Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Don Giovanni Records

Ex​-​Vöid – Ex​-​Vöid (EP Review, Stream)

Over the past 7 days, there have been full streams that found release with names like Yours Are The Only Ears, Adrian Teacher and The Suits, Boys, Liminal, Fennesz, Ivy Lab, Gutterbawl, The Body, Utah, Samara Lubelski, and Neighbor Lady attached. The recently-featured Ex​-​Vöid also got to unveil their new EP (which isn’t a single, a seemingly prevalent misconception), a self-titled three song burst of addictive post-punk shot through with confetti.

Fresh off the release of  Ex​-​Vöid‘s effortlessly charming lead-off track “Boyfriend”, the trio wasted no time in ushering out a concise EP. All of the sensibilities that Alanna McArdle and Owen Williams showcased as (now ex-) members of Joanna Gruesome are back on full display in Ex​-​Vöid. Gorgeous harmonies, a pitch-perfect balancing act of harsh noise and pristine tones, and a sense of playfulness embedded into relentless aggression, Ex​-​Vöid are more than winsome at first blush but reveal a surprising amount of layering, as does their first release.

Both “Anyone (Other Than U)” and “(Angry At You) Baby” are assured pieces of basement pop injected with enough punk bite to satisfy the genre’s die-hard loyalists. McArdle and Williams play off of each other to perfection, their voices working in tandem to strengthen each other. It’s the dichotomies, scales, and unity that defines Ex​-​Vöid, which presents the band as fully-formed, incredibly assured, and ready to conquer whatever comes their way. Easily one of the year’s strongest EP’s and unquestionably one of our best new bands.

Listen to Ex​-​Vöid below and pick it up from the band here.

Ex-Vöid – Boyfriend (Music Video)

Last week there were exceptional songs from Bing & Ruth, LIFE, Drahla, Active Bird Community, Remember Sports, Oddnesse, Animal House, Therese Lithner, Lilith, Natalie Prass, Proud Parents, The Goon Sax, RVG, Beach Skulls, Winston Vista,  and Co Sonn. There was also the re-introduction of two former members of site favorites Joanna Gruesome, one of which — Alanna McArdle — being the vocalist that played a pivotal role in their rise to prominence.

That reintroduction comes with the arrival of Ex-Vöid, a power trio that falls neatly in line with where McArdle and Owen Williams left off with their old project, bringing the exact same kind of kinetic energy back to the table. Twee indie pop sensibilities once again infiltrating a noisy post-punk lens in “Boyfriend”, the band’s irresistible new single. Taking cues from a perfectly curated list of sources, from Sarah Records to Flying Nun, Ex-Vöid rekindle a spark that was seemingly extinguished when they departed Joanna Gruesome.

“Boyfriend” is short but it’s sharp, sinking its hooks in deep enough to leave the kind of marks that lead to fondly-recognized scars. The into is a cavalcade of noise but that disintegrates into sunny melodies in an instant, the band launching into that familiar but distinct sound, bridging their influences to their own singular identity. It’s a thrilling listen that offers up a few more surprises as it goes, offering up enough grace notes to portend a bright future for a voice that we should all be glad has rejoined the table.

Listen to “Boyfriend” below and pre-0rder Ex-Vöid from Don Giovanni.

Dusk – Leaf (Music Video, Live Video)

The first two days of this week brought a lot of good things into the world, including songs from Post Louis, Pllush, Boys, Retirement Party, Julian, White China, Jaye Jayle, Aisha Burns, Hilary WoodsBad Breeding, and Emilie Mover. Additionally, there was a solid slate of music video from artists like gobbinjrSuperchunk, Skating Polly, Operator Music Band, Munroe, and Body Type. Full streams that came from No Problem, Blessed, Tunic, and Miracle Worker rounded things off in style. In the bed of all of those, there was also an announcement that seemed as it if may never come: site favorites Dusk signing to Don Giovanni records for the release of their debut full-length, released alongside a music video for one of the decade’s best songs in “Leaf”.

