Welcome to my monthly column “What I’ve Been Listening To,” where I publish a post at the end of each month 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). This column was created for me to share my favorite discoveries with readers while documenting my own listening habits.
- A few events dictated my listening habits through the month of December: my wife’s birthday, my due date for a year-end best-of list, the fourth anniversary of The Last Jedi, and Christmas.
- For my wife’s birthday in 2020 (while we were still dating), I surprised her by recording a full album’s worth of acoustic cover songs (plus a few originals), which I released on Bandcamp for free with the title Commitments & Cover Songs (as a nod and wink to my second album’s title). Somehow, even though we live together and spend all of our free time together, I managed to surprise her once again this year with Commitments & Cover Songs, Vol. 2. (Click the link to listen to the album and to read more about it.) Fittingly, when she and I had discussed what she wanted to do for her birthday this year, her idea was to learn and record some cover songs together; so while eight of the volume’s songs were recorded in secret, we then recorded two additional songs together, both from Jesse McCartney’s latest album, New Stage. (We had planned to record a third cover as well, but an unfortunate family crisis took away the time we’d set aside for it.) New Stage released back in October, and I have avoided writing about it up to this point for two reasons: first, because I was hoping to write a larger post about Jesse’s whole discography (which I still hope to do), and second, because I didn’t like it much at first. However, as time passed and my initial expectations and disappointment waned, I’ve come around to the album. It’s short, simple, and straightforward, but it’s also very sweet, especially for Paige and me to listen to together, since the album is largely geared toward marriage. (Like us, Jesse McCartney got married in mid-2021.) One of the songs we covered, “Party for Two,” is my standout favorite from the album and one of my favorite songs of 2021, period.
- Speaking of favorites from 2021, I will soon be posting a retrospective of the whole year, including my favorite music/albums. But while my personal website can enjoy a lax, inconsistent publishing schedule, I also write and podcast for a website with set deadlines and expectations, meaning that I had to settle my lists for top 10 albums and songs from the Christian music industry by the evening of December 12. Thanks to this deadline, the first two weeks of December were saturated with a gargantuan set of albums, as I attempted to catch up on heavy hitters I’d missed throughout the year while simultaneously reminding myself of favorites so that I could figure out how to rank them all. The 5×5 above contains a mixture of albums that ranked very highly on my finalized list (such as the engaging, lyric-oriented debuts from Taylor Leonhardt, Meadows, The Undertaking!, and idle threat) as well as albums that didn’t make the final cut (Riley Clemmons, Jess Ray, Krum). The biggest surprise of the year was seeing just how many independent singer-songwriters would pop up out of nowhere and really impress me, such as Shelterheart by Benjamin Daniel or the subtly stunning debut albums from Zane Vickery and Zach Maurer. (I won’t bother going into how I narrowed down my top 10 songs list, but I will point out that I decided to have zero crossover between the two lists, while giving the list of songs an emphasis on one-offs and non-album singles.) With the number of debut albums on my top 10, I am greatly encouraged about the future of Christian music-making, even if many of those promising artists will sadly be working from the self-funded, independent side of the tracks. To see the full lists from me and other staff members, click here.
- I try not to write much here about The Last Jedi, but if you don’t already know this, I’m an incredibly massive fan, to the extent where I have proudly been expanding upon a display of collectibles, books, posters, Funko Pops, etc. related to the movie. Its fourth anniversary was on December 15, so I spent most of the day listening to the soundtrack on repeat prior to watching the movie that evening. My love for the oft-berated film has only intensified over the past year, as my “shrine” of collectibles grows at an exponential rate and as my brain continues to fill with ideas that make me want to write a book, a fan-fic script, or both. I’ve also come to realize, this past month especially, that talking to people about The Last Jedi on Twitter is just about the only way my tweets get any traction, in comparison to, say, tweeting about my blog or my music. It’s led to me rubbing shoulders with a growing online community of TLJ/sequel fans and defenders that I’m enjoying being a part of. (Fun fact: December 15 is also the anniversary of my wife’s favorite movie, The Emperor’s New Groove, so we watched that movie together earlier in the day, too.)
- I don’t have a tendency of listening to much Christmas music, but last year, I discovered that Weezer have recorded some Christmas songs; so while their short Christmas EP didn’t make it onto my 5×5, it was something I was very excited to revisit this season. The larger effect Christmas had on my listening habits this year was that Christmas 2021 marked my and Paige’s first Christmas together in-person, celebrating with different sides of our families across multiple state lines. This, by necessity, resulted in a lot of driving. Almost everything on the top row of the 5×5 was listened to on those drives, including Paige’s introduction to my favorite all-time album, Barry Manilow’s Here at the Mayflower (which I wrote about in November’s column). We share a handful of 2021 favorites, especially blurred vision by idle threat and In Those Days & Also After by Meadows. Another fun thing we listened to that’s not represented in the 5×5 above was a playlist we made of fantano’s (AKA YouTube music critic theneedledrop’s) worst 15 singles of 2021. It was a painfully funny good time — and he was spot-on about how bad those songs are. During another one of our drives, I asked Paige to give me a few albums she’d like to listen to. Instead of choosing one, I threw the four albums onto a playlist and shuffled them together. Those were Paramore’s All We Know is Falling, Paramore’s self-titled, Thrice’s The Illusion of Safety, and Thrice’s Beggars. While listening, I played a game where I ranked the albums based on how many songs from the same album played back-to-back, with extra points going to albums where songs played in the same order in which they appear on the album. The Illusion of Safety won. Paramore’s self-titled came in last, despite being the longest of the four albums, because somehow we never heard more than two songs in a row from it during the 50-song shuffle.
- There’s a black square above for Out of Service’s upcoming album The Ground Beneath Me. I can’t say much about this album yet except that it’s great. If you want to discover new music in the emo/post-hardcore/indie-alt realms, go follow Out of Service, check out their albums Burden and Morning, and keep an eye out for singles to start releasing in 2022.
- The biggest musical surprise for me during the month of December came from a little-known band called Sky Walker. My brother introduced me to Sky Walker and their self-titled debut album back when it first released in 2005. I adored Sky Walker and was always bummed that they broke up before making album #2. On a random whim, I searched for the band on Spotify, only to find a new single titled “Eagle’s Claw.” The artwork had me suspicious that the song was from a different band, but once I started listening, I knew they were one and the same. Digging deeper, I realized that the band had been releasing brand new recordings of old songs from Sky Walker as singles, too, and they sound absolutely impeccable, breathing fresh life into songs I loved fifteen years ago. I have since found out that the band is working on re-recording the entire album alongside a few new tracks, with the next single expected in January. I’m so stoked, and I highly recommend you check out the new singles, especially “Eagle’s Claw” and “Stalemate.”
- My brother desperately wanted me to check out the new album 2.0 from British boy band JLS. I’ve never known what he sees in them, and after listening to 2.0, I still don’t. I’m always down for good boy-band music, but JLS does nothing for me. However, 2.0 had one standout track, “Looking At Me” — a song where the members of the band are trying to figure out which of them a beautiful girl is making eyes at. It seems like I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear a boy band do a song like this, and they did it justice.
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. If you would like to hear my music, my sophomore album Development & Compromise and my debut album Unfall are available now, wherever you stream music or for purchase on Bandcamp, where you can find both exclusive sale prices and free acoustic cover albums.