AOTY 2019
Nov 28, 2019
83
Caroline Polachek must be one of the finest vocalists in the indiesphere. As the frontwoman of Chairlift, her remarkable voice orchestrated a constant push and pull between her pop aspirations and her more outré tendencies. As a result, her feature on Charli XCX’s “Tears” was a revelation, offering a clear path forward for Polachek in a burgeoning experimental pop scene. With “Pang,” Polachek fully delivers on the promise she displayed on her early features ... read more
Nov 28, 2019
70
I see people are especially pissed that the newest Frankie Cosmos album sounds like a Frankie Cosmos album. “Close It Quietly” should not come as a surprise to any fans of Greta Kline’s work — she’s doing what she always does, and pretty well at that. Kline is an uncommonly prolific and affecting indie pop auteur, and her charm and wit are always preserved despite (or because of?) her constant tempo changes and unwillingness to complete her songs. That said, there ... read more
Nov 28, 2019
78
Esther Rose has a timeless and naturally evocative country voice, effortlessly conjuring images of bygone rural America. “You Made It This Far” sounds like an old record, but not due to a concerted effort on Rose’s part to revive the sounds of the past, but rather, thanks to the simple, unpolished, pure nature of her delivery. A classic Sunday morning listen, “You Made It This Far” is short, sweet, and peaceful, but Rose’s voice has a certain quality that ... read more
Nov 28, 2019
72
Fruit Bats are not the sort of band that inspire high expectations — perpetually a little out of step with the indie folk zeitgeist, the Midwestern veterans have always been a bit corny, and never very cool. That said, they’ve managed to amass a pretty consistently solid discography over the past two decades, and “Gold Past Life” is a quality addition to their catalog. Eric Johnson is a passionate frontman with an enduring talent for heartfelt, strongly-written nostalgic ... read more
Nov 28, 2019
68
You’ll never hear a sound on a Mandolin Orange album that is less than agreeable; no instrument or vocal line will ever sound less than pretty. “Tides of a Teardrop” is a refreshing and relaxing album, finding beauty in the acoustic folk simplicity of the band’s arrangements and the heartfelt subtlety of the vocalists. This sort of music, however, walks a fine line between quietly engrossing and pleasantly forgettable. Mandolin Orange have managed to land in the former ... read more
Nov 26, 2019
78
Mannequin Pussy’s third album is so quick, invigorating, and exciting that it should require very little patience on the part of the listener. The Philadelphia punk rockers are carried by the remarkable voice of Marisa Dabice, a natural fit for the blend of power pop, indie rock, and riot grrl on “Patience.” More than anyone, Dabice’s voice calls to mind Corin Tucker, and indeed, “Patience” follows similar beats to Sleater-Kinney’s “Dig Me ... read more
Nov 26, 2019
77
I wasn’t sold on Jay Som’s breakout album “Everybody Works,” but followup “Anak Ko” is a real creative leap forward, displaying a truly impressive amount of growth over a mere two years. “Anak Ko” is aural candy in dream pop form with echoes of Cocteau Twins, The Sundays, and Beach House, but placed in a much more intimate and personal setting than any of those influences. The guitar work on “Anak Ko” is especially sophisticated, with ... read more
Nov 26, 2019
71
An artist arriving as fully formed as Bedouine’s Azniv Korkejian always risks a sophomore slump. Bedouine’s self-titled 2017 debut was a lovely, simple album of Spacebomb-produced chamber folk that called to mind the folk troubadours of the 60s and 70s, essentially executing this particular formula to completion. And indeed, it’s a little disappointing that on followup “Bird Songs of a Killjoy,” Korkejian doesn’t really expand upon her debut; the resulting ... read more
Nov 26, 2019
82
Dori Freeman can do no wrong. Her first two albums, equal parts Americana, alt-country, and traditional Appalachian folk, made a big splash in some very specific circles, and with “Every Single Star,” she’s officially three for three. An equal talented singer, songwriter, and musician, Freeman has a particular skill for condensing weighty and intense emotions and personal experiences into accessible packages. As a result, “Every Single Star” sounds warm, inviting, ... read more
Nov 26, 2019
76
Though he's nearly completely unknown, fans of the recent wave of traditional country artists like Tyler Childers ought to take note of Taylor Alexander. Especially for a debut album off a tiny label, “Good Old Fashioned Pain” is surprisingly accomplished and fully formed. The album sounds fantastic — based in old-school country, with slight alt-country and bluegrass influences — and Alexander’s plainspoken, twangy baritone is a perfect match for this style of ... read more
Nov 25, 2019
79
After their 2008 hit “Bruises” scored the iPod commercial jackpot, Chairlift easily could have carved out a career of generic, nominally indie pop. Instead, they reemerged on their massively improved sophomore outing “Something” as a band transformed. Anchored by Caroline Polachek’s consistently phenomenal and wildly versatile vocals, Chairlift ditch the pretensions and overthinking that defined their debut, going all in on effervescent, visceral synthpop. ... read more
Nov 25, 2019
77
Especially now that Sturgill Simpson has abandoned the genre entirely, Tyler Childers has become the new poster boy for the country music traditionalist crowd. This can be a blessing and a curse, as Childers’s fans threatened to turn on him when he released the Muscle Shoals-indebted “All Your’n.” Thankfully, “Country Squire” doubles down on the qualities that made Childers’s debut “Purgatory” so special. With the exception of “All ... read more
Nov 25, 2019
75
With her sophomore album “Midnight,” Stef Chura draws heavy inspiration from classic 90s indie and lo-fi rock while still creating something fresh and engaging. Chura possesses a peculiar, warbling alto that, while not exactly pretty, suits her brand of heavy guitars and shambolic energy. “Midnight” rocks out more thoroughly than the average recent indie rock album, and Will Toledo’s production calls to mind “Teens of Denial," proving a perfect match ... read more
Nov 25, 2019
67
