The Top 25 Tracks of the Year
Our compilation of the best songs of 2022 – from jaw-dropping epics to ephemeral summer bops, via club bangers, UK drill-laced stompers, and comeback singles. These are the tunes we leaned on in 2022. Tracks to make you dance, think, feel.
“Feels like a long time coming,” was Ben UFO’s Twitter take on the announcement of Shanti Celeste’s Hessle Audio debut. And it has been. Three years have passed since the Peach Discs co-founder has released any solo music at all. But with the release of two-tracker Cutie / Shimmer, it became clear that Shanti had spent at least some of that time refining her too-rarely deployed singing voice. For those familiar with the sheer fun of her spirit-lifting DJ sets, Cutie is a quintessential Shanti track. Its skippy drum beat, distinctly UK bassline and pitched-up vocal chops position it alongside SH’s God’s Chariot remix and Two Shell’s home in this year’s box of play-first dance records. Welcome to Shanti’s golden era.
Rough Trade Records
There are so few bands like Special Interest; artists whose commitment to their ethos is so unshakable that they are guaranteed to never lose their way. This eight-minute epic, which closed their riotous third album Endure, is the band’s most jaw-dropping moment yet. Singer Alli Logout, whose range here vacillates from guttural growl to sing-song falsetto, chronicles Louisiana’s notoriously seedy underbelly with scenes of police brutality, gig economy poverty, and finally, a plea for salvation piercing through grimy basslines, screeching guitars and skull-rattling beats. Punk has always been political, but what Special Interest do so well is marry the malaise of the current moment with a legacy of true anarchy. It’s intense, but LA Blues never lets you look away.
FKA twigs ft. Pa Salieu
I’m not saying FKA twigs moonlights as a meteorologist, but the London-based pop auteur certainly took an accurate reading of this year’s temperature early. Playful, intimate and loaded with more jams than a condiment cupboard, her January mixtape, CAPRISONGS, captured the prevailing moods of 2022: fun, reconnection, catharsis. honda, which features Coventry rapper Pa Salieu, is a prime example of this lighthearted approach; a distinct gear-shift from the soul-wrenching sonics of 2019’s celestial MAGDALENE. “Baby, you can roll, here’s a Rizla/ Honda, smoke while we glide on the M way,” twigs raps coolly over a beat that pairs body-moving Afrobeat percussion with choral harmonies. In the accompanying visual, twigs does indeed glide like an IRL angel through tree-lined British streets, as if relishing in the freedom she’s carved out for herself. You love to see it.
Definitely the best song this year (and probably ever) to sample a snippet of 70s detective show Columbo, Forbidden Feelingz – the title track off the Leeds-raised producer’s March EP – is a throbbing, junglist rush of blood to the head. Here fidgety percussion meets strobing synths to provide a restless backdrop of instrumentation which, along with lush, layered vocals, captures her inner turmoil perfectly. What’s so striking about the song, and indeed Nia Archives’ output, is that she captures the heady, intoxicating rush of the dancefloor without ever leaning into overindulgence. In other words, Forbidden Feelingz could only have come from inside the brain of 22-year-old Nia Archives, where influences like Erykah Badu, Burial and DJ Storm blend as smoothly as her vibrant productions.
There'd Better Be a Mirrorball
Opening with the sort of showstopping strings more closely associated with James Bond themes than Sheffield rock bands, Arctic Monkeys’ 2022 comeback single signalled yet another new direction for one of the world’s biggest bands. Though There’d Better Be a Mirrorball retains the loungey hallmarks of 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, its instrumentation is smoother and more luxuriant, and Alex Turner’s voice has finally given into the crooner within. Lyrically, the track is also a return to form for Turner, as he delivers a specific and sad-eyed goodbye to a lover who’s broken it off – “giving it the old romantic fool”, as he puts it. There’d Better Be a Mirrorball is an understated victory lap for Turner, who, in his own strange way, remains a generation-defining writer, even after all this time.
Rough Trade Records
Dubliners Gilla Band returned from an extended hiatus with renewed urgency to deliver an album of punishing noise rock that leaned full tilt into nightmare logic. On first listen, it’s hard to believe that single Backwash is an “indirect love song”, to quote Gilla Band’s frontman, Dara Kiely. Sinewy guitars, excoriating distortion and blocky percussion are the uneasy bedfellows to Kiely’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics that include one fleeting Big Brother reference, numerous images pertaining to animals and, presumably, some old-fashioned, hard-won wisdom (“No one looks cool around a wasp!”). Across three-and-a-half bruising minutes the track approximates a trip gone sour as it squirms its way to a climactic synth wig-out. Then, abruptly, silence. And here’s the thing: you immediately want to do it all over again.
