Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Chris Sutter

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.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Chris Sutter)

meatwave

Very few bands have meant as much to me as Meat Wave, who I’ve written about over and over on this site and in other corners of the music world. Their self-titled debut remains one of my favorite records of all time and is still the only cassette that I’ve listened to so much that some sections of it are damaged (a modest estimate would put the number of plays at over 200). In 2014, they played the first Heartbreaking Bravery Presents showcase (their set that night remains one of the most meaningful moments I’ve experienced in music) and I got to know them as individuals a little better, which, on a personal level, made their 2015 run feel even more celebratory. Last year, they signed to SideOneDummy, released one of the best records of the year, one of the best compilation EP’s of the year, and toured the world. They made their name known but retained their humility. Here, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Chris Sutter takes a look at an extended moment he experienced with Drive Like Jehu at the Denver Riot Fest stop that reminded him of the importance of music. Read it below and remember to hold onto the moments where everything clicks into place.

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2015 was the craziest year of my life. The epitome of bittersweet. Life is very mystifying. I’m half-trying to figure out how it all works, half-trying not to disturb it and let it do its thing. The latter has worked out for me more thus far. What makes us all so drawn to or obsessed with music? Or anything for that matter? And how is it that music has provided me with so many amazing opportunities and experiences? I think that you can’t expect anything from it, and in that it presents things to you. That’s how it works in the Meat Wave camp, keep your expectations very low and usually it’s a lot better than what you thought it’d be.

Before the year began, we more or less agreed that we would focus more than ever on traveling, touring and playing well. Because why the fuck not? Yolo. So that’s basically what we did. We released an album in September. We toured the UK and Europe three times(!). We went to fucking Iceland. Toured the US and Canada. We got a beer and a sandwich named after us. We saw so many bands we respect and love. Met so many amazing people. Basically, if we did this, it’s proof that literally anyone can do whatever the fuck they want if they work hard, sometimes make some sacrifices and just really want to do it. We are the luckiest people. Purely. Undeserving, really.

In late August, we drove to Denver, Colorado to play Riot Fest. A mixed bag of bands and artists, with some real gems thrown in. We had no idea how people would respond to us, whether we’d get a good slot, etc. (remember, low expectations). We made a long weekend out of it and brought our friends Andrew and Jonathan with us, which sweetened the deal so much more cause they’re the best. Upon traveling to the fest we were informed that we’d be opening up one of the main stages, essentially opening for Drive Like Jehu and the Pixies, two of my favorite bands ever. Fuck.

That morning we arrived we were golf carted by our liaison to the stage to soundcheck (this never happens). It was the most gorgeous summer morning, a cool breeze mixed with hot-ass sun rays beating down. The fest took place in an open-air arena/jumbo parking lot where they do rodeos. As soon as we got to the stage we realized we were surrounded by all the Pixies gear and they had just soundchecked (WTF).

A couple hours later we played, real early in the afternoon. T’was good. The rest of the day proved to be really bizarre and fun. I was just kind of geeking out the entire time. “Oh shit, there’s the motherfucking GZA eating” or “Captain Sensible just came in to our dressing room (never happens either) and woke Joe up to give him a beer.” We met Andrew W.K. We got up so close to see Iggy Pop, suddenly I turn around to see Thurston Moore, excited as I am, both of us taking pictures of Iggy and his leathery-ass chest. We saw the Pixies, Modest Mouse, Bootsy Collins, Dead Milkmen, Tenacious D, and Snoop Dogg that night. But nothing compares to Drive Like Jehu.

I thought I’d never in my life be able to see Drive Like Jehu. Those guys’ bands influenced me so incredibly much. Just the epitome of badassery. So at the risk of seeming like greedy little snobs, we asked the super generous stage manager Keith if we could get on the side of the stage for Jehu, to which he obliged. So there we were, on the side of the stage as the sun was setting watching Drive Like Jehu expertly put everyone to shame. Tear-inducing. Pure power.

