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. Alex G, God Save The Animals
My issue with Alex G in the past is that his songs are so opaque that it sometimes seems like they’re not about anything. I didn’t fully take into account that this might be on purpose, given the ways in which he deliberately takes himself out of his own songs by manipulating his voice and disappearing into characters. But starting with 2020’s House Of Sugar and especially this album, I think he’s really mastered a sound and mood that’s specific to him. There’s a real modernist-retro thing going on with his music, in that you have hallmarks of old-school singer-songwriters (if we classify Elliott Smith as old school) combined with contemporary pop and R&B influences. Even that isn’t super original to him at this point, but he has been honing this aesthetic for a while now, and he’s now the undisputed champ of the style.
2. 2nd Grade, Easy Listening
If you know the tropes of power pop, you won’t find any surprises on the latest LP from this Philadelphia band. Are there jangly guitars? Yes. Do the vocals sound boyish in a melancholy sort of way? Of course. Are the lyrics replete with references to Beatles and Beach Boys songs? No question. Is there a generous supply of handclaps and gooey backing vocals? As if you need to ask! The point of power pop is never originality; it’s about musical craft and hitting the listener’s pleasure centers over and over via ruthlessly efficient and svelte songwriting. And on those counts, Easy Listening is a smashing success and one of my favorite albums of the year.
3. Mo Troper, MTV
For the past 50 years, there have always been bands committed to the art of making super hooky guitar-pop songs about heartache and horniness. This kind of music might not attract a huge audience, but the listeners who are into it are committed. And, sometimes, that fidelity is rewarded with a fresh wave of greatness. Believe it or not, but it appears that 2022 might be one of those times. There has been a cadre of very good and well-received power-pop albums this year, including the aforementioned Easy Listening and MTV, the newest album by Portland-based singer-songwriter Mo Troper. He came on my radar in 2021 when he put out an album called Dilettante, which has 28 songs that go by in about 50 minutes. The songs are slightly longer on MTV, but his aesthetic remains a delectable combination of lo-fi sloppiness and top-notch songcraft.
4. Wilco, “Venus Stop The Train”
I spent a lot of time this month immersed in the massive Yankee Hotel Foxtrot box set, which drops today. I’ve often said that my favorite Wilco album is a bootleg of YHF outtakes, and the box set expands the number of demos and alternate takes by several factors. As great as the record is, the long and restless journey in search of that greatness has always been more fascinating to me, for the same reason that rock geeks have long obsessed over the making of similarly “difficult” paradigm-shifting curveballs like Pet Sounds, Tusk, and Kid A. For many months during 2000 and ’01 at The Loft, Wilco’s north side Chicago rehearsal space and studio, they ran through countless different versions of the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot songs. In the process, they touched on nearly every corner of modern music history, dabbling in classic Brill Building pop, spacey psychedelia, blistering krautrock, rustic folk, surly garage punk, bubblegum funk, John Cage-inspired dissonance, and various points in-between. (There are also the fan favorites that didn’t make the album, like “Venus Stop The Train.”)
5. Young Jesus, Shepherd Head
Whenever I hear people complain that modern indie is too safe or not experimental enough, I always think about this woefully underrated L.A. band, because they seem precisely like the sort of group those people should love. Young Jesus certainly is one of the few bands in modern indie that I can say has never made the same album twice. After the expansive and jammy rock of 2020’s Welcome To Conceptual Beach, the new one gives me a Talk Talk vibe. It’s an experimental art-pop record that’s more art than pop. I think it’s pretty spellbinding, and really shows how Young Jesus is continuing to evolve.
6. Elkhorn, Distances
This guitar duo describes themselves as “interweaving the extended folk tradition with psychedelic improvisation, moving freely from pre-rock to post-rock and beyond.” I would describe this record as “pop an edible and watch the sunset” music. But either classification is apt.
7. Built To Spill, When The Wind Forgets Your Name
The latest from the venerable indie institution is my favorite thing they’ve done since You In Reverse. Though I can’t really say why, exactly, because it’s not that different from their other recent-ish albums. I just like the songs more. This is them working in There’s Nothing Wrong With Love mode, where it’s more about poppy melodies than long guitar solos. BTS strikes me as a band that new generations will continue to discover, because while they are an archetypal ’90s indie band there aren’t a lot of things that date them to that period. And that’s probably because — unlike, say, Pavement — their deal has almost nothing to do with lyrics or an image and everything to do with cool guitar parts and Doug Martsch’s eternally boyish voice.
8. The Gaslight Anthem, “Chloe Dancer” (Live at The Hollywood Palladium, 9/17/22)
I saw two reunion tours this month — Pavement and this one. They were both very, very good. On paper, there is virtually nothing that connects those two bands. But from my vantage point, the concerts were good for the same reason — they didn’t seem like reunion shows. Both bands feel like they have stayed on the road for years and years, and in the process mastered a kind of tight looseness (where you sound powerful without looking like you’re trying to sound powerful) that’s essential for any band.
My favorite moment from either show was when The Gaslight Anthem covered Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer.” I was so into it that I didn’t record it, so I’m posting this video from a gig played one week prior. (I must admit that I have ulterior motives for posting this — my latest book, Long Road: Pearl Jam And The Soundtrack Of A Generation, came out this week, so all things PJ are definitely on my brain lately. If you are so inclined, you can pick up a copy from wherever you buy books.)
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.