The common denominator of the music I listened to most in 2022 was an unrelenting outpour of self on behalf of the artist. Those who took their individualized creativity, serenity, ugliness, and ambition and leaned all the way into it. The records on this list are painted in the true colors of the artists.
Hypnos, Ravyn Lenae
Hypnos is less an album and more an immersive experience, akin to being intoxicated by a hallucinogenic force. In serpent-like fashion, the Chicago singer's vocals intermittently constrict you only to release you at her discretion. Lenae's falsetto swirls in and out of your mind, seductive as Medusa and comforting as a deep lavender. Her presence is alienic, levitating above any real experiences and elevating them to a point of unmatched intensity. The supporting cast only further prove Lenae's extraterrestrial status - try as they might, even her most accomplished peers can't bring her down to Earth. Lenae's charm is venomous on Hypnos, an album caught among the satellites as it transcends towards its out-of-this-world dimensions.
Big Time, Angel Olsen
Born out of what is likely the most chaotic time of her life, Angel Olsen's Big TIme is composed among the collapsing pillars. The context surrounding the album's conception adds a weight that can only grow one's admiration for the vulnerability Olsen allows of herself. Emotions flow from her as though she had been cut at an artery. The record swells and swoons, reminisces and projects, unrelenting in its sorrow but never wallowing. Olsen bears it all as if she had nothing to lose, likely because she truly didn't. That reality is palpable.
On a feast of an album, ROSALÍA never has too much on her plate. There aren't too many adjectives to describe just how dominant she is on this record, overwhelming even in the softest moments. Her intensity is the same on "SAOKO" as it is on "HENTAI"; she is as gentle on "DELIRIO DE GRANDEZA" as she is on the finale "SAKURA". On MOTOMAMI, ROSALÍA feels impenetrable, as if she couldn't sacrifice herself even if she tried. Even to my mono-lingual ears, everything she says sounds important. I'm going to stop trying to describe the album and allow it to speak for itself. It has plenty to say.
Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar
I am of the opinion that this album is exempt from criticism. It can not be your favorite Kendrick Lamar album, you don't even have to like the album, but there should always be a level of admiration when listening. Accusations of Kendrick being tone-deaf at times may well be true, but its the consequence of him internalizing the praise he's received and taking it to an extreme. He is real to a fault, exposing some character flaws that are legitimately problematic for both himself and fans. Kendrick's self-awareness has always been a superpower, and many times on MMATBS, he ventures near transcendentalism. We are just now becoming privy to the truths one of this generation's greatest artists has learned of himself, and its not all pretty. Then there are moments of unprecedented vulnerability, as in "Mother I Sober" and "Auntie Diaries", which more than make up for the uncomfortability seen on other tracks. In the end, its best to keep your opinion to yourself. Very little of MMATBS is intended for us; the opportunity to learn more about one of the greatest artists we've known is deserving of gratitude, no matter its form.
In their debut for Phoebe Bridgers's Saddest Factory Records, the trio of MUNA made a clear decision to disregard consequences. Approaching their self-titled LP with unrelenting joy proved to be infectious through headphones. Even at their most emotional, there is a persevering sense of embracing the moment that refuses to hold the group down. There is an overwhelming sense of subtlety on each track, but not out of fear of error or hastiness to indulge themselves. Big and loud screams of insecurity. MUNAseems to prefer quaint and composed, an approach that not only fits their style but speaks to their maturity as a group. A sneaky heart-on-your-sleeve album, its hard not to get hooked after just one listen.
Sometimes Forever, Soccer Mommy
"Sometimes I dream that the dam at the river will keep out the flooding of blue," Soccer Mommy sings listlessly at the conclusion of "newdemo". "But what is a dream but a hope you hold on to, a lie that you wish would come true?" These dreams are lucid, nightmarish in tone but enveloped in hushed optimism. She sees her despair in 3D, and you often feel the spirits that loom over each track. The music is often secondary to the words; to read the lyrics on a page would be just as inspiring as to hear them through headphones. That praise is set aside for only the most compelling of writers. Soccer Mommy has earned that right.