Salamanda are storytellers. In a Crack Magazine interview earlier this year, Manda – one half of the Seoul duo – divulged that making music is a way of revisiting the “fantasy worlds of my childhood”. Their latest album, ashbalkum, plays on a Korean phrase that roughly translates to: “it was just a dream”. It’s no surprise, then, that surrealist reverie is the duo’s main source of inspiration. But there is something very real about standout track Melting Hazard. The crystalline vibraphone percussion feels almost tangible, as whispered vocal hums float around light-touch synth pads. Even the undulating bass and reverb feel like invitations to luxuriate in the track’s sticky warmth. At once capturing nature’s stillness and innate psychedelia, Melting Hazard offers a gateway into a new dimension, away from the overstimulating chaos of modern life.
For Welsh producer Jorg Kuning, 2022 has been a pivotal year. While his label, Bakk Heia, quietly went from strength to strength, it was his Wisdom Teeth-released Chosta-del-sol EP that did the most to raise his profile and introduce new fans to his eccentric, modular soundworld. Specifically, it was the EP’s title track, a late late summer contender that uncoiled a version of this sound across seven blissful minutes. Pads you can sink into like a warm bath? Check. Loose ’n’ limber house kicks? Check. Brain-tweaking psychedelic analogue noodling? Check, check, check. Make no mistake, this isn’t a flashy track. Its effectiveness lies in its capacity to shimmer rather than stun. But slowburn or not, there’s no debate – it’s an absolute scorcher.
Carly Rae Jepsen
The Loneliest Time
Carly Rae Jepsen’s music is so often defined by the type of longing you only admit to yourself – lying on your back on your bed, or main character-ing it down the road with headphones clamped over your ears – that in some ways, it’s unusual to hear her exchanging lines with someone else, as she does with Rufus Wainwright (of all people) on The Loneliest Time, the title track for her fifth record. While it’s a slight departure for Jepsen, Wainwright’s gently sonorous voice is a pretty foil for the expectant, hopeful rasp in Jepsen’s. And like all of her best tracks, The Loneliest Time has a chorus that takes a running leap into the air and then just soars, dominated by disco strings and synths just the knowing side of cheesy.
Safety Trance ft. Arca
El Alma Que Te Trajo
On El Alma Que Te Trajo, Venezuelan producer Safety Trance (a.k.a. Cardopusher) proves that reggaeton isn’t just a genre, but an energy. One that’s sexually charged, self-possessed and slightly unhinged. So who better to enlist than longtime collaborator and patron saint of the Venecas, Arca? El Alma Que Te Trajo is explosive from the off: Safety Trance’s now-signature cavernous synth stabs adorn Arca’s flirtatious vocals, before being pummelled by a torrent of dembow. “Soy una perra, pero yo te hago/ Miau, miau, miau,” Arca intones seductively, translating to “I’m a dog but for you I’ll go meow, meow, meow.” There’s something uniquely liberating about two experimental Venezuelan artists leaning into the frivolity and fun of their heritage. But that’s the thing about Safety Trance and Arca – when they set out to make a relentless banger, they really do deliver. Salpica, salpica.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Future ft. Drake and Tems
Wait for U
In the year that Fred again.. and Swedish House Mafia sampled Future on the ravey Turn On the Lights Again.., the Atlanta rapper did his own sampling in turn, weaving a tender live rendition of Tems’ 2020 track Higher into the Drake-featuring Wait for U. Tems has been one to watch for some time now, her rich, assertive voice and smooth alt-R&B and Afrobeats sound earmarking her as a star-in-the-making. Here, she holds her own and then some against the rap A-listers, who trade heartfelt bars made up of now-signature lyrical themes: self-destructive behaviour, emosh feelings and relationship problems. (Think “Every time I sip on codeine, I get vulnerable,” in the Future corner, or “I sit on my balcony and wonder how you feelin’,” in Drake’s.) A winning combination that inevitably introduced Tems to new ears – which is only a good thing.
