My Top 17 Albums of 2022
End-of-the-year music picks from a middle-aged dad
Here we go! My annual list (year 13!?) of my favorite albums released over the past 12 months.
Last year I realized that I was spending an awful lot of time agonizing over rankings for a list that nobody is really waiting for. So instead of worrying about which album is #2 vs. #3, I’m just listing my 17 favorites in no particular order.
Are these the biggest, critically-adored, objectively BEST albums of the year? (Shrug emoji.) Of course the Beyoncé and Taylor and Harry albums were amazing. You don’t need me to tell you that.
These were my favorites. The admittedly poppy preferences of a 50-something white guy whose musical taste is still overly influenced by the 80s synth and guitar pop of his youth.
Face the Wall — Jordana
Harkening back to the electro-pop alternative of the late 90s and early 00s (“Pressure Point,” which opens the album feels like heyday Imogen Heap), this is a remarkably self-assured album for a 21-year-old. Her ear for melody kept me coming back to this collection throughout the year. In addition to “Face the Wall,” she put out a solid EP called “I’m Doing Well, Thanks for Asking” late in the year and the one-two combo made it a very good 2022 for this young artist to watch.
Alpha Zulu — Phoenix
French indie rock stalwarts sound as fizzy as ever and this is probably their best since their 2009 breakout. (Also, does it get any more French than an album recorded at the Louvre?) Not sure there’s anything groundbreaking in this collection of electro pop rock, but also not sure anybody does it better than Phoenix. Every time I put this album on this year, it made me feel good.
New Girl — Jamie Drake
One of my favorite discoveries of the year. Drake evokes the sound of 1970s Laurel Canyon singer songwriters and gives this collection a timeless feel. The classic Getz/Gilberto albums were a huge inspiration for this album and the bossa nova runs strong throughout. But it’s her clear, vulnerable lyrics that make it extra compelling. “Is There Something Wrong With Me?” is one of my favorite tracks of the year — incredibly simple, plaintive and haunting.
Wet Leg — Wet Leg
The self-titled debut album is 36 minutes of high-energy fun. There’s a messy “we’re still figuring this out” quality to album that makes it one of indie rock’s most compelling this year. On tracks like “Angelica” and “UR Mum” there’s a “Missing Persons with guitars” vibe while others fuzz out on post-punk distortion. It’s an exciting debut that’s loaded with style and attitude.
LP3 — Hippo Campus
This band’s 2015 album made my top 10 when I called them “Vampire Weekend’s younger cousin” and the label still applies. But on LP3 they embrace a more electronic palette and glitch-pop weaves its way into many tracks. But their most successful songs, like “Understand” which closes the album, are when they don’t try to be too clever and just focus on great song craft.
five seconds flat — Lizzy McAlpine
A gorgeous album of folk-pop meets alternative-indie. McAlpine can tell a story and her lyricism hooks you as this collection tells a chronological story of love and loss. (It’s worth listening to it in order your first time through.) Her gorgeous voice doesn’t need a lot of adornment to keep you interested and the confident production of this album keeps her vocal front and center, where it belongs.
SPARK — Whitney
It’s the 2022 version of peek Bee-Gees (and that’s a compliment.) Blue-eyed soul with a slick synth background and falsetto melodies.
Further Joy — The Regrettes
Since they formed in 2015, The Regrettes have buried their poppier influences under a more “alternative” veneer. But as vocalist Lydia Night said when this album came out, “For ages, I was worried about proving something to the 50-year-old dads at the back of the room.” (Gulp. Talk about an indictment of me and my fellow Gen X dudes still obsessing about indie cred.) But I’m a 50-something dad that has zero qualms embracing power pop, so this unapologetic collection that evokes Paramore, Robyn, and Tegan and Sara is a real treat.
Tell Me That It’s Over — Wallows
The sophomore album from Wallows feels like Modern English meets Weezer with a dash of The 1975’s romanticism. Synth and strings and drum machines combine for a sweet indie-pop collection.
