My Best Years May Still Be Ahead of Me: My Favorite Albums of the 2010s

An Introduction

The Upsides leaked on Christmas Eve, 2009.

Wonder Years vocalist Dan Campbell was panicking in an Outback Steakhouse bathroom (seriously, he wrote a song about it), and I was sitting at my parents’ desktop computer downloading the album that would have an immeasurable influence on the next ten years of my life. I don’t know Dan personally, but I would guess that was as much a turning point in his life as it was in mine.

The Wonder Years would go on to tour the world, release four more albums, and become my favorite band in the process. In the meantime, I was playing in bands, writing songs, and occasionally touring. I was briefly a critic, writing reviews for two music blogs. I recorded and mixed records for myself and my friends. But first and last, I was a fan. All these years later, I still love the feeling of hearing a great album for the first time and letting it wash over me, of a lyric that cuts to my emotional core, of singing along with a room full of people or by myself in my car, of feeling seen and understood, feeling like I was a small part of something important.

A decade-spanning list like this is fraught with complications, biases, and tough questions. How important is a decade anyway? How do you weigh an album with five or eight or ten years of influence against one that came out six months ago? Can I cheat and list two EPs as one album? How do you reckon with the personal significance of art whose work is tainted by the artist’s problematic behavior?

I don’t have good answers to those questions. I just have a list of albums that were important to me over the past decade. These are the albums that soundtracked every significant moment of my life since senior year of high school. They’re in some semblance of an order, although that order gets messier the further down the list you go. I hope you listen and find something you love.

I was eighteen years old, still in high school at the start of this decade. I was still buying every album I liked on CD. I had yet to discover vinyl collecting (and Vinyl Collective). I didn’t know DIY bands were releasing their albums for free on Bandcamp and dubbing their own cassette tapes. Spotify hadn’t launched in the US. The entire musical landscape is so much different now than it was back then, and I’ve certainly grown a lot in the intervening years as well, but it’s still possible for music to move me like it did a decade ago, by the light of a desktop computer, the first time I heard The Upsides.

The List

  1. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing
  2. The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace Is There
  3. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
  4. Fun. – Some Nights
  5. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  6. Bleachers – Strange Desire
  7. Beach Slang – Broken Thrills
  8. John K. Samson – Provincial
  9. Laura Stevenson – Wheel
  10. Jimmy Eat World – Damage
  11. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
  12. The Menzingers – After the Party
  13. Spanish Love Songs – Schmaltz
  14. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
  15. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
  16. Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life
  17. Thursday – No Devolucion
  18. Joie de Vivre – We’re All Better Than This
  19. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful and So Unaware of It
  20. Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught On Tape
  21. Ruston Kelly – Dying Star
  22. Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers
  23. Paramore – After Laughter
  24. Into It. Over It. – Intersections
  25. The Graduate – Only Every Time
  26. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
  27. The Wonder Years – The Upsides
  28. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
  29. Jimmy Eat World – Invented
  30. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  31. The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk
  32. Bleachers – Gone Now
  33. The Hotelier – Goodness
  34. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  35. You, Me, and Everyone We Know – A Great Big Hole / I Wish More People Gave a Shit
  36. Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?
  37. Hellogoodbye – Would It Kill You?
  38. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
  39. The Tower and the Fool – How Long
  40. The Hotelier – It Never Goes Out
  41. Waxahatchee – American Weekend
  42. Modern Baseball – Sports
  43. Desaparecidos – Payola
  44. Copeland – Ixora
  45. The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours
  46. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
  47. Taylor Swift – Red
  48. The Menzingers – Rented World
  49. The 1975 – The 1975
  50. Future Teens – Breakup Season
  51. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In the Alps
  52. Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness – Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness
  53. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Whenever, If Ever
  54. Charly Bliss – Young Enough
  55. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  56. The Swellers – The Light Under Closed Doors
  57. The Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ
  58. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses
  59. You, Me, and Everyone We Know – Some Things Don’t Wash Out
  60. Joie de Vivre – The North End
  61. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
  62. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
  63. State Lines – Hoffman Manor
  64. Into It. Over It. – Proper
  65. Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
  66. Fireworks – Oh, Common Life
  67. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
  68. Broadway Calls – Comfort/Distraction
  69. Transit – Keep This To Yourself
  70. Polar Bear Club – Clash Battle Guilt Pride
  71. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
  72. Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten
  73. The Dangerous Summer – War Paint
  74. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  75. Real Friends – Everyone That Dragged You Here
  76. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
  77. Guster – Easy Wonderful
  78. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
  79. Better Love – We Were Younger and Less Put Together
  80. I Am the Avalanche – Avalanche United
  81. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
  82. Bomb the Music Industry! – Adults!!!
  83. Smallpools – Smallpools
  84. The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
  85. Jason Isbell – The Nashville Sound
  86. Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
  87. The Swellers – Good For Me
  88. Braid – No Coast
  89. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
  90. Converge – All You Love You Leave Behind
  91. Touché Amore – Is Survived By
  92. All Get Out – Nobody Likes a Quitter
  93. Fireworks – Gospel
  94. Joyce Manor – Million Dollars To Kill Me
  95. Hostage Calm – Please Remain Calm
  96. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence
  97. Daytrader – Demo
  98. Aficionado – Aficionado
  99. Counting Crows – Somewhere Under Wonderland
  100. The Appreciation Post – Work/Sleep

