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Heavy Rotation: Public Radio's Most Popular Songs Of 2022

From left: Sharon Van Etten, Khruangbin, Arlo Parks, Koffee
Courtesy of the artists
From left: Sharon Van Etten, Khruangbin, Arlo Parks, Koffee

As we look back on our favorite songs, albums and artists of 2022, we're highlighting some of public radio's most-loved tunes of the year. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

All of this year's picks are available to stream on the Heavy Rotation Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page. As always, you can discover fantastic music programming happening across the country in real time by clicking the links to each station's website.


Arlo Parks, "Softly"

Arlo Parks' vulnerable grace is real in a way that feels universally personal and utterly appealing. The eloquent poet's self-described "piece of absolute yearning" — a bracing-for-a-breakup song called "Softly" — is fragile in its plainspokenness and fortified by its cadence. "Softly" is dance-to-forget material built with piano, electric guitar, handclaps and a fat bass line that echoes classic U.K. downtempo pop in all the best ways. —Erin Wolf, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee


Dehd, "Bad Love"

Dehd's "Bad Love" rocks from the start. Emily Kempf starts the song with a howl, and the energy creeps up from there. Comparisons with early 2000s blog-rock abound, but I hear early '70s glam rock in my head. (Maybe it's the Mad Max style of the video.) If you're looking for an anthem from 2022, look no further. —Chris Wienk, WEXT


Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, "B-Side"

Late last year Khruangbin and Leon Bridges announced that their second collaborative EP, Texas Moon, would arrive in 2022. The announcement came with the release of "B-Side," a track that sees the two modern Texas giants creating something that plays off of both of their strengths. It's a song about yearning for a distant love and a perfect late-night track, with Khruangbin crafting a cinematic boogie-funk backdrop for Bridges to warmly croon over. —Brian Burns, WUNC


Koffee, "Pull Up"

Breakthrough reggae star Koffee released her brilliant debut LP, Gifted, in early 2022. One of the standout tracks on the album is definitely the infectious "Pull Up," and Koffee's singing exudes confidence and a carefree attitude that is contagious. Add the JAE5 production with the minimal synths, percussion and that hypnotic sax, and you get one of the best reggae tracks of 2022. —Tarik Moody, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee


Lucius, "Next to Normal"

I'd always thought of Lucius as close in spirit to Fleet Foxes — folky and contemplative. This idea went out the window when "Next to Normal" set our January music meeting on fire. With a groove more akin to the sound of Hot Chip or Chic, Lucius reminds us how joyous a gorgeous harmony can sound on a dance tune. Here's hoping there's more where that came from. —Rick McNulty, KUTX


Sharon Van Etten, "Mistakes"

Who hasn't looked back on mistakes and felt the familiar swirl of regret and anxiousness, all the while replaying every scenario that would have led to a better outcome? In one of the most transcendent songs of 2022, Sharon Van Etten reassures us that making peace with our mistakes is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Her choice of relaying this message over bubbly, bassy synths underscores how freeing it can be. —Margot Chobanian, The Colorado Sound


Spoon, "Wild"

Spoon has been consistently putting out great records for two decades and it was gratifying to see their Grammy nod for best rock album for the predictably great Lucifer on the Sofa. "Wild" is a true standout on the album, with frontman Britt Daniel belting out the refrain, "and the world, still so wild, called to me." It's an affirmation of the band's longevity and endurance, as they continuously push their creative vision forward. —Russ Borris, WFUV


Sudan Archives, "Selfish Soul"

After feeling judged for the way she wears her hair, Sudan Archives decides it's "time I embrace myself," and then rips into one of the most memorable riffs of the year. The string of notes that Brittney Parks hits on the fiddle in that moment feel like a lightning bolt of self-actualization. In that solo, both creator and listener are liberated. —Justin Barney, WNXP


Toro y Moi, "The Loop"

Toro y Moi mined the evergreen compulsion to stay up to date for this deliciously dry yet downright copacetic track "The Loop," a song that nods to Steely Dan's way of weaving wit and specificity with groove. The Bay Area-based artist croons couplets like "East Coast friends, fill me in / I know you get the early scoop," and I can't help but picture a New Yorker cartoon that politely ribs everyone outside of Manhattan for lacking a certain je ne sais quoi via a coded joke. Ayana Contreras, Vocalo


Trombone Shorty, "Come Back"

Fittingly, Trombone Shorty's "Come Back" opens with a sample of chatter and laughter, setting the tone for the feel-good journey ahead. Although the track centers around a relatable lament — begging for an estranged loved one to come back — the prospect of return is enticing with this crew. Between the chorus of horns, funky riff and call-and-response technique, the New Orleans mainstay delivers an irresistible groove on this lead single from Lifted, his first album in five years. —Desiré Moses, WNRN

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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