Kevin Max – AWOL: All the people from the past just want it to last.

Artist: Kevin Max
Album: AWOL
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: KMax once again proves himself to be more of a musical chameleon than a profound poet or a true innovator… but he obviously had a lot of fun taking a trip down memory lane on this heavily 80s-influenced album, and that makes the music quite infectious, even if it might not be terribly original.

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What Am I Listening To? – September 2018

Wow, did I really try to digest fourteen new albums this month? (OK, actually ten albums and four EPs, but still.) That’s a bit much, even for me. September had no shortage of intriguing releases, but I’ve actually had to save a few for October, just to make sure I have time to catch my breath after some of the Friday morning new music rituals that are now regularly stretching well into the afternoon.

Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Iron & Wine, Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, mewithoutYou, Animal Collective, Thrice, Yoav, Steven Page, Wye Oak, The Last Bison, Frontperson, Metric, Aphex Twin, and Mae.

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Umphrey’s McGee – It’s Not Us: Half Delayed

Artist: Umphrey’s McGee
Album: It’s Not Us
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Another strong release from UM that effectively straddles the line between their jam band noodling and more progressive, exploratory song structures. As usual, the instrumental pyrotechnics and stylistic diversity are a much bigger draw than the lyrics. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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Chvrches and Lo Moon live @ The Greek Theatre: They were a kaleidoscope.

There are certain bands whose recorded material I’m absolutely over the moon for, and yet who I feel hesitant about seeing live. Chvrches was one of those bands, right up until a friend decided to get tickets to their Love Is Dead tour when it rolled through Los Angeles. They are absolute wizards of synthpop in the studio, and all three members of the band are capable of playing multiple instruments. Yet when a band plays a style of music that is sufficiently programmed, I often wonder if it’s worth showing up just to watch them press buttons on laptops. As it turns out, that’s not at all a fair characterization of Chvrches’ live shows, where really all that comes pre-recorded is the background effects and loops – the synths, bass, whatever guitar parts their songs might occasionally feature, and most obviously the vocals, are all performed live. For their latest tour, they’ve also added a live drummer. This type of music can get me really excited when delivered with a sufficient amount of live energy, and I should have known better than to doubt Chvrches in this regard. Their three studio albums thus far have been about as close to uniformly excellent as the discography of any band in my collection, so of course their setlist was going to be packed with wall-to-wall favorites, almost no matter what they chose to play. This might have been a little more expensive of a show, with a slightly bigger crowd, than I’m used to when I go to concerts these days, but at no point in the evening did I doubt that this would be 100% worth it.

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Florence + The Machine – High as Hope: THIS IS NOT AN ENDING.

Artist: Florence + The Machine
Album: High as Hope
Year: 2018
Grade: C+

In Brief: The stripped down approach and more starkly personal lyrics are a strong move… in theory. But this just plain doesn’t work for a powerhouse vocalist and an eccentrically creative songwriter of Florence’s caliber. The production mushes everything together whenever the music tries to pick up a little steam. The songs have an irritating habit of cutting off before they really feel like they should end. And whatever’s left of “The Machine” feels like it’s too timid to assert itself the way it used to.

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I’m With Her – See You Around: Hey, it’s a better band name than “Make Americana Great Again”.

Artist: I’m With Her
Album: See You Around
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: A smart but subdued folk/bluegrass record from an all-female trio that at times appears to be holding back the full power of their vocal harmonies and songwriting skills. This took a while for me to fully get into, but I can now say that I’m with I’m With Her.

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