Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Anna Burch

18 of ’18: The Best Albums of the Year

When the headline says Best of the Year, the people who click over to the list have a few titles in mind they’re expecting to see because those same titles were in the previous list with that headline and the list before that one (and so on and so forth). A lot of that has to do with one simple, depressing fact: the PR those artists and labels can afford. To counteract that, a different approach was taken in compiling these selections. Any record that topped more than one of those lists outright (apologies, Mitski) was taken out of consideration for this list.

Every album that appeared in more than half of the lists I personally witnessed were taken out of consideration (a list that included Hop Along, The Beths, Courtney Barnett, Car Seat Headrest, Low, Saba, Snail Mail, Haley Heynderickx, and a handful of others). All of these lists share one unifying trait: they’re subjective. All of the records listed resonated with individual writers or made ripples among shared staff, striking at different nerves. All of the albums on this list made a lasting impression and will have at least one listener coming back years down the line. Buy these albums, support great music, scroll down, read, and hit play on the best albums of 2018.

Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

No matter what moniker they’ve operated under, the music being produced by the band now known as Gabby’s World has been remarkable. In 2015, the group was responsible for O.K., the record that would ultimately top that year’s Album of the Year list. They’ve released a handful of music since then and experienced a stylistic shift as they’ve evolved, something Gabrielle Smith’s project wields to their advantage on Beast On Beast.

A more melancholic and subdued tone permeates through the record, while still providing a handful of emotionally cathartic moments. From the tender, bombastic opener through to the record’s hazy closer, Gabby’s World casts a spell that’s hard to break. Warmth and empathy inform so much of the band’s work that every song feels like a comfort, something familiar to sink into and disappear. It’s a trait that’s always been true of Gabby’s World but never has it been more present than on the abundantly graceful Beast On Beast.

Slow Mass – Watch On

Slow Mass, a band that’s gradually been improving for some time, took a significant step forward with the genre-resistant Watch On. So many subsets of rock and punk intersect throughout the record, morphing from classic emo to heady math-rock to wiry post-punk within seconds. What’s more surprising than the band somehow successfully integrating this further into their identity is the sense of cohesion that unites these passages.

Every song Watch On offers up contains a different highlight, ably demonstrating the band’s breadth of talent. A lot of its astonishing and none of its ever uninspiring or tepid. By committing to not staying in the same place, Slow Mass winds up with the most vital work of a promising career. Watch On takes every twist and turn on a path to greatness, which makes the trip as satisfying as the promise of a memorable destination.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

Over their past several records, Saintseneca have more than proved their adeptness at creating records that feel complete. The band hasn’t made an errant step throughout a run that’s seen their audience continuously balloon. Pillar of Na, the band’s latest, presented a unique challenge in the departure of Maryn Jones (also of All Dogs and Yowler), who suffused the band’s earlier works with a considerable depth of grace. Caeleigh Featherstone takes up Jones’ mantle and the band doesn’t miss a beat.

Pillar of Na also sees Saintseneca, who have long been praised for their Appalachian folk roots, drift further East and embrace a more traditionally Indian influence. “Circle Hymn” sets the record’s tone and the melody of the song paces the record, providing a gorgeous motif. Beautifully sequenced, incredibly rich, and ridiculously transfixing, Pillar of Na proves itself worthy of Saintseneca’s discography, which remains one of today’s finest.

illuminati hotties – Kiss Yr Friends

A band that picked up a little steam and took off sprinting, illuminati hotties showed the world what they’re capable of producing with Kiss Yr Friends. Opening with a tenderness that’s ingrained into their music before forging a much more explosive path, Kiss Yr Friends demonstrated the band’s enviable range and seemingly boundless songwriting talent.

It doesn’t matter what style illuminati hotties tries to take on, they succeed with every attempt, which is a trait that could help them cultivate an ambition that never stops expanding. A record full of self-reflection, pain, hope, and an elevated understanding, Kiss Yr Friends sees illuminati hotties making a considerable mark. Easily one of the more promising emergent acts of 2018, they’re already a powerhouse. Kiss Yr Friends is all the evidence anyone should need.

Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

Towards the end of 2017, Anna Burch teased Quit the Curse with a few tracks and videos that made a sizable impression and upped the levels of anticipation for its release. Those high expectations were both warranted and met as Burch released a record that carried all the way through 2018 without losing an ounce of its power. Sunshine-speckled songs that combined pop, surf, doo-wop, and Americana were granted a lacerating wit and plenty of punk bite.

Quit the Curse could easily be confused for a singles record by someone that didn’t know better but the songs on the record are tethered to an introspective narrative that acts as a welcoming as much as a warning. “Asking 4 A Friend”, “2 Cool 2 Care”, the title track, and every other song on this gem of a record find ways to dig into the listener’s consciousness, taking up residence and making themselves a comfortable home. It’s hard to think anyone will mind.

Ovlov – TRU

Steve Hartlett had one hell of a year, releasing two of 2018’s best records in Stove‘s ‘s Favorite Friend and the reborn Ovlov‘s TRU. The latter came as one of the most welcome surprises of the year, as questions of whether Ovlov had retired still abounded. TRU sets the record straight from the opening seconds of album opener “Baby Alligator”, which finds the band’s trademark characteristics fully intact.

Aggressive and melancholic, clear and hazy, Hartlett’s made a career out of thriving in improbable dichotomies, which is something TRU wisely brings to the forefront. A record that surges as much as it soothes, TRU also finds time to grapple with serious questions underneath all the noise (and, as always, there’s plenty of noise). Existential quandaries pitched at the highest volume continue to populate Hartlett’s writing as the band returns to making a home out of searching for meaning.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Ovlov weren’t the only project making an unpredictable return in 2018, as Owen Ashworth settled back into Advance Base to release an astonishingly gripping collection of new material. Animal Companionship ranks along the best works of Ashworth’s illustrious career. The record may actually benefit from Ashworth’s sabbatical from the project as Animal Companionship is imbued with the kind of gravity that can only be earned with age and experience.

Quiet devastation courses through Animal Companionship, which finds Ashworth reflecting on everything from failed relationships that were extended solely because of bonds forged with an erstwhile partner’s animals to the constraints of mortality and how to productively fill the arbitrary voids that are created by the harsh reality of our own impermanence. Reflexive, tranquil, and propped up by an extraordinary sense of empathetic warmth, Animal Companionship proves to be meaningful company all its own.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

One of 2018’s most exhilarating — and overlooked — records came from Lonely Parade, who provided the BUZZ (one of the most consistently great punk labels) roster with yet another shot of adrenaline. Wiry post-punk, basement pop, and slacker punk exist in harmony on The Pits, which is a vibrant and insistent triumph from a breakout act that made their abundant tenacity clear from the outset.

