The Best Albums of 2022

We’ve reviewed more than 80 albums this year on this website, and chatted about countless more in our monthly highlights. But now it’s time for our writers to reveal which single album they loved above all others this year.

Settle in for this year’s Picky Bastards Album of the Year list…

FRAN SLATER: Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

This was the closest battle for my own album of the year in a long time – a tough choice between this and Kojey Radical that went down to the wire. But each time I listened to Ants From Up There I couldn’t ignore the feeling that there is some rare magic at work, an ability to conjure up intense emotion with the slightest change in a song’s trajectory. When the pace increases in ‘Bread Song’, for example, I get shivers every time – even though I know it’s coming.

It’s an album that manages to mix rage and beauty in a very unique way, with influences that range from punk to classical. It’s hard to think of an album to compare it to. And every time I hear it I pick up on another lyrical flourish that nobody else could have come up with. In a year of really strong albums, when most of my top ten could have competed for the top spot in other years, this is an absolute classic that will still be discussed in fifty years time. It has to be my album of the year.

JAMES SPEARING: Sinead O’Brien – Time Bend and Break the Bower

Every year I end up picking an album I’ve already reviewed and then struggle to find more to say about it than I’ve already said. To give myself a chance this year, I deliberately made a mistake in my review of Time Bend and Break the Bower. Writing about Sinead O’Brien’s debut back in June, I said I “don’t love all of it”. Listening now, I’ve got no clue which part I don’t love, or even dislike. 
 
This album keeps on giving. The dense literary lyrics continue to unravel, and the musicianship and songwriting continue to reward on every listen. It leaves all other speaky singing post-punk albums in the dust. Unfairly, these other albums (you know who they are) are the ones that are going to be grabbing all the attention in these lists. But I urge you to rethink the accepted wisdom. And if you haven’t already, try something different and give the genius of Time Bend and Break the Bower the time it deserves.
 

MATT PAUL: Kae Tempest – The Line is a Curve

Kae Tempest has always been a fantastic storyteller, but in The Line is a Curve, they put themselves in the story’s center. Reading less like a novel, and more like a memoir. The result is an emotional and powerful album packed with authenticity.

Musically the album has leaned away from the poetry-first nature of their last album and brought back big beats. With a glut of features that add a really interesting dimension to what had previously been such a singular voice. Kae has really taken their music forward into a new dimension.

Plus in ‘Salt Coast’ Kae has made a song that is so beautifully wistful about Britain, that it has shifted my thinking about my home country. Even after all that happened in 2022. And for that, there is no doubt that this is the song of the year, which is a highlight in the album of the year.

TOM BURROWS: The Weeknd – Dawn FM

I tried to pick something different. To shine a light on someone more obscure than one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. But every time I went through this year’s album releases, I came back to The Weeknd’s Dawn FM, released all the way back on January 7th.

Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the music that hits the sweet spot. And Dawn FM is a nail-on-the-head fusion of infectious and danceable disco pop, weird retro synths, horror iconography and some of the most oddball elements you’ll ever see in a streaming-era chart-topper.

Central to this is The Weeknd’s union with electronic experimentalist Oneohtrix Point Never. We’d previously heard glimpses of the exciting potential of this collaboration in the synthier moments of 2020’s After Hours, OPN’s own Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, and the madcap 2021 Superbowl show, but to hear a full-length, reins-off collaboration is thrilling. The flow from the Jim Carrey-spoken opener to the R&B jam ‘Out of Time’ is, along with moments of Beyonce’s Renaissance, the smoothest, most enjoyable pop music I’ve heard this year.

A January release reining supreme in December. It must be a special one.

SAM ATKINS: Rosalía – MOTOMAMI

I was kidding myself when I said to the other Bastards that I needed to ‘think’ about what my album of the year would be in 2022. No artist and no album has defined my year like Rosalía has with MOTOMAMI. I’ve been pretty obsessed with Rosalía’s music since her second album El Mal Querer in 2018, the flamenco/pop hybrid record that still holds up today. But in the years since she has achieved such huge success with a ridiculous number of singles, featured verses, and monster Latin radio hits that even I’m shocked she had a full ‘album’ as good as this waiting in the wings.

