Hi guys, welcome back to The Social Tune! Happy Holidays!!! And today, I'm throwing my hat in the ring with the Top 20 Albums of 2022!
Every year, I go back and forth on whether or not to make this list, and it's not even always for the same reasons. Sometimes I agree with the general consensus, and I don't feel my voice will add much to the conversation. Sometimes it's just that I haven't heard enough full albums to make a full list in all good faith. But often, I just find that my opinions on albums change DRAMATICALLY over the years. I mean take my 2020 Best ALbums list: sure, I still enjoy a lot of those albums, but I also haven't revisited half of them since I made that list. And in the meantime, there's no mention of Phoebe Bridgers? Or Fontaines D.C.? Hell, I'd even make the argument folklore's WAY too low, considering how much I revisit it! That's the thing, albums are different than songs, in that replayability - from start to finish - is a much larger factor, especially over the course of a decade or 2. I still go back to channel ORANGE, To Pimp A Butterfly, Teens Of Denial, but will I be able to say the same of the albums released this year... who knows? Those albums came out at a very emotional period of my life, and it's very possible the newer music, no matter how technically amazing, won't have the same "wow" factor for me in the long term. My point being, the older I personally get, the more I worry that my relationship with new music will become increasingly fleeting and transactional. It's why I don't do album reviews anymore, because I think younger critics can and SHOULD add more to the conversation... but all my imposter syndrome aside, these are my 20 favourite albums of 2022!
I know that the prelude to this list REALLY makes me sound like an old fogey worried that he's out of touch... I'm only 26, I wrote that at midnight in a mildly delirious fever, don't worry. That being said, I don't think anyone else is going to have this album on their list.
Identity Crisis by Matt Simons
I discovered this randomly through some YouTube algorithm in early Summer. And while I thought it sounded good, it didn't strike me as anything remarkable. It was a little cheaply produced, it sprawled across multiple genres, and the writing was a bit simplistic and one-note... Then it became my most-listened to project of the summer! I think what this album has over other pop solo projects released in 2022 (Josh Ramsay and Robert Grace spring to mind as obvious comparisons) was remarkable consistency! Every song goes for its own understated brand of existential dread, primarily surrounding break-ups, relationship troubles, supporting your loved ones when you yourself are a mess, and all with Matt Simons, who isn't a powerful singer by any means, but he knows his niche and absolutely nails it. What you see is what you get, it's not complex, but it does what it sets out to do incredibly effectively! The writing is straightforward, but very human. The instrumentation goes in 50 different directions, but always maintains a very solid pop core. And while the melodies are fairly simple, every song on this album gets stuck in my head SO easily, so clearly they're doing something right!
There was competition for this bottom spot, from The Wonder Years, to Lupe Fiasco, to The 1975, all of whom made great albums that I enjoyed, but didn't return to as much as the year wore on. And that's where Identity Crisis really shines. True, it may have just been the mood I was in during 2022 (see my Best Hits list for more of that), but this nondescript little pop project... it really stuck with me. Excellent job! YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist/Identity-Crisis Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/Identity-Crisis
To be honest, I had 1 other motive behind making this list: Irish artists still deserve WAY more international exposure.
Leave The Light On by Pillow Queens
I may be in the minority in thinking this, but this is Pillow Queens' best album to date! I really liked In Waiting, but I always felt there was some dormant potential to that project, and Leave The Light On proved it, delivering on all fronts and blowing its predecessor out of the water! It's a moodier album overall, the harmonies are better, and the writing is excellent, with song after song that just HITS! The album is jam-packed with memorable refrains about finding their own success, queer love, bucking traditional gender roles, the shackles of religion, and the usual existential questions of discovering your place in this world, or learning how to love the parts of yourself that you hate. Pamela & Sarah do an incredible job of delivering the myriad of emotions on this project, while their bandmates underscore them with a sonic backdrop that feels bigger and grander than anything they've done before, making even the more repetitive mantras feel that much more anthemic and arena-ready! I genuinely can't wait to hear these songs performed live, the in-studio versions already sound incredible! And with the wealth of emotions on display, the strong choruses and melodies, and improved percussion giving the entire album more momentum, this is one of the catchiest rock records of 2022. Not enough people have heard this album in full outside of Ireland, so check it out! YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist/Leave-The-Light-On Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/Leave-The-Light-On
This poor woman has been searching for her sound since she broke free from her supreme overlords over a decade ago. And while it's still undeniably messy, this was the first time I heard Demi Lovato sound truly unleashed!
