Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: band practice

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 4

Car Seat Headrest

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 3

Idle Bloom

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2

Girlpool I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

Bad Cello – Live at Palisades – 10/4/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

IMG_8619

It’s strange for most of the buzz surrounding a show to be granted to the opening act but that seemed to be the case with last Sunday’s Bad Cello show at Palisades. The reason for that intrigue was due in part to the fact that this was to be the first time anyone would hear Patio, a band that’s been steadily practicing for months. As the trio took the stage there was a palpable level of both excitement and curiosity, with many people on hand to witness Patio’s public unveiling  (they’d draw the biggest crowd of the day).

Only a few songs in, the band had staked out an identity; minimalist post-punks with a flair for wry humor, dissonance, and a strong pop sensibility (Sonic Youth’s more contained side and the early ’90s slacker punk movement stand out as very clear influences). As is always the case with new bands performing for the first time, there were a few hiccups here and there but that only seemed to lend to the project’s considerable charm. Vocal leads were traded off with a relative ease and the band committed to a gambit that came in the form of “Micro-balls”, a song rife with absurd sexual humor that paid massive dividends. The band was in complete control by the time their set closer rolled around, all but guaranteeing a promising future as a DIY staple.

Jeanette Wall, who set the show up (and who, like Patio’s Loren DiBlasi, has contributed to this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories series), took the stage next to perform a handful of songs from her Band Practice project. Never taking herself too seriously, Wall infused her set with some genuinely entertaining (and mostly self-deprecating) banter that never came at the expense of the actual worth of her songs. All of the songs remained engaging even when stripped of their full-band trappings, allowing Wall an excess of space that was ably filled with charisma. The set was effectively split between comedy and music, with each half of the equation complementing the other to a surprising degree.

Following Wall’s entertaining theatrics were Glueboy, a young band that’s carved out a nice spot for themselves in Brooklyn’s DIY circle. Two releases into a young career, the band’s got heavy connections to DBTS and Double Double Whammy and those influences are very evident. Glueboy slipped into my listening rotation when I was looking for apartments in Brooklyn and wound up securing a spot where their bassist, Coby Chafets, was already residing (incidentally, I would move to that spot after a brief stint at DBTS).

Their brand of shambolic, punk-tinged basement pop appealed to me and allowed for some early ease of mind in the transition. However, despite that (and listening in on numerous acoustic jam sessions), I’d never seen the band play their songs live. On stage, their presence is relatively fearless, with each member making the most out of their granted space. Chafets and guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Marty trade off vocals at a rapid succession and occasionally sing in harmony, proving themselves to be a livewire act who manage to come across as both endearing and endlessly entertaining without ever sacrificing any substance.

By the time Glueboy’s explosive set had wound to an end, only a scattered handful of people remained for the electro-pop of Miscreant act Bad Cello, who still committed to the performance despite the glaring lack of numbers (I can’t think of a greater attendance disparity from opening band to headlining act that’s happened in recent memory). Showcasing material new and old, Bad Cello provided a dance-minded epilogue to the decidedly hodgepodge bill that somehow found a way to bridge a few contextual gaps. It’s difficult to imagine that each of the bills four acts won’t find their way to bigger things in their respective circuits as they move ahead. Genuine talent and a depth of promise wound up being the recurring themes of the matinee shows and it’ll be worth keeping eyes on each act as they move towards capitalization.

Watch a collection of videos from the show below and scan through a gallery of photos here.

 

 

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 7

To get this out of the way up top: this site’s been going through a lot of planning phases lately and everything’s being collected as it appears. It’s been a while since the last post (mostly due to a new full-time job and splitting time between two active bands based in two cities nearly two hours apart) but that silence is coming to an end now. Initially- when I pitched the idea of a “meaningful moments in 2014 music” piece (one that had been built off an idea that grew out of a conversation with Sasha Geffen on a road trip to Kentucky) to the wonderful and absurdly talented, writers, musicians, artists, label heads, music video directors, and people- I had intended to run all of these together. Before long, it became extremely apparent that there was simply too much great content to do service to all of the pieces. It was extraordinarily humbling to piece everything together and even though this will be the last traditional post of the series, it’s far from over. There will be an epilogue that ties up everything with a bow just a little ways down the line.

Until then, this site will be going into overboard catch-up mode, featuring the best songs, music videos, and records to have been released in 2015. While all of that will bring some exciting new changes to this site, it’s the part of the paragraph where it’s time- once more- to reflect on what made 2014 so great. Below are pieces from a few of my favorite people in music and music writing, who I hold in the highest possible esteem, as well as my own personal reflection. And, lastly, a quick note to all of the people gracious enough to agree to this project: each of you, whether you knew it or not, meant something to me before all of this insanity kicked off and you all now have my undying gratitude in addition to my unfailing admiration. So, without further ado, it’s my absolute honor to present: Heartbreaking Bravery’s 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 7.

++

fast like light (august 2014)

How do you tell a secret that’s already told a thousand times a day?

This was August, and I had a bruise like an egg on my shin because I’d tripped over a gazebo in New Hampshire two days before. I’d hiked a whole mountain in my Vans with all my stuff on my back and my leg leaking into my jeans. Now I was in Brooklyn, where the air smelled thicker. The sun puddled up on the crooked streets.

I dropped my bag at Eric’s so I could walk without lugging it. He lived with Nadia in a railroad apartment in Bushwick, the kind of building with black iron scarred across the front. We hadn’t met before but I’d reviewed his tape a few months back, and he remembered my review and gave me a real tape to take back to Chicago with me. I opened the door to the bathroom instead of the stairwell when I tried to leave, and we both felt awkward and laughed.

The day moved slow. I met people I’d known online for years. There was a show in a hot loft. Eventually, we sat in Eric’s kitchen again, his windows blank to the night and fringed by pulsing Christmas lights.

Yeah, Christmas lights in Bushwick. But we also sipped tea out of small, worn mugs, and the show had been so good we couldn’t stop laughing. None of us had really had anything to drink, but we were tired, and excited, and full of the buzz that comes with warm, new love.

I mean love like friendship, the kind you get when you meet someone you’ve been talking or listening to forever, and the whole person is just as good as the parts you glimpsed, even better.

The apartment was stacked kitchen to music room to extra room to bedroom. Everyone went home but me, because I was sleeping on Eric and Nadia’s floor in the extra room. It was two or three in the morning, and Eric and Nadia were going to track vocals on one of Nadia’s songs.

I sat on the air mattress in the next room listening. They’d recorded instruments onto the computer already, and Nadia was making up the lyrics as she sang. Her voice was good and clear, like she’d had lessons once, or maybe just practiced a lot. Some of her takes were airy, whispery, then she’d cut through the whispers with a sharper overdub. She was trying to figure out what sounded better.

I wish I could remember her lyrics. I sat still, like I wasn’t there. You don’t break something like that when it happens.

She sounded like she felt so safe there, in the quarter of the home they’d sectioned off for music. Both of them had day jobs, too. They didn’t get to do this all the time. They made what they could, because they loved to. This is what I mean by a secret.

When they were done and the song was a little more finished than it had been before Nadia went to bed and Eric and I stood talking in the music room. Her project didn’t have a name yet but I told him how good it sounded from the next room. I still don’t know if it has a name.

We talked until about five hours before I had to get up to go to the airport. In the morning I would leave before either Eric or Nadia woke up, slip out the front door, and take the subway into LaGuardia. But it was four, and I wasn’t tired and Eric wasn’t tired, so we stood talking about the friends we had in common, the music they made, how lucky we were to know their music while it was young.

-Sasha Geffen (editor, Consequence of Sound, writer, basically everywhere else)

++

Finding Strength within Yourself While Working With Music

 On sunny days I go out walking I end up on a tree-lined street
I look up at the gaps of sunlight I miss you more than anything

I was walking down Eastern Parkway on a Sunday, early afternoon in the summer. Chris was texting me, again reflecting the fierceness of Mitski’s lyrics of her then unreleased Bury Me at Makeout Creek. This is a subject that Chris and I found ourselves enraptured in often, and continue to delve into at great length today. The sun was shining, and I marveled at how her lyrics described the very street I was walking down. I made it to my doctor’s office and sat in the waiting area with three or four children, yelling about squatter’s rights of the Lego table. Their parents were disengaged, and I matched their stares at the ceiling. It was cracked and dirty, and left you wondering, “How did something that color orange get up there? What is that?”

