Vocalo’s Top 10 Albums of 2022
Written by Vocalo Radio on December 28, 2022
2022 graced us with countless incredible albums from artists out of Chicago and beyond.
We narrowed down 10 albums released this year that we felt stood out from the rest. This chronological list is, of course, non-exhaustive, but we felt like these 10 needed to be highlighted — including Chicago artists like Makaya McCraven and Saba, plus some others you definitely heard spinning on Vocalo this year.
Amber Mark – Three Dimensions Deep
Released Jan. 28
I had been waiting for this album since the 2021 release of “Foreign Things” as a single — and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Three Dimensions Deep creates an ethereal world of vibrant blues and purples, punctuated by arpeggiated keys and wailing guitar riffs. Building off her largely R&B and bossa nova influenced debut EP, 3:33 AM (which made me cry uncontrollably upon first listen), Three Dimensions Deep explores indie rock, pop-R&B and dance while expanding upon themes from earth to the beyond — from finding yourself to needing a vacation to the existence of alternate realities. And, being a fan of the franchise herself, the album fittingly incorporates a Star Wars reference or two (i.e. “Darkside”). Amber is also such a genuinely kind person and phenomenal performer, already excelling at her craft. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here. Did I mention this is her first full-length album?
(And in case anyone was wondering, she was my top Spotify artist this year and I was in the top 0.5% of listeners. No big deal.)
– Morgan Ciocca
RELATED: Amber Mark at Pitchfork 2022: “Connecting Is The Really Important Part”
Saba – Few Good Things
Released Feb. 4
As an artist, you know you have something special on your hands when you’re transparent within your music and it connects with adults and kids alike. Chicago West Side multi-talent Saba opened his 2022 with his third album, Few Good Things. This album comes four years after what some would consider his best album, Care For Me. It’s not always easy to follow up behind a project that most would consider your best work, but Saba did just that and more. Few Good Things is yet another masterpiece that was well-crafted, independently released and emotionally felt. It showcased prominent features including Krayzie Bone, Black Thought, 6lack, G Herbo, Fousheé, Pivot Gang and more, and the production itself was done by both Saba and long-time in-house producer DaeDaePivot. You can listen to this album from front to back with no skips, and the replay value is like hearing it for the first time. This is why I consider Few Good Things as a top album of 2022.
RELATED: Saba Breaks Down ‘Few Good Things,’ Tour on Vocalo: “We’re Just Getting Started”
Leon Bridges & Khruangbin – Texas Moon (EP)
Released Feb. 18
After touring together in 2018, neo-soul artist Leon Bridges and psychedelic alt-rock band Khruangbin joined forces to bring us Texas Moon, the 2022 collaborative EP filled with soundscapes that encapsulate the sounds of Texas. From the dark and moody opener reminiscent of late night West Texas drives, to the fusion of disco and West African juju on “B-Side,” perfect for sitting along the coast of Corpus Christi, Khruangbin and Bridges have created an album that can appeal to anyone. Khruangbin’s signature leading bass lines and twangy wah-wah guitar are present throughout as Bridges’ silky vocals add another layer of depth and warmth to their groove-driven instrumentation. This was one of our top records of the year, so take a trip down south and see what Texas Moon is all about.
– Makenzie Creden
RELATED: Leon Bridges: 20 in 2
Toro y Moi – MAHAL
Released May 4
I might be in the minority opinion when I say I only became a fan of Toro y Moi this year. I never disliked his music or anything, I just never really went out of my way to listen to him… until I caught his set at Pitchfork this year, and my whole mindset shifted. There are a certain few artists I think you need to see live to truly appreciate, and Toro y Moi (for me, at least) is definitely one of them. After his set I had his music on repeat — especially MAHAL, his seventh studio album. MAHAL opens with an engine rev to take listeners on a ride through a guitar-riff heavy instrumental in collaboration with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which sounds like it could be off a Tame Impala album (“The Medium”). The album traverses through psychedelic space and time guided by Chaz Bear’s hallmark fuzzy vocals, incorporating distorted jazz, indie rock guitar melodies, muted drum kits and features including Salami Rose Joe Louis. MAHAL ranges from the cerebral on songs like “Magazine” and “Last Year” to the borderline comedic with tracks like “Postman” to the sincere with “Déjà Vu” and “Days in Love.” A standout from his live set was definitely “Millennium,” it’s so lighthearted and catchy it was stuck in my head for days post-festival. All in all, MAHAL is an album you need in your music library.
