Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Alvvays

Julien Baker – Appointments (Music Video)

Over the past few days, a typically strong stream of music videos emerged with acts like The Weather Station, Unnatural Helpers, Mutts, Leroy Francis, Alvvays, Delsinki Records, Intergalactic Lovers, King Krule, and Cut Worms all getting in on the fun. While all of those videos — as is always the case — are worth a look, it was the visual accompaniment to Julien Baker‘s characteristically devastating new single “Appointments” that hit hardest.

Baker can already claim one of this present decade’s best clips in “Sprained Ankle” so any news of a new video is cause for elevated attention. In the two years that have elapsed since that notable release, Baker’s grown as an artist and grown in conviction over artistic choices. That much is clearly evident from the fiercely committed performance the songwriter delivers at the center of the Sophia Peer-directed clip for “Appointments”.

Baker, complemented by some striking DP work by Adam Uhl, appears appropriately haunted at the outset of the clip, growing more confident as the filmic narrative progresses. The song’s narrative, as bruised and battered as anything from Baker’s spellbinding solo debut, explodes the small moments that can shatter relationships into central focus. As that story plays out in song, the one on film grows in empathy as a cast of Baker’s friends provide a dichotomy by surrounding the guitarist/vocalist’s smallest, loneliest moments with company.

Whether those dancers are supposed to represent specters of the past or a wish for the present is open to interpretation but either way that’s pushed lands with an abundance of meaning. It’s a forceful reminder of how we treat the relationships to our lives, both central and peripheral, and the power that they can carry, whether we realize it in the moment or are stuck pining for them in their absence. By the time “Appointments” muted but hopeful resolution enters, it’s already made its case with enough certainty to make sure that it lingers long after its gone.

Watch “Appointments” below and pre-order Turn Off the Lights from Matador here.

One Great Week, Five Great Records

A small handful of anticipated records were released over the past week, as well as a few surprises. From veteran acts to those looking to capitalize on heavily acclaimed debuts to new acts with no name recognition looking to make the mark, it was a typically diverse week in the world of music. Five of those records hit incredibly hard and will be expanded upon in the main section but don’t let that distract you from some incredible releases by the following: Small Circle, Dead Stars, Claire Nelson-Lifson, Partner, Tomberlin, Even As We Speak, Baby Jesus, L.A. Witch, and Small Souls, all of which nearly were featured themselves. As always, everything’s worth hearing, so block out any excess noise and surrender to the magnetic pull of each and every one of these releases.

1. Alvvays – Antisocialites

Alvvays had a lot to live up to after their breakthrough debut and they’ve more than delivered with Antisocialites, expanding on the ideas and the aesthetic of their winsome first record. All of the impossibly magnetic melodies are intact while the arrangements are a hair sharper this time around, the instrumental interplay and vocal decisions bolstering an immensely likable record. Sometimes the records we hope bands will make wind up being made and Antisocialites is one of those records. Hit play and fall in love.

2. Sundial Mottos – Sundial Mottos

Sundial Mottos are a new band, who just happen to feature A Years Worth of Memories contributor Alisa Rodriguez, as well as Midnight RerunsGraham Hunt and Brady Murphy. They also just happen to be extremely good and responsible for one of the best EP’s to come out of the Upper Midwest this year with their self-titled debut. Hunt remains one of the better lyricists working today and delivers another acutely-realized and lived-in narratives with the opener “Service Industry”, which also boasts some effective slide work. It’s an impressive start to an EP that never comes close to wearing out its welcome.

3. Strange Relations – Editorial You

Strange Relations have made a habit of snagging feature write-ups on this site — most recently with Editorial You‘s exceptional “Say You” — so it’s probably too much of a surprise to see their name here yet again. Editorial You, the band’s latest record is also, by far, the best work of their already formidable discography. The band’s grip on dynamics, arrangements, and atmospherics (and just about everything else that can make a record great) has grown and their mastery is on full display throughout the record. Easily one of the year’s most intriguing, inventive, and downright arresting records.

4. Beachtape – Hold Music

Beachtape, another band from the excellent Sweden-based punk label PNKSLM have been featured on Heartbreaking Bravery a few times before, always offering up hints at their identity. With Hold Music, the band finally feels complete. An astonishingly good EP that blends elements of dream-pop, surf, shoegaze, and basement punk into an extremely enticing tapestry, Hold Music is the type of EP that’s destined to turn quite a few heads. It’s hard not to imagine that if Beachtape continues down the path they’re on, a lot more people will know their name.

5. Lomelda – Thx

One of the more gently unassuming songwriters of the past few years, Lomelda, found a nice push in signing to Double Double Whammy (a label already responsible for the release of several of the years best records including Cende and Great Grandpa) for Thx, one of this year’s finest bedroom pop records. Wielding an incredibly enticing sense of melody and a penchant for relatable narratives, Thx quietly swings for the fences and finds itself lost in thought as it rounds the bases. An absolutely soundtrack for the colder seasons.

A Month’s Worth of Music Videos Worth Watching

Songs weren’t the only category absolutely lousy with gems over the past six or seven weeks. In that same time span, a whole host of outstanding music videos made their way into the world, from old favorites, unfamiliar faces, and just about everyone in between. Below is a compilation of some of the most impressive of those offerings. A few more will be featured in some capacity shortly but for now, enjoy the treasure trove of links below. Dive in and swim around a little, there are a lot of great surprises to discover.

