t last the music world managed something approaching business as usual in 2022, with Glastonbury back in full glory as the pinnacle of a year that also featured blockbuster releases from Beyoncé, Stormzy, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles.
At the same time, we spent a fair chunk of our time looking backwards. Hits collections by Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Elton John and Eminem never left the albums chart, the obtuseness of the latest Arctic Monkeys album only succeeded in increasing sales for their old favourite AM, and the concert experience of the year was surely ABBA’s brain-frazzling return to holographic youthfulness in a purpose-built venue.
In hip hop, Kendrick Lamar was the dominant force, with the biggest platform to show off his first album in five years, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) – a Glastonbury headline slot. As on past works, his openness and insightfulness was unmatched.
The heavy involvement of the thoroughly cancelled Kanye West on production duties for Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry (GOOD Music/Def Jam) hopefully won’t dent its reputation as a tight, focused album full of gripping tales and great tunes. Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes (BMG) mixed crackly soul samples and thick beats in a retro style that was worth the wait as producer Danger Mouse’s first rap collaboration in years.
Back at home, north Londoner Little Simz capped an award-packed year with a surprise album, No Thank You (Forever Living Originals/AWAL) which detailed the unpleasant side-effects of success, over opulent production from Inflo. Dean ‘Inflo’ Cover was the year’s busiest man, releasing five albums by Sault – AIIR/11/Earth/Today & Tomorrow/Untitled (God) (Forever Living Originals) in one day in November, on which he maintained an extraordinarily high quality.
In pop, The 1975 regained focus and catchiness after a self-indulgent spell, on the concise Being Funny in a Foreign Language (Dirty Hit) while perennial bridesmaid Charli XCX produced her most accessible attack on the charts to date, Crash (Asylum). The Weeknd’s Dawn FM (XO/Republic) was packed with surprises, featuring both actor Jim Carrey and experimental electronica act Oneohtrix Point Never as well as loads of blissful, analogue synthpop. But it was Harry Styles’s Harry’s House (Erskine/Columbia) that deservedly dominated the hit parade all year. After trying on various musical outfits, the superstar settled on a sound that was the musical equivalent of a slick convertible on a summer day.
In indie rock, the year belonged to Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg, whose funny, fizzy debut album Wet Leg (Domino) went straight to number one in April, then earned Mercury and Grammy nominations. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers provided a welcome reminder of the excitement of short sharp guitar pop done with style and never took themselves too seriously, unlike Arctic Monkeys, who returned with The Car (Domino) and a rich, complex, beautiful sound that almost ditched guitars completely, and Fontaines DC, who continued to mature at speed from their punky beginnings and made their darkest, most diverse collection yet, Skinty Fia (Partisan).
At the same time, a few old folks were showing that they still had it in them to produce great work. Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s Cool It Down (Secretly Canadian) was the return of one of the most thrilling rock bands of the early 2000s, now with more of an electronic influence and Karen O still sounding like the coolest woman on Earth. A Light for Attracting Attention (Self Help Tapes/XL) by The Smile sounded like the closest we’ll get to a new Radiohead album for a long while, as a dense, fascinating collaboration led by Thom Yorke, guitarist Jonny Greenwood and long-term producer Nigel Godrich. And Suede’s Autofiction (BMG) was remarkably raw and fiery for a band on their ninth album who could easily rely on their greatest hits.
Suede’s former guitarist Bernard Butler wasn’t feeling nostalgic either, preferring an understated folk sound on the Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler collaboration For All Our Days That Tear The Heart (EMI), an unlikely team-up with the Wild Rose and Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club actress. American band Big Thief’s album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (4AD) also created something wondrous in the acoustic sphere, ranging widely in style and feel on their 20-track, 80-minute fifth album.
Another man who couldn’t decide what to sound like was Paolo Nutini, who returned after eight years of silence with Last Night in the Bittersweet (Atlantic), offering everything from krautrock to pop-punk as well as plenty of tortured balladry.
Other singer-songwriters released some remarkable works. Gwenno’s Tresor (Heavenly) was indisputably the finest Cornish language psychedelic folk album of the year. Aldous Harding was lost in her own sparse soundworld on Warm Chris (4AD). Australia’s Julia Jacklin made some of her most accessible, exciting work on Pre Pleasure (Transgressive) while Alex G also became slightly less strange and found some memorable melodies on God Save the Animals (Domino).
But two other extraordinary albums really offered the opportunity to drown in beautiful music: Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (Sub Pop) and Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter (Daughters of Cain) were richly orchestral and densely gothic respectively, and worth continuing to explore well into 2023.
Listen to our best albums of 2022 playlist on Spotify