2016 Mid Year List

June is coming to an end which means quite a few things. First off, It is hot as hell everywhere I go. It also means that we are in peak season for Summer Ales (i’m looking at you Brooklyn Brewery and Sam Adams). Lastly, it brings us to the halfway point of 2016. The time of year most people marvel as to how quick the time has gone and how new years feel like yesterday, but not me. It has been a long 6 months for me. But thankfully during this past half-year there has been some really amazing music. So I thought it would be a good time for me to throw out what my Mid-Year Top 10 list looks like. I’m not going to do a write up for each album like I normally do at my End of The Year list. This seemed like it would be cool to see how the list changes as the year goes on. I have a lot of hope for music in the second half of the year. Blink-182, Butch Walker, Moose Blood, and The Menzingers are definite releases, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Brand New, Paramore, Against Me!, and The Killers. But, as for now, here is how the cards have fallen.

10. Brian Fallon- Painkillers

9. Modern Baseball- Holy Ghost

8. Weezer- Weezer (White Album)

7. Beyonce- Lemonade

6. The Hotelier- Goodness

5. Pup- The Dream Is Over

4. Pinegrove- Cardinal

3. Chance The Rapper- Coloring Book

2. Thrice-To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere

1. The 1975- I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

Game of Thrones (HBO v. GRRM)

If I finish writing this in time, tonight Game of Thrones Season 6 will premiere on HBO. I truly remember the first time that I heard anything about the show or the books. The summer after graduating high school, I was at my friend Brian’s house and he started telling me about a new book series he had started reading and that HBO had just picked it up. I forgot about it for a bit while he pored through all 4, and eventually the 5th, books. A few years later, the first episode premiered. I watched the opening sequence, everything up to the title card, and was so impressed that I immediately stopped watching. “I have to read these books before I watch this,” I told both myself and Brian.

Since then it has absolutely become my favorite book series of all time, and perhaps my second favorite anything series of all time (props to LOST, always and forever). The characters, the intrigue, George R. R. Martin’s signature style of describing food, and more all captured my excitement and imagination in a new way. I thoroughly LOVE these books and, in turn, the HBO series as well.

Yet here is where tragedy strikes the story, as it so often does in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga. The beloved author of these novels is as slow as Christmas. It started well enough, the first 3 books in the 7 installment series came out every 2 years. Then the problems started. The fourth book came five years after the third with the fifth coming out 6 years later, the same year the HBO series premiered. Now, 5 seasons and 5 years later, the thing we all dreaded has become reality: the show has caught up with the books, with no sign of book 6 anywhere on the horizon.

So, we book-reading-show-watchers are at a crossroads. We must decide between temporarily putting aside the series we have come to love while the rest of the world continues to enjoy it or watching along with everyone else at the risk of spoiling or ruining the magic of the next books (if they ever come out). It has been a bloody decision, tearing apart families and friends much like at the Red Wedding. My wife has firmly and proudly proclaimed that she will not be watching GOT Season 6. After long deliberation, I have finally come to decide that I will be watching. Let me tell you why.

Throughout the show’s run so far, there have already been several diversions from the books. Somehow, I have been lucky enough to be able to keep the two entities separate in my head. The changes from the show have not tainted the books for me. There is no way to know how alike the two will be in the future, but hopefully I will continue to be able to keep them separate in my mind.

Another reason I have decided to remain a viewer is that there is no hope on the horizon for Winds of Winter, the 6th installment in the book series. If there was an official release date on the calendar, I would happily but the show aside for a bit until the book came out. Sadly that is not the case. It could be another 5 years until we have a book! Another thing to think about is GRRM’s health. He is an overweight older man, which sadly brings into question the books ever being finished at all.

