Heartbreaking Bravery

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2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Amanda Dissinger)

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Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Very few people have been as supportive of Heartbreaking Bravery as publicist, poet, writer, and all-around great person Amanda Dissinger. One of her last collections of poems, This Is How I Will Tell You I Love You, has served as a constant travel companion for me since receiving it in the mail. Last year, Dissinger contributed an essay about rediscovering a love for NYC through a series of shows. This year finds her fixating on a handful of songs and offering up a personal (and stylized) look back through some tumultuous times. Enjoy.  

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2016 was rough for all of us. We all know this and have talked about all the amazing things and people we lost last year and the feelings that we all started having super strongly 24/7: fear, anxiety, sadness, loss. And that’s not even addressing anything super personal yet.

2016 was a weird year for me. I went through a breakup. I dated a lot of incredibly emotionless and unworthy men. I made friends. I lost friends. I had a lot of boring days. I got really into pop country music to the confusion of everyone around me. I started eating a lot more french fries bc wtf. I started drinking. I wrote another book of poetry. I had some breakthroughs at work. And really, though it may be cliche, music helped me through it.

Specifically, making Spotify playlists for myself and for friends with names like “Heartbreak City” and the famous (10 followers y’all!) “Sad Gurl Club”- a playlist full of 40 hours of songs by mostly women musicians about heartbreak, falling in and out of love, and finally being seen and appreciated.

Here are six of those songs that got me thru really shitty times, really fun times (a heavy YOLO phase with my bff), emotional times and the in between. PS if you want a Spotify playlist HMU!

Shura – What’s It Gonna Be

This is the best song about a crush EVER (I’m just initiating you into the fact that I speak in ALL HYPERBOLES). I would listen to this song when I went on first dates and be like “I’m not gonna give you up! Not gonna let you love somebody else but me!” even before I ever met any of the guys, which was probably my first mistake but… it gave me confidence. This song is so dreamy and fun and makes you feel like you’re falling in love in the best way.

Rihanna – Needed Me

I had to include this song because it includes the best line of the year in “Didn’t I tell you I was a savage? Fuck your white horse and a carriage.” I became obsessed with Anti after the rest of the world did- in the fall I listened to it the whole way through and was like, this is truly amazing. So many of these songs are great- tbh they’re all hits- “Desperado!”, “Close to You!”, “Kiss it Better!”, but this song is in my opinion, the best, because it makes me feel powerful when I listen to it. Like, I’m the best that I’m gonna be, and I don’t need anyone but myself. also, didn’t I tell you that I was a savage!!

Carly Rae Jepsen – Fever

I’ve been a big CRJ fan for years now (and people say I look like her, so FYI), and after she released her amazing and game-changing Emotion last year, I didn’t think she could get any better. Dammit CRJ! Provin’ me wrong! All the songs on her B-Sides collection are gems, but “Fever” is the one that I listened to once 20 times in one night thinking about how I would too steal someone’s bike and ride all night if I still loved them and they didn’t love me. Also, if I could ride a bike. But this song makes me feel like I cannn ride a bike, so it’s magic!

Pinegrove – Size of the Moon

I, like everyone else, loved the Pinegrove record Cardinal this year. So many things about it were poetic to me, it was a record about coming of age and it had elements of Ben Kweller, so really what could be better? Those are all of my favorite things! This song is my favorite because the lyrics are so beautiful- and really “do you wanna dance?’ is the best opening line of a song- and also because the song lets you know that it’s okay to be afraid in general, without anything specific in mind. And sometimes it’s good to have that reassurance (I think, I’m not an expert, sorry, wtf).

Little Big Town – Better Man

This song being one of my favorite songs of the year/the song that I drunkenly scream “BEST SONG OF 2016” is the biggest proof that I am an unadulterated country lover. Also, I commonly think it’s hilarious to just sing songs really loudly around the apartment and try to get them stuck in my roommate’s head. Which I did with this one repeatedly (“I just MISSSSS YOU, I just WISSSSSHH you were a better man!!!”) This song is really good though you guys, it was written by Taylor Swift and is like the most Taylor Swift-y song of all time. It has kind of a simple, beautiful message about wishing someone was a little better of a partner for you and it has some killer vocal solos from the couples (are they two couples in this band, brb wikipedia-ing) in this band. Listen to this song once and you TOO will be getting it in your roommate’s head twenty four sev. you’re welcome.

Maren Morris – Once

If you talked to me for like more than 30 seconds this year, I probably said something to you about Maren Morris. I’m obsessed with her first album Hero and I even went to see her at Barclays opening for Keith Urban ALONE and sat next to a guy who glared at me while he was eating a large platter of chicken fingers. Anyway, all the songs on this album are amazing (if you’re looking for something upbeat, try “80s Mercedes” or “My Church”- they are stunnnas), but I’m a sucker for a good ballad, as a card carrying member of the Sad Gurls Club. This song is about remembering your past relationships and the good things about them as they end, and it’s a real tearjerker. I’m crying just talking about it! Perfect breakup song! (PS Maren I lovvveee you).

Well, that’s all I have for you… for now! Find me on twitter or something if you wanna complain about anything I wrote. But- here’s hoping 2017 will be better… er, at least have as much good music I guess.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsey-Paige McCloy)

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Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Last year, Patio‘s Lindsey-Paige McCloy penned a beautiful, multilayered piece that reflected on some key moments from 2015. For 2016, the emerging musician asked to take a slightly different approach but circled back to a very specific topic. While Patio made another appearance on a year-end list, another Paige-McCloy project — Catbus — found themselves in the Best Songs. Below, Paige-McCloy pays tribute to Catbus band member Phyllis Ophelia in memorable fashion.

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For the second year in a row I’m turning in a down-to-the-wire submission some distance into the following year. Steven somehow agreed to let me send in a demo instead of writing down a reflection using words because I can barely string together a sentence, so I put my amp in my bathtub to see what would happen and then I sat in it for a couple of hours with my Bobkat and the Tascam four track I bought from a man in San Francisco on the internet in October and I made this thing.

This is a lyrically-inaccurate, tape-hiss-ridden version of one of my favorite songs released in 2016 – “Saint Hangover” by Phyllis Ophelia – and really you should listen to the version from Phyllis’s EP Analemma I instead. If for some reason you listened to that song and wondered what it would sound like if it were played by a different person in a freezing cold cast iron bathtub, sporadically double-tracked to tape, run unmixed through a $20 Target boombox, and then recorded to an iPhone voice memo, your wildest dreams have come true.

Sorry to Phyllis for getting the lyrics all wrong and to my roommate Patrick who had to drag my amp out of said freezing cast iron bathtub to shower at 6:30am on Sunday morning because I forgot he had to work.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (James Greer)

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For the past three years, a series has run on this site called A Year’s Worth of Memories, which features a collection of some of the most fascinating artists, directors, and writers working within the confines of entertainment reflecting on the most meaningful items and/or moments they experienced throughout the past year. It’s a tremendous honor to be kicking off this year’s (slightly belated) edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories with a piece from James Greer (pictured above, center), who once left an editorial position at SPIN magazine to join Guided By Voices in time to record Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.

