The best albums of 2022 so far | Music

Horace Andy – Midnight Rocker

Rocksteady and dub productions shepherded by Adrian Sherwood – with strings, melodica and harmonica – provide classy backing for a man who could claim to have Jamaica’s most beautiful singing voice. His vibrato seems buffeted by the bass that surrounds him, a voice in total communion with its surroundings as he delivers sermons on the state of the world. Read the full review. BBT

Bad Bunny. Photograph: Eric Rojas

Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti

The world’s most popular pop artist, if we’re using streaming data as the measure, is also one of its most gifted. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, his vocal lines are so packed with poignancy that little romances and histories suggest themselves anyway. Hopping from trap to mambo to house to EDM to wistful pop to every pace of reggaeton, he evokes every possible mood of summer. Read the full review. BBT

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

Folk-rock at heart but spanning bluegrass, squalling rock, scratchy trip-hop and more on this 20-track double album, songs continue to pour from one of the most prolific bands in the US today. Even more amazing than their versatility and hit rate is their strength of feeling: Adrianne Lenker’s vocals and the band’s playing are suffused with struggles and utterly sincere love. Read the full review. BBT

Axel Boman – LUZ

Dubby breakbeat house, smooth yacht-rock atmospherics, South African hip-hop: the first of Stockholm producer Boman’s two 2022 collections is headily eclectic and a rare entity in a genre where tracks almost always trump albums: it repays listening from beginning to end, rather than cherrypicking songs for a playlist. AP

Cate Le Bon – Pompeii

“Raise a glass in a season of ash,” Le Bon sings on her sublime sixth album, written as she attempted to lean into the chaos of the pandemic and, inspired by the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, embraces curiosity instead of fear. Pompeii is rich with mercurial saxophones and a tarnished sense of dark glamour, as if someone had roughed up early Roxy Music. It’s cool, with a weird strut you couldn’t hope to emulate, but also distinctly vulnerable, with Le Bon offering up unvarnished humanity as a gesture towards hope. Read the full review. LS

Charli XCX – Crash

A rare example of an artist pulling off a perfect pop heel-turn. On her last album for Atlantic – a fractious relationship – XCX decided to play them at their own game, leaning into the character of “major label pop star” and embracing blue-chip co-writes and radio friendly bangers. Crash works because it never feels weighed down by the concept, filled with instant songs such as Beg for You and Baby, and no small amount of emotion. It wasn’t just about breaking up with her label, but the conclusive end of her wavering long-term relationship and the loss of her late collaborator, Sophie. Read the full review. LS

Eric Chenaux – Say Laura

Permit some warranted hyperbole: the Canadian songwriter has one of the all-time great singing voices in popular music, an intensely romantic Chet Baker-ish instrument that seems to float with piercing direction, like a paper aeroplane thrown hard through mist. Backed with his equally distinctive burbling guitar, Say Laura is a perfect gateway to his oeuvre with some of his loveliest compositions – and There They Were may be his best ever. BBT

Silvana Estrada – Marchita

The debut album by the 24-year-old Mexican songwriter brims with the specific sadness of not just one’s first breakup, but “mourning that first idea one has about love”, she has said. Estrada plays the Venezuelan cuatro, which creates a tender bed for her dramatic vocals. Inspired as a singer by jazz greats such as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, she flinches with pain (Te Guardo), frays with anguish (Marchita) and can summon a precision as elegant and propulsive as the flutter of a bird’s wing (Sabré Olvidar). A captivating arrival. LS

Fana Hues – Flora + Fana

Hues’ dreamy second full-length album is R&B so liquid you could swim in it. As the California musician attempts to come to terms with a breakup, she turns those languid depths into a prism refracting an endless wealth of seductive shades: Moscato is a vulnerable, acoustic plea from the bottom of an empty wine glass; High Roller a subtly psychedelic epic; Wild Horses a diaphanous bliss-out. LS

Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century

A melodically stunning series of genre pastiches – easy listening bossa nova, swing band brass, John Barry soundtrack – over which Joshua Tillman spins one mordantly funny short story after another: misery memoir authors are cancelled, relationships rekindled by recently deceased pets, ill-advised sexual liaisons disrupted by car accidents. A songwriter at the top of his game. Read the full review. AP

Lightness and transcendence … Jenny Hval.
Lightness and transcendence … Jenny Hval. Photograph: Jenny Berger Myhre