Lastly, I simply love this franchise. I love it too much to stand aside and watch the rest of the world continue on with those characters and leave me in the dust. I want to be a part of the conversation. This is a new era of the show for me and for a lot of us. Until now book-readers have had a leg up on the show, knowing the basic structure of the plot and where we are headed. Not anymore though. Now I can really be a part of the conversation happening about the show. Everyone on reddit, forums, and twitter; we are all on the same page experiencing it freshly together, and we have to stick together in times like these. After all, Winter is Coming…

Long Title, Long Record (Long Legacy)

While listening to The 1975’s new album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (henceforth referred to as I like it when…) while waiting for a flight, I tweeted “I think @the1975 may be one of, if not the, most exciting things in modern music.” Granted, that might be a bit overzealous or ambitious, but I was just really excited. I haven’t had a new(ish) band excite me like this band does in a long time.

I was a HUGE fan of the band’s debut self-titled record, one of my favorites of the past 5 years. So when the preorders for the sophomore album went up, and I got the word that a preorder guaranteed a ticket purchase for the upcoming tour (the band sells out venues in rapid-fire timing and I really wanted to see them live) I placed an order for the 2X LP clear vinyl. As the singles were released, my anticipation mounted with massive expectations. The day of the album release, the record was nowhere to be found on Spotify and my preorder with digital download wasn’t to be delivered until the afternoon. I had to work all day, so I didn’t get the opportunity to hear the album until I got home at around 10 PM. This was the first time I would be hearing an album for the very first time on vinyl, which was a cool experience.

Experience is a perfect word to describe this album. As soon as the first track starts, a throwback to the first track on the previous record, the grandiosity of the record rears its head. Lyrically identical to the original, but sonically miles apart, the song serves as sort of a message to fans: ‘We are the same band you know and love, but we’ve progressed in a huge way.’

In my eyes, this album exists in about 3 different phases all woven together. It is one part catchy 80s influenced pop with songs like “Love Me,” “She’s American,” and “The Sound.” In part 2 of the record, you find yourself enveloped in the ambient sounds of songs like the title track, “Please Be Naked,” and “Lostmyhead.” I’m normally not one for largely instrumental tracks, but the instances on this record are so purely beautiful I can’t help but close my eyes and get lost in the sound. Last, but certainly not least, is the softer 80s, ballad-esque tracks. The clear highlight of this phase is “Somebody Else,” though “A Change Of Heart” and the soul-bearing “Nana” are not to be overlooked.

Sure, maybe The 1975 are not “one of the most exciting things in modern music”. Maybe they are. But judging how much I look forward to listening to this record, and how stoked I am to see them live in May, they are definitely one of the most exciting things happening in my musical landscape.

I Used To (And Still Do) Love Kanye

Well, it was quite a journey, but we finally have Kanye West’s 7th full-length studio album (or 8th if you count Ye and Jay Z’s masterful collab on 2011’s Watch The Throne). It was originally slated for release in 2014 under the title So Help Me God, then over the course of 2 years delayed and renamed SWISH. Finally, in January of this year, Kanye’s Twitter announced “Swish Februrary 11 16”. Anticipation, both my own and throughout the Internet, began to mount. Two weeks later, the title was change to WAVES, until he eventually landed on the final title The Life Of Pablo. If you ask me, he should have stuck with So Help Me God. The title only got worse with each iteration.

 

February 11 16 finally came, and brought with it the premiere of Yeezy Season 3 (Kanye’s clothing line) and The Life Of Pablo live at Madison Square Garden and streamed online and to movie theaters across the country. Watching the live stream was absolutely one of the best musical experiences I’ve had. I had the stream from Madison Square pulled up on my phone, 2 forums open on my computer, and constantly scanning and posting to Twitter. I watched, along with 20 million others, as Kanye West walked into an arena with models wearing his new digs on the floor and surrounded by throngs of fans eager to hear what Yeezus had been working on. He walked up to front of house carrying his MacBook, opened it, plugged in an 1/8-inch aux cable, and pressed play. It was such a cool experience to be hearing this highly anticipated record for the first time with the rest of the world at the same moment and to be able to talk about it with so many people at the same time. Something else we got to be a part of that isn’t normally seen was being able to watch Kanye show off his work to the world. It was like watching a dad cheering for his kid on graduation day; you could see the pride, happiness, and perhaps a bit of relief on his face.