This was my fifth, maybe sixth visit to this doctor within a month. I was currently diagnosed with a myriad of titillating, polysyllabic phrases, mostly boiling down to “your hormones are messed up big time in a serious way.” From my burgundy waiting room chair, I remember thinking to text Chris something like (though I am certain that I never did, as the joke was never really developed), “Mitski’s line about not being able to afford ‘the drive I need to go further than they said I’d go’ is probably about the G train.” I laughed at myself, then got extremely anxious. My doctor opened the door and waved for me to follow her.

Sometimes the human body stops working, or a part fails. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was seventeen. It taught me that when your body stops working, and it will at some point, there are ways we as humans compensate. But no one is invincible. I had a thyroidectomy, went through radiation therapy, and was put in isolation in my childhood bedroom for weeks. I take pills every day to fill in as my missing, malfunctioned body part. I will take them every day until I die. Sometimes, though, even the ways we find to compensate for our bodies don’t work.

I found myself at the doctor’s office on this particular day, and basically every visit since May, because my medicine was not working. I had ignored symptoms of it not working for months on end. These symptoms included, but were not limited to, frequent panic attacks, inexplicable long sessions of uncontrollable crying, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, etc. I was spending so much time hiding and sobbing in bathroom at my office, that I had developed a system of guessing when the stalls were most likely empty. Even at my least lucid, I knew that crying alone was most suited for the office environment. My poor parents would have their regular calls cut off by my spiraling into a gripping fear that my boss’ fish would die and I would be fired. I was not myself. I was all of the saddest, least brave parts of my psyche at once. Eventually I was looking out windows and thinking about jumping out of them, and that was about the time that I knew that I couldn’t chalk this up to something I needed to handle on my own. I was later told that my hormones were so imbalanced, not only was I experiencing these extreme emotional side effects, I was at high risk of promoting irregular cell growth and my cancer would likely return if my dangerous hormone levels continued to go unaddressed.

It’s one thing to hear that you have cancer. It’s an entirely other thing to hear that you might get cancer again. Cancer is like winning the lottery or the opportunity to smoke weed in college: every time you get it, the higher the probability is that you will get it again. And while I’m not sure that bit about the lottery is true, I can tell you that I most certainly never want to get cancer again. And so I sat in the doctor’s office, walked 45 minutes each way to and from the doctor’s office, and would contemplate what my different blood tests would reveal in the moments in between, all the while enveloping myself exclusively in Mitski’s music. Her lyrics would weave in and around the folds of my brain. She taught me ways to put words together that I didn’t even know existed. Her fears, her love, her desires mirrored mine. She sings the kind of songs that make you feel like she is singing these words into your mouth. Even when I was full of fear, I found comfort and strength in knowing I was not alone.

As I began my walk back to my apartment that day, I sent Chris an equally under-thought (but somehow more worthy) joke about how I was prescribed ice cream this week. He replied asking for a referral. And it made me laugh out loud. It made me laugh through the tears and the confusion and the fear I lived with constantly. And for that reason, I felt close to him. I also felt close to him because, beyond our discussions of Mitski and her music, we also could talk about Taking Back Sunday and Bruce Springsteen and how much we love disgusting fast food and how much we love our parents. The night I met Chris, about a month after the height of my symptoms, he was leaving a party early to go see Mitski for the first time at Death By Audio. I had just drafted a track post about her new single for PORTALS and assured him that her performance would be well worth missing out on the party.

It’s beautiful out today, I wish you could take me upstate
To the little place you would tell me about when you’d sense that I’d want to escape

Mitski and I, like Mitski and Chris, met through her music. Her incredibly candid lyrics made me feel like I knew her much more than I did. This is probably because when I heard the first single she released, I did not know her at all. Her artistic creation had accompanied me to doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her songs sat with me on subway trains to and from work. They sunk to the foot of my bed as I screamed into pillows, erratically. Think Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I listened to “Drunk Walk Home” on the occasion I was, God help me, under the influence and walking home. When I wrote about her music for PORTALS, she thanked me graciously, as she is very gracious. “First Love // Late Spring” reminded me of a gust of exploding wind, dust billowing into doves. “I was so young when I behaved twenty-five, and now I find I’ve grown into a tall child,” Mitski sang. In between hiccup-laden breaths, I would find strength in her biting sense of humor and total agony in the very feeling she was describing.

I went to see her play a few times, and I talked to her between sets. When she told me about preparing for the record’s release, I offered my humble abilities at writing a short bio for her album announcement. We began emailing back and forth about this and that. At one point, when I was at a friend’s birthday party, I drunkenly texted her asking if she would want to put the record out a tape. This never came to fruition, or was spoken of again, as many things I ask about while drunk at birthday parties.

When I listened to Mitski’s music, I heard all of her feeling, her talent, her words, but I also heard a soundtrack to my own life. It rang like a bell. But perhaps that is why humans make music at all, to connect. And Mitski is extremely well versed in the art of connecting. She shares with great purpose. And the words and sentiments she was sharing were not just present in my life, but also lighting a fire within me, much like I imagine is the same with many of her loving supporters. In the midst of the sludge, the uphill battle I faced in righting the wrongs in my body, my ears perked. When falling in love with music, specifically, your blood gets warmed in an emotional incubator- and this gets you kicking. There is a light that awakens you, but it’s coming from your headphones, and then it comes within you. Instead of looking to someone else for purpose, you look inwardly, contemplating what this music means about the world around you as a whole.

Chris and I continued to hang out, run into each other at shows, trade music videos of our favorite horrible pop punk bands back and forth. We even drove to Baltimore together to see Taking Back Sunday, and I skipped my regular Sunday doctor’s appointment. My health was improving, though. By this time, Chris had met with Mitski regarding management, and had started a conversation with her about the future of her career. I had let her know anything I could help with, I would. That’s the other thing about falling in true love with someone’s music, much like falling in love with the person themselves: the more you get, the more you want. Mitski sent Chris and I Bury Me separately. And once we realized we both had the record, we could not be satiated. Discovering every nook and cranny of this album was our journey to the center of the Earth. We each saw her perform as much as we possibly could, usually together. Before one of her sets, I “performed” a DJ set from the safety of a Spotify playlist that consisted mostly of Blink-182 and Gene Chandler.  Chris was late for my introduction, but we were both front row the moment “Townie” began.

One night, Chris and I were walking to our friend Jesse’s house in Greenpoint. We were weaving around the BQE, considering McDonald’s as an actual option for dinner. Chris was talking about the trajectory of Mitski’s career, where he could see her in three, five years. I told him where I could see her in ten. Chris began talking about what we could do managing her together, mostly in the short term. It wasn’t necessarily something we had discussed seriously before, but not something we hadn’t mentioned in passing. The more he talked about what I could bring to the table, the more I realized that this could become a reality. I had never been joking, but had always managed to be laughing when talking about the prospect with him. Once she texted us separately that she could see us working together with her music, referring to us as something of a dream team.

My grandfather died in the fall. He was very wise, and he was an amazingly intelligent man. He taught me my favorite flavors of ice cream and how to play Connect Four. He taught me about country music and how to laugh at anything, how to have a sense of humor. He taught me that it is important to live your life the way you want to live it, because then you will be happy. These are also traits that I see in my parents, my mom, his daughter. I stood in the driveway of my mother’s apartment complex while on the phone with Chris two days before the funeral. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about, as I was elsewhere. My dad would try to distract us both by asking questions about Mitski. I showed my mom a video of her playing that I took at Cake Shop. It seems crass, perhaps, to be thinking about anything at all at a time like that- but there are times when pain is best escaped and not faced. My parents are strong and they held us together, held me together. We talked about things we missed, things that hurt, and then things we had to look forward to. I do remember that Chris went to see Mitski play a show with her full band that week, while I was away. When I returned, we had a signed contract saying Chris and I were now her managers.

