Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: best

The 35 Best Songs of 2018’s First Two Months

Two months and one week into 2018, the year’s already seen a slew of legitimately great songs. Below are 35 that managed to stand just a cut above the bevvy of incoming tracks that populated the most recent post on this site. While a select few picks below have two entries in this list, it’s still a varied list that features a diverse cast of overflowing talent. It should also be noted that a few songs were cut from consideration as the records they belong to will be featured in an upcoming post. At any rate, no matter how the tallies for representation work, this list is a testament to the strength of 2018’s early material. Make sure these aren’t forgotten.

1. Say Sue Me – Old Town

Last year, Say Sue Me put out an intoxicating and winsome record and are already gearing up for the release of a new record. “Old Town”, the strongest single to emerge from the early round of releases for the project’s forthcoming Where We Were Together, acts as a memorable showcase of what made people fall so hard for this band in the first place. Breezy melodies, smart arrangements, and a paradoxical mixture of urgency and relaxation combine once again for one of early 2018’s most charming tracks.

2. Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out

“Put A Record Out” bristles and grunts out of the gate and gains a head of steam as things move along, embracing the noise/punk flourishes that have come to define the current era’s iteration of post-punk. It’s Canshaker Pi making a willfully gnarled statement and delivering it with enough force to make sure it leaves a sizable imprint. When it’s done, it’s enough to leave a listener breathless. Keep up or get trampled.

3. Jay Som – Hot Bread

The rightful owner of this site’s Best Song of 2016 distinction, Jay Som has been not-so-quietly making waves over the last year. Racking up an endless amount of accolades and new listeners, the tireless Melina Duterte has remained on a tear, releasing new music at a startling rate. “Hot Bread”, released as part of a Valentine’s Day playlist for Amazon, ably demonstrates that Jay Som’s scope will continue to grow with the project’s ambitions, leaving us to count ourselves lucky to be witnesses.

4. (SANDY) Alex G – fay

An enigmatic release from an increasingly subversive artist, “fay” stands as one of the crown jewels of (SANDY) Alex G‘s recent efforts. Posted to the act’s official YouTube account with no type of buildup or press release, the song’s allowed to breathe freely (and gently) on its own terms. Paired with a truly bizarre “about” statement, “fay” acts as a mesmerizing puzzle box full of the kind of sticks-for-weeks hooks that (SANDY) Alex G built a name on, it’s a welcome reminder of a formidable talent.

5. Big Ups – PPP

Big Ups have staked their claim as one of the most fascinating hardcore-leaning acts in recent memory and snarled at anyone who even tried to touch the flag they planted. To remind everyone of how they earned their place, the band ushered out “PPP” as an advance warning to what’ll surely lie in wait on the band’s forthcoming Two Parts Together. Intricate harmonic work, versatile performances, and unhinged bristling combine for another intense triumph.

6. illuminati hotties – (You’re Better) Than Ever

“(You’re Better) Than Ever” will act as an introductory piece to illuminati hotties for a great many and it’s hard to imagine too many people walking away from the band’s warm invitation. A sunny melody shot through with basement pop trappings, “(You’re Better) Than Ever” succeeds on every level, from pristine production to bursts of joyous, unbridled energy. It’s a strong starting step for a band that seems determined to take off sprinting.

7-8. Forth Wanderers – Nevermine + Not For Me

A band on a continuous uptick, Forth Wanderers prove once again why their name carries weight with this two song combo that reasserts their position as one of today’s more tantalizing acts. “Nevermine” and “Not For Me” are both — in what’s become a heartening trend, as it happens with each of their new releases — career high points for the band, who have matured into a confident, focused machine, finding a way to retain an abundance of heart in the process.

9. Hit Bargain – Capitulate

One of a handful of songs on this list that act as a razor-sharp burst of noise-punk, “Capitulate” finds Hit Bargain intentionally wielding a level of ugliness with unbridled aggression. It’s a furious run through genre touch points that takes on life as it barrels headlong into some unknown destination. The band’s expertise is evident and their execution is flawless, rendering “Capitulate” a potent warning of Hit Bargain’s capabilities.

10. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down To The Tree, Read A Book, And When I Was Done I Went Back Inside

A mainstay of this site’s coverage, Kal Marks has continuously expanded their ambition with each successive release and “Today I Walked Down To The Tree…” keeps that trend in place. A winding, four minute slow-burner, the song finds Kal Marks at their most unabashedly pensive. While Kal Marks still finds moments of catharsis in those minutes, the experience as a whole towers above its individual moments; it’s a breathtaking feat from a band always worth hearing.

11. Stef Chura – Degrees

“Degrees” has been covered more exhaustively than any other individual Stef Chura release thanks to the involvement of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo.  Hopefully Toledo’s high-profile involvement will be more than enough to turn people onto Chura’s excellent early work. At any rate, “Degrees” — a towering piece of incredibly strong Americana-tinged indie rock — does stand as Chura’s boldest effort to date and effectively heightens the anticipation for what the songwriter’s future holds in store.

12. Juan De Fuca – A Place To Wait

A few seconds is all it takes for Juan De Fuca’s “A Place To Wait” to announce itself with clarity. A post-punk number shot through with nervous jitters, the track seems simplistic at first blush before rewarding a closer look with a tapestry of layers. Delivered with confidence, teeming with feeling, and unafraid to reach for stratospheric heights, “A Place To Wait” became one of 2018’s more pleasant surprises and it’s hard to imagine that status changing.

13. Haley Hendrickx – Untitled God Song

Oom Sha La La” was a song that managed to hook a whole lot of people into Haley Hendrickx‘s world but it also set a dangerously high precedent. “Untitled God Song” went a long way in assuaging any lingering doubts. A slow, tender track, “Untitled God Song” finds Hendrickx establishing a voice, marrying empathy with wariness to great effect. Warm tones and an arresting vocal delivery ensure the song a place as a piece of breathtaking artistry.

14. Superchunk – Erasure

Storied veterans making comebacks that reassert the band’s music as relevant among a new sect of contemporaries isn’t all that common, which is why when it happens it tends to be doubly impressive. That’s exactly the scenario Superchunk has found themselves in since the release of Majesty Shredding and it’s a space they continue to occupy with What A Time To Be Alive, which boasted “Erasure” as a lead-off single. All told: Still energetic, still distinctive, still perfectly Superchunk.

15-16. Frankie Cosmos – Jesse + Being Alive

Over an endless amount of self-releases and some incredibly smart campaigning, Frankie Cosmos have found themselves in an unlikely position of being revered as a bastion of consistency and as a tantalizing emergent act. Greta Kline’s project has navigated the transition from solo project to full band with no shortage of grace and the band, now more than ever, feels complete. Both “Jesse” and “Being Alive” prove the band’s as adept at invention as reinvention, keeping Frankie Cosmos’ unassuming charm intact all the while.

17. Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back

Few records over the first two months of this year have proved to be as inventive as Kid Dakota‘s Denervation, a collection of kaleidoscopic powerpop that’s highlighted by the inspired 7-minute “Keep Coming Back”. Intricate arrangements, a cavalcade of effective hooks, and a casual assurance congeal into something ridiculously captivating. Whether it’s the snaky snyth riff or the stabs of the guitar-led bridge or the extended outro, “Keep Coming Back” makes sure it offers enough to make a strong case to heed the title’s command.

18. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Riddles

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat already boasts a 4+ year history of crafting memorably minimalist post-punk, which made the band’s announcement of a Dan Deacon-produced record as enticing as it was baffling. On Riddles the duo hits new heights by leaping outside of their established narrative to cling onto something unexpected, a move and effect underscored nicely by the record’s piano-driven title track that sees the band falling a lot closer to early Cold Cave than Death From Above 1979.

19. Pale Kids – St. Theresa

Father/Daughter Records has become a proven entity in securing bands that effectively fuse outsize energy with unapologetic sincerity and Pale Kids are no exception. “St. Theresa” stands as proof of the formula, with the quartet leaning into a 2 minute outburst of hyper-melodic basement pop. Pointed, unrestrained, and fueled by as much snark as conviction, “St. Theresa” is yet another welcome shot of adrenaline from the promising quartet.

