Muse – Simulation Theory: Propaganda is BAD!!! Also, here’s some propaganda.

Artist: Muse
Album: Simulation Theory
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: A kinder, gentler Muse than we last heard on Drones somehow manages to be ridiculous and over-the-top (as usual) without being enough of either of those things for it to really matter. Mining the nostalgia of our childhood and marrying that to modern sounds in off-the-wall ways is fun and all, but when this record tries to throw its hat into the ring of contemporary political discourse, it comes across as vague, outdated, and honestly a tad hypocritical. This is not a great Muse record, but it’s a catchy one, I guess.

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Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs: Did you say that life could be better? Or do you only live to be seen as such?

Artist: Wye Oak
Album: The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: While it’s tricky to categorize genre-wise, this album manages to be equal parts energizing, soothing, and challenging, thanks to the dynamic of intricate percussion, stunning synths and keyboards, and occasionally noisy guitars that this duo has going for them. And digging into their cryptic lyrics reveals a bit of existential angst tempered with wisdom and patience. File this one under “How did I not know that this band existed for the last four albums?!”

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The Last Bison – SÜDA: I traded my horses in for gold.

Artist: The Last Bison
Album: SÜDA
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: While I had my misgivings about the dramatic lineup changes and the complete reinvention of their sound that came with it, The Last Bison has emerged from the other side of all that upheaval sounding incredibly confident in their new skin. The blend of keyboard-heavy rock and worldbeat sounds will probably puzzle a lot of fans who were used to the indie folk ensemble they last heard from, but the melodies and songwriting hold up incredibly well, despite any initial disappointment I may have felt over what was missing. I come back to this one easily as often as I did with VA four years ago.

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St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Young Sick Camellia: Jesus ain’t the problem, but he started one.

Artist: St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Album: Young Sick Camellia
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: A wonderfully diverse collection of songs that pay tribute to classic Southern soul and R&B influences while also leaving room for stylistic experimentation. Paul Janeway is a powerhouse vocalist, and the horn section and the rest of the band are incredibly tight. Really, the only thing keeping this record from unmitigated greatness is that it’s a bit short on content, having only 9 true songs (which is somewhat cleverly disguised by a series of short interludes and a bonus track).

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Kevin Max – AWOL: All the people from the past just want it to last.

Artist: Kevin Max
Album: AWOL
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: KMax once again proves himself to be more of a musical chameleon than a profound poet or a true innovator… but he obviously had a lot of fun taking a trip down memory lane on this heavily 80s-influenced album, and that makes the music quite infectious, even if it might not be terribly original.

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Umphrey’s McGee – It’s Not Us: Half Delayed

Artist: Umphrey’s McGee
Album: It’s Not Us
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Another strong release from UM that effectively straddles the line between their jam band noodling and more progressive, exploratory song structures. As usual, the instrumental pyrotechnics and stylistic diversity are a much bigger draw than the lyrics. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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I’m With Her – See You Around: Hey, it’s a better band name than “Make Americana Great Again”.

Artist: I’m With Her
Album: See You Around
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: A smart but subdued folk/bluegrass record from an all-female trio that at times appears to be holding back the full power of their vocal harmonies and songwriting skills. This took a while for me to fully get into, but I can now say that I’m with I’m With Her.

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