Some years, there are just too many to choose from. 2022 has been agonising, with superb new releases from established bands and newcomers alike. This was a year where we’ve really plugged back in. Where live music returned with force. Where joy, connection, optimism and compassion were common themes. That said, the best album of the year landed with a thud – an unexpected sermon, with beats that didn’t quit…
Little Simz – ‘NO THANK YOU’
Or, why you shouldn’t call your best album of the year too early. Little Simz left it properly late to release this deeply personal and hugely powerful album into the wild. There’s no ambiguity in here; it’s an album of offloading, of pointing to the injustices of the music industry, and of exposing bitter rifts. It’s an album that takes the time to shine a light on the importance of mental health. It’s also an album that cements even further – as if it were necessary – that Little Simz, in partnership with Inflo – is at the very fore of creating the most exciting music in the UK (the world?) today. It’s simply an exceptional album. We’re in ‘remember where you were when you first heard this album’ territory. For me, this was as the sole inhabitant of the office at the start of a new work day, hearing that there was a new release from Little Simz, and wanting to check it out. I was floored, and still am. Every. Single. Time.
And the rest, in no particular order…
Narcissus – ‘A Sense of Place’
Finally, the debut album lands. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s worth the wait. An album that soars from their ode to hip hop ‘once a thief’, full of all the swagger that Gorillaz muster on their best days, through to The Best Bond theme That Never Was, ‘friends in high places’. Manchester sounds exciting, again.
Yard Act – ‘The Overload’
And, over the other side of the Pennines, there’s equal excitement from Leeds in the form of Yard Act. In any other year, ‘The Overload’ would take the top spot in a run-down of album releases, based on lyrical brilliance alone. Self-aware, clever, and sounding for all the world like they’ve just always been here, ‘The Overload’ marries life-affirming optimism with skewed social observation. With ‘100% Endurance’, Yard Act also knocked out probably the best tune of the year. I love it all. I could drink it daily. And, my 10 year-old absolutely LOVES them. She knows what’s what.
Spoon – ‘Lucifer on the Sofa’
Sounding for all the world like Crowded House – this is a good thing – Spoon delivered an album full of accessible, intelligent pop. Why this wasn’t called out on more ‘year-end’ lists is just beyond me. It’s ace.
Gabriels – ‘Angels & Queens – Part 1’
But for a certain 80-year-old smashing the ball so far out of the park at Glastonbury 2022, Gabriels would have stolen the show. Yes, McCartney delivered a set for the ages – one that I am still processing, all these months later. But, on a sunny Saturday morning, hours before McCartney would conjure the spirits of The Best Band Ever, Gabriels stepped out on the The Park Stage and staked their claim on the weekend. It was a ride. Look, I know this is about the album, but that is my point. Gabriels are a special band. Their live sets capture dramatic soul, dynamic funk, and vocals which soar over epic strings. ‘Angels & Queens – Part 1’ captures it perfectly. Get involved.
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – ‘Cheat Codes’
An album that just doesn’t mess about. With a musical layer that’s a step away from David Axelrod, Black Thought weaves his delivery with bite. It’s epic, soulful hip hop.
Sault – ‘Earth’
Bands just don’t have the momentum of output that they used to. It used to be an album a year, a few singles, and maybe an EP here and there for good measure. Now, bands take years to get around to putting out new music. Apart from Sault. Five albums in one day. All of them remarkable. It would feel weird to let one band take half of my top ten (although, there’s a case to be made). Of the surprise releases, ‘Earth’ is the stand-out for me. Percussion-driven, and landing as a spiritual journey that is part Alice Coltrane, part Oneness of Juju. It is simply tremendous.
The Smile – ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’
Least surprising great album of the year: ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’. It’s been on my turntable since release, and just keeps giving. Tight funk, spiralling chaos, and unparalleled genius. An album so varied that I don’t think it will ever – or even can – get old.
Kae Tempest – ‘The Line is a Curve’
In which Kae Tempest exudes joy. ‘Grace’ may just be the crystallisation of love into song-form. ‘No Prizes’ and ‘More Pressure’ are the peak of Kae Tempest’s output to date. And, that’s some peak.
Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band – ‘Dear Scott’
Continuing a thread of albums which stretches back to 1984’s ‘Pacific Street’ from The Pale Fountains, through the Strands, Shack, and now the Red Elastic Band, Michael Head is responsible for some of the finest songs of his or any generation. ‘Dear Scott’, his first release since 2017’s ‘Adios Senor Pussycat’, is worthy of comparison to any of his output. Good god, he can pen a tune.