Perhaps it’s the fact we’re inching our way out of an apocalypse, but it seems that everyone in 2022 was eager to take chances again. Alt-rock and indie music, in general, proved fertile ground for sonic experimentation across scenes far and wide, highlighting the many ways artists have reconnected to their burning curiosities while genre lines get ever blurrier.
In Argentina, the trap promised land of Duki and Cazzu is being terraformed by enfants terribles like Dillom and Saramalacara, who’ve brought blasts of indie rock and hyperpop to an already stacked table. Not to mention how 2022 saw visionary new entries into the Argentine rock canon from Marilina Bertoldi, Mi Amigo Invencible, and Feli Colina. In Mexico, we again saw the dial pointed to fresh ideas, notably with Mexico City’s Mengers’ massive leap from underground fuzz lords to an unlikely embrace of synthesizers and dark dance beats. Likewise, Mexicali producer Trillones further narrowed the gap between traditional Mexican music and indie pop with his dizzying Música Para Estadios de Tercera División LP, which collided banda sinaloense, techno, cumbia, and synthpop with explosive gusto. Even a legend like Julieta Venegas looked boldly forward, enlisting Chilean pop wunderkind Alex Anwandter as the producer of her first album in seven years, which led the beloved pop/rock renegade into avant-garde new territory.
2022 was tremendous for stateside artists as well, not only producing riveting, boundary-pushing work (see Chicago’s Divino Niño and Conjunto Primitivo), but also heralding a return to the road for favorites such as Helado Negro, Combo Chimbita, and Xenia Rubinos. Lest we forget, with the advent of the streaming age, and a slow return to post-pandemic normality, indie artists earn the vast majority of their income on the road, within itself a dubious investment for many. With so many developments and extraordinary releases in mind, selecting our favorite alt-rock and indie cuts of the year was no easy task. And yet we persevered.
Check out 10 of 2022’s best indie and alt-rock releases below.
– Richard Villegas
Mabe Fratti - "Algo Grandioso"
Guatemalan singer-cellist-experimentalist Mabe Fratti has been delivering some of the most emotionally intense music that also dares to be different — a feat that few can manage. “Algo Grandioso” stood out as a highlight from her most recent album, Se Ve Desde Aquí, built around a hand-plucked cello figure and Fratti singing in her signature high-pitched voice. The song was brought to life by electronics that rose and fell like waves around these elements, making them the melancholic calm in the middle of a gentle storm that swirls around as if the listener was a ship lost in an ocean of sorrow. Fratti’s emotional pull is fed into the music’s various textures to become something bigger than the sum of their parts, making her an essential artist of our times. — Marcos Hassan
Divino Niño - “XO”
Divino Niño’s latest LP Last Spa On Earth is a dizzying cornucopia of musical influences spliced together with gleeful abandon. “XO” is perhaps the song that best exemplified this adventurous new chapter in the Chicago ensemble’s winding ouvre, unspooling a tale of religious rigidity and finding true salvation through musical and sexual freedom. While vibey funk-rock provides the song’s initial canvas, our journey crescendos into an explosive reggaeton breakdown directly inspired by neoperreo‘s devilish digital underground. “XO” is a slice of delicious pop sacrilege, and yet another thrilling milestone from one of the most exciting young Latine bands in the game. – Richard Villegas
Rawayana, Irepelusa, Veztalone, Tayko, HORUS TIERRA, Ibsen LHQ, Vera Delacruz - “Caminaaando / Warapita”
The Comida Para Llevar series, founded in 2017 by collective Piso 8, has been gifting listeners with bimonthly deliveries and uniting Venezuela’s best in rap, R&B, lo-fi, and soul for a diverse array of delectable tracks that always bring out the best in its participating artists. “Caminaaando / Warapita” is a deluxe combo featuring a supersized roster of their best contributors, including Motherflowers’s Irepelusa and Veztalone, joined this time by band Rawayana. Halfway through, the song’s beat flips as wordsmiths Tayko and HORUS spice it up while MVPs Vera Delacruz and Ibsen LHQ bring it home in succulent style. It’s the peak of an already highly-successful series and one that’s just as catchy as it is refreshing. — Juan J. Arroyo
Mi Amigo Invencible - “La Araña”
With their eighth album Isla de Oro, Mendoza, Argentina, sextet Mi Amigo Invencible showcased their ability to bring new things to the table even after 15 years of making music together, this time under Martin Buscaglia’s tutelage in the studio. “La Araña,” the album’s first single, shows them under a ‘70s country-tinted folk-rock light, and it perfectly suits their sensibility. With a direct structure, tender songwriting, acoustic guitar strums, and singer Mariano Di Césare’s soft croon, the song’s bittersweet message about making hard decisions in life is poured straight into our hearts, leaving us with a melancholic feeling we can rest our heads on. – Cheky
Mengers - “RAM”