It’s an announcement that comes hot on the heels of the band’s Dirtnap 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy, which was featured here last week. That review touched upon the band’s identity, something that “Leaf” helped form in their earliest stages. There are certain songs that have the power to make you believe in a band from the jump and, even more rarely, there are songs that can rip through a person so forcefully they’re left on the verge of tears after one listen. “Leaf” is both.

The first song pianist/vocalist Julia Blair wrote for the band, even in its earliest iteration and was the kind of song that had the capacity to level crowds, leaving more than a few people breathless. In the four years since the song was released on their demo, “Leaf” has evolved with the band, the edges of booth smoothed out and refined. There’s a tender sheen “Leaf” carries, indicative of the care that’s been poured into the song over its journey to a proper release.

Now, the song has a video to do it justice, courtesy of Finn Bjornerud, who’s handled the band’s other clips (and a handful for bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s flagship project, Tenement). Anchored by lived-in performances from Rachel Crowl and Helen Kramer, the clip pays tribute to the song’s narrative while offering up the quiet visuals that define life in small-town Wisconsin (and a host of other small towns the country over). Still, Wisconsin feels specific to the band’s music and that kind of celebration is always worth noting, especially when it comes from unexpected places that are too-frequently glossed over or discarded in the pursuit of something bigger.

It’s that kind of dedication and sense of place that’s informed Dusk’s music from the onset but it’s never been extended to their visuals as beautifully as it has with “Leaf”. Landscapes both wintry and autumnal switch back and forth, tethered together with a warmth and determination that the cold seasons seem to bring out in Wisconsin’s citizens, “Leaf” finds its source of life in the smallest moments. Grocery shopping, chopping wood, loving greetings, and prep chef work all play parts (as, of course, do shots of hard liquor).

At every second, in every frame, there’s a resilient grace and a sense of affection on display. That level of welcomeness has been the band’s modus operandi since their formation and it’s only strengthened over time, a sensibility that’s escalated in their music as they moved forward. It hits its current apex here with “Leaf”, Blair’s overlaid harmonies acting in accordance with meticulously crafted visuals, creating the kind of warm blanket that the band extends to its listeners at their best. And make no mistake, “Leaf” earns a spot in that pantheon. This is the type of release that’s worthy of remembrance.

Watch “Leaf” below and pre-order Dusk from Don Giovanni here (and if you’re one of the first 300 to reserve a copy, you’ll receive an additional bonus 7″).

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Phil McAndrew)

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Somewhere over the past few years, Phil McAndrew became a vital part of Heartbreaking Bravery. The band McAndrew plays in, The Nudes, was kind enough to offer a song to the site for a premiere spot, he’s contributed to every edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, and gifted the A Step Forward compilation with it’s gorgeous album art. A gifted musician, writer, and artist, McAndrew turns the attention to the time he set up a show for the first time. It’s a heartening read that can (and should) be explored below. Enjoy.

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Right at the beginning of 2016 my pal Isabel sent me a message. Isabel was planing to take their band Izzy True out on the road in the spring with Painted Zeros and they were looking to play a show here in my zone, in Syracuse, New York. They asked if The Nudes would want to play too (I play drums in The Nudes) and wondered if I could set it up.

I’d played many shows before and I’d been recruited to draw flyers for a lot of shows over the years, but I’d never set a show up myself. I’d always been happy to let other people handle that stuff because it seemed like a lot of work and I don’t even really know how a guitar amp works. But I said yes, I will set this show up. So I asked my friend Jon (Spit Fam Tapes), who I was pretty sure had some idea of how guitar amps work, if he could help me run a show and he agreed.

Fast forward to April. The Nudes had finished recording some new songs and were scrambling to get a new tape ready in time for the show, which was set for April 9th and had swelled to a massive five band show. In addition to Painted Zeros, Izzy True and The Nudes, Crusher was coming up from Brooklyn to play and Real Things was coming up from New Paltz, New York.

