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NPR's 50 best albums of 2022

Illustration: Huston Wilson on NPR

A year like this one makes hand-wringing about the death of the album seem silly (if anything we should be concerned about the single). Musicians gave us experiences in 2022. Immersive, ambitious, focused, sprawling, explosive, swerving albums expressed their power in any number of ways: Vibes to make summer stretch on into the year's cold months. Bottomless layers of invention. History lessons that sparkled like the best party you could imagine. There were too many great albums to count, let alone narrow down to a round number. But here are 50 that made us feel awe, ache or adoration, selected and ranked by the contributors, public radio partners and staff of NPR Music.

50. Ashley McBryde, Presents: Lindeville

Ashley McBryde is known for her singular ability to make it feel like she's lived what she sings about. On Lindeville, which sits at the intersection of storytelling country concept albums and musical theater, she puts other talents to use, gleefully getting into character and filling out the cast of salty, scrappy small-town neighbors with her singing peers and writing buddies. Over playful picking and loose-limbed, loping grooves, McBryde and her cast mates send up their protagonists' acting out, and it makes for the most vivid, rollicking and unexpected country song cycle of the year. —Jewly Hight, WPLN

49. Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems

When Black folks say "diaspora," we're not just speaking about our shared origins in the past. For us, diaspora points to our shared experiences in the present and an interest in our collective future. Throughout its album, Diaspora Problems, Philly hardcore punks Soul Glo address the multitudinous nature of the diaspora and what we go through. The riffs are fast and furious while the lyrics are funny and incisive. Beautiful, Black punk rock for our folks. —John Morrison, WXPN

(This review also appears in NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

48. Sean Shibe, Lost & Found

The mild-mannered, conservatory-educated classical guitarist from Scotland possesses an untamed imagination, a sharp ear for curation and extraordinary technique on his Mexican Stratocaster. Repertoire-wise, strange bedfellows have rarely sounded this good together, as music by Moondog rubs against Bill Evans while Olivier Messiaen and Meredith Monk lie down with Julius Eastman and the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Shibe can shred, but more often he makes the instrument sound as featherlight as an angel's wing. —Tom Huizenga

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Classical Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

47. Huerco S., Plonk

Blissed-out minimalism might be a balm for our busted biochemistries, but Huerco S. seems to want his work ingested less as a mood stabilizer than he does a mood consorter. Behold: 10 tracks, all titled Plonk, fissured together, gently jaggily so as to resist any threat of "easy listening." The penultimate piece uses D.C.'s greatest living rapper, Sir E.U, as a frontispiece — wayward and sprawling as a mind moving in the moments before fidgety sleep. —Mina Tavakoli

46. JID, The Forever Story

The Forever Story opens with a reveal that JID's been grinding on his singing skills. He lulls earnestly over the airy piano "Forever can't be too far away from never...," an acknowledgement that, since 2017's The Never Story, he's put in the performance and prayer required to reconfigure his reality. That juxtaposition of gratitude and hunger is the driving tension behind the kaleidoscopic project that shows just how daring and vulnerable he can be. The fluidity of genre and nods to inspirational musicians all work together to negotiate his place in Black music history forever. —Gabby Bulgarelli

45. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ghost Song

The glorious, gothic peculiarities of this era's leading song exploder have rarely been on more vivid display. Ghost Song finds Cécile McLorin Salvant in a bardic mode, singing intently of lost minds, phantom lovers and budding resentments; it's an emotionally complicated canvas, one that she fills with shadow and color. —Nate Chinen, WRTI

(A version of this review appears on Nate Chinen's Favorite Music of 2022. Read the entire list.)

