Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Barsuk

Charly Bliss – Young Enough (Album Review, Stream)

In the spirit of the vulnerability that’s displayed with next to no reservation on Charly Bliss‘ extraordinary Young Enough, I’ll be breaking one of the site’s cardinal rules and writing from a first person perspective throughout this review. Beyond just finding a way to honor the devastatingly wounded narratives that pepper the record, it’s a choice that allows me to make a few disclaimers. In the early days of Heartbreaking Bravery, guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks became a supporter of not just this site but me personally, offering up laser-directed beacons of support and encouragement through a barrage of messages.

Before long, we had a familiarity that led to a brief time where we became long-distance confidants. Not too long afterward, after the umpteenth “quit your job and move to New York!” text, I did. I’m not sure I would’ve without Hendricks’ repeated insistence and it remains one of the most impulsive decisions I’ve made in my life but it did allow me to orbit Charly Bliss’ world — and many other acts/people I continue to adore — for a short while. During that time, I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by people and bands that made me feel like I’d found a home away from where I’d grown up. Charly Bliss was one of those acts.

Enveloped by a rare buzz that preceded their breakout debut record, Guppy, I saw how the band operated instead of just hearing about small moments secondhand via personal retelling. There was an undeniable electricity present in the band and it seemed to not just sustain the four members but actively push them towards something greater. Listening to Young Enough, it’s abundantly clear that particular — and comparatively unique — trait remains a singular, dominant force within the band’s genetic makeup.

When Guppy finally got released sometime after its second recorded pass, the band seemed to be swept up in an optimistic surge of adrenaline. After a series of smart decisions, they were being propelled toward a future that seemed increasingly boundless. Word-of-mouth, strong editorial placement, a series of high profile appearances connected to people and publications who hold a certain amount of industry weight, and a sense of accomplishment could’ve had the band feeling placated, content to repeat the motions that had brought them success but the band’s hyperactivity seems to make stagnation an impossible outcome.

Together, the four members of the band boast a remarkable musical pedigree by virtue of their education and upbringing. All of them hold degrees in music-oriented fields and at least a few of them can lay claim to their guitar teacher being ’90s rock n’ roll royalty. Pair those aspects with being habitual over-achievers and its not surprising that the band continues a rare kind of ascension. What serves the band well is that they continue to grapple with self-doubt and have found means of support through each other; whether it’s one assuring another that a riff isn’t too simplistic or that a sharp stylistic shift isn’t too far out of reach.

Utilizing that support as a dynamic allowed Guppy to thrive but without it, it’s hard to imagine Young Enough existing at all. By most means, this is a bold jump of a record suffused with head-turning moments in both the micro and the macro. The band’s fully embraced the pop sensibility that’s always been present and enhanced it to the nth degree, creating a confection that feels removed from their earlier work while still being a natural extension.

Much of Young Enough was written after one of Charly Bliss’ tours with Wolf Parade and that band’s influence shines through on the fatalistic opener, “Blown To Bits”, which successfully reintroduces the band and sets up the record with a simple grace. It’s also somewhat of a warning: while the music and composition is undeniably sunnier and more wide-open than the band’s first few releases, the narratives are darker. A lot darker.

While brief bursts of violence have long populated Hendricks’ lyrics (Passed out on the subway/with blood in my hair from “Ruby” has proven an exceptionally hard line to shake), the extent of how far Hendricks — and by extension, the entire band — is willing to go on this record is staggering. Several of the songs deal with abusive, nihilistic relationships that Hendricks has survived. Physical and emotional assaults are addressed, with Hendricks repeatedly finding ways to not only pick up the pieces of the shields that were shattered in those instances but rebuild them to be stronger without sacrificing personal openness.

A lot of this record served as an unpleasant reminder of the kind of cruelty Hendricks has had to face down and it’s why the record’s centerpiece, it’s astonishing 5+ minute title track, had me beaming through tears and made me stop the record on my first listen to recover. It’s at that point I realized Young Enough wasn’t just an ambitious pop record but a complete reclamation of identity for a person I’ve been fortunate to know as a friend, that’s burrowed deep into something uncomfortably private and unknowably thorny.

Taking the record on through that lens doubles the impact of the areas where the band continues to improve. Reticence and reluctance are discarded in favor of a directness that the band draws strength from, supplying barbed narratives with a clear-eyed focus that was occasionally lost in the overwhelmingly addictive sugar-rush of their earlier works. By slowing down just a touch, the hooks sink in deeper and the wounds they create grow more palpable, forcing the listener to confront their meaning.

Everything from the enormous pop-minded advance singles (“Capacity”, “Chatroom”) to “Running in the Dark” (essentially an interlude track) to the material that most closely resembles the band they were in the past (“Hard to Believe”, “Under You”) benefits from the band’s newfound commitment to an exploratory fearlessness. Each of them have grown as musicians and Hendricks has certainly grown as a lyricist, with both truths coalescing neatly across the record but coming to a head on the shattering “Hurt Me”.

