It’s time to send off one of the best years for music in recent memory.
Gonna kick this off with a real screamer of a Hot Take: I think this was the best year for music in the twelve that I’ve been putting together Top Songs lists. I really and truly do think that. There may have been years with albums or songs that I loved more than this year’s best, there may have been years with bigger and more defining albums or songs driving mainstream conversation, years with more surprises, more debut shocks, etc. But what I think pushes 2022 over the top compared to any other year I’ve covered has been a combination of the sheer volume of great releases, the genre breadth of great releases, and most importantly the consistency of great releases throughout the entire year. For me, 2022’s first great album release came on 22nd January and, from there, it was just a relentless barrage right up to the line, when SZA and Little Simz decided to fuck up everybody’s Listmases big-time.
I start my Top Songs deliberations every year by opening up my iTunes library, whipping up a smart playlist of every song with the current year date, then getting out the metaphorical pruning shears. Typically, a pre-pruned longlist has somewhere in the region of 800-ish songs to work from (with 2020 being the outlier). This year, as those of you who follow my Twitter whilst the site still breathes may know, I had to start from 1,150 songs. And there was a real spread to those tracks too. The by-now expected pop bops and returning indie vets sat alongside a burgeoning realisation that my capacity for hardcore music is much greater than I’d spent years assuming, sprawling electronic assaults which (for once) had no DNA with house, honest-to-god metal, and even a proper K-Pop idol group! I was also, contrary to popular trends where songs keep getting shorter and shorter to pander to the TikTok crowd who are starting to make a mess of concerts, getting a lot more of my kicks from songs which sprawl in length, going on journeys that creep up to the double-digits in minutes. This is, by far, the longest Top 50 I’ve put together, funny since last year’s was the shortest.
The resulting countdown is… not fully reflective of my experimentation. Half of this list is made up of returning acts in some capacity and, for all its length, does seem to be weighted a bit more towards the bangers overall. Hell, my third favourite album of the year, Remember Your North Star by yaya bey, has no songs in the Top 50 (though “street fighter blues” did come super-close)! That, unfortunately, is the problem with limiting a list to 50; hard cuts gotta be made. I will say that this year was genuinely the closest I have ever come to finally going “fuck it” and expanding to a Top 75, sos I could give due props to some songs and artists I adored and wanted on the list but had to drop when push came to shove. Tradition won out, however. I am, though, happy to say that 31 of the 50 slots are credited to artists or bands with members who are female, trans, or non-binary! That’s one tradition I’m hoping never changes!
Right, the usual rules. Only one song per artist, no exceptions even if that stumps their eventual chart position. Only songs originally released in 2022, sorry not sorry. No covers, no live takes, and remixes are only eligible if they significantly change the original; hence, despite it being one of my most-listened to songs of the year, no “Meli (II)” by BICEP since all it really does to the original 2021 track is beef up the synths, add a beat, and stretch out the length.
Let’s all have a quick glance at the Wall of Champions before we get started. Who will be etched into this corner of history come Wednesday?
2011: Florence + The Machine – “What the Water Gave Me”
2012: Tame Impala – “Elephant”
2013: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege”
2014: The Juan MacLean – “A Place Called Space”
2015: Jamie xx – “Loud Places (Feat. Romy)”
2016: David Bowie – I Can’t Give Everything Away
2017: Gorillaz – “Strobelite (Feat. Pevan Everett)”
2018: Florence + The Machine – “No Choir”
2019: Charly Bliss – “Young Enough”
2020: Phoebe Bridgers – “I Know the End”
2021: No Rome – “Spinning (with Charli XCX & The 1975)”
Time to write a novella. Today, we’re tackling the first twenty. Tomorrow, #30 – #11. Wednesday, the Top 10. There’ll also be a spiffy Spotify playlist at the end, but please consider clicking through to the Bandcamps of any artist featured with one and supporting them that way instead.
This so very nearly didn’t make the list, and resultantly break the perfect record of Gorillaz appearances whenever they release music. Genuinely, this was the final cut until I had a change of heart the following morning. Blame the year being just that stacked for great music, blame the laborious and bizarre rollout for Cracker Island – an album which is still two full months away from releasing – but definitely do not blame the song as it’s one of Damon Albarn’s best ballads in an age. Whenever Albarn drops the vocal effects and just lets his weathered yet still soulful voice sit in a track, it really adds an additional sincerity and feeling to his lyrics. Here thinking back on a young Thailand princess he saw stagediving when touring with Blur, his decision to focus more on the strange poeticism of the moment and how such things stick with somebody as they get older thankfully keeps things from falling into Rivers Cuomo territory, achieving a profundity that’s second-nature to Albarn at this point. Those glimmering synths in the chorus, too, are reminiscent of “Empire Ants,” the best song off Plastic Beach. Just gorgeous.
