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Tag: Dusty Medical Records

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

Eskimeaux

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 EP’s of 2015

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Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.

For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.

15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia

Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.

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14. ThinLips – Your Divorce

An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.

13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig

Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.

12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth

A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.

11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs

After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.

10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?

While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.

9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2

One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry to its status as one of the best of 2015.

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8. Slight – Hate the Summer

Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.

7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out

A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.

6. Sheer Mag – II

Another year, another Sheer Mag list placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.

5. Diet Cig – Over Easy

No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.

4. LVL UP – Three Songs

In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songs continues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.

3. Ernie – Dog Park

Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.




2. Tenement – Tenement

No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.

1. Cende – Cende

Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.

Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture (Album Review, Stream)

Midnight Reruns IV

Formatted in the same pattern as the last post due to the time constraints that CMJ prompted, the full streams collected in the interim from regularly scheduled coverage are listed at the very bottom of this post. It’s a decision that also allows the sole focus to be placed on Midnight Reruns‘ incredible sophomore effort, Force of Nurture. It’s worth noting that this is a band I’ve had the privilege of tracking since around the time of their first EP‘s release, which precedes this site’s existence, and they were one of the bands I created Heartbreaking Bravery to celebrate (they’ll always have the distinction of being the first band ever to appear on Watch This, which has now run for 100 segments).

During that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a number of the band’s explosive live shows, which have– with good reason– mostly veered towards the material on Force of Nurture. The band put together a nice pre-release run for the album, including a very strong EP and the release of two of 2015’s best songs in “There’s An Animal Upstairs” and “Canadian Summer“. As good as all of those items were, they’d fail to suggest the extent of Force of Nurture‘s sheer weight, even if they were packaged together.

In a statement issued to Substream, who hosted the record’s premiere, guitarist/vocalist Graham Hunt spoke of the loss of a close personal friend, an event that reverberates throughout the record with a staggering force. It’s most noticeably present in the record’s connecting thematic elements; uncertainty, regret, struggle, and loss. Even Force of Nurture‘s most ostensibly positive moments come with the caveat of being opaque enough to suggest there could be a tremendously dark underlying subtext.

Aside from the record’s earned weariness, the compositions far exceed what the band accomplished on their extremely impressive self-titled debut, which is no mean feat. A very palpable debt to The Replacements is heavily reinforced by Force of Nurture‘s credits, which list Tommy Stinson (one of the group’s earliest supporters) as the record’s producer. While there are still aspects of the Thin Lizzy twin-lead dynamic that were so often cited in regards to their earlier work, the band leans more heavily on their Big Star influence this time around to exhilarating effect.

Hunt, as hinted at above, turns in a jaw-dropping lyric sheet that expertly bridges the record’s muted optimism with its struggles in solipism. Everything, down to our own most microbiological functions, is put on trial; no answers are granted and the questions that are posed cut deep. Debauchery runs rampant but the band never lets its determination flag, committing to “making people laugh” even in their bleakest moments.

As relentlessly dark as this is all sounding, the band still finds a way to present themselves through fiery guitar work, sun-soaked melodies, and propulsive rhythm section work that lends the proceedings the kind of vibrancy that renders Force of Nurture an addictive listen. It’s mid-section run, in particular, somehow manages to pull off a relative weightlessness in the face of its tragic, bruised lyricism. Whether its something like the strained relationship at the crux of “Where’s Ace?” or the dreamlike self-aggrandizement of “Sky Blue Water” that ends in a tragicomic defeat, there’s a very peculiar bite to the record that makes it feel deeply personal and unflinchingly vital.

By the time the band’s exhausted their arsenal of incredibly effective hooks (the only 2015 records I can think of that have approached being even remotely close to this successful in that sense are Sweet John Bloom’s Weird Prayer and Dogs On Acid’s self-titled), they’ve run an exhaustive gamut of hard-earned lessons and navigated the journey with a wary resiliency. As they well know, and devastatingly note on “Great Southern Rail”, the record’s sprawling eight minute closer, sometimes all it takes is just one gunshot.

