Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: PUP

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

224 stories. 200,000 words. 365 days.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsay Hazen)

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

Last year Lindsay Hazen contributed an astounding piece to this series that focused on using music as a means of coping. This time around, Hazen continues to celebrate the music that makes life worth living. In a chronicling of great shows, artists, and records, Hazen also offers a unique window into some personal experiences accrued throughout 2016. As always, the writing’s compelling, swift, and lands with impact. It’s a beautiful piece that more than deserves anyone’s time. Tackle it in full below.

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I saw Weaves at a free NXNE showcase at Sonic Boom’s temporary location on Bathurst. They played with Courtney Barnett, Army Girls, and Baby Eagle. My partner and I got day-tipsy on free French beer and did the annoying thing we do in record stores where we walk around and then yell to each other excitedly about things we want. Or… I did. You don’t understand Weaves until you see them. Jasmyn Burke trembles. She commands your attention. She is a diva in the most positive of connotations. She is extremely kind.

I saw her with her band RatTail at the Drake Underground. She shone then, too. Angular, jagged guitar, insistent drums complement her voice in many of the songs on Weaves’ self-titled debut. Morgan Waters was the best thing about his previous band, Sweet Thing (whom you might remember for being the ridiculously catchy song from Easy A that wasn’t “Pocket Full Of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield). I saw them at the Mod Club with Allie Hughes, one of the best moments from the first year I lived in Toronto (a period of my life I have to actively try not to romanticize).

I saw PUP a couple of years ago, on a snowy night in Toronto (the second time), at a show in the public library in Yorkville. They played with Alvvays. They covered “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys. I remember how I felt my body tremble when they began to play “Reservoir”. I listen to it when I get really bad panic attacks. I can’t help but feel the carpet of the library under my feet, I can’t help but breathe – let the song expand inside me, let my heart race along with it and spend my nervous energy. What’s left to lose? What am I supposed to do now? Nothing. Anything I can, anything I want. I knew what I was doing after all. PUP is that kind of band. They’re a band that lifts. Unites. Makes songs into anthems; crowds into tempests; energy into things that matter.

PUP makes The Dream being over sound like taking the pill that wakes you up from The Matrix and into 2016. It feels like true things that you can’t say to the ones you love. It feels like Canada – expansive, yet claustrophobic at the same time. Dark corners in which you can lose yourself. Being snowblind in the sun. I was sad they didn’t win the Polaris. I was more thrilled than I can express that 2016 was very much The Year of PUP. They can only get better.

When I’m 70 I can’t wait to get sweaty in the crowd of geriatric PUP fans and pay $250 to see them at the Skydome or something equally arena-esque and brag to my grandchildren that I knew they were rockstars when I read about a band called Topanga in Exclaim! I knew what I was doing after all. When I left the library it was snowing, but I held my jacket in my arms and let the cold embrace me. I was numb on the subway home. My lungs were killing me, I didn’t even get high. I knew what I was doing after all.

I saw The Lonely Parade in Taco Pica, which hosts its fair share of Saint John’s local DIY shows. I went with my two friends. I acted like a dork. I was ridiculously excited. Their song “Stomach” is one of my favourite songs of all time. I was not prepared for their set. I wish I had been less self-conscious and danced. They were so fucking ridiculously groovy. No Shade, their startlingly wonderful album from this year, is mixed to sound cool and dry. It sounds… acerbic.

It sounds witty. In person their sound is heavy and warm, surrounding you. The bass lines flow like lava, weaving through the percussion. Watching “Johnny Utah” literally dropped my jaw. The guitar solo in “Girl“… I cannot speak more highly of their musicianship. “No AM” is a real highlight of the album, the use of reverb and the rhythmic patterns remind me of Controller.Controller, and I get another amazing guitar solo I can embarrassingly rock out to at the bus stop.

