Earlier this year, Ben Morey and Katie Preston broke ground on Dreaming Out Loud, an intimate live performance series for this site. Watching the two of them together made it clear that, no matter the future of this site’s editorial content, this was a series that needed to continue. Before too long, a few more appearances had been booked, including one from a man whose music has meant a lot to me over the course of this decade: Patrick Jennings.
Whether playing as a solo artist, with Middle Children, with PURPLE 7, or with Hot New Mexicans, Jennings has proved to have an innate sense of humility, honesty, and conviction. He’s been a crucial part of several of my favorite albums and songs of the past 13+ years and it was an honor to play host. Regrettably, both of my SD cards for my usual camera went haywire, leading to an impromptu iPhone filming session, making editing next to impossible. On the other hand, the raw, uncut nature of this volume of Dreaming Out Loud speaks to Jennings’ work as an artist, cat’s meows and all. A worthy trade-off.
During the filming, Jennings gave me the opportunity to pick the set list, leaving me frozen. If I’d taken that offer in full, Jennings and the band he had in tow would’ve missed their show that night by a few hours. Instead of requesting about four album’s worth of songs, he provided the courtesy of a three-song set spanning his discography. A new solo track, a Purple 7 gem, and the opener off Hot New Mexicans’ debut album, It’s Called Leaning Back. One full band, two in true solo acoustic fashion. Opting to kneel rather than sit, Jennings and co. provided a brief, mesmerizing run through one of the most remarkable catalogs in DIY punk.
Any time there’s a band that convinces someone to start a label, there’s always an innate quality about them that justifies such a passionate response. It’s a theory that’s been held up in practice countless times over and applies to Gash — a power trio from Eau Claire, WI — who are largely responsible for stoking the fire of what would become Heavy Meadow Records. Curiously, the band’s forthcoming Haha will be Heavy Meadow’s third release but it also stands a reasonable chance of being the label’s earliest calling card.
Haha was recorded by Seth Tracy of Double Grave and “Always Pissed” is the first look at the record. Sludgy, grunge-adjacent, and teeming with slacker punk tendencies (deliberate pacing, sardonic humor, etc.), “Always Pissed” comes equipped with a heavy dose of reverb and attitude. Through the grime, there’s a pop song buried at the center, creating a competitive balance that winds up propelling the song into its own world. It’s dirty, it’s powerful, and it’s got a measure of casual brilliance. Turn it on and turn it up.
Listen to “Always Pissed” below and pre-order Haha from Heavy Meadow here.
Before getting too far into this specific review/essay, a slew of disclaimers are in order. First, I play drums in a band that includes a member of Good Grief. Second, all four of these members became close friends and supporters of my work in and outside of Heartbreaking Bravery and are tethered to the same self-created family that we all desperately needed to survive in a small, isolated city in the middle of Wisconsin. Third (and possibly the most important of these three): I didn’t know any of these people until I saw Good Grief play for the first time nearly a decade ago, an instance that immediately registered as one of those world-caving experiences of startling discovery; I knew these were my people before they allowed me into their family.
If entertainment truly lives and dies at the intersection of talent, connections, and insistence, I will go to bat for this band long after they hang up their cables.
That last statement is one I can say with an abundance of conviction, as I was still screaming recommendations at people in passing (and in person) in a four and a half year absence. For a long while it seemed like the band would be permanently dissolved, leaving behind a memorable legacy for the people who were there the first time around, packing in basements and losing their voices screaming along to songs like “Basic Math” and “Flirting With Death“. All that was left was a distant, desperate hope for a reunion or for the songs that never got recorded at the end of the run to find their way to a posthumous release (while holding on to the several hours of live footage I’d amassed with a white-knuckle grip).
In late 2016, the band returned and filled out a local bar that was packed with enough pent-up longing and energy from both the band and the audience that the place nearly disintegrated in the moment. Shortly after, there was a promise of more shows and new material. Here Come the Waterworks is the fulfillment of both that promise and the platform for a handful of songs that were nearly lost apart from that previously mentioned footage (along with the scattered clips of a select few other people).
