2015 In Review: Top 20 Albums

So for those of you who aren't familiar with how we do year-end lists over at Music Means Family - it's pretty simple. I'm not interested in telling you what albums were "the best"; I didn't listen to every album that came out in 2015, and even if I did, everyone will find their favorites for their own reasons. My hope is that in sharing the 20 albums that I loved most this year with you, you might find a new album to fall in love with, to soundtrack a little piece of your coming year. So, with no further ado, in reverse order:

20. Covenhoven - The Wild and Free

Covenhoven is the moniker of Colorado folk artist Joel Van Horne, who quietly released one of the most beautiful, unpretentious albums of the year. Van Horne's gorgeous voice is reminiscent, in some ways, of Gregory Alan Isakov, a soft-spoken troubadour with a knack for projecting his voice towards some greater truth. This album played through so many of my autumn days, and I am very grateful I stumbled across it (thanks Songsforaday).

19. Doe Paoro – After

What is remarkable about After is that it is on one hand without a genre, and on the other a combination of every genre that’s ever existed. Sonia Kreitzer’s voice is exceptional, and surrounded by the ethereal instrumentation of talented musicians like Sean Carey, there is a magical quality to this album. Perhaps the best thing about After is that with each subsequent listen something new jumps out, be it lyrical or some nuanced drum pattern weaving through the background. It makes relistening to this album a positively exciting experience

18. Tyler Lyle – The Native Genius of Desert Plants

Tyler’s ability to weave striking songwriting with his incredible voice is never short of amazing. Native Genius his first true full length since 2011’s Golden Age & The Silver Girl. It’s a really beautiful collection of folk and pop-folk songs, and if you aren’t familiar with his music, you really should get yourself acquainted.

17. Doomtree – All Hands

Doomtree, the ebullient hip-hop collective out of Minneapolis released All Hands early in the year, and it has been in rotation on my computer, iPod, etc. for the last 12 months. The various Doomtree members’ ability to create a cohesive, energetic, exhilarating, and intelligent hip-hop album is a rare, rare feat. In a year dominated by exceptional hip-hop (Kendrick, Chance, Vince Staples) I found myself most drawn to the energy and “pop” of this Doomtree record.

16. The Weather Station – Loyalty

Tamara Lindeman has an incredible voice. The Weather Station made a beautiful album. This is modern folk at its (almost) finest. This is an album that has gotten more and more spins as the nights get longer and the wind gets colder. Do yourself a favor, and pick this one up.

15. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

With his album Southeastern Jason Isbell made a very good case for why he should be a household name. With Something More Than Free, he solidified that case. Isbell’s songwriting is superb, and his careful command of everything that’s going on in the soundscapes created by a bevy of talented musicians is exceptional.

 14. Noah Gundersen – Carry The Ghost

While last year’s Ledges was undoubtedly a more polished album, there were moments and glimpses of a new side of Noah that made me deeply love Carry The Ghost for a new set of reasons. There’s a darkness in this record, and a chance for Noah to wrestle with some of his demons in a different way than he has previously. While the record isn’t without missteps, there are enough can’t miss tracks that I can’t stop coming back to this album.

13. Lin-Manuel Miranda – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Yes, there is a musical theater soundtrack on this list. There’s a reason Hamilton has taken Broadway by storm, and why it’s the hottest ticket in recent memory. A blend of hip-hop and a wide variety of traditional musical theatre styles, Hamilton is a passion-filled, ingenious take on the life of one of America’s least-discussed Founding Fathers. While I know that description may not send you rushing to listen, spend a few minutes with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs incredibly complex and explosive flow patterns and the beautiful voices of Philippa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry and you’ll be just as hooked as everybody else.

12. David Ramirez – Fables

David Ramirez is a criminally overlooked songwriter, and with Fables he continues to prove to the world that he is one of the preeminent songwriters of our generation. His work with Noah Gundersen shines through on this record - an unabashed collection of deeply personal alt-country/folk songs that I find myself unable to shake.

11. Joan Shelley – Over and Even

Joan Shelley is one of my favorite folk singers today. Over and Even is utterly unpretentious, a short winding narrative of beautifully crafted folk, buoyed by Shelley’s incredible voice and phenomenal instrumentation from Nathan Salsburg (and Will Oldham). If you in any way enjoy folk music, this should be at the top of your wish list.

10. Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home

Everything that The Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Mattson) does is wonderful, and Dark Bird… is no exception. A bit larger and a bit bolder than his past recordings, there is a perpetual reminder that Mattson writes songs for himself, for the earth, and with an inscrutable reverence for something just out of sight. I find myself falling back to this record almost daily, and it is a great anchor to what are my top 10 albums of the year.

9. Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks

Josh Ritter has always been an exceptional songwriter, but I often felt that some of his previous work was too simple, too easy. Where in early efforts there were occasional moments of complacency or comfort, Sermon on The Rocks, is a blazing, wild, passion-filled album that is absolutely reminiscent of shooting 100 proof whiskey around a campfire in the middle of winter. Everything about the album feels electric, as if this were an album that Ritter had needed to make for a long while. If you haven’t done yourself the favor of listening to this one yet – run and grab a copy. Now.

8. Phil Cook – Southland Mission

 Phil Cook, who played in DeYarmond Edison (Justin Vernon’s 1st band), and Megafaun, absolutely blew the crowd away at Eaux Claires music festival earlier this year, as he and his band (featuring Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso) had literally every person in the audience dancing in the early summer heat. I waited eagerly for the release of Southland Mission a few months later, and that same infectious energy is all over this record. I highly recommend getting behind the wheel of a car, turning the stereo up, and playing this album on repeat.

7. Lemolo – Red Right Return

Lemolo’s debut album The Kaleidoscope was one of my favorite albums of 2012, and the follow up is just as good, if not better. Meagan Grandall’s stunning vocals coupled with a larger, swelling soundscape offers one of the finest dream-pop/rock records I’ve ever heard. Where The Kaleidoscope was intimate and restrained, this album is almost grandiose, the musical equivalent of hundred foot waves breaking against the coastline. This is a beautiful, beautiful record.

