Ever since the pandemic first necessitated my return to a permanent remote-working lifestyle, I’ve been rediscovering and doubling down on my love of exploring new music. 2021 in particular introduced me to a treasure trove of artists that I’m furious about not having found before, as well as at least two albums which I highlighted at the end of the year as being masterpieces that will stay with me forever.
Even though, in 2022, I sampled a broader range of releases from artists both new and familiar to me than ever before, I didn’t find anything that quite hit the heights of Ignorance or Home Video this year. But that’s something of an impossible standard and, even if there were no life-changing instant classics, there were still plenty of records which I loved wholeheartedly. And because I apparently love making work for myself, I decided to write about 10 of them below.
In later posts before the end of the year, I’ll also discuss five individual songs from 2022 that stood out to me as well as five artists who didn’t release anything this year but who came to my attention for the first time in a major way. First, though, here are my 10 favourite albums released this year.
Life Is Yours – Foals
My latecomer’s love affair with Foals, begun last year, carried over into 2022 in force, and it was reinforced by their first record as a three-member outfit. Life Is Yours is quite different to much of their previous work, and certainly to the apocalyptic Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost duology that immediately preceded it. But this unapologetically sunny album is pitched squarely at capturing the post-vaccination joy of being able to reunite with friends and mine as much joy as possible out of life.
It’s not an album that I think stands toe-to-toe with the band’s best but it’s a welcome expansion to their range, with much more of a disco flavour than they’ve previously embraced and several massive bangers. It also stood up as an album to which I kept coming back, to different parts of it, over the course of the whole year. I loved the thrilling energy of lead single Wake Me Up, the blissed-out good vibes of the title track and the ravey bangers of 2am and Under the Radar.
Here Is Everything – The Big Moon
The Big Moon were one of my favourite artists that I discovered during the height of the pandemic, so it felt fitting that they delivered probably my favourite song to capture the post-vaccination feeling of getting back into the world. Wide Eyes, this album’s lead single, absolutely floored me in how well it encapsulated that euphoria of being able to share the company of my friends again – even if it’s as much about the birth of lead vocalist Jules Jackson’s baby as it is about leaving the house at last. It also has one of my favourite music videos ever, an ultra-heartwarming affair linked below.
Here Is Everything is more than just one great song, though. The record explores the story of Jackson’s journey into motherhood, from brilliant opener 2 Lines recounting the moment when she found out that she was pregnant all the way through to the delirium, stress, panic and wonder of her first few months post-birth. Jackson is a terrific lyricist, wry and utterly relatable, and the Big Moon as a whole are really coming into their own as purveyors of joyous, energetic indie-pop.
As I Try Not to Fall Apart – White Lies
I had more or less given up on keeping up with White Lies for a few years before the YouTube algorithm threw the first couple of tracks from 2022’s As I Try Not to Fall Apart at me at the start of this year. They’re a band who I always quite liked but who seemed determined not to fulfil their potential, consistently let down by their decidedly iffy lyrics despite Harry McVeigh’s soaring voice and their uplifting guitar-based sound.
But AITNTFA reignited my love for White Lies. It’s by no means a perfect album, or even one that completely solves their lyrical deficiencies, but it demonstrates a great deal of growth from when I’d last left off with them, and it soon had me filling in all the gaps in my knowledge of their work. The theatrical opening to first track Am I Really Going to Die is my favourite moment on the record, while signaling that time has done nothing to dim the band’s eternal preoccupation with the theme of death. I also got a kick out of the Elon Musk-bashing rocker I Don’t Want to Go to Mars, the slower and decidedly groovy Breathe, and the electrifying conclusion There Is No Cure for It. They may never be the band that I wanted them to become, but the White Lies that we have have become a much more confident and capable version of the them that they’ve always been.
Stained Glass Love (EP) – Telenova
Telenova are yet to release a full album – this EP is their second, a follow-up to last year’s also-excellent Tranquilize – but they already seem to be remarkably comfortable in their own sound. A slickly polished Australian indie-pop trio, they’ve honed in on a lush, cinematic aesthetic with production that strongly evokes the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack.
I bought this EP on the strength of dazzling dancey number Why Do I Keep You? and was astonished to find how well they kept up that level of quality across the record. From the murky, simmering groove and classy piano refrain that begin opener Scarlet to the urgent chorus of the titular finale that spirals into a beautifully shimmering, lose-yourself coda, it’s bangers all the way down. I cannot wait to see what they do next.
Painless – Nilufer Yanya
I liked Yanya’s 2019 debut, Miss Universe, quite a lot, even if at times its frenetic jumps from mood to mood and genre to genre felt a little bit too messy, especially when punctuated by skits about a demented healthcare company which I could have done without. But this follow-up record trims out the fat, delivering something which feels mature and focused.
