learning love songs

est. 2008


Moose Blood


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.


Tonight I woke up feeling lighter, having exorcised some demons with four hours of pop punk bands at The Fonda last night. The show featured one of best touring lineups of the year – Seaway, Knuckle Puck, Moose Blood, Real Friends and my all-time faves The Wonder Years. I’m pretty familiar with all these bands to some degree (and the new Moose Blood is easily in my top 10 AOTY so far) and I recently gave the Real Friends a spin as it had passed me by this May. But it was TWY that led me here, and also helped me unload a spare ticket for $30 as the show had sold out the day before. Demand was hot, and the crowd was young and hungry.

I loved the set from Moose Blood, the first that I caught for the night. I unfortunately missed most of Seaway while waiting in the line that wrapped the corner off of Hollywood Boulevard, but I could see the set streaming on a projection screen at The Fonda’s (very awesome and friendly) rooftop bar. When I got in, grabbed a beer and found my way to the middle of the pack for Moose Blood, I waited for about 60 seconds before they took the stage to cheers to play “Bukowski,” the song that made me love them. I sang along, so did most of the crowd, and their British accents made the whole thing that much more charming. It was one of the tightest pop punk bands I’ve seen in awhile, on par with The Menzingers, with every guitar solo and counterpoint riff nailed to a tee.

I caught the members of Moose Blood mingling with some fellow Brits at the upstairs bar during Knuckle Punk. They seemed like friendly and fun people. I meandered a bit before catching Real Friends downstairs, positioning myself in the back of the room to get a full view of the crowd losing their shit. Scenes like this fill me and thrill me in ways I cannot fully describe — there’s some nostalgia there, for sure, but I also just love seeing people let go. I love it when we drop our facades. I love the mysterious, symbiotic energy between a performer and an audience, a necessary ingredient for a killer shower.

As for Real Friends, I’m so glad I circled back to them — “The Home Inside My Head” is straight-up pop punk with loud guitars and evocative lyrics, but a really melodic sensibility. It’s more aggressive than other counterparts in the new school, such as Moose Blood, but not venturing too far into screaming territory like some of their label mates. There’s a lot more maturity in these tracks compared to their past songs, and they’re at their best when they are grappling with inner turmoil in triumphant, move-forward fashion. Their show channeled this torment, and frontman Dan Lambton is a ball of energy capable of commanding an audience through a long set with his vulnerability on his sleeves. They opened with “Mess,” which is probably my favorite track from them to date. He sings: “Last year I was a trainwreck, now I’m just a mess/I’m letting go so I don’t lose myself/I’m starting to be where I need to be.”

But of course, it was The Wonder Years who kept me captivated. I spend the first three songs of their set (the acoustic title track “No Closer to Heaven,” then the upbeat “Local Man Ruins Everything,” and “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then”) about six rows back, shouting and being thrashed about with other fans I probably had a good six to 10 years on. God it felt so fucking good! I tossed any notions of age-appropriate behavior out the window and got right in the pit, at least until my shitty right knee started acting up (Don’t get old, kids). I spent the rest of the show near the right side of the room with reasonable amounts of personal space, and while I jammed and danced and jumped and sang where appropriate, sometimes I just had to stand in awe and let the performance take over.

“Cigarettes and Saints,” which is probably my favorite track of NCTH, was a stunning, emotional performance, proving Dan Campbell’s frontman abilities are only growing with time. He pushed through the screaming of the bridge and let his natural cracks and shake channel the message of a generation lost in the margins with ferocity and aplomb. Campbell is still playing around with his “choreography,” swinging mic cords this way and that, fumbling with the stand, conducting the audience when they’re singing along (not an exclusive move but a good one nonetheless) and repeatedly standing tall with arms outstretched. The band brought their A-game, and the drumroll of the “Patsy Cline” chorus gave me thrice the chills it did in the recorded version. The harmonies and back-up vocals were emphatic and clear and aggressive, and the occasional bursts of fiery-looking smoke accompanied a stellar light show from the touring lighting manager. I screamed real hard to “Dismantling Summer,” a song from 2013’s “The Greatest Generation” that pulled me through a tumultuous 2015 season.

