Heartbreaking Bravery

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Thin Lips – Carrot Milk (EP Review, Stream)

Thin Lips have built a career out of challenging expectations and Carrot Milk continues that arc.  Comprised of three tracks, Carrot Milk showcases the group’s burgeoning confidence in unexpected ways. From the opening minute of “Butterfield Road” it’s clear that Thin Lips are exercising a new level of restraint, which ultimately elevates the moments of catharsis. Everything on Carrot Milk is earned, including its own existence.

As a whole, it’s the sound of a band that’s taken control of their voice and realized that voice can be projected in different ways. Impressively, Carrot Milk winds up feeling more essential than experimental. Thin Lips is taking a brave step forward and unlocking more than a few enticing possibilities for their future in the process. One of 2019’s most heartening moments for a band that deserves all the success they can achieve.

Listen to Carrot Milk below and grab a name-your-price download here.

Nightjacket – You’re Trying Too Hard (Stream)

Last week saw the release of a handful of great songs and a few genuine standouts. Nightjacket’s shoegaze ripper “You’re Trying Too Hard” was one of those select cuts. Towering, cerebral, and impossibly lovely, “You’re Trying Too Hard” is classic shoegaze through-and-through, awash in reverb with heavenward guitar lines and syrupy vocals set against a backdrop of dreamy synths and a powerful rhythm section. Sharp edges and a tender center cement Nightjacket’s emergent status with the kind of effortless grace that informs their work. A triumph.

Listen to “You’re Trying Too Hard” below and pre-order Beauty in the Dark here.

April 2019: Three Weeks, Four Records

Three weeks into April 2019 and the month’s yielded a staggering amount of good material and a small handful that’s genuinely great. Today, this site will feature the last of what has been a series of quartets: songs, music videos, and full streams. A wide range of genres and styles is on display and everything’s more than worthy of some serious listening and/or watching investment. Art this strong should always be featured in some capacity, as many times over as possible. Scroll down and enjoy the riches.

Patio – Essentials

Patio‘s potential has been evident since the evening they made their public debut at Palisades (RIP)Essentials, the band’s first full-length and second release following their excellent Luxury EP, finds the trio paying off that promise with the conviction that’s always been present beneath their icy exterior. Detachment and post-punk tend to go hand in hand, which is why Essentials‘ willingness to embrace a no-frills directness feels exhilarating. Every move throughout the record feels considered, resulting in a level of precise articulation that many bands spend entire careers trying to match. There’s an exacting nature to both the narratives and the instrumentation Patio wields throughout the record, which finds the trio weaponizing their own restraint. Measured, deadly, and teeming with confidence, Essentials lives up to its name.

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Supermilk – Rare Delusions

Jake Popyura‘s made a few of the present decade’s best records as a member of Doe and adds to that winning streak with Supermilk‘s second EP, Rare Delusions. Popyura’s solo project had an enticing debut EP in Hello? Yes this is Supermilk… but Rare Delusions betters it in every aspect. Doe’s recent run has seen Popyura take a considerable artistic leap as a songwriter and that comes through in full on all four of Rare Delusions‘ tracks. Each track detonates and effectively captures a youthful energy that hits like an adrenaline rush. Angst, ennui, and clarification are leveraged into a surging momentum but Popyura never lets Rare Delusions fall apart after it flies off the rails, ensuring its place as one of 2019’s most galvanizing listens.

Nightwatchers – La Paix Ou Le Sable

La Paix Ou Le Sable, Nightwatchers’ latest, is a snarling behemoth. Modern, pop-informed basement punk at its most vicious and unforgiving, La Paix Ou Le Sable is an unrelenting tidal wave of unchecked aggression funneled into some of the year’s hardest-hitting songs. An into track provides a moment of peace before the storm’s unleashed and the band really never lets up after that opening minute. Everything hits with a high degree of impact but, impressively, the cumulative effect never becomes desensitizing. A breathless declaration of intent from a band that seems hell-bent on making its presence count.

Bleary – Gates

The members of Bleary have been fixtures in Nashville’s local punk scene for some time, which helps explain how Gates sounds so monumentally assured. The band’s still a relatively new act, with only a three-track demo to their name. Gates, the band’s debut EP, is a head-spinning affair that announces the quartet’s arrival with the same clear-eyed determination that elevates the band’s music. Front to back, Gates is pure catharsis. Classic shoegaze gifted some contemporary twists, pitched in all the right keys, Bleary has crafted something that feels genuinely definitive. An extraordinary accomplishment that should find Bleary successfully searing their name into many new converts’ memories.

April 2019: Three Weeks, Four Music Videos

Three weeks into April 2019 and the month’s yielded a staggering amount of good material and a small handful that’s genuinely great. Today, this site will feature a quartet of songs, a quartet of music videos (with one being a unified collection), and a quartet of full streams. A wide range of genres and styles is on display and everything’s more than worthy of some serious listening and/or watching investment. Art this strong should always be featured in some capacity, as many times over as possible. Scroll down and enjoy the riches.

Charly Bliss – Hard to Believe

Charly Bliss have taken some serious gambles in the lead-up to the band’s forthcoming Never Enough. Each of the quartet’s first two singles from the record saw the band take a running leap into more pop-friendly territory, with both “Capacity” and “Chatroom” on the fringes of spectacle. Both of those songs received attention-grabbing music videos from emerging powerhouse directors Michelle Zauner and Maegan Houang. “Hard to Believe” — a recent highlight of the band’s notoriously energetic live show — finds Charly Bliss offering a bridge between Guppy‘s sugar-rush of punk sweat and Never Enough‘s outsize ambition, while the Henry Kaplan-directed music video scales back the conceptional narrative for one of the band’s best visual offerings to date. A practice, a marble (a winking reference to another of the band’s unreleased songs), some truly exceptional editing work, subtle B-horror references, and a might-be murderer all coalesce into one of the most pure distillations of joy that 2019’s offered to date.

