August 7, 2022

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NPR Music’s Favorite Albums of 2022 (So Far) : NPR

11 min read

Photo Illustration by Estefanía Mitre/NPR/Album covers courtesy of the artists

Upper row, from left to right: Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Raveena, Asha's Awakening. Lower row, from left to right: Harry Styles, Harry's House. FKA twigs, Caprisongs. Leikeli47, Shape Up.

Photo Illustration by Estefanía Mitre/NPR/Album covers courtesy of the artists

Is it possible that in the streaming era, the album has not died — as some speculated it would — but become something more precious? A gift that takes on the weight of a personal connection when shared? Well, probably not every album that comes out in a given half-year, but we can say with confidence that the 36 examples below, picked by NPR Music staff and contributors, contain an abundance of rewards. These are our favorite albums from the first half of 2022 (including a couple released after our list of the best of 2021), just one treasured pick per person, presented in alphabetical order by artist. We hope you find something to love and share.

(You can find the list of our favorite songs here. Follow NPR Music’s ongoing coverage of new songs at our #NowPlaying blog.)

Un Verano Sin Ti by Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti

Melancholic bops and meditative love songs that take Bad Bunny’s endearing contradictions to new heights. Perfectly fitted for all of life’s moments, the album reflects the expansive and timeless impact of Benito’s music on nuestros corazones. —Anamaria Sayre

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You by Big Thief

Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

There’s comfort, thoughtful insight and humor in Big Thief’s 20-song album. I mean, who else rhymes “finish” with “potato knish”? The band’s five albums over the past six years have all appeared on my year-end lists; here, Big Thief expands its sound to include fiddle, banjo, jaw harp and a bit more magic. —Bob Boilen

Crest by Bladee and Ecco2k

Bladee and Ecco2k, Crest

Pop music always deserves more esotericism. On Crest, Drain Gang ambassadors Bladee and Ecco2k supercharge nine songs with enough immaculate melodies to make the world around us feel a little bit brighter, lighter and sillier. Reanna Cruz

caroline by caroline

caroline, caroline

British communal post-punk strum and buzz and churn and moan and heave and whisper and sway and squeal, set to meditation frequency, as if the Velvet Underground had been recalibrated to express the wild and baffling machinery of the human body — is this what learning to breathe feels like? Learning to fly??? — animating itself. —Jacob Ganz

A Place To Begin by Peter Coccoma

Peter Coccoma, A Place To Begin

Wintertime around Lake Superior is peculiar: unfathomably cold and beautiful, dark and alive. Composer Peter Coccoma spends his winters in the area, like I did growing up, on an island named Madeline — where he and his partner found themselves stranded at the outset of the pandemic. That frosty time culminated in A Place to Begin, an album of that gives eerily accurate shape and movement, nearly definition, to the feeling of those bright-white days. —Andrew Flanagan

Marchita by Silvana Estrada.

Silvana Estrada, Marchita

Silvana Estrada’s full-length debut feels like taking a solo walk after a hot summer day. It’s humid with heart, brimming with melodic and energetic release. Anchored by her Venezuelan cuatro and vocal prowess — oftentimes reminiscent of nueva canción legends Violeta Parra and Soledad Bravo — the Mexican singer-songwriter paints a bright future for Latin American folklore, making it cool to revisit your roots and renourish them. —Isabella Gomez-Sarmiento

Chloe & the Next 20th Century by Father John Misty.

Father John Misty, Chloe & The Next 20th Century

In Toronto there’s a great dive bar that plays Turner Classic Movies with no sound. Black-and-white films you never see all the way through — just the end or the middle, without context. Beautiful, fleeting glimpses of other times, other lives. That’s what this album feels like. —Raina Douris

Caprisongs by FKA twigs

FKA twigs, Caprisongs

The shapeshifting FKA twigs takes you through time, space and genre in a way that’s just as fascinating as it is relatable. Caprisongs is an album that celebrates the highs and lows of feeling; it lets me dance myself to tears and emerge confidently after every listen. —Gabby Bulgarelli

El Sur by Girl Ultra

Girl Ultra, El Sur

El Sur sways out the door at 11 in a sick jacket, but arrives clean and hard-cut. It’s a brief, potent trip from Mexico City’s Mariana de Miguel that refracts a subculture prism of punk, techno, house and Gwen Stefani across seven songs that hit as sharp as the night moves. —Stefanie Fernandez

Teeth Marks by S.G. Goodman.

