learning love songs

est. 2008


The Wonder Years


Happy New Year! I’m honestly optimistic about this one. I think it’s been awhile since I felt that way at the outset, but I’m going with it, looking ahead with curiosity to all the unknown the universe has in store. Throughout all the twists and turns that inevitably will arise, though, finding new music is still my constant joy. There’s something comforting about that, knowing that no matter what this year brings, at the end I’ll be left with a bunch of new music that moved me. 2016 will be tough to top on this front, as I was exposed to many different artists through reviewing opportunities and new communities, plus some of my longtime favorites like Jimmy Eat World and The Hotelier dropped incredible releases. But looking ahead at the calendar, I see plenty of highlights — here’s 10 albums I’m looking forward to (hopefully) listening to this year. I’ll revisit this in about 360 days to see where this wind up compared to my final favorites.

  1. The Menzingers: If “Lookers” and “Bad Catholics” are any indication, After the Party  will be an incredibly fun, punchy record — and perhaps the most poignant yet.
  2. Japandroids: “Near To The Wild Heart of Life” is quickly making its mark as a life anthem, as all Japandroids songs rightly deserve. I imagine this album will rock.
  3. Muna: Discovering this super-fun, super-edgy pop vocalist group was a great boon to my workout routine, and their latest single “I Know A Place” is a real earworm.
  4. Taylor Swift: Can she top 1989? I don’t know. Probably. I won’t pretend I’m not excited to see what direction she heads in , or to have more songs to practice guitar.
  5. Haim: Days Are Gone has held up incredibly well as an impressive debut, and I’m ready to be wowed with a follow-up imbued by their roaring success.
  6. Ryan Adams: My love for the folk-rock troubadour only grows, even as he fashions himself into something of a retro-bluesy, Pettyesque figure. Especially then, even.
  7. The Wonder Years: They’ve just announced they’re writing new stuff, so a 2017 release is possible/likely/high on my list of life-markers.
  8. The xx: Something tells me  the ambient, angsty chill pop of The xx will be perfect for LA’s rainy season, and perfectly sexy/cool.
  9. The Killers: Sure, they’ll never again make Hot Fuss. But who says they have to? Give me that desert-inspired do-or-die attitude and trademark soaring choruses any day.
  10. Ed Sheeran: I loved X. I still love X.  Sheeran has an undenying sweetness,  and a sensitivity that transfers beyond his gorgeous ballads. More please!


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


It’s that time of year again.

The beginning. Which also means the end.

I’m particularly at ease as I sit down to write this list this year. It’s the kind of thing that’s an annual source of self-inflicted stress. While the AOTY list is a list that anyone who fancies themselves any kind of music “expert” or “critic” must be able to accomplish, I dread the work that it requires to reflect, write, compile. This year, though, it wasn’t hard to find a free moment and begin typing. I knew most of this in my head, I had considered it several weeks before when I knew January was creeping closer. I kept a running Post-It list and refreshed my ears with a Spotify playlist. And I’m excited to put it out there, all this music that has meant so much to me.

2015, perhaps more than any other year in my adulthood, carried more emotional trials than I could have anticipated. I dealt with heartbreaks I could not predict. I faced fears I had been running from since I was an adolescent. I let people in. I let go. I ran farther, wrote faster and kissed harder than ever before. I gave up bad habits and picked up better ones, and I picked myself off the floor. I found surrender, I found self-love, I found the freedom and lightness a human can attain when you break your mind out of the fences of expectation, and now it is 2016, and I find myself still fighting for all of this, but with degrees of anticipation and confidence and the good kind of nerves, and I am encouraged. Most people reading this do not know most things about me; most people do not know most things about anyone, least of all strangers on the Internet, but if you are reading these words right now you can probably gather that that my lifeline (as it is maybe for you too) through all of this in life is music.

10) If I Should Go Before You – City and Colour

A late-year release that continues to captivate me, I didn’t fully realize the brilliance of these songs until I had the chance to hear them live. And then I heard what I should’ve the first time – sweeping, elegant rock songs, with a timeless, bluesy feel, and Dallas Green’s sorrowful interpretations of life and love. From the opening bars of the dark, groovy “Woman,” you can tell this a record that uses the best of ingredients in the rock band pantry – heavy rhythm section, masterful solos, top notch vocals and hook-filled choruses. But mostly what I love about this record is how the sentimentality still steals the show.

