The 50 best albums of 2022 | Music

Table of Contents


Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

People are fond of criticising Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars for writing cryptic or nonsensical lyrics. I say: listen a little deeper, won’t you? Alpha Zulu, Phoenix’s seventh album, interrogates middle-aged ennui with razor-sharp wit, imbuing intoxicatingly sensory synthpop songs with deeply sad lyrics about the tensions between work and love. It ends with Identical, a tribute to the band’s late longtime producer Philippe Zdar, which also happens to be one of the band’s all-timer anthems – a eulogy to close out the biggest festival stage in the world. SD


Tove Lo – Dirt Femme

Striking … Tove Lo.
Striking … Tove Lo. Photograph: Moni Haworth

The Swedish pop star’s fifth – and first independent – album works as a decent primer for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the past few years in pop. It’s got Dua-style disco (thanks in part to sharing a collaborator in SG Lewis), Charli XCX’s death drive and one of those now-ubiquitous, infuriatingly catchy Y2K pop interpolations in 2 Die 4, which, quite bafflingly, samples Crazy Frog’s 2005 cover of Gershon Kingsley’s 1969 song Popcorn. Consequently Tove Lo is less of an eye-popping presence here than on her previous records, though her apparent recalcitrance makes her unusual anxiety and conflict around relationships and intensity all the more striking. LS


Kojey Radical – Reasons to Smile

Kojey Radical’s debut album finally arrived this year and, while a lot of long-gestating debuts can fall flat on arrival, Reasons to Smile was worth the wait. Its interplay of hip-hop grit and neo-soul smoothness is kinetic and hypnotic, like watching oil and vinegar try to emulsify. Radical himself is the glue between Reasons to Smile’s warring sides, a grinning, gloriously charismatic guide through his universe. SD


Earl Sweatshirt – Sick!

During a season of loss and introversion, an artist who made his name considering those states of being surprised listeners by expanding his purview, reaching outwards to forge connection – it’s there too in the warmth of the vintage soul-tinged production – and define some sense of freedom on his terms. It’s a beautiful example of Earl’s proclivity to defy expectations: on Sick!, the new father watches older members of his family die and reassesses his place in their lineage, past and future; he grapples with pain, how to process it rather than let it “fester into hate”, and works to stay present, aware of how “life can change in the blink of an eye”. LS


Danger Mouse and Black Thought – Cheat Codes

Danger Mouse, the defining producer of the 2000s, and Roots MC Black Thought have been working together for years, but their long-mooted full-length collab didn’t properly materialise until this summer. The result is soulful and whip-smart, and makes good on the promise of their first outing together, the 2005 Dangerdoom track Mad Nice: Cheat Codes contains granite-solid bars, luxuriant and sample-heavy beats in one of the most perfect producer/MC pairings of the past 20 years. SD


Special Interest – Endure

Playful punk … Alli Logout of Special Interest.
Playful punk … Alli Logout of Special Interest. Photograph: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

After six years on the DIY circuit, 2022 saw the New Orleans punk outfit head towards the mainstream. Compared with their back catalogue of distorted guitars and industrial synthesis, Endure was notably more pop-aligned, with buoyant keys and groovy riffs wrestling against lead singer Alli Logout’s grizzled vocals and a chugging drum machine. It was a change that felt like a liberating step forward, learning to embrace the more playful side of punk, rather than a sellout move. SB


Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure

Julia Jacklin’s first two records are rooted in relentless, cathartic self-interrogation. But Pre Pleasure is about picking yourself up, stepping over the strange entrails of truth you unearthed, and trying to remember who you are without the baggage and bad vibes. Pre Pleasure is all pristine, gently loping arrangements and reminders to stay healthy, stay happy, have some fun. It’s not a live, laugh, love album as much as a reminder to let yourself off the hook every once in a while. As Jacklin whispers on Ignore Tenderness, with more than a tiny wink: “Go on, let it all out.” SD


