1. Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE
This is an instant classic. I loved it from the very first listen and couldn’t wait to play it over and over. This is by far the best dance album of the year. Beyoncé is a masterful curator of sounds. I love that she features Grace Jones and samples Donna Summer. Side note: One of the most memorable concert performances I saw this year was Lil Nas X doing a lip sync performance to Beyoncé’s PURE/HONEY in the middle of his Long Live Montero concert.
Favorite Tracks: “PURE/HONEY” & “SUMMER RENAISSANCE”
2. Harry Styles – Harry’s House
This is a close second place on my list. Almost a tie. When Harry was in One Direction, he did nothing for me. So I continue to be surprised by how much I love his solo career. This is his third solo album and each album is better than the last. As a performer, he is at the top of his game. So charming, charismatic, energetic and caring towards his fans. Side note: His song “Keep Driving” should inspire many trivia questions and crossword puzzle clues like “Name three breakfast food items mentioned in Keep Driving” or “What drug is mentioned prior to “side boob” in Keep Driving”
Favorite Tracks: “Keep Driving” & “Matilda”
3. Grace Ives – Janky Star
I can’t believe this album isn’t a huge hit. It is so addictively great. Just pure dance pop and by the time you reach the end of the album, it leaves you wanting more…so you listen again. If you like Robyn or Carly Rae Jepsen you should give this a try.
Favorite Tracks: “Loose” & “Angel Of Business”
Seen Live in 2022: I’m embarrassed to admit that I bought a ticket to see her at Schubas in September but missed the show because I put the wrong date in my calendar. Such a bummer. I’ve never done that before!
4. Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
Violinist Brittney Parks (aka Sudan Archives) has created such a cool sounding R&B album. It reminds me of one time during a visit to NYC when we stumbled upon this unmarked nightclub where a live violinist was performing along to classic hip hop songs.
Favorite Tracks: “Selfish Soul” & “Freakalizer”
Seen Live in 2022: Lincoln Hall in October
5. Taylor Swift – Midnights
Taylor continues her astounding string of great albums with Midnights. This one returns to a pop sound after exploring her folk side with folklore & evermore. One of my biggest Taylor Swift memories this year was the joy of being selected for presale tickets to her upcoming “The Eras Tour”. Which led to 8 hours of frustration of trying to get tickets with absolutely no luck. Then a few weeks later waking up to an email from “Taylor” that I had been selected for the chance to get some of the few remaining tickets. Then a few days later getting the confirmation that I in fact was going to see her next June. What a rollercoaster!
Favorite Tracks: “Anti-Hero” & “Karma”
6. ROSALÍA – MOTOMAMI
Rosalía reminds me of artists like Björk or Missy Elliott in the way that they combine a variety of musical influences to create a new sound. This album will likely seem strange at first but if you give it time you might grow to love it like I do. I was lucky enough to catch Rosalía on her Motomami World Tour at the Aragon Ballroom in September. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is selling out stadiums very soon. She has that Beyonce-level superstar quality.
Favorite Tracks: “CUUUUuuuuuute” & “HENTAI”
Seen Live in 2022: Aragon Ballroom in September
7. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
The Smile is a new band comprised of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood along with jazz drummer Tom Skinner. A Light for Attracting Attention is full of meandering and mesmerizing jazz rock songs. This is one of those albums that just keeps getting better the more you listen.
Favorite Tracks: “Free In the Knowledge” & “The Smoke”
Seen Live in 2022: Riviera Theatre in December
8. Lucius – Second Nature
Lucius is the hardest working singing duo in the music business. They sing backing vocals for just about everyone including Harry Styles, John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Roger Waters, Kurt Vile and The War On Drugs. Second Nature is their fourth album. This one has a dancey disco vibe with a few ballads mixed in.
Favorite Tracks: “Dance Around It (feat. Brandi Carlile & Sheryl Crow)” & “LSD”
Seen Live in 2022: Metro in May
9. Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Wet Leg is probably the most buzzed about new rock band to come out this year. Thankfully, their debut album lived up to the pre-release hype. I can definitely hear the influence of some of my favorite early 90s bands like Pixies, The Breeders, Belly and Nirvana.
