Heartbreaking Bravery

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Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires (Stream)

In the past week or so there were a handful of notable music videos that emerged from the likes of Simon Doom, Real Estate, American Lips, Jay Som, Andy Shauf, Slow Dancer, Chromatics, TERRY, Sam Mullany, and Andy Gabbard. All of them were entertaining for various reasons and all of them are worthy of repeat viewings. As is always the case, music videos weren’t the only thing finding their way out of the shadows. Songs and records were unveiled but nothing landed with as much impact as Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit’s “If We Were Vampires”.

Normally, the features on Heartbreaking Bravery are granted to either emerging or off-the-radar artists, musicians as established and widely-celebrated as Isbell pick up enough notices elsewhere. To that effect, something has to be monumentally moving for an artist of that type of stature to earn a feature. “If We Were Vampires” is, unmistakably, one of those pieces. Isbell’s made a habit out of writing those types of numbers, including one of the most devastatingly beautiful songs since the turn of the century in “Cover Me Up“, a heartfelt ode to his wife and collaborator, Amanda Shires, who served as a constant reminder life was worth living.

If “Cover Me Up” centered around the conceit of Shires acting as a necessary rebirth for Isbell, “If We Were Vampires” subverts that narrative and explicitly focuses on how Shires’ presence will either make life unbearable to navigate if she passes first while recognizing that the trade-off will be worthwhile because she’ll have been there up until that point. All of those emotions are magnified considerably when taking into stock the various accounts of how Shires legitimately saved Isbell from a variety of vices that could’ve potentially ended his life. As the best partners tend to do, Shires not only gave Isbell hope but gave him a new lease on life; for Isbell Shires and his very life are inextricably intertwined to a stratospheric degree of intensity.

That love’s something that’s been present throughout his recent work and has been clearly evident in his banter (he nearly reduced an entire crowd to tears at Prospect Park in 2015 just talking about Shires, while she was on hiatus from performing to deliver the couple’s first child). In a recent interview, Isbell mentioned that when he first performed “If We Were Vampires” it was legitimately hard for him to make it to the end and admitted that’s still occasionally the case as Shires watched on with a mixture of pride and genuine understanding. They’d just run through the song and it was impossible not to notice Shires’ loving gaze as the two harmonized carried just a hint of sadness, the chorus’ final line “but one day I’ll be gone or you’ll be gone” likely hitting uncomfortably close to home.

It’s that juxtaposition of life with someone you love that makes dying a more acceptable fate. It’s a heavy concept that Isbell toys with masterfully here, envisioning both himself and Shires as vampires, content to play it cool because they didn’t have to account for that impending destination waiting on some unknown horizon. In the very next stanza, Isbell discards that scenario entirely, surmising that “time running out is a gift” and pledging every last one of his seconds to be offered up in the service of the woman he loves, a woman that both saved his life and gave him a reason to live. It’s earnest, it’s heartfelt, it’s deeply empathetic, and it stands proudly as another heartrending masterpiece from one of our generation’s finest songwriters. Hit play and keep the people you love close enough for them to know they give other people’s lives just a little more meaning.

Listen to “If We Were Vampires” below and pre-order The Nashville Sound here.

Hazel English – Just Give In / Never Going Home (Album Review)

Good records never stop getting released and in the past week there have been tantalizing full streams bearing the names of acts like Sister JamesYoung Pioneers, High Sunn, Foxholes, Friendship, Bonzie, Pallas, China Gate, Dream Machine, The Pink Tiles, and Alaskalaska. One of the most intriguing releases of that time-slot belongs to a record that this site’s already covered a good portion of in great detail: Hazel English‘s extraordinary double-EP package Just Give In / Never Going Home.

The project’s first EP, Never Going Home, was good enough to land itself a spot on Heartbreaking Bravery’s Best EP’s of 2016 list and, if Just Give In would have been released on its own instead of as a package, the feat likely would’ve been repeated this year. Since that half of the equation has already been accounted for and exhaustively covered, the attention here will mostly focus on the package release’s other half: Just Give In.

Most of the songs released from the more recent half have already been featured over the past few months as well, either as an individual song or as a characteristically striking music video. “Fix“, “More Like You“, and “Love Is Dead”  all earned headlines while English consistently earned feature slots in this site’s Watch This series. The remaining songs that haven’t been covered as in-depth as the others are as follows: “Other Lives”, “Birthday”, and bonus track “That Thing”.

