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Tag: Beautiful Blue Sky

Wicker Park Fest 2016 (Pictorial Review)

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A few weekends back, Chicago quietly hosted one of the most stacked festivals of the summer. While Pitchfork (understandably) got the bulk of attention, it was Wicker Park Fest that offered the best deal. For a suggested $10 donation, any interested parties could explore a wide variety of vendors and take in three stages worth of acts like Diet Cig, The Coathangers, PUP, Yeesh, Pile, Jeff Rosenstock, The Mountain Goats, Rocket From the Crypt, Ought, Alvvays, Cloakroom, Bad Bad Hats, and so many more.

I arrived late into day one, hoping to catch the end of The Sidekicks’ set. By the time I’d entered the grounds, the band was already packed up and the weather had begun to turn ominous. Less than ten minutes into walking through the gates, a torrential downpour erupted and caused several attendees (myself included) to take shelter in the warm, familiar confines of Reckless Records.

It was a surreal scene inside the store with people lined up to see the storm demolishing vendors’ tents outside, Christmas music being played over the store’s system, and people frantically checking for updates on the status of the festival. For a brief moment, the power went out. No one was sure what the next steps would be and nearly everyone was keeping their fingers crossed for the storm to blow over definitively enough to allow for the scheduled headliners sets.

Fortunately, the storm did wind up receding and, as a result, I got to catch an abbreviated six-song set from Jeff Rosenstock (one of the highlights of the festival, even in that small window) and a solid set from The Mountain Goats. While there were some sound issues that plagued The Mountain Goats set, there wasn’t much else to complain about. Both acts were very tight (particularly Rosenstock, whose entire band played with the kind of explosive, pent-up energy that seemed to be as cathartic for them as it was for the audience) and either won the crowd over, played into their hands, or both.

After arriving well before any of the stages hosted any bands on day two, it was easy to see that storm from the preceding night hadn’t dampened the festival’s spirit. One of the School of Rock acts officially kicked things off, alternating members and making their way through a set of crowd-pleasing covers. Not too long after they’d begun, KO took the south stage and unleashed an inspired set that created more than a few converts while sounding spectacular in an outdoor festival setting.

While all of that was happening outside, Double Door was wisely hosting the ancillary Fuck Fest, which featured more than two dozen bands, inside. The venue exists inside of the festival grounds, allowing Fuck Fest to take on new life. When the heat and humidity started bordering the unbearable, Fuck Fest offered a nice reprieve from the swirling mass of bodies outside while still offering up a solid selection of (mostly local) acts.

At Zero was the first band I managed to catch at Fuck Fest and they tore through a tightly-wound set on the main stage that energized the crowd inside the venue. Right outdoors on the south stage, Spaceblood was confidently making their way through a set that drew in a large crowd, heavily featured a merchandise hype man (who promoted the band’s salsa, handed out chips, and threw out Ziploc bags of a terrifying substance called “space goo” which children were warned not to eat), and left the bass/drum duo — who are heavily inspired by Lightning Bolt — understandably exhausted.

Kodakrome was up next on Double Door’s basement stage and the duo-turned-trio did not disappoint. Last year the band put out an extremely promising demo and later expanded those two tracks into a full-blown EP. They’ve been hard at work ever since and their dedication shows in a live setting. Guitarist/vocalist Aaron Ehinger’s a commanding stage presence, exuding a confident calm that manages to be at odds with the band’s hyper-spastic approach to basement punk but also somehow fits perfectly.

Several yards from Double Door’s entrance, The Brokedowns were flying through a powerful set and reaffirming their status as one of Chicago’s great punk bands. Nothing was off limit for their banter, either, which was highlighted by an extended riff about the Costco communion wafers (which were thrown into the audience). As the band kept their charge lively, Bad Bad Hats were finding their groove across the festival grounds on the south stage. The trio’s Psychic Reader was one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises and the band more than lived up to that record’s irrepressible charm in the live setting.

Towards the end of Bad Bad Hats’ set, site favorites Cloakroom were launching into their own set at full power. Slow, heavy, and smothering, the trio were undoubtedly a force but couldn’t help feeling a little out of place in the sweltering midday heat (they’re best suited for darkness). Slow Mass kicked off the proceedings at the center stage (which had been outright cancelled on day one, following the storm) with gusto, blazing through an impressive set of hairpin turns and overwhelming tenacity.

