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It’s almost absurd how much good music — universally acclaimed, big-ticket, year-end contender music — came out in 2022’s first five months. It’s hard to imagine the next seven matching that pace. We’ve heard soul-bearing rap songs (Kendrick Lamar), future windows-down rock classics (Momma), loads of elite-level Thom Yorke (The Smile) — the list, literally, goes on.
Below, we gathered our 30 favorite tracks of 2022 so far. (In this case, we decided songs from any 2022 albums were on the table.) Let’s meet back here at year’s end and see how things shake out.
30. All Get Out – “Feeling Well”
The first single from All Get Out’s new album, Kodak, smartly swirls folk-rock, emo, and a dash of country into a potent cocktail of paranoia, self-doubt, and hesitant nostalgia. This South Carolina band dives deep into the “weird shit in the southeast,” and the resulting song explores the horrors of getting a little older and the perils of examining your past. Frontman Nathan Hussey mines his own life for a modern, nuanced look at small-town America. He also manages to make it totally kick-ass, with big-room dynamics building to a massive shout-out-loud chorus that’ll have you bellowing right along with him. – John Paul Bullock
29. Ella Mai – “DFMU”
London-born singer Ella Mai rarely sounds particularly British in her songs, outside of brief spoken asides. And her bright bubbly hits “Boo’d Up” and “Trip,” marrying smooth piano chords to California rap producer Mustard’s crisp beats, made her the toast of American R&B in 2018. But when her second album, Heart on My Sleeve, finally arrived this year, Mai’s sound had turned darker and murkier, even if she didn’t go full-on trip-hop. Instead of flirty songs about crushes, she’s wounded and cautious on “DFMU,” pleading to a new partner, “Don’t fuck me up, don’t let me down.” – Al Shipley
28. beabadoobee – “Talk”
In another lifetime, Bea Kristi could have coasted through a career as a TikTokcore mainstay and prolific collaborator, singing about death beds and Stephen Malkmus and leaving it at that. It’s thrilling that Kristi has bigger ambitions — and the talent to back them up. If 2021’s Our Extended Play, produced by Dirty Hit label mates and mentors The 1975, double-downed on the best parts of her 2020 debut, Fake It Flowers, the melodic and catchy “Talk” hints at further greatness. You’ve heard this kind of song before — every generation gets to rediscover the BOSS DS-1 Distortion pedal for their own age — and right now, Kristi does it better than anyone else. – Brady Gerber
27. billy woods – “NYNEX”
After delivering one of 2021’s most staggering hip-hop albums with Armand Hammer’s Haram, billy woods trades verses with partner-in-rhyme ELUCID on “NYNEX,” a posse cut broadcast from the edge of a deeply shitty future resembling our deeply shitty present. Set against a hyperventilated harmonica loop from producer Preservation that feels a little like an HVAC system about to melt down, woods, ELUCID, Quelle Chris, and Denmark Vessey trade soothsayings for a darker tomorrow: defunct message boards, paper-thin walls, colonization, and capitalism. But the most eye-popping one-liner comes from woods himself in the first verse: “The future isn’t flying cars; it’s Rachel Dolezal absolved.” It’d be depressing if it didn’t go so hard. – Jeff Terich
26. Sumerlands – “Heavens Above”
“Heavens Above” might seem like just another killer metal song, but it’s also a master balancing act. Sumerlands’ axemen, renowned producer Arthur Rizk and the aptly surnamed John Powers, weld huge melodies with a light touch, surrounding “Heavens” in a subtle celestial ring. Bringing on the warlock wailing of Magic Circle’s Brendan Radigan is a huge boon, but he leaves behind the mysticism of his old group and blends in with Sumerlands’ more down-to-earth approach. You know he’s there, but he knows he’s a strongman amongst his strongman peers. Reaching equilibrium has never kicked this much ass. – Andy O’Connor
25. Omni of Halos – “You Suck”
This Swedish rock supergroup – featuring members of Division of Laura Lee, Bombus, and Firebreather – introduced themselves with the catchy, soaring “You Suck,” a song rooted firmly in the early ‘90s American slacker indie-punk ethos, minus bargain-basement engineering. They sound like they could have opened for Superchunk back in the day, and who knows, maybe that’s in their future. Singer Henrik Hjelt Röstberg is blessed with the sort of bold, reedy voice that’s a few shades shy of bratty, and well-suited to the interpersonal eject-button vibes exploding everywhere here. – Raymond Cummings
