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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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 – 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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Band of Skulls – Love Is All You Love: A Better Title Is All You Need.

Artist: Band of Skulls
Album: Love Is All You Love
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: Precisely zero wheels are reinvented on Band of Skulls’ fifth album. A decade into their discography, they’ve settled into a comfortable and largely predictable groove, trotting out their brand of garage band swagger with occasional dance-rock tendencies for a short but tight ten-song set. It’s fun stuff, with less filler than their last couple albums, but don’t go into it expecting anything even remotely deep.

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Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Enneagram – I’m just trying to see myself through someone else’s eyes.

Artist: Sleeping at Last
Album: Atlas: Enneagram
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: While there isn’t as much interactivity between these songs as I had imagined there might be, the musical diversity and attention to detail in exploring each personality type makes it a worthwhile series of character studies. And with nine tracks exploring a consistent theme, it’s the closest thing to a traditional album that SAL has put out since the Space series during Year One.

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Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride: Why’s your heart grown heavy when things were feeling light?

Artist: Vampire Weekend
Album: Father of the Bride
Year: 2019
Grade: B+

In Brief: It’s been six years, and Vampire Weekend has made their long-anticipated fourth album worth the wait. In many ways the music is sunnier and folksier than their past stuff, yet their love of electronic sampling and worldbeat influences still strongly influences their sound, which has taken a notable stylistic leap forward. Not all of these 18 songs are winners, and there are a few sections of the album that drag as a result of its long-windedness, but that gives the band room to try a lot of different things and see what sticks, and I’m happy to report that the vast majority of it does.

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John Paul White – The Hurting Kind: Don’t you dare kiss me goodbye.

Artist: John Paul White
Album: The Hurting Kind
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: White’s second post-Civil Wars solo album is a stronger showing than his first, demonstrating that he knows when to augment his songwriting with the strength of a backing band, and when to scale back to the bare bones approach that tends to be his default mode. The result is more of a full-bodied country album that knows when to play the classic tropes of the genre for full effect, and when to subvert them by throwing a curveball somewhere in the lyrics.

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