Heartbreaking Bravery

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’18 of 18: The Best Songs of the Year

2018 saw more songs considered for coverage at Heartbreaking Bravery than any of the now 5+ years its been in existence. Thousands of tracks were heard and hundreds upon hundreds were mentioned in some way. The 18 selections below represent the best of that crop, while the overall batch holds true to this publication’s mission: to give praise to the under-represented. Nearly half of the tracks selected weren’t released as singles and some still have only been heard a scant few hundred times. Taken as a whole, these serve as a representation of a frequently overlooked slice of 2018’s finest.

Spring Onion – I Did My Taxes For Free Online

While a resurgent Remember Sports had a very strong showing in 2018, the best track to Carmen Perry’s name was through the Spring Onion project. “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is a bit of rare perfection, tapping directly into the weary malaise of modern young adulthood. A mid-tempo acoustic-driven Americana pop song, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is astonishing on both a musical and narrative level, the little flourishes (the banjo, the auto-tone) enhancing an incredibly engaging slice-of-life story that never wears out, no matter how many times its played. In short, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is nothing short of a minor miracle.

Young Jesus – Deterritory

In 2012 Young Jesus took a gigantic leap forward as a band with Home, which was the first of their releases to indicate the reach of their outsize ambition. Nearly every release since then, the scope of that ambition has been stretched further as the band’s evolved. The Whole Thing Is Just There, their first true release under Saddle Creek finds the band in their most exploratory mode to date, having morphed into a free-punk band.

Deterritory“, the record’s lead-off single, was a clear indication of Young Jesus’ growth: elements of art-punk, classic emo, and post-hardcore enveloped their early roots to create something singular and breathtaking. No second’s wasted, even when the band embraces improvisation with no reservation. For as loose as some of “Deterritory” may feel, the song’s final 20 seconds are the fiercest and most concise piece of music the band’s offered up to date.

The Little Miss – Take Me, Too

Take Me, Too” is a virtually unknown song from an artist who got next to no coverage for their last record. It’s also one of the year’s best songs and a testament to the fact that PR’s main purpose isn’t inextricably connected to talent or worth. Few, if any, songs to have come out in 2018 hit as hard and with as much unforgiving force as this sparse look at mortality, which welcomes death’s inevitability without resorting to overwrought histrionics.

Tender, empathetic, and knowing,”Take Me, Too” is a song that aches, yearning for resolution while maintaining a grounded, dignified sense of humanity. As a result, the song stands as one of the most unexpectedly breathtaking closing tracks in recent memory.

Trace Mountains – A Partner To Lean On

LVL UP disbanded in late 2018 but at that point, the year had already provided a cushion of hope for the future work of its members with Dave Benton’s project Trace Mountains releasing a career-best work in A Partner To Lean On. The title track of that record finds Benton in vintage mode, opening with a stanza that dives straight into the connection between spirituality and nature.

“A Partner To Lean On” is also an impossible-to-shake mid-tempo toe-tapper that elevates itself by the nature of its own restraint, leaning into intuitive decisions with an infectious confidence that’s rooted in calmness. Clear-eyed and warm, “A Partner To Lean On” winds up as one of Benton’s best songs, putting it in exceptionally strong company.

Whitney Ballen – Black Cloud

You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship was an absurdly strong debut effort from Whitney Ballen, highlighted by both unexpected turns and a frequently brutal level of emotional honesty. “Black Cloud” provided the record’s apex of both, something that intersected on the song’s early dip into jaw-dropping heaviness. A haunted look back at early warning signs, the song embraces the narrative’s stormy tumultuous nature with gritted teeth and a snarl. Oscillating between pensive and punishing, “Black Cloud” secured a rightful place as one of 2018’s most intentionally jarring highlights.

Dilly Dally – Sorry Ur Mad

Dilly Dally spent 2018 enjoying a resurrection of sorts, having almost hung up their instruments for good while battling internal demons. Heaven, the quartet’s sophomore effort, frequently chronicled the difficult path to their own salvation, resulting in some of the band’s best songs to date. “Sorry Ur Mad” was delivered, arguably, as Heaven‘s centerpiece (in a narrative sense as well as being the album’s halfway point).

A determined tour de force, “Sorry Ur Mad” propels itself forward by virtue of sheer blunt force, the composition ratcheting up the tension with its attentiveness to dynamics, stop/start rhythms inducing a palpable sense of nervous energy. The rare song that manages to increase its grip incrementally up until the breathtaking finale, “Sorry Ur Mad” charts a scrappy path to incredibly memorable terrain.

Fred Thomas – What The Sermon Said

The last three records that Fred Thomas has released comprised a trilogy that contained the best work of the journeyman’s quietly illustrious career. “What The Sermon Said”, the spellbinding capper to an incredible run, found a way to stand out. The song’s first half operates in an explicitly ambient, stream-of-consciousness format before morphing into one of the most devastating narratives Thomas has delivered since the heartfelt eulogy that drove “Every Song Sung To A Dog“.

A seamless transition bridge the two halves, a melancholic saxophone figure being enhanced considerably by a simple, elegiac string arrangement. Thomas spends the song’s final minutes detailing a trip to the chapel, looking for hope and finding nothing but an increasing sense of alienation. “What The Sermon Said” may or may not be a commentary on the difficulty of aging and the challenges it can present or it may just be an unflinching look back at a time of relative desperation but no matter how its viewed, the overwhelming cumulative effect lingers long enough to leave a scar all its own.

Gouge Away – Ghost

Gouge Away‘s most recent work stood out as a career best and saw the band, clearly operating with a sense of invigoration, stretch their range in surprising ways. “Ghost” was the most noticeable evidence, an uncharacteristic — even pretty — slow-burner from the incredibly ferocious post-hardcore act. The song presented something of a risk but paid off with huge dividends, propelling the band’s recognition forward with ease, coming off as something of a victory lap for an incredibly hard-working band that’s deserved more attention from the word go.

Miya Folick – Thingamajig

Trouble Adjusting” served as an introduction-at-large for many to the world of Miya Folick, which flashed a lot of promise in its raw basement pop-friendly aesthetics. Since that song’s release, Folick’s taken a somewhat unpredictable path that’s taken the songwriter to “Thingamajig” a painfully gorgeous ambient pop track that served as the unexpected opener to Premonitions.

Working in a mode that’s reminiscent of Half Waif’s recent body of work, Folick delivers an incredible career best, taking a long, reflective look at autonomy and decision-making that could feasibly double as a thesis statement for what Folick hopes to accomplish as an artist. “Only you know what to do”, the songwriter repeats at the song’s hushed close, infusing the delivery with not just meaning but intent, creating an impression that lets the listener know Folick’s in this until the end.

Evening Standards – Lil Green Man

A ways into the year, Evening Standards quietly released their self-titled debut, which was a near-perfect basement pop album. The record didn’t receive any notices outside of a very niche circle but did make one hell of an impression inside that circle. Formed out of the ashes of site favorites PURPLE 7, the band was already working with a strong pedigree that was evident in songs like the raucous “Lil Green Man”, an absurdly strong track that’s still earning regular spins.

“Lil Green Man” takes an intentionally ridiculous angle to explore an incredibly complex topic, using an alien invasion to reflect on the nature of existence and the meaningfulness of the human experience. Every second of the track’s wildly enjoyable and “Lil Green Man” also benefits from one of 2018’s most explosive choruses, the narrative and composition colliding in a cathartic release that suggests Evening Standards don’t actually care all that much about the answer to the question they’re raising, opting instead to revel in the moment and have as much goddamn fun as possible while they’re in each other’s company.

Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

Cloud Nothings returned with a slight lineup tweak once again, doubling-down on Life Without Sounds career summation but combining separate elements of their previous body of work. One of the best examples of their refined approach came courtesy of one of many of Last Building Burning‘s highlight in “Leave Him Now“. The song also separates itself from the band’s past work by containing one of the most emotionally affecting narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi has penned, fixating on a feeling of helplessness as the songwriter begs a friend to escape from an abusive relationship.

There’s an additional edge and urgency that lends itself to the music, Jayson Gerycz’s drumming returning to an otherworldly realm and standing as one of the best individual weapons the rock/punk genre as a whole has to offer. What separates “Leave Him Now” from what many view as a cloying trope is that Baldi never centers himself as a romantic option in the narrative, instead pleading for an unnamed friend to find a place of security and well-being that’s evaded them as they’ve fallen prey to predatory behavior, leaving “Leave Him Now” as one of the band’s strongest overall compositions.

