In a rare bit of optimism I can definitively state that music – particularly alternative rock – had a good year. Even stalwarts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Liam Gallagher managed to successfully deliver memorable hits worthy of inclusion on future greatest hits compilations. More importantly, this was the first year in a very long time where I had to carefully parse the top 10 tracks and there was an actual deliberation process as to which song would take the top spot. Though it may not have been the absolute strongest year for music I’ve lived through (the second half was a little weak), it was absolutely better than 2021.
The Top 25 Songs of 2022
25. Congrats – Lost in Japan —
It is fun and eminently catchy.
24. Cynthia – POESY —
Most of this song is perfectly fine and listenable. The chorus however is next-level memorable, an immaculate gem of a hook that glistens in your brain for days on end.
23. Healthy – Quarters of Change —
What a bizarre, fascinating band. They’re a total non-presence in the music world, covered by neither the indie publications or mainstream radio. Almost all the songs on their most recent album are almost entirely unadorned. It’s like water turned into audio form. Just untouched, plain guitars, unprocessed everything. This song is one of the few that has anything remotely even close to something resembling an actual genre…and it turns out to be a genre I have thus far written off as hipster drivel. If you get past the emo-rap drawl of the frontman’s vocals however, you’ll find a pleasant laid-back summer jam perfect for walks in the setting sun.
22. Sevier – The Joy Formidable —
I’m tempted to call this band “quietly reliable” as they consistently release great albums to little fanfare, but there’s nothing quiet about them. This is a song that proves heavier music can still be done right.
21. Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole) – Arcade Fire —
It was a rough year for Arcade Fire. First founding member Will Butler left the band, then their supposed “comeback” album WE received a tepid response, then frontman Win Butler got hit with a series of cheating allegations leading to major acts (including Feist, ironically) dropping off the band’s tour.
WE was not a masterpiece, but the fact that it’ll forever be overshadowed by the allegations is a bit of a shame. There were precisely three great songs on the record: “Age of Anxiety I”, “Unconditional II (Race and Religion)” – which finally sees the band repaying Peter Gabriel for his devotion – and this track. ‘Rabbit Hole’ is a classic example of a bloomer, a song that grows incrementally towards a grand conclusion that makes full use of the band’s (at the moment) many members.
20. In Need of Repair – Band of Horses —
After years of being outclassed by their predecessors Nada Surf, Band of Horses finally release another power-pop gem like the ones they built their name on.
19. Alone on a Hill – Silversun Pickups —
Frontman Brian Aubert hands lead duties to bassist Nikki Moninger on ‘ Alone on a Hill’ and the quiet, piano-driven song benefits from it.
18. TV – Billie Eilish —
Though the biggest story this year surrounding the ever sardonic prodigy was her ironic newfound relationship with Jesse Rutherford – a man 11 years (!) her senior and frontman for one hit wonders The Neighbourhood – Eilish also quietly released an EP with more rock-oriented tunes, among them acoustic ballad “TV”. It’ll be interesting to see whether this is a harbinger of her future direction or a short lived dip into the genre.
17. Lucifer on the Sofa – Spoon —
I’ve never been able to get past Spoon frontman Britt Daniel’s coarse rasp of a voice, but here he manages to keep it subdued and ideally suited for this low-key lounge track.
16. Get Lost – Spielbergs —
I’ve been rooting for Spielbergs since they appeared on the radar a few years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that they finally stepped up their songwriting to match with their exuberant Norwegian aesthetic. Like a strange cross between Snow Patrol and Billy Talent, Spielbergs sound like the best bands of the early 2000s on “Get Lost”, pairing an instantly memorable guitar riff with a cathartic emo-style chorus.
15. One Night – Broken Bells —
If there’s one thing you can always count on with James Mercer, it’s that the man knows how to write a good hook. Reviving his side project Broken Bells this year, Mercer leaned hard into the 1970s rock sound but backed it up with excellent songwriting. There’s no less than 4 great hooks packed into this one song.
14. Things Will Be Fine – Metronomy —
Metronomy seem like a band utterly unconcerned with fame and fortune, and also sticking to any one sound. They’re just a quaint British group that pops up every few years, drops a tune that sounds like nothing they’ve done before, then leaves. They’ve got a very pleasant, small air about them – like a less frenetic version of Bloc Party. “Things Will Be Fine” doesn’t sound like 2014’s sinister and minimalistic “I’m Aquarius, nor does it sound like the math rock of 2019’s “Lately”. It’s a breezy acoustic tune that sounds like The Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey”, and that’s all it needs to be.
13. Something Lost + Something Found – Bedouin Soundclash —
I laugh when I think back to my university days and how much I railed against Bedouin Soundclash and their utterly innocent campfire anthem “When The Night Feels My Song”. I’m making amends and righting that wrong by giving this spiritual sequel the recognition it deserves.
12. Player of Games – Grimes —
While Grimes didn’t necessarily write my favourite song of the year, she still created the best sound of the year. This right here is what pop music in 2022 should sound like, and I will continue to have a conniption until artists realize this fact. Enough with the analog record hiss, the clipping audio levels, the dry drums. Throw out the reductive funk, we’ve had enough. In 2022 we should be experimenting and taking audio production to futuristic highs like Grimes has. It’s time for trance to dominate.