All five bands were connected in some beautiful way – Izzy True were touring with their good friends and Don Giovanni label mates Painted Zeros. Painted Zeros had a practice space in Brooklyn right next to Crusher and had been helping Crusher record some songs. My brother Ray was playing bass in Crusher. My bandmate and roommate Shauna was good friends with Real Things drummer Kate, who I am pretty sure had previously played in a band with Izzy True drummer Angela.

I’d been pulling all-nighters for weeks trying to hit a final deadline for a graphic novel that I’d spent a year and a half illustrating. After staying up all night on April 7th, I’d managed to finish work on the book at 5:55 am on April 8. I slept for a few hours and then went with Shauna to a print shop to print inserts for the new tapes that we’d been working on. I was feeling very bonkers and scattered and exhausted, but also super powerful and full of excitement.

The next day I ran a bunch of errands and then met Jon at the venue, Spark Contemporary Art Space. Jon is a chef by day and he’d made food for the show and we had free coffee for anyone that wanted it and beer for anyone that knew to ask for it. We got the space set up and puttered around listening to music from my laptop, waiting for people (and bands) to show up. I had no idea if anyone would come! My worst fear was that nobody would come and I’d have to send four touring bands on their way with little or no money. Luckily somewhere between 100 and 150 people came (which most of the time is unheard of in Syracuse) and had fun.

Jon ran sound and I manned the door. We recruited our friend Brendan to do some live projector light art stuff, so the bands played with a backdrop of swirling liquid colors and lights. Everyone got wild and shredded. I don’t say this to toot my own horn, but it truly was one of the best shows I’ve seen in Syracuse, not only because of the quality of the bands that played but also because the space seemed to be actually glowing and pulsating with love and good vibes.

A drunk man hugged me at the end of the show and said “please do this again.” Another person told me that it was the first show they could remember seeing where they felt compelled to buy a record or tape from every single band that played. After the show Isabel gave me some Mœbius trading cards that they picked up on earlier on tour at a comic shop in Portland, OR, a gift that I still treasure and keep near my drawing space as a memento of this perfect day.

We had a total of thirteen or fourteen touring musicians who needed a place to crash that night. The sleepiest handful of rockers went and buried themselves in blankets at my dear sweet parents’ house after the show, which at the time was only about a mile away. Everybody else stayed up all night hanging out at my house. Jared of Painted Zeros was turning a year older at midnight that night and he demanded that people stay up and finish a bottle of whiskey with him. I remember being up very late in my kitchen, laughing with Jared and Jon and my brother Ray and Crusher’s drummer Kat. Eventually every nook and cranny of my apartment was filled with sleeping people, like the opening scene in Muppets From Space where characters are popping out of cabinets and bathtubs and dresser drawers.

Someone told me a few days later that it was the first time they could remember seeing a show in Syracuse where none of the bands that played were fronted by dudes. I know for a fact that there had been other shows here in recent memory where most, if not all of the bands, were fronted by people who are not dudes. But this person was right to point out that this is sadly a rarity here in Syracuse. And when it does happen, the show is often promoted as an “all girl band show!” or something. So I made it my mission to continue booking shows and to normalize shows where all or even half the people playing music are women (or people who don’t identify as male).

I realized that by continuing to occasionally take on the responsibility of booking shows (and helping friends with shows that they’re booking), I’ve been able to have some small bit of influence on the local music scene in ways that I think and hope are very positive. Plus, I get to make sure that bands that I am really excited about come through town every so often. I ended up booking a bunch of shows throughout the rest of the 2016 and already have one coming up in 2017 with two of my favorite bands.

Big Eyes – Behind Your Eyes (Stream)

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Yohuna, Communions, Pfarmers, Daphne, Eros and the Eschaton, Cassels, Atlas Engine, Pansy Division, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, Esp Ohio, Prudence, The Linedots, Blueheels, and Dog Orchestra all had excellent new songs emerge over the past week and either established or reaffirmed their impressive potential. In addition to that impressive roster, Big Eyes joined the ranks of bands returning in a manner that more than proves they haven’t lost a step.