Like a Rock Stuck Skipping On a Great Lake: 2018 In Review

I never know how to sum up a year in a paragraph. I don’t think it’s really possible, when a year is so big and somehow goes by so fast, to capture everything that was significant in my little corner of the world. But I’ll always try.

Before the traditional lists, I want to highlight one very important moment from 2018. Liesi and I got married and it was the happiest day of my life. To every friend and family member who helped out in any way, thanks for making it so special. I appreciate it more than I can ever say.

And it turns out I’ll actually dance if I’m making the playlist.

Music I Worked On This Year

My Favorite Albums of 2018

  1. Spanish Love Songs – Schmaltz
  2. The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours
  3. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
  4. Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers
  5. Ruston Kelly – Dying Star
  6. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
  7. Death Cab For Cutie – Thank You For Today
  8. Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness – Upside Down Flowers
  9. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
  10. Lucy Dacus – Historian
  11. Joyce Manor – Million Dollars To Kill Me
  12. Fall Out Boy – Mania
  13. mewithoutYou – [Untitled]
  14. Foxing – Nearer My God
  15. Camp Cope – How To Socialize and Make Friends
  16. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  17. Jeff Rosenstock – Post
  18. Retirement Party – Somewhat Literate
  19. All Get Out – No Bouquet
  20. Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures

My Favorite EPs of 2018

  1. Better Love – We Were Younger and Less Put Together
  2. Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6
  3. The Flips – Exactly Where I Should Be
  4. Boygenius – Boygenius
  5. mewithoutYou – [untitled]

My Favorite Songs of 2018

Playlist on Apple Music and Spotify

The playlist only includes 49 of my 50 favorite songs because “Coming Up For Air” by Clear Eyes Fanzine isn’t on streaming services, but it is on Bandcamp.

My Favorite Shows of 2018

  1. The Bad Plus – Nightshop – 12/6
  2. All Get Out – The House Cafe – 5/17
  3. Spanish Love Songs – Subterranean (Downstairs) – 4/14
  4. Counting Crows – Hollywood Casino Amphitheater – 9/8
  5. Lorde – Rosemont Arena – 3/27
  6. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities Pop Up Shop – 3/30

My Favorite Movies of 2018

  1. Annihilation
  2. Hereditary
  3. Minding the Gap
  4. Roma
  5. A Quiet Place
  6. Game Night
  7. Black Panther
  8. The Incredibles 2
  9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

My Favorite TV Shows of 2018

  1. Killing Eve
  2. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  3. GLOW
  4. Atlanta
  5. The Little Drummer Girl
  6. Castle Rock
  7. The Good Place
  8. The Haunting of Hill House
  9. Counterpart
  10. Patriot

Other Highlights

The best book I read this year was They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib.

