2017 in review – my favorite albums part 1

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my favorite things of 2017. I’m starting with things that released in the calendar year, there will be categories that are devoid of new releases. This is the first half of my favorite albums, the second half will have more recognizable names but for the most part I don’t partake in a lot of massively known music. I spend a lot of time dredging through Bandcamp.com searching through tags and I’ve found some really exceptional things there. Some made this list:

Circa Survive – – The Amulet

Their last, Descensus, was fantastic, arguably their finest effort to date and knowing that, it was a pretty safe bet The Amulet would pale in comparison. After such a high there’s usually a slump but apparently no one told these guys. The Amulet is enchanting and easily their most addictive collection of songs. I especially love the cohesion here. This isn’t a collection of songs, this is a well crafted 43 minutes of sonic love. It’s so well put together that at first glance and many subsequent listens, it seems to have an underlying story- – it doesn’t. Though that didn’t stop me from writing my own (check back next year for that).
If I had to pick one album to represent 2017 it would be this one.

OHHMS – – The Fool

This one I was eagerly anticipating, having loved their EP Cold and then the track list was released, revealing a concept around Tarot cards. Tell me, what’s not to love already? While Cold was two long soundscapes, The Fool is a driving force which I wasn’t expecting. The songs are still long but there’s more variety here, more intention, much like how every turn and reveal of a Tarot card is different, each song here varies. The short intro track eases you in, the suspense builds before slamming that first card (song) down providing plenty of reason to, at the very least, nod along. I really like how right when I thought I understood what was happening and what to expect, the fourth track comes as lovely curveball. Oh, and that closer? So good, so satisfying.
Can’t wait to see what the future holds for these guys. A truly stunning debut full-length.

Envy on the Coast – – Ritual

What a surprise this was. I had come to terms with the idea that I’d never hear new material from these guys again. It’s a short EP but it’s perfect much like their two full-lengths. Endlessly enjoyable. Few things are this much fun. And the shoegaze-y closing track is fucking incredible. More of this, please and thank you.

Outrun the Sunlight – – Red Bird

This is one of my favorites to write to, it’s great to focus on or to let float into the background. For fans of Pelican and the like. I find it much more engrossing and interesting than their previous release. Great to unwind to, whether it be with headphones or just filling the air around you as you read or study or what have you.

I, the Mighty – – Where the Mind Wants to Go / Where You Let It Go

I’ve been following these guys for a few years and there’s always been a feeling I’ve had about them. Each release there’s massive moments of greatness and I’ve enjoyed each one but there’s always been a sneaky, lurking feeling like they are so close they can see it. I can feel it and I can see it too. We are all so close. When this one came out, I let it lie because I was worried that they’d never get to the point I want them to reach. The point that they have been so damn close to…
and then I listened to it:
Wow. This album exceeds my expectations. It’s a drug I can’t let go of, though I’d really appreciate it if the world around me would stop intruding right when “Symphony of Skin” comes on. These guys have outdone themselves. This completes what feels like a trilogy to me. Satori was the introduction of a lot of ideas and sounds and Connector took everything a little further while also experimenting with new ideas and now, this one puts a cap on it all. They’ve mastered these sounds and ideas. Watching these guys grow and these releases flow outward has been incredible. “Where the Mind Wants to Go” has one of the smartest choruses I’ve heard this year. I could go on and on but I’ll just stop now.

Thank you for reading! I hope you found something new to listen to. Come back in a few days for part 2.

My Christmas Spy

Christmas is tough, it changed out from under me. My parents always went above and beyond, not only the call of duty but their means for Christmas. I remember asking my father when I was quite small, how Santa could get up the chimney when there was this avalanche of presents that engulfed not only the fire place but most of the large tree in our living room. He just smiled and ruffled my hair. It was always jaw dropping, because it had to be, my parents loved seeing the looks we, my siblings and I, had when we first were allowed up the stairs on Christmas morning. While they loved the looks on our faces and my brother loved the seemingly endless stacks of pancakes my mother made and my sister loved all of it (she’s excitable, in general). I loved the hunt for my Christmas Spy.

