Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Bad Banana

Seven Weeks, Ten Records

Before this week began, it’d been seven weeks since any of this site’s regular coverage had appeared. The first stretch of this week will be dedicated to amending the outstanding material that went uncovered in the interim, while the latter part of the week will feature the present week’s finest offerings. Below are ten standout records to have been released over the long hiatus, from EPs to compilations to full-lengths. There’s a whole host of incredible material shared between these ten records so stop hesitating and just dive straight into this post’s overflowing heart. Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough 

Expert Eraser“, “Fade“, and “Teen Challenge” all earned feature slots on this site in the lead-up to Plastic Cough‘s release, each one suggesting a seemingly inevitable reality: Great Grandpa throwing their hat into the ring of genuine Album of the Year contenders. The day finally came, Plastic Cough was released, and that inevitability proved to be no joke. Plastic Cough is an absolutely ferocious record, gnashing its teeth at every hairpin turn and gloriously bombastic moment, only pausing to breathe on the gorgeous “Faithful”, a perfectly placed slow-burner that rounds the record out in breathtaking fashion. Plastic Cough is the kind of thrill ride that makes a mark deep enough to last.

Slaughter Beach, Dog – Motorcycle.jpg

Jake Ewald may get the most recognition for his work in Modern Baseball but what the songwriter’s accomplished in Slaughter Beach, Dog is equally — if not even more — compelling. Having already accumulated an incredibly rich and surprisingly expansive sound over the course of a full-length and an EP, Motorcyle.jpg finds Ewald leaning even more confidently into the battered folk trappings that heightened those first two releases. Motorcycle.jpg also skews a little more lo-fi and at times recalls Yankee Bluff, each poignantly bruised track vastly exceeding the aesthetics perceived limitations. It’s another impressive work from a musician worth watching.

Little Star – July Demos

Another one of the acts positioning Good Cheer Records as one of the finest upstart labels, Little Star has managed to turn a lot of heads in recent times, thanks to two sterling full-lengths. The project’s showing no signs of slowing down, even going so far as to release a small collection of demos last month, aptly entitled July Demos. The band’s earned comparisons to legendary acts (Big Star, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular among them) and it’s not difficult to see why those comparisons are being made, even from this small smattering of tracks. All four of the songs on display here are sharply written songs that convey a great deal of emotion in their quiet restraint. Spellbinding work.

Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues

Chumped may have been Katie Ellen‘s earliest claim to some modicum of fame but the songwriter’s not being reduced to the ashes left in the wake of that band’s departure, instead opting to venture out on an already promising solo career. Cowgirl Blues is Ellen’s first statement and it’s a bold one. The first two and a half minutes of opening track “Drawing Room” are comprised entirely of extremely light ambient noise, clean guitar, and vocals, as if Ellen is reasserting an individual identity. It’s a deeply effective moment that sets the tone for a record that’s not afraid to show off its bruises, scars, or self-awareness. Front to back, it’s one of the summer’s most captivating listens.

Milked – Death On Mars

Kelly Johnson is the songwriter spearheading Milked, graciously returning to the fold after Geronimo! took their final bow. For anyone who was concerned Johnson would step away from the eccentricities and unpredictable eclecticism that made Geronimo! so fascinating, put aside those fears for good. Death on Mars is as gleefully unwieldy and feral as Geronimo! at their fiercest (undoubtedly helped along by the drumming of Geronimo! bandmate Matt Schwerin). Death On Mars is a towering work that’s not afraid to embrace catharsis or melody even as it careens wildly from song to song, touching on everything from powerpop to hardcore along the way. An absolute triumph of a return.

Midwives – No

No will be the last record Midwives — who appeared in this site’s Best EP’s list in 2013 and 2015 and whose self-titled 7″ was one of the first reviews this site ever ran — will release. While it’s a shame that one of the upper Midwest’s best hardcore bands will be disappearing into the ether, at the very least they managed to go out on top: No is a culmination of everything the group’s accomplished since starting up nearly five years ago. It’s a growling, spitting, snarling beast of a record, unafraid to take prisoners in its sub-18 minute run-time. Bruising and feral, it’s only fitting that such a proudly deranged band would go out kicking, baring its threatening fangs all the while.

