Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Desire

17 of ’17: The Best Songs 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.

Enjoy.

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 & Response is 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 Changer is 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.

 

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The Best of the Rest

18-21

22-26

27-32

Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default

33-100

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

Splitting at the Break: The Live Videos of 2016’s First Half

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2016 is just about at its midway mark and there hasn’t been any live coverage on this site since before the year turned over. There have been a number of extenuating circumstances preventing the live documentation that has been captured this year from being posted (travel, time, other commitments, etc.) but that changes today. Below are ten video packets from ten shows that I was fortunate enough to catch — and shoot — this year.

Normally, as a general rule of thumb, I avoid posting anything from shows I play but am making an exception for the Jungles package because the band’s woefully under-represented in America for their undeniable strength as a live act.  A few other packets may be missing an artist or two but what’s below is the vast majority of what I’ve seen over the past six months.

Whether it’s Meat Wave ripping through a crushing new song on a (freakishly sunny) winter day in Chicago, Beach Slang covering The Replacements two times over, or Torres making everyone’s hairs stand on end with an unforgettable one-song encore, these are worth a look and were a privilege to experience. A photo gallery will be coming within the next few days but for now, enjoy the footage.

American Wrestlers, Eternal Summers, Palehound, and Torres. 

Julien Baker and Charly Bliss. 

Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and Black Lips. 

Runners, Beech Creeps, and Heavy Times. 

Jungles. 

Mr. Martin & The Sensitive Guys, BAG-DAD, Haunter, Miserable Friend, and Heavycritters. 

Yoko and the Oh No’s and PWR BTTM. 

Micah Schnabel, Dyke Drama, Potty Mouth, and Beach Slang. 

Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos. 

Oops and Dilly Dally. 

March 2016: The Streams

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In keeping with the past several recap posts, a lot of material will be listed below. I wish I could have granted each of these individual songs more words than just a generic introductory paragraph extolling their high quality of work but time can be extremely cruel and leave few desirable options. March was an extraordinary month for music, if you knew where to look and could spare the investment. Below is a list of the individual streams that surfaced during the month, each one worth several looks.

Once again, there’s simply too much material to consume in one sitting so this page is best experienced via a bookmark and return explorations. Following this post, the site will be running a premiere or two and then lists of the very best streams and live videos of 2016’s first quarter but until then, taking a trip through the below titles should be a rewarding experience that keeps everyone occupied. You may even find a new favorite band. Happy hunting. 

The Sun Days – Get Him Off Your Mind | Loco Ono – Sunny Day | Kidsmoke – Heartache | Summer Cannibals – Say My Name | Peter Bjorn and John – Breakin’ Point | Diarrhea Planet – Life Pass | A Place To Bury Strangers – Oh No / Cool Sensations / Gong Home | Marisa Anderson – Into the Light | Pinkwash – Longer Now | Polonium – Tuberculosis | Psychic Teens – End | Magic Potion – Milk | Yoni & Geti – Lunchline | Eagulls – Skipping | The Thermals – Thinking of You | Holy Now – Wake Up | Crow’s Feet – Surge // Swell

Fews – 100 Goosebumps | ShitKid – 666 | Museum Mouth – Incubus Tattoo | Haybaby – Joke/Rope | Jay Arner – Crystal Ball | Mo Kenney – Mountains to the Mess | Oberhofer – Alone Man | Hockey Dad – So Tired | Pacific Heights (ft. Louis Baker) – Buried by the Burden | Moonface and Siinai – Risto’s Riff | Patrick LaBahn – Equanimity | Scott Yoder – Looking Back In Blue | The Coathangers – Squeeki TikiSofia Härdig – Streets | The Person & The People – Hot Summer Nights | Megafauna – Desire | ANGEL DU$T – UPSIDE DOWN

Lattice Moore – Superused | Pinkwash – Burning Too | New Madrid – Darker Parts | Big Deal – Say Yes | Mrs. Magician – No Action | Small Circle – Please Don’t Touch the Moon | Greater Pyrenees – Homemade Blood | Blondfire – Domino | Former Belle – Honey Bee | Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day | Puce Mary – Night Is A Trap II | Turnover – Change Irreversible | Lontalius – I Was More Than | Iska Dhaaf – Invisible CitiesOdonis Odonis – Needs | Beach Skulls – Dreamin’ Blue | Peder (ft. Oh Land) – Still Life | MOURN – Storyteller

