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
75 Danny Blu – “Tidal Wave”
New York-based artist Danny Blu blends strong pop melodies with electro-industrial soundscapes. On “Tidal Wave,” a track from his 2022 Molotov EP, bubbling electronics and media samples amp up the song’s tension while hi-hats punctuate every beat. As for the vocal, Danny sings emotionally resonant lyrics about going under, belting out a chorus of “I think I’m sinking!” with the confidence of a bona fide pop star.
74 BlakLight – “Innocence Lost”
LA-based synthpop duo BlakLight continue work on their third album, which will likely arrive next year. To tide us over, they’ve dropped this dreamy single that initially appeared on a charity comp. “Innocence Lost” is the sound of a band basking in their mojo. Musician Adam Collier finds new ways to make his synths sparkle, while vocalist Brian Belknap’s rhythmic delivery of the song’s key line, “Then I hear the beat begin to stop,” sounds simply sublime.
73 Kill Shelter feat. Agent Side Grinder – “The Necklace”
“The Necklace” opens with grungy guitars that aren’t often my purview, but then Agent Side Grinder arrives with their trademark blend of Cold War bleeps and synsonic beats. Kill Shelter’s Pete Burns skillfully merges the sound of two veteran artists into an epic discourse on personal sanctuary.
72 Blackcarburning – “All About You”
I don’t know what’s going on with Mesh—it’s been six long years since Looking Skyward. In the meantime, the unmistakeable voice of Mark Hockings, who’s also one of synthpop’s greatest songwriters, is focused on his solo project, Blackcarburning. Like the best Mesh tunes, “All About You” is instantly catchy. Uber-producer John Fryer helps Mark create a propulsive beat and creative synth arrangements.
71 Jason Priest – “Quicksand”
The chorus of Jason Priest’s “Quicksand” is one of those unrelenting earworms that burrows its way into your brain: “Out of the quicksand, and then into the fire.” It works because Jason Priest, the post-punk alter ego of musician Antoni Maiovvi, delivers it with such relentless charm, thrumming guitar, and a bomb beat.
70 Spike Hellis – “Mouth”
Minimalist EBM duo Spike Hellis commit hard to a fishing metaphor in their big 2022 hit, “Mouth.” There’s even a “Here fishy fishy” bit that’s completely bonkers. They match that unbridled commitment to theme with turbulent production that finds the duo layering in new and unexpected sounds across the entire span of the song. The synsonic percussion that blasts off around the three minute mark could set dancefloors on fire.
69 SPECTRA*paris – “Devious”
Kirlian Camera’s Elena Alice Fossi is a bit more accessible in her solo work as SPECTRA*paris, but she remains just as unique and eclectic. On “Devious,” a single from her fifth album Modernism, she softly purrs the lyrics like a damsel in a noir film. Her seductive vocals contrast sharply with the modern, macabre music, which sounds like a rapid-fire electronic stutter.
68 Lights A.M. – “Another Life”
Lush. Dreamy. Like floating on clouds. That’s just a few of the ways I’d describe the music of Norwegian project Lights A.M., which loosely resembles mid-tempo Kite in their most ethereal moments. “Another Life,” the standout track from their 2022 disc Clouds, falls somewhere in a dark cavernous void between synthpop and shoegaze. Its genre-defying gloom produces an epic sound that’s nothing short of transformative.
67 Encephalon – “Someone Else’s Dream”
Choosing a single cut from Encephalon’s 2022 album Echoes is a bit of a pointless endeavor. Echoes is best experienced as a cohesive whole, the tracks carefully sequenced to provide a complete listening experience. But if I had to choose, “Someone Else’s Dream” is the album’s most autonomous moment, a taut, well-crafted bit of electropop that eschews the album’s more abstract moments for traditional verse-chorus-verse structure.
66 Massive Ego – “Fake Star”
In 2022, dark synth project Massive Ego shocked fans by abruptly splitting up. Their final release, a five-track EP called The New Normal, contains a controversial track called “You Will Comply” that’s better left forgotten. On a more positive note, it also includes “Fake Star,” a bright and buoyant charmer that finds Marc Massive looking upward at satellites polluting the night sky.
65 Mari Kattman – “Fever Shakes”
It feels like Mari Kattman is on the verge of a breakthrough. She’s hovered around the edges of the scene for years as both a singer for hire and a solo artist with former partner Matt Echo. Her new single “Fever Shakes” finds the artist coming into her own, combining synthpop and industrial in captivating ways. The knockout single includes angry media samples and Mari’s sublime vocal melodies.
64 Agent Side Grinder – “Waiting Room”
In 2019, Swedish post-punk outfit Agent Side Grinder released A/X, a startlingly cohesive album capturing Cold War tension with knob-twisting beats. I named it my number two album of the year. “Waiting Room,” their first single since A/X, feels rawer and less refined while maintaining the band’s gift for aural tension. The bizarro media samples about “removing a tumor with my teeth” make me extremely curious about the next album’s subject matter.
63 MORE – “Snowflake Supernova”
Swedish synthpop trio MORE wasted no time producing new music after the release of their 2022 album, Appraisal. Every track from the band feels slightly darker than the last, a pattern that holds for this standalone single. “Snowflake Supernova” contains unsettling electronics that gently throb behind a lightly plucked guitar. Singer Magnus Dahlberg adds to the drama with pointed lines like “I’d really love to tell you how I feel” that are some of his catchiest and most compelling lyrics yet.
