As we wind down from everything we experienced in 2022, one of the balms is the music that touched and soothed our souls. Each album on this list is a unique universe that brings to the surface the hidden things only soul music can excavate.
P.O.C. (Proof of Concept)
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP
P.O.C. (Proof of Concept) draws listeners into the life of Brooklyn musician Opal Hoyt, who records as Zenizen. P.O.C. is centered around themes of wanderlust, home, and self-determination, all of it voices in Hoyt’s warm, haunting alto. “Es Is (Protocol)” is a jazzy bop in which Hoyt asks a former flame, “Did you feel a spark/ Rise up in the dark/ Did you feel a charge/ Wrap you up in stars?” With features from Helado Negro, Blvck Spvde, and Nappy Nina, the poetic compositions on P.O.C. (Proof of Concept) shine bright.
Goodnight Dreamer is the latest world-building record from Dreamer Isioma, a pop-rock album that journeys to the far corners of the universe and is shaped by jaunty guitar riffs, honest lyrics, and spacey funk synths. “I want the album to make people remember that there is a world outside of themselves or a world outside of whatever they’re going through,” Isioma said in an interview with Bandcamp Daily in March. From futuristic electro-pop of “Time is Temporary” with its modulated vocals on love to the frustrated angsty anthem “I’m So Done With You,” Goodnight Dreamer is a virtual place to visit when this reality gets overwhelming.
Natural Brown Prom Queen
2 x Vinyl LP
The genre-defying Sudan Archives demonstrates both her technical chops and her commitment to craft on Natural Brown Prom Queen. A self-taught artist, she brings a level of both eclecticism and frankness to the album in songs that range African syncopation and melodic structures (“Copycat” & “TDLY)” to synth bending and plucked strings (“Milk Me”). On Natural Brown Prom Queen, Sudan Archives gives listeners permission to explore their relationship with self, loss, power, beauty, longing, comfort, and love.
Getaway is a post-neo-soul project bursting with vocal harmonies, and an album invites listeners to simply rest. From the magical looped strings in “Intro” to the fairytale suite ending of “Celebration,” Orion Sun’s weightless vocals and gentle melodies draw listeners in. “Concrete” effortlessly blends all of Sun’s musical elements in its open-hearted chorus: “They waiting to see/ All eyes still on me/ But I know somewhere you so proud of me (of me)/ It’s all I can see/ Means so much to me.” Getaway lifts the spirit, soothes the soul, and provides escape.
Remember Your North Star
Vinyl LP, Cassette
Yaya Bey’s Remember Your North Star is a powerhouse. Vulnerable and strong at the same time, Bey has created an epic poem with stories and lessons that rival Gilgamesh. “Why you don’t like nice things/ Why you complain bout the joy I bring?” goes a particularly resonant line in the anthemic “Keisha.” “Reprise,” “Pour-Up” (Featuring DJ Nativesun), and “Meet Me in Brooklyn” are just a small sample of the range of genres that crop up across the album, including but not limited to: reggae, amapiano, jazz, and hip-hop. Bey is an exceptional musician, and her lyrics provide affirmations for life’s long journeys.
Long-time alternative R&B fave Nick Hakim has done it again. His third full-length Cometa creates an ethereal musical universe for Hakim to drift through as he explores love in its various dreamy forms. Hakim’s signature vocals capture the feeling of falling in love: From closeness to yearning—and every intimate moment in between—he captures immaterial emotions perfectly. From the declarative “Ani” to the spacious “Market,” Hakim invites us to wrap ourselves in a blanket of love.
Thee Sacred Souls
Thee Sacred Souls
T-Shirt/Shirt, Vinyl LP
There is an earnestness to Thee Sacred Souls’ self-titled debut that draws upon the essence of soul music’s origins. Retro ad-libs, harmonies, and souffle-light falsettos transport listeners back to the ’60s, while sweet lyrics address the ups and downs of love. In “Weak for Your Love,” Josh Lane’s lofty vocals tell of a cautious surrender: “You have my heart inside your hands (You have my heart)/ Baby, be careful what you do with me (Be careful, baby).” Thee Sacred Souls gets to the heart of the matter, offering a potent and timeless world to explore.
Thematically timely, Breathing Room is Monelle’s exploration of mental health and isolation. At just 14 minutes, it’s a brief listen, but it’s also one that’s incredibly layered and fine-tuned. Monelle’s soothing cadence and roomy beats create a mood of calm, and each track is named after the different mechanical phases of intentional breathing—a key tool used to manage mental and emotional dysregulation. Monelle thoughtfully unravels the emotions that surface during this sonic breathwork, asking in “Inhale,” “Who would’ve thought that/ After all the life I gave you/ You would turn around and /I’d be the one who needed saving.” Monelle takes time for herself to give herself what she needs to breathe and, in turn, guides listeners to do the same.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Over the last 10 years, the trio of Amber Navran, Andris Mattson, and Max Bryk have created a hallmark sound. Their fifth studio album Starfruit expands their range both musically and collaboratively. New melodic tones and synth sounds give a fresh backdrop for Moonchild’s personable lyrics, particularly on the hook of “Too Good”: “Oh, you’re like a dream come true/ Waiting for the next shoe to drop/ Loving that I’m getting used to/ And I don’t want it to stop.” The cadre of collaborators includes Lalah Hathaway; Ill Camille;, Alex Isley;, Rapsody;, Tank and the Bangas; Chantae Cann,; Mumu Fresh; and Josh Johnson. And just like the fruit that shares the album’s name, this project is delicious and nourishing to the soul.
Piece of Me
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
With her second album Piece of Me, Lady Wray brings modernity to the analog R&B sound of yesteryear. Longtime collaborator and producer Leon Michels is adept at pairing Wray’s voice with boom-bap drums and keenly energetic electric guitar riffs, all while maintaining a mood of nostalgia. “Where Were You” explores the classic scenario of someone coming back after finding success, while “Melody” is a joyous and sweet dedication to Wray’s daughter Melody Bloom Bacote that recalls Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You.” Wray’s heart and soul shine throughout Piece of Me, making it a pure place for healing and transformation.