Eliza Shaddad – Always | Follin – Memories | Ghost King – Bones 1 & 2 | Steady Holiday – Open Water | Trace – Honey | Guided By Voices – My Zodiac Companion | Former Belle – I Woke Up In Chicago | Gabriel Bruce – Metal Soul | Margo Price – Hands of Time | Krano – Mi E Ti | Head Wound City – Born to Burn | Grayling – Empath | Tuff Slang – Nothing All the Time | Morly – PluckySelf Defense Family – Baby Mother Home | Jack Frederick – In My Dreams | John Doe (ft. Debbie Harry) – Go Baby Go | Modern Baseball – Everyday

Chris Cohen – In A Fable | John Dillon – Holy Fool | Ben Millburn – Hold Up | Amanda Palmer – Machete | James Bishop – Another Day | Lisa Prank – Starting Again | Foals – Rain | Arthur Moor – Wind Up | Hayes Carll – The Magic Kid | Russian Baths – Ambulance | Colleen Green – Between the Lines | P.O.S. – sleepdrone/superposition | Colin Stetson – SORROW III (Extract II)Idle Bloom – Good Hope (Demo) | Snow Roller – Cycling | case/lang/veirs – Best Kept Secret | Ashley Shadow – Tired | Beverly – Contact | Dowsing – Dissolve

Yeasayer – Gerson’s Whistle | OCCY – No Way | Iska Dhaaf – Lost | ANGEL DU$T – STAY | Darla and the Blonde – Vampyr | BOYFRNDZ – Hiatus | Summer Heart – The Forbidden | Phosphene – Wild Decay | Mt. Wolf – St. Michael | Seratones – Chandelier | Martha’s View – Baby In Vain | Dowsing – Kept Me Around | Victoria+Jean – Takes You Like A Rose | Dal Niente & Deerhoof – meltDown Upshot: 6. Cherubim (Marcos Balter) | Miserable – Violet

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Amanda Dissinger)

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Photograph by Dean Stafford

I don’t actually remember how I first met Amanda Dissinger but I’ve become increasingly grateful for that moment. Ever since that initial introduction, she’s been ceaselessly supportive of just about everything I’ve decided to do and has been a constant voice of reason. It’s why whenever I travel, I take the gorgeous collection of poetry she released last year, This Is How I Will Tell You I Love You, with me as a road companion. We call each other “the best” in an eternal loop with no trace of irony. If she sends me a promotional email for one of the several artists she does publicity for at Terrorbird Media, there’s a decent chance it’ll just devolve into a long string of short email blasts about what’s happening in our lives. For a very brief time, we shared door duties at Baby’s All Right and allowed ourselves to be inspired by the surroundings it offered. Not just one of my favorite authors but one of my absolute favorite people, it’s an honor to be hosting her writing on this site. Below, she tackles a night with Dilly Dally and Julien Baker that rekindled her love for the city where she resides. Read it below and then find a reason to celebrate your own surroundings.

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2015 was a weird year for me. I wrote a book, fell in love, moved to a new apartment, recovered from a weird mysterious muscle illness, and got to work with many rad bands in my full time job. I made new friends, I lost friends, I traveled all over the country, etc. etc. Though it may sound cliché, music is mostly what got me through it all. This year, I got to see some of my very favorite acts in the whole world- from my high school loves Death Cab for Cutie, new favorites like Weaves, and dozens of amazing bands that I do press for from Heaters to Total Makeover to Keeps, and friends’ bands like Big Ups and Charly Bliss.

I got to travel to Toronto for NXNE (by myself) and become immersed in the awesome scene there that’s spearheaded by the amazing Buzz Records and bands like Odonis Odonis, Greys, and Dilly Dally (more on them later). I went with coworkers to Raleigh, NC for Hopscotch Festival and while I had no expectations going in about the town, I became enamored with it, and with its diverse venues and friendly natives. I fell head over heels for Austin, TX and the lively music scene there, encouraged by my boyfriend, a wonderful musician, and the venues he frequents- Cheer Up Charlies, The Mohawk, and Barbarella (for dancing to ’80s music only).

However, this year in music can be best summed up by one cold night in November, when I got to see two of my favorite new artists perform in a back-to-back marathon concert night. In 2015, all of my favorite albums were released by females or female-fronted bands. I loved Carly Rae Jepsen’s whimsical Emotion, the ass-kicking albums by Bully, All Dogs, and Hop Along, and the catchy-as-hell releases from Bad Bad Hats and Laura Stevenson. Above all though, two albums that represented the polarity of my feelings — and the two that I loved the most — were Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle (representing my vulnerable, emotional and nostalgic self) and Dilly Dally’s blistering, raucous Sore, showcasing the assertive, in-your-face person that I aspire to be.

