Marlon Williams – My Boy
My Boy sees Marlon Williams deconstruct toxic masculinity in a deceptively sunny manner. He satirises gender politics on ‘Soft Boys Make The Grade’ and ‘Thinking of Nina’, whilst musing on masculine relationships on the titular track and Princes Walk. His quirky, catchy alt-pop melodies hide surprisingly dark folk lyricism. My Boy traps you between two genres, right where he knows the storytelling will hit you hard.
Taylor Swift – Midnights
After losing herself in the woodland aesthetics of folklore and evermore, Taylor Swift returned to pop for Midnights. Initially understated and calm, each listen through expands the album’s sonic palette and lyrical prowess. Muted electronic production emphasises Swift’s vocal growth, as she sings about experiences felt throughout her entire thirty-three years. Dreamy and mysterious, Midnights is an unexpected, thrilling turn in the discography of this self-declared “mastermind”.
BTS – Proof
Proof serves to collect every wondrous moment of BTS’s career. Bombastic hit singles like ‘Butter’ and ‘Dynamite’ fill the album’s first section, whilst a more textural, curious middle disc of B-sides celebrates each group member’s individual skills. But dedicated fans will be most grateful for the final disc, an exclusive physical release filled with mysterious deep cuts that emphasise BTS’s growth. Proof is a victory cry for these K-pop legends, truly primed for world domination.
Stormzy – This Is What I Mean
Summarised by its expressive, blunt title, Stormzy’s This Is What I Mean takes the UK rapper to vulnerable territory. He sings bright, unexpected love song melodies, utilises hip-hop’s uniquely religious history to explore his relationship with God and mental health, and delivers his resounding political activism. These intimate topics are held together by the fact it’s all the one and only Stormzy, who stands taller on his third studio album than ever before.
The Weeknd – Dawn FM
Sucking listeners into a fictional horror-tinged radio station which blurs the lines between future and past, Dawn FM sees The Weeknd smooth soul, dance and disco out into a palatable 80s-inspired pop collection. Declaring he “almost died in the discothèque”, The Weeknd muses on the highs and lows of the party life, carrying a sense of genuine terror that propels him through each hazy night. It’s high-concept, theatrical, and easy to lose yourself within.
Arctic Monkeys – The Car
Filled with orchestras, choirs and Alex Turner’s angelic voice, Arctic Monkeys offer whimsical ramblings on love and loss on The Car. Each song is a trick of the light. One thought compacted into a line pivots the other way on the next. Lounging instrumentals spooked performances from each band member echo this mind-twisting narrative. It makes for a record that’s at times unsettling in its beauty, a dizzying listen peeking into the personal and political, and unveiling more detail with every listen.
MELODOWNZ – Lone Wolf
West Auckland rap icon MELODOWNZ waxes lyrical on wealth, celebrity culture, religion and love on his intense record Lone Wolf. He fuses genres together from gospel to funk, drawing them into a realm of skittering hip-hop carried by his fiery raps. Kiwi music stars from Mikey Dam to Troy Kingi litter the album’s feature list. It all makes for a project that testifies to Aotearoa’s thriving hip-hop scene, and MELODOWNZ’ sheer self-assured skill.
Conan Gray – Superache
Conan Gray’s sophomore effort Superache is a heart-wrenchingly honest depiction of deteriorating relationships and family pain. From the gutting honesty of ‘Memories’, to the soft glittering beauty of ‘Astronomy’, it’s a heavy listen, but one of immense personal growth. Gray’s gentle indie-pop direction highlights his eye for detail, his Gen-Z relatability, and his consistently stunning musings on the human condition.
Willow – <COPINGMECHANISM>
Willow thrashes through every rock technique available on punk-pop triumph <COPINGMECHANISM>. Merely twenty-nine minutes in length, it’s an impressive project spilling over with shockingly raw vocals, catchy hooks, bombastic drums and frenzied guitars. Her lyrics read like torn diary pages, exemplified by the decidedly youthful internet-style song titles. It all compacts into a tight, cohesive and yet ever-inventive album well worth your time.
Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
Starry-eyed and summery, Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest sparkling synth-pop offering sees her struck by a love for the sunshine and self. From lighthearted, breezy tracks like ‘Western Wind’ to idiosyncratic TikTok hit ‘The Loneliest Time’, this album weighs maximalist camp against stripped-back acoustic aesthetics. Flutters of disco, folk and funk give Jepsen a unique sonic direction, keeping her work always evergreen.
