Words by Brian James
Brian James is a former co-host of the Best Song Ever podcast and contributor to Off Shelf and other music publications. As a lifelong enthusiast, he has a wide range of musical tastes and enjoys discovering new obsessions. Here are his top 10 albums in descending order.
Making year end lists is hard work. You think you have everything figured out toward the end of November and then BLAM a December release (or two) come in and totally mess up all your plans. Such is the case with Little Simz follow up to last year’s mindblowingly good Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. NO THANK YOU is a more intimate and less expansive album than that, but not any less ambitious. Her work with producer Inflo continues to push hip hop into interesting places and her lyricism and flows are top tier as always.
Based on an EP released several years ago I’ve been anxiously awaiting Ravyn Lenae’s debut album and HYPNOS does not disappoint. This is really fantastic, chilled out R&B. Perfect to sit and relax to, move around and clean, or throw the headphones on and sink into. For that reason I found myself returning to it’s world so often throughout the year and always stepped away finding something new and exciting.
Amazing Indie Rock act comes back after years off and releases their best album to date. This is definitely littered across most year end lists and for good reason. Objectively if you were to say this is the best album of the year I wouldn’t fight you on that, it’s GREAT. Blue Rev is full of jams, flows really well as an album, and elevates indie rock to thrilling heights.
Yet another December release that came and messed everything up. Wow, what an album this is. Probably deserves to be higher than seven, but I haven’t had enough time with it quite yet (despite listening to it probably 10 times by now.) The world had been waiting for SZA’s follow up to CTRL for five long years and the road to getting SOS was messy and bumpy and LONG. Having the album also be a bit messy with some bumps along it’s LONG journey feels fitting. Every song may not work on it, but because of SZA’s otherworldly, utterly unique vocal abilities everything falls into place perfectly. This was well worth the wait.
THIS is the album I’ve been waiting for JID to release. I knew he had an absolute, stone cold hip-hop classic in him and boy does he deliver. This album has everything and the Expanded Edition that followed it’s initial release is actually essential and improves upon an already great foundation. JID’s delivery is searing, fast, and breathtaking to hear over top of top notch production. His lyricism is witty and emotionally deep AND he’s singing really well to add an extra bit of flavor that was missing from some of his previous releases. This is the textbook definition of a level up.
I’ve been missing Muncie Girls, a great British punk rock band, for several years now and when I saw a new solo album from their primary songwriter and vocalist I was excited to see how it sounded. Little did I know that these songs would bury deep inside of my heart and never let go. This is a great record touching on themes of love, belonging, and struggle with so much authenticity. Plus, her songwriting and vocal ability is just too good to miss out on.
I expected to enjoy RENAISSANCE when I first put it on but I wasn’t prepared for how GREAT it is. This is Beyoncé’s best album, which is saying a lot as a huge Beyoncé fan. The production from start to finish is exhilarating and she follows suit bringing her most impassioned and varied vocals of her career.
Rap albums that push the genre forward are always my favorite and Aethiopes is a great example. billy woods has been one of the best rappers of the past 15 years and Aethiopes is his crowning achievement. This is more of a spiritual experience than just an album. It’s heady, it’s difficult, and it’s breathtaking. It needs to be heard to be believed.
Hardcore punk is not a genre I normally spend much time with but boy am I happy I allowed this album into my life. It’s a thrilling ride through a hellish landscape helmed by one of the most charismatic new voices around. Disapora Problems dips it’s toes into rap as well and shows that rap rock doesn’t HAVE to suck. Yeah, it totally kicks ass.
Most years my favorite album changes a lot. Sometimes on a monthly or weekly basis, but that was not the case this year. From the moment Three Dimensions Deep came out in January I knew it was my favorite album of the year and it never slipped from the number one spot. Like Ravyn Lenae, I’ve been waiting for Amber Mark’s debut album for years and it was such a worthwhile exercise in good things coming to those who wait. Full of jams and spacey R&B, expert songwriting and production, and an incredible talent to watch for years to come. What more could you want from the absolute best album of 2022?