2022 has been a turbulent ride.
The all-consuming impetus of COVID-19 slid down the news headlines, making way for stories of major state conflict, economic turmoil and political pantomimes.
Described by many as ‘coping culture’, many of us around the world are looking for mediums of escape, through which to deal with the almost daily doses of macro-social chaos that ensue above our heads.
Music has always been one such avenue, but this year, it feels more pertinent.
Recent research by Dolby discovered that 90% of people believe ‘enhanced audio quality’ is a must-have when listening to music, and that more than half of adults believe they were born in the wrong decade because of their current music tastes.
To us, this points to a landscape where listeners are seeking comfort in the sonic nostalgias of yesteryear, and in doing so, want their audio experience to be of an impeccable standard.
To assess whether music has lived up to these expectations this year, we unpack our top 30 albums of 2022.
30. Kibrom Birhane – Here And There
One of the bright names in Ethiopian jazz circles, for his third album Kibrom Birhane recruited some of the most respected players LA has to offer and the results speak for themselves.
Here And There is his most ambitious record to date and despite the clear deference to Ethiopian jazz traditions, is global in its outlook.
Certain tracks suggest the influence of Afrobeat and it is little surprise the young musician is a big fan of the great Pharaoh Sanders – the album’s more spiritual moments align tonally with the late master.
‘Maleda’ is a highlight but equally don’t sleep on the dedication to his homeland ‘Ethiopia’ either.
29. TVAM – High Art Lite
On High Art Lite, Wigan’s Joe Oxley continues from where his debut Psychic Data left off in 2018.
He is a musician able to channel influences (whether they be Suicide or My Bloody Valentine) in a way that doesn’t feel derivative, but rather an intoxicating blend of the best elements of each.
TVAM has not reinvented the wheel but simply released another immaculately produced LP that’s best to play loud. ‘Host’ might be the pick of the bunch and proof that Oxley is just as capable writing sub three minute distorted pop bangers as the more sprawling tunes that have been his trademark.
28. Stereolab – Pulse Of The Early Brain [Switched On Volume 5]
Stereolab’s Switched On series has long been held in high regard by the group’s fanbase. For a band that have recorded, quite frankly, a ridiculous amount of music, these compilations offer a chance to hear obscure rarities and B-sides that never made it onto any of their studio albums.
Pulse of the Early Brain is the fifth and “possibly final” volume, most notable for the inclusion of ‘Simple Headphone Mind’.
This collaboration with Nurse With Wound was (in classic Stereolab fashion) previously very difficult to find a copy of, but stands toe to toe with any of their finest output from the 90s. It’s little surprise the track closed their recent performance at Hackney’s EartH.
A new studio album might still be out of the question but this will definitely do for the time being.
27. Shygirl – NYMPH
It might come as a surprise to learn that Nymph is Shygirl’s first LP, given she’s been making forward thinking hyperpop/hip-hop/post-club/grime (delete as appropriate) for more than half a decade now. There’s no time like the present.
Nymph wears pop influences on its sleeve and doesn’t take itself too seriously in a good way (‘Coochie’ might be the jokest song of the year) but this isn’t strictly a chart crossover record.
There’s more than a bit of Missy-esque production on show here – ‘Nike’ is the kind of tune you imagine Ms. Elliott might make if she’d heard of Nandos. Nods to UK rave and underground come in the shape of closers ‘Honey’ and ‘Wildfire’.
Overall a versatile and concise debut that’s well worth a listen.
26. Deadbeat x Om Unit – Root, Stalk, Leaf and Bloom
Arriving via Berlin’s Midnight Shift imprint, the first collaborative album between Om Unit & Deadbeat is an ode to dub electronics.
Spread over four long tracks, this LP is a murky, weighty and atmospheric deep dive into the world of dub techno. Sonically, Root, Stalk, Leaf & Bloom is crystal clear; a wondrously-crafted equilibrium of Berlin and Bristol served on a silver platter.
This one’s for the late nights, the tube journeys, the work projects & the everything-in-betweens.
It’ll live a long and happy life in both the club and the headphones.
