learning love songs

est. 2008


Jimmy Eat World


Another year, another end-of-the-year list. I’m getting in the habit of these things now, and also getting familiar with the sense of pressure and dread at shuffling my favorite music around.

Meriting a spot on this means it was music I couldn’t tear myself away from, that I binge-listened to on dull afternoons, evening walks or morning workouts. I turned to these albums when I couldn’t turn to anything else, when their hooks and chord progressions ran their way through my mind all day, or when I needed to hear that heartbreaking line one more time. I felt like I listened to more new music in 2016 than any other, mostly due to a reviewing side-hustle as well as getting Spotify premium on my phone, so narrowing it all down to 10 was hard. Obviously this year also saw incredible, groundbreaking releases from the likes of Bowie and Beyonce, and that song from The Chainsmokers hooked me as well as anybody, but these are the records that really resonated with me. I hope when I listen to them in 2017 and in years to come, I’ll be able to close my eyes and remember the place I was in when I first heard them, blanketed in sunshine settling into my Left Coast skin.

10) Kevin Devine – Instigator

One of my favorite songwriters, who in my opinion just keeps getting better with time. I regret that I was unable to catch him on tour this year, as the rocking and rolling songs on Instigator promise a great show. But I love it for walks around the city and morning jumpstarts, too, as the way Devine phrases his thoughts, feelings and societal observations are ripe for pondering. Though KD likely has one of the biggest catalogs of artists of his caliber/generation, I’d say that Instigator is a standout that could be presented to show a new listener what he’s all about.

9) Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

Ms.Lambert takes the crown for my favorite record to sing this year. Though it was a fourth-quarter release, I haven’t stopped listening to this record since the day it came out, and it pushed me back toward regular guitar practice. Lambert really tells a story, and gives so much context to heartbreak, growing up, moving on and self-exploration, all with a wry smile and whiskey glass by her side. For that, and for the bold vulnerability, I bow down.

8) Moose Blood – Blush

These guys came out of seemingly nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite UK rock groups — and Blush burst forth this year as a collection of edgy heartfelt anthems. Nothing better than seeing them live at The Fonda opening for The Wonder Years, too — I love their cynicism in spite of youth, and their energy in spite of the cynicism. I love their obvious romanticism on songs like “Knuckles” and “Honey” and the aching regret on tracks like “Glow” and “Sway.” Also like how all the song titles are one word. Blush is as upbeat as you could want from a 2016 pop punk band, and as smooth and sweet as its namesake.

7) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Hearing Will Toledo’s voice for the first time is like hearing a memory you can’t place — you don’t know where, but you swear you’ve heard it before. He’s just that ubiquitous. As a brilliant guitar player and subtle, wry lyricist, Toledo is chock full of talent and has a substantial following behind him. This year’s Teens of Denial was a stunner, in its own depressing and over-it way. Gems like “Vincent” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” show how hard Car Seat Headrest can rock without abandoning pensive sensibilities, one of my favorite lines rock musicians can walk. Toledo has tapped into a raw rock and roll vibe that used to only exist in bands you had to go backwards to find, but this record showed how alive and well the genre can be.

6) Bon Iver – 22, A Million

God this album! I don’t have it on vinyl yet, but of all the records on this list, it’s the one I have my eye on the most. Justin Vernon has established himself as the kind of musician who pushes boundaries, and this eagerly awaited album shows that he does not make waves for their own sake, but rather because he has developed something to say. They heavy reliance on vocal manipulation and other-wordly echoes made 22, A Million an unforgettable listen, if only because it sounds like *nothing* else out there. But it has the same beauty as Bon Iver’s breakthrough work, with a few more levels of abstraction thrown in. I fell in love from the start, and this is now one of my favorite “focus” records when my mind starts running away with me. “8(circle)” is my favorite, although I’m probably not alone there. Three cheers for artistic expression, and those stay their path.

5) Joyce Manor- Cody

If I had to recommend an album for anyone to listen to this year, it’d be Joyce Manor. Hands down. For me, they’ll be up there with TWY and Brand New, carrying that mantle in their own sharp style. But we already knew that; the best thing about Cody is the way they’ve harnessed their aggression and thrash into polished hooks and climatic builds. “Last You Heard of Me” was my anthem upon release of the single, and it exemplifies the meaning and message these guys can cram into what on the surface one excepts to be a silly little pop punk song. Joyce doesn’t take themselves too seriously, which I love, but there’s nothing silly or little about them at this point.

4) The Hotelier – Goodness

Deep and resonant, heartfelt and literary….The Hotelier’s much -anticipated follow-up did not disappoint, nor did it simply satiate. Goodness is lush and full and while it doesn’t have the same sadness as their breakthrough record Home, Like No Place Is There, it has the same existential darkness and rock-solid progressions. Songs like “Piano Player” and “Soft Animal” channel the turmoil that we’ve come to know and love from The Hotelier, while pushing musical boundaries with different kinds of builds and busts. There’s a lot of depth here, and the shower of critical reception on Goodness gave me hope that it was recognized by not just niche audiences but the music world at large. After playing this album to death upon release, I can still put it on and get lost in it — damn right, they did it again.

