Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Best Songs

Two Months, 12 Songs

Nearly two months have come and gone since the last true feature article was published on these pages. In that time, thousands of good songs have found release, hundreds of records have made varying impressions, and more than a few music videos managed to snag viewers’ attention. This post looks at a dozen of the finest songs to have come out in that time, from names new and familiar. Dive in below.

Charly Bliss – Heaven

Last year’s pick for this site’s Album of the Year distinction recently made an unexpected return on the back of standalone single “Heaven”, which guitarist/vocalist calls the band’s first attempt at a genuinely hopeful look at romantic love. The band balances that optimism out with one of the heaviest and darkest-sounding songs of their emergent career, demonstrating the band’s range and understanding of overarching dynamics. Exhilarating and powerful, “Heaven” is a welcome reminder of Charly Bliss‘ limitless appeal.

Stove – Mosquiter 

In 2015, Stove walked away with this site’s Song of the Year distinction for “Wet Food”, which remains one of the finest songs of this decade. The band’s been relatively quiet of late, which is understandable considering the re-emergence of Steve Hartlett’s other project, Ovlov. Both Ovlov and Stove had new material planned for 2018 and “Mosquiter” is the first look at Stove’s forthcoming ‘s Favorite Friend. “Mosquiter” is a perfect example of what makes Stove worth celebrating, blending painfully relatable experiences into songs that swirl, seethe, and soothe. In short: it’s life-affirming.

Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

Cloud Nothings have developed an astonishing level of consistency, something that should be abundantly clear by the time anyone hits play on “Leave Him Now”. Even with that said, it would’ve been hard to predict the explosiveness of “Leave Him Now” which surges through its run time with the tenacity of the band’s best work. It’s a continuation of a recent trend for the band, acting as something of a career summation, focusing in on various aspects of the band’s earlier records and tethering them into something that walks the line between new and lived-in. Both immediate and thoughtful, “Leave Him Now” is one of the best songs of 2018.

Squid – The Dial

“The Dial” will serve as an introduction-at-large to Squid for many, which will make the impact significantly more forceful. To put it bluntly, “The Dial” is an absolute monster of a post-punk song, finding the band effectively navigate pop appeal and post-hardcore intensity. There’s an ambient interlude, a section where the vocals become unhinged screams, and more than a few interlocking grooves that operate as interstitial threads. “The Dial” is a behemoth of a track, making Squid’s presence known. Keep both eyes on this band and keep this song on repeat.

Gouge Away – Ghost

Gouge Away have quietly become one of today’s best post-hardcore bands, building a name for themselves on a string of outstanding releases. “Ghost” is the latest from the band, which manages to be one of their softest moments and their best track to date. Coasting along at a mid-tempo pace, the band leans into each down stroke with conviction and seem to be operating at the height of confidence, evidenced by the risk involved in a boundary-stretching song. It’s a risk that pays staggering dividends; “Ghost” is the kind of track that makes a whole new audience take notice.

Hovvdy – Easy

Cranberry was a consensus pick as one of early 2018’s great records, giving Hovvdy‘s name considerable weight among a certain section of artists and fans. A few tours later and the band’s followed up that extraordinary release with a gorgeous single, headlined by “Easy”. A soothing slow-burn, “Easy” is characteristic of the band’s best work, drawing in the listener and making sure they stick around to enjoy every subtle nuance embedded into an intoxicating strain of indie pop. Beautiful, meditative, and compelling, “Easy” is a can’t-miss.

Strange Ranger – New Hair

Following up a record that guarantees a cult following, no matter the size, is never an easy feat. Fortunately, Strange Ranger prove up to the task on “New Hair”, the best track of the band’s career. An explosive burst of basement pop, “New Hair” finds Strange Ranger embracing their powerpop tendencies but injecting a level of grit and determination into it that prevent the track from being remotely saccharine, while still finding a way to encapsulate their older prominent influences. It’s impressive and effective, suggesting Strange Ranger aren’t content with cheap trills and searching for longevity.

Pip Blom – Come Home

Over the past several years, Pip Blom have been transforming themselves from a band with promise to a project that’s threatening to break out as an emergent act. “Come Home” suggests that it’s only a matter of time before Pip Blom start making bigger waves, operating as an irresistible slice of insistent indie pop. Informed by post-punk and incredibly aware of effective composition with an expert’s grasp on dynamic structure, “Come Home” is the kind of track that’s tough to shake. It’s also a track that guarantees repeat plays.

