The 100 Best Songs Of 2022 (80-61)
It took 50 people to make this list of 2022's 100 best songs. Why put in that much effort, when algorithmically generated playlists can give a listener what they already know they want? Because there's more to a year than the insulated corners that, in the streaming era, can feel so cozy. That's especially true in a year like this one, whose thrills, even with hindsight, are tough to organize into neat categories or hierarchies. For the staff and contributors of NPR Music, making this list felt messy, but there's an upside to the effort: We got together. We talked. We listened. We ended up making a ranked list of 100 songs that reflects the sprawling, energetic messiness of 2022. Because the end of a year is a nice moment to celebrate what you love, but it's the perfect time to listen to something outside your comfort zone. A guarantee: You'll find something here that does the trick. (And while you're at it, be sure to check out our 50 Best Albums of 2022.)
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"Part of the Band"
Matty Healy has a big personality, but sometimes it gets hidden behind The 1975's opulent production. On "Part of the Band," Healy's witty poetry is front and center thanks to help from Jack Antonoff, who Healy said helped "take the insecurity away" from his performance and simplify things. The song feels both confident and vulnerable — and it's funny, too. —Raina Douris, World Cafe
Many songs have been written in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, but few capture the disaster of systemic state violence with the vivid, devastating detail the great Portland singer-songwriter offers in this account of a chance encounter with police that leaves a teenager dead. —Ann Powers
Caroline Shaw & Attacca Quartet
"First Essay (Nimrod)"
Composer Caroline Shaw begins with a sprightly tune that tumbles into a musical rabbit hole. While tricky to play for the cunning Attacca Quartet, it falls easy on the ears. Moving through the maze, look out for cresting waves, moments of shimmering repose and one final raw chord that slips through the last trap door. —Tom Huizenga
(A version of this review originally appeared on NPR Music's #NowPlaying blog.)
A shudder runs through this astonishing song of sorrow. Alongside the consoling shuffle of Tom Skinner's kit, Beth Orton (that voice!) details the devastation of lost love, the sort of sadness that keeps you inside and up late on a Friday night. Memory makes a merciless bedfellow. —Otis Hart
In an inversion of the fait-main eau de parfum available for purchase alongside this track (topnotes of yuzu, ambergris; basenotes of sandalwood), Piñeyro performs sound-as-aroma with a bouquet of botanical minimal patter. (Topnotes: Aphex Twin circa 1992, Boards of Canada. Basenotes: Virgin Records' Isolationism compilation, birdsong in the summer.) The scent came packaged unfussily inside a little chip of beige plastic, but a winged, crystal thing would've suited it just as well. —Mina Tavakoli
More Touch, the triumphant second album by mallet percussionist Patricia Brennan, synthesizes a meaningful array of rhythmic influences — folkloric music from her native Veracruz, the sanctified churn of Afro-Cuban batá drums, even the strobing repetitions of post-minimalism. The opener, "Unquiet Respect," is a thrilling plunge into the buoyant syncopations of soca music, with Brennan's vibraphone (lightly processed with a digital wobble) wafting over the twin-engine momentum of Cuban percussionist Mauricio Herrera and American drummer Marcus Gilmore. —Nate Chinen, WRTI
"Kwaku the Traveller"
Drill, that deceptively simple strain of bass-fueled street rap, has gradually evolved over the past few years as new scenes sprout in cities around the world. On "Kwaku the Traveller," Black Sherif, the 20-year-old Ghanaian rapperMohammed Ismail Sharrif, takes it to the mountaintop and gives the urban chirr a biblical sheen. —Otis Hart
"Life According To Raechel"
Plenty of artists make their way to themes of loss and regret eventually. In "Life According To Raechel," folk-rock sophisticate Madison Cunningham movingly captures the sharp pangs of a first youthful experience of realizing too late that she's squandered time with a beloved elder. —Jewly Hight, WPLN
"Penas Con Pan"
Would-be lovers, we've all been there. "Penas con Pan" is a narrative of a relationship's fickleness, but La Doña's not wallowing. Instead, the pulsating beat of the song's dembow rhythm and La Doña's seductive assertion of her own desirability capture the tantalizing push and pull of an elusive romance. —Fi O'Reilly
