March 2018 packed a hell of a punch in nearly every major musical release category, with the notable exception being music videos. There were a lot of solid clips that found release but only a scant few that managed to cross the threshold into “genuine standout” territory. Three of those are listed below, covering an intriguing range of styles. One of the young year’s best lyric clips, one of the best tracking shots, and one one of the most tonally effective clips comprise this list. Watching the trio of videos is a short journey compared to several of these lists but one that’s extremely worthwhile.
1. Peach Kelli Pop – Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness
The concept of Peach Kelli Pop‘s “Drug Store’s Symbol of Happiness” is a simple one but its execution is so meticulously detailed and flawless, the entire affair is considerably elevated. The staging, the imagery, and the song manage to coalesce into something that feels thrillingly complete. A song is sung, a camera follows, and little slices of life flicker away in the background. It’s just a few ingredients but sometimes that’s all a capable director needs to craft one of the most magnetic clips of 2018’s first quarter.
2. Snail Mail – Pristine
Snail Mail have been riding a richly deserved wave of critical acclaim over the past year, finding clever ways to get their material a boost and making sure their live show is a next to an unmissable event. Matador Records took notice and found a way to secure the rights to the band’s upcoming record, a smart move that’s already paying dividends with the charming and characteristically lo-fi lyric video for “Pristine”, which subverts and breathes life into what’s become a needlessly restrictive format in recent times.
3. Harry Permezel – Wax Man
Typically, an act leaning heavily into influences from around two decades ago will skew closer to the likes of Built to Spill and Dinosaur Jr than Grandaddy, Sparklehorse, or Heatmiser exercising their softer tendencies. Harry Permezel’s “Wax Man” falls squarely into that latter category and the clip that’s accompanying the song is all but a portal back into that world. It’s laced with nostalgia, beautifully crafted, and immensely effective in conveying the faded sensibilities of both that era and Permezel’s own music. All told, “Wax Man” is a journey worth taking.
Arriving fashionably late, the Heartbreaking Bravery year-end lists kick off in earnest with a celebration of the visual medium. There were incredibly strong visual efforts put forward by the people that could afford to have lavish budgets for just about any facet of their creative output (with Kendrick Lamar havinganespeciallyfruitfulyear) but this space wasn’t designed to celebrate those artists. Instead, the 17 selections featured below represent some of the finest works that flew by at a quieter pace, whether they came from storied veterans or exciting upstarts.
The format established last year will continue on this year, with one (or several) item designated the top spot and the remaining selections featured with no discernible ranking. Both the songs and albums list will follow this format as well. So, dive in, pick your poison, and try to guide yourself to a fate no worse than spending an hour or more playing the world’s most audacious interactive music video. Here are the 17 best music videos of 2017.
Hazel English – Fix
Throughout Hazel English‘s first few releases, the songwriter’s proved adept at crafting memorably beautiful clips and “Fix” stands proudly as English’s current best. A romantic, softly-lit tone poem “Fix” consists of little more than two people at an undefined stage in their relationship traversing some beautiful scenery together. Superbly directed and masterfully edited, “Fix” carries a subtle emotional resonance that propels it from being simply good to something masterful.
Jay Som – The Bus Song
The artist responsible for last year’s Song of the Year returned to set 2017 on fire, breaking out in momentous fashion. The highlight of Jay Som‘s ascent came by way of this House of Nod-produced (and Michelle Zauner-directed) clip for “The Bus Song”. A joyous celebration of music, friendship, and the intertwining link between the two, “The Bus Song” is teeming with affection, wearing its heartfelt sincerity not on its sleeve but as a badge of honor, displayed proudly on its chest.
Zebra Katz – Blk & Wht
One of the most haunting clips to come out of this decade, Zebra Katz‘s “Blk & Wht” is a harrowing recreation of the experiences its actors endured as refugees attempting to clear border security. As grim and stark as the song itself, “Blk & Wht” takes on a nightmarish sheen of realism that’s fully elevated thanks to the people involved in the project. It’s hypnotic, it’s terrifying, it’s unbelievably well-executed and transcends the form of music video and tips towards effective activism (something that’s incredibly hard to do without coming across as ham-fisted or cloying) by proving immensely hard to shake.
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Directing Jay Som’s “The Bus Song” wasn’t the only impressive feat Michelle Zauner completed this year. Zauner also collaborated with House of Nod again for this meditative clip tinged with tragedy for her own project, Japanese Breakfast. Beautifully combining archival footage from her past with the present state of being, “The Body Is A Blade” paints a complex and deeply human portrait. Empathetic, poetic, and laced with an abundance of warmth (in tonality, coloration, and emotion), “The Body Is A Blade” immediately stood out as one of the year’s best upon release and looks even stronger today.