A handful of post-reunion shows and the band’s picking up right where they left off, a little more poised, a little more learned, and more willing to challenge themselves. All of those points are made abundantly clear on “State of Disbelief”, “Blood and Kin”, and “Gumming Up the Works”, the half of the EP that’s entirely new material. The other half belongs to the songs that were rescued (“High Society”, “Holy Smokes”, and “In Through the Outhouse”), which have been brushed up and injected with a startling sense of galvanization.
Here Come the Waterworks also represents the most evenly split release of the band’s discography, which now spans 2 EP’s and 2 full-length efforts. Half of these songs are led by Colin Bares, who continues to astonish here as he has in previous projects The Coral Riffs, The Weasel, Marten Fisher, The Cost of Living (a project that was born out of Good Grief’s initial dissolution which also retained drummer Jess Nowaczyk), and Mr. Martin and the Sensitive Guys (another project that Good Grief bassist Jarad Olson lent his considerable talent [in addition to spearheading a solo project]). The other half are headed up by Dirk Gunderson, who carved out a name for himself through not only Good Grief but Heavy Looks (which also features Olson) but also by way f some impressive solo work by way of The Deadly Vices.
Across six songs, everyone lays it on the line, committing to their material with a newfound understanding of what they can create. Guitars are left out of tune in spots to create dissonance, vocal overlays enhance the atmosphere in multiple spots, and when the harmonies hit, they hit hard. Gunderson and Bares both provide some of the best work of their respective careers. Their off-kilter pop and unrepentant punk influences still thrive at an intersection that owes a meaningful debt to acts like The Unicorns and The Libertines while offering enough distinct personality to create its own category.
Smart composition, clever hooks, and no shortage of attitude are littered across this EP, which is comprised of nothing but high points. The band’s thoughtfulness is evident throughout Here Come the Waterworks but never sacrifices the immediacy that’s drawn so many people into their circle over the years. There’s no room for error or filler and each member has an intrinsic understanding of how the others work, which translates into a tight-knit formula that elevates the material to a significant degree; Bares’ pained vocals are served by Gunderson’s ambient leads while Gunderson’s unbridled tenacity is enhanced by a characteristically busy and propulsive rhythm section (and so on).
All of it works just as it’s always worked, only this time around the band’s fully aware of their most minuscule machinations and have fine-tuned every facet of their operation. It’s a level of dedication that’s created a snarling behemoth; the years where they stepped away are met here with a vengeance. “Gumming Up the Works”, especially, feels like a declaration of intent; this is a band that’s here to strengthen their own sizable mark. Here Come the Waterworks is a new chapter for the band, and their future, suddenly, has risen from absence and bloomed into an open boundlessness.
When all’s said and done, the last note played, Good Grief resuscitated from the urn’s ashes, this EP stands as a spotless example of what this site was built to celebrate, something that doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that Good Grief were a fundamental part of this entire site’s creation and will continue to be an integral part of Heartbreaking Bravery going forward. It’s a band that’s entwined with the DNA of everything this place — and like-minded places — hope to accomplish: to serve as a platform where elevating hidden or overlooked voices becomes not only possible but the desired goal.
Geographical privilege, lack of funds, lack of notoriety… none of those things matter. All that matters is the music and the people responsible for the music’s creation. This is a band of people doing their best to be kind, writing songs that could go toe-to-toe with an entire arsenal of forgettable acts who are gifted late night TV slots, but there’s a modesty to what they do that none only makes it difficult to gain traction but be seen or heard at all. Hopefully, this post doesn’t wind up being the only piece to attempt a richly-deserved course correction.