Basement Revolver – Baby

One of the many, many bands that can’t seem to stop topping themselves by wide margins is Basement Revolver, who delivered one of 2018’s most unexpected gut-punches with the aching “Baby“. A song pleading for forgiveness and patience while navigating the internalized fears and trauma that frequently accompany young relationships, “Baby” may have been strong enough to secure a spot on this list by the nature of its deeply human subject matter.

What puts “Baby” well above the cut is its delivery, enhanced in no small part by a chill-inducing arrangement and bandleader Chrisy Hurns’ emotional vocal delivery. On many levels, “Baby” is an absolutely overwhelming listening experience, bordering voyeuristic as Basement Revolved surrenders completely to the apex of the unbridled levels of intense, competing feelings when the problem’s as hard to identify as the solution.

Tomberlin – I’m Not Scared

At Weddings announced Tomberlin as a major voice, which was all but cemented with early single “I’m Not Scared“. A rumination on personal hardships, both arbitrarily assigned and self-inflicted, “I’m Not Scared” was the most unforgiving track on what proved to be a very thematically difficult record. Driven by piano and a restrained string arrangement, “I’m Not Scared” bounces from harsh observations about everything from outside judgment to the physical pain that accompanies bodily function.

To completely bridge the song’s narrative arcing, “I’m Not  Scared” balances those two elements against each other and lets those observations inform a devastating conclusion, summed up by the chorus: And to be a woman is to be in pain/And my body reminds me almost every day/That I was made for another, but I don’t want to know that/Cause it happened once and I always look back. Searing and searching, the song’s painful honesty translates into a major moment for the emergent songwriter.

Big Ups – Imaginary Dog Walker

Big Ups were another band that hung it up (at least for a while) in 2018, going out on the startling artistic high note that Two Parts Together provided. Appropriately the record’s high point was its closer, “Imaginary Dog Walker” something that coincidentally summed up Big Ups’ long-held mastery of creating tension. “Imaginary Dog Walker” had been a highlight of the band’s live set and the studio recording more than does the song justice, using its slow simmer as if they were a set of sharpened fingernails sinking deeper into flesh. No song over the band’s astonishing discography seethed or detonated quite like this one, which sees the band going out on an absolutely extraordinary note and a career best that will be near impossible to top if they ever decide to return. Fingers crossed that at some point, they wind up trying.

Mount Eerie – Distortion

No recent run of songs has been as uncomfortable to listen to as the diaristic work that Mount Eerie‘s released of late, explicitly chronicling Phil Elverum‘s own experiences in the wake of his former wife’s recent, unexpected death. The internal conversation to include any of this work, which is deeply personal, remains. “Real Death” did manage to steal away 2017’s Song of the Year honors but it now has an equal in the 11-minute sprawl of “Distortion“, which is structured like an epic.

Opening with humming washes of distortion, the song quickly sinks into an intricate, acoustic finger-picked pattern and delivers a knockout first stanza:

But I don’t believe in ghosts or anything I know that you are gone and that I’m carrying some version of you around Some untrustworthy old description in my memories And that must be your ghost taking form Created every moment by me dreaming you so And is it my job now to hold whatever’s left of you for all time? And to reenact you for our daughter’s life?

“Distortion” doesn’t let up from that point forward, chronicling Elverum’s travels and real-life confrontations with death, equating the songwriter’s own journey to the beat poets that are referenced throughout the song. It’s an uncomfortable, implicit analogy that grows increasingly real when presented with the context of Elverum’s life. There are moments of bitterness, ugliness, and cruelty that are unavoidable as we fight to find meaning in our lives and Elverum presents that revelation with a commendable directness.

By the time the song comes to its fittingly devastating conclusion, it’s somewhat difficult to return to interacting with personal surroundings. Immensely complex and emotionally draining, “Distortion” has the unique effect of both sapping energy and burrowing into listeners’ consciousness, nestling next to a void that we all have to eventually face and reconcile. Texts like “Distortion” will help with that process when the time comes, making the unthinkably brave work Elverum’s doing incredibly valuable and worth experiencing, especially in moments where it’s of need.

Half Waif – Silt

Lavender represented an inspiring step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s Half Waif project, easily separating itself from a very crowded field to stand as one of the most moving releases of 2018. Informed heavily by a sense of separation (in both a familial and a personal sense), Lavender lands its most memorable knockout blow with “Silt”, which is the kind of track that can make the world stop.

Arriving around Lavender‘s halfway mark, “Silt” opens and closes with gorgeous analog synth tones, book-ending Plunkett’s swan dive into a search for self-worth and reassurance while trying to grapple with an incredibly clouded, distant state of mind. One of the many tracks on this list that benefits from a naked honesty that confronts a damaging impulse, “Silt” finds a way to stab deep into the heart of what it means to be left at a loss. Cold in nature but warm in its delivery, “Silt” is a startlingly potent reminder of Plunkett’s increasing talents as a songwriter.

Long Neck – Milky Way

Jawbreaker Reunion was the first band to push Lily Mastrodimos‘ name to a larger audience but that band supplemented Long Neck, a solo project that’s gradually evolved into a full lineup. Both acts seemed to benefit each other, seeing Mastrodimos’ confidence grow in both settings with the increased recognition. Still, with a handful of songs that were frequently incredible, what Long Neck achieved with Will This Do? came as a surprise, presenting the most direct, confrontational, and brave work of Mastrodimos’ young career.

“Milky Way”, part of the record’s astonishing closing stretch — which still stands as 2018’s strongest end run — was a testament to that growth. Much life Half Waif’s LavenderWill This Do? was shaped by the inevitability of familial death, which is alluded to on “Milky Way”. The song’s foreboding opening breaks into a quick jaunt, oscillating back and forth, centering on a narrative of uncertainty as the makeup of the world changes around the narrator. Frequent reminders to stay awake are issued, while a portrait of grief peeks through the narrative trappings, leading to one of the year’s most emotionally volatile closing sections.

A simple but blistering guitar solo, mired in darkness suddenly surrenders to daybreak once again before Mastrodimos drives “Milky Way” home with an abundance of feeling, conjuring a chilling picture of total, complete helplessness:

Sore feet and sore eyes and it’s nothing, it’s nothing. Echoes in our cave. I sat to watch the sunset and I just fucking lost it. 

The song’s final twist of the knife “And I just fucking lost it” repeats 9 times in total, each instance growing more pained and frantic, louder in its despair, stubbornly resilient as the song deteriorates around the mantra, suggesting that sometimes there is no comfort aside from acceptance and release. One of 2018’s most unforgettable individual moments by miles.

SONG OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Samaritans

Few songs this year hit outward and with as much as force as IDLES‘ seething take-down of toxic masculinity and the cultures that not only encouraged men to be emotionally repressed and overly competitive but allowed it to thrive. A centuries-long cultivation of what it means to be a man was frequently, justly challenged over the past few years with increasing fervor. “Samartians” lends its voice to that fight, railing like hell against a methodology that’s created borderline irreparable damage through a precedent of repression.

Whether that repression’s self-inflicted on an emotional level or maliciously leveled against women in more executive terms, IDLES have every right to be pissed off at the practice. The APA recently released a study backed by 40 years of research that deemed “traditional masculinity” (which was largely built on inherently toxic notions) as harmful. “Samaritans” is a song that’s well aware of its topics nuance and wisely anchors itself with father-sibling relationships, bringing the effect into focus with the absolutely brutal hook This is why you never see your father cry. This is why you never see your father. 

From its incendiary start to its jaw-dropping final section, “Samaritans” seethes to the point of shaking, intense rhythm section sending the song hurtling forward to its punishing finale. Expectations are confronted and stared down at every turn within the narrative (which is further supplemented by the montage video the song was gifted, which can be seen below) as the music provides even more retaliatory purpose.

While the whole song’s worth praising, special attention has to be paid to the song’s final minute, which significantly elevates the song’s intensity after a remarkably beautiful guitar-driven bridge. the song tips over into something sublime as vocalist and principal kicks the song into fifth gear, roaring “I KISSED A BOY AND I LIKED IT”, triggering a musical detonation that may very well have been 2018’s punchiest moment, guitars turning violent and almost staccato as Talbot repeats “This is why, this is why, this is why” before allowing the whole thing to collapse and drift off in smoke, creating a lasting reminder of a reckoning that’s no longer waiting on the horizon.


