Top 50 Albums of 2022 (Numbers 25 — 1)

Across The Margin concludes its rollout of The Top 50 Albums of 2022 with the Top 25…

25. Fantastic Negrito — White Jesus Black Problems

Fantastic Negrito (Xavier Dphrepaulezz) puts his entire being into his music. The winner of the first ever NPR Tiny Desk contest in 2015, who utilized that momentum to propel him towards to three Grammy wins, is a musician from Oakland who experienced the highs of a million-dollar record deal, the lows of a near fatal car accident that left him in a coma, and is now in the midst of a thriving career. His latest, White Jesus Black Problems, was inspired by his desire to tell the story of his seventh-generation grandparents, an interracial couple who lived in Virginia in the 1950s. “It was a story of courage, a story of perseverance, a story of inspiration and a story of good old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-something-done,” he states. Like we said, he puts all of him in his music, and the impact of that personal injection makes the Fantastic Negrito listening experience a thought provoking, compelling funk-fest.

Essential Tracks: “Oh Betty,” “They Go Low,” “Highest Bidder.”

24. Little Simz — NO THANK YOU

Absent from far too many end of year “Best Of” lists, simply because of when it was released (12.12.22), Little Simz’s latest album NO THANK YOU is just more confirmation of how insanely talented the UK emcee is (We are all truly witnesses…). The follow-up to her tremendous 2021 breakthrough Sometimes I Might Be Introvert makes it clear Simz has bars upon bars, and spits with a fury and precision that is just jaw-dropping. But it’s the emotion that the album is packed with that really makes it hit. On the emotional centerpiece of the album, “Broken,” Simz rhymes about breaking free from the shackles of racism (“Look how far you’ve come and see you’ve only just started / You exist, you alive, you are deservin’ of life / You are a beacon of light, you are determined to fly”), the burdens of generations trauma (“It’s the armageddon city, this shit might damage your soul / They won’t take the weight off you when you can’t manage the load / Like they’re just waitin’ to hear a fucking crack in your bones /Generational trauma you’ve had to deal with alone / No father, how do you become a man on your own?”), and the stigmas on mental health (“No one ever told you your mind is not to be played with / No one ever taught you ’bout moderation and patience / Under all the eyes and the pressure and the scrutiny / Why is mental health a taboo in the Black community?”) That is all in one song, and so we very much urge you to discover what you can uncover throughout the rest of NO THANK YOU.

Essential Tracks: “Gorilla,” “Heart on Fire,” “Broken,” “No Merci.”

23. Bartees Strange — Farm To Table

Bartees Strange latest album, Farm To Table, is far and away his most personal to date. In it he comes to terms with his relationship with his parents and with seeing their lives from the new lens he has of adulthood. Farm To Table finds Strange “looking at the people who came before you. When you’re young you don’t understand, but as you get older and you start to do the same things, you begin to understand way more deeply. You know why those decisions were made as you make the same ones.” Bartees Strange was once a football player on the path towards superstardom. He was once, also, get this, a spokesman for the FCC. But we couldn’t be more grateful he found his true calling as a musician, one whose lyrical depths are a reason to press play alone, but the soundscapes he waxes poetic over are lush, often smooth and sultry, and brilliant in their own right.

Essential Tracks: “Heavy Heart,” “Hold The Line,” “Wretched.”

22. DOMi & JD Beck – Not Tight

One of the most buzzed about acts in all of music this year was inarguably the jazz duo consisting of French keyboardist Domi Louna and American drummer JD Beck, and with good reason. Signed to Anderson .Paak’s imprint on the iconic Blue Note label, the duo has a whimsical, youthful spirit that pairs wonderfully with their superb musical chops. Their debut album, Not Tight, is brimming with seasoned stars happy to help shine a light and play with these intriguing young talents. Veterans such as Thundercat, Mac DeMarco, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, and even Herbie Hancock. It is clear we are going to be hearing a whole lot more from DOMi & JD Beck, and Not Tight is one hell of a start to their musical journey.

