” and “Love Me More,” the Blondie-esque “Should’ve Been Me,” the jubilant horn-backed sadness of “That’s Our Lamp.” It’s woven together by Mitski Miyawaki’s bell-clear voice, limning bouncy shoegaze, and difficult feelings. Laurel Hell is for everyone who worries they’ve made wrong turns — or who’s had turns made for them — and wants to boogie it away until possibility knocks again. – Hilarie Ashton


Momma – Household Name



2020 should’ve been the year of Momma, but the pandemic overshadowed what was meant to be their breakout second LP, Two of Me. Still, the Brooklyn duo came back stronger than ever with their Polyvinyl debut, Household Name. With infectious melodies and biting lyrics, Household Name is full of angsty future anthems. The project serves as a loose, satirical concept album about rising to fame as rock stars, while also interweaving heartfelt, personal narratives, like in “Lucky,” a wistful song about the difficulties of being separated from your partner while on the road. Momma pay tribute to their musical heroes, namely Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins, and Liz Phair, while still shaping their music to sound original. – Tatiana Tenreyro


Moor Mother – Jazz Codes



Best known for industrial beats and confrontational spoken word, Moor Mother’s music often recalls the book the Situationists published with covers made of sandpaper – the more abrasive, the harder to commodify. Constructed from free jazz and hip-hop with a nod to neo-soul, Jazz Codes is her most sonically approachable album, but she remains uncompromising, and may be getting more powerful. Sometimes rapping like a seeress in a trance, the Philly musician, aided by assorted collaborators, unsettles and uplifts with quiet, uncanny moments, as if holding a jazz/blues/rap seance, a communion of Black generations, a prayer for continuation. – Beverly Bryan


Haru Nemuri – Shunka Ryougen



Rather than merely recreate her debut, Haru Nemuri chose deconstruction for her second album. The word appears throughout Shunka Ryougen’s song titles, and it’s key to how the record reconfigures Nemuri’s blend of art rock, noise pop, and hip-hop. After early cut “Never Let You Go” veers into a nu-metal breakdown, the sprawling project feels like it can go anywhere on a moment’s notice. Feedback abruptly plunges “Heart of Gold” into the post-hardcore frenzy of “Shunrai,” while “Old Fashioned” unexpectedly throws in an Auto-Tuned hyperpop hook. Nemuri, shrewdly, knows going anywhere means also knowing when to go direct — as on the cascading noise pop chorus of “Bang” or with her bluntest refrain: “Who the fuck is burning the forest?” – Marlin


NNAMDÏ – Please Have a Seat



NNAMDÏ’s Please Have a Seat doubles down on the contradictions for which the Chicago multi-instrumentalist has become known. The album’s emo-pop opener, “Ready to Run,” breaks into Migos-style trap song “Armoire,” showcasing his signature melding of disparate genres. And despite the album title’s invitation to join for a moment of pause, the project’s bookending refrain alludes to an existential restlessness (“Some days I wake up ready to run as far as my legs take me”). The whole experiment is enshrined in catchy, melody-forward pop, even while the lyrics point to alienation and anxiety. Ultimately, Please Have a Seat isn’t just an invitation; it’s also an artist’s bold refusal to deny his multiplicity. – Desir


Beth Orton – Weather Alive



Thirty years after she first bridged folk and electronica, Beth Orton has quietly become one of the most subtle synthesists around. Weather Alive, which is so immersive and so fearless that it plays like a comeback album, blends Albion folk with avant-jazz, electronic pulses with prismatic piano chords, concrete lyrical imagery with ambient musical textures, Solid Air with Nebraska. It is an album about being overwhelmed — by the natural world, by a favorite song, but a memory either treasured and dreaded. “The weather’s so beautiful outside,” she sings on the title track. “Almost makes me want to cry.” It is also an album that overwhelms, by an artist who makes the sublime sound perfectly understated. – Stephen Deusner


Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry



It’s Almost Dry. Rap Album of the Year.” Pusha T’s confidence was clearly infectious — even Tom Brady became a believer. King Push believes his fourth studio LP will earn him a Grammy because no one is rapping with the same viciousness and cleverness. He called in Pharrell Williams and Kanye West to do a pseudo-Verzus battle of 6-on-6 beats, creating a stylistic mesh for the emcee to cut more cocaine references with his customary humor and pathos. It’s one of the few rap albums with no skips and a Jay-Z feature (“Neck & Wrist”), illuminating a technical purist whose purpose is to keep the product coming. – Eric Diep


