Lo Moon: Here’s a new genre for you… Sophisti-gaze.

Artist: Lo Moon
Album: Lo Moon
Year: 2018
Grade: C+

In Brief: While Lo Moon’s synthesis of 80s pop and shoegaze aesthetics and their attention to background detail are commendable, there’s not enough interesting stuff in the foreground (hooks, riffs, variance in tempo and intensity, etc.) to make the album listening experience a particularly eventful one.

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Florence + The Machine – High as Hope: THIS IS NOT AN ENDING.

Artist: Florence + The Machine
Album: High as Hope
Year: 2018
Grade: C+

In Brief: The stripped down approach and more starkly personal lyrics are a strong move… in theory. But this just plain doesn’t work for a powerhouse vocalist and an eccentrically creative songwriter of Florence’s caliber. The production mushes everything together whenever the music tries to pick up a little steam. The songs have an irritating habit of cutting off before they really feel like they should end. And whatever’s left of “The Machine” feels like it’s too timid to assert itself the way it used to.

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Owl City – Cinematic: The soundtrack to a boring documentary you can’t even watch.

2018_OwlCity_CinematicArtist: Owl City
Album: Cinematic
Year: 2018
Grade: C

In Brief: Somewhere within this hodgepodge of bland personal anecdotes and ill-advised bits of genre-hopping, are a small handful of truly imaginative synthpop songs that remind me of why I once risked the scorn of fellow critics to proclaim that I actually liked Owl City. While sifting through 15 songs (and 3 alternate versions!) to find those rare gems is generally not a delightful experience, this album might still be a step up from Mobile Orchestra.

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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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