 

And that was Thursday, and then it was time to wait.

 

So we waited, Thursday night, Friday, Saturday… Refreshing forums and Reddit and Twitter and iTunes and Spotify and Tidal, just waiting to see if there was a record for us. On Friday he tweeted that it would be out “today” and that he had added “a couple of tracks;” by a couple he meant 7. Yet finally, at the end of his performance on Saturday Night Live, Kanye spastically declared that the record was up for sale on his website and streaming on Tidal. But, since I work for a church (not for too much longer, more on that to come later…), I was already asleep when the record went live at long last and couldn’t listen until the end of Sunday. But, worth the wait it was.

 

I’m not going to give a full review, because I think that is super shitty when someone “reviews” an album after hearing it so few times, but I will leave my first impressions.

 

And my first impression is, DAMN. Kanye West has done it again.

 

I just really don’t know if anyone can make a better sounding beat than that guy. “Ultralight Beam” is a fantastic opener, maybe my favorite of any of his records. Chance’s verse is a highlight, and cool to hear Kanye do more of a gospel inspired sound. Another early highlight for me is “Famous”. Despite the Internet’s grief over early lyrics in the song, I just love the beat and the fl­ow. Immediately following, I cannot get “Feedback” out of my head. “Yall heard about the good news? Sleeping on me, huh? Had a good snooze?” “Highlights,” “Freestyle 4,” and “Waves” fall pretty flat for me right now, but the “I Love Kanye” skit snuck in there keeps me listening through those tracks. Then the trio that keeps me coming back: “FML” (featuring a killer hook from The Weeknd), “Real Friends,” and the ever changing “Wolves.” Each of these songs sets up the next one so well, and I am excited to return to this sequence over and over again. The rest of the songs feel kind of like bonus tracks, but are bangers nonetheless.

 

Kanye is an interesting case to me, because I am not sure if there is anyone in the world that could premiere a record like this. I love Ye because he never slows down, he is constantly making music and pushing the limit in hip-hop/rap music. And I don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.

Around July of this year as I started looking towards my year-end list I remember thinking that it was going to be really hard for me to pick my year end top 10. I was just so jazzed and overwhelmed by the amount of great releases this year that I had no idea where I was going to start. As the year has gone on, however, a few records really propelled themselves into the forefront of my consciousness. The opposite happened as well with albums like All Time Low’s Future Hearts and Fall Out Boy’s American Beauty American Psycho being strong early contenders but, not holding much staying power, fell flat out of the list.

I am really proud of this list. It feels diverse, but sticks to my roots. There are two female artists, including one country record. Three of the bands on my list I had never heard a single song from before these albums. I can’t promise you’ll like them all, I can’t even promise you’ll like one of them. I can promise you that they are all damn good records, whether you like them or not.

Honorable Mentions: No Closer To Heaven-The Wonder Years; To Pimp A Butterfly-Kendrick Lamar.

10. Pale Horses-mewithoutYou

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Favorite Track: D-Minor

9. Afraid of Ghosts-Butch Walker

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Favorite Track: Still Drunk

8. Pageant Material-Kacey Musgraves

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Favorite Track: Late To The Party

7. Positive Songs For Negative People-Frank Turner

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Favorite Track: Get Better

6. I, No Longer- Pentimento

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Favorite Track: Stuck Forever

5. Imbue- The Early November

early-november-imbue

The Early November have always been a fascinating band to me. After releasing an emo/pop-punk gem that would be emulated for years to come in 2003, followed by a triple disc concept record spanning alt/indie rock, acoustic, and experimental story-telling, the band took a lengthy hiatus. They caught their alt-rock stride with 2012 reunion album In Currents, but on Imbue they’ve perfected it. Soaring choruses like “Better This Way” and “I Don’t Care” set up great moments like the soft flowing melodies of “Harmony” and the retrospective energy of my personal favorite “Boxing Timelines”. The record is a must listen for fans of catchy alt-rock with great vocals and some great guitar tones.

