Hey everyone, hope you all had an ok last year, at least as ok as it can be nowadays.
If there is one area of art that I started consuming more exponentially than I ever have it is music. My Spotify listening time over the past two years has jumped up by more than 20,000 minutes, from around 3,000 in 2020 to over 25,000 this past year. While in comparison to some people that may not be much, relatively speaking it is probably one of the biggest changes I have made in my media consumption ever. Additionally, a lot of that time has been spent listening to new artists and albums as opposed to blasting the same EDM from when I was younger my parents got tired of hearing thumping from behind their walls like they were stuck in the bathroom at a bad house party.
Now, in no way am I calling myself a music expert or pretending that my opinions can or should have as much weight as critics who spend more time with the medium. Still, this is the first year where the portfolio of stuff I’ve listened to is diverse enough that I feel like it is possible to fill out a list like this. That being said, this is my personal list, and of course, it is going to be colored by my personal biases and tastes, so if you don’t find your favorite music from last year on it then feel free to argue in the comments why I’m wrong.
Now that all of that is out of the way, here are a few honorable mentions to that didn’t quite make the list.
Weatherglow by Asian Glow and Weather Day
Not really sure how I was supposed to feel about this album, but it was enjoyable for what it was. I know next to nothing about shoegaze as a subgenre but I listened to it at the 11th hour on a whim and did end up enjoying it. It is not something that is going to be playing constantly for me, but I could definitely see myself going back to it every once and a while.
You Can’t Kill Me by 070 Shake
I wish I liked this album more than I did, to be honest. 070 Shake is near the top of an increasingly long list of vocalists I would love to see live. However, while I still ultimately liked You Can’t Kill Me, it kind of lives and dies off of mostly vibes and very little in the way of song or album structure. Still, as it is, it is a really solid mix of pop, hip-hop, and R&B styles.
Slow Boom by The Home Team
I did seriously consider putting this on the list proper but technically the album came out in 2021, with the deluxe version coming out this past year. Not only is this some of the most aggressive but also groovy pop rock this side of any ocean, but lead vocalist Brian Butcher delivers emotionally charged lyrics with the bipolar intensity of someone who is being both broken up with and asked out at the same time. The album can at times sounds a bit blended together, but honestly, when it is this good at a base level it is kind of hard to be mad about it.
Caprisongs by FKA Twigs
I had heard a lot of mentions of FKA Twigs over the past few years, but always lumped her into the completely nonsensical category of “artsy fartsy music I would never enjoy.” Luckily, though, that ended up being not the case, as Caprisongs ended up being a generally likable album with a lot of diversity in musical stylings that keeps it from getting stale at any point.
Midnights by Taylor Swift
Ok fine, it is a good album. Taylor Swift was never someone who particularly appealed to me back when I still identified as a cis man, at least that is what I told myself, anyway. Still, Midnights ended up being a fun pop album that, though many would not consider it her best, still has a lot of great tracks, from the smash hit “anti-hero” to the more low-key “mastermind” which closes out the album.
Emotional Trap by She Loves Boon
This is another album that I ended up listening to in the last few days before I started making the list and not one I had seen mentioned anywhere else, even from outlets that get pretty obscure in their musical dives. She Loves Boon combines a lot of elements on the aptly named Emotional Trap, introducing elements of dance and hyper-pop, as well as just flowing over some more traditional trap production. Boon’s distorted vocals lend a sense of, well, emotion, that not many other projects did for me this year.
Now, onto the list proper.
10. I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You by Quadeca
Quadeca’s character in this concept album about a newborn ghost may not have meant to haunt anyone, but the record proper sure did. Departing a lot from his typical rap style, I didn’t Mean to Haunt You approaches its narrative with the musical philosophy of “almost anything goes,” and ends up mostly better for it. There are certain elements that could have been toned down a bit, with instruments sometimes getting lost in the void of noise that is many of the songs across the album, but Quadeca’s vocal performances and great feature choices tie the whole thing together well.
9. Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
After hearing his lead single “The Heart Pt. 5,” everyone understood that Kendrick was not messing around for the first release on his newly founded label PG Lang, and he definitely delivered. The dude has always had a knack for being more narratively focused, all of which are highly praised to this day, and that is no less true on “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers,” where he opts to focus on what it means to redeem oneself in the face of potential injustice. While the message is certainly appreciated, and the music itself is of course phenomenal, my personal gripes such as the use of the f slur on “Auntie Diaries” and the inclusion of known SA’er Kodak Black keep me from putting it any higher. I get what he was going for, but it just did not really land for me.
8. f.e.a.r by Stand Atlantic
Not much to say about this one. Stand Atlantic is another really fun and aggressive pop rock/pop punk act that I found out about earlier this year. However, whereas The Home Team opted to stick to sounds more traditionally associated with the genre, f.e.a.r takes cues from electronic style music and fuses the sounds in a way that is incredibly satisfying.
7. Majorette by Angelus
You might have already noticed that the vast majority of this list sits solidly in the pop/hyper pop/rap categories, and yeah, that is not by accident, because most of the music I enjoyed this past year was in one of those three broader categories, and often is ends up being a fusion of them (foreshadowing foreshadowing foreshadowing). Majorette is a short seven-track ep that indeed brings a lot of those elements together in a fairly satisfying way, and ended up being one of my favorite musical projects because of it.
6. It’s Almost Dry by Pusha T
I have been a causal Pusha T fan since, like, high school, for as weird as that sounds. Something about his slow, crawling menace and drug-related bars really hit (especially that song he did with Skrillex randomly, which felt like it came out of nowhere). While he does generally maintain a few similar flow patterns for most songs, that does not stop his latest album from being some of the best music he has ever made. With the help of Pharrel and Kanye West on production, the dude effortlessly makes you feel like a loser for not being him.
5. learn 2 swim by redveil
Most people probably have not heard the name redveil yet, and that needs to change. The…*checks notes*…18-year-old MC not only wrote but produced one of the most incredible hip-hop albums this year, rapping about growing up and all the experiences, good and bad, that come with it. There is so much to like about this project, from the various soul samples that inform the more melodic beats to the shoutier vocals redveil uses to make sure you understand what he has been through, such as on the song “new info.” Again, if this is your first time hearing about redveil, do yourself a favor and just go listen to the album.
4. Things with Wings by ericdoa
Honestly, I could same the same about ericdoa, whose unique brand of rap and hyper-pop-influenced beats, though less socially charged than some of the other artists on this list, still makes for a fun experience. Still, to lump him into a few categories would be selling him short. Things with Wings incorporates a lot of different sounds, from the groovier beats of “phases” or “broke my car radio” to the more dance-focused cuts like “victim.” Is it especially deep? No, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a lot of fun.
3. Melt My Eyes See Your Future by Denzel Curry
There were a lot of questions about where Denzel Curry would be going artistically after 2018’s Taboo, an album many consider to be one of the best of that decade. The lead-off single “Walkin'” was one that had people excited, and ultimately he ended up delivering in a big way. It brings in some crazy production and arguably crazier features like Robert Glass, as well as others such as JID, Rico Nasty, and 6lack for a posse cut that goes a lot harder than I expected.
2. The Forever Story by JID
Speaking of JID…I’m not gonna lie to you, basically every album before the top 2 could be switched around a little and I’d probably still defend it confidently. However, these are absolutely my favorite two albums of the year. The forever story is not only the best hip-hop album of the year, but it also tells a story, about JID, about hip-hop, and about what it means to grow up as a poor black kid and everything that represents. In some ways, it is the forever story of a lot of black artists.
1. Hypochondriac by Brakence
Oh look, that thing I was foreshadowing about. This was by far my most anticipated album of last year, despite the fact that it was not even guaranteed to come out in 2022 because there was not a release date until right before it came. Still, Brakence spent the year leading up until its release releasing banger after banger, and…yeah, it is just so damn good. Truly one of the most interesting genre blends of the year, utilizing everything from hyper-pop to EDM to midwest emo and many other sounds. Honestly, if it were not for one song album being just kind ok, there is a decent chance I would give it a 100/100 rating. Definitely my favorite album of the year and the one I recommend checking out the most.