Essential tracks: “TAKE A CHANCE (feat Anderson .Paak),” “TWO SHRiMPS (feat Mac Demarco),” “PiLOT (feat Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Anderson .Paak).”

21. Father John Misty — Chloë and the Next 20th Century

“Anyone else have some demented fake jazz music to show for their time in lockdown? Just me huh?” Those are the words of Father John Misty (Josh Tillman), at a late September show at Radio City Music Hall, an evening which found Misty’s timeless brand of satirical rock enriched by the New York Pops. What he is referring to is Chloë and the Next 20th Century, Misty’s fifth studio album which was written and recorded August through December 2020 and features arrangements by Drew Erickson. The album sees Misty and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson resume their longtime collaboration, and while a departure of sorts it is still rife with the sort of vivid,specific imagery and sardonic lyricism bounding over dense, ornate soundscapes we have come to know and love from the enigmatic artist.

Essential Tracks: “Goodbye Mr. Blue,” “Funny Girl,” “Q4.”

20. Pusha T — It’s Almost Dry

Virginia rapper and one half of the Clipse released his first full length studio album since 2018’s Daytona this year, a remarkable effort entitled It’s Almost Dry, co-produced by a producer we refuse to name (for obvious reasons) and Pharrell Williams. The album features a variety of appearances from artists including Jay-Z, Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi, and Don Toliver, yet it is King Push’s innovative lyricism and emphatic flow that shine on his fourth solo effort. It’s wild that this late in his career Pusha is raising his craft to new heights and sounding more passionate and creative than ever — but that is surely the case. What It’s Almost Dry amounts to is another instant classic for Pusha, yet while the album is easily one of the best hip-hop albums of 2022, we do have one note: For the next album we’d love to see more production assists from Pharrell (and maybe even Hit-Boy!) and less from the Chicago producer we once again chose not to even name.

Essential Tracks: “Brambleton,” “Dreaming of the Past,” “Scrape it Off (feat Lil Uzi Vert & Don Toliver).”

19. JID — The Forever Story

We truly believe that Atlanta’s JID has the talent to one day be regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, and his latest album, The Forever Story, emphatically  serves as evidence to this claim. The Forever Story is an album of bangers after bangers, with “Surround Sound” and “Dance Now,” just to name a few, widely celebrated as a few of the best club ragers of 2022. The Forever Story features assists from talents such as  21 Savage, Johnta Austin, Baby Tate, Yasiin Bey, EarthGang, Eryn Allen Kane, Ravyn Lenae, Ari Lennox, Lil Durk, Lil Wayne, and Kenny Mason, and it’s impressive to consider that this is just JID’s third studio album, as he rhymes with the confidence and skill set of a seasoned veteran.

Essential Tracks: “Surround Sound (feat 21 Savage & Baby Tate),” “Dance Now (feat Kenny Mason),” “Crack Sandwich,” “Can’t Punk Me (feat EARTHGANG).”

18. Black Midi — Hellfire

We admit that the British punk post band Black Midi is an acquired taste, and we are grateful we have acquired that taste. In spades. It’s remarkable to find a post-punk band with a flare for the theatrical, but that is exactly what Black Midi is. Beyond that, their incredibly novel sound incorporates elements of prog-rock, funk, pop,  jazz, classical music, cabaret, electronics, flamenco, and more. The arrangements across Hellfire are complex but somehow never jarring, unless they mean to be. To give you a taste of how unique of a beast Hellfire is, in the closing track “27 Questions,” which is brimming with Primus vibes, listeners are introduced to a character by the name of Freddie Frost, a dying actor delivering one last performance only to combust in front of his audience. Yup, it’s that wild of a ride, one we urge you to take.

Essential Tracks “Welcome To Hell,” “Sugar/Tzu,” “27 Questions.”