S.G. Goodman, Teeth Marks

S.G. Goodman is a small-town, religiously raised queer Southerner with a genius for immediacy – for capturing what it’s like to be weird and hungry and loving and unlike anyone else, as everyone is. Label her a folkie, a rocker, whatever; her sharp, winging voice is unique. Teeth Marks is about being in a particular body bound to particular places and times, even as its tender, ragged songs reach out to other hearts. I need that kind of closeness from music now. —Ann Powers

19 Masters by Saya Gray

Saya Gray, 19 Masters

A shapeshifting masterstroke of an album that blends found sounds (voice memos, text tones, laughter) with raw harmonic talent. Expect musical texture so intense the hairs on your arms stand up, and to feel as if the worst parts of you – your depression, anxiety and jealousy – have disappeared, leaving only birdsong in their place. —Nisha Venkat

La Cantera by Guitarricadelafuente

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Guitarricadelafuente, La Cantera

Listening to La Cantera is like traversing an eclectic sonic landscape of memories, real and imagined. The album goes to many places at once (there’s flamenco! there are synths!) but Lafuente’s sensuous, raspy drawl, which he sometimes distorts with Auto-Tune, holds it all together, making the journey feel like a dream. —Vita Dadoo Lomeli

Untidy Soul by Samm Henshaw

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Samm Henshaw, Untidy Soul

With Untidy Soul, Samm Henshaw conjures comfort in discomforting times. Spirit and soul sans smoke and mirrors. Cuts like “8.16” and “East Detroit” make a clear case that his warm, yet rough-hewn voice belongs in the pantheon of the greatest soul voices that his generation has to offer. Ayana Contreras

Electricity by Ibibio Sound Machine

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Ibibio Sound Machine, Electricity

Ibibio Sound Machine works new wonders with the dynamic tension between regionally identified sounds and futuristic electronic pulses. The London group’s sonic vocabulary captures our imaginations and engages our bodies with ways of knowing and creating and communicating deserve our most rapturous, undivided attention, and aims serious side-eye at western hierarchies of power at the same time. Jewly Hight

Weight by Jogging House

Jogging House, Weight

Among human psychology’s odder quirks: When we’re feeling crushed emotionally, we often seek the same physically, welcoming the pressure of a weighted blanket or an immobilizing hug. Boris Potschubay — the Frankfurt artist behind Jogging House and its label, Seil Records — expertly rides that paradox on this latest of many single-take synth journeys, its noisy tones pouring over the body with a waterfall’s force until submission becomes relief. —Daoud Tyler-Ameen

Drone Mass by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Drone Mass

This expansive, multi-textured canvas is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s past, present and future. From its rearview-mirror glances at Gregorian chant and high Renaissance polyphony to its bleak, black electronic distortions, I think of this inscrutable work ⁠— which is neither particularly drone-driven nor anything close to a traditional mass ⁠— as its own unforgettable requiem for a composer who died far too young. Tom Huizenga

Reason to Smile by Kojey Radical

Kojey Radical, Reason To Smile

On his debut album, Kojey Radical shows the brilliance and diversity of the London hip-hop scene, incorporating soul, jazz and grime into a work of art. Lyrically, Reason to Smile is unapologetically Black: From “Payback”, which celebrates building Black wealth, to “Fubu,” where Black culture is front and center, Kojey shares with the world his Black boy joy. —Tarik Moody

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

Shocking and almost too revealing, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a stunning mic drop. Kendrick offers a chance in real time to reflect on your own growth and capacity for empathy in response to his raw vulnerability. It feels as cathartic as it does frustrating, but more importantly, it’s honest. —Jerusalem Truth

Shape Up by Leikeli47

Leikeli47, Shape Up

It’s not often I can listen to a record on repeat and not skip a few cuts. But on Shape Up, every song is excellent, each perfectly mixed with a full dynamic range of sound that’s clean and not over-produced. Though this is definitely a hip-hop album, there is also a lush R&B vibe and very danceable rhythms. Plus, 47’s unique rapping style that is riveting and always fresh. —Suraya Mohamed

HYPNOS by Ravyn Lenae

Ravyn Lenae, HYPNOS

Ravyn Lenae’s HYPNOS is an intimate journey through the cosmos that spans Black music. Her weightless vocals float on top of the seething electronic vibes of “Venom,” the Afrobeat-channeled “M.I.A” and a pulsing house groove found on “Xstasy,” which features Kaytranada. But below the surface, on subtler songs — such as “Inside Out,” a love letter to self, and “Where I’m From,” which features Mereba, a song that addresses Lenae’s longing to know about her ancestry — a deep and admirable display of vulnerability is found. —Ashley Pointer

Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman

MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs

I love Wednesday’s anxious, noisy rock, but even still the breakthrough solo album of guitarist MJ Lenderman caught me by surprise: indie alt-country with a wry sense of humor and a Mountain Goats-esque knack for empathetic stories about sports stars, small-town life and oddly compelling weirdos. —Marissa Lorusso

Three Dimensions Deep by Amber Mark

Amber Mark, Three Dimensions Deep

On Three Dimensions Deep, Amber Mark takes us on a journey equal parts vulnerable, sexy, melancholy and powerful. No album has yet to pry me away from this one since it dropped in January. —Bobby Carter

MUNA by MUNA

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MUNA, MUNA

“Silk Chiffon” was one of 2021’s great singles — an insatiable, sunnily optimistic earworm that reveled in queer crushes. The album that follows expands that song’s boundless promise, as unstoppable liberation anthems like “What I Want” coexist with softer, moodier reflections. —Stephen Thompson