25. INIT – NRGY
Is there a greater seal of approval in music (or in life for that matter) than a thumbs up from Optimo?
For Noise Narrative, NRGY is the pick of a slew of releases on Optimo Music this year. At the risk of sounding trite, the listen as a whole fizzes with the kind of
energy momentum that comes with repurposing tracks that were originally conceived during live sets in clubs.
INIT’S penchant for experimentation is what’s most noticeable, as the LP effortlessly moves from b-boy electro (à la early Autechre), to breakneck acid and menacing chuggers.
24. funcionário – Lisbon Dreams
funcionàrio is the musical alias of Pedro Tavares, a Portugese producer-composer whose latest, Lisbon Dreams, sonically documents his journeys between Setúbal and Lisbon whilst studying Fine Arts in his nation’s capital.
Lisbon Dreams is undoubtedly a concept album, in that each track takes listeners to a vivid place within nature. funcionàrio’s penchant for the elements comes to the fore here; cuts like ‘Dolphin Bay Vacation’, ‘Underwater Rescue’ & ‘As Right As Rain’ are underpinned by a sample-driven depiction of water.
Ultimately, what makes Lisbon Dreams such a comforting listen is its ability to translate visual context into sound – something very few artists are able to achieve.
23. The Zenmenn & John Moods – Hidden Gem
Music From Memory are a trusted source at Noise Narrative, and 2022 was no different.
The Dutch imprint introduced us to The Zenmenn in 2021 through their statement debut Enter The Zenmenn, and Hidden Gem sees the group return, this time in full collaboration with vocalist John Moods.
Hidden Gem continues in the same woozy, treacly fashion as the previous work between the pairing. The vocals hug you, the guitar riffs strut with a misty twang and the melodies instil a sense of comfort and nostalgia.
The Zenmenn are most definitely here to stay. They are beginning to own their sound.
22. DECIUS – Decius Vol I
Decius are a South London foursome consisting of members of Paranoid London, Trashmouth Records & Fat White Family.
This elite panel of players have collated to release debut Decius Vol 1, a crude, brash, unashamedly sexual disc of dance and delight.
Heaters are aplenty on this record – keep an ear out for some of these punky acid house cuts in the clubs in 2023.
21. Oscar Jerome – The Spoon
Oscar Jerome’s second album The Spoon is a child of lockdown, and an apt embodiment of the shared emotional turmoil entering the post-pandemic world.
At times deeply introspective and frustratingly beautiful, Jerome himself describes The Spoon as a comment on the warped reflection we are presented of ourselves through both a personal and political sense.
With contemporary jazz and fluid guitar acting as a setting for Jerome’s own poetry, the album ranges between pangs of intense melancholy to more playful grooves.
Immersive in its brooding lyricism, accentuated by the melodic soul of Jerome’s voice, the project is one which leaves you with a yearning to rediscover it all over again.
20. Phi-Psonics – The Cradle
Jazz makes it way into our list most years here at Noise Narrative, which is testament to the quality and musicianship coming out of multiple continents’ jazz scenes in recent years.
Phi-Psonics hail from LA, led by bassist Seth Ford-Young, who has recruited two from the ranks of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros to aid his endeavours.
This is a wistful record – one to stick on in pensive moments.
It’s introspective, and at times solemn.
The best jazz often is.
19. Gabe Gurnsey – Diablo
Diablo is Gabe Gurnsey’s second LP as a solo artist, having originally garnered critical acclaim as part of industrial techno outfit Factory Floor.
Whereas that group were in much the same vein as post punk bands like Joy Division with a ‘head down, eyes on the floor’ approach, tonally this new album is lightyears apart.
Diablo is a euphoric eulogy to 80s/90s NYC garage and acid house, with the majority, if not all of the album’s tracks being built for the club.
The sweat practically drips off ‘You Remind Me’ and ‘Push’, and it’s not completely blasphemous to suggest that if New Order were in their heyday now, they’d be making something like ‘Hey Diablo’.
You’ll be hard pushed to find an album released this year that is more fun to listen to.
