Steven Hyden’s Favorite Albums Of 2024 So Far

I believe in integrity. If you say you are making a list of your favorite albums of the year at the midpoint of that particular year, you should wait until the midpoint of the year. Not late May. Not early June. Not the middle of June. The end of June. That is the midpoint. Therefore, I am releasing my list of favorite albums of 2024 so far at the end of June.

(Actually, my editor asked that this column run at the end of June. If he had wanted this column at end of May, I would have done that. Because I am a slave to capitalism.)

Anyway: Let’s talk about some recent-ish records! Listed in alphabetical order!

Blitzen Trapper, 100’s Of 1000’s, Millions Of Billions

These venerable indie-folkers have been at it since the aughts, and they have never put a record that was less than “damn good” level. I lost track of them around the time of 2008’s excellent Furr, but that’s on me, not them. On 100’s Of 1000’s, Millions Of Billions, they once again present themselves as a dream matchup of Grateful Dead vibes with ’70s AM gold melodies, or an alternate version of Wilco if they had maintained the honeyed Americana sound of their Mermaid Avenue albums.

Cindy Lee, Diamond Jubilee

The feel-good story of early 2024. At least for those of us in the audience — things might have felt different from inside when the sudden rush of indie fame was thrust upon Patrick Flegel, who self-released Diamond Jubilee on a Geocities site and subsequently garnered the sorts of glowing press notices that no publicist can guarantee. For the record: Diamond Jubilee is about more than the release strategy or the nostalgia of music critics burnt out on the internet. It’s about songs. So many songs! There are 32 in all (spread out over two discs, huzzah for all your CD-R enthusiasts out there). Even better, Flegel’s batting average is remarkably high as they work in various styles — ’60s Motown, ’70s bubblegum pop, ’80s C86 jangle, ’90s lo-fi indie — with equal mastery.

Cloud Nothings, Final Summer

It’s a little strange to think of Cloud Nothings as a veteran rock band. But check the numbers: They dropped their debut in 2011, and there have been seven studio records since then. That’s an entire career for most acts. It helps that Dylan Baldi started putting out records when he was a teenager, even though his output suggests that he’s always had talent well beyond his years. With Final Summer, he might very well be just hitting his stride. Fans will argue over which records reign supreme in the catalog, but for me Cloud Nothings’ latest ranks as their best since 2012’s epochal Attack On Memory.

DIIV, Frog In Boiling Water

We are in a moment in which seemingly every rock band whose members are under the age of 25 is classified as a shoegaze act. The term has been applied so widely and promiscuously that it is practically devoid of meaning. Therefore, it is vital that Frog In Boiling Water exists so that we can all properly reset our shoegaze sensors and garner more accurate readings in the future. Also: It is vital that Frog In Boiling Water exists because DIIV ranks with the very best indie-rock bands to emerge in the past dozen or so years, and this record should be placed near the top of their sterling discography.

Ducks Ltd., Harm’s Way

Jangle pop is one of those genres that seems easy to make — you jangle, and you do it in a poppy way — but this straightforwardness actually means that jangle pop is extremely difficult to make. Countless bands right now are producing bouncy melodies over frisky rhythm sections, and it’s perfectly fine but nothing more than that. Doing something authentically great in this field, therefore, requires that you overcome that omnipresent “perfectly fine”-ness of this kind of music. The vast majority of acts can’t do it, but this Toronto duo pulls it off on their endlessly listenable second LP.

Everything, Now!, Hideout Mountain

For more than 20 years, Indiana’s own Everything, Now! has been slugging it out in the trenches of Middle American bars and clubs. I can’t say I go deep on their catalog, but their latest Hideout Mountain makes me curious to hear more. This is precisely the sort of band you wish was playing at the corner tavern in your neighborhood every weekend. They can play the “smart pop tunesmith” game you know and love from Teenage Fanclub or the Go-Betweens, and they can also do the “sweaty rock ‘n’ roll” act you expect from Drive-By Truckers. It’s quality!

Friko, Where We’ve Been, Where We Go From Here

I’m guessing that the members of this Chicago band were probably in preschool around the time that Funeral and Apologies To The Queen Mary were released. But you wouldn’t know it listening to their very good debut, which aspires to the musical grandiosity and emotional maximalism of aughts-era indie. The reference points might be middle-aged, but Friko demonstrates that this music always sounds best when performed by young musicians who lack the sort of guile and shame that can put shackles on music this expansive and expressive.

