The 22 Best Albums of 2022

“Chaos is a friend of mine,” Bob Dylan once said.

2022 marked the first full year of art born in the “after” — the progeny of time spent off schedules and outside of expectation, deep within ourselves and together in existential freefall. As we venture into whatever it is that comes next, chaos may not be going anywhere, but it does make for some damn fine company. 

From experimental hip-hop to jazz electronica, post-Instagram post-punk to neo-discodelia, futurist salsa dura to pop renaissances, these are the albums that defined our year.

1. (TIE) Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers 

Even Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar experienced writer's block in the time between masterpieces DAMN and Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Maybe he is human after all. He makes his journey our journey. His grief is our grief. He started a family. He tells us he can't please everybody, and that we all need therapy. 

As KCRW DJ Wyldeflower beautifully described it, it’s a “heavy, heavy, heavy album to hold. It is hot, like holding coal wrapped in silk, and necessary.” 

If DAMN represented Kendrick having the answers, Mr. Morale lets us know that he still has questions. Instead of shying away from the mic at a time of so much contention, he opens up wounds that sting, and in doing so begins to heal. 

What do we say about an album that collects every thought and emotion we’ve shared and experienced over the last few years, at once demandingly personal and essentially resonant? Kendrick articulates it all in deliberate, delicate sequence — minimalist piano, frantic tap dancing, heart-pulsing bass, the words of Eckhart Tolle. Of course, the words always come first with Kendrick Lamar, but when they are underpinned by the sober complexity of these emotions and sounds, their meaning is sublime. 

The power of this album is that it’s made me feel less alone. There is a universality in shock, reflection, and release. Like all great art, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers launched thousands of conversations and made us pay attention. And maybe that was the point. Anne Litt (KCRW DJ and Program Director of Music)

1. (TIE) Wet Leg – Wet Leg 

 After coming out of nowhere and releasing three nearly-perfect singles — "Chaise Longue", "Wet Dream", and "Too Late Now" — in 2021, Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers kept the momentum going with a nearly-perfect debut album in 2022. Incorporating elements of post-punk, indie-pop, disco, and ‘70s classic rock throughout Wet Leg, the duo consistently strike a balance between the familiar and the fresh without ever sounding like they had to strain to achieve their unique alchemy. 

A song loosely inspired by a piece of furniture may have brought them into public consciousness, but it was the Isle of Wight duo’s charming reflections on love, toxic relationships, heartbreak, and being horny that established them as here to stay. And they seem to do it all without breaking a sweat or taking themselves or any of their newfound attention (including four Grammy nods) too seriously. — Travis Holcombe (FREAKS ONLY host)

More: Wet Leg: KCRW Live from Anne's Backyard

2. Toro y Moi – MAHAL

Push play on MAHAL and jump in the jeepney with Toro y Moi. The car starts revving on the first track “The Medium,” and for the next 40 minutes and 42 seconds, you’re coasting through the dosed landscapes of Toro y Moi’s indie rock mastery. Static transitions between each song makes the listening experience feel like you’re in the front seat, turning the dial and picking up different vibrations of the same sound. 

On his seventh album, Chaz Bear pushes the boundaries of his more familiar chillwave sound into fresh, farther spaces — as on tracks like “Millennium” and “Magazine” — while also nodding to his stylistic roots on tracks like “Days in Love” and “Deja Vu.” A group of indie artists also come along for the ride, including Bear’s Star Stuff collaborators The Mattson 2, rising talents Salami Joe Rose Louis and Sofie Royer, and fellow 2010s indie icon Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

Together, MAHAL makes for a playful, psychedelic, and vulnerable reflection of love, which in Tagalog translates to, of course, MAHAL. — Tyler Boudreaux (KCRW DJ)

More: Toro Y Moi: Live from Anne’s Backyard

3. Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer

Would you ever imagine that a string of songs about patriarchy, xenophobia, racism, and harassment could be… fun? Enter Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul’s dynamic debut full length, Topical Dancer. While some folks dance around important matters, the Ghent-based duo have us dancing all over them. 