18. Ferkat Al Ard – Oghneya
This record’s inclusion does slightly feel like cheating given it was originally released in 1978, but it’s so good we don’t care.
Thanks to the wonderfully consistent Habibi Funk, Oghneya has been given a new lease of life and presented to a completely different audience in 2022.
Ferkat Al Ard were a Lebanese group comprised of Issam Hajali, Toufic Farroukh and Elia Saba, and recorded this album in Beirut, 1978. There are some fascinating words on Bandcamp from Habibi’s head honcho Jannis Stürtz about how he first heard Oghneya and set about repressing it.
The comparisons with Arthur Verocai’s seminal debut couldn’t be more apt. Not only in the records’ shared beauty and bossa nova influences but the fact these albums were sleeping giants for so long.
Oghneya’s opener ‘Matar Al Sabah’ is one of the most uplifting pieces of music we have heard all year at Noise Narrative.
17. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
UK duo Jockstrap’s I Love You Jennifer B is controlled chaos.
The 45-minute LP is a production haven, rife with addictive unpredictability and ingenuity.
Prior to this latest, the pair’s music has carried with it the same individuality, but oftentimes lacked coherence. Of course, when futuristic pop music is your penchant, finding that sweet equilibrium between coherence and chaos is a fine art.
Jockstrap’s new album finally lands in this delicate space; it’s juicy, weird, at times questionable.
But it tells an accomplished story that puts the London group firmly on the map.
16. Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals – King Cobra
2022 saw the arrival of another bold and brash body of work from Baltimore. Rapper Brian Ennals & producer Infinity Knives teamed up to deliver a statement release rife with unapologetic crudeness and stifling energy.
808s and 80s synths galore, King Cobra will jolt you awake even in the sleepiest of moments. Ennals’ raps are brave, upbeat and cheeky, and pair nicely with an approach to production that wouldn’t look out of place on a season finale of Stranger Things.
There’s a touch of Death Grips in here, for sure, but not enough to take King Cobra out of its unique silo.
There’s not been another record similar to this in 2022; one that acts as an apt substitute if you’ve run out of coffee in the morning.
15. Jean Dawson – CHAOS NOW*
CHAOS NOW* is an ode to the early noughties MTV era. The grungy, post-punk-laden, Tony Hawk Pro Skater sound that so many of us came to love as children.
Hopscotching across genres, Dawson’s latest finds the sonic sweet spot that defined the anarchic emo moments of the millennium.
Immaculate guitar riffs, defiant rap verses, emo-tinged choruses and a shit-tonne of angst.
CHAOS NOW* is a throwback album, but is still fresh enough that it brings something new to the table.
14. Jana Rush – Dark Humor
Over a little more than half an hour, Jana Rush stretches footwork as a genre to an almost unrecognisable degree.
For music that’s traditionally been defined by razor sharp functional production, the sense of danger in this album is what is most striking.
Such is the complexity of the rhythms she welds together, there are points where you think the whole record is about to come completely unhinged.
Dark Humor is not an easy listen the first time around. It is chaotic and confrontational but this serves to highlight moments when the music does spontaneously swerve into something more orthodox.
The remix of 2017’s ‘Break It’ is the most straightforward club track on the album, and an absolute banger, but for the most part these songs are not so easily identifiable.
13. Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes
Joining the wave of the recent resurgence of boom bap is Conway The Machine, with God Don’t Make Mistakes.
Making his Shady Records debut, Conway is moody, pensive and driven on this release. There’s a haunting element to the production; echoes of Immortal Technique and early A$AP Rocky come to the fore as Conway covers considerable ground with his verses.
Since the Buffalo rapper’s departure from Griselda earlier this year, many die-hards will have wondered what lay next. It’s no secret that Griselda’s output has an unmatched work-rate in hip-hop.
It seems like Conway’s venture to pastures new has given him a chance to recalibrate, reset and focus on showing us more about the true him.
12. SAULT – Untitled (God)
The formidable and mysterious UK collective had an industrious year. Spearheaded by do-it-all producer Inflo, SAULT released five full-length albums in 2022. Yes. Five.