Having already shown what they were capable of doing with 2021’s GOLLY, Mexico City’s Mengers upped the ante to deliver some truly damaged punk songs that hurt in the best sort of way. One of the highlights of their magnificent album i/O was “RAM,” a crash coalition of dissonant guitar chords, spoken vocals, and unstoppable drumming. Taking dance punk to its darkest and ugliest corners, it satisfied the need for bodies to move either on their own or together in a mosh pit. That Mengers managed to pack so much in less than two and a half minutes is one of their many talents, showing that loud guitars can still bring innovation and fire to the game. — Marcos Hassan
Hurray for the Riff Raff - “Pierced Arrows”
Life on Earth, the seventh album from Bronx-born, New Orleans-based Alynda Segarra (aka Hurray for the Riff Raff), stands as the artist’s most unique and sonically adventurous record. It’s also a radical testament to survival, where Segarra opts to candidly confront the disasters that unfold rather than attempt to outrun them. Somber, shadowy synths guide the cosmic “Pierced Arrows” as the singer-songwriter pivots from traditional folk and roots music to more futuristic stylings. The track (along with the Lucia Honey-directed video) puts a surrealist spin on ruinous heartbreak as Segarra navigates that difficult middle ground between “tough and tender.” — Nayeli Portillo
Silvana Estrada - "Ser De Ti”
Mexican indie darling Silvana Estrada had quite the year for a relatively new artist. Among a few of her many extraordinary highlights, she released her debut album Marchita after a five-year hiatus, sold out nearly every tour date announced, was co-signed by Kelly Clarkson, and even snagged the illustrious “Best New Artist” award at the Latin Grammys. But one listen to her inimitable voice is all it takes to understand that her year’s resume is only the beginning for what can only be on track to become a legacy vocal performer. “Ser De Ti,” a near album-closing single and favorite, provides insight into this prediction through a guided-meditation like cathartic escape into the act of surrendering yourself over to love. A gentle piano and fainted sounds of cajon percussion provide a soft backing for one of the new trailblazers of Latine alternative’s evocative powerful folk vocals to take over and whisk away listeners into her signature warm auditory caress. – Jeanette Diaz
The Linda Lindas - “Growing Up”
This 2022, the promise of The Linda Linda’s debut album materialized, and it was everything we wanted it to be. By filtering their teenage feelings of self-doubt and isolation through their favorite punk rock and power pop sounds from previous decades, they managed to craft 10 empowering, rebellious anthems that bring us hope for the next generation of musicians. “Growing Up,” the album’s eponymous single, is a rocking jam with a young heart that navigates the pains of adolescence through friendship, and we can’t think of a single song put out this year as genuine and honest as this one. At its core, “Growing Up” and its message of community is one that can resonate with anyone, no matter their age. – Cheky
Omar Apollo - "Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)"
Omar Apolonio Velasco has surely come a long way from his small-town life in Indiana. Now a rising star on the cusp of a household name, Omar Apollo is riding the wave of brilliance with his debut album release Ivory, which introduced him to a larger mainstream audience this year. While the record showcased the sultry indie performer’s incredible sonic versatility and cemented his talent by his recent nomination as Best New Artist for the upcoming Grammys, it was the raw, emotional honesty of his track “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)” that broke him through to chart-topping placements like Billboard’s Hot 100, a range of late-night performances, a coveted NPR Tiny Desk slot, and a viral moment on TikTok. The song’s popularity left it incredibly hard to go unnoticed this year, but the single’s vulnerable and rich emotion coupled with istripped-downown Motown-inspired melody gave it a very solid reason why. The young superstar really left no crumbs on this track, and while the anonymous unrequited love interest at hand may not have deserved him at all, we kind of have to be thankful for the heartbreak induced by the anonymous Aquarius man for inspiring this incredible moment of the budding superstar’s career. – Jeanette Diaz
Julieta Venegas - “Caminar Sola”
Singer, songwriter, and alt-rock-meets-pop luminary Julieta Venegas made her long-awaited return in Nov. with Tu Historia, her first album in nearly seven years. Among its 10 tracks, replete with everything from lush harp arrangements to energized electropop overtones, “Caminar Sola” stands out as one of its more gripping highlights. Through an intricate and at-times ominous soundscape, “Caminar Sola” conveys the unsettling anxieties of walking alone late at night as a woman in a world where the threat of violence remains persistent. A thick, jutting bassline cuts across flurries of piano, acoustic guitar, and haunting orchestral crescendos while Venegas prompts those unfamiliar with that constant proximity to danger to put themselves in her place: “Camina un rato a mi lado/Hermano, empareja tu paso/Mira con mi cuerpo y mis temores/directo a los ojos que suelo encontrar.” — Nayeli Portillo