Great Grandpa, Sloan Peterson, Pinact, Zuli, Littler, Dearly Beloved, Tashaki Miyaki, Amy O, Kane Strang, Juiceboxxx, Tall Friend, Peach PyramidSiobhan Wilson, Mattiel, Absolutely Not, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Kevin Devine, Widowspeak, Alvvays, Caroline Says, Waxahatchee, Sam Patch, Milked, Mister Heavenly, Mise en Scene, Yi, Japanese Breakfast, The Lonely Biscuits, Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else, New Swears, Lee Ranaldo, Big Hush, Melkbelly, MRYGLD, Phoebe Bridgers, Wilder Maker.

James Elkington, Wolf Parade, Aaron D’Alesio, Dave Depper, Sharkmuffin, Cloakroom (x2), Emily Rockarts, Post Lovers, Pkew Pkew Pkew (x2), Torres, Broken Social Scene, Captain We’re Sinking, Secret Crush, Stars, Le Mutant, Oxbow, Laura Carbone, Hamell On Trial, Ha Ha Tonka, OHMME, Grim Streaker, Cody & Danz, Little Junior, Grey Gersten, Chad VanGaalen, Guerilla Toss, Dutch Uncles, Birds, Froth, The Van T’s, RYAN Playground, The Mynabirds, A Giant DogMÄRVEL, Fits, Walrus.

Beach Fossils, Mount Kimbie, Dylan Lancaster, Courtney Marie Andrews, Korey Dane, Fassine, The Savage Radley, Tamino, EMA, Francobollo, Elle Mary & The Bad Men, Wand, Hero FisherCymbals Eat Guitars, Playboy Manbaby, Cotillon, Moses Sumney, The Gift of Gab, Rainbrother, Sheer Mag, The Vacationists, The Broken Hearts, Wild Honey, Auction for the Promise Club, Alice Limoges, Flood Coats, Hammydown, football, etc., Camp Cope, Joy Downer, tunic, Manchester Orchestra, Men I Trust, Oshwa.

Gracie and Rachel, Us and Us Only, Black Kids, Club Night, Angelo De Augustine, Ritual Talk, Algiers, The New Respects, Wieuca, Alex Lahey, Passion Pusher, Steelism, Tattoo Money, Ross Goldstein, Andy Gabbard, Grandbrothers, and a whole series from Raj and the 100’s.

A Month’s Worth of Songs Worth Hearing

It’s been a long stretch since the last main update ran on this site. Part of the reason for its absence is a slow relocation from central Wisconsin to Madison and all of the accompanying transitional necessities. Part of it’s due to my own musical obligations (Heartbreaking Bravery remains a one-person operation). All of that said, the work and updates that keep this place afloat have continued in earnest. Below, there are over 200 songs that emerged over the past month (and a few additional weeks) that deserve to be heard. There will be a handful more that are touched on in the near future but for now, bookmark this page and explore the endless amount of reasons why the people who claim there’s no interesting music being made today have no idea what they’re talking about.

Patsy’s Rats, Fake Palms, Queen Moo, Swanning, Baby!, Lomelda, UV-TV, Jack Cooper, Gorgeous, Shannon Lay, Small Reactions (x2), Lina Tullgren, Atlas Wynd, Melina Mae, Jenny O., Terror Watts, Ephrata, Amy OBunny, Apollo Vermouth, Beachtape, Girl Ray, Speedy Ortiz, The Cribs, Cannery Terror, Arrows of Love (x2), Easy Love, Pardoner (x2), Walter Etc., Maneka, The Lovebirds, Birds, Becca Mancari, Holiday Ghosts, together PANGEA, Soft Fangs, Honey, Downtown Boys, The Districts, Club Night.

Monk Parker, Guided By Voices, Big Hush, Deerhoof, The Duke Spirit, Partner, Space Mountain, Surfer Rosie, The Mynabirds, Mini Dresses, Winter, Wieuca, Knifey, A. Savage, Katie Ellen, Guilt Mountain, EMA, Ayo River, Luke Sital-Singh, Black Beach, The Travelling Band, Curtis Harding, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Culture Abuse, Alvvays, The Sighs, Earth Girl Helen Brown, Holy Hum, Hypoluxo, The Fresh & Onlys, Dream Ritual, Guantanamo Baywatch, Brian Dewar, Warbly Jets, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Oh Sees.

Annie Hart (x2), Sløtface, Company of Thieves, Lushloss, Las Rosas, Boris, Shelley ShortCRITTÉ, Joey Sweeney & The Neon Grease, Lambchop, Dina Maccabee, Hiss Golden Messenger, Looming, Faith Healer, Jogging House, Filthy Friends, TV Sets, Goat Girl, No Friends, Hairpins, The Warp/The Weft, Body Origami, Broken Social Scene, Shagg, Omni, Ice Balloons (x2), Max Chillen and the Kerbside Collective, Anna Tosh, Carmen Villain, Dabble, Hayden Calnin, Hand Habits, WHIMM, Grizzly Bear, Turnover, Coast Modern.

Sparks, Ian Randall Thornton, Har-Di-Har, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, The Shivers, Broncho, James Riotto, Naomi Punk, Tamino, Fassine, Shabazz Palaces, Jordan Klassen, Wet Dream, Offa Rex, Emily Reo, Kan Wakan, Night Talk, Cina Polada, Bombz, Cold Specks, Juiceboxxx, Pearl Earl, Zola Jesus, Absolutely NotNØMADS, Space Camp, Poppy Ackroyd, Oro Swimming Hour, Flesh WorldLød, Nassau, Living, The Anatomy of Frank, Quiet Hollers, Elle Mary & The Bad Men, Stone Irr, Lil Tits, Crooked Teeth.