HOLY FVCK by Demi Lovato
The easy comparison to this album is MGK's Tickets To My Downfall, both for its pivot in sound, and its refusal to apologise for its explicit content that doesn't always paint our protagonist in the best light. What makes Demi's rendition far superior as a whole though, is that she's a HELL of a lot more sympathetic. I mean she is NOT afraid to show just how much she's suffered at the hands of the industry, having barely survived, so she's not going to waste any more time placating anyone. And it is glorious! The brand of pop punk here is a lot more grungy, with the best songs containing elements of screamo, punishingly crunching guitars, and brutal drumming, assisted by some truly impressive guest performances! But she also takes some more reflective moments, bringing in touches of shoegaze, 2000s indie rock, and all with a strong emphasis on highlighting Demi's vocal performance. She's always had a powerful voice that tends to overpower most instrumentals, so this sound feels WAY more fitting, especially for the more explicitly adult content she's been trying to push for years now. She attacks every song head-on, displaying herself as she/they really are: pissed off and on the warpath! The album feels cathartic as fuck, and isn't afraid to tackle some really dodgy subject matter, from her struggles with addiction, her dirtiest sexual fantasies (including getting fucked on a rollercoaster, as far as I can tell), and of course, the incensed call-out of a stranger from her past, a 29-year-old who took advantage of her when she was 17, and her coming to grips with that as abuse now that she herself is 29. It's brutal, and feels like a torrent of songs and emotions she's kept bottled up for far too long... until now. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist/HOLY-FVCK Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/HOLY-FVCK
I remember there being a lot of hype for this album. But when it dropped, a lot of critics complained that it just didn't live up to the hype of the singles. ... I mean that's YOUR opinion... here's mine:
Wet Leg by Wet Leg
This British act has really been making waves this year! After some initial success with a couple of viral singles that were excellent, their debut was one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year for me. And while yes, I will concede that the lead-off singles also happen to be the best songs on the album, that doesn't mean that rest of the project wasn't jam-packed with fantastic songs! I can't think of the last time an indie rock band's sound was this instantly appealing to me! This band could have released an entire album of them mumbling in unison over the same 4 chords and I'd probably still love it! But they didn't, instead opting for a bunch of incredibly strong melodies with amazing basslines, well-balanced drums that they clearly know how to incorporate, and earworm choruses that will get stuck in your head for days on end.
Now, I could see the attitude here getting old for some people. The lyrics are bratty and cynical, and they clearly don't give a shit about who they offend. It's almost paint-by-numbers British indie rock, and it isn't shy about leaning into its influences. But they do it so WELL that I find it very hard to complain, and the hooks are so good that the album doesn't run together at all, each song is quite distinctive, while also flowing together remarkably well! If you've been missing some indie rock in your life, particularly from the perspective of 2 young women who don't care how irreverent you find them, you'll want to hear this! YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist/Wet-Leg Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/Wet-Leg
If there's one thing I'm taking away from the musical trends of the 2020s so far, it's that we need more gay country music!
Bronco by Orville Peck
Okay, I was late to the Orville Peck party. I had heard snippets and written him off as an Elvis Presley impersonator. That was really stupid, because while the comparison between their voices is so obvious that literally every critic who's heard him has mentioned it, he's a completely different artist in every other sense. And Bronco was the album to finally show me his full and glorious potential. The thing is that these songs, sonically, don't push the boundaries of the genre all that much. It's very traditional, full-sounding country, but most of the instrumentals shoot for the stars, sounding really cinematic, because they HAVE to in order to keep up with our singer! Orville Peck isn't just the best part of every song here, he elevates everything around him, where if you gave these instrumentals to a lesser performer, I doubt they'd be able to keep up. The banjos, the steel guitars, the drums, the strings, this album is STACKED with rich, full-sounding melodies, easily the best accompaniment that Orville has ever had. Honestly, the album sounds so theatrically awesome, and has so much momentum and ambition, that you almost don't notice the gay content. Orville treats his relationship with other men as entirely normal, warts and all, but it also adds extra drama to songs like C'mon Baby Cry, subtly highlighting the toxic masculinity and macho posturing that he has to deal with at times. This isn't the only country album on this list to greatly benefit from a larger budget, but we'll get to that a bit later. For now, Orville Peck made something truly special here, and exhibits some of the best music that modern country has to offer! And if he were to trim it down a bit next time, go for a shorter, leaner experience while maintaining this same energy... well, let's just say I fully expect to see him on one of these lists again in the not-too-distant future! YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist/Bronco
In any other year, I would love this. In 2022... I needed it.
Baby by Petrol Girls
There was a period in the summer of this year where many of us felt a wave of rage, sadness and empathy, with no apparent release available. And right on cue, on the same day in fact, this album by the band Petrol Girls dropped into our lives, displaying the type of righteous, pissed-off hardcore punk that was the perfect soundtrack for a lot of the collective fury many of us were feeling after SCOTUS announced their decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Now, even outside of the context of that historic blunder... it isn't like the messages on this album are out-of-place otherwise! I mean women being held to unrealistic standards, told they have rights... but only until they're pregnant, preached to by religions and people who have nothing to do with them?! That would NEVER happen before 2022!!! Sarcasm aside, this album is packed with even more rage than Demi's, and it doesn't shy away from taking wild but precise punches at much bigger systemic issues. And you fence-sitters who try to see both sides aren't exempt either!