Still, Here Come the Waterworks stands proudly as an astonishing release that deserves a far wider audience than it’ll likely get as it’s forced to stare down disappointingly arbitrary mitigating factors. Even with that being the case, the EP’s a testament to the bands who know that making a noticeable impact in the macro doesn’t matter if you can meaningful shape the lives of the people who are present enough to be reached. It’s a record that’s been around five years in the making and it’s a record that makes me proud of the people I chose to align myself with: a piece of art that re-enforces those decisions with abandon.
Good Grief were one of a very select handful of bands who changed the direction of my life and these six songs casually reflect those moments. They made my hometown feel more like an actual home. We lived in basements, we drank together, we suffered with each other, we celebrated with each other, and we did our best to make something meaningful, not just on our own but together. It’s beyond heartening to have that indomitable spirit not only survive an extended break but be rekindled into the roaring fire that is Here Come the Waterworks.
Listen to (and watch) Here Come the Waterworks below, pick it up here, and keep an eye on this site for more updates on one of the best bands more people deserve to know.
A week or so into September and there’s already been a handful of exhilarating releases, several of them standing firmly as Album of the Year contenders. It can be easy to be swept up in the glitzy press blitzes assembled for those records and it can be even easier to overlook new music from bands with little to no name recognition while it’s happening. Fortunately, there are still a small handful of people out there who care more about the acts that are breaking than the ones being gifted massive roll-out packages.
One of the smaller bands in question is the duo Sauna Accident, who excel in crafting a sort of hyper-specific, intriguingly woozy brand of post-punk. Lo-fi and unapologetic, the project — which consists of Sophie Ballman and Daniel Hughes — has only released two songs prior to now. Thankfully, “Mary Jane” has arrived to push that song count a tick higher. Arriving in advance of their forthcoming EP, Run to the Log that’s Rotten, which is due out next Friday.
“Mary Jane” takes all of the most promising elements of the project’s opening tracks and watches them coalesce into something greater. Tenacious, foreboding, and a little insidious, “Mary Jane” makes each one of its three minutes and 22 seconds count. It’s a hard-hitting piece of minimalist post-punk that seemingly celebrates its own murkiness. Dark and decisive, the song paints a very promising picture of Sauna Accident’s future.
Listen to “Mary Jane” below and keep an eye on the duo’s bandcamp for further updates on Run to the Log that’s Rotten.
While all of those, as always, are more than worth the time anyone’s willing to invest, today’s featured slot goes to Hoop’s arresting “To Know Your Tone”, from their forthcoming Super Genuine, which features a vocal assist from solo artist Allyson Foster. In a brief explanation of the inspiration for the song’s narrative, lyricist Caitlin Roberts offered the following: “To Know Your Tone” is about the power of asking for support and receiving support, and what it’s like to listen deeply to someone you don’t know very well but empathize with strongly. It’s about allowing tears to fall on the desert of isolation.
A perfect summation of the humanism that’s always been at the core of Hoop’s music, the explanation goes a long way in explaining the overarching message of “To Know Your Tone” but what really elevates the song is the composition. Muted, hushed, nervous, and aggressive, “To Know Your Tone” benefits from an incredibly dark tone, providing both a contrast and a context to the song’s empathetic narrative. Allyson Foster delivers the vocal with a committed certainty, consumed by the song’s inherent power.
Appropriately, Foster stepped in to sing the song when Roberts lost her voice, underscoring the message of “To Know Your Tone” to an eerie perfection. Hoop — not to be confused with Hoops — and Foster work in tandem perfectly, complementing each other’s sensibilities with ease. The end result of their collaborative effort is both a tribute and testament to the very power of collaboration and the beauty present in asking for and receiving help. A gripping meditation on therapeutic connections, “To Know Your Tone” is also one of the year’s most quietly affecting tracks.
Listen to “Know Your Tone” below and pre-order Super Genuine from the band here.
There’s been debate over whether or not some music can be described as universal. The act of making music is beyond that question, whether the scales skew to the conventions of the West or not, there’s a shared creativity in the act of making music. It’s in that spirit that regularly-held boundaries can be demolished in the pursuit of listening to that music, like language. For example: a lot of Americans won’t understand a word of Kynnet‘s explosive “Tikusta Asiaa” but it still packs enough power to whip a large group of people into a frenzy. Music’s made up of myriad multi-faceted components, which is why it’s not necessary to understand all of them to experience an emotional reaction.
