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Radio Milwaukee’s favorite albums of 2022, part one: 20-11

The Radio Milwaukee team collectively spends thousands of hours listening to artists from every corner of the music world. So it’s always exciting to see these hours and corners melt into a recognizable shape by year’s end. 

To do that, we asked each DJ and staffer to submit their personal top 10 albums from 2022 in numerical order. Then the music department weighed and calculated the collective picks to form one definitive list of the top 20 albums from this past year.

We also asked them to share why exactly these releases were so special to them. Turns out they had a lot to say, so this year we broke things into two bite-sized lists of 10, hoping that you’ll spend some valuable time reading about — and listening to — these standouts (watch for part two with our top 10 first thing Tuesday morning). 

From well-known ultra-talents to unexpected genius, and high energy to addictively chill, we hope you’ll linger on and appreciate some of our absolute favorites of the year.

20. Three Dimensions Deep, Amber Mark

While the name Amber Mark has appeared in various music conversations over the years, January 2022 signified what would be a breakout year for the singer-songwriter. A project described by Apple Music as a “deeply ruminative record,” Amber’s long-awaited debut album is a musical journey worth embarking on. 

The project’s main title directly correlates to the three sections she divided the songs into: self-exploration/grief, self-discovery and self-worth. Aside from the organizational layers of the track order, Amber also offers listeners a variety of spacey, funky and ethereal production styles throughout, with resonant, nostalgic-styled tracks like " Most Men,” groovy, pop/house work like “ FOMO” and cosmic, soul-driven songs like “Out of This World.” 

Her beautiful voice carries a smooth huskiness akin to that of Snoh Aalegra, and her lyrical exploration of human emotion amidst the varied sonic delivery truly makes for a pleasant listening experience from start to finish.

— B~Free

19. Please Have a Seat, NNAMDÏ

I’ve seen NNAMDÏ referred to as a pop experimentalist. Forget that. He’s a musical craftsman, shaping whatever genre he decides to work in — and there are a lot on this album. Slowcore that could slide right into Phoebe Bridgers’ next album. Alt-R&B with flow to spare (see below). Straightforward, unflinching rawk. And that’s just the first three tracks. 

Even without additional points for degree of difficulty (NNAMDÏ wrote, produced and performed the whole thing solo), this is by far 2022’s best album that includes two fake furniture commercials. And my favorite album, period.

— Brett Krzykowski

18. Up and Away, Σtella

On Up and Away, Athenian Stella Chronopoulou (Σtella) takes vintage ’60s pop and R&B, and makes it sparkle with Greek-folk, jazz and desert blues influences, assisted by enchanting production work from Redinho (Tom Calvert). 

The two met after Calvert caught a Σtella performance and reached out. This serendipitous connection made it possible for their musical chemistry to shine. Σtella’s foundational sounds are steeped in Euro-pop, but here they smolder with layered vocal harmonies cradled in equally smoky-yet-vibrant instrumentation that includes bouzouki, reverbed and finger-picked electric guitar, crisp drums and hand claps. 

Self-described as “an old-school paean to the pangs and raptures of love,” Up and Away is an engaging and inspiring listen, taking you on a journey in both sound and story.

— Erin Wolf

17. Black Radio III, Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper is a master on the piano, beautifully melting jazz, hip-hop and R&B into a delicious fondue for your ears. Much like the cast of A-list talent in a Wes Anderson film, Glasper garnered a stacked list of guest musicians for this album, each bringing their unique talents to the project. 

My favorites: “Why We Speak” featuring the vocals of Esperanza Spalding, and “ Over” with Yebba alley-ooping the track with her vocal talents. Both accompanying vocalists comfort like a cool breeze on a stifling hot summer day in the city. 

Jazz has and will always be with us, but I reckon any resurgence in popularity is due to the complex compositions of Glasper.

— Mitch DeSantis

16. NOT TiGHT, Domi & JD Beck

Over the last decade or so, a new generation of artists has redefined what Jazz can be — from artists like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Nubya Garcia and others. This year isn’t any different. The duo DOMi & JD Beck are now part of this amazing, exciting generation of jazz musicians. 

The quirky duo — signed to Anderson .Paak’s label APESHIT — created NOT TiGHT, a debut album that has garnered attention from jazz heads, hip-hop heads and all kinds of music lovers. Even the Grammy’s took notice by bestowing the duo with a nomination for Best New Artist. 

The album is a mixture of some of the best jazz fusion from the ’70s with a hip-hop and electronic-music sensibility you can hear on tracks like “Pilot” featuring Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and the duo’s label boss Anderson .Paak. Guest features from Herbie Hancock, Mac DeMarco and Thundercat are the proverbial cherry on top of this sonic treat.

