The 50 best albums of 2022

Best Albums NME 2022

If the past few years were all about surviving, then 2022 was when music thrived again. Live gigs, events and festivals made a full return in much of the world, and music was once again experienced as our favourite creators intended it to be: extremely loud, up close and personal.

Little surprise, then, that we saw superstars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, who both turned to the dancefloor for their respective huge returns, produce some of their most sprightly efforts yet, while Wet Leg brought good vibes only on their stellar debut. Others, too, appeared to be hitting their creative peak: Rosalía pushed boundaries, Fontaines D.C. turned in an instant-classic and Arctic Monkeys went on the ride of their lives.

They’re all in this list, among many more that you’ll no doubt have hammered all year and some newbies you’ve not yet had the delight of meeting. Let’s get stuck in…

Thomas Smith, Commissioning Editor (Music)

Best albums of 2022
Best albums of 2022

Words by: Alex Flood, Andrew Trendell, Andy Brown, El Hunt, Ella Kemp, Erica Campbell, Gemma Samways, Hannah Mylrea, Hollie Geraghty, Jake Tucker, Kyann-Sian Williams, Max Pilley, Nick Levine, Rhian Daly, Sam Moore, Sophie Williams, Thomas Smith and Will Richards

Just Mustard – ‘Heart Under’

50. Just Mustard – ‘Heart Under’

In a nutshell: Dundalk five-piece’s voyage to exploring the outer limits of guitar music

The mighty second album from Just Mustard was a perfect record for dreaming. Its blend of extreme noises – from a dual attack of harsh industrial effects and atmospheric synths to wailing sirens – eliminated the possibility of focusing on your surroundings while the music is playing. That shock to the senses has continued to prove enlightening: ‘Heart Under’ not only kept the flame of noise rock alive, but it quietly upped the genre’s game. SW

Key track: ‘I Am You’

NME said: “The band have said they want ‘Heart Under’ to feel like the experience of driving through a tunnel with the windows down. Through deliciously inventive musicianship they’ve created something even more thrilling.”

Liam Gallagher – ‘C’mon You Know’

49. Liam Gallagher – ‘C’mon You Know’

In a nutshell: Shaking off the lockdown blues, R Kid lets loose and lives large

Well, we had fun, didn’t we? Summer 2022 will be fondly remembered for its vintage festival season as we returned to the fields, sans pandemic-related restrictions, for the first time in three years. Released in May, Liam Gallagher’s third solo album delivered the feel-good regimen we needed for the months that followed: a set of defiant, colourful and fearless indie anthems that didn’t give a shit about anything other than letting the good times roll. SW

Key track: ‘Everything’s Electric’

NME said: “Easily the most interesting, experimental and varied album Liam has put his own name to.”

Kehlani – 'Blue Water Road’

48. Kehlani – ‘Blue Water Road’

In a nutshell: A quietly confident record that induces pure reverie

Kehlani has always been an outstanding vocal talent. In the early years of their career, the Bay Area artist loved to glide over ‘90s and ‘00s-style R&B and hip-hop instrumentals, showing off the sultry power of their voice in the process. But on their third album, she turned down the high-octane beats for a loftier yet more subdued approach to prove that their softer side is just as superior as the R&B style they’re renowned for. KSW

Key track: ‘Little Story’

NME said: “This album finds Kehlani in spectacular form – softer, stronger and better than ever.”

Megan Thee Stallion - ‘Traumazine’

47. Megan Thee Stallion – ‘Traumazine’

In a nutshell: A righteously fierce, rage-fuelled ride with hits that don’t miss

The lead-up to ‘Traumazine’ saw Megan Thee Stallion handle multiple public traumas while still producing feel-good hits for thee hotties. Her latest full-length offering then took a detour, shining a light instead on her artistry and ability to rap about what hurts. On ‘Anxiety’ she spoke about loss and put a hit out on the haters on ‘NDA’, while on ‘Not Nice’ she rapped about the bewildering expectations society puts on Black women. It was bold, abrasive and brilliant, and proved the range of Megan’s talent and her right to rap’s throne. EC

Key track: ‘NDA’

NME said: “Although Megan Thee Stallion is only just settling into her throne as one of hip-hop’s elite, she’ll clearly leave a lasting impression on rap music forever.”

Björk – ‘Fossora’

46. Björk – ‘Fossora’

In a nutshell: Björk is at her Björkiest in rave-inspired ode to home and motherhood

Like the rest of us, lockdown forced Björk to stay home. That, combined with the loss of a parent and putting on living room parties to stay sane, led the Icelandic art-pop polymath to make a rave-inspired album that dealt with family and rediscovering her roots. It made for a stately yet fresh sound and energy that made ‘Fossora’ her finest record in a decade. AT

Key track: ‘Ancestress’

NME said: “On this form, Björk sounds like she’s ready to reap her dues and lead the charge.”

