KCRW’s Favorite Songs of 2022
A great song can beckon you onto the dance floor or deep into your feels; inspire you to stand up or throw a middle finger as you walk away; shout along to the words or just get lost in effable sound. These are our favorite tracks of 2022 — unranked, alphabetized, and individually selected — they helped us get up in the morning and fall asleep (or stay awake) at night. Or sometimes we simply played them on repeat, because you never need a reason to hear your favorite song.
Wanna do it by the numbers? Scroll down for a look at our Top 30 most played songs of the year.
And without further ado, our favorite songs of the year...
2022 kicked off serving us latex synthwave public access fantasy in the form of Boy Harsher’s “Machina.” A fling between the electro duo and LA’s own Ms. BOAN (Mariana Saldaña), “Machina” and its sexy, shiny music video dropped in January as the lead cut from the band’s horror thriller-cum-concept album “The Runner,” starring King Woman. But the song stands confidently on its own. Drum machines snap you to attention, sensual synths beckon you in, and opiated bass lines hold you down while Saldaña’s vocals go in for the kill — detached and manic, like some kind of Patrick Nagel replicant gone rogue. Electrónico, indeed. — Andrea Domanick (Digital Producer)
"A power ballad with French house DNA" is how Alan Braxe and DJ Falcon described "Step By Step,” the cousins-cum-sonic co-conspirators' first officially released collaboration together, which also helped launch Panda Bear's MVP-level run this year. The track's bedrock is Braxe + Falcon's instrumental that emanates warmth and is almost like a slowed-down version of the four-on-the-floor tracks they built their reputations on as French Touch pioneers at the turn of the 21st century. Panda Bear's incredible knack for melody and optimistic lyrics fit perfectly to produce an all-time great track that will forever remind me of 2022. — Travis Holcombe (FREAKS ONLY host)
The exceptional album Cheat Codes marks a collaboration between uber-producer Danger Mouse and The Roots' Black Thought that has been nearly two decades in the making, starting right around the time Danger Mouse made a name for himself for sampling The Beatles and Jay-Z for the immortal Grey Album mashup LP. He proves he still has a knack for lifting loops, building the song "No Gold Teeth" around a greazy guitar lick from the 1968 Hugh Masekela joint "Stop,” which serves as the perfect backing track for Black Thought to assert his prodigious lyrical prowess, and prove why he might just be the greatest living MC. — Dan Wilcox (KCRW DJ)
“It can be hard to recognize love and receive love when it shows up for you.” These are the words Danielle Ponder used to introduce “Fray” during her KCRW Live from HQ performance. The personal journey she shares on the song, and figuring out how to name it (“I live on the edge of existence. I live on the fray,” she explained), made it her favorite on her astounding debut album, Some Of Us Are Brave, and it's mine as well.
“Somehow I feel like waking up and trying love again and again,” she sings. When “Fray” hits this lyrical and sonic crescendo, I know that I can do that too. It’s a song of heartache and sadness that turns to resolve, hard work, and self determination, and then turns back to vulnerability and openness. It’s every woman’s journey. Or at least it’s mine.
As she says, “If I could hold still / then maybe I’ll find your love for real.” — Anne Litt (KCRW Program Director of Music & DJ)
This that kind of sass that makes the walls sweat for what they done seen! Yet again, Gabriels cast a saucy spell that’d make anyone’s cauldron bubble over. Like organ grinders of old, Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian churn their songcraft into an almost-vaudevillian number in 7/8 time. Todd Simon’s flügelhorn and an enclave of LA’s best brass pierce Jacob Lusk’s hauntingly taught vibrato as he testifies about riding that line of desire — so wrong, but so right. — Jeremy Sole (KCRW DJ)
HAAi’s “Baby, We’re Ascending” is everything you want from a techno love song. It’s a thing of exhilarating, surging-bass-and-pounding-beats beauty. HAAi’s collaboration with genre-bending mood master Jon Hopkins is nothing short of an epic, hypnotic, euphoria-inducing, dream-like adventure. From the start, the song lures you in with a most serene ocean sound, with HAAi’s ethereal vocals singing her placid confession of falling for someone: "I cannot escape / but it’s only temporary / I’m caught up in your wave / they’re crashing right on top of me."