Fanclub – Uppercut

Shannon Wiedemeyer takes the directorial reins on Fanclub’s appealingly dreamy “Uppercut” and balances the clip somewhere between John Hughes and Jean-Luc Godard, evoking iconic imagery from decades past with a studied eye that serves the clip well. “Uppercut” itself feels lost in time, which the video wisely accentuates. Soft, hazy, and aided by a noticeable but welcome touch of the romantic, “Uppercut” is a fittingly minor work worthy of its influences.

Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else – Here Comes the Snow

“Here Comes the Snow”, the latest single from Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else, feels as if its being lovingly haunted by Mark Linkous’ gentle spirit. Unassuming and low-key, the clip’s pitched perfectly by directors Dakota Sillyman and John TerEick, who play into the song’s restraint to produce something absorbing and undeniably tender. Soft transitions, low lighting, and paper snowflakes litter the video’s landscape, steadily placing the viewer directly by some imaginary fire’s cackle in a cozy cabin during the dead of winter. In the end, “Here Comes the Snow” winds up being less of a warning and more of an invitation, to a trip well worth taking.

thanks for coming – part i: you’re welcome

A video compilation that arrives ahead of thanks for coming‘s no problem (due out in July), part i: you’re welcome tackles the 24 track record’s first six songs. Each one of those songs gets a distinct visual treatment that’s unified by a staunchly DIY aesthetic. Grainy, lo-fi, and utterly charming, part i: you’re welcome is a glimpse towards a future that demands to be cherished, something subtly underscored by the evident nostalgia coursing throughout this video project. Each of the six clips is met with a different directorial vision but they all work in tandem to create an effect that feels fleet in the moment but lingers long after the final frame.

April 2019: Three Weeks, Four Songs

Three weeks into April 2019 and the month’s yielded a staggering amount of good material and a small handful that’s genuinely great. Tonight, this site will feature a quartet of songs, a quartet of music videos (with one being a unified collection), and a quartet of full streams. A wide range of genres and styles is on display and everything’s more than worthy of some serious listening and/or watching investment. Art this strong should always be featured in some capacity, as many times over as possible. Scroll down and enjoy the riches.

Yot Club – Japan

“Japan” is a perfect song for the changing weather, sun-speckled and carefree, Yot Club have crafted something that practically exudes summer. A lo-fi, slacker surf-pop monster, “Japan” features some exceedingly light digital affectations but makes its bones with a gift of a chorus that’s more infectious than anything else from the year so far. It’s a gift of a track from a band that’s bound to be turning heads as 2019 progresses.

Truth Club – Tethering

Coming on the heels of one of the year’s best singles in “Not An Exit”, Truth Club waste no time in proving that song’s strength wasn’t a fluke. “Tethering” is another triumph, mixing some of the best elements of the East Coast’s DIY-leaning punk scene over the past decade. A contemplative narrative, a handful of atmospheric riffs, and a palpable desire to feel and to hold onto that feeling. A genre masterclass that deftly combines shoegaze, post-punk, basement pop, and trace elements of reverb-addled psychedelia, Truth Club have offered another strong hint that they may be sitting on one of the year’s best albums.

SYBS – Paid Gofyn Pam

Every so often, a foreign language song will drift across the radar and tap directly into the sound that’s predominantly featured on these pages and SYBS’ “Paid Gofyn Pam” is firmly among their ranks. Welsh for ‘do not ask why’, “Paid Gofyn Pam” is a four minute basement pop treasure that sounds like it’d be right at home on a label like Salinas. Full of vibrant life, the song leans into its clean tones with conviction and transcends the translation barrier with ease.

Slow Pulp – High

“High” is yet another demonstration of how basement pop tendencies can inform and elevate shoegaze and vice versa. It’s a towering number with a slight run-time that finds Slow Pulp at the top of their game. Dreamy soundscapes and harsh feedback twist into an unlikely marriage, the discord and the harmony locked into codependency. Doubt remains a central theme to Slow Pulp’s characteristically engaging narratives but the music surrounding the sentiment has never been so powerfully assured. Keep both eyes on the band, who seem primed to make some very memorable noise.

 

 

Dreaming Out Loud: Vol. 1 (Ben Morey and Katie Preston)

As some readers may have noticed, Heartbreaking Bravery’s editorial aspect has been waning in recent times. A large part of this is due to the fact that it’s still a single-person operation, which has resulted in scheduling conflicts. At some point it became clear that Heartbreaking Bravery simply couldn’t exist in the way it did in the past, which is why I started looking towards the future. When 2019 draws to a close, the flagship site will cease regular updates. The site will still remain active, at least for a time, but Heartbreaking Bravery will continue in other ways.

One of those ways is Dreaming Out Loud, an idea I’ve clung to for some time. After having good experiences conducting acoustic sessions for The Media (All Dogs, Mitski) and Consequence of Sound (Johanna Warren), the impulse to attach that format to Heartbreaking Bravery proved too irresistible. The name Dreaming Out Loud comes from the Tenement song, which has appeared in various versions throughout the band’s discography, as a way of honoring the impact that band had on my own musical development and the core of this site’s existence.