Every single track on The Pits bucks and bristles, ready to charge forward at any second. Clever hooks dominate the album, both vocally and instrumentally, as Lonely Parade sculpt a memorable, unmistakable identity throughout the course of The Pits. Romantic ennui, self-loathing, self-celebration, and unbridled frustration careen recklessly through The Pits‘ narratives, providing an unsparing look at modern life for young adults. A minor masterpiece that’s not afraid to get scrappy.

Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

Gouge Away have been going increasingly hard for a few years now and that relentless has birthed Gouge Away, the post-hardcore quartet’s most vicious and complete work of a formidable career. The band expands their ambitions on Burnt Sugar to dazzling effect, showing an increasing willingness to lean into pop-oriented melodies and even to slow way down, which they do for the breathtaking “Ghost“.

Every second of Burnt Sugar provides the sense of being swept up in a hurricane. The stakes are literally life and death. Gouge Away commits to the former while fully acknowledging the latter, allowing that inevitable promise to inform their willingness to fight. Thrash, metal, and noise all provide inflections as Burnt Sugar roars along towards its ultimate destination, combining in inspired ways to provide Gouge Away with a startling new career high.

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There

In 2011, Young Jesus were still operating out of Chicago and had just released Home, which marked a significant step forward for the band and remains one of that year’s best records. Since Home‘s release, the band has taken several more leaps forward, creating a momentum that’s taken them from a fledgling emergent act to something more akin to an indifferent meteor. The Whole Thing Is Just There the band’s first record of new material for Saddle Creek sees them continuing to hurtle through an empty oblivion, coasting on a frantic trajectory while trying to make sense of their surroundings.

Confines and restraints that dictated much of their previous work have been completely discarded in favor of the free-noise improvisation the group’s been honing in their live shows for years. Songs shift and morph at will, largely ignoring traditional structures. “Deterritory” goes from soothing ambient work to vicious post-hardcore in The Whole Thing Is Just There‘s astonishing opening track while the towering closer, “Gulf”, exceeds 20 minutes in length. Somehow, all of this seems grounded, attached to something genuine and unmistakably human. An extraordinary listen from one of this decade’s best bands.

Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

Following the milder Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings wanted to make it excessively clear they wouldn’t be following the trend of rock-oriented artists taking an exceedingly pop-minded plunge. “On An Edge”, Last Building Burning‘s fiery opener, ranks among the bleakest and most punishing work the band’s committed to date. It sets a tone that the rest of the Randall Dunn-produced record lives up to and possibly exceeds.

In addition to the renewed emphasis on tonal and overall harshness, the band lets drummer Jayson Gerycz remind everyone he may be one of the single most valuable additions any band’s had this decade. Gerycz turns in a masterpiece performance behind the kit as Last Building Burning takes Cloud Nothings to new heights on the back of both excessive determination, subtle antagonism, and the most emotionally moving narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi’s ever penned, with several gut-punches centered around being a largely passive bystander forced to repeat the same pleas while someone close is enduring an abusive relationship and refusing to navigate their way out.

Brutal and desperate, Last Building Burning is full of songs that evoke the record’s title. While that title may focus on just one fiery structure, it’s not hard to imagine an entire metropolitan skyline being razed. Cloud Nothings finds a way throughout Last Building Burning to acknowledge the flames, the ashes, and the pain that led to that level of demolition. Unforgiving and deeply personal, Last Building Burning may just be the ceaselessly impressive band’s masterpiece.

Big Ups – Two Parts Together

Few bands get to go out on career highs, at the apex of their creative talent, and with an ascendant group of followers. Big Ups made sure they were one of those few with the volatile, challenging, and inspired Two Parts Together. What will likely stand as the band’s final release, Two Parts Together acts as a total culmination of what one of the best hardcore-adjacent acts has put together over the course of an acclaimed career that sparked a considerable amount of admiration among their peers.

Two Parts Together may be the first Big Ups record to match the band’s transcendent live show, keeping the listener entranced as it takes one jack-knife turn after the other at breakneck speed with deadly precision. More than just a testament to the band’s unreal command of dynamics, Two Parts Together offers an unfiltered look into the band’s identity through both composition and narrative. Vocalist Joe Galaragga leans into a series of complex topics with the a fearlessness that’s characteristic of the band, anchoring the most ambitious — and loosely experimental — music of Big Ups’ discography with enough tenacity and heart to make Two Parts Together an essential listen.

Fog Lake – captain

Fog Lake‘s been turning heads for some time now, quietly perfecting a warm strain of tender, empathetic ambient pop. Aaron Powell’s project attains a rare beauty on captain, the crown jewel of an incredibly rich discography. Every track exudes patience and attentiveness, layering ambient noise, piano, vocals, and traditional rock instrumentation to conjure up a feeling that resides somewhere between introspection and self-actualization.

captain is yet another emotionally shattering work from Powell, who’s seemingly building a career out of soundtracking personal solitude while dreaming up ways to make sure company’s welcome. An absorbing, immersive listen, captain navigates increasingly murky waters with both grace and clarity, accepting that not every question will have an answer and that every journey becomes infinitely more rewarding once its difficulties have been confronted and either accepted, resolved, or ingrained. A mesmerizing record that ensures Powell’s spot among today’s pantheon of truly great songwriters.

Evening Standards – Evening Standards

Evening Standards‘ self-titled debut comes packed with a pedigree. Forged out of the ashes of PURPLE 7 and a handful of great basement pop acts before that, anything less than remarkable would’ve been surprising but the heights Evening Standards manages to reach are still surprising. Every second of the band’s debut feels incredibly assured, on every front. The members of Evening Standards have all seemingly cultivated their own individual identities as musicians and managed to find a way to congeal them into something exhilarating.

Front to back, Evening Standards is comprised of intentionally loose basement pop that’s a little tongue-in-cheek on the surface but underscored by surprising depth. “Lil Green Man” highlights this dynamic beautifully, by taking a narrative centered on alien visitation and expounding the lark to humbling existential queries. The hooks are memorable and they find ways to dig deep, refusing to let go once they’ve taken hold. A playful romp that exponentially rewards investment, Evening Standards carves out a place for itself as one of basement pop’s high watermarks.

Long Neck – Will This Do?

On Long Neck‘s first record after Lily Mastrodimos expanded the project to be a full band, they waste no time in illustrating the benefits of that decision. On the first half of Will This Do? the band delivers a newfound lightheartedness to the project, offering up a series of summery tracks that ably demonstrate their strength as a collective. Even in those warmer moments, though, Mastrodimos holds true to the more autumnal narratives that characterized the extraordinary work that had comprised Long Neck’s solo era. Towards the halfway mark, the dam starts cracking and the floodgates open for the final stretch.

