Steven Hyden’s Favorite Music Of May 2024

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. DIIV, Frog In Boiling Water

DIIV’s excellent fourth LP melds the band’s cavernous, widescreen guitar atmospherics with lyrics that ponder a world in a permanent state of decline. On the title track — the titular metaphor’s meaning is self-evident — Smith takes on the persona of a fascist leader who extols the virtue of burning books. In “Everyone Out,” he wonders if the idea that the structures that undergird society can actually be changed amounts to false hope. In the luminous single “Brown Paper Bag,” he likens himself to tossed-off detritus “stuck on the ground / down, wasted.” While the words are frequently downbeat, they are paired with the most flat-out beautiful music of DIIV’s career. (The band is also funnier than they get credit for, as evidenced by the Fred Durst-starring SNL parody in the “Brown Paper Bag” music video.) After the more muscular and aggressive Deceiver, Frog In Boiling Water marks a return to the gauzy tranquility of their droned-out 2012 debut Oshin, which established DIIV as one of the finest bands to be associated with shoegaze in the 2010s.

2. Jessica Pratt, Here In The Pitch

“Timeless” is the adjective most often applied to Jessica Pratt’s music, but it’s not really accurate. Like all of Pratt’s records, Here In The Pitch is very much rooted in a specific era, which is the opposite of “timeless.” A better descriptor of her sound is “dated but in a good way.” (This retro quality is likely what attracted Troye Sivan to “Back, Baby,” which he sampled for his 2015 track “Can’t Go Back, Baby,” turning the Pratt song into her most streamed number.) For the new record, Pratt’s reference points are the melancholic pocket symphonies of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the emotionally sophisticated and musically immaculate compositions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, especially the hits they created with Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon, and Dusty Springfield. On Pitch, understated orchestrations commingle with featherlight bossa-nova rhythms and Pratt’s own expressive croon, which hints at a well of emotion held in check by a stoic, enigmatic chilliness. It is the best album of 1966 released in 2024.

3. Amen Dunes, Death Jokes

One of the year’s true “grower” albums. I count the previous Amen Dunes LP, 2018’s Freedom, as one of the finest indie-rock records of the last 10 years. But that album was consciously constructed as an instant grabber with loads of driving, arpeggio-sprinkled guitar anthems. Death Jokes, on the contrary, is a glitchy curveball teaming with dark, off-kilter vibes. If Freedom is a warm embrace, then Death Jokes is a cold shoulder. But if you stick with it, eventually there’s solace amid the freeze.

4. Mdou Moctar, Funeral For Justice

Let’s start with the album title. As with all of Moctar’s music, there’s a strong political undercurrent to Funeral For Justice, with the Nigerian guitarist raging against the perpetual instability of his home country’s government stoked by decades of interference from the United States and other foreign actors. While American listeners might not pick up on the fervor of Moctar’s words, they will certainly recognize the ample amount of ass-kicking guitar shredding that conveys the depths of his passion. If Funeral For Justice is the most metal-sounding Mdou Moctar album title — it sounds like the lost Megadeth LP between Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction — then it accurately conveys the blistering speed and force of the music.

5. Blitzen Trapper, 100’s Of 1000’s, Millions Of Billions

You know how sometimes you’re into a band for a while, and then you lose track of them? Not because you no longer like what they do, but just because life goes on and you get distracted by other bands and life generally. Blitzen Trapper is a band like that for me. I loved their 2008 LP Furr and saw them play live a few times around that time. And then … I just lost track of them. Flash forward to earlier this year when I received a promo of their latest record, which updates the slyly knowing Americana of Furr with an older and wiser backwoods gentleness. And it put me right back on the bandwagon. If you wish Wilco had stuck with the sound of their Mermaid Avenue records — the meeting place between Being There alt-country and Summerteeeth power pop — you will want to hop on board, too.

6. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, All This Time

Campbell is a musician’s musician, with a long resumé as a sideman for some of the biggest names in music: Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, and so on. As a duo with his wife Teresa Williams, he makes music that amalgamates a wide swath of American music, from rock to blues to gospel to folk. The partners’ latest effort, their first in seven years — Campbell battled a brutal case of Covid in the early stages of the pandemic — leans hardest on their shared country roots, with Campbell’s twangy guitar perfectly complementing Williams’ lilting southern croon. It is music made with the utmost care and skill.

7. From Indian Lakes, Head Void

The path from emo and post-hardcore to shoegaze was well traveled by legions of bands in the 2010s. From Indian Lakes was part of that pack, though it seemed like they might have been winding down. Their previous LP, Dimly Lit, came out in 2019, and the group’s mastermind Joe Vannucchi has spent the intervening busying himself with solo albums and side projects. But it turns out that a new From Indian Lakes album was lurking the whole time, and it’s a fine return at that. While Head Void can’t be considered a revival of their emo guise — the guitar tones positively scream “dream pop” — the songs do have a hooky propulsive quality that steers well clear of any atmospheric muck.

8. Chatterton, Fields Of This

“Slacker” seems to pop up in every review I read about this record, which is probably just a euphemism for “sounds like Pavement crossed with Modest Mouse.” But I’m not going to fall into that trap. I believe in clarity. Therefore, I’m just going to come out and say “this sounds like Pavement crossed with Modest Mouse” and add “in the best possible way.”