It doesn’t seem quite right to call 2022 so far a “normal” year — as far as the music world goes, bands are still being routinely sidelined on tour by Covid as they attempt to make up for the financial devastation of the last few years. But the first several months of 2022 have had the feel of a dam that’s been busted, as scores of records from top-flight artists have dropped nearly every week.
Not only are there more albums, it seems, but the albums themselves are more. Double LPs have gone from a rare indulgence to a new normal in practically every genre. After years of being cooped up, artists are unleashing songs by the armful as they tentatively head back on the road.
In a year of supersized music, it makes sense for my mid-year list to also be super-sized. I finally settled on 22 favorites that I wanted to stump for, though even that might be inadequate. If “normal” doesn’t fit 2022 in terms of the myriad disasters still wreaking havoc in the world, it also doesn’t suit the extraordinary artistic output we’ve witnessed so far this year.
This list — which is ordered alphabetically — represents just a small sliver of the brilliance being served up during what could ultimately be the best musical year in some time.
Big Thief, New Warm Dragon I Believe In You
So much of the pleasure of listening to this masterful album — if this list were ranked, this would be at No. 1 — comes from appreciating the subtle and delicate ways in which Big Thief works and plays together, whether it’s the excellent jam that closes “Little Things,” the surprisingly heavy rock groove that subsumes “Flower Of Blood,” or the way Buck Meek’s voice rises to harmonize with Adrianne Lenker on the chorus of the stunning love song “12000 Lines.” When it came out in February, I called it a masterpiece. I haven’t wavered from that, and I doubt I will by year’s end.
Caracara, New Preoccupations
My favorite “shiny guitar” album of the half-year. Produced by “shiny guitar” aficionado Will Yip, New Preoccupations has been described by this Philly band as a druggy album about recovery, which you sense from the charged, blurred sonics and the scarred but hopeful lyrics. But, admittedly, my relationship with this record isn’t quite that deep. I love how New Preoccupations relentlessly targets my ’90s alt-rock pleasure centers. I refer specifically to the post-grunge half of the decade, when bands like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty shed the sludge and went straight for soaring hooks.
Dehd, Blue Skies
I got into this Chicago trio after becoming entranced by their breakthrough third record, 2020’s Flower Of Devotion. While they can be broadly labeled as a post-punk band, Dehd doesn’t fall into the usual clichés of that subgenre — there are no monotone, talky vocals that wryly deconstruct the low-key madness of modern existence. This band is way too romantic for that. There’s a reason why so many critics namecheck Roy Orbison and The Cure when describing them — they specialize in jangly, reverb-heavy fatalism that earns the melodrama of the lyrics by putting you squarely in their goth-kid frame of mind.
While the lyrics contain some of the darkest lines of Dan Bejar’s career — so dark that Bejar talks about “the singer” on this record in the third person — the music grooves hard, drawing on an unlikely but somehow compatible combination of influences drawn from techno and rave cultures as well as gloomily catchy ’80s English alt-rock bands like New Order and The Cure. It’s similar to the musical palettes utilized on 2017’s Ken and 2019’s Have We Met — Bejar considers Labyrinthitis the concluding part of a trilogy with those records — but on the new album there’s a greater feeling of exuberance. It surely is the most danceable music Destroyer has yet made.
Father John Misty, Chloë And The Next 20th Century
If an FJM album drops and there isn’t a polarizing press tour to go with it, does that album make a sound? I’ll admit I’m still getting used to this era of Father John Mum. But it feels appropriate for his most recent batch of songs. Rather than write about the familiar swaggering anti-hero that was his persona on the first four albums, Josh Tillman has instead focused on his other made-up characters — the titular “borough socialist” Chloë, a striving entertainment biz creative named Simone, the actress known as Funny Girl, an unnamed pair of ex-lovers who are reunited by their recently deceased cat Mr. Blue. It’s as much a collection of short stories as it is a record.
Good Looks, Bummer Year
I don’t think I’ve played a song more in the first half of the year than the opening track from this album, “Almost Automatic,” which is precisely the sort of small town-minded heartland rock I am comically predisposed to loving. Only people don’t make this kind of heartland rock anymore, which is the way the genre was understood in the 1980s. (In other words, it sounds more like the BoDeans than “Boys Of Summer.”) Suiting their Texas roots, this is likely the only indie rock record from 2022 that includes a song that expresses empathy for Trump voters.
