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The Best Albums of 2022

On December 5, 2022

Selected and written by members of the VMP team, below is an unranked list of albums that we felt were among the best to come out in 2022. On it, you’ll find 30 records that meant something to each of us, ranging from ASMR&B to hyper-futuristic pop, hardcore to house, and plenty of hard-to-label sounds in between.

Read on to find out why we picked these albums, listen to our Best of 2022 playlist and discover your new end-of-year soundtrack.


On FAST TRAX 3, Florida-born, New York-based rapper and producer, 454, dives deeper into the hyper-speed, chopped and screwed world he built on his 2021 debut album 4REAL. 454 effortlessly creates music for the TikTok generation while maintaining an honesty and realness that makes it transcend the realm of post-SoundCloud rap clout. Not a moment is wasted: Instantly pulling the listener in and racing down the rainbow road of “KEEP A SMILE,” the album progresses like levels of a video game, with a soaring bird’s-eye view of retrospective and downtempo evening scenes painted with fat synths and straight hi-hats quickly giving way to braggy celebration. Chug a couple Pixy Stix or put on FAST TRAX 3; you’re guaranteed to feel the same effects. — Cydney Berlinger

Marina Allen
“Did your drawing make it through the rain?” Marina Allen questions earnestly, to whom unclear. The evocative opening line of “Foul Weather Jacket Drawing” rings with a notable frankness among the dense lyrical bramblepatch of the singer and songwriter’s resplendent full-length debut, Centrifics. Pillowed by the warmly familiar tones of Laurel Canyon remembered and replete with a winsomely mewled solo, the song’s uneasy undercurrent attempts to slip by unnoticed until Allen juxtaposes another, thornier query toward the sing-song finale: “Who taught me love is pain?” A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, and there’s heaps of both on Centrifics. — Stephen Anderson
Arctic Monkeys
The Car
Something went screwy inside Alex Turner, and his band Arctic Monkeys, after they conquered the world, becoming the last Rock Band That Matters with 2013’s AM. Instead of doubling down on the big riffs and big style that made them, finally, into megastars around the world and not just in the U.K., Turner turned inward, got a piano, and instead willed his band into the most interesting famous rock band on the planet. First was the all-time classic Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, and now comes The Car, a quiet, lonesome song cycle about life not breaking how you thought it might, and about looking around and realizing you are probably not where you want to be. It’s their quietest record, but also the most bruising. Sometimes, life does not give you a mirrorball. — Andrew Winistorfer
Carry It With You
Words rarely ever fully capture the sheer range of emotions that an individual is capable of experiencing, but to translate it to lyric-absent music is an even greater challenge that ATTLAS seemingly grasped with, from the sounds of Carry It With You, zero issues. While Carry It with You is a relatively quiet album, leaning toward ambient, progressive styles with vibrant piano melodies and soft percussive elements, through the music, ATTLAS speaks clearly and opens his heart to listeners. Touching on themes of carrying the weight of isolation and written in the wake of COVID lockdowns, a time when many of us were forced to do the same, as ATTLAS shared in a statement: “It’s an album of my toughest thoughts about myself that I was forced to address.” — Jillian Nguyen
Beyoncé rode into 2022 on a — transparent? metallic? electric? — horse and dropped her first solo album since 2016’s Lemonade (not counting the Lion King soundtrack and HOMECOMING live album). Where Lemonade felt diaristic and leaned on spoken word, RENAISSANCE is a turn toward escape and a (perhaps more shallow) kind of catharsis, borrowing heavily from house music and the work of many queer Black artists, including Big Freedia, Honey Dijon and Moi Renee, to name a few credited on the album. A standout, “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA,” (now with a Grammy nod) is a soft, slow-tempo moment at the midpoint of the record — a respite for the listener before the BPM increases again. RENAISSANCE is for the dance floor, and there are plenty of reasons to bow down to the Queen here: “CUFF IT,” “CHURCH GIRL” and “VIRGO’S GROOVE” among them. — Theda Berry
Priscilla Block
Welcome to the Block Party
Country was dominated this year by the Morgan who shall not be named and, briefly, by Zach Bryan and Luke Combs, sincere dudes making sincere music. But no country artist made an album more fun, more raw and more straight-to-it this year than newcomer Priscilla Block, whose debut packed more punches than any bro who dropped a major-label country album this year. “Ever Since You Left” is the country song of the year, in a walk. — AW
Camp Trash
The Long Way, The Slow Way
   — AW


