Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Chelsea Wolfe

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsay Hazen)

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When I started Heartbreaking Bravery, its sole intent was to spotlight important voices that weren’t being granted the exposure they deserved. While in the early stages, it primarily featured songwriters, it evolved to include filmmakers, and then — finally — other writers. Anytime I made a new discovery, it gave me a surge of hope for the years to come. Even as some of these roles — especially that of the writer — grew more thankless, it was inspirational to see people who were willing to kick back against an intimidating current. After more than two years of meticulously combing through just about every resource I had to identify emerging talent, I still wasn’t adequately prepared for the pieces Lindsay Hazen was quietly turning in on her personal tumblr. Long-form essays on streaming platforms, deeply personal asides, critical dissections of movements and geographical circumstance; everything I read blew me away. It’s a sincere honor to be publishing her writing on this site and the piece she’s turned in may be her most definitive to date. Below, she explores her diagnosis, the artists that brought her joy and comfort, and the general shape of her 2015. Dive in and give her work a look whenever and wherever it surfaces.

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When I think about 2015, I get overwhelmed. It was a year marked by unmanageability, the sheer amount of events, information, and media unable to be synthesized, catalogued and understood in any satisfying way. My year started off memorizing the lyrics of Colleen Green’s “Pay Attention“, a song which takes up an attitude of assertive indifference to her attention deficiency. As someone whose lifelong fight not to doze off/get lost in the middle of conversations (and lectures, and my own sentences…) is an endless cause of anxiety, it’s such a relief to be able to embrace two and a half minutes of a right for my absent-minded brain to exist in the world, even to the point of sitting in judgement of others.

Whenever I listen to it, “Small talk on the bus, wondering how do some people talk so much/ Small talk at The Smell, talk so small you’d need a microscope to discern much at all,” I hear an echo of “Psycho Killer“, “You start a conversation, you can’t even finish it/You’re talking a lot but you’re not saying anything/ When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed/Say something once, why say it again?”

It’s ending sort of like it began, anxious and cold. But on a cold December day, I weep quietly to Modern Baseball’s “The Waterboy Returns“. It comes on on my iPod, on the bus, and I run my thumb across the crack in the screen incessantly. I’ve never successfully made it through the song without crying and this is no exception. The first time I heard it, I sobbed hard and loud; now I just turn to the window and let the emotion wash over me, trying to catch my tears on my knuckles as they slip out past my glasses.

2015 was made up of moments like this. Being backpacked in the face by an aggressive guy at a Speedy Ortiz show, only to have them start a hotline just weeks later for people who feel unsafe at their shows. The way the stage lights at the Hard Luck Bar looked through eyes, brimming with tears, as I watched Sorority Noise perform “Using“, hearing the song for the first time. I didn’t cry then, blinked it away. I wonder if this is how normal people always feel. Accepted, joyous, okay. Among people who understand them.

Not drinking alcohol anymore because it’s disastrous for my anxiety, and spending the minutes between each band’s set admiring how brave the girls are at the show – an all ages affair. These teenage punks, eyes lined with black and bags covered in patches and buttons. So grateful that these girls have a place where they could yell and scream and jump; so in awe of how they held their own in a sea of giant men – at 24, I’m just learning to do the same.

The Sorority Noise record was my favourite of the year. I spent a lot of time in the early months of the year shouting songs off their 2014 effort Forgettable in the shower. The anticipation I felt for Joy, Departed was such an integral part of my year. Maybe it’s because it paid off, a powerful and direct series of emotional appeals that oscillate between soaring and slow-burning – sometimes within the same track.

It’s a record that dropped right as I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to stay in the city, just as I had to move away from my friends and my education and my life. It’s a record that I hope one day stands as a classic in the canon of art that explores man vs. self. It is certainly an album which elucidated many thoughts I had about my own mental illness, and led to my being able to develop coping mechanisms for the first time since my diagnosis. I still get a lump in my throat when I hear, “maybe I’m my own greatest fear/ maybe I’m too scared to admit that/ I might not be as dark as I think.”