Over the years, listeners have come to learn that the likes of Cleo Sol, Kid Sister, Michael Kiwanuka, Little Simz and Chronixx are some of the names involved in this project – but it’s not a public display of affairs.
Untitled (God) is our pick of the bunch for SAULT this year. It continues their Untitled series with a gospel-inspired ode to faith and all its associated joys.
Each track is tinged with unique beauty, with a cadence and composure that the collective seemed to have patented as their own.
11. Michael J. Blood & Rat Heart – Nite Mode Vol. I
Michael J. Blood’s collaborative release with fellow Manchester-based producer Rat Heart is a woozy ode to twisted late nights.
Nite Mode vol. 1 is as sticky as it is soulful; love-giving at points, but never too much. This is an album that reminds you of moments that you’ve never experienced. It creates feelings of nostalgia that have no right to exist.
Whether it be the wistful vocals on ‘Waitin’, or the industrial drive of ‘A Bend In The River’, Nite Mode vol. 1 feels like familiar territory.
But in reality, this sort of music lives in a lane of its own.
10. Hudson Mohawke – Cry Sugar
Hudson Mohawke’s influence upon electronic music has been a quiet but powerful affair.
The LA-based Scotsman’s first LP in seven years is a boisterous offering of grandeur. It leans close to satirical at moments, but contains enough restraint to remain a wondrous record full of exciting twists and turns within the electronic pop/hyper pop worlds.
Cry Sugar is rife with emotion. It’s funny, absurd, melancholic and scary.
It’s a melting pot of madness that has brought some life to a murky year.
9. Latarnik – Marianna
Latarnik, otherwise known as Marek Pędziwiatr, has been acknowledged as one of Poland’s synth virtuosos for a number of years but came to wider attention in 2021.
His involvement with Lahore-based quartet Jaubi and their album Nafs At Peace (featuring none other than 22a label boss Ed ‘Tenderlonious’ Cawthorne) helped to raise his profile and Marianna sees him striking out on his own.
Inspired by solo recordings from legends like Thelonious Monk and Ahmad Jamal, the album was recorded on a single piano over a couple of days.
Easily one of the most intimate and meditative albums on our list – the level of musicianship on display here is stunning.
8. Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
It has been a busy twelve months for Danger Mouse.
Although he’s had a couple of records out this year (Into The Blue as part of indie rock outfit Broken Bells was released in October), Cheat Codes is the first hip-hop album he has produced since 2005’s collaboration with MF DOOM. You wouldn’t know it.
Listening to this record’s production is the aural equivalent of starring in a Western or a 70s road trip movie. It’s the kind of territory that could feel tired or hackneyed in another producer’s hands but Danger Mouse always manages to pull off.
Black Thought is the perfect counterpoint to this kind of smoky, drifting atmosphere and there’s plenty of guest firepower throughout in appearances from the likes of Raekwon and A$AP Rocky.
Given this is Danger Mouse’s first hip-hop album since The Mouse and the Mask, it seems apt that DOOM pops up on one of the tracks. It is slightly unnerving hearing his grizzled voice on ‘Belize’, but as you’d expect he nails the verse.
7. RIP Swirl – Blurry
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2022.
Having become familiar with RIP Swirl’s particular style of IDM on a couple of Public Possession EPs, expectation for album no.1 was an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset to come to the fore.
By contrast, Blurry represents, if not a left turn, then an interesting deviation from the music RIP Swirl has released so far in his career. This LP is far more guitar-orientated than expected, but the result is a seductive and alluring record that’s been on rotation throughout the year.
It’s not like the emo influences on this album hadn’t been hinted at in past releases, but on Blurry they feel much more front and centre.
What’s harder to elucidate is this album’s definite soundtrack quality – listen to ‘Slipping My Mind’ and you might get an idea.
6. Voice Actor – Sent From My Telephone
Let’s be transparent right off the bat here. This album is 109 songs long.
Emerging out of Belgian digger Ziggy Devriendt’s label STROOM, this 4-hour venture is a one of a kind. It’s an ever-winding long road with lo-fi folk, 90s hip-hop sampling, spoken word and experimental electronic cuts.
