Polychrome: Hear the colors. See the sound. (Taste the rainbow?)

Artist: Polychrome
Album: Polychrome
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: A strong start for a promising synthpop act, in a genre where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out. Their reliance on vocal samples, bright pop hooks, and occasional more eerie/atmospheric passages to serve as a contrast, showcases diversity across this playful set of songs. But it also becomes apparent toward the end that there’s a bit of filler here – all pleasant ambient and instrumental stuff, but a bit lighter on the big, bright pop songs than I might have preferred.

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Django Django – Marble Skies: I guess the title “Marble Madness” was already taken.

Artist: Django Django
Album: Marble Skies
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: A powerhouse synthpop/electronic rock album that knows when to ham it up and when to peel back the layers a bit for more of an organic performance. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, something different happens. This is my kind of band for sure.

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Muse – Simulation Theory: Propaganda is BAD!!! Also, here’s some propaganda.

Artist: Muse
Album: Simulation Theory
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: A kinder, gentler Muse than we last heard on Drones somehow manages to be ridiculous and over-the-top (as usual) without being enough of either of those things for it to really matter. Mining the nostalgia of our childhood and marrying that to modern sounds in off-the-wall ways is fun and all, but when this record tries to throw its hat into the ring of contemporary political discourse, it comes across as vague, outdated, and honestly a tad hypocritical. This is not a great Muse record, but it’s a catchy one, I guess.

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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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