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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Artist: Jennifer Knapp
Album: Love Comes Back Around
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.