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
50 Red Cell – “Good Morning, Good Light”
If John Hughes was alive and still making movies today, “Good Morning, Good Light” would soundtrack the end credits to one of his films. The song from Swedish duo Red Cell is a slice of soaring, anthemic synthpop reminiscent of Hughes favorites like Thompson Twins and Simple Minds. The closing melody of “Let the ship go down” even recalls the great Tears for Fears.
49 Fused – “Nightlife”
English project Fused deserves far more attention for its engrossing synthpop, but he’s making it harder and harder to find his music. Most of his catalog vanished this year from music services like Bandcamp and Youtube, and I believe he’s now only on Spotify. In any case, he did collect several recent singles into a full-length called Exhibition that includes this one new song, an effervescent ode to nightlife. Enjoy it while you can.
48 Null Device – “Unsafe and Sound”
On the opening couplet of “Unsafe and Sound,” Eric Oehler sings, “All the lights have burned down. Now we’re lost, unsafe and sound.” That foreboding message might also describe the essence of Null Device’s The Emerald Age album, which finds the Wisconsin project heading for darker territory and examining our perilous cultural climate.
47 Affet Robot – “Kills You Again”
Darkwave project Affet Robot gets frequently compared to fellow Turks She Past Away. This year, he upended expectations and shattered the comparison with his first English-language track, which coincides with a move to London. “Kills You Again” is charming, melancholic synthpop that features organic keys and vintage laser bursts. More, please.
46 BLACKBOOK – “My Darkest Memory”
Enigmatic Swiss-Dutch band BLACKBOOK released their debut album, Confessions of the Innocent, and a handful of singles in 2022, including this syrupy gem. “My Darkest Memory,” one of the band’s best songs, demonstrates BLACKBOOK’s talent for writing infectious hooks that often employ levity and sarcasm. “You’re my favorite enemy” is delicious scorn.
45 Vanguard – “Open Sky”
“Open Sky” opens Vanguard’s fifth studio album, Spectrum, with a furnace blast of electropop beats and hard-charging melodies that exemplify the Swedish band’s approach to club-friendly synthpop. Its lyrical content about feeling trapped foreshadows the succeeding songs, but the chorus about open skies and “new light before us” offers an optimistic bent not found elsewhere on the otherwise angry album.
44 Lizette Lizette – “You Lied”
Swedish artist Lizette Lizette turns down the tempo and delivers one of their best vocal melodies yet on “You Lied,” which comes from their third album, Miss Gendered. This twinkling ode to vengeance might be a bit more chill than we’re used to hearing from Lizette, but it breaks new thematic ground for an artist that continues to surprise and invigorate.
43 Vandal Moon – “Sweet Disaster”
California darkwavers Vandal Moon have hooks for days. There’s a rhythmic quality to the way they deliver the chorus of “Sweet Disaster” that makes it instantly memorable: “Tongue-tied… covered in pain. Your eyes… love disaster. Disguise… devil in me. Be my… sweet disaster.” It probably helps that the song is built on a vigorous beat with guitars and synths combining to make one ferocious melody.
42 e:lect – “No Solution”
It’s far too easy to group Swedish duo e:lect in with other female-led synthpop acts like Client and Marsheaux, but their sublime, forward-thinking synthpop quickly surpasses any gender trappings. On “No Solution,” a single from their latest album, Disoriented Illusion, swirling electronics meet the band’s memorable melodies. It’s my favorite e:lect song yet.
41 Fever Ray – “Carbon Dioxide”
Karin Dreijer is an enigmatic musician whose work in The Knife and Fever Ray has changed the landscape of modern synthpop—their self-titled debut as Fever Ray remains the best album of the 21st century. Fever Ray’s second album made an abrupt left turn into brighter, blippier sounds that also served as a queer awakening for Karin. Their new song “Carbon Dioxide” continues along that same path while introducing comic echoes that punctuate the track’s falling-in-love deluge. I will never not enjoy the toddler-like “hocus pocus” bit.
40 j:dead – “Hold Tight”
The rapidly emerging electronic music project j:dead is all over this list thanks to a number of guest vocals this year. He also released a solo EP called Vision of Time that demonstrates the artist’s strong blend of electronic beats and multi-dimensional vocals. “Hold Tight,” my favorite track from Vision of Time, showcases Jay’s powerful, dynamic voice and gift for melody.
39 Movie Camera – “You Have a Life Now”
Movie Camera is a side project from Swedish synthpop producer Yestergrey that allows him to try on a purer post-punk sound that combines synths and guitars into moody soundscapes. “You Have a Life Now,” which comes from the project’s debut album, Memory/Display, should appeal to fans of Drab Majesty and the dearly departed Holygram.
38 Normal Bias – “Embody Control”
Do you like it funky? You’re gonna love this. The members of That Which Is Not Said (aka TWINS) and Multiple Man have joined forces to create this seductive EBM act that blends funked up beats and slinky melodies reminiscent of classic acts like A Split Second and TKK. The forceful and very sexy “Embody Control” is the highlight of their debut EP.
