Before this top 15 list begins, here are three projects that were snubbed from the previous “Notable Albums of 2022” list published in last month’s edition. These are albums released before July 1, 2022 that flew under my radar or that of the general public up until recently.
“Dawn FM” by The Weeknd
This album was destined to be forgotten and under-appreciated by the midyear due to its early release date of January 6th. This is The Weeknd’s most blatantly conceptual work since the “Trilogy” era, which makes singular tracks hard to return to and remember individually. However, songs like “Out of Time” and “Less Than Zero” deserve the amount of recognition that any of the “After Hours” hits received.
“HYPNOS” by Ravyn Lenae
Lenae floats beautifully over production from Steve Lacy, Monte Booker and others on “HYPNOS”. A later entry to the mid-year conversation, this album certifies Lenae as one of this year’s most creative and versatile female singers. The progression of the album keeps the listener intrigued by pivoting between production styles, from the zany “Venom” to the tranquil “Where I’m From” and back to the guitar-driven “Satellites” shortly after.
“Caricature” by Elan Noon
“Caricature” is an unsettling collection of mostly one-to-two minute songs, each consisting of warbling vocals and minimal accompaniment. The lo-fi recording paired with the showtune-esque songwriting makes for an eerie listen all the way through. On the track “Fold,” Noon strikes a foreboding chord with one of the best lines of the year so far: “You know that you’ll never win, so fold.” From then on out, you are trapped in the haunting show of the project, all to Noon’s amusement.
For this top 15 list, an artist is limited to only two songs in order to promote variety. In my opinion, these are the most enjoyable, creative, and impressive songs that came out in 2022, given I have not heard everything.
15: “lightbeamers” – FKA twigs
The chaotic nature of this track clears away for a reprise of the first verse about two and a half minutes in, creating a heavenly moment that contrasts a fairly maximal project. From El Guincho’s twirling instrumental to twigs’ insane range, this song is a flex.
14: “Up To You” – Rigby Picnic
“Up To You” is the best Rigby song to date, mostly because of the wave of upsetting guilt this song can leave you in. Lyrics aside, the song feels like you are moving on from something that you are not quite over. Yet the hook is still infectious.
13: “Leave It” by Lil Silva & Charlotte Day Wilson
UK-based producer Lil Silva stuns alongside RnB upcomer Charlotte Day Wilson on “Leave It,” which is a slow-building, uplifting track. The smokey guitars twang under the pulsing drums, all while Day Wilson commands with her soothing, lower range.
12: “Fold” by Elan Noon
As previously mentioned during the album snubs section, this song is incredibly ominous. The tone of Noon’s singing and guitar picking belong in some sort of live animatronic show and the final line of “Fold” sends chills down your spine.
11: “Father Time” by Kendrick Lamar ft. Sampha
Lamar finds a way to turn therapy conversations into a mainstream-ready track and Sampha remains undefeated on chorus features. The multiple sections of this beat include demented key lines and clarinet-adjecent sounds that stick in your head. Easily my favorite track out of both “Morale” discs.
10: “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy
“Bad Habit” opens up with a lyric that’s instantly relatable. The production is trademark Lacy, riding on flat drums and layered guitar chords. While his new album is available now, this single made the longtime fans’ anticipation increase.
9: “Venom” by Ravyn Lenae
When Ravyn Lenae brings the dance-pop production out of Monte Booker, it is something special. Lenae’s vocal arrangement in “Venom” is breathtaking, seeming to never settle for a “copy & paste” performance during any section of the track. It’s one of the most fun songs of the year and it deserves “summer hit” status.
8: “Satellites” by Ravyn Lenae
It’s nearly a toss-up between “Satellites” and “Venom”; the decision depends on the mood and scenario. Lenae is extra whispery on this track, making an ultimate lay-back jam appropriate for the location of its namesake. Steve Lacy also manages to scratch the top 10 again, this time as a producer and background vocalist.
7: “Shotgun” by Soccer Mommy
The breath-like, cavernous opening of the chorus is a standout production moment from 2022, thanks to Oneohtrix Point Never. Soccer Mommy’s vocal melodies are catchy as ever on “Shotgun,” the chorus being exceptionally singable. The contrast between the gritty verses and energetic chorus completes the song’s solid structure.
6: “The Only Place” by Big Thief
The penultimate song on Big Thief’s double album is possibly the prettiest composition I’ve heard in 2022. Lenker’s melody on the line “the only place that matters” during the chorus is a goosebump-spawning moment that no other song has paralleled this year. Simplicity holds this song back when compared to the entries in the top five though, as it is just vocals and a guitar.
5: “WHEN SPARKS FLY” by Vince Staples
Vince Staples tells a heartbreaking story of two lovers separated by the police on “WHEN SPARKS FLY.” His tragic details are accompanied by a somber sample that perfectly elevates the mood of the song, which is produced by Frano. It’s a career-defining track based on production and storytelling, while also having mainstream appeal and replayability.
4: “Last Year” by Toro y Moi
When the first Toro y Moi appearance is at number four on the list, it is scary to think what lies ahead. The 6/8 feel gives this song a jazzy swing, and the interplay between the array of instruments leaves not a boring second throughout the track. The chorus hits deeply when Chaz Bear’s clear vocal comes through to deliver a beautiful melody over the imaginative chords.
3: “Wake Me up to Drive” by Big Thief
This is the most creative track off “Dragon New Warm Mountain,” containing a drum machine beat, lo-fi recordings of guitars and possibly an accordion? The memorable chorus sounds ghostly with the high-pitched background vocal layers. It has the aesthetic of driving through the night with AM radio on, searching for an intriguing signal in order to keep yourself awake.
2: “Fire in the Hole” by Earl Sweatshirt
Rapper Earl Sweatshirt and producer Black Noi$e created a perfect sample with this track. The looping guitar riff carries urgency and emotion, as if time is slipping away from you too fast. Sweatshirt matches that energy with his delivery and creates intricate rhyme schemes and patterns throughout his verse. Then all of a sudden it’s all over and the piano escorts you out.
1: “The Loop” by Toro y Moi
The most effortlessly cool song of the year is Toro y Moi’s “The Loop,” a jam session that evolves with each section, eventually opening into a long solo section punctuated by the track’s countless guitar riffs and vocal melodies. The second verse stands out with its lyrical originality when Bear talks about the band he saw whose “record got bad reviews.” “The Loop” ends with a cutaway to what you might hear behind a Hot Wheels commercial during the 2000s, acting similar to a radio advertisement in the album’s context. Toro proves once again how easy it is for him to sound like the coolest person in the room.