Every month, Uproxx cultural critic Steven Hyden makes an unranked list of his favorite music-related items released during this period — songs, albums, books, films, you name it.
1. The Weeknd, Dawn FM
We’re only in January, and it’s ludicrous to talk about any album released this month as the record of 2022. But Dawn FM… is the record of 2022. At least it is well on the way to being my most listened to album of the year. The highest compliment I can pay this album is that even the spoken-word parts are worth hearing. (Quincy Jones describing how his dysfunctional childhood derailed his adult relationships is the most harrowing track to appear on any Weeknd album that also happens to explain every Weeknd album.) But I’m honestly just swept up by the sound and scale of Dawn FM, how each song seems like it cost $1 million to make and came out sounding like $10 million. Go beyond the extremely 1980s signifiers — the synth tones, the Thriller vibes of nearly every chorus, Jim Carrey’s ‘luded-out DJ (his best performance since Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind!) — and it’s this quality that makes Dawn FM feel like such a throwback. This isn’t an album that simply alludes to the era of massive albums in a nostalgic way. It’s actually able to embody what it is referencing in the present moment.
2. Father John Misty, “Funny Girl”
It’s been four long years since God’s Favorite Customer, the heartfelt song cycle in which Josh Tillman confronted the dark night of his marriage’s soul by venturing wistfully into the poem zone. The album cycle for Customer was practically nonexistent, with FJM implementing a media blackout after the nonstop provocations of the Pure Comedy era. It appears that he’s following a similar playbook for the forthcoming Chloë And The Next 20th Century, which was previewed this month by the first single, “Funny Girl.” Lyrically, the song finds Misty in familiar territory, as he paints a portrait of a distant starlet from the point of view of a lowly observer with some dryly hilarious details. (“Funny girl, your schedule is pretty crazy / doing interviews for the new live-action Cathy.“) Musically, however, he pivots from his usual melodic folk rock to a debauched pop crooner pose, sounding like a Mad magazine parody of Harry Connick Jr. Does this represent the sound of the rest of the record? We’ll talk more about that soon.
3. The Smile, “The Smoke”
Radiohead hasn’t put out a new album in five years, but in the meantime it looks like Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are returning to their band’s rocking roots with the new side project, The Smile. Their first single released this month, “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” is their hardest hitting music in years, with an undertow of sinister malevolence that recalls the pissed-off Bush-era rants on Hail To The Thief. The second single dropped by The Smile in January, “The Smoke,” is more laidback and slinky, sounding like Yorke’s prior side project Atoms For Peace with a serrated edge. My only reservation thus far with The Smile: Why didn’t they invite Ed O’Brien? This seems like exactly the kind of music he’s been dying to make in Radiohead since the late ’90s.
4. Good Looks, “Almost Automatic”
The publicist for these newcomers from Austin, Texas reached out to me back in September about their forthcoming debut album, Bummer Year, which was finally announced publicly this month. “I thought to myself that Steven Hyden would like this,” he said. Guess what? He was right! Good Looks have have been described as “socialist heartland rock.” I can’t speak to the socialist part, but in the video for their new single “Almost Automatic” you do them playing in the middle of a cow pasture, which is certainly heartland rock-y. But it’s not heartland rock in the way it’s commonly defined now, which is basically “reminiscent of Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A.” period. This is like the forgotten side of heartland rock, with the small-town narratives of John Mellencamp’s mid-’80s records set to the rousing county-fair anthems of The BoDeans.
5. Melody’s Echo Chamber, “Looking Backward”
This modern master of psychedelic pop naturally slots in with acts like Tame Impala and Dungen, though the music of Melody’s Echo Chamber has an ethereal quality that enhances both the trippy and poppy aspects of the music. The forthcoming Emotional Eternal, due April 29, is the first MEC album in four years, though it’s not all that far removed from 2018’s winning Bon Voyage. If you like the sound of harpsichords set against boisterously syncopated drums, this music will feel like bathing your eardrums in honey.
6. Jana Horn, Optimism
This Texas-based singer-songwriter aspires both to the rich tradition of literary Americana singer-songwriter music her state is known for, as well as the atmospheric vibes of Velvet Underground-inspired indie rock. The result is a beguiling debut effort in Optimism, in which Horn relates in an affectless, conversational tone a series of short stories about characters who arrive at small moments of catharsis and dissolution. While I’ve only experienced Optimism as music, I suspect the album would also work just as well on the page. (Horn is a post-graduate fiction writer.) I look forward to these songs revealing deeper secrets the more I play this record.
7. Guerilla Toss, “Cannibal Capital”
This upstate New York band doesn’t like to sit still, literally or figuratively. They combine a high-energy punk ethos with strains of funk and dance music, along with a free-wheeling live show that frequently delves into jams amid a constantly shifting setlist. (They even encourage fans to tape their shows.) Their new album, Famously Alive, due March 25, is loaded with bangers, including the album’s first single, which boasts perhaps the best bassline of the month.
8. M.J. Lenderman, “Hangover Game”
I regrettably slept on Twin Plagues, the 2021 album by the Asheville, North Carolina band Wednesday that somehow combines thick shoegaze riffs with wistful old-time country accents. So I’m determined to get on the bandwagon early for Boat Songs, the forthcoming solo record by Wednesday guitarist M.J. Lenderman due out April 29. On his own record, Lenderman plays a more straightforward kind of choogle, favoring funky country licks and leaning into his back-porch vocal twang. The first single from Boat Songs, “Hangover Game,” is one of the album’s best tracks, with Lenderman singing the praises of Michael Jordan over chunky guitars that recall A.M.-era Wilco .