AP’s Top Albums 2022: ‘Renaissance’, ‘Motomami’, Bad Bunny
Making a low-key entrance last January, “Dawn FM” is a concept album that The Weeknd compared to listening to a radio station in purgatory, hence its mix of styles and influences from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s the years mixed with modern production. Much of it is downright weird: the fake British accent, a spoken-word interlude by Quincy Jones, the funny radio commercials, the voiceover by Jim Carrey, and the singer digitally aged on the cover. It’s also brilliant, a dance record with lyrics of hopelessness, with nods to Michael Jackson, New Wave, neo-soul, Prince and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. If this is what purgatory sounds like, heaven is overrated. — Mark Kennedy
The Spanish singer Rosalía turned three years of anguish and homesickness into a mega-successful third studio album “Motomami” (“biker chick”). It was perhaps impossible not to make lemonade out of lemons for such a bold artist whose ease in playing with genres and words are her greatest strengths. Described as an alternative reggaeton record, the fierce 16-track “Motomami” delivers something for every taste and every mood. From “Candy’s” stripped-down reggaeton, to “Chicken Teriyaki”‘s playfulness and “Diablo’s” experimental sound, “Hentais’s” piano power ballad or “La Fama’s” classic Latin beats, Rosalía shows her prowess as a singer. Her four Latin Grammys for the album were just the beginning. Next stop: the world. — Cristina Jaleru
In the age of streaming, the musical floodgates are wide open as artists release multiple projects in a single year: EPs, double albums, deluxe albums and so on. Country artist Zach Bryan upped the ante by dropping the 34-song album “American Heartbreak” as his major label debut in 2022. The Navy veteran’s stories span the vast landscape of his Oklahoma upbringing with growing rages like “Heavy Eyes,” the wanderlust of “Highway Boys” and odes to the towns he grew up in like “Oklahoma City.” His stripped down production and confessional, narrative lyrics have earned him comparisons to both Jason Isbell and Taylor Swift (He’s a Swiftie). But at his best, as he describes the colors of the western vistas in the standout track, “Something in the Orange” while dwelling on the loneliness of heartbreak, Bryan has proven that he delivers both quality and quantity. — Kristin M. Hall
LARRY JUNE, “SPACESHIP ON THE BLADE”
Drake. Kendrick Lamar. Nose. These hip-hop heavyweights released some of the best albums of the year. Some might even argue that Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sick” was just as top notch. But the musician who has stood above them was the rapper Larry June through “Spaceships on the Blade”. It’s the San Francisco-based rapper’s 10th solo studio album and the most impressive work since his debut in 2018. With his laid-back demeanor and infectious ad lib “Aye, Aye, Aye,” June thrives throughout on songs like “Extra of Um” featuring Babyface Ray, “Don’t Check Me,” “Another Day, Pt. 2” and “Breakfast in Monaco.” On well-produced tracks, he takes listeners on a journey with a successful hustler who makes driving luxury cars, living in high-rises and spending $50,000 on vacations seem like an easy feat. But he also shows a deeper side of his rap persona. On “Appreciate It All,” he talks about grinding hard for his son, learning to love from his mother, and acquiring real estate in hopes of achieving generational wealth. Throughout “Spaceships,” June is a force to be reckoned with. — Jonathan Landrum Jr.
Former pop idol Jackson Wang became a solo artist and became “Magic Man” on his second album. With a crisp, cohesive sound that hearkens back to ’90s rock mixed with ’80s synths, Wang’s record shows he’s ready for a starring role; the character he plays in “Magic Man” is a debonair, seductive stranger who likes life’s pleasures. The singer takes on the challenge of delivering some sultry vocals off the back of classic guitar riffs in “Blow”, “Cruel” and “Champagne Cool”. But where it all takes off is the pop-bad “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which lights up the disco ball part of the amygdala. Some magical stuff. — Cristina Jaleru
Sophie Allison and her band Soccer Mommy’s third album is a wonderfully varied mix, from the industrial harshness of “Unholy Affliction” to the eerie “Following Eyes” to the airy “With U”. The title “Sometimes, Forever”, suggests a push-and-pull of light and dark, happiness and sadness that both jumps from song to song, but also within songs. A connection with another album on this list is its avant-garde producer Oneohtrix Point Never, who helped shape The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM.” He gave Soccer Mommy a layered, dark synth gloom. A highlight is “Shotgun,” a song of devotion, with the lyrics “Cold beer and ice cream is all we keep/The only things we really need.” – Mark Kennedy
Blxst is considered the preeminent voice of Los Angeles R&B after the release of his mixtape album “No Love Lost” in 2020. But the singer-rapper expanded his reach with his impeccable album “Before You Go” along with his recent Grammy nominations for his feature on Kendrick Lamar’s single “Die Hard”. On “Before You Go,” he delivers an assortment of catchy hooks and smooth melodies that won praise from critics and fans alike. He wisely works through the issues of dealing with relationships on “About You” and “Still Omw,” a fan favorite. He talks about experiencing the ocean views and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway while escaping the fake element of his hometown in “Fake Love in LA,” with Arin Ray. He mentions carrying the torch of delivering quality music after the loss of Nipsey Hussle, thinking big and being blessed with a strong support system on “Couldn’t Wait for It” with Rick Ross. In all, Blxst put together a complete collection of infectious songs from start to finish. — Jonathan Landrum Jr.
Americana standout Charley Crockett sets the scene in his cinematic “The Man From Waco,” an album that connects Western filmmaking, the mythmaking of cowboy culture, and Gulf States R&B and soul. The Texas-born singer is a prolific independent musician with a strong drive formed in his early street musician years. The album’s title track centers on a lone gunman who accidentally kills his lover in a jealous rage, with a beautiful horn section over the warped acoustic guitar. Crockett hits deep into the Stax-inspired ’70s groove on “I’m Just a Clown,” and a swinging piano and trumpet wafts along on “Trinity River.” Crockett even attempts to complete an unfinished Bob Dylan number from outtakes of songs written for the “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” soundtrack, which Crockett turned into “Tom Turkey.” Crockett’s old soul isn’t just a nostalgic trick, as this postmodern troubadour forges new ties to classic themes. — Kristin M. Hall
BAD BUNNY, “UN VERANO SIN TI”
Bad Bunny is a bonafide global superstar, and if you weren’t aware before, “Un Verano Sin Ti” made you realize it. Spending 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the Puerto Rican artist expertly blended reggaeton, pop and EDM, effortlessly transporting you to a beach on his home island for a temporary break from real life stressors. Party-ready songs like “Tití Me Preguntó” and “Me Porto Bonito” with Chencho Corleone have each received half a billion views on YouTube, and he was behind arguably the biggest tour of the year. Despite rising to the realm of one of the world’s biggest artists, he also used his music to criticize issues on the island such as gentrification and repeated blackouts. Did it matter to me that “Un Verano Sin Ti” is mainly in Spanish? Not at all. As he dances, his music motivates you to be curious and learn more, and that’s what great art does. — Gary Gerard Hamilton
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