The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl: What a Terrible Album.

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: I’ll Be Your Girl
Year: 2018
Grade: C-

In Brief: A distressingly unfocused and non-committal album full of weird genre-hopping experiments that rarely work, and grating repetition that sucks any potential humor or narrative value out of most of the songs. I applaud the willingness to take risks with their sound, but I honestly get the impression from this album that The Decemberists are just plain exhausted from all the epic-length records that they used to make, and only half trying at this point. Not everything on this record is awful, but enough of it ranges from mildly disappointing to downright irritating that I end up in a bad mood pretty much every time I listen to it.

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Derek Webb – Fingers Crossed: The devil, too, deserves some boundaries

Artist: Derek Webb
Album: Fingers Crossed
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Lyrically, Fingers Crossed is a harrowing tale of a man’s guilt, anguish, and possible loss of faith in the messy aftermath of an extramarital affair. Musically, it’s mostly a low-key mixture of acoustic coffeehouse-type material and electronica. 13 tracks and over an hour of music in this vein can be an incredibly difficult listen for both reasons, but I have to admit that a few of the confessions and insights offered here are darkly fascinating.

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Björk – Utopia: Did I just fall in love with love?

Artist: Björk
Album: Utopia
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Björk’s longest album to date is one of her happiest and most peaceful. It’s also one of her most baffling and exhausting. Longtime fans will find echoes of some of her classic works here, and will also probably appreciate the more ambient/avant-garde new direction as well. But song-for-song, this may be her most difficult album to appreciate as a whole since Medúlla.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2017: Dishonorable Mentions

These are the albums that just plain did not do it for me in 2017. I really tried to listen to all of these with an open mind. I can see why other people like them, in most circumstances. Some of them are intriguing and well-crafted works of art that I just found really boring to listen to. Some are at least unique creative expressions, albeit really irritating ones. Others are shameless commercial trash, and/or sad attempts to revive a band’s long-gone glory days. In all cases, I’ve linked to the audio or video of a song that I genuinely liked, or at the very least found tolerable.

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Alt-J – Relaxer: Don’t do it.

2017_AltJ_RelaxerArtist: Alt-J
Album: Relaxer
Year: 2017
Grade: C

In Brief: Alt-J has gone from being a groove-laden, psychedelic indie band occasionally interrupted by dull ballads, to a band largely focused on ballads, some of them lushly orchestrated and some of them rather dull, occasionally interrupted by jarring rockers. It’s not a good look.

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Iron & Wine – Beast Epic: Sorry, but I don’t think either of those descriptors applies here.

Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: Beast Epic
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Sam Beam is a skillful songwriter, his voice is always soothing, and his lyrics are always intriguing. But his decision to revert back to the simpler style of his earlier efforts makes for a rather underwhelming album. I like both the layered, experimental side of Iron & Wine and the hushed, laid-back, folksy side, and it seems like a step backwards to cast off one side for the sake of the other.

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Jennifer Knapp – Love Comes Back Around: Middle of the Straight Road

2017_JenniferKnapp_LoveComesBackAroundArtist: Jennifer Knapp
Album: Love Comes Back Around
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: While it’s a thematically warmer record that opens up a little more about the long-term relationship that Jennifer has been in, I’m not finding a whole lot here that keeps me engaged on a musical level. She’s played it safe with her mid-tempo heartland rock/adult contemporary style for two albums in a row now, and that’s a bit frustrating given the unique perspective that she has to offer.

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