You’ll notice this list is a little longer than it’s been in the past. That’s a reflection of a strong start to the year that’s seen big-ticket rap releases (Pusha T and the long-awaited return of Kendrick Lamar among them), a handful of major indie rock albums (see: Beach House’s and Big Thief’s double-album comebacks), and a bunch of smaller releases we’re very excited about (take your pick from the list). To fully capture 2022 in music so far, it felt necessary to count down the best 25 albums, as opposed to 10. (Truthfully, we could’ve done 50, but we’re reasonable people.)
What’s causing this glut of great music? Is it a pandemic build-up finally releasing? The full-stop return of festivals and touring (fingers crossed)? New voices rising up in pop? It’s tough to say, but either way, we’ll take it.
Albums released by June 30 were eligible for consideration. Check back on Friday to find out our favorite songs of the year so far.
25. Few Good Things, Saba
Remember that rad tweet that dismissed Chance the Rapper as “OL HAPPY ASS”? (Deleted, alas.) Rude, yes, but if you like your earthy Chicago hip-hop warm and buoyant but just a touch less naive, the tenderhearted but hard-nosed third album from Saba is the move. The deceptively serene rapper and producer (and occasional Chance collaborator) both revels in and struggles with outsized success on Few Good Things, a deft and melodically rich and beguilingly glum exploration of what it means to Make It (whatever that means) without Losing It (likewise). “Is a peace of mind worth / Leavin’ everything you knew behind? / Move another town and / Hope the trauma don’t amount to what you do in life,” he thunders on a song called “Survivor’s Guilt”; “I’m just scared to go back / Didn’t have shit to eat / Half my bread go to taxes / The actual thieves,” he grouses cheerfully on a song called “Fearmonger.” Best of all is “Soldier,” a woozy and hooky anthem grounded by a hard-earned wisdom worthy of Kendrick Lamar or, if you’re old enough, Goodie Mob. His cup floweth over, even when his glass is half-empty. —Rob Harvilla
24. Versions of Modern Performance, Horsegirl
The easy tagline for Horsegirl’s first album is: For fans of ’80s and ’90s indie rock. It certainly tracks—while listening to Versions of Modern Performance, you’ll hear strains of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., homages to My Bloody Valentine and Built to Spill. But with Horsegirl, the sum is greater than the influences. The trio of teenaged Chicago musicians—Gigi Reece, Nora Cheng, and Penelope Lowenstein—have crafted an album as vital as any of the music it’s indebted to. Listen as they alternate between infectious college-rock riffs and dance-punk on “Anti-glory,” or let the sea of fuzz on “Option 8” envelop you. Versions of Modern Performance is such a realized debut that it may itself influence a later generation down the road. —Justin Sayles
23. Continuance, Curren$y and Alchemist
The second collaboration from Spitta and Alchemist is a drive down Canal Street, toward the New Orleans riverwalk at 2 a.m. minutes after taking a nibble of the edible. Along the ride, there are features from Babyface Ray, Larry June, Havoc, and Boldy James, all rapping over slick loops. Continuance is a love letter to New Orleans, armed with the spirit of the speakeasies that line the streets of the French Quarter. This project also marks Curren$y’s 11th since the start of 2021, as he’s sidestepped the pandemic to put out content at a rate not seen since his famed mixtape run in the early 2010s. The vibes are here, and Curren$y plans to keep it that way. —Logan Murdock
22. PAINLESS, Nilüfer Yanya
“Why do other people have this idea that artists need to be suffering in order for their music to be good?” the rising 27-year-old British singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya told NPR in March. The question pervades PAINLESS, her stellar second album built on big drums, big riffs, and bigger emotions. Over lush tracks that occasionally recall The Bends or OK Computer, Yanya sings like she’s sharing a late-night confessional, alternating between whispery cries and bellowing declarations. PAINLESS’s songs can be intimate (“Try,” “Midnight Sun”) or pulverizing (“The Dealer,” “Stabilise”), but they always feel like they’re working toward catharsis. At times, she finds it: Take the album’s best song, “Shameless,” which boasts a sentimental melody that belies the lyrics’ aching heartbreak. “If it feels good / Then it’s alright,” she sings, and for a second, you’re inclined to believe her. —Sayles
21. Monologues, Ogi
As its name suggests, Monologues is a proof-of-concept record. Six songs. Twenty-one minutes. No I.D. behind the boards. One signature voice. Instead of kowtowing to the modern R&B rat race, Monologues operates in a warmer and more nostalgic ecosystem. At the center is Ogi, a Nigerian singer raised in Wisconsin. Ogi has said that her deep and rich voice, honed in jazz choirs and a cappella groups, is meant to mirror singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughn. But what brings the project an inherent levity is that Ogi’s beyond-her-years voice is still preoccupied with the trappings of 2022 dating. Songs about persistent exes (“Let Me Go”), bad dates (“Bitter”), and clout-chasing gremlins (“Envy”) abound. At any point, Monologues could’ve felt like a bigger record. The piano plinks and jazzy horns of “Envy” seem to point to a Grammy-darling future. Thankfully, Monologues isn’t that record. It’s a smaller, more intimate portrait of an artist with a lot left to give even if the initial audition is so mesmerizing. —Charles Holmes