Denzel Curry
Melt My Eyez See Your Future
After albums where he went wild and turned outward, Denzel Curry goes introspective on the superlative Melt My Eyez, rapping over the best beats of his career, and turning his gaze toward himself, for songs full of introspection, deep thoughts and moments of clarity. Fans of his turn-up days might feel like there’s not much to grab onto here, but spend the time luxuriating in this album, and it washes over you like a three-hour arthouse film in audio form. — AW
Danger Mouse & Black Thought
Cheat Codes
After years of refurled rollouts of the so-called solo debut from the celebrated Roots MC, Black Thought’s collaborative album with the polymathic producer Danger Mouse comes on like something of a solar eclipse. Sure, there’s nothing new under the sun, but the transit of Black Thought’s labyrinthine bars across Danger Mouse’s juiced-up soul samples carries the aura of phenomenon. Cheat Codes’ dozen tightly coiled songs dare direct viewing in their brilliance yet scorch at a moment’s notice, as on the album’s title track: It’s not until a staccato triplet of bullets rip through the song’s fourth wall that one realizes how deep in the psychic morass they’re in already. — SA
Honestly, Nevermind
Drake’s strategy for winning at streaming is simple: volume. The lighter-than-usual Honestly, Nevermind didn’t earn this spot because it’s from the king of streaming; it’s in my top of the year because Drake dares to play where other artists of his stature get shy: with experimentation. 
Initially, some core Drake fans met the surprise drop with mixed reception, but for others, Honestly, Nevermind soundtracked a summer of much-needed reprieve. The album shot to No. 1 on the Billboard charts with lower than usual release-week numbers for the Toronto native, but exploring music isn’t about chart performance; it’s about how it makes people feel. Expanding on the sonic collaboration first explored on the Black Coffee-sampling "Get It Together" on 2017’s More Life, Drake took a step back from his Instagram caption-ready lyrical play and made space for repetitive lines, catchy hooks and damn good party music. Even if Honestly, Nevermind wasn’t one of your favorite Drake albums, it got us talking about the Black roots of house music, exploring new sounds and shaking the stagnancy of quarantine out of our bones. — Rachel Hislop
Earl Sweatshirt
“People have been watching me figure me out for 10 years,” Thebe Kgositsile, aka Earl Sweatshirt, told Entertainment Weekly in early 2022. “I’m someone whose issues didn’t start with being selfish. They started with me casting myself aside.” In that interview, just ahead of the release of SICK!, the 27-year-old rapper, producer and new father was as reflective and grounded as he is on the album, a tight 24-minute-5-second look at Earl facing a pandemic and parenting all at once. The title’s a bit of a misnomer, as this album (and era in Earl’s life) is about healing; on the Armand Hammer-featuring “Tabula Rasa” there’s a triumphantly whispered, “I’m so damn proud of myself.” SICK! is a a true return to form and self — a homecoming. — TB
Fly Anakin
Frank Walton, aka Fly Anakin, is calling his latest release, Frank, his debut — relying on the semantic lines we draw between mixtapes and studio projects — and although it may not feel like an introduction to the Richmond, Virginia, rapper, it’s a self-titled new beginning. Most well-known for his collaborative work with Pink Siifu, including 2020’s FlySiifu’s and the duo’s follow-up EP, $mokebreakFrank has a handful of features (including Pink Siifu, of course, and Madlib) but is primarily a true solo project. The Mutant Academy co-founder drew inspiration from the soul and R&B records he grew up listening to, and their influence weaves atmospheric textures from generations past through the entirety of the album’s nearly 40-minute runtime. That tone of nostalgia is set from the first track, standout “Love Song (Come Back),” and never lets up. — TB
Fred again..
Actual Life 3 (January 1 - September 9 2022)
Fred again..’s Actual Life 3 is the third album from the series that pulls from his, well, actual life to create a deep-seated sound ranging from mind melting, oscillating beats to frenetic tracks. Fred again..’s album has its own distinct flavor, pulling from familiar samples, Instagram videos and friends’ messages, which string the album together and ultimately craft a personal journal written in music. Continuing a project in which the first album began during the peak period of isolation and distorted pandemic time, Actual Life 3 reflects a greater return to a club-inspired and higher tempo sound. — JN
Nick Hakim
Nick Hakim’s COMETA is 10 songs about the kind of romance so powerful it can crush you and heal you, over and over, all at once. Addressing someone as “darling” (in a record full of endearments), on “Vertigo,” Hakim pleads: “Slow down / Make this moment last / A bit longer.” This is a record about lingering, in pain, in joy, in stasis and motion — with a staggering depth of feeling in something as simple as a repeated word or a lasting note. COMETA’s masterpiece is “Happen,” an aching depiction of helplessness and acceptance that feels exactly like the knife-edge vulnerability of falling in love. On “Happen,” Hakim takes a three-word meditation (“Let it happen”), makes it the chorus and imbues it with all the tenderness and sincerity he has in his voice. At a later point on the record, Hakim sings, “I just wanna feel something,” a proclamation COMETA more than lives up to. — TB
Fana Hues
flora + fana
The best music from 2022 was albums that allowed you to remove yourself from the narrative, check out, turn of your notifications and just be. Fana Hues’ sophomore album flora + fana was one of the best hangs of 2022, an album that is so lush it feels like 3,000 thread-count sheets, a hug from your mom and a glass of expensive wine you paid for via credit card rolled into one. Basslines float under Fana’s sterling voice, melodies tumble into the bottom of a glass and it all drifts by like a feather floating in the wind. It’s ASMR&B, and I mean that as the highest compliment. — AW
Steve Lacy
Gemini Rights
After two years of shut-in and pandemic-induced fear about movement, I crave projects that make me want to move; I want to raise my arms, swing my hips and tilt my head to the sky in awe at what we’ve survived. From the first bossa nova-inspired strum of the guitar on the lead single, “Mercury,” I knew Steve Lacy’s Gemini Rights would soundtrack these experiences. 