6. The Staves – If I Was

Three sisters. Harmonies. Intricate, layered melodies and exceptional songwriting. There are so many to say about how wonderful this album is, but I’ll leave you with this sentence from Caitlin White, “…t’s an album of wilderness songs, not fit for polite company and the logic of a steadily healing heart. It’s emotional dishevelment constructed in pristine harmony, a double take on what passes for strength.” If that’s not enough to sell you on it, just take a quick listen.

5. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Alright. Top 5. While Florence Welch’s earlier albums were wonderful, it was on How Big… that it truly feels she found her voice. An explosive, cathartic album, Welch’s voice soars and booms – a veritable force of nature. There is an unshakeable energy here, a wave of joy and sound that finds its way through your ears to your toes and back again. What the album lacks in subtlety it makes up in sheer buoyancy, this is a record that will be remembered as one of the crowning moments of what will likely be a long and wondrous career.

4. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

Since Death Cab’s 2003 blog-rock favorite Transatlanticism, they released a smattering of good albums. Albums that while enjoyable, were not necessarily memorable. Kintsugi changes that. The songwriting is sharper, the instruments tighter, and the need and the urgency infinitely more pronounced. There is something hungrier about Kintsugi, a yearning for absolution in Ben Gibbard’s wounded vocals. A Death Cab album that even approaches Transatlanticism is more than a lock for the top 5 in any given year, and here we find it.

3. Aero Flynn – Aero Flynn

The remarkable debut album from another former Justin Vernon band mate, Aero Flynn’s eponymous album is a deeply special album. I wrote about it at length here: http://goo.gl/OFiDjH, but all I will say if you haven’t dug into this yet is this. Find a quiet evening as the snow starts to fall, pour yourself a glass of something special, and let this album take a hold of you. It is an important, remarkable album, and more than earned its place in my top 3.

 2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan’s return to his folk roots resulted in what is the undoubtedly one of the most painful, gorgeous albums of the year. In wrestling with the death of his mother, Sufjan created a sparse, shivering set of songs that are so personal, so intimate, that at times there is a sharp sense of being seated alone in a room with Sufjan, as he pours his heart out. While it is not an album to listen to in every moment (unless you’re fond of always being on the verge of tears and feeling as if a heavy rock is on your chest), Carrie and Lowell is a masterpiece, and one of the finest albums of 2015.

1. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

I wrote at length about Julien Baker’s stunning debut album here: http://goo.gl/4nlN9l, but I’ll say this as well. The reason this is my favorite album of the year is because I can’t shake the feeling that this album, much like Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago or Springsteen’s Nebraska feels like an album that happened almost if by magic. Every storm, every thought, every opportunity and happenstance descended upon a whip-smart 19 year old songwriter in Tennessee and in the middle of her first semester of college she managed to make one of the most haunting, personal, intimate albums I had heard this year. The vast disparity between her wisdom in retrospection and her anguished teenage naiveté is stunning, and the result is a once in a lifetime album.

give me everything good/i'll throw it away

Over the last month, it's very possible you've heard the name Julien Baker. Her debut album, 'Sprained Ankle' was released at the end of October on 6131 records, and in short order found itself a place as Stereogum's album of the week, and found Julien an opening gig with El VY and Wye Oak in NYC. These fortunes are most certainly not undeserved.

Since being pointed towards the album, I've listened to it in it's entirety perhaps 50 times. Perhaps more. While Pitchfork draws droll, somewhat misguided comparisons to Dashboard Confessional & Morrissey (there are undoubtedly echoes of Chris Carrabba), with each listen I was distinctly reminded of Bon Iver's 'For Emma Forever Ago'. Not so much in substance, or lyricism, but in the urgent sense of necessity in the recording itself. 

In the long, winding narrative of Justin Vernon's now-famous self-imposed seclusion in the woods of Wisconsin, there was a constant reminder that the recordings that became 'For Emma' were borne out of an absolute need. A need to write different songs, to shake ghosts and memories and sorrows. 

I'm acutely aware of that same haunting urgency in Baker's album, but it is approached and unraveled from a distinctly different perspective - that of a still-a-teenager exorcizing years of confusion, mistakes, questions. It is deeply marked by sometime naive, sometime wizened yearning for answers, coupled with an acceptance that those answers may never really come.

I knew I was wasting my time/
Keep myself awake at night/
Whenever I close my eyes/
I'm chasing your tail lights/

I love this album. Wholeheartedly, and unabashedly. It captures a sense that isn't quite nostalgia - more so vivid memories of being 18, sitting in my car at 3 AM, wondering where the world would take me next, feeling heartened by a sense that as I stared at the stars the Universe was so much bigger than I would ever imagine. It captures countless heartbreaks, myriad morning-afters, and an inescapable sense of self-doubt that I think haunts us all at various points in our lives.

But at the end of it all - there's a solidity, a willful resilience, a reassurance, for Baker, for me, for every listener in their own way. As Vernon howled - "what might have been lost (don't bother me", Baker sings:

"but i think there's a God and he hears either way/
I rejoice, and complain/
I never know what to say"

While neither album ever emerges truly triumphant, or satisfied - there is no victory - there is a sense of tranquility, of gratefulness. There is a sense that the questions that needed to be asked were asked, and that at least some answers might have been found. 

I have listened to 'For Emma' thousands of times. I imagine I will listen to 'Sprained Ankle' nearly as many.

Julien Baker will be on tour in January, and 'Sprained Ankle' can be purchased here for a whopping $5. Watch an OurVinyl session of 'Something' below:

On Life & It's Chapters: Fuel/Friends Edition

As I sit down to write this, watching heavy snowflakes cascade outside my window, I'm struck by the idea of motion. Of snow falling, of time moving, of the continued incremental revolutions of the Earth.

