I’m usually the uncool guy defending the super-popular British quartet Coldplay.

They were, after all, my first concert experience. The band was the first one that my mom and I could agreeably jam on the way to school.

Hell, even my dad — who only digs the Eagles — loves him some Coldplay.

But I can’t defend “A Head Full of Dreams,” the band’s seventh album and career nadir.

Where the band has made some admittedly lousy albums (“X&Y” and “Ghost Stories”) with singer Chris Martin pasting bland lyrics to family friendly music, “A Head Full of Dreams” makes all their past efforts seem like rock opuses.

Worst of all, the new disc is Coldplay by numbers. It feels like the band isn’t engaged at all. You can hear everyone else in these songs except Coldplay.

The band has never been “that” original. At first, the band was Travis-lite. Then U2-lite. Then Rihanna-lite. Now, Coldplay is copping sounds from Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” and its own past two albums, hoping no one will notice.

Coldplay’s new album features “Everglow,” a song that is perfect for a middle-aged wedding ceremony, like “Fix You” and “The Scientist” are. “Adventure of a Lifetime” is the type of song pop bands have been doing for the past three years — all tribal drums and incessant/quirky guitar lines.

“Army of One” is pretty much “In My Place,” and it makes you want to hear the old Coldplay tunes.

You know those older songs that made you believe in the little band from Britain. The ones with guitars, pianos and choruses about love. Those songs that didn’t have electronics buzzing in the background.

It was then that the band had its own, if not sappy, personality.

No, there’s not a trace of that to be found here. There’s no reason to defend this band anymore.


An outlier of the alt-rock singer-songwriter scene, Cass McCombs does whatever he pleases.

McCombs is smarter and more prolific than your average Joe. His records have a tattered beauty, and, until now, seemed to show only a glimpse of what’s going on in this mad hatter’s head.

“A Folk Set Apart” is a collection of McCombs B-sides, and it comes two years after the expansive “Big Wheel and Others.”

From the opening lo-fi “I Cannot Lie,” one can tell this will be a looser listen. While McCombs is often hilarious and can write a good politically-tinged tune (listen here to “Bradley Manning”), what’s surprising here is the consistency.

McCombs has often put some tough-to-listen-to tracks on his releases. Maybe in the name of being difficult, or being epic for epic’s sake. Free of the album-length format, “A Folk Set Apart” feels fun and carefree. “Evangeline” is a jangly love song. “Minumum Wage” and “Twins” wouldn’t sound out of place on any of McCombs’ earlier works.

It may not have some of the heft or shine of the songwriters’ essential material, but this is another rewarding look at an underrated talent who continues to do things his own way.