The 95-second “Tikusta Asiaa” boasts a lot of familiar musical hallmarks and draws an astonishing amount of power from those dynamics, throwing a series of punches before suddenly disappearing in a wall of smoke. Kynnet’s been excelling in that type of pop-informed basement and has formed an incredible discography in an impressively short amount of time. “Tikusta Asiaa” is the project’s current crown jewel but at the rate its been going (2016 has seen the release of a 7″ and an EP) it likely won’t be long before it’s overrun by another run of deliriously adrenalized micro-punk. Until then, “Tikusta Asiaa” should be celebrated and played the world over.
Listen to “Tikusta Asiaa” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on the band.
While more than a handful of those were considered for this post’s featured spot, Strange Ranger secured the position by virtue of releasing an EP that contains a few of the finest songs to have been released all year. One of those, the record’s opening and title track, earned a healthy amount of recent praise. “Sunbeams Through Your Head” set an impressive, melancholic tone for its namesake which was released in full earlier today.
Following the haunted title track, Sunbeams Through Your Head could have gone a number of directions but chose to expand on its thesis statement. The EP’s second track, “Life Would Be Cooler”, is by far its longest and one of its most gripping. “Life Would Be Cooler” also turns out to be surprisingly economical in its narrative, painting a portrait of an intense (and intensely damaged) longing in less than 60 words, closing with a devastating plea that drives a staggering amount of genuine feeling home.
It’s an opening salvo that packs an emotional wallop but Strange Ranger stays on course for the next barrage of tracks, remaining unapologetic for their overwhelmingly weary nature and casting an atmospheric pall in the process. In a strange way, it’s almost moving, listening to the band support their most downtrodden tendencies with intuitively empathetic moments in the instrumental composition. “Dolph”, “Whatever You Say”, and especially the gorgeous, instrumental “Thru Your Head” all contain breathtaking moments of a deeply felt compassion.
Everything that the EP works towards comes splintering apart, quite literally, in the manic closing track, “oh oh oh oh”. From the outset of the record’s final statement, the vocals are cracking to the point of breaking as a mournful organ line runs underneath the pained theatrics. Those are the song’s only two elements and they grow more pronounced as the narrative grows more hopeless. Eventually the narrative’s abandoned altogether, buckling underneath its own weight and disappearing into the ether, as the organ figure delivers a somber eulogy. It’s a challenging, mesmerizing way to close out an incredible EP and allows Sunbeams Through Your Head to linger long after it’s gone. It’s company worth keeping.
Listen to Sunbeams Through Your Head below and download it here.
The band first teased this release more than a full year ago by uploading an early, unfinished version of “Mount Kool Kid” to their bandcamp. That version’s been pulled in the time that’s elapsed since its quiet release and its absence has finally been amended with the release of the band’s latest 7″. “Mount Kool Kid” remains an absolute beast of a song, echoing shades of the very best noise, basement punk, and hyper-spastic pop acts in one fell swoop.
Even though it wears all of those influences proudly, “Mount Kool Kid” is still very distinctly Melkbelly. The enhanced production brings out a near-feral rawness in the track that was previously buried, albeit still evident. Everything hits tremendously hard in this more polished version, utilizing Albini-esque tactics for the drum sounds and providing some layers that allow it a more expansive sound.
The flip-side of the 7″ is “Elk Mountain”, which dials back the ferocity to expand on the band’s penchant for grunge and sludge-leaning moments. While the tempo recedes, the abundance of feeling remains in tact. Not a moment of “Elk Mountain” is anything less than exhilarating. Guitarist/vocalist Miranda Winters helps set these songs apart by infusing them with a surprising amount of delicacy that elevates both of these tracks into the realm of the sublime.
