The 50 best albums of 2022 – 50 to 31

From left … Pusha T, Björk and Bad Bunny.
From left … Pusha T, Björk and Bad Bunny. Illustration: Guardian Design/Getty Images for Roc Nation/ Vidar Logi/ Shutterstock

The countdown continues, with ice-cold wordplay from Pusha T, Bad Bunny’s romantic blend of reggaeton, dembow and bachata and Björk’s typically sideways glance at daily life


Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

People are fond of criticising Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars for writing cryptic or nonsensical lyrics. I say: listen a little deeper, won’t you? Alpha Zulu, Phoenix’s seventh album, interrogates middle-aged ennui with razor-sharp wit, imbuing intoxicatingly sensory synthpop songs with deeply sad lyrics about the tensions between work and love. It ends with Identical, a tribute to the band’s late longtime producer Philippe Zdar, which also happens to be one of the band’s all-timer anthems – a eulogy to close out the biggest festival stage in the world. SD


Tove Lo – Dirt Femme

Striking … Tove Lo.
Striking … Tove Lo. Photograph: Moni Haworth

The Swedish pop star’s fifth – and first independent – album works as a decent primer for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the past few years in pop. It’s got Dua-style disco (thanks in part to sharing a collaborator in SG Lewis), Charli XCX’s death drive and one of those now-ubiquitous, infuriatingly catchy Y2K pop interpolations in 2 Die 4, which, quite bafflingly, samples Crazy Frog’s 2005 cover of Gershon Kingsley’s 1969 song Popcorn. Consequently Tove Lo is less of an eye-popping presence here than on her previous records, though her apparent recalcitrance makes her unusual anxiety and conflict around relationships and intensity all the more striking. LS


Kojey Radical – Reasons to Smile

Kojey Radical’s debut album finally arrived this year and, while a lot of long-gestating debuts can fall flat on arrival, Reasons to Smile was worth the wait. Its interplay of hip-hop grit and neo-soul smoothness is kinetic and hypnotic, like watching oil and vinegar try to emulsify. Radical himself is the glue between Reasons to Smile’s warring sides, a grinning, gloriously charismatic guide through his universe. SD


Earl Sweatshirt – Sick!

During a season of loss and introversion, an artist who made his name considering those states of being surprised listeners by expanding his purview, reaching outwards to forge connection – it’s there too in the warmth of the vintage soul-tinged production – and define some sense of freedom on his terms. It’s a beautiful example of Earl’s proclivity to defy expectations: on Sick!, the new father watches older members of his family die and reassesses his place in their lineage, past and future; he grapples with pain, how to process it rather than let it “fester into hate”, and works to stay present, aware of how “life can change in the blink of an eye”. LS


Danger Mouse and Black Thought – Cheat Codes

Danger Mouse, the defining producer of the 2000s, and Roots MC Black Thought have been working together for years, but their long-mooted full-length collab didn’t properly materialise until this summer. The result is soulful and whip-smart, and makes good on the promise of their first outing together, the 2005 Dangerdoom track Mad Nice: Cheat Codes contains granite-solid bars, luxuriant and sample-heavy beats in one of the most perfect producer/MC pairings of the past 20 years. SD


Special Interest – Endure

Playful punk … Alli Logout of Special Interest.
Playful punk … Alli Logout of Special Interest. Photograph: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

After six years on the DIY circuit, 2022 saw the New Orleans punk outfit head towards the mainstream. Compared with their back catalogue of distorted guitars and industrial synthesis, Endure was notably more pop-aligned, with buoyant keys and groovy riffs wrestling against lead singer Alli Logout’s grizzled vocals and a chugging drum machine. It was a change that felt like a liberating step forward, learning to embrace the more playful side of punk, rather than a sellout move. SB


Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure

Julia Jacklin’s first two records are rooted in relentless, cathartic self-interrogation. But Pre Pleasure is about picking yourself up, stepping over the strange entrails of truth you unearthed, and trying to remember who you are without the baggage and bad vibes. Pre Pleasure is all pristine, gently loping arrangements and reminders to stay healthy, stay happy, have some fun. It’s not a live, laugh, love album as much as a reminder to let yourself off the hook every once in a while. As Jacklin whispers on Ignore Tenderness, with more than a tiny wink: “Go on, let it all out.” SD