Suede – Autofiction

On Suede’s ninth album, Brett Anderson is in a reflective mood, contemplating the loss of his mother and his roles as a father, lover and performer, and how the latter cross paths with the younger versions of himself that populate his memories. It’s a nostalgic nook that many rock stars of his vintage find themselves in once they hit middle age – but unlike many rock stars of his vintage, Anderson bucks the expectation to frame these ruminations as a swan song. Instead he tackles them with all the guts, rage and euphoria of a young man with those evolutions and incarnations still ahead of him. LS


Alex G – God Save the Animals

Finding faith … Alex G
Finding faith … Alex G. Photograph: Chris Maggio

When asked by Pitchfork why his ninth album was so awash in religious imagery, Alex Giannascoli replied: “A few people that I’m close to became religious. It made me wonder what they found.” God Save the Animals suggests that what they found may have been, plainly, ease – a contentment and faith in the world that’s been hard to find on Giannascoli’s past few albums. Although he may be as neurotic and searching as ever, God Save the Animals finds him zeroing in on tiny moments of relief from the anxieties of the world, trudging up a never-ending hill and telling himself a mantra steeped in earnestness and irony: “Every day is a blessing.” SD


Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard

The greatest trick pulled by the xx is in how joint singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim dissolve their personal perspectives into an alluring, all-embracing whole. But on Sim’s debut album, he considers the many ways he has tried to disappear in his life – denial, fear, isolation, shame – and weighs up their cost. The antidote, Hideous Bastard suggests, is in unvarnished, often unflattering honesty; the slinky, seductive, often twisted music, produced by Sim’s bandmate Jamie xx, creates the perfect uncanny spotlight for it. LS


Alabaster DePlume – Gold – Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love

Sincere mission … Alabaster DePlume.
Sincere mission … Alabaster DePlume. Photograph: Chris Almeida

One of the year’s most confronting albums didn’t deal in noise or aggression, but deeply insistent compassion. “Don’t forget you’re precious,” the Manchester jazz poet insists across Gold, one of the album’s many such mantras. These are hard messages for anyone inclined to self-criticism to hear – and DePlume (AKA Gus Fairbairn) counts himself among them, laying bare his struggle to remember his own worth. In doing so he dodges the sentimentality that might otherwise overwhelm a record that proceeds with both palms held upright to the sky. And the sincerity of his mission is evident in its real-world application, with the eerie rhythms, heart-caressing vocal harmonies and vulnerable horns imperceptibly stitched together from days of improvisation with various different ensembles. If we can’t remember that we’re precious, he seems to suggest, being in community with others might remind us. LS


The Weather Station – How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars

Tamara Lindeman couldn’t have had any idea what was to come when she sat down at the piano from 10–12 March 2020 to record How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars. On the companion album to last year’s Ignorance, she weighs up what kind of uncertainty we can tolerate living with – and what the point of certainty is in a world in flux. Her conclusions, at least when it comes to politics and the environment, are less than reassuring. But she threads her anxieties with a resonant confidence that love, as unpredictable as it is, remains a risk worth investing in, the Joni-like spirit in her vocals undimmed. LS


Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti

The year’s most streamed album is an old-fashioned romantic epic. Un Verano Sin Ti’s achingly wistful tale of hedonism and heartbreak has a booze-soaked, tearstained mood; it feels tangentially indebted to classic literature (I hear the Bad Bunny of Un Verano Sin Ti, constantly jerking between the heat of partying and ice-cold alienation, as a perverse analogue to Neddy Merrill, from Cheever’s The Swimmer) as well as cinematic worldbuilding breakup albums such as Lorde’s Melodrama. Bad Bunny pairs his heartbroken missives with sublime reggaeton, dembow and bachata, as well as surprising moments of softness courtesy of indie artists such as the Marías, Buscabulla and Bomba Estéreo. He flits effortlessly between raucous party-starting and moments of wounded introversion, distilling all the divine drama of summer into 81 intoxicating, all-too-short minutes. SD


Wu-Lu – Loggerhead

Loggerhead is a little like a zombie movie where Wu-Lu is the lone survivor, a muffled voice of humanity trying to make out any remnants of life in an environment that no longer feels familiar. He stalks the album’s diffuse post-punk landscapes, alternately yelling and mumbling, singing and rapping, letting out a harsh, piercing scream during South, the record’s centrepiece. The closest comparison for this remarkable, haunted debut album would perhaps be enigmatic London experimentalist Dean Blunt, but where Blunt’s main mode is detachment, Wu-Lu seeks out the visceral and the guttural, making an indelible impression in the process. SD


Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong

At the dawn of the 2020s, Sharon Van Etten, like so many others, began to feel the natural world revolt. Her sixth album is her response – not a raging polemic, but an attempt to answer the question she asks on Darkish: “Where will we be when our world is done?” Over a thunder of synths and guitars, she writes love songs to her child and partner, attempts to make peace with her anxieties about motherhood, sex and self-image. As the album crescendos with the magnificent Mistakes, she unleashes a torrent of intermingled pain and joy: “Even when I make a mistake / It’s much better than that!” SD


Björk – Fossora

If Björk’s last album, 2017’s Utopia, was about an idealised version of life, she told us in August, then Fossora represented the real world: “Let’s see what it’s like when you walk into this fantasy and, you know, have a lunch and farrrrt and do normal things, like meet your friends.” Naturally, Björk’s musical rendering of domestic life didn’t hold much truck with verité depictions of daily life. Instead, she twisted an artillery of bass clarinets, gabber beats and that famously abundant vocal range into a typically idiosyncratic vision of community inspired by mushrooms and matrilineage. LS


Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer

Not taking life too seriously … Charlotte Adigery.
Not taking life too seriously … Charlotte Adigery. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

In a world of rigid thinking and hard borders between countries and sounds, the Belgium-based duo make their lunge towards freedom. “Thank yourself / Praise your body / Celebrate and dance,” they urge. Liberation can be found in the body, they suggest – in reclaimed sexuality, a clear mind and a deep belly laugh – and they supply the tools to help get us there: the funk, the slink and a reminder of the pleasures of not taking life too seriously. LS


Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin – Ghosted

In another typically prolific year for Oren Ambarchi, the Australian guitarist picked up the baton with some of his most enduring collaborators, the Swedes double bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin. Ghosted is a hypnotic exploration of groove that seems to strip back over the course of its four already impressively lean songs: I is busy and curious; II shudders and flickers over a single repeated fretboard harmonic refrain. The eerie, pattering III starts leading the trio into the shadows before IV slips into the realm of hushed doom jazz plied by Bohren und der Club of Gore. As good an entry point as any into a rich catalogue (try Ambarchi’s glorious 2022 solo album Shebang, for one). LS


Yaya Bey – Remember Your North Star

A much-needed voice for 21st-century singles … Yaya Bey.
A much-needed voice for 21st-century singles … Yaya Bey. Photograph: Lawrence Agyei

Yaya Bey’s superlative second record is one of the year’s coolest, a heady mix of R&B and jazz that’s lived-in, conversational, meticulous; acidic in its humour and boundless in its empathy. Songs such as Keisha and Meet Me in Brooklyn are filled with subtle interlocking parts but never feel busy: the production equivalent of no-makeup makeup, they provide perfectly minimal backing for Bey to unspool her lackadaisical but painstakingly composed lyrics about relationships, work and Black womanhood. Recalling incisive, free-spirited chroniclers of sex and romance such as SZA and Cookie Mueller, Bey provides a much-needed voice for 21st-century singles everywhere, getting lost in love and looking good doing it. SD


Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry

Four years after his career-rejuvenating instant classic Daytona, Pusha T returned with It’s Almost Dry, arguably his sharpest and most appealingly persnickety album since his peak Clipse days. Unlike on Daytona, there’s no Drake beef here to draw Push’s ire; instead, his lyrics are all about petty rifts and decades-old dramas, scores that can only be settled with excoriating, ice-cold wordplay. While the credits list seems bloated – It’s Almost Dry is stacked with household names including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Pharrell, Kid Cudi and Lil Uzi Vert, and features a Beyoncé sample on grandiose highlight Rock n Roll – the focus is squarely on Pusha, as, nearly 20 years on from his first commercial peak, he re-establishes himself as one of the era’s most vital rappers. SD