From Indian Lakes, Head Void

You know you have heard your share of shoegaze-adjacent emo records when you can instantly detect the presence of Will Yip. The storied producer only mastered Head Void — the first From Indian Lakes record in five years — but there’s something about that sparkling guitar tone ringing throughout the album that is positively Yip-esque. (Is Yippian a more appropriate adjective?) The result is my favorite hybrid of shoegaze and dream pop from the first part of 2024 not made by DIIV.

Good Looks, Lived Here For A While

The easiest band to cheer for so far this year. So far they have weathered not one but two catastrophic vehicular-related disasters — one involving their excellent guitar player Jake Ames being struck by a car, and the other concerning a tour van accident that resulted in all of their equipment being destroyed. Through it all, Good Looks have persevered and delivered stirring heartland rock anthems that balance singer-songwriter Tyler Jordan’s autobiographical stories with subtle political commentary. Set against Ames’ wildly improvisational post-punk guitar licks, the songs on Lived Here For A While evoke the finest blue-collar rock jams of the past 40 years.

Hovvdy, Hovvdy

I have frequently described this album as feeling like a bear hug from your oldest friend in the world. Admittedly, hugs don’t really have a sound, so this is likely poor music criticism. Nevertheless, I stand by the bear hug description as an accurate summation of Hovvdy’s vibe. In terms of the actual music, this Texas duo resembles Alex G if Alex G records were more emotionally direct. I wonder when Alex G was last bear-hugged by his oldest friend?

Itasca, Imitation Of War

Lots of artists like to namecheck Joni Mitchell as an influence, but very few contemporary acts actually sound like Joni. Why? Because it’s hard to sound like Joni! The alternate tunings, the high-level musicianship, the literary lyrics — there’s a whole lot of craft there that you can’t just lift from willy-nilly. So rest assured I don’t make this comparison lightly — the guitar tones on this record give me strong Hejira vibes. No much else about the record is Joni-esque, aside from some jazzy shadings in singer-songwriter Kayla Cohen’s phrasing. But that Hejira tone counts for a lot, particularly when Itasca launch into jammy, dual-guitar jams.

Adrianne Lenker, Bright Future

When this album dropped in the spring, I couldn’t help but let my love for Big Thief impede on my enjoyment of the music. What if these songs had been turned over to the band? Wouldn’t their magical chemistry transform them into something even greater? Granted, I still believe that Bright Future plays more like a highly promising set of Big Thief demos than a fully realized solo record. Nevertheless, these are very good demos indeed from one of the great singer-songwriters of the 2020s. In the end, if this how these songs are meant to exist, I am truly happy they do exist.

Little Wings, High On The Glade

Veteran California singer-songwriter Kyle Field has long maintained his own discrete musical world with Little Wings, turning out records that feel like they must have been self-released in the early 1970s and then reissued decades later by Light In The Attic or Paradise Of Bachelors. For High On The Glade, he is once again operating on his own wavelength — apparently, he knocked out the songs in a single afternoon during a session in Malibu. The resulting album sounds casually mellow yet highly focused, with Field marrying his shaggy-dog folk rock to jaunty Irish music accents, like The Pogues making their own idiosyncratic answer record to The Joshua Tree.

Liquid Mike, Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot

The most “directly targeted at a hyper-specific demographic that I happen to be a part of” album of 2024’s first half. I am a resident of the Upper Midwest. I love Guided By Voices. I am aware of the desperation that comes with growing up in a town nobody cares about. I was bred in a culture adjacent to intense drug and alcohol abuse. I am a fan of the United States Postal Service. If the preceding categories also apply to you, congratulations, you will also love this album. (Also: Can I sleep on your couch when I’m in town?)

MGMT, Loss Of Life

Here’s a trend nobody predicted at the start of 2024: Late aughts blog rock is having a good year! I’ll have more to say about Vampire Weekend later on this list, but for now let’s sing the praises of MGMT, the duo who peaked commercially with their dorm-room classic of a debut, 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, and then proceeded to make much stranger and more interesting music for a more discerning (i.e. smaller) audience of music nerds. With Loss Of Life, they have made their nerdiest record yet, as well as one of their best.

Mdou Moctar, Funeral For Justice

Let’s start with the album title. As with all of Moctar’s music, there’s a strong political undercurrent to Funeral For Justice, with the Nigerian guitarist raging against the perpetual instability of his home country’s government stoked by decades of interference from the United States and other foreign actors. While American listeners might not pick up on the fervor of Moctar’s words, they will certainly recognize the ample amount of ass-kicking guitar shredding that conveys the depths of his passion. If Funeral For Justice is the most metal-sounding Mdou Moctar album title — it sounds like the lost Megadeth LP between Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction — then it accurately conveys the blistering speed and force of the music.