Sent From My Telephone is certainly a buffet rather than a meal. Noa Kurzweil and Levi Lanser, the duo who go by Voice Actor, submitted these tracks to STROOM over a three-year period. For many, this is enough tracks to decide not to bother listening – and that would be understandable.
However, truly understanding an artist’s world can be hard in the space of a standard-length release.
If you find yourself with 4 hours of work to crack on with anytime soon, plug into the bubbling journey of Sent From My Telephone, and see if you regret it.
5. Waajeed – Memoirs of Hi-Tech Jazz
J Dilla affiliate Waajeed’s latest arrives via Tresor Records with a considerable bang.
A staple of the Detroit scene, Waajeed has very much been there and done that. He came up with the name for Slum Village, and despite best-known for his hip-hop endeavours, arrives in 2022 with a powerful jazz-tinged techno record.
Memoirs of Hi-Tech Jazz is an ode to Detroit’s techno roots. In the same vain as Underground Resistance, Waajeed successfully proves that jazz and techno are compatible and complimentary lovers.
4. Michael J. Blood – As Is
2022 has been the year that mysterious Manchester producer Michael J. Blood came to the fore.
As Is, the long awaited LP, is a swirling, unpredictable, glitchy demonstration of how, if you teeter close to edge of ridiculousness, you can create something incredible.
Stretching across the territories of spiritual techno, UK bass, spaced-out jazz, murky chuggers and more, As Is is the sonic equivalent of pulling a baby-tooth out as a kid. It kind of hurts. But it’s sort of nice. You’ll give it a whirl regardless.
Designed for a colossal sound system in the darkest hours of a White Hotel-esque venue, As Is is proof that the beautiful equilibiriums between Detroit and the UK often found in the 90s by Omar-S or A Guy Called Gerald can still be located in the modern day.
3. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
2022’s early months saw the arrival of London-hailing band Black Country, New Road’s sophomore LP, Ants From Up There. This sprawling album creates a vicious, emotionally chaotic ulterior universe of devastating baroque pop.
In the week prior to release, fans learned that this record would be lead singer Isaac Wood’s last with the band.
Woven into the group’s heartfelt message delivered on social media was the commitment to resort this set of songs to a life within headphones and speakers alone, choosing not to perform the album at live gigs.
This late drama seasoned the band’s latest with bittersweetness, which, it turned out, was a prominent theme in the music that followed.
Ants From Up There is a future cult classic; a more tightly-strung, storied set of songs that carries with it an endless string of devastating melodies, commendable instrumentation and inevitable curiosity.
2. Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – Reset
Reset is far from the first project Panda Bear and Sonic Boom have worked on collaboratively.
Sonic was previously of Spacemen 3 fame, and his credits as a producer include a few previous Panda Bear records as well as bands like MGMT and Beach House.
Having said all that, this album does feel like the most equitable combination of their respective interests and strengths as musicians.
Take a record like Friends or Smiley Smile from the late 60s Beach Boys era, let the pair embellish with treacly, childlike synth lines and this is the kind of thing that might come out.
A psychedelic pop masterpiece.
1. Sam Gellaitry – VF VOL II
Sam Gellaitry has come a long way since his 2015 debut EP, Escapism. This first release unveiled a young & talented trap instrumental producer to the world in emphatic fashion. In the years since, Gellaitry has patented a position as one of the most gifted pop singer-producers in the industry.
The diversity of sound on VF VOL II is to be marvelled at. There’s ballads in here; there’s R’n’B; there’s echoes of Jai Paul, Justin Timberlake, The Weeknd, Hudson Mohawke and more.
Gellaitry’s production ability is nothing new, but this release is a reminder that the Scot is at the top of his game.
As with all seminal releases across RnB, pop & electronic, powerful melodies can often be the key drivers of repeat listening. In the instance of VF VOL II, listeners are exposed to this sort of treatment over and over again.
VF VOL II puts a spring in your step. It spurs on a swagger. It conjures up feelings of heartbreak. It takes you back and it prompts you to look forward.
And, most importantly, it never tires.
Contributors: Will McCartney, Oliver Ainley & Phoebe Johnstone