While Will This Do? boasted some of the most enjoyable — and endlessly replayable — tracks of 2018 in its opening stretch, the record hits a point-of-no-return with the unexpectedly dark “Ashes” and kicks off what may stand as the strongest final act of 2018. It’s over this jaw-dropping set of songs that Mastrodimos drops any pretenses regarding personal struggle and familial loss and favors a brutal, unforgiving directness that strips away the artifice and forces the listener to grapple with both losing and failing.

Those four songs, “Ashes”, “Hive Collapse”, “Milky Way“, and “10,000 Year Old Woman” are the best of Mastrodimos’ burgeoning career and the cumulative impact they leave is unforgettable. While “Matriarch” served as a gorgeous early peak and smart reprieve in the record’s early raucousness, the total reckoning of its closing run manages to tip Will This Do? into an overwhelmingly immersive experience. At the center of the pain evidenced in those closing narratives is a drive to not just survive but celebrate that survival, elevating a memorably great record to something far more transcendent.

Doe – Grow Into It

Some Things Last Longer Than You vaulted Doe‘s status up several levels back in 2016, securing the trio as one of the best basement pop acts making music. This site gave that record Album of the Year honors alongside an exceedingly strong committee. The band toured relentlessly on the back of that record and finally unveiled Grow Into It in 2018’s final quarter, surpassing the anticipation that they’d tirelessly built on the back of their explosive live show and an absurdly strong lineup of touring partners.

Grow Into It is everything anyone can hope for from a follow-up to a breakout album: the retention of identity, a willingness to expand boundaries, a fearlessness in decision-making, strong production, and a tenacious commitment. Brimming with hard-won confidence, the band attacks Grow Into It with the fervor of someone caught up in a fight to survive. Put your back into it/Until you can’t undo it goes a particularly memorable couplet, ostensibly underlining the band’s modus operandi.

A record that seems to accelerate progressively more as it races towards its jaw-dropping closer, Grow Into It finds Doe pouring their heart into their craft. The band wears a number of ’90s influences on their sleeve, churning out slacker pop that recalls that era’s best works. Wildly enjoyable at every step, even as it fixates on harsh issues connected to everything from a tumultuous political landscape to reflections on widely-held and extremely dispiriting views on autonomy, Grow Into It is a record that’s not afraid to speak as loudly as Doe plays. An astounding work from one of our best young bands.

Half Waif – Lavender

Watching my grandmother walk in her garden
She’s lost her hearing, does not notice the cardinal
I hold fast to the hours before the obvious parting

Those lines make up the second verse to appear on Half Waif‘s breathtaking Lavender, a monumental step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s project and an unforgettable artistic statement. A record seeped in the memory of Plunkett’s recently departed grandmother, Lavender soothes and haunts in equal measure. Informed by lost connections and a life dedicated to the road, Lavender takes the listener and actively places them in the passenger’s seat of an extended tour-driven narrative. Immensely moving and intrinsically connected to something spiritual, Plunkett navigates a series of burning questions and hard realizations with an unflappable grace.

Piercing insight is offered with reassuring tenderness throughout Lavender. Cities are yearned for, memories are tightly embraced, and lasting bonds are valued above all else. There’s a quiet desperation that carries throughout the record, the one constant as all the extra scenery flies by the window. In many ways, Lavender plays like a journal chronicling Plunkett’s untethering, providing a startling glimpse into the harsh realities of life on the road. Plunkett’s incisive narration keying in on the moments where the ground seems to separate, creating the sensation of aimless drifting.

Where Lavender separates itself from the many, many records that have tried to anchor their narratives with a similar framing is in Plunkett’s tacit acceptance of the loneliness that accompanies the drifting- any company is better than none. The record also never overstates its realistically tragic circumstances, relying on mundane moments to paint a much more engrossing portrait that allows it to land that much harder. Every facet of Lavender feels considered, allowing the record to be pitched at different velocities of tumult: “Back In Brooklyn” is a song in the key of the MTA while “Leveler” boasts an opening that intentionally isolates Plunkett’s voice into a hushed world of its own.

Forever in transit and full of curious glances outward, Lavender goes far beyond just being an extended meditation on what life reverts to when home becomes the hum of the road and into a towering statement about the nature of journeying. A record that’s sharply aware that there’s beauty to behold just beyond the window, even when the static trappings feel overbearing, Lavender is a work that drives into what makes life worth living. As hard as the tough moments wind up being, there’s a power to those experiences that, when given enough distance, become affirming.

Tough, tender, unforgiving, accepting, shattering, and hopeful, Lavender is a pointed presentation of contradictions, all firmly held in place by Plunkett’s reality. A story that’s been lived countless times finds a new level of poignancy on Lavender, which stands with a determined resilience as one of the most emotionally taxing — and rewarding — listens of 2018. For all of the silent pain that separation can bring, there’s an undercurrent of memory to inform that pain. At the core of Lavender, there’s a wellspring of love and by the record’s murky culmination, there’s a resigned acknowledgement of what that love will bring.

In those final moments, Lavender stops running away from the questions it’s been asking since its opening salvo and reveals a burdened truth: it knew the answer. It’s always known. To leave is to strengthen the effect of love. Whether the departure arrives at the airport or culminates with a wake, there’s a magnified sense of affection, which makes the parting infinitely harder. When that divide is extended, it can become harder still. What matters is that we allow ourselves to admit and how we navigate, how we cope, and how we understand.

The last twist of Plunkett’s narrative-driven knife arrives with so much certainty, after a sea of avoidance, that the effect is staggering. “Ocean Scope” delivers that knockout blow with courage, allowing Plunkett and the listener time to sit, to reflect, to accept, and to heal.

I don’t wanna know this
I don’t wanna know how this ends
In the grand scope of things
I know

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance

IDLES made a deep, lasting impression in 2017 with Brutalism, a pointed, scuzz-fueled blast of punk shrapnel. Pop culture was toyed with, progressive stances were belted out like war cries, and there was an abundance of empathy at its heart. All of its disdain was directed at people and policies that knowingly and maliciously take advantage of others, allowing Brutalism a sincere bent to its frustration. Just about every song on that record suggested the band could be fully capable of producing a masterpiece. No one could have predicted it’d come this soon.