King Borneo, Kazyak (x2), Swimming Tapes, Prism Tats (x2), Bloody Your Hands, Tom Hale, Fake Billy and the False Prophets, Electric Eye, Briana Marela, The Tambo Rays, Oly Sherman, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Everyone Is Dirty, Gladys Lazer, Fronds, Mappe Of (x2), Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Shout Out Louds, Heavenalive, Kabells, Flood Coats, Tempest le Mans, Spirit Award, Babygirl, Kinder, Weatherboy, Pawns, Memnon Sa, Mark Springer, Reese McHenry & Spider Bags, Triptides, Cadet Kelly.

The Weather Station, Will Hoge, A Valley Son, Shy, Low, Dent May, Parent, Jordan B. Wright, Kele OkerekeTed Leo, Blank Range, Tomo Nakayama, The Woggles, Whispertown, The Two Tens, Wild Honey, Sam ValdezSusanne Sundfør, Pill, Peakes, Muskets, THE VAN T’s, Ruby FrayRainer Maria, METZ, Lens Mozer, and Petite League.

The Seven Best Songs of the Past Three Weeks

As promised in the earlier posts, below is the first run of the very best songs to find their way onto this site’s radar in the past three weeks. Site staples and new faces combine to make up a varied list of explosive, barn-burning tracks and breathtaking ballads. Everything here holds enough potential for serious longevity that they were granted individual spotlights.  Don’t hesitate: click play and start exploring.  

Alvvays – In Undertow

Ever since their self-titled debut, Alvvays have been consistently unveiling new material, either at their shows, in snippets, or as fully-formed songs. “In Undertow” is the latter of those examples and one of the most promising. Enticing and quietly exhilarating like the tracks that comprised Alvvays, “In Undertow” definitively proves that the band hasn’t lost any of their deft touch and that their grasp and control over dynamics has only deepened with time. Brimming with confidence and tender feeling, “In Undertow” is a song worth leaving on repeat.

The Stevens – Pulling All the Facts Together

A consistently excellent act that somehow managed to prove elusive until a short while back, The Stevens operate in the Flying Nun mold but offer a subtle Captured Tracks kind of twist. Clean, jangling post-punk heavily informed by classic powerpop forebears, they make exactly the type of music that tends to get featured on this site. “Pulling All the Facts Together” is the group at their most refined, a rambling cacophony of effective hooks wrapped up in a clever arrangement. Winsome and light, “Pulling All the Facts Together” stands as a summertime staple.

Waxahatchee – Never Been Wrong

A personal split, a lineup adjustment, and a new lease on what life can offer have led Waxahatchee straight to another career highlight in “Never Been Wrong”. One of guitarist/vocalist Katie Crutchfield‘s most forcefully bruising songs since P.S. Eliot bleeds new life into the Waxahtchee project. Melancholic, aggressive, and defiantly triumphant all at once, “Never Been Wrong” is what the project’s been angling towards since the aftermath of American Weekend and now that it’s found a definitive destination, it’s impossible to avoid the desire to make a litany of return visits.

Oro Swimming Hour – Overthrown

Oro Swimming Hour has been turning a handful of heads lately with their restrained take on folk-inflected powerpop. Recalling acts like Old 97’s and Grandaddy at their most compelling, the project’s been offering up songs like the warm, inviting “Overthrown” with the same casual ease that helps define the songs. Exceptionally lovely and endlessly replayable, “Overthrown” is the type of unassuming track people build entire mix tapes around to impress the person they want to keep close. In short: it’s a gem.

Radioactivity – Infected

Very few records that have been released over the past handful of years have matched the sheer tenacious energy of Radioactivity‘s self-titled record, easily the equal of Jeff Burke’s best work in the band that made his name recognizable (The Marked Men). The various band members have kept busy since then, navigating a multitude of projects and injecting them with the same kind of fervor they bring to each project. Silent Kill, the band’s follow-up to Radioactivity indicated that they were ready to keep surging forward and “Infected”, the band’s latest hyper-energetic basement pop single, proves that they’re far from done. We should all count ourselves lucky.

Great Grandpa – Expert Eraser

The third jaw-dropping Great Grandpa song in a recent string of attention-ensnaring turn-ins, “Expert Eraser” sees the band going relentlessly heavy. Bold, bruising, and unapologetic in its deranged ferocity, “Expert Eraser” is somewhat of a departure from “Teen Challenge” and “Fade” but enhances the band’s already surprisingly distinctive identity, adding a considerable depth of range to an already formidable formula. At this point, nearly every song on the act’s forthcoming record would need to be a tedious bore to take it out of the Album of the Year conversation. History — not to mention the band’s early discography — indicates that’s not a viable option.

Big Thief – Mary

No one could have predicted how fast Big Thief wound up turning in a masterful follow-up to last year’s aptly titled Masterpiece. Even more unexpected: the band wound up releasing the most spellbinding, elegiac track of their already-impressive career in “Mary”. Hushed, halfway haunted, and painfully intimate, “Mary” is five and a half minutes of pure, unbridled longing. Recorded in the house of guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Adrianne Lenker’s grandparents Andover, MN home with Twain‘s Mat Davidson. Informed by sorrow as much as it is joy and contentment, “Mary” straddles the duality of the human experience with a quiet, breathless rapture. “Mary” isn’t just one of the best songs of 2017, it’s one of the best of the decade. Mute everything and get lost to its gentle pull.

Watch This: The Best of 2017’s First Quarter, Pt. III

The first two parts of this four-part series shedding light on some of the finest live videos to see the light of the day over 2017’s first three months largely focused on single song takes, with a few two-song performances for good measure. The latter two of this series turns the attention to full sessions. Part three, specifically, focuses on long takes of these sessions encompassed in a single video, an area that places like KEXP — who are featured here multiple times — have wisely made their calling card. All of the performances and bands featured in this third installment of this review are worthy of celebration. So, as always, get excited, try to keep calm, lean in, hit play, and Watch This.