His credits as a screenwriter include Max Keeble’s Big Move, Just My Luck, and The Spy Next Door. Greer also received acclaim for his novels Artificial Light and The Failure. Currently, Greer plays in an excellent project called DTCV (who I must thank again for their contribution to the A Step Forward compilation).  Here, he reflects on the shell shock that accompanied a particularly disheartening discovery on tour. Enjoy.

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We Have to Tell the Americans

In 2016 the weird turned pro in a big way. Famous people died, infamous people lied, and we (with an assist from Russia) elected a Twitter troll for president. Most people can’t wait to kick last year to the curb, and though I’m wary of confirmation bias, it does feel like we got an extra portion of suck with our rations, no matter what you like to eat. I’m using “eat” as a metaphor. I think.

My cluttered iCal tells me that lots of stuff happened to me, personally. Some of which I even remember. We toured Europe for the first time ever in February. We moved from Joshua Tree to Columbus, Ohio in March, and we’ve been on tour more or less perpetually since then, finishing up the year with a two month odyssey in Europe that I’m still processing in a secret enclave in the French alps. It’s not actually secret, just too boring to explain. DTCV’s bandleader Lola G.’s parents live here. She’s visiting them and I’m trying to catch up on the back log of writing deadlines I begged off for the last two months.

Touring puts you in a kind of extended fugue state, which gets more pronounced the longer you’re out. This effect is further compounded when you tour overseas; at length you (hopefully) establish some kind of equilibrium, but there’s a point, and it’s different for everyone, when you hit the wall, so to speak. When you just don’t want to go on, when you’re bone-tired of loading and unloading flight cases of gear up and down flights of stairs, and driving in strange countries — some of which require you to learn new driving habits, like in the U.K., where they make you drive on the wrong side of the road, or Italy, where the rule of law doesn’t apply to cars, apparently —  and the most difficult part of every show: trying to park the goddamn van.

The further you are from home, both temporally and physically, the more dislocated you become from behavioral norms. Band interactions start to resemble the worst kind of reality TV. Not all the shows are great. Some objectively suck. Sometimes the whole thing seems like a waste of time and money and most importantly creative energy. It’s easy to lose sight of your original intent when you’re freezing in an anarchist squat in Switzerland staring down two more weeks of the same uphill slog. We crossed the alps four times on this tour — all of them: German, Swiss, Austrian, Italian, and French — so please forgive my overuse of climbing jargon. I have at leas thus far resisted saying “This tour had a lot of ups and downs.” Oops.

But I’d do it all again in a hot minute. The great and good shows far outnumbered the less-great and less-good ones, and it’s awe-inspiring to watch Lola every night play and sing her songs for over an hour with undiminished energy and enthusiasm and raw emotion. It’s an honor to play guitar in her band. I’ve had really good luck in the people I’ve played music with. In general, too, I’ve been incredibly lucky in the opportunities I’ve been given, and I daily thank whatever Druidic deity is responsible. I’m hoping it’s the moon. I like the moon.

For all the great and good things that happened during our odyssey — and for all the other great, good, less good, and bad (very bad) things that happened the rest of the year — one moment stands out not for its awfulness, per se, but because  of the strange way the awfulness introduced itself. It’s hard to find another event in 2016 more dispiriting than the result of the presidential election, but it wasn’t the result so much as our disconnect from that result that affected me. We were six hours removed from Eastern time, and nine hours from the West Coast, so November 7 for us was just another show. We played with an excellent British band called Dead Rabbits in Hamburg at Hafenklang, a rock club in an old recording studio situated right on the river Elbe.

Of course the election was on our minds, but when we had left in late October to go to Europe we were as confident as anyone else (among our peer group, at least, which is part of the problem) that no way in hell would Collective America elect as president the dude German newspapers had taken to calling the “Horrorclown.” We’d all done our part. Our bass player Kyle and Dan our drummer were Ohio-based and had voted early. Lola is a French citizen and can’t vote. I’d tweeted some disparaging stuff about Trump. And voted, too, but as a California resident the tweets seemed more impactful.

When we finished the show, and later when we went to bed in the band apartment the club had given us and Dead Rabbits on the top floor of the club (it’s a big club), it was still early in the evening on the East Coast of the U.S. and polls had only just closed. Early results didn’t indicate the Clinton landslide we were expecting, but we weren’t worried. And we had to be in Amsterdam early the next day for soundcheck, a five hundred kilometer drive. So I went to sleep excited to wake up the next morning to find that we’d elected our first female president.

The Brits didn’t sleep. They stayed up drinking and talking and following the election results. They may have been less confident in the polls after what they’d just gone through with Brexit. Or maybe they were just less worn out than we were. I don’t remember the details very clearly. Dan may have stayed up with them a while. Kyle says he lay in bed awake for a while obsessively checking his phone, but eventually gave up and fell asleep. But I remember one thing very clearly: waking up much earlier than usual, like about five or six in the morning, to hear a fraught babble of hushed voices in the next room, where Dead Rabbits were bunked. “We have to tell the Americans,” I heard one of them say. But they didn’t have to tell the Americans, because in that moment I knew that the unthinkable had happened.

It didn’t seem real. Because a lot of things on tour start to seem unreal, or at least surreal, we incorporated the news about the Horrorclown into the general tour fugue. But it was deflating, no question. The next couple of shows were not great from a performance point of view. I took to renaming one of our songs “I Killed Donald Trump With My Big Fucking Dick,” a tribute to Sonic Youth’s maybe less civic-spirited “I Killed Christgau etc…” but then, I wasn’t trying to be funny (and I recognize the gag itself is in monumentally poor/problematic taste, but I wasn’t interested at the time in good taste or any kind of taste. I was just really fucking angry). It was a futile effort to offset the despair that knotted my gut when I heard the words “We have to tell the Americans” and is still there.

Everyone in Europe kept telling us it will be all right. In Italy they reminded us about Berlusconi, their own personal Horrorclown, and how they’d survived twenty years of him. The U.S. isn’t Italy, but maybe they’re right, maybe we will survive, but surviving isn’t really what I signed up for. I want to keep creating — writing books, playing guitar, working on films — without the looming threat of Armageddon or to Planned Parenthood. I suppose the looming threat of Armageddon or to Planned Parenthood has been there my whole life, but it’s never fun to see the leering visage of fascism made corporeal and, you know, in charge of our nuclear arsenal.

On the other hand, Lola’s plan to retreat from the world and live in a cabin in some remote forest just got a boost. I’ll gladly join her, should she make the leap. See? There’s always an upside.

 

— James Greer

 

 

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

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At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree is being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.

With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.

Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.

Mitski – Puberty 2

Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.

Big Thief – Masterpiece

One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.

