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. R.I.P. Mimi Parker of Low
The singer, co-songwriter and drummer for this long-running Minnesota indie-rock institution passed away on November 5 of ovarian cancer. When I heard the news, my thoughts went immediately to her husband and creative partner Alan Sparhawk, with whom she had formed an inspiring union in life as well as art. That partnership appeared to only grow stronger over the years, and it formed the core of Low’s final and possibly finest record, 2021’s HEY WHAT.
At the time, it sounded to me like one of the most profound and moving albums about marriage ever. I wrote this in my review: “The whole album feels like a celebration of how having a longtime partner can make living in a confusing, terrifying world a little less confusing and terrifying. Perhaps that’s why HEY WHAT, in spite of a musical palate that ensures the word “apocalyptic” will appear in every album review, ultimately feels redemptive, and even romantic. Low’s ability to re-think their approach and achieve a genuine artistic breakthrough that caps an already great discography is certainly inspiring; how many bands this good made their greatest LP 27 years after their debut? But — I know this is a mawkish phrase but screw it — it’s the power of love shared between Sparhawk and Parker that resonates most profoundly. Together, they sound strong and indefatigable on HEY WHAT, even as demons descend.”
All of that seems doubly true now. Rest in peace, Mimi. Lots of love to you, Alan.
2. Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy Of Modern Song
I wish there was a website called Cold Takes where all the reviews were of culture that was at least six months old. A book like this requires a site like that. It needs — demands — to rattle around inside your skull for a while. But culture commentators don’t have that luxury. So instead, this strange, hilarious, insightful, arcane, outrageous, maddening, and (yes) philosophical book was swiftly denounced in some circles as a misogynistic and MAGA-parroting embarrassment. The latter charge is particularly baffling to me. I can understand not liking the book — it’s pretty uneven! — but all of the snide references I’ve seen likening Bob to some grumpy old man shaking his fist at a TV screen endlessly playing Fox News are … kinda dumb? Throughout the book, Dylan crawls inside various songs and takes on their singular voices. In some of those songs — Bob unsurprisingly is drawn mainly to ancient blues, country, rock, and folk tunes — women loom as mysterious, seductive, and even sinister characters. He is not interested in judging these songs. He is not here to apply a modern lens to the material in order to show up how enlightened he is by comparison. He approaches them as a writer as he would as a singer. He wants to inhabit them, understand them, live them. And then he communicates that experience to an audience. He’s interpreting how they feel, not explaining how they run afoul of contemporary sensibilities. Getting to the core feeling is his job here. That’s always been his job. Should Bob’s prose be taken as literal socio-political confessionals about his own state of mind? Are we really having this conversation about Bob freaking Dylan? Seriously? Treating Bob freaking Dylan like he’s a conventional music critic or academic, again, is … kinda dumb? He’s an artist, not a textbook writer. This messy tome is precisely the book he was supposed to write. Let’s marinate in it!
3. Weyes Blood, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
It’s been three years since Weyes Blood released 2019’s psych-folk stunner Titanic Rising. I loved that record. In my review, I wrote that Natalie Mering’s “specialty is writing classic ’70s AM pop melodies — the sort that Paul Williams or Burt Bacharach once composed for the Carpenters — and setting them to songs that ruminate on how technology has destroyed nearly everything essential to human life in the 21st century, from romantic love to the climate.” Her latest album basically offers up more of the same, for better or worse. It has yet to move me like Titanic Rising did, perhaps because there’s not one big knockout track to really land the record, like “Movies” did for its predecessor. Nevertheless, Mering’s talent for writing beautiful songs about the end of the world remains unparalleled. When people talk about which songs they want played at the funeral, this is the kind of record they reach for.
4. Guma, A List Of Sightings
I spent a lot of time this month listening to albums from earlier in the year that I missed. This record, which dropped in February, is one of my favorite discoveries. Led by Austin singer-songwriter T.J. Masters, Guma plugs into a subversive ’70s soft rock vibe on A List Of Sightings. Steely Dan might seem like an obvious reference point, but the vibe I get is more akin to the excellent turn-of-the-century Jim O’Rourke albums Eureka and Insignificance, with a touch of Cass McCombs’ recent work.
5. Gold Dust, The Late Great Gold Dust
This project from Massachusetts singer-songwriter Stephen Pierce is another example of an indie band commingling shoegaze heaviness with folky melodies. Wednesday and Knifeplay are other notable purveyors of the style, but Gold Dust makes their own impression with some of the most flat-out gorgeous music to come out of the subgenre. Applying his own boyish, starstruck vocals to cavernous, guitar-based mini-symphonies, Pierce makes a surprisingly big and lovely sound out of modest materials on The Late Great Gold Dust, inviting the listener to be enveloped in the album’s surly beauty.