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The Best of December 2018: Songs, Music Videos, and Records

Only a few days have passed since we turned to a new calendar year and everyone’s looking ahead to resolutions. While that’s a natural way to progress, sometimes it’s worth casting a glance back, especially when the recent past was so fruitful. In all three of the major release categories (songs, music videos, and full streams), there were gems unearthed throughout December. This post is one last look at a very specific slice of 2018 before this site catches up to everyone else and reveals its picks for Music Video, Song, and Album of the Year. In honor of a recent series of tweets from Small Albums, all of the reviews below will be two sentences or less. A few of the selections below might even make an appearance. Hedge your bets on which by exploring all the offerings below.

SONGS

1. Very Jazzed – Get A Job

A tongue-in-cheek post-punk rambler that’s as defiantly joyous as it is self-deprecating. “Get A Job” finds Very Jazzed in an immediate, accessible mode that suits them perfectly.

2. Guided By Voices – My Angel

One of the most dependable acts of the last few decades keeps surging forward with “My Angel”. A characteristically brief burst of energy, melody, and understanding from Guided By Voices.

3. Tørsö – Grab A Shovel

“Grab A Shovel” more than shows why Tørsö have become a revered emerging force on the DIY hardcore circuit. Gnarled, snarling, and unforgiving, it’s a monster of a track from an act worth following.

4. The Gentleman Losers – Make We Here Our Campfire

The Gentleman Losers crafted an enigmatic beauty in their recent Make We Here Our Campfire, a record headlined by its spellbinding title track. Melancholic and intuitive, “Make We Here Our Campfire” grips the senses like a vice, pulling the listener in until the very end.

MUSIC VIDEOS

1. Eerie Wanda – Sleepy Eyes

A hybrid clip for Eerie Wanda’s “Sleepy Eyes” serves as a perfect complement to the song. Part lyric video, part traditional footage, “Sleep Eyes” takes a simple concept and guides it to memorability.

2. Amos Pitsch – Piece of the Season

Tenement and DUSK‘s Amos Pitsch returns to the holiday spirit after 2017’s Lake Effect with “Piece of the Season”. Delivered in tandem with partner Julia Blair’s “Merry Christmas (To the Ones Who Are Lonely)“, “Piece of the Season” sees Pitsch surrounded by quintessential hallmarks of a Wisconsin winter (and delivers one of the year’s best shots in a quick-hitting sledding sequence).

3. Spirit Was – Golden Soul

LVL UP‘s dissolution may only be a few months in the past but its members are already going full bore with their new projects, including Nick Corbo’s Spirit Was. “Golden Soul” is a beautiful introduction-at-large to the project, the moody visuals perfectly suited to Corbo’s slow-burn songwriting mentality.

4. Noname – Blaxploitation

“Blaxploitation” is delivered not just as a music video but as a film, suggesting Noname‘s visual ambitions are just as bold as the ambition evidenced in the music. Playing off the monster movie film canon to supplement a pointed social commentary, “Blaxploitation” earns the film designation.

5. La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I

Every so often, something that’s so tethered to something deeply personal gives me reason to break this site’s “no first person” clause and in the case of La Dispute‘s gorgeously animated “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” it’s this: I was in a horrific car accident after a deer jumped a barricade on the interstate and left my partner’s previous car as a total loss. A scene, with some added symbolism, of an extremely similar nature is depicted throughout this clip and explores something that feels unflinching honest in its surreal, gently nightmarish portrayal.

6. Phoebe Bridgers – Killer

Phoebe Bridgers Stranger In the Alps is holding strong as one of the better records of the past few years and the sublime, crisp black-and-white clip for “Killer” serves as a stark reminder of its potency. A tender, engaging clip for a song worthy of this kind of treatment.

FULL STREAMS

1. Mister Goblin – Final Boy

While Two Inch Astronaut has taken a bow, Sam Woodring is still going strong, a fact evidenced by a sterling debut effort from the songwriter’s newest project, Mister Goblin.  Keeping Two Inch Astronaut’s core sensibilities intact but providing them a slightly lighter sheen, Woodring finds a joy in exploring some (mostly) untapped spaces and that joy translates into a rewarding listen.

2. pting – beep beep

beep beep stands out as a charming effort from pting pting, offering three tracks of punk-indebted slacker pop that are worth every revisit.

3. Strange Ranger – etc.

A project that’s been a site favorite for a few years keeps finding intriguing ways to evolve. etc. is a fascinating left turn for Strange Ranger but one that’s in keeping with their recent exploratory bent, finding them in a bed of acoustic warmth that still has room for the electronic-heavy collaborative closer.

4. Lrrr & Maxshh – Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh

Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh is an endearing split release from Lrrr and Maxshh, which finds the two projects squaring off, collaborating, and contributing a Frankie Cosmos cover for good measure. A mid-fi bedroom/basement pop triumph.

5. Laura Stevenson – The Mystic & The Master

One of today’s most underrated songwriters returns and offers two strong, heartfelt tracks of contemporary folk pop. Imbued with empathy and subtle artistry, “The Mystic & The Master” and “Maker of Things” are more than deserving of their place in Laura Stevenson‘s discography.