Swearin’ – Future Hell

One of the most heartening developments of this past year has been the promise of new material from the recently reunited Swearin’, a band that put out this decade’s best demo and one of its best records. Guitarist/vocalist Kyle Gilbride once again takes center stage, voice teeming with both determination and conviction while the band gives the track their all. Intuitive guitar figures and a solid rhythm section elevate the material further, erasing any doubts that Swearin’ have lost a step in their absence. We should all be thankful they’ve returned.

Gabby’s World – Winter, Withdraw

Recently Gabrielle Smith‘s Eskimeaux project shed that moniker in favor of Ó, which turned out to be a temporary placeholder that’s now made way for what should be the project’s final name: Gabby’s World. With that change, the project seems to have a renewed sense of purpose, something evidenced by the ambition of “Winter, Withdraw”. One of the project’s most gorgeous and most breathtaking moments, “Winter, Withdraw” will be the lead-off track for Gabby’s World’s forthcoming Beast on Beast and sets an extraordinarily high bar when paired with other advance track “Rear View“. Whether or not Gabby’s World can live up to the early precedent shouldn’t even be a question.

Yowler – Angel + Where Is My Light

Maryn Jones is either directly responsible or has played a pivotal role in some of the best records and songs of this decade already, thanks to the songwriter’s involvement in both All Dogs and Saintseneca. Yowler, Jones’ solo project, always can claim an entry or two in that category, and returns this year with Black Dog In My Path. Two of the advance tracks for the record occupy different territory but showcase the project’s shift to a full band. Angel is a tender, wistful track that fits in with the project’s earlier material while “Where Is My Light” is a shock to the system, plunging Yowler into unfamiliar — and incredibly dark — depths, incorporating a sludge influence to breathtaking effect for one of this year’s most thrillingly unexpected turns. Both tracks paired together have more than enough to suggest that Yowler may be on the verge of releasing one of 2018’s most inspired records. None of us deserve Jones’ run but we should all be eternally grateful to bear witness.

The 15 Best Songs of August

We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.

Weaves – 53 + Walkaway

One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.

Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress

Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.

Common Holly – Nothing

Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.

Abraham King – Spit

Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.

METZ – Drained Lake

One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.

Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart

A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.

Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2

Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.

Madeline Kenney – Big One

The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.

Weakened Friends – Hate Mail

While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.

Mike Caridi – Two Dogs

LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.

Grouper – Children

Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.

Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show

Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling  individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.

 

 

2015: First Quarter Highlights (Mixtape)

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After three months and some change of the site being forced into more inactivity than production, single streams are about to be caught up to what’s happening (as it happens). More than 300 songs have been touched upon in the past week and 25 more will find features tonight (26 if you count this special mention of “The Waters of Babylon“, the crown jewel of Will Butler’s fascinating project for The Guardian). A few of these songs may have appeared in some small form here over the course of the year but each deserves a more central feature spot. Not all of these are songs that are new to the fold either, a few of them have appeared in some fashion in years past and earned a re-release (or, in Tenement‘s case, a remaster) in 2015’s first quarter. If a song has already been featured in full (as is the case for Mikal Cronin’s “Made My Mind Up” and Fred Thomas’ “Every Song Sung To A Dog”), they’re ineligible for this particular mix- but are still very much in the running as Song of the Year candidates. A handful of others on this list join them in that candidacy, with Hop Along‘s exceptionally strong lead-off single from their upcoming record, Painted Shut, being a particularly formidable example. All together, these songs are intended to represent the abundance of quality that the year’s yielded in its opening quarter. Set aside some time and revisit a handful of this year’s best offerings.

1. Hop Along – Waitress

By releasing their most accomplished song to date, Hop Along did far more than justify their signing to Saddle Creek; they provided a jaw-dropping dose of adrenaline to the year’s first few months. If Painted Shut doesn’t elevate this band’s recognition to stratospheric heights (something early reactions have indicated it seems poised to do), it’ll be one of 2015’s biggest stunners. Also one of 2015’s biggest stunners? “Waitress”. Frances Quinlan & co.’s finest moment to date.