But that’s just the beginning, for as soon as HAAi opens her heart, the song bursts into a pulsating, warp-speed techno rhythm that is impossible to resist. The bass throbs, her voice dances atop of the thrusting techno beats, and the energy is infectious. When it all comes to a halt, I'm reminded of the feeling of lights coming on at the end of a really good underground party… or maybe more like the feeling of an intense, adventure-filled dream from which you never want to wake. — Valida (KCRW DJ)
Hope Tala's October track is the unlikeliest of candidates to be my favorite song of the year. The dynamic percussion, driving bassline, triumphant horns, and general sunny demeanor that make the typical hallmarks of my favorite songs are nowhere to be found. But what is present can be life-changing. Tala manages to look the realities of death and the fleeting nature of life square in the face in a way that creates an unprecedented level of urgency and appreciation for the now. And by imaging life as "the party," she affirms that the reason for sticking around is precious time with each other — period. Be ready to weep, and then to never look at life or death the same again. — Scott Dallavo (KCRW DJ)
Chicago-bred trio Horsegirl’s “World of Pots and Pans” is a dizzying tumble through the indie-pop spin cycle with lyrics (in a time honored tradition of the genre) parsing the queer-adjacent feelings that often arise in female friendship. Winking post-punk references abound to get the point across, from the obvious, “sometimes I’m thinking that I lust you / but I know it’s only love…” to lines that are just for the heads: “There’s simply nothing to be done.” TL;DR? Swoon. — Marion Hodges (Assistant Producer)
Uruguay's Jorge Drexler released his first album in five years, the splendid Tinta y Tiempo. For me the lead off track on the album is one of the boldest moves in music this year. Featuring legendary Panamanian artist Ruben Blades, "El Plan Maestro" explodes with organic, orchestral color, delivering a joyful rumination on the invention of love. — Chris Douridas (KCRW DJ)
JPEGMAFIA reveals uncomfortable but important truths on this hard-hitting hip-hop banger. A vocal sample of 1987's “Ain’t No Need To Worry” by The Winans (with Anita Baker), featuring the lines “Pain, sometimes we feel pain,” underscores Peggy's verses tackling how mainstream rappers curate Black aesthetics while failing to platform the underground Black from whom they borrow, but who are unequal in power and resources. As hip-hop widens and popularizes, so does the propensity for appropriation and the dilution of a historically Black genre. — Kai Wayans (KCRW Music Intern)
“Dans l’jus” is a fun, freewheeling adventure born in response to a bleak 2020. A big, dramatic orchestral intro and Spanish guitar make way for Middle Eastern disco-funk sauced up by lyrics in Chiac, a Creole variety of Acadian French spoken in Lisa LeBlanc’s small Canadian town. The groove is so powerful that even if you don't speak the language, you’ll be perfectly content with understanding only a word or two. But the big payoff comes after a proper disco breakdown and the pleasingly unexpected repetition of the line, “Wheel’s turning / But the hamster’s dead,” promising to live on in the wheel of your mind. — Novena Carmel (Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host and DJ)
The ultra-dynamic femme punk rock trio of Claire FitzGerald, Marlowe Shachory, and Samara Ellis are still in high school, but the Simi Valley band held their own when they throttled into our consciousness this year via KCRW’s Young Creators Project, a beautifully inspiring community arts mentorship platform celebrating the creative work of SoCal residents under 21. (Editor's note: alert all of the young artists in your life — submissions for 2023 will be open soon.)
Their demanding, in-your-face tune "Get Me Out" is an instant classic, shooting us straight through the sonic time machine into early punk rock crates. These young rock stars play their instruments like seasoned musicians, pulled in by the grungy guitar and hard drums and held down by a deep bass line. They're in tune with one another and itshines through their songwriting. I can't wait to see Madam Bombs live in front of thousands. That's what I envisioned when I saw them live for the first time at the Mayan for our Young Creators showcase, and my mind has stayed blown since. — Rocio ‘Wyldeflower’ Contreras (KCRW DJ)
“Stabilise,” the lead single off 26-year-old British indie-rocker Nilüfer Yanya’s latest full length PAINLESS, is equal parts angsty and golden. Pop-punk guitar riffs reminiscent of Tragic Kingdom-era No Doubt find an oddly satisfying synergy with the song’s restless drum pattern. Yanya’s distinctively low and nonchalant vocals float above it all.
