Only a few days have passed since we turned to a new calendar year and everyone’s looking ahead to resolutions. While that’s a natural way to progress, sometimes it’s worth casting a glance back, especially when the recent past was so fruitful. In all three of the major release categories (songs, music videos, and full streams), there were gems unearthed throughout December. This post is one last look at a very specific slice of 2018 before this site catches up to everyone else and reveals its picks for Music Video, Song, and Album of the Year. In honor of a recent series of tweets from Small Albums, all of the reviews below will be two sentences or less. A few of the selections below might even make an appearance. Hedge your bets on which by exploring all the offerings below.
1. Very Jazzed – Get A Job
A tongue-in-cheek post-punk rambler that’s as defiantly joyous as it is self-deprecating. “Get A Job” finds Very Jazzed in an immediate, accessible mode that suits them perfectly.
2. Guided By Voices – My Angel
One of the most dependable acts of the last few decades keeps surging forward with “My Angel”. A characteristically brief burst of energy, melody, and understanding from Guided By Voices.
3. Tørsö – Grab A Shovel
“Grab A Shovel” more than shows why Tørsö have become a revered emerging force on the DIY hardcore circuit. Gnarled, snarling, and unforgiving, it’s a monster of a track from an act worth following.
4. The Gentleman Losers – Make We Here Our Campfire
The Gentleman Losers crafted an enigmatic beauty in their recent Make We Here Our Campfire, a record headlined by its spellbinding title track. Melancholic and intuitive, “Make We Here Our Campfire” grips the senses like a vice, pulling the listener in until the very end.
1. Eerie Wanda – Sleepy Eyes
A hybrid clip for Eerie Wanda’s “Sleepy Eyes” serves as a perfect complement to the song. Part lyric video, part traditional footage, “Sleep Eyes” takes a simple concept and guides it to memorability.
LVL UP‘s dissolution may only be a few months in the past but its members are already going full bore with their new projects, including Nick Corbo’s Spirit Was. “Golden Soul” is a beautiful introduction-at-large to the project, the moody visuals perfectly suited to Corbo’s slow-burn songwriting mentality.
4. Noname – Blaxploitation
“Blaxploitation” is delivered not just as a music video but as a film, suggesting Noname‘s visual ambitions are just as bold as the ambition evidenced in the music. Playing off the monster movie film canon to supplement a pointed social commentary, “Blaxploitation” earns the film designation.
5. La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I
Every so often, something that’s so tethered to something deeply personal gives me reason to break this site’s “no first person” clause and in the case of La Dispute‘s gorgeously animated “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” it’s this: I was in a horrific car accident after a deer jumped a barricade on the interstate and left my partner’s previous car as a total loss. A scene, with some added symbolism, of an extremely similar nature is depicted throughout this clip and explores something that feels unflinching honest in its surreal, gently nightmarish portrayal.
6. Phoebe Bridgers – Killer
Phoebe Bridgers‘ Stranger In the Alps is holding strong as one of the better records of the past few years and the sublime, crisp black-and-white clip for “Killer” serves as a stark reminder of its potency. A tender, engaging clip for a song worthy of this kind of treatment.
1. Mister Goblin – Final Boy
While Two Inch Astronaut has taken a bow, Sam Woodring is still going strong, a fact evidenced by a sterling debut effort from the songwriter’s newest project, Mister Goblin. Keeping Two Inch Astronaut’s core sensibilities intact but providing them a slightly lighter sheen, Woodring finds a joy in exploring some (mostly) untapped spaces and that joy translates into a rewarding listen.
2. pting – beep beep
beep beep stands out as a charming effort from pting pting, offering three tracks of punk-indebted slacker pop that are worth every revisit.
3. Strange Ranger – etc.
A project that’s been a site favorite for a few years keeps finding intriguing ways to evolve. etc. is a fascinating left turn for Strange Ranger but one that’s in keeping with their recent exploratory bent, finding them in a bed of acoustic warmth that still has room for the electronic-heavy collaborative closer.
Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh is an endearing split release from Lrrr and Maxshh, which finds the two projects squaring off, collaborating, and contributing a Frankie Cosmos cover for good measure. A mid-fi bedroom/basement pop triumph.
