Heartbreaking Bravery

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Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review, Stream)

A small sampling of some excellent records to find release were already given a few posts back but to not mention the records put out by Bambara, Pole Siblings, Big Buddy, Look Vibrant, Stimmerman, No Thank Youdné, and Breakfast Muff would be doing everyone a massive disservice. All of those records are worth exploring, as always, but the record that this post’s going to focus on is one that registers as a standout for a long list of reasons: Hop Along’s breathtaking Bark Your Head Off, Dog.

Hop Along, over the course of their history, have built up a fervent following that’s greeted the band’s music as if it were their own religion. Even a cursory run through their discography would help contextualize that response, as their catalog’s full of blisteringly intense and incredibly emotional pleas, statements, and revelations. The band seems to be constantly operating in a do-or-die mode, where literally everything needs to be put on the line and defended with every last ounce of vigor the members can muster.

They’ve already put out two records that many hold as sacred, in Get Disowned and Painted Shut, virtually guaranteeing any news of new material would be greeted as an event with a capital E. A cathartic live show built and shaped by years of intense touring and the band’s proven record in studio had everyone bracing for another towering record full of the life-or-death dynamics that have become the band’s established pattern.

To their credit, Hop Along took a massive artistic risk and subverted that formula to deliver the most measured and nuanced work of their career. More impressively, they found a way to retain the level of emotional catharsis that’s earned them such a devoted following. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly ambitious record, with things like imposing orchestral arrangements scattered throughout its runtime.

From the record’s opening track, “How Simple”, it seems as if it’ll be business as usual for a while, with the band echoing the late-career work of Rilo Kiley (another band with notable ties to Saddle Creek) but it offers glances towards something a little different. Even with that lingering sense things might be about to change, the closing minutes find room for a vintage Hop Along moment with the repeated mantra of “Don’t worry, we will find out, just not together.”

It’s at that moment that the record — and the band’s slightly revamped dynamic approach — start to click into place. Across the rest of the record, they take small risks to arrive at maximum impact, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes, causing them to lean in and invest. As a tactic, it’s incredibly effective and the band uses it masterfully throughout some of the most impressive work of their career.

Bark Your Head Off, Dog is more than just one impressive arrangement after another, though, and Hop Along grants it as much — if not more — emotional heft than either of there previous two outings. There are times where the record goes beyond feeling personal and tips into feeling like it was borne out of necessity. Thankfully, for us, we can now reap the rewards of that need with what’s bound to stand the test of time and remain one of 2018’s most incredible records.

Listen to Bark Your Head Off, Dog below and pick it up from Saddle Creek.

Anna Burch – With You Every Day (Music Video)

The opening week of April 2018 featured a host of impressive music videos from the likes of Hatchie, Eleanor Friedberger, Winter, Freedom Fry, Hinds, Remember Sports, Now, Now, Buddy, West Thebarton, LANZ, Middle Kids, Frederick the Younger, Beach House, Ladytron, Therese Lithner, MOURN, Chris Crofton, Peach Kelli Pop, Kal Marks, Kirby Forest, Bodega, and SPAER. While all of those clips are worth a look, the one that made the strongest impression was Anna Burch‘s latest impressive visual, “With You Every Day”.

Burch has made a habit of showing up in this site’s “Best Of” compilations in its interim period, notching inclusions in everything from songs to music videos to records, thanks to the considerable strength of the material connected to Quit the Curse. “With You Every Day” continues the trend in kind, scaling things back to their most minimal and direct.

It’s a hyper-stylized performance clip that makes excellent use out of its palette and Burch’s magnetic charisma and multi-faceted talents (Burch co-directed the clip with Ben Collins). Invoking or echoing everything from Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense to John Hughes films to The Hives’ notoriously meticulous control over their own visual presentation, “With You Every Day” manages to provide a refreshingly distinct modernist take on familiar influences. It’s worth every view anyone’s willing to give.

Watch “With You Every Day” below and pick up Quit the Curse from Polyvinyl here.

