I joined my friend Jeff Mills on this week’s episode of Set List to talk about our time playing together in City Mouth, the Bloomington-Normal music scene, and my dream live setlist, featuring Bruce Springsteen, The Wonder Years, and more.
This year may as well have started on March 30th when I drove to Pontiac to get my first vaccine dose. Everything before that (and, to be honest, a lot after that) just feels like endless extra innings of 2020. The year also kind of feels like it ended after Thanksgiving with the spread of the Omicron variant and another round of uncertainty, caution, and fear. I’m trying hard to push back against the tidal wave of “everything is terrible” and focus on the best moments. I felt utterly alive and in the moment on stage at Nightshop in July when Pelafina played our first show back. I went to Riot Fest in September and hugged friends I hadn’t seen in two years. I turned 30 in October. I was able to celebrate the holidays with families that are happy and healthy.
Music I Worked On This Year
It’s been tough getting back into the rhythm of writing, recording, and releasing new music, so this section is pretty short this time. Lots more in the works for 2022 though, including a new Pelafina single very early in the year.
- Jeff Schaller and the Long Way Home – Reckless Life – guitar, recording, mixing, mastering
- Apocalypse Quest – Journal of the Plague Years – Mixing, mastering
My Favorite Albums of 2021
I had a harder time than usual making this list. There was no runaway favorite album, no artist that completely dominated my listening (besides maybe Taylor Swift, but I’m deeming Red (Taylor’s Version) ineligible for this list), but what I ended up with actually feels like a good summary of my listening habits this year.
I did less digging and discovering than usual. There are only a few debut albums on this list, and one of them was of course the most ubiquitous and inescapable release of the year. I was delighted to see some left turns and exciting, vibrant work from established band eight or nine albums deep in their careers.
I also put together a Spotify playlist with my favorite songs from each of these releases, as well as a bunch of singles and tracks from other albums that didn’t quite make a the cut.
- The Killers – Pressure Machine
- Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
- You, Me, and Everyone We Know – Something Heavy
- Adjy – The Idyll Opus (I-VI)
- The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Illusory Walls
- Noah Gundersen – A Pillar of Salt
- Telethon – Swim Out Past the Breakers
- Dan Campbell – Other People’s Lives
- Every Time I Die – Radical
- Bleachers – Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
- Dave Hause – Blood Harmony
- Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
- Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
- Origami Angel – Gami Gang
- The Wallflowers – Exit Wounds
- The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy
- Porter Robinson – Nurture
- Monobody – Comma
- The Dirty Nil – Fuck Art
- Parting – Unmake Me
A few EPs I loved:
- Future Teens – Deliberately Alive
- Counting Crows – Butter Miracle: Suite One
- Camp Trash – Downtiming
- Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles – Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles
My Favorite Live Shows of 2021
I played or went to 31 shows this year, and nearly every one felt like a celebration of live music, of how lucky we are be able to share art and community again after the past two years. It may have been a short-lived celebration, with case numbers rising again and tours for next year already getting canceled, but I’m hoping for the best.
- Titus Andronicus – 11/12 at Subterranean
- Spanish Love Songs – 9/3 at Beat Kitchen
- The Mountain Goats – 8/24 at Space
- The Killers – 12/7 at Aragon Ballroom
- Signals Midwest – 12/17 at Burlington
My Favorite Movies of 2021
All the usual caveats about not yet having the chance to see all of the new releases aside, I don’t see anything topping Dune as my favorite movie of the year. It’s a true accomplishment of science fiction filmmaking.
- The Last Duel
- The Power of the Dog
- King Richard
- Judas and the Black Messiah
- No Time To Die
- No Sudden Move
- Summer of Soul
My Favorite TV Shows of 2021
It sure feels like I watched less TV this year than I have in the decade and change since I discovered Dexter (and binge-watching) during finals week of my freshman year of college. Maybe it was a slight shift in entertainment priorities. Maybe it was due to most of my reliable favorites taking the year off. Regardless, what I did watch was really great.
- Midnight Mass
- Succession (Season 3)
- Squid Game (Season 1)
- What We Do In the Shadows (Season 3)
- Loki (Season 1)
Honorable Mention (only because the entire season hasn’t aired yet): Station Eleven
My Favorite Books of 2021
I hardly ever end up with new releases among my favorite books list at the end of a year. My book backlog is so long that only new releases from my favorite authors jump to the top. However, I set a goal in 2021 to read more non-fiction and ended up reading more new books than usual as a result. These were my favorite reads of the year, in no particular order and not limited to new releases.
- Punks In Peoria: Making a Scene In the American Heartland by Jonathan Wright and Dawson Barrett
- Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner
- The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross
- Killers of the Flower Moon: Listening To the Twentieth Century by David Grann
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
- A new Long Way Home album (I swear it’s actually happening this time)
- A new Pelafina song in January and hopefully another release later in the year
I’ve got a bunch of cool shows coming up in the next two months! I’m playing with Thomas Nicholas again on 11/11 and 11/13, then Pelafina returns for our first Chicago show in nearly two years on 12/12 at Beat Kitchen.
Earlier this year, we got together with our friends at Nap House Studios for a live session featuring two songs from the new album that we’re working on.
In a couple weeks, I’ll be gigging around Illinois and Indiana with the Thomas Nicholas Band. These shows are always a good time, so come and hang out.
My first show since the pre-pandemic days is coming up on Saturday. Pelafina will be rocking the patio stage at Nightshop in Bloomington with Bottom Bracket and the Recombinants. Advance tickets are available here.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the rest of the Long Way Home (besides Liesi) and even longer since we’ve rehearsed as a full band, but we spent the past few months working remotely on an acoustic EP. Jeff wrote these songs over the past tumultuous year, and I think they’re some of his best – incisive, political, and memorable. Give it a listen and get ready to hear loud versions of these when it’s safe to play shows again.
I’ve probably listened to thousands of hours of podcasts, but this is the first time I’ve recorded one. I joined Matt Mason and Zach Siegel on their horror movie podcast, Watch No Evil, for a very fun discussion of Jordan Peele’s Us, a movie I liked on release and genuinely loved after revisiting it. Check it out here.
My first bit of new music this year is an acoustic version of "No Peace" by Jeff Schaller and the Long Way Home. This is part of an acoustic EP that we’ve been working on remotely and will be releasing in the coming months, and the full-band version of this song will be on our album out later this year.