– Morgan Ciocca
RELATED: Toro y Moi’s ‘MAHAL’ Is “Way Too Hot”
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Released May 13
The highly-anticipated fifth studio album from internationally-renowned rapper Kendrick Lamar dropped this year — and quickly hit the charts with hard-hitting tracks like “N95” and “Die Hard.” Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a masterful three-disc, 19-song album boasting features like Sampha, Summer Walker and Lamar’s cousin and tour opener Baby Keem (who, according to an August article from NME, Lamar called a “musical genius”). Its narrative arc tackles themes on the large and small scales — from COVID, protests against police brutality and #MeToo to his own insecurities, anxieties and family history — punctuated by distinct characters and unrelenting self-analysis. All the while guided by narrator Whitney Alford, Lamar’s long-term romantic partner, Mr. Morale’s instrumentals and cadences feel disjointed with intention, incorporating witty social commentary and smooth production throughout. “We Cry Together” (a nod to Eminem’s “Kim”) is intimate and heavy as Lamar and actress Taylour Paige hurl calculated and melodic verbal missiles at each other. “Autie Diaries” explores gender, sexuality and prejudice, and “Mother I Sober” depicts domestic violence involving his family. As Kendrick mentions on “Silent Hill,” he is not for the faint of heart — and neither is this album.
– Morgan Ciocca
Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE
Released July 29
Dedicated to her late Uncle Johnny, 28-time Grammy award winner Beyoncé released her seventh studio album this year. Even five months after its release, this album continues to take the world by storm with its amazing blends from song to song and its dedication to the LGBT community. Beyoncé leans heavily into the sounds of house music and the underground culture of ballroom. Her rich voice blends well with the sounds of electronic dance music. She also features icons like Big Freeda, Grace Jones, Kevin Acviance, Moi Renne, Ts Madison and so many more. If you are looking for great dance music, look no further; RENAISSANCE is here to stay.
– Joshua X. Miller
RELATED: DJ Terry Hunter Discusses Grammy Nomination and More
Ari Lennox – age/ sex/ location
Released Sept. 9
With her sixth studio album, age/sex/location, Ari Lennox gives listeners an introspective look into the dating world as it used to be, and as it is now. Songs like “POF” deal with being disappointed by continuous bad relationships, while “Stop By” details hookup culture and the need for attention. From its opening to the final track, this album has extreme replayability and Lennox’s vocals convey both classic R&B and the freedom of neo-soul. This album also seems to be the next level of her evolution as a Black woman dating, as she explores what that means for her.
– Joshua X. Miller
RELATED: Ari Lennox Explores Modern Dating on age/sex/location
Makaya McCraven – In These Times
Released Sept. 23
Makaya McCraven has been on a crusade to make a jazz fan out of all of y’all for a while now. But according to his bio, the drummer and beatmaker thinks that “jazz” is “insufficient, at best, to describe the phenomenon we’re dealing with.” His latest album, In These Times, blends past, present and future sounds. It’s a project that reflects his lineage (jazz drummer father, Hungarian folk singer mother), and somehow still manages to say something new in a genre that’s a century old. Full of groovy yet epic tracks like “Dream Another,” “The Calling” and “Seventh String,” In These Times hearkens to classic Chicago Soul jazz by Ahmad Jamal, The Soulful Strings and Dorothy Ashby: adding up to a recording that feels like a collection of instant classics, while articulately making the case for the vibrancy of jazz today.
