Fresh off the release of Ex-Vöid‘s effortlessly charming lead-off track “Boyfriend”, the trio wasted no time in ushering out a concise EP. All of the sensibilities that Alanna McArdle and Owen Williams showcased as (now ex-) members of Joanna Gruesome are back on full display in Ex-Vöid. Gorgeous harmonies, a pitch-perfect balancing act of harsh noise and pristine tones, and a sense of playfulness embedded into relentless aggression, Ex-Vöid are more than winsome at first blush but reveal a surprising amount of layering, as does their first release.
Both “Anyone (Other Than U)” and “(Angry At You) Baby” are assured pieces of basement pop injected with enough punk bite to satisfy the genre’s die-hard loyalists. McArdle and Williams play off of each other to perfection, their voices working in tandem to strengthen each other. It’s the dichotomies, scales, and unity that defines Ex-Vöid, which presents the band as fully-formed, incredibly assured, and ready to conquer whatever comes their way. Easily one of the year’s strongest EP’s and unquestionably one of our best new bands.
Listen to Ex-Vöid below and pick it up from the band here.
April got off to an extraordinary start with a few dozen songs making a viable bid for inclusion on this list, which represents the material that emerged in the month’s first week. Ultimately it was the 10 below that prevailed in a surprisingly overcrowded field for what proved to be a curiously stacked week. The last “Best Of” compilation for this category had a handful of artists making consecutive appearances in this column but only one of them returns a third time. The rest of this field is a mixture of favorites, old and new, with each offering up a song worth celebrating. All of them can be heard below. Enjoy.
1. gobbinjr – afraid of me
An artist that’s slowly but surely built a steadfast reputation as an emerging star in the bedroom pop genre, gobbinjr makes a bold statement with a full-on switch to full band indie pop in the vein of Frankie Cosmos and it works beautifully. “afraid of me” is as rich and memorable as anything gobbinjr’s released so far and proves that the project’s scope might be a lot more expansive than initially suggested. It’s a breezy tune that’s ready-made for spring and summer mix tapes.
2. En Attendant Ana – Night
A new name to this site, En Attendant Ana manage to make a huge splash here with “Night”, a driving burst of basement pop that doesn’t hesitate to look upward and immediately start trying to grab the stars. A beautifully produced track, “Night” also demonstrates the band’s penchant for composition, turning on a dime from one section to another, sustaining a magnetic, romantic atmosphere. It’s the rare kind of song that can convince you an artist’s name is worth remembering.
3. Forth Wanderers – Ages Ago
The previous two Forth Wanderers songs that have been released in the lead-up to their forthcoming self-titled were featured on this site and “Ages Ago” makes a very convincing case that the band may very well have one of the year’s finest records on their hands. “Ages Ago,” the band’s latest track, isn’t just their most polished outing to date, it’s their best. Tapping fully into their mixture of irrepressible energy and open melancholy, “Ages Ago” offers the kind of duality that builds incredible material. It’s spellbinding.
4. Grouper – Driving
Few artists are managing what Grouper‘s been doing for the past few years. Every new song plays like an elegant masterwork, deftly demonstrating every last bit of songwriting talent in the most breathtaking fashion imaginable. “Driving”, the latest from the ambient act, is among the past few years’ most quieting and soulful works. It’s nearly impossible to not want to hang onto every second as the song gently washes over you and it’s equally difficult to not want to immediately hit play again when it ends in a whisper.
5. Boys – That Weekend
In an impressively brief time, PNKSLM‘s established itself as one of the leading labels for introspective basement pop. One of the best acts on their consistently incredible roster is Boys, who usher in a career best here with “That Weekend”. Bits of dream-pop, powerpop, and post-punk all congeal into an incredibly wistful track, full of a sense of genuine longing. It’s a perfect way to spend two and a half minutes and stands as a testament to both the band’s promise and considerable talent.
6. Been Stellar – Everyone Smokes in the City
Been Stellar’s another new name to Heartbreaking Bravery that makes an incredible first impression with “Everyone Smokes in the City”, a track that echoes the best work of The Strokes. The band separates themselves from the over-abundance of bands that proudly bear that influence by exercising restraint in a way that simultaneously informs the song’s tension and provides it an additional level of energy. It’s fun, it’s promising, and it’s an easy standout.
