Northern Transmissions Best Albums of 2022
There is a ridiculous quantity of music coming out, at all hours, every day. Lots of this new music falls under the expansive and expanding umbrella of alternative or indie rock. “Indie”, as it’s now commonly said, isn’t so independent anymore, and pop is getting weirder, more “alternative”. So as an alternative/independent music site, in coming up with a list of our stand-out albums of 2022, I would wager it’s important to be inclusive.
A good deal of said list comes from British bands. It feels like a long time ago now, but Black Country New Road’s highly praised Ants From Up There was released in early 2022, as was Jockstrap’s I Love You Jennifer B. British rock groups Porridge Radio, Dry Cleaning, and Wet Leg all released fine albums and made it onto the list, as did Arctic Monkeys, with their enchantingly weird, loungey The Car. Rock music is undergoing a thorough rejiggering across the pond, with the experimental and weird taking center stage.
Elsewhere, nostalgia, as a constraint, led to innovation. Weyes Blood’s transcendent, vintage sound touched new heights on And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow. Alvvays’s Blue Rev was a brilliant example of something thoroughly modern but born from late-20th century rock, mixing shoegaze, post-punk and jangle-pop into something new.
There was lots of hard rock this year, from mild head-banging to the unhinged. Fontaines D.C’s Skinty Fia was pounding, fresh, slick and sinister. Viagra Boys’ Cave World was brutally danceable. Beyond the edge of sanity we find bands like Soul Glo and Chat Pile, vicious groups with a murderous sound.
Vaguely countrified rock, broadly defined, made its way onto the list. Alex G’s God Save the Animals, his first album recorded totally in a studio, managed most of the ragged sound he’s known for while enhancing some of his other weird musical qualities. Angel Olsen’s Big Time was basically a country record, replete with slide guitar and poignant, tearful waltzes. MJ Lenderman’s Boat Songs is a fantastic compilation of DIY American indie rock. And Spoon, of Texas, had a big, loud, bluesy rock record with Lucifer on the Sofa. There was something deeply rural and non-coastal about all these records to me.
In 2022 a pandemic was more or less replaced by a war, and it’s possible the large quantity of good music was a sort of reflex, a society’s response to exhausting global conditions. The menu was diverse, with all forms and mixes of escape and anger and pain. But beyond these vague musings there may not be anything in particular that ties this list together. Regardless: here is our list of Albums of the Year.
TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2022
From position 50 to 21
50. Wild Pink – ILYSM
49. Status/Non-Status – Surely Travel
48. Ezra Furman – All of Us Flames
47. Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
46. Cola – Deep In View
45. Yard Act – The Overload
44. Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
43. Maya Hawke – MOSS
42. Madison Cunningham – Revealer
41. Viagra Boys – Cave World
40. Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter
39. black midi – Hellfire
38. Arctic Monkeys – The Car
37. Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!
36. Julia Jacklin – Pure Pleasure
35. Chat Pile – God’s Country
34. They Hate Change – Finally, New
33. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
32. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
31. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
30. Billy Woods – Aethiopes
29. Aldous Harding – Warm Chris
28. Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Poupal – Tropical Dancer
27. Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork
26. Perfume Genius – Ugly Season
25. The Weekend – Dawn FM
24. Mitski – Laurel Hell
23. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
22. Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
21. OFF! – Free LSD
20. Porridge Radio – Water Slide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky is a surreal image that’s partly inspired by a collage by the artist Eileen Agar, and evokes the ducks and dives, slippery slopes and existential angst of life, while also drawing from the story of Jacob’s Ladder from the Old Testament which, “symbolizes the ups and downs of human life, of virtue and transgression,” Margolin explains. The idea that no one emotional state is binary is central to the album. “With this album, the feelings of joy, fear and endlessness coexist together,” says Margolin.
19. Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Despite that moment of deflated optimism, Mering spends much of And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow wading through the darkness in search of love, companionship, and a brighter tomorrow, and she does so with certainty that it’s out there. And “The Worst is Done” still carries an assertiveness; her hope is not wholly extinguished. She takes the wheel and steers the ship out of the darkness; she’s hit rock bottom, and there’s nowhere left for her to go but up. And on “Children of the Empire” she inquires, “And when are you gonna be ok / Gain control of what we made / Instead of being afraid.”