20. Many Rooms – which is to say, everything

The first moment of genuine tranquility on this list belongs to Many Room‘s gorgeous “which is to say, everything”. Pitched at a hush, the song soothes the nerves as it glides along for its four minutes, never rising past a measured whisper. Informed by both a sense of a loss and a sense of curiosity, “which is to say, everything” positions Many Rooms as an act whose name is worth committing to memory.

21-22. Boys – End of Time + Rabbits

Accentuating dream pop influences in powerpop has served bands like Alvvays incredibly well over the past few years. Boys is another name to add to that list, with the act releasing two beautiful pieces centered around that genre hybrid in “End of Time” and “Rabbits”. “End of Time” showcasing the band’s sense of reservation and “Rabbits” playing to their own curious brand of insistence. Composed and beautifully crafted, they’re worthy additions to any carefree summer night playlist.

23. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

Far and away the most country-leaning track among these 35 selections, Courtney Marie Andrews proves what the genre can still offer when it extends beyond a set of self-imposed limitations. Bringing strains of gospel influence to the forefront, Andrews manages to craft a heartfelt paean to the virtues of kindness. As the organ swells and the choir provides support, the collaborative balance finds itself intrinsically connected to the song’s central message. When it ends, the song does everything in its power to make sure its message is heard.

24. Walter Martin – Me & McAlevey

One of the more unexpected delights in recent music has been the quiet emergence of Walter Martin — best known for his organ playing in The Walkmen — as a singular songwriting force. Last year’s My Kinda Music was an extraordinary (and woefully overlooked) presentation of Martin’s abilities and boasted a handful of gems like “Hey Matt“, a song that gets a lovely sequel in “Me & McAlevey”. It’s another piece of affecting folk shot through with a distinctly modern wit.

25. Liza Anne – Small Talks

In its first minute Liza Anne‘s “Small Talks” manages to be reminiscent of a handful of recent artists and songs, yet it never comes across like an imitation and hits the considerable heights of its predecessors. Exuberant, determined, and delivered with as much urgency as conviction, “Small Talks” manages to sink its hooks in deep. An utterly winsome technicolor burst of warmth and certainty, it’s incredibly endearing- and worth leaving on repeat.

26-27. Trace Mountains – Cary’s Dreams + Turn Twice

While most people are likely to know Dave Benson from LVL UP, the songwriter’s solo project, Trace Mountains, has been releasing equally rewarding material for years (with a handful of instances of those songs becoming breeding grounds for LVL UP reworkings). On “Cary’s Dream” and “Turn Twice”, Benson manages to look to the forward and reach to the past. “Cary’s Dreams” is a testament to Benson’s vision, offering up a reminder of his considerable gifts while “Turn Twice” — first released in demo form several years ago — proves just how effective the multi-instrumentalist is with a bold brand of reinvention.

28. Paul De Jong – You Fucken Sucker

Opening with electro glitches and a hypnotic strumming pattern, Paul De Jong‘s “You Fucken Sucker” quickly changes shape as the lyrics kick in as a soothing voice starts reciting the verses to Mary Had A Little Lamb before things change even more drastically. It’s in the reveal of the chorus where the song separates itself and arrives as something intoxicating in its willingness to beguile. A playful piece shot through with dark humor, “You Fucken Sucker” more than proves that Paul De Jong is still fully capable of thriving outside of The Books.

29. Remember Sports – Up From Below

The return of Remember Sports — formerly just SPORTS — at the onset of 2018 got the year off to a heartening start. “Up From Below” quickly followed that announcement to make it abundantly clear that the band had held onto their sense of tenacity as well as their ability to craft a perfect piece of basement pop. Med-fi, hyper, and ridiculously catchy, “Up From Below” has already set an extremely precedent for what the future might have in store.

30. Fenne Lily. – On Hold

The opening bars of Fenne Lily.’s mesmerizing “On Hold” should be all it takes to secure just about anyone’s interest. Delivered with arresting tenderness, those first moments are strengthened as the song takes shape, exercising a measure of restraint that doubles as unexpected, incredibly cultivated tension. There are no big moments of catharsis but “On Hold” has different goals in mind; every step of the journey is as important as moments of celebration. Spellbinding from start to close, “On Hold” is a well-earned triumph.

31. Vundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk

Over the past few months, Vundabar have found the size of their audience rapidly growing and it’s in large part due to the artistic leap the band’s taken with songs like “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk”. Teeming with memorable riffs, unexpected dynamics, and a butcher’s selection of hooks, “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” almost comes across like a victory lap. Vundabar have found a way to heighten every single one of their innumerable strengths and the results are already paying off. “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” is a keepsake for everyone fortunate enough to be following along.

32-33. Bonny Doon – A Lotta Things + I Am Here (I Am Alive)

When Salinas released Bonny Doon‘s sweeping self-titled record last year, it was greeted as the band’s coming out party. A lot of people took notice of the band’s charismatic, including the reliably excellent Woodsist label who quickly found a way to get the band on their roster. With “A Lotta Things” and “I Am Here (I Am Alive)” now both out in the world, it’s plainly evident that Woodsist made another in a history of great decisions, as Bonny Doon have found a way to capitalize on their sprawling punk-informed Americana. Both tracks are new career highs for the band and offer a strong signal that for many, their forthcoming Longwave could just wind up in the discussion for Album of the Year.

34. Half Waif – Torches

All it took was seeing a recent Half Waif set for the band to significantly elevate their position of interest to this site’s overall coverage. While the band’s older material had been touched upon several times in the past, it’s in their new material where they’ve tapped into something that feels genuinely different. “Torches” is a perfect example of that new space, as it presents the most fully-realized version of the band’s identity to date, opening up their synth-led electro-pop into something a touch more experimental and a degree more forceful. Unapologetic in its stance and fearless in its execution, “Torches” marks an exciting new era for a band worthy of a close watch.

35. Mount Eerie – Distortion

The recent decision to list Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” as 2017’s Song of the Year — let alone, covered at all — was a surprisingly difficult one due to its tragic, uncomfortably intimate narrative. How Phil Elverum’s project has sustained multiple tour runs in support of that record is beyond the comprehension of most observers, who have left those shows visibly shaken. Elverum recently rolled out a sequel to that record, which continues to expand on the sudden death of his wife and his trepidation over how to greet single parenthood in the shadow of the other person responsible for his daughter’s very being.

“Distortion”, an 11-minute tour de force, was one of the first looks at Now Only and remains one of its most awkward, gripping moments. From the devastating opening verse to allegories invoking beat poets, every second of “Distortion” is felt in full as Elverum continues to allow us full access into an unimaginable position. By repeatedly tearing open his wounds, Elverum seems to be searching for a means to heal, cautiously allowing listeners to join the grieving, the fears, the concerns, and the memories of a woman who’s come to define a good portion of his own existence. It’s brutally unforgiving but in its own way, it finds a sliver of beauty in the empathy that it presents. In short: it’s unforgettable.

17 of ’17: The Best Albums of the Year

Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.

After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.

From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.

Washer – All Aboard

Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough

Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.

Petite League – Rips One Into the Night

Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.

Cayetana – New Kind of Normal

For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.

Young Jesus – Young Jesus

Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesus seems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.

Deep State – Thought Garden

One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.

Weaves – Wide Open

Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.

Landlines – Landlines

A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlines never stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.

Strange Relations – Editorial You

Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait

Fred Thomas – Changer

The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changer is legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.

Big Thief – Capacity

One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiece was touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacity in 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.

Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us

Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joey went a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.

Cende – #1 Hit Single

A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.

Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go 

One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.

Mo Troper – Exposure & Response

One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.

Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.

Album of the Year:

Charly Bliss – Guppy

A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.

The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.

Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.

“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.

A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.

When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.

Watch This: Vol. 149

The past week was teeming with outstanding live videos. Japanese Breakfast, Margaret Glaspy, Tacocat, Dolfish, The Conquerors, Liz Cooper & The Stampede, Nassau, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam (x2), Computer Magic, Alex Izenberg, The Lemon Twigs, Runaway Brother, Julia Jacklin, Jay Smart, Full Body, Conor Oberst, Ira Wolf, The Blank Tapes, Donovan Wolfington, The Malady of Sevendials, Sammus, Tom Brosseau, Casper Skulls, Jordie Lane & the Sleepers, King Charles, Diet Cig, Gallery 47, Pat Otto, Lilian, Kyle Craft, and Thirdstory all offered up incredible entries and, in the process, pointed to the overwhelming strength of the five clips featured below. New faces and old favorites abound in full sessions, late night triumphs, and single song performances. So, as always, sit up, lean in, focus, adjust the settings, block out any distractions, and Watch This.