While Heartbreaking Bravery won’t solely be relegated to this series after the editorial function dies down, I’m hoping it becomes a definitive aspect of what this site leaves in its wake.

Ben Morey (Ben Morey and the Eyes) and Katie Preston (Pleistocene, solo) have the distinction of anchoring the first volume of the series. When Morey and Preston arrived at my apartment, the two had recently gotten engaged and were in the midst of a whirlwind tour that had taken on a freeing, celebratory bent. Preston accompanied Morey and Morey returned the favor as the two took turns trotting out new material. The session culminated by a stop at the lake for a gorgeous Everly Brothers cover that saw the two of them on equal ground, each happy to have found a worthy partner.

Watch Dreaming Out Loud: Vol. I below and subscribe to the Heartbreaking Bravery YouTube channel for future installments of the series.

Purchase Ben Morey’s With Birds here and Katie Preston’s Soap Opera here.

March 2019: The Best Songs, Music Videos, and Full Streams

We’re more than a third of the way through 2019 and the editorial branch of this site has been far too dormant since 2018 received the Best Of recap treatment. Today will be dedicated to addressing that coverage gap with three look backs at the very best songs, music videos, and full streams that January, February, and March had to offer. Due to the sheer volume of highlighted material, these lists will (unfortunately) be static, presented on their own without any dedicated write-ups. Each of these releases is exceptional and may receive some more words further down the line but for now, simply revisit and enjoy: The Best of March 2019.

SONGS

Evening Standards – The Baron

Patio – New Reality + Vile Bodies

Trace Mountains – Where It Goes

Truth Club – Not An Exit

Kishi Bashi – Summer of ’42

Gurr – Fake News

Heartscape Landbreak – A Heart Full of Light

Empath – Hanging Out of Cars

Petite League – White Knuckle Wildflower

Babehoven – Icelake

Greys – These Things Happen

Blushh – All My Friends

Control Top – Covert Contracts

Adir L.C. – Reacting

Stef Chura – Method Man

PUP – Scorpion Hill

The Modern Times – Am I Losing Touch

J.R. – Be My Man

Pile – Bruxist Gin

Eluvium – Recital 

MUSIC VIDEOS

Beachtape – Fix It Up

Grim Streaker – Today New York

Fontaines D.C. – Roy’s Tune

Greys – Arc Light

Slothrust – Peach

Double Grave – Deadend

Charly Bliss – Chatroom

FULL STREAMS

Rosie Tucker – Never Not Never Not Never Not

La Fille – Alright Already 

Westkust – Westkust

Ronnie Rogers – Denim Jacket Weather 

Cult Film – Mona

Billy Woods – Hiding Places

Papercuts – Kathleen Says

Sasami – Sasami

Potty Mouth – SNAFU

February 2019: The Best Songs, Music Videos, and Full Streams

We’re more than a third of the way through 2019 and the editorial branch of this site has been far too dormant since 2018 received the Best Of recap treatment. Today will be dedicated to addressing that coverage gap with three look backs at the very best songs, music videos, and full streams that January, February, and March had to offer. Due to the sheer volume of highlighted material, these lists will (unfortunately) be static, presented on their own without any dedicated write-ups. Each of these releases is exceptional and may receive some more words further down the line but for now, simply revisit and enjoy: The Best of February 2019.

SONGS

Patio – Boy Scout

Sass – Chew Toy

Minihorse – Drink You Dry

Ladada – The Tao

Tyler Burkhart – Waiting For You

La Fille – Everyday Feels Like I’m Getting Older

Max Gowan – 7th Day

Rosie Tucker – Habit + Lauren

Palehound – Killer

Bellows – The Tower

 

MUSIC VIDEOS

CROWS – Chain of Being

Charly Bliss – Capacity

Coughy – V

Squid  – Houseplants

FULL STREAMS

Deep State – The Path to Fast Oblivion

Sin Bad / Bad Wig – Sin Bad Wig

Julia Jacklin – Crushing

Diät – Positive Disintegration

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Yuri Tománek – In the end

Bellows – The Rose Gardener

 

January 2019: The Best Songs, Music Videos, and Full Streams

We’re more than a third of the way through 2019 and the editorial branch of this site has been far too dormant since 2018 received the Best Of recap treatment. Today will be dedicated to addressing that coverage gap with three look backs at the very best songs, music videos, and full streams that January, February, and March had to offer. Due to the sheer volume of highlighted material, these lists will (unfortunately) be static, presented on their own without any dedicated write-ups. Each of these releases is exceptional and may receive some more words further down the line but for now, simply revisit and enjoy: The Best of January 2019.

SONGS

And The Kids – No Way Sit Back

The Murder Capital – Feeling Fades

Potty Mouth – 22

Westkust – Swebach

Francie Moon – Present Tense

Rosie Tucker – Gay Bar

MUSIC VIDEOS

Eyesore and the Jinx – On an Island

Mike Krol – What’s the Rhythm

Better Oblivion Community Center – Dylan Thomas

La Dispute – Footsteps at the Pond

Bellows – What Can I Tell You About the World?

PUP – Kids

FULL STREAMS

Mike Krol – Power Chords


Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center

Cat Inside – Rewind

Tørsö – Build and Break

Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary

Hollow Comet – Hollow Comet

Pedro the Lion – Phoenix

18 of ’18: The Best Albums of the Year

When the headline says Best of the Year, the people who click over to the list have a few titles in mind they’re expecting to see because those same titles were in the previous list with that headline and the list before that one (and so on and so forth). A lot of that has to do with one simple, depressing fact: the PR those artists and labels can afford. To counteract that, a different approach was taken in compiling these selections. Any record that topped more than one of those lists outright (apologies, Mitski) was taken out of consideration for this list.

