This cover image released by Columbia Records Group shows "Renaissance" by Beyonce. (Columbia Records Group via AP)
Ten of the best albums of the year, as selected by The Associated Press entertainment journalists.
Few would be shocked that Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” would makes our top albums list, but just because it’s low hanging fruit doesn’t negate how delicious it is. Dropping her first album in six years, Queen Bey once again proved why she’s worth the wait. Led by the multi-format dance track “Break My Soul” and the TikTok-crazed “Cuff It” which both reached No. 1 on various Billboard Charts including “Soul” reaching the top of the Hot 100, “Renaissance” boasted plenty of fan favorites including “Cozy,” “Alien Superstar,” “Church Girl,” Plastic off the Sofa” and “Virgo’s Groove.” But beyond the two-stepping and body-rolling was the messaging within the music, championing Black women and reminding the LBGTQ community they have an ally in her. Whether meticulously planned or purely coincidental her highness released the album as the coronavirus pandemic moves behind us, if her goal was to get us out of our houses and out dancing again, then mission accomplished. — Gary Gerard Hamilton
THE WEEKND, “DAWN FM”
Making a low-key entry last January, “Dawn FM” is a concept album that The Weeknd likened to listening to a radio station in purgatory, hence its mix of styles and effects from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s mixed in with modern production. Much of it is downright weird: The fake British accent, a spoken-word interlude by Quincy Jones, the funny radio ads, narration by Jim Carrey and the singer digitally aged on the cover. It is also brilliant, a dance record with lyrics of hopelessness, with nods to Michael Jackson, New Wave, neo-soul, Prince and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. If this is what purgatory sounds like, heaven is overrated. — Mark Kennedy
Spanish singer Rosalía turned three years of anguish and home sickness into mega successful third studio album “Motomami” (“biker chick”). It was perhaps impossible not to make lemonade out of lemons for such a bold artist whose ease in playing with genres and words are her greatest strengths. Described as an alternative reggaeton record, the hefty 16-track “Motomami” delivers something for everyone and every mood. From “Candy’s” stripped down reggaeton, to “Chicken Teriyaki”‘s playfulness and “Diablo”‘s experimental sound, “Hentai’s” piano power ballad, or “La Fama’s” classic Latin beats, Rosalía shows her prowess as a singer. Her four Latin Grammys for the album were just the beginning. Next stop: the world. — Cristina Jaleru
ZACH BRYAN, “AMERICAN HEARTBREAK”
In the age of streaming, the musical floodgates are wide open as artists release multiple projects in a single year: EPs, double albums, deluxe albums and on and on. Country artist Zach Bryan upped the ante by dropping the 34-song album “American Heartbreak” as his major label debut in 2022. The Navy veteran’s stories span the vast landscape of his Oklahoma upbringing with coming-of-age ragers like “Heavy Eyes,” the wanderlust on “Highway Boys” and odes to the towns he’s outgrown like “Oklahoma City.” His stripped down production and confessional, narrative lyrics have earned him comparisons to Jason Isbell and Taylor Swift alike (He’s a Swiftie). But he’s at his best when he’s describing the colors of those Western vistas in the standout track, “Something in the Orange,” as he dwells in the loneliness of heartbreak. Bryan has proved he’s providing both quality and quantity. — Kristin M. Hall
LARRY JUNE, “SPACESHIP ON THE BLADE”
Drake. Kendrick Lamar. Nas. These hip-hop heavyweights released some of the best albums of the year. Some might even think Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sick” was just as top notch. But the musician who has stood above them was rapper Larry June through “Spaceships on the Blade.” It’s the San Francisco-based rapper’s 10th solo studio album and most impressive body of work since his 2018 debut. With his laid-back demeanor and infectious ad lib “Aye, Aye, Aye,” June thrives throughout on songs such as “Extra of Um” featuring Babyface Ray, “Don’t Check Me,” “Another Day, Pt. 2” and “Breakfast in Monaco.” On well-produced tracks, he takes listeners on a journey of a successful hustler who makes driving luxury cars, living in high-rise condominiums and spending $50,000 during vacation seem like an easy feat. But he also shows a deeper side of his rap persona. On “Appreciate It All,” he talks about grinding hard for his son, learning how to love from his mother and acquiring real estate in hopes of achieving generational wealth. Throughout “Spaceships,” June is a force to be reckoned with. — Jonathan Landrum Jr.