Favorite Track: Boxing Timelines

4.25-Adele

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What is there to say about this album that has not already been said? 25 sold 3.4 million records during its debut week (which comes out to about 337 records per minute), then sold another million in week two (making it the first ever to have multiples week of million+ sales). The songwriting is utterly stunning, from the ballad vibes of lead single “Hello” and “When We Were Young” to the catchy pop choruses in “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” and “Water On The Bridge”. Her voice is not to be matched anywhere on, or probably off, this earth. If you haven’t listened yet, stop reading this and go listen, because you are probably the only person alive who hasn’t heard it yet.

Favorite Track: When We Were Young

  1. Peripheral Vision-Turnover

turnover-peripheral-vision

I had heard a bit of buzz online about Turnover’s debut Magnolia but had never gotten around to checking it out. So, when I started hearing things about their sophomore effort Peripheral Vision, I knew that I could not sleep on this one; and boy am I glad. Peripheral Vision has some of the best sounding guitar tones I have heard in quite some time. This, paired with the serene tone of the vocals, give the songs almost an other-worldly quality. The lyrics are both brilliant and relatable. Lines like “I’m craving that new scream/lusting for more than just old dreams” hit me at just the right time in my life, putting words to unnamed thoughts. Another song named after a drug I’d been taking for back problems spoke to sleepless nights of pain that weighed heavily on both me and my wife, “i know you’re probably exhausted/’cause i haven’t slept a wink in a week.” Peripheral Vision is both soothing and enthralling, an absolute listen.

Favorite Track: New Scream

2.Kintsugi-Death Cab For Cutie

death-cab-for-cutie-kintsugi

When the princes of emo announced their eighth studio album, I did not color myself very excited. Being a fan of a majority of the band’s catalog, I found 2011’s Codes and Keys to be utterly abysmal. Thematically, sonically, and lyrically I found the album to be a massive letdown. How could a band so beloved as Death Cab betray us in this way? But from the first notes of Kintsugi’s lead single “Black Sun”, I knew this record was going to be much more up my alley. The album’s title comes from a Japanese art form that involves using pieces of broken pottery to create something beautiful and new. Could there be a more fitting image for this record? Written in the wake of frontman Ben Gibbard’s divorce from indie-beloved Zooey Deschanel, and with founding member/key songwriter Chris Walla announcing his departure mid recording process, Kintsugi is truly beauty from the mess. The opening lyrics of “No Room In Frame” introduce this new era of the band to us as Gibbard searches for who he once was: “I don’t know where to begin/There’s too many things that I can’t remember/I disappeared like a trend”. In my eyes, he and the rest of the band have re-discovered they’re identity and I am excited for who they are going to become.

Favorite Track: The Ghosts of Beverly Drive

1.Harmlessness-The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

twiabp-harmlessness

If someone were to ask me to explain to them everything I love about music, I would point them to Harmlessness. A lot of people have been calling it ‘the best emo record of 2015’, and I don’t think thats fair for two reasons. First, it is the best record of 2015, emo or not. Secondly, I think it would be doing a disservice to the listener to classify it as emo. Yes, there are strong elements of emo, but if you listen closer there is so much more. “January 10, 2014” is a prime example, sweeping through moments of emo, punk, indie, and post-rock in one five and a half minute track. TWIABP simply does not conform to the typical tropes of being a band. It is hard to be an everyday band when you claim 10 members, 7 of which contribute vocals as well as their instruments. One of my favorite things about Harmlessness is the journey it takes the listener on with each spin (or stream) of the record. With 13 songs clocking in at just under an hour, it could easily make for an exhausting listen. Instead, there is not one moment that leaves me waiting or looking at my watch. It ebbs and flows more beautifully than probably any record I can think of. Moments range from being acoustically intimate to sprawling and grandiose. Everything I could say about this record would just be doing it an injustice. I am not a good writer, and this is SUCH a good record; one that I truly was not expecting to impact me the way it has.