Favorite Tracks: “Wet Dream” & “Too Late Now”
10. Jack White – Fear Of The Dawn & Entering Heaven Alive
Jack White released two really good albums this year so I’m going to cheat and group them together. Fear Of The Dawn is a little more interesting and sometimes bonkers (example: Hi-De-Ho feat. Q-Tip). It really gets my blood flowing. Entering Heaven Alive is little more mellow but still rocks.
Favorite Tracks: “Taking Me Back” & “Help Me Along”
Seen Live in 2022: Credit Union 1 Arena in April and Aragon Ballroom in December
11. Amber Mark – Three Dimensions Deep
Amber Mark has released several excellent singles and EPs since 2016 but this year she finally released her debut album. It was worth the wait. In a year full of really great R&B albums, this one stands out as one of the best.
Favorite Tracks: “Healing Hurts” & “One”
12. Angel Olsen – Big Time
On her latest album Big Time, Angel Olsen switched directions to an old-school country sound. It seems like she was always meant to be a country artist. Just before recording this album, she met someone and came out as queer. She told both of her parents. Then both of her parents died within weeks of her coming out to them. I can’t even imagine what the past couple years have been like for her but it does feel like you hear all of those emotions on this album.
Favorite Tracks: “All The Flowers” & “Big Time”
Seen Live in 2022: The Salt Shed in August
13. Charli XCX – Crash
Charli XCX albums often make my year end lists. I’ve been a fan since the very beginning and have seen her perform in pretty much every venue in Chicago from Schubas to Soldier Field. This is her most straight-forward pop album in years. She always has her finger on the pulse of what’s new in pop music.
Favorite Tracks: “Good Ones” & “Used To Know Me”
14. SZA – SOS
This is the newest album to make my list. It came out just a few weeks ago and has been rising up my list ever since. I suspect it would be in my top five if it had been released earlier in the year. It is such a great album. I love that she experiments beyond R&B into emo rock & hip-hop. I listened to a Rolling Stone interview recently and she says she has many more songs she recorded that will be included on a deluxe edition of this album. I can’t wait to hear them!
Favorite Tracks: “Kill Bill” & “Low”
15. King Princess – Hold On Baby
This album seems to be inspired by reflections of our isolation during the early days of the pandemic but somehow it is full of sing-a-long anthems meant to be sung with friends. My most memorable King Princess experience was seeing her at the House of Blues for a Lolla Aftershow at the exact moment this album was released into the world. It was so much fun to hear the album performed live before I had even listened to the recording.
Favorite Tracks: “Cursed” & “Let Us Die”
Seen Live in 2022: United Center in January (opening for Kacey Musgraves), House of Blues in July and Lollapalooza in July
16. The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language
This is such a satisfying album. This one also gets better every time I listen. Lead singer, Matt Healy, is one of the most interesting characters in music. One of those performers where you have a huge crush on them but you are also very concerned for their well-being.
Favorite Tracks: “About You” & “All I Need To Hear”
Seen Live in 2022: Aragon Ballroom in December
17. Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
This is a grown-up pop album. Carly has come a long way since “Call Me Maybe”. Her music career reminds me of Kylie Minogue’s where they are both often defined by their earliest smash hit but they just keep putting out great music beyond anyone’s expectations.
Favorite Tracks: “The Loneliest Time (feat. Rufus Wainwright)” & “Western Wind”
Seen Live in 2022: Aragon Ballroom in November
18. Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point
This is Tears for Fears first album in nearly 18 years. When this album was announced late last year, I was cautiously excited. But then I was pleasantly surprised by how much I truly like it. Not just the nostalgia of them releasing something new but releasing something I would like if they were a new band.
Favorite Tracks: “Master Plan” & “End of Night”
Seen Live in 2022: Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in June
19. SASAMI – Squeeze
This is one of the most exciting albums of the year. If you are a fan of 90s rock in all its forms, this album is for you. It is a shame that the big festivals like Riot Fest and Lollapalooza didn’t book her this year. Hopefully, they book her in 2023. Side note: her song “Say It” is my most played song of 2022 (According to Apple Music)
Favorite Tracks: “Say It” & “Make It Right”
Seen Live in 2022: Lincoln Hall in April and Huntington Bank Pavilion in June (opening for HAIM)
20. Mitski – Laurel Hell
This is another great Mitski album. I’ve been going to her live shows for years and it has been fun to see the evolution of her performance style. When I first started seeing her shows at small venues, she mostly stayed put behind the microphone and exuded a quiet power. Then I saw her open for other performers like Pixies and Lorde at much larger venues and she started to come out of her shell. Then this year she was one of the headliners at the Pitchfork Music Festival and she blew me away by her athletic dancing and visual theatricality.