2. Pocket Hercules – Well-Adjusted

A small but staggering release, Pocket Hercules’ self-titled effort came with no shortage of great moments. Chief among them was “Well-Adjusted”, which served as the introduction to Pocket Hercules for many and flatly laid out every bit of what makes the band so fascinating; off-kilter guitar work, exhilarating dynamics, left field arrangements, and deceptively brilliant arrangements. Hear the whole tapestry unfold below.

3. Makthaversan – Witness

Makthaverskan hadn’t carved out much of a foothold in the US until Run For Cover wisely picked the band up last year and re-released what deserves to be considered a contemporary classic. Every since then, the band’s been capitalizing on the groundswell of momentum that the signing kicked into motion. Teasing some material that could be just around the corner, “Witness” is an arresting reaffirmation of a band that deserves the attention they’re getting.

4. Slutever – Open Wide

Ever since their split with Girlpool, Slutever haven’t been content to sit back- and that restlessness led to not only one the year’s best early EP’s but one of its best songs as well. “Open Wide” allows Slutever to demonstrate how affecting they are when laying into a mid-tempo number with as much passion as humanly possible. It’s a quick-witted song that packs a serious punch, easily securing it a spot on this list.

5. Tenement – Spaghetti Midwestern

No, “Spaghetti Midwestern” is not a new song. In its earliest iteration, the tune was packaged on what remains one of my personal all-time favorite splits back in 2009 (Used Kids held down the other side of that split). It’s a song that’s held a lot of meaning for me over the years and it was one of the earliest indications of Tenement’s still-limitless potential. Even though it’s only a remaster, it would feel wrong to exclude it here- it deserves to be celebrated at every opportunity that the possibility of celebration is presented. This list is no exception.

6. PWR BTTM – Hold Yer Tongue

Another song to be taken from an incredible split release, PWR BTTM’s “Hold Yer Tongue” was one of the more fiery introductions to a band I’ve ever heard. Towering in dynamic scope and lightly intimidating in lyrical content, “Hold Yer Tongue” hits a series of sweet notes that cement the band’s status as one of today’s most exciting emerging acts. With the volume- and seemingly everything else- dialed up to 11, “Hold Yer Tongue” is a show of force that lingers long after the song’s come to a close.

7. Beach Slang – Too Late to Die Young

After building a reputation on the backs of fiery blasts of scrappy punk, a tender, heart-on-sleeve acoustic number is an interesting choice for Beach Slang. Evoking more than a few shades of The Replacements at their most vulnerable, “Too Late to Die Young” suggests that the band’s songwriting abilities may go even further than the levels hinted at on their first few EP’s. Gentle and oddly moving, “Too Late to Die Young” is a song that elevates an already great band’s potential.

8. Johanna Warren – Figure 8

No record has captivated me this year in a way even remotely similar to Johanna Warren’s nūmūn. Delicate, provocative, and quietly intense, it’s as if Warren was intent on world-building at a cinematic level. One of the record’s most gently arresting moments is the Elliott Smith homage, “Figure 8”. Layered vocals, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and subtle, brilliant production all render this into something spellbinding that verges on the otherworldly. Haunting, damaged, and beautiful- it’s not difficult to think “Figure 8” would have made its source of inspiration proud.

9. Alex G – Change

Another song on this list that’s existed prior to this year, “Change” went through a little more than a remaster and has- in essence- taken life as a new song. Granted, it’s not too dissimilar from the previous version of “Change” but it has a newfound vibrancy and expanded aesthetics that effectively retroactively render the original “Change” to demo status. Alex G continues to make waves and generate interest and the reworkings of earlier material make his talent abundantly clear, with “Change” now positioned at the front of the charge.

10. Trust Fund – Essay to Write

A band doesn’t earn the title of site favorite without continuously impressing and, after “Essay to Write” (as well as the rest of the band’s most recent record), it’s fair to apply that tag to Trust Fund. Striking a perfect balance between optimistic and down-trodden, without losing an ounce of their identity, Trust Fund enhance an already appealing identity with one of their most compelling outings to date.

