Heartbreaking Bravery

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2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Ryan Wizniak)

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In the piece he wrote for A Year’s Worth of Memories last year, Meat Wave’s Ryan Wizniak chose to celebrate fellow Chicago greats Melkbelly. For the 2016 edition, Wizniak continues to celebrates his peers, this time bringing records from Oozing Wound, Luggage, Foul Tip, and Lifestyles into the fold. It’s always heartening to see a musician lift up the musicians that surround them and this piece is no exception. Explore the records listed below and keep an eye on this site throughout 2017 for more updates on Wizniak’s various projects. Enjoy.

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Another year, another never-ending buffet of great music to consume. Below are a few albums that you may or may not have missed while filling up on extra servings of Angel Olsen or Iggy Pop.

Oozing Wound – Whatever Forever

Hearing the Ooze evolve from their excellent first tape to their flawless third full length has been a serious treat. The chemistry between Zack, Kevin and Kyle is in full force on this one as they plow through track after track of their own brand of genuinely uncategorizable, punishing noise. If this is metal, it’s certainly pushing the genre in a much more exciting and expansive direction by refusing to stick to the tropes that have been kicking around for the last thirty years, so keep your lazy Slayer comparisons to yourself. Whatever Forever is a solid addition to an already fantastic catalogue and stands out as one of the years most unique and exciting releases.

Luggage – Sun 

One of my favorite memories of 2016 was taking a trip to Madison with Joe to catch Luggage open up for Michigan legends, Protomartyr. It was my first time attending one of their shows and I was blown away by their sheer volume and force. While Sun may have its share of shoegazery post-punk rippers it also boasts long, beautiful entrancing passages courtesy of Michael Vallera’s guitar work and propelled by the pummeling and repetitive rhythm section of Luca Cimmarusti and Michael John Grant. Keep an eye out for these boys, they are already hard at work on new material.

Foul Tip – Forever Driftin’ 

On this release Adam Luksetich and Ed Bornstein stretch the idea of what a post-punk drum and bass duo can do. There truly isn’t a weak spot on this record. Even the lyrics are top notch. 10/10. Bonus: It also boasts one of the most interesting Black Sabbath covers around.

Lifestyles – Lifestyles 

Lifestyles is a grungy, no bullshit, noise rock group featuring members of Lil Tits, Foul Tip, and Touched by a Ghoul. While it’s easy to put Lifestyles under the grunge umbrella (they have mastered the genres tension and release moments to perfection), they do away the slacker sloppiness of their forebears and opt to take a more driving and cerebral route instead. It’s a fun ride filled with enough earworms to keep your mind off of the terrible political climate that has swept the country.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Alisa Rodriguez)

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For last year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories Alisa Rodriguez — the mastermind behind Apollo Vermouth — contributed a piece about Benoît Pioulard. Rodriguez has returned with another piece, this time choosing to take stock of the one thing that kept 2016 tethered to reality: music. The times may be strange but it’s comforting to have somewhere to take solace. Whether that solace lies in listening or creating undoubtedly varies person to person but Rodriguez’s piece here is a strong reminder of its necessity. Enjoy.

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2016 was something else. I feel like I live on a very strange planet. I guess I always sort of felt that way but it’s becoming more obvious.

I spent most of 2016 working and going to school. I felt like I had no time doing the one thing that made me happy, making music.

As cliche as it sounds, I’m completely lost without music. Not so much with listening to other people’s music but more so with focusing on my own.

I started seeing a therapist again this year. It felt like I was talking to a wall. We didn’t really connect on a level where I felt completely comfortable with expressing myself.

I still take medication. I have a healthy relationship with my family and friends. I have an amazing boyfriend. But despite all of that, I was still feeling lost with myself. It felt as if something was always missing. It wasn’t till the end of the fall semester where I started making music again.
I finally finished my new album. I feel happy again. I really feel good about myself. No matter what, I think we should all focus on the things that make us feel good. Do what makes you happy. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t follow your dreams. Maybe you have to do some extra shifts at work to save up for that new guitar you really want or buy a plane ticket to LA. Hard work pays off (sorry for the cliche again).