“Stabilise” captures the feelings of young adulthood: part numb, part hopeful, held back, yet totally free all at the same time. Get this taste of Yanya’s one-of-a-kind voice, contemplative lyrics, and grungy guitar prowess — you’ll find yourself immediately addicted. Luckily, PAINLESS (ranked high on my personal Top Ten list) is an extension of the moody and delicious vibes felt all over this track. — Anna Chang (Assistant Producer)
Omar Apollo has gradually re-invented himself as a figure in music. Born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, the alt-crooner has delighted us with his debut studio album Ivory, which takes us on a mature musical journey. One particular standout is “Evergreen.” Written in the mountains of Idyllwild, Calif. far away from others, this composition brings out a sense of nostalgia. The contrasts in his storytelling are very well placed and handled, a seasoned reflection on the importance of making things right rather than remaining exposed and susceptible to our sensitivity. — Jason Kramer (KCRW DJ)
“Respect the dead,” Robyn Hitchcock intones, “you will be joining them soon.” So begins “The Man Who Loves The Rain,” the quiet peak of his 2022 album, Shufflemania. Hitchcock has spent five decades and countless records exploring the human condition in all its folly, contradiction, and transcendence. And while at times his brand of cerebral English surrealism can be hard to penetrate, he’s also a rare master at illuminating the strange contours of the soul.
“The Man Who Loves The Rain” is a first-rate example: A sympathetic meditation on mortality, it ponders existence itself as a paradox, forever suspended between opposing states. “Life is eternal / life is so brief / and life is so sweet,” he sings. As with any Hitchcock song, there are layers unspoken. His father Raymond passed in the interval since his last album. And the title is plucked from a list of Raymond Chandler’s unwritten story titles, a tribute that calls back to his 1986 song, “Raymond Chandler Evening.” But such details are hardly required to appreciate this gorgeous number, which stands among his finest in years. (A bow of appreciation to singer-songwriter Emma Swift, Robyn’s life and touring partner, who provides ravishing harmonies). — Myke Dodge Weiskopf (Senior Producer)
Samora Pinderhughes lives at the forefront of social justice and creativity. He's a young man who is not afraid to point out truth and present it in such loveliness that the message is delivered with poignance and reverence. They are all stories, the stories of our everyday life filled with one percenters, turncoats, and ordinary people trying to survive in the middle of tyranny and misguidance.
“Kingly” amplifies a story of someone who we put our trust in, who delivers promises that can help us rise up out of the trenches, the struggles, and progress to the next level where we can live and aspire to the riches that we see in the hills and towers that surround and loom above us. Yet, there is a cost, a soul to sell, and you will do everything in your powerless presence to ascend. But, the tickets do not cash in, and promises are on worthless paper, but desperation still leads us to believe in “The King.” — LeRoy Downs (KCRW DJ)
“Angel,” the 10:07 single released by enigmatic music collective SAULT on the tenth day of the tenth month of the year, has proven to be one of the standout tracks of 2022. Voiced by Jamaican artist Chronixx, “Angel” tells the heartbreaking tale of a young boy corrupted by street violence. The lengthy single, also dubbed an EP, takes four distinctive turns. The track begins as soulful reggae, employing sparse percussion and haunting guitar before unexpectedly shifting into mournful yet gentle gospel. Chronixx then uses a spoken-word cadence to consider what it means for individuals to tap into their true nature before “Angel” takes its final turn, becoming a hopeful, acoustic guitar-led anthem about the ability to find one’s way through the chaos.
On “Angel,” SAULT continues their tradition of placing quality over frills and fanfare. The result is one of the most unique and envelope-pushing offerings to emerge this year. — Francesca Harding (KCRW DJ)
Steve Lacy pours his lust and regret into “Bad Habit,” fanning the flames of unrequited love. It’s sexy, raw, and incredibly infectious. When the single, of off this year's acclaimed Gemini Problems LP, dropped into the world, it immediately went viral, skyrocketing up the charts and soundtracking every summer TikTok video, sweeping the world in the warmth of Lacy’s yearning. “Bad Habit” marks his jump from lo-fi indie rock treasure to beloved mainstream star, and cements Lacy's status as one of the hottest Gemini loverboys in rock. — Tyler Boudreaux (KCRW DJ)
Following the unjust killing of Mahsa Amini, Iranian singer-songwriter Shervin Hajipour channeled the frustrated sentiment of his fellow Iranians on social media into an unplugged, intimate live performance on Instagram of his track “Baraye,” meaning “because of” or "for." The song immediately became the singular anthem of the Iranian protest movement, spreading like wildfire. In just two and a half minutes, Hajipour eloquently and efficiently speaks of the ability to live a regular human life, including the ability to dance in the streets outside, the ability to kiss someone without fear.