Raveena – Asha’s Awakening



Raveena’s second full-length is framed as a concept album about the adventures of a Punjabi space princess. This loose structure gives the artist room to flex her ambition: Indian percussion and Bollywood references enliven her effervescent R&B, while the ethereal vision conceals sharp songwriting. “Kathy Left 4 Kathmandu” mercilessly takes down Western commodification of Eastern spirituality, but even “Rush,” which hits like oxytocin converted to soundwaves – think Mariah Carey at her bubbliest – has an edge. Lyrics like “Heard she’s made of music / Ready for your ruin / American fantasy” cast a wry gaze at being exotified in a relationship. – Bryan


Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn – Pigments



Dawn Richard is one of pop’s most impassioned futurists, and on Pigments, her voice cuts through the mossy burls and dendrites of Spencer Zahn’s arrangements like a splash of silver alien blood. The thrill of hearing such attention lavished on orchestral filigrees and curlicues is an essentially old-fashioned pleasure, and Pigments sounds more like a chamber-pop song cycle than one of Richard’s steely solo records. But she stands at its center as a beacon of futurist freakiness, her vocals slathered in voice-of-God effects, ceding space to Zahn when necessary so that each of her appearances feels like that much more of a seismic event. – Bromfield


Rosalía – Motomami



Rosalía became an international superstar with her second LP, 2018’s El Mal Querer, earning pressure to follow her groundbreaking flamenco-trap project with something just as exciting and fresh. With Motomami she proves her versatility, incorporating a plethora of new sounds and styles, including jazz, bolero, and dembow. With amusingly named songs like “Chicken Teriyaki” and “Hentai,” Rosalía leaves you guessing what you’re going to get. Thankfully, the tracks themselves are as attention-grabbing as their titles. – Tenreyro


Saba – Few Good Things



Saba’s dynamic third album, Few Good Things, insists on the inextricable link between past and present, joy and pain, beauty and loss — a balance symbolized both on the album and in an accompanying short film set near the rapper’s great-grandmother’s house on the West Side of Chicago. Even as Saba explores the nagging fear of losing his hard-won stability on “Fearmonger,” for example, he does so with tongue in cheek, flexing his agile and playful lyricism. He resists the reduction of his life to trauma; in this love letter to the rapper’s home, Saba shows that his life and music are so much more. – Desir


SASAMI – Squeeze



On Squeeze, Sasami subverts heavy metal’s toxicity, giving the genre a much-needed boost in smarts, songwriting, and stylishness. A classically trained musician who flirted with indie-folk on her 2019 debut, Sasami successfully pivots into all subgenres of heavy music. This second album kicks off with the thrash metal scuzz of “Skin a Rat.” Later, she hits an industrial goth club on “Say It.” Even orchestral doom makes an appearance on the finale “Not a Love Song.” Squeeze isn’t your typical meathead hard rock record. It’s something way more compelling — a nuclear blast that extinguishes so much metal mediocrity. – Matt Sigur


The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention 



In the Internet age, everything is free: movies, novels, albums — but also information. We were promised a technological utopia, a Jetsons world, but having the sum of society at our fingertips didn’t stop the train from skidding off the tracks. And as we got off to survey the damage, there was one of the original techno-critics, Thom Yorke, waiting, smiling. “Free in the knowledge / That one day this will end” is how the ever-cheerful Yorke consoles us on “Free in the Knowledge,” practically shrugging. Made with his old Radiohead general Jonny Greenwood (on everything from guitar to harp) and new recruit Tom Skinner (drums), The Smile’s A Light for Attracting Attention is, both in sound and spirit, not quite a Radiohead album. Instead, it’s an attempt to do something Radiohead have never allowed themselves to do: survey almost every sonic leap the band has undertaken to get here. There’s the stabbing guitar assault of The Bends (“You Will Never Work in Television Again”), the synth-drenched panic attack of Kid A (“We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings”), the arpeggiated ballet of In Rainbows (“Skrting on the Surface”). And the main throughline of it all is, of course, our dude Yorke, sounding at turns either like a madman or a prophet. Can anyone tell the difference anymore? – Nate Rogers


Smino – Luv 4 Rent



Combining nimble flows with deep emotions (and the flexible vocals to make you feel them), Smino’s Luv 4 Rent is an impressionistic portrait of flawed romance, family, and funk. For the project, the St. Louis rapper scats between semi-free-associative punchlines and moments of profound vulnerability, threading them with honesty, cheeky wit, and plenty of sincerity. It can be a little busy, and there’s a lot of material to unpack — but with its earnest, down-home warmth, the album invites you to sit with it a while, with Smino being the type of host to sing you a song. – Berry


Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems 



Philadelphia’s Soul Glo are spokesmodels for this modern-day generation of hardcore. And on the game-changing Diaspora Problems, they inflict gut-punch after punch with their singular sonic maelstrom — in effect turning the genre’s blueprint on its head while putting their contemporaries to shame. Their fourth LP is a simmering pot of justified rage against the white male-dominated system, be it in the DIY scene or political landscape, and Diaspora Problems portends a band boiling over and on the verge. The album occupies its own universe, creating a heady and hook-laden cacophony of hardcore fury, hip-hop grooves, and electronic splatter. “Who gon’ beat my ass? Who the fuck gon’ beat my ass?” wails vocalist Pierce Jordan. Rest assured, the only ass-kicking will come courtesy of Soul Glo. An instant classic if there ever was one. – Brad Cohan


Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa 



When listening to new Spoon, you might catch yourself thinking, “Can they do it again?” On the band’s 10th studio album, Lucifer on the Sofa, the highlights come early and often. Fans will no doubt savor the roaring guitar break on “The Hardest Cut,” the love song/anthem one-two punch of “Wild” and “My Babe,” and the Bowie-esque pianos in “On the Radio.” The record builds to one of the best songs in the band’s already-strong catalog: the title track, featuring saxophones that sound like distant cries from an ambulance. As the last song ends, you might find yourself cashed out on the sofa, shocked at what just happened. It’s then you realize, “Goddamn, Spoon has done it again.” – Sigur


Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart



Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a collage of complicated truths. On “The Beach,” Vince Staples distills memories of candlelight vigils and quips about fallen enemies with dark humor and sincerity, opposing tones he manages to thread seamlessly. With its ambient West Coast bounce and easygoing melody, “Lemonade” sounds like a breezy reprieve, but its lyrics explain how illusions of love can result in an early grave. Staples uses subtext, underrated musicality, and wry wit to collapse the distance between emotions and reach a basic condition of life: Most things are a little good and a little bad. Bittersweet, indeed. – Berry


Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen



On her debut album as Sudan Archives, 2019’s Athena, Brittney Parks put forward a polished, statuesque imagining of her music. Armed with her violin, she produced a luscious interweaving of non-Western string traditions and R&B melody. This year’s Natural Brown Prom Queen is a marked departure. Gone is her previous poise, supplanted instead with ear-worming hooks and sing-along choruses that lean toward pop. Riffing through soul claps and one-string melodies on “NBPQ (Topless),” singing over thundering bass on “Selfish Soul,” and bouncing along the synth-funk of “Chevy S10,” Natural Brown Prom Queen is Parks freed into a glorious experimentalism, with violin the instigator of her party. – Kalia


Wet Leg – Wet Leg 



At their core, Wet Leg are agents of chaos on their self-titled debut, a riot of zooming guitars and sharp hooks that frame droll explorations of lust and lethargy. Beneath singer Rhian Teasdale’s ultra-dry vocal affect flows a cascade of strong emotions as she skewers rote interactions at tedious parties, calls out masturbating ex-boyfriends and, on the delightfully deadpan lead single “Chaise Longue,” turns a reclining chair into a totem of seduction. Along with tight, catchy songs, what makes Wet Leg so compelling is the streak of sly impudence that leavens them: Teasdale and Hester Chambers are funny, bawdy, and unflappably self-assured. – Eric R. Danton


Billy Woods – Aethiopes 



Billy Woods is a singular lyrical talent that’s often in good company. He’s one half of Armand Hammer, whose Haram was on SPIN’s Best Albums of 2021 list, and has shared wax space with emcees like Moor Mother and producers such as Kenny Segal and Messiah Musik. Aethiopes is no different in that regard, Woods this time joined by Preservation, who previously collaborated with Ka and released an album’s worth of beats spun from obscure finds in Hong Kong. Preservation’s deepest crate-digs lay shadowy groundwork for Woods’ intricate narratives, intertwined with imagery of disgraced despots, marital strife, and riding a black pegasus with Medusa’s head in a sack. Aethiopes is Woods at his most anxious and vividly surreal, a career high water mark set followed by another banger just six months later. – Terich

Wu-Lu – Loggerhead



South London punk Wu-Lu’s debut album is a masterclass in harnessing the discontents of modern city life to create head-banging, groove-fuelled tracks of communal catharsis. Single “South” showcases his gravelly baritone as he laments the gentrification of the predominantly Caribbean neighborhood of Brixton, railing over thundering guitars and clattering, lo-fi drums; meanwhile, numbers like “Times” and “Broken Homes” veer further into moshpit-ready grunge, all bolstered by memorable, speak-sung melodies. Deft features from singer Léa Sen and rapper Lex Amor add to Wu-Lu’s ensemble of upcoming talent, marking him as a mighty orchestrator of musical disaffection. – Kalia