3) Jimmy Eat World- Integrity Blues

Getting to listen to Integrity Blues for the first time felt like getting a phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. You knew what they were up to, you knew they were doing OK, but you hadn’t heard the ins and outs yet. With this record, the singles were promising, but a part of me held my breath thinking this could be an album full of filler. Not so! Integrity Blues is likely the best album JEW’s put out since Chase This Light, and though my adoration for Invented is a very real thing, the songs on this record are true and honest alternative rock that embrace maturity in melody and meaning…the closer, “Pol Roger,” is easily one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time, and not just for those sweet, sweet Jim Atkins harmonies.

2) case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

This album got under my skin so quick, it was like falling in love at first sight. I think I read about the famed, talented trio just a couple days after the album dropped, and got right in on the ground floor with it. And it blew me away, with its stunning harmonies, poetic effort and lush sonic landscape. There’s not a song on this record that doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air to me. There’s a sweetness and a strength, an assertive foot forward and knowing shy smile. Every song paints a picture of people, places and things, and eloquently describes intricate emotions with excellent harmonies and beautiful, lithe guitar parts. “I Want To Be Here,” “Supermoon” and “Best Kept Secret” all became instant classics for me, and the perfect songs to soundtrack my first summer in LA.

1) Pinegrove – Cardinal

I had trouble figuring out what was my favorite of my favorites, but I think I knew it had to be Pinegrove. I made an instant connection with Cardinal for its unique sound and literary qualities, but the album’s staying power really went above and beyond anything else this year. Pinegrove was the easiest band for me to bring up when talking music with friends, as I knew they were likely to be a spot-on suggestion for anyone who likes alt-rock, folk-rock or anything in the indie vein. When you hear songs like “Aphasia” and “New Friends,” you’re struck by not only their honesty but their plaintive innocence, as if you’re having a conversation with a thoughtful friend about your lives and feelings. That familiarity makes Pinegrove instantly accessible, even before you get into their slightly quirky and innovative ways of structuring songs. Seeing them at The Echo was one of my most memorable concert experiences of the year, too, if only because the way they layered up their sound with extra synth & auxiliary really brought their songs to life. There’s a comfort in knowing that if I heard this album when I was an emo teenager, I would’ve loved it for the same reasons I do now — and it gives me hope that today’s emo teenagers are being introduced to quality indie rock. Pinegrove also delivered one of my most definitive favorite lyrical truisms of the year — “I am outta my goddamn mind and out to California,” which sums it up as well as anything. So looking forward to continuing to wrap myself up in Cardinal, and see where this band goes next.

And as a little bonus, here’s a playlist of my favorite songs of the year, added in no particular order than how I remembered them. I kept it to one per artist, off of albums that dropped this calendar year (so you can expect that new Ryan Adams’ tune here next year). Looking over it, I’m really struck by the variety of the artists, and how despite their differences, they all managed to strike the same chord in me.


Whether it is intentional or by mere coincidence of flow and the creative process, Jimmy Eat World has successfully managed to stay on an every-three-year album cycle and I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in this. The new singles from the forthcoming “Integrity Blues” make for full and brooding listens, with trademark booming or shimmering JEW guitar parts and melodic, melancholic choruses.  But their reappearance means I’ll inevitably dive into their back catalog, and I can see how much a difference three years can make.

When “Damage” came out in the fall of 2013, I was in transition, and probably more than a little lost about my direction in life and what I wanted. The songs had a deeply personal nature about love and loss and acceptance that I needed at the time. Three years before that, when “Invented” came out, I was finding my footing, and piece by piece letting myself settle into the world. Some of the those tracks made me remember the importance of presence, and gratitude – like “Movielike” and the title track.

“Chase This Light” back in 2007 caught me at the height of undergrad worries and flurries and passion and pride, and I’ve found I didn’t quite appreciate all that album had to offer the way that I do on this side of the real world. It’s offers positive reinforcement of the self’s authentic direction that at the time, I didn’t know how to grasp. Taking it back to “Futures,” in high school, I was flooded by the romance, nostalgia and promise of the thing, and it was the record that made me call Jimmy Eat World a favorite band, as their new release gave me fresh associations to make instead of just glomming onto their (brilliant and timeless) past work.

Now here we are, nearing the final quarter of a year that has a long list of excellent full-lengths from established artists (Brian Fallon, Kanye, Radiohead, Deftones) and newcomers (The Hotelier, Carseat Headrest, Moose Blood, Pinegrove). I’m pretty sure that Jimmy Eat World will make their way into my top 10 if not higher, though if only because they’re one of the most persistent, reliable rock bands of our generation. These guys can pack big theaters or deliver meaningful little acoustic sets, head onto children’s television or stay underground for months at a time, and there will be listeners like me somewhere, devoted to their entire catalog. And with each release, they keep channeling these big, profound life lessons into lyrics, which often cut to the heart of some of the toughest questions about getting old: how to hang onto success, love, and yourself, how to appreciate the world around you, how to let the past go, and let the future preside.

The growth and maturity of Jimmy Eat World in their music and their narratives has coupled with my own, and that relationship between musician and listener is an irreplaceable, unbreakable comfort.

