KT Tunstall – KIN: Pull it apart and put it back together how you want it.

2016_kttunstall_kinArtist: KT Tunstall
Album: KIN
Year: 2016
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s not as bold and inventive in the production and songwriting department as Tiger Suit, but KT wanted to make another pop album after the stark, downbeat Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, and I’ve got to admit that this side of her is more my speed.

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Elbow – Little Fictions: I prefer to think of them as “Fun Size Alternative Facts”.

2017_elbow_littlefictionsArtist: Elbow
Album: Little Fictions
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: This album goes down smoother than The Take Off and Landing of Everything, though it may not have as much dynamic range, or as many climactic or startling moments. Some recent personal and professional changes in the band lineup lead to a sunnier and surprisingly more groove-based Elbow record, which I’d say is more accessible than their last few without radically altering their sound.

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Colony House – Only the Lonely: These ain’t your father’s Chapmans.

2017_colonyhouse_onlythelonelyArtist: Colony House
Album: Only the Lonely
Year: 2017
Grade: A-

In Brief: I kind of outgrew Steven Curtis Chapman, but his sons’ band turned out to be right up my alley. This is a big, loud, upbeat, and massively catchy pop/rock record – hardly anything new in 2017, yet it feels refreshing due to its commitment to an energetic, live performance-oriented sound.

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Phantogram – Three: Goodbye to my good side.

2016_phantogram_threeArtist: Phantogram
Album: Three
Year: 2016
Grade: B

In Brief: A remarkably solid electronica album with a bit of a trip-hop twist that strikes a deft balance between immediate pop hooks and sonic experimentation. If not for the embarrassing misstep at the end, this could easily be an A-grade record.

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What Am I Listening To? – February 2017

2017_elbow_littlefictionsElbow – Little Fictions
Album #7 is a bit more of an upbeat one for Elbow. Guy Garvey just seems to be in a happier place in his life, and despite the loss of drummer Richard Jupp, the band seems to have taken great joy in constructing rhythmic loops that drive a number of these otherwise minimal songs. Nothing here strays all that far into aggressive rock territory, but as dreamy Britpop albums go, this is one of the band’s finest, and the first three tracks in particular are pure velvety goodness – some of the most accessible stuff to come out of Elbow in a while, actually.

2017_eisley_imonlydreamingEisley – I’m Only Dreaming
I had really guarded expectations for this one after learning that only one of the three DuPree sisters who founded Eisley remained in the band. Their sisterly harmonies laid down thick on a bed of dark-but-dreamy indie pop were the band’s biggest draw. Sherri does an admirable job all by her lonesome, and it’s not like a casual listener could tell her voice apart from her sisters’ anyway, but there’s less piano now that Stacy’s gone, and the guitar riffs aren’t as memorable without Chauntelle. I’d almost consider this more of a solo project for Sherri, if brother Weston and cousin Garron, who fill out the rhythm section, weren’t still an integral part of the sound. Interestingly, male vocal contributions from Sherri’s husband, Say Anything singer Max Bemis, and Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green bring a different feel to a few tracks that turn out to be highlights, and a few other songs venture into more fantastical sonic landscape to offset the otherwise straightforward guitar pop. I probably won’t remember this as one of Eisley’s stronger records, but I like it more than The Valley, at least.

2017_robertrandolphthefamilyband_gotsoulRobert Randolph & The Family Band – Got Soul
Picking on Robert Randolph and his band for their clichéd and sometimes downright embarrassing lyrics is probably missing the point. This is a funky jam band with a steel guitar at its core, and the style of music they play is generally a delight to listen to. Got Soul is simply the band indulging in the delight of live performance, and as with most bands of this type, the studio record’s really just a template for their more exploratory live shows. They bring in a few guest vocalists, as per their usual, and everyone involved seems to be having a blast. But I still have to wince at their hackneyed attempts to be socially conscious in some of their lyrics. I have no issue with the message, but the way they convey it is just… OUCH. It’s one thing when a band knows their lyrics are just there as a placeholder to give a vocalist something fun to do, and another thing altogether when they’re under the illusion that they’re speaking to their audience in some meaningful way. Don’t go in expecting the latter, and you’ll be alright.

Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life: What we learned from an obsolete, bleeding heart Russian immigrant.

2016_reginaspektor_rememberustolifeArtist: Regina Spektor
Album: Remember Us to Life
Year: 2016
Grade: B

In Brief: Song-for-song, this is a more consistently well-written album than her last one, with more of a unified feel from track to track, but leaving room for a few fun surprises as well. Regina hasn’t totally reinvented her sometimes-cutesy, sometimes-creepy piano pop style, but she’s certainly honed her craft a bit since we last heard from her.

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John Paul White – Beulah: There’s always a second time around.

2016_JohnPaulWhite_BeulahArtist: John Paul White
Album: Beulah
Year: 2016
Grade: B-

In Brief: White continues to demonstrate strong songwriting chops as a solo artist, though the bare-bones folk sound sometimes undersells that skill. A few more full-bodied, up-tempo tracks help, but since I know him as the guy from the Civil Wars, I can’t help but think that he shines brightest when he has another vocalist in the mix to play off of.

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