Further Listening:

Charly Bliss – Heaven | Doe – Labour Like I DoVundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk | Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back | Lauran Hibbard – What Do Girls Want? | The Royal They – Sludgefucker | Yowler – Where Is My Light? | Sonny Falls – Flies | Deep State – Under the Gun | Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talking Straight | Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out | Saintseneca – Pillar of Na | Marbled Eye – Laughing Sound | Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost | Yakima – Point of This | Courtney Andrews Marie – May Your Kindness Remain | Billy Moon – White Shoes/Dingus | Stove – Mosquiter | Maxband – Means to an End | Jay Som – Hot BreadEx​-​Vöid – Boyfriend | The Sidekicks – Don’t Feel Like Dancing | Adrian Teacher and the Subs – Pop Medicine | Pile – Cup | Many Rooms – Which is to Say, Everything | Black Belt Eagle Scout – Soft Stud | Mike Krol – An Ambulance | Squid – The Dial | The Knees – Stammer | (SANDY) Alex G – Fay | Fenne Lily. – On Hold | Liza Anne – Small Talks | Mo Troper – Never Dream of Dying | Stef Chura – Degrees | Fog Lake – California | Katie Preston – The Art of Falling Apart | Goon – Enter Bethel Admissions | Paul de Jong – You Fucken Sucker | Remember Sports – Up From Below | Jack Symes – Cool God | Sharkmuffin – Your Stupid Life | Juan de Fuca – A Place to Wait | Closet Goth – Touch Myself | Pip Blom – Come Home | Hit Bargain – Capitulate | Joe Pera – Warm Apple Night | bed. – Replay | Washer – Super Pop | Annabel Allum – Rascal | Bent Denim – Chasing Catherine | Mutual Benefit – Storm Cellar Heart | Gabby’s World – Winter, Withdraw | Say Sue Me – Coming to the End | Maria Kelly – Small Talk | Yowl – Warm (in the Soft White Light of Modern Living) | Birds In Row – 15-38 | Lonely Parade – I’m So Tired | Ovlov – Spright | Nano Kino – Sick Dreamer | gobbinjr – Afraid of Me | Grouper – Driving | Petal – Better than You | Yours are the Only Ears – Fire in my Eyes | En Attendant Ana – Night | Jonathan Something – Fine | Sean Henry – The Ants | Curling – Still Green | Yumi Zouma – France (Grande Boulevards) | LVL UP – Orchard

’18 of 18: The Best Music Videos of the Year

Just under a full week into 2019 doesn’t seem like much but it affords time to go over what all of 2018 has to offer, right up until midnight on December 31. It’s a method that also provides room for close examination of the year’s finest releases in each major category (songs, music videos, and albums). While it’s literally impossible for any one person to hear or see every single release in those formats, a focus should be given to the best of what’s been experienced. Thousands of music videos made their way through the Heartbreaking Bravery channels, these 18 selections found ways to stand out from the pack.

Anna Burch – With You Every Day

Ever since the music videos for Anna Burch‘s gorgeous Quit The Curse started rolling in, there was a unified visual aesthetic. It’s a point that was strengthened with the release of “With You Every Day”, which finds Burch eschewing some of the sunnier palette tones to lean further into a ’90s art world sensibility. More than that, “With You Every Day” wisely refocuses from underlining Burch’s carefree tendencies to zero in on the sheer joy that’s evident in the emergent songwriter’s live performances. Tied together, those elements make for a mesmeric video that comes off as unabashedly honest, leading to another quiet triumph for Burch.

Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans 

It’s next to impossible to talk about Car Seat Headrest‘s “Nervous Young Inhumans” without mentioning that the song’s chorus is a fucking monster. A reworked full band version of one of Will Toledo’s most celebrated solo releases, the video was used — and used extremely effectively — to tease the total overhaul of Twin Fantasy. Visually striking and teeming with meaning, the side-by-side widescreen clip lays out everything you’d expect from one of the decade’s more discussed breakout acts: tongue-in-cheek humor, wry witticisms, a clear level of self-awareness, and enough artistry to dispel any notions of being effete.  While some might find the act cloying, the self-directed “Nervous Young Inhumans” video goes all in on just about every one of the band’s aspects and winds up as one of the band’s most definitive individual release to date.

Phoebe Bridgers – Scott Street

Phoebe BridgersStranger In the Alps proved to have quite a bit of staying power through 2018, with the record spawning a few widely-circulated music videos well afters its initial release. Far and away the most moving of that selection was the restrained, lovely clip for “Scott Street”. The premise of the clip’s simple enough: several people dress up as Phoebe Bridgers and enjoy a day out together, riding mechanical bulls, taking to a trampoline park, and taking a bus to some unknown destination. All of it’s lensed tenderly, letting a palpable sense of affection become the clip’s defining element. When Bridgers herself finally makes an appearance in the clip’s final stretch, there’s a surreal emotive heft to the gesture that propels “Scott Street” from being great to being unforgettable.

Sean Henry – The Ants

The Ants” stood out on Sean Henry‘s latest release, Fink, and was rightfully tapped for a music video. The visual treatment the song’s given plays into the song’s enigmatic nature, positioning Henry front and center, following the songwriter’s trip through NYC in costume store vampire teeth. Nervous tension and general mischievousness collide in an unexpected way, rendering the core narrative of “The Ants” oddly gripping. Aided by some stunning cinematography, “The Ants” becomes a fascinating journey on multiple levels that pull the viewer deeper into a world that’s more concerned with presenting questions than providing answers outright.

Casper Skulls – Colour of the Outside

From a beguiling, extended introductory sequence, “Colour of the Outside” takes great pains in comprehensively immersing its viewers into the world it places Casper Skulls. Softly lit and bathed in ghostly blue hues, the first half of “Colour of the Outside” provides a tug-and-pull between competing sense: familiar comfort and an unsettling tension that grows in small increments. Eventually, that dichotomy detonates as a huge portion of the set falls away and the band’s revealed to be playing in a basement. The light increases, objects get smashed, and the spell manages to find a route to amplification, lingering as the song dissipates amidst a haze of feedback. A deceptively clever clip, “Colour of the Outside” also manages to be strangely powerful.

Haley Heynderickx – No Face

Haley Heynderickx’s “No Face” is one of a handful of clips on this list that took a simple premise and executed it with panache by Evan James Atwood, leading to surprisingly memorable results. A stop-motion video that puts Heynderickx in full silhouette, “No Face” uses static framing to perfection. Consisting of no more than Heynderickx miming along to the song and another pair of hands for some additional meaning, “No Face” is a testament to what anyone can achieve with a shoestring budget. A million frames can make up an incredible picture, even when the images barely differ. An inspired — and inspiring — work from a deserving breakout artist.

Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost

One of the most heartening things about a year that didn’t always have a lot of those on hand was the return of basement pop legends Swearin’. Select orders of their first record after reuniting came with a version of 3D glasses that’d been relegated to a curious footnotes in the annals of film history. A fun gimmick on the surface was provided some extra weight with a pair of videos with “Grow Into A Ghost” becoming a genuine standout. Embracing a ’50s aesthetic and the stoic sensibilities of the era, Swearin’ have all sorts of fun with the animation integrated into a modernized strain of an updated technology. “Grow Into A Ghost” was the perfect reminder of what we’ve been missing.

Lucero – Long Way Back Home

Jeff Nichols is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. His collaborations with Michael Shannon have yielded countless accolades and an overwhelming amount of acclaim. Nichols’ brother, Ben, also happens to front Lucero, who have provided a few songs to those films. The brothers Nichols and Shannon team up once again for this short film set to Lucero’s “Long Way Back Home”, teeming with the quietly desperate rural lyricism that’s flickered away in the core of the trio’s work for years. A few more notable actors make appearances in a narrative that keeps the viewer in a vice-like grip up until the ambiguous final moments. While there’s no clear resolution, “Long Way Back Home” is a ride worth taking.

Mitski – Geyser

While the Christopher Good-directed clip for “Nobody” makes appearance after appearance — and deservedly so — on The Best Music Videos of 2018 lists, it’s also worth taking a look at the clip that preceded that one, “Geyser”. A gorgeous tracking shot on a desolate beach follows Mitski as the songwriter mimes the words to “Geyser” before abandoning that conceit entirely, fleeing the camera and collapsing onto the shore, writhing around in a place between catharsis and desperation, pointing to the sheer nakedness of the work on Be The Cowboy. A huge moment for both Mitski and filmmaker Zia Anger.

Iceage – The Day The Music Dies

Iceage and Graeme Flegenheimer teamed up for “The Day The Music Dies” video, which finds the post-punk act tapping into a strain of Southern Gothic visuals once again, producing a series of visuals that immediately register as formally classic, bringing to mind cinematographer Robert Elswit’s work on There Will Be Blood. “The Day The Music Dies” is flooded with iconic imagery but for all its formality, there’s a very evident sense of playfulness coursing through the clip. Tongue-subtly-in-cheek — check out those borderline nonsensical breaks for the car commercial shots — and fiery as hell, the clip’s a very strong example of how abandoning reservations can significantly elevate the material.

