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Best Albums Of 2022: 10 Essential Releases Of The Year So Far
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List & Guides

Best Albums Of 2022: 10 Essential Releases Of The Year So Far

From pop perfection to punk-inspired screeds, the best albums of 2022 are so attention-grabbing they simply demand to be heard.

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It seems 2022 has barely started, and yet we’ve already been spoilt for choice with a range of new albums across an array of genres, including pop, hip-hop and indie-rock. From the poptastic coup d’état of Charli XCX’s CRASH to the conceptual tour de force of The Weeknd’s Dawn FM, here are some of the best albums of 2022 so far – a list of essential releases you simply cannot overlook…

Listen to our Chart playlist here, and check out our best albums of 2022, below.

10: Charli XCX: ‘CRASH’

An undoubtedly innovative force in pop music for the past 15 years, Charli XCX doesn’t put a foot wrong on her fourth album, CRASH. Not only one of the best albums of 2022, but also her most radio-friendly offering to date, it sees Charli grapple with UK garage (Beg For You) and even disco-funk (Yuck). Bursting with confidence and assertive lyrics that show she means business, CRASH is arguably the most immediate and streamlined project Charli XCX has ever gifted us. Her first UK No.1 album, it’s clear the record will be remembered as a career high point – judging by all the dance lessons she is said to have taken for its lavish music videos, her hard work seems to have paid off. For a long time now, Charli XCX has proven herself one of the UK’s most experimental pop treasures, and with CRASH we truly get to see her shine.

Must hear: Baby

9: Big Thief: ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’

Brooklyn-based indie quartet Big Thief are no strangers to ambition. After releasing two records in 2019, their fifth, the double-album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, contains 20 songs of typically melancholic, down-at-home indie-folk. Written in quarantine in the woods of Vermont, frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s dreamy vocals and the band’s Americana-tinged musicality crackle like a warm log fire from start to finish. Whether it’s on the jangly clatter of Little Things or the hoedown bliss of Red Moon, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is a rich and sprawling treat packed with quirky lyrical nuances and bliss-inducing melodies. Standing at the vanguard of the indie-folk movement with a uniquely atmospheric and lo-fi sound, Big Thief have already stolen hearts, but it’s with this album they deserve to capture your attention.

Must hear: Red Moon

8: Rex Orange County: ‘WHO CARES?’

After appearing as a featured artist on Tyler, The Creator’s 2017 opus, Flower Boy, Rex Orange County quietly toiled away at his own unique sound, blending bedroom-bound indie-pop with rudimentary hip-hop. With his second album, WHO CARES?, however, he has flourished into a fully-fledged songwriter in his own right, imbuing his songs with classicist orchestral arrangements that show a debt to 70s icons such as Paul Simon and Randy Newman. One of the best songs of 2022, the album’s lead single, Keep It Up, is a lush ditty to mindfulness, while the string-laden swagger of Open A Window sees Tyler, The Creator return favours owed with a sizzling rap verse. Elsewhere, Amazing stands out for its blend of catchy 70s soul balladry and Hall & Oates-esque pop. Peaking at No.1 in the UK, WHO CARES? is a testament to how far Rex Orange County has come, and easily stands out as an early contender among the best albums of 2022.

Must hear: Amazing

7: Red Hot Chili Peppers: ‘Unlimited Love’

Following the much-lauded return of iconic guitarist John Frusciante, we shouldn’t be so surprised that Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 12th album, Unlimited Love, is such a stunning return to form. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin – also returning to the Chili Peppers’ fold, for the first time since 2013’s I’m Beside You – it’s a supreme stroll into funk-rock grooves and psychedelia-tinged balladry, from the sea shanty-esque frivolity of Black Summer to the energetic alt-rock blast of These Are the Ways. Arguably their best work since 2002’s By The Way, Unlimited Love sees Red Hot Chili Peppers distil their funkadelic mojo to its very essence, infusing it with some of the most surreal lyrics frontman Anthony Kiedis has ever put to paper. Proving just what a magical foursome they are when Frusciante’s luscious guitar tones are back in the mix, it’s a delightful listen and a welcome entry among the best albums of 2022.

Must hear: Black Summer

6: Johnny Marr: ‘Fever Dreams Pts 1-4’

Drip-feeding us with a couple of EPs prior to its release, Johnny Marr released his spirited double-album, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, in February. Fiercely committed to his fondness for shimmering indie-rock and post-punk-style riffs, it’s a collection of 16 songs that shows the former Smiths guitarist at the peak of his powers, from the disco-flavoured Spirit, Power And Soul to the mass-media critique of Night And Day. “There’s a set of influences and a very broad sound that I’ve been developing – really since getting out of The Smiths until now, and I hear it in this record,” Marr told Rolling Stone. As one of the best guitarists of all time, Marr has nothing left to prove but, by releasing Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, it’s clear he has unfinished business. Fans of The Smiths will not be disappointed with what he has to offer here.

