Maxïmo Park – Nature Always Wins: How am I supposed to feel, denied the luxury of time?

Artist: Maxïmo Park
Album: Nature Always Wins
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s a little hard to unpack why I like Maxïmo Park, but don’t quite love them. Their style is pretty much right up the alley of all the indie and alternative rock I typically listen to, and they keep things pretty upbeat and intelligently introspective throughout this album. But I have a hard time describing what makes their sort-of-electronic, sort-of-retro rock sound distinctive enough to get me excited in a way that other bands couldn’t. They’ve been at this for a while, so it’s possible that they’ve done more unique work in the past, and I just happened to catch them on a more typical day at the office.

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Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress: Cued to sway forever by the forces of the Lord’s choreography.

Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Album: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Year: 2003
Grade: B+

In Brief: An indie pop classic that I’m still in the process of slowly falling in love with, a good six years since I first heard it (and three times that long since it was released). This was the moment where Belle & Sebastian made the jump to full-color production values and got a little braver with the stylistic experimentation, with a few of these tracks even being a little funky and danceable, while still maintaining the quirky attention to detail that their songwriting has always been notable for. I’d never heard anything from the band until the record after this one, but Waitress really should have been my jumping-on point.

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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!”

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Enter Shikari – Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible: Elegy for Extinction

Artist: Enter Shikari
Album: Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Enter Shikari didn’t know they were doing it at the time, but in recording this wildly eclectic “electrocore” album about the human race’s tendency to tell itself comforting lies and become its own worst enemy, they were providing a sardonic soundtrack to the disastrous year that lay ahead.

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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.

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Everything Everything – RE-ANIMATOR: Come on, you only lost your mind.

Artist: Everything Everything
Album: RE-ANIMATOR
Year: 2020
Grade: B

In Brief: While Everything Everything’s fifth album is a bit of a step back from A Fever Dream in terms of immediacy and intensity, there’s no doubt that it’s a clever and smartly constructed record, which wears its influences loud and proud, from indie rock to electronica to R&B. It’s just one that takes a while to find an entry point into, due to its bizarre concept and topsy-turvy pacing.

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Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials: Every Color Illuminates

Artist: Florence + The Machine
Album: Ceremonials
Year: 2011
Grade: B+

In Brief: Even though How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was my entry point into this weird and wonderful band, and remains my favorite album of theirs, Ceremonials might just outclass it in terms of consistency and sheer ambition. It’s the point where the music and lyrics best match the scope of Florence Welch’s hauntingly beautiful voice, with each song rising into the night sky like a weird incantation meant to bring all manner of ghosts and spirits out to play. It’s not every day that an artist can play with spiritual warfare as an aesthetic and have me raving effusively about the results.

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Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA: The pain in my vein is hereditary.

Artist: Rina Sawayama
Album: SAWAYAMA
Year: 2020
Grade: B+

In Brief: Rina’s blend of nostalgic turn-of-the-century sounds ranging from teenybopper pop to nu-metal might seem gaudy and superficial at first. But there’s some really smart stuff here for those willing to look beneath the surface. And I think that’s kind of her point – people look at her, see one thing, and make their ignorant assumptions. But as she explores her family history, her turbulent bi-cultural upbringing, her growing realization that she wasn’t like a lot of her peers, and her drive to continue going against the grain of accepted societal norms as an adult, her debut album weaves a rich tapestry that reveals a young artist fully in command of her many musical domains.

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Coldplay – Everyday Life: Music is the weapon of the future… and this is NOT how you wield it.

Artist: Coldplay
Album: Everyday Life
Year: 2019
Grade: C+

In Brief: Coldplay didn’t make an album here, so much as they made a sound collage that occasionally includes the full band performing together on an actual Coldplay song. The overbearing theme of unity in diversity is admirable, but the way the record continually tries to drive it home is redundant and honestly a bit superficial. The record as a whole doesn’t provide enough of a payoff to make all of the half-finished vignettes and the stylistic jumping around worthwhile.

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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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