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.
- October was a month overflowing with strong new releases and filled out by my own little obsessions and binges. A handful of my favorite artists notched multiple appearances above, thanks to one day of obsessively listening to Cinema Staff, another with IU, and yet another day where I marathoned Fall Out Boy’s first four albums back-to-back. That being said, plenty of words have already been spilled on Cinema Staff, IU, and Fall Out Boy on this blog, so I’ll show some restraint from gushing about them yet again.
- Towards the top, you’ll see that I’m about three listens each into two of my most anticipated releases of the year, Still by CCM stalwart Steven Curtis Chapman and Being Funny in a Foreign Language by modern pop-rock legends The 1975. If you were expecting me to have scrobbled both albums far more times by now, you’d be right. I’m still trying to figure out whether I like these albums. A few listens leave me unconvinced and, sadly, uninspired to keep coming back for more. I’m hoping something will click later in the year, but at this point, I remain disappointed. I’ll hold back from saying much more just yet; hopefully I’ll have more fleshed-out thoughts come November.
- On October 21, I participated in a goofy experiment. It was a big release day, with a plethora of albums that I was curious to check out; so instead of peeping the releases one at a time, I threw them all into a big playlist, which I then listened to on shuffle. It was a bizarre mix of genres, with tonal whiplash galore, featuring the latest from Architects, Taylor Swift, Stryper, Bayside, Black Veil Brides, Mercy Me, and Matt Maher. Listening to this shuffle took up a large portion of my day that Friday, but I think it turned out to be a brilliant way to experience a bunch of new music for the first time, particularly in the streaming era. Before I caved into streaming services and signed up for Spotify in 2017, my regimen for checking out new music was to visit my local record store (Grimey’s) and purchase CDs, either based on recommendations, good reviews, curiosity, or because I was already anticipating it. And then I would spend the next week jamming out to those CDs, with my favorites sticking around in regular rotation. In the streaming era, my Fridays usually look more like me checking out random songs, perhaps sticking around for the first two tracks of an album, and only continuing with albums which I’m truly enjoying; but my general mindset is that I should make up my mind early on concerning whether an album is worth finishing, so that, if it’s not, I can move on to the next in line of a neverending buffet of new releases. In direct contrast to this mindset, the shuffle helped me to select at the start of the day which albums I would be listening to, and then I committed to starting and finishing the shuffle. In this method, I end up hearing every song on albums that, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t get more than a few songs deep into, as the shuffle keeps me from ever getting tired of a particular artist or style. Even if I’m hating an album, having a track show up once every 5-6 songs has the contextual ability to make anything tolerable. If you relate to any of the experiences I’ve shared about struggling to give due time to new albums, I would recommend giving the shuffle method a shot!
- The biggest surprise from that shuffle (by a longshot) was Matt Maher. It was a two-sided surprise: the first surprise was not realizing that his album was twenty tracks long, clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, meaning that he showed up more than anyone else throughout the five-hour-long shuffle. This could’ve been a sour surprise, but the second surprise was that many of his songs were amazing. “Wedding Ring” is now one of my favorite songs of the year, and the back half of his album in particular (as, I guess, this is some sort of “deluxe edition” re-release) has a handful of highlights that I’ve enjoyed returning to.
- The other album from the shuffle that I have returned to post-shuffle is Architects’ the classic symptoms of a broken spirit, which arrives fairly quickly after last year’s For Those That Wish to Exist. I’ve been interested in the band since witnessing their amazing live show back in 2014, but I didn’t become a real fan until 2016’s All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, which now ranks among my favorite albums of all time. I’ve since become a big fan of their albums Holy Hell and The Here and Now, as well. I was surprised when the band released the new album’s first single earlier this year, titled “when we were young,” almost exactly a year after For Those That Wish. The rollout continued throughout the year (including the unfortunate cancellation of their U.S. tour, which I had purchased tickets to attend), and I’m definitely disappointed with the final product. There are a few excellent deep cuts, but “when we were young” is probably still my favorite song. Vocalist Sam Carter has been moving away from constant screaming, with increasing levels of singing in the band’s newer music, but it truly seems to me that he’s singing the same melodies over and over again, which is the main death sentence for me as a listener, made worse by music and lyrics that I don’t find nearly as interesting or appealing their earlier material.
