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Below is an unranked list of 30 albums that we felt were among the best to come out in 2022, so far.
Somehow, we’ve reached the midpoint of another year, and 2022 is halfway behind us. In these first six months, artists and listeners alike have done their best to reckon with the grief, joy, angst and euphoria we are all collectively experiencing. Selected and written by members of the VMP team, this list contains the albums that resonated with us most — from pandemic rap to folk, emo rock to electronic and everything in between — and hopefully you can find solace and inspiration in them, too.
Bonobo taps into the natural environment for inspiration to deliver the awe-inspiring and larger-than-life production in Fragments. He strays from his usual atmospheric music and dives deeper into bouncy rhythms for higher-tempo, club-ready tracks. Even between the ramped-up beats, Bonobo offers ballads and space to breathe, and the record almost plays out like a live set, where Bonobo is the orchestrator of a dance floor. More than any of his previous albums, Fragments explores the relationship between organic instrumentation, electronic music and the artists that lend their vocals to the tracks. — Jillian Nguyen
The best piece of band merch of the last who-knows-how-many years is this sold-out Camp Trash T-shirt, since it makes my job blurbing this album — my favorite of the year so far, in a landslide — virtually unnecessary. But I’ll try anyway: This Camp Trash album, their debut LP after last year’s debut EP, is emo music for people who are less concerned with whether their crush likes them than they are about making sure that their takeout order for wings won’t make them overdraw their bank account. These are mini-epics about the Sisyphean nature of day-to-day existence, and how sometimes just getting out and doing whatever you need to do feels insurmountable. It’s rock music for scared people, but who can be brave when properly motivated, thanks to this record. — AW
South Florida rapper Denzel Curry hasn’t been known for softness. But as he started releasing singles for Melt My Eyez See Your Future, a more introspective Curry began to emerge, with sonics fittingly fuzzier on the edges, drenched in neo-soul and allusions to samurai films. Melt My Eyez is not Curry’s most focused release, but it’s his most ambitious: Pulling in features from artists as disparate as T-Pain and slowthai, Robert Glasper and Rico Nasty, Curry also collages influences including Luke Skywalker, Graduation, Dune, various films and beyond — tenuously connected only by his own interest and imagination, as he explained to Pitchfork. The result is a multifaceted project with new layers uncovered on each listen. — Theda Berry
Speaking with VMP ahead of the release of her debut, Marchita, Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada said she had two things in mind when crafting the album: cultivating vocal power and honing vulnerability. Across Marchita’s 11 tracks, she succeeds at both, showcasing the range her voice is capable of while wringing emotion out of every word. It’s a post-breakup album, but through the lens of healing instead of bitterness. The title track is the standout and the thesis of the album; “Marchita” starts with minimal instrumentation that builds slowly to a deluge of wordless lamentations and a full string section. This use of restraint, balancing drama with simplicity, is what makes Marchita so successful — and wise beyond Estrada’s 24 years. — TB
Jake Xerxes Fussell’s fourth LP finds the North Carolina folk musician burnishing the plaques of long-forgotten logs and lore to a winsome patina. With a folklorist’s provenance and a bard’s heart, Fussell plumbs the darker corners of the public domain with a balance of vibrancy and solemnity, wringing out the personal trauma and pathos for which history’s reportage so often fails to account. Largely sung in the charmingly fusty vernacular of centuries past, Fussell imbues tales of burning mills, sinking ships, roaring cannons and Handsome Mollys with a wistful and disarming directness that softens the modern ache of living in interesting times. In Good and Green Again, as in life, there’s never a dull moment. — SA
Charlie Gabriel’s 89 is a testament to how resilient humans can be amid loss. After the passing of his last living sibling, Gabriel spent time away from the saxophone. Luckily, Gabriel spent that time in Ben Jaffe’s kitchen, while Joshua Starkman’s quaint guitar strums filled the room, inspiring him to make his return to music. The sessions spent in the kitchen between the three musicians, recorded by Matt Aguiluz, spawned an album that can only be described as feeling refreshing and reflective. Each musician expertly crafts a summer mood with cheery notes that expertly glide and melt into one another. — JN
You can get the VMP edition of the album here.