Next to Joy, Departed, the record that had the most impact on me this year was Krill’s A Distant Fist Unclenching. Where Sorority Noise’s songs felt like the slow blossom of hope in my chest, a hand reaching out to pull me away from all the things I’ve done to myself and my life, Krill songs are like the first fidget coming out of stasis. All of the angles and dissonant reaches.

I can’t think of a song in the world I identify with more than “Brain Problem“, the drums skipping along like arrhythmia and the lyrics part confession and part prayer. Before listening to Krill I didn’t think of there being a separation between my mental illness and my self. Krill gave me a sense of personhood that I was starting to be too jaded to believe I would find in music anymore. I won’t go on because they’ve been eulogized, praised and parsed by minds much finer than mine.

Everything Everything released my favourite pop album of the year, a dystopian rock opera continuing a loose narrative they introduced in the post-apocalyptic banger “My Kz, Ur Bf” a few years ago. Get To Heaven is an album that lets you revel in the sheer amount of evidence that you are the problem, because people are the problem, and we have let the world end around us – and are nostalgic for the way it happened all the same. “Take me to the distant past,” “Did you imagine it in a different way,” “Keep on rubbernecking, yeah, whatever feels familiar.”

There’s been a few difference thinkpieces on the increased awareness/acknowledgement of mental illness in music this year and I listened to a lot of music this year for aforementioned therapeutic/self-help kind of reasons. But, holy hell is it ever lovely to put on Get To Heaven and live in the world that Higgs and company have created – to feel a universalized misery and to find a narrative, to find humour and grand tragedy that leads to a greater sense of catharsis.

There were also a million punk/rock albums by women that just kicked my ass. The Speedy Ortiz record, the Palehound record, Dirty Dishes, Bully, Chelsea Wolfe, MarriagesG.L.O.S.S., The Lonely Parade, not to mention the valiant return of Sleater-Kinney. I don’t know why it’s harder for me to write about these records, or even to speak about them. I push them on others with half-formed sentences, gushing about something that escapes me.

I tell them about the loss and longing in the first moments of “Red Roulette“, and about how I woke up early one morning in August to sit in the backyard just after sunrise and listen to Abyss in full – how the record that reveled in so much lush darkness was somehow even more beautiful in sunlight so bright you could barely open your eyes. I tell the producer/songsmith at my work about how in my most anxious moments I scream along with the G.L.O.S.S demo because of what I can only term as its inclusive alienation. It is a record that feels made for moments when I feel alone and afraid in my house and in my skin. It is a reclamation of the space around me.

I guess the last big thing of the year for me was spending two months with Smokes’ debut, Zone Eater. It opens with the absolutely cutting lyric, “I know I need to evolve instead of revolving,” on “Dead Hand” and repeats into the chorus, continuing, “I need to evaporate, but I’m still devolving.” There’s a detectable desperation, in Nick Maas’ voice and echoed in both the guitar and violin that suggests a critical mass, a return of Saturn, a day that you make a choice and you don’t look back – the record is full of this feeling. Of looking into the face of nihilism and deciding to just fucking leap into being who you want to be.

It makes sense, I learned in reading the press surrounding the record that the second song on the record, “Lemonlime“, is a coming out song. It might just have ended up my favourite song of the year. “I used to be a mind among machines, now I’m a timebomb wearing tight jeans/I was a clock but I couldn’t tell time, but I can tell a lemon from a fucking lime.” “Now I’m a shark, and I still can’t tell time, but I can tell a lemon from a fucking lime.” “I’ve lost all my baby teeth, so what you see is what you’re going to get with me.” “I’m a fucking shark, I eat what I want.” I moved back to the East Coast – I still don’t know whether it was a good decision but “Lemonlime” is the song that made me stop worrying about it.

