Heartbreaking Bravery

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ahem – Sweet Tooth (Song Premiere)

Photography by Taylor Donskey

Last year, ahem had a coming out party with the exceptionally strong Just Wanna Be EP, ensuring their name would be firmly imprinted into the upper echelon of basement punk bands operating in the upper Midwest. The trio’s been playing shows in support of that release since it was unveiled and now have a new song to offer up, for a great cause. “Sweet Tooth” serves as the lead-off track for The Grey Estates’ forthcoming Sugar Rush Volume 2 compilation, which will see all proceeds going towards benefiting QORDS (Queer Oriented Radical Days of Summer), an overnight camp that aims to empower and embolden queer and gender non-conforming youth through emphasizing the communal aspect of making music.

“Sweet Tooth” finds the band picking up right where they left off, firing on all cylinders and working thoughtful compositions into unbridled, immediate energy. Centering the narrative of “Sweet Tooth” on what could be a poetic allegory or could just be face-value fun, ahem give the song everything they’ve got, relentlessly upping its momentum even as it hurtles forward at breakneck pace. A snotty refrain, carefully balanced harmonies, and a bridge that stands as one of the best 28 second runs of music anyone’s likely to hear in a basement punk song all year, “Sweet Tooth” stands defiantly triumphant by the time it comes to its explosive, abrupt close.

The song is both a vital addition for what will undoubtedly be one of the year’s more meaningful releases and a potent reminder of ahem’s formidable strength (as well as an indicator of their growing confidence). It’s an embrace of an outsize, outsider identity and it’s a kick in the face of anything that dares stand in its way. While the running time of the track may be slight, its significance is not. “Sweet Tooth” is something worth celebrating; addictive, unashamed, and true to itself, the song’s an unlikely anthem for the displaced. Help the cause it’s supporting and give it the love it deserves.

Listen to “Sweet Tooth” below and pre-order Sugar Rush Volume 2 here.

Ben Seretan – My Lucky Stars (Music Video Premiere)

Over the years, Ben Seretan has meticulously and methodically developed a reputation that’s as strong as the songwriter’s composition. Affable, curious, and driven, Seretan’s mastered the art of balancing abrasive, sardonic wit with an open earnestness that ultimately winds up working in service of the music. Now, Seretan’s turned that handle on reality to the visual format for a pair of clips from last year’s outstanding Bowl of Plums.

Various Small Flames already ran a wonderful premiere piece for “I Like Your Size” and now this site has the honor of unveiling it’s partner piece, “My Lucky Stars”. Both clips find Seretan shamelessly shotgunning beers, laughing as the chaos unfolds in slow motion, undercutting the heavy emotional undercurrent of the songs with physical comedy. It paints an effective dichotomy that — as this tactic does when used best — elevates both angles (assisted in no small part by the direction of Stephen Straub), rendering what could have easily been construed as a throwaway in less capable hands into something far more lasting and profound.

Adding to the surprising complexity of both the song and the clip is the fact that it’s presented as a continuation of the first movement of “My Lucky Stars”, which appeared on Seretan’s extraordinary self-titled. Speaking to Seretan about the clip, the artist also touched on how song’s evolve in the face of an artist’s perception over time and had this to say:

For me, it’s part of a larger acceptance I’m trying to get to: absolutely everything changes and, in fact, is changing right before your eyes as you’re busy trying to remember it. And even something as solid as a pure, heartfelt song made with care from a place of beautiful intention fades and warps in the sun.

It’s a beautiful sentiment that has a firm basis in reality, speaking volumes to something that might be misconstrued as something that was purely done out of silliness. While comedy and whimsicality certainly play a factor in the clip for “My Lucky Stars”, like everything else Seretan’s released up to this point, there’s always meaning buried somewhere unexpected. Hit play, have a laugh, think about life, and come back for more.

Watch “My Lucky Stars” below and pick up Bowl of Plums here.

Landlines – Landlines (Album Review)

In the course of the past few days, only a small handful of truly great records have emerged. Washer unveiled a legitimate Album of the Year candidate with All Aboard, Total Yuppies revealed their exceptional Care EP, and Nassau continued to improve with Heron. On top of that trio of full streams, there was a sneak peek at the upcoming Pope record — and there was also the incredible self-titled effort from Landlines (a band that includes some member overlap with The Woolen Men).