“Other Lives” kicks the entire affair off with the kind of pulsating, sweetly melancholic energy that’s come to define English’s material. It’s a typically breathtaking track that breathes a gentle life into the proceedings, setting a hypnotic tone at the record’s onset. English delivers a wistful vocal paired with a downtrodden but resilient narrative that never allows itself to feel too burdened. It’s in that divide where English has found a calling and “Other Lives” stands as yet another definitive example.

“Birthday” finds English in a slightly peppier mode than usual but still finds a way to incorporate a dream-like structure that enhances the song’s more ambient elements. It’s tightly composed and masterfully executed, cementing English’s growing reputation as a songwriter of an extremely high caliber. Just as importantly, “Birthday” plays up Just Give In‘s quiet optimism, its sequencing allowing for maximum impact, suggesting English’s talents extend beyond the songwriting realm.

Just Give In / Never Going Home‘s gem of a closer finds English embracing an ’80s influence in the most definitive manner imaginable. Elevating the warm synth beds to the forefront and utilizing them as the driving force of “That Thing” opens up some room to demonstrate just how versatile English’s music has become since the songwriter’s debut. “That Thing” also perfectly wraps the record, providing it with a perfect dichotomy; the song looks towards the possibilities for the future while celebrating the past. Overall, the release should stand as a monumental effort for English and hopefully propel the songwriter to even greater heights.

Listen to Just Give In / Never Going Home below and pick it up from Polyvinyl here.

Hermetic – Postscript (Album Review)

A lot can be released in a week’s time. Fortunately, that means there’s a lot of room for excellent material, like the music videos Lydia Loveless, Kamikaze Girls, Kino Kimino, Duncan LloydSløtface, White Reaper, Mise en Scene, TV Sets, Angelo De Augustine, Guerilla Toss, Thick, and Brightness made public. More than just music videos surfaced, though, and — as always — a lot of what cropped up came from unheralded or barely-known artists. Hermetic was one of those projects but Postscript, the project’s latest full-length, proved that they’re worthy of recognition.

A duo comprised of Chris van der Laan and Tom Prilesky, Hermetic find success on Postscript by meticulously mining a lot of aspects of post-punk, bedroom pop, and their various niche hybrid offshoots that tend to get overlooked. From Albini-esque production and tones to palpable nervous tension to the dynamic composition, Postscript never comes across as anything less than ridiculously historically-informed. Hermetic’s done their homework and it shows from the record’s surprisingly heavy opening track, “Fault-Finding Mission” which brings to mind both acts like The Wrens and an innumerable slate of shoegaze-leaning projects.

Following Postscript‘s ridiculously impressive opening statement are a cavalcade of tracks that throw a variety of punches, finding clever ways to land each blow. Hermetic rarely dips out of insistent mid-tempo mode throughout the course of the record and it creates an absorbing accumulative effect. Everything from the ambient swirl of “Relics” to the moody mid-song turn in “Withering” is elevated because of the record’s tonal consistency. Each track has something to offer and stands out on its own but they create a much larger whole together. It’s an outstanding release from a band that deserves a lot more attention. Hit play and leave it on repeat.

Listen to Postscript below and pick it up here.

Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch (Music Video)

In the time that’s elapsed since the last non-premiere post was published here, there have been excellent songs by Beach Fossils, Stalagmites, Gold Dime, CHIMNEY, Bad Channels, Plastic Picnic, Hayden Calnin, Night Click, Ethan Daniel Davidson, The Technicolors, Blimp Rock, Elle Mary & The Bad MenNØMADS, and Holy Boy that have all been unveiled. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a small host of exceptional music videos to find release, headlined by “Out of Touch”, the first proper visual effort from site favorites Fruit & Flowers.

Drug Tax, the band’s forthcoming EP, is out next month and to preview the release, they’ve offered up a beach-heavy clip that comes courtesy of Thomas Ignatius, who highlights what makes the band so appealing. There’s a sense of fun permeating throughout “Out of Touch” that’s both familiar and inviting. Surf elements blend seamlessly into psych elements, the visual effects and color grading offering an acute reflection of the band’s musical aesthetic. It’s a deceptively clever and impossibly entertaining moment of quiet catharsis that more than proves Fruit & Flowers are ready to advance their career to even higher levels.