Nourished By Time, Catching Chickens

Marcus Brown makes records that sound like The Cure trying to make a Bobby Brown record produced by Prince. This EP — a follow-up to 2023’s acclaimed Erotic Probiotic 2 — is synth-heavy psychedelia with R&B swing, and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s easily the most cinematic music I have heard all year. It plays like a soundtrack to a disreputable-but-brilliant straight-to-VHS action thriller that Michael Mann should have made between the first season of Miami Vice and Manhunter.

Pearl Jam, Dark Matter

I’ll be frank: If Pearl Jam never put out another studio album it would not affect their status as a reliable arena-rock band one iota. Recording has to be a labor of love at this juncture. The beauty of Dark Matter is that for the first time in many years, it sounds as though Pearl Jam is in the studio because they actually enjoy it. Producer Andrew Watt does justice to their chemistry as a live band while also teasing out their most underappreciated attribute — their irresistible pop-friendly side. Pearl Jam themselves have long resisted delivering the sort of catchy tunes that made their career, but on Dark Matter the hooks come at a healthy (and frankly surprising) clip.

Jessica Pratt, Here In The Pitch

My favorite album of 1966 that happened to come out in 2024. Jessica Pratt’s music is often described as “timeless,” but that’s not quite right. It’s not that Here In The Pitch could have come out at any time, it’s that Pratt can make it seem as though she has stepped into our world through a fissure in the space-time continuum from a place where Burt Bacharach and Hal David still rule the pop charts. (Perhaps that’s why she can only manage a new LP every five years.) Here In The Pitch is relatively “big” sounding compared with her past releases, with the occasional rhythm section or synth line drifting in to support Pratt’s vocal and light guitar strum. But, honestly, you can’t really tell — the all-encompassing vibes, as always, steal the show.

Rosali, Bite Down

My favorite singer right now is Rosali Middleman, a Michigan native transplanted to the south who sounds like a Midwestern Sandy Denny. I could listen to her sing the entirety of Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water and be totally riveted. Fortunately, she also happens to be an ace songwriter of folk-rock tunes, as her latest album demonstrates. Bite Down also is a continuation of her collaboration with the fine Nebraska outfit David Nance and Mowed Sound, who give her flinty and inspirational songs extra layers of Crazy Horse-inspired grime.

The Smile, Wall Of Eyes

The conversation about this band always revolves around the other band that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood occasionally play in. (I’m as guilty of this as anyone.) But with Wall Of Eyes, The Smile once again reiterate their supremacy as a maker of atmospheric rock songs that climb from moody murk to cathartic peaks with expert precision. If we knew nothing about them, we would be calling them the best British art-rock band with an operatic singer since, well, you know.

This Is Lorelei, Box For Buddy, Box For Star

As one-half of the duo Water From Your Eyes, Nate Amos plays sharp pop songs that have been discombobulated with a swift 4×4 smack to the face. On For Box For Buddy, Box For Star — the latest release from his side project This Is Lorelei — Amos attempts his most radical experiment yet. What if he skipped that swift 4×4 smack to the face this time? The result is a charming indie-folk record where the occasional eccentric flourish — typically some sort of digital treatment to his vocals — scarcely distracts from Amos’ knack for catchy pop-rock songcraft. To put it in Ween terms (a relevant reference given Amos’ professed fandom): Water From Your Eyes is The Pod, and This Is Lorelei is White Pepper.

Vampire Weekend, Only God Was Above Us

Ezra Koenig makes albums like the rest of us make casseroles. On the outside, Only God Was Above Us merely resembles a delicious confection that immediately draws you in with the usual Vampire Weekend-y accoutrements: Clever lyrics, grabby melodies, that indelible air of exquisite taste in just about everything. But as you dig in, the layers of ingredients reveal new flavors. A reference to an old New York Magazine article. A nod to a long-lost ’90s Hong Kong flick. A weirdly moving aside about the New York City subway. Even the knowingly noisy and chaotic bits — dig that bonkers slide guitar on “Gen-X Cops” — are all in the right place. These guys might only pop up every five or six years these days, but they make each record count like no other band.

Waxahatchee, Tigers Blood

The arc of Katie Crutchfield’s career — from basement show-jamming DIY star to wised up Americana mainstay — makes her seem much older than her 35 years. It already feels like we have been listening to Waxahatchee for decades, on the same kinds of summer road trips soundtracked by Lucinda Williams and Tom Petty. But the reality is that Crutchfield is just entering her prime, which is evidenced by this quasi-sequel to 2020’s Saint Cloud. Working again with soul mate producer Brad Cook, Crutchfield is on a serious roll right now, producing songs that feel like lifelong companions.