Every Christmas Eve, we’d gather up carrots and cookies to put out for Santa and the biggest glass of milk, he always brought us the best things so we had to treat him and his crew right. Once the little table was all set and we put our  notes to Santa up, I’d ask my Christmas Spy, Blue Bear, where the best spot would be. I don’t know what started this or how I came up with it but it was the ONE time I’d let him out of my sight. Blue Bear was my teddy bear, it wasn’t until I was older that I realized I had no memory of him being blue. I took him everywhere and did everything with him, he was faded and dirty and he probably stank but he smelled and looked like Blue Bear to me. My best pals were him and my other main stuffed animal, Paws, who was a little brown pup. I had matching little bracelets for them and me, they were our communicators so if we ever got separated we could still be in contact, like when I’d leave for school I’d tell them they could reach me anytime. And so once a year Blue Bear would go on his special mission, and with his wrist band he was going to communicate back to us if anything happened.

Every year I’d find a new place in the living room for him to sit and see what Santa was up to. I needed to know. I needed to know why he didn’t ever finish the cookies. I needed to catch just a glimpse of him through my friend’s eyes. Most of all, I needed to know how he went back up the chimney after blocking it with presents. I never learned any of those things. I got something better.

While my brother would pester mom about pancakes and my sister would be loud about whatever she was being loud about, I’d be looking for Blue Bear because he was never where I left him. Santa always hid him.

One year we got this huge set of cardboard blocks and they were built into a castle-like structure in front of the TV, I think Luke, our golden retriever, knocked into it by accident and BLUE BEAR!! Are you okay, buddy? He was and I was, too.

Every year it went the same way, we’d go upstairs, coax mom and dad out of their bed so we could be granted access to see the Christmas sights. We’d all open our stockings, I’d go back to hunting for Blue Bear if I couldn’t find him, alternating between looking and talking to my wrist where the bracelet communicator was. They were cloth bracelets that fastened with a buckle, colored a light green with orange embroidered patterns . I thought it was the coolest fucking accessory and I couldn’t believe I found three of them at a yard sale, just the right amount! How could anyone want to get rid of something so cool?

After the stockings, everyone would go off doing their own thing for a little as we waited for grandma to arrive. I’d stand at the front window, waiting, counting every second because Christmas didn’t start until grandma pulled into the driveway. Then it was real, then it was true– she was everything.

I know she heard me before she came up the steps and she would always try to top my excitement. Once she was settled, she’d sit down and ask me about Blue Bear because she was invested too. He was also her Christmas Spy. There was one year that I couldn’t find him and I was worried that Santa finally had enough of the game and took him prisoner. While my parents pushed it off with “he’ll turn up,” grandma took it a step further and told me that I’m getting older so Santa’s gotta take it up a level every time or else it’s no fun.

Hours later as we dug through that year’s avalanche of gifts, Blue Bear was found wrapped up under the tree just like any other present, with a little rip in the paper over his eye so he could still see what was going on. Santa respected the mission. Nothing else that year compared to finding him and seeing that smile on grandma’s face as she watched me hug my friend.

I don’t remember if he spied for me year the grandma passed away. I don’t really remember much of that Christmas besides it wasn’t Christmas without her. Nothing made sense after she left, that’s how it was described to me: “Grandma left to be with Jesus.” Which made no sense because if she left to be with Jesus she would have said so. She didn’t say anything. She was gone and we all had to go clean out her house. But that house wasn’t the same either. It was frightening. It didn’t have any of the magic that I had felt every time I’d be there previously. It was shocking for me to realize how much I depended on that magic.

When my father sat me down to inform me that all the holiday mascots (that’s what they are, right?) were untrue, I don’t remember feeling much of anything. The magic was already dead. The magic of Jesus took the magic of Santa and everyone when he took my grandma away from me to live in the fairy-tale land.

Christmas still isn’t Christmas.

 

It’s like a whirlwind in my head

I’ve wanted to write a book since I read Jurassic Park in the fourth grade. It was the thing that replaced the teddy bear (His name was Blue Bear) I took everywhere. I took that ratty little book everywhere I went. Read it four or five times that summer, I remember imaging my name on a book cover and how that made me feel. On my own creative journey, there was something larger that happened to me about five years later.

I know it wasn’t release day but it was a few weeks later. My sister had ballet class and the only way to get my mom to bring me to Strawberries (the precursor to the current FYE) was to tag along. I can vividly remember sitting in the back of my mom’s minivan fighting with that fucking plastic wrap, discman in my lap. I can call back that memory and I often do. I remember being hit by that smell, the new CD smell of:

Linkin Park’s debut Hybrid Theory released October 24th 2000

My sister had ballet class at this ladies house, across the street was this little pond. I am still there, still right in that car looking out at the pond, seeing the moon glisten from above onto the murky water, hearing the first notes of Papercut. (Important records have important memorable opening notes, see Taproot’s Gift)

It’s like a whirlwind in my head.

