Steven Hyden’s Favorite Music Of August 2022

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. Arctic Monkeys, “There’d Better Be A Mirrorball”

One of the best and most popular British rock bands of the past decade announced their first album in four years, The Car, this month. Judging by the tracklist, the Monkeys appear to be continuing their GBV-like descent (or is it ascent?) into screamingly obscure song titles. (I am excited to hear “Jet Skis On The Moat” myself.) As for the music, the one sample we have so far is this heartbroken lounge ballad that hews close sonically to the debauched torch-song vibe of 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (minus the sci-fi element). I was a big fan of that strange, singular and polarizing record — and still am, having revisited recently — but I hope The Car also includes some nods to the riff-heavy, sexy and leather-jacketed rock of their 2013 landmark LP A.M.

2. Cass McCombs, Heartmind

Earlier this month a reader asked if this perennially underrated singer-songwriter has passed my Five Albums Test upon the release of his latest LP (and 10th overall), Heartmind. Actually, he passed it well before now. It just depends on how far back you go with him. For me, he’s been one of the most reliable artists in the indie sphere going back at least a decade, to the sparkling 2011 double shot of Wit’s End and Humor Risk. Though hardcore fans will likely make a case for his aughts-era work, particularly albums like 2007’s Dropping The Writ and 2009’s Catacombs. For me, Heartmind doesn’t quite meet the standard of recent masterworks like 2016’s Mangy Love and 2019’s Tip Of The Sphere, in which McCombs unleashed his inner Jerry Garcia and snaked dreamy guitar solos throughout his enigmatic songs. Heartmind is less guitar-centric, favoring a jazzy vibe that is less immediate. But over time, it really gets under your skin.

3. The National and Bartees Strange, “Mistaken For Strangers” (Live in Dillion, Colo. 8/10/22)

This month I traveled to Utah to meet up with Bartees Strange on a short tour through the western U.S. and Canada with The National. It was a fun and wonderfully strange experience. If you ever get the chance to visit Salt Lake City, do it. To quote myself: “When you’re downtown, you can’t take in the mountain vistas that ring the city without also seeing a monument to the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints lurking in your peripheral vision. But I don’t want to reduce Salt Lake City to a series of Mormon cliches. There are other distinctive attributes. The High School Musical films were made here. There is a surprisingly vibrant Mexican restaurant scene. You can’t order a cheeseburger without someone putting some pastrami on it. Famously, if you get pizza delivered to your hotel room, you might get sick and subsequently be willed to iconic feats of sports excellence. There is no other city quite like it.”

A highlight of this tour was Bartees joining The National for “Mistaken For Strangers.” The video above was taken the day after the show I saw.

4. 2nd Grade, “Strung Out On You”

This Philadelphia band will release one of my favorite albums of 2022, Easy Listening, in September. I’ll have more to say about that next month, but for now, let’s celebrate this deeply pleasurable slice of power-pop goodness released in advance of the record. Led by singer-songwriter and Beach Boys fanatic Peter Gill — who also plays in another very good band, Friendship, which dropped a very good record, Love Is Stranger, in July — 2nd Grade play very short and very catchy songs that draw on a well-curated set of indie-leaning pop-rock sources: Big Star, Guided By Voices, The Raspberries, Teenage Fanclub, Sloan. On “Strung Out On You,” Gill utilizes all of the best tricks for this kind of music — jangly guitars, handclaps, gooey vocals, and irresistible rhythmic bounce.

5. Kiwi Jr., Chopper

This prolific Canadian band — Chopper is their third album in three years — is typically compared to Pavement, because the singer sounds a little like Stephen Malkmus while affecting a slightly aloof and witty lyrical posture. (Which means that they’re also described as a northern Parquet Courts.). Being compared to great bands is a double-edged sword, of course, and given Kiwi Jr.’s rapidly growing body of work it seems unfair at this point. Produced by Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, Chopper is their best and slickest record yet, tightening up their patented slacker rock with shiny New Wave accents. At its best, Kiwi Jr. sound like The Cars for the agitated TikTok generation. (Yes, I just compared them to another great band but I swear it’s appropriate.)

6. Eli Winter, Eli Winter

Every August needs at least one Americana-tinged instrumental guitar record, in which blissed-out finger-picking designed to soundtrack sunsets occasionally slip into storms of noise and feedback. This month, Eli Winter was that record for me. So many instrumental guitar albums feel more like collections of jams rather than a set of actual songs. But Winter knows how to balance exploratory solos with a sense of purpose and structure, and he builds this six-track self-titled album in such a way that the cumulative effect amounts to something greater than the attendant parts. It helps that he has precisely the supporting cast you would want on an album like this, including Ryley Walker, David Grubbs, and Yasmin Williams.