44. Lucky Daye, Candydrip

Candydrip is the sugary sweet follow up to Lucky Daye's 2019 debut, as he continues to refine his signature feel-good R&B that smoothly serenades listeners about the twists and turns of romance. Once again, Daye teams up with D'Mile and Alex Isley, as her unmistakable background vocals peak throughout the album. Featuring a flavorful palette of grooves, focused storytelling and more soulful soundscapes, they turn up the heat with sleeker production, yet deliver a poetic project that feels timeless. Daye has proven himself to be consistent, continuously evolving and leaving his imprint within the realm of R&B and soul. —Ashley Pointer

43. Robert Glasper, Black Radio III

"We were born of a people who were torn from their people," proclaims poet Amir Sulaiman on the powerful first track of Robert Glasper's Black Radio III. "Black Superhero" follows, both songs reminders of the seriousness that comes with today's Black experience. While the rest of the album centers on themes of love and positivity, what's consistent throughout is Glasper's musicianship and songwriting genius, the outstanding contributions of his all-star collaborators and an alluring assimilation of jazz, hip-hop and R&B grooves into Black music excellence. —Suraya Mohamed

42. caroline, caroline

There's a seed inside every caroline song; sometimes it's a weighted-blanket chord progression, a mournful interval or a simple phrase repeated. And in that fragile inkling of an idea, something grows outward and seeks light. On its self-titled debut, the London-based octet pulls from minimalism, Midwestern emo, post-rock, free-jazz, folk and chamber music not as genetic genre splice, but as a way to build community sprouted from an unforgiving Earth. —Lars Gotrich

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

41. Sam Prekop & John McEntire, Sons Of

Sam Prekop and John McEntire first collaborated in the Chicago band The Sea and Cake in the late '90s, but here they ditch guitars and drums for modular synthesizer experiments. The songs were largely improvised — on stage or through emailed snippets — and they sizzle and morph into strange shapes. The best improvisation transforms music into a living thing. With wires, knobs, patience and attention, this duo makes electricity itself sing. —Art Levy, KUTX

40. Hurray for the Riff Raff, LIFE ON EARTH

"Nature teaches us that our work has to be nuanced and steadfast," adrienne maree brown writes in Emergent Strategy, "and more than anything, that we need each other ... in order to get free." Alynda Segarra's eighth album as Hurray for the Riff Raff, deeply inspired by that text, embodies that maxim. Its 11 tracks of "nature punk" are sharply constructed and deeply felt, finding hope in the power of compassion and the fundamental interconnectedness of all living things. —Marissa Lorusso

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

39. MUNA, MUNA

Come for the blissed-out pairing of "Silk Chiffon" and "What I Want" — each of which ranks among the greatest queer-liberation anthems of this young decade — but stay for the mellower pleasures that fill out MUNA's unimpeachable comeback album. "Anything But Me" channels the harmony-rich L.A. breeziness of Haim, "Kind of Girl" unfurls as a slow-burning rumination on self-advocacy, and "Shooting Star" closes the proceedings with a bout of hopeful swooning, but those are just a handful of the pleasures that abound. The more time you spend with MUNA, the less inclined you'll feel to skip a single song. —Stephen Thompson

38. Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Topical Dancer

Wicked humor has always revved the engine of avant-garde dance pop, from Grace Jones' deadpan sneer to the glitchy giggles of Yeule. Adigéry and Pupul deploy their laughs — literally, in the showstopping "HAHA," which turns Adigéry's laughter into a rollercoaster of self-expression — to dismantle racism, sexism and generalized human foolishness on this beguiling and endlessly inventive manifesto of an album. Some tracks critique pop music itself — "Making Sense Stop," for example, lovingly takes down white appropriators — while others take on the absurdity of everything from courtship rituals to tourism to motherhood. Thanks to these two Belgian pranksters for insisting that we always need a laugh. —Ann Powers

(This review appears on Ann Powers' Top 20 Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

37. Nancy Mounir, Nozhet El Nofous

Nancy Mounir's Nozhet El Nofous is a conversation with the past. The Cairo-based composer and instrumentalist weaves aching arrangements around crackling recordings of 1920s Egyptian singers. In translations provided, we grasp how Mounir's own violin, bass and piano dance seamlessly with beautiful Arabic poetry of love, torment and darkness — characters who express longing and sorrow with the same nostalgic verve of what Brazilians call saudade. The ghostly effect, however, isn't haunting, but an empathetic hand across time. —Lars Gotrich

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Experimental Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

