Continuing on with this week’s two-part installment of Watch This — and officially catching Heartbreaking Bravery back up to both the current release cycle and regular coverage — this volume of the series features a wide range of selections. From the remarkable efforts put forth that centered on performances from Good Personalities, Man Is Not A Bird, Family Mansion, Pinegrove, Naked Giants, Okkervil River (x2), Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Ösp, Dramady, Castle Ruins, Henry Jamison, The Felice Brothers, and Bob Mould to the featured items, there’s a depth to the range of options that nicely illustrates what Watch This can offer on a weekly basis. Live edits, full sessions, abbreviated sessions, and an out-and-out concert all make appearances below, from veteran artists and tantalizing new names. So, as always, sit up, adjust the volume, forget any troubles, focus, and Watch This.
1. Mulligrub – Canadian Classic
All the way back in August 2014, Mulligrub found their way into a feature spot on this site thanks to the sheer strength of “Canadian Classic“. The trio’s made consistent appears on Heartbreaking Bravery following that event and “Canadian Classic” has more than proven to have staying power. The band recently unveiled a live edit clip for the song, which finds them playing the song in a balloon-filled room, cutting shots of the members goofing off for the camera to round the visual accompaniment out. It’s an endearing clip and a potent reminder of the telling endurance of “Canadian Classic”.
2. Lucy Dacus (Amoeba)
Touring behind this year’s excellent No Burden, Lucy Dacus continues to impress in the live setting. The latest example of the emerging songwriter’s charismatic prowess comes from Amoeba, who present a gripping three song performance with a loving tenderness that suits the material well. Dacus has had a very strong 2016, steadily increasing favor among critics and fans alike by bridging a fierce intellect with an easy relatability. Every song on display in this session is incredibly formidable enough to suggest Dacus will go on to have a storied career. For now, this is a perfect document of an exciting era for one of today’s brightest emerging songwriters.
3. Gurr – Moby Dick (Auf Klo)
The past few months have seen no shortage of great exuberant indie pop. One of the headlining acts of that haul has quickly become Gurr, a duo who excel at conjuring up sun-speckled bursts of warm tones, reassuring vocals, and carefree sensibilities. In this charming run through “Moby Dick” for Auf Klo, the young musicians find themselves sequestered away in a bathroom stall, trading smiles and playing “Moby Dick” to their hearts content. There’s a clear camaraderie between the pair and that familiarity and connection enhances every second of this clip, right down to the final, celebratory flush.
4. Worriers – Good Luck + Yes All Cops (Live! From the Rock Room)
Worriers have earned themselves a loyal following for several reasons. Whether their crowd’s at their show’s for the pointed social politics, the jangly tension, the ramshackle energy, all of those reasons, or another reason entirely doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the band continuously offers several strong angles into their world and commit to those angles with a fierce conviction. It’s a trait that translates to their live show, which is lovingly captured in this memorable two-song session for Live! From the Rock Room.
5. Okkervil River
This year’s allowed the opportunity to expand on what Okkervil River meant to the foundation of Heartbreaking Bravery and their key role in forming some of the ideas that would eventually drive the site into existence. Away, the band’s most recent release, has followed a post-release formula all too familiar for the band: fawning critical embrace, relative commercial indifference. Here, the band offers up a recent concert that showcases not only their range and uncanny ability to re-work old songs into fascinating new presentation but their jaw-dropping discography as well. The end result: an honest portrait of one of this young century’s most important bands.
Once again, this will began with the two necessary prefaces to all of the year-end list coverage: “best” is a term used loosely as it’s a reflection of personal taste and the first person restriction will be lifted so that these lists can be as direct- and as personal- as possible. Over the past few weeks I’ve gone through thousands of releases (revisiting in most cases but discovering in a few others), organizing, reflecting, and ranking every single one that caught (or continued to catch) my ear. This list and all of the ensuing lists have been condensed to 14 selections representing the very best of 2014 and, in addition to those picks, there’ll be an auxiliary list of every release (with hyperlinks provided when applicable) that I considered putting into the top 14. After all of these lists have gone up, there will be a multi-part project that provides a fitting end-cap to this site’s 2014 coverage. Since the title’s somewhat ambiguous, it’s probably worth noting that the releases taken into consideration for this particular list included flexi’s, plexi’s, CD-R’s, demos, online singles, and other titles only available digitally (or on cassette). Additionally, there will be a few other singular “best” efforts in niche categories above the long list. So, without further ado, here are the 14 best online singles (and other assorted oddities) of 2014.