24. Binker and Moses – “Accelerometer Overdose”
Upon first listen, “Accelerometer Overdose” offers the usual pleasures of any dazzling free-jazz showcase — you nod approvingly, stroke your chin in rumination, mutter a few “damn!”s in amazement at the raw talent. But the song also excels on a deeper conceptual level, achieving a unique symbiosis between saxophone (Binker Golding), drums (Moses Boyd), and electronics (Max Luthert). We open with a deep drone, Boyd moving from ornamental ride cymbals to rumbling snare rolls to roomy kick drums that sound like angry neighbors pounding your apartment wall. Golding punctuates the chaos with languid, sexy phrases — a sun cutting through the clouds. Then around the 3:30 mark, Boyd settles into a solid jazz-rap groove, as Golding’s sax echoes wildly: a role reversal that catapults us into the darkness. – Ryan Reed
23. Stromae – “L’Enfer”
The second single from Stromae’s third album, Multitude, was first unveiled on the evening news of French national channel TF1. The journalist asked the Belgian musician about his comeback, which followed a nearly 10-year absence due to a series of paralyzing panic attacks that impeded him from leading a normal life; in what seemed like an impromptu performance context, Stromae turned to the camera and burst out “L’Enfer” (“Hell”), looking the audience in the eye while his arresting delivery evoked his various idols, from Cesária Évora to Jacques Brel. The whole of Multitude is unquestionable excellence, but “L’Enfer” stands out as its emotionally charged gateway. – Ana Leorne
22. Joyce Manor – “Gotta Let It Go”
There’s a darkness in “Gotta Let It Go” that’s been missing from the past few Joyce Manor records. Call it nostalgia for the angsty S/T, which is now over a decade old and canonized as the most beloved debut of punk’s Tumblr era. Call it an adjustment following drummer Pat Ware’s band exit that turned Joyce Manor into a trio. (Motion City Soundtrack’s Tony Thaxton picks up drum duties.) Call it a signal to fans that this new LP will be more interesting than the Sublime pun that inspired its name. Whatever it is, “Gotta Let It Go,” with a hook that only this band could write, sounds like the Joyce Manor you fell in love with from the very beginning. – B.G.
21. Kay Flock (feat. Cardi B, Dougie B and Bory300) – “Shake It”
So far in 2022, the perpetually booked and busy Cardi B has offered a melodic cameo on Summer Walker’s latest hit, performed “The Seaweed Sway” on the animated series Baby Shark’s Big Show, and ripped a verse over one of the busy, relentless drill beats that has ruled New York rap in recent years. “Shake It” runs under two minutes, with four emcees passing the mic around like a hot potato, and Bronx teenager Kay Flock is the nominal star of the song. But Cardi B effortlessly steals the spotlight, cackling threats like “Come get showered with bullets, no bridal.” – A.S.
20. The Range – “Urethane”
“Last year, man got left in the dark / ‘cos man didn’t really have nothin’ to say,” spits MIK. on their 2014 grime track “Ice Rink.” It’s a line lost within some rapid-fire verses, but it resonated when The Range’s James Hinton heard it in late 2019. As soon as the pandemic hit and we were faced with a year of hopelessness, the lyric grew even more powerful in context: Hinton samples it repeatedly throughout his wide-spanning synth sparkler “Urethane.” The waves of keypads roll out like landscapes, possibly endless, but we listeners fly over them, catching a glimpse of a never-ending horizon as MIK. goads us on like the most amped-up ghost in existence. The Range is ambitious for trying to capture years’ worth of collective anxiety in under three minutes, but the effects of “Urethane” won’t wear off any time soon. – Evan Sawdey
19. Nilufer Yanya – “midnight sun”
Between the overlapping guitar arpeggios and dense, distorted shoegaze climax of “midnight sun,” Nilüfer Yanya lets out an uncomfortable confession: “Don’t like whenever I’m not in pain / Peeling back, not noticing / The blood and bones beneath my skin.” It’s so subtle and reserved, it almost goes by unnoticed: a moment of agonizing honesty amid one of her most intoxicating arrangements. The best song on the U.K. songwriter’s second album, PAINLESS, “midnight sun” exists in that blurry space between love and regret, to the point where they’re almost indistinguishable. Not the healthiest place to be, perhaps, but it sounds like ecstasy. – J.T.