“What you do works for a time
Until you drop without a warning sign
If you keep going on like this
I’ll be one more thing for you to miss

Sure and certain
Wander ’til we’re old
Lost and lurking
Wonder ’til we’re cold.”
~Sure and Certain
Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues


First bike ride of the season took me on my favorite solo-cruise route – from Millvale along the Three Rivers trail, past PNC Park, around Heinz Field, across the bridge and down to Point State Park. The scenery changes quickly, the path goes from crushed stone to pavement to concrete with varying degrees of incline, and on the first free day I’ve had in awhile that just happened to the warmest yet, I could not resist putting on my headphones and going for a ride. 
Shuffle did not fail me, starting with a strong run of modern pop punk.

“I’m safe, and who ever thought that was difficult?
My nerves start to feel so frayed.
I’m trying to turn things around, but instead
I’ll say ‘Why do I feel so invisible?
Good things will come my way.’
I’m trying to turn things around, and I wait

‘Till the day when I stop making big mistakes
And the clouds, they roll out of this whole damn state
I believe in a place and I wanna go
Honesty will leave me feeling livable
Once I change.

Now that I’ve found some time, all the pain won’t bother me.
I’ve wanted to find what my head keeps filtering.”
~Good Things

The Dangerous Summer, War Paint

The trail was full of so many people – solo riders like me, couples jogging, small groups of  walkers or cyclists – so I knew better than to blast the volume and tune out. Never know when someone’s speeding up behind you. I quit dodging the crowds for a bit when I got to the Point, and decided to stretch out and lay on the grass. Like divine intervention, or the mathematical realities of an 8-gig device, a sliver of “Clarity” arrived on cue. 

I laid there for awhile, listening to the same song over and over again. I put the volume up and watched the clouds, watched the fountain, and stretched my feet in time to the staccato strings. I let the rest of the album play the whole ride back.

“I promised I’d see it again
I promised I’d see this with you now.
I promised I’d see it again,
I promised I’d see this with you now.

I said, said, said it out loud over and over
Said, said, said it out loud but it did not help
I’ll stop now just enough so I can hear you
I stay up as late as it takes”

~Just Watch The Fireworks
Jimmy Eat World, Clarity

By the time I made my way back to the trail head, I was just sweaty enough, feeling tension-free and exhilarated by the spontaneous ride. I switched back to shuffle and found myself where I started,with “Suburbia” piping through like a boisterous old friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Usually, I plan rides for certain early mornings or with friends. It’s a scheduled activity. But today, with my bike fresh from a tire tune-up on the back of my car, I decided to deviate from my to-do list in favor of what felt right, and it was worthwhile. What a change of pace, what a pleasant reminder of the control we have over our own destinies. 
I strapped my bike to the trunk of my car. I kept my headphones in.
“I’m not a self-help book; I’m just a fucked up kid.
I had to take my own advice and I did.
Now I’m waiting for it to sink in.

Expect me standing tall, back against the wall,
‘Cause what I learned was
It’s not about forcing happiness;
It’s about not letting the sadness win.

~Local Man Ruins Everything 
The Wonder Years, Suburbia, I’ve Given You all and Now I’m Nothing


“I didn’t mean to leave you hanging on
I didn’t mean to leave you all alone
I didn’t know what to say,
I didn’t know what to say.

Merry Christmas, baby.”

Jimmy Eat World, Clarity

There’s this one shade of winter sky that is my absolute my favorite. It is the lightest kind of dark, it looks grey tinted with green and brown and nothing, with the smallest specks of stars dotted here and there and everywhere, and it’s the shade you get when the snow is thick and quiet, when the world is so covered in white the sky can’t bear to be too dark. Really, it’s science, something about water and light and reflection and living by a lake, but to me, it’s poetry.

This song is that sky. That sky is my heart — tonight, and most nights.

On this day, simply because I believe in honorary things, I listen to this song over and over again. It is like rereading a book I haven’t picked up in years, every word a memory. Is there a more memorable four-line song in the past decade and a half? Holiday themes aside, the bittersweet longing that pours through this is palpable, and uplifting. I cannot name all the sounds here, both pedal and computer generated, but they resonate so brightly, so purely. They encapsulate the timeless sound “Clarity” is so known and celebrated for.

This song is quiet night drives on poorly plowed and briefly traveled roads, cutting across fresh blankets of powder. This song is headphones against pillows in the middle of the night. This song is the earliest memories of love in a heart still full and optimistic, to the latest pronouncements of pet names and regrets.

Given this title and the song’s relevance in being better than most every song ever, December 23 is sort of a de facto Jimmy Eat World Day. I spent the day listening to “Clarity,” “Static Prevails,” half of “Invented,” and all the B-sides I can find. It is a good way to indulge myself to hang onto all these favorites, to lapse in the layers. It is so good to rediscover old favorites and adopt new ones. Like remembering how much I love “Episode IV,” and how I have yet another example to point to when I argue that sleigh bells are the best kind of auxiliary for mid-tempo tracks, like those hidden on this “Chase This Light” bonus track, which is wintry in its own right and reference. .