"Love, Try Not To Let Go"
Julia Jacklin is a consummate personal storyteller, her incisive songs slicing open a complicated interiority. But above piano that curls like question marks, she zooms out to spot an epiphany: Like the rest of us, she's just trying to hold herself together, to hold fast to the only thing anchoring her — love for whomever (or whatever) will accept it. —Grayson Haver Currin
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
Bluegrass great Molly Tuttle and her band are straight-up virtuosic throughout the album named for this song — but as a mission statement, "Crooked Tree'' beautifully articulates the award-winning singer and guitarist's conviction that imperfection and idiosyncrasy are the essence of human beauty and, indeed, survival: "A crooked tree won't fit into the mill machine." —Ann Powers
Black Country, New Road
"The Place Where He Inserted the Blade"
There, at the denouement of the 7-minute, 13-second track released this year by this Cambridgeshire sextet — past all its '90s emo revivalism, past the Syd Barret-era Floyd-ian vox, past the screaming, post-rock-y crescendo — lives a little moment of loss on the edge of agony and silence. "Show me where to tie the other end of this chain," the song goes, hopelessly. It might be helpful to think of "The Place Where He Inserted the Blade" as something Emily Dickinson would write from outer space. —Mina Tavakoli
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges' confident falsetto is the jolt Khruangbin needed to kick their ultra-chill psychedelia into a higher gear. On "B-Side," the collected four deliver a foot-stomp blues-rock vibrating with yearning — crank it up as you speed down the highway to get back into their arms. —Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED
"Unonkanyamba" uses repetition as meditative practice, looping drums and spacious piano into a nine-minute hypnosis. On an album of fervent spiritual grooves, this one sets a grand stage, a track equally steeped in traditional and contemporary South African jazz. —Marcus J. Moore
From cab windows to corner tiendas, the silky beats of Karol G's earworm "Provenza" soundtracked a global summer. The track boasts tropical sounds and a relentlessly danceable rhythm that are guaranteed to hook you for just one more and keep you out till the sun comes up. —Anamaria Sayre
"When Sparks Fly"
The delicate, Frano-produced "WHEN SPARKS FLY" is a career highlight for Vince Staples. With shrewd storytelling, Staples cleverly spits devastating multiple entendres as the song's protagonist, a personified firearm, laments the incarceration of her beloved. A familiar tale sponsored by the prison-industrial complex, Staples' weariness is clear. In lieu of a conclusion, the record ends on a resigned sigh as if epiloging the Compton rapper's meticulous archivization of his childhood. —LaTesha Harris
"2 Die 4"
Tove Lo piled Dirt Femme high with indelible dance-pop bangers about the scuffed-up underbelly of femininity. Best of them all is "2 Die 4," which interpolates Hot Butter's 1972 hit "Popcorn" to create a hard-driving earworm about the promise of a new crush and the joy of "danc[ing] in headlights and making out in the rain." —Stephen Thompson
Brilliantly inspired by "'Mona's Tale," its preceding interlude on the deluxe version of Sullivan's Heaux Tales, "BPW" radiates the sexual prowess of a lover seeking adoration, stating plainly: "If there was an award, I want the gold / And I don't just want your heart, I want your soul." Sullivan delivers a perfectly rough performance over acoustic guitar as she captures the all-consuming desire of being totally desired. —Jerusalem Truth
Denzel Curry refuses to accept stagnancy. One of few MCs from the SoundCloud rap era who is still standing, he thrives on the transformative process. "Walkin," the lead single from Melt My Eyez See Your Future, highlights an evolved Curry rapping over a healthy sampling of vocals from Keith Mansfield's 1973 song "The Loving Touch." With "Walkin," Curry generously offers us a glimpse of the perseverance and endurance it takes to live the life of a young Black man in this "dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty, little world we call our home." —Kiana Fitzgerald
"Not too much chaos but just enough to have a good time" — that's how beabadoobee has described a Tuesday night, the unexpected inspiration behind this impeccable slice of Y2K nostalgia about going out midweek to have a great time indulging your worst impulses. —Marissa Lorusso
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