Another year wraps up and as usual, I’m sharing my favorite albums. I don’t know if it’s just me but I felt like this was an excellent year for music. Some of my favorite artists came out with new records, many of which were sounding fresher than they have in years. I’ve also discovered several new artists (well, at least they’re new to me) and I’ve been happily surprised with the quality I’m seeing, including artists from the genres of country and pop. I honestly had a hard time narrowing down my list this time, but I was able to pick 10 albums that stood out to me as my core favorites for the year; ones that I kept coming back to.
But before I jump into the top ten, let me share my honorable mentions. These are albums I listened to and enjoyed but for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the top ten album list for me:
- The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
- Pool Kids – Pool Kids
- Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
- Delta Spirit – One Is One
- Two Door Cinema Club – Keep On Smiling
- Jack Johnson – Meet The Moonlight
- Mitski – Laurel Hell
- Wilco – Cruel Country
- The Lumineers – Brightside
- Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
So, with that said, let’s jump in and countdown my top ten albums of the year.
10. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
This is the 6th album from this New Jersey musician. She’s an excellent songwriter, creating heartfelt, sincere lyrics and melodies that float to unexpected places. The production is filled with atmosphere and dense instrumentation, borrowing from 80s artists like Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins. But really her strength is in her angelic, beautiful voice. If shifts between sounding heart broken and beaten down by the world to soaring heights of bliss, which is to say her music is simultaneously dark and beautiful. It’s a great combination.
Essentials: Mistakes, Porta, Home To Me
9. Gang of Youths – Angel in Realtime.
This is the third album from this Australian indie rock band, who is a new discovery for me this year. Dealing with death and grief, the songs burst out with a sincerity and earnestness often missing in today’s music. The dense arrangements weave together rock music with strings and synths, similar in approach to the music Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene were making about 15 years ago. That’s not to say it sounds dated. They have a fresh take on indie rock sensibilities, with a feeling of adventure and ambition with the production. It’s a great album and a joy to listen to.
Essentials: In The Wake Of Your Leave, You In Everything, Tend The Garden
8. Death Cab For Cutie – Asphalt Meadows
I’ve been a Death Cab fan for a long time. They’re a band that I have the bragging rights to say, “I saw them before they got big.” Their music has evolved over the years, as any band does, but if feels like the last 2 or 3 albums have kind of missed the mark for me. They still had some good moments but not as consistent as the earlier stuff. But here they are in 2022, releasing their 10th studio album in their 25 years as a band, and sounding fresher than they have in a long time. They seemed to have bumped up the energy, in terms of the tempos and cranking up the distortion on their guitars. It’s apparent they’ve spent more time on the production, giving the songs atmospheric textures and creating some interesting dynamics with the mixing. The songwriting has also move forward, with Ben Gibbard seeming to have more to say this time around. All and all, it’s a great album and might even be one of their best.
Essentials: Roman Candles, Here to Forever, Foxglove Through The Clearcut
7. Miranda Lambert – Palomino
This is the 8th album from this veteran country artist and she’s something of a new discovery for me. I usually don’t get into mainstream country but I gave this album a try and I’m glad I did because it’s fantastic! The songwriting is absolutely top-notch, with clever and occasionally biting lyrics. The songs have a cool swagger in the production that help them standout from other country music. She has a powerful voice and comes across very mature and confident as an artist. It’s refreshing to see someone in country breaking the mold a bit and breathing life into traditional sounds.
Essentials: Actin’ Up, Geraldene, If I Was A Cowboy
6. Sylan Esso – No Rules Sandy
This artist is new discovery for me, thanks to my brother, Josh, so shout out to him. This is the fourth album from this electro pop group from North Carolina. It’s filled with a lot dense and interesting production ideas, from blippy drum machines and glitchy synthesizers to thick harmonies, intricate string arrangements, and off-kilter saxophones. But luckily, it’s rooted in strong songwriting, with a plain but pretty vocal approach from singer Amelia Meath. It’s a perfect blend of chaos and comfort.