11. Cyberbully Mom Club – Friends

Shari Heck’s Cyberbully Mom Club got a shot in the arm with a full band upheaval of what was once strictly a solo project. Taking on a spiky basement punk tone, “Friends” exists in the sweet spot that this site touches upon most frequently. Strong melodies resonate throughout “Friends” and there’s a real sense of drive that pushes the song forward, allowing it to reflect an endearing new spark in the Cyberbully Mom Club project.

12. Peach Kelli Pop – Princess Castle 1987

Jaunty, supercharged, and hyper as hell, “Princess Castle 1987” is a perfectly-timed reminder of the sheer power possessed by Burger mainstay Peach Kelli Pop. With video game love in full effect, “Princess Castle 1987” is punctuated by retro influences but still manages to come off as fiercely modern. Sharp and exhilarating, it’s an extremely promising warning shot for the material from the project that’s yet to come.

13. American Wrestlers – Kelly

Clever in terms of production and overwhelmingly strong in terms of songwriting, “Kelly” is as good as understated basement pop gets. Decidedly grimy aesthetics inform the character of the verses before the band cleans them up with a monster of a chorus, leading a rousing stylistic back-and-forth that somehow manages to find the perfect complementary balance. “Kelly” isn’t just one of the year’s catchiest songs- it’s also one of its deadliest.

14. Chastity Belt – Joke

Chastity Belt is a name that’s been showing up on bigger publications with increasing regularity and that ascension in popularity is only outmatched by one thing: the band’s own internal ascension in terms of both identity and songwriting. NPR even feature the record “Joke” was taken from on its much-celebrated First Listen series. While that record still stands as a great record, “Joke” is its best moment- one that finds Chastity Belt comfortably settling into their comfort zone and exploiting it for all its worth. Chastity Belt’s never sounded more comfortable and they’ve definitely never sounded this powerful.

15. CARE – Pamela

Easily one of the best submissions to land in my inbox all year, CARE’s “Pamela” is a multicolored, multi-faceted indie pop tune that comes laced with trappings indicative of a DIY ethos. Heavily melodic, reverb-tinged, and sharply energetic, “Pamela” comes off with a wide-eyed intensity that only furthers CARE’s promise. Length never becomes an issue as the song floats along effortlessly at its own pace and consumes the listener’s attention in the process.

16. Krill – Foot

Last time Krill earned a feature in this list, all I said was “Krill forever”. This time around, all I’m going to say is Krill forever.

17. METZ – Acetate

METZ’s self-titled record remains one of my favorites from this decade for the amount of punch it managed to pack in a relatively short running time. Live, the band’s an unstoppable force and they’ve delivered two of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen (the latter being part of this site’s NXNE coverage, despite not actually being a part of NXNE). “Acetate” is the first look at the band’s upcoming record and it seems as if the band’s intent on raising even more hell than they did the first time around. Get on board or get the hell out of their way because if “Acetate” is any indication, their only direction is full-steam ahead.

18. Dogs On Acid – Flushed

It’s been a good past few months for Dogs On Acid. At the end of last year, the band’s self-titled earned a spot on this site’s Best 7″ Records of 2014 list and since then, they’ve signed to Asian Man Records. “Flushed” is the first look at new material from the band and it’s immensely promising. All of the band’s early charms are still fully in tact and they’ve tightened their grasp on dynamics. Whip-smart lyrics and a fine balance between basement punk and basement pop elevate the band to heights that others spend careers struggling to reach.

19. Pupppy – Beans 

One of 2015’s most intriguing emerging acts is Pupppy, whose recent endorsement from Father/Daughter Records bodes very well for what they have in store for the remainder of the year. As a first glimpse, “Beans” does exactly what it should; introduces us to a band that’s good enough to spur a desire to get to know them better and achieves this on the back of an absurdly enjoyable single. Light in all the right places, with just enough fuzz to give it a jolt of energy, “Beans” is one of 2015’s loveliest surprises.

20. Lost Boy ? – Hemmorage

Had Canned been available to stream anywhere at the end of last year, it would have been towards the very top of our Best Albums of 2014 list. Up until recently, it’s only existed on cassette tape- and that tape’s become a permanent staple of my collection. It’s irreverent, it’s damaged, it’s off-kilter, and it’s the band’s finest work by a long shot- no easy feat, considering their discography’s been unblemished. “Hemmorage” is one of the many songs on Canned that work their way into the listener’s subconscious, loaded with memorable hooks and exceedingly intuitive songwriting. “Hemmorage” is all verve, all bite, and it’s damn near perfect.