I spent a stupid amount of time playing The Binding of Isaac on Nintendo Switch.

My favorite podcast episode of the year is a tie between Roderick On the Line, Ep. 315: “The Slow Desctruction of Bueno” and Do By Friday, Ep. 109: “Bee. Wasp. Hornet.”

As always, thanks for reading. See you next year.

Souvenirs of Happiness In the Moment: Reflections On 2017

Some milestones and accomplishments from this year:

Movies About Animals released our first full-length album, Two Decades and Change, in January. I tend to be pretty critical of my own work even after it’s finished, but I wouldn’t change anything about this album. I’ve only grown more proud of it in the last eleven months. We also released a companion EP called Spare Change, with some B-sides and acoustic songs as a bit of a cap on the Two Decades era.

Pelafina had a very busy year. We played 29 shows, including two out-of-state weekends, and released a split with The Flips, a re-recorded and re-mixed version of Pelafina 64, and a single called “Skin.” These songs are particularly special because in addition to writing, I also recorded and mixed all of them myself. The rest of band has been more supportive and encouraging than I could have hoped for while I use our songs to learn the ropes of music production and engineering.

City Mouth played a handful of shows in 2017, but much of the year was spent writing and recording a new EP called Hollows, which will be out early next year. It will be my last release as a member of the band, which still feels strange to say after four years writing and touring with Matt and the rest of the gang, but I’m so excited to see where the new lineup goes (I’ve heard some demos and of course they’re great).

On a more general note, 2017 marked a decade of playing live music. Years To Come played our first official show in September of 2007 at the Coffeehouse in Normal, following a test run in my parents’ basement over the summer, and I’ve played over 300 shows with at least a dozen groups since. If you’ve been there from the beginning, or if you saw me play for the first time this month, thank you.

Outside of music, there were two big personal events I wanted to mention in this year-end wrap up.

On a chilly February night at the Logan Square monument, I asked Liesi to marry me. I was nervous and shaking and probably cried a little bit. I was convinced that the ring was somehow defective and that the diamond would fall off as we walked around the neighborhood afterwards. But mostly I was just happy.

Later, in the summer, my grandma Childers passed away. Her funeral was the first I’d ever been to. My mom asked me to read a poem. I was definitely nervous and definitely cried a lot, caught up in the memories of driving four hours to her old house, of the shag carpet and Beanie Babies, the smell of home-cooked food in a kitchen with a floor so sloped I could race my Matchbox cars, the first time I watched the Star Wars. And later, moving her up to Bloomington after her eyes and ears started to fail her, visiting her often (but never often enough) at her assisted living apartment, watching my mom give so much time and effort and love to make sure grandma was comfortable and healthy and always knew when the Cubs were on. I’ll always aspire to be as loving and generous and kind as she was. I hope I can be.

And now, some lists:

My Favorite Albums of 2017

  1. The Menzingers – After the Party
  2. Bleachers – Gone Now
  3. Sincere Engineer – Rhombithian
  4. Paramore – After Laughter
  5. Alex Lahey – I Love You Like a Brother
  6. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
  7. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In the Alps
  8. Day At the Fair – The Epilogue
  9. Nervous Dater – Don’t Be a Stranger
  10. Lorde – Melodrama
  11. Waxahatchee – Out In the Storm
  12. Converge – The Dusk In Us
  13. Forfeit – Perennial
  14. Emperor X – Oversleepers International
  15. Gang of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness
  16. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
  17. Oso Oso – The Yunahon Mixtape
  18. The Mountain Goats – Goths
  19. Sundressed – A Little Less Put Together
  20. Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes

My Favorite EPs of 2017

  1. The Wonder Years – Burst and Decay
  2. Retirement Party – Strictly Speaking
  3. Jetty Bones – Old Women
  4. Lincoln – A Constant State of Ohio
  5. Baggage – The Good That Never Comes

My Favorite Movies of 2017

  1. Get Out
  2. Coco
  3. Baby Driver
  4. Dunkirk
  5. Lady Bird
  6. A Ghost Story
  7. Columbus
  8. The Big Sick
  9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  10. Logan Lucky

My Favorite TV Series of 2017

  1. The Leftovers
  2. Fargo
  3. Mr. Robot
  4. The Good Place
  5. Stranger Things

That list is specifically about TV that aired for the first time this year. If I was including back catalog, my favorite TV experience this year was watching all of Gilmore Girls with Liesi.

My Favorite Books Read In 2017 (any release year applicable)

  1. Wolf In White Van – John Darnielle
  2. Kanye West Owes Me $300 – Jensen Karp
  3. The Familiar Volume 5: Redwood – Mark Z. Danielewski
  4. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
  5. The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

My Favorite Live Shows of 2017

  1. Regina Spektor – Chicago Theater – 3/24
  2. John K. Samson – City Winery – 10/23
  3. Paramore – Riot Fest – 9/17
  4. The Wonder Years / Laura Stevenson / Jetty Bones – Bottom Lounge – 9/25
  5. The 1975 / Jimmy Eat World / Bleachers – 5/20

Video Games

Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 dominated my gaming time this year. In fact, I hardly played anything else. But my favorite game of 2017 was not a big Nintendo franchise – it was a small, reflective, narrative game called What Remains of Edith Finch. I played it in one sitting a couple months ago and have thought about it nearly every day since. Don’t read too much about it beforehand, just download it an immerse yourself.

Podcasts

By far my favorite podcast episode this year: Roderick On the Line, Ep. 269: “Yelling At the Radio”

Conclusion

I don’t expect you listen to or watch everything on these lists (although I do recommend all of it). I don’t even expect you to read this far. But if you did, thank you. I hope you had a good year. See you in 2018.

Finally, here’s my favorite song of the year.

Ten Years of Anhedonia

Ten years ago, The Graduate released Anhedonia. I don’t think there was a more important and influential album for me and my friends at the time. It came from central Illinois, just like us, but this record felt so much bigger than our towns, our state, even the midwest. It shaped how I think about every instrument I play and every song I work on. A decade later, I still compare all of my own bass lines to “Sit and Sink,” and mine are never quite as cool.

“I don’t want to die today. I want to live and love and write it down.”

All In Our File, My Fellow Traveler: 2016 In Review

I started 2016 in a recording studio and I’ll end it on a stage (specifically, Double Door in Wicker Park). Those are fitting bookends for my busiest and most productive music year yet, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, however, the biggest change in my life this year: After two years in the city, I moved out to the suburbs. Liesi and I got a place together in Villa Park and adopted the best little cat named Jazz. It has been a great seven months so far, and I look forward to many, many more.

The Cubs won the World Series this year. While I’m not a Cubs fan myself and I don’t follow the sport closely anymore, these were the most exciting games I’ve ever watched, and I’m so happy that my friends and family, especially my grandmother, got to see their favorite team on top.

A couple more non-music things:

  • Favorite book I read this year (including non-2016 releases because I don’t keep up with new books outside of my favorite authors): Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • Favorite movie of the year (with the caveat that I haven’t seen many of the big late fall/early winter releases): Arrival

I went to 90 shows in 2016, the most of any year yet. My favorite was a seated Conor Oberst performance at the beautiful Thalia Hall in Chicago. His setlist included all ten songs on his raw, sparsely arranged new album, Ruminations. True to the recordings, Oberst switched between acoustic guitar and piano and had a baritone guitarist as the sole backing musician.

