in Top Ten

So here we are again. Another year in the books and another batch of lists on Mildly Pleased to commemorate the year that was. I can’t speak for everybody on this blog, but I’m not sure I still have the same obsessiveness I used to have about compiling these lists each year. And yet, we have more media than ever to place on our lists and easier access to it than ever, so once again there was no shortage of great stuff to consume in 2022.

Music was no exception, as the year wasn’t quite exceptional, but it was exciting to see many established musicians coming out of the pandemic either feeling rejuvenated, fucked up, or a little bit of both. This all made for some really compelling albums to listen to during a year that wasn’t quite normal, but also wasn’t a complete disaster either.

Honorable Mentions:
Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life On Earth
Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Ibibio Sound Machine – Electricity
Angel Olsen – Big Time
Charli XCX – Crash

10. SZA – SOS

This one goes at number 10 because I’m already convinced this is another great SZA album, but it just hasn’t been out long enough for me to decide quite how great. After being featured on a bunch of hit singles these past few years (including the inescapable “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat), I was a little afraid SZA might go too pop on her long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Ctrl. While there is an undeniable sheen to plenty of the songs on SOS, which shows both SZA’s influence on modern R&B as well as her ability to navigate the pop world, it is also filled with plenty of unexpected detours. Perhaps the most welcome one for a rock simp like myself is the ’00s pop-rock aping “F2F”, while the album also sees appearances from Phoebe Bridgers and the long-deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard. There was plenty of reason to be afraid that success might remedy the relatable anxiety in SZA’s early songwriting, but it seems she’s still full of plenty of personal doubts, which seem intertwined with this album’s long gestation period as well as its sublime restlessness.

9. Caitlin Rose – CAZIMI

My top ten lists are usually pretty boring and filled with consensus favorites, so it’s always nice to throw in an album that isn’t showing up on a ton of other Top Ten lists. While Caitlin Rose’s first album in many years wasn’t even remotely as anticipated as, say SZA’s or Yeah Yeah Yeahs’, it was the most pleasantly unexpected surprise for me personally. While CAZIMI isn’t a huge reinvention or anything for Rose, it is chocked full of infectiously comforting indie country-pop songs that make her one of the lowest key great singer-songwriters around. I recently wrote more words than anyone was probably interested in reading about this album, so I’ll just say I’m glad it exists, and I hope it’s not the last we hear of this singer who’s only one degree of separation away from Taylor Swift, but also worlds apart at the same time.

8. Yaya Bey – Remember Your North Star

2022 was a very good year for R&B, even if you’re someone like myself who couldn’t quite into that Sudan Archives album as much as critics did (still pretty good though!). My favorite discovery in this genre was Yaya Bey, a Brooklyn-based artist who has a wonderful ability to combine soul, hip-hop, and jazz into a consistently vibey, satisfying experience. The lyrics are a sometimes jarring mix of profane and humane, often paired with some silky smooth production that made for a great late summer listen. With the 18 tracks it covers in 35 minutes, Remember Your North Star has this feeling of being small and intimate while also plunging you deep into the ruminations of the singer at the heart of it.

7. Destroyer – LABRYNTHITIS

Possibly the easiest album of 2022 to take for granted, even if you’re a Destroyer fan. This would explain why I didn’t come around to truly appreciating it until the later months of the year. Dan Bejar and co. have just been putting out one impeccably chill album after another, and LABRYNTHITIS was another great album in the same vein that doesn’t tweak the recent Destroyer formula too much, but also does just enough different to feel like another stand-out. Some of the songs are knotty and a little bit abrasive, yet still contain the profound, dystopian aesthetic that late-period Destroyer have done so well. After a career of starting from scratch with each album, it’s been a real treat to see Bejar take more of a “the same, but slightly different” approach, and I could listen to about five more albums like this before getting bored of it, but somehow I suspect Bejar will get bored before I do.

6. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention

Going into 2022, I wasn’t really sure where I stood on Radiohead. Were they really the best band of their era or were they just a bunch of mopey pale blokes that were overhyped by Gen X music critics? After falling for the latest album by The Smile (consisting of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood, as well as drummer Tom Skinner) I think my feelings lie much closer to the former than the latter. While I had a ton of admiration for Radiohead’s trailblazing ability to incorporate electronic music into alt-rock, it has been a while since they’d sounded like a true rock band. So, under this new guise and free from the expectations of reinvention that come with a new Radiohead album, Yorke and Greenwood sound looser and more vital than ever.

5. MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs

What a scruffy charmer that MJ Lenderman is. The Ashville, North Carolina singer-songwriter (what’s the deal with all the great artists based out of Ashville btw?) put out one of the more effortless breakout albums of 2022, displaying such an intuitive knack for whistful boogie that it’s impossible not to be lured in if such things appeal to you. Lenderman’s mix of alt-rock and country of course did appeal to me, and his lyrics about being young, drunk, and full of feelings show that he’ll undoubtedly be a songwriter to keep an eye on as his career trudges on and life gets even more weary.

4. Camp Cope – Running With The Hurricane

Speaking of weary, few artists embodied that mix of being both rejuvenated and fucked up by the pandemic like Camp Cope. They had already perfected a potent manifestation of 21st-century feminist anxiety, but here they’re a little more contemplative, though just as passionate. Giorgia Maq continues to be the kind of open-wound singer-songwriter who’s utterly compelling to listen to on every track, while she seems better than ever at crafting melodies that get stuck in your head along with a rawness that tends to get lodged in your gut. The album’s title track is probably the stand-out moment, with its embrace of the world’s chaos while being fully aware of its consequences, but the album as a whole has plenty more of these same emotional peaks that I was happy to run with.

3. Nilüfer Yanya – PAINLESS

If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’ve listened to this album since the Spring, though it was undeniably my most listened-to album of the first half of the year. In fact, as of this summer, I figured PAINLESS had a pretty good chance of being my number-one album of the year. Its blend of silky smooth R&B and arpeggiated Radiohead-esque brooding was simply very easy to listen to over and over again, while the album makes it apparent that Nilüfer Yanya is quickly becoming one of the great indie rock stars in an era when eclecticism reigns supreme.

2. Alvvays – Blue Rev

What more is there to say about an album that hits you like a tidal wave of tenderness in a sea of guitars? I’ve certainly tried to make some sense of it both on this blog and The Pick recently, so I’m not sure I have much more to add to the overwhelming praise of Alvvays’s Blue Rev. Though for what it’s worth, this album is so good that it was somehow the only 2022 album I ended up buying on vinyl, perhaps because my number 1 doesn’t quite fit into that format as perfectly as this one does.

1. Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE

As much as my Top Ten Albums of a given year tend to be filled with boring consensus favorites (as previously mentioned), it is rare that a universally crowned Best Album of The Year ends up being my personal favorite. However, with Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE, there really wasn’t much of a choice for me in choosing my favorite album of 2022. It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album that screamed “instant classic” the way this one does, and the fact that it coincided with being the first Beyoncé album where this most beloved of superstars really clicked with me made it all the more satisfying to latch onto.

RENAISSANCE sees Beyoncé strutting a bit outside of her pop-R&B comfort zone while embracing dance music of all different eras in an absolutely joyous dance-party, using the structure of an album in a truly unique way when most pop music seems completely uninterested in doing such a thing. It’s the only 2022 album where I remember multiple times walking into different shops that would just be playing the album in its entirety. And for that, it’s an album that will always remind me of the joys of going back into the world this year, on top of the fact that it’s just a damn good collection of songs.