PART III

1. Car Seat Headrest (KEXP)
2. PWR BTTM (NPR)
3. Sad13 (WKNC)
4. Cloud Nothings (KEXP)
5. Mannequin Pussy (Audiotree)
6. Hazel English (Rough Trade)
7. Alvvays (CBC Music)
8. Big Thief (NPR)
9. The Spirit of the Beehive (WKNC)
10. Jeff Rosenstock (Little Elephant)
11. Crying (Audiotree)
12. Priests (PressureDrop.tv)
13. Lee Fields & The Expressions (KEXP)
14. Horse Jumper of Love (Audiotree)
15. Angel Olsen (KEXP)
16. The Regrettes (PressureDrop.tv)
17. Thee Oh Sees (KEXP)
18. Mall Walk (PressureDrop.tv)
19. Los Campesinos! (KEXP)
20. Fai Baba (KEXP)
21. Terry Malts (PressureDrop.tv)
22. Haley Bonar (KEXP)
23. Let’s Eat Grandma (KEXP)
24. Valgeir Sigurðsson & Jodie Landau (KEXP)
25. Explosions In The Sky (Moshcam)

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.

Watch This: Vol. 84

Nothing was posted on this site over the holiday weekend but there were multiple items that were being prepared. One of them, naturally, was the weekly installment of Watch This– a series that celebrates some of the finest live video captures of that week. A lot of familiar faces are featured in this installment, especially considering the massive promotional runs that the teams for Courtney Barnett and Torres (two of the more exciting live acts of the moment) have managed to string together. Once again, a lot of videos that were considered for feature in this 84th issue point towards a fascinating spike of quality in this format. Artists in those videos include: The Kyle Sowashes, Andrew Bird, Fat White Family, Perfume Genius, The Fall, Rozwell Kid, DYGL, Mitski, Klangstof, Strand of Oaks, Heartless Bastards, Other Lives, and Crosss. So, as always, sit up, lean in, settle down, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Alvvays – Archie, Marry Me (BBC)

“Archie, Marry Me” was first released in 2013 to a small amount of claim but eventually blossomed into one of 2014’s defining songs with its re-release. Now, two years after it was first introduced to the world, it still sounds vital despite the amount of playtime (and references) it’s received. Alvvays recently played the Glastonbury festival and knocked the single out of the park with a heartfelt rendition- something that wasn’t lost on an effusive crowd. Fortunately, for everyone, the BBC had their cameras rolling and captured the whole thing.

2. Courtney Barnett – The Fox (The Current)

Courtney Barnett is an exhilarating performer and her insistent placement in this series is continuously justified and warranted. Barnett and her band recently stopped by the twin cities to deliver a powerhouse set as part of the Rock The Garden festival. While the songwriter had strong showings via a solo performance of “Depreston” for Jimmy Fallon and a typically charged take on “Pedestrian At Best“, it was the capture of “The Fox” that played strongest, earning its placement here.

3. Torres (Sound Opinions)

Over the past several installments of this series, no artist has made as many appearances as Torres. Now deep into a fierce touring schedule, Mackenzie Scott’s assembled a (relatively) new crew of musicians to perform the songs and the group taps into three of Sprinter‘s more subdued tracks for Consequence of Sound’s Sound Opinions series. Never anything less than enthralling, there’s a gentle- but firm- grip that gets held throughout this run of “Son, You Are No Island”, “The Harshest Light”, and “Ferris Wheel”. There’s some strange magic at work here and it’s best to just let go and lose yourself to its power.

4. PINS – Young Girls (WFUV)

Wild Nights has already established PINS as one of 2015’s most exciting breakout acts and here- in a characteristically angular session for WFUV- the band stealthily unloads on the record’s finest song, “Young Girls”. It’s a startling reminder of the quartets considerable talent(s) and will likely act as a perfect introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the band. Confident and measured, completely self-aware and reassuringly uninhibited, their performance here goes a long way in laying out the myriad of bigger opportunities that will become available to this band over time.

5. Exquisite Corpse (NPR)

Some things are just so enticing and beautiful that they warrant featuring, no matter their distance from the regular coverage spectrum. In this clip, a small troupe of jazz musicians comprised of different groups play a game of exquisite corpse, with each section taking an idea from one group’s presentation of a song and expanding on it until it becomes a whole; an evolving construction that provides room for individual showcases without ever succumbing to anything other than camaraderie and trust. Gorgeously lensed- and performed on Duke Ellington’s grave- this is a truly remarkable piece of work, noteworthy by even NPR’s enviable standards.

Watch This: 2015, Vol. 2

static

Just like yesterday, and just like tomorrow, there will be a video mixtape compiling some of the most electrifying live performance clips of this past year in an effort to breathe some much-needed life back into the Watch This series that was once a regular staple. In the absolute blur that has been the past four months, this site held onto every scrap of notable material that came swinging through the winter breezes, even if they weren’t always posted about immediately. Watch This once stood as this place’s pulse, a heartbeat that directly emphasized a too-frequently overlooked part of musical culture: stunning live clips. Each week, five from that week would be compiled, written about, and strongly admired. Winsome performances and genuinely stunning a/v are the regular driving forces behind some of the very best the series has ever had to offer- and several of the 25 clips presented here (all selected because they represent the very best of what 2015’s had to offer) certainly fit that mold. Since that’s about as strong of a lead-in as I can manage, I’ll go ahead and leave off- once again- with the tag: sit back, turn the volume up, zero in, and Watch This.