Hold On Baby, King Princess
The opening track of Hold On Baby presents the theme of the album rather enthusiastically. Through self-deprecating imagery, King Princess repeats the title of the track: "I hate myself, I want to party." It isn't until she takes ownership of her situation that she grabs hold of the leading premise of her second LP. "I don't wanna live like that, gonna take it all back," she declares, asserting her mission statement that is decisively accomplished at the conclusion of the record. Her unique ability to make personal experiences universal is encapsulated within standout "Winter is Hopeful", an ode to her significant other. Wherever King Princess may place us, whether its in a sex shop or the car ride home, she achieves a level of vulnerability that is rare from any artist. Hold On Baby feels small enough to hold in your hand, a pocket-size listen that makes you feel big enough to live in your own image, as courageous as that may sound.
Ivory, Omar Apollo
Above the TikTok-gratifying bridge of "Evergreen", the most satisfying feature of Ivory is that it is the realization of what Apollo has been working towards through his past releases. The album is not entranced in the past or fixated on what is to come, it is comfortable in the present. The vision is clear, the execution is admirable, and the results are one of the most fluent records of the year. He establishes diversity within a rather small scope, impressively establishing his dynamic personality within his music. Apollo establishes a languid tone to Ivory, disrupted only by the intense bravado of "Tamagotchi", a welcome change-of-pace that leads into a strong closing stretch. Ivory isn't the typical coming-of-age project for an artist of Apollo's standing. It's an assertion about who he's always been, with no promises of who he will be moving forward.
Being Funny In A Foreign Language, The 1975
To write off The 1975 and leadman Matt Healy as cheesy and immature would be to miss out on his charm entirely. It is his overly-indulgent personality that makes him more endearing; his high-brow innocence is disguised sincerity. For some, your appreciation of the album is likely to be measured by how much you are willing to forgive. If you were to tell me that an opening line in reference to an erection turned you off the album, or if his quasi-monologue on "vaccinista tote bag chic baristas sitting in east on their communista keisters" didn't quite resonate with you, I would understand. Beyond his clichés and overzealous liberalism, Healy has the ability to step outside himself at times. "Am I ironically woke? The butt of my own joke?", he asks rather honestly, wondering "or am I just some post-coke, average skinny bloke calling his ego imagination?" These moments of existentialism humanize the record, as well as the true romantics shown on a trio of tracks. In BFIAFL's most climactic moments, Healy seems to be winking at the listener as he performs, but you can never be sure if it is a gesture indicating that he's in on the joke or is making another lame attempt to impress you with his superficiality. At times, Healy is an actor with a faulty script, resurrected only by the devoted performance he is certain to provide.
Hysteria, Indigo Sparke
Simply put, Hysteria is a masterclass in writing. No scrub as a vocalist either, Indigo Sparke has garnered a reputation for her often devastating penmanship, a skill only sharpened by the contributions of Aaron Dessner. The potency of her words only compound, both in the span of a song and in the greater context of the record. Though she is awfully capable of complex metaphors and illuminating imagery, the most powerful tracks are those that see Sparke speaking with us at eye-level, weaponizing the depths of simplicity. "Time Gets Eaten" is a legitimate song of the year contender, and the physically-replicable "Pressure In My Chest" can compete with the best of Sparke's discography.
Honestly, Nevermind, Drake
Reactions to Drake albums are always done in extremes. It aligns with how the artist operates as well; no matter what persona he chooses to adopt, he is always either the richest or saddest one in the room. In the more tempered setting of Honestly, Nevermind, we are reminded of what makes Drake special: operating under incredible calculation and with enough confidence to make his vision work. In what was the more unconventional of his two projects released this year, Drake sounds comfortable outside of the box, leaning on his most attractive qualities to make the most of his experimentation. On 2022's most uncalled-for release, Drake avenges his over-clichéd work as of late with a breath of fresh air.
Lesser artists would have crumbled in the position SZA has found herself in. Her instant classic Ctrl was one of the most definitive albums of the 2010's, but she was hardly a public figure until recent virality on TikTok shifted her celebrity status. Through her rise to the top, she's maintained a respect level from the music community that only added to the pressure placed on her by an increase in following. In short, SOS delivered. Confessions bordering on invasive, insecurities felt universally but typically never exposed, self-confidence bordering on arrogance, professions of love in contradiction to statements of regret given just seconds earlier: it's all so much, but never feels like its enough. SOS is an incredibly rare 23-song record that maintains cohesion; in fact, it may be the first of its kind. SZA seems to be operating more on impulse, sharing as much information as she sees fit over whichever sound she is attracted to. The opening title track certainly is a grand reintroduction; the closing track is the ultimate kiss-off, a true "I just did that" moment that she more than deserved.