PUP – Old Wounds
It’s not often that this site prints obscenities but “Old Wounds” warrants the following: Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux is a fucking maniac. The director’s been instrumental in guiding PUP to claiming Music Video of the Year honors for 3 of the past 5 years and — with this entry included — has been included in the “Best Of” lists for the other two. Even with that track record, it would have been difficult to predict Schaulin-Rioux would go off the deep end to create a choose your own adventure video game masquerading as a music video in the form of 73 separate clips (many of them containing accessibly esoteric jokes from prominent music journalists) to form a cohesive whole for the shortest — and fiercest — song on the band’s triumphant sophomore effort The Dream Is Over. Click play and lose yourself to a rabbit hole that you’ll never want to leave. You’ve been warned.
Fog Lake – Rattlesnake
Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” was one of 2016’s most captivating songs and 2017 gifted it the kind of visual it so richly deserved. Lacking any sort of traditional narrative allowed for something far more thoughtful and moving, as the Forest Erwin-shot clip paid tribute to both environment and inhabitant in mesmerizing fashion. Tender, intuitive, and impalpable, “Rattlesnake” follows a filmic imprint that’s served auteurs like Terrence Malick and Shane Carruth well over their best works. That “Rattlesnake” would fit comfortably alongside their finest stretches is a minor miracle.
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
A bizarre satirization of televangelism, Open Mike Eagle‘s Sammus-featuring “Hymnal” stands out immediately. Comfortably drawing the viewers in from an easily-identifiable vantage point, “Hymnal” then proceeds to reveal itself as a meticulously-constructed and perfectly executed piece of oddball humor that falls more in line with Tim & Eric than just about any other clip that’s come out over the past few years. Boasting an incredible amount of specificity, “Hymnal” plays out like a fever dream that’s impossible to escape. Thankfully, for all of us, it’s wildly enjoyable and rewards investment tenfold.
Julia Louise – Brat
One of a handful of videos on this list that mark a perfect distillation and representation of the artist responsible, Julia Louise‘s “Brat” also acts as an engaging introduction-at-large. Both a minimalist portrait of Louise and a vehicle to convey the frustrations and realizations of “Brat”, the clip finds life via honesty. A series of small, everyday moments stitched together through some compelling photography and anchored by a winsome central performance, “Brat” is a clever, tongue-in-cheek testament to Louise’s already formidable talents.
Craig Finn – God In Chicago
Likely the biggest name on this list thanks to a position as the bandleader of The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has still found a way to slip through the cracks. Finn’s solo material, while exceptional, has gone largely unheralded. The spoken word, narrative-driven “God In Chicago” ranked as a career high before the video and the Kris Merc-directed clip elevated it even further on Finn’s considerably long list of achievements. A gorgeous illustration of a significant relationship doomed to slowly erode over time, every inch of “God In Chicago” should be felt in full by the millions of people who have lived that experience. It’s a miniature masterpiece.
Pissed Jeans – The Bar Is Low
2017 proved to be intensely difficult for a cavalcade of reasons so any time anyone married a similar intensity to nonsensical joy provided a welcome escape. Enter: Pissed Jean‘s “The Bar Is Low”. Easily the furthest the band has embraced their buried comedic leanings, the clip earns its place here by virtue of the commitment everyone lends their performance as underachieving-but-desperately-trying gym rats. The deadpan stares, the intimidating glances, the absolute absurdity, and the off-the-charts aggression combine for the year’s most memorably fun clip.
Anamon – Fast Car
While Pissed Jeans took the comedic escapism route, Anamon offered something a little more grounded: a hangout clip that was unwavering in its sincerity. Delivered with conviction, “Fast Car’ consists of nothing more than the band taking their dog on a day out to some open spots to relax and enjoy a beautiful day. The photography direction throughout “Fast Car” provides a sweeping sense of freedom that accompanies those exact trips. There are no stakes and any lingering fears wither in the presence of good company and picturesque scenery. Sometimes that’s all anyone needs and “Fast Car” captures that essential truth to perfection.
The Last Dinosaur – Atoms
Comprised of nothing but discarded Super 8 footage gleaned from storage units and yard sales, “Atoms” quietly establishes a sense of history through its visuals as the song fixates on the full implications of mortality. When a project’s intent is to convey the entirety of life, it’s not often that it can actually manage to achieve something that resembles a complete understanding but The Last Dinosaur have carved out their spot in today’s music by subverting and/or challenging expectations. “Atoms” is a moving reminder of their penchant for coaxing out things that are as empathetic as they are beautiful.
Protormartyr – A Private Understanding
Following a blueprint established and reinforced by some of cinema’s most antagonistic filmmakers, Protomartyr‘s clip for “A Private Understanding” manages to tap into the same type of sinister energy as its forebears. An inexplicably nerve-wracking sequence set at what appears to be either a meticulously designed retirement home or a grossly exquisite restaurant attempting to pass itself off as a “home experience”, “A Private Understanding” creates and mercilessly attacks that cognitive dissonance while employing film techniques popularized in Greek and Korean cinema. As hypnotic as it is baffling, “A Private Understanding” demands consideration long after its closing seconds.