6. Spirit Was – Golden Soul

As stated above, though LVL UP’s gone, multi-instrumentalist Nick Corbo’s most certainly not. Golden Soul finds Corbo sinking deep into contemplation while clinging to a torch, ready to set everything ablaze at a moment’s notice.

7. Another Heaven – FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER

While FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER is a title destined to have people counting on their fingers, the songs it contains are more likely to make listeners feel a sense of awareness. Urgent, thoughtful, and nearly overwhelming, Another Heaven have released a behemoth of an EP that stands among 2018’s finest releases.

The Best Music Videos of November 2018

Just two weeks have passed since November closed, which is more than enough time to for a variety of acts to have unveiled great music videos. Revived projects, critical darlings, and attention-catching upstarts make up the five picks below. A variety of film styles are deployed and each clip carries its own unique charm. To get the full effect, just click play.

1. Zuzu – Can’t Be Alone

Zuzu has been impressing for the past few years, slowly building international name recognition while consistently achieving at a high level. A sought-after live act and a songwriter who’s got a firm grip on both identity and craft, Zuzu’s continued to turn heads. The clip for “Can’t Be Alone” — which utilizes lightheartedness and French New Wave to tremendous effect — is another piece of an expanding, winsome story. Tongue-in-cheek, grounded, and immensely enjoyable, the “Can’t Be Alone” video is another reminder of Zuzu’s increasingly bright future.

2. Mitski – Washing Machine Heart

Watching the evolution of Mitski from celebrated bedroom pop artist to cultural megastar has been a privilege. As is the case with the best artists, that transition has seen Mitski grow more committed to personal artistic vision. Aided by the opportunities that level of recognition can unlock, the songwriter’s remained steadfast in using that visibility responsibly. “Washing Machine Heart” is another hyper-stylized video from the artist, leaning fully into the film noir tendencies that provided a few of Mitski’s past videos a nice flourish. It’s mesmerizing.

3. Alien Boy – Somewhere Without Me

One of the biggest artistic leaps forward this year came from Alien Boy, who unleashed an unlikely behemoth in Sleeping Lessons. A record that married grunge, shoegaze, punk, and emo in fascinating ways, had more than a few highlights. “Somewhere Without Me” was one of that record’s most astonishing moments and gets the visual treatment on a Sjur Hjeltness-helmed clip that pays homage to the iconic visual history of the post-punk genre. Studied and exhilarating, the clip serves as a perfect complement.

4. Swervedriver – Drone Lover

Not a lot of people could have predicted how seamlessly Swervedriver‘s return to the fold would be or that they’d be making some of the most powerful music of their career in 2018. “Drone Lover” makes a case for the latter part of that equation with gusto. “Drone Lover” continues the band’s collage-heavy tendencies on the visual end, which nicely underscores their primal squalor. Effective and hypnotic, it’s another strong introduction to the band’s revered output.

5. The Glow – Beamer

LVL UP‘s dissolution earlier this year freed up a lot of time for its members to pursue the other projects they’ve had their names attached to for years. In the case of Mike Caridi, the guitarist/vocalist returned to The Glow. A project that’s been mostly dormant for several years is being revived in earnest, with the dog-happy clip for “Beamer” leading the charge. It’s a colorful clip that illustrates The Glow’s wide-reaching appeal. “Beamer” is also a very welcome reminder that even though LVL UP’s left, Caridi’s here to stay.

 

The Best Songs of November 2018

With November just two weeks out of view and AOTY season still drowning everyone’s feeds (our forthcoming coverage will arrive, as it always has, at the very end of the year), now seemed like a perfect time to reflect on what the past month had to offer. Whether it was the James Bond theme of the future, a surprise side-project, or a local band syncing up with a major name, there was a lot worthy of reflection. Below are a dozen of those standouts.

1. Mike Krol – I Wonder

Ever since catching the tail end of the first show Mike Krol ever played with a backing band (that band being Krol’s close collaborators Sleeping in the Aviary), it’s been hard to ignore the songwriter’s appeal, drive, charisma, and commitment. Merge picked Krol up a few years ago before the release of Turkey, which just might be one of the most fun basement pop records of the decade. “I Wonder” finds Krol sticking to a familiar formula but making room for more surprises, like enlisting partner — and Mege labelmate — Allison Crutchfield (Swearin’) for backup vocals and pushing the run time well past 100 seconds. As is always the case with Krol, it works. Brilliantly.

2. Mister Goblin – Nothing You Do (Happens)

Losing Two Inch Astronaut was a considerable blow to a scene that had claimed them as a linchpin. Sam Woodring, that band’s guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter, couldn’t leave well enough alone, returning now with a new project called Mister Goblin that picks up right where Two Inch Astronaut left off. “Nothing You Do (Happens)” was one of the first looks at the project and is one of the best tracks to have the fortune of Woodring’s involvement. Inventive, fiery, and mesmerizing, the post-emo/hardcore/punk/whatever track is a welcome reintroduction.

3. HAVVK – Always The Same

“Always The Same” is a slow-burning track that swings on a pendulum between indie pop and post-punk, alternately gentle and unwieldy. There’s a hypnotic effect that the swings back and forth achieves, pulling the listener increasingly deeper into something strangely brilliant. Small, surreal touches abound on the track, which should go some ways in establishing HAVVK’s name. Hard to miss and easy to love, “Always The Same” is a track worth investment.