Wunderhorse - ‘Cub’

45. Wunderhorse – ‘Cub’

In a nutshell: Bold and introspective songwriting with a heartaching heartland rock flourish

Jacob Slater’s piercing debut is a far cry from his stint as the frontman of the Dead Pretties or his recent TV role as Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. While the angst still remains, it’s been distilled into openhearted songwriting, distorted Americana guitars and coming-of-age stories. “Do I look pretty in your pictures? / Did I fool you with a laugh?” Slater asked someone with a “smile like a razorblade” in ‘17’. It’s songwriting built for longevity, and a warning shot of what’s still to come. EC

Key track: ‘17’

NME said: “‘Cub’ is a goodbye to the Jacob Slater we previously knew and a hugely exciting welcome to a songwriter finally becoming himself: you can envisage him making records like this for decades to come.”

Oliver Sim - 'Hideous Bastard'

44. Oliver Sim – ‘Hideous Bastard’

In a nutshell: The xx singer and bassist confronts his demons on his stunning solo outing

Sim’s solo debut was an uncommonly brave and beautiful affair in which he shared his HIV-positive status for the first time. Produced by bandmate Jamie xx, it’s a collection of cathartic, surprising and ultimately life-affirming music on which Sim chronicled his journey to self-acceptance with piercing honesty. The presence of Bronski Beat legend Jimmy Somerville on backing vocals underlined Sim’s own place in the queer-pop pantheon. NL

Key track: ‘Hideous’

NME said: “The results are beautiful, moving and – regardless of subject matter – brilliantly inventive.”

caroline – ‘caroline’

43. caroline – ‘caroline’

In a nutshell: Blissful patience collides with squalling urgency on largely instrumental post-rock opus

caroline are the eye at the centre of our collective national hurricane: a stoically patient and introspective ensemble that take as much time as they need to express the message that the rest of us need to hear. The London-based eight-piece crafted elegant towers of stately guitar, woodwind and brass on their self-titled debut that stretched luxuriously into the endless sky, before picking the perfect moments to bring them crashing down in glorious cacophony. MP

Key track: ‘Dark Blue’

NME said: “That they manage to maintain a sense of spontaneity and freedom in the sound, when every tiny element is considered so deeply, is a real feat.”

J-hope – ‘Jack In The Box’

42. J-hope – ‘Jack In The Box’

In a nutshell: BTS rapper steps away from his sunny persona and dives into the darkness

The first BTS member to have an official solo release following the group’s decision to focus more on individual projects, J-hope wasted no time in breaking out of the box his artistry had previously been confined in. Instead of bright and breezy tunes, he turned to shadowy introspection – questioning his identity, values and the world at large – with undeniably brilliant and addictive results. RD

Key track: ‘Arson’

NME said: “‘Jack In The Box’ takes the J-Hope the world has come to know and love over the last nine years and sets that figure alight. From the ashes, though, comes a star more thrilling and formidable than ever.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Unlimited Love’

41. Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Unlimited Love’

In a nutshell: A riff-tastic reunion with some old rock reprobates

“We feel fresh, like a new band,” RHCP’s John Frusciante told NME back in February, just months after announcing his return as guitarist of the California funk-rockers. The veteran band’s 12th album arrived two months later, and that infectious, newfound energy could be keenly felt on the likes of the grungy tub-thumper ‘These Are The Ways’, snarling gutter-punk ‘Bastards Of Light’ and old school indie anthem ‘Black Summer’. They’re not back to their early ‘00s best yet, but it’s not far off. AF

Key track: ‘The Heavy Wing’

NME said: “On their 12th album, Red Hot Chili Peppers not only get comfortable with their own impressive legacy, but prove there’s plenty more to come.”

Warpaint – ‘Radiate Like This’

40. Warpaint – ‘Radiate Like This’

In a nutshell: Dreamy reflections and reassurance from one of indie-rock’s most consistent outfits

Marking their return to action after a six-year break between studio albums, ‘Radiate Like This’ didn’t exactly reinvent the Warpaint wheel – but then that wouldn’t have been what anyone would have wanted. Instead, the LA four-piece maintained their creative consistency with an assured 10-track record that featured spacey, full-band efforts (‘Hard To Tell You’), cooing, downtempo chill-outs (‘Send Nudes’) and vibe-shifting curveballs (‘Proof’). The half-decade wait was well worth it. SM

Key track: ‘Stevie’

NME said: “‘Radiate Like This’ is excitingly dynamic as it cycles through its varied but unified vibes.”

Bartees Strange - ‘Farm To Table’

39. Bartees Strange – ‘Farm To Table’

In a nutshell: Powerful genre-hopping from a next-generation indie star

While making ‘Farm To Table’, Bartees Strange toured with Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Courtney Barnett and Car Seat Headrest – but the Washington, D.C. songwriter’s second record aimed to break out of any obvious boxes or categorisations. Indie met hip-hop met ecstatic dance music on this hugely ambitious record, all narrated by an effervescent and thoughtful narrator who has plenty ahead of him. WR

Key track: ‘Wretched’

The Smile - ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’

38. The Smile – ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’

In a nutshell: Finally, a supergroup worthy of the hype

Proving that superstar side projects needn’t be a by-word for self-indulgence, ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’ saw Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, in collaboration with Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner, deliver some of their most compelling moments outside of Radiohead so far. Ever adept at tapping into our collective dread, Yorke explored dystopian themes across a succession of endlessly inventive arrangements that variously nodded to jazz, prog, Afrobeat and wiry post-punk. GS

Key track: ‘Open The Floodgates’

NME said: “In cutting some new shapes, this supergroup have been set loose to make some of the most arresting and satisfying music of their careers.”

