Heartbreaking Bravery

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The 15 Best Songs of August

We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.

Weaves – 53 + Walkaway

One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.

Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress

Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.

Common Holly – Nothing

Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.

Abraham King – Spit

Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.

METZ – Drained Lake

One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.

Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart

A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.

Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2

Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.

Madeline Kenney – Big One

The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.

Weakened Friends – Hate Mail

While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.

Mike Caridi – Two Dogs

LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.

Grouper – Children

Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.

Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show

Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling  individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.

 

 

The 10 Best Music Videos of August

August blew threw 2017 with no hesitation and left an enormous pile of exceedingly great material in its wake. This post will key in on the ten best music videos to be released over that period of time (with the first week shaved off and a few days of September tacked on). A lot of site favorites make appearances below but a new name or two found a way to make a splash. Each of those artists and clips has earned the praise they’ve been given or are about to receive. 2o17’s been overflowing with great clips and these are only adding to the year’s abundant strength. Dive in and go exploring.

Mike Krol – Fifteen Minutes

Over the past several years, Mike Krol has made a habit out of reveling in the playfully sardonic. Turkey, Krol’s astonishing breakthrough record — and first release for Merge — laid those groundworks bare. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Krol’s next step was to go back in time, re-release his first two records (cult staples among a very specific sect of the DIY punk crowd) and make a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek music video starring a mannequin for a song that came out six years ago. It’s perfectly Krol.

Weaves – Walkaway

Weaves‘ self-titled was one of the best records of the past few years and the band’s been making good on that momentum that release generated with their advance singles for their forthcoming release. “Walkaway”, the most recent, is anthemic, empowering, and has the kind of staying power to remain on the college airwaves for years to come. The song also now boasts a beautiful clip featuring the band getting a touch of aggression out in a sweeping field. It’s a striking video that somehow manages to make the song feel even more titanic than usual.

Lost Balloons – Noose

One of 2017’s best surprises thus far has been the duo Lost Balloons who feature the talents of Jeff Burke and Yusuke Okada, two names a large handful of people in both America and Japan should already have memorized. The project’s debut effort, Hey Summer, was the type of unassuming basement pop record that tends to stick longer in people’s minds than most would expect and they’ve granted one of that album’s best songs a beautiful animated clip in “Noose”. It’s a gorgeous tapestry that’s worth admiring.

Radiator Hospital – Dance Number

It’s been a while since Radiator Hospital released their incredible Torch Song so news of a new record was incredibly welcome. Even better: the announcement came on the back of the release of this charmingly straightforward clip for the characteristically excellent “Dance Number”, which renews the case for Sam Cook-Parrott as one of this generation’s most emotionally affecting lyricists. Poignant, bittersweet, and undeniably catchy, it’s a great song bolstered by a surprisingly effective video.

Charly Bliss – DQ

No band’s name has appeared on this site more over the past two years than Charly Bliss. The band’s recently-released Guppy went a long way in ensuring their prominence and a handful of excellent clips and performances kept their name in the rotation. “DQ” now joins their ranks, standing as one of the band’s most playful — and personal — videos. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks co-directed the clip alongside Andrew Costa (who helmed quite a few of the band’s other videos), which features everything from trampolines to cows to football sleds to a dog that’s great at playing dead. As is always the case with the band, it’s an absolute blast and surprisingly hard to forget.

Kielo – Radiate

A while back Kielo released an absolutely breathtaking song/video combination in “In Water” and the Laura Schultz-led project has now doubled down on that measure with the spellbinding “Radiate”. Comprised largely of photography-centric cinematography, the clip allows the song to be elevated by calming visuals, creating an effect that’s both warm and inescapable. It’s a genuinely gorgeous thing to behold and deserves all of the views and listens that can possibly come its way.

Bully – Feel the Same

One of the more invigorating acts of the past few years, Bully have shown virtually no signs of slowing down. The band’s also growing a little more confrontational, as evidenced by their nearly-antagonistic clip for “Feel the Same”, which features nothing but a balloon expanding in a darkened empty room until it starts leaking a stream of yellow liquid. As simple as it is, the imagery is incredibly hard to shake and the concept sticks. It’s bold, it’s abrasive, and it fits the band like a glove.

Julia Louise – Brat

A new name to Heartbreaking Bravery, Julia Louise somehow managed to evade this site’s radar over the past few years. Still, it’s hard to imagine the songwriter could’ve had a better introduction-at-large than the clip for “Brat”, a song that subverts the limitations of emo and standard pop-punk to mesmerizing effect. Aided by strong visuals, a charismatic central performance from Louise and a sense of conviction, “Brat” is the sound (and look) of an artist coming fully into their own.

Fog Lake – Rattlesnake

Last year Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” slithered its way into at least one best-of list that ran on this site. The song’s proven to have legitimate staying power and has now been granted a beautiful visual accompaniment. Calm, a little eerie, and deeply empathetic, “Rattlesnake” follows a man as he explores New York City, alone and content to wander. It’s incredibly affecting and stirs up a genuine, intangible reaction by simply disallowing the constraints of a discernible narrative and opting to focus on the emotional pull at the crux of being at home and separated from that home all at the same time.

