Exclaim!'s 25 Best Songs of 2022
Published Dec 01, 2022Thanks to TikTok and streaming services, all eras of popular music have been condensed into one, where young listeners rediscover and reappraise past generations — seemingly without any particular concern for where or when it came from. Mother Mother are suddenly famous, Charles Manson songs are associated with cozy fall vibes, and an obscure Pinkerton B-side is a bigger hit than any of the new music Weezer released this year.
With that in mind, the signature song of 2022 is almost unquestionably "Running Up That Hill" — the 1985 Kate Bush anthem that was featured prominently in Stranger Things 4 this summer, and subsequently became a bigger hit than it ever was upon its initial release.
For artists releasing new music in 2022, it sometimes felt like they were competing for attention against the rest of music history. How is a song supposed to cut through the noise when there are so many past songs being celebrated anew? This year never had a true "song of the summer," or a clear runaway for which song best captured the confused, conflicted tenor of 2022. (Unlike 2021, for example, when the song-of-the-year choice was easy.)
That being said, 2022 had no shortage of incredible songs — from a huge star who made up for his disastrous film roles with a classic pop hit, to Canadian indie upstarts who released under-appreciated gems, to a cryptic reflection of what separates humanity from the rest of the animal world.
Exclaim!'s 25 Best Songs of 2022 are below. All of our 2022 year-end lists, including Exclaim!'s 50 Best Songs of 2022, can be found here.
25. The Beaches
"Grow Up Tomorrow"
It's the ultimate way to rationalize any bad behaviour: I'll change tomorrow. Toronto four-piece the Beaches deliver a raucous pop rock anthem chronicling a lifestyle of perpetual partying, promising to change their ways "after I throw up tomorrow." In the meantime, though, singer Jordan Miller is watching her peers find success while she admits, "Haven't done my laundry in a million weeks / But I'm feeling so chic with my thong inside out."
24. Caroline Polachek
In the middle of winter's deep freeze, Caroline Polachek released "Billions"— an icy, glitch pop single that breathed fresh air into a room of stale circulation. Polachek proved once more that she is as ethereal as we all remembered; her vocals soaring to new heights in all their spatial brilliance. "Billions," co-produced by Danny L. Harle, is the artist's attempt to create something that "captured the afterglow of a reopening" — and what a reopening indeed. The lyrics, with stark phrasing like "Headless, angel / Body upgraded" and "Psycho, priceless / Good in a crisis," conjure visceral images devoid of intrinsic meaning that ultimately make room for individual interpretation — a choose-your-own-adventure of sorts.
A musical aesthete who transports listeners for the sake of escape, Shygirl makes cool and cleansing '90s dance music, facelifted with hyperpop charisma. Her sound is a water world of calm and letting loose, and "Firefly" reflects this danceable tranquility perfectly. Reengineering Trey Songz's steamy "Ready To make Luv" with the ethereal touch of a fairy, "Firefly" is an emotional banger cast with serene blues hues and cold sweat droplets. It's a simple cut, but a bridge that leads uninitiated listeners to wade into Shygirl's unruly waters.
22. Rachel Bobbitt
Those songs that make your heart feel like it's going to explode are ones to hold dear. With the debut single for her first EP for Fantasy, Toronto-via-Nova Scotia's Rachel Bobbitt unassumingly transforms her desire to not have kids into a driving, War on Drugs-esque anthem for feeling betrayed by your anatomy. "They say that the body's just a thing to house a life / But mine heaves in protest with the pressure of just mine," she sings in tendrils, with Justice Der's gripping arpeggios giving the content even more weight.
21. The Beths
"Expert in a Dying Field"
Honeyed melodies and sugar-rush hooks sweeten singer Elizabeth Stokes's absolutely devastating breakup lyrics, which highlight the disappointment of putting years of work into a relationship only for it not to work out. "Love is learned over time," she plaintively observes amidst fuzzed-out alt-rock guitars, "Till you're an expert in a dying field."
20. Carly Rae Jepsen
"Surrender My Heart"
At her best, Carly Rae Jepsen channels unadulterated bursts of feeling into mantra. Though The Loneliest Time's release may have been overshadowed by Taylor Swift's Midnights, none of the F-bombs Swift drops are nearly as impactful as Jepsen's opener's quivering first-verse "I'm trying not to fuck this up." Punctuated by twinkling synths and static-kissed '80s drum machine fills reminiscent of M83, the Queen of Everything is the most vulnerable she's ever been as she pleads with herself to put down the sword and embrace openness.