It can be tricky to tackle cultural critique via song without condemning yourself to cornball territory — let alone pen tracks with titles like “Ceci n’est pas un cliché.” But the combination of their inventive approach, pulsating electronic production, witty lyrics, and wildly delightful vocals make it work. Discomfort is their milieu, and songs like “HAHA,” a tune almost entirely comprised of Adigéry oscillating between laughing and sobbing on beat, will quickly have you doing the same. “Thank You,” the consummate bop about unsolicited advice you didn’t know you needed, might have you hollering “Yes! Thank you!” And the coming-of-age tale “It Hit Me” is contagious, cute, and cringe all at once. A worthy front-to-back play, every track on this album shines on its own. One might call Topical Dancer the Hallmark album of the year — a perfect composition for every uncomfortable occasion. — Novena Carmel (Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host)

2022 Breakthrough Artist: Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul
Guest Mix: Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul celebrate ‘Topical Dancer’ with sitar disco, deep-cut Prince, and more

4. Automatic – Excess

Automatic is a cool Los Angeles-area band with Izzy Glaudini on synths, Lola Dompé on drums, and Halle Saxon on bass, with all three contributing vocals. Their first album, Signal, released in 2019 on Stones Throw Records, was great from start to finish. The songs are instrumentally minimal, smart, and informed with undercurrents of humor, slightly glacial resignation, poise, and are very, very good.

 In 2022, again on Stones Throw, Automatic released their second album, Excess. On first listen, it’s obvious that every aspect of the band has gotten an upgrade. Producer Joo-Joo Ashworth brings out a subtle sophistication to the sounds on the instruments and vocals, which might at first escape the listener as they’re too busy digging the record to notice. But upon repeated spins, Excess gets better and better. Great band, great records. Run, do not walk, to them.

Besides Careening by Hammered Hulls, Automatic’s Excess was my other favorite album of 2022.  — Henry Rollins (KCRW DJ)

More: Automatic: KCRW Live from Apogee Studio

5. Danielle Ponder – Some Of Us Are Brave

 The first time my ears experienced Danielle Ponder, I was in the car listening to Chris Douridas' show when he played an eerie rendition of Radiohead's "Creep." Whoa. First, I was slayed by the delivery — it's a slow pour of honey, brooding and devastating. So emotive. So compelling. I thought about how this woman knows how to connect with the song to get the most out of what she's singing. 

 And then the marching ska beat of standalone single "Be Gentle" opened the skies and let the sun shine in, reminding us to open our hearts. Danielle Ponder is mighty, a defense attorney who after years of helping others, decided to follow her true passion writing and performing her own songs. 

The best part is that Ponder's live shows feel like you are in her living room, you'll hear back stories and some of the experiences that made her who she is. Do yourself a favor, if she comes to your hometown, go to a show. 

Ponder’s centered power is the throughline of her debut LP, Some Of Us Are Brave, girded by a fearless strength that begins with the opening title track and continues to the end. With unapologetic candor, the singer shares her vulnerability, the lessons learned through her experience, the resolve to be vulnerable in the face of hardship, to not shy away, to lean into the pain and to be bold.

I am paying close attention to Ponder's ascension. You can't always predict if an artist will have success or not — there are too many factors that can go wrong apart from their music — but Ponder comes to us as a fully formed human, not just an artist. She’s a thinker with a big voice singing the songs she wrote, and they reflect her interior life with a keen eye on the world around her. Keep your eyes/ears on her. — Ariana Morgenstern (Executive Producer, KCRW Music)

 More: Danielle Ponder: Live from KCRW HQ

6. Say She She – Prism 

 When you hear a band or song for the first time and it punches you in the gut, you know you’ve struck gold. That’s how I felt when I heard the opening notes to “Forget Me Not” by Brooklyn-based trio Say She She. Then I wondered how the group, who only began releasing music this year, could follow up a timeless single complete with sultry vocals, gritty keys, and an uptempo beat capable of rocking any room.