62 Kittin & The Hacker – “Purist”
French DJ extraordinaire Miss Kittin and her frequent partner The Hacker pioneered the electroclash movement, which these days is as dead as Frank Sinatra. Twenty-one years have passed since their monumental First Album, and they’re feeling nostalgic. The sound of “Purist” maintains minimal clanking beats without wallowing in electroclash’s sillier tropes and finds Kittin purring “I may be trapped in ’84. You were not even born. Purist to the core.” Same, girl, same.
61 Future Lied to Us – “Fly Away”
Synthpop supergroup Future Lied to Us is a wholly different beast with new vocalist Damasius Venys, formerly of Mondträume. (SITD’s Tom Lesczenski departed the group after their debut album.) It’s taken me a bit to appreciate the new sound, but I’m comfortably on board. “Fly Away,” one of two 2022 singles and possibly a precursor to a forthcoming full-length, is the type of uplifting electronic anthem that I live for. And Dama’s voice soars.
60 Mental Discipline – “My Name”
Russian artist Mental Discipline frequently employs the voices of other artists—his most popular track, “Fallen Stars,” features the voice of Felix Marc. For the launch of his third album cycle though, the project’s own Alex Mental takes the lead on first single “My Name,” a warm and sensual slice of synthpop with thick beats, tinkling piano, and gorgeous vocal melodies.
59 Unify Separate – “Closure”
“Closure” is a quintessential opening track to an exquisite collection of songs from Swedish band Unify Separate. It’s a long, slow broil that probably makes more sense in the context of the full album, but there’s no denying the incredible drop near the two-minute mark. This song winds up so much intensity, it demands you listen to the rest of the album, and that’s exactly what an opening track should do.
58 KÅRP – “You’ll Be Dancing”
Swedish band KÅRP, who caught my attention last year with a firecracker called “It Looks Bad” that carried a strong resemblance to The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” released a pair of EPs in 2022. “You’ll Be Dancing” is not the most popular track from those releases, but it’s my favorite for its breezy tones and the way it commands listeners to hit the dancefloor.
57 Hatif – “A Small Scratch”
Swedish duo Hatif formed in 2020 and released their debut album this year. Like a lot of modern synthpop, the songs on Everything is Repetition are dark and melancholic, but Hatif rise above the tropes of the genre with Middle Eastern flourishes. Opening track “A Small Scratch” grafts cinematic orchestration onto a menacing synthline for a combination that feels downright ominous.
56 LEATHERS – “Runaway”
We’re still anticipating the full-length debut from LEATHERS, AKA Shannon Hemmett, the icy cool keyboardist and backup singer for post-punk project ACTORS. She’s gifted us a few sparkling gems while we wait, including a cinematic track called “Runaway” that captures a bit of the same magic as Norwegian synthpop star Annie. The song’s list of driving essentials just makes Shannon even cooler: leather gloves, a switchblade knife, and Cherry Coke.
55 A Projection – “Anywhere”
Swedish post-punkers A Projection embrace a more electronic sound on fourth album, In a Different Light, which was preceded by last year’s upbeat singles “Darwin’s Eden” and “No Control.” This year’s singles “Careless” and “Anywhere” demonstrate the band’s knack for wrapping electronic filigree around the songs’ verses. On “Anywhere,” singer Rikard Tengvall draws heartfelt despair with the song’s most memorable line, “I want to stay in your bed all night long though you’re gone.”
54 Menschdefekt feat. j:dead – “Secular Days”
For this futurepop anthem, German project Menschdefekt is joined by rising star j:dead, making his first of several appearances on this list. It’s easy to see why so many artists want to work with j:dead—what a voice. Jay’s graceful boom matches the track’s booming beat, and he delivers the chorus with gospel elegance: “Secular days coming in time. I push it away but it keeps me alive.”
53 Editors – “Kiss”
Post-industrial wizard Blanck Mass, fresh off a four-song assist with Kite, joined Editors as a full-time member in 2022—hence the album’s title, EBM (Editors + Blanck Mass). “Kiss” might otherwise be a standard Editors song that tugs a tad too much from Dave Gahan’s rockstar era, but Blanck Mass torpedoes the track into violent new territory with his signature buzzsaw electronics.
52 X Marks the Pedwalk – “Yesterdays”
Legendary German project X Marks the Pedwalk remains on an electropop run that’s marked by quality production and dynamic songcraft. More and more, their songs are sung by founder Sevren Ni-Arb’s partner Estefanía. I’ve always had a soft spot for songs that tackle the passage of time, and Estefanía’s lyrics do just that on “Yesterdays,” traversing from birth to marriage, a perfect ode to nostalgia.
51 Nuovo Testamento – “Heartbeat”
Italo disco revivalists Nuovo Testamento follow-up their glossy, name-making debut album with a new single that was released days before publishing this list (I’m actually still digesting it). They’re not letting up on their ’80s roller disco sound, this time employing lighter tones and poppier hooks that sound like they were produced by Jellybean Benitez for Madonna’s debut album.