18. Horsegirl – Versions Of Modern Performance
I can see this being a cornerstone album in the soundtrack to my daughter’s high school years. A fresh sound full of wonder and creativity for her and her friends to discover. I look forward to listening to it with her and seeing which songs stand out to her ears, free of any reminiscing about the past. “Beautiful Song,” the second track, immediately won me over. It starts out with the repetition of the phrase “For blinking men” over and over until suddenly the song is about a fly trapped in a car. For the life of me I cannot tell you what the two have to do with each other, but it does not matter.
17. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
With their debut album, I Love You Jennifer B, the band shows an incredible amount of talent; take your pick — neither the vocals, writing, nor sound slacks. In combining harsh, discordant sounds with Ellery’s pleasant vocals, the band creates a cacophony that, against all odds, works. Not only do they do it within songs, like the slow and suspenseful “Neon” exploding into a barrage of sound, but the tracklist is so varied it’s impossible to predict what comes next. Looking back at the album, it’s insane how the dreamy “What’s It All About?” is on the same record as the bizarre, distorted “Debra.”
16. Momma – Household Name
Household Name is one of those albums that has this accessible ability that a lot of other albums don’t have. The music touches upon an assortment of styles in compact fashion which is impressive and appreciated. You can plug in and press play with an open mind or you can do the same while sticking to your musical tastes.
15. Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever
Sometimes, Forever is a big step forward for an artist that has played things relatively simple in the past. The songs prior, as well as her voice on them, were the stars of the show and there wasn’t much else needed to elevate the material. On this album though, we see Allison collaborating to add extra layers of depth and artistry to her already deeply artistic songwriting and it’s extremely rewarding.
14. Destroyer – Labyrinthitis
But what helps LABYRINTHITIS the most is the sense that Bejar is still a restless creative spirit, even if not all of his experiments work perfectly on the first test. The instrumental title track, with its samples of children’s voices, chirping birds, and “oh” vocals jumping up and down octaves, could fit into Music Has the Right to Children or Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts. The spacey funk of June turns into a spoken word performance towards the end, but the less ornate Bejar gets, the more the rest of the band does.
13. Bartees Strange – Farm To Table
Farm to Table is an album that sees Strange refine his aesthetic into a concise soundscape. There’s a charming scrappiness to ‘Live Forever’ (in a good…actually scratch that, great way!) and while it’s clear Strange gives little regard to genre confines, flitting from indie-rock, hip-hop, R’n’B and more melancholic sounds, his debut ring-fences these aural beauties in their own pens for the most part. ‘Farm to Table’ has dissolved those sonic boundaries allowing arrangements to intermingle for a broader and more unique sound.
12. Wet Leg – Wet Leg
It’s hard to review albums like this, especially when there’s self-imposed pressure to Find Meaning. I don’t mind Wet Leg. If I saw them on a festival lineup, I would consider seeing them. I might not listen to this album in full ever again, but the right (or wrong) circumstances might call for “Ur Mum.” I barely know where they came from, and I have no idea where they’ll go.
11. MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
The sound of Boat Songs is self-evident. The album might as well have shipped with a six pack of lite beer. What wasn’t outwardly apparent was the extensive range of the record sonically. Lenderman has managed to infuse even his dirges like “Six Flags” with warming fuzz. Every song feels like a whiskey shot. For all the talk lately of the historic one liners packed throughout, there are few records from 2022 that were as emotionally intuitive to me upon first listen. Relationship issues weave into the context of cage matches while ephemerality rears its head in the form of an aging Dan Marino spotting in a supermarket. There’s really nobody with the songwriting chops, humor, or shredding capacity of MJ taking a crack at fuzzed out country rock quite like this.
10. Spoon – Lucifer On The Sofa
Speaking to the truths of loneliness, stifling counts of love and harsh realities — Lucifer On The Sofa is much more than a sonically pure Rock and Roll record. 50-year-old frontman Britt Daniel delivers layers of in-your-face rock rhythms with subtle and sultry falsetto and sparse but lingering intriguing guitar and vocal hooks.