Kaitlyn Eldridge first caught my attention with Cheeky, back in the mid-’00s. Later on, I’d have the distinct pleasure of sharing a few bills with Eldridge as her ensuing band, Used Kids, went on a long tour with site favorites Tenement. Shortly after that extensive run of dates, Used Kids splintered apart and Eldridge started what would become a new DIY punk staple with Big Eyes and, nearly off the bat, wrote one of the best basement pop songs of the past 16 years.

From the outset, all of Big Eyes’ releases — including a handful of excellent 7″ entries — have been exceptional and Eldridge has anchored all of them with a distinctive writing voice and a deeply relatable personality. With the band’s forthcoming release, Stake My Claim, looming just over the horizon, there’s plenty of reason to greet its arrival with excitement.

Heightening the anticipatory fervor is the recently-released “Behind Your Eyes”, which boasts a characteristically understated chorus section and some of the band’s best verses to date. Masterfully constructed and meticulously executed, “Behind Your Eyes” is a very welcome reminder of the band’s formidable understanding of their genre and their willingness to bend expectations to create moments that come across as legitimately bracing.

It’s an extraordinarily promising listen from a record that’s already shaping up to be a listen that’s tough to shake, which is a feat that most bands can never manage to achieve. Big Eyes aren’t most bands, though, and “Behind Your Eyes” should be irrepressible proof. Give it a try…   and then come back for seconds.

Listen to “Behind Your Eyes” below and pre-order Stake My Claim from Don Giovanni here.

Tenement – Feral Cat Tribe (Music Video)

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Sat. Nite Duets, Field Mouse, Voir Voir, Spook the Herd, FRIGS, Cool Ghouls, Kiss Concert, Conveyor, Pill, Death Valley Girls, Mikey Erg, and The Veils constituted one of the most impressive days for standalone streams in recent memory while Yucky Duster, Oneirogen, and Faithless Town made sure the full streams weren’t too far behind. There was also an impressive slate of music videos from the likes of Happy Accidents, High Waisted, Pkew Pkew Pkew, The Avalanches, Stefan Welch, Wand, and PJ Harvey. All of those releases deserve a hefty amount of investment but the band that snagged today’s feature spot — probably unsurprisingly at this point — was Tenement.

Few bands, if any, have had more words written about them in these spaces and I haven’t pushed any band more than Tenement. I’ve written about the trio at literally every opportunity over the past eight years and the band keeps providing reasons to sing their praises. Somehow, despite their lengthy history, “Feral Cat Tribe” stands as the band’s first official video. Featuring guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s Dusk roommates (Colin Wilde, Matt Stranger, and Julia Blair), “Feral Cat Tribe” also heavily promotes Tenement’s own ethos (stay true to what works on a DIY platform and elevate the talented people that surround you in the process).

The video itself is a dizzying, disorienting run through a relatively nondescript building as the band (and their friends) mime their way through “Feral Cat Tribe”, a highlight from one of last year’s best albums. “Feral Cat Tribe” is a shot in a way that evokes the 360-angle video trend without ever succumbing into gimmickry or egregious pageantry, opting to make a slight statement on the nature of art: no matter how it’s dressed, if the material’s core maintains its convictions, it’ll more than likely be worthwhile.

Swooping camera angles, quick edits, and constantly, continuously moving pieces are also reflective of the commendable principles the band’s endorsed since their beginning. This is music and filmmaking that’s tethered to the earth and openly embraces all of its cracks, flaws, and bruises. For Tenement’s entire career, the band’s been finding ways to find beauty in damage and the clip for “Feral Cat Tribe” continues that trend on the visual spectrum. There’s a certain level of courageousness that’s required to even attempt what Tenement’s been doing lately and they’re continuing to make it look effortless.