Noname – Blaxploitation

A cutting, socially conscious work from Noname, “Blaxploitation” leans hard into metaphor and film history. Taking its cues from the monster film genre, “Blaxploitation” depicts a young black child navigating a model set. Framed as a towering monster, the subject explores the small neighborhood, clearly innocent despite striking an imposing figure, relative to the setting. Tragic for all of the typical, endlessly frustrating reasons, Alex Lill’s video for “Blaxploitation” is every bit as thoughtful as the record on which it resides. Hypnotic and incredibly pointed, “Blaxploitation” is very clearly not just among the finest music videos but the visual format as a whole.

Lonely Parade – Night Cruise

Night Cruise” was the first of Lonely Parade‘s releases to get a huge push and that attention couldn’t have come at a better time. Released in advance of one of the year’s best records, the clip ably demonstrated the band’s identity. Soft strobes of neon hues, softer saturation levels, and some clever one shots cut to the core of the band’s confrontational sensibilities. “Night Cruise” showed that Lonely Parade know exactly who they were and exactly what they were about while still managing to be visually hypnotic. Easily one of the year’s best hangout clips, “Night Cruise” marked the arrival of a band whose career promises to be worth following.

La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I

La Dispute made a return in the year’s final month, unveiling the startlingly intense animated clip for “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I“. A fever dream narrative plays out in the clip, which centers around a car colliding with a deer on the road. Psychedelic imagery swirls around this event, which plays out more than once, lending additional meaning to the event. There’s an impact, things are altered, objects are wrecked, but there’s a beauty that undercuts the despair, reminding the viewer of life’s fragility as much as its inherent tenderness. “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” is an astonishing work that may just be the band’s finest release to date.

Mozes and The Firstborn – Hello

For all the serious subject matter that tends to dominate these types of lists, there are moments of lightness to be found and celebrated. For instance: Mozes and the Firstborn‘s humorous, lighthearted clip for “Hello“. It’s an exceptionally simple premise that’s executed to perfection and imbued with genuine joy. One tracking shot keeps guitarist/vocalist Melle Dielesen front and center, surrounded by a marathon that was taking place in real time. Layers of clothing are shed, several with song-specific message scrawled or printed on them, a cigarette gets smoked, and the song is mimed while runners react to Dielesen’s tongue-in-cheek antics. Easily 2018’s most outright fun video.

Dusk – Leaf

Finn Bjornerud has long been Tenement’s go-to music video director and continues to work with the members’ other projects. As good as some of the Tenement clips have been, Bjornerud hits a career high by some margin with the breathtaking video for Dusk‘s “Leaf“, which remains one of the best songs of the present decade. The song itself lends an additional potency to Bjornerud’s signature camera movements but also forces the camera to stay relatively still, fixating on the mundane details of winter life in the upper Midwest: the boots in the snow, clothing layers being shed, a flock of geese taking off from a snow-capped field. Tethering in a quiet, loving relationship between two people finding ways to celebrate their continued survival gives “Leaf” another empathetic layer that’s strong enough to ensure its rightful place on this list.

Fog Lake – Push

Some of 2018’s most brilliant editing work in a music video came courtesy of Noah Kentis’ twisting, multilayered visual for Fog Lake‘s “Push“. The first of a series of intentionally blurred smash cuts hits at just after the minute mark and every time is startling and powerful enough in its execution to warrant chills. No matter how many times its replayed or used, there’s a singular perfection to the framing and implementation that’s enough to knock a viewer out. As the Charlie Kaufman-esque narrative of “Push” unfurls, there’s a deepening sense of mystery inextricably tied to the ambiguity that characterizes the clip’s final moments. A masterclass in composition and editing, “Push” also stands tall as one of the most mesmerizing videos to have come out over the past handful of years.

IDLES – Danny Nedelko

For some reason or another, white supremacists started using the okay sign as a “covert” way of communicating their reprehensible ideology. Since they’re terrible at everything, the general public discovered what they were doing right around the time it started happening. Enter: IDLES, the band who made 2017’s best music video and missed that title this year by a hair. “Danny Nedelko” a standout track from Joy As An Act of Resistance was a song explicitly about their friend, an immigrant. The black-and-white video follows Nedelko through a series of vignettes, meeting up with other immigrants while dancing, laughing, and flashing the okay symbol with a sheepish grin. It’s a pointed missive of reclamation that’s framed with a welcome level of affection for its subjects. Joy As An Act of Resistance indeed.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

Hop Along – How Simple

Every publication told its readers the same thing at the end of 2018, which was destined to be a certainty from the moment of its release: the music video that defined the year was Hiro Murai’s astonishing clip for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America“. While that video more than deserves all of the praise its received, the aim of this site is to shed some more light on what’s flickering away in the shadows, which brings us to Hop Along‘s incredible video for 2018 highlight “How Simple.”

The first image of Derrick Belcham’s video for “How Simple” is a spotlight, centered on an unopened door. As a visual cue, it’s deceptively striking and open to many valid interpretations but it’s an image that only lingers for a few second as guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan seizes that spotlight and turns in a tour de force performance as the clip’s central subject. Exuding classic Hollywood charisma, bringing to mind the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, and Jean Simmons.

Quinlan’s an inherently magnetic presence on stage (and in studio) so it’s not a surprise the wildly gifted songwriter dominates nearly every frame of the “How Simple video, which is perhaps a calculated outcome for a narrative so heavily centered on personal identity. There’s an incredible emotional spectrum on display here with Belcham leaning hard into Quinlan’s facial expressions, which tell a story all their own.

“How Simple” is an incredible journey that’s gifted an incredibly appealing setting as its story unfurls, navigating everything from shame to resentment to anger to acceptance to celebratory self-reconciliation. Wisely making its home in the mundane nature of every day existence, “How Simple” cuts to the root of several hard-won realizations. By the clip’s purposeful resolution is revealed, Belcham’s ensured a moment of appreciation for a quiet triumph of perseverance, putting one last piece of finite punctuation on the best music video of 2018.

 


Further Watching: Peach Kelli Pop – Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness | Lemuria – Kicking In | Advance Base – Your Dog | Dilly Dally – Doom | Pedro The Lion – Yellow Bike | Vundabar – Acetone | Hala – Sorry | Free Cake For Every Creature – Be Home Soon | Slothrust – Double Down | Onlyness – Comfortable | Deaf Wish – FFS | Spirit Was – Golden Soul | Harry Permezel – Wax Man | Alien Boy – Somewhere Without Me | The Magic Gang – Getting Along | Shame – Lampoon | Clearance – Had A Fantastic | Amos Pitsch – Piece of the Season | illuminati hotties – Cuff | Snail Mail – Heat Wave | Courtney Barnett – Charity | Lauren Hibbard – What Do Girls Want? | Tomberlin – Self-Help | Homeboy Sandman & Edan – The Gut | sewingneedle – Feel Good Music | The Beths – You Wouldn’t Like Me | Zuzu – Can’t Be Alone | Flasher – Material | The Glow – Beamer

The Best of December 2018: Songs, Music Videos, and Records

Only a few days have passed since we turned to a new calendar year and everyone’s looking ahead to resolutions. While that’s a natural way to progress, sometimes it’s worth casting a glance back, especially when the recent past was so fruitful. In all three of the major release categories (songs, music videos, and full streams), there were gems unearthed throughout December. This post is one last look at a very specific slice of 2018 before this site catches up to everyone else and reveals its picks for Music Video, Song, and Album of the Year. In honor of a recent series of tweets from Small Albums, all of the reviews below will be two sentences or less. A few of the selections below might even make an appearance. Hedge your bets on which by exploring all the offerings below.

SONGS

1. Very Jazzed – Get A Job

A tongue-in-cheek post-punk rambler that’s as defiantly joyous as it is self-deprecating. “Get A Job” finds Very Jazzed in an immediate, accessible mode that suits them perfectly.

2. Guided By Voices – My Angel

One of the most dependable acts of the last few decades keeps surging forward with “My Angel”. A characteristically brief burst of energy, melody, and understanding from Guided By Voices.

3. Tørsö – Grab A Shovel

“Grab A Shovel” more than shows why Tørsö have become a revered emerging force on the DIY hardcore circuit. Gnarled, snarling, and unforgiving, it’s a monster of a track from an act worth following.

4. The Gentleman Losers – Make We Here Our Campfire

The Gentleman Losers crafted an enigmatic beauty in their recent Make We Here Our Campfire, a record headlined by its spellbinding title track. Melancholic and intuitive, “Make We Here Our Campfire” grips the senses like a vice, pulling the listener in until the very end.