9. Beyonce – RENAISSANCE
Listening to the album, it’s clear that Beyoncé had a vision and executed it to perfection, and this is only the first act of the project. At nearly every turn, RENAISSANCE surprises, excites, comforts, and commands the listener to get up and move. It’s the most fun hour of music you’ll get all year.
8. Black Thought & Danger Mouse – Cheat Codes
The soul, jazz, old school R&B and blues samples are fantastic. It sets a really cool tone that isn’t pretentious and it isn’t overbearing, it’s smooth, charismatic and easy to gravitate to. Black Thought’s lyrical delivery has him at the top of his game while exhibiting a rapid flow that’s hard-hitting and stunningly poignant. There’s a who’s who of guest spots on various tracks as well which is awesome. The overall vibe of it is genuine and it stays true to the hip hop craft with the dynamic between the rapper and producer being flawless.
7. Soulglo – Diaspora Problems
Diaspora Problems was recorded in an unfinished warehouse and the band’s practice space during the hottest parts of summer 2021. The self-produced album explores an artist and individuals’ self-doubt and self-hate, past traumas that can only be worked out in adulthood, financial instability and how it affects an artist, the effects of institutional and state violence, and the power of community that delivered Soul Glo through each struggle the band has endured from their inception and beyond.
6. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here
The fluttering “Concorde” sounds more hopeful than melancholic; in the hands of another band with a baritone croon like the National, though, that might be a different story. Black Country, New Road manage to sound even more self-assured on Ants From Up There than on For the First Time. With a wider sense of what they’re capable of, their future is as exciting as it has ever been, if not more.
5. Angel Olsen – Big Time
The journey that Olsen has been on has taken her to this exact place in time. A place where she’s accepting and comfortable yet retains the fire that has marked the work she’s down in the past. All of this comes through so wonderfully crystal clear in these songs. Big Time is a record about the highs and lows we all go through, perfect ally contextualized through her own perspective to come out inherently relatable and deliciously enjoyable in every way.
4. Alex G – God Save The Animals
God Save The Animals is full of these moments. You hear what Giannascoli is saying but there is something in his delivery or it’s musical accompaniment that makes you question if the meaning is accurate. It’s not often we get treated to an album that is so interesting in its voice and textures, that allows you to explore its messages and meanings all the while just plain enjoying it. At nine albums in, it sounds like Giannascoli is just getting started.
3. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is an album that keeps on giving, from a band that does the same and asks for nothing in return but to be appreciated as the thoughtful artists they always have been. It’s an album for all occasions that also feels perfect for here and now. Will their next album top it? Perhaps, but Big Thief don’t sound worried about competing with anyone, let alone themselves.
2. Alvvays – Blue Rev
With Blue Rev, Alvvays has ended this intermission in masterful fashion. They explore new avenues while still reliably conjuring up the shimmering melodies and brilliant lyrics they are known for. It’s a pure rock record, with plenty of angst, but there’s a dreamy, distant quality to the effort as well. Rankin’s echoey vocals sit within the constant hum of reverb-drenched instrumentals, which results in a sound that feels almost live, as if you were at the back of some sold-out venue. Presumably, this is also due to their recording process. The album was performed live in the studio, where the band played the entire thing twice back to back before producer Shawn Everett messed with the textures to produce something that feels complete.
1. Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia
Skinty Fia takes its name from an Irish colloquial profanity, which roughly translates to “the damnation of the deer” and one that drummer, Tom Coll’s great auntie used on occasion. The band and in particular Chatten, were hooked by the Irish expression of this very unique expletive and saw it as an allegory for how over time cultures and influences alter and mutate. With Fontaines D.C. now settling into London life, it was this kind of phrase and subsequent nod to home that acted as a tunnel back to their motherland, albeit through a semi-distorted lens.
Follow the entire playlist on our Spotify page:
Intro Best Albums 2022 by Matthew Tracy-Cook
Credits Best Albums 2022: Charles Brownstein, Alberto Dal Santo, Adam Fink, Adam Williams, Greg Walker, Gregory Adams, Stephan Boissaneault, Leslie Ken Chu, Stewart Wiseman, Matthew Tracy-Cook, Chris Burleson. Robert Duguay, and the rest of NT’s family.
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