Tiësto and Charli XCX
Hot In It
The tender joys of summer aren’t designed to last. Their fleeting nature is what makes them bittersweet. Likewise, the summer bop. Hot in It, a Tiësto track with Charli on the assist, has none of the usual Charli hallmarks: it’s not cool, nor clever, nor elevated. It’s an exercise in inane fun designed to appeal to the lizard brain that likes minor key shifts, basslines made for the mainest of main rooms, and deadpan, vocoder-mutated declarations like, “shake my ass, no stopping it”. It negates intellectualisation, leaving us only time-stamped cliché to capture the song’s ephemeral magic. So here goes: as chaotic as Gatwick Airport in July; as sweat-inducing as a record-breaking heatwave; as exhilarating as Chloe Kelly scoring the winning goal in the 111th minute of a Euros final. The moment’s gone, but the feeling remains.
Materialising from the same creative orbit as Dean Blunt and Mica Levi, bar italia have adopted a similarly avoidant approach to profile: Microsoft Paint artwork, inscrutable videos, lowercase naming on line-ups and a small library of origin stories scattered across various subreddits. But behind the fog is London’s most exciting new band. Released on Blunt’s World Music label, Miracle Crush is perhaps their most intoxicating track to date. A tinny movie sample (from Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 psychological horror, Orphan, according to r/deanblunt) gives way to an addictive, off-kilter love song. “I have no words for what I’m feeling/ I just know this isn’t leaving,” go the call-and-return melodies sung by the band’s vocalists, pushing and pulling against a tide of jangly guitars and caustic, post-punk drums. Consider us hooked.
Jeshi ft. Obongjayar
If there’s any justice in the music industry, Obongjayar will be a full-fledged superstar by the time next year’s list season rolls around. As well as delivering an impressive project of his own this year, the man blesses every feature he touches. His icy falsetto hook on Jeshi’s Protein is his latest homerun. So infectious that it’s found its way on to hundreds of TikToks – what else constitutes a hit in 2022 if not this? – Protein struts along with an off-kilter swagger, needle-sharp piano keys puncturing each beat. Jeshi’s gristly verses contrast Obongjayar’s spectral vocals beautifully, reciting grubby tales of “back alley broken bottle felines” and “time spent, dishing dirt rizla or regrets”. An instantly classic team-up from two of the UK’s rising stars.
There’s a long history of club tracks whose eccentricities are so exciting they transcend their inherent oddness to become bonafide dancefloor smashes. Previous unlikely floor-fillers such as The Stitch-Up by Objekt or Claptrap by Joe have proved that experimental wanderings need not result in a set’s transitional moment, nor a strategically timed cigarette break. Caterpillar is another such track. Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, it’s a squirming, burrowing, psyche-inhabiting techno workout. Defined by a distinctive warble that creeps in and out of earshot, Pariah conjures a satisfyingly unnerving tension that threatens to snap at a moment’s notice. And it eventually does – filtered synths and vinyl crackles ominously swell until a flurry of hi-hats release the pressure and transport you right back to the dance. It’s really no wonder Caterpillar wormed its way into the underground hall of fame.
Nok Cultural Ensemble ft. Angel Bat Dawid
Led by Sons of Kemet drummer and producer Edward Wakili-Hick (also known for his work with Steam Down and Nubya Garcia), Nok Cultural Ensemble brings together four of the UK’s brightest percussionists, including Onome Edgeworth, Joseph Deenmamode and Dwayne Kilvington, for an album of experimental drum-led compositions. Enlightenment is an instant revelation. Joined by Chicago clarinet player Angel Bat Dawid, who lays down a satisfyingly wonky woodwind odyssey as overlapping drumlines trundle underneath, the track is a masterclass in unadulterated rhythm and intuition. Constantly shifting, Enlightenment demands the listener’s full focus as no discernable groove or melody sticks around for too long. The occasional thump of bass in the background adds to the sense of drama and narrative flowing throughout the track’s competing elements. An undoubtedly ambitious and experimental work that never overwhelms.
What They Call Us
Hitting play on a new Fever Ray track is like shoving your hand in a lucky dip bag at a Halloween party: you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to get, but you know it’ll be delightfully weird and slightly scary. This time, Karin Dreijer gifted us What They Call Us; a slow, ominous, spine-tingling electro-pop track crackling with snapping drums and arpeggiated synths. While co-produced with Dreijer’s brother Olof – who, alongside Karen, formed the inimitable duo The Knife – this is squarely a Fever Ray affair, with Dreijer’s eerily mournful vocals lending the song an added dimension of existential self-reflection. “The person who came here was broken,” they sing, “Can you fix it? Can you care?” The questions posed across the song hint to something deeper; something glimpsed at but remaining in the shadows. It’s what has always made Fever Ray so intriguing: mystery is part of the pleasure.