Spell 31 takes its name from The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, but it’s not just the title where themes of magic and spirituality take place. It’s laced through every inch of the album, from the name to the cover art and lyrics, making it an entirely cohesive project. Afro-Cuban percussion drives the energy across the album, and the rich textures and thick basslines lay down the groundwork for the duo Ibeyi to smoothly harmonize across, delivering, well, a spell-binding experience. The sisters slide their vocals across the songs, showing off their warmth while also delivering powerful moments. — JN
On “x10,” the opening track from Koffee’s debut LP Gifted, the first few chords of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” ring out as she sings: “I’m glad I woke up today.” Simple yet compelling — the positivity we all need after two unrelenting years of doom-scrolling the almighty feed and swirling q-tips around in our noses. In 2019, Koffee took home a Grammy for her Rapture EP and returned this year with a gift: 10 blissful, roots-reggae jams (zero features) bound to lift the spirit. Despite Gifted’s breezy afrobeats and sunny lyrics, creating this album was a necessary catharsis for 22-year-old Mikayla Simpson, who, like all of us, experienced a disorienting quarantine. The lyrics contemplate her upbringing in Jamaica’s Spanish Town riddled with gun violence and poverty, praise of her single mom, and genuine gratitude for life. “Positivity is something that I definitely always want to push because I feel like it always has a place in music,” Koffee told Elle earlier this year. “I took that role for myself to be a source of positivity so that others know that at least there is someone out there dedicated to that.” — Courtney Catagnus
In an era where R&B is arguably lacking in depth, sustainability and healing, New Orleans-born soul singer Lucky Daye released his second LP, Candydrip — giving us the right amount of sultriness, nostalgia and futurism that we’ve been longing for. From beginning to end, we go on a journey of enticing emotions. Starting with the album’s first track, “Intro,” where he confesses his love in a poetic manner — like when Darius Lovehall confesses his love to Nina in the film Love Jones, but with a mix of 1970’s aesthetics — he gives us a taste of what the whole album would entail. With Candydrip, Daye continues to carve a unique lane for himself that highlights his soulful voice and proves R&B is alive. — Khayriyyah Bonaparte
Three years after her radio-dominating GIRL and her critically beloved turn as a member of The Highwomen, Maren Morris returns with a song cycle around postpartum depression, what raising a child in a burning world actually feels like and a look back on the twists and turns it took to land her where she is, one of the few women let through Nashville’s gatekeepers to ascend the charts. The mood isn’t all dour, but of her albums, it’s the most complete as a work; there aren’t many slam-dunk radio hits, but she’s thinking bigger than that now, in a way that makes her even more can’t-miss. — AW
You can get the VMP edition of the album here.
If you listen to Some Nights I Dream of Doors without looking at the credits, you may think you’re hearing a collective, or, at the very least, multiple lead vocalists, but the album is voiced by Steven Umoh alone. Under the moniker Obongjayar, the Nigerian-born, London-based musician shapeshifts across the project, rapping, singing, even wordlessly exclaiming as each song requires. Although Some Nights is Obongjayar’s debut full-length, he’s made notable appearances with Danny Brown (featured on two tracks on uknowhatimsayin¿) and Little Simz (“Point and Kill”), and has released three critically acclaimed EPs. His proper debut is a level up for an already accomplished artist, dreamy and desirous of growth the whole way through. — TB
On their third studio album, Super Champon, Kyoto’s Otoboke Beaver prove they have no interest in the conventional. Super Champon is not shy, it’s not coy, it does not offer you the opportunity to get settled in before throwing you into 21 minutes of snarling, furious, disjointed punk bliss. The opening bass riff acts as a warning signal; like someone coming up behind you to push you into a pool, by the time you understand what the sound of feet running on tile means you are already plunging deep into the water. Each song glides into one another in a fury of distortion and angularity, Kyoto-slang to English, the playful schoolyard anthem of “YAKITORI” to the sonic tornado of “George & Janice.” Super Champon is everything punk music should be – loud, fast and fun as hell. — Cydney Berlinger
Look, you know what you’re gonna get from a Pusha T album at this juncture: Cocaine raps — nothing more, nothing less. It's a fascinating approach for someone who’s presumably stopped selling drugs for several years. Yet he’s the only rapper his age that I want to hear talk about the ins and outs of the drug trade. Partially produced by Pharrell and featuring Jay-Z, Kid Cudi and No Malice, It’s Almost Dry is Pusha’s most pop-leaning release, but it still harbors all the edge one would expect from his work. And don’t expect anything revelatory; in his former line of work, talking too much had dire consequences. — MJM
Growing up in Austin, Adrian Quesada was enchanted by the Latin baladas played over the local radio station, filled with despair, heartache, longing, breathy vocals, harpsichords and organs (the drama!). Quesada was hooked, and, 20 years later, the Grammy-winning musician behind the Black Pumas enlisted the likes of iLe, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Natalia Clavier of Thievery Corporation and Gaby Moreno to recreate a lost era. Boleros Psicodélicos — or “Psychedelic Boleros” — is a masterful 12-track album of velvety, passionate love songs that are bound to make you feel like the main character in your own cinematic universe. — CC
“Breakup albums” tend to span only the first four stages of grief: The denial of a relationship’s withering trajectory. The anger borne of wrongs committed and sustained. The bargaining for a longed-for lover’s return. The seeping depression when no return comes to pass. Lighten Up, the warmhearted sophomore release from Nashville singer-songwriter Erin Rae, is the rare breakup album rooted in acceptance and the will to not just move on, but forward. With birdsong earnestness, Rae paints a vivid portrait of rebuilding within the gentle brushstrokes of quotidian details, a brand of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other pluck evinced by stopping to appreciate the flowers in the sideyard, trying a new recipe or repeating a pep talk to simply be open to love once more. — SA
You can get the VMP edition of the album here.