By the time they closed the set with “Palm Reader” and “Passing Through a Screen Door,” I was too tired to mosh and lose it, so I just sort of stood their gaping and mouthing the words. Giant balloons were released from sidestage, and they bounced around the crowd to the stage and back again, as the players hit them back toward us. Some of balloons popped on top of their gear. It was weird and magical and perfect, I felt lost and utterly found. The show met my expectations musically but pummeled me with unexpected purpose, a necessary salve to wounds I thought had long ago healed. I sort of wanted to cry. Maybe I did and don’t remember. But that is the power of live performance and evocative art and stellar poetry — it will unlock the things you are too scared or too numb to feel anymore in the light of the dull, boring, ever-numbered days.

“The future feels bright
Like the glow of a city
Out across the Great Plains,
Where the closer I get, the further I feel away.
I could stay here in the darkness.
Feels like I’m wandering in circles for days.
I may never reach the gates.
I’ll keep walking anyway.
I’m no closer to Heaven.”
~No Closer To Heaven
The Wonder Years, No Closer To Heven


One of my most anticipated LPs of this year is the next record from Moose Blood, a UK-born indie/emo/pop punk group that stole my heart with their Brand New/Jimmy Eat World references and catchy hooks on “I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time to Time.” Their newest single “Knuckles” is one of my favorite songs I’ve heard all year, partly for hearing those sullen vocals from Eddy Brewerston again but also for that power-chord chorus that’s impossible to resist.

Moose Blood got a lot of play over the last year and this record, another H0peless release, seems to be getting  ton of hype. For a band that’s been around for four years, they sound incredibly polished, as “Knuckles” sticks to their previous sound of British radio rock meets Warped Tour, but with a little more format and structure thrown in. It’s a fun song, fawning over love and flirtation, with a punch of a plot twist in the bridge. I’m struck by how simple this song is – simple in that Brit pop way! – even down to a twice-through chorus – and yet it still sounds so full.

“Knuckles” and their other single, “Honey,” which has the same tight tension, rollicking riffs and ascending choruses, feel a lot brighter and focused than their past releases. There’s a ditching of the gloom that hung over tracks like “Bukowski” and “Gum,” but the same aggression and intensity — also, fortunately, the same great harmonies and drum fills. Looking forward to hearing more of “Blush” on August 5 as these guys formulate their sound and deliver , and watching the rest of the music world take note.

“It wasn’t hard to fall for you
You had it all planned out, didn’t you?
You turned up late but I would have waited for days
Days for you
For you

That thing you said, ‘stay beautiful’
Even though that I know that it’s second hand
I’d have you say it in the same way
That thing you said, ‘stay beautiful’
Even though that I know that it’s second hand
I’d have you say it in the same way.
Moose Blood, Blush


New discovery of the week comes courtesy of a catchy lyrical reference over at Moose Blood is a good band, if you didn’t know, a UK-bred emo quartet with high-energy tension, wallowing realities, poppy fills and enough lyrical references to merit footnotes. Their aesthetic is everything I like about the emo revival (and the exact one I’ve been in the mood for all day), and their 2013 release “Moving Home” is six tracks of guitar-driven goodness in fifteen minutes or less. Easy to take in, easy to hold onto. Nights like this are why I love discovering new music, and why it is so often what I do when I’ve got time to kill – because you never know what might sound perfectly right.

“Bukowski’s growing old,

 this coffee’s getting cold
I guess I’ll never know
why you closed the window
Start reading Hemingway,
start drinking cups of Earl Grey, 

then I guess maybe one day..
I’ll be yours forever
I’m the best book you’ll never read
you make me feel like Jimmy Dean
you make me feel like Morrissey
when you undress from your best dress..

To keep warm, I’ll bring a sweater
you can have mine, it looks better
and honestly, you can take it home.
We’ll take blankets to stay safe
I’ll do my best to stay out of your way
then I guess maybe one day,
I’ll be yours forever.

I’ll introduce you to Clarity
teach you the words to ‘The Sound Of Settling,’
make you watch High Fidelity
on a Sunday, maybe one day.

To keep warm, I’ll bring a sweater
you can have mine, it looks better
and honestly, you can take it home.

To keep warm, I’ll bring a sweater
you can have mine, it looks better

and honestly, you can take it home.

Moose Blood, Moving Home

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