YUNGBLUD – YUNGBLUD
Feisty English rock star YUNGBLUD came out kicking and screaming this year on his self-titled album. YUNGBLUD explodes with huge drums and shouty vocals in one moment, then shudders under the weight of surprisingly serious acoustic ballads in the next. Through every twist and turn, YUNGBLUD’s dry, deadpan lyricism and dramatic attitude pulls the seams together into a powerful pop-punk release.
Fletcher – Girl Of My Dreams
Pictured positively glowing on her cinematic album art, Fletcher’s fluttering full-length debut is a love letter to queer desire. It’s slinky, smooth, high-class pop. Each song delivers a sense of tongue-in-cheek wit alongside sincere sapphic emotion, from the sultry ‘Her Body Is Bible’ to the whip-smart self-love anthem ‘I Love You, Bitch.’ Filled with confidence, Fletcher is clearly out to make her musical mark.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Kendrick Lamar’s incredible project Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers shows him dive deep into his childhood, mental health and relationships, through the power of conscious hip-hop. He’s aided by an impressive assortment of special guests, from Summer Walker and Baby Keem, to Ghostface Killah and Kodak Black. But throughout it all, Lamar keeps the lens focused on dissecting himself, through simple, smooth and yet eternally inventive rap. It’s a defining cultural moment any artist would kill to create.
Six60 – Castle St
Six60’s ode to their humble student flat beginnings is bright, cheerful, and always focused on capturing the true love between the bandmates. Catchy hooks and tight instrumentals alongside writing and production credits from heavyweights like Malay and Yelawolf bring out the best of Six60’s talents. The collection is poppy yet explorational, putting their songwriting power and devoted musicianship on full display.
Demi Lovato – HOLY FVCK
Demi Lovato has a voice made for rock. Gritty, expressive and absolutely enraged, HOLY FVCK puts that ability to good use. Lovato’s aggressive lyrics dive into sexuality, addiction, religion, and media relations. They defiantly refuse to give in to what the world expects, announcing, “you’ll have to eat me as I am”. Dirty and dangerous, it’s a record that announces Demi Lovato is finally exactly where they need to be.
Drake – Honestly, Nevermind
Over jittering house and tropicana beats, Drake set out to own this year with the first of his two 2022 releases (the other being the long-awaited collab Her Loss with 21 Savage), Honestly, Nevermind. Boasting an ego that walks the line between serious and ironic, alongside modern lyrics which equally emulate comedy and profoundness, it’s a highly unique entry into his extensive catalogue. Sultry yet silly, emotive yet eccentric, Honestly, Nevermind is a loveable moment of insight into the mind of one of the world’s most entertaining hip-hop figures.
Aacacia – Aacacia
The cover art of Aacacia’s self-titled debut is a shot of beautiful flowers, blurred and bloodied over time. It’s a visual mission statement for this moody Kiwi pop performer. Aacacia combines her soulful R&B melodies with subtle, percussive production and rich vocal layering, encompassing her artistic soul by naming the release after herself. Cool, calm and collected, yet with undeniable emotional depth, Aacacia’s first record proves she’s one to watch.
Post Malone – Twelve Carat Toothache
Perched at the highest point of his fame, Post Malone tears apart celebrity status on the illuminating Twelve Carat Toothache. His lyrics cut deep into an open wound, covering tough topics like addiction and abandonment. Polished trap percussion contrasts the rawness of Post Malone’s emotion in an unusual and expressive way. Every line is almost uncomfortably honest, but given a conventional layer of pop sheen, eloquently commenting on the devastatingly glamorous Hollywood lifestyle, in true Post Malone fashion.
Florence and the Machine – Dance Fever
Out of the woods and onto the dancefloor, witchy goddess Florence and the Machine proves she knows how to put on a show on Dance Fever. Wailing vocals and introspective lyrics capture a complicated sense of community and isolation all at once, distinctly inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic. Florence’s voice soars from sweeping stadium melodies to trembling bedroom whispers, combining horror elements and late-night imagery to create an album words can barely describe. And with a title that striking, it only takes a listen to understand the utter magic of Florence’s craft.