Miraculously, I got to see four of the artists that made my favorite albums in one week in November in a way that only New York sometimes operates- Tuesday: Bad Bad Hats at Baby’s All Right, Wednesday: Carly Rae Jepsen at Irving Plaza, and Saturday: Dilly Dally at Baby’s, followed by Julien Baker at Mercury Lounge. Though I was recovering from a gnarly cold that week, I still absolutely 100% needed to run around like a chicken with my head cut off and see both of these artists responsible for music that touched me so deeply.

Before that night, I had seen Dilly Dally about three times since 2013. My friends in Toronto who run the aforementioned Buzz Records release constantly hypnotizing and brave music from incredible bands (like all the ones I mentioned above- Weaves, Greys, Odonis and Odonis, as well as bands like The Beverleys, HSY, and so many more). They are all smart, incredibly nice and wonderful people. They’re also my favorite label and everything they touch turns to gold.

By now most people have heard the thrilling ’90s tinged Sore, and I’ve probably listened to it about 1000 times since its release in October. I was thrilled to see a headlining set from them after the album release, especially since I only caught a bit of them at CMJ at like 1am at Santos Party House. At Baby’s, they were at their best, impressing the really large and enthralled crowd who packed the small, sweaty room to hear melodic yet hard-edged tracks like “Green” (one of my favorites since their 7” of it), the pulsating “Desire”, and “Purple Rage”.

I caught most of their set and hopped over on the train with a few people I ran into at the show to see Julien Baker, whose album absolutely devastated me like nothing else I can remember, both on first listen and the many subsequent listens. Singing about addiction, heartbreak, and loneliness, Sprained Ankle stops you in your tracks- after I heard the whole thing in mid-October, I couldn’t listen to anything else.

Once Baker started her set at Mercury Lounge that night, the crowd went so silent that you could hear a feather drop in the room. Her songs were filled with lust and love and memories and I stopped breathing, I’m sure. Her songs are meandering and honest and fearless. In one of my favorites, “Everybody Does”, she sings “you’re gonna run/it’s alright everybody does/you’re gonna run when you find out who I am.” Though her set was too short, I was already 100% certain that everyone I know needed to see her live and hear her album and I am 100% certain that her performance broke my heart.

While it’s a bit sappy, the night reminded me of the reason why I moved to New York. Though I’m still relatively young, I recently lost interest in going out as much as I did when I was 19 or 20 and hopping to two or three shows a night. I felt alienated from the crowd and from the people around me, people who I used to be friends with and see all the time. Before that night, I would go out, stay at a show for an hour or so and immediately go home, lonely and disinterested.

That night in November reminded me of why New York can be so magical, and it gave me something I really needed. It made me realize that sometimes cool things don’t have to be terrible, and sometimes things can change, and the music, the people, and you can all be better than ever.

-Amanda Dissinger

15 of ’15: The Best Music Videos of 2015

Courtney Barnett I

Before we begin on this list, it’s worth noting- once again- that this publication isn’t one that’s overly concerned with the artists that already have received major levels of exposure (it’s also worth noting that “best” is a formality and a pale reflection of lists born out of subjectivity that are constructed around a fairly rigid set of rules). That said, I’d be remiss to not mention that what I personally believe to be the three most important clips of the year (Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright“, Vince Staples’ “Señorita“, and Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)“) all used multifaceted black-and-white presentation to haunting, startlingly effective- and extremely pointed- levels. While those acts may have had access to expanded resources, the artists that made this list were able to find ways to flourish on technical and artistic levels. These clips are only scratching the surface of an extraordinary year for music videos but still managed to find ways to stand out from the crowd.

15. Fraser A. Gorman – Shiny Gun

Was there any narrative-driven clip as lighthearted as Fraser A. Gorman‘s “Shiny Gun” in 2015 (or 2014 for that matter)? Operating with a freewheeling sense of camaraderie and a genuine sense of fun, it’s a nearly iconic clip for an artist that deserves to be recognized on his own merits rather than just as an associate of label boss Courtney Barnett (who has a delightful cameo in the video). From the dryly comic premise to the impromptu guitar solo session that acts as its resolution, “Shiny Gun” is pure entertainment.