20. Laurel Hell, Mitski
“I need you to love me more / Love me more / Love me more,” demands one of the most adored and breathlessly scrutinized art-rock stars of her generation on a synth-pop stunner midway through her sixth album, which agonizes over what all that adoration and scrutiny has cost her. “Love enough to drown it out / Drown it out / Drown me out.” Laurel Hell pulls you closer and pushes you away with effortless magnetism and merciless honesty: “Open up your heart like the gates of hell” sums it up. These are uneasy but razor-sharp pop songs about the tyranny of love (“If you would just make one mistake / What a relief that would be”), the tyranny of growing up (“Maybe at 30, I’ll see a way to change”), the tyranny, perhaps, of pop stardom. (She’s huge on TikTok, but Twitter arguments about her are insufferable.) Whoever she’s addressing with lines like “I haven’t given you what you need / You wanted me but couldn’t reach me,” this is a dense and mesmerizing excoriation of hero worship destined, of course, to only inspire more. —Harvilla
19. DEATHFAME, Quelle Chris
“Repeat until you see desired results,” Quelle Chris says at the start of one song off his new album, DEATHFAME. For years, this has been the cerebral Detroit MC/producer’s modus operandi: Since 2011, Chris has released eight albums with him as a featured rapper (including 2018’s excellent Jean Grae team-up, Everything’s Fine). But despite critical acclaim and some breakthroughs—last year, he collaborated on the score for Judas and the Black Messiah—on DEATHFAME, he wants more. Throughout the album’s 42-minute running time, he sneers at lesser MCs and contemplates the mechanics of an industry that values posthumous success more than its living talents. Built on a bed of pitched-down, disjointed samples that build tension but never quite release, DEATHFAME may be Chris’s most intriguing artistic statement. It’s a dense, heady album from a dense, heady artist. But while it may not ultimately lead to those desired results, it won’t stop Chris from trying: “I do this for the love and money,” he raps on the title track. “I do this for the love of money, anyone say otherwise is broke or frontin’.” —Sayles
18. 40 oz. to Fresno, Joyce Manor
Fantastic title, first of all. Joyce Manor—ecstatic and aggrieved rock ’n’ roll miniaturists from Torrance, California, who pack more sugary hooks and ferocious dissatisfaction into a two-minute song than lesser bands cough up across whole careers—are masters of compression on their sixth album, blowing through nine perfect pop-punk songs in less than 17 minutes and wasting not a second. Put it on repeat for hours and see what jumps out: the delicious hostility of “You’re Not Famous Anymore,” the infectious turbo-charged chorus of “Don’t Try,” the glorious crunch and falsetto earworm of “Gotta Let It Go.” Hours later you’ll still be discovering wonderfully sardonic details, like the bridge that goes, “Look at me, yelling love is free / Then why is everybody always stealing shit from Best Buy? / Could it be that the room’s empty / And I’m just tearing out my heart for the sound guy?” Absolutely sublime. —Harvilla
17. Cocodrillo Turbo, Action Bronson
Action Bronson is often at his best when the stakes are lowest. The music at this point is a bonus—today, he’s perhaps better known as a Viceland mascot and olive oil pitchman than he is as a rapper. But that shift has allowed him to dig deeper into his eccentricities in ways he couldn’t even five years ago. Cocodrillo Turbo may be the greatest realization of that yet. He jumps over the hood of a Jaguar, “like a jaguar.” He doesn’t cut the bread with a knife—he rips it “like a man supposed to.” It’s viscerally thrilling—fitting for a man who has built an empire out of his vices—and it’s his best project since Blue Chips 2. It’s also perhaps the most purely fun listening experience you’ll have in 2022. —Sayles
16. 2 P’z in a Pod, Larry June, Jay Worthy, and LNDN DRGS
2 P’z in a Pod is the audio embodiment of your two uncles clad in velvet suits, Stacy Adams hard bottoms, and a top hat, scoping out the scene with the coldest gangsta lean. For 11 silky tracks, June and Worthy bless the LP with a swagger that only California can produce. Features from Jim Jones, CeeLo Green, and Suga Free function as the latest stamp for June and Worthy, who have ascended to the door of the West Coast elite. —Murdock
15. High School, Tim Heidecker
Yes, that Tim Heidecker. The alt-comedy legend returned last month with a new album, the latest in his continued lean into earnest, heart-on-his-sleeve singer-songwriter rock. It’s his best yet: On High School Heidecker mines the past to make sense of the present. Songs like “Chillin’ in Alaska” and “Stupid Kid” tap into adolescent heartbreak, while “Buddy” paints a composite sketch of old friends lost to drugs and other circumstances. At other points, like on the standout single “Sirens of Titan,” it plays as though Heidecker is recalling buried memories in real time, piecing them together to complete the puzzle of who he is today. With Mac DeMarco helping with the production and Kurt Vile dropping by for an assist, it’s not just Heidecker’s best record—it’s one of the best indie rock records you’ll hear all year. —Sayles