18. A Pregnant Light – “Beast About”
Being a fan of A Pregnant Light presents a wonderful dilemma every year: Just when you think you’ve settled on your favorite song, Damian Master unleashes another banger that throws your judgment into disarray. “Beast About” is restlessness enshrined — Master’s never been short on hooks or urgency, and he’s on overdrive here, burning any laurels he could easily rest on. The raging black metal tremolo verse; the sweet, venomous ending kiss-off lead; the windmilling chorus — they’re all equally catchy, casting a blinding shimmer on surging metal-punk. He’s your angel and your devil, and you can buy now and cry later — he doesn’t make you choose; he submits you to total experience. – A.O.
17. Denzel Curry – “Walkin”
There’s typically one moment on every Denzel Curry album where he trades trap beats for Native Tongues, delivering verses wrapped in a warm blanket of crackly analog boom-bap. On TA13OO it was “Black Balloons”; on ZUU it was “Wish”; and on Melt My Eyez See Your Future — well, it’s most of the album, actually, but “Walkin” turns the whole thing upside down. From the get-go it’s summery and breezy, Curry invoking the good name of De La Soul within the first few bars. An 808 sputters through at the midpoint, and Curry faces a storm head-on: “Keep on walkin’, ain’t no stoppin’ in this dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty little world we call our home.” With the sunshine darkening and hard times still ahead of him, Curry is ready to don his armor. – J.T.
16. Cities Aviv – “Black Pleasure”
Cities Aviv goes back to where it all started. Over rapturously laid-back production, the Memphis rapper-producer reminds listeners that “Black Pleasure was the blueprint,” name-dropping his 2012 mixtape as a nod to the lo-fi hip-hop movement. Aviv — whose legal name is Gavin Mays — glides on the track with ease, even when its sonics float between abstract and industrial. A noteworthy standout from Aviv’s 2022 project, Man Plays the Horn, “Black Pleasure” fits securely within a patchwork of soul samples rarely heard in mainstream rap. Let Aviv tell it: “This a blackness, a black-blackness / Before black was a blackness you sold on the map.” J Dilla would be proud. – Jaelani Turner-Williams
15. Wet Leg – “Ur Mum”
Remember last year on Saturday Night Live when Phoebe Bridgers unleashed that primal scream to punctuate “I Know the End” (just before her guitar smash)? If you loved that moment of visceral frustration and angst, might we suggest “Ur Mum,” a banner cut from Wet Leg’s beaming April debut. Near the end of this venomous tune, singer Rhian Teasdale breaks the fourth wall, declaring: “I’ve been practicing my longest and loudest scream / Okay, here we go.” What follows is a piercing shriek to seal this lively break-up jam, fueled by a St. Vincent-like sense of playful assuredness. Also, this is a great antidote if you’re sick of “Chaise Longue.” – Bobby Olivier
14. Lalalar – “Abla Deme Lazim Olur”
With Anatolian rock currently being reinvented for the new millennium, it was only a matter of time until its newest players earned more visibility abroad; take Altın Gün, whose 2021 LPs, Yol and Âlem, opened wide the doors of Coachella. Istanbul-based Lalalar propose a similarly hypnotizing mix of funk, Turkish folk, electronic sampling, and other improbable musical triggers superbly exemplified by their April debut, Bi Cinnete Bakar. “Abla Deme Lazim Olur” is the album’s exquisite business card: a journey defying the limits of space and time, propelled by the band’s irresistible fusion of styles. – A.L.
