2022 has been a year of monumental album releases from some big names in the industry. From Queen Bey’s return to the emergence of the high-speed and always chic “Motomami” lifestyle, the year has been a kaleidoscope of sonic landscapes all colliding in one big colorful CRASH!
1. RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé
All hail the Queen! After six long years, Beyoncé made her solo LP comeback. Though the last six years have been filled with collaborative projects, major motion pictures, and touring, the Beyhive was ecstatic to see Beyoncé release her official seventh studio album. The lead single “BREAK MY SOUL” — which samples Robin S’ 1993 song “Show Me Love” — is an addictive and bouncy taste of the full record. With seamless transitions, Beyoncé effortlessly glides through impressive vocal numbers (“PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA”), songs meant to be blared at the roller rink (“VIRGO’S GROOVE), and tracks made for any and every gay club (“PURE/HONEY”). You can always count on Beyoncé to give the Hive just enough and keep us wanting more. Who knows what act II and III will entail, but until then we’ll all be waiting patiently for the RENAISSANCE visuals…
2. CRASH by Charli XCX
While teasing what would become the CRASH album, Charli XCX made it no secret she was fascinated by the concept of “selling out.” If CRASH represents selling out artistically, then I think every artist needs to hop on the train. Across 12 tracks, Charli explores choosing wrong (“Good Ones”), infidelity (“Every Rule”), and of course breakups (“Used To Know Me”). One of the standouts, and one of my personal favorite songs of the year is “Yuck,” a song about being smothered with too much puppy love. Not to mention the incredible visuals (music videos, the bloody cover art, tour performances) being some of the best of her career. If you haven’t taken the Oath of XCX just yet, start your journey with CRASH.
3. Dirt Femme by Tove Lo
Shiny, sassy, and sexy — all proper ways to describe the Swedish pop savior’s fifth record, Dirt Femme. The opening track, “No One Dies From Love,” buzzes with grandiose synth waves that back Lo’s vocals filtered through a vocoder. The lead single could easily be the theme for an intergalactic Bond remake. The track-run of “Call on Me,” “Attention Whore,” and “Pineapple Slice” is a contender for the most fun and dance worthy album sequence of the year. Near the end of the album, Lo delivers a funky hummed number, “Kick In The Head,” which rounds the record out perfectly.
4. Midnights by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift’s tenth LP is filled to the brim with incredible songwriting and dreamy compositions. Midnights offers a tasteful blend of slowed-down piano tracks and Swift’s famous stadium-worthy bangers. The sultry “Maroon” shows off Swift’s lower register before creeping into the slow thudding chorus. She plays with pitch altered vocals on “Midnight Rain,” which as its title suggests should be played on every stormy evening. Swift specifies that Midnights is a concept album about 13 (what other number?) sleepless nights, each of which grapple with a different topic. It's not necessarily a concept album in sonics, but a lyrical conceptual journey through different stories. The only letdown of Midnights is “Snow On The Beach" which features backing vocals from Lana Del Rey. For fans like myself who could previously only dream of a crossover between the two artists, I couldn’t help but be slightly let down by no solo vocals from Lana. Regardless, it’s a beautiful song that brings to mind a dimly lit frosted-over sandy terrain. Other highlights include “Karma,” “Bejeweled,” and “Lavender Haze.”
5. MOTOMAMI by ROSALÍA
This album took several listens for it to click with me, but once it did I was shocked at how I had not understood it before. MOTOMAMI is a sonic hurricane with a straightforwardness that implies every thud, screech, and pulse are meticulously thought out. The result is a perfectly imperfect body of work that shines in its eccentricities. “SAOKO” — the album’s opener — preps listeners for the impending journey ahead across different languages and different sonic landscapes. Beyond the music itself, MOTOMAMI has influenced a biker chick fashion lifestyle resurgence that will likely continue on in 2023. “MOTOMAMI,” “DIABLO,” “CUUUUuuuuuute,” and “LA COMBI VERSACE” all demonstrate the true essence of the record’s irresistible jumpiness.
6. The Loneliest Time by Carly Rae Jepsen
In my mind, each of Carly Rae Jepsen's albums represent specific seasons — Dedicated for summertime heartbreak, EMOTION for a winter of blinding love and rebirth, KISS for melting emotions into the fizzling spring — so it only makes sense that her sixth album, The Loneliest Time represents fall. The singles (“Western Wind,” “Beach House,” “Talking to Yourself,” and the title track) all stand fine on their own, but come across even stronger as part of the full record. The dizzying “Shooting Star” is a classic Jepsen take of bubbly and infectious attraction. “Sideways” is a sunny number about getting all your confidence from someone else. and includes some clever subtext about the dangers of this practice. An easy and breezy listen, The Loneliest Time might not be the most groundbreaking work in Jepsen’s catalog, but it’s a great listen nonetheless.
7. Dawn FM by The Weeknd
Pivoting from 2020’s blockbuster After Hours, The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) opted for 80s synthwave and drums on his fifth studio album, Dawn FM. The result is a slightly less personal collection of songs, but all the more fun and carefree than After Hours. Tesfaye does in fact dig deep on the closing track “Less Than Zero,” a definite highlight of his discography. Addictive moments like “Sacrifice,” “Gasoline,” and “Don’t Break My Heart” almost sound Michael Jackson-esque had he ventured into contemporary synth pop. Dawn FM is another album this year with seamless transitions, with added narration from Jim Carey which makes the project all the more glorious and haunting.
8. SOS by SZA
Five years after her instantly classic debut, Ctrl, SZA has at long last released her sophomore project SOS. Clocking in at 23 tracks, the album is less concentrated than its predecessor, but covers more ground as a result. SZA mostly leaves behind the alternative R&B she became known for on Ctrl, and tries her hand at a more contemporary take on the genre. SOS has several standouts — “Kill Bill,” “Snooze,” “Low,” “Far” — but also has some tracks that could have been left off or included only on a deluxe release — “Good Days,” “Forgiveless,” and “Seek & Destroy.” Keeping in trend with genre experimentation, she tries her hand at early aughts pop punk on “F2F” and succeeds. “Special” acts as Ctrl’s “Normal Girl” reimagined with its vulnerable confessions like “I used to be special / But you made me hate me / Regret that I changed me.” As a last minute addition to the year’s albums, SOS will no doubt go on to earn SZA more acclaim and likely spawn several hit singles.
9. Hold The Girl by Rina Sawayama
In order for Rina Sawayama to go forward, she needed to look back. On her second album, Hold The Girl, she grapples with childhood trauma in an effort to heal. The lead single “This Hell” was no doubt one of my songs of the summer for its blend of guitar riffs and echoing bass. Some of her most personal moments come in beautiful ballads like “Phantom” on which she tells the story of a young girl — who we presume to be her younger self — struggling to accept herself. It wouldn’t be a Rina Sawayama project without a few off the wall pop earworms like “Frankenstein” and “Imagining.”
10. Tell Me That It’s Over by Wallows
Upon the release of their second album, Tell Me That It’s Over, Wallows was a band I had heard lots about but never made the move to explore. Thankfully I gave their second LP a try, because it’s filled with simple yet complicated melodies that inspect apathy, reeling, and acceptance. The opening track “Hard To Believe” grabbed my attention immediately with its screeching instrumental and headbanging chorus. “I Don’t Wanna Talk” was featured in the credits of the latest Scream movie, which lead singer Dylan Minnette starred in. Wallows takes easy-to-listen-to alternative music and sprinkles in synth, loud drums, and lyricism that has stuck with me throughout the year.