Both “Mount Kool Kid” and “Elk Mountain” are incredibly dynamic, compelling tracks that near the four-minute mark. For virtually every second of their run-time, there’s an admirable choice that manifests in the songs. Whether it’s a drastic tempo change, a vocal run, a runaway drum break, or a sudden commitment to overwhelming heaviness, those choices enliven both tracks, leaving Mount Kool Kid b/w Elk Mountain as one of the best 7″ releases anyone’s likely to hear in 2016. So, stop reading, hit play, surrender to the band’s chaos and get swept up in the frenzy.
Listen to Mount Kool Kid b/w Elk Mountain below and pick up a copy here.
July’s continued to bring out quality full streams in full force and the last few days of this week were no exception, bringing about worthy titles from Pre Nup, Yeesh, and The Saxophones as well as a Disposable America mixtape that’s directing all of the proceeds it earns towards the Pulse Tragedy Community Fund. As always, all of those titles should be more fully explored than time here allows and stand as highly recommended listens. Joining them in that regard is this post’s intended feature, the outstanding debut release from don’t, the cheekily-titled forget it.
Both the pop-punk and bedroom pop genres have been at their absolute best when they’ve proven to be subversive, opting out of merely imitating their expected beats. forget it succeeds in bridging the two genres by virtue of that type of subversion and becomes an unlikely standout in the process. In four short tracks, don’t offer up a variety of familiar points and then sets about demolishing their construction.
Whether it’s the synth that erupts at the chorus of “ambiguous” that transports the song into unexpected territory after a standard pop-punk build or the intense, sharp left forget it takes for its closing ballad, “your head”, that unexpectedly turns over the vocal lead and dramatically altars the momentum of the EP before exploding into a sort of euphoria, the band refuses to cater to an easy or predictable route.
Throughout it all, forget it remains deeply compelling not only by the virtue of its choices but in large part to the purity of the music it offers. Nearly every track’s narrative is populated and defined by some type of longing and elevated by its instrumental explorations. There’s not a moment on forget it that feels anything less than overwhelmingly honest and it draws a considerable amount of power from its sincerity.
In approximately 11 minutes, don’t go from being an unknown entity to one of 2016’s most exciting — and most promising — new acts. Don’t be surprised to see a quick succession of converts fiercely latching onto the band following this release or to hear their name come up in conversation a lot more readily. With a start this promising, it’s very easy to have a tremendous amount of hope for the future of music. Before that point hits, we should just be grateful to have been gifted such an incredible soundtrack for the ride.
Nearly all of Future Biff contributed to the 2015 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, a fact that has literally no bearing on the assessment of their unexpected, extraordinary I Crashed Your Car EP. The band’s fronted by Geronimo! keys man Ben Grigg, whose also been putting out incredibly compelling solo work as benjamin783 and who handles bass duties as well as vocals for this release, which immediately ensures that Future Biff won’t be a retread of the band that left a crater-sized hole in this site’s heart after hanging up their cables last year.
Opening with the rousing “Built To Last”, Future Biff teases that they’ll be a much different kind of beast than Geronimo!, providing emphasis on both a strong melodic sensibility, grounded basement pop compositions, and swirling, feedback-laden chaos. Only “Redline”, I Crashed Your Car‘s jittery final track, passes the two and a half minute mark, allowing the EP to be a blazing force of pure destruction. All five of the songs seem surprisingly purposeful, undoubtedly aided by the benefit of having a joint drumming attack anchored by two of the finest percussionists on the circuit.
Even with all of the singular talent involved in Future Biff, the project feels like it belongs to Grigg, whose long had a penchant for writing sharply intuitive, scrappy punk-tinged basement pop. It’s a trait that shines through I Crashed Your Car with an emphatic abundance. Fiery, propulsive, and unavoidable, Grigg steers the band through the carnage of one of 2016’s finest EP’s with a demented smile. Give in or get out of the way.
Listen to I Crashed Your Car below and pick it up from the band here.