Deep State – Heavy Lunch
Deep State‘s kinetic clip for its equally kinetic “Heavy Lunch” follows an exceptionally minimalist formula: one person dances their way across the screen to a song. It’s a trope that’s reached a point of over-saturation in recent years and seems to have lost some of its merit. However, when one so exceptionally joyful and energetic comes into focus, its myriad pleasures are impossible to deny and the Ethan Payne-directed “Heavy Lunch” finds an abundance of meaning in its gleeful sprint.
Palehound – If You Met Her
Crafting a clip for songs that register as immediate standouts for reasons of a clearly personal nature will always prove a challenge. When those challenges aren’t just met but diminished to the point of evaporation under the final product, that music video will likely stand the test of time as one of the greats. Palehound‘s “If You Met Her” — created by a group of teenagers attending Real to Reel Filmschool — finds itself in a position where it can already form a solid case for that type of longevity. While Kempner’s project allowed itself to be guided by the ghost of Heatmiser for the song itself, the video grapples with other spirits. The religious imagery, the sense of being stuck between haunting and being haunted, and the quiet, tragic desperation at the heart of both the song and the video render “If You Met Her” one of this decade’s finest efforts, on both counts.
Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Over the course of this site’s existence, Charly Bliss emerged as a coverage staple. 2017 was the first year that afforded the band a true reckoning and they responded in kind, dropping one of the year’s best records, touring relentlessly (both as a headliner and opening up for enormous names), and releasing a string of fun music videos. No clip the band’s released can hold a candle to what they managed to create for “Westermarck“, which strips away any perceivable artifice in favor of something that served as an effective antidote to 2017’s grim climate. Pure, unbridled joy drives “Westermarck” to stratospheric heights, contagious in its own effervescence and committed to its convictions. A perfect distillation of the band’s identity and something to point to as a symbol of hope for the future. “Westermarck” deserves to be held up as an example of how to effectively translate the giddiest of emotions for years to come.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:
IDLES – Mother
No video landed as hard, reflected the times as well, or demanded attention as well as the snarling behemoth that was IDLES‘ clip for “Mother”, a seething call to action against sexual predators and the conditions that allow a surprising percentage of them to be excused so easily. Not just one of the most hypnotic clips of this year but of this century, “Mother” contains little more than IDLES’ vocalist Joe Talbot smashing a table full of ceramics in front of a portrait of his deceased mother — whose ashes were slipped into the vinyl pressings of the band’s latest, -BRUTALISM — as he rails against an economically unjust system that essentially forces poverty onto the lower classes, heightening their exhaustion under the guise of production for the benefit of the upper class.
It’s a commanding performance and Talbot’s anger is palpable and barely containable as each individual piece gets smashed to bits as the camera lens nearly disintegrates under the weight of his piercing stare. Wearing an opened pink blazer and pink pants, the opening image of “Mother” is arresting enough but what carries it to the realms of being genuinely unforgettable is the clip’s closing moments where the song ends and the video continues in silence, Talbot making sure every last piece is hurtled towards a ground already covered in shards of plates, cups, and figurines.
When everything has suffered the brunt of Talbot’s wrath, he pauses, walks back to the poster of his mother hanging pointedly in the background, puts his hand to her lips and walks off camera. There is still smoke. There is still fire. And there, in that conclusion, as the anger lingers, is where “Mother” stakes its place as one of the great music videos of our time.
Songs weren’t the only category absolutely lousy with gems over the past six or seven weeks. In that same time span, a whole host of outstanding music videos made their way into the world, from old favorites, unfamiliar faces, and just about everyone in between. Below is a compilation of some of the most impressive of those offerings. A few more will be featured in some capacity shortly but for now, enjoy the treasure trove of links below. Dive in and swim around a little, there are a lot of great surprises to discover.
Six weeks is a long time to go without running a Watch This and the 50 selections that ran in the 150th installment (the preceding post) barely scratched the surface. To get deeper into the extraordinary wealth of material worth exploring, a sequel of sorts seemed necessary. There’s absolutely no way that a single person is going to watch everything listed below but each link is genuinely exceptional and deserved to be featured. Whether they were part of a series, a great capture, a great performance, or notable for another reason, they’re all linked for a reason. So, bookmark the page and explore at will. Stop waiting and Watch This.
Continuing on with this week’s two-part installment of Watch This — and officially catching Heartbreaking Bravery back up to both the current release cycle and regular coverage — this volume of the series features a wide range of selections. From the remarkable efforts put forth that centered on performances from Good Personalities, Man Is Not A Bird, Family Mansion, Pinegrove, Naked Giants, Okkervil River (x2), Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Ösp, Dramady, Castle Ruins, Henry Jamison, The Felice Brothers, and Bob Mould to the featured items, there’s a depth to the range of options that nicely illustrates what Watch This can offer on a weekly basis. Live edits, full sessions, abbreviated sessions, and an out-and-out concert all make appearances below, from veteran artists and tantalizing new names. So, as always, sit up, adjust the volume, forget any troubles, focus, and Watch This.
