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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John Mayer – The Search for Everything: I Still Feel Like You’re Bland.

2017_JohnMayer_TheSearchForEverythingArtist: John Mayer
Album: The Search for Everything
Year: 2017
Grade: C

In Brief: This album seems like an amalgamation of all of Mayer’s previous sounds and styles. It’s a smidge more interesting to listen to than the pair of folk albums he released during his “rural isolation” period, and far less infuriating than Battle Studies, but I gotta be honest, I still prefer his first three albums, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody: Hey, it beats Slimy Miley.

2017_theflaminglips_oczymlodyArtist: The Flaming Lips
Album: Oczy Mlody
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: This album is to The Flaming Lips what Hail to the Thief was to Radiohead. It’s a summation of past sounds, perhaps a bit of a breather after two of their most experimental and alienating albums, but a record whose overall flow and concept suffers due to the attempt to paste together sounds and styles that have worked for them in the past.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2016: Dishonorable Mentions

Here’s the stuff that just didn’t do it for me this year. With one or two exceptions, I don’t listen to these artists expecting their music to be bad… I’ve heard at least a little something I enjoyed from everyone on this list in the past. Some of them just got lazy this year, while others seem aggressively committed to being the most obnoxiously lowest-common-denominator version of themselves that they can be. Neither of those things will land you on the good side of my year-end list-making bonanza. Having said that, I’ve made a good faith effort to embed a song I kinda liked from each of these albums, just to show that these records aren’t all bad.

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Bon Iver – 22, A Million: God, the Devil, and 13013

2016_boniver_22amillionArtist: Bon Iver
Album: 22, A Million
Year: 2016
Grade: C+

In Brief: Some call 22, A Million an astounding work of art, some call it a messy headache that’s been Autotuned to within an inch of its life. I land somewhere in between. Some intriguing ideas here and there, and I come back to the album a lot, but it’s too scattershot to really hold my interest.

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