And while you sleep I’ll be scared
So by the time you wake I’ll be brave

Mitski’s music didn’t save me. Her lyrics didn’t heal me. Listening to her songs again and again and again and talking about them ad nauseam with Chris, my parents, and anyone who would listen to me ramble didn’t make any of my problems disappear. However, what Mitski and her music did do is much more powerful. In listening to her music, those moments walking down Eastern Parkway, in being reminded of how music can make you feel, how powerfully it connects our human brains together and tethers them together for life, I found strength in myself to face whatever came my way throughout the year. For good measure, when I go to the doctor next Sunday, I will listen to her record and I will text Chris, as I have for months now.

These experiences as a whole reminded me of why I work in music at all. It kept me believing in not only myself, but also what I, Chris, a team of excellent people, and above anyone at all Mitski herself could do to build her life and career as an artist. When we’re on the phone with her lawyer, or Double Double Whammy, or a potential booking agent, I think about what her music will create for people in the future. I want her to tell her story, and continue to foster this amazing talent she has for connecting to that microphone wire to the ventricles of her listener. I want to have everyone listen her music to hear it and allow her screams and howls and croons to lead them to something true and beautiful in themselves, like it did for me. To be a part of this, for me, is to live.

-Jeanette Wall (Miscreant, PORTALS, Band Practice)

++

Save the Scene: Eight People Who Taught Me How the Music Industry Should Work in 2014

As with every year before it and with every year to come, 2014 was all about change. That’s all we ever do and, as creatures designed to grow, that’s what we do best. I was incredibly fortunate to find a real foothold in the music journalism industry this year and to watch myself adapt to the feel of it all. It seems so long ago, but somehow 2014 saw me finish up my final semester of college, graduate, travel all over the US, and write a ton. As exciting as all of that is, those aren’t the things that come to mind when I look back on 2014. What does are the incredible people I met, especially in regards to music.

Music journalism is a blind walk through an overcrowded room with a wall of amps turned up to full volume. It’s competitive, it’s loud, and no one actually knows what they’re doing. No one tells you what to do in this field. As digital trends take over and we’re continually forced to reinvent the way music consumption operates, those in charge are fumbling with the remote control. The rest of us watch wondering what button they’re going to press. Well, most of us.

There are a few people out there who don’t want to wait around. They’re happiest when taking action. Naturally, these eight people are all incredible workers—authors, photographers, fans—and fit right into that description. While 2014 was filled with a slew of incredible opportunities, albums, and bands, the best part of the year was seeing those who went out of their way to teach others how the music industry should really work.

DeForrest @ 285 Kent Goodbye show

When 285 Kent was closing, I wandered into New York to see Laurel Halo. I was alone, drawn by the general infatuation with an artist that has enough allure to give you confidence standing idle in a DIY space where people smoke inside and reveal insider data with a flippant shrewdness. A mutual friend suggested I meet up with his old friends from from Tiny Mix Tapes, and after a few miscommunications regarding who was wearing what color shirt, we found one another. For such an in-the-know website, I was expecting its authors to be taciturn, brainy, witty but inane. At their core, they were. They cracked jokes that bounced off remarks not yet made. They kept their voices down, but talked frequently, each with his own distinct pace. It was a great farewell show. When keeping in touch afterwards, however, I learned a lot, particularly from DeForrest. He writes to exceed the highest bar, pushing himself to provoke an intellectual discussion with whomever is reading the material, regardless of the musician at hand’s popularity, product, or longevity. He goes beyond flowery descriptions. He expects a level of determination from the reader, and that in itself demands a great deal from him, too. Over the course of the year, he took time to reach out with in-depth articles, collegiate-level discussions, and musicians that pushed the boundaries. What really stuck, however, was the direction he faced. In a year that drowned itself in clickbait articles, DeForrest marched straight ahead with a well-stitched flag of high-quality content, singlehandedly proving that the music industry should expect more of itself – because both an author and audience are hungry for it.

Christine @ Allston Pudding

It goes without saying that you should support your local scene. Bands grow from word of mouth. If it weren’t for people coming out to shows, buying merch, and listening to their records after the fact, their music would have a hard time taking flight. Supporting your scene means giving them that foothold, showing someone cares. No one embodies this more in Boston than Christine. Despite seeing her at shows all the time for a year or so—trust me, she’s hard to miss, even though her height should technically make her easy to miss—we never talked until 2014, especially when both writing for Boston’s music blog Allston Pudding. Hearing that passion for Boston’s local artists coming straight from her mouth was enough to get anyone psyched, even if they couldn’t remember the last time they bought a record or went to a concert. In an age where promotion teams are at one another’s necks trying to get their roster on Rolling Stone, it’s difficult to truly stand up for music you believe in that has yet to be influenced by larger masterminds. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with that. Being able to decide you actively enjoy what’s coming straight at your ears separate from their name or the URL link you’re hearing it from, though, takes some clear thinking to figure out. Christine knows about new acts before their demo tapes hit the web because she’s constantly at shows. She’s in the front row, listening to people play their heart out and applauding them for it, even if it’s not her cup of tea. She’s the reminder the music world needs that you can support musicians without being a diehard fan. Giving someone a single thumbs up makes a huge difference. So when your backyard is ringing with the noise of a dozen new bands, staying inside becomes the obvious error.

Ryan @ SXSW 

There is so much happening all the time everywhere. As Lindsay Zoladz discussed in her essay on hyper consumption and digital exhaust, the digital age is running so quickly that there’s no time to stop and properly digest. Instead, most everything passes us as a vaguely recognizable blur. SXSW is the festival-equivalent. There’s nonstop shows every single day, with a dozen secret events being held around Austin, from house shows to 3am performances on a bridge to impromptu bill swapping. It’s hard not to fall into the trap. There’s a fear of missing out, for sure, but there’s a fear of underappreciating. You want to make sure you’re taking away exactly what there is to be extracted, that your consumption of that moment is chewed slowly and with great attention to detail while still swallowing that bite fast enough to try something different shortly thereafter. As a photographer at the festival, I found things to be chaotic but enjoyable. The shutter moves so quickly that you can reflect on the taste of your so-called meal later on. As an interviewer, however, things are a bit different. I worked alongside Ryan and several other Stereogum writers that week. Watching how they operated felt like walking abroad the Titanic as it sank. People were scurrying everywhere, often drunk and directionless, but their staff stayed calm. It was as if their heads were above the water. They took their time with every endeavor. Every interview would be done with slow pacing, giving the artist time to think before, during, and after speaking, making space for any words that could spill out like drowsy dribble. If you’re going to write something, you need to take your time with it. You can’t be pressured by the various clocks spinning around you. Sure enough, more of Ryan’s work would pop up over 2014. Every feature held tight to its pacing, every paragraph exhaled with soothing resolution. He took his time with his work, and every piece encouraged others do the same.

Photographer @ Governors Ball 

The music industry is both tightly structured and casually loose. Because of that, it’s easy to get involved. That also makes it a discouraging toil. When waiting in the main stage pit at Governors Ball, I noticed one photographer pacing back and forth in a green flat-rimmed hat with small ducks on it. Thanks to that hat, I realized I had seen him at various other festivals that summer. He’s young, around 22 years old or so, and average height. In the pit, he looks even smaller. The other photographers toss giant canvased camera bags around their hip while balancing one monstrous lens in one hand and their enormous camera in the other. They wait for the bands to step onstage with a slightly bored look, one that speaks to their familiarity with it all and the privilege they get to be the closest ones to the artist. It’s an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re a young photographer, but he appeared to be unfazed. For a few minutes, we began talking, and I asked him how he was able to get passes to shoot if he was working for a smaller blog. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just ask.” It’s obvious, but it doesn’t get said enough, especially coming from a small, independent blog. That photographer reminded me that it doesn’t matter how old you are, who you’re working for, or what your resume looks like. If you want something, keep asking for it. The worst is you’ll get turned away.