13. Soul Glo (feat. Mckinley Dixon and Lojii) – “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit”
Philly hardcore mavericks Soul Glo are one of heavy music’s most exhilarating bands right now, and they finally earned some of that recognition with their third album, Diaspora Problems. Closer “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit” leaves you with an unforgettable imprint. After a simmering start with stellar verses from rappers McKinley Dixon and Lojii, it ignites: The band enters at a breakneck pace, and lead vocalist Pierce Jordan unleashes his signature howls. It ends with a shout-along of the invigorating title phrase, with a surprise brass section tying it together. As it fades out, the track sounds like it’s gloriously coming off the rails. – Mia Hughes
12. Rosalía – “SAOKO”
For any of us raised on a diet of mid-’00s MTV, when the outstanding reach of Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” helped update Latin music for international audiences, Rosalía’s “SAOKO” easily comes across as the lifeblood of her third album, MOTOMAMI. Transporting the very essence of reggaeton into broader territories, similar to what Machito and Tito Rodriguez did for mambo in the 1940s, the multi-referential “SAOKO” provides the definite link between the new LP and 2018’s El Mal Querer. The song’s addictive urgency describes a land of improbable yet exciting connections, where tradition meets cyber-futurism and inevitable transformation takes center stage. – A.L.
11. Kamasi Washington – “The Garden Path”
A triple album, followed by a double album, followed by a soundtrack to a film about first lady Michelle Obama — Kamasi Washington’s career since 2015 has seemingly been one grand statement after another. This makes his standalone single “The Garden Path,” at a bit under seven minutes, seem relatively understated by comparison. The same can’t be said of its overwhelming array of sounds, including hard-driving rhythms, bold bursts of horns, and one of the most ominous choral refrains heard in Washington’s music: “Bright minds with dark eyes / Speak loud words, tell sweet lies.” It feels like a warning, even when it sounds like a celebration. – J.T.
10. The Weeknd – “Sacrifice”
At this point, Abel Tesfaye is daring his pop audience to stop making every song a smash. His fifth LP, Dawn FM, hasn’t achieved the same Top 40 stranglehold of 2020’s After Hours. But his latest project is buoyed by a thundering dance-rock smash, “Sacrifice,” in which Swedish House Mafia-processed guitar lines run into the piano pounds of Alicia Myers’ 1981 classic “I Want to Thank You”: an atmosphere both familiar and new. Like The Weeknd’s best commercial work, it feels like he’s repurposing Michael Jackson’s sonics for a modern era — but on his own terms, knowing that a powerful pop chorus heals all wounds. “Don’t be out here catchin’ feelings,” he warns us in the third verse. But it’s too late: We already love this worthy “Sacrifice.” – E.S.
9. Lucky Daye – “Candy Drip”
Lucky Daye won his first Grammy a few weeks after releasing his second LP, Candydrip, which often evokes R&B’s past via Ohio Players-styled cover art and lush tracks by Silk Sonic producer Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II. But on the album’s (sort of) title track, D’Mile lays down thumping hip-hop breakbeats and booming bass as Lucky Daye teases out the ecstasy and ambivalence of a relationship that might not last: “We ride expensive highs; we tried to end it twice / But maybe you’re the one.” – A.S.
8. Pusha T – “Diet Coke”
It’s Almost Dry is the rare rap record that’s both sticky and frictionless, the addictive outcome of intensely competitive creativity between its three fathers. Impeccably produced by Pharrell Williams (existential eeriness, warped velocities) and Kanye West (soul loops, bent innuendos), Pusha T emerges as his best worst self: bemused, insinuative, sinister, exquisitely disdainful and venomous on a level beyond his prior solo albums. As ever, cocaine weight is his great theme, but here the experience is like cruising around nighttime Las Vegas in a stolen Tesla with a funny, dangerous pal. Produced by West and 88 Keys, lead single “Diet Coke” turns the dope game into a carnival of spiraling pianos, record scratches, and playful zing-zing-zang wordplay. Coke rap has rarely sounded this head-nodding and celebratory: “Imaginary players ain’t been coached right / Master recipes under stove lights,” Pusha quips. “The number on this jersey is the quote price / You ordered Diet Coke; that’s a joke, right?” – R.C.
