Our 50 Favorite Albums of 2022 So Far
Summer is officially here, we're halfway through 2022, and this year has already given us way too much good music. We narrowed down a list of our 50 favorite albums of the year so far (and still had to leave off some that we love), with albums ranging from hip hop to indie rock to metal to punk to folk to country and beyond. We didn't rank them (we'll save that for the end of the year), but read on for the list in alphabetical order...
There are new voices heard on Aldous Harding's Warm Chris, her fourth album and third for 4AD, all eminating from her. She sounds smaller, somehow; more delicate, almost like a different person than the one who made 2019's wonderful Designer. Warm Chris is an equally beguiling record, just different. It's more pastoral, almost faery folk at times, more subtle. Whoever is the subject of these songs also appears to be head-over-heels in love. "Cut it up, put it in my hand," she sings on the bright, airy opener "Ennui." While Warm Chris doesn't grab you by the lapels the way Designer did, it's an album whose many charms creep up on you and before you realize, you're totally under her spell once again.
Since Angel Olsen debuted as a bare-bones folk singer over a decade ago, her music has gotten progressively more maximalist, peaking with 2019's grand, orchestral All Mirrors. Her next release was actually a stripped-back, acoustic version of that same album called Whole New Mess, but Angel's music hasn't really passed for folk or Americana since 2014's Burn Your Fire For No Witness. That is, until this year's Big Time, her most direct foray into country music. It's still an Angel Olsen album, still not exactly something that would fly with mainstream Nashville, but it's fleshed out with lap steel, barroom piano, and other twangy elements that suggest a love of anything from Tammy Wynette to Townes Van Zandt. The album comes a week after Wilco used country music to write an album about America, but Angel takes a more personal approach. The album came at a major crossroads in Angel's life; she began recordings just weeks after both of her adopted parents passed away, which happened shortly after she came to terms with her queerness and came out to both of them. Faced with both grief and new love, Angel wrote some of the most introspective, sentimental songs of her career, like the Nashville ballad "All the Good Times," the gently rollicking "Big Time," and sweeping, climactic anthems like "Right Now" and "Go Home." "Some truth is never known until you've lost your hand, until you've had to fight," she sings on "Right Now," and it could double as a mission statement for the entire album. It's Angel Olsen at her freest, most natural, and most honest. It's an album that manages to feel like nothing else in her discography, and like quintessential Angel Olsen, all at once.
After years of more polarizing albums, Animal Collective have released what is easily their catchiest album since 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Time Skiffs feels more relaxed and low-key than MPP and Strawberry Jam, but like those albums, it finds Animal Collective indulging in their Beach Boys love and writing futuristic, hallucinatory pop songs. It's a gorgeous album, and Animal Collective's commitment to psychedelia is admirable. Unlike in 2009, "trippy" is not a word that gets thrown around in the zeitgeist much today -- even Tame Impala, the most popular psychedelic pop band of the last decade, sound sober in comparison to Time Skiffs -- and if you've been feeling like indie rock's third eye has been shut for a little too long, this album might be the thing you've been missing.
Grab 'Time Skiffs' on translucent ruby vinyl.
Bridging the gap between harmony-laden power pop and gritty hardcore, Anxious have written an emo album for the ages with their debut LP Little Green House. For much more on this LP, read our feature on the band, interview and album review included.
Pick up the Anxious album on green & violet butterfly vinyl.
WE sounds more like the Arcade Fire that made Funeral, Neon Bible, and The Suburbs than Arcade Fire have sounded in over a decade, but it feels less like a comeback and more like a rebirth. For the first time in a while, Arcade Fire sound like they're being themselves, honing in on what they've always done best, and coming out with some of the most affecting music of their career. Read our full review.
Pick up the Arcade Fire album on white vinyl.
Artificial Brain twists and irradiates technical death metal into an abstract, malicious entity from another dimension on their self-titled third release -- sinister and imposing to an insane degree, mostly due to the balance they find between whirling technical insanity and simply maintaining a malevolent presence. [by Ted Nubel for IO]
After putting out three projects in 2020, Bad Bunny slowed down a bit in 2021, save for a few non-album tracks and collaborations, but now he's back with his first album in 18 months, the 23-song Un Verano Sin Ti. Save for the inclusion of "Callaíta," which came out as a single back in 2019, the album was released without any pre-release singles, and once again, Bad Bunny has offered up a sprawling, immersive album with so much to like about it. Plenty of songs recapture the Latin trap magic that Bad Bunny has become best known for, and there's a lot of other stuff too. About a quarter of the way into "Después de la Playa," he breaks out into lively mambo. The calm, acoustic "Yo No Soy Celoso" flirts with bossa nova. After a tribal-y intro, "El Apagón" does a 180 and turns into thumping house music. "Me Fui de Vacaciones" is full-blown reggae. "Tarot" reconnects Bad Bunny with Jhay Cortez, who aided him on his massive breakthrough song "Dákiti," and fellow Urbano giant Rauw Alejandro lends starpower to "Party," while the album also brings in The Marías to help Bad Bunny go synthpop on "Otro Atardecer," Buscabulla for the Latin dream pop of "Andrea," and Bomba Estéreo to add their art pop twist to "Ojitos Lindos." He also tips his hat to his forebears with appearances from longer-running reggaeton artists Tony Dize and Chencho Corleone. The album earns its 82-minute running time by accomplishing so much, connecting the traditional to the futuristic, the alternative to the pop, and coming out with another collection that is sure to birth multiple blockbusters.