The sophomore release punctuates The Internet alum’s progress from his tried-and-true DIY production setup toward more traditional studio sessions and collaborative production. The result is a funky 10-track project of breezy tracks punctuated by Lacy’s dynamic vocals, which float in unison with Foushee on Sunshine and dabble in early aughts-inspired angst on “Helmet.” 

Gemini Rights has astrology references, angst and stories of love lost. Of course, it has “Bad Habit,” the inescapable TikTok sensation that somehow I still enjoy after hearing it haunt me in my sleep. Gemini Rights feels like a summer in Brooklyn, and that is my favorite place to teleport to when I close my eyes. — RH
Kendrick Lamar
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Much has been written about Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, and even more about Kendrick Lamar throughout his career. Still, so little art has chronicled Black men exploring grief, depression, family trauma and healing. 

Emerging from a musical hiatus, Lamar’s tongue-in-cheek nod to his status as the “Moral” or “Conscious” rapper, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is part raw exploration of internal dialogue and part cultural commentary. Punctuated with interstitial skits, tap dancers and vocals from Lamar’s partner, the album is a project best experienced in its entirety.

There is much to say about the technicality, structure and Intent behind this album, and there are people far more qualified than I to say those things. When I listen to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, I am just thankful that someone is finally telling the truth about what it means to acquire the world and still navigate the complexities of humanity. On the road to being the best, you can’t outrun yourself, and on Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar has finally stopped running. — RH
Everything I Know About Love
It’s in the title — everything Laufey knows about love, she shares with listeners on the album. Laufey’s talent is turning everyday life into fairytales. Already marked by its own magic, the experience of falling in love and finding it is even more beautiful when soundtracked and told through her lens. So rarely do albums ever feel this cohesive; Laufey crafts an entire atmosphere that is capable of enveloping listeners from start to finish on Everything I Know About Love. Inspired by jazz vocalist legends like Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald, Laufey’s debut album overflows with whimsical storytelling and her soft, but never imperceptible, voice. — JN
Ari Lennox
Every millennial has a story about their parlays in AOL chatrooms telling tall tales in response to requests of a/s/l. Ari Lennox is no exception. 

