The second year of the rebirth of Furnace Fest has come and gone, the weekend flying by even faster than I expected, and I’m probably buying a pre-order ticket for next year after I submit this write-up. I still remember the 2021 iteration as if I attended it last weekend, not over 365 days ago. My ears are still ringing, even though I wore my ear plugs a lot more faithfully this year. My legs still haven’t quite found their full strength again yet, and the less said about my lower back the better. It’s a special weekend and I am so thankful I’ve gotten to experience it twice.
I showed up to a Zoom conference with my freelance client at 6:45pm on the following Monday, still coughing and blowing dust out of my nose every few minutes. My face was slightly sunburnt from three days spent in the Alabama sunshine. Throughout the meeting, I couldn’t stop yawning. Eventually, my client goes, “You look like you had a fun weekend. What were you doing?”
“I was at this metal, hardcore, punk festival thing down in Birmingham.”
“Of all of the things you could’ve said, that is the one thing I wouldn’t have expected from you.” Read More “Furnace Fest and Thoughts on Legacy”
About eight years ago, I was sitting at a picnic table looking out at the lake near my house. I was listening to Catch For Us the Foxes, not a record for a sunny day, feeling the wood grain under my fingertips, in search of a little hope. It had rained so vehemently the night before that the level of the lake was up over ten feet. The sun shone so bright and the earth was so freshly washed that the greens of the trees and the blues of the water were the most vibrant I’d ever seen at this park. The water flowing through the dam was roaring loud enough to be heard over my music. The temperature was perfect in only the way a day after rain breaks the weather pattern can be.
“Tie me up! Untie me! All this wishing I was dead is getting old. It’s getting old! It goes on, but it’s old.”
I’ve written about my experiences with depression before and the albums that have helped along the way. But I’ve never written about mewithoutYou, or Aaron Weiss in particular, and how important they’ve been in that same journey. They were never a band I could easily talk about or explain; for me, they always had to be experienced to be understood. In large part, I think I’m having trouble finding the words because, quite frankly, I’m not saying goodbye. I’ll be listening to these records for the rest of my life. So I guess I’m saying thank you. Read More “A Farewell to mewithoutYou”
Well, we’re two years into a pandemic and art remains more important than ever in helping us cope with our daily lives. Earlier this year I got to attend Furnace Fest and it reminded me more than ever how much live music means to me and how much I used to love heavier music. In fact, as you can see by the top end of my list below, it drove me to really rekindle the fire. And with Underoath’s new album kicking off 2022 and my ticket for Furnace Fest 22 pre-ordered already, I don’t see that dying any time soon.
My big personal news this year is that I ran my first marathon after two major postponements, a minor leg injury, and over 1100 miles run. Through this training, I was able to read well over 100 audiobooks. I can’t recommend getting lost in a book while working out more to escape your brain and the world around you for a bit. I’ve already signed up for a 5K in January and a half-marathon in March, but after C19 and Delta postponed the first attempts, I’m eyeing Omicron with a bit of hesitation.
I didn’t do as much writing for Chorus this year as I wanted to. I had the chance to write a fifteen-year retrospective for Underoath’s Define The Great Line and about my Furnace Fest experience. I meant to also tackle a retrospective on Copeland’s massively important Eat, Sleep, Repeat and mewithoutYou’s Brother, Sister as well for the same year landmark, but time and my brain got away from me. I also wrote a review for Kali Masi’s new release, [laughs].
To no one’s surprise, the only other writing that I did this year for the site were our retrospective/reviews of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version) alongside Craig and Anna and Happier Than Ever with Adam, Aaron, and Mary. In the interest of full disclosure, these are far and away the most listened to albums of mine this year, but I docked the two Taylor albums ranking points from being 1 and 2 on my list for the simple nature of the project. Only a few albums since 2012 have impacted me like Red has, and none of them were released in 2021.
So, without much more preamble, here are my favorite albums of the year. If an album has one of my favorite tracks of the year, I’ve included in below instead of creating a separate list. Read More “Garrett Lemons’ Top Albums of 2021”
The last time that Furnace Fest happened at the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, I was thirteen and music festivals weren’t even on my radar, let alone any band on the 2003 line-up. As I sit here eighteen years later, it’s hard to chart the trajectory of how the 2020 (er, 2021*, you know why) reincarnation of Furnace Fest came to embody every aspect of my life in the interim years, but I’m going to try and do my best to explain what that weekend meant to me.
It is almost a week after the event and I still haven’t gained my voice back, my neck throbs, and my lower back is coiled tight. My feet hurt, my legs are sore, and I’m a little sunburnt. I am definitely not eighteen anymore. Every second was worth it. Copeland wrote about love on 2014’s masterpiece Ixora saying, “I can make you feel young again,” and there is no time machine like a set list full of songs you love from your youth.