4. Nancy – I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)

A lot can be achieved in 100 seconds or less, a fact that’s more or less the crux of the entire basement pop genre. Nancy offers up the zillionth piece of supporting evidence in the 96 second blast of “I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)”, a track overflowing with smart hooks and a quick wit. Short, punchy, and incredibly effective, “I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)” is a song that’s more than worth the commitment.

5. The Yada Yada Yadas – Human Emotion

Riding an opening section that falls somewhere between The Polyphonic Spree and early Flaming Lips, The Yada Yada Yadas take another strong turn on “Human Emotion”. The song eventually dovetails into other segments, touching on everything from brit-pop to the slacker movement of the late ’90s, without ever feeling empty for its revivalist tendencies. Fascinating and surprisingly explosive, “Human Emotion” goes off like a firework and outright refuses to come back down.

6. Silverbacks – Just In The Band

“Just In The Band” find Silverbacks well on their way to transforming into a fully fledged post-punk powerhouse. Frantic in just about every sense, “Just In The Band” never fully looses its tether from the anchor, staying intact enough to create a sense of urgent direction. It’s a wildly impressive work from a band that’s very clearly ready for their breakout moment. It’s only a matter of time before the tether breaks and they take off.

7. Disq – Communication

“Communication” sees Disq pairing with Saddle Creek for an intriguing 7″ series, while also hitting on a career high. A noise-damaged basement pop number laced with basement punk tendencies, “Communication” is surprisingly volatile. The band’s penchant for melody remains at that heart of their work but “Communication” suggests that their experimentation with atmospheric choices could propel them to previously unseen heights.

8. Mo Troper – Never Dream of Dying

Aggressively — and humorously — marketed by the label as the theme to the next James Bond film, Mo Troper‘s “Never Dream of Dying” finally saw release after months of soft teases. The franchise would be lucky to have this one. All of the traditional Bond theme hallmarks are in place, from the sweeping orchestral section to the classic ending and everything in between. Even separated from its own framework, the song feels like a rousing triumph, making it perfectly at home in Troper’s incessantly impressive repertoire. It’s a classic.

9. Chelou – Out of Sight

One of the more left-field surprises of the past few weeks, Chelou’s “Out of Sight” operates as one of those rare, transfixing tracks that doesn’t sound like it’s connected to a specific time. Echoing shades of Hot Chip, RJD2, and other pop-minded acts in a similar vein, “Out of Sight” creates a mesmeric tapestry out of a collage that veers from classic metal flourishes to art-pop. A genuinely remarkable track that more than deserves the plays its been racking up since appearing online.

10. YOWL – John the Collector

YOWL continues to impress every time they reappear, stringing together an incredibly strong collection of tracks that’s continuously raised their profile. “John the Collector” is the band’s latest shot of bleary post-punk. Hazy but energetic, the band keeps their foot on the pedal, taking off towards some unknowable destination. A shout-sung narrative covers the breadth of things as varied as familiarity, friendship, and destruction, culminating in a powerful resolution that tips its hat towards the intrigue of letting some things go unsolved.

11. And The Kids – Champagne Ladies

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new from And The Kids but “Champagne Ladies” is here to amend that trend. One of the band’s most immediate and accessible songs, “Champagne Ladies” finds the project aligned nicely with acts like Middle Kids, who rely on a distinctly rural sense of wonder to ground anthemic melodies. From the palm-muted rhythm guitar figure to the bells providing “Champagne Ladies” a splash of color, everything here congeals into a sum far greater than its parts, ably demonstrating And The Kids’ continuing growth as songwriters.

12. Maria Kelly – July

“July” is yet another breathtaking track from Maria Kelly, an artist who’s no stranger to crafting wintry soundscapes. While the title may suggest a summery affair, “July” is as icy as anything Kelly’s released. Soft, pointed, and quietly lacerating, “July” cuts to the bone. A clinical self-dissection, the song’s blunt honesty is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. There’s some solace to be found in “July” but it’s through the recognition of shared pain. Haunting and intimate, the track cements Kelly’s position as an artist worth knowing.

The Best Records of October 2018

October was an absolutely extraordinary month for record releases, seeing the unveiling of a large handful of Album of the Year contenders. A handful of site favorites offered up new material as well, with several of those titles appearing below. No matter the length (EP, LP, 7″, etc.), there was an abundance of memorable titles. Only one band of the 10 selected below had yet to appear in any of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage. As for the rest? They’re further solidifying their respective statuses as some of the most promising acts in music.

1. Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend 

On their sophomore full-length, Stove expand both their ambitions and their skyward sprawl with their most inspired release to date. Comprised of an existence’s worth of longing, fear, anxiety, tenderness, and understanding, ‘s Favorite Friend has the marks of a classic. Devastating and hopeful in turns, the Stove record marks the second astonishing album that Steve Hartlett’s released this year, following Ovlov‘s TRU. Deeply personal and all the more mesmeric for that trait, ‘s Favorite Friend reaffirms Hartlett’s enormous musical talent and provides a reassurance; you might not always entirely defeat your demons but making peace with some of them can go a long way.