7. Big Thief – “Simulation Swarm”
Big Thief cover a lot of ground — from experimental indie rock to sepia-toned old-time — with Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, and “Simulation Swarm” is one of the sprawling album’s most enlightening surprises. The song thrives with alluring minimalism, as a circular guitar riff, crisp drums, and limber bassline provide a portal into the heady wilderness of Adrianne Lenker’s poetry. Carried by that meditative momentum, Lenker unfurls lyrics with a vision that’s both captivating and mysterious, only breaking the spell briefly for a brain-bouncing acoustic solo. Intrigue is only heightened with repeated listens. – Jedd Ferris
6. Mitski – “Love Me More”
Mitski Miyawaki just wants to dance. While that’s evident throughout February’s Laurel Hell, the indie star’s most pop-focused project to date, it’s never more obvious than on “Love Me More,” which immediately follows pumping lead single “The Only Heartbreaker” with a quickened tempo and hypnotic hook. It’s all laid over frenetic synth, perhaps a call-back to Michael Sembello’s Flashdance hit “Maniac.” Regardless, it’s an addicting tune designed for the grander stages Mitski took on this tour, leagues away from the tiny underground clubs she was playing just two albums ago. – B.O.
5. Bartees Strange – “Heavy Heart”
“I never want to miss you this bad / I never want to run out like out,” sings Bartees Strange, admitting that, despite his hot streak of success since 2020 breakout LP Live Forever, he feels guilty about the strain his ambitions put on those close to him. He faces these internal struggles head-on in “Heavy Heart,” a dynamic rock song full of intimate reflection and self-examination. The lead track from Strange’s 4AD debut, Farm to Table, starts with a gentle, glassy guitar line but quickly climbs toward a flurry of pummeling riffs and drums, before hitting a peak punctuated by iridescent horns. “Heavy Heart” is an exhilarating reckoning with inner turmoil. – J.F.
4. Momma – “Speeding 72”
The Song of the Summer needs to rule in all arenas: played loud in the midst of a party that feels like it might live forever, soaring out the windows of a car driving anywhere. It has to demand hitting repeat just one more time in your headphones while the sun drenches your face. Momma have a strong contender for that crown with “Speeding 72,” a thesis statement for a band that feels equally brand new and ageless. Their clever handiwork — weaving unforgettable hooks through sun-soaked guitars — results in a jam for the ages, bound for every playlist amid an endless summer. – Niko Stratis
3. Kendrick Lamar – “Mother I Sober” (feat. Beth Gibbons of Portishead)
On “Mother I Sober,” the penultimate track from Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar poignantly breaks a “generational curse” instead of drowning his sorrows. The rapper unmasks dark secrets on the nearly seven-minute track, from grappling with family trauma to recognizing a “lustful nature.” (He notes that his longtime partner, Whitney Alford, selflessly recommended therapy.) While Lamar raps about “a conversation not bein’ addressed in Black families,” Beth Gibbons’ vocal offers a place to rest his burdens. Freeing decades of pent-up pain, Lamar instills communal healing within Black listeners. – J.T.W.
2. The Smile – “The Smoke”
The slinky bass lines of “The Smoke” are nimble, almost groovy. They lure you in as the horn section swells — a vibe that only dissipates when you realize what the lyrics are getting at: “It begs me while I’m sleeping / I desire a second chance / I have set myself on fire.” Even if some have described The Smile — Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, with jazz drummer Tom Skinner — as a more stripped-down Radiohead, the trio haven’t minced words with their grimdark lyrics. “The Smoke” is seductive to the point of being alarming; a siren song that will get in your head and whisper gothic horrors directly to your brain. No wonder we all got excited about their debut album: They were begging us while we were sleeping. – E.S.
1. Maggie Rogers – “That’s Where I Am”
Maggie Rogers blew minds with her 2019 debut, showcasing a blend of backwoods Maryland folk and French club thump. Now, as the singer-songwriter gears up for her second album, July’s Surrender, she’s released a monster lead single: “That’s Where I Am,” a maximalist, hand-clapping indie-pop banger built for everlasting spring love. “No, I’ll never find another, no one else can do it better / When we’re together it feels like heaven,” Rogers sings over complex synth and drum patterns, setting the stage for another killer LP. (Also, we beseech you to watch this tune’s music video; it’s pure joy, featuring a guest appearance from David Byrne.) – B.O.