My favorite albums of 2017, so far

My favorite albums of 2017, so far

Each of the previous three years has come with a certain disclaimer -- that I'm listening to less music than I pretty much ever have in the past. Not the case this year! My music listening has picked up quite a bit this year, though it stills tends to come in waves. I'm spending more time listening to music on the train than I used to, and while my commute time is still mostly devoted to a book, a comic book or a podcast, this alone has increased the amount of new albums gracing my ears. Additionally, I'm spending more time in the gym this year than in years past, which is proving to be the main source of my music listening so far in 2017.

Here's the dang list.

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AOTY Contender Series: Modern Baseball - 'Holy Ghost'

AOTY Contender Series: Modern Baseball - 'Holy Ghost'

Duh! Modern Baseball's Holy Ghost took the top spot on my mid-year albums of the year list, and has as good a shot as anything else of being #1 come EOTY time. Also -- side note -- oddly enough, I haven't really sat down and figured out my list yet, even though I've been writing these blogs for a few weeks. I plan on doing that Tuesday in preparation for recording an episode of Chorus with Jason about our favorite albums.

Holy Ghost (Apple Music / iTunesSpotify, YouTube embedded below, Bandcampvinyl) continues to stand head and shoulders above many of the albums I've heard this year. It has a great emotional range complemented by a big leap in songwriting from MoBo on an instrumental level. And though it has very focused inspirations, it manages to appeal broadly to a wide audience, whatever the listener is going through.

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AOTY Contender Series: The Hotelier - 'Goodness'

AOTY Contender Series: The Hotelier - 'Goodness'

This piece serves as a bit of a spiritual follow-up to my notes on Against Me!'s Shape Shift With Me, and a follow-up to something I talked about with Jason on Encore back in March. The podcast topic was all about the first listen you dive into of a new album that you're very highly anticipating, and how that first listen is often filled with a sense of self-imposed "worry" or "anxiety." I use air quotes here because the worries and anxieties caused by this are certainly not as dramatic as...like...real-life issues, but it's a sense that I've become familiar with over the years and I think it's a sense that all music lovers get from time to time.

My thesis statement in regards to this topic (the podcast convo starts around the 51-minute mark of this episode) revolves around the mind games you can start to play with yourself after taking your first listen. In fact, those mind games can start even before the end of your first listen depending on how loopy you're being. All of this was presented in the context of my first time listening to The Hotelier's third album, this year's Goodness (Apple Music / iTunesSpotify, YouTube embedded below, Bandcampvinyl). I wound up totally psyching myself out before diving in for the first time, and by midway through the record I was convinced that it would never hold a candle to Home, Like NoPlace Is There, an album that I loved dearly when it was released in 2014 and still love dearly.

Truth is, rarely will any album be able to live up to the lofty expectations that you burden it with when those expectations come via the lens of an album you've been in love with for any amount of months or years. Home, Like NoPlace Is There was not a record that blew me off my feet the first time I listened to it; it's an album that slowly latched onto me until I became familiar with every crevice of it. I listened to it endlessly, which expands your love for an album -- you come to know every downstroke of a guitar or snare hit, and those moments come to mean more to you when you've sat with a record for dozens of listens. A new album that you're listening to for the first time will never match up to the emotion you retroactively place into an album that you fell in love with however long ago.

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AOTY Contender Series: Against Me! - 'Shape Shift With Me'

AOTY Contender Series: Against Me! - 'Shape Shift With Me'

There were two albums that I was quite anxious to listen to this year. This happens from time to time, where you're just so excited for an album that there's a bit of trepidation before you dive in for the first time. One of those albums was The Hotelier's Goodness, and in my AOTY Contender Series entry for that album I will be diving deeper into this idea about too-great expectations, and the other of those albums was Shape Shift With Me

I didn't write too much about Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues when it came out, but that album topped my AOTY list in 2014 (with, incidentally, The Hotelier's Home, Like NoPlace Is There right behind it). I did write a small amount about Blues this year, in the context of reading and writing about AM! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace's new book, TRANNY. The blurb I put in there is the most important thing I can say about Blues -- it was an album that taught me to think about things I'd never thought about before. You can read more into that here, if you'd like.

It's also a straightforwardly killer rock album. Diverse in its tempos, great musicianship, emotional and cathartic storytelling. Getting that and Home in the same year feels, in retrospect, like even more of a blessing than it felt like at the time. But diving into Shape Shift With Me (iTunes / Apple MusicSpotify, YouTube embedded below, vinyl), after its predecessor had such an effect on me, made me get that small anxious feeling when I started my first listen. 

As I'll write again in my Hotelier blog, this small anxious feeling can start to cause issues with your evaluation of an album when your first listen doesn't live up to the hype. I don't think I managed to make it all the way through Shape Shift on my first attempt at it -- the odd beginning with "ProVision L-3" and the new production style just didn't sit with me well at first. But the album clicked for me after continued listens, and stands up now as a worth follow-up to Blues, and the must-listen next chapter in Grace's story.

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AOTY Contender Series: PUP - 'The Dream Is Over'

AOTY Contender Series: PUP - 'The Dream Is Over'

I wrote about the PUP album in semi-decent length back when it came out in May, and my thoughts on it largely haven't changed much since then. The Dream Is Over (Apple Music/iTunesSpotify, YouTube below, Bandcampvinyl) is a very impressive effort to me for many reasons, and it's been one of my most-played albums throughout the year (it somehow fits really well in both the summer heat and the fall/winter wind). 