By several miles, the darkest song the band’s recorded, “Hurt Me” shows off the restraint of artists who have mastered their craft while doubling as a desperate plea to escape untold violence. It’s a breathtaking instance where instead of punctuating a narrative to offer it an unexpected jolt, its the focal point in all of its miserable agony:

Remember all the plastic proof?
How I punished me for you?
Mirror over everything
Sometimes you feel nothing

The way your shirt hangs off your back
Easy, but you’re nothing like that
Eyes like a funeral, mouth like a bruise
Veins like a hallway, voice like a wound
You don’t wanna hurt me
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby
You don’t wanna hurt me
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby

“Hurt Me” is punishing poetry that confronts a dark shadow that becomes a reality for far too many people. Infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure, the nature of the song’s composition allows the words to jut out like barbed wire, each knotted point drawing blood along the fencing. More than any other song on Young Enough, “Hurt Me” signifies this is the start of a new chapter for not just the band but Hendricks personally, as the songwriter relearns self-love and how to healthily coexist with thoughts borne out of bleak moments.

While the band may still question their decisions, throughout the record it’s easy to hear their impulse to doubt falling away, bit by bit. They’ve earned that confidence and the reaction to Young Enough should buoy them further still. For all of the harrowing hallways the record navigates, Young Enough ends on a slightly brighter note, tackling the daunting prospect of family planning in a sharply funny and painfully relatable track that serves as somewhat of the band’s long-held penchant for sardonic wit while retaining just enough sincerity to lend it an extra punch.

By seemingly every metric, Young Enough is a tour de force. From the more evident (the jaw-dropping vocal performance on “Young Enough”, the ) to the minutiae (pacing, instrument production), there’s not a false move to be found. Charly Bliss’ second effort is a masterpiece of assured craftsmanship from a band that’s learned to navigate their doubt and trust themselves. A landmark achievement for a band that’s learning that what they’ll be able to achieve together could be limitless.

I’ll continue to follow every step of that journey and look forward to what it brings, armed with the records it’s already produced as a permanent soundtrack. I’d encourage others to join me, especially when the results include benefits like Young Enough, which may very well be the best record of 2019. Dive into it below, get lost in its world, and come out on the other side remembering that it’s okay to allow yourself happiness, love the good constants in your life, and be thankful that you’re still here to think about any of this at all.
Listen to Young Enough below and pick it up from Barsuk here.

 

Charly Bliss – Westermarck (Music Video, Live Video)

Over the past seven weeks, there hasn’t been a lot of regular coverage on this site. There’s a long list of reasons behind that which can all be condensed into this: Heartbreaking Bravery’s a one-person operation and life’s kept me a lot busier than usual. To amend the coverage gaps, three large recaps ran yesterday. Throughout the week, there’ll be “best of” lists that cover those three main categories: streams, music videos, and full streams. To break the monotony up a little, there’ll also be a trio of individual pieces running on some of the very best material to have appeared over the past seven weeks, starting with site favorites Charly Bliss and their note-perfect video for “Westermarck”.

Directed by Andrew Costa — who was also at the helm for the “Ruby“, “Percolator“, and “Black Hole” clips — “Westermarck” finds the band newly positioned and brimming with a confident joy that translates well to screen. While Costa was able to hint at the band’s outsize playfulness on the previous two directorial outings, the clip for “Westermarck” goes beyond just hints and expertly conveys the band’s entire identity. It’s virtually unmatched by any of the previous videos from either Costa or the group’s prior visual collaborator, Christopher George (who ably executed the visual accompaniments for Soft Serve).

Reportedly loosely inspired by the Jonas Brothers’ Disney vehicle Camp Rock, “Westermarck” makes excellent use of a playground setting and allows the band to revel in just enjoying life. Combating depression, loneliness, insecurity, and weariness with a resilient positivity and healthy relationships with empathetic people was the underlying crux of the narrative that runs through Guppy, the band’s debut full-length and Album of the Year contender on which “Westermarck” appears, and is subtly conveyed throughout the visual treatment they’ve afforded “Westermarck”.

Josh Kanuck provided the clip with a worn colorization that balances pastels with more rustic leanings and plays up the nostalgia factor that peers through a lot of the band’s work, doubling down on the clip’s overall effectiveness (Charly Bliss has always been able to marry youth with hard-won knowledge and to be able to allude to that theme with the use of color is an incredibly clever touch). More than anything else, though, microanalysis aside, “Westermarck” stands as another perfect example of what virtually guaranteed this site would be spilling a lot of digital ink in following Charly Bliss’ exploits: it’s a deeply sincere affirmation of pure feeling.

Whether the band’s getting their faces painted, careening around on a skateboard, playing guitar while slacklining, dancing on tables, batting an inflatable ball around together, lighting sprinklers, or playing through the song on some docks or in a cabin, there’s a sense that the band — and a small group of friends — are enjoying the living hell out of every moment they have together.