11. Barely on my Mind – The Regrettes —
This is one of those songs that doesn’t need a write up. It’s just a very catchy and fun tune. Like an indie pop version of No Doubt.
10. Gold Mine Gutted (Companion Version) – Bright Eyes —
In a recent interview Conor Oberst mentions how the process of redoing selected tracks from the newly reissued Bright Eyes catalogue was a hard one. He didn’t haphazardly pick a handful of fan favourites from each album, saying he wanted any transformation to be “drastically different” from the original.
Here he changes ‘Gold Mine Gutted’ from wistful synth pop to world-weary folk, bringing a whole new set of emotions to the track. Seventeen years later, the lyrics are unchanged but feel heftier, carrying the burden of nearly two decades of memories. Oberst’s voice is fuller now, capable of adding more nuance to the words as the slide guitar and harmonica build a new world for them to live in.
9. Boy – The Killers —
Yeah, this is the third year in a row where The Killers have a song in my top 10 and you know what, there’s a good chance they’ll be here next year as well. ‘Boy’ is the first single from a yet-to-be-revealed new album and it sure checks all the boxes of what makes a great Killers song.
A spiritual successor to 2008’s ‘Human’, it finds the band doing a 180 from the organic sound of last year’s Pressure Machine and taking a dive into bright neon electronica. Even Brandon Flowers’ voice is saturated with a robotic choral effect that drops during the chorus and lets him soar along with the towering synths.
8. Time is a Car – Partner —
At first blush Partner seem like they’d fit right in with earnest heartland rockers like First Aid Kit, Joseph, Sharon Van Etten, Maggie Rogers, or Lissie. Upon a deeper listen, you find they’ve got a little more sass than their peers. “Time is a Car” is not just about any car. It’s not some ode to a vintage Corvette owned by a cherished member of the band’s family. It’s about the star of Pixar’s Cars franchise, Lightning McQueen. And it is fantastic.
7. The Hit – NO WIN —
As can be seen from the above artwork, NO WIN are a band obsessed with the year 1999. In fact, I can’t say with confidence that they’re a band at all. They may very well be an algorithm designed to fashion all the musical trademarks of 1999 into one cohesive song. It is very pointedly called “The Hit”, after all. It also sounds exactly like some unholy hybrid of Wheatus and Smash Mouth, a track scientifically engineered to maximize good vibes in a radio friendly 3 minute runtime.
6. Quicksand – Hatchie —
Hatchie was lauded endlessly by the pundits in the spring, with all of them praising her songwriting skills. I’m choosing to focus on the production here, because this is one of the most sonically lush songs I’ve heard in a long time. While it is heavily electronic, the atmosphere is that of a digital rainforest, a thickly layered slice of angst-pop.
5. On Our Parting, My Beloved – The Districts —
I’ve made my love for this song very clear.
4. Jackie Down the Line – Fontaines D.C. —
3. Cowboys Don’t Cry – Oliver Tree —
Prior to this year the only thing I knew about Oliver Tree was that he was some sort of massive TikTok star for whom music was a secondary hobby. I’d heard the song “Life Goes On” in a video and gave it a decent amount of spins last year, but was largely uninterested in the trollish gamer-pop vibe he gave off.
After going through what seems like a bad breakup, Tree released an album of actual music with actual meaning, and he had my attention. He actually wanted to make a statement and be taken seriously. Not overly seriously, mind you – there’s still plenty of goofball charm on this album, but it’s backed up with some substance this time around. “Cowboys Don’t Cry” is a 90s alt-pop style track about the end of Tree’s relationship, featuring a cyclical hook that aptly matches lyrics like “Love is like a circle/there’s no easy way to end”.
And this wasn’t even the best song on the album.
2. Cure for Me – AURORA —
Like a strange fusion between the dark Scandinavian pop of The Knife and the carefree soiree music of Bryan Ferry, AURORA knows what the best trick in the pop music playbook is. There is no better moment in any given song than when an artist combines multiple hooks from throughout their song over top the final chorus. AURORA does so here and it goes as wonderfully as you’d expect considering the strength of the hooks. One is good enough, but having all three at the same time is the very essence of pop music.
AND THE BEST SONG OF 2022 IS…
1. Freaks & Geeks – Oliver Tree —
Getting “serious” isn’t some sort of panacea. Machine Gun Kelly’s 2020 emo album gave us some of the least fun pop-punk ever put to tape, resulting in a grim, dour collection of Blink-182 knock offs.
Oliver Tree sidestepped this pitfall by continuing to be cheeky even while in the throes of sadness, and by adding some self-awareness to his repertoire. Everyone can write a sad song about a lost love. Oliver Tree has got to be one of the first to write a song about being a TikTok star. While there have definitely been “tears of a clown” type songs in the past lamenting the spotlight and what it can do to an entertainer’s life, Tree does it in a fun way that’s self-deprecating but meaningful. Laying an acoustic guitar over a 90s style drum track, Tree pays tribute to sunny alt pop songs like OMC’s “How Bizarre” or the entirety of Sugar Ray’s catalogue.
But of course, like with any song, all the above can be a moot point if it’s not catchy. And like with every other song on this countdown this song has a hook and it’s a solid gold one, ideal for blasting out the car window on a warm summer’s day.
Anyway, that’s it, bye.