Opening to Lennox’s buttery vocals melting over “POF,” singing, “Young Black woman approaching 30 with no lover in my bed," it is clear age/sex/location is an homage to the ins and outs of the complexities of dating in the digital age. But more than that, it’s a double-down on the Washington, D.C.-native’s ability to speak directly to a target demographic fame has not separated her from — young women navigating love. 

Ahead of the release, Dreamville founder J.Cole shared a text from Ari about what the album meant to her. “I remember the countless times I was kicked out of dating apps because they didn’t think I was myself; it reminded me of those age/sex/location days where I wasn’t myself in those chat rooms,” the screengrab read. “It’s my honest goodbye for searching for love. I got it right here inside of me.” Let the congregation say amen. — RH
Macula Dog
Orange 2
NYC experimental duo Macula Dog set out on a clear path with their sophomore full-length album, Orange 2: “We wanted to make a ‘proper’ record — with 12 pop songs, a distinct, great lead singer, and music you could dance to,” they said in a statement. “Instead we have 11 songs with a singer you can’t understand. … This album is a huge failure but may be our best work.”
Yes, it may be only 11 songs — they got that part right — but Macula Dog certainly delivered on their promise of pop songs that you can dance to. Crafted during the pandemic, Orange 2 is a mad genius labyrinth of squashing synths and zigzagging time signatures with sniper-like precision. Opening with bitcrushed kick and boomeranging accompanying percussion, the title track introduces you to the otherworldly (or straight up unworldly) textures and grooves beneath detuned vocoder vocals that will guide the listener on their journey. Macula Dog flexes their ability to make very, very wet samples very, very dry on tracks like “Neosporin,” with its array of disparate sounds culminating in a skeltering beat that constantly implodes upon itself while crushed and scrambled vocals sail overhead. 

Orange 2 is a hyper-futuristic pop masterpiece, often falling into moments that recall fond memories of what it felt like to first hear Merriweather Post Pavilion. This record BUMPS, it’s smart and fun, complicated but doesn’t take itself too seriously, but be warned: the earworms will stay with you and keep you revisiting the chaotic bliss of Orange 2. — CB
Don Malaa
Malaa’s debut album simultaneously skews from anything he has ever produced while remaining exactly on brand with his rebellious nature. Don Malaa has a raucous barrage of variations of house that the producer has come to be known for, but it also explores dynamics with hip-hop, with no shortage of features from Fivio Foreign, Jadakiss, Ghostface Killah and longtime collaborators DJ Snake, Tchami and more. Don Malaa flexes a grittiness that contrasts with its clean-cut basslines, landing as a potent album. — JN
Moor Mother
Jazz Codes

On Jazz Codes, poet, musician, activist and Afrofuturist Moor Mother flourishes in the garden of her own creation. “Who’s coming? Who’s going, where are we going? Life got us confused” she coos in the album’s film — this past/present/future yearning flows throughout the album, continuing on with her themes of Black quantam futurism with a wide cast of collaborators. Jazz Codes is lush, moving, tangible yet elusive, like sand through hands. Trading in more traditional instrumentation in the stylings of great spiritual jazz artists before her, moments of this feel radically different than her noise beginnings on 2016’s Fetish Bones, but Moor Mother’s commanding vocals remain consistent throughout all time, for all time, delivered with the concreteness of the collective consciousness. — CB