Jenny Hval – Classic Objects

Hval’s music has often looked at a woman’s place in society, and her eighth album starts in a familiar place, pondering the institution of marriage: a guy proposing at one of her gigs, as well as her own wedding. The Norwegian reassures us that she only got into this patriarchal construct for “contractual reasons”. But as Classic Objects unfolds, that sense of certainty melts away as Hval interrogates how her identity and values were formed, and what she really believes in. As weighty as that sounds, the music is loosely dubby and shimmering, and Hval finds humour, lightness and transcendence in her searching. Read the full review. LS

Huerco S – Plonk

American producer Brian Leeds, AKA Huerco S, released an ambient classic with his 2016 album For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have): extremely beautiful but unstable and fraught. Those qualities are all intensified on this dense, brilliant follow-up, where there are lush chords and chimes in abundance, but set in a world of profound instability. Drum programming as hard and precise as a nail gun dances somewhere between speed garage, techno and drill, but Leeds is a master of rhythm even when there’s no percussion at all. BBT

Jeshi – Universal Credit

As strong and memorable a portrait of disaffected Britain as Boy in Da Corner by Dizzee Rascal or Nothing Great About Britain by Slowthai (whose flow Jeshi’s resembles at time), Universal Credit is the defining album of our current cost of living crisis. Using imaginative beats that don’t cleave to current fashions, Jeshi trips through a fug of drugs and inhibited earning power while mulling the fate of his generation. BBT

Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale & the Big Steppers

There’s a sense in which Mr Morale & the Big Steppers is business as usual: another masterpiece from an artist who’s released nothing but masterpieces for a decade. But its teeming sound, dazzling rapping and occasionally risky subject matter is the work of a man thrillingly unwilling to stay still. Read the full review. AP

Loss rings through the Norwich duo’s third album: Jenny Hollingworth grapples with her boyfriend’s death from a rare form of cancer, and she and Rosa Walton struggle to make sense of their lifelong friendship coming apart at the seams. That they don’t look away from it is what makes Two Ribbons such a bracing and beautiful record, with pain and reconciliation rendered in heart-stopping synth-pop and a new foray into surreal pastoralism. Read the full review. LS

Leyla McCalla – Breaking the Thermometer

Breaking the Thermometer started life as a stage show about Haiti’s fight for democracy during the 1960s. Then the pandemic halted performances and McCalla remade it as an album. Like Anaïs Mitchell’s similarly ambitious, multimedia Hadestown, you can imagine this beautifully immersive record finding a wide audience. Singing in Creole and English, McCalla’s voice has an inviting, soft authority; her kinetic cello plucks and the percussion really kick up dust. Best is her take on Caetano Veloso’s You Don’t Know Me, an enigmatic state that McCalla evokes with dreamy pleasure at holding on to privacy, but also frustration that few care to dig deeper. Read the full review. LS

Cécile McLorin Salvant – Ghost Song

The highly garlanded Miami jazz vocalist pulls out all the stops to interrogate lost love. She covers Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in a confrontationally slow a cappella; sings Brecht and Weill with the brisk beauty of a colourful bird ruffling its feathers; marries music from The Wizard of Oz with a song by Gregory Porter. Her arrangements are fantastic: you can feel the shared jazz influences between her and Fiona Apple, and the original I Lost My Mind combines baroque “mad songs” with churning organs reminiscent of a Julia Holter song. Ghost Song encourages a wild sense of wonder but never loses its singular focus. LS

Eclectic influences … Melt Yourself Down.
Eclectic influences … Melt Yourself Down. Photograph: Steve Gullick

Melt Yourself Down – Pray for Me, I Don’t Fit In

On which London sextet Melt Yourself Down finally succeed in marshalling their eclectic influences – dance music, Afrobeat, Krautrock, punk, abrasive jazz – into a cohesive sound of their own. For all the self-doubt in the lyrics, Pray for Me, I Don’t Fit In sounds thrillingly confident, charging head-down at the listener. Read the full review. AP

Mitski – Laurel Hell

The aggressive commerciality and digital artifice of the 1980s is ironised by Mitski on her most ambitious album, using peppy pop and sophisticated metropolitan balladry to confront human need, whether for capital or love. A triumph of arrangement, with a sort of rococo-futurist studio sound, its pop hooks stop it feeling overworked. Read the full review. BBT

Getting stronger and stronger … Molly Nilsson.
Getting stronger and stronger … Molly Nilsson. Photograph: ©Graw Boeckler