Weyes Blood – ‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’

37. Weyes Blood – ‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’

In a nutshell: A headfirst dive into Natalie Mering’s vision of the end of the world

Finding a sliver of hope amid a whirlwind of pain is no mean feat, but then Weyes Blood had done it before. 2019’s ‘Titanic Rising’ detailed fears of ecological destruction and an uncertain future, while the gorgeous, richly orchestrated songs of its predecessor ‘Front Row Seat To Earth’ looked closer at our impending doom. But perhaps because any crisis has a way of revealing our true selves, Natalie Mering allowed herself to just take things as they come on ‘And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ – and encouraged us to do the same in the process. SW

Key track: ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’

NME said: “By being pliable, open and more tender, Weyes Blood seems to suggest we can save ourselves from the doom that this stunning record finds itself gripped within.”

Lizzo - 'Special'

36. Lizzo – ‘Special’

In a nutshell: The star asserts her pop dominance with an album of positivity-fuelled bops

‘Special’ may be Lizzo’s fourth album, but, crucially, it’s also her first since she became a festival-slaying superstar. Having worked so hard to crack the mainstream, the versatile singer/rapper proved that she’s here to stay by expanding on her core values – self-empowerment, sisterly solidarity and body positivity – in ways that felt fresh rather than retread. Along the way, she stylishly dipped into disco, funk and even Pointers Sisters-style pop. NL

Key track: ‘About Damn Time’

NME said: “Lizzo knows exactly who she is as an artist: she’s the bad bitch with an incredible talent for making people feel good.”

Kojey Radical – ‘Reason To Smile’

35. Kojey Radical – ‘Reason To Smile’

In a nutshell: A tale of self-redemption over enthralling jazzy notes

The east London rising star is a living reminder that, in an era of pop-drill and songs about frivolous vices, pure rap can still win. Kojey’s debut album, which earned him a Mercury Prize nomination, was a punchy, uplifting record and a clear highlight in this year’s rap race. KSW

Key track: ‘Payback’

NME said: “Kojey Radical sells us the image of the refined Renaissance man he has become, rather than merely resting on his potential – it would be easy to do so, as he has bags of the stuff.”

Black Thought and Danger Mouse – ‘Cheat Codes’

34. Black Thought and Danger Mouse – ‘Cheat Codes’

In a nutshell: The Roots wordsmith and producer extraordinaire link up; hip-hop greatness ensues

Danger Mouse’s first purely hip-hop album since his 2005 MF Doom collaboration ‘The Mouse And The Mask’ was always going to be a major event. Teaming up with The Roots’ lead MC Black Thought (one of rap’s most consistently insightful forces), the pair proceeded to deliver a slick, straight-to-the-point collection of hip-hop gems that also featured tight contributions from Run The Jewels, A$AP Rocky and the late DOOM. Here’s hoping this isn’t a one-off project. SM

Key track: ‘Strangers’

NME said: “The generationally-acclaimed modern greats are at their best on a long-awaited collaboration that constantly delights.”

Alex G - ‘God Save The Animals’

33. Alex G – ‘God Save The Animals’

In a nutshell: A dazzling career high from the enigmatic Philadelphia prodigy

After eight ‘proper’ albums and countless other Bandcamp releases, Alex G has become an indie-rock darling. With ‘God Save The Animals’ he made his most focused and consistent record yet, twisting his voice through autotuned vocals and lyrical wizardry from a restless soul. It’s the kind of album that, in the years to come, could prove to have bent indie-rock into fascinating new shapes. WR

Key track: ‘Miracles’

NME said: “Across this diverse and consistently excellent 13-track record, Alex G hops between styles, perspectives and energies with abandon.”

Kevin Morby - ‘This Is A Photograph’

32. Kevin Morby – ‘This Is A Photograph’

In a nutshell: The Americana troubadour’s finest hour is a post-pandemic love letter to the people he holds dear

Arriving scarcely 18 months after his more lo-fi sixth offering ‘Sundowner’, Morby returned with his most satisfying entry yet. ‘This Is A Photograph’ was an ambitious, heart-warming and deeply personal entry from a songwriter who knows no other way than to bare it all. ‘Stop Before I Cry’ actually found him stumped for once, as he relished his life with his partner Katie Crutchfield, AKA indie-rocker Waxahatchee: “I wanna go out dancing as soon as the world returns / Cause Katie, when you’re dressed up, honey – oh, it’s hard to find the words.” Just wonderful stuff. TS

Key track: ‘Rock Bottom’

NME said: “The Kansas City musician’s seventh album is an epic ode to the fragility of life and the consequent need to cherish love, joy and family.”