About midway during their set, I look over and there’s fucking Jack Black standing right next to us watching Jehu. WTF. How did we get here? I drunkenly and idiotically said hi to Jack Black. He gave me a thumbs up. But seeing Drive Like Jehu that night was life-affirming. Throughout the year, I’d been wrestling with the prospect of putting so much time into music and sacrificing a lot to do it. Is it worth it? Is it too self-indulgent? What about my future? But it is this moment in seeing Drive Like Jehu and many other moments over the course of the year that slapped me in my dumb face and clearly stated “yes, this is right. Nothing else matters if you have a deep love for something.” Very cheesy, but actually true as hell.

It’s proof of not only music’s, but life’s mystical powers. We’re just huge fans and nerds and students of music, and in that found ourselves surrounded by so many people we had respected and loved for years. It’s given us the opportunity to play to and meet amazing people all over the place; the restoration of my faith in humanity! 2015 kept reminding me of this and how lucky we all are to be able to share and experience in this era of art and music.

-Chris Sutter

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

Eskimeaux

2015, close to unanimously, was concerned to be one of the highest points for new music in recent memory. To that end, putting together this list was even more of a nightmarish task than narrowing the 2015 songs down to their 15 slots. There was even a brief moment where expanding this list to 50 slots seemed like a viable action. Ultimately, after literally hundreds of substitutions in the various positions (and countless exclusions and extractions), the formula remained intact. While it was painful to leave an extremely large handful of extraordinary records lingering just outside the perimeter, the 15 records below have earned their spots. Every single one of these has remained in near-constant rotation since the time of their release and will likely resonant well into 2016 and beyond. Dive on in below and reflect on the overwhelming strength of the past 12 months.

15. Meat Wave – Delusion Moon

One of a select few bands to play an instrumental part in the formative stages of this site’s focus (and one of the acts to play the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase), Meat Wave came through in a big way in 2015. The trio released one of the year’s best oddities, signed to SideOneDummy, and unleashed a behemoth of an album in Delusion Moon. Billed as their first proper full-length (their vicious self-titled, limited-run cassette straddled the line between EP and full-length), Delusion Moon saw the band exploring their darker tendencies to great success. More fully exploring influences like Mission of Burma and Drive Like Jehu, the band acted as a nice counterpoint to the usual brand of ’90s revival and got some kicks in along the way.

14. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

No band’s live show was documented more exhaustively here over 2015 than PWR BTTM, who perfected a simplistic approach with enormous- and enormously successful- ideas. The duo (who is occasionally a trio) set their sights on exploring gender and personal identity and followed through with a startlingly brazen tenacity. Close to every song on Ugly Cherries, their extraordinary full-length debut, play out like the kind of anthems that 2015 desperately needed. For a record that’s quick to be gleefully tongue-in-cheek, Ugly Cherries also offers up some devastating personal moments, lending the band an emotional depth that makes their outsize spirit even more powerful.

13. Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture

Force of Nurture, Midnight Reruns‘ astonishing sophomore effort, has one of the best A-sides I’ve ever heard. Not to discredit an extremely strong B-side, either, but the run the band puts together from “There’s An Animal Upstairs” to “Sky Blue Water” is just about flawless. All six of those songs were considered for this year’s list of the best songs of 2015 along with the record’s sprawling closer, “Great Southern Rail”, which boasts one of the year’s more jaw-dropping choruses. Bolstered by the involvement of one of the band’s earliest and most vocal supporters- The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, who produced the record- Midnight Reruns turned in their finest collection of songs to date.

12. Hop Along – Painted Shut

A statement that bears repeating: one of the most heartening aspects of 2015 was watching the deserved ascension of Hop Along, who have been cranking out exquisite material on an exceptionally high platform for several years. Driven by the distinctive, arresting voice of guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan and their own unique sensibilities, Hop Along crafted the strongest record of their discography. With new partner Saddle Creek firmly in their corner, the band came to vibrant life and stayed on form, delivering a set of knockout tracks that included “Waitress”, one of this year’s finest. A welcome breath of fresh air, Painted Shut marked the beginning of an exciting new era for one of today’s best bands.

spotify:album:16fimHkQtXptYBytXfHfUs

11. Royal Headache – High

Even as all the news of High being Royal Headache’s finest record (thankfully) receded, the power of their finest offering to date didn’t diminish. Following a brilliant debut, the band may have actually surpassed that record’s promise with their sophomore effort. Highlighted by songs like the towering, defiant title track and the surging “Another World“, High is a genre masterclass of the highest order. Buoyed by an infectious energy that’s constantly verging on manic, there’s never a moment during the record that doesn’t feel like it’s nearing a state of euphoria. When High is firing on all cylinders, as is the case for the vast majority of the record, the band’s as close to being virtually untouchable as is possibly imaginable.

