Two years after the world unexpectedly shut down, the period of isolation has proven that people need music more than ever before. As music festivals and tour announcements powered through our changing world, there had to be a healthy supply of music to meet such a powerful demand. 2022 delivered.
This year saw the explosion of electronic subgenres and endless iterations of hyperpop. Hip-hop had another big year alongside pop music in all of its forms. Hardcore made its way further into the mainstream and countless elder emos were reminded why they smudged their eyeliner in the first place. Whether you’re one to hit play at midnight on a Friday or wait for the perfect time to dive into that album you’ve been excited about for months or years, 2022 gave us so many albums that became integral to our identities, well-being and survival.
While so much music came out this year, there’s only so much that can be represented across countless year-end lists. PAPER continues to be a source of the new, the alternative, the strange and the groundbreaking. Check out our staff picks for our albums of the year below.
Related | PAPER's Favorite Songs of 2022
Charli XCX — Crash
If Spotify Wrapped is an algorithmic mirror, who’s to deny the truth? “New Shapes” by powerhouse trifecta Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens landed at No. 1 on my most-listened list, probably for the number of times I screamed out, “What you want? I ain’t got it!” at the top of 2022. With ’80s synth gloss and poetic lyrics I still don’t entirely understand, the single teed up Crash as Charli’s final major label album under Atlantic that doubled as performance art to embody the perfect pop star, with shameless TikTok promo, barely-there bikinis and full-blown choreo. No artist captured the memeification of music culture this year quite like Charli, and she’s also proven she can deliver massive hits alongside the laughs.
— Justin Moran, Editor-in-Chief
Static Dress — Rogue Carpet Disaster
Very rarely do I hear something that instantly captures my heart and brings tears to my eyes. It’s that beautifully intoxicating feeling of your stomach falling and your chest tightening as you encounter something that you know will be integral to your life in some way. Leeds-based post-hardcore band Static Dress did just that. Their stunning debut Rouge Carpet Disaster speaks to their meticulous artistry, building lore within the menacingly sanitized walls of a fictional hotel that bookended their fittingly titled Prologue… EP in 2021. Vocalist Olli Appleyard’s captivating and emotional performance grips you tighter with each listen as the band’s sonic walls come crashing down. Rouge Carpet Disaster is a lesson in masterful storytelling, and Static Dress is only just getting started.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
Florence and the Machine — Dance Fever
Having my favorite Renaissance witch return after four years was one of the few things that got me through this year. But even better was seeing her perform on the big stage again (in Rodarte, Gucci and Vampire’s Wife, no less). I’ve never felt so seen in “Free” (anyone with anxiety can relate!) and I knew “Cassandra” would affect me spiritually because anytime Florence randomly names a song after a woman you know it’ll slap (“Delilah” and “Patricia” anyone?).
— Mario Abad, Fashion Editor
FKA Twigs — CAPRISONGS
FKA twigs’ 2019 album Magdalene is an emotional monument, looming so tall that producing a direct follow-up seemed nigh impossible. Enter CAPRISONGS: a masterful departure from FKA twigs’ long-cultivated sound, a compilation of bubbly art pop and a myriad of artful influences. There are too many iconic moments to name here, but naming a song after the best La Croix flavor — and, on that track, sampling a fan begging for the official release of the FKA twigs x Dua Lipa collab — will always be a stand-out for me. (Let me say as well: I very nearly chose Beyoncé's Renaissance for this list. But, as my friends can attest, I have ranted at length about Bey plenty for one year.)
Gang of Youths — angel in realtime.