MUSIC VIDEOS

1. Eerie Wanda – Sleepy Eyes

A hybrid clip for Eerie Wanda’s “Sleepy Eyes” serves as a perfect complement to the song. Part lyric video, part traditional footage, “Sleep Eyes” takes a simple concept and guides it to memorability.

2. Amos Pitsch – Piece of the Season

Tenement and DUSK‘s Amos Pitsch returns to the holiday spirit after 2017’s Lake Effect with “Piece of the Season”. Delivered in tandem with partner Julia Blair’s “Merry Christmas (To the Ones Who Are Lonely)“, “Piece of the Season” sees Pitsch surrounded by quintessential hallmarks of a Wisconsin winter (and delivers one of the year’s best shots in a quick-hitting sledding sequence).

3. Spirit Was – Golden Soul

LVL UP‘s dissolution may only be a few months in the past but its members are already going full bore with their new projects, including Nick Corbo’s Spirit Was. “Golden Soul” is a beautiful introduction-at-large to the project, the moody visuals perfectly suited to Corbo’s slow-burn songwriting mentality.

4. Noname – Blaxploitation

“Blaxploitation” is delivered not just as a music video but as a film, suggesting Noname‘s visual ambitions are just as bold as the ambition evidenced in the music. Playing off the monster movie film canon to supplement a pointed social commentary, “Blaxploitation” earns the film designation.

5. La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I

Every so often, something that’s so tethered to something deeply personal gives me reason to break this site’s “no first person” clause and in the case of La Dispute‘s gorgeously animated “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” it’s this: I was in a horrific car accident after a deer jumped a barricade on the interstate and left my partner’s previous car as a total loss. A scene, with some added symbolism, of an extremely similar nature is depicted throughout this clip and explores something that feels unflinching honest in its surreal, gently nightmarish portrayal.

6. Phoebe Bridgers – Killer

Phoebe Bridgers Stranger In the Alps is holding strong as one of the better records of the past few years and the sublime, crisp black-and-white clip for “Killer” serves as a stark reminder of its potency. A tender, engaging clip for a song worthy of this kind of treatment.

FULL STREAMS

1. Mister Goblin – Final Boy

While Two Inch Astronaut has taken a bow, Sam Woodring is still going strong, a fact evidenced by a sterling debut effort from the songwriter’s newest project, Mister Goblin.  Keeping Two Inch Astronaut’s core sensibilities intact but providing them a slightly lighter sheen, Woodring finds a joy in exploring some (mostly) untapped spaces and that joy translates into a rewarding listen.

2. pting – beep beep

beep beep stands out as a charming effort from pting pting, offering three tracks of punk-indebted slacker pop that are worth every revisit.

3. Strange Ranger – etc.

A project that’s been a site favorite for a few years keeps finding intriguing ways to evolve. etc. is a fascinating left turn for Strange Ranger but one that’s in keeping with their recent exploratory bent, finding them in a bed of acoustic warmth that still has room for the electronic-heavy collaborative closer.

4. Lrrr & Maxshh – Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh

Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh is an endearing split release from Lrrr and Maxshh, which finds the two projects squaring off, collaborating, and contributing a Frankie Cosmos cover for good measure. A mid-fi bedroom/basement pop triumph.

5. Laura Stevenson – The Mystic & The Master

One of today’s most underrated songwriters returns and offers two strong, heartfelt tracks of contemporary folk pop. Imbued with empathy and subtle artistry, “The Mystic & The Master” and “Maker of Things” are more than deserving of their place in Laura Stevenson‘s discography.

6. Spirit Was – Golden Soul

As stated above, though LVL UP’s gone, multi-instrumentalist Nick Corbo’s most certainly not. Golden Soul finds Corbo sinking deep into contemplation while clinging to a torch, ready to set everything ablaze at a moment’s notice.

7. Another Heaven – FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER

While FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER is a title destined to have people counting on their fingers, the songs it contains are more likely to make listeners feel a sense of awareness. Urgent, thoughtful, and nearly overwhelming, Another Heaven have released a behemoth of an EP that stands among 2018’s finest releases.

The Best Records of November 2018

November had a lot of records competing for attention, covering the various different ends of the spectrum. This post is a look back at some of that month’s best offerings, which seems like a worthy venture even with a new year only a few days out. Whether they were compilations or collections of entirely new material, these are records worth hearing. From local artists to retrospectives from genre legends, there’s a lot to digest. As always, each and every one of these titles are titles worth owning. Dive in below.

1. Wooing – The Clouds

A band that’s making some noticeable moves over the back half of the year finally got a chance to truly show off and seized the opportunity with a stylish fervor. Wooing‘s The Clouds is one of the best post-punk-meets-basement-pop 7″ releases of the year. Both sides come laced with a sense of nervous tension that’s embedded into the band’s icy atmospheric sensibility. Quietly thrilling and uniquely enthralling, The Clouds marks a true arrival for a band that’s living up to their potential.

2. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – Real Deal Therapeutic Bullshit

Over the past decade, Colin Bares has released an astonishing wealth of incredible songs through various projects. Good Grief, The Coral Riffs, Mr. Martin & The Sensitive Guys, The Cost of Living, and The Weasel, Marten Fisher have all earned coverage from this site, each tethered in some way to Bares’ unique songwriting sensibilities. Real Deal Therapeutic Bullshit is a compilation of tracks that have been uploaded to soundcloud over the past two years (with a few extra thrown in for good measure) and ably demonstrate Bares’ uncanny ability to acutely plumb the depths of what it is to be human. Whether it’s the melody, composition, lyrics, or vocal delivery, this is music that stays with anyone who has the fortune of listening and definitively stakes a case for Bares as one of the best songwriters operating today.

3. The Marked Men – On the Other Side

There’s a case to be made for The Marked Men as the golden standard for the basement pop genre and that case would only be strengthened by On the Other Side, a compilation of odds and ends that span the band’s career. Even the quartet’s outtakes would put most of the bands molded in their shape to shame. A raucous, jittery, adrenaline-fueled burst of energy, On the Other Side isn’t just a reminder of band’s strength but a statement; The Marked Men’s legacy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

4. Fog Lake – carousel

Shortly after releasing one of this year’s best records, Fog Lake returned with the carousel EP. A fascinating curio that flaunts an incredibly unexpected but entirely welcome ’50s pop influence. As is the case with the best Fog Lake works, carousel is playful, compelling, and haunting in equal measure. Where carousel becomes a singular work is in the commitment, presenting a complex vision that operates as if it’s an artifact that’s out of time. Transfixing and lovely, carousel puts a bow on a breakout year for a worthy artist.

5. Rick Rude – Verb For Dreaming

Rick Rude are a band that’s never received the recognition for their work that its strength warrants. Even with that being the case, the band’s giving that untapped audience every chance to latch on, having released a great record a year since 2016, each of them topping the last. Verb For Dreaming is the band’s new career high, an 11-song explosion of inventive, knotty basement punk. A tremendous effort from an incredible band.

6. Washer / Bethlehem Steel – Split

Exploding In Sound has been an inspiring source of consistency for many, many years and hasn’t showed any signs of wear. A split release between two of the roster’s finest acts, Washer and Bethlehem Steel only reinforces the label’s status. Washer‘s “Super Pop” kicks things off and rank’s among the duo’s best tracks, while Bethlehem Steel contributes a powerhouse from their end with “Fake Sweater”. Each band takes a turn covering each other, making this an indispensable capsule for any fan of the label or either band.

7. The Magic Lantern – To The Islands

Last year, “Holding Hands” provided one of the most breathtaking listening experiences of that time. Devastatingly tender and abundantly warm, the track served as an introduction-at-large to The Magic Lantern. “Holding Hands” acts as the album opener on the project’s newest record, the beautiful To The Islands. A spellbinding run through memorable melodies and narratives, To The Islands is the fullest realization of Jamie Doe’s artistic vision to date. A sublime work from start to finish, To The Islands is a record that’s easy to take in but impossible to shake.

8. Hutch Harris – Only Water

The Thermals announced their departure earlier this year but it only took the band’s guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris a few months after the announcement to release a new record as a solo act. Only Water isn’t as brazen or as confrontational as any of The Thermals’ work but does allow Harris to explore from a more overtly introspective angle. Only Water operates at a slower tempo but Harris’ knack for intuitive narrative structures holds strong, making Only Water an essential record for anyone still heartbroken over the departure of Harris’ old flagship act.