The surest way to take the temperature of contemporary club music is to take a scroll through the scene’s busiest meme accounts. Reverb wars? Ben UFO? All of these and more make up the rich tapestry of the dance music discourse, which largely plays out via bitesize LOLs. In 2022, no artist was more memed and discoursed than Two Shell – the clandestine post-dubstep duo who dominated our timelines and playlists in equal measure. Their carefully curated media presence and slapstick promotion caught the attention of commentators like a red rag to a bull – all of which could have seemed like a distraction if their musical output wasn’t so consistently excellent. home is a perfect example of what Two Shell excel at. Built around a cutesy vocal loop sampled from a chance YouTube find, it twists a twee pop track into something fresh and futuristic: half chipmunk hyperpop, half big-room rave destroyer.
There was something in the air this year. Worldwide superstars inaugurated their electronic eras, dabbling with genres like house more than ever before. According to Beyoncé, her foray into the past and present of club culture on Renaissance – in all of its queer and Black glory – was a form of “escape during a scary time for the world” and an outlet for adventurism. Alien Superstar captures this invigorating escapism best. With Chicago native Honey Dijon among its creators, Alien Superstar is three and a half minutes of anthemic production, unabashedly confident – and Aquarian, if you’re into that stuff – lyrics that sound like self-care mantras spoken into a mirror (“I’m one of one/ I’m number one/ I’m the only one”), and a proper earworm of a hook that interpolates Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy and works it into something feminine, ethereal and simply divine.
Skin on Skin
Burn Dem Bridges
Steel City Dance Discs
Over the past year we’ve seen a wave of dance tracks go viral, notching up TikTok listens well into the millions, and SoundCloud and YouTube play counts that rival those posted by more mainstream pop stars. Australia-raised artist Skin on Skin was behind one of them. Burn Dem Bridges first came to prominence through an AVA Festival Boiler Room set, with plays quickly going into overdrive on social media and music sharing platforms. It’s not hard to see why it stood out from the pack: this future-facing, UK drill-laced stomper fuses concussive techno drums and gritty synth lines with a pitch-shifted vocal sample from Sav’o and Horrid1’s Violent Siblings – a pairing of raw, incendiary styles that felt fresh in 2022. In short, exactly the sort of galvanising banger that heralds a new major player on the club scene.
For over a decade, New York artist and multi-instrumentalist Alexandra Drewchin, a.k.a. Eartheater, has consistently pushed the boundaries of what experimental art can be. Through her enveloping, world-building electronic productions, Drewchin clinically dissects pop music, laying its entrails on the table and rearranging the mess, before stitching it back together into something beautifully grotesque. Mitosis is the next mutation of this studied practice. As water-drop synths patiently pace around Drewchin’s semi-whispered, cracked vocals, the surface tension breaks into a chorus of chants and volcanic synth lines that trace the aftermath of a painful breakup. “Fuck all my senses, I’ll keep some perspective/ No double standards, I don’t entertain it,” she sings with the raw emotion and detachment of someone who’s done playing games. Searing and disarmingly vulnerable, this is Eartheater at her best.
Top Dawg Entertainment
Strategically placed near the beginning of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers – an album of conflicting proclamations – N95 is a song at war with itself. From the off, the goading, red-herring intro of Kendrick reciting a nursery rhyme-like melody is subsumed by a rumbling electro-shock beat (yes, K.Dot was bold enough to bring back Ayo Technology-style instrumentals in 2022). In the past, the Compton rapper’s convictions have helped rally social movements; he has made music that captured the malignancy in America’s soul. Here, among stray shots at meaningless materialism, artists who artificially juice their streaming numbers, and an inquisition into cancel culture, the star declares: “I’m done with the sensitive, takin’ it personal/ Done with the black and the white, the wrong and the right.” It’s messy, it’s gripping, it’s Kendrick’s soul on ice.