Landlines is exactly the type of band and record that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to support. An absolutely monstrous effort from a legitimately great band that has minimal name recognition outside of their given region, both Landlines and Landlines deserve far more notice than either will likely receive without securing contracts with the right PR team. The recorded landed in the site’s inbox by way of the band directly, who seem committed to the DIY ethos that’s fairly apparent in their music.

In the accompanying bio that was patched over with the record, a lot of classic rock acts get name checked but Landlines can be accurately summed as existing in the central field between the triangular points represented by Pavement, Parquet Courts, and Flying Nun Records. These are wiry post-punk songs with slacker punk leanings, basement pop aesthetics, and aggressively clean tones. They’re cleverly arranged and expertly executed, running the gamut from the energetic onslaught of opener “Hanging Around” to the unapologetic powerpop of closer “Survived”.

A record that’s littered with smart observations, compelling musical ideas, and united by an incredibly convincing identity, Landlines actually manages to outstrip several records being discussed as Album of the Year candidates by a reasonable margin. Make no mistake, while this is a largely unassuming record it’s also one of the more tightly-crafted and complete releases of the past nine months. Landlines exude confidence throughout and deliver several knockout blows in their self-titled, which is comprised exclusively of songs worthy of mix tape inclusions. Hit play below and hit purchase when it ends.

Listen to Landlines below and pick the record up here.

Julien Baker – Appointments (Music Video)

Over the past few days, a typically strong stream of music videos emerged with acts like The Weather Station, Unnatural Helpers, Mutts, Leroy Francis, Alvvays, Delsinki Records, Intergalactic Lovers, King Krule, and Cut Worms all getting in on the fun. While all of those videos — as is always the case — are worth a look, it was the visual accompaniment to Julien Baker‘s characteristically devastating new single “Appointments” that hit hardest.

Baker can already claim one of this present decade’s best clips in “Sprained Ankle” so any news of a new video is cause for elevated attention. In the two years that have elapsed since that notable release, Baker’s grown as an artist and grown in conviction over artistic choices. That much is clearly evident from the fiercely committed performance the songwriter delivers at the center of the Sophia Peer-directed clip for “Appointments”.

Baker, complemented by some striking DP work by Adam Uhl, appears appropriately haunted at the outset of the clip, growing more confident as the filmic narrative progresses. The song’s narrative, as bruised and battered as anything from Baker’s spellbinding solo debut, explodes the small moments that can shatter relationships into central focus. As that story plays out in song, the one on film grows in empathy as a cast of Baker’s friends provide a dichotomy by surrounding the guitarist/vocalist’s smallest, loneliest moments with company.

Whether those dancers are supposed to represent specters of the past or a wish for the present is open to interpretation but either way that’s pushed lands with an abundance of meaning. It’s a forceful reminder of how we treat the relationships to our lives, both central and peripheral, and the power that they can carry, whether we realize it in the moment or are stuck pining for them in their absence. By the time “Appointments” muted but hopeful resolution enters, it’s already made its case with enough certainty to make sure that it lingers long after its gone.

Watch “Appointments” below and pre-order Turn Off the Lights from Matador here.

Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear to Be Boring (Stream)

The last few days have been monstrously impressive for new singles, with tracks from Nervous Dater, Worst Gift, Bethlehem Steel, Everyone Is Dirty, Julia Jacklin, Mini Dresses, Makthaverskan, Far Lands, Swimming Bell, Monogold, Flotation Toy WarningSwimming Tapes, Prawn, Autobahn, Peach Pit, Jonny Polonsky, Jesse Kivel, Grooms, Outsider, Ross McHenry Trio, The Clientele, Destroyer, and Silk ‘N’ Oak all making great impressions. As good as all of those were, “Can’t Bear to Be Boring” deserved a feature spot.

Holiday Ghosts have been teasing their impressive forthcoming self-titled debut with excellent tracks for a while now but none of them have wielded the kind of irrepressible drive and sardonic wit that define “Can’t Bear to Be Boring”. Defiantly chaotic and clearly influenced by the work of Courtney Barnett, “Can’t Bear to Be Boring” manages a charm all its own. Lo-fi, catchy, clever, and charismatic, the track proves Holiday Ghosts are willing to extend their boundaries in unexpected ways. It’s one of the most joyous two and a half minute blasts of basement pop anyone’s likely to hear this year. It’s a welcoming party that should not be missed.

Listen to “Can’t Bear to Be Boring” below and pre-order Holiday Ghosts here.