Favorite Track: January 10, 2014

 

So happy holidays, and here’s to even better music in 2016.

1.21 Gigawatts (Kinda)

Some records have more lasting value than others. For example, I used to love Needtobreathe’s The Outsiders. Last week I gave it another listen, and only about two songs really stuck with me. It’s just not as good to me as it was a few years back. Music impacts differently at different times.

I was recently looking at my Top 10 records list from 2014, and realized how differently I would reorder those albums today. So, I decided to do it; and I am going to make this a yearly post of re-ordering my Top 10 list of the year before. Some of these albums I would completely drop out of my Top 10. But, for the sake of this exercise, I will stick to simply re ordering the Top 10 and not adding or removing albums.

2014 (Original)
1. Manchester Orchestra-Cope
2. The Gaslight Anthem-Get Hurt
3. Bleachers-Strange Desire
4. Copeland-Ixora
5. Against Me!-Transgender Dysphoria Blues
6. Have Mercy- A Place Of Our Own
7. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties-We Don’t Have Each Other
8. Moose Blood-I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time to Time
9. Taylor Swift-1989
10. Fireworks-Oh, Common Life

2015(Re-Done)
1. Manchester Orchestra-Cope
2. Against Me!-Transgender Dysphoria Blues
3. Taylor Swift-1989
4. Moose Blood-I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time to Time
5. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties-We Don’t Have Each Other
6. The Gaslight Anthem-Get Hurt
7. Copeland-Ixora
8. Bleachers-Strange Desire
9. Have Mercy- A Place Of Our Own
10. Fireworks-Oh, Common Life

So, there it is. This is definitely not to say that I don’t still love some of these records. Ixora is still stunningly beautiful, Strange Desire is still catchy as shit. It’s more that some of those other albums just held up so well and earned themselves regular rotation. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a game changer, 1989 is one of the best damn pop records ever written, and I’ll Keep You In Mind…. Just hits me in all the right ways.

I’ve been starting to think about what my top albums of 2015 will look like, and it is going to be quite a challenge. Each day I have a different number one. So God knows that re-ordering it this time next year will be a nightmare, but for now I’ll focus on this year’s list.

The World Is A Beautiful Place (as long as this band exists)

I had been working on a blog post about Ben Folds’ new record So, There when I stumbled upon Harmlessness by The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (hereafter referred to as TWIABP). If you listen to the record, you will understand why I am basically throwing the Ben Folds post out to make room for this one (sorry Ben, I’ll always love you!).

I’m going to try not to write too much about this record because I am sure it is going to be in my top 5 at the end of the year and will include a write-up. But that list won’t be out until December, and I would hate for you to miss out on the opportunity of listening to Harmlessness throughout the fall season.

Some would describe TWIABP as an indie band, or an emo band, or maybe an alternative band. I prefer to just refer to them as a talented-as-hell band. The layers and textures that they weave together are stunning, and having 9 different people in the band really helps to get that kind of sound. Underneath all of that, the lyricism expressed in these songs are impressive to say the least; a few of my early favorites include “make evil afraid of evil’s shadow” taken from my favorite song of the year, ‘January 10th, 2014’ as well as “today we are superheroes, but tonight we’ll just be tired” from ‘Ra Patera Dance’.

I’ve already written more than I wanted to but just go listen to the record, at least give it to track 3. You won’t regret it.

(Grammy) Material

I never would have guessed that in August one of my favorite records of the year so far would be a female vocalist, let alone a country female vocalist. That may sound sexist, but I promise it isn’t. In general, I am just not one for women singers. Of course, there are obvious exceptions: Taylor Swift, Hayley Williams, Emily Hearn, Allison Weiss, etc. But this recent record caught me way off guard.

