Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs: You’ve gotta spend some time with me.

Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
Album: Narrow Stairs
Year: 2008
Grade: B+

In Brief: Death Cab rode an existential crisis as far down into the abyss as they were willing to go on Narrow Stairs. Though it may present itself as a challenging record, even an ornery one at times, it’s got some of the group’s best melodies, most riveting performances, and most intriguing lyrics. Some might say it’s a dark horse pick, and Ben Gibbard himself has said he doesn’t want to get this dreary ever again. But despite all the fear and angst expressed here, I’m still convinced this is the best record Death Cab for Cutie has ever put out.

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Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness: Let’s get lost, baby, and take a wrong turn.

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Album: Path of Wellness
Year: 2021
Grade: C+

In Brief: On their first album as a duo, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein exchange a lot of their usual passion, rage, and affinity for making rambunctious noise for more of an introspective curiosity, which is still noisy in places but much more subdued in others. I appreciate the exploratory nature of this project, and I think it has some worthwhile things to say, but given the iconic sound Sleater-Kinney had cultivated as a power trio over the years, it’s hard not to miss that now that they’re apparently forging a new identity.

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Myles Kennedy – The Ides of March: Cool heads prevail in times of change.

Artist: Myles Kennedy
Album: The Ides of March
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: The alt-metal singer’s solo foray into a rootsier, bluesier style of rock music continues to be far more interesting than his dayjob as the frontman of Alter Bridge. While this record doesn’t have as much of the personal pathos that made Year of the Tiger so impactful, it’s still interesting to hear him try new things as a vocalist and a musician. As a songwriter, he falters a bit here as he tries to tackle contemporary social issues on a few tracks, but I figure his heart’s in the right place, at least.

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Sleater-Kinney – One Beat: Since when is skepticism un-American?

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Album: One Beat
Year: 2002
Grade: B+

In Brief: Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s deeply personal, and sometimes it’s just plain fun. The band was clearly at the top of their game in the early 2000s, finding fresh and intriguing ways to build on the scrappy outspokenness they’d been known for since the mid-90s, with the interplay between Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker becoming more sophisticated, but without losing the immediacy of the riffs and vocal hooks, bolstered by Janet Weiss’s killer drumming. Exploring the band’s pre-hiatus discography has been entertaining and educational, and One Beat has easily become my favorite stop along that journey.

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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.

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Foo Fighters – Medicine at Midnight: Is there more to this than that?

Artist: Foo Fighters
Album: Medicine at Midnight
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: The Foos set out to make a “dance-rock” record, and in their own weird way, they sort of succeeded at it. Aside from a few outliers, you shouldn’t expect a ton of depth here – and you definitely shouldn’t expect a ton of content. But the shift from Foo Fighters’ usual shtick that puts the spotlight more on their rhythm section actually shows us a band that secretly wants to have fun, underneath all the aggressive angst that has been their calling card since the 90s. And you know what? I can roll with that.

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Fleet Foxes – Shore: You’re not the season you’re in.

Artist: Fleet Foxes
Album: Shore
Year: 2020
Grade: A-

In Brief: Robin Pecknold, working mostly as a one-man show by necessity, has delivered us a soothing autumn soundtrack that probably would have gone down much more smoothly any other year. I’ll try not to hold the events of 2020 against it.

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Tyson Motsenbocker: Someday I’ll Make It All Up to You: I want better days to miss.

Artist: Tyson Motsenbocker
Album: Someday I’ll Make It All Up to You
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: Sound-wise, this is pretty standard singer-songwriter fare, but I do appreciate Tyson’s observational skills as he engages in warm nostalgia on some tracks while openly questioning its value on others. From easygoing love songs to a witty rumination on the deconstruction of a person’s faith, he’s got a good variety of subject matter here that just needs more of a distinctive musical stamp to really help him stand out from the pack.

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Pearl Jam – Gigaton: Expecting perfection leaves a lot to ignore.

Artist: Pearl Jam
Album: Gigaton
Year: 2020
Grade: C+

In Brief: I feel like I have a healthy respect for the different sides of Pearl Jam’s personality. Their grungy, hard rocking side is easy to love. And they have some strong rockers on Gigaton, with some great guitar solos. I’ve grown to appreciate their subversive, experimental side over the years. They have some marginally intriguing experiments here. And a few of my favorite Pearl Jam songs fall on the softer, more acoustic side. There are… some soft songs here too, I guess, but they’re generally not very good. The sum total is an album that I can’t help but feel rather ambivalent toward, despite how excited I was to finally hear new music from these guys after a nearly seven-year wait.

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Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold: I need something muddy to cover up the stain.

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Album: The Center Won’t Hold
Year: 2019
Grade: C+

In Brief: While I’m all for hearing Sleater-Kinney attempt to reinvent the sound they’ve had for 20+ years, the pop and electronic influences on this record don’t really mesh well with the righteous anger and irreverent commentary of their old punk rock sound. This leads to some unfortunate side effects as the group’s lyrics and hooks have been simplified, the vocal interplay between the two singers has been scaled way back, and the percussion has become so well-mannered that it was apparently a rather joyless record for their now-former drummer to participate in. This isn’t a career-destroying record, but it could turn out to be a legacy-damaging one.

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