10. Young Jesus – Grow/Decompose

Home, Young Jesus‘ breakout record and a candidate for album of the decade, set extraordinarily high expectations for whatever the band chose as its following release. Crafting a worthy follow-up seemed even more unlikely after the band moved out of Chicago and over to Los Angeles, reassembling their lineup in the process. By that token, Grow/Decompose isn’t just a deeply impressive record, it’s a miraculous one. Guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter sharpens his singular songwriting voice and leads his new outfit with a fiery determination. An immensely satisfying collection of songs, Grow/Decompose feels like a genuine album; structured and paced to near perfection, Grow/Decompose is a reinvigorating- and reinvigorated- frenzy.

9. Dogs On Acid – Dogs On Acid

Dogs On Acid, a band formed out of the ashes of much beloved acts Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader, expanded on one of the best 7″ releases of 2014 with one of the strongest full-length debuts in recent memory. Laced with knockout hooks at just about every turn, Dogs On Acid is a staggering show of power from a band that finds surprising ways to exceed its predecessors. Maximizing their pop sensibilities to astonishing effect, Dogs On Acid inject their first major effort with an insistent, propulsive energy that catapults each of its 10 tracks to unthinkable heights, keeping their punk roots in place along the way. Every song on Dogs On Acid is a genuine highlight, yet the whole affair still manages to come across as so much more than a collection of singles. Bold and brash, this is the kind of record that may never fall out of regular rotation.

8. Tenement – Predatory Headlights

For close to 10 years, I’ve provided near-incessant documentation of Tenement, chronicling their forward motion with increasing intensity as the years progressed. When Heartbreaking Bravery was initially designed, it was constructed with the intention of highlighting bands that weren’t being granted the press that they deserved. In 2015, the world at large finally started catching on to a band that’s meant more to the development of my personal interests in music than any other (I didn’t include their Bruised Music compilation in the oddities list because I contributed a lengthy piece to the record’s insert that expands on that fact). Predatory Headlights, the trio’s latest opus, was a definitive collection of the band’s current era, unafraid of demolishing genre barriers and bold experimentation. Over its intimidating 28 tracks, the album steadily emerges as a genuine- and singular- masterpiece.

7. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

For Julien Baker‘s breathtaking breakout record, the young songwriter (previously best known as one of the driving forces behind Forrister) dived fearlessly into a despairing examination of her own psyche. A preoccupation with mortality that was heavily informed by the laws of religion dominates nearly every song on this surprisingly brave collection. From the description of the car wreck in the opener’s first verse all the way through to the passage in “Go On”- Sprained Ankle‘s mesmerizing closing track and one of 2015’s finest songs– about consuming bleach, there’s barely a moment of reprieve. Built almost exclusively around Baker’s voice and acoustic guitar, Sprained Ankle feels progressively more personal as it goes along, each song functioning as a plea, a warning, and a sustained moment of clarity. Tragic and beautiful, Baker’s conjured up a collection of deeply personal songs that feel genuinely sacred.

6. All Dogs – Kicking Every Day

Ever since their earliest releases, All Dogs have been steadily crafting great material and building momentum. Kicking Every Day, the band’s startlingly defiant full-length debut, continues that pattern with an astounding amount of grace. Even with their lineup at full strength following the addition of guitarist Nick Harris (which is paying massive dividends), guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones’ songs feel more naked than ever, imbuing Kicking Every Day with a voyeuristic look at its principal songwriter’s inner turmoil and unflinching resolve. After the anticipation levels for this record came close to hitting a fever pitch with the release of “That Kind of Girl” (which ranked highly on the songs of the year list), the prospect of a record as extravagantly strong as Kicking Every Day didn’t seem so distant. The record ultimately surpassed those expectations thanks to both the instant acclaim it so richly deserved and its ability to strike all the right chords.

5. Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

Losing Four Eyes, a band that put out one of the best 7″ records of this decade, was a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately, that band found a natural successor in Sweet John Bloom. Continuing to revel in the same brand of endearingly scrappy basement pop and pulling members from a few other outstanding bands, Sweet John Bloom managed to make a mark. Weird Prayer, their first fully fledged full-length, reveals impressive new depths to the band. Employing a rotating cast of songwriters, the record gives ample space to flesh out each one’s distinct personality. From lovely slow-burning tracks like “Bury Ruby” to incendiary highlights like “Tell Me”, Weird Prayer is an enviable showcase that, bizarrely, seems like a victory lap for its various members. There’s a memorable moment or three on each of these 15 tracks, most of which find intriguing dichotomies to exploit over the course of their brief running times. Littered with surprising moments at close to every corner, it’s one of 2015’s most exhilarating releases.

4. Dilly Dally – Sore

Back in 2014, Dilly Dally unleashed a pair of 7″ records that nearly walked away with the top spot in this site’s rankings. In 2015 they followed up their flawless early run with a brilliant standalone single and a bruising full-length teeming with vicious grunge-informed, punk-leaning basement pop numbers. Grimly determined and scuzzy as hell, Sore lands with the force of an atomic bomb. There was a reason that no band earned as many feature pieces on this site over the course of 2014 than Dilly Dally and, even stripped of the brilliant singles that earned those spots, Sore would have registered as a knockout. While the record’s many searing highlights (“Desire“, “Purple Rage“, “The Touch“, etc.) gave the record its fangs, its elegiac closer provided it with both an unexpected emotional depth and a staggering moment of finality (both of which went a long way in securing its ranking as one of 2015’s finest tracks). While Dilly Dally just about stole CMJ and released a small army of outstanding music videos, Sore was their definitive 2015 moment. It’s the kind of record that inspires kids to go out and start bands of their own, making it one of the most powerful releases in recent memory.

3. Mike Krol – Turkey

The sudden resurgence of the (unfortunately) still-deceased Sleeping in the Aviary was an extremely unexpected and welcome development. While they did release an extraordinary demos and rarities collection, the band’s best moment came when the majority of its lineup wound up backing Mike Krol for his latest venture. No record in 2015 felt even close to as unhinged as Turkey, Krol’s first effort for Merge and most deranged outing to date. With a runtime that doesn’t even scratch 19 minutes, Krol and the band he’s assembled run through nine songs at a pace so frantic it’s practically delirious. Every single moment of Turkey is informed by a surging level of energy that it seems like the record might derail itself at any given moment, toppling over because of its own excessive velocity. Miraculously, it manages to sustain that momentum through nine songs of rabid basement pop that draws inspiration from a variety of genres from the past handful of decades, zeroing in on things like ’50s pop and classic soul. Everything on Turkey also benefits from being shot through with Krol’s deadpan comedic sensibility, tongue planted firmly in cheek. By the time the record’s penultimate track hits- the absolutely massive “Less Than Together“- the record’s momentum is white hot. “Piano Shit” winds things down at the very end and allows the listener to review the demolished left in Turkey‘s wake as it coasts to the finish.

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2. Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers

One of the happier coincidences this site got to experience in 2015 was the realization that the glowing review of Nicole Dollanganger‘s breathtaking Natural Born Losers was its 666th post. An appropriate fact, given the record’s deep obsession with angels, devils, and the spiritual realm. In its opening lines (“I shot an angel with my father’s rifle”), Natural Born Losers flaunts its aim with a threatening gracefulness, ready to turn on a dime at any moment. Dollanganger’s narratives throughout the course of the record are startling exercises in hyper-violence and dueling desires. Whether it’s a BDSM-informed romp as lensed through an experience with an abusive police officer or an extremely disarming sample taken from the animated 1993 cult classic The Halloween Tree, Dollanganger’s either making fresh incisions or pulling gaping wounds even further apart. However, for being so deeply unsettling in its prose, the music that accompanies all of Dollanganger’s nightmarish imagery is as elegant and haunting as her vocals. A lot of Natural Born Losers hinges on exploring some of the weightiest dichotomies in existence and the degree of success to which it achieves in striking fascinating middle grounds in those battles is revelatory. Even more impressive is the fashion in which Dollanganger binds this collection of songs together, especially considering how effectively the record’s haunting line defines (or redefines) everything that’s happened since its steely-eyed opening moment. Put simply: Natural Born Losers is a modern masterpiece.

