NI Wrapped: Best Albums of 2022


Benjamin Neessen

2022 has presented a year of success and defeat in the world of music. Fan celebrated and mourned, but realized the importance of music and its universal ability to bring people together.

Benjamin Neessen, Guest Columnist

2022 flew by as if blown by Cedar Valley winter winds, carrying us to another holiday season and end of the year festivities. An increasingly popular way to reminisce each December is with annual music streaming service features like Spotify Wrapped, where listeners can reflect on their year through music. Looking back, there was no shortage of big name releases this year. Beyonce reestablished her status as queen bey on “Renaissance”, a collection of club music stylings which added another number one hit to her resume with “Break My Soul.” Drake published a pair of projects, “Her Loss” being a collaboration with 21 Savage. Taylor Swift made headlines with the ticket sales for her upcoming “Midnights” tour turning into a cyber stampede, which may just as well serve as a testament to her popularity. Alongside Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Megan Thee Stallion, The Weekend, and Steve Lacy, this year in popular music was packed. In this article, I’d like to share my favorite releases from this past year which might have flown under the radar of some listeners. These are, in my opinion, the best albums of 2022. 

This year indie folk giants Big Thief treated fans to an hour and twenty minute double album assembled from 4 separate recording sessions. The result, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” (say that 5 times fast), is a sprawling collection of folk songs and acoustic ballads which venture to every extent of the band’s unique sound. “Simulation Swarm” and “Little Things” are two stellar indie rock singles featuring magnificent grooves, extremely present production, and heavily distorted solos. “Time Escaping” and “Spud Infinity” employ a variety of eclectic instruments with a squealing fiddle, jangling jaw harp, and an arrangement of peculiar percussion. One of the band’s strengths lie in their propensity for intimacy. “Promise Is a Pendulum” being an example of their ability to draw the listener in close with gentle understanding and honesty, thanks to the lyricism and performance of lead singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker. 

Although not as high profile as his past releases, Kendrick Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is a staggering standout among rap releases this year. Kendrick’s renowned flow and unique songwriting are all on display here, from the thought provoking to the club bumping. 

“The Heart Part 5” samples Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” on what’s easily one of the songs of the year (watch the music video if you haven’t). Baby Keem makes appearances on the album, the up-and-comer collaborating often with Kendrick, as the two are cousins. “N95” feels like the spiritual successor to Kendrick and Keem’s first collab “Family Ties” with the two trading bars to a bouncing beat. “Untitled in Grief” and “We Cry Together” are as unconventionally addicting as it gets, the latter staging a heated argument between a couple over an incredible instrumental from The Alchemist. “Mr. Morale” and “Die Hard” are thrilling tunes whose exuberant energy make for instant workout playlist adds. 

Just under a year after the release of their successful debut album, Black Country, New Road returned with follow up “Ants From Up There” along with the news of the departure of lead singer and lyricist Isaac Wood. Their sophomore effort strays from the post punk roots of the seven piece’s debut in favor of indie rock, jazz, and klezmer influences. Think Gen Z’s rough edged response to Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”. The band retains their irregular riffs while expanding their songwriting, like for example on “Chaos Space Marine” with its blistering saxophone and violin leads. Wood sings with his heart on his sleeve, with tales throughout of social shortcomings, yearning, and lamenting over lost relationships. It may not be the end of the world but it feels like it on “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade” with Wood’s pleading performance. The track is one of several multi faceted cuts that takes full advantage of its extensive duration, this song in particular progressing from a soft piano ballad to a belter of a full band sing along. The 13 minute long “Basketball Shoes” is a saga all on its own and a grand conclusion to what feels like a mile in someone else’s shoes. 

Modern psych rock phenoms King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard added to their towering discography by releasing three albums in October, the highlight of which being “Laminated Denim.” The 30 minute project consists of only 2 songs, but each spends the time exploring an array of melodies and movements across their respective 15 minute runtimes which culminate in such a propulsive and cohesive whole that you just want to jump back in line for another ride. “The Land Before Timeland” and “Hypertension” present the listener with a mixture of one off riffs, dynamic shifts, and purposeful reprisals which will draw comparisons to great jam bands like Grateful Dead and Phish. The band’s past forays into prog, jazz, and psychedelic rock can all be discerned in their proficiency with dueling guitars, percussion, bass, harmonicas, woodwinds, and synths which keep the jam fresh throughout its duration. 

Dream pop duo Beach House worked for three years and through the pandemic to produce the comprehensive “Once Twice Melody”, a four disc project which ranges from the epic to the ethereal. Members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally performed and produced the album themselves, exploring and enhancing their signature sound which many music listeners may know from their hit “Space Song.” The album is sonically mesmerizing, superb in its use of airy synths and hypnotic arpeggios. The euphoric “Superstar” is a medley of atmospheric hooks which roll out before stacking on top of each other, the layering bringing a new angle to the song with each combination. “New Romances” and “Only You Know” feature lyrical touchpoints of retrospection and past relationships while building to blissful compositional climaxes. “ESP” and “Another Go Around” are slower in pace but equally as dense with reverberated guitars in the forefront and orchestral strings in support.