Anthony Pantalone, Editor
Television is often overlooked in the Arts and Entertainment section, but music is typically ignored almost entirely. In part, this exclusion is because I am far less versed in music than I am in film or television. This article, therefore, is allowing me to analyze and review some of the best (in my opinion) best projects released in 2022. There were a bunch of great projects this year. Frankly too many to discuss in their entirety in this article. So here are some of my personal favorites.
Kendrick Lamar- Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
This pick is incredibly biased. While Mr. Morale is objectively one of the best albums to come out this year, my opinion here is very subjective because I am a big Kendrick Lamar fan. After five years, Kendrick finally returned to music for his final album with Top Dawg Entertainment in 2022, and the wait was more or less worth it. After ascending to the top of the rap world over the course of his four prior studio albums, this rapper had nearly no more mountains to climb. Now, Kendrick Lamar instead looks inward and reflects on himself as a person. “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers” is much more personal and vulnerable than anything this musician has shared before. The album functionally serves as a therapy session for Kendrick who is forcing himself to finally confront his flaws and the generational traumas haunting him. Throughout the course of the album and specific tracks, he explores his sex addiction and infidelities along with his fraught relationship with his father and toxic masculinity. Later, the rapper goes on to confront his own prior homophobia in “Auntie Diaries.” The album crescendos with “Mother I Sober” where Kendrick Lamar attempts to tie together his understanding of his own issues and feelings to break the generational curse of trauma. He needs to figure out why he is the way he is, so he can be a good father and not transfer his own pain and grief onto his children. In confronting traumas of sexual abuse from members of his family, he hopes to “set free” pent-up generational pain and grief in hopes to heal from it in the future.
Similar to Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé also returned to music after a long absence in 2022 with “RENAISSANCE,” her first studio album since “Lemonade” in 2016. Everything about this album is incredible. Its celebration of past black music and culture. The flawless transitions between songs. The house music instrumentals. Bey is back, and she is proving yet again why she is the best at what she does. Every song matches a mood or feeling perfectly. “BREAK MY SOUL” channels all the pent-up energy and emotions of people who have persevered through the last few years of the COVID-19 pandemic. “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” is an otherworldly, one-of-a-kind song. “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” is—in my opinion—one of the best-written love songs of the 21st century. “SUMMER RENAISSANCE” takes Donna Summer’s classic disco hit “I Feel Love” and reimagines it so that the genre of disco experiences its own renaissance in the modern day. Listening to it feels like joyful escapism, and Bey intended it that way. The idea behind the album was creating something through which people feel like they can “escape, travel, love, and laugh again” after all the tragedy and hardships of the past few years (Beyoncé qtd. in Harpers’ Bazaar). Every song feels so unique and carefully crafted. I would never expect Beyoncé to let listeners down, but I think I also underestimated her. “RENAISSANCE” is so much more cohesive and fully realized as an artistic vision than any other album I have listened to this year.
Black Country, New Road- Ants From Up There
I had never heard of Black Country, New Road before 2022. By the end of this past year though, songs from this album were among my most listened to music on Spotify. It is incredibly difficult to describe what Black Country, New Road is or what their music sounds like. They’re alternative? Post-punk? Rock but folksy? But also very indie and different from anything out there. It feels silly to say, but there are so many different instruments at play. Much of the lyrics throughout “Ants From Up There” don’t always make sense, and they don’t need to. The lyrics used adequately fit the mood and melody of the music. In some other songs though, the song lyrics deceptively pack an emotional gut punch. For example, “Good Will Hunting” is an amazing exploration of romantic yearning but is humorously undercut by a chorus about how a love interest has “Billie Eilish style.” Also, the vocals in this album feel so vulnerable and cut deep for the listener. Isaac Wood, the lead singer of Black Country, New Road, quit the band only days after the album’s release and before their 2022 tour. While this album was met with widespread critical praise, Wood’s personal mental health struggles caused him to quit making music. The band has stayed together without the lead vocalist, yet it will be interesting to see how exactly they will move forward after both a prolific debut and a major loss.
Like Kendrick and Beyoncé, SZA came back after five long years with her sophomore album “SOS”, a worthy follow-up to her 2017 debut project “CTRL”. While not as fully realized and polished as her first album, “SOS” is still an incredible feat for this musician. The tone of the songs appropriately match the theme of the album cover art and title. SZA feels far alone out at sea figuratively in her life and literally in the cover art. She was obviously dealing with strife in her love life and failed relationships and channeled those emotions in her songwriting. Even though I love this creative output from her, I sincerely hope she is going to some form of counseling or therapy. This album does feel less concise than “CTRL” as it meanders across a 23 song tracklist, but I don’t mind it at all. “Kill Bill” obviously has become very popular and boasts an Uma Thurman film reference. “Gone Girl”—a grandiose track about a tumultuous relationship—is incredibly underrated and also references another great “Good for Her” movie. “Ghost in the Machine” somehow effectively blends the singing styles of both SZA and Phoebe Bridgers. “Used” is amazing with a great Don Toliver feature and a great line where SZA says that she’s focused like Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Open Arms” probably takes the crown as my favorite song off this album, because it showcases SZA playing up to her strengths with a breezy genuine ballad.
Ethel Cain- Preacher’s Daughter
Steve Lacy- Gemini Rights
Charli XCX- CRASH
Denzel Curry- Melt My Eyes See Your Whole Future
Orville Peck- Bronco
J.I.D.- The Forever Story