The Weeknd – ‘Dawn FM’

31. The Weeknd – ‘Dawn FM’

In a nutshell: A Jim Carrey-aided, ‘80s synth-pop-indebted new horizon for the Canadian superstar

The Weeknd created a monster in 2020 with ‘After Hours’, the album that secured his place as a stadium-filling part of the pop stratosphere. Its follow-up ‘Dawn FM’, then, came with big expectations – and it didn’t disappoint. Decorated with sci-fi synths and snippets of Jim Carrey playing a platitude-loving radio DJ, it glittered and glitched its way through tales of self-improvement, growing up and setting love free. RD

Key track: ‘Out Of Time’

NME said: “‘Dawn FM’ feels like the first steps on a journey for The Weeknd to find peace with himself; perhaps next time we hear from him, he’ll be fully embracing the light of day.”

Alvvays - ‘Blue Rev’

30. Alvvays – ‘Blue Rev’

In a nutshell: Spellbinding indie-pop that seamlessly shifts from heartbreak to exhilaration

Brimming with distorted guitars, sharp lyrics and lush instrumentation, the Canadian band’s first album in five years saw them bravely voyaging into deeper, dreamier pop territory. From the momentum of ‘Pomeranian Spinster’ to singer/songwriter Molly Rankin’s delicate and powerful delivery of the accusation “Is she a perfect 10? Have you found Christ again?” in ‘Velveteen’, each moment of ‘Blue Rev’ made impending heartbreak sound like an ecstatic and tempting pursuit. EC

Key track: ‘Pharmacist’

NME said: “‘Blue Rev’ stands as an ode to continuing to evolve despite obstacles, slowly honing and tweaking your craft, and keeping moving.”

Father John Misty – ‘Chloë and the Next 20th Century’

29. Father John Misty – ‘Chloë and the Next 20th Century’

In a nutshell: Folk frontman schmoozes his way through a razzle-dazzle reinvention

Josh Tillman has made a career out of his sarky, fame-shy alter ego. But on his latest record, the former Fleet Foxes man stopped hiding behind a mask and instead embraced the role of entertainer. A buzzcut, slick suit and some smart new dance moves established the makeover, before big band tunes like ‘Chloë’, twinkling piano ballad ‘Goodbye Mr. Blue’ and bossa nova experiment ‘Olvidado’ added the required Old Hollywood sparkle. He won’t be looking back. AF

Key track: ‘The Next 20th Century’

NME said: “Much of [the album] is delivered with a wink, and is as dramatically brooding as his past work. Every track is vivid, yet still quietly dark, as it conjures various kinds of lamentation.”

Fred again.. – ‘Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)’

28. Fred again.. – ‘Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)’

In a nutshell: In-demand producer’s star continues to ascend with his contemplative yet club-ready third solo album

Now established as one of the UK’s leading dance music producers and DJs, more eyes than ever are fixed on Fred Gibson. As well as collaborating with a host of artists in 2022 – Swedish House Mafia, Future and The xx’s Romy, to name a few – Gibson also found the time this year to drop ‘Actual Life 3’, which saw the musician and a host of friends delve further into his candid, cathartic and bangers-heavy world of sound. Expect Fred again..’s dancefloor domination to continue into 2023 and beyond. SM

Key track: ‘Delilah (pull me out of this)’

NME said: “Gibson’s inclination towards expressing thoughtful and emotional contemplation largely balance out the record’s apparent eagerness to simply rave through the pain.”

Steve Lacy – ‘Gemini Rights’

27. Steve Lacy – ‘Gemini Rights’

In a nutshell: Feelgood funk fusion that helped lift this year’s veil of sadness

There wasn’t much to smile about in 2022, but Steve Lacy’s fearlessly funky second album definitely helped lighten the mood. Super-smooth opener ‘Static’ made for the ultimate R&B earworm, while chugging riffs and zany synths took over on Lacy’s first Number One hit ‘Bad Habit’. The sensual soul of ‘Sunshine’ then provided a quick rush of dopamine before the meandering pop wander of ‘Give You The World’ brought proceedings to a close. So stop doom-scrolling, put your phone down and come have a dance with Steve. AF

Key track: ‘Sunflower’

NME said: “With such a vibrant musical palette at his disposal, it could have been easy for Lacy to phone it in lyrically and let the music do the talking. But ‘Gemini Rights’ is a recalibration.”

Loyle Carner – ‘Hugo’

26. Loyle Carner – ‘Hugo’

In a nutshell: The personal meets the political in a powerful examination of identity

Eschewing the easy-going approach of his earlier output, the ever-dexterous Loyle Carner displayed a renewed sense of purpose on album number three. Created alongside a select group of collaborators, including regular producer Kwes, poet John Agard and youth activist Athian Akec, ‘Hugo’ saw the British-Guyanese rapper offering more questions than answers as he called out structural racism, unpicked his mixed-race heritage and confronted complex associations with fatherhood. GS

Key track: ‘Hate’

NME said: “On his third album, Loyle Carner is opening himself up to the world.”

Dry Cleaning – ‘Stumpwork’

25. Dry Cleaning – ‘Stumpwork’

In a nutshell: South London quartet’s surreal second album carries unexpected poignancy

The bizarre, subconscious logic of Florence Shaw’s spoken-sung lyrics was more madcap and confounding than ever on ‘Stumpwork’. Combine that with Dry Cleaning’s new sonic adventurism – encompassing jangle pop, deep funk and stoner rock – and you had a band hitting levels of confidence that they had never previously enjoyed. In amongst the fun, Dry Cleaning used ‘Stumpwork’ to process genuine personal tragedies: it’s a highly-accomplished and mature piece of work. MP

Key track: ‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’

NME said: “If nothing else, Dry Cleaning prove on their second album that they are unique.”

