Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: bedroom-pop

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree is being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.

With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.

Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.

Mitski – Puberty 2

Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.

Big Thief – Masterpiece

One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.

Swim Team – Swim Team

One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.

Greys – Outer Heaven

2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly  push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heaven was their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.

Hovvdy – Taster

A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

Tancred – Out of the Garden
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh Boland – Spilt Milk
Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts
Eluvium – False Readings On
Told Slant – Going By
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Jean-Michael Blais – II
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Other honorable mentions:

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing | Yucky Duster – Yucky Duster | Vanity – Don’t Be Shy | Kane Strang – Blue Cheese | Steve Adamyk Band – Graceland | Lydia Loveless – Real | Touché Amoré – Stage Four | Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math | Jeff – Rosenstock – WORRY. | Lucy Dacus – No Burden | Summer Cannibals – Full Of ItNopes – Never Heard Of It | Florist – The Birds Outside Sang | Susan – Never Enough | Abi Reimold – Wriggling | Mal Devisa – Kiid | Julianna Barwick – Will | Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone | Big Ups – Before A Million Universes | Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold | Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp | AJJ – The Bible 2 | Angel Olsen – My Woman | Drive-By Truckers – American Band | Charles Bradley – Changes

Nano Kino – Eyes Before Words (Music Video)

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Since the majority of the start of this week was spent on the road, it’s been difficult to be as vigilant about keeping up with the new music and videos that have been coming out. Today, that changed and the amount of great content is almost overwhelming. Every single one of the items that are going to be hyperlinked following this sentence are worthy of being the feature item. Those include full album streams from Mumblr and Sleepyhead (their first in 15 years), and a stream of Parquet Courts and Future Punx’s split 7″. There were excellent music videos from Death From Above 1979, Lace Curtains, and Brick Mower. Most of all, though, there were great new songs. Cut Teeth offered up a post-hardcore ripper, Ovlov provided a tantalizing glimpse at their upcoming 4-way split with Ex-Breathers, Woozy, and Gnarwhal. There was a smoky piece of folk-psych from Mail the Horse, a new Pity Sex song that ranks among the best of the year and teases an upcoming split with Adventures (it’s also their career-best), a new look at an upcoming EP from the increasingly popular Girlpool, a fiery Stereolab cover from Greys, another indicator that Dark Blue’s Pure Reality will be one of the year’s best records, another gentle piece of bliss from Eternal Summers, a snappy piece of riff-happy outsider pop from Little Big League that- like the Pity Sex song from just a few hyperlinks ago- ranks among the year’s best, another incendiary look at Meatbodies’ upcoming record on In the Red, and a brand-new career highlight for King Tuff. That’s one hell of a haul.

All of those are likely to get features elsewhere- if they haven’t already had them (and most have)- and Heartbreaking Bravery would be nothing if it wasn’t for the bands that are flying under the radar. Those are the kind of bands that this place strives to support- and Nano Kino (which translates to “very small cinema”) is one of them. And while the duo does include Duncan Lloyd of Maximo Park (and Decade in Exile), their profile’s currently surprisingly contained- which isn’t likely to last too long. There are chilly atmospheres that permeate throughout the duo’s music, using no-wave and post-punk as their major touchpoints while exuding an icy demeanor not too far removed from The xx. A lot of the band’s intrigue gets an extra push thanks to the mysterious vocal performances of Sarah Surl, the duo’s other member. While there’s still a considerable sense of mystery to be found in the textured guitar work that Lloyd provides, Surl gives it a strange sense of humanism that allows Nano Kino to eclipse so many similarly-minded acts.

Nano Kino currently have plans to release their debut record in the early parts of next year but have promised to tease pieces of the record in the lead-up campaign. One of the first pieces they’ve offered up is a visually stunning black-and-white clip that emphasizes the band’s penchant for noir-ish sensibilities. Bringing in other visual aesthetics to the fold (there’s a prominent French new wave influence running throughout this- as well as a lot of glances towards Spain’s golden-era of silent film), “Eyes Before Words” winds up being a quietly intense experience. Using grainy superimposed imagery (that’s occasionally stripped back to isolation) to maximum effect helps make this a video that stays with the viewer long after the final whispers of the fade-out. It’s unrelentingly poised and announces Nano Kino as a band that’s embraced a very particular vision- one that could wind up meriting critical and commercial success. Whatever the future does hold for Nano Kino, it’ll be a pleasure watching them fight their way forward- especially if the ensuing releases all manage to be as arresting as “Eyes Before Words”.

Watch “Eyes Before Words” below and keep an eye on this site for updates in the coming months.

Allison Crutchfield – Berlin (Stream)

Swearin' XXXVIV

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

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

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

Bad History Month – Staring At My Hands (Stream)

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Jeff Meff has always been an enigmatic songwriter. Hell, that’s a fact that was evidenced by his constantly-changing moniker. Bad History Month, Sad History Month, Fat History Month, it never mattered, the results were always the same; distinctly original and absurdly rewarding. A perennial staple of both the bedroom-pop and basement punk scene in Boston, Merr’s built his reputation on slightly left-of-center songs that all seem to come spilling out to provide some sort of blanket for his astounding lyricism. Of course, true to those styles, none of it gets played up in the slightest; it’s all given equal footing and is intertwined enough to be relatively inseparable. It’s difficult to isolate just one element of the songwriting on display here, the first glimpse at his upcoming split with Dust From 1,000 Years, especially. The song’s entitled “Staring At My Hands” and the split itself is called Famous Cigarettes and will be released via Exploding in Sound. “Staring At My Hands” is about as bare and naturalistic as Merr gets and it’s a jarring change of pace from last year’s manic (and extraordinary) Bad History Month (which was released under the moniker Fat History Month). If Famous Cigarettes lives up to what’s suggested by “Staring At My Hands” and winds up being as thrilling a listen as Bad History Month was, then Merr will have decisively positioned himself as one of the best songwriters currently making music. It’s time to start paying attention.

Listen to “Staring At My Hands” below and make sure to check out his project’s already extensive discography by exploring either of the hyperlinks up above.