Twice today, two of my bosses asked me why I have been so quiet this week, and I struggled to explain. “You must be really engaged,” one said to me today. “Not necessarily the word I’d use,” I said, “Just trying to focus.” Because try is all I can do when all my head wants is to head somewhere in the clouds, somewhere far removed from my heart and my blood and my body, somewhere with notes and words and the kind of pretty-sad thoughts that make sense to my mind right now. For this reason I could never, never get used to living without music, because it is how I can feed that need while (hopefully) leaving enough brain power to get through the day as the functioning, capable, even successful and determined, version of myself I am apt to be.  Even my attachment to writing and words is flighty compared to the way I need to hear, need to listen to the works and creations of others when I must come back down to earth. Because words fail me often. Songs never do. At least, those of others.

The artists who’ve meant the most to me in this way are probably no more or less human than I am. They are probably no more or less emotionally strong, weak, troubled or triumphant than I am. They almost certainly, musically and artistically speaking, possess more talent than I. Perhaps that is what inspires me, what drives me to be better. Because who, or what, is to say that my own innate abilities couldn’t produce something sufficient enough to satiate my own craving for notes and words and pretty-sad thoughts, let alone, god willing, those of someone else? Excuses are easy to find – initiative, ambition, follow-through, these are the markers of the successful creator, not the mulling and wishing and wallowing and waiting. Perhaps this sense of creative motivation is a philosophy to capture at the end of this year and carry into the new one. I think it is, anyway. It seems worth trusting. What’s the worst that could happen?  Besides, if you can’t trust yourself, why should anyone bother trusting you?

“let me have the keys and you can take a rest
from the lightless main street until the next
who knows what there was to see before the light turned green
there’s so much hell to live

the static or the science; don’t know which is worse
the dial isn’t broken; that’s the way it works

to the new professionals irregular is normal
it’s all in how you pray
not what needs to change

don’t get comfortable
don’t be sensible
swing with all you have
stop me if you can

imagine we had canvas with the midnight cold
dig our fingers in and then we’d watch the snow
maybe i need stronger meds
don’t let those feelings in
i can’t get closer now

matters straight across and just for me to use
but there’s always another choice; another way through
the notes in progress float along over your candle song
the game is how you play
not who wears a ring

don’t get comfortable
don’t be sensible
swing with all you have
stop me if you can

i’m on the losing side
not every time
i’m gonna lose this love of mine

here are the words defined
not one is mine
why are we still so afraid
the things we do deserve their rightful names

don’t get comfortable
don’t be sensible

swing with all you have
stop me if you can

~Be Sensible
Jimmy Eat World, Chase this Light


“Hey now, the past is told by those who win
My darling, what matters is what hasn’t been.
Hey now, we’re wide awake and we’re thinking,
My darling, believe your voice can mean something.”

Jimmy Eat World, Futures

The first time I heard those opening chords on this title track, from the computer speakers in the basement where I spent so much time alone listening to so many songs, I wonder if I knew I’d be playing it 10 years later. 

The future looked exciting then, if not amorphous. I knew I had one, knew it was inevitable, and I knew what made me feel good: music, friends,writing, creativity. But did I know how those things would coalesce? Did I know the highs and lows to come would rival the  best and worst I’d experienced in 16 years? Did I know how much I’d one day be able to make sense of myself, all the while holding onto the notes and messages and stories of those songs I took in at that very moment? Then, as now, I saw hope in what was to come, even if I didn’t know how it would play out. I knew what feelings mattered and I followed them – ten years later, I’ve learned the importance of that.
I’d loved Jimmy Eat World for several years before this release. I’d already fallen in love with Clarity and already rattled off their name in the list of my favorite bands. This record was an anticipated arrival that did not disappoint, it carried hope and yearning and pensive struggle with some of the best hooks this band has created, while recapturing an alt-rock throne that cemented this band’s legacy as royalty among a certain crowd. How many other bands can walk the line so well between assertive punk (“Pain,” “Just Tonight”) with radio-ready choruses (“Work,” “Kill” ) and cinematic melodies (“Polaris,” “23”)?  Who even has since? 
I remember playing “23” and wondering where I’d be when I was that age. I remember singing it loudly in my car on that birthday, driving around Main Street with a friend who told me it was OK to sing. Hearing it today is funny. What I wouldn’t give to be 23 again, to do so much so differently…but I suppose I must be happy it is this way, now, because once more there is a future ahead.

“You’ll sit alone forever 
If you wait for the right time
What are you hoping for?
I’m here and now, I’m ready 

Holding on tight, 
Don’t give away the end, 
The one thing that stays mine.”
Jimmy  Eat World, Futures

On this one, every track is a memory. Every memory is a place, a person, a feeling. Every transition on this record is seamless and I find I can listen to it from start to finish and reflect kindly on the years that have passed. Friends, lovers and internal discord from different chapters of life are interwoven with Futures maybe moreso than most of my others favorite albums, because it has never stopped feeling present, never stopped being relevant. Beyond that, it is incredibly listenable, and interesting. These songs are confident and dressed just-so. This era was before the too-many-instruments, too-much-laptop sound really found a foothold, and Jimmy Eat World, with their smart parts and truly dedicated post-production, exemplified the best that rock music could be in that age. The auxiliary on this album is more than background effect. It is a supporting character, illuminating pop structures with higher depth. Mostly I think this record has beautiful tones, a warm heavy mood from the combination of great songs, great guitar and subtle production – timeless, timeless qualities.