Here’s to another year on this strange planet.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Isaac Eiger)


Photograph by Fred Nixon

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

In 2016, Strange Ranger released their strongest effort to date with the emotionally restless Sunbeams Through Your Head EP. It was more than strong enough to crack this site’s best EP’s list. An extraordinary re-introduction to an already great band, it articulately conveyed the power that’s always been present — but never as vividly evident — in bandleader Isaac Eiger’s writing. It’s an honor to be publishing Eiger’s first entry into this series and it’s heartening to see that he chose to write a short, sweet piece about gleaning inspiration from his sister. Read it below and continue to love the people that make life more tolerable.

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Personally, the most meaningful and affirming part of this otherwise bizarre and disturbing year was watching my sister become incredible. At times the terror of our new political reality has been too much for me (a straight, white, man with very little to fear in the immediate future) and in these times I will call up my 18 year old queer and fearless little sister. She makes me less afraid and her unrelenting humanity and power in the face of such horror is the best thing I have seen this year.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Elise Okusami)

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As part of Laetita Tamko’s Vagabon project and as the bandleader of Oceanator, Elise Okusami has become a very familiar name to this site over the past few years. “Nowhere Nothing“, a standout Oceanator song, would’ve cracked this site’s list of best songs had Okusami not graciously allowed its usage for the A Step Forward compilation. It’s a song that’s resonated since its introduction and one that’s pulled this site even further into Okusami’s orbit. Below, the multi-talented musician recalls a Wolf Parade show at McCarren Park that led to a wellspring of genuine emotion. It’s a beautiful reminder of the power of music and can be read below. Enjoy.

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I’d been getting lazy about going places.  I might have still been trying to shake off that winter funk, even though it was June already.  Once I was at work, at home, wherever, I tended to stay put, unable to generate any sort of inertia to go to a new location.  So, even though I’d been planning for months to go to this Wolf Parade show in McCarren Park – especially after being super bummed when all five of their Bowery Ballroom shows sold out even though I was online, ready to buy the minute they went on sale (this keeps happening, the robots are taking over and ruining everything already) – I still found myself leaning on the bar at work and chatting with a coworker when I should have been heading to the show.

The friends I thought were going had all bailed, so I was in the process of bailing, too, when four friends texted me at once asking me why I wasn’t there.  I literally shoved my backpack under my desk at work, got on my bike, and raced to the park.  It wasn’t far, but I still made it in my personal record time, not even taking the time to plug in my headphones and queue up any music for the trip.  I was jittery and nervous as the line moved forwards, worrying that any second they were going to cut it off and say the show was too full, but my worries were unfounded.  I got in easily, and found my friends all the way up at the front as the opening band was still playing.

As much as I had, and still do, love Apologies to the Queen Mary, I had never taken the leap into their other albums.  I knew every song and every moment of that album, but not too much of the other ones.  That didn’t take away from the experience any.  I am shy, most of the time.  Especially in large groups.  But at this show I found myself dancing, not worrying about what I looked like or what anyone around me thought.

I cried, literally, when the band dropped out and the piano played its riff alone in the middle of “Animal in Your Care“, before the rest of the band came back in.  Seeing them perform, seeing how much fun they were having, how excited they were by the size of the crowd even as, what I definitely consider, a pretty huge band, only added to the experience.  It’s the way I hope to always feel about music – happy to be where I am, enjoying the performance, and being appreciative of the opportunity to do so.

That feeling was something I took with me all summer.  I’m still not entirely sure why that concert moved me more than any of the other shows I’d been to this past year – and there have been some absolutely fantastic ones.  Something about that one really stuck out, though.  It couldn’t have come at a better time for me, pulling me out of a funk and launching me into summer, and even sticking with me now.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Phyllis Ophelia)

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In one of the earlier pieces contributed to this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories Lindsey-Paige McCloy paid tribute to her friend — and Catbus bandmate — Phyllis Ophelia. A tireless creator, Ophelia was responsible for a fair amount of the music that struck a chord with this site in 2016, so to be hosting this piece is a privilege. Here, Ophelia takes us through some of the bands that deserve loving tribute. Explore their work and enjoy.