At the end of the day — especially in an environment rife with projected detachment — it’s incredibly important to not only be reminded of the virtues that Charly Bliss so readily espouses but to see those virtues in action. While their last two records remain untouchable works of art, “Westermarck” just might go down as their definitive statement. Hit play and get swept up in Charly Bliss’ irrepressible joy.

Watch “Westermarck” (and watch them play through the song last year in Minneapolis) below and pick up Guppy from Barsuk here.

 

Charly Bliss – Guppy (Album Review, Live Videos)

Reviewing a record that you’ve spent years becoming entwined with, falling in love with, and essentially establishing as a core part of your identity is a difficult prospect. It’s always nerve-wracking to attempt to do justice to something that’s become so personal. When it’s made by people that you’ve grown to love and even consider part of your extended family, it becomes a lot murkier. And yet, every single time Charly Bliss’ Guppy starts up, all of those thoughts fade away and the record rises up, bares its fangs, and clamps down with such a vengeance that it’s difficult to think of anything other than the music’s sheer, overwhelming power.

Guppy is a record I’ve been fortunate enough to watch evolve since its first permutation in 2015, which featured a handful of songs that didn’t make the cut for the official release (including “Turd“, which was released in advance of Guppy as a standalone single) and boasted a production that emphasized the low-end aspect of the band, providing it an immense punch. That Guppy has not only retained that punch but emphasized it by balancing out those levels is nothing short of miraculous.

To get to that point, the band weathered quite a few storms and put more notches in its belt than most people realize. The band first hinted that it might be more than your standard punk-driven basement pop act with the releases of 2013’s A Lot To Say EP, which was highlighted by its towering title track. Following that was the release of an astounding single in “Clean“, the invaluable addition of Dan Shure on bass, and the release of the Soft Serve EP, which — along with their scintillating live show — acted as the band’s calling card for a handful of years.

Soft Serve acted as my introduction to the band and I’ve never been so thoroughly dismantled and blown away by a band I’d never heard of as I was the day I clicked play on that record. It topped Heartbreaking Bravery’s EP’s of the Year list for 2014 and still stands proudly as my personal pick for the best EP of this decade and it’s very unlikely that anything will unseat it by the time 2020 rolls around. No band has every put me all in as quickly as Charly Bliss managed with just three perfect songs.

I didn’t know it at the time but that EP would wind up legitimately changing the course of my life. Eva Grace Hendricks, one of Charly Bliss’ two guitarist/vocalist/songwriter’s, joined the A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors roster shortly after Soft Serve‘s release and wound up being an instrumental part of my decision to relocate to Brooklyn for half of 2015. Our shared, vocal support of each other’s ventures meant a great deal to me at the time and still does today, as it stood (and stands) as the type of mutual support that Heartbreaking Bravery has aimed to establish since the beginning.

Enter: Guppy‘s first run, an astonishing demo that laid out the particulars and quickly overtook everything else in my listening habits. Any doubts that any of the members of Charly Bliss may have had at the time were wildly unwarranted; even at its most humble stages, Guppy was a behemoth of a record. For the next two years, the band would fine-tune different parts of the songs, the production, and they’d introduce new material that usurped a few scattered tracks that were initially grouped in with what would eventually become Guppy.

To promote the record, the band did everything right and still managed to hide a few tricks up their sleeve: touring America as the openers for Veruca Salt and PUP, releasing “Ruby” as an early single and following it up with a characteristically clever music video, unleashing the single greatest Audiotree session I’ve seen (no small feat), and finding ways to advance their jaw-dropping live show, from perfecting four-part harmonies to studiously analyzing old footage to look for subtle tweaks to potentially make. All the while, a handful of labels had taken interest and the band had a huge decision to make and took their time to make sure it was the right one.

Barsuk Records eventually won the rights to Guppy and all of the tenacity they likely poured into their campaign to secure the record should pay massive dividends for the label going forward. It’s a move that helped secure Guppy the vaunted NPR First Listen slot, replete with an effectively effusive write-up. Stereogum immediately awarded the record its Album of the Week honor and Pitchfork gave it the kind of score that’s a short step away from verging on their Best New Music territory (a rarity for the publication’s appraisal of this particular genre).

While all of the praise remains heartening to see and the critical analysis provided to the record was both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it’s difficult to tell if any of those reviewers grasped the magnitude of what this type of record can accomplish if it keeps being awarded effective platforms. It’s also difficult to tell if any of those publications had a handle on not only what this band can eventually become but what they’ve managed to become already. As mentioned above, Guppy is a record capable of obliterating critical thinking as it plays and then rewarding it to an obscene degree when it wraps, putting it in extremely select company.