49] The Beths
Expert in a Dying Field
Another ‘so very nearly cut,’ there’s quite a few of those in the first stretch of the list. Just like with Gorillaz, do not mistake that fact nor its borderline placement here as some bellwether of a drop in The Beths’ usual sterling quality. Far from it. In fact, “2am” might be one of the most moving songs the New Zealand quartet have yet recorded. Starting sparse with the arpeggio guitars and Liz Stokes’ distinctive voice, chronicling a wistful reminiscence of youthful abandon and closeness, the gradual introduction and growing volume of the other instruments marks a shift in mood to something far more melancholic. Unlike other such songs which try to live in the polaroid of these moments, “2am” finds that Stokes can’t go home again as it eventually collapses against the wave of a failed friendship driving away. The jam which encompasses most of the song’s final half, in particular Tristan Deck’s arhythmic drumming (a key part of “Out of Sight”’s similar fantastic breakdown), is beautifully devastating. Were I not slightly more emotionally well-adjusted nowadays, I definitely would’ve had a few cry sessions to this. Maybe will in the future!
48] SPECIAL INTEREST
You know which mid-00s indie band fucking ruled and deserve way more flowers than they ever got? Gossip. Yeah, “Standing in the Way of Control” was one of those tracks which’d overshadow any band, but they spent a decade putting out fun, funky, punky dance-rock with a greater level of consistency than their one-hit wonder status belies. I mention this because, by the time my listen of Endure reached the “whoop, whoop!”s at lead single “(Herman’s) House”’s climax, my mind immediately went ‘oh, these guys are the scrappier, more politically-charged, abrasive Gossip!’ And thus, their placement on this and my favourite new discoveries lists were assured. This really does feel like a lost Gossip track, from the downright filthy bass which dictates the groove, to the buzzsaw guitar freakouts, to Alli Logout’s magnificent Beth Ditto-reminiscent screams during the chorus. Gossip, though, never set their irresistibly groovy floorfillers to lyrics about the inhumane treatment Herman Wallace suffered in prison. So, it’s not just nostalgia-pandering going on here.
47] Yard Act
“Tall Poppies” is the pivotal track on Yard Act’s debut. The latest It Boys of the Brit art-punk scene, their discography prior to The Overload’s longest track is a parade of admittedly-funny caricatures of the worst people alive in Britain today. Uber-privileged Brexit-supporting double-homeowners, predatory capitalists ripping off the working class, pub landlords living down to stereotypes. But “Tall Poppies” is different. A forensically-detailed portrait of the most mediocre, uninspired middle-class Northern man to ever “get with every girl deemed worth it to be with in the village two years either side of his birthday,” one who makes a mildly-successful career selling houses, and eventually dies unceremoniously without ever having left his home village (which later expanded to a small town). Given vocalist James Smith’s usual acerbic tongue, one would expect some kind of punchline or disdain to close the track out. Instead, the denouement offers him empathy and grace. The reality of a life outside of his village, a place with “more handsome men and better footballers,” which “would’ve cut him down to size” that he was shielded from. “He bloomed and grew and grew, and still he was doomed.” And yet, in a way the song seems to say, he was one of the lucky ones. That’s kinda beautiful.
46] Little Simz
NO THANK YOU
Gimme longer than six days to live with a dense new album by the best rapper alive right now and I’ll be able to properly rank what, on instinct, might be her best song yet. Simz and producer Inflo are on the run of their goddamned lives right now. I’m talking Missy Elliot/Timbaland levels of a rapper and producer so completely in sync with one another’s creative ambitions. Inflo the neo-soul/classical master capable of making any beat sound like both the score to a movie and something that a rapper can sit snugly in the pocket of. Simbi the therapeutic storyteller painting emotionally complex pictures of conscious hip hop without a single wasted bar, equal parts deeply personal and able to link her situation to the wider societal landscape. (“Why is mental health a taboo in the Black community?”) “Broken” is both artists completely in their element. Gimme even a week and I’ll regret not trusting my gut to put this way higher.