But they did just that with their debut album, Prism, which is unlike anything I've heard this year. Amid knockout after knockout melding funk, soul, trip-hop, and their own discodelic je ne sais quoi, “Fortune Teller” serves up a break from the dancing as an introspective gem with harmonies similar to the classic Ronettes sound. Prism transports you to the past while still pushing a future-forward sound, as on tracks like “Better Man.” I thought following up their debut single would be tough, but to top a masterpiece like Prism, Say She She has set their bar skyward. — Anthony Valadez (Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host) 

More: Say She She: KCRW Live from Apogee Studio 

7. Robert Glasper – Black Radio III

One chord and the words “I heard him call out,” spoken by poet Amir Sulaiman on album opener “In Tune,” were all it took to engulf my emotions and have me in the palm of his hands with my head down. Not even three seconds into the album, I am in tune, immersed in the weight and gravity of the truth that is our lives. Robert Glasper plays our life: From the darkest depths to the skies above mountains, each platform presents a stage upon which perspective and emotion dance with the symphonies or our souls, past, present and future. 

Track “Black Superhero” captures not just a figment of imagination but a spirit of strength, of consciousness, a savior of oppression through music! Spoken word, mixed with jazz, soul, gospel, and all the colors of the genres, is one of music’s most powerful elixirs. Saturated in culture, Black Radio III unites, shines, and spreads messages of power and resilience through love, groove and clarity. And all the people said… 

LeRoy Downs (KCRW DJ)

More: Robert Glasper on ‘Black Radio III,’ the jazz police, and ‘Golden Girls’

8. Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – Reset

Out of the dosed ether, a wild Panda Bear and Sonic Boom album appeared. No one asked for it. The very concept probably only even occurred to a handful of the heads aware of the pair’s long-term but informal collaborative relationship. But lord, did we need Reset. On the first album to give singer-songwriter Panda Bear (Animal Collective) equal billing with production alchemist Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3), the space-psych statesmen mine the past to create a ‘60s sample-sourced work that feels urgently, vividly present. 

It’s a tricky thing to do. Nostalgia makes for easy pop cultural currency, just an Amazon purchase or “ironic” cover away to comfort us with the familiar when we can’t grasp or articulate whatever it is our present has become. Reset takes a different tack in its pursuit of bliss, not retreating into the past but leaning into that which transcends it. The album's aural references to the likes of Dion, The Troggs, and Randy & The Rainbows aren’t dog whistles to “remember whens” or crate-digger inside baseball, but expeditions mining the elements that made those songs resonate in the first place, and then become timeless. Panda Bear and Sonic Boom weave the threads, pushing them forward with fractured composition (“Go On”), lyrical repetition (“Edge of the Edge”), and strung-out candor (“Danger”) that often double as meta commentary on our aforementioned struggles to articulate the present. The result, of course, is that they manage to do just that. Reset is graceful and deceptively simple, an ecstatic and vulnerable document of exactly what it feels like to be — to borrow from the title of the penultimate track — “Living in the After.” —Andrea Domanick (Digital Producer, Music & Culture)

More: Guest mix: Panda Bear and Sonic Boom share their inspirations for Reset

9. Spoon – Lucifer On The Sofa

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard Spoon’s instant-classic, indie-rock-strutter “I Turn My Camera On?” I do. It was 5 a.m. at a New York City speakeasy. How many people can remember anything that happened in an NYC speakeasy at 5 a.m. when they wake up later that afternoon, much less years later? That’s the undeniable power of music — and especially that of Spoon.