The title track became an instant anthem, full of sentient optimism. It is probably my favorite song from this collection. I believe it is also timeless, because of the reality it captures. I think those opening chords are the  perfect hint at the darker edges and fuller swells to come, I think they are a bold statement that commands attention. Such a Track 1 choice is risky, because you’re trusting the rest of your album to match those first grand gestures – this is what separates Jimmy Eat World from other bands who try a big, open sound, is they can deliver it. 

Of course I cannot talk about Futures without talking about the cover art, as iconic as any of the age. Pay phones, imagery that would return on “Damage,” and the dim spotlight of loneliness. It is pensive, and perfect. 
In continued tenth anniversary commemoration, here is the only song I know how to play from this album. I didn’t do a very good job performing it cleanly, but it comes from a place of respect and admiration, and also, the heart.

“Don’t think we’re not serious, 
when it’s ever not?
The love we m
ake, it’s give and it’s take, 
I’m game to play along.”
Jimmy Eat World, Futures


“Even at 25, you gotta start sometime.” 

With only a few days left where that lyric can be relevant to my age and existence, this song has been floating through my head at regular intervals in recent weeks. Few bands have held as constant a presence in my life as Jimmy Eat World during the past decade or so, a testament to their timeless mastery of the American rock song and coming-of-age, accepting-of-age narratives. I will never tire of them. 

This song, a better known track by fair-weather fans and a firm staple in any best-of catalog, is the ultimate kiss-off to self-doubt and procrastination. It also has one of the most memorable hooks, and opening cymbal hits, you’ll find from the early 2000s alt-rock era. This song, with its undeniably catchy melody and backbeat, is about action, about being present, about showing up for your own life.  

“Are you gonna waste your time 

Thinkin’ how you’ve grown up, or how you missed out?”

Spending a life waiting for something to happen is no life at all, not when the potential to act, to achieve, to love and feel and experience exists at the fingertips of those willing to reach for it. At a quarter-century of life, it is not too late to shape these dreams. Modern society seems to have these boundaries mapped out for us, suggesting when adulthood should kick in and when we should become the functioning cog we’re meant to be, but life is far more messy than those broad strokes allow. We fumble and fall on the way to our destinations, we take one step forward and two steps back, then leap ahead miles in a single bound and stumble on the landing. 
Still, what a comforting, inspiring reminder it is to know it’s never too late to keep trying. All I need is just to hear a song I know.

“I’m on my feet, I’m on the floor, I’m good to go.
So come on Davey, sing me somethin’ that I know.
I wanna always feel like part of this was mine.
I wanna fall in love tonight, here tonight.
I wanna always feel like part of this was mine
I wanna fall in love tonight.

~A Praise Chorus
Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American


What is it about the end that makes you want to go back to the beginning?

Maybe it’s just me, but the end of 2013 seemed to bring more than usual flurry of lists. Too many rankings. Too much specificity – the top 10 albums commercially released, the top 10 albums you probably didn’t hear, the top 10 songs, top 10 tours…music criticism has evolved(devolved) into a competition for all-encompassing coolness, or maybe it always was. As someone who truly believes the best music is whatever you find you’re looking for it, I tend to have a difficult time sitting down and compiling these lists.

And yet, I have, time and time again.  I try to go by what I loved the most, what spoke to me, rather than what is the most acclaimed or groundbreaking. This list comes with all the usual prefaces, that I probably could sit here for days rearranging the order of the pack, that I am probably forgetting some, that some are way stronger than others, that staying power will really prove me right or wrong….but honestly, this was a great year for music, and I loved how inspired I was by so many new songs, sounds and artists.

10) RVIVR- The Beauty Between 
This album was a late year discovery for me, and it came in just in time. I caught their song, “Paper Thin” on NPR’s best of the year list, and stopped everything I was doing to find out who it was. I could see how some might be misled by band name – not another one of those all-caps, weird-spelling things I don’t know how to pronounce! No! But oh, how little I cared when I heard how kick-ass their record was. A rather lengthy LP of short little punches of punk rock to the throat topped up with a multi-song themed suite, all with just-right, good-enough screamed/shouted/sung harmonies, and clean, fast and furious guitar solos fueling my jealousy and drive to pick it up and plug in and yell my head off, Completely hooked on everything about it, this album is the one of the few my ears heard this year deserving of the phrase punk as fuck.

“Okay, I touch the ground/Send my roots deep down
When it gets too loud

It’s like a wrong way on a one way street
Promise to myself that I just don’t keep
You can hate me now/But I’ll stick around
Don’t fit, full of shit, struggle with identity
Try to find me.”

