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.
- It’s time to talk about Cinema Staff. I’ve mentioned this band in previous “What I’ve Been Listening To” posts because their three-song EP Midnight Sun/Polar Night was the only 2021 release that I have loved to the point of obsession; it was the only new music that I couldn’t get enough of. By nature of the band being Japanese, however, I’m not very well connected to their publicity, marketing, news, etc., so I had zero expectations to receive more music this year than that amazing EP, which had earned so many scrobbles on my Last.fm account that, despite including only three tracks, it had become my most-played 2021 album. So one fateful Friday morning, I was shocked to learn (thanks to Spotify’s Release Radar playlist) that Cinema Staff had released a brand new full-length album titled Kaitei, which included two of the EP’s three songs. (The album also contained two singles from 2020, “Tokyo Disorder” and “3.28,” neither of which I had heard before, thanks to my tendency to focus solely on albums instead of singles.) Needless to say, I was ecstatic. My first listen made me think, quite sadly, that the whole album wouldn’t live up to the EP I adored (and I even made my own playlist of the album, so that I could continue listening to the third song from the EP, pretending that it’s a bonus track at the end); but I continued listening out of faith that my first impression was fallacious. If you can’t tell from the song count listed in my 5×5, I went on to listen to the album fifteen times over the course of November. By my second or third listen, the obsession set in and I fell in love with just about every song on the album, eventually getting to the point where I liked some of the new songs more than the three EP songs. Honestly, it is so fulfilling for a new album to appear that captivates and enthralls me the way that my favorite albums used to back in junior high or during college. Old wisdom suggests that adults eventually fizzle out of their enthusiasm for new music, and it was beginning to feel like this was happened to me, as I would spend hours every Friday listening to new releases that rarely drew me back for repeat spins. Then Kaitei arrived to shine a light in the dark and give me a new album that I can now call one of my all-time favorite albums. It’s such a perfect encapsulation of everything I think rock music should be that I’m going to have trouble not directly ripping it off as I continue writing and recording new music of my own.
- Speaking of my music…my new album is out! Development & Compromise earned triple-digit streams from me in the latter half of November, in a mixture of joyous celebration for a job well done as well as crippling self-doubt and second-guessing myself over a handful of mixing and tracklisting decisions. Ultimately, I think I made an album that’s about as good as my debut Unfall (which also earns a handful of scrobbles here, thanks to me listening to the two albums together and comparing them). I’m happy to report that I’ve officially come around to the point where I can enjoy Unfall without constantly thinking of issues I have with it, details I would improve, vocal takes I wish I could record again, etc. And I hope I’ll reach that point with D&C soon enough. I can say that the new album’s production is objectively better, but it’s different enough that the sound/style of Unfall may still be a preference for some listeners. Eventually, I believe I’ll come to love both albums equally, which is really more than I can ask for. (Stay on the lookout for much more to be written about the new album in early 2022.)
- Last month, my top album was my #2 album of all time, The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi by The Receiving End of Sirens, and this month, we have an appearance from my #1, Here at the Mayflower by Barry Manilow. At the turn of the century, Manilow took decades worth of writing, covering, and performing hundreds of classics from across a dozen different genres, and he poured that time-earned expertise into a brilliant concept album that connects a dozen different stories across 16+ tracks (my CD copy has two exclusive bonus tracks that can’t be found on streaming). These tracks distill Manilow’s mastery of oldies pop, smooth jazz, Broadway showtunes, balladry, Latin/salsa, disco, and more into a peerless collection of original music that, over the past two decades, has earned its way into my heart as my favorite concept album, my favorite album to sing along to, and one of my biggest inspirations in writing songs and crafting albums.
- Limp Bizkit released a new album. That’s all.
- As laser-focused as I tend to be on 2000’s-era music, I occasionally get an urge to look deeper into the past. During November, that manifested through listening to Ella Fitzgerald and checking out a handful of albums by 80’s punk bank The Replacements. Both were fascinating historical detours, but neither held my attention for long.
- A weird blindspot for me — especially weird for anyone who’s familiar with my particular breed of early-00’s post-hardcore and Christian rock — was Further Seems Forever. Simply put, I had never listened to them. One week in November, I checked out all four of their albums, and it definitely solidified the fact that I’d been missing out. I didn’t love all four albums, though; I quite disliked the band’s 2012 comeback album Penny Black, which saw the return of Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba (who’d fronted the band for their 2001 debut, after which the band had different singers for their second and third albums). I liked the band’s first three albums, but by quite a large margin, my favorite was their third outing, Hide Nothing. I’m not sure if the album will keep me coming back in future years, but I’m very glad to know it exists.
- In last month’s column, I shared a lengthy story about how I became a K-pop fan one decade ago and discovered the artist IU, yet how I was also oddly picky about K-pop artists. Every now and then, I’ll watch as many K-pop music videos as I can stomach from artists I’ve never heard of before, in hopes of finding a new artist to love from the country that’s currently taking over the world of pop music. I went on such a search in mid-2020 and found one artist that quite impressed me: Twice. To my surprise, Twice quickly started blowing up stateside, changing from a random find on YouTube into one of K-pop’s biggest U.S. crossovers behind BTS. Unfortunately, the crossover coincided with music that I didn’t like nearly as much as what I’d first heard from the girl group. Thankfully, Twice’s brand new album (and third official full-length) Formula of Love was a bright spot in their recent output. The song “Moonlight” in particular is absolutely wonderful.
- The world doesn’t need my opinion about the biggest-selling album of the year, but I checked out Adele’s 30 and was shocked to discover that I actually liked it. After being a vocal naysayer against Adele ever since first hearing a few songs from her debut album 19, I was quite pleased to enjoy large swaths of the singer-songwriter’s latest, which I would confidently call her finest outing yet.
- Two other new releases that made an impression were Keepsakes & Reminders by Youth Fountain and the excellent blurred vision by idle threat; both albums lean in the hardcore direction, although Youth Foundation is far more pop-punk, while idle threat carries an impressive level of solemnity and maturity. Not shown above (by nature of me not listening to the whole album) was RED (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift, which lost me thanks to the new versions of “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” being so obviously worse than their original counterparts, not to mention how RED has historically been one of my least favorite Taylor albums. There was little chance to begin with that the new version of this LP would sway me, and I’m still curious to go back and hear the new “From the Vault” songs, but for my money, this one’s a misfire. But I support the purpose behind re-recording her albums, and I’m eager to hear the new versions of Reputation, Speak Now, and her debut.
- Most of the other entries here (Relient K, Meadows, Wolves at the Gate, Benjamin Daniel, etc.) come from the road trip my wife and I took to Arkansas to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with her family.
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.