The Best and Worst Albums of Q2 2022

Good 90s revivalism, bad 90s revivalism, and songs about pizza. Matthew Forbes spotlights some of the standout releases of the last few months.

After a string of fantastic albums in the first three months of the year, the second quarter of 2022 has been a little less impressive. Of course, there’s been some major musical releases as of late, like the hotly anticipated third album from Harry Styles, a refreshingly introspective if occasionally misguided album from Kendrick Lamar, and a surprise album from Drake which literally just dropped. But the popular music sphere especially has felt somewhat lifeless in the past few months. It’s really no wonder why Kate Bush has shot up the charts, given how desperate we’ve been for genuine hit songs. There’s plenty to complain about in terms of 2022’s musical offerings, as 3 of the following albums will demonstrate, but the other 3 albums will hopefully show you there’s also plenty to celebrate.

Best: billy woods – Aethiopes

Few figures within the world of underground hip-hop are as revered as the elusive billy woods, and for good reason. Through his prolific output, both as a solo artist and as a member of the duo Armand Hammer (alongside fellow New Yorker ELUCID), he’s built up one of the most consistent rap discographies of the past decade. Aethiopes is, quite unsurprisingly, no exception. As always, woods’ lyrics on this album are teeming with evocative imagery, which he uses to construct unique allegories of incredibly troublesome realities. On ‘No Hard Feelings’, he alludes to the systemic and oppressive conditions that foster drug addiction, comparing a homeless addict to an astronaut aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger. The menacing scene he establishes on ‘Christine’ is equally as haunting, as he recounts a childhood memory of an unmarked police car following him and his family, with red brake lights illuminating the officer’s face “like a demon”. Preservation’s eerie beats perfectly complement the tone set by woods’ verses, being built around dusty samples, complete with vinyl crackle, and backed by foreboding basslines. Guest verses are often met with a switch-up in the instrumental, allowing them to fill their own distinct space within a song. There are also some fantastic moments of interplay between rappers, like the intoxicating quickfire trading of verses from woods, El-P and Brewin on ‘Heavy Water’. Delivering all that in a tight, 39-minute runtime, Aethiopes is a perfect entry point for anyone who’s yet to get on board with woods’ music.

Worst: Jack Harlow – Come Home The Kids Miss You

Dunking on Jack Harlow is a fairly futile undertaking at this point, given that the magnetising effect of his amicable public persona seems to be wearing off a bit thanks to a string of recent missteps. But it was hard to look past the rapper’s second album when making this list, as it’s less of a sophomore slump and more of a sophomore nosedive. Granted, the most that Harlow had going for him prior to this record was a slightly endearing charisma, so the quality of his previous releases shouldn’t really be overstated. If you pit the sort-of-charismatic Jack Harlow against the personality-devoid and smugly apathetic version of him that takes the reins here, however, there’s a clear loser. The lyrics on this album fluctuate between cheap and listless quips about his fame and fortune, and vague attempts at introspection which amount to very little. It’s all just so painfully inconsequential – a fact which Harlow appears to be aware of, seeing as he rarely gives anything above the minimal amount of effort required of him. This is not at all helped by how uniform the beats are, nor by how clumsily they’ve been assembled in the case of smoother tracks like ‘Side Piece’. By the end of the record, it’s become glaringly apparent that the most attention-grabbing aspect of Come Home The Kids Miss You will be a so-bad-it’s-good Lil Wayne feature, and that’s not a pleasant realisation.

Best: Everything Everything – Raw Data Feel

Having emerged at the tail-end of the UK indie rock boom, at the same time as bands like Two Door Cinema Club and Mumford and Sons, it’s safe to say that Everything Everything have been a hell of a lot more adventurous (and esoteric, at that) than many of their contemporaries. But their previous release, RE-ANIMATOR, sadly saw them exhibiting an uncharacteristic lull in creativity, with their usually dynamic blend of pop and rock sounding more diluted and rudimentary than ever before. Thankfully, Raw Data Feel points towards an exciting new direction for the band – one that makes more prominent use of the dance music elements and electronic textures that had previously played a supporting role in their work. The result is a series of irresistible grooves and snappy choruses, which are occasionally blended with outlandish synthetix textures like the rhythmic glitches that open ‘Teletype’. On the lyrical front, singer Jonathan Higgs adopts a writing style that’s more oblique in delivery but cryptic in meaning. Featuring contributions from an AI bot that was fed 4Chan comments, Beowulf, LinkedIn terms and conditions and quotes from Confucius, the album is a menagerie of terminally online patter which is frequently (and knowingly) hilarious, especially on the particularly blunt ‘Pizza Boy’. It’s impressive, then, that more tender tracks such as ‘Jennifer’ still manage to contain some of Higgs’ most heart-wrenching lyrics yet. What’s most noticeable and enjoyable about Raw Data Feel is that, after two fairly dour records, the band finally sound like they’re having fun again.

