We can’t properly recap 2022 without mentioning this: One of the year’s biggest and best songs is nearly 40 years old. Thanks to several crucial moments in the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill” dominated music in 2022. I heard it in clubs, in streams, from cars, everywhere really. And no doubt it will inspire another generation of artists to pick up Kate Bush’s avant-synthpop mantle.
The resurgence of “Running Up That Hill” serves as perhaps the best example of a broader theme I observed in 2022: the unexpected. Classic acts like Depeche Mode might remain unflinching sources of influence, yet this year’s shocking death of DM cofounder Andy Fletcher reminds us of the fragility of our legends and the loss of a golden era. Meanwhile, just as COVID-19 was nearing its conclusion, the synthpop landscape seemed to be settling into a new normal that included festivals and touring, not to mention broadening themes beyond pandemic anxiety, but then Russia invaded Ukraine, setting off a new round of dread. The unexpected was everywhere.
I can’t include “Running Up That Hill” in the list below because it doesn’t meet my criteria of being released this year. But there are plenty of other unexpected moments, strange combinations, out-there themes, and new distribution channels. After all, it was the year that an Instagram meme page suddenly became one of my favorite ways to discover new music—here’s to you, @electronicbodymemes.
For the fourth year in a row, I’m excited to present my 100 favorite songs of the year. As always, I only include each artist once on the list in order to share the love.
The complete list:
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 100 to 76
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 75 to 51
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 50 to 26
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 25 to 1
25 Current One – “Never Go Back”
This year, Swedish artist Current One, my pick for best new act of the year, released his debut album, a collection of exquisite synthpop tunes called Praeludium. Markus Enström, the man behind Current One, makes bright, infectious synthpop, but my favorite track from Praeludium, “Never Go Back,” goes dark—both literally and figuratively. Markus drops his voice into a deep, cavernous rumble and sings of “walking in the shadows” and “wearing all black.” It’s Markus at his most goth.
24 Prayers feat. Robert Harvey – “Black Dove”
This song shouldn’t even be here. The abrasive rap verses and cringe lyrics about street life (“I keep a razor blade under my tongue”) wouldn’t normally appeal to me, but I’m always interested in artists that expand synthpop beyond its traditional palette. Prayers does that to the extreme, combining darkwave sounds with their Mexican heritage, a style they call “chologoth.” On “Black Dove,” they’re joined by English musician Robert Harvey, whose melodic chorus contrasts sharply with the song’s aggressive lyrics.
23 The Weeknd – “Gasoline”
We know pop superstar The Weeknd loves the darker side of ’80s music—he’s sampled Siouxsie and the Cocteau Twins, covered The Smiths. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear him drop his voice into a deep, low register and affect a British accent as if he was resurrecting Ian Curtis himself. Or that he’s singing a mainstream pop song about ODing on drugs, setting his body on fire, and exploring the afterlife. “Gasoline” is the best thing The Weeknd’s done since his brilliant, world-conquering hit, “Blinding Lights.”
22 Rue Oberkampf – “Hope and Fear”
Three DJs formed the German project Rue Oberkampf, so it’s no wonder they have the knowledge and skill to create innovative dance music that elevates clubgoers out of the fog and blinking strobes. On “Hope and Fear,” an addictive single from their second album Liebe, they achieve a miraculous balance between hard-charging techno and delicate synthpop melodies.
21 Beyond Border feat. j:dead – “Jump Into the Fire”
I love it when two of my favorite new artists join forces. For their thrilling song “Jump Into the Fire,” German duo Beyond Border tap English act j:dead, who makes his third and final appearance on this list. Both acts are at the very top of their game here. Beyond Border’s beats are thick, the synths electrifying, and Jay Taylor’s voice sounds bold and powerful. It’s a perfect match.
20 Ashbury Heights feat. Madil Hardis – “A Cut in a Place”
Dark synth act Ashbury Heights has been steadily cranking out tracks for a project they call Ghost House Sessions. The fifth song in the cycle, “A Cut in a Place,” features guest singer Madil Hardis, who previously appeared on their 2020 song, “Wild Eyes.” The track explores loneliness and isolation with uplifting arrangements and the type of intellectual wordplay we’ve come to expect from Ashbury: “All alone by the train tracks and bus lanes. Lost among the cutbacks and nightshade.”
