Best of 2022

When people think of emo music (and, by extension, pop-punk, as they often get lumped together), they often tie those genres to a certain set of emotional concepts, generally around sadness and heartbreak. How people perceive that type of music also often influences the sounds and styles they associate with those types of bands, ranging from the softer side of things, like Dashboard Confessional or Bright Eyes, to the middle of the road, such as Fall Out Boy or Hawthorne Heights, all the way to the heavier side of things, like Underoath or Alexisonfire. These bands have been screaming about relationships for over a decade, and when we were young, it connected with us in a way that’s stuck around since. 

Here in the 2020s, the genre is evolving. Bands, both new and old, are using their platform to tackle the broader spectrum of life. It’s not just bad luck and exes, it’s anxiety, depression, oppression, society, identity, friendships, and so much more. That’s not to say those things haven’t been in this type of music before, but this genre that started as “emotional hardcore” is letting its range of emotions get much broader these days. In a post-pandemic world, bands are using their power to connect people by bringing them together and letting them know that it’s okay not to feel okay, and when the world isn’t okay, we should do something about that. 

There’s a sense of togetherness in this type of music today. While many major label popular artists and their songs still focus on the same old vapid topics, independent artists still find ways to connect with people’s emotions. Some of my favorite releases this year helped me to find myself after feeling a little out of it through the end of last year and the beginning of this year. They’re not all deep and introspective. Some of them are just good music, and there was an exceptionally solid crop of albums this year. Here we are with another massive list of bangers. I only felt compelled to write at length about a few of them and only ended up ranking my top six, but I have a lot of honorable mentions, so let’s kick things off:

Honorable Mentions – EPs

Hot Mulligan
Acoustic vol. 2

Knuckle Puck
Disposable Life

Origami Angel

Origami Angel

Honorable Mentions – Albums

You can consider these loosely ranked, I just didn’t feel like specifically ranking them or writing about them.

Somewhere South of Here
Leave Me for the Crows

Short Fictions
Every Moment of Every Day

L.S. Dunes
Past Lives

Armor for Sleep
The Rain Museum

Arm’s Length
Never Before Seen, Never Again Found

The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND

Oso Oso
Sore Thumb

Camp Trash
The Long Way, The Slow Way

6. Orville Peck – Bronco

Orville Peck is the stage name of a gay South African former-punk-rocker-turned-country-artist whose voice invokes the essence of classic singers (think Roy Orbison or Elvis Presley), all under a fringed mask and alongside a lucha-libre-esque commitment to keeping his identity a secret.

That was a mouthful.

I first heard about Peck when listening to a podcast interview with then-AEW World Champion “Hangman” Adam Page, as he mentioned he was a fan of Peck’s previous album, 2019’s Pony, as well as giving him some prominent placement on his public Spotify playlist, anxious millennial cowboy.

Now, I’m no stranger to country artists on this list (both the list proper and honorable mentions), but at first glance, I should not enjoy this album. While listening to this album in the car, my wife said to me, “I do not envision you as the type of person who would listen to this music. It sounds like something my grandpa would like,” and she’s right. This is old-soul country right here, like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, which is a type of music I’ve always appreciated from afar but never gotten into.

However, the album’s surf-rock guitar tones, driving drum beats, and sweeping orchestral string sections all work in tandem with Peck’s sincere and passionate vocals to tell stories of heartbreak, loss, and loneliness across the countryside. I listened to this album with zero expectations and was blown away by the presentation of it all. There’s a high-gloss production factor to the music that makes it feel as if it were explicitly manufactured for this certain tone, likely because this is his first major label album after moving over from indie stalwart Sub-Pop records, and that’s sometimes a good thing and a bad thing.

I have a couple of small gripes with the album, and they’re the reason the album is lower on my list overall. First, it’s too damn long. The 15 songs were released in three groups/chapters leading up to the album release to help build the hype. However, it has some filler tracks that should have been easy cuts: the last three songs on the album. The album feels like it is meant to end on “Let Me Drown,” an epic, pleading piano-led song about heartbreak that ends on a very emotional note. Except then the album doesn’t end and instead goes into a few more upbeat songs before ending on a fairly mid-tempo number. I love a good sad song and think it should have just ended on “Let Me Drown,” but I can understand why a major label record exec might say that the album can’t end while talking about offing yourself.

The second item only started after reading a review of the album, but once I was aware of it, I became hyper-aware every other time. Sometimes he says phrases for the sake of rhyme or rhythm in a way that doesn’t make sense. The one that the review pointed out, and I laugh at every time now, is “Travel lucky / Kawasaki,” which doesn’t necessarily rhyme and definitely does not help to tell the story in any way. Or spelling out “Mississippi” during the bridge of “Daytona Sand,” which has a nice melody, but Daytona is definitely in Florida. It’s a weird quirk of the album, and there may be some storytelling elements to it that I’m oblivious to, but from my perspective, it’s just kinda odd sometimes.