Swim Team – Swim Team

One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.

Greys – Outer Heaven

2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly  push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heaven was their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.

Hovvdy – Taster

A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

Tancred – Out of the Garden
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh Boland – Spilt Milk
Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts
Eluvium – False Readings On
Told Slant – Going By
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Jean-Michael Blais – II
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Other honorable mentions:

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing | Yucky Duster – Yucky Duster | Vanity – Don’t Be Shy | Kane Strang – Blue Cheese | Steve Adamyk Band – Graceland | Lydia Loveless – Real | Touché Amoré – Stage Four | Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math | Jeff – Rosenstock – WORRY. | Lucy Dacus – No Burden | Summer Cannibals – Full Of ItNopes – Never Heard Of It | Florist – The Birds Outside Sang | Susan – Never Enough | Abi Reimold – Wriggling | Mal Devisa – Kiid | Julianna Barwick – Will | Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone | Big Ups – Before A Million Universes | Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold | Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp | AJJ – The Bible 2 | Angel Olsen – My Woman | Drive-By Truckers – American Band | Charles Bradley – Changes

16 of ’16: The Best Songs of the Year

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Following suit with the two previous examples, the best songs of 2016 list will abandon the traditional numerical format in favor of a more open approach that concentrates on the best material of the year without offering too many individual designations. The majority of the songs featured on this list were under-represented on lists by far more visible publications (and a few that were fairly represented are listed below the main list as honorable mentions) and fall under the genres normally covered by this site. Of course, this list — just like any other — can’t claim to be truly representative but it does offer a decent encapsulation of 2016 releases that deserved to be celebrated.

An additional note: most of the embeds come from bandcamp, so songs will auto-play after the initial listen. This was intentional to ease the access to the records that can claim these songs and to more directly benefit the artists that brought them into the world.

Enjoy the list.

Mo Troper – Happy Birthday

One of the strongest debut records of last year was Mo Troper‘s Beloved, an entirely unexpected but wholly welcome powerpop masterpiece. While just about every song on Beloved was considered for this list, it seemed appropriate to go with “Happy Birthday” which set the tone for a fearsome record that deserved far more recognition.

Doe – Sincere

Some Things Last Longer Than You was a blistering statement from Doe, a band that had been steadily gaining momentum for years. It was a perfectly structured record that allowed its songs an equal amount of weight but “Sincere” still managed to emerge as a standout single. Fiery and full of conviction, it was one of 2016’s best moments.


Told Slant – Low Hymnal

Low Hymnal” was a song that I was fortunate enough to hear forming in its earliest stages but the finished product still managed to wind up as a transcendental experience. There’s genuine pain at the root of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” that lends to the overwhelming weight of the song’s unforgettable final stanza. A gorgeous and moving masterwork.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

In the title track for their career best, Human Performance, Parquet Courts hit an exhilarating new high point. “Human Performance” is a tightly-coiled and deeply felt examination of the human condition that finds the band stretching in new directions with a fearlessness that makes the song as gripping as it is immediate.

Yucky Duster – Gofer

A pitch-perfect pop song, Yucky Duster‘s “Gofer” became one of 2016’s most unexpected summer anthems. It’s a pure delight at every perfectly-navigated hairpin turn, serving up some of the most meticulously constructed guitar pop in recent memory. A perfect blend of style and substance, “Gofer” is a triumph from a band worth watching.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)

While Pretty Years saw Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to evolve their sound, no moment of the record was more jaw-dropping than the towering “Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)“. An eye-opening display of formidable strength and untapped ferocity, the song saw the band perfecting just about every facet of their already-impressive songwriting.

LVL UP – Spirit Was

Pain” and “Hidden Driver” got a fair amount of attention from year-end lists but the most representative moment of LVL UP‘s Return To Love was the bittersweet “Spirit Was“, which also ranks as one of the band’s best. Vocalist/bassist Nick Corbo provided Return To Love its beating heart and “Spirit Was” marked the moment it completely opened.

Big Thief – Real Love

It takes a certain type of boldness to title a record Masterpiece but when that record features songs like “Real Love“, that title just seems apt. In some moments “Real Love” is breezy and open, while others finds Big Thief baring their fangs. Throw in one of the most effective guitar solos of the past few years and “Real Love” quietly emerges as a new classic.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos

Before hanging up their cables, Jawbreaker Reunion were kind enough to deliver one last album in haha and then what 😉, which lived up to the bands sterling track record. The best moment of a great record came via “Cosmos“, a gorgeous ballad examining serious topics that quickly transforms into a forceful reckoning. In short: it’s perfect.

Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia

Likely the most celebrated record appearing on this list, Car Seat Headrest‘s Teens of Denial‘s most breathtaking moment was largely ignored by other outlets. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is a sprawling meditation on hopelessness that somehow finds a way to seamlessly work in a brief, heartrending cover of Dido’s “White Flag”. A genuine achievement.

Fred Thomas – Brickwall

Fred Thomas is making and releasing music at a relatively relentless rate, which is a trait that typically produces a lot of filler material. Thomas somehow keeps getting better, something that’s clearly evident in “Brickwall“, a characteristically acerbic slice-of-life send-up that highlights Changer, which will go down as one of 2017’s finest.

Cloud Nothings – Modern Act

Rarely does a band come across as progressive while revisiting their earlier sounds, yet “Modern Act” finds a way to fuse progression with refinement in its revisitations. A brilliant hybrid of virtually every stage of the band’s career “Modern Act” is both a victory lap and an engrossing look at Cloud Nothings‘ increasingly promising future.

Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab

Crockpot” was the kind of unforgettable song that could make a band’s career, that Slothrust has surpassed those dazzling heights so quickly is a staggering accomplishment. “Horseshoe Crab” is the kind of track that can stop people in their tracks. It’s a spellbinding song from a band unafraid to rip the bleeding heart out of their own chest.

Catbus – Fracas

A standalone release — and lone track — from a band that features Phyllis Ophelia and members of Patio, Catbus‘ “Fracas” is a riveting hybrid of post-punk and basement pop. The verses ensnare the listeners attention before the chorus blooms and casts an unbreakable spell. Exceedingly lovely and perfectly crafted, “Fracas” is an absolute gem.

John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest

No song in 2016 carried more emotional resonance than John K. Samson‘s devastating final chapter to the Virtute trilogy. Plaintive, painfully intimate, and tinged with a deeply damaged sense of hope, the song finds Virtute’s owner resurrecting the neglected cat to beg for forgiveness. Harrowing and unforgettable, “Virtute At Rest” was a knockout blow.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright

There’s a grace and elegance that’s identifiable even through the light damage that Jay Som applies to “I Think You’re Alright” that brings Sparklehorse to mind. Now, direct comparisons on this site are few and far between — especially in the case of such notable luminaries — but it’s next to impossible not to hear the ghost of Mark Linkous lovingly haunting every last second of “I Think You’re Alright”.

Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind the Jay Som project, has listed Sparklehorse as a major influence and the two share a kindred, empathetic spirit- something that shows in the delicate tenderness of “I Think You’re Alright” and maintains its convictions throughout the rest of Jay Som’s discography. While that discography is an enviable one, “I Think You’re Alright” remains its crown jewel, thanks to not only the song’s sublime instrumentation but a narrative that plays perfectly into the song’s soft lyricism.

All at once, uplifting and resigned, “I Think  You’re Alright” occupies a fascinating space. There’s a lot going on in “I Think You’re Alright”, from the subdued atmosphere to the way that instrumentation interacts in its final quarter. When it’s playing, though, none of that’s taken into account as “I Think You’re Alright” has the ability to envelop the listener in a very specific feeling, rendering it a unique (and uniquely moving) listen. Not just one of the finest of this year but of the past decade.

Nine more worth hearing:

PWR BTTM – Projection
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Weaves – Coo Coo
Margaret Glaspy – You and I
Forth Wanderers – Slop
Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
Eskimeaux – WTF
Tancred – Sell My Head
Young Jesus – Baked Goods

16 of ’16: The Best EP’s of the Year

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Once again, an increasingly busy schedule has led to a brief gap between posts and diminished the possibilities for year-end coverage. For that reason, there’ll only be three more Best Of pieces before the third round of A Year’s Worth of Memories. Sadly, this means some previous categories will be neglected but don’t let that diminish the importance of things like online singles, compilations, and the other odds and ends releases.

This list will focus on the EP’s that were released this year, which had to be at least four songs or exceed 10 minutes in length (which disqualified some genuinely tremendous releases). A lot of great material came out this year and these EP’s managed to emerge as standouts. For any potential bias to be eliminated, EP’s that premiered here were deemed ineligible (but should still be celebrated). Enjoy the list.

Jack – Resting Places 

One of the more harrowing listens of 2016 was centered around the loss of a loved one. It was an event that seems to have transformed something in Brittany Costa, the mastermind behind Jack and Resting Places. This is an explosive EP and it deserved much more circulation than it received.

Krill – Krill 

A posthumous release from one of the most fiercely beloved bands in DIY punk, Krill‘s self-titled swan song may also be their finest work. Bassist/vocalist employed baritone guitar lines to spectacular effect on Krill, something evident from the EP’s brilliant opening track (“Meat”). Precise and teeming with feeling, it’s one hell of a goodbye.

Eskimeaux – Year of the Rabbit

Following this site’s pick for 2015’s Album of the Year proved to be a shockingly easy feat for Eskimeaux, who quickly released a summery EP overflowing with memorable moments. Year of the Rabbit finds Eskimeaux deepening the best aspects of their music and refining some newer tricks. It’s a breezy listen that carries substantial weight.

Kynnet – …Taas ne Kynnet 

A blast of fired-up basement pop from Finland, Kynnet once again proves to be an uncontainable force with …Taas ne Kynnet. This is hard-charging music that transcends the language divide and effortlessly engages listeners with its overwhelming immediacy. Give in or get out of the way because once …Taas ne Kynnet gets gets going, it’s not stopping.

Forth Wanderers – Slop 

Headlined by its breathtaking title trackSlop is a warning shot from the increasingly ambitious Forth Wanderers. While “Slop” is undoubtedly the standout of the EP, the other three songs don’t ever come across as being overshadowed, revealing flashes of the band’s brilliance. Slop is a uniformly strong outing that packs a serious punch.

Happyness – Tunnel Vision On Your Part 

Happyness teased Tunnel Vision On Your Part with “SB’s Truck“, a song based on the fascinating historical footnote that saw the unlikely pairing of Andre The Giant and Samuel Beckett. The band continues to do no wrong, turning in another immensely enjoyable collection of songs that further their growing reputation as master popsmiths.

Faye – Faye 

An extraordinary debut from an extremely promising band, Faye‘s self-titled is a beautifully crafted work that capitalizes on the sort of subtleties that some veteran acts still have a difficult time navigating. Nearly half of this EP rightfully earned individual features before its release and the EP’s remainder lived up to the promise of those tracks.

Snail Mail – Habit 

2016 saw Snail Mail start to break out and earn some overdue attention on a much larger scale. A lot of that can be attributed to the remarkable (and surprisingly affecting) Habit. Vulnerable, defiant, and tenaciously pointed, Habit‘s the kind of record that burrows under the skin and refuses to leave. A gem and a career best.

Hazel English – Never Going Home 

There were few, if any records, released in 2016 lovelier than Hazel English‘s Never Going Home. A spellbinding mixture of dream pop, basement pop, and post-punk, Never Going Home‘s the kind of painfully beautiful work that deserves to be remembered. It’s a series of grace notes that openly offer contentment and warmth.

Fern Mayo – Hex Signs 

Fern Mayo became a staple of this site’s coverage based on the white-knuckle intensity of their live show and in Hex Signs they manage to harness that intimidating forcefulness. Easily the best work of the band’s burgeoning career, Hex Signs is a confrontational demonstration of the type of strength that refuses to be ignored.

don’t – forget it. 

One of the unique thrills of music writing is the discovery of a young, unknown band from a relatively small area that are doing interesting, impressive things. don’t met all of those qualifications to such an excessive degree with forget it. that it became unforgettable. While possibly the least recognizable name on this list, they deserve the placement.

Patio – Luxury

Being able to watch a band evolve from their first show and thrive in the state of progression is a privilege. It’s even more of a privilege when the band in question is one like Patio, who excel at the formula that makes up Luxury: wiry post-punk that serves up as much dry wit as it does sheer attitude. What’s scary is they’re still only just getting started.

Strange Ranger – Sunbeams Through Your Head 

Sunbeams Through Your Head marked an exhilarating new chapter for Strange Ranger who, almost paradoxically, seemed galvanized in their decision to more fully embrace a downtrodden nature. It’s an EP characterized by moments either brave, bold, or beautiful. An extraordinarily compelling listen and the sound of a band hitting its stride.

Tony Molina – Confront the Truth 

As someone who could claim in-your-face micro-punk as a specialty, Tony Molina‘s gorgeous Confront the Truth likely came as a shock to some. Anyone well-versed in Molina’s work could easily see how the songwriter could conjure up a gentle 7″ full of retro-leaning acoustic pop songs that invoked the spirit of the late ’60 and early ’70s. A sublime work.

Talons’ – Work Stories 

One of the rare records where the distinction between album and EP becomes blurry, Work Stories nevertheless saw Talons’ extend a quiet streak of ridiculously impressive records. Hushed and haunted folk-inflected songs comprise Work Stories, each as breathtakingly gripping as the last. Work Stories is another piece of mastery.