1. Eskimeaux – O.K.

Eskimeaux‘s O.K. managed to impress on first listen but it wasn’t until seeing the band live that all of its pieces fell more fully into place. That show inspired a return visit to this collection which, in turn, brought about a subsequent revisit (and then that pattern fell into a routine that still hasn’t ceased). On each successive listen, more of O.K. sprang to life. Gabrielle Smith’s project has been making material that’s been more than worthwhile for a large handful of years now but O.K., the project’s most fully-realized outing, saw Smith step across a threshold and into something sublime. A meticulously crafted record, every last one of its countless gears clicks in ways that surprise and delight in equal measure, rewarding heavy investment with a casual ease and providing O.K. with one of its cleverest tricks. In maintaining their casual sensibilities, the record becomes an enjoyable cursory listen but that casualness is surprisingly deceptive.

O.K.‘s a very complex record when it’s dissected into its formative pieces, whether they’re the gorgeous vocal layers that comprise one of the record’s most gorgeous moments on “A Hug Too Long” or Felix Walworth’s explosively idiosyncratic snare work on “Folly“, each finding a way to stand out as an impressive moment in both the small schemes of the songs and the grand sweep of the album. From a lyrical standpoint, Smith packs this record full with bittersweet realizations, internal frustrations, and slivers of a defiant sense of hope that’s steadfast in its refusal to bow to a harsher reality. Even the record’s darkest moment- the brooding “Pocket Full of Posies”, which nearly unseated “A Hug Too Long” in the songs list- subtly acknowledges the inherent innocence of things that are frequently viewed as evil. Even then, O.K.‘s worldview is far from simply being optimistic, it’s far too weary to assume that the best mode of operation is to look for the best in everything; its earned its sophisticated wariness.

What makes O.K. truly stand out, though, is its overwhelming amount of empathy for everything that’s fortunate enough to have worked its way into the record. Easily one of the most readily apparent humanist statements that music yielded this year (which is especially easy to see when the record’s put under a microscope), O.K. draws its strength from its sense of value. It’s a view that resonates throughout the record’s 11 brilliantly crafted songs, providing them with a deeper sense of purpose than most bands can manage. Additionally, all of the inspired decisions that comprise O.K. are augmented by some of the most extraordinary production work of the past several years, stealthily enhancing the cumulative effect of the songs. An awe-inspiring breakthrough for one of today’s most promising acts, O.K. is the kind of record that’s worth preserving for future generations. Find someone deserving to share this with and give in to its inescapable beauty.

Laura Stevenson – Claustrophobe (Stream)

Laura Stevenson.
More than four dozen items into today’s review of the past week of music and there’s still more than a dozen things left to cover. That’s absurd. It’s also indicative of just how consistent 2015’s been in terms of great new releases. Whether it was a pair of music videos from Pity Sex and Will Butler or what essentially amount to attention-snagging previews from Heavy Looks and Chris Sutter‘s intriguing solo venture Genie’s Organ Recordings. There were also outstanding new songs from Woozy, Three Man Cannon, Holy Oysters, Haybaby, Broadcaster, British Sea Power, Palmas, and Polyon, as well as a deeply compelling full-length from Brooks Strause. In addition to that wealth of memorable material, there was a breathtaking new song from site favorite Laura Stevenson.

Coming off of a career high– 2013’s Wheel, a wonderful record that keeps improving with age– Stevenson had the unenviable task of following up an unlikely genre classic. As each new song from the songwriter’s forthcoming Cocksure trickles out, the more it seems like the record may surpass its predecessor. “Claustrophobe”, the latest single to be unveiled from the record, makes an immediate impact with its stargazing guitar line and insistent piano-plinking. Unfurling with grace and determination, “Claustrophobe” plays to Stevenson’s most anthemic sensibilities, with its monster chorus doing quite a bit of its own heavy lifting.

Propulsive, dynamic, and bittersweet, “Claustrophobe” is the latest extension of a continuously improving winning streak from one of this generation’s more under-appreciated songwriters. If the rest of Cocksure lives up to its previews, Stevenson’s name may be appearing in a lot of desirable places. For now, the best course of action’s to simply enjoy the music and the building anticipation for the October 30 release date. Just hit repeat until that day arrives.

