Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Dominic Angelella – Red State (Stream)

The week got off to a strong start today, with great new tracks emerging from Mozes and the Firstborn, all day, Lev Snowe, and Tokyo Police Club. Tennis System, Okkervil River, METZ, and David Hopkins handled the new music video front while a pair of curious full streams constituted the haul for that format, with a Stephen Steinbrink rarities retrospective and a commendable covers compilation to benefit AFSP. All of those items are worth looks and listens but today’s featured item falls to the ragged basement pop of Dominic Angelella’s explosive “Red State”.

A snappy sub-three minute track, “Red State” showcases both Angelella’s endearing narrative voice and musical control. Everything on “Red State”, despite its shaggy presentation, feels concise and deliberately articulated (including its gruff sensibility). It’s a perfect piece of the kind of basement pop this place was built to celebrate, something that seems destined to fly under the radar but hit a small group of targets with incredible force. Clever, fun, a little bit bleak, and immensely enjoyable, “Red State” isn’t just good enough to liven up any party where it gets played, it’s good enough to be remembered.

Listen to “Red State” below and pre-order Road Movie here.

Hop Along – How Simple (Music Video)

In just a scant few days a surprisingly long list of compelling music videos have come out, bearing the names of artists like Speedy Ortiz, Holy Now, Miya Folick, Okkervil River, Covey, Marchildon!, Cherry Glazerr, MOLLY, Johanna Warren, Alice Bag, The Duke of Norfolk, LUMP, Swampmeat Family Band, Secret Colours, and Scott Matthews. While all of those are worth a handful of watches, the clip that will be focused on in this post is the one that Hop Along‘s provided for Bark Your Head Off, Dog showstopper “How Simple”.

Derrick Belcham takes the reins for the “How Simple” clip, which is a joyous celebration of identity and an homage to classic films (notably, the golden era of the movie-musical). The video also puts guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan front and center, marking an intriguing first for the band. Quinlan’s boundless charisma and magnetism as a perform has long been a selling point of the band’s scintillating live show but they’ve never allowed themselves such a visual spotlight in the visual release format.

The wait pays tremendous dividends here, Quinlan’s presence coming off like a sustained flash of lightning, cleverly elevated by the clip’s single-spotlight framing. All eyes are on Quinlan as the songwriter guides us through what could be a manic breakdown, a morning routine, or an extended moment of solitude. No matter which way the clip’s narrative is spun, the truth of it manages to speak volumes, punctuated by what very well wind up being the line of the year in “don’t worry, we will both find out, just not together.”

Impromptu dance parties break out, cereal gets eaten, and different figures find ways to come into focus, but when “How Simple” begins receding, those faces are left peering in from outside, with that lone spotlight still on Quinlan. It’s a moment that’s both sobering and hopeful, coming across as a testament to a well-earned understanding of the importance of self-care. Even when everything falls apart or is splintering at the seams, there are still ways to center yourself. Sometimes all it takes is the knowledge that you’re always free to dance around and pour yourself a bowl of cereal.

Watch “How Simple” below and pick up a copy of Bark Your Head Off, Dog here.

Dusk – The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy (7″ Review, Stream, Live Videos)

A solid round of full streams (or expanded samplers) have arrived over the past couple of days, coming from acts as varied as Say Sue Me, Bacchae, Spring Onion, Oceanator, The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, DEWR, Marbled Eye, and Playboy Manbaby. However, just as was the case in the last post, the focus here will shift to a release that’s been out for a bit but only recently became available for full streaming: Dusk’s new 7″ — and their first release for Dirtnap Records — The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy.

Made up of a laundry list of some of central Wisconsin’s finest musicians, Dusk’s most unenviable task is likely distinguishing themselves from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s main vehicle, Tenement. Making things a little hazier was the decision to tour the US as an expanded version of Tenement, suggesting that the distinction might not matter to them as much as the connection. It’d fit Pitsch’s history, which has long leaned more towards a familial collective than compartmentalized separation.

Still, even in the face of their similarities (and not to mention the fact that virtually every member of Dusk also spends time playing in other projects), Dusk sounds so wildly different from most of the band’s associated acts that they seem to have garnered a sterling reputation solely on their own merit. It’s been interesting to track their progress, with many people surprised to find out which members of the band they’ve seen and heard before, but it’s also been deeply worthwhile.

Dusk’s songs tilt in a more classically country-leaning direction than anything else, each release laced with the requisite amount of attitude to bring their singular charisma through the recordings. They inflect their songs with a little bit of a lot of genres, from Motown to soul to honky tonk to basement punk, creating something that’s simultaneously enigmatic and familiar. There’s a sense the band’s striving to create the sounds that they love and don’t hear enough anymore, re-contextualizing the influences of separate eras by viewing them through a decidedly modern lens.