EP OF THE YEAR

Mercury Girls/The Spook School/Wildhoney/Tigercats – Continental Drift 

While the intro to this piece stated that the majority of the odds and ends would be ignored, an exception is being made for the excessively great split EP that saw Mercury Girls (who also released the excellent Ariana 7″ in 2016), The Spook School, Wildhoney, and Tigercats each contribute two songs. Continental Drift doesn’t feel or operate like the majority of split releases by virtue of its exhaustively complete unification.

All four bands on Continental Drift can come across as singular acts, on closer inspection they begin to appear as slight mutations of each other, rendering this split an effortless listen. There could very well be a group of people that’d mistake Continental Drift as the work of one inhumanly talented band (though the shift in accents may provide a tipping point). Each of the four acts bring their best work to the table and make characteristically strong impressions.

Over Continental Drift‘s eight tracks, not only is there never a weak song, there’s never a weak moment. Each of these songs is tightly crafted and masterfully executed, providing each act with a highlight reel that could attract unfamiliar listeners to the rest of their respective discographies. There are so many soaring moments scattered throughout Continental Drift that the end result is stratospheric. In theory, this split was enticing but in its execution Continental Drift achieves a staggering amount of perfection.

Nine more worth checking out:

Lady Bones – Terse
Cleo Tucker – Looking Pretty At the Wall
Devon Welsh – Down the Mountain
Plush – Please
Young Jesus – Void As Lob
Naps – The Most Beautiful Place On Earth
gobbinjr – vom night
CHEW – CHEW
Fake Boyfriend – Mercy

16 of ’16: The Best Music Videos of the Year

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It’s been a while since anything’s run on this site but, as always, everything that’s being put on the table is being assessed and evaluated. A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ third edition is just around the corner but before those recollections begin, it only seems fair to take a look back at the best of what 2016 had to offer. This will be the first year where a numerical rankings system is abandoned, a decision that wasn’t made lightly but is being enforced for a variety of reasons specific to this over-stuffed year (meaning that the numerical rankings system may appear again roughly 12 months from now).

For whatever reason, music videos are largely viewed by the general public as having fallen out of favor, which is a genuine shame considering what’s being done with the form. Lemonade seemed to revive some interest and open up potential possibilities for the future but it’s still a format that the public’s left by the wayside. Here at Heartbreaking Bravery, the best of these have been traditionally celebrated because they represent the perfect marriage of music and film. 2016 presented a whole new slate of incredible material, headlined by an unbelievable string of videos from Minor Victories and PUP, that were worth praising.

Here are 16 of the best clips to have appeared throughout the year.

Kevin Morby – Dorothy

Christopher Good has directed a handful of videos that have been featured on this site over the years but may have turned in a career best with Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy“. Embracing Morby’s open road aesthetics, Good allows “Dorothy” to gracefully coast along at a breezy pace, infusing it with an inordinate amount of perfect cues and tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s sublime craftsmanship that not only complements but elevates its already-great source material.

Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator

After cracking last year’s music video list with the jaw-dropping clip for “Kim’s Caravan”, Courtney Barnett makes another appearance thanks to the fascinating, cameo-heavy video for “Elevator Operator“. Blending Barnett’s signature wit with a staggering moment of quiet existentialism that arrives out of nowhere, “Elevator Operator” sees the celebrated songwriter aiming for new heights and reaching a stratospheric level.

John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues

Former Weakerthans bandleader John K. Samson made an incredibly welcome return with 2016’s outstanding Winter Wheat. One of that record’s highlights, “Postdoc Blues“, received the music video treatment and is the rare clip that benefits from an incredibly direct and literal simplicity. Created for a good cause and executed to a characteristically unassuming brand of perfection, “Postdoc Blues” is a breath of fresh air.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

No music video from 2016 proved to be more grotesquely haunting than Parquet Courts‘ oddly disturbed, puppet-driven clip for “Human Performance“. It’s intensely human, ridiculously unnerving, and extremely hard to shake. “Human Performance” props up its own ugliness in an effectively defiant act of genuinely brave showmanship. A singular piece from a fascinating directorial voice, “Human Performance” wound up as one of 2016’s most fascinating moments.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)

Easily one of 2016’s best songs, Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” also served as one of the year’s best music videos. Shot through with nostalgia and an abundance of feeling, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” managed the impossible task of both referencing an indisputable classic and standing on its own. A perfect marriage of lyric video and traditional music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars may have created something bordering on timeless.

LVL UP – The Closing Door

The first major music video effort from LVL UP came courtesy of House of Nod, who were given the unenviable task of capturing the searing spiritual search present all throughout the band’s latest effort, Return to Love, and turned in an absolute gem. “The Closing Door” relies heavily on imagery and metaphor but never seems anything less than grounded. “The Closing Door” climaxes in a beautiful final sequence that’s moving, hopeful, and reassuring, three things that become sorely necessary in a difficult year.

Potty Mouth – Smash Hit

There are a lot of ways a music video can achieve greatness, whether it be through breathtaking visuals, inspired direction, a memorable concept, by complementing the song, or, in the case of Potty Mouth‘s “Smash Hit“, being astonishingly representative of the band.  An effective mix of glitz, glamour, and grit, “Smash Hit” finds the trio vamping for the cameras and giving a tenacious central performance. It’s an exhilarating burst from a band that’s attained an assured confidence.

Vagabon – The Embers

“The Embers” served as site favorites Vagabon‘s introduction-at-large for a sizable audience and it’s one hell of an introduction. Utilizing a visual style that’s not too distant from Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (one of the best films of this young century), “The Embers” is immediately gripping. The empowering, symbolism-heavy narrative is as striking as the imagery and all of it clicks into something that verges on the transcendental. In short: it’s unmissable.

Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You

Another clip from the inimitable House of Nod, Japanese Breakfast‘s “Everybody Wants to Love You” popped up on many of these year-end music video lists and it’s incredibly easy to see why. A celebration of heritage and individuality as well as a moving tribute to a deceased parent, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is loaded with sincerity and meaning. Vibrant with the faintest touch of melancholy, it’s an unforgettable demonstration of personal strength and unerring resolve.

Dilly Dally – Snakehead

Likely the funniest music video to be released in 2016, Dilly Dally‘s “Snakehead” music video skewers its own format at every turn, while clearly being a meticulously crafted clip born out of a deep love and understanding of music videos. Biting captions, self-aware performances, and contextual knowledge make “Snakehead” obscenely endearing and skyrocket its worth in the process. Pointed, snarky, and a hell of a lot of fun, “Snakehead” is nothing less than a knockout.

PWR BTTM – West Texas

2016 was a very kind year for PWR BTTM and one of the duo’s opening shots was the sweeping music video for “West Texas”. Epic in scope and unapologetic in its cinematic debt, “West Texas” is a swaggering blast of bravado that touches on just about everything that’s made PWR BTTM so beloved in such a short amount of time. The identity politics, the showmanship, the willingness to be subversive, and the ability to string everything together with fiendishly sly, self-aware humor.