Favorite Tracks: “Stay Soft” & “Should’ve Been Me”
Seen Live in 2022: Pitchfork Music Festival in July
21. The Weeknd – Dawn FM
The Weeknd’s latest is a concept album that sounds like listening to a fictional pop radio station late at night in the 1980s. It has lots of synths and soothing spoken word interludes by Jim Carrey & Quincy Jones. It really works on every level.
Favorite Tracks: “Gasoline” & “Less Than Zero”
22. Beach House – Once Twice Melody
I almost forgot to put this on my list because it was released in four parts. The first two parts came out in late 2021 and the other two came out in January & February. Beach House has such a beautiful and lush sound. I kept going back to this album throughout the year whenever I was feeling anxious. It always has a calming effect on me.
Favorite Tracks: “Superstar” & “New Romance”
Seen Live in 2022: Radius in July
23. Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Big Thief are such timeless folk rock songwriters. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday other performers cover their songs as often as they do Bob Dylan’s catalog.
Favorite Tracks: “Change” & “Wake Me up to Drive”
Seen Live in 2022: Riviera Theatre in April
24. Zach Bryan – American Heartbreak
Here is an example of why I still love Lollapalooza. I had heard of Zach Bryan and knew he was growing in popularity so I decided to check him out for a few songs at Lolla even though I was not familiar with his music. I enjoyed those first few songs so much that I stayed for his entire set. That prompted me to start listening to this album and eventually buying tickets to see him again at Windy City Smokeout next Summer. If you like Jason Isbell or Sturgill Simpson, you might like this. Side note: I’m really shocked that he didn’t get a Best New Artist Grammy nomination.
Favorite Tracks: “Open the Gate” & “Cold Damn Vampires”
Seen Live in 2022: Lollapalooza in July
25. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down
This is YYYs first album in nearly a decade. So many powerful songs on this one. Part of the reason I like this album is that they have these quiet moments throughout that build to something really exciting. My only complaint is that this album feels kind of short and wish it had a few more songs. Hopefully, they don’t make us wait another decade for a follow-up album.
Favorite Tracks: “Spitting Off the Edge of the World (feat. Perfume Genius)” & “Burning”
Seen Live in 2022: Riot Fest in September
26. Nilüfer Yanya- PAINLESS
This album came out early in the year. I liked it immediately but then forgot about it because there was so much other music being released. Luckily, I rediscovered how great it is when the deluxe edition arrived late in the year. This is her second album. I can’t think of any way to describe her sound and maybe that’s a good thing. Just give it a try.
Favorite Tracks: “chase me” & “stabilise”
27. Orville Peck – Bronco
Bronco is Orville’s second full-length album. I’m really glad his excellent debut album Pony wasn’t a fluke. In fact, I think this might be better than his first album. He is exploring a little more variety and vocal range while continuing his mysteriously sexy masked country singer persona.
Favorite Tracks: “Hexie Mountains” & “The Curse of the Blackened Eye”
Seen Live in 2022: Riviera Theatre in June
28. Metric – Formentera
I’ve always liked Metric but I haven’t been that wild about their past couple albums. So I was caught by surprise by how much I love this one. Seeing these songs performed live in October made me love it even more.
Favorite Tracks: “False Dichotomy” & “Doomscroller”
Seen Live in 2022: Chicago Theatre in October
29. Wilco – Cruel Country
On Cruel Country, Wilco ventures into country music. Honestly, it is not a huge departure from their usual sound. So if you like Wilco you will probably like this album. I find it to be relaxing in the best possible way. Like a glass of red wine at the end of a difficult day.
