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And The Valley Ranks: 2022 Albums Of The Year (& Lagniappe)

Our review of the musical highlights of 22


Albums Of The Year

Honorable Mentions: SZA | SOS; Joey Bada$$ | 2000; Spoon | Lucifer On The Sofa

10) Oliver Tree | Cowboy Tears

In 2020, I wrote about Oliver Tree and how through all the antics and persona there was a good songwriter who knew their way around a hook. In his sophomore album, Oliver Tree went a little more (a little) more bare-bones with mostly an acoustic guitar-driven album that really let his songwriting and wit shine through. The opening track is one of the catchiest songs of the year, which is saying something because acoustic cuts don’t usually land that honor.

Of course, it’s Oliver Tree so there are some over the top theatrics and humor (“Suitcase Full of Cash”, “Cigarettes”) but the constant is infectious hooks.

I think nine times out of ten the lines Oliver delivers would fall flat when put to wax, but the bravado that Oliver oozes makes it the exception.

I’m a dumbass

But people love that

And they hate me as much as they show me the love.

9) Vince Staples | Ramona Park Broke My Heart

Vince is hands down one of the funniest personalities in music, but his music is anything but.

Like any other rapper not named Lil Wayne, Vince wears his hometown on his sleeve, but isn’t interested in glorifying the ugly side of it. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is fully of the classic LA beats – synth waves, trumpets, heavy 808’s, but the lyrics are full of loss and heartache.

Ultimately, it’s the weariness that makes this album. Vince is so matter of fact with his delivery that it takes two or three listens to realize that “WHEN SPARKS FLY” is not an out of place love song, but an ode to his gun.

Never forget how the story began

Real as they come, I don’t gotta pretend

Live by the gun, die by the sand

8) Pusha T | It’s Almost Dry

How am I supposed to say in 200 words what Pusha himself said in three when he called himself “Cocaine’s Dr. Seuss”?

It’s Almost Dry, is, like all other Pusha T album, a coke rap album. And regardless of how you feel about it (I’ll admit it takes some cognitive dissonance to enjoy), it’s really great bars in a tight 35 minutes. But It’s Almost Dry’s biggest theme is also Pusha’s biggest accomplishment: exactly 20 years after his breakthrough with his brother in Clipse, Pusha is as good as he’s ever been. Sure there are other rappers who have had the longevity that Pusha has had, but none have been as good at year 20 as Pusha is now, let alone as consistently good.

Push doesn’t call himself this, but he’s essentially the oldheads of all oldheads: somebody who can not only hang and evolve with the new era of hip hop but thrive in it doing the same thing he was doing two decades ago.

Oh, and as a kicker: his brother Malice makes his return to rap on the final track.

I shot “Grindin’” in my momma’s momma’s projects

I’m just being honest with you, how is that for context?

You can live forever when the shit you write is timeless

7) The 1975 | Being Funny In A Foreign Language

The 1975’s Notes On A Conditional Form was a huge disappoint for me, but they managed to shake it off well and follow it up with what may be their best album to date. While the lyrics have fluctuated between borderline cringe and really great, The 1975 have always been a treat sonically and I don’t think their song building has been better than it is on Being Funny In A Foreign Language. You could convert the lyrics on most the songs to Simlish and still draw a lot of enjoyment from the album

For whatever reason, English rock bands have always followed The Rule Of Two and had some weird rivalry going on. The Beatles had The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin had The Who, Oasis had Blur. And The 1975 for whatever reason always is compared against the Arctic Monkeys for some reason I’ve never really understood.

And while I LOVE the Arctic Monkeys (or at least, who they used to be), the truth is like AM grew and changed, so have The 1975. And I like the new The 1975 a lot more than I like the new Arctic Monkeys. Songs like “Part of the Band” are radically different from the sounds they began from but are so well executed you’d think it’s what they’ve been doing from the jump.

