Calexico – The Thread that Keeps Us: Love in the Age of the Extremes

2018_Calexico_TheThreadThatKeepsUsArtist: Calexico
Album: The Thread that Keeps Us
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: What this album lacks in special guests, it makes up for with its slightly more aggressive and exploratory sound. Calexico still balances their dusky desert folk, indie rock, Latin, and jazz influences pretty well, with this album coming out a little stronger on the “rock” side of the spectrum, but not alarmingly so. It’s a welcome change after the sleepier vibe of their last few records.

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The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl: What a Terrible Album.

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: I’ll Be Your Girl
Year: 2018
Grade: C-

In Brief: A distressingly unfocused and non-committal album full of weird genre-hopping experiments that rarely work, and grating repetition that sucks any potential humor or narrative value out of most of the songs. I applaud the willingness to take risks with their sound, but I honestly get the impression from this album that The Decemberists are just plain exhausted from all the epic-length records that they used to make, and only half trying at this point. Not everything on this record is awful, but enough of it ranges from mildly disappointing to downright irritating that I end up in a bad mood pretty much every time I listen to it.

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Spoon – Hot Thoughts: TheyfinallytalkedmeintolisteningtoSpoon

Artist: Spoon
Album: Hot Thoughts
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: The band’s ninth album is a kaleidoscope of colorful sounds befitting its cover art. I love how the urgent, raspy vocals of Britt Daniel collide with the inventive percussion grooves, the jangly guitars and layered keyboard sounds, and the occasional atmospheric bits as well. They’ve got a streamlined indie pop aesthetic that keeps the songs mostly concise and flowing from one into the other with laser-guided accuracy, but they also leave space for the occasional experimental or “jam band”-type indulgence, which works out a lot better than it probably sounds like it should. It’s hard to believe it took me THIS long to get into these guys.

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St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION: A spoonful of sugar helps the pills go down.

2017_StVincent_MASSEDUCTIONArtist: St. Vincent
Album: MASSEDUCTION
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: In between the startling moments and the serene ones, there’s a really idiosyncratic pop record eager to come out and play. It’s taken me a few albums, but I’m finally starting to warm up to Annie Clark’s off-kilter mix of the trashy and the transcendent.

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Marah in the Mainsail – Bone Crown: I guess the title “Beast Epic” was already taken.

2017_MarahintheMainsail_BoneCrownArtist: Marah in the Mainsail
Album: Bone Crown
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: A fascinatingly dark concept album, whose tale of animals vying for control of the forest is told in a gritty, muscular indie folk/rock style that shows more vocal and instrumental diversity than Marah’s first record. Every listen reveals something new.

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Cool Hand Luke – Cora: I’m not one for dancing, but tonight I’m dancing for You.

2017_CoolHandLuke_CoraArtist: Cool Hand Luke
Album: Cora
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: An unexpected return from an artist I assumed had hung it up for good back in 2011. The new sound is a little more groove-based, but doesn’t abandon the piano-heavy indie rock sound CHL had established in their mid-career. This is a strong effort, easily on par with The Sleeping House.

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Alt-J – Relaxer: Don’t do it.

2017_AltJ_RelaxerArtist: Alt-J
Album: Relaxer
Year: 2017
Grade: C

In Brief: Alt-J has gone from being a groove-laden, psychedelic indie band occasionally interrupted by dull ballads, to a band largely focused on ballads, some of them lushly orchestrated and some of them rather dull, occasionally interrupted by jarring rockers. It’s not a good look.

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