Indie rock with musical ambition never fully went away, but it hasn't been as fashionable lately as it was in the mid to late 2000s. In more recent years, the genre has seemed split between artists who want to go full pop and artists who want to go back to the more humble sounds of '90s indie, but Bartees Strange is here to pick up where his mid 2000s heroes left off. Right off the bat, he was releasing covers of bands like The National and TV on the Radio, and now he's signed to the label that both of those bands released classic albums on, 4AD. And with his label debut Farm To Table, he's written an ambitious indie rock album that stands tall next to both of those bands. On songs like "Heavy Heart" and "Escape This Circus," he reaches explosive climaxes that really put the "rock" in indie rock. With "Hold The Line," "Hennessy," and the folky "Tours," he contrasts those bangers with a more ballad-driven side that's just as arresting. As on his 2020 debut album Live Forever, he casually defies genre, incorporating bits of hip hop on "Mulholland Dr," straight-up rapping on "Cosigns," and bringing in twitchy electronics on "We Were Only Close For Like Two Weeks." With "Black Gold," he fuses a soaring falsetto with a glitch-infused backdrop that recalls and rivals self-titled Bon Iver (one of the artists he namedrops on "Cosigns"). Even more so than his debut, this album finds Bartees swinging for the fences, coming out with a version of indie rock that's refreshing and frequently life-affirming.
Pick up Bartees' new album on yellow vinyl.
Big Thief's new 20-song double album finds them at their most whimsical and their most serious, their most experimental and their most down-to-earth. It's the most sprawling, ambitious thing they've done. Read our full review of it here.
In the past two years, billy woods released two of the most highly acclaimed underground rap albums in recent memory with Armand Hammer (his duo with ELUCID), as well as a collaborative album with Moor Mother, but he hasn't released a solo album since 2019's Hiding Places and Terror Management. That changes today, with Aethiopes. Like Hiding Places, the new album was entirely helmed by a single producer, this time Preservation, who's best known as one half of Dr. Yen Lo with Ka and as a longtime Mos Def collaborator. woods and Pres have worked together before -- including on Terror Management -- and they prove to have a ton of chemistry for the length of this entire album. As stunning as the last two Armand Hammer albums are, that project tends to have a little more of an abstract haze than woods' solo material, and Aethiopes finds woods delivering his most direct, fired-up bars since Hiding Places, with punchlines that pop out at you and stick in your head right away. He's also roped in some truly great guest verses, including from El-P, Boldy James, Quelle Chris, Despot, Fatboi Sharif, Denmark Vessey, his Armand Hammer partner ELUCID, and more, and the variety of different style rappers keeps the momentum of this album going. It's a lean 13 songs that always leaves you wanting more, and it gets better every time.
Black Country, New Road barely waited a year after putting out their acclaimed debut, For the first time, to follow it with Ants From Up There. Just ahead of its release, singer/guitarist Isaac Wood left the band, citing mental health issues, and while his loss will certainly be keenly felt going forward, his presumably final statement with the band is a glorious whirlwind, 58 minutes of ambitious, anthemic art rock and chamber pop that captures your heart and doesn't let go. "I've kind of accepted that this might be the best thing that I'm ever part of for the rest of my life," bassist Tyler Hyde says. "And that's fine."
Nobody sighs like Cate Le Bon. Going back at least to Mug Museum's "Are You With Me Now?" (but probably further), she has a way with "ahhs" that are beautiful, ethereal, and achingly sad. But it's a deep, earthy kind of melancholy that feels both ancient and warm, existing before us but traveling through Le Bon to our ears. Like Cate, it seems to emanate from a mysterious, unknowable land: Wales. Those sighs, which are all over her sixth album, Pompeii, also provide an emotional anchor to Cate's songs that are often alien and lyrically obtuse, even to the songwriter herself, but always alluring.
"Are you polite or political? Are you correct or cynical?" Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul ask a lot of questions you might not expect on their debut album. Especially for an act associated with DEEWEE, the mostly dance music label run by Soulwax's David & Stephen Dewaele (who co-produced and co-wrote the album). But with Topical Dancer, a very apropos title, Charlotte and Bolis are aiming to engage listeners from their head to their feet. Topics these dancers address include racism, cultural appropriation, social media obsession, wokeness, vanity and misogyny, but as they note, "no matter how painful the subject, we use a certain lightness and humor to address things. It doesn’t minimize the problem, it only makes it easier to process, accept and overcome." While the album is not wall-to-wall bangers (it's not trying to be), Charlotte and Bolis never lose the beat.
The prolific Buffalo rapper and Griselda member Conway the Machine has dropped a whopping four projects this year, none more monumental than his Shady Records debut God Don't Make Mistakes. Stylistically, it stays true to the sinister-sounding boom bap revival he's been crafting for over a decade, but lyrically, these are some of his most personal songs yet. Look no further than album highlight "Stressed," in which Conway tackles mental health, death, addiction, and abuse in gripping detail.
Denzel Curry's 2019 album ZUU felt like the end of an era. It was an effortlessly great victory lap after the ambitious, three-part concept album TA13OO released one year earlier, and after ZUU came the Unlocked and Unlocked 1.5 EPs with Kenny Beats, lower-stakes releases that found Denzel making eccentric left turns rather than following the trajectory he had been on since his breakthrough LP Imperial. Now, having gone three years and a pandemic without a full-length, Melt My Eyez See Your Future is here and it feels like the start of a fresh new era for Denzel. It fuses the ambition of TA13OO with the effortlessness of ZUU, and it also feels like entirely new ground for Denzel. It's a cohesive album that wows from start to finish, and the songs feel monumental on their own too, with distinct vibes that stop the album from ever blurring or dragging. Guest appearances are well-picked and well-executed (from slowthai, Rico Nasty, JID, Saul Williams, T-Pain, Robert Glasper, and more), memorable hooks bleed right into in-depth verses, and production ranges from organic jazz to futuristic electronics. It raises the bar for an artist who's already released a string of classics, and this just might be another one.
