While every year of the streaming era — maybe every year of the post-Napster era — has brought with it concerns about the health of the full-album format, 2022 ended up making a pretty convincing argument that the LP could still be just as vital in the culture as it was during Tower Records’ heyday. Huge stars came through with enormous albums this past year, dominating discussion, drawing rave reviews, changing careers, and (in at least one or two cases) putting up numbers that previously seemed close to impossible at this point in pop history. (And thanks to a renewed interest in CD packaging and the continued growth of the vinyl market, fans were spending money on actual physical copies of many of these albums, a practice that seemed to be going nearly extinct not that long ago.)
But it wasn’t just the already-big going (and getting) bigger in 2022. Some new and still-rising artists found their voices in unexpected and thrilling ways, scoring breakout hits and connecting with new audiences. Some veteran artists continued to hone their trademark craft, making satisfying and well-received comebacks that made us wish they hadn’t left us for so long beforehand. And some of our preeminent hitmakers continued to evolve and challenge audiences with unexpected shifts in their sound and vision, resulting in returns that were less commercially explosive but even more artistically rewarding.
Here are our 50 favorite albums from this year — sets which both made us nostalgic for the format’s past, and excited about its future.