Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
Set It Off – Elsewhere
Perhaps not a surprise in the same vein as everything else, but rather the frankly startling staying power that Elsewhere has accrued over the year. If there was a pop-rock album this year with a propensity to be stymied by its own cheapness and short half-life, it really would be this, but a selection of genuine earworms has done wonders for Set It Off here. Granted, seeing it live does help overall, but a good number of this album’s tracks have seen pretty regular rotation this year, if only for disposable pop sugar that hits the spot and very little else. If that narrow, situational niche where Set It Off’s place in the scene is, they fill it in pretty well.
The Bobby Lees – Bellevue
For bucking the knee-jerk reaction of expecting everything toting the garage-rock label to be dated and unwieldy, The Bobby Lees’ newest album deserves its spot on this list. After all, they’re hardly a household name, and for wringing out passion and personality at this extent from what’s often a rudimentary sound, they’re vaulting over a good quotient of their competition without even breaking a sweat. The result is Bellevue, a pretty great album that works within its parameters without being gated by them, and finds The Bobby Lees as one of the best-kept secrets in both their genre, and in 2022’s alternative landscape as a whole.
William Ryan Key – Everything Except Desire
You probably forgot this came out, on the basis of William Ryan Key’s solo material all having a rather meagre shelf life, and for the fact that news of Yellowcard’s return steamrolled over a solo career that was never swinging for the fences anyway. But if any of his projects was unfairly overlooked, it would be Everything Except Desire, not just for being his best solo venture, but for an expanded musical lexicon into electronic music that he’d never really dabbled in before. Even going back to it nearly a year later, it’s shockingly solid; it’s not deconstructing its genre or anything, but it’s far better than it has really any right to be for such a sharp pivot away from the norm. If this flew under the radar (which, let’s face it, it probably did), it deserves a bit of attention.
Fit For A King – The Hell We Create
Fit For A King’s popularity has always been there, but The Hell We Create is really where it became most understandable. It’s in no small capacity either; the astonishment factor comes in how well this really clicks, in what’s effectively a slight retooling of their usual metalcore ways, with so much more power and verve under the hood. It goes without saying that it’s their best album to date, but also the kind of album that really sets the markers for how easily similar genre bands could reach the same level. This is a doable, attainable goal when there’s not a whole lot new required of it, and the extent to which Fit For A King hit their mark is where the most pleasant surprise lies.
Electric Callboy – Tekkno
In a lot of cases, the ‘biggest surprise’ rubric of this list can be replaced with ‘most improved’, and for Electric Callboy’s Tekkno, there’s probably not an album released this year that fits that mould more snugly. If nothing else, the entertainment value is easily at its highest, as the melding of metalcore and Eurodance topples into the gaudiness that gives Electric Callboy the most value. They’re far more fun here than they’ve ever been elsewhere, and considering how utterly insufferable this exact combination of elements has been from entire swathes of acts across the 2010s (including Electric Callboy themselves), that’s no small feat. Instead, the fun factor is emphasised, the awareness of their own ridiculousness has been cranked up, and the maximalist nature of it all just dollops on even more sweet flavour on an album that’s hardly wanting for it, but benefits immensely. If a band like Electric Callboy can land on a winner like this, with all of their obvious shortcomings barely moving an inch, there’s genuine hope that any band on the planet can achieve anything.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
Poppy Ajudha – THE POWER IN US
Speaking out for what she believes in has always been the MO for Poppy Ajudha’s career, but it’s usually taken more of a traditionally R&B / soul blend until this year. Debut album THE POWER IN US beefed up the sonic palette the singer has used prior, integrating electric guitars that always add bite even when they’re not in the foreground. At its core, THE POWER IN US is still a blend of the genres Ajudha has always leaned towards, but the edge it’s presented with highlights just how exciting a voice she is.
The 1975 – Being Funny In A Foreign Language
Usually, surprises come from artists taking big swings, often in genres they never have before. The 1975’s surprise comes in the form of dialling down, Being Funny In A Foreign Language their most condensed and cohesive record to date. There’s no hopping from country to punk to abstract synthpop and less room for Matty Healy’s ranting and raving, which in itself is enough to leave jaws on the floor.
Tom Odell – Best Day Of My Life
It’s been easy to dismiss Tom Odell as another advert-soundtrack favourite throughout his career, but this year’s Best Day Of My Life is a soul purge that songs like Another Love couldn’t have hinted at. It’s a lean record with most songs sub-three minutes, but it’s also a sparse one, often consisting of voice and piano with nothing else, but those two things alone are enough to portray the pain Odell is singing about. Best Day Of My Life shows how production bells and whistles aren’t necessarily needed to show what a talent someone is, and that talent can thrive without them.
Anitta – Versions Of Me
There’s so much exciting material coming out of the Latin popsphere at the moment, but it’s definitely a space that can take itself a little too seriously sometimes. Anitta’s Versions Of Me couldn’t be further from that, selling pure pop girl moments with everything she has, a wink always audible during moments other artists would shy away from or struggle to pull off. It might not be changing the game, but it’s shedloads of fun and reestablishes the star power Anitta has.
Beyoncé – Renaissance
Did anyone predict that an album like Renaissance would be Beyoncé’s next move after Lemonade? A club-ready, sample-based Harlem ballroom-focused project that’s decidedly less traditionally accessible than any album she’s done before, this record is the most committed Beyoncé has been to taking a risk in a long time. Even though it’s not the most approachable record in the world, there’s no other emotion it can cultivate other than respect.