A little over a year had elapsed before IDLES pulled back the curtains on Joy As An Act of Resistance a snarling behemoth that took everything that made Brutalism so engaging and multiplied them exponentially. “Colossus”, the first track to be released in advance of Joy As An Act of Resistance and the album opener, makes the band’s transformation plain. The rhythm section that provided Brutalism with quite a bit of its power finds new strength in restraint and focus, following a single chord and rim shot pattern through to a punishing, tribal-like section.

Vocalist Joe Talbot seems to find new life in this mode of attack, elevating his narrative work with unwavering commitment. The pop culture references are more prominent, the target range is significantly wider, and there’s an emotional crux to the lyrics that manages to cut through the wry humor and ground the material in something both personal and poignant. Virtually all of that’s packed into “Colossus”, which ultimately serves as both the catalyst for Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s tone and as a slight reintroduction to IDLES as a whole.

As a cohesive unit, the version of IDLES presented to us on their sophomore effort is tighter, more aggressive, and more exhaustively complete. “Colossus”, “Danny Nedelko“, “GREAT“, and “Samaritans” all suggested the band was operating at a higher level but Joy As An Act of Resistance finds them exceeding even the unlikeliest of high expectations. What ensues after “Colossus” flips a switch and jumps from foreboding tension to an all-out basement punk blitz is the purest distillation of political, social, and emotional commentary that any record in 2018 had to offer.

There’s a blunt honesty to Joy As An Act of Resistance that characterized the best songs of its preceding act but is sustained and felt through even the wryest pop culture jab. The breadth of what Talbot’s willing to tackle here is astonishing, running from the lineage and permeation of toxic masculinity to the shockingly recent stillbirth the vocalist endured with his wife. Loss is a palpable recurrent theme on Joy As An Act of Resistance but it’s never treated as a threat but viewed as further ammunition for a rallying cry against the prevailing evils of our world.

The band’s willingness to confront those pervasive hardships, on both personal and societal levels, and ground them in understatement is one of the major distinctions that separates the songs on Joy As An Act of Resistance from other acts attempting similar narratives. IDLES understand and are extraordinarily adept at reasonably contextualizing the institution instead of fixating on the object; the record’s never ham-fisted or grossly overwrought. In many ways, Joy As An Act of Resistance seems to be a kindred spirit of The Wire: both works understand the value in examining the parts that make up the sum, like how “Danny Nedelko” humanizes immigration by using a good friend — and a stand-up human — as an explicit framework to combat the dispiriting resurrection of nationalist thought.

Which is why when the band finally does scale back down to address something that’s deeply personal, the effect is shattering. “June” arrives at the album’s center and gives Talbot space to publicly grieve over the previously-mentioned stillbirth. The weight of what the vocalist is feeling is on full display, the band slowing the tempo down to a drudge-like march and offers up the record’s starkest, bleakest composition while Talbot opines Baby shoes, for sale, never worn, supplementing his own tragedy with literary history (one of many, many glancing references that supplement the narrative intent).

“Samaritans”, the most explosive song on Joy As An Act of Resistance and this publication’s Song of the Year pick, finds itself sequenced perfectly following the overwhelming despair of “June”. In addition to providing a bridge back to the record’s larger picture, “Samaritans” also ushers in a run of high-energy, immediate tracks that give more weight to Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s first act. “Samaritans”, “Television”, and “GREAT” are the ladder out of the grave that “June” had lovingly dug, ensuring the listener has an expanded understanding of the stakes evident throughout the record.

“GREAT” even provides the most concise clarification of the band’s thesis in its closing lines: we’re all in this together. As always, IDLES preach the value of a healthy community but here that reminder underscores a larger point: empathy is so essential because when it’s lost is when commitment to needless divisions deepens and threatens the foundation of a successful civilization. It’s a trait that’s essential to companionship, to joy, and to contentment. Nothing’s more infuriating than those who seek to devalue the virtues of empathy because beyond being recklessly selfish, it’s also wildly misguided as its a tactic that threatens the foundation of support and without support, nothing survives.

Joy As An Act of Resistance is a record that stares down that level of oblivious stupidity with a scorn that can border on the contempt but it’s also a work that’s smart enough to know those kind of views and the policies that get built around them don’t just suddenly materialize. IDLES understand the deliberately paced history of those movements and know to dismantle them they’ll need to resist by not caving into pure frustration but to offer joy. Even in the extraordinarily destructive final minute, Joy As An Act of Resistance doesn’t give off the sense that not resorting to impulsive violence isn’t an impossible act and that the dismantling of some of the worst this world has to offer is more within reach now than it has been at any point in history.

From virtually every angle, this is the band’s best work by several miles. Whereas Brutalism was a galvanizing triumph, Joy As An Act of Resistance is an inspiring masterpiece. A startlingly impassioned plea to retain our humanity and protect our truest values at all costs. A rousing call to not just embrace the good in life but to fight against the forces that serve as their threats while still having as much goddamn fun as possible. “June” is as stark a reminder as any that the time we have to experience the best this current world has to offer is fleeting.

No record in 2018 sounded more like a knowing smile paired with a middle finger and that’s a remarkably tough line to balance. IDLES deserve all the acclaim in the world for what they accomplished with this one, earning a devoted following that knows it’ll be wise to hang onto every word coming out of the band’s camp. More than just a record that represented the chaos of 2018 the best, Joy As An Act of Resistance was 2018’s best. A rare work of unparalleled feeling, IDLES can now lay claim to one of the young millennium’s strongest works. Leave this on repeat, we might need the guidance.

 