I’m sorry about my twenties, I was learnin’ the ropes

I had a tendency of thinkin’ about it after I spoke

6) Maggie Rodgers | Surrender

Maggie Rodgers had her breakthrough from “indie darling” to “viable mainstream success” with Surrender, and man is it deserved. The album is nothing but banger after banger spotlighting Maggie’s powerful voice with even more punchy and bold instrumentation. As someone who was previously ambivalent towards Rodgers, this record completely won me over with its pure diversity: pop bangers, ballads, indie, driving groove songs, even a really good synth-led screamalong in “Shatter”. Maggie isn’t a chameleon slipping in and out of these styles, she’s a powerhouse taking them over.

It all works out in the end

Wherever you go,

That’s where I am

Even boulders turn into sands

Wherever you go,

That’s where I am

5) Black Country, New Roads | Ants From Up There

I started listening to Ants From Up There and made it a minute or two before turning it off.

Not because I didn’t like it, but because I was flying on a plane later in the month and I had the distinct feeling that it would be perfect music to listen to 30,000 feet in the air (not because the album image was of an airplane).

And I was correct. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more correct about something. Above all else, Black Country, New Roads’ sophomore album is every bit, if not more impressive than their first from a musical standpoint. Every song has a grand soundscape, the slow ones deep and detailed, the uptempo ones frantic and overflowing with incredible sounds.

Ants From Up There is a viewpoint of our lives at that 30,000 foot level and how things looks and sound stranger from that viewpoint. Things just sound strange when coming from Isaac Wood, but he delivers them with such passion and intensity, even in the most tender moments. And for all of his strong deliveries, the band is right there in lock step behind him, amplifying.

And if it sounds like a breakup album, it kind of is. In a shocking announcement, Wood left BC,NR immediately after the album’s release, confirming the band will somehow move on without him and all signs point to them abandoning their current sound.

But if this is the end of the BC,NR experiment as we know it, what a way to go out.

You’re scared of a world where you’re needed

So you never made nice with the locals

But you tied me up with your vine stuff

It takes a few years, but they break bones

4) Carly Rae Jepsen | The Loneliest Time

I don’t know what you want me to say about this other than the true queen of pop is back with another album impossibly full of bangers, but now with some really great ballads interspliced between.

It’s a Carly Rae Jepsen album. It’s stupid fun and good. You decided if that previous sentence needs a comma or not, it makes no difference to me.

Besides, what pop star can bring Leonard Cohen on and totally make it work? All hail.

What happened was,

We reached the moon

But lost in space,

I think we got there all too soon

But you know what?

I’m comin back for you baby!

I’m comin’ back for you!

3) Florence + The Machine | Dance Fever

I’m not quite sure what it is about not only this album, but also F+TM’s entire discography, but upon first listen this sounds good but relatively unassuming, but only picks up in quality with each listen. Each time I finish the record, I am more compelled to come back to it in the future.

There’s something to be said for that. Is it the best Florence + The Machine record? I don’t believe so. But I love it more and more with each listen, uncovering something new to love about it each time. At first it was the dance track “My Love”, then it became the choppy and almost primal manta delivery on “Heaven Is Here”, then the dead ringer for a Natalie Merchant track on the opening “King”. As of writing, it’s currently the vulnerable and slightly emotional unstable lyrics on “The Bomb.”

Florence is the master at this, giving you something shiny with pretty vocals to listen to, only to bait you into wading into deeper and deeper waters to the point where you’re less here for the shiny objects and more for the depth and emotion.

I know this has a higher place on my list than it probably warrants by reading reviews, and when it was released, I probably agreed with those reviews. But no album has stuck with me like this one has, and that’s worth something.

I don’t love you, I just love the bomb

I let it burn, but it just had to be done

And I’m in ruins, but is it what I wanted all along?

Sometimes you get the girl, sometimes you get a song


I had a former coworker who literally could not work ahead of deadline. This isn’t a criticism of him, because ultimately it worked for him. He was open about his inability to focus without a deadline looming and would put off big projects until it was time to buckle down and work against the clock. I pointed out how unhealthy this practice was, but ultimately the results were pretty unarguable. Some people just work better when they literally have no other choice.

PUP is a collection of these people who are comfortable in chaos. After their debut album was received to acclaim, their sophomore effort was titled The Dream Is Over, which opened with “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” in case the vibe wasn’t totally clear.

