Steven Hyden’s Favorite Music Of May 2023

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. Westerman, An Inbuilt Fault

The British soft-rock singer-songwriter Will Westerman has been putting out hooky, haunting singles since the late 2010s. But it took until 2020 for him to finally release his debut full-length album, Your Hero Is Not Dead. While I like that record, he really turned a corner with this month’s An Inbuilt Fault, which takes the central idea of his project — “What if Sting made a Bon Iver record?” — and makes it sound as smooth and strange as that description suggests. I would love for somebody to give this guy $2 million and access to the studio cats who made Gaucho so we can see what he really can do.

2. Bar Italia, Tracey Denim

The wave of post-punk bands that have poured out of the U.K. in the past several years have tended to lean on the most guttural, talk-y, and dissonant aspects of the music, like Mark E. Smith himself took a massive piss in their cereal bowls every morning. Fortunately, this London band takes an alternate route, favoring the sleek and sexy side of esoteric art rock. On Tracey Denim, I hear echoes of The Cure, early aughts Radiohead, and the underrated Baltimore indie outfit Lower Dens. A very cool record.

3. En Attendant Ana, Principia

This under-the-radar French band has the trappings of a ’60s-inspired garage-rock outfit. But because they’re French, it comes out sounding cleaner and breezier, with plenty of chiming guitars and cool bass and drum sounds. Think Alvvays but with less fuzz. This album actually dropped in February, but it didn’t come across my radar until this month. And that seems appropriate, as this is a late spring album all the way.

4. Paul Simon, Seven Psalms

After announcing his retirement from touring in 2018, this iconic singer-songwriter has mostly stayed out of the public spotlight. But now he’s back with one of his most unusual records, a 33-minute block of music that is separated into seven different movements intended to be taken in all at once. As you might expect from an 81-year-old artist, Simon has mortality on the brain, a subject that also recurs throughout later albums like 2011’s exemplary So Beautiful Or So What. On that record, he writes playfully about the afterlife. But here, his conversations with God feel extra charged, even as the music — with extrapolates his bedrock folk style with quasi-classical flourishes — remains melodic and soothing. A man who once sang sardonically of “angels in the architecture,” Simon now earnestly seeks the comfort of those heavenly creatures on Seven Psalms.

5. Tinariwen, Amatssou

The most reliable brand in Tuareg “desert rock,” Tinariwen has built an American audience by collaborating with stateside rock musicians. That continues on Amatssou, with the most crucial guest star, producer Daniel Lanois, providing the patented atmosphere that he has brought to albums by everybody from Bob Dylan to U2 to Emmylou Harris. The result is a record that can sit comfortably with the rest of their vaunted catalog while also drifting a bit from their familiar yet potent formula.

6. Mandy, Indiana, I’ve Seen A Way

These feisty Europeans — there are three Brits and one Parisian — kick up quite the foreboding blast of noise on their debut album, I’ve Seen A Way. Dance grooves and pulsating synths collide with scratchy sonics and largely intelligible vocals that nevertheless communicate a sense of exciting doom and gloom. I suspect that music coordinators for dark prestige dramas looking for a shortcut to sonically convey mental and emotional disintegration are going to have a field day with this record.

7. Mark McGuire, A Pocketful Of Rain

Originally released as a double cassette and CD-R in 2009, this underground cult favorite was recently given fresh exposure via a reissue from the small indie label Husky Pants. Best known as a member of the aughts-era electronic duo Emeralds, McGuire applies the principles of hypnotic ambient music to the guitar, creating a beguiling web of loops and repetitive riffs that take on a meditative quality over the course of several minutes. There are also very short one-minute tracks that come and go quickly while leaving a last impression. The overall album, however, like Paul Simon’s Seven Psalms, feels like it is best appreciated if taken in all at once.

8. Charlotte Cornfield, Could Have Done Anything

This month’s “this is slowly growing on me and might eventually end up overtaking music I thought I liked more” album. This low-key Canadian singer-songwriter cannily combines the usual piano and acoustic guitar instrumentation with subtle electronic touches, a testament to the deft production of Josh Kaufman. Like Kaufman’s band Bonny Light Horseman, Cornfield is skilled at building songs that start simply and then build to emotionally satisfying payoffs without seeming to build much at all. Instead, her songs unfold like flower blossoms, as if you have already heard them dozens of times before. It’s a measured, unflashy style that quietly awes the more time you spend with it.