Welcome to my weekly column “What I’ve Been Listening To,” where I publish a post every Sunday with my 5×5 collage of most-listened releases (which is sourced by my Last.fm account and made into a collage via this site). I do not (*cough* usually) intend these to be lengthy write-ups, but I like to include notes on my listening habits, discoveries, etc.
- As suggested by this blog post’s title, I’ll be covering two weeks’ worth of music listening today. The reason I didn’t post anything last week (besides being busy) is that I found myself really discouraged by how the above image was missing two days of my listens — and two very music-filled days, at that! So I’ll use my Spotify history to record here what Last.FM sadly missed, due to an odd application malfunction.
- The main day of listening that got lost to history was one filled with late 90’s and early 00’s pop-punk. That Tuesday, I listened to albums from Relient K, Sum 41, New Found Glory, Blink-182, Value Pac, Fanmail, Five Iron Frenzy, and MxPx. This genre-focused run of albums started when I listened to Relient K’s self-titled debut and loved it more than many of my friends do. To my ears, it’s a top-notch entry into the genre, so I went on a bender to see whether I had simply lost a proper reference point for the quality of pop-punk music being released at the time. Yet as far as I’m concerned, Relient K is still excellent when compared to its immediate peers.
- The other albums lost to time were My Epic’s Violence; a second listen to Benjamin Daniel’s Good Fear EP; two listens through Relient K’s Two Left Don’t Make a Right…but Three Do and one listen through The Anatomy of Tongue and Cheek; Thrice’s The Artist in the Ambulance; Sum 41’s All Killer, No Filler; Blind Breed’s Alive (an awesome throwback to a still-great album from a band that I used to play bass guitar for); and Petals for Armor by Hayley Williams.
- As a quick aside, the indie singer songwriter I just mentioned, Benjamin Daniel, is currently raising funds to help pay for his new album Shelterheart. He’s one of my favorite lyricists I’ve ever met, and I can confirm that his new album is fantastic; I got to hear sneak peaks of the new songs a few days ago. If you like supporting artists or have a thing for down-to-earth Christian folk artists like Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, and Rich Mullins, don’t miss out: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shelterheart-an-album-by-benjamin-daniel#/
- As promised in my previous blog post, I finished my revisit of Paramore’s discography, alongside the two solo albums from Hayley Williams. My thoughts overall haven’t changed much, but I’m happy to report on my findings:
Paramore’s 2013 self-titled set is a remarkable collection of perfect pop-rock, as contagiously catchy as it is instrumentally and sonically ambitious. Williams really came into herself as a vocalist here, giving career-best performances alongside her strongest compositions to date, forming a lengthy album with almost zero weak spots and a handful of all-time favorites. This is my favorite Paramore album by a country mile, and if you ever catch me at a karaoke bar, you’re likely to hear me sing the hit single from this album, “Ain’t it Fun.”
2. All We Know is Falling
I was smitten with Paramore when they first appeared on the scene back in 2005, two years before “Misery Business” would send them into superstardom. While a few things about this album haven’t held up particularly well (chiefly the lyrics), this is still a ridiculously effective and sing-along-able album that holds a dear place in my heart and makes for fun road trip tunes.
3. After Laughter
Some people think that After Laughter, the band’s latest album, is their best, and I can see why; it’s a tighter, more stylistically cohesive collection than the self-titled record, with honest and relatable lyrics that see the band putting a clever spin on the annoyingly popular 80’s resurgence. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this one, adoring it on some spins while finding myself frustrated during others. This is probably due mostly for my own personal distaste for 80’s music; nevertheless, it’s a strong set, and opener “Hard Times” is an undeniable jam.
4. Flowers for Vases / descansos
The surprise album Flowers for Vases, a largely acoustic-based sister album to Williams’ solo debut, Petals for Armor, is a stunningly accomplished set, filled to the brim with some of my favorite melodic and lyrical work of Williams’ career. To my knowledge, she wrote, performed, and recorded everything here, which makes the beautiful songwriting and presentation all the more impressive. I admittedly wasn’t a fan of her first album, so I was especially surprised to like the direct sequel so much — in fact, this album is currently a front-runner for my favorite album of 2021. I’m not yet at a point where I can say that the album is better-written than After Laughter or a more personal favorite to me than All We Know, but I could certainly see this album climbing the ranks to #2 in years to come.
This is the point on the list where we shift from albums I like to ones I don’t. While it might be shocking for someone who loves Paramore’s debut to not like their next two albums, that’s where I’ve always been at. I was wildly disappointed when this album first released, and it’s never grown on me since. I do enjoy a handful of tunes (“When It Rains,” “Fences”), but the rest of album has never impressed me by rock standards or by pop standards.