Muna – Muna

After getting dropped by their major label, the LA trio signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ imprint of indie Secretly Canadian and made their poppiest album yet. Their collaboration with the boss, Silk Chiffon, is the purest hit on the record, a breathless, uncomplicated gasp of adoration in the direction of some perfect girl. But Muna’s eye for complicated – and often unflattering – relationship dynamics still seethes beneath the album’s gleaming pop structures, Y2K aesthetics and quasi-Taylor Swift hooks as singer Katie Gavin wrestles with post-breakup regret. LS


Let’s Eat Grandma – Two Ribbons

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth of Let’s Eat Grandma.
Brave … Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth of Let’s Eat Grandma. Photograph: El Hardwick

Since they arrived six years ago, the Norwich duo have never been anything less than unique, moving from the insular teen lore of their 2016 debut I, Gemini to neon-bright proto-hyperpop on 2018’s I’m All Ears. Two Ribbons is their third landmark record in a row: a viscerally brave contemplation of loss, as Jenny Hollingworth faced the death of her boyfriend from cancer, and she and Rosa Walton found themselves helplessly drifting apart, bridged via ravey euphoria, startling honesty and an intriguing newfound foray into ambience. LS


Jenny Hval – Classic Objects

After spending her whole career interrogating the norms and systems that bind us, the Norwegian songwriter turned her focus inwards to work out whether her own beliefs still served her and where they had come from in the first place. As with so many records released this year, she found a possible future guiding light in remaining open to possibility, a spirit she conveyed in her most plainly beautiful and openhearted music to date: lilting reggae, light-headed euphoria and sparkling choruses. LS


Gabriels – Angels & Queens – Part 1

In a sea of soul revivalists, Gabriels are the rare group actually pushing the genre forward. Their adventurous arrangements swap feelgood retro stylings for confrontational mosaics of samples, and moments where they pull the rug out from under the listener. Rather than dial up the volume or slather on the horns, as their less imaginative peers might, they use painstaking attention to detail as a way of heightening the drama. Equally shapeshifting is frontman Jacob Lusk, who can do diva, Nina and gut-wrenching balladeer at the light of the touchpaper: just listen to how he tastes the danger and deliciousness in the word “taboo” in a song of the same name. LS


The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language

No thoughts, head empty, only 1975 lyrics: “John’s obsessed with fat ass and he’s 10 years old”; “I know some vaccinista tote bag chic baristas”; “It seems that I was gaslighting you / I didn’t know that it had its own word.” Matty Healy, George Daniel and co get a lot of flak for being smartasses, but nearly every line on Being Funny in a Foreign Language is stupidly funny and devastatingly humane, some lovelorn-but-irony-poisoned phrase that probably should have been a tweet but, instead, is one of the most curiously insightful lyrics of the year. They pair those lyrics with production that’s gleefully wonky but deeply reverential of the canon at the same time – DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ loops, radiant R&B keys, a wall of sound that sounds like Heroes slowed to a crawl. This feels like a calling card record for the 1975 – their most delicate balance between romantic and ridiculous yet. SD


Alvvays – Blue Rev

Bookish … Smiths-influenced Alvvays.
Bookish … Smiths-influenced Alvvays. Photograph: Eleanor Petry

The current sound of indie sophistication is all smooth, dulled surfaces and painfully wrought minimalism. Alvvays buck the trend with Blue Rev, an album that’s impossibly busy but devastatingly elegant – the musical equivalent of a rich, quiet aunt who always seems to be wearing a few too many pieces of jewellery. Guitar solos unspool into more solos; Molly Rankin’s lyrics are the stuff of acerbic, cult-favourite chapbooks, filled with “benevolent collegiates”, defiant spinsters and references to cult heroes and iconic pop stars. As on earlier records, Alvvays are still channelling bookish indie icons such as Swirlies, the Smiths and Teenage Fanclub. But Blue Rev goes beyond pure influence, turning that sound into something grand, buffeting and rich, leaving in all the craters of distortion – the equivalent of taking your teenage cassette player and blasting it through the speakers of Wembley Stadium. SD


Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

While Big Thief themselves can get a little tiresome – coming out with things like “we’re one big organism”, “it felt like we were inside a giant guitar”, or whatever – their music remains a tonic to the head-in-the-clouds discourse. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You charts strange, invigoratingly experimental new plains: a hoedown powered by cartoonish jew’s harp, a noxious trip-hop dirge, and one song, Little Things, whose percussive guitar almost sounds like drawing pins being poured from one box to another. As ever, Adrianne Lenker’s lyrics are startlingly clarified in their mix of the pedestrian and poetic (“I wanna be the wrinkle in your eye / I wanna be the vapour that gets you high”) and the same could be said of the music itself: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is transgressive, challenging, and a perfect comfort listen. SD


Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter

Over 75 gruelling minutes, Hayden Anhedönia charts out the life of her Ethel Cain persona – a story of sexual abuse and slavery, absentee boyfriends, abduction and, in the album’s final tracks, untimely death. It’s a hazy, psychedelic southern gothic bildungsroman that’s excruciatingly slow, musically and conceptually confronting, and meticulous in its worldbuilding. Cain couldn’t have conceived of a more striking introduction – a star-making debut that revels in its own alienation. SD


Cate Le Bon – Pompeii

Opalescent … Cate Le Bon.
Opalescent … Cate Le Bon. Photograph: Cate Le Bon

Pompeii is a tango with fear and suffering – Cate Le Bon’s attempt to reckon with her anxieties about the state of the world without letting go of the sinewy grooves that have worked their way to the heart of her opalescent post-punk. Its lyrics are drawn from ancient tales, essays on architecture, diary entries, sharply contrasting modernist elan with stark confessional – a rarity for a Cate Le Bon album. Much like its grimy sax and off-kilter rhythms, most of Pompeii’s questions lie unanswered long after the album is over. We’re left with an image of Le Bon, dancing amid the rubble of civilisation: “Raise a glass in a season of ash / And pour it over me.” SD


Mitski – Laurel Hell

In psychology, arrival fallacy describes the feeling of fulfilling a goal and yet still feeling disappointed. These are the underpinnings of Mitski’s sixth album, in which the Japanese American songwriter confronts the compromises her career has forced on her art and personhood – an album, no less, that she had no intention of making until she realised she still owed her label one more. These sound like inauspicious invitations to listen to Laurel Hell until you remember that – perhaps unfortunately for Mitski – her songwriting thrives amid this sort of conflict, between what we’re meant to want and what we truly want. Set primarily to the kind of tarnished 80s synth-pop the Weeknd would also explore on Dawn FM, Mitski charts the captivating battle between her weariness and drive, her rage and her discipline. LS


Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

Diaspora Problems is sad, funny and, above all, brutal – the sound of a band contending with the horrors of racism and capitalism with an absurdist grin and an uncompromising eye. Fusing raw, flayed hardcore with dense rap, meme-ish humour, horn sections and jagged samples, Soul Glo reorient punk towards its anarchic and anti-capitalist roots, away from the When We Were Young-ified TikTok punk aesthetic and towards something that – in a rarity for 2022 – felt genuinely vital and transgressive. SD


Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork

An air of unease haunts the south London band’s second album: the guitars are dank and sludgy, the rhythm section proceeds at a suspicious pace, pockets of ambience linger unsettlingly. And yet, Stumpwork is even more captivating than the more rollicking New Long Leg because it demands we pay closer attention. In Florence Shaw’s inimitable lyrics, she nudges towards intimacy and flinches at mistrust, and her expressions of inferiority and fear pierce with a strange, ineffable sort of sadness. But the prevailing disquiet also makes Stumpwork’s fleeting moments of joy and humour all the more gratifying: “Things are shit but they’re gonna be OK,” Shaw sings on Kwenchy Kups. “And I’m gonna see the otters.” LS


Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

Guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Steve Lacy.
Genreless … Guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Steve Lacy. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