Steven @ Pitchfork Festival

The internet is cool. It can be an awful place, for sure, but it brings together all sorts of people, and thanks to a quick introduction from a mutual Twitter friend, I got to meet Steven (yes, this Steven). We both were attending Pitchfork’s summer music festival and were running around Chicago’s grassy field trying to take in every blissful set. It wasn’t until after, once I was back home and face to face with the internet again, that I began to learn a lot from him. He’s a writer and photographer with one of the most giving hearts. He applauds others for their successes. He highlights the overlooked. He drives long hours to attend a small house show. The running thread through it all? His support for his friends. Steven goes out of his way to see, read, and promote any work he finds important. In a straightforward way, most of us do this. We like what we like and enjoy sharing it with others. However, we place ourselves ahead of our friends, putting their efforts on the backburner when it isn’t a convenience for us to do otherwise. For Steven, that’s not the case. He constantly sets aside time to hear people out. He listens to his friends’ new songs. He’ll take a minute to read another pal’s review. If there’s one thing the music industry needs, it’s a network that uses iron bars to hold itself up, not paper straws. We need to be on the lookout for one another, giving credit where it’s due so we can continue to look in that direction again and again as time carries on. With all the staff cuts and job slicing, the music industry is in need of support. It needs some hugs and it needs some honesty. Over the course of a few months, I learned that may not be as impossible as it sounds. When we look out for one another, it creates a stronger shield to defend with, and Steven makes it clear how effective that can be.

Mark @ Pickathon Festival

Nestled off at Portland’s edge is a small grassroots music festival called Pickathon. It focuses on being family friendly, ecofriendly, and generally friendly, but particularly while drawing a finely curated list of acts to come perform in the middle of the woods. I ventured off to the festival alone, prepared to enjoy excellent music, but soon found there was much more to it. After plopping down in the grass to watch Hiss Golden Messenger, an older man next to me leaned over and asked where my festival bracelets were from. He and his wife soon started talking about all the sets they had seen over the years at Pickathon. They had been going to shows for decades. He dragged her to see My Bloody Valentine a dozen times back before they broke up. He had an audio recording of one of Nirvana’s opening sets a month before Nevermind came out where a mere five people clapped after they played “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Mark pulled out a schedule for the weekend and we began comparing our top picks. Over that weekend, he, his wife, and I would steak out front row spots and trade stories of our musical experiences. They introduced me to their child and his friends. Despite them being the age of my own parents, we got along just fine. It was people united by an interest, not an image. For that, Pickathon is a magical place. There’s no denying that. What makes it special beyond that is Mark leaning over to introduce himself, creating a bond for two people to share their musical experiences – and then enjoy some new ones. Since then, I made it my goal to introduce myself to at least one person at every festival I went to from there on out. So far it’s gone well. Without Mark showing firsthand how helpful introducing yourself can be, who knows how long it would have before I realized how easy it is to join forces without someone just as passionate as you.

The 1975 Fan @ Boston Calling

It’s near impossible to grow up without being a superfan. There’s an intense joy that comes with giving up your time and attention to a musician, and that joy fills you up in the most pleasing of ways. To be 13 years old and constantly fawning over a musician is a wonderful thing. From the outside looking in, it looks rather terrifying. The cults that follow bands are easy to target, and the more you indulge in music over the years, the less attached you are to a single act. It’s evident because you see fans screaming over nothing and, rather judgmentally, laugh. At Boston Calling, other photographers and I found ourselves taken aback by the first few front rows of fans waiting for The 1975. Many were younger than expected and almost all were wearing black. One girl in the front was crying. As the job essentially requires, I went to photograph her. Looking through the lens, I saw she was holding a piece of sketchbook paper. On it, there was a to-scale portrait of the frontman’s face. He was smiling. I went over to the fan and asked her if she drew it, to which she said yes. She was planning on giving it to him when he walked out. Getting a closer look, I was amazed. Behind her, another girl held up a cross-stitch portrait she had made. When the band walked out moments later, both tossed their items up onstage, smiles spread wide, with an inexplicable bliss. The respect fans have for their idols is a beautiful thing. I felt strange, like I had just been laughing at my own self moments ago had this been 10 years ago. The perseverance, dedication, and genuine love diehard fans have for their favorite band is inspiring. Few things in life can get that intense and lasting of a connection from humans, but music is one of those. To remember the honesty of that, especially the importance of that, was an odd moment. Fans are filled with love. Realizing you almost forgot that you felt that same pure emotion yourself is a terrifying thing, but fans like her remind you that fandom is a remarkable thing.

Tom @ Bacardi Triangle

By happenstance, I got to cover a weekend-long party to celebrate Bacardi where three musical performers happened to be there. It was a strange event, especially as someone who doesn’t like rum, but memorable nonetheless. A gaggle of other writers were flown down to Puerto Rico for the event and many of us were confused as to what was the proper way to indulge in the festivities. Sitting next to me at the breakfast table was Tom, an English writer for Dazed. This group clung together at various events, enjoying one another’s company in the bizarreness of it all. On the second-to-last night, Tom lowered his voice to explain his real goal. The next morning, he was going to wake up early, hail a cab, and ask to be brought to the darkest corners of Puerto Rico to investigate the drug trade. He wanted to meet with gangs. He wanted to observe how it all worked. Tom admitted he knew how dangerous this was, but he seemed not to care. A week earlier, I believed going on this trip in itself was a chance. Technically, it was, but compared to Tom’s bravery that was nothing. The difference was what was at stake. Tom was willing to risk his safety, sanity, and status on that trip. This wasn’t a reminder to fling myself out in the middle of the road more often. It was a reminder that bravery is rewarded. Bravery means more than an instant thrill. Bravery means taking the first step, inching closer to the truth, and showing others what you have found. Looking back on 2014, it seemed to snowball out of control. If I were to live like Tom, I could grow more mental muscle. I could push against that snowball. The music industry invests in the art of regurgitation, but with Tom’s approach, it could finally brush the vomit aside to ask why things operate the way they do and what we can do to change things up.

-Nina Corcoran (Consequence of Sound, Allston Pudding)

++

Becoming

In 2014, I saw more sets than I’d ever seen in my life. I left the country for nearly a week to have an immersive festival experience in Toronto (which wound up being spent with some of the kindest people I know). I made new friends, several of which were responsible for creating music I love or for bringing incredibly beautiful art into existence. When it came time to buckle down and zero in on one subject, I had a million ideas running through my head. Getting chills during sets from Perfect Pussy, Mutual Benefit, All Dogs, Mitski, Pile, Nervosas, Radiator Hospital, Speedy Ortiz, or any of the touring bands that played Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? Majical Cloudz’s unforgettably brave Pitchfork set? Putting together Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? VAYA’s LCD Soundsystem cover set that took a sharp left and ended with the punchiest, scuzziest rendition of “Crazy In Love” I’ve ever heard? Playing and creating music with a band again? Jayson Gerycz’s drumming? Trading cigarette burns with Maria Sherman, some of the 285 Kent crew, and a few others during an inspired Kendrick Lamar set? Resuming writing my own songs? Any number of moments spent with Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves either on the phone or in person (we’ll always have the hammock, ILYH)? Exploding in Sound? Double Double Whammy? The line “The shape of true love is terrifying enough” in Cymbal Eat Guitars’ “Warning”? Curating this project? Running the site and seeing it grow? The unwavering belief in my abilities as a music journalist that came courtesy of a dream-worthy trio made up of Liz Pelly, Faye Orlove, and Jeanette Wall? The way a certain subsection of people in my small town heartily embraces basement shows and so readily encourages any form of creativity? A long-overdue ascension of powerful, respected non-male voices in cultural criticism?

In the end, I went with the only thing I could think to logically do: I chose a moment that incorporated the most items of my constantly-expanding list. After coming dangerously close to revisiting NXNE (and paying special attention to its most memorable moment), I went with something less internally divisive: the day I shot Mitski delivering a stunning solo acoustic performance for The Media. My friend and fellow writer, Sasha Geffen (whose importance in regards to the development of this piece I can’t emphasize enough), had been kind enough to put me up for a few days in Chicago and joined me in catching a particularly memorable Pile set on the first night. After a quiet second day/night spent mostly writing and watching films, it was time to prep for Mitski, who was accompanied on tour by LVL UP.

