Artist: Andrew Bird Album: My Finest Work Yet Year: 2019 Grade: B
In Brief: While the songwriting on this album certainly features some of Bird’s finest words yet, on a musical level it seems to be mostly in the same comfort zone he’s established on his last several albums. That’s not a bad thing, particularly when Bird gets more playful with his rhythms, or leaves space for a bit of his trademark whistling and noodling on the violin. But as always, there’s the issue of certain songs being too low-key to fully deliver on the virtuoso instrumental talent we all know Bird possesses. This has the side effect of helping us to focus more on the lyrics, perhaps… but I’d really love to see an album where Bird really goes for broke on both fronts.
Artist: Umphrey’s McGee Album: It’s Not Us Year: 2018 Grade: B
In Brief: Another strong release from UM that effectively straddles the line between their jam band noodling and more progressive, exploratory song structures. As usual, the instrumental pyrotechnics and stylistic diversity are a much bigger draw than the lyrics. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Artist: Andrew Bird Album: Are You Serious Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: While Bird’s unique blend of violin, guitar, whistling, and live looping still has a tendency to hint at brilliance more often than he actually demonstrates it, the solid string of performances at the front of this album and the intriguing songwriting throughout remind me why he’s continued to pique my curiosity for over 10 years now.
Artist: Foo Fighters Album: Sonic Highways Year: 2014 Grade: B+
In Brief: With this aural tribute to eight of our country’s great cities, featuring artists as diverse as Ben Gibbard, Joe Walsh, and Zac Brown (and that’s just on my three favorite tracks), Foo Fighters have finally gotten me hooked after nearly two decades of me thinking they weren’t my style. Not every experiment works, but the band is wise to let the various genre influences from each city be a flavor rather than the entire dish, which makes the record overall more cohesive and engaging than the sum of its parts.
Artist: OK Go Album: Hungry Ghosts Year: 2014 Grade: B
In Brief: If you’ve heard OK Go before, just add a bit more electronic and disco influence to the mix, and you know exactly what you’re getting. This one’s about as much of a grab bag as the album that came before it, and it’ll likely spawn just about as many viral videos and naggingly catchy choruses you can’t get out of your head over the months to come.
Artist: Umphrey’s McGee Album: Similar Skin Year:2014 Grade: A-
In Brief: A surprisingly tight and focused studio record from a band known for their extended soloing and somewhat arbitrary genre-hopping. It’s worth getting over any preconceived notions that you may have about “jam bands”, because this is a meaty collection of songs worth a listen for anyone who enjoys listening to a good rock band play the hell out of their instruments.