After the release of his watery debut album Apollo XXI, it felt as if any goodwill towards Steve Lacy – accrued thanks to the promise of his sleeper hit debut EP Steve Lacy’s Demo, his work on Kendrick Lamar’s Damn, and the showstopping charisma he displayed as a member of the Internet – had burnt up as fast as it had arrived. Then he released Gemini Rights: an electrifyingly bitchy breakup album that’s sad and viciously horny one moment, nihilistic and cartoonishly forlorn the next. The perfect expression of Lacy’s indie-meets-R&B-meets-funk style – the kind of genrelessness that genuinely feels invigorating and intentional, not just mushy – Gemini Rights is fuelled by contradiction, detailing Lacy’s hedonistic pursuit of women after having his heart broken by a man and mashing his ostentatious, peacock-y musical sensibility (and fashion sense) with the shyness of all the best shoegazers. Smutty, candid and strange, it was the year’s most pleasantly surprising breakthrough. SD


Taylor Swift – Midnights

Of all the reflective projects Taylor Swift has embarked upon recently – re-recording her first six albums to reclaim ownership over them; two sepia-tinted lockdown releases – her tenth studio album was the most revealing. Midnights revisits 13 sleepless nights from across her life, her mature perspective casting new light on stories we thought we knew: the toll of success as a young woman and of relationships that look exploitative in hindsight; how she has chafed against expectations of femininity; the self-loathing underpinnings of her public persona. Fittingly, its sound put a moody, sophisticated filter on the pop that made her name while still serving up crowdpleasers. It felt like Swift finally shaking off the ingenue, and hopefully lays the groundwork for her to strike forward and process her present with this level of acuity on whatever comes next. LS


Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down

Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Dazzling … Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Photograph: Jason Al-Taan

At their historic best, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have made music for cramped spaces: basements they can strain against and blow the roof off. But their fifth album, and first in nine years, is proper big-sky music, full of cavernous, lovingly patient songs made for staring at the stars and pondering your place among them. Karen O is at her most intimate and open-hearted here as she weighs up the balance between futility and optimism, comfort and the wild, in strikingly elemental and intuitive lyricism; meanwhile Nick Zinner, Brian Chase and O’s still-sharp punk teeth gnash at the edges of the magnificent vistas they conjure. LS


FKA twigs – Caprisongs

Before this year, it was well established that FKA twigs could do pretty much anything – sing, write, produce, pole dance, sword fight – but until the release of Caprisongs, one question lingered: could she make party records? Caprisongs showed that the answer was an unequivocal, neon-lit yes. Humid, rhythmic and alive, it slips between distended dance tracks ranging from hyperpop to reggae to afrobeats, and serene, moonlit balladry. It feels like a summer night that stretches until dawn, constantly drifting from the party to the street to an overstuffed Uber. After the alien soundscapes of Magdalene, Caprisongs brings twigs down to earth, crying and laughing and dancing like the rest of us. SD


Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen

Brittney Parks AKA Sudan Archives.
Dizzying … Brittney Parks AKA Sudan Archives. Photograph: Edwig Henson

“I’m a home maker,” Brittney Parks sings on the opening track of her second album proper. “Only bad bitches in my trellis / And baby I’m the baddest.” It’s both an invitation to her space and a gauntlet thrown to see if listeners can keep up with her across Natural Brown Prom Queen, which skips from looped strings (on Parks’ primary instrument, the cello) to the club and stops off everywhere in between, sometimes within the scope of a single song. She’s an R&B traditionalist and an experimental innovator, admirably cocksure and relatably insecure: a dazzling maximalist whose idea of home feels cosmos-like in scope. LS


Gilla Band – Most Normal

Pure, obliterating derangement is the order of the day in Gilla Band’s third album, which turns rock inside out, feeds it through a post-Yeezus filter of pixilated howls and distortion, then transfuses it with a vital shot of humour and dread. Despite the Irish four-piece’s taste for desecration, Most Normal retains a supremely addictive sense of pop integrity: it’s filled with twisted earworms (“I can’t wear hats I just get slagged!”), a kaleidoscopic wealth of texture, and dramatic climaxes as addictive as any Top 40 middle-eight. LS


