Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Album Review

Cool Original – I Never Said I Didn’t Care (Album Review, Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

Nathan Tucker’s Cool Original project, through all its permutations, has earned quite a bit of love from this site. Nothing the project’s accomplished so far matches the scope of what’s achieved on I Never Said I Didn’t Care, a towering testament to personal and artistic growth. A little sludge, a lot of pop, and a fair share of basement punk coalesce into something that’s gripping from the outset and progressively more engaging as the record’s values become clear.

Towering in a peculiarly unassuming way, I Never Said I Didn’t Care finds Tucker and company cranking up the volume and confronting some harsh truths head on with a clear-eyed resolve (the “we don’t want the same things” realization in “Offended” is equal parts heartbreaking and emboldening). While the thematic through-line doesn’t shy away from complication, the composition that sustains I Never Said I Didn’t Care is some of the project’s most fierce and direct.

As the record progresses, Cool Original embrace a ramshackle existence and then blow it to smithereens in favor of something more subtle and rewarding: self-acceptance. In this case, that self is one keenly aware of hangups and has a penchant for larger-than-life distortion-heavy anthems that pay tribute to resilience. Inspired and inspiring, I Never Said I Didn’t Care makes its title abundantly clear in just about every way: this is a record that cares, deeply, about everything- and the record’s all the better for indulging in that trait. A high water mark for one of today’s most consistently excellent projects. Don’t let the year end without grabbing a copy.

Listen to I Never Said I Didn’t Care below and pick it up here.

Shutups – Every Day I’m Less Zen (Album Review, Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

Shutups have consistently impressed over the years, slowly expanding their audience from one show to the next. Even with some strong efforts to their name, it’d be hard to predict the extent of the artistic jump the band takes for their most recent full-length, Every Day I’m Less Zen. Everything on this record clicks, working in tandem with even the most minuscule detail to produce an incredibly inspired end result. From the crackling, gloriousy blown-out production to the thematic consistency to the pacing, this is a complete — and completely realized — work.

“that’s a long time to be on fire” starts things off at a blind sprint and the band never really looks back from that point, barreling forward with a reckless disregard for whatever’s in their path. As energized as it is energizing, this is basement punk of the highest order. Whenever the band does scale back a little, their pop sensibilities shine through and give Every Day I’m Less Zen an addictive gleam that ensures repeat listens. Surprisingly thoughtful in its ruminations on a very specific sliver of young adulthood and its various drawbacks and rewards, this is a borderline definitive record for a certain type of person.

While Every Day I’m Less Zen makes its bones on no-holds-barred aggression, Shutups manage to sprinkle in a few surprises that keep the affair from being an exercise in exhaustion. Whether it’s the glitch-pop of the intro to “Telephone” or the synth-laden haze of “Holiday Punch”, Shutups keep thriving by adding new, wrinkled layers to an enticing core. By the time the mind-scrambling closer “I Wanna Crash Cars” rolls around, Shutups have provided an entire world to get lost inside, to revisit, to fall in love with, and to leave behind. An extraordinary work from a duo worth knowing, Every Day I’m Less Zen stands firmly as one of the stronger basement punk records not just the year but the present decade. Take a deep breath, make the click-play plunge, and get swept up in its nuanced chaos.

Listen to Every Day I’m Less Zen below.

Booji Boys – Tube Reducer (Album Review, Stream)

Tube Reducer, the latest album from Booji Boys, is a tenacious basement punk ripper that’s strong enough to restore anyone’s faith in the transformative power of the genre at its best. It’s a pure distillation of manic energy, threatening to careen off the rails with every quick-passing one beat. Gritty, fierce, and undeniably scrappy, Tube Reducer is the sound of a band who learned how to master sounding like they’re giving all of the fucks.

A record that seemingly lays everything on the line, Booji Boys have unleashed something rabid and determined to sink its fangs into as many people as possible. Only two of these 13 tracks eclipses the two and a half minute mark and most get their work done well before that hits. Virtually none of the songs exceed three minutes. Booji Boys make their points succinctly and with admirable urgency, flying through the baker’s dozen with a clear-eyed conviction that elevates the record a considerable degree.

No breaks come on the record, which is all pedal to the metal and no slowdown, content to fly through every red light and stop sign imaginable, if only to wreak further havoc. By the time “Moto-Hard” brings things to a fiery conclusion, it’s truly difficult to not feel some sense of galvanization. Tube Reducer is the kind of record that burrows under the skin, heats up the blood, and kick-starts direct action. We could use more records like that in the world. If half are half as good as this one, we’ll be exceedingly fortunate.

