Heartbreaking Bravery

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Jack – Resting Places (EP Review)

JACK

Grief is a fearsome beast. At its worst, the emotion can become all-consuming and open up doors to spiteful resentments, severe depression, and bursts of misplaced anger. At its best, grief can lead to an expanded sense of empathy and a deeper understanding of the things that are legitimately important in life. More often than not, though, grief lingers in between that spectrum, forever at odds with its own qualities. All of those areas are explored in Jack’s jaw-dropping EP, Resting Places.

That’s precisely the reason why — despite absurdly strong showings from Vanity, Notches, Honey Bucket, Turtlenecked, Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes, and Liam Betson —  the EP finds itself in this post’s featured position. Jack, a project spearheaded by Brittany Costa, came about by way of a difficult situation. That situation informs every millisecond of Resting Places, as Costa created the project as an outlet to confront the loss of a loved one.

Anyone that’s lucky enough to be familiar with Costa’s past work will undoubtedly find reason to be interested in Resting Places but will likely be caught off guard. This is, by some distance, the most vital work of Costa’s impressive career. Resting Places is an unflinchingly intimate, honest work and those qualities are all but necessitated by the circumstances leading up to its creation. What separates Resting Places is Costa’s overwhelming conviction. At every turn, each of the five tracks on the EP feel like they were born out of a fierce need to purge the thoughts they contain, at any cost.

Drawing from a variety of musical genres and utilizing the talents of Flagland‘s Nick Dooley and Bethlehem Steel’s Becca Ryskalczyk, Costa ably conjures up a maelstrom that becomes a mirror of Resting Places‘ bruised and bruising narrative. From the very opening line of the EP — “What the fuck did I do to make you turn away?” — there’s an aggressive tilt that never wavers, even in Resting Places‘ quietest moments.

A feedback swell precedes that opening salvo, establishing the discord that the EP draws on and rails against. For around 24 minutes, Costa veers in and out of folk, punk, Americana, and pop sensibilities, tethering everything into a genre-demolishing approach that thrives on a sense of unease. It’s a trait that permeates through all of Resting Places, as bleary-eyed and frantic as possible. All of those qualities come crashing to a head at climactic moments like the desperate affirmation of “I have fucking value” that closes out opener “Rightful Rage” or the repeated aversions to inflicting and experiencing suffering on the devastating “Harbor”.

Costa’s impressed as both a lyricist and a composer in the past but what she accomplishes on Resting Places doesn’t just top everything she’s done, it stands as some of the most impressive work that 2016 has yielded to date. Every track on the EP contains a handful of extraordinary moments, whether its in terms of dynamics, turns of phrases, or unbridled feeling. There’s a knockout punch lingering at every turn that’s ready to knock the listener down to Costa’s level. At no point over the course of its run does Resting Places halt its merciless swinging.

In Resting Places‘ penultimate track, “Sister System”, Costa addresses that pain directly, providing the EP with its most vulnerable moment. Even when Dooley’s intuitive drumming — one of Resting Places‘ finest additional assets — opens the song up a little, there’s an unwavering sense that Costa’s completely alone. The command to “pick up that dignity you threw across the floor” that brings the song to the end feels like less of a request and more of a reminder, again drawing the listener nearer to Costa’s position in a stunning, effective manner.

“The Look” brings the proceedings to a close in hair-raising fashion, giving Resting Places its severely battered, barely-beating heart. The song was the first to be released from Resting Places and managed to be breathtaking in a standalone capacity. Placed in the context of the EP, “The Look” becomes one of the most devastating songs to have emerged in recent memory. It’s a surging, climactic, tour-de-force of repressed feeling, unchecked frustration, and excessive exhaustion.

As Costa nearly screams “I tried to choke myself to stop the hurried breathing” in that final track, as the music surrounding the narrative threatens to go off the rails, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Resting Places isn’t just a necessary excursion for Costa to confront some lingering demos, it’s an artistic masterpiece. Eventually, it all leads up to what may be an inevitable summation. As “The Look” brings Resting Places to a close, Costa gets caught in a loop, repeating over and over “I am not afraid to die.”