See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm

A few months ago, See Through Dresses played an incendiary set as an opener for Charly Bliss in Minneapolis. The highlight of their set came via an impassioned run through “Lucy’s Arm”, a clear standout from their exceptional Horse of the Other World. The band’s wisely decided to go ahead and give the song the music video treatment, a decision that’s resulted in an arresting black-and-white clip with minimal effects. It’s a surprisingly effective clip that serves as an honorable testament to the song’s overwhelming power.

The 5 Best Records of August

Over the course of August (save for a few days towards the very beginning), a lot of exceptional records were released. The five featured below managed to stand out in a genuinely crowded field, which is never an easy task. From breezy basement pop records to an enormous shoegaze-leaning effort, all of these are more than worthy of a purchase. Don’t just read the words beneath the titles and above the embeds and give them enough revisits to make them familiar. Enjoy the trip.

Amy O – Elastic

The pinnacle of summer-friendly listening, Amy O‘s Elastic came brimming with irresistible charm. Sunny melodies, narratives that seemed charming at first blush and slowly revealed their fangs, and some genuinely inspired instrumental work powered this little release and allowed it to showcase its deceptive vigor. From standout opener “Lavender Night” to the sweet-then-punchy closer, there is not a false moment on Elastic. An utterly winsome record for every second it’s playing, Elastic is one of 2017’s finest surprises.

Walter Etc. – Gloom Cruise

Another of 2017’s more charming breakthrough efforts came from Walter Etc. who crafted and delivered a beautiful, unassuming basement pop record in Gloom Cruise. Demonstrating a wide array of influences, the band nonetheless finds a way to form an identity unique to them throughout the course of the 10 exceptional songs that comprise the record. Hooks that are equally unassuming and irresistible absolutely litter Gloom Cruise, which is buoyed by its sense of melody. While the record wouldn’t sound too out of place had it been released a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine it would’ve sounded too out of place had it been released a decade from now either. A thrilling listen.

Petite League – Rips One Into the Night

A long-time site favorite, Petite League went all in for Rips One Into the Night. From the noticeable advance push for the record to the contents of the record itself, the Lorenzo Cook-led project seized the type of fearlessness that fits their conviction perfectly. Rips One Into the Night is the band’s strongest effort to date, driven by acutely-realized narratives about young adulthood and the boldest arrangements of the project’s career, the record grips as much as it entices. Risks get taken — especially in the record’s explosive final section — and the rewards reveal themselves tenfold. The furthest thing from a swing and a miss imaginable.

Gorgeous Bully – Great Blue

Tattered basement pop at its absolute peak, Gorgeous Bully‘s Great Blue draws an incredible amount of strength from both its presentation and the songs at its core. Noise-damaged and incredibly sharp, Great Blue hums along and never really stops finding ways to build momentum throughout the course of its run-time. A dozen songs, all of which finding fascinating ways to incorporate punk influences, it presents Gorgeous Bully at their absolute best. Ragged, dogged, and tenacious, Great Blue is a record that finds compelling ways to make an unforgettable mark.

Cloakroom – Time Well

Cloakroom‘s name has been appearing on this site since around the time it came into existence nearly four years ago. Over that time, the band’s managed to find exciting ways to develop, whether it was by expanding their range or furthering their ambitions. Time Well finds them in a different league entirely. This is an absolutely massive record, equally content to soothe and pulverize, embrace and eschew accessible melodies, disorient and hypnotize. Easily the heaviest — and most audacious — work of the band’s already formidable career, Time Well should go down as one of the best efforts from any of the countless shoegaze-leaning bands of this decade.

The Honorable Mentions of August 2017

A lot has happened over the past month and the time to get this site back on track has nearly arrived. On a quick personal note: Heartbreaking Bravery is now based in Madison, WI and will likely expand on some forms of coverage — and feature selections — in the very near future. Before all of that can happen, it’s imperative that the events of the past month be taken into stock. We’re now arriving at a time where the AotY-caliber material descends like a waterfall and it can be overwhelming. To that end, this post will highlight all of the new songs, music videos, and records that made a sizable impression over the past month. A few more posts will follow but if anyone’s looking for a wide-ranging variety of outstanding new music, it’d be best to bookmark this page and spend hours clicking around. It’ll be worth the time.

RECORDS

The Obleeks, Honeyrude, Thanks for Coming, Duncan Fellows, UV-TV, SOAR, The Anatomy of Frank, Tyler Ditter, Big Fred, Half Gringa, Little Kid, Guggi Data, Dina Maccabee, Small Reactions, Noon, At Zero, Dude Elsberry, Guided By Voices, The Ocean Party, Rick AshtrayFrøkedal, Faith Healer, Winston Hightower, Rose Hotel, Maneka, Ice Balloons, Black Mekon, WALK, Luke Rathborne, Mosquitos, Limp Wrist, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Club Night, Sunrot, Judders, No Museums, DieAlps!, Howlin’ Banana, and Ruination.