~Wrong Way/One Way
9) Mansions – Doom Loop
If you haven’t called Mansions a breakout band from their debut LP, “Doom Loop” should’ve done it for you. Anyone looking for proof that great rock musicians still exist need to look no further than this record, which was fairly cemented in my morning rotation. Sounds so good on speakers, loud and clear and content. I love how guitar-driven these songs are, I love the classic setup, I love how verbose the lyrics are and how unafraid of the dark the themes are, no matter how coherent the chords. A heavy, hearty sophomore effort from a band that, in 2013, found a solid place in my stereo.

“you’re out for blood in the older south
picture yourself in your dad’s old house, alright
the doors are locked and you can’t see straight
you’re lost for good in that pitch black state, alright
go on and hunt me down
it’s way too late to turn back now.

i don’t hear it when you whisper in your sleep
but every morning it’s just waiting there for me
i got this feeling i can’t shake
i got this broken heart that i just can’t set straight

no I can’t get away.”
~Out for Blood

8) letlive. -The Blackest Beautiful
I still haven’t let go of this record. It’s as fierce and fresh as the first time I played it, on a night’s drive back home from a friend’s when I felt alone and pissed off at the world. It became a car record, then a working out playlist, and now it’s just my entry into letlive., one of those bands that proves modern hardcore isn’t just a bunch of skinny kids with skinny pants and skinny hair, that it’s founded in the roots of metal: angry riffs and blood-curdling screams and being pissed off at the world. And yet, they find hooks, groovy moments reminiscent of metal bands before they were unintelligible, and the blend is as delightful of one as a listener as fickle and frustrated  as me could hope to find. Plus they toured with Every Time I Die. Long live letlive.

“Taxi drive me to the endLet the meter run into the digits I can’t spend
The you’ll drive me to the edge
I’ll stand upon the precipice and jump to pay my debt…goodbye”

~Virgin Dirt

7) Touche Amore – Is Survived By…
Someone said to me this year, “You like 16-year-old girl metal.” That may be true, and I’m taking it as a compliment. I spent more time going to metal shows this year than any other genre, fueled in part by a 10-day jaunt in a van on a DYI tour, but it opened by eyes to what scenes today look like, sound like, feel like, and I liked it. I don’t blog about metal a lot, because I like to blog abotu songs with lyrics I really relate to and I don’t really listen to metal for the lyrics….but that is not the case with Touche Amore. They’re all about the poetry, they’re all about pushing the words out there and then raining down on them with layers upon layers of heavy, astmospheric sound. This record hooked me as soon as I streamed it, so full of questioning and legacy and daring in the face doubt. This song in particular fueled me on many a cold, confused day’s drive.

“Does this mean that the words won’t come?
Does this mean that I’m at my end? If my joy
comes with the price of my love, I won’t pay if
I have to pretend. There’s always a chance to
relapse and fall back to the person I still fear
is there. So if this ink will suddenly run out,
I’ll refill if I feel the need to share.”

~To Write Content
6) Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
I loved this album. I still love it. I play it when I happy, I play it when I am sad, I play it when my iPod has died and I forgot my charger and it happens to be in the disc changer, so I may as well listen to the whole thing through. Music is supposed to make you feel things, and Daft Punk knows how to do this without the listener any the wiser. This is not an album you simply take in, this is an album you have a conversation with, it speaks to you, provokes you. I’m not even sure what you call Daft Punk nowadays are far as genre goes, but I would not hesitate one moment to call them artists, especially when you hear about how much time, effort, and attention to detail went into this record. Complete pros. Kudos for showing them all how it’s done.

“And we will never be alone again/’Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend/Can I give it up or give it away
Now I thought about what I wanna say/But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend/’Cause I know it unlocks like a door.”

~Instant Crush

5) The 1975 – The 1975
Fun, sexy, smart, bold – what to say about The 1975 that someone more well-versed than me hasn’t said? This album soundtracked my summer, poolside with friends, curling my hair before heading out, hitting the gym hard, cleaning my apartment and letting the sun stream in the ceiling-high windows. From “Money” to “Robbers” the spitfire attitude of this album is rebellious, and yet contemplative enough to be hip, instrumentally, it’s so *now* it’s maybe a little ahead of its time, it just might be the pop of the future. I  love how well they use simple parts on real instrumentals, occasionally dressing it up with some synth tones and interludes. It’s hard to see why this record was passed up on so many other album of the year lists (leaving me to believe a lot of people paid to write about music have no idea what the hell they’re talking about and let the accepted trends speak for them). I’ll always associate this band with 2013, where life outside of work was spent adventuring and experiencing, curious and excited about the new ways to play in my new-found adult life while still ever-so-slightly keeping a finger on the pulse of the youthful past I’m not quite ready to surrender.

“And don’t call it a spade if it isn’t a spade.
And go lie on the floor if you want.
The first bit of advice that you gave me that I liked was they’re too strong, too strong.
Get in the shower if it all goes wrong.
Yeah, If you wanna find love then you know where the city is.”

