Artist: The Reign of Kindo Album: The Reign of Kindo EP Year: 2007 Grade: B+
In Brief: Kindo had a ton of charm and class right out of the gate on their debut EP, and I’m kicking myself for taking so darn long to finally go back and check it out, after being a fan of the band for more than a decade. The smooth hybrid of jazz, rock, and R&B that they showcased on Rhythm, Chord & Melody in 2008 was already intact on this EP a year earlier, sporting four unique songs not heard on any of their later records (and a darn good Flaming Lips cover as well).
Artist: Japanese Breakfast Album: Jubilee Year: 2021 Grade: B+
In Brief: Third time’s the charm for Japanese Breakfast, who has hit it big with a charming little indie pop record that is sure to brighten your summer. I’m taken aback in the best possible way by how effectively she’s emphasized the poppier aspects of her sound without losing the hazy, dreamy, and slightly psychedelic aspects of it from the old days. She wanted to write a happier record after two gloomier ones, and a superficial listen would tell you she succeeded.. right up until you start paying closer attention to the lyrics, at least.
Artist: Future of Forestry Album: Remember Year: 2021 Grade: C
In Brief: A disappointingly limp and meager offering from a long-time favorite artist of mine. This is the first time in Future of Forestry’s 15-year existence that I’ve been truly disappointed, not because a sudden genre shift was difficult to adjust to, but because it seemed like a repetition of old patterns with a distinct lack of anything evocative or imaginative to say. These 8 songs are all immaculately arranged, and performed with the most heartfelt of emotions, but I think FoF has finally reached the tipping point where its sound is too darn professional for its own good.
In Brief: Jesca Hoop’s eclectic debut album is sweet, sassy, escapist, confrontational, and at times, downright romantic. While her songwriting has matured since then and her musicianship has gotten even more experimental, Kismet still stands out as one of those rare examples of a newcomer getting it right on the first try, and winding up with one hell of a tough act to follow.
Artist: Holden Days Album: Peregrine Year: 2021 Grade: B+
In Brief: It’s almost too easy to describe the music of Holden Days as “dreamy”, but it’s impossible to avoid when an album takes its time to delicately and intricately explore the language and emotions of dreaming like this one does. It’s a nice maturation of the “dream folk” sound I fell in love with one the Sylvan Lands records, playing around a little more with the keyboards and programming this time to give it an extra layer of candy coating, but not forgetting to bring it all back around to the achingly lovely acoustic chord progressions and the breathtaking little explosions of electric guitar with which this artist won my heart in the first place. Though it was born out of a time of social distance and isolation, Peregrine captures a sense of longing to be known that really stays with me.
Artist: Sparks Album: A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip Year: 2020 Grade: B
In Brief: It’s nice when a band that’s been around for over 50 years can put out a witty and engaging record that immediately gets me over the nagging question, “Why the heck should I start listening to these guys NOW?” Their manic, keyboard-heavy brand of art rock isn’t gonna be for everyone, and they’re certainly more interested in lampooning pop culture than they are in falling in line with it, but there’s something about the cheeky wordplay and the occasional bit of biting social commentary that keeps me engaged throughout most of these 14 tracks. If Steady Drip is in any way indicative of the quality of Sparks’ past work, then I have a LOT of catching up to do.
Artist: Manchester Orchestra Album: The Million Masks of God Year: 2021 Grade: A-
In Brief: While I’m still unraveling the tale of memory, falsehood, and mental distress that Manchester Orchestra has woven on this album, I can definitely say that I love how it’s being told. This band may not have the flashiest riffs or the most out-there, avant-garde approach to making music, but they’re incredibly efficient when it comes to building up a song from a delicate melodic phrase to a full-blown, climatic release of tension, and their frontman Andy Hull is a uniquely engaging vocalist. The Million Masks of God is a series of dramatic movements that I find myself eager to get lost in over and over again.
Here are my thoughts on the latest from Manchester Orchestra, The Polyphonic Spree, New Canyons, Sufjan Stevens, Holden Days, Myles Kennedy, Iceage, Sarah Jarosz, Annie Moses Band, St. Vincent, Lord Huron, and Future of Forestry.
Artist: Sleater-Kinney Album: One Beat Year: 2002 Grade: B+
In Brief: Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s deeply personal, and sometimes it’s just plain fun. The band was clearly at the top of their game in the early 2000s, finding fresh and intriguing ways to build on the scrappy outspokenness they’d been known for since the mid-90s, with the interplay between Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker becoming more sophisticated, but without losing the immediacy of the riffs and vocal hooks, bolstered by Janet Weiss’s killer drumming. Exploring the band’s pre-hiatus discography has been entertaining and educational, and One Beat has easily become my favorite stop along that journey.