36. MAVI, Laughing so Hard, it Hurts

The first time I saw MAVI perform, he was still studying at Howard, just trying to make this music thing work. In a dim basement in D.C., with a crowd still growing familiar with him, he gripped the mic, closed his eyes and performed the earnest, heady music of his 2019 debut Let the Sun Talk. In the three years since, the Charlotte, N.C., rapper has learned, loosened up and evolved. On his breezy follow-up, Laughing so Hard, it Hurts, he's drawn to a smooth, melodic style, a careful and deliberate unspooling of the web-like raps of Sun Talk. His producers — a cast including Dylvinci, monte booker and Wulf Morpheus — lend him a silky, almost R&B touch. And MAVI grapples poignantly with the weight of the last few years, and of generations past. —Mano Sundaresan

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

35. Caterina Barbieri, Spirit Exit

The Italian electronic composer Caterina Barbieri thinks deeply about the spiritual impact of her music on the bodies and minds of others. Her intense album Spirit Exit was created in isolation during Milan's strict pandemic lockdown, inspired by hermetic visionaries including the mystic nun St. Teresa of Ávila and Emily Dickinson. Barbieri's layered tracks build and explode massively into moments of bliss, as if to musically recreate Ávila's ecstatic vision of being stabbed in the heart by an angel. —Hazel Cills

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Experimental Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

34. GloRilla, Anyways, Life's Great...

After blessing the break-up anthem canon with 2022's song of the summer, "F.N.F (Let's Go)," GloRilla obliterates all "one-hit wonder" talk with Anyways, Life's Great... It's the way Glo's accent careens around syllables as she provides positive affirmations like: "Ain't f***ed up 'bout no credit score, I might be rich as f*** tomorrow / Every day the sun won't shine, but that's why I love tomorrow." It's the self-assurance of setting and maintaining boundaries — "I ain't in these bitches beef, I'm in my motherf***in' prime / Told 'em, 'Leave me out the way, no parts and I'm not takin' sides.' " The Memphis, Tenn., phenom's major label debut EP boasts themes of optimism and autonomy with a Big Glo-sized dash of ratchet debauchery mixed in. —Sidney Madden

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

33. Alvvays, Blue Rev

To borrow the expression "more cowbell," the Toronto band's record is, simply put, "more Alvvays." With more layers of guitars, melodies and beautiful noise, Blue Rev builds and expands on Alvvays' sound, a musical mirepoix mixed with the soaring vocals of songwriter Molly Rankin. Big Star and Teenage Fanclub's hyper-melodicism comes to mind as does the noise-pop wizardry of My Bloody Valentine and Rankin's proclaimed love of Belinda Carlisle. Blue Rev is a new benchmark in the overlapping worlds of dream and power pop, impressively produced by Shawn Everett. —Bruce Warren, WXPN

32. OHYUNG, imagine naked!

Whenever I needed a pacifier this year — which was often — something that would bring me back down not just to Earth but calmly to the very apartment room I was likely sitting in, imagine naked! was there to help. It makes sense: Robert Ouyang Rusli, who records tender ambient like this under the name OHYUNG, based its song titles on lines from a poem by t. tran le, titled "Vegetalscape," that creates deep magic from scenes of the everyday. That OHYUNG also composes for film makes perfect sense; mine might be titled Post-Pandemic Basement Boy. —Andrew Flanagan

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Experimental Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

31. Wet Leg, Wet Leg

Wet Leg's "Chaise Longue" was one of last year's greatest songs, an introductory single whose deadpan come-ons exuded wiry wit and playful cool. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers' full-length debut lives up to that track's enormous promise, with songs that tap into several generations' worth of rock and post-punk influences while still capturing a cocktail of moods that's unmistakably of-the-moment: somehow both over- and under-stimulated, introspective but distant, lusty but numb. —Stephen Thompson

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

30. Nilüfer Yanya, PAINLESS

Listening to Nilufer Yanya sometimes makes me feel like I'm handling one of those self-defense trinkets designed for girls — a plastic comb that splits at the center to reveal a switchblade, a pretty, innocuous thing with grim intent. The British singer-songwriter often pairs her gorgeous voice with devastating electric guitar melodies and chillingly simple lyricism that only reveals its bruising later. On her second full-length album, PAINLESS, she drags her listener into a maximalist swirl of insecurity and existential dread like never before, filling its tracks with brooding, grungy rock that masterfully honors the quiet darkness of her work. —Hazel Cills