Dan Bejar said that when he and regular collaborator John Collins first started talking about making the album that became LABRYNTHITIS, they originally wanted to make a full-on electronic dance album, with "slamming techno," acid house and maybe dash of late-'90s Cher. And that is apparently where Dan thought Collins would take his skeletal song-sketches he sent to him, but "in the end, that's not what we made, because we make what we know, and we don't really know those things." This Destroyer’s most danceable record to date, but one informed by the '80s, from the over-the-top production of Trevor Horn (ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Art of Noise) to peak New Order, and John Hughes soundtracks. But all in a very Bejar way.
To quote the makers of last year's best hardcore album, you really gotta see it live to get it, and ever since I saw the insanely good Drug Church show at Market Hotel earlier this year, I have not been able to stop listening to their new album Hygiene. Patrick Kindlon and the rest of the Drug Church crew just brought so much energy to that show, and they did the same when they recorded Hygiene. These are big, loud rock songs with stacks of power chords ("Million Miles of Fun"), dance-off rhythms ("World Impact"), and too many great one-liners to count. This album just hits on every level; it makes you think, it makes you move, it's misanthropic and euphoric all at once.
Armand Hammer have been on fire lately, having released back to back underground rap gems with 2020's Shrines and 2021's Haram, and this year, the duo's individual members have both released their own solo albums. billy woods put out Aethiopes in April, and ELUCID dropped I Told Bessie this past month. Both rappers feature on each other's new albums -- woods is actually on four of I Told Bessie's songs, including one track that also features Pink Siifu and Quelle Chris, and he co-executive-produced the album -- and both albums scratch a similar itch. I Told Bessie is one of ELUCID's most focused and direct projects yet. Bars land with impact, repeated punchlines quickly get stuck in your head, and ELUCID follows a theme throughout. The album is named after his grandmother, who ELUCID credits with "pouring early ideals of Black consciousness into [him]," and with this album, he aimed to "pay tribute to her and acknowledge her continuing impact on [his] life path." With that strong, clear goal comes some of the strongest, clearest songs he's ever released. I Told Bessie feels like one of ELUCID's most accessible albums, but it's all relative. He's still rapping over mind-warping, experimental production, and his approach to language is just as dizzying. The album always seems to have one foot up in space and the other firmly planted on earth. It occupies that thrilling, unpredictable space in between.
It's been fascinating to watch Earl Sweatshirt continue to evolve in the decade-plus since he released his instant-classic debut mixtape as a 16-year-old. His early fame has allowed him to maintain visibility within rap's mainstream (and remain on a major label) the entire time, but Earl hasn't made music that sounds anything like "mainstream rap" since at least 2013's Doris, and even that album still feels left of the dial. His unique position in the rap world has made him an ambassador for the underground, and he continues to find exciting new artists to collaborate with and new sounds to experiment with. On 2018's excellent Some Rap Songs, Earl helped shine a light on the hazy, psychedelic sounds that NYC artists like Navy Blue, Standing on the Corner, and MIKE had been (and still are) making, while more recently he's developed a collaborative relationship with a darker, murkier NYC duo: Armand Hammer (aka billy woods and ELUCID). Earl appeared on their last two albums, and they appear on "Tabula Rasa" off Earl's new LP SICK!. And just as you could feel the influence of artists like Navy Blue and MIKE on Some Rap Songs, you can hear how Armand Hammer's deceptively subtle sound has impacted SICK!.
Elsewhere on SICK!, there's beats from frequent Earl and Armand Hammer producer The Alchemist, a verse from ZelooperZ of Danny Brown's Bruiser Brigade crew and four songs produced by frequent Bruiser Brigade beatmaker Black Noi$e (Danny Brown of course being another rapper who blurs the line between underground and mainstream, and an Earl collaborator from back in the day), and beats by Navy Blue (as Ancestors), Samiyam, Alexander Spit, and more. From that diverse list alone, you get the sense that you can't pin SICK! down as one specific style or subgenre of rap, and Earl really seems to be fusing all the various influences he's developed over time, not jumping from one sound to the next.
Even if you aren't aware of the specific lyrical genesis of Skinty Fia, the sense of unease is palpable. The shouty punk rippers that epitomized their debut, Dogrel, have given way to dark, textured guitars more akin to early-'80s postpunk (The Sound, The Chameleons) filtered through late-'90s UK alt-rock and dance music, with chunky basslines and increasingly adventurous drumming, making for music that is both expansive and claustrophobic.
The very hard-to-pin-down UK heavy band Heriot debuted in late 2020 with their first single "Cleansed Existence," and they put out an increasingly good string of singles (and a Machine Head cover) in 2021, solidifying themselves as one of the best new heavy bands around. Two of those songs now appear on their debut EP Profound Morality, which covers even more ground than this band ever has before and further cements them as a force to be reckoned with. They're calling it an EP, but with eight songs that clock in at around 20 minutes, it's still a pretty hefty release, and it finds them offering up a blend of metalcore, industrial, noise, sludge, darkwave, and more, often combining this stuff in ways that feels startlingly original. The blunt force of their music is matched by the dual vocals of Jake Packer and Debbie Gough, both of whom have ferocious screams, and Debbie also has a soaring clean voice that brings to mind something like Chelsea Wolfe or Emma Ruth Rundle. Heriot also get frequently compared to bands like Code Orange, Knocked Loose, and Vein, and those comparisons are well-earned not just because they scratch the same itch, but also because this debut EP already feels as unique and inventive as those bands. It fits in with the current metalcore revival, but Heriot are already transcending that.