1. Mulligrub – Canadian Classic
All the way back in August 2014, Mulligrub found their way into a feature spot on this site thanks to the sheer strength of “Canadian Classic“. The trio’s made consistent appears on Heartbreaking Bravery following that event and “Canadian Classic” has more than proven to have staying power. The band recently unveiled a live edit clip for the song, which finds them playing the song in a balloon-filled room, cutting shots of the members goofing off for the camera to round the visual accompaniment out. It’s an endearing clip and a potent reminder of the telling endurance of “Canadian Classic”.
2. Lucy Dacus (Amoeba)
Touring behind this year’s excellent No Burden, Lucy Dacus continues to impress in the live setting. The latest example of the emerging songwriter’s charismatic prowess comes from Amoeba, who present a gripping three song performance with a loving tenderness that suits the material well. Dacus has had a very strong 2016, steadily increasing favor among critics and fans alike by bridging a fierce intellect with an easy relatability. Every song on display in this session is incredibly formidable enough to suggest Dacus will go on to have a storied career. For now, this is a perfect document of an exciting era for one of today’s brightest emerging songwriters.
3. Gurr – Moby Dick (Auf Klo)
The past few months have seen no shortage of great exuberant indie pop. One of the headlining acts of that haul has quickly become Gurr, a duo who excel at conjuring up sun-speckled bursts of warm tones, reassuring vocals, and carefree sensibilities. In this charming run through “Moby Dick” for Auf Klo, the young musicians find themselves sequestered away in a bathroom stall, trading smiles and playing “Moby Dick” to their hearts content. There’s a clear camaraderie between the pair and that familiarity and connection enhances every second of this clip, right down to the final, celebratory flush.
4. Worriers – Good Luck + Yes All Cops (Live! From the Rock Room)
Worriers have earned themselves a loyal following for several reasons. Whether their crowd’s at their show’s for the pointed social politics, the jangly tension, the ramshackle energy, all of those reasons, or another reason entirely doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the band continuously offers several strong angles into their world and commit to those angles with a fierce conviction. It’s a trait that translates to their live show, which is lovingly captured in this memorable two-song session for Live! From the Rock Room.
5. Okkervil River
This year’s allowed the opportunity to expand on what Okkervil River meant to the foundation of Heartbreaking Bravery and their key role in forming some of the ideas that would eventually drive the site into existence. Away, the band’s most recent release, has followed a post-release formula all too familiar for the band: fawning critical embrace, relative commercial indifference. Here, the band offers up a recent concert that showcases not only their range and uncanny ability to re-work old songs into fascinating new presentation but their jaw-dropping discography as well. The end result: an honest portrait of one of this young century’s most important bands.
As a live act, Big Ups are an extremely enticing draw. They’re explosive performers, their songs are complex and dynamic enough to demand uncommon talent, and the quartet boasts a magnetic playing style. They’ve appeared on several past Watch This entries but occupy an elevated space for this Audiotree session. Characteristically intense and oddly entrancing, this session stands as a career highlight for both the band and the rightfully acclaimed studio.
2. Uni Ika Ai – Already Dead (BreakThruRadio)
2016 has been something of a breakout year for Uni Ika Ai. While they may not be an instantly recognizable name, the act’s been gaining traction on the back of their dreamlike approach to subdued indie pop. Deeply impressive and hard to shake, this enrapturing performance of “Already Dead” for BreakThruRadio is as good an entry point as any for the uninitiated. For more than seven minutes, the band casts a spell that deepens as the song progresses, making one hell of an impression.
3. Explosions in the Sky (KEXP)
cTypically Watch This — and Heartbreaking Bravery in general — is a space reserved for emerging artists but every once in a while a veteran act will issue a reminder of how they earned their status. Case in point: post-rock titans Explosions in the Sky‘s recent KEXP session. The band’s riding another critical surge following the release of this year’s The Wilderness, a record that subtly expanded the band’s scope. As ever, the songs translate beautifully to the live setting and this performance serves as concrete proof.
4. Nothing (KVRX)
When a band’s volume levels are as relentlessly punishing as Nothing‘s, stripping songs to bare acoustics can be a risky prospect. Fortunately, the band are incredibly gifted songwriters, something that comes across with a charming, natural ease in this unassuming KVRX session. There’s a certain amount of grace that often gets overlooked when shoegaze-leaning bands heavily emphasize the most bruising aspects of their approach and each song performed here becomes an essential reminder of that grace, winding up as an unexpected document of one of the genre’s most intriguing acts.
