Tool – Fear Inoculum: Warriors Struggling to Remain Consequential

Artist: Tool
Album: Fear Inoculum
Year: 2019
Grade: C+

In Brief: I hate to be so ho-hum about a band’s first album back after a 13-year hiatus, but Tool is far more simmer than boil on this one. The band’s jammy, exploratory side has taken over, but their ability to be hard-hitting and thought-provoking has mostly taken a back seat to their insatiable need to drag every track out to 10+ minutes. It’s exhausting, and not in the immersive and fascinating way that Lateralus once was.

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Elbow – Giants of All Sizes: I’ve the heaviest heart jackhammering in me.

Artist: Elbow
Album: Giants of All Sizes
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: After the relative lightness of Little Fictions, it made sense for Elbow to go in a darker, more brooding direction, especially considering the personal losses the band has endured over the past few years. Only problem is, it feels like there isn’t a whole lot of meat to this album since it only has nine songs, and barely half of them are striking me as memorable.

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All Heaven Is Ringing: My Top 20 David Crowder Band Songs

You’ve probably observed by this point that most of the bands I’ve covered in this monthly Top 20 series have some relationship, whether direct or tangential, to the world of Contemporary Christian Music. While my musical tastes are much more diverse today, I’m open to hearing a variety of viewpoints beyond my own, and most of the artists I currently listen to who are Christians tend to operate largely outside the confines of the CCM industry, I can’t hide the fact that Christian rock is in my DNA, and a lot of my longest-running favorite bands came from that world. Most of these bands were known for at least trying to challenge the status quo in ways that sometimes made their religious audiences uncomfortable, and that I applauded them for. But the David Crowder Band might be the lone exception on this list, since they’ve always belonged to the niche-within-a-niche known as “praise and worship”, and I don’t think anyone’s ever felt the need to put a qualifier on it when describing them as “Christian rock”. What makes the David Crowder Band unique in my personal pantheon of favorite bands is that they managed to beat the odds and win me over despite being a worship band at a time when I was really starting to get cynical about the whole idea of worship bands in general.

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Music in Every Sound: My Top 20 Iona Songs

“Ah, so that’s where murlough23 got his screen name from! I just assumed he was really into wine or something.”

Out of all the bands I’ve ever been truly fanatical about, Iona might have been the one that was the toughest sell for friends who I hoped I could convert to fellow fans. For starters, their music generally got tagged as either “Celtic rock” or even “new age”. That generally made folks think more of Enya, and I don’t know, the Titanic soundtrack or something, rather than the more complex and often long-winded style of progressive rock that they actually made. Here in the U.S., they were marketed as a Christian rock band, which I suppose is technically correct since a lot of their music was inspired by the history of Celtic Christianity, and a the band’s members were mostly Christians, but stylistically, they were a pretty lousy fit for Christian radio in any era. And from the perspective of potential American listeners, they were an import band, with their primary audience in the U.K. and rather limited exposure in the States, carried by a Christian record label that really didn’t know how to market them, and with their albums generally having a limited print run in an age when you couldn’t simply download an album from anywhere in the world with the simple click of a mouse.

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Mae – Multisensory Aesthetic Experience: This is only a test (of my patience).

Artist: Mae
Album: Multisensory Aesthetic Experience
Year: 2018
Grade: B-
In Brief: Mae’s long-awaited comeback album is about half comfort food for those who loved their heart-on-sleeve style of high-octane pop/rock, and about half experimental/progressive stuff, not all of which fares as well as the band seems to have hoped. I’m thrilled to have them back, but wish they’d taken a little more care to make the final product a bit more cohesive.

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Muse – Simulation Theory: Propaganda is BAD!!! Also, here’s some propaganda.

Artist: Muse
Album: Simulation Theory
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: A kinder, gentler Muse than we last heard on Drones somehow manages to be ridiculous and over-the-top (as usual) without being enough of either of those things for it to really matter. Mining the nostalgia of our childhood and marrying that to modern sounds in off-the-wall ways is fun and all, but when this record tries to throw its hat into the ring of contemporary political discourse, it comes across as vague, outdated, and honestly a tad hypocritical. This is not a great Muse record, but it’s a catchy one, I guess.

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Umphrey’s McGee – It’s Not Us: Half Delayed

Artist: Umphrey’s McGee
Album: It’s Not Us
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Another strong release from UM that effectively straddles the line between their jam band noodling and more progressive, exploratory song structures. As usual, the instrumental pyrotechnics and stylistic diversity are a much bigger draw than the lyrics. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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Dave Matthews Band – Come Tomorrow: Let the children lead the way. (And let the dads make the dad rock.)

Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Come Tomorrow
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: The DMB’s comeback after a six-year gap between albums may not be the most attention-grabbing entry in their discography, but there’s a subtle richness to a lot of the instrumentation that makes it easier to tolerate the usual bits of hedonism and outright nonsense that tend to crop up in the typical Dave Matthews lyric. The band is showing its age a bit at this point, but they also seem to be quite comfortable with that age.

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Kindo – Happy However After: What I’ve Found Is Golden

Artist: Kindo
Album: Happy However After
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: With the name change comes an even stronger commitment to jazzy complexity, Latin rhythms, elaborate torch songs, and apparently a newfound love of electronic keyboards. It’s not my favorite variant on the Kindo sound, but it’s certainly a unique way for them to go against the flow in the current rock music climate, and they’re clearly still at the top of their game performance-wise.

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

2017_MarahintheMainsail_BoneCrown

Artist: 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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