Exclaim!'s 29 Best Albums of 2022 So Far

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Jun 15, 2022

After two years of hibernation, the music world has exploded back to life in 2022, with a seemingly endless stream of high-profile albums that has been hard to keep up with. Some of those big-name artists are featured here, in our ranking of the best albums of the year so far.

But as well as big blockbusters, 2022 has also brought surprises: indie upstarts climbing to majestic new heights, unfamiliar artists generating underground buzz with outstanding debuts, and familiar faces reemerging in new configurations. These are Exclaim!'s top 29 albums of the year so far. Listen along on Apple Music and Spotify.

29. Lisa LeBlanc
Chiac Disco

After cementing herself as the country's preeminent purveyor of traditional Acadian music, Lisa LeBlanc took a slight left turn to the nearest disco. You'd be forgiven for wondering whether this amounts to a cash grab to jump on the genre's current popularity or an authentic foray into the genre. Thankfully, Chiac Disco is the latter, with LeBlanc taking an earnest and straightforward approach while infusing the genre with her trademarks  — humour, wit and plenty of banjo.
Scott Simpson

28. Charli XCX

Veering from pop icon to iconoclast has been a hallmark of Charli XCX's career. Yet, for the first time, the artist born Charlotte Aitchison is captured mid-swing between these two extremes. CRASH is as ambitious as it is familiar, pairing old grooves with new melodies while balancing performance art with chart-topping ambitions. Aitchison pulls it off with an effortless grace, paving the way for the next phase of her prolific and always-surprising career. Next level Charli, indeed. 
Ian Gormely

27. Let's Eat Grandma
Two Ribbons

Dense with overlapping synth and vocal lines, brimming with tough choices and hard feelings, the third effort from childhood friends Let's Eat Grandma is a sparkling and sorrowful album dealing with loss (the deaths of a partner and onetime producer SOPHIE can be felt here), friendship and growing up. Two Ribbons is another precocious synthpop outing for the British duo; they may have written it apart for the first time, but they sound as synchronized as ever.
Luke Pearson

26. PUP
(Little Dipper / Rise) 

PUP have been gloriously grappling with themselves for over a decade, combining brutally honest lyrics about depression and failure with blistering melodies and seriously catchy hooks. On THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND, the Toronto punks take a self-aware look at the precarious business of being in a successful band, with songs about exhaustion, implosion and self-doubt that retain their earnest essence and self-deprecating sense of humour. The album also sees PUP at their most instrumentally experimental: meticulously crafted brass and synths make for compelling and unforgettable choruses that explode with ecstasy, perfectly exemplifying how the band continue to break their own ground and make feeling bad feel so good. 
Yasmine Shemesh 

25. Les Louanges

There are few Canadian emerging acts that draw as much on jazz and funk while still showcasing a pure pop sensibility as Les Louanges. On his sophomore effort, Vincent Roberge builds on his 2018 debut by leaving more room for electronics with a slightly darker tone. The result is a multifaceted yet coherent album whose diverse influences (soul, new wave, industrial) are put at the service of self-reflexive stories about friendships, heartbreak and fame. 
Bruno Coulombe 

24. Earl Sweatshirt
(Tan Cressida / Warner)

Earl Sweatshirt's personal growth is on full display on SICK!, as he revels in a level of clarity that was absent from his previous two efforts. Paired with some slightly more polished production, Earl sharply communicates his new outlook on life, letting go of his demons and pushing forward, hoping for a better future. Clearly impacted by the pandemic and his experiences as a new father, this LP sees Earl delivering some of his most thoughtful and poignant material to date.
Wesley McLean

23. Tess Roby
Ideas of Space

We've been rediscovering what it means to be embodied, to take up space, to move through it together. We were locked down, closed off, tensed up, and now, we're maybe somewhat less so. Do our bodies remember how to stretch out? Can our minds still spill beyond our present circumstances across planes less constricted? The second album from Montreal-based artist Tess Roby presses on these questions, conjuring depth and distance through entrancing synth tones, fluttering mantras and trails of gorgeously warbled vocals.
Noah Ciubotaru 

22. Cave In
Heavy Pendulum

Following the tragic death of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018, Cave In needed time to regroup. On Heavy Pendulum, their first studio album in 11 years, the Boston alt-metal unit have turned a personal story of triumph over grief into the most revelatory record of their career. The inclusion of Converge bassist Nate Newton in Scofield's place feels entirely natural, adding a bottom end dense enough to crack planets to the band's already colossal sound, alongside towering riffage, expansive vocals and propulsive percussion.
Owen Morawitz