They’ve tapped into something that’s given their name some weight and it shows again on their latest 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy. Both songs are full of the well-worn charm and conviction of the band’s past releases but ably showcase how comfortably they’ve embraced their identity. The harmonies are as gorgeous and ever and they’re still finding ways to pull new tricks out of their sleeves, with guitarist/vocalist Tyler Ditter taking a turn on lead vocal duties in “Go Easy”.

Both tracks are imbued with the same kind of breezy, wide-open road feel that the band’s successfully touched on in the past. Pitsch lends a trademark bite to the A-side while Ditter anchors “Go Easy” with a honeyed sweetness that serves the band’s sound extremely well. Packaged together, it’s another strong entry in a discography that hasn’t stopped improving since the band’s staggeringly strong demo. Easily one of Wisconsin’s best acts, this kind of release suggests they’re well on their way to being regarded as far more than a local act.

Keep their name and their releases filed away somewhere safe, there’s no telling what they might wind up being worth.

Listen to The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy below (and watch a package of videos of the band playing live beneath the stream) and pick it up from Dirtnap here.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talking Straight (Stream)

The past few days have brought a handful of great tracks into the world from acts like Momma, CHASTITY, Dama Scout, Lawn, High Sunn, Marmalakes, Hiding Behind Sound, Little Junior, Jesse Jo Stark, John Craigie, Many Rooms, The Saxophones, Jenny Hval, Feverbones, Secret Mountain, Deux Trois, Life in the Vacuum, and Patches Paradise. However, today’s focus is going to shift back to a song that was initially released as a music video but is available for standalone streaming now: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever‘s “Talking Straight”.

If the band’s name — popularly abbreviated to both RBCF and Rolling Blackouts C.F. — looks familiar, it’s because they’ve landed on this site a handful of times in the past. Curiously, despite having existed for over 5 years, the band’s never put out a proper full-length. While they can claim a handful of outstanding EP’s and standalone tracks to their name, the proper album has eluded them in the past. It’s allowed them a storied history and an abundance of time to develop ideas should that day ever arrive.

Fortunately, it seems as if that time’s paid off, if the two singles to tease their forthcoming full-length Hope Downs are any indication. The most recent single, “Talking Straight” comes off as particularly promising, standing as both a career high mark for the band and a track that’s destined to wind up on hundreds upon hundreds of mixes made for long drives. It’s a driving, folk-inflected piece of punk-tinged Americana but it’s delivered with more of a sneer than the band’s revealed in a while.

A talk-sing vocal delivery suits the verses as well and makes the chorus feel significantly more explosive in contrast. “Talking Straight” also navigates its momentum incredibly well, providing the proceedings with gripping dynamics that keep the listener invested. While the song approaches four minutes in total, the breezy, toe-tapping nature of the track makes that run time feel nearly halved. It’s another extraordinary outing for a band that’s consistently great and goes quite a ways in positioning Hope Downs as one of the year’s potential must-hear releases. Don’t miss out on the ride.

Listen to “Talking Straight” below and pre-order Hope Downs from Sub Pop here.

Nano Kino – Sick Dreamer (Music Video Premiere)

Over the past few years, Nano Kino has made a handful of appearances on this site. The group’s evolved quite a bit since their initial appearance here, growing from a duo to a quartet but always managing to craft songs that retained a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Today, they’re unveiling the gorgeous one-off “Sick Dreamer” today and an elegiac accompany visual. The band’s bassist, Andy Martin, helmed the clip and wound up with a superlative result.

Compromised of faded imagery cut into a montage, “Sick Dreamer” provides the song itself an emotional lift by tapping firmly into a pervasive sense of nostalgia that’s always been at or near the forefront of the band’s work. Gentle hues complement a hushed melody, each side of the equation exercising restraint without ever conceding their cumulative effect. It’s a gorgeous two minutes to either listen to or watch but when combined, “Sick Dreamer” winds up feeling more like an open prayer than any sort of visual experiment. Hushed, wrought with care, and surprisingly tender, it’s what every one-off release should aspire to be: essential.

“Sick Dreamer” is available as a free download on bandcamp and the music video can be watched below.

Half Waif – Back In Brooklyn (Stream, Live Video)

After what seemed like an eternity, Heartbreaking Bravery is returning to regular daily (or near-daily) coverage and this run begins with a recap of the excellent tracks, clips, and full streams that found release over the past two days. On the songs front there were notable tracks from Porlolo, WAND, Lonely Parade, Emma Russack & Lachlan Denton, Bent Denim, Peach Kelli Pop, Numb.er, Quarterbacks, Omni, Phalcons, Llovers, Wax Idols, Eureka California, Tickle Torture, Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders, Decisions, Mary Lattimore, and Terra Pines.

