Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Big Thief

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.

17 of ’17: The Best Songs of the Year

2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.

Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.

These are the 17 best songs of 2017.

Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge

One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.

Mo Troper – Your Brand

One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Response is particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.

Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.

Cende – What I Want

Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.

Charly Bliss – Westermarck

Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).

Common Holly – Nothing

Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.

Weaves – Puddle

Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.

Fred Thomas – Misremembered

Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changer is a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.

Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs

A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.

Cayetana – Bus Ticket

2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.

Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout

One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.

Strange Relations – Say You

One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.

Covey – Call Home

There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.

IDLES – Mother

Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.

Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.

Palehound – If You Met Her

A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.

It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.

Young Jesus – Feeling

A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.

All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.

The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands

Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.

When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Mount Eerie – Real Death

When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.

Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.

While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.

Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.

By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.

 

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The Best of the Rest

18-21

22-26

27-32

Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default

33-100

Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap

The Seven Best Full Streams of the Past Three Weeks

Songs and music videos have had their turn in the spotlight so it’s time to shift the focus towards full streams. A stray EP or two and a handful of full-lengths have emerged over the past three week stretch that have managed to make a significant impression. A few fresh faces combined with a host of site staples to create the list, which features a few emergent acts alongside some established names. Exciting debuts brush up against spirited reaffirmations of talent and, in the end, we all win. Take a beat and make a mental note to make sure none of these records go unheard in the coming weeks. Dive in and enjoy. 

Poppies – Good

One of the most promising emerging bands in music, Poppies keep finding new ways to improve upon a growing, riveting discography. Both Double Single and “Told” were exceptional and the band’s music videos have been compelling. Good is the young project’s first statement release and it should go a long way in establishing them as the tantalizing act they’ve been from the outset. All five of Good‘s songs could reasonably called a highlight and continue the band’s unlikely run at unassuming perfection. Basement pop shot through with just a touch of twee, Good‘s perfectly suited for summer and seems destined to become part of the season’s 2017 soundtrack.

Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go

Palehound have proved their salt on more than a few occasions now, amassing one outstanding record after another and cultivating one of the most inventive, outstanding discographies of any emergent act. A Place I’ll Always Go does the band’s new label, Polyvinyl, more than proud; it’s, by far, the best of the band’s records, which is no mean feat considering the company that it keeps. Nearly every song here registers as a career highlight and in “If You Met Her” the band invokes the defeated, melancholic spirit of Elliott Smith (never a comparison to be made lightly). Start to end, it’s an absolute triumph that easily ranks as one of 2017’s finest musical moments.

Corridor – Supermacado

More than four years into an increasingly promising career, Corridor have been restlessly perfecting their brand of skittering post-punk and sharpening it into a deadly weapon. Supermacado, the band’s latest record, serves as proof. Virtually every track on the record offers something different and the music is more than powerful enough to transcend any language barriers. It’s a masterful record from a band that seemingly refuses to do anything but improve. A fine problem to have, especially when it yields results as engaging and captivating as Supermacado. One of 2017’s most pleasant surprises, Supermacado is a strong enough record to warrant committing the name Corridor to memory.

Big Thief – Capacity

Masterpiece was one of last year’s finest records and definitively put Big Thief on the map. A little over a year later, the band’s already released an astonishing follow-up in Capacity, a towering work that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their reputation-making debut. Not only did the band prove their consistency with Capacity, they delivered one of the most breathtakingly beautiful tracks of this current decade in “Mary“, a spellbinding meditation on longing and understanding the importance of the past. Hard-earned, weary, triumphant, resigned, burdened, and optimistic in turns, the band keeps their rustic sweep intact and delivers another masterful record.

Cool American – Infinite Hiatus

Earlier this year, Cool American released an incredible compilation of tracks entitled better luck next year vol 2: good job nice try, which remains one of the year’s best releases. Nathan Tucker, the brains behind Cool American, may have already topped it with Infinite Hiatus, the project’s most recent full-length. An inventive, energetic record full of sharp turns and exhilarating dynamic structures cements Tucker’s place as one of today’s most fascinating songwriters. Infinite Hiatus combines bedroom pop with basement punk in a manner more seamless than just about any record attempting a similar combination. Buoyed by Tucker’s distinct personality, Infinite Hiatus offers yet another reaffirmation that Cool American is one of the most consistent projects on the market.