Anyone that frequented this site in 2015 more than likely saw a sizable amount of coverage dedicated to Diet Cig‘s live show and the duo were in exceptional form down at the south stage. Guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Alex Luciano is now running her telecaster through a split amp system and the additional heaviness rounds the band’s sound out nicely. They tore through old favorites and a select handful of incredible new material (with the obvious highlight being their first “slow jam”) and brought all of the rambunctious energy that’s turned them into unlikely critical darlings.

Not too long after Diet Cig’s powerhouse set, another vicious storm intruded on the festival and made its presence known with an unexpected vengeance. Before long, the wind had hit a velocity powerful enough to literally derail a train from the blue line. As vendors were watching their tents get lost to the wind, Fuck Fest found a new influx of fresh blood due to the inclement weather. Inside Emporium, there was a power outage. Inside the Double Door, Montrose Man were turning all kinds of heads in the basement with an extraordinary set that posited the trio as one of Chicago’s finest emerging acts and a very real candidate for the city’s next breakthrough success story.

Pinto saw the audience inside Double Door grow close to capacity and impressed most of the new arrivals with a sound that fell somewhere between Joy Division and Manchester Orchestra. The band provided a nice moment of grace to a growing amount of anxiety among concerned festivalgoers who were keeping a wary eye on the storm that was threatening to derail more than just blue line trains. Fortunately, for just about everyone, the weather cleared. Unfortunately, the set times for PUP, Pile, Yeesh, and more became casualties of the maelstrom that seemed poised to decimate the festival.

Alvvays and Ought headlined the center and south stages at nearly simultaneous times. As maybe the most intense scheduling conflict of the entire festival, the prospect of Ought on a small, outdoor stage won me over to their side (as well as a well-documented love for the quartet). The band rewarded that decision with a set that unfurled in rapid succession, hitting an apex as “Men For Miles” practically bled into “Beautiful Blue Sky” (which was one of this site’s picks for the best songs of 2015). They sounded tight and seemed relieved to be playing after getting a scare from the weather as well as dealing with travel cancellations, delays, and a series of other mishaps. I think I can speak for their crowd when I say that we were happy they got to play as well.

Shortly after the band wrapped up “Beautiful Blue Sky”, I went over to the swirling mass of bodies that had set up camp in front of the south stage for Alvvays, whose winsome penchants were on full display. The band were mixed beautifully and played with an easy confidence that only served to make them even more impossibly likable. After a few songs, I turned back to Ought and caught strains of the band hitting a climactic moment, spurring me towards the band with a fervor before the opening notes of “Archie, Marry Me” stopped me in my tracks.

Caught between Ought getting swept up in the moment and Alvvays’ seemingly perfect rendition of one of the best songs of this current decade, it became the definitive moment of what makes festivals like Wicker Park Fest so beautiful. For little cost, the organizers managed to further enliven local institutions and give back to the area by facilitating extraordinary examples of what can be accomplished with the right beliefs. Around every corner, there could be something unforgettable happening. No matter which direction anyone turns, it’s easy to find victories on a multitude of scales. Even caught between those moments can provide a level of gratitude and clarity that no amount of money could purchase.

As Ought and Alvvays both tore down, Fuck Fest was still going strong inside Double Door. At that point in the night, the festival started leaning even more heavily towards their emo-leaning acts (a trait that seemed to be a common running thread) but still found a way to offer plenty of variety. Of all of the bands that I managed to catch in the aftermath of Wicker Park Fest, legitimate standouts came in the form of Typesetter, whose emphatically-mean-every-word set felt refreshingly sincere and provided the band with a well-deserved spotlight moment. Easily one of the strongest post-Wicker Park Fest sets belonged to Salvation, a noise/punk trio that skyrocketed the levels of energy, feedback, and general viciousness.

Of everything that I saw during the festival’s run nothing was more impressive than the moment Salvation’s bassist (who looked to be several years older than the other two members) found his foot catching the load-in steps of the stage at an angle that sent him somersaulting backwards down the small staircase, bass in tow. He never stopped playing. After the fall, he righted himself (still attempting to play as the cable cut in and out), stormed back up to the stage, and began swinging his bass around in an effort to create as much noise as possible. The song ended, staff and audience alike made sure he was okay, the cable was replaced, and the band carried on like nothing had happened.

A few songs later, Salvation were done and I was too exhausted to continue. The band had provided a perfect, chaotic ending to a weekend full of sudden changes, ambiguous directions, and oscillating levels of comfort. They’d also given one of the best sets of the two days. Feeling fully satisfied and more than a little overwhelmed, it felt like the perfect time to end a weekend full of challenges, madness, nerves, and inspiration. See you next year, Wicker Park Fest.

