Heartbreaking Bravery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Week, 10 Songs

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

1. gobbinjr – afraid of me

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

2. En Attendant Ana – Night

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

3. Forth Wanderers – Ages Ago

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

4. Grouper – Driving

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

5. Boys – That Weekend

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

6. Been Stellar – Everyone Smokes in the City

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

7. Yumi Zouma – France (Grands Boulevards)

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

8. Petal – Better Than You

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

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

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

10. Say Sue Me – Coming to the End

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

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

 

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

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