5. Jay Reatard (Pitchfork)
More of an archival release than anything else, this look back at a musician that was lost far too young is vital, painful, and wildly exhilarating. Taking a breathlessly frantic approach, Jay Reatard whips his band into overdrive right out of the gate, ripping through a dozen songs in a fiery twenty minute set, featuring a host of songs that have rightfully carved their place out in history as pivotal genre classics. Reatard was writing out of his mind during the time this was filmed, fresh off the release of Blood Visions (which remains an indisputable classic). An arresting look back at a formidable talent, there’s heartbreak to be found in thinking about what could have been but more than enough heart on display to make up some of the difference.
Last Friday night, Minneapolis’ famed 7th St. Entry played host to a powerful bill that included three bands who have earned coverage on this site: Charly Bliss, Rozwell Kid, and PUP. The three and a half hour drive out to catch the show had been a foregone conclusion since its announcement and a large part of that decision had been the involvement of Charly Bliss, who opened the show. Ever since the band topped this site’s list for EP’s in 2014 with their best-of-decade contender, Soft Serve, they’ve been covered and endorsed relentlessly in these pages. One of the most unavoidable factors in ensuring that heavy focus was their overpowering strength as a live act.
Over the past several years, the band’s been meticulously tweaking their stage show and seeing their dedication paying a steadily increasing number of dividends. They’re an extremely dynamic act making exceptionally well-crafted basement pop that comes with a serious bite, despite the immediate sugary high that it so frequently induces. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks is (understandably) the focal point of their live show, operating as a bundle of joyous squeals that can’t be contained for longer than a few seconds at a time.
All of the band feeds off of her example and put their heart into the kind of showmanship that clearly underlines that they have a legitimate love for playing music. No one’s overshadowed and everyone seems like they’re continuously out to prove something that they couldn’t accomplish with just a music-related degree (something that’s been acquired by all four members). A handful of recognizable favorites were brought out into the set — including recent single “Ruby” — but the real power was derived from a trio of brand-new tunes.
The band’s been sitting on a collection of songs for well over a year that’s more than enough to constitute a great album (an album that they hope to have out sometime in the relatively near future) so to see them confidently surging ahead with even more material is a great sign that the various delays in release haven’t left them deterred. On the contrary, those delays seem to have set something off in the band that makes them even more eager to obliterate the slowly-forming expectations surrounding their eventual debut. After yet another set that was constantly on the crest of perfection, the question no longer rests with whether or not the band will have their breakout moment, the question is when that moment will come.
Playing in the wake of such an explosive act can be a daunting task but Rozwell Kid seemed more than up to the challenge (and have had a long history playing intimidating bills) and they stuck to their formula: conjure up some propulsion by blending recognizable recent influences with over-the-top stage theatrics that go back a little further, all the while maintaining ear-shattering volume. While the constant mugging, windmills, rock poses, and general mugging from the band’s bassist and lead guitarist could be slightly off-putting at times, the other half of the band kept things relatively grounded to create a weirdly compelling contrast effect.
Every bit of the band’s theatrical gimmickry was balanced out, at one point or the other, by something that felt more genuine than showy from one of the band’s less complacent members. At times, the physicality of the theatrics largely overshadowed the band’s music, which veered from Guitar Hero-aping classic rock stompers to numbers that felt more indebted to a surprisingly unexplored space between late-era Replacements and early-era Weezer. Even with all of the additional Rock God 101 bells and whistles, Rozwell Kid never inspired active boredom and wound up being a very strong connecting bridge between the spiked-punch rush of Charly Bliss and the no-holds-barred chaos that PUP was about to set off.
The fourth article that ever ran on Heartbreaking Bravery — and the very first album review — centered on PUP’s self-titled record, immediately after it was released in Canada. The band had just recently changed their name from Topanga, put out a music video that would begin a shocking dominance in that format, and weren’t anywhere close to breaking through stateside (that would come well over a year later). In the time that followed those events, I tried and failed to see the band on multiple occasions. A perfect combination of circumstances positioned me at the lip of the Entry’s stage, anxiously anticipating what would become one of the most formidable displays of angst-powered aggression I’ve ever witnessed.
PUP, the band’s official debut full-length, impressed a whole lot of people and led to an ever-expanding cast of die-hard fans. This year’s outstanding The Dream Is Over didn’t just aid that trend, it increased its velocity tenfold. One of the best punk records in years, the record played a large role in selling out the Entry and packing it to the brim with a cast of characters (that ranged an impressive spectrum), who seemed hell-bent on throwing down. All it took was the intro of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” to get things started.
Literally less than thirty seconds into PUP’s set, the entire main floor of 7th St. Entry became a thriving pit of chaos, unchecked aggression, and intense camaraderie. Guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Stefan Babcock would later reveal to me that in those moments, the crowd established his ideal for an audience: rowdy to the point of violence but never crossing the threshold into a territory that made its participants afraid. That mode never ceased for what was over an hour of blistering anthems about self-doubt, self-loathing, anger, regret, fear, and loss.