Look through a gallery of the festival below and keep an eye on the Heartbreaking Bravery YouTube channel for live captures from the festival.

 

 

Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (Music Video)

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Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

Very few acts have been as immediately intriguing as Ought, a quarter who experienced a breakthrough with the exceptional More Than Any Other Day and continued to make good on their seemingly endless promise with last year’s strong Sun Coming Down. The band’s still finding ways to promote that latter release and the heady clip for album standout “Beautiful Blue Sky” (one of this site’s picks for the Best Songs of 2015) is the most recent example.

The Bobby McHugh-directed clip seems to focus squarely on a man in crisis, which plays to the neurotic anxieties of the song to a tee. Beautifully shot by Jacob Rosen, “Beautiful Blue Sky” foregoes in easy narrative for something more ambiguous, allowing the viewer to infer and project their own personal interpretations to the proceedings. It’s a neat trick; much of Ought’s music requires investment and a sizable amount of involvement so it’s nice to have that aspect of the band catered to more directly in the visual format.

A committed performance from Matt Drews enhances the clip as he injects his character with a startling amount of emotion, whether he’s in stasis or executing a series of gorgeous lyrical dance moves. Ultimately, “Beautiful Blue Sky” stands as an invigorating piece of art not simply because of its beautiful execution but because it refuses to condescend to its audience. More often than not, those are the exact types of pieces that both beg and reward repeat visits. Be prepared to be thinking about the clip’s contents for quite some time (and enjoy all of the return trips).

Watch “Beautiful Blue Sky” below and pick up a copy of Sun Coming Down here.

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

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Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.

2015: The Best of Watch This

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When Watch This was conceived it was done with the intent to not only critically examine the balance of filmmaking and live performance but celebrate the art of the live video, a format which seems to have fallen to the wayside despite being more fruitful than it’s been since it was introduced. There’s real power behind the clips that manage to seamlessly merge the best qualities of everything that goes into the best live performance videos and they can yield genuinely unforgettable moments (when everything kicks back in on “Waitress”, the held falsetto in “A Proper Polish Welcome”, and a whole host of other chill-inducing moments are scattered throughout this compilation). Those moments are the beating heart behind this series construction and they’re what sustains the project as it presses forward.

Well over 300 live clips were covered on this site in 2015 and this is a collection of 25 that genuinely stood out for one reason or another, whether it was the sheer joy in a performance (Diet Cig), the performer’s ability to freeze blood (Julien Baker, Dilly Dally, SOAK), the trio of artists who appeared on Watch This the most throughout this year (Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres), an electrifying presentation and performance (July Talk), or a clip that’s a fully functional masterclass in every category that elevates a clip from astonishing to transcendental (Glen Hansard). All of those and more have been plugged into this packet, which culminates in a tour de force reminder of the overwhelming power of what can be achieved on a live platform from the resurgent Sleater-Kinney as one final exclamation point for a truly extraordinary year. So, as always, sit up, focus, adjust the volume, and Watch This.

Watch the 2015 edition of the best-of compilation for Heartbreaking Bravery’s definitive recurring series, Watch This, below. The track list is available under the embed.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe)
2. July Talk – Paper Girl (Audiotree)
3. Ronny – Why Do You Have Kids (Gems On VHS)
4. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (BreakThruRadio)
5. Mikal Cronin – Say (WFUV)
6. Molly Parden – Weather (GemsOnVHS)
7. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)
8. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Pitchfork)
9. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)
10. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (KEXP)
11. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In the World? (ANTI-)
12. Diet Cig – Harvard (In the Attic)
13. SOAK – B a Nobody Blud (La Blogotheque)
14. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold (Strombo Sessions)
15. Alex G + Girlpool – Brite Boy (SPIN)
16. Footings (Jenn Harrington)
17. Mike Krol – Suburban Wasteland + Neighborhood Watch (KEXP)
18. Beach Slang – Get Lost (Cozy Couch Sessions)
19. Public Service Broadcasting – Go! (WNYC)
20. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast (ANTI-)
21. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)
22. Algiers – Blood (WFUV)
23. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (NPR)
24. Glen Hansard – McCormack’s Wall (ANTI-)
25. Sleater-Kinney (NPR)

 