21. Luna Li
(AWAL / In Real Life) 

After the viral fame of the clips that became 2021's jams EP, all eyes were suddenly on Toronto's Hannah Bussiere Kim, a.k.a. Luna Li. On much-hyped debut album Duality, the relatability of complicated relationships, insecurity and uncertainty are paired with everything from sweet harmonies ("Cherry Pit," "What You're Thinking") to punchy lyrics and riffs ("Silver into Rain" featuring beabadoobee, "Star Stuff"). It's the latter that stand out the most, both on Duality and her heralded live show — perfect timing with her first headline tour underway.
Heather Taylor-Singh

Click "Next" to continue reading.20. Richard Inman
Come Back Through

Hard-working roots troubadour Richard Inman is finally getting some well-deserved recognition via Come Back Through, his fourth album. His strong and haunting baritone is framed by sparse instrumentation, and his songs reflect the influence of great Texan singer-songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark while remaining true to his Alberta and Manitoba roots. It marks a breakthrough moment for a fine addition to the rich canon of Canadian songsmiths.
Kerry Doole

19. Angel Olsen
Big Time

"I can't say that I'm sorry when I don't feel so wrong anymore" — so begins Big Time, Angel Olsen's unapologetic sixth album. Charting the highs and lows of personal love and loss, including finding new romance and the death of both parents, Olsen channels her genre-bending ways into 2022's best, and perhaps most unexpected, country album so far. The result is a pared-back approach that lays bare Olsen's pain, grief and truth, allowing listeners to enter a sacred communion with her most authentic self. Big Time is an affirmation of Olsen's past and present — and it is a true privilege to behold.
Dylan Barnabe

18. Pusha T
It's Almost Dry
(Def Jam / GOOD)

Who's the lucky one: the emcee who has cultivated airtight relationships with two of the most ingenious hip-hop producers of our century? Or the artists who get to hear their beats elevated by one of the most precise and confident voices in the game? The fingerprints of Kanye West (flexing his sampling supremacy on "Dreamin of the Past" and "Rock n Roll") and Pharrell Williams (building minimalist moods on "Brambleton" and "Call My Bluff") are all over coke rap master Pusha T's first Billboard-topping LP. But it's Pusha's fierce charisma that keeps listeners coming back for another hit. No bars wasted.
Luke Fox

17. Sister Ray
(Royal Mountain)

Communion feels simple at first. The debut LP from Sister Ray (Toronto-via-Edmonton's Ella Coyes) is folky, uses largely muted instrumentation, and serves as a great partner for a quiet late-night walk. But, as each song unfolds, Communion becomes enormous. Coyes uses their thunderous voice to wrestle with identity and meditate on relationships, doing so with breathtaking candour. "I would tell you everything," Coyes sings on "I Want To Be Your Man." And it feels like they do.
Laura Stanley

16. FKA twigs
(Young / Atlantic)

FKA twigs is a Capricorn sun, the astrological sign associated with drive and hard work. While the experimental pop artist is known for her emotional, otherworldly production, twigs directs that earth sign drive towards crafting the fun and eclectic CAPRISONGS mixtape. That signature ethereal twigs sound mingles with upbeat electronic, pop and hip-hop influences, including guests like the Weeknd, Jorja Smith and Shygirl. CAPRISONGS marks a new era for twigs, one where she's free to be playful and lighthearted.
Jordan Currie

15. Black Country, New Road
Ants from Up There
(Ninja Tune)

Although Black Country, New Road described Ants from Up There as "more palatable" than their heady debut, last year's For the first time, it's only true on a superficial level. Sure, songs are briefer and more structured, but once you immerse yourself into the British septet's gallant world (as Ornette as it is ornate), everything becomes exquisitely intricate: the metaphors, the sonic avenues, and of course the emotion. It was already next-to-impossible to predict what the band would do next — with the departure of lead vocalist Isaac Wood just days before the album's release, the possibilities feel truly infinite. 
Daniel Sylvester

Sewn Back Together
(Arts & Crafts)

The debut collaborative album by Adam Sturgeon (Status/Non-Status, formerly WHOOP-Szo) and Daniel Monkman (Zoon) is a work of mutual creative discovery. Newfound spontaneity inspired the Anishinaabe musicians to replace their shared love of distortion with sparkling, clear-eyed piano-and-guitar arrangements anchored by booming drums, garnished with first-time forays into Auto-Tune. The duo continue to process the lasting damage wrought by residential schools and the Indian Status system, but they also reflect on fond childhood memories, telling uplifting stories of Indigenous joy often overlooked in favour of trauma reporting. As OMBIIGIZI, Sturgeon and Monkman are living life to the fullest — sewn together, grown together.
Leslie Ken Chu