I was lucky enough to see Casper Skulls, Chastity, Blessed, Billy Moon, Sheik, and hand-drawn (RIP). I was able to watch producer-composer-engineer Artifiseer (Ian Livingstone) and Arkanjello (Gabe Williams) the musical polyglot who crafted my favourite record of 2017 (so far), Vegan Songs, evolve as artists and work with found sound and imagery grounded in real experiences of maritime life. Gabe has a singing voice like a young Bowie. He has programming sensibility of Caribou on a Grimes and Lana Del Rey listening kick, and makes songs that are frenetic – kaleidoscopic almost. There’s a beautiful fracturing in his tones.

I am glad that the world finally found out that Toronto has long been the source of some of the best punk music in history (Martha and the Muffins, anyone?) and is home to some of the world’s legendary spaces – spaces that feel like home to any music person. The Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace are more a part of me than any house I have ever lived in. New spaces are opening all the time. I can’t count how many shows I’ve wished I could see at Smiling Buddha this year that made my heart ache from across the country.

But right now, pay attention to New Brunswick. Sackville has Sappyfest and bands the likes of Partner and Baby Eagle. Fredericton is also a DIY hotbed with deep relationships with the Halifax and Montreal scenes. And Saint John, my adopted home, is a place where people make pain and struggle into beauty, make some innovative venue spaces that give diverse artists a voice – including the Panic Room, Taco Pica, live performances at the City Market, and the historic Imperial Theatre.

We lost so much this year, so many people, so many dreams, so many fights. But we have fought, won, reclaimed, rejoiced. As a community we yelled, donated, protested, protected, aided, loved and learned so much this year. 2016 is the year that we declared music our home and our sanctuary. We are going into 2017 blind to the future but facing it together.

‘You have the right to be mad, but when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way.’ In 2016, music carried us. We let it inspire us and drive us and effect real change and use art to be as selfless as our empty wallets and full hearts let us be. Thank you to the artists I’ve seen perform, the people whose lyrics and riffs and beats made me want to be a better person than I was yesterday. And thank you to Saint John for being my shelter in a world that sometimes feels like its falling apart.

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

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At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree is being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.

With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.

Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.

Mitski – Puberty 2

Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.

Big Thief – Masterpiece

One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.

Swim Team – Swim Team

One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.

Greys – Outer Heaven

2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly  push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heaven was their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.

Hovvdy – Taster

A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

Tancred – Out of the Garden
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh Boland – Spilt Milk
Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts
Eluvium – False Readings On
Told Slant – Going By
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Jean-Michael Blais – II
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Other honorable mentions:

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing | Yucky Duster – Yucky Duster | Vanity – Don’t Be Shy | Kane Strang – Blue Cheese | Steve Adamyk Band – Graceland | Lydia Loveless – Real | Touché Amoré – Stage Four | Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math | Jeff – Rosenstock – WORRY. | Lucy Dacus – No Burden | Summer Cannibals – Full Of ItNopes – Never Heard Of It | Florist – The Birds Outside Sang | Susan – Never Enough | Abi Reimold – Wriggling | Mal Devisa – Kiid | Julianna Barwick – Will | Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone | Big Ups – Before A Million Universes | Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold | Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp | AJJ – The Bible 2 | Angel Olsen – My Woman | Drive-By Truckers – American Band | Charles Bradley – Changes

16 of ’16: The Best Music Videos of the Year

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It’s been a while since anything’s run on this site but, as always, everything that’s being put on the table is being assessed and evaluated. A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ third edition is just around the corner but before those recollections begin, it only seems fair to take a look back at the best of what 2016 had to offer. This will be the first year where a numerical rankings system is abandoned, a decision that wasn’t made lightly but is being enforced for a variety of reasons specific to this over-stuffed year (meaning that the numerical rankings system may appear again roughly 12 months from now).

For whatever reason, music videos are largely viewed by the general public as having fallen out of favor, which is a genuine shame considering what’s being done with the form. Lemonade seemed to revive some interest and open up potential possibilities for the future but it’s still a format that the public’s left by the wayside. Here at Heartbreaking Bravery, the best of these have been traditionally celebrated because they represent the perfect marriage of music and film. 2016 presented a whole new slate of incredible material, headlined by an unbelievable string of videos from Minor Victories and PUP, that were worth praising.