For me, PUP changed fundamentally as a band after Jeff Rosenstock stepped in to provide artistic direction for the band’s third offering, Morbid Stuff. God, what an amazing record that was. Well-received and beloved by the fans of the band, a huge step in their evolution. Anyway, they followed it up with “THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND”.

The motif of the album is the lead singer is pressured into learning how to write four-chord songs on the piano into to achieve more mainstream success, tearing apart the band in the process. And because subtlety is pointless in chaos, the album ends with the raw catharsis of “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy.”

Now, the chaos is purely kayfabe. The band is doing fine…for now. I think. But the important this about this album is that continues the creative reformation from Morbid Stuff while still retaining the band’s emotional edge, which is a perfect combination. Who knows how long this in-universe friction will remain fictional, but for the time being PUP has a claim to be the best active punk group in action both in terms of quality and success.

I think I’m gonna blast off

Too old for teen angst, too young to be washed

If that’s the hand that feeds, I might as well cut it off

I used to be reckless and too broke to eat

Now all of my friends have bidets in their ensuites

1) Kendrick Lamar | Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Writer’s block. Cancel culture. Interracial relations. Fakeness. Celebrity worship.

Generational abuse. Sexual assault. Gender conflict. Homophobia and transphobia.


Kendrick touches on all of these issue on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Rather cheekily he’s told to “stop tap dancing around the subject” on the album, but this is the subject. This is what is on center stage, all of it.

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is Kendrick’s first album without a central theme. Section.80 had the firepit rally, good kid, m.A.A.d city had the cassette tapes, To Pimp A Butterfly had the poem, and DAMN. was all one flowing story. This explains why Kendrick struggled with writer’s block and has been off the map since DAMN., in a period where the world really went to hell. Kendrick, at the height of his success, really had too much on his mind to sit and try and create a unifying thread.

And that really freed him to let his creativity flood other areas of the project. No longer bound by one central idea, he was able to fully explore every nook and cranny of what he was trying to say. This freedom allowed him to practice what he preached in opposition of “cancel culture” by featuring Kodak Black several times, about as controversial of a figure in hip hop who is not either behind bars or on a label’s no-go list.

I could write another 1,000 words on this album, but I’ll focus on one song that really sums up what this freedom allowed Kendrick to do: “We Cry Together”.

The song opens with a beautiful Florence + The Machine cover, urging us to “hold on to each other” before cutting it off with a “this is what the world sounds like.” The song then then is an outright domestic dispute played out over six minutes by Kendrick and masterfully by Taylour Paige. Like, the entire is a back-and-forth argument where the two hurl insults at each other, specifically targeting what the other gender is most sensitive to. Taylour insults Kendrick’s manhood and insecurity, Kendrick prods her on her reliance on her significant other. The insults take a magnifying glass to both genders and their insecurities in a very real sense before reaching a pretty surprising conclusion.

It’s a total non-sequitur, but there’s no way to really work it into the story of an album while also touching on everything else that needs to be addressed. It’s been five years without a Kendrick project, and any concerns that he lost his edge over that period have been thoroughly cleared.

Hard to deal with the pain when you’re sober

By tomorrow, we forget the remains, we start over

That’s the problem

Our foundation was trained to accept whatever follows

Dehumanized, insensitive

Song Of The Year

Honorable Mentions: Kendrick Lamar | The Heart Part 5; Spoon | Wild; Carly Rae Jepsen | The Loneliest Time; Harry Styles | As It Was

PUP | Robot Writes A Love Song

This is a concept song. The concept is that it’s a love song, written by a robot.

It’s a neat changeup on paper and executed well with the over formal and mechanical lyrics, but what makes this song truly great is the emotion of which the lyrics are delivered with. There’s a very genuine sentiment in the infliction of Stefan Babcock’s vocals that carries the song, both in the understated first verse and in the soaring hook.

The state of pop punk is in a very weird place. Gen Z has found a very real interest in the once-dying genre like Millennials once did for grunge, but their interpolation of it into their culture has been...iffy.

Olivia Rodrigo’s smash hit “good 4 u” was a great pop punk revival...until it was revealed that it was a little too good of a revival and was basically just a reskinned “Misery Business”. Speaking of, Paramore are getting back together, conveniently after “Still into You” got a second life on TikTok. And I won’t speak on what MGK is doing to desecrate the corpse of the genre.