I didn’t understand what I was feeling for the duration of that album or what it was I was feeling whenever I’d listen to it from that point onward but I learned what it was a few years ago.

It’s a call. Deep inside of me I could feel it but couldn’t put it into words until I was really creating things. Even from that young age of 13 I wanted to make things and make people feel how I felt when I listened to that album. Part of it is about being heard but it’s more than that. For most of my life I’ve felt alone, completely alone and I’ve never really known how to express that. LP showed me I wasn’t alone and I didn’t need to worry about finding the words. In a way, it was like they were saying they have my back. And that’s the other side of it, I don’t just want to make things so people don’t feel alone. I want to make things and make people feel things because I fucking owe it to everyone that has helped me. I owe LP. I owe it to my fourth grade teacher. I owe it to friends and family I’ve lost. Even if it’s just one person. If I can make something that helps just one person then that’s it. I’ve done it. Debt paid.

I remember sitting there listening and feeling weightless. Everything I held onto and didn’t know what to do with was gone. It all lifted away. I was clean. I was real. I wasn’t what was wrong. I was okay.

I had a fairly troubled youth. Some of it was definitely my own doing, my own creation but I know at least early on it was in response to the things I kept inside. Because you learn by example and that was my example. But everything changed for the better, internally, when I found music. I couldn’t say the things that troubled my mind. The music said it for me.

In my teens, I started writing poetry and rap lyrics. Without Linkin Park I don’t think I’d be writing. At least not the way I do. Any time I hear Mike’s voice I get chills. I’m fairly certain there’s an alternate timeline where I’m rapping. Though I know I wouldn’t last long in that life. I’d be like…

This was incredibly hard to write. But not because it’s a sad memory, it’s a memory that stays. I call upon it a lot. When I have a bad writing day or I don’t feel like I’m doing anything. You know, when the doubt really creeps in. I put Linkin Park on. I may be writing prose but I’ve learned from music. I learned about passion and pacing from music.  It will always inspire me.

I remember I had a poster of Chester in my bedroom, it was a pin-up from Hit Parader magazine. And it just so happens, I had one of Chris Cornell next to him. I suppose reunions are usually tear-filled.

 

 

 

“We’re holding onto something that’s invisible there.”

Five Years in a Flash – 03 Lungs

I love smoking. I’m not sure if I should make that past tense or not because I’m not sure how to feel about it now. I don’t miss it. But I always fucking loved it. Was it the taste of death? I don’t know. Was it how it always kept me on the outside of things? People always look down and cough from 100 feet away. I always took offense to that. After quitting, I understand. Having quit, the smell and everything is so loud and noxious.

Another thing that is very interesting is how easy it is to judge a smoker now that I’ve quit.  It’s something I have to remind myself to hold in and cast away because it’s really easy to say “hey you should quit.” And next to impossible for most people to actually do so.

But at the same time I find it incredibly hard to wrap my head around the difficulty people have quitting when they have reasons to quit—actual motivating reasons like small children.  I know I would have never quit for just the money side of things because why give up something that you like and benefit from to save money?  That’s ridiculous.

Oh, you got hung up on the use of benefit there? I use it loosely there but in a way it is true. The act of smoking is a curious thing because more and more it’s out the outside of acceptable. In Connecticut, there’s like one place you can still smoke inside of.  To smoke is to get away from what you’re doing. They say smoke break but what they mean is life break. You have to physically break away from whatever you’re doing to smoke and that’s nice. Rough day at work? A quick smoke can alleviate a lot of that. For me, I know it was a shield. A lit cigarette can and does keep many people away. I suppose that says a lot about me.

But after giving up drinking, taking better care of myself snowballed. That’s the point. One thing leads to another. And another. Years of hurting myself with another and another and another and I figured out how to help myself with another and another and another.