Here are 16 of the best clips to have appeared throughout the year.

Kevin Morby – Dorothy

Christopher Good has directed a handful of videos that have been featured on this site over the years but may have turned in a career best with Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy“. Embracing Morby’s open road aesthetics, Good allows “Dorothy” to gracefully coast along at a breezy pace, infusing it with an inordinate amount of perfect cues and tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s sublime craftsmanship that not only complements but elevates its already-great source material.

Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator

After cracking last year’s music video list with the jaw-dropping clip for “Kim’s Caravan”, Courtney Barnett makes another appearance thanks to the fascinating, cameo-heavy video for “Elevator Operator“. Blending Barnett’s signature wit with a staggering moment of quiet existentialism that arrives out of nowhere, “Elevator Operator” sees the celebrated songwriter aiming for new heights and reaching a stratospheric level.

John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues

Former Weakerthans bandleader John K. Samson made an incredibly welcome return with 2016’s outstanding Winter Wheat. One of that record’s highlights, “Postdoc Blues“, received the music video treatment and is the rare clip that benefits from an incredibly direct and literal simplicity. Created for a good cause and executed to a characteristically unassuming brand of perfection, “Postdoc Blues” is a breath of fresh air.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

No music video from 2016 proved to be more grotesquely haunting than Parquet Courts‘ oddly disturbed, puppet-driven clip for “Human Performance“. It’s intensely human, ridiculously unnerving, and extremely hard to shake. “Human Performance” props up its own ugliness in an effectively defiant act of genuinely brave showmanship. A singular piece from a fascinating directorial voice, “Human Performance” wound up as one of 2016’s most fascinating moments.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)

Easily one of 2016’s best songs, Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” also served as one of the year’s best music videos. Shot through with nostalgia and an abundance of feeling, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” managed the impossible task of both referencing an indisputable classic and standing on its own. A perfect marriage of lyric video and traditional music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars may have created something bordering on timeless.

LVL UP – The Closing Door

The first major music video effort from LVL UP came courtesy of House of Nod, who were given the unenviable task of capturing the searing spiritual search present all throughout the band’s latest effort, Return to Love, and turned in an absolute gem. “The Closing Door” relies heavily on imagery and metaphor but never seems anything less than grounded. “The Closing Door” climaxes in a beautiful final sequence that’s moving, hopeful, and reassuring, three things that become sorely necessary in a difficult year.

Potty Mouth – Smash Hit

There are a lot of ways a music video can achieve greatness, whether it be through breathtaking visuals, inspired direction, a memorable concept, by complementing the song, or, in the case of Potty Mouth‘s “Smash Hit“, being astonishingly representative of the band.  An effective mix of glitz, glamour, and grit, “Smash Hit” finds the trio vamping for the cameras and giving a tenacious central performance. It’s an exhilarating burst from a band that’s attained an assured confidence.

Vagabon – The Embers

“The Embers” served as site favorites Vagabon‘s introduction-at-large for a sizable audience and it’s one hell of an introduction. Utilizing a visual style that’s not too distant from Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (one of the best films of this young century), “The Embers” is immediately gripping. The empowering, symbolism-heavy narrative is as striking as the imagery and all of it clicks into something that verges on the transcendental. In short: it’s unmissable.

Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You

Another clip from the inimitable House of Nod, Japanese Breakfast‘s “Everybody Wants to Love You” popped up on many of these year-end music video lists and it’s incredibly easy to see why. A celebration of heritage and individuality as well as a moving tribute to a deceased parent, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is loaded with sincerity and meaning. Vibrant with the faintest touch of melancholy, it’s an unforgettable demonstration of personal strength and unerring resolve.