21. Joanna Gruesome – Last Year

Joanna Gruesome are a band that continue to defy expectations and a band that continue to get progressively better with each release. They were all over our year-end coverage in December and January, which is a trend that could easily be repeated this year, especially if- fittingly enough- “Last Year” is any indication. Maxing out the band’s penchant for noise, “Last Year” features some boldly atonal selections that come off like an especially jarring uppercut. Vocalist Alanna McArdle has never sounded more pissed off as she does in the first verses or more at peace than she does in the sections that follow. Electrifying and deeply impressive, this is the kind of music that deserves to be celebrated as loudly as possible.

22. Westkust – Swirl

A sister band of Makthaverskan, Westkust excel in similar territories but with a noticeably heavier bent. Decades worth of influential genre touch points can be readily found on “Swirl”, the song that firmly announced the band’s arrival. Shoegaze guitars, post-punk bass, no wave synths, and new wave production aesthetics all make “Swirl” impossibly accessible and, more importantly, they’re blended in a way that makes the track unmissable.

23. Speedy Ortiz – Raising the Skate

In a few weeks’ time Speedy Ortiz will release their heavily anticipated Foil Deer full-length. In advance of the record, they released three songs. All three were absolute monsters deserving of year-end mentions. While both songs that aren’t “Raising the Skate” are genuinely that strong, “Raising the Skate” gets the nod hear for a few things: one of the year’s best choruses, the best use of production the band’s ever managed, and its sense of liveliness. More than just about any other song, “Raising the Skate” is a song that makes it sound like Speedy Ortiz is allowing themselves to revel in the sheer joy of making music.

24. Fred Thomas – Bad Blood

All Are Saved is one of 2015’s strongest records so far and nothing that’s come out this year has been as devastating as Fred Thomas’ “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, a direct ode to a dog that Thomas had loved for years while he watched him slowly die over time. No record this year will have an opening track as song and, hell, their might not even be a song over the next eight months that’s even remotely comparable. So, that by the time “Bad Blood” rolls around and All Are Saved hasn’t buckled under the weight of its opening track is a testament to its strength. “Bad Blood”, perhaps more than any other song on All Are Saved. indulges Thomas’ more experimental side but loses none of the songwriters considerable appeal. Immediate and attention-grabbing “Bad Blood” is one of 2015’s more unique entries and it lands with the force of a million consecutive blows, joining a small slew of others that help cement All Are Saved‘s position as an unlikely classic.

25. Bill Fay – Something Else Ahead

Not a lot of people can sound as despairing as Bill Fay. Utilizing a lifetime’s worth of experiences and weary tones to maximum effect, the legendary songwriter made a small return earlier this year with the haunting “Something Else Ahead”, a gorgeous tune that balances the lines of hope and hopelessness as effectively as Tom Waits does at his absolute best. It’s a fitting conclusion to this list and a promising look ahead towards what Fay has planned for the rest of the year. Relegated to only one place for streaming, it wasn’t exactly omnipresent when it surfaced- don’t make the mistake of allowing that seclusion to let it go unheard. Follow the link below to get your heart held and broken.

Listen to “Something Else Ahead” over at NPR.

14 of ’14: The Best Songs of 2014

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While this may not be necessary at this point since it keeps being repeated, it’s worth stating anyway: “best”, in matters of year-end lists, isn’t made to be an objective statement- it’s a reflection of personal taste. For the year-end coverage period, I’ll also be abandoning the usual first person restrictions as another effort to further personalize these accounts and lists. In 2014, I listened to more music than I’ve ever listened to in my life. During that 365-day span, I mercilessly stalked a rotating cast of sites that posted new music on a near-daily basis. I kept up with NPR’s First Listen series, scoured bands’ schedules to see what other bands were on their shows, kept tabs on bills at venues I admired, and listened to every submission that was sent in to Heartbreaking Bravery. If a friend recommended me new music, I made sure it got heard. There were times when some larger fare would pull me in- especially if it was receiving good critical returns- but, for the most part, I made it a point to explore the smaller titles.

