The Reader's Digest editorial team discuss some of their favourite music albums of 2022. What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below
Eva Mackevic, Editor-in-chief
When my ears and soul are starved for a tuneful heart-to-heart, artist Grace Cummings’ record Storm Queen comes to mind. Despite its somewhat ominous title, there’s not much tempestuous or imposing about it. A beautifully stripped down and personal album headed by Cummings’ husky, muscular vocals, it really does feel like a much longed-for conversation with a dear old friend over a whiskey in a dimly lit pub.
The music itself is an affecting mixture of bluesy acoustic guitar, Irish folk-inspired fiddle and expressive piano, embellished with the occasional quiet chuckle or audible sigh from Cummings, making it that much more familiar and intimate. It’s also remarkably timeless; “Heaven” sounds like a recording from a rousing Sixties peace protest, while the gentle “Always New Days Always” could easily be seen as a homage to Vashti Bunyan’s cult 1970 record, Just Another Diamond Day.
I was totally beguiled by the freshly-baked pop sensation from Dublin that is Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, or CMAT. Her astonishingly good debut album was a masterclass in songwriting, a compendium of funny, sad and weird life stories, and a solid case for her being one of the most accomplished young vocalists out there at the moment.
But most of all it’s just a really moreish, hooky record that makes you want to sing along and giggle at song titles like “Every Bottle (Is MyBoyfriend)” or “2 Wrecked 2 Care”. CMAT’s vocals are a blend of raspy warmth, girlish charm and Nashville-tinted belts that she deploys with great confidence and verve. This is how you make your first record.
Becca Inglis, Editorial assistant
Music from the African continent continued to flood the Western market in 2022, and one artist pushing this trend was the award-winning rapper Sampa The Great.
Sampa Tembo has described her discomfort with being mistaken for an Australian artist—she lived in Australia between 2014 and 2020—when, in fact, she is Zambia-born and Botswana-raised. On As Above, So Below, she reasserts her cultural identity with a tribute to Zambian music.
Zamrock—psychedelic rock that fused influences from 1970s bands like The Beatles with traditional Zambian folk music—looms large on the record, as do Zambian nursery rhymes, pounding polyrhythmics and joyous choral refrains.
Tembo’s commanding vocals rhapsodise throughout about Zambia’s underrated musical achievements (“Who did music/Made that s*** language/African branded/We did” she brags in “Never Forget”).
Special mention should go to the penultimate track “IDGAF”, which transforms “Hit The Road Jack” into a sultry R&B-inflected number, with Mercury Prize-nominee Kojey Radical lending some delicious East London swagger.
The year 2022 got off to a strong start with Bonobo’s Fragments, which perfectly captured that feeling of saudade that hit the dance music community through the pandemic. At once achingly nostalgic and imbibed with groovy hooks, it provided the ideal home listening record for electronic music fans still starved of rowdy, communal and euphoric dance floors.
Bonobo’s signature use of organic instrumentation is at its best on “Tides”, a heart-rending song about doomed love and passing eras drawn by a mesmerising looped flute and Jamila Woods’ gentle vocals.
Of course, the album took on a whole new meaning once music venues were able to open again without social distancing. Tracks like “Otomo” (a monstrous techno number that samples the Bulgarian choir 100 Kaba-Gaidi) reached new ecstatic heights at Bonobo’s live show, which was shortlisted for Best Live Act at DJ Mag’s Best of British Awards.
For years now, Kae Tempest’s fusion of rap and poetry has been famous for its Dickensian narrative slant, which makes this, their most openly personal record to date, a deeply poignant switch in tack.
Tempest was never particularly forthright in press interviews, preferring their music and the characters they conjured to speak for themselves.
But all that changed in 2020, when Tempest came out to the world as non-binary—a newfound candour that has clearly impacted their latest album.
On tracks like “Smoking”, Tempest reflects on the opportunity for redemption that hitting rock bottom can bring (“There can't be healing until it's all broken/Break me”). On “Water In The Rain” they accept that you cannot always fight the dark days, but must instead surrender to life’s ebbs and flows.
And on “Grace”, the album’s closer, Tempest celebrates love in all its forms—between them and their partner, their friends, and their audience—and the strength it gives them. In life, it’s dangerous to go alone, this record seems to say, and Tempest intends to march forward with company.
Jon O’Brien, Music contributor
“An album so fierce, flirty and full of anthems that you might need to sit down before you hit play,” was how Australian hedonists Confidence Man hailed their second LP, Tilt. And the fabulously-named Janet Planet and Sugar Bones more than lived up to their own hype with an anthemic journey through the annals of mainstream dance culture, from soaring Italo house (“Feels Like a Different Thing”) and spiky electroclash (“Angry Girl”) to poolside pop (“Luvin U Is Easy”) and pulsating rave (“Holiday”), the latter also the ultimate party-starter of this year’s festival circuit. This was the post-pandemic record that anyone who’s ever waved a glowstick needed.
Brendan Sainsbury, Music contributor
It’s a long way from the youthful garage-rock of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” to the smooth lounge lizard musings of “There’d Better be a Mirror Ball”, the 2022 single from The Arctic Monkeys. But over 17 years and seven albums, the four musicians from Sheffield have never shied away from taking risks, surprising listeners, and radically changing their tune on multiple occasions. The Car is merely the next unpredictable step.