14. Lucifer on the Sofa, Spoon
“For the first time in my life / I let myself be held / Like a big ol’ baby,” crows indomitable Spoon frontman Britt Daniel on what feels like his 200th fantastic album, and the ornery zest with which he rips into the words “big ol’ baby” alone ensures that this’ll be somebody’s all-time favorite. These fellas started out 20-plus years ago as major-label survivors turned indie-rock superheroes, but they long ago transcended such feeble pigeonholes and became just an all-time great rock ’n’ roll band, their songs skeletal but full to bursting, rough and noisy but exquisitely, precisely calibrated. Lucifer on the Sofa has a rawer, surlier edge than usual (“The Hardest Cut” lives up to its title), but the disarming tenderness of the second half especially is just as surprising. (“My Babe” and “Astral Jacket” live up to their titles, also.) And the incredible “Wild” is the perfect mix of laid-back groove and raucous ecstasy, a monster jam that suggests, for like the 2,000th time, that these guys really could put out albums this great forever. —Harvilla
13. Once Twice Melody, Beach House
Eighteen years after they formed—a time when most bands would be slowing down or shifting into the comfortable “nostalgia” space—Beach House has released their most ambitious project yet. The sprawling Once Twice Melody is their biggest and boldest statement, more ethereal and gauzier than anything that’s come before it. An 84-minute double album, Melody is an immersive experience, one that washes over you with a mix of swirling synths, floating vocals, and shoegaze riffs. Songs like the sun-kissed title track and the sparkling “New Romance” feel like the culmination of everything the Baltimore dream-pop duo has been building toward since their 2006 debut. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this marks the first time Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have fully produced their own record. Melody is mesmerizing, and it raises exciting possibilities of how Beach House’s sound could evolve in the next decade-plus. —Sayles
12. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, Big Thief
At 20 songs, 80 minutes, and roughly 50 abrupt but exhilarating vibe shifts, nothing about the mammoth fifth album from this burgeoning Brooklyn festival-rock institution is restrained, from the loopy title on down. Track 2 (“Time Escaping”) is an amiable prog-funk ode to entropy; Track 3 (“Spud Infinity”) is a bouyant, barefoot folk tribute to, uh, potatoes. (And infinity.) Take your time, choose your own adventure, and build your own Album of the Year tracklist: Mine would include the slow-motion droning ecstasy of “Sparrow,” the delicate flute solo that winds through the soft-rock majesty of “No Reason,” and the dreamy drum-machine chant of “Wake Me Up to Drive.” Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You takes no time at all to warm up to, but rewards every ounce of further energy you put into it, especially when it comes to wrapping your head around singer Adrianne Lenker’s vivid and surreal lyrics (“From the 31st floor of the simulation swarm / With the drone of fluorescence / Flicker, fever, fill the form”) or, better yet, never fully wrapping your head around them at all. —Harvilla
11. Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky, Porridge Radio
The pandemic robbed Porridge Radio of their breakout moment. At least that’s been the narrative around the Brighton, U.K., quartet, who released one of 2020’s buzziest albums just as the world was shutting down. But to the extent the band buys into that story, they don’t appear any worse for wear. Porridge Radio’s latest album builds on the strengths of its predecessor, Every Bad, while pushing their music in an exciting new direction. The instrumentals are bigger, swelling with synths and organs and reaching for the rafters. They’re ethereal, cathartic, and even a bit spiritual, providing a perfect backdrop for lead singer and chief songwriter Dana Margolin, one of the most exciting and emotive new voices in music. With titanic songs like the heart-wrecked singalong of lead single “Back to the Radio” or new-wave groover “The Rip,” Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky hits you like a megaton bomb of feelings. And maybe that’s enough to change the narrative around Porridge Radio. —Sayles
10. Ramona Park Broke My Heart, Vince Staples
Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a reckoning with nostalgia. Throughout his fifth studio album, Staples balances the love for his hometown with the pain endured to make it out. Surviving the perils of gang life in Long Beach is a feat, but confronting the lasting wounds of the journey is what makes this album stand out. It’s a layered project that gives the forgotten homies of yesteryear their humanity and reveals Staples’s complicated relationship with love. His “Player Ways” won’t let him love his partner as much as he loves his pistol, which offers more protection on his ascent.