“the perfect pair”
Maybe I’m just a total homer for a good bossa nova homage, a memorable bassline and some, as years of evidence have proven, striiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings, but this one really crept up on me after I got done reviewing Beatopia. Given that it’s one of bea’s most-played songs on Spotify right now, I’m gonna assume that I wasn’t alone in that experience. (That or maybe something happened on TikTok, I dunno.) Bea’s increased skill at melody composition and knowing exactly how much to add to a song across her sophomore LP are on full display here. Pairing a common bossa acoustic guitar line with an alt-strum bass, which alternately proceeds into and recedes back from the foreground as the bars progress, plus chorus striiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings that add a cinematic flair. Not that the first half of the song is any degree of bad, but she wisely lets that sonic landscape fully takeover after the second chorus and just rides it out. I’m even much more positive on the sudden stop that initially felt like an unfinished demo now! For a song about a doomed relationship nobody wants to acknowledge, it’s a real pretty place to just soak in.
Deep in View
2021 brought with it the at-once shocking yet also not-in-the-least-bit-surprising (given that they hadn’t released anything since early 2017) news that Ought, a Canadian post-punk quartet responsible for the song I’m still measuring every art-punk It Band against (and usually finding those bands wanting), had broken up. Instead, vocalist Tim Darcy and bassist Ben Stidworthy were gonna team up with U.S. Girls drummer Evan Cartwright to form a new band that, wouldn’t you know it, sounds a lot like Ought just much tighter in song structure/length. And lo, the resultant album became one of my most-listened to of 2022. “Water Table” stands out as a prime example of what made Ought so special – Stidworthy’s attention-grabbing bass which the rest of the song builds around, Darcy’s abstractly disaffected vocals that speak to the malaise of modern life. But it also demonstrates what sets Cola apart – the greater emphasis on negative space in the mix, guitars that sound recognisably like guitars but with tones that are memorably off a touch, and Cartwright’s driving drumming which sews each element together.
43] Hurray for the Riff Raff
LIFE ON EARTH
To get the elephant out of the way: yes, even if they are of Puerto Rican heritage and include a recorded snippet of a migrant telling his story to them at the end, it does feel a little bit weird to hear Alynda Segarra use a slight accent and “me no”-style phrasing in what is otherwise a searingly empathetic portrayal of an immigrant and their family’s journey to the USA. It really speaks to the picture Segarra paints in their lyrics, the exhausted jadedness of their vocal delivery, and the soft harmonies arriving at each chorus that “PRECIOUS CARGO” still doesn’t have its power muted by some clumsy (to be generous) phrasing. Paired with an almost new-age musical backdrop which leans hard on the purgatorial stillness of that genre, it really does serve as a vital call to display humanity for people demonised and abused on the daily by governments of allegedly ‘civilised’ countries.
42] Hot Chip
Despite what the list so far may otherwise indicate, I promise that I listened to some fun songs this year, honest. See! Here are Hot Chip bursting onto the scene with their most relentlessly catchy and infectious single since “How Do You Do?” a full decade ago! Building off of a Universal Togetherness Band sample as its base, this thing is just an avalanche of hooks – the sample itself, the ping-pong “doo-doo” guitar interjections after each verse lyric, the tumbling piano during the chorus – and radiates the joy of a band finally back playing together again after a pandemic-enforced absence (because that’s basically what the song’s creation was). Joe Goddard sure knows how to pick disco samples for maximum earworm-iness, I only need to hear one run-through of that “sure know how to break it on DOWN!” for it to get stuck in my head all day. Also, shout out to those massive drums.
“baby, you’re full of shit”
If I never know you like this again
I first heard “full of shit” when SOAK did a solo acoustic set before Lucy Dacus’ Leeds gig. At the time, the track was unreleased and I’d let their music fall off my radar over the years, but with just that one listen, I instantly put the upcoming record right back on my radar. Bridie Monds-Watson has a killer sense of humour and their sketching of this total insufferable hypocrite that nobody likes – “sixty percent vegetarian,” somebody who goes to see their favourite band yet “spoke the whole time,” the host of a podcast – has the exact amount of specificity required to keep it from being a cheap target. There are unique turns of phrase (“usually I’m a t-shirt cannon full of compliments/tonight, I’m spent”), a bridge that cuts right to the heart of being in your twenties and having to put up with friend’s friends who just wind you up, and also it’s a chorus with the universally-relatable line “your takes aren’t unique.” What’s not to love?