19 Video L’Eclipse – “Signals”
Swedish newcomers Video L’Eclipse emerged in 2021 with a phenomenal debut called Predicts that nearly topped my best albums list for its rich, densely layered electronics and heart-wrenching vocals. They only released one song in 2022, but it proves Predicts is not a fluke. “Signals” picks up the pace and adds chaotic media samples about psychosis but maintains the project’s recipe of dynamic synths and stark cold beats. Plus, I’ll never tire of that voice.
18 Promenade Cinema – “Spellbound”
English duo Promenade Cinema heads for darker enclaves without sacrificing the band’s unique style of sophisticated and grandiose synthpop. “Spellbound,” released just in time for Halloween, opens with a haunting organ that’s broken by twinkling keys, and later finds Emma Barson practically levitating as she howls, “You’re a piece of the board now.”
17 MATTE BLVCK – “Midnight & Angel”
San Diego trio MATTE BLVCK returned this year with their first new music since their 2020 debut, I’m Waving, Not Drowning. “Midnight & Angel” is a gorgeous, yet sinister, mid-tempo nocturne that remains imminently compelling with repeat listens. The song’s opening pitter-patter reveals the band’s sharp command of electronic percussion and lays the foundation for a gorgeous, refined vocal that recalls Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, one of MATTE BLVCK’s biggest influences.
16 Zynic – “My Darkness”
“Misery loves company. I’m dying here in your friendly fire” might just be my favorite opening couplet of the year. The aptly named “My Darkness” is, lyrically, the gloomiest track from Zynic’s 2022 album Best Before, but the German artist cleverly melds it to a bouncing beat and classic synthpop melody. That contrast makes it all the more compelling.
15 Gore Gloss – “Famous”
Around 25 seconds into “Famous,” Canadian crooner Gore Gloss introduces a high-pitched squealing whirl that ripples atop the song’s simple beat—it’s one of the strangest and most intoxicating sounds you’ll hear all year. It’s nothing short of mindblowing that he continues adding more unexpected taps, thumps, and patter throughout the song. If you’ve not heard of Gore Gloss before, “Famous” is the perfect introduction to this captivating and offbeat artist.
14 Boy Harsher feat. Ms. Boan – “Machina”
Boy Harsher’s strange and unexpected trajectory takes another left turn thanks in part to singer Jae Matthews’ health challenges and their interest in film—the duo met studying cinema in Savannah, Georgia. For their latest release, they composed a soundtrack to a short horror film they made called The Runner. “Machina” takes The Runner into bubbling ’80s Italo with Ms. Boan’s Mariana Saldana, stepping in for Jae, delivering an infectious vocal. “Machina electrónico” has been stuck in my head all year.
13 Sextile – “Contortion”
California’s Sextile returned in 2022 from a four-year hiatus with a two-track EP called Modern Weekend/Contortion. I recently named the EP’s accompanying double-feature the best video of the year. The EP’s best track, “Contortion,” kicks off with a funked-up beat, bends basslines like a rubberband, then drops a kooky duh-dah-duh arrangement straight out of the Addams Family theme song. It’s an absolute blast that I guarantee you’ve never heard before.
12 Paradox Obscur – “Wild Silk”
Greek duo Paradox Obscur makes a sort of techno-inflected coldwave that’s an arousing blend of hardware synths, drum machines, and melodic vocals—miraculously recorded in real time. “Wild Silk” is a big, beautiful blast of energy that’s my favorite track from their 2022 full-length, Morhphogenesis.
11 Unroyal – “Burn Your Records”
Nearly every song from Unroyal’s superb sophomore album could have appeared on this list. But I am most drawn to “Burn Your Records” for it’s unique synth scuffle and the way it serves as a spiritual antidote to “We Play Remain in Light,” Unroyal’s most played track and my introduction to the Swedish duo. Whereas that song celebrated the way we bond over music, “Burn Your Records” thumbs its nose at hipster music snobs, namechecking post-punk icons from Paul Weller to OMD.