So in 2022, it felt good to get an honest to God decent pop punk song from a modern artist to prove the genre can still have good offerings to it.

I’m holding on to your wreckage

But I think I’m losin’ the connection

It’s too late to save us now

As we hit the rumble strips

And the crusher, it starts closing in

Why is love this dangerous?

It’s so dangerous

Artist of the Year

Honorable Mentions: Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, ROSALÍA, Taylor Swift

Black Country, New Roads

Give people their flowers while you still can.

Nobody quite knows what the next step for BC,NR will be without the frontman that made the band so engaging, but for now we know that with Isaac Wood, they gave us two incredible albums that worth all the praise received.

There’s actually some beauty to this sudden departure because it allows to clearly draw a line between acts in the band’s life and appreciate what they’ve given us in two short years as opposed to what happens with most bands who go on indefinite hiatuses or get so bogged down with touring that great amount of time starts creeping between eras in the band’s history.

And if this is the end of Black Country, New Roads as we know it then damn, what a way to go out. Maybe version two will somehow manage to eclipse version one, but for the time being I choose to celebrate the band as it was.


Well, it was a year in music. Some years speak to you and some don’t, and I’m not going to pretend this is one of those years in which I was repeatedly hyped for all sorts of new releases. Instead, this year was safe and kind of comfortable. There were a lot of GOOD albums, but few great ones.

And you know what? That’s okay. This was a year for old war horses to release solid records which remind you why you liked them in the first place, more than being blown away by the Next Big Thing. Look, I’m not gonna complain about the first new Archers of Loaf record in 20 years.

This is also about how we consume music these days. I hesitate to say the full form LP is dead, any more than rock is dead, but neither enjoy a place of undisputed primacy anymore. Online streaming pushes us to singles rather than albums, but even more than that, it changes the actual way we listen to music.

Records forced you to concentrate on the music, mainly because of the tactile experience and the necessity of flipping the disc. Streaming is passive listening, and it will go on forever without your intervention. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just different, and it has changed our relationship to pop music in subtle, almost indefinable ways.

But as someone who prefers visceral, messy music meant to be played live… well, I am a bit left behind in this brave new world. Or I’m just getting old.


Sloan has been quietly plugging away for about 30 years and is yet to put out a bad record. It’s a stunning bit of consistency which I think has gone unappreciated because they have never put out that one undisputed classic. Well, enter another contender. If you ask which record to listen to in order to get into Sloan, you’ll get a half dozen different answers. Which is awesome. The Canadian power pop band keeps chugging along, making singalong songs that make your head bop up and down. They won’t change the world, but they will make your day a little brighter. No album made me happier this year.


One of the best trend in pop music over the past decade has been the breakdown of genre boundaries. It does make it harder to classify a record, but who really cares about that anyway? You can tell that Nilufer Yanya has listened to a lot of different genres and spent time thinking about each of them. She casually moves through her influences, though if you had to pin her down, it all seems to hang on shoegaze and branch out from there. But she changes up her voice, the instrumentation, and the themes on her songs. She reminds me a lot of Bartees Strange who, incidentally, also had an excellent release this year.


The sardonic tone of Cheekface is right up my alley. It’s like they are channeling Pavement at their most lo-fi and slacker, hiding their biting wit under the affectation of not really caring at all. But Cheekface does care, and this is more laughing to keep from crying kind of humor, typified by songs like “We Need a Bigger Dumpster.” Still, the spartan arrangements is a real throw back to the 90s, and it hits me square in the Gen X. Here are three chords. Now go form a band. So they did.


I am a deep sucker for power pop. See my ode to Sloan above. What better genre than one that celebrates broken hearts through big riffs and even bigger hooks. It’s a fairly indefinable genre, but it mass of influences from emo to 50s rockabilly allows a band to stretch its legs while still delivering those tasty pop hooks. Here, Alvvays allows themselves to ramble through its influences and styles, while doing the same with its lyrics. There is no off ramp they won’t take, and maybe they will get back to the narrative or maybe they won’t. The influences are on the sleeve, taking on Belinda Carlise’s “Heaven is Place on Earth” directly in “Belinda Says” and questioning if that’s true at all. It’s repackaging an old song as new. There’s love in the old ways, but they are forging a path ahead. Or sideways. Who knows?