Further Listening: Forth Wanderers – Forth Wanderers | Tomberlin – At Weddings | Options – Vivid Trace | Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend | Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends | Momma – Interloper | Basement Revolver – Heavy Eyes | Dentist – Night Swimming | Dilly Dally – Heaven | Mount Eerie – Now Only | En Attendant Ana – Lost and Found | The Magic Lantern – To the Islands | Dead Tenants – II | Valley Maker – Rhododendron | Curling – Definitely Band | Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship | Royal Brat – Eyesore | Hovvdy – Cranberry | Yowler – Black Dog In My Path | Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of my Children | The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours | The Royal They – Foreign Being | Bent Denim – Town & Country | Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams | Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want | Screaming Females – All at Once | Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Hank Wood and the Hammerheads | Fred Thomas – Aftering | Pipsy – Users | No Problem – Let God Sort ‘Em Out | Jeff Rosenstock – POST- | Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse | Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine | sewingneedle – user error | Connections – Foreign Affairs | Sean Henry – Fink | Flasher – Constant Image | Winter – Ethereality | Spring Onion – i did my taxes for free online | Ben Seretan – My Life’s Work | gobbinjr – Ocala Wick | Trace Mountains – A Partner to Lean On | Gia Margaret – There’s Always Glimmer | Vundabar – Smell Smoke | milo – budding ornotholigsts are weary of tired analogies | Major Murphy – No. 1 | Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling | The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking | Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together | Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic | Alien Boy – Sleeping Lessons | Peach Kelli Pop – Gentle Leader | Woolen Men – Post | Antarctigo Vespucci – Love in the Time of E-mail | Julia Holter – Aviary | Interbelum – Dead Pets, Old Grief | Yours Are The Only Ears – Knock Hard | Free Cake For Every Creature – The Bluest Star | Adeline Hotel – Away Together | Marbled Eye – Leisure | JACK – Alchemical Rounds | Renata Zeiguer – Old Ghost | Doffing – Tower of Ten Thousand Miles | Anna McClellan – Yes and No | Rick Rude – Verb For Dreaming | Clearance – At Your Leisure | Superteen – Over Everything | Bambara – Shadow on Everything | The World Without Parking Lots – Seventh Song Counts the Engines | Jo Passed – Their Prime | Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows the Light | Flasher – Constant Image | Drug Church – Cheer | Wimps – Garbage People | Young Scum – Young Scum | GABI – Empty Me | Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs | No Age – Snares Like A Haircut | Exhalants – Exhalants | Bat Fangs – Bat Fangs

18 of ’18: The Best Music Videos of the Year

Just under a full week into 2019 doesn’t seem like much but it affords time to go over what all of 2018 has to offer, right up until midnight on December 31. It’s a method that also provides room for close examination of the year’s finest releases in each major category (songs, music videos, and albums). While it’s literally impossible for any one person to hear or see every single release in those formats, a focus should be given to the best of what’s been experienced. Thousands of music videos made their way through the Heartbreaking Bravery channels, these 18 selections found ways to stand out from the pack.

Anna Burch – With You Every Day

Ever since the music videos for Anna Burch‘s gorgeous Quit The Curse started rolling in, there was a unified visual aesthetic. It’s a point that was strengthened with the release of “With You Every Day”, which finds Burch eschewing some of the sunnier palette tones to lean further into a ’90s art world sensibility. More than that, “With You Every Day” wisely refocuses from underlining Burch’s carefree tendencies to zero in on the sheer joy that’s evident in the emergent songwriter’s live performances. Tied together, those elements make for a mesmeric video that comes off as unabashedly honest, leading to another quiet triumph for Burch.

Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans 

It’s next to impossible to talk about Car Seat Headrest‘s “Nervous Young Inhumans” without mentioning that the song’s chorus is a fucking monster. A reworked full band version of one of Will Toledo’s most celebrated solo releases, the video was used — and used extremely effectively — to tease the total overhaul of Twin Fantasy. Visually striking and teeming with meaning, the side-by-side widescreen clip lays out everything you’d expect from one of the decade’s more discussed breakout acts: tongue-in-cheek humor, wry witticisms, a clear level of self-awareness, and enough artistry to dispel any notions of being effete.  While some might find the act cloying, the self-directed “Nervous Young Inhumans” video goes all in on just about every one of the band’s aspects and winds up as one of the band’s most definitive individual release to date.

Phoebe Bridgers – Scott Street

Phoebe BridgersStranger In the Alps proved to have quite a bit of staying power through 2018, with the record spawning a few widely-circulated music videos well afters its initial release. Far and away the most moving of that selection was the restrained, lovely clip for “Scott Street”. The premise of the clip’s simple enough: several people dress up as Phoebe Bridgers and enjoy a day out together, riding mechanical bulls, taking to a trampoline park, and taking a bus to some unknown destination. All of it’s lensed tenderly, letting a palpable sense of affection become the clip’s defining element. When Bridgers herself finally makes an appearance in the clip’s final stretch, there’s a surreal emotive heft to the gesture that propels “Scott Street” from being great to being unforgettable.

Sean Henry – The Ants

The Ants” stood out on Sean Henry‘s latest release, Fink, and was rightfully tapped for a music video. The visual treatment the song’s given plays into the song’s enigmatic nature, positioning Henry front and center, following the songwriter’s trip through NYC in costume store vampire teeth. Nervous tension and general mischievousness collide in an unexpected way, rendering the core narrative of “The Ants” oddly gripping. Aided by some stunning cinematography, “The Ants” becomes a fascinating journey on multiple levels that pull the viewer deeper into a world that’s more concerned with presenting questions than providing answers outright.

Casper Skulls – Colour of the Outside

From a beguiling, extended introductory sequence, “Colour of the Outside” takes great pains in comprehensively immersing its viewers into the world it places Casper Skulls. Softly lit and bathed in ghostly blue hues, the first half of “Colour of the Outside” provides a tug-and-pull between competing sense: familiar comfort and an unsettling tension that grows in small increments. Eventually, that dichotomy detonates as a huge portion of the set falls away and the band’s revealed to be playing in a basement. The light increases, objects get smashed, and the spell manages to find a route to amplification, lingering as the song dissipates amidst a haze of feedback. A deceptively clever clip, “Colour of the Outside” also manages to be strangely powerful.

Haley Heynderickx – No Face

Haley Heynderickx’s “No Face” is one of a handful of clips on this list that took a simple premise and executed it with panache by Evan James Atwood, leading to surprisingly memorable results. A stop-motion video that puts Heynderickx in full silhouette, “No Face” uses static framing to perfection. Consisting of no more than Heynderickx miming along to the song and another pair of hands for some additional meaning, “No Face” is a testament to what anyone can achieve with a shoestring budget. A million frames can make up an incredible picture, even when the images barely differ. An inspired — and inspiring — work from a deserving breakout artist.

Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost

One of the most heartening things about a year that didn’t always have a lot of those on hand was the return of basement pop legends Swearin’. Select orders of their first record after reuniting came with a version of 3D glasses that’d been relegated to a curious footnotes in the annals of film history. A fun gimmick on the surface was provided some extra weight with a pair of videos with “Grow Into A Ghost” becoming a genuine standout. Embracing a ’50s aesthetic and the stoic sensibilities of the era, Swearin’ have all sorts of fun with the animation integrated into a modernized strain of an updated technology. “Grow Into A Ghost” was the perfect reminder of what we’ve been missing.

Lucero – Long Way Back Home

Jeff Nichols is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. His collaborations with Michael Shannon have yielded countless accolades and an overwhelming amount of acclaim. Nichols’ brother, Ben, also happens to front Lucero, who have provided a few songs to those films. The brothers Nichols and Shannon team up once again for this short film set to Lucero’s “Long Way Back Home”, teeming with the quietly desperate rural lyricism that’s flickered away in the core of the trio’s work for years. A few more notable actors make appearances in a narrative that keeps the viewer in a vice-like grip up until the ambiguous final moments. While there’s no clear resolution, “Long Way Back Home” is a ride worth taking.