Hazel English – Never Going Home

Hazel English delivered one of the year’s best EP’s with the exceedingly lovely Never Going Home, which boasted a title track that received an absolutely gorgeous visual accompaniment. While the lyric video for “I’m Fine“, the studio clip for “It’s Not Real“, and the clip for “Control” all merited individual consideration for this list, it was the soft lensing and natural, delicate charm of “Never Going Home” that made the deepest impression. It casts a spell that’s worthy of a complete surrender.

Mitski – Happy

Part of a trio of impressive Mitski clips (including “Your Best American Girl” and “A Burning Hill“), “Happy” packed a powerful enough punch to secure the spot on this list. Paying homage to heritage, race relations, historical tension, military occupation, and a bevvy of classic films,  Maegan Houang brings a fiery directorial touch to an outstanding concept and executes with staggering purpose. By the time “Happy” winds to an end, it’s difficult to wish for anything other than an expansion into a feature length film.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Trio

While Angel Olsen, The Avalanches, and DJ Shadow (ft. Run the Jewels) were among some of the bigger names making genuinely outstanding music videos, what filmmaker Andrew Dominik accomplished with his clips of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds playing a trio of clips (“I Need You“, “Jesus Alone“, and “Girl In Amber“) from the band’s shattering Skeleton Tree simply can’t be ignored. This is both performance and performance filmmaking of the highest possible level.

Minor Victories – Cogs (Orchestral Variation)

Only one band could rival what Minor Victories achieved in the music video format in 2016 (but we’ll get to that band in a moment). Minor Victories aggressively established an arresting visual aesthetic and turned in an incredible number of clips that could have very easily wound up in this spot. “Cogs“, “Folk Arp“, “Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)“, “A Hundred Ropes“, “Breaking My Light“, and “Give Up the Ghost (Orchestral Variation)” were all gripping in various ways, making the most of crisp black-and-white cinematography. Their finest moment, however, came with the release of “Cogs (Orchestral Variation)“, an expansive, intimate character study and the band’s most ambitious offering to date. It’s harrowing, it’s riveting, and it’s easily one of the best clips of 2016.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

PUP – Sleep in the Heat

In 2013, PUP‘s “Reservoir” topped the year-end music video list I contributed to PopMatters. In 2014, PUP’s “Guilt Trip” topped this site’s very first year-end music videos list. In 2015, PUP managed to crack the year-end music video list once again with “Dark Days“. This year, the band continued an unprecedented run of dominance in the format with no less than three legitimate year-end contenders, each wildly different from the other.

From the playful, game-happy lyric clip for “DVP” to the relentless shock-and-awe brutality of the terrifyingly-named “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“, the band was firing on all cylinders. Still, none of that could’ve been adequate preparation for what they and director Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux achieved with “Sleep in the Heat”, a successor to “Guilt Trip” that came several years after filming on “Guilt Trip” wrapped- and after “Guilt Trip” star Finn Wolfhard landed another lucrative starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Just as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” intercut footage of “Reservoir” to establish a sense of history to ground its narrative and supply additional meaning, “Sleep in the Heat” opens with the startlingly vivid footage of its natural predecessor. The actors that were assembled in “Guilt Trip” resume their posts as stand-in’s for PUP’s members in their earlier days and each of them — particularly Wolfhard, who turns in what’s easily the best work of his burgeoning career in this clip — give committed performances.

Taking on the role of a scrappy touring band, the young cast find themselves navigating the frequently dire circumstances that are all too familiar to anyone that’s ever hopped in a van to drive four hours to play a show in a basement to five people. There’s a sense of lived-in realism that bolsters everything in the clip, which seeps in from the onset and never relinquishes its hold. Early on, “Sleep in the Heat” takes a curious turn when a stray dog takes a shining to the band’s food and follows them to their next brief stop, endearing itself to the band to the point where they bring it on board as a rescue.

Here’s where the narrative crux of “Sleep in the Heat” — a song written about guitarist/vocalist Stefan Babcock’s deceased chameleon — begins to sink in and all anyone can do is prepare for devastation. Not too long after that sudden, sinking realization, things in the video begin to get bleak. The dog gets sick and needs a surgical procedure, unable to cover the expense, Wolfhard (as the young Babcock) pawns a guitar mid-tour to provide for the animal that’s quickly become a new best friend. The surgery goes forward but it isn’t enough.

In one of the most emotionally shattering music video montages of recent memory, the band members of PUP are photographed holding their own deceased pets, lending a heartbreaking reality to an already emotionally charged clip. Several stages of the process of dealing with death all collide at once and it’s a forceful, resonant moment that immediately registers as singular.

As brilliant as that moment is, it’s not until the final passage where everything’s really driven home. Wolfhard’s back to the front of the band, guitar slung across his body once more (a perfect shot revealing he’d broken through the pawn shop glass to steal it back is just one of many grace notes scattered throughout the clip), looking delirious, hollow, and broken as footage of the wounded dog being tended to is intercut with Wolfhard overcome with emotion while screaming the song’s final chorus: Yesterday I went back to my apartment to see how you’d been holding up, you hadn’t been eating, I thought you were sleeping but you’re not waking up. I want you to know that I’d spend every bit of my pitiful savings and loans just to see you again… but I know I won’t.

The screen fades to black and resumes after a brief pause only to reveal rocks being piled on top of a freshly-dug patch of dirt. The camera pulls back and reveals one word, spray painted on the rock pile’s surface: PUP. Another pause and another cut to black occurs before “Sleep in the Heat” offers one final nod to its prequel and closes with a shot of the van moving forward down an open road, looking ahead to new triumphs, heartbreak, and everything else life has to offer. 

Chick Quest – Savant Garde (Music Video)

chickquest

After a brief hiatus, coverage on Heartbreaking Bravery is resuming with a quick post, a small handful of year-end lists, and the return of A Year’s Worth of Memories. To start, the focus will be on clips; Ratboys, Men I Trust, PINS, Bloody Death Skull, and Moby & The Void Pacific Choir all put out great videos at the tail end of 2016 but the latest from Chick Quest proved to be a genuine standout.

A simple, direct clip, for a simple, direct song “Savant Garde” somehow manages to pack a surprising amount of punch. Each of the band members mime their parts and dance in front of an empty club’s brick wall (and, in the case of a sizable portion of the vocals, a red curtain). The premise is simple but the execution is sublime. There’s a tension that the track drums up which the video capitalizes on by subtly emphasizing its empty spaces. It’s a brilliant touch and it elevates “Savant Garde” considerably. Easily a career highlight for the band, the clip they’ve provided does it justice.

Watch “Savant Garde” below and keep an eye on this site for more details on their forthcoming record.

Seven Weeks, Seven Records

Saintseneca X

In a very short (and recent) stretch Freddy Beach, Spencer Tweedy, Chase Allen, Super Paradise, and Sallow have all unveiled strong records. Those records served as the tip of a mountain that had been building over the past two months. Below are seven of the absolute strongest records to have found release in the past seven weeks. Strong debuts, mesmerizing EP’s, and releases that reaffirm great bands’ solid reputations, there’s a little something for every corner.

