Paramore – After Laughter: Better After Than Never.

Artist: Paramore
Album: After Laughter
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: As one of the many rock bands giving themselves a “pop makeover” these days, Paramore does a good job of keeping the music band-oriented and making the lyrics contrast quite sharply with the bouncy music. This is an album that cleverly uses the sugar rush to make the sour parts sting even more. Whether it could be – or should be – a permanent shift in style for the band remains to be seen.

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Evanescence – Synthesis: I gave up on you, but I never forgot you.

Artist: Evanescence
Album: Synthesis
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: These classical/electronic reworkings of old Evanescence songs work better than expected, for the most part. At times the song selection is lackluster, or else the arrangements aren’t quite ambitious enough to set them apart from the originals in memorable ways. But it was clearly a labor of love for Amy Lee, and I get the sense that perhaps for the first time, we’re hearing some of these songs as she had once envisioned them in her mind.

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U2 – Songs of Experience: You and I are Rock & Roll! (This U2 album, not so much.)

Artist: U2
Album: Songs of Experience
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: While the message on several songs is more vital and relevant than anything U2’s done in years, and the callbacks to tracks on Songs of Innocence are much appreciated, the music itself feels tired and restrained, even sometimes on the tracks that are supposed to have a darker mood or a heavier crunch. For a band with the enduring ambition to keep reinventing itself four decades into its career, U2 still hasn’t managed to shake the overly clinical production and instrumentation that plagues a lot of their 21st century output. I’m always thrilled to have something new from these guys, but this one feels more like work and less like joy each time I try to process it, and that’s coming from someone with a high tolerance for U2 trying to subvert the sound of classic U2.

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MuteMath – Play Dead: My sympathies for the obsolete are climbing higher every day.

Artist: MuteMath
Album: Play Dead
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: It’s chill and yet energetic, stripped down at times and yet very dense and “jammy” at others. A deliberate contrast to Vitals at times, yet the parallel writing process of both albums shows through occasionally. While I don’t think this is MuteMath’s best work, I have to separate my negative feelings about the recent departure of two band members from my opinion of the material on this album that was recorded while they were still very much a part of the creative process.

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Everything Everything – A Fever Dream: Shame About All of Our Neighborhoods

2017_EverythingEverything_AFeverDreamArtist: Everything Everything
Album: A Fever Dream
Year: 2017
Grade: A-

In Brief: With relentless, hypnotic rhythms, hypnotic guitar and synth melodies that sear into your brain, and politically-charged lyrics, Everything Everything has, well, just about everything I’ve been hoping to get out of an indie rock record in the year 2017.

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Arcade Fire – Everything Now: It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want.

2017_ArcadeFire_EverythingNowArtist: Arcade Fire
Album: Everything Now
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: While I really enjoy the disco-rock sound and the theme of media oversaturation, it’s a genre exercise that has its limits, and the repetitive choruses make those limits painfully clear. I enjoy this one more than a lot of Arcade Fire’s fanbase seems to, but I think they need to change things up and truly surprise us again when they get around to making album #6.

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Coldplay – Kaleidoscope: I want something just like about 40% of this.

2017_Coldplay_KaleidoscopeEPArtist: Coldplay
Album: Kaleidoscope EP
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: While I feel like this EP’s release was a bit overhyped, and I’m not inclined to trust rumors of the band having recorded their final album, there are some genuinely exciting new directions taken here that I’d love to see the band explore a little further… and also some embarrassing attempts at pop culture relevance that I wish they’d bury once and for all.

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