Mitski – Geyser

While the Christopher Good-directed clip for “Nobody” makes appearance after appearance — and deservedly so — on The Best Music Videos of 2018 lists, it’s also worth taking a look at the clip that preceded that one, “Geyser”. A gorgeous tracking shot on a desolate beach follows Mitski as the songwriter mimes the words to “Geyser” before abandoning that conceit entirely, fleeing the camera and collapsing onto the shore, writhing around in a place between catharsis and desperation, pointing to the sheer nakedness of the work on Be The Cowboy. A huge moment for both Mitski and filmmaker Zia Anger.

Iceage – The Day The Music Dies

Iceage and Graeme Flegenheimer teamed up for “The Day The Music Dies” video, which finds the post-punk act tapping into a strain of Southern Gothic visuals once again, producing a series of visuals that immediately register as formally classic, bringing to mind cinematographer Robert Elswit’s work on There Will Be Blood. “The Day The Music Dies” is flooded with iconic imagery but for all its formality, there’s a very evident sense of playfulness coursing through the clip. Tongue-subtly-in-cheek — check out those borderline nonsensical breaks for the car commercial shots — and fiery as hell, the clip’s a very strong example of how abandoning reservations can significantly elevate the material.

Noname – Blaxploitation

A cutting, socially conscious work from Noname, “Blaxploitation” leans hard into metaphor and film history. Taking its cues from the monster film genre, “Blaxploitation” depicts a young black child navigating a model set. Framed as a towering monster, the subject explores the small neighborhood, clearly innocent despite striking an imposing figure, relative to the setting. Tragic for all of the typical, endlessly frustrating reasons, Alex Lill’s video for “Blaxploitation” is every bit as thoughtful as the record on which it resides. Hypnotic and incredibly pointed, “Blaxploitation” is very clearly not just among the finest music videos but the visual format as a whole.

Lonely Parade – Night Cruise

Night Cruise” was the first of Lonely Parade‘s releases to get a huge push and that attention couldn’t have come at a better time. Released in advance of one of the year’s best records, the clip ably demonstrated the band’s identity. Soft strobes of neon hues, softer saturation levels, and some clever one shots cut to the core of the band’s confrontational sensibilities. “Night Cruise” showed that Lonely Parade know exactly who they were and exactly what they were about while still managing to be visually hypnotic. Easily one of the year’s best hangout clips, “Night Cruise” marked the arrival of a band whose career promises to be worth following.

La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I

La Dispute made a return in the year’s final month, unveiling the startlingly intense animated clip for “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I“. A fever dream narrative plays out in the clip, which centers around a car colliding with a deer on the road. Psychedelic imagery swirls around this event, which plays out more than once, lending additional meaning to the event. There’s an impact, things are altered, objects are wrecked, but there’s a beauty that undercuts the despair, reminding the viewer of life’s fragility as much as its inherent tenderness. “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” is an astonishing work that may just be the band’s finest release to date.

Mozes and The Firstborn – Hello

For all the serious subject matter that tends to dominate these types of lists, there are moments of lightness to be found and celebrated. For instance: Mozes and the Firstborn‘s humorous, lighthearted clip for “Hello“. It’s an exceptionally simple premise that’s executed to perfection and imbued with genuine joy. One tracking shot keeps guitarist/vocalist Melle Dielesen front and center, surrounded by a marathon that was taking place in real time. Layers of clothing are shed, several with song-specific message scrawled or printed on them, a cigarette gets smoked, and the song is mimed while runners react to Dielesen’s tongue-in-cheek antics. Easily 2018’s most outright fun video.

Dusk – Leaf

Finn Bjornerud has long been Tenement’s go-to music video director and continues to work with the members’ other projects. As good as some of the Tenement clips have been, Bjornerud hits a career high by some margin with the breathtaking video for Dusk‘s “Leaf“, which remains one of the best songs of the present decade. The song itself lends an additional potency to Bjornerud’s signature camera movements but also forces the camera to stay relatively still, fixating on the mundane details of winter life in the upper Midwest: the boots in the snow, clothing layers being shed, a flock of geese taking off from a snow-capped field. Tethering in a quiet, loving relationship between two people finding ways to celebrate their continued survival gives “Leaf” another empathetic layer that’s strong enough to ensure its rightful place on this list.

Fog Lake – Push

Some of 2018’s most brilliant editing work in a music video came courtesy of Noah Kentis’ twisting, multilayered visual for Fog Lake‘s “Push“. The first of a series of intentionally blurred smash cuts hits at just after the minute mark and every time is startling and powerful enough in its execution to warrant chills. No matter how many times its replayed or used, there’s a singular perfection to the framing and implementation that’s enough to knock a viewer out. As the Charlie Kaufman-esque narrative of “Push” unfurls, there’s a deepening sense of mystery inextricably tied to the ambiguity that characterizes the clip’s final moments. A masterclass in composition and editing, “Push” also stands tall as one of the most mesmerizing videos to have come out over the past handful of years.

IDLES – Danny Nedelko

For some reason or another, white supremacists started using the okay sign as a “covert” way of communicating their reprehensible ideology. Since they’re terrible at everything, the general public discovered what they were doing right around the time it started happening. Enter: IDLES, the band who made 2017’s best music video and missed that title this year by a hair. “Danny Nedelko” a standout track from Joy As An Act of Resistance was a song explicitly about their friend, an immigrant. The black-and-white video follows Nedelko through a series of vignettes, meeting up with other immigrants while dancing, laughing, and flashing the okay symbol with a sheepish grin. It’s a pointed missive of reclamation that’s framed with a welcome level of affection for its subjects. Joy As An Act of Resistance indeed.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

Hop Along – How Simple

Every publication told its readers the same thing at the end of 2018, which was destined to be a certainty from the moment of its release: the music video that defined the year was Hiro Murai’s astonishing clip for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America“. While that video more than deserves all of the praise its received, the aim of this site is to shed some more light on what’s flickering away in the shadows, which brings us to Hop Along‘s incredible video for 2018 highlight “How Simple.”

The first image of Derrick Belcham’s video for “How Simple” is a spotlight, centered on an unopened door. As a visual cue, it’s deceptively striking and open to many valid interpretations but it’s an image that only lingers for a few second as guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan seizes that spotlight and turns in a tour de force performance as the clip’s central subject. Exuding classic Hollywood charisma, bringing to mind the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, and Jean Simmons.