14. S – Remember Love

Last year, S appeared on this list for the heartbreaking “Losers” clip, which was teeming with genuine emotion and presented in bare-bones, DIY fashion. “Remember Love” sees S continuing to succeed on both of those accounts in instantly memorable ways. Ostensibly a parable about the metaphorical ghosts and skeletons that accompany the dissolution of relationships, “Remember Love” pulls off providing them with a physical form. By all accounts, the provided costume should feel too on-the-nose yet the video somehow finds a way to humanize its characterization to a point where the clip’s climax- and surprisingly profound final moment- feels genuinely devastating.

13. Diet Cig – Scene Sick

Over Easy, Diet Cig‘s immediately likable debut EP, established the duo as a fount of brash youthfulness and sheer joy, even in songs that dealt with some weightier issues. Even in a strong year for the band that saw the release of a few more clips and a tremendous 7″, nothing captured their aesthetic more than their video for “Scene Sick”. A simplistic concept maximized to an absurd level of success, it finds guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gleefully dancing next to a stone-faced Noah Bowman (the band’s drummer) before a brief rest that sees them both exploding into a frenzy of completely carefree moves over the most apt of refrains. No stakes are ever present and the duo dive into their roles with ecstatic abandon.

12. Dilly Dally – Desire

In December, no band was mentioned more times on this site than Dilly Dally, whose Sore has been in near-constant rotation here since its release. While the clips for “The Touch” and (especially) “Purple Rage” made strong impressions, it was “Desire” that managed to cut deepest. A visual realization of the record’s most central themes, “Desire” also managed to capture the band’s defining dichotomy: exploring the inherent beauty of what’s generally perceived as ugliness. The willingness to explore what makes us human so boldly resonated loudly when it was confined to the record but seeing a depiction of our mundane flaws married to a celebration of our sensuality and sense of wonder turned “Desire” into a staggering experience.

11. Eskimeaux – Broken Necks

Eskimeaux‘s O.K. was a watershed moment for Gabrielle Smith’s project, striking a perfect balance between somber reflection and a prevailing sense of closeted optimism. “Broken Necks” focuses most heavily on the optimistic side of that equation, bringing the song’s more twee elements to vibrant life as Smith and a cohort of friends walk and/or dance their way through a host of familiar locations scattered around New York. Smith turns in a charismatic central performance, flashing impressive depth as the video progresses through a variety of distinctive modes (deadpan, ethereal, meditative, etc.). Visually, it’s mesmerizing and finds ways to incorporate a few quick tricks into something that winds up feeling like one of Eskimeaux’s most defining moments.

10. Denai Moore – Blame

Every so often, a music video comes along that boasts enough firepower in its technical elements to prove unforgettable. In Denai Moore‘s clip for “Blame“, everything is firing on all cylinders. From Moore’s turn as a detached passenger to an inspired performance from an antagonized outsider to the gorgeous icy landscape and breathtaking cinematography, it’s a surprisingly moving piece of work. Tapping into a noir-ish narrative that focuses heavily on loss, unfettered emotion, and our capacity for empathy, it’s a striking vision. From its layered worldview to the video’s elevation of the song that acts as its driving force, “Blame” is an uncontested triumph.

9. Alex G – Brite Boy

Another clip that focuses heavily on loss, Alex G‘s “Brite Boy“, found a way to excel in its attention to implicit detail. Using only black outlines on a white background, “Brite Boy” infuses its classic-leaning animation with a palpable sense of longing. As its two protagonists adventure their way through bouts of surrealism and moments of clarity, a divide begins to emerge and deepen in heartbreaking fashion. It’s an emotionally crippling tour de force cut from a fairly unique cloth that’s already starting to feel more than a little timeless.

8. Bandit – The Drive Home

Easily one of the most stunning turn-in’s from a cinematographer working in this format in 2015, Bandit‘s “The Drive Home” benefits from the evocative framing that heightens the song’s cinematic inclinations considerably. Easily Of Life‘s most blinding highlight, the Derek Scearce-helmed clip elevates the emotional heft of “The Drive Home” via cold color palettes and sweeping, majestic presentation. Open roads, snow-capped mountains, and jaw-dropping visuals combine and culminate in a memorable final moment that completely removes the clip’s lone human element, ultimately revealing itself as an ego-less appreciation of our surroundings. It’s a powerful decision that cements the status of “The Drive Home” as one of the finest music videos of 2015.