From the energy-bolstering opening seconds of “Percolator”, Guppy lets its listeners know that they’re in for something that’s as ebullient as it is aggressive, finding a transcendental sweet spot between bubblegum coating and a shockingly dark undercurrent. Hendricks, from the outset, dives into a narrative that grapples with not only her own mortality but the self-awareness everyday interactions have come to necessitate. Spencer Fox, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, provides what’s quickly becoming his trademark: economical but dizzying guitar riffs that don’t sacrifice feeling for technique (or vice versa).

If people weren’t aware that Fox is currently one of the best guitarists in music, Guppy should go a long way in providing that (admittedly understandable) ignorance a remedy. While Soft Serve‘s “Urge to Purge” remains one of the best riffs of the present decade, Guppy is where Fox stakes his claim, something that becomes abundantly clear throughout the course of the record. Not only are all of Fox’s contributions spectacular but the work Dan Shure and Sam Hendricks (Eva’s brother) are doing as a rhythm section have allowed them to quietly become one of the most vicious tandems currently on the circuit.

While Fox and that rhythm section remain impressive throughout, Guppy‘s beating heart rests in Eva Grace Hendricks and that heart’s beating at a relentless pace. Hendricks anchors each one of these songs with a frightening determination and a mischievous joy. All of the come-on’s are equipped with a warning, every smile comes with a missing tooth, and every invitation comes with an advance apology.

In “Ruby”, Hendricks’ loving ode to her therapist, she rides a subway with blood on her hair. On “Glitter”, there’s the realization that a relationship’s shortcomings can sometimes be equally distributed across both parties. In “Scare U”, there’s the recognition of greed and the unapologetic desire to be in complete control.  At seemingly every turn, Hendricks comes to grips with the duality most goodhearted people constantly view as a struggle. By subverting these thoughts and latching onto something defiantly celebratory, Charly Bliss comes together to reclaim their own deeply damaged narratives as learning points, important mistakes, and necessities of personal evolution.

It’s in that context where each of the band’s decisions gains importance. They’re not just making music because they like to make music; they’re using it as a coping outlet. Every single snare hit, vibrato, and squeal comes loaded with personal meaning and they’re reaching those confrontations as a unit, drawing from each other’s strengths to pummel all of the perceived difficulties back into something that feels inconsequential in the face of what they’re doing together. Nothing is half-assed. This is the embrace of life vs. the acquiescence of  a life given over to being constantly haunted by past mistakes.

As that aspect of Guppy comes into focus, it’s legitimately hard not to be blown away on several levels. Chief among them, the strength this band’s gained through both familial experience and shared camaraderie. There’s no judgment present, just the willingness to take a sword to the throats of the dangerous things that threaten the well-being of their friends. If there’s a dragon to be slayed, Charly Bliss’ tactic is to conjure up a battering ram to force it into becoming a piñata and bathing in its blood as the ugliest contents come pouring out, greeting the event as a ritualistic party to share with all their friends.

Managing to make things even more impressive is the fact that the band’s doing this with what’s more of a whip-smart advancement of ’90s slacker punk & powerpop aesthetics than a faceless imitation. Sure, Guppy will get compared to Letters to Cleo, Josie and the Pussycats, and any other act that fits that mold- but (in addition to some possible casual sexism) that’s only faintly scratching the surface of what’s actually happening on this record, especially in terms of composition. That’s a victory all on its own and Guppy should go a long way in contributing to what looks to be a seismic shift in the way bands pull influence from that particular pocket of music.

Guppy is far from a retread and it’s decidedly modern bent helps secure it a spot as one of 2017’s essential releases as well as a bona fide genre classic. There are no standout songs among the 10 because virtually all of them rank among the best to be released this year. From wire-to-wire, Guppy is a breakneck record that revels in destruction and comes off as a staggering show of force. Everything from the dirty ditty-turned-guaranteed showstopper “Black Hole”  to the unrelenting blows administered by “Gatorade”, “DQ”, and “Westermarck” are enough to make anyone sit up and start paying the type of attention this band should’ve been receiving for the past several years.

As “Totalizer” races by with abandon and all of the requisite snark, cleverness, and thoughtfulness that have come to define Charly Bliss songs, it’s still difficult to think most will be adequately prepared for the record’s final breathtaking moment. “Julia”, Guppy‘s sludgy closer, is the heaviest track the band’s committed to record by miles. It’s one final reminder that the band’s not as cute as they appear at first blush and that Guppy, while a fun record on the surface, conceals a wellspring of damage that the band’s not afraid to confront. Full-throated, deeply felt, and ferociously delivered, Guppy is a basement pop record for the ages. Whatever troubles come, I have no doubt that Charly Bliss will be standing above the wreckage, breathing in the smoke and looking to start a roaring fire all their own.

Listen to Guppy below, pick it up from Barsuk here, and watch a collection of live videos that I personally shot of the band playing at six separate shows over the past few years.

