The last year brought fresh music from new and emerging artists across genres. Below is a breakdown of some of the top releases of 2022:
Anteloper: “Pink Dolphins” (International Anthem)
Sadly, Anteloper trumpet player/keyboardist jaimie branch died shortly after the release of “Pink Dolphins.” Devoted to opening up the spaces between jazz and other forms of music, picking up where Miles Davis left off when he temporarily retired in the ‘70s, the album is a vision of freedom.
Benny the Butcher: “Tana Talk 4” (Griselda)
This album, released independently just before Benny signed to Def Jam, finds the rapper at a crossroads. His fan base isn’t limited to backpackers anymore, but he needed a J. Cole feature to crack Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. He may be on the cusp of stardom, but he spent his 36th birthday in the hospital after getting shot. “Tana Talk 4” turns his many sources of anxiety into a compelling narrative.
Black midi: “Hellfire” (Rough Trade)
Three albums in, the young London trio black midi, whose bassist Cameron Picton is gay, are busy creating their own world. They’ve assembled bits and pieces from Brechtian cabaret, jazz, prog-rock and post-punk, but “Hellfire” is the first time they’ve fully transcended their influences. It received a lot of “this is good, but…” releases criticizing the band for emotionless virtuosity, but the album exudes delight at their own storytelling, with a cast of characters including soldiers running away from homophobic commanders and boxers fighting to the death a thousand years in the future.
Fievel Is Glauque: “Flaming Swords” (“la Loi”)
This cross-national duo could also be described as prog-rock, but they’ve rejected the excess of the ‘70s. Drawing on jazzy British groups like Soft Machine and Caravan and French pop (Belgian singer Ma Clément performs in heavily accented English), their songs retain the complexity but strip away the fat, saying their piece within three minutes.
Ezra Furman: “All of Us Flames” (Anti-)
Heartland rock heard from the parking lot outside the arena, from a trans woman studying to be a rabbi.
The 1975: “Being Funny in a Foreign Language” (Dirty Hit)
Drawing down their level of ambition benefited the 1975. Singer Matty Healy’s Texas-sized ego has threatened to overshadow their music – his gift for songwriting is far greater than his acumen as a social critic – but this album opts for ironic soft rock rather than genre-hopping. Despite the borderline trolling of “Part of the Band” and the upbeat melody/violent lyrics combination of ”Looking for Somebody (To Love),” the love songs actually sound heartfelt and yearning.
Sault: “11” (Forever Living Originals)
On November 1st, the anonymous British group Sault released five albums. I’m choosing my favorite, “11,” to represent all of them, because they really seem like one work even though they range from classical music to gospel to Afrobeat. The band maintains an optimistic, hopeful tone, consistent from album to album, and with repetition, ideas about love and faith that might sound banal become passionate mantras. Rapper Little Simz’ “No Thank You,” produced by Sault and released on their Forever Living Originals label, is an equally strong addendum.
Taylor Swift: “Midnights” (Republic)
On the surface, Swift’s music should be simple. “Anti-Hero,” “Lavender Haze,” “You’re On Your Own, Kid” and “Mastermind” lay out her thoughts about the difficulty of feeling at peace with her body, knowing her own desires and living them out in a world that’s hostile to women, while recognizing that she’s been a jerk herself at times. Even though she tries her hardest to be relatable to an audience of millions, her best songs yearn for something more mysterious and complex. “Midnights” stands up to repeat listens despite a few weak songs and clunky lyrics. In a very weak year for pop music, where Lizzo, Harry Styles and the Weeknd turned in middling albums and even Beyoncé faltered compared to her classic period in the 2010s, that battle between the reality of confident stardom and inner struggle, expressed more through Swift’s vocals and melodies than words, made it stand out.
Hikaru Utada: “Bad Mode” (Sony Music Japan)
Adult contemporary music (by a non-binary Japanese pop star) from a perfect world.
Experimental but accessible, yeat’s music is a logical extension of the last 10 years of trap music, but it carries Young Thug and Playboi Carti’s sound forward to a futuristic new dimension. While yeat cares enough about language to invent his own slang, his music is post-verbal, drowning out his vocals with his own ad-libs and distorted synthesizer whoops. The mixing and production suggest a factory full of Nintendo games played at once. It’s also music that blocks out tremendous pain: He’s not kidding about his prediction that Satan will take his soul following an opioid overdose he expects to come soon.