Winter – Ethereality (Album Review, Stream)

April’s off to an exceptionally strong start on the new records front, with Rich Girls, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Pompey, Andrew Younker, Amen Dunes, Dreamend, Paul Cherry, Goodnight, Texas, and Paperbark / r beny all turning in notable efforts. Joining their ranks is Ethereality, the latest from shoegaze-leaning pop act Winter, a solo project that’s been releasing solid records for the better part of the present decade.

Even in the context of a commendable discography, Winter’s Ethereality is a standout effort. Ten tracks of pristine, genre-hybrid high-wire acts of a balanced grace, Ethereality finds Winter — spearheaded by and named for guitarist/vocalist Samira Winter — in rare form. It’s the kind of record that washes over anyone fortunate enough to be listening, imbued with so much warmth that at times it feels like a long hug from an old friend.

All ten tracks have a collection of beautiful moments wrapped into small bursts of a contented exploration. Yes, there are times when the narrative strands of Ethereality splinter towards unsparing self-examination, awash in the kind of tacit self-awareness that keeps them from becoming too overwhelming but even then, Winter’s careful to allow room for hope.

It’s that concept of hope, whether it’s present or distant, that anchors Ethereality and transforms it from a pleasant record into a notable one. Appropriately, the record’s songs are as close to dream-pop as Winter’s ever been over the course of a record and that decision goes a long way in providing the record with its pulse. Relaxed, aware, full of well-earned knowledge, and moments of genuine beauty, Ethereality is the happy sigh after a powerful moment of clarity. It’s nothing short of a triumph.

Listen to Ethereality below and pick it up on bandcamp.

The Best Full Streams of March 2018

The closing three weeks of March unearthed a handful of extraordinary records from emergent acts and proven entities. Five of the best to find release over that time are listed below, covering a spectrum that stretches from twee-laced indie pop to uncompromising noise/punk. All of the records on display here are standouts for one reason or another and uniformly deserve more attention than they’ll get (though some will undoubtedly have very strong and vocal praise). Dive in below and enjoy the swim.

1. Empath – Liberating Guilt and Fear

A basement punk supergroup of sorts, Empath have the unlikely and unenviable task of distinguishing themselves from the shadows of the acts in the members’ collective history. Liberating Guilt and Fear goes a long way in making sure that’s achieved. Blistering, fun, and unforgiving, Empath’s versatility and ability to combine patches that seem at odds make Liberating Guilt and Fear one of the essential releases of 2018’s first quarter. Unpredictable and brilliant, it’s an EP that’s not to be missed.

2. Major Murphy – No. 1

Major Murphy‘s been around for a handful of years now but the band seems set to make a bigger push than ever with No. 1, a gently kaleidoscopic work of art that deftly combines elements of psych, powerpop, and basement punk into a hypnotic whole. Exceptional composition and production always play well off each other but it’s an especially effective combination when, as is the case here, they work in tandem to create an additional layer of depth. In all, an extremely pleasant surprise.

3. Frankie Cosmos – Vessel

Over what’s already an illustrious and surprisingly expansive career, Frankie Cosmos (both as a solo project and in full band mode) have never delivered a disappointing record. While that sort of consistency is a testament to a rare brand of prolific talent, there’s still a sliver of room allowed for something like Vessel; a record that towers above the others and visibly stands as a career high. Combining new material and reworked versions of old staples, Vessel also manages to come across as a representational statement that’s primed to resonate for years to come.

4. Charles – Charles II

One of the avenues that places like Heartbreaking Bravery are afforded is the personal submission. Far more often than not, it’s a wasteland of mediocrity that’s intended audience strays far from this site’s sensibilities. Then there are rare occasions where something like Charles’ Charles II shows up and completely justifies the hundreds of hours spent sifting through that material.