Bound for trouble from the start
I’ve been walking through this old world in the dark
All along right by my side
There you were shining, my ray of light 

~Lover Come Back

9) Permanence – No Devotion

When the day started to drag, when the week started to feel dull, this was the record to play to pick it up again. An indie favorite among a certain post-emo scene, the kind who might still care who Geoff Rickly is, the No Devotion record encapsulates a sound that’s both reminiscent of a past era and somehow still trendy, walking one of my favorite lines. I love how synth-pop permeates the guitar parts, how new wave that sound is, matched with dark chords and stirring harmonies at the high-end of Rickly’s vocal range. This record surprised me by how much I liked it, how fun it was to listen to, and also how unseen it was given its overall depth compared to acts in the same kind of genre. 

Ten thousand summers
Cannot replace what we lost when you went away
Ten thousand summers
In the grass
And though it’s getting dark
Remember this will pass

~10,000 Summers

8)Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

So many Sufjan fans fell by the wayside when his grand plans for a 50-album, 50-state spree stopped after two, myself included, as “The Age of Ads” and his BQE tribute didn’t seem to have the same heart. But Stevens’ musical brilliance, and poetic truths, shone through this year in the most surprisingly stunning ballad collection, a heartfelt, intimate tribute the love and loss and pain and quiet, awkward, awesome moments that make up family. It’s just too beautiful. When I listen to this record, I feel like it’s OK to be curious and shy and passionate about the ones you love.

Do I care if I survive this, bury the dead where they’re found
In a veil of great surprises; hold to my head till I drown
Should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much?
Should I tear my arms out now, I wanna feel your touch

~The Only Thing
7) Run Wild – Lydia

Another one that really surprised me by how much I wound up listening to it. Lydia was a band I got into purely by Pandora association, despite knowing they lurked somewhere in the mid-aughts emo scene I’m so fond of. Choosing to get into them shortly before this release was somewhat serendipitous but also somewhat misleading – the Lydia that existed 10 years ago isn’t the one that put out this radio-friendly, poptastic, shimmering party serenade. But I love it, oh how I love it, from the stammering chorus of “Follow You Down” to the wide-eyed dance rhythms of “Late Nights.” Something about this record set the tone for a light and breezy ride, no matter how dark and heavy I felt, no matter where I was going.

I don’t want to keep your heartache
And I don’t want to feel your ghost
And I don’t even know where we will go
Yeah, I’m just trying to make it home

~Late Nights

6) Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves

There’s so much to love about this record, which is one of the sweetest, funniest, smartest offerings country music had to offer in 2015 and one of my favorite morning sing-a-longs. Kacey Musgraves has a strong wit, sharp tongue and killer voice, wrapped in an aw-shucks-stoner attitude that makes her songs so original and listenable and just overall delightful. Her take on gossipy neighbors and nosy friends shows a mature mindfulness that you’re more likely to read about on yogi websites than hear about in a country song, setting her apart from the usual heartbreak heroines. Musgraves is only two albums in but she’s only getting better – and more sure of herself, too, if the “Dime Store Cowgirl” anthem holds up.

I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think,

I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

~Pageant Material

5) Peripheral Vision – Turnover

If ever there was a darker, dreamier record this past year, I hadn’t heard it. Turnover came out of nowhere, relatively, to put out one of the most outstanding LPs in the alt-indie scene, one that cut through stereotypes of bands in the genre and threw down a new standard for moody yet upbeat tracks. This record soundtracked many a lonely night, injecting a shot of needy hopelessness right when it was needed, but in the most melodic fashion. There’s a depth in production here that creates a really full sound, but still lets you pick out the guitar parts. So much delay!! And so cohesive, which is why I think it was so easy to listen to time and time again. “Peripheral Vision” is a tribute to the complications and anxieties in relationships, the kind that we all wish we could avoid, but if this is where the stumbles gets you, maybe it’s worth learning your way through.

