The ten best albums of the year as chosen by Associated Press entertainment journalists.
Few would be surprised that Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” made it to our top albums list, but the low-hanging fruit doesn’t take away how delicious it is. Releasing her first album after six years, Queen Bey once again proved why it is worth the wait. Multi-format dance track “Break My Soul” and “Soul” led by the TikTok-crazy “Cuff It” topped the Hot 100, both of which reached #1 on various Billboard Charts, while “Renaissance” boasted many things. Fan favorites like “Cosy”, “Alien Superstar”, “Church Girl”, Plastic off the Sofa, and “Virgo’s Groove.” But beyond two-stepping and body-rolling, the message that champions Black women in music and reminds the LBGTQ community that they have one-tenth allies His Excellency, meticulously planned or purely coincidental, released the album as the coronavirus pandemic was behind us, if the goal is to get us out of our homes and dance again, then mission accomplished — Gary Gerard Hamilton
WEEK, “DAWN FM”
“Dawn FM”, which made a modest debut last January, is a concept album that The Weeknd likened to listening to a radio station in Purgatory, so it’s a modern production with a mix of styles and effects from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Most are downright bizarre: fake British accents, a verbal excerpt by Quincy Jones, hilarious radio commercials, narration by Jim Carrey, and a digitally aged singer on the cover. It’s also great, a dance recording with lyrics of despair containing greetings to Michael Jackson, New Wave, neo-soul, Prince and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. If purgatory sounds like that, paradise is overrated. —Mark Kennedy
Spanish singer Rosalía turned three years of agony and home sickness into her mega-successful third studio album “Motomami” (“bike chick”). For such a brave artist, whose ease in playing with genres and words was his greatest strength, it was perhaps impossible not to make lemonade out of lemons. Described as an alternative reggaeton record, the 16-track heavyweight “Motomami” offers something for everyone and every mood. From the simplified reggaeton of “Candy’s” to the acting of “Chicken Teriyaki” and the experimental sound of “Diablo”, to the powerful piano ballad of “Hentai” or the classical Latin beats of “La Fama”, Rosalía shows her talent as a singer. The four Latin Grammys he received for the album were just the beginning. Next stop: the world. — Cristina Jaleru
ZACH BRYAN, “AMERICAN HEARTBREAKING”
In the age of listening, as artists release multiple projects in a single year, the musical floodgates are wide open: EPs, double albums, deluxe albums, and more. Country artist Zach Bryan raised the bar with the release of his 34-track album, “American Heartbreak,” as his first major label debut in 2022. The Navy veteran’s stories pay tribute to the towns he grew up in, such as “Heavy Eyes,” the wanderlust in “Highway Boys,” and “Oklahoma City.” His stark production and confessional narrative have earned him comparisons to both Jason Isbell and Taylor Swift (He’s a Swiftie). But she performs best while living in the solitude of heartbreak, describing the colors of Western landscapes in “Something in the Orange.” Bryan has proven to deliver both quality and quantity. — Kristin M. Hall
LARRY JUNE, “SPACESHIP ON THE BLADE”
drake Kendrick Lamar. How. These hip-hop heavyweights released some of the best albums of the year. Some might even consider Earl Sweatshirt’s song “Sick” to be top notch. But the musician standing above them was rapper Larry June through “Spaceships on the Blade.” It’s the San Francisco-based rapper’s 10th solo studio album and his most impressive work group since his debut in 2018. With his relaxed demeanor and contagious improvisation, “Aye, Aye, Aye”, June, “Extra of Um” featuring Babyface Ray, “Don’t Check Me”, “Another Day, Pt. 2” and “Breakfast in Monaco.” In well-produced songs, he takes listeners on the journey of a successful con man who makes driving luxury cars, living in high-rise apartments, and spending $50,000 on vacation seem like an easy feat. But it also shows a deeper side of the rap personality. In Appreciate Everything, she talks about working hard for her son, learning to love from her mother, and buying real estate in hopes of generating wealth for generations. Throughout “spaceships,” June is a force to be reckoned with. -Jonathan Landrum Jr.