Chief among this sophomore effort's impressive attributes is, as I wrote in May, the apparent development and progression of this young band. They seem to be extremely comfortable in their art right now, something that has gone on display recently in the form of this great music video for "Sleep In The Heat." The Dream Is Over saw PUP extending their range from a go-to sound of loud and noisy punk rock to slower, more methodic songs full of emotion

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AOTY Contender Series: Pinegrove - 'Cardinal'

AOTY Contender Series: Pinegrove - 'Cardinal'

A big theme of my 2015 AOTY list was records that surprised me and took high-ranking spots on my final list. This was the case for Foxing's Dealer, Turnover's Peripheral Vision and The World Is...'s Harmlessness, which ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. These stuck out because they were bands I had actually listened to before but whose new albums didn't interest me when they were initially released. That I liked them so much was a surprise, and that surprise is amplified when the same thing happens three times in one year.

I can't truly toss Pinegrove's Cardinal (Apple Music / iTunesSpotifyBandcamp, YouTube below, Amazon) into the same bucket. I hadn't heard this band before this year, so their first LP for Run For Cover Records wasn't a surprise in the same way. It came out of nowhere because this was a new band for me, not because I had any pre-existing thoughts about whether Cardinal would be any good.

But Cardinal became my first AOTY contender of 2016. It was released in February, and while it's silly to call anything an "AOTY contender" in February, it was still pretty clear to me at the time that this would make my eventual short list. I fell for it quickly and without much hesitation. The album's vibe is indie-rock mixed with alt-country/Americana: It's Limbeck's Hi, Everything's Great for 2016 emo/punk listeners, an album that isn't afraid to draw inspiration from a bunch of stuff between modern indie-rock and Springsteen's Nebraska

Cardinal is largely more subdued than Hi, Everything's Great. Vocalist Evan Hall at times drawls, murmurs or even slurs his lyrics, content to stay in the relative background of a swelling and dynamic instrumental effort. It's tempting to say his drawl sounds Southern, but Pinegrove and Hall are from New Jersey, so the end result of his vocals and his band's rock songs winds up claiming no geographic (sonic) home. It feels oddly familiar on first listen for this reason -- something you think you've heard before but cannot place.

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AOTY Contender Series: Every Time I Die - 'Low Teens'

AOTY Contender Series: Every Time I Die - 'Low Teens'

The degree to which I enjoyed Every Time I Die's From Parts Unknown was largely unexpected because I haven't been a huge fan of this band in the past. Since then, I've gone back and listened to most of the group's back catalog, but nothing stuck with me as much as that 2014 LP. From Parts Unknown has a really intriguing mix of ETID's usual Southern-tinged hardcore and a variety of other sounds, like the creepy crawl of "Moor" and the relatively poppier "Old Light," which features Brian Fallon.

Something that still really sticks out to me about that record is Kurt Ballou's production, as the Converge guitarist elected to let ETID's fury speak for itself. It's raw and the guitars are like barbed wire, and that choice enabled the instruments to rip through harder than on past ETID albums, for my money.

This year's Low Teens (Apple MusicSpotify, YouTube embedded here, Amazon) marks the second straight Every Time I Die record that has fully engrossed me. The production here, this time courtesy of Will Putney, brings a different aesthetic to the table. Putney has worked with bands that fit more into the current-age definition of "metalcore," and his fingerprints help identify a louder and more polished Every Time I Die.

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AOTY Contender Series: Kevin Devine - 'Instigator'

AOTY Contender Series: Kevin Devine - 'Instigator'

First, a sidebar: The idea here is to post about one or two albums each week that are album of the year contenders for me this year. I already have a semi-formed idea of which albums are really in the final running to be #1, so this series is more meant to highlight albums that I've loved to a great enough extent that they gave me that type of feeling.

I'm going in no particular order here, and first highlighting Kevin Devine's just-released ninth studio albumInstigator (Apple MusicSpotify, YouTube above, Amazon). When Bad Timing Records started working with Kevin in late 2014, we linked up due to Zack's pre-existing relationship with KD, as they'd known each other for several years. I was familiar with Kevin's music, but not extremely well-versed; I knew the "hits" and in particular loved a live album called Matter of Time, which we later re-issued in one of my favorite BTR releases to date.

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Mid-Year Albums of the Year

Mid-Year Albums of the Year

On Friday, Jason and I published a new episode of Encore during which we delved into our top albums of 2016 so far. Here's a link to that episode, and my mid-year list is below.

  1. Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost
  2. Pinegrove - Cardinal
  3. PUP - The Dream Is Over
  4. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
  5. The Hotelier - Goodness
  6. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day
  7. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
  8. JANK - Awkward Pop Songs

I really, really love the first five albums here and I'm sure they will be around the top of my EOTY list when 2016 is over with. My sixth, seventh and eighth selections don't inspire the same passion, but I enjoyed them enough to rank them. Thinking through this list, I realized I haven't listened to many albums this year overall -- probably only to about 20 or so, at least enough to consider them for a list like this. 

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