Listen to “Out of Touch” below and pre-order Drug Tax from Little Dickman here.

Amy O – Lavender Night (Stream)

Over the past week or so, there have been exceptional songs by the likes of Grizzly Bear, Crumb, Greg Ashley, Les Big Byrd, The Holy Circle, Big Bliss, Carcara, Korey Dane, Munroe,  Trü, Hundredth, Beach Fossils, High Signs, and Nick Cave & Warren Ellis that have surfaced. Those weren’t the only great songs to find release in that time, something proven by Amy O’s winsomely spiky “Lavender Night”.

Energetic, forceful, and masterfully composed, “Lavender Night” continues an unassuming winning streak for the songwriter just as it underscores all of the things Amy O does so well. Drawing from past decades of musical influence to create something that feels familiar yet unique enough to be singular, “Lavender Night” is a melting pot getting thrown across the room at a massive canvas. Once again, Amy O finds a way to stick the landing, creating an absorbing and memorable canvas worth revisiting.

Listen to “Lavender Night” below and pre-order Elastic here.

Cool American – Maui’s (Stream)

It’s been about a week since the last non-premiere post has been published. In that time, incredible new songs from Yowler, Lee Bains III + The Glory Fires, The Districts, STRFKR, Van Dale, Wieuca, Basement Revolver, Katie Ellen, Shit Girlfriend, Pink Frost, Downtown Boys, Art School Jocks, Two Inch Astronaut, David Nance, and Esper Scout have all found their way out into the world. Cool American‘s “Maui’s”, the last track to tease Infinite Hiatus, also found release in that time.

“Maui’s” continues the project’s penchant for bittersweet basement pop driven as much by the innate charisma of Nathan Tucker — the mastermind behind Cool American — as it is by its dynamic composition. Swinging from lo-fi aesthetics to the kind of explosive, powerpop-leaning burst that should make Good Cheer a revered name, “Maui’s” finds exhilarating life in harnessing the unexpected. It’s another in an increasingly long line of triumphant moments for Cool American and it deserves to be played as loudly and as frequently as possible.

Listen to “Maui’s” below and pre-order Infinite Hiatus here.

Ben Morey & The Eyes – Black Jacket (Song Premiere)

Ben Morey became a memorable name thanks to an enviable output that included exceptional work with Dumb Angel and Howlo. Morey takes the spotlight here and is surrounded by an ensemble backing cast made up of some of Rochester, NY’s finest musicians (among them: Pleistocene‘s Katie Preston, Mikaela Davis, Green DreamsJesse Amesmith, and members of Attic Abasement).  “New Life”, the breezy first song to be released from the project’s forthcoming full-length, Mt. Doom, gave listeners plenty of reasons to be excited over its release and “Black Jacket” — premiering here — should only heighten that anticipation.

“Black Jacket”, which was recorded in South Wedge Mission and boasts a narrative that Morey described as a “Motorcycle death melodrama” told from the perspective of a teenage ghost. The doo-wop inflected track’s musical aesthetics hearken back to a time where that kind of story would feel snugly at home. It’s an absolutely gorgeous number that capitalizes fully on the 10-piece outfit assembled for the recording (which includes Pleistocene’s Preston).

There’s not a false note to be found on “Black Jacket”, a spirited near-waltz that makes excellent use of its “sha-la-la” backing vocals and spoken word interlude. Too forward-thinking to be strict revivalism and too historically-informed to not be considered nostalgia-inducing, “Black Jacket” straddles a familiarly cozy divide and breathes some new life into that gap. A beautiful piece from a record that grows more fascinating with each new track, “Black Jacket” is both a tantalizing look at Mt. Doom and a perfect addition to anyone’s summer soundtrack.

Listen to “Black Jacket” below and pre-order Mt. Doom LP from City of Quality here and keep an eye on Dadstache for the tape release.