Listen to “Claustrophobe” below and pre-order Cocksure from Don Giovanni here.

Meat Wave – Delusion Moon (Music Video)

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Clean slates are always an intriguing thing to fill and this week’s off to a strong start with great entries into all of the site’s regularly-covered formats. i tried to run away when i was 6’s “June July May“, Craig Finn’s “Maggie, I’ve Been Searching for Our Son“, and Palehound’s “Cushioned Caging” constituted a very strong field of representatives for the single song stream while there were fascinating clips to be found in Gold Class’ “Life As A Gun” and Springtime Carnivore’s “Other Side of the Boundary“. Full streams also found life via the first installment of Apollonian Sound’s charity singles series (featuring Algebra II and site favorites Radiator Hospital), Adult Dude’s fiery Adult Moods, and Los Manglers’ vibrant Between Worlds.

Today’s feature spots casts its lens on Meat Wave, a band that’s played a pivotal role in the development of this site and the music it covers. Their first record, an incredible self-titled effort, was the very first tape I ever wore thin in various spots. The trio was also one of the only bands to secure an On the Up inclusion (an assessment that’s continuing to come to fruition in some genuinely unexpected- and exhilarating- ways) and took part in the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase. Now, they’ve signed to SideOneDummy and are upping the anticipation for an incredible record entitled Delusion Moon that will be out on September 18.

Meat Wave’s most recent move in the rollout campaign for Delusion Moon came earlier today with the unveiling of the video for the record’s vicious title track. Just as the song drives home a foreboding feeling with no shortage of a venomous menace, the video aims to unsettle in a similar fashion. Utilizing strobes and some inventive film editing, the Andrew Robert Morrisson-directed clip finds value and inspiration in aggressive minimalism, much like the music of its subjects. It’s a deeply disorienting watch, opting for a bold cognitive dissonance that’s presented in a way that feels removed from countless other clips’ meager attempts at producing similar results. Ultimately, “Delusion Moon” is defined by its convictions and the end result is a striking, memorable triumph.

Watch “Delusion Moon” below and pre-order the record from SideOneDummy.

Meat Wave – Delusion Moon (Stream)

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Few bands have meant more to this site and its early development than Meat Wave. They’ve been granted one of the only On the Up feature spots, they’ve offered premieres, and they played the first (and, so far, only) Heartbreaking Bravery showcase. The band’s earned quite a bit of coverage over here and today’s news ensures that’s a continuing development.

Before delving into their new song, though, I’d like to take a minute to congratulate them on signing to SideOneDummy, a highly revered- and influential- punk label. The trio’s new home looks like a promising one and will undoubtedly push their name recognition to (deservedly) greater heights. Meat Wave weren’t the only band with a noteworthy release today, so a few more bands will be highlighted before circling back to the main attraction.

Cosmicide released a deeply cinematic clip for “A New Disaster” and four artists teased two splits (Jeff the Brotherhood and Colleen Green and Audacity and together PANGEA, respectively). Cassels revealed their bruising Hating Is Easy EP while both Little My and Derider pulled back the curtains on their forthcoming albums. Once again, single streams made up the bulk of the day’s items and included a few genuine stunners.

Ought’s sprawling “Beautiful Blue Sky” nearly wound up with today’s feature, while it fended off strong competition from the likes of Sharkmufffin’s fiery “Mondays“, Reservations’ noir-tinted “Planet“, NE-HI’s punchy “Drag“, Girls Names’ compellingly bleak “A Hunger Artist“, and Helen’s surprisingly massive “Motorcycle“. Comfy’s sunny basement pop tune “Neck Hz“, GospelbeacH’s breezy backwoods number “Sunshine Skyway“, and Elway’s revitalized “Albuquerque Low” all added up to the format’s considerable tally.

Then, of course, there was “Delusion Moon”. Anyone who heard what Meat Wave accomplished with their self-titled (to date, the only tape I’ve worn thin) or their EP from earlier this year, Brother, knows just how much weight this band throws into its punches. “Delusion Moon” is the title track from the band’s forthcoming record and follows “Erased” in its rollout campaign.