Lexie – Record Time!

The involvement of Frankie Cosmos‘ mastermind Greta Kline in Lexie is bound to direct quite a bit of attention towards the band, which also includes two members of Warehouse. It’s also something of a comfort that Lexie sounds exactly like you’d expect: a more technically proficient and reverb-laden take on what Kline’s been accomplishing with Frankie Cosmos since day one. It’s not an empty recreation, though, the band manages to subvert expectations throughout Record Time! by offering a strain of wiry post-punk that comes as a pleasant surprise, allowing the record to feel varied enough to not only feel fresh but complete. Lightly subversive and characteristically gentle, Record Time! is sweet enough to warrant more than a few extra helpings.

Lost Balloons – Hey Summer

Jeff Burke and Yusuke Okada have made some serious names for themselves, playing in bands like The Marked Men, Suspicious Beasts, Radioactivity, and Blotto. Okada crafted his unimpeachable songwriting reputation in Japan while Burke cranked out a number of genre classics stateside. Both musicians excelled in crafting hyper-excitable basement pop laced with basement punk grit. The two recently joined forces to create Lost Balloons, a project that softens up their vicious attacks while retaining a significant amount of bite. Folk-inflected basement pop informed by decades worth of classic American music, Hey Summer is a record that’s as inviting as it is winsome. Both musicians should be proud to have it as part of their respective discographies.

The Seven Best Songs of the Past Three Weeks

As promised in the earlier posts, below is the first run of the very best songs to find their way onto this site’s radar in the past three weeks. Site staples and new faces combine to make up a varied list of explosive, barn-burning tracks and breathtaking ballads. Everything here holds enough potential for serious longevity that they were granted individual spotlights.  Don’t hesitate: click play and start exploring.  

Alvvays – In Undertow

Ever since their self-titled debut, Alvvays have been consistently unveiling new material, either at their shows, in snippets, or as fully-formed songs. “In Undertow” is the latter of those examples and one of the most promising. Enticing and quietly exhilarating like the tracks that comprised Alvvays, “In Undertow” definitively proves that the band hasn’t lost any of their deft touch and that their grasp and control over dynamics has only deepened with time. Brimming with confidence and tender feeling, “In Undertow” is a song worth leaving on repeat.

The Stevens – Pulling All the Facts Together

A consistently excellent act that somehow managed to prove elusive until a short while back, The Stevens operate in the Flying Nun mold but offer a subtle Captured Tracks kind of twist. Clean, jangling post-punk heavily informed by classic powerpop forebears, they make exactly the type of music that tends to get featured on this site. “Pulling All the Facts Together” is the group at their most refined, a rambling cacophony of effective hooks wrapped up in a clever arrangement. Winsome and light, “Pulling All the Facts Together” stands as a summertime staple.

Waxahatchee – Never Been Wrong

A personal split, a lineup adjustment, and a new lease on what life can offer have led Waxahatchee straight to another career highlight in “Never Been Wrong”. One of guitarist/vocalist Katie Crutchfield‘s most forcefully bruising songs since P.S. Eliot bleeds new life into the Waxahtchee project. Melancholic, aggressive, and defiantly triumphant all at once, “Never Been Wrong” is what the project’s been angling towards since the aftermath of American Weekend and now that it’s found a definitive destination, it’s impossible to avoid the desire to make a litany of return visits.

Oro Swimming Hour – Overthrown

Oro Swimming Hour has been turning a handful of heads lately with their restrained take on folk-inflected powerpop. Recalling acts like Old 97’s and Grandaddy at their most compelling, the project’s been offering up songs like the warm, inviting “Overthrown” with the same casual ease that helps define the songs. Exceptionally lovely and endlessly replayable, “Overthrown” is the type of unassuming track people build entire mix tapes around to impress the person they want to keep close. In short: it’s a gem.

Radioactivity – Infected

Very few records that have been released over the past handful of years have matched the sheer tenacious energy of Radioactivity‘s self-titled record, easily the equal of Jeff Burke’s best work in the band that made his name recognizable (The Marked Men). The various band members have kept busy since then, navigating a multitude of projects and injecting them with the same kind of fervor they bring to each project. Silent Kill, the band’s follow-up to Radioactivity indicated that they were ready to keep surging forward and “Infected”, the band’s latest hyper-energetic basement pop single, proves that they’re far from done. We should all count ourselves lucky.