5. Laura Stevenson – The Mystic & The Master
One of today’s most underrated songwriters returns and offers two strong, heartfelt tracks of contemporary folk pop. Imbued with empathy and subtle artistry, “The Mystic & The Master” and “Maker of Things” are more than deserving of their place in Laura Stevenson‘s discography.
6. Spirit Was – Golden Soul
As stated above, though LVL UP’s gone, multi-instrumentalist Nick Corbo’s most certainly not. Golden Soul finds Corbo sinking deep into contemplation while clinging to a torch, ready to set everything ablaze at a moment’s notice.
7. Another Heaven – FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER
While FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER is a title destined to have people counting on their fingers, the songs it contains are more likely to make listeners feel a sense of awareness. Urgent, thoughtful, and nearly overwhelming, Another Heaven have released a behemoth of an EP that stands among 2018’s finest releases.
In the opening half of June, a large handful of worthwhile records found their way into the public consciousness. Most of the five below (with one notable exception), only gained traction among niche audiences but were imbued with the kind of power that can make those numbers grow in increments. All of them, as ever, are more than worthy of purchasing from the band or label responsible for their release. A handful lived up to the hype and at least one seemed to appear from the ether. Give them all the kind of investment they deserve.
Snail Mail – Lush
Easily the highest-profile record on this list, site favorites Snail Mail made good on their early promise with a Matador debut. Debuting at a heartening 56 on the Billboard charts, Lush catapults the project into the public eye. Riding a wave of acclaim for their strong early work, sterling live show, smart marketing, and the strength of their advance singles ensured that Lush would be greeted with fanfare. That it’s devoid of any glaring weaknesses or gaps leaves the record as a testament to Lindsey Jordan’s abilities as a songwriter but more importantly, establishes Snail Mail as a genuine artist.
Flasher – Constant Image
Constant Image, the debut full-length from Flasher is one hell of a coming out party. Taut, hyper-melodic, and genre-blurring, the record’s a perfect encapsulation of a band that’s fully aware they’re coming into their own. Everything from the production to the sequencing here serves a larger whole rather than relegating distinctive sections. Every song on Constant Image is a career high for a band that’s already amassed a fairly impressive discography over a few short releases. Constant Image shouldn’t just put their name on the map but lock itself into the kind of heavy rotation slot that doesn’t get vacated.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are an act that’s been featured on this site multiple times for a handful of years, which makes it all the more surprising that Hope Downs is their first official album. What’s not as surprising, especially given that time to figure things out, is that it arrives fully-formed and eschews all of the easy traps lesser-versed bands fall into so frequently. The band knows there’s an advantage to risk-taking that doesn’t overreach and has figured out how to fully lock into their open-road identity. Hope Downs applies that wisdom spectacularly and winds up as an Americana-tinged triumph.
Likely the least recognizable release on this list, The Knees’ Stammer more than earns a spot among its contemporaries. Two songs of great, delirious post-punk that find fascinating ways to ramble with purpose. Aimless bridges on the title track add an impressive amount of hazy atmosphere, while the ridiculously fun “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz” offers up a galvanizing version of a childhood classic. Subversive, unexpected, brimming with confidence, and delivered with a tenacious conviction, Stammer is one of the great unexpected surprises of 2018’s middle stretch. Give it a listen and leave it on repeat.
Dusk – Dusk
Dusk is a tricky record to judge on merit, as it’s essentially a glorified repurposing of a demo that was released by the earliest iteration of the band. Four songs are added (including one that’s an alternate take on a song from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s other project, Tenement) and provide a layered depth which is welcome but where Dusk earns its spot on the list in its reinvention. Every single one of these songs benefits from what the band has become and to present them as a collective reintroduction makes sense, considering those changes have been so drastic.
As a collective, Dusk leans into soul as much as classic country, congealing all of their influence into something that’s become reminiscent of The Band, which is a far cry from their first recording. All of the songs here prove worthy of longevity, enhancing an aspect of timelessness. Dusk’s a remarkable band that’s found their power through evolution, settling into a final form that’s got a whole host of material up its sleeve. For now, we should all be more than content to sink into the spells these songs weave and be grateful to have another genuinely great record to add to our collections.