The Austin outfit has spent their decades-long career developing into an exhilaratingly tight band, whether gelling live on stage or quarantined in the studio. None of this was lost in the midst of a global pandemic. In fact, the time spent in lockdown seemed to help them emerge even even further dialed into a sound that has continually evolved and never flagged. Lucifer On The Sofa, Spoon's tenth studio LP,  reflects this perfectly.  From the intro studio sounds that kick off the band's rough-hewn cover of Smog’s "Held,” it’s a journey free from any sonic baggage, carrying only the essentials as it takes us on a winding road of ups and downs. Along the way, we encounter everything from no-chaser shots of rock 'n' roll ("The Hardest Cut") to gorgeous melodies ("Wild") and smoky introspection. It all culminates with the title track, which fittingly concludes with the literal sound of a door closing its final second, as if to say, "Done!" After such a vulnerable and heartfelt peek into a time and place in their lives, they’ve earned it. For some hair of the devil, be sure to fire up the companion album, Lucifer On The Moon, for which legendary UK dub producer Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound reconstructs the whole endeavor to spaced-out effect. — Raul Campos (KCRW DJ & host of Global Beat)

More: Spoon: KCRW Live from Anne’s Backyard

10. Thee Sacred Souls - Thee Sacred Souls 

Music can revive even the most distant of memories, teleporting you to another era with a single note. Thee Sacred Souls, a soul-funk trio from San Diego accompanied by a tight rhythm section and silky vocal arrangements, pull on every single nostalgic heartstring. Their 12-track, self-titled debut LP, out via Daptone, is warm and smooth like a sunset drive down the coast. The richly layered, beautifully textured vocals sweep you off your feet in a smooth two-step motion. Channeling the classic ‘60s/’70s sound of Southern California, the album also holds its own and carves out new space for itself within that legacy — a sonic love letter draped in beautiful harmonies, pulling from sacred memories to create something fresh, new, and full of flavor. Heed their advice on “Can I Call You Rose?” and put it in a love song. — Rocio ‘Wyldeflower’ Contreras (KCRW DJ)

11. Stromae – Multitude

 To understand the vast appeal of Stromae's work, consider his professed love for Son Cubano, the modern chanson of fellow Belgian Jacques Brel, the lilting magnetism of the Congo’s Franco, and Le Grand Kallé. Then, of course, there’s his clear-eyed adherence to magnificent creative visual direction (in collaboration with his brother and his wife), his striking good looks, his cheeky flirtation with rap swagger which can lyrically bring you to tears, and that voice. Stromae’s clever wordplay extends to his stage name, a back-to-front inversion of the syllables from the word “maestro.” And while Multitude is only his third album in 12 years, it burnishes his place at the forefront of European pop music. — Chris Douridas (KCRW DJ)

More: Stromae: KCRW Live from HQ

12. Kikagaku Moyo – Kumoyo Island

 Kikagaku Moyo translates to “geometric patterns” in English, and translates to “Japanese psych-rock legends” in modern music. On the band’s fifth and final album of their journey, said patterns form the shape of an imagined destination called Kumoyo Island.

Drop the needle and take the trip, and the blaring guitars and vocal chants of opener “Monaka” welcome you to the titular island’s misty shores. As the chants ramp up to their peak, “Dancing Blue” breaks the incantation with a guitar riff that swirls and swells, inspiring you to leave your inhibitions at the dock.

The breadth of instruments featured on Kumoyo Island highlights the five-piece’s brilliance as masters of their craft. Lead singer Tomo Katsurada’s soft vocals cast a comforting spell in a language as imagined as the psychedelic realm you’re visiting. Ryu Kurosawa’s electric sitar fills your lungs with fresh air, while his brother Go’s array of percussion moves your feet. Daoud Popal’s electric guitar screams and howls its own language, guiding you through the colorful canyons, beaches, and mountaintops of the album, while Kotsu Guy’s bass serves as the slinking, visceral glue binding it all. 

The record plays like a carefully balanced cast of spells, featuring four six-minute epics, gentle and hard rocking instrumentals, groovy anthems, and even an ambient folk expression on “Nap Song.” The last stop is “Maison Silk Road,” an instrumental filled with spices of psychedelic, rock, and folk decorated with sonic trinkets from Kikagaku Moyo’s global exploration.