Must hear: Night And Day

5: Black Country New Road: ‘Ants From Up There’

A notable departure from their ambling jazz-rock-flavoured debut, Black Country New Road’s sophomore release, Ants From Up There, is a much more accessible dalliance with folk-tinged chamber pop. Flaunting the oddball lyrical talents of singer Isaac Wood – who announced his departure from the band just a few days before the album’s release – Ants From Up There melds post-rock with abstract narrative songs. Richly endowed with oodles of mandolin, saxophone and flute, it’s by turns musically unconventional and inventive, inviting Black County New Road to step out from the shadow of their contemporaries Black Midi in order to plant their own flag in the sand. It’s uncertain where the band will go from here now that Wood has left, but, for now at least, Ants From Up There will be remembered as one of the best albums of 2022 – an indie-rock record unafraid to plough a very different furrow.

Must hear: Concorde

4: Yard Act: ‘The Overload’

Finding themselves in the unlikely position of being caught in a chart battle with Years & Years, Yard Act reached No.2 in the UK with their debut album, The Overload, in March. Like the bastard son of The Fall’s Mark E Smith, Yard Act frontman James Smith spits venomously satirical lyrics over irascible post-punk guitar, venting his frustrations about the parochial hinterlands of modern Britain. From parodying gentrification on Payday to lampooning “this crackpot country” on Dead Horse, Yard Act are easily one of the most exciting indie groups of recent years, mixing sprechgesang with dance-punk grooves. Likely to be remembered as one of the best albums of 2022, The Overload finds Yard Act leading the way for the UK’s current rebirth of post-punk, along with the likes of Idles and Fontaines D.C. What sets this Leeds four-piece apart, however, is their quintessentially British sense of humour – something we could all do with in these turbulent times.

Must hear: Payday

3: Kojey Radical: ‘Reason To Smile’

Released in March, Kojey Radical’s debut album, Reason To Smile, is a wonderfully eclectic British rap record that wildly diverges from grime and drill. Veering from socially conscious lyricism to neo-soul-inflected melodies, it’s a wholly original work that yields new fruits upon repeat listens, ranging from the G-funk strut of Payback to the smooth jazz-rap of Silk. There has for many years been speculation about which UK rapper could break the US – Skepta and Stormzy among them – and the safe money could be on Kojey Radical. Not only does he refuse to pigeonhole himself into subgenres of UK rap, but his artistic vision is just as streetwise and aspirational as any of the 90s’ hip-hop icons. If US fans latch onto him as much as they seem to enjoy Little Simz, Reason To Smile could be Kojey’s stepping stone to greatness. Without a doubt, he is a maverick, and we should be extremely grateful to have him.

Must hear: Payback

2: The Weeknd: ‘Dawn FM’

In January 2022, it was announced that The Weeknd officially became the most-streamed artist on Spotify. It’s hardly surprising, then, that his fifth album, Dawn FM, ranks high on our list of the best albums of the year, thanks to an intoxicating mix of styles encompassing 80s synth-pop, EDM and electro-funk. Anchored by a late-night radio concept voiced by legendary actor Jim Carrey, Dawn FM sees R&B sensation Abel Tesfaye continue his dark journey into the nihilism of nightclub culture – as reflected in an artwork that also stands as one of the best album covers of 2022. Branching out into synthwave, spellbinding tracks such as the Vice City-like disco of Take My Breath, the synth-funk squalor of Sacrifice and the smooth soul swing of Out Of Time only serve to elevate The Weeknd as the peerless pop talent he truly is. Few artists create music as unique and era-defining as this, so the sooner you tune into Dawn FM, the better.

Must hear: Sacrifice

1: Gang Of Youths: ‘angel in realtime.’

Originating from Sydney, Australia, indie outfit Gang Of Youths delivered an autobiographical deep-dive into grief and bereavement with their third album, angel in realtime. With a baritone akin to that of The National’s Matt Berninger, frontman David Le’aupepe wrestles with the loss of his father, with deeply philosophical lyrics that cut to the core of the human experience. Channelling the spiritual heft of U2 and Bruce Springsteen, and the passionate catharsis of Arcade Fire, Gang Of Youths ultimately emerge with a sound of their very own. Crafting earnest and visceral anthems such as in the wake of your leave, the angel of 8th ave. and the man himself, angel in realtime. is a literate and melancholic expression of heartfelt trauma that is deeply affecting and relatable. It’s always a delight when a modern indie group strikes gold with a new seam of emotionally resonant rock, and that’s why this record currently tops our list of the best albums of 2022.

Must hear: the angel of 8th ave.

You’ve heard the best new albums of the year, now find out the best reissues of 2022.

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