Dean Van Nguyen
Eliza Rose & Interplanetary Criminal
B.O.T.A. (Baddest Of Them All)
This year saw the comeback of the Big Club Banger; irresistible tunes that soundtracked our official return to the dancefloor. Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal hit the jackpot with one such release: B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All), a song that sparked joy across festivals, raves and Gen Z’s favourite app. More than just a summer smash, in September it landed the top spot on the UK singles chart – a first for a woman DJ since Sonique in 2000. A housey cut with crossover appeal, B.O.T.A.’s saccharine melody uplifts like the first hot day of the year. “Do you wanna dance, baby?” Rose coos over the vitamin D-fortified instrumental, built around a bouncy 90s sample and lyrics (plus title) inspired by a tagline from the Pam Grier-starring film, Coffy. It’s not easy crafting something that sounds as nostalgic as it does bang-up-to-date, but these two made it look like a breeze.
Jackie Down the Line
It begins with some “do do do” and “la la la” vocal refrains over a tight bassline and drums, casually sung by Grian Chatten, the Fontaines D.C. vocalist who has been praised and caricatured in equal measure. Certainly, Jackie Down the Line sits at the more melodic end of the Fontaines canon – there’s also punchy bars, open-ended acoustic guitar strums and hearty melodies delivered in Chatten’s own indomitable way. His relationship with Ireland as a man now living in the UK colours their latest album, Skinty Fia. Here, Jackie fills in for ‘Jackeen’, a mild pejorative for Dubliners used by other Irish people. And though on its surface the song captures a spikey conversation with an unnamed person, when Chattan sings “I will hurt you, I’ll desert you”, it’s ostensibly to his home city, and a lingering sense of melancholy permeates the band’s best pop song yet.
Dean Van Nguyen
Nick León ft. DJ Babatr
Miami’s glistening skyscrapers, palm tree-lined beaches and art deco pastiche don’t exactly elicit images of innovative underground club music. But you don’t have to dig too deep to move past the likes of Farruko’s Pepas; the city’s undeniable connections to Latin American and Caribbean diasporas have made it a landscape ripe for experimentation, as Miami producer and DJ Nick León has proven time and again this year.
León must lay claim to being one of the hardest working producers operating today. His career has been dedicated to exploring the lush textures of south Florida’s musical heritage, whether in his work for forward-thinking hip-hop artists like Denzel Curry and GAIKA, or his own Latin-inflected electronic explorations for labels like Mexico’s celebrated N.A.A.F.I. In March, the Colombian-American’s profile reached a whole new level after his name appeared in the production credits for Diablo – the minimalist but high-powered highlight from pop superstar Rosalía’s wildly successful MOTOMAMI. Then, a few months later, he dropped a track that would rattle the dance music world.
Xtasis, taken from his EP for experimental Colombian imprint TraTraTrax, is a euphoric journey through global sounds old and new, tracing pan-Latin musical history with a distinctly modern pen. Its fast, syncopated drums mimic Venezuelan tambores – the country’s ancestral Afro-Venezuelan drumming tradition – in the relentlessness and speed of the driving techno beat, bringing the rhythms of Afro-Venezuelan street parrandas to the dancefloors of today. Unabating drum patterns coupled with an ecclesiastical vocal sample give way to nostalgic Korg M1 synths reminiscent of 90s house – the same synth preset that coincidentally, and perhaps serendipitously, made an appearance on Beyoncé’s house revival track, Break My Soul, thus setting in motion a renewed mainstream interest in the genre. Paired with León’s soaring sound design and erudite approach to the sounds of Latin America’s party scenes – like tribal guarachero, dembow and cumbia – Xtasis delivers on its title, cracking open the imaginations of both listener and dancer to new possibilities of what Latin dance music can be.
Venezuelan legend DJ Babatr, who co-produced the track, folds in elements of his signature raptor house – a frenetic, percussion-first style of electronic music that emerged from Caracas’ hillside ghettos in the late 90s and early 2000s. Recently, the genre has found a new life on dancefloors the world over – from Field Day London’s main stage to peak-hour sets at Dekmantel and Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Festival. This is in no small part due to Xtasis getting the Pearson Sound remix treatment; the Hessle Audio co-founder morphing the deceptively atmospheric track into something breakier, weirder, leaner. And as millions of Venezuelans have spread across the globe in one of the largest displacement crises in recent history, so too has raptor house (or changa tuki), integrating itself into underground scenes that have been predominantly designed to platform Western art.
And so Xtasis is an antidote. For the mainstream’s monolithic view that Latin music is all about reggaeton. For the diasporic dancers who have yearned to see themselves and their ancestors reflected in the setlist. For the enforced stagnation clubbers have been made to endure over the past few years. Xtasis arrived like a shock to the system, illuminating the endless possibilities of Latin club music.
Verónica Bayetti Flores