7. Yumi Zouma – France (Grands Boulevards)
The second ambient-leaning act on this list that seems to perpetually top themselves, Yumi Zouma return with the most gorgeous work of their career in “France (Grands Boulevards). Gentle tones, a tender vocal delivery, and some intuitive production heightens the work as it glides along, wrapped up in its own journey. Unassuming and beautiful, “France (Grands Boulevards)” marks an enticing new chapter in the band’s history.
8. Petal – Better Than You
Kiley Lotz, the songwriter spearheading Petal, is a commanding solo performer. Charismatic, entertaining, and fully in control, Lotz can reduce an audience to whispers and extinguish those a few minutes later. That being the case, Lotz also knows how to turn up the volume and let it rip, as is the case with the enormous “Better Than You”, which has shades of Waxahatchee‘s rowdier work. Fed up and determined, “Better Than You” is an unmissable statement from a singular talent and bodes well for Petal’s future.
9. Yours Are The Only Ears – Fire In My Eyes
A pair of great tracks from Knock Hard — the forthcoming release from Yours Are The Only Ears — have already been released but “Fire In My Eyes” exceeds those heights. One of the best tracks of Susannah Cutler’s illustrious works that have found release under this moniker, “Fire In My Eyes” finds Yours Are The Only Ears experimenting with precision (and continuing a fruitful collaborative history with LVL UP and Trace Mountain‘s Dave Benson). As always, the narrative aspect carries exceptional emotional weight but the arrangements have rarely been as effective or powerful.
10. Say Sue Me – Coming to the End
Completing something of a hat trick, this is Say Sue Me‘s third consecutive appearance in the “Best Of” columns for songs, each track teasing the exceptional Where We Were Together. “Coming to the End”, appropriately, is the record’s final track and its most breathtaking moment. A sprawling 7 and a half minute slow-burn, “Coming to the End” has the time to display just about every reason Say Sue Me’s been turning heads over the past year. Melancholic and explosive in turns, it’s a masterwork of dynamics and controlled atmosphere, never ceasing to be anything less than gripping over the course of its runtime.
It’s a towering track, epic in scale and wildly confident in its ambition, bringing to mind the recent work of Young Jesus while remaining true to the enchanting identity the band’s managed to carve out for themselves over their brief but promising discography. The guitar solo that makes up the bulk of the song’s back half goes sideways as often as it reaches skyward but, as is the case with the band, you don’t just hope it’ll arrive at its intended decision but know it will with an abundance of grace, no matter erratic it may seem. When it fades, it’s hard not to think “Coming to the End” isn’t close to perfect.
A small list of other outstanding songs to be released this past week:
Two months and one week into 2018, the year’s already seen a slew of legitimately great songs. Below are 35 that managed to stand just a cut above the bevvy of incoming tracks that populated the most recent post on this site. While a select few picks below have two entries in this list, it’s still a varied list that features a diverse cast of overflowing talent. It should also be noted that a few songs were cut from consideration as the records they belong to will be featured in an upcoming post. At any rate, no matter how the tallies for representation work, this list is a testament to the strength of 2018’s early material. Make sure these aren’t forgotten.
1. Say Sue Me – Old Town
Last year, Say Sue Me put out an intoxicating and winsome record and are already gearing up for the release of a new record. “Old Town”, the strongest single to emerge from the early round of releases for the project’s forthcoming Where We Were Together, acts as a memorable showcase of what made people fall so hard for this band in the first place. Breezy melodies, smart arrangements, and a paradoxical mixture of urgency and relaxation combine once again for one of early 2018’s most charming tracks.
2. Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out
“Put A Record Out” bristles and grunts out of the gate and gains a head of steam as things move along, embracing the noise/punk flourishes that have come to define the current era’s iteration of post-punk. It’s Canshaker Pi making a willfully gnarled statement and delivering it with enough force to make sure it leaves a sizable imprint. When it’s done, it’s enough to leave a listener breathless. Keep up or get trampled.
3. Jay Som – Hot Bread
The rightful owner of this site’s Best Song of 2016 distinction, Jay Som has been not-so-quietly making waves over the last year. Racking up an endless amount of accolades and new listeners, the tireless Melina Duterte has remained on a tear, releasing new music at a startling rate. “Hot Bread”, released as part of a Valentine’s Day playlist for Amazon, ably demonstrates that Jay Som’s scope will continue to grow with the project’s ambitions, leaving us to count ourselves lucky to be witnesses.