Petrol Girls are coming for everyone's throats, and who can blame them? Society has failed them and we all know it, and as long as those systems remain unshaken, nothing will change. This is the sound of the revolution; make sure you're on the right side when it gets here.
Album after album, and this man has yet to miss!
God Don't Make Mistakes by Conway the Machine
I placed Conway's major label debut From King To A GOD on my 2020 list as well. But make no mistake, this is better. By leaps and bounds! Griselda tends to release real quality, having impressed me many times in the past, but this year, I wasn't feeling it as much from Westside or Benny's projects. They're still great albums, but I just wasn't in the mood to revisit them much. Conway, on the other hand, tapped into something real here, parsing through his past and putting out his most personal and revealing album yet. For as imposing of a figure as he can be - and he more than maintains that on excellent posse cuts like John Woo Flick - he's also remarkably good at showing off his vulnerable side.
Another talent he shows off on this album is his storytelling, going in detail about the accident that should have ruined his life on the title track... but instead arguably made his career. Which is both uplifting and kinda fucked up! And he knows that, ruminating on how much of his success is down to pure skill, and not being afraid to show how much pressure he feels on songs like Stressed. And again, all this while not sacrificing his swagger, with INCREDIBLE production and a slew of fantastic guest stars.
This is a tour de force of gangsta rap, one that shows the good, the bad and the ugly, refusing to glamorise any of it, but still endlessly charismatic. Many critics have already shouted this album's praises throughout the year, and I'm more than happy to add my own voice to that chorus!
I had no expectations for this... This band has always worked well in isolated moments, but when it came to full projects, I'd always had gripes with the production sounding too polished, too electronic, lacking that organic crunch. So they decided to promptly ignore me, double down, and make their most synthetic, and also their best album to date.
The Present is a Foreign Land by Deaf Havana
Deaf Havana have had a rough few years. After their last album, they were scattered between the UK and the US, making recording and touring very complicated for everyone's schedules. This apparently lead to a bunch of infighting and arguments, until the band decided to break up in early 2020... only to come back nearly 2 years later to announce that half the band would be leaving and brothers James and Matthew Veck-Gilodi would be continuing as a duo, at least for now. And while that all sounds like Hell, the final result is phenomenal! Now don't get me wrong, the 2 brothers are a mess! This album is fascinating, honest and clearly on the brink of a breakdown, as James is noticeably wracked with guilt at all his missteps over the last few years, all while still wrestling with the demons of his past albums. Deaf Havana have always been good at shouldering the blame in a way that toes the line of martyrdom, while never quite crossing it. And this album maintains that balance even better than usual, because you can really sympathise with how exhausted they must be!
These guys still SUCK at picking singles, but this is their best collection of songs to date, where despite missing half the band, they manage to make this their most cinematic and epic-sounding project, primarily thanks to those more synthetic elements. Practically every chorus shoots for the stars, which makes the more tender, low-key moments hit all the harder. Not the only album on this list that feels like I'm listening to an ongoing therapy session, but this packs all that trauma into a tight set of 12 tracks, with barely a moment wasted. And for me at least, it works. The future may be uncertain for this band, but I'm fully onboard if they are.
This is a complicated one. It's certainly an album that works best as a whole, and I fully understand why a lot of critics and fans couldn't get on board with it. But it's also one of the most nakedly vulnerable and self-hating albums I've ever heard from a major artist... and I fucking love it for that!
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar
Cue the second album that felt like witnessing an ongoing therapy session... although in this case that's the point. A double-disk concept album where Kendrick drags us through his ruminations, failings and shortcomings over the past 5 years since DAMN. was released, in order to dispel any notions that he is the saviour that the hip hop media has painted him to be since at LEAST To Pimp A Butterfly. The closest parallel that springs to my mind for this is Father John Misty's God's Favorite Customer, one of my favourite albums of 2018, for tearing down the image that many of his fans had become to form around him, instead revealing himself to be a broken man who'd made a ton of mistakes. And yeah, it was as much of a shock to me as anyone else that THIS is what Kendrick decided to do with his newest album, and my GOD does he pull no punches! He doesn't just want you to realise that your image of him is false - highlighting the fact that he cheated on the love of his life, briefly supported the anti-vax movement and even compares himself to Kodak fucking Black, who's featured on this album multiple times - but he also wants you to abandon ALL your heroes! Nobody is coming to save any of you, and if you keep waiting on a saviour, you're just going to get swallowed up by the systems that those so-called heroes are telling you to fight against.