One of the most astonishing basement punk records of 2018 so far, Charles II is a tightly-controlled explosion of an EP, calling to mind the legacy of acts like Four Eyes, Dogs On Acid, and Bent Shapes. Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate, support, and promote releases like this one and anytime one lands in the mailbox, it’s not just a thrill, it’s a reminder of why this place exists. So stop reading this and just hit play already.

5. Trace Mountains – A Partner To Lean On

LVL UP‘s Dave Benson has been performing as Trace Mountains for a handful of years now and already has one record that’s considering something of a bedroom pop cult classic in 2016’s Buttery Sprouts & Other Songs. A continued critical and commercial ascension for Benson’s main vehicle’s ensured an additional layer of visibility and anticipation for any work bearing the songwriter’s name but A Partner To Lean On seems to have neatly avoided any pitfalls of that pressure.

Benson subverts all sorts of expectations on A Partner To Lean On, from leaning into a new embrace of synth-pop to wildly expanding the project’s ambitions while, impressively, managing to keep the record grounded. Like Frankie Cosmos’ Vessel, Trace Mountains’ latest is an enticing mixture of new material and reworked versions of old offerings. It’s a complete work and in the record’s pitch-perfect title track, Benson crafts another viable candidate for Song of the Year.

The Best Music Videos of March 2018

March 2018 packed a hell of a punch in nearly every major musical release category, with the notable exception being music videos. There were a lot of solid clips that found release but only a scant few that managed to cross the threshold into “genuine standout” territory. Three of those are listed below, covering an intriguing range of styles. One of the young year’s best lyric clips, one of the best tracking shots, and one one of the most tonally effective clips comprise this list. Watching the trio of videos is a short journey compared to several of these lists but one that’s extremely worthwhile.

1. Peach Kelli Pop – Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness

The concept of Peach Kelli Pop‘s “Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness” is a simple one but its execution is so meticulously detailed and flawless, the entire affair is considerably elevated. The staging, the imagery, and the song manage to coalesce into something that feels thrillingly complete. A song is sung, a camera follows, and little slices of life flicker away in the background. It’s just a few ingredients but sometimes that’s all a capable director needs to craft one of the most magnetic clips of 2018’s first quarter.

2. Snail Mail – Pristine

Snail Mail have been riding a richly deserved wave of critical acclaim over the past year, finding clever ways to get their material a boost and making sure their live show is a next to an unmissable event. Matador Records took notice and found a way to secure the rights to the band’s upcoming record, a smart move that’s already paying dividends with the charming and characteristically lo-fi lyric video for “Pristine”, which subverts and breathes life into what’s become a needlessly restrictive format in recent times.

3. Harry Permezel – Wax Man

Typically, an act leaning heavily into influences from around two decades ago will skew closer to the likes of Built to Spill and Dinosaur Jr than Grandaddy, Sparklehorse, or Heatmiser exercising their softer tendencies. Harry Permezel’s “Wax Man” falls squarely into that latter category and the clip that’s accompanying the song is all but a portal back into that world. It’s laced with nostalgia, beautifully crafted, and immensely effective in conveying the faded sensibilities of both that era and Permezel’s own music. All told, “Wax Man” is a journey worth taking.

The Best Songs of March 2018

The last three weeks of March brought a lot of excellent tracks into the world but the 10 below managed to separate themselves as genuine standouts. A trio of acts that appeared in the last “Best Of” featured segment strike again while the rest of the acts here are either old favorites or making first-time appearances. From scintillating noise-punk to gentle washes of ambient folk, there’s a lot here to explore. Find a new favorite song below.

1. Spring Onion – I Did My Taxes For Free Online

Sometimes all an artist needs is one song to snag an audience and that may very well be the case with Spring Onion’s “I Did My Taxes For Free Online”, which boasts some of the hallmarks that have made acts like Told Slant, Radiator Hospital, and LVL UP so beloved. Immensely relatable, beautifully constructed, and coming from an unsparing, honest place, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is a strong early testament to an emergent talent worth remembering.