4. (SANDY) Alex G – fay
An enigmatic release from an increasingly subversive artist, “fay” stands as one of the crown jewels of (SANDY) Alex G‘s recent efforts. Posted to the act’s official YouTube account with no type of buildup or press release, the song’s allowed to breathe freely (and gently) on its own terms. Paired with a truly bizarre “about” statement, “fay” acts as a mesmerizing puzzle box full of the kind of sticks-for-weeks hooks that (SANDY) Alex G built a name on, it’s a welcome reminder of a formidable talent.
5. Big Ups – PPP
Big Ups have staked their claim as one of the most fascinating hardcore-leaning acts in recent memory and snarled at anyone who even tried to touch the flag they planted. To remind everyone of how they earned their place, the band ushered out “PPP” as an advance warning to what’ll surely lie in wait on the band’s forthcoming Two Parts Together. Intricate harmonic work, versatile performances, and unhinged bristling combine for another intense triumph.
6. illuminati hotties – (You’re Better) Than Ever
“(You’re Better) Than Ever” will act as an introductory piece to illuminati hotties for a great many and it’s hard to imagine too many people walking away from the band’s warm invitation. A sunny melody shot through with basement pop trappings, “(You’re Better) Than Ever” succeeds on every level, from pristine production to bursts of joyous, unbridled energy. It’s a strong starting step for a band that seems determined to take off sprinting.
7-8. Forth Wanderers – Nevermine + Not For Me
A band on a continuous uptick, Forth Wanderers prove once again why their name carries weight with this two song combo that reasserts their position as one of today’s more tantalizing acts. “Nevermine” and “Not For Me” are both — in what’s become a heartening trend, as it happens with each of their new releases — career high points for the band, who have matured into a confident, focused machine, finding a way to retain an abundance of heart in the process.
9. Hit Bargain – Capitulate
One of a handful of songs on this list that act as a razor-sharp burst of noise-punk, “Capitulate” finds Hit Bargain intentionally wielding a level of ugliness with unbridled aggression. It’s a furious run through genre touch points that takes on life as it barrels headlong into some unknown destination. The band’s expertise is evident and their execution is flawless, rendering “Capitulate” a potent warning of Hit Bargain’s capabilities.
10. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down To The Tree, Read A Book, And When I Was Done I Went Back Inside
A mainstay of this site’s coverage, Kal Marks has continuously expanded their ambition with each successive release and “Today I Walked Down To The Tree…” keeps that trend in place. A winding, four minute slow-burner, the song finds Kal Marks at their most unabashedly pensive. While Kal Marks still finds moments of catharsis in those minutes, the experience as a whole towers above its individual moments; it’s a breathtaking feat from a band always worth hearing.
11. Stef Chura – Degrees
“Degrees” has been covered more exhaustively than any other individual Stef Chura release thanks to the involvement of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo. Hopefully Toledo’s high-profile involvement will be more than enough to turn people onto Chura’s excellent early work. At any rate, “Degrees” — a towering piece of incredibly strong Americana-tinged indie rock — does stand as Chura’s boldest effort to date and effectively heightens the anticipation for what the songwriter’s future holds in store.
12. Juan De Fuca – A Place To Wait
A few seconds is all it takes for Juan De Fuca’s “A Place To Wait” to announce itself with clarity. A post-punk number shot through with nervous jitters, the track seems simplistic at first blush before rewarding a closer look with a tapestry of layers. Delivered with confidence, teeming with feeling, and unafraid to reach for stratospheric heights, “A Place To Wait” became one of 2018’s more pleasant surprises and it’s hard to imagine that status changing.
13. Haley Hendrickx – Untitled God Song
“Oom Sha La La” was a song that managed to hook a whole lot of people into Haley Hendrickx‘s world but it also set a dangerously high precedent. “Untitled God Song” went a long way in assuaging any lingering doubts. A slow, tender track, “Untitled God Song” finds Hendrickx establishing a voice, marrying empathy with wariness to great effect. Warm tones and an arresting vocal delivery ensure the song a place as a piece of breathtaking artistry.
14. Superchunk – Erasure
Storied veterans making comebacks that reassert the band’s music as relevant among a new sect of contemporaries isn’t all that common, which is why when it happens it tends to be doubly impressive. That’s exactly the scenario Superchunk has found themselves in since the release of Majesty Shredding and it’s a space they continue to occupy with What A Time To Be Alive, which boasted “Erasure” as a lead-off single. All told: Still energetic, still distinctive, still perfectly Superchunk.