14. New York – 20 Minutes From Here
20 Minutes From Here is the exhilarating sound of what happens when you throw members of Iron Chic, Shang-A-Lang, Low Culture, and Jonesin’ into a room with instruments. It’s a hastily recorded and scrappy as hell collection of fiercely energetic basement punk songs that (even with the unabashedly lo-fi aesthetic) rank among the best entries of the considerable careers of everyone involved.
13. Dan Webb and the Spiders – September Demos, Perfect Problem
One of the first things I noticed about Dan Webb and the Spiders’ two 2014 releases is that they have a distinctly Midwestern feel, despite the band’s Boston residence. While that may stand out as a curious anomaly (if not entirely unprecedented- Springsteen’s from New Jersey, after all), it’s a small fact that pales in comparison to the band’s casual brilliance. Both their demo reel and Perfect Problem suggest this is a band that’s latched onto something that should open quite a few traditionally sought-after doors.
12. Grubs – Dec 15/Gym Shame
It’s unsurprising to learn that Grubs and Joanna Gruesome share at least one common member; both bands exist in the exact center of Reeks of Effort’s wheelhouse. Sly, somewhat cynical, partially twee, and entirely vicious, Grubs’ teaser effort’s an extraordinarily tantalizing appetizer. If the album they’re currently recording lives up to what they’ve achieved here, 2015 will be due for a very strong highlight.
11. Sea Ghost – Spokes/Gold Teeth, Cave Song
Sea Ghost are another band who, like Dan Webb and the Spiders, turned in a few unexpectedly powerful efforts to start their careers off in 2014. Between the gently propulsive trio of “Spokes”, “Gold Teeth”, and “Cave Song”, they’ve come out swinging. With those three songs, they’ve already managed to exude a greater sense of identity and refinement than most bands manage to conjure up in their careers. Operating with subtlety, nuance, and verve, they’ve more than earned a status as a band worth following.
10. Earth Girls – Demo 2014
More than a few outstanding demos surfaced over the course of 2014, Earth Girls’ punchy take on the bridge between basement punk and powerpop managed to exceed even those high standards. Dark undertones permeate throughout each of these five songs, which are recorded in a way that accentuates their formidable atmosphere and relentless power. Reminiscent of Nervosas with an extremely heightened affinity for powerpop, it’s no surprise that the band’s next release is due out on a label as revered as Dirt Cult.
9. Dark Thoughts – Four Songs
One of the strongest basement punk releases over the course of the past 12 months was a four song demo debut that embodied some of the genre’s best qualities. Incendiary guitar work, venomous vocals, ferocious (and ferociously short) songs, and a palpable level of varying frustrations and unease. It’s brisk, it’s to the point, and- importantly- it’s memorable.
8. Broadbay – Demo(n)s
I can’t stress enough how strong the crop of demos from 2014 wound up being. That Broadbay’s insanely strong Demo(n)s isn’t even the highest ranked demo release in this list should say quite a bit about this very welcome aspect of the past year. Visceral, engaging, and powerfully dynamic, Demo(n)s is a resounding announcement heralding the arrival of Broadbay- and it’s one hell of an arrival.
7. Mulligrub – Canadian Classic
Over the course of this site’s 14 month existence, I’ve been fortunate to receive a handful of emails from bands containing great music that didn’t get the amount of press it deserved. Mulligrub’s Canadian Classic was one that connected with me immediately. As such, nearly every reason for why this is appearing in this list has already been laid out. Those reasons haven’t changed.
6. Toby Coke – Face Taker
Last year, Joseph Frankl (also of The Frankl Project) wound up cracking one of these lists with a strong solo release. Frankl outdid himself this year with another solo project, this time operating under the moniker Toby Coke. “Face Taker” may only be one song but it more than illustrates Frankl’s enviable skills as a songwriter and hints at Toby Coke being a project that could pay massive dividends. It’s also yet another instance of my initial thoughts growing even more certain.