7. PUP – Dark Days

In 2013, PUP‘s vicious- and viciously entertaining- clip for “Reservoir” earned a spot at the top of the music videos list I co-authored for PopMatters for that year. In 2014, the band followed suit with their unforgettable origin story video for “Guilt Trip“. Both were directed by the creative team of Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who once again crack this year’s list with the animated clip for “Dark Days“, extending a remarkable run of success with aplomb. Here, the gears are switched from relative bleakness and shocking moments of violence to a modest animated presentation of the decidedly unglamorous lives of touring musicians in a mid-level band. A sense of realism informs close to every step of “Dark Days”, from its unfettered highs to its most crushing lows. By providing what also effectively functions as a distillation of the band’s manic energy, Levack and Schaulin-Rioux have crafted yet another gem.

6. Courtney Barnett – Kim’s Caravan

One of 2015’s more unexpected commentaries came via Courtney Barnett‘s commendably bleak clip for “Kim’s Caravan“, which honed in on Australia’s most ravaged landscapes while simultaneously providing an unflinchingly intimate portrait of the inhabitants of those areas. Not too far removed from the works of John Hillcoat, “Kim’s Caravan” finds strength in its most somber tones. As the clip progresses, a foreboding sense of doom gets amplified to successively higher levels before culminating in some of the most startling and unforgettable shots of any music video to have been released in the past five years. As shattered glass rains down upon Barnett’s body and a trailer gets abandoned as it burns, the disappointment and anger fueling the clip crystallize. As Barnett walks offscreen in its final moments, it comes across as an impassioned plea and provides a fitting end piece to one of the more effective message videos in recent memory.

5. Girl Band – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?

Did any other band find a foothold in definitive visual representation as Girl Band in the past 12 months? It’s doubtful. One of the more difficult decisions going into this list’s ultimate ranking was whether to include “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” or “Paul”, as each operated on a singular playing field that’s paid massive dividends for the band. Ultimately, the former was selected for being both the introduction to the band’s distinctive approach and the meticulous, surgeon-like precision required for it to work. Playing like one of David Lynch’s wet nightmares, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” focuses on the removal of a corpse’s internal organs before taking a sudden left turn into one of the more nightmarish dance parties imaginable, shattering an enormous amount of tension and providing the rest of us with a glimpse of the arsenal of deranged imagery Girl Band had in store for their breakout year.

 

4. Hammock – In the Middle of this Nowhere + My Mind Was A Fog… My Heart Became A Bomb

While it’s likely this pairing functions more as a short film than a music video, it succeeds on its own merits to a strong enough degree that the cumulative result felt like an appropriate candidate for this list. Astounding on a technical level, both “My Mind Was A Fog… My Heart Became A Bomb” and “In the Middle of this Nowhere” also succeed in eliciting an emotional response from their high-concept proceedings. Centering on a narrative where a virus has all but wiped out the world’s population, a survivor returns to his now-desolate home that he’d built with his family to try and rebuild his life by any means necessary. Another intimate portrayal of a character whose fate is all but doomed, the setting of these clips allow them to grasp at weightier themes than usual, where things like abandonment are amplified considerably by the circumstance. As the protagonist’s resolve rapidly deteriorates with each subsequent attempt at rekindling his past, Hammock‘s lilting ambient score propels each of the clips towards being modern classics.


3. Bent Denim – Good Night’s Sleep 

It’s difficult to think of a clip that commanded more force with its synergy than Bent Denim‘s aching “Good Night’s Sleep“. A pained examination of the psyche after the loss of a child, its a wrenching, empathetic character study that captures the feeling of being directionless to heartrending effect. In presenting the narrative through the lens of home movies, it imbues the narrative with a discomforting notion that it’s a tragedy that many of us will have to face and find a way to reconcile. The video’s soft tones enhance the intuitively maternal characterization of the clip’s lone performer and adds untold depths of heartbreak to the shot that lingers on a sign that simply says “Momma tried”. Whether “Good Night’s Sleep” deals with death, miscarriage, custody, or abortion is up to the perception of the viewer but any way it’s spun, the video retains its gut-wrenching emotional impact and its level of care for its protagonist. It’s an astonishingly moving portrait rendered with the care it deserves and it’s also one of the finest DIY efforts of this decade.

2. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

An extraordinary amount of work and hyper-meticulous planning has to go into pulling off a successful tracking shot, which is why a few of the finest examples (Children of MenHard BoiledThe Shining, etc.) are considered some of the most iconic moments in cinema. In 2015, there were three of these that genuinely stood out: the entirety of the German heist thriller Victoria, the electric second boxing match in Creed, and Sabyn Mayfield’s clip for the extraordinary title track from Julien Baker‘s masterwork Sprained Ankle. It’s a record that’s predominant theme is our mortality, a fact laid bare by the opening lines of “Sprained Ankle”, and Baker conveys the weight of that obsession flawlessly throughout the course of the video. Appearing onscreen as a battered athlete surrounded by a decrepit gymnasium, the imagery drives home the somewhat tragic fact that everything is constantly aging from the moment it’s born into this world. Eventually, the camera pushes past Baker to explore the tattered walls and fading ceiling insulation before circling back to the ground and providing one last look at a now-abandoned gym, haunted by what’s no longer present.

1. The Fjords – All In

2015 was a deplorable year in terms of senselessly violent acts that were carried out on scales both grand and miniature. From school shootings to accidental bombings, there was barely a reprieve from the damage. It seems fitting, then, that the clip at the very top of this list would offer some sort of commentary on today’s excessive levels of heinously shocking violence. Here, though, the clip in question gains intrigue because of how balanced it manages to be in that commentary, touching on both the displacement that can drive those actions and the childlike mindset that goes into their execution. Nostalgia also plays a factor in “All In“, which is a monumental first effort at a narrative-driven music video for The Fjords (“Almost Real” was granted a compelling lyric video), connecting the thread of media influence to its sudden, unexpected bloodshed. Heightening the disconcerting events that inform “All In”, is the fact that the protagonist is a young child, whose played with a steely commitment that’s nearly as jarring as the clip’s climactic confrontation in front of a hot dog stand. All at once, “All In” manages to succeed as a pointed commentary, a revenge fantasy, and one of the most startling pieces of magic realism in recent memory. Timely and timeless, it’s a towering achievement by any measure and its message lingers long after its first shot rings out.

Watch This: Vol. 108

Once again, there’s been a brief interim since the last Watch This was posted but, as ever, a lot of great material has surfaced in that time. In this volume, there will be an emphasis on full sessions and artists who have made numerous appearances on the site over its two years of existence. All five of these artists have earned glowing reviews for their live shows and are, in a lot of ways, inextricably connected to Heartbreaking Bravery’s development. Only one of these clips is a performance of a standalone song and it’s one of the most gripping live captures of the year. So, as always, sit up, wind down, focus, adjust the settings, and Watch This.

1. All Dogs (Audiotree)

Watching All Dogs‘ exposure explode in 2015 thanks to the release of their extraordinary full-length debut, Kicking Every Day, felt genuinely gratifying. The songs in that collection, like any Maryn Jones-led project, feel brave and personal. Every song is relatable to an extent that’s almost painful; our own damage is reflected in Jones’ interior grappling, which suffuses every ounce of Kicking Every Day. In a live setting, those songs gain even more impact and Audiotree expertly captures that with  this very worthy session.

2. Bully (KEXP)

One of the first shows I saw after moving into an apartment in Brooklyn was thanks to a tweet that sent me sprinting towards Rough Trade. What followed was a whirlwind set by site favorites Bully, that largely pulled from their outstanding Feels Like. KEXP recently hosted the band for an in-studio session that once again finds the band nailing the seemingly paradoxical marriage between sounding polished and downright ragged. Exhilarating and fairly composed, it’s a fascinating look at one of 2015’s most deserving success stories.

3. Waxahatchee (Ithaca Underground)

Katie Crutchfield has been one of the most consistently enthralling songwriters of the past 10 years, elevating a staggering number of projects that have managed to find a near-reverential status among their respective communities and beyond. Eventually, that devotion spread outward and expanded into national recognition only shortly after her first collection as WaxahatcheeAmerican  Weekend, was released. Crutchfield’s released two more records under that moniker (and a few as half of Great Thunder) in the time that’s followed, with both Cerulean Salt and Ivy Tripp finding spots in numerous best-of lists at high-profile publications. Here, Ithaca Underground presents Crutchfield performing an arresting (and beautifully shot) solo set that leaves the audience speechless. It’s a powerful document of an artist who continues to find new ways to impress.