37 Morphose feat. Sascha Klein – “Surrender”
Veteran musician Christoph Schauer of the band Cyto is the man behind new project Morphose. For his 2022 EP, The Inexplicable Darkness of Light, he taps external singers, including the beloved voice of Neuroticfish. Sascha Klein offers somber, majestic vocals to “Surrender,” while Christoph’s blazing guitars transform this kinetic track into a bona fide synth-rock jam.
36 RROYCE – “Paranoiac SL”
“Paranoiac SL,” the first single from German project RROYCE’s fourth studio album, opens with an intense scream that sounds like singer Casi Kriegler is howling into a megaphone. The trio then piles on layers of electronic sounds and vocal arrangements to create an aggressive thunderbolt of a song that unpacks our paranoia and pain.
35 The Distant Minds – “Silenced”
British act The Distant Minds remains an underrated but promising voice in synthpop thanks to their elegant approach to songcraft. “Silenced” is their first song since last year’s excellent debut album, Bedlam, and an auspicious start to the next phase of their career. Its classic synthpop arrangement is met with strong synthlines and lovely vocals awash in melancholy and reverb.
34 Voicecoil – “Vesterbrogade”
Voicecoil’s Mark Sousa has a gift for introspection. On “Vesterbrogade,” one of the highlights from his fourth album, Strange Days, twinkling synths blip across the song’s beating kick drum as Mark sings of “walking these streets until the day the world knows my name.” Google tells me that Vesterbrogade is a famous street in Copenhagen—one I suspect Mark has walked.
33 Priest – “Perfect Body Machine”
“Perfect Body Machine” is the title track of sorts from Priest’s third album, Body Machine, yet it’s a bit of an outlier on an album that mostly runs on classic industrial and EBM sounds. Here, the enigmatic Swedish band taps into ’80s pop glitz with frisky horns and sorta-rap lyrics about new sensations and bionic Don Juans. Priest has never been this much fun.
32 M!R!M feat. Nuovo Testamento – “Desert Love”
Breakthrough project Nuovo Testamento has already appeared once on this list for their end-of-year surprise release “Heartbeat,” but this year they also joined label mate M!R!M for a featured turn on his fourth album, Time Traitor. “Desert Love” is a strong match that pairs two artists excavating more oblique elements of the ’80s sound palette.
31 TR/ST – “The Shore”
It’s been more than two years since TR/ST released his monumental two-part The Destroyer albums, and he’s not straying far from the formula that made Destroyer Pt. 1 my album of the year. Despite the similar soundscapes, there are many changes in the TR/ST camp. On “The Shore,” Robert Alfons works for the first time with music producer Nick Weiss, aka Nightfeelings, who has also replaced his former touring band during live performances. The song itself is a dark and moody ripper that piles on layers of twinkling electronic sounds and showcases Robert’s distinctive nasally voice.
30 Lakeside X – “Time Has Come”
Prague synthpop act Lakeside X made a marvelous return in 2022, following a 10-year absence. Frontman Janne Marvannen opens “Time Will Come,” the standout track from their new album Love Disappears, with deadpan vocals (“Everliving. Everloving. Everlasting. Everwill.”) that gradually build with the song’s propulsive beat until they eventually unload with one of the most meaningful choruses of the year: “The time has come for everything to heal.”
29 Echoberyl – “Silent Monster (The Other Side of the Mirror)”
French duo Echoberyl has a history of drawing inspiration from fantasy stories from Greek mythology to science-fiction B-movies. On “Silent Monster (The Other Side of the Mirror),” they continue this trend with lyrics drawn from fantasy tropes about magic mirrors and women in peril. As for the music, stabbing synths make an effective and graceful play against the song’s dynamic beat.
28 EMMON feat. Emanuel Åström – “Purebloods”
EMMON is often called “Sweden’s electro queen” for her explosive approach to electronic body music. She doesn’t hold back on “Purebloods,” an incredible, unrelenting blast of EBM accompanied by Emanuel Åström, the iconic voice of Agent Side Grinder. There’s a truly addictive intensity when their two voices combine to wail the song’s chorus: “This can not be. You’re gonna fall.”
27 Ego Bliss – “Need”
Futurepop is alive and well thanks to bands like Ego Bliss who continue to combine trance elements, pulsating beats, and elegant synthpop melodies into club-friendly anthems. “Need,” the emotional centerpiece of the Mexican band’s Future EP, features gorgeous vocal harmonies that lift up the track’s quest for emotional catharsis.
26 O+HER – “Brave Bodies Burn”
Solo artist Tobias Bernstrup and ABU NEIN singer Erica Li Lundqvist join forces to create a captivating new darkwave project called O+HER (pronounced “other”). Their artistry meets in lovely ways on their debut track, “Brave Bodies Burn,” a mesmerizing darkwave cut that combines Italo twinkles, guitars, and two phenomenal voices. I hope this project continues because it’s one of the best new acts of the year.