Our Best Albums of the Year (So Far!)
This year's given us amazing albums. Here's ten of the best!
It's (more or less) the halfway point of the year, and it's been an incredible year for new music so far! As I'm writing this, I've listened to 58 new albums this year, and almost all of them have been phenomenal. I've already given my thoughts on some gems from Mitski, Sharon Van Etten and Spector, but I wanted to shine a light on some other albums that I've had on constant repeat. All of these albums are absolutely amazing. They're far from the only great albums that have come out this year - there's too many to name - but all ten of these albums are among the best records of the year so far. So without further ado, let's delve into ten modern classics and check out what makes them so special!
Black Dresses - Forget Your Own Face
In 3 words: Futuristic queer noisepop.
Why it’s great: Black Dresses remain underrated. They’re without question one of the strongest electronic acts around today, and Forget Your Own Face is their strongest album yet. It’s short and sweet, it’s eight tracks leaving a distinct impression across a brief 20 minute runtime. With producers and songwriters Ada Rook and Devi McCallion sharing the spotlight, the album’s central theme of queer love and friendship make for one of the most exciting and heartfelt listens of the year.
Listen to this: The album’s crown jewel is No Normal, a track that’s got as strong a pop hook as any you’ll hear this year, underpinned with incredible production that’s equal parts A. G. Cook and Deftones.
Ethel Cain - Preacher’s Daughter
In 3 words: Southern gothic masterpiece.
Why it’s great: Preacher’s Daughter may be the album I’ve listened to the most this year. It’s not an easy listen - Cain’s lyrics are incredible, yet often devastating - but there’s so much to get your teeth into here. Whether it’s the masterful country ballad of Western Nights or the folk-horror soundscape of Ptolemaea, not a single track goes by without slamming you emotionally. Ethel Cain hasn’t just made one of the strongest records of the year so far, she’s also established herself as one of the best songwriters around.
Listen to this: A House in Nebraska acts as a perfect summation of the record: achingly beautiful, cinematic lyricism, and an unforgettable chorus.
Hey, Ily - Psychokinetic Love Songs
In 3 words: Intergalactic pop gems.
Why it’s great: Psychokinetic Love Songs is one of the most fun and unpredictable listens of the year. It takes a skilled band to blend Wonder Years-esque emo choruses with entrancing chiptune, Metallica-inspired breakdowns and classical piano interludes, and Hey, Ily! pull it off with aplomb. With breakneck time shifts and virtuosic performances, it's a dizzying listen that leaves you in awe at all the finely-tuned parts making a phenomenal whole.
Listen to this: Intrusive Thoughts Always is a great encapsulation of Hey, Ily!’s sound. It’s a genre-hopping masterpiece, cramming an album’s worth of ideas into a brilliant hooky package.
Hurray for the Riff Raff - Life On Earth
In 3 words: Nature punk symphonies.
Why it’s great: The personal and the political can never be separated. Hurray for the Riff Raff know this, and it's what makes Life On Earth a true punk album in every sense of the word. It tackles vitally important topics - immigration, war, abuse - all refracted through a precise lens into razor-sharp songs. It's equal measures heart-breaking and rousing. They've said this album is inspired by both The Clash and Bad Bunny, and it's clear why - all three artists make music with a vital social conscience that's designed to scream along to.
Listen to this: Pierced Arrows was the moment I knew I loved this album. From the intimate verses to the apocalyptic chorus, it's unforgettable.
Long Neck - Soft Animal
In 3 words: Heartfelt folksy bliss.
Why it’s great: Soft Animal has barely been out for a month, and it may be my most listened to album of the year. On previous releases, Long Neck have proved themselves one of the best modern rock bands about - take the underrated World's Strongest Dog album as proof. On Soft Animal, the distortion is pared back somewhat, making for a stunning folk album reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or Nick Drake. Every track sounds like an old friend: welcoming and comforting, familiar yet enriching. I can't recommend this album enough.
Listen to this: Everything in the record builds up to the glorious concluding title track, which erupts in its own glorious way. It’s the best album closer of the year so far.
Oceanator - Nothing’s Ever Fine
In 3 words: Heavy anthemic beauty.
Why it’s great: Take the ferocity of Alice in Chains, mix it with the intimacy and immediacy of The Weakerthans and the lyricism of Joni Mitchell, and you’ve got Oceanator. Building on the strengths of her underrated debut Things I Never Said, Nothing’s Ever Fine is an instant classic. From the recurring riff of Morning that haunts subsequent songs to the instant singalong that is From The Van, the record is full of moments to fall in love with that punch you in the heart.
Listen to this: Bad Brain Daze is the instant standout track from first listen, with one of the best hooks of the year and a saxophone solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Springsteen classic.
Oso Oso - Sore Thumb
In 3 words: 2022's emo masterpiece.
Why it’s great: One of the first lines on Sore Thumb is “When nothing goes quite like you’ve planned it, write twelve songs, swing like you can’t miss”. Oso Oso proceed to follow through on this promise: all twelve songs slap. It’s everything you could possibly want from an emo album, really - impassioned and heartfelt lyrics, gorgeous atmospherics, and guitar lines that sound like pure electricity.
Listen to this: The opening salvo of Computer Exploder is the best Oso Oso song so far. Everything about it - from the fluid tempo, through the impassioned screams, to it’s anthemic chorus - is perfect.
Orville Peck - Bronco
In 3 words: Country’s crown prince.
Why it’s great: Bronco is a different beast than Orville Peck’s equally stunning debut album, Pony. It ramps up everything to the maximum - the yearning, the drama, the beauty. It’s full of cinematic brilliance, with cinematic lyrics (the lovely Kalahari Down), theatrical arrangements (the propulsive Daytona Sand), and above all, a phenomenal songwriter and vocalist (Let Me Drown).
Listen to this: If you’re looking for a great showcase of everything that makes Peck special, check out The Curse of the Blackened Eye. Devastating lyrics, a swoon-worthy vocal performance, and a colossal hook.
Bartees Strange - Farm to Table
In 3 words: Radical, mischievous pop.
Why it’s great: Much of Bartees Strange’s media coverage has focused on his playful genre-hopping. While it’s true that it’s amazing that he can nail any style he chooses - Cosigns is the best Future song since Hndrxx - more importantly, he’s an incredibly fucking good songwriter. With incredible arrangements and a beautifully sequenced tracklist, it’s an album that rewards repeated listens, from the anthemic Mullholland Dr. to the elegiac Hennesey.
Listen to this: Wretched is both an immediate treasure and the most addictive track on repeat listens of not just this album, but Strange’s career. It’s a gem of a track that’ll get stuck in your head with just one listen.
Earl Sweatshirt - Sick!
In 3 words: Introspective rap opus.
Why it’s great: Many artists have attempted to write songs to try and make sense of the ongoing pandemic to varying degrees of success. Sick! may be the best, as it blends personal tragedy with global concerns. With production handled partially by Earl and partially by legends including The Alchemist, it’s full of rich textures and dizzying samples. It’s without a doubt his best album yet and offers something for every kind of Earl fan, from the breakneck Mac Miller tribute of 2010 to the cinematic Fire in the Hole.
Listen to this: Vision is a phenomenal track, with both Earl and ZelooperZ trading incredibly vivid verses, culminating in a gorgeous monologue. It’s an incredible listen.
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter.
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