50. Crippled Black Phoenix – Banefyre
2022! What a year, huh? It feels like the tide has finally washed ashore all those records that were created during that long hibernation period that was the Covid pandemic. Crippled Black Phoenix are no different, and Banefyre‘s one hour and a half running time is good proof that the British squad have done their homework. Now with full-time singer Joel Segerstedt sharing vocal duties with Belinda Kordic instead of featured singers (which was a great idea by the way!), the band struck back this year with a behemoth of an album. Banefyre sounds BIG and mighty, all without losing the Phoenix’s prowess for mesmerizing melodies and suspenseful build-ups that have become the band’s seal. This is, no doubt, an imposing album — but also an incredibly rewarding experience if you have the time and the will to let it flood your senses. And I know you do; otherwise, why would you be reading this list in the first place?! –Dewinged
49. Orville Peck – Bronco
“Consensus” means that I have to write about my personal album of the year as if it belongs in the 49th spot. Bronco sands down the weirder edges of Orville Peck’s debut album in favor of grandiose songwriting that makes full use of Peck’s vocal range. His voice is powerful enough to excel both in the quieter moments of “Curse of the Blackened Eye” and “City of Gold” as well as the melodrama of “Lafayette” and album standout “Let Me Drown”. I’d call Bronco the singalong album of the year, and it is, but it’s so good that the qualifier isn’t needed. It’s just the album of the year (ignore the #49). –Channing Freeman
48. Caracara – New Preoccupations
“Ohio”, one of the best songs on Caracara’s New Preoccupations, features the line “I remember when you became more than just the sum of all your parts.” This line is an apt descriptor from the newest offering for a band that can best be described, no matter how generic and disarming a term it is, as alternative rock, while also being so much more. Their album transitions them from being an “emo band” (whatever that means in the year 2022) to, well, still an emo band — but also a band that produces rollicking rockers, thoughtful indie tracks, and even some poppier cuts. There is nothing here that is overtly unique, but there is also not a band that I can think of that sounds like Caracara. They have nearly mastered the art of being just different enough in their songwriting, whether it be the syncopated percussion or the vocal lines that seem to be going one way but have an unexpected swerve that makes them perfect. You never know where they might go, as evidenced by the one-two punch of “Song for Montana Wildhack” into “Strange Interactions in the Night” (easily one of the best songs of the year). New Preoccupations is far from perfect, but it is one of the albums that I have found myself returning to throughout the year, as it offers comfort and also keeps you asking what may come next. –Mathias
47. JID – The Forever Story
A couple turns of the moon before The Forever Story dropped, another armchair aficionado and myself were locked deep in conversation, a late night haze eclipsing the need to communicate in modesty. We agreed that between JID’s frequently fascinating flows, infinitely impressive intonations, and slight scarcity of substance (eek!) he was about as dope as a guilty pleasure could get.
JID proved us thoroughly wrong two months later when he dropped a record so accomplished that it put him in an entirely different conversation. Given Sputnik’s rather mi[l]d hip-hop proclivities, you can comfortably ignore what might seem an unflattering spot on this list — The Forever Story is probably the best mainstream hip-hop release of the year, representing the death of JID the Rapper, and the birth of JID the Artist. –MiloRuggles
46. Bjork – Fossora
The last couple Bjork albums have been beautiful, but much softer and subtler than her most popular works. So Fossora was an exciting twist — so much so that it was lost on many fans. Many parts of this album sound “wrong” or “dissonant” (heavy emphasis on those quotation marks) and as a result, it’s challenging, and I don’t really blame anyone who isn’t a fan. If you are willing to keep trying, though, this is a meaningful, difficult project, representing all the pride and pain of motherhood, from the perspective of both the mother and the daughter. It stretches through numerous deeply uncomfortable emotions by exploring genres from gabber to clarinet-based choral folk, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t be an easy listen. But I promise it’s very, very rewarding. If you don’t trust me, trust the artist who gave you Homogenic, Vespertine, Vulnicura, Post, etc. At this point, she’s earned it. –Kirk Bowman
45. Makaya McCraven – In These Times
Makaya McCraven, beater of beats, maker of motifs, orchestrator of awfully many instrumental palettes — that same Makaya McCraven responsible for this fine record has such a deft sense for band chemistry and understated, all-important grooves that his small army of collaborators folded together with nothing short of an impressario’s touch. Under the loose banner of jazz, an entire pleasure house’s worth of unlikely bedfellows mills through his compositions with fleeting grace: luxuriant sitar twangs are underpinned by surf guitar on “Dream Another”, while “Seventh String” pairs McCraven’s most restless beat against his most serene orchestral arrangement. As many have remarked one way or another, In These Times‘ myriad influences and instruments serve far more as new hinges for new doors than as barricades of intertext.