In the first five minutes alone, Babcock asked if the audience was alright on three separate occasions, unable to suppress a grin as the audience grew increasingly out of control. After “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” bled into “DVP”, just as it does on the record (easily 2016’s best moment of sequencing on record), I was forced up onto the stage, clinging to a PA for dear life while attempting to maintain enough balance to shoot/film the show. Not long after, the show was stopped so that an audience member could look for their glasses. A “very busted” pair made their way up to the stage but turned out to belong to an entirely separate owner. Later, a single show made its way up to the stage and the show was stopped once more. Glasses: repeat.
A handful of songs into their set, Babcock could sense that the crowd’s insane levels of aggression weren’t going to wane and instructed everyone on the rules of a “Canadian mosh pit”, which mostly just amounts to apologizing to anyone you touch. It was the first of two Canadian-themed jokes of the night, with an endearing crack later on about how “no one wants to hear four white Canadians cover Prince”, following a very sincere expression of gratitude over being able to play in a space that was The Purple One’s de facto home.
Immediately after that announcement, PUP hit the highlight of the night in a searing, volatile run through “Old Wounds” that saw Babcock leaping into a stage dive while still screaming his brains out. Unsurprisingly, “Old Wounds” wound up amplifying the audience’s energy, allowing both band and audience to feed off each other in a state of total symbiosis. Each propelled the other forward to the point of near-exhaustion, loving every single moment of collision that the relationship generated on either side.
Every shout-a-long became a scream-a-long and every riff, snare hit, and Cheshire Cat grin took on additional meaning as the band ripped through what’s already an astonishing arsenal of songs only two full-lengths into their career: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”, “DVP”, “Dark Days”, “Lionheart”, “Familiar Patterns”, “Old Wounds”, “Factories”, “Yukon”, “Mabu”, “Guilt Trip”, and “Reservoir” all earned particularly strong reactions, while the audience used brief moments of the songs that came between to re-position, reset, and resume their wild-eyed thrashing.
“Reservoir”, the band’s final song, left everyone scrambling for extra breaths as they screamed, writhed on the stage, flung themselves off the rafters of the Entry’s ceiling into crowd-surfing the mosh pit, or — in the case of one fan — laid flat on the stage, screaming into a microphone that Babcock brought down to his level so that they could share in one of the evening’s final defining moments. As they screamed into the mic together, the communal aesthetic of the night solidified even further and the barrier separating band from artist was temporarily lifted so that everyone could truly be in it together.
Through the whole ordeal, like Charly Bliss at the start of the night, PUP wore their feelings with pride; no moment in the show looked like anything less than a moment that meant something to the band on a very real, personal level. After the smoke from the scintillating run through “Reservoir” cleared, the band would lean over the lip of the stage to embrace the battered front lines, shake their hands, give them high-fives, and mouth “thanks” repeatedly. Babcock would express this throughout the night in repeated asides of affectionate expletives and stunned exclamations, gazing out over the crowd like the band had found a new home that they never wanted to leave.
Watch live videos from each of the bands sets below (including some very shaky PUP captures) and underneath the embed, view an extensive photo gallery of the show. Enjoy.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the nature of these upcoming posts, a truncated version of this introductory paragraph will be appearing over the next several installments of this series.] It’s been quite some time since the 100th edition of Watch This went up on this site. There have been a lot of factors going into the extended interim but, as usual, a focal point of that absence was to make sure the preparation work was kept up to date. Full sessions, single song performances, DIY videos, and impressive turn-ins from radio stations abound. So, as always, sit back, adjust the setting, crank the volume, focus up, and Watch This.
1. Ought (KEXP)
Easily one of the more electrifying acts on the touring circuit, Ought recently swung by KEXP’s studios to flex some serious muscle. Culling a session from their outstanding sophomore effort Sun ComingDown, the quartet rips through four songs with a vicious intensity that’s rooted in a straight-laced affectation. Even with that aspect of their identity pushed to its near maximum, the band still finds ways to drag out some deep-seated weirdness and, as a result, the session comes absolutely alive.
2. Tijuana Panthers (Jam in the Van)
Anytime Jam in the Van brings in a scrappy punk-tinged basement pop band, the results are electric and this session with Tijuana Panthers is no different. Tearing through the requisite trio of songs, the band differentiates themselves from a growing pack through sheer commitment. It’s easy to tell that this band doesn’t just love playing these songs but they genuinely believe in them as well.