I finally acknowledged the loss of my own metaphorical baby teeth. Their early single “Body Heat” is on the record, and it’s the one that hooked me. It’s a cinematic song made for walking through the busy streets and feeling everyone move past you like a blur – the violin, fiddle-like, a soundtrack fit for a hero walking into the sunset. ‘’For once in your fucking life, wear your heart like body heat.” There’s a rawness to the emotion on this record that runs right through, even the most starkly Canadian indie music tendencies don’t obscure the boiling blood contained within. And there are songs like “Snakeskin,” that bypass all of that and head right for a heartland that falls somewhere between L’Acadie and Rasputina territory, thrilling and chilling me.

I guess to me, being overwhelmed by music was a welcome distraction from all of the other things that overwhelmed me. The music of 2015 reminded me of all the excitement and enthusiasm and effusiveness with which I loved music as a teenager. I felt so profoundly grateful for music this year. I guess that’s the place that I should leave off – knowing that the music I listened to this year helped me to rediscover the parts of my brain that I liked, helped me to realize that depression hasn’t taken away my ability to feel grateful and fulfilled. I slip out of the imposter syndrome that has cloaked me and all my decisions in doubt and though I stand about as tall as a concrete foundation, I have all of these songs; these melodies; these lyrics; these memories on which to build some fucked up, crazy, beautiful life in the coming year.

-Lindsay Hazen

Rebecca Ryskalczyk – We’re Brothers (Demo Stream)

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A lot’s happened over the past few days; some coverage has been delayed due to a duo of outstanding live shows. One of those shows (Jason Isbell’s incredible, moving set at Prospect Park earlier tonight) won’t receive a mention on this site beyond what was just written. The other, an intimate all-acoustic rooftop affair spearheaded by site favorite Johanna Warren, will surface in a visual spread sometime in the very near future. With both of those now in the past, it’s time to bring the site back up to the current release cycle.

In the interest of time, the artists that had interesting releases throughout the three main formats (single stream, full stream, and music video) will simply be listed without explanation as to what’s attached to their name. The vast majority of these were released two days ago and all of them are worth the click. Life’s surprising sometimes, so why not embrace the opportunity to provide a low-level risk and high-level payoff? There were the artists responsible for those treasures: Infinity Girl, HSY, O, Rrest, Futurebirds, Slonk Donkerson, Say Hi, Chelsea Wolfe, Steep Leans (x2), Cold Specks, Here We Go Magic, and EZTV.

Today’s feature piece actually comes from a few weeks back but hasn’t really shown up anywhere outside of its own release. It comes from the solo project of Bethlehem Steel‘s driving voice, Rebecca Ryskalcyzk. While the emerging songwriter’s still playing shows with her own vehicle, she’s also generously offering two new songs under her own name. Released under the title We’re Brothers, the pair of songs are arresting bare-bones guitar/vocal demos that have something inherently special happening at their core.

While it’s difficult to describe what exactly that is, it’s painfully obvious when the songs are in motion. “Brain Drugs” starts the small collection off and immediately sets the tone for what’s to follow; haunted, lo-fi, folk-leaning tapestries that seem to be settling in with their own demons rather than pushing for an escape. As mesmerizing as it is downtrodden, “Brain Drugs”- the opening track- is an intensely arresting piece of work that sets up the latter number perfectly (while also recalling, both in style and tone, one of the year’s best covers).

“Other Otters” follows, maintaining the deeply bruised feeling that lent its predecessor an acute sense of devastation. It’s a jarring sequence that drives a knife home in a powerful couplet towards the end: “the less I try/the more I’m terrified”- a perfect summation of a potentially damaging penchant for indecision. Ryskalyczk riddles both songs with a series of gut-punches that seem to be rooted in life’s minutiae while still managing to keep an eye on the big picture. It’s an impressive feat and an even more impressive collection.

Towards the bottom of Ryskalczyk’s bandcamp page that hosts this release, there’s a disclaimer that these songs will be “re-recorded for something more” and when that release rolls around, it’ll likely be worth a slew of purchases. Until they do surface, though, these demos carry more than enough weight to approach an unlikely perfection.