17. Kikagaku Moyo — Kumoyo Island

It was a bittersweet year for fans of the Japanese prog-rock band Kikagaku Moyo. The bitter: they played their last North America show at Brooklyn Steel this past Fall, and their days as a band are numbered (we are absolutely devastated about this news). The sweet: Kikagaku Moyo gifted fans with their fifth and final studio album, Kumoyo Island, which takes listeners on a psychedelic journey to a mythical island where it is suggested that parallels exist between the topography of the band’s home country — an island nation, surrounded by bodies of water — and the mysterious isle of Kumoyo. The band describes the album as “best-suited for counting stars, looking at the ocean, and dancing in one’s daydream,” but we suggest this album be devoured at any time, anywhere, and often. While tough to swallow the pill of this being the end for Kikagaku Moyo, we are eternally grateful for the ride they took us on in their extraordinary ten year existence.

Essential Tracks:”Monaka,” “Dancing Blue,” “Cardboard Pile.”

16. Elkhorn — Distances

If you are not familiar with Elkhorn, the guitar New York duo featuring Jesse Sheppard on twelve-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on electric who “interweave the extended folk tradition with psychedelic improvisation, moving freely from pre-rock to post-rock and beyond,” their latest album Distances is the place to become acquainted. While the mainstays of the band remain Gardner and Sheppard, for Distances they formed a quartet featuring two drummers, Virginia-based Ian McColm and DC-based Nate Scheible. While only four tracks, there is so much to chew on here, particularly considering the final two offerings are eleven and eighteen minutes respectively. Distances is a sonic journey, that’s wholly alive, always fascinating, and beautiful journeying psychedelic rock at its finest.

Essential Tracks: “Train,” “Wilderness,” “Distances.”

15. Sharon Van Etten — We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong

Sharon Van Etten released her sixth studio album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, the first week of May and as unfathomable as it is to ponder, the Jersey born and bred singer-songwriter appears to just be getting better and better with each passing day. Notably, with the release of this album, Van Etten didn’t share any singles in the build up to the album drop. “I wanted to approach this release differently, Van Etten said, “to engage my fans in an intentional way, in an effort to present the album as a whole body of work,” If you were to abide by Van Etten’s wishes, you had to wait for the album release to encounter “Mistakes,” an inspiring nod to finding ways to own errors as steps towards something better, a theme found reverberating throughout the album. Regrets are all about perspective, and “Mistakes” makes it known that the errors that we make in life, like this phenomenal album, can sometimes “turn out great.”

Essential Tracks: “Mistakes,” “Headspace,” “Porta.”

14. Joey BadA$$ — 20

In his third studio album, Joey Bada$$ embraces his legacy as one of hip-hop’s most influential MCs today, placing himself in a triumvirate of today’s greatest rappers alongside J Cole and Kendrick Lamar: “Who’s the best MCs? Kenny, Joey, and Cole.” There’s a wide ensemble of some of hip-hop’s best lyrical talent, including Diddy and Westside Gunn, and some heavy-hitting producers like Statik Selektah and Chuck Strangers to drop some ‘90s-inspired boom-bap beats. At the end of “Cruise Control,” Nas presents Joey Bada$$ to listeners as a “wise man” with “age on him like he’s been here before, yet he’s a young king,” a fitting endorsement of someone who’s lyrically enlivened hip-hop since his acclaimed 2012 debut mixtape, 1999. In “Show Me,” Statik Selektah and Heavy Mellow sample Emmanuelle Proulx’s silky soft crooning from Men I Trust’s single “Show Me How,” and the blending of her ambient chorus with Joey Bada$$’s intimate lyrics to a lover create a downtempo stand out among the album’s fourteen tracks. “Written in the Stars” puts a satisfying bow on an album that signifies the long-awaited return of a rapper who’s maintained humility throughout the decade’s-long rising of his star: “Congratulations to the top, never stop Love.”

Essential Tracks: “Eulogy,” “Zipcodes,” “Show Me,” “Head High.”

