Coldplay – Everyday Life: Music is the weapon of the future… and this is NOT how you wield it.

Artist: Coldplay
Album: Everyday Life
Year: 2019
Grade: C+

In Brief: Coldplay didn’t make an album here, so much as they made a sound collage that occasionally includes the full band performing together on an actual Coldplay song. The overbearing theme of unity in diversity is admirable, but the way the record continually tries to drive it home is redundant and honestly a bit superficial. The record as a whole doesn’t provide enough of a payoff to make all of the half-finished vignettes and the stylistic jumping around worthwhile.

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Global Genius – New Folk: Don't play anything… play everything.

Artist: Global Genius
Album: New Folk
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: This is really more of a singer/songwriter side project by a pair of guys mostly known for playing instruments and/or singing BGVs on other people’s records and in commercial jingles. That may seem like an oddly commercial pedigree for this under-the-radar independent release, but there are some genuinely smart lyrics and soothing melodies on this modest little album, if you’re willing to overlook a few of the cornier selections.

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The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights: Where we're going, we don't need Rhodes.

Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: This album brings back some of the sonic diversity that Whiteout Conditions lacked, especially with violinist Simi Stone upgraded to full membership. But song-for-song, it just doesn’t hit nearly as hard, and I think part of the problem is that despite all the singers in this band, we’re really only hearing the artistic voice of Carl Newman. No longer having Dan Bejar around kind of exposes his limitations as full-time band leader.

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Coyote Kid – The Skeleton Man: Death comes free of charge, but I want to look the part.

Artist: Coyote Kid
Album: The Skeleton Man
Year: 2019
Grade: A-

In Brief: A deliciously dark and righteously ragged song cycle about beating Death at his own game. It certainly won’t be for everybody, but I can say with all honesty that the band formerly known as Marah in the Mainsail has surpassed my already high expectations by delivering the most exciting rock record of 2019.

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Jimmy Eat World – Surviving: Do you want the work more than the reward?

Artist: Jimmy Eat World
Album: Surviving
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: The sound of this album may be straightforward and reinvent zero wheels for Jimmy Eat World, but I can’t argue with the results. They’ve recommitted themselves to being loud, passionate, and unapologetically catchy, with a little room on the side for the occasional ballad or experimental track, and a handful of songs near the end that definitely go the extra mile in terms of delivering the rawk. It’s a strong album in a day and age where solid, straight-ahead rock records are getting harder and harder to come by.

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Elbow – Giants of All Sizes: I’ve the heaviest heart jackhammering in me.

Artist: Elbow
Album: Giants of All Sizes
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: After the relative lightness of Little Fictions, it made sense for Elbow to go in a darker, more brooding direction, especially considering the personal losses the band has endured over the past few years. Only problem is, it feels like there isn’t a whole lot of meat to this album since it only has nine songs, and barely half of them are striking me as memorable.

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Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Brighter Days: Calling all crazy, come get in line!

Artist: Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Album: Brighter Days
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: You know what you’re listening to these guys for – explosive pedal steer guitar playing, feel-good Gospel, soul and funk choruses, and the occasional chill slow jam. Don’t go in expecting anything profound from the lyrics – in fact, pay no attention to them all if you like! – and you’ll probably have a blast.

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