Listen to We’re Brothers below and pick it up over on bandcamp. Keep an eye on this site for more updates on both Ryskalyczk and Bethlehem Steel.

PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries (Stream)

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Wednesday, for whatever reason, has become a traditionally stacked day for the release slate. Today’s already ushered in more than a dozen notable releases from all across the world, spanning about as much terrain musically as it does geographically. Music videos wound up with a fairly strong outing and included some stunning visuals that were brought into focus by the likes of Ducktails, Creepoid, Destroyer, and Albert Hammond Jr., constituting the strongest showing for the format in weeks.

Curiously, the full stream category was completely absent from the day’s proceedings (so far, at least) but that did make room for another impressive haul of singles. Donovan Wolfington got a little heavier and a lot more focused with “Ollie North“, Manatree ushered in some tropical tones through their sccuzzed-up indie pop number “Animal Qualities“, Wand and Sunflower Bean continued to revel in psychedelia with “Stolen Footprints” and “The Stalker“, respectively.

Ultimate Painting continued sharpening their shambolic, widescreen Americana via “(I’ve Got The) Sanctioned Blues“, Tenement released the winningly scrappy demo take of Predatory Headlights standout “Hive of Hives“, and Cold Beat continued to create compelling tapestries by merging distinctly left-field influences once again in the tension/explosion masterclass “Cracks“. Fake Palms let loose the pulverizing “Sparkles“, Palehound released another stunner in “Healthier Folk“, Antarctigo Vespucci continued subverting expectations and delivering at an unreasonably high level with “Impossible To Place“, Diät resurfaced with the urgent, punishing “Toonie“, Autobahn brought out a similarly menacing gut-punch through “Society“, and Chelsea Wolfe deepened the foreboding overtones of those last two numbers with the slow-burning “After the Fall“.

While any number of those songs could have been selected as the feature for today’s post, the distinction goes to a duo that’s earned some coverage here in the past: PWR BTTM. Today the band not only announced their upcoming record and the necessary details but released the title track as well. Father/Daughter and Miscreant will be joining forces once again to release the excellent Ugly Cherries on September 18. And while “Ugly Cherries” is fairly representative of the full-length’s best qualities, there are still a variety of surprises and nuances to explore once the record drops.

Until then, though, we’ve got “Ugly Cherries” to place under a lens and obsess over.  If the song sounds familiar, it may be due to the fact that it’s been a staple of the band’s live set for quite some time- or maybe you’ve heard it playing as the theme song for the excellent live series that’s hosted by Play Too Much. Maybe you just think the chord progression lead-in is “Undone — The Sweater Song” (it’s not but you’d probably be forgiven for the confusion). Any way that it gets processed, though, the simple unavoidable fact is that it’s an absolute powerhouse of a song, swinging for the fences and connecting with a startling emphasis.

PWR BTTM, a band that consists of Benjamin Hopkins and Liv Bruce, have developed the kind of rapport that most bands can only dream about achieving. From their impressive musical synchronicity (they frequently switch guitar, drum, and vocal positions) right down to the atypically engaging stage banter that peppers their energetic live show, there’s an intrinsic connection that’s both palpable and natural- something that translates to the studio versions of the songs.

“Ugly Cherries” hits some of the duo’s favorite beats (gender identity, examination, doubt, shamelessly bombastic shredding, and acceptance, among them) without ever losing its sense of urgency or vitality. As a powerful display of finesse and deceptive strength, it’s a near-perfect mission statement for the band. As a warning shot for the record that’s now on its way out into the world, it might be enough to incite a riot. I’m almost positive they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Listen to “Ugly Cherries” below and order the record from site favorite(s) Father/Daughter Records (in association with Miscreant Records) ahead of its September 18 release date by following the label hyperlinks.

