A Blind Contour Drawing of the Future: 2022 In Review

What does it mean to grow when the world around you is falling apart? I think that’s the central question of Dent, the fifth album from Signals Midwest and my most-played album of the year by a wide margin. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot over the past couple years, years that have been largely soundtracked by the last two Signals Midwest releases (Dent and their 2019 EP Pin) and vocalist Maxwell Stern’s 2020 masterpiece, Impossible Sum. To me, at least, Dent is an album about processing all the distance and unrest and darkness of the pandemic years and starting come out on the other side with a sense of clear-eyed optimism.

This year didn’t start with a lot of optimism. The first few months were spent in the throes of the biggest Covid wave yet, and capped by getting Covid myself in March and missing a tour I had planned to go on and yet another chance to see Converge. Thankfully, things were mostly up from there. Liesi and I went on a couple of wonderful vacations, to New York and Europe. I played shows with Pelafina, The Long Way Home, Better Love, and Thomas Nicholas, and I went to tons more. I caught another Yankees game (although not in New York).

For me, the most striking moments of Dent are when joy bursts through the darkness. Sometimes that’s right in the lyrics, on “Gold In the Grey” or in the bridge of “It Left a Dent” (my favorite track on the album):

So if there is a light, turn towards it
I want to get a better look at you
I’ve been digging through a dead year’s worth of darkness just to find it
Finding all the good inside it

And sometimes it’s in the harmonized guitar leads in “Tommy Took a Picture” or the layered backing vocals of “All Good Things.” And sometimes it’s just in the memory of screaming the ending of “Love and Commerce” at Subterranean over the summer.

The pandemic is still going, there were political setbacks that I don’t need to recount, and I spent far too much time thinking about a dumb billionaire, but this was a year of trying to find those moments of joy in my own life, even though I know they always exist against background of world that isn’t doing great. That’s the essence of Dent for me. I’m so glad it was the soundtrack to this year.

Looking forward to 2023, there’s a new Long Way Home album coming (I promise for real this time, he says for the third year running). I spent most of my creative time and effort this year recording and mixing it, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

And, of course, some very exciting personal news.

Stuff I Made This Year

Music – Albums

I got back into using Last.fm this year. Unfortunately I couldn’t get all my old data back, but here are my stats from 2022. I’m less attached to the ranking of this list than I have been in the past. After the top four, the rest of these could be in pretty much any order, and I think they’re all really great.

  1. Signals Midwest – Dent
  2. The Wonder Years – The Hum Goes On Forever
  3. Gang of Youths – Angel In Realtime
  4. Arm’s Length – Never Before Seen, Never Again Found
  5. The 1975 – Being Funny In a Foreign Language
  6. Death Cab For Cutie – Asphalt Meadows
  7. Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind
  8. The Tisburys – Exile On Main Street
  9. Timeshares – Limb
  10. Spoon – Lucifer On the Sofa
  11. Pool Kids – Pool Kids
  12. Caracara – New Preoccupations
  13. Gregor Barnett – Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave
  14. Mt. Oriander – Then the Lightness Leaves and I Become Heavy Again
  15. Dan Andriano and the Bygones – Dear Darkness
  16. The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out
  17. Pale Waves – Unwanted
  18. LS Dunes – Past Lives
  19. Future Teens – Self Help
  20. Craig Finn – A Legacy of Rentals

Music – EPs

  1. Rise Against – Nowhere Generation II
  2. Bright Eyes – Companion EPs
  3. Better Love – I Wasn’t Ready Then, But I Think I Am Now
  4. Bottom Bracket – A Figure In Armor
  5. Tigers Jaw – Old Clothes

Live Shows

I went to or played 41 shows this year. These were my favorites, sometimes for the setlist or the sound, sometimes for the people I went with, but always for the joy I still find in a room or a field full of music.

  1. The Wonder Years – 3/5 at Concord Music Hall (The Upsides / Suburbia Tour)
  2. Signals Midwest – 7/21 at Subterranean
  3. The 1975 – 12/9 at Aragon Ballroom
  4. My Chemical Romance / Bleachers / The Wonder Years – 9/16 at Riot Fest
  5. The Get Up Kids – 9/17 at Riot Fest


According to my Letterboxd, I watched 61 movies released this year, and there are still a handful I want to see, so I might stealthily edit this part over the next couple weeks.

  1. The Fabelmans
  2. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Nope
  5. The Banshees of Inisherin
  6. Top Gun: Maverick
  7. Avatar: The Way of Water
  8. The Menu
  9. Barbarian
  10. Prey


My Trakt Year In Review. This was such a good TV year that, maybe for the first time, this top ten list was the hardest one to make.

