New Music For Me | Week 1: Real Friends, Strange Passage, Two Castles, Two Houses, Kelly Lee Owens

A week ago I came to the realization I spent most of 2016 with my fingers in my ears. I didn’t listen to much music at all and I didn’t actively seek out any new music. Bummed by that realization, I asked you to tell me who to listen to – send me songs, albums, bands – and I promised to listen to you. I received as many comments as I expected for my first post – Zero.

No worries. There’s music all around so I took it upon myself to find new music this week. Below are 5 artists I listened to for the first time. Share any thoughts or musical suggestions however you like: in the comments, Tweet at me or send me an email.


Band: Real Friends

Song: “Mess”

How I found it? I started following’s blog and their article announcing Real Friends’ upcoming tour was one of the first posts I came across.

First Impressions: Not my style. Immediately I was reminded of music I experimented with my freshman year of college: Fallout Boy, Motion City Soundtrack, Hellogoodbye, etc. I’m sure fans of Real Friends could contest their categorical sameness with the before-mentioned bands (emo, emo-punk, indie, I’m not sure) but for all I know they they would approve. I took a chance on a band I’d never heard of and I found their song, “Mess”, to be fast, flimsy and immature. Great for their audience (I imagine), but not for me.

Band: Strange Passage | Song(s): Shine and Scatter, EP

How I found it? | Twitter post from Ezra Furman

First Impressions: Strange Passage is from Somerville, Massachusetts. I didn’t know that before I listened to them for the first time. Out of the gate, they reminded me of The Cure or a subdued Jens Lekman so I think I assumed they were from overseas. Renato Montenegro is the sole vocalist. Throughout Shine and Scatter he doesn’t exhibit much range, but I get the impression that’s a stylistic choice for the 4 songs on the EP. Similarly, the percussion can almost go overlooked but, in my opinion, that’s only a testament to how fitting Ricky Hartman’s drums are for these songs. It’s Montenegro and Greg Witz’s guitars that set the tone on Shine and Scatter. They’re bright, poppy and precise. Vocals and guitars juxtaposed to the point I overlooked lyrics completely on my first listen. The overall sound was precise so I revisited each song with the lyrics in front of me.


The first 3 songs on the EP conjure feelings of uncertainty effectively conveyed through the character’s physical surroundings:

Unsettled amber towers, Unsettled ground, Bent columns built on flowers, Folding columns about were folding and viaducts burning down”  ~ “Viaducts Burning Down.”

Standing on the ground, On settled sand, On settled silt, Standing on the ground and standing still” ~ “Lament.”

Does the image still remain? The image you despise, Before your eyes. Would you welcome back the rain? To cover up the skies, At morning’s Cruel and brilliant rise.” ~ “Shine and Scatter

But for me, “People Being People,” is the best track on the EP. Guitars cut through cleaner and harder. Montenegro brings much needed attitude to the small collection of songs by repeatedly posing the question, “Is that right you don’t say?” in an antagonizing tone. In the final line of the song he reveals the second half of what turns out to be a two-part question, “Got no reason to stay?” It’s the shortest song on the EP but in my opinion says the most.


Band: Two Castles

Song: “Survive”  

How I found it? | WordPress tag search for “Eau Claire.” WI’s little city on the rise led me to Dime Store Saints blog.

First Impressions: Two Castles definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone. :17 into “Survive” I got Flaming Lips vibes and once Eric Charles Christenson’s vocals emerged I was reminded of a song or a band I couldn’t put my finger on right away, but then it hit me – the band was Hockey and it wasn’t a specific song but rather an album, Wyeth. Outside those two touch-points not much more about this song held my attention. To be fair, I think that’s more reflective of how underexposed I’ve been as of late (hence why I’m seeking new music) and less indicative of Christenson’s talents. I will say, Dimestore Saints’ description of ECC was alluring and will have me keeping an eye on him for future work of all kinds.

Band: Two Houses | Song(s): I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself, LP


How I found it? | Two Houses caught my attention online somehow over the last year or so. I imagine they shared a bill with a band I followed on Facebook but can’t be certain. I am certain the poster above is the reason I finally decided to give them a listen. I’m glad I did.

First Impressions: I Feel So Good and I Can’t Stand Myself couldn’t be more aptly named. Each of the 10 songs describes an unsatisfying high and/or prolonged low. Collectively the songs feel like the sonic embodiment of a bender.  The party starts with (what appears to be) an affectionate nod to The Boss in, “Thunder Road,” but definitely feels more like a flattering emulation of Titus Andronicus’ “A More Perfect Union,” and maybe it was.