Great Grandpa – Expert Eraser

The third jaw-dropping Great Grandpa song in a recent string of attention-ensnaring turn-ins, “Expert Eraser” sees the band going relentlessly heavy. Bold, bruising, and unapologetic in its deranged ferocity, “Expert Eraser” is somewhat of a departure from “Teen Challenge” and “Fade” but enhances the band’s already surprisingly distinctive identity, adding a considerable depth of range to an already formidable formula. At this point, nearly every song on the act’s forthcoming record would need to be a tedious bore to take it out of the Album of the Year conversation. History — not to mention the band’s early discography — indicates that’s not a viable option.

Big Thief – Mary

No one could have predicted how fast Big Thief wound up turning in a masterful follow-up to last year’s aptly titled Masterpiece. Even more unexpected: the band wound up releasing the most spellbinding, elegiac track of their already-impressive career in “Mary”. Hushed, halfway haunted, and painfully intimate, “Mary” is five and a half minutes of pure, unbridled longing. Recorded in the house of guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Adrianne Lenker’s grandparents Andover, MN home with Twain‘s Mat Davidson. Informed by sorrow as much as it is joy and contentment, “Mary” straddles the duality of the human experience with a quiet, breathless rapture. “Mary” isn’t just one of the best songs of 2017, it’s one of the best of the decade. Mute everything and get lost to its gentle pull.

Lost Balloons – Numb (Stream)

Over the first four days of this week Grim Streaker, american poetry club, Hazel English, Ben Kastner, Wyatt Blair, Chastity Belt, See Through Dresses, Leather Girls, Big Thief, Clairo, The Baby Shakes, Terror Watts, and unhappybirthday have all unleashed outstanding songs. They weren’t the only ones, either. Lost Balloons joined in on the fun with the typically excellent “Numb”.

A project comprised of The Marked Men/Radioactivity‘s Jeff Burke and Blotto/Suspicious Beasts‘ Yusuke Okada, Lost Balloons excels in acoustic-driven basement pop, retaining all of the urgency, bite, and melodic sensibilities of the duo’s earlier projects and shaping into something less overtly aggressive. “Numb” is a perfect example of this formula, its energy seeping through the softer trappings and proving to be as infectious as anything in either songwriter’s discography. Hook after hook proves to be sharp and as soon as its over, there’s already an immediate instinct to go back to the beginning. Trust that instinct, hit repeat, and let the cycle wear itself out years down the line.

Listen to “Numb” below and pre-order Hey Summer here.

Big Thief – Mythological Beauty (7″ Review)

Over the past week Littler, Sheer, Cotillon, father truck, Mothpuppy, Anna Altman, Morning Teleportation, The Poison Arrows, Anna CooganAnthéne,  and Aaron Dilloway have all impressed with the various full streams that have been unveiled. Big Thief joined their ranks, revealing the B-side of the Mythological Beauty 7″, effectively teasing Capacity, one of 2017’s most-anticipated albums. Unsurprisingly, both the title track and “Breathe In My Lungs” continue the band’s emergent winning streak in spectacular fashion.

The title track of the 7″ is a characteristically airy affair, showcasing the band’s wide-eyed, widescreen sound, injecting a pop-leaning tenacity into their Americana, invoking nostalgic leanings and forward-thinking tendencies in equal measure. It’s a song that rises and falls like the deep breaths after a long run. Still, this band seems more than ready to run any marathon that comes their way. Even with a song as sterling — and reaffirming — as “Mythological Beauty”, its “Breathe In My Lungs” that makes this 7″ worth the purchase.

One of the band’s most breathtaking compositions, “Breathe In My Lungs” is both Big Thief at their quietest and a song that wisely capitalizes on the natural magnetism of guitarist/vocalist and principle songwriter Adrianne Lenker, who’s lived through an intense amount of life-altering experiences. There’s always been a certain level of pain, acceptance, and guarded optimism present in Lenker’s vocals but they’ve never been clearer than they are on “Breathe In My Lungs”, one of the sweetest and most heartbreaking songs likely to be released this year. As so many of their songs have proven to be already, it’s captivating, pained, and perfect.

