From the garages of the Philadelphia hardcore scene to the boom-bap-filled streets of New York, to the bedroom indie pop-making splashes along the California coast, 2022 was not just a phenomenal year for music, but a memorable one.
As compelling and eventful as this year was, it saw the comebacks of older legendary artists and the parting gift from heavyweights of a younger generation. Where despair was found on all corners of this Earth, so was it met with the comforting spirit of music.
The following is not a comprehensive best-of list, but a love letter to the artists that speak to the heart and the pieces of art that spark not just the light of inspiration, but the will to keep going. In no particular order, here are the 31 albums that have been in the EARMILK staff's heavy rotation all year.
Ravyn Lenae – Hypnos, Atlantic Records
Hypnos was the enchanting reintroduction of a champion of underground, alternative R&B. For years now, Ravyn Lenae’s charming voice and melodic grooves filled spaces with a sound so sonically hers, it could never be mimicked. Her chemistry and genuine friendship with Chicago heavyweights such as Smino and Monte Booker and close friend Steve Lacy resulted in countless memorable EPs and features throughout the late 2010s. 2022 was the year of Ravyn with Hypnos bringing the same seductive, low-key energy to a larger front. Hypnos brought a fun twist to a love-centered concept, with a strong supporting cast along with it.
From start to finish, Lenae demonstrates a powerful grasp of her vocal identity while showcasing her range. Track one sounds nothing like track 3. Track six has nearly nothing identical to track twelve. Each song has a musical identity while cohesively working well in tandem with one another to present a story of self-isolation and growth. Never is there a moment where the album loses momentum in its execution. Even with a 16-track run time, Lenae presents a body of work full of charisma and sticky icky charm. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Beabadoobee – Beatopia, Dirty Hit
Beabadoobee taps into the fun sounds of the early 2000s in order to illustrate her vision of the imaginary world of Beatopia. Her sound remains childlike, even as she transitions from softly singing over twinkly synths and punching drums to singing over fierce guitar riffs. Beabadoobee often uses this childlike wonder to her advantage lyrically, taking the opportunity to simply say whatever comes to mind at the moment, even if it does not completely make sense. Through these songs, she expresses the intense emotions that come with adolescence along with gaining confidence as one grows up. These pop songs are timeless and this album aided in solidifying Beabadoobee’s ever-growing career. – Laila Keaton, Contributing Writer
JID – The Forever Story, Dreamville/ Interscope
Following the success of his standout single, “Surround Sound,” JID’s full-length project The Forever Story is packed with hard-hitting features and superior production. With each verse, the Dreamville rapper shows his versatility. He adapts to multiple beat changes, tastefully modifies his inflection, and gives lyrical storytelling of his background. The Forever Story is vulnerable and articulately delivered. – Hayley Tharp, Contributing Writer
Ryan Oaks – Burnout, Position Music
After a series of pop-punk singles, Ryan Oakes released Burnout – the artist's first album composed entirely of punk and alternative rock hits. A compilation of slick riffs and catchy melodies, Burnout goes to show that Ryan Oakes can't be held to a single genre. From his actual pop punk song and title track, "Burnout" (Ft. State Champs) to the adrenaline-pumping "Blood", this project is only the start of Ryan's genre takeover. – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, 4AD
On this remarkable 20-song project, Big thief gives listeners a feeling of security and warmth, through Adrienne Lenker's familiar folky tone. She vocally dances over chimes, synths, unique drums, and every other instrument one could think of. The album jumps through a multitude of eccentric sounds, truly taking listeners on a journey. Lenkers lyrics are fun to decipher and touch on all subjects from love to religion. Through this album, the band redefines itself, as a genre-bending anomaly. They switch from old country to indie folk, inviting fans into their world of wonder. – Laila Keaton, Contributing Writer
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems, Epitaph Records
Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems is beyond a politically charged record, it’s a dedication to people, not to any political system. Originating as a demo recording in an old warehouse in Philly, Diaspora Problems was a five-year tenure. Though Diaspora Problems was the group's label debut on Epitaph Records, it’s a strong amalgamation of everything Soul Glo stands for.
Diaspora Problems pushes the boundaries of hardcore music and storytelling, with each track serving a purpose to oppose a larger narrative. Through intense, vexed raging at the mic, frontman Pierce Jordan vividly denounces the evils of Capitalism and most specifically, Imperialism, something most mainstream bands would never dream of attempting.