Dilly Dally – Snakehead

Likely the funniest music video to be released in 2016, Dilly Dally‘s “Snakehead” music video skewers its own format at every turn, while clearly being a meticulously crafted clip born out of a deep love and understanding of music videos. Biting captions, self-aware performances, and contextual knowledge make “Snakehead” obscenely endearing and skyrocket its worth in the process. Pointed, snarky, and a hell of a lot of fun, “Snakehead” is nothing less than a knockout.

PWR BTTM – West Texas

2016 was a very kind year for PWR BTTM and one of the duo’s opening shots was the sweeping music video for “West Texas”. Epic in scope and unapologetic in its cinematic debt, “West Texas” is a swaggering blast of bravado that touches on just about everything that’s made PWR BTTM so beloved in such a short amount of time. The identity politics, the showmanship, the willingness to be subversive, and the ability to string everything together with fiendishly sly, self-aware humor.

Hazel English – Never Going Home

Hazel English delivered one of the year’s best EP’s with the exceedingly lovely Never Going Home, which boasted a title track that received an absolutely gorgeous visual accompaniment. While the lyric video for “I’m Fine“, the studio clip for “It’s Not Real“, and the clip for “Control” all merited individual consideration for this list, it was the soft lensing and natural, delicate charm of “Never Going Home” that made the deepest impression. It casts a spell that’s worthy of a complete surrender.

Mitski – Happy

Part of a trio of impressive Mitski clips (including “Your Best American Girl” and “A Burning Hill“), “Happy” packed a powerful enough punch to secure the spot on this list. Paying homage to heritage, race relations, historical tension, military occupation, and a bevvy of classic films,  Maegan Houang brings a fiery directorial touch to an outstanding concept and executes with staggering purpose. By the time “Happy” winds to an end, it’s difficult to wish for anything other than an expansion into a feature length film.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Trio

While Angel Olsen, The Avalanches, and DJ Shadow (ft. Run the Jewels) were among some of the bigger names making genuinely outstanding music videos, what filmmaker Andrew Dominik accomplished with his clips of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds playing a trio of clips (“I Need You“, “Jesus Alone“, and “Girl In Amber“) from the band’s shattering Skeleton Tree simply can’t be ignored. This is both performance and performance filmmaking of the highest possible level.

Minor Victories – Cogs (Orchestral Variation)

Only one band could rival what Minor Victories achieved in the music video format in 2016 (but we’ll get to that band in a moment). Minor Victories aggressively established an arresting visual aesthetic and turned in an incredible number of clips that could have very easily wound up in this spot. “Cogs“, “Folk Arp“, “Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)“, “A Hundred Ropes“, “Breaking My Light“, and “Give Up the Ghost (Orchestral Variation)” were all gripping in various ways, making the most of crisp black-and-white cinematography. Their finest moment, however, came with the release of “Cogs (Orchestral Variation)“, an expansive, intimate character study and the band’s most ambitious offering to date. It’s harrowing, it’s riveting, and it’s easily one of the best clips of 2016.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

PUP – Sleep in the Heat

In 2013, PUP‘s “Reservoir” topped the year-end music video list I contributed to PopMatters. In 2014, PUP’s “Guilt Trip” topped this site’s very first year-end music videos list. In 2015, PUP managed to crack the year-end music video list once again with “Dark Days“. This year, the band continued an unprecedented run of dominance in the format with no less than three legitimate year-end contenders, each wildly different from the other.

From the playful, game-happy lyric clip for “DVP” to the relentless shock-and-awe brutality of the terrifyingly-named “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“, the band was firing on all cylinders. Still, none of that could’ve been adequate preparation for what they and director Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux achieved with “Sleep in the Heat”, a successor to “Guilt Trip” that came several years after filming on “Guilt Trip” wrapped- and after “Guilt Trip” star Finn Wolfhard landed another lucrative starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Just as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” intercut footage of “Reservoir” to establish a sense of history to ground its narrative and supply additional meaning, “Sleep in the Heat” opens with the startlingly vivid footage of its natural predecessor. The actors that were assembled in “Guilt Trip” resume their posts as stand-in’s for PUP’s members in their earlier days and each of them — particularly Wolfhard, who turns in what’s easily the best work of his burgeoning career in this clip — give committed performances.