For McCraven, this pans out as a fully-realised statement of his intent, vision, and outer boundaries as an inter-generationally minded disciple of jazz, composition and cultural exchange, years in the making; for the rest of us, it’s a delightfully polyvalent enterprise, approachable from pretty much any civilised angle you throw at it. In my experience, this has yielded unpredictable results: when I turned to the record for a stately comedown following a late-night experiment with the aphrodisiac properties of moonlit thermos coffee (firmly endorsed), only to find my buzzing synapses all but magnetised to the outrageously infectious marimba pentatonics of surprise highlight “So Ubuji”. Fast forward four hours, and I was forced awake by nerves searing from caffeine-burnout and brain ablaze with incessant playbacks of that same marimba loop at what felt like every shred of hungover overdrive my subconscious could muster — do not under any circumstances underestimate the power of a good motif. Makaya McCraven has cooked up a batch of the good stuff with this record: treat it with respect or prepare to be taken for a ride… –JohnnyoftheWell
44. Sumerlands – Dreamkiller
In an interview with rocking.gr, guitarist (and of late, producer extraordinaire) Arthur Rizk admitted that he seriously considered dissolving Sumerlands relatively soon after 2016’s namesake album release. It wasn’t that the Philadelphians were meant to be the most active band in the world or that their brooding rendition of Ozzy Osbourne’s Jake E. Lee period/’80s hard rocking metal didn’t work (quite the opposite). Instead, oblivion neared when vocalist Philip Swanson decided to take a break from musical endeavours altogether. In doing so, however, Swanson compelled his bandmates to carry on and sharpen their axes while searching for the vocalist that would lead them into the future. Six years later — in what felt like an eternity — Sumerlands have returned with Brendan Radigan as frontman and an album that retains a fair bit of the darkness and melancholy of old while adding a fresh coat of paint onto the legacy of outfits like Scorpions, Dokken and Foreigner. –Voivod
43. Somewhere South of Here – Leave Me for the Crows
I am livid that Silversun Pickups snatched up an album title as good as Physical Thrills before Somewhere South of Here could get to it; the latter band’s inaugural full-length Leave Me For the Crows is as physically thrilling as accessible, angsty guitar pop has been since… shit, maybe WORRY.? Where many of their contemporaries furtively wallow in neurotic inner monologues to maintain their man-on-the-edge intensity, the motor city quartet (led by Sputnikmusic regular Jordan “PitchforkArms” Wagel) do that while ALSO sharpening up their alt-punk fundamentals and letting their succinct, hard-hitting melodies speak for themselves. From the vintage Promise Ring bounce of opener “July” to the spacious Clarity-isms of “Opposite Shores”, Wegel’s beer-stained battlecry and drummer Austin Vicars’ bold metalweight grooves make for a tight and satisfying set that ably expands on a canon with seemingly few stones left unturned. –Nic Renshaw
42. The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field
Everything about The Beths seems calculated to make you approach their music as simple comfort food. It’s all no-frills production, snappy hooks, Belle & Sebastian-esque harmonies and Elizabeth Stokes’ adorable accent — it’s low-calorie crunchy guitar rock, an amenable way to spend 45 minutes and then move on, right? Don’t be fooled by the first impression, listener: there’s plenty of comfort to be found in the embrace of Expert in a Dying Field, but it comes with a surprising bite. This album is a warm hug from a long-lost friend that lasts a little longer than it should, asking you if you’re getting enough sleep with that look in their eye that makes you know there’s no point acting like everything’s fine.