Last night Heather from Fuel/Friends posted something of a goodbye, on the tenth anniversary of her blog. For those of you who don't know, Fuel/Friends is, more or less, the reason I started writing this blog. It is the reason I started hosting house shows. It is one of the reasons I am who I am today. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I promise - it's not. When I started reading Fuel/Friends it was 2008, maybe 2009. I was in college, meandering my way through a major I was no longer attached to, with no idea where I was going next. 

I remember reading a post in 2009 about a band called The XX. One of my best friends had mentioned them to me, but it wasn't until that link to their song 'VCR' that I connected to them. I listened to that album almost every night for the rest of 2009. I played that album watching snow fall from a girl's dorm room window in the heart of downtown Chicago. I play that album still. Quite a bit, actually.

I'm not sure how many incredible artists I first heard on Fuel/Friends. Dozens at least, perhaps hundreds. The Head and the Heart, Field Report, Lemolo, Tyler Lyle, Hey Rosetta!, Typhoon, Bahamas, Widower, Small Houses, Jeffrey Foucault, the list goes on. I don't know how many other incredible blogs I would never have stumbled on without the guiding writing of Fuel/Friends. Songsforaday, Music vs. Misery, Folk Hive, again, the list goes on.

I've tried to formulate a set of words to appropriately convey how important all of this feels to me - and I just don't know that I can. So instead, I end this post with the two most fitting things I believe I can end it with. The first, a quote from the front page of Fuel/Friends, by Nick Hornby, a quote that sums up so much of my gratitude for Heather's work.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..." 

The second, a mix. A mix of songs that I associate with Fuel/Friends, with the feelings I'm sifting through now. A mix that represents the hope I have as I move forward, hosting more shows, writing more posts, and reveling in the music-obsessed person I've become.

Thank you Heather. Thank you.

Sunday Seven: 8/30/15

Hey everybody. First things first, we're on the cusp of announcing a few new house shows. So get ready for those. IN the meantime, I've get 7 good things for you this week.

1. Joan Shelley - 'Over and Even'

Joan Shelley's new record is streaming in full over at NPR, and it's spellbinding. It's one of those folk albums that sneaks up on you - grabs your lungs and your heart and sends you on your way with new stories in your mind's eye. Listen to it here: NPR Stream.

2. Natalie Prass - 'Why Don't You Believe in Me' and 'Never Over You'

Natalie took the world by storm when she opened for Ryan Adams on his last European tour, and there's something incredibly intoxicating about the way she writes songs. She just did a beautiful Take Away Show, so you should watch that.

3. Sylvan Esso - 'Jaime's Song'

A little bit of a darker slow-burn from Sylvan Esso, recorded for Radiolab's Elements. I listened to this song about 14 times in a row one night this week.

4. Noah Gundersen - 'Halo (Disappear/Reappear)'

Paste Magazine released some videos they filmed of Noah down in Louisville when he played Forecastle Festival this summer. I really love this 100% acoustic version of Halo from his new album.

5. The Arcs - 'Put A Flower In Your Pocket'

The new side project from Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) is undoubtedly weird. That being said, this song has kept me coming back, and I'll be excited to spend some time with this album when it comes out.

6. Glen Hansard - 'Lowly Deserter'

Something a little, erm, funkier from the new Glen Hansard album coming out in 2.5 weeks. Still can't wait for this one.

7. Field Report - 'Ambrosia'

The fine folks from Field Report posted the single-take recording of Ambrosia from the 'Marigolden' sessions. We'll end this Sunday on a sad note.

Catch ya in September!

Sunday Seven 8/23/15 (A Day Late, I Know!)

Sorry we're a day late this week. A combination of both my wife and I being sick coupled with X-Files bingeing slowed me down. Apologies. With that being said:

1. Noah Gundersen - Selfish Art

Noah's new album came out on Friday, and it's a fucking stunner. I feel like this is what it must have felt like watching Dylan in '65, a young man grappling with art, heartbreak, and how to deal with the world and all of its questions. Watch the live track of 'Selfish Art' below, and then go buy the album. Go.

2. The Native Sibling - 'The Fall'

Sometimes I find tracks that could be from 1962, or 1993, or Seattle circa the mid-aughts. This beautiful track, filmed by the always wonderful Eratosthenes Fackenthall is one for campfires, autumn nights, and holding someone you love. Oh, and a bonus, another video from the same session of their track 'Let The Water Rise'

3. Phil Cook -'Anybody Else'

Yeah. I'm going to post every single he releases before this album drops. Deal with it. And preorder the album. It's going to be so stupid good.

4. The Lighthouse and the Whaler - "Mont Royal"

The new TLATW comes out this week, but you can stream it over on Paste right here . It's a pretty wonderful end of Summer album, and I'm excited to buy it, hopefully you will be too.

5. Simon Balto - 'Foothills'

Simon is an incredible songwriter, and his album 'Murmurations' will come out sometime early next year. I hope deeply that this song is on it, and I really can't wait.

6. Wild Child - Reno

Yeah. This is really pretty. Wild Child is a wonderful band, and this Take Away show from the folks at Audiotree is good for the soul.

7. Glen Hansard - 'Winning Streak'

Please give me this new Glen Hansard record. Please. He's such a wonderful songwriter, and the first track from this album is beautiful.

Sorry about being a day late. Catch you in 6 days!

Sunday Seven: 8/16/15

Alright. It's Sunday. 7 things. Go.

1. Doe Paoro - Growth/Decay

Shimmery, sexy, sunshine-y pop recorded in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There's a late summer night feel to this that I absolutely love.

2. Noah Gundersen - The Difference

No secret, Noah is one of my favorite songwriters. His new album, 'Carry The Ghost' comes out in 5 days. You should buy it. 

. Beirut - 'No No No'

Just a reminder that Beirut's 4th album will be coming out in 3 weeks. If the single is any indication, it will be very, very good.

4. Phil Cook - 'Great Tide'

Phil Cook's album comes out the same day as the Beirut album. It will also be phenomenal. I posted one single last week, here's the 2nd.

5. Bryan John Appleby - 'No One Knows'

Bryan John Appleby has taken his dusty folk songs and turned them into rose-colored dusty pop-folk, and it's pretty fantastic.