Young Jesus – Young Jesus (Album Review)

Well, it took an excessively long while but as of this post this site’s officially back on track and will be resuming its regular daily (or near-daily) schedule moving forward. Making things even sweeter is the incredible release of site favorites Young Jesus‘ self-titled record, which was teased back with the premiere of the “Green” music video a short while back.

Of course, that’s not the only thing that was worth checking out to find release over the first two days of the week. There were also great songs from Jessica Lea Mayfield, Milan to Minsk, Open Mike Eagle, Mavis Staples, and Acid Tongue. A quartet of clips served the music video format well with incredibly strong entries from Colter Wall (who nearly snagged the feature spot), The Man From Managra, Naomi Punk, and Stillwave. Finally, there was a great record unveiled in ViewMaster’s Alternative Classics that was quietly released a few weeks ago but it is more than worth hearing.

Back to the subject at hand: Young Jesus (and, more specifically, Young Jesus). There are some bands that refuse to do anything but grow and push themselves to extend their comfort zone, heighten their ambitions, and take genuine risks. Young Jesus, for nearly a decade now, has been one of those acts. Young Jesus stands as the most definitive example of the band’s willingness to experiment while still retaining the melancholic pull that anchored their earlier works.

From the opening section of Young Jesus it becomes apparent that the band’s decided to fully embrace the noise sections that have become a defining characteristic of their spellbinding live show in recent years. These sections crop up in the opening trio of tracks — “Green”, “River”, and “Eddy” — and don’t really recede from the foreground throughout the rest of the record, spare for a few of Young Jesus‘ lightest moments. Impressively, these sections always sound more pointed than meandering, a testament to Young Jesus’ grip on dynamics, structure, and pace.

Guitarist/vocalist (and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor) John Rossiter continues to turn in some of the more unexpectedly moving lyric sets while taking a small shift towards the poetic. As always, the band Rossiter has both partially retained and partially assembled are immensely impressive, navigating towering sections with ease and composing arrangements that seem very attuned to emotional response.

While the record may only run for 7 tracks, the band makes them count, particular in the final stretch of the record. “Desert” (formerly “Every Little Landscape”), “Feeling”, and “Storm” all rank among the year’s finest tracks. Each of them contain some of Rossiter’s finest work as a lyricist and Young Jesus’ most sprawling and absorbing work as a band.

Combined, these three tracks run for nearly half an hour and account for the bulk of the record, nearly doubling the combined time of the first four tracks. They also touch on virtually everything that’s ensured this band would be a staple of this site’s coverage. There’s a wellspring of genuine emotion driving these particular songs and it’s readily apparent, from the genuinely pained vocal delivery in the mid-section of “Feeling” to the aggressive bloodletting of a later section in “Storm” to the hushed introspection of “Desert”, every blow hits its mark.

By the time Young Jesus winds to a close it almost feels akin to a great piece of epic literature, with its oscillating emotions, sweeping narratives, and central ideology. It’s a massive work from a band that’s quietly become one of America’s best and it deserves to have a legacy in its wake. Both a bold step forward for a band deeply uninterested in repeating former motions and one of the years finest — and most fascinating — efforts. An essential addition to any music lover’s collection.

Listen to Young Jesus below — and watch a series of videos of the band playing live underneath the bandcamp player — and pick it up from the band here.

One Great Week, Five Great Songs

September got off to an exceptionally strong start, with the month already yielding incredible new songs from the following laundry list of artists: Lost Boy ?, Wand, Lina Tullgren, Miss World, Dead Leaf Echo, Danielle Luppi & Parquet Courts, Death By Unga Bunga, Queen of Swords, Trudy and the RomanceSLØTFACE, Partner, Suno Deko, Gleemer, TFS, After Hours Radio, Prawn, Mal Devisa, Field Medic, Ryan Koenig, Raleigh, Tough Age, Mt. Doubt, Havah, Moses Sumney, Infinity Girl, Heaters, The Fluids, Ora Corgan (x2), Aiming for Enrike, SLONK, Sales, Earl Grey, St. Vincent, Gun Outfit, Rostam, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Helio Sequence, Happy Hollows, and Silver Torches.

Somehow, despite the unreal amount of incredible tracks in that treasure trove, that was still just scratching the tip of the iceberg. Below were the five songs that leapt out most from an embarrassment of riches. Most of the names are familiar and some are acts in the midst of welcome resurgences. All of them are worth turning on and turning up, so push the volume levels up and go exploring. Enjoy.

