Best pop albums of 2022

Arctic Monkeys: The Car

Four men in slick, expensive hipster clothes sit on a couch in a recording studio

The Arctic Monkeys © Zackery Michael

A far cry from the mardy bums, kebab queues and Sheffield nightclubs of the Arctic Monkeys’ origins, The car‘s opulent songs describe a decadent world of water buildings and French Riviera dalliances, richly imagined and executed to a tee. Rock aristocracy never sounded so good.

Danger Mouse and Black Minds: Deceptive Codes

A man in a white hat and a man in a black suit jacket, both wearing sunglasses, look serious

Danger Mouse and Black Minds © Shervin Lainez

A cheat code for making retro rap: take a dusty old sample, loop it, add a solid boombap beat, loosen the verbal. Except it was that easy Cheat codes would be one of many — not one of the year’s best hip-hop records, a quality vintage performance from The Roots’ Black Thought and producer Danger Mouse.

Richard Dawson: The Ruby Cord

A man in a checkered shirt shouts into a microphone

Richard Dawson © Maria Jefferis/Redferns

Sometimes a need you never knew you had is answered, like Newcastle indie Richard Dawson’s latest — a concept album about virtual reality with prog-folk vocals, blunt surrealist rock and a 41-minute opening track sung from the point of view of a hermit.

Kendrick Lamar: Mr Morale & The Big Steppers

A man wearing a diamond-encrusted crown of thorns holds a microphone close to his mouth and is surrounded by reverent female dancers in red

Kendrick Lamar © Scott Garfitt/AP

Kendrick Lamar’s first album in five years begins with the words: “I went through something.” What follows is 75 minutes of daring beats and virtuosic rapping about fallibility and redemption. It’s a big thing.

Angel Olsen: Big Time

A woman in a yellow jacket sings into a microphone above a keyboard

Angel Olsen © Alamy Stock Photo

Big Time is a classy fantasy of heartbreak and love built around country soul, 1960s orchestral pop and the attractive quaver of Angel Olsen’s voice. “You’ve always known how to get straight to my head,” she sings; her sixth album knows how to do the same.

The Smile: A light to attract attention

Three men who need a haircut

From left: Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner © Alex Lake

Radiohead spin-off The Smile hit the ground running on their excellent debut album. Thom Yorke moans and groans. Jonny Greenwood churns out choppy riffs. Tom Skinner of the jazz group Sons of Kemet provides smooth drumming. Radiohead fans beam.

Sudan Archive: Natural Brown Prom Queen

A woman in a tight gray top grabs her silvery dreads

Sudan Archive © Redferns

“I’m not average,” sings Brittney Parks on her second album as Sudan Archives. Eighteen tracks deftly shifting through hip-hop, electronic music, funk and pop prove her point, a cosmopolitan set of songs that coalesce around ideas of identity and uniqueness.

Suede: autofiction

Black and white photo of five men looking slightly grumpy, slightly disaffected

Suede © Dean Chalkley

As Britpop braces itself for 30-year nostalgia, Suede continues to make improbably strong records. Autofiction finds them tackling middle age with the same vim they once brought to doomed youth, galloping into the maelstrom with a flamboyant scream and all guitars on fire.

Weyes Blood: And in the dark hearts glow

A young woman appears to be glowing from her chest on a beach

Weyes Blood © Neil Krug

Like Laurel Canyon prospectors in the gold rush days of the 1970s, Weyes Blood taps a rich seam of singer-songwriter music on her fifth album. Groove, melody and sophistication are united, a stereophonic balm for lyrical themes of loneliness.

Billy Woods: Aethiopes

Veteran underground rapper Billy Woods dazzles up Ethiopian. High-level lyrics about race, power and history are delivered in the hard-boiled style of old-school New York. The beats, by producer Preservation, a maestro crate digger, match the impact of the words.

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