Listen to Tube Reducer below and snag a name-your-price download here.

Holy Tunics – Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree (Album Review, Stream)

To survive in an overcrowded environment is on thing, to get anyone to pay attention to what you’re doing is another, and to find people who are adamant in celebrating what you’ve accomplished within those specific parameters is an entirely separate beast. Yet, Holy Tunics have endured and the recommendations from people with trustworthy judgment seem to be a quiet constant. While the band’s never truly taken off, they’ve clearly earned the respect of their contemporaries and the enthusiasm of the people active in those worlds.

Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree, the band’s latest record, should be more than enough to strengthen those existing truths. An impulsive but remarkably cohesive record, Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree finds the band indulging in the sense of fun that’s energized each of their past releases, drawing from the knowledge gleaned from those records to heighten every minute detail. Every song on Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree seems to draw from the history of powerpop and slacker punk, allowing the quartet to shape memorable tracks that fly by when they’re present but stick in the listeners memory when they’ve finished.

Whether it’s the surging guitar squall of the intro to “Rocket To The Alien Planet” or the familiar jangle of closer “Yesterday’s A Painted Butterfly”, Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree showcases Holy Tunics as a band that’s keenly aware of the history inherent to their own music. Fortunately, they’re also smart enough to know how to avoid making those trappings sound stale, picking the precisely right moments to throw in a wild curveball, leaving Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree as one of the most outright fun listens of the summer.

Listen to Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree below and pick it up from Meritorio Records here.

Evening Standards – World’s End (Album Review, Stream)

Last year, Evening Standards released their debut record, which was one of 2018’s best. The trio wasted no time in issuing a follow-up, releasing World’s End a little over a year after its predecessor. World’s End recaptures the spirit of their debut and finds the band knocking out another record of highly addictive mid-tempo basement pop. Coated in grit and laced with hooks, World’s End is a record that works as well for the party as it does the day after, providing just enough punch to cut through a wide array of moments.

There’s not a bad song to be found in the record, which again finds Chris Mott and Daun Fields harmonizing throughout close to the record’s entirety, creating an oddly spellbinding effect. Mott’s time in PURPLE 7 also clearly influences a lot of the material, with Evening Standards feeling like a galvanized next step rather than a tired rehashing. Everything that worked so well on their debut’s been ever so slightly tightened and continues to work to enjoyable effect on World’s End, which is well worth the listen.

Listen to World’s End below and pick up a copy here.

The Glow – Am I (Album Review, Stream)

LVL UP was a band that meant an extraordinary amount to a handful of people and publications, this one included. Losing them last year was a hard pill to swallow but the band’s dissolution allowed its members to pursue freshly formed or revived projects that were of a more directly personal nature. One of those projects was multi-instrumentalist Mike Caridi’s The Glow, which had existed in various forms throughout the years but never released a proper album.

Am I corrects that fact with a kaleidoscopic grace. Caridi’s warped pop-leaning sensibilities shine though this material, even as it gets coated in fuzz and distortion. Am I effortlessly builds a surrealist world both around and inside of its songs, conjuring up images of schools, rivers, lost youth, and open skies. There’s a smoky nostalgia that lingers in the corners, as Caridi soothes, broods, reflects, and embraces various aspects of the songwriter’s personality.

Breezy and endlessly enjoyable, Am I is best enjoyed with a good pair of headphones — the production work throughout is remarkable — and without distraction. There are endless layers to be uncovered in the habitats that Am I creates and revisits, each teeming with fresh life. A quintessential spring record, Am I also doubles as a necessary reminder that when good things have to end, there are other memories to be formed and paths to be forged once the dust has settled. In all, Am I is a fresh start and a poignant reminder of Caridi’s outsize songwriting talent. One of the year’s most enjoyable basement pop listens.

Listen to Am I below and pick it up from Double Double Whammy here.

Truth Club – Not An Exit (Album Review, Stream)

Following a handful of exhilarating singles, Truth Club make good on those songs’ early promise with the riveting Not An Exit, a warped thrill ride of damaged slacker pop. Not An Exit offers the listener an easy in with the slow-building “I Know There Is” that echoes shades of acts like Pavement, Guided By Voices, Pixies, and their contemporaries, cascading vocal overlays over a steady rhythm pattern. “Student Housing” picks up the pace and the band never looks back from that point, trading psych-punk and post-punk flourishes with ease.