15-16. Frankie Cosmos – Jesse + Being Alive
Over an endless amount of self-releases and some incredibly smart campaigning, Frankie Cosmos have found themselves in an unlikely position of being revered as a bastion of consistency and as a tantalizing emergent act. Greta Kline’s project has navigated the transition from solo project to full band with no shortage of grace and the band, now more than ever, feels complete. Both “Jesse” and “Being Alive” prove the band’s as adept at invention as reinvention, keeping Frankie Cosmos’ unassuming charm intact all the while.
17. Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back
Few records over the first two months of this year have proved to be as inventive as Kid Dakota‘s Denervation, a collection of kaleidoscopic powerpop that’s highlighted by the inspired 7-minute “Keep Coming Back”. Intricate arrangements, a cavalcade of effective hooks, and a casual assurance congeal into something ridiculously captivating. Whether it’s the snaky snyth riff or the stabs of the guitar-led bridge or the extended outro, “Keep Coming Back” makes sure it offers enough to make a strong case to heed the title’s command.
18. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Riddles
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat already boasts a 4+ year history of crafting memorably minimalist post-punk, which made the band’s announcement of a Dan Deacon-produced record as enticing as it was baffling. On Riddles the duo hits new heights by leaping outside of their established narrative to cling onto something unexpected, a move and effect underscored nicely by the record’s piano-driven title track that sees the band falling a lot closer to early Cold Cave than Death From Above 1979.
19. Pale Kids – St. Theresa
Father/Daughter Records has become a proven entity in securing bands that effectively fuse outsize energy with unapologetic sincerity and Pale Kids are no exception. “St. Theresa” stands as proof of the formula, with the quartet leaning into a 2 minute outburst of hyper-melodic basement pop. Pointed, unrestrained, and fueled by as much snark as conviction, “St. Theresa” is yet another welcome shot of adrenaline from the promising quartet.
20. Many Rooms – which is to say, everything
The first moment of genuine tranquility on this list belongs to Many Room‘s gorgeous “which is to say, everything”. Pitched at a hush, the song soothes the nerves as it glides along for its four minutes, never rising past a measured whisper. Informed by both a sense of a loss and a sense of curiosity, “which is to say, everything” positions Many Rooms as an act whose name is worth committing to memory.
21-22. Boys – End of Time + Rabbits
Accentuating dream pop influences in powerpop has served bands like Alvvays incredibly well over the past few years. Boys is another name to add to that list, with the act releasing two beautiful pieces centered around that genre hybrid in “End of Time” and “Rabbits”. “End of Time” showcasing the band’s sense of reservation and “Rabbits” playing to their own curious brand of insistence. Composed and beautifully crafted, they’re worthy additions to any carefree summer night playlist.
23. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
Far and away the most country-leaning track among these 35 selections, Courtney Marie Andrews proves what the genre can still offer when it extends beyond a set of self-imposed limitations. Bringing strains of gospel influence to the forefront, Andrews manages to craft a heartfelt paean to the virtues of kindness. As the organ swells and the choir provides support, the collaborative balance finds itself intrinsically connected to the song’s central message. When it ends, the song does everything in its power to make sure its message is heard.
24. Walter Martin – Me & McAlevey
One of the more unexpected delights in recent music has been the quiet emergence of Walter Martin — best known for his organ playing in The Walkmen — as a singular songwriting force. Last year’s My Kinda Music was an extraordinary (and woefully overlooked) presentation of Martin’s abilities and boasted a handful of gems like “Hey Matt“, a song that gets a lovely sequel in “Me & McAlevey”. It’s another piece of affecting folk shot through with a distinctly modern wit.
25. Liza Anne – Small Talks
In its first minute Liza Anne‘s “Small Talks” manages to be reminiscent of a handful of recent artists and songs, yet it never comes across like an imitation and hits the considerable heights of its predecessors. Exuberant, determined, and delivered with as much urgency as conviction, “Small Talks” manages to sink its hooks in deep. An utterly winsome technicolor burst of warmth and certainty, it’s incredibly endearing- and worth leaving on repeat.