The album is sprawling and messy, a blend of trap and pop rap production that threw off many diehard fans, combined with features that feel increasingly random... except it's Kendrick, you know each move here was made entirely intentionally. That's the struggle of this album, it almost wants you to hate it! Even if you're like me and you love this album, you have to question if you praising this is just perpetuating the image of Kendrick as the GOAT, which he clearly has no interest in being anymore. Well, fuck it, I think the album's genius, a purposeful sabotage of everything Kendrick has been propped up as for the last decade, with way too many incredible song concepts and great hooks to ignore. The Kodak Black parts are the only thing preventing it from being higher, and again, that's all fully intentional! That and a slightly clunky attempt at creating a pro-trans song, an attempt I personally respect a lot more than I like.
This doesn't quite rise to the heights of Kendrick's best, but nor does it try to. I've respected this man for years, but this project made me genuinely feel for him in a way I've never felt before. Cuts like u and FEAR are incredible, but there's an element of performance to them, whereas this feels authentic and painful. And as he closes of the album by concluding that he can't please everybody, and deciding to choose him over us, the people who "need" him... fair enough. Your resignation is accepted man, but you'll always be a King in my eyes.
Every year, there's 1 album that has such a staggering amount of quality songs on it, that it forces me to impose a "3 song per album" rule. And although I've been a casual fan of this group for a good number of years now, I certainly wasn't expecting THIS!
Dance Fever by Florence + The Machine
Florence Welch is no mother. She is no bride. She's a motherfucking KING! There's a presence that certain women bring to their songs which makes them feel ethereal, otherworldly, untouchable; that's why they develop these hoards of fans who worship the very ground they walk on. Beyoncé is one of them, I'd argue Adele is another, and while some may disagree, I think Florence has MORE than earned that same title at this point. She's always had a way of making relationship drama, arguments with friends, and shitty days at work feel humongous thanks to her otherworldly levels of talent as a vocalist, but this is the first album where it felt like every song was designed to be a staple. You all know Dog Days Are Over, Hunger, and What Kind Of Man, now imagine an entire ALBUM of songs that are iconic on arrival! And all it took was a producer to really get her sound and give her some of the most challenging and catchy instrumentals of her career, without sacrificing that epic scope.
Jack Antonoff has had a very polarising year - even more so than usual - as many people seemed to pin the "failure" of Taylor's album Midnights on him. Now in reality, that album is alright, with a couple of misguided song concepts that remind me of the uneven experimentation of Reputation, and I think it accomplishes most of what she intended. Whereas this is everything Florence Welch has shown potential for for YEARS now! I mean I've always loved her voice, but the albums could sometimes drag and meander, with the singles usually being the main highlights. Here, every song swings for the fences and usually knocks it right out of the park!
It's worth noting that Florence wrote this during lockdown, at a time where she was struggling to find meaning in her life and career. And so she turned to her love of dance, a freeing experience that has brought her so much joy over the years, even when those around her -especially men and members of the clergy - scorned and mocked it, trying to belittle the art form she loved. So she made an entire album dedicated to the rush that dancing gives her, with song after song that absolutely KILLS it in the poetry, the text and the wry commentary in the subtext.
As of writing this, Florence Welch has a fractured foot, which has put her tour on hold, which is both miserable and a little ironic. But once that tour starts up again next year, you better believe I'm going to be there, cheering, singing and dancing to these songs alongside her many Irish fans. Hope you feel better soon Florence, I can't wait to experience this album through your eyes!
So now we're in the top 10, the projects I will always defend as the true classics. And while this year, you could argue we've already discussed a couple of projects that deserve that label, trust me, things are only getting better from here!
There really was a lot of excellent hip hop released this year! I mean Open Mike Eagle dropped a project this year and despite being great, it still didn't make this list, THAT's impressive! Maybe it's because this year, it seemed like there was a new surge to reclaim the crown of hip hop as Kendrick effectively abdicated. And while we'll get to the most obvious candidate in a bit, let's not overlook this remarkably consistent talent!
Melt My Eyez See Your Future by Denzel Curry
Throughout the 2010s, Denzel Curry cemented himself as one of those most creative and forward-thinking artists working in modern music. Even his EPs and B-sides have only shown more variety and different facets of his talent over time. And while to me, he has yet to match the majesty of Ta13oo, Melt My Eyez showed that his run is FAR from over. Like Kendrick, Denzel spends most of this album showing why he shouldn't hold the crown... the main difference being that he still kind of wants it. He qualifies it really well though, showing off his flaws and all the mistakes he's made, but all while making clear how far he's come as a person. Not just in terms of his skill, which has only improved over time, but also in how mature he's gotten, especially regarding his relationships with women. And he fully recognises how he could become everything he hates if left unchecked, almost leaving this album as a diary, a manual for you to use against him in case he ever goes rogue. There are a LOT of superhero and nerd references here that I adore, and he actually incorporates them really well into the narrative, that of a man trying to be the hero, but knowing he has the potential to be the villain. It also helps that the production is EXCELLENT, a bit smoother and more melodic than his last full-length album, with fewer outright bangers, but still jam-packed with amazing hooks and amazing guest verses! I mean it's saying something when JID is one of your less impressive guest rappers on an album! This project is incredible, and reinforces once again why Denzel Curry deserves to be included in those GOAT conversations, at least to me!