It’s an announcement that comes hot on the heels of the band’s Dirtnap 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy, which was featured here last week. That review touched upon the band’s identity, something that “Leaf” helped form in their earliest stages. There are certain songs that have the power to make you believe in a band from the jump and, even more rarely, there are songs that can rip through a person so forcefully they’re left on the verge of tears after one listen. “Leaf” is both.
The first song pianist/vocalist Julia Blair wrote for the band, even in its earliest iteration and was the kind of song that had the capacity to level crowds, leaving more than a few people breathless. In the four years since the song was released on their demo, “Leaf” has evolved with the band, the edges of booth smoothed out and refined. There’s a tender sheen “Leaf” carries, indicative of the care that’s been poured into the song over its journey to a proper release.
Now, the song has a video to do it justice, courtesy of Finn Bjornerud, who’s handled the band’s other clips (and a handful for bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s flagship project, Tenement). Anchored by lived-in performances from Rachel Crowl and Helen Kramer, the clip pays tribute to the song’s narrative while offering up the quiet visuals that define life in small-town Wisconsin (and a host of other small towns the country over). Still, Wisconsin feels specific to the band’s music and that kind of celebration is always worth noting, especially when it comes from unexpected places that are too-frequently glossed over or discarded in the pursuit of something bigger.
It’s that kind of dedication and sense of place that’s informed Dusk’s music from the onset but it’s never been extended to their visuals as beautifully as it has with “Leaf”. Landscapes both wintry and autumnal switch back and forth, tethered together with a warmth and determination that the cold seasons seem to bring out in Wisconsin’s citizens, “Leaf” finds its source of life in the smallest moments. Grocery shopping, chopping wood, loving greetings, and prep chef work all play parts (as, of course, do shots of hard liquor).
At every second, in every frame, there’s a resilient grace and a sense of affection on display. That level of welcomeness has been the band’s modus operandi since their formation and it’s only strengthened over time, a sensibility that’s escalated in their music as they moved forward. It hits its current apex here with “Leaf”, Blair’s overlaid harmonies acting in accordance with meticulously crafted visuals, creating the kind of warm blanket that the band extends to its listeners at their best. And make no mistake, “Leaf” earns a spot in that pantheon. This is the type of release that’s worthy of remembrance.
Watch “Leaf” below and pre-order Dusk from Don Giovanni here (and if you’re one of the first 300 to reserve a copy, you’ll receive an additional bonus 7″).
A solid round of full streams (or expanded samplers) have arrived over the past couple of days, coming from acts as varied as Say Sue Me, Bacchae, Spring Onion, Oceanator, The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, DEWR, Marbled Eye, and Playboy Manbaby. However, just as was the case in the last post, the focus here will shift to a release that’s been out for a bit but only recently became available for full streaming: Dusk’s new 7″ — and their first release for Dirtnap Records — The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy.
Made up of a laundry list of some of central Wisconsin’s finest musicians, Dusk’s most unenviable task is likely distinguishing themselves from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s main vehicle, Tenement. Making things a little hazier was the decision to tour the US as an expanded version of Tenement, suggesting that the distinction might not matter to them as much as the connection. It’d fit Pitsch’s history, which has long leaned more towards a familial collective than compartmentalized separation.
Still, even in the face of their similarities (and not to mention the fact that virtually every member of Dusk also spends time playing in other projects), Dusk sounds so wildly different from most of the band’s associated acts that they seem to have garnered a sterling reputation solely on their own merit. It’s been interesting to track their progress, with many people surprised to find out which members of the band they’ve seen and heard before, but it’s also been deeply worthwhile.
Dusk’s songs tilt in a more classically country-leaning direction than anything else, each release laced with the requisite amount of attitude to bring their singular charisma through the recordings. They inflect their songs with a little bit of a lot of genres, from Motown to soul to honky tonk to basement punk, creating something that’s simultaneously enigmatic and familiar. There’s a sense the band’s striving to create the sounds that they love and don’t hear enough anymore, re-contextualizing the influences of separate eras by viewing them through a decidedly modern lens.
They’ve tapped into something that’s given their name some weight and it shows again on their latest 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy. Both songs are full of the well-worn charm and conviction of the band’s past releases but ably showcase how comfortably they’ve embraced their identity. The harmonies are as gorgeous and ever and they’re still finding ways to pull new tricks out of their sleeves, with guitarist/vocalist Tyler Ditter taking a turn on lead vocal duties in “Go Easy”.
