Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Bon Iver

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

Clearance – Owner/Operator (Stream)

clearance

Since Friday, there have been notable streams from IAN SWEET, Fake Palms, American Wrestlers, Space Mountain, John K. Samson, Tanukichan, What Moon Things, Peace Be Still, Axis: Sova, Twist, The Veils, Quarterbacks, J&L Defer, Bon Iver, Cheshires, Black Thumb, CHUCK, Suntrodden, Makeout Point, Shapes In Calgary, Adam Torres, Dowsing, and Hiva Oa that have all appeared. On top of that, there were great music videos that came courtesy of Pleasure Leftists, Jake S-M, Breathe Panel, Emma Russack, Winter, Ka, and Pfarmers. Full streams that came via Bueno, Swimsuit Addition, Echo Courts, Big Bliss, The Channels, Cassels, BJ Barham, Dolfish, and Red Heat closed the haul of new material out in a memorable fashion.

All of those entries impressed on multiple levels but it was the latest offering from site favorites Clearance that earned this post’s featured position. “Owner/Operator” is the band’s second individual release — following the excellent “Are You Aware” — since their outstanding Rapid Rewards LP and sees the quartet continuing to find fascinating ways to balance a carefree atmosphere with urgent conviction. The song will be featured as part of their forthcoming Are You Aware 7″, which seems poised to stand as one 2016’s finest releases for that format.

A large part of those expectations can be accredited to the successes of “Owner/Operator”, a breezy and bristling three-and-a-half minute number that both refines and advances Clearance’s songwriting. From the structure to the dynamic nuances, there’s an uncommon liveliness that electrifies the proceedings, pushing a good song into the realms of greatness. Surprisingly memorable, weirdly powerful, and unashamedly casual, “Owner/Operator” is an unlikely slacker pop anthem for the basement punk crowd.

Listen to “Owner/Operator” below and pre-order Are You Aware from Tall Pat here.

Watch This: Vol. 136

The past week saw a lot of great live videos swimming to the shore from the depths of nowhere. There were outstanding featured performances in those clips from Adir L.C., The Curls, Lydia Loveless, Courtney Barnett, Ultimate Painting, Dogbreth, Los Blenders, Kinda Rad Kinda Sad, Summer Twins, Rich Girls, Slingshot Dakota, The Staves, Caveman, Eric Bachmann, Brendan Canning, Lisa Prank, Vetiver, Paridisia, Porches, Mimes of Wine, SALES, Typesetter, and Julien Baker. For the 136th installment of this series, the attention turns to a handful of folk-influenced artists who are either making their mark or reaping what they’ve sown throughout their careers. So, as always, sit back, adjust the settings, take a breath, and Watch This.

1. Margaret Glaspy (OpenAir)

Margaret Glaspy‘s had a deeply impressive 2016. The young songwriter released a breakthrough record, continuously boasts one of the better live shows on the market, and has handled the transition into the public eye with the poised confidence of a seasoned veteran. Here, Glaspy gives Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir a powerful look at that live show, landing a few knockout punches throughout a rousing four-song performance.

2. Dusk – (Do the) Bored Recluse + Leaf (Set List)

No band has been written about or praised more by this site than Tenement, who have been the consummate example of what this site was built around supporting. Through that band’s decade-long existence, bandleader Amos Pitsch has been involved in a number of other projects but something about Dusk feels just a little bit different. The band’s comprised of several of the most impressive musical figures in Wisconsin’s relatively isolated Fox Valley area, whose singular visions act in complementary tandem. Beautiful harmonies, a sense of history, and a tenacious commitment help define the band’s identity. All of those traits are on full display for this gorgeous two-song turn-in for Wisconsin Public Radio’s excellent Set List series.

3. Green Dreams – Don’t Pray For Me (Katie Krulock)

Ever since the release of 2014’s excellent Rich Man, Poor Man, Green Dreams have been relatively quiet. All of that’s about to change as the band preps a new release, which the band provided a tantalizing glimpse at through the form of this live acoustic video. The typically ferocious project reveals their pensive side on the lilting “Don’t Pray For Me”, while still retaining the overwhelming narrative darkness that’s been so prominent in their past releases. Beautifully lensed and delicately performed, the video’s a powerful reminder of Green Dreams’ numerous gifts.

4. Bernie & the Wolf (DZ Records)

For more than three years, Bernie & the Wolf have quietly been perfecting a mix of influences and forming a sound that’s not too distant from the best of Saddle Creek’s offerings. Open, sprawling, and teeming with distinctly American influences (and history), their songs are immediately warmly familiar and entirely winsome. DZ Records recently capture the band delivering an impassioned set, keying in on “Ethyl”, “Catch Some”, and “Pretty On Me”, three genuine standouts from what promises to be one of the best releases of its given year.