Every album that appeared in more than half of the lists I personally witnessed were taken out of consideration (a list that included Hop Along, The Beths, Courtney Barnett, Car Seat Headrest, Low, Saba, Snail Mail, Haley Heynderickx, and a handful of others). All of these lists share one unifying trait: they’re subjective. All of the records listed resonated with individual writers or made ripples among shared staff, striking at different nerves. All of the albums on this list made a lasting impression and will have at least one listener coming back years down the line. Buy these albums, support great music, scroll down, read, and hit play on the best albums of 2018.

Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

No matter what moniker they’ve operated under, the music being produced by the band now known as Gabby’s World has been remarkable. In 2015, the group was responsible for O.K., the record that would ultimately top that year’s Album of the Year list. They’ve released a handful of music since then and experienced a stylistic shift as they’ve evolved, something Gabrielle Smith’s project wields to their advantage on Beast On Beast.

A more melancholic and subdued tone permeates through the record, while still providing a handful of emotionally cathartic moments. From the tender, bombastic opener through to the record’s hazy closer, Gabby’s World casts a spell that’s hard to break. Warmth and empathy inform so much of the band’s work that every song feels like a comfort, something familiar to sink into and disappear. It’s a trait that’s always been true of Gabby’s World but never has it been more present than on the abundantly graceful Beast On Beast.

Slow Mass – Watch On

Slow Mass, a band that’s gradually been improving for some time, took a significant step forward with the genre-resistant Watch On. So many subsets of rock and punk intersect throughout the record, morphing from classic emo to heady math-rock to wiry post-punk within seconds. What’s more surprising than the band somehow successfully integrating this further into their identity is the sense of cohesion that unites these passages.

Every song Watch On offers up contains a different highlight, ably demonstrating the band’s breadth of talent. A lot of its astonishing and none of its ever uninspiring or tepid. By committing to not staying in the same place, Slow Mass winds up with the most vital work of a promising career. Watch On takes every twist and turn on a path to greatness, which makes the trip as satisfying as the promise of a memorable destination.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

Over their past several records, Saintseneca have more than proved their adeptness at creating records that feel complete. The band hasn’t made an errant step throughout a run that’s seen their audience continuously balloon. Pillar of Na, the band’s latest, presented a unique challenge in the departure of Maryn Jones (also of All Dogs and Yowler), who suffused the band’s earlier works with a considerable depth of grace. Caeleigh Featherstone takes up Jones’ mantle and the band doesn’t miss a beat.

Pillar of Na also sees Saintseneca, who have long been praised for their Appalachian folk roots, drift further East and embrace a more traditionally Indian influence. “Circle Hymn” sets the record’s tone and the melody of the song paces the record, providing a gorgeous motif. Beautifully sequenced, incredibly rich, and ridiculously transfixing, Pillar of Na proves itself worthy of Saintseneca’s discography, which remains one of today’s finest.

illuminati hotties – Kiss Yr Friends

A band that picked up a little steam and took off sprinting, illuminati hotties showed the world what they’re capable of producing with Kiss Yr Friends. Opening with a tenderness that’s ingrained into their music before forging a much more explosive path, Kiss Yr Friends demonstrated the band’s enviable range and seemingly boundless songwriting talent.

It doesn’t matter what style illuminati hotties tries to take on, they succeed with every attempt, which is a trait that could help them cultivate an ambition that never stops expanding. A record full of self-reflection, pain, hope, and an elevated understanding, Kiss Yr Friends sees illuminati hotties making a considerable mark. Easily one of the more promising emergent acts of 2018, they’re already a powerhouse. Kiss Yr Friends is all the evidence anyone should need.

Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

Towards the end of 2017, Anna Burch teased Quit the Curse with a few tracks and videos that made a sizable impression and upped the levels of anticipation for its release. Those high expectations were both warranted and met as Burch released a record that carried all the way through 2018 without losing an ounce of its power. Sunshine-speckled songs that combined pop, surf, doo-wop, and Americana were granted a lacerating wit and plenty of punk bite.

Quit the Curse could easily be confused for a singles record by someone that didn’t know better but the songs on the record are tethered to an introspective narrative that acts as a welcoming as much as a warning. “Asking 4 A Friend”, “2 Cool 2 Care”, the title track, and every other song on this gem of a record find ways to dig into the listener’s consciousness, taking up residence and making themselves a comfortable home. It’s hard to think anyone will mind.

Ovlov – TRU

Steve Hartlett had one hell of a year, releasing two of 2018’s best records in Stove‘s ‘s Favorite Friend and the reborn Ovlov‘s TRU. The latter came as one of the most welcome surprises of the year, as questions of whether Ovlov had retired still abounded. TRU sets the record straight from the opening seconds of album opener “Baby Alligator”, which finds the band’s trademark characteristics fully intact.

Aggressive and melancholic, clear and hazy, Hartlett’s made a career out of thriving in improbable dichotomies, which is something TRU wisely brings to the forefront. A record that surges as much as it soothes, TRU also finds time to grapple with serious questions underneath all the noise (and, as always, there’s plenty of noise). Existential quandaries pitched at the highest volume continue to populate Hartlett’s writing as the band returns to making a home out of searching for meaning.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Ovlov weren’t the only project making an unpredictable return in 2018, as Owen Ashworth settled back into Advance Base to release an astonishingly gripping collection of new material. Animal Companionship ranks along the best works of Ashworth’s illustrious career. The record may actually benefit from Ashworth’s sabbatical from the project as Animal Companionship is imbued with the kind of gravity that can only be earned with age and experience.