It’s a powerful statement that holds even more weight measured against the rest of the EP. It’s a frightening moment of awareness and may even betray a dark desire but that final line also encapsulate how definitive of an exploration Resting Places is of personal grief. In that last line, the deceptively expansive breadth of grief is evident and can be opened up to many interpretations. A few of those interpretations may even prompt immediate revisits of the EP, providing the opportunity for re-contextualization.

As the music fades away into the ether,  Resting Places solidifies its place as one 2016’s most powerful releases for any format, leaving a mark that lasts. It’s a difficult EP that sparks an empathetic response that’s a little harrowing but likely nothing in comparison to what Costa went through while forming these songs. A special kind of generosity and bravery is required to put those feelings on display, so for that, we owe Costa a thanks, because Resting Places is just about as unforgettable as they come and, suitably, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to leave.

Listen to Resting Places below and grab a copy here.

PWR BTTM – New Hampshire (Stream, Live Video)

PWR BTTM III

For a while now, Benjamin Hopkins has found strength and empowerment through naked vulnerability, a trait that’s on full display with PWR BTTM‘s breathtaking “New Hampshire”. Penned when Hopkins was experiencing a sense of displacement, the track’s gone through various mutations for a few years and has (finally) arrived fully-formed for the UK deluxe edition of Ugly Cherries alongside the astonishing “Projection“.

Easily one of the duo’s gentlest songs — and in small bursts, one of their most gnarled — “New Hampshire” is an intimate look into a fractured psyche. From the onset, Hopkins is grappling with questions of mortality, greeting death with open arms. It’s a brave moment and that bravery doesn’t waver throughout the course of “New Hampshire” as it plunges into the depths of bleak certainty, finding ways to inject it with small grasps at hope.

That “New Hampshire” seems to paint death as a release provides the song with the bruising devastation that’s unified PWR BTTM’s strongest work, allowing some insight to the daily struggles the duo are forced to face in their everyday lives. By being so open about their preferences both Hopkins and Liv Bruce have been walking a double-edged sword as queer ambassadors, receiving celebration and (unfortunately) displaced derision in the process.

It’s a position that’s led the band to become increasingly accustomed to applying their openness and sincerity to a grander scale, which has also inflated the opportunity for confrontation. All of those experiences have been imbuing the band’s recent works and leading to some genuinely beautiful moments after being paired with the duo’s innate musical ability. Even in the smallest touches, like the bell runs or vocal rounds in the second half of “New Hampshire”, the emotive scope is evident.

“New Hampshire” is three and a half minutes of slowly lowering any remaining guards, stepping out into the open, and accepting an ephemeral fate. Tacit and direct in turns, PWR BTTM once again find a way to navigate uncomfortable corners with an unfathomable amount of grace and feeling. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song, even at its most barbed, and effectively demonstrates PWR BTTM’s growing range as artists. Far more than just a bonus track, the song’s both one of PWR BTTM’s strongest moments and one of 2016’s most essential offerings. Wounded, firm, and lovely, “New Hampshire” is unforgettable.

Listen to “New Hampshire” below and watch a video of the band performing the song earlier this year beneath the soundcloud embed. Order Ugly Cherries here.

Miya Folick – Pet Body (Music Video)

miya folick

Animal Lover, OMNI, September Girls, Lion’s Den, Silent Pictures, and WL all released startlingly great music videos over the past 24 hours. As good as all of those were (and they were quite good), the one that charged the hardest came courtesy of Miya Folick. After releasing one of the last year’s strongest EP’s in Strange Darling, Folick has wasted no time in releasing a follow-up effort. “Pet Body”, a standalone single, ranks among the songwriter’s fiercest moments and has a suitably aggressive video to match.

“Pet Body” eschews the tantalizingly subdued tendencies of Strange Darling in favor of a much rawer approach, flashing its fangs and sinking them in deep. A hyper-charged sugar-rush of spiky basement pop, “Pet Body” manages to be both accessible and substantial, cementing Folick’s reputation as a songwriter to watch. The music video that Folick’s released alongside the song is a joyous collage of animated imagery that complements the overwhelming immediacy of “Pet Body” with panache. Packaged all together, “Pet Body” is winsome, exhilarating, and an unexpected anthem for summer’s remainder. Greet it with a warm embrace and hold on for the ride.

Watch “Pet Body” below and download the song here.