Charly Bliss – Black Hole (Stream, Live Video)

Over the past few years, Charly Bliss has been featured on this site with alarming regularity. Of course, no one’s doing a punchy basement pop/bubblegum punk hybrid at anywhere close to their level. And they keep improving. So, if anything, it’s a little shocking they aren’t featured in these confines even more frequently. Their debut full-length, Guppy, is only a week away from release and it marks a moment that’s been more than two years in the making.

Guppy‘s gone through a lot of changes over that time, from track switches to production alterations, and one of the most notable changes occurred with the addition of “Black Hole” (formerly entitled “Bad Box”), a song that started off as a vocal warm-up that featured slightly dirtier lyrics (the opening line remained a constant through all of its mutations). Everything that’s transformed this band into one of the best acts on the market is brought to the forefront in “Black Hole”, from the black comedy of the lyrics to the scintillating guitar work (and razor-sharp composition) and seemingly infinite amount of energy.

“Black Hole”, like every Charly Bliss song, is an immensely thoughtful, characteristically clever beast of a song, ably showcasing each band member’s formidable talents. On top of all of that, though, it’s also endlessly replayable, holding up and revealing new depths several dozens of listens past the initial brush, rendering it the umpteenth song this band’s unloaded that’s both immediately satisfying and carries enough power to sustain a near-shocking longevity. With all of that in mind, it’ll be a genuine shock if Guppy doesn’t wind up delivering on its early promise as a legitimate Album of the Year candidate. Until it’s arrival, though, it’s enough just to keep “Black Hole” on repeat.

Listen to “Black Hole” (and watch the band performing the song live in Minneapolis last year) below and pre-order Guppy from Barsuk here.

Watch This: Vol. 68

It only took about four months to elapse and required some serious legwork but Watch This will be resuming its regular format now and it’s regular pace on Sunday. Below are five live clips from last week that stood out. From old standbys to exciting new bands, each and every one of these takes is worth seeing. All five represent the absolute pinnacle of what can be accomplished with instruments, microphones, a camera, and some tasteful editing. So, enough with the lead-in, it’s time to sit back, turn the volume up, pour a drink, dim the lights, and Watch This.

1. Cymbals Eat Guitar (KEXP)

LOSE was easily one of last year’s best records and Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest moment to date. Tackling sensitive topics with enough verve and vulnerability to make most acoustic singer/songwriters blush, the band created something that landed with enough force that it’s repercussions are still reverberating nearly halfway into this year. In the live setting, the band sinks its teeth into those songs with enough bleary-eyed fervor that it occasionally elevates their impact. KEXP recently turned their lenses on the band as they glided through a scorching set that fully demonstrated LOSE‘s formidable magnitude.

2. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Sweet Disorder (Jam in the Van)

Back in October, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires played their hearts out to less than twenty people in a small Milwaukee bar. It was one of the most impassioned sets that I’ve seen in the past few years and the band delivers that trademark intensity to Jam in the Van for what’s currently that series’ best session of 2015. All manic energy, grit, and relentless determination, the band turns in an absolute monster live take of “Sweet Disorder” that could convert more than a few people on its own.

3. Nots – Reactor (BreakThruRadio)

Nots’ self-titled full-length for Goner Records last year was one of the strongest moments of 2014 for the legendary punk label. Ever since that release, the band’s been touring at a reckless pace and honing their live show- something that’s easily evidenced in yet another outstanding BTR live clip. “Reactor” is one of the band’s best songs and the band injects it with a self-possessed fury that accelerates the song into a whirlwind of near-chaos that suits Nots’ aesthetic to perfection.

4. A Place To Bury Strangers – We’ve Come So Far (KEXP)

I’m not sure KEXP has a hosted an individual performance that’s as singularly vicious as A Place To Bury Strangers’ recent run-through of “We’ve Come So Far”, which goes so far beyond the memorable stage antics that helps transform this into one of the station’s most visually stunning offerings in some time. Light projections, noise solos, and a flood light that’s wielded as both a slide and as a weapon go a long way in making this version of “We’ve Come So Far” stick but what really gives the performance its teeth is the way every band member seems to forget their surroundings and just lay into their respectable roles in a way that indicates this is less of a performance and more of a deranged, otherworldly ritual.

5. The Districts (Out of Town Films) 

While The Districts recorded output hasn’t quite gripped me like I’ve expected, in a live setting the band’s an entirely different beast. Here, lovingly filmed by the excellent Out of Town Films, they deliver a scorcher of set that more than backs up the band’s considerable buzz. Stunning cinematography and a killer set of songs take this to the realms of a near-classic document of an exciting young band. Only growing stronger as they go, The Districts (and Out of Town Films) turn in a vital reminder of their sizable strengths. Don’t let this one slide by quietly.

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.