The album coincides with the recent cultural mainstream validation of Staples. In recent months, he’s been on television promoting cars, and he’s gearing up for a revamp of the iconic film White Men Can’t Jump, in which he has a starring role. Somehow he still seems like the same grounded rapper that would run around Mac Miller’s studio way back when, hoping to get a verse off. And he has Ramona Park to thank for that. —Murdock
9. A Light for Attracting Attention, the Smile
The Smile’s debut album is not a new Radiohead album. But it’s also not not a new Radiohead album, at least in terms of energy. A Light for Attracting Attention finds Thom Yorke teaming up with guitarist-composer and his main RH songwriting partner Jonny Greenwood, plus longtime producer Nigel Godrich. (Drummer Tom Skinner, whose work includes collaborations with Floating Points, is also in tow.) The result is something that sounds not entirely dissimilar from the main group’s more recent work while also gently nudging Yorke and Co. in new directions. “The Smoke” and “The Opposite” show that the Smile can groove harder than what you’ve come to expect of Radiohead-related projects (which is saying something, considering the dearth of 4/4 time signatures on A Light). “A Hairdryer,” which layers a hypnotizing riff over a flickering double-time beat, splits the difference between The Bends and Yorke’s electronic sojourns like The Eraser. “You Will Never Work in Television Again” recalls the Hail to the Thief era, just updated for a new age. Marking the distinctions between a Smile song and a Radiohead one can sometimes fall into the “narcissism of small differences” camp. (A song like “Free in the Knowledge” plays like a classic Radiohead ballad, for instance.) But there’s a freedom that comes with some of these songs that Yorke and Greenwood may not have been able to achieve within the confines of their most famous group. And perhaps that’s why A Light for Attracting Attention exists as its own stand-alone concern. —Sayles
8. Diaspora Problems, Soul Glo
With their Epitaph debut, Philadelphia anarcho-punks Soul Glo have crafted the year’s loudest, brashest album—you can deadlift to Diaspora Problems or you can start a revolution to it. Songs don’t get much more cathartic than opener “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?),” which hits like centuries of rage channeled into a 20-pound wrecking ball, or “Coming Correct Is Cheaper,” which builds a hardcore caucophony atop the Lyn Collins break Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock flipped for “It Takes Two.” Elsewhere, Soul Glo plays with industrial-tinged trap music (“Driponomics”) and blissed-out funk-metal (“Spiritual Level of Gang Shit”). Diaspora Problems is perhaps 2022’s most overtly political major release—both lyrically and in terms of the flag the now-trio is planting in their white-dominated genre. (Lead vocalist Pierce Jordan and bassist GG Guerra are both Black.) You’ll either sprain your neck headbanging to Diaspora Problems or throw out your arm chucking bricks through Starbucks windows. —Sayles
7. It’s Almost Dry, Pusha T
To understand the significance and grandeur of It’s Almost Dry, the number 23 is of vital importance. That’s how many years Pusha T has been releasing rap records—some mind-splitting, others occasionally droning, all overwhelming in their allegiance to a singular vision—without a no. 1 album. That dates back to 1999. Things that hapepned in the meantime include but are not limited to: a war on terror, a financial collapse, a Black president and an orange one, a captial insurrection, and a global plague. 1999 to 2022. It’s a wilderness. Making it out of that requires what Push and his brother Malice aptly called “Grindin’” on their major label debut.
