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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Rina Sawayama – RINA EP: Not yet a Superstar, but quite out of the Ordinary

Artist: Rina Sawayama
Album: RINA EP
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: You can call it pop, you can call it youthful, you can call it a throwback… you can even call it teenybopper if you want. Just don’t call it shallow. While this isn’t a style I dabble in often, I appreciate Rina’s smart commentary on contemporary Internet culture, wrapped up in the popular sounds of her own childhood from before social media was even a thing.

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Alt-J – Relaxer: Don’t do it.

2017_AltJ_RelaxerArtist: Alt-J
Album: Relaxer
Year: 2017
Grade: C

In Brief: Alt-J has gone from being a groove-laden, psychedelic indie band occasionally interrupted by dull ballads, to a band largely focused on ballads, some of them lushly orchestrated and some of them rather dull, occasionally interrupted by jarring rockers. It’s not a good look.

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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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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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Ed Sheeran – ÷: Appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator?

2017_EdSheeran_DivideArtist: Ed Sheeran
Album: ÷
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: Ed takes his music in a few new directions that I appreciate, and occasionally he shows some real wit in the songwriting department. But so much of this album feels calculated to clone the success of past singles and to pander to as wide an audience as possible. It drags down an otherwise enjoyable experience.

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Elbow – Little Fictions: I prefer to think of them as “Fun Size Alternative Facts”.

2017_elbow_littlefictionsArtist: Elbow
Album: Little Fictions
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: This album goes down smoother than The Take Off and Landing of Everything, though it may not have as much dynamic range, or as many climactic or startling moments. Some recent personal and professional changes in the band lineup lead to a sunnier and surprisingly more groove-based Elbow record, which I’d say is more accessible than their last few without radically altering their sound.

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