Kumoyo Island is the final chapter in the book of Kikagaku Moyo as the group embarks on indefinite hiatus. We’re grateful for the adventure — and hopeful for future volumes and geometric patterns to explore. — Tyler Boudreaux (KCRW DJ)

13. Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE

 One word perfectly encapsulates the feeling I get each time I press play on Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE: joy. It isn’t just that Beyoncé and her team crafted an impressive body of dancefloor bangers, though that’s certainly a part of it. While the record’s production quality fills my body with bliss upon each listen, my elation with RENAISSANCE ultimately lands on the who and the why behind the songs.

Beyoncé’s seventh studio album more or less doubles as a scholarly study of the evolution of dance music, intentionally centering Black, queer, and trans creators. I feel joy reading queer icons like Kevin Aviance say he felt seen and “vindicated” when his song was sampled on “Pure/Honey;” joy watching online conversations unfold about the contributions of cities like Chicago and Detroit to House music; joy at the centering of femme producers like Syd, Honey Dijon, and Nova Wav; joy that artists MikeQ, Melo-X, and Kelman Duran — personal inspirations — helped create one of, if not the best, albums that Beyoncé has ever released. From the opening chords of “I’m that Girl” to the album’s closing track, “Summer Renaissance,” the record demands that as hard as we dance, we must pay our respects with as much fervency. And we’re thrilled to do so. — Francesca Harding (KCRW DJ)

14. Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen

If you Google the artist Sudan Archives, her overview title simply reads 'American Violinist'...something that feels a little incomplete for one of the most exciting singers, songwriters, and performers in modern music, whose second full-length Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw) takes the artist in bold and exhilarating new directions.

It’s true that Sudan Archives is a virtuoso violinist, but where on previous works the instrument took center stage in the mix, she here shies away from it as a focus point in favor of freedom to more deeply explore sounds like hip-hop and electronic dance music. Stylistically, NBPQ marks a quantum leap forward, a complex record that is both demanding and playful, with Sudan sparkling with a confidence evident from the get-go on "Home Maker," on which she declares "Only bad bitches / and baby I'm the baddest."

That’s just to start. "NBPQ (Topless)" is propelled by an irresistible double-dutch beat; "Freakalizer" rocks an 808 like it was '88, and “Ciera” is a heated letter to a former friend, reminding us Sudan Archives is someone not to be trifled with. The artist is also not afraid to show a softer side, with "ChevyS10" updating Tracy Chapman's "Fast Color," yet shimmering with a sensuality the original never could.  And "Milk Me" gives Sade a run for her money. NPBQ is the most exciting record that I heard in 2022, the most stylistically varied, and honestly the one that I listened to the most.— Dan Wilcox (KCRW DJ)

15. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – When the Lights Go 

I’ve been a big fan of British electronic music producer, singer, and songwriter Orlando Higginbottom — a.k.a. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (TEED) — ever since he impressed me with his breakthrough CMJ performance in 2011 and debut album Trouble the following year. But we’ve heard little from him as a solo album artist since. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t kept busy: TEED has stayed active with a slew of co-writes and production work with the likes of Banks, Boys Noize, Kelsey Lu, Shura, SG Lewis, Elderbrook, and Mark Ronson, to name a few, while also remixing the work of Little Dragon, Foals, Disclosure, Jessie Ware, and a Grammy-nominated collaboration ("Heartbreak") with Bonobo in 2020.  

After some time advocating for his own rights and control of his career, along with dealing with some of life’s pre and post-pandemic woes, TEED was able to put the emotions that defined the last decade into a powerful and aptly-titled sophomore full-length, When the Lights Go. A raw, vulnerable darkness and sadness not often present in electronic dance music underscores the heartfelt record, complemented and contrasted by bright, upbeat pop dancefloor hits that give its honest and ambitious 17 tracks a depth that never wears its welcome. 