At that point, Sasha and I had each spoken at length with both acts (though Sasha’s involvement and history was more extensive than my own), which led to some entertaining late realizations towards the end of the night. Mitski and I had been texting back and forth leading up to her arrival, each expressing equal excitement over the ability to be involved with The Media in any capacity (I’ve long held a stance positing that The Media- or Fvck The Media- is one of the most important independently-run publications in contemporary media, so to be able to work directly for them- or in collaboration with them- is a sincere honor). After LVL UP dropped Mitski off at Sasha’s doorstep, a few casual introductions were made and we all stepped out of the cold and into a warm, cat-friendly apartment.

Some small conversation circled around the room, allowing everyone to get caught up with everyone else while settling into each other’s collective company. Before too long, Mitski had a guitar (a Martin that used to be my father’s, which was also used by All Dogs‘ Maryn Jones in the session I did with her for The Media) tuned to her preference and was launching into a spellbinding three song set. All of those songs were wrapped on the first takes- what’s seen in The Media video was (essentially) captured in real time. After each song, I sat transfixed, clutching my camera; I wasn’t sure if it was more appropriate to applaud or simply sit in stunned silence. I opted for the latter as Sasha did the same, each of us managing to get out a quiet “wow” or some other one-syllable exclamation.

After Mitski closed with “Townie”, easily one of my favorite songs of the year, we all allowed ourselves to breathe a little and struck up some more conversations. Sasha’s roommate Ben made some incredible steamed buns, which we each gratefully accepted after he offered to let us try a few.  We traded opinions on things happening in music, weighed the costs of living in our respective states, and exchanged stray thoughts. After a short while, most of LVL UP came back to collect Mitski and allowed us to climb in their van before taking off for Beat Kitchen.

After already amassing a good day’s worth of memories that easily qualify as favorites (Mitski’s set, Sasha playing me Bury Me At Makeout Creek before the session and some of her reactions to my reactions, the van ride over where everyone traded stories and talked about Mike Kaminsky), the one that stands out most from that day is what happened at Beat Kitchen and how I knew I’d found a group of people worth their salt: while everyone crowded around a table that was just slightly too small for such a large party, Mitski’s order got mixed up in the kitchen and even though everyone had been casually mentioning their hunger, no one ate a bite of their food until Mitski had been served- a small gesture of respect and kindness that’s since acted as a perfect summation of the character on display in all parties involved. LVL UP expressed some nervous trepidation over being a headlining act and were formulating some musical runs in their set over dinner while the table swapped stories and jokes.

Before too long, the show was up and running. A decent set from MTV Ghosts and a strong set from Staring Problem acted as the introduction to Mitski’s set and Mitski wasted no time in laying everyone to waste. With LVL UP’s Nick Corbo on drums and Michael Caridi on guitar, Mitski’s songs took on a new life. While both the first listen of Bury Me At Makeout Creek and the earlier acoustic session had successfully made their mark, neither compared to seeing that setup play live. As the band fell into their rhythm, the chills got fiercer and, for the last few minutes of their set, wound up being sustained. Not a lot of moments in 2014 compared to looking back from the lip of the stage to see just about everyone in attendance looking absolutely shell-shocked as Mitski unloosed piercing scream after piercing scream to end “Drunk Walk Home”, which wound up being a perfect lead-in to LVL UP’s set.

Hoodwink’d is a record that contains just about everything I love in modern music and, in a welcome turn of events, it’s the product of four of the better people I’ve had the fortune of meeting this year. LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, and- by extension- Dan Goldin and Exploding in Sound (who co-released Hoodwink’d)- have come to be a few of this site’s biggest supporters thanks in part to shared taste. Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound have been in collaboration on a few of my favorite releases this year, with Hoodwink’d operating proudly as the crown jewel of their conjoined efforts. Getting to see those songs, which have now become such a deeply engrained part of my life, performed live for the first time by a band I reserve a deep affection for with the person who originally introduced me to the band, felt surreal. It was an extended moment worth reeling in, savoring, and committing to memory; a time of small bliss and unwavering camaraderie.

From spending some of the morning in silence, working alongside one of my favorite writers today, to some extremely entertaining post-show goodbyes, it was a day that filled me with joy over the things that I was doing and the people that surrounded me. There were more than a few moments where life felt at ease, which wound up being a blessing in an extremely tumultuous stretch of months. So, to The Media, Sasha Geffen, Mitski, LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, Dan Goldin, and Exploding in Sound: thank you- life’s worth living just a little more surrounded by the things that make you happy. I’d like to extend that same thanks to Meredith Graves (this little site’s patron saint), Sam Clark, Ray McAndrew, David Glickman, Jeanette Wall (and The Miscreant), Edgar Durden, Shaun Sutkus, and anyone else who ever had a kind thing to say about Heartbreaking Bravery (or cared enough to contribute to this project); it’d be dead without their interest and encouragement. I love you all.

-Steven Spoerl 

14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014

LVL UP II

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

14. Taulard – Les Abords Du Lycée

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

13. La Dispute – Rooms of the House

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

12. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood

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

11. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

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

10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day

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

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club

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

8. PURPLE 7 – Jewel Finger

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

7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

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

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

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

5. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love

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

4. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love

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

3. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek

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

2. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song

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

1. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d

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

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

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

14 of ’14: The Best Songs of 2014

Mitski IV

While this may not be necessary at this point since it keeps being repeated, it’s worth stating anyway: “best”, in matters of year-end lists, isn’t made to be an objective statement- it’s a reflection of personal taste. For the year-end coverage period, I’ll also be abandoning the usual first person restrictions as another effort to further personalize these accounts and lists. In 2014, I listened to more music than I’ve ever listened to in my life. During that 365-day span, I mercilessly stalked a rotating cast of sites that posted new music on a near-daily basis. I kept up with NPR’s First Listen series, scoured bands’ schedules to see what other bands were on their shows, kept tabs on bills at venues I admired, and listened to every submission that was sent in to Heartbreaking Bravery. If a friend recommended me new music, I made sure it got heard. There were times when some larger fare would pull me in- especially if it was receiving good critical returns- but, for the most part, I made it a point to explore the smaller titles.

A few of the names on this list (and all of the others) may not necessarily be the most recognizable but don’t let the lack of recognition dissuade you from investment; let it actively encourage dividend-paying exploration. It was that decision to zero in on lesser known bands that started opening up endless hallways to music that may have otherwise stayed hidden. That’s the foundation that this site was built in and will always strive to encourage- which is part of the reason why these lists exist. Below are the 14 songs that hit me hardest throughout the past 12 months, rounded out by a top four that all deserve to be in the “Song of the Decade” conversation. I won’t be including an auxiliary list for the songs that were in consideration and didn’t make the cut this time around because, frankly, there are way too many (though I will say it’s still paining me to not be including Ought‘s “Today More Than Any Other Day“) and most of those selections’ respective titles are featured on the other lists that this site will be running (or has already run). Now that all that’s said and done, on to the list!

14. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me

I’m Not Part of Me” has been making a dent in this site’s coverage ever since Cloud Nothings teased Here and Nowhere Else at Baby’s All Right. It’s in the realm of career best for a band who’s on their second destined-to-be-classic release. After the departure of Joe Boyer, it’s unlikely that anyone was expecting the band to grow even fiercer- yet, that’s exactly what they achieved. With melodic aplomb and hooks to spare (in addition to 2014’s finest individual turn-in from drummer Jayson Gerycz), the band responded by annihilating any of the barriers that transition left, with “I’m Not Part of Me” acting as their rousing call to arms.