5. Trifles – Demo
Trifles’ Demo seemed to come out of nowhere but when it hit, it made sure everyone felt its mark. Dark and unforgiving, this is the crowning jewel of a very specific new, emerging breed of post-punk. Taking all of the aesthetic and emotional cues from bands like Pleasure Leftists and integrating them with something easily accessible (while also managing to take some cues from hardcore) made this one of 2014’s most fascinating releases in any format. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the best.
4. Infinity Crush – Heaven
One of the year’s finest songs was relegated to a modest tumblr post, which somehow fit the song’s nature to a tee. “Heaven” may be the quietest song on here but it’s also the most emotionally-charged (and devastating) to have come out in 2014. As a public self-examination, it’s alarmingly brutal and frighteningly heartfelt. “Heaven” is a deceptively cruel title for a song that’s dressed up beautifully but is secretly bruised all to hell.
3. Dweller On The Threshold – Decimal Spaces, Ollie Ox & Free, Barnfire
Looking at Dweller On The Threshold’s lineup (and their respective correlating pedigrees), it shouldn’t be surprising that the music they’ve been slowly unveiling has been masterful. Members of Parquet Courts, Kindling, Ampere, Death to Tyrants, and Daniel Striped Guitar are all involved in this project that blurs the lines between post-rock and shoegaze more successfully than just about any band making similar attempts. All three songs the band’s made publicly available have been towering genre masterpieces leading up to what’s promising to be a breathtaking full-length debut.
2. Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03
“86’d in ‘o3” isn’t just the best song of Bent Shapes’ career, it’s one of the best powerpop songs to emerge from the past few years. Backed with “Bridgeport Lathe” on a lathecut picture plexi disc, it’s also one of the year’s more curious limited run items. I’ve already detailed my love for the A-side but “Bridgeport Lathe” has managed to sneak its way into my subconscious. Both songs complement each other in odd ways, demonstrating the considerable range that makes Bent Shapes one of Boston’s more celebrated local acts and both songs are strong enough to land them a spot on this list.
1. Slight – Run
Between this and LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, drummer Greg Rutkin had an absurdly strong 2014. No two-song release was stronger than Slight’s follow-up to their excellent townie490EP. With members of site favorites Trace Mountains and Painted Zeros also involved, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that this wound up taking this spot. In the review I originally posted, the emphasis fell on the influences the band turned to as touch points but largely eschewed the band’s unwavering sense of atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s the production, the tones, or just a happy accident but it’s hard not to think of the band practices and basement shows where everything just clicks while listening to both of these songs. There’s grit, determination, sweat, and an unfiltered sense of joy and affirmation reverberating throughout all five minutes and forty seconds. Run is imbued with a celebratory sound (whether the intention was willful or not) and it’s a release well worth celebrating.
As the holiday season descends, the output of new music and videos decreases. That fact’s both a blessing and a curse. While it does provide some time to catch up on everything, it also limits the cathartic rush of new material. Fortunately, there are a few genuine gems that slip through the cracks. For example: Saintseneca’s wonderful (and wonderfully contained) stab at Holiday canon with the understated “Plastic Baby Jesus“. For those looking for a reprieve from the Christmas season, there was Swings’ kinetic and brooding “Heavy Manner“. Chill Mega Chill’s wonderful Tape Deck The Halls mixtape proved to be a perfect concoction for anyone looking to find a new batch of holiday tunes and The Le Sigh: Vol. II immediately threatened to achieve a status bordering the iconic.
Even with all of that madness going on, Mulligrub somehow managed to be responsible for the craziest item of the past few weeks: the stuffed animal-heavy music video for “Sprite Zero”. Back in July, the band released the outstanding Canadian Classic and are now expanding on its promise with a new song (and an insane new video to match). In “Sprite Zero”, a variety of stuffed animals meet up and have a party. The staggeringly brilliant editing provides the clip with an abundance of verve and humor. While the clip pits expectations against reality and achieves something unforgivingly dark, the song lends the whole affair a feeling of genuine vibrancy. Quick-cuts abound, a party gets out of hand, and Mulligrub ends up with one of the most delightful items of an increasingly promising career.
