Music: Kitty Empire’s 10 best albums of 2022

Non-stop dance parties, retro beats and dreamy vignettes vied with slacker rock, flamenco-inflected R&B and no end of heartbreak

1. Beyoncé – Renaissance
Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia; July
This 16-track non-stop party album went higher and harder than many of the pandemic dance albums that preceded it. Full of love and catharsis, Renaissance paid tribute to the queer Black underground scenes from which Beyoncé drew, and to the therapeutic value of the dancefloor no matter who you are.

Danger Mouse and Black Thought.
Danger Mouse and Black Thought. Shervin Lainez Photograph: Shervin Lainez

2. Danger Mouse and Black Thought – Cheat Codes
BMG; August
Luxuriantly retro, this all-killer, no-filler pairing of A-list beat-maker Danger Mouse with rapper Black Thought from the Roots made good on a 20-year-old pledge. With Danger Mouse lining up crate-digger samples and tailored beats, one of hip-hop’s premier lyrical giants let rip at a rigged system.

3. Mitski – Laurel Hell
Dead Oceans; February
In-between states don’t often feel powerful. But Mitski’s towering ambivalence in the face of uneven relationships, her chosen path and her own inner darkness made for one of 2022’s most musically immersive records: an existential seethe disguised as high-end synth-pop.

Mitski performing at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 2022.
‘An existential seethe’: Mitski. Photograph: Helle Arensbak/EPA

4. Kurt Vile – (watch my moves)
Verve/Fiction; April
Slacker rock is not the genre du jour. But skateboarding guitar savant Kurt Vile, now on his ninth solo outing, is a master of its laid-back pleasures. These were gently psychedelic tunes meandering to just the right places, where Vile’s preternatural serenity felt like a balm.

5. Arctic Monkeys – The Car
Domino; October
Undaunted by a fanbase split over their previous album, Arctic Monkeys doubled down on their sophisticated new direction. The Car was a hyper-literate heartbreak album big on spy chic, soul and lush orchestrations, with Alex Turner’s elegant vocal performances playing off against some of the most beautiful music of the band’s career.

Bill Callahan on stage in Bristol, November 2022.
Full circle… Bill Callahan on stage in Bristol, November 2022. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

6. Bill Callahan – Reality
Drag City; October
One of American songcraft’s greatest misanthropes has come full circle on his past few albums, filling his songs full of bittersweetness and considered light. Reality took in the natural world, dream-states and everyday vignettes and brought them all into vivid focus through his band’s sublime instrumentations.

7. Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
RCA; July
Hailed as a wunderkind guitarist (the Internet) and production prodigy (Kendrick Lamar, Solange), 24-year-old Steve Lacy stepped into his imperial period with his second solo album, his first in a well-equipped studio. A breakup served as a catalyst for a set of fresh but classic-sounding songs that didn’t pull their punches, as Lacy combined raw confessionals and squelchy soul.

‘Greedier, glitchier’: Rosalía. EPA Photograph: Étienne Laurent/EPA

8. Rosalía – Motomami
Columbia; March
Proof, if it were needed, that the combination of passionate flamenco vocals and cutting-edge R&B on Rosalía’s second album, El Mal Querer, was no accident. Motomami was an even greedier, glitchier record than its predecessor, drawing on reggaeton for party moods and icy digitals for its many emotional highs and lows.

9. Pole – Tempus
Mute; November
Düsseldorf producer Stefan Betke made his name applying dub techniques to minimal techno through a broken Waldorf 4-Pole filter. After some equally great albums away, Tempus marks Betke’s return to dub and faulty equipment. But he circumspectly avoids repetition, choosing to introduce conventional piano, a loose, jazz feel and plenty of deliciously heavy low-end bass.

10. Oren Ambarchi – Shebang
Drag City; September
Built from recordings of his far-flung collaborators – among them, pedal steel player BJ Cole, Necks pianist Chris Abrahams and 12-string guitar fingerpicker Julia Reidy – Shebang found Australian experimentalist Oren Ambarchi piling shimmers on to arpeggios, while relentless rhythms kept the listener’s rapt attention.


Kitty Empire

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