Guerilla Toss, Famously Alive
Bands like this used to be more common in the late aughts and early 2010s, an era in which arty punk bands combined pop with noise to create dance music for drug-fueled hipsters. Perhaps if the indie-sleaze revival is truly a thing, bands like this will become a thing again. Though there’s not much of a sleaze factor with the deliriously fun Famously Alive — Guerilla Toss are guileless, not irony-damaged, and the party they throw on this record feels inclusive and powered by joy for joy’s sake.
Gang Of Youths, Angel In Realtime
If 2017’s Go Farther In Lightness was this Australian’s band’s Joshua Tree — the fearlessly earnest collection of guitar-based spirituals rooted in an unending desire for transcendence — then perhaps the follow-up is their Achtung Baby. An album in which beat-heavy, danceable, and often ecstatic music acts as a shield for blood-and-guts, dark-night-of-the-soul introspection. An intimate confession made to sound loud enough to engulf the entire world.
MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs
The reference points for this album — early Wilco, “ditch” era Neil Young, all periods of Jason Molina — might seem pretty standard for an alt country-leaning singer-songwriter. But as is the case with his regular band, the rising North Carolina twangy shoegaze outfit Wednesday, Lenderman has a way of taking the familiar in new and refreshingly irreverent directions, like in the song “Dan Marino,” which references the former Miami Dolphins quarterback and an obscure quote from The Last Waltz over a lo-fi guitar rumble that sounds like side two of Tonight’s The Night.
Angel Olsen, Big Time
I’ve long admired Angel Olsen’s music without ever completely falling for it … until this record. Working with co-producer Jonathan Wilson, Olsen has wedded some of her heaviest songs — the album was inspired by the recent deaths of both of her parents — with the most ravishing music of her career. Retaining the rustic and retro Laurel Canyon vibe of Wilson’s work with Father John Misty and adding a generous dose of twang, Big Time is a beautiful psychedelic country record with a grief-stricken heart. It somehow floats and sinks simultaneously.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Endless Rooms
The wonder of this Australian band’s consistently great output is how they find new ways to package the same elements — brisk riffs, mile-a-minute drums, pogoing bass lines — into insistently tuneful guitar-pop gems. While I remain partial to their breakout 2017 EP The French Press, I’m starting to think that their latest effort might be their best. The problem with this band is that I tend to think that whichever record I’ve heard most recently is their best. Like fellow Aussies AC/DC, these guys just make the same record over and over. But it’s always a really good record, so I’m really just complimenting their top-notch quality control.
Say Sue Me, The Last Thing Left
The melancholy bop of The Last Thing Left has soundtracked my late spring, as I’m a sucker for taking walks in the fresh air while taking in trebly guitars and alluringly doleful vocals. Sumi Choi — Say Sue Me’s singer, guitarist, and songwriter — really is the star of the show here, striking a perfect balance of knowing sorrow and ingratiating charm on songs that zip in and out before the heartache can set in. If you’ve grown impatient while waiting for a new Alvvays record, this album will be a salve.
The Smile, A Light For Attracting Attention
The highly anticipated side project from Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood presents itself as the most un-Radiohead-like of propositions — a guitar-driven power trio! — that happens to sound, tantalizingly, like a version of Radiohead that Radiohead no longer is apparently interested in being. Given the dearth of actual Radiohead albums since A Moon Shaped Pool, it’s almost too easy to regard A Light For Attracting Attention as the next best thing, a kind of musical methadone for Kid A nation.
Sooner, Days And Nights
One of my favorite debuts of 2022’s first half is this straightforward but very pleasurable amalgam of shoegaze and dream pop. Aren’t there already a lot of amalgams of shoegaze and dream pop in the contemporary indie rock scene? Yes. But most of them can’t touch the songwriting on Days And Nights or the quality of Federica Tassano’s vocals, which sail through the tangle of noise and blissed-out guitars like dry ice in a Cocteau Twins music video.