Hellrazor – Satan Smile

Barbed basement pop will always be celebrated on Heartbreaking Bravery and it’s no mistake that Hellrazor is a name that’s been printed in these confines multiple times. That said, the Michael Falcone-led project has never sounded sharper than they do on Satan Smile, a blistering tour de force that fully commits to an overwhelmingly aggressive nature to spectacular effect. Dirtied up, deeply felt, and intelligently crafted, the 14 tracks that comprise Satan Smile never waver in their tenacity and elevate the record to one o the year’s best.

Phyllis Ophelia – Analemma I

For several years, Phyllis Ophelia has been releasing extraordinary, albeit relatively unassuming, material. 2016 saw Ophelia hit a new high with Catbus’ incredible “Fracas” and complements that career highlight to an exhilarating degree with the Analemma I EP. Each one of the four tracks  on Analemma I is a breathtaking highlight, marking Ophelia as one of today’s stronger emerging songwriters. It’s a relatively relaxed listen but it still packs several punches and provides just as many thrills. Make sure to give it the attention it deserves.

Holy Tunics – Hot to Trot

An upstart band with a serious pedigree (two of the members are perennial site favorite Davey Jones, the mastermind behind Lost Boy ?, and Ana Becker of Fruit & Flowers), Holy Tunics come charging out of the gate with Hot to Trot. One of 2016’s more peppy EP’s also proves to be one of its more memorable. Aided in part by the behind the boards work of Big Ups‘ seemingly tireless Amar Lal, Hot to Trot has a vibrancy that breathes an enormous amount of life into the proceedings. Alternately breezy and pointed, it’s a significant debut outing for a band who will be worth watching as they forge a path into the future.

Saintseneca – Mallwalker

Very few bands ever attain the kind of ridiculous consistency that’s been present in Saintseneca‘s work since their earliest outings. Every single one of the band’s releases has been a viable year-end contender and their surprise holiday-leaning compilation EP, Mallwalker, is no exception. The band’s take on Appalachian folk remains lively, innovative, and ridiculously compelling. Zac Little’s lyrics continue to surpass those of many of his peers and the band’s grasp on structure and composition catapult them into a class of their own. Mallwalker — a collection of the band’s Christmas-referencing songs and one mesmerizing new entry — is an absolute joy and earns its spot in the band’s discography, which is a compliment all on its own.

Chemtrails – Love In Toxic Wasteland

A surging burst of punk-inflected basement pop, Chemtrails’ Love In Toxic Wasteland confidently stands as one of this year’s most unexpected delights. Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, Chemtrails arrive fully-formed, with incredibly sharp hooks in tow. From the EP’s opening number, the explosive “Aeons”, it quickly becomes clear that this band doesn’t have time for petty trifles; this is the type of basement pop that goes straight for the jugular. Immediate and immediately memorable, Chemtrails have crafted something that’ll make people remember their name.

Hung Toys – Welcome to Repayment

Losing Geronimo! was a tough blow to endure but the band’s core songwriting duo has remained active — possibly even hyper-active — in the wake of the band’s departure. Geronimo!’s guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson, recently unleashed the seething behemoth that is Welcome to Repayment on the world, which features much of what made Geronimo! such a singular act, only with a renewed emphasis on hardcore underpinnings. 10 tracks of unrelenting post-punk (including a particularly spiky Blur cover), Welcome to Repayment acts not only as a great standalone record but a relieving assurance: Geronimo! may be dead but Johnson isn’t leaving anytime soon.

Horsecops – Annie

Once in a while, a band that’s received praise on here in the past will point me towards an act that’s been grabbing their attention and that recommendation will lead to an exhilarating discovery. In that respect, many thanks are due to Blue Smiley for providing a pathway to Horsecops and their jaw-dropping full-length debut, Annie. An eclectic mix of shoegaze, post-punk, basement punk, noise, powerpop, and just about every other genre or sub-genre that receives regular coverage here, Horsecops manage to evoke the best of like-minded contemporaries while finding a way to firmly establish their own identity. Annie is a remarkable release from a young band capable of crafting material that’s genuinely unforgettable.

Seven Weeks of Streams

Charly Bliss LIV

The last two months or so, while dwindling down in the release compartment, have been stacked with great material.  Mac McCaughanGrouper, SOHN, Trashclub, Palberta, Rosebug, Ben Varian, sad13, Sam Skinner, So Stressed, benngrigg, and Keroscene all released impressive material in the past week or so and deserve attention but the twenty(-two) tracks listed below more than earned their feature placements. A lot of favorites and some new names co-exist in the run-down, which can (and should) be explored below.

Charly Bliss – Turd

An insane amount of praise has been showered on Charly Bliss in the confines of this site. They’ve deserved even more. The band’s currently in the midst of sharpening a full-length they’ve been working on for more than two full years. “Turd” is a tantalizing glimpse at what’s to come, a molotov cocktail of classic pop influences teeming with a confrontational punk sensibility that, paradoxically, manages to be incredibly inviting.

Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout

Gofer” remains one of the most infectious pop songs to have been written since the turn of the century. Yucky Duster‘s just-unveiled “The Ropes” shows they’ve got no intentions of slowing down and “Elementary School Dropout” proves the band’s whip-smart intelligence is fully intact. Jaunty, enticing, and oddly moving, the song’s making it next to impossible to wait for their forthcoming EP, Lament.

WHY? – This Ole King

Elephant EyelashAlopeciaEskimo Snow, and maybe even Oaklandazulasylum deserve to be regarded as modern classics. While still releasing some immensely thoughtful material, WHY? hasn’t managed to match those releases in the years that have passed since Eskimo Snow. “This Ole King”, the band’s most arresting composition in a handful of years, offers up a ray of hope. Tasteful and weirdly enchanting, it’s already earned a spot as one of WHY?’s finest individual works.

Cloud Nothings – Internal World

Cloud Nothings have been enjoying a deeply impressive streak since becoming a full band several years ago. From the cold, steel trap that was Attack On Memory to the relentlessly bruising Here and Nowhere Else, they’ve demonstrated a lot of range. “Internal World” continues to hint at their forthcoming record taking the best parts of all three of those releases and congealing them into something incredibly compelling. It’s another impressive piece of an already fascinating puzzle.

Amos Pitsch – Shift Towards Tenderness

No band has earned more rapturous praise (or more praise in general) than Tenement. DUSK have earned themselves a fair few accolades as well. If Amos Pitsch (guitar/vocals in Tenement and bass/vocals in DUSK) is involved with a song, there’s a very strong chance it’ll be receiving praise here. Pitsch has mostly avoided releasing solo works, which makes “Shift Towards Tenderness” something of a surprise. Not a surprise? “Shift Towards Tenderness” being another unassuming tour de force from one of this generation’s finest songwriters.

