Sylvan Esso – What Now: All you’ll hear is sound. (Wait, isn’t that how music normally works?)

2017_SylvanEsso_WhatNowArtist: Sylvan Esso
Album: What Now
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: The duo’s second album features some clever sonic experimentation and the occasional brave lyric. But it too often falls back on the old cliche of making music about making music. And the highlights generally aren’t as strong as they were on the first album.

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Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Intelligence – We were designed to send mixed signals.

2017_SleepingatLast_AtlasIntelligenceArtist: Sleeping at Last
Album: Atlas: Intelligence EP
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: Three songs about the body, heart, and mind, in Sleeping at Last’s expected baroque pop style. The electronic pulses and plethora of subtle sounds working in tandem on “Mind” are an excellent touch, but aside from that, there’s not much new here.

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Flint Eastwood – Broke Royalty EP: You wouldn’t last a day in my crown.

2017_FlintEastwood_BrokeRoyaltyEPArtist: Flint Eastwood
Album: Broke Royalty EP
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: While this EP features a bolder sound than 2015’s Small Victories, the production tends to de-emphasize the songwriting. It’s fun, but I don’t connect with it as deeply as I do with some of Flint’s earlier songs. Also, the re-inclusion of two of those songs is mildly distracting.

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Tennis – Yours Conditionally: 40-Love.

2017_Tennis_YoursConditionallyArtist: Tennis
Album: Yours Conditionally
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: Tennis has a laid-back, breezy, sunny sort of indie pop style that feels like a less gloomy, more innocent Beach House. It’s an easy sound to fall in love with, though the lack of variance in tone and tempo can start to get repetitive toward the album’s end.

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Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life: What we learned from an obsolete, bleeding heart Russian immigrant.

2016_reginaspektor_rememberustolifeArtist: Regina Spektor
Album: Remember Us to Life
Year: 2016
Grade: B

In Brief: Song-for-song, this is a more consistently well-written album than her last one, with more of a unified feel from track to track, but leaving room for a few fun surprises as well. Regina hasn’t totally reinvented her sometimes-cutesy, sometimes-creepy piano pop style, but she’s certainly honed her craft a bit since we last heard from her.

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Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Emotions – For in our great sorrow, we learn what joy means.

2016_sleepingatlast_atlasemotionsArtist: Sleeping at Last
Album: Atlas: Emotions EP
Year: 2016
Grade: A-

In Brief: While the lyrics do a great job of explaining the inner workings of each human emotion, the music doesn’t always live up to the emotion being expressed. It’s still a worthwhile and intriguing new entry in the Atlas series, but it’s more of a study than an actual experience of emotion.

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The Gray Havens – Ghost of a King: One day your heart will make it home.

2016_TheGrayHavens_GhostofaKingArtist: The Gray Havens
Album: Ghost of a King
Year: 2016
Grade: B

In Brief: Some subtle (for the most part) electronic touches and more of a focus on keyboard and layered arrangements add a fair amount of drama to the duo’s very warm, relateable style of storytelling. At times they can overplay their hand and come across a bit cheesy, and I still wish they were a true vocal duo rather than just a guy with his wife on backing vocals, but this is still an improvement on the folk-pop sound they established on Fire & Stone.

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