Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Christine Varriale

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 (Christine Varriale)

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Back in 2014, Christine Varriale (pictured above, center) and I spent a week exploring the city of Toronto and taking in as many NXNE shows that we possibly could. Since then, she’s introduced me to a number of my favorite people (including her Puppy Problems bandmate and fellow A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Sami Martasian, who she also writes with over at Allston Pudding). Varriale also plays in a band called Gay Sin and remains a fixture of Boston’s constantly thriving music scene. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise then, that she chooses to turn her eyes towards the city for her second A Year’s Worth of Memories piece. Here, she deals with Krill’s loss, the city’s malleability, and expectantly turns towards the future. Read those thoughts below and remember that defeat can give way to hope.

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It’s February 5th, and I’m on a train to NYC from Boston, not on a mission for my usual trip to NYC for CMJ. It’s a weird feeling but a great environment to observe my beloved Boston music scene in 2015 from afar both physically and temporally.

Boston is inherently a cyclical city. Many young people move to Boston for college and then leave shortly after to spread their roots in a new city. I’ve never been much for change, so I’ve stayed in Massachusetts my whole life. Sometimes I wonder if this is good or bad, but there’s a piece of me in Boston that I can’t cut out. My roots are too deep.

But back to that cycle thing: Boston’s basement scene is ever-changing. There are staple houses that survive years like Thieves Grotto and Whitehaus, but then there are some that fade away like Butcher Shoppe, The Womb and Gay Gardens. We look back at lost venues fondly, but we do not cry for them. Something new is always beginning like Milhaus, Grandma’s House and The ER. New residents start their own pockets of the scene whether it’s BU bros, Berklee punks or our resident show moms.

And much like the houses, many of the bands cycle through too. We lost our heroes Krill in 2015, and soon we will lose other bands to new cities. More tears should be wept away, because our bumbling music scene is now scattered across this country. With the demise of these staples in our scene, younger bands are forming to take their place in quasi-homage. Bands like Du VideHorse Jumper of Love, and Stumpf are our new Krill. Palehound, Lady PillsUrsula, and Gravel are our new Speedy Ortiz. Some of us stay like Pile, Fat History Month, Kal Marks, and Big Buck Hunter.

How will 2016 spread its branches? Will these bands move or will they thrive within the Boston community to become the next Pile or Krill? It’s always a toss up here, but I can’t wait to see how this year plays out.

-Christine Varriale

Speedy Ortiz – The Graduates (Music Video)

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After a small run of music video collections, this post will have the site caught up to the current week’s releases (which will be covered in the ensuing posts).  A lot has happened over the course of April and there’s been a plethora of attention-ensuring music videos. Before diving too far into the clip that earned this headline, though, there are other selections that should be noted. The titles that belong to this category include: Built To Spill’s charmingly goofy “Never Be The Same“, Ava Luna’s sketch adventure “Steve Polyester“, Mac McCaughan’s hypnotically swirled “Wet Leaves“, Moaning’s playfully destructive “The Same“, Rozwell Kid’s gruesomely clever “Kangaroo Pocket“, Nots’ intensely damaged “White Noise“, Public Access T.V.’s meticulously crafted “Metropolis“, Elvis Depressedly’s searing, deeply felt”Thou Shall Not Murder“, Calexico’s surprisingly tender “Falling From The Sky“, The Lagoonas’ skate-heavy “Weird Friends“, and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s typically irreverent “Emperor’s New Chair“. A handful of those clips are relatively straight-laced and most could easily be categorized as off-kilter- but none of them (at least in that regard) manage to stack up to Speedy Ortiz‘s “The Graduates”.

Foil Deer continues Speedy Ortiz’s ascension by being a work that felt complete while offering up some of the band’s best standalone songs to date. One of the songs was the defiantly defeatist anthem “The Graduates”. Now, the band- which has always specialized in creating videos that double as absurdist trips– has unleashed the most wildly imaginative clip of their career. The Matthew Caron-helmed clip for “The Graduates” opens on singer/vocalist Sadie Dupuis carefully creating a drug in a laboratory setting before providing some exposition via the song’s first verse and sharing her craft with her bandmates, who take turns ingesting the googly-eye objects one by one. Before long, the band’s hallucinating a literal white rabbit and scheming an expansion to ensure everyone get to revel in the experience.