There’s an undercurrent of anxiety running through the entire album, the tone set by the skittering drums that open impressive first track The Dealer. (Indeed, Yanya’s supporting players are on top form here – her nagging guitar rhythms are really complemented by some brilliant bass and drum work.) It’s full of meditations on how we’re shaped by not just our environments but our own ways of thinking about ourselves, with lyrics that frequently dip into mantra-like repetition that evokes a narrator trying to convince herself of things. The song that’s stuck with me most is Midnight Sun, a hypnotic groover about determination, but I expect to keep coming back to the record in full for quite some time.
Lucifer on the Sofa – Spoon
Spoon are known to kind of hate being associated with the word ‘consistent’ but it’s true: for over 20 years now, they simply have not missed. Even though I’m of the opinion that their previous two records, They Want My Soul and Hot Thoughts, are the band’s best work, it was still thrilling to hear them step a little bit back from those slightly synthier and more heavily produced albums for this one. Lucifer on the Sofa feels like a truly timeless slice of rock-and-roll.
If I have a criticism of the album, it’s that its second half struggles to live up to the momentum generated by the chunky, swaggering first. But any set of five tracks would have to do a lot right to match the fun of the likes of free-spirit’s anthem Wild, the boisterous and horn-boosted The Devil & Mr Jones, and snappy rocker The Hardest Cut. If you’ve not heard any Spoon before and you like guitar music even a little bit, then you owe it to yourself to try them out – and this back-to-basics record is a great place to start.
Two Ribbons – Let’s Eat Grandma
It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, who released their first record as teenagers and are now maturing before our ears into sophisticated pop storytellers who still know how to harness the youthful imagination that made such a big first impression. This, their third album, falls a little short of the mesmerising invention of 2018’s I’m All Ears but is suffused with truth, heartbreak and joy all the same.
Two Ribbons primarily reflects on two things: the deeply cruel death of Hollingworth’s boyfriend from bone cancer, and the realisation that the finish-each-other’s-sentences friendship between her and Walton had been fraying. It’s that damaged bond which gives the title track its name, a gorgeous and heartbreaking ballad that closes the record. It’s not a breakup record, though, as opener Happy New Year makes clear with its acceptance that things have changed but earnest vow to nurture their connection.
We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong – Sharon Van Etten
I will admit that, most of the time on this record, I have not the first clue as to exactly what Van Etten is talking about. I also don’t really mind. Taking a more impressionistic approach to lyrics than in her previous work (at least, compared to her previous two albums – I’m working my back through her discography slowly), she nevertheless conjures mood really spectacularly. Though it never references the pandemic, WBGATAW feels charged with the heightened fear, paranoia and need for closeness to loved ones that characterised lockdown for me.
Besides, when you have a voice as powerful as Van Etten does, you barely need your words to actually mean things. Often, it feels like she’ll use her choruses here as opportunities to cast aside the opaque imagery of the verses and make her point as plainly and simply as possible: the rousing I’ll Try and Come Back are not subtly named. But there’s contrast, as well: Mistakes, the album’s purest moment of happiness, is also its most lyrically accessible song which endearingly details the bond of a long-term romance.
Smiles of Earth – Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird
This Australian indie outfit are not yet at Wikipedia-entry-having levels of recognition which, in my view, is a crying shame. Probably the sunniest album I’ve heard all year, Smiles of Earth is a sumptuous and vaguely retro pop delight all about choosing to see the beauty in things.
Opener Gabriel’s Horn is a good litmus test for whether you’ll enjoy what’s to come; it’s a song with no mission other than to make you smile and, although it’s the most flat-out total party track on the record, if you find yourself under its spell then you’ll have no complaints about what follows. It’s another album with a particularly brilliant run of songs early on in the running order – favourites of mine include making-it-through-Covid anthem When This Is Over and Bluestone, about emerging from a period of grief and choosing to celebrate the way in which it has changed you.
Laurel Hell – Mitski
At the start of this year, I largely bounced off Mitski’s highly recommended 2018 album, Be the Cowboy, but I was sure that I must be missing something – she’s too well-liked by artists that I adore, and by people who love those same artists. Plus, that album’s massive standout track, Me and My Husband, was enough to convince me that Mitski could make a record that I’d love. She fixed that quickly with Laurel Hell; I guess that it turns out that what I needed all along was a dash of 80s-esque synth energy?
This energy is most apparent on album highlight The Only Heartbreaker, which belies its bubbly energy with the desperately sad lyrical perspective of the only person in a romantic partnership to be putting in the effort to keep it afloat. Stay Soft’s depiction of using sex to paper over the cracks in a damaged relationship occupies similar territory. Lyrically, though, I’m most entranced by songs like Working for the Knife and Love Me More, which explore Mitski’s fraught relationship with artistry itself and her own worryingly rabid fandom.