JACKSON WANG, “MAGIC MAN”
Former pop idol Jackson Wang became “Magic Man” on his sophomore album when he was a solo artist. With a sharp, harmonious voice that harks back to ’90s rock mixed with ’80s synths, Wang’s record shows he’s up for the lead role; His character in “The Magic Man” is a smiling, seductive stranger who enjoys the pleasures of life. The singer takes the challenge of delivering fiery vocals behind classical guitar riffs on “Blow”, “Cruel” and “Champagne Cool”. But where it all begins is the pop song “Ride as you play”, which lights up the discotheque part of the amygdala. Really magical stuff. — Cristina Jaleru
MOTHER OF FOOTBALL, “Sometimes, FOREVER”
The third album by Sophie Allison and her band Soccer Mommy is a wonderfully diverse mix, from the industrial harshness of “Unholy Affliction” to the eerie “Following Eyes” to the airy “With U.” The title “Sometimes, Forever” suggests a push-pull of light and darkness, happiness and sadness, both jumping from song to song and within songs. A link to another album on this list is Oneohtrix Point Never, the avant-garde producer who helped shape The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM.” It gave Soccer Mommy a layered, dark synthetic gloom. One of the highlights is “Shotgun,” a dedication song with the lyrics “Cold beer and ice cream is all we’ve got / All we really need.” —Mark Kennedy
BLXST, “BEFORE YOU GO”
Blxst is considered the leading voice of Los Angeles R.&B, after the release of their mixtape album “No Love Lost” in 2020. But the singer-rapper expanded his reach with his flawless album “Before You Go” alongside his recent Grammy nominations for his feature work on Kendrick Lamar’s single “Die Hard”. “Before You Go” features catchy hooks and soft melodies that garnered praise from critics and fans alike. He brilliantly tackles the issues of handling relationships in his fan-favourites, “About You” and “Still Omw.” In “Fake Love in LA,” starring Arin Ray, she talks about experiencing ocean views and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway while escaping the fake elements of her hometown. She talks about carrying the torch of delivering quality music after the loss of Nipsey Hussle, being blessed with thinking big and a strong support system in “Couldn’t Wait for It” with Rick Ross. As a result, Blxst has put together a complete collection of infectious songs from start to finish. -Jonathan Landrum Jr.
CHARLEY CROCKETT, “MAN FROM WACO”
Featured American Charley Crockett sets the stage in his cinematic album “The Man From Waco,” which connects Western filmmaking, cowboy culture myth-making, and R.&B and the spirit of the Gulf countries. The Texas-born singer is a prolific indie musician with a strong hustle formed during his early street musician years. The title track of the album focuses on a lone gunman who accidentally kills his lover in a jealous rage with a beautiful horn section on an acoustic guitar. Crockett punches a Stax-inspired ’70s rhythm in “I’m Just a Clown” and plays piano and trumpet on “Trinity River.” Crockett even attempts to complete an unfinished Bob Dylan piece from the outputs of the songs written for the “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” soundtrack, which Crockett turned into “Tom Turkey.” Crockett’s old soul isn’t just a nostalgic trick, as this post-modern bard forges new ties with classical themes. — Kristin M.Hall
BAD RABBIT, “UN VERANO SIN TI”
Bad Bunny is a true global superstar and if you didn’t know before that “Un Verano Sin Ti” made you come true. The Puerto Rican artist, who spent 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200, expertly blends reggaeton, pop and EDM, effortlessly transporting you to a beach on his home island for a temporary break from real-world stressors. Party-ready songs like “Tití Me Preguntó” and “Me Porto Bonito” featuring Chencho Corleone each had half a billion views on YouTube, and Corleone led possibly the biggest tour of the year. Despite his rise to the kingdom of one of the world’s greatest artists, he has also used his music to critique issues such as gentrification and repeated blackouts on the island. Was it important to me that “Un Verano Sin Ti” was predominantly Spanish? Not at all. While you dance, the music motivates you to wonder and learn more, and that’s what great art does. — Gary Gerard Hamilton
See other AP coverage of the year in entertainment: https://apnews.com/hub/year-in-review-entertainment