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My favorite moments during this and last year have been sudden, pulsing revelations that I can just hop off the fence and make the music and that’s it. A lot of these moments have been triggered by other people’s brave example, and since I have leaned heavily on these folks, even just in my own mind, I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to a few of them.

LIDO PIMIENTA

My friend and collaborator Lauren Escobar introduced me to her work a couple years ago, and this November we finally got to see her perform at the new Nublu. Her latest album, La Papessa, chases away dread, but her live set goes several steps farther. She seems as content playing and improvising with her samples as she is silencing her machines and singing repeating, insistent lines a capella, for minutes at a time. She is as powerful in each of these capacities.

NOIA

I saw her perform twice this year, the first because I had the good fortune to be invited to play a festival she also played, through Outlier Recordings, and the second being her EP release. NOIA is a conjurer. Her bilingual lyrics reference mythology and science, stuff and names you’ll recognize, but my takeaway is that she is low-key world-building. The worlds of her devising are vibrant, exciting places, and “Habits” is a breathless trip through them.

DIN-RA

I unintentionally used her flickering dream of a song, “Body 1”, released in mid-September, as a ladder out of a depressive episode. In the song, she repeats the lines, “you can keep my body, you can keep it here with you,” and “I want to be kind,” as the instrumentation shifts and clicks and swells in diverse ways, and my exhausted mind was just like, “yes”. The song came and found me where I was at and pulled me out, and I am very grateful.

ZENIZEN

I’m pretty sure Opal was the first music artist at the first No Boys Allowed showcase in February, which I almost didn’t attend, did anyway, but then was too much in my head to talk to anyone. I’m also pretty sure the first song she played in her set was an enchanting solo version of “Follow the Leader”, as sweet disco ball lights pivoted around the room. That song is on her Australia EP, and it is another of my favorite things about this year, especially the vocal arrangement. I also just heard her play at Trans-Pecos with a fab band, while she wrecked on key-tar, and just, yes.

JAPANESE BREAKFAST

I want to thank Michelle Zauner for Psychopomp, because it is an incredibly generous work, but especially for the “Everybody Wants to Love You” video where she’s drunk around town in a hanbok. If I could, I would take that video back in time to when I was a confused, painfully self-conscious little half Korean girl playing covers of old white men’s guitar music and wondering why.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Amar Lal)

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Over the past several years, the name Amar Lal has appeared on this site fairly consistently. In addition to being one of the most respected names behind the boards, Lal’s also one of the most inventive and atmospheric guitarists in music. Lal’s name seems to constantly be turning up in the production credits on great records and the work he’s done as Big Ups’ guitarist more than speaks for itself. One of the kindest people in music, it’s an honor to have him on board for this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories. Below, he splits his year into four categories in a fascinating twist on the personal essays that typically appear in this series. Read it below.

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Stock Options

There is a Ziploc bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer that I call my “stock options.” I don’t say this out loud – the joke is mostly for myself. Whenever I cook, I collect scraps that I’d normally throw out or compost and freeze them to later use to make a basic broth (OK, technically different than stock, but still). When I finally collect enough scraps, I put them all in the slow cooker with some water and apple cider vinegar. I’m always surprised that a frozen bundle of celery greens or a bunch of mushroom-bottoms or tangles of carrot peels can actually evoke memories of the specific meals they came from. As I load everything into the pot, the memories flood in, and I actually find myself standing in my kitchen, holding a frozen bunch of food scraps and staring off into space, smiling.

The Art of

Spirituality is a funny word. Any time my mom used to tell me I needed spirituality for my life to be “harmonious,” I’d immediately and defensively brush it off as religious gobbledygook jargon that just wasn’t for me. I, presuming to be aware of the limits of my own intelligence at 25, felt I had enough of an understanding of how to live a decent vie quotidienne without all the unnecessary idol worship, parables and rituals of organized religion.

Which, of course, led to a moment in the spring when I found myself looking up books with the keyword “happiness” in the Brooklyn Public Library’s online catalogue. After some cursory browsing of online reviews, I settled on the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness. I wasn’t without my doubts, between the over-simplistic title and the fact that the reviewers all referenced “spirituality” and their “practice.” Thankfully, as a conversation between a skeptical Western psychiatrist and the Dalai Lama, it was a relatively grounded and agnostic read.

