The 20 Best 2022
Selecting the best 2022 alternative albums was only complicated by the awesome scope of releases.
2022 was a wild and rewarding year of music! Alternative country was at the vanguard of experimental sound, female singer-songwriters dominated across genres and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were relevant again. Most notably, pandemic-delayed music continued to flood into record stores and music websites.
Kids, there is SO. MUCH. MUSIC.
Picking the best 2022 alternative albums
So…a few rules of the road.
First, my basic measure of a great album. It isn’t influence or buzz or length. It’s a release that I can honestly say — YES — I’ll come back and listen to this record over and over in years to come. Second, I love albums that are full and cohesive musical statements. Those are weighted heavily on my list over simple collections of songs. Finally, I try my very best not to posture as Cooler Than Thou. Some of these bands you will know; some you may not have heard about; they all belong on my list because I genuinely love them. Nothing is here for show. In fact, some of it may be damning.
I like what I like.
I’ve tried to provide two songs for every album that you can stream straight from this page. Read, listen and disagree. And by all means, tell me what I missed!
Best 2022 alternative albums: Counting down from 20 to 11
It was harder choosing the order in the second half of this list than those at the top.
Only one of my top 10 (foreshadowing) wasn’t part of my mental list of “best 2022 alternative albums” for several months. However, it was a little harder to sequence from 11 to 20 for some reason. Any of these records could easily be another person’s favorite of the year, and all deserve your time.
20. Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow
I didn’t hear Weyes Blood’s 2021 Titanic Rising to compare to this year’s And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow. The first 5 or 6 tracks are magical, though I think Hearts Aglow lags a bit near the end. If she resisted the comparison at first, it really is hard not to hear Karen Carpenter in Natalie Mering’s vocals. Not a little Jeff Lynne happening here too!
19. Mañana El Espacio – Casi Nada Es Para Siempre
What more can I say? Loved this indie pop band from Venezuela.
Band leader and song writer Ricardo Vergara now writes from Medellín, Columbia, known as the City of Eternal Spring. You’ll feel that kind of renewal in these songs that range from garage rock to a bit of psychedelic jangle. Pedals and indie hand claps included at no extra charge.
18. Orlando Weeks – Hop Up
I deliberately place Hop Up here, not least of all because Orlando Weeks deserves it. Also because Weeks’ sincere family delight is anathema to jaded music critics, who cannot tolerate simple, unironic joy. The album pulses with late-Roxy Music vibes and a little XTC.
17. The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness – The Third Wave of…
TBWTPN collaborate across Europe on sunny indie pop songs, Gonzalo Marcos in Spain and Andrew Taylor in Scotland. However most of the hooks have the lightest touch of sweet jangle somewhere between The Byrds and Teenage Fanclub. The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness present musical elation of the highest order!
Mary Lou Lord guests on the sweet duet, “Isolation.”
16. Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
There’s a Spiritualized formula AMIRIGHT? Like Guy Garvey basically has a formula for Elbow? The answer is yes, and I’m here for every second of it.
Tell me if there has been a greater payoff than the Brian Wilson swell at 2:25 on Spiritualized’s “Always Together With You?” Like, ever in the history of music? Possibly exaggeration, but it’s my damn list. I could have dropped Spiritualized in my Top 10 without an ounce of regret.
Listen to J Spaceman only if you want to experience total exhilaration.
15. Panda Bear and Sonic Boom – Reset
It seems appropriate, if unintentional, putting Spacemen 3 alum side-by-side.
More Panda Bear than a Spacemen throwback, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Peter Kember (Sonic Boom and Spacemen 3 founder) are nevertheless kindred spirits. Lennox may never return to the sublime heights reached on Person Pitch.
Still, Reset lives in a nearby gentrified zip code.
Hey you! Looking back is good..but 2023 has already produced some great songs. CHECK THEM OUT here!
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14. Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia
Skinty Fia could have been a Top 5 album but for a couple of stinkers (“Bloomsday,” I’m looking at you). Irish brogue, pedals, driving backbeats combined with the rich ferocity of Catherine Wheel. A sure hit on any list of best 2022 alternative albums.
13. Naima Bock – Giant Palm
Naima Bock’s patient arrangements frequently echo soft 70’s (“Instrumental” could be a lost TV score). Bock is formerly of Goat Girl and I love her airy, rounded voice.
Weyes Blood sounds like her emotive and high-maintenance younger sister. Aldous Harding is Bock’s spirit animal.
12. The Silent Boys – Sand to Pearls, Coal to Diamonds
Stop and check out these jangle pop veterans from Richmond! We’re getting dangerously close to my Top 10, and just about every one of these songs is pop perfection. Somewhere, God bless Pat Fish’s departed soul, The Jazz Butcher is listening to The Silent Boys with a smile.
11. Arlo Mckinley – This Mess We’re In
Serious Lynyrd Skynyrd energy in the best, most unironic way.
Best 2022 alternative albums: Number 10 to #1 (Casey Kasem voice)
I personally don’t think you can go wrong with any of these Top 10 releases. Each is choice from beginning to end, and a highlight from the best 2022 alternative albums for music lovers everywhere.
