We’re more than a third of the way through 2019 and the editorial branch of this site has been far too dormant since 2018 received the Best Of recap treatment. Today will be dedicated to addressing that coverage gap with three look backs at the very best songs, music videos, and full streams that January, February, and March had to offer. Due to the sheer volume of highlighted material, these lists will (unfortunately) be static, presented on their own without any dedicated write-ups. Each of these releases is exceptional and may receive some more words further down the line but for now, simply revisit and enjoy: The Best of February 2019.
It’s been over two months since a post appeared on this site and with the always slightly-too-early onslaught of year-end season in full bloom, it feels necessary to highlight some of the best material over that stretch. Heartbreaking Bravery’s own best of lists will be coming, as always, as will the revival of A Year’s Worth of Memories. There may be a few more surprises sprinkled in to make things interesting but starting with a window that spanned most of October seems like a perfect place to get caught back up. Dive in below
1. Mike Krol – Little Drama
Mike Krol came surging back to life with “An Ambulance” and continues to churn out frantic, wild-eyes basement pop that has enough energetic bite to put most hardcore bands to shame. “Little Drama” finds Krol settling comfortably into longer formats, expanding both the frequency and velocity of the songwriter’s penchant for smart hooks. Try to keep up and you’re bound to be left choking on dust.
2. Lauren Hibbard – What Do Girls Want?
One of the more irresistible punk-leaning slacker pop tracks of recent memory, Lauren Hibbard’s “What Do Girls Want” is buoyed by a pop sheen that makes the song’s effect more immediate. Existing somewhere between Lady Lamb and Hinds, “What Do Girls Want?” ably showcases Hibbard’s innate melodic talent and lyrical chops. High impact, ridiculously fun, and easy to revisit, “What Do Girls Want?” should be a summer mix tape staple for years to come.
3. Meat Wave – That’s Alright
Any time Meat Wave puts anything new into the world, it’s a cause for celebration. Without fail, the trio has delivered seething post-hardcore-informed post-punk at the highest level and hits those familiar heights again with “That’s Alright”. Energetic, propulsive, menacing, unforgiving, and overflowing with atmospheric tension, “That’s Alright” continues the band’s mesmeric evolution, solidifying their status as a singular force.
4. Weakened Friends – Good Friend
With each new track they’ve released, Weakened Friends have worked themselves into a site favorite. “Good Friend” stands proudly as one of the best songs to their name, a rousing grunge pop number that examines personal fracturing with a surprising amount of nuance and clarity. Hard to ignore and easy to fall in love with, “Good Friend” presents the band’s strongest traits with an unerring sense of conviction. While the narrative may suggest otherwise, this is all but a victory lap for an exhilarating emergent talent.
5. Miya Folick – Thingamajig
“Trouble Adjusting” was the first Miya Folick track to make it plainly evident that the songwriter was on an upward path to something incredible. It was a sharp blast of punk laden with signifying aspects of lo-fi songwriters, a curious trait that makes “Thingamajig” all the more astonishing. Veering far closer to Half Waif than The Pixies, “Thingamajig” is a devastating meditation on personal impulses and longing, aided by a minimalist ambient pop bed. One of the most unexpectedly breathtaking openers of 2018.
6. pting – Bus Driver
pting make a powerful introduction-at-large with “Bus Driver”, a track that recalls everything from the works of the Crutchfield twins to the skyward atmospheric tendencies of Alvvays. Smartly composed and gifted a clever narrative, “Bus Driver” is a refreshing jump into a cold pool on a hot day. A towering testament to pting’s vision and understanding, the song capably delivers a multitude of reasons to commit the band’s name to memory.
7. Yakima – Point of This
“Point of This” is a song strong enough to act as a calling card, something that only a handful of bands are capable of achieving. It’s a gorgeous work of layered slacker punk married to dream pop sensibilities, the two complementing each other in a way that ensures “Point of This” sounds like it’s floating. A perfect reprieve from every day chaos, “Point of This” feels carefree for as thoughtful as the lyric narrative and composition wind up being, making it a perfect candidate to kick off any unwinding session.
