Paramore: Remember when we wanted the future NOW?

Artist: Paramore
Album: Paramore
Year: 2013
Grade: B+

In Brief: Paramore’s self-titled record did what self-titled records are meant to do. It reintroduced listeners to a band that had experienced success in the pop-punk/emo scene, and was now eager to break out of it. What’s most surprising about this album is how urgent and in-your-face the drums are despite the then-recent departure of the band’s founding drummer, how the big pop hooks never seem to sacrifice the raw energy of a song, and how many different things the band is willing to try over the course of a seventeen-track, hour-long playlist. This was a transitional record for the band – and sure, not everything worked. But by and large, Paramore’s reinvention of themselves was a rousing success, giving us one of the best alt-rock albums of the 2010s in the process.

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Pearl Jam – Gigaton: Expecting perfection leaves a lot to ignore.

Artist: Pearl Jam
Album: Gigaton
Year: 2020
Grade: C+

In Brief: I feel like I have a healthy respect for the different sides of Pearl Jam’s personality. Their grungy, hard rocking side is easy to love. And they have some strong rockers on Gigaton, with some great guitar solos. I’ve grown to appreciate their subversive, experimental side over the years. They have some marginally intriguing experiments here. And a few of my favorite Pearl Jam songs fall on the softer, more acoustic side. There are… some soft songs here too, I guess, but they’re generally not very good. The sum total is an album that I can’t help but feel rather ambivalent toward, despite how excited I was to finally hear new music from these guys after a nearly seven-year wait.

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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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And then I will be something perfect in your eyes: My Top 20 Falling Up Songs

Here’s an absolutely awful pitch for a band you’re trying to get someone into: “Hey, these guys were childhood friends of another band that you hate with every fiber of your being!” It’s no small miracle that I became a fan of Falling Up in the first place, given how much that little fun fact was bandied about in their promotional details and by Christian radio deejays when the band first debuted. Even for a Christian rock band that was trying to do something more creative and conceptual than their own marketing gave them credit for at the time, I definitely couldn’t have predicted that these guys would have gone on to become one of my favorite bands. Or that they would break up not once, but twice, both times right after delivering one of their weirdest and most wonderful records. Strange as it may seem, the more niche this band’s audience became, the better off they were.

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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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I’m not sure all these people understand: My Top 20 R.E.M. Songs

If I were to make a list of favorite bands, and sort them by the amount of time it took me from first hearing them to realizing they were one of my favorites, R.E.M. would easily be one of the farthest entries down on that list. It took me forever to truly feel like I was a fan, and not just one of those casual listeners who knew a few of their hit singles and wrote the rest off as largely uninteresting. Sadly, right around the time I finally realized I was falling in love with a myriad of songs from all across their discography, was when the group decided to disband. I guess the old adage “better late than never” is still true… but man, if I had the chance to go back in time and experience some of their best songs and albums when they were still new, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

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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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This Is My Call, to Sing the Melodies of You: My Top 20 Sixpence None the Richer Songs (and Top 5 Covers)

“There’s more to Sixpence than Kisses and Covers.”

I’m pretty sure I used that rather defensive statement as a review title at some point. Can you blame me? It’s one hell of a dilemma that a fan of a band faces, when they have some really great material in their back catalogue, some of it thrillingly dark and moody, and some of it surprisingly fragile and reverent, and suddenly they put a twee love song on their newest album and it becomes a sleeper hit a few years later. And you really, really love that song, and are happy that people have finally heard of this band that felt like one of your best kept secrets up until that point… but then comes the inevitable pressure to follow it up. And the record label doesn’t quite know what to do with the rest of the songs on their record. And the band starts releasing cover songs in an attempt to stay relevant, and then things just get super weird. That’s the story of Sixpence None the Richer in a nutshell. And it’s a sadder and more tragic one than you’d likely expect from a band who showed that much potential.

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