— Tarik Moody

15. CHAOS NOW*, Jean Dawson

The album begins with a 14-second innovative intro that could only be pulled off by this ultra-creative artist. He asks the listener “What the f**K  you looking at?” My answer: the future of the music industry.

Dawson then runs head first into the psychedelic track “Three Heads” before melting his cold exterior for a few beats on “ Glory” and letting you inside his complicated life as an artist: “Ex-girlfriend thinks that I'm f***d up, mom thinks that I keep a gun tucked, my best friend thinks that I'm off one, my dad thinks I don't care to call him, my old friends think that I've lost my head.”

This album is a culmination of unsuspected chord changes and lyrics that you’ll listen to more than once and find new meaning every time. If you’re into music that repeatedly crosses genres, then CHAOS NOW* is the perfect album for you. It’s a soundtrack to trash your bedroom, dance with your friends on a get-over-your-ex weekend or sit by your big bay window sipping tea. It hits every note of perfection, while purposely trying not to hit any of them. 

— Element Everest-Blanks

14. MOTOMAMI, Rosalía

Thrilling. Daring. Trailblazing. On MOTOMAMI, Rosalía cements herself as a multi-genre mega-talent, capturing centuries-old sounds with compelling new flourishes and endless danceability. 

Throughout the 16-track album — her third — the Spanish artist explores the depths of her vocal range and stylings, moving from elegant runs with gorgeous vibrato to staccato raps, building to full-body belts, then skillfully back to sparse and haunting solos and spoken word, backed only by a piano or organ. Her production pushes the boundaries of each of the genres she draws from, injecting a sense of fearlessness and whimsy, abundant with sticky, sonic cleverness. 

Seeing her perform much of the album live this year only further elevated her in my mind. She brought a music-festival-caliber concert to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom in September, with an on-stage Steadicam operator and a cast of scooter-riding dancers, giving the audience the experience of watching a live music video on two massive screens flanking her. 

Rosalía’s raw charisma and live vocals had the sold-out crowd in constant motion and responding to her every prompt, proving MOTOMAMI’s merit and her undeniable star power.

— Nate Imig

13. Harry's House, Harry Styles

I love albums, artists and songs that are edgy. Singers angrily singing off key, belting out their emotions is a comfort to me. So it may surprise you to read that, this year, it was a perfectly crafted pop album that made it into my TOP picks of 2022. 

I became a Harry Styles fan in 2021 after seeing his live show with my niece Adrianna and sister Kelli at Fiserv Forum. The vibe he set for us from the moment he danced his way on stage took me by surprise — kind, thoughtful, inclusive and appreciative to his fans. There aren’t a lot of artists at his level of fame that give so much to their fans during a show. 

When he dropped his latest album this spring, I was curious to hear what he put together. From the first track to the last, I fell in love with all these songs instantly. Each one feels familiar somehow, lyrically and sonically, in a way a pure pop album hasn’t resonated with me in decades. I bought the vinyl and also stream it when I’m not at home. It brings me joy, comfort and happiness. And don’t we all really need more of that? 

— Dori Zori

12. Big Time, Angel Olsen

Inspired by the grief of losing both her parents and the joy of finding true love, Angel Olsen does here what she does best: putting a voice to universal human emotions. With a touch of old-school country flair, she explores the depths of loss while showcasing the boundless excitement of new love. 

A highlight for me was the penultimate track, “Through The Fires.” It perfectly weaves together the album’s themes — letting go but not forgetting, and embracing the unknown in an attempt to reach a higher place of existence. This song lulled me back to sleep during many a night of pregnancy-fueled insomnia and became the perfect meditation to prepare for an uncertain future with a sense of lightness. 

Big Time saw Olsen at her most free, letting her voice soar even in the album’s most quiet moments. Like all of her best work, she always finds something new within herself to share and, if you’re open to it, reveals something new about yourself, too. 

— Liz Smith

11. And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Weyes Blood

If there were ever an artist to provide a soundtrack for drifting through outer space, Weyes Blood would be it. Natalie Mering’s atmospheric voice encapsulates that unanchored feeling — in vision, deliberation, beauty and uncertainty.

And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow delivers a feeling not of listing, nor wandering, but longing. That feeling resonates best on my favorite track from the album, “God Turn Me Into a Flower,” as the overture builds for nearly three minutes before Mering finally, decisively belts out: “You see the reflection and you want it more than the truth / You yearn to be that dream you could never get to / 'Cause the person on the other side has always just been you.”

— Dan Reiner