8. Washer – Super Pop
One of the best duo acts currently making music, Washer have been raising a high bar incrementally for the past few years. “Super Pop” is a perfect indicator of the band’s unique talent and singular charm, a deeply effective burst of flannel-laden micro-punk. Barely exceeding 100 seconds, “Super Pop” is wiry and tenacious, finding Washer going through familiar motions: dig in the heels, clench the teeth, and commit with no reservations.
9. Deep State – Under the Gun
Deep State‘s been one of the more pleasant surprises of the past few years, delivering some extraordinary songs, records, and music videos along the way. “Under the Gun” finds the band forging ahead with their sense of high-energy playfulness while still sharpening the edges enough to sound fairly intimidating. It’s a small triumph and should go some way in raising the anticipation level for their forthcoming The Path to Fast Oblivion.
10. The Little Miss – Take Me, Too
One of the better ways to discover new music that might not otherwise cross your path is to let soundcloud auto-play. It’s an exercise worth indulging but rarely has it yielded something as strong as it did earlier this year: The Little Miss’ “Take Me, Too” is an overwhelmingly gorgeous modern hymnal that’s strong enough to stop just about anyone in their tracks. Little more than vocals and an organ (harmonium?), “Take Me, Too” is a fearless look at death, one that offers up a knowing welcome. One of the year’s best songs
Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.
After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.
From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.
Washer – All Aboard
Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.
Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough
Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.
Petite League – Rips One Into the Night
Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.
Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.
Young Jesus – Young Jesus
Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesusseems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.
Deep State – Thought Garden
One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.
Weaves – Wide Open
Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.
Landlines – Landlines
A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlinesnever stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.
Strange Relations – Editorial You
Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait
Fred Thomas – Changer
The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changeris legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.
Big Thief – Capacity
One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiecewas touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacityin 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.
Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us
Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joeywent a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.
Cende – #1 Hit Single
A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.
Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go
One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.
Mo Troper – Exposure & Response
One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.
Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.
Album of the Year:
Charly Bliss – Guppy
A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.
The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.
Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.
“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.
A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.
When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.
2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.
Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.
These are the 17 best songs of 2017.
Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge
One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.
Mo Troper – Your Brand
One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Responseis particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.
Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.
Cende – What I Want
Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.
Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).
Common Holly – Nothing
Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.
Weaves – Puddle
Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.
Fred Thomas – Misremembered
Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changeris a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.
Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs
A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.
Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout
One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.
Strange Relations – Say You
One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.
Covey – Call Home
There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.
IDLES – Mother
Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.
Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.
Palehound – If You Met Her
A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.
It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.
Young Jesus – Feeling
A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.
All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.
The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands
Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.
When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Mount Eerie – Real Death
When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.
Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.
While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.
Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.
By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.
The Best of the Rest
Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default
Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap
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.
Over the past two months, a ridiculous amount of music has found release. Plumbing the depths of that haul has been a privilege but it’s also been incredibly time-consuming. Digging through the rubble, as it has so frequently in the past, yielded no shortage of absolute gems. From a few of the most gorgeous songs I’ve heard all year to some career highs to some genuine standout material, there’s a lot to explore in the below list. Normally, each of these would receive a short accompanying write up (and a few of them still will in the forthcoming year-end lists) but for the sake of expediency in the face of the volume of forthcoming content, they will simply be listed below. Don’t let that distract or discourage, all of the song are here for a reason. Queue them up, close your eyes, and let them wash you away.
Moving forward with tonight’s proceedings, the focus shifts from the best songs to have crossed this site’s path over the last three weeks to the music videos that have made that brief hiatus even more endurable. Directors whose works that have been tirelessly praised on these pages in the past are represented as are some of this year’s finest records. Lyric clips, meditative clips, experimental clips, animated clips, and just about everything in between populate this list and, as always, everything on display is worth several viewings. So stop reading this introduction, hit play, and give everything a good look.
Yucky Duster – The Ropes
One of the finest pop bands currently on the circuit, Yucky Duster have made one outstanding move after another and managed to continuously improve in the process. Never anything less than spirited, the band constantly provides reasons to remain optimistic about the future of music. In the clip for “The Ropes” they distill their identity into a singular animated clip and the colorful effect, characteristically, is enough to leave just about anyone wanting more of whatever the band decides to offer.