Both tracks are imbued with the same kind of breezy, wide-open road feel that the band’s successfully touched on in the past. Pitsch lends a trademark bite to the A-side while Ditter anchors “Go Easy” with a honeyed sweetness that serves the band’s sound extremely well. Packaged together, it’s another strong entry in a discography that hasn’t stopped improving since the band’s staggeringly strong demo. Easily one of Wisconsin’s best acts, this kind of release suggests they’re well on their way to being regarded as far more than a local act.
Keep their name and their releases filed away somewhere safe, there’s no telling what they might wind up being worth.
Listen to The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy below (and watch a package of videos of the band playing live beneath the stream) and pick it up from Dirtnap here.
2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.
Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.
These are the 17 best songs of 2017.
Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge
One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.
Mo Troper – Your Brand
One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Responseis particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.
Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.
Cende – What I Want
Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.
Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).
Common Holly – Nothing
Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.
Weaves – Puddle
Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.
Fred Thomas – Misremembered
Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changeris a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.
Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs
A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.
Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout
One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.
Strange Relations – Say You
One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.
Covey – Call Home
There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.
IDLES – Mother
Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.
Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.
Palehound – If You Met Her
A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.
It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.
Young Jesus – Feeling
A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.
All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.
The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands
Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.
When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Mount Eerie – Real Death
When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.
Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.
While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.
Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.
By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.
The Best of the Rest
Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default
Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap
Closing out the year, Heartbreaking Bravery will be running recaps of the past two months to lead into the year-end lists, which will run when the year is officially over. Here, an eye is turned towards some excellent music videos that have been released in November and December. Outlandish lyric clips, gorgeous visuals, great songs, tongue-in-cheek humor, and unbridled sincerity combine to form 19 clips that demand to be seen. Enjoy.
Mannequin Pussy – Emotional High
Winter – Jaded
Charly Bliss – Scare U
Radiator Hospital – Nothing Nice
Anna Burch – 2 Cool 2 Care
Casper Skulls – Lingua Fraca + Primeval
The Spook School – Still Alive
Stef Chura – Speeding Ticket
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Amos Pitsch – Lake Effect
Yucky Duster – Construction Man
Screaming Females – Glass House
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Fuzzystar – Superhero
Good Boy – Fishing With A Shotgun
Anamon – Fast Car
Young Jesus – Feeling
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Matter of Time + Call On God
An insane amount of praise has been showered on Charly Bliss in the confines of this site. They’ve deserved even more. The band’s currently in the midst of sharpening a full-length they’ve been working on for more than two full years. “Turd” is a tantalizing glimpse at what’s to come, a molotov cocktail of classic pop influences teeming with a confrontational punk sensibility that, paradoxically, manages to be incredibly inviting.
Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout
“Gofer” remains one of the most infectious pop songs to have been written since the turn of the century. Yucky Duster‘s just-unveiled “The Ropes” shows they’ve got no intentions of slowing down and “Elementary School Dropout” proves the band’s whip-smart intelligence is fully intact. Jaunty, enticing, and oddly moving, the song’s making it next to impossible to wait for their forthcoming EP, Lament.
WHY? – This Ole King
Elephant Eyelash, Alopecia, Eskimo Snow, and maybe even Oaklandazulasylum deserve to be regarded as modern classics. While still releasing some immensely thoughtful material, WHY? hasn’t managed to match those releases in the years that have passed since Eskimo Snow. “This Ole King”, the band’s most arresting composition in a handful of years, offers up a ray of hope. Tasteful and weirdly enchanting, it’s already earned a spot as one of WHY?’s finest individual works.
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Cloud Nothings have been enjoying a deeply impressive streak since becoming a full band several years ago. From the cold, steel trap that was Attack On Memory to the relentlessly bruising Here and Nowhere Else, they’ve demonstrated a lot of range. “Internal World” continues to hint at their forthcoming record taking the best parts of all three of those releases and congealing them into something incredibly compelling. It’s another impressive piece of an already fascinating puzzle.