Listen to both sides of Mythological Beauty below and pick up the 7″ from Saddle Creek here.


Another Two Weeks Worth of Music Videos

Over the course of the past two weeks, an impressive slew of music videos have fought their way out into the world. While a very select few will be highlighted in the very near-future, it’d be inexcusable to dismiss the titles below without any recognition whatsoever. Provided that time wasn’t such a restrictive issue, each and every one of these would be receiving a feature write-up dedicated to analyzing what makes them great. Truly, each one of these clips is more than worth several viewings, so stop reading and start clicking. Who knows? This pool might just contain a few new favorites. Enjoy.

Charly BlissGirlpool, Hovvdy, Bad Moves, The Seams, PWR BTTM, Palehound, Aye Nako, Dude York, Wilding, Big Eyes, Alien Boy, Juliana Hatfield, B Boys, Big Thief, Monster Movie, Baked, Clipping., The New Year, Dead Leaf Echo, Craig Finn, Sparks, Wolf People, Sloan Peterson, The Calm Fiasco, Hoops, Pontiak, Toro Y Moi, Dream Wife, Slowdive, The Drums, Arc Flash, LT Wade, Shit Girlfriend, Nana Grizol, Plastic Flowers, R. Ring, Future Islands, Reptaliens, INVSN, Sharkmuffin, Marcus Norberg and the Disappointments, Lexie RothStolen Jars (x2)

Bridges and Powerlines, Beach Fossils, Blonde Summer, Communions, The Wild Reeds, Little Star, Circle, Emotional, Boyhood, Akinyemi, Winstons, Souvenir Driver (x2), Hand Habits, Boss Hog, Grace Sings Sludge, Leather Girls, Trementina, Mutts, Kamikaze Girls, Hermano Stereo, Sleep Party People, Explosions In The Sky, The Buttertones, Tall Tall Trees, No Kill, Skaters, Mise en Scene, Danny Brown, Rubblebucket, Bleached, C Duncan, Slow Turismo, Conor Oberst, ShitKid, Aldous Harding, Gorillaz, Small Black, A Tribe Called Quest, and Michael Kiwanuka.

Watch This: The Best of 2017’s First Quarter, Pt. III

The first two parts of this four-part series shedding light on some of the finest live videos to see the light of the day over 2017’s first three months largely focused on single song takes, with a few two-song performances for good measure. The latter two of this series turns the attention to full sessions. Part three, specifically, focuses on long takes of these sessions encompassed in a single video, an area that places like KEXP — who are featured here multiple times — have wisely made their calling card. All of the performances and bands featured in this third installment of this review are worthy of celebration. So, as always, get excited, try to keep calm, lean in, hit play, and Watch This.

PART III

1. Car Seat Headrest (KEXP)
2. PWR BTTM (NPR)
3. Sad13 (WKNC)
4. Cloud Nothings (KEXP)
5. Mannequin Pussy (Audiotree)
6. Hazel English (Rough Trade)
7. Alvvays (CBC Music)
8. Big Thief (NPR)
9. The Spirit of the Beehive (WKNC)
10. Jeff Rosenstock (Little Elephant)
11. Crying (Audiotree)
12. Priests (PressureDrop.tv)
13. Lee Fields & The Expressions (KEXP)
14. Horse Jumper of Love (Audiotree)
15. Angel Olsen (KEXP)
16. The Regrettes (PressureDrop.tv)
17. Thee Oh Sees (KEXP)
18. Mall Walk (PressureDrop.tv)
19. Los Campesinos! (KEXP)
20. Fai Baba (KEXP)
21. Terry Malts (PressureDrop.tv)
22. Haley Bonar (KEXP)
23. Let’s Eat Grandma (KEXP)
24. Valgeir Sigurðsson & Jodie Landau (KEXP)
25. Explosions In The Sky (Moshcam)

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

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

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

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

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

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

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

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

Mitski – Puberty 2

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

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

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

Big Thief – Masterpiece

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

Swim Team – Swim Team

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

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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

Greys – Outer Heaven

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

Hovvdy – Taster

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

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

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

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

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

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

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

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

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

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

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

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

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

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

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

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

Other honorable mentions:

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