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The 20 best albums of 2022

Beyoncé, Angel Olsen and Rosalía on a colorful background with striped lines, thunderbolts and more shapes
Beyoncé, left, Angel Olsen and Rosalía.
(Illustration by Mel Cerri / For The Times; photographs by Christina House / Los Angeles Times, SeoJu Park / For The Times; Mason Poole)
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In a year when we inched that much closer to streaming’s eternal now, the music of 2022 felt suffused with temporality — looking back to a better time, anticipating tomorrow’s promise, taking stock of the present in 15-second snippets.

1. Beyoncé, “Renaissance
Pop’s deepest-thinking superstar doesn’t really deal in anything but Big Important Statements. Yet the textural scope and intellectual rigor — not to mention the emotion and the pure pleasure — of this loving tribute to dance music’s Black and queer pioneers is still staggering to behold. Play it in the club; play it in the library; play it wherever someone may doubt that history is alive.

2. Rosalía, “Motomami
Another thoroughgoing work of pop scholarship, this one from a Spanish singer, songwriter and producer for whom cultural boundaries exert all the weight of ink on a mapmaker’s paper.

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3. Bad Bunny, “Un Verano Sin Ti
The most inescapable album of 2022 — its Spanish title translates, ironically, to “A Summer Without You” — never wore out its welcome because Bad Bunny keeps finding fresh settings for the signature drama-king sob in his voice. Drawing from reggaeton, bachata, hip-hop, dembow, synth-pop, mambo and reggae, the endlessly vibey “Un Verano Sin Ti” is a treasure chest disguised as a beach cooler.

It was another weird year. This is the music, movies, theater, books, television and art that got us through.

4. Taylor Swift, “Midnights
Having scratched an itch to write fiction with 2020’s “Folklore” and “Evermore” — then having combed carefully through her past with last year’s re-recordings of “Fearless” and “Red” — Swift returned to the highly (if slyly) diaristic mode upon which her parasocial celebrity was built. Come for the veiled references to her various romantic and professional imbroglios; stay for the breeziness in her voice as she almost-rhymes “bad surprise” and “some dickhead guy.”

5. Alvvays, “Blue Rev”
Frontwoman Molly Rankin makes clear who she means when she quotes Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” amid the gorgeous squall of this Canadian indie band’s “Belinda Says.” But on the year’s finest guitar album — a dream-pop excursion irresistible to ’80s noise boys and ’90s velocity girls — Alvvays is not not shouting out Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine too.

6. Angel Olsen, “Big Time”
Recorded in Topanga Canyon with memories of midcentury Nashville on her mind, Olsen’s sixth studio LP uses horns and shimmering pedal steel to frame her grief over the deaths of both her parents even as it looks ahead to the fulfillment she envisioned when she told them she was gay shortly before they died. A new queer country-soul classic for fans of “Dusty in Memphis” and “I Am Shelby Lynne.”

7. Lainey Wilson, “Bell Bottom Country”
Nashville’s brightest new star describes herself as a “hillbilly hippie,” which gets at her sense of humor and at the funky classic-rock moves that can evoke Sheryl Crow’s “Tuesday Night Music Club.” But Wilson is at her best in yearning love songs like “Watermelon Moonshine” (“Parkin’ back in them kudzu vines / I was his and every bit of that boy was mine”) and “Heart Like a Truck,” where she wears the dings and scrapes of romance with pride.

8. Barbra Streisand, “Live at the Bon Soir”
Wanna hear some magnificent singing? One option is shelling out a few thousand bucks to catch the show Adele just opened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Another is spinning this set of newly restored live recordings from a steady gig Adele’s closest predecessor held 60 years ago at a tiny nightclub in New York’s West Village. To hear what Streisand does — at age 20! — with “Cry Me a River” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is to wonder whether anyone ever balanced finesse and vehemence so beautifully again.

9. Charlie Puth, “Charlie”
Puth composed much of “Charlie” live on TikTok, which says as much about his bottomless music-school facility as it does about his endearingly cringe approach to modern pop stardom.

10. Wizkid, “More Love, Less Ego”
Sade fans impatient for her first album since 2010 should immerse themselves in the latest from this Nigerian star of the international Afrobeats scene. “More Love, Less Ego” follows Wizkid’s American breakthrough with “Essence,” which cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 last year thanks in part to a remix featuring Justin Bieber. Yet the LP’s glassy surfaces and unhurried grooves betray no thirstiness for more; in his music, the saxophone solo is safe.

A female country singer in a black hat.
Lainey Wilson’s “Bell Bottom Country” is the seventh best album of 2022, according to The Times.
(Libby Danforth / For The Times)

And here, in alphabetical order, are 10 more not to be missed:

The 1975, “Being Funny in a Foreign Language”

Arctic Monkeys, “The Car”

Drake, “Honestly, Nevermind

Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Miranda Lambert, “Palomino”

Lucius, “Second Nature”

Marcus Mumford, “(self-titled)”

Cécile McLorin Salvant, “Ghost Song”

Harry Styles, “Harry’s House

The Weeknd, “Dawn FM

From Alex G to Bailey Zimmerman, unknowns to superduperstars, pop-country to post-drill, these are our favorite bangers of 2022.


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