Amos Pitsch – Shift Towards Tenderness
No band has earned more rapturous praise (or more praise in general) than Tenement. DUSK have earned themselves a fair few accolades as well. If Amos Pitsch (guitar/vocals in Tenement and bass/vocals in DUSK) is involved with a song, there’s a very strong chance it’ll be receiving praise here. Pitsch has mostly avoided releasing solo works, which makes “Shift Towards Tenderness” something of a surprise. Not a surprise? “Shift Towards Tenderness” being another unassuming tour de force from one of this generation’s finest songwriters.
Luxury Death – Painkiller
“Painkiller” is another impressive notch in the belt of one of today’s finest labels, Art Is Hard. Peppy and packing a considerable amount of bite, the Luxury Death single is a microcosm of what makes both the band and the label releasing the single so formidable. Immensely appealing and constructed with a clearly apparent thoughtfulness, there are no false moves among a series of refreshing grace notes.
Permit – Track #1
One of 2016’s most pleasant surprises, Permit took off running. The band’s Vol. I EP was a galvanizing blast of glam-inflected punk with a serious amount of classic pop overtones. Headlining those proceedings was “Track #1”, which immediately sets the band up as kindred spirits to Sheer Mag. Sharp, fierce, and immediately memorable, “Track #1” easily ranks among the year’s most exciting listens.
No Sun – Drown In You
2016 didn’t have quite as many out-and-out shoegaze powerhouse releases as many of the preceding years but the genre still had some incredibly bright moments. One such moment came in the form of No Sun‘s towering “Drown In You”, which operates with a menacing ferocity in its opening two and a half minutes before turning elegiac for an extended outro. It’s unmissable.
Super Capsule – Frost
An incendiary burst of incisive post-punk, filtered through a post-hardcore lens, Super Capsule’s “Frost” teems with aggression. It also serves as a notice to start sitting up and paying attention to the band, who seem hell-bent on creating an army of converts by demolishing genre boundaries with a relentlessly precise attack. Trying to form a defense simply isn’t an option.
Lost Boy ? – I’m An Alligator (Deathwish) + Shoo – Bop
Lost Boy ? has appeared with regularity on Heartbreaking Bravery since it began more than three years ago. The Davey Jones outfit is likely to see that trend continue, especially considering the incessant releases. Once again, serving up plenty of oddball charm “I’m An Alligator (Deathwish)” and “Shoo – Bop” showcase Jones’ immeasurable talent for crafting memorable, hook-heavy basement pop. Short, brilliant, and singular, Lost Boy ? continues to extend an unlikely winning streak with panache.
Cooler – Metal Moths
A surging punk-informed behemoth, “Metal Moths” brings to mind classic forebears while remaining unflinchingly modern. It’s an impressive offering from Cooler, who have come out swinging with their sophomore EP, Phantom Phuzz. “Metal Moths” is the collection’s crown jewel and contains enough firepower to turn an increasing number of heads with every passage. Keep both eyes on this quartet, they’ve proven they’re worth following.
Cayetana – Trails
Cayetana keep finding new ways to improve. After a string of career highlights, the band graciously dropped “Trails”, a breathtaking ballad that showcases a surprising penchant for vulnerability amid their typical all-consuming storm of noises. It’s a spellbinding moment from one of today’s more exciting punk acts, demonstrating newfound depth and a refined sense of dynamics that elevates “Trails” from being merely great to being transcendental.
Slumbers – Doboom Soom
It’s been a good year for the emergent Slumbers, who’ve been carving out a name for themselves with intelligent folk-tinged bedroom pop. “Doboom Soom” may be their finest moment to date, an airy take on the line between loneliness and self-preservation that cuts through its instrumental warmth with a narrative of astounding clarity. If Slumbers can keep topping themselves the way they’ve been lately, their name may accumulate considerable clout in the coming years.
John Wesley Coleman – Shovel + Hang Tight
For a handful of years, John Wesley Coleman has been a beacon of consistency. Every release bearing the songwriter’s name has been formidable enough to warrant serious attention and yet larger familiarity in the public eye has eluded Coleman. “Shovel” and “Hang Tight” are both worthy reminders of Coleman’s enviable gifts as a songwriter and worthy entries into an incredible discography. Start getting familiar if you haven’t already or simply revisit a pair of genuinely great tracks.