3. Fraser A. Gorman – Dark Eyes (WFUV)
As an act finds their way to greater and greater success, one of the most important things they can do is deflect some of that attention to artists they feel are deserving of spotlights that have eluded them for one reason or another. It’s in that respect that Courtney Barnett continues to strike me as a patron saint of the unheralded as she continues doing incredible work with her Milk imprint. One artist Barnett managed to elevate considerably was Fraser A. Gorman, who was responsible for some of 2015’s finest material with Slow Gum. An unassuming presence that’s extraordinarily well-versed in American roots music, Gorman recently appeared at CMJ where WFUV captured him leading his band through a spirited version of “Dark Eyes” that suggests he’s more than ready for a greater share of attention.
4. Salad Boys (KEXP)
Metalmania was one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises and helped heighten Salad Boys‘ recognition. All five songs the band brings out for KEXP exist in a mold that was clearly shaped– or at least heavily informed– by a love of Flying Nun Records. Everything here works to a casual perfection, whether the band’s embracing the janglier pop or dipping their way into some fuzzed out excursion, it’s executed with flair. Throw in an illuminating interview and this becomes an essential document of a band on the cusp of breaking out.
5. Car Seat Headrest (3voor12)
Car Seat Headreast won over a lot of people this past CMJ and wound up being one of the marathon’s early highlights. After starting out as a bandcamp bedroom pop project, it’s graduated into a full-fledged band a la Cloud Nothings, and subsequently received a serious boost from a high-profile deal with Matador. The band’s picked up an additional guitarist since their CMJ run and it’s expanded their sound in intriguing ways. 3voor12 brought the band in for a session that sees them continuing to capitalize on their groundswell of momentum with memorably sharp performances, including a knockout take of 2015 highlight “Something Soon”. If the band can continue to match the pace on display here, we’re in for some genuinely extraordinary material down the road.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A modified version of this paragraph appeared in the preceding post due to the nature of the pieces] Occasionally there are weeks where there are simply too many excessively strong live performance clips to highlight with just one entry and this week’s established itself as being of that caliber. It’s a rarity that there are exceptions to the setup of five featured clips and an honorable mentions list of hyperlinked material because it’s generally best to err on the side of brevity for these things. I’m not sure I can conjure up a more ringing endorsement than that for the 10 featured clips that will be running tonight. With the first half out of the way, it’s time to turn to the latter selections, all of which carry just as much impact as their predecessors. So, as always, sit up, adjust the volume, adjust the screen, lean in, focus, and Watch This.
1. Tacocat – Volcano (Rhapsody)
Throughout the week a lot was made of Tacocat‘s Rhapsody session due to their excellent Ramones cover but the band also delivered a fiery take on “Volcano”, an original that outshines the cover that circulated so many times over the past several days. “Volcano” is a perfect example of the band’s winsome sensibility and the band delivers it in earnest, with a palpable amount of affection for their craft. It’s an absolute joy to watch unfold and the perfect clip to kick off the second section.
2. Screaming Females – Ripe + Broken Neck (WFUV)
Ever since Watch This was initiated nearly two years ago, Screaming Females have been making frequent appearances in the series. The reasoning behind that decision’s uncomplicated: the band’s one of this generation’s best live acts. Some things are fairly cut and dry and the trio’s formidable abilities as a live act are nearly unparalleled in the DIY circuit. Still riding high on the success of this year’s tremendous Rose Mountain, the band stopped by the WFUV studios to turn in two fiery performances and extend their winning streak to even further lengths.
3. Froth (KEXP)
In the midst of quietly putting together a strong year loaded with promise and potential, Froth stopped by the KEXP studios for a full session that provided a glimpse at what makes them one today’s more exciting bands. Finding a common ground between basement pop and shoegaze, the quartet’s bridged that gap and traversed every compelling mile between the two genres. While the music’s got an immediate nature, it’s best explored through serious investment where it reaps seemingly unlimited rewards. Already fascinating material is given new life in the live context, where it’s performed with a great amount of verve and genuine care.
4. Fake Palms – Sparkles (Exclaim!)
Fake Palms have landed their name on this site a small handful of times now thanks to a strong 2015 that saw them steadily emerging as a viable candidate for best new act in an overcrowded year. “Sparkles” was one of their breakthrough moments and Exclaim! recently caught the quartet gifting their cameras an explosive version of the tune in a picturesque outdoor setting. The combination makes for an unreasonably compelling piece of art that should help the band further their case for being one of the year’s more memorable acts.
5. SOAK (KEXP)
Very few songs this year have managed to freeze blood as quickly as SOAK‘s 2015 highlight “B a Nobody”. Bridie Monds-Watson- the enviably gifted songwriter operating under the SOAK moniker- seems to recognize this and is coaxing the appropriate mileage out of the song. Wisely kicking off this KEXP session with the tune to set the tone, it’s quickly followed by an effective trio that firmly establishes Monds-Watson as one of today’s premier young talents. KEXP’s cameras almost seem to be lensing Monds-Watson reverentially throughout this session, which provides the affair with a dimension that contributes to its stunning impact. Don’t miss this one.