In fact, a key portion of the book divorces religion from the idea of “spirituality,” instead painting it as a process of personal mental development. This idea, combined with the simple presentation of values and practices including compassion, meditation and maintaining perspective ignited a hunger for self-improvement that I’ve never felt before.

I found myself buying or borrowing mindfulness- and Buddhism-based self-improvement books any time I saw them, almost faster than I could read them. Suddenly, I had a small bookshelf of titles I would’ve previously found absurd: How to Practice, How to Sit (still lol), Living Beautifully through Uncertainty and Change, Creative Visualization…. my own little “Art of Living” shelf.

The idea of working on myself, my attitudes, my mental health and my “presentness” with the ultimate goal of being able to be better to others ended up defining my year in a way I never expected. Though still potentially placebo, and short of some “miraculous transformation,” “Zen changed my life,” “did you read that New York Times article about” type-bullshit, I’ve begun to sincerely feel that when I spend time and energy on select “spiritual” practices and make a concerted effort to be “mindful” and “present,” it does seem to have a positive effect on my conversations, creative output, relationships, and general happiness. For now, though, that’s a big “when” – I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t, and how to make time for it day-to-day.

Privilege

I read The Art of Happiness on a borrowed Kindle in the back of a Sprinter van while touring through Europe. I still feel amazed that I get to travel across countries and continents playing music. This year saw more of that, with Big Ups playing far from home in the UK and Europe (including playing in Italy for the first time!), as well as the closest we’ve ever played to my hometown in Canada. Touring is an incredible (though brutally exhausting) privilege, and the more we go out, the more strongly I feel this.

I also feel incredibly grateful to be getting to do engineering work I really love with bands and labels I admire. At least several times when asked to work on projects this year, I’ve thought, “Are you sure? Me? Really?” I’ve also had the immense pleasure of getting asked to work with a band I’d previously never heard and, upon hearing the songs, feeling like I’d somehow been let in on a well-kept secret.

Out of any year of my time playing in bands and working as an audio engineer, this past has felt the most productive and also the most fortunate. But at times, I still have moments where I’m so exhausted and burnt out that I can’t remember why I agreed to sacrifice sleep and sanity for 16 or however many days it may be at that point.

Taking Stock

Looking back at what I’ve done and where I’ve been is one of the biggest things that keeps me going. So, after a particularly tiring few weeks in December, I decided to try to recap my year. My first attempt was to make a sort of collage of the covers of all the albums I’d worked on. I felt surprised while making it – I repeatedly found myself frozen, staring at album artwork saved in my Downloads folder, half-finished Discogs credits entries, blog posts about studio days; all these scraps of creative endeavors that brought back instant memories.

Part of why I love making broth with vegetable scraps is the idea of all the metaphoric, latent memories literally stewing down into a bubbling broth to nourish my body and mind. Similarly, making time to look back and take stock of my experiences and how fortunate I’ve been to have them all gives me the drive and energy for what’s next.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Megan Manowitz)

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In a piece for the last edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Megan Manowitz waxed rhapsodic about about Krill (as did many other writers that year, myself included). This year, Manowitz expands outwards and tackles both the angers, fears, and frustrations rippling through the artistic community and the type of event that serves as a reminder of why the upcoming battles will be ones worth fighting. It’s a piece that’s teeming with as much anger as it is love, rendering it a perfect encapsulation of a general feeling shared by nearly all of the people who’ll wind up reading this piece. Dive in below, get frustrated, and do what you can to go all-in.

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I don’t really know what else to say about this year other than, “fuck this.” Because for real, fuck this. Fuck people dying, fuck normalized oppression, fuck this daily trauma. this was the year i saw all my friends getting hit weekly, daily, with a new reason to grieve. no one should have to fight this hard just to exist in a shitty world that doesn’t love you, but within that, it’s really beautiful to watch communities create reasons to exist and moments to express love for one another.