9. Ellis – The Fuzz

Ellis has making semi-frequent appearances in this site’s coverage leading up to The Fuzz and now that the record’s finally here, that attention feels justified. A confident, mesmeric presentation of wintry atmospherics, bruising, introspective narratives, and startling dynamic, The Fuzz posits Ellis as a major voice. From dream-pop-tinted opener “The Drain” onward, The Fuzz sees Ellis in a loosely experimental mode that leads to the songwriter’s most memorable work, frequently yielding moments of unassuming brilliance. The Fuzz is a bold statement from an artist that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Best Music Videos of November 2018

Just two weeks have passed since November closed, which is more than enough time to for a variety of acts to have unveiled great music videos. Revived projects, critical darlings, and attention-catching upstarts make up the five picks below. A variety of film styles are deployed and each clip carries its own unique charm. To get the full effect, just click play.

1. Zuzu – Can’t Be Alone

Zuzu has been impressing for the past few years, slowly building international name recognition while consistently achieving at a high level. A sought-after live act and a songwriter who’s got a firm grip on both identity and craft, Zuzu’s continued to turn heads. The clip for “Can’t Be Alone” — which utilizes lightheartedness and French New Wave to tremendous effect — is another piece of an expanding, winsome story. Tongue-in-cheek, grounded, and immensely enjoyable, the “Can’t Be Alone” video is another reminder of Zuzu’s increasingly bright future.

2. Mitski – Washing Machine Heart

Watching the evolution of Mitski from celebrated bedroom pop artist to cultural megastar has been a privilege. As is the case with the best artists, that transition has seen Mitski grow more committed to personal artistic vision. Aided by the opportunities that level of recognition can unlock, the songwriter’s remained steadfast in using that visibility responsibly. “Washing Machine Heart” is another hyper-stylized video from the artist, leaning fully into the film noir tendencies that provided a few of Mitski’s past videos a nice flourish. It’s mesmerizing.

3. Alien Boy – Somewhere Without Me

One of the biggest artistic leaps forward this year came from Alien Boy, who unleashed an unlikely behemoth in Sleeping Lessons. A record that married grunge, shoegaze, punk, and emo in fascinating ways, had more than a few highlights. “Somewhere Without Me” was one of that record’s most astonishing moments and gets the visual treatment on a Sjur Hjeltness-helmed clip that pays homage to the iconic visual history of the post-punk genre. Studied and exhilarating, the clip serves as a perfect complement.

4. Swervedriver – Drone Lover

Not a lot of people could have predicted how seamlessly Swervedriver‘s return to the fold would be or that they’d be making some of the most powerful music of their career in 2018. “Drone Lover” makes a case for the latter part of that equation with gusto. “Drone Lover” continues the band’s collage-heavy tendencies on the visual end, which nicely underscores their primal squalor. Effective and hypnotic, it’s another strong introduction to the band’s revered output.

5. The Glow – Beamer

LVL UP‘s dissolution earlier this year freed up a lot of time for its members to pursue the other projects they’ve had their names attached to for years. In the case of Mike Caridi, the guitarist/vocalist returned to The Glow. A project that’s been mostly dormant for several years is being revived in earnest, with the dog-happy clip for “Beamer” leading the charge. It’s a colorful clip that illustrates The Glow’s wide-reaching appeal. “Beamer” is also a very welcome reminder that even though LVL UP’s left, Caridi’s here to stay.

 

The Best Songs of November 2018

With November just two weeks out of view and AOTY season still drowning everyone’s feeds (our forthcoming coverage will arrive, as it always has, at the very end of the year), now seemed like a perfect time to reflect on what the past month had to offer. Whether it was the James Bond theme of the future, a surprise side-project, or a local band syncing up with a major name, there was a lot worthy of reflection. Below are a dozen of those standouts.

1. Mike Krol – I Wonder

Ever since catching the tail end of the first show Mike Krol ever played with a backing band (that band being Krol’s close collaborators Sleeping in the Aviary), it’s been hard to ignore the songwriter’s appeal, drive, charisma, and commitment. Merge picked Krol up a few years ago before the release of Turkey, which just might be one of the most fun basement pop records of the decade. “I Wonder” finds Krol sticking to a familiar formula but making room for more surprises, like enlisting partner — and Mege labelmate — Allison Crutchfield (Swearin’) for backup vocals and pushing the run time well past 100 seconds. As is always the case with Krol, it works. Brilliantly.

2. Mister Goblin – Nothing You Do (Happens)

Losing Two Inch Astronaut was a considerable blow to a scene that had claimed them as a linchpin. Sam Woodring, that band’s guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter, couldn’t leave well enough alone, returning now with a new project called Mister Goblin that picks up right where Two Inch Astronaut left off. “Nothing You Do (Happens)” was one of the first looks at the project and is one of the best tracks to have the fortune of Woodring’s involvement. Inventive, fiery, and mesmerizing, the post-emo/hardcore/punk/whatever track is a welcome reintroduction.

3. HAVVK – Always The Same

“Always The Same” is a slow-burning track that swings on a pendulum between indie pop and post-punk, alternately gentle and unwieldy. There’s a hypnotic effect that the swings back and forth achieves, pulling the listener increasingly deeper into something strangely brilliant. Small, surreal touches abound on the track, which should go some ways in establishing HAVVK’s name. Hard to miss and easy to love, “Always The Same” is a track worth investment.

4. Nancy – I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)

A lot can be achieved in 100 seconds or less, a fact that’s more or less the crux of the entire basement pop genre. Nancy offers up the zillionth piece of supporting evidence in the 96 second blast of “I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)”, a track overflowing with smart hooks and a quick wit. Short, punchy, and incredibly effective, “I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)” is a song that’s more than worth the commitment.

5. The Yada Yada Yadas – Human Emotion

Riding an opening section that falls somewhere between The Polyphonic Spree and early Flaming Lips, The Yada Yada Yadas take another strong turn on “Human Emotion”. The song eventually dovetails into other segments, touching on everything from brit-pop to the slacker movement of the late ’90s, without ever feeling empty for its revivalist tendencies. Fascinating and surprisingly explosive, “Human Emotion” goes off like a firework and outright refuses to come back down.

6. Silverbacks – Just In The Band

“Just In The Band” find Silverbacks well on their way to transforming into a fully fledged post-punk powerhouse. Frantic in just about every sense, “Just In The Band” never fully looses its tether from the anchor, staying intact enough to create a sense of urgent direction. It’s a wildly impressive work from a band that’s very clearly ready for their breakout moment. It’s only a matter of time before the tether breaks and they take off.

7. Disq – Communication

“Communication” sees Disq pairing with Saddle Creek for an intriguing 7″ series, while also hitting on a career high. A noise-damaged basement pop number laced with basement punk tendencies, “Communication” is surprisingly volatile. The band’s penchant for melody remains at that heart of their work but “Communication” suggests that their experimentation with atmospheric choices could propel them to previously unseen heights.

8. Mo Troper – Never Dream of Dying

Aggressively — and humorously — marketed by the label as the theme to the next James Bond film, Mo Troper‘s “Never Dream of Dying” finally saw release after months of soft teases. The franchise would be lucky to have this one. All of the traditional Bond theme hallmarks are in place, from the sweeping orchestral section to the classic ending and everything in between. Even separated from its own framework, the song feels like a rousing triumph, making it perfectly at home in Troper’s incessantly impressive repertoire. It’s a classic.

9. Chelou – Out of Sight

One of the more left-field surprises of the past few weeks, Chelou’s “Out of Sight” operates as one of those rare, transfixing tracks that doesn’t sound like it’s connected to a specific time. Echoing shades of Hot Chip, RJD2, and other pop-minded acts in a similar vein, “Out of Sight” creates a mesmeric tapestry out of a collage that veers from classic metal flourishes to art-pop. A genuinely remarkable track that more than deserves the plays its been racking up since appearing online.

10. YOWL – John the Collector

YOWL continues to impress every time they reappear, stringing together an incredibly strong collection of tracks that’s continuously raised their profile. “John the Collector” is the band’s latest shot of bleary post-punk. Hazy but energetic, the band keeps their foot on the pedal, taking off towards some unknowable destination. A shout-sung narrative covers the breadth of things as varied as familiarity, friendship, and destruction, culminating in a powerful resolution that tips its hat towards the intrigue of letting some things go unsolved.

11. And The Kids – Champagne Ladies

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new from And The Kids but “Champagne Ladies” is here to amend that trend. One of the band’s most immediate and accessible songs, “Champagne Ladies” finds the project aligned nicely with acts like Middle Kids, who rely on a distinctly rural sense of wonder to ground anthemic melodies. From the palm-muted rhythm guitar figure to the bells providing “Champagne Ladies” a splash of color, everything here congeals into a sum far greater than its parts, ably demonstrating And The Kids’ continuing growth as songwriters.