All that said, this album took me by surprise not only in what it was but how much I enjoyed it. Peck will definitely stay on my radar, not only for his eventual unmasking (in true lucha fashion) but also for his future releases.

Standout Tracks: “Daytona Sand,” “Outta Time,” “C’mon Baby, Cry,” “Kalahari Down”

5. Ben Quad – I’m Scared That’s All There Is

As I sat here and debated how I wanted to arrange my top albums of 2022, one of the things I kept coming back to was how strong this album’s opening track, “Blood for the Blood God,” is. As the album crept higher and higher up the list, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it: You want Ben Quad. You need Ben Quad.

I’m always on the hunt for new music, and little else on this list feels as fresh, as vibrant, or as alive as this 7-track, 23-minute face-melter. If this is the future of emo music, then I welcome our Ben Quad overlords. They plays emo music with the technical prowess of a power metal band. If I can borrow the title from a Sum-41 classic, this is all killer, no filler. The instrumentation on this album is second-to-none, with excellent guitar and drum work. Tapping lead guitar parts are nothing new to the genre (this is what I wish Tiny Moving Parts evolved into), and the band executes them both flawlessly and tastefully, pairing nicely with the vocals, while also not distracting from the lyrical content of the songs (focusing on anxiety, depression, and loss).

You need Ben Quad. Give this album a listen, you’ll be glad you did. You’re gonna be here for a while.

Standout Tracks: “Blood for the Blood God,” “We’re Gonna Be Here for a While,” “Joan of Hill”

4. Pool Kids – Pool Kids

I saw Pool Kids for the first time when they were the opening band for Origami Angel and Mom Jeans (worst band name ever) in November 2021. I was blown away by the way they combined angular and mathy guitar riffs with vocals ranging from dreamy to screamy, all while wrapping it up together with smart songwriting sensibilities and catchy hooks. They played a track from their upcoming album that was so good, I knew this was a band I had to watch.

The lead single from the album dropped about six months later: “That’s Physics, Baby.” I was so excited that it was the same song we heard at the show. It’s a perfect example of what Pool Kids is capable of, showing off guitar skills that are heavy and technical, layered with a killer rhythm section and fantastic drum work, and vocals all over the map, from falsetto highs to emotional shouting. My hype for this album was so high, and I’m so glad they delivered on those expectations. The whole record expands the band’s range, going from songs that are moody and ethereal to songs that are heavy and melodic.

This sophomore album builds on their debut in a way that weirdly reminds me of Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree. It feels like it’s just constantly delivering on every promise the band had in their debut. Also, unfortunately like Cork Tree, there’s a little bit of filler in the back half. There are a few tracks right before the end that kind of blend together when listening. However, they recover from those stumbles once they hit “Arm’s Length” and then close out very strongly with “Pathetic,” an epic track that crescendos into an emotional wall of sound.

I was also lucky enough to see Pool Kids again this year, after the album came out, again with Origami Angel. With a setlist mostly drawn from this album’s biggest hits, the crowd was singing along. One of the most amazing parts is how much energy they bring while still nailing the vocals and all the instrumentation, and the crowd was feeding all that energy back to them. The guitar work was nearly album-quality, even with guitarist Andy Anaya flipping his magically long hair all over the place during the show.

With such a wide range of moods, tones, and emotions, this album rocks just as hard on a summer day with the windows down as on a cold winter day, sitting inside, wrapped tightly in a blanket. Stay tuned for Pool Kids domination because this album is setting them up for nothing but success.

Standout Tracks: “That’s Physics, Baby,” “I Hope You’re Right,” “Talk Too Much,” “Swallow,” “Arm’s Length”

3. No Pressure – No Pressure

I jokingly wanted to refer to this album as “the best blink-182 release for this year” because blink’s new song was super lackluster for me, and because No Pressure’s 2022 self-titled album is a tribute to the pop-punk style of bands like blink-182 and skate-punk bands from the late 90s and early 00s. The melodies, harmonies, and even the album artwork all strongly evoke the vibes of blink, Lagwagon, NOFX, and MxPx. While the band, which was formed as a side project to play blink-182 covers, is a five-piece emulating the three-piece style of blink-182, the album still captures the essence of the sound from the band and era. The only aspect that falls short is the drumming, which cannot compare to the skills of Travis Barker. Overall, this album is a nostalgically enjoyable listen that clocks in at a breakneck 23ish minutes that transports me back in time two decades.

