Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams: Oh, I've been listenin' to books never written, I'm gonna read to the end.

Artist: Lord Huron
Album: Lonesome Dreams
Year: 2012
Grade: A-

In Brief: An astounding debut that immediately transports me back to the days when the indie folk revival was still going strong. Lord Huron’s unique habit of weaving together pieces of a story in anachronic order, told from the perspective of a not-so-reliable narrator, as well as their occasional use of electronic and worldbeat elements, helps to set their songwriting style apart from influences like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket that they quite obviously wore on their sleeves at this point. The band has evolved a bit in the years since, but nothing they’ve done since then has hit me nearly as hard.

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A Love with Intuition: My Top 20 Vienna Teng Songs

If I could write songs like anyone in the world, I’d want to write like Vienna Teng does.

I’m sure I’ve echoed this sentiment many times in all of the reviews I’ve written of Vienna’s music over the years. And while there quite a lot of songwriters I’ve admired enough to consider them influential over the years, she seems to be the one I come back to the most consistently and remain in awe of, somehow still finding interesting little nuances I hadn’t considered before in songs of hers that I’ve loved for nearly two decades now. I knew pretty early on that I had stumbled across something special when I first heard her music – all it took was two songs performed on solo piano at an intimate live show way back in the spring of 2003 for me to first feel that tug deep within me, telling me I wanted to write something that communicated such powerful imagery wrapped in curious metaphor, and yet she was so intimidatingly good at it that I was pretty sure I’d never be able to come anywhere near it. But perhaps that’s the point. Vienna is such a restlessly creative individual who constantly challenges her own status quo. So maybe the best way to be inspired by her is to not try to mimic her at all. And therein lies the paradox.

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Kevin Max – AWOL: All the people from the past just want it to last.

Artist: Kevin Max
Album: AWOL
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: KMax once again proves himself to be more of a musical chameleon than a profound poet or a true innovator… but he obviously had a lot of fun taking a trip down memory lane on this heavily 80s-influenced album, and that makes the music quite infectious, even if it might not be terribly original.

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

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Artist: 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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Flint Eastwood – Small Victories EP: Who needs psychotherapy when the Internet will listen?

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Artist: Flint Eastwood
Album: Small Victories EP
Year: 2015
Grade: A-

In Brief: Flint Eastwood fits nicely among some of the other female-fronted dance-pop and electronica artists that I listen to, who emphasize wit and songcraft above mere sex appeal in their quest to get their music heard.

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Vienna Teng – Aims: Call it your 2.0, your rebirth, whatever.

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Artist: Vienna Teng
Album: Aims
Year: 2013
Grade: A-

In Brief: Aims will come as a surprise, if not a complete shock, to folks expecting tender piano ballads and an overall mellow mood. But those who have enjoyed Teng for her increasingly experimental tendencies over the years will find a lot of “thinking outside the box” to delight in here, as long as you’re not inclined to view electronic sounds and heavily layered production as somehow “inauthentic”.

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Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz: It’s Not So Impossible!

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Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: The Age of Adz
Year: 2010
Grade: B

In Brief: We all had ridiculous expectations after Illinois. Try to set those aside and approach Adz as an unknown entity. It’s still a bizarre experience, but you’ll be better for it.

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