Very few records to have come out of 2015 have earned as many individual words as All Dogs’ Kicking Every Day, a triumphant debut full-length from one of this site’s personal favorites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with All Dogs in the past and the multimedia piece I was allowed to conduct for The Media wound up producing some of my personal favorite memories. Seeing them in a venue that’s so intrinsically connected to The Media– one of today’s most important publications- was tantalizing enough to make it one of the shows I’d prioritized as soon as it was announced. The lineup surrounding All Dogs was no slouch either, bringing in Florist, Fleabite, and The Sidekicks as support. All of those bands pedigrees packaged together ensured that All Dogs would be playing to a full house and the groundswell of national attention for Kicking Every Day pushed that guarantee a step further.
As a lead-in to the evening’s proceedings, Florist felt like the perfect fit. Surrounded by friends, rejoined by Felix Walworth on drums (who’d been missing from the lineup at their Baby’s show due to touring), and playing a wealth of new material, they managed to entrance the crowd early on and hold their attention to the end. Like the best acts operating in their stylistic vein, Florist managed to make the room extremely intimate and created a palpable sense of togetherness by reducing the audience to a hushed silence. Fleabite, a quarter fronted by A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Ali Donohue, quickly took the noise levels in the opposite direction but maintained an established sense of intensity.
Having released one of this year’s stronger 7″ records in TTYL(which boasts a cover where Donohue is wearing an All Dogs shirt, no less), the band seemed invigorated. Every song felt meaningful and the band played with conviction, whether it was an old standby or a new piece while embracing feedback with an almost gleeful zest. Before too long following the close of their set, The Sidekicks were up and repeatedly jumping. Another band riding high on the wave of an excellent release- Runners In the Nerved World, their first for Epitaph- the band played with an unparalleled gusto.
Driven in large part by the dual guitar onslaught of Steve Ciolek (who also plays in Saintseneca with All Dogs’ Maryn Jones) and Toby Reif (whose self-titled solo EP stands as one of last year’s best surprises), the band quickly proved to be a deeply formidable live presence. Playing with energy, grace, and a clear love for what they do, every song felt like an all-or-nothing rallying cry and pulled an already involved audience even further in. Closing out with the supercharged Awkward Breedshighlight “DMT” had everyone roaring and likely cemented the status of a large handful of converts while simultaneously providing a perfect build to the night’s headliner.
I’ve spent a lot of paragraphs on this site- and others- detailing what makes All Dogs such an inherently special band and nearly all of them get brought to the forefront in their live performance.Maryn Jones, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, is one of this generation’s finest humanists, constantly painting conflicted portraits of a deeply personal nature that examine and scrutinize faults in a manner that can occasionally feel defiantly celebratory. A lot of these dissections are universally relatable and, as such, can act as a form of therapy (for both Jones, who puts herself under the knife with reckless consistency, and the listener). The band Jones is surrounded by- bassist Amanda Bartley, guitarist Nick Harris, and drummer Jesse Wither- know how to perfectly accentuate Jones’ tales and sensibilities to emphasize both the finer and larger points being made.
In terms of composition and dynamics, the band’s grown in leaps and bounds since the addition of Harris and the decision to start writing together as a band, a trait that’s easily evidenced in the disparity between the band’s still-great 7″ (which served as the basis for one of this site’s first-ever reviews) and the borderline masterpiece that is Kicking Every Day. When the band did reach back to the 7″ in their set, the songs sounded startlingly massive and the new textures made them feel more vital than ever (this was especially true for “Say” which, as it had last year in Milwaukee, sent chills running down my spine). A slew of Kicking Every Day‘s preview tracks’ emotional impact was maximized by both the setting and their execution in the live setting.
The three songs that received features here-“That Kind of Girl“, “Skin“, and “How Long“- all hit their marks with an unapologetic accuracy, heightened by an almost intimidating amount of volume. Every member of the band was in fine form throughout, with each member alternately appearing to lose themselves in the song at hand or take complete and total control of its delivery. Jones’ vocals, perennially light but always suggesting an unbearable weight, sounded as masterful as ever and the band rallied around her tales of damage, self-loathing, defeat, clarity, and uncertainty with unprecedented force.
After a marathon set that covered the band’s still-young discography, the band packed up and left the stage. There was no call for an encore because, at least for a moment, it seemed like All Dogs had said everything they possibly could. While the band will likely always have something more to say, their exit seemed necessary; these songs are so intimately personal that listening to them at length can make for a crippling experience. Thankfully, while the emotional resonance still held fast, it was hard to feel anything other than uplifted. Every band that’d played before them had brought something new to the table and All Dogs wove all of those strengths into a beautiful tapestry that covered the Silent Barn like a blanket for their time onstage, bringing everyone together under an intangible communal cloak and keeping them warm with good intentions. I’m not sure there’s a more perfect way to spend an evening.
Find a photo gallery of the show here and watch a video containing performances from each of the bands that played the show below.