Suede – Autofiction

On Suede’s ninth album, Brett Anderson is in a reflective mood, contemplating the loss of his mother and his roles as a father, lover and performer, and how the latter cross paths with the younger versions of himself that populate his memories. It’s a nostalgic nook that many rock stars of his vintage find themselves in once they hit middle age – but unlike many rock stars of his vintage, Anderson bucks the expectation to frame these ruminations as a swan song. Instead he tackles them with all the guts, rage and euphoria of a young man with those evolutions and incarnations still ahead of him. LS


Alex G – God Save the Animals

Finding faith … Alex G
Finding faith … Alex G. Photograph: Chris Maggio

When asked by Pitchfork why his ninth album was so awash in religious imagery, Alex Giannascoli replied: “A few people that I’m close to became religious. It made me wonder what they found.” God Save the Animals suggests that what they found may have been, plainly, ease – a contentment and faith in the world that’s been hard to find on Giannascoli’s past few albums. Although he may be as neurotic and searching as ever, God Save the Animals finds him zeroing in on tiny moments of relief from the anxieties of the world, trudging up a never-ending hill and telling himself a mantra steeped in earnestness and irony: “Every day is a blessing.” SD


Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard

Oliver Sim.
Oliver Sim: ‘The way I dealt with shame in the past hasn’t worked at all’
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The greatest trick pulled by the xx is in how joint singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim dissolve their personal perspectives into an alluring, all-embracing whole. But on Sim’s debut album, he considers the many ways he has tried to disappear in his life – denial, fear, isolation, shame – and weighs up their cost. The antidote, Hideous Bastard suggests, is in unvarnished, often unflattering honesty; the slinky, seductive, often twisted music, produced by Sim’s bandmate Jamie xx, creates the perfect uncanny spotlight for it. LS


Alabaster DePlume – Gold – Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love

Sincere mission … Alabaster DePlume.
Sincere mission … Alabaster DePlume. Photograph: Chris Almeida

One of the year’s most confronting albums didn’t deal in noise or aggression, but deeply insistent compassion. “Don’t forget you’re precious,” the Manchester jazz poet insists across Gold, one of the album’s many such mantras. These are hard messages for anyone inclined to self-criticism to hear – and DePlume (AKA Gus Fairbairn) counts himself among them, laying bare his struggle to remember his own worth. In doing so he dodges the sentimentality that might otherwise overwhelm a record that proceeds with both palms held upright to the sky. And the sincerity of his mission is evident in its real-world application, with the eerie rhythms, heart-caressing vocal harmonies and vulnerable horns imperceptibly stitched together from days of improvisation with various different ensembles. If we can’t remember that we’re precious, he seems to suggest, being in community with others might remind us. LS


The Weather Station – How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars

Tamara Lindeman couldn’t have had any idea what was to come when she sat down at the piano from 10–12 March 2020 to record How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars. On the companion album to last year’s Ignorance, she weighs up what kind of uncertainty we can tolerate living with – and what the point of certainty is in a world in flux. Her conclusions, at least when it comes to politics and the environment, are less than reassuring. But she threads her anxieties with a resonant confidence that love, as unpredictable as it is, remains a risk worth investing in, the Joni-like spirit in her vocals undimmed. LS


Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti

The year’s most streamed album is an old-fashioned romantic epic. Un Verano Sin Ti’s achingly wistful tale of hedonism and heartbreak has a booze-soaked, tearstained mood; it feels tangentially indebted to classic literature (I hear the Bad Bunny of Un Verano Sin Ti, constantly jerking between the heat of partying and ice-cold alienation, as a perverse analogue to Neddy Merrill, from Cheever’s The Swimmer) as well as cinematic worldbuilding breakup albums such as Lorde’s Melodrama. Bad Bunny pairs his heartbroken missives with sublime reggaeton, dembow and bachata, as well as surprising moments of softness courtesy of indie artists such as the Marías, Buscabulla and Bomba Estéreo. He flits effortlessly between raucous party-starting and moments of wounded introversion, distilling all the divine drama of summer into 81 intoxicating, all-too-short minutes. SD