2-3. illuminati hotties – Paying Off The Happiness + Cuff

illuminati hotties are building up an insane amount of momentum on their way to the release of their debut album, Kiss Yr Frenemies. The band’s already been featured in the monthly best-of columns once this year and they’re doubling up here with the 1-2 combo of the irresistible hooks of “Paying Off The Happiness” and the introspective reckoning of “Cuff”. Both songs continue to demonstrate the band’s strengths and, taken with “(You’re Better) Than Ever” suggests they might not have any weaknesses.

4. bed. – Replay

A characteristically melancholic piece of muted, driving basement pop, bed.‘s “Replay” is imbued with the kind of considered energy that’s gained the band a small but fiercely loyal following. Measured and slightly unpredictable, “Replay” toys with extremes its narrative and its composition, allowing the two to play off each other to great effect. It’s a standout piece in what’s already a stellar discography and suggests the band’s peak is either arriving or already here. No complaints either way.

5. Maria Kelly – Small Talk

“Small Talk”, the latest from Maria Kelly is a masterclass in creating gentle tension and magnetic atmosphere. Smart production, tender composition, and an effectively wistful delivery combine into something intangible, creating something that pulls and mesmerizes in equal measure. It’s a gorgeous piece of ambient folk, weaving a spell that all but submerges the listener into a separate, empathetic world.

6. Closet Goth – Touch Myself

Easily the fiercest song in this 10 track list, Closet Goth’s “Touch Myself” makes no bones about being aggressive, exploding out of the gate and building speed as it goes, not content unless everything in its path is completely demolished. References to Silver Jews are nearly buried in the noise-centric production, intentionally drowning out — and simultaneously enhancing — some intense caterwauling. Vicious, ragged, and uncompromising, “Touch Myself” leaves wreckage in its wake as it winds to a fun, unexpected close.

7. Fenne Lily – Car Park

The second artist on this list to make a consecutive appearance in the monthly “best of” columns, Fenne Lily‘s “Car Park” is another strong example of the breadth of the songwriter’s scope. In slowing down the tempo and widening the lens, Fenne Lily taps into something that skews closer to world-building than atmosphere construction. It’s a beautiful piece of modern Americana that seems to indicate Lily’s bag of tricks might be more expansive than most know.

8. Annabel Allum – Rascal

“Rascal”, the latest track from Annabel Allum is a perfect example of how a minimal setup can lead to enormous moments. Borrowing cues from slacker punk, folk, Americana, post-rock, and ambient, Annabel Allum wind up with an enticing piece of genre-bending excellence. Impassioned performances at every slot and a meticulously constructed arrangement congeal into one of the more breathtaking moments of 2018’s first quarter.

9. Say Sue Me – After Falling Asleep

The third and final artist to appear in consecutive monthly Best Of’s Say Sue Me follow their initial outing with yet another strong track from their excellent forthcoming Where We Were Together. “After Falling Asleep”, the band’s newest offering, opens with an almost intensely quiet moment before blooming into a seductive burst of indie pop. Soft edges and a wide-eyed approach has been a pattern that’s served Say Sue Me well in the past and it continues to do so on the lovely “After Falling Asleep”, one of their most irresistible tracks to date.

10. Bent Denim – Chasing Catherine

Last year, this site had the privilege of premiering Diamond Jubilee, an extraordinary EP from site favorites Bent Denim. Now, the act’s returned with “Chasing Catherine”, another show-stopping bit of softly hued ambient pop that more than justifies its place in their increasingly impressive discography. Bent Denim can conjure up a very specific type of mood better than just about any of their contemporaries and it shows in “Chasing Catherine”, a short slow-burner that immediately invokes the feeling of a calm summer night and keeps that fire flickering until its hushed, tender close.

March’s Honorable Mentions

Only a few days into April (and a few posts away from resuming regular daily updates), it seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the outstanding tracks, clips, and records March had to offer. Since the first week of March was largely covered by the last big recap, the focus here is on the material to find release in the month’s subsequent three weeks. An incredible round of songs, some sterling music videos, and a few standout records managed to make their mark. Below is a compilation of items worth hearing and seeing, so don’t miss a beat and save this tab to explore to your heart’s content.