What follows is an almost uncomfortably disquieting scenario where the band quietly slips the (possibly metaphorical) drug to the patrons of a crowded restaurant (a scene that includes one-time contributors Christine Varriale and Nina Corcoran, who both frequently contribute to the great Allston Pudding). Things take a turn when the white rabbit reappears and is immediately engulfed in a sea of adoration, with the exception of one individual living out this quasi-nightmarish scenario who flees the diner and collapses into a towering snowbank. As a complete product, it’s endearingly bold and reinforces Speedy Ortiz’s strengthening visual aesthetic without underplaying any of their emotional resonance. It also looked like it was an absolute joy to make and the best possible way to kill a brutal snow day in Boston.

Watch “The Graduates” below and pick up a copy of Foil Deer from Carpark here.

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 4

Welcome to round four of a series that it’s been an absolute honor and privilege to present. Over the past few months, I’ve been gathering up some of my favorite people in music- emphasizing musicians, writers, label heads, and music video cinematographers/directors- asking each to share some of their favorite moments of 2014’s rich world of music. The responses they generated have been stunning and have, largely, made me indescribably proud of people I’ve admired for some time. 20 people have contributed to this series so far and today, five more get added to that total: Christopher Good (whose work on Saintseneca‘s “Happy Alone” and Perfume Genius’ “Queen“, among others, was inspired), Edgar Durden (whose unrelenting commitment to being a positive force in music and undying support of emerging bands has made him a genuine presence), Ray McAndrew (who’s been making extraordinary music for more years than most realize), Christine Varriale (whose work on Allston Pudding has been invaluable), and Ali Donohue (whose contributions to music continue to be endless). From a Girls Rock camp to the reunion of The Unicorns, there’s quite a bit of ground to cover. So, onward and upward, here’s part four of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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Panda Bear’s Return and A Few More Notable Moments

I think in the end my favorite music moment of 2014 was the return of Panda Bear- according to my iTunes I’ve racked up exactly 200 plays to date of “Mr. Noah“- so the proof is in the pudding I suppose. Also I really like that song “Just Call It” by SUSAN, it reminds me of Lush when they went all Britpop. I guess it’s weird to say you like a song because it reminds you of the trend-chasing version of a previous band but there you go. Part of me wants to say my favorite moment was Future Islands’ performance on Letterman just because the emergence of a unique persona like that on such a large stage feels so rare- but I’m still kind of bummed that they named their album Singles and then “Seasons” was like the only really, really good track on there. Also big thanks to Speedy Ortiz for introducing me to Sibylle Baier, I don’t know where she’d been all my life!

-Christopher Good (Music Video Cinematographer/Director)

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A List for 2014

2014 seemed like a musical dream to me. Chris Brown fell even deeper into irrelevance, Beyonce dropped a surprise album, fake revolutionaries Death Grips “broke up”, and Lorde toured with Majical Cloudz. Really great things happened. But sadly, really shitty things did too (mostly Ariel Pink, but whatever). 2014 was a tough year, personally and socially, but it is in those times that music is present to bring us closer to like-minded people- at least ideally. The chances of a couple of Virgos ending up together in a church courtyard in a little town in the southernmost tip of Texas must be one in a million. But that is exactly what music did back in March during the annual Galax Z Fair. Somehow two weirdos with the same birthday sat on a bench and thought about how beautiful certain things were, including chance, including luck, including music. 2014 was a great year. I don’t know if this is a statement or an argument I’m making to myself.

Here are my favorite records of the year:

1. Torch Song by Radiator Hospital.

Sam Cook-Parrot is my favorite poet. Sam describes my own feelings better than I ever could. The simplicity of the music, the complexity of the feelings being described, and the combination of the two make a perfect record. Thank you, Sam. There must be something beautiful in heartbreak.

2. Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy created the most sonically challenging and brutally honest works of art of the year. Jenny Holzer meets Sonic Youth meets The Russian Ballet. Perfect Pussy can’t simply be heard, Perfect Pussy must be experienced. The sheer energy that shines through each band member can change a bad day to a great day. There is so much going on, whether Shaun is making light become noise, Meredith is speaking in dead languages, or Ray is beating the devil out of his guitar. There is never a dull moment with Perfect Pussy. They’re the brave band we needed. Perfect Pussy is the band that is ready to take on the world, I worry the world isn’t ready to take on Perfect Pussy.

3. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen

Disclaimer: Angel Olsen smiled at me the night I saw her perform in McAllen.