6. Josh Ritter - "Getting Ready to Get Down"

Speaking of things I'm really excited about...Josh Ritter has a new album coming out. The first single is pretty fun.

7. The Staves - 'I'm On Fire'

I've been listening to a bunch of Bruce Springsteen lately, and I've also been listening to a bunch of The Staves. So, why not a Bruce cover from The Staves to end the post this week?

See ya next week!

A New Thing: Sunday Seven

So, I've decided I want to do a little recap of the musical news of every week. From here on out, I'll be commenting on, linking, or offering some other insight on 7 music happenings/songs/concerts every Sunday. Hopefully it will spark a new discovery for you before the week begins anew. With no further ado:

1. EL VY - 'Return to the Moon'

EL VY is the new side project from The National's Matt Berninger and Menomena/Ramona Falls' Brent Knopf. As far as I can tell from their debut single, it's The National after taking a few uppers and finding some interesting audio software, and it's pretty fucking great. Take a listen to the debut single, and then look for the album in October.


2. Ryan Adams - Cover Album of Taylor Swift's 1989.

So Ryan Adams is recording a full cover album of Taylor Swift's 1989. I love Ryan Adams, and T. Swift is one of my guilties pleasures - I still think 1989 may go down as the best pure pop album of the decade. Catch a 27 second snippet of 'Bad Blood' here, and follow along on Ryan Adams' Twitter for more news.


3. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats - 'S.O.B' on Fallon.

Nathaniel Rateliff has been a favorite for a long time, through all of his different musical iterations. But this new sound (and the three singles released already) makes me very sure that this will be one of the albums I listen to the most this year. He turned Fallon into a cackling superfan, and got a standing ovation from the studio crowd. This is soul/rock/something fierce done absolutely right. This album comes out August 21st, so get ready.


4. Phil Cook - '1922'

Speaking of people who can put a crowd on their feet, Phil Cook's new album (out 9/11/15) is going to be one of those fall jams that gets infinite play in my car for quite a while. He wowed us all at Eaux Claires, and I hope you get as excited about this one as I do.

5. Jason Isbell - 'Something More Than Free'

This isn't new news - but Jason Isbell's album 'Something More Than Free' is a masterpiece. That's all. Here he is playing the lead single '24 Frames' on SiriusXM.

6. Tallest Man on Earth - 'Sagres'

 I had the pleasure of seeing The Tallest Man on Earth at Eaux Claires, and I forgot how much of a whirlwind of joy and heartache he is live. He captures a spirit that is not oft captured on stage. I can't wait to see him again at Thalia Hall later this month. Watch this clip from Roskilde earlier this year.

7. Joan Shelley - 'Over and Even'

It's no secret that Joan Shelley is one of my favorite songwriters. Her new album, 'Over and Even' comes out on 9/4/15. The title track is beautiful, and it's what I'll leave you with this Sunday.

Hope you enjoy this new Sunday experiment. Comment if there's things you love I missed!

Aero Flynn (or why this album might be the most important of the year)

It's 2015, and at least on a certain level I'm not sure I can (or want to) buy into the "artist as a tortured genius" trope anymore.

But then a story like Josh Scott's catches my eye (and ear) and I'm forced, at least momentarily, to reconsider. Another product of the whirlwind chaos of Eau Claire in the early 2000s, Scott was the frontman of Amateur Love, a band that some called the best band they'd ever heard. As futures unfurled and fates coalesced, Amateur Love collapsed (at the will of Scott), and the majority of its members following Justin Vernon to North Carolina, continuing the arc of his band at the time - DeYarmond Edison. 

Scott retreated, and for years, it seems - a plethora of extraordinary musicians from Eau Claire reached out to him - begged him to come back. There were bands forming, Vernon achieved meteoric success as Bon Iver, the remaining members of DeYarmond Edison formed Megafaun and Peter Wolf Crier, and Chris Porterfield eventually formed Field Report. Scott hid, retreated, resisted advances - he had his own demons to face, his own proverbial cabin in the woods he was not yet ready to enter.

After battles, life, and countless songs written, Scott reentered the studio, April Base, that is - with Vernon at the helm as Producer, and with a cast of some of the most phenomenal musicians Eau Claire had to offer, and recorded, as Aero Flynn, what I can only call a masterpiece. 

This album churns and roils, is sweeping heartbreak and relentless determination. It is an album for sleepless nights and fever dreams. There is something so pressing, so vital about Scott's harrowing vocals framed by an immense wave of sounds and silences. I'm reminded of how I felt the first time I heard 'Kid A', or 'Illinois', or perhaps most fittingly, 'For Emma Forever Ago'. There is truth to that trope, the artist who needs to make art, the album that contains memories and arteries and tears and unbridled need. This is that album for Scott. I think Chris Porterfield summed it up perfectly, perhaps, when he wrote this about Aero Flynn:

"I believe that this record, this long-awaited record, is quite seriously a life-or-death record. Josh had to make it to stay alive. And it must be heard in the context of deferred health, deferred relationships, deferred dreams, deferred healing. As spit in the fucking face of the symptoms of disease, like rot and destruction and apathy and cynicism

When we were all together in Eau Claire in the early aughts, we would sometimes gather around a tube T.V. and watch the film about Wilco. When Tweedy sings about how he was maimed/saved by rock and roll, I think we probably believed it. I’ll never cast dispersion on what someone has gone through, but I do know this: Josh Scott has been maimed by rock and roll. I pray that it can save him..."

Aero Flynn's debut album is streaming now here. Pre-order it, and then come with me to see them at Eaux Claires. I promise you, you will not regret it.

An Evening With Noah and Abby

Last night, I had the honor and the opportunity to host Noah and Abby Gundersen, all the way from Seattle.

The show filled up with RSVPs well in advance, which makes sense, considering Noah sold out Lincoln Hall and SPACE on his last two trips here.

Even with one of the worst blizzards in Chicago history happening a mere 20ish hours before doors were set to open, 48 people braved their way through the ice and snow to cozy up in a floor with coats and blankets, near friends they came with and new friends they made.