While details on the record were scarce when the latter was introduced, a few things have been clarified for this round. Delusion Moon‘s intended to run as a whole (something that’s hinted at by the ending/starting(?) notes of “Delusion Moon”) and is a quasi-conceptual record that was written during a strange period of guitarist/vocalist Chris Sutter’s life. There’s a palpable sense of brooding on “Delusion Moon” that seems like it may turn out be one of the record’s more defining characteristics.

The rhythm section of bassist Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wizniak continues to be one of the more formidable forces playing shows today. A quantifiable powerhouse, the duo lends Sutter’s playing an additional element of urgency, capitalizing on its inherent immediacy with brute strength. All of this is evidenced in the astonishing “Delusion Moon” and will likely culminate in the band reaching the levels of success they’ve deserved since the very beginning. More and more, Meat Wave are starting to look like the future of basement punk. If that’s the case, we’re all in very good hands.

Listen to “Delusion Moon” and keep both eyes on this site for any upcoming announcements regarding the forthcoming record, which is due out on September 18.

Meat Wave – Sham King (Music Video)

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Now that the site’s all caught up on songs, it only seemed natural to overhaul the music videos as well. Here, the formatting will be slightly different than it has in the past for this format, with 35 excellent clips being linked beneath the main feature, Meat Wave’s slasher-indebted short that accompanies the bruising “Sham King” off their tremendous EP from this year, Brother. Before going any further, it’s worth noting that Meat Wave is one of the few bands that will always have a special place carved out in reference to this site, having played the first-ever Heartbreaking Bravery Presents to help this place celebrate its first anniversary (several months after they were featured as part of the site’s On the Up series). Their self-titled record is still one of the best things to have come out of this decade, so any time the band does anything of note, it’s probably a safe bet it’ll secure a feature spot here. Which leads us back to the focus of this piece: “Sham King”.

In the Andrew Robert Morrison-directed clip for “Sham King”, a lot of things are at stake. Most notably, the bands lives. A grim reaper figure, complete with a scythe atop a bicycle, mercilessly stalks the power trio through dead, snow-capped streets. During the opening chase, Morrison (who also edited the video) injects the clip with a serious sense of dissonance with furiously paced loop-back smash cuts, lending the affair an added sense of disquiet. Before long, death zeroes in on guitarist/vocalist Chris Sutter, who leads the masked figure on a chase through an abandoned warehouse. Vantage points switch and become a narrative function as the viewer’s occasionally allowed to take on the first-person viewpoint from behind the killer’s mask, effectively rocketing up the video’s sense of tension. When one side emerges victorious, a solo is mimed in front of a towering wall of various amps before giving way to the video’s final shot- which ranks among one of my favorite images from the year.

Watch the madness of “Sham King” unfold below and pick up the Brother EP here. Beneath the clip, watch 35 other great videos from the past few weeks. Expect regular coverage to resume throughout this new week and going into the future.

Day Creeper – Luxury Condominium
Ryan O’Reilly – Northern Lights
Little Death Machine – Pale
Hallelujah the Hills – Destroy This Poem
Algiers – Irony. Utility. Pretext
Dan Deacon – When I Was Done Dying
The Go! Team – What D’you Say?
King Tuff – Madness
Modest Mouse – Lampshades of Fire
Chastity Belt – Cool Slut
The Bandicoots – Mind Your Manors
Stella – Last Minute Boy
Hey Elbow – Ruth
Coliseum – Sunlight In A Snowstorm
Ceremony – The Separation + The Understanding
Built to Spill – Living Zoo
Pile – Rock And Roll Forever With The Customer In Mind
Albert DeMuth – Finally Found A Job
Gymshorts – Hey Parents
Oscar – Daffodil Days
Modern Vices – Smoke Rings
The Great Albatross – Righteous Man
Turnover – New Scream
Oh Land – Half Here (Live One Take)
KEN Mode – Blessed
A Place To Bury Strangers – What We Don’t See
The Smashing Pumpkins – Drum + Fife
Pinact – Anxiety
Laura Marling – Gurdjieff’s Daughter
Inheaven – Regeneration
Hot Chip – Need You Now
Great Cynics – Lost In You
Le Volume Courbe (ft. Kevin Shields) – The House
Algiers – Blood
Courtney Barnett – Depreston

Watch This: Vol. 50

Today Watch This enjoys it’s 50th installment. There have been 245 videos or small playlists featuring great performances up to this point. In celebration of this, today’s entry into the series will take a route that the feature’s only explored twice before and revolve around videos that were self-shot. It’s been three months since parting ways with the handheld camera that was responsible for all of the earliest footage in the Heartbreaking Bravery archives. Over that time, a lot of songs have been filmed by a lot of great bands. All of the videos in today’s installment have never been featured anywhere else. Additionally, with this being a more personal endeavor, the restrictions on first-person narrative will be temporarily lifted. Now, with all of that said: sit back, turn the volume up, and Watch This.