Big Thief - ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’

24. Big Thief – ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’

In a nutshell: Folk rockers stretch themselves on their experimental yet focused 20-track double album

Across their first four albums, Big Thief dipped into blissful folk, washed-out psych and dusty rock. Their fifth LP, a 20-track double album as maximalist and sprawling as its title, saw them expand their horizons even further. From folk hoedowns (‘Spud Infinity’) to shredding guitar solos (‘Simulation Swarm’) and beyond, ‘Dragon…’ was far from musically or thematically coherent, but the undoubted strength of its 20 tracks meant that it didn’t matter a jot. WR

Key track: ‘Time Escaping’

NME said: “There’s a certain looseness that suits Big Thief well across the whole record.”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Cool It Down’

23. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Cool It Down’

In a nutshell: A fiery return from NYC’s rock royalty

Nearly a decade had elapsed since the indie icons released 2013’s ‘Mosquito’, but new YYYs material finally surfaced in September. Clocking in at just eight tracks long, the result was a stylish and punchy rush of all killer, no filler that was raucous yet mature, and expansive while succinct. The movie adaptation of ‘00s NYC indie bible Meet Me In The Bathroom may have filled us with nostalgia this year, but YYYs are evidently laser-focused on the future. AT

Key track: ‘Wolf’

NME said: “‘Cool It Down’ is a creative testament to how refreshing it can be for bands to look forward instead of backwards.”

Denzel Curry - ‘Melt My Eyez See Your Future’

22. Denzel Curry – ‘Melt My Eyez See Your Future’

In a nutshell: A thoughtful and mellow experiment from one of rap’s most versatile artists

Rapping over shimmering pianos and warm jazz samples, Denzel Curry was in full control as he took listeners through his most experimental album yet. Powerful tracks like ‘Zatoichi’ and ‘Worst Comes To Worst’ kept Curry’s signature punchiness coursing through this new sonic territory, while the LP also dealt in more restrained and richer flows. The sum of their parts? A crowning achievement, even for an artist who has already made a career out of defying expectations. AB

Key track: ‘Walkin’

NME said: “It’s hard to revamp your sound with every project, but Denzel Curry is fast becoming the Renaissance man of Southern hip-hop, always 10 steps ahead of the game.”

Mitski – ‘Laurel Hell’

21. Mitski – ‘Laurel Hell’

In a nutshell: Cult indie icon returns from her hiatus in theatrical, thought-provoking form

After her 2018 album ‘Be The Cowboy’, Mitski dipped from public view and went on an indefinite hiatus. Thankfully, she didn’t stay away for good, because her grand return – her sixth album ‘Laurel Hell’ – was an absolute gem. On it, the Nashville-based artist put her relationship with her status in the spotlight under a microscope, deftly analysing the intersection of art and self-worth with the sharpness of the titular tool in ‘Working For The Knife’. RD

Key track: ‘The Only Heartbreaker’

NME said: “After exploring the isolation of feeling like a “nobody” [on ‘Be The Cowboy’], Mitski’s explorations of being somebody prove just as compelling.”

Foals – ‘Life Is Yours’

20. Foals – ‘Life Is Yours’

In a nutshell: The Oxford band find renewed vibrancy on their optimistic seventh album

Their first record since keyboardist Edwin Congreave’s departure, ‘Life Is Yours’ saw Foals conquer the shady undercurrent of 2019’s ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ series to return more energetic than ever. Rebelling against lockdown-induced lethargy, the trio followed their rock-rave instincts to create a self-described “going-out record”. From the jolting synths of opener ‘Life Is Yours’ to the trim snares of ‘2am’, Foals’ latest felt like an antidote to staying indoors. HG

Key track: ‘Wake Me Up’

NME said: “Born of a time when such exploits weren’t possible, and written in dusty bunkers in locked-down Peckham, ‘Life Is Yours’ was made as a manifesto for those good times we were all denied by the pandemic.”

Wizkid – 'More Love Less Ego’

19. Wizkid – ‘More Love Less Ego’

In a nutshell: An elevated representation of what Afropop can be

Even when burdened with the task of representing a whole continent, Wizkid didn’t bow to the pressure. Instead, he produced a collection of experimental tracks to accentuate his new, more mature approach to music-making. Encompassing popular sounds from the whole diaspora — from dancehall to amapiano — the expansive ‘More Love Less Ego’ perfected his sound. KSW

Key track: ‘Bad To Me’

NME said: “After over a decade of being one of Afrobeats’ go-to hitmakers, Wizkid is continuing to expand his sound with great success.”