When Noah and Abby stepped on "stage", the silence in the room was palpable. I joke sometimes, that these house concerts are like church for me, but this time, that saying was as truthful as it gets.

For well over an hour, I watched heads bowed, lips hush-whispering lyrics, and eyes welling with tears. There was a thickness to the air; a realization that we were experiencing something special, something truly once in a lifetime.

Noah and Abby are generational talents, the kind of musicians who in 30 years very well may be talked about as our time's Dylan, Baez, Guthrie, etc. I can't wait to watch them sell out bigger and bigger venues, while the 48 of us hold this night in our hearts forever.

Thank you again to all who trekked through the snow, to Stacey, Scott, Ben, Bailey, Lev and Yoo Soo - without whom this show never would have been possible, and most of all to Noah & Abby for a night none of us will ever forget.



On House Shows

The lights go down. An artist you’ve wanted to see since you first heard their Soundcloud channel 4 years ago steps onto the stage. As they step up to the microphone, you realize the three women behind you are still loudly talking about some date that one of them went on two nights ago and the spilled martini that ruined her entire week. The relentless clang of the cash register at the back bar is keeping rhythm for their continuing cacophony.

As you start to manage to tune these things out, you realize you’ve already missed part of your favorite song, you’re out of whiskey, and the people behind you are shoving to get closer to a musician they aren’t even listening to.

Sound familiar?

It was becoming all too familiar to me. But what was the solution? As someone who went to hundreds of shows a year, I realized even the best venues had bad nights, with bad crowds.

Then, in 2012, I saw a wonderful band from the Pacific Northwest, The Local Strangers, perform a show in (band member) Matt Hart’s mother’s home in Evanston, for 30 or 40 people who were beyond overjoyed to be there, part of something special.

That’s really when I decided to start Music Means Family.

I wanted to have the opportunity to welcome artists whose music I loved deeply to play for people who would appreciate it as much as I did, in a space where not only was that easy to do, it was encouraged. I wanted the opportunity to connect friends and family, old and new not only to wonderful music and musicians, but to each other.

So, what exactly is a house show?

It’s a concert, first and foremost. It’s in a house (or office, or art gallery, or super cool loft, etc.). It’s somewhere different, somewhere unique.

It’s small. Intimate. It’s a chance for musicians to share a space with the people who love (or will come to love) their music. There are no barriers, stages. Just friends, and music, and family.

It’s secret. No one is wandering in off the street. No one is coming to hang out at the bar while you try and listen to the music you came to hear. People RSVP online, get the address, bring a 6-pack, or a bottle, or a flask of their favorite thing to drink, and they chat with other people who are there to do the exact same thing.

Then the musician, or musicians, come out and play a bunch of songs. Maybe songs they don’t usually play live because they don’t work in a crowded club. Maybe a cover you’ve never heard them play. Maybe they play all the songs you’ve been dying to hear. In any case, they’re there with you.

Anything else I should know?

Yes, actually! Thanks for asking.

There’s another reason we love house shows. In 2015, a lot of people consume music by streaming it – on Spotify, Pandora, or Rdio. This doesn’t make artists a whole lot of money. It’s incredibly important to me that artists have a chance to make a real living playing music. That’s why at every Music Means Family show, 100% of the cost of the ticket goes to the artist. To paraphrase the fine folks at closeup.fm – we want to build a bigger musician middle class.


So, come to a show. Bring a friend. See what we’re all about. It would mean the world to me, and hopefully you’ll see what all the fuss is about. We love making new friends. See you soon!

My Favorite Albums 2014

As many of you may remember, I'm disinclined to make a list of what I perceive to be the "best" albums of any given year. I have no idea what's best. I certainly haven't listened to every album released this year, and I'm loathe to make judgments about the quality of an album - I'd much rather tell you about some albums I loved with the hope that you may connect to one (or more) of them as intensely and as passionately as I have. These are in no particular order! I'll include a link to a favorite track for all of them, hopefully that's a sufficient entry point for y'all!

1. Noah Gundersen – 'Ledges'

I make no secret of the fact that I think Noah is very likely one of the most talented songwriters of his generation, and maybe out there right now. With a full band behind him (including siblings Abby and Johnny), Noah's soaring lyricism and chin-raised defiance in the face of sadness/hope/hardship/fear is nothing short of astonishing. It's worth noting that the live EP that followed this ('Twenty Something') is just as viscerally breathtaking, and should be picked up just as quickly as 'Ledges'.

2. Field Report – Marigolden

Field Report's debut album in 2012 knocked me off my feet, their sophomore release is more evolved, more subtle, but just as wonderful. Chris Porterfield's magnetic, pained vocals rise above a more filled out sound - although the majority of the album evokes a similar "lost in the woods with a cup of coffee at sunset" feeling in my chest. I can't count how many times I listened to this album as autumn descended. Please make a point to spend an afternoon with this one.

3. S. Carey – Range of Light

S. Carey's follow up to his debut album 'All We Grow' finds itself evolving in many of the ways that Field Report did between their first two albums. A more dense, lush, sonic landscape accompanies S. Carey's haunting vocals. There are few albums I can think of more perfect for staring at the movement of the stars before calling it a night. Incredible.

4. Joseph – Native Dreamer Kin

I discovered these three sisters' triumphant debut album on a recommendation from the folks at Cause a Scene - and my god am I glad I took the time to listen to it. Soaring harmonies and simple, honest lyricism remind me of a more dynamic version of First Aid Kit's first album, with a brightness that the Swedish sisters didn't necessarily try to achieve. These women are going to be something special.

5. Joan Shelley – Electric Ursa

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Joan a month or so before she released this album when the band Maiden Radio, which she is a part of, played a wonderful campfire Music Means Family show. When I first sat down with this album, I was blown away by the immense power of Joan's storytelling, the phenomenal musicianship, and the brilliance of the brevity of the album. There's no filler here, just folk perfection.