1. Mitski (Live at Beat Kitchen)

I’ve made no qualms about my love for Mitski and her upcoming record Bury Me At Makeout Creek but seeing her live set added a new depth to that appreciation. Backed by half of LVL UP, Mitski’s songs were transformed into a force that was as beautiful as it was ragged. Having spent part of the day with Mitski prior to her set, she revealed a gentle nature that helped inform her music to a greater extent- rendering the moments where she strips her emotions raw all the more cathartic. In this set the songs featured are “Townie“, “First Love / Late Spring”, and “Drunk Walk Home”.

2. Space Raft – Venus In Transit (Live at Crunchy Frog)

One of the best small band bills that Wisconsin’s seen this year was made up exclusively of in-state acts when Space Raft headlined Green Bay’s Crunchy Frog in mid-August. After incredible sets from the likes of The Midwestern Charm, Beach Patrol, and Midnight Reruns, Space Raft offered up a set that firmly cemented their reputation as one of Wisconsin’s most dynamic (live) bands. Here, they take a flawless run through “Venus In Transit“, a highlight from their rightfully acclaimed self-titled debut.

3. Geronimo! – Spitting in the Ocean (Live at The Powerstrip)

Last night, Heartbreaking Bravery presented a basement show in Stevens Point that featured three bands which I’d previously written about within the confines of the site. Geronimo! played last and delivered a blistering set that made their imminent departure all the more bittersweet. Having spent the better part of this year casually fawning to anyone who’ll listen about the band’s extraordinary Cheap Trick, being able to provide a visible platform for both the band and that record was nothing short of an honor. In this clip, the band tears through a particularly vicious version of one of 2014’s best songs, “Spitting in the Ocean“.

4. Pile – Special Snowflakes (Live at The Burlington Bar)

Another highlight from 2014, Pile’s “Special Snowflakes“, became an emphatic moment of reckoning when the band laid it to waste at The Burlington Bar towards the start of this month. Only one of a very small handful of live songs this year to give me violent chills, it also became the turning point that turned Pile’s set from a strong showcase into an unforgettable event. With the lighting appropriately dim, all it took was “Special Snowflakes” to temporarily transform The Burlington Bar into the river Styx.

5. LVL UP (Live at Beat Kitchen)

At this point, LVL UP, Double Double Whammy (a label half of LVL UP founded and still runs), and Exploding in Sound may very well be responsible for earning the most words from this site over the past few months. Both labels had a hand in releasing Hoodwink’d, which easily stands out as one of the year’s best records. It was a record I formed a fierce connection with in a terrifyingly immediate manner. Taking all of that into account, my expectations for their live set at Chicago’s Beat Kitchen were high- likely unreasonably high. Any doubts that I had over whether or not they’d live up to those expectations- not to mention that connection- were assuaged before their first song drew to a close. By the end of their set, they’d solidified their status as one of my absolute favorite bands- which is why they’re closing out this set of videos. Contained in these videos are performances of “Annie’s A Witch“, “I Feel Ok“, “Hex“, “Roman Candle“, “Alabama West“, “Black Mass“, and “ELIXR (19)“.

It’s also worth noting that LVL UP recently ran into some van issues that have temporarily derailed their tour- to help combat this and set things right, they’re offering Hoodwink’d as a pay-what-you-want deal on their bandcamp in an effort to help secure the necessary funding to get everything back up and running. Site favorites Big Ups are doing the same with their Flagland split and putting all of the donations towards the repairs as well (Big Ups and LVL UP will be joining up for a tour when everything’s fixed). Donate whatever’s possible to help a great band made up of great people- and get a lot of great music in return. After all that’s said and done, go ahead and come back to Watch This.