~The City

4) Jimmy Eat World – Damage
Can Jimmy Eat World release an album that doesn’t make it into my top 10? “Damage” is proof that, no, no they cannot. Nearly every review of this album makes a whole bit about how they’re older and have lived more life than they did when they wrote “Bleed American” – well, no shit, it’s called aging. And nearly every discussion of this band seems to include the brilliant observation that they can’t make “Clarity” again – here I thought releasing the same album was what artists were all about! While “Damage” doesn’t reinvent any wheels, it is cohesive, it is smart, it is melodic, it is all the things that make JEW a great band that’s withstood the test of time. I’ve played “Please Say No” and “How’d You Have Me” enough times this year to place this album on a most-listened lists. As always with this band, timing is everything, and “Damage” gave me a lot to chew on for some time.

“You know I don’t ever sleep, just starting at the ceiling
I’m laid there beneath myself
You should have to be somewhere else
With someone just like me, nothing complicated
All the feelings and fantasy
Can you trust, can you trust
That there’s some things, you should never have, never known about”

~No, Never

3)The National – Trouble Will Find Me
You can’t rank National albums, really, it’s just not something you should do. It’s like picking a favorite chocolate or something, they all are good in different, subtle ways while fulfilling the same underlying temptation. Devastation, acceptance, regret and sorrow all make appearances on “Trouble Will Find Me” and they’re all addressed with the same curiosity and nervousness, the same awkward intimacy. The National is becoming ubiquitous as far as bands of this decade goes, and while their sound has quieted in a lot of ways it’s gotten no less complex; in fact, it’s only moreso, with shakers and auxiliary aplenty and experimental tones and timings. On this album, the band proves their mastery of space, balance and the ability to create moments that steal the heart and suspend it for as long as possible before letting it drop and shatter, and I love them deeply for it.

“Don’t make me read your mind/You should know me better than that
It takes me too much time/You should know me better than that
You’re not that much like me/You should know me better than that
We have different enemies/You should know me better than that
I should leave it alone but you’re not right
I should leave it alone but you’re not right”

~I Should Live In Salt
2) Jason Isbell –  Southeastern
Every now and then you hear an album that transcends so many boundaries, and Southeastern was one of those records. I first recall hearing about Jason Isbell through a New York Times profile, as trendy as that sounds, though I’d recalled the Drive By Truckers from occasional dabbling in the country songwriter genre. Nothing was like this record, though, where the storytelling is so pure and the chords so classic, even staunch no-country listeners instantly recognized its quality and capacity to be moving. Try listening to “Elephant” and not thinking back to your loved ones you lost too soon, who you saw in the throes of mortality and still manage to crack a smile. Isbell is the kind of guy who, when in front of a mic, moves everyone to listen, and something about the simplicity and purity of his songwriting makes me remember that the only way write well is to write honest, straight from the heart. It’s unmatched, unpretentious, timeless, and just like it’s supposed to sound.

“Once a wise man to the ways of the world
now I’ve traded those lessons for faith in a girl
Crossed the ocean, thousand years from my home
in this frozen old city of silver and stone

Ships in the harbor and birds on the bluff
don’t move an inch when their anchor goes up
And the difference with me is I’ve fallen in love
Stockholm let me go home.”


1) The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Can I say anything about this record I haven’t said already? Maybe this: that it’s a shame I haven’t seen them yet. The Wonder Years are leaders of the pack as far as the pop punk genre goes, but my love for them comes from a place much more personal and private than any trend, ranking or pack mentality goes. This is a band that, over the last few years, has soundtracked my life and transitions in near-perfect fashion, channeling the same fears and doubts in an aggressive yet meditating sound. So many good moments on this album, solid chord progressions and tense bridges keep an ever present suspension that just pulls me in and doesn’t let go. I start listening to this album and I can’t put on anything else until I’ve heard the whole thing. Never once do The Wonder Years completely lose it, as much as Dan Campbell tells you he’s going to, there’s so much thought and restraint. “The Greatest Generation” is literary in concept, in craftsmanship and contains the best closer they’ve done yet. I’m glad this album came around at a point in the year when I needed something to scream to, when I needed something loud and fresh and familiar to escape to, and I have a feeling it’ll be that way for years to come.

“Jesus Christ. I’m 26.
All the people I’ve graduated with,
All have kids, all have wives,
All have people who care if they come home at night.
Well, Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?

I’ve been looking for/Tears in the screen door.
I’ve been waiting for/Another disaster.

And I was kinda hoping you’d stay.
I was kinda hoping you’d stay.
I was kinda hoping you’d stay

~Passing Through A Screen Door

Honorable mentions:
Into It, Over It. – Intersections (Much as I love “Proper” I haven’t given this a fair shake yet. But I will so here it is).
Deafeater – Sunbather (At least three people have told me to listen to this record. I haven’t yet. Putting it here to give myself a reminder.)
Haim – Days Are Gone (Pop. Tastic. Love.)
Arctic Monkeys – AM (I only heard one song  off this but I really liked it. so I guess I will check out the whole thing eventually).
Atoms for Peace – Amok (Thom Yorke is better than you, always.)
Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild (Amazing artist. Amazing voice. She knows how to sing right from the soul and I love her for that. I need her on vinyl ASAP.)
Sainthood Reps – Headswell (Nu metal for life. I still like the first one better, but this guys have a great thing going.)
Scholar – Chose Adventure (So this friend of mine writes such great songs and his record is way cool.)
Paramore – Paramore (I really liked this record, it was so close to making it in my top 10! But there were enough songs I skipped compared to those I didn’t, however, “Ain’t It Fun” is definitely in my top 10 sing-a-long songs of the year).
A Day To Remember – Common Courtesy (I liked this album way more than I thought I would. Something very Four Year Strong about it that resonated with me. Also, the story associated with is one for the textbooks are far modern music industry is concerned, many lawsuits and label fights.)