19. Earl Sweatshirt feat. Armand Hammer
(Tan Cressida / Warner)
While they're one voice short of the form's usual definition, Earl Sweatshirt and Armand Hammer (the duo of Billy Woods and Elucid) hold one of the most powerful posse cuts of 2022 in "Tabula Rasa," the crown jewel of Sweatshirt's gem-laden SICK! As dim a scene as the contemplative, chopped piano evokes, the vocalists' three-man weave electrifies with its gripping lyrical intro and extroversion, leaving Earl's steadfast spirit to wipe the slate clean.
18. Nilüfer Yanya
Nilüfer Yanya is a master of the quiet seethe. Her already impressive and always stylish body of work is defined by a flinty reserve, the kind of quietude that would read as apathy were it not so blistering to the touch. When Yanya does erupt, it's with an incandescent and unnerving focus; a long-dormant volcano hurling ash and fire, its targets predestined. On "midnight sun" — the towering centrepiece of Yanya's spectacular sophomore record PAINLESS — she makes love sound like cataclysm, laying waste with enormous magma flows of guitar after three and a half minutes of rumbling slow-burn. Even standing amid the swirling embers, she's cool and collected as ever.
17. Wet Leg
We all know an Angelica. An effortless socialite that never arrives empty-handed, commands the room with grace and never shows any apprehension. On the other hand, our narrator plays the unenthused wallflower who seethes when another music bro tries to get her to come to his show. Wet Leg offers poignant commentary on the satellite parties of art scenes with "Angelica," as they allude to internalized misogyny, social hierarchy and transactional relationships — as they put it, some people are only here for the free beer.
16. Aquakultre feat. Trobiz
(Forward / Black Buffalo)
Twice removed from its source material, Billy Garner's "I Got Some" hook becomes the sound of Haligonian neo-funk as Aquakultre and Trobiz set it to the beat of a communal get-down on this speculative party joint. Interpolating the DJ Premier flip of Garner's track from Gang Starr's "B.Y.S.," the piano is plunkier and more ecstatic here, wah guitars lending psychedelic looseness while an organ calls for celebration, rapped bars poured out for ghosts of Africvilles past and future.
15. Angel Olsen
While Angel Olsen's illuminative country record Big Time is full of incredibly sad songs, coming after the death of both Olsen's parents, the album's title track is a joyous celebration of love. Co-written with Olsen's partner Beau Thibodeaux, "Big Time" has a gorgeous glittery twang to it — but what's most staggering is how well it captures the feeling of finally being free to be yourself. It also has one of the best lines of the year: "Guess I had to be losing to get here on time."
(Arts & Crafts)
Channelling the most heart-tenderizing aspects of Status/Non-Status's Adam Sturgeon and Zoon's Daniel Monkman respective projects, the two bandleaders came together to form OMBIIGIZI, introducing their Kevin Drew-produced debut collaborative album with "Residential Military" back in 2021. But it was with the transcendental offering "Cherry Coke" that it became clear this was no side project — Monkman and Sturgeon's voices undulating in perfect harmony, aptly employing their self-described "moccasin-gaze" to recount glossy memories of childhood, recounting the empathetic nature of Monkman's father.
13. Chat Pile
With their grimy, grisly sludge metal, Chat Pile excel at exposing America's toxic, festering underbelly. A standout from the Oklahama band's debut album God's Country, the gruesomely literal "Why" portrays poverty, houselessness and wealth inequality as the horrors they are. Vocalist Raygun Busch confronts us with questions that have obvious answers, and he presents that frustrating reality with matter-of-fact stoicism that inevitably erupts into desperate, guttural screams. If watching cops beat the piss out of people in encampments and seeing politicians applaud them for it already makes you angry, then this song is designed to push you over the edge.
12. Big Thief
On their most ambitious, far-reaching and unsuppressed 20-song album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, it's difficult to pin down just one as the quintessential Big Thief song from 2022. Yet somewhere during the onset of the record's wavering fourth and final act, "Simulation Swarm" ticks off many of the boxes the four-piece has become known for. Not unlike their previous albums' familial centerpieces like Capacity's "Mythological Beauty" or Two Hands' "Shoulders," the lucid, asymmetrical guitar work on "Simulation Swarm" illuminates Adrianne Lenker's instinctive mysticism as she subconsciously verbalizes a dream of an inherited broken connection.
"After the Earthquake"
Tracing the squiggly fault lines in the rubble, "After the Earthquake" is the tightly wound highlight of Blue Rev, encapsulating much of what makes Alvvays's third album their most energized work to date: trying to climb one's way out of a seismic wake, the magnitude of its impact still revealing itself between commercials on a waiting room TV. The tonic of Alec O'Hanley's syrupy, buzzing riffs in conversation with Molly Rankin's dynamic delivery nearly comes to an abrupt halt in the subdued bridge, before a convulsing aftershock brings the chorus back to its boppy epicentre.
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