Except for, “The Fear” and “One More for Dom” the songs clock in between 2 and 3 minutes. Every song rocks. Halfway through track 3, “Never Come Down” I literally thought – “God, I need to see these guys live. Shit, I want to book them for a show.” Then, “If You Cough You’re Good” came on and further confirmed that impulse and so on through Track 10, “One More for Dom.” Only a 3-piece – drums, bass, guitar – they bring a huge sound with catchy melodies, sly riffs and powerful harmonies.

Luckily they have a massive tour coming up and who knows, maybe “Unknown, IL” on February 3rd will change to a rock show in Woodstock, IL.


The picture above explains the who, what, when, where.

First Impressions: I felt like I needed more context. I had a hard time imagining where, “Anxi.” would fit in an album. Since this is Kelly Lee Owens first song released off her debut album context wasn’t something I could get. So I re-listened to the song a few times. Either I didn’t get it or I didn’t like it. I felt like I could have it on and move around my apartment to it – it’s pretty, there’s an infectious rhythm throughout the whole song – but I don’t feel like I would ever put it on.

Perhaps within an album or after more listens Kelly Lee Owens will grow on me.

Have a life-changing song/album/band you’re dying to recommend to the world? Post it in the comments, Tweet it at me or send me an email.

Tell me who to listen to and I’ll listen to you.

heal“I stopped listening to music. I kept writing the same songs.” Timothy Showalter

Looking back on 2016 I realized I didn’t listen to much music. And my near compulsion to scour the internet for new artists waned to the point ‘meh, I’ll check ’em out‘ didn’t even cross my mind. I can’t pinpoint any specific reason for the tuneless lull but I think not booking concerts and festivals like I had in years past played a part. That’s just a theory and instead of prolonging the lull by theorizing I’ve decided to to start this recurring post.

In these posts I will call on you, my masses and masses of readers, to:

  • Tell me what you’re listening to
  • Suggest music for me to listen to
  • And if you’re so inclined, advocate for why the song, band or album is worth a spin.

I’ll listen to anything you send me because my objective is to listen to more music and new (to me) music. But since we don’t really know each other, here’s some general background on what gets my ears ringing.

Favorite Bands

*These are the bands that come to mind when I think of music that means the most to me and music I naturally gravitate towards. This is not a ranking or all encompassing (obviously.)*

  1. Wilco | I was a sophomore in high school on my way to an away tennis meet. A friend gave me A.M. and Being There cds to throw in my walkman. My first exposure wasn’t a spiritual awakening by any means. The folky rock sound was approachable and comfortable. But both albums drew me in and kept me coming back to uncover new bits & pieces in the instrumentation and lyrics. It was the first music I heard that intrigued me in this way. I wanted to understand each song, learn more about  the band and hear everything else they recorded. It was my first departure from the classic rock my parents played and the alternative my older brother introduced me to. Wilco was my band and has been since.
  2. Cousin Dud | The friend who introduced me to Wilco has an older brother that I imagine introduced him to Wilco. As fate would have it (and suburban small town probability) he, Matt Carmichael (guitar, vox, chief songwriter), and I shared a mutual friend, Josh Burns (guitar, vox), that would become the other half of Cousin Dud & The Hadacol Caravan. As the band grew the name shrank and in September of 2010 5-piece band, Cousin Dud, released their debut EP, Of Hats and Unicorns. From duo to 5-piece, now currently a 4-piece, the band has taken many forms but continue to deliver what I crave most in music – lyrically driven stories of the human experience. Listen to the band’s 8 releases in chronological order and you’ll hear a band defining their sound. The songs have always been there, but with each release they gain depth and definition and the music plays a more prominent role in telling the stories of Kandy Brown, Tom Foundry, Halftime Hailey and plenty of other folks just like you.dudtrax
  3. Modest Mouse | “Favorite band?” –  “Modest Mouse.” For years it was a no-brainer. I was infatuated with the turn of phrase lyrics and vocal delivery of Isaac Brock. Their discography was like a toolbox to me. I could reach in and grab whatever I needed to fix the musical predicament I found myself in. Need something sweet and beautiful? Sleepwalking, The World At Large, Bankrupt On Selling. Need to belt some circuital cleverness into the universe at the top of your lungs? Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes, Paper Thin Walls, Fly Trapped In a Jar, The View. I don’t reach into the toolbox as much as I once did, but it’s very reassuring knowing you got the tools for the job.
  4. The National | Wilco, Cousin Dud, Modest Mouse all had me from the first note. That was not the case with The National. I remember having Boxer while in college but I don’t remember it making an impression on me. I wouldn’t say Trouble Will Find Me ‘slowly grew on me.’ In retrospect, it’s more likely I never gave it the attention it deserved, but once I did it floored me. Revisiting Boxer had the same effect on me and similar (not to the extent of TWFM) with High Violet and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. Of the bands listed, The National is the most intense for me. Their music crushes me and I can’t articulate why. I kind of like the not knowing.
  5. My Morning Jacket | My older brother recently described MMJ as his ‘spirit animal’ and I found that very fitting. He introduced me to MMJ when I was a teenager and their songs have been the backdrop to some of my most vivid memories of times spent with my brothers. That connection will always be there drawing my mind back to those times. Personal ties aside, Jim James is genuine. He radiates positivity nearly to the point of religiousness but never preachy. Not to mention … The Way That He Sings.