Whether the band’s evoking classic Americana art forms or simply building their own identity, they’re doing it with uncanny precision and a wealth of feeling. “Feral Cat Tribe” — what’s said to be the first of many music videos for Predatory Headlights  —  suggests the band’s grasp extends even further than what they’ve previously shown. A fascinating clip from one of the best bands currently going, “Feral Cat Tribe” further cements their status as one of today’s most trustworthy acts; everything the band delivers is battered gold.

Watch “Feral Cat Tribe” below and pick up Predatory Headlights from Don Giovanni here.

Watch This: Another Full Session

There have been a few recent posts that have commented on (and made attempts to amend) the recent hiatus that Watch This experienced. There will be two more extended packets following this installment of the series and then Watch This will be caught back up to the current release cycle. After the last entry — the longest compilation of any kind that’s ever run on this site — nearly exhausted the finest full sessions of the past month and a half, it felt necessary to turn the attention to some more abbreviated sessions.

Now, for the sake of consistency of time, a few full sessions appear toward the end of the compilation below. There are 83 total videos in this package but, as is always the case for this extended version of Watch This, 25 performances are featured. Had they been able to fit in without repeating or more properly aligned with what this entry’s trying to accomplish (without being repeat inclusions for the artist), Charles Bradley & The Extraordinaires, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings all had sessions that would have made the cut. That trio of clips alone should serve as a testament to the strength of this edition of the series. So, as always, sit up, adjust the volume, lean back, and Watch This.

1. Bully (The Current)
2. Those Manic Seas (Little Elephant)
3. Potty Mouth (Bedhead Sessions)
4. Torres (Paste)
5. Eddi Front (Hooke)
6. Alabama Shakes (Paste)
7. Tacocat (WFUV)
8. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (KCRW)
9. Seratones (WFUV)
10. Frightened Rabbit (KCRW)
11. Music Band (Jam in the Van)
12. Charles Bradley (KINK)
13. Mass Gothic (Rhapsody)
14. Greys (Exclaim!)
15. Izzy True (Don Giovanni)
16. Black Beach (Allston Pudding)
17. Erik Blood (Band In Seattle)
18. Acid Dad (Jam in the Van)
19. Suuns (Exclaim!)
20. Diarrhea Planet (Jam in the Van)
21. Parquet Courts (Rough Trade)
22. Negative Scanner (Pressure Drop)
23. Wild Powwers (Band In Seattle)
24. Burnt Palms (Pressure Drop)
25. Wimps (Band In Seattle)

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Isabel Reidy)

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Troll, Isabel Reidy’s first EP under the Izzy True moniker, was a record I found myself returning to countless times throughout the course of 2015. For whatever reason, those six songs wound up resonating fairly heavily and it was impossible to escape their grasp. Part of it may be that Reidy’s brand of songwriting is so distinctively plaintive but still manages to contain multitudes of acutely realized personal discoveries; it boldly eschews trends and embraces flaws. Incredibly well-versed and ceaselessly intriguing, it’s rewarded every return visit, continuously unfurling its own peculiar world. Reidy maintains full creative control for the piece below as well, recalling the tour stop that served as the introduction to the music of Bryan Reynolds. It’s a fascinating account of the type of moment that makes getting two hours of sleep a night for a few weeks straight completely worthwhile. Read it below and  go looking for your own story from the road sometime soon.

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Early this spring my buddy Joe (Modern Hut) and I played a show in Providence, RI. It was the final night of a little weekend tour we’d been on. We had just lost almost all of our gas money somewhere between Brooklyn and Rhode Island because Joe said, “let’s go to the casino,” and I said “okay, yes.” I said “okay, yes” because I am learning how to be a ROAD DOG and I believe that is how a ROAD DOG unwinds. Joe is a seasoned ROAD DOG with a deep, unwavering commitment to vice. He was teaching me all he knows. A ROAD DOG knows that throwing all of your money into the trash is a karmic investment towards your future, so it was no surprise that that evening ended up being a very special one. That was the night when we first saw Bryan Reynolds.