Worst: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love

You’d think that when the Red Hot Chili Peppers wound up making a nostalgia-bait record, they’d have the decency to mention California more than once. Alas, that would probably be too self-aware for Unlimited Love, the band’s excruciatingly long twelfth album, which marks the return of guitarist John Frusciante following his departure in 2009. Inevitably, critics and fans alike have celebrated the tangible chemistry between band members on the record, which had been missing for the previous two Frusciante-less albums. It’s with great sincerity that I ask: What else does this album have to offer? Sure, the band sounds good playing together. They also sound complacent as hell and entirely satisfied coasting off pale, forgettable imitations of their 90s material. There’s a distinct lack of pop appeal here – something which the band had even on their last release, The Getaway – which makes the 73 minutes of guitar shop background music that we’re treated to sound all the more flavourless. The album is at its most entertaining when it occasionally slips into unintentional quasi-satire. Few things in this life are as funny as Anthony Kiedis using the most 80s flow imaginable to rap about L.A. traffic. If you’re a diehard fan, it’s more than likely that you’ve already listened to Unlimited Love and loved it limitlessly. But for those more lukewarm on the Peppers, you’d be much better off listening to comedian Jon Daly’s parody of the band. It’d practically be the same experience, but shorter and far more enjoyable.

Best: Hatchie – Giving the World Away

Harriette Pilbeam’s (aka Hatchie) 2019 debut album, Keepsake, managed to stand out against a deluge of dream pop thanks to its spellbinding tunes and the dazzling sweetness of its sound. Though the catchiness remains on her follow-up, Giving the World Away, it’s also a much darker record, sporting moments of thunderous bass and walls of murky guitars. Whilst their execution is occasionally messy, these elements are largely responsible for the album’s noticeable increase in variety, compared to Hatchie’s previous work. They also give her an opportunity to cut through gloomier passages with her euphoric hooks, which makes these choruses even more rewarding. The layers on display are still very much indebted to the staples of 90s alternative music, but Pilbeam’s exceptional songwriting – specifically, her pop sensibilities – keeps her songs from sounding like mere pastiches. In another departure from her earlier releases, there’s a more outwardly sour tone to a lot of the lyrics here, as they no longer have that same bright musical exterior to offset the melancholy embedded within them. Songs like ‘This Enchanted’ speak to a debilitating overreliance on a tumultuous relationship, while ‘Quicksand’ and ‘The Key’ see Pilbeam questioning how content she is with the present and her trajectory for the future. By the end of the record, she’s thankfully found comfort in her significant other, with closers ‘Sunday Song’ and ‘Til We Run Out of Air’ providing an endearing catharsis to a highly emotional record.

Worst: Role Model – Rx

There’s a brief moment – specifically, from the start of ‘save a seat’ to the end of ‘if jesus saves, she’s my type’ – where Rx is actually pretty decent. Somewhere between the cutesy glockenspiel on the former track and the driving, plucky synth chords on the latter, it feels like Tucker Pillsbury (aka Role Model) is offering a glimpse into how pleasant and modest his music can be. However, the following track, ‘masturbation song’, quickly reminds you that, in reality, you’re listening to the kind of album where the instrumentals are excessively dreary, an overabundance of reverb is mistaken for atmosphere and unabashed sexuality is far more discomforting than it’s meant to be. For reference, think House of Balloons-era The Weeknd but without the inventive production, commitment to an asshole persona, or hypnotic singing that makes it easy to look past the more obnoxious lyrics. To be fair, it would take a truly stunning vocal performance to make lines like “Honestly, you get all my honesty / Last man played you like Monopoly” tolerable. With more by way of memorable melodies, there’s a chance this album could have been partially forgiven for its genericness, but the exceedingly simple hook on ‘who hurt you’ is proof enough that this is not Role Model’s area of strength. Even at their best, the songs on this album still sound like what you’d find at the bottom of a Spotify-curated playlist – I like to call it ‘landfill indie’.

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