A few of the names on this list (and all of the others) may not necessarily be the most recognizable but don’t let the lack of recognition dissuade you from investment; let it actively encourage dividend-paying exploration. It was that decision to zero in on lesser known bands that started opening up endless hallways to music that may have otherwise stayed hidden. That’s the foundation that this site was built in and will always strive to encourage- which is part of the reason why these lists exist. Below are the 14 songs that hit me hardest throughout the past 12 months, rounded out by a top four that all deserve to be in the “Song of the Decade” conversation. I won’t be including an auxiliary list for the songs that were in consideration and didn’t make the cut this time around because, frankly, there are way too many (though I will say it’s still paining me to not be including Ought‘s “Today More Than Any Other Day“) and most of those selections’ respective titles are featured on the other lists that this site will be running (or has already run). Now that all that’s said and done, on to the list!

14. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me

I’m Not Part of Me” has been making a dent in this site’s coverage ever since Cloud Nothings teased Here and Nowhere Else at Baby’s All Right. It’s in the realm of career best for a band who’s on their second destined-to-be-classic release. After the departure of Joe Boyer, it’s unlikely that anyone was expecting the band to grow even fiercer- yet, that’s exactly what they achieved. With melodic aplomb and hooks to spare (in addition to 2014’s finest individual turn-in from drummer Jayson Gerycz), the band responded by annihilating any of the barriers that transition left, with “I’m Not Part of Me” acting as their rousing call to arms.

13. Iceage – Against the Moon

Before “Against the Moon” was given one of the best music videos of the year, it was lingering on the outskirts of one of 2014’s most powerful albums: Plowing Into The Field Of Love. No song underlined Iceage’s startling transition with more emphasis than this somber piano and organ-driven ballad. Quietly intense and relentlessly haunting, “Against the Moon” became an immediate standout on an impossibly gripping record. It’s an entirely new look for Iceage, who embraced it fearlessly. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s lyrics, now laced with a noticeable Southern Gothic Americana influence, acted as the perfect complement to a spare, boldly atmospheric track- which was easily one of the year’s strongest efforts.

12. Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn

Make Nice was one of the last truly great releases of 2014 but no moment on the record was as stunning as “Bartending At Silent Barn“. I’d known of Jeanette Wall through her involvement in Miscreant Records but nothing had prepared me for how effortlessly bracing her own songs could be. “Bartending At Silent Barn” starts out simply enough; clean, palm-muted guitar, a memorable melody, raz0r-sharp lyrics, and an immediately recognizable sense of identity. While it revels in defeatism for close to the entirety of its run, there comes a moment towards the end- a single laugh- that offers a pivotal change. In that laugh (which lasts less than a second), there’s a derision targeting the assumptions that everything’s as bleak as the song’s original narrative suggests but, after a very brief pause, the assuaging declaration that “things can change” comes to a stunning fruition with one of the most life-affirming outro sections I’ve ever heard.

11. Charly Bliss – Love Me

There are times where all it can take is one song for me to be absolutely convinced by a band. “Love Me”, a song that was also my introduction to Charly Bliss, is definitely that kind of song. With an endless amount of charm and appeal, Charly Bliss conjured up a firestorm of a tune that immediately catapulted them into “new favorite band” territory. The tempo changes and stop/start dynamics in the jaw-dropping pre-chorus and chorus sections practically lay everything on the line; for the first time in a while, it sounds like a (relatively) new band is actively daring their listeners to get on their level. In terms of sound and genre, it’s a perfect bridge between basement pop and basement punk, existing in the dead center of the exact space that this site most frequently celebrates. Fiery, propulsive, and casually tantalizing, it’s easily one of my favorite things to emerge from an incredibly stacked year. Most impressively is that “Urge to Purge“, the song that follows it on the band’s extraordinary Soft Serve EP, was its biggest competition in securing a spot on this list- cementing 2014 as a statement year for one of the most exciting bands today.

