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. Zach Bryan, Zach Bryan
Zach Bryan opens his new album with a poem. “I’ve learned that every waking moment is enough,” he says, “and excess never leads to better things. It only piles and piles upon things that are already abundantly in front of you.” His delivery on the track, titled “Fear And Friday’s (Poem),” is down-home and conversational. As he strums his guitar, it sounds as though he is sitting in a bedroom somewhere and speaking into a tape recorder. It’s an arena-filling superstar caught in an intimate moment, only it’s presented via the least intimate vehicle — a probable smash hit LP — imaginable.
2. Buck Meek, Haunted Mansion
While I admired his two previous solo LPs, 2018’s Buck Meek and 2021’s Two Saviors, the latest record from Big Thief’s guitarist feels like a real breakthrough. A self-described collection of on-the-road love songs, Haunted Mountain adds layers of instrumental muscle to Big Thief’s lean and sparse folk-rock template, with Meek’s gnarled guitar supported by the supple, countrified warmth of his long-time backing band. The result is a record that rocks a bit harder than much of Big Thief’s output, while retaining the band’s hopeful, mystical spiritualism.
3. Florry, The Holey Bible
I had given up hope that an indie rock group in 2023 would take cues from early ’70s Rolling Stones records like Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. And then I heard this album, and my faith was restored. This Philadelphia band fronted by singer-songwriter Francie Medosch was previously a more conventional indie-sounding outfit before they zeroed in on the irreverent country-rock side of the Stones, and combined it with the deliberate, chemically addled sloppiness of “ditch” era Neil Young. What that means is an abundance of slide and lap steel guitar attached to songs that lumber amiably as if they have been consuming Jack Daniels and honey slides for the past 12 hours. The good shit, in other words.
4. Ratboys, The Window
I’ve been a fan of this Chicago band since 2017’s GN, when they happened upon a country-inflected guitar pop sound that in the years since has become one of the trendier modes of early 2020s indie. Ratboys actually drifted from their country side after that album, but they have sharpened their songwriting, and their latest is my favorite thing they have done since GN. For those who were turned off by the more abrasive aspects of Wednesday’s great Rat Saw God, Ratboys offer similar vibes but on a sunnier tip.
5. Cory Hanson, Western Cum
Really good guitar jams, very unfortunate album title. Western Cum is the year’s best classic rock homage that I am also the most embarrassed about recommending. But whatever, right? We’re all adults here! We can take a reference to (lowers voice) semen if we’re also receiving a bounty of hooky songs with bitchin’ guitar solos! Hanson’s easygoing vocal style — he sounds like David Gates of Bread on quaaludes — contrasts with his invigorating instrumental attack, which evokes the Allman Brothers as produced by Boston’s Tom Scholz.
6. Greg Freeman, I Looked Out
I’m late on this one — it’s my favorite album of 2022 that I discovered in 2023. (In my defense most critics have slept on this album. That will hopefully change soon.) A reader online recommended that I check it out due to my constant evangelizing for M.J. Lenderman, and that person was dead on. Like Lenderman, it’s obvious that Freeman has worshipped at the altar of the late, great Jason Molina, though he also brings his own influences (particularly ’90s indie rock in the form of Neutral Milk Hotel and Guided By Voices) to the table. What I’m saying is that this is yet another blown-out country-rock record that sometimes delves into pure noise. (I can’t get enough of this formula lately.)
7. Died Pretty, Free Dirt
Speaking of discovering albums late, I became semi-obsessed this month with this Australian indie band who started putting out music in the ’80s. I came to Died Pretty for the saddest possible reason — their lead singer Ron Peno died on Aug. 11, and after reading some online tributes I was moved to check out their 1986 debut album, Free Dirt. What I discovered was a band that capably draws on ’60s rock sounds — the Velvet Underground, The Doors, Bob Dylan — and filters it through an ’80s indie sensibility. The result is a great example of the “big sky” sound that so many fine Australian rock bands share. While Peno is no longer with us, he left behind a deep catalog I’m still working through. Better late than never!
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.