- I’m sure no one cares too much about my opinions about Taylor Swift, since I’m effectively a non-fan who has found fairly little to enjoy since Speak Now, but I found Midnights to be rather putrid. I enjoyed two of the seven bonus tracks on the extended 3 AM Edition (“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” and “Dear Reader”), but that’s about it. I find her post-pandemic era of music-making (Folklore and onward) to be shockingly dull and musically unimaginative, with Swift regurgitating the same unexciting melodies over and over again. This means that the only reason for someone to love these albums is if they love or connect with the lyrics, and I very emphatically do not. There is an attitude to her modern lyrics that I find to be repulsive and demoralizing, with a general worldview and a philosophy of dating and romance that I find either maddening or saddening. So yeah. That’s it.
- I apologize for multiple bullet points of negativity, so let’s switch gears back into my October recommendations and favorites!
- Of all the big-deal pop music releases of the month, my favorite was Carly Rae Jepsen’s The Loneliest Time, which was an especially pleasant time considering how few of the singles worked for me. The album as a whole gels together really nicely, making a stronger first impression on me than the past couple of Jepsen albums, and the title track which closes out the set is a beautiful recreation of classic pop styles that show how versatile Jepsen can be.
- On the topic of big pop albums, Charlie Puth’s CHARLIE is also a good time, but it has a good amount of filler and needs to be weeded through to find the highlights. Those highlights are as strong as the best songs from 2018’s Voicenotes, and it’s been cool to see Charlie Puth’s transformation into a one-man-shop singer/songwriter/producer.
- Andrew Huang and Rob Scallon are pretty big deals in the YouTube creator realm, with over 2 million subscribers each, and every year, on October 1st, they come together to attempt making an “album-in-a-day,” which they fittingly release under the moniker First of October. Anyone who’s been following my career knows that I’m a huge proponent of the “album-in-a-day”; in fact, I’ve been doing it (usually twice a year) dating all the way back to 2015. I don’t know who first made up this idea, and I don’t remember where I got the idea from, but it’s a challenging and rewarding experiment that I highly recommend musicians to try out. Naturally, these YouTubers make some big videos about their experience: one lengthy behind-the-scenes video about their day in the studio, showing how the songs all came about, and a second video that shows the final product with “music videos” using the in-studio footage. 2022 marks the fourth First of October album-in-a-day, and this year’s result, CHAOS, is really fun. I highly recommend watching the behind-the-scenes video and the final results video, but the album is also on streaming services. Granted, it made a bit more sense to listen during the month of October, as they decided to go full spooky-time on this one, with multiple Halloween-themed songs, but they’re still worth your time for some good laughs and for some impressive spontaneous displays of creativity.
- Speaking of artists who make short albums with short songs and intentionally comical lyrics, Bilmuri (yes, pronounced like “Bill Murray,” featuring Johnny Franck formerly of Attack Attack!) just released GOBLIN HOURS. By my count, this is his twelth album, although “album” might be generous, as these collections usually contain 7-8 songs and just barely pass the 20-minute mark. (Check out the latest episode of the JFH Podcast for a longer discussion about my thoughts on the definitions we use for “album” versus “EP.”) As short as these releases may be, Bilmuri was very prolific in the early years, putting out 2-3 “albums” per year back in 2016-2019. Recently, Franck has slowed down to one album per year, which made it all the more disappointing when 2021’s 400LB BACK SQUAT contained a heaping of lackluster genre experiments; yet it’s now all the more exciting that GOBLIN HOURS really hits. With guest musicians on nearly every track, the songs veer further away from Franck’s hardcore roots, but this is the first time where his pop ambitions really click. The lyrics might be hogwash, but “ANABOLIC SPUDSMAN” sounds like it could be on the new 1975 album, while “MUSCLE BOUND DENIZEN” might be one of my favorite jams of the year.