13. Denzel Curry
Melt My Eyez See Your Future
(Loma Vista / Concord)

With self-critical lyrics that directly address mental health and going to therapy, Denzel Curry taps into the zeitgeist, tackling many of the same themes that Kendrick Lamar did just a couple months later. But for all its timely rhymes, the real appeal of Melt My Eyez See Your Future is its sublime production, with Curry showing his melodic side on the hook-heavy "The Last," growling to contrast T-Pain's digitized croon on "Troubles," and sounding equally at home rapping over sighing dreamscapes and frenzied breakbeats on "Zatoichi."
Alex Hudson

12. Tomberlin
i don't know who needs to hear this…
(Saddle Creek)

"Was I happy in the quiet?" Sarah Beth Tomberlin asks before the outstretched necks of woodwinds draw out the end of "unsaid." The alt-folk singer-songwriter reconsiders her own definition of the "open-handed distance" in the next line of i don't know who needs to hear this..., where the sparse acoustic crops that characterized 2018 debut At Weddings and the Alex G-produced Projections EP grow woollier and wilder, as she bends negative space for her insights to echo with newfound grandeur.
Megan LaPierre

11. Vince Staples
Ramona Park Broke My Heart
(Motown / Blacksmith)

From the ice-clinking percussion of "LEMONADE" to the understated G-funk of "MAGIC," Ramona Park Broke My Heart's tracks are Vince Staples's catchiest and most sonically innovative. Aside from picking better beats (from equally well-chosen collaborators like Mustard and LeKen Taylor, always underrated), the Californian MC maintains the dense yet concise lyricism that's long been critically formidable, albeit not commercially. Furthering this duality — à la the celebratory yet dread-filled "AYE! (FREE THE HOMIES)" — should finally help Staples's streams match his accolades.
Kyle Mullin

Click "Next" to continue reading.10. Nilüfer Yanya
(ATO Records)

Some of the most interesting sounds in the current rock vernacular are coming from Nilüfer Yanya. The muted atmosphere that permeates PAINLESS speaks to numbness in a time defined by inflation and disenfranchisement. Her mantric vocals tell circular stories about "going nowhere" and belonging somewhere, with no real end in sight. The active suppression of Yanya's emotions is reflected in the buzzing guitars, with all elements being used sparingly to keep the fervour from breaking through. The release eventually comes, bringing the warmth of saxophones and more saturated tones, breaking Yanya out of her cycle as she looks forward.
Sydney Brasil

9. Aldous Harding
Warm Chris

Warm Chris is the kind of title that trips on its way from the back of your tongue to the front. It's fitting, then, that the album it holds is equally ungainly and difficult to parse. Awkward and graceful, goofy and self-serious, Warm Chris is a Magic Eye, an indecipherable scramble of shape and colour that, when looked at just so, reveals something suddenly true and real. From the piano pop perfection of "Passion Babe" to the circular, finger-picked majesty of the title track, it's the greatest distillation of Harding's irrepressible pursuit of meaning in meaninglessness. There's nothing else quite like it.
Kaelen Bell

8. Pierre Kwenders
José Louis and the Paradox of Love
(Arts & Crafts)

To Pierre Kwenders, the dance floor is a place of spiritual connection, where the intermingling of sweaty bodies facilitates the transfer and release of the memories and experiences they carry. The Montreal party maven's third album sets his personal journey down the road to that philosophy to North American and Central African dance music stylings, bound together by the voices and energies of those who shaped his path, from adolescent inspirations to accomplished peers (including members of Arcade Fire). It revels in both the specificity of Kwenders's story and the communality of a good groove as he imparts his experiences to a new wave of listeners, fans and partygoers.
Matt Bobkin

7. The Weeknd
Dawn FM
(XO / Republic)

The Weeknd's transformation from moody R&B singer to synthpop megastar feels complete on his fifth studio record Dawn FM. While other albums this year may contain more hits, Dawn FM remains the one pop record this year that feels completely holistic. With its seamless flow, stunning visuals, the Weeknd's now-signature dark vibe and narration by Jim goddamn Carrey, Dawn FM is more than just an album — it's an experience. As clichéd as it sounds, it really is the dawn of a new era for Abel Tesfaye, who is clearly at a creative peak. He's managed to take an overdone '80s retro pop sound, punch it up, modernize it and, most importantly, make it his own. With 2020's After Hours laying the groundwork for what Tesfaye says is a "new trilogy," one can only imagine what he has in store for the conclusion.
Vernon Ayiku