13. Sault — 11

Sault, the British music collective that forges brilliant music from a concoction of R&B, house and disco, continues to astound us. The project is helmed by producer Inflo, best known for his work with Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka, Jungle and Adele. It was extremely challenging to decide which album to choose from this fruitful collective, as they unleashed five excellent albums on their fans this year. Our favorite (Air was close) is 11, an album overflowing with sultry, smooth funk and propulsive, inspiring rhythms. The energy that pulsates of every single track across 11 is absolutely intoxicating, and there is a positivity that breathes throughout all of Sault’s music that we simply cannot get enough of.

Essential Tracks: “Glory,” “Morning Sun,” “Fight For Love.”

12. Maggie Rogers — Surrender

The second full-length major label release for singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers, co-produced with Kid Harpoon, is one of the most dynamic alt-pop albums released in 2022. Rogers continues to surprise us, delighting us with soundscapes we just didn’t see coming. Take the third track off of Surrender, “Want Want,” which commences with an industrial sounding burst. Or, “Shatter” that kicks off with boisterous 80s-inspired synth rock rhythms. There isn’t a track on Surrender that isn’t compelling, and always for very different reasons. And lyrically, Rogers’ narratives are a breath of fresh air in their honesty, as she contemplates the nature of fate, of life, of the current moment. There is so much to appreciate about Surrender, a beautiful, and vibrant, work of art.

Essential Tracks: “That’s Where I Am,” “Want Want,” “Anywhere With You,”

11. Danger Mouse & Black Thought  — Cheat Codes

Danger Mouse at the top of his game. Black Thought at the top of his game. A collaboration that, when first announced, got fans charged up, the fandom eager to see what a team-up between these two hip-hop legends would yield. And the duo delivered in spades. While the final product sounds exactly like the type of album Danger Mouse would produce, with Black Thought flowing as smoothly and fluently as we’ve ever heard him, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. And some of these parts include OG veterans like Raekwon, Joey Bada$$, MF Doom (RIP), A$AP Rocky, Run the Jewels, and Conway the Machine. It’s moody and grainy in places, upbeat, jazzy, and psychedelic in others. Black Thought hits hard with every song, unrelenting as he glides over Danger Mouse’s trip-hop soundscapes. The album maintains a healthy rhythm as the rapper and producer seem to instinctively know when it needs to slow down the tempo after a fast-paced banger, before picking the beat back up again for some more head nodding. This future classic will age well, serving as a testament to the pair’s immense talents in their respective roles as musicians. 

Essential Tracks: “The Darkest Part (feat Raekwon and Kid Sister),” “Belize (feat MF DOOM),” “Strangers (feat A$AP Rocky and Run The Jewels).”

10. The Smile — A Light For Attracting Attention

There hasn’t been a release day like May 13, 2022 in some time. On that fateful day we saw Kendrick Lamar release the instant classic Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers into the world as Kevin Morby put forth potentially his best album to date, This is a Photograph. Alongside that stacked new release lineup, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, released the debut album for their side project The Smile. Entitled A Light for Attracting Attention, the thirteen song album is everything fans of Radiohead’s work could ever want. An example of this is “The Smoke,” whose driven bass line and pulsating guitar loops and frantic drumming could have easily fit in seamlessly on In Rainbows or Hail To The Thief. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as this All-Star cast of musicians leans into each and every track on A Light for Attracting Attention, a front to back album that makes it clear that The Smile is far from a just Radiohead side project.

Essential Tracks: “The Smoke,” “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” “Opposite.”

9. Sampa the Great — As Above, So Below

Sampa the Great (Sampa Tembo) is a poet and singer-songwriter hailing from Melbourne, Australia, not a city widely known for their hip-hop. But regardless of where she hails from, Sampa is the real deal. And besides, Melbourne doesn’t define this Zambia-born, Botswana-raised artist whose African roots course throughout As Above, So Below, an album recorded in Zambia over a two-week period, working with local musicians and producers. And thus, this affecting follow up to 2019’s sprawling The Return persists as an album where Sampa not only connects with her roots, but expresses who she is, a burgeoning, confident queen of hip-hop that can spit as nimbly and with as much passion as any emcee out there.