STREAMS

Mastersystem, Bad Breeding, Pllush, The Sidekicks, Tancred, Drens, Deeper, Hop Along, Iceage, Haley, Spielbergs, Wheelbarrel, Air Waves, Holy Now, Lawn, Yazan (x2), Sharaya Summers, Daniel Tanghal, Dose, Eureka California, Simeon Walker, John Parish, Sibille Attar, Moon Racer, Pre Nup, The Love-Birds, Oceanator, Archie and the Bunkers, Escondido, Death By Unga Bunga, Leisure Tank, The Magic Lantern, Coping Skills, Weller, Character Actor, Ruler, Emily Isherwood, Nice Try, Connections, Vlad Holida.

Lazy Legs, Cold Fronts, Craig Finn, Stimmerman (x2), Dear Nora, Kevin Devine, Brooke Annibale, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (x2), Frederick The Younger, Co Sonn, Swear Tapes, Fiddlehead, boerd, King Tuff, Bernice, Miya Folick, Forest Ray, Aisha Burns, Wye Oak, Tangents, INVSN, DreamendSofia Härdig, No Thank You (x2), L.A. Girlfriend, John Prine, Paul De Jong, Mary Lattimore, Spritzer, Saba, Swell Spells, Erin Rae, Chakra Efendi, Greyhounds, Redolent, Ivan Moult, Neighbor Lady, Hiss Golden Messenger.

77:78, Deerest, Goat Girl, The Dead Tongues, currin (x2), Scratch, Ganser, Kathryn Joseph, Confuse-Ray, Slow Mass (x2), Pole Siblings, DMA’s, Adam Ackerman, Turtlenecked, Gold Connections, Sen Morimoto, War On Women, Kississippi, Belly, Dana Murray, Yolanda, The Cavemen, HAWK, Remission, Andy Cook, White China, LANKS, and A Deer A Horse.

MUSIC VIDEOS

Fenne Lily, Sulky Boy, Night Flowers, Bonny Doon, Oddnesse, Albert Hammond Jr, Tremends, Locate S, 1, Sun June, KNIFEY, Las Rosas, Mastersystem, Ought, Rozwell Kid, RF Shannon, Alex Lahey, Launder, Soccer Mommy, Speedy Ortiz, Wax Idols, Sleepy Zuhoski, Loma, Courtney Barnett, Francobollo, Flasher, Volage, Hinds, Porlolo, The By Gods, Frankie Cosmos, Okkervil River, Crooked Teeth, Laura Veirs, S. Carey, The Dazies, Sam Evian, Alice Bag, Jo Passed, Young Valley, Quiet As A Mouse, Canshaker Pi, Death By Unga Bunga, Sean McMahon, Vive la Void, Yuki Ame, Preoccupations, Moviestar, LICE, Tomma Intet, and Phosphenes.

FULL STREAMS

Daniel Klag, Gentle Heat, Queen of Jeans, The Bordellos, Swampmeat Family Band, Erika Wennerstrom, Rat Kid Cool, T.C. Crosser, and half of the upcoming Nicole Dollanganger record.

Tuxis Giant – Regan (Song Premiere)

A while back, the now-defunct soon-to-be-revived Watch This series featured a spellbinding acoustic performance from Tuxis Giant. A lot has happened between that moment and this one, including the preparation of the project’s forthcoming record Here Comes the Wolf and Tuxis Giant’s transition from solo project to full band. Embracing an ethereal slow-burn approach, Tuxis Giant offers up a hypnotic piece of music built on a bed of shuffling drums and winding guitars in “Regan”.