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

29. Lucrecia Dalt, ¡Ay!

¡Ay! is Lucrecia Dalt's sci-fi missive from space to Earth, or vice versa. The Colombian experimentalist tells an extraterrestrial's story through bolero, salsa, mambo, son and jazz submerged in a colloquial, nostalgic haze. The alien Preta's interpretations of home, love and the limits of having a body resonate exponentially against a textured, acoustic backdrop, a product of human imagination seeking to operate outside its chains of time, form and grief. Dalt's world-building in sound and theme are jarring in its invention, yet altogether familiar. —Stefanie Fernández

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Experimental Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

28. Alex Isley & Jack Dine, Marigold

The singer Alex Isley and the producer Jack Dine found refuge in one another with their 2019 EP, Wilton. Many artists hedge their bets on an array of composers and sounds, but Isley and Dine knew they had a good thing going. This year, they locked back in for their first full-length project, Marigold, reestablishing a connection that is magical in its subtlety. The little flourishes add up. It's in Isley's extra layer of harmonies, in Dine's seamless transition from "On & On" to "Still Wonder." The marigold flower symbolizes a feeling of despaired love, yet Isley still believes. On songs like "Without" and "Love Again," she declares her unwavering hope and desire, despite trying circumstances. Her pining exudes warmth, and, ultimately, Marigold is accessible and tender; an album for the lovers and the yearners. —Bobby Carter

(This review appears on NPR's Best R&B Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

27. Jeezy and DJ Drama, SNOFALL

The man behind "My President" now boasts of having "Biden on the text." The man who helped bring glory to the mixtape is now a Grammy winner for his role in making an album. But before all of that, Jeezy was the Snowman, a formidable presence on mixtapes like Trap or Die, a street classic in Drama's long-running Gangsta Grillz series. They reunite for SNOFALL, revisiting where the history-making began: Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward, the neighborhood that was ground zero for Gangsta Grillz before it became a tourist stop. So much has changed, which becomes a point of pride for Jeezy: "What you n***** expect? Ten years the same n****? / Waste a whole decade, and that'll be a shame, n****," he smirks on "Street Cred," pleased with his personal and artistic growth. There are subtle tweaks to his message and mindset, but what's most remarkable about the album is how energized and vital this partnership still sounds, all these years and achievements later. —Christina Lee

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

26. Asake, Mr. Money With The Vibe

A torch was passed in Nigerian street-pop when the influential rapper Olamide signed Asake. Their collaboration, "Omo Ope," an amapiano-blended, chant-inciting bacchanal, equal parts thankful and flexing, sets the tone for the entire Asake experience. His debut, Mr. Money with the Vibe, honors its title, of course — in these songs, an emergent star dons a flamboyant playboy persona — but the album prioritizes atmosphere over extravagance. It's vaguely spiritual music about rising from a dangerous place, finding success and trying desperately to hold on to it. Where many Afro-pop songs have a shiny, synth-powered sound, a lot of Asake's songs are more muted, built out of glowing Fender Rhodes electric piano and programmed strings. The whizzing "Sunmomi" turns an intimate request ("move close to me") into an invocation, repeating the phrase over and over until it becomes a form of worship. At its most profound, the album has that same quality, feeling both sacred and profane. —Sheldon Pearce

25. iLe, Nacarile

Nacarile is a portrait of an artist coming into her own. iLe (Ileana Cabra) comes from a musical dynasty of a family (she started performing with her stepbrothers in Calle 13) and the familial scrutiny has resulted in three albums since 2016 that show her getting more comfortable with her emotive voice but also her songwriting. Nacarile is her strongest statement yet and makes me impatient for future releases as they keep getting better and better. —Felix Contreras

24. Immanuel Wilkins, The 7th Hand

Spirit is everything — catalyst and crucible, mother tongue and moral law — on The 7th Hand, the astonishingly assured second album by alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. His balletic, instinctive quartet moves through this seven-movement suite in pursuit of divine surrender, proving how a blazing intensity of purpose can override the usual divisions of style. —Nate Chinen, WRTI

(A version of this review appears on Nate Chinen's Favorite Music of 2022. Read the entire list.)