4. Dilly Dally (KEXP)

Dilly Dally came into 2015 riding a wave of buzz surrounding the staggering brilliance of their first few singles and capitalized on those early flashes of potential with ferocious abandon. Nearly every item the band released this year wound up inspiring several paragraphs worth of attention from this site and a few extremely strong reviews for their inspired (and, frankly, inspiring) live shows. Sore, their full-length debut, just served as the cherry on top of an already-appealing sundae. KEXP recently brought the band in for a full session and they responded in kind, gifting the studio an appropriately searing performance.

5. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In The Wolrd? (ANTI-) 

Throughout 2015, ANTI- has produced some of the most beautiful live clips in recent memory (a handful of which have been prominently featured in this series) and that streak continues with this beautiful presentation of Saintseneca‘s Zac Little performing “How Many Blankets Are In The World?” while walking through what appears to be a drainpipe. Easily one of the year’s most gorgeous live captures, this is both a spellbinding performance and a masterclass in composition. Even when Little’s plunged into near-complete darkness, the song itself serves as the clip’s functioning heart, generating a thoughtful overall effect. When Little finally emerges back into the light, it’s a sequence that feels oddly moving, finalizing this as one of the year’s most complete offerings in this category.

Watch This: Vol. 100

Over the past 100 weeks, this site’s dedicated itself to a variety of pursuits but the defining one seems to be the only recurring series that operates on a regular basis: Watch This. Ever since the first installment, this series has featured the very best live performance captures. Utilizing a wealth of resources that range from band’s personal accounts to radio stations that host high-quality session captures, like KEXP in Seattle or 3voor12 in the Netherlands.

Very rarely has that gaze turned inward, despite producing over 300 live videos in the past four months. With this series now at a landmark number and all of the CMJ reviews accounted for, it seemed appropriate to bypass the outside sources to focus exclusively on the crop of videos that was taken over the past week. Approximately 50 bands, 90 videos, and 100 songs, these clips will be presented in groupings according to which day they were filmed. A few slip out of focus, some start a little late, and some cut off just before their ending, and a few bands are missing due to unfortunate and/or unforeseen circumstance (a dead battery, lighting, and a maxed out sd card were the three most prominent issues) but as a whole, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of performances the festival has to offer. So, as always, sit back, relax, ignore any worries, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. CMJ: Day 2

To make things just a touch easier, each of these introductory segments will simply be a very brief recap including a link to the respective day’s official review and the list of artists that appear in the video. Having spent the first official day of CMJ preparing for the rest of the week, the timeline’s off by a day but had this been the first official day, the festival would have kicked off with a band. Splitting time between The Cake Shop and Santos Party House, I managed to get videos of performances from the following artists: Worriers, Hooton Tennis Club, Car Seat Headrest, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Yung, Shopping, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Perfect Pussy, and Dilly Dally. The official review of the day’s events can be found here.

2. CMJ: Day 3

Things kept moving along quickly on the second day, which included a long stretch at an early show over at Rough Trade before taking a brief pause to organize that show’s footage and prepare for the late show at Aviv. Between the two venues, the lineup was characteristically stacked and led to videos of performances from Shopping, Ezra Furman, Georgia, John Grant, What Moon Things, Mumblr, Meat Wave, Painted Zeros, Turn To Crime, and Yvette. The official review of the day’s shows can be found here.

3. CMJ: Day 4 

The festival’s exhausting nature started to creeping in on the third consecutive day of showgoing, though the deliriousness will always be worth the effort in the case of celebrating things like Exploding In Sound (who themselves were celebrating their fourth anniversary), Big Ups (who were celebrating their fifth year as a band), and Double Double Whammy. Once again splitting time between two venues– Palisades and The Silent Barn– I managed to get footage of performances from Leapling, Swings, Mal Devisa (backed by Swings), Dirty Dishes, Kal Marks, Washer, Stove, Palm, Greys, The Spirit of the Beehive, Big Ups, Palehound, Downies, Eskimeaux, and LVL UP. The official review of those events can be read here.

4. CMJ: Day 5

Easily the most exhausting of the five day stretch, the fifth official day of the festival found me completely ignoring food in favor of sprinting a mile to catch one of my favorite acts four times over. While a fraction of the day was spent running to and from an official CMJ showcase and the AdHoc Carwash (which was detached from the festival completely but boasted one of the week’s strongest lineups), the effort proved to be worthwhile, as a large collection of bands delivered knockout sets and everything culminated in a triumphant moment for one of my closest friends. In all the back-and-forth, I was still able to manage to capture performances from the following artists: Protomartyr, Potty Mouth, Pity Sex, Dilly Dally, LVL UP, Porches., Perfect Pussy, Meat Wave, Mothers, and Cloud Castle Lake. The review of that day of relative mania can be read here.