Bent Denim – Good Night’s Sleep (Music Video)

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After a ridiculously packed month of material and a few small campaigns, this site’s nearly caught up on songs and music videos. There are 18 songs to get to and ten videos that aren’t contained in this post’s headline. What is going to be the primary focus of this post is also one of the best clips of the year (and possibly the decade) but we’ll get to that in due time. Before then, we’ll start with the lion’s share of the pre-feature coverage: single streams. Since there are so many, I won’t go into too much detail in listing the attributes that make them great, just know that they are genuinely great. In no particular order those songs are: Young Jesus’ “Dirt“, Fort Lean’s “New Hobbies“, Sweet John Bloom’s “Tell Me“, Chelsea Wolfe’s “Iron Moon“, Battle Ave.’s “Solar Queen“, Diamond Youth’s “No Control“, Colornoise’s “Amalie“, Spraynard’s “Bench“, and The Trendees’ “Motorcycles (Make Loud Noises)“. Joining that already formidable pile were Crosss’ “Golden Hearth“, Jack + Eliza’s “Oh No“, Elliot Moss’ “VCR Machine“, Lull’s “Bubble Tea“, Porcelain Raft’s “All In My Head“, Stranger Wilds’ “Pronoia“, Ezra Furman’s “Lousy Connection“, Mike Viola’s “Stairway to Paradise“, and Inheaven’s “Slow“.

Much like the songs listed above, the music videos over the past week or so have covered a similarly expansive musical spread. Among these videos were Something Anorak’s absurdly lush “I Am A Doctor“, Heaters’ retro dancehall exhibition “Mean Green“, ANAMAI’s extremely unsettling “Half“, Iron & Wine’s surprisingly beautiful indie wrestling fever dream “Everyone’s Summer of ’95“, and Palma Violets’ gleefully raucous “English Tongue“. Also included in this run were Ceremony’s stark career highlight “Your Life In France“, Jamie xx’s slow-burning, jaw-dropping “Gosh“, Death From Above 1979’s wild-eyed Amish party clip “Virgins“, The Rentals’ eerie, foreboding “It’s Time To Come Home“, and “Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive“-  a comically psychedelic animated adventure from The Prefab Messiahs. And then there was Bent Denim’s devastating, unforgettable “Good Night’s Sleep“.

Abortion has always been- and likely always will be- a difficult subject to address. Treatment either empathetic or unerringly sympathetic has rendered some recent works (like last year’s outstanding Obvious Child or The Antlers’ wrenching “Bear“) into pieces of art equipped with a lasting resonance. It’s the same reason that Ben Folds Five’s “Brick” has retained its value as an emotionally difficult piece of pop culture and it’s why the deeply-felt clip for “Good Night’s Sleep” is nearly impossible to watch without feeling emptied. After one viewing, it’s difficult to return to the video’s thesis shot: a vacant child’s swing, rocking gently in silence. It’s an arresting image that sets the tone for the ensuing emotional onslaught. Intertwining two visions (a la Derek Cianfrance’s masterpiece, Blue Valentine)- one decidedly more hopeful than the other- Bent Denim present a vision that cuts in a manner that’s brutally immediate.

Accentuating the video’s sense of pain and longing is the home video visual aesthetic, which suits the gentle tones of the song to a sublime perfection. All in all, “Good Night’s Sleep” is an intensely compassionate, moving portrait of both sides’ turmoil following what comes off as a difficult decision (one via audio and one through the clip, which features a gripping performance from its lead). In either case, the emotions are so palpable that the whole thing feels uncomfortably voyeuristic and intensely harrowing. It’s a situation that’s more familiar than most parties would let on but it’s rarely presented as delicately or as realistically as it is in “Good Night’s Sleep”. At the clip’s conclusion, to drive everything home in a way that’s definitively final, the viewer’s returned to the thesis image: a lone child’s swing, once projected to be full, once again swaying in silence.

Watch “Good Night’s Sleep” below and order Romances You from the band’s bandcamp.