The Best Albums of 2022

As 2022 draws to an end, Upside looks through the best albums released this year.

1. King Stingray – King Stingray

2022 has been the year of King Stingray! Building on the momentum of a string of high energy singles over the past two years, the Arnhem Land five-piece deliver a powerful debut album that mixes surf, blues, funk and pub rock with Yolngu sounds. This is a transcendent work packed with fantastic songs so catchy you want to listen on repeat. With family connections that run right to Yothu Yindi, King Stingray is a worthy successor to that seminal act. And this is just the beginning! Catch the band live at Heaps Good festival on Jan 6, with info and tickets here.

2. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention

An album that might easily have been dismissed as a Radiohead side-project – but this is so much more than that and it really measures up well with inevitable comparisons against the outfit’s antecedent act. Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood team up with jazz drummer, Tom Skinner and then adorn the pieces with some clever arrangements and stirring orchestrations. This is an LP that demands attention, perfectly capturing the unease of the past few years. 

3. Florence and the Machine – Dance Fever

Florence Welch has had one of the most consistent careers in popular music, and she is at her very best with her fifth album. If you have ever experienced Florence live, it makes sense she would find an affinity with Europe’s dancing plague of the middle ages and the possibility of dancing yourself to death. The result of such reflections (along with many other confessional insights) is Dance Fever, an album characterised by its thrilling songcraft. And don’t miss Florence and the Machine at next year’s WOMADelaide!

4. Shaolin Afronauts – The Fundamental Nature of Being

The Shaolin Afronauts are an absolute treasure of our music scene. The Fundamental Nature of Being is an undertaking that really lives up to its ambitious name – in truth, a five-album cycle recorded at Adelaide’s Wizard Tone Studios over just five days. It’s a kaleidoscope of musical ideas and genres – jazz, funk, psych, soul and world music all combine across four hours of listening. The breadth of this work is a powerful statement against the reductive nature of a lot of popular music- it’s anti-single, anti-album, anti-shuffle: just get lost in it! 

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down

Nine years between albums for this trio was too long – but Cool It Down is a terrific return effort. The signature cool riff-rock sound remains and Karen O’s voice still soars but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have also evolved, with a greater synth presence and new songwriting tricks. Despite the title here, this is a band in red hot form. A record that was worth the wait – but hopefully it won’t be another nine years for one of rock’s most vital acts.

6. Ezra Furman – All of Us Flames

While Ezra Furman was gaining exposure as the main voice of Netflix’s Sex Education soundtrack, she was also going through a personal evolution and delivering a trilogy of albums that concludes at its high point with All of Us Flames. The train motif in the opening track signals the journey the album takes on us – and it’s both personal and political. While the previous 2019 installment, 12 Nudes, was all punk rock, All of Us Flames uses an eighties aesthetic, while managing to feel completely grounded in the present. At times, when painting its picture of contemporary America, there’s more than a casual nod to Springsteen, but here the experiences of marginalisation are queer and trans. This is a powerful and important record – and yet, among these flames, Furman still gives us transcendent moments of escapism and hope.

7. Fantastic Negrito – White Jesus, Black Problems

The best album title this year and the best blues album (although it crosses into so many other genres: RnB, grunge, gospel, alt-pop). Fantastic Negrito delves deep into his own family history (and indeed American history) dating back to the eighteenth century. It’s a story of slavery, racism and defying the evils of the age all set against one ambitious musical canvas. And it just works so well. Catch Fantastic Negrito at WOMADelaide in March!

8. Midnight Oil – Resist

The first time the Oils called it quits in 2002, the band was in Adelaide mid-tour when Peter Garrett made his decision about other pursuits. With this sudden end to one of Australia’s most iconic acts, it felt like there was unfinished business. That business is taken care of with Resist (and its associated tour), a fitting final statement that sees the Oils go out on top with an album imbued with the same mix of vitality, anger and hope we have come to love. A unique chapter in Australian music has now come to an end: no-one quite does protest rock quite like Midnight Oil. And there’s an added tinge of sadness here, with the final work of long-time bassist Bones Hillman, who passed away in 2020, soon after these recordings were completed.

9. Taylor Swift – Midnights

No 2022 album has been dissected in more detail than Taylor Swift’s Midnights. It has also divided opinions – but, arguably, that’s what good music should do. On the surface, we are a long way from her COVID-inspired cottage-in-the-woods diptych of 2020, leaving behind the folk stylings of these songs for more familiar dream pop / electronica surroundings. But listen a little deeper and you hear the same beguiling songcraft – realising that Swift’s genius is an ability to comfortably swing her confessional compositions into quite discrete genres. It is also further evidence that Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff is currently the best producer in contemporary music.

10. Romero – Turn It On!

The most fun of any album this year, Melbourne garage power punk outfit Romero were quite a revelation with their debut record. Big riffs, fast beats and uber-catchy songs – all fronted by the powerful voice of Alanna Oliver. Turn it on and be sure to turn it up loud!

11. Sampa the Great – As Above, So Below

Sampa the Great’s sophomore album picks up where her debut, The Return, left off. Recorded in her country of birth, Zambia, Sampa brilliantly incorporates the music of southern Africa into her unique RnB style, and proves once again she is one of the most unique voices in our music scene.

12. Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird – Smile of Earth

With nuanced arrangements, strong baritone vocals and emotive songwriting there’s a lot in common with Gang of Youths here – and yet, CTBNF has somehow flown under the radar by comparison. Smiles of Earth is the Melbourne band’s best work to date, a fantastic collection of songs that reaches its highpoint with the perfect pandemic anthem, ‘When This is Over’. Read our review of the band’s live show at the Lab here.