An event, maybe a concept, definitely a thing that I keep coming back to from 2016 — a small beacon of light and happiness — was the 24 hour show. While the actual event was fun, it was the spirit behind it that has kept me inspired- no more wasted hours. No more wasted hours! We have so many of them! How much of them do we fill with actually doing what we want to do, on working towards bettering ourselves and our communities and the people we’ve committed to loving? On not meditating on self-loathing thoughts, on not feeling guilty for being anything less than an enthused participant in capitalism because it’s too hard to get out of bed?

I don’t know about you, but I spend way too many fucking hours feeling guilt about my pain, about not being able to work a normal job, about not WANTING to work a normal job. The 24 hour show was an example in constructing our own realities, about using every inch of our time and space to create what we wanted our world to look like, no matter how temporary. We can use our time however we want to build something worth living for- and if it’s fleeting or falls apart, then we’ll just build it again. The whole thing felt like magic.

I have the first issue of The Soft Times, the 24 hour show’s official newspaper, hanging above my desk and I read the letter from the editor, written by Liz Pelly, on the regular- it goes, “We live in a culture of distraction and time famine that sucks all of our minutes and hours and days away from us but the 24 hour show says we can disrupt that! We can have all 24 hours of our day. We can say NO MORE WASTED HOURS. The Soft Times believes that short-lived projects have meaning. That fleeting moments deserve care and attention. That the means is more important than the ends. That this might not amount to anything but for today, for this day, for the next 24 hours, we can go all-in.”

We should all embrace the reclamation of our time and do our best to go all-in.

 

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Jerard Fagerberg)

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Over the past few years, Jerard Fagerberg has staked out a place as one of my favorite writers currently working in the upper Midwest (there aren’t as many of us as some may think). We’ve crossed paths a few times in the metaphorical sense and only once in person. Virtually every time, Fagerberg has served as a reminder of the good portions of music journalism so it’s no surprise that’s what he’s chosen to turn his focus on in this piece, his second for A Year’s Worth of Memories. It’s a window into the life of a freelancer that does away with any overly eager romanticizing in favor of the situation’s harsher realities and its inevitable conclusion. It’s an exacting piece and something worth remembering for those of us living in that world of odd pleasures and exhausting punishment. Give it a read below.
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The Work

Being a freelance writer is about testing your capacity for madness.

Research binges. Deadline anxiety. Marathon transcriptions. They’re the ugly antecedents to a finished, published piece, and they add up like a bar tab.

Running on coffee and cigarettes is addictive when the work of being a “writer” is so embroiled in your self-worth. If you’re not stretching your days to utter exasperation, you’re fucking up your vocation. You’ve sacrificed your identity. No one makes sure you pitch, write, and file other than yourself. If you don’t do it, you’re disappointing your most venomous critic.

I’ve been struggling with the “writer” identity for the past several years (I wrote about it here last year), but this was the first time I pursued it so destructively. I worked too hard. I couldn’t say no.

224 stories. 200,000 words. 365 days.

My personal life progressed tremendously in 2016. Gaal and I bought a house. I fell in love with my dog 1,000 times.  I got two new positions at my day job. I met scads of new people, including Steven, who I shared an immaculate PUP show with.

I’d never before let these things — the frankly unindustrious factors — define myself as a person. I have always been the sum total of my work, and it has never been enough.

I said goodbye to that mentality in December. After a week spent laboring over my keyboard, cranking out word after phrase after paragraph to the point of exhaustion, I decided that an identity isn’t worth it.

2017 is the year it’s enough. Though I’ll look at the tabulation of bylines and words and grimace next year, I’ll have more that isn’t so squarely calculated to remember.

 

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Eric Slick)

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In the last edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Eric Slick turned in a beautiful piece recapping an eventful year while dealing with some tumultuous times. This time around the Lithuania bandleader and Dr. Dog drummer (as well as solo artist) repeats that formula and touches on the things that made 2016 memorable. From falling in love and moving to a new city to finishing two records and meeting some personal heroes, there’s a lot to peruse. All of it’s shot through with Slick’s endearing voice and offers up some personal insight into the life of one of today’s hardest working artists. Enjoy.