Would you come here and spin with me?
I’ve been dying to get you dizzy,
Find a way up into your head
So I can make you feel like new again

~Dizzy on the Comedown

4) American Candy – The Maine

This one really sneaked up on me. I had never listened to The Maine before “American Candy.” What I discovered was the purest pop rock I’d heard since radio-friendly All-American Rejects tracks in high school, excellent parts and succinct playing. A perfect balance between light and dark, this record grapples with issues of anxiety and self-consciousness and stereotype better than any I’ve heard in ages, without being too obviously “fuck-the-man.” Why it’s not on other top 10s, I cannot say. Something this well-executed ought to be recognized – there isn’t a bad track on this record, and it never left my rotation since it came out in the first quarter of the year. In a scene jam-packed with releases, that’s not nothing.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m going mad when
I get a touch of saccharine on my lips
I hate the taste on my tongue too damn sweet
I don’t fancy american candy, american candy

~American Candy

3) Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell

This record contains my favorite song of the year, the one that I played on repeat the most, with the chorus that still brings tears to my eyes. I was so obsessed with this record when it came out, and while I listen to it less in full, I still think it’s one of the best showings of the year, with every track showing how timeless and tireless Jason Isbell’s sound is. While his breakthrough on “Southeastern” gave us all a taste of what he is capable of as a songwriter and introduced us to his own personal angels and demons, “Something More Than Free” gives us more of a look into how he sees the world and what matters in, things like working hard and loving true.

“You thought God was an architect, now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
In 24 frames”

~24 Frames

2) Astoria – Marianas Trench

The top two were really hard for me this year to balance out, because they both hit me in the gut. So consider this almost a tie…and consider them both the kind that lived up to high expectations. Marianas Trench may not be a well-known act in most music circles, and that might be the biggest oversight in critical estimations. I think Josh Ramsay is a brilliant modern pop composer and if you disagree, I guess you’ve never heard a little song called “Call Me Maybe.” He is a production master – and he shines brightest in his own band, Marianas Trench, who write epic after epic after epic. This one might their strongest yet – clearly 80s inspired, and clearly heavy on the drama. But it’s tight as hell when it comes to hooks. How “One Love” isn’t tearing up the radio stations, I don’t know. In the past month or so since I bought this record I’ve listened to it almost every day, and it only gets better. It only cuts deeper. “Astoria” makes me smile, it makes me cry, it gives me shelter, it makes me a fighter. If ever there was a band that proved pop music as a genre exists beyond what’s on the charts, it’s Marianas Trench, and if there was any rock album in 2015 that lifted my heart to places I didn’t think it could still reach, it was “Astoria.”

“Don’t remind me what the price is when left to my own devices
‘Cause I’ll find out in all due time what happens to never say die”


1) No Closer to Heaven – The Wonder Years

When “The Greatest Generation” came out in 2013, I couldn’t help but think that this big-sounding, on-the-rise rock band from Philadelphia, my favorite active artist, had the makings of a voice of a generation. When “No Closer to Heaven” dropped this year, I knew that inkling was spot-on. Dan Campbell has turned his musings outward, and this record finds pondering the sick, sad world around us as much as his own place in it. The band followed its strengths with this record, and they’ve wound up with some of their best-ever songs, like “Cigarettes and Saints” and “Stained Glass Ceilings.” This is not a record for the faint of heart, as it has its fair share of thrashing and screaming, as well as some disturbed imagery, from car crashes to drug overdoses to gun violence. But in this aggression is a ferocious heart, one that refuses to quit, colored by drum rhythms for days and dueling guitar solos. To me, this is the essential combination for punk rock – an American critique offered by the minstrels of its lower middle class, and loud-as-fuck playing. But there’s something else that that phrase “punk rock” doesn’t quite capture, and that’s literary-level vocabulary, narrative-style scene setting and that particular brand of maturity that only comes from traveling to mental depths so low, and so dark, and surviving them. No one does it quite like The Wonder Years does, and no band ever will.

This god damn machine; hungry and heartless.
My whole generation got lost in the margin.
We put our faith in you. You turned a profit.
Now we’re drowning here under your waves.

~Cigarettes and Saints

Honorable mentions, for lack of enough listening to properly rank:
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett
Vitals – MuteMath
Traveler – Chris Stapleton
All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
Dealer – Foxing
1989 -Ryan Adams (listened a lot, but didn’t feel quite right to rank. Best cover album of all time, tho, for sure.)