  1. Station Eleven
  2. The Bear (Season 1)
  3. We Own This City
  4. Andor (Season 1)
  5. Severance (Season 1)
  6. Atlanta (Seasons 3 and 4)
  7. For All Mankind (Season 3)
  8. Slow Horses (Seasons 1 and 2)
  9. Better Call Saul (Season 6)
  10. House of the Dragon (Season 1)


I read 35 books this year, and these were my favorites. As usual, I only read a couple 2022 releases, so this includes anything I read for the first time in the past year.

  1. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
  2. Devil House by John Darnielle
  3. All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  4. Sellout by Dan Ozzi
  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

That’s all for now. See you next year.

“Make me a blind contour drawing of the future, capturing the form in all its grace, flaws, ritual, and promise.”

The Getting By That Gets Right Underneath You: 2021 In Review


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.

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.

  1. The Killers – Pressure Machine
  2. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
  3. You, Me, and Everyone We Know – Something Heavy
  4. Adjy – The Idyll Opus (I-VI)
  5. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Illusory Walls
  6. Noah Gundersen – A Pillar of Salt
  7. Telethon – Swim Out Past the Breakers
  8. Dan Campbell – Other People’s Lives
  9. Every Time I Die – Radical
  10. Bleachers – Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night
  11. Dave Hause – Blood Harmony
  12. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
  13. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
  14. Origami Angel – Gami Gang
  15. The Wallflowers – Exit Wounds
  16. The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy
  17. Porter Robinson – Nurture
  18. Monobody – Comma
  19. The Dirty Nil – Fuck Art
  20. 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.

  1. Titus Andronicus – 11/12 at Subterranean
  2. Spanish Love Songs – 9/3 at Beat Kitchen
  3. The Mountain Goats – 8/24 at Space
  4. The Killers – 12/7 at Aragon Ballroom
  5. 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.

  1. Dune
  2. Inside
  3. The Last Duel
  4. The Power of the Dog
  5. King Richard
  6. Judas and the Black Messiah
  7. No Time To Die
  8. No Sudden Move
  9. Summer of Soul
  10. Luca

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.

  1. Midnight Mass
  2. Succession (Season 3)
  3. Squid Game (Season 1)
  4. What We Do In the Shadows (Season 3)
  5. 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

Next Year

  • 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

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.

My Favorite Chords: Looking Back On The Weakerthans

It was anything but love at first sight.

Discovering the Weakerthans was a long, slow journey that started with a mix CD in 2008. “Aside” was one of twenty or so songs that Molly put together for me, probably because my ribs really do show through my t-shirts and I am actually terrified of knives. I liked it well enough, but it took almost two years for me to dig any deeper.

In January of 2010, The Wonder Years released The Upsides. This is a monumental album in my life for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the Weakerthans reference in the second verse of “Everything I Own Fits In This Backpack.” It’s a quick line (“Nothing made me feel further away than Left and Leaving through a blown car stereo”) in a fast song, but it piqued my interest, so I downloaded the album.

I did not enjoy it. I already knew and liked “Aside,” and I think “Watermark” was an early favorite, but the rest of the album was not at all what I was expecting. It was too slow, too methodical to have been a major influence on the urgency and anxiety of The Upsides. Even so, I kept coming back, like I knew there was something I was missing. Slowly, almost one song at a time, Left and Leaving revealed itself. I’d catch a lyric or a guitar line, and an entire song would make sense and become a necessary part of the album’s journey.

The rest of the discography worked its way into my life in much the same way. Nothing was immediate, but the songs started attaching themselves inextricably to moments and places and people. I think that’s a product of the way John K. Samson writes. His songs aren’t grand proclamations. They are quiet, vulnerable moments in the lives of people on the fringes of society. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Reunion Tour, the band’s last record and of my personal favorite albums. Each song addresses a different facet of Canadian life, and each subject is lost and broken in their own way. The songs tend to capture them at their lowest moments, but together they form a picture of a nation “proud and strange and so hopelessly hopeful.”

It was apt that the Weakerthans confirmed their breakup this week through a simple, passive tweet from drummer Jason Tait that simply said, “Word is getting out that the Weakerthans are done.” The band had little fanfare in life and even less in death, and while I think they deserved much more, in a way it’s okay. It allows their four albums to stand alone as monuments at the crossroads of punk and poetry. If you find yourself there, I hope you listen.

“Although It Wasn’t Changing the World, It Was the World To Me”

To all the friends I saw at the Wonder Years show yesterday (and of course the ones didn’t see as well), thank you for making it one of the most fun nights of my life. Thank you for caring and buying a ticket and stage diving and singing along.

Last night felt like a triumph. The Wonder Years have been my favorite band for at least three years, and they’ve been an inspiration and a force in my life for even longer. I’ve laughed and cried to them, and their records have been the perfect soundtrack to my highest and lowest points. They are the band I want to share with every single person I meet because I realize that some people might not have ever felt like I have while listening to “New Years With Carl Weathers” in a freezing cold Toyota Camry or yelling the words to “Woke Up Older” when it mirrors your life all to closely or being moved to tears by the emotion in a live performance of “The Devil In My Bloodstream.” Everyone deserves to feel that deep, visceral connection with an album. It’s what music is all about. To see so many of my friends, some of whom I introduced to The Wonder Years and many more of whom I met through their shows or because we were both fans, experiencing that connection in the moment last night was truly incredible.