1. Will Butler – Take My Side (Late Show with David Letterman)
2. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love (Sound Opinions)
3. Tenement – Cage That Keeps You In (Don Giovanni Records)
4. Light FM – Pointless (3FM)
5. Parquet Courts – Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth (Coachella)
6. Twerps – Simple Feelings (Pitchfork)
7. NE-HI – Sunbleed (Radio K)
8. Torres – Sprinter (WNYC)
9. Nude Beach (KEXP)
10. Ride – Seagull (KCRW)
11. Unlikely Friends – Wasted It & Sunken Eyes (KEXP)
12. Cherry Glazerr – Had Ten Dollaz (KEXP)
13. Glen Hansard – Being In Love (Late Show with David Letterman)
14. Alvvays – Archie, Marry Me (KEXP)
15. The Staves – Black & White + Teeth White (La Blogotheque)
16. Saintseneca – Fed Up With Hunger (Exclaim)
17. Kevin Morby – All My Life (Bandwith.fm)
18. Laura Marling – Walk Alone (NPR)
19. Avers – Harvest (Bandwith.fm)
20. Sand Creeps – No Idea Laughter (Radio K)
21. Creepoid (unARTigNYC)
22. Bully – I Remember (Pitchfork)
23. Toro Y Moi – Empty Nesters (KCRW)
24. Kevin Devine – Go Haunt Someone Else (Little Elephant)
25. Courtney Barnett (NPR)

14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014

LVL UP II

One last time for one last 2014 list: “best” is in no way an attempt to be an objective statement. The terminology is shorthand to reflect personal taste and is not to be construed as anything more. Also, for the purposes of a more personal summary in this year-end coverage period, this site’s regular restriction on first person will be lifted. In 2014, I listened to more music that was released throughout the year than any other in my life. Numbering well upwards of a thousand releases, it proved impossible to keep tracks on everything (I’m already certain a few of these lists are missing more than a few titles that I genuinely loved)- but there were a few items that were worth remembering. Below are 14 records that managed to carve their way into my esteem both instantaneously and through the process of time. Below that is what turned into the most extensive list I’ve ever assembled, one that acts as an unnecessary validation that good music is being created at an excessively high volume (all of which is hyperlinked to either a full stream or a representative portion). We’re living in a golden age for access and music continues to reap the benefits allowed by technology.  In that spirit, it’s worth noting that a lot of the names included below won’t always be the most recognizable- this is due to both that volume and the fact this site’s built on a foundation that ensures bands who are marginalized will be given the consideration they deserve. So, with all of that noted, it’s time to move on to the main attraction: 14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014.

14. Taulard – Les Abords Du Lycée

2014’s most unexpected gem, Les Abords Du Lycée, is a mesmerizing listening that drives home taut organ/drums/vocals post-punk with a startling amount of verve. Endlessly charismatic and unpredictable, the dozen tracks on display here constantly twist and turn, never once daring to let the listener catch their breath. Mood and tempo changes abound on one of 2014’s most fearlessly unique records. Even for those who aren’t even remotely well-versed in the French language, Les Abords Du Lycée should be a thrilling listen; something like unbridled passion can always translate well enough to near the universal.

13. La Dispute – Rooms of the House

What’s easily one of 2014’s boldest concepts roots La Dispute’s mesmerizing Rooms of the House, a record that shows La Dispute’s rapid maturation with a weary grace. Centered around a meticulously brilliant narrative device, it’s a record that stunned me on my first few listens before growing into an inescapable force of nature that refused to leave my thoughts. As bleak as anything the post-hardcore has ever produced, Rooms of the House finds its strength through focus and restraint, zeroing in on difficult topics with a keen eye and an abundance of determination. Blisteringly personal and nearly voyeuristic, it stands as one of 2014’s fiercest artistic statements.

12. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood

Two Inch Astronaut’s Foulbrood has come up more than a few times on the site over the past handful of months thanks to its casual brilliance. Wielding an enticing palette of influences ranging from Drive Like Jehu to their contemporaries in Exploding in Sound, Two Inch Astronaut managed to conjure up one of the most impressive sophomore efforts of the year. The title track, “Part of Your Scene“, and “Dead White Boy” all earned themselves individual write-ups on the basis of their appealingly off-kilter and ragged identity. Foulbrood‘s a record that knows exactly what it wants to be and goes straight for the throat, sending a trail of viscera flying it its wake.

11. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

One of the things I kept coming back to throughout the course of music in 2014 was Jayson Gerycz’s drumming on this record. Not just because it’s a staggering individual performance but because there’s an undefinable, inherent quality that exists within that drumming which drives this record to obscene heights. Impossibly, stripped of the drumming, the record succeeds wildly in an acoustic setting and demonstrates Dylan Baldi’s increasing proficiency as a songwriter, a vocalist, and a guitarist. After losing a member in guitarist Joe Boyer, Cloud Nothings somehow managed to transform themselves into an act that was simultaneously heavier and poppier than when they were a quartet. Importantly, this is a record that’s built to last and it’s only grown on me as the year’s progressed (and that trend’s not showing any signs of slowing).