While most people are likely to know Dave Benson from LVL UP, the songwriter’s solo project, Trace Mountains, has been releasing equally rewarding material for years (with a handful of instances of those songs becoming breeding grounds for LVL UP reworkings). On “Cary’s Dream” and “Turn Twice”, Benson manages to look to the forward and reach to the past. “Cary’s Dreams” is a testament to Benson’s vision, offering up a reminder of his considerable gifts while “Turn Twice” — first released in demo form several years ago — proves just how effective the multi-instrumentalist is with a bold brand of reinvention.
28. Paul De Jong – You Fucken Sucker
Opening with electro glitches and a hypnotic strumming pattern, Paul De Jong‘s “You Fucken Sucker” quickly changes shape as the lyrics kick in as a soothing voice starts reciting the verses to Mary Had A Little Lamb before things change even more drastically. It’s in the reveal of the chorus where the song separates itself and arrives as something intoxicating in its willingness to beguile. A playful piece shot through with dark humor, “You Fucken Sucker” more than proves that Paul De Jong is still fully capable of thriving outside of The Books.
29. Remember Sports – Up From Below
The return of Remember Sports — formerly just SPORTS — at the onset of 2018 got the year off to a heartening start. “Up From Below” quickly followed that announcement to make it abundantly clear that the band had held onto their sense of tenacity as well as their ability to craft a perfect piece of basement pop. Med-fi, hyper, and ridiculously catchy, “Up From Below” has already set an extremely precedent for what the future might have in store.
30. Fenne Lily. – On Hold
The opening bars of Fenne Lily.’s mesmerizing “On Hold” should be all it takes to secure just about anyone’s interest. Delivered with arresting tenderness, those first moments are strengthened as the song takes shape, exercising a measure of restraint that doubles as unexpected, incredibly cultivated tension. There are no big moments of catharsis but “On Hold” has different goals in mind; every step of the journey is as important as moments of celebration. Spellbinding from start to close, “On Hold” is a well-earned triumph.
31. Vundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk
Over the past few months, Vundabar have found the size of their audience rapidly growing and it’s in large part due to the artistic leap the band’s taken with songs like “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk”. Teeming with memorable riffs, unexpected dynamics, and a butcher’s selection of hooks, “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” almost comes across like a victory lap. Vundabar have found a way to heighten every single one of their innumerable strengths and the results are already paying off. “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” is a keepsake for everyone fortunate enough to be following along.
32-33. Bonny Doon – A Lotta Things + I Am Here (I Am Alive)
When Salinas released Bonny Doon‘s sweeping self-titled record last year, it was greeted as the band’s coming out party. A lot of people took notice of the band’s charismatic, including the reliably excellent Woodsist label who quickly found a way to get the band on their roster. With “A Lotta Things” and “I Am Here (I Am Alive)” now both out in the world, it’s plainly evident that Woodsist made another in a history of great decisions, as Bonny Doon have found a way to capitalize on their sprawling punk-informed Americana. Both tracks are new career highs for the band and offer a strong signal that for many, their forthcoming Longwave could just wind up in the discussion for Album of the Year.
34. Half Waif – Torches
All it took was seeing a recent Half Waifset for the band to significantly elevate their position of interest to this site’s overall coverage. While the band’s older material had been touched upon several times in the past, it’s in their new material where they’ve tapped into something that feels genuinely different. “Torches” is a perfect example of that new space, as it presents the most fully-realized version of the band’s identity to date, opening up their synth-led electro-pop into something a touch more experimental and a degree more forceful. Unapologetic in its stance and fearless in its execution, “Torches” marks an exciting new era for a band worthy of a close watch.
35. Mount Eerie – Distortion
The recent decision to list Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” as 2017’s Song of the Year — let alone, covered at all — was a surprisingly difficult one due to its tragic, uncomfortably intimate narrative. How Phil Elverum’s project has sustained multiple tour runs in support of that record is beyond the comprehension of most observers, who have left those shows visibly shaken. Elverum recently rolled out a sequel to that record, which continues to expand on the sudden death of his wife and his trepidation over how to greet single parenthood in the shadow of the other person responsible for his daughter’s very being.
“Distortion”, an 11-minute tour de force, was one of the first looks at Now Only and remains one of its most awkward, gripping moments. From the devastating opening verse to allegories invoking beat poets, every second of “Distortion” is felt in full as Elverum continues to allow us full access into an unimaginable position. By repeatedly tearing open his wounds, Elverum seems to be searching for a means to heal, cautiously allowing listeners to join the grieving, the fears, the concerns, and the memories of a woman who’s come to define a good portion of his own existence. It’s brutally unforgiving but in its own way, it finds a sliver of beauty in the empathy that it presents. In short: it’s unforgettable.