23. Angel Olsen, Big Time

Angel Olsen's singular voice has expanded across dreamy soundscapes for over a decade, navigating the frontiers of folk, garage rock and orchestral pop with both full-band bombast and the poignancy of a lone guitar, all the while revealing wry truths beneath a warm blanket of reverb. Olsen's striking sixth LP, Big Time, upholds her penchant for eluding genre limitations by evoking the nostalgia of classic country. Her voice is at its most compelling, positioned front and center amidst a compendium of pedal steel and Mellotron. Ahead of recording Big Time, Olsen fell in love and came out as queer, just before her parents passed away. The encapsulating nature of love and passion, loss and grief, are at the heart of Big Time, which soars with a steadfast vulnerability that not only embraces the transience of life but celebrates the lasting power of connection. —Desiré Moses, WNRN

22. Jóhann Jóhannsson, Drone Mass

While Lizzo, Beyoncé and others beckoned fans into the light in 2022, I sought solace in the works of Max Richter, Hildur Guðnadóttir and other composers who find beauty and exaltation in the darkness. Few albums this year were as uplifting or transporting in that way as Jóhann Jóhannsson's posthumous Drone Mass, a stirring mix of strings, elegiac voices and deep, thrumming electronics with text inspired by the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians, ancient writings on creation, faith and salvation. Listening to Drone Mass feels like an invocation to exhale all mortal anxieties and stand, arms outspread, in awe of the infinite universe. —Robin Hilton

21. SAULT, Air

Glory to Dean Josiah Cover, aka Inflo, the shadow behind Sault and the first Black man to win producer of the year in the 45-year history of the BRIT Awards. After recording NPR's No.1 album of 2020, Untitled (Black Is), Inflo and his anonymous conspirators appeared to have established an identity: The U.K. collective made soul music for the 21st century. Little did we know, a change was gonna come. Air, the first of seven Sault releases in 2022, is a staggering pivot that finds Inflo directing a largely wordless choir (courtesy of London's The Music Confectionery) and an orchestra devoid of backbeats or bass lines, like if the Andrew Oldham Orchestra performed the works of Popol Vuh. It's a sublime reminder that Black music has no boundaries — and perhaps the flex of the year by the world's most intriguing producer. —Otis Hart

20. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers isn't really an album; it's a theatrical performance with Kendrick as playwright and protagonist. He's not our savior anymore, and he damn sure ain't here to entertain us. He's a tragic character in a tale of his own undoing. But these traumas are not his alone to bear. He's diagnosing a generation of Black men, unveiling insecurity, fragility, hypermasculinity. In the name of breaking the cycle and bequeathing something other than tribulation to his children, he calls out a culture that revels in misogyny, genderphobia and material wealth to mask its low self-worth. It's not heady work, it's heart work. Which can make for a very hard listen. Having mastered da art of storytellin' across his previous albums, Kendrick shot it all to hell in 2022. Many of the beats are baroque. The confessionals can be overbearing. And if you find yourself reviled by his toxic revelations or his ill-conceived attempts at redemption, you probably should be. This is what therapy is supposed to sound like. Rap n***** haven't kept it this real and honest in ages. It's about damn time. —Rodney Carmichael

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

19. Terri Lyne Carrington, New Standards Vol. 1

Terri Lyne Carrington's New Standards Vol. 1 represents a growing awareness surrounding the significant contribution of women in jazz. As the founder and artistic director of the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music — not to mention NEA Jazz Master and multiple Grammy award winner — TLC's mission has been to even the playing field for women in the genre in pursuit of jazz without patriarchy. This album does just that, summoning the compositions of women known and soon-to-be discovered — from Abbey Lincoln to Brandee Younger. —Keanna Faircloth

18. Ravyn Lenae, HYPNOS

In an age of instant gratification, Ravyn Lenae's star appeal gleams from patience. After 2018's Crush EP, the vocal perfectionist went dormant for four years. Now, she's reemerged as a deity of Hypnos — the god of dreams — with her debut studio album by the same name as it grooves through time and cosmos to indulge desires of self-discovery. Lush, psychedelic sonospheres and hypnotic harmonies platform Hypnos' thematic centerpiece: fearless candor. Determined in her search for utopias of self-love — aided by other galactic adventurers innovating R&B like Smino, Fousheé and Steve Lacy — Lenae retains a precise focus with the vulnerability of confidence as her guide. —LaTesha Harris