My Favorite Shows I Attended In 2016

  1. Conor Oberst – Thalia Hall – 11/27
  2. Thursday – Double Door – 9/17
  3. Copeland – Double Door – 12/1
  4. The Junior Varsity – Castle Theater – 9/1
  5. LCD Soundsystem – Lollapalooza – 7/31
  6. Julien Baker – Lincoln Hall – 4/14
  7. Bruce Springsteen – Bradley Center – 3/3
  8. Against Me! – The Metro – 6/19
  9. Ben Folds – Summerfest – 7/9
  10. The Sidekicks – Wicker Park Fest – 7/23

Of the 90 shows I attended, I played at 55 of those, also a record for me. All of my bands got great opportunities this year, but the highlight was Movies About Animals opening for The Junior Varsity at the Castle Theater in Bloomington. The Junior Varsity was a cornerstone of my early interest in music, and I usually cite Wide Eyed as the first album that made me care more about guitar playing than lyrics.

In April, I went on my third tour with City Mouth. We hit new cities around the midwest, got to hang out with Whale Bones again, and made some great friends in our tourmates, Old Fox Road. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of that in the near future.

My newest band, Pelafina, played our first shows and released our debut EP, Pelafina 64. It was my first experience recording and mixing on my own, and I can’t wait to do more of that with Pelafina and eventually others as well.

I’m not sure how many new albums I listened to in 2016 (maybe I should keep track of that next year), but it felt like there was something new and interesting coming out every week. From the smallest indie bands to the biggest pop stars, every scene and genre seemed to have standout releases, and my own lists are just a miniscule sample of what’s out there.

My pick for album of the year isn’t much of a surprise. John K. Samson has been my favorite songwriter since I discovered the Weakerthans in high school. Like Springsteen writing about New Jersey, Samson is a master at giving his songs a sense of place. The settings on Winter Wheat range from bustling cities to rural dive bars, TV studios to recovery centers, all the forgotten corners of Samson’s native Canada. He even ventures across the Atlantic Ocean for "Fellow Traveler," which takes place in England. In relatively few lines, Samson manages to make each location feel lived in and loved by an ensemble of characters as vividly realized as that of any novel or film. On Winter Wheat the spotlight turns to struggling grad students, eccentric outsiders, beautifully personified trees, of course, a cat named Virtute. It’s a deep and rewarding listen for both fans of the Weakerthans and newcomers to Samson’s work.

Unlike last year, I did decide to rank this list, but the numbering feels arbitrary after the top three, and I can wholeheartedly recommend everything on these lists to just about anyone.

My Favorite Albums of 2016

  1. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
  2. The Hotelier – Goodness
  3. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
  4. Pinegrove – Cardinal
  5. Jeff Rosenstock – Worry
  6. Camp Cope – Camp Cope
  7. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
  8. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
  9. Touche Amore – Stage Four
  10. All Get Out – Nobody Likes a Quitter
  11. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
  12. Joyce Manor – Cody
  13. Butch Walker – Stay Gold
  14. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
  15. Empty Houses – Daydream
  16. Anthony Jay Sanders – I Will Be the One Who Goes
  17. Drive-by Truckers – American Band
  18. Balance and Composure – Light We Made
  19. Mitski – Puberty 2
  20. Yellowcard – Yellowcard

A few bands who released really solid EPs this year deserve honorable mentions. These are all midwest bands, some local and some from a little further out, who are making this a really exciting time and place to be involved in the music scene.

  • Hot Mulligan – Opportunities
  • Kayak Jones – Memoir
  • Classic Schmosby – Part 1: Makeshift Happiness
  • Everyone Leaves – The Lonely End
  • Short Handed – Peace of Mind

My Favorite Songs of 2016

  1. Mitski – "Your Best American Girl"
  2. The Menzingers – "Lookers"
  3. John K. Sampson – "Virtute At Rest"
  4. The 1975 – "Paris"
  5. Pinegrove – "Old Friends"
  6. Chance the Rapper – "Same Drugs"
  7. The Hotelier – "Two Deliverances"
  8. Butch Walker – "Wilder In the Heart"
  9. Brian Fallon – "Red Lights"
  10. Conor Oberst – "Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out"
  11. Touche Amore – "Flowers and You"
  12. David Bowie – "I Can’t Give Everything Away"
  13. Jimmy Eat World – "You Are Free"
  14. Joyce Manor – "Fake ID"
  15. Modern Baseball – "Just Another Face"