The first time I listened to this record I felt an ache deep in my chest that I wasn’t very familiar with. It was a hopeful type of heartbreak. Angel’s voice is that of an actual angel with evil intentions, like she is trying to take you to the darkest room in heaven, like she is whispering your own secrets to you. I hope to be as beautiful as this record someday.

4. Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr

How do you describe a record that has to be felt? You don’t. Go listen to this record. Start a war against your local assholes, and use this as the soundtrack. Scum, Rise!

5. Bury Me At The Makeout Creek by Mitski

Mitski possesses one of those voices that haunt you; one of those voices that inhabits the deepest, darkest corners of your heart and mind. The effortlessness of this make it that much more devastating. The beauty isn’t the focal point- but neither is the rawness of the music. But, my god is this record raw and beautiful.

6. Bodies and Control and Money and Power by Priests

A punk band from DC puts out a semi-political record. This is probably the easiest way to write about Priests, but Priests require much more than a simple tagline. Priests are a weird, weird band. They touch on very political themes without ever being political. If anything, Katie Alice Greer seems to be letting us into her mind and her psyche rather than telling us about her beliefs. Katie is a force of nature, and when this record is spinning I am caught in her storm.

7. Gypsy Pervert by Mannequin Pussy

Disclaimer: I first heard this record in 2013.
Thoughts on record: It still fucking rules.

8. II by Makthaverskan

Makthaverskan means “the woman with the power/in power.” This record came to me when I needed it the most. It explained a troubled relationship to me through the other side of the coin.  After three years of being a really shitty boyfriend, my significant other decided it was time for her to venture out and find something a little bit more tangible and more, well, stable. I wasn’t the one yelling “FUCK YOU”, I was the one being yelled at… and it was kind of beautiful.

9. Too Bright by Perfume Genius

I sat in my bedroom wearing some grey sweatpants when I saw David Letterman introduce Perfume Genius on The Late Show. What happened next was incredible and so goddamn powerful. There stood a beautiful man in beautiful red lipstick wearing his heart on his sleeve. This wasn’t the usual performance. This was broadcasted to Middle America, to all the bigots, to all the racists, to all the homophobes, and to all the assholes too. And Perfume Genius stood victorious. And we knew our queen.

10. After The End by Merchandise

Nothing will ever devastate me as much as Carson’s vocals do. This record takes me away, like a vivid dream, as if I could float above a field of broken hearts. Wow. And it all feels so real.

Favorite Song of the year:

Club Going Up On A Tuesday” by ILOVEMAKONNEN ft. Drake

A song about the anxieties that come with modern life; a song about living in the modern age without the privilege that your peers have; a song about doing what it takes to live an actual life; a song about living in a police state; a song about Tuesdays.  This song is as silly as it is profound, as it is poetic, as it is perfect.

-Edgar Durden (Edgar’s Friends)

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Rediscovering The Unicorns

The Unicorns have played a key part in my life this past year in subtle and not so subtle ways. The first time I remember them being mentioned this year was in March, when I had the opportunity to meet Nardwuar. He had a theory that without The Unicorns, the Arcade Fire would be nothing- entirely due to the fact that The Unicorns (at the peak of their popularity 10 years ago) brought their friends in The Arcade Fire on their first national tour. This made sense to me at the time but- since The Unicorns weren’t very relevant at the time of the conversation- I gave it no other thought. I was 13 when they broke up and listened to their album many times throughout the years thanks to two older brothers’ music libraries. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone had always been an album I associated with my brothers and one that brought back memories, but I hadn’t listened to them in a while. Nardwuar never came out and said it but I think he may have been hinting at the idea of a Unicorns 2014 reunion tour.

The second time I thought about The Unicorns this year was when Alden Penner released a solo album that, in all honesty, I listened to half of and decided Clues was better.

The third time, The Unicorns created a Twitter account and announced a string of reunion shows with who else but The Arcade Fire? The Unicorns 2014. The prophecy had come true! Except I am 22, not 13. I thought about going but when I saw ticket prices I X’ed out of the internet tab, laughing.

