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 intend these to be lengthy write-ups, but I like to include notes on my listening habits, discoveries, etc.
- A big anniversary happened this past week: the tenth anniversary of my favorite CD release day of all time — September 20, 2011. That release day included Major/Minor by Thrice, Sweeter by Gavin DeGraw, Heritage by Opeth, Ghosts Upon the Earth by Gungor, The Reckoning by Needtobreathe, and The Great Awakening by Leeland. I listened to a handful of these on September 20 exactly, with DeGraw’s Sweeter being the main one to really hit me and demand multiple listens. That said, the albums from Leeland and Gungor held up shockingly well.
- I’ll go into more depth on this topic next week, but one of the podcasts I host just released an episode covering our favorite albums from 2011; if you’re interested, you can listen here.
- I praised the new Eidola album in my previous post, and this led me into a short-lived “swancore” rabbit hole, including showing my wife the latest Dance Gavin Dance album and discovering the fantastic EP from Cat Company.
- Not to brag or anything, but three entries on this week’s 5×5 are unreleased albums: Shelterheart by Benajmin Daniel (which releases October 22 and is one of the best albums of the year); Good News, Great Joy by Graham Jones (which is a memorable, distinctive entry in the Christmas genre and a worthy follow-up to last year’s excellent The Story’s Still Alive); and Brushstroke Notes, Vol. 1 by Out of Service, an emo-rock band which has lots of new music on the horizon. I’m hoping we’ll see new tunes from OOS officially released by the end of 2021, but if not, they’ve got plenty of great older music that you should check out if emo, alternative, post-hardcore, or indie rock appeal to you at all.
- For the first time in a year, I revisited Wild, Free, the third album by Acceptance. I was a longtime supporter of the band and a major proponent of them returning, following their seminal debut album Phantoms and their subsequent decade-long hiatus. 2017’s Colliding By Design was mostly satisfying, despite the band’s surprising change in style; but 2020’s Wild, Free extended the downward spiral of their music’s quality, giving me little to really love or latch onto. I published a 2.5-star review of the album, which became semi-controversial, leading to some arguments in the comments section as well as a very gracious comment from one of Acceptance’s band members. That said, my experience of Wild, Free this past week was my best experience ever with the set. While I would stand behind my critiques of the album, those issues do not bother me as much as they used to. I still think it’s the band’s weakest release, but I can see now that it shows potential for them to grow quite effectively into a new style. If I were to rewrite that review today, I would bump up the score to 3 stars.
- A name that appears a few times on this 5×5 is Jake Rivers — a new friend I made recently who does a fantastic job making John Mayer-styled music. While he probably wears his Mayer influence too heavily on his sleeve, the results are undeniable. His album Summer Never Ends is a fantastic throwback to Room for Squares-era Mayer with a nice touch of The Search for Everything. It’s especially impressive as a self-produced effort.
- A few bullet points down, I’ll be talking about my experience attending the Birmingham hardcore/punk music festival called Furnace Fest. Because it was a Friday-to-Sunday event, I didn’t have time to listen to any new releases this week, but I did give a few listens to the latest Underoath single, “Pneumonia.” Unfortunately, they are 0 for 3 for me in terms of new songs, leading me to believe that their new album (due January 2022) is going to be a big disappointment.
- Before I can speak about the fest itself, I of course have to address the road trip music that took my wife and me from Tennessee to Alabama. Alongside conversation aplenty, we only had time for two full albums: Types & Shadows by Wolves at the Gate (which was the band we were seeing in concert when we met) and Destination: Beautiful by Mae (one of the bands playing at the festival). We filled out the remainder of the drive with a randomized playlist that, fittingly, contained a song by me and a song by the main artist we were looking forward to seeing: Beloved.