12. Maria Kelly – July

“July” is yet another breathtaking track from Maria Kelly, an artist who’s no stranger to crafting wintry soundscapes. While the title may suggest a summery affair, “July” is as icy as anything Kelly’s released. Soft, pointed, and quietly lacerating, “July” cuts to the bone. A clinical self-dissection, the song’s blunt honesty is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. There’s some solace to be found in “July” but it’s through the recognition of shared pain. Haunting and intimate, the track cements Kelly’s position as an artist worth knowing.

The Best Records of October 2018

October was an absolutely extraordinary month for record releases, seeing the unveiling of a large handful of Album of the Year contenders. A handful of site favorites offered up new material as well, with several of those titles appearing below. No matter the length (EP, LP, 7″, etc.), there was an abundance of memorable titles. Only one band of the 10 selected below had yet to appear in any of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage. As for the rest? They’re further solidifying their respective statuses as some of the most promising acts in music.

1. Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend 

On their sophomore full-length, Stove expand both their ambitions and their skyward sprawl with their most inspired release to date. Comprised of an existence’s worth of longing, fear, anxiety, tenderness, and understanding, ‘s Favorite Friend has the marks of a classic. Devastating and hopeful in turns, the Stove record marks the second astonishing album that Steve Hartlett’s released this year, following Ovlov‘s TRU. Deeply personal and all the more mesmeric for that trait, ‘s Favorite Friend reaffirms Hartlett’s enormous musical talent and provides a reassurance; you might not always entirely defeat your demons but making peace with some of them can go a long way.

2. Strange Ranger – How It All Went By

Strange Ranger have been enjoying a steady evolution that’s already paying increasing dividends. How It All Went By, the band’s latest, is their strongest release to date, continuing an upward trajectory that started several releases back. Unapologetic in its inventiveness, How It All Went By recalls the works of everyone from Joyce Manor to Neil Young, mining a select few genre’s for flourishes that complement the band’s core identity. Oddly hypnotic and abundantly warm, How It All Went By is an EP that’s worth owning.

3. IAN SWEET – Crush Crusher

The last time IAN SWEET released a record, the results were strong enough to catapult them from emergent act to critical darlings. Crush Crusher, the band’s most recent effort, is one of affirmation: the early praise was warranted. Explosive, thoughtful, and genre-resistant, IAN SWEET has crafted something that thrives in near-impossible dichotomies. Tender and violent, explosive and tranquil, urgent and contemplative, every last second of Crush Crusher comes laced with a certain amount of nervous energy, transforming the entire affair into a spellbinding experience.

4. Adeline Hotel – away together

After a few years of playing together, Adeline Hotel is starting to increase their pace. away together is a strong enough record that it could feasibly multiply their audience by some degree. A near perfect soundtrack for the transition from fall to winter, away together‘s indie folk reckonings lend an even greater familiarity to the everyday, giving the mundane greater meaning. Easily the strongest songs of the band’s young career, away together should leave the kind of mark that’s recalled fondly and without malice.

5. Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

A few name changes have taken place since Gabby’s World was awarded this site’s Album of the Year distinction for O.K. but the band’s heart remains unchanged. Beast On Beast makes that revelation plain from the record’s opening track, the breathtaking “Winter Withdraw”.  Guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith remains one of the more intuitive songwriters working today, gifting the record with airy melodies that carry punch and conviction. Beast On Beast, like the project’s best works, serves as both a rallying cry and a knowing offer of acceptance, doing its best to make sure there’s some warmth when the world gets cold.

6. Interbellum – Dead Pets, Old Griefs

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, only one project on this list had yet to make an appearance on Heartbreaking Bravery. Enter: Interbellum. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a fascinating effort from multi-instrumentalist Karl Maltar. Interbellum, Maltar’s project, enlisted several friends for a record that straddles the divides between indie pop, slacker punk, and bedroom pop, giving a distinctly modern twist to the kind of template that used to be a Sparklehorse specialty. For every memorably raucous moment on Dead Pets, Old Griefs, there are several hushed, deeply introspective ones to balance the scales. It’s a staggering work from a name worth remembering.

7. Strange Relations – Sideline Kid

One of the best, if not the best, post-punk projects the upper Midwest has  to offer, Strange Relations keep accelerating their own momentum. Last year the project released Editorial You, a record that showcased the band’s confidence. Just a year later, they’ve returned with their most restrained — and fascinating — effort to date in the 3-song EP Sideline Kid. The EP finds the band being increasingly adventurous with their ambient experimentation while remaining fearless in their bare-bones minimalism. All three tracks are fascinating for different reasons and the cumulative effect is potent enough to give Sideline Kid serious consideration as one of the year’s best EP’s.

8. GABI – Empty Me

A record that’s been anticipated for some time in very specific circles of the art world, GABI’s Empty Me finally arrived in full and lived up to the promise of the surrounding buzz. Haunting chamber pop of the highest order, Empty Me traffics in curious extremes, from emotive weight to the sprawl of the composition that serves as the record’s anchor. For all of the lightness Empty Me exudes in its softest moment, there’s a pervasive sense of doubt permeating its shadowy corners. An astonishingly complete work, Empty Me works its way towards unforgettable as it progresses, slowly immersing its listeners under the weight of the gravity felt at the record’s core.

9. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

The opening seconds of Last Building Burning make one thing extraordinarily clear: Cloud Nothings aren’t fucking around. After what some considered the lightest work of their career since Dylan Baldi turned his project from a one-man affair into a full band ordeal, Last Building Burning immediately lights a kerosene torch and takes off with reckless abandon. “On An Edge” is the most purposeful opener we’re likely to hear this year, with the band in a rare echelon of attack mode. Fortunately, the rest of the record backs its strength up with some of the band’s strongest songwriting. Easily one of 2018’s best outings, Last Building Burning is a potent reminder that aggression can be productive when wielded with care.

10. Yowler – Black Dog In My Path

A strong case can be made for Maryn Jones as one of the most vital musicians of this past decade. Jones has provided invaluable contributions to Saintseneca as a (now former) member, fronted All Dogs, contributed to records from bands like Radiator Hospital, released memorable solo material before and after any of that started happening, and has turned Yowler into a recognizable name. While Jones will inevitably downplay the impact those contributions have had, it’s an astonishing pedigree.

Yowler’s latest record, Black Dog In My Path, in some ways comes across as the sum of that experience: this is the broadest and most ambitious record to bear Jones’ name. It’s also one of the best. Trading in uforgiving self-deprecation and an acute awareness, Black Dog In My Path can be a punishing listen when it fixates on unthinkably low moments but the music breathes just enough optimism and life to make the whole thing feel unflinchingly human. One of the fullest realizations of Jones’ incredible talent, it’s a record that’ll still be worth visiting a decade down the line.

The Best Music Videos of October 2018

Today will be spent going over the best songs, music videos, and records of the past two months, each individual section divided up into respective month and format. The songs of October have been handled so it’s time to turn the attention towards the month’s notable music videos. From emergent acts to reunited powerhouses, the five selections below run an interesting gamut but it’s a spectrum well worth exploring.

1. Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost

Special orders of the most recent Swearin’ record came with customized “Illusion-O” 3D glasses. The glasses were to be used for the viewing of the two music videos, which coincided with the record’s release. “Grow Into A Ghost” makes expert use of this tactic, full of visual pop even without the glasses, leaning into a ’50s sensibility to great effect. A testament to the band’s creative strength, “Grow Into A Ghost” suggests Swearin’ have a firm grip on their future.

2. Flasher – Material

Flasher‘s “Material” is the type of music video that seems designed to provoke severe reactions. From the intentional, tongue-in-cheek subversion of the song itself to the manipulation of the actual viewing process, “Material” is a risky gambit. The cumulative effect pays that risk off as the clip devolves into territory that’s typically occupied by late night Adult Swim viral insanity. While it can occasionally be difficult to watch, “Material” is even more difficult to forget.

3. didi – Haru

didi take their strain of ’90s revivalism to new heights on the clip for “Haru”, fully embracing the visual aesthetics that defined the slacker punk videos of that era. Rough, grainy, overflowing with light colors, and strewn with cheap effects, “Haru” is a throwback fever dream. Acutely self-aware and teeming with a vibrant energy, the Alex Bolcher-directed clip will be sure to turn a few heads.

4. Pedro The Lion – Yellow Bike

One of the more unexpected reunions of 2018 came in the form of Pedro the Lion. A band revered by critics and audiences alike, David Bazan‘s relaunched project has been facing incalculable scrutiny. “Yellow Bike” is one of the band’s first forays back into the public conscience and arrived accompanied by a heartfelt music video that perfectly caters to the band’s sensibilities. Quietly moving and full of promise, “Yellow Bike” stands as an important entry of a storied career.