1. Sports – Making It Right

A short while ago, Sports were hinting that their run might be over following the release of their excellent All of Something. Fortunately, as “Making It Right” makes abundantly clear, that wound up not being the case. They may even allude to that false alarm with the clever “you’re calling my bluff” line. In a little over 100 seconds, Sports proves that they’re not just back but that they’re at the absolute top of their game.

2. Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry

As Slaughter Beach, Dog, Modern Baseball‘s Jake Ewald has been releasing music that’s been on par with — or threatening to outstrip — that of his main vehicle. “”Fish Fry” is yet another deeply absorbing entry into Ewald’s solo discography. Characteristically unassuming, “Fish Fry” is as sharp as anything Ewald’s released. Putting the modern day ennui of young adulthood under the microscope, the loneliness on display in”Fish Fry” almost sounds romantic before the reality of it all sets in and it just comes across as painfully sad, enhancing the song’s already magnetic pull.

3. Magic Potion – Rest Yr Skull 

Magic Potion already have a quality EP and LP to their name and have only improved over time. The Rest Yr Skull 7″ is the next release on the table and the band have anchored it with the title track. Like a lot of bands on the consistently outstanding PNKSLM roster, the band pulls the majority of their influences from slacker punk and slacker pop movement of the ’90s, advancing the aesthetic with something intangibly modern. “Rest Yr Skull” is as fine of an example of that formula as anyone’s likely to hear all year, a charming slice of driving basement pop with an irresistible melody.

4. Bad History Month – Being Nothing

For a time, it looked as if Bad History Month may have disappeared for good. Luckily, “Being Nothing” arrived last week to dissuade anyone from that notion. A career highlight in a fascinating and deeply inventive discography, “Being Nothing” fully celebrates the oddities that have made the project’s past releases so essential. Folk-informed, noise-damaged, and utterly arresting, “Being Nothing” could not have come from anyone else. Psychedelic overtones push one of the most defiantly nonconformist songs of 2017 to even greater heights. It’s unmissable.

5. Radiator Hospital – Pastoral Radio Hit

“Pastoral Radio Hit” is the second glimpse at the forthcoming record from site favorites Radiator Hospital, whose “Dance Number” clip cracked the recent top 10 list for August. The song’s hard-charging at first blush, full of restraint at second, and brilliantly explores the dichotomy between the two at third. It’s an endlessly fascinating piece of music that lives up to its title and confirms that Radiator Hospital’s forthcoming Play The Songs You Like will be one of their discography’s most adventurous entries. Turn it up, put it on repeat, and find a new thing to love each time it winds to a close.

One Great Week, Five Great Records

A small handful of anticipated records were released over the past week, as well as a few surprises. From veteran acts to those looking to capitalize on heavily acclaimed debuts to new acts with no name recognition looking to make the mark, it was a typically diverse week in the world of music. Five of those records hit incredibly hard and will be expanded upon in the main section but don’t let that distract you from some incredible releases by the following: Small Circle, Dead Stars, Claire Nelson-Lifson, Partner, Tomberlin, Even As We Speak, Baby Jesus, L.A. Witch, and Small Souls, all of which nearly were featured themselves. As always, everything’s worth hearing, so block out any excess noise and surrender to the magnetic pull of each and every one of these releases.

1. Alvvays – Antisocialites

Alvvays had a lot to live up to after their breakthrough debut and they’ve more than delivered with Antisocialites, expanding on the ideas and the aesthetic of their winsome first record. All of the impossibly magnetic melodies are intact while the arrangements are a hair sharper this time around, the instrumental interplay and vocal decisions bolstering an immensely likable record. Sometimes the records we hope bands will make wind up being made and Antisocialites is one of those records. Hit play and fall in love.

2. Sundial Mottos – Sundial Mottos

Sundial Mottos are a new band, who just happen to feature A Years Worth of Memories contributor Alisa Rodriguez, as well as Midnight RerunsGraham Hunt and Brady Murphy. They also just happen to be extremely good and responsible for one of the best EP’s to come out of the Upper Midwest this year with their self-titled debut. Hunt remains one of the better lyricists working today and delivers another acutely-realized and lived-in narratives with the opener “Service Industry”, which also boasts some effective slide work. It’s an impressive start to an EP that never comes close to wearing out its welcome.

