Joy Williams – Front Porch: It’s more of a house than a home.

Artist: Joy Williams
Album: Front Porch
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: This is pleasant enough, as purist folk records go. But it feels a bit lacking in the personality department. Williams attempting this style on her own invites unfavorable comparisons to her stint in The Civil Wars, and I had been hoping after Venus that she was trying to move away from that sound as a solo artist.

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Memories as Heavy as a Stone: My Top 20 Paper Route Songs

Some bands are really good at breaking your heart, or at least at letting you know what it’s like to have your heart utterly and completely broken. Some bands are really good at helping you pick up the pieces and put that heart back together. Paper Route was one of the rare bands that I felt was excellent at both sides of that equation. And now they’ve gone and broken my heart by disappearing on an “indefinite hiatus”, just when I felt they were at the top of their game and poised to break out to a larger audience. I didn’t think at the beginning of 2019 when I started picking all-time favorite artists of mine who were currently inactive to feature in these monthly retrospective “Top 20” columns, that Paper Route would end up being one of them. We may have an unexplained absence to mourn, but at least we’ve got a phenomenal Absence to look back on.

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Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go: Not as bad as she wants to be. (In fact, she’s quite good.)

Artist: Billie Eilish
Album: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Year: 2019
Grade: B+

In Brief: Billie’s full-length debut rather boldly defies my expectations of what a pop album, whether indie or mainstream, should sound like in 2019. She also busts some of my stereotypes about teenage singer/songwriters in general, and how they can communicate both lyrically and sonically in a way that comes across as authentic while still drawing in a huge and diverse audience. I didn’t expect to like this album nearly as much as I did, and now I can’t stop listening to it.

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My Epic – Violence: I hope you hate it!

Artist: My Epic
Album: Violence EP
Year: 2019
Grade: A-

In Brief: The follow-up to Ultraviolet is a more visceral, adventurous, and sometimes downright abrupt and startling record that puts the focus on human relationships and the awful things we’re capable of doing to each other in the name of God. It’s not an easy listen, but it’s one of the year’s best recordings precisely because of it.

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My Epic – Ultraviolet: I think we’re all lost ’til we’ve lived in the wilderness.

Artist: My Epic
Album: Ultraviolet EP
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: A slow-burning but thoughtful set of songs about the implications of believing in the unseen, that serves as a compelling introduction to the My Epic sound even if it’s not 100% representative of the band’s range.

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Each Word Ringing True, As If Written for You: My Top 20 Out of the Grey Songs

Do you remember the first album you ever deliberately sat down and listened to all the way through? I certainly do. It was Out of the Grey‘s self-titled 1991 debut. And it turned out to be a record that imprinted itself upon me so deeply, it would come to shape my perception of what “the perfect pop album” should sound like.

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