There’s a certain progression critically beloved punk bands have to go through, and PUP has reached the point where they are supposed to put out their “mature” indie rock record in a bid for respectability. PUP, arguably the great punk band in the world right now (I will accept arguments on behalf of Turnstile), leans hard into this trope, and wrote a concept album about, well, making a respectable rock record of critical acclaim. They add piano, but the lyrics tell you he only learned last week and only knows four chords. The record tells the unlikely story of PUP become a global phenomenon and a corporate brand, only to eventually go bankrupt due to their own hubris and excess. A brilliantly funny record powered by – what else? Power chords.


The heavy hitters of pop music all released records this year to general acclaim, but it is the underdog Carly Rae Jespen who put out the best pop record of the year. I’m not sure when she went from seeming one-hit wonder to indie pop goddess, but consider the transition complete. She’s been cultivating a loyal, underground following for year (well, as underground as pop stars get) due to her ability to channel uncomfortable truths with a sunny smile. And her songwriter aims to be universal rather than uniquely personal, definitely swimming against the prevailing tide. No one is going to sit down with “Beach House” and try to figure out which terrible man she’s talking about, mainly because their sins run the gamut from not calling her back to being a serial killer. There’s no attempt to ground it in her personal story, though we can all relate to it. But it still wouldn’t work if the songs weren’t fun as hell. Which they are. Put it on loud and start dancing.


Speaking of breaking down genres… what in the absolute hell is Zeal & Ardor? I guess you could call them a band which turns spirituals into heavy metal songs, but that seems to short change both how weird and how diverse their sound is. But they are certainly a band which sounds like no other while at the same time is reminiscent of so many other genres. Heck, “Golden Liar” is almost a blues song which could serve as a lost Tom Waits track. And it follow “Emersion,” a song that begins with a bright synth beat before descending into almost literal hell. It’s an exciting record because at no point do you know where any of the song are going to go.


I’m not gonna lie, this record isn’t for everyone, but on the other hand, it feels like it was made for me. The guitarist for indie rockers Wednesday (who also put out a really cool record of nothing but covers, which is like digging through your coolest friend’s record collection), Lenderman recorded a low stakes lo-fi record. There’s so little clutter on the record, and the spartan production shows off his gift for songwriter. A surprisingly tender “TLC Cagematch” contemplates his own self-destructiveness while the rest of the record seems to celebrate the same. Such is the duality of man, eh?


Speaking of respectable, it has become okay in certain circles to admit you like country music, so long as you like the “right” artists. The alt-country of Sturgill Simpson or Brandi Carlisle has received the blessing of the establishment. And that’s cool, but it’s time to recognize that Miranda Lambert is midway through a legendary career as a mainstream country artist. And she’s at the point now that she absolutely knows it. She is so goddamn cocky at this point that “Geraldene” consciously references the melody of “Jolene,” just so you can make the mental comparison to Dolly. “You can’t take a man from me, Geraldene.” Taking some of the loose jams on her “Marfa Tapes” record, she blows the songs about into a fully formed state, and you can see how they grew from rough cuts to great pop songs. This is one of the all-time greats putting out one of her greatest records.


Every year, there is a hot new thing, and I try not to get sucked into it. Anyone remember the Tuneyards? The indie rock press is great at finding the Next Great Hype, then moving on. I try to avoid it, but… they got me this year. Wet Leg really is that good. The selling point for me is this isn’t a band that takes itself seriously as a Great Band. How could they, with songs like “Piece of Shit” and “Ur Mum”? The stakes are kept low, and there’s a wink and nod. But like Kurt Cobain couldn’t help but right great pop songs underneath the fuzz and distortion, Wet Leg can’t hide their pop craftmanship under the jokes and the feigned lack of ambition. “Wet Dream” is a fun romp of a breakup song, the aural equivalent of the “You up?” text. It’s enough to make a girl blush.


OK, let’s do this.