Dream Ritual – Summer Promo

Sometimes all it takes for a band to take off is three songs, which is exactly what Dream Ritual‘s offering on Summer Promo, a blistering post-punk EP that doesn’t leave any room for filler. Echoing everyone from Shellac to METZ and everyone in between, Dream Ritual manages to carve out their own distinct identity. “Noise”, “Oil & Canvas”, & “Sunlight Girl” all perfectly marry elements of modern day noise-punk with some of the genre’s earliest defining elements. Whether it’s the metallic-like production or the infusion of pop-leaning melody, it’s clear that Dream Ritual are students of the genre. Thankfully for us, their learning has resulted in one of the summer’s strongest EP’s.

Mike Krol – Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records

A few years ago, this site named Mike Krol‘s Turkey one of the best records of 2015 and heavily praised the songwriter’s infectiously joyous live show. Krol had gained notoriety thanks to the cult following that he’d accumulated due to his first two records, Trust Fund and I Hate Jazz, both of which were long out of print by the time Merge announced Krol’s signing and released Turkey. Fortunately, for everyone, Merge has come to the rescue and reissued both of those seminal classics (this according to essentially anyone that owns either) and packaged them with all of the demos for each session. The whole thing’s an exhilarating look at an exhilarating artist and should be considered essential listening for fans of the basement pop genre.

Tunnel Traffic – MEESH

Tunnel Traffic’s MEESH occupies a space that’s always memorable: the record arrived from the artist via unsolicited submission and proceeded to impress at every turn. From opener “Lesson Learned” to the closing “Memorial”, this small release from Adam Hachey’s solo project made a sizable impression. Softer and a little sweeter than expected, MEESH is chock-full of mid-tempo folk-leaning numbers that expand the bedroom pop genre into something faintly unfamiliar. It’s quiet, it’s intimate, it’s unassuming, and it’s utterly spectacular. MEESH weaves an unbreakable trance over its listeners and commands their attention through a narrative journey that feels both direct and cerebral. It’s an incredible accomplishment from a songwriter whose work all but demands to be followed.

Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm (Deluxe Version)

Throughout work with WaxahatcheeP.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and Great Thunder as well as through a variety of guest roles Katie Crutchfield has become a household name for a very particular sect of people, broadening that base with each successive release. Crutchfield’s latest comes via the Waxahatchee moniker, Out in the Storm. Everything that Waxahatchee has released to date has stood the test of time and remained as impressive — if not more so — as it was at the time of its release. Out in the Storm feels like Crutchfield’s reached another level entirely, combining more than a decade’s worth of knowledge, experience, and style into a mesmerizing, cohesive whole. A career high point for Crutchfield and easily one of the best records of 2017, Out in the Storm‘s definitive version also comes package with the demos for each song on the record, all of which are — like the record itself — well worth hearing.

Allison Crutchfield – Berlin (Stream)

Swearin' XXXVIV

Just a few days ago Allison Crutchfield surprised just about everyone by releasing a surprise solo EP (with a fair amount of additional help from Radiator Hospital‘s Sam Cook-Parrott) on a new bandcamp page with absolutely no advance warning. Considering that Crutchfield’s been a part of a few of the better bands of the past decade (Bad Banana, Dear MarjeP.S. Eliot, and Swearin’), the news sent a ripple through a few different communities. There was one major lingering question before taking the plunge and listening to Lean In To It– what would it sound like? It’s difficult to imagine anyone expected it to be a subdued, largely down-tempo glitchy lo-fi bedroom pop record but that’s exactly what it turned out to be- and it still managed to be as stunning as everyone expected.

All seven tracks on Lean In To It add up to something that’s more than worth the $5 price tag that accompanies it, a total anomaly that confounds as much as it entices. Everything on display throughout the EP is compelling to an absurd degree and while that is in part because of the release’s completely unexpected nature, it’s also due to Crutchfield’s undeniable talent as a songwriter. While the six tracks that precede it all have their own merit, it’s the closing track (“Berlin”) that really ties Lean In To It together. A warm synthesizer line props up a gently gnarled guitar line while a damaged drum track cuts everything apart from underneath. Topping everything off is Crutchfield’s always-arresting voice detailing a deeply introspective trip and a fierce longing to match. It’s a staggering amount of heartache that leads up to the release’s final line, which is exactly where the EP gets its name. All in all, it’s another stunning triumph for one of this generation’s more gifted talents and it deserves as wide of an audience as possible.