17. FKA twigs, CAPRISONGS

During the first pandemic lockdown in the U.K., the English singer and producer FKA twigs wondered privately about the sustainability of her creative process. Making her 2019 album, Magdalene, a woe-inspired electronic aria, took its toll; she likened the exercise to putting her insides on blast. Restoration came through connection and collaboration — and her splendid, ever-changing mixtape Caprisongs is uplifting in its pursuit of sorority, some of which is found on the dance floor. Produced by twigs with El Guincho, the project is jubilant and inquisitive; it scans Afropop, hymnals, road rap and the club. A diverse cast of characters — local underground artists, mostly — chimes in on a far-reaching mix, but the project feels most intimate when twigs explores dance music as a form of communion and escape. —Sheldon Pearce

(This review appears on Sheldon Pearce's Top 20 Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

16. Saba, Few Good Things

With each of his projects, Saba showcases facets of his life, values and evolution that enlighten him; on Few Good Things, it's community. For instance, the title track marks his connection with his working-class roots, while the incessantly groovy cut "Come My Way," featuring Krayzie Bone, is an ode to his hood and his crew. As a whole, the album gives the effect of a thoughtfully crafted family photo album ... but it's also absolutely a righteous vibe. —Ayana Contreras, Vocalo

15. Natalia Lafourcade, De Todas las Flores

Rooted in her homeland of Mexico and inspired by the sounds of Latin jazz, a hypnotic quality runs throughout Natalia Lafourcade's De Todas las Flores. In the aptly named "Muerte," her voice takes on an uncanny tenor as she thanks death (and Veracruz) for teaching her how to live, while "María La Curandera" takes inspiration from the writings of Mazatec healer María Sabina and encourages finding healing in nature. It's a dazzling work that highlights Lafourcade's place among Mexico's greatest musicians and draws you into her sublime reflections on life, death and the awe-inspiring strength of the Earth. —Fi O'Reilly

14. Julia Bullock, Walking in the Dark

With a singularly expressive voice, you'd think the 35-year-old soprano from St. Louis would stuff her debut album with show-stopping opera arias, but nothing is conventional about Bullock. She's a keen curator, building programs of intellectual rigor that straddle classical and popular music. Here she threads themes of social justice and darkness in songs associated with Nina Simone, Sandy Denny and the enigmatic Connie Converse. Bullock's fiery side emerges in a scene from John Adams' oratorio El Niño, and she communicates tenderly, with her signature elegant phrasing, in Samuel Barber's ruminative Knoxville: Summer of 1915. An outstanding solo debut. —Tom Huizenga

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Classical Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

13. Silvana Estrada, Marchita

The debut solo album from the Mexican singer-songwriter is an intimate, masterful portrait of heartbreak. Inspired by her background in jazz and her love for Mexican folk traditions, Marchita is anchored by Estrada's instrument of choice, the Venezuelan cuatro, and the powerful emotionality of her voice. Estrada has described the album, whose title translates to "withered," as "a journey into the self to attempt to understand sorrow." Rather than wilting, however, Estrada is interested in "what flowers will grow out of sorrow"; the collection of songs that blossomed out of her heartache are poignant and richly beautiful. —Marissa Lorusso

12. Alex G, God Save the Animals

Alex G's most confessional album builds its lofty questions about morality with the base reactions of animals, human and not. For an artist of few clarifications, God Save the Animals is ambitious in its questions about consciousness, flitting between transcendentally aware observation and nearsighted emotional desperation — and forgiveness, a maybe-fake thing made real all the time by people who choose to give it. This fragmented meditation is given flesh by, in addition to theologians and poets, Alex G's baroque melodic sensibility, sick groove and the ascetic simplicity of his observation: "Yes, I have done a couple bad things." —Stefanie Fernández

(This review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

11. S.G. Goodman, Teeth Marks

S.G. Goodman is a queer Kentucky songwriter from a tiny and shrinking town on the banks of a big Mississippi bend. It is tempting to reduce her contemplative folk-rock, stirred by Muscle Shoals soul and bristling garage jams, to such stark biographical terms — a cultural outlier, pushing against the conservatism of the liminal South that raised her. But in these poignant tales of friends lost to alcoholism and opioid addiction, or her flinty excoriations of capitalism's hamster-wheel machinations, there is instead an abiding love for that home, expressed through the implicit demand that such places and their people be lifted up rather than so routinely put down. —Grayson Haver Currin

