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.
- I spent the entire month of January composing the lengthiest blog post ever published on this site, with greater detail, more stories, and bigger scope than anything I’ve attempted to write in years. A vast deal of my music-listening this past month transpired while writing that post, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, I would adjure you to go there instead of continuing further here: 2021: My Favorite Music, Biggest Disappointments, and Craziest Obsessions
- As you’ll plainly observe above, one artist occupied a significant fraction of my album-listening during January: Steven Curtis Chapman. In fact, without my binge through his discography, I wouldn’t have filled out my January 5×5 with full albums. Of the 33~ albums I listened to, 13 of those belonged to Mr. Chapman. However, all of that listening took place during the first week of the month. For an assortment of reasons, I thought it would be a refreshing way to start the year by going through his entire discography yet again. I averaged a few albums per day at the start, but it waned as the week continued, ending with me never even listening to some of his newer albums (despite his 2013 album being my overall favorite). It was generally a good run, and it softened my opinion on one album that I’ve gravely disliked in the past (Heaven in the Real World). Strangely, however, something in me sort of broke that week… I don’t know what happened, (and it certainly wasn’t Chapman’s fault — he’s one of my top 5 artists of all time), but ever since that first week of the month, I’ve been listening to frighteningly little music. Most days, I just lack a desire to hear music or I lack direction for what to listen to. I spent a few days listening to playlists instead of albums (which is rare for me), and there was even a one-week span when I didn’t listen through a full album whatsoever (which is even more rare for me). During 2021, I would occasionally stream 30+ albums in a single week, so only listening to 33 albums for the whole month is markedly slim.
- As mentioned above, a large portion of my music-listening occurred while writing my 2021 retrospective piece, and that’s why instrumental albums were especially appealing, including: the soundtrack for my all-time favorite movie, The Social Network; one of the classic albums from my childhood, Discovery by Daft Punk (which isn’t entirely instrumental but has plenty of instrumental songs/segments); and the Season 3 soundtrack for Attack on Titan, which coincided with the airing of the final season of the series. The conclusion to this anime will be a significant event, so you can expect to hear more about it between now and the end of March, as the final season comes to its end. Another instrumental treat lately has been a playlist that I’ve been compiling of instrumental versions of Korean pop songs — a country/genre that’s becoming world renowned for crafting the best-produced pop songs in the world. Not too many K-pop artists release instrumental versions of their songs, but I’ve been scooping them up when I find them. (Thank you, Yukika!)
- On the latest episode of The JFH Podcast (which marks the fourth anniversary of the show !!!), we discussed albums that were released in 2002 and will be hitting their twentieth anniversaries this year. Albums by Newsboys, Pillar, and Jars of Clay fell barely outside the 5×5 pictured above, but two that you can see are the fantastic records Silence by Blindside and Divine Discontent by Sixpence None the Richer. Silence is an album that I’ve heard a handful of times yet which had never clicked for me outside of the opening run of highlights. This past week, however, the album really worked for me, and I plan on returning to it in the near future. Similarly, Divine Discontent is an album I’d never heard before yet which I absolutely adored this past week. It features a handful of songs that I vaguely recognize and hadn’t realized were Sixpence songs, but regardless, it was a lovely experience of music that was predominantly unfamiliar to me. If you want to hear more about 2002 albums, you can listen to the episode here or by searching for “JFH” on your preferred podcast app.
- There’s a fascinating contrast between the first and last albums on this month’s 5×5: Havasu by Pedro the Lion and Voyeurist by Underoath. Both artists were massive, groundbreaking figures within Christian music. Pedro the Lion is sometimes credited with creating and pioneering Christian indie rock, while Underoath helped bring Christian metal to the mainstream, becoming one of the most successful bands in the history of the genre. However, both artists have since left Christianity, and from my perspective, they began to create extremely bitter, angry, cynical music, wherein the songwriters seemingly struggled to find things to write about other than being ex-Christians. Voyeurist sees Underoath hitting wildly new heights in terms of the aforementioned bitterness and cynicism, with lyrics such as “Don’t pray for me and my friends / I think you’re f***ing fake.” It may not surprise you that I don’t like the album very much — but it’s not just because of how off-putting the lyrics are. I also think it contains some of the band’s blandest songwriting to date, regurgitating the same drum patterns, vocal melodies, and heavy breakdowns over and over again. The album has its cool moments, for sure, but those cool moments never add up to compelling songs, at least not in my opinion.
- That brings me to Havasu, the surprise album that Pedro the Lion released on January 20. I’m not sure whether I ever listened to Pedro’s 2019 album Phoenix, but prior to Phoenix‘s release, Pedro the Lion had mostly been on hiatus in the gap between 2019 and their 2004 album Achilles’ Heel. In between, Pedro’s primary member and songwriter David Bazan was releasing solo albums; he released five albums between 2009 and 2017, and none of them clicked for me. On those solo albums, Bazan deconstructed his Christian faith before eventually leaving it entirely. The resulting lyrical cynicism was enough for me to not give his solo albums much mind, but I also genuinely did not see as much musical craft as I was used to hearing in Pedro’s music (especially 2002’s Control). My disinterest was solidified by seeing him live in 2017, in a performance which disappointed me and really rubbed me wrong. Fast forward five years and color me shocked to the nth degree when I decide to give Havasu a chance, and it’s nothing if not sincere, disarming, charming, and optimistic. This collection of songs inspired by Bazan’s childhood and teenage years really won me over, bringing back aspects I loved about early Pedro albums while also showing ways in which Bazan has grown as a songwriter. It’s a lovely set that has already inspired new songs that I wrote later in January; and it’s an early favorite of 2022.
- Other favorite new releases from January include the fuzzy, hooky pop of Are We Gonna Be Alright? by Fickle Friends; the surprisingly fun, slick modern metal on Dominion by Skillet; the retro synth-pop of From The Womb Of The Morning, The Dew Of Your Youth Will Be Yours by Ronnie Martin, marking the first solo album from the Joy Electric singer (who’s known for making all of his music using analog synthesizers); and the fantastic, dynamic 11:11 from the Americana-meets-emo act Pinegrove. The highest-profile release of the month was Dawn FM by The Weeknd, which I was disappointed to not enjoy at all, following how much I liked 2020’s After Hours.
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.