10 My Hysteria – “Golden”
English band My Hysteria makes beautiful, understated synthpop that takes influence from the New Romantic period. The project reset as a solo effort and took a darker turn this year with a six-track EP suitably called A Darker Romantic. It was quickly followed by a new song called “Golden” that features a propulsive beat, shimmery synths, and Alessio Croe’s lovely, rich vocals. Upon first listen, I knew this was one of my favorite discoveries of the year.
9 Solitary Experiments – “Every Now and Then”
Beloved German futurepop act Solitary Experiments is known for making emotionally resonant anthems like “Delight” and “Stars.” Prior to the release of their 2022 album Transcendent, they delivered another instant classic called “Every Now and Then” that features melodic enlightenment and possibly the most sentimental chorus of the year: “Hold me tight, never let me down. I need a place where I feel safe and sound.”
8 Mercury Machine – “Second Life”
There’s a burgeoning sub-genre of synthpop that has a distinct prog rock feel. Some of the leaders in this space are Iceland’s Legend and Sweden’s Hearts of Black Science. Manchester-based electro-rock band Mercury Machine certainly belong to this list for the way they combine synthesizers, guitar, and intellectual vocals with the power and effortless charm of a jam band. Their potential is on full display in “Second Life,” a spectacular anthem that signals more excitement in store.
7 Lights of Euphoria – “Man and Machine”
In 2022, the long-running German project Lights of Euphoria joined the ranks of bands producing a new track every month. The pressure pays off—this year’s singles have been some of the band’s best work. Their June cut, “Man and Machine” is a euphoric dance-club banger with an insanely memorable chorus: “Beautiful pain, beautiful lies. I’m just a simple man in disguise.”
6 Metric – “Doomscroller”
Who knew Metric made music like this? “Doomscroller,” from the Canadian band’s eighth studio album, is an epic, dark electronic anthem that takes pause, then practically blasts off at least three times across its 10-minute running time. Listen to this track in the dark with your headphones cranked up loud—it’s a monumental experience you won’t easily replicate.
5 Sydney Valette – “Station Stop”
Sydney Valette’s “Station Stop” contains the best beat of the year, a steady pounding kick drum topped with dinging, unsettling bells that make it feel absolutely propulsive. The French artist amplifies the song’s intensity with deep, rumbling vocals and powerful, improvised HUHs. If you can sit still listening to this, I can only assume you’re dead.
4 AEON RINGS – “Fully Operational”
The long 8-year wait since AEON RINGS’s debut EP was finally broken by a monster track called “Fully Operational.” Every element of this song feels like menace, from the abrasive beat and startling synthline to Davey Partains’ ferocious vocals. “Fully Operational” is the sound of an artist firing on all cylinders and the opening track to one of the best, most explosive albums of the year.
3 CZARINA – “Excelsior”
American artist CZARINA bends genre to her will. Synthpop. Darkwave. Goth. Futurepop. She melds them all, like an alchemist, into her sophomore album, Arcana. But the album’s most abstract moment, a mid-album diversion called “Excelsior,” incorporates elements of prog rock that CZARINA achieves with guitar riffs, innovative tempo changes, and an-out-of-this-world chant.
2 Dead Lights – “Doom Doom Trash”
Multi-national duo Dead Lights are single-handedly reviving electro-industrial sleaze once championed by bands like My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and Lords of Acid. “Doom Doom Trash,” the bonkers title track from their 2022 EP, cranks up gloomy beats and skeezy lyrics about darkened tombs and bloody cigarettes. The song celebrates underground dance clubs and the booming music that fills them, practically demanding DJs to restart the song. At one point, they announce “We’re never going to stop until we bleed.” Believe me, I don’t want to.
1 Kite – “Panic Music”
Fresh off a four-song run with producer Blanck Mass providing an assist, it was an open question what Swedish duo Kite would do next. It turns out they took the production techniques learned from Blanck Mass and merged them seamlessly with their own brand of warm, analog synths. The result finds singer Nicklas Stenemo blasting the “idiots in my life” as buzzing electronics swirl forth from their synths. “Panic Room” is Kite producing some of their angriest—and best—work ever.