6. St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Half the City

From the second I heard Paul Janeway's soaring, earth-shattering voice, I knew I was hooked. Then I heard the horns, the unbelievably tight rhythm section, and I had my feet tapping before I could begin to figure out what was going on. This is modern indie-soul done very, very right. They'll be playing bigger and bigger venues next year, grab this album NOW and don't miss out.

7. Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight

It's no secret that I love Hey Rosetta! They are perhaps, as close to a "perfect" live band as I've ever seen. 'Second Sight', their third full album, builds on its predecessors, creating a swirling, thrumming, wondrous landscape of indie-pop under Tim Baker's enchanting lyrics. If you haven't had the opportunity to listen to Hey Rosetta! yet, the time is absolutely now.

8. Ark Life – The Dream of You and Me

There is something incredibly infectious about the dusty, shimmering music that Ark Life makes. While in many ways it evokes memories of a bygone era, of Laurel Canyon, of open highways - this album is also grounded, incredibly easy to listen to over and over again. If you find yourself setting out on the road, or sitting on a train, or really, going anywhere, put this on - and let the the miles fall away around you.

9. Anais Mitchell – Xoa

Anais Mitchell very well may be the finest folk songstress of this era. Skimming this blog, you can unquestionably find many glowing words about her shimmering voice, her deliriously complex lyricism, and the unimpeachable talent of the musicians she surrounds herself with, 'Xoa' is a love note to her fans of sorts, a solo reworking of old songs, songs from her incredible folk opera 'Hadestown', and a few new songs thrown in for good measure. Even if you've never listened to Anais before, this is a wonderful way to enter into the music of one of today's true luminaries.

10. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

While Sharon Van Etten's debut album 'Tramp' was a beautiful, heart-wrenching album, her sophomore album, "Are We There' is an absolute masterpiece. There is a grim determination in the way Van Etten sings, with weighted symphonies underneath that so clearly indicate the influence working with The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner had on her. This one is a slow burn, a lie back and breathe deep, a perfect way to shake the dust after a long day.

11. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

I don't have a lot to say about this album that hasn't been said on the numerous best-of lists that it has topped. This is unquestionably one of the best albums of the year. It stayed on repeat on my car stereo for much of the first half of the year - the incredible depth and astonishing musicianship is something everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing. Get the hint? Pick it up!

12. Lily & Madeleine – Fumes

Speaking of absurdly talented sisters, Lily and Madeleine have crafted an album in 'Fumes' that beautifully showcases their voices, their soulful youth, and a certain joy and charisma that rarely transfers to recording. This is one I didn't take enough time to listen to when it came out, and only realized how wonderful it was later. Don't make the same mistake I did - spend a morning with this one.

Honorable Mentions

  • Broken Bells – After the Disco
  • Sun Kil Moon - Benji
  • Spoon - They Want My Soul

Here's to a great 2015!

On Blogging, House Shows, Thanksgiving, and 2015

As you can see by the last post date here, I’ve been inexcusably terrible about posting new content in blog form. Sure, I’ve been updating Facebook and Twitter, but there’s something infinitely more valuable about compiling and curating that information and presenting it in a more coherent manner. It’s also one of the best ways I can keep open dialogues between myself and you all (at least the folks I don’t get to see at our house shows!)

I’m going to be making a concerted effort to be more active here for the coming year. I want to keep people updated about House Shows, but I also want to keep sharing music and thoughts I love with all of you, because well, there’s so much good music and so many good people to share it with.

So – what does this mean? First, it means a slew of year-end posts, ranging from my favorite songs and albums of the year to teasers and updates about what’s going to be new in the Music Means Family world in 2015. There have been so many fantastic albums, shows, and songs this year, I have a lot of things to touch on in December.

Oh, also, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. I wanted to take a minute to thank all of the incredible artists who played Music Means Family shows this year, there were so many moments I got to be a part of that I never could have imagined a year or two ago. From Ark Life to Count This Penny, Field Report to Bradford Loomis, Luray to Maiden Radio – I really feel blessed to have shared this year with so many amazing musicians, and even more so, so many amazing people.

I can’t wait to reconnect with all of you over the next month and more, and I can’t wait to see some of you at House Shows in 2015!

Skyline Sessions - Better Late than Never!

So, as many of you know, when I'm lucky enough to host musicians for the intimate house shows, we try and do a quick 1 to 2 take video, in the style of La Blogtheque and the Ballard Sessions before us. My incredibly talented cousin Dan put the finishing touches on our last four, and I'm so, so excited to share them with all of you. I'm so blessed to be able to host these shows, and even more grateful for these videos as a reminder of how perfect each of these nights are. So, to you I give:

#6 and #9 - Simon Balto

Simon really is an unbelievable talent, his layered folk ballads are reminiscent of Baez and Dylan, Guthrie and Prine. There is a deeply satisfying component to each of his songs - a reminder of home, woodsmoke, and the first traces of your breath as winter begins to settle. We filmed 'Foothills", a brand new, and exceptionally beautiful song as well as 'The Cut' off of Simon's tremendous album "The Roads that Make Men Weary" (skip to 1:00 if you don't want the endearing mess up at the beginning).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ITMHOlIKq8&w=640&h=360]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1UnDlbI3l4&w=640&h=360]

#7 - Luray

Luray, the project of Shannon Carey (sister to S. Carey) - is a really beautiful foray into ambient Americana. Delicate banjo and soft, subtle vocals wrap you up and wash over you. I can't get enough of her debut album "The Wilder". This track, 'Lullaby' is from that record, and we filmed it late at night after her beautiful show with Mike Noyce.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4-ClcdfMWU&w=640&h=360]

#8 - Kris Orlowski

I've long been a fan of Kris' enchanting folk-pop, and this new song 'Carolina' has everything I love about Kris, with little traces of an almost Ryan Adams - esque sound woven in. I really love this one, and enjoyed watching 200 some odd people spellbound watching this one when Kris opened up for Noah Gundersen the next night. Don't sleep on his new album, coming out soon. It's going to be excellent.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJqTWg5cx4A&w=640&h=360]

Hopefully we'll be announcing a few new shows soon, and have some videos to go with them. Subscribe to our channel on Youtube, check back on Facebook, and come make some new friends with us as the weather gets warmer. Love you all!