Essential Tracks: “Can I Live? (feat WITCH),” “Bona,” “Let Me Be Great (feat Angélique Kidjo).”

8. Kevin Morby — This is a Photograph

Kevin Morby’s last album This is a Photograph was inspired by a box of old family photos he found in the basement of his childhood home in Kansas City. From there, snapshots of his life, then and now, conjured up a series of vignettes that acted as the backbone of an album he describes as his best yet (we agree). The title track is a stunner, but we’d like to point you to “Bittersweet, TN,” a heartfelt folk song featuring a duet with Nashville-based singer-songwriter Erin Rae, as tender a track Morby has ever birthed and just one of the moving moments found on Morby’s outstanding seventh album.

Essential Tracks: ”This is a Photograph,” “Bittersweet, TN,” “Goodbye to Good Times.”

7. Nas — Kings Disease III

King’s Disease III is the third entry in Nas’ King’s Disease series of albums that the legendary Queensbridge emcee has brought to life with the help of easily one of the best producers doing it, Hit-Boy. The duo, it is blatantly clear, have a synergy and working relationship that finds both of these geniuses wholly inspired. King’s Disease III is a stunner, giving fans of Nas and hip-hop more than they could ever want: a playful reignition of his beef with Jay Z, old-school boom-bap with exciting samples that sounds fresh out the box, and stunningly, no features (not needed, Nas hold the whole thing down solo impeccably). The forty-nine year old Nas just continues to add to his already ironclad legacy as one of the best emcees of all time, and although this is the final installment of the ‘King’s Disease’ series, we hope that Nas and Hit-Boy spend many, many more days in the lab together gifting the world with the sort of magic found on every single track of King’s Disease III.

Essential Tracks: “Ghetto Reporter,” “Michael & Quincy,” “Thun,” “Til My Last Breath.”

6. Saba — Few Good Things

Twenty-seven year old Chicago rapper Saba released his third album this year, Few Good Things, an impressive work of art that feels like a cathartic breath of fresh air. Suffice to say the reason for this is that Few Good Things follows his 2018 album Care For Me in which Saba was struggling with the profound trauma of the murder of his cousin, rapper John Walt. There’s a newfound levity throughout the album, as exhibited by the airy, exuberant “One Way of Every N***a With A Budget,” an extremely hopeful song that speaks to the idea that there is more than just one right way to live your life and to succeed. While more at ease than its predecessor, there persists a depth and a weight throughout Few Good Things, where Saba contemplates how loss can stick with you and the systematic failures in society that were the foundation of the pain. Saba is one of the most impressive young voices in hop-hop, and Few Good Things is another shining example of not only an extremely skilled lyricist, but one that has something important to say.

Essential tracks: “One Way of Every Ni***a With a Budget,” “Fearmonger (feat Daoud),” “Few Good Things (feat Black Thought and Eryn Allen Kane).“

5. Denzel Curry — Melt My Eyez See Your Future

Denzel Curry’s latest album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is far and away his best to date, a jaw-dropping display of Curry’s wide-ranging skills. The album features T-Pain, 6LACK, Rico Nasty, JID, slowthai, Kenny Beats, Thundercat, Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins, JPEGMAFIA, Boi-1da, Cardo, Powers Pleasant, and Buzzy Lee, and the varying soundscapes found throughout it make it clear Curry put his everything into it. “I like traditional hip-hop, I like drum and bass, I like trap, I like poetry, so a lot of that is going to be interwoven in this album, including jazz and a lot of genres that I came up on as a kid and just being in my parents’ house,” Curry states. “This album is made up of everything that I couldn’t give you on TA13OO or Imperial because I was going through depression and anger issues.” “Walkin” sets forth as the lead single of the album, making clear the grandeur of what was to come, a fierce song that digs deep into the inequalities and traumas that face the black community in America, and it’s just the start of a breathtaking journey through one of the most passionate emcees in the game’s psyche.