For Life On Earth, Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra has cited an array of different influences, from Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s 1986 new age classic Keyboard Fantasies to Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong (whose voice is sampled on this album) to the organization Freedom for Immigrants, which Alynda recently started working with. They enlisted the help of producer Brad Cook, who they chose due to Cook's work on Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud, Kevin Morby’s Sundowner, and Hand Habits' Placeholder, but perhaps the biggest difference about this album is that Alynda wanted to finally stop looking backwards. "So much of my twenties was spent being very nostalgic and feeling I was born in the wrong time," they said in the press materials for this record. "I didn’t want to do that anymore, because finally there’s resistance happening, a young-people movement wanting to change the world. Popular music has also been opened up more toward women and people of color, queer people. I was more excited about being in the present moment, and I wanted to use the tools of now."
Using the tools of now is exactly what Alynda did on Life On Earth, an album that moves between soaring, synth-coated indie rock, tender folk music, piano balladry, spoken word-infused sophisti-pop, horn-fueled art pop, and some of that ambient new age influence they picked up from Beverly Glenn-Copeland. And Alynda wasn't trying to write a protest song like "Pa'lante" this time around, but they do get political, speak-singing about ICE on "Precious Cargo," looking at colonization on "Rhododendron," and taking inspiration from climate change, the pandemic, and the 24-hour news cycle. They also get personal, like on "Pierced Arrows," a self-described "heartbreak song" which includes a line about Alynda trying to avoid running into their ex on Broadway. And in many ways, the political songs are personal too, especially the album's climactic, penultimate track "Saga," which finds Alynda taking inspiration Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony and coming out with a powerful song about processing, and eventually overcoming, their own trauma ("I don't want this to be the saga of my life"). The Navigator positioned Alynda as a musician-meets-activist, but Life On Earth may actually be her most radical album yet, on both a musical and lyrical level. Her words pop out at you, and prove to be as poetic as they are blunt, as detailed and intimate as they are universally impactful.
To quote Colin Dempsey's writeup for Invisible Oranges: The New York death metal titans continue their undefeated streak on Acts of God. It's remarkable that their formula still reaps such high rewards despite little variance between albums. Nevertheless, they sound as fresh as they ever have over the past 30 years.
Kendrick's first album in five years is stunning, complex, complicated, and already feels like his fourth consecutive masterpiece. It's a musical and lyrical triumph, and though some of the choices Kendrick makes on the album come off as provocative in ways that don't always feel productive, no album released this year so far has made me think and feel as much as this one has. For more, read the first-listen review that we published the day the album came out.
“I thank God the day we met in the gross bar," Hannah Merrick sings on "It's Me and You, Kid," the closing track on Liverpool duo King Hannah's excellent debut album. It's a track that also serves as their origin story, detailing Merrick and guitarist Craig Whittle's first meeting, when they both worked as bartenders by night at the same watering hole. "It's Me and You, Kid" is King Hannah in a nutshell: darkly sarcastic but utterly sincere, a great eye for details, and an even better ear for mood and atmosphere. I'm Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me is absolutely swimming in atmosphere, the kind that evokes if not a gross bar than a dingy club, probably near closing time, and definitely well past when you should be out. Whittle's guitarwork is responsible for a lot of that. It hangs in the air like cigarette smoke on the songs, pure texture at times. You can almost smell it. Merrick's vocals are similarly smouldering and cool, all perfect for the bluesy music they make that usually stays at a low simmer but occasionally rips open into a rolling boil.
Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 began a planned trilogy with 2017's Wash & Set and 2018's Acrylic, both two of the best and most unique rap albums in recent memory, and now she finally completes the trilogy with Shape Up. She probably didn't mean to wait four years to release it (she revealed the title and released the lead single back in 2020, but, well you know), but it's here now, and it just might be her best yet. It takes everything that was great about the first two -- the singular rapping style, the memorable hooks, the loudly eccentric production, the fashionista punchlines -- and amplifies it exponentially. It makes sense that she considers it the finale of a trilogy; it's the logical conclusion of everything she's been working towards, and the album she was always destined to make.
For the Sake of Bethel Woods is another gorgeous long-player, uniquely Midlake in their signature, highly orchestrated mix of '70s soft rock, prog, spacerock, komische, and folk. As usual, the album sounds incredible, especially if you have a fondness for Pink Floyd and the Alan Parsons Project, and it boasts one of their most memorable collections of songs to date, played with an energy not usually associated with the band. You wouldn't say "Bethel Woods," "Exile," "Meanwhile" or "Gone" rock, per se, but they've got real drive. They keep the mossy earthtones and fondness for vintage synths, mellotrons, flutes and lush vocal harmonies, but mostly jettison the lyrical preoccupations with the lives of people in 1891, for the here and now and personal. For the Sake of Bethel Woods doesn't feel like a history lesson, it feels like a homecoming.
In an era where so many indie musicians of Nilüfer Yanya's stature are pivoting to '80s synthpop, Painless is decidedly a guitar-driven rock record. From shimmering arpeggios to twitchy math rock to driving chords, Painless is like a patchwork quilt of modern indie songs that proudly put the guitar in the forefront. It reminds me at various points of a handful of mid/late 2000s UK art rock records -- anything from Bloc Party to Klaxons to In Rainbows -- but really Nilüfer has developed a style of her own, one that you can't really pigeonhole or accurately compare to anyone in particular. And it's not just that she's an inventive guitarist; she's also an increasingly great singer and she fills this album with melodies that hit right away and keep you coming back for more. It feels smaller and less pop-friendly than her debut, and the decision to make something that sounds a little more insular has resulted in an even better record.
Pick up Nilüfer's album on blue vinyl.