2. Strange Ranger – How It All Went By

Strange Ranger have been enjoying a steady evolution that’s already paying increasing dividends. How It All Went By, the band’s latest, is their strongest release to date, continuing an upward trajectory that started several releases back. Unapologetic in its inventiveness, How It All Went By recalls the works of everyone from Joyce Manor to Neil Young, mining a select few genre’s for flourishes that complement the band’s core identity. Oddly hypnotic and abundantly warm, How It All Went By is an EP that’s worth owning.

3. IAN SWEET – Crush Crusher

The last time IAN SWEET released a record, the results were strong enough to catapult them from emergent act to critical darlings. Crush Crusher, the band’s most recent effort, is one of affirmation: the early praise was warranted. Explosive, thoughtful, and genre-resistant, IAN SWEET has crafted something that thrives in near-impossible dichotomies. Tender and violent, explosive and tranquil, urgent and contemplative, every last second of Crush Crusher comes laced with a certain amount of nervous energy, transforming the entire affair into a spellbinding experience.

4. Adeline Hotel – away together

After a few years of playing together, Adeline Hotel is starting to increase their pace. away together is a strong enough record that it could feasibly multiply their audience by some degree. A near perfect soundtrack for the transition from fall to winter, away together‘s indie folk reckonings lend an even greater familiarity to the everyday, giving the mundane greater meaning. Easily the strongest songs of the band’s young career, away together should leave the kind of mark that’s recalled fondly and without malice.

5. Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

A few name changes have taken place since Gabby’s World was awarded this site’s Album of the Year distinction for O.K. but the band’s heart remains unchanged. Beast On Beast makes that revelation plain from the record’s opening track, the breathtaking “Winter Withdraw”.  Guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith remains one of the more intuitive songwriters working today, gifting the record with airy melodies that carry punch and conviction. Beast On Beast, like the project’s best works, serves as both a rallying cry and a knowing offer of acceptance, doing its best to make sure there’s some warmth when the world gets cold.

6. Interbellum – Dead Pets, Old Griefs

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, only one project on this list had yet to make an appearance on Heartbreaking Bravery. Enter: Interbellum. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a fascinating effort from multi-instrumentalist Karl Maltar. Interbellum, Maltar’s project, enlisted several friends for a record that straddles the divides between indie pop, slacker punk, and bedroom pop, giving a distinctly modern twist to the kind of template that used to be a Sparklehorse specialty. For every memorably raucous moment on Dead Pets, Old Griefs, there are several hushed, deeply introspective ones to balance the scales. It’s a staggering work from a name worth remembering.

7. Strange Relations – Sideline Kid

One of the best, if not the best, post-punk projects the upper Midwest has  to offer, Strange Relations keep accelerating their own momentum. Last year the project released Editorial You, a record that showcased the band’s confidence. Just a year later, they’ve returned with their most restrained — and fascinating — effort to date in the 3-song EP Sideline Kid. The EP finds the band being increasingly adventurous with their ambient experimentation while remaining fearless in their bare-bones minimalism. All three tracks are fascinating for different reasons and the cumulative effect is potent enough to give Sideline Kid serious consideration as one of the year’s best EP’s.

8. GABI – Empty Me

A record that’s been anticipated for some time in very specific circles of the art world, GABI’s Empty Me finally arrived in full and lived up to the promise of the surrounding buzz. Haunting chamber pop of the highest order, Empty Me traffics in curious extremes, from emotive weight to the sprawl of the composition that serves as the record’s anchor. For all of the lightness Empty Me exudes in its softest moment, there’s a pervasive sense of doubt permeating its shadowy corners. An astonishingly complete work, Empty Me works its way towards unforgettable as it progresses, slowly immersing its listeners under the weight of the gravity felt at the record’s core.

9. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

The opening seconds of Last Building Burning make one thing extraordinarily clear: Cloud Nothings aren’t fucking around. After what some considered the lightest work of their career since Dylan Baldi turned his project from a one-man affair into a full band ordeal, Last Building Burning immediately lights a kerosene torch and takes off with reckless abandon. “On An Edge” is the most purposeful opener we’re likely to hear this year, with the band in a rare echelon of attack mode. Fortunately, the rest of the record backs its strength up with some of the band’s strongest songwriting. Easily one of 2018’s best outings, Last Building Burning is a potent reminder that aggression can be productive when wielded with care.

10. Yowler – Black Dog In My Path

A strong case can be made for Maryn Jones as one of the most vital musicians of this past decade. Jones has provided invaluable contributions to Saintseneca as a (now former) member, fronted All Dogs, contributed to records from bands like Radiator Hospital, released memorable solo material before and after any of that started happening, and has turned Yowler into a recognizable name. While Jones will inevitably downplay the impact those contributions have had, it’s an astonishing pedigree.

Yowler’s latest record, Black Dog In My Path, in some ways comes across as the sum of that experience: this is the broadest and most ambitious record to bear Jones’ name. It’s also one of the best. Trading in uforgiving self-deprecation and an acute awareness, Black Dog In My Path can be a punishing listen when it fixates on unthinkably low moments but the music breathes just enough optimism and life to make the whole thing feel unflinchingly human. One of the fullest realizations of Jones’ incredible talent, it’s a record that’ll still be worth visiting a decade down the line.