Favorite Tracks: “Ambulance” & “Tired of Taking It Out On You”
Seen Live in 2022: Auditorium Theatre in April (performing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
30. Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
This is Spoon’s 10th album. I’ve always liked Spoon but I didn’t become a loyal fan until 2014’s They Want My Soul. Since then I’ve loved everything they’ve released. There is no filler on this album. They’ve made every moment count.
Favorite Tracks: “Wild” & “My Babe”
Seen Live in 2022: Riviera Theatre in April
**********Other music highlights of 2022**********
My Most Played Artists of 2022 (According to Apple Music):
Empress Of – Save Me
Kim Petras – Slut Pop
The most NSFW album of the year
Favorite Music/Entertainment Memoir:
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono
Bono has a fascinating life and is an extraordinarily gifted story teller. The music interludes and his vocal impressions of other famous people make this audiobook really special. It deserves a Grammy.
Another great Music Memoir:
Maybe We’ll Make It by Margo Price
This book makes you realize how difficult it is to make a living in the music industry. So much struggle, heartbreak, triumph and honest reflection on mistakes made along the way.
Best Remix Album:
Madonna – Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones
Madonna’s 50 Number One dance singles in chronological order. This is a fun journey of dance music trends over the past 40 years.
Best Series of Remixes for a Song:
Taylor Swift – Anti-Hero Remixes
It is rare that a remix of a hit song is as good as the original. Somehow, all of the Anti-Hero remixes have been great.
Most Impressive Concerts by Newer Artists:
Rosalía – Motomami World Tour
Lil Nas X – Long Live Montero Tour
Best New Vocalist:
Danielle Ponder – Some of Us Are Brave
At the age of 40, Danielle Ponder quit her job as a public defender in Rochester, New York to pursue her dream of a music career. I’m so glad she did. I saw her twice this year and was blown away both times. What an incredible voice!
Biggest Concert Pet Peeves:
Ticketmaster/Live Nation’s dynamic pricing. This is where the prices of tickets are changing all the time based on demand. Sometimes they change from the time you select the ticket to when you put it in your cart. I understand this is a supply & demand concept but it feels really scammy to the consumer. This practice should be investigated and possibly regulated by the government.
People talking loudly throughout a concert. There is a certain segment of the concert-going audience that seems to have no interest in the concert whatsoever. I wish those people would stop attending concerts or leave when they realize they are not into a show. Maybe they should just go to a bar instead?
Best Music Podcast:
Björk: Sonic Symbolism
This podcast explores the inspirations behind each of Björk’s albums through conversations between her and two of her trusted friends.
Favorite Music Video:
Best Online Concert:
Six Artists I Would Love to See on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominations Ballot in 2023 (None have ever been nominated and all have been eligible for at least a decade):
Joy Division/New Order
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Most Promising New Chicago Concert Venue:
The Salt Shed
This venue had a series of outdoor concerts this year while under construction. The indoor venue opens in February 2023.
Unexpected Revival of the Year:
Robin S’s 1993 dance hit Show Me Love is sampled on two of my favorite songs of the year. (Charli XCX’s Used To Know Me and Beyonce’s BREAK MY SOUL)
My Favorite Tour Poster (From A Show I Attended):
Jack White at Aragon Ballroom on December 8, 2022
I love that this poster is an AI generated time capsule of events that happened on the day of the concert. Make sure you zoom in to read it.
Favorite Music Documentaries:
Nothing Compares – Sinéad O’Connor documentary (Available On Showtime)
Sinéad O’Connor is such an underappreciated and misunderstood artist.
Moonage Daydream – David Bowie documentary
This is not a straightforward documentary. It is more of a visual collage which might not be for everyone but I thought it was fantastic.
Artists On My “Bucket List” Who I Saw for the First Time This Year:
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (I’ve seen each separately but not together)
Most Shocking Concert Experience:
Seeing Coolio at Riot Fest in September and then finding out a week later that he died. RIP Coolio
Irene Cara – What A Feelin’
I found my cassette of Irene Cara’s album What A Feelin’. As you can tell by the cracked case, I loved this album and played it a lot when I was ten years old. I’ve been re-listening since the news of her passing in November and I still think this album is great. A forgotten gem from the 80s. The Dream & Romance ‘83 are two of my favorites. In fact, I would love it if Jessie Ware did an updated cover of Romance ‘83 (Romance’23?)