Quiet devastation courses through Animal Companionship, which finds Ashworth reflecting on everything from failed relationships that were extended solely because of bonds forged with an erstwhile partner’s animals to the constraints of mortality and how to productively fill the arbitrary voids that are created by the harsh reality of our own impermanence. Reflexive, tranquil, and propped up by an extraordinary sense of empathetic warmth, Animal Companionship proves to be meaningful company all its own.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

One of 2018’s most exhilarating — and overlooked — records came from Lonely Parade, who provided the BUZZ (one of the most consistently great punk labels) roster with yet another shot of adrenaline. Wiry post-punk, basement pop, and slacker punk exist in harmony on The Pits, which is a vibrant and insistent triumph from a breakout act that made their abundant tenacity clear from the outset.

Every single track on The Pits bucks and bristles, ready to charge forward at any second. Clever hooks dominate the album, both vocally and instrumentally, as Lonely Parade sculpt a memorable, unmistakable identity throughout the course of The Pits. Romantic ennui, self-loathing, self-celebration, and unbridled frustration careen recklessly through The Pits‘ narratives, providing an unsparing look at modern life for young adults. A minor masterpiece that’s not afraid to get scrappy.

Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

Gouge Away have been going increasingly hard for a few years now and that relentless has birthed Gouge Away, the post-hardcore quartet’s most vicious and complete work of a formidable career. The band expands their ambitions on Burnt Sugar to dazzling effect, showing an increasing willingness to lean into pop-oriented melodies and even to slow way down, which they do for the breathtaking “Ghost“.

Every second of Burnt Sugar provides the sense of being swept up in a hurricane. The stakes are literally life and death. Gouge Away commits to the former while fully acknowledging the latter, allowing that inevitable promise to inform their willingness to fight. Thrash, metal, and noise all provide inflections as Burnt Sugar roars along towards its ultimate destination, combining in inspired ways to provide Gouge Away with a startling new career high.

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There

In 2011, Young Jesus were still operating out of Chicago and had just released Home, which marked a significant step forward for the band and remains one of that year’s best records. Since Home‘s release, the band has taken several more leaps forward, creating a momentum that’s taken them from a fledgling emergent act to something more akin to an indifferent meteor. The Whole Thing Is Just There the band’s first record of new material for Saddle Creek sees them continuing to hurtle through an empty oblivion, coasting on a frantic trajectory while trying to make sense of their surroundings.

Confines and restraints that dictated much of their previous work have been completely discarded in favor of the free-noise improvisation the group’s been honing in their live shows for years. Songs shift and morph at will, largely ignoring traditional structures. “Deterritory” goes from soothing ambient work to vicious post-hardcore in The Whole Thing Is Just There‘s astonishing opening track while the towering closer, “Gulf”, exceeds 20 minutes in length. Somehow, all of this seems grounded, attached to something genuine and unmistakably human. An extraordinary listen from one of this decade’s best bands.

Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

Following the milder Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings wanted to make it excessively clear they wouldn’t be following the trend of rock-oriented artists taking an exceedingly pop-minded plunge. “On An Edge”, Last Building Burning‘s fiery opener, ranks among the bleakest and most punishing work the band’s committed to date. It sets a tone that the rest of the Randall Dunn-produced record lives up to and possibly exceeds.

In addition to the renewed emphasis on tonal and overall harshness, the band lets drummer Jayson Gerycz remind everyone he may be one of the single most valuable additions any band’s had this decade. Gerycz turns in a masterpiece performance behind the kit as Last Building Burning takes Cloud Nothings to new heights on the back of both excessive determination, subtle antagonism, and the most emotionally moving narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi’s ever penned, with several gut-punches centered around being a largely passive bystander forced to repeat the same pleas while someone close is enduring an abusive relationship and refusing to navigate their way out.

Brutal and desperate, Last Building Burning is full of songs that evoke the record’s title. While that title may focus on just one fiery structure, it’s not hard to imagine an entire metropolitan skyline being razed. Cloud Nothings finds a way throughout Last Building Burning to acknowledge the flames, the ashes, and the pain that led to that level of demolition. Unforgiving and deeply personal, Last Building Burning may just be the ceaselessly impressive band’s masterpiece.

Big Ups – Two Parts Together

Few bands get to go out on career highs, at the apex of their creative talent, and with an ascendant group of followers. Big Ups made sure they were one of those few with the volatile, challenging, and inspired Two Parts Together. What will likely stand as the band’s final release, Two Parts Together acts as a total culmination of what one of the best hardcore-adjacent acts has put together over the course of an acclaimed career that sparked a considerable amount of admiration among their peers.

Two Parts Together may be the first Big Ups record to match the band’s transcendent live show, keeping the listener entranced as it takes one jack-knife turn after the other at breakneck speed with deadly precision. More than just a testament to the band’s unreal command of dynamics, Two Parts Together offers an unfiltered look into the band’s identity through both composition and narrative. Vocalist Joe Galaragga leans into a series of complex topics with the a fearlessness that’s characteristic of the band, anchoring the most ambitious — and loosely experimental — music of Big Ups’ discography with enough tenacity and heart to make Two Parts Together an essential listen.