If the keys from Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait A While” or Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” hold a special place in your heart, as they do mine, you’ll fall in love with this album. If they don’t, chances are one of the collaborations from its indie star-studded lineup of features — including Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner (The Knocks), Christopher Stracey (Bag Raiders), Alexandra Lilah Denton (Shura), Kelsey Byrne (Vérité), and Patrick Weatherly (Chairlift) — will do the trick. — Nassir Nassirzadeh (KCRW DJ)

More: FREAKS ONLY presents Three Song Story with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs

16. The Comet Is Coming – Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam

Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam finds London-based jazz-electronic trio The Comet Is Coming living up to all of the lofty projections posed by the heady name of their project. The group, composed of Danalogue (keys, synths, programming, percussion), Betamax (percussion, synths), and King Shabaka (saxophones, also of Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors), fuses elements of nu jazz, funk, psychedelia, electronica, and space into a cross-genre cosmic fission around which the spectrum of expression orbits. Its pull is heavy.  

The low hum and pulsating on-ramp to album opener “CODE” indeed foretells something earth-shattering, the coming of something to obliterate the mundanities of existence and replace them with extraterrestrial ecstasy. The ten tracks that follow live up to their all-caps naming convention, offering achingly beautiful controlled chaos; long and lean soundwaves that crest with electrified freneticism; and rigorous, muscular jazz facing squarely toward the future. It’s your next obsession, and it’s already touched down. — Marion Hodges (Assistant Producer)

17. J.Rocc – A Wonderful Letter

With Los Angeles traversing more than 500 square miles and boasting over 10 million inhabitants from around the globe, it’s no wonder that the city’s music scene is as expansive as it is diverse. J.Rocc’s A Wonderful Letter, created as an homage to the city that raised him, reminds us just how deep LA’s musical heritage truly runs.

Acting as part historical archivist, part future-forward producer, the artist seamlessly threads the needle through hip-hop, soul, house, and even vintage electro-funk while keeping the songs on his second studio album fresh and dynamic. “Pajama Party,'' featuring The Egyptian Lover, is a nod to the sound of 1980s West Coast, while songs like “The End (N.T.P.)” showcase J.Rocc’s expertise at instrumental hip-hop, skills he undoubtedly honed as a maverick of LA’s beat scene.

A must-listen, A Wonderful Letter locks in J.Rocc’s status as hometown luminary, pushing creative boundaries while repping his city in the process, one song at a time. — Francesca Harding (KCRW DJ)

18. Silvana Estrada – Marchita

I came across Silvana Estrada three years ago in Mexico City at a cantina, where she was performing without a sound system. Her voice nonetheless saturated the room with intricate emotions. Her songs were delicate and vocally complex. On Marchita, her first solo album, Estrada both captures that rawness and extends it over 11 beautifully crafted songs. Informed by her upbringing singing son jarocho and baroque choir music, and educated in jazz, Estrada’s impeccable command as a songwriter shines on the previously released “Te Guardo,” reworked here to fit the mood of the album, and on the title track, where her vocal prowess unleashes a deluge of raw expression that seeps into your pores. Estrada’s aptitude for expression and emotional connection has gone on to earn her a loyal fanbase and wildly successful tour stateside. And it also won her the Latin Grammy for Best New Artist in 2022. NBD. — José Galván (KCRW DJ)

19. Meridian Brothers – Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento

File Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento under the superlative "Album Most Likely To Cosmically Transport You." The legendary and newly-reinvigorated Ansonia Records dropped Meridian Brothers' eleventh album as their first release in 30 years, and it hit the bullseye, but in a very meta way. The nom de stage of Colombian futurist artist Eblis Álvarez, Meridian Brothers' eleventh album excavates the forgotten sounds of a fantastical 1970s salsa dura group called El Grupo Renacimiento. In other words: El Grupo Renacimiento is a fictional band from the '70s who have been reunited, revived, and embodied by Meridian Brothers. The album is rooted in traditional Latin sounds and rhythms, but is equal parts fresh and otherworldly. I can only dream about what it would have been like at an underground Colombian club back in the day, dancing till I drop in a world with a twist of the surreal and a straight shot of the weird. — Anne Litt (KCRW Program Director of Music & DJ)