Essentials: Echo Party, How Did You Know, Moving
5. Zach Bryan – American Heartbreak
This had been a big breakout year for this young Oklahoman alt-country singer/songwriter. This is his third album in only 3 years and his major label debut, and at 34 songs, it qualifies as a triple album. Now you’d think with that many songs, there would be a lot of filler, but it’s actually surprisingly consistent. Not a bad song on here! I love his raspy, soulful voice, which reminds me of Ryan Adams or Chris Stapleton. The songs have a great energy and sense of purpose and passion. The recordings sound very raw, like many of songs might have been recorded in one take without any effects. Some even feel like demo recordings. But that’s not a negative thing. It gives these songs that much more urgency and a feeling of authenticity.
Essentials: Something In The Orange, Happy Instead, Tishomingo
4. Alvvays – Blue Rev
This is the third album from this Canadian indie rock band, and even though they’ve been making music for over a decade, they are new discovery for me. They take conventional power pop songs and turn them on their head with hazy, dream pop flourishes and shoe-gazer experimental textures. They effortlessly channel influences from 80s new wave, like The Smiths, Cocuteau Twins, Kate Bush, and Blondie. Despite all the atmosphere textures, it’s still a very high energy and fun listen, with excellent songwriting.
Essentials: Tile By Tile, Pomeranian Spinster, Pharmacist
3. Asgeir – Time On My Hands
This is forth album from this Icelandic singer/songwriter and, like his previous albums, it does not disappoint. He manages to continue finding new ways to develop and refine his unique sound, which combines acoustic guitar, piano, and horns with drum machines and synthesizers. The songwriting and singing is also top notch, with yearning melodies that float along. It all adds together to make some of the best moody, atmospheric, yet melodic music coming out these days.
Essentials: Snowblind, Time On My Hands, Borderland
2. Harry Styles – Harry’s House
This is has been a huge year for this former One Direction singer. In addition to touring almost non-stop, his worldwide mega-hit, “As It Was” has spent 15 weeks at number 1, longer than any song this year and, for that matter, any song by a solo artist ever! This is his third album and I feel like with this one, he’s really come into his own in terms of finding his voice and carving out a fresh style. At times he channels Micheal Jackson with powerful vocals and tight harmonies. Other times, he blends his influences with some experimental tones, including the use of synthesizers, guitars, and other interesting vocal effects and sounds. It’s adventurous but still incredibly fun and catchy with great songwriting.
Essentials: Music For A Sushi Restaurant, As It Was, Grapejuice
1. Ben Rector – The Joy of Music
Despite this being his 9th album, this Nashville-based artist is a new discovery for me this year. His songs are incredibly catchy and fun, with heartfelt, inspirational lyrics about overcoming discouragement and learning to savor the happy moments in life. The production throughout the album blends a good range of styles with his great voice, from piano pop to acoustic folk to jazzy funk and even hip hop. In fact, this might be only album that ever comes out with guest appearances from Snoop Dogg AND Kenny G! I was lucky to have the opportunity to see him live this year and it was an incredible show. He has so much fun, positive energy on stage. I keep coming back to this album over and over because it’s such an enjoyable listen.
Essentials: Living My Best Life, Supernatural, Sunday, Heroes
That’s the episode. Thanks for listening. If you’re interested, I created Spotify playlists with all the music from this episode, along with more of my favorite songs.
There’s also another playlist of full albums, which actually extends this list to include my top 50 or so albums of the year. You’ll find links in the episode description.
I’d love to hear what your favorite albums for 2022 were. Go to my Facebook group for Making Music with Jake Haws and leave a comment so I can check them out.
Also, I just want to add that my podcast production company, Arches Audio, is having an end of the year sale, with up to 50% off our products and services, including editing, artwork, stock music and a new course on podcasting I just finished creating. If you’ve ever thought about starting a podcast, now is the time. The sale ends on December 31st so don’t wait. Visit archesaudio.com/blackfriday.
That’s it. We’ll see you next time.