Fog Lake – captain

Fog Lake‘s been turning heads for some time now, quietly perfecting a warm strain of tender, empathetic ambient pop. Aaron Powell’s project attains a rare beauty on captain, the crown jewel of an incredibly rich discography. Every track exudes patience and attentiveness, layering ambient noise, piano, vocals, and traditional rock instrumentation to conjure up a feeling that resides somewhere between introspection and self-actualization.

captain is yet another emotionally shattering work from Powell, who’s seemingly building a career out of soundtracking personal solitude while dreaming up ways to make sure company’s welcome. An absorbing, immersive listen, captain navigates increasingly murky waters with both grace and clarity, accepting that not every question will have an answer and that every journey becomes infinitely more rewarding once its difficulties have been confronted and either accepted, resolved, or ingrained. A mesmerizing record that ensures Powell’s spot among today’s pantheon of truly great songwriters.

Evening Standards – Evening Standards

Evening Standards‘ self-titled debut comes packed with a pedigree. Forged out of the ashes of PURPLE 7 and a handful of great basement pop acts before that, anything less than remarkable would’ve been surprising but the heights Evening Standards manages to reach are still surprising. Every second of the band’s debut feels incredibly assured, on every front. The members of Evening Standards have all seemingly cultivated their own individual identities as musicians and managed to find a way to congeal them into something exhilarating.

Front to back, Evening Standards is comprised of intentionally loose basement pop that’s a little tongue-in-cheek on the surface but underscored by surprising depth. “Lil Green Man” highlights this dynamic beautifully, by taking a narrative centered on alien visitation and expounding the lark to humbling existential queries. The hooks are memorable and they find ways to dig deep, refusing to let go once they’ve taken hold. A playful romp that exponentially rewards investment, Evening Standards carves out a place for itself as one of basement pop’s high watermarks.

Long Neck – Will This Do?

On Long Neck‘s first record after Lily Mastrodimos expanded the project to be a full band, they waste no time in illustrating the benefits of that decision. On the first half of Will This Do? the band delivers a newfound lightheartedness to the project, offering up a series of summery tracks that ably demonstrate their strength as a collective. Even in those warmer moments, though, Mastrodimos holds true to the more autumnal narratives that characterized the extraordinary work that had comprised Long Neck’s solo era. Towards the halfway mark, the dam starts cracking and the floodgates open for the final stretch.

While Will This Do? boasted some of the most enjoyable — and endlessly replayable — tracks of 2018 in its opening stretch, the record hits a point-of-no-return with the unexpectedly dark “Ashes” and kicks off what may stand as the strongest final act of 2018. It’s over this jaw-dropping set of songs that Mastrodimos drops any pretenses regarding personal struggle and familial loss and favors a brutal, unforgiving directness that strips away the artifice and forces the listener to grapple with both losing and failing.

Those four songs, “Ashes”, “Hive Collapse”, “Milky Way“, and “10,000 Year Old Woman” are the best of Mastrodimos’ burgeoning career and the cumulative impact they leave is unforgettable. While “Matriarch” served as a gorgeous early peak and smart reprieve in the record’s early raucousness, the total reckoning of its closing run manages to tip Will This Do? into an overwhelmingly immersive experience. At the center of the pain evidenced in those closing narratives is a drive to not just survive but celebrate that survival, elevating a memorably great record to something far more transcendent.

Doe – Grow Into It

Some Things Last Longer Than You vaulted Doe‘s status up several levels back in 2016, securing the trio as one of the best basement pop acts making music. This site gave that record Album of the Year honors alongside an exceedingly strong committee. The band toured relentlessly on the back of that record and finally unveiled Grow Into It in 2018’s final quarter, surpassing the anticipation that they’d tirelessly built on the back of their explosive live show and an absurdly strong lineup of touring partners.

Grow Into It is everything anyone can hope for from a follow-up to a breakout album: the retention of identity, a willingness to expand boundaries, a fearlessness in decision-making, strong production, and a tenacious commitment. Brimming with hard-won confidence, the band attacks Grow Into It with the fervor of someone caught up in a fight to survive. Put your back into it/Until you can’t undo it goes a particularly memorable couplet, ostensibly underlining the band’s modus operandi.

A record that seems to accelerate progressively more as it races towards its jaw-dropping closer, Grow Into It finds Doe pouring their heart into their craft. The band wears a number of ’90s influences on their sleeve, churning out slacker pop that recalls that era’s best works. Wildly enjoyable at every step, even as it fixates on harsh issues connected to everything from a tumultuous political landscape to reflections on widely-held and extremely dispiriting views on autonomy, Grow Into It is a record that’s not afraid to speak as loudly as Doe plays. An astounding work from one of our best young bands.

Half Waif – Lavender

Watching my grandmother walk in her garden
She’s lost her hearing, does not notice the cardinal
I hold fast to the hours before the obvious parting

Those lines make up the second verse to appear on Half Waif‘s breathtaking Lavender, a monumental step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s project and an unforgettable artistic statement. A record seeped in the memory of Plunkett’s recently departed grandmother, Lavender soothes and haunts in equal measure. Informed by lost connections and a life dedicated to the road, Lavender takes the listener and actively places them in the passenger’s seat of an extended tour-driven narrative. Immensely moving and intrinsically connected to something spiritual, Plunkett navigates a series of burning questions and hard realizations with an unflappable grace.

Piercing insight is offered with reassuring tenderness throughout Lavender. Cities are yearned for, memories are tightly embraced, and lasting bonds are valued above all else. There’s a quiet desperation that carries throughout the record, the one constant as all the extra scenery flies by the window. In many ways, Lavender plays like a journal chronicling Plunkett’s untethering, providing a startling glimpse into the harsh realities of life on the road. Plunkett’s incisive narration keying in on the moments where the ground seems to separate, creating the sensation of aimless drifting.