Luxury Death – Painkiller

“Painkiller” is another impressive notch in the belt of one of today’s finest labels, Art Is Hard. Peppy and packing a considerable amount of bite, the Luxury Death single is a microcosm of what makes both the band and the label releasing the single so formidable. Immensely appealing and constructed with a clearly apparent thoughtfulness, there are no false moves among a series of refreshing grace notes.

Permit – Track #1

One of 2016’s most pleasant surprises, Permit took off running. The band’s Vol. I EP was a galvanizing blast of glam-inflected punk with a serious amount of classic pop overtones. Headlining those proceedings was “Track #1”, which immediately sets the band up as kindred spirits to Sheer Mag. Sharp, fierce,  and immediately memorable, “Track #1” easily ranks among the year’s most exciting listens.

No Sun – Drown In You

2016 didn’t have quite as many out-and-out shoegaze powerhouse releases as many of the preceding years but the genre still had some incredibly bright moments. One such  moment came in the form of No Sun‘s towering “Drown In You”, which operates with a menacing ferocity in its opening two and a half minutes before turning elegiac for an extended outro. It’s unmissable.

Super Capsule – Frost

An incendiary burst of incisive post-punk, filtered through a post-hardcore lens, Super Capsule’s “Frost” teems with aggression. It also serves as a notice to start sitting up and paying attention to the band, who seem hell-bent on creating an army of converts by demolishing genre boundaries with a relentlessly precise attack. Trying to form a defense simply isn’t an option.

Lost Boy ? – I’m An Alligator (Deathwish) + Shoo – Bop

Lost Boy ? has appeared with regularity on Heartbreaking Bravery since it began more than three years ago. The Davey Jones outfit is likely to see that trend continue, especially considering the incessant releases. Once again, serving up plenty of oddball charm “I’m An Alligator (Deathwish)” and “Shoo – Bop” showcase Jones’ immeasurable talent for crafting memorable, hook-heavy basement pop. Short, brilliant, and singular, Lost Boy ? continues to extend an unlikely winning streak with panache.

Cooler – Metal Moths

A surging punk-informed behemoth, “Metal Moths” brings to mind classic forebears while remaining unflinchingly modern. It’s an impressive offering from Cooler, who have come out swinging with their sophomore EP, Phantom Phuzz. “Metal Moths” is the collection’s crown jewel and contains enough firepower to turn an increasing number of heads with every passage. Keep both eyes on this quartet, they’ve proven they’re worth following.

Cayetana – Trails

Cayetana keep finding new ways to improve. After a string of career highlights, the band graciously dropped “Trails”, a breathtaking ballad that showcases a surprising penchant for vulnerability amid their typical all-consuming storm of noises. It’s a spellbinding moment from one of today’s more exciting punk acts, demonstrating newfound depth and a refined sense of dynamics that elevates “Trails” from being merely great to being transcendental.

Slumbers – Doboom Soom

It’s been a good year for the emergent Slumbers, who’ve been carving out a name for themselves with intelligent folk-tinged bedroom pop. “Doboom Soom” may be their finest moment to date, an airy take on the line between loneliness and self-preservation that cuts through its instrumental warmth with a narrative of astounding clarity. If Slumbers can keep topping themselves the way they’ve been lately, their name may accumulate considerable clout in the coming years.

John Wesley Coleman – Shovel + Hang Tight

For a handful of years, John Wesley Coleman has been a beacon of consistency. Every release bearing the songwriter’s name has been formidable enough to warrant serious attention and yet larger familiarity in the public eye has eluded Coleman. “Shovel” and “Hang Tight” are both worthy reminders of Coleman’s enviable gifts as a songwriter and worthy entries into an incredible discography. Start getting familiar if you haven’t already or simply revisit a pair of genuinely great tracks.

Tapestries – Carline

A dreamy punk-skirting number that owes quite a bit to the more notable alternative genre permutations of the past few decades (Brit-pop, in particular), “Carline” is an immediate standout. Well-crafted and delivered with a palpable sense of passion, it ably provides a window to Tapestries’ considerable artistic growth over the past several years. Inspired and even a little inspiring, “Carline” is the type of song that reminds people of why they love music.

Stove – I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel

Stove topped last year’s Best Songs list with the soaring “Wet Food” and, instead of taking time to recalibrate after a tremendous 2016, have been releasing music at a rapid pace. “I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel” serves as another strong highlight for the Steve Hartlett-led project, even though it’s a far cry from the epic scope of “Wet Food”. That versatility has served Hartlett well in the past and here, he leads Stove through a perfect marriage of lo-fi basement punk and irrepressible basement punk. It’s another triumph.

The Sloppy Heads – The Suck

2016 has also been fairly kind to The Sloppy Heads, who have cranked out a number of vibrant basement pop numbers that lingered long after their final notes faded away. “The Suck” may have been the absolute best of this crop, striking a perfect balance between being coy and being pointed. As economic and pragmatic as the production of “The Suck” is, the song itself never stops reaching skyward and sweeps the listener up into that journey with a delicate ease.

Wild Pink – Wizard of Loneliness

Last year’s Good Life EP provided a solid introduction to Wild Pink and the band’s been capitalizing on the momentum that Good Life generated. In addition to making a series of smart moves, they’ve also been sharpening their craft, something that’s plainly evident in the exceptional “Wizard of Loneliness”, a light powerpop number that recalls Nada Surf at their finest. Gentle, atmospheric, and captivating, “Wizard of Loneliness” goes a long way in proving that Wild Pink may have a shot at achieving the kind of longevity that’s pursued by any band worth their salt and only attained by a minuscule fraction.

Daniel Klag – Inmost Light

A nearly 17-minute ambient masterpiece from the remarkable Daniel Klag, “Inmost Light” preserves his status as one of the genre’s most exciting voices. Gently unfurling, with deliberate caution and care, “Inmost Light” is — as all of the best ambient works are — a transporting experience. Volume swells, string arrangements, and ambient washes all come together to create something that verges on rapturous as it progresses. One of Klag’s most moving  pieces in what’s quickly becoming a storied career, “Inmost Light” is a beautiful reminder of what can be accomplished through patience, precision, and an abundance of feeling.

Talons’ – Driving Home From Shows

Originally released as part of 2013’s demo collection After Talons’ Demos, Talons” “Driving Home From Shows” recently received a slight revamp for Broken Circles’ Everything Melts Eventually: Vol. II compilation. The song remains a masterpiece. Michael Tolan injects the song with a staggering amount of grace and warmth. Tinted with a painfully relatable nostalgia, “Driving Home From Shows” presents the most acute details with shattering certainty. There’s a sense of empathy that guides the longing of “Driving Home From Shows”, heightening its unexpected emotive punch. Even more than when it appeared as a demo, “Driving Home From Shows” is the type of song that deserves to be put in a vault and preserved for future generations. It’s a beautiful piece that soothes and stings in equal measure. Don’t let it slip through the cracks.