Artist: Colony House Album: Leave What’s Lost Behind Year: 2020 Grade: B-
In Brief: The young band’s third album finds them taking risks and stretching their musical horizons, but not always putting their best foot forward. They established themselves as such great entertainers with the boisterous live band sound of Only the Lonely that it’s kind of a bummer to hear them backing off from it a bit here.
Artist: Global Genius Album: New Folk Year: 2019 Grade: B-
In Brief: This is really more of a singer/songwriter side project by a pair of guys mostly known for playing instruments and/or singing BGVs on other people’s records and in commercial jingles. That may seem like an oddly commercial pedigree for this under-the-radar independent release, but there are some genuinely smart lyrics and soothing melodies on this modest little album, if you’re willing to overlook a few of the cornier selections.
Some bands are really good at breaking your heart, or at least at letting you know what it’s like to have your heart utterly and completely broken. Some bands are really good at helping you pick up the pieces and put that heart back together. Paper Route was one of the rare bands that I felt was excellent at both sides of that equation. And now they’ve gone and broken my heart by disappearing on an “indefinite hiatus”, just when I felt they were at the top of their game and poised to break out to a larger audience. I didn’t think at the beginning of 2019 when I started picking all-time favorite artists of mine who were currently inactive to feature in these monthly retrospective “Top 20” columns, that Paper Route would end up being one of them. We may have an unexplained absence to mourn, but at least we’ve got a phenomenal Absence to look back on.
Do you remember the first album you ever deliberately sat down and listened to all the way through? I certainly do. It was Out of the Grey‘s self-titled 1991 debut. And it turned out to be a record that imprinted itself upon me so deeply, it would come to shape my perception of what “the perfect pop album” should sound like.
You know you’re a huge fan of a band when a friend asks you how many times you’ve seen them live, and you realize you’ve lost count. It’s funny, because I haven’t really considered myself a massive Switchfoot fan for quite a while, probably since the mid-2000s when The Beautiful Letdown hit it big, and was admirably followed up by Nothing Is Sound and Oh! Gravity. Paradoxically, that’s my favorite era of Switchfoot’s discography, and yet I got to the point where I became downright sick of the most well-known songs from those albums being must-plays in their setlists. It’s probably because I saw them live several times that decade, and when I see a band live multiple times, I prefer to hear them play stuff from their newer albums, or if they’re gonna play old stuff, I’d like to hear a few I’ve never heard live before. The Beautiful Letdown is my favorite Switchfoot album (an area where I’d guess I’m agreement with the majority of their fans), but I’d be perfectly fine never hearing that album’s heavy-hitters “Dare You to Move”, “This Is Your Life”, or “Meant to Live”, from them ever again. I love those songs. A ton of other people do too, and I guess I can’t fault someone who shows up, never having seen the band before, for wanting the trip down memory lane. It was because of this (and a string of less than impressive albums in the late 2000s/early 2010s) that I cooled off on seeing them live for a while after witnessing a just-OK live set on their tour for Vice Verses in 2011. (Even then, there were a couple of Fiction Family shows in between, and the Jon Foreman solo show I went to this time last year, because he is simply one of my favorite people in the entire universe.) This year’s Native Tongue isn’t really one of my favorite albums of theirs, either, but 2016’s When the Light Shines Through was a pleasant surprise that seemed a bit underrated among the fanbase, and I kicked myself for missing out on their tour with Relient K that year (who themselves had just put out the startlingly excellent Air For Free). When they announced a tour with Colony House slated for this spring, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.
Artist: Matthew Thiessen & the Earthquakes Album: Wind Up Bird Year: 2018 Grade: B-
In Brief: It’s actually not that far of a stylistic leap from some of the mellower material on Relient K’s latest album to their lead singer’s first solo album. While I enjoy the clever indie/baroque pop arrangements and witty wordplay, I have to admit that only a handful of Thiessen’s songs on this album continue to stand out in my mind, beyond the initial novelty of hearing him do an acoustic record.
In Brief: In celebrating the resurrection of Christ, which is the middle part of a three-part story he’s been working on since 2008, Andrew Peterson delivers an upbeat and triumphant set of songs, which can sometimes be rather middle-of-the-road and mildly corny, but I still appreciate the thematic resonance it has with the first (last?) entry in the trilogy.
In Brief: This mellow but exquisitely constructed prelude to Resurrection Letters, Part 1 might actually be superior to its parent project. This is a nice little meditative morsel, ideal for Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, or any time the listener wants to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.
Artist: Christine Denté Album: Closer to Free EP Year: 2017 Grade: B
In Brief: A delightful morsel of mellow pop music from one of the very first pop singers I ever fell in love with. This is probably the closest that Christine as a solo artist has come to the classic Out of the Grey sound – just imagine more of a keyboard-based take on that, with the usual understated but smart songwriting, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect here.
Artist: 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.