And hey, for kicks, let’s look backwards even more:
Best of 2012
Best of 2011


“So what would you think of me now? So lucky, so strong, so proud.

I never said thank you for that, now I’ll never have the chance.” 

I planned an update with my favorite albums of last year for this week, but plans so often change.

I lost a friend this week. Lost a mentor. We all did, those who had the honor of working alongside Pete. It feels like a hole. And it feels like a cruel, unwelcome reminder of how fragile life is, how we shouldn’t take any moment for granted and how we should seize the breaths we’re given and feel them deeply and fully, find the people we love and hold onto them tightly and sweetly…all those things you remember when you lose someone. And I feel all that that, on some level of higher thought, but at the forefront, all I feel is oddly numb…all I feel is delayed, like I woke up in 2014 to a brand new world I don’t recognize, because I can never understand why it’s always the best ones who have to leave. 
There’s more than one song out there about this feeling, but this is one I always come back to. It doesn’t dance around the finality, it fondly remembers, it humbly memorializes the legacy left on one’s soul by someone else. So far, those are the thoughts I’ve found comfort in, and I hope the rest of my friends do too. 


The other day I was driving westward around 7:15 p.m., one hand on the wheel and the other on the iPod shuffle, pressing next every four or five seconds partly out of anxiety, partly out of getting fed up with the same old thing. I stopped on “23” to light a cigarette, then turned it up the volume and took it in.

The sun disappeared, slowly, throughout the song, behind the hills in front of me, at first all bright and blinding, then a coral-red glowing orb, then a peachy tint across the base of the horizon. It was a beautiful sunset – I don’t head west often, so I don’t this much – and this song was a perfect soundtrack to witness such a sight. Wistful and familiar, hopeful and just a little tormented. This song once sold me on “Futures” as an album and that Jimmy Eat World could make incredible music that wasn’t “Clarity” and still meaningful. I kept it on the whole time, and listened to the album from start to finish, followed by “Invented” and “Damage.”

That guitar riff is instantly identifiable, classic and clean and full. I love the atmosphere of the beautifully mixed in background chords, rising and falling and fading out just before the first verse kicks in. Same for the spacey, hazy,delayed tones at the end, it’s pure feel and restraint in the production and in the playing. I love singing this, too, because I think it’s one of Jim’s best recorded performances as far as JEW ballads go – like his voice before the final guitar solo, where he brings it up at the end of the last line – he is very good with the subtle changes, changing a note or two here and there to give it just a little more depth to repeated lines.

“I felt for sure last night

That once we said goodbye
No one else will know these lonely dreams
No one else will know that part of me

I’m still driving away
And I’m sorry every day
I won’t always love these selfish things
I won’t always live
Not stopping…

So much about this song is so sad, and yet, it’s incredibly wide-eyed and accepting. It’s straightforward and short – sometimes, we think good songs  must be incredibly deep and metaphorical, but this is a song that proves the most simple route is often the straightest, that the most direct phrasing can be the most effective. Especially when cloaked in so much dreamy production, the words could get lost if they were too busy.

“It was my turn to decide
I knew this was our time
No one else will have me like you do
No one else will have me, only you”

I remember hearing these words so fully, so clearly, back in high school. I was in a car the first time I heard it, too. Back then, 23 seemed ages away, I couldn’t even imagine what my life would look like but I knew it would be nothing like what it was. I’d be older, I’d be smarter, I’d have it all figured out. I’d have direction, and the consolation wisdom of experiences. Now, 23 is a memory, just as tangible and forgettable as being 16 was.

Not sure if I’m all that different, but I know I’ve grown some. I know in many ways, that’s for the better. But I also know old habits die hard. Still I love listening to this song today, as much if not more than I did back then. I think the more I hear it, the more I understand it – sometimes what we identify with in music or art is premature, and it is not until later in our life’s experiences that we can fully comprehend its meaning. It still resonates, maybe in a deeper, different way, one that weighs a little more heavy on the chest than just a sad pretty song by a band I listen to all the time.
When I was 16, I didn’t know what it meant to make decisions you consciously know will change your life. I didn’t understand the gravity of loving someone, or how difficult it can be to make them understand, or how easy it is to find someone else who does. I didn’t know what it was like to drive west, and not look back.
“Amazing still it seems
I’ll be 23
I won’t always love what I’ll never have
I won’t always live in my regrets

You’ll sit alone forever
If you wait for the right time
What are you hoping for?
I’m here, I’m now, I’m ready,
Holding on tight
Don’t give away the end
The one thing that stays mine

You’ll sit alone forever
If you wait for the right time

What are you hoping for?
I’m here, I’m now, I’m ready,
Holding on tight
Don’t give away the end
The one thing that stays mine…”

Jimmy Eat World, Futures

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