But that isn’t the only reason last night felt like a victory. It wasn’t just who was there, it was where we were. Since attending my first local shows during my freshman year of high school, I’ve worked as hard as I could at building the music community in Bloomington-Normal. At first, that meant inviting all of my friends to every show I went to, but then I started a band (and then another and another and…), and then I started putting on my own shows. With every step of that journey I wanted to grow the scene meant so much to me, and the fact that a few pop punk bands can sell over eight hundred tickets in the middle of Illinois is vindicating in some small way and proof that our scene can still be the powerful, important place of community and self-discovery that it was for me.

I’ve never been more proud of where I’m from

The Gaslight Anthem, Pianos Become the Teeth, and the Art of Reinvention

There was a lot of talk about reinvention in the buildup to the Gaslight Anthem’s new album, Get Hurt. Brian Fallon called it the New Jersey band’s “weird album,” comparing it to stylistic left turns like U2’s Achtung, Baby, and freely admitting that it might alienate longtime fans.

Then they premiered the first single, and it was immediately recognizable as a Gaslight Anthem song. In fact, the raucous, energetic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is the closest thing to their beloved debut album, Sink Or Swim, that they have released in years, and I loved it. I wasn’t going to complain that one of my favorite bands had a great new single, but part of me wondered if the band had really branched out as much as Fallon claimed.

Get Hurt does have its fair share of fresh ideas. The opener, “Stay Vicious,” is the grungiest entry in The Gaslight Anthem’s catalog and probably the most off-putting moment for old fans, while the title track and “Underneath the Ground” explore the softer sides of their sound without slipping into the well-trod territory of acoustic ballads.

By and large, however, the songs on Get Hurt are not that much different from those on Handwritten and American Slang. “1000 Years,” “Selected Poems,” and “Dark Places” are likely to become fan favorites simply because they show, once again, that The Gaslight Anthem are one of the best rock and roll bands making music today.

As a result, the strongest criticism that can be leveled at Get Hurt is that it fails to accomplish the reinvention on which Fallon seemed so intent during the production process. Sure, there is less Springsteen influence and more Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam, but the shift is nothing compared to Fallon’s foray into “nighttime music” with his side project, The Horrible Crowes, in 2011. I wasn’t expecting a dance record, and more great Gaslight Anthem songs are never a bad thing, but I can’t help but think Get Hurt is a bit of a missed opportunity for a well-established band to try something different.

That feeling came into sharper focus this week with the announcement of Keep You, the new full-length from Pianos Become the Teeth. Over the course of two albums and numerous split releases, the Maryland group has come to be defined by dense, hard-hitting instrumentation and, above all, vocalist Kyle Durfey’s ragged, tortured scream and emotionally ravaging lyrics.

All of these elements were perfected on 2011’s The Lack Long After, which found Durfey examining death and loss so closely that the album can be hard to listen to without tearing up a little bit, even when you know what’s coming. It’s the sort of work that defines a band, that sticks with them for the rest of their career. It’s the one against which all of their future releases will be measured.

The easiest way for a band to let fans down and lose the passion evident in their early work is to stay stagnant and try to replicate exactly what made one album so special. The Gaslight Anthem certainly understand that much. They have been slowly shedding Springsteen comparisons for years and continue to push themselves as songwriters despite fans clamoring for The ‘59 Sound Part 2. It just wasn’t until Get Hurt that they made it a central part of the promotional push, but even then it felt like a half-measure.

Pianos Become the Teeth have taken reinvention even further than The Gaslight Anthem. On the two songs released since The Lack Long After – “Hiding,” from a 2013 split with Touche Amore and Keep You’s first single, “Repine” – Durfey doesn’t scream once, the distortion is dialed back, and there is more melody than ever before. On the surface, this might seem like a totally different band, but despite huge stylistic changes, Pianos Become the Teeth have managed to preserve the intensity that has become their calling card.

For instance, it’s easy to imagine how Durfey’s scream would underscore the emotion in a line like, “There’s no good in your eyes anymore, and it makes you want to drive home drunk and alone, curse the faces in the wheat, drown yourself in the gold because you can’t let it go,” from “Hiding.” Instead he sings it, and the shaking, vulnerable delivery sells it better than any yell ever could.

According to Noisey, the band has fully embraced this new style, leaving Keep You with no screaming at all. There will undoubtably be some backlash from fans, but it’s exactly the kind of bold move that Brian Fallon was talking about in the months leading up to Get Hurt. I can’t wait to hear it for myself and find out if they actually pulled it off.