For the most part, the top 7 or 8 albums were swirling in my head as Best Album for much of the year. It wasn’t until late November or so that I changed my #1, which I thought for sure would hold all year. For whatever reason, I over-indexed on alt country in my Top 10, for which I make no apologies so stop interrogating me like a common criminal.
10. Aurora – The Gods We Can Touch
I have zero concern for damaging what little street cred I have by including in my Top 10 albums Norway’s Aurora, for whom I am clearly not the target demo. Get over yourself and listen to what Aurora has done!
Much of The Gods We Can Touch is ethereal and intimate, and then by turns challenging and defiant. And the gothic overtones give way to a couple of unapologetic synth pop bangers. Aurora channels the chamber pop and early confidence of Kate Bush.
And I feel it’s important to say this:
In the year 2023, when a 26-year-old woman is the President and Chief freaking Executive Officer of her personal brand, positively influencing hundreds of thousands of younger women — we need to honor that.
9. Alvvays – Blue Rev
Alvvays’ Blue Rev might have more pop hooks per song than anything else I heard this year.
After their October show in Salt Lake, I remarked they felt like a band making a new leap of confidence. You can’t say enough about the cool stage presence of Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley and the perfect, desultory voice Rankin gives to songs like “Many Mirrors” and “Lottery Noises.”
8. The Highwater Marks – Proclaimer of Things
Gleeful jangle that ranges from power pop to fuzzy garage – even a tasty bit of cow punk.
Nearly every song on Proclaimer of Things is a windows open-wide singalong. Hilarie Sidney of Elephant 6 collective and Apples in Stereo and husband Per Ole Bratset share songwriting and vocals. This may explain why shimmering chords alternate with sludgier guitars.
Among the best 2022 alternative albums, this record was absolutely bursting with singles.
7. Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is an album of mini-epics, for which I am a sucker. Sharon Van Etten begins each song with the calmest of strums and finishes in tremendous crashing things with giant, earned emotion. She sings with such beautiful, deep tones.
This has been on repeat for me all year.
6. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here
Black Country, New Road are doing something new under the sun. At one moment, they pervert Van Morrison on “Concorde.” In another they descend into free form jazz cacophony on “Snow Globes.”
Without their heat-seeking sensibilities of melody, BCNR would just be a discordant band only music critics love. But they deliver the hooks in another brilliant experiment. Just one example, the 14 second full stop inside “Mark’s Theme” that only elevates the resolve.
A triumphant sophomore album.
DUDE I SWEAR these are 22 songs you need to listen to! Click here and start streaming!
Listen to these 22 essential alternative songs in 2022. Because 2,022 songs will take way too much time
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5. Aldous Harding – Warm Chris
So many memorable, infectious songs on Warm Chris, each stamped with Aldous Harding’s eccentricity. Harding isn’t just a blithe oddball, she may also be music’s most elliptical lyricist.
Also can someone PLEASE help me with “Coming Round the Mountain?” I swear that keyboard samples a movie score that I just can’t place.
4. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
I ended the year where I began, Once Twice Melody by Beach House near the very top of my favorite albums list. Chapters I and II came out in late 2021…while III and IV completed the release by February of 2022.
Of any record I listened to this year, no question, Once Twice Melody touches the stars most often.
Spiritualized played a September show in The Caverns, the renowned venue in Grundy County, Tennessee. Can you even imagine hearing Beach House playing songs there like “Sunset?” I seriously might die.
3. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
It is difficult to understate the scope of what Big Thief has done on Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. Because when we say, “what Big Thief has done,” we really mean “what Adrianne Lenker has done.” No matter how democratic Big Thief may be, Lenker is the center of their universe.
That Big Thief originally produced NEARLY 50 SONGS whittled down (with no little pain) to 20 songs, defies creative description. As we say in marketing, this is a mature brand. At the same time, Big Thief is still becoming something fearless and new.
Dragon New Warm Mountain toggles seamlessly between casual hootenanny, psych folk and esoteric indie hooks. Although not streamed here, the holiest moment may be the simple harmony between Lenker and bandmate/ex-husband Buck Meek on “12,000 Lines.”
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2. Angel Olsen – Big Time
For reasons I can’t exactly articulate, I was deeply affected by Big Time. I was visiting my childhood home in West Virginia as I streamed Angel Olsen’s cathartic album. In that way, it will be inextricably tied to my return home, the way great music attaches itself to a place and moment in time.
“Go Home” has been voted Most Likely to Make You Cry in an Unguarded Moment. In it, Olsen sings:
I wanna go home,
Go back to small things.
I don’t belong here.
Nobody knows me.
I am the ghost now,
Walking those old scenes.
How can I go on?
Forget the old dream.
I got a new thing.
An album of aching beauty. Olsen’s voice is unrivaled, shouting down the mountains and, in turns, an intensely vulnerable, quaking vibrato.
1. Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
What has become of me, that I herald a band called Jockstrap? Me, perpetual critic of stupid band names.
Jockstrap (I can’t believe I continue typing that word) are Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, London art school students. Ellery is also violinist for Black Country, New Road. Her wild vocal range drives the arrangements of Jennifer B I Love You.
