Maxïmo Park – Nature Always Wins: How am I supposed to feel, denied the luxury of time?

Artist: Maxïmo Park
Album: Nature Always Wins
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s a little hard to unpack why I like Maxïmo Park, but don’t quite love them. Their style is pretty much right up the alley of all the indie and alternative rock I typically listen to, and they keep things pretty upbeat and intelligently introspective throughout this album. But I have a hard time describing what makes their sort-of-electronic, sort-of-retro rock sound distinctive enough to get me excited in a way that other bands couldn’t. They’ve been at this for a while, so it’s possible that they’ve done more unique work in the past, and I just happened to catch them on a more typical day at the office.

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Evanescence – The Bitter Truth: I’m reaching a new level of not giving a f***.

Artist: Evanescence
Album: The Bitter Truth
Year: 2021
Grade: C+

In Brief: Evanescence finally managed to put out their first album of new material in a solid decade… and I’m honestly struggling to care. I can hear the subtle changes in their sound, particularly on some of the more electronic tracks. And some of Amy Lee’s lyrics are downright empowering. But they’ve stubbornly stuck to the dull, power chord-heavy sound that was the least interesting aspect of their classic material, while de-emphasizing the piano, the dramatic “gothic” influence, and pretty much anything that would give most of these songs some real color on top of all the brick-walled guitars.

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Enter Shikari – Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible: Elegy for Extinction

Artist: Enter Shikari
Album: Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Enter Shikari didn’t know they were doing it at the time, but in recording this wildly eclectic “electrocore” album about the human race’s tendency to tell itself comforting lies and become its own worst enemy, they were providing a sardonic soundtrack to the disastrous year that lay ahead.

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Django Django – Glowing in the Dark: Been here before, this time we’ll make it alright.

Artist: Django Django
Album: Glowing in the Dark
Year: 2021
Grade: B-

In Brief: With Django Django’s fourth LP falling somewhere into the cracks between indie rock and electronica, as they so often do, I’m not exactly blown away by most of the results, but I’ve found it to be a warm and inviting record that is easy to throw on for repeat listens, and a nice little escapist soundtrack for 2021, a year that feels like it’s slowly emerging from darkness toward something resembling light.

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R.E.M. – Reveal: How (Else) to Disappear Completely

Artist: R.E.M.
Album: Reveal
Year: 2001
Grade: B+

In Brief: While Reveal is not destined to be remembered by most people as one of R.E.M.’s great albums, I’ve had a soft spot for it since it was only a few years old. The sometimes murky mix of R.E.M.’s experimental electronic and acoustic reflective modes, with almost nothing reminiscent of the more urgent sound of their alt-rock heyday, means that most of these songs are growers and a first listen isn’t likely to blow you away. But there are plenty of beautiful moments and intriguing turns of phrase here that feel like a snapshot of R.E.M. at a relatively healthy and upbeat moment in their lives. It’s an ideal record to put on while reading, journaling, meditating, or just plain lying back and relaxing on a long, languid summer evening.

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Everything Everything – RE-ANIMATOR: Come on, you only lost your mind.

Artist: Everything Everything
Album: RE-ANIMATOR
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: While Everything Everything’s fifth album is a bit of a step back from A Fever Dream in terms of immediacy and intensity, there’s no doubt that it’s a clever and smartly constructed record, which wears its influences loud and proud, from indie rock to electronica to R&B. It’s just one that takes a while to find an entry point into, due to its bizarre concept and topsy-turvy pacing.

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Wye Oak – Shriek: I can’t remember what came before.

Artist: Wye Oak
Album: Shriek
Year: 2014
Grade: B+

In Brief: Setting the guitar aside for an album when it was previously the most important element of your band’s sound is a risky proposition. But Shriek, which found Jenn Wasner trading her electric riffs for addictive bass lines, turned out to be a real game-changer for Wye Oak in the best way possible. This is exactly the sort of idiosyncratic indie-tronica that I had a thirst for throughout much of the 2010s.

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Phantogram – Ceremony: Fall into happiness (then soul-crushing sadness, then happiness again for some reason.)

Artist: Phantogram
Album: Ceremony
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: The electronic rock/trip-hop duo’s fourth album is a bit of a potpourri, to the point where it doesn’t quite radiate the strong sense of musical identity heard on previous albums Voices and Three. There’s always been more to Phantogram than big, booty-shaking hooks, of course – and we still get a few choice bangers here. But Ceremony seems more concerned with the quirkier, trippier, and dreamier side of the Phantogram sound. I’m on board for most of it, even if there are stretches where my attention wanders.

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Wolf Parade – Thin Mind: Our only crime was living past our prime.

Artist: Wolf Parade
Album: Thin Mind
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s retro. It’s catchy. It’s got its fair share of synths – but don’t you dare call it synthpop, because it’s got way too much live band energy for that. Wolf Parade punches through this ten-song set with enough energy and vitality that, just for a moment, you might actually believe they were successful at holding back the inevitable flow of time.

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And then I will be something perfect in your eyes: My Top 20 Falling Up Songs

Here’s an absolutely awful pitch for a band you’re trying to get someone into: “Hey, these guys were childhood friends of another band that you hate with every fiber of your being!” It’s no small miracle that I became a fan of Falling Up in the first place, given how much that little fun fact was bandied about in their promotional details and by Christian radio deejays when the band first debuted. Even for a Christian rock band that was trying to do something more creative and conceptual than their own marketing gave them credit for at the time, I definitely couldn’t have predicted that these guys would have gone on to become one of my favorite bands. Or that they would break up not once, but twice, both times right after delivering one of their weirdest and most wonderful records. Strange as it may seem, the more niche this band’s audience became, the better off they were.

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