Confidence Man - ‘Tilt’

18. Confidence Man – ‘Tilt’

In a nutshell: The Aussies go harder, better and faster on their beefy, brilliant second album

Any album that was road-tested in The Fuck Bunker – the band’s DIY club in their Melbourne garden – was surely going to be a banger. ‘Tilt’ blended the silliness of their 2018 debut ‘Confident Music For Confident People’ with more assured beats, all the while fleshing out Janet Planet and Sugar Bones’ on-stage characters. By the time they hit Glastonbury in the summer, they’d forged what NME would call “this year’s wildest tour”. TS

Key track: ‘Holiday’

NME said: “The electro-poppers’ second album is more emotionally rounded than its predecessor, but they remain ridiculous in all the right places.”

Pusha T – ‘It's Almost Dry’

17. Pusha T – ‘It’s Almost Dry’

In a nutshell: Virginia rap veteran brings in the heavyweights to prolong his strong run of form

How do you follow a masterpiece like 2018’s ‘Daytona’? Well, Pusha T gave it a damn good go with ‘It’s Almost Dry’. Co-produced by Pharrell and Kanye West, this punchy 12-track collection saw King Push call on Jay-Z, Lil Uzi Vert and Kid Cudi to bring his latest set of coke-rap anthems to life. “I feel like people are definitely seeing what the differences are between me and [my competition],” Pusha boldly told NME back in May. “When I’m not quiet, you actually see, ‘Oh – they’re not even close.’” It’s true: Pusha T is still in a league of his own. SM

Key track: ‘Dreamin’ Of The Past’

NME said: “Pusha T has managed to elevate his art to new heights, signalling that he’s nowhere close to being done.”

Harry Styles – ‘Harry’s House’

16. Harry Styles – ‘Harry’s House’

In a nutshell: Shapeshifting pop hero learns that home really is where the heart is

Harry Styles pulled off one of the year’s greatest magic tricks on his third solo album. The warm-hearted and introspective songs of ‘Harry’s House’ were tightly constructed but sounded so effortless, as the 28-year-old traced the quiet work of piecing himself together all while delighting in a giddy new romance. Imbued with the colourful fuck-it spirit of his inclusive, outrageously entertaining live shows, it was here where the multitudes of Styles’ voice, and by extension his true self, finally started to blossom. SW

Key track: ‘Late Night Talking’

NME said: “The musician’s third album feels like a magical thing – a record that you want to take up residence in until you know its every nook and cranny in minute detail.”

Yard Act - ‘The Overload’

15. Yard Act – ‘The Overload’

In a nutshell: The Leeds post-punks’ debut lives up to the hype – and continues their love-in with Uncle Elton

Yard Act’s 2020 breakout single ‘Fixer Upper’, built on a minimalist foundation and dominated by a Brexit-loving caricature, could have boxed the band in. Thankfully, though, their debut album showcased their limitless potential. ‘Payday’ packed a groovy beat, and ‘100% Endurance’, arguably the band’s most complete creation, extended their love-in with Sir Elton John, who put his own spin on the album’s closing track with a celestial remix. TS

Key track: ‘100% Endurance’

NME said: “The Leeds band’s debut is a wild ride through their Yorkshire upbringing and the curly characters they picked up along the way.”

Jockstrap – ‘I Love You Jennifer B’

14. Jockstrap – ‘I Love You Jennifer B’

In a nutshell: The London duo invent countless fascinating futures on their dazzlingly inventive debut

Co-producer Taylor Skye’s desire to rip and tear at the fabric of pop music on ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ was tempered perfectly by vocalist and violinist Georgia Ellery’s fixation on the beauty of classical songwriting. Together, they unearthed a sonic landscape that felt almost entirely untrodden, featuring Hollywood strings, ‘60s pop and the idiosyncrasy of Kate Bush, but passed through a hyper-modern scrambling machine. It was like nothing that your mind could ever imagine. MP

Key track: ‘Concrete Over Water’

NME said: “Every possibility that their early material promised comes to spectacular fruition on a full-length statement that seems set to leave an indelible mark.”

Charli XCX - ‘Crash’

13. Charli XCX – ‘Crash’

In a nutshell: Mainstream-resistant artist finally embraces bold, brash chart-pop

For virtually her whole career, Charli XCX has maintained a tricky relationship with major label chart-pop, often toying with various mainstream elements before sacking it off for experimental, left-leaning ventures instead. Though she set out to create the ultimate sell-out album with ‘Crash’ – a blazing farewell to the record deal she signed in her teens – the end product was much more fascinating; a hook-laden onslaught of gigantic choruses and meta explorations of creative independence. EH

Key track: ‘New Shapes’

NME said: “If ‘Crash’ really does mark the death of Charli XCX as a major label artist, then what a way to go.”

Taylor Swift - ‘Midnights’

12. Taylor Swift – ‘Midnights’

In a nutshell: The queen of pop’s return to the dancefloor, albeit a sad one

At this point in Taylor Swift’s career, it would be a lie to say that anything feels unexpected. But after 2020’s gentle one-two punch of ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’, it did feel refreshing that the megastar returned to the more straightforward pop she previously explored on ‘1989’: crying in the club, don’t-text-him beats, confessional lyrics that only hit once everyone’s gone to bed. ‘Midnights’ featured slick production, catchy hooks and the same vulnerability that’s got Swift to the point she’s at today. EK

Key track: ‘Anti-Hero’

NME said: “There’s a newfound confidence… Swift is unashamed to share every side of herself.”