Over the past two months, a ridiculous amount of music has found release. Plumbing the depths of that haul has been a privilege but it’s also been incredibly time-consuming. Digging through the rubble, as it has so frequently in the past, yielded no shortage of absolute gems. From a few of the most gorgeous songs I’ve heard all year to some career highs to some genuine standout material, there’s a lot to explore in the below list. Normally, each of these would receive a short accompanying write up (and a few of them still will in the forthcoming year-end lists) but for the sake of expediency in the face of the volume of forthcoming content, they will simply be listed below. Don’t let that distract or discourage, all of the song are here for a reason. Queue them up, close your eyes, and let them wash you away.
From the onset of Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse it’s clear that Mock Orange have expanded their ambition, tightened their grasp on dynamics, and honed the most compelling aspects of their craft. The record opens with the slow crescendo of the intro section of “I’m Leaving”, essentially providing a microcosm of the band’s intelligence (and penchant for subtle, tongue-in-cheek humor) right off the bat.
What follows is a cavalcade of riff-laden, punk-leaning, left field basement pop. Ultra-melodic and unflinchingly weird, Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse draws an incredible amount of strength from it’s self-assuredness in its own singular nature. Mock Orange have all but perfected a sound that’s indebted to a strain of ’90s alt. bands that have remained relatively unmined in the crowded field of emergent bands taking cues from that decade.
Bright tones and a propulsive energy define Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse even in its darkest moments, like on the bruising “Window”, imbuing the whole affair with a lively feeling that’s difficult to shake. The record rarely dips below mid-tempo, contenting itself with an operative mode that attacks far more frequently than it withdraws. “Some Say”, which arrives around the record’s halfway point, is as close to a ballad that Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse has to offer but still comes across as more outwardly aggressive than vulnerable.
“Intake” and “Tell Me Your Story” constitute the explosive 1-2 punch that closes Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse and betray the band’s debt of influence to Dinosaur Jr more than any of the eight preceding tracks. They’re gruff, bruised, gnarled slices of basement pop (in the case of the former) and basement punk (in the case of the latter) that show the band’s breadth of range in a dizzying sequence that puts the final punctuation mark on a great chapter in the band’s history. Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse is the best the band’s ever been and promises great things for their future. I, for one, look forward to the ride.
Listen to Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse below and pick it up from the band here.
As was discussed in the preceding two posts, there’s been a serious lull of inaction on this site as of late as far as posting is concerned. A large reason for that was the fact that the majority of that coverage gap was spent traveling thousands of miles to document sets from bands like Oops, Dilly Dally, Yowler, Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos, Beach Slang, Potty Mouth, Dyke Drama, PWR BTTM, and more.
The resulting documentation will be posted at some point in the near future but the hefty amount of visual content (not to mention the act of traveling itself) necessitated a publishing break. However, as usual, every new piece of incoming information was accounted for in the interim. Full streams and music videos have already been covered so it’s time that the attention was turned towards individual songs.
A list of some of the finest new tunes to have emerged over the past month can be found below. Since there are so many, it may be best to bookmark this page and explore its contents at a more leisurely pace to avoid being overwhelmed. Jump on in and go swimming.
Before going any further, I’d like to sincerely thank the good people over at Good Cheer Records for patching along an advance copy of Mo Troper’s essential Beloved because it’s practically all that’s been played ever since it landed in my inbox. Easily my current front-runner for Album of the Year, it perfectly blends the most enticing elements of Big Star, Weezer, The Replacements, and Tony Molina. It’s an insane reel of highlights (something that was likely evidenced in the write-up for “First Monkey In Space” in this site’s 50 Best Songs of 2016’s First Quarter list) but none of them are as strong as the soaring, battered “Star Wars”.
Both a scathing critique of the persistent, embarrassing bro culture and a celebration of the escape that can be found in the titular film, “Star Wars” hits hard in its narrative. Unflinchingly honest and remarkably huge, “Star Wars” is also a triumph in composition. Everything on Beloved incorporates decades worth of DIY punk history and wraps itself in a decidedly pop-leaning package. From the scrappy production to the monstrous hooks, each song could be considered a victory lap for an all-too-frequently overlooked genre. It’s a sentiment that holds especially true for “Star Wars”.