Wu-Lu – Loggerhead

Loggerhead is a little like a zombie movie where Wu-Lu is the lone survivor, a muffled voice of humanity trying to make out any remnants of life in an environment that no longer feels familiar. He stalks the album’s diffuse post-punk landscapes, alternately yelling and mumbling, singing and rapping, letting out a harsh, piercing scream during South, the record’s centrepiece. The closest comparison for this remarkable, haunted debut album would perhaps be enigmatic London experimentalist Dean Blunt, but where Blunt’s main mode is detachment, Wu-Lu seeks out the visceral and the guttural, making an indelible impression in the process. SD


Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong

Sharon van Etten
Sharon Van Etten: ‘I don’t share 99% of my music: sometimes it’s too dark’
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At the dawn of the 2020s, Sharon Van Etten, like so many others, began to feel the natural world revolt. Her sixth album is her response – not a raging polemic, but an attempt to answer the question she asks on Darkish: “Where will we be when our world is done?” Over a thunder of synths and guitars, she writes love songs to her child and partner, attempts to make peace with her anxieties about motherhood, sex and self-image. As the album crescendos with the magnificent Mistakes, she unleashes a torrent of intermingled pain and joy: “Even when I make a mistake / It’s much better than that!” SD


Björk – Fossora

If Björk’s last album, 2017’s Utopia, was about an idealised version of life, she told us in August, then Fossora represented the real world: “Let’s see what it’s like when you walk into this fantasy and, you know, have a lunch and farrrrt and do normal things, like meet your friends.” Naturally, Björk’s musical rendering of domestic life didn’t hold much truck with verité depictions of daily life. Instead, she twisted an artillery of bass clarinets, gabber beats and that famously abundant vocal range into a typically idiosyncratic vision of community inspired by mushrooms and matrilineage. LS


Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer

Not taking life too seriously … Charlotte Adigery.
Not taking life too seriously … Charlotte Adigery. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

In a world of rigid thinking and hard borders between countries and sounds, the Belgium-based duo make their lunge towards freedom. “Thank yourself / Praise your body / Celebrate and dance,” they urge. Liberation can be found in the body, they suggest – in reclaimed sexuality, a clear mind and a deep belly laugh – and they supply the tools to help get us there: the funk, the slink and a reminder of the pleasures of not taking life too seriously. LS


Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin – Ghosted

In another typically prolific year for Oren Ambarchi, the Australian guitarist picked up the baton with some of his most enduring collaborators, the Swedes double bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin. Ghosted is a hypnotic exploration of groove that seems to strip back over the course of its four already impressively lean songs: I is busy and curious; II shudders and flickers over a single repeated fretboard harmonic refrain. The eerie, pattering III starts leading the trio into the shadows before IV slips into the realm of hushed doom jazz plied by Bohren und der Club of Gore. As good an entry point as any into a rich catalogue (try Ambarchi’s glorious 2022 solo album Shebang, for one). LS


Yaya Bey – Remember Your North Star

A much-needed voice for 21st-century singles … Yaya Bey.
A much-needed voice for 21st-century singles … Yaya Bey. Photograph: Lawrence Agyei

Yaya Bey’s superlative second record is one of the year’s coolest, a heady mix of R&B and jazz that’s lived-in, conversational, meticulous; acidic in its humour and boundless in its empathy. Songs such as Keisha and Meet Me in Brooklyn are filled with subtle interlocking parts but never feel busy: the production equivalent of no-makeup makeup, they provide perfectly minimal backing for Bey to unspool her lackadaisical but painstakingly composed lyrics about relationships, work and Black womanhood. Recalling incisive, free-spirited chroniclers of sex and romance such as SZA and Cookie Mueller, Bey provides a much-needed voice for 21st-century singles everywhere, getting lost in love and looking good doing it. SD


Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry

Four years after his career-rejuvenating instant classic Daytona, Pusha T returned with It’s Almost Dry, arguably his sharpest and most appealingly persnickety album since his peak Clipse days. Unlike on Daytona, there’s no Drake beef here to draw Push’s ire; instead, his lyrics are all about petty rifts and decades-old dramas, scores that can only be settled with excoriating, ice-cold wordplay. While the credits list seems bloated – It’s Almost Dry is stacked with household names including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Pharrell, Kid Cudi and Lil Uzi Vert, and features a Beyoncé sample on grandiose highlight Rock n Roll – the focus is squarely on Pusha, as, nearly 20 years on from his first commercial peak, he re-establishes himself as one of the era’s most vital rappers. SD

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