My buddy sent me a screenshot of the Furnace Fest line-up the day it was released in March and I assumed it was fake. I mean, look at it. One-time reunions of old favorites, first time opportunities for bands I’d been listening to since discovering these genres of music at 14. Even after attending two of the three days of the festival, numerous line-up drops and even more band additions, it doesn’t feel quite real looking at it or the final line-up. We made plans to go and I used my last remaining Biden Bucks set aside to have fun to purchase a two-day pass: Friday and Saturday were can’t miss days for me. A couple of artist announcements down the line and I bumped my ticket up to the full weekend, including a Thursday night pre-show. Read More “On Community, Nostalgia, and Attending Furnace Fest”
When Underoath took their brief intermission on their 2016 Rebirth Tour, the banner behind Aaron Gillespie’s drum kit fell to floor, revealing the wind-swept dunes of 2006’s Define The Great Line as 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety’s final notes still reverberated around the venue. I stood on the delightfully shaky floors of Atlanta’s The Tabernacle, my favorite venue, and felt all of the memories of the upcoming album wash over me. Five years later, they’re still just as vivid. Read More “Underoath – Define The Great Line”
The weekend before Define came out, my high school sweetheart and I ended our relationship. I “lost” my best friend, her sister, in the same fell swoop. I handled it all with the maturity of a sixteen year old boy, which is to say, I threw myself headfirst into very loud, very angst-ridden music. “In Regards to Myself”’s refrain of “What are you so afraid of?” became a rallying cry when I could bring myself to stop listening to Emery’s “The Ponytail Parades”… I know my flaws.
Like many of you reading this and reminiscing with me on this album, I’d already heard the leaked version of Define. I knew that something immensely more huge than Safety was coming. By this point in the album rollout, I’m pretty sure MTV had also already premiered the whole album on their website, “Writing on the Walls” played nonstop on Steven’s Untitled Rock Show, and I’d (probably) set streaming records on Underoath’s PureVolume page if things like that were tracked back in the aughts.
To say that Take This To Heart Records has been on a bit of a hot streak during the last calendar year may be selling it short. It’s even more embarrassing to admit that I didn’t know of any of the bands on this roster even as short of a time as eight months ago. When you step back and look at the roster of releases the label has put out in the last calendar year, it starts to have that special feeling that the mid-00s Drive-Thru or Tooth & Nail hot streaks had when we lived through, and grew up on, them. And in many ways, this current hot streak exists as a modern equivalent of what it was like to grow up on that music, but with a far more mature lyrical bent.
City Mouth’s Coping Machine slots in somewhere between Motion City Soundtrack, hellogoodbye, and Andrew McMahon-esque lyrics while The Sonder Bombs’ Clothbound erupts through pop-rock anthems reminiscent of Riot! or The Hush Sound’s Like Vines. Barely Civil’s exceptional I’ll Figure This Out was the introspective, simmering album that a pandemic year needed for late night drives, riding the currents of Jimmy Eat World’s “Polaris” and “23.” ManDancing’s The Good Sweat borrowed some of that I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child magic that launched Manchester Orchestra into the stratosphere we see them orbiting in now. Looking forward, we can see PONY’s upcoming April release promising electro-pop in the vein of Carly Rae Jepsen to fuel road trip playlists and loud sing-a-longs.
However, their latesst new release, Kali Masi’s sophomore record [laughs], is even harder to draw comparisons to the PureVolume streams and Myspace profile songs of our youths—and that’s a great thing. It continues to remind you, just like the albums mentioned above, that styles of music that you have always loved can continue to be both fresh and new while fitting into those sonic landscapes you have already heard before. Sometimes doing something familiar exceptionally well is revolutionary art. Read More “Kali Masi – [laughs]”
I wanted to call this piece, “On The Surprise Joy of Raising Chickens and the Importance of the Small Things,” but that would really bury the lede that this is an End of the Year celebration list. Because, somehow, in the myriad of catastrophes, pandemics, elections, family feuds, break-ups, loss of friendships, and everything in between, 2020 still managed to deliver some immensely great music. Read More “Garrett Lemons’s Top Albums of 2020”
If you haven’t heard by now, Taylor Swift surprise-dropped her eighth studio album folklore last week. This is not another album review, that’s been masterfully handled by Craig Manning, this is a playlist for after you’ve gone deep with the album and are ready to explore the rest of her catalog. Read More “A Taylor Swift Playlist: “Lightning in a Bottle””
Brightest Blue is Ellie Goulding’s attempt to tell us exactly who she is.