Listen to “Berlin” below and pick up the whole thing over at Crutchfield’s bandcamp, then join a growing number of people hoping this finds an outlet for a physical release.

Swearin’ – Live at Memorial Union Terrace – 5/30/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

Swearin' XLII

There are very few bands that will warrant the subversion of this site’s manifest. One of the rules that this place tends to hold sacred is that the music in question is more important than an individual reaction to it (this eliminates the assumptions involved in writing from a first person perspective). That said, there are a few bands that have managed to flip that script based on the sheer reverence their music has earned. Perfect Pussy and Tenement are the most notable to have it done it so far but today Swearin’ joins their ranks. There’s just something about the band that resonates with me on a really intense personal level. It’s at the point where it’s impossible to distance or separate myself from that reaction. Taking myself out of the equation would, in some way, feel more dishonest than just trying to get across how this band affects me personally- because any time that happens it’s worth dissolving barriers for.

Some exposition: What A Dump, the band’s first demo cassette, is one of my favorite releases of all time. There’s literally nothing in my fairly expansive library that comes even remotely close to matching it for number of plays at this point. Swearin’, the band’s first full-length, is in the top ten of that particular list as well. Despite this being the case, up until last Friday night, I’d never seen the band play live. So, when the opportunity to see the band play for free on a terrace overlooking Lake Mendota came, I dropped everything and jumped at the chance. By the end of that night my enthusiasm and affection for the band and its members had only grown more emphatic. An additional bonus was the fact that the show gave me a chance to finally catch Pretty Pretty live as well, who lived up to their strong early reputation.

Both bands played shortly after the sun finally set on Madison with Pretty Pretty giving a commanding performance that emphasized their strengths as a live act. The Columbus trio”s punk-tinged powerpop never got tiresome and their set only got more impassioned as it went on, gaining a startling momentum until it finally got to a place where the only thing left to do was call it quits for the evening and let Swearin’ take over. Swearin’, for their part, commanded the hell out of their sizeable audience (it’s nice to see free music outdoors on a perfect night proving to be as big of a draw as it’s ever been) and lived up to every ridiculous, lofty expectation I’d been forming for years. A lot of their songs are practically sacred to me at this point and they only grew more vital in the live setting. When their discography spanning set came to a close, strings had been broken, feelings had been poured out, notes had been missed, beer had flowed frrely, an infinite amount of mosquitoes had been swatted, and everyone was all smiles. From “Here to Hear” to “Crashing” to “Dust in the Gold Sack” to “What A Dump” to “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” there was never a moment that felt less than incendiary. My friend Justin summed the whole thing up aptly and admiringly with a simple “Fuckin’ Swearin'”. How right he is.

A video of Swearin’ kicking off their set with “Here to Hear” can be seen below. Below that video is an extensive image gallery of the show. Take a look at both, then make sure to catch them in person whenever they’re in town. It’ll be worth it.

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 1

We’re a little over a month away from NXNE, the Canadian equivalent of SXSW, which means it’s time to start prioritizing which bands at the fest to see. Over the course of the next handful of weeks, we’ll cover a decent fraction of the bands that have been announced (approximately 400 as of this posting) in anticipation for the festival. NXNE itself is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has pulled out several stops to make this one particularly memorable. The lineup for this year’s absolutely stacked, which means that this’ll be the first entry in an ongoing series. Kicking things off are five acts that helped define Heartbreaking Bravery’s identity. Get to know them.

1. METZ

What to Know: Seeing METZ dismantle a library with their sonic assault in Champaign-Urbana last year was a life highlight. Both the band and the crowd were all wearing clothes that were at the very least a shade or two darker than when they came in, looking haggard, spent, and ecstatic. To see them play a festival of this magnitude on their home turf is almost guaranteed to be something special.

What to Watch:



2. Swearin’

What to Know: Between What A DumpSwearin’, and Surfing Strange (the first record to ever be reviewed here), they’ve got one of the most impressive early discographies out there. They’re a band with a fiercely intimidating pedigree, composed of members (or ex-members/touring members) of: Bad Banana, P.S. Eliot, Great Thunder, Waxahatchee, Big Soda, and Radiator Hospital. Easily one of the most exciting bands playing shows right now and an absolute must-see.