The biggest thing that helped me quit smoking was when I pulled a muscle between my ribs. It felt more like chest pains than a pulled muscle and since it’s right there between the ribs, every breath is a pain. There’s a poem I wrote during the week of the chest busting pain (Yes, that’s how I described it to the doctor, he didn’t get it and I was sad.  Still am.) that I never published because it was going to be part of the abandoned third poetry collection. I just didn’t feel it necessary to do a third like I did for the first and the second.  But writing that helped me along the way to quitting. There was another poem I wrote that helped. I could list thing after thing but it all comes down to: I wanted to quit.

Too many people make the resolution to quit and by March they are sad and feel terrible about themselves for not sticking to it. The calendar doesn’t care about your false ambitions. If you don’t care then no one else will. But sometimes it helps if someone else does care and you can see yourself through their eyes. Seeing yourself through the eyes of someone that doesn’t mean anything to you doesn’t help. But if there’s someone, hell it could be your dog, that you care about deeply then it should be easy to see through their eyes.  It was and is for me.

It’s easier to hurt yourself when you feel unloved.

I smoked my first cigarette while listening to Gift by Taproot and I listened to the album again when I smoked my last cigarette. It was something the then current drummer, Nick, suggested I do. It was odd. The way my mind travelled with every inhale. Both the first and the last were stale terrible tasting cigarettes.

Some days, I miss it. I don’t miss the smell or the taste, I miss the act. I’m not sure exactly what it is. Maybe it’s just the quiet moment to reflect. Maybe it’s the fidgety nature, my hands want to be doing things—moving and shaking. Maybe it’s just that when things are gone the brain wants to miss them. Maybe it’s just my body missing the chemicals. I don’t think about it too much. Most days I don’t think about smoking or drinking at all. Or anything else I used to do to myself.

Every day I think about Aleks and about writing. It’s a simple life.

And it’s mine.

Five Years in a Flash – 02 Liver

(ICYM the first part – click here)

Not only have I fallen in love but we’ve stayed in love. That’s an important difference. And when someone you love mentions something no matter how small it should be heard and considered. In the autumn of 2012, I was well into the idea of writing a small collection of poetry to release as an ebook. But I needed something, a reason that these poems would exist together. I didn’t realize it would come together the way it did.

From the moment I entered my 20’s, I expected and was waiting for a moment that resonated and made me feel like a man. I was resistant to the idea that it just happened. There’d have to be a catalyst. Like love, man isn’t a word to just throw around—when speaking of manhood, that is.

Towards the end of 2012, two albums came out that greatly influenced my book of poems called My Enveloping Reflection.  Not only that, they influenced and inspired me. Since we’re talking about throwing words around—inspire is another one.

To clarify: inspiration is nonexistent if you do nothing. You can’t say something is inspiring. That would be like dipping your toe in the tub and saying you went swimming. If the inspiration was real you’d do something with it.

The aforementioned two albums are House of Gold and Bones Part 1 by Stone Sour, which features heavily on the idea of manhood and what it means to be/grow into a man, and Spreading my Wings by World Fire Brigade which is Sean Danielson of Smile Empty Soul and Brett Scallions of Fuel singing their fucking asses off. It’s brilliant.  Buy it now.

These things were in my ears heavily (along with the new Taproot) towards the end of the year when around November, Aleks asked about my drinking. I told her, and I really believed it too, that I needed it. I was drinking to fall asleep every day, which can be helpful to an extent and I think it was when I first did it to fall asleep during the day. I work at night so I sleep during the day. But a couple beers quickly advanced to more and more and more until I was at the point that I’d sleep 5 hours and wake up still buzzed (that may be an understatement) and drive an hour to work.

I forget what her exact words were but they were enough to stick into my head and get me to really think about it. Do I need it? The doubt was enough to make me curious if it was all in my head. So December 31st, 2012 I had one beer left in the fridge. I told myself that that was it until I DESPERATELY needed more.

At that point I had already written a few of the poems that would make it into my poetry collection but when January turned I felt a new question burning inside of me. The question of–am I going to quit? Is this it? So I wrote about it. And that poem is in the collection too.

In hindsight, I think drinking was an attempt to stir up some manhood because from an outsider it looks like that’s a requirement. And it was never about getting drunk, I never liked that. I think that the source of my substance abuse is not linked just to drugs or alcohol. But an urge to get away. That’s the only way I describe the feeling I feel when drinking. It’s not about getting drunk and sloppy. It’s about where the bottle can take me. Take me away, take me wherever you want. I just want to go.