Diaspora Problems puts out a message on full display, that merely existing and experiencing joy while living in an abusive system is n act of resistance within itself. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Larry June – Spaceships On The Blade, Warner Records
Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights, AWAL/ RCA Records
DIY genius, Steve Lacy returns to tell stories of battling intense heartbreak juxtaposed with experiencing the joys of being in love on his album, Gemini Rights. Lacy is very honest and raw lyrically on this album, speaking blunt stories over funky beats and his iconic guitar riffs. His falsetto shines on this project, as he uses it when depicting intense, painful emotions, fully putting his heart on display for listeners. Lacy switched up his usual music-making method for this album, opting for a more traditional studio environment which positively served him, as all of his instrumentals turned out to be phenomenal. – Laila Keaton, Contributing Writer
Toro y Moi – Mahal, Dead Oceans
After releasing nine solo albums, not counting the ones under other aliases or collaborative projects, Mahal proves that Toro Y Moi more than still has it.
There’s something familiar ingrained in the sounds of Mahal. A story drenched in an experience that brings with it a sensation of nostalgia when it hits the ears; like something you’d hear from your favorite grandparent's record collection. Mahal is a love letter to Moi's upbringing, especially in his Filipino heritage. All throughout the album, he sprinkles little homages to his culture and the musical inspirations of the Bay Area, resulting in a record that is genuine in sound and progressive on all fronts.
That sense of nostalgia is the result of Toro Y Moi bringing it back to basics with the project, taking a break from the previous house, disco vibe he was going for on the last record, for something deeply more Americana and bluesy in tone. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
R.A.P Ferreira – 5 to the Eye with Stars, Ruby Yacht
Combining sharply-crafted, intentional lyricism with free-wheeling whimsy in a refreshing and uniquely likeable manner, RAP Ferreira's shimmering yet minimalistic soundscapes and captivating verses shine through on 5 to the Eye with Stars. With laid-back, jazz-tinged production and beat poetry-influenced vocals from Ferreira, 5 to the Eye with Stars emanates an enigmatic warmth that immerses the listener in its sound. A highlight track is “ours”, with its glistening keys and hypnotic flows drifting atop punchy percussion. – Jacob Saltzberg, Contributing Writer
Kendy X – Misplaced, Rose Records
Breakout R&B singer Kendy X gives a dose of honesty and authenticity through smooth harmonies and delicate vocals on Misplaced. With the recent success of her breakout hit, “For Me” featuring DreamDoll and Kalan.FrFr, she has showcased her ability to blend the soulful sound of the genre with the unapologetic finesse of hip-hop. Kendy X is R&B’s next powerhouse, adding a modern flair to the nostalgic sound of contemporary rhythm and blues. – Hayley Tharp, Contributing Writer
SOFI TUKKER – WET TENNIS, Ultra Records
SOFI TUKKER's WET TENNIS is a spinning kaleidoscope of vibrant dance and pop sounds all blended together to create a feel-good album unlike any other.
I often find myself perplexed by the constant use of the word "worldly" in music reviews as a lazy way of describing sounds or instruments that don't fit the typical mold of American radio. If a track were to have a Sitar or a Shamisen in it, or if the vocals were to include multiple languages outside of English or Spanish, then the use of "worldly" suddenly appears. But for me, the true use of the word should be to describe a sound that transcends borders. Music that even if it may not fit within the familiar language, instruments, or sonic mold of that culture, it still generates an inescapable pull to dance along to. For me, WET TENNIS is that worldly kind of album that symbolizes the borderless sound that has united SOFI TUKKER 'Freak Fam' fans around the world. Bursts of various electronic influences across various dance and pop subgenres, including European club and Latin American dance beats are masterfully injected throughout – especially found in the emotive guitar hook of "What A Wonderful World"
Tracks like "Larry Bird" and "Summer in New York" offer up that same wide-reaching production blend of sounds but provide a sense of earnestness found within the lyricism proving that their music, as catchy as it is, isn't created solely as soulless club bangers but there was intentional heartfelt songwriting behind them, while still not being afraid to have a little fun. – David Sikorski, Senior Editor
Girl Ultra – El Sur, Finesse Records
El Sur is a departure from the traditional means of r&b music Girl Ultra has built her brand on, but don’t get it twisted, Girl Ultra still explores love and heartbreak through the same layered and thoughtful songwriting that fans and critics have come to love. El Sur is a reintroduction to the Mexico City heartthrob and the perfect outlet for Girl Ultra to explore their love for electronic production
El Sur comes right out of the nightlife of the rave/ club scene of Mexico City, and the sound matches that vibe perfectly. Every track off the project radiates this sinister, yet devilishly charming tone that makes Girl Ultra’s debut to the house music club the perfect soundtrack for a late night of debauchery and careless fun. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Wet Leg – Wet Leg, Domino Recording Company
Facetious poetry hidden diabolically behind soft, effortless vocals layered between inescapably catchy new wave/post-punk guitar hooks and deep rolling basslines has helped make Wet Leg one of the fastest-growing acts of 2022. Their self-titled album has garnered admiration across the industry and has helped earn them the reputation of being "your favorite bands, new favorite band." – David Sikorski, Senior Editor
Thunderous Knight – No Call No Show, Independent
Southern California native Thunderous Knight combines a nostalgic hip-hop sound with modern introspective lyricism on his new EP, No Call No Show. The eight-track project is equal parts boastful and vulnerable. With a west coast sound consisting of funky rhythmic beats and fast-paced lyrical stamina, the rap newcomer delivers a project that stands out from the crowd but also provides a comforting familiarity. – Hayley Tharp, Contributing Writer
Boy In Space- Backyard, FireFly Entertainment AB
Fueled by universal experiences and nostalgic melodies, Swedish pop singer Boy in Space combines ambient vocals and euphoric soundscapes in his latest album, BACKYARD. A follow-up on his 2021 album, FRONTYARD, the 7-track project boasts quite a few hits – such as "A*****e" and "Counting Sheep" – each transporting listeners on a journey of their own. – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music in Zion, Thirty Tigers
Drill Music in Zion is a gentle yet loud reminder that simple is better. Written, produced, and recorded in three days, DMiZ is focused and is Fiasco performing at full caliber without the filler or fluff or a typical commercial project.