14 of ’14: The Best Music Videos of 2014

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In all best-of coverage, there’s no room for any objectivity positing (“Best” is usually just shorthand for “most admired”), which is why this site’s long-held first person restriction will be dropped to allow me to speak more personally in an effort to better explain the contents of this list’s (and all of the lists to follow) personal effect on myself. In 2014, I watched (and covered) more music videos than any year of my life- allowing an intake of genuinely great content that made compiling this list a dream and a nightmare. After spending weeks reviewing old clips (while keeping up with the videos enjoying December releases), I settled on the selections below as the 14 that hit me hardest over the past 12 months. This list will be the first entry in more than a week’s worth of year-end coverage that I’m beyond excited to share with everyone. So, with all of that said- it’s my privilege to present Heartbreaking Bravery’s 14 of ’14: The Best Music Videos of the Year.

14. Left & Right – Low Expectations

A few months ago, Left & Right released this absolute gem of a music video. Imbued with a DIY irreverence, a purposeful sense of direction, winningly off-beat humor, unabashedly committed performances, and some genuinely great cinematography, “Low Expectations” became an unexpected standout; a clip that came out of the gate swinging and (somehow) landing every single blow. Easily one of 2014’s most unexpectedly charming (and ridiculously enjoyable) clips.

13. Saintseneca – Happy Alone

Saintseneca’s Dark Arc was one of 2014’s most deserved breakout moments and nothing punctuated that shift more than the Christopher Good-helmed clip for “Happy Alone”. Emphasizing the song’s central themes by providing a bubble that practically forces isolation onto bandleader Zac Little, it’s a visually striking clip that got harder to shake as the year progressed. By grounding its elements of surrealism with an abundance of naturalism, it provided an artful counterpoint to something like Perfume Genius’ “Queen” (which, incidentally, was shot by Good). Importantly, it also proved that Saintseneca were officially on their way to bigger and better things.

12. Angel Olsen – Windows

I’m not sure there was a music video to come out of 2014 that was more startlingly gorgeous than this Rick Alverson-directed clip for Angel Olsen’s heart-stopping Burn Your Fire For No Witness highlight “Windows”. By incorporating Southern Gothic Americana style rural imagery into Olsen’s plaintive folk-leaning sensibilities, Alverson managed to create an evocative portrait of one of this generation’s finest songwriters. Leading up to an oddly moving (and admittedly eccentric) climax, the whole thing’s so artfully rendered it begins to feel as complete as some of the year’s best films. Delicate and aggressive in all the right places, “Windows” more than earned a spot on this list.

11. Beverly – Honey Do

“Honey Do” was my introduction to Beverly, just as it was for many others, so when news broke that they’d shot a music video for the song, it felt worthy of anticipation. Most of the expectations I had were exceeded in the first few frames and as the video progressed, so did my appreciation. Eschewing any kind of image-building, this was the first in a string of Beverly clips that largely eschewed celebrity in favor of celebrating artistry. Shot in crisp black-and-whites, “Honey Do” is a tender portrait of Los Angeles and its inhabitants and a promising mission statement from one of 2014’s more engaging new acts.

10. S – Losers 

Initially just a clip that came and went with very little fanfare (from a great record with a similar reception), “Losers” immediately felt deeply personal and genuinely heartfelt. Ostensibly a reflection on perception, self-esteem, and harsh reality, the thematic elements in the lyrics get brought to vivid life in a lovingly shot clip that somehow brings them to devastating proportions. DIY in spirit with a focal point on self-expression and identity, it’s become legitimately unforgettable; a long, heavy sigh of acceptance with only the faintest glimmer of hope reverberating throughout the weary cynicism. While “Vampires” was a great deal of fun, it’s “Losers” that deserves the lion’s share of attention for being one of 2014’s strongest buried treasures.

9. Iceage – Against the Moon

Honestly, “The Lord’s Favorite” and “Forever” both could have made this list but it felt more appropriate to limit bands to one entry apiece. With that being the case, it’s Plowing Into The Field Of Love highlight “Against the Moon” that gets the nod; all of the reasons for its inclusion were previously detailed pretty extensively here.

8. Anna Calvi & David Byrne – Strange Weather

Soft saturation. An autumnal palette. Digital film. One of the most delicately directed cinematography performances in any visual medium this year. An implicitly tragic narrative arc that suggests internal (and possible external) suffering. All of these come together in the sublime clip for an equally sublime cover of Kareen Ann’s “Strange Weather”, courtesy of Anna Calvi & David Byrne. One view was all it took for this to become one of the most difficult to shake clips of the year. Masterfully composed and brilliantly executed, it’s nothing short of an emotionally intuitive masterpiece.

7. Diarrhea Planet – Babyhead

I got to use “diaper skull flume explosion” while writing the tags for this one in the initial write-up; what more explanation do you need? “Babyhead” was pure madcap glee on a level not too dissimilar to Wrong Hole’s equally shameless, equally deranged lyric video for “Wrong Hole“. There are times when total insanity can be kind of beautiful. I’m not sure this is one of them but it’s still ridiculously fun.