1. Real Life Buildings (WKNC)

A New York institution for some years now, Real Life Buildings’ members have been extremely active in the DIY punk scene and accumulated an impressive pedigree. It’s easy to forget that fact when they play, though, as their music sounds so complete. Here, the project takes to the WKNC studios and delivers an inspired set of slightly askew basement pop. It’s a series of thrilling moments from a band that more than deserves their continuously growing reputation as one of the state’s finest acts.

2. Yohuna – Apart (Radio K)

In Patientness, the Johanne Swanson-led Yohuna delivered one of the year’s most quietly compelling releases. Operating as a trio for the live shows, Yohuna recently stopped by the Radio K studios and offered up a gripping take on “Apart”, one of the many highlights from Patientness. Calm, collected, and enticing, it’s a perfect example of the project’s innate level of talent.

3, Porches – Car (KEXP)

When Watch This was in its earliest stages, Porches. would make infrequent appearances that mostly came courtesy of fan-shot footage of solo performances. In that time, the project’s reach has considerably widened, the period at the end of the name’s been all but abandoned, and it’s successfully transitioned into a full band that boasts an incredible cast of musicians. Porches hit a career highlight with “Car” and they recently gifted KEXP with this arresting run through the song. Good luck escaping the vice grip of that miraculous hook.

4. Julia Jacklin – Pool Party (The Current)

The ascendant Julia Jacklin’s been making quite a splash lately, drawing comparisons to the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Leonard Cohen. Just a few seconds into this gorgeous run through “Pool Party” and it’s abundantly clear that Jacklin’s tapped into that intangible element that can propel talented people to new levels of fame. A beautiful performance of a gorgeous song, it’s hard not to just leave the clip on repeat.

5. Mitski – Your Best American Girl (Colbert)

Anytime anyone from the DIY circuit starts succeeding on a grander level, it’s a heartening development, especially in the cases of artists that stay true to their convictions. Watching Mitski sit in with Stephen Colbert’s house band and lead them through selections from a discography that’s been well-covered here in the past served as a moment of triumph. The cherry on top? A full, heartfelt rendition of “Your Best American Girl” — one of 2016’s best songs — with the house band urging the song forward. All told, it was a well-earned, inspiring moment from an artist whose work deserves to be celebrated.

Watch This: Vol. 135

In just a little over two weeks an insane amount of quality live videos have emerged, featuring the following artists: Ezra Furman, Woods, Day Wave, Joy Again, You Won’t, Kevin Morby, Acapulco Lips, Sonya Kitchell, Houndmouth, Queen of Jeans (x2), Christian Lee Hutson, Terry, John Congleton and the Nighty Nite, Mothers, Robb Young and the Elms, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Kalispell (x2), Fear of MenOsekre & The Lucky Bastards, FitsEmily Blue, Henrietta, Adia Victoria, Ubetcha, The Staves (x2), Arc Flash, Michael Nau, Bewilder, The Jayhawks, Slingshot Dakota (x2), Whitney, Vagabon, Quilt, LAYNE, Rye Pines, Minor Victories, Allah-Las, Esme Patterson (x2, 3), Midijoyful, Secret Space, The Mono Jacks, A Dead Forest Index, Explosions in the Sky, Death Valley Girls, Half Waif, The Albert Square, Your Friend, Marlon Williams, Rogue Valley, Metronomy, Gregory Porter, Summer Twins (x2), Surgeons In Heat, Amy Klein, The Belvederes, Frameworks, Oddisee, CHILDREN, Doubles, Gwenno (x2), and Titus Andronicus.

Looking through all of those, it’s impossible to say that this is a bad time for live music (and for the documentation of live music). The overwhelming strength of that above list should indicate that this installment of Watch This will have some extraordinarily strong features. There’s some astonishing talent on display throughout the three full sessions and two individual clips listed below, which include one of the bands that was essential to the site’s foundation and a few fresh faces that have been turning all sorts of heads with their recent work. So, as always, push all the distractions aside, relax, lean in, and Watch This.