6. The Smile
A Light for Attracting Attention

Expanded retrospectives, numerous solo ventures and pesky leakers have given a more detailed look at the minds behind Radiohead in recent years, and on A Light for Attracting Attention, the Smile continue that trend with the stalwart group's creative nucleus front and centre. Knowing the musical chemistry of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, comparisons to their parent project were perhaps inevitable, but rarely have their jazzier tendencies won out in such fashion. With Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, it's a joy to hear them rock in strange time signatures on "Thin Thing" and "You Will Never Work in Television Again," and shed beats almost entirely for the emotional apex of "Open the Floodgates" and "Free in the Knowledge."
Calum Slingerland

5. Soul Glo
Diaspora Problems

In a revolutionary blend of rawness and precision, heart and aggression, Philadelphia hardcore punks Soul Glo lay it bare for a scathed world. On Diaspora Problems, vocalist Pierce Jordan blasts out perennial struggles and incisive social commentary with blistering intensity, tackling mental illness, self-worth, societal injustices, trauma, racism and more. He unpacks absurdities and difficult subjects through ferociously thrilling and thought-provoking tracks that veer from industrial noise-rap and death metal breakdowns to brass-backed hardcore and experimental punk. Exploring its title while weaving personal experiences and grander narratives into complex and emotive chaos, Diaspora Problems is a gritty and life-affirming wrecking ball of a record.
Chris Bryson

4. Destroyer

Dan Bejar named Destroyer's thirteenth studio album, LABYRINTHITIS, after a rare inner ear disorder he self-diagnosed with after experiencing bouts of vertigo (or, as he told Pitchfork, "the feeling of being drunk for no apparent reason"). Recorded remotely and re-assembled by longtime producer John Collins, it's a bricolage that's as disorienting as it is strangely coherent, filled with stop-start melodies, middle-aged rapping, sporadic synth lines and experiments that miraculously escape failure. LABYRINTHITIS is a fitting title for an album that finds death and societal collapse — and the funky rot that remains — burbling out of Bejar's subconscious and into lyrics that are obfuscated, as per usual, but worth pondering on long walks, as always.
Matthew Ritchie

3. Wet Leg
Wet Leg

Rock duo Wet Leg melted faces last summer (and since) with debut single "Chaise Longue," and they've only further cemented their power since with countless festival slots, hordes of rabid fans (including Harry Styles) and, unfortunately, industry plant accusations, as is tradition with so many suddenly popular female-fronted bands. But they've taken it all in stride, putting fun above everything, always, on their self-titled debut album. Their earnest lyrics subvert indie rock tropes, as the pair lean into the hokiness of it all, evidenced most succinctly by album closer "Too Late Now": "I​​ don't need no dating app to tell me if I look like crap / To tell me if I'm thin or fat, to tell me should I shave my rat / I don't need no radio, no MTV, no BBC / I just need a bubble bath to set me on a higher path."
Allie Gregory

2. Big Thief 
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

After releasing four critically lauded albums in just over three years, not to mention band members' multiple solo albums, of course the next logical step for Big Thief was to release a sprawling, epic 20-song album. On Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, the quartet let loose in the spirit of spontaneity, resulting in their most varied and ambitious work to date. Big Thief juxtapose naked fragility ("Promise Is a Pendulum") with submerged trip-hop ("Blurred View") with goofy hoedowns ("Spud Infinity") with unkempt noise rock ("Flower of Blood"), all saturated in their usual enchanting blend of reality and imagination. It's easy to forget that Big Thief are a relatively new band, because everything they do feels like an instant classic.
Chris Gee 

1. Kendrick Lamar
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
(PGLang / TDE / Aftermath / Interscope)

There has always been a faint whiff of people-pleasing in Kendrick Lamar's work. For over a decade, he's curated an image of the "good kid" underdog rapper who wanted to win our hearts before he won a Grammy. He's done both now, and so for his final release on longtime label TDE, he could have opted for an easy exit: knocking beats, radio-ready hooks and hubristic verses detailing his list of history-making accomplishments.

Instead, he chose to give us a far more valuable offering: deeply personal lyrics, experimental production and questions for which he has no expert answers. By choosing this more vulnerable path, he left himself open to scrutiny and scathing critique — things he has carefully avoided throughout his career. He confronts his imperfections mostly without doubling down on them, sharing the lessons he's learned while also allowing himself to unlearn as he continues to grow. Truly his bravest effort.
A. Harmony

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