The best albums of 2022

From Wet Leg to Yard Act, it’s been a bumper year for British bands

1. Pop

Composite of Rosalia and Wet Leg

Rosalia and Wet Leg
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The “electrifying” Spanish artist Rosalía has won great acclaim and commercial success by blending flamenco with “experimental pop flourishes”, said Nick Levine on NME. On her third album, Motomami, she outdid herself – producing a sensual, “dazzling musical grab-bag” combining flamenco, reggaeton, pop, glitchy R&B and hooks that sound like playground chants. Motomami is a “spectacular” and “hypersexual” triumph, said Roisin O’Connor in The Independent: a “wonderfully bold” album.

Two young British bands with silly names but exciting prospects have broken through this year. Wet Leg’s combination of “new wave bounce and hilariously deadpan vocals” has proved hugely popular with both “Gen X and Gen Z” music fans, said Jem Aswad in Variety. Wet Leg, the first album from the Isle of Wight duo, is an infectiously catchy “delight”, on which “humour and witty wordplay” accompany “formidable melodic flair”.

The other stand-out is Jockstrap, said Max Pilley on NME. Their debut I Love You Jennifer B is “magical” and “bewitching”. They make ambitious, experimental pop music – both beautiful and strange – which is fun, too. “If you can’t dance to a Jockstrap tune, it would seem that they feel they have failed.”

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It has been a year of captivating work from female singer-songwriters, said Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT. Angel Olsen’s “dramatic vibrato” has often been compared to Roy Orbison’s, and there’s an “Orbison-Esque sensibility” to the songcraft on Big Time. Strings, brass, percussion, keyboards and steel guitar combine “with just the right amount of weight and contrast”, while Olsen’s rich vocals “sigh and shiver” to arresting effect on her most optimistic album to date.

Beth Orton’s first collection in six years, Weather Alive, is also beautiful, added Hunter-Tilney – all “shimmer and haze, with rippling percussion and echoing notes”.

The Scottish musician Kathryn Joseph has a gift for expressing “the high drama of heartbreak” using the most “delicate” of vocal deliveries, said Becca Inglis on The Skinny. Her music is understated yet overwhelming – and on her “bewitching” third album, For You Who Are The Wronged, the beautifully sparse, almost “lullaby-like” compositions mask a quietly seething rage.

Following her pair of “alt-folk” albums, Taylor Swift made a triumphant return to richly crafted electronic pop, said Helen Brown in The Independent. Listening to her glorious new album, Midnights, “you feel as though you’re sleeping over at her house while she spills secrets and settles scores into the night”.

2. Rap and R&B

Loyle Carner and Kendrick Lamar

Loyle Carner and Kendrick Lamar
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Expectations were high for Kendrick Lamar’s first album in five years, said Alexis Petridis in The Guardian. The rap star’s previous collection, Damn, was the first non-classical or jazz album to win the Pulitzer Prize. And he didn’t disappoint: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is an “exhilarating” and musically adventurous “epic” that leaves the listener “almost punch-drunk” at Lamar’s lyrical skill. His music is “so rich and varied, yet also filled with hooks and melodies”, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times, that “even people who thought they hated rap can get pulled in”.

This year The Weeknd (the Canadian artist Abel Tesfaye) was “less brooding and decadent than usual”, said Will Dukes in Rolling Stone. On Dawn FM – a “new peak” – he is “refreshingly light and accessible”.

The British-Guyanese rapper Loyle Carner makes music that is “generous, vulnerable and strangely beautiful, looking inward to harvest universal truths”, said Damien Morris in The Observer. His third album, Hugo, is “a masterpiece”.

Renaissance, Beyoncé’s first full album since 2016’s Lemonade, proves that she is “the only sovereign of pop to have truly evolved artistically” while also enjoying massive commercial success, said Dukes in Rolling Stone. It’s an “upbeat collection of hits” and “boundary-expanding deep cuts”. Renaissance is “breathtaking”, said Kitty Empire in The Observer. Political, personal and extremely “fierce”, it is a celebration of “black joy”.

3. Electro and dance

Nova Twins

Nova Twins
(Image credit: Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

A record that “at times sounds like R2-D2 breakdancing in an industrial spin-dryer” might seem like a “trying” prospect, said Ian Winwood in The Daily Telegraph. But Supernova, the second album from the London duo Nova Twins, is a sophisticated triumph – a “kaleidoscopic mosh-pit in which disparate genres are not so much traversed as smashed together”.

Another UK dance act attracting acclaim is Ibibio Sound Machine, said Andrew R. Chow in Time. The group’s fourth album, Electricity, produced by Hot Chip, is filled with “breathtaking sonic rises and falls, astonishing cultural exchanges, and flat-out infectious dance music”.

4. Rock, indie and folk

Black Country, New Road and Big Thief

Black Country, New Road and Big Thief
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Leeds-based alt-rockers Yard Act are the “anointed guitar act” of 2022, and “deservedly so”, said Kitty Empire in The Observer. Their fizzing debut The Overload resembles Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish, but as sung by The Fall’s Mark E. Smith or Mike Skinner of The Streets: a “takedown of where, who and how we are now, full of declamatory ire and fed-up humour”. The 11 “razor-sharp” cuts on this “thrilling” album burst with confidence and “comical mischief”, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph. The lyrics are sophisticated and political, but they’re joyful too.

Big Thief, “the darlings of American indie-folk”, are on a roll, said Helen Brown in The Independent. Their terrific album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You offers a “questing outward gaze and quirky lyrical choices”, combined with “catchy melodies”. This “wonderful” 20-track collection was recorded in four different sessions in separate locations across America, said Phil Mongredien in The Observer. The result is Big Thief’s “most varied and expansive record to date”, on which “stark balladry” mixes happily with raucous hoedowns and bucolic country rock.

A few days before the “experimental rockers” Black Country, New Road released their second album, Ants From Up There, frontman Isaac Wood announced his departure, citing mental health issues. He leaves a legacy to be proud of, said Mark Beaumont in The Independent. Since their brilliant debut, For the First Time, the seven-strong British band has become more accessible, adding “glorious carnival sway-alongs”, alt-folk waltzes and “glam show tunes” into their mix. It makes for a fantastically “absorbing” and “hugely original” collection, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. It would be a terrible pity if it proved to be their last.

A Light for Attracting Attention, the debut album from Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and drummer Tom Skinner – recording together as The Smile – was “instantly, unmistakably the best album yet by a Radiohead side project”, said Ryan Dombal on Pitchfork.

Another of the great survivors of the 1990s indie rock scene – Suede – returned with their best album in years, Autofiction, said Mongredien in The Observer. “Verses are punchy, choruses big and Brett Anderson’s vocals particularly powerful.” There’s barely a misstep in the 45-minute running time. “A late-career triumph.”

5. Classical

Herbert Blomstedy

Herbert Blomstedy
(Image credit: Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

“To be ambushed anew by a work as familiar” as Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony is thrilling enough, said Dan Cairns in The Sunday Times. But the great Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt’s Schubert Symphonies also includes a sublime version of No. 9 (The Great). He and the Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig “go at it as if this is fresh clay, willing itself to be moulded into majesty”.

Every now and again, “accounts of Ravel’s concertos come along that set new standards”, said Harriet Smith in Gramophone. Ravel Concertos pour piano / Mélodies is a “game changer”, Cédric Tiberghien plays the piano, conducted by FrançoisXavier Roth and accompanied by Les Siècles ensemble. All in all, it is “beautifully recorded” and “headily seductive”.

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