Tapestries – Carline
A dreamy punk-skirting number that owes quite a bit to the more notable alternative genre permutations of the past few decades (Brit-pop, in particular), “Carline” is an immediate standout. Well-crafted and delivered with a palpable sense of passion, it ably provides a window to Tapestries’ considerable artistic growth over the past several years. Inspired and even a little inspiring, “Carline” is the type of song that reminds people of why they love music.
Stove – I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel
Stove topped last year’s Best Songs list with the soaring “Wet Food” and, instead of taking time to recalibrate after a tremendous 2016, have been releasing music at a rapid pace. “I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel” serves as another strong highlight for the Steve Hartlett-led project, even though it’s a far cry from the epic scope of “Wet Food”. That versatility has served Hartlett well in the past and here, he leads Stove through a perfect marriage of lo-fi basement punk and irrepressible basement punk. It’s another triumph.
The Sloppy Heads – The Suck
2016 has also been fairly kind to The Sloppy Heads, who have cranked out a number of vibrant basement pop numbers that lingered long after their final notes faded away. “The Suck” may have been the absolute best of this crop, striking a perfect balance between being coy and being pointed. As economic and pragmatic as the production of “The Suck” is, the song itself never stops reaching skyward and sweeps the listener up into that journey with a delicate ease.
Wild Pink – Wizard of Loneliness
Last year’s Good Life EP provided a solid introduction to Wild Pink and the band’s been capitalizing on the momentum that Good Life generated. In addition to making a series of smart moves, they’ve also been sharpening their craft, something that’s plainly evident in the exceptional “Wizard of Loneliness”, a light powerpop number that recalls Nada Surf at their finest. Gentle, atmospheric, and captivating, “Wizard of Loneliness” goes a long way in proving that Wild Pink may have a shot at achieving the kind of longevity that’s pursued by any band worth their salt and only attained by a minuscule fraction.
Daniel Klag – Inmost Light
A nearly 17-minute ambient masterpiece from the remarkable Daniel Klag, “Inmost Light” preserves his status as one of the genre’s most exciting voices. Gently unfurling, with deliberate caution and care, “Inmost Light” is — as all of the best ambient works are — a transporting experience. Volume swells, string arrangements, and ambient washes all come together to create something that verges on rapturous as it progresses. One of Klag’s most moving pieces in what’s quickly becoming a storied career, “Inmost Light” is a beautiful reminder of what can be accomplished through patience, precision, and an abundance of feeling.
Talons’ – Driving Home From Shows
Originally released as part of 2013’s demo collection After Talons’ Demos, Talons” “Driving Home From Shows” recently received a slight revamp for Broken Circles’ Everything Melts Eventually: Vol. IIcompilation. The song remains a masterpiece. Michael Tolan injects the song with a staggering amount of grace and warmth. Tinted with a painfully relatable nostalgia, “Driving Home From Shows” presents the most acute details with shattering certainty. There’s a sense of empathy that guides the longing of “Driving Home From Shows”, heightening its unexpected emotive punch. Even more than when it appeared as a demo, “Driving Home From Shows” is the type of song that deserves to be put in a vault and preserved for future generations. It’s a beautiful piece that soothes and stings in equal measure. Don’t let it slip through the cracks.
In addition to all of those bands’ new releases, there was also another outstanding installment of the DBTS:BS series via their third volume: DBTS:BS3. While all of those succeeded on their own terms, it was — unsurprisingly — the second of Tenement‘s Bruised Musiccompilation series that wound up registering as a genuine standout (and subsequently snagging this post’s featured spot).
For close to a decade now, Tenement has been one of the most influential bands in my life, both directly and tangentially. At this point, no band has been covered on this site more extensively than the Wisconsin trio, who I’ve lobbied for endlessly- to anyone who would listen. At some point, their songs became such a personal marker for me that they inseparably intertwined themselves to very specific parts of my life. To that extent, when I listen to Bruised Music Vol. 2, it’s extremely difficult to separate the music from my own personal history. However, it’s not entirely impossible to divide them into arenas that are mutually exclusive.
A large part of the connection I have to these songs can be directly sourced back to what made Tenement my favorite band: the surprisingly literary aspects of the songwriting, the unapologetic commitment to carving out an incredibly well-informed pop-sensibility, the absolute refusal to adhere or appropriate any of the trends that have unceremoniously appeared and disappeared throughout the time of their existence, and a genuine, undeniable, uncompromising passion for the music they make, fearless risks and all.