Taking on the role of a scrappy touring band, the young cast find themselves navigating the frequently dire circumstances that are all too familiar to anyone that’s ever hopped in a van to drive four hours to play a show in a basement to five people. There’s a sense of lived-in realism that bolsters everything in the clip, which seeps in from the onset and never relinquishes its hold. Early on, “Sleep in the Heat” takes a curious turn when a stray dog takes a shining to the band’s food and follows them to their next brief stop, endearing itself to the band to the point where they bring it on board as a rescue.

Here’s where the narrative crux of “Sleep in the Heat” — a song written about guitarist/vocalist Stefan Babcock’s deceased chameleon — begins to sink in and all anyone can do is prepare for devastation. Not too long after that sudden, sinking realization, things in the video begin to get bleak. The dog gets sick and needs a surgical procedure, unable to cover the expense, Wolfhard (as the young Babcock) pawns a guitar mid-tour to provide for the animal that’s quickly become a new best friend. The surgery goes forward but it isn’t enough.

In one of the most emotionally shattering music video montages of recent memory, the band members of PUP are photographed holding their own deceased pets, lending a heartbreaking reality to an already emotionally charged clip. Several stages of the process of dealing with death all collide at once and it’s a forceful, resonant moment that immediately registers as singular.

As brilliant as that moment is, it’s not until the final passage where everything’s really driven home. Wolfhard’s back to the front of the band, guitar slung across his body once more (a perfect shot revealing he’d broken through the pawn shop glass to steal it back is just one of many grace notes scattered throughout the clip), looking delirious, hollow, and broken as footage of the wounded dog being tended to is intercut with Wolfhard overcome with emotion while screaming the song’s final chorus: Yesterday I went back to my apartment to see how you’d been holding up, you hadn’t been eating, I thought you were sleeping but you’re not waking up. I want you to know that I’d spend every bit of my pitiful savings and loans just to see you again… but I know I won’t.

The screen fades to black and resumes after a brief pause only to reveal rocks being piled on top of a freshly-dug patch of dirt. The camera pulls back and reveals one word, spray painted on the rock pile’s surface: PUP. Another pause and another cut to black occurs before “Sleep in the Heat” offers one final nod to its prequel and closes with a shot of the van moving forward down an open road, looking ahead to new triumphs, heartbreak, and everything else life has to offer. 

Six Weeks of Music Videos (Video Mixtape)

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Six weeks is a long time to go without posting an individual feature piece on a music video (discounting premieres). With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s not surprising that many of the clips that have come out in the time this site’s been on a relative hiatus, there have been a handful of the format’s best entries for the 2016 crop. PUP maintained their unrelenting stranglehold on an obscene level of excellence with the most emotionally affecting clip of a ridiculously impressive filmography, Vagabon emerged with a galvanizing sense of renewed purpose, Emilyn Brodsky continued to do wonders with stop motion, Tenement continued to further their own distinct identity in the visual arts department, The Seams offered up a double dose of refined hyper-editing, and everyone else found a way to rise above their contemporaries to create indelible pieces of art worth celebrating. So, below, dive in and get comfortable with the best 25 clips of the past six weeks.

Additional note: Trace Mountains’ excellent clip for “Bring the Mountain to Me” wasn’t available on YouTube and couldn’t be included in the below mix. Make sure to give that one a watch as well.