Deep State – Heavy Lunch
Thought Gardenhas occupied a status as one 2017’s most overlooked records since its release but the clip for “Heavy Lunch” gave it a recent push that helped a few people amend that disheartening oversight. Largely comprised of one man dancing through abandoned industrial complexes, “Heavy Lunch” serves as both a potent reminder of freedom and a subtle narrative about societal oppression. Much like the song (and record) itself, it’s as gripping as it is exhilarating. Hopefully Deep States‘ run is far from over.
Vagabon – Fear & Force
Vagabon‘s been enjoying an overdue — and richly deserved — breakout year thanks to the success of Infinite Worlds. “Fear & Force” was one of that release’s strongest highlights and the project recently provided the song a gorgeous visual treatment that play with the trope of partners arguing in small, effective ways. Avoiding all of the cliches that come with the narrative, “Fear & Force” makes its strongest break at the end, choosing to focus on the optimism that can occur in the aftermath of the worst arguments rather than the dread and despair it so frequently invokes before inevitably fading into regrettable memory.
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lyric videos are a dime a dozen these days so it’s especially difficult to craft one that can posit itself as a genuine standout. Single Mothers‘ clip for the especially raucous “People Are Pets” manages the feat with stylistic aplomb. Using text and imagery that plays into the song’s relentless urgency, “People Are Pets” finds clever methods to enhance its overall effect in surprisingly memorable fashion. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the song the clip’s supporting is an absolute monster. Hit play and keep those eyes wide.
Rozwell Kid – Wendy’s Trash Can
SideOneDummy‘s been putting a lot of thought into their music videos as of late, cultivating a snarky streak of tongue-in-cheek clips that are brimming with manic energy and joy. The latest in this run: Rozwell Kid‘s transition-heavy clip for their career highlight “Wendy’s Trash Can”. Originally released as a 10-hour loop, the label was also kind enough to offer up the condensed version. Watching it for the umpteenth time, it’s hard not to think that maybe they didn’t need to- “Wendy’s Trash Can” is infectious enough that most people will probably just keep hitting repeat anyway.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
Cayetana took a major stride forward with their most recent release, the astonishing New Kind of Normal. Everything they’ve released in conjecture with that record has inspired varying degrees of awe but the “Bus Ticket” clip may be the finest of the bunch. Perfectly encapsulating the internal struggles that inform the record’s overarching narrative about coping with mental health, the band’s wound up with a definitive release that shows off all of their colors, remaining empathetic at every turn. Despairing, defiant, overjoyed, resilient, content, struggling, or argumentative, all “Bus Ticket” offers in the end is understanding and acceptance.
Kevin Morby – City Music
Christopher Good has been putting together an unreal run as a director as of late and his frequent collaborator Tipper Newton, whose narration opens “City Music”, has been putting together an impressive streak of her own, ranging from the outstanding powerpop project Color TV to a small part in Love and a recurring role in The Mindy Project (not to mention starring in Good’s excellent short, Brad Cuts Loose). Kevin Morby’s been on a bit of a run himself, releasing yet another strong record shortly after a triumph last year in Singing Saw — which saw him team up with Good for the exceptional “Dorothy” clip, which stood as a career highlight for both parties — a record he may have topped with City Music.
The clip’s full of the hallmarks that have put both the director and the musician on the map, infusing traditionalism with a provocative forward-thinking bent that infuses the proceedings with an unpredictable liveliness that electrifies the whole affair. “City Music”, by the time it comes to its celebratory end, feels like a lived-in fever dream, offering both a reconciliatory warmth and something that feels just alien enough to remain intriguingly alien. An undoubtedly ambitious project that never entirely reveals its hand, “City Music” is one of the most fascinating and investment-worthy clips of 2017.
In the weeks that followed this site’s recap of the great records to be released in the first quarter of 2017, a handful more found release. Many of these selections received a heavy amount of deserved acclaim throughout the course of their introductions and a few slipped by, largely unnoticed. All of them are outstanding. All of them are worth multiple listens. All of them can (and should) be accessed below. Enjoy!
