Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor: How to draw the line between band and solo.

Artist: Hayley Williams
Album: Petals for Armor
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: The Paramore frontwoman’s solo debut might suffer slightly from having one too many ideas thrown at it, but it’s interesting from the standpoint of hearing a singer/songwriter experiment outside of her comfort zone without caring whose “rules” she might be breaking. Some of the dance/pop oriented stuff feels like a natural progression from Paramore’s last album, but with even more emphasis on the bass, drums, and keyboards. And the downtempo stuff tends to be more minimalist, even sometimes downright eerie in its use of weirdly syncopated loops and distorted vocal effects. Sadly, I fear that her method of releasing this record, with it slowly trickling out as a series of EPs, has wound up becoming more of a talking point than the actual music has.

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Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA: The pain in my vein is hereditary.

Artist: Rina Sawayama
Album: SAWAYAMA
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Rina’s blend of nostalgic turn-of-the-century sounds ranging from teenybopper pop to nu-metal might seem gaudy and superficial at first. But there’s some really smart stuff here for those willing to look beneath the surface. And I think that’s kind of her point – people look at her, see one thing, and make their ignorant assumptions. But as she explores her family history, her turbulent bi-cultural upbringing, her growing realization that she wasn’t like a lot of her peers, and her drive to continue going against the grain of accepted societal norms as an adult, her debut album weaves a rich tapestry that reveals a young artist fully in command of her many musical domains.

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Belle & Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems: We were beautiful before we got wise.

Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Album: How to Solve Our Human Problems
Year: 2017/2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: Spreading this collection of songs over three separately released EPs made it a little easier to digest this wealth of new material, but it also gives the impression that there was no real master plan for most of it to fit together cohesively. It’s always great to see Belle & Sebastian expanding their musical horizons, and there honestly isn’t a weak track in the bunch. But the collection lacks a central sense of identity, which makes me wonder whether the band is done with traditional “album releases” and would rather just put out music in a more “stream-of-consciousness” fashion in the future.

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Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance: Be popular, play pop, and you will win my love.

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Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Album: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
Year: 2015
Grade: B+

In Brief: While the band’s bold leap into dance-pop territory is going to ruffle the feathers of longtime fans, that sound accounts for maybe a third of a record that’s stuffed with equal parts up-tempo surprises and warm, laid-back familiarity. It may feel like more of a mixtape than a cohesive album, but the diversity of Girls is one of its biggest strengths, making most of its hour-plus a sheer delight to get lost in.

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Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream: Party Like It’s Nineteen Eighty… Seventy… Something.

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Artist: Empire of the Sun
Album: Walking on a Dream
Year: 2008
Grade: C+

In Brief: Hook-heavy, nostalgic pop music that manages to be enjoyable despite its inherent goofiness. Your enjoyment of this album will probably be inversely proportional to how seriously you assume these two guys take themselves.

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