Beloved‘s a record that’s dominated by swing-for-the-fences selections and all of them connect, with “Star Wars” connecting the most emphatically. Blending tongue-in-cheek humor with impassioned feeling can frequently be an awkward blend but it suits “Star Wars” modesty to a tee. “All of my friends/are total fucking bros/wax museum/puppets with their strengths exposed” Troper bellows at the start of the final chorus, injecting his disdain with well-placed humor and a startling amount of intellect (which is another one of Beloved‘s strongest qualities).
Every single second of “Star Wars” is pure bliss for anyone who has even a passing interest in DIY punk, basement pop, or sloppy rock n’ roll. It’s exceptional songwriting that’s as thoughtful as it is catchy, lending an extreme amount of substance to something that could’ve succeeded without the impressive amount of care “Star Wars” winds up displaying. With a vocal melody that has legitimate staying power, a relatable message that resonates, scintillating guitar work, and a powerful turn-in from the rhythm section, “Star Wars” is an unstoppable force.
In the end, no amount of anger, dejection, or hopelessness can’t be at least somewhat remedied by the comfort of an old film. It’s a strange truth that a lot of us learn the hard way before recognizing the depths of escapism’s value. Mo Troper’s got it figured out, though, and now that truth has a fiery anthem as a welcome accompaniment. If there’s any justice, 39 years down the road some kid will be finding that escape by turning on this very song, which more than deserves to share its title with an old classic.
Listen to “Star Wars” below and pre-order Beloved from Good Cheer here.
As was stated earlier on, it’s been a while since a single stream has been featured on this site- about three weeks to be exact. To remedy that, all of the songs that have been collected over that period of time (all of which made incredibly favorable impressions) will be featured in a trio of posts, beginning with this one. Each post will focus on one genuine standout and include a hyperlinked list of the others beneath the embedded player, bringing the site up to the present release cycle.
Kicking this process off is Ernie’s raucous “Sweatpants”, an unabashedly melodic song that’s not afraid of flashing some serrated edges. A towering vocal melody powers “Sweatpants”, while the guitar, bass, and drums surge underneath. Mining the typically rich field of malaise for lyrical content, Ernie finds a contrast between spry musicality and downtrodden lyrical content and exploits the divide to maximum effect. It’d be a tremendously downcast affair were it not for the defiantly energetic musical approach. Nuanced, balanced, and deceptively subtle, “Sweatpants” is a song that deserves to be in the collections of anyone who’s ever visited this site more than once.
Listen to “Sweatpants” below and pre-order Dog Park from Soft Speak Records here. Underneath the embed, explored a handful of other great songs to find release over the past three weeks.
Over the past three months, PWR BTTM have gone from a quick few mentions on this site to being one of its most celebrated featured acts. A lot of that can be traced back to the band’s incendiary live show but most of it has to do with the fact their recent songs have been nothing short of astonishing. The band’s upcoming full-length debut, Ugly Cherries, already had one of the years best songs (the record’s title track) released to kick off the rollout campaign and now it’s being followed by the equally powerful “West Texas”.
All of PWR BTTM’s usual characteristics are on display throughout the song, from the inventive structures to the sharp playing to a lyric set that pushes honesty to a level that feels defiantly confrontational. Benjamin Hopkins and Liv Bruce trade vocal leads with a fluidity that betrays the duo’s already uncanny connection and the song makes the absolute most of its runtime, landing every blow it throws with a vicious intensity. Harmonic riffing, power drumming, and a bevvy of immediacy help make “West Texas” a standout track but, as is nearly always the case with PWR BTTM, their melodic and lyrical sensibilities push this into a realm that not a lot of other bands have even attempted to occupy. Sardonic, sincere, and singular, it’s another perfect example of why PWR BTTM deserves as much conversation as possible.
Listen to “West Texas” below and pre-order the record from Father/Daughter and/or Miscreant ahead of its September 18 release. Beneath that, watch a video of the band performing the song (along with “Short-Lived Nightmare”) at Shea Stadium.