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2016: A Year’s Worth Of Memories

2016, the year that Facebook exploded. downloaded a plug-in for Chrome that disabled my News Feed so I could start focusing on something positive. My 2016 was weird, not nearly as weird as 2015. Let’s get the worst of it over first: I contracted Lyme’s Disease from an unruly tick while running in the woods, went to the ER four different times for all of the medical anomalies related to Lyme, and narrowly escaped death in Nashville in my first major car accident (we survived, my Ford Focus didn’t).

Now that I’m done kvetching, let’s move on to my favorite moments of 2016.

Moving to a new city and falling in love

I moved to Richmond, Virginia in January. I didn’t tell anybody in Philadelphia until the summertime. I was tired of people from my hometown accusing me of being a certain way, so I decided to start fresh in a place that was completely unfamiliar to me. I moved because I fell in love with an amazing person, someone who is 1000 times the person I could ever hope to be. Selfless, hilarious, intelligent, talented, compassionate. I’m happy I moved. Philadelphia, I loved you, but you were bringing me down.

There’s a great community of musicians in Richmond and the rent is affordable. I can get with the small college town mentality. The coffee here is fucking incredible. That’s a prerequisite wherever I decide to lay my head.

Going to Europe with Dr. Dog

I never talk about Dr. Dog because I’m a jerk. They are the best people on the planet. I wish I could be as cool as the rest of the guys in the band, but I’m not. I’m a doofy nerd who likes Abstract Expressionism and Stravinsky.

We’ve always struggled to make a European tour happen but this year we got to do it twice. I love going over there. The food situations are super dank. Why haven’t we figured out how to make our truck stops filled with organic produce? We have the same resources! I think the majority of Americans like boring ass bland food.

I like the modesty of European crowds. They don’t clap when you play. They give you constructive criticism when you’re done. They’re not full of shit. It’s great.

Meeting Weird Al and Paul Simon in the same month

I know it’s shallow to say you like meeting celebrities. Famous people aren’t much different than regular people. They just occasionally give themselves the license to behave like jerks because of their assumed power. It’s sad. I still get all loopy and endorphin-y when I meet a person I really admire. It’s disgusting to watch me bloviate.

My birthday present this year will be hard to top – two tickets to see Paul Simon at the Ryman Auditorium. I was fortunate enough to meet him. We didn’t talk about music at all. He just talked about the several(!) times he’s ingested ayahuasca. For those who don’t know, Google it. My five minutes with Paul Simon… talking about the time he “saw the God particle”. Unreal, but I kept it cool.

Well.

I didn’t keep it cool for long. Later that month I got to see Weird Al after a lifetime of waiting. I’m friends with his drummer, John “Bermuda” Schwartz. After the show, I was introduced to His Weirdness. Meeting Weird Al was easily the most strange celebrity encounter I’ve ever had. I’m a megafan. I was starstruck. I choked on my words and probably made a babbling fool out of myself. There’s a picture of us together but I can’t bring myself to post it online. It’s too special.

Bermuda then took us out to Dave and Buster’s, regaled us with incredible tour stories, and then bought us sundaes. How did he know I love D&B? Check that one off of the bucket list.

Favorite live shows of 2016, in no particular order:

Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in LA

Weird Al in Nashville

Paul Simon in Nashville

Shimmer and Ahleuchatistas in Philadelphia

Scott Clark 4tet in Richmond

Finishing my solo record and the new Lithuania record

My best friends convinced me to finish my solo record.

I did all the basic tracking during the last week of 2014 at Phil Elverum’s studio in Anacortes, WA. Last year sucked so bad that I lost all my momentum in finishing it… and I procrastinated. Procrastination is the death knell.

2016 was very therapeutic – I finally felt vulnerable again. The record practically wrapped itself in a little under a month. Ricardo Lagomasino and Jose Diaz Rohena (the engineers/producers) powered through my insecurities and delivered something I’m really proud of. We recorded the new Lithuania record almost immediately after that. We did it in four days. I’m excited for people to hear it. Time to write the next ones.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lily Mastrodimos)

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Last year, Lily Mastrodimos turned in one of A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ most definitive pieces. It was an uncompromising look at depression and learning to navigate that with different methods of self-care. It’s an honor to be hosting yet another Mastrodimos piece as part of this year’s edition of the series and this time around the musician’s turned in another definitive entry. The Long Neck mastermind (and Jawbreaker Reunion guitarist/vocalist) once again grapples with grief, loss, and finding strength and comfort through music. Tragic, absorbing, and uplifting, it’s more than worth the read.

