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. Father John Misty, Chloë And The Next 20th Century
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the latest Father John Misty album is the least FJM-centric FJM record yet. In fact, the usual protagonist has gone completely missing. Rather than write about the familiar swaggering anti-hero, Josh Tillman has instead focused on his other made-up characters — the titular “borough socialist” Chloë, a striving entertainment biz creative named Simone, the actress known as Funny Girl, an unnamed pair of ex-lovers who are reunited by their recently deceased cat Mr. Blue. As for revelations about Tillman’s personal life, it appears that the author has (smartly) retreated into the life of a family man who is suddenly averse to oversharing or further exposing himself to a hostile outside world. (This extends to the promotion of Chloë — once a reliable driver of traffic for indie-music sites, he hasn’t given an interview in several years.) For some long-time followers, this might register as an unwelcome development, like tuning into a new season of Mad Men and noticing that Don Draper no longer is part of the show. As it is, Chloë is by far the least accessible album Tillman has made under the Father John Misty moniker. The easy entry point that the character provided — like Draper, Misty provided both vicarious bad-boy highs and bracing morning-after lows — has gone missing. The album presents Tillman at his most writerly, unfolding more like a collection of short stories observed from a distant remove than the exaggerated autobiography of the previous records.
2. Kurt Vile, (Watch My Moves)
When Kurt Vile was in his 20s, he was known around the Philadelphia music scene as “the CD-R guy,” an eccentric hustler constantly trying to get people to pay attention to his melancholy, lo-fi psych-folk songs dubbed on cheap circular plastic. But now that Vile is in his 40s and has firmly established a well-respected career as one of the most consistent and unique singer-songwriters in indie rock, he knows he doesn’t have to push so hard. “I’m not too worried about anything really,” he told me during a recent interview. “I feel like I’ve proved a lot on this album, to be honest. But at the same time, I have nothing to prove.” The album to which he refers is (Watch My Moves), his eighth solo LP. While Vile is justifiably proud of the record, he conceded that listeners might need to spend some time with it before it fully sinks in. In the 2010s, Vile earned comparisons to classic rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty thanks to durably hooky indie hits like “Baby’s Arms,” “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” and “Pretty Pimpin.” But lately, he’s favored dreamier grooves and free-floating arrangements that let songs drift for several minutes, as if lost in a stoned reverie. The languid epics of 2018’s Bottle It In signaled this change in direction, and (Watch My Moves) fortifies it.
3. Jack White, Fear Of The Dawn
Like the rest of us, it appears that Jack sort of lost his damn mind during the shutdown. He has said that he stopped writing songs for a spell during the pandemic and focused instead on making furniture. Then he took to fasting for up to five days at a time, which sparked his creativity. Oh, and he also dyed his hair blue, which he claims has made him less recognizable at his neighborhood Target, though I suspect that White likely became more noticeable once he resembled an extra from The Fifth Element. As for his music, White hasn’t ditched the layered sound of 2018’s Boarding House Reach in favor of the austerity of old. If anything, Fear Of The Dawn is even busier than its predecessor, with songs unfolding as a series of sections that crash unpredictably into each other. One of the better tracks, “Eosophobia” — which translates to “fear of the dawn” — starts out as stuttering stoner metal, then opens up into a prog breakdown beamed in from an ’80s Rush record, and finally climaxes with some aggressive rap-rock caterwauling. And then there’s “Hi De Ho,” the bewildering early single that marries a Cab Calloway sample, a hip-hop verse from Q-Tip, White’s own mock-operatic belting, and some herky-jerky synth-rock riffage. It’s a mess! And if you didn’t like Boarding House Reach, I suspect it will give you a headache. But if you’re in the pro-BHR camp like I am, well, I say bless this mess!
4. Good Looks, Bummer Year
I’ve written in past installments of the monthly column about this Texas band’s song “Almost Automatic,” the kind of slice-of-life heartland rock tune that I am almost comically pre-disposed to love. Good Looks’ full-length debut album, Bummer Year, dropped earlier this month, and while no song quite tops “Almost Automatic” the rest of the record can certainly sit comfortably with that stunner. Tragically, the band’s guitarist Jake Ames was struck by a car on the night of their album release show in Austin. According to Jake’s GoFundMe page, he appears to be on the mend. Here’s hoping he’s back with Good Looks soon, so they can get back to building a promising career.
5. M.J. Lenderman, Boat Songs
Here’s another album I have been talking up for literal months in this column, to the point where I’ve tricked myself into thinking that’s already come out and established itself as one of 2022’s best albums. But in reality, it is finally out as of today. So, as I’ve said before, if you’re looking for an alt-country-ish record with funny lyrics littered with sports and pop culture references, please Boat Songs in your ears and leave it there until Labor Day.
6. Nightlands, “Moonshine”
This side project from War On Drugs bassist Dave Hartley diverges from that band’s expansive ’80s-leaning rock sound in favor of something that’s sonically ethereal and surprisingly playful. On their latest single “Moonshine” — the title track from Nightlands’ forthcoming album, due July 15 — he marries New Age vocals with low-key electronics. I can’t get it out of my head.
7. Wet Tuna, Warping All By Yourself
Matt Valentine is one of the modern masters of the intersection of indie rock and jam band music. While he’s best known for the group MV & EE, he’s lately been putting out music under the name Wet Tuna, taking a psych-rock approach to ’70s funk and jazz fusion. The third Wet Tuna album, Warping All By Yourself, is the best realization yet of this aesthetic. If you dig Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Songs In The Key of Life era Stevie Wonder, and the funkiest and most coked-out disco elements of late ’70s Grateful Dead, you will enjoy this.