JACKSON WANG, “MAGIC MAN”
Former pop idol Jackson Wang turned solo artist turned “Magic Man” on his sophomore album. With an incisive, cohesive sound that harks back to ’90s rock mixed with ’80s synths, Wang’s record shows he’s ready for a leading role; the character he plays in “Magic Man” is a debonair, seductive stranger who likes the pleasures of life. The singer rises up to the challenge of delivering some sultry vocals off the back of classic guitar riffs in “Blow,” “Cruel” and “Champagne Cool.” But where it all takes off is the pop ditty “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which lights up the discoball section of the amygdala. Some magic stuff indeed. — Cristina Jaleru
SOCCER MOMMY, “SOMETIMES, FOREVER”
Sophie Allison and her band Soccer Mommy’s third album is a wonderfully varied 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-and-pull of light and dark, happiness and sadness, both jumping from song to song but also within songs. One connection with another album on this list is its avant-garde producer Oneohtrix Point Never, who helped shape The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM.” He gave Soccer Mommy a layered, dark-synth gloom. One highlight is “Shotgun,” a song of devotion, with the lyric “Cold beer and ice cream is all we keep/The only things we really need.” — Mark Kennedy
BLXST, “BEFORE YOU GO”
Blxst is considered as the preeminent voice of Los Angeles R&B after the release of his mixtape album “No Love Lost” in 2020. But the singer-rapper expanded his reach with his impeccable album “Before You Go” along with his recent Grammy nominations for his feature work on Kendrick Lamar’s single “Die Hard.” On “Before You Go,” he delivers an assortment of catchy hooks and smooth melodies that earned praise from critics and fans alike. He cleverly works through the matters of handling relationships on “About You” and “Still Omw,” a fan favorite. He talks about experiencing the ocean views and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway while escaping the fake element of his hometown in “Fake Love in LA,” featuring Arin Ray. He mentions him carrying the torch of delivering quality music after the loss of Nipsey Hussle, thinking big and being blessed with a strong support system on “Couldn’t Wait for It” with Rick Ross. In all, Blxst put together a full collection of infectious songs from start to finish. — Jonathan Landrum Jr.
CHARLEY CROCKETT, “THE MAN FROM WACO”
Americana standout Charley Crockett sets the scene in his cinematic “The Man From Waco,” an album that interlinks Western filmmaking, the mythmaking of cowboy culture and the R&B and soul of the Gulf states. The Texas-born singer is a prolific independent musician with a strong hustle formed in his early street musician years. The album’s title track centers on a lonesome gunman who accidentally kills his lover in a jealous rage, with a beautiful horn section over the loping acoustic guitar. Crockett punches deep in the Stax-inspired ’70s groove on “I’m Just a Clown,” and a swinging piano and trumpet winds along in “Trinity River.” Crockett even takes a shot at completing an unfinished Bob Dylan track from outtakes of songs written for the “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” soundtrack, which Crockett transformed into “Tom Turkey.” Crockett’s old soul isn’t just a nostalgic trick, as this post-modern troubadour is creating new ties to classic themes. — Kristin M. Hall
BAD BUNNY, “UN VERANO SIN TI”
Bad Bunny is a bonafide global superstar, and if you weren’t aware previously, “Un Verano Sin Ti” snapped you into reality. Spending 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the Puerto Rican artist expertly blended 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 such as “Tití Me Preguntó” and “Me Porto Bonito” featuring Chencho Corleone have each racked up half a billion views on YouTube, and he headlined arguably the biggest tour of the year. Despite ascending to the realm of one of the world’s biggest artists, he also used his music to criticize issues on the island such as gentrification and repeated power outages. Did it matter to me that “Un Verano Sin Ti” is mainly in Spanish? Not at all. While dancing, his music motivates you be curious and learn more, and that’s what great art does. — Gary Gerard Hamilton
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