6. Kid Moxie & The Gaslamp Killer – Museum Motel

No music video kept ricocheting around the corners of my brain more than this deeply unnerving clip from Kid Moxie & The Gaslamp Killer. Operating on a visual level that rivals what was achieved in Under The Skin, it uses waters, shadows, and contrast in a darkly seductive fashion that burrows its way into any brain fortunate enough to find its way over. An ingeniously subtle use of superimposed imagery on a lone snare drum drives up the feeling of unrelenting loneliness and palpable loss. It’s a deeply alluring and deceptively minimal visual representation of a stunning song. One that’s worth putting more than halfway up a “Best of 2014” list.

5. La Dispute – Woman (Reading)

Since this was the last one of the last non-list features to be posted here, it’d seem redundant to simply retrace everything that’s already been said.

4. Girlpool – Plants and Worms

Catleya Sherbow created this unbelievably stunning clip for Girlpool, 2014’s best duo, and touched on a number of pressure points- namely, acceptance and doubt. In the end, it’s about acceptance, and while that message does come laced with a visual that could potentially double as suicide, it still somehow manages to come off as comforting. “Plants and Worms” hits with the force of a world-stopping realization and echoes long after it ends, providing a staggering moment of beauty for Girlpool and a warm reassurance for just about everyone else.

3. clipping. – Work Work

Yes, the video for “Never Gonna Catch Me”- the Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar collaboration- was incredible. Not a lot of people are going to dismiss that claim. However, it’s another destined-to-be-iconic clip from that genre field that made a deep(er) impression on me; the video for the clipping. and Cocc Pistol Cree collaboration “Work Work”. Tracing a narrative arc that uses a laser-sharp focus on the act of curb-stomping, enhanced by some thought-provoking visual surrealism, it immediately became one of 2014’s most arresting clips and its status hasn’t let up. If there was a tracking shot more provocative than the one at the start of “Work Work”, then I’d love to see it. Until then, I’m just going to keep returning to this one.

2. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning

No clip from 2014 came imbued with more unwavering passion than the Crosshair-starring clip for “Warning”. All anyone needs to see is the thumbnail shot for this video to see a glimpse of how unfailingly heartfelt “Warning” winds up being. Matthew Reed tapped into a transcendental kind of magic that collapses a variety of bridges (age, taste) with a near-shocking ease. Ever since this was first released, I’ve been revisiting it with a great frequency because, like most great art, it pulls the viewer back in and rewards investment. Breathtakingly lensed, brilliantly edited, and furiously paced, this was a perfect accompaniment to one of the year’s most emotionally-charged records. Cymbals Eat Guitars may have intended the song to be a warning about love and loss but, backed by the video, it becomes one of the year’s most life-affirming moments.

1. PUP – Guilt Trip

Back in 2013, I had the honor of naming PUP’s “Reservoir” the best music video of 2013 for PopMatters. While that video was a cathartic release that was a near-perfect representation of the maelstrom of a particularly rowdy live show, their video for “Guilt Trip” (once again speared by the creative team of Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux) was a much more serious affair. Weirdly attuned to my own childhood experiences probably lent it a few small favors in terms of my esteem but, doing my best to separate myself from that strange fact, it boasts a series of career-bests from Levack and Schaulin Rioux: cinematography, editing, the performances they elicited from an impressively talented young cast, narrative, and overall direction among the list. “Guilt Trip” also includes one of the most genuinely heart-stopping moments I’ve seen in any clip, infusing it with a sense of brutal reality (if only for a moment), emphasized by a single shot that drives the point home. My initial claim that it could have a shot at carving out a spot for “Video of the Decade” still doesn’t seem so far off- but it’s worth keeping an eye on Levack and Schaulin-Rioux to see if they can keep repeating a ridiculously impressive pattern.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning (Music Video)

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With another traditionally huge Monday just about in the books, it’s time to recap a large portion of the great material that was released. NPR’s First Listen series was typically stocked and contained Bedhead‘s discography as well as the upcoming records from Big K.R.I.T. and Hookworms. There was also the aggressively bleary noise-psych of Energy Slime’s debut 7″, New Dimensional. Stereogum played host to a slew of impressive song premieres: Lemuria‘s sprightly “Froggy Smoke“, Chief Scout’s kinetic basement pop stunner “Oh Shit“, Whirr‘s newest heavy-hitter “Ease“, and Cloakroom‘s Matt Talbott-assisted “Dream Warden“. In other reaches of the internet, The Sidekicks announced a new record and signing with Epitaph with the typically excellent “Deer” and Diarrhea Planet continued to up the anticipation for their upcoming EP, Aliens in the Outfield, with the absolutely stunning closer- and very likely their career-best- “Peg Daddy“. Empty Apartments’ punchy lo-fi treasure “Lefty (Cardboard Box)“, Terrorista’s jumpy basement punk brawler “Darren vs Bag“, and The Coathangers‘ savage Gun Club cover all also found their way into the world.

