My Epic – Violence: I hope you hate it!

Artist: My Epic
Album: Violence EP
Year: 2019
Grade: A-

In Brief: The follow-up to Ultraviolet is a more visceral, adventurous, and sometimes downright abrupt and startling record that puts the focus on human relationships and the awful things we’re capable of doing to each other in the name of God. It’s not an easy listen, but it’s one of the year’s best recordings precisely because of it.

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My Epic – Ultraviolet: I think we’re all lost ’til we’ve lived in the wilderness.

Artist: My Epic
Album: Ultraviolet EP
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: A slow-burning but thoughtful set of songs about the implications of believing in the unseen, that serves as a compelling introduction to the My Epic sound even if it’s not 100% representative of the band’s range.

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Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs: Did you say that life could be better? Or do you only live to be seen as such?

Artist: Wye Oak
Album: The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: While it’s tricky to categorize genre-wise, this album manages to be equal parts energizing, soothing, and challenging, thanks to the dynamic of intricate percussion, stunning synths and keyboards, and occasionally noisy guitars that this duo has going for them. And digging into their cryptic lyrics reveals a bit of existential angst tempered with wisdom and patience. File this one under “How did I not know that this band existed for the last four albums?!”

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Iron & Wine – Beast Epic: Sorry, but I don’t think either of those descriptors applies here.

Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: Beast Epic
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Sam Beam is a skillful songwriter, his voice is always soothing, and his lyrics are always intriguing. But his decision to revert back to the simpler style of his earlier efforts makes for a rather underwhelming album. I like both the layered, experimental side of Iron & Wine and the hushed, laid-back, folksy side, and it seems like a step backwards to cast off one side for the sake of the other.

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

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Artist: 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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Sylvan Esso: She don’t know the gravity she holds.

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Artist: Sylvan Esso
Album: Sylvan Esso
Year: 2014
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s amazing what two people can accomplish with little more than a voice, some synths and drum pads, and a bit of ingenuity when it comes to live looping. Not every experiment works, but when it does, it’s an intoxicating example of synthpop/IDM at its best.

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Lost in the Trees – Past Life: Death is just a staircase.

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Artist: Lost in the Trees
Album: Past Life
Year: 2014
Grade: B

In Brief: “Less is more” seems to have been Lost in the Trees’ mantra this time around. The huge baroque arrangements and labyrinthine time signatures may be mostly gone, but even in this stripped-down setting, Ari Picker’s musings on death and what lies beyond the doorway just up that staircase are still every bit as intriguing.

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