MUSIC VIDEOS 

David Ramirez, The Coathangers, VARSITY, Potty Mouth, Cody & Danz, St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Phoebe Bridgers, Black Kids, Los Angeles Police Department, Omni, Melkbelly, Mauno (x2), Curtis Harding, Trupa Trupa, Amy O, Jessica Lea Mayfield, OxenFree (x2), Ritual Talk, Palehound, Small Reactions, Land of Talk, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, People Like You, Hurray For The Riff Raff, CHUCK (x2), Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs, Oak House, Liars, ayo river (x2), Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

Kane Strang, Peach Pit, Manchester Orchestra, Elettrodomestico, Black Lips, Circuit des YeuxSløtfaceFilthy Friends, Hellrazor, Quiet Hollers, Fake Palms, Partner, Folkvang, The By Gods, Sorority Noise, Cloud Nothings, Young Boys, Annie HartDaniele Luppi & Parquet CourtsThe Safes, Small Culture, The Mynabirds, Sparks, Gallery 47, ALA.NI, Poppies, BABY!, Briana Marela, Pile, Hope, Ellen and the Degenerates, Wild Honey, Early Riser, Baby Jesus, Cassels (x2), Midnight Sister, Alex Lahey, Sono Oto.

Frankie Rose, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Shabazz Palaces, Warm Body, doubleVee, Sound of Ceres, Beliefs, Rainbrother, Arrows of Love, WAND, Demure for Sure, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Dead Heavens, DieAlps!, Grey Gersten, Ride, Wolf Parade, Kevin Morby, Prism Tats, Cristobal and the Sea, Becca Mancari, The New Pornographers, Surrounder, Houg, Mount Kimbie, High Bloom, Ian Randall Thornton, Michael Charles Smith, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, Rookin, Ibeyi, Marlon Williams, Black Beach, At The Drive In, Douse, Anthony, Open Mike Eagle, Your Old Droog, Girl Ray, and Superet.

SONGS

Beachtapes (x2), Partner, The Willowz, Julie & The Wrong Guys, Slothrust, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Dream Wife, Karl Blau, Petite League, Florist (x2), Lean Year, Worst Place, Fits, METZ, Prom Queen, Lina Tullgren, Strawberry Runners, Slaughter Beach, Dog, A. Savage, Covey, Dava Gavanski, Bully, Cherry, floral print, Floating Action, Anti Pony, Soft Fangs, Queen Moo, Strawberry Runners, VV Torso, ORB, Gleemer, Holy Wars, Ephrata, Ben Grigg, Reptaliens, Sam Evian, Looming.

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, Holiday Ghosts (x2), OCS, Pardoner, Friendship, Top 8, Strange Relations, Lomelda, The Tin Can Collective, Graham Hunt, Mini Dresses, Versing, Caracara, A Giant Dog, Makthaverskan, Pool Holograph, Jack Cooper, Noah Engel (x2), Tall Friend, Mercy Weiss, Monogold, Sick Feeling, Temple of Angels, Duds, Allah-Las, Mutts, Hand Habits, Silver Torches, Twist, Honeyrude, Tapeworms, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ripped Genes, Liars (x2), Dead Stars (x2), Philip Selway.

Jude Shuma, The Persian Leaps, Rick Ashtray, Small Circle (x2), Twain, Car Seat Headrest, Everyone Is Dirty, Protomartyr, Black Beach, Smoke Rings, John Dylan, Maneka, Club Night, Nassau, Plastic Pinks, David Ramirez (x2), Weird Owl, Cults, Hercules & Love Affair, Charles Howl, The Duke Spirit, BIRDS, Pale Honey, The Dream Syndicate, Cina Polada, Alex Calder, Ruby Fray, Camp Counselor, Linda Perhacs, IDYLLS, The Dig, Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line, WHIMM, PictureHouse, Duncan Kissinger.

S. Carey, The Dodos, Pinkshinyultrablast, Yumi Zouma, Deerhoof, Son Little, Haunted Summer, Quicksand, The Cribs, Death From Above, Mirah, Walter Etc., Ben Stevenson, L.A. Witch, Trevor Sensor, Francis, Wild Ones, Blank Range (x2), Cloning the Mammoth, King Khan, STACEY, The Darts, The Duke of Surl, Siv Jakobsen, North Lynx, Looms, Sauropod, Plateau Below, Out Lines, Joey Sweeney, Deradoorian, Parentz, Norma, Surf Rock Is Dead, Freedom Baby, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die.