Saturday Morning.

So, it's been a bit since I've done a proper post. I've been running around in circles trying to set up some new shows, do some work on the blog itself, make everything prettier, you know the drill. Because of that, there's a lot of music that has been in my ears nonstop, and I thought I should probably do my job and share all of the things I've been loving lately with you! First, I'm really obsessed with the work that SerialBox does, and this video from a few months ago with Madi Diaz is a really perfect blend of folk/pop/blues sensibilities that has been a favorite way for me to start my mornings.

[vimeo 72065969 w=1000 h=416]

Noah Gundersen released his first full-length album a few weeks ago, entitled 'Ledges', and it's almost certainly going to be one of, if not my favorite album of the year. The way Noah commands your attention, every note, every breath - it's something you don't find very often. Noah and his sister Abby filmed this White Session a few weeks ago, and well, not surprisingly, it's stunning.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1LFUYCFDZQ&w=640&h=360]


It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of S. Carey (and his sister, who performs as Luray). The first single from the new S. Carey album is entitled "Fire-scene", and the song itself, as well as the video released along with it, is absolutely beautiful. There is a winding, delicate sense of melody and care in Sean's music that I find myself coming back to incredibly frequently.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLbVVWkto1k&w=640&h=360]


Well, everything Gregory Alan Isakov does is close to perfect, and everything Kevin Ihle films is wonderful - so this version of "Amsterdam" before his show in Colorado is unsurprisingly excellent.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQGiKkPxn6c&w=640&h=360]


I posted another Ballard Session with Bea Troxel a while back, but I thought I should post this one too. Something about her voice, her songwriting, just catches my heart in my throat, and it's so, so perfect.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIAvzDSKdos&w=640&h=360]


Speaking of bands that can do no wrong, this video from TYPHOON performing "Caesar/Reed Road" in Boston reminds me how much I can't wait to see them at some point on their upcoming/current tour. Such a tremendous live show.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKKdw_oKxXg&w=640&h=360]


Alright. Enough links. For now.

For those who missed my last post - I have the wonderful opportunity to host a Music Means Family show with the incredible Kris Orlowski (who's opening for the sold out Noah Gundersen show) and a set from the talented Gia Margaret. We're going to be cozying in on Tuesday, March 4th at 7:30, over at 914 California. 10 dollar suggested donation, BYOB, a chance to make new friends. I'd love to see you there. Check out this video from Kris below - and enjoy your Saturday!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyTbnWmmwLw&w=640&h=360]

These Nights are so Beautiful

Two nights ago, I found myself surrounded by new friends, listening to Mike Noyce and Luray play songs old and new, and watching a spellbound group hear stunning, stripped down versions of the songs off of Luray's incredible album 'The Wilder'. I can't say enough how much I treasure these evenings, and how much I want all of you to be able to come and share in these moments, and become part of the family. It really is a unique way to experience music, and to meet people who care deeply about incredible music.

Come on over to Facebook to see more pictures from the evening, but I thought I'd share a few with you here.

Mike Noyce

I can't express how grateful I am - each of those shows are so special, and Mike and Shannon (Luray) were so kind and such exceptional performers.

So, are you jealous yet? Sad you didn't make it out to this one? Thinking you should grab a bottle (or 6) of something you like to drink, and head to the next one?

Well, guess what? You're in luck! I'm very, very excited to announce House Show #12, featuring Kris Orlowski, whose charming and expansive folk-pop has captivated me for quite a while, with an opening set from Chicago local Gia Margaret. We'll be opening up the space at 7:30, and music will start at 8. Make sure to be there by 8! BYOB, Suggested Donation ($12+). 914 N. California. I promise you it will be a perfect way to usher in the beginnings of spring. RSVP at musicmeansfamily@gmail.com or on the Facebook event page.

See you there!


So those of you who check in on Facebook (which if you don't you should) - know that I've announced a couple of house shows. I wanted to make sure you all knew they were coming up, as well. Also - I've added a page with some general info and FAQs about these house shows in general - click the link at the top of the page! On January 30th, I'll be hosting the talented local songwriter Simon Balto, with an opening set from friend and Chicago native Hanna Ashbrook. Simon's new album has guided me through these cold winter months so far, and I would guess will be a frequent listen through those ahead. This one (as well as the other two I'm writing about) will be at 914 N. California. Doors at 8. Show at 8:30ish. All the usual rules apply - BYOB, Suggested Donation. Come hang out, spend some time meeting new people who love music as much as you.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1349278374 size=medium bgcol=ffffff linkcol=63b2cc t=10]

On February 6th, we'll welcome the very talented Chris Kasper, with Music Means Family alumnus Ty Maxon. Chris has toured with Amos Lee, The Wood Brothers, and many more, and is a huge talent. I really hope you'll be here to enjoy this one with me. 914 N. California. Doors at 7:30. BYOB. Suggested Donation. Etc.


On February 16th, I am very, very excited to announce a house show with an artist who released one of my ten favorite albums of last year. Luray, the incredible project from Shannon Carey, will be in Chicago playing a very special solo show. Opening for her will be Mike Noyce, of Bon Iver. Doors at 7:30. Music at 8ish. Same rules as all the other shows, BYOB, Suggested Donation. Please make it out for this one!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ4uWmPmRdQ&w=640&h=360]

My 10 Favorite Albums - 2013.

Over the past week, I've read through the flood of lists from major music blogs/publications - making a purported attempt at objectively ranking the "best" albums of the year. I can't say that I believe in those lists, as I have no idea how you can objectively rate music, at least to a level of specificity that you can differentiate between much of the best music released over a 12 month span. WIth that in mind, I do love taking stock of the year that's past, and making a list of my 10 favorite albums of that time. Not only is it in hopes that you find an incredible album that you might have missed, but it gives me an excuse to dig back through so much incredible music. So, before you dig in, please note that these are in no particular order, and that the videos I include for each are just a teaser - please go investigate these albums, be it via Spotify, Pandora, or torrents - then go buy the ones that you connect with (hopefully all 10!).

1. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

I can't say enough words about how much this album meant to me this year. An expansion of the incredible sonic depth and breadth of High Violet, with the bite of Boxer - I have listened to this album countless times this year. Favorite Track(s): "I Need My Girl"


2. Typhoon - White Lighter

Kyle Morton and the rest of the Typhoon gang created an album that's not only vulnerable, expansive, and tremendous - but they managed to do it while staying true to all the little subtleties that made me fall in love with them in the first place. Favorite Track(s): "Prosthetic Love" and "Morton's Fork"


3. Dessa - Parts of Speech

I love pretty much everything Dessa does. Her command of the English language, her rhythmic sensibility, the musicianship of the artists she works with. This album was wonderful, front to back. Favorite Track(s): "The Man I Knew"


4. Caroline Smith - Half About Being a Woman

Caroline Smith, former folk songstress, current purveyor of explosively beautiful indie r&b/soul. Caroline, with trust bassist Jesse Schuster in tow, and a whole slew of talented characters - really created a timeless album. Favorite Track(s): "Child of Moving On" and "Half About Being a Woman"


5. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

Three words. Song for Zula. That song drew me in, the stunning continuity, well crafted songs, and the fact that this is an A+ road trip album guarantee it a spot here. Favorite Track(s): "Song For Zula"


6. Courtney Marie Andrews - On My Page

I've written about Courtney a thousand times on this blog. This is my favorite folk album of the year. So many hints of Joni Mitchell, with the subtle, simmering energy of Joan Baez. Absolutely in love with this one. Favorite Track(s): "500 Nights" and "Woman of Many Colors"


7. Volcano Choir - Repave

Justin Vernon continues to explore sonic boundaries - with a very talented cast of characters behind him. Repave explores more territory vocally than Bon Iver's eponymous album, and I found myself entranced by this one all autumn. Favorite Track(s): "Comrade" and "Dancepack"


8. Luray - The Wilder

Luray is the project of Shannon Carey (sister of Bon Iver's Sean Carey). Similar to Sean, and his solo project, Luray is a beautiful exploration of ambient, banjo-laden folk/americana, and it is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. Take the time and listen to this one. Favorite Track(s): "Tidalground" and "The Wilder"


9. Pickwick - Can't Talk Medicine

I know, it came out really early this year. But Pickwick put out an album I've never set down for more than a week at a time all year. This is just a big, awesome, fantastic record. Let the video speak for me. Favorite Track(s): "Hacienda Motel" and "Halls of Columbia"


10. The Avett Brothers - Magpie and the Dandelion

I wasn't that impressed by last year's Avett Brothers album - but Magpie and the Dandelion reminded me why they're one of my favorite bands. They went back to a lot of what worked so well about I and Love and You - a simpler, more melodic approach, interrupted by their signature folk-punk sound. Favorite Track(s): "Morning Song" and "Souls Like The Wheels"


Special Mentions:

Hey Marseilles - Lines We Trace

Night Beds - Country Sleep

Josh Ritter - The Beast in it's Tracks

At the end of the year, I look back, and really, my takeaway is that more and more incredible music comes out each year - and it's all about finding what you connect to. What makes your heart beat faster? What makes your breath catch? Hopefully this list gives you something new to add to that list.

Much love y'all!


I love December. It's a time to take stock of the year that is coming to an end, and of the possibilities that are approaching in the new year. Also, whiskey, Christmas, fireplaces, and all the love you can muster. I'm going to be working on a few things this month - I'm hoping to get a Winter mix, and some year-end lists of stuff headed your way, as well as a bunch of announcements about House Shows for the coming year. In the meantime, I wanted to throw some videos, songs, etc. your way - because I find I really need a certain kind of music to keep my heart beating right in these winter months.

The first one is an incredible video of Bea Troxel, a songwriter out of Nashville. Again, a perfect video shot by Eratosthenes.


It's no secret I'm a big fan of Frightened Rabbit. This Mahogany Session they did of 'Holy' is excellent.


Courtney Marie Andrews is incredible. Also, one of the kindest people I've ever met. This song is beautiful.


And, one more Ballard Session. This is full of chills.



I'll be posting lots soon - hope these warm you on the first of December!

Feeling Grateful

As I look back on the past year, and even the past decade, I find so many things to be grateful for. As I think about the moments, the adventures, and the people, there are so many songs I connect to those events, a soundtrack, if you will. So I thought I'd make a playlist. 50 of my favorites from the last 10 years or so. Hit shuffle, and enjoy.

So grateful. Thank you all.


Update - Up To Date!

Hey everybody - So I'm sitting at home with a fever, nursing a nasty headache, and I figured that was as good of a time as any to throw a big old update your way.

1st of all - if you've missed them so far, I urge you to check out the Music Means Family Skyline Sessions - we take a bit of time before various house shows to film 1 song sessions, and I'm really proud of how the first three turned out. It truly is amazing how talented these folks are. So, take a look at the 1st three sessions, with Courtney Marie Andrews, Field Report, and Hip Hatchet.




We'll have a couple more coming your way, after our next few house shows. Which you should come to. They're next week. And they'll be awesome.

On November 11th, we have a special evening with Vikesh Kapoor. Vikesh is a stunning songwriter, and wowed a couple thousand of us earlier this year at Timber! Watch this video - then go to the event page, then RSVP, then come.


The Event Page!

Then, I'm beyond excited to present the Brooklyn-based Cuddle Magic, with an opening set from Kalispell on November 13th. Again, watch this video, click the link, RSVP, and show up!


I really do hope I get to see some of you at one of these shows. They really are special occasions.

Last, but not least, Caroline Smith is playing at The Hideout this Friday. You'd be crazy not to go. She just did an awesome session with the great guys over at Audiotree - check it out, and come hang out on Friday night.


See you soon, I hope!