1. PUP – Sleep in the Heat
2. Meat Wave – The Incessant
3. Stove – Blank
4. The Seams – Remembrance Day
5. Holy Tunics – Forget Your Love
6. Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win
7. Vagabon – The Embers
8. Hellrazor – Raise Your Rifle
9. Lazertits – Boss Bitch
10. Slothrust – Rotten Pumpkin
11. Vacation – Every Direction
12. The Raveonettes – Fast Food
13. Poppies – Told
14. WHOOP-Szo – Another Show
15. Bruising – I Don’t Mind
16. Sløtface – Bright Lights
17. Tim Darcy – Tall Glass of Water
18. Self Talk – Untitled 
19. Petal – Chandelier
20. Tenement – Hive of Hives
21. Stef Chura – Spotted Gold
22. Fred Thomas – Voiceover
23. Emilyn Brodsky – Hands Off the Stove
24. The Seams – Seeds
25. MOURN – Irrational Friend

Watch This: Vol. 143

Typically Watch This installments run on Sunday but the 143rd installment was given a later slot for a specific reason. While the videos covered  in this post will have been released, exclusively, in the time frame of last Monday to this past Sunday, this particular entry serves as somewhat of a gap-fill. The next post to run after this one will be the 1,000th that Heartbreaking Bravery has published and there will be a brief period of inactivity, only punctuated by the 143rd volume of Watch This.

The placement shouldn’t detract from the overwhelming strength of the formidable quality of the featured clips, which staved off particularly intense competition from the likes of Kevin Morby, Good Personalities, Saul Williams, Post Child, Hurry, Wolf Parade, Quilt, Suuns, Yung, Waterstrider, Gringo Star, The Pack A.D., Fauna Shade, Fascinating, The Minders, The Posies, Teeth & Tongue, Xenia Rubinos, Communist Daughter, Chris Cohen, Paper Bird, and Bully to secure the five highlighted slots. So, as always, sit up, lean in, adjust the settings, take a deep breath, and Watch This.

1. Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math + Pins and Needles (World Cafe)

In the past few months Margaret Glaspy has managed to become a staple of this series thanks to both songwriting and the subdued but outsized personality that the songwriter exudes in every performance. Glaspy’s two-song set for World Cafe is particularly crisp, offering up two spellbinding runs through two of Emotions and Math‘s brightest moments: the quietly exhilarating title track and “Pins and Needles”. Don’t miss out on this one.

2. Long Neck – Rosy + 10,000 Year Old Woman (Boxfish Sessions)

For the past few years, Lily Mastridomos has been releasing mesmerizing music under the moniker Long Neck. Known primarily for Jawbreaker Reunion, Mastridomos’ solo project allows the emphasis to fall to uninhibited tales of heartache. In Mastridomos’ shattering entry to this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories, there was a courageously open emphasis on personal depression, something that informs both “Rosy” and “10,000 Year Old Woman” to heartbreaking effect in one of the finest Boxfish Sessions to date.

3. PUP – Doubts (q on cbc)

A lot has been written on this site about PUP, from their galvanizing live show to their self-titled debut (which has the distinction of being the first album review to run on Heartbreaking Bravery) to this year’s extraordinary The Dream Is Over, a record that earned them a Polaris Prize nomination. Here, the band stops by the q on cbc studio and unleashing holy hell with a fiercely committed take on “Doubts” that underscores the band’s terrifying level of conviction as well as their sheer force of will. It’s a characteristically exceptional performance and an outstanding document of a band that’s intent on pushing themselves to the absolute limit.

4. Tuxis Giant – Almost Enough (Boxfish Sessions)

The second Boxfish Session to be featured finds the spotlight falling to Tuxis Grant, an emerging songwriter who has a penchant for bleary-eyed folk that comes with a twinge of a punk-informed sensibility. “Almost Enough”, the song performed here, is a breathtaking example of Tuxis Giant’s considerable songwriting gifts, never becoming anything less than incredibly memorable. “Even when it isn’t hungry, it eats” is a refrain that sticks, perfectly complementing a compellingly singular introspective lens. If “Almost Enough” is any indication, Tuxis Giant will be a name worth learning.

5. Japanese Breakfast (PressureDrop.tv)

2016 has been a breakout year for Japanese Breakfast, the project of Michelle ZaunerLittle Big League, Zauner’s other band, had a handful of entries throughout the existence of this series. Japanese Breakfast seems set on continuing that tradition with a remarkable amount of poise. While all of the songs the band runs through for this PressureDrop.tv session are consistently impressive, “Everybody Wants to Love You” stands out as a particularly inspired highlight. It’s the start of an exclamation mark on the band’s coming out party, creating room for both celebration of what’s come before and wild anticipation for what comes next.