Where Lavender separates itself from the many, many records that have tried to anchor their narratives with a similar framing is in Plunkett’s tacit acceptance of the loneliness that accompanies the drifting- any company is better than none. The record also never overstates its realistically tragic circumstances, relying on mundane moments to paint a much more engrossing portrait that allows it to land that much harder. Every facet of Lavender feels considered, allowing the record to be pitched at different velocities of tumult: “Back In Brooklyn” is a song in the key of the MTA while “Leveler” boasts an opening that intentionally isolates Plunkett’s voice into a hushed world of its own.

Forever in transit and full of curious glances outward, Lavender goes far beyond just being an extended meditation on what life reverts to when home becomes the hum of the road and into a towering statement about the nature of journeying. A record that’s sharply aware that there’s beauty to behold just beyond the window, even when the static trappings feel overbearing, Lavender is a work that drives into what makes life worth living. As hard as the tough moments wind up being, there’s a power to those experiences that, when given enough distance, become affirming.

Tough, tender, unforgiving, accepting, shattering, and hopeful, Lavender is a pointed presentation of contradictions, all firmly held in place by Plunkett’s reality. A story that’s been lived countless times finds a new level of poignancy on Lavender, which stands with a determined resilience as one of the most emotionally taxing — and rewarding — listens of 2018. For all of the silent pain that separation can bring, there’s an undercurrent of memory to inform that pain. At the core of Lavender, there’s a wellspring of love and by the record’s murky culmination, there’s a resigned acknowledgement of what that love will bring.

In those final moments, Lavender stops running away from the questions it’s been asking since its opening salvo and reveals a burdened truth: it knew the answer. It’s always known. To leave is to strengthen the effect of love. Whether the departure arrives at the airport or culminates with a wake, there’s a magnified sense of affection, which makes the parting infinitely harder. When that divide is extended, it can become harder still. What matters is that we allow ourselves to admit and how we navigate, how we cope, and how we understand.

The last twist of Plunkett’s narrative-driven knife arrives with so much certainty, after a sea of avoidance, that the effect is staggering. “Ocean Scope” delivers that knockout blow with courage, allowing Plunkett and the listener time to sit, to reflect, to accept, and to heal.

I don’t wanna know this
I don’t wanna know how this ends
In the grand scope of things
I know

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance

IDLES made a deep, lasting impression in 2017 with Brutalism, a pointed, scuzz-fueled blast of punk shrapnel. Pop culture was toyed with, progressive stances were belted out like war cries, and there was an abundance of empathy at its heart. All of its disdain was directed at people and policies that knowingly and maliciously take advantage of others, allowing Brutalism a sincere bent to its frustration. Just about every song on that record suggested the band could be fully capable of producing a masterpiece. No one could have predicted it’d come this soon.

A little over a year had elapsed before IDLES pulled back the curtains on Joy As An Act of Resistance a snarling behemoth that took everything that made Brutalism so engaging and multiplied them exponentially. “Colossus”, the first track to be released in advance of Joy As An Act of Resistance and the album opener, makes the band’s transformation plain. The rhythm section that provided Brutalism with quite a bit of its power finds new strength in restraint and focus, following a single chord and rim shot pattern through to a punishing, tribal-like section.

Vocalist Joe Talbot seems to find new life in this mode of attack, elevating his narrative work with unwavering commitment. The pop culture references are more prominent, the target range is significantly wider, and there’s an emotional crux to the lyrics that manages to cut through the wry humor and ground the material in something both personal and poignant. Virtually all of that’s packed into “Colossus”, which ultimately serves as both the catalyst for Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s tone and as a slight reintroduction to IDLES as a whole.

As a cohesive unit, the version of IDLES presented to us on their sophomore effort is tighter, more aggressive, and more exhaustively complete. “Colossus”, “Danny Nedelko“, “GREAT“, and “Samaritans” all suggested the band was operating at a higher level but Joy As An Act of Resistance finds them exceeding even the unlikeliest of high expectations. What ensues after “Colossus” flips a switch and jumps from foreboding tension to an all-out basement punk blitz is the purest distillation of political, social, and emotional commentary that any record in 2018 had to offer.

There’s a blunt honesty to Joy As An Act of Resistance that characterized the best songs of its preceding act but is sustained and felt through even the wryest pop culture jab. The breadth of what Talbot’s willing to tackle here is astonishing, running from the lineage and permeation of toxic masculinity to the shockingly recent stillbirth the vocalist endured with his wife. Loss is a palpable recurrent theme on Joy As An Act of Resistance but it’s never treated as a threat but viewed as further ammunition for a rallying cry against the prevailing evils of our world.

The band’s willingness to confront those pervasive hardships, on both personal and societal levels, and ground them in understatement is one of the major distinctions that separates the songs on Joy As An Act of Resistance from other acts attempting similar narratives. IDLES understand and are extraordinarily adept at reasonably contextualizing the institution instead of fixating on the object; the record’s never ham-fisted or grossly overwrought. In many ways, Joy As An Act of Resistance seems to be a kindred spirit of The Wire: both works understand the value in examining the parts that make up the sum, like how “Danny Nedelko” humanizes immigration by using a good friend — and a stand-up human — as an explicit framework to combat the dispiriting resurrection of nationalist thought.

