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The 50 Best Albums of 2022

The 50 Best Albums of 2022
Illustration: Huston Wilson for NPR

A year like this one makes hand-wringing about the death of the album seem silly (if anything we should be concerned about the single). Musicians gave us experiences in 2022. Immersive, ambitious, focused, sprawling, explosive, swerving albums expressed their power in any number of ways: Vibes to make summer stretch on into the year's cold months. Bottomless layers of invention. History lessons that sparkled like the best party you could imagine. There were too many great albums to count, let alone narrow down to a round number. But here are 50 that made us feel awe, ache or adoration, selected and ranked by the contributors, public radio partners and staff of NPR Music. (Oh, and we also ranked the 100 Best Songs of 2022.)

Stream NPR Music's 50 Best Albums of 2022:
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20.

Kendrick Lamar

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
/ Top Dawg Entertainment
/
Top Dawg Entertainment

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers isn't really an album; it's a theatrical performance with Kendrick as playwright and protagonist. He's not our savior anymore, and he damn sure ain't here to entertain us. He's a tragic character in a tale of his own undoing. But these traumas are not his alone to bear. He's diagnosing a generation of Black men, unveiling insecurity, fragility, hypermasculinity. In the name of breaking the cycle and bequeathing something other than tribulation to his children, he calls out a culture that revels in misogyny, genderphobia and material wealth to mask its low self-worth. It's not heady work, it's heart work. Which can make for a very hard listen. Having mastered da art of storytellin' across his previous albums, Kendrick shot it all to hell in 2022. Many of the beats are baroque. The confessionals can be overbearing. And if you find yourself reviled by his toxic revelations or his ill-conceived attempts at redemption, you probably should be. This is what therapy is supposed to sound like. Rap n***** haven't kept it this real and honest in ages. It's about damn time. —Rodney Carmichael

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

19.

Terri Lyne Carrington

New Standards Vol. 1

Terri Lyne Carrington, new STANDARDS, Vol. 1
/ Candid
/
Candid

Terri Lyne Carrington's New Standards Vol. 1 represents a growing awareness surrounding the significant contribution of women in jazz. As the founder and artistic director of the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music — not to mention NEA Jazz Master and multiple Grammy award winner — TLC's mission has been to even the playing field for women in the genre in pursuit of jazz without patriarchy. This album does just that, summoning the compositions of women known and soon-to-be discovered — from Abbey Lincoln to Brandee Younger. —Keanna Faircloth

18.

Ravyn Lenae

HYPNOS

Ravyn Lenae, HYPNOS
/ Atlantic
/
Atlantic

In an age of instant gratification, Ravyn Lenae's star appeal gleams from patience. After 2018's Crush EP, the vocal perfectionist went dormant for four years. Now, she's reemerged as a deity of Hypnos — the god of dreams — with her debut studio album by the same name as it grooves through time and cosmos to indulge desires of self-discovery. Lush, psychedelic sonospheres and hypnotic harmonies platform Hypnos' thematic centerpiece: fearless candor. Determined in her search for utopias of self-love — aided by other galactic adventurers innovating R&B like Smino, Fousheé and Steve Lacy — Lenae retains a precise focus with the vulnerability of confidence as her guide. —LaTesha Harris

17.

FKA twigs

CAPRISONGS

FKA twigs, CAPRISONGS
/ Young/Atlantic
/
Young/Atlantic

During the first pandemic lockdown in the U.K., the English singer and producer FKA twigs wondered privately about the sustainability of her creative process. Making her 2019 album, Magdalene, a woe-inspired electronic aria, took its toll; she likened the exercise to putting her insides on blast. Restoration came through connection and collaboration — and her splendid, ever-changing mixtape Caprisongs is uplifting in its pursuit of sorority, some of which is found on the dance floor. Produced by twigs with El Guincho, the project is jubilant and inquisitive; it scans Afropop, hymnals, road rap and the club. A diverse cast of characters — local underground artists, mostly — chimes in on a far-reaching mix, but the project feels most intimate when twigs explores dance music as a form of communion and escape. —Sheldon Pearce

(This review appears on Sheldon Pearce's Top 20 Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

16.