Over its five minute run-time, “Regan” takes several routes, tilting into post-rock, emo, folk, and post-punk on separate occasions, managing to weave together a comprehensive tapestry of their genre influences while carving out a distinct voice as a band. It’s an impressive work and — following the similarly excellent “Fiona” —  goes a long way in stoking anticipation for Here Comes the Wolf. It’s a fittingly hopeful start for the band’s next chapter as well as a potent reminder of guitarist/vocalist Matt O’Connor’s songwriting talents. Don’t let it go unheard and give Tuxis Giant the attention they deserve.

Listen to “Regan” below and pre-order Here Comes the Wolf here.

The 10 Best Records of 2018’s First Two Months

One day into 2018, the year already had a ridiculously strong record thanks to a clever release strategy for the latest from Jeff Rosenstock. Not a lot of time had passed before the year saw more record’s join that record, POST-, in talks about the ceiling for what this year can produce. Over the first two months, 10 records — including POST- — managed to make a lasting impression, from records that showcased what their genres can offer at their peak to records that do away with genre subscriptions entirely. A long list of records managed to connect but these 10 managed to stand out. Dive in and enjoy the swim.

1. Evening Standards – Evening Standards

For anyone who found themselves dismayed at the news of Purple 7‘s dissolution, Evening Standards is a perfect reassurance. Chris Mott’s newest project, Evening Standards takes the torch from his old act with a clear-eyed assurance and presses its foot on the accelerator with a little more aggression. Already a viable contender for being the year’s best basement pop record (it would’ve been in last year’s conversation without question), Evening Standards is a relentless debut that refuses to pull punches. From the powerful opening track to the stratospheric heights of “Lil Green Man” to the well-earned finality of its closer, it’s a record that deserves to be delivered at maximum volume.

2. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

One of the first breakout records of 2018 was Anna Burch‘s confident Quit the Curse, which found a way to intertwine a carefree sound with pointed narratives that touch on everything from anxiety to uncertainty to self-empowerment. Sculpting elements of surf, powerpop, folk, and slacker punk into an intoxicating sound that echoes Sleeping in the Aviary‘s later era, Burch fashions something that’s familiar, fresh, and winsome. Delivered with a smirk, a wink, and an I-dare-you-to-even-try-it smile, the songs on Quit the Curse go a long way in establishing Burch’s artistic identity. When it ends, it’s enough to have most eager for the inevitable extension.

3. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

Despite being a prominent genre name for years, Jeff Rosenstock‘s career took a massive stride into wider recognition with 2016’s outstanding WORRY.. In typical punk fashion, it didn’t take Rosenstock long to craft a follow-up effort. What’s surprising about POST-, which was surprise-released on the first day of 2018, isn’t its success but it’s wild ambition. Best exemplified by the seven-and-a-half minute “USA”, POST- finds Rosenstock at both his most visible and his most fearless. Every song on this thing is approached at full-tilt and delivered with the desperation of someone fighting for their life. It’s raucous, it’s unpredictable, it’s shockingly complete, and it will always stand tall as 2018’s first great record.

4. The Royal They – Foreign Being

The Royal They find themselves in the relatively unique position of finding themselves launched into much larger conversations because of their extraordinary sophomore album, Foreign Being. All but weaponizing a genre-obliterating mixture of post-punk, post-hardcore, basement pop, spoken word, indie pop, and a host of other influences, the band lets fly from the onset with the exhilarating 1-2 combo of “C.N.T.” and “Sludgefucker”, firmly establishing their authority and digging in their claws with no reservation. Vicious, experimental, and engrossing from start to finish, Foreign Being has the early distinction of being one of the first quarter’s strongest surprises.

5. Ought – Room Inside the World 

Now three records into their career, it seems as if Ought is incapable of making an errant move. They’ve slowly expanded their identity, scope, and ambitions over the course of each of those successive records and seem incredibly comfortable in forging their own path. Tim Darcy‘s foray into solo work even seems to have invigorated the songwriter’s main vehicle, allowing Room Inside the World more space to breathe. Ought are at their most polished here but there’s still that strain of tension and neurotic nerves that defined their earlier material. Room Inside the World is the perfect next step for a band that seems determined to be the authoritative voice in their corner of post-punk.