Extreme by Molly Nilsson

Molly Nilsson, Extreme

As the title might have you guess, Molly Nilsson’s new album is not a vibe. Nor is it a mood. The pugnacious pop auteur’s signature synth arsenal arrives armed with metal guitars and Marshall amps on her 10th album, which combats misogyny, nihilism, opulence and patriarchy. Few contemporary songwriters can pack this many memorable riffs and refrains into a single record without sacrificing the music’s message. Let’s call it a knockout. Otis Hart

Asha's Awakening by Raveena

Raveena, Asha’s Awakening

For those of us entering our Saturn return, Raveena’s second album is right on time. Her latest work is full of reflective healing and queer, future dreaming. It’s a shimmering reminder that the world may tell you to be one kind of person, but as she told NPR’s Leila Fadel, “I’m way more expansive than that.” —Sam Leeds

Station Eleven soundtrack by Dan Romer

Dan Romer, Station Eleven soundtrack

Few things impress me as much as a perfectly executed film or TV score. It has to be memorable, with a distinct character and color of its own, while cueing viewers and listeners how to feel in each moment. It also needs to do the opposite of all that — it needs to stay out of the way, not draw too much attention to itself or trod all over the dialogue. It’s an incredibly difficult line to toe. Dan Romer’s brilliant score to the mini-series Station Eleven, which I’ve listened to more than anything else this year by far, does this with breathtaking grace. At two hours and 54 tracks long, it also has an astonishing range — stark and chilling one moment, majestically orchestrated the next, with a twisted mix of electronics. It’s playfully haunting and grimly joyful. It’s life. —Robin Hilton

heregoesnothing by Shortie No Mass

Shortie No Mass, here goes nothing.

I’ve loved Boston-born, Philly-based MC Shortie No Mass since she was racking up scene-stealing verses on mid-’90s classics from De La Soul and The Roots. Earlier this year, she made a surprise return with her solo debut, here goes nothing., an album packed with sharp wordplay and gorgeous, sample-based beats. —John Morrison

Diaspora Problems by Soul Glo

Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems

So often, I feel an unyielding sadness about the world we live in, about the future. That sadness can be corrosive. Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems demands I get angry. It’s the album I’ve gone to over and over again to fill my soul back up when I’m depleted. Gasses me up and lights me on fire, in the best way possible. —Soraya Shockley

SOS by Straw Man Army

Straw Man Army, SOS

A distress signal in search of human kind. Straw Man Army examines our spiritual debt — to the environment, to history, to memory, to each other — in music that both whips and suspends time. More than just nervy post-punk for nervous punks, the duo wrestles with an unknown future, but lets the light creep in. —Lars Gotrich

Harry's House by Harry Styles

Harry Styles, Harry’s House

Harry Styles is back, baby and this is his biggest album yet! An unapologetic look at longing, lusting and loving, this record finds Styles at his most vulnerable lyrically and experimental musically. Tracks like “Daydreaming” and “Late Night Talking” leave you feeling all the glittery, bubbling joy of a first love, and I can’t get enough of it. —Cat Sposato

Boy by Harvey Sutherland

Harvey Sutherland, Boy

Harvey Sutherland might play analog synths, but instead of going for pure nostalgia, the Australian producer’s debut album Boy is a quirky, squiggly, forward-thinking take on funk. The vocals are minimal (Dam-Funk makes a appearance) and each propulsive, skilled instrumental beckons you to lose yourself under a disco ball’s glow. Nastia Voynovskaya

Goodboy by Swsh

Swsh, Goodboy

Vivid, jazzy, smirky and seductive, it’s clear on Goodboy that Swsh has worked to elevate their pen game to new heights. Whether it’s rapping double time on “Climax” or lamenting heavy on “In My Mind,” each ingratiating verse on the seven-track sprint proves this LA-based R&B singer’s voice has never felt more resonant. —Sidney Madden

The 7th Hand by Immanuel Wilkins

Immanuel Wilkins, The 7th Hand

The spirit moves, with flowing certitude, throughout the stunning second album by alto saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins. It’s a collective achievement for his quartet, whose members share both youthful fire and a wisdom beyond their years — at every turn, shining hope on the path ahead. Nate Chinen

Ancestros Sinfónico by X Alfonso

X Alfonso, Ancestros Sinfónico

A masterful reimagining of traditional Afro-Cuban spiritual music commonly referred to as Santería. This music both defies symphonic and West African traditions to create a powerful statement of veneration and devotion; it’s in a class by itself. —Felix Contreras

Painless by Nilüfer Yanya

Nilüfer Yanya, PAINLESS

Nilüfer Yanya can wield a lot of power alone, with just the quiet, smoky tones of her voice and ragged electric guitar. But I was thrilled to see her masterfully level up on PAINLESS, with a grittily produced, hardened sound that emboldens the simmering furiousness and desolation of her art. —Hazel Cills

2 Alivë by Yeat

Yeat, 2 Alivë

Yeat isn’t the most personable rap star, nor is he particularly versatile. But he’s a streaming-era storm cloud. Song after song, 2 Alivë pushes me into a deep lull where the sounds are hellish, yet hooky. If Playboi Carti and Trippie Redd made me miss the rage, then Yeat made it the hum of my waking life. —Mano Sundaresan

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