ExSage, The Sighs, The War On Drugs, DDCT, Hudson Bell, The Side Eyes, EMA, Knighstown, Fuzz Queen, LOSANGE, Andi, Loyal Lobos, OMD, Hypnotic Kingdom, Happy Hollows, After Hours Radio, Peter Oren, Andrew Weatherall, A Valley Son, Far Lands, Tree House, Faith Healer, Diamond Thug, DestroyerMÄRVEL, Seasonal Beast, clipping., Cape FrancisGunn-Triscinski Duo, Four Tet, Smash Boom Pow, Acid Tongue, Black Pistol Fire, NVDES, Midnight Sister, Kid Midnight (Charly Bliss Remix), MOURN, and Petal.

Young Jesus – Green (Music Video Premiere)

More than five years have passed since site favorites Young Jesus released Home, a breakthrough of sorts that turned a select few heads at the time of its release. Back then, the band was still calling Chicago home and there were only a few evident hints at the kind of experimentation that would inform their later work. Now based in Los Angeles, the band’s continuing to evolve in a way that’s both unassuming and fearless.

The band’s been taking creative risks lately and those risks have led to riveting material, whether in the form of the ambient tape that paired with a conceptual zine that they were selling on their last tour, the noise sections spliced into their live show, or the winding free-form songs like Void as Lob‘s “Hinges“. No matter what’s being put forth by Young Jesus, there are two unifying threads: an intensity that threatens to overtake everything and split the songs apart at the seams as well as an abundance of feeling to drive those moments.

Most impressively, the band’s maintained a career trajectory that’s essentially just been one ascending line since the turn of the decade and the first look at their forthcoming self-titled full-length doesn’t do anything to dissuade the notion that’ll continue in earnest. “Green” is among the sharpest single entries in their catalog and the music video — premiering below — they’ve crafted as its complement suggests the band’s finding new levels of conviction in both their craft and their identity.

Directed by Jordan Epstein and taking place in a single room, “Green” makes an impression through its attention to detail and commitment to conceptual approach. Each band member is given time center-frame, adorned with a variety of props (furniture, plants, and yarn are all among the featured items). Accentuating everything is the decision to shoot the video as a stop-motion piece and continue the band’s winning penchant for incorporating animation into their clips.

Where “Green” separates itself from the band’s already overflowing — and deeply impressive — discography (and videography) lies in ambition. While everything the band’s done since a little after forming has been uniformly impressive, the pulse that’s always driven Young Jesus at its core seems to be reaching a fever pitch, as if the band’s found itself and has no qualms about what they’re aiming to achieve.

There’s a handful of dichotomies at play that fuel “Green” even further, whether it be the emotional intensity paired with the tacit relaxation surrounding the narrative or the meticulously detailed production design they afforded to a simplistic concept. All of those elements work in tandem to create something that feels removed enough from everything else to feel intangible but accessible enough to feel extraordinary. It’s one of the more quietly compelling moments of the year and more than proves that, while the band’s existence may be nearing the decade mark, they’ve still got a lot left to say.

Watch “Green” below and pre-order Young Jesus here.

Seven Weeks, Fifteen Songs

This post will mark the last of the coverage overhaul necessitated by the seven week hiatus from regular coverage. Records have been covered, music videos have been covered, and a song and a pair of music videos have received standalone posts. Below are the 15 songs that stood out more than any others over that seven week time period and come from all sorts of sources and elicit all sorts of responses. Whether’s it’s the characteristically driving basement pop of Radioactivity or the hushed melancholy of Florist, there’s a lot on display. So quit waiting, jump in, and find a new favorite song. Enjoy.

1. Radioactivity – Sleep 

Every project Jeff Burke‘s been involved in over the past decade has demonstrated the man’s a singular songwriter with an enviable gift. One of Burke’s more recent projects, Radioactivity (pictured above), has at least one Album of the Decade contender under their belt and continues to press forward with the kind of propulsive momentum that drives most of their songs. “Sleep” is a perfect example of that dynamic, a miraculous slice of basement pop that reasserts Burke as one of the genre’s all-time greats.

2. Birdskulls – Over It

Few labels are amassing a discography as consistently impressive — or prolific — as Art Is Hard. Birdskulls‘ “Over It”, one of the labels latest offerings, goes a long way in solidifying Art Is Hard’s status at the forefront of the DIY-leaning punk world. A song that perfectly marries basement pop with basement punk, “Over It” comes overflowing with memorable hooks, biting attitude, and worn aesthetics typical of a band destined for a feverishly loyal following. Leave it on repeat.

3. Honeyrude – Flowers

“Flowers” has been in Honeyrude‘s back pocket since 2015 but the band’s recent upheaval and re-release of the song as part of The Color Blue pays massive dividends in practice. Louder, cleaner, bolder, and more refined, “Flowers” is allowed to fully bloom, exceeding its early potential. It’s a gorgeous moment from a band that continues to impress, its shoegaze inflections perfectly suited to the band’s identity. Warm and towering, it’s likely to stand as the band’s career highlight for some time.