I’ve come to this thought over the past week. I’ve been sober since the start of 2013 but last month when I was in Macedonia for Aleks’s birthday I had a couple beers with her. Mostly I was curious if I was “cured” or whatever. But the same urges remain. And the urge to get away is there still. But it’s not a symptom of hating my life because I don’t. It’s similar to wanting to be swept away by a good book. Let me just get away for a second and feel like somebody else. Maybe it’s a screwed up sort of empathy like Will Graham from Red Dragon experiences. I don’t know. I just know the away thing seems the most right of anything I can think of.

I do know and understand that drinking isn’t for me. And instead of pushing my luck, I’m going to stick to that.

I actually prefer being sober, which I found to be immediately surprising since I spent so much of my younger years the opposite. For most of my life I felt out of control of everything which could be a symptom of all the drugs and so when I let sobriety sink in I was floored by how in control I felt.

I’m not giving that away.

Five Years in a Flash – 01 Heart

Time flies. You know it and I know it.

For a couple weeks now, I’ve been thinking about how this month is the 5th anniversary of Taproot’s latest album—The Episodes. Five years. Whoa.

Immediately, I found myself recounting everything that has happened in my life since that day and since I’ve found some success being open and honest online in the past (yes, over the past 5 years) I figured I’d write this and really put all my thoughts together. There’s really a lot.

Five years ago, I was a different person and I can define that person with one sentence. It’s something I made a habit of saying especially when asked about when I would quit smoking.

“I don’t want to prolong this suffering called life.”

I absolutely believed that. I didn’t feel capable of anything of real value and merely existing is exhausting. It was around this time I came into contact with a few people that began to show me what I didn’t want from life. Like really really show me. Which was very important because it all prepared me and let me see, really see, what I wanted.

My girlfriend and I consider September 2012 our anniversary but it was before that. It was the summer that I knew she was different, rather what we were building was different. I had made note of her difference long before the summer broke in.

For most of my life, I was entranced by the idea of love. Everyone is so quick to use that word like it will make something out of nothing (Protip: It doesn’t). I think what I was feeling over those summer months was the arrival of love, real love. But to jump into using that word would have put me in the category of people I never want to be lopped in with.

I’ll never forget saying it for the first time. It just came out. There were moments that week that I had thought about saying it but… overthinking is a plague, man. When the words did touch my lips there were unexpected to both of us. It was September 2014, and I went to visit her. You see, we live on opposite sides of the world.  And yes we’re still a couple. Yes, we are going on five years. FIVE YEARS.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

There are marriages that don’t last that long. How can a long distance relationship last that long? An across the world relationship last that long? And I have a theory about that. It’s one word. But it’s a big one, I hope you’re sitting down.

COMMITMENT.

I know. I know. It’s scary and all that. At least you’re in good company, Chandler Bing was scared of commitment too.

So many people see love as the end-all. Like OMG I’M GONNA FALL IN LOVE AND… DONE! But no, it’s not that way. Just because you put a ring on the finger don’t mean its set in stone. Fingers get messy. All kinds of different ways.

To say: ‘I love you’ is a promise. It’s a statement too. But it’s nothing if you don’t put the period at the end of the sentence. If you’re ending it with a question mark, I guess you can’t be faulted for not committing. But in most cases, you put the period at the end, right? That’s the commitment part. The period. To place a period at the end of a statement is to say: ‘I commit to this sentence.’ Without a period, it’s just a really poor collage of words. How is it meant to be taken? Are we alive or just breathing?

Ashaway

The corner of a building
like the corner of a page meant to be turned
Quickly,
Please follow me back in time
Into a cloud of smoke
So much to burn
So much to learn

We said, we agreed, that freedom is ours
Strange how definitions change
Stranger how they don’t
I set my mind free, truly
and I think, I think now you’ve finally escaped
You see we didn’t know it then
but separate storms were coming to take us apart

There’s a Fort that keeps those days preserved
Everlasting, for always
Because they can’t take the music away
Nothing can take it away
It’s stronger than we are, a frozen moment

Is it possible to mourn something that can’t be taken away?
Because the gift was in your eyes
We barely knew each other then but you saw, you heard
and you believed me
and that was more than anyone else was capable of
That moment changed me
but I couldn’t reach you the way you reached me
Maybe I wasn’t meant to

One way streets are suffocating
Thank you for letting me breathe