Watch This: Vol. 142

From this past Monday to this just recently-ended Sunday, there were a slew of great live clips that came from the likes of Ben Seretan, Johanna Warren, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Chook Race, Ty Segall, Dog & Wolf, Daniel Lanois, Charles Bradley, Odanah, Strange Ranger, Flock of Dimes, July Talk (x2), Sleepy Kitty, Maszer, Lisa Hannigan, Half Waif, Gia Greene, The Felice BrothersEsmé Patterson, Elvis Depressedly, Jessie Kilguss, Alaska, Ghosts I’ve Met, MUNA, Underground Rider, American Trappist, Marlon Williams, James Vincent McMorrow, Hinds, Ile, and Keaton Henson. The strength of those video, as always, is indicative of the substance contained in the five featured performances below. From old favorites to emerging artists, there’s a lot of material to explore. So, as always, sit up, lean in, crank the volume, and Watch This.

1. Teenage Fanclub – Thin Air (BBC)

For decades, certain pockets of the music world have treated Teenage Fanclub with a reverence that’s typically reserved for deities. In the time that’s elapsed since they formed in 1989, the band’s amassed a devoted following but — as this performance for BBC’s Radio 6 definitively demonstrates — they haven’t lost a step. Still boasting all of the charm in the world, “Thin Air” is a reminder of their casual timelessness.

2. Weaves (KEXP)

Since the release of their incendiary self-titled debut earlier this year, Weaves have become a mainstay of the Watch This series. Tackling a quartet of songs here, the quartet brings their wild energy to the KEXP studios for one of the station’s best sessions of the year. As ever, the band’s a relentless force, attacking each of these songs with the conviction and tenacity that’s earned them a dedicated, steadily-increasing following.

3. gobbinjr – Firefly (Boxfish Sessions)

A few years into a promising career, Emma Witmer — who masterminds the gobbinjr project — has been releasing delicate pop songs that sound airy but boast a substantial amount of weight. “Firefly” is a prime example and its performance here, for Cuttlefish Collective’s Boxfish Sessions, is a thing of singular beauty. With only vocals, an omnichord, and a pre-programmed drum track, “Firefly” surpasses being simply mesmerizing and winds up at a place of transcendence.

4. Tuns – Mixed Messages + Mind Over Matter (Indie88Toronto)

Whether Tuns is a side project, a supergroup, or a curiosity is irrelevant, what’s important is that they’re writing great songs. Legendary pedigree aside, Tuns would’ve likely been turning heads. While the band’s members’ projects certainly hold a particular amount of influence over their sound (Sloan likely being the most notable of the bunch), there’s a spark here that should help the project establish their own identity. Either way, “Mixed Messages” and “Mind Over Matter” are worth celebrating.

5. PUP (CBC)

Earlier this year, PUP released their fiery sophomore effort, The Dream Is Over. Several strides forward from their explosive debut, the record opened up their already frantic live show and sent the band’s members careening to every corner of stages the world over with wild abandon. The band recently stopped by CBC’s studios to tear through several key songs from their Polaris-nominated record — including “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP”, two of the year’s finest songs — and the resulting document is an exhilarating portrait of a wild-eyed band that refuses to hit the brakes.