10. Screaming Females – Wishing Well

Screaming Females have earned their fair share of coverage on this site by being so consistently excellent in their craft. They’re a band I’ve been keeping an eye on since I started playing shows in basements (a few of their BFG shows are among my favorite WI-based memories) and they haven’t stopped getting better in the years I’ve been following their progress. All of the years they’ve put into fierce touring (never once losing their DIY ethos) have been leading up to the release of their upcoming Rose Mountain, a surefire contender for 2015 Album of the Year. Currently 3 preview songs into the lead-up phase for the record’s release, none have been as powerful as the first official recording of “Wishing Well”, a perennial staple in their live set. Striking a perfect balance between punk grit and an uncharacteristically light pop sensibility, “Wishing Well” is ample proof of the band’s growing ambition and unwavering confidence. It’s also got a chorus for the ages, one even someone’s grandma could love.

9. Jawbreaker Reunion – E.M.O.

Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s most unexpected surprises; a debut effort loaded with determination and personality. Up until “E.M.O.”, it’s an incredibly strong record but that song single-handedly breaks the floodgates wide open and elevates it to the heights of an unforgettable classic. It’s a song that hit me hard on my first listen and hasn’t left my thoughts- or my esteem- since that initial exposure. Easily the most vulnerable moment on a record that’s frequently on the offensive, it offers a voyeuristic glimpse of the mechanics driving Jawbreaker Reunion’s creative forces. “E.M.O.” also has an unexpectedly explosive chorus that lays waste to any harbored doubts about the band’s range. It’s one of the year’s more breathtaking musical moments and it ensures Jawbreaker Reunion’s status as an emerging force.

8. LVL UP – Big Snow

The four-song split between LVL UP, Ovlov, Krill, and Radiator Hospital would have likely topped this site’s best splits of the year list even if it hadn’t been grouped in with Ovlov’s other entries. A large reason behind that it LVL UP‘s “Big Snow”, a song that managed to stand out in the band’s catalog even taking the landmark achievement that was Hoodwink’d into account. “Big Snow“, the rare LVL UP song that features all three vocalists in the group, has been kicked around in some form or another since the band was writing demos for their debut full-length, Space Brothers. In its first release as “Big Snow”, though, it’s a stunner of a track, highlighted by the vocal exchanges and one of the year’s most blistering riffs. Everything lines up in a typically (compellingly) off-kilter way that accentuates the band’s innumerable rough-hewn charms. Constantly shifting and casually brilliant, it’s yet another indicator that LVL UP is one of the best bands currently making music.


7. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse

Another song to appear on a split with Ovlov (it’s literally impossible for me to overstate how incredible Ovlov’s splits were this year), “Year of the Sunhouse” was a career highlight for Little Big League, even taking their outstanding Tropical Jinx into consideration. It’s a song that stunned in a Watch This-approved segment and it’s only grown more appealing with time. Punchy and refined, it takes pinpoint aim and unloads, hitting an elusive target multiple times over. Led by powerhouse drumming and Michelle Zauner’s most ferocious lyrical and vocal outing to date, it’s a song that portrays Little Big League as a band who refuses to back down. As an additional bonus, it also features a second stanza that may very well be the year’s outright best, one that’s punctuated by a life-giving declaration.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning

It’s sincerely doubtful that there was a record in 2014 that was more emotionally charged than Cymbal Eat Gutars’ LOSE, which dealt heavily with the death of a friend. The way that difficult subject’s dealt with is a large part of the reason why the song and it’s accompanying music video earned so many kind words, which also factored into its placement as one of the best music videos of the year. Devastatingly heartfelt and heartbreaking in its vicious nature, it’s propped up by the year’s best single line in the chorus’ “the shape of true love is terrifying enough”. For all of the difficulties, there’s a subtle strain of hope that imbues “Warning”, rendering it a resounding statement of humanism. Deeply tragic and towering in scope, this is the kind of song that’s worthy of inspiring others to start making music on their own terms.

5. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs

“Cut Your Bangs” is a song that’s been kicking around on this site since its original bandcamp release. My personal pick for song of the summer, it’s an exacting look at the way Sam Cook-Parrott’s sense of damaged romanticism manifests in Radiator Hospital’s music. There’s an emphasis on the minutiae, every mundane bit is scrutinized and brought to the forefront. Poetic and unflinchingly honest, it’s put in sharp contrast by the music surrounding the story. There’s a swing-like feel to what’s happening in the background, lilting into a reassuring groove as the narrative grapples with everyday loss. Small lies add up to a mountain of mistrust but, if you’re lucky, your friends will always be there to back you up and convince you that everything’s okay.

4. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday

Very few songs have ever hit me as hard as “Doomsday”. It’s a personal best for Speedy Ortiz, which is no small claim, and very few songs this decade have come across so honestly. Sadie Dupuis’ vocal take for “Doomsday” is absolutely stunning, wounded and impassioned in equal measure; a desperate and veiled final cry searching for some form of absolution. An impossibly beautiful vocal melody and an atmospheric guitar section are subtly fierce grace notes in a song that sounds embattled and defeated. Released as part of the LAMC series (courtesy of Famous Class Records), it would have been more than enough to land the entry it was included on in the best splits of the year list. Weary and grasping at a sense of triumph, it’s a fascinating classic that deserves to be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in music.

3. Mitski – Townie

My relationship with Mitski’s music began with this song and that first listen remains one of my more memorable encounters with anyone’s music in 2014. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to film it twice: once in an intimate acoustic setting (for The Media) and once full-band (with Mitski backed by half of LVL UP). Even putting those personal moments aside, “Townie” was an immediate standout from what turned out to be one of the year’s strongest albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. For those who were fortunate enough to be aware of Mitski’s previous work, “Townie” was a sharp left turn for the enigmatic solo artist and it emphasized a growing certainty in her work. This was a hold-no-prisoners, everything out in the open type of track; a watershed moment for an artist whose career was set to skyrocket. By the time the theremin solo kicks in, everything’s already been set on fire and Mitski’s grinning to herself miles away from the maelstrom. A testament to self-reliance and utter conviction, “Townie” is a clarion call from an artist too important to be ignored.

2. Pile – Special Snowflakes

Pile’s Special Snowflakes 7″ just topped this site’s list for that category. No 7″ had a stronger single song A-side and no song managed to sink into my memory more than that song, “Special Snowflakes“. Pile have cultivated a cult following by refusing to adhere towards any one trend or another and instead opting to follow their own distinctly unique twists and turns. No song felt as monumental in 2014 as the band’s current crowning jewel, a seven minute battering ram of a track. Through a series of exhilarating peaks and crushing valleys, Pile manages to introduce an atmosphere that’s ferociously bleak, refusing to settle into one mode for too long. Pulverizing and epic, “Special Snowflakes” suggests that Pile’s operating at the height of their powers, which bodes well for their forthcoming full-length. It’s also another release that embodies everything great about Exploding in Sound Records and the vast number of reasons the label’s so frequently celebrated here. This is bold, inventive music that thrives on its own conviction, on its own terms, and will be remembered for leaving a trail of well-intentioned destruction in its wake.

1. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits

No band has been written about more on Heartbreaking Bravery than Perfect Pussy (a band I traveled considerable lengths to see eight times throughout the course of 2014). No song has meant more to me than “Interference Fits”. Putting aside the fact that vocalist Meredith Graves (who has somehow become this site’s patron saint and is still its sole interview subject) unexpectedly dedicated this song to me in Minneapolis, putting aside the fact that she cried in a comic book store after I alerted her to the fact that it had started streaming on NPR in advance of Say Yes to Love‘s release, and putting aside the fact that she used my original write-up as a reference point for hope, that statement would still hold true. “Interference Fits” soundtracked a lot of bigger moments for me in what was a very turbulent 2014 and the original connection I forged with the song only deepened as the year progressed. Fitting, since it’s a song about making and severing connections; Graves’ most personal outpouring to date. The lyrics, as always, are beyond stunning but the song wouldn’t be anywhere close to as unshakable as it is if it weren’t for Perfect Pussy’s most adventurous musical turn-in to date. Eschewing their normally blown-out mode in favor of something more subtle and restrained, “Interference Fits” proved that Perfect Pussy weren’t, as some naysayers originally suggested, a one trick pony. Easily the band’s most delicate and ornate offering to date, it retained their whirlwind intensity and cutthroat identity. Masterfully wielding a tension and explosion dynamic, “Interference Fits” lures listeners in with its first half before a measure of silence provides a foreboding warning to one of the most cathartic second acts in a song this decade; there’s as much narrative in the music as there is in the lyric set. With raw power lingering in the wings and at the heart of its diarist leader, Perfect Pussy created something that stung deep enough to leave a lasting, curiously endearing scar.