10. Pusha T, It's Almost Dry

On the closer, "I Pray for You," Pusha T remembers that the video shoot for Clipse's breakthrough hit "Grindin'" took place in his "momma's momma's projects." By that point, on his snide album, It's Almost Dry, he has already made the best possible case for why his music hasn't ventured too far from those Virginia projects in the 20 years since: His twin critiques of mob mentality and fake ballers are wittier, sneakier and more intoxicating than the stuff he was doing back in those days when he smirked at the Simpson trial. No wonder longtime champions Pharrell and Ye compete for airtime. With this album, the man who once dubbed himself the "L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard" adds to the list of fanciful comparisons: Martin Scorsese, Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, "cocaine's Dr. Seuss." But at this point, it only makes sense to compare King Push against his own track record. —Christina Lee

9. A Far Cry/Shara Nova, The Blue Hour

Few multi-composer collaborations are memorable. However, The Blue Hour, a cycle of songs by Caroline Shaw, Angelica Negrón, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Rachel Grimes and Shara Worden, who sings and narrates its 40 sections, is unforgettable. The five women have inspired each other for years, and Snider calls the communal result "an embodiment of a musical sisterhood." The texts are plucked from Carolyn Forché's expansive poem "On Earth," which traces ruminations on life and death in vivid, alphabetically organized vignettes. Nova has rarely sounded so all-encompassing — from intimate communications to full-throated operatic splendor, backed by the agile string orchestra A Far Cry. —Tom Huizenga

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Classical Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

8. Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights

The internet is full of slander against Geminis and bisexuals — the supposedly two-faced twins of the zodiac and the lovers who can't "pick a team." But Steve Lacy, a proud member of both groups, knows that looking beyond dichotomies and digging into contradictions is the way to find the most interesting stories. Chronicling a breakup on Gemini Rights, the neo-soul singer isn't a hero or a victim, but more of a trickster. The album's 10 guitar-forward tracks build harmonies around hummable hooks, and Lacy flits around themes of desire and regret, indulging in messiness and offsetting every vulnerable confession with a wink. —Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED

7. Makaya McCraven, In These Times

In These Times is the album that Makaya McCraven has been wanting to make his whole life: a sonic sock-it-to-me cake that folds in his beatmaking, clever compositions, Hungarian lineage (from his folk singer mother) and free-jazz roots (from his drummer father) alongside symphonic and heavy funk. The scale of the work alone is breathtaking, yet intentionally inclusive. A slice of this album makes the case that today's jazz greats deserve to be included on everybody's plate. —Ayana Contreras, Vocalo

6. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen

Violinist, singer, songwriter, producer and charisma machine Brittney Parks has been expanding her sound from the moment she first released music in 2017, and on her second full-length, she makes clear that her possibilities are endless. Flawlessly executing triple-axel leaps from steamy R&B to fleet-voiced rap to electronic reveries, Parks offers a self-portrait of a woman who enjoys her body, treasures her imagination and demands celebration for her vivid, thorny soul. "Gorgeous and arrogant, I love the smell of it," she declares, nabbing the gold. —Ann Powers

(This review appears on Ann Powers' Top 20 Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

5. Amber Mark, Three Dimensions Deep

If you know Amber Mark from the release of her early EPs, 3:33am and Conexão, you've been waiting for this moment. If you didn't, her debut album, Three Dimensions Deep, is the perfect introduction to the genre-blending musical universe of Amber Mark. It's an invitation into a world of her own creation: She faces her own insecurities on tracks like "One" ("And I don't know if I'll ever succeed / I just want you proud of me up above (up above)") and pumps up herself and the opposition on "Competition." The crowning moment coming on "What It Is," where she pleads with the skies above to tell her "the point of it all." Mark combines the mystical and scientific into an undeniable sonic concoction meant to serenade you on your way to the stars. She asks the big, scary questions and makes the search for answers feel less isolating with enveloping production, and deeply moving lyrics, from start to finish. —Jerusalem Truth

4. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

I wouldn't normally associate tenderness and humor with rock music, but those are just a few of the outstanding qualities surrounding Big Thief's Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. Recorded in four cities and produced by drummer James Krivchenia, this double album is both a sonic adventure and an insightful lyrical exploration. In a single song, there are words of whimsy (rhyming "finish" with "potato knish") while at the same time exploring and accepting the differences in ourselves and those around us. And that's just one of 20 songs in an album that reveals something new for me on every listen. —Bob Boilen

(A version of this review appears on NPR Music's Best Rock Albums of 2022. Read the entire list.)

3. Rosalía, Motomami

Rosalía does her homework, then she's ready to play. On her third album, the Catalan artist borrows from influences across the Latin and Spanish diaspora and bends them into new musical narratives altogether. At times explosive and distorted, later deeply personal and poetic, Motomami effortlessly stretches Rosalía's range across reggaeton sprinkled with free jazz, a sex-fueled ballad and a Soulja Boy sample layered under a Justo Betancourt cover. Although it falls short on certain tracks, Motomami proves that Rosalía is carving her own lane in pop, led by her masterful understanding of the pioneers whose work she builds on. —Isabella Gomez Sarmiento

2. Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti

Master of subversion and all things unconventional, only Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio could turn loss into dance and heartbreak into international stardom. Spinning wretched rawness of the heart into body-shaking rhythm is as integral to Latinx life as just about anything, but what Bad Bunny has done — translating a summer without you into the cross-generational, all-season, indiscriminately humbling experience that it is — goes eons beyond making Spanish-language bops sellable to the general market. In an era where the massive success of Latin music means that genre-bending and pulling from a pan-Latin sonic tradition has become expected, Bad Bunny goes further and sinks deeper into the love he has for his island. Between political bars and tropical hues he builds a foundation for an authentic and nuanced exploration of the sounds of Latin America. While most of us leverage where we come from as armor, Bad Bunny wields it like a sword for forging new traditions — revolutionizing life's greatest pains as fuel for global unity. —Anamaria Sayre

1. Beyoncé, RENAISSANCE

No game-topping artist in 2022 regularly earns as many flowers as Beyoncé. She's so undefeated that the narrative at this point is almost tedious: Every few years she releases a major project that not only shows her undiminished prowess as a vocalist, writer, producer and all-around star, but creates a new rulebook by which her peers' work will be judged. From her meta-confessional masterwork Lemonade to her pan-African projects to the multi-media epic Homecoming, she's expanded pop auteurism in ways that inspire not just admiration but awe.

That's why it's no surprise that her dance music fantasia RENAISSANCE — a pandemic-era lark, she stated upon its release, designed to allow her to "be free of perfectionism and over-thinking" — is topping not only NPR Music's Best Albums list but many more, becoming the most highly lauded album of 2022.

She's accomplished this without the usual industry-mandated flourish of visuals, aside from a handful of photographs culminating in a stunning cover shot in an equestrian pose that's both mythic and redolent of the museum-worthy works she and her husband love to collect. The neo-classical framework the album's title provides works to communicate both its mission — to honor dance music's lineage of queer, mostly Black DJ's, producers and divas as Old Masters equal to any Beatle — and her own role, as the head of a guild herself, overseeing myriad collaborators to put their own marks on the canvas of her work.

With RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé has given us something beyond her personal story, or even the wide-opening interface between that story and Black history as shaped by migration, racism and resistance. She's created a detail-rich panorama inspired by the living history of that sacred space, the club. It's her Sistine Chapel, and it deserves to be discussed that way — as a star-filled imaginary sky, and an origin myth that comes to life through its brilliant brush strokes. To really appreciate it is to focus on its remarkable design, the way it sounds and feels different depending on one's perspective. Listening this way, what comes to the fore is its stunning detail, etched in by many hands. Rather than a set of bangers (which, of course it is), RENAISSANCE can be experienced as a seemingly inexhaustible text, each portion connecting to the other to evoke moments in time whose impact is timeless. —Ann Powers

(Read a conversation about RENAISSANCE between Ann Powers, Daphne A. Brooks and Danyel Smith.)

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