He goes on to declare: Because of my sister, because of your sister, our sisters, and the girl who wished she’d been born a boy; the kids, the refugee children, and their futures — because these “becauses” never end. The song continues to build along with the frustration of the Iranian people, and ends with a soulful and passionate plea from the popular political Kurdish slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” that became a rallying cry during the protests. He repeats “for freedom” four times over beautiful solo piano work as it fades out. The song leaves us wanting so much more, and that’s exactly what the Iranian people want as well.
As a first generation Iranian American listening to this song, I am brought immediately into the heads and hearts of the Iranian people, connecting with my homeland and our collective dream for a better future. — Nassir Nassirzadeh (KCRW DJ)
It's your traditional reggaeton drum program but a sly bass line that bounces along the kicks and snares — and Tokischa's flow that rides like a Charlie Parker solo. Her cadence is very much reminiscent of early '80s rap stylings, like Salt-N-Pepa or JJ Fad. Tokischa has had such an amazing year working alongside ROSALÍA and Madonna. But make no mistake, this Dominican lyricist has bars! — Anthony Valadez (Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host)
When I listen to “Time” by TSHA, I'm automatically taken aback by the smooth, lush sounds and a dreamy bassline that pulls me in, all intertwined with hypnotic sitar chords. “Time” has the essence of '90s trip-hop, breaks, and house, with a classic groove to keep our heads bobbing. These sounds make me feel nostalgic and enchanted, all at the same time. A modern symphony with an Acid House break to tie it all together. — SiLVA (KCRW DJ)
It’s slinky, sultry, and feels like that hazy dream of spending a weekend wrapped in all of the feels with someone who makes you forget what time and day it is. It’s the feeling of the sun on your face, a lover in your arms, and no place to be but right there. Forever. The video is its perfect accompaniment. — Anne Litt (KCRW Program Director of Music & DJ)
White-hot off of 070 Shake’s sophomore album You Can’t Kill Me, “Cocoon” is an ominous, high-charged portrayal of growth through pain. Sultry, controlled vocals marry the track’s ascending synth line and heavy bass for a result that is as hypnotizing as it is honest. Introspective and self-assured, the song successfully guides listeners on an emotional journey of outgrowing old patterns and blooming into new, more promising beginnings. Shake’s ability to communicate her vulnerability while also maintaining agency over her own transformation demonstrates her true prowess as an artist and a visionary. — Kylee Wiens (KCRW Music Intern)
KCRW’s Top 30 Most Played Songs of 2022
We’ve presented our personal Top Ten lists, tallied all of the album votes, and selected the songs that truly spoke to our hearts to expand upon. But what about the raw data? For those that want to know what we were spinning all year, here it is.
Assembled by consulting internal metrics, and cross-referencing with our pals over at eightyninenine.com, this is as close to a list of the 30 most played songs of this calendar year that a station cycling through hand-picked samplings of roughly 750 albums per week is ever gonna get.
- Automatic – “New Beginning”
- The Smile – “The Smoke”
- Toro y Moi – “Postman”
- Gabriels – “Angels & Queens”
- Sudan Archives – “Selfish Soul”
- Andrew Bird – “Atomized”
- Say She She – “Prism”
- Little Dragon – “Cisco”
- Automatic – “Skyscraper”
- Say She She – “Forget Me Not”
- Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – “Crosswalk”
- Men I Trust – “Billie Toppy”
- Warpaint – “Champion”
- De Lux – “New Summers”
- Arlo Parks – “Softly”
- Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – “Edge of the Edge”
- Eddie Chacon – “Holy Hell”
- Sudan Archives – “Home Maker”
- HAAi – “Bodies of Water”
- Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – “Go On”
- Brijean – “Shy Guy”
- Danielle Ponder – “So Long”
- JJ & The Mood – “How Many Times”
- Ela Minus & DJ Python – “Pájaros en Verano”
- Bonobo – “ATK”
- Jungle – “GOOD TIMES”
- Khruangbin & Leon Bridges – “B-Side”
- Braxe + Falcon – “Step By Step" (Feat. Panda Bear)”
- Toro y Moi – “Déjà Vu”
- Pearl & The Oysters – “Pacific Ave”