Essential Tracks: “Walkin,” “X-Wing,” “Troubles (feat T Pain).”

4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — Omnium Gatherum

Once again, and for the second time in this countdown, we celebrated the most prolific band in all of rock n’ roll: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. On their 20th studio album, a double album chock full of around eighty minutes of genre-bending musical madness, it is blatantly obvious to see how talented of a band we are dealing with here. The recording of Omnium Gatherum marked the band’s first time recording together since the pandemic began, and it was a special experience for all involved. As singer/guitarist Stu Mackenzie put it, “We decided, this is like our classic sprawling ‘double album.’ Our White Album, where anything goes.” That White Album talk might sound blasphemous to some, but Omnium Gatherum is a work of art we are sure will be celebrated for decades to come. But we think it’s possible their true White Album high water mark might still lie ahead, as even though they are twenty-three albums in (yes, they released three after this), somehow it oddly and exceptionally feels The Gizz are just getting started.

Essential Tracks: “The Dripping Tap,” “Sadie Sorceress,” “Magenta Mountain.”

3. Anaïs Mitchell — Anaïs Mitchell

Tony and Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown, Bonny Light Horseman, Big Red Machine) released one of the most gorgeous albums you will come upon all year, a self titled stunner which is introspective, honest, and captivating at every turn. We’d like to point to the second single from the album which exemplifies the beauty found within this album, “Brooklyn Bridge,” which depicts an “unbearably” romantic trip over the Brooklyn Bridge as Michael Lewis (from Bon Iver) accompanies with heart-wrenching saxophone bawls. “Brooklyn Bridge” is Mitchell’s love letter to her former home: “Having left New York, I was able to write a love letter to it in a way I never could when I was living there. It was like, fuck it. This is how I feel. There is nothing more beautiful than riding over one of the New York bridges at night next to someone who inspires you.”

Essential Tracks: “Brooklyn Bridge,” “Bright Star,” “On Your Way (Felix Song).”

2. Kendrick Lamar — Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Rattling the world of music with the release of an incredibly complex and introspective work of art, Kendrick Lamar’s long awaited fifth studio album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, was released this year to critical acclaim. The weighty, exceedingly impressive album features guest appearances by Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black, Blxst, Sampha and Summer Walker, among others. The double-disc album sees Kendrick digging deep, reflecting honestly and earnestly about fatherhood, gender identity, infidelity, masculinity, the pressures of fame, therapy, cancel culture, materialism, and beyond. Choosing one song to highlight from Big Steppers isn’t easy, but one with unstoppable replay value is “N95.” In it, Kendrick, aggressively at times, uses the oddly controversial N95 mask — used by many amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as a metaphor to dissect inauthentic people and actions in American society. This is the sort of depth found around every corner on another remarkable effort from a true artist and lyricist who awes upon every release.

Essential Tracks: “N95,” “Die Hard,” “Rich Spirit,” “Count Me Out.”

1. Big Thief — Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

Even though Big Thief’s latest album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You was released in early February, we have not stopped spinning it and unpacking its grandeur. Manifesting as a sprawling twenty song epic, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You was the result of pent up artistic energy and spirit following the Covid-19 lockdown. As the band tells it, “To truly dig into all that the music of Adrianne Lenker, Max Oleartchik, Buck Meek, and James Krivchenia desired in 2020, the band decided to write and record a rambling account of growth as individuals, musicians, and chosen family over four distinct recording sessions. In Upstate New York, Topanga Canyon, The Rocky Mountains, and Tucson, Arizona, Big Thief spent five months in creation and came out with forty-five completed songs,” which were eventually whittled down to twenty. There are a multitude of reasons why Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You landed atop this year’s list, but to put it simply, we just cannot get over the quality of every single song on this extemsive, gorgeous, rousing twenty-five song album. Just incredible…

Essential Tracks: “Simulation Swarm,” “Change,” “Time Escaping,” “Certainty,” “Wake Me Up To Drive.”

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