Fresh off celebrating the finest works that Irish artists have offered us this year, we’re casting our lens a little wider this week and taking a look at the best albums of 2022 outside our green and rainy island.
There’s been a barrage of great records dropped from around the globe since January and whittling them down to seven was no easy feat, but after much debate we’ve landed on the below. We think you’ll agree they’re not a half bad bunch.
Without further ado, here are HeadStuff’s favourite albums of 2022. For now.
Angel Olsen | Big Time
Following the dark synthpop symphony of All Mirrors and its stripped down counterpart Whole New Mess in 2019 and 2020 respectively, Angel Olsen once again pulls off a masterful turn of pace on Big Time.
An absurdly gorgeous melting pot of Americana, country, soul and blues that details an emotionally turbulent time in the songwriter’s life, Big Time follows Angel coming out to her parents in her mid-thirties before tragically losing both her mother and father not long after, as they passed within three months of each other. On her sixth studio album, Olsen is at her most vulnerable and open – not a small statement considering the blazing honesty which the 35 year old has stubbornly written with throughout her already impressive discography.
It’s a full-blown journey into Olsen’s soul, but never a dark or sad one for too long. On the contrary, there is a warmth and wisdom throughout Big Time that celebrates new relationships, rebirth and knowing your true self.
For all of this and more, it’s one of the most stunning records you’ll hear in 2022.
Big Thief | Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Recorded across four locations in five months, the inspiring production process conceived by drummer James Krivchenia for Big Thief’s behemoth fifth LP saw the band travelling mountains, canyons, woods and deserts around the US while tapping into their most primal musical instincts and the raw craftmanship that has informed their bewitching indie folk since day one.
As such, Dragon New Warm Mountain offers up the purest expression of Big Thief’s songcraft to date, with Adrienne Lender, Buck Meek & co. laying down deep cuts (‘Flower Of Blood’, ‘Red Moon’, ‘Dried Roses’) throughout this herculean anthology that are as equally majestic and compelling as instant fan favourites (‘Certainty’, ‘Spud Infinity’, ‘Change’) dropped across 2021 in the lengthy build to this landmark release.
Sprawling and spectacular yet always as intimate and intricate as the very best of Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain is a career defining accomplishment and a supremely early yet no doubt worthy frontrunner for the indie rock record of 2022.
Black Country, New Road | Ants From Up There
Ants From Up There is an album to be treasured in spite of – and perhaps also due to – the circumstances surrounding it.
Frontman Isaac Wood’s sudden departure a day before the album was released threw Black Country’s immediate future into doubt, but the sad parting of ways with their leading man could never detract from the lightning captured inside this post-punk bottle, a spectacular death cry from a truly unique band that were too young to die and too fast to live.
The fact that BCNR’s brand new live material (debuted this past May at Primavera Sound) sounds as inspired as ever is cause for hope that there is plenty of life in this wonderfully weird collective of friends beyond Wood, but no matter what the future holds for Black Country, New Road we’ll always have Ants From Up There – a towering experimental rock masterpiece that stands as the pinnacle achievement of the band’s short lived existence in its current form.
Ethel Cain | Preacher’s Daughter
Someone who wasn’t in the know might describe Ethel Cain’s full-length debut as “Lana del Rey for people who’ve watched the first season of True Detective too many times”.
But they would be wrong, for numerous reasons.
Cain sings of Nebraska, not the Louisiana Bayou; although the middle-American state is painted as a similarly desolate and eerie landscape. The sound of Preacher’s Daughter could perhaps be best described as attic pop, and as such is nowhere near as accessible as a del Rey album. Aside from one or two exceptions, these songs are sprawling 5+ minute epics.
From ‘American Teenager’ to ‘Strangers’, this album is well worth the time it needs to be given.
Mitski | Laurel Hell
Drawing on emotional honesty and bare-faced insecurity like only she can, Mitski weaves a masterpiece pop album comeback filled to the brim with wit, genius lyricism & an earnest snapshot of her career thus far.
While all the Mitski-brand sad-pop is here with songs like ‘Love Me More’ and ‘The Only Heartbreaker’, check out ‘Working for the Knife’ for a harrowed look into the artist’s psyche; earnest without losing its danceability.
MUNA | MUNA
Coming in at a sweet, fleeting 39 minutes, MUNA’s self-titled third album exudes joy more than anything else you’ll hear this year. Sorry for the hyperbole; that’s just what listening to MUNA inspires.
This album is upbeat and hopeful pop reminiscent of the early 2000s with top songs including ‘Silk Chiffron’, ‘Anything But Me’ and ‘What I Want’, but there’s also the odd sad banger thrown in. The likes of ‘Loose Garment’ and ‘Shooting Star’ take the listener back to MUNA’s beginnings in the sad indie playlist colosseum of Spotify, but even these songs contain bright, pulsing undercurrents of the band’s new sound.
The Smile | A Light For Attracting Attention
Radiohead fans’ six year wait for LP10 looks no closer to coming to an end in 2022, but their long-standing patience will be somewhat rewarded by the debut of The Smile, a side project that goes further than you might expect towards satiating obsessives’ appetites by combining the considerable talents of frontman Thom Yorke, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner for one of the finest alternative rock releases of the year to date.
Despite the seemingly effortless execution and natural dynamic shared by its leads, this is a record unmistakably crafted with quiet precision and intense perfectionism, a labour of love that goes well beyond the standard expected of a typical side project.
On A Light For Attracting Attention, Yorke and Greenwood create a simply stunning ode to the unique creative relationship that has served Radiohead and each other so well these past four decades, and the result stands alongside the best work of both men’s careers outside the band that made them legends.