13. Iceage – Against the Moon

Before “Against the Moon” was given one of the best music videos of the year, it was lingering on the outskirts of one of 2014’s most powerful albums: Plowing Into The Field Of Love. No song underlined Iceage’s startling transition with more emphasis than this somber piano and organ-driven ballad. Quietly intense and relentlessly haunting, “Against the Moon” became an immediate standout on an impossibly gripping record. It’s an entirely new look for Iceage, who embraced it fearlessly. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s lyrics, now laced with a noticeable Southern Gothic Americana influence, acted as the perfect complement to a spare, boldly atmospheric track- which was easily one of the year’s strongest efforts.

12. Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn

Make Nice was one of the last truly great releases of 2014 but no moment on the record was as stunning as “Bartending At Silent Barn“. I’d known of Jeanette Wall through her involvement in Miscreant Records but nothing had prepared me for how effortlessly bracing her own songs could be. “Bartending At Silent Barn” starts out simply enough; clean, palm-muted guitar, a memorable melody, raz0r-sharp lyrics, and an immediately recognizable sense of identity. While it revels in defeatism for close to the entirety of its run, there comes a moment towards the end- a single laugh- that offers a pivotal change. In that laugh (which lasts less than a second), there’s a derision targeting the assumptions that everything’s as bleak as the song’s original narrative suggests but, after a very brief pause, the assuaging declaration that “things can change” comes to a stunning fruition with one of the most life-affirming outro sections I’ve ever heard.

11. Charly Bliss – Love Me

There are times where all it can take is one song for me to be absolutely convinced by a band. “Love Me”, a song that was also my introduction to Charly Bliss, is definitely that kind of song. With an endless amount of charm and appeal, Charly Bliss conjured up a firestorm of a tune that immediately catapulted them into “new favorite band” territory. The tempo changes and stop/start dynamics in the jaw-dropping pre-chorus and chorus sections practically lay everything on the line; for the first time in a while, it sounds like a (relatively) new band is actively daring their listeners to get on their level. In terms of sound and genre, it’s a perfect bridge between basement pop and basement punk, existing in the dead center of the exact space that this site most frequently celebrates. Fiery, propulsive, and casually tantalizing, it’s easily one of my favorite things to emerge from an incredibly stacked year. Most impressively is that “Urge to Purge“, the song that follows it on the band’s extraordinary Soft Serve EP, was its biggest competition in securing a spot on this list- cementing 2014 as a statement year for one of the most exciting bands today.

10. Screaming Females – Wishing Well

Screaming Females have earned their fair share of coverage on this site by being so consistently excellent in their craft. They’re a band I’ve been keeping an eye on since I started playing shows in basements (a few of their BFG shows are among my favorite WI-based memories) and they haven’t stopped getting better in the years I’ve been following their progress. All of the years they’ve put into fierce touring (never once losing their DIY ethos) have been leading up to the release of their upcoming Rose Mountain, a surefire contender for 2015 Album of the Year. Currently 3 preview songs into the lead-up phase for the record’s release, none have been as powerful as the first official recording of “Wishing Well”, a perennial staple in their live set. Striking a perfect balance between punk grit and an uncharacteristically light pop sensibility, “Wishing Well” is ample proof of the band’s growing ambition and unwavering confidence. It’s also got a chorus for the ages, one even someone’s grandma could love.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – E.M.O.

Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s most unexpected surprises; a debut effort loaded with determination and personality. Up until “E.M.O.”, it’s an incredibly strong record but that song single-handedly breaks the floodgates wide open and elevates it to the heights of an unforgettable classic. It’s a song that hit me hard on my first listen and hasn’t left my thoughts- or my esteem- since that initial exposure. Easily the most vulnerable moment on a record that’s frequently on the offensive, it offers a voyeuristic glimpse of the mechanics driving Jawbreaker Reunion’s creative forces. “E.M.O.” also has an unexpectedly explosive chorus that lays waste to any harbored doubts about the band’s range. It’s one of the year’s more breathtaking musical moments and it ensures Jawbreaker Reunion’s status as an emerging force.

8. LVL UP – Big Snow

The four-song split between LVL UP, Ovlov, Krill, and Radiator Hospital would have likely topped this site’s best splits of the year list even if it hadn’t been grouped in with Ovlov’s other entries. A large reason behind that it LVL UP‘s “Big Snow”, a song that managed to stand out in the band’s catalog even taking the landmark achievement that was Hoodwink’d into account. “Big Snow“, the rare LVL UP song that features all three vocalists in the group, has been kicked around in some form or another since the band was writing demos for their debut full-length, Space Brothers. In its first release as “Big Snow”, though, it’s a stunner of a track, highlighted by the vocal exchanges and one of the year’s most blistering riffs. Everything lines up in a typically (compellingly) off-kilter way that accentuates the band’s innumerable rough-hewn charms. Constantly shifting and casually brilliant, it’s yet another indicator that LVL UP is one of the best bands currently making music.


7. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse

Another song to appear on a split with Ovlov (it’s literally impossible for me to overstate how incredible Ovlov’s splits were this year), “Year of the Sunhouse” was a career highlight for Little Big League, even taking their outstanding Tropical Jinx into consideration. It’s a song that stunned in a Watch This-approved segment and it’s only grown more appealing with time. Punchy and refined, it takes pinpoint aim and unloads, hitting an elusive target multiple times over. Led by powerhouse drumming and Michelle Zauner’s most ferocious lyrical and vocal outing to date, it’s a song that portrays Little Big League as a band who refuses to back down. As an additional bonus, it also features a second stanza that may very well be the year’s outright best, one that’s punctuated by a life-giving declaration.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning

It’s sincerely doubtful that there was a record in 2014 that was more emotionally charged than Cymbal Eat Gutars’ LOSE, which dealt heavily with the death of a friend. The way that difficult subject’s dealt with is a large part of the reason why the song and it’s accompanying music video earned so many kind words, which also factored into its placement as one of the best music videos of the year. Devastatingly heartfelt and heartbreaking in its vicious nature, it’s propped up by the year’s best single line in the chorus’ “the shape of true love is terrifying enough”. For all of the difficulties, there’s a subtle strain of hope that imbues “Warning”, rendering it a resounding statement of humanism. Deeply tragic and towering in scope, this is the kind of song that’s worthy of inspiring others to start making music on their own terms.

5. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs

“Cut Your Bangs” is a song that’s been kicking around on this site since its original bandcamp release. My personal pick for song of the summer, it’s an exacting look at the way Sam Cook-Parrott’s sense of damaged romanticism manifests in Radiator Hospital’s music. There’s an emphasis on the minutiae, every mundane bit is scrutinized and brought to the forefront. Poetic and unflinchingly honest, it’s put in sharp contrast by the music surrounding the story. There’s a swing-like feel to what’s happening in the background, lilting into a reassuring groove as the narrative grapples with everyday loss. Small lies add up to a mountain of mistrust but, if you’re lucky, your friends will always be there to back you up and convince you that everything’s okay.

4. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday

Very few songs have ever hit me as hard as “Doomsday”. It’s a personal best for Speedy Ortiz, which is no small claim, and very few songs this decade have come across so honestly. Sadie Dupuis’ vocal take for “Doomsday” is absolutely stunning, wounded and impassioned in equal measure; a desperate and veiled final cry searching for some form of absolution. An impossibly beautiful vocal melody and an atmospheric guitar section are subtly fierce grace notes in a song that sounds embattled and defeated. Released as part of the LAMC series (courtesy of Famous Class Records), it would have been more than enough to land the entry it was included on in the best splits of the year list. Weary and grasping at a sense of triumph, it’s a fascinating classic that deserves to be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in music.

3. Mitski – Townie

My relationship with Mitski’s music began with this song and that first listen remains one of my more memorable encounters with anyone’s music in 2014. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to film it twice: once in an intimate acoustic setting (for The Media) and once full-band (with Mitski backed by half of LVL UP). Even putting those personal moments aside, “Townie” was an immediate standout from what turned out to be one of the year’s strongest albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. For those who were fortunate enough to be aware of Mitski’s previous work, “Townie” was a sharp left turn for the enigmatic solo artist and it emphasized a growing certainty in her work. This was a hold-no-prisoners, everything out in the open type of track; a watershed moment for an artist whose career was set to skyrocket. By the time the theremin solo kicks in, everything’s already been set on fire and Mitski’s grinning to herself miles away from the maelstrom. A testament to self-reliance and utter conviction, “Townie” is a clarion call from an artist too important to be ignored.