The fourth time I thought about the Unicorns was unexpectedly, in Nuremberg, Germany. I was playing a show with Perfect Pussy that was part of a festival, I went outside for a cigarette (at that time I hadn’t quit smoking) and heard someone call my name. I turned around and it was Jamie Thompson. I knew Jamie only through being a member of The Secret Unicorns Forum (and later we would become Facebook friends), although we didn’t talk that much. It turned out the festival had booked a puppet show that Jamie was a part of a few years ago. He seemed as confused by the whole thing as I did. Jamie saw we were playing the same night he landed in Nuremberg and came to the show to meet me for the first time. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the night until I had had too much to drink and needed to go back to our hotel. This was the highlight of tour for me, having an accidental run in with the drummer of one of my favorite bands during my pubescent years. Some forgotten dream of mine had finally been realized. After that night I rediscovered The Unicorns’ music and began my retrospective that all would lead up to one night at Pop Montreal.

I didn’t know I was going to see the Unicorns until a day before their reunion show in Montreal. I was visiting my partner in Cleveland with the intention of seeing, coincidentally, Islands for the first time when she posed the idea of driving to Montreal the next day to see The Unicorns. Tickets weren’t sold out and we had no responsibilities that weren’t cancel-worthy to prevent us from seeing their final reunion performance in their hometown of Montreal- so why not?

The show played out in a way that I can only imagine a show curated by The Unicorns could have played out. It was hinted at throughout the show that The Unicorns had selected all the bands that played. Of the bands playing I had only heard Each Other– who played second of four. The first band was an embarrassing joke of a bar rock band not even worth mentioning beyond this point.

Each Other were great. I had heard a tape of theirs that a friend reissued through his label, Prison Art, but they didn’t play any songs from it. The shock for most at the show, or at least the bearded bro standing next to me, was Light Fires. A MTF transsexual who stole the stage the moment she stepped onto it. Armed with only an iPod, Light Fires high kicked, sexy danced, and punched her way through her set. Between songs she bragged about the multiple celebrity musicians she knew and about how amazing she is- and I believed her. I believed every word. The bearded bro let out a brief chuckle at everything Regina said. After the 10th or so time it became obvious how uncomfortable he and some of his friends were. These bros would later turn out to be the same bros that repeatedly elbowed me and my partner with half-mosh-half-dance moves during the Unicorns set. They were a mild annoyance on an overall great night.

The Unicorns performance was more subtle in its flamboyancy, but it still held true to a lot of the theatrics that I had seen in their videos. Alden Penner had his eyes darkened and wore a tight pink tanktop and black pants. Nick Thorburn wore a completely yellow outfit, slightly resembling a banana. Jamie Thompson, the only one who wouldn’t have gotten a side eye walking down a busy sidewalk, wore a Brooklyn jersey and had his hair in a bun. The three of their clashing styles were brought together by old Microsoft Windows screensavers that were being projected in the background. The moment the Unicorns began to play the crowd jumped into a frenzy. I don’t remember all the songs that were played but I know they were all from their LP as well as a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Rocketship”.

The Unicorns had three encores. They are a band that’s known for their wry humor on stage, in recordings, and in interviews and that came through in their encores. Their first encore consisted of a stick click count in and a single quarter note played by each band member. The second encore was quite similar to the first encore. Finally the third encore, which only came after a hand from behind a curtain told the crowd to beg for it, was the infamous “I Was Born (A Unicorn)”. Their set was short, sweet, and felt like it went for the perfect amount of time. The songs were slightly more deconstructed than how I imagined they’d be live but I wasn’t disappointed. It was just nice to see a band I adored as a kid and never had the chance to see when they were initially active.

-Ray McAndrew (Perfect Pussy, SSWAMPZZ, Toxic Parents)

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A Strong Year in Boston

I knew 2014 would be my best year yet the moment midnight on New Year’s Eve passed and Krill broke into the most passionate performance of “Theme from Krill” I’ve heard them play to date. The crowd at Pizzeria Regina in Allston, MA (yes an actual pizza place Allston Pudding threw our New Year’s Eve show at) yelled “KRILL KRILL KRILL FOREVER” like we wouldn’t hear this song over and over again throughout 2014.

Allston Pudding has been a part of my life for three and a half years now but 2014 was when it became my family. All of the people I work with at Allston Pudding mean the world to me and becoming a managing editor is the only promotion I’ve ever received- but it will always be the best one. When I started in 2011, I was this unconfident writer and photographer with no idea what good music was, to be honest. Then I discovered Pile and my life was forever changed. Through Pile I discovered all of the other bands that make the Boston/Massachusetts music scene the powerful force it is: Speedy Ortiz, Kal Marks, Sneeze, Girlfriends (now Bent Shapes), Fat History Month (now Bad History Month), and countless others. I grew to love these bands; they grew to be my friends. It’s hard to go to a show in Boston and not feel as comfortable as I would never leaving my apartment (an oft-chosen alternative in my life), because I know people at every show.

