Geographer – New Jersey: Go so far to make it home again.

Artist: Geographer
Album: New Jersey EP
Year: 2019
Grade: A-

In Brief: This 7-track EP may only feature 4 full-length songs, with the rest being intros and outros that help glue everything together, but those 4 songs are phenomenal. This was the perfect gateway for me to get into Mike Deni’s “sort of a band, sort of a solo project” blend of indie rock and synthpop, and it leaves me incredibly eager to hear what’s next on his upcoming full-length release due out this December.

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Tennis – Swimmer: Where the time goes, who really knows?

Artist: Tennis
Album: Swimmer
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: I’ve come to expect Tennis albums to be short and sweet, but this is the first time they’ve come up short even by that standard. What should be a tender and affecting meditation on a couple growing old together and being each other’s support system through various hardships, instead mostly drifts by without making much of an impact. Alaina Moore’s vocals are still quite lovely, and the duo still knows how to sustain a dreamy indie pop atmosphere… but the style feels a bit slight, given the substance that the songs are trying to convey.

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Tennis – Cape Dory: We’ve been gone for so very long that we’ve forgotten where we are from.

Artist: Tennis
Album: Cape Dory
Year: 2011
Grade: B+

In Brief: A charming debut that still stands out as some of Tennis’s best work almost a decade later. Though these ten surf rock songs with a bit of an indie/lo-fi aesthetic go wafting by like a gentle sea breeze in barely half an hour, this album is memorable for how it documents a sailing voyage that the married duo embarked upon. Even with the nostalgia filter decidedly on and the vocals at their most sweetly romantic, the sailing wasn’t always smooth, and I think that says something about how they both grew as individuals and as a couple.

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SHEL – Wild Child: We all belong in a zoo.

Artist: SHEL
Album: Wild Child EP
Year: 2020
Grade: A

In Brief: These four sisters show impressive range on their latest EP, from their mellower folk, bluegrass and classical roots to a few unashamedly big and bright-colored pop tunes. Massive vocal hooks, a sense of playfulness, and an underlying sweet sincerity help to tie it all together, making this set of six songs one of the most beautiful and endearing things I’ve heard thus far in 2020.

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The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights: Where we’re going, we don’t need Rhodes.

Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: This album brings back some of the sonic diversity that Whiteout Conditions lacked, especially with violinist Simi Stone upgraded to full membership. But song-for-song, it just doesn’t hit nearly as hard, and I think part of the problem is that despite all the singers in this band, we’re really only hearing the artistic voice of Carl Newman. No longer having Dan Bejar around kind of exposes his limitations as full-time band leader.

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Meg & Dia – happysad: Don’t you ever try to calm down that flavor.

Artist: Meg & Dia
Album: happysad
Year: 2019
Grade: B+

In Brief: Think of this less as a reformation of Meg & Dia the band, and more as a rediscovery of Meg & Dia the sisters who loved making music together, and who now make sharp, witty pop songs with engaging riffs and rhythms. It’s sad that all the music industry B.S. ever split them up in the first place, but it feels so good to have these two back together again.

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Sigrid – Sucker Punch: You say “Basic” like it’s a bad thing.

Artist: Sigrid
Album: Sucker Punch
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: While Sigrid’s influences are obvious and she jumps around a bit stylistically, there are some formidable pop songs here with great hooks and thoughtful writing. She makes a great case for pop music being “basic” in its sound and structure without being boring.

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Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go: Not as bad as she wants to be. (In fact, she’s quite good.)

Artist: Billie Eilish
Album: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Year: 2019
Grade: B+

In Brief: Billie’s full-length debut rather boldly defies my expectations of what a pop album, whether indie or mainstream, should sound like in 2019. She also busts some of my stereotypes about teenage singer/songwriters in general, and how they can communicate both lyrically and sonically in a way that comes across as authentic while still drawing in a huge and diverse audience. I didn’t expect to like this album nearly as much as I did, and now I can’t stop listening to it.

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Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Enneagram – I’m just trying to see myself through someone else’s eyes.

Artist: Sleeping at Last
Album: Atlas: Enneagram
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: While there isn’t as much interactivity between these songs as I had imagined there might be, the musical diversity and attention to detail in exploring each personality type makes it a worthwhile series of character studies. And with nine tracks exploring a consistent theme, it’s the closest thing to a traditional album that SAL has put out since the Space series during Year One.

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My Brightest Diamond – A Million and One: You can say what you want, but like the air, I will rise.

Artist: My Brightest Diamond
Album: A Million and One
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: This album further revises the MBD sound, taking Shara Nova’s already rhythm-heavy approach in even more of an electronic direction while dropping some of the more ornate instrumentation. It’s a bit all over the place, musically speaking, but I do appreciate it as a bold expression of her independence and artistic ambition.

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