We’re halfway through 2022, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view. On one hand, the year has seemingly flown by so far (time sure flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?). On the other, we have an entire six months’ worth of releases still to come – and that could include everything from the Arctic Monkeys to Avenged Sevenfold. Either way, we’re eager for what’s to come.
But we’ve been graced with a handful of excellent albums already this year, with everything from hip-hop, hardcore, and punk dominating our rotations. It always helps when Kendrick Lamar puts out a new album, too, especially after a five year break. For a mid-year snapshot, I’ve awarded several records with honorary superlatives that may be just as flattering as Grammy’s (it depends on who you ask).
The “Too Much of a Good Thing Is a Great Thing” Award
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Big Thief needed a way to one-up themselves after releasing not one, but two stellar albums in 2019. So, naturally, they followed it up with a double LP to kick off 2022, featuring a whopping 20 songs across 80 minutes. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (whew, that’s a mouthful) was recorded at four locations across the United States – from Upstate New York to the Rocky Mountains. The result is not only a diverse collection of indie folk songs, but Big Thief’s best to date. Now there are rumors yet another LP could come later this year.
Runners Up: The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention, The Weeknd – Dawn FM
The “New Guys Who Sound Like Veterans” Award
Static Dress – Rogue Carpet Disaster
Mallcore. Screamo revival. MySpace-core. Whatever you want to call it, Leeds’ Static Dress gets it, making quite a splash onto the metal scene as newcomers with their rookie full-length, Rogue Carpet Disaster. You would never guess it’s their debut from a listen to the LP, which expertly nods to their influences without falling prey to nostalgia. On songs like “Dis-sinTer,” they fuse hardcore guitars with punchy hooks, reminding of 2000s Underoath in the best way. The metalcore scene better look out: Static Dress may be newbies, but they’re out for blood.
Runners Up: Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter, Wet Leg – Wet Leg, Vagrants – Be Consumed
The “Step Forward from the Past” Award
PUP – The Unraveling of Puptheband
There’s a fine line between playing to the nostalgia of your past and abandoning your roots altogether. Some bands are able to find that middle ground as their career progresses, and with the return of Alexisonfire and Underoath, we’ve seen solid post-hardcore offerings with enough bite to satisfy the mosh. But it’s PUP’s movement from pure punk to fuzzy indie rock – following up a modern masterpiece in Morbid Stuff – that makes me just as likely to sing (or shout) along. The Unraveling of Puptheband finds PUP not falling apart, but actually coming into their own.
Runners Up: Alexisonfire – Otherness, Underoath – Voyeurist, A Wilhelm Scream – Lose Your Delusion
The “Punk Album to Turn Up to 11” Award
Prince Daddy & The Hyena – Prince Daddy & The Hyena
The pop-punk revival has come into full swing, and it’s made the genre younger overnight (don’t mind 30-somethings Machine Gun Kelly and Mod Sun). But aging punk bands are evolving into more mature and grittier versions of their former selves – see The Menzingers, Drug Church, and The Wonder Years. Prince Daddy & The Hyena finds the perfect middle ground on their self-titled breakthrough, equal parts throaty hardcore punk and Chris Farren-inspired indie pop. A concept album about death, Prince Daddy & The Hyena proves that punk’s alive and well.
Runners Up: Drug Church – Hygiene, Joyce Manor – 40 Oz. to Fresno
The “Next Big Thing in Heavy Music” Award
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
The hardcore scene has thrived in recent years, thanks to the emergence of bands like Turnstile and Code Orange, who have brought the genre out of the underground. Every year, a new act carries on the legacy of modern hardcore – from SeeYouSpaceCowboy… to Vein.fm to Chamber. This year, Philadelphia’s Soul Glo is bringing their own hardcore spin, complete with hip-hop undertones and racially charged rhetoric. Most members are black, and they don’t shy away from generational trauma on Diaspora Problems, their eclectic and memorable debut.
Runners Up: Heriot – Profound Morality, Vein.fm – This World Is Going to Ruin You
The “Country Album Ripe for the Opry” Award
Orville Peck – Bronco
I wasn’t a country fan until I stumbled into the Grand Ole Opry one night. The genre does a fantastic job at celebrating itself, as do its contemporaries – from Chris Stapleton to Colton Wall. South African native Orville Peck doesn’t fit the dixie mold of most stars, in fact not even opting to show his face (the Lone Ranger, anyone?). But he sure knows his Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, channeling both on Bronco. Peck even nods to The King on “Outta Time,” letting us know the classics never go out of style – and this album may just go down as one of them.
Runners Up: Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
The “Hip-Hop Album That’s Better Than Mr. Morale” Award
Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
The fact that Denzel Curry’s Melt My Eyez See Your Future is the best hip-hop album so far in 2022 isn’t a slight to Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. But it is proof that Curry is on a roll, ascending the ranks in both critical acclaim and cultural impact as one of modern rap’s most important artists. Like Lamar, he’s becoming more of himself with every release (“I’m Denzel. I’m a human being. I have feelings,” he says), and his new release is his most introspective and cohesive to date. It’s one of modern hip-hop’s strongest statements – perhaps since DAMN.
Runners Up: Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!, Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
The “It’s Kendrick Lamar, Dummy” Award
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers isn’t going to end up the best hip-hop album of 2022, nor will it even end up among Kendrick Lamar’s best works. But it deserves a shoutout for everything it stands for as a work of art, an artistic confession from a rapper who could’ve given the fans everything they’ve ached for since 2017’s DAMN. Instead, on this expansive double LP, Lamar opts for intimate production, therapeutic lyricism, and the struggle with what it means to be “hip-hop’s savior.” Mr. Morale lets Kendrick be Kendrick, and we should all rejoice in that.
Runners Up: There is no other Kendrick Lamar
The “Master’s Degree in Music History” Award
Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever
It seems like I’m waiting for Soccer Mommy’s opus every time Sophie Allison puts out a new album, and Sometimes, Forever continues the trend of this bedroom pop master fine-tuning her craft. This time, she’s paying tribute to her ‘90s influences, wearing Mazzy Star, Slowdive, and Garbage all over her sleeve. “Bones” is the most mature and indelible track the Tennessee indie pop artist has ever crafted. At the same time, Soccer Mommy has never felt this calibrated as an act, as Allison is making her mark while playing up her shoegaze and alternative rock roots.
Runners Up: Black Country, New Road – Ants from Up Here, Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia, Mitski – Laurel Hell
The “Best Dressed for Alternative Press” Award
Smrtdeath – It’s Fine
The pop-punk revival has found TikTokers and hip-hop stars bringing the sounds of Emo Nite to the masses. Emo rappers like nothing,nowhere. and Lil Lotus transitioned to full bands with plenty of punk flair in 2021, and Smrtdeath joined the ranks this year with It’s Fine, a flashy hybrid of emo, pop-punk, and trap hip-hop. It’s got the ticking pulse of the youth movement, down to the musician’s nail polish and neck tattoos. Now, the pop-punk revival has another hit, too, as “Misfit” is 2022’s “Bloody Valentine” – an anthem for the outcast that’s both sensitive and sweet.
Runners Up: Avril Lavigne – Love Sux, Jeris Johnson – I WANT BLOOD / I Want Love