On the first collection of the Bruised Music compilations, I contributed an extensive piece for the record’s insert on how the band played a large role in shaping my tastes and — to some extent — my own humanity. While Bruised Music Vol. 1 was an impressively comprehensive look at the band’s earliest era, Bruised Music Vol. 2 is a different beast entirely. Where its predecessor was more concerned with the band shaping a very particular sound, the latter excels in that sound’s expansion, deconstruction, and absolute demolition.
While there are still moments speckled all over Bruised Music Vol. 2 that are reminiscent of their early works, the majority of their latter efforts are imbued with a more adventurous approach to songwriting. A cleaned up version of “Taking Everything” — a song that originally appeared on a 2011 7″ that ranks as one of the best entries in an extraordinary discography before being released again in demo form on a Burger-issued cassette package of Napalm Dream — which kicks the compilation off, may be the record’s most straightforward moment.
Where this version of “Taking Everything” differentiates itself between the powerful 7″ version and the frantically-paced demo version rests squarely in the drumming pattern, which ultimately winds up being a fascinating glimpse at the band’s decision-making process. Considering how overwhelmingly thoughtful Tenement’s songwriting construction has proven to be, time and time again, that’s not something that should be taken for granted. All of the subtle intricacies that have come to define the band’s musical aesthetic only point to an unavoidable conclusion: this band’s not just surpassing their peers as pure composers, they’re offering up masterclasses at an alarming rate.
It’s patently absurd that Bruised Music Vol. 2 is going to be viewed, largely, as a collection of scraps because they scan as essential elements of the band’s oeuvre. Whether it’s the more direct fare of Bruised Music Vol. 2‘s opening run or the more avant garde leanings that shape the record’s back half, there’s an evident level of painstaking care that goes a long way in making sure everything is represented adequately.
Toy pianos, sheer noise, and unrelenting dissonance inform the collection’s braver moments, like the instrumental “Jet Slug”, which casually reaffirm Tenement’s well-earned status as a singular act operating on the fringes of punk, noise, hardcore, and powerpop. For every stacked-to-the-heavens pop-leaning anthem that appears, there’s a stark counterbalance that arrives in tracks like Sick Club Vol. 3‘s extraordinary, convention-defying “Books on Hell and Sermons on TV”. While the band may have made their name on the former, it’s their unbelievable skill with the latter that’s elevated them from one of the most exciting bands presently operating to one of the outright best.
One part of Tenement’s ethos that never gets enough recognition is their complete and total willingness to disregard their most commercially accessible trappings in favor of intensely bold choices that have left sizable portions of their audiences feeling completely alienated. Whether that’s via the typically downtrodden Realism-Americana-Southern Gothic narrative hybrids of Amos Pitsch’s lyrics, the band’s embrace of John Cage-esque explorations of noise, or their continued refusal to be pigeonholed into any particular genre (much to the chagrin of many purists), they’ve established themselves as their own entity.
Bruised Music Vol. 2 functions strongly enough to have a legitimate shot at becoming the definitive example of how Tenement evolved into one of America’s most fascinating bands. None of these songs are weak and each one benefits from a very specific personality that betrays the band’s small-town upper Midwest upbringing. As a collection, it’s fairly representative of Tenement’s 2010-2014 era. As a standalone record, it’s stronger than most acts best release. As a demonstration of everything that has distinguished Tenement as one of the most inspirational acts in contemporary music, it’s an absolute necessity.
Listen to Bruised Music Vol. 2 below and order it from Grave Mistake here.
Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.
For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.
15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia
Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.
14. ThinLips – Your Divorce
An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.
13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig
Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.
12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth
A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.
11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs
After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.
10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?
While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You LeaveMe?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.
9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2
One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named 2 swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry 2 to its status as one of the best of 2015.
8. Slight – Hate the Summer
Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.
7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out
A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.
6. Sheer Mag – II
Another year, another Sheer Maglist placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.
5. Diet Cig – Over Easy
No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.
4. LVL UP – Three Songs
In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songscontinues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.
3. Ernie – Dog Park
Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.
2. Tenement – Tenement
No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.
1. Cende – Cende
Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.
Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).