Ugly Season, Perfume Genius' first release since 2020's excellent Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, features 10 songs that originally began as accompaniment to Perfume Genius and choreographer Kate Wallich's dance piece The Sun Still Burns Here, which actually debuted before Set My Heart On Fire Immediately was released. "Some were ‘traditional’ songs that I took into the studio," Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas) said, "while other pieces were born out of improvisations between Blake [Mills] and I." Some of the album is indeed more score-like than previous Perfume Genius albums, but what Ugly Season reveals is that Mike Hadreas approaches scores the same way he approaches traditional songwriting, and the gap between his score-like pieces and his "traditional" songwriting is smaller than you might expect. Like every other Perfume Genius album, Ugly Season is full of moments that stop you in your tracks. There's "Herem," a stunning, seven-minute dose of ethereal pop with a vocal performance as distinct and jaw-dropping as any of Perfume Genius' biggest singles. On the title track, he puts the Perfume Genius spin on dub/reggae, coming out with a song unlike any other in his catalog. "Eye in the Wall" puts his soaring voice over pounding, polyrhythmic dance beats, and evolves into an extended, hypnotic dance remix-type piece that lasts nearly nine minutes. Ugly Season may have started out as musical accompaniment to another medium, but it stands as tall on its own as any Perfume Genius album before it.
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky represents the three prominent emotions on the album and Margolin's life: joy (waterslide), fear (diving board) and "endlessness" (ladder). All three are present on the album's towering penultimate track, "The Rip," that has Margolin, secondary vocalist Georgie Stott and bassist Maddie Ryall chanting "And now my heart aches" repeatedly over some of the most overtly joyous, anthemic music Porridge Radio have ever made. This not only exemplifies the theme of the album but also feels like a mission statement for the band, where these intense feelings coexist and blur -- they urge you to take it all in.
Prince Daddy & the Hyena's new album is a concept album that finds vocalist Kory Gregory grappling with the fear of his death in the wake of his severe 2018 van accident, but it's not necessarily a dark or sad album. "I think the record as a whole, as a journey, feels bittersweet and hopeful in a way," Kory said in the press materials for the LP. "In other words: we're all going to die, so we might as well enjoy the ride before we do."
Musically, the album finds Prince Daddy blurring the lines between punk, emo, and indie rock to the point where it never fits neatly into any genre, and it's got everything from mosh-inducing ragers to tender, atmospheric pop songs with so much else in between, sometimes in the span of a single song. One of the tracks is nine minutes long ("Black Mold") and you might not even know it if you didn't look at the tracklist; like the album itself, it's an ever-changing piece of music that flies by. Kory's also become an even better vocalist; his messy rasp that made Cosmic Thrill Seekers so charming is even grittier, and his softer side is smoother and cleaner, but never at the expense of what made him sound so unique in the first place. It's an unusual choice to follow a beloved breakthrough album with a self-titled, but it makes sense, because this is a reintroduction. Whatever you thought you knew about Prince Daddy & the Hyena, they're now even better at all of it.
Kanye's Wyoming Sessions ended up being a hit-or-miss project, with Kanye's own albums being one of the misses, but if there's one artist who actually used those sessions to push their career forward it was Pusha T. As great as the Clipse member's first two solo albums were, Daytona took Push's solo career to a new level and further established him as not just a veteran but one of the best traditional rappers of present-day. When classicists like Freddie Gibbs and Benny the Butcher needed standout guest verses for career-boosting albums like Bandana and The Plugs I Met, the post-Daytona Pusha T was there to do both. Hype for Daytona's followup started building ever since Push dropped a couple non-album singles in 2019, and now that it's been another three years, anticipation is impossibly high. Fortunately, It's Almost Dry proves that Pusha T is still doing what he does best.
The new album was co-produced by Pusha T's frequent solo-career collaborator Kanye West, and also by The Neptunes, who were entirely behind both of Clipse's classic first two albums. Kanye also appears on two tracks -- one alone and one with Kid Cudi -- and The Neptunes' Pharell Williams is on "Neck & Wrist" alongside Jay-Z. Don Toliver, Lil Uzi Vert, Labrinth, and Pusha T's Clipse partner Malice are on the album too. You can hear the influence of both Kanye and The Neptunes, with the vintage soul samples that the former built his career on as well as the trunk-rattling maximalism that The Neptunes revolutionized rap, pop, and R&B with. The result feels like the culmination of everything Pusha T has touched for the past 20 years, and he rises to the occasion with bars as tough and memorable as he's ever been.
R&B singer Ravyn Lenae hails from the same thriving Chicago hip hop scene as artists like Noname, Smino, Saba, Joey Purp, and Mick Jenkins -- all of whom she's collaborated with -- and by the time of her third EP, 2018's Crush, she also found a new creative partner in Steve Lacy of The Internet, who executive produced that EP and sang on two of its songs. Now she has finally put out her first full-length album, Hypnos, and it feels like the culmination of everything she's done so far. Production was largely split between Steve Lacy and Chicago musicians Luke Titus and Phoelix (who both also contributed to Noname's instant-classic Room 25), and there are some other standout producers on there like Kaytranada and Sango. Steve Lacy once again does guest vocals (on "Skin Tight"), as do Smino ("3D"), "Deep End" hitmaker Fousheé ("Mercury"), and Mereba of Spillage Village ("Where I'm From"). The album largely follows the atmospheric, lightly psychedelic, downtempo R&B carved out by artists like SZA, Tinashe, and the self-titled Beyoncé album, and Ravyn's got exactly the right soaring voice and lush production style to pull it off. The whole album sounds gorgeous, and there are a handful of songs that pop out on early listens. A full-length album has been a long time coming for Ravyn, and Hypnos was worth the wait.