Two Months, 12 Records

Over the past two months, hundreds of good records have found release. This post takes a look back at a dozen of the most notable titles in that crop. A handful of site favorites make appearances here, with the styles ranging from gentle folk subgenres to incredibly volatile brands of explosive strains of punk. A few records choose to cast their sights on hope, while others embrace an unrelenting heaviness. All of them, of course, are worth owning. Explore, listen through, and find ways to support the records that connect.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

A band that has yet to put out a bad record keeps that trend alive with Pillar of Na. Even with a slight lineup change (Maryn Jones parted ways with the band after relocating to the East Coast), Saintseneca‘s identity shines through on another album that finds the band embracing a more prominent Eastern influence within their Appalachian Folk-informed music. Pillar of Na also feels even more contemplative and complete than the band’s previous effort, Such Things, which is a point driven home by near-circular bookends. Not a false note from start to finish, Saintseneca’s records remain an immense joy.

Options – Vivid Trace

When post-punk and basement pop exist in harmony, the results typically range from good to incredible. Options’ Vivid Trace makes it abundantly clear from the opening salvo onward that this is a record — and a band — that skew towards the latter. Masterfully composed, produced, and sequenced, Vivid Trace is an important reminder of the potential of a niche subgenre that has direct ties to this site’s very roots. Vivid Trace is the exact type of album that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate: an astonishing work from a band fighting an uphill battle for greater recognition.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

A trio of advance singles suggested that Lonely Parade may have a legitimate Album of the Year contender on their hands, especially within the realms of energetic post-punk. The Pits confirms those suspicions with emphasis. Every song on the record’s teeming with ferocity, hooks, charisma, and conviction, as if the band’s been allowed to unleash all of their unchecked aggression. It’s that sense of purpose that makes how refined The Pits ultimately winds up being even more impressive. Lonely Parade intentionally take the train off the rails and treat us all to an unforgettable ride.

Fred Thomas – Aftering

Billed as the final installment of an ongoing trilogy of records, Fred Thomas delivers another record that cements his reputation as one of today’s most thoughtful songwriters. Aftering, Thomas’ latest, also finds the songwriter collaborating with contemporaries far more than usual, a decision that reflects on some of Aftering‘s narrative themes (especially the importance of support structures). As is always the case with a new Fred Thomas release, a few career highlights are thrown in, ranging from sunny, fast-paced basement pop to devastating ambient ballads shot through with a wealth of longing and regret. Being alive brings us to the peaks of joy and cycles us through unimaginable pain but Aftering is good company to keep no matter where the hammer falls.

Waxahatchee – Great Thunder

Ever since American Weekend began Katie Crutchfield‘s transition from a DIY circuit staple to an internationally beloved voice, Waxahatchee has picked up an increasing amount of scrutiny. Curiously, Great Thunder — Crutchfield’s project with Keith Spencer (formerly of Swearin’) — managed to get lost in the wake. The duo released two lovely records, before retiring the project, leaving behind some of their best work. Waxahatchee’s latest release pays homage to that project and Crutchfield’s roots as a songwriter, rescuing some of the project’s standout material to present in a new light. Great Thunder winds up as one of Crutchfield’s warmest releases as a result, rendering the EP unmissable.

The Sofas – Nothing Major

The Sofas proudly wear their influences on their sleeve from the very jump of Nothing Major, which immediately recalls Sonic Youth’s most pop-leaning moments in their Rather Ripped era. Fortunately, those influences never threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, each track standing firmly on its own, letting the record stand as a collection of noise-leaning, feedback-heavy basement pop triumphs. Every song on Nothing Major has addictive qualities, striking the perfect balance between an influx of energy and an incredibly present sense of melancholy.

Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows The Light

In 2015’s “Not For Nothing”, Mutual Benefit can already claim one of the present decade’s best songs. Anything any artist does from that point forward comes with great expectation and Thunder Follows The Light renders those expectations meaningless. Every song is guided with the same gentle hand, infused with the same sense of calm and tacit understanding that allowed the project’s earlier works to thrive. Every gorgeous, mesmeric second on the record seems to instill a sense of peace, making Thunder Follows The Light a deeply important record in the face of today’s overwhelmingly combative climate.

Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship

The debut record from Whitney Ballen‘s one of many releases on this last that grapples with a challenging dichotomy. What sets You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship apart from those releases is its operative velocity. A breathtaking record in the truest sense, You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship finds Ballen grappling with deeply uncomfortable truths, desires, and impulses, while delivering compositions that suggest lighter material. Imbued with genuinely shocking moments, a masterclass in sustained dynamic tension, and a sense of steady control amidst an expressed sea of uncertainty, Ballen’s released one of the year’s most unforgettable records.

