The Killers – Pressure Machine: Splits a family in two, puts people on streets, um ba ba bey.

Artist: The Killers
Album: Pressure Machine
Year: 2021
Grade: B-

In Brief: We get a surprisingly subdued version of The Killers on album #7, which sees the band downshifting into sensitive folk/rock mode and away from their usual synth-heavy glammy indie rock. It suits the story Brandon Flowers is trying to tell, of the mundane struggles and headline-making tragedies of everyday people in the small Utah town he grew up in. Musically speaking, it’s not their most exciting record, but it’s got some powerful storytelling that often transcends the more simplistic style.

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The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost.

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: The Hazards of Love
Year: 2009
Grade: B+

In Brief: The Decemberists’ fifth album is basically the indie folk equivalent of a musical – and a well-cast one at that. It’s also hopelessly convoluted, in the way that a lot of prog-rock concept albums attempting a continuous narrative tend to be. But it covers an impressive amount of musical ground, and Colin Meloy’s ability to make listeners swoon one minute and recoil with absolute horror the next is unparalleled. For those who are brave and attentive enough to take a deep dive into its undercurrent of madness, listening to The Hazards of Love is certainly a fascinating way to spend an hour.

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Lord Huron – Long Lost: If you never wanna see my face again, I’ll understand.

Artist: Lord Huron
Album: Long Lost
Year: 2021
Grade: C+

In Brief: I really want to get swept up in this record’s stroll down a blurry Memory Lane, set in an ambiguous place and time. But despite it having the same sort of indie folk/country trappings and high-concept storytelling as the band’s early work, Long Lost is a huge step down in terms of both the energy level and the imagination that went into the arrangements. They spent a lot of time here geeking out over specific guitar tones and the sonic minutiae of how a unique studio space makes a record sound, all of which are technically intriguing but which will be lost on the casual listener. What that leaves is a rather languid story of lost/forbidden love that often calls back to, but ends up being dwarfed by, earlier songs they’ve written that are very much in the same vein, with only the framing story of a bootlegged radio broadcast making it in any way distinctive.

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Myles Kennedy – The Ides of March: Cool heads prevail in times of change.

Artist: Myles Kennedy
Album: The Ides of March
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: The alt-metal singer’s solo foray into a rootsier, bluesier style of rock music continues to be far more interesting than his dayjob as the frontman of Alter Bridge. While this record doesn’t have as much of the personal pathos that made Year of the Tiger so impactful, it’s still interesting to hear him try new things as a vocalist and a musician. As a songwriter, he falters a bit here as he tries to tackle contemporary social issues on a few tracks, but I figure his heart’s in the right place, at least.

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Holden Days – Peregrine: All of my dreams begin and end with you.

Artist: Holden Days
Album: Peregrine
Year: 2021
Grade: B+

In Brief: It’s almost too easy to describe the music of Holden Days as “dreamy”, but it’s impossible to avoid when an album takes its time to delicately and intricately explore the language and emotions of dreaming like this one does. It’s a nice maturation of the “dream folk” sound I fell in love with one the Sylvan Lands records, playing around a little more with the keyboards and programming this time to give it an extra layer of candy coating, but not forgetting to bring it all back around to the achingly lovely acoustic chord progressions and the breathtaking little explosions of electric guitar with which this artist won my heart in the first place. Though it was born out of a time of social distance and isolation, Peregrine captures a sense of longing to be known that really stays with me.

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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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Jon Foreman – Departures: I’m sure you’ve got your reasons, but I have my doubts.

Artist: Jon Foreman
Album: Departures
Year: 2021
Grade: B-

In Brief: While it’s always nice to hear what’s on Foreman’s mind, the lack of an obvious theme on his third solo release makes it a little more difficult to track with some of the individual songs or understand how they fit into the overall picture. The mostly low-key, folksy style gets a little monotonous as the album wears on, but there are some instrumental surprises as well as a few guest vocalists and producers to help add color to the sound here and there. Departures is a good record with lots of insightful songwriting, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the potential realized on his seasonal EPs and The Wonderlands.

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The Decemberists – The Crane Wife: We’ll make our homes on the water.

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: The Crane Wife
Year: 2006
Grade: A-

In Brief: The Crane Wife is The Decemberists’ masterpiece. Pretty much everything they did well in the old days is on display here – the complex multi-part suites, the lilting folk anthems, the foreboding rockers, and even some of their finest pop songs. It’s not the farthest they’ve ever gone down the conceptual rabbit hole (that was their next album!), but it hits the sweet spot in terms of having a wealth of songs you can enjoy individually or as part of the larger tapestry being woven from start to finish.

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Fleet Foxes – Shore: You’re not the season you’re in.

Artist: Fleet Foxes
Album: Shore
Year: 2020
Grade: A-

In Brief: Robin Pecknold, working mostly as a one-man show by necessity, has delivered us a soothing autumn soundtrack that probably would have gone down much more smoothly any other year. I’ll try not to hold the events of 2020 against it.

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Tyson Motsenbocker: Someday I’ll Make It All Up to You: I want better days to miss.

Artist: Tyson Motsenbocker
Album: Someday I’ll Make It All Up to You
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: Sound-wise, this is pretty standard singer-songwriter fare, but I do appreciate Tyson’s observational skills as he engages in warm nostalgia on some tracks while openly questioning its value on others. From easygoing love songs to a witty rumination on the deconstruction of a person’s faith, he’s got a good variety of subject matter here that just needs more of a distinctive musical stamp to really help him stand out from the pack.

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