6. Brand New Eyes
I was happy to revisit this album simply to hear one fantastic track that I’d written off long ago (“Turn It Off”), but again, this is an album that does very little to endear me to itself outside of a few solid singles and singalongs. By this point in Paramore’s discography, I think this iteration of the band had fallen into a number of predictable pitfalls and formulas that really wear thin on me.
7. Petals for Armor
As previously mentioned, Petals didn’t do much for me when in released in mid-2020. This past week was the first time I’d revisited the album since its release, and there’s almost no song on this album that I can say I thoroughly enjoy. Williams goes a little too deep into using her voice as an instrument, showing off how much she can do with her pipes instead of focusing on writing compelling, enjoyable melodies. I find myself turned off by most of what this album has to offer, along with a few moments that I find to be plainly goofy. On paper, this is a thoughtful and impressive album, but in practice, it comes across to me as an instance where “art” was created at the expense of also making “entertainment.”
- Two personal favorites near the top of this 5×5 are The Everglow by Mae and The End is Not the End by House of Heroes. I listened to those albums specifically because I was writing about them (alongside a few other albums) for a new feature on JesusFreakHideout.com, covering the 25 albums that we believe to be the best Christian album from each year over the past 25 years of the website’s existence. Check out the list here — I’m very proud of what I wrote for my four contributions.
- The new single “Invading the World of the Guilty as a Spirit of Vengeance” by the band The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is amazing. I realize that the titles of both that band and their song are intimidating, but we should all keep our eyes peeled for what they’ll be releasing next.
- My album Development & Compromise should NOT be first on this 5×5, but the true #1 album (Relient K’s Two Lefts…) disappeared during this week’s lost days. That said, I haven’t been listening to my own album merely out of self-indulgence or narcissism; I have very exciting plans for the future of these songs, and if you want to stay up-to-date on the latest information and sneak peaks of what’s to come, be sure you’ve signed up to my mailing list.
- I am quite sad to report that, once again, the Last.FM/Spotify connection lost yet another two days of music listening. Granted, this was one of my slimmest weeks of music listening in general (due largely to the amount of time that I’ve either been in the recording studio or practicing/prepping to enter the studio); however, the 5×5 above makes it look like I only listened to five albums in full, which is practically unheard of for me. Notably, it’s missing some of the albums from my two current discography runs, Relient K and Sum 41. We’ll be wrapping up both discographies next week, and I’m excited to report back on next weekend’s post with my findings and rankings.
- Other absences include a handful of new discoveries I made this week: the ambient post-hardcore band WVNDER, who have produced very solid work on both the heavy and soft/acoustic sides of the spectrum; The Different Between, a newer act whose 3-song EP displays great potential; and Trade Wind, a band I haven’t quite figured out yet but want to spend more time with.
- The presence of Thrice hangs heavily over this week’s 5×5. They released a Spotify playlist titled “Spirit of Horizons/East,” comprised of the songs that most strongly and directly influenced the writing and recording of the band’s upcoming album. Entries above with only one play count from artists like Fugazi and Colour Revolt hail largely from that playlist, which features other artists such as Radiohead, Cave In, and even old school jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Freddie Hubbard.
- In some online circles this past week, the intersection between Thrice and Radiohead became a point of contention and sometimes even controversy, as many have deemed Thrice’s latest single, “Robot Soft Exorcism,” as nothing more than a direct rip-off of the latter. As the aforementioned playlist proves, Thrice have never hidden their adoration for Radiohead — they’ve even been referred to as “the Radiohead of post-hardcore” in professional publications. But the new song seemed to cross a line from inspiration into thievery with some listeners, particularly those who are big fans of both bands. I admit that the similarities are uncanny at points, especially the verses of “Robot Soft Exorcism.” However, my bigger issue with the new Thrice song (which, as you can see, I listened to a handful of times) is that it doesn’t hit as hard for me as “Scavengers” did; dynamically, it seems to end too early, with the occasional dull and vague lyric that does a disservice to the philosophical concept from which the song’s oddball title originates. “Come down from where you’ve been” is a fairly simple and ambiguous way to end what is supposed to be the epic climax of the song, and it also points to a lyrical theme that has been common across both “Scavengers” and Thrice’s previous album, Palms: essentially telling people, “Follow me, there’s a better way.” I’ll be curious to see whether the rest of this album continues with such a crusading bent.
- The new album Pono from A Great Big Pile of Leaves was my favorite new album of the week thus far. It’s a really pleasant indie rock listen and the band’s first album since I first discovered them back in 2013. But I’m still looking forward to checking out the latest releases from M.A.G.S., Jade Bird, and the Killers. Feel free to comment below if you have any 2021 recommendations!
Author’s Note: The reason I created this website and write these articles stems from my belief that artists should support other artists, in the same way that art inspires art. My sophomore album Development & Compromise is available now and I’d love for you to hear it.