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. Boygenius, “True Blue”
This part-time supergroup automatically becomes one of the biggest bands in indie rock whenever Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker decide to work together. It’s hard to believe that they only have one EP to their name, but that will change in March with the release of their first full-length, The Record. The album was previewed this month by three singles — one written by each member — that showcased how the individual Boygeniuses sound even more like themselves in a group context. Baker’s “$20” is the intense emo-rocker, Bridgers’ “Emily I’m Sorry” is the wistful Elliott Smith homage, and Dacus’ “True Blue” is the sharply observed relationship number. All three are worthy songs, though I give the slight edge to Dacus, if only for this characteristically evocative verse: “You’ve never done me wrong / Except for that one time / That we don’t talk about / Because it doesn’t matter anymore / Who won the fight? / I don’t know / We’re not keeping score.”
2. The National, “Tropic Morning News”
When I saw the most reliable band/brand in indie rock last summer, I was excited by how guitar-heavy the new songs they were previewing were. So I was happy to find that “Tropic Morning News” — one of my favorite numbers from the tour, and the first single from the forthcoming album First Two Pages Of Frankenstein — pretty much retains the energy I loved from the live version. The headline from the new record is the number of high-profile cameos (Taylor Swift! Phoebe.Bridgers! Sufjan Stevens!) which can be a red flag for a potentially cluttered and unfocused effort. But “Tropic Morning News” gives me hope that The National will retain their ineffable National-ness.
3. Wednesday, “Chosen To Deserve”
One of my most anticipated albums of 2023 is the latest from this North Carolina band, Rat Saw God, and the latest single has not lowered my expectations. Karly Hartzman has acknowledged the influence of Drive-By Truckers on her own observational style and the subject matter she’s drawn to — mainly the ins and outs of sleepy southern communities with dark secrets — and this song plays like a full-on tribute to albums like The Dirty South and Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Can’t wait to hear more.
4. John Cale, Mercy
If John Cale had stopped making music in 1970, he would still be a legend as a founding member of The Velvet Underground. But the man has always resisted resting on his laurels, as he’s pushed forward with records that toe the line between rock accessibility and avant-garde perversity. His latest album leans every so slightly toward the latter, even with a big-name supporting cast of indie luminaries (including Dev Hynes, Sylvan Esso, Weyes Blood, and both Panda Bear and Avey Tare of Animal Collective). The overall vibe is perhaps described as “dark and moody sex-goth dungeon,” which I swear is a compliment for the 17th solo record by an 80-year-old icon.
5. White Reaper, Asking For A Ride
When this Louisville band broke out in 2017 with their lovable second album, The World’s Greatest American Rock Band, they were an indie act commenting on the history of mainstream arena rock. But the record’s fist-pumping Thin Lizzy homages were so convincing that they actually became a mainstream rock band upon signing to Elektra for their next LP, You Deserve Love, which spawned the hooky radio hit “Might Be Right.” For their latest record, White Reaper has split the difference between their scrappy indie roots and present-day glossy trappings, producing their hardest rocking songs since World’s Greatest without skimping on the radio-friendly hooks. At their best, they’re like a modern-day Cheap Trick — middle American rock lifers whose sly sense of humor adds a subversive edge to grabby rock anthems.
6. Zach Bryan, All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live From Red Rocks)
Bryan’s breakout 2022 album American Heartbreak was one of my favorite releases of last year, and I’m still discovering new tunes I love from it. At 34 tracks, there is a lot to plow through on that record. Which is why this live LP, which dropped at the end of December, might be an even better entry point for neophytes. Clocking in at 24 songs, it’s a relatively svelte survey of Bryan’s rapidly growing body of work, and the adoring audience could not be more excited to anoint him their new Americana savior. The rambunctious sing-alongs that seemingly greet him at every turn — this is like an old-school Dashboard Confessional gig times 10 — speaks to his burgeoning superstar status.
7. Leland Whitty, Anyhow
January is a slow month when it comes to new releases, so I spent a good amount of time catching up with records I missed, either via year-end lists or reviews of albums that were released (and therefore overlooked) during year-end list season. This record, which dropped in early December, is one of my favorite discoveries in that regard. I’ve been a casual fan of the Canadian jazz-funk outfit BADBADNOTGOOD for a while now. But I don’t know that any of their records have hooked me quite like this solo effort from the band’s multi-instrumentalist. On his own, Whitty’s music takes on more of a psychedelic pop feel, with lots of delectably retro instrumental tones, kind of like Air’s Moon Safari with more saxophone.
8. Danny Arakaki, Tumble In Shade
Like Whitty, Arakaki is best known for his work with a jammy indie outfit. As a singer/guitarist in Garcia Peoples, he explores the space between the Grateful Dead and indie-jam luminaries like Pavement and Yo La Tengo. On his own, his music tends to lean more toward the latter. Tumble In Shade is a likably shaggy collection of songs that recalls the foggiest and most exploratory albums in the aforementioned bands’ catalog, like a cross between the most ramshackle parts of Terror Twilight and the dreamiest interludes on Summer Sun.
9. The Tubs, Dead Meat
This album only came out a few days ago, but it’s already one of my most-played records of the month. This British band plays strummy and zippy jangle rock that’s immediately reminiscent of bands like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, but Owen “O” Williams’ vocals add another texture to the mix. Because he sounds a bit like Richard Thompson — or like Bob Mould doing his Richard Thompson impersonation on Workbook — Dead Meat has a pleasing British folk flavor. While the tunes deliver a jolt with their rapid BPMs, the melodies would shine just as brightly if played at half the pace.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.