Which is why when the band finally does scale back down to address something that’s deeply personal, the effect is shattering. “June” arrives at the album’s center and gives Talbot space to publicly grieve over the previously-mentioned stillbirth. The weight of what the vocalist is feeling is on full display, the band slowing the tempo down to a drudge-like march and offers up the record’s starkest, bleakest composition while Talbot opines Baby shoes, for sale, never worn, supplementing his own tragedy with literary history (one of many, many glancing references that supplement the narrative intent).

“Samaritans”, the most explosive song on Joy As An Act of Resistance and this publication’s Song of the Year pick, finds itself sequenced perfectly following the overwhelming despair of “June”. In addition to providing a bridge back to the record’s larger picture, “Samaritans” also ushers in a run of high-energy, immediate tracks that give more weight to Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s first act. “Samaritans”, “Television”, and “GREAT” are the ladder out of the grave that “June” had lovingly dug, ensuring the listener has an expanded understanding of the stakes evident throughout the record.

“GREAT” even provides the most concise clarification of the band’s thesis in its closing lines: we’re all in this together. As always, IDLES preach the value of a healthy community but here that reminder underscores a larger point: empathy is so essential because when it’s lost is when commitment to needless divisions deepens and threatens the foundation of a successful civilization. It’s a trait that’s essential to companionship, to joy, and to contentment. Nothing’s more infuriating than those who seek to devalue the virtues of empathy because beyond being recklessly selfish, it’s also wildly misguided as its a tactic that threatens the foundation of support and without support, nothing survives.

Joy As An Act of Resistance is a record that stares down that level of oblivious stupidity with a scorn that can border on the contempt but it’s also a work that’s smart enough to know those kind of views and the policies that get built around them don’t just suddenly materialize. IDLES understand the deliberately paced history of those movements and know to dismantle them they’ll need to resist by not caving into pure frustration but to offer joy. Even in the extraordinarily destructive final minute, Joy As An Act of Resistance doesn’t give off the sense that not resorting to impulsive violence isn’t an impossible act and that the dismantling of some of the worst this world has to offer is more within reach now than it has been at any point in history.

From virtually every angle, this is the band’s best work by several miles. Whereas Brutalism was a galvanizing triumph, Joy As An Act of Resistance is an inspiring masterpiece. A startlingly impassioned plea to retain our humanity and protect our truest values at all costs. A rousing call to not just embrace the good in life but to fight against the forces that serve as their threats while still having as much goddamn fun as possible. “June” is as stark a reminder as any that the time we have to experience the best this current world has to offer is fleeting.

No record in 2018 sounded more like a knowing smile paired with a middle finger and that’s a remarkably tough line to balance. IDLES deserve all the acclaim in the world for what they accomplished with this one, earning a devoted following that knows it’ll be wise to hang onto every word coming out of the band’s camp. More than just a record that represented the chaos of 2018 the best, Joy As An Act of Resistance was 2018’s best. A rare work of unparalleled feeling, IDLES can now lay claim to one of the young millennium’s strongest works. Leave this on repeat, we might need the guidance.

 


Further Listening: Forth Wanderers – Forth Wanderers | Tomberlin – At Weddings | Options – Vivid Trace | Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend | Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends | Momma – Interloper | Basement Revolver – Heavy Eyes | Dentist – Night Swimming | Dilly Dally – Heaven | Mount Eerie – Now Only | En Attendant Ana – Lost and Found | The Magic Lantern – To the Islands | Dead Tenants – II | Valley Maker – Rhododendron | Curling – Definitely Band | Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship | Royal Brat – Eyesore | Hovvdy – Cranberry | Yowler – Black Dog In My Path | Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of my Children | The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours | The Royal They – Foreign Being | Bent Denim – Town & Country | Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams | Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want | Screaming Females – All at Once | Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Hank Wood and the Hammerheads | Fred Thomas – Aftering | Pipsy – Users | No Problem – Let God Sort ‘Em Out | Jeff Rosenstock – POST- | Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse | Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine | sewingneedle – user error | Connections – Foreign Affairs | Sean Henry – Fink | Flasher – Constant Image | Winter – Ethereality | Spring Onion – i did my taxes for free online | Ben Seretan – My Life’s Work | gobbinjr – Ocala Wick | Trace Mountains – A Partner to Lean On | Gia Margaret – There’s Always Glimmer | Vundabar – Smell Smoke | milo – budding ornotholigsts are weary of tired analogies | Major Murphy – No. 1 | Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling | The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking | Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together | Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic | Alien Boy – Sleeping Lessons | Peach Kelli Pop – Gentle Leader | Woolen Men – Post | Antarctigo Vespucci – Love in the Time of E-mail | Julia Holter – Aviary | Interbelum – Dead Pets, Old Grief | Yours Are The Only Ears – Knock Hard | Free Cake For Every Creature – The Bluest Star | Adeline Hotel – Away Together | Marbled Eye – Leisure | JACK – Alchemical Rounds | Renata Zeiguer – Old Ghost | Doffing – Tower of Ten Thousand Miles | Anna McClellan – Yes and No | Rick Rude – Verb For Dreaming | Clearance – At Your Leisure | Superteen – Over Everything | Bambara – Shadow on Everything | The World Without Parking Lots – Seventh Song Counts the Engines | Jo Passed – Their Prime | Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows the Light | Flasher – Constant Image | Drug Church – Cheer | Wimps – Garbage People | Young Scum – Young Scum | GABI – Empty Me | Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs | No Age – Snares Like A Haircut | Exhalants – Exhalants | Bat Fangs – Bat Fangs