4. Strange Relations – Say You

One of the small handful of bands on this list with a long-standing connection to this site, Strange Relations have been furthering themselves with each successive step they’ve taken. The band recently opened for Charly Bliss in Minneapolis and unveiled a lot of new material, including the brooding, kinetic “Say You”, one of the set’s many highlights. Since their past release, Strange Relations have grown more aggressive, more ambitious, and into a more fascinating band. “Say You” is definitive proof.

5. Dead Stars – Pink Clouds

Several years into a remarkably consistent career, Dead Stars have established themselves as one of the most reliable bands currently mining a ’90s slacker punk influence to great effect. Even with a whole host of outstanding songs to claim as their own, “Pink Clouds” manages to stand out. Easily a career high point for the band, the hard-charging number surpasses the most tantalizing  heights of their earlier work while staying true to the ethos and identity that made them so memorable in the first place.

6. Walter Etc. – April 41st

Walter Etc. has spent the past few months putting out a small string of impressive songs with “April 41st” being the crown jewel of the lot. A laid-back mid-tempo basement pop number that embraces carefree relaxation, the song still manages to find an impressive momentum by playing directly to its lackadaisical tendencies. Near non sequitur’s and a comfortably dazed narrative elevate the song’s aesthetic to strange heights and the best thing anyone could do is let its calm, unhurried spell take over completely.

7. Basement Revolver – Tree Trunks

2017’s already been overly generous in terms of memorable ballads, churning out some of the decade’s best over the first 2/3s of the year. Among those gems sits Basement Revolver‘s gorgeous “Tree Trunks”, a shoegaze-leaning piece of minimalist post-punk. Pop melodies and wiry instrumentation combine to hypnotic effect, while the production of the song’s second half propel it to stratospheric heights.

8. Pinact – Separate Ways

After a three-year wait, Pinact are back and sounding stronger than ever on “Separate Ways”. Bridging the gap between basement pop and pop-punk in exhilarating fashion, the song clamps its teeth down on a surging sense of momentum and finds a way to guide itself to a triumphant finish. It’s easily among the band’s finest work and bodes extremely well for what their future might  have in store. Youthful, vibrant, vicious, and more than a little fun, it’s an unlikely summer anthem.

9. Paul Westerberg – Hawk Ripping At Your Throat

A mysterious song surfaced on Soundcloud a few weeks back from an artist’s page listed as “User 964848511”. Closer inspection revealed it to be Paul Westerberg, operating in the same lo-fi mode that defined the earliest work of his most famous band, The Replacements. Unlike that early work though, “Hawk Ripping at Your Throat” is characterized by a somber, almost foreboding atmosphere. Slow, creeping, and full of white-knuckle suspense, it’s a potent reminder of Westerberg’s legendary talent.

10. Lomelda – Interstate Vision

Lomelda‘s next album will be the project’s first for the impressively consistent — and consistently excellent — Double Double Whammy label. One of the first looks at that record came via the gorgeous “Interstate Vision”, a gentle mid-tempo number with a muted sense of grandeur and a near-cinematic sweep. It’s a lovely song that plays up the projects strongest aesthetic choices as well as emphasizing an unassuming mastery of songwriting. By the track’s end, it’s easy to wish it hadn’t come to a close.

11. SOAR – Fatigue

Last year, SOAR managed to make a strong impression with the material that they were releasing. It seems that their momentum has carried over into 2017 and allowed the band to grow even more emboldened as “Fatigue” — their latest — is as hard-charging and unapologetic as anyone could have hoped. “Fatigue” also plays up their pop sensibilities to great effect, while continuing to mire it in coats of both grit and attitude. It’s a charming track and deserves a whole slew of listens.

12. En Route – I Am the Problem

One of 2017’s most outstanding small releases came recently via En Route’s then is a song EP, another strong record from a growing line of projects working in the space that allows for a happy marriage between bedroom pop and basement punk. “I Am the Problem” was the song chosen to tease the EP and it was an incredibly effective choice as the song carves out a memorable identity for En Route. All of the decisions here, while understated, serve to elevate a legitimately great song from a new band worth knowing.

13. Baby! – If I’m Sorry

Baby! has been releasing a string of ridiculously enticing singles over the past few months and “If I’m Sorry” is the best of an extremely tantalizing lot. Equal parts sweet and biting, “If I’m Sorry” is another mid-tempo slice of quiet perfection from a band that seems to be gearing up for bigger things. Every song they’ve released has been utterly captivating and “If I’m Sorry” takes that facet of their music to new levels. Winsome, pensive, and oddly uplifting, it cements Baby! as one of 2017’s most pleasant surprises.

 

14. Madeline Kenney – Always

For more than a few years, Madeline Kenney has been carving out a place into today’s pantheon of emerging acts who have a genuine shot at their work being not only remembered but coveted after they’ve relaxed into retirement. “Always” is not only another strong indicator of that end goal but the strongest work of Kenney’s career to date. Three and a half minutes of arresting dynamics, clever arrangements, perfect production, and outstanding songwriting. It’s a song that’ll always be worth keeping around.