Hard to believe that there already have been 91 segments of Watch This, but here we are- another week in and five more live clips to feature. For this particular run, full sets get the bulk of the attention while a site favorite and a new name to both this series and this site round things out. Courtney Barnett has been awarded enough spots here over the past few months so we’ll forego featuring yet another incredible turn-in from the rising songwriter to make way for some fresher faces. Barnett led a small but formidable pack of artists who just missed the cut this week, a list that included Elvis Depressedly, Bad Bad Hats, Iceage (x2), Small Feet, lowercase roses, and Hailey Wocjik. All of those, of course, are worth your time and (as is increasingly the case with live videos) deserve more attention than they’re getting. Watch them now or save them for later but make sure you reel in the five clips below because they all boast something inherently special happening on either side of the lens. So, as always, grab a snack, settle in, adjust your screen, focus up, and Watch This.
1. Bellows (WKNC)
Appearing just after a knockout set at Baby’s All Right, this WKNC session finds Oliver Kalb delivering a beautiful solo session of the songs he writes under the moniker Bellows. Frail, unassuming, and utterly captivating, the four songs contained in the clip wield a certain intangible quality that immediately transforms this particular performance into one of the most arresting WKNC has ever produced. Kalb’s vocal tendencies (soft, wavering) bring to mind Sufjan Stevens but where Stevens so frequently opts for grandeur- even in his more intimate moments- Kalb keeps things pinned to a mundane reality. By the time each song’s been sung, both Kalb and WKNC wind up with a staple deserving of a proud placement in their respective canons.
2. Ego Death – Sunlight/Graveyard (Radio K)
No matter how many times it happens, there are few things that can compare to the exhilarating wave of excitement that hits upon discovering a new band that immediately crosses off a long list of preference check marks. Punk attitude, guitar scuzz, nods to the spikier wave of late 80’s and early 90’s alternative genres, and a strong basement pop sensibility are all big ones for this site and Ego Death makes their way through each with ease in this performance of “Sunlight/Graveyard” for Radio K. Gruff, fearless, and extremely dynamic, this is a band to watch and a song worth hearing. You know what to do.
3. Disco Doom (Exploding In Sound)
Having wrapped an extraordinarily successful extended weekend showcase (keep an eye on this site for more on that soon), Exploding In Sound Records is sitting pretty high at the moment. One of the band’s most fascinating acquisitions, Disco Doom, couldn’t make it stateside for the affair but the label continuously showers them with an excess for love. The reasoning behind that devotion becomes abundantly clear to anyone who has the good fortune of familiarizing themselves with the band- or even to anyone who so much as bothers to click play on this video. All of the hallmarks that create a common thread between the Exploding In Sound roster are evident but the band also brings in more than a few nods to bands like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr, immediately carving out a select niche spot in the process. Don’t sleep on this one.
4. Screaming Females – Normal (Razorcake)
Over the past few years, site favorites Screaming Females have essentially become the patron saints of DIY punk. Throw in the fact that they’re an incomparably fierce live act and it’s probably not much of a surprise they’ve appeared on this series with a relative regularity since it kicked off. While a few of those clips have been absolutely stunning in terms of execution, there’s something that just feels right about a DIY clip of the trio in action. Razorcake– one of the premier spots for DIY coverage- recently caught the band in action at the rightfully celebrated Vince Lombardi High School (or, more commonly, VLHS) ripping through Castle Talk highlight “Normal” with their usual verve and fervor. It’s also easily one of the best live representations of the band to date.
5. Ty Segall (3voor12)
A lot of digital ink’s been spilled over the complete levels of insanity that animate Ty Segall’s live show (especially when it’s with Ty Segall Band, as it is here) and all of it’s correct. I was fortunate enough to catch the band on their Slaughterhouse tour, which was pushed even further and felt more like a gleefully indulgent victory lap after Segall and his cohorts capped off a monstrous year that saw the release of no less than three highly acclaimed full-lengths (Slaughterhouse, Twnis, and the White Fence collaborative effort Hair). Segall’s just about kept pace since then, only offering a reprieve in advance of a titanic double-album- last year’s excellent Manipulator– and the live shows have managed to grow even more deliriously fierce. With such a huge catalog to pull from, Segall and his band (which includes Mikal Cronin, one of today’s finest songwriters), just about any one of his/their sets could be called “discography spanning” and not even touch on half of the releases. This set, artfully shot by 3voor12 at Amsterdam’s famed Paradiso, certainly qualifies. It’s (unsurprisingly) a wild-eyed barn-burner of a set that hits the fifth gear in its closing stretch, once again reaffirming Segall’s status as one of today’s most invigorating live performers. Don’t be surprised if people are still talking about these shows decades down the line.