Standout Tracks: “Both Sides”, “One Way Trip”, “Same Thing”

2. Anxious – Little Green House

Anxious’ debut album earned the “Most Played Album” spot on my list for a couple of reasons. First, it was released in January, a few months ahead of any other albums I really loved, so whenever I wanted to listen to an album rather than a playlist, I tended to reach for it pretty exclusively for a couple of months.

Second, it’s just so damn good. It’s exactly what you hope for when a band releases a debut album. It sticks the landing on its own, delivering a fresh sound that’s enjoyable to listen to from beginning to end, and it also shows a ton of promise for what the band could do in the future.

When listening to the album, it’s clear that this group has a ton of influences in hardcore, emo, and pop-punk. The intro track for the album, “Your One Way Street,” hooked me immediately and took me on a ride through screaming hardcore songs (“Speechless”), pop-punk pogo bops (“Growing Up Song”), introspective power-pop tracks (“More Than a Letter”), and crooning emo ballads (“You When You’re Gone”). It always felt right, though. Even when disparate genre influences creep in, the band keeps it together sonically, and it definitely has a great full-album feel to it. Throughout the fairly brief 32 minutes of this album, there are gems that represent a wide range of influences, at times sounding like Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, Rites of Spring, Fugazi, or some combination of them all and more.

I had a chance to see them in March as the opener for Hot Mulligan & Knuckle Puck. They were incredibly tight live, and while it’s clear they still had some nerves, they still put on an excellent show. They’re currently touring their asses off in support of the album, and since I missed them when they came through Ann Arbor with Oso Oso, I hope to get a chance to see them again sometime next year.

I don’t just love this album, I’m also excited by the potential that this band has. Listen to this album because you want to be on the Anxious train before they blow up.

Standout Tracks: “Your One Way Street,” “Growing Up Song,” “Speechless,” “You When You’re Gone”

1. The Wonder Years – The Hum Goes On Forever

“I’m reading up on black holes,
hoping one might take me in,”

From the moment I first heard this line from “Low Tide,” it’s been stuck in my head. It has woven itself through my brain and constantly creeps into my thoughts. It’s an intrusive thought, for sure, but sometimes you want to get away from everything, and maybe blinking out of existence might not be so bad. Then you remember the rest of your life, your obligations, and the people around you, and you wonder if they’re your reason to stay or the reason you should disappear.

Frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell puts these emotions, and many more out in the open on The Hum Goes On Forever. While open and introspective lyrics are nothing new to the band, this album feels like it reaches deeper into his soul than ever before, and the result feels immensely personal as a result. This is an album about the weight of growing older, having more responsibilities you owe to more people, and facing the realities of losing the ones you love. Campbell is forthright and honest when he sings about the conversations he has with not only his therapist but his children and the family members he loves. There’s a wide range of dynamics on this album; sometimes it feels like he’s holding you close, while others he’s screaming to you from the stage.

I’ve said this before, but I think one of the reasons The Wonder Years hits so hard is because Campbell and I are the same age, only a few months apart. Looking back, it’s a bit of a sad coincidence that The Wonder Years wrote an album titled and focused on The Greatest Generation, while their own generation has been staring down tragedy, war, terrorism, and recession on a regular basis throughout their lives with no end in sight. Campbell is a man who is singing about the millennial struggle and using his skill and craft to tell the story we’re all living through. It’s no surprise to me to see this album hit so hard for so many other people in my age range, and all for different reasons. As a generation, we’re all talking to our therapists, raising children, living through hardships, and soldiering on in the face of a world that seems to be crumbling all around us.

All of these big-picture items and lyrical elements don’t even touch on the musical element of this album. This is The Wonder Years showing that you can mature without leaving behind who you were. Pop-punk bands are often lambasted for putting out more “mature” songs or albums and also changing their sound as a part of this. I often look at the New Found Glory song “It’s Not Your Fault” as an egregious example of this, as they do their best Goo Goo Dolls impression on that track. While there are new elements here, such as a Rhodes piano and spacey electronic elements, as well as thunderous heavy breakdowns, it all has the spirit of The Wonder Years throughout. They are, as a band, tighter than ever on this album. I’ve always loved the distorted guitar tone that TWY used on Suburbia, but they evolved it for these tracks, and I absolutely love how the guitars sound on this album.

They’ve come a long way since they came out swinging from a South-Philly basement, but at their core, The Wonder Years still create music that is beautiful, powerful, and earnest in a way that sets them head and shoulders above their peers. This is, without a doubt, my favorite album of the year, my favorite album in their catalog, and maybe even one of my favorite albums ever.

Standout Tracks: Everything. There’s something for everyone on this album.

I’ll be back with my playlist of some of my favorite songs from the year in a day or two. See you then!