15. Florist – What I Wanted to Hold

Last year, Florist released one of the year’s finest EPs in The Birds Outside Sang and they’re already gearing up for the release of what looks to be one of this year’s finest full-lengths, If Blue Could Be Happiness. “What I Wanted to Hold” is the song kicking off the roll out campaign for the record and it’s a stunner. In keeping with the band’s best work, “If I Wanted to Hold” is a delicate, wintry number that’s enhanced by its own fragility. Sincere, vulnerable, and searching, it’s one of the year’s most breathtaking songs.

Zebra Katz – Blk & Wht (Music Video)

Over the past several days, there have been pieces touching on some of the best material to be released over the seven weeks that preceded the current week. Two of those were individually-focused pieces. Zebra Katz’s astonishing Ada Bligaard Søby-directed clip for “Blk & Wht” will serve as the focal point of the third and final individual release to earn a standalone featured slot. Originally premiered by Nowness with an eye-opening interview about the clip with its director.

All throughout “Blk & Wht” there is a creeping sensation that’s impossible to shake, the suspense is taut and the drama is palpable. At any moment, it seems as it something’s about to go horrendously wrong. At the center of this swirling mass of inevitable chaos and horror are a group of refugees, who have banded together to try to heighten their chances of survival. Lending a great deal of credibility to their committed performances is the harrowing fact that all of them have experienced the terror presented in “Blk & Wht” on their own journeys.

Those very people — as well as the song — served as the main inspiration behind the “Blk & Wht” clip, allowing Søby to concentrate on the experiences of the refugees both in and around Copenhagen. Every actor and actress in “Blk & Wht” agreed to travel out to a forest and revisit one of the darkest periods of their lives and it shows; empathy and genuine terror intertwine throughout every ambient frame of “Blk & Wht”. It’s a striking, startling vision and it’s impossible to shake. Hit play below and get swept up in the refugee’s dishearteningly commonplace nightmare.

Watch “Blk & Wht” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on Zebra Katz.

Seven Weeks, Ten Records

Before this week began, it’d been seven weeks since any of this site’s regular coverage had appeared. The first stretch of this week will be dedicated to amending the outstanding material that went uncovered in the interim, while the latter part of the week will feature the present week’s finest offerings. Below are ten standout records to have been released over the long hiatus, from EPs to compilations to full-lengths. There’s a whole host of incredible material shared between these ten records so stop hesitating and just dive straight into this post’s overflowing heart. Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough 

Expert Eraser“, “Fade“, and “Teen Challenge” all earned feature slots on this site in the lead-up to Plastic Cough‘s release, each one suggesting a seemingly inevitable reality: Great Grandpa throwing their hat into the ring of genuine Album of the Year contenders. The day finally came, Plastic Cough was released, and that inevitability proved to be no joke. Plastic Cough is an absolutely ferocious record, gnashing its teeth at every hairpin turn and gloriously bombastic moment, only pausing to breathe on the gorgeous “Faithful”, a perfectly placed slow-burner that rounds the record out in breathtaking fashion. Plastic Cough is the kind of thrill ride that makes a mark deep enough to last.

Slaughter Beach, Dog – Motorcycle.jpg

Jake Ewald may get the most recognition for his work in Modern Baseball but what the songwriter’s accomplished in Slaughter Beach, Dog is equally — if not even more — compelling. Having already accumulated an incredibly rich and surprisingly expansive sound over the course of a full-length and an EP, Motorcyle.jpg finds Ewald leaning even more confidently into the battered folk trappings that heightened those first two releases. Motorcycle.jpg also skews a little more lo-fi and at times recalls Yankee Bluff, each poignantly bruised track vastly exceeding the aesthetics perceived limitations. It’s another impressive work from a musician worth watching.

Little Star – July Demos

Another one of the acts positioning Good Cheer Records as one of the finest upstart labels, Little Star has managed to turn a lot of heads in recent times, thanks to two sterling full-lengths. The project’s showing no signs of slowing down, even going so far as to release a small collection of demos last month, aptly entitled July Demos. The band’s earned comparisons to legendary acts (Big Star, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular among them) and it’s not difficult to see why those comparisons are being made, even from this small smattering of tracks. All four of the songs on display here are sharply written songs that convey a great deal of emotion in their quiet restraint. Spellbinding work.

Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues

Chumped may have been Katie Ellen‘s earliest claim to some modicum of fame but the songwriter’s not being reduced to the ashes left in the wake of that band’s departure, instead opting to venture out on an already promising solo career. Cowgirl Blues is Ellen’s first statement and it’s a bold one. The first two and a half minutes of opening track “Drawing Room” are comprised entirely of extremely light ambient noise, clean guitar, and vocals, as if Ellen is reasserting an individual identity. It’s a deeply effective moment that sets the tone for a record that’s not afraid to show off its bruises, scars, or self-awareness. Front to back, it’s one of the summer’s most captivating listens.