Second Nature — Lucius
I’ve been a big Lucius fan for years, so I have to confess that my early listens to “Second Nature” came with the baggage of my love for their earlier albums like 2013’s “Wildewoman.” It’s not that I didn’t dig the disco sheen of “Second Nature” (as is evident by the other picks on this list), but it felt like their gorgeous harmonies were punching down, compared to their previous work. But as I kept coming back to this album for repeat listens this year, I was able to hear it with fresher ears and appreciate it for what it is: a sparkly collection of dance floor pop.
From 2 to 3 — Peach Pit
There’s a rambling live-show quality to this album that perfectly suits lead singer Neil Smith’s warm warble. If you’re looking at this list and thinking, “John, I’m sick of all this electro pop shit, give me a real album with a band that you’d love if you saw them at a bar,” this is the one for you.
Uncanny Valley — COIN
The album art — a close-up of an outlet that suggest shock and confusion — is well chosen as this collection unspools a musical and lyrical debate between electronic and rock. The radio-friendly electro-pop of “Killing Me” is followed the 70s-flavored-guitar-riffs of “I Think I Met You In a Dream.” That the resulting album doesn’t feel completely schizophrenic is a testament to the band’s craft.
Are You Happy Now? — Jensen McRae
Given her voice, phrasing, and earnestness, comparisons to Tracy Chapman are inevitable but McRae doesn’t shy away from it. Her immense song-writing talent and vocal ability are on full display here.
Life is Yours — Foals
Long-time fans of Foals will likely have a love-hate relationship with this one as they go FULL DISCO. It’s doesn’t have quite the range or layers of some of their older albums, but you can’t deny the dance floor groves.
Half Life — CASTLEBEAT
Guitar-driven dream pop in the vein of The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, and Echo and the Bunnymen. While the lead singer may not have the distinctive character of a Morrissey or Robert Smith, the guitar groove will take you right back to the 80s.
WHO CARES? — Rex Orange County
OK, this one’s complicated, and I debated its inclusion, right up until the moment I hit “publish” on this piece. It was absolutely one of my favorite albums of the year; I played it a lot after it was released in March. But a few months ago, the singer was accused of sexual assault. He denied the charges and the case was set to go to trial in January. Then, just a few days ago, the case was dropped and the singer put out a statement maintaining his innocence. Without getting into the facts of this particular case, it’s another example of “can you separate the art from the artist?” that pops up a lot, these days. It’s a complicated question; one that’s been discussed and debated by many more eloquent and erudite than me.
Agency SOS Theme Song Covers — Various
This is bald self-promotion, but it is MY list, after all. When I opened Agency SOS in 2021, we made a theme song to explain our name. This past June, to celebrate our one-year anniversary, we invited to bunch of people to record cover versions in a variety of styles: country, bossa nova, heavy metal, and more. The results were freakin’ delightful and you can listen to them all here. Jawnii-Abhi wrote the original AND this year’s Part 2 (which my family and I may have sung more than any other song this year.)
Other 2022 Honorable Mentions: Mello Moon by Alfie Templeman, Inside Problems by Andrew Bird, Emotional Creature by Beach Bunny, Friendly Fire by Ben Abraham, We Were Never Lost by Causeway, People in Motion by Dayglow, Chloe and the Next 20th Century by Father John Misty, Texas Moon by Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, Water Your Garden by Magic City Hippies, Formentera by Metric, AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS by MICHELLE, Bronco by Orville Peck, Pool Kids by Pool Kids, Asha’s Awakening by Raveena, Spirit Mission by Sure Sure, Expert in a Dying Field by The Beths, Keep on Smiling by Two Door Cinema Club, and Night Drive by VHS Collection
As always, I encourage you to BUY your favorite albums of the year and support the musicians who made the music you love. For those that stream, here’s a Spotify playlist with one song from each of my faves listed above.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Kovacevich is a writer and creative director based in San Francisco.