Watch This: Vol. 107

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the nature of these upcoming posts, a truncated version of this introductory paragraph will be appearing over the next several installments of this series.] It’s been quite some time since the 100th edition of Watch This went up on this site. There have been a lot of factors going into the extended interim but, as usual, a focal point of that absence was to make sure the preparation work was kept up to date. Full sessions, single song performances, DIY videos, and impressive turn-ins from radio stations abound. So, as always, sit back, adjust the setting, crank the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Ought (KEXP)

Easily one of the more electrifying acts on the touring circuit, Ought recently swung by KEXP’s studios to flex some serious muscle. Culling a session from their outstanding sophomore effort Sun Coming Down, the quartet rips through four songs with a vicious intensity that’s rooted in a straight-laced affectation. Even with that aspect of their identity pushed to its near maximum, the band still finds ways to drag out some deep-seated weirdness and, as a result, the session comes absolutely alive.

2. Tijuana Panthers (Jam in the Van) 

Anytime Jam in the Van brings in a scrappy punk-tinged basement pop band, the results are electric and this session with Tijuana Panthers is no different. Tearing through the requisite trio of songs, the band differentiates themselves from a growing pack through sheer commitment. It’s easy to tell that this band doesn’t just love playing these songs but they genuinely believe in them as well.

3. Fraser A. Gorman – Dark Eyes (WFUV)

As an act finds their way to greater and greater success, one of the most important things they can do is deflect some of that attention to artists they feel are deserving of spotlights that have eluded them for one reason or another. It’s in that respect that Courtney Barnett continues to strike me as a patron saint of the unheralded as she continues doing incredible work with her Milk imprint. One artist Barnett managed to elevate considerably was Fraser A. Gorman, who was responsible for some of 2015’s finest material with Slow Gum. An unassuming presence that’s extraordinarily well-versed in American roots music, Gorman recently appeared at CMJ where WFUV captured him leading his band through a spirited version of “Dark Eyes” that suggests he’s more than ready for a greater share of attention.

4. Salad Boys (KEXP)

Metalmania was one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises and helped heighten Salad Boys‘ recognition. All five songs the band brings out for KEXP exist in a mold that was clearly shaped– or at least heavily informed– by a love of Flying Nun Records. Everything here works to a casual perfection, whether the band’s embracing the janglier pop or dipping their way into some fuzzed out excursion, it’s executed with flair. Throw in an illuminating interview and this becomes an essential document of a band on the cusp of breaking out.

5. Car Seat Headrest (3voor12)

Car Seat Headreast won over a lot of people this past CMJ and wound up being one of the marathon’s early highlights. After starting out as a bandcamp bedroom pop project, it’s graduated into a full-fledged band a la Cloud Nothings, and subsequently received a serious boost from a high-profile deal with Matador. The band’s picked up an additional guitarist since their CMJ run and it’s expanded their sound in intriguing ways. 3voor12 brought the band in for a session that sees them continuing to capitalize on their groundswell of momentum with memorably sharp performances, including a knockout take of 2015 highlight “Something Soon”. If the band can continue to match the pace on display here, we’re in for some genuinely extraordinary material down the road.

Watch This: Vol. 106

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the nature of these upcoming posts, a truncated version of this introductory paragraph will be appearing over the next several installments of this series.] It’s been quite some time since the 100th edition of Watch This went up on this site. There have been a lot of factors going into the extended interim but, as usual, a focal point of that absence was to make sure the preparation work was kept up to date. Full sessions, single song performances, DIY videos, and impressive turn-ins from radio stations abound. So, as always, sit back, adjust the setting, crank the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Built to Spill – Good Enough (Joyful Noise)

Earlier this year, Built to Spill released their best record in over a decade. To help them celebrate that impressive achievement, Joyful Noise invited the band in for one of their Almost Live From… sessions and the band turned in a strong rendition of beloved rarity “Good Enough”. Weary, quiet, and and just about perfect, this is a powerful look at the current era of one of the most quietly celebrated acts in music.

2. Radioactivity – Sickness/Don’t Try (Razorcake)

One of the fiercest basement pop acts of this generation, Radioactivity have built up an impressive reputation over the course of their brief history, rivaling that of their sister band, The Marked Men. While their sophomore effort, this year’s Silent Kill, was no slouch, the band’s self-titled debut remains one of the best records to emerge in this decade. Razorcake caught the band tearing through the two opening tracks of that debut at VLHS last month and (thankfully) posted the results so that everyone could revel in the frenzy.

3. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (Radio K)

Back at the start of October, Ought put on a memorable set at Secret Project Robot that emphasized their off-kilter brand of nervous energy. “Beautiful Blue Sky” is the band’s most complete distillation of those tendencies to date and serves as one of many high watermarks for the quartet. Radio K recently hosted them for a session that saw the band turn in yet another inspired rendition of the song, which still feels as engrossing as it did when it was being road-tested as early as last year.