Black Country, New Road - ‘Ants From Up There’

11. Black Country, New Road – ‘Ants From Up There’

In a nutshell: A majestic indie opus that’s destined to be a cult classic

Black Country, New Road’s second album in a year saw them swap the sardonic post-punk they made their name with for a sweeping, romantic indie-rock masterpiece. Across ‘Ants From Up There’ frontman Isaac Wood was besotted, anguished, desperate, giddy and more, with the effervescent, beautifully played music behind him tracking every one of his thoughts perfectly. The fact that Wood left BC,NR the week before the release of the album made it even more of a special artefact. WR

Key track: ‘Basketball Shoes’

NME said: “Black Country, New Road manage to pivot towards more familiar, accessible sounds and embrace traditional song structures without sacrificing an ounce of their musical wizardry or inventiveness.”

The 1975 – ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’

10. The 1975 – ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’

In a nutshell: The UK’s biggest – and best – pop band begin to look to their legacy

The soaring quality of the melodies on The 1975’s fifth album sounded like eyes-closed euphoria. Their most succinct and punchy release yet, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ featured some of the finest songwriting of frontman Matty Healy’s career, with bold personal and fictional storytelling that was stuffed with more Easter eggs than the new Top Gun film. Without losing sight of the acute cultural commentary the band made their name on, this record focused on Healy’s new glow stick-bright vision of love, and felt alive with the singular and long-awaited sense of freedom that 2022 delivered. SW

Key track: ‘Part Of The Band’

NME said: “It combines the band’s slightly sidelined knack for writing huge, immediately memorable pop bangers with the more complex, neurotic lyrical voice of The 1975’s more recent releases.”

Rosalía – 'Motomami'

9. Rosalía – ‘Motomami’

In a nutshell: With album number three, the Spanish firebrand continues to fearlessly innovate

Rosalía became a Grammy-winning superstar by deftly blending flamenco sounds with experimental pop flourishes, but here she really managed to up the ante. A dazzling grab-bag of flamenco, reggaetón, left-field pop, glitchy R&B and one song best described as “despondent gospel”, ‘Motomami’ was thrilling and discombobulating in equal measure. Helpfully, it also had a healthy sense of fun: one minute Rosalía sang about transforming herself with “make-up de drag queen”, the next she name-checked Naomi Campbell and Julio Iglesias. Respect. NL

Key track: ‘Cuuuuuuuuuute’

NME said: “Rosalía isn’t so much carving out her own lane as building her own ultra-modern, super-bendy sonic motorway.”

Nova Twins – ‘Supernova’

8. Nova Twins – ‘Supernova’

In a nutshell: Rock renegades deliver a genre-destroying kick up the backside

With a DIY spirit, the duo delivered a spirited second album that took in their love of R&B, rap and pop alongside their day-glo rock flavour, all while speaking to empowerment, sexual freedom and never being held down. A MOBO nomination and a Mercury Prize nod later, and this record has cemented them in a scene that simply can’t be ignored: this was the sound of Nova Twins kicking down the doors on their own terms. AT

Key track: ‘Antagonist’

NME said: “Rightly championed as a vital new voice in the world of rock, Nova Twins haven’t let any of that pressure get in the way of creating a flamboyant, fantastic second album that’s as playful as it is powerful.”

Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - ‘Topical Dancer’

7. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul – ‘Topical Dancer’

In a nutshell: Belgian duo’s club-ready debut tackles big topics with levity and humour

Having been constantly surrounded by everyday racism and misogyny – not to mention a total breakdown in social discourse – ‘Topical Dancer’ proved a vital moment of release for the Ghent-based pair. Speaking to NME, the duo – signed to Soulwax’s DEEWEE label – said that the record allowed them to go beyond being “victimised” and reclaim their narratives. “If you want to be offended, then go ahead,” Adigéry said. “But I’m not going to put my energy into that any more.” Instead, sharp quips, jabs at pass-agg comments and the duo’s electrifying beats reigned supreme in a record full of humour, heart and some serious dancefloor heaters. TS

Key track: ‘It Hit Me’

NME said: “The collaborators contrast colourful dance-pop melodies with wickedly sharp and biting takedowns of misogynist media.”

Rina Sawayama - ‘Hold The Girl’

6. Rina Sawayama – ‘Hold The Girl’

In a nutshell: A stylish return from one of Britain’s most idiosyncratic creators

Sometimes, the mythical ‘difficult second album’ is just that: a myth. ‘Hold The Girl’, the follow-up to Sawayama’s outstanding 2020 debut, was a confident mix of influences, but beneath the differing themes and genres the record bounced between, there was a sense of honesty that kept things compelling. It was also a musical melting pot: ‘This Hell’ channeled Shania Twain and ABBA, while other songs offered flavours of The Corrs, ‘Teenage Dream’-era Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani. Through it all though, it was distinctly Sawayama. JT

Key track: ‘This Hell’

NME said: “The best British pop album of the year.”

