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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Band of Skulls – By Default: I like my competition clean.

2016_BandofSkulls_ByDefaultArtist: Band of Skulls
Album: By Default
Year: 2016
Grade: B-

In Brief: This is easily the band’s leanest & meanest record, in terms of just jamming out a bunch of fun songs and not overthinking it. But the garage-y bluesiness and stylistic variance heard on past albums isn’t as prominent here. So the surface-level enjoyment I get just from listening to them play is often undercut by a nagging feeling that there’s no real substance here.

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Mumford & Sons – Johannesburg EP: I wish there had been time for a full album.

2016_MumfordSons_JohannesburgEPArtist: Mumford & Sons
Album: Johannesburg EP
Year: 2016
Grade: B+

In Brief: Surprisingly strong, given the unlikely collaboration between an English “folk” band and three stylistically divergent African artists. I still think Mumford & Sons are poseurs of a sort, wandering the world in search of a sound they can actually master, but this EP at least proves that they’re excellent collaborators.

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