4. Fern Mayo – Open Work (This Has Got To Stop)

I first came to know Katie Capri as a writer and admired her work in that field before being introduced to her musical project, Fern Mayo. Capri would eventually pen a memorable screed against the assumption that Brooklyn DIY was dead in a piece for the first installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories and I’d eventually be blown away by a few of her songs. One of those songs, “Open Work”, felt like the tipping point of a good band becoming something more meaningful. This Has Got To Stop shot an outstanding acoustic rendition of the song on a rooftop that highlights Capri’s natural magnetism as both a songwriter and a performer.

5. Johanna Warren – Pin Oaks (Splendor Sessions)

A few of my fondest memories of 2015 involve time spent with Johanna Warren, whose gentle nūmūn ranks among this year’s finest offerings. Warren carries a tranquility with her that frequently tips over into a light serenity and that aspect of her personality informs her music, even in its stormiest moments. It’s that oddly specific sensibility that makes Warren’s solo acoustic performances feel like the purest presentation of not just her music but her entire being. Here, Warren turns in a characteristically captivating performance of “Pin Oaks” in a van that makes room for some gorgeous shots of the songwriter idling by a body of water. It’s an appropriately beautiful document of a moment that feels as if it’s only a few steps removed from being holy.

Meat Wave – Delusion Moon (Stream)

meatwave

Few bands have meant more to this site and its early development than Meat Wave. They’ve been granted one of the only On the Up feature spots, they’ve offered premieres, and they played the first (and, so far, only) Heartbreaking Bravery showcase. The band’s earned quite a bit of coverage over here and today’s news ensures that’s a continuing development.

Before delving into their new song, though, I’d like to take a minute to congratulate them on signing to SideOneDummy, a highly revered- and influential- punk label. The trio’s new home looks like a promising one and will undoubtedly push their name recognition to (deservedly) greater heights. Meat Wave weren’t the only band with a noteworthy release today, so a few more bands will be highlighted before circling back to the main attraction.

Cosmicide released a deeply cinematic clip for “A New Disaster” and four artists teased two splits (Jeff the Brotherhood and Colleen Green and Audacity and together PANGEA, respectively). Cassels revealed their bruising Hating Is Easy EP while both Little My and Derider pulled back the curtains on their forthcoming albums. Once again, single streams made up the bulk of the day’s items and included a few genuine stunners.

Ought’s sprawling “Beautiful Blue Sky” nearly wound up with today’s feature, while it fended off strong competition from the likes of Sharkmufffin’s fiery “Mondays“, Reservations’ noir-tinted “Planet“, NE-HI’s punchy “Drag“, Girls Names’ compellingly bleak “A Hunger Artist“, and Helen’s surprisingly massive “Motorcycle“. Comfy’s sunny basement pop tune “Neck Hz“, GospelbeacH’s breezy backwoods number “Sunshine Skyway“, and Elway’s revitalized “Albuquerque Low” all added up to the format’s considerable tally.

Then, of course, there was “Delusion Moon”. Anyone who heard what Meat Wave accomplished with their self-titled (to date, the only tape I’ve worn thin) or their EP from earlier this year, Brother, knows just how much weight this band throws into its punches. “Delusion Moon” is the title track from the band’s forthcoming record and follows “Erased” in its rollout campaign.

While details on the record were scarce when the latter was introduced, a few things have been clarified for this round. Delusion Moon‘s intended to run as a whole (something that’s hinted at by the ending/starting(?) notes of “Delusion Moon”) and is a quasi-conceptual record that was written during a strange period of guitarist/vocalist Chris Sutter’s life. There’s a palpable sense of brooding on “Delusion Moon” that seems like it may turn out be one of the record’s more defining characteristics.

The rhythm section of bassist Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wizniak continues to be one of the more formidable forces playing shows today. A quantifiable powerhouse, the duo lends Sutter’s playing an additional element of urgency, capitalizing on its inherent immediacy with brute strength. All of this is evidenced in the astonishing “Delusion Moon” and will likely culminate in the band reaching the levels of success they’ve deserved since the very beginning. More and more, Meat Wave are starting to look like the future of basement punk. If that’s the case, we’re all in very good hands.

Listen to “Delusion Moon” and keep both eyes on this site for any upcoming announcements regarding the forthcoming record, which is due out on September 18.