– Ayana Contreras
RELATED: Makaya McCraven is Deciphering the Message
Smino – Luv 4 Rent
Released Oct. 28
Though Smino is famously from St. Louis, he recorded his first work while based here in Chicago and still works with Chicago-bred collaborators including Monte Booker, Raven Lenae and Phoelix. Consequently, I (like many) still consider him to be on the home team.
One of my favorite aspects of Smino’s performances and recordings is his flow, which is really closer to exceptional jazz phrasing. He plays his voice like a talking drum. To me, Luv 4 Rent feels like spiritual kin to the best of Andre 3000… There’s a real Dungeon Family Southern psychedelic-fever-dream vibe that I love.
Smino can clearly carry the show by himself, but memorable features from artists like Luckey Daye, Doechii, Phoelix and Fatman Scoop (!) provide even more flavor. Highlights include “No L’s,” “90 Proof” featuring J Cole, “Pro Freak,” feat. Scoop and Doechii, “Garden Lady” and “Settle Down,” featuring Ravyn Lenae and Cory Henry.
– Ayana Contreras
SZA – SOS
Released Dec. 9
In our October Release Roundup, I wrote about SZA’s “Shirt,” the first release off her sophomore album SOS, asking, “Am I emotionally prepared for her next album to rip open all my healed wounds of heartbreak from the past? ABSOLUTELY.” In true fashion, SZA did not disappoint, giving her starving fans a 23-track album to feast on featuring guest appearances from Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, Travis Scot, and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Almost instantly after its release, it was easy to see the album was a success for her longtime fans and new listeners alike, leaving me to ask myself, “What is the SZA magic touch?”
While listening to the album, I believe I uncovered pieces of her siren song. SZA never loses her ability to be relatable, whether it be stewing in heartbreak, enjoying casual hookups or simply being unable to stop hating your ex. She has the fame, fortune and respect most of us look for in life, but even she isn’t immune to the problematic heartbreak the general population deals with. My personal stand out track is “Special,” where SZA sings, “I wish I was special/ I gave all my special/ Away to a loser/ Now I’m just a loser/ I used to be special/ But you made me hate me/ Regret that I changed me/ I hate that you made me/ Just like you.” I felt as though she tapped into my soul and wrote that song from my heart. It’s the sadness of knowing this person isn’t worth everything they put you through, but that little voice of self-blame saying maybe you received that treatment because you aren’t “special.” If you’ve ever felt that emotion, there is some comfort in knowing SZA has too.
My first runner-up track follows the type of trope but with a catchy beat. In “Kill Bill,” SZA sings about killing her ex while still being in love with him (“I might kill my ex/ Not the best idea/ His new girlfriend’s next, how’d I get here?/ I might kill my ex/ I still love him, though”) expressing how jealousy can make you feel rage in yourself you barely recognize. She goes on to note how heartbreak defies the laws of common sense; despite the happiness you can have and the nearly eight billion people on this earth for you to choose, you just hate your ex and his new girlfriend.
Honorable mention goes to “Smoking on my Ex Pack,” (which some have noted may be a shout out to Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Baby Keem’s “family ties”: “Smoking on yo’ top five tonight”) where SZA’s diss rapping had my jaw on the floor (“I’m f**kin’ on heartthrobs/ I got your favorite rapper blocked/ I heard the d**k was whack/ Your favorite athlete screaming, ‘Text me back’”) I have no clue who she’s referring to but I HURT for them. SZA denied the line was about her ex-boyfriend Drake by saying the two have “always been cool.” Obviously SZA has been through a lot in the five years since CTRL, and if we must wait another five for her next body of work, sign me up.
– Nudia Hernandez
RELATED: October Release Roundup
Stream Vocalo’s Top 50 Spins of 2022 on Spotify below
Introduction written by Morgan Ciocca
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