6. Royal Brat – Eyesore

A common trend among acts who are revered for their live act is an inability to craft a record that does their set justice. Royal Brat curb that trend with Eyesore, a record as explosive as they are on stage. Eyesore‘s songs sit around a 100-second average but that’s more than enough time for the band to get their message across. A record about finding redemption and power in living as a survivor, Eyesore finds meaning in its pointed outbursts. Buoyed by attitude and conviction, it’s a dogged triumph that announces the band as a force that’s hellbent on being granted a reckoning.

7. JACK – Alchemical Rounds

Brittany Costa has a long history as a songwriter and musician but has never seemed more at home than she has when positioned at the forefront of JACK. A collection of demos and a genuinely moving EP already under the project’s belt, Costa dives forward and continues to reckon with questions of character, mortality, and certainty. It’s an unwieldy record that conjures up a storm as unwieldy — and unyielding — as the questions that fuel its dark, unapologetic narrative. Costa continues to impress at every level and has delivered yet another fully-realized masterstroke that kicks away the cobwebs from some rooms that people less bold still aren’t willing to explore.

8. Screaming Females – All At Once

Glass House” — one of last year’s most powerful songs — was one of the first looks at Screaming Females‘ All At Once and serves it well as the lead-off track.  The band’s aggression, present even when showing restraint, is one of the most potent keys to their continued success. The placement of “Glass House” sets the tone for what’s to follow, which winds up being the trio’s most decisive work to date. All At Once wears its many bruises like badges of honor, as the band draws from past wounds and experiences to determine its stance and braces for the worst. Chaotic in theory but precisely controlled, All At Once is another masterstroke from a group of vaunted prizefighters.

9. Ratboys – GL

A long-held but underutilized tradition among bands is releasing an EP as an addendum to a larger body of work. When they work, the end result can’t only just make a project more comprehensive but strengthen it’s foundation (see: Okkervil River‘s Black Sheep Boy Appendix EP). Ratboys joins that select pantheon of acts with the extraordinary GL which rivals its formidable predecessor, GN, as a complete work. Containing some of the finest work of the young band’s career, GL exudes the same kind of sprawling, wide-open humanity that’s provided their discography a beating heart. Electric and captivating, GN finds a memorable way to hit all the right notes.

10. Long Neck – Will This Do?

During Jawbreaker Reunion‘s brief but exceptional run, guitarist/vocalist Lily Mastrodimos emerged as an incredibly engaging voice. Fortunately, Mastrodimos had a solo vehicle to keep those talents sharp in Jawbreaker Reunion’s absence. Now that project, Long Neck, has taken the leap that’s served acts like Cloud Nothings and Car Seat Headrest extraordinarily well and gone the full band route. After a handful of extremely strong releases that saw Mastrodimos alone in the spotlight, Will This Do?, as challenging and bleak as it can seem, also comes with a twinge of celebration.

A handful of the finest work of Mastrodimos’ already exceptional discography gets a home in Will This Do?, an incredibly versatile and assured record that explores the themes that have populated the work of both Long Neck’s first iteration and Jawbreaker Reunion. Mortality is confronted head on, self-doubt tugs at the corners of the fabrics keeping the tapestry intact, and a resilient determination shines through the uncomfortably heavy thematic meditation. Joy is in short supply — but still present — on Will This Do? but a hard-earned understanding seems boundless in both its quiet moments and its moments of naked reckoning.

Tethered together by humanity and empathy, Will This Do? benefits from both its fearlessness and its persistent uncertainty. Explosive dynamics and inspired compositions keep it interesting on the surface but its in the many carefully constructed layers — both lyrically and musically — where it evolves into something genuinely gripping.