I first heard Kacey Musgraves performing on last year’s Grammy’s. I enjoyed the performance and decided to check out the record she was promoting at the time, Same Trailer, Different Park. I liked it well enough, but it didn’t really blow me away. Because this type of music isn’t really my cup of tea, it takes an album being really, really great for me to love it. I liked the first record enough that when I heard she had recently put out a follow-up, I made sure to check it out. Now, this is where the story gets interesting.

I LOVE Pageant Material.

From the songs, to the production, to the artwork and everything in between, I think this record truly is special. One reason it stands out to me is that it is a bit atypical from the norm coming out of the country genre recently. It has a strong country/western vibe, lots of twang, makes me think of Willie Nelson and that era of country. Not that I know a lot about the genre AT ALL, it just makes me think of early Johnny Cash covered in sepia tones.

Another aspect that separates it from the rest of the crop to me is the lyrical subject matter. The album has 14 songs, including a bonus track, and lasts for 46 minutes. Out of these, only 2 are about men or love. Only 6 minutes out of 46 are romantic in any way. The other 40 minutes are about loving who you are, being yourself, and generally treating others well. In a genre that is stereotypically riddled with songs about heartbreak, chasing girls, and getting drunk Musgraves’ stands out as a voice showing that there is more to a woman than the man she is with or without. In my eyes, Kacey Musgraves is one of the best role models for young girls currently on the front lines of pop culture.

90% of you are reading this and rolling your eyes and scoffing at the inferior genre of country music. I implore you to give this record a shot. You may love it, you may hate it, but be open-minded and just try. You might surprise yourself with what type of music you like if you allow yourself to listen to music without worrying about the ‘image’ or how ‘cool’ the music may or may not be.

Summer Songs (In No Particular Order)

I don’t really care for summer. Well, I guess more accurately I don’t really care for the heat, and by heat I mean sweat, and by sweat I mean outside, and by outside I mean the beach. Therefore, since summer is basically people doing all of those things, and due to the transitive property of a=b and b=c then a=c, I don’t like summer. One thing I do really love about summer is putting my AC on high and driving with the windows down with loud music playing. So, to get you all through these last few weeks of summer, I have put together a very short list of some of my favorite summer songs.

In no particular order.

To me, The Ataris’ record So Long, Astoria is one of the definitive summer records. Songs like, “In This Diary,” “Radio #2,” and maybe my favorite cover of a song ever “The Boys of Summer” just beg to be sang along to in the heat with your friends. But “Summer ’79 definitely tops the list. So many great images, and anthemic lines you can’t help but relate with as a kid during the summer.

I mean, come on. This one is obvious. Never has there been a song more meant for toe-tapping and whistling. Despite the fact that the lyrics are about how a spiraling drug addiction will unavoidably mess you up, it is a must have on every summer playlist. Doo doo doo, doo doo-doo doo.

The first time I heard this song, while working a summer camp ironically, I didn’t like it. Now it has easily become one of my favorite Killers’ songs. What really gets me about this song is one of the last times the chorus hits near the end with huge stabs. Lyrically it hits a part of summer not oft mentioned; the fact that it is a time of year we can “all just runaway” from the rest of your problems.

This song just rules. Catchy pop-punk riffs, soaring melodies, and a cliché summer romance. Staying up late and running around the city, causing trouble with friends (which for me always meant rolling houses). This song is so easy to sing along to and I dare you to listen to it without smiling.

Everything In Transit is without a doubt my favorite record to listen to in summer. Maybe it is that the whole thing is pretty much about California, or that I just have such strong memories of listening to it in the summer during high school. I chose this song specifically because the chorus is the definition of what summer is. So that is what I will choose to leave you with.

But if you left it up to me
Every day would be
A holiday from real
We’d waste our weeks
Beneath the sun
We’d fry our brains
And say it’s so much fun out here
But when it’s all over
I’ll come back for another year