Grief is an unrelenting and unforgiving beast, morphing with the passage of time until it becomes unbearable. In the wake of Gang of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe’s father’s passing, the subsequent grief and healing process brought forth the magical world of angel in realtime. It’s a stunning album that chronicles the confusion of loss as its permanence sets in. Gang of Youths look upward with each song, playing with a revitalized gusto in hopes that everyone in heaven can hear, with Springsteen-esque arrangements accented with gorgeous Indigenous elements. Regardless of how far removed one may be from their grief, angel in realtime. opens the wound once more and allows for healing to take place.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
SZA — SOS
A great album will blitz different nerve endings for each listener. In my rotations, the album mirrored the contradicting nature of being a 20-something. “I been burnin’ bridges, I’ll do it all over again/ Cause I’m betting on me,” is the chorus line of every hungry and hustling young adult, at times selfish and blundering in their ambition. The tenor of the album is a staggering pendulum that totters between self-sabotage and overconfidence, desperation and absolute independence. You find this tension in the tonal shifts between “Special” and “Conceited,” “Nobody Gets Me” and “F2F,” “Kill Bill” and “Snooze,” as SZA interrogates the overwhelming confusion of existing with your various egos at odds. The chaotic and genre-bending palette of the album shows her expansive sonic reach, as SZA fuses styles of pop-punk, indie-rock, R&B, boom-bap, soul, folk and electronica. Her syncopated rapping is tight, her power ballads are fierce and, above all, she brings levity to heartbreak and depth to cheeky animus. “Now that I’ve ruined everything, I’m so f-ckin’ free,” seems to be the thesis of the album, as she builds something beautiful from the rubble of past relationships.
— Alessandra Schade, Editorial Assistant
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs — When the Lights Go
Ten years in the making, there was a lot of baggage Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs had to shed in order to make his sophomore album, When the Lights Go. Depression, burnout and an uncaring exploitative industry all had left the artist feeling lost and disillusioned with a fair bit of growing up to do. Slowly but surely the pieces started to fall into place, ultimately resulting in a much more mature sound that sees Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs find a middle ground between finely crafted pop and infectious dance grooves. From the boisterous clang of opener “Crosswalk” and the swaggering bravado of “The Sleeper” to the heartbreaking vulnerability of tracks like “Be Like You” and “Treason,” the album feels warm and intimate — like a coffee on a cozy Sunday morning — while also basking in the soft glow of a dusty mirrorball after last call in a smoky lounge.
— Matt Moen, Writer
Chat Pile — God's Country
Oklahoma City may not be known for much, but Chat Pile is one of the city’s biggest gifts yet. The rugged and mysterious sludge-metal band slowly rises from the debris of society’s failings with tears in their eyes and bruises all over their bodies. After coming face-to-face with the atrocities of life on Earth, God’s Country is their desperate plea for others to listen. Vocalist Raygun Busch’s spine-chilling wails evoke the animalistic expression of The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow while armed with the dead-eyed nihilism of Steve Albini. From tornado sirens to menacing McDonald’s mascots inching closer in the dark, Chat Pile puts a magnifying glass on terror in all forms until it burns a hole through the fabric of life.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
Klein — STAR IN THE HOOD
What does a year sound like? Do we hear it all at once or in pieces?
Music in 2022 was hard and fast, reverberating in corners long-abandoned during quarantine. We shook floorboards again, left ashes in their cracks, smudged clean-girl-lip-gloss against the faces of strangers, and coaxed sweat from under loose-knit shirts. But as present as we were in the world again, so was the dust we kicked up.
STAR IN THE HOOD holds the year as if between index and thumb. Klein's collaging musical style takes new shape over her spiraling vocals and intimate samples; enchanting repetition and garbled lyrical flow. As if feeling around the edges of an empty room, Klein flexes the extremes of her sound–from the playful intensity on "brand new day" to monotone sensuality on "SOUF TITLE." In each expression, Klein undercuts emotion with the gentle absence of a year spent tip-toeing into the world and into ourselves again.
— Kenna McCafferty, Writer
Beach House — Once Twice Melody
So good I passed out at the concert.
— James Krolewski, Social Media Editor
Ho99o9 — SKIN
While Newark, New Jersey is best known for its fair share of R&B and hip-hop exports, hometown heroes Ho99o9 (pronounced: horror) have spent the better part of a decade cutting their teeth across underground venues and festivals across the world. SKIN is their roughest, most scathing work yet. Their intoxicating and abrasive blend of hardcore punk with hip-hop shines, synthesized perfectly in the face-melting album opener “NUGE SNIGHT.” Ho99o9 made their presence known in 2022 with a bloody-toothed grin, and they’re not going anywhere.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
Photos via Getty
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