Past years:


“If everyone’s built the same,
Then how come building’s so fucking hard for you?
It’s something we’re all born into.
Nothing’s left up to grey.
It’s black or white and sometimes black and blue.
It’s something we’re all born into.

Now I know what’s in a name; not just my father’s.
Three-fifths a man makes half of me.
Why should I bother?
Merchants of misery stacking the deck.
Fuck your John Waynes.
Fuck your God complex.
I’ve got everything in front of me, but can’t reach far enough
To reach these fever dreams they call American.

I am the ghetto’s chosen one.

The privileged bastard son.

They’re getting their anchors.
They’re gathering rope.
You’re pushing to Heaven all alone.

They’re getting their anchors.
They’re gathering rope.

You’re pushing to Heaven all alone.

~Stained Glass Ceiling
The Wonder Years, No Closer to Heaven

You know that feeling when you hear something really great, and you love it and you obsess over it, and it is brilliant, inspirational perfection, and then you feel like shit about yourself because everything you produce looks futile your glazed, tired eyes?

Thanks, Dan Campbell! 

No, seriously, “No Closer To Heaven” is all I wanted it to be – obvious evolution in the band and Campbell alike. We hear a ton of guitars and wild rhythm change-ups and excellent, excellent hooks, wrapped up in the sad fighting light of reality.

I loved “Cigarettes and Saints” pretty hard these past few days. Now my favorite song changes with every listen.  I’ve stopped and said “Wow” so many times, whether it’s the chorus of “You in January,” that brilliant tambourine in “Patsy Cline,” or the final drum rolls in “Palm Reader.” Not to mention, as an album formula, the structure is laid out so well – the mid-section heavy slow jam  (“Cigarettes”) like The Greatest Generation did, and hey, they don’t ~quite~ end on an epic track to spare predictability. Smart smart smart – but not at all ineffective, because now I just have to go back and listen to it again.

The final verses in “Stained Glass Ceiling” are some of the best TWY lyrics Campbell has produced. If they don’t break your heart, you’re not paying attention.

What a profound rock band The Wonder Years have become. I am so proud to have loved them for this long , as silly as that sounds – but from the moment I heard “Washington Square Park” the summer I came home after college and I knew I’d find the sound I liked in a lyrical aesthetic I loved. They’ve only grown in maturity and worldview technical prowess, and I look forward to peeling back every layer of this one. I think I’m going to hold onto it for awhile, as you should with the ones that impress you so much at the outset. The more you listen, the more you learn.


“Twice a week I pass by the church that held your funeral
And the pastor’s words come pouring down like rain
How he called you a sinner and said now you walk with Jesus
So the drugs that took your life aren’t gonna cause you any pain
I don’t think he even knew your name
And I refuse to kneel and pray
I won’t remember you that way

I lit you a candle in every cathedral across Europe
And I hope you know you’re still my patron saint
I tried to forgive, but I can’t forget the cigar in his fist
I know that they were heartsick, but I need someone to blame
And I know how they blamed me
I know what you’d say
You’d tell me it was your fault
I should put all my arrows away.

I’m sure there ain’t a heaven
But that don’t mean I don’t like to picture you there
I’ll bet you’re bumming cigarettes off saints
And I’m sure you’re still singing
But I’ll bet that you’re still just a bit out of key

That crooked smile pushing words across your teeth

Cause you were heat lightning
Yeah, you were a storm that never rolled in
You were the northern lights in a southern town,
A constant fleeting thing.

I’ll bury your memories in the garden
And watch them grow with the flowers in spring
I’ll keep you with me.”

August is hands-down the strangest time of year. The slow, gorgeous fade of summer begins, fall creeps in around the edges, and every few years or so, my life turns upside down. Given that cycle has continued here in 2015, with the most significant sentimental loss I’ve ever faced, I’m ready to move forward, and with that comes the corresponding soundtrack. I am undeniably, unimaginably excited for the new record from The Wonder Years this fall and the subsequent tour – so much so that writing down sentences about it makes my finger tingle and I smile to myself. Some things don’t change, and that’s the way I feel about this band.