Quinlan’s an inherently magnetic presence on stage (and in studio) so it’s not a surprise the wildly gifted songwriter dominates nearly every frame of the “How Simple video, which is perhaps a calculated outcome for a narrative so heavily centered on personal identity. There’s an incredible emotional spectrum on display here with Belcham leaning hard into Quinlan’s facial expressions, which tell a story all their own.

“How Simple” is an incredible journey that’s gifted an incredibly appealing setting as its story unfurls, navigating everything from shame to resentment to anger to acceptance to celebratory self-reconciliation. Wisely making its home in the mundane nature of every day existence, “How Simple” cuts to the root of several hard-won realizations. By the clip’s purposeful resolution is revealed, Belcham’s ensured a moment of appreciation for a quiet triumph of perseverance, putting one last piece of finite punctuation on the best music video of 2018.

 


Further Watching: Peach Kelli Pop – Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness | Lemuria – Kicking In | Advance Base – Your Dog | Dilly Dally – Doom | Pedro The Lion – Yellow Bike | Vundabar – Acetone | Hala – Sorry | Free Cake For Every Creature – Be Home Soon | Slothrust – Double Down | Onlyness – Comfortable | Deaf Wish – FFS | Spirit Was – Golden Soul | Harry Permezel – Wax Man | Alien Boy – Somewhere Without Me | The Magic Gang – Getting Along | Shame – Lampoon | Clearance – Had A Fantastic | Amos Pitsch – Piece of the Season | illuminati hotties – Cuff | Snail Mail – Heat Wave | Courtney Barnett – Charity | Lauren Hibbard – What Do Girls Want? | Tomberlin – Self-Help | Homeboy Sandman & Edan – The Gut | sewingneedle – Feel Good Music | The Beths – You Wouldn’t Like Me | Zuzu – Can’t Be Alone | Flasher – Material | The Glow – Beamer

Anna Burch – With You Every Day (Music Video)

The opening week of April 2018 featured a host of impressive music videos from the likes of Hatchie, Eleanor Friedberger, Winter, Freedom Fry, Hinds, Remember Sports, Now, Now, Buddy, West Thebarton, LANZ, Middle Kids, Frederick the Younger, Beach House, Ladytron, Therese Lithner, MOURN, Chris Crofton, Peach Kelli Pop, Kal Marks, Kirby Forest, Bodega, and SPAER. While all of those clips are worth a look, the one that made the strongest impression was Anna Burch‘s latest impressive visual, “With You Every Day”.

Burch has made a habit of showing up in this site’s “Best Of” compilations in its interim period, notching inclusions in everything from songs to music videos to records, thanks to the considerable strength of the material connected to Quit the Curse. “With You Every Day” continues the trend in kind, scaling things back to their most minimal and direct.

It’s a hyper-stylized performance clip that makes excellent use out of its palette and Burch’s magnetic charisma and multi-faceted talents (Burch co-directed the clip with Ben Collins). Invoking or echoing everything from Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense to John Hughes films to The Hives’ notoriously meticulous control over their own visual presentation, “With You Every Day” manages to provide a refreshingly distinct modernist take on familiar influences. It’s worth every view anyone’s willing to give.

Watch “With You Every Day” below and pick up Quit the Curse from Polyvinyl here.

The 10 Best Records of 2018’s First Two Months

One day into 2018, the year already had a ridiculously strong record thanks to a clever release strategy for the latest from Jeff Rosenstock. Not a lot of time had passed before the year saw more record’s join that record, POST-, in talks about the ceiling for what this year can produce. Over the first two months, 10 records — including POST- — managed to make a lasting impression, from records that showcased what their genres can offer at their peak to records that do away with genre subscriptions entirely. A long list of records managed to connect but these 10 managed to stand out. Dive in and enjoy the swim.

1. Evening Standards – Evening Standards

For anyone who found themselves dismayed at the news of Purple 7‘s dissolution, Evening Standards is a perfect reassurance. Chris Mott’s newest project, Evening Standards takes the torch from his old act with a clear-eyed assurance and presses its foot on the accelerator with a little more aggression. Already a viable contender for being the year’s best basement pop record (it would’ve been in last year’s conversation without question), Evening Standards is a relentless debut that refuses to pull punches. From the powerful opening track to the stratospheric heights of “Lil Green Man” to the well-earned finality of its closer, it’s a record that deserves to be delivered at maximum volume.

2. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

One of the first breakout records of 2018 was Anna Burch‘s confident Quit the Curse, which found a way to intertwine a carefree sound with pointed narratives that touch on everything from anxiety to uncertainty to self-empowerment. Sculpting elements of surf, powerpop, folk, and slacker punk into an intoxicating sound that echoes Sleeping in the Aviary‘s later era, Burch fashions something that’s familiar, fresh, and winsome. Delivered with a smirk, a wink, and an I-dare-you-to-even-try-it smile, the songs on Quit the Curse go a long way in establishing Burch’s artistic identity. When it ends, it’s enough to have most eager for the inevitable extension.

3. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

Despite being a prominent genre name for years, Jeff Rosenstock‘s career took a massive stride into wider recognition with 2016’s outstanding WORRY.. In typical punk fashion, it didn’t take Rosenstock long to craft a follow-up effort. What’s surprising about POST-, which was surprise-released on the first day of 2018, isn’t its success but it’s wild ambition. Best exemplified by the seven-and-a-half minute “USA”, POST- finds Rosenstock at both his most visible and his most fearless. Every song on this thing is approached at full-tilt and delivered with the desperation of someone fighting for their life. It’s raucous, it’s unpredictable, it’s shockingly complete, and it will always stand tall as 2018’s first great record.

4. The Royal They – Foreign Being

The Royal They find themselves in the relatively unique position of finding themselves launched into much larger conversations because of their extraordinary sophomore album, Foreign Being. All but weaponizing a genre-obliterating mixture of post-punk, post-hardcore, basement pop, spoken word, indie pop, and a host of other influences, the band lets fly from the onset with the exhilarating 1-2 combo of “C.N.T.” and “Sludgefucker”, firmly establishing their authority and digging in their claws with no reservation. Vicious, experimental, and engrossing from start to finish, Foreign Being has the early distinction of being one of the first quarter’s strongest surprises.

5. Ought – Room Inside the World 

Now three records into their career, it seems as if Ought is incapable of making an errant move. They’ve slowly expanded their identity, scope, and ambitions over the course of each of those successive records and seem incredibly comfortable in forging their own path. Tim Darcy‘s foray into solo work even seems to have invigorated the songwriter’s main vehicle, allowing Room Inside the World more space to breathe. Ought are at their most polished here but there’s still that strain of tension and neurotic nerves that defined their earlier material. Room Inside the World is the perfect next step for a band that seems determined to be the authoritative voice in their corner of post-punk.