Let’s not forget that, at the end of the day, rock and roll should be fun. Or it should evoke equally deep emotions of despair, anxiety or elation. If you haven’t heard of Jockstrap, allow me to introduce you to Jennifer B. Sprawling decade-defining albums are one thing. It’s another to adroitly stitch 1,000 musical ideas inside a taut 40 minute statement, some which continue to reveal themselves on listens 6, 7…12.
Is it synth pop? Post-pop? Is that even a word? Does it matter?
EVERYTHING WORKS on Jennifer B.
Best 2022 alternative albums: Way cool albums not in my Top 20
Records that were really good but not quite in my top tier, wherein I try to impress you with my broad musical taste. I bought and listened to each of these. They are good stuff!
Top 2022 alternative albums, more albums Part 1:
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Cool It Down)
Karen O has never sounded better, now singing about motherhood!
- Big Joanie (Back Home)
Darkwave, riot girrrl mashup gave me all the feels
- Porridge Radio (Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky)
Waterslide sat just outside my Top 20 all year
- Dehd (Blue Skies)
Chicago 3-piece knocked it out of the park. Recommended track: “Bad Love”
- The 1975 (Being Funny in a Foreign Language)
I thought this was a great pop record honestly
- Kiwi Jr. (Chopper)
Slacker rock closer in quality to their Pavement-y debut Football Money
- Wet Leg (Wet Leg)
Frankly I discounted this record based on their listless Salt Lake City show
Best 2022 alternative albums, more albums Part 2:
- Belle and Sebastian (A Bit of Previous)
Nothing I didn’t like about B&S’s return to form
- Infinity Knives and Brian Ennals (King Cobra)
My Top 20 list doesn’t include rap — I’m not deep enough in the scene
- Young Guv (Guv III)
Ben Cook’s positively delicious guitar pop. Every track, but try: “Lo lo lonely”
- Rush to Relax (Misli)
Look, this jangle pop is sung in Macedonian. It is worth the effort!
- Just Mustard (Heart Under)
How they notch Katie Ball’s vocals inside this dark, gazey noise is a marvel
- Father John Misty (Chloë and the Next 20th Century)
Maybe this is shtick, but it is still lovely
Fave 2022 alternative albums, more albums Part 3:
- Torres Satélite (Mundos y Estrellas)
I swooned over some of these songs. Check out: “Carl Sagan”
- Ian Noe (River Fools & Mountain Saints)
More from my year as an alt county evangelist
- The Linda Lindas (The Linda Lindas)
If Green Day were 15-year-old girls
- Best Bets (On An Unhistoric Night)
I’ve said a lot about Best Bets. Buy this record!
- Wild Pink (ILYSM)
At times Lambchop-y, I thought John Ross sounded best on the more structured songs
- Beth Orton (Weather Alive)
Confused Beth Orton and The Beths for most of this year. Weather Alive is a grower!
- Castlebeat (Half Life)
Late add from Spirit Goth Records. Josh Hwang produces these arch Joy Division melodies in his garage
Best 2022 alternative albums, more albums Part 4:
- Crows (Beware Believers)
A near Top 20 for me, play only at ear-damaging volume levels
- Northern Portrait (Swiss Army)
Danish indie pop throwback that I just loved. Listen to: “Long Live Tonight”
- Artsick (Fingers Crossed)
If you buy just one lo-fi garage band album this year, buy Fingers Crossed
- The Smile (A Light for Attracting Attention)
Another late add, you have five or six terrific songs here!
- Eades (Delusion Spree)
Cheap Trick fans unite! I feel like I should have re-evaluated Eades for my Top 20
- Cuco (Fantasy Gateway)
Bedroom pop of the highest order. Cuco plays the 2023 Kilby Court block party
Best alternative albums of 2022: Not feeling these
I started the year on kind of a tear, buying a few releases without sampling. We all do this, right? Like I’ll buy on faith about anything Elbow or Sloan put out. It’s a trust relationship. I became a little too trusting this year and bought some CD’s (yes I mostly still buy physical media) that didn’t live up to reputation. And then a couple of stinkers just generally.
- Cate Le Bon (Pompeii)
Hey I like weird and I like eccentric. At the end of the day you have to produce songs people actually like
- Kendrick Lamar (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Boy, this has really divided opinion. Mark me down for a giant No. Also, half as long next time, please
- Animal Collective (Time Skiffs)
It’s not NOT good. But it’s a far cry from the Merriweather days
- Mitski (Laurel Hell)
What the hell with Laurel Hell. I was expecting more
- A Place to Bury Strangers (See Through You)
You know what I wasn’t thinking last year? “I’d like to hear Oliver Ackerman sing a ballad”
- Spoon (Lucifer on the Sofa)
I think I’m mostly alone on this one. I thought Lucifer was pedestrian
- Oliver Sim (Hideous Bastard)
The shame here is I think the XX founder had some good musical ideas. But it never punched through
- Sloan (Steady)
Initially slated my favorite Canadians’ album as an honorable mention. Now it’s feeling routine