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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Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor: How to draw the line between band and solo.

Artist: Hayley Williams
Album: Petals for Armor
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: The Paramore frontwoman’s solo debut might suffer slightly from having one too many ideas thrown at it, but it’s interesting from the standpoint of hearing a singer/songwriter experiment outside of her comfort zone without caring whose “rules” she might be breaking. Some of the dance/pop oriented stuff feels like a natural progression from Paramore’s last album, but with even more emphasis on the bass, drums, and keyboards. And the downtempo stuff tends to be more minimalist, even sometimes downright eerie in its use of weirdly syncopated loops and distorted vocal effects. Sadly, I fear that her method of releasing this record, with it slowly trickling out as a series of EPs, has wound up becoming more of a talking point than the actual music has.

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Lovebites – Electric Pentagram: Make some noise! Raise some hell!

Artist: Lovebites
Album: Electric Pentagram
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: 70 minutes of non-stop Japanese power metal might seem like a daunting prospect… and honestly, it would be if I wasn’t already enamored with this band from a previous album. But listen beyond the consistently fast tempos, the insanely technical solos that seem to be a requirement in every single song, and the predictably anthemic choruses, and there’s actually quite a bit more variety here than meets the eye. This is one of those records where I’d actually be hard pressed to point out weak links – the songs all range from good to great in quality. But perhaps a breather or two is advisable, rather than trying to take it all in at once (unless of course you’re a die-hard metalhead who just can’t get enough of that sort of thing).

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Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA: The pain in my vein is hereditary.

Artist: Rina Sawayama
Album: SAWAYAMA
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Rina’s blend of nostalgic turn-of-the-century sounds ranging from teenybopper pop to nu-metal might seem gaudy and superficial at first. But there’s some really smart stuff here for those willing to look beneath the surface. And I think that’s kind of her point – people look at her, see one thing, and make their ignorant assumptions. But as she explores her family history, her turbulent bi-cultural upbringing, her growing realization that she wasn’t like a lot of her peers, and her drive to continue going against the grain of accepted societal norms as an adult, her debut album weaves a rich tapestry that reveals a young artist fully in command of her many musical domains.

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Phantogram – Ceremony: Fall into happiness (then soul-crushing sadness, then happiness again for some reason.)

Artist: Phantogram
Album: Ceremony
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: The electronic rock/trip-hop duo’s fourth album is a bit of a potpourri, to the point where it doesn’t quite radiate the strong sense of musical identity heard on previous albums Voices and Three. There’s always been more to Phantogram than big, booty-shaking hooks, of course – and we still get a few choice bangers here. But Ceremony seems more concerned with the quirkier, trippier, and dreamier side of the Phantogram sound. I’m on board for most of it, even if there are stretches where my attention wanders.

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San Fermin – The Cormorant: I would sing for my life, if I knew the words.

Artist: San Fermin
Album: The Cormorant I & II
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Is it a rock band? A chamber pop ensemble? A composer using whatever instrumentalists and vocalists he has on hand to execute his creative vision? Whatever you want to call San Fermin, they’re quite generous with the orchestral adornments, the natural and mythical imagery, and the diversity of vocal perspectives throughout the 16 tracks on this 2-part record. While much of The Cormorant is a down-tempo exercise in pastoral beauty, there are several moments that will genuinely surprise you.

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The Innocence Mission – My Room in the Trees: Rain or shine, this street of mine is golden.

Artist: The Innocence Mission
Album: My Room in the Trees
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: A quiet gem of an album – easily one of the best in The Innocence Mission’s discography – that I’m sad to have overlooked for nearly a decade. The gorgeous opening track alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s a lot more where that came from to help sustain the mood. Listening to this record is like discovering a few rays of sunshine that have just broken through the clouds on a grey, rainy afternoon.

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Tennis – Swimmer: Where the time goes, who really knows?

Artist: Tennis
Album: Swimmer
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: I’ve come to expect Tennis albums to be short and sweet, but this is the first time they’ve come up short even by that standard. What should be a tender and affecting meditation on a couple growing old together and being each other’s support system through various hardships, instead mostly drifts by without making much of an impact. Alaina Moore’s vocals are still quite lovely, and the duo still knows how to sustain a dreamy indie pop atmosphere… but the style feels a bit slight, given the substance that the songs are trying to convey.

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Tame Impala – The Slow Rush: It might be time to face it – this album’s not as fun as I wanted it to be.

Artist: Tame Impala
Album: The Slow Rush
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: I don’t necessarily mind that album #4 from Tame Impala trends more toward the chill, retro, vibey stuff than the more edgy, in-your-face, psychedelic weird stuff. What bugs me is that, outside of a few strong singles, a lot of these new tracks are guilty of starting off with interesting ideas that never seem to get further developed, or else collapsing into a maze of false starts and disjointed outros. It makes a record with an otherwise enjoyable sound feel bloated and tedious. (And the exclusion of a strong early single from the album proper only serves to exacerbate the problem.)

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Holden Days – Sylvan Lands, Vol. II: Move Like a Dream

Artist: Holden Days
Album: Sylvan Lands, Vol. II
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: This even mellower nighttime companion to the lush and tragically romantic Vol. I may take even longer to get into, but its precious pearls are worth diving for. If the first set of songs was perfect for a day spent out in nature, then the second is perfect for an evening spent journaling, curling up with a good book, or slowly drifting off to sleep. Though there aren’t as many big guitar moments or obvious melodic hooks as the previous record boasted, there are still rich rewards awaiting those who choose to listen with patience and intent.

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