What I’ve Been Listening To (May 2022)

The music I listened to the most during May 2022, based on song plays per album

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 am not blind to the fact that June is basically over, yet I’m just now publishing my May blog. This timing sort of works out, though, because I don’t plan on posting a standard “What I’ve Been Listening To” column for June, the reason being that I (quite frankly) didn’t listen to very much music during June. And this musical drought was caused by something very exciting: I spent the bulk of June recording my third album! You can be expecting an official announcement here in July, so make sure you’re subscribed to the site if you don’t want to miss it. And if you want to receive behind the scenes footage and other exclusive benefits even earlier, sign up for my monthly newsletter.
  • The month of May was light on new albums that I loved, but two of my favorite releases didn’t make it into the 5×5 above because they were too short: the EPs Night by The Jonah Project and Bury by Levvy. Both are exciting, hardcore-leaning sets from extremely promising independent artists. Bury marks the first release from Levvy since the band’s 2019 debut EP, while Night is the third EP this year from The Jonah Project, finishing out a trilogy that started with Dawn and Dusk. I normally don’t consider “EP”s when making my final year-end favorites list, but I might have to make an exception for the massive accomplishment that The Jonah Project accomplished across these three releases, which altogether amasses 20 tracks and 80 minutes of music.
  • The biggest release of May across the spectrum of most music listeners was the long-anticipated fifth LP by Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, which was announced merely a few weeks ahead of its release, with no teasers or pre-release singles to speak of. I stayed up late to listen on the evening of its release, and that was… not a great way to experience this dense collection of eighteen hip-hop tracks for the first time. The album did not land with good first impressions for me. I quite disliked a few tracks, thinking that I even hated one song (“We Cry Together,” which has since become one of my favorites). A second listen really helped the album to coalesce in my mind, and after three listens, I kind of love it. It’s not as epic and memorable as To Pimp a Butterfly, nor is it as surface-level satisfying or musically enjoyable as DAMN, but it’s a fascinating step in a boldly honest new direction for the rapper.
  • Something which, strangely, goes largely unrepresented in the graphic above is the insane amount of music from Solid State Records that I binged in early May, in preparation for the taping of a podcast episode about the label’s 25th anniversary. I had made it my goal to listen to at least one song from every band in Solid State’s history. I didn’t quite accomplish this goal, but I came shockingly close, and in the podcast linked above, I share my all-time favorite album releases from the label.
  • Speaking of the JFH Podcast, an album that I listened to a handful of times during May yet which I couldn’t properly scrobble [the term for tracking streams on last.fm] was my pre-release copy of John Van Deusen’s excellent fourth solo album, I Am Origami, Pt. 4: Marathon Daze. I greatly enjoyed and appreciated my interview with him when the album dropped on June 3, and I would highly recommend checking out both the album and his podcast episode, “The Intensity of Intentionality.”
  • Toward the end of the month, my wife and I set out upon our longest road trip ever: from Nashville, Tennessee to Portland, Maine. Paige’s mom and sister flew into Portland to meet us there for a week, but we decided to drive there instead, both to save money and to provide the wheels for the vacation. That’s a nearly-twenty-hour drive one-way, meaning that we drove for approximately fifty hours throughout the entire trip, (if you include all of the inner-city traveling within Maine). As one can imagine, this gave us ample opportunity to listen to music together; and the majority of the albums we rocked out to didn’t fit within the 5×5 graphic above. From my memory, some of the missing albums include All We Know is Falling by Paramore, The Illusion of Safety and Major/Minor by Thrice, and Chapters by Forever Changed. However, we didn’t listen to nearly as much music as we would have originally predicted. Many hours of that trip were spent talking, a few hours were spent listening to podcasts, and as hinted at by the inclusion of John Mulaney in the 5×5, we also listened to a handful of comedy albums. The standout was People Pleaser by Daniel Tosh, but we also greatly enjoyed Mulaney as well as a few selective bits from Tom Segura.
  • The two full discographies that I explored during May were those of Story of the Year (the Missouri-based rock band best known for the single “Until the Day I Die”) and Blindside (the infamous post-hardcore unit from Sweden). Both discographies had their fair shares of surprises and disappointments. My main takeaway for both was how, after all these years, my favorite album from way back in the day remains my favorite album today. For Story of the Year, that album is 2005’s In the Wake of Determination, which beats the others without much competition; the other albums didn’t hold up for me very well. For Blindside, my favorite is a bit more of a hot take: 2005’s The Great Depression. For my money, The Great Depression has the band’s tightest writing, catchiest melodies, and most interesting ideas; however, large swaths of the fanbase seem to consider that album a major disappointment in the shadow of fan favorites Silence and About a Burning Fire. The latter doesn’t really scratch any itches for me, but Silence is undoubtedly a great album. It’s my second-favorite Blindside album overall, and I’m incredibly excited to see the album performed in its entirety at this September’s Furnace Fest in Birmingham.
  • The 1975 were clearly the big winners of May, with four full-length albums that can each be found on the top row of my 5×5. It’d been a few years since I last spent much time listening to this UK act, and that ties in directly with why my listening suddenly exploded. I became a fan of the band with the release of their second album, a 17-track collection that I mostly liked yet which was too lengthy and overwhelming to listen frequently. Their third album was nearly as long, and then the fourth LP took things to the next level: a whopping 22 tracks. I found it hard to wade through these lengthy sets, which resulted in me barely spending time with any of the albums after their initial releases. Despite my usual commitment to the full-album listening experience, I had long wanted to narrow down the 1975’s discography into a playlist of just my favorite songs. And in mid-May, I finally took this task upon myself, combing through the 70 tracks that comprise the 4 LPs and whittling them down by half. It was a fun experiment, and the resulting 35-song playlist became something that I shuffled obsessively for the remainder of the month. Here’s that Spotify playlist, if you’re interested in seeing which songs I selected or if you’re looking for a good primer for the band in the lead-up to their just-announced fifth album.
  • I mentioned during my April newsletter that I would wait until my May blog to share my thoughts on New Found Glory’s discography, which I was still finishing up during that first week of May. Concerning their catalog as a whole, I’ll be brief: it’s fine. It’s way more solid than I expected it to be, and I genuinely experienced a conversion from dissenter into fan over the course of those few weeks. I had a startlingly fun time with the band’s multiple cover song albums (From the Screen to Your Stereo), meanwhile I finished the marathon with three albums that I genuinely enjoyed and could imagine myself returning to in the future. Two of my top three are, to my understanding, pretty standard fan-favorites: Catalyst and Coming Home. However, I wanted to gush here about my #1 NFG album, which apparently is yet another one of my infamous hot-hot takes. My runaway favorite is 2016’s Makes Me Sick, an album which largely runs from lukewarm acceptance to outright hatred and rejection amongst NFG fans. Coming into this band’s music with little-to-no preconceived notions, preferences, or biases, this album simply won me over and hit my sweet spot in a way that nothing else from NFG did. So I’m going to end this month’s blog with my extended thoughts about this album, for whoever’s interested in reading them:

