Heartbreaking Bravery

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Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (Music Video)

julien baker

Every few months or so, a music video comes along and manages to steal breath, freeze blood, and make time stand still. In those moments, careers on both sides of the lens can get pushed forward with a momentum that borderlines shocking and– importantly– keeps the medium pushing forward instead of succumbing to a rote stagnancy. Julien Baker’s “Sprained Ankle” is one of those videos.

Even on its own, the title track of Baker’s astounding Sprained Ankle is gripping. A haunted, downcast meditation on self-worth and perseverance, “Sprained Ankle” could have accompanied a strong photograph and it would have made a mark. Director Sabyn Mayfield and cinematographer David Newbert, thankfully, had a different vision in mind. While “Sprained Ankle” does start on a near-frozen one shot of a dejected Baker staring at the floor, it slowly unfurls into something that feels transcendent.

As the song’s guitar harmonics ring out, the camera pulls back to reveal an isolated Baker in the damaged expanse of a demolished classroom. As Baker makes her way through an emotionally crippling set of lyrics, the camera slowly surveys the surroundings without ever abandoning Baker is the focal point; she’s at the heart of the damage. As the lyrics draw to a close, the camera approaches Baker before finally pushing past her shoulder as the song descends into a wordless, layered chorus.

Finally, in that wordless section, the camera peers upward, focusing on the ceiling insulation in between the structural gaps. As the camera explores that aspect of the gradual destruction, there’s a palpable sense of sadness that accompanies the moment, driving home the thematic point of inevitable decay with an astonishing amount of grace. Presented as a tracking shot, “Sprained Ankle” concludes by sweeping from the roof back down to tarnished earth, pulling back to reveal Baker’s vanished entirely to inject the clip with a feeling of an almost sorrowful abandonment.

Ultimately, “Sprained Ankle” comes across as deeply human. It’s a tacit statement about the cyclical nature of loss and an unforgettable examination of self-awareness. It’s an unforgettable moment from an artist who deserves a lot more discussion going forward. Don’t let this one fade into the recesses of the forgotten anytime soon.

Watch “Sprained Ankle” below and pre-order the record from 6131 here. Below the embed, explore an extensive collection of some of the past few weeks’ best videos.

Farao – Warriors
R. Ring – Loud Underneath
Violent Mae – In the Sun
The Spirit of the Beehive – You Are Arrived (But You’ve Been Cheated)
Hey Lover – I’ve Got A Car
Skaters – Mental Case
Big Eyes – Local Celebrity
The Bandicoots – Overnight Innovator
Acid Fast – Momma Grey
Fog Lake – Shanty Town
Split Feet – Selective Mommery
A Place To Bury Strangers – Supermaster
Wand – Sleepy Dog
Mooner – Alison
Novella – Sentences
Billie Marten – Bird
Conner Youngblood – The Badlands
EL VY – Need A Friend
John Andrews and the Yawns – Peace of Mind
Moon King – Roswell
Rain – Slur
Joanna Newsom – Divers
The Zephyr Bones – Weird Summer
Eliot Sumner – I Followed You Home
Wells – Shepherd
Idle Bloom – Fare Fumo

Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture (Album Review, Stream)

Midnight Reruns IV

Formatted in the same pattern as the last post due to the time constraints that CMJ prompted, the full streams collected in the interim from regularly scheduled coverage are listed at the very bottom of this post. It’s a decision that also allows the sole focus to be placed on Midnight Reruns‘ incredible sophomore effort, Force of Nurture. It’s worth noting that this is a band I’ve had the privilege of tracking since around the time of their first EP‘s release, which precedes this site’s existence, and they were one of the bands I created Heartbreaking Bravery to celebrate (they’ll always have the distinction of being the first band ever to appear on Watch This, which has now run for 100 segments).

During that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a number of the band’s explosive live shows, which have– with good reason– mostly veered towards the material on Force of Nurture. The band put together a nice pre-release run for the album, including a very strong EP and the release of two of 2015’s best songs in “There’s An Animal Upstairs” and “Canadian Summer“. As good as all of those items were, they’d fail to suggest the extent of Force of Nurture‘s sheer weight, even if they were packaged together.

In a statement issued to Substream, who hosted the record’s premiere, guitarist/vocalist Graham Hunt spoke of the loss of a close personal friend, an event that reverberates throughout the record with a staggering force. It’s most noticeably present in the record’s connecting thematic elements; uncertainty, regret, struggle, and loss. Even Force of Nurture‘s most ostensibly positive moments come with the caveat of being opaque enough to suggest there could be a tremendously dark underlying subtext.

Aside from the record’s earned weariness, the compositions far exceed what the band accomplished on their extremely impressive self-titled debut, which is no mean feat. A very palpable debt to The Replacements is heavily reinforced by Force of Nurture‘s credits, which list Tommy Stinson (one of the group’s earliest supporters) as the record’s producer. While there are still aspects of the Thin Lizzy twin-lead dynamic that were so often cited in regards to their earlier work, the band leans more heavily on their Big Star influence this time around to exhilarating effect.

Hunt, as hinted at above, turns in a jaw-dropping lyric sheet that expertly bridges the record’s muted optimism with its struggles in solipism. Everything, down to our own most microbiological functions, is put on trial; no answers are granted and the questions that are posed cut deep. Debauchery runs rampant but the band never lets its determination flag, committing to “making people laugh” even in their bleakest moments.