5. Bon Iver (SPIN)

Typically, these spots are reserved for unheralded artists, independent-leaning moments, and videos where the performers aren’t hundreds of feet away. It takes a lot to overturn any of those qualifications and overturning all of them is essentially unprecedented. Even though Bon Iver’s Eaux Claires live unveiling of the forthcoming record — something I was fortunate enough to attend — was a genuinely Big Moment that will be exhaustively covered by nearly every serious music publication, the way it was introduced felt intrinsically connected to the foundations of this site.

As a person who’s lived the vast majority of life in a small Wisconsin town, watching someone like Justin Vernon selflessly elevate an enitre artistic community has been heartening. Watching him debut an entire album live, in front of a hushed audience of thousands, at a genre-balanced festival he founded in his own small Wisconsin hometown was actively inspiring. While Vernon’s rollout campaign for Bon Iver’s forthcoming 22, A Million was designed to benefit the projects’s chosen slot, it was also an effort to highlight the other artists (like Tenement and Tickle Torture) who were a part of the Eaux Claires festival.

In that methodology, Vernon’s added another heartfelt notch in his continuing efforts to expand Wisconsin’s woefully underrated music community by any means at his disposal. On top of all of that, though, the actual performance of 22, A Million was an unforgettable event that was enhanced by the location (Bon Iver’s music has always been perfectly suited to Wisconsin’s wilderness) and the weather.

Just before the set began, what had been a steady downpour of rain lasting hours had suddenly stopped and night had fully descended. Throughout the set, there was an eerie calm that was punctuated by the noise of crickets that had taken residence in and outside of the festival grounds, creating an ambient wellspring of noise that further enhanced the glitchy electronics that permeate throughout 22, A Million (they became especially evident during the quietest moments, rounding out those songs in an unforgettable fashion).

While all of the main set can be heard and seen below in a video that SPIN livestreamed from the crowd, the encore set (which isn’t part of the video) provided what may have been the most defining moment of the festival.

Playing a selection of songs that wildly varied from their original versions, the band pulled out a fairly faithful rendition of “Creature Fear” that culminated in an apocalyptic wall of noise outro section. In the lead-up to those breathtaking final moments, a blisteringly intense lightning storm had erupted behind a heavy cloud, providing an unexpected assist that felt entirely in tune with the weekend’s joyous collaborative efforts. In that moment, the audience, the band, the city of Eau Claire, and Wisconsin itself became part of a unified moment that transcended easy category, leaving an indelible mark on Eau Claires, on Eaux Claires, and on everyone who took a moment to take in their surroundings.

Home for the Holidays & A Guide to Surviving (Mixtape 001)

Well, it’s been a brief but substantial fifty day run and this, the 50th post, seemed as good a place as any to celebrate something so small and meaningless. To that end, Heartbreaking Bravery is offering up its first official mixtape; Home for the Holidays. Look for one every fifty posts. Some will have themes, some will just serve as reviews for the past near-two-months of coverage the site provides.

Home for the Holidays was a unique challenge. For the songs to qualify they had to fit within the general aesthetic of what Heartbreaking Bravery would normally cover- they would also have to mention Christmas without being a Christmas-specific song. All of these songs are here for a reason and deserve to be heard. A welcome alternative to the endless barrage of the same twenty songs getting played in seemingly every location. Both the mixtape and the accompanying guide to surviving are below.


1. Tenement – Spit in the Wind

Did anyone honestly expect this list to start with anything else? It’s no secret how this site feels about this band. They’ve mastered the exploration of lower middle-class difficulty and it really comes through on the chorus of this Napalm Dream standout. “Father pissing on the Christmas tree, suicide for the family” is a masterclass in both explicit and implicit imagery as well as tone-setting.

2. The Wombats – Moving to New York

Sleep-deprivation, needless excitement, and suspecting disappointment. “Looks like Christmas came early” has never sounded so true. 

3. Sundials – Christmas Day

One of 2013’s most exceptional compilations was the collection of Sundials songs from 2009 to 2012. “Christmas Day” closed the collection out with flare, emphasizing how ugly financial situations can be made ten times worse by the holidays with a surprising amount of verve. 

4. The Weakerthans – Exiles Among You

The Weakerthans were (are?) one of the most consistently impressive bands on the circuit and released a few records that qualify as classics. On their standout sophomore effort Left & Leaving was this gem, that included a heartbreaking moment where the protagonist shoplifts for Christmas and ignores her family. A perfectly executed example of estrangement.

5. Titus Andronicus – No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future

On Titus Andronicus’ masterpiece The Monitor, the band managed to cover an endless arsenal of subjects. One of the strongest moments in a record full of them was “No Future Part Three” with its rapid shifts in pace and tone. There’s anger, there’s grim determination, a palpable sense of sadness, and a devastating Christmas list. 

