Every month, Uproxx cultural critic Steven Hyden makes an unranked list of his favorite music-related items — songs, albums, books, films, you name it — of the month.
1. Low, “All Night”
Likely my favorite song of the year, and it comes from likely my favorite album of the year. Low has been a well-respected indie institution shepherded by the husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker for nearly three decades, but they are now making the greatest music of their lives. I can’t think of another legacy act who has pulled off a transformation so incredible at this point in their career. As producer B.J. Burton put it to me in an interview published this week, “Alan and Mim have this vibe that they write these songs from heaven.” And then they tasked Burton to take them into hell. If this isn’t in the trailer for the next Safdie Brothers movie, somebody messed up.
2. David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” in the Licorice Pizza trailer
Speaking of trailers, there was some grumbling online about using this Hunky Dory classic in the thoroughly charming teaser for the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie. “Too obvious!” the social media critics railed. I am a firm believer that we are all entitled to our own opinions. However, in the case of the Licorice Pizza trailer, I’ll just say this: If you watched that knowing PTA’s history of never being obvious or predictable in his actual films — advertisements are a different story, of course — and you still decided to do the knee-jerk killjoy act, I’m sorry, but your opinion-having privileges have been temporarily suspended.
3. Aeon Station, “Queens”
Back in January, I interviewed Charles Bissell of legendary New Jersey indie band the Wrens. At the time, it appeared that their long, loooooong awaited follow-up to the 2003 masterpiece The Meadowlands might finally see release this year. Flash forward nine months and — surprise, surprise! — there’s no new Wrens album. But there will be a new record from the other main songwriter in the Wrens, Kevin Whelan, in the form of splinter act, Aeon Station, which will release Observatory in December. But what about Bissell? In our interview, he was optimistic about putting out the music … eventually? “I think this record will come out and I’m proud of it, I think,” he said. “It’s pretty good, I think.” Fingers crossed!
4. Tonstartssbandht, “What Has Happened”
This Florida-based duo — it’s pronounced “Tone-starts-band-hut,” by the way — has been highly prolific since forming in 2008, putting out a whopping 17 records. But the forthcoming Petunia is their first since 2017, and it feels like a potential breakthrough, with the excellent new single “What Has Happened” sounding like a jammier Radiohead during their Hail To The Thief era.
5. Andy Shauf, Wilds
When I spoke with this understated, story-oriented singer-songwriter in 2020, he revealed that he wrote 50 songs for The Neon Skyline, his concept album about a neighborhood bar and the patrons who drink there. He said it was part of a process in which he slowly pieced together an over-arching story. “I would write a batch where one main point has to happen, and then write four songs in that direction, and then be like, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’” he said. “Then those songs are scrapped and I have to write four more.” Nine of those leftover songs ended up on Wilds, a surprise companion LP that works surprisingly well outside of The Neon Skyline despite revisiting the same characters. It helps that Schauf is as skilled at producing gloriously retro instrumental tones as he is at spinning evocative narratives.
6. The War On Drugs, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”
One of my favorite songs on the forthcoming War On Drugs album, which is also titled I Don’t Live Here Anymore. If I were a nitpicker, I would point out that it’s really hard to dance to “Desolation Row.” But I am not a nitpicker when it comes to this song, probably because the “Shelter From The Storm” subtweet at the start totally disarms me.
7. Karen Dalton: In My Own Time
A strikingly beautiful folk singer with an unusual, otherworldly blues voice that’s been likened to Billie Holiday, Karen Dalton is precisely the sort of hard-luck musician who seemed predestined for cult obscurity. A contemporary of Bob Dylan in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s, Dalton released just two studio albums, 1969’s It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best and 1971’s In My Own Time, before substance abuse problems torpedoed her career. In 1993, she died from an AIDS-related illness. She was only 55. Since then, her music has become a touchstone for younger generations of indie-folk artists like Joanna Newsom and Devandra Banhart. But she remains largely unknown, without the mainstream exposure that made Nick Drake a posthumous star. Hopefully, this documentary (which premieres Friday) will help to rectify that. Part of the mystery of Dalton is that there’s so little video footage of her, but In My Own Time crucially helps to fill in some of those gaps. Even if you already know and love Dalton’s music, the film will feel like a fresh introduction.
8. Pastor T.L. Barrett And The Youth For Christ Choir, I Shall Wear A Crown
Listening to Karen Dalton inevitably sends the mind and spirit down some dark corridors. So, I recommend playing this wondrous five-LP box set as a chaser. Barrett and choir — made up entirely of teenagers — originally released the rousing Like A Ship … in 1971, though it wasn’t widely heard until the essential reissue label Light In The Attic put it out in 2010. It achieved a measure of notoriety when Kanye West sampled a song on The Life Of Pablo, but much of the pop gospel gems on I Shall Wear A Crown remain ripe for discovery. Employing bright, jazzy piano chords, splashy horns, and funky guitar against a chorus of life-affirming voices, this is simply some of the sunniest and uplifting music you will wear this year. Guaranteed to put any and all listeners in a good mood.
9. Silverbacks, “Wear My Medals”
There’s been no shortage of talky post-punk bands to emerge from Europe in recent years. But Ireland’s own Silverbacks leaven the usual formula — spiky guitars, dead-eyed vocals, chaotic rhythms — with bursts of sunny, ’60s-style guitar pop melody. You can hear this on the winning new single “Wear My Medals.”
10. The New Gang Of Youths Album That Hasn’t Come Out Yet
Earlier this month, I chatted with Dave Le’aupepe of the great Australian band Gang Of Youths about their long-in-the-works follow-up to 2017’s masterful Go Farther In Lightness. Based on some tracks that Dave shared with me, it sounds like an early AOTY candidate for 2022. In the meantime, the song “Unison” from the recent Total Serene EP is a good hint at the epic in the works.
11. Donald Fagen, The Nightfly: Live
There are two Steely Dan-related live albums that dropped this month — the greatest hits-oriented Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live! and this revisiting of Fagen’s 1982 debut. In truth, they’re both Fagen solo records, in which the 73-year-old is backed by disgustingly skilled players. It’s just that Northeast Corridor sticks with the brand. Not that I’m complaining — I am of course an unrepentant Dan-head so I dig both albums. Though it’s still a little weird to me to hear a Steely Dan record without the other half of Steely Dan, Walter Becker, who passed away in 2017. Apparently it’s weird for Fagen, too, according to this excellent interview published this month: “I was used to trying to keep things afloat. Though the fact that he simply isn’t there is kind of frightening. But in a way he’s always there. He’s in my body, we’ve been together for so long, he’s like my brother, you know.” Gulp.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.