With its lush orchestration, crooning vocals and opaque lyrics, this latest collection of ten wonderfully mellow songs sees the band going on an improbable journey into the realms of soul, jazz, and film score music. As much as I loved (and still love) Alex Turner’s punky rants about nightclub bouncers and Sunday morning hangovers, it’s refreshing to hear that he’s not still regurgitating the same material at the age of 36.
Marking a notable evolution from the gritty guitar riffs of 2013’s AM and the polished LA vibe of Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, the latest album tosses elements of Berlin-era Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, and Burt Bacharach in a metaphoric food pot to create a surprisingly original musical stew. Less in-your-face than its predecessors, it takes several listens to lodge itself into your subconscious but, for my money, The Car is the boldest and bravest album of 2022—by a stretch.
Alice Gawthrop, Junior editor
The Dream is Alt-J’s fourth album and is perhaps more reminiscent of a fever dream. Beginning with an ode to a beloved fizzy drink, the album moves various themes including cryptocurrency, murder and drug addiction before finishing with a sweet song about a meet-cute at a house party. The songs are carefully placed within the album to create a cohesive and rewarding listening experience.
A lullaby-like quality permeates throughout, particularly in the song “Get Better”, which gently deals with the subject of loss. Dreamy indeed, the album is best enjoyed in the evening before bed.
Sharon Van Etten’s sixth album is moody and haunting in all the best ways. It opens softly with “Darkness Fades” and perks up by the third track, “I’ll Try”. A standout is “Mistakes”, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album with a chorus that you want to sing along to.
Van Etten pairs her confessional writing style with strong vocals, and the album is an exercise in versatility as the tone shifts between dark and brooding, and powerfully hopeful. It may not make your party playlist, but it will stay with you long after the final note plays.
Ian Chaddock, Assistant Editor
Influenced by the likes of the Replacements and Superchunk, the second LP from Philadelphia indie-rock quartet Big Nothing expertly melds big riffs and soaring melodies. The members’ punk-rock roots are still evident, but this album has timeless, honest rock ‘n’ roll beating at its heart.
From the Teenage Fanclub-esque opener “Always On My Mind” to the crunching, catchy “A Lot of Finding Out,” you’ll be hard-pressed not to be tapping your foot. “Still Sorta Healing” sees bassist Liz Parsons on vocal duties, baring her soul with stunning effect, while the twinkling “Don’t Tell Me” builds slowly yet wonderfully. “Curiosity” shows an Americana-feel and the whole record glows with skilful songwriting.
Big Nothing are far from what their name suggests. If you’re a fan of Nineties melodic rock, then this is a band, and album, you need to hear.
Durham’s finest, the indie/pop-punk four-piece returned in October with their highly anticipated fourth album, Please Don’t Take Me Back, and they didn’t disappoint. Building on their buzzing, power-pop riffs, infectious melodies and witty, socio-political lyrics, their new record documents the band’s experience of living through a global pandemic.
Songs such as opener “Beat, Perpetual,” with lyrics like “My heart’s too eager, to be stuck in the house,” tackle the effects of COVID lockdown, and the catchy “Every Day the Hope Gets Harder” and the building, album highlight, “FLAG//BURNER” show an anger and disillusionment towards the state of the UK. The pop hooks of “Baby, Does Your Heart Sink?” shows another side to their sound.
An LP of sing-along anthems for a crazy and confusing time, Martha are one of the most exciting bands in the country.
A lot of modern country music may be overly polished and commercialised, but the duo of Plains—Katie Crutchfield (who also releases music as Waxahatchee) and Jess Williamson—put the soul back in it with a personal, infectious country-pop album. Raised in Alabama and Texas respectively, this music is from the heart.
Although their first together under this moniker, their experience shines on the twanging opener “Summer Sun”, sweeping album highlight “Problem With It” and the sorrowful “Abilene”. On “Easy”, the pair soothingly sing, “It’s not gonna be easy babe, and you’re not gonna believe it, when you shake off, what’s weighing you down heavily.”
Fans of the likes of Dolly Parton, Shania Twain and the Carter Family will certainly find plenty to enjoy on I Walked With You a Ways, but so will anyone looking for relaxing melodies and lush harmonies.
Jamie Atkins, Music contributor
If there’s one thing we’ve not exactly been short of over the last couple of years, it’s artistic responses to the global pandemic. Luckily for us all, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow—Natalie Mering’s fifth album under the name Weyes Blood—was special.
Mering has an uncanny ability for making the personal universal, for documenting times of instability and frustration in lavish, melodically deft and bittersweet pop songs. That's pop in the classic sense—Mering's songs recall Harry Nilsson, The Carpenters, early 1970s Joni Mitchell and yet have a lyrical sensibility and contemporary production flourishes that makes them feel thoroughly modern. Have existential crises ever sounded so sumptuous?
Lauren John, Music contributor
I don't often buy an album after hearing one song, but I felt safe with Blue, and they've certainly returned that faith with their sixth studio album Heart and Soul. Blue knows when to pick up the pace, when to slow it down, and who can make the best vocal impact where. Heart and Soul has all this and a bit more, and that has made it one of my favourites this year.
The up-tempo title track, and one of my favourites “Haven’t Found You Yet”, have given me happy, sing-while-you-work vibes, while the two piano-laden ballads have very emotive lyrics. With phrases such as “there’s a daydream and it holds me” (“Magnetic”) and “just stop and be hopeful again” (“Stop”), and after the past few years, they got me good. Music should make you feel something, whatever the genre, and Heart and Soul has done that in all the ways I needed.
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