In Brief: Paramore’s self-titled record did what self-titled records are meant to do. It reintroduced listeners to a band that had experienced success in the pop-punk/emo scene, and was now eager to break out of it. What’s most surprising about this album is how urgent and in-your-face the drums are despite the then-recent departure of the band’s founding drummer, how the big pop hooks never seem to sacrifice the raw energy of a song, and how many different things the band is willing to try over the course of a seventeen-track, hour-long playlist. This was a transitional record for the band – and sure, not everything worked. But by and large, Paramore’s reinvention of themselves was a rousing success, giving us one of the best alt-rock albums of the 2010s in the process.
Artist: Hayley Williams Album: Petals for Armor Year: 2020 Grade: B
In Brief: The Paramore frontwoman’s solo debut might suffer slightly from having one too many ideas thrown at it, but it’s interesting from the standpoint of hearing a singer/songwriter experiment outside of her comfort zone without caring whose “rules” she might be breaking. Some of the dance/pop oriented stuff feels like a natural progression from Paramore’s last album, but with even more emphasis on the bass, drums, and keyboards. And the downtempo stuff tends to be more minimalist, even sometimes downright eerie in its use of weirdly syncopated loops and distorted vocal effects. Sadly, I fear that her method of releasing this record, with it slowly trickling out as a series of EPs, has wound up becoming more of a talking point than the actual music has.
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: Whether it’s electrified country-rock, twangy folk, or a down-tempo piano ballad, Cash’s voice is as warm and reassuring as ever throughout this album, and her songwriting remains as intriguing as ever. This is more of a subdued record than a flashy, genre-bending one, but it’s a smartly crafted one with some deeply felt joys and pains behind its songs.
Deep into Katie Herzig‘s set at the Troubadour in West Hollywood last night, as she was playing an acoustic version of the fan favorite track “Hologram” by request, two odd realizations suddenly came to me:
Wow, this was the first Katie Herzig song I ever heard, and that was 10 frigging years ago.
Why wasn’t this song a huge hit?!?!?!
Now, there are a ton of more-or-less independent artists I follow who seem to have a strong cult following on the Internet, and who I could get salty about in terms of the mainstream pretty much ignoring them. But a lot of them make music that might not be “catchy” in the conventional sense, so I’m cool with it not being mainstream radio fare. Katie Herzig, though, seems to be the type of unabashedly poppy singer.songwriter who should have had a real shot at some hits back in the late 2000s. I probably only think that because I’ve always been super out-of-touch with what it takes to actually make music popular, but regardless: “Hologram” was a fun, upbeat, ridiculously catchy, self-effacing song about relationship failure that should have found a much larger audience.