Life is Yours
Prior to the Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost duology, Foals lost their bassist Walter Gervers… then proceeded to write some of their most bass-heavy material to date. Prior to work beginning on Life is Yours, keyboardist Edwin Congrave also quit the band… and Foals wrote some of their most synth-heavy material ever. Both departures were apparently amicable, but this trend is starting to sound like musical subtweeting. A song like “2am” only provides fuel for such a conspiracy fire, running primarily on some ginormous staccato synth stabs precision-designed for the colour-changing flicker-lights of indie discos the nation over that Foals are most at home in. You can, as some have done, deem a track like this ‘Foals for dummies,’ since it abandons any substance or subtlety for blunt-force trauma. I’d respond by mentioning that every single element of this song, and I mean every single element, has resided unbudging in my head for a not-inconsiderate amount of time at various points of the year and I’m not complaining about that state of affairs.
39] Kendrick Lamar
“The Heart Part 5”
The Heart Part 5 – Single
“New flows coming, be patient, brother,” Kendrick Lamar informed his salivating audience during the “family ties” guest spot last year. On his first solo single in five years, the latest instalment in his era-introducing “The Heart” series, he makes us wait just a little longer, letting that Marvin Gaye sample recreation run for over half-a-minute before finally jumping in. When he does, it’s electrifying! Five minutes of one of the all-time best rappers once again standing on his pulpit and surveying the culture with succinctly precise imagery (“I come from a generation of pain, where murder is minor”) that everybody can understand. Placing himself within the wider landscape he comments on rather than pretending he’s some kind of saint (“But that’s the culture/Crack a bottle/Hard to deal with the pain when you’re sober”) and offering clear rejoinders to toxic masculinity (“In the land where hurt people hurt more people/Fuck callin’ it culture”). Then there’s that third verse which I am not in the least bit qualified to talk on other than to say that it’s absolutely arresting.
I Walked with You a Ways
I’m a real music nerd. The kind who, whilst maybe not always getting the terminology right or fully understanding how things work like they do, goes absolutely apeshit for the flourishes and details that dress up base songwriting. There’s a reason why ‘striiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings’ has turned into a running gag in these yearly write-ups; good strings are perhaps the fastest way to get on one of my lists. The second-fastest way to get on one of my lists is to feature some sweet-ass vocal harmonies. The kind perfectly intertwined so that the results make the delivered line feel like an emotional punch to the chest, destined to be blurted along with (poorly) on car rides for the rest of the year. Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson are great at those in their solo projects, so putting them together on the chorus of “Hurricane” – and, frankly, every song on their collaborative album – is a recipe for all the femme yee-haws you got in stock! “Baby I’ll/Come back to you” again and again and again. Also, banjo!
37] Hagop Tchaparian
“Right to Riot”
This goes stupidly hard. The true centrepiece of Tchaparian’s surprising debut, “Right to Riot” is the kind of club track that sounds more at home soundtracking, well, civil disobedience than ravers. Reliant most of all on the dhol drums which provide the central percussion and a siren-esque zurna loop that heralds each drop, “Riot” keeps things simple throughout. A gradual imposing build, laser zooms that herald a bassy throb, followed by a total collapse to just the most component parts before building back up again. This is techno aimed straight at the gut, pummelling a listener into dancing and saying so very much about our current dystopian society without uttering a single word.
“Bites on My Neck”
Nat Ćimel’s sophomore record is not one with a whole lot of musical lightness in it (which seems to very much be a recurring thing in the realm of trans/non-binary musicians). Perhaps this is why, though I really like the album, I always end up being most drawn to “Bites on My Neck.” Of course, that’s pretty ironic itself given that a song with such a euphoric rush of a chorus is lyrically one of the darkest and creepiest they’ve yet done. Violent, fixated on bruises and blood and taking “ten lines to feel this numb,” it’s an obsession song, contrasting the innocently saccharine – well, as much as a hyperpop song can be ‘innocent’ or ‘saccharine,’ anyway – music with macabre lyrics. And yet, when that distorted pitch-shifting vocal descent which sounds like a dying NES sound chip heralds the mega-drop of the chorus, no number of threats about how Ćimel “could have killed you with [their] bare hands” can register. There’s a thin line between love and obsession, they always say.
You gotta have minerals made of vibranium to kick off your new album with a 10-minute, multi-part suite about our current late-capitalist hellhole and social media’s normalising horror of it all that ends in a lighters-in-the-air 70s glam-rock coda. Or, y’know, just be over two decades in as musical unit who have a history of putting out bangers on the reg. The curtain-raiser on Formentera also arguably functions as a make-good on Metric’s lone proper dud, 2015’s Pagans in Vegas, being so heavily synthetic and focussed more on slow-release texture like that album. But where Vegas frequently got so lost in the reeds of its synths that it could forget to craft memorable releases or hooks, “Doomscroller”’s got an entire ammo belt’s worth. And it makes excellent usage of Emily Haines’ highly-versatile voice; dispassionate and often manipulated or buried under digital noise in the doomy first half, compassionate and emotive and soaring in the more hopeful closer. I cannot wait to hear this one live.