There’s a level of nuance and vulnerability presented in Drill Music in Zion, elements that bring me back to the album relisten after relisten. In ten tracks, Lupe Fiasco touches on a multitude of topics through a socially analytic lens and provides insightful bars that aim to challenge the status quo of not just hip hop in general, but a western imperialist state.
Despite the songs that exist to flaunt his rapping capabilities or the tracks that take aim on other social subjects, there’s an underlying message present from start to end. The message is introduced in the intro poem by Chicago philanthropist Ayesha Jaco then comes full circle on the album closer. Fiasco says so much with so little. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Ben Yen – shelter island nights, Independent
Rising hip-hop artist Ben Yen has a total of 9 albums under his belt since 2019. His second album of 2022, Shelter Island Nights, includes an unmatched groove most artists save for summer albums. Whether you listen in the middle of a snowstorm or on a hot day, Shelter Island Nights takes listeners to a different place – a worry-free zone full of good vibes. Ben's signature funk-style melodies make this album a true masterpiece, with timeless hits like "Wipe Out". – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
Ivy Sole – Candid, Les Fleurs
Meditating through trauma, community building, and reconnecting with loved ones' past, Ivy Sole’s Candid offers a space with a little bit of everything for everyone while exploring identity.
Candid is beyond a musical album, it’s a manuscript outlining a backup plan when the protest goes awry. When you need to get back in touch with distant family members. When you don’t want to lose someone over a failure to communicate. Ivy Sole gives a vividly vulnerable perspective on the Black femm experience while attempting to find peace in the madness.
There’s a sense of synergy that Ivy Sole demonstrates with every song on this album. Being responsible for producing, orchestrating, and writing credits on every track, you can feel the heart and the intention behind every measure.
Candid is a vivid listening experience from start to finish with a story unfolding with a larger message to take away. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Conner – Life in The Fast Lane, CRASHCOURSE
Life in the Fast Lane is a project made from the blood, sweat, and tears of Conner. Using music as a getaway from the day-to-day, conner dives deeper into how he feels about life in general in his debut project. Tackling struggles in order, each song is its own topic that most listeners will be able to relate with. And when an album is relatable, you listen for more than just the sounds. You listen to the connection you share with the artist, and in this case, Conner. – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
Mejiwahn – Beanna, Hot Record Societe
Beanna is ripped straight from an art space in Oakland; it is beyond what can be considered an instrumental album.
From start to finish, the multitude of sounds creates a heightened atmosphere, calling attention to every sound and drawing your attention. There’s a stillness this project brings and mashes with the airy wind instruments and jazz samples. It doesn’t force anything but brings the listener to be present at the moment and every added layer of instrumentation nourishes that experience.
Mejiwahn is a maestro, down to earth as he is talented and the sounds produced on Beanna are sure to travel throughout your being for the most pleasant out-of-body experience music can produce. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Jutes – Hot Trash, Luvsick
Following the release of his single "Hollywood Hillbilly", rising hip-hop/alternative artist Jutes released his fourth album – a collection of pop-rock tracks – titled Hot Trash, on October 28, 2022. Hot Trash contains a mix of digital pop and pop-rock tracks, most notably "Out The Door" and "Genie". From start to finish, each track gets better than the next in its own unique way – while the track before it remains just as good. "Hot Trash" is Jutes' first album in this genre, and one of his best projects thus far. – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
They Hate Change – Finally, New, Jagjaguwar
Breezing under the radar and completely obliterating the game in the process is the southern rap duo They Hate Change with the refreshing and hard-hitting Finally, New
They Hate Change is the collaborative powerhouse of Dre and Vonne, two individuals who met by chance but shared the same love for irreverent sounds.