It’s Almost Dry is a testament to the grind, to workmanship, to steady improvement mixed with a refusal to change. There’s a reason the record is a hodgepodge of Pharrell and Kanye beats, why it sounds both positively spooky and unassailably accessible, and that reason is simply: because the man wanted it to be. Push doesn’t care if the culture has changed. Push cares only about his sound, his nook. His head is still above ground, but he’s choosy with his muses. When we talked, in the spring, he said he wanted to be Scorsese. It’s summer now. The dust has settled. It’s Almost Dry is pure; utterly potent. Every auteur has their hit. This is his. —Lex Pryor
6. Big Time, Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen’s voice, colossal but intimate, vulnerable when she wants to be but electrifyingly resolute when she has to be, was made for country music, for the warm caresses of deep reverb and pedal steel, for searing explorations of grief and soaring declarations of new love.
Big Time, the North Carolina–based singer-songwriter’s sixth full-length, is her proverbial Country Album at long last, and it shatters you and glues you back together from song to song, from the one that softly starts, “I had a dream last night / We were having a fight / It lasted 25 years” to the one with the booming chorus of “Why’d you have to go and make it weird?” She can make a hush feel gargantuan (“All the Flowers,” a waltz that revolves around the phrase “to be alive,” is extra devastating) and a massive crescendo (“Go Home” is a killer) feel like an impossibly detailed miniature universe. Details aside, when she sings, you stop in your tracks, you focus, you submit. Wherever she goes, go with her. —Harvilla
5. Boat Songs, MJ Lenderman
This guy was described to me as “Jason Molina with an Athletic subscription,” which is the weirdest musical recommendation I’ve ever gotten in my whole life, and the most accurate, too. “Jordan wanted to sign with Adidas for shoes,” begins the witty and rambunctious breakout album from this North Carolina garage-country savant. “But Nike gave him an offer that he could not refuse.” Then he starts talking about that alleged poison pizza in Utah; the song’s called “Hangover Game.” Amazing. MJ Lenderman’s got another song called “TLC Cagematch” (cheerfully downbeat, oddly empathetic), and another called “Dan Marino” (likewise, plus it peaks with the line “But I think Big Dan will be alright / For he’s a Hall of Famer”). Boat Songs is occasionally so shaggy and lo-fi it sounds like ol’ MJ fell out of said boat, but when the scruffy electric-guitar riffs mesh with the pedal steel just right, boom, transcendence: “Seed fell out of the feeder / And the birds are eating on the ground,” he drawls, a song called “You Are Every Girl to Me” blooming shambolically all around him. “Jackass is funny / Like the earth is round.” —Harvilla
4. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar
For years, Kendrick Lamar has made bold attempts to critique the world around him, from the designer clothes we wear to the music we listen to. What separates Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers from its predecessors is the decision to put the mirror on himself. He grapples with his upbringing on “Father Time” and copes with abuse on “Mother I Sober.” The process of revealing such trauma wasn’t easy, as he coped with writer’s block, fear of cancellation, and depression.
The album was born from reflective absence. Writer’s block killed his creativity for much of the stretch, leading to the longest hiatus of his career. The conundrum forced him to reveal everything he’s been hiding, which is why this album is so special. For much of his career, Lamar has used his Compton upbringing as a badge of resilience. He got through the rigors of a forgotten world so it was time to celebrate, and use his music as a guide to get others out. He told us things were gonna be “Alright,” then told us to be “Humble” two years later. After a while, the message began to get preachy.
It’s not like this version of Lamar is angelic. He’s still the guy telling us to take off our weird-ass jewelry while wearing a $3 million crown of thorns. But now, he’s revealing his whole truth: that no amount of money, cars, and access will remove the scars his childhood gave him. Only internal work will do that. —Murdock
3. Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny
No one is safe from Bad Bunny. He’s pop music’s grim reaper: Harry Styles, Post Malone, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar have all fallen prey to his scythe. Un Verano Sin Ti, Bunny’s fourth studio album, has returned to the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 multiple times, has broken the Spotify record for the most streams of an album in a month, and for eight weeks has managed to breeze past 100,000 album-equivalent units with relative ease.