- Glacier Veins just released a new single titled “Connect,” which, by the artwork, appears to be a B-side to March’s album Lunar Reflections. In my March “What I’ve Been Listening To” post, I discovered Glacier Veins’ sophomore album and hyped it up as an early contender for the year’s best albums; however, it quickly fell out of rotation, and sadly so! “Connect” (which is great in its own right) reminded me that I’ve been overdue to revisit that album, and it’s even better than I remember. For fans of mature pop-punk, shoegaze-y emo, bouncy guitar riffs, and/or impassioned female vocals, Glacier Veins’ Lunar Reflections is for you!
- For fans of heavier music, a surefire contender for album of the year is A Eulogy for Those Still Here from melodic hardcore act Counterparts. Apparently, Counterparts have consistently been making great music for years, but as someone who’s late to the party, I’m really impressed with what they’ve put together on this latest collection. The songs are dynamic, exciting, and the style never grows dull all the way to its climactic closing track.
- Nautical rockers Rusty Shipp just released their third concept album featuring their trademark mixture of grunge, surf rock, sea monsters, water puns, and oceanic metaphors. Dark Side of the Ocean was a long time coming, with an album rollout that started back in January with the single “Bottom of the Barrel.” In total, nine singles were released, yet to my gleeful shock, two of the best songs were saved for the album: “Living Waters” and “Us and Them.” So whether you’ve been keeping up along the way or you’ve never heard of the band, there are plenty of reasons to check this album out.
- I spent many years as a Polyphia naysayer. I didn’t see the value in their metal hip-hop fusions, I didn’t see the songwriting within their virtuosic performances, and I was put-off by my perception of their attitudes and behavior. When I attended a concert in 2018 (I think?) to see I the Mighty and Tides of Man, which Polypha was headlining, I left after two songs because of how repulsed I was by the band’s demeanor and the strange, blasphemous imagery that they displayed on the giant screens behind the stage. So I was pretty content to not care about Polyphia, but they became difficult to ignore when, earlier this year, the new single “Playing God” took over YouTube. As you can probably guess, I hated the song upon release (and I still have my issues with it). But I became strangely fascinated with their process and mindset, as YouTube continued shoving their singles, interviews, and behind-the-scenes videos down my algorithmic throat. Sure, I might still disagree with the band on some major levels of worldview and morality, but I began to greatly respect the ideas and ingenuity behind their songwriting; it became clear to me that they really did prioritize crafting songs and sounds, not merely playing the coolest and most impressive guitar riffs. As more singles were released in the lead-up to Remember That You Will Die, I was getting increasingly on-board with the band. Now the album’s here, and I like it quite a bit! I favor the instrumental songs pretty strongly over the songs with guest singers and rappers, but there’s a lot of inventive material here. And with the right partner (say…Kendrick Lamar? JID?), I could see them creating the musical backdrop for an incredibly special hip-hop album.
- Last but certainly not least, my dear friends Theo & Brenna, a brother-sister bluegrass act, have released their official debut album, Dreams for Sale, on Mountain Fever Records. It’s an expertful set, recorded live and straight to tape, that covers the bases of traditional and neo-blugrass, including some standards, a bunch of originals, one instrumental track (the wonderful “Old 33”), and some cleverly arranged cover songs (most notably “Be My Baby” by The Rockettes). And for those keeping score at home, yes, Theo & Brenna is the same Theo who featured last year on my song “Wings Not Made to Fly,” and we collaborated together once again on my newest single “Settled in the Unsettled.” He’s the real deal, the type of talent who has songs flowing out of every breath, and the type of man who cares passionately about his family, his friends, and his art.
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 streaming every or available for free/pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp. To be the first to receive news and previews of unreleased music, sign up for my monthly newsletter.