What Else? 

My favorite song is Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. I just listened to Sabotage by Black Sabbath for the first time since elementary school and was blown away. Blues bores me. Jazz bores me. EDM isn’t interesting to me. Most metal wares on me before any meaning sets in. I have no grasp on ‘real country’. I used to like bluegrass but haven’t felt the urge to listen to it in years. I feel like so much good rap/hip-hop has come out lately and I’ve missed out on all of it. Help me out there if you can. Again, I’m not telling you this because I want more of the same. I’m just providing context. The purpose of these posts is for me to branch out, listen to new genres, dig into ‘classics’ I’ve long ignored and start listening to music again.

Leave suggestions in the comments section and thanks in advance for the tips!

Doing This with Sarah Joy Shockey

“Anything can end at any time but we don’t know when or why. So, isn’t it better to do something now while you can instead of waiting til you can’t?”

Winter in Illinois exhausts me. Not immediately and not all at once but nearly completely. Its cadence is familiar and come late December I’m spent. Weeks of subzero temperatures and tense holiday gatherings leave me with just enough energy to sit alone in my apartment and introspect past the point of any possible benefit. It’s then I look to the internet for substantive content to calm my nerves and ease me into a new year. Too often my social media feeds mirror the NYE parties I can’t physically bring myself to join – loud and sloppy.

Endless self-help quick tips, regurgitated resolutions, shortsighted predictions and pointless year-end lists flutter down my news feed. I don’t click one. I scan (chat) room, see nobody I’m interested in engaging with and make up my mind – It’s time to ditch this (virtual) ‘NYE party’.

Medium was just what I needed.

“Every day, thousands of people turn to Medium to publish their ideas and perspectives. Leaders. Artists. Thinkers. And ordinary citizens who have a story to tell. Posts range from scrutinies of world affairs to deeply personal essays. Medium sifts the best of these for you and delivers them directly onto your home page.”

I went through a quick profile setup selecting topics that interested me – Tech, Humor, This Happened to Me and others – then began searching for articles to read. I found Medium’s dashboard (for lack of better term) immediately helpful. Topics lined the top of the page. Once all articles in one category were scrolled through the next category would appear at the bottom of the page. I didn’t navigate long before Sarah’s latest post, Uncle Bob, drew me in with her flashcard-like drawing.


The title didn’t give a strong indication what the story would be about. An estimated 6 minute read with pictures was a commitment level I could handle. To my surprise, Sarah’s entire story was told through minimalist pictures. Approximately 80. I won’t go into detail as to what Uncle Bob is about because I think Sarah’s self-exploratory narrative and approachable imagery makes this story a particularly enjoyable ‘read’. Because of it’s brevity any synopsis would only detract from the experience.

I will say Uncle Bob is exactly what I was hoping to find going into the new year; a diamond among stones. Sarah has dozens of articles on Medium and I’ve only stuck my nose in the rabbit-hole. Her posts aren’t all told through captioned, postcard-sized drawings, but “Doing This” is another in that format and the one that motivated me to write this when I did. It’s personal and emotional. For me, sympathy came and went quickly then I was ultimately left with an overwhelming optimism and motivation. The exact emotions I wanted going into the new year.Thank you, Sarah.

Read “Doing This”, “Uncle Bob” and more of Sarah’s stories on Medium.


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