"Challenge" by Anthony Sanders gets an honorable mention since he still hasn’t released a studio version, but I listened to the live recordings more than anything else this year. Rarely, if ever, have I heard a song that speaks so strongly to my own experiences and emotions about choosing not to drink.

So what’s to come in 2017? As I write this, I’m listening to the masters of the full-length album that Movies About Animals spent all year recording. It’s my favorite record that I’ve ever been a part of, and it will be out in January. Pelafina’s EP will be getting a reissue in January as well, with some of the recording touched up and a new mixing and mastering job. City Mouth is almost done writing a new EP that should be out in the first half of the year. Between all of my bands, I’m playing fifteen shows in the first two months of 2017 (hopefully this winter is a mild one). As always, keep an eye on this page for upcoming dates.

As always, if you come to my shows, listen to my records, support anything I do in any way, including just reading what I write here, there’s no way I can thank you enough.

See you next year.

Repairing a Broken Pair of Boston HD-5 Speakers

A couple weeks ago, I started noticing weird sounds coming from my stereo speakers. The long, low tones that score tense scenes in movies like It Follows and Hush (both highly recommended) were full of pops and cracks that seemed all wrong. This particular pair of Boston HD-5s I got for free from a family friend, and they sound better than free yard sale speakers have any business sounding, so I want to keep them around as long as possible. I opened them up to see if anything was obviously wrong, and this is what I found:

image

At first I thought the cones were completely shredded and figured I would be dropping significant money on replacements, but some Google searches on DIY speaker repair led me to Simply Speakers. I learned that, thankfully, my cones weren’t broken. The foam between the speaker cone and frame degrades over time, so this is a common problem in old speakers. The even better news: It’s an easy fix.

Simply Speakers sells foam repair kits for every size and brand of speaker imaginable, and a Boston 5.25″ kit was only $25. Much better than a new set of speakers.

The first step of the repair was to remove the speakers from the cabinets and clean the old foam off. Some of it had chipped and fallen into the cabs, and a few remaining large pieces were easy to pull away, but the foam that was still glued to the edge of the cones and and frames was more challenging. After a lot of careful scraping, I felt like they were at a point where the new foam could be glued on smoothly.

Gluing the new foam on is pretty straightforward, but it’s important to keep the cone aligned directly in the center of the frame (a second set of hands helps – thanks Liesi!), or you’ll end up with worse sounds than you had before. It took a little trial and error for us to get the first speaker right, but the second one came out very clean. Take a look:

image

I ran some test tones through the speakers after the glue was completely dried with no issues. After a couple weeks of TV and music through them every day, I’m completely satisfied with the fix and looking forward to using these speakers for the foreseeable future.

Years To Come

There’s a goldmine of subculture history buried in the depths of MySpace. From fliers for shows at long-defunct punk houses to great local bands that never used any other tools to promote themselves, entire scenes lived and died by that website. Visiting today, you’d never know. Huge swaths of content were lost in the transition to sideways scrolling and whatever else keeps the lights on over there. The songs that were only ever uploaded there don’t even play anymore. It’s a real shame that the company did such a bad job preserving the history of the scenes it created and fostered.

I didn’t want my own high school band to be completely lost in that graveyard. Years To Come may not have been an important band to anyone except the people who played in it and a few of our close friends, but it meant the world to me for four years. We learned our instruments together. We learned how to write songs together. We learned how to be a band together.

In order to preserve Years To Come on something other than my hard drive, and for anyone besides me who might care, I created a Bandcamp page for us. There you can find our only official release, and EP called Don’t Let the Future Scare You, and a collection of demos and other songs we recorded over the years. It’s all free to download, and you can also click the “info” link on each song for a bit of background and reminiscing about the writing and recording process.