Maryland rapper/producer/pianist redveil has been steadily rising and staying prolific since dropping bittersweet cry at the tail-end of 2019, and learn 2 swim has quickly become the breakthrough that he's deserved for a while. When asked about formative influences, the 18-year-old names Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, artists who -- if you want to feel old -- have been making music for more than half of redveil's life. He got co-signed by Tyler after releasing 2020's niagara, and he's only gained more famous fans since then. He celebrated his 18th birthday with a video featuring life and career advice from Denzel Curry, Saba, MAVI, Rich Brian, and femdot. He's currently on the road opening Freddie Gibbs' tour, and after that he'll open part of Denzel Curry's tour too. Among the guests on learn 2 swim are Fly Anakin and Ovrkast (both on "automatic"), two of the most prominent voices in underground rap right now. learn 2 swim is entirely self-produced, and you can hear the influence of Tyler and Earl in its glistening keys, jazz passages, and warped soul samples. You can also hear Denzel Curry in redveil's delivery, which is often fired-up and accessible in a way that separates him from the growing number of hazy-sounding Earl Sweatshirt acolytes. It's not unusual for a young, up-and-coming artist to sound like a product of their influences, but redveil is already bringing something new to the table too. He's twisting together everything he learned from his heroes and reshaping them in ways that feel as fresh today as those artists did a decade ago.
Rosalía's 2017 debut album Los Ángeles found the Spanish singer putting a fresh spin on traditional flamenco, while 2018's El mal querer roped in co-production from El Guincho and found Rosalía taking her sound in a more art pop direction. Since then, Rosalía got even more pop (and more popular) thanks to massive collaborations with J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Travis Scott, and Ozuna, and her new album Motomami continues in that direction. It finds her continuing to channel the reggaeton, hip hop, and straight-up pop influences she embraced on those recent collabs, and it ropes in another superstar: The Weeknd. (The album's only other guest appearance comes from fellow J Balvin collaborator Tokischa.) El Guincho is once again a producer, but so are other big names like Latin trap beatmaker Tainy, Toronto hip hop/pop producer Frank Dukes, and Pharrell. The more mainstream-friendly sound is fitting for Rosalía, who seems born to be a star, and some of those songs are among the best of her career. But the album isn't just a pivot to mainstream pop. The communal chants of "Buleria," the vintage Latin sounds of "Delirio de Grandeza," and a few jazz-tinged ballads ("Hentai," "Genis," "Sakura") find Rosalía embracing her traditional side, while the James Blake-assisted "Diablo" is among her most experimental songs. All sides of Rosalía are represented on Motomami, which feels like her most all-encompassing statement to date.
Johnny Cash isn't the only country singer with a great Nine Inch Nails cover. Last year, Texas native Ryan Culwell teamed with Aubrie Sellers for a stripped-back, countrified rendition of "Head Like A Hole," his first song since 2018's very good The Last American and the perfect stage-setter for this year's even better Run Like A Bull. Like the NIN cover, Run Like A Bull finds Ryan leaning into his more somber acoustic side -- a side he explored more on 2015's Flatlands than on The Last American and does better than ever on the new album -- and coming out with music that effortlessly bridges the gap between country, rock, and folk. Comparisons to Jason Isbell, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Fleetwood Mac all feel apt, but Ryan stands out with words and melodies that hit with immediate impact and a world-wearied voice that becomes increasingly unmistakable after repeated listens. From crossover crowd-pleasers ("All I Got," "Let's Go Crazy") to ethereal twang ("Colorado Blues") to ramped-up rockers ("Keep Your Head Up") to bare-bones melancholy ("Certain Light"), Run Like A Bull has it all, and it has the potential to reach music fans of all different stripes. It's a reminder that great songwriting knows no bounds.
It's hard to think of many musicians who remain as prolific across multiple styles of music as Camae Ayewa does. Last year, she released the great abstract rap album Black Encyclopedia Of The Air as Moor Mother and the great free jazz/spoken word album Open The Gates as a member of Irreversible Entanglements, and now she's doing something entirely different with 700 Bliss, her duo with producer DJ Haram. (And has a new Moor Mother album arriving July 1.) It kind of qualifies as a rap album, but DJ Haram's production owes more to underground club beats than hip hop beats, and even within the context of niche electronic music, it manages to be noisier, more experimental, and more flat-out fun than several of the duo's peers. Its unique cast of guests ranges from art pop artist Lafawndah to R&B singer Orion Sun to Alli Logout of post-punk band Special Interest to beatmaker Ase Manual to Palestinian DJ Muqata'a to author M Téllez, and all of those artists' various specialties fit perfectly within 700 Bliss' niche-yet-vast world. Like she does in Irreversible Entanglements, Camae often repeats lines like mantras, drilling them into your head even on the most avant-garde songs. But while that group's songs are long, sprawling, and free, 700 Bliss' songs are concise and claustrophobic. Like just about all the music Camae makes, Nothing to Declare is magnetic even when it's pushing you out of your comfort zone.
Sharon Van Etten's new album is the first of her career to be released without any pre-release singles, and this is exactly the kind of album that deserves to be heard as one grand statement. It's dense, suspenseful, and overall darker than any album Sharon has ever released, and the music envelopes you in a way that her previous albums never did. Read our full review.
Pick up Sharon's new album on marbled smoke vinyl.
Radiohead haven't released an album in six years, but just about all the members have stayed active with one project or another (and two major retrospective albums came out), and the latest edition to the extended Radiohead universe is The Smile, whose lineup includes Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood alongside Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, and whose debut album A Light for Attracting Attention was produced by Radiohead's longtime producer/collaborator Nigel Godrich. The name is new, but the music is cut from the familiar cloth that you know and love, and some of the songs actually date back to previous projects. Thom played both "Open the Floodgates" and "Skrting on the Surface" at solo shows as far back as 2009, and Radiohead had a version of the latter in their repertoire on the King of Limbs tour. And those are just the ones we know about from live shows; it wouldn't be surprising to learn that Radiohead have hidden drafts of other songs on this record too, as just about all of these would fit on a Radiohead album. It's got the kind of guitar-fueled art rock songs that Radiohead tended to stray from after the 2000s, like "Thin Thing," "The Opposite," "We Don't Know What Tomorrow Brings," and especially "You Will Never Work In Television Again," which just might be Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood's hardest-rocking song since Hail to the Thief. It's also got "Pana-vision," a piano-fueled song that would've fit on Amnesiac, and the aforementioned "Open the Floodgates" finds The Smile in even sparser piano ballad mode. "A Hairdryer" is the kind of glitchy song that could've worked on The King of Limbs, while the pulsating synths of album opener "The Same" recall Thom's last solo album ANIMA. There's also some less frequently explored territory, like "The Smoke," which has a bluesier, groovier feel than you might expect from the Radiohead family. It's a musically diverse batch of songs, and a consistently gorgeous one too. The stakes might be a little lower because it's not technically a Radiohead album, but the music is no less towering than what you'd expect from that band.