Kendrick Lamar - ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’

5. Kendrick Lamar – ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’

In a nutshell: The rap record that shocked the world

After five years on the sidelines of a game he loves, the rap juggernaut finally got back on the field and blew past all his peers with ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’. His fifth studio album was often paradoxical, with Lamar keen to stress that “I am not your saviour” while analysing society as succinctly as anyone. But this album still provided us with the golden rule of healing: talking about your problems can go a long way. The Good Kid we met a decade ago has certainly grown up. KSW

Key Track: ‘Count Me Out’

NME said: “In laying his soul bare, Lamar hopes we realise how we too can set ourselves free from generational curses.”

Fontaines D.C. – ‘Skinty Fia’

4. Fontaines D.C. – ‘Skinty Fia’

In a nutshell: Dublin five-piece break new ground on their adventurous and deeply affecting third album

I loved you like a penny loves the pocket of a priest,Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten affirmed on ‘I Love You’, ‘Skinty Fia’s devastating centrepiece. “And I’ll love you ’til the grass around my gravestone is deceased.” For those who were profoundly moved by the Irish band’s third album, that latter sentiment also applies: ‘Skinty Fia’, you feel, will be acclaimed for years and decades to come. It’s a record that’s blessed with high points: take the rare Fontaines indie-pop hook on ‘Jackie Down The Line’, the warped, riff-drenched trip-hop of the title track, or ‘The Couple Across The Way’, a heartbreaking ballad that Chatten performed with only an accordion for company.

Asked by NME about Fontaines being crowned Best Band In The World at this year’s BandLab NME Awards, Chatten said with a wink: “Compared to our other albums, I’d rather be called ‘a band of a generation’ or accept another crazy accolade for [‘Skinty Fia’]… because you know what? This time, we deserve it.” On present form, Fontaines D.C. are definitely one of the ones to beat at the moment. SM

Key track: ‘I Love You’

NME said: “The fight for a better Ireland deserves songs that mirror the depth of the crisis, and in its endlessly captivating glory, ‘Skinty Fia’ rises triumphantly to the task.”

Beyoncé – ‘Renaissance’

3. Beyoncé – ‘Renaissance’

In a nutshell: The superstar’s all killer, no filler siren call to the dancefloor

Beyoncé said that creating her seventh album during the pandemic gave her an outlet within “to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world”. The intent was to craft a “place without judgement… free of perfectionism and overthinking” that would encourage listeners to let loose and “release the wiggle”.

A triumphant celebration of the dancefloor, she embraced genres like house, disco and bounce that were pioneered by Black artists. From ballroom-indebted smashes (‘Alien Superstar’) to Big Freedia-sampling house anthems (‘Break My Soul’), ‘Renaissance’ was powerful, sultry and celebratory – and filled with tracks that more than encouraged you to “release the wiggle”. HM

Key track: ‘Cuff It’

NME said: “On ‘Renaissance’, Beyoncé has added another remarkable record to her repertoire: this time one to continue leading the charge to bring Black culture back to the forefront of house music and dance scenes.

Wet Leg – ‘Wet Leg’

2. Wet Leg – ‘Wet Leg’

In a nutshell: The duo bring life and fun back to indie

The Isle Of Wight pair could have just been that quirky band that soundtracked the summer of 2021 with the effervescent headrush that was ‘Chaise Longue’. It was a joy and a relief, then, to see Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers dominate the following year so deservedly, too.

Witty yet warm and stupidly fun, this self-titled debut saw the pair follow in the footsteps of their Domino labelmates Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand with an idiosyncratic style, personality and class, delivering an album that not only lived up to the hype, but slapped a much-needed smile back on the face of British guitar music. AT

Key track: ‘Angelica’

NME said: “Their debut album feels like a giddy race around a funfair, those pesky lows batted away with wit and wisecracks like a game of verbal whack-a-mole.”

Arctic Monkeys – ‘The Car’

1. Arctic Monkeys – ‘The Car’

In a nutshell: An honest, breathtaking masterpiece that bears the stamp of its creators’ limitless curiosity

The quiet miracle of Arctic Monkeys’ long-standing friendship is that, from an outsider’s perspective, nothing appears to have changed. Even if the past decade has seen the Sheffield four-piece wig out in the desert, live out their West Coast rock star fantasies and jet off to a taqueria on the moon before coming back down to Earth again, they’ve preserved an inner-circle spirit through their open collaborative process: a quality that defined the limitless and unbound ‘The Car’. A marvel of understated confidence, the band began this album’s creation by jamming out in an old priory together, and their experiments with Moog synthesisers and looped piano refrains soon flickered above taut arrangements – a reminder that even the grandest songs can’t hide the power of synergy.

‘The Car’ was full of heart and wild touches, and broad in its emotional scope, too: swirling orchestral pieces paralleled frontman Alex Turner’s subconscious drift as he sang of isolation and the fragility of youth. The album’s framework replicated four brothers working through these heavy emotions together, twisting their instruments in different formations until they approached a breakthrough: “Keep reminding me that it ain’t a race,” Turner sang on closer ‘Perfect Sense’. His perspective has never sounded so clear; after years of taking and exploring new forms, this is the band’s true genesis. SW

Key track: ‘Body Paint’

NME said: “The band’s spectacular seventh album summarises their story so far: sharp songwriting, relentless innovation and unbreakable teamwork.”

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