With just two songs out, I can already tell “No Closer to Heaven” is going to be an epic, dramatic album – the kind that “The Greatest Generation” was and continues to be. I see l some of my friends and acquaintances roll their eyes when I tell them I’m still – yes, still – really into pop punk and emo music. They’re especially shocked if they’ve only been familiar with my folk and indie obsessions. But I can’t get over the heightened aggression and flair for dramatic. I can’t stop wanting my heart torn out I cannot stop being impressed by Dan Campbell cutting right to the quick of it, and saying it like it is.

I’ve been binging on “Cigarettes and Saints” today, and I’ve decided this song really crushes it. There’s some kind of triumph behind that first guitar line, crystal-clear and resonant as it fades, only to come back in a patient pattern before the song erupts. The structure overall is drawn out, but purposefully so, like a funeral march, and the second half of the song begins with an anxious tone before finding its footing. “My whole generation got lost in the margin,” Campbell sing-screams in the climax, and I can’t help but think how me as well as the 17-year-olds playing this probably feel that way, too. The way he says “I know they blamed me,” breaks my heart. What kills me most about this song is the overloading of religious imagery without reverence. The candles he lights feel significant, but futile, the pastor’s words are empty and fleeting. And yet our narrator forges ahead, he vows to fight the forces that trigger these sad events, swirling in shame and regret and sadness all the awhile. What a feeling. What a story. I can’t wait for more.

“These wolves in their suits and ties
Saying, “Kid, you can trust me”
Charming southern drawl, sunken eyes
Buying good will in hotel lobbies
Buy fistfuls of pills to make sure you don’t hurt no more
You don’t gotta feel anything

Got their fangs in our veins
Got their voice in our head
Got our arms in their grips
No, we can’t shake free

This goddamn machine, hungry and heartless
My whole generation got lost in the margin
We put our faith in you and you turned a profit
Now we’re drowning here under the waves
(We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers)
Drowning out under the waves
(We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers)
Drowning out, drowning out…

You can’t have my friends,
You can’t have my brothers.
You can’t have my friends,
You can’t have my brothers.
You can’t have my friends,
You can’t have my brothers.
You can’t have me
No, you can’t have me.

~Cigarettes and Saints
The Wonder  Years, No Closer To Heaven


“I swear I’ll never let you down again.”

Is there anything – anything – better than the solace of an incredible new song from an incredible band about to put forth an incredible new album? I am still so in awe of “The Greatest Generation” that I was holding my breath a little bit on what we might hear from The Wonder Years this year, but after hearing “Cardinals” I feel this will be amazing, when Dan Campbell continues to write such phenomenal words and pull out these devastating truths (“We’re no saviors/If we can’t save our brothers”) and the band supplies such layered melodies and frenzied rhythms. I stayed at work an hour later than usual, because I didn’t want to be without it on the drive home and haven’t bought the pre-order yet. The hook is so good, and so telling of what this band can do. Can’t get over the drum part in the chorus, it’s too tricky for me to count but I love how it ascends, and then the gang vocals at the close, something of a trademark for this six-piece-plus, tie the whole thing together. Putting out a single this soon makes me think there will be another one or two before the album drops in September – or at least, that’s what I can hope for, because new songs and new sounds and new feelings are all that I can hope for on the horizon, even better when they’re grown from the same favorite spots I always founds them.


“Jesus Christ. I’m 26.
All the people I 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?
~Passing Through a Screen Door
The Wonder Years, The Greatest Generation

I am compelled to post this tonight as it will only remain true to my life for the next several hours — and because it is a pop punk bridge for the modern age that reflects ultimately what I find many in my generation often grappling with.

I know it seems like all we care about is what’s happening on our phones but the timeless mortal longings for companionship and love and meaning in our lives – surprisingly!!! – remain. In my conversations this past year, with friends or acquaintances or strangers of a similar age, I’ve heard plenty of takeaways on what it means to be alone, what it means to be coupled up, or somewhere in between. Some seem dead-set on running as far as they can from commitment of any sort, thinking such trappings spell doom for their individualized futures; others seek it like water in a drought, gasping and grasping for something to hold onto other than themselves that will provide vitality. Still others I meet are in some sort of medium ground, not alone and not lost though conventionally behind the times and, through their personal choices, redefining them. Some others just don’t seem to care where they fit. They just seem happy.