- Now for Furnace Fest. I’ll say up-front that neither Paige nor I were fully prepared for what a three-day long music festival would entail. We left early each of the three evenings due to exhaustion, sore feet, and allergies, even though this meant missing a handful of artists we had looked forward to watching (Underoath, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, August Burns Red, Darkest Hour, and Showbread), and there were also a handful of artists with conflicting sets which we had to miss entirely or which we only saw a few songs from (Glassjaw, Further Seems Forever, Mae, Anberlin, Microwave, Comback Kid, and Cartel). Altogether, I think we only watched the full sets for about fifteen artists, which seems kind of crazy considering that about thirty artists performed on each of the three days.
- If you’ve been following my “What I’ve Been Listening To” column for long, an album that you will have seen make appearances more frequently than most other albums is Failure On by Beloved, the sole release from the post-hardcore unit before they disbanded back in 2005. The announcement of Beloved’s reunion coincided with the announcement of Furnace Fest happening for the first time in nearly two decades. It was later revealed by the fest’s creator that this event probably wouldn’t have happened at all, had Beloved not agreed to reunite for it. Originally scheduled for September of 2020, Furnace Fest really needed no other appeal than to finally see Beloved live; the fact that so many other great bands would eventually sign on was just butter on the cake. I purchased my ticket immediately, and when I got engaged to Paige, I bought a ticket for her as well. She also loves Beloved, with Failure On appearing on her 5×5 probably every other week. The album was a mainstay of our dating relationship and remains in regular rotation during our marriage. To my ears, it’s a 5-star masterpiece through and through, with a unique musical identity, an astoundingly strong grip on its song craft, production that still sounds great all these years later, and some of the most exciting breakdowns of all time.
- But Beloved had to wait until Saturday. On Friday, the highlights were Emery, who played a nostalgia-heavy set (with all nine songs coming from three of the band’s earlier albums), and Terminal, who (in a situation very similar to Beloved) were also reuniting after releasing only one album about fifteen years ago. Emery are in their prime right now, hitting a rare late-career stride where their new music and old music alike feel absolutely revitalized. Emery owned the pandemic era like champs, releasing new music, high-quality livestreams of old music, and staying in touch with fans regularly. It’s amazing to witness, and while I was bummed to not hear any of their newer songs live, it’s hard to deny how well their old material translates to the live setting. Meanwhile, Terminal was a great primer for Saturday, as another defunct artist that I never thought I would get to see live. They were a little sloppy towards the start of their set, but once they warmed up, it was fantastic. Pure joy exuded from the stage as you could tell that they weren’t trying to cash in on nostalgia; they really love performing together and couldn’t have been happier playing again, as both musicians and as friends. Terminal originally broke up with some bad blood and burnt bridges, so to see those relationships mended and returning to a place of teamwork is a thing of beauty. Also, their album How the Lonely Keep holds up quite well, with the title track making for one killer set closer.
- Something we discovered on Friday was… there could potentially be a massive issue with one of the stages. The “Plug Your Holes” Stage (where Beloved would be performing on Saturday evening) was set up in a fairly narrow warehouse with standing area that declined from the entrance to the stage. This meant that, if the crowd filled up, we would be unable to see the stage. Due to this, we decided to skip one of my favorite bands, Mae, in order to get an early start working our way up that warehouse’s odd layout. We got there at the beginning of Living Sacrifice’s set, and immediately we were able to get a back-of-the-crowd spot that was good enough to see the stage. So that problem was solved, but as the crowd slowly shifted, we kept moving even closer. Then Living Sacrifice’s set ended, with Deafheaven scheduled next. Apparently there isn’t much crossover between those two fan-bases, as many people cleared out, giving us the opportunity we needed to navigate toward the front of the crowd. By the time Deafheaven started, we were a few people away from the front of the stage. We were right on the edge of where mosh pits would soon form, which was an annoying little obstacle, but we refused to give up the amazing spot we’d reached. (Deafheaven was also amazing, by the way. The frontman is kind of terrifying, but he’s also a commanding presence that really captivates you in a way I’ve rarely seen before. And the band was as tight as could be, sometimes sounding exactly like they do on record.) When Deafheaven’s set ended, one single spot on the railing opened up, which my wife immediately launched upon to claim as her own. We’d done it. We’d secured what we thought would be impossible: front spots for Beloved.