I mentioned Irish representation earlier, didn't I? Well, I can't every well say that without highlighting the most obvious choice!
Skinty Fia by Fontaines D.C.
In case you've been living under a rock, this is Fontaines D.C., an Irish post-punk band that has been gaining a reputation as one of the best bands in modern music since at least 2020. I was late to the party, only hearing A Hero's Death in mid-2021 and Dogrel shortly thereafter, but I was instantly in love. And after hearing the singles for the new album, I had sky-high expectations... which the band rose up to meet in force! This band has always received praise for frontman Grian Chatten maintaining his strong Dublin accent while singing, but Skinty Fia leans into their Irish heritage lyrically as well, even sonically at some points (the instrumental on the slow ballad The Couple Across The Way wouldn't be out of place at any bar that plays live trad music). See, the band moved to London for practical reasons, as they felt it was the best move for their careers, which has caused a lot of worry about losing touch with their Irish roots, especially when based in a country that once colonised them. And so, they leaned into it, writing an entire album about their experiences of dealing with that loss of identity, and not afraid to point an accusatory finger at the thieves who took it from them. I mean there's a reason I'm writing in English right now despite being Irish, we all know it. And I really appreciate the band for addressing it in such a direct and awesome way!
In 2022, I was lucky enough to catch these guys live at Rock Werchter in Belgium. They're amazing live, and it only made this album rise in my good graces! It sounds incredible, open about its punk influences, but bringing the sound to a modern context, with some of the most gorgeous yet fist-pumping instrumentals in modern rock, easily some of the most introspective and stunning poetry you will hear in ANY genre, and all from a frontman who delivers every line with a level of vitriol and power that's impossible to ignore! If you've not checked out Fontaines D.C. yet, for whatever reason, fix that!
Every year, you have at least 1 album that is just WAY too smart and lyrically tangled, to the point where it drives away a lot of casual listeners. And with such albums, you can usually guarantee 2 things:
1. I will spend hours on the internet with the album on repeat, parsing through those lyrics and utterly content.
2. At least one of these albums will likely be connected to billy woods.
Aethiopes by billy woods
My favourite hip hop album of 2019 was Hiding Places, a collab between Mr. woods and renowned experimental producer Kenny Segal, an album which absolutely crushes and blows me away to this day! And while Aethiopes doesn't quite have the same effect on me emotionally, it's easily the best project billy's released since that album. As much as I admire billy woods, I do find his albums hard to revisit, as they tend to be extremely tangled to the point where they can feel somewhat light on real hooks. Here though, you get the best of both worlds: it's incredibly dense and packed with references - from the most obscure parts of pop culture to Ethiopian dictators - and all across some of the most textured and atmospheric beats of his career, that are shockingly catchy in their own right! I'm amazed how good he and all his guests sound on these tracks, with Boldy James and Mike Ladd sounding especially comfortable on their respective tracks. Although I also want to bring special attention to the posse cuts here, because the production on both is much more aggressive and in-your-face, and it's honestly a sound I think billy woods should try out more (and I'm not just saying that because of the excellent back-and-forth between El-P & Breeze Brewin either)!
The songs just have so much atmosphere to them, where I barely realise how much time has passed every time I listen to it, and billy woods himself keeps your full attention throughout even the slower songs, purely with his force of personality and gift of gab. And again, it helps that these are some of his catchiest songs to date, jam-packed with hooks throughout the instrumentals and the lyrics, incentivising you to revisit it to decode it some more... although that could take years to accomplish. Still, when the music's this amazing, the subject matter is this interesting, and the performances are consistently this engaging, I'm certainly up for the challenge!
So as much as I love Aethiopes and how hard it made me work for it, the one thing holding it back from the staggering heights of Hiding Places is the emotional core it's missing. I love returning to it from a more academic perspective, and only time will tell if that allows it to hold up as the decade goes on. But if you want an album that not only delivers on the academic AND the emotional fronts, but also punishes you with every listen:
Bring Me Back When The World Is Cured by Sadistik & Kno
Sadistik is an acquired taste. I first stumbled across him through Dead End Hip Hop back in 2017, and while his album Altars from that year showcased a huge amount of talent, the overall sound of the album and Sadistik's voice proved difficult for me to revisit. But I still kept listening to each new project, in the hopes that one of them would finally click for me... and it finally happened! Make no mistake, this man is a BEAST on the mic. He may not have the most aggressive flow, but he's a natural-born poet, with a talent of fast-paced and fluid intonation with remarkable clarity to each word. His lyrics whizz by so fast that you're bound to miss most of it on first listen, which really rewards repeated listens because he's actually SAYING something instead of rapping fast for the sake of it. And on this newest project with producer Kno, his full potential is unleashed. This album is easily one of his more accessible, with very distinct and strong hooks across its 18 tracks - a damn impressive feat in its own right - and a very clear theme. Those being depression and suicide! ... Yeah, like I said, this is not an album for everyone.