Harry Styles – Harry’s House

It’s a tall order for a superstar to pull off an intimate record: it’s a contradiction of scale, plus the more famous you are, the more fiercely guarded your privacy. On Styles’ third album, he comes admirably close to landing the pitch. It isn’t quite Paul McCartney’s Ram, but there’s a lived-in quality to Harry’s House in the domestic settings, the unexplained snatches of dialogue between lovers and friends, and the sudden awareness of change as you see a shadow lengthen with the seasons. The music, too, seems to flick through Styles’ own record collection: there’s some flagrant Macca-isms there from a well-documented fan, as well as west coast bonhomie, big-ticket 80s pop and Laurel Canyon delicacy. LS


Shygirl – Nymph

London rapper Blane Muise AKA Shygirl.
Experimental … London rapper Blane Muise AKA Shygirl. Photograph: Samuel Ibram

The London producer’s long-awaited debut brought a blast of fresh air to the filthy, dripping club tunes that she broke out with, putting Blane Muise front and centre of brighter productions (collaborations with Danny L Harle, Sega Bodega and Arca among others) that touched on UK garage, bloghouse and, on Little Bit, apparently the detritus of Y2K-era Timbaland. While Shygirl is never backwards in coming forward, her vulnerabilities also shone through here as she addressed a lover’s treachery and admitted to her own. An impressively cohesive debut, though try telling her that: “I can have it all but I’m never satisfied,” she flexes on Woe. LS


Nilüfer Yanya – Painless

What Painless lacks in immediacy it more than makes up for in directness, and the after effects linger long past its lean running time. This is a more muscular version of Yanya’s sound, with more space and fewer adornments. She steps up to the challenge of having nowhere to hide, and there is a resolve here that gives the impression of an artist firmly and confidently finding her feet. It can be a painful listen at times, but its refusal to back down from the ugliness and complexity of raw emotions, particularly when it comes to love, is bracing and compulsive. Read more. Rebecca Nicholson


Fontaines DC – Skinty Fia

This year’s Skinty Fia signalled the Irish band’s most radical metamorphosis yet. There aren’t too many signs left of the rabble-rousing punk of their debut; instead, the five-piece has become more reflective while also throwing in curveballs from Irish folk accordion to hints of drum’n’bass. Chiefly driven by considerable shifts in geography after the band left Dublin to set up home in London, the songs mostly address Ireland and Irishness from the viewpoint of the Irish diaspora abroad, acknowledging the band’s desire to broaden their horizons while holding on to strong, if occasionally bittersweet, affection for their homeland. Digging into the disconnect between ordinary humans and societal structures, Fontaines DC make unusual subjects seem universal, and like the Smiths or the Pogues, they know that you can address all manner of uncomfortable topics – from the Tuam care home abuses to toxic relationships – if the tunes are strong enough. Read more. Dave Simpson


Wet Leg – Wet Leg

Hester Chambers and Rhian Teasdale of Wet Leg.
‘We’re just little country bumpkins’ … Hester Chambers and Rhian Teasdale of Wet Leg. Photograph: Hollie Fernando

On one level, Wet Leg’s rollicking debut album is an autopsy of a past relationship conducted with goofiness, with Rhian Teasdale often sounding openly disgusted by men before spraying a squirty-cream smiley face over that judgment. But she and Hester Chambers pair sweet with sour to disarm, then pull you in close and whisper the real story in your ear. It’s also an album about middle-class millennial malaise – though they always temper worry with something lighthearted: their gags and the sing-a-long choruses hint at an attitude so throwaway it’s almost absurdist. But look beyond the smirk and there’s skill, observational wit and melodies that burrow into your brain. Read more. Tshepo Mokoena


Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B

On their debut album, Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye pan for nuggets of sound that have never been put together before. Everything that makes a noise is fair game as they plunder every genre for a possible production style here, a unique chord progression there. I Love You Jennifer B should sound like a nightmare – and sometimes it does – but there’s a current of fun that holds it all together: the cartoonish chopping and reassembling of vocals reminds you that this album is not as po-faced or art school as it might sound on paper. Read more. Kate Solomon


Arctic Monkeys – The Car

Arctic Monkeys’ best music has always been about yearning in all its forms; here, this is manifest in Alex Turner’s unmistakable, swooning vocals that brim with intimacy and lyrical longing, and instrumentals that make moods of love, lust, grief, insecurity and dislocation flutter somewhere deep within. The Car delves into depths and subtleties of feeling with gilded music that belongs to a past which never existed: velveteen strings, gleaming keys and licks of guitar that veer from funky to blazing and anticipatory. Read more. Tara Joshi