Under that cheery surface is an album driven by Stokes’ acute knack for striking right at the heart of whatever social dysfunction or painfully relatable anxiety she chooses to write about. This ranges from the last moments of a dying relationship (“Expert in a Dying Field”, “Your Side” and “2am” to start with), a brutal dose of social anxiety (“I Told You That I Was Afraid”), even a dalliance with suicidal ideation and nihilism (the year-best tune “Head in the Clouds”). Without ever treading into maudlin or overwrought territory, Stokes states the plain with bullseye accuracy every time, a trait which, when combined with her inexhaustible supply of golden hooks, continues to crystallise her status as one of indie music’s best songwriters. It’s there in the way she sums up a generational malaise in about ten words: “But here I go again, mixing drinks and messages”, the way the addictive semi-rapped prechorus on “When You Know You Know” just melts into the album’s most honey-sweet hook, the way “2am” snatches up images so common in music as to be borderline cliché (the late night conversation, the glow of headlights) and repurposes them to devastating effect. So when she cheekily nabs the main refrain from perhaps the most famous song of all time — “How does it feel?” — in the title track, I like to imagine Bob Dylan listening along and giving an almost imperceptible nod of approval, certain his lyrics are safe in the hands of pop’s most assured, intuitive songwriter of the day. –Rowan5215
41. Wake – Thought Form Descent
In a genre where revivalism is accepted almost as a stylistic inevitability, Canadian hybrid shapeshifters Wake have proven once again that there are still new trails to blaze if only we dare to look ahead, or, better yet, if we know how to read and express the present. While not necessarily avant-garde, Thought Form Descent embodies this contemporary spirit, blending a myriad of influences into an electrifying multi-layered modern formula that is as atmospheric as it is restless and furious. It’s a product of its time, if you will, that solidifies Wake as one of today’s most exciting extreme metal collectives. –Fernando Alves
40. Zach Bryan – American Heartbreak
Zach Bryan’s admittedly indulgent American Heartbreak came at what seemed to be the perfect moment for me this year, dropping right before an isolated camping trip with two longtime friends. It’s a massive, feel-good country album that just hits better on a long car drive — or right before a hike through the woods. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was for it to dominate my overall listening experience for 2022. With a hefty 34 tracks, the daring triple album is practically begging for deeper exploration. I’d advise against front to back listening in one sitting, however. Put this beast on shuffle during your calmest windows of opportunity. Each song on American Heartbreak feels like its own mini adventure, inspiring with ease during those in-between moments we take for granted.
Once I started taking these bite-sized portions out of Zach Bryan’s sprawling major label debut, I was simply hooked. There’s not a week that’s gone by where American Heartbreak hasn’t resonated with me on some level. Whether it’s the impressive guitar manipulation, Bryan’s shapeshifting croons and howls, or the reflective sadboi lyrics, it’s an album that somehow manages to make you feel smaller and bigger at the same time. This is the kind of immensely passionate songwriting that can only come from the most stirring personal experiences, such as the Oklahoma native’s seven years served in the navy. One doesn’t have to guess the amount of beauty and despair he’s witnessed; it’s apparent throughout his charged, gravelly tone. What is kind of amazing is how he refuses to hold back even a single drop of his energy and hunger for life. Gleefully over the top, poignant, and — beyond all, wildly adventurous — it’s safe to say American Heartbreak is American as fuck. –Atari
38 (tie). Lorna Shore – Pain Remains
While I’m neither a deathcore expert nor a diehard fan of the genre, there are a couple bands whose DNA is genetically close to the music I tend to gravitate towards — namely those with more solid heavy metal foundations, or at least, heavier than the genre next door. In the case of New Jersey quintet Lorna Shore, it is their ability to build catchy soundscapes out of melody and (core-ish) aggression that most appeals to me. Almost as if heaviness was merely a pretext to expose harmony and neo-classical arrangements befitting of an irreverent, yet educated, suburban collective. “Soulless Existence” and the “Pain Remains” trilogy are prime examples of this eclectic mindset and a reminder to all sleepers that the genre has a new king in town… and from what I can see, he’ll be around for a while. –Fernando Alves
38 (tie). 40 Watt Sun – Perfect Light
The life of a critic is simple and unfulfilling. We are tempted down musty, overwrought cognitive corridors in an attempt to assert tastemaking dominance, consequently pushing art that’s probably best defined by its zeitgeisty pizzazz and latent potential for stuffy discourse.