Trigger Warning! Our protagonist here struggles with his place in the world, trying to find solace in sex, music and drugs, but eventually kills himself in spite of his crippling fear of the afterlife, and the final song is a full-on debate between God and the Devil about why He created man to suffer through life. It's bleak, it's intense, and it's also kind of beautiful! Kno's produced for Sadistik before, but this is his most atmospheric and effective set of beats to date, the perfect backdrop for our rapper's intricate word paintings, with turns of phrase and internal rhymes that are leaps and bounds above most of his peers. And with his best hooks to date, his most ambitious narrative executed perfectly, and a soul-crushing feeling that sits in the pit of your stomach every time it plays... again, not for everyone, but this blew me away! Glad to finally be on board man, can't wait to pluck up the courage to re-listen to all those older projects with fresh ears.
I probably could have put this list out a bit earlier. Most of the albums here had enough time to sit with me and I was more than satisfied with placing Lupe Fiasco at number 20. But I was holding out a bit for a couple of key albums that I knew had a shot... and sure enough:
White Trash Revelry by Adeem the Artist
Like many, I discovered Adeem through their last album Cast Iron Pansexual, the type of revealing and ambitious country album that really pushed to genre in a progressive direction lyrically and sonically. Sadly, I do think the budget on that album is noticeably stretched, which is nobody's fault of course, but it does make it a project I revisit more in pieces than as a whole. So when I heard that, much like Orville Peck, Adeem was getting a full label sign-off and a much larger budget to play with this time, I knew this had the chance to be exceptional. And thankfully, it delivered! Now to qualify slightly, I do think that Adeem is going to be chasing a song as iconic as I Wish You Would've Been A Cowboy for the rest of their life, but the production from song here to song is stellar, making for a lot of warm and lush textures with strings, pedal steel, banjo, harmonica, steel guitars, drums, the whole shabang! And the songwriting is as incredible as ever, just as revealing as Cast Iron Pansexual, but this time flattering Adeem's vocals a lot more, allowing them to really flex their melodic muscles and show off a number of vocal styles I had no idea were in their wheelhouse. I mean the fact that songs like For Judas & Rednecks & Unread Hicks are sung by the same person is impressive enough vocally... but also in terms of the diverse content!
For a non-binary, pansexual artist with a fair amount of furious liberal anthems on this project, bashing the conservative right and religion, Adeem has the unique perspective on the matter, framing their racist father as misguided by a broken system, or acknowledging the comfort that some families can find in church, not to mention an entire SONG outlining that these rednecks we traditionally think of as close-minded republican hicks also have gay and trans communities, getting married in trailer parks! It's such an empathetic album, rarely drawing lines in the sand to exclude groups of people... unless you refuse to learn from the mistakes of your past. And the storytelling on this album has improved too, painting vivid pictures with witty turns of phrase that frequently put a huge smile on my face or reduced me to quiet sobs, depending on the track. Either way, this album gets better every time I hear it, and while I'm placing this here now, there's every chance it will grow on me with time. Fantastic job Adeem the Artist, I'll follow you down to Hell anyday!
I was nervous about this one... I mean his last album was unparallelled, one of my favourite albums of the last decade, not just in country music. But just like most of the best names in indie country, Ian Noe thankfully wasn't a one-hit wonder after all!
River Fools & Mountain Saints by Ian Noe
So yeah, there was practically no way this could be as good as Between The Country, which might just be the best outlaw/storytelling country album of the last decade, it's THAT amazing and it's a debut! But if anything, the fact that he managed to follow it up with an album this incredible, proves he's no one-trick pony. While his last album was a bleak collection of stories of death, drugs and devastation, this project takes a slightly more positive approach, with more major chords and sing-along ballads... at least on the surface. Much like Adeem the Artist, Ian opted to dedicate this album to some underserved communities, although instead of the trailer parks, he's heading into the Appalachian mountains and backwood counties forgotten by time. And just like on his last album, he's not afraid to highlight the hidden darkness behind a lot of these picturesque vistas; sure, the river fool might be a charming idiot, but only because of his saint of a wife, thanklessly clearing up after his messes. Or the man who's worked his whole life for his retirement, only to realise his life has no purpose without his work. Or the multiple songs dedicated to the natives who were killed and chased out of their homelands by the so-called "peaceful" settlers.
