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. Bartees Strange, Farm To Table
To say that this genre-mixing singer-songwriter took an unconventional path to indie stardom would be an understatement. After spending his 20s working in politics — the D.C. native once held an administrative job in the Obama administration — he put out his debut album, Live Forever, in 2020 in his early 30s. His relatively advanced age wasn’t the only obstacle — there was also the matter of launching a music career in the midst of a worldwide epidemic. And yet Strange has persevered, in part because the music media has fallen hard for his lovable underdog story. Fortunately, Farm To Table justifies the coverage. As was the case with Live Forever, Strange is a natural at mixing emo-pop dynamics with R&B vocal affectations and hip-hop-style production. On his second full-length, he doesn’t so much reinvent this formula as refine it to the point of silky perfection. This album is one of the best sounding records of 2022; you feel the velvety guitars, gooey synths, and supple beats as much as hear them.
2. Angel Olsen, Big Time
I’ve long admired Angel Olsen’s music without ever completely falling for it … until this record. Working with co-producer Jonathan Wilson, Olsen has wedded some of her heaviest songs — the album was inspired by the recent deaths of both of her parents — with the most ravishing music of her career. Retaining the rustic and retro Laurel Canyon vibe of Wilson’s work with Father John Misty and adding a generous dose of twang, Big Time is a beautiful psychedelic country record with a grief-stricken heart. It somehow floats and sinks simultaneously.
3. S.G. Goodman, Teeth Marks
This Kentucky-based singer-songwriter makes music that’s ideal for a melancholy summer, when deep emotions linger as humid days fade into starry nights. Her latest, Teeth Marks, sparkles and rages, balancing stirring ballads with fiery, working-class rockers. The title track belongs in the former category, and is one of the year’s best songs. And then there’s “Work Until I Die,” a garage-rock rager with a John Fogerty vibe that stands as the rarest of modern indie phenomena — a genuine protest song about small-town, lower middle class professional drudgery. If you’re looking for a good chaser for the Angel Olsen record, look no further.
4. Tim Heidecker, High School
Tim Heidecker is an interesting bunch of guys. There is Tim Heidecker, the inventive co-star of the pioneering Adult Swim program Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Good Job! There is Tim Heidecker, the egomaniacal co-host of the popular web series On Cinema. There is Tim Heidecker, the L.A.-based husband and father who oversees the amiable podcast Office Hours. And then there’s Tim Heidecker, character actor and surprisingly (even shockingly) earnest singer-songwriter. On his latest album High School, Heidecker the singer-songwriter has made his most straightforward and autobiographical album yet. A song cycle that looks back on his early ’90s adolescence with the sort of wistful sensitivity and wry specificity associated with ’70s soft rock titans like Paul Simon and Randy Newman — both of whom Heidecker has cited as personal favorites — High School evokes a pre-internet, Middle American, suburban world buoyed by references to Kurt Vonnegut, fiscal conservatism, Gulf War-era CNN reporter Peter Arnett, and Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
5. Goose, Dripfield
Back in March, I called this Connecticut quintet “the next great American jam band.” June might have been their biggest month yet, as it was capped with a successful two-show run at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan that featured guest spots by Father John Misty and jam scene kingpin Trey Anastasio of Phish, an apparent “passing of the torch” moment. And then there was the release of their latest and best album. I normally don’t listen to jam bands for their studio work — even the Grateful Dead struggled to capture their live magic on wax. But Dripfield is a consistently engaging pop-psychedelic record, like a trippier Father Of The Bride. While it is technically Goose’s third studio LP, it feels like a proper debut, far outstripping its predecessors in terms of quality and ambition. Some tracks slip into funky instrumental tangents, but the focus is on concise and punchy songwriting deriving mainly from frontman Rick Mitarotonda, with guitar-keyboardist Peter Anspach pitching in a George Harrison-sized allotment of tunes.
6. Drive-By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII
These venerable Southern-rock legends are one of the most reliable bands (and brands) in all of rock ‘n’ roll. Every single release, you are guaranteed to hear brilliant story-songs set to crunchy guitar riffs. It’s no surprise that the new Welcome 2 Club XIII continues their winning streak. At the same time, it does represent a break with the furious political commentary that marked their records since 2016’s American Band. While their recent work has been pitched outward, Welcome 2 Club XIII feels like an extended remembrance of days shared and passed between long-time bandmates Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, whose relationship dates back nearly 40 years. The most resonant moments on the record — Hood’s “The Driver,” Cooley’s “Every Single Storied Flameout” — reflect on glory days that weren’t as glorious as nostalgia might have you believe, while also expressing gratitude for having survived long enough to enjoy the luxury of looking back. As Cooley sings, “That part of you that feels alive is wired and can’t be severed from the damage-seeking part of you that runs it.”