10. Frog Eyes: The Bees
Appearing four years after Violet Psalms, the full-length album Canadian indie rock band Frog Eyes initially proclaimed to be their last, The Bees finds singer/guitarist Carey Mercer, his wife and drummer Melanie Campbell, and synth player Shyla Seller reuniting to deliver ten songs that pay tribute to the many musical styles the band has touched on since their inception in the early aughts. From the brisk, more punk-influenced tracks, like “I Was an Oligarch” and “A Rhyme for the Star” to the slower, more balladic numbers, like “When You Turn on the Light” and the album’s closer, “Everything Dies”, Frog Eyes’ 2022 record provides a glorious sonic palette that will pull at your heartstrings in all the best ways. – Andy Mascola
09. Destroyer: Labyrinthitis
08. Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
With a mix of country and folk, lead singer Lenker seduces her audience with her vocals. The Brooklyn band finds themselves stripping away the elements on this album and getting as vulnerable as possible. “Little Things” dances the fine line of their own flavor and mainstream. This was their most daring and fearless album to date and it’s not up for the Grammy for Album of the Year, which left some scratching their heads. – Robert Frezza
07. Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork
That an album can open with a song that includes the line, “I see shit everywhere,” and close with a song with the lyrics, “Stay interested in the world around you, keep the curiosity of a child if you can,” is a testament to the oddly existential, evolutionary rollercoaster that is Dry Cleaning’s Stumpwork. Don’t get it twisted, the London band’s follow-up to last year’s excellent New Long Leg isn’t all heady musings on the nature of being. There’s a song about a lost turtle (“Gary Ashby”), a song about a gaming mouse (“Don’t Press Me”), and a range of tunes whose lyrics almost feel like the group’s vocalist, Florence Shaw, reached into a grab bag of bric-a-brac and whatever she pulled out became fodder for her unpredictable sing-speak expressions of ennui. While the band’s output ranges in style from poppy and jangly to groovy and jazzy, Shaw’s oftentimes inscrutable lyrical sentiments and impassive delivery somehow always match the mood of the music. Stumpwork is a quirky and unusually engaging triumph. – Andy Mascola
06. Beyonce: Renaissance
05. OFF!: Free LSD
Whether he was shouting about ancient astronauts, electrical ghosts, or an invisible cabal keeping secrets about aliens controlling our minds, Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks) ripped into every song on OFF!’s 2022 album with the intensity of a deranged genius desperate to reveal the hidden truths of the world. On Free LSD, the band, made up of Morris on vocals, Dimitri Coats on guitar, Autry Fulbright II on bass, and Justin Brown on drums, rip through sixteen hardcore bangers, breaking after every fourth song for a brief, wild avant-jazz instrumental moment to regroup before continuing their aural assault. OFF!’s Free LSD is a thrilling ride that pairs a kick-ass supergroup of musicians at the height of their instrumental powers with a punk legend who may or may not be unveiling the heretofore unknown mysteries of a global conspiracy concerning spaceships, corporate and government criminals, and drugs. Free LSD offers an intense listening experience that’s as entertaining as it is enlightening. – Andy Mascola
04. Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T., Smoke DZA, Girl Talk: Full Court Press
03. Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
Kendrick Lamar proves himself once again with his fifth album that resonated with just about everyone on some level this past year. Lamar raps about the gritty environment he grew up in Compton. His conscious lyrical abilities touch upon this generation. His storytelling is captivating and his music is authentic with slick jazz and funk beats. This album shows how he has grown since 2012’s debut good kid, m.A.A.d City through the tapestry he raps about. – Robert Frezza
02. Taylor Swift: Midnights
Taylor Swift may have broken streaming records with her latest album, but Midnights shows her progression as a songwriter. Taylor is her own muse on this one. As she sings “Hi I’m the problem it’s me” on “Anti-Hero”. The album illustrates a cross between her pop and folk releases. It truly is a blend of her pop and country/folk repertoire. Swift and her partner in crime producer Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff definitely know how to make some good songs together. The album’s intro “Lavender Haze” hooks the listener in from the get go as she touches on R&B. Swift knows how to produce a record and produce the pop hits to folk songs that grab our attention equally. – Robert Frezza
01. Lizzo: Special
Lizzo’s fourth full-length album, Special, is an eclectic collection of fabulousness that includes twelve rousing, anthemic songs that draw inspiration from pop, disco, funk, rap, and R&B. The album’s release was preceded by the hit single “About Damn Time”, a track that acted as an all-hands call to the dancefloor for everyone who had been holed up for the last two years due to the pandemic. “Is everybody back up in the buildin’? It’s been a minute, tell me how you’re healin’,” Lizzo sings during the song’s first verse, recognizing in a roundabout way that we’ve all been cooped up but now it’s about damn time to get up and move.
For Special’s second single, “Grrrls”, Lizzo enlisted the help of producer Benny Blanco to offer up an interpolation of the hook from the Beastie Boys’ fratty, bratty song “Girls” from the trio’s 1986 debut full-length. Instead of the jocular, chauvinistic imaginings and b-boy bravado included in the lyrics of the original, however, Lizzo’s take has her singing about female empowerment and having her friends’ backs. At one point she even threatens to “go Lorena Bobbitt” on a guy who hurt one of her gal pals.
Special’s third single, “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)”, which, coincidentally, falls third in the album’s sequence after “About Damn Time” and “Grrrls”, is an upbeat disco anthem that works almost as a sequel to her viral hit “Truth Hurts”. Here, Lizzo sings about how in the past she would have run away from someone who wanted to show her love, but now she’s wondering if she may be ready to reciprocate those feelings. Musically, the track has the tempo and sound of something you may have been likely to hear in an aerobics class forty years ago. Lyrically, the song feels modern, with Lizzo singing about clapping back and not being a fan of “that lovey-dovey shit.”
The record’s title track is also its centerpiece. The Max Martin-produced song was initially referred to as “In Case Nobody Told You”, which was also the original title of the album. Allegedly, after the hook was restructured by Martin, the album’s title was changed. Lizzo’s hip hop skills are on full display as she raps, “Fame is pretty new, but I’ve been used to people judgin’ me, that’s why I move the way I move and why I’m so in love with me.”
Special’s second half pulls back slightly in terms of energy while offering more stylistic variety. The southern soul of “Break Up Twice” provides a bluesy guitar accompaniment before horns step in and punctuate a stunning chorus. The disco-pop number “Everybody’s Gay” pulls from Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, and the sexy, seductive ballad “Naked” slows things way down before Lizzo brings the beat back with the celebratory “Birthday Girl”. The record’s finale draws its title and surprising opening sample from Coldplay’s “Yellow”. Although the song itself sounds nothing like its apparent inspiration, “Coldplay” puts Lizzo’s lyrical abilities and emotions on full display as she exposes herself completely, singing, “My defense mechanism kicks in, makes me run, run away from the real, it’s easy to cut you down while I close me up, instead of tellin’ you how I feel.” “Coldplay” is an unexpected but satisfying and effective closer.
With Special, Lizzo has upped the ante of every soul-baring moment she’d delivered on her 2019 major label debut, Cuz I Love You. In places where she may have before tried to follow her often deeply personal lyrics with cool snarkiness, she now fully embraces her feelings, ameliorating her sentiments with abject sincerity. Track for track, Special is a high-water mark for the singer and flutist. Whether or not Lizzo’s future releases eclipse her fourth full-length album in terms of chart performance or critical accolades, Special will forever stand as an important, evolutionary moment in the singer’s career and for that reason it is Surviving the Golden Age’s best album of 2022. – Andy Mascola