In my preview of Brightest Blue through a review of EG.0, the accompanying EP (which she has since rightfully tacked “Sixteen” onto on streaming services), I wrote that “I sometimes think that Ellie Goulding didn’t know what to do with herself.” Over the next couple of days, interviews began to appear that supported this.
“I feel like I’ve never been able to explore who I am as a songwriter and as a pop artist. So that’s what [Brightest Blue] is,” she told London’s Evening Standard. In the Guardian, she talks of choosing Max Martin as a producer for 2015’s Delirium: “I need to commit to something. No one seems to know what I am. Maybe I don’t know who I am.” Read More “Ellie Goulding – Brightest Blue”
Brightest Blue, the fourth album by British pop singer Ellie Goulding, out July 17th, has been five years in the making. She has described Blue as something that allows people “to immerse themselves into a world of hope despite everything being so bleak.” She says that it’s about “tear[ing] through your own demons” and “free[ing] yourself from toxic relationships.”
This sounds exactly like the follow-up that her 2012 release Halcyon promised, though not the one that 2015’s Delirium delivered. Ellie described Halcyon as “very self-indulgent” and “the most honest record she’s ever written.” The album is a meshing of heart-wrenching storytelling and the moody electronic style that would be embodied by Billie Eilish a few years later. But Delirium went the opposite direction, embracing modern pop on the back of global number one “Love Me Like You Do.” Read More “Ellie Goulding – EG.0”
“The first day I was alive I got on a ride against my will. It’s so amazing I’ve made it this far.”
Cody Bonnette, one of As Cities Burn’s two vocalists, sings these lyrics with an impassioned earnestness. They come from “Maybe,” a highlight from the band’s underrated 2019 release Scream Through The Walls, their first release after a decade. In those two lyrical sentences, I am understood, and my emotions of where I am at right now represented. As Cities Burn has always been the band that I could find myself in every single song.
In 2005, this wildly popular local band fronted by two brothers from Louisiana put out their debut record on Solid State. At the time, Underoath were beginning to embrace their position as an undisputed juggernaut of the scene. Demon Hunter and Zao were already established giants. Norma Jean and Haste the Day were coming off two wildly popular releases. Young guns Emery, Showbread, He Is Legend, and The Chariot were skyrocketing in popularity every week. August Burns Red was just a name on an undercard compared to the bands already listed. Read More “As Cities Burn – Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest”
It’s no use explaining what’s happening in the world around us—you already know. Everything we’ve known has been upended and changed forever. We’re still years from discovering what that new normal actually is. It’s heavy, it’s infuriating, and it’s scary: it’s grief. Everything we hold dear—vacations, concerts, healthy daily life—is canceled. There isn’t an end in sight, but there is an abundance of graphs, uncertainty, and fear.
We need an escape. Enter Dua Lipa’s—I’ll go ahead and say year-defining sophomore album, Future Nostalgia. Three years ago, “New Rules” was ever-present on the radio, a top ten worldwide, indisputable Song of the Summer candidate. The US was behind the rest of the world on discovering “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” and “Be the One,” whose style laid the groundwork for her second album’s sound. However, two 2018 collaborations with Calvin Harris (the tropical house-influenced “One Kiss”) and Silk City (the straight dance-pop of “Electricity”) kept her pop star rising.
Read More “Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia”
I’ll be honest: I’m starting a fifteen-year retrospective of Thrice’s seminal masterpiece Vheissu in a way that may not make sense.
It’s been just under three years since the legacy of Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me gained a sizeable asterisk. Once firmly entrenched at number two on my list of all-time favorite albums, that record transited from being a piece of art that comforted me, grounded me, and helped me through some of the darkest eras in my cycles of depression to this huge question mark of unease and memory. It was an album that had fostered a community in my life—both online on the AbsolutePunk forums and with high school friends—at the same time that depression was stealing many senses of connection. It embodied a sound and possessed lyrics that explained how depression felt inside my chest and head.
In all the ways that losing Brand New hurts a myriad of people—from Jesse Lacey’s victims to the band’s fans—my internalized struggle emerged when I couldn’t turn to “Degausser,” “Sowing Season,” or “Not the Sun” to face certain emotions anymore. I won’t pretend I haven’t turned to those songs first out of a sense of musical muscle memory in the interim years, but they don’t carry the weight like they used to. In many ways, thanks to medication and a lot of personal growth, I don’t need them anymore, at least not as I did back then. But there will always be a part of me that wants an album to feel like a home in the storm when those emotions swarm.
Last month, at a concert venue in Atlanta, before a pandemic swept the globe and the year still felt full of promise, I realized that I already had that album—one that probably should’ve been the one I’d turned to all along. One that’s brought me comfort and catharsis through the chaos of social distancing, botched government responses, and hysteria.
Read More “Thrice – Vheissu”