Pick up The Smile on yellow vinyl.
Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison) has become one of the most beloved indie singer/songwriters around since her early home recordings stirred up buzz in the mid/late 2010s. Now on her third proper album, she felt the need to shake things up, and to help her do so, she recruited Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin) to produce the album. 0PN makes wacky electronic music on his own, and as a producer, he's helped artists like ANOHNI, FKA twigs, and his new frequent collaborator The Weeknd achieve their art pop dreams. He's already having a great year, having co-produced The Weeknd's Dawn FM, which is deservingly showing up on most major mid-year lists, and Sometimes, Forever has been shaping up to be another of the year's most acclaimed albums. Though the two may seem an unlikely pair to some, they prove to be natural collaborators and bring out the best in each other. Sophie's songwriting still has the folky indie quality that it's always had, but 0PN helps steer it in other directions with the creepy art pop of "Unholy Affliction," the airy glitchiness of "Darkness Forever," and other more out-there moments. At the same time, when the song calls for something more organic and traditional, 0PN reels the weirder production in and lets Sophie's voice and guitar do the talking. It's kind of like if Radiohead had an album that was half Kid A, half The Bends, and it's nice to hear an album that mixes the familiar and the unknown like this one. It's also nice to see an artist that's nearing indie rock's A-list go in a more outré direction than ever, when so many others in Soccer Mommy's position tend to start getting more radio-friendly and easily digestible. Sometimes, Forever arrives as one of the most unpredictable big ticket indie rock albums of 2022 so far, and it's also some of Sophie's best songwriting yet.
Pick up our exclusive milky clear vinyl variant of the new Soccer Mommy album.
Soul Glo's first full-length for Epitaph is a boundary-pushing punk album that bridges the gap between hardcore and hip hop, emotions and politics, and more. It's full of cool guests from various musical backgrounds (including rappers Mother Maryrose, McKinley Dixon, lojii, and Zula Wildheart, vocalist Kathryn Edwards of Nashville hardcore band Thirdface, and Philly-via-London producer/DJ BEARCAT), and they all fit right in because Soul Glo are about finding the shared roots of various musical traditions, not drawing lines between them. It's both a big step up for the already-great Soul Glo and one of the most impactful punk albums released this year. Read much more about it in our new feature/interview about the album.
Pick up the Soul Glo album on gold vinyl.
Everything Was Beautiful boldly evokes Spiritualized's 1997 masterwork Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, from its prescription meds artwork to its recording (using studios all over the world with dozens of musicians), to the way it opens with a female voice whispering the album's title, sounding like a transmission from the third ring of Saturn. (In this case it's his daughter, Poppy.) In doing so, you get the sense he knew how good this one was, and it more than holds up to the comparison.
The Internet member, former Odd Future member, and solo artist Syd hadn't released her own new album since her 2017 debut LP Fin, but last year she began rolling out an excellent string of singles, and now she finally releases her second album and first in five years, Broken Hearts Club, featuring her three 2021 songs and ten new ones, with guest appearances from Smino, Kehlani, and Lucky Daye. Fin had sort of a colder, darker, more heavily electronic feel throughout, but Broken Hearts Club has a more varied sound that follows the lyrical concept, which is said to "chronicle the ebbs and flows of a relationship from beginning to end." You can feel the butterfly rush of new love coming through Syd's warm, bright, lively fusions of R&B, synthpop, funk, and more, and she pivots to yearning ballads as the album shifts towards heartbreak. It's a concept album where the music itself has as much of a narrative arc as the lyrics, making for something even grander than its instant-classic singles could have possibly suggested.
Sarah Beth Tomberlin worked with Stuart Bogie, Shahzad Isamily, Cass McCombs, Gyða Valtýsdóttir, Felix Walworth, and Doug Wieselman for her second full-length album as Tomberlin, and the result is the understated but deeply affecting folk of i don't know who needs to hear this..., which sticks with you long after you've heard it. A major step up from her 2018 debut, At Weddings, idkwnths is at turns tender and vulnerable, with an easy intimacy that comes across in highlights like "Stoned" and the title track.
Pick up Tomberlin's album on transparent orange vinyl.
There's been more attention on underground death metal in the past few years than there has been in ages, and Rochester's Undeath seem to have emerged as the genre's latest poster children. They became one of the targets of former Cannibal Corpse vocalist Chris Barnes' curmudgeonly take on modern death metal, which probably only ended up helping the band, they've been hyped by several music publications that exist outside of niche metal, they've landed tours opening for popular metal acts like Dying Fetus and The Black Dahlia Murder, and they've got hardcore cred too. Everybody's hopping on the Undeath train lately, and their sophomore LP It's Time... To Rise From The Grave proves that you should believe the hype. It builds upon everything they did on their already-great 2020 debut LP Lesions of a Different Kind except bigger, better, catchier, and more absurd, and they've roped in a fifth member to help beef up their sound. Undeath don't water down the extremity of death metal to achieve crossover success; they've crossed over just because when the songs are this tight, it's hard for anybody to deny them.