To round things out there were also outstanding new music videos that included a tantalizing introduction to what will be a multi-part series from Kevin Devine via “She Can See Me“, an intense visual stimuli overload in the form of Naomi Punk‘s “Television Man” video, Desert Sharks’ revenge fantasy in “crazycrazy“, and Elbow’s artful ode to motorcross in the artfully composed “New York Morning“. There was also The Twilight Sad‘s gorgeous black-and-white clip for “Last January“, Yesway’s hauntingly minimalistic “Let Go“, and Appomattox‘s celebratory career-ending exclamation point in the skate-heavy video for “Yr Soul“. While all of those operated on various levels of unique excellence, it’s tough to outmaneuver that towering scope of one of the year’s most powerful albums- especially when the music video for one of its best songs feels so perfectly assembled.

LOSE is a record that carries the burden of the heavy emotions that come with the loss of a close friend. “Warning” is one of its few moments of total exhilaration; a release of the pent up frustration, angst, despair, and complete helplessness in the face of death. It’s a staggeringly powerful moment on the record and hits stratospheric heights when paired with- and accompanied by- the record’s implicit narratives. In the brilliantly directed music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars are reverted back to youth via teenage stand-ins who deliver some commendably impassioned (and entirely convincing) performances as they mimic the song. A sense of well-placed nostalgia is subtly added in through quick cuts revealing some classic posters and albums that likely served as influences for the band (and for Benjamin High, whose early departure was the event that inspired much of LOSE). “Warning” is lovingly edited and gorgeously lensed, it’s a video that manages to evoke a deeply-felt well of emotions. It’s a surprisingly moving complement to a song- and record- that deserved nothing less.

Watch “Warning” below and buy LOSE directly from Barsuk here.

Watch This: Vol. 47

Welcome to the 47th installment of Watch This, the weekly series that celebrates five of the best live videos to emerge from the past seven days. These videos can be pulled from anywhere but need to have one unifying factor; they need to feature great performances. In the last full week of September, things were no different. This week’s entries cover a unique spread that reaches to the furthest corners of the genres that usually get covered on this site. From KEXP sessions to another outstanding take for Little Elephant, this week had quite a bit of material that warranted quite a bit of attention. Mining both the mainstays and the furthest reaches of various resources resulted in an eclectic mix of bands- and live videos- well worth the time. So, sit back, unwind, turn the volume up, lean in, and Watch This.

1. Cymbals Eat Guitars (KEXP)

2014 may not see a record more personal than Cymbals Eat Guitars’ LOSE. Their third full-length was directly informed by the loss of a close friend, something that’s heavily referenced throughout the course of the album. While it’s strange to say a record’s life-affirming in the face of such heavy subject matter, it’s equally difficult to argue against with songs like “Jackson” (easily one of the year’s best songs) and “Warning“. As exhilarating as those songs are on LOSE, they’re given new life in a live setting- with the emotional resonance firmly in tact.

2. Little Big League – Deer Head (Little Elephant)

Over the past week, no band has earned more feature spots that Little Big League. After last week’s Watch This segment, they went ahead and released the stunning “Property Line” in advance of their upcoming record, Tropical Jinx. “Deer Head” is another take from their Little Elephant session and shows the band in fine form, navigating their way through the song’s transitions with no shortage of verve. Put simply, this is just another strong example of why Little Big League are one of today’s most exciting young bands.

3. Free Cake For Every Creature (WKNC)

Skewed outsider pop can be a beautiful thing that brings out the best of the people that lend it any amount of investment. Free Cake For Every Creature have experienced an outpouring of support from people that have the power to bring them a staggering amount of recognition. It’s easy to see why; the band crafts music that’s relatable, endearingly fractured and absurdly catchy. Everyday problems ground the lyrics while a jittery nervousness propels the off-kilter arrangements. Packaged together, it becomes endlessly fascinating and rewards investment with a surprisingly assured ease. Their WKNC session confirms what an increasing number of people already know: this is music worth celebrating.

4. Tycho (KEXP)

Tycho are an anomaly. They defy an easy convention, are defined by their no-wave and post-punk influences as much as they are by their tendencies towards electro and dance-punk. Here, KEXP invites them in for a session and the band quickly finds their way into impenetrable grooves, aided by the backdrop of a projection display of what appears to be random archival footage. While most bands operating in similar territories could easily coast on impressive music ability alone, what makes Tycho stand out is their music’s penchant for being engaging so instantaneously. This is a masterclass in compelling song dynamics, innate ability, and genre defiance.

5. Earth (unARTigNYC)

Nearly everything that can be said about Earth has already been spoken, shouted, whispered, or printed. The doom-y ambient overlords have staked out a reputation as one of the most influential acts in music by virtue of an immensely impressive discography that touches on a variety of increasingly prominent genres. As mesmerizing as ever and more accessible than any point in their career, the trio recently stopped by St. Vitus to deliver a characteristically foreboding set as part of the David Lynch Foundation benefit. As always, t’s a fascinating exercise in tension and restraint, steadily building towards a climactic moment that never seems to come.