On the visual front, there were impressive clips that came from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, A Place To Bury Strangers, CAICOS, stuart A. staples, IAN SWEET, Mike Donovan, and Superorganism. Dark Times, War On Women, Changeling, Leila Abdul-Rauf, Andrew Younker, and Paisley Fields rounded things out with some exceptional full streams. All of those are worthy of investments but none hit quite as hard as the third and final single from Half Waif’s forthcoming Lavender, “Back In Brooklyn”.

Being the first song to be featured after a long interim with sporadic updates, it might seem unwise to break form but the song’s laced with so much personal meaning that I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of this site and switching to a first person narrative. It’s one of the only ways that I can think of to suit the song’s central premise and its near-confrontational intimacy, which was written about eloquently over at The Talkhouse by the project’s mastermind, Nandi Rose Plunkett.

Plunkett and I shared a frighteningly similar experience of our stints living in Brooklyn, managing to take the city for all its worth, simultaneously, as so many of its expats have done and will continue to do. There’s a sense that its world is a separate one, operating at a more intense velocity than the cities that swirl around its gravitational pull. It’s jarring to come into but it’s easy to accept, instinctively knowing that the best way to navigate its chaos is to completely submit yourself to its constant whims, no matter how painful or uplifting.

Coming to know the city as a home takes some time but once you do, it becomes a part of you that’s impossible to shake. It’s harshness and demand stoking various levels of anxiety and fear, while its open embrace of its residents can provide a warmth that’s worthy of moments of pining. All of this, the endless duality and dichotomies that the city births in anyone that manages to claim it as a temporary home, is painfully evident in “Back In Brooklyn”, which nearly wrecked me the first few times I was fortunate enough to watch Half Waif play it live (one of those instances is captured below).

It’s the most plaintive moment on Lavender — easily one of the best records I’ve heard this year — and it’s the most arresting. Plunkett’s narration across the record’s one of the most unsparingly honest perspectives I’ve come across in recent memory, looking at everything through the lens of someone lost in their own thoughts while the road flies by their van windoes. Sideways glances and subtle allusions are shelved in favor of an intense directness that can occasionally approach the overwhelming, it’s nakedness on full display. Longing and love are its most prominent intersections but they’re anchored by a rare understanding, which can make the material — as is the case with “Back In Brooklyn” — frighteningly real.

During its three-plus minute run time, on every pass I’ve given the song, it’s transported me back to the city, reminded me of all of the things, places, and people I loved, all of the moments with them I cherished, and all of the moments where I felt lost or afraid. It’s an immense work that’s delivered with a well-worn affection and laced with the knowledge that once you leave, its shape shifts and changes, rendering some of the things you held onto unrecognizable. Honest, unflinching, empathetic, and deeply moving, “Back In Brooklyn” isn’t just breathtaking, it’s a small miracle in a minor key.

Listen to “Back In Brooklyn” (and watch a recent live performance of the song) below and pre-order Lavender from CASCINE here.

One Week, 10 Songs

April got off to an extraordinary start with a few dozen songs making a viable bid for inclusion on this list, which represents the material that emerged in the month’s first week. Ultimately it was the 10 below that prevailed in a surprisingly overcrowded field for what proved to be a curiously stacked week. The last “Best Of” compilation for this category had a handful of artists making consecutive appearances in this column but only one of them returns a third time. The rest of this field is a mixture of favorites, old and new, with each offering up a song worth celebrating. All of them can be heard below. Enjoy.

1. gobbinjr – afraid of me

An artist that’s slowly but surely built a steadfast reputation as an emerging star in the bedroom pop genre, gobbinjr makes a bold statement with a full-on switch to full band indie pop in the vein of Frankie Cosmos and it works beautifully. “afraid of me” is as rich and memorable as anything gobbinjr’s released so far and proves that the project’s scope might be a lot more expansive than initially suggested. It’s a breezy tune that’s ready-made for spring and summer mix tapes.

2. En Attendant Ana – Night

A new name to this site, En Attendant Ana manage to make a huge splash here with “Night”, a driving burst of basement pop that doesn’t hesitate to look upward and immediately start trying to grab the stars. A beautifully produced track, “Night” also demonstrates the band’s penchant for composition, turning on a dime from one section to another, sustaining a magnetic, romantic atmosphere. It’s the rare kind of song that can convince you an artist’s name is worth remembering.