Great Grandpa – Fade (Stream)

Approximately 48 hours into the week and the world’s already delivered exceptional new tracks from Daddy Issues, Stillwave, Dent May, Tomten, Versa, Jason Loewenstein, Broken Social Scene, and PalmGreat Grandpa also released a song, following up their explosive “Teen Challenge” (one of 2017’s finest songs) with yet another jaw-dropping turn that should hike the anticipation even further up for the band’s forthcoming Plastic Cough.

Once again leaning into a ’90s alternative in a way that feels thrillingly alive rather than tired and rehashed, Great Grandpa have crafted another triumphant mini-masterpiece in “Fade”. Swinging from one wildly different section to another with an exacting prowess, the band seems to conjure up energy from perfectly executing hairpin turns and leaning into powerful moments with all their might. “Fade” is a wild, incendiary three minutes that suggests — as “Teen Challenge” did before it — Plastic Cough may just wind up being one of the year’s best records. As soon as “Fade” is over, the only thing anyone’s likely to do is go back and hit repeat. It’s another winsome moment for a re-emergent band poised to reach the next level of what looks to be an incredibly promising career.

Listen to “Fade” below and pre-order Plastic Cough from Double Double Whammy here.

Palehound – If You Met Her (Music Video)

As this Monday and Tuesday both disappear into the rear view, it’s important to take stock of the notable records that have emerged in that time. Ainsley Farell, Sweet Baby Jesus, Sam Craighead, Adult Mom, Chris Bathgate, The I.L.Y’s, Do Make Say Think, Tricot, Yung, Gouge Away, and B L A C K I E all revealed impressive full streams and there was an outstanding compilation released to celebrate the seventh anniversary of GoldFlakePaint. The focus for this particular piece falls back to the music video format, thanks to a career best showing from site favorites Palehound.

A small army was assembled to create Palehound’s latest piece, a music video for “If You Met Her” that lands with devastating clarity. Tom Quigley, Sara Tesh, Michael Escobar, Kiely Quinn, Rachel Newman, Tatiana Marquez, Jeovana Almeida, Zane Ryan, Tatiana Marquez, and Caitlin Leblanc all hard a part to play in pulling off a clip that’s already struck a nerve with a whole host of viewers. Guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Ellen Kempner’s completely isolated in the clip, lending the narrative’s open vulnerability and existential fear even more heft.

Kempner does little more than navigate a seemingly abandoned house in the clip, allowing both the song — easily one of Palehound’s finest — and video to take on a haunted bent. There’s angst here, to be sure, but it’s the kind of acute and intensely focused angst that propels it past the realms of the cliché into something unnerving, despairing, and utterly terrifying. Grappling with insignificance and mortality in a way that presents the slightest hint of optimism amid a heavy resignation, there are echoes of Elliott Smith to be found in “If You Met Her” (a comparison that should never be used lightly).

“If You Met Her” is an astonishing work as a standalone song but the visuals the assembled team have provided the track render it transcendental. There are slight nods to something holy in several of the shots, underscoring the religious angle that’s always lingering in heavy existential crises. Whether the song (and video) is intended as a prayer, a warning, or a reminder may never be truly known but for now, we should all consider ourselves lucky to be able to explore the work on display. “If You Met Her” is not the type of clip — or song — to leave anyone’s memory anytime soon.

Watch “If You Met Her” below and pre-order A Place I’ll Always Go from Polyvinyl here.

Saintseneca – Book of the Dead on Sale (Stream)

Only two days into the week and Hot Flash Heat Wave, Summer Salt, Friend Roulette, Matt Maltese, Pallas, Cigarettes After Sex, Guerilla Toss, and Early Riser all revealed tracks worthy of praise. There was another track that came courtesy of site favorites Saintseneca, who have continued to operate on an exceedingly high level over the course of their already ridiculously impressive — but still relatively young — discography.

“Book of the Dead on Sale” continues Zac Little’s penchant for crafting Appalachian folk-inspired music tinged with just the slightest punk influence. It’s a formula that’s defined the band’s best work and “Book of the Dead on Sale” now proudly joins a host of tracks as an example of the project’s finest work. Humble, gorgeous, battered, and singularly focused, “Book of the Dead on Sale” makes the absolute most of a two minute run-time and proffers a reminder that Saintseneca is one of the best acts currently releasing music.

Listen to “Book of the Dead on Sale” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on the band.