34] Left at London
“I’m Not Laughing Anymore”
Transgender Street Legend, Vol. 3
Now this is the kind of soul throwback I can dig. I get a number of those in my inbox each year and most of them are so fixated on recreating the exact sonics and intangible feel of classic soul records that they instead come off like vacuum-sealed museum pieces you’re meant to appreciate the artistry of rather than actually, y’know, like. Perhaps as a result of Nat Puff being one of those genre omnivores that Internet musicians typically are, and therefore feeling no allegiance to whatever style she chooses to try on a song, “I’m Not Laughing Anymore” gets the kind of feeling and soul these throwback lifers could only dream of conjuring themselves. It bares the hallmarks of classic soul – doo-wop style backing harmonies, clean guitar chords, a lilting stomp from the time where R&B and funk are starting to cross-pollinate – but it also has roughness which sticks out brilliantly. The lyrics demonstrating casual punishment of emotional instability in our uncaring society, the processed lead guitar cutting through the chorus, and the accompanying frayed vocals distorting in moments of high intensity. Real feeling in the form of a joke, cos it’s 2022 and that’s how we interact now.
33] Carly Rae Jepsen
The Loneliest Time (Deluxe)
The unmitigated gall to make “Keep Away” a digital-only bonus track, Ms. Jepsen! The pure cheek to not have a post-break-up song this perfect sit in its rightful place as the closing number on the CD and physical copies! The total audacity to make me have to boot up Spotify every single time I finish spinning my Loneliest Time record so I can end it on this gorgeous, longing, slow-dance anthem as God intended! The sheer nerve to not let me hear those deep-minor Casio keys, disco ballad bass, indelible vocoded “keep away” backing vocals which lead us home, and heartbreaking “god, I miss your hands over my body” delivery in crisp vinyl quality! The unadulterated effrontery in ensuring this becomes one of those deep cuts which never fully gets its due since it’s not technically on the album proper, so I look like a tryhard hipster for saying ‘no, for real, this is one of her very best songs!’ The categorical brazenness! For this, I’m taking at least 10 spots off the song’s original placing – and that’s definitely the reason rather than my being super-late to Loneliest Time in general – and only buying £60 worth of merch at your show next year! That’ll teach ya!
“About Damn Time”
If we’re gonna keep Popstar Lizzo – which a] I can’t begrudge too much since she did spend more than half-a-decade toiling in underground hip hop obscurity before getting her due break, and b] Special indicates that it’s the lane she wants to stay in for now – can we get at least half-a-dozen more “About Damn Time”s out the deal? Turns out that disco throwbacks are a super-natural fit for Lizzo’s brand of feelgood affirmations, where she can make aphorisms which should be overly-general and corny sound like a personal life coach conversation and fun as hell. “It’s bad bitch o’clock…” “Feelin’ fussy, walkin’ in my Balenci-ussies…” “I’m not the girl I was or used to be/Bitch, I might be better!” Pair those with Chic guitars, Bernard basses, even give space for Lizzo’s own flute prowess to arguably steal the track with its stickiest hook, and the results are just so much damn fun. The kind of pop hit that never seems to lose its charm even after a full summer of exposure.
“Pressure Cooker (with Militarie Gun)”
Pressure Cooker – Single
Intricate harmonies? Lavish string sections? Multi-suite movements culminating in an Oasis-ballad swaying outro? Flutes?! Look, those all have their places, but sometimes you just gotta keep it simple stupid. Sometimes, you wanna throw on a song so straightforward, so boneheadedly primal, so uncomplicatedly to-the-point that you just instinctually find yourself belting out the chorus with the whole damn chest you’re simultaneously beating. The kind of song whose appeal is so instantaneous that you can hear it for the first time ever in the middle of a gig’s opening set and find yourself launching into the moshpit without hesitation by the time the “OOH, OOH!”s signal the overdriven solo. The kind of song you don’t need 250 words to justify the inclusion of on any chart because, for fuck’s sake, just hit play stop making me waste words when “Pressure Cooker”’s greatness is so self-evident!
Come back tomorrow when we run through #30 to #11!
Callie Petch walks into a bar and immediately they sense danger.