Watch This: Vol. 135

In just a little over two weeks an insane amount of quality live videos have emerged, featuring the following artists: Ezra Furman, Woods, Day Wave, Joy Again, You Won’t, Kevin Morby, Acapulco Lips, Sonya Kitchell, Houndmouth, Queen of Jeans (x2), Christian Lee Hutson, Terry, John Congleton and the Nighty Nite, Mothers, Robb Young and the Elms, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Kalispell (x2), Fear of MenOsekre & The Lucky Bastards, FitsEmily Blue, Henrietta, Adia Victoria, Ubetcha, The Staves (x2), Arc Flash, Michael Nau, Bewilder, The Jayhawks, Slingshot Dakota (x2), Whitney, Vagabon, Quilt, LAYNE, Rye Pines, Minor Victories, Allah-Las, Esme Patterson (x2, 3), Midijoyful, Secret Space, The Mono Jacks, A Dead Forest Index, Explosions in the Sky, Death Valley Girls, Half Waif, The Albert Square, Your Friend, Marlon Williams, Rogue Valley, Metronomy, Gregory Porter, Summer Twins (x2), Surgeons In Heat, Amy Klein, The Belvederes, Frameworks, Oddisee, CHILDREN, Doubles, Gwenno (x2), and Titus Andronicus.

Looking through all of those, it’s impossible to say that this is a bad time for live music (and for the documentation of live music). The overwhelming strength of that above list should indicate that this installment of Watch This will have some extraordinarily strong features. There’s some astonishing talent on display throughout the three full sessions and two individual clips listed below, which include one of the bands that was essential to the site’s foundation and a few fresh faces that have been turning all sorts of heads with their recent work. So, as always, push all the distractions aside, relax, lean in, and Watch This.

1. Tenement – Feral Cat Tribe + Lost Love Star Lust (Set List)

Anyone that’s frequented this site over the time of its existence has seen an unprecedented amount of praise granted to Tenement, a band that was instrumental in providing the building blocks for this site. Over nearly 10 years, I’ve had the surreal privilege of watching the trio develop to the point they’re at today (Rolling Stone recently named them one of the 10 great modern punk bands and the New York Times dedicated an entire podcast installment to the band last year). Here, the band gets to flash their live chops in a session for Wisconsin Public Radio’s Set List series, offering up an impressively powerful pair of tracks that only hint at the band’s astonishing scope.

2. Car Seat Headrest – Fill In The Blank (The Current)

After 2015’s Teens of Style generated quite a bit of momentum for Car Seat Headrest, the solo-project-turned-full-band capitalized on that surge of recognition emphatically with this year’s Teens of Denial. Landing several high-profile festival appearances as a result, the band’s grown gradually tighter over their past few tours. This performance of “Fill In The Blank” for The Current demonstrates that growth and nicely captures the band’s irrepressible drive.

3. PWR BTTM – West Texas + Serving Goffman (WFUV)

Like Tenement, PWR BTTM have become a towering presence in terms of this site’s coverage tendencies, something that came as a direct result of the band’s fiery live show. Here, the band turn in characteristically bold performances of both “West Texas” and “Serving Goffman” for WFUV, perfectly summarized by the half-shocked, half-elated smile that Benjamin Hopkins throws the camera after some errant headphones threaten to momentarily overtake the song. There’s a genuine joy that exists in that moment which the duo have consistently brought to their shows, making them one of the finest live acts on the circuit.

4. Weaves – Human (Low Four)

Weaves have made a habit out of appearing on the Watch This series this year, thanks in large part to the release of their monumental self-titled debut. The quartet recently stopped by the Old Granada Studios to unleash a sharp burst of their hyper-spastic strain of punk-tinged basement pop by way of this inspired run through “Human”, offering a revealing glimpse at their members formidable chops. As fascinating as it is exhilarating, it’s a perfect example of what can be accomplished by thinking a little outside of the typical boundaries.

5. And The Kids – Kick Rocks + Picture (WFUV)

One of the bands that really started to make a push over the past year has been And The Kids, who have seized every opportunity they’ve been given with a startling amount of poise. WFUV recently had the band into their studio and the trio delivered in full, tearing through “Kick Rocks” and “Picture” in a way that likely left several of the studio members jaws agape. Complex and nuanced, the band flawlessly executes a series of hairpin turns, layered harmonies, and language shifts while throwing in a few sly smiles for good measure. It’s an unbelievably impressive performance and more than deserves to close out this edition of Watch This.