- The set started with my friend Chad Johnson (who created Furnace Fest) coming to the mic to share a heartfelt speech and prayer, before Beloved launched into the opening track of Failure On (and potentially one of my favorite songs of all time), “Failure On My Lips.” If you haven’t heard the song, it’s almost a hilarious misdirect for the heaviness to come, starting with an upbeat, nearly poppy (yet still iconic) guitar riff, before lead singer Josh Moore’s voice arrives with a weight and heft unfitting for the frail, soft-spoken man wielding it. You could swiftly tell that the band had been practicing long and hard for this moment, slipping right back into their old roles with an impressive tightness, while still looking like they were loose and having fun. Sometimes, they would launch directly from one song into the next, occasionally cutting the endings of songs short in order to make for more streamlined transitions. At other times, they would speak briefly between songs, with most of the crowd-interaction duties going to drummer/screamer Joe Musten, whose outgoing personality was perfect for the job. At one point, he confirmed that the band would not go on full-length tours because parenting was too important to them. About halfway through the set, he took a few minutes to introduce the band’s new song, “Abyss,” which he also confirmed was not the first of more to come; for the time being, the band has no plans on trying to follow-up Failure On, but they did want to create one new song that could be played at Furnace Fest and which could portray where the band members are now at in life. I wasn’t a big fan of the song when it released online a few weeks ago, but it translated to the live setting fairly well. This was also the point of the set where the band went off-script from mostly playing through Failure On in order. They skipped two of the songs toward the middle of the album, “Death to Traitors” and “Defect from Decay.” It occurred to me around this time that they were saving “Death to Traitors” to be the set closer, meanwhile, “Defect” was the only one of the album’s ten songs which wasn’t played.
- I should mention at this point that there was one major drawback of being at the front of the crowd: crowd-surfing. Moshing got a little intense during a few of the songs’ breakdowns, but it was the surfing that nearly ruined the show for us. At least, the surfing momentarily ruined the show for us, until we moved on and pivoted our focus back to the band. However, it was punishingly distracting at times, with people showing up behind us as well as people jumping from the stage directly in front of us, sometimes with punishingly bad form and often in quick succession. While I did my best job to protect Paige from getting hit, she still wound up with a black eye due to one jokester jumping out feet-first and kicking her in the face. I’m also extremely tall, which means a bad surfing job can crush my neck. We ended up okay, if perhaps a little battered and bruised, but I really wish the security team of Furnace Fest had done a better job enforcing the supposed “NO MOSHING NO SURFING” rule that was broadcast to the attendees.
- Back to the positives, though. The second half of Beloved’s set was a thing of wonders. The back half of that album is extremely strong, and their ability to recreate the guitar tones, aggression, and crazy dynamics of those tracks was such an unbelievable accomplishment to witness in person. Also, ending the concert with “Death to Traitors” was a stroke of genius, cashing in on the band’s only major single and turning the crowd into a massive multitude of madmen. It was the perfect way to end a near-perfect set. Along with how fun it was, we were amazed with how good it sounded and how well the band, despite the long hiatus, was able to recreate the performances from an album that itself seems almost impossibly tight. Despite all the bands we didn’t get to see at Furnace Fest, Beloved made the whole trip more than worth it.
- A few other thoughts: ERRA was the highlight of Sunday and gave the best performance “technically” of all the artists we saw. Despite making music filled with difficult parts to play, it was astounding how clean they sounded. It was heavy yet clear, which is a notable feat to pull off. A band called Nominee was my favorite artist that I’d never heard before. They just released a new album, titled Lowlife, and it’s pretty top-tier pop/punk-meets-scenecore. Lastly, Every Time I Die was another highlight, and they were one of the few artists that didn’t lean fully into nostalgia for their song choices. Their new single “Post-Boredom” was incredible live, and I’m really stoked for Radical to release on October 22.
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 debut album Unfall is available now and I’d love for you to hear it. You can click here to Spotify pre-save “I Don’t,” the first single for my upcoming sophomore album.