FUCK, I just love this guy's voice and writing; he's only 32, but he has the voice and presence of a man 20 years his senior, and a songwriting style that screams "old soul", where practically every track feels like it's existed for decades! And the sound of this album is SO appealing, rollicking and catchy on most of the first half, kicking a ton of ass with some strong kickdrums when it needs to, and smouldering and pensive towards the end. This album cemented my opinion of Ian Noe as one of the best storytellers in modern country, I'd honestly place him on the same level as Emily Scott Robinson at this point. And from here on out, the expectations are set; I have nothing but excitement for your next project, sir!
I think that the majority of you are under the impression that Fontaines D.C. is Ireland's best export since at least Hozier. But there is a WEALTH of talented acts just waiting to be discovered by the wider public. And if you want MY choice for our nation's musical ambassador:
If My Wife New I'd Be Dead by CMAT
I've been singing the praises of CMAT since early 2021 on Musical McCool, where she quickly showed herself to be one of the most talented performers and songwriters in Dublin at the moment. And after the taster that was Diet Baby last year, I was more than ready for the full project. And my GOD, was it everything I hoped for!
Despite her interesting voice, CMAT has amazing pop instincts. Her songs contain these phenomenal melodies and emotionally complex songwriting that makes it all look easy, but as a critic who's been reviewing pop and country music for years, I can tell you it's anything but! She's an exceptional talent, and much smarter than some critics might dismiss her to be. Not to mention her buckets of charisma which makes me SO disappointed I missed her live shows this year! But at least I had this, an album that blends genres effortlessly, with witty and FUN songwriting that still has a definite emotional core to it! It's stunning to me how immediate this album is, where much like Ian Noe, each song's hook is so instant catchy that you could swear they've existed for years. Not to mention that CMAT is just a queer icon, with an aesthetic I find endlessly charming to revisit.
Seriously, if it weren't for one or 2 songs feeling a tad recycled (and still good, mind you), this would be a perfect pop album. It's a sound that I would say isn't for everyone, but once you accept her theatrical vocal delivery, it really is so universal and wonderful! This is pushing pop and country boundaries in the best possible way, infusing them with cabaret, pulling from sounds across the ages, and managing the blend the vintage and modern elements, making it timeless! Do yourselves a favour and start streaming CMAT everywhere! She's a performer that already has a massive cult following here in Ireland, and it's only a matter of exposure before she spreads like a glorious wildfire!
Concept albums are no longer a rare occurrence, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Hell, I'd say a running theme, through-line or story can very much enhance an album's replay value, especially if it can pull me in early and really makes me work to decode the lyrics. And while that can sometimes come at the cost of stronger hooks, some bands are just talented enough to pull both off and make it look effortless.
Bleed Out by The Mountain Goats
Of course, if you know The Mountain Goats, you know this isn't their first rodeo. Hell, they've been active since the early 2000s, they've pulled this off several times across multiple different genres. And when you're making an album inspired by 80s action films, of course it makes sense you'd go for a more rock-heavy sound! Now I used to be a bit of a film buff, so an album chock-full of action movie references from the Schwartzenegger/Stallone/Willis era of movies? Yeah, I'm going to be onboard! But when you add on John Darnielle's sly commentary that's never too blatant and in-your-face, but also not too subtle to be a stretch, and you have an album that's an intensely interesting character study! You see, while this album initially felt like a simple love letter to that movie genre, leaping across multiple styles of rock with a slew of instrumentals keeping it feeling remarkably fresh and diverse, my subsequent listens unveiled more and more subtext and commentary. The fact that the action hero can never be content in a world without war, the inherent sadism in the way he tortures his enemies that was never fully addressed in those films, and the inevitability that after the credits roll, the untouchable action hero eventually dies just like everybody else. It's never fully spelled out, but it's always there, lingering on the sidelines, the kind of subtlety you'd normally get from... well, an excellent filmmaker.
This is yet another album that showcases that John Darnielle is a genius. I was fortunate enough to catch him live in Dublin this year, and his force of personality and intelligence are immediately obvious. He's one of the few people who'd even think to make an album like this, and probably the only man to pull it off this seamlessly. Easily the band's best album since Goths, where the instrumentals alone are a cut above anything they've released in years, Bleed Out is the kind of album that feels tailor-made for me. Thank you for this gift John... just please make your merch stand easier to find next time!
There were multiple pleasant surprises for me across this list, where I went in either worried or blind and got something unexpected. But here, I got exactly what I expected sonically, almost more of the same really. Just... done to perfection!
