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The 50 Best Albums of 2022

Illustration: Huston Wilson for 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. (Oh, and we also ranked the 100 Best Songs of 2022.)

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Pusha T

It's Almost Dry

/ Def Jam
Def Jam

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


A Far Cry / Shara Nova

The Blue Hour

/ New Amsterdam/Nonesuch
New Amsterdam/Nonesuch

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 Nova, 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.)


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


Makaya McCraven

In These Times

/ International Anthem/Nonesuch/XL
International Anthem/Nonesuch/XL

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


Sudan Archives

Natural Brown Prom Queen

/ Stones Throw
Stones Throw

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.)


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 Dimension 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


Big Thief

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

/ 4AD

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.)




/ Columbia

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


Bad Bunny

Un Verano Sin Ti

/ Rimas Entertainment
Rimas Entertainment

Master of subversion and all things unconventional, only Benito Antonio Martínez 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

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