Life has changed for Saba since his incredible previous album: CARE FOR ME. He’s more famous now and has a little money. As a result, he does what any Black man would do: He worries that it’s somehow a sham and that it’s all gonna disappear at a moment’s notice. I’m not making light of this; survivor’s guilt and generational trauma arise when you suddenly don’t have to worry about how the rent’s gonna get paid. Saba discusses this in great detail on Few Good Things, an album partially dedicated to his family and Chicago upbringing. Unlike CARE FOR ME, which had darker, more morose themes, Few Good Things is meant to uplift — a clear path from bleakness to light. — MJM
A recovered teenage sad girl, I have been enamored with Radiohead since my older and much cooler brother turned me onto them in the 10th grade. So, like any melancholic fan, I detested the name of Radiohead’s newest side project, The Smile, when the news broke of their forthcoming album. What do Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, my own personal teen angst therapists, have to smile about? But I digress. A Light for Attracting Attention is a familiar catharsis — moments of frenzy followed by lightning tranquility. In a matter of minutes, Yorke vascillates between a gnarled, spitting punk to his signature angelic vocals. Greenwood, to literally no one’s surprise, composes a brilliant sonic landscape that immerses you back into their distinctive world, and Tom Skinner of British jazz group Sons of Kemet breathes new life on the drum kit.
Turns out, my musical heroes are not smiling, only sneering. Released in the wake of the #MeToo movement that featured a cast of characters with “piggy limbs,” and merely a month before the watershed overturning of Roe v. Wade, The Smile are both disgusted and cautiously optimistic in the face of abject governmental failure: “A face using fear to try to keep control but we get together, well then, who knows.” — CC
Diaspora Problems opens with a cinematic bong rip, a palate cleanser to prepare the listener for what is about to ensue. Visionary Philadelphia hardcore band Soul Glo goes in on our corrupt political system, policing, crumbling healthcare and what it means to be Black artists who are both tokenized and viewed as disposable — topics not new to the band but just as relevant as they’ve ever been. On their debut full-length album, Soul Glo sound bigger than ever before, weaving together lush horn sections, metal, hip-hop and hardcore in a unbelieveably effortless way. — CB
A lot of rock albums with light electronic production have been called “genre-less” during our post-streaming revolution, but no artist has ever come close to being truly sans-genre than Bartees Strange, whose second album finds him doing the first ever indie rock toasting song (“Cosigns”), rapping, shouting, singing, and Auto-Tune warbling over music that never sounds the same from track to track. He’s tearing down the dictates of form, genre, and his own psyched across Farm to Table, a stunning album that proves Bartees is what’s next. — AW
You can get the VMP edition of the album here.
Earl Sweatshirt started out punk, raising a literal middle finger to everything and everyone, Samoan boarding schools for wayward teens included. The last few years, his work has been about tearing everything down to its barest essentials; the songs are short, the beats are economical, his words impactful and direct. He might be the best editor on earth right now. On SICK!, he tackles two opposing forces — the COVID pandemic and his experience being a young father who was raised by an absent one — and unspools them in raw, to-the-bone ways, ending on a message from Fela Kuti that music must be used as a revolutionary weapon. After multiple releases turning those musical weapons inward, Earl is ready to point them outward. — AW
Nobody writes like billy woods — nobody. Hard stop. He’s able to talk about mundane topics in the most artful way possible, yet the execution of it doesn’t land so broadly that you can’t understand it. On “No Hard Feelings,” for instance, one of many standouts from his great new album Aethiopes, he talks about disappointment. “Ice melted but the champagne still cold,” he says, his voice racked with dejection because a lady friend no-showed. “Channel flippin', clickin' the remote / the home team losin’ at home / An attack on the train, persons unknown.” billy is the master of setting scenes, and Aethiopes is yet another triumph. — MJM