Perfect Light ain’t that. It’s music that strikes at the soul. Of course, it’s thoughtful in its own way, and mortarboarded enthusiasts will have fun poking and prodding at its form and attempting to implement some novel taxonomy to account for its canny collision of acoustic doom [metal] and slowcore. It’s cool stuff, but the overwhelming allure here is that listening to Perfect Light will improve your day much like petting a dog or receiving a compliment or biting into a perfect sausage roll might. Nice, right?
This innate and instinctual appeal has me wholly enamoured, and I hereby bestow upon Perfect Light — prepare the cherubs for descent, be wary of their flight paths when you pop the champagne — the humble privilege of being my personal favourite album of the year. Let it lift you up some time. –MiloRuggles
37. White Ward – False Light
I’ve been a fairly dedicated fan of White Ward since their debut LP, Futility Report. That album’s tinges of horror manage to creep me out in ways that a lot of extreme metal releases seem to aspire to, but rarely achieve. Meanwhile, the group’s follow-up, Love Exchange Failure, leaned into a “city at night” vibe while still manipulating the interplay between black metal and dark jazz. In summary, those were two very praiseworthy records, but each stood out distinctly by providing a notable “feel” to the listener.
Against that backdrop, the Ukrainians’ third album is a bit strange to write about. There’s a sort of disconnect between the two predominant factors I feel about it: first, that it’s White Ward’s finest release to date, and second, that — in contrast to the previous two full-lengths — it’s hard to attribute a particular atmosphere to False Light. To reconcile this, I’d say that this album feels like a “streamlining” of White Ward’s signature genre influences into a cohesive whole with a near-complete mastery of their material. In music criticism, to say something is “streamlined” typically is at least a veiled complaint, an accusation that something has been reduced down to its basics for broader appeal, losing some of the nuances which made it worthwhile in the first place. In this case, though, it just doesn’t feel like the band crafted False Light to soundtrack a particular mood or scene, like their first two efforts. Instead, they just aimed to create the quintessential White Ward album, and let the listener derive whatever meaning feels right from the results.
In my case, what meaning I’ve derived is ambiguous. As mentioned, False Light lacks a palpable sense of atmosphere, something which typically is a major turnoff for my musical preferences. But, ultimately, the results speak for themselves: this record has been steadily part of my listening rotation since its release, and my enjoyment of it has never waned. Wearing its over-an-hour runtime impressively, at turns stately and ferocious, False Light is a masterwork of White Ward’s seasoned genre blend. –Sunnyvale
36. Darkher – The Buried Storm
Face it, naysayers: Chelsea Wolfe has made fetch happen. The Sargent House maven’s brand of breathable synth-folk-doom dirge laced with wailing, mournful vocals is now a mini-wave in and of itself, and as the girls are separated from the women, The Buried Storm has me feeling fairly optimistic about Jayne Maiven(9/10 goth name)’s very own Darkher(7/10 goth name) taking said wave in an entertaining direction. First and foremost, Maiven’s got some serious chops as a producer, and The Buried Storm‘s emphasis on post-rocky slow builds and dramatic, cello-assisted denouements gives her ample reason to show she can delicately partition clarity and weight amongst a wide array of elements, or swirl her vocal reverb into elegant, ghostly wisps without letting it dissolve into mush. Quibble as you may over the individual value of a less firmly anchored folk excursion like “Unbound”, but the big haymakers (“Lowly Weep” and “Immortals” — ooooh, “Immortals”) land so hard and so cleanly that you’ll need the respite. –Nic Renshaw
35. Riot City – Electric Elite
No matter how brilliant a band is, it is nearly impossible to reinvent the wheel in a time when almost everything has already been done in traditional heavy metal. Canadian act Riot City turned a lot of (metal)heads with their debut, but their follow-up record is an improvement in every way. It’s rare for an album to grab you by the balls and not let go, but Electric Elite does just that: it reeks of ’80s heavy metal excess in every possible way and, quite frankly, that’s a big part of its appeal. Fans of Riot’s Thundersteel or those looking for a sped-up version of Screaming for Vengeance will love jamming this speed/heavy metal hybrid. The term “modern classic” gets tossed around fairly easily these days, and while I doubt that Electric Elite will endure as long as the classics, it’s undeniably one of the strongest heavy metal albums in recent memory — and arguably the best of 2022. –manosg
34. Willi Carlisle – Peculiar, Missouri