Let’s start with this fact: Taylor Swift is the biggest artist on the planet right now. There are only two albums released in the past 15 years which have achieved Diamond Certification, Taylor Swift’s Fearless and Adele’s 21. The only reason Swift doesn’t have two is that sales of Red are split between the two versions of the record.

She has ten record which have sold over a million copies worldwide. She has had the best-selling album of the year five times, and she’s a few days away from breaking her own record and making it number six. It took Midnights less than a week to become this year’s best selling record, and its sales doubled the number two record of the entire year in just that first week of release. All ten songs charted in the top ten, nine of them in the first week of the record’s release. Those are peak Beatlemania numbers.

That sort of success defies comparison, though her closest historical comparisons are her fellow travelers from the country music assembly line to mainstream pop super stardom: Linda Ronstadt and Shania Twain. Twain also put up previously unseen sales numbers, but she was largely seen, unfairly, as a product of her star producer husband. Ronstadt was a massive star in the 70s who never truly got her deserved plaudits, and a rare brain disease robbed her of her singing voice. Swift stands in place to right those historic wrongs.

What’s frustrating to me is that for all of her success, her music has always struck me as rather bland. It’s not bad, and she certainly is doing just fine without my approval, but I wish I heard what so many other people which inspires such extreme loyalty in her fans.

And to her credit, Swift has wielded her celebrity as another tool at her disposal to great effect. Her lyrics have a hyper specificity which rewards not just repeated listens, but deep knowledge of Swift’s public story. She makes albums for die hard fans, it’s just that she has about ten million die hard fans. That’s a near impossible trick, though it is somewhat alienating to a casual listener. There’s no easy entry point to the deep lore of Taylor Swift which is practically a prerequisite to enjoy her music. In a way, that’s sort of the point.

In fact, I appreciate that she is essentially a niche artist, only her niche is being the most popular celebrity on earth. She demands your full attention, and I don’t have the time or commitment to jump on board. But that’s because it’s not for me, and it doesn’t have to be. I like that it isn’t for me, but recognizing that fact doesn’t make it any more accessible for me. Or make me actually like it.

Swift’s fanbase is acutely sensitive to any sort of critical dismissal, which is annoying, but the basic point is that if she sold as many records as the Beatles, why is she not treated the same? This is where I’ll point out that if you really want to see critical hostility to Diamond Certified artist, let me introduce you to Nickelback and Creed.

And the truth of the matter is, most top selling artists take a critical beating. Taylor Swift isn’t special. The Beatles have six Diamond records. Led Zeppelin has five. Go back and read what 1970s rock critics had to say about Zeppelin. It was not kind. The Eagles own two of the top three selling albums of all-time. And they are the punchline of The Big Lebowski. Garth Brooks has more Diamond records than anyone, and he’ll never be Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash. When you are the stand in for all that is popular, you become the target of criticism in order to criticize the entire culture. In a perverse way, it’s a sign of respect, and Swifties should embrace it a bit more. She is the mountaintop.

This is a long way of me saying I find Swift’s true art to be celebrity, and this was the year she truly learned to wield that celebrity to great effect. She released remasters of her most popular albums last year, a project continuing forward, in a way to control her back catalog. It’s the kind of power move that really only Swift can pull off. The idea of rerecording, remastering, and then rereleasing your old album, and then convincing the public to buy your version and not the old one, is simply not a model available to anyone save Taylor Swift. It’s the ultimate power move.

But the release of Midnights itself was a work of celebrity art. She convinced a large segment of the music listening public to all listen to her album at the exact moment of release. It was a communal cultural moment, the kind we rarely have these days since the death of the monoculture. And the album does play different in the haziness of late evening than it does in the harsh light of day.

And if anyone can reform Ticketmaster, its her. Remember, Pearl Jam was the biggest band on earth when they got absolutely pummeled into submission by Ticketmaster. But now they done messed with Swifties. Three decades later, with the company more powerful, corrupt, and entrenched than ever, perhaps the only person in all of the music industry powerful enough to take them on is Taylor Swift.

Do not bet against her celebrity. That is her superpower. There is no pop culture, only Taylor Swift. Let’s see how far this goes.