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My family lost 3 grandparents in 2016: my maternal grandmother (Nana) and both of my paternal grandparents (Yiayia and Pappou). Nana left us on January 20, Yiayia passed away on February 23, and Pappou passed several months later on September 13. I find it overwhelmingly difficult to separate everything I experienced or did this past year with the grief that my family and I felt. It is so deeply ingrained in 2016, and sometimes I see it as two arms holding everything I did this year close to its chest and refusing to let go. 2016 was a big year for me scientifically and musically, but the grief I felt fused more closely to my relationship with music, becoming a part of everything I wrote or played or listened to throughout the year.

I associate Nana’s passing with the Adult Mom/Jawbreaker Reunion tour, Yiayia’s with the Titus Andronicus show that let my sister and I shed the pain of the previous month and a half, and Pappou’s with the end of the gobbinjr/Long Neck tour. It felt like everything I did in between their passings was already defined by them, and it became a daily challenge to figure out how I would cope with the weight of each.

Nana’s passing had cut me down and kept me down for what felt like eternity. She had always been so supportive of both my musical and scientific aspirations, though she put more emphasis on my biological pursuits. Nevertheless, she would mail me newspaper articles about interesting bands or performances, and would insist that I write a ballad for the next JBR album. When she left, things froze and I felt like I was sinking. Yiayia’s passing sucked what remaining energy I had left away from me. After seven months of working through the pain and feeling like I was getting better, Pappou’s passing brought a strange and heavy weight to my shoulders.

I came to recognize that grief feels like a standstill, and the grief that follows the death of a loved one was one that I had not felt before. It was immobilizing and overwhelmingly exhausting. My grief settled in the center of my chest like a pile of stones, crushing the air from my lungs and sending out waves throughout the rest of my body. I was depressed and felt hollow. Things felt surreal. Days were interminable, and I couldn’t bring myself to get anything done.

Everything I was, everything I encountered, every inch of space that surrounded me, felt monstrously heavy. I was becoming increasingly anxious that I was blurring the line between self-pity and the pain of grief, terrified that I was growing lazy and comfortable within the shell that mourning had built around me.

Writing kept me busy and gave me something to do while I tried to make sense of everything I was feeling and processing. Most of the music I wrote during this time was either quiet and hushed or very loud, with no real in-between. It felt like the louder songs took longer for me to work on, like I had to find the energy to sing them. Playing shows with JBR and Long Neck also provided relief through consistent bursts of energy, even if singing certain songs made me feel raw or exposed, like I had to relive everything I was feeling or thinking word-by-word.

When I got back home, I’d retreat to my room and try to muster up the fortitude to go over the quieter songs, the ones that specifically focused on loss and mourning, the ones I wrote for Nana, the ones I wrote to help me figure out how I could feel better. While some of these songs will never see the light of day, they allowed me to channel the grief I was feeling into something, anything.

When I wasn’t writing or playing, I found refuge in Battle Ave, Titus Andronicus, Mitski, Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, Chumped, the So So Glos– bands whose music I could scream to in the car when I needed to release my anxiety or tension. My job had me working throughout the northernmost regions of New Jersey, close to the New York border. I’d drive around the forests of Passaic and Bergen counties, past lakes and reservoirs and mountains, haunted roads and abandoned tourist attractions.

The silence and isolation of this part of the state was soon filled with the crashing sounds of guitars, the bittersweet words of strangers, the driving and soul-shaking bass tones, all swallowing me in a sea of noise within the confines of my old car. It was a kind of escapism that let me drown out my own frantic thoughts with something louder, something I could lend my voice to and still feel like I was beating back the sadness.

I realize now that much of what I listened to in 2016 was music that tied me to land, to my favorite places, to my home or the places where I felt home. Battle Ave’s Year of Nod, for instance, brought me back to the woods upstate where I had found comfort during other tumultuous times. Titus Andronicus reminded me that I could never be truly lost or alone in my homeland of Jersey, and I found myself listening to The Monitor most of all. For my sister and I, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” became something like our own battle cry- especially at the last line (“I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave”).