Dilly Dally – Heaven

One of 2018’s most heartening moments came in the form of Dilly Dally‘s self-resurrection. The band opened up about their own difficulties recently and Heaven is their testimonial offering of those challenges and where they’ve arrived as a band: reborn and with a renewed sense of purpose. Desire was a record that embraced the ugly and the damaged as beautiful, with a suggested distance between the band and those observations. Heaven reframes that dynamic and positions the band dead center in a brutal storm of reckoning, staring out at a sliver of light on the horizon, knowing that the ruins of the world will be theirs for the taking.

LOOSE – Haircut 

A relatively new band to this site, LOOSE nonetheless make a sizable impression with Haircut, an extremely impressive record that finds them tethering together strains of math rock, emo, basement pop, noise-punk, and bedroom pop. It’s an endlessly fascinating listen that never wavers in its surging momentum, anchoring ambitious compositions with relatable narratives. Head-turning in the best sense, Haircut suggests a wealth of talent and an abundance of promise reside in LOOSE. Unpredictable and unexpected, Haircut is an extraordinarily pleasant surprise.

Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling

Sami Martasian‘s Puppy Problems project has been going for quite some time now, steadily evolving over the years while gaining a small cult following. All of those lessons come to a head on the project’s debut record, Sunday Feeling. As always, Martasian proves to be a commanding lyricist, waxing poetic on meditations about what it means to be a young adult today. Gorgeous folk-leaning bedroom pop compositions abound, echoing traces of (SANDY) Alex G‘s quieter works while containing enough personality to stand on their own. It’s an impressive record from a project that deserves an expanded audience.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Owen Ashworth’s projects have an infamous penchant for tapping into a sense of overwhelming sadness to create work that ultimately winds up life-affirming. Animal Companionship, Ashworth’s fourth effort as Advance Base, sees this formula ringing especially true. Corpses, both literal and metaphorical, riddle the record’s landscape, with an emphasis on pets. Throughout, Ashworth turns in the best work of an illustrious career, reaching something so human and so intangible that Animal Companionship can momentarily become a difficult listen. In the end, the journey becomes worthwhile, and Animal Companionship stands proudly as one of 2018’s finest, most moving records.

 

 

 

Two Weeks, Three Records

In nearly every two week run this year, it seems like there’s been a record that’s posed a legitimate threat to crack a handful of year-end lists. It’s been true from literally the opening seconds of 2018, which saw the surprise release of Jeff Rosenstock‘s exceptional POST-. While there have been a few lulls in select spots, that intensity’s remained and fueled a great year for music. A trio of records that emerged over the past few weeks have the kind of potency to either crack those lists or carve out a spot as a well-hidden cult favorite. All three are worth hearing. Dive in below.

Ovlov – TRU

The three advance singles that teased Ovlov‘s unexpected comeback album, TRU, all netted featured positions and seemed to suggest the band was operating in rare form. Turns out, that suggestion only scratched the surface of what turned out to be a monumental effort from the recently reunited act. The finest Ovlov record by some margin, TRU is a towering behemoth that could only exist through the lens of a band that’s kept finding ways to survive themselves. An examination of impulse, longing, and mental health, TRU bristles and seethes at an unmatched velocity, anchored by the burden of knowledge.

Scintillating from start to finish, buoyed by a series of inspired moments, TRU is tethered together with a narrative through line that makes it feel overwhelmingly whole, even in the face of its persistent ruminations on incompletion. While the band still finds life at the intersection of grunge, slacker punk, and basement pop, the way they’ve reshaped that musical identity on TRU is commendable. Wielding an expanded palette, a seemingly limitless scope, and a desire to improve, Ovlov have created what’s easily one of 2018’s finest records. Additionally, TRU acts as a very welcome reminder of a singular band’s extraordinary talent.

Pipsy – Users

Giddy, scrappy basement pop gifted with dream pop and powerpop sensibilities, Pippy’s Users was an incredibly welcome find what had been proving to be an otherwise desolate patch of new releases. The kind of record that makes sifting through an endless amount of dreck worthwhile, Users is teeming with the liveliness that can serve as its own adrenaline injection. Full of hooks, the record never eases off its acceleration pedal, resulting in a ragged, irresistible collection of distinctly crafted basement pop.

Sean Henry – Fink

It’d been apparent from Fink‘s advanced tracks that Sean Henry had tapped into something a little more otherworldly than usual, swinging from one contemporary reference point to another but refusing to offer tidy reconciliations. A record that’s intentionally opaque, Fink weaponizes its musical palette and allows it to convey emotional heft in lieu of easily idenitifiable narratives; the musical equivalent of Shane Carruth’s absorbing Upstream Color. A record that’s content to soak in the dirt and the grime of the world, wallow in its own carefully guarded desperation, and reluctantly admit to slivers of hope, Fink finds Sean Henry operating at a new, fascinating level. It’s a journey worth the misguided shortcuts, scratches, and tangles. Every bruise is worth earning in Fink‘s fucked up wonderland of folk-tinged, psych-damaged, punk-learned basement pop.

Two Weeks, Three Videos

A trio of videos found a way to make their presence felt over the past two weeks. Each of the three featured videos stand out for very distinct reasons with minimal overlap. From mastery of craft to self-awareness to successful experiments in restraint, there’s a lot of variety. Every example finds a way to enhance a great song with a video that proves to be the equal of the source material’s strength. Take a look (and a listen) below.