Their music can best be described as visceral, combining elements of nightcore electronic music layered with smooth, saturated southern style of raps over.
Finally, New is a beautiful blend of southern rap, nightcore production, and the careless attitude to “leave your speakers bleeding”.
There’s a stark chemistry between Dre and Vonne. The attributes they both bring to Finally, New bring the absolute best out of each other; resulting in the creation of bubbly provocative production and sticky addicting verses. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Ekoh – Look at What You Made, Just Us League
Las Vegas rapper Ekoh chose to defy genre yet again with Look What You Made, his own take on the rising hip-hop x rock movement. Fueled by heartbreak, loss, sadness, and the feeling of not fitting in, "I Can't Relate" is not what fans are saying. But it is in fact the title of one of the tracks, and proof that Ekoh is a mastermind when it comes to lyrics. The album was made up of hours of work poured in by Ekoh and his team of producers: Matty Beats and Curt Martin. – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!, Tan Cressida, Warner
Despite releasing in the first month of the new year, Earl Sweatshirts' first project in four years remains remarkably fresh with its sharp social commentary and whimsical presentation.
Sweatshirt is a juggernaut amongst his contemporaries, but there is no presence of ego or that sense of elitism. Sweatshirt balances this hyper-focus to create the densest bars of poetry with a sense of waggish irreverence. One moment he’s spitting an incredible lyric about workers' rights, the next he’s burping and audibly waking up before starting his verse.
SICK! Is another short project that remains focused from beginning to end. It paints a picture of a desolate landscape, ravaged by covid and the conflicting forces of multiple political movements. This all comes to a satisfying conclusion where Sweatshirt burns that painting down and looks forward to the next chapter.
Fatlip & Blu – Live From the End of the World, Guilty By Association
Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Blacksmith/ Motown Records
RPBMH is an exploration of all sides of Vince Staples. It’s a statement of him being the most real artist around at the moment with him holding no punches to those around him. RPBMH utilizes different styles of rap which allows Staples to change moods for different subjects, providing a song that is for really anybody.
Despite the name, this album is focused on a lot more love than heartbreak. Love for partners past and present. A love for violence, but most importantly, a love for people. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Casper the Ghost – Holding On for Dear Life, Independent
Holding on for dear life is the debut album of Swedish recording artist Casper the Ghost. Focusing on emo lyrics and alternative rock melodies, this album was made to listen through its entirety. Each track is on par with the one before it – an important quality for an album to have – but each possesses individual sounds that make it worth the play-through. For a debut album from a still-rising artist, "Holding on for dear life" exceeds expectations. – Josh Loewen, Contributing Writer
Luna Li – Duality, AWOL
Luna Li is casually giving us the most beautifully crafted orchestrations from the comfort of her dorm room.
Duality explores a lush vulnerability within loneliness while living a free and comfortable life. Luna Li is a vibrant example of the power of unsolicited, well-supported artistic freedom of the youth. Her style is fairylike, near mystical. She’s a wondrous spirit that emulates that same sense of enchantment in her lyrics and musicality. She’s also a whiz on the guitar.
Duality is an embodiment of Li’s creative freedom and the desire to express herself through sound.
Luna Li is still very young and it shows. Her project showcases this vulnerability that any adolescent or person really can relate to. Loneliness is a feeling felt by all, but the comfort of knowing it’s a mutually shared feeling isn’t. Duality tells a story of one person's dedication to growing while providing that warm reminder to the listener that no one is alone. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer
Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia, Partisan Records
Fontaines D.C's Skinty Fia is a brilliant display of powerfully emotive songwriting that features deeply raw lyricism matched by expressive instrumental sounds. The unapologetic rock ballad contains various bits of sounds that are both dominant and tender. The album expresses a sense of cathartic release throughout every track and is one of the most dynamic and cohesive post-punk records I've heard of in a long time. David Sikorski, Senior Editor
The Koreatown Oddity – ISTHISFORREAL?, Stones Throw Records
Escapism, Misophonia, and the devil are embodied through Machoman Randy Savage impressions. These are the main components to the existentialist escape from the simulation that is ISTHISFORREAL?
ISTHISFORREAL is the wildest concept album from this year with a wide arsenal of out-of-pocket samples, skits, and an eccentric theme that is hilarious as it is thought-provoking. ISTHISFORREAL? offers some of the best writing that isn’t even through the bars themselves; it’s in the short bits of dialogue in the skits.
The Koreatown Oddity is a comedian at heart, taking the wildest jabs of social commentary through the most subtle lines. Whether it’s a bar about the Simpsons amount of Black characters or White Hip Hop heads relating to something that isn't theirs, TKO has something to say and this project makes you listen. – Alan Baez, Staff Writer