While the rise of digital music has prioritized the playlist, the album—the collection of songs unified by a singular concept, or a moment in time—still can carry a lot of weight with listeners in 2022. These 10 artists released statements that have helped define the year thus far, whether because of their genre-melding approach to making music, their introspective lyrics, their sardonic humor, or their dancefloor-ready beats. Each of these albums makes for arresting listening, whether in full or on shuffle.
Pompeii, Cate Le Bon
Welsh musician and producer Cate Le Bon takes on personal and global apocalypse on her sixth album, and she’s well-equipped to do so: Her gift for making songs sound like they’re on the verge of falling apart pairs perfectly with the subject matter of Pompeii, with saxophones that sound like they’re melting into heat-warped guitars on the mournful “Running Away” and her wail hovering above the uneasy buzz of the title track’s instrumental bed.
SICK!, Earl Sweatshirt
Enigmatic MC Earl Sweatshirt’s pandemic album, SICK! succinctly and cleverly shows how he’s shaved down his lyrics to their absolute essence, with compressed rhymes and idiosyncratic metaphors that mirror the walls-closing-in feeling of the lockdown era.
Harry’s House, Harry Styles
The third album from boy-bander turned grown-up pop icon Harry Styles, Harry’s House is a laid-back affair that showcases the British singer’s easy charm and unbounded curiosity. The glossy synths of “As It Was” and the rubbery lite-funk of opening track “Music For A Sushi Restaurant” are well-paired with Styles’ breathy voice, while cuts like the tender ballad “Matilda” and the dating-in-2022 sigh “Boyfriends” showcase his sensitive side.
Faster Than I Can Take, Jane Inc.
Toronto musician and producer Carlyn Bezic’s musicianship (she wrote, played, and produced most of Faster Than I Can Take) and expressive voice make the second album from her project Jane Inc. a gripping trip to pop’s frontier. The pummeling “2120” is one of the most pleasantly overpowering dance-pop tracks to land this year, while “Picture of the Future” starts off as a bossa nova shimmy before anxiously folding in on itself—almost as if it saw what was coming and took cover.
blue water road, Kehlani
Oakland-born Kehlani broke through in the mid-2010s with thoughtful, deeply personal soul that updated the ideals of ‘90s R&B for the bedroom-pop generation. Their third album blue water road opens with the declaration (on the lush “little story”) that they’re “workin’ on bein’ softer,” and the album bears out that idea both sonically and lyrically, with Kehlani ruminating over queerness, grief, and love over splendid grooves while the occasional guest (Justin Bieber, Jessie Reyez) drops in to commiserate.
Palomino, Miranda Lambert
For her eighth solo album, Texas troubadour Miranda Lambert built on the promise of her 2016 track “Highway Vagabond” and hit the road, spinning tales of hard-living women while playing with prevailing notions of what “country music” can be. Palomino cuts like the guitar-electrified “Geraldene” and the gender-role-needling “If I Was A Cowboy” are built for loading into honky-tonk jukeboxes, but Lambert’s forays into blues-informed New Wave (the B-52’s-assisted “Music City Queen”) and dreampop (“In His Arms”) show how versatile her artistry can be.
World Full of Worry, Peaness
U.K. trio Peaness have a winking approach to indiepop that energizes their peppier tracks and leavens their more contemplative cuts. On World Full of Worry, their first proper full-length, they master this balance in hooky, terse guitar pop, balancing existential malaise with an ebullient chorus on “What’s the Use?,” using sugar-sweet vocal harmonies to stave off self-esteem crises on “irl,” and countering the world’s slings and arrows with head-full-of-steam guitars on “Left to Fall Behind.”
Rave & Roses, Rema
Benin-born vocalist Rema’s debut album introduces AfroRave—which fuses West African rhythms and melodies with elements borrowed from genres around the world—with riveting results, whether on the low-lit synthpop cut “Addicted,” the deconstructed Quiet Storm track “Dirty,” or the undulating, lovestruck “Mara.”
Spanish singer Rosalía came out of the tradition of flamenco, and her music has been defined by its percussive base even as she’s explored the world in search of new musical styles to add to her arsenal. Her third album brings those precision-grade rhythms into a catchy, if at times unsettling depiction of the not-so-distant future, one where she grapples with the darker elements of fame while immersing herself in the finer things and indulging in its endless buffet of genres.
Wet Leg, Wet Leg
Last year, the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers became streaming sensations with their thudding, surrealistic single “Chaise Longue,” a Mean Girls-referencing flip of the groupie-culture script. Their full-length album builds on that promise, casting a sidelong glance at modern life’s rubbish—nagging bills, bad parties, worse dates—over elliptical riffing and galloping basslines.
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