Not An Exit casts a weird, enveloping spell that’s extraordinarily difficult to break (or want to break in the first place). It’s a complete work from a young band brimming with energy and ideas, flashing enough confidence and conviction to corral their strangest impulses into something that doesn’t just feel coherent but whole. A giddy trip worth taking, Truth Club have firmly established themselves as one of today’s more exciting new bands with the potency of what they’ve achieved on Not An Exit. It’s a worthy listen and, true to its title, there’s never a good stopping point. There are far worse things to leave on repeat.
Listen to Not An Exit below and pick it up here.


Charly Bliss – Young Enough (Album Review, Stream)

In the spirit of the vulnerability that’s displayed with next to no reservation on Charly Bliss‘ extraordinary Young Enough, I’ll be breaking one of the site’s cardinal rules and writing from a first person perspective throughout this review. Beyond just finding a way to honor the devastatingly wounded narratives that pepper the record, it’s a choice that allows me to make a few disclaimers. In the early days of Heartbreaking Bravery, guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks became a supporter of not just this site but me personally, offering up laser-directed beacons of support and encouragement through a barrage of messages.

Before long, we had a familiarity that led to a brief time where we became long-distance confidants. Not too long afterward, after the umpteenth “quit your job and move to New York!” text, I did. I’m not sure I would’ve without Hendricks’ repeated insistence and it remains one of the most impulsive decisions I’ve made in my life but it did allow me to orbit Charly Bliss’ world — and many other acts/people I continue to adore — for a short while. During that time, I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by people and bands that made me feel like I’d found a home away from where I’d grown up. Charly Bliss was one of those acts.

Enveloped by a rare buzz that preceded their breakout debut record, Guppy, I saw how the band operated instead of just hearing about small moments secondhand via personal retelling. There was an undeniable electricity present in the band and it seemed to not just sustain the four members but actively push them towards something greater. Listening to Young Enough, it’s abundantly clear that particular — and comparatively unique — trait remains a singular, dominant force within the band’s genetic makeup.

When Guppy finally got released sometime after its second recorded pass, the band seemed to be swept up in an optimistic surge of adrenaline. After a series of smart decisions, they were being propelled toward a future that seemed increasingly boundless. Word-of-mouth, strong editorial placement, a series of high profile appearances connected to people and publications who hold a certain amount of industry weight, and a sense of accomplishment could’ve had the band feeling placated, content to repeat the motions that had brought them success but the band’s hyperactivity seems to make stagnation an impossible outcome.

Together, the four members of the band boast a remarkable musical pedigree by virtue of their education and upbringing. All of them hold degrees in music-oriented fields and at least a few of them can lay claim to their guitar teacher being ’90s rock n’ roll royalty. Pair those aspects with being habitual over-achievers and its not surprising that the band continues a rare kind of ascension. What serves the band well is that they continue to grapple with self-doubt and have found means of support through each other; whether it’s one assuring another that a riff isn’t too simplistic or that a sharp stylistic shift isn’t too far out of reach.

Utilizing that support as a dynamic allowed Guppy to thrive but without it, it’s hard to imagine Young Enough existing at all. By most means, this is a bold jump of a record suffused with head-turning moments in both the micro and the macro. The band’s fully embraced the pop sensibility that’s always been present and enhanced it to the nth degree, creating a confection that feels removed from their earlier work while still being a natural extension.

Much of Young Enough was written after one of Charly Bliss’ tours with Wolf Parade and that band’s influence shines through on the fatalistic opener, “Blown To Bits”, which successfully reintroduces the band and sets up the record with a simple grace. It’s also somewhat of a warning: while the music and composition is undeniably sunnier and more wide-open than the band’s first few releases, the narratives are darker. A lot darker.

While brief bursts of violence have long populated Hendricks’ lyrics (Passed out on the subway/with blood in my hair from “Ruby” has proven an exceptionally hard line to shake), the extent of how far Hendricks — and by extension, the entire band — is willing to go on this record is staggering. Several of the songs deal with abusive, nihilistic relationships that Hendricks has survived. Physical and emotional assaults are addressed, with Hendricks repeatedly finding ways to not only pick up the pieces of the shields that were shattered in those instances but rebuild them to be stronger without sacrificing personal openness.