Peculiar, Missouri is a lot of things, the kind of tour-de-force that manages to bring together offhand name-drops of Elon Musk with recitations of Carl Sandburg poems, not to mention a thoughtful lamentation of life as a closeted small town gay man and a cover of a dusty ’70s folk song. It’s earnest and passionate, sad and (occasionally) quite funny. The record evades “classic” status for me due to its tendency to zig-and-zag whenever it seems to be settling into the perfect groove, but that quirky spirit is part of the album’s peculiar (see what I did there) charm. In its best moments, Willi Carlisle has provided us with some of the finest tunes in any genre to emerge this year, and even in the weaker intervals, it’s quite clear that Peculiar, Missouri is one of the more creative and colorful releases in the current era of country and country-adjacent music. –Sunnyvale
33. Domestic Terminal – All The Stories Left To Tell
At some point last summer, All The Stories Left To Tell turned into my go-to “I’m happy!”-album. This is somewhat surprising considering the fact that it is neither a very happy nor a very happy-sounding album; in fact, it is riddled with anxieties, uncertainties, and contemplative instrumentals. In spite of this, Domestic Terminal’s simply excellent songwriting combined with my ears absorbing these songs during some of the happiest moments of my life was enough for the music to transcend its sadness. Moreover, the lyrical depth and absolutely sickening amount of beautiful metaphors affords the record its longevity: nowadays, I can turn to it for introspection and joy alike. From the warm, twinkly invitations of “Purple Envelope” to “Koi Pond”‘s expansive subtleties and the absolute SOTY-contender-isms of “Summit”, the album embodies a… summit worth ascending? Yeah, no, if you want pretty words, happy memories, and lovely songs you should probably just be listening to All The Stories Left To Tell instead of reading this. It’ll leave you with lots of storie… yeah, never mind. –Jesper L.
32. Counterparts – A Eulogy For Those Still Here
As I grow older I find myself more drawn to the familiar. It’s easy to get bogged down by the mundanity of life, stressed out about bills and where the fuck your life is going into your 30s. With these feelings weighing down on me, sometimes all I need is to talk to an old friend, get my go-to meal at my favorite restaurant, or put on some fucking Counterparts. After hundreds of listens over the past twelve years, Counterparts’ music is so familiar that I swear I don’t even need to listen to A Eulogy For Those Still Here. I could have just slapped a 4.5 on it and gone about my life knowing that it’s great and largely similar to their other work. But that would not have done justice to Brendan and the boys, to Kyle, the smoothest drummer in the game. I have to try to digest A Eulogy For Those Still Here academically and really appreciate the songwriting, the craft, and how they manage to fit like eight guitar riffs into one song. Counterparts have outlasted countless metalcore bands that had to start rapping or throwing in electronic breakdowns to stay relevant, and I respect that they’ve stuck to their guns. Or maybe I don’t have to think about this so hard. Maybe I can just put A Eulogy For Those Still Here on, be comfortable, and be drawn back into that familiar place. Counterparts can take me back to 2011, The Current Will Carry Us, and a time when the future was bright and all I had to worry about was school and love interests. I think I will bask in the familiarity on offer by Counterparts. It sure as hell beats staring at my dwindling bank account and receding hairline. –Trebor.
31. Cult of Luna – The Long Road North
Approaching a Cult of Luna album feels like standing on the shore with a tsunami moving towards you. You are aware and can prepare yourself for its inevitable sonic strength, but it will still engulf you all the same. The Swedish post metal group have perfected their technique of blending gargantuan riffs, scorching vocals, immense build-ups and the occasional ambient interlude respite in such a smooth way that a 70-minute journey can play as one massive, yet exquisite tune. This is the case on their latest effort, The Long Road North, which embodies all the sonic experiments the band have developed during the past decade and dropped on to the listener like an asteroid on the face of the Earth. The atmosphere this odyssey conjures to match the songs’ topics and moods wraps around you like a thick fog — right from the opening, raging highlight “Cold Burn”, and simply becoming darker and icier until suffocating you during the final moments of “Blood Upon Stone”. In between these two highlights, each chapter of the story adds a different layer to this ultimately cinematic record. At this point, Cult of Luna are operating in a league of their own, breaking new barriers in terms of scope and intensity without making it a chore to play through. –Raul Stanciu