Wet Leg, Wet Leg
It's maybe most impressive how much personality British indie-rock band Wet Leg can convey in under 40 minutes. Their self-titled LP is a good time, loose and humble in tone with impressive moments of songwriting. There's an ebb and flow to the album that may not register on first listen, but there is plenty of substance to encourage repeat listens. Wet Leg sounds like the friend you always want to see out on the weekend, letting them guide your adventure. Their recklessness is always done with proper judgement, and there's never enough time with them to get your fill.
Blue Rev, Alvvays
The five-year intermission between releases seems crucial to the succes of Alvvays's Blue Rev. The jams featured on this album have obviously been cared for, with every member of the Canadian outfit in-sync, not dissimilar to a well-oiled machine. Crisp songwriting and delivery from Molly Rankin are the ultimate stabilizer, finding the right tone to fit the sonic direction of each track. Whether it's the swift-sounding satire of "Very Online Guy" or the brave embrace of maturity displayed on "Belinda Says", you always feel comfortable with wherever Alvvays is going. Press play on Blue Rev and go along for the ride.
Boat Songs, MJ Lenderman
A descent of epic proportions, MJ Lenderman knows himself almost too well as he writes one of 2022's most harrowing albums. On a project that is hard to digest away from a complete listen, there are instances where Lenderman shows a fascinating tension between surreal comedy and introspectiveness. The character development on the album is interpretative, like how his twang unravels from cheeky shtick to borderline identity crisis. The humor is used to disarm the depths he is operating in, as is so wonderfully exemplified by his narration on the cruel passing of time on "Dan Marino". Boat Songs grows darker as it plays, leading you deeper into a seemingly endless abyss. At its conclusion, you find yourself wishing the lows of Boat Songs were bottomless, just to hear how Lenderman might make it interesting.
Also Worth A Sentence
Janky Star, Grace Ives: A change-of-pace album in an already varied genre, Grace Ives's experimentation feels oddly familiar in spite of its individuality.
You Can't Kill Me, 070 Shake: You can almost feel the earth shake underneath the songs on the album, crumbling under the weight of Shake's gravitational pull.
The Forever Story, JID: JID paints the portrait of his life with a colorful palette, filling any voids left from The Never Story while accentuating the images that most inform his character.
It's Almost Dry, Pusha T: The commitment to the bit for Pusha T is more than admirable, ascending to levels that are almost laughable in their acuity.
How It Ends, Toledo: A profitable listen when you're feeling uncentered, "Fixing up the Back Room" is as painful as it is regenerative.
And in The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Weyes Blood: Hope is both a cruel and beautiful thing, and that dichotomy is in constant conflict as Weyes Blood strives for a balanced perspective.
Dawn FM, The Weeknd: As logical as it seems, Dawn FM is far from a fool-proof concept; The Weeknd capitalized on a simple vision with exemplary execution.
Melt My Eyes See Your Future, Denzel Curry: Proving he's not afraid of his occasionally fragile reality, Curry comes into his full form as an artist that embraces the full scope of his most underrated talent.
Bronco, Orville Peck: A sound you have to hear to believe, Peck's infusion of pop and modern country is cutting edge enough to warrant at least one trial listen.
Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Vince Staples: Sober at its core, RPBMH is a humbling listen that continues to add layers to one of the most compelling, complicated figures in hip-hop.
CRASH, Charli XCX: "Not supposed to feel this way, I'm such a hypocrite": the opening lyrics to Crash's best song, and also myself, thoroughly enjoying this album for 9 consecutive months.
Renaissance, Beyoncé: This sentence is simply obligatory yet unnecessary.
Las Ruinas, Rico Nasty: As daring as she is charismatic, just as you feel Rico Nasty has met the bounds of her artistry, she propels herself forward to uncharted territory that is ripe for her conquering.