A lot of this record served as an unpleasant reminder of the kind of cruelty Hendricks has had to face down and it’s why the record’s centerpiece, it’s astonishing 5+ minute title track, had me beaming through tears and made me stop the record on my first listen to recover. It’s at that point I realized Young Enough wasn’t just an ambitious pop record but a complete reclamation of identity for a person I’ve been fortunate to know as a friend, that’s burrowed deep into something uncomfortably private and unknowably thorny.

Taking the record on through that lens doubles the impact of the areas where the band continues to improve. Reticence and reluctance are discarded in favor of a directness that the band draws strength from, supplying barbed narratives with a clear-eyed focus that was occasionally lost in the overwhelmingly addictive sugar-rush of their earlier works. By slowing down just a touch, the hooks sink in deeper and the wounds they create grow more palpable, forcing the listener to confront their meaning.

Everything from the enormous pop-minded advance singles (“Capacity”, “Chatroom”) to “Running in the Dark” (essentially an interlude track) to the material that most closely resembles the band they were in the past (“Hard to Believe”, “Under You”) benefits from the band’s newfound commitment to an exploratory fearlessness. Each of them have grown as musicians and Hendricks has certainly grown as a lyricist, with both truths coalescing neatly across the record but coming to a head on the shattering “Hurt Me”.

By several miles, the darkest song the band’s recorded, “Hurt Me” shows off the restraint of artists who have mastered their craft while doubling as a desperate plea to escape untold violence. It’s a breathtaking instance where instead of punctuating a narrative to offer it an unexpected jolt, its the focal point in all of its miserable agony:

Remember all the plastic proof?
How I punished me for you?
Mirror over everything
Sometimes you feel nothing

The way your shirt hangs off your back
Easy, but you’re nothing like that
Eyes like a funeral, mouth like a bruise
Veins like a hallway, voice like a wound
You don’t wanna hurt me
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby
You don’t wanna hurt me
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby

“Hurt Me” is punishing poetry that confronts a dark shadow that becomes a reality for far too many people. Infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure, the nature of the song’s composition allows the words to jut out like barbed wire, each knotted point drawing blood along the fencing. More than any other song on Young Enough, “Hurt Me” signifies this is the start of a new chapter for not just the band but Hendricks personally, as the songwriter relearns self-love and how to healthily coexist with thoughts borne out of bleak moments.

While the band may still question their decisions, throughout the record it’s easy to hear their impulse to doubt falling away, bit by bit. They’ve earned that confidence and the reaction to Young Enough should buoy them further still. For all of the harrowing hallways the record navigates, Young Enough ends on a slightly brighter note, tackling the daunting prospect of family planning in a sharply funny and painfully relatable track that serves as somewhat of the band’s long-held penchant for sardonic wit while retaining just enough sincerity to lend it an extra punch.

By seemingly every metric, Young Enough is a tour de force. From the more evident (the jaw-dropping vocal performance on “Young Enough”, the ) to the minutiae (pacing, instrument production), there’s not a false move to be found. Charly Bliss’ second effort is a masterpiece of assured craftsmanship from a band that’s learned to navigate their doubt and trust themselves. A landmark achievement for a band that’s learning that what they’ll be able to achieve together could be limitless.

I’ll continue to follow every step of that journey and look forward to what it brings, armed with the records it’s already produced as a permanent soundtrack. I’d encourage others to join me, especially when the results include benefits like Young Enough, which may very well be the best record of 2019. Dive into it below, get lost in its world, and come out on the other side remembering that it’s okay to allow yourself happiness, love the good constants in your life, and be thankful that you’re still here to think about any of this at all.
Listen to Young Enough below and pick it up from Barsuk here.


Pile – Green and Gray (Album Review, Stream)

Few bands have managed to inspire the kind of dedicated fervor among their contemporaries as Pile, who are treated with a singular awestruck reverence by seemingly every punk-leaning band that’s crossed their path. Part of that effect can be attributed to the band’s sleepless tour schedule, which finds the quartet on the road most months of the year and allows them the opportunity to showcase a bruising live show that’s delivered with surgical precision.

A larger part is because of the composition of the songs themselves, which finds Pile taking hairpin turns, playing with dynamics in ways other bands wouldn’t even consider, and finding a way to make otherwise complex pieces seem brutal in their immediacy. When they balance those aspects out with restraint, Pile can achieve a transcendental tenderness that’s starkly underscored by their penchant for ferocity. When they achieve a perfect equilibrium, the cumulative effect is astonishing. “Special Snowflakes“, which may very well be the best song of this present decade, is a perfect example.