Some Nights I Dream of Doors
Earlier this year, Nigerian-born, London-based artist Steven Umoh, aka Obongjayar, explained that he, too, is unsure what to term the genre of his music: “I did go through a phase of thinking, I’m gonna call it post-Afro,” he said in an interview with magazine, “But that’s so narcissistic, to create something and name it myself.” Narcissistic or not, with Some Nights I Dream of Doors, his first full-length release, Umoh created something new, justifying a change in terminology. Encompassing every register of his voice, all modes of singing and rapping, it’s a showcase for what a singular artist can do when he lets loose — something we saw a glimmer of in earlier collaborations with artists like Little Simz and Danny Brown, and in his three critically acclaimed EPs, expanded to a supernova on Some Nights. — TB
There was no album better to listen to at 9 p.m. on a night drive to buy Popeyes/drugs/groceries/McDonald’s than this one. And that counts for a whole lot. — AW
Show Me The Body
Trouble The Water
After spending the pandemic organizing self-defense Zoom classes, clothing drives and helping open a new headquarters for their Corpus family with other underground New York artists, NYC hardcore band Show Me The Body comes out swinging with their third full-length album, Trouble The Water. The bombastic trio continues to reimagine what hardcore can be, seamlessly blending punk, rap and noise that never feels forced or out of place. Like previous releases, Trouble The Water finds frontman Julian Cashwan Pratt as commanding as ever, taking on topics of anti-gentrification and police brutality. Painting with all the brushes in the box, they ebb from Y2K rap rock (“We Came To Play”), industrial-adjacent electronics (“Boils Up”), to stripped-down acoustic (“WW4”) and everywhere in between. It’s not music to satisfy a Spotify radio genre; it’s real-world, NYC dynamism that continually shows that Show Me The Body flourishes on the edge of the unknown. — CB
After a successful collection of EPs and collaborations with the likes of SOPHIE, Arca and Sega Bodega (just to name a few), Shygirl comes into her own on her debut, Nymph. Shygirl has created something that’s empowered and sexy while maintaining its fun and humor, full of catchy hooks and playful basslines… a total package. It makes you feel like a baddie to listen to it, and to me there’s not much more you could want out of a pop record. Nymph simultaneously feels like having a crush and like having a sleepover with your friend who has the full Polly Pocket set. — CB
Harry Styles
Harry’s House
Harry’s House was easily one of the most anticipated pop albums of this year, and despite my many attempts to avoid Harry Styles’ influence across social media and everyday life, his music reigned on. What started as trips to the grocery store and passively hearing the tunes ultimately ended in earworms echoing on my phone during cold showers, making it impossible for me to ignore the inevitable — I had inadvertently come to adore Harry’s House. The album’s concept is deceptively simple, aiming to illustrate Styles’ life and inner monologues, told through inflections of feel-good, groovy blends of guitar-laced and synthy textures that weave through stripped-down songs to fun-filled ones. — JN
Sudan Archives
Natural Brown Prom Queen
Across countless plays of Sudan Archives’ Natural Brown Prom Queen, one line in the chorus of “OMG BRITT” stands out as a distillation of the project’s ethos: “Oh, my God, Britt / They gon' have a fit when they hear this shit.” The violinist, songwriter, beat-maker and vocalist, born Brittney Parks, made a sophomore album so boldly her own that you have to hear it to believe it. Her debut, Athena, is similarly self-assured and full of captivating strings, but Natural Brown Prom Queen is unafraid of drastic shifts in tone and moments so catchy it starts to feel like pop. What could feel like whiplash is contained by a focus on home — the album was nearly titled Homesick, and moves from the opener “Home Maker” to “#513,” Parks’ Cincinnati area code — and Sudan Archives’ hypnotic violin and voice. — TB
Sylvan Esso
No Rules Sandy
When I spoke with Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn about their latest record in August of this year, they called it a return to their roots: creating music for themselves, still reinventing the interplay between electronic, pop, folk and more with their signature sparse lyricism, but with a new intimacy via a more organic, near-improvisational approach. “That’s always been the goal, to impress each other with something that we’ve made, to inspire the other one,” Meath said, later adding that on this album the duo “just actually gave ourselves permission … to go where the joy is.” They found that joy in expected places — like a love song about how they met (“Didn’t Care”) and a self-love anthem (“How Did You Know”) — and even in the complexity of rejoining society post-lockdown (“Moving,” “Your Reality”) and a song about death (“Coming Back to You”). The duo broke free of expectations and self-imposed guideposts and made No Rules Sandy: playful and personal music that goes beyond anything Sylvan Esso have released before. — TB
Weyes Blood
And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Thirty-seven seconds in to Hearts Aglow when the artifacts of all the great folk writers before her hit:     — CB

Explore our Best Albums of 2022 playlist, featuring tracks from all 30 records:


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