What to Watch:

3. PS I Love You

What to Know: PS I Love You is an inventive guitar and drums duo that revels in aggressive distortion, piercing feedback, shaky vocals, and general explosiveness. Between their first two full-lengths, Meet Me at the Muster Station and Death Dreams, they’ve garnered quite a bit more critical acclaim than the film they share a name with. They deserve it; their music’s intelligent and catchy as hell.

What to Watch:

4. Greys

What to know: Like METZ, Greys will be playing on their home turf but METZ is already a well-established brand, Grey’s are at the start of that trajectory. They’ve been making all of the right moves and appearing in all of the right places lately, building heavy anticipation for their upcoming record. This is very much a band on the rise and they’re capitalizing on that momentum. Don’t be surprised if they wind up playing the best set of the festival.

What to Watch:

5. Perfect Pussy

What to Know: As has been said before, no band has been covered more on this site than Perfect Pussy. They’re one of the most exciting bands on the planet, both on record and in the live setting. Say Yes to Love is one of the best records, if not the best record to have been released so far this year. Led by the endlessly fascinating Meredith Graves, they’re worthy of something approaching devotion. This is not a band that takes things lightly; they lay everything on the line during their ferocious sets- and at an average of roughly 20 minutes, they’re perfectly suited to showcase slots. If, when the schedule is finally announced, they wind up as part of a conflicting time bracket, just go ahead and cross everyone else’s name off. This is the band to see.

What to Watch:

Saintseneca – Happy Alone (Music Video)

Between the streaming of Terrestrials the behemoth of a collaborative album between Sunn O))) and Ulver, the announcement of a Bad Banana reunion show, John Dwyer releasing his first material post-Oh Sees hiatus, Big Air publicly unveiling their excellent debut tape, Buds, Fear of Men releasing a very promising sneak peek of their upcoming debut full-length Loom, a surprisingly punchy new track entitled “Any Wonder” from Yellow Ostrich, Mary Timony’s newest project, Ex Hex, offering up a hard-charging sample of their upcoming Merge debut, the cleverly constructed first music video to come out of the pairing of Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws and Julianna Hatfield for their Minor Alps project, an NPR Tiny Desk Session from The Pixies, the energetic black-and-white music video premiere of The Orwells’ “The Righteous One“, a live performance video of an all-acoustic run through of upcoming Drive-By Truckers track “Made Up English Oceans“, and Angel Olsen‘s absolutely stunning smoky, seductively noir-ish music video for upcoming Burn Your Fire for No Witness track “Hi-Five“, it’s been one hell of a Monday. Then, to top it all off, there’s the video that managed to edge out all of this to become today’s focus piece; Saintseneca‘s extraordinary clip for upcoming Dark Arc track “Happy Alone”.

Dark Arc, at this point easily one of the year’s most anticipated albums, should officially herald the arrival of Saintseneca, a band that was previously best known for being a conglomeration of two excellent Ohio basement punk bands; All Dogs and The Sidekicks. They’ve been maintaining an entrancing (and incredibly effective) rollout campaign for Dark Arc, their Anti- records debut, and seem poised to continue rewarding the investment of anyone who’s paying attention. “Happy Alone” has officially elevated their art form even further. The Christopher Good clip is clearly indebted to a vast array of arthouse influences and features stunning handheld cinematography, a gorgeous (magic hour-infused) color palette, inspired editing, yet another great song from the band, and band member Zac Little’s head in a giant bubble as he makes his way through everyday tasks.

It’s borderline dadaism and dips in and out of some Warhol-level pop art as it goes along to the most weirdly entrancing effect. It works as a surface level piece and as a light commentary on the nature of loneliness. There’s really absolutely no reason for any of it to add up to the inexplicably powerful whole that it is but it manages to do that and a little more. On its own, “Happy Alone” is definitive enough to act as a perfect introductory piece to the uninitiated while being singular enough to plausibly rank as one of the bands most important moments in their continuing evolution during this much-deserved groundswell of success. Above all else, though, it’s just a beautiful piece of art. That’s something that will always be worth rewarding. Watch it below.