Milked – Death On Mars

Kelly Johnson is the songwriter spearheading Milked, graciously returning to the fold after Geronimo! took their final bow. For anyone who was concerned Johnson would step away from the eccentricities and unpredictable eclecticism that made Geronimo! so fascinating, put aside those fears for good. Death on Mars is as gleefully unwieldy and feral as Geronimo! at their fiercest (undoubtedly helped along by the drumming of Geronimo! bandmate Matt Schwerin). Death On Mars is a towering work that’s not afraid to embrace catharsis or melody even as it careens wildly from song to song, touching on everything from powerpop to hardcore along the way. An absolute triumph of a return.

Midwives – No

No will be the last record Midwives — who appeared in this site’s Best EP’s list in 2013 and 2015 and whose self-titled 7″ was one of the first reviews this site ever ran — will release. While it’s a shame that one of the upper Midwest’s best hardcore bands will be disappearing into the ether, at the very least they managed to go out on top: No is a culmination of everything the group’s accomplished since starting up nearly five years ago. It’s a growling, spitting, snarling beast of a record, unafraid to take prisoners in its sub-18 minute run-time. Bruising and feral, it’s only fitting that such a proudly deranged band would go out kicking, baring its threatening fangs all the while.

Dream Ritual – Summer Promo

Sometimes all it takes for a band to take off is three songs, which is exactly what Dream Ritual‘s offering on Summer Promo, a blistering post-punk EP that doesn’t leave any room for filler. Echoing everyone from Shellac to METZ and everyone in between, Dream Ritual manages to carve out their own distinct identity. “Noise”, “Oil & Canvas”, & “Sunlight Girl” all perfectly marry elements of modern day noise-punk with some of the genre’s earliest defining elements. Whether it’s the metallic-like production or the infusion of pop-leaning melody, it’s clear that Dream Ritual are students of the genre. Thankfully for us, their learning has resulted in one of the summer’s strongest EP’s.

Mike Krol – Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records

A few years ago, this site named Mike Krol‘s Turkey one of the best records of 2015 and heavily praised the songwriter’s infectiously joyous live show. Krol had gained notoriety thanks to the cult following that he’d accumulated due to his first two records, Trust Fund and I Hate Jazz, both of which were long out of print by the time Merge announced Krol’s signing and released Turkey. Fortunately, for everyone, Merge has come to the rescue and reissued both of those seminal classics (this according to essentially anyone that owns either) and packaged them with all of the demos for each session. The whole thing’s an exhilarating look at an exhilarating artist and should be considered essential listening for fans of the basement pop genre.

Tunnel Traffic – MEESH

Tunnel Traffic’s MEESH occupies a space that’s always memorable: the record arrived from the artist via unsolicited submission and proceeded to impress at every turn. From opener “Lesson Learned” to the closing “Memorial”, this small release from Adam Hachey’s solo project made a sizable impression. Softer and a little sweeter than expected, MEESH is chock-full of mid-tempo folk-leaning numbers that expand the bedroom pop genre into something faintly unfamiliar. It’s quiet, it’s intimate, it’s unassuming, and it’s utterly spectacular. MEESH weaves an unbreakable trance over its listeners and commands their attention through a narrative journey that feels both direct and cerebral. It’s an incredible accomplishment from a songwriter whose work all but demands to be followed.

Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm (Deluxe Version)

Throughout work with WaxahatcheeP.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and Great Thunder as well as through a variety of guest roles Katie Crutchfield has become a household name for a very particular sect of people, broadening that base with each successive release. Crutchfield’s latest comes via the Waxahatchee moniker, Out in the Storm. Everything that Waxahatchee has released to date has stood the test of time and remained as impressive — if not more so — as it was at the time of its release. Out in the Storm feels like Crutchfield’s reached another level entirely, combining more than a decade’s worth of knowledge, experience, and style into a mesmerizing, cohesive whole. A career high point for Crutchfield and easily one of the best records of 2017, Out in the Storm‘s definitive version also comes package with the demos for each song on the record, all of which are — like the record itself — well worth hearing.

Will Butler – Anything You Want / 4 July 17 (Stream)

Continuing onward with the individual features for some of the most outstanding individual achievements over the past seven weeks, the focus falls to an oddity of a track from Arcade Fire’s Will Butler: “Anything You Want / 4 July 17”.

There couldn’t have been a lot of people could have anticipated that Will Butler would wind up being the most formidable lyricist housed in Arcade Fire or that he’d be making the most interesting music of anyone in the band at this point in their careers but “Anything You Want / 4 July 17” all but cements both of those statements. Arcade Fire are currently in the midst of the harshest reviews of their career for their just-released Everything Now while Butler’s still enjoying a rising profile thanks to some small critical acclaim and recognition for his excellent 2015 solo effort, Policy.

All of the songs on Policy seemed to suggest untapped depths of the younger Butler’s musical talents but “Anything You Want / 4 July 17” obliterates what was the perceived ceiling on the multi-instrumentalist’s lyricism. Few songs from revered songwriters and lyricists have matched the kind of narrative web and mastery of tone that Butler displays here in a song that was released as a standalone curiosity just before the 4th of July.