3. Strange Relations – Editorial You

Strange Relations have made a habit of snagging feature write-ups on this site — most recently with Editorial You‘s exceptional “Say You” — so it’s probably too much of a surprise to see their name here yet again. Editorial You, the band’s latest record is also, by far, the best work of their already formidable discography. The band’s grip on dynamics, arrangements, and atmospherics (and just about everything else that can make a record great) has grown and their mastery is on full display throughout the record. Easily one of the year’s most intriguing, inventive, and downright arresting records.

4. Beachtape – Hold Music

Beachtape, another band from the excellent Sweden-based punk label PNKSLM have been featured on Heartbreaking Bravery a few times before, always offering up hints at their identity. With Hold Music, the band finally feels complete. An astonishingly good EP that blends elements of dream-pop, surf, shoegaze, and basement punk into an extremely enticing tapestry, Hold Music is the type of EP that’s destined to turn quite a few heads. It’s hard not to imagine that if Beachtape continues down the path they’re on, a lot more people will know their name.

5. Lomelda – Thx

One of the more gently unassuming songwriters of the past few years, Lomelda, found a nice push in signing to Double Double Whammy (a label already responsible for the release of several of the years best records including Cende and Great Grandpa) for Thx, one of this year’s finest bedroom pop records. Wielding an incredibly enticing sense of melody and a penchant for relatable narratives, Thx quietly swings for the fences and finds itself lost in thought as it rounds the bases. An absolutely soundtrack for the colder seasons.

Versing – Call Me Out (Music Video)

The last week was a relatively quiet one for music videos but still made enough room for great clips from Caddywhompus, Lunch Ladies, Spinning Coin, The Dream Syndicate, Jeff Beam, Holy Hum, Lonely The Brave, Manchester Orchestra, Dream Wife, Swimming Tapes, Iron Chic, Carla del Forno, Elliott Brood, and Jessica Boudreaux. Joining their ranks as commendable efforts was the charmingly minimalist clip from Versing for their latest career highlight “Call Me Out”.

For a while now, Versing have been generating momentum and finding ways to accelerate it instead of opting for a route where its just sustained. Whether it’s opting for a tongue-in-cheek record name or just finding ways to improve, they seem intent on not just making a splash but staying in the water to kick up a series of waves. To that end, “Call Me Out” is a perfectly-timed release that hits all the right notes: simple, DIY, gripping, and adhering to a relatively straightforward, high-impact aesthetic while still finding enough room for a hallucinatory bent.

Directed by Daniel Salas, “Call Me Out” is little more than the band playing “Call Me Out” in a field, while simple border effects sweep in and out of the shot. It’s a clever conceit that allows the band to play up their identity and it’s elevated by everyone’s commitment to the idea. Of course, it helps that “Call Me Out” — a shoegaze-leaning basement punk ripper — is the best song from the band’s discography thus far, elevating the clip even further. When all is said and done and the clip winds to a close, it’s hard not to want to just go back and let it run from the start all over again.

Watch “Call Me Out” below and pre-order Nirvana from the band here.

Sauna Accident – Mary Jane (Song Premiere)

A week or so into September and there’s already been a handful of exhilarating releases, several of them standing firmly as Album of the Year contenders. It can be easy to be swept up in the glitzy press blitzes assembled for those records and it can be even easier to overlook new music from bands with little to no name recognition while it’s happening. Fortunately, there are still a small handful of people out there who care more about the acts that are breaking than the ones being gifted massive roll-out packages.

One of the smaller bands in question is the duo Sauna Accident, who excel in crafting a sort of hyper-specific, intriguingly woozy brand of post-punk. Lo-fi and unapologetic, the project — which consists of Sophie Ballman and Daniel Hughes — has only released two songs prior to now. Thankfully, “Mary Jane” has arrived to push that song count a tick higher. Arriving in advance of their forthcoming EP, Run to the Log that’s Rotten, which is due out next Friday.

“Mary Jane” takes all of the most promising elements of the project’s opening tracks and watches them coalesce into something greater. Tenacious, foreboding, and a little insidious, “Mary Jane” makes each one of its three minutes and 22 seconds count. It’s a hard-hitting piece of minimalist post-punk that seemingly celebrates its own murkiness. Dark and decisive, the song paints a very promising picture of Sauna Accident’s future.

Listen to “Mary Jane” below and keep an eye on the duo’s bandcamp for further updates on Run to the Log that’s Rotten.