Over the course of their discography, the band’s occasionally been uneven with the pacing of their full-lengths, which are otherwise formidable showcases of the band’s brilliance. Largely, the work present on those records has been so staggering, that any peripheral aspect has been a non-issue. On Green and Gray, released earlier this week, the band finally has a record that’s as punishing and beautiful as their live set.

Easily the most ornate Pile record to date, Green and Gray features some exceptional production work, allowing thoughtful flourishes like the brief but tasteful string arrangements to hit with extraordinary impact. It’s an element that’s present right from the record’s breathtaking opener, “Firewood”. Guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Rick Maguire continues to center his narratives in acute observations of the mundane, elevating them so that something as fundamentally basic as shopping feels like its being accompanied with life-or-death stakes.

Cerebral poetry swirls throughout Green and Gray, at times bordering the opaque but achieving a disconcerting purpose that allows the lyrics to accentuate the musical storm being conjured up around those narratives. Green and Gray isn’t all tumult as the band finds the perfect spots throughout to indulge their most delicate sensibilities, allowing a breathing room that still carries the emotional weight that’s been at the crux of their best work.

Occasionally those moments take the form of a whole song (“Other Moons”, “Hair”, “My Employer”, “No Hands”), other times they appear as a bridge or as an abrupt change (“A Labyrinth With No Center” and “Hiding Places” having litanies of these moments), providing Green and Gray with a beautifully balanced pace and a sense of urgency that elevates the material. It’s in those moments of transition where Green and Gray truly stands out, delivering goosebump-inducing moments that reveal the band’s mastery of their craft.

As some early listeners predicted, fiery advance singles “Bruxist Gin” and “The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller” are lent more bite within the context of the record, operating as moments of aggression that go from merely impressive as standalone works to genuinely flooring as pieces that tether together a greater whole. Pile can soothe, surge, and seethe with the best of them but Green and Gray finds them performing at an impossibly high level.

Apart from just the trio of singles that preceded Green and Gray‘s release, nearly every song on the record would be a standout if it was isolated from the record. Taken together, Green and Gray plays like a religious moment of epiphany, enough to leave most listeners reeling. Taken in one full sitting on a pair of decent headphones and it becomes an emotional tour de force, verging on annihilation. Even with Maguire’s ever-present hints of nihilism, there’s a sense of place and purpose inherent to this body of work that allows this set of songs to hit harder than normal.

By the time the final section draws the curtains, Green and Gray is standing confidently in the smoke of its own self-made fire; a scorched-earth victory pose for the most complete work of the band’s career. Far and away one of 2019’s best records, Green and Gray sees Pile perfecting nearly every aspect of their songwriting, leaving next to no room for improvement. Put simply, this is an unforgettable masterpiece from today’s best rock band. Get a copy. Now.

Listen to Green and Gray below and pick up a copy from Exploding In Sound here.

Empath – Active Listening: Night On Earth (Album Review, Stream)

Friday saw the release of one of the year’s more quietly anticipated albums, Empath‘s Active Listening: Night On Earth. Early singles had all hinted at Active Listening: Night On Earth being a singular release that straddled the divide between art-punk and basement pop and the record lives up to that promise in full. A swirling storm of controlled chaos, Active Listening: Night On Earth should firmly establish Empath as not just one of today’s weirdest punk bands but  one of the best.

There’s an improbable beauty underneath the gnarled veneer of these tracks, which is typically coaxed out by lovely synth work and some tender vocal melodies. While those two traits interlock with each other, the band’s rhythm section goes to work, committing themselves to a rare level of ferocity that only comes about one in a while. Those competing halves somehow never overwhelm each other, which is where much of the please of Empath’s blown-out aesthetic lies.

In their moments of restraint, Empath achieves a breathtakingly gorgeous effect and when they give in to their most destructive impulses, the uncertainty rockets up to a level that surpasses observation and is felt directly, creating a series of jarring moments that near transcendence. Throughout the record, the band provides windows to both outcomes but slam them before too long, keeping the listener engaged and invested. Take together, it can be an overwhelming experience but it’s the rare overwhelming experience that will keep beckoning for returns. Active Listening indeed.

Listen to Active Listening: Night On Earth below and pick up a copy here.