Raw Data Feel by Everything Everything
I've been listening to Everything Everything since their landmark album Get To Heaven in 2015... fuck, that was 7 years ago... Anyway, since that project, they've never quite recaptured the magic they found there, but gems like Can't Do kept me interested, hoping for the best. So when this dropped, I put it on, ready to find my usual 1 or 2 songs to salvage from the bunch... only to be delighted by the entire album! When I heard that the first draft of the album was written out by an AI program, which was fed 4 different sources of information - LinkedIn's terms and conditions, the poem Beowulf, 400,000 posts from 4chan, and the sayings of Confucius - before Jonathan Higgs extracted the results and wrote lyrics and melodies around them, I was shocked! Because on my first few listens, I had no idea about any of that, and this was still some of the best pop music that I had heard in YEARS, certainly the best and weirdest thing I'd heard from this band yet! Much like CMAT, if you allow yourself to accept Jonathan Higgs' falsetto as a feature of the music, his presence actually greatly enhances each of these songs, driving home how fucking bizarre it is! The album contains loose themes of love, trauma and technological coping mechanisms in a world that's slowly becoming more automated, and it embraces that future both sonically and lyrically. In an age where we keep hearing about the dangers of technology, an album like this is actually quite refreshing for highlighting the comfort that technology can offer... even if it is still a bit unhealthy at times. I'm pretty sure there's at least 3 love ballads to a robot on this project, just saying.
Again though, the real selling point of this album is how it takes everything that makes this band unique and cranks it up to 11. It feels like the album they've been trying to make for years, where the strange lyrics serve to enhance the ridiculously consistent melodies, with a swath of styles that are all executed amazingly well. And for a long time, this was my album of the year, by a mile. But while Bleed Out closed that distance a bit, there was one other album that actually surpassed it. So, if you haven't guessed yet:
As you might expect from the intro, putting this list in order was really hard. I re-listened to all the albums I'd heard this year multiple times, compared them repeatedly, and had to consider how much I enjoyed listening to each one from start to finish.
All of that of course, with the understanding that the number 1 was clear. I mean I could pretend it was close, but this album absolutely blew me away from the first listen. And while I still kept an ear to the ground just in case anyone wanted to rise to the challenge, nobody could match the undeniable majesty of JID in 2022!
The Forever Story by JID
This album dropped at a weird time for me where I'd hit kind of a dry spell. I'd fallen behind on a lot of my albums because of personal responsibilities, I wasn't enjoying the music of the charts at the time, and I was starting to wonder if I was even going to bother doing year-end lists. I remember I was on my commute home after a long day of work, I threw on Raydar, the opening track... and I must have looked like I was on something, because my eyes were bulging and my head was bobbing like crazy in the middle of a crowded train! JID has always been hugely talented, but I've always felt that he wasn't really challenging himself all that much. A rapper of his caliber had almost limitless potential, if only he'd hop on some more creative beats and push his content a bit further. Well, he certainly took my advice and ran with it, because this is his best project by leaps and bounds! I spent most of June trying to decide whether Kendrick or Denzel had made the best hip hop album of the year so far, then this dropped and made me re-evaluate everything, it flipped my entire year on its head! I mean can you blame me?
The production is NUTS on this, MAJOR shout-out to Christo, Tane Runo, Yuli & Benji for producing this behemoth! The instrumentals range from frenetic and off-kilter, with multiple beat switches on just the opener, to haunting samples that are incredibly well incorporated, to tons of organic instruments, where the bass, horns and pianos are particularly impressive. The album sounds incredible, and let me stress that these beats are NOT easy to rap over! That's where not just JID, but ALL the guests show off some massive talent. I expect it from him, he's a God on the mic, and Lil Wayne, Yasiin Bey and EARTHGANG have shown off this type of energy before. But I wasn't expecting 21 Savage or Lil Durk to rap the way they did here! No disrespect, but this is a whole new level they're playing at and they're keeping up!
But back to the star... I am just so proud of JID here! He's always had great punchlines and flow, but the level at which he not only raps but performs these song, really engaging you with his voice on tracks like Dance Now, Stars and 2007, is nothing short of stunning. At first glance, the content may seem like more of the same - reflections on his come-up and grateful for where he is now - but again, it's much deeper this time round, highlighting the strained family relationships (in pretty vicious detail too), and not afraid to highlight the mistakes he's made, the relationships he's fucked up, the funerals he's missed. But ultimately, he's still going to shoot for those stars, he's determined to get there through his own skill and a decent amount of luck. The album is uplifting, it's hopeful, and even in its lower moments, remains captivating and a TON of fun, where every hook, every beat, every line, ridiculous flow and internal rhyme feels like the culmination of years of work!
I've been there at every step of JID's journey since I reviewed The Never Story back in 2017, and called him out as a once-in-a-generation natural talent who was just missing a bit of refinement. Then he released Dicaprio 2 in 2018 to even more acclaim, officially making it halfway up my year-end list. And continuing that trajectory all the way to the top, The Forever Story is my favourite, the best album of 2022!
Please let me know your thoughts on this list, and tell me YOUR favourite albums of the year in the comments below! I read every comment and I tend to reply. A livestream of the Top 50 Songs of 2022 will be on YouTube in the not-too-distant future, I'll see you there! In the meantime, subscribe to the blog and follow me so you don't miss a thing. And until the next time, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune signing off.