Not only does “Anything You Want / 4 July 17” skewer and then humanize American politics with a near-unmatched clarity of empathy, the song also blends in some sharp relief through black humor and unexpected intimacy. All the while, a gorgeous piano figure both heightens and propels the narrative, landing the song somewhere between the camps of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson without ever being dwarfed by the shadow of either forebear.

Verse to verse, whether Butler’s wrangling tongue-in-cheek laughs or painful recognition, there’s not a false or forced moment throughout “Anything You Want / 4 July 17” even as an already extremely broad scope continues to expand throughout the song’s six minute run-time. By the time Butler scales things way back, the song’s touched on systemic dynamics from powerful institutions through an endearingly micro vantage point.

It’s an extraordinary achievement — especially for what appears to just be a random one-off song — and should skyrocket anticipation for whatever’s next for Butler’s solo career. If it can even remotely approach these heights, it’ll stand a shot at being one of the decade’s best releases. Until that moment comes, it’s hard to imagine anyone will resist paying “Anything You Want / 4 July 17” an endless onslaught of revisits. Don’t let this one go by unheard.

Listen to “Anything You Want / 4 July 17” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on Will Butler.

Seven Weeks, Five Music Videos

Seven weeks is a long time to abandon regular coverage but that interim’s come to a close and the time’s now come to feature some of the very best material of that span. Putting aside that obscenely perfect Charly Bliss video (and another video that will be featured in the very near future), the below selections stood out as the five best clips to emerge over those seven weeks. Old favorites and new faces collide, while everything from unhinged animation to quiet contemplation secure the focal point. So, dive in and explore some of the best examples that the medium has to offer and revisit them at will. Enjoy.

Protomartyr – A Private Understanding 

While it’s true Protomartyr have sculpted a career and reputation on being consistently excellent, very few people could have anticipated the staggering leap forward “A Private Understanding” represented in both scope and ambition. Easily the most impressive moment of the band’s already distinguished career, “A Private Understanding” came with an intensely arresting visual accompaniment. Centering on a hypnotic central performance the clip for “A Private Understanding” grabs existential crisis by the throat and squeezes until existential crisis is all that’s left. Equal parts Michael Haneke and Roy Andersson, it’s a coy and relentlessly bleak triumph.

Jen Cloher – Regional Echo

“Regional Echo” and the similarly dreamlike “Forgot Myself” clip both nearly made this list with the former getting the push thanks in large part to its more pronounced melancholy. Jen Cloher may be a faintly familiar name to some thanks to her considerably more famous partner, Courtney Barnett, but the songwriter’s forthcoming self-titled full-length’s seeking to lessen that dynamic and allow Cloher’s songwriting merits to be the guitarist/vocalist’s calling card. “Regional Echo” is a trance-inducing clip, teeming with soft lyricism and no shortage of conviction. It’s a gorgeous video and a strong testament to Cloher’s considerable talent.

M.A.G.S. – Demon

Over the past few years, restraint’s been a tough task for a lot of music videos to master, much less turn into a form of aggression. There have been some high-profile examples in recent time (and Minor Victories more than proved it can still be done with brute strength in a modern setting over the course of last year).  It’s barely been attempted in more DIY-leaning settings, which makes M.A.G.S.‘ gripping clip for “Demon” even more surprising. Everything from the Academy ratio the clip’s presented in to the classically iconic imagery of the pink room manages to both ensnare attention and heighten the immediacy of the clip. It’s an unexpected, unassuming glimpse at brilliance.

Soccer Mommy – Allison

“Allison”, both as a song and as a video, calmly continues Soccer Mommy‘s string of seemingly continuous grace notes. A gently mesmerizing clip that seems to reflect the tranquility of the water it was shot beside, the visuals of Allison work as a perfect complement to the source material. Touching on everything from a search for peace to the decision to move forward, “Allison” coaxes maximum impact out of its minimalist confines, conjuring up a lasting impression that lingers well after the clip winds to its hushed close. The musical equivalent of a tenderly loved and well-worn blanket, it’s hard to come away from “Allison” without immediately wanting to be wrapped back up again.

Julie & The Wrong Guys – You Wanted What I Wanted

Every once in a while, there’s a band that comes along and unleashes absolute hell in the form of their introduction-at-large. One of the latest examples of this is the incendiary “You Wanted What I Wanted” form Julie & The Wrong Guys, a gnarled, battered monster of a post-punk track. Appropriately, the video for “You Wanted What I Wanted” features deranged, quasi-nightmarish imagery, fusing traditional and digital animation with a ramshackle glee as the song hurtles towards an explosive climax that further proves Julie & The Wrong Guys are coming out of the woodwork to make their name known. Punk bite, pop hooks, smart visuals, and a whole lot of attitude all combine to ensure that Julie & The Wrong Guys is a name worth committing to memory.