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 Rolling Stones, Hackney Diamonds
I agree with the critical consensus that this is a good late-period Stones record. About half of the album is composed of enjoyably solid songs (this includes the single and obvious standout “Sweet Sounds Of Heaven”) while the other half is made up of enjoyably stupid songs (this includes the other single and “convenient excuse to turn Sydney Sweeney into a video vixen” vehicle “Angry”). Another of the “enjoyably stupid” songs, “Live By The Sword,” is one of two tracks to feature the late Charlie Watts, and the only number since 1989’s Steel Wheels to also include original bassist Bill Wyman. (Though the real reason I can’t get “Live By The Sword” out of my head is that the melody is vaguely reminiscent of “The Diarrhea Song.”) The M.O. for primary producer Andrew Watt was to modernize the Stones while retaining their aforementioned “quintessentially Stonesy” quality, and he’s mostly succeeded. They sound muscular but not lumbering, catchy but not overly pandering to contemporary trends, and (most importantly) “admirably dignified” without appearing “terrifyingly old.”
2. Squirrel Flower, Tomorrow’s Fire
Ella Williams’ once semi-jokingly referred to the music she makes as Squirrel Flower as “prairie-folk,” a nod to her past as a college student in Iowa. While I appreciated Williams’ songs when she worked in this sonically modest lane, they didn’t hit me the way her latest record does. While Williams retains the sensitivity of her previous work, she has embraced full-on rock bombast on Tomorrow’s Fire in a manner that reminds me of Sharon Van Etten’s Patti Smith turn on Remind Me Tomorrow. Like Van Etten, Williams knows how to juxtapose her knowing vocals with foreboding, heavy riffing atmosphere, which pulls you deep into this record’s dark but inviting world.
3. Dusk, Glass Pastures
My favorite genre of 2023 is roughhewn and twangy indie rock with blown-out guitars and loads of pedal steel. If the term weren’t out of fashion I would simply say “alt-country” because that’s essentially what albums like Wednesday’s Rat Saw God and Florry’s The Holey Bible are. And that’s essentially what Glass Pastures is, too. I would love Dusk if they only hailed from my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. (The band’s leader, Amos Pitsch, also fronts the excellent punk band Tenement. He’s a one-man indie-rock Chamber Of Commerce in my place of birth.) With Glass Pastures, he’s made the Midwestern version of those sorta alt-country records I love from the south.
4. The Gaslight Anthem, History Books
When these Jersey arena-punks reconvened after a long hiatus (which really felt like a break-up) for a tour in 2022 Brian Fallon insisted that it would not just be a cash-grab reunion. New music was always part of the equation. But given the long break since 2014’s Get Hurt — and Fallon’s own turn toward introspective singer-songwriter music — it was natural to wonder whether GLA could pick back up their classic, well, anthemic sound. When they dropped the title track of their new album — a duet with none other than Bruce Springsteen — a few months back, those doubts were mostly alleviated. Now that the entire LP is in the world, they are officially put to bed. After the dour Get Hurt, History Books restores the muscular classic-rockisms that marked albums like American Slang and Handwritten, while also integrating the thoughtful maturity of Fallon’s solo work.
5. Mannequin Pussy, “I Got Heaven”
Has it really been four years since Patience? On that album, Mannequin Pussy made it clear that they make nü-grunge rock as well as anybody, an impressive feat given that you can’t throw a Dr. Marten boot without hitting an indie band attempting to emulate the peak of the Alternative Nation era. While Mannequin Pussy did put out an EP, Perfect, in 2021, the forthcoming I Got Heaven (due in March) represents their first full-throated statement in quite some time. And judging by the title track, it appears that their grasp of melody and heaviness has only grown cannier over time.
6. Prize Horse, “Your Time”
Do you need more nü-grunge in your life. This emerging Minneapolis band classifies themselves as “alternative rock,” even though (I’m guessing) the members weren’t born in even the same decade as Superunknown. Nevertheless, this single smokes in a Hum circa Downward Is Heavenward sort of way. I’m officially looking forward to their debut LP dropping in 2024.
7. Bory, “We Both Won”
The Shins’ second album Chutes Too Narrow turned 20 this month, which inspired me to put on a pivotal record of my personal mid-20s era for the first time in many years. And I was pleased to discover that it held all the way up. Though it also made me pine for a new band that is expert in the ways of jangly rock from the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, the winning Portland outfit Bory arrived just in time to announce their upcoming LP, Who’s A Good Boy, due in December. I’ll have more to say about the record at a later date, but for now let’s marinate in the catchy melancholy of this really good single.
8. Lightheaded, Good Good Great!
If I told you this EP came out this month via Slumberland Records, you can probably deduce what it sounds like. Yes, this is another example of me reaching for jangly sad-sack rock right in time for autumn. But there are also some audible ’60s pop influences here as well — if (like me) you care about The Left Banke, Millenium and/or The Association, this will be an extremely happy 15-minute listen for you.
9. Robbie Robertson, Killers Of The Flower Moon (Soundtrack From The Apple Original Film)
A worthy and haunting epitaph to a legendary career. Martin Scorsese dedicated his latest epic to Robertson, a long-time friend who passed away in August, but the music composed by the former guitarist for The Band is an even more powerful memorial. A deft mix of blues, gospel, and Indigenous music, the Killers Of The Flower Moon score stands apart as an album like no other film score since Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ landmark music for The Social Network. I listened to it repeatedly this month while on a drive through northern Wisconsin, and I’m convinced it’s one of the very best records of the year.