Watch “Sprite Zero” below and keep an eye on this site for any upcoming Mulligrub news.
Another hundred posts in and this site’s still humming along. As tradition dictates, today is one of the only days that doesn’t get dedicated to the outstanding just-released content (though there was an incredible amount, which will be covered tomorrow)- and features a digital mixtape instead. There was a lot of talk over what the song of the summer was and no real general consensus in any type of forum. In the spirit of that surprisingly diverse conversation, the mixtape features the songs that resonated throughout this place most strongly during what proved to be an incredibly memorable summer (covering both NXNE and Pitchfork festivals among the many highlights). As the season approaches its end, it only felt right to shine a light on some of those songs one more time before the year draws to a close.
A few of these have been featured in previous playlists but that should only stand as a testament to their longevity. While a few weren’t even released in summer, they definitely struck a deeper chord as the surroundings finally caught up to the mood they inhabited. Every single one of them can be streamed below (a tracklist is also provided) and, being that this marks another hundred posts- and in the event anyone was curious in catching something they missed, hyperlinks to posts No. 200-299 are given beneath the tracklist. So, turn the volume all the way up and enjoy some great music while the warm weather’s still here.
Stream Songs of Summer: 2014 below and feel free to navigate through any of the listed hyperlinks.
1. Lost Boy ? – Hollywood
2. LVL UP – Soft Power
3. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs
4. The Coasts – I Just Wanna Be A Star
5. The Yolks – You Don’t Live Here No More
6. Tweens – Forever
7. The Sleepwalkers – My Best Was Never Good Enough
8. Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03
9. The Freezing Hands – Good Morning Takeout
10. Happyness – Anything I Do Is All Right
11. Dead Stars – Summer Bummer
12. Joanna Gruesome – Jerome (Liar)
13. Perfect Pussy – Leash Called Love (Sugarcubes Cover)
14. Eugene Quell – Hell Presidente
15. Happy Diving – Weird Dream
16. Mean Creek – My Madeline
17. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning
18. Left & Right – Low Expectations
19. Mulligrub – Canadian Classic
20. Dude York – Believer
21. Cayetana – Scott Get the Van, I’m Moving
22. Lenguas Largas – Kawasaki Dream
23. Wyatt Blair – Girls!
24. Jawbreaker Reunion – Empire
25. Reigning Sound – Falling Rain
Pop-punk is a maligned genre- and, disappointingly, it’s earned the majority of its scorn by virtue of being largely tepid and uninspired. Ideas are recycled to an alarming extent, the execution’s often overly-bombastic and instantly forgettable. That’s why bands like Lemuria, The Frankl Project, Sundials, Little Lungs, PUP, and the bands that exist (or existed) alongside them are embraced like breaths of fresh air; they’re bands that subvert the genre so completely it’s difficult to define them as part of the genre. Grit, humility, and a sense of empathy help separate them from an overcrowded field- and half the time, they come off as punk bands with an easily traceable love for powerpop anyway. All of the artists that occupy that position have created a niche that labels like Salinas frequently celebrate. Add Winnipeg’s Mulligrub to that list immediately.
Last month, the trio released the Canadian Classic single online, which is a two-song effort highlighted by the title track, in advance of their forthcoming full-length. “Canadian Classic” announced Mulligrub as a band who has remarkable control of their craft, navigating a variety of passages with a clear-eyed confidence that should serve them extraordinarily well. Musically, it’s closest spiritual kin is likely Radiator Hospital at their most unabashedly poppy, which is really just a slightly longer way of saying that it’s a song that should definitely be listened to. Additionally, there’s a prominent 90’s alternative influence that skews a little closer to Swearin’, solidifying it as a can’t-miss prospect. “Canadian Classic” is backed by “Chicken”, a subtle slow-builder that showcases the band’s range and cements their spot as an act to watch. So, start listening, start watching, just don’t make the mistake of glazing past this band or these songs.
Listen to Canadian Classic below and snag a copy of the band’s upcoming full-length at the first available opportunity.