6. Royal Brat – Eyesore

A common trend among acts who are revered for their live act is an inability to craft a record that does their set justice. Royal Brat curb that trend with Eyesore, a record as explosive as they are on stage. Eyesore‘s songs sit around a 100-second average but that’s more than enough time for the band to get their message across. A record about finding redemption and power in living as a survivor, Eyesore finds meaning in its pointed outbursts. Buoyed by attitude and conviction, it’s a dogged triumph that announces the band as a force that’s hellbent on being granted a reckoning.

7. JACK – Alchemical Rounds

Brittany Costa has a long history as a songwriter and musician but has never seemed more at home than she has when positioned at the forefront of JACK. A collection of demos and a genuinely moving EP already under the project’s belt, Costa dives forward and continues to reckon with questions of character, mortality, and certainty. It’s an unwieldy record that conjures up a storm as unwieldy — and unyielding — as the questions that fuel its dark, unapologetic narrative. Costa continues to impress at every level and has delivered yet another fully-realized masterstroke that kicks away the cobwebs from some rooms that people less bold still aren’t willing to explore.

8. Screaming Females – All At Once

Glass House” — one of last year’s most powerful songs — was one of the first looks at Screaming Females‘ All At Once and serves it well as the lead-off track.  The band’s aggression, present even when showing restraint, is one of the most potent keys to their continued success. The placement of “Glass House” sets the tone for what’s to follow, which winds up being the trio’s most decisive work to date. All At Once wears its many bruises like badges of honor, as the band draws from past wounds and experiences to determine its stance and braces for the worst. Chaotic in theory but precisely controlled, All At Once is another masterstroke from a group of vaunted prizefighters.

9. Ratboys – GL

A long-held but underutilized tradition among bands is releasing an EP as an addendum to a larger body of work. When they work, the end result can’t only just make a project more comprehensive but strengthen it’s foundation (see: Okkervil River‘s Black Sheep Boy Appendix EP). Ratboys joins that select pantheon of acts with the extraordinary GL which rivals its formidable predecessor, GN, as a complete work. Containing some of the finest work of the young band’s career, GL exudes the same kind of sprawling, wide-open humanity that’s provided their discography a beating heart. Electric and captivating, GN finds a memorable way to hit all the right notes.

10. Long Neck – Will This Do?

During Jawbreaker Reunion‘s brief but exceptional run, guitarist/vocalist Lily Mastrodimos emerged as an incredibly engaging voice. Fortunately, Mastrodimos had a solo vehicle to keep those talents sharp in Jawbreaker Reunion’s absence. Now that project, Long Neck, has taken the leap that’s served acts like Cloud Nothings and Car Seat Headrest extraordinarily well and gone the full band route. After a handful of extremely strong releases that saw Mastrodimos alone in the spotlight, Will This Do?, as challenging and bleak as it can seem, also comes with a twinge of celebration.

A handful of the finest work of Mastrodimos’ already exceptional discography gets a home in Will This Do?, an incredibly versatile and assured record that explores the themes that have populated the work of both Long Neck’s first iteration and Jawbreaker Reunion. Mortality is confronted head on, self-doubt tugs at the corners of the fabrics keeping the tapestry intact, and a resilient determination shines through the uncomfortably heavy thematic meditation. Joy is in short supply — but still present — on Will This Do? but a hard-earned understanding seems boundless in both its quiet moments and its moments of naked reckoning.

Tethered together by humanity and empathy, Will This Do? benefits from both its fearlessness and its persistent uncertainty. Explosive dynamics and inspired compositions keep it interesting on the surface but its in the many carefully constructed layers — both lyrically and musically — where it evolves into something genuinely gripping.

The record also has the benefit of starting strong but ending with one of the strongest four songs stretches anyone’s produced in recent memory (a run that boasts some of the most vivid and haunting imagery imaginable, especially in the unforgettable closing moments of “Milky Way”) that propels Will This Do? past the conversation of simply being one of 2018’s best and position it as one of the strongest records of this present decade. In what seems to be a time of crisis, Long Neck have flipped the script, seized their own direction and left a trail of smoke in their wake.

17 of ’17: The Best Songs of the Year

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.

Enjoy.

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 & Response is 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 Changer is 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

18-21

22-26

27-32

Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default

33-100

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

The Very Best of the Very Rest: The Best Songs of the Past Two Months

Over the past two months, a ridiculous amount of music has found release. Plumbing the depths of that haul has been a privilege but it’s also been incredibly time-consuming. Digging through the rubble, as it has so frequently in the past, yielded no shortage of absolute gems. From a few of the most gorgeous songs I’ve heard all year to some career highs to some genuine standout material, there’s a lot to explore in the below list. Normally, each of these would receive a short accompanying write up (and a few of them still will in the forthcoming year-end lists) but for the sake of expediency in the face of the volume of forthcoming content, they will simply be listed below. Don’t let that distract or discourage, all of the song are here for a reason. Queue them up, close your eyes, and let them wash you away.

 

Mo Troper – Your Brand

Covey – Call Home

Long Neck – Mine/Yours + Elizabeth

Weed Hounds – Double Life

Vundabar – Acetone

Sammi Lanzetta – Circles

Juan de Fuca – All the Time

Hater – Rest

Deep State – Time Unraveled

Hovvdy – Late

Boys – Rabbits

Bully – Kills To Be Resistant

Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out + Fig

Yours Are the Only Ears – Saturn

Kal Marks – Adventure

Dmitry Evgrafov – Rootedness

Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend

Alyeska – Stones

Slaughter Beach, Dog – Acolyte

Operator Music Band – Realistic Situation

Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog

The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands

The Very Best of the Very Rest: The Best Music Videos of the Past Two Months

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.

 

  1. Mannequin Pussy – Emotional High 
  2. Winter – Jaded
  3. Charly Bliss – Scare U
  4. Radiator Hospital – Nothing Nice
  5. Anna Burch – 2 Cool 2 Care
  6. Casper Skulls – Lingua Fraca + Primeval
  7. The Spook School – Still Alive
  8. Stef Chura – Speeding Ticket
  9. Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
  10. Amos Pitsch – Lake Effect
  11. Yucky Duster – Construction Man
  12. Screaming Females – Glass House
  13. Jay Som – The Bus Song
  14. Fuzzystar – Superhero
  15. Good Boy – Fishing With A Shotgun
  16. Anamon – Fast Car
  17. Young Jesus – Feeling
  18. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Matter of Time + Call On God