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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Maxïmo Park – Nature Always Wins: How am I supposed to feel, denied the luxury of time?

Artist: Maxïmo Park
Album: Nature Always Wins
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s a little hard to unpack why I like Maxïmo Park, but don’t quite love them. Their style is pretty much right up the alley of all the indie and alternative rock I typically listen to, and they keep things pretty upbeat and intelligently introspective throughout this album. But I have a hard time describing what makes their sort-of-electronic, sort-of-retro rock sound distinctive enough to get me excited in a way that other bands couldn’t. They’ve been at this for a while, so it’s possible that they’ve done more unique work in the past, and I just happened to catch them on a more typical day at the office.

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Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress: Cued to sway forever by the forces of the Lord’s choreography.

Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Album: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Year: 2003
Grade: B+

In Brief: An indie pop classic that I’m still in the process of slowly falling in love with, a good six years since I first heard it (and three times that long since it was released). This was the moment where Belle & Sebastian made the jump to full-color production values and got a little braver with the stylistic experimentation, with a few of these tracks even being a little funky and danceable, while still maintaining the quirky attention to detail that their songwriting has always been notable for. I’d never heard anything from the band until the record after this one, but Waitress really should have been my jumping-on point.

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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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Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs: You’ve gotta spend some time with me.

Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
Album: Narrow Stairs
Year: 2008
Grade: B+

In Brief: Death Cab rode an existential crisis as far down into the abyss as they were willing to go on Narrow Stairs. Though it may present itself as a challenging record, even an ornery one at times, it’s got some of the group’s best melodies, most riveting performances, and most intriguing lyrics. Some might say it’s a dark horse pick, and Ben Gibbard himself has said he doesn’t want to get this dreary ever again. But despite all the fear and angst expressed here, I’m still convinced this is the best record Death Cab for Cutie has ever put out.

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Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness: Let’s get lost, baby, and take a wrong turn.

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Album: Path of Wellness
Year: 2021
Grade: C+

In Brief: On their first album as a duo, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein exchange a lot of their usual passion, rage, and affinity for making rambunctious noise for more of an introspective curiosity, which is still noisy in places but much more subdued in others. I appreciate the exploratory nature of this project, and I think it has some worthwhile things to say, but given the iconic sound Sleater-Kinney had cultivated as a power trio over the years, it’s hard not to miss that now that they’re apparently forging a new identity.

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The Reign of Kindo EP: The best is yet to come if I just wait for it.

Artist: The Reign of Kindo
Album: The Reign of Kindo EP
Year: 2007
Grade: B+

In Brief: Kindo had a ton of charm and class right out of the gate on their debut EP, and I’m kicking myself for taking so darn long to finally go back and check it out, after being a fan of the band for more than a decade. The smooth hybrid of jazz, rock, and R&B that they showcased on Rhythm, Chord & Melody in 2008 was already intact on this EP a year earlier, sporting four unique songs not heard on any of their later records (and a darn good Flaming Lips cover as well).

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Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee: How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers, to captivate every heart?

Artist: Japanese Breakfast
Album: Jubilee
Year: 2021
Grade: B+

In Brief: Third time’s the charm for Japanese Breakfast, who has hit it big with a charming little indie pop record that is sure to brighten your summer. I’m taken aback in the best possible way by how effectively she’s emphasized the poppier aspects of her sound without losing the hazy, dreamy, and slightly psychedelic aspects of it from the old days. She wanted to write a happier record after two gloomier ones, and a superficial listen would tell you she succeeded.. right up until you start paying closer attention to the lyrics, at least.

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Future of Forestry – Remember: Highly Forgettable

Artist: Future of Forestry
Album: Remember
Year: 2021
Grade: C

In Brief: A disappointingly limp and meager offering from a long-time favorite artist of mine. This is the first time in Future of Forestry’s 15-year existence that I’ve been truly disappointed, not because a sudden genre shift was difficult to adjust to, but because it seemed like a repetition of old patterns with a distinct lack of anything evocative or imaginative to say. These 8 songs are all immaculately arranged, and performed with the most heartfelt of emotions, but I think FoF has finally reached the tipping point where its sound is too darn professional for its own good.

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