5. CMJ: Day 6

Despite the festival’s posted end date being the October 17, this collaborative showcase a day later between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still billed as a part of the festival and felt like an appropriate epilogue; a summation of what’d come before and a fitting end-cap for a very strong run. Confined to just one venue, the sleep deprivation caused me to miss the first trio of acts (and quietly curse myself out for doing so in the process) but still show up in time for the final 10. On the final day of reckoning, I captured videos of performances from the following artists: i tried to run away when i was 6, Downies, Romp, Comfy, Vagabon, fern mayo, Bethlehem Steel, Diet Cig, Sports, and PWR BTTM. The official review of the festival’s final event can be read here.

Dilly Dally – Desire (Stream)

dilly dally

While the slowly circulating news that The Weakerthans have decided to call it a day after a storied career has cast an unavoidable pall on the day, it seemed more appropriate than ever to celebrate the new music that’s been steadily surfacing over the past few days. All Dogs (deservedly) were the only band to get coverage yesterday and there’d only been specialized and series posts in the days leading up to the release of their extraordinary “That Kind of Girl”. In an effort to shed some light on some of the memorable entries to have surfaced in the time since the last standard post, a collection of songs will be posted below the included embed of today’s featured track: Dilly Dally’s “Desire.

Literally every song Dilly Dally has released to the public has earned glowing praise from this site and “Desire” ensures that streak’s not broken. Released in tandem with the announcement of the band’s forthcoming debut full-length, Sore, and the band’s signing to Partisan Records, it’s another piece of stunning noir-punk that comes laced with an emphatic gloom that only elevates the track’s foreboding atmosphere. It’s a dynamic that the band’s managed to perfect in just a small handful of songs (most of them appearing on two jaw-dropping 7″ records from 2014) and capitalizes on once more in “Desire”.

Opening with a cacophony of feedback and relative atonality, the song quickly settles into a serrated attack that waxes poetic on basic human impulse. Katie Monks has one of the most heart-stopping voices in music and the music Dilly Dally continues to conjure up around its central draw manages to simultaneously play into its darker sensibilities and elevate it into something that’s nearly transcendental. After a few lineup changes, the band’s found a powerful rhythm section that anchors the expressive nature of the band’s deceptively sharp guitar work (courtesy of Liz Ball, who’s always been essential to the band’s success).

Monks stated recently that Sore‘s central narrative hinged on the recurring thematic of rebirth and that “Desire” was- explicitly- about sexual release. “Desire” subtly incorporates both to create something that feels abnormally genuine and oddly harrowing. In a statement released to Fader- who premiered “Desire” earlier today- Monks expounded on the two threads and equated them with a struggle to find happiness while extolling the virtues of the fight required to obtain what proves to be an elusive emotion for so many. Grounded in bleak reality and stretching outwards towards a hopefulness, “Desire” quickly becomes one of the band’s strongest efforts in a discography that’s already obscenely strong for being so limited.  If this recent run of releases is indicative of the strength of the remaining releases on 2015’s slate, we’re in for one hell of a back stretch.

Listen to “Desire” below and keep an eye on this site for further updates on Sore in the lead-up to its October 9 release date. Beneath the embed, explore a list of other memorable songs to have surfaced in the past several days.

Happy Diving – My Zone
Yung – Burning Bodies
Swervedriver – Winter Depths
Nolita View – Departed
Advance Base – Pamela
The Lees of Memory – Let’s Turn Our Love Up Loud
Jaye Bartell – Lilly
Natural Snow Buildings – Sun Tower
Salad Boys – Dream Date
Menace Beach – Super Transporterreum
Best Behavior – Star Signs
Diane Coffee – Mayflower
Protomartyr – Why Does It Shake?
Amy Bezunartea – New Villain
Lost Boy ? – Big Business Monkey (Daniel Johnston cover)
Antarctigo Vespucci – Lost My Mind
Funeral Advantage – Gardensong
FIDLAR – West Coast
toe – The World According To
Helta Skelta – 55mm
Babes – I’ve Got A Reason To Keep On Living
Joe Jackson – A Little Smile
Youth Lagoon – The Knower
ON AND ON – Behind The Gun