3. Forth Wanderers – Ages Ago

The previous two Forth Wanderers songs that have been released in the lead-up to their forthcoming self-titled were featured on this site and “Ages Ago” makes a very convincing case that the band may very well have one of the year’s finest records on their hands. “Ages Ago,” the band’s latest track, isn’t just their most polished outing to date, it’s their best. Tapping fully into their mixture of irrepressible energy and open melancholy, “Ages Ago” offers the kind of duality that builds incredible material. It’s spellbinding.

4. Grouper – Driving

Few artists are managing what Grouper‘s been doing for the past few years. Every new song plays like an elegant masterwork, deftly demonstrating every last bit of songwriting talent in the most breathtaking fashion imaginable. “Driving”, the latest from the ambient act, is among the past few years’ most quieting and soulful works. It’s nearly impossible to not want to hang onto every second as the song gently washes over you and it’s equally difficult to not want to immediately hit play again when it ends in a whisper.

5. Boys – That Weekend

In an impressively brief time, PNKSLM‘s established itself as one of the leading labels for introspective basement pop. One of the best acts on their consistently incredible roster is Boys, who usher in a career best here with “That Weekend”. Bits of dream-pop, powerpop, and post-punk all congeal into an incredibly wistful track, full of a sense of genuine longing. It’s a perfect way to spend two and a half minutes and stands as a testament to both the band’s promise and considerable talent.

6. Been Stellar – Everyone Smokes in the City

Been Stellar’s another new name to Heartbreaking Bravery that makes an incredible first impression with “Everyone Smokes in the City”, a track that echoes the best work of The Strokes. The band separates themselves from the over-abundance of bands that proudly bear that influence by exercising restraint in a way that simultaneously informs the song’s tension and provides it an additional level of energy. It’s fun, it’s promising, and it’s an easy standout.

7. Yumi Zouma – France (Grands Boulevards)

The second ambient-leaning act on this list that seems to perpetually top themselves, Yumi Zouma return with the most gorgeous work of their career in “France (Grands Boulevards). Gentle tones, a tender vocal delivery, and some intuitive production heightens the work as it glides along, wrapped up in its own journey. Unassuming and beautiful, “France (Grands Boulevards)” marks an enticing new chapter in the band’s history.

8. Petal – Better Than You

Kiley Lotz, the songwriter spearheading Petal, is a commanding solo performer. Charismatic, entertaining, and fully in control, Lotz can reduce an audience to whispers and extinguish those a few minutes later. That being the case, Lotz also knows how to turn up the volume and let it rip, as is the case with the enormous “Better Than You”, which has shades of Waxahatchee‘s rowdier work. Fed up and determined, “Better Than You” is an unmissable statement from a singular talent and bodes well for Petal’s future.

9. Yours Are The Only Ears – Fire In My Eyes

A pair of great tracks from Knock Hard — the forthcoming release from Yours Are The Only Ears — have already been released but “Fire In My Eyes” exceeds those heights. One of the best tracks of Susannah Cutler’s illustrious works that have found release under this moniker, “Fire In My Eyes” finds Yours Are The Only Ears experimenting with precision (and continuing a fruitful collaborative history with LVL UP and Trace Mountain‘s Dave Benson). As always, the narrative aspect carries exceptional emotional weight but the arrangements have rarely been as effective or powerful.

10. Say Sue Me – Coming to the End

Completing something of a hat trick, this is Say Sue Me‘s third consecutive appearance in the “Best Of” columns for songs, each track teasing the exceptional Where We Were Together. “Coming to the End”, appropriately, is the record’s final track and its most breathtaking moment. A sprawling 7 and a half minute slow-burn, “Coming to the End” has the time to display just about every reason Say Sue Me’s been turning heads over the past year. Melancholic and explosive in turns, it’s a masterwork of dynamics and controlled atmosphere, never ceasing to be anything less than gripping over the course of its runtime.

It’s a towering track, epic in scale and wildly confident in its ambition, bringing to mind the recent work of Young Jesus while remaining true to the enchanting identity the band’s managed to carve out for themselves over their brief but promising discography. The guitar solo that makes up the bulk of the song’s back half goes sideways as often as it reaches skyward but, as is the case with the band, you don’t just hope it’ll arrive at its intended decision but know it will with an abundance of grace, no matter erratic it may seem. When it fades, it’s hard not to think “Coming to the End” isn’t close to perfect.