When we saw Titus in February, hours after attending Yiayia’s funeral, we received a shot of catharsis that we desperately, desperately needed. We could hardly believe it when the first chord was struck for “Battle”, and spent a majority of the song screaming along. When the last line came around, we lost it. Suddenly, we were heavily sobbing, hugging each other and shouting “Please don’t ever leave” through the tears. The last few months washed over us in a bitter and acute sense of grief, then quickly melted away and left us with immense relief, joy, and peace. We left the show amazed, empowered, hopeful, and for the first time in a long time, happy.

For the most part, the music that got me through the year focused on relationships, on connections, on the love we have for our friends and our family, on the importance that these people hold in our lives. It was the music that you and your best friends or your sibling would scream to each other in a big crowd.

And we drank, and we talked shit, and I was happy” (“Name That Thing”, Chumped)

“Do you believe in something beautiful? Then get up and be it” (“Me and Mia”, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists)

Music that is loud and commands you to let people know just how much they mean to you, and how you would feel if they were suddenly gone.

“I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave”

“I gotta let you know while you’re alive cos I’ll be a disaster when you die” (“…While You’re Alive”, Jeff Rosenstock)

“I look up at the gaps of sunlight. I miss you more than anything” (“Francis Forever”, Mitski)

Music that reminds you that it’s OK to take breaks, but you have to fucking get up and keep moving, as seemingly impossible as that feels, because this cannot break you.

I called up some folks I truly love and hung up after they said hello. I got so tired of discussing my future, I’ve started avoiding the people I love” (“Nausea”, Jeff Rosenstock)

“This winter hasn’t been so rough. Oh it was cold, but it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the blood between my spine. And at least I survived” (“Dark Days”, PUP)

Then there was the music I actually made with my best friends. The shows I played towards the end of the Adult Mom/JBR tour– and the enormous support of my bandmates and tourmates– helped me get through the news of Nana’s hospitalization and her declining health. The release of JBR’s second album and the show we played to celebrate it filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and joy that left me elated and filled with so much love.

When I started feeling small or uncomfortable or anxious in the area I call my home, Long Neck shows and practices reminded me that I could carry the grief I had without feeling ashamed, and my bandmates were there to help me find my footing again. Our tour with gobbinjr felt like an amazing dream, and in recording our second album I can revisit everything I felt in 2016 without feeling heavy, lost, scared, or alone, because I have them.

In 2016, music reminded me that when your loved ones leave you, it doesn’t mean love itself is gone. If anything, you begin to see the love that you have in your life more clearly. You want to take everyone in your life and write them long letters expressing how much you love them, so they can have a physical record of it. You want to savor every moment you spend with your family and your friends and your pets and hell, even strangers or vague acquaintances. You become increasingly nostalgic, and while at times the memories sting you, eventually they flood you with warmth and you quietly give thanks to the time you were given with people who have come and gone.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank everyone who helped me make it through the year. I won’t name everyone, because it’s a fair list, and chances are you already know who you are. (If you don’t, be sure that the next time I see you, I will hug you and tell you in person.) But I want you to know that I am so immensely thankful to have you all in my life, so grateful for everything you did for me. I want you all to know how much you are cared for, how much you are appreciated, how much you are loved. For the new year I resolve to be more open and honest with the people in my life, take more risks, be more thankful and live without fear, and be as available and kind as best I can, and not take the people in my life for granted.

We all grieve differently, and I’m not going to pretend to speak on behalf of everyone who has ever lost someone and mourned gravely and deeply. My grief was and is my own. It took me nearly the entirety of 2016 to start feeling O, to understand that there is no limit for the time you can spend grieving. There are days that are still tough, and as we’re nearing the end of January I know that things may start feeling weird and off and tough again. But I am more confident now that I’ll make it through. I will be OK because love still exists and will continue to exist, because I will keep making music no matter what, because I am surrounded by amazing and supportive and caring people, and life will keep moving forward.