Chvrches – Screen Violence: No one ever tells you there’s freedom in the failure.

Artist: Chvrches
Album: Screen Violence
Year: 2021
Grade: B+

In Brief: By know you should know that Chvrches isn’t the kind of band you expect to radically reinvent itself on each new album. The trio knows what works for them, which is high-octane synthpop with generally dark and brooding lyrics, and they’re consistent about it almost to a fault on album #4. It’s hard to complain when they piece together beats, vocal hooks, and synth melodies with lightning precision almost every time, and when they know how to go for the lyrical gut-punch in terms of confronting what scares them. For now I’m going with a rating on this one that says “Pretty darn good, but your first three albums set an almost impossibly high bar for you to clear, so keep trying!”

Continue reading

Sparks – A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip: Our Insincerity Is Our Sincerity.

Artist: Sparks
Album: A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s nice when a band that’s been around for over 50 years can put out a witty and engaging record that immediately gets me over the nagging question, “Why the heck should I start listening to these guys NOW?” Their manic, keyboard-heavy brand of art rock isn’t gonna be for everyone, and they’re certainly more interested in lampooning pop culture than they are in falling in line with it, but there’s something about the cheeky wordplay and the occasional bit of biting social commentary that keeps me engaged throughout most of these 14 tracks. If Steady Drip is in any way indicative of the quality of Sparks’ past work, then I have a LOT of catching up to do.

Continue reading

The Postal Service – Give Up: They Have Become Silhouettes

Artist: The Postal Service
Album: Give Up
Year: 2003
Grade: A-

In Brief: What was once just a fun little collaborative side project that its members probably didn’t expect most of the world to notice, became a monolithic influence in the world of indie electronic music that infamously never got a proper follow-up. If you’re into modern day indie bands that show off their bleeps, bloops, and glitches alongside ironic songwriting, and you somehow missed out on The Postal Service like I did, then you owe it to yourself to go back and discover their debut (and sadly, final) album.

Continue reading

Django Django – Glowing in the Dark: Been here before, this time we’ll make it alright.

Artist: Django Django
Album: Glowing in the Dark
Year: 2021
Grade: B-

In Brief: With Django Django’s fourth LP falling somewhere into the cracks between indie rock and electronica, as they so often do, I’m not exactly blown away by most of the results, but I’ve found it to be a warm and inviting record that is easy to throw on for repeat listens, and a nice little escapist soundtrack for 2021, a year that feels like it’s slowly emerging from darkness toward something resembling light.

Continue reading

Sylvan Esso – Free Love: You didn’t have to make it THAT easy.

Artist: Sylvan Esso
Album: Free Love
Year: 2020
Grade: C+

In Brief: While there are a handful of brilliant and immediately engaging tracks here, and the duo is always inventive in the beat-making and sampling department, it’s a bit distressing to me Sylvan Esso’s third album seems kind of like it was thrown together as an afterthought. Several tracks feel like mere fragments of songs, and despite the album’s brisk 29-minute runtime, some of the sparser moments can really drag. This is fine as lightweight electropop albums go, but I don’t feel anywhere near as challenged by it as I did by a lot of the material on their first two records.

Continue reading

Lights – Skin&Earth: Freefall with Me.

Artist: Lights
Album: Skin&Earth
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: It took me a few years to realize it, but this is Lights’ best album thus far. While she had experimented a bit on past albums, this one seems to know how to bring in sounds ranging from micro-beats to real-live rock instrumentation when the occasion calls for it, in a way that feels cohesive and helps the listener to feel the rush of different emotions that the songs describe. Sure, some of it is still innocuous pop fluff, but even that stuff keeps the quality level up more consistently than her previous albums. Skin&Earth is a record that I’ve belatedly come to recognize as a highlight from an exciting, scary, and transformative year of my life.

Continue reading

The Killers – Imploding the Mirage: In the end, something FINALLY felt right.

Artist: The Killers
Album: Imploding the Mirage
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: The Killers’ “even-numbered album curse” has finally been broken. Even without their longtime lead guitarist, album #6 has no shortage of strong anthems in the vein of classic Killers, with strong guitar and synth parts, and punchy choruses you’ll want to caterwaul along to with Brandon Flowers. For the most part the band sticks with what works for them here, making this a more consistent listen than Wonderful Wonderful, even if I still think that record had stronger highlights.

Continue reading

Geographer – New Jersey: Go so far to make it home again.

Artist: Geographer
Album: New Jersey EP
Year: 2019
Grade: A-

In Brief: This 7-track EP may only feature 4 full-length songs, with the rest being intros and outros that help glue everything together, but those 4 songs are phenomenal. This was the perfect gateway for me to get into Mike Deni’s “sort of a band, sort of a solo project” blend of indie rock and synthpop, and it leaves me incredibly eager to hear what’s next on his upcoming full-length release due out this December.

Continue reading

Sigrid – Sucker Punch: You say “Basic” like it’s a bad thing.

Artist: Sigrid
Album: Sucker Punch
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: While Sigrid’s influences are obvious and she jumps around a bit stylistically, there are some formidable pop songs here with great hooks and thoughtful writing. She makes a great case for pop music being “basic” in its sound and structure without being boring.

Continue reading

Memories as Heavy as a Stone: My Top 20 Paper Route Songs

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.

Continue reading