2. Pile – Special Snowflakes

Pile’s Special Snowflakes 7″ just topped this site’s list for that category. No 7″ had a stronger single song A-side and no song managed to sink into my memory more than that song, “Special Snowflakes“. Pile have cultivated a cult following by refusing to adhere towards any one trend or another and instead opting to follow their own distinctly unique twists and turns. No song felt as monumental in 2014 as the band’s current crowning jewel, a seven minute battering ram of a track. Through a series of exhilarating peaks and crushing valleys, Pile manages to introduce an atmosphere that’s ferociously bleak, refusing to settle into one mode for too long. Pulverizing and epic, “Special Snowflakes” suggests that Pile’s operating at the height of their powers, which bodes well for their forthcoming full-length. It’s also another release that embodies everything great about Exploding in Sound Records and the vast number of reasons the label’s so frequently celebrated here. This is bold, inventive music that thrives on its own conviction, on its own terms, and will be remembered for leaving a trail of well-intentioned destruction in its wake.

1. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits

No band has been written about more on Heartbreaking Bravery than Perfect Pussy (a band I traveled considerable lengths to see eight times throughout the course of 2014). No song has meant more to me than “Interference Fits”. Putting aside the fact that vocalist Meredith Graves (who has somehow become this site’s patron saint and is still its sole interview subject) unexpectedly dedicated this song to me in Minneapolis, putting aside the fact that she cried in a comic book store after I alerted her to the fact that it had started streaming on NPR in advance of Say Yes to Love‘s release, and putting aside the fact that she used my original write-up as a reference point for hope, that statement would still hold true. “Interference Fits” soundtracked a lot of bigger moments for me in what was a very turbulent 2014 and the original connection I forged with the song only deepened as the year progressed. Fitting, since it’s a song about making and severing connections; Graves’ most personal outpouring to date. The lyrics, as always, are beyond stunning but the song wouldn’t be anywhere close to as unshakable as it is if it weren’t for Perfect Pussy’s most adventurous musical turn-in to date. Eschewing their normally blown-out mode in favor of something more subtle and restrained, “Interference Fits” proved that Perfect Pussy weren’t, as some naysayers originally suggested, a one trick pony. Easily the band’s most delicate and ornate offering to date, it retained their whirlwind intensity and cutthroat identity. Masterfully wielding a tension and explosion dynamic, “Interference Fits” lures listeners in with its first half before a measure of silence provides a foreboding warning to one of the most cathartic second acts in a song this decade; there’s as much narrative in the music as there is in the lyric set. With raw power lingering in the wings and at the heart of its diarist leader, Perfect Pussy created something that stung deep enough to leave a lasting, curiously endearing scar.

Watch This: Best of 2014 (Video Mixtape)

static

Live music videos never seem to get the emphasis they deserve. It’s part of why Watch This was created; to celebrate stunning documents of equally stunning performances. A good band can make a great record but a truly great band usually excels in the live setting. With 2014 winding to a close (and with another 100 posts in the past), it seemed appropriate to start reflecting on some of the year’s best offerings. Lists of LP’s, EP’s, 7″ releases, and more will be forthcoming but today the focus will fall on live clips. And, yes, 2014’s not quite over yet and there will be a few weeks worth of live clips to consider (in addition to the past few weeks, which will be focused on in the posts immediately following this one) and “best” is still subjective- but the videos contained in this mix were simply too good to just feature once. If there’s enough material, an appendix will be added around the start of next year.

To be eligible for this video mixtape, the videos involved had to have been previously featured in Watch This and not contain an interview sequence. Full sets were ruled out as well (with a lone exception being made for one of 2014’s best videos in any capacity to provide a sense of closure to the proceedings). These videos were pulled in from as many places as possible with only Chart Attack, La Blogotheque, and Little Elephant making repeat entries (with two each). From the painfully gorgeous (Mutual Benefit, Angel Olsen) to sublime perfection (Radiator Hospital, Little Big League) to the absurdly impressive (Kishi Bashi) to the most electric late night performance of 2014 (Ty Segall), there’s a little something for everyone. 25 clips are included and listed below, with a hyperlink provided to their respective installments in Watch This‘ always expanding catalog. Since this brings the site to another 100 post mark, hyperlinks will be provided to posts 300-399 for anyone interested in checking out past material. With all of this exposition out of the way, there’s really only one thing left to do: sit back, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Audacity – Counting the Days (Jam in the Van) — vol. 24
2. Greys – Guy Picciotto (Chart Attack) — vol. 24
3. Radiator Hospital – Fireworks (BNTYK) — vol. 51
4. Ovlov – Where’s My Dini? (Little Elephant) — vol. 23
5. Frankie Cosmos – Embody (Radio K) — vol. 55
6. Mean Creek – My Madeline (Wondering Sound) — vol. 19
7. Joanna Gruesome – Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers (BTR) — vol. 51
8. Sweet John Bloom – Aging In Place (Allston Pudding) — vol. 48
9. Emilyn Brodsky – Someone Belongs Here (TCGS) — vol. 28
10. Mitski – First Love // Late Spring (bandwidth) — vol. 43
11. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street (ACL) — vol. 54
12. Sharon Van Etten – Serpents (Pitchfork) — vol. 40
13. Mutual Benefit – C.L. Rosarian (Bruxelles Ma Belle) — vol. 19
14. Angel Olsen – Enemy (La Blogotheque) — Vol. 11
15. Kishi Bashi – Philosophize In It! Chemicalize In It! (WNYC) — vol. 29
16. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse (Little Elephant) — vol. 45
17. Screaming Females – It All Means Nothing (Audiotree) — vol. 27
18. Ty Segall – Feel (Conan) — vol. 40
19. Dilly Dally – Candy Mountain (Chart Attack) — vol. 51
20. Cloud Nothings – Now Hear In (Amoeba) — vol. 57
21. MOURN – Otits (Captured Tracks) — vol. 53
22. Courtney Barnett – History Eraser (KEXP) — vol. 34
23. Lee Fields – Don’t Leave Me This Way (La Blogotheque) — vol. 54
24. Jenny Lewis – Slippery Slopes (KCRW) — vol. 52
25. Saintseneca (NPR) — vol. 38