I am one of those who is not alone, though I live that way. I am one of those who pokes and prods and rips up roots almost fast as I can grow them, though I have a few places I can call home enough to find someone to laugh with and buy me a drink. I often feel as though I have fucked up, though I know in my heart of hearts and deepest of consciousness that I have not.

To me this song spells out fervent desire for change, without yet knowing which kind to make. It starts from the feeling that the present in all its normalcy is not adequate, when the room to run is so far and wide and somewhere out there is something more. That feeling, the opposite of sought-after stability, is glorious in its own way, and glamorized thoroughly, but it presents challenges and fears in the way traditional settling down might in others. What if nowhere feels like home? What if there’s no one to look over at, and smile to know all you’ve shared? What if, to be running and constantly seeking, means you lose everything that is worthwhile after all? Answering these questions sometimes only brings a stronger desire for sameness, for stillness, for closeness that may not be found outside in the world but behind your bedroom door. And then the cycle begins again…

With this song, with this album, Dan Campbell and The Wonder Years presented a story of the times that I hope will preserve the emotional trials and struggles felt by many in the here and now. It helps that it is incredibly fluid, aggressive and devastating rock music, that makes your neck arch and fingers drum and throat ache to shout. I shouted these words 10 rows deep last August, screaming as loud as I ever would packed among hundreds of strangers younger than me, or older than me, or cooler than me, or more scene than me, and for that day, for that set, I did not feel fucked up. I did not feel like I’d missed out. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.


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


Today I get to see my favorite band play for the first time. Since 2010,The Wonder Years have been my link to the past and soundtrack to the present, the kind of pop punk that touched upon everything that made me love the genre way back when in the first place, deepened with an of-age maturity perfectly matching my own struggles, trials, inner demons and dreams. Dan Campbell and company created a tremendous force in a genre ever-shifting, ever-changing, ever running from its own stereotypes without sacrificing their own progression. For this, and for the countless hours spent singing at the top of my lungs, I love them. Check out the tag at the end of this post. You’ll see.

I get to see The Wonder Years today, and it’s mostly because I live in Pittsburgh, a major market with a devoted community of promoters who work hard to deliver the best of the scene, and one-of-a-kind events like the Four Chord Music Festival. It’s been such an improvement in my exposure to bands and overall quality of life to be able to find out a band is touring and know there’s a pretty good shot they’re coming through a local venue, after I spent a year and a half missing out due to having to travel to D.C., Philadelphia or Baltimore to see the bands I love.

Shows were immensely important to me growing up. They were the only place I felt sort of cool – at school I was an over-achieving nerd, at ballet class I was a tortured young artist, but in my basement blasting Taking Back Sunday or The Early November, I felt alright, understood. Thee early 2000s eruption of indie, emo and pop punk bands gave me an anchor, and I clung to it. Going to see the bands I loved live meant dancing and yelling and gaping in awe like a fool, but it also meant being part of a crowd I didn’t have to run from or morph in front of to fit in. I saw kids like me, and older ones with tattoos and cigarettes I’d one day emulate, in my own way. My fascination with stage and performance developed, learning to hear the acute differences between guitar parts and memorize set lists. The fixation eventually carried over to other parts of my life, when wearing band shirts and listening to headphones in the hallways led me to some of the best friends I ever made.

I’m no longer a mousy girl in checkered Vans with a button-covered messenger bag waiting outside the back door of The Bug Jar, but that feeling that drove me there never left. In some ways, my ability to satiate it has only increased with the time and resources adulthood can provide. Sure, I sometimes feel old (there was that time I went to the Touche Amore concert in my work clothes and high heels) but I’m so grateful to be able to indulge this part of myself, now more than ever. So, cheers to the Pittsburgh music community for giving me an outlet again, for enriching my 2014 with so many incredible shows, sounds and memories, for giving me another spin with that all-time favorite companion, distraction and medicine of live music.

Should be a great show.

“I’ve been acting like I’m strong
But the truth is, I’ve been losing ground
To a hospital too crowded,
A summer winding down,
I hadn’t seen a heartbreak until now,
I hadn’t felt a heartbreak until now.”

~Dismantling Summer
The Wonder Years,The Greatest Generation

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