An Album That Changed My Life: The Power of Failing by Mineral

I wrote this piece up for a forum I frequent, and I figured I’d post it here as well.

I was sixteen years old and browsing one of the old B-Sides R Us blogs when I came across a post with a link to Mineral’s first album, The Power of Failing, accompanied with a challenge: “If you can listen to this and feel nothing, then you don’t have a heart.” It was rare in those days to see a full-length album on the B-sides blog, so with no other context or background on the band, I dove in.

To this day, it remains one of my most memorable first listens. It’s an imperfect record in so many ways, but the songwriting and the passion shone through the messy production and rough musicianship to a degree that I’ve yet to hear replicated. The guitar tones aren’t what any producer would pick out today, but Scott McCarver’s parts stand out nonetheless, from the tension of the feedback solo on “Slower” to the cathartic release of the pre-chorus riff in “Parking Lot.” Chris Simpson is not a technically proficient singer – his voice cracks and strains in ways that make trained vocalists cringe – but he puts every fiber of his being into every word he sings. And the lyrics were exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Simpson writes about perennially relatable topics like overcoming loss and personal failure, and his lyrics are steeped in Christian themes and imagery that made the songs hit even harder for me. I was in tears by the end.

The Power of Failing also challenged how I shared the music I loved with other people. My friends ignored it because it wasn’t on the radio. My brother wouldn’t listen to it because of the production. I had to beg people to drop any preconceptions they had about emo or whatever and just close their eyes and listen. I would print out the lyrics and include them when I burned the CD for someone. I’m not sure any of my friends ever really got Mineral the way I did, but I recently heard Frank Turner tell a story about doing almost the exact same thing, so I know I’m not alone.

From there, the floodgates opened. I couldn’t get enough of this “midwest emo” sound, and within months my iPod was full of The Get Up Kids, Texas Is the Reason, the Promise Ring, and many others that I still count among my favorite bands.

It wasn’t until their reunion tour in 2014 that I finally got the chance to see Mineral. I truly thought it would never happen, and I could do little more than stand against the stage and stare at the four people whose words and music had affected me so deeply over the past seven years. I cried again during “Five, Eight, and Ten” and “Parking Lot” and especially “Unfinished,” and I’ll never forget it.

2015: A Year In Review

In 2015 I…

  • Attended 82 shows. I’m not sure I could pick a favorite, but highlights included Laura Stevenson’s solo acoustic set at the Abbey Pub, Hostage Calm’s farewell tour, Jason Isbell at the Chicago Symphony Center, and every time I saw the Menzingers because that band is unstoppable.
  • Performed at 40 of those shows. The venues ranged from the tiniest of basements and a high school cafeteria to Chicago’s Thalia Hall, the biggest and most beautiful place I’ve ever played. If you came to any of these, thank you.
  • Toured and released an EP with City Mouth. I couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished as a band this year. Listen to Tell Me I’m Alright here and be on the lookout for a lot more from us in 2016.
  • Read 30 books. Only two of those (Volumes 1 and 2 of Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar) were released this year. The best book I read in 2015 was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • Watched 62 movies. Fourteen of those were 2015 releases, my favorites of which were Mad Max: Fury RoadInside Out, and Spotlight. An honorable mention goes to Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens for giving the most fun theater experience of my life.
  • Saw the west coast. Liesi and I spent a week in Oregon and Washington in May. We hiked some beautiful trails, walked through the former World’s Fair grounds in Spokane, and took a picture in front of the Goonies house. I can’t wait to go back.

I don’t have a proper resolution for 2016, but I hope to release more music and tour again. I hope to keep growing and pushing myself towards new experiences. I hope I come a little closer to fully appreciating the life I have and the opportunities I’ve been given.

But for now, let’s play “This Year as loud as we can and celebrate.