Slothrust – Double Down

After finding success through their past few releases, Slothrust is allowing their ambition to expand. The band’s forthcoming The Pact is their boldest work to date and has the potential to carry the band to greater success. A lot of that stems from the band making the right moves at the right time — in addition to their spectacular live show — and “Double Down” is proof, its surrealist world-building is impeccable. From the abrupt staging and cinematography that introduces the viewer to “Double Down”, Slothrust make it abundantly clear that they’re not content with stagnation. They’re out to prove something and the staggering clip for “Double Down” (those first moments are especially gripping) sees them off to a solid start.

Mozes and the Firstborn – Hello

Mozes and the Firstborn have been making impressive music for a handful of years now, running the gamut from arresting intensity to playfully entertaining. “Hello”, and its visual accompaniment, find a way to skew towards the latter while retaining some of the former. An infectious pop song married to a clever concept, “Hello” finds Mozes and the Firstborn’s vocalist running behind a camera, lip-syncing to the song while runners in an actual marathon jostle past. Shirts get discarded, revealing words and phrases, a cigarette gets smoked, and a range of spectators emotions fly by in one of the more unexpectedly blissful clips of 2018.

Free Cake For Every Creature – Be Home Soon

Katie Bennett continues to impress at just about every turn, though the Free Cake For Every Creature project remains the songwriter’s calling card. Here, the project gets an appropriately gentle illustrated video for the quietly moving “Be Home Soon”. Rivkah Gevinson created the clip for “Be Home Soon”, which combines collage work and stop motion photography to an enchanting effect, the song quietly washing over the proceedings. There’s a modicum of saturation washing through the clip’s coloration and playing into a wistful, nostalgic sensibility. Unexpectedly mesmerizing and characteristically lovely, “Be Home Soon” is up there with the finest work to bear the Free Cake For Every Creature name.

The Best Songs of June 2018’s Final Half

A ridiculous amount of great songs came out over the final half of June 2018, roughly tripling the output of music videos and records. In accordance, the below list will be expanded from the preceding features’ three-slot format to a selection of nine. As usual, there’s a fairly vast palette of styles and influences to sample, each song offering up a distinctly unique thrill. Dive into the fray and get swept up in the chaos.

Whitney Ballen – Go

The first look at the fantastic forthcoming You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship. Ballen uses a hushed vocal — one that’s curiously reminiscent of Nicole Dollanganger — on “Go” like a weapon, drawing the listener into a difficult narrative that acts as an effective counterweight to the casually optimistic sheen embedded into the musical arrangement. A fascinating presentation of the dichotomies resonating at the center of most mental health struggles, “Go”, while brilliant, only scratches the surface of Ballen’s capabilities.

Curling – Still Green

Following their appearance in the Best Songs list for June 2018’s first half, Curling come back to top themselves with “Still Green.” A basement pop rave-up that exudes the intensely relatable weariness of the slacker punk movement of the early ’90s, “Still Green” incorporates enough modern bent to ensure it won’t fall prey to accusations of tired revivalism. There’s an abundance of life thriving at the song’s surface and Curling makes sure each of the song’s 164 seconds land with maximum impact.

Ovlov – Stick

Not to be outdone by Curling’s repeat heroics as a featured act, Ovlov notch their third consecutive feature nod with the brooding, explosive “Stick”. All three songs to tease the band’s upcoming Tru have made a formidable case that we’re on the verge of hearing one of the year’s best records. While the first two — “Spright” and “Short Morgan” — relied on volume and power, “Stick” ensures that Tru won’t be a one-note affair. Unexpected, oddly moving, and incredibly engaging, “Stick” is a song that deserves to be left on repeat.

Sean Henry – Imperfection

Sean Henry‘s past work has been unfairly overlooked for all the usual, dispiriting reasons but the songwriter’s latched on to something with Fink that just might be strong enough to overcome those intangible obstacles. “Imperfection” was the final track to be released ahead of Fink‘s unveiling and it ably showcases an artist in full control of their creative powers. From the production choices to the delivery itself, “Imperfection” winds up coming surprisingly close to standing as a direct opposite of its own title.

Dentist – Corked

A familiar name to the site, Dentist have been steadily working towards their big moment, earning every lesson and success that’s come their way. In that pursuit, they’ve released a handful of great songs but “Corked”, their latest, doesn’t just set a new high but a new precedent. The band’s lit onto something that feels wholly their own and are prepared to accelerate their pacing from a jog to a sprint. “Corked”, as fine a basement pop song as anyone’s likely to hear this season, is a tantalizing indicator of what Dentist has in store for the future.

Slothrust – Peach

Slothrust‘s another name that’s been printed on these pages a handful of times and “Peach” is the latest reason to type it out. The lead-off single from The Pact, “Peach” is a galvanizing burst of the band’s singular brand of slacker pop. More immediate and self-contained than a lot of the trio’s earlier work, “Peach” makes a morsel feel like a mouthful, before becoming an entire meal. It’s the band’s shortest single to date but it lingers when it’s gone. Don’t miss this one.