Pick up Undeath's album on color vinyl.
Last year, Vince Staples released his great self-titled album, a collection of the the most intimate, plainspoken songs he'd ever released. Around the same time he was making that album, he also made Ramona Park Broke My Heart, and he says there's a "direct correlation" between the two albums, saying, "I was in a similar state of mind. I’m still working through things and the questions that life poses." The difference, he adds, is that "this one has more answers." The other difference is that, after making the most minimal, bare-bones music of his career on the self-titled LP, Ramona Heart finds him returning to a more upbeat, accessible sound. Still, it's Vince Staples, and "accessible" is relative; the album's got some undeniable hooks, but these songs are still too eccentric to qualify as pop-rap, and they're just as personal and introspective as the songs on his last album. Like every Vince Staples album before it, it sounds like nothing else in his discography and it serves as a reminder that Vince refuses to make the same album twice. His career has been an ever-changing journey, and at this point it's very clear: coming along for the ride is always worth it.
Wet Leg plays like a snapshot of your mid-to-late-20s, when hangovers start to get worse but don't stop you from going out all the time, and you start looking for more serious relationships while still wanting to shag everything that moves, and questioning the direction your life is heading -- all set to ridiculously catchy indie rock. Songs are peppered with memorable, saucy lines -- "Baby do you want to come home with me? / I've got Buffalo 66 on DVD," "I hope you choke on your girlfriend," "I got the big D" -- but Wet Leg know the value of a "la la la" or "ah-eeh-ah" chorus, too.
Dawn FM is a concept album that The Weeknd wrote during a period of depression during the 2020 pandemic; looking for an escape, he imagined a fantasy world where everyone is stuck in traffic, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and the only radio station available is the imaginary Dawn FM, which guides you towards the light. It plays out like a psychological sci-fi drama, and the radio DJ narrating the whole thing is none other than Jim Carrey, whose roles in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind come to mind when listening to his anxiety-inducing interjections on Dawn FM, which come spliced in between The Weeknd's blissful pop and fake commercial jingles.
The album was executive produced by Oneohtrix Point Never (who has become a frequent Weeknd collaborator in recent years) and mainstream pop genius Max Martin (ditto), and OPN and Max also handled the bulk of the production on the album, alongside contributions from a few others including Calvin Harris ("I Heard You're Married"), Swedish House Mafia ("Sacrifice"), and The Beach Boys' Bruce Johnston ("Here We Go... Again," which Bruce also sings backup on). Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne also show up for rapped guest verses on "Here We Go... Again" and "I Heard You're Married," respectively, and Quincy Jones narrates a spoken word track. "Here We Go... Again" has hints of The Weeknd's early alt-R&B sound, but for the most part, Dawn FM continues down the retrofuturistic '80s pop path that began on 2020's After Hours. The first single for the album was "Take My Breath," which was yet another example of The Weeknd's ability to churn out world-conquering singles, and it's not the only magical moment on Dawn FM. An even better song is "Less Than Zero," the album's last proper song before Jim Carrey's spoken word coda, a Max Martin-aided jangly synthpop anthem that deserves to be a single. Other similarly immediate moments come in the form of the OPN-assisted "Out of Time" and the OPN/Max-assisted "Don't Break My Heart," and the Calvin Harris-produced synth-funk of "I Heard You're Married" and the skittering electronics of "Is There Someone Else?" provide their own sense of euphoria. Balancing out the sugar-coated hooks, some of the tracks -- especially those produced by OPN -- favor something more abstract and eerie. The album might be intended as some sort of escapism, but it also can't shake the feeling that there's still something out there to escape from. It's ecstasy with an underlying sense of dread.
"In the age of the gentrified savage, there’s no hope!" James Smith, singer for Leeds four-piece Yard Act, is doing his best to keep his head above water while being bombarded with information, disinformation and unease from all directions, at all hours of the day and night. He and the rest of the band tackle this very relatable dilemma with anger, humor and danceable post-punk on Yard Act's very enjoyable debut album, The Overload... Shouty Brits, spiky guitars, disco bass -- we've heard this before, but Yard Act make it seem seem, if not new, exciting and fun again.
Brooklyn's Yaya Bey has been making an intimate, homespun version of neo-soul for the past few years, and since 2020's Madison Tapes -- her first album made without her ex-husband and former collaborator -- she says she's been in a "new era" of her career. That continued on 2021's brief The Things I Can't Take With Me EP, and now again on her new full-length album, Remember Your North Star. The album was entirely self-written, and Bey produced it alongside DJ Nativesun and Phony Ppl's Aja Grant, and its 18 tracks pull you into Bey's world, a world of crackling soul with forays into rap ("big daddy ya"), reggae ("meet me in brooklyn"), shuffling club beats ("pour up"), and more. It's a personal album, matching the intimate tone of the music, and Yaya is an increasingly powerful lyricist. Sometimes she turns your head with a succinct one-liner, and other times she goes full-on stream-of-consciousness, like on the jazz-inflected showstopper "reprise." It's an album that can seem small on the surface, but when you dive in, is incredibly vast.
Singapore-born, London-based musician and artist Nat Ćmiel's new album as yeule is full of glitchy, mutant pop music, evoking the body horrors of eating disorders and drugs while still sounding like something you can dance to. "I was the Glitch Princess, in a time before," Nat says of the project. "Not far from this dimension, but close enough to remember and piece together, like a thin fabric through the wind of Earth. This documentation of myself is but a fragment I have tried so very hard to alchemise into the sonic and visual. A journey that can be experienced, as a capsule of time I have captured in the eyes of a daydream deep-dived in emotive, confessional, and somewhat hopeful repertoires of my experiences in the cyborg form. With much love, I hold my pink 18650 close to my heart under the light from a dying sun."