5. Casper Skulls – O My Enemy

Taking a break from harsh noise and confrontational, pointed visuals, Casper Skulls opt for a scenic detour on the Melanie St-Pierre video for the tender elegy, “O My Enemy”. Opening on an illustration of a small child curled up into the fetal position, small bursts of animation begin to spread outward, surrounding the central figure with softness and life. The clip never stops morphing, allowing the child to quietly fold into a flower, all the while “O My Enemy” provides the soundtrack and conjures a startlingly emotional effect. Simple and very nearly overwhelming, “O My Enemy” more than proves the worth of artistic concepts.

The Best Songs of October 2018

It’s been over two months since a post appeared on this site and with the always slightly-too-early onslaught of year-end season in full bloom, it feels necessary to highlight some of the best material over that stretch. Heartbreaking Bravery’s own best of lists will be coming, as always, as will the revival of A Year’s Worth of Memories. There may be a few more surprises sprinkled in to make things interesting but starting with a window that spanned most of October seems like a perfect place to get caught back up. Dive in below

1. Mike Krol – Little Drama

Mike Krol came surging back to life with “An Ambulance” and continues to churn out frantic, wild-eyes basement pop that has enough energetic bite to put most hardcore bands to shame. “Little Drama” finds Krol settling comfortably into longer formats, expanding both the frequency and velocity of the songwriter’s penchant for smart hooks. Try to keep up and you’re bound to be left choking on dust.

2. Lauren Hibbard – What Do Girls Want?

One of the more irresistible punk-leaning slacker pop tracks of recent memory, Lauren Hibbard’s “What Do Girls Want” is buoyed by a pop sheen that makes the song’s effect more immediate. Existing somewhere between Lady Lamb and Hinds, “What Do Girls Want?” ably showcases Hibbard’s innate melodic talent and lyrical chops. High impact, ridiculously fun, and easy to revisit, “What Do Girls Want?” should be a summer mix tape staple for years to come.

3. Meat Wave – That’s Alright

Any time Meat Wave puts anything new into the world, it’s a cause for celebration. Without fail, the trio has delivered seething post-hardcore-informed post-punk at the highest level and hits those familiar heights again with “That’s Alright”. Energetic, propulsive, menacing, unforgiving, and overflowing with atmospheric tension, “That’s Alright” continues the band’s mesmeric evolution, solidifying their status as a singular force.

4. Weakened Friends – Good Friend

With each new track they’ve released, Weakened Friends have worked themselves into a site favorite. “Good Friend” stands proudly as one of the best songs to their name, a rousing grunge pop number that examines personal fracturing with a surprising amount of nuance and clarity. Hard to ignore and easy to fall in love with, “Good Friend” presents the band’s strongest traits with an unerring sense of conviction. While the narrative may suggest otherwise, this is all but a victory lap for an exhilarating emergent talent.

5. Miya Folick – Thingamajig

Trouble Adjusting” was the first Miya Folick track to make it plainly evident that the songwriter was on an upward path to something incredible. It was a sharp blast of punk laden with signifying aspects of lo-fi songwriters, a curious trait that makes “Thingamajig” all the more astonishing. Veering far closer to Half Waif than The Pixies, “Thingamajig” is a devastating meditation on personal impulses and longing, aided by a minimalist ambient pop bed. One of the most unexpectedly breathtaking openers of 2018.

6. pting – Bus Driver

pting make a powerful introduction-at-large with “Bus Driver”, a track that recalls everything from the works of the Crutchfield twins to the skyward atmospheric tendencies of Alvvays. Smartly composed and gifted a clever narrative, “Bus Driver” is a refreshing jump into a cold pool on a hot day. A towering testament to pting’s vision and understanding, the song capably delivers a multitude of reasons to commit the band’s name to memory.

7. Yakima – Point of This

“Point of This” is a song strong enough to act as a calling card, something that only a handful of bands are capable of achieving. It’s a gorgeous work of layered slacker punk married to dream pop sensibilities, the two complementing each other in a way that ensures “Point of This” sounds like it’s floating. A perfect reprieve from every day chaos, “Point of This” feels carefree for as thoughtful as the lyric narrative and composition wind up being, making it a perfect candidate to kick off any unwinding session.

8. Washer – Super Pop

One of the best duo acts currently making music, Washer have been raising a high bar incrementally for the past few years. “Super Pop” is a perfect indicator of the band’s unique talent and singular charm, a deeply effective burst of flannel-laden micro-punk. Barely exceeding 100 seconds, “Super Pop” is wiry and tenacious, finding Washer going through familiar motions: dig in the heels, clench the teeth, and commit with no reservations.

9. Deep State – Under the Gun

Deep State‘s been one of the more pleasant surprises of the past few years, delivering some extraordinary songs, records, and music videos along the way. “Under the Gun” finds the band forging ahead with their sense of high-energy playfulness while still sharpening the edges enough to sound fairly intimidating. It’s a small triumph and should go some way in raising the anticipation level for their forthcoming The Path to Fast Oblivion.

10. The Little Miss – Take Me, Too

One of the better ways to discover new music that might not otherwise cross your path is to let soundcloud auto-play. It’s an exercise worth indulging but rarely has it yielded something as strong as it did earlier this year: The Little Miss’ “Take Me, Too” is an overwhelmingly gorgeous modern hymnal that’s strong enough to stop just about anyone in their tracks. Little more than vocals and an organ (harmonium?), “Take Me, Too” is a fearless look at death, one that offers up a knowing welcome. One of the year’s best songs

Doe – Grow Into It (Album Review, Stream)

Just a few years ago, Doe released Some Things Last Longer Than You, an incredible record that made good on the promise of their early work and wound up as a joint selection for this site’s 2016’s Album of the Year. Since then, they’ve been touring relentlessly with an extraordinary cast of bands that have allowed Doe’s profile to continue an ascending pattern. Grow Into It, the trio’s latest album, finds them full of confidence, charisma, and conviction.

The record’s their first effort for both Topshelf (who will be releasing the record in the US) and Big Scary Monsters (who will handle the UK distribution) and the opening run of tracks makes it plainly clear why both labels came on board. Doe have expanded their ambitions, refined their songwriting, and seem more willing to take the kind of risks that can yield important dividends. The pace is a little slower, the tone’s a little more casual, the instrumental palette’s broadened, and somehow Grow Into It surpasses the intensity of their previous effort.

A synth props up “Labour Like I Do” and bleeds into “One At A Time”, which is augmented by guitarist/vocalist Nicola Leel‘s most tender vocal delivery to date and a gorgeous fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure. It’s part of a recurring trend throughout the record of connected nuance, lending the record a sense of completion. The narratives are still laced with Leel’s sardonic wit and wry observations, only this time they’re held up by repeated calls to action. It’s a decision that grants Grow Into It a greater immediacy, allowing it to read as a pointed reaction to a frequently disheartening political climate.

It’s easy standing still goes the refrain of “But It All Looks the Same” — far and away the record’s boldest track and most significant departure from the band’s older material — offering up a reassurance in the middle of an incredibly charged record. It’s an acknowledgement of a communal struggle, the sense of difficulty that can lead to complacency, and the importance of resisting the urge to stand still, making the lead-in to the record’s lead single, “Heated“, doubly effective.

By the record’s final stretch, its clear that Doe are presently as concerned with what questions to ask as they are with the difficult answers those questions demand. Some of these questions exist in the micro, like reflections of self-worth (“Even Fiction”) that can be extrapolated to a larger picture. There are stakes at play and Grow Into It makes a decision to not shy away from the kind of decisions that define our humanity. Despite the considerable weightiness of the lyrics, Grow Into It as a record remains one of the most consistently enjoyable listens throughout its run time.

At every turn, Doe matches introspection with clever, thoughtful, and grin-inducing arrangements that keep Grow Into It a vibrant record, tethered to a wellspring of life that’s genuinely affirming. For all of its subtle intricacies and attention to detail, there’s never a point where Grow Into It feels burdensome, which is a testament to its empathy. Moreover, the band’s never sounded so inspired as musicians, offering up a record of career-bests across the board in terms of structure, dynamics, and lyricism.

Doe may have had a strong grasp on their identity as early as their first year together as a band but that sense of self can get challenged. Grows Into It finds Doe doing just that; this is a band that knows the path to becoming the best version of themselves. Grows Into It is the wild, genre-marrying soundtrack to accompany that journey. Easily one of 2018’s strongest records and a potent reminder of Doe’s seemingly limitless strength. A modest masterpiece.

Listen to Grow Into It below and pick it up here.