RUNNERS-UP, WITH LGBTQ ARTISTS IDENTIFIED BY AN ASTERISK:
*Adeem the Artist: “White Trash Revelry” (Four Quarters), Afrorack: s/t (Hakuna Kulala), Bad Bunny: “Un Verano Sans Ti” (Rimas), Belle and Sebastian: “A Bit of Previous” (Matador), Benny the Butcher: “Tana Talk 4” (Griselda), Bruno Berle: “No Reino Dos Afetos” (Far Out), the Beths: “Expert in a Dying Field” (Carpark), *Big Thief: “New Dragon Warm Mountain I Love You” (4AD), Burial: “Antidawn” (Hyperdub), Alison Cotton: “The Portrait You Painted of Me” (Rocket), Kabza De Small: “KOA II Part I” (Piano Hub), (G)I-DLE: ”I Love” (Cube), Aldous Harding: “Warm Chris” (4AD), Mary Halvorson: “Amaryllis” and “Belladonna” (Nonesuch), Lady Aicha & Pisko Crane’s Original Fulu Mizki of Kinshasa: “N’Djila Wa Mudujimu” (Nyege Nyege Tapes), Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: “Xaybu: The Unseeen” (Pi Recordings), Little Simz-“No Thank You” (Forever Living Originals), Moundabout: “Flowers Rot, Bring Me Stones” (Rocket), *MUNA: s/t (Saddest Factory), *Orville Peck: “Bronco” (Columbia), *Perfume Genius-“Ugly Season” (Matador), Raw Poetic: “Space Beyond a Solar System” (22nd Century Sound), Romance: “Once Upon a Time” (Ecstatic), Rosalia: “Motomami” (Columbia), *700 Bliss-“Nothing to Declare” (Hyperdub), *Oliver Sim-“Hideous Bastard” (Young) , Vince Staples-“Ramona Park Broke My Heart” (Motown), Stray Kids-“Oddinary” (Republic), Stromae-“Multitude” (Interscope), SZA-“SOS” (TDE/RCA), *They Hate Change: “Finally, New” (Jagjaguwar), Yung Kayo: ‘DTFK” (YSL)
30 SONGS (NOT INCLUDING ANYTHING ON THE ABOVE ALBUMS):
AB: “Solid as a Rock” (ThreeSix)
Beyoncé: “Break My Soul” (Columbia)
Black Sherif: “Kwaku the Traveler” (Empire)
Bonobo: “Defender” (Outlier)
*Boy Harsher featuring Cooper B. Hardy: “Autonomy” (Nude Club)
Zach Bryan: “Something in the Orange” (Warner)
*Ethel Cain: “American Teenager” (Daughters of Cain)
Jnr Choi and Sam Tompkins featuring Fivio Foreign, G Herbo, M24 and Russ Millions: “To the Moon (drill remix)” (Epic)
Circuit des Yeux: “The Manatee” (Matdor)
Luke Combs: “Going, Going, Gone” (Columbia Nashville)
DJ Scriby: “Friday 13th” (Hakuna Kulala)
*Doechii featuring SZA: “Persuasive” (TDE/Capitol)
Lupe Fiasco: “On Faux Nem” (1st & 15th)
Ghost: “Spillways” (Loma Vista)
Hyphen: “Winter Sky” (R&S)
Ibibio Sound Machine: “Protection From Evil” (Merge)
Isomonstrosity featuring Empress Of: “Take Me Back” (Brassland)
*I. Jordan: “Always Been” (Ninja Tune)
The Killers: “Boy” (Island)
Ella Mai: “DFMU” (Interscope)
*H.C. McEntire: “Dovetail” (Merge)
Megan Thee Stallion: “Plan B” (1501 Certified/300)
Mitski: “The Only Heartbreaker” (Dead Oceans)
Nick Léon featuring DJ Babatr: “Xtasis” (TraTraTrax)
*Papaphilia: “no path is forged over the abyss without meeting at the altar” (Chinabot)
Pusha T: “Diet Coke” (G.O.O.D. Music)
Stray Kids: “Case 143” (Republic)
Weyes Blood: “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” (Sub Pop)
Hailey Whitters: “Everything She Ain’t” (Big Machine)
Zenobia: “A-hewa” (Crammed Discs)
NOTABLE REISSUES FROM LGBTQ ARTISTS: Come: “Peel Sessions” (Fire Archive), Patrick Cowley: “Malebox” (Dark Entries), Forbidden Overture-“Turned On” (Dark Entries), George Michael: “Older (expanded edition)” (Sony), Norma Tanega: “I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings: 1964-1971” (Anthology)