1. Tenement – Feral Cat Tribe + Lost Love Star Lust (Set List)

Anyone that’s frequented this site over the time of its existence has seen an unprecedented amount of praise granted to Tenement, a band that was instrumental in providing the building blocks for this site. Over nearly 10 years, I’ve had the surreal privilege of watching the trio develop to the point they’re at today (Rolling Stone recently named them one of the 10 great modern punk bands and the New York Times dedicated an entire podcast installment to the band last year). Here, the band gets to flash their live chops in a session for Wisconsin Public Radio’s Set List series, offering up an impressively powerful pair of tracks that only hint at the band’s astonishing scope.

2. Car Seat Headrest – Fill In The Blank (The Current)

After 2015’s Teens of Style generated quite a bit of momentum for Car Seat Headrest, the solo-project-turned-full-band capitalized on that surge of recognition emphatically with this year’s Teens of Denial. Landing several high-profile festival appearances as a result, the band’s grown gradually tighter over their past few tours. This performance of “Fill In The Blank” for The Current demonstrates that growth and nicely captures the band’s irrepressible drive.

3. PWR BTTM – West Texas + Serving Goffman (WFUV)

Like Tenement, PWR BTTM have become a towering presence in terms of this site’s coverage tendencies, something that came as a direct result of the band’s fiery live show. Here, the band turn in characteristically bold performances of both “West Texas” and “Serving Goffman” for WFUV, perfectly summarized by the half-shocked, half-elated smile that Benjamin Hopkins throws the camera after some errant headphones threaten to momentarily overtake the song. There’s a genuine joy that exists in that moment which the duo have consistently brought to their shows, making them one of the finest live acts on the circuit.

4. Weaves – Human (Low Four)

Weaves have made a habit out of appearing on the Watch This series this year, thanks in large part to the release of their monumental self-titled debut. The quartet recently stopped by the Old Granada Studios to unleash a sharp burst of their hyper-spastic strain of punk-tinged basement pop by way of this inspired run through “Human”, offering a revealing glimpse at their members formidable chops. As fascinating as it is exhilarating, it’s a perfect example of what can be accomplished by thinking a little outside of the typical boundaries.

5. And The Kids – Kick Rocks + Picture (WFUV)

One of the bands that really started to make a push over the past year has been And The Kids, who have seized every opportunity they’ve been given with a startling amount of poise. WFUV recently had the band into their studio and the trio delivered in full, tearing through “Kick Rocks” and “Picture” in a way that likely left several of the studio members jaws agape. Complex and nuanced, the band flawlessly executes a series of hairpin turns, layered harmonies, and language shifts while throwing in a few sly smiles for good measure. It’s an unbelievably impressive performance and more than deserves to close out this edition of Watch This.

15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015

Slight I

Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.

For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.

15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia

Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.

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14. ThinLips – Your Divorce

An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.

13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig

Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.

12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth

A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.

11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs

After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.

10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?

While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.

9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2

One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry to its status as one of the best of 2015.

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8. Slight – Hate the Summer

Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.

7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out

A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.

6. Sheer Mag – II

Another year, another Sheer Mag list placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.

5. Diet Cig – Over Easy

No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.

4. LVL UP – Three Songs

In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songs continues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.

3. Ernie – Dog Park

Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.




2. Tenement – Tenement

No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.

1. Cende – Cende

Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5

Johanna Warren I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

Watch This: Vol. 107

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

1. Ought (KEXP)

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

2. Tijuana Panthers (Jam in the Van) 

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

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

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

4. Salad Boys (KEXP)

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

5. Car Seat Headrest (3voor12)

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

Watch This: Vol. 106

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

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

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

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

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

3. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (Radio K)

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

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

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

5. Johanna Warren – Pin Oaks (Splendor Sessions)

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

Watch This: Vol. 105

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

1. Young Jesus – Every Little Landscape (The Trundle Sessions)

After a brief restructuring period, Young Jesus came out swinging in 2015 with one of the year’s finest records and an even more ferocious live show than they’d had with their previous iteration. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve been teasing new material in their live sessions. “Every Little Landscape” is another look at the band’s promising future that showcases guitarist/vocalist’s enviable knack for songwriting. It’s a quiet, impressive moment that suggests the band’s far from done.