Front-to-back MOTOMAMI defies expectations. Opener ‘SAOKO’ manages to feel like a drill track, a reggaeton track, and a Rap song and still manages to feature a jazz piano breakdown in the middle. It’s chaotic but perfectly crafted chaos. Rosalía has this incredible ability to meld sounds together, from different cultures and genres and make it sound like it’s always been the way people make music. For me, MOTOMAMI achieves for Reggaeton what Bjork’s Homogenic achieved for electronic music in the 90s. All of the elements are here, but they have been moulded into something brand new and incredibly exciting. It’s an album with a song as emotionally thrilling as ‘Hentai’, as catchy as ‘Chicken Teriyaki’, and as bonkers as ‘CUUUUuuuuuute’. Every song here is essential on an album that amazes me as much on my 100th listen as on my first.

RICK LARSON:  Big Joanie – Back Home
 
My editors have asked for my Album of the Year choice. Not a top ten or even five. These Manchester lads go hard. Very, very close race with Silversun Pickups being nipped at the line. Physical Thrills was a delicious slab of early aughts LA rock, the band getting its ‘Lazy Eye’ groove back. Destroyer’s twisted disco, Let’s Eat Grandma’s triumphant return, and The Paranoid Style’s raucous literary and musical history romps were in the running. (Just snuck a top 5 in there.)

My album of the year is Big Joanie’s Back Home. I just wrote about the album on this very site. I could write about it all day long. I’ve said this before: the most exciting punk, post-punk music being made now is made by women. (Shit, ska too. Hello, Catbite) Big Joanie is at the forefront. This is a wonderful album. It is emotional. It has an idea and a purpose. It has an understanding of history without being tethered to an orthodoxy of sound. These three Londoners know what they are doing and I’m here for it.

WILL COLLINS: Los Bitchos – Let the Festivities Begin

In a year that has felt at times like a succession of increasingly grim events, joy has been in short supply. Huge thanks must go, then, to Los Bitchos. Their album Let the Festivities Begin is a shot of pure joy that has brought a smile to my face every time I have put it on and has induced involuntary and embarrassing public dancing from me on more than one occasion. A heady blend of psychedelia, surf rock, funk and cumbia, each track charges propulsively forward, dragging the listener with it. The absence of vocals on the record heightens its power. It is dance music in the most basic sense of the word, each song seemingly having only one purpose: to get the listener moving. To that end, they draw on a disparate range of influences. Songs lean into disco, afrobeat, science fiction synths, and 70s cop show soundtracks with wilful abandon. As a result, the record plays like the iPod shuffle-abetted soundtrack to a wild house party.

That they manage to tie it all together is down to the band’s ultra-tight musicianship and instinctive understanding of song construction. The album rides the wave of chaos, seemingly teetering but never falling. Each song stays in the sweet spot between finding its groove and not out-staying its welcome, giving the listener enough to get enthralled in without ever getting stale or tired. But even though its mission is to get you dancing, this is not a mindless record. There is much to appreciate – from the musical hat tips to the lithe but punchy production. If you haven’t heard it yet, put it on loud and bring a little joy into your life.

RYAN SELF: Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

My pick is Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Barring an all-timer power pop record (or just a quiet year), I’m a big believer in my AOTY being a capitol-S Statement Record. Mr. Morale is choppy, difficult and conflicted at moments, but also spectacular in many more. In the way that great records can progress like open wounds, Mr. Morale is simultaneous bravado and vulnerability, defiance and acceptance. I will never live and truly understand the full Black experience, but this record is the closest thing to a masterclass from one of the voices of our generation. Doesn’t hurt that they’re also some of his catchiest songs, while tamping down the impulse for filler and skits from previous records.

So there you have it: our favourites of 2022. We recommend music all year round – take a look back through the monthly archives for other recommendations.

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