From a big picture standpoint, I think it would be criminally reductionistic to think about Makes Me Sick as “the one where New Found Glory experimented with synths,” because NFG are experimenting with a shockingly large number of things here. They’re showing a willingness to completely upend their sound and forgo the usual formulas in a way that we haven’t heard or seen since Coming Home. Not only are they pushing further toward the “pop” side of pop-punk, but they’re pushing the band’s sound into pop-punk-adjacent genres that forgo punk altogether. Meanwhile, not only are we hearing lyrics and melodies that are branching out from the NFG norm, but more notably, we’re getting different sorts of chord progressions than we’ve ever heard before; in particular, this album is stuffed with key changes, which is a musical tool that we’ve barely (if ever?) heard the band utilize across the preceding eight albums.

Of course, any experiment is only worth the weight of how well the experiment is accomplished. And I think the key for this album is whether you’re judging it as a punk album or as a pop album. As a punk album, you’ll probably reject everything here except “Happy Being Miserable” and “Barbed Wire.” But as a pop album? I truly think this is a roaring success. And that’s not just a semantics argument, either — it’s built into the fabric of how this album was recorded. Aaron Sprinkle’s production shies away from the heavy guitars and hyper-polish of Radiosurgery and Resurrection. And for me, as a listener that really dislikes when heavy rock sounds too major-y and positive, these production choices are essential for this album to sound and feel like a pop production. Eschewing the crisp and clean distortion of those albums, Makes Me Sick opts for a warm and fuzzy aesthetic, with all of the harshness of the guitars shaved off, helping everything sound less “pop punk” and more “indie pop.” Yet the album still has space to rock, such as the aforementioned “Happy Being Miserable,” which matches the album’s darkest guitar parts with a catchy chorus that still fits perfectly in this set. It’s a great change of pace as well as a great example of this album’s heavy synthesizers fitting in perfectly. As the band transitions from a 5-piece to a 4-piece, trying out synths makes a lot of sense, and here, it adds beautiful new levels of texture without drawing too much attention to itself — especially since those warm, fuzzy guitars mix so naturally with the analog synth sounds.

So what’s the result? On the surface, it’s cute, it’s clever, and it’s catchy as all get out. But beneath the surface, it’s all given weight with the musical complexities of the key changes, the enriched song dynamics, the lovely layers of guitars and synths, and the subtly matured lyrics. “Your Jokes Aren’t Funny” opens the album with a post-pop-punk thesis statement, declaring how the band will and MUST grow up beyond the shenanigans of teenage foolishness. And for a non-Christian band, “The Sound of Two Voices” comes surprisingly close in its chorus to quoting Romans 7 and Philippians 2; I think this song is one of the most mature moments in the band’s discography, and it’s a crying shame that many fans probably write this song off as the one that sounds like Little Mermaid during the intro. (But let’s be honest, pop-punk and island-pop undeniably go hand in hand.)

If I have any notable issues with this album, it’s merely that “Your Jokes Aren’t Funny” and “The Cheapest Thrill” don’t make for a particularly compelling opener or closer, respectively; but Makes Me Sick Again (the 2018 re-release) fixes this issue by its placement of three top-notch bonus tracks, using “Heaven Sent” as the opener and “20 Years From Now” as the slow-paced (albeit unfortunately profane) closer. This minor issue aside, both versions of the album earn a hearty 4.5 stars from me. I loved Catalyst as an important pop-punk/easycore album and I loved Coming Home as a wonderfully mature and well-produced NFG album. But Makes Me Sick is the band’s first album that I simply love, period, no modifiers.

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 Bandcampwhere you can find both exclusive sale prices and free acoustic cover albums.

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