In Brief: Eh… it’s another Switchfoot album. A little heavier on the ballads and programming than I would like, but it’s not terrible. Every now and then, the band tries something inventive here that updates their sound just enough to not seem like it’s old hat. But a lot of it is Switchfoot by the numbers, which admittedly is kind of a tricky thing for them to avoid now that they’re 11 albums deep into their career.
Artist: My Brightest Diamond Album: A Million and One Year: 2018 Grade: B-
In Brief: This album further revises the MBD sound, taking Shara Nova’s already rhythm-heavy approach in even more of an electronic direction while dropping some of the more ornate instrumentation. It’s a bit all over the place, musically speaking, but I do appreciate it as a bold expression of her independence and artistic ambition.
If I could write songs like anyone in the world, I’d want to write like Vienna Teng does.
I’m sure I’ve echoed this sentiment many times in all of the reviews I’ve written of Vienna’s music over the years. And while there quite a lot of songwriters I’ve admired enough to consider them influential over the years, she seems to be the one I come back to the most consistently and remain in awe of, somehow still finding interesting little nuances I hadn’t considered before in songs of hers that I’ve loved for nearly two decades now. I knew pretty early on that I had stumbled across something special when I first heard her music – all it took was two songs performed on solo piano at an intimate live show way back in the spring of 2003 for me to first feel that tug deep within me, telling me I wanted to write something that communicated such powerful imagery wrapped in curious metaphor, and yet she was so intimidatingly good at it that I was pretty sure I’d never be able to come anywhere near it. But perhaps that’s the point. Vienna is such a restlessly creative individual who constantly challenges her own status quo. So maybe the best way to be inspired by her is to not try to mimic her at all. And therein lies the paradox.
January is always the month when I get to catch up on recommendations from fellow music lovers that I wasn’t aware of in time to evaluate them for myself in the previous year. Thus, if you’re someone who knows me personally, or if you run a blog/YouTube channel that I follow, and you posted some sort of a “Best of 2018” list toward the end of the year, there should be at least one thing you recommended that I decided to check out for myself this month.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Django Django, Iceage, Lovebites, Myles Kennedy, Kacey Musgraves, Snail Mail, The Nor’easters, Coldplay, Evanescence, Switchfoot, and a compilation from Blurescent Records.
Artist: Matthew Thiessen & the Earthquakes Album: Wind Up Bird Year: 2018 Grade: B-
In Brief: It’s actually not that far of a stylistic leap from some of the mellower material on Relient K’s latest album to their lead singer’s first solo album. While I enjoy the clever indie/baroque pop arrangements and witty wordplay, I have to admit that only a handful of Thiessen’s songs on this album continue to stand out in my mind, beyond the initial novelty of hearing him do an acoustic record.
Artist: Death Cab for Cutie Album: Thank You for Today Year: 2018 Grade: B-
In Brief: There’s a delicious irony in the standout tracks on an album that decries gentrification and the cruel passage of time being the ones that are the most slickly produced and sample-heavy. But Death Cab doesn’t need to fight it. At this point I think they’re better off as a pop band than they are as legendary heroes of indie rock or whatever.
In Brief: Whether it’s electrified country-rock, twangy folk, or a down-tempo piano ballad, Cash’s voice is as warm and reassuring as ever throughout this album, and her songwriting remains as intriguing as ever. This is more of a subdued record than a flashy, genre-bending one, but it’s a smartly crafted one with some deeply felt joys and pains behind its songs.