6. Neutral Milk Hotel – Two-Headed Boy

One of 2013’s biggest moments was the return of Neutral Milk Hotel, prompting many to revisit In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea and “Two-Headed Boy” in particular. That song contains a fierce ending of bitter abandonment set under Christmas trees, elevating the importance of the act. Brutal, harsh, and brilliant. 

7. Waxahatchee – Rose, 1956

There are very few records as pointed and barbed as American Weekend, a record that’s only managed to grow stronger with time. “Rose, 1956” stands out for a variety of reasons but the mention of Christmas Eve at the song’s opening drives home how specific it is, which makes it more revealing in turn. 

8. Bon Iver – Blood Bank

Bon Iver is almost too obvious of a choice for this but it’s hard to look past the muted elegiac title-track of the band’s sole EP. Not only do the levels of wistfulness feel appropriate but the song nicely underscores the possibility of truly understanding difficult moments. One of Bon Iver’s most stunning moments. 

9. Why? – The Fall of Mr. Fifths

Why? have always managed to effortlessly evoke very specific feelings with their arrangements alone. Yoni Wolf’s lyrics generally accentuate that feeling masterfully and “Mr. Fifths” is no exception. There’s an underlying theme of fear and obsession here that touches on the rising death rates that surround the holiday season. 

10. The Hold Steady – One for the Cutters

Quite possibly The Hold Steady’s most inventive moment, this harpsichord-driven tale paints the most realistic portrait of the sort of culture that exists in the shadows the band has managed in years. An absolutely stunning achievement that culminates in the central character’s defeated-beyond-reason return to her family at Christmas. 

11. Sparklehorse – Little Fat Baby

Mark Linkous’ penchant for subtlety resonates throughout this song, in part an understated allegory about (seemingly) the prominence of Christmas. It’s a subdued-yet-jarring yarn that feels intensely personal. 

12. Belle & Sebastian – I Don’t Love Anyone

Fleeting moments of self-doubt and occasional resentment spring up in early winter more than anyone would like to admit. Self-evaluation becomes a bitter process and all of the potential disappointment can manifest itself outwards. The best way to deal with it is just to acknowledge it and move on.

13. The National – It Never Happened

“We look younger than we feel and older than we are” is a beyond perfect way to describe the holiday hangover that’s constantly present, lingering around the corner. The easygoing pace of “It Never Happened” mirrors the pose some people will themselves into just to survive the rougher patches.

14. Okkervil River – Where the Spirit Left Us

The first of of two Okkervil songs on this list, “Where the Spirit Left Us” pinpointed a certain kind of well-informed nostalgia that was brought to life in a dazzlingly vivid manner. There’s a small-town longing that matches up nicely with the resigned minutiae  surrounding any large family gathering.

15. The Weakerthans – My Favorite Chords

John K. Samson does environmental setting better than almost anyone penning lyrics today. The fact that The Weakerthans can often be described as wintry only heightens the reason for this song’s inclusion.

16. Tom Waits – Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis

A wildcard among these 21 tracks, “Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis” qualifies based on the title, not a lyric contained within the song. One of Waits’ most towering achievements and one of the best moments on his classic Blue Valentine.

17. Ben Folds Five – Brick

Did you really expect this not to make the list? It’s a song about the aftermath of a Christmas Eve abortion. One of the most frighteningly realistic songs in recent memory. At the very least, let this one invoke deep sympathy.

18. Palace Songs – Christmastime in the Mountains

Okkervil River artist Will Schaff brought this song to the list as it was experiencing a rough draft dating back to last December. “Christmastime in the Mountains” is stark, beautiful, and nicely summarizes the empty feelings that can occasionally hit at this time of year.

19. Why? – Kevin’s Cancer

Yoni Wolf has been operating in his own territory for a long time now. This is the second Why? song to be included but the way Wolf and company operate only furthers situational reality. 

20. Elliott Smith – King’s Crossing

From A Basement on Hill bafflingly exists simultaneously as one of the most personal and impersonal records to be released in the past 15 years. It’s posthumous status elevates the impact of searingly revealing songs, yet those involved with it say that the record was far from finished and released with only the mixes Elliott had left behind when he tragically passed away. “King’s Crossing” stands out as one of the record’s most personal (and most biting) moments, reflecting the holiday’s darker spirit.

21. Okkervil River – Calling and Not Calling My Ex

This is the song that inspired the idea for this collection several years back. It’s Sheff at his most pointed. Sleigh bells in the background offer up an ever fuller world-building experience for an environment surrounding the introspection that often hits hardest towards the end of the year.

Happy Holidays.

HB