Anyone keeping regular tabs on this site will be fully aware that only a few days ago a list of around 500 great songs from the first quarter was just published, which means the songs featured in this list* are genuinely extraordinary. Ranging from highlights of records that are already receiving glowing reviews (Pile, Midnight Reruns) to the lead-off single of what’s undoubtedly the Heartbreaking Bravery pick for the year’s most anticipated record (Charly Bliss), these 15 tracks constitute the very best of the early best. Old favorites and new faces are both featured and everything’s more than worth a whole slew of listens, so jump in and start swimming.
*Any of the songs that were previously featured in the Quarter 1 Best Of roundups for music videos and records were deemed ineligible for this list, in an effort to spread the attention as much as possible.
Charly Bliss – Glitter
Anyone who has paid even an iota of attention to this site and its coverage selection over the past several years should be aware of Charly Bliss. Following what stands so far as the best EP of the current decade, an introductory full-length should seem like a daunting challenge. “Glitter” decimates any of the doubt that none of us should have ever harbored in the first place. A pitch-perfect burst of spiked bubblegum punk, it’s a characteristically enthralling look at what’s bound to be one of the year’s best records.
Chemtrails – Deranged
A relatively fresh band to this site’s featured selections, Chemtrails‘ “Deranged” is the exact type of song that seems determined to force a change in that regard. Swooping down from the heavens, “Deranged” is an exhilarating run through snotty, synth-driven basement pop that comes teeming with an energy that’s unmistakably, ferociously punk. An effortless, summery anthem, “Deranged” sticks with the listener thanks to its deceptive intelligence and unavoidable hooks.
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Was there any hook in 2017’s first quarter as ridiculously addictive and inescapable as the one at the center of “Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)”? The amount of times the melody accompanying the title of this song personally floated through my head over the first few months of this year is nothing short of staggering. Fortunately, the rest of the song is as brilliant as that central hook, ably demonstrating the considerable allure that nearly every song to come out of The Spirit of the Beehive‘s discography boasts.
Deep State – No Idea Pt. II
An explosion of basement punk given only the slightest powerpop sheen, Deep State’s “No Idea Pt. II” recklessly kicks and careens with abandon. Pure energy congeals with concise, tightly-wound songwriting for a display of formidable power that’s hard to forget. Short, scrappy, and overflowing with conviction, “No Idea Pt. II” is more than enough reason to get incredibly excited for whatever Deep State’s future holds in store.
Petite League – Pulling Teeth
Last year, Petite League were kind enough to gift this site with “Magic Johnson” for the A Step Forward compilation and that track’s been on near-constant repeat ever since that moment. “Magic Johnson was an affirmation of something that’d already grown apparent: every new Petite League release is worth your attention. “Pulling Teeth”, their latest, serves as both reaffirmation and as statement. This is a band that’s hell-bent on improving with each consecutive release and they have the tenacity and the intelligence to make sure that goal’s accomplished.
Froth – Passing Thing
Most of Froth‘s most gripping efforts in the past have been hazy affairs imbued with gentle atmospheric aesthetics so the opening moments of “Passing Thing” don’t come as much of a surprise. What follows is a different story. After erupting into a cavalcade of noise that paradoxically both invites and discards a sense of tension “Passing Thing” leans in hard on the band’s shoegaze influences for an unexpectedly urgent reminder of the kind of forcefulness that’s always been evident just below Froth’s typically relaxed surface.
The New Year – Recent History
“Recent History”, the first music to be released from The New Year in nearly a decade, sounds more masterfully composed than most locked-in bands who are hitting their stride can manage. It helps, of course, that the members can be rightfully considered pioneers thanks to their astounding contributions to music both pre- and post-Bedhead. Still, “Recent History” is as quietly invigorating as slowly unwinding post-punk numbers come and The New Year infuse it with a hard-fought career’s worth of feeling.