Bryan is a tall dude in his twenties with wide set eyes, an angular face, and a big mustache. He was dressed like a gym teacher going to church. It’s hard to remember exactly, but I think he wore a crisp pair of slacks, dress shoes, and a track jacket. There was an odd tension between the way he was dressed and his age- it reminded me of a time in high school when my friends and I shaved a bald spot into my friend’s head, dressed him up in my dad’s clothes, and made him try to buy us beer (mysteriously, this worked). His powers were immense- I could sense that immediately.

The show was held in a warehouse; lamp-lit, vast, and populated with couches in various states of dankness. We drank the $1 tequila and something-or-others from plastic cups while the first band played their numerous instruments for a small eternity. Towards the end of their set I crept into the kitchen to write a set list. There was the mustachio’d Bryan and his personal bottle of whiskey, doing the same. I peeked at his list. Some song titles I remember: “I Smoked Pot”, “Mr. Good-times-roll”, the mysterious “Cucumbers(?)”, and “King of the Road”. I have loved Roger Miller since I was a child. Good omens. My childhood friend who I hadn’t seen in years was there, evidently Bryan was his roommate at the time. Good omens.

There were about ten people at the show, not including the bands, certainly including the people who lived in the space. This was about the speed of all of the shows on that tour. I played. Applause, milling about. Joe played. Applause, milling about. Out came Bryan. He pulled a child sized classical guitar out of a brown paper Stop ‘n’ Shop bag and proceeded to play one of the best shows I have ever seen.

There is no way I can adequately describe what happened that night. So much about the show, when reduced to words could sound calculated, but Bryan’s spirit is pure. I’m certain of that. His songs are deceptive simplicity, but he is an extremely skilled musician. He sings with a rich, clear, tenor croon. Lyrically, he’s cruising at Michael Hurley’s altitude- in terms of performance, he is a spooky Jonathan Richman. For the record, those are my two favorite musicians of all time.

I remember when he busted into “I Smoked Pot” his voice warbled and quivered and peeled out beautifully. When he pulled out a little doo-wop “shoop-shoop-shoop” I had to work very hard not to laugh. Bryan delivered those scat lines with such sincerity that it wasn’t clear whether laughter would be appropriate. I ended up with ache-y smile face. At one point during the set Bryan seemed to get stuck on one chord- he played it over and over and over, eyes closed, rocking back and forth.

He did this for what was probably about five minutes.

It got to the point where I thought he might actually be having some kind of seizure or stroke. I felt genuine fear. I thought about calling an ambulance. Suddenly, seamlessly, he jumped right back into the song. Joe and I kept turning to each other and exchanging “Is this really happening???” faces.

The set ended with “Black Magic”. Bryan was joined by compatriot Adam Souza who was playing the Otamatone, an anthropomorphic musical note shaped instrument which sounds like a ghost type Pokémon dying. Everyone in the crowd knew the words and sang in three-part harmony. I felt like I had stepped into some alternate universe where this guy was a huge celebrity, or a religious figure (or something).

A really talented performer has the ability to transform the atmosphere of a place. The space that Bryan created that night was tense and immense. I know all of this sounds completely hyperbolic, but I really mean it. I walked away feeling deeply confused about the world, like maybe it had been some elaborate prank. I couldn’t tell what was real. That show changed the way I look at performance. I didn’t know it could be so much. Me and Joe have been talking about it ever since. If you are ever in Providence, you have to see this dude.

-Isabel Reidy

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

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

15. Meat Wave – Delusion Moon

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

14. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

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

13. Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture

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

12. Hop Along – Painted Shut

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

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11. Royal Headache – High

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

10. Young Jesus – Grow/Decompose

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

9. Dogs On Acid – Dogs On Acid

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

8. Tenement – Predatory Headlights

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

7. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

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

6. All Dogs – Kicking Every Day

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

5. Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

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

4. Dilly Dally – Sore

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

3. Mike Krol – Turkey

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

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2. Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers

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

1. Eskimeaux – O.K.

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

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

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

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

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Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.