Artist: 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.
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.
Artist: 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.
Artist: 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.
Artist: 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.
Artist: Radiohead Album: A Moon Shaped Pool Year: 2016 Grade: B-
In Brief: More surprising than its sudden release is the overall down-tempo, relaxed nature of the music throughout most of this record. At times the moods and sentiments are vintage Radiohead, but the heavy emphasis on acoustic instruments and string arrangements are definitely more understated territory than the band unusually inhabits. The King of Limbs may have had a more exciting sound, but this feels much more like a complete, fully thought-through album.
Artist: The 1975 Album: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It Year: 2016 Grade: B-
In Brief: I go back and forth between “bold experiment” and “sprawling mess” when trying to describe this 17-track opus. It’s not at all what you’d expect based on its singles, and at times the detours can try my patience, but they cover a lot of stylistic ground here, and I’m actually drawn to their introverted side more than I would have expected.