Saba

Few Good Things

Saba, Few Good Things
/ Pivot Gang
/
Pivot Gang

With each of his projects, Saba showcases facets of his life, values and evolution that enlighten him; on Few Good Things, it's community. For instance, the title track marks his connection with his working-class roots, while the incessantly groovy cut "Come My Way," featuring Krayzie Bone, is an ode to his hood and his crew. As a whole, the album gives the effect of a thoughtfully crafted family photo album ... but it's also absolutely a righteous vibe. —Ayana Contreras, Vocalo

15.

Natalia Lafourcade

De Todas las Flores

Natalia Lafourcade, De Todas las Flores
/ Sony Music Mexico
/
Sony Music Mexico

Rooted in her homeland of Mexico and inspired by the sounds of Latin jazz, a hypnotic quality runs throughout Natalia Lafourcade's De Todas las Flores. In the aptly named "Muerte," her voice takes on an uncanny tenor as she thanks death (and Veracruz) for teaching her how to live, while "María La Curandera" takes inspiration from the writings of Mazatec healer María Sabina and encourages finding healing in nature. It's a dazzling work that highlights Lafourcade's place among Mexico's greatest musicians and draws you into her sublime reflections on life, death and the awe-inspiring strength of the Earth. —Fi O'Reilly

14.

Julia Bullock

Walking in the Dark

Julia Bullock, Walking in the Dark
/ Nonesuch
/
Nonesuch

With a singularly expressive voice, you'd think the 35-year-old soprano from St. Louis would stuff her debut album with show-stopping opera arias, but nothing is conventional about Bullock. She's a keen curator, building programs of intellectual rigor that straddle classical and popular music. Here she threads themes of social justice and darkness in songs associated with Nina Simone, Sandy Denny and the enigmatic Connie Converse. Bullock's fiery side emerges in a scene from John Adams' oratorio El Niño, and she communicates tenderly, with her signature elegant phrasing, in Samuel Barber's ruminative Knoxville: Summer of 1915. An outstanding solo debut. —Tom Huizenga

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Classical Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

13.

Silvana Estrada

Marchita

Silvana Estrada, Marchita
/ Glassnote
/
Glassnote

The debut solo album from the Mexican singer-songwriter is an intimate, masterful portrait of heartbreak. Inspired by her background in jazz and her love for Mexican folk traditions, Marchita is anchored by Estrada's instrument of choice, the Venezuelan cuatro, and the powerful emotionality of her voice. Estrada has described the album, whose title translates to "withered," as "a journey into the self to attempt to understand sorrow." Rather than wilting, however, Estrada is interested in "what flowers will grow out of sorrow"; the collection of songs that blossomed out of her heartache are poignant and richly beautiful. —Marissa Lorusso

12.

Alex G

God Save the Animals

Alex G, God Save the Animals
/ Domino
/
Domino

Alex G's most confessional album builds its lofty questions about morality with the base reactions of animals, human and not. For an artist of few clarifications, God Save the Animals is ambitious in its questions about consciousness, flitting between transcendentally aware observation and nearsighted emotional desperation — and forgiveness, a maybe-fake thing made real all the time by people who choose to give it. This fragmented meditation is given flesh by, in addition to theologians and poets, Alex G's baroque melodic sensibility, sick groove and the ascetic simplicity of his observation: "Yes, I have done a couple bad things." —Stefanie Fernández

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

11.

S.G. Goodman

Teeth Marks

S.G. Goodman, Teeth Marks
/ Verve Forecast
/
Verve Forecast

S.G. Goodman is a queer Kentucky songwriter from a tiny and shrinking town on the banks of a big Mississippi bend. It is tempting to reduce her contemplative folk-rock, stirred by Muscle Shoals soul and bristling garage jams, to such stark biographical terms — a cultural outlier, pushing against the conservatism of the liminal South that raised her. But in these poignant tales of friends lost to alcoholism and opioid addiction, or her flinty excoriations of capitalism's hamster-wheel machinations, there is instead an abiding love for that home, expressed through the implicit demand that such places and their people be lifted up rather than so routinely put down. —Grayson Haver Currin


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