Through these bands, I got to learn the other people in the scene not only in Boston but beyond. Writers and other music people like Liz Pelly and The Media, The Le Sigh, Perry Eaton, my fellow Allston Pudding writers, Ethan Long, Steven Spoerl, Dan Goldin, Amy Leigh, Ellen Kempner, Michael Falcone, Aurore Ounjian, Maura Johnston, and Sadie Dupuis, who inspire me and help me strive to be more present and aware of all of the great music and movements happening right now in 2014.

There were some amazing moments in 2014. As I stated earlier, starting with “Theme from Krill” was the best kick-off. Some of my favorite shows were the Speedy Ortiz Real Hair EP release show at Tasty Burger (I guess Boston likes food places for venues?); Disco Doom, Pile, Ovlov, LVL UP and Krill at Great Scott in March; everything at NXNE in Toronto; Boston Calling in May; every Frankie Cosmos show I went to; Ava Luna, Celestial Shore, Palehound, and Rosie and the Rosies; Boston Hassle Fest; seeing Radiator Hospital for the first time (and two other times after that); Waxahatchee, All Dogs, Potty Mouth, Cayetana; finally seeing Swearin’ live; Pile’s Special Snowflakes release show; every time I saw Lady Bones; seeing Mitski in a living room in Oak Square with 11 other people: the list continues!

Some moments can’t be tied to a specific show or event. Some friendships churn over time and these people I’ve blossomed with in 2014 have become some of my favorite people I’ve ever met. To call them my friends is weird and amazing. I wouldn’t change anything that happened in 2014- and if I could relive this year over and over again, that would be my a-ok fine with me.

-Christine Varriale (Allston Pudding)

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//GIRLS ROCK CAMP BOSTON//
//AKA the coolest thing I did this year//

It is hard to look back on this past year and pick out a single moment to share. I went on my first full US tour, had more than a few bandmates/friends move, started new projects, watched friends play sets in different pockets of the country and felt like I never stopped moving around, constantly chasing whatever was waiting ahead. If I had to pick a single music-related moment from 2014 to share with the internet volunteering at Girls Rock Boston is the thing that stands out. Girls Rock Campaign Boston is a volunteer-run summer program for girls that fosters collaboration and confidence using music. I initially heard about Girls Rock Boston from Hanna, my bandmate in Tomboy, who volunteered at GRCB the summer before. This past summer Fleabite played one of the lunchtime performances to an auditorium of young girls and badass volunteers, and I taught guitar and coached a band of tweens.

It was awesome and uplifting working with the campers and working alongside so many inspirational women, especially because at the time I was volunteering my life felt like a soggy mess. The week of camp happened to overlap with many other endings. Summer was ending, the pizza place I had been working at for two years closed for good, a bunch of friends and bandmates moved across the county, and I was about to leave for a three week tour. I remember crying a lot but I also remember laughing a lot, smiling, and feeling inspired by the people around me. By the end of the camp I felt a little more together, especially when I watched the group of girls I helped coach take the stage, chant their band name (R.U. IN?), rock out, and have fun.

I can’t relate to the anxiety and sadness I was feeling that week even though I remember that it was there. Summer ended, I found a new job, my friends are still my friends even if they live far away, tour happened and I returned. Looking back I’m glad that my time at GRCB overlapped with those polar experiences because it served as the perfect reminder of the things that are truly important: supporting one another, creating community, and putting your shit aside for a moment to be a part of something larger than yourself. I highly recommend finding a way to support your local Girls Rock chapter and consider starting such a thing if it doesn’t already exist in your community. If you want to find out more about Girls Rock Boston please check out their website and consider donating:

http://girlsrockboston.org/

See you in the pit at Girls Rock Boston 2k15!

// HONORABLE MENTIONS //

Some other 2k14 highlights include // playing Liz Pelly’s b-day bash on the 4th of July at the Silent Barn, Smash it Dead fest raising $5,800+ for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, playing a very weird show on Martha’s Vineyard, Tomboy playing a college show in central mass that devolved into a karaoke party, Up Yours Fest @ SUNY Purchase, and a Ramones cover band.

-Ali Donohue (Fleabite, Tomboy)