The record also has the benefit of starting strong but ending with one of the strongest four songs stretches anyone’s produced in recent memory (a run that boasts some of the most vivid and haunting imagery imaginable, especially in the unforgettable closing moments of “Milky Way”) that propels Will This Do? past the conversation of simply being one of 2018’s best and position it as one of the strongest records of this present decade. In what seems to be a time of crisis, Long Neck have flipped the script, seized their own direction and left a trail of smoke in their wake.

The 3 Best Music Videos of the Past Two Months (Plus A Look Back at One More)

A lot of music videos have found release over the first 8 weeks of 2018, with many of the more notable among them being accounted for in a recent recap. Here, the focus switches to four specific pieces: three from this year and one that wasn’t included in last year’s coverage for personal reasons (more on that below). A common link shared among these selected clips is that they’re more representative of the artist’s identities than most clips can manage. Each is worth multiple watches so let’s get to the main event.

Vundabar – Acetone

Cinema’s French New Wave movement has played a vital role in influencing some of today’s most impressive music videos and Vundabar’s deliriously charming “Acetone” can now be added to that growing list of entries. From the font selection to the color palette to the cinematography, Godard’s shadow looms over — but never entirely consumes — “Acetone”.

Vundabar, who are setting themselves up for an absolutely massive 2018, find clever ways to play with that filmic influence and merge it with other prominent touch points (B-horror and the Coen brothers among them), subverting a trend into something more distinctive. Vundabar are game throughout the clip, delivering committed performances and walking away with the bar for any future clips raised significantly higher.

The Magic Gang – Getting Along

The Magic Gang’s “Getting Along” is the second clip on this list that draws a lot of its identity from the French New Wave movement but never ascribes to it entirely. Clever zooms littler the landscape of “Getting Along”, keeping the viewer at a distance but increasing the likelihood of them wanting to be drawn back into the action. It’s a mischievous game of cat and mouse that’s scored by a note-perfect run through some inspired powerpop that’s unafraid to dampen its edges with a little dirt. In employing time-honored traditions and molding them into something approaching post-modernism, The Magic Gang have found a rich template that should continue to serve them extremely well.

Shame – Lampoon

The overwhelming amount of road/tour/hangout-styled music videos should indicate that they’re easy to make effectively. It’s partially true, as there’s typically minimal involvement in their original creation but it’s in the endless editing room sessions where those clips live and die. Most wind up without a heartbeat while the ones that work find a way to make an impression.

Shame’s “Lampoon” belongs to the latter category, as it works as both a standalone presentation and an effective document of the band’s identity: restless, bleary, unwilling to go away quietly, and hellbent on getting across everything it can possibly fit into its given window. Both the song and the clip work in tandem to heighten each part of the equation and still wind up with a sum that’s greater than those individual parts. Fueled by its own insistence, “Lampoon” is all but impossible to ignore.

Slight – Routine

I’ll be writing from the first person for Slight’s “Routine” simply because of the incredible amount of personal meaning it holds for me. Last year, DBTS announced its closure as a venue, which is the first place I slept after moving to Brooklyn for a summer. It was the first place that felt like a home in New York and it accepted me — and seemingly everyone else — without question, offering an unspoken tacit approval. Slight, the project of Jim Hall (a DBTS fixture), found a way to honor that space with the heartfelt clip for “Routine”.

Helmed by a team of people who could either claim to be a permanent or honorary DBTS resident, “Routine” traces through just about every last inch of the place, securing its place — without set dressing — in the minds of the people who got to experience its meaning firsthand. From the downstairs show to the upstairs meals and hangouts to the various artistic ideas (whether it was choreography, spontaneous jam session, or just donning an outfit and having a drink), just about every good memory is presented here with a wealth of affection.

Sincere, appreciative, and shot through with a lingering sense of loss and relative displacement, “Routine” is the perfect encapsulation of what made DBTS matter. It’s a loving tribute to a place I was lucky enough to call home for a short while and even luckier to have as my first gateway into the city. While it’s taken a different shape over the past several months, it’s the version that “Routine” presents that I’ll always remember and for that — and to everyone who showed me kindness during that time — I will be eternally grateful.