13. The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field

The Beths have a knack for creating songs you can immediately connect with. Open-hearted lyrics, catchy guitar hooks and lush harmonies all combine for one great record from the New Zealand indie four-piece. And don’t miss their Laneway performance when the iconic festival returns to Adelaide this February – information and tickets here.

14. Arctic Monkeys – The Car

Ignoring the haters, Alex Turner and company continue on the path forged by their previous album. In 2018, Arctic Monkeys reinvented themselves as stylised lounge crooners and, with The Car, they have firmly reinforced this transformation from raucous indie-rockers. Clever lyricism, smooth vocals and ornate orchestration envelope the listener in this landscape. And just when we thought another international act had passed Adelaide by, Arctic Monkeys were announced as headliners of the inaugural Heaps Good festival – don’t miss them on Jan 6 at the Wayville Showgrounds.

15. Adalita – Inland

Sneaking in at the end of the year, Adalita finally delivers her third album (nine years after All Day Venus) – and it’s a singer-songwriter masterpiece, as good as anything she has done in a music career that now spans across three decades. These songs are raw, honest and intimate. Apparently, the material dates back seven years but a perfectionist approach saw it take until now for the album to emerge, a result that proves it was worth it.

16. Lizzo – Special

Somehow Lizzo can keep things real while also remaining resolutely optimistic – Special is the upbeat record we needed this year. Her first full album since breaking through, Lizzo does not let fame ruin her, delivering this collection of hook-laden disco-pop. It’s irresistible.

17. Gang of Youths – Angel in Realtime

After the artistic and commercial success of Go Farther in Lightness (our 2017 album of the year), the temptation would have been to re-do more of the same. But Gang of Youths embrace natural evolution on their third album, with a more intimate record that moves into new sonic territory, while focusing on life and death of frontman Dave Le’aupepe’s father. Angel in Realtime is more evidence that Gang of Youths is the best band in the country.

18. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

The Isle of Wight duo enjoyed a meteoric rise this year, thanks to the inexorable momentum of their uber-fun 2021 single ‘Chaise Longue’ rolling into this debut album. It’s raucous, brash, slightly subversive and often hilarious.

19. Jack White – Entering Heaven Alive 

It was a busy year for Jack White who released two quality albums demonstrating different sides of the artist. While the first drop, Fear of the Dawn, showcased his talent for sonic creativity, the slightly softer sounds of Entering Heaven Alive allows his craft as a songwriter to shine. White was also the highlight of November’s Harvest Rock festival in an outstanding Australian exclusive performance.

20. Mitski – Laurel Hell

Another enthralling dark pop masterclass from Mitski. It’s sometimes unsettling, but you can also dance to it. The highlights include ‘Love Me More’, ‘Should’ve Been Me’ and ‘The Only Heartbreaker’. 

21. Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia 

Another thrilling record from the Dublin five-piece, most of whom have now relocated to London – a move that has only seemed to strengthen the band’s thematic connection with their homeland. Atmospheric post-punk stuff that commands your attention. Catch the band at Laneway.

22. Momma – Household Name

Nineties grunge gets a contemporary makeover with Household Name. The inspirations are on full display – but it’s what the duo does with it that makes this record so great.

23. Camp Cope – Running With the Hurricane

Camp Cope’s best work to date – they are still tackling weighty issues, but their songwriting is at its finest: focussed, nuanced and immersive. Catch them in March at the Hindley Street Music Hall as part of the Adelaide Festival.

24. Dope Lemon –  Rose Pink Cadillac

Dropping last January, Pink Rose Cadillac is the perfect summer soundscape. Angus Stone’s dreamy psych tones are expertly blended across the record, helped along by a range of clever collaborations and samples.

25. Press Club – Endless Motion

The album title sums up the energy of this record (and this band). With its powerful, restless spirit and more expansive songwriting, this is the album we have been willing Press Club to make.

26. Khruangbin and Vieux Farka Touré – Ali

Collaborating with Vieux Farka Touré, Khruangbin have pipped Springsteen for best cover album of the year. The hook here is that the material is from Touré’s father Ali, the legendary Malian musician (hence the album title). Rendered with a beautiful vocal performance from Touré and fresh arrangements perfectly suited to the breezy musical fusions of the Texan three-piece, this is an immersive experience.

27. WAAX – At Least I’m Free

WAAX is a band very much on the rise. Building on the excellent foundation set by their 2019 debut album, this follow-up is a collection of 11 great tracks that sees the outfit operating with more light and shade – and to powerful effect.

28. Angel Olsen – Big Time

Emotionally engaging as always, Big Time makes the move away from indie rock towards alt-country and shows why Olsen is one of today’s best singer-songwriters. Another act to catch at WOMADelaide 2023. Could this be the festival’s best ever lineup?

29. The Wombats – Fix Yourself, Not the World

The Wombats are a little more pop these days, incorporating elements of electronica alongside their indie rock energy. But the band’s clever lyricism and confident sense of melody remain as strong as ever on Fix Yourself, Not the World. Read our review of their recent Adelaide show here

30. Alana Jagt – Goodbye Grote Bollen

There is such warmth in these songs from talented Adelaide singer-songwriter Alana Jagt. While some tracks were previously released as singles at different times, they sit together so comfortably here in what is an engaging listen from start to finish.