As inevitable as Bunny’s dominance now seems, it’d mean very little if his 23-song opus was bullshit, streaming fodder made to game the system. But in a year when the biggest stars are more concerned with fumbling their way through various dance genres or mining years of generational trauma, Un Verano Sin Ti is a rare oasis. The unrelenting scope of Bad Bunny sees the star working through dembow, bachata, techno, and everything in between with a singular drive that’s too enjoyable to deny. “The album is very Caribbean, in every sense: with its reggaeton, its mambo, with all those rhythms,” Bunny told The New York Times in May. “I like it that way,”
Bunny is like a consummate party host making sure the sheer charisma of him and his collaborators keeps the barrier to entry low. There’s an electricity to a song like “Tití Me Preguntó” and its accompanying video where the lilting sample of Anthony Santos’s “No Te Puedo Olvidar” bleeds into an explosive frenzy of drums and sirens. “Ojitos Lindos” is anchored by Bomba Estéreo, but Bunny’s hums around the three-minute mark that feel like watching a soft-serve melt. In the coming months, there will be a slew of summer records begging the populace to turn away from the never-ending collapse of modern society, but Un Verano Sin Ti will likely be the only one to do it so effortlessly. —Holmes
2. Aethiopes, billy woods
Like the most ambitious major-label album of the year, Aethiopes searches for meaning in generational trauma. But where Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers turns a mirror on its protagonist, the latest LP from billy woods finds pain everywhere: the stoops of the “slum villages” he inhabits, far-flung lands that white tourists come to colonize and cannibalize, the museum exhibits that exploit historical Black pain. He sees himself in those dioramas, in the drug-addicted local he says “no hard feelings” to. The world becomes a reflection of him, and Aethiopes a snapshot of that reflection.
A New York underground veteran, woods is very likely the best working writer in rap. In nearly 20 years, he’s released 14 full-length projects, including solo ventures and collaborative efforts alongside Elucid in Armand Hammer. Nearly every woods project can be described as serpentine, but Aethiopes stands as one of his densest and most rewarding works. Named after an archaic term Europeans used for Africans, the album tackles “Blackness as an idea, Africa as an idea, Africa as a reality,” as woods told The Fader upon its release. The stories he weaves are spellbinding, connecting hundreds of years of history to a single present-day moment. You can occasionally be entranced by the vivid details of a song like “Christine” or the references to 9/11, The Stranger, and the racism of capitalism on “Versailles.” But woods is a masterful lyricist who understands how to snap you back to attention with a single couplet. (“The future isn’t flying cars / It’s Rachel Dolezal absolved” is among the sharpest—and bleakest—truisms you’ll ever hear on a song.)
If this makes Aethiopes sound like homework, that’s unintentional—the production, supplied by DJ Preservation, is uniformly excellent, and the features, which include indie-rap stalwarts El-P and Breeze Brewin’, harken back to a forgotten era of underground rap. Aethiopes is enjoyable on a purely aesthetic level. But it’s also the kind of album that demands you dig in and peel back the layers, just as woods has done. The results can sometimes be upsetting, but more often than not, they’re revelatory. —Sayles
1. MOTOMAMI, Rosalía
Rosalía’s third album could’ve been a success simply by just existing. The 29-year-old Spanish superstar has seen her star rise to astronomical heights in recent years, landing features on songs by Travis Scott and the Weeknd, and netting a mainstream Grammy nomination for Best New Artist (to go along with a few Latin Grammy wins). Repeating the formula that previously worked for her—one built on traditional flamenco, albeit pushed in experimental directions via her last LP, El Mal Querer—would have yielded a massive success. But that’s not what truly fascinating pop stars do, and that’s certainly not what Rosalía did.
Arriving in March, MOTOMAMI moves beyond the flamenco that made her famous, instead fusing avant-garde pop with progressive Latin music. It’s consistently thrilling—at its best, like on the electrifying “CUUUUuuuuuute” or the opener “SAOKO,” she moves through genres swiftly, going from hyper-pop to driving reggaeton to jazz breakdowns with ease. When MOTOMAMI stands still—to the extent it does—Rosalía still excites: “CANDY,” one of the album’s sultriest songs, samples Burial’s landmark garage anthem “Archangel.” Some moments recall Björk, while others recall M.I.A. (who gets a shout-out on MOTOMAMI’s lone flamenco track, “Bulerías”). Sometimes, when Rosalía sounds the sweetest, she’s being the dirtiest—like on “HENTAI,” a soft ballad that we implore you not to Google the name of if you’re not already familiar. There’s always something deeper at play on this album. Largely self-produced by Rosalía with help from trusted collaborators like El Guincho and hired guns like the Neptunes, MOTOMAMI is pure musical auteurism—a vision of where not only the artist is headed, but also where she’s taking pop music. It’s a proposition she understands all too well: As she sings on “SAOKO,” “Yo soy muy mía, yo me transformo.” Translation: “I am very much me, I transform.” —Sayles