Rosalía – Motomami

Rosalía in Bogotá, Colombia.
Powerful … Rosalía in Bogotá, Colombia. Photograph: Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda/EPA

Rosalía’s third album delights in flinging diverse, even contradictory styles together – dembow, hip-hop, dubstep, salsa, industrial, bachata, the experimental electronics of Arca, R&B, flamenco, pure radio-ready pop – and presenting the results to the listener with an insouciant take-it-or-leave-it shrug. It’s the work of an artist who clearly sees her success as a platform that enables her to do what she wants rather than as an end in itself. “Es mala amante la fama y no va a quererme de verdad,” as the Weeknd puts it on their collaboration La Fama: fame’s a lousy lover and won’t ever love you for real. Better to exploit it than chase it. Read more. Alexis Petridis


Charli XCX – Crash

On Charli XCX’s fifth album – and last on the contract she signed with Atlantic aged 16 – she temporarily sidelined the mutant vision behind Pop 2 and Vroom Vroom to embrace every trapping the label had to offer, “to make a major-label album in the major label way”. Before you call Charli a “sellout”, know that she’d only take it as a compliment: “You say I’m turning evil / I’ll say I’m finally pure,” as she sings on the housey kiss-off Used to Know Me. Crash works because the one-time mainstream refusenik commits so wholeheartedly to the big-ticket concept – there are deliciously villainous anthems that strut on punishing gothic synths, flesh-slapping boogie and Cameo-worthy guitar sleaze – and you can tell she’s enjoying it. Read more. LS


The Weeknd – Dawn FM

The Weeknd.
Auteur … The Weeknd. Photograph: Paul R Giunta/Invision/AP

Dawn FM is the Dom Pérignon of male manipulator music – a slick of negging and neediness, sleaze and sanctimony that carries the unnatural, alluring glow of toxic waste. Released without fanfare on the first week of the year and still as luridly spectacular 40-odd weeks later, Abel Tesfaye’s fifth album as the Weeknd is also his most dazzlingly deranged, juxtaposing Rilke citations, Jim Carrey narration and a cameo from indie film-maker Josh Safdie with a hallucinatory vortex of disco, R&B, electro, EDM and hip-hop. Once known for his bloody-minded pursuit of one ultra-specific vibe, here Tesfaye proves he has far more in him than meets the eye; it confirms his status as one of our greatest living stars, an auteur with inspiration and idiosyncrasy to burn. Read more. SD


Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale & the Big Steppers

Mr Morale represented a sizeable risk for Kendrick Lamar: a personal excavation so messy that he toyed with not releasing it at all. But even in a crowded field of musicians reckoning with trauma, Mr Morale stands out for Lamar’s deeply attuned, perceptive and often unflattering storytelling, addressing his flaws and laying bare his contradictions. This blurriness created interesting questions in turn: what does Lamar owe his audience? And what happens when ingrained mechanisms to tough it out through life come face-to-face with those who suffer as collateral damage? At any rate, it was hard to argue with the album’s sumptuous production and a number of songs that count among Lamar’s finest. Read more. Gabriel Szatan


Beyoncé – Renaissance

Capturing the unspoken connectivity that so many of us crave from the club, Renaissance sees Beyoncé at her most lyrically playful, political by destiny rather than design. Like an expert DJ set, Renaissance was sequenced and blended to create a sense of proper night-time immersion, resisting the lull of the smoking area. There are no ballads, just endless horny bops; with minimal features from heteronormative guests, Beyoncé appears to have recommitted to Destiny’s Child’s recommendation that you leave men at home if you want to have a good time. Borrowing from Chicago house, Detroit techno and New York disco, the album is a tribute to the influence and endurance of the Black LGBTQ+ community, made in collaboration with producers whose lived experiences and historical weight bring gravity to the sound. Read more. Jenessa Williams

This article was amended on 27 December 2022. House and techno originated in Chicago and Detroit respectively, not the other way around as an earlier version had it.