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Talking music: the best albums of 2022 (so far)

There have been many great albums this year, though finding them may require some digging

August 24, 2022

August is almost over, and 2022 still feels like a lackluster year for music. The general consensus is that this year has thus far lacked the big-name releases and the breakout debuts that tend to define the music scene. There are, however, still a plethora of great albums that belong to 2022, some of them just take some digging to find. Here are some albums from this year that you might have missed (or forgotten about). Honorable mentions: “MOTOMAMI” by ROSALÍA, “Crest” by Bladee and Ecco 2k, “NOT TiGHT” by DOMi & JD BECK, “Ugly Season” by Perfume Genius, “Beatopia” by beabadoobe and “Hellfire” by black midi.

‘Ants From Up There’ inspires with its progressive sound – Adam Coil

Black Country, New Road’s sophomore LP, “Ants From Up There”, is the type of album that makes your standard Spotify subscription seem like an unbelievably good deal. It displays BC, NR at the height of their powers — a finely-tuned machine brimming with creative elixir. “Ants From Up There” was released at the beginning of this year, and despite not quite reaching mass appeal, it has remained culturally relevant from consistent praise by prominent critics in the music community. With its refreshing style, its unique nack to linger with you after you listen to it and the seeming enormity of its universe, there’s a lot to talk about. 

It’s hard to do the album justice in such few words because the project itself covers an insane amount of ground. “Chaos Space Marine” is a shot of soma mixed into a pint of surreal escapism. “Concorde” is a dying tree that refuses to let go of its final leaf. “Haldern” is a glowing candelabrum in the kind of archaic mansion that you just don’t make it out of. “Good Will Hunting” is a warm evening on the Mediterranean in July. “Basketball Shoes” is a three-part series of nostalgia-induced paralysis. “Ants From Up There” wants to do a multitude of things — and it actually does (with seeming ease). 

One of the most endearing aspects of this album is the fact that a lot of the songs are so personal and genuine that they nearly border on inaccessible. The intertextuality between other pieces of art, the band members’ own personal lives and British culture and history make the project a somewhat formidable jungle to trudge through if you’re the type of listener who really wants to ‘get’ each album you listen to. 

But this type of perspective is not in the spirit of “Ants From Up There”, a piece of art that is not a story or a message but a pulsing, indefatigable, jumbled-up ball of power, emotion and the fleeting sensations that help us define being human. There is no room for specifics, just experience. The music has this engulfing quality that almost leaves you feeling hollow when the record stops — something that parallels the emptiness that Concorde leaves behind throughout the album. BC, NR has mastered the art of building and releasing tension — “Ants From Up There” will have you both squirming in your seat and cathartically staring at the wall in front of you. It’s one of those things where it’s best to just buckle yourself in and hope that you get off the rollercoaster in one piece. 

In its infinite complexity and richness, the album gives its audience something new to chew on during and after each listen, but there is nothing required to enjoy and especially feel the album during the first listen. The unique quality to be both instantly and consistently rewarding is what has given the album both general and critical acclaim. It is intelligent without being belletristic; it is entertaining without being cheap; it is emotional without being melodramatic. It has everything you need to come back wanting seconds, and then it actually makes good on its promise by being so much more than you remembered. 

It is almost difficult to believe that the BC, NR that made “For the first time” and the one that made “Ants From Up There” are the same band. While “For the first time” is a terrific album — angsty, electrifying and sobering all at once — BC, NR obviously matured rapidly in the short span between the two projects. The implacable screaming that could be found on tracks like “Science Fair” and “Sunglasses” is restrained and focused on “Ants From Up There”. The lyricism, while still being sparse and vague for the most part, is much more cohesive and constructive — images are constantly reappearing and molding, building a bigger and bigger world as you trek further and further into its 58-minute runtime. To capture perfection on a second try makes BC, NR all the more awe-inspiring, and it makes their subsequent loss of Isaac Wood (vocals) all the more disheartening. 

I do not foresee BC, NR ever receiving the recognition they deserve but I do not think they will ever be forgotten, either. From what I could gather on social media after its release, this latest album was truly resonating with a niche but fiercely dedicated fanbase — and that means something. People all over are being inspired and feeling seen with this project, which is something that doesn’t just fade away. It does not belong to any specific moment in time but to the listeners who choose to accept it. The album is a chaos space marine in its own way, and it’s looking for a place to live. 

‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’ achieves total serenity – Adam Coil

Big Thief dropped their fifth album “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” a week after BC, NR dropped their sophomore album, and these two projects have been in the driver’s seat for my album of the year ever since. Big Thief has been an indie folk powerhouse since 2016 and, while they’re not a band that pushes the envelope too much stylistically, they have always been consistent in making pleasant music with a lyrical depth that far exceeds most popular music today. 

Adrienne Lenker — the lead singer of Big Thief — makes this album as amazing as it is with her famously soft and soothing vocals. She has this ability to make everything about life seem more pleasant and beautiful, like waking up and instantly thinking about something you’re genuinely looking forward to doing that day. Lenker is a gently encouraging presence throughout the album, and she seems to approach the deep and complex questions that the album asks with a uniquely wise and understanding voice. 

“Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” is undoubtedly a spring album, but I think that it can be relevant to the fall as well. A lot of the album is concerned with change and dealing with that change, something which is just as important in August as it is in March. The song “Time Escaping” might resonate especially well right now, reminding us that we cannot hold on to the warmth of summer any more than we can speed up the return of spring and that we have to learn to enjoy and see the beauty of whichever wrinkle in time we find ourselves in. 

I think that this new release from Big Thief is a great album that can be elevated even further by the right setting. I first listened to it heavily while in the snowy mountains of Colorado, a place where you cannot help but contemplate your relation to nature and your undeniable smallness. The rushing rivers and vast stretches of giant trees made it so much easier to connect to the mood Big Thief was going for on this one. I recommend listening to this somewhere that allows you to get away from it all, you just might find something. 

‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ displays Kendrick Lamar with total openness – Brody Leo

After five years of silence from Kendrick Lamar, it was difficult to know what to expect from his new project. Five years — 1,855 days, to be exact — is an eternity in the world of hip-hop. For reference, within that time, BROCKHAMPTON experienced both their rise to fame and their breakup, Playboi Carti turned from SoundCloud rapper to vamp king and Kanye West dropped three albums and a presidential bid. It’s been a wild five years, and if nothing else, I expected Lamar to provide some perspective on it all. Instead, Lamar turns his focus to the subject that may be the most difficult to pin down: himself. 

A central theme of the album is the pitfalls of sudden fame that Lamar has found. On the album’s opener, “United in Grief”, he describes his rampant spending habits and tries to uncover why he was so drawn to materialism. He asks, “What is a rapper with jewelry? / A way that I show my maturity.” Lamar accredits his conspicuous consumption to the fact that he wanted to show the world — and more importantly, himself — that he was finally on top. The Rolexes, Porsches and infinity pools could not heal the wounds that his troubled past left him, as he raps, “Poverty was the case / But the money wiping the tears away.” 

Lamar also delves deeply into his past and present relational issues in a way that is unprecedentedly vulnerable, even for Kendrick Lamar. In “Father Time”, Lamar examines the toxic masculinity and relational issues that his difficult relationship with his father ingrained in him. In “Worldwide Steppers”, Lamar opens up about sex addiction and unfaithfulness through two stories of sexual intercourse with white women, motivated by a desire for a sort of generational vengeance. He concludes with the striking line, “I might be racist / Ancestors watchin’ me f*** was like retaliation.” 

This album also marks a sharp shift in production choices for Lamar. While his previous albums were each somewhat stylistically uniform, “Mr. Morale” takes a much more eclectic approach. Tracks like “United in Grief”, “Crown” and “Mother I Sober” are stripped-back, piano-centered tracks that allow Lamar’s songwriting to shine through, while tracks like “N95”, “Count Me Out” and “Silent Hill” are more classic trap-inspired, heavy-hitting bangers. The diverse production does not feel as jarring as you’d expect; Lamar has always been a master at sounding at home on various flows and styles. 

Overall, Lamar’s self-reflective project can get messy and imperfect, but Lamar seems perfectly aware of that. In fact, Lamar seems to take pride in prioritizing himself over his audience in the creation of this project, particularly in the closing track “Mirror”. The repeated one-line chorus of “I choose me, I’m sorry” becomes a powerful incantation after the preceding hour of Lamar purging himself of his past traumas and tribulations. 

If nothing else, “Mr. Morale” is the most enjoyable therapy session you’ll ever experience. 

Pusha T pins down his artistic identity on ‘It’s Almost Dry’ – Ishan Viradia

An album that personally exceeded all expectations was Pusha T’s underappreciated “It’s Almost Dry”. Here we see King Push bring together Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) and Pharrel to produce an album that tells the world he will be staying true to himself. Early in his career, Pusha worked with Pharrel under his Star Trak label before signing with Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West). This album can be seen as a bridge between these two unique production styles in his discography, from a meticulously crafted beat to more vocal-heavy tracks. It allows the listener to really appreciate the progression Pusha T has experienced as an artist. Though I think the album is a love letter to Pusha T fans, it is by no means a perfect album. Many tracks lack replayability and the album as a whole does a poor job of conveying any overarching message to the listener. The subpar storytelling is more than made up for with its consistently catchy melodies and striking bars, however. 

Joey Bada$$ proves his status on ‘2000’ – Ishan Viradia

At this point in his career, no one can deny Joey Bada$$’s greatness with his distinct sound and loyal fanbase. Bada$$ knows this and attempts to use this album as a chance to challenge himself and solidify his place as one of the greats. He even goes as far as to refer to himself as part of “the holy trinity” alongside Kendrick and J.Cole. Normally, I would disregard this as an outrageous claim, but during certain points while listening through the album, I believe him. Joey delivers a pure display of his rapping ability alongside something reminiscent of his classic beats with piano and keyboard samples mixed in. This album isn’t without its flaws, however, as many of the tracks have simple rhyme schemes for an artist of his status. These issues paired with less-than-exceptional production create an effect where many songs blur together. Fortunately, however, this feeling is usually broken by a track where he displays his technical ability such as “Zipcodes” or “Survivor’s Guilt”. 

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