Molly Nilsson – Extreme

Ten albums in, the Sweden-born, Berlin-dwelling synth-pop singer is as lo-fi as ever, but her songwriting just gets stronger. Her sense of irony is potent and funny – hair-metal chords seem to skewer dumb aggression, and Earth Girls’s joyous chorus of “women have no place in this world” is a withering portrait of toxic masculinity – but Kids Today and Fearless Like a Child have a straightforward, moving naivety. Pompeii, meanwhile, is Calvin Harris-level pop that should have been huge. BBT

You’d call it Kanye-level ambition if Ye hadn’t squandered that on his last few records: the Spanish star’s third album exhibits her unparalleled range, studious adulation of the music that made her and an explosive, collagist nous that’s all her own. There’s dembow (La Combi Versace), bachata (La Fama), her trademark flamenco (Bulerías), and inventive genuflecting toward icons as disparate as Daddy Yankee, Lil’ Kim and Willie Colón. And she has bars (Saoko), addictively basic bops (Chicken Teriyaki) and beauty: her vocals on Hentai are Disney heroine-beautiful as she sings about coitus being second only to godliness. Read the full review. LS

Joel Ross – The Parable of the Poet

The mood of vibraphonist Joel Ross’ third album is frequently twilit, becalmed and imbued with Coltrane-ish spirituality – evidenced by the titles of Prayer, Benediction and Wail – but it also diverts to more unsettled, darker territory, as on Choices. It all flows beautifully, immersing the listener: an album you willingly succumb to. AP

Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

Breakneck-quick and utterly magnificent hardcore punk out of Philadelphia, with frontman Pierce Jordan venting thousands of words of anger like a political protester in fast-forward. Alongside burly riffs that could flip a car, there are occasional forays into Death Grips-ish rap and spoken word. BBT

St Paul and the Broken Bones – The Alien Coast

St Paul and the Broken Bones came up with the term “cosmic sound” to describe their fourth album, which set Paul Janeway’s emotive church-y vocals over Giorgio Moroder disco and a doomily epic electronic-laced take on their country-rock-soul hybrid. Head to the superb final track, Love Letter from a Red Roof Inn first and you’ll be hooked. AP

Stromae – Multitude

The Belgian synth-pop star’s long-anticipated third album was subtler than his breakout hits Papaoutai and Alors on Danse, but its depths rewarded the nine-year wait. He refined the instrumentation, weaving in string and woodwind instruments from around the globe, and used satire to deliver gutting truths about how humans get one over on one another. On Santé, a chorus cheers the workers who got us through the pandemic in one breath, then reeks with entitlement towards them in the next. LS

Kurt Vile – (watch my moves)

The American singer-songwriter has one of the most consistent catalogues in 21st-century indie, but album nine is his very best: the sound of a wise man who has none of the answers, just happily picking his way through life and alighting here on classic after classic. Read the full review. BBT

Less immediate than its vastly successful predecessor After Hours – there’s nothing as obviously commercial as its big hit Blinding Lights – Dawn FM is a skilfully done, beautifully crafted concept album on which 80s-influenced R&B rubs shoulders with Daft Punk-ish pop house and killer ballads, packed with so many great songs that picking a highlight is almost impossible. Read the full review. AP

Smart and funny … Wet Leg.
Smart and funny … Wet Leg. Photograph: Hollie Fernando

Wet Leg – Wet Leg

On arrival, Wet Leg’s Chaise Longue sounded like the kind of witty indie novelty that used to end up high in John Peel’s Festive 50. But their eponymous debut had substantially more to offer: with hooks to spare, it offers smart, funny, sharply drawn studies of life as small-town women in their 20s. Read the full review. AP

Nilüfer Yanya – Painless

Yanya’s 2019 debut, Miss Universe, was a splendid mess of an album that sprawled in various musical directions. Painless is sharper, cooler, more cohesive and focused – the music drawing on 80s and 90s alt-rock; the lyrics pointed and economical; the melodies honed and potent. It’s also better: an object lesson in refining your craft. Read the full review. AP

Yard Act – The Overload

The point where alternative guitar rock’s tendency towards sprechgesang reached the top of the charts. You could see why: The Overload offered skittering but muscular post-punk funk and lyrics that moved beyond funny (albeit on-the-nose) satire into something more complex and affecting in the lengthy vignette of Tall Poppies and the surreal, epic closer 100% Endurance. Read the full review. AP

Anita Shire

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