Global Genius – New Folk: Don't play anything… play everything.

Artist: Global Genius
Album: New Folk
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: This is really more of a singer/songwriter side project by a pair of guys mostly known for playing instruments and/or singing BGVs on other people’s records and in commercial jingles. That may seem like an oddly commercial pedigree for this under-the-radar independent release, but there are some genuinely smart lyrics and soothing melodies on this modest little album, if you’re willing to overlook a few of the cornier selections.

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Bon Iver – i,i: I’d throw another “i” in there, and an exclamation point for good measure.

Artist: Bon Iver
Album: i,i
Year: 2019
Grade: C+

In Brief: Bon Iver’s fourth album isn’t the radical sonic leap forward that albums #2 and #3 were. At times, Justin Vernon seems hell-bent on sabotaging the melodies and structures of his songs with harsh noise, or bridges and outros that lazily drift off into nothingness. One could argue that this was a bold experiment on 22, A Million, but the highlights were much stronger on that record. Here, even the strongest tracks don’t compel me to stick around long enough to puzzle over what it could all mean, and this is the first time I’ve honestly felt that way about a Bon Iver record.

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Matthew Thiessen & the Earthquakes – Wind Up Bird: Twee(t) Pop

Artist: Matthew Thiessen & the Earthquakes
Album: Wind Up Bird
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: It’s actually not that far of a stylistic leap from some of the mellower material on Relient K’s latest album to their lead singer’s first solo album. While I enjoy the clever indie/baroque pop arrangements and witty wordplay, I have to admit that only a handful of Thiessen’s songs on this album continue to stand out in my mind, beyond the initial novelty of hearing him do an acoustic record.

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DeVotchKa – This Night Falls Forever: Somewhere back in your memory, there’s a younger, prettier version of me.

Artist: DeVotchKa
Album: This Night Falls Forever
Year: 2018
Grade: A-

In Brief: Ten songs after a seven-year absence might seem like a meager offering from most bands, but DeVotchKa ensures that their long-awaited return is an engrossing and intoxicating listen. The Latin rock influences may not be as pronounced this time around, but the strings, whistling, and other exotic bits of instrumentation all help to give this record an adventurous, otherworldly aura that isn’t easily forgotten. This Night Falls Forever can be a bit of an emotionally intense listen at first, but it’s definitely worth your time.

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The Innocence Mission – Sun on the Square: Some lost things I will hope to find

Artist: The Innocence Mission
Album: Sun on the Square
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Though it took a few listens to get over the initial “every song sounds the same” impression I had of this album, there’s more diversity in the color, tone, and instrumental textures to be found on the group’s tenth album than I can remember there being on those old Innocence Mission albums I listened to well over a decade ago. Now that the modest little vignettes in a number of these hopeful, innocent little folk songs have begun to sink into my subconscious, they seem to offer sublime glimpses of eternity despite their almost ephemeral nature.

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Derek Webb – Fingers Crossed: The devil, too, deserves some boundaries

Artist: Derek Webb
Album: Fingers Crossed
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Lyrically, Fingers Crossed is a harrowing tale of a man’s guilt, anguish, and possible loss of faith in the messy aftermath of an extramarital affair. Musically, it’s mostly a low-key mixture of acoustic coffeehouse-type material and electronica. 13 tracks and over an hour of music in this vein can be an incredibly difficult listen for both reasons, but I have to admit that a few of the confessions and insights offered here are darkly fascinating.

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Iron & Wine – Beast Epic: Sorry, but I don’t think either of those descriptors applies here.

Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: Beast Epic
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Sam Beam is a skillful songwriter, his voice is always soothing, and his lyrics are always intriguing. But his decision to revert back to the simpler style of his earlier efforts makes for a rather underwhelming album. I like both the layered, experimental side of Iron & Wine and the hushed, laid-back, folksy side, and it seems like a step backwards to cast off one side for the sake of the other.

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