Laura Stevenson is a clearly talented musician, yet her albums never seem to fully click within the indie rock scene. On paper, there isn’t anything wrong with “The Big Freeze,” and there’s plenty to appreciate: this album is undoubtedly her most personal to date, and she makes a lot of unconventional sonic decisions within her restrained indie folk-rock palette. Yet, as always seems to be the case with Stevenson, “The Big Freeze” is somewhere less than the ... read more
Nov 25, 2019
73
Though she is largely unknown outside of the roots music community, it’s very easy to admire singer-songwriter Anna Tivel. “The Question” is an uncomplicated, non-flashy folk album that, while hardly unique, never sounds less than lovely. Tivel puts as much care into her instrumentation as she does her songwriting, and the chamber folk arrangements greatly enhance the texture of her music — the violins never threaten to detract from her voice or her lyrics. It’s ... read more
Nov 24, 2019
83
Though it’s been six long years since Sky Ferreira’s one and only full-length, time has been kind to “Night Time, My Time.” To be clear, this music is fantastic from the very first listen: “Night Time, My Time” is the rare pop-rock album that possesses equally strong appeal to both pop and rock fans. Ferreira draws from equal parts noise rock, new wave, and classic synthpop, in service of a truly phenomenal set of hooks. The album is like candy — ... read more
Nov 24, 2019
55
What happened to Turnover? Over the course of two album cycles and four years, the band’s appeal has deteriorated substantially. Their 2015 sophomore album “Peripheral Vision” was a genuinely inspired piece of Midwest emo-inflected jangle rock, but it seems as though Turnover may go down as a one album wonder. “Altogether” in particular sounds reverse-engineered to land on chill Spotify playlists, which are quickly becoming the Gen-Z equivalent of easy listening ... read more
Nov 24, 2019
74
Molly Tuttle must be one of the greatest guitar heroes of her generation. Any bluegrass fan without Tuttle on their radar ought to immediately look her up — live videos of her fingerpicking are insane and mesmerizing. With “When You’re Ready,” however, Tuttle seems determined to demonstrate that her talents extend beyond her virtuosity; this debut album is surprisingly short on guitar masterclasses. Instead, “When You’re Ready” presents itself as a ... read more
Nov 24, 2019
76
Australia has produced some of the finest indie rock in recent memory, to the extent that any newcomer to the scene faces an immediate uphill battle of comparisons to Courtney Barnett, Julia Jacklin, Alex Lahey, and many more. Yet while Angie McMahon doesn’t particularly deviate from this template, her debut album “Salt” is nonetheless a welcome collection of strong, well-written, catchy, straight-up-the-middle indie rock in a year that’s been lacking in that type of ... read more
Nov 24, 2019
77
Almost completely unknown outside of a few circles of diehard traditional country fans, Nashville-based duo Steel Blossoms make a memorable splash with their self-titled debut — the kind of first statement that rewards the potentially endless practice of roots music crate digging. Steel Blossoms borrow heavily from the Kacey Musgraves/Brandy Clark template of witty, sardonic, yet ultimately sympathetic portrayals of small-town ennui. This short and highly enjoyable debut essentially ... read more
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Recent Review Comments
On dumbmoonlight's review of Miranda Lambert - Wildcard
"If you're genuinely looking for country-leaning music with a more progressive ethos and more organic production, I think you'd have more luck in the alt-country and Americana scene. I personally think "Wildcard" is pretty solid but it's about as mainstream as country gets"
On JohnLouisHoward's review of Angel Olsen - All Mirrors
"Chance is one of the best songs I've heard all year"
On JohnLouisHoward's review of Julia Jacklin - Crushing
"same though"
On JohnLouisHoward's review of Julia Holter - Aviary
"Well said. What an amazing album!"
On Adrianne Lenker & Buck Meek - A-Sides
"Have you been to her solo shows? I don't think she plays it at Big Thief, but I saw her solo and she played it during the encore! Everyone was bawling of course"
On Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels
"^Ooh nice comparison! Little bit of Dixie Chicks in there too. Good stuff! "
On VinylHound83's review of Houndmouth - Golden Age
"Yeah this is seriously not good. What a bummer"
On Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog
"So good, right? I'm obsessed with these guys"
On Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
"Would've made sense but just checked and it got 8.0. I can't think of anything since Van Lear Rose (2004), but that can't be right ..."
On JohnLouisHoward's review of Gengahr - Where Wildness Grows
"This reviewer (Lee Adcock) did the exact same thing to the Porches album. Music criticism at its absolute worst"
On Camp Cope - How to Socialise & Make Friends
"Do they advertise themselves as a punk band? It seems like they're a lot more punk in ethos than in sound. And in any case I agree -- I thought that musically this was okay, but not very inspired."
On Sidney Gish - No Dogs Allowed
"Really glad you liked it! I've been excitedly spreading the Sidney Gish gospel recently"
On Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were
"Absolutely. Thinking I might need to raise my rating on this, in fact."
On The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
"Oh don't get me wrong, I agree with you. My point was just that someone who isn't familiar with the band might find it underwhelming based on a cursory surface listen. I find the appeal comes from the consistent quality of the songs rather than some big innovative statement, if that clears things up at all."
On Aldous Harding - Party
"Hey thanks for this comment! You make a good point and I agree that what I'm describing as quirk is definitely not pointless or used arbitrarily. I do think that the way she wields her voice made it hard for me to actually listen to what she was saying, but to be fair this is probably a matter of personal taste (as a Regina Spektor fan I can definitely get used to some vocal quirks). She's undoubtedly talented and I'm eager to hear her future works. "

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