Lo Moon: Here’s a new genre for you… Sophisti-gaze.

Artist: Lo Moon
Album: Lo Moon
Year: 2018
Grade: C+

In Brief: While Lo Moon’s synthesis of 80s pop and shoegaze aesthetics and their attention to background detail are commendable, there’s not enough interesting stuff in the foreground (hooks, riffs, variance in tempo and intensity, etc.) to make the album listening experience a particularly eventful one.

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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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Chvrches and Lo Moon live @ The Greek Theatre: They were a kaleidoscope.

There are certain bands whose recorded material I’m absolutely over the moon for, and yet who I feel hesitant about seeing live. Chvrches was one of those bands, right up until a friend decided to get tickets to their Love Is Dead tour when it rolled through Los Angeles. They are absolute wizards of synthpop in the studio, and all three members of the band are capable of playing multiple instruments. Yet when a band plays a style of music that is sufficiently programmed, I often wonder if it’s worth showing up just to watch them press buttons on laptops. As it turns out, that’s not at all a fair characterization of Chvrches’ live shows, where really all that comes pre-recorded is the background effects and loops – the synths, bass, whatever guitar parts their songs might occasionally feature, and most obviously the vocals, are all performed live. For their latest tour, they’ve also added a live drummer. This type of music can get me really excited when delivered with a sufficient amount of live energy, and I should have known better than to doubt Chvrches in this regard. Their three studio albums thus far have been about as close to uniformly excellent as the discography of any band in my collection, so of course their setlist was going to be packed with wall-to-wall favorites, almost no matter what they chose to play. This might have been a little more expensive of a show, with a slightly bigger crowd, than I’m used to when I go to concerts these days, but at no point in the evening did I doubt that this would be 100% worth it.

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Owl City – Cinematic: The soundtrack to a boring documentary you can’t even watch.

2018_OwlCity_CinematicArtist: Owl City
Album: Cinematic
Year: 2018
Grade: C

In Brief: Somewhere within this hodgepodge of bland personal anecdotes and ill-advised bits of genre-hopping, are a small handful of truly imaginative synthpop songs that remind me of why I once risked the scorn of fellow critics to proclaim that I actually liked Owl City. While sifting through 15 songs (and 3 alternate versions!) to find those rare gems is generally not a delightful experience, this album might still be a step up from Mobile Orchestra.

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Chvrches – Love Is Dead: Is it deliverance if you can never change?

Artist: Chvrches
Album: Love Is Dead
Year: 2018
Grade: A-

In Brief: For a band that had such a fully realized synthpop sound from the get-go, it makes sense that change should come only in small increments. Chvrches once again keeps what works for them intact, and while there are a few small surprises in the song structures and instrumentation, the bigger surprise on Love Is Dead is how hard a lot of the lyrics hit. Without being preachy or overtly political, the trio clearly feels a responsibility to address the turbulent times we’re all living in. It’s refreshing and vital, and ultimately that’s what makes this record yet another home run for Chvrches.

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The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful: And I shall give thee moderate cause to rejoice.

Artist: The Killers
Album: Wonderful Wonderful
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: The Killers are probably always going to strike me as a highly inconsistent band. I can’t decide whether I want them to be more serious or more silly, and they often swerve in one direction when I’d expect them to go in the other. But they make a good case for both sides of their personality on their fifth album, which shows some genuine maturity in places without casting off their fun, glammy side. I’d say it’s their best work since Hot Fuss, actually.

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

2017_SylvanEsso_WhatNowArtist: 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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