10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day

As beguiling as it is bewitching, Ought’s brit-pop influenced post-punk masterpiece was a record that sounded triumphant right out of the gate. Slowly, that triumph turned to transcendence and the songs contained within More Than Any Other Day became unavoidable mission statements. In terms of scope, the majority of More Than Any Other Day feels as epic as LCD Soundsystem operating at their best. Both acts share a penchant for sprawling structures and self-containment, bridging a gap between intimacy and grandeur with a knack for deceptive, intricate songwriting. Anthemic and mundane, More Than Any Other Day was like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart, waiting for the resuscitated with a sly grin and a memorable, tossed-off joke. Excessively charming and utterly winsome, it’s a record that felt (and still feels) necessary.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club

“E.M.O.”, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club‘s thrilling centerpiece, recently appeared in this site’s best songs of 2014 list- but the song’s only one part of a much larger picture. At once, one of the year’s most joyous and pissed off releases, Jawbreaker Reunion tore through a variety of serious issues with aplomb on their absolutely stunning debut effort. Other than distilling songs like “Laughing Alone Eating a Salad” with a wicked sense of humor, the whole affair’s imbued with an enviably powerful sense of songcraft. Lo-fi, DIY, punk, and teeming with an understanding of classic pop, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s boldest introductions- it was also one of its best.

8. PURPLE 7 – Jewel Finger

PURPLE 7 boasts a lineup that’s accompanied by an impressive pedigree. Members of the band have previously played in bands like Defiance, Ohio, Landlord, and Hot New Mexicans (whose self-titled record ranks among my all-time favorites and currently leads my “best of decade” selections). Unsurprisingly, their debut LP effort hits a lot of sweet spots, including a gritty middle point between basement punk and basement pop. Simply put, this is a stunning collection of songs that was overlooked by most to a baffling degree after its release. Grounded, humble, and heartfelt, Jewel Finger is one of the records that reminds me of the reasons I started this site. This is music that deserves to be celebrated.

7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Arguably 2014’s first truly great release, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness saw the songwriter transition from a promising talent into one of the year’s most arresting figures. Embracing a fuller sound and a newfound confidence, Burn Your Fire For No Witness broke Angel Olsen’s career wide open with an onslaught of genuinely haunting tunes. Whether they were relentlessly spare or soaked in noir-ish tendencies, they were uniformly captivating; both the storm and the eerie silence before. Raw, tender, and occasionally antagonistic, Burn Your Fire For No Witness was one thing above all else: unforgettable.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

From the devastating opening lines all the way through to the climactic finish, LOSE holds its ground as one 2014’s most frighteningly personal albums. Largely influenced by the death of a friend close to the band, it’s a meditation on loss and the surrounding aspects of something so tragic. Easily Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest work to date both lyrically and musically, it’s a powerful (and powerfully moving) listen. “Warning”, in particular, cuts deep- which is one of the reasons why it wound up on the best songs of 2014 list just a few days ago. Incredibly impassioned and brave in its sincerity, LOSE finds a level of catharsis in its emotional turbulence, lending it a charge that renders it one of the year’s most human (and most important) releases.

5. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love

Perfect Pussy, for better or worse, have become intrinsically linked with this site. From Meredith Graves’ insistence on tangential involvement (which I’ll forever be grateful for) to the fact that the band’s greater ascension matched up with the very start of this site, they’re a band I’ve gone step for step with since bringing Heartbreaking Bravery into existence. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so fiercely drawn to the things that they were doing, though, which is why I approached them in the first place. Ever since those beginnings, it’s been a privilege to watch them progress, to travel at lengths to watch them play, and to see them release a record as enormously powerful as Say Yes To Love, a collection which houses my favorite song of 2014 (and possibly of this decade so far). Unapologetic, personal, damaged, resilient, powerful, feral, oddly triumphant, and unbelievably intense, Say Yes To Love operates as a perfect reminder for all of the reasons why I fell in love with this band- and why I’ll continue to pay close attention to their movements.

4. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love

No band in 2014 made a more stunning artistic leap than Iceage, who went from a static blur to matching the swaggering heights of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds after discovering their voice. Plowing Into The Field Of Love was a startlingly radical change of pace for Iceage, who imbue the record with a curious restraint and a sense of deeply haunted Americana. Southern Gothic touch points are littered throughout the record’s bleak landscape, while making room for plaintive ornamentation in the form of brass, string, and piano figures. Darker and more self-aware than anything in the band’s career, Plowing Into The Field Of Love earned them quite a few words of praise from this very site. Augmented by some legitimately extraordinary music videos, Plowing Into The Field Of Love proved to be an unexpectedly rattling experience. Easily one of the year’s most divisive records (as is the case with any left turns this sharp), it suggested Iceage’s ambitions ran way deeper than anyone expected and, subsequently, that they had the know-how to see those ambitions to fruition. In chasing their whimsy they wound up with something I wouldn’t fault anyone for calling a masterpiece.

3. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek

My connection with Mitski’s music is something that will always hold a very personal resonance. I’ll leave most of the reasoning behind that statement to a forthcoming piece but it’s worth noting in regards to a record that’s so unabashedly self-exploratory. Bury Me At Makeout Creek was an enthralling re-introduction for Mitski, who saw it rightfully skyrocket her name recognition. Top to bottom, it’s an extraordinary effort that re-defined her artistic capabilities after a string of meticulously composed records that leaned on chamber pop tendencies. Here, that past gets blown to bits almost immediately. One of my favorite experiences in music listening all year came when “Texas Reznikoff” explodes in its final section- another came while listening to one of the best songs I’ve heard this decade (for obvious reasons, considering that statement). Where Bury Me At Makeout Creek manages to approach the transcendental is in the process of allowing listeners to hear an artist coming into their own. Part of Mitski’s identity is laid bare by Bury Me At Makeout Creek: it’s the unwillingness to accept identity as a static object and the desire to question its cumulative elements. That search is what gives Bury Me At Makeout Creek its bruised heart- and it’s why musicians will use it as a source of inspiration for several years to come.

2. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song

After the exhilarating highs of Something Wild, Radiator Hospital had a tall order for their follow-up. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), they obliterated those towering expectations with Torch Song. Sounding more confident- and more polished- than ever before, Torch Song cemented Sam Cook-Parrott’s status as one of this generation’s keenest emerging voices. Paying attention to the minutiae of everyday experiences and injecting them with a self-deprecating sense of poetry laced with pessimism, the songs contained on this record all aim to cut and find their mark with an incredible amount of ease. Having already established themselves as one of today’s more formidable units musically, Torch Song has the added benefit of having four loaded personalities find each other in total harmony, each acting as a complement to the other. Personal diatribes, small journeys of self-discovery, and a sense of empathy inform Torch Song and help cultivate its unassuming charm. There’s not a weak track among the record’s 15 songs and it maintains an assured sense of pace throughout its relatively breezy runtime. By the time it draws to a close, it stands as one of the most fully-formed and rewarding records of recent memory.

1. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d

I don’t think any record resonated more for me throughout the course of 2014 than LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, which I revered with literally no reservations. 2014’s strongest sophomore effort, Hoodwink’d saw LVL UP expanding most of the elements that made Space Brothers such an incredible release and retained all the others. Unreasonably refined and exceedingly personable, LVL UP have always found a strength in accentuating their members’ unique personalities and that trend got pushed to the forefront for their second full-length (which was co-released by Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound). Utilizing a distinctly unique take on their 90’s influences, the band also reveled in the benefits of a cleaner production that allowed them to sound more massive than they ever have in the past. No release felt more timely than Hoodwink’d, either, with the record practically serving as a stand-in voice for a disenfranchised sect of people. Alternately crushingly heavy, viciously poppy, relentlessly personal, and completely worn-out, Hoodwink’d never loses sight of its own mechanics. There’s a level of mutual understanding on display here that separates it from the rest of the year’s releases. Everyone feeds off each other, everyone supports each other, and everyone contributes to one hell of a set without even coming close to overstaying their welcome. Conversely, Hoodwink’d also ranks as one of the year’s most welcoming releases, radiating an empathetic warmth in its tone (and in its tones). As an entry in LVL UP’s catalog, it’s their career best. As a general 2014 release, it’s the best thing I had the privilege of hearing all year.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the titles below without an accompanying link can be streamed in the order they’re listed via the embedded spotifly player below the list.]