2. Woozy – Gilding the Lily (Little Elephant)

Every once in a while, Little Elephant brings a band into their studio that challenges their preferred style of music while still adapting some characteristics of those genres. Utilizing elements of ambient, post-rock, ’90s emo, and a wealth of other genres, Woozy hit upon a career highlight with “Gilding the Lily”, a song that’s performed here with no shortage of focus or determination. A masterclass in dynamics and composition, it’s a deeply impressive look at a band well worth our attention.

3. Ultimate Painting (3voor12)

After a strong debut effort in 2014, Ultimate Painting came surging back this year with even more formidable material. Utilizing the same breezy aesthetic, the band turns in a set of open-road anthems for 3voor12. The performances are uniformly strong and bristling with an almost paradoxical relaxed energy. Jangly, folk-informed basement pop at its absolute finest, this is another step forward for a band that seems determined to make a mark.

4. Alex G – Soaker + Rules (WXPN)

Over the past several years, Alex G has built up a surprisingly passionate cult following thanks to a string of bandcamp releases, the right connections, and relentless touring. The project had its breakthrough last year with DSU and reached greater heights with this year’s outstanding Beach Music. WXPN recently invited the band into their studio and they responded with impassioned takes on both “Soaker” and “Rules”, providing the station with one of their best sessions of the year.

5. Julien Baker (OurVinyl)

Some artists just have a natural gift for creating transcendental moments and Julien Baker has carved out a spot in their midst. Sprained Ankle, her aching treatsie on mortality and human limitations, is comprised of nothing but those moments. Whenever a record like that comes into the public eye, it’s never surprising when the live performances buckle under the weight of personal expectation. On rare occasions, the artist responsible for the collection will actually enhance the emotional impact via a commitment to the material that can feel devastating. Baker belongs to the latter category and OurVinyl provides a (gorgeously shot) definitive document of those instances. “Something”, “Sprained Ankle”, and “Rejoice” are all chill-inducing and reaffirm Baker’s position as one of 2015’s most striking songwriters.

Watch This: Vol. 104

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

1. Eskimeaux (Ithaca Underground)

Another full session from Eskimeaux as they continue to play out in support of the brilliant O.K., this particular session also stands as what may very well be Ithaca Underground’s finest capture. A DIY presentation, it catches a much less manufactured look at Eskimeaux’s tantalizing live show with their strongest lineup. Songs like “Folly” remain as breathtaking as ever, while the viewer has the added benefit of an actual spectator vantage point, making the experience a touch more immersive. As everything comes together, this quickly becomes a vital document of an important part of Eskimeaux’s history. It’s not just worth watching, it’s worth all of the inevitable return visits as well.

2. Wet Nurse (BreakThruRadio)

Scrappy basement pop is the lifeblood of this site and that occasionally can bleed over into the realm of pop-punk. Wet Nurse manage to find a compelling middle ground that makes them a fascinating variable whenever they’re lumped in with either category. “Belly Hurts” might be the best example of that middle ground and this BreakThruRadio session captures it– and the band’s general identity– with characteristic verve.

3. Courtney Barnett (Austin City Limits)

In addition to Torres and Girlpool, the only other artist to become a permanent fixture of this series’s coverage throughout 2015 has been Courtney Barnett. An unlikely mega-success, Barnett’s been racking up acclaim, sales, and new fans with abandon. One of the biggest aspects of the songwriter’s draw are live performances and this two song effort for her Austin City Limits session is a formidable example of that particular strength.

4. Mall Walk (KEXP)

Weird, dissonant post-punk with garage trappings has popped up more than a few times on this site and will continue to pop up anytime it’s done as well as Mall Walk does it here. One of KEXP’s spikier sessions in recent memory, it’s a five song onslaught that finds the trio firing on all cylinders. Aggressively bleak, a little unwieldy, and unreasonably propulsive, it catches the trio at a crucial point of momentum building. Expect to be hearing their name a lot more sometime soon.

5. Braids (3voor12)

Sometimes a performance comes along and reminds you why you ever started caring about music. This is one of those performances. Anchored by the band’s unconventional approach to composition, the band commits to this three song performance and winds up with a session that feels essential. Wildly impressive and strangely moving,  this isn’t a session to be missed.