As relentlessly dark as this is all sounding, the band still finds a way to present themselves through fiery guitar work, sun-soaked melodies, and propulsive rhythm section work that lends the proceedings the kind of vibrancy that renders Force of Nurture an addictive listen. It’s mid-section run, in particular, somehow manages to pull off a relative weightlessness in the face of its tragic, bruised lyricism. Whether its something like the strained relationship at the crux of “Where’s Ace?” or the dreamlike self-aggrandizement of “Sky Blue Water” that ends in a tragicomic defeat, there’s a very peculiar bite to the record that makes it feel deeply personal and unflinchingly vital.

By the time the band’s exhausted their arsenal of incredibly effective hooks (the only 2015 records I can think of that have approached being even remotely close to this successful in that sense are Sweet John Bloom’s Weird Prayer and Dogs On Acid’s self-titled), they’ve run an exhaustive gamut of hard-earned lessons and navigated the journey with a wary resiliency. As they well know, and devastatingly note on “Great Southern Rail”, the record’s sprawling eight minute closer, sometimes all it takes is just one gunshot.

As a personal exercise, Force of Nurture feels therapeutic in a way that seemed to be crushingly necessary. As a standalone full-length, it’s essential. Easily one of 2015’s most invigorating, affirming, and incendiary records, Force of Nurture aim goes far beyond most band’s goals and they hit their mark with a memorable emphasis. So, as things get difficult, depression lingers, houses burn, friends are lost, and seasons vanish to a place beyond recovery, we now have a deeply empathetic record to help us through those times. For that, we collectively owe Midnight Reruns a debt of gratitude- and a place for Force of Nurture in our collections.

Listen to Force of Nurture below and order a copy from Dusty Medical here. Beneath the embed, explore a list of some of the finest records to find release over the past few weeks.

Trust Fund – Seems Unfair
Laura Stevenson – Cocksure
Petal – Shame
Jonathan Bree – A Little Night Music
Ex-Breathers – Past Tense
Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Slanted – Lost Forever: B-Sides From Forever
Sleep Kit – Standby Me
Postcode – The Dandelion Radio Session
Wendy Alembic – Collected Early Works
Sports – All of Something
Community Records Compilation Vol. 5
Witch Coast – Burnt Out By 3PM
Walter – Get Well Soon
The Love Coffin – Veranda
Spray Paint – Dopers
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
Expert Alterations – You Can’t Always Be Liked
Alien Boy – Never Getting Over It
Dyke Drama – Tender Resignation
Florist – Vacation
Stumpf – Barf Radio
Greys – Repulsion
Haybaby – Sleepy Kids
Dead Painters – Aluminum Gold

Painted Zeros – Only You (Stream)

Painted Zeros II

Over the past few weeks, a lot of excellent material has surfaced. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of that material has been singles. Since the time span was so extensive (mostly due to the attention afforded to the CMJ coverage), all but one of those songs have been compiled in a list that will be running at the very bottom of this post. The one exception is tonight’s featured song: Painted Zeros‘ “Only You”.

After being somewhat underwhelmed by Painted Zeros’ set at Alphaville (which, to their credit, seemed to have more to do with the sound setup than their performance), the band knocked me for a loop during CMJ at Aviv. Having already commented on the impressive nature of their quieter material from their upcoming Floriography, it’s heartening to see the trio committing to “Only You”– a clear standout from their CMJ set– as their latest release in the album’s rollout campaign..

Driven by a gentle, intricate bass figure that comes courtesy of Jim Hill (who also plays in Slight, The Glow, and Montana and the Marvelles), “Only You” serves as a showcase for guitarist/vocalist Katie Lau’s more pensive side as well as the band’s considerable growth. Floating along like a fully-realized dream seeped in tranquility, “Only You” far surpasses the very evident promise of S V A L B A R D. Defying any easy genre categorization while flashing hints of the very best elements of everything from dream pop to post-punk, the song finds a soft transcendence and sustains it through its final, fading moments. From start to finish, “Only You” is a lovely, unexpected triumph.

Listen to “Only You” below and pre-order Floriography from Don Giovanni here. Beneath the embed, explore a collection of some of the best songs to find release over the past two weeks.

Petal – Silly Heart
Basement Benders – Purple Days
The Gloomies – LSD
Eluvium – Confessor
They Might Be Giants – Or So I Have Read
Holy Esque – Hexx
Kitten Forever – Temple
Matt Kivel – Janus
Wray – May 23rd
The Unspeakable Practices – A Steadying Effect
Soldiers of Fortune (ft. Stephen Malkmus) – Campus Swagger
Brass Bed – I Am Just A Whisper
Free Children of Earth – All Tomorrow’s Plunder
Go Deep – Slumberland
Elephant Stone (ft. Alex Mass) – The Devil’s Shelter
Globelamp – Controversial Confrontational
Tenement – Weakest Ones (Demo)
The Besnard Lakes – Golden Lion
Beach for Tiger – Coco
Le Rug – Bomb
Kindling – Painkiller
Manwomanchild – Return to Ithaca
Bummed – Smoking Jewels
Jaala – Salt Shaker
Cicada Rhythm – The Keeper
MONEY – You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides of the Sky
Human Potential – 105 Pounds of Disintegration
Busdriver (ft. Milo and Anderson Paak) – Worlds to Run
Wimps – Old Guy
Infinite Void – Even Ground
Black Panties – You’ll Never Find My Body
TOPS – Hollow Sound of the Morning Chimes
Earring – Black Chalk
Swings – Dust
Some Pulp – Slasher Nite @ The Showcase East
Florist – Cool and Refreshing
Sam Means – We’re Alone
Never Young – New Villain
Floating Points – Peroration Six
Eternal Summers – Our Distant Bodies
Andy Shauf – Jenny Come Home
Val Hollie – Siberian Summer
William Alexander – Strangest Things
Mitylion – My Yard Is On
Sheer – Cursed Again