Albums from 2014 that deserve to be heard:  Mean Creek – Local Losers | Happyness – Weird Little Birthday | Dark Blue – Pure Reality | Band Practice – Make Nice | Little Big League – Tropical Jinx | Happy Diving – Big World | Tweens – Tweens | Big Ups – Eighteen Hours of Static | Geronimo! – Cheap Trick | Greys – If Anything | Alvvays – Alvvays | White Lung – Deep Fantasy | Caddywhompus – Feathering A Nest | Left & Right – Five Year Plan | Ty Segall – Manipulator | Brain F/ – Empty Set | We Need Secrets – Melancholy and the Archive | Makthaverskan – II | Playlounge – Pilot | Eternal Summers – The Drop Beneath | MOURN – MOURN | Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 | The History of Apple Pie – Feel Something | Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! | Trace Mountains – Buttery Sprouts | Dead Stars – Slumber | Fear of Men – Loom | PAWS – Youth Culture Forever | Swans – To Be Kind | The Yolks – King of Awesome | Crabapple – Is It You? | The Coasts – Racilia | Purling Hiss – Weirdon | Reigning Sound – Shattered | Creepoid – Creepoid | Saintseneca – Dark Arc | Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert | Fucked Up – Glass Boys | Music Band – Can I Live | Glish – Glish | Liam Betson – The Cover of Hunter | Frankie CosmosZentropy, Donutes, Affirms Glinting | Girl Tears – Tension | Martha – Courting Strong | Hurry – Everything/Nothing | The Spirit of the Beehive – The Spirit of the Beehive | Protomartyr – Under Official Color of Right | The Gary – Farewell Foolish Objects | Spit – Getting Low | Nothing – Guilty of Everything | Sharpless – The One I Wanted To Be | Legendary Wings – Do You See | Therapy? – Act of Contrition | Chris Weisman – Monet in the 90’s | Mumblr – Full of Snakes | Cayetana – Nervous Like Me | Free Cake for Every Creature – “pretty good” | Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Party Jail | S – Cool Choices | Allo Darlin’ – We Come From The Same Place | Sneeze – Wilt | Quarterbacks – Quarterboy | The Twilight Sad – No One Wants To Be Here And No One Wants To Leave | Filmstrip – Moments of Matter | Bleeding Rainbow – Interrupt | La Sera – Hour of the Dawn | Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica | Gold-Bears – Dalliance | Sharon Van Etten – Are We There | Nude Beach – ’77 | A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos | The Gotobeds – Poor People Are Revolting | Nots – We Are Nots | Alex G – DSU | Lower – Seek Warmer Climes | Young Widows – Easy Pain | CreaturoS – Popsicle | Mr. Gnome – The Heart Of A Dark Star | Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal | Ex Hex – Rips | Trust Punks – Discipline | Failures’ Union – Tethering | Odonis Odonis – Hard Boiled Soft Boiled | Beverly – Careers | The Number Ones – The Number Ones | Tigers Jaw – Charmer | Tiger High – Inside The Acid Coven | Straight Arrows – Rising | Dead Soft – Dead Soft | The Lemons – Hello, We’re The Lemons | Baked – Debt | MAZES – Wooden AquariumSleepyhead – Wild Sometimes | Native America – Grown Up Wrong | The Wans – He Said, She Said | Trophy Wife – All the Sides | Doe – First Four | Lushes – What Am I Doing | Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting | Haley Bonar – Last War | The Casket Girls – True Love Kills The Fairy Tale | Slothrust – Of Course You Do | Sorority Noise – Forgettable | Team Spirit – Killing Time | Feral Trash – Trashfiction | Blank Pages – Blank Pages | Mr. Dream – Ultimate In Luxury | Carsick Cars – 3 | SUNN O))) & Ulver – Terrestrials | This Will Destroy You – Another Language | Vanna Inget – Ingen Botten | The Real Energy – Beyond Delay | Muuy Bien – DYI | Young Ladies – We Get By | Eureka California – Crunch | Negative Scanner – Negative Scanner | Violent Change – A Celebration Of Taste | Black Wine – Yell BossImpo & The Tents – Peek After A Poke | Tomorrows Tulips – When | Mountain Bike – Mountain Bike | The Lees of Memory – Sisyphus Says | Telepathic Lines – Telepathic Lines | The Shivas – You Know What To Do | Allah-Las – Worship the Sun | Das Rad – Radiation | The Coathangers – Suck My Shirt | Crow Bait – Sliding Through The Halls Of Fate | together PANGEA – Badillac | Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita | PUJOL – Kludge | FF – Lord | Aj Davila Y Terror Amor – Beibi | Emilyn Brodsky – Emilyn Brodsky Eats Her Feelings | Young Statues – Flatlands Are Your Friend | Cancers – Fatten the Leeches | Sam Coffey + The Iron Lungs – Gates of Hell | Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas | The Ar-Kaics – The Ar-Kaics | Beach Day – Native Echoes | Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers | Dude York – Dehumanize | Gino & The Goons – Shake It! | Kevin Morby – Still Life | Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin | Wyatt Blair – Banana Cream Dream | Queen Jesus – Darkness Yea, Yea | Joel Jerome – Psychedelic Thrift Store Folk | Espectrostatic – Escape From WitchtropolisCheap Girls – Famous Graves | Davila 666 – Pocos Anos, Muchos Danos | Parts & Labor – Receivers | Nick Thorburn – Music From SERIAL | DTCVHilarious Heaven, The Early Year | Bellows – Blue Breath | Teenager – E P L P | Spider Bags – Frozen Letter | The Paperhead – Africa Avenue | Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea | The Jazz June – After The Earthquake | Michael Sincavage – Empty Apartments (Supporting Actors) | Restorations – LP3 | MONO – The Last Dawn, Rays of Darkness | Matthew Melton – Outside of Paradise | The Vaselines – V For Vaselines | Total Control – Typical System | The Velveteens – Sun’s Up | Step-Panther – Strange But NiceExit Verse – Exit Verse | Slippertails – There’s A Disturbing Trend | Globelamp – Star Dust | Champ – Champ | Le Rug – Swelling (My Own Worst Anime) | VLMA – VLMA | Turn To Crime – Can’t Love | ScotDrakula – ScotDrakula | Warehouse – Tesseract | Muhammadali – Future Songs | Unwelcome Guests – Wavering | Baby Ghosts – Maybe Ghosts | White Mystery – Dubble Dragon | Constant Lovers – Experience Feelings | Future Islands – Singles | Maica Mia – Des Era | Tacocat – NVM | Popstrangers – Fortuna | Curtis Harding – Soul Power | New Swears – Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever | The Miami Dolphins – Becky | Thee Oh Sees – Drop | Fasano – The Factory LP | Dum Dum Girls – Too True | Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos | Metronomy – Love Letters | Great Cynics – Like I Belong | Neighborhood Brats – Recovery | Connections – Into Sixes | Three Man Cannon – Pretty Many People | Grouper – Ruins | YOB – Clearing The Path To Ascend | Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything | Apollo Brown – Thirty Eight | Hookworms – The Hum | Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down | Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean | What Moon Things – What Moon Things | Guided By VoicesMotivational Jumpsuit, Cool Planet | Gem Club – In Roses | Saturday’s Kids – The Lunatic | King of Cats – Working Out | Shopping – Tvff Noogies | The Love Triangle – Clever Clever | Nightmare Boyzzz – Bad Patterns | Future Virgins – Late Republic | Parasol – Not There | Lenguas Largas – Come On In | Cocktails – Adult Life | Generation Loss – Generation Loss | Feral Future – Haematic | Posse – Soft Opening | Diners – Always Room | Mimicking Birds – EONS | The Freezing Hands – Coma Cave ’13 | Amanda X – Amnesia | Predator – The Complete EarthWatery Love – Decorative Feeding | The Estranged – The Estranged | Steve Adamyk Band – Dial Tone | The Cry! – Dangerous Game | Ruined Fortune – Ruined Fortune | Good Throb – Fuck Off | The Elsinores – Dreams of Youth | The Bugs – The Right Time | Vacation Club – Heaven Is Too High | Freinds of Cesar Romero – Cinco Seis | Leather – Easy | Los Pepes – Los Pepes For Everyone | Juanita Y Los Felos – Nueva Numancia | Dan Webb and the SpidersEine Kleine Akustichmusik, Now It Can Be Told | Bozo Moto – BozoMoto | Low Life – Dogging | Moth – First Second | Rhythm of Cruelty – Dysphoria | Siamese Twins – Still Corner | Departure Kids – On The Go | Blessed State – Head Space | Flagland – Love Hard | Manateees – Sit N Spin | White Ass – White Ass | Ausmuteants – Order Of Operation | The Gutters – Eventually | Hysterese – Hysterese | The Ricky C Quartet – Recent Affairs | Hoax Hunters – Comfort & Safety | Arctic Flowers – Weaver