 

A small list of other outstanding songs to be released this past week:

Culture Abuse, Kevin Krauter, Beach SkullsFrøkedal, Cagework, Demo, Elke, Cold Fronts, Exitmusic, Beach Bunny, Mr. Husband, Dusted, Wedding, Ellevator, Wooter, Juliana Daugherty, Varsity, Drinks, Freedom Baby, Joan of Arc, The Gloomies, Shakey Graves, Agnes Obel, Nova One, Dreamend, Light Vibes, Wallows, Ace of Wands, Team Picture, Andy Cook, SASAMI, Marmalakes, The Goldberg Sisters, Freak Heat Waves, Jack Ladder, Valley Queen, Ganser, Esbie Fonte, Ryley Walker, Jon Hassell, Jamie Cruickshank, Ivan Moult, Matthew Sweet, I’m Kingfisher, Palberta, Holy Boy, Daniel Tanghal, Francis, Espanola, Kat Cunning, Dumb, and OPIN.

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review, Stream)

A small sampling of some excellent records to find release were already given a few posts back but to not mention the records put out by Bambara, Pole Siblings, Big Buddy, Look Vibrant, Stimmerman, No Thank Youdné, and Breakfast Muff would be doing everyone a massive disservice. All of those records are worth exploring, as always, but the record that this post’s going to focus on is one that registers as a standout for a long list of reasons: Hop Along’s breathtaking Bark Your Head Off, Dog.

Hop Along, over the course of their history, have built up a fervent following that’s greeted the band’s music as if it were their own religion. Even a cursory run through their discography would help contextualize that response, as their catalog’s full of blisteringly intense and incredibly emotional pleas, statements, and revelations. The band seems to be constantly operating in a do-or-die mode, where literally everything needs to be put on the line and defended with every last ounce of vigor the members can muster.

They’ve already put out two records that many hold as sacred, in Get Disowned and Painted Shut, virtually guaranteeing any news of new material would be greeted as an event with a capital E. A cathartic live show built and shaped by years of intense touring and the band’s proven record in studio had everyone bracing for another towering record full of the life-or-death dynamics that have become the band’s established pattern.

To their credit, Hop Along took a massive artistic risk and subverted that formula to deliver the most measured and nuanced work of their career. More impressively, they found a way to retain the level of emotional catharsis that’s earned them such a devoted following. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly ambitious record, with things like imposing orchestral arrangements scattered throughout its runtime.

From the record’s opening track, “How Simple”, it seems as if it’ll be business as usual for a while, with the band echoing the late-career work of Rilo Kiley (another band with notable ties to Saddle Creek) but it offers glances towards something a little different. Even with that lingering sense things might be about to change, the closing minutes find room for a vintage Hop Along moment with the repeated mantra of “Don’t worry, we will find out, just not together.”

It’s at that moment that the record — and the band’s slightly revamped dynamic approach — start to click into place. Across the rest of the record, they take small risks to arrive at maximum impact, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes, causing them to lean in and invest. As a tactic, it’s incredibly effective and the band uses it masterfully throughout some of the most impressive work of their career.

Bark Your Head Off, Dog is more than just one impressive arrangement after another, though, and Hop Along grants it as much — if not more — emotional heft than either of there previous two outings. There are times where the record goes beyond feeling personal and tips into feeling like it was borne out of necessity. Thankfully, for us, we can now reap the rewards of that need with what’s bound to stand the test of time and remain one of 2018’s most incredible records.

Listen to Bark Your Head Off, Dog below and pick it up from Saddle Creek.

Anna Burch – With You Every Day (Music Video)

The opening week of April 2018 featured a host of impressive music videos from the likes of Hatchie, Eleanor Friedberger, Winter, Freedom Fry, Hinds, Remember Sports, Now, Now, Buddy, West Thebarton, LANZ, Middle Kids, Frederick the Younger, Beach House, Ladytron, Therese Lithner, MOURN, Chris Crofton, Peach Kelli Pop, Kal Marks, Kirby Forest, Bodega, and SPAER. While all of those clips are worth a look, the one that made the strongest impression was Anna Burch‘s latest impressive visual, “With You Every Day”.

Burch has made a habit of showing up in this site’s “Best Of” compilations in its interim period, notching inclusions in everything from songs to music videos to records, thanks to the considerable strength of the material connected to Quit the Curse. “With You Every Day” continues the trend in kind, scaling things back to their most minimal and direct.

It’s a hyper-stylized performance clip that makes excellent use out of its palette and Burch’s magnetic charisma and multi-faceted talents (Burch co-directed the clip with Ben Collins). Invoking or echoing everything from Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense to John Hughes films to The Hives’ notoriously meticulous control over their own visual presentation, “With You Every Day” manages to provide a refreshingly distinct modernist take on familiar influences. It’s worth every view anyone’s willing to give.

Watch “With You Every Day” below and pick up Quit the Curse from Polyvinyl here.