String Machine, Hallelujah Hell Yeah
This Pittsburgh band evokes the earnest emotionalism and large-band arrangements of the mid-aughts, when legions of bands with untenably large lineups attempted to make their versions of Funeral. But whereas most of those groups collapsed under the weight of their outsized pretensions — including Arcade Fire themselves — Hallelujah Hell Yeah is full of sunny melodies and insistent hooks that go down easy. At just 27 minutes, it’s the kind of album that you feel compelled to spin again immediately once it’s over.
Sharon Van Etten, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Three years after her most overt rock record, 2019’s Remind Me Tomorrow, one of indie’s most reliable singer-songwriters finds a way to balance her recent aggressiveness (particularly on the flinty “Headspace”) with the familiar sensitivity of her early work. With an artist as dependable as Van Etten, it’s easy to take a record like We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong for granted. It’s “merely” another very good release from a very good artist. But it continues to hit harder and deeper with each listen.
Kurt Vile, (Watch My Moves)
In the 2010s, Vile earned comparisons to classic rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty thanks to durably hooky indie hits like “Baby’s Arms,” “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” and “Pretty Pimpin.” But lately, he’s favored dreamier grooves and free-floating arrangements that let songs drift for several minutes, as if lost in a stoned reverie. The languid epics of 2018’s Bottle It In signaled this change in direction, and (Watch My Moves) fortifies it.
Wednesday, Mowing The Leaves Instead Of Piling ‘Em Up
This North Carolina band — which includes the previously mentioned MJ Lenderman — is quickly becoming one of the fascinating roots-leaning indie acts. This covers album speaks to their uncommon range and ambition — country legends Roger Miller and Gary Stewart commingle with The Wipers’ Greg Sage and Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins. (Finally some justice for “Perfect.”) But my favorite tracks meet somewhere in the middle of those poles — the garage-rock take on Drive-By Truckers’ “Women Without Whiskey” and the gorgeous meltdown of Chris Bell’s immortal “I Am The Cosmos,” which just might be my new favorite version of that classic.
The Weeknd, Dawn FM
Back in January, I called my new favorite album by The Weeknd the record of 2022. That was certainly ill-advised, given that there were still another 11 months to go in the year at that point. But for now, I’ll stand behind it. There are possibly two or three albums I like better, but Dawn FM is so massive and seductive that I’m certain that this “Big ’80s” ear candy with a morbid undertow will come to define how we remember this year in retrospect. The highest compliment I can pay Dawn FM is that even the spoken-word tracks are worth hearing.
Wet Tuna, Warping All By Yourself
Matt Valentine is one of the modern masters of the intersection of indie rock and jam band music. While he’s best known for the group MV & EE, he’s lately been putting out music under the name Wet Tuna, taking a psych-rock approach to ’70s funk and jazz fusion. The third Wet Tuna album, Warping All By Yourself, is the best realization yet of this aesthetic. If you dig Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Songs In The Key of Life-era Stevie Wonder, and the funkiest and most coked-out disco elements of late ’70s Grateful Dead, you will enjoy this.
Wilco, Cruel Country
Now that we’re 20 years removed from Wilco’s ultimate “we’re not alt-country” mike drop, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy is more comfortable than ever with adopting country signifiers on Cruel Country. Enter Nels Cline, iconic indie-noise guitarist and (who knew?) accomplished country picker, whose plays like Don Rich with a Glenn Branca edge on “Falling Apart (Right Now).” And Tweedy follows suit, adopting a slyly funny lyrical voice on the record’s twangiest numbers. “Once I cut off my arm / I sewed it back on all wrong / Now I don’t have to bend / To reach the bottom shelf / When I need a story to tell,” he croons in “Story To Tell,” reviving the loopy John Prine-style humor of early Wilco classics like “Passenger Side” that he largely abandoned on subsequent records.
Nilüfer Yanya, Painless
This buzzy British singer-songwriter was a breakout artist back in 2019, thanks to an eclectic amalgam of influences suggesting that Yanya ultimately wanted to fuse the slinky grace of Sade with the sort of chunky and lovably punk anthems associated with Blink-182 and Libertines. On Painless, she continues to mix and match different styles and vibes, with strikingly vivid results. On stunning songs like “Stabilise” and “Midnight Sun,” she channels mid-period Radiohead through the lens of ecstatically dark-hued millennial pop.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.