Jonathan Something – Fine

Clocking in at just under two minutes, Jonathan Something’s “Fine” still finds time to stand out. A throwback pop song that reveals an astonishing array of influences (everything from Motown to disco to powerpop), “Fine” manages to feel comfortably familiar and thrillingly new over the course of its brief run time. Jonathan Something delivers it all with poise, conviction, and a sincerity that translates into one of the year’s most purely enjoyable songs.

Tony Molina – Wrong Town

A master of the micro song, Tony Molina has found a niche way to thrive since the earliest Ovens songs. Even as Molina’s edges have softened, there’s been a profound sense of assurance that’s cut through the noise. In addition to that gentle confidence, there’s always been a palpable sense of place; Molina knows the places worth belonging to even as his narratives question definitive decision-making. “Wrong Town” is the latest in a string of tender, ’60s-influenced folk-adjacent pieces. Warm and heartrending, “Wrong Town” deserves a visit.

Gia Margaret – Birthday

Gia Margaret‘s “Birthday” is a genre-demolishing track that’s been roping listeners into its orbit since its initial release. Bits of dream pop, shoegaze, and shoegaze find fascinating new intersections throughout the song, which is anchored by Margaret’s soft, spellbinding vocal performance. From front to back, “Birthday” is breathtaking in its unexpected scope and considerable beauty. A transcendent, mesmerizing work.

 

The Best Records of June 2018’s Final Half

The final two weeks of June saw a lot of records find their way out into the world but there was a core trio that managed to make a sizable impression. Some site favorites make their returns and the featured records run the gamut of punk from pop-leaning rave-ups to atmospheric mood pieces to subversive, thrash-leaning hardcore. All three are worth all the spins they can get and can be explored below.

Proud Parents – Proud Parents

The Dirtnap records debut for one of southern Wisconsin’s best bands, Proud Parents make good on their newly expanded platform with their strongest release to date. Appropriately self-titled, Proud Parents does feel a lot like an introduction-at-large, clearly showcasing the band’s carefree sensibilities with one irresistible earworm after the other. There’s a strain of ease that runs throughout the highly addictive Proud Parents, which is one of the best releases from the basement pop genre to emerge in 2018.

Therese Litner – May

Driving post-punk that cribs from a wider range of genres than one might expect is typically a compelling through line and Therese Litner’s outstanding May takes that formula to insane heights. Brooding, restrained, and refined, each of May‘s four tracks finds a way to be incredibly gripping. All of it coalesces into a bold finished product that reveals new intricacies on each successive listen. May, for all of its modesty, is a towering EP from an exhilarating voice.

No Problem – Let God Sort’Em Out

The samples that arrived early were extraordinarily promising but listening to Let God Sort’Em Out, the latest from No Problem, it’s hard to think they did the finished product justice. An absolute monster of a release, Let God Sort’Em Out stands a very good shot at standing out as one of the most subversive basement punk records of the past few years. Touching on everything from grime to powerpop to hardcore, No Problem may have just unleashed a future cult classic.

The Final Half of June 2018: Streams, Music Videos, and Full Streams

The final half of June wasn’t quite as loaded as its immediate predecessor but it came surprisingly close. A deluge of material found release in every major format. Iconic acts remixed prominent genre figures, legends were paid tribute, and a handful of new faces made a deep impression. Below is the chronicling of everything that made a notable splash. Three individual installments focusing on some additional highlights from this stretch will follow this post shortly. For now (and for however many times anyone feels like clicking over) enjoy the best of the rest.

STREAMS

Saintseneca, Rat Columns, Free Cake For Every Creature, Chakra Efendi, Weller, Angelo De Augustine, Van Dale, Murder By Death, Alien Boy, Saturday Night, Many Voices Speak, Mogwai, Basement Revolver, Bad Bad Hats, Sudakistan, Teksti-TV 666 (x2), Eric Bachmann, Silverbacks, Signal, The Rareflowers, The Rock’N’Roll HiFives, The Cradle, Emma Ruth Rundle, Steady Holiday, El Ten Eleven, Joey Sweeney, Marissa Nadler, Bad Western, Wild Pink, Jason Isbell, Sego, The Mountain Goats, A Place to Bury Strangers/Slowdive, Oh Sees, Daniel Bachman, Sleep Party People, Bellows, Taylor Janzen, Purling Hiss, Hater, Lou Rogai, LT Wade, Send Medicine, TMBOY, J. Marco, Michael Nau, Night Flight, and Lokoy.

MUSIC VIDEOS

SilverbacksTrü, Ohmme, Tomberlin, Claire Morales, Batz, blushh, Los Blancos, Flasher, Talos, Strange Rooms, Self Defense Family, Hifiklub & Lee Ranaldo, Deerhoof, Amen Dunes, Jay Rock, Zzzwalk, Domenico Lancellotti, Joan of Arc, Yumi Zouma, Who Is She?, Russian Baths, Life In Vacuum, IRMA VEP, Ocean Potion, Shy Boys, Drawing Boards, Cicada Rhythm, and Delta Sleep.

FULL STREAMS

Dumb, Henrik Appel, The Innocence Mission, Self Defense Family, Lily Konigsberg, Western Medication, Katie Herzig, No Love, Modern Rituals, Converge, Avid Dancer, Dott, and a Built to Spill covers compilation.