+++

HB300: Songs of Summer: 2014 (Mixtape)
HB301: together PANGEA – Badillac (Music Video)
HB302: Night School – Birthday (Stream)
HB303: The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole (Stream)
HB304: Watch This: Vol. 42
HB305: All Dogs at Bremen Cafe – 8/19/14 (Pictorial Review, Videos)
HB306: Attendant – Freaking Out (Review, Stream)
HB307: Grape St. – Free Stuff (Stream)
HB308: Iceage – Forever (Music Video)
HB309: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Televan (Music Video)
HB310: Young Jesus – G (Stream)
HB311: Watch This: Vol. 43
HB312: LVL UP – Ski Vacation (Stream)
HB313: Radiator Hospital at Cocoon Room – 9/8/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB314: Nano Kino – Eyes Before Words (Music Video)
HB315: Tenement at Mickey’s Tavern – 9/9/14 (Pictorial Review, Videos)
HB316: Bass Drum of Death – For Blood (Stream)
HB317: Pretty Pretty – Feels Like Rain (Stream)
HB318: Watch This: Vol. 44
HB319: Medicine – Move Along – Down the Road (Stream)
HB320: Mitski – Townie (Stream)
HB321: Allah-Las – Follow You Down (Music Video)
HB322: Sonic Avenues – Teenage Brain (Music Video)
HB323: Iceage – How Many (Stream)
HB324: The Honeydips – No Shirt, No Shoes (Music Video)
HB325: Watch This: Vol. 45
HB326: Watch This: Vol. 46
HB327: Iceage – Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled (Stream)
HB328: Zulu Pearls – Lightweight (Music Video)
HB329: Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood (Stream)
HB330: Little Big League – Property Line (Stream)
HB331: Mikal Cronin – I Don’t Mind / Blue-Eyed Girl (Stream)
HB332: Mutts – Everyone Is Everyone (Lyric Video)
HB333: LVL UP – Hoodwink’d (Album Review, Stream)
HB334: Watch This: Vol. 47
HB335: The History of Apple Pie – Jamais Vu (Music Video)
HB336: Iceage – Against the Moon (Stream)
HB337: Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday (Stream)
HB338: Hurry – Oh Whitney (Stream)
HB339: Thalassocracy – Shimensoka (Stream)
HB340: Mitski – iPhone Voice Memo (Stream)
HB341: Watch This: Vol. 48
HB342: Watch This: Vol. 49
HB343: Screaming Females – Wishing Well (Stream)
HB344: Meat Wave – Brother (Music Video)
HB345: Joanna Gruesome – Jerome (Liar) / Trust Fund – Reading the Wrappers (Music Video)
HB346: Ovlov – Ohmu Shell (Stream)
HB347: Ty Segall – The Singer (Music Video)
HB348: Pet Sun – Gimme Your Soul (Music Video)
HB349: Washer – Rot (Stream)
HB350: Three Quarters Down (Mixtape)
HB351: LVL UP – Big Snow (Stream)
HB352: Weaves – Shithole (Stream)
HB353: Pile at The Burlington Bar – 10/10/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB354: Audacity – Counting the Days (Stream)
HB355: LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB356: Two Inch Astronaut – Part Of Your Scene (Stream)
HB357: Watch This: Vol. 50
HB358: Girlpool – Plants and Worms (Stream)
HB359: Watch This: Vol. 51
HB360: Cherry Glazerr – Nurse Ratched (Stream)
HB361: The Gotobeds – Wasted On Youth (Music Video)
HB362: Happy Diving – Big World (Album Stream)
HB363: Filmstrip – Don’t You Know (Stream)
HB364: Nobunny – Nightmare Night (Short Film)
HB365: Heartbreaking Bravery Presents, Vol. 1: Meat Wave, Mumblr, Geronimo! (Videos)
HB366: Watch This: Vol. 52
HB367: Watch This: Vol. 53
HB368: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning (Music Video)
HB369: Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Album Review, Stream, Photos, Videos)
HB370: Chandos – ..Pretty Sure it’s ‘Tang Top’ (Stream)
HB371: Toby Coke – Face Taker (Stream)
HB372: Two Inch Astronaut – Dead White Boy (Stream)
HB373: Left & Right – Low Expectations (Music Video)
HB374: Watch This: Vol. 54
HB375: Deerhoof – Exit Only (Music Video)
HB376: Meat Wave – Sham King (Stream)
HB377: Kal Marks – It Was A Very Hard Year (Stream)
HB378: Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn (Stream)
HB379: Big Lonely – Dirty Clocks (Music Video)
HB380: Slight – Run (EP Review, Stream)
HB381: Screaming Females – Ripe (Stream)
HB382: Girlpool – Blah Blah Blah (Music Video)
HB383: Mutts – Black Ties & Diamonds (Song Premiere)
HB384: MOURN – Otitis (Stream)
HB385: Iceage – Against The Moon (Music Video)
HB386: Watch This: Vol. 55
HB387: Watch This: Vol. 56
HB388: Watch This: Vol. 57
HB389: Kal Marks – Don’t Pussy Foot With A Pussy Footer (Stream)
HB390: Trust Fund – Cut Me Out (Stream)
HB391: Alex G – Soaker (Stream)
HB392: Band Practice – Theme Song (Stream)
HB393: Chandos – Cobra Points (Stream)
HB394: Screaming Females – Empty Head (Stream)
HB395: Title Fight – Chlorine (Music Video)
HB396: Space Mountain – California Blue (Stream)
HB397: Liam Hayes – Fokus (Stream)
HB398: Toby Reif – 2014 (EP Stream)
HB399: Beliefs – Tidal Wave (Music Video)

Band Practice – Theme Song (Stream)

bpr

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Apologies for the delay in new content; my laptop was declared a “triple fire hazard” and is currently out of commission. Opportunities to post have been few and far between but everything that was released in the absence of new posts has been collected and will be posted whenever possible, starting tonight.]

It’s only been a few weeks since Band Practice‘s relentlessly gorgeous (and inexplicably moving) indie pop masterpiece “Bartending at Silent Barn” fought its way into the world. Now, Jeanette Wall’s project has returned with something just as unexpectedly triumphant as its predecessor: the boldly titled “Theme Song”. While the subtlety of “Bartending at Silent Barn” remains in tact, there’s a new forcefulness that permeates throughout the song, allowing Band Practice to occupy surprisingly fierce territory with ease. Wall’s breezy vocals and delightful melody lines still lend Band Practice’s songs a staggering amount of personality and that’s part of what makes the forthcoming Make Nice such a brilliant record. That Wall’s a formidable lyricist with a keen, detail-oriented eye for life’s more mundane moment elevates it into the realm of a low-key classic. Between “Bartending at Silent Barn” and “Theme Song” alone, Make Nice should be expected to stand as one of 2014’s last truly great albums.

“Theme Song” is a track that builds as it goes, not too far separated from the structures that defined La Sera’s excellent Hour of the Dawn. It’s a song that charges forward with no regard for anything that dares to stand in its way. Incendiary guitar riffs cascade out of nowhere during the chorus and post-chorus sections then morph into vicious shards for the verses. Wall’s never sounded more determined and her co-conspirator Ben Bondy (also of the excellent Friendless Bummer and Cult Of The Crying Moon) has rarely sounded as downright inspired. Somehow, despite the levels of compositional aggression on display in “Theme Song”, the band’s predominantly sunny disposition never gets diminished. Band Practice are making exactly the kind of music they want to make and one can only hope Make Nice gets circulated enough to ensure that just about everyone hears the extraordinary things the duo’s achieved with their first outing. Expect to see it towards the top of this site’s “Best Albums of 2014” list and pick it up when Chill Mega Chill releases it on December 9.

Listen to “Theme Song” below and keep an eye on this site for more Band Practice coverage.

Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn (Stream)

bpr

The past few days have been incredibly kind for new releases.  So much so that it seems criminal to attempt to contain them all in one post, which is why there will be several appearing throughout the night, each containing a few links to other very worthy items. For this round, that includes a scrappy lo-fi video from Bully for their wonderful “Brainfreeze“, Painted Zeros‘ cameo-heavy clip for their outstanding slacker pop anthem “Too Drunk to Function“, King of Cats‘ newest brilliant lo-fi basement pop outing “Ulcers” (which also features Joanna Gruesome’s Owen Williams behind the kit), and Illusion– a relentlessly spiky post-punk EP from Honduras. While, again, all of those were incredible releases, there was an inherent magic contained in Band Practice‘s slow-building indie pop triumph “Bartending At Silent Barn”.

Spearheaded by Miscreant Records mastermind Jeanette Wall, Band Practice takes Wall’s wealth of hard-won history and sculpts it into arresting presentations-with “Bartending At Silent Barn” being the finest to date. Starting off with nothing but a clean palm-muted guitar, a mid-tempo gait, and Wall’s narration of a rough show at the Brooklyn DIY staple, it slowly delves into inner thoughts and outward apologies as the show continues, always brought back by the refrain “sorry, here’s your beer; sorry i got weird”, making it painfully relatable for just about anyone who’s ever served drinks. It’s that keen eye on a semi-uncomfortable reality that transforms “Bartending At Silent Barn” into an oddly moving experience even before it blooms from a plaintive atmosphere into a towering- and obscenely gorgeous- falsetto-laden indie pop number at the close. Even better: that change is brought about by an inverted refrain- “you say, you say, keep the change” slowly progresses into “you say, you say, things will change”. That those words are brought to vivid life by the music itself is a warm final reassurance; Wall’s an extremely talented songwriter, Band Practice is worth a lot of excitement, and Make Nice– the release “Bartending At Silent Barn” is taken from- is a record that deserves an extraordinarily high level of anticipation.

Listen to “Bartending At Silent Barn” below and keep an eye on this site for updates on Make Nice.