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Hand Habits have made a name for themselves crafting sweeping, elegiac folk-tinged numbers over the years. The band has a uniformly strong discography but it’s hard to remember a track over that time as pure and lovely as the six-minute “Sun Beholds Me”. Haunting atmospherics and a pensive vocal melody find the perfect marriage to achieve a near-spiritual transcendence and leave Hand Habits with a striking career high that’s as gentle as it is memorable. An absolute triumph in every way.
Modern Baseball – This Song’s Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Few bands can offer up a career re-positioning as fascinating as the one Modern Baseball have accomplished over the past few years. Originally heralded as the potential saviors of both emo and pop-punk, the band’s steadily shifted towards something that tips far closer to Guided By Voices and Built to Spill than The Promise Ring. “This Song’s Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks” is the most recent example and includes scintillating guitar work while retaining some of the tongue-in-cheek snark and humility that endeared the band to its early fans. Impressive is an understatement.
Grim Streaker – Guts
Another furiously-paced burst of aggressive basement punk with a few basement pop trappings, Grim Streaker’s “Guts” is the kind of song that makes people sit up and take notice. For a little under two and a half minutes, Grim Streaker just throws one haymaker after the other, from the frantic synth work to the energetic, deeply-felt vocals. “Guts” is, unquestionably, a knockout punch. Should Grim Streaker keep this kind of pace up, we’ll all be hearing their name more frequently in the coming years.
Dream Wife – Somebody
Many times when musicians opt for the overtly political route — whether it be protest songs or self-congratulatory statements — it comes off as trite and frequently overbearing. Which is why when these topics are treated with nuance instead of being reduced to a bland bottom line, the effect tends to be greater. Case in point: Dream Wife’s “Somebody”, which features both the simplistic (but deeply meaningful) rallying cry of “I am not my body/I am somebody” and verses that articulate that point in clever ways. Dream Wife understand the effects of prose better than most and, as a result, they’ve wound up with what will likely be one of the strongest sociopolitical tracks of 2017.
Caddywhompus – Waiting Room
While Decent and Splinter were among some of the stronger tracks of the past several months, it was “Waiting Room” that stood out as Caddywhompus‘ finest effort. All three are sterling tracks, undoubtedly, but the inventiveness present in each of the many movements populating “Waiting Room” give it the slightest of edges, a fact that bodes very well for the band’s forthcoming Odd Hours. As dynamic and fascinating as ever, Caddywhompus seems poised to unveil not only a career high but one of the year’s finest records.
Pile – Dogs
Leaning On A Wheel and Texas showed that Pile, one of the most singular acts in today’s visible musical landscape, hadn’t lost an ounce of whatever unholy magic they’d poured into their earlier releases. “Dogs”, on the other hand, hinted towards something even larger. To be sure, A Hairshirt of Purposedid not disappoint. Still, “Dogs” remained an unquestionable highlight; sprawling, orchestral, and fearless, it’s another perfect example of the type of craft, conviction, and fearlessness that have transformed Pile into the unlikeliest of icons.
Tica Douglas – The Same Thing
One of the emerging solo acts that’s earned a handful of feature spots on this site over the past few years is Tica Douglas, whose restlessness continuously informs their music. “The Same Thing”, Douglas’ latest, somehow feels like a different animal entirely. A sweeping anthem that comes chock-full of the doubt, introspection, and exacting, unsparing self-analysis that have permeated throughout Douglas’ earlier works but “The Same Thing” somehow feels even more resolved and at peace than those earlier numbers. From quiet open to the wildly explosive burst to set off the track’s final 90 seconds, wire-to-wire, this is Douglas’ best work to date.
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
Both Hold Up the Mirror and Scorpion were strong indicators that Midnight Reruns‘ Spectator Sportswould inevitably wind up being another great record from a band with a near-spotless track record. While, unsurprisingly, that’s been fully revealed to be the case, it’s the record’s final track — not one of the advance singles — that makes the strongest impression. “Warm Days” is one of Midnight Reruns’ most representative tracks to date, from the dueling twin leads to the perfectly placed harmonies to the intensive understanding of their songwriting strengths, the song’s as much of a declaration of power as it is a victory lap. Listen to it below and watch a video of them playing the song live last year in Green Bay, WI.