What soothes the beast and my raw nerves like music? Absolutely nothing. I love thinking about, talking about, and writing about music. A look back at some of the things I have written at Daily Kos will reveal I’ve written frequently about musicians—Lizzo, Tori Amos, and Taylor Swift come to mind—and you’ll even find me in the comments, writing about Weird Al Yankovic and Mitski.
2022 was a unique year when it came to music, with more anticipated studio albums falling out of favor quicker than anticipated. I loved the new Adele album, for example—primarily because I found the track “I Drink Wine” to be sublime—but the album made very few Top 10, or even Top 20, lists because it was often considered overindulgent, despite how absolutely fantastic the vocals are.
Ready for my top 10 albums of the year (with a couple of bonus singles)? Let’s go!
It’s easy to dismiss this album by saying it doesn’t live up to past work by Queen B. And, frankly, it doesn’t reach those lofty heights. Still, Renaissance is an album that embraces the dance floor and calls out to listeners to catch the groove and join in. In fact, the first time I listened to it, I thought of the song “Groove Is In The Heart.” I realized this album takes that simple statement and its element of action and turns it into a full-length album—and does so incredibly well. The production values on Renaissance are fantastic and the album will be mined for mix tapes for years to come.
On Dec. 6, Bey released a “Hive Certified” music video for the album’s lead single, “Break My Soul,” which was certified platinum on Nov. 30. It’s a fun and powerful tribute to her diverse and devoted fanbase, the BeyHive, and all the proof you need that folks are indeed, catching the groove.
Bad Bunny: Un Verano Sin Ti
Can an artist who crosses damn near every boundary address colonialism, Puerto Rico, dance, celebration, joy, and sorrow all at once, in one album? Welcome to an album that, if you are open to the beats, will blow you away. If you have 22 minutes, watch this short film—not only for the beats, but for how it uses reporting from journalist Bianca Graulau to tell the story of Puerto Ricans’ strength in the face of battles against LUMA Energy, colonialism, a corrupt government, and gentrification driven by tourism and tax breaks. Powerful stuff.
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Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
This indie-rock group of (mostly) Berklee School of Music alumni is not one I would not normally listen to on my own, but it kept popping up on my streaming service, and I was pleasantly surprised. The Grammy-nominated 20-track double album—the band’s fifth—Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is unique and defies categorization. Is it folk? Is it a homage to late 1960s pop? Does it take after George Harrison’s work?
Recorded in four cities, and produced by the band’s drummer, I will say this: It’s just stand-alone fantastic. This single-take music video for the single “Red Moon,” from one of those four sessions, gives the vibe of a band that takes real joy in making music, and records live—playing together, rather than isolating each instrument and vocal.
Taylor Swift: Midnights, 3AM Edition
This one might be controversial, or maybe just my take on it: This isn’t Taylor’s best work. It isn’t even close, and in many ways, Midnights is a mediocre effort that I debated before including it on this list. What swayed me?
It’s partly because Taylor Swift may be the artist who finally fucking breaks the bastards at Ticketmaster, but also because, in the few moments I feel that the album hits its stride, the feeling is brutal. Consider this, from “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve”:
“Years of tearing down our banners, you and I
Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts
Give me back my girlhood
It was mine first.”
Goddamn. When Taylor talks about hard truths, she does something a lot of artists don’t do: She puts her own feelings on the record.
“I can’t let this go
I fight with you in my sleep
The wound won’t close
I keep on waiting for a sign
I regret you all the time.”
This lyric runs through my head repeatedly. It has a lot of truth and has helped me more than once since I first heard it.
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The Weeknd: DawnFM
From beginning to end, The Weeknd nails his fifth studio album. The Weeknd’s fourth album, After Hours, propelled him to the 2021 Super Bowl, and with success on a trajectory like a rocket ship, it would seem like a crash at some point seems in order. DawnFM avoids all of that in a concept album the artist compares to being trapped in a tunnel of traffic, listening to the car radio—but that tunnel is purgatory.
Punctuated with fellow Canadian Jim Carrey as the DJ as well as parody radio ads, the album is chock full of great beats and weird moments that make it worth the listen. These components also make it an album so different and original—like the British-accented “Gasoline”—that listeners can’t wait to hear what might happen next.
Hailey Whitters: Raised
The breakthrough album from Whitters—her first with a label after two indie releases—feels like a big leap forward for the country artist raised in Iowa, who fights for the Midwest’s right to be showcased in the genre. On Raised, she drops several numbers that are the toe-tapping, country dance variety. “Everything She Ain’t” is a brilliant take on unrequited love, from the perspective of young girl who can’t get a guy to turn his eyes her way.
Whitters reminds me of several other artists, all of them good.
SZA is a queen in the world of contemporary Black music—just don’t call her art “R&B”—and the Grammy winner’s second studio album is absolutely fantastic. SZA, who entered the music scene in 2012, respectfully defies categorization.
“I think she took a lot of risks on this album and did things that people were naive and didn’t think she could get away with. She can do everything,” producer Benny Blanco gushed to Consequence this month. “She can do rock music, she can do pop music. She can do country music. There’s nothing stopping her. Ever.”
The deadly, sardonic, yet deceptively sweet revenge ballad “Kill Bill”—watch the lyric video below— is, for me anyway, the best track on a long-awaited album full of tracks that deserve to be put on repeat.
Put this one on your playlist. You simply won’t regret it.
Weyes Blood: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Weyes Blood once described a previous album as “The Kinks meet WWII or Bob Seger meets Enya.” She wasn’t wrong. But when was the last time we really had sultry pop music built around a chamber backdrop? Would 1980s artist Air Supply qualify? Or do I have to look further back to The Carpenters, who Weyes Blood cites as an influence?
I don’t know how far back I have to look, but I’ve found what I’m looking for in Weyes Blood. The chamber pop artist nails this release in an airy, beautiful album, rooted in the feelings of regret and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, that just pulls you in.
Arctic Monkeys: Car
Are you an Artic Monkeys fan? No? Well, we may have problems.
Car is the album—the British band’s seventh—that so many Arctic Monkey fans have been waiting for, but it’s also a great place for new ones to discover them. It’s one of the best works the band have ever made. Live performances later mixed with an orchestra nailed the feeling the band was looking for.
It just works on every single level, as this video for “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball,” the first of The Car’s 10 tracks, beautifully demonstrates.
Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time
The same week that Taylor Swift dropped her Midnights album, the 2007 Canadian Idol third-place finisher Carly Rae Jepsen, most famous for her 2012 hit “Call Me, Maybe?” dropped one of her own. Like other artists, including some on this list, Jepsen didn’t shy away from tying the themes of the album, The Loneliest Time, to life during the pandemic.
Even though TayTay also made this list, I found Jepsen’s sixth studio album, from front to back, to be a much stronger one—and I don’t find it particularly close. It got missed in the shuffle outside of Canada, but no matter where you are, take some time to give this album a listen.
Plus, my favorite single that became a viral hit from documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux’s accidental (and possibly unwelcome) laughfest: “My Money Don’t Jiggle Jiggle, It Folds.” The song has roots going back to a 2000 BBC Two series Theroux hosted, with stops at Netflix and, of course, TikTok, before it ultimately landed well … everywhere.
So those are my favorites for 2022. What were yours?