20. Bill Callahan – YTI⅃AƎЯ

“And we're coming out of dreams /as we're coming back to dreams,” sings Bill Callahan at the beginning of his exquisitely under-the-radar new album, Reality. Callahan’s poetry is intimate and understated, but don’t be deceived. Its power is in its simplicity and occasional humor. It seems that this album is about life coming back into focus post pandemic — the “realities'' are real again — and the discord between nature and humans, and humans and humans. But all along, his children and family provide the ballast, connection, and downright joy and happiness he dearly needs, and reminds us that we do as well. Callahan's imagery, to which he has returned throughout his years of writing — coyotes, horses, birds, sailboats — is peaceful, though sometimes dangerous. Reality embodies the power of old-school record making and storytelling: His words are specific but few. You must take in this unsung masterpiece front to back. — Anne Litt (KCRW Program Director of Music & DJ)

21. Nick Hakim – COMETA

Give Brooklyn-based neo-soul dream boy Nick Hakim his flowers. Following collaborations with everyone from Erykah Badu to BADBADNOTGOOD, and two psych-drenched R&B classics-in-their-own-right — Green Twins (2017) and WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD (2020) — Hakim shows up to 2022 with his most focused and assured LP to date, COMETA

Spanish for “kite,” the album’s title uncannily mirrors the experience of listening to it, in which we  float blissfully alongside Hakim as he guides us through every twist and turn of his experience falling in love. Four seconds into the record, his voice is in your ear, whisper-singing, “Ani wanted real love…” Then come the drums, bass, synths, and a touch of sax, all layered to dizzying perfection. Through the album’s nine remaining songs, the intimate journey grounds itself in Hakim’s trademark lo-fi beats and raw-silk production (with a little help from his friends Helado Negro, Alex G, Arto Lindsay, and DJ Dahi), lending a depth and complexity that set Hakim apart in the overcrowded alt-R&B space. He reminds us that love can be funky, too: Hakim embraces his inner-rocker on self-seduction ode “Feeling Myself,” featuring a drumbeat inspired by Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing.” He gets groovy with the driving bassline on “Happen.” And close-listeners are especially rewarded with lyrical perspective shifts and swoon-worthy lines like, “She sips the air I breathe.” 

On first pass, it's easy to mistakenly dismiss COMETA as a sort of elevated, especially honey-hued version of “Lo-fi beats to study and chill to,” but listen again (and again, and again) and the record may just become the soundtrack to your most lightheaded moments of bliss. — Anna Chang (Assistant Producer)

22. Leikeli47 – Shape Up

Shape Up is a “no notes” record. It’s clean, like a crisp fit that turns your head. The production is off-kilter and in the cut, weird and addictive. It’s got dancefloor bangers, schoolyard bops, love songs, hate songs, runway anthems, and probably your new fantasy walkout track. Leikeli is a beautiful singer, a killer lyricist, and, to be clear, one of the fiercest, most dexterous rappers to do it today. Shape Up draws on everything you like about hip-hop and pop music without sounding like anything out there, because she pushes it all one step ahead and keeps you challenged in the process. The only reason we haven’t played it more on KCRW is because it’s really hard to make clean versions of these songs. We’re working on it. —Andrea Domanick (Digital Producer, Music & Culture)

Honorable SAULT Mention: All five free bonus albums (11, Today & Tomorrow, Earth, Untitled (God), AIIR)

God bless 'em, SAULT doesn't follow the rules, so neither will we. The enigmatic UK experimental jazz-funk-R&B collective does these surprise, ephemeral album drops every year, and they're always excellent. We wouldn't have it any other way. 

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