Exclaim!'s 50 Best Albums of 2022
Published Nov 30, 2022Back in 2020, when lockdowns arrived, optimists began speculating how much great art would be created in that time. King Lear had supposedly been written in quarantine, they said.
For most of us, it didn't quite work out like that, leading to a period that felt more like stasis than a creative incubator. But as lockdowns lifted, artists started plotting their next steps — and in 2022, we began reaping the rewards. This year had a jam-packed release schedule, with some bands dropping more than one album, and others releasing grand opuses that felt years in the making. Anyone who had been waiting to release an album until touring reopened did so this year.
The result is a year of grand, ambitious statements: a soul-searching double album from arguably the world's most acclaimed rapper, a dance-floor expiration by a generation-defining pop star, the experimental R&B opus from an adventurous violinist, and Canadian indie artists who reached beyond their scenes to make worldly masterpieces. This was a year of long, dense and impeccably crafted LPs.
Read Exclaim!'s 50 Best Albums of 2022 below. See all our year-end lists, including Exclaim!'s 50 Best Songs of 2022, here.
50. Sister Ray
The exchange Sister Ray's debut album undertakes is an act of witnessing. With their voice creaking like attic floorboards, Edmonton-born Ella Coyes unpacks interpersonal and intergenerational violence in a disarmingly subdued, conversational way, spinning hard truths about power negotiations into grounding practice. "But there's no pedigree when we're half-breeds," they sing on "Good News," which felt like a twig snapping inside when I first registered it — and it's moments like these, in the thicket of identity, where Sister Ray sees you.
DISCO4 :: PART II
Cool goths know: HEALTH's DISCO delivers the goods. The latest iteration of their collaborative series — with standouts including "MURDER DEATH KILL" with Ada Rook and PlayThatBoiZay, "COLD BLOOD" with Lamb of God and "GNOSTIC FLESH/MORTAL HELL" with Backxwash and Ho99o9 — mines the depths of HEALTH's darkness, providing a base for Jake Duzsik's effervescent vocals, while dissecting and reanimating multiple genres simultaneously. Look no further for evidence of their adventurous spirit than on album opener "DEAD FLOWERS" with uncanny valley pop star-turned-metalhead Poppy.
Daphni = Caribou = Dan Snaith. An important equation to understand when listening to the third LP from the Dundas, ON-born musician. That's because, on Cherry, Snaith buries himself even further into digital valleys and peaks, staying true to Chicago house and Detroit techno by remaining anonymous across 14 simmering tracks. Allowing elementary samples and austere sounds to fortify each song's skeleton, Cherry is remarkable for the sonically lush world Snaith builds from such slight scaffolding.
47. Badge Époque Ensemble
Clouds of Joy
In all their varying shapes, and through their drift toward new sonic horizons, Toronto's Badge Époque Ensemble float to their highest point yet on Clouds of Joy. On the outfit's third LP, the jazz-funk forecast is brightened by changes in approach: bandleader Max Turnbull moves behind the boards to play producer and arranger, and the group dynamic is bolstered by returning and recently added players alike — making for nothing short of a spellbinding, creative cloudburst.
(Saddest Factory / Dead Oceans)
MUNA's self-titled album is a portrait of a band perfectly in its element. From the gorgeous "Silk Chiffon" to the propulsive "What I Want," the L.A. trio's joyous queer pop bristles with energy and confidence. The record constantly finds ways to combine excellent hooks, immaculate production and the emotional intimacy of their best work. But most importantly, this record never loses its sense of fun. It's a celebratory record, one where it's hard to not be disarmed by MUNA's passion and energy.
45. Joyful Joyful
Joyful Joyful's self-titled debut captures the singular sonic communion that Cormac Culkeen (voice/lyrics) and Dave Grenon (soundscapes/effects) have refined over many years since first collaborating through Peterborough's CFFF FM. This album serves as a reclamation of religious music (Culkeen was exiled by their Christian Evangelical church after coming out as queer), offering secular devotionals that speak to a deep, shared humanity. Joyful Joyful offers deep feeling that eludes definition and convention, asking, as Culkeen sings on "Oh Jubilation," "What is art compared to your skin?"
44. Magi Merlin
Nothing is missing from Magi Merlin's Gone Girl. "Fuck you, babe / You ain't entitled to my time," the Montrealer breezes off the top on "Milkweed," assertively reintroducing herself as a spare clang spirals into a hypnotic Motown-indebted soul melt. She and creative partner Funkywhat punch up analgesic alt-R&B by way of electropop synths, house beats and razor-sharp wit — and the twists are as thrilling as the titular source code, Merlin varying her delivery with the cunning of Amy Dunne herself.
43. Sharon Van Etten
We've Been Going About This All Wrong
Sharon Van Etten attempts to make sense of her surroundings on her sixth album, We've Been Going About This All Wrong. The heartfelt songwriter refuses to hold back, documenting her journey of dealing with her personal struggles over the past few years. Sonically, she picks up on where she left off on her last record, 2019's Remind Me Tomorrow, continuing to experiment with different textures as a way of building emotion, sharing another cathartic body of work.
42. black midi
It takes a lot of nerve for an alternative band to draw as openly from prog and jazz fusion as black midi do. These genres may not be the coolest things in 2022, but the English post-punkers fuse them in a collage aesthetic reminiscent of Frank Zappa or Mr. Bungle. Hellfire, their third album, is their most adventurous yet, bringing in elements of flamenco, country, musicals and more. It's cacophony with a purpose, resulting in a world where technical prowess and fun can coexist.
41. Cave In
It's one thing to bounce back from tragedy and return with your career-best record, but it's another thing entirely when it's also your first studio album in eleven years. And yet, against the painful loss of longtime bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018, Massachusetts rockers Cave In have done exactly that. Heavy Pendulum, the group's colossal seventh LP, takes their metallic spin on spacey alt-rock textures and blasts it out like a supernova. Crushing, dense and fittingly triumphant.
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