As a personal exercise, Force of Nurture feels therapeutic in a way that seemed to be crushingly necessary. As a standalone full-length, it’s essential. Easily one of 2015’s most invigorating, affirming, and incendiary records, Force of Nurture aim goes far beyond most band’s goals and they hit their mark with a memorable emphasis. So, as things get difficult, depression lingers, houses burn, friends are lost, and seasons vanish to a place beyond recovery, we now have a deeply empathetic record to help us through those times. For that, we collectively owe Midnight Reruns a debt of gratitude- and a place for Force of Nurture in our collections.

Listen to Force of Nurture below and order a copy from Dusty Medical here. Beneath the embed, explore a list of some of the finest records to find release over the past few weeks.

Trust Fund – Seems Unfair
Laura Stevenson – Cocksure
Petal – Shame
Jonathan Bree – A Little Night Music
Ex-Breathers – Past Tense
Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Slanted – Lost Forever: B-Sides From Forever
Sleep Kit – Standby Me
Postcode – The Dandelion Radio Session
Wendy Alembic – Collected Early Works
Sports – All of Something
Community Records Compilation Vol. 5
Witch Coast – Burnt Out By 3PM
Walter – Get Well Soon
The Love Coffin – Veranda
Spray Paint – Dopers
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
Expert Alterations – You Can’t Always Be Liked
Alien Boy – Never Getting Over It
Dyke Drama – Tender Resignation
Florist – Vacation
Stumpf – Barf Radio
Greys – Repulsion
Haybaby – Sleepy Kids
Dead Painters – Aluminum Gold

Midnight Reruns – Canadian Summer (Music Video, Live Video)

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2015’s made a habit out of producing incredibly strong weeks for new material and these past five days have proven to be no different. There were strong new songs from Pill, Dead Stars, Car Seat Headrest, Day Wave, Dressy Bessy, Hand of Dust, and Courtney Barnett’s excellent Boys Next Door cover. Winstons and Alex G both unveiled formidable releases and a trio of tantalizing clips from Greys, Braids, and Doe. While each of those titles are worth several glances, it was site favorites Midnight Reruns‘ latest music video to earn this post’s feature spot.

Fresh off the release of Force of Nurture‘s brilliant lead-off number “There’s An Animal Upstairs“, the band returns to their hangout mode in an endearing new clip for “Canadian Summer”. Previously, the band had all but perfected that approach with their memorably freewheeling “King of Pop” music video just over two years ago. This time around, instead of focusing on their friends and their current environment, they celebrate their roots- and drummer Sam Reitman’s father.

Guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Graham Hunt and Reitman used to practice in Reitman’s father’s home in a variety of projects and crafted the “Canadian Summer” clip as a loving homage to his influence (and his love of boats). Utilizing a meaningful place as the location for the shoot pays massive dividends, lending “Canadian Summer” an immediate, distinctly Midwestern, heart-on-sleeve feel that perfectly complements their musical sensibilities.

The song itself is an absolute monster, whose chorus hasn’t left my head since hearing it over a year ago (it’s become a rightful staple of the band’s live sets). Tempos switch, the song builds momentum, and the footage surrounding it drives home the earnest simplicity of it all. Midnight Reruns aren’t just a band that’s defined by their influences, they’re defined by their commitment to producing material that would make those influences proud. “Canadian Summer” is just the latest example of how well they’re succeeding.

Watch “Canadian Summer” below and pre-order a copy of Force of Nurture here. Beneath the music video, watch a clip of the band performing the song at the sorely missed Crunchy Frog in Green Bay, WI.

Midnight Reruns – There’s An Animal Upstairs (Stream)

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It’s been a long while since an individual song was featured on this site, a happenstance that’s left the floodgates open and the banks flooded. To that end, there’s a long list of those songs that will be included over the majority of the next few posts- all of those outpourings will, as always, will be accompanied by a featured song. This post’s headlined by a band that’s no stranger to this site but still relatively unknown to the listening world at large: Midnight Reruns.

The band’s sophomore full-length, following an extremely promising debut and a sophomore EP that expanded on that promise, was produced by Tommy Stinson and is due out in a few weeks on Dusty Medical (their first for the label). It’s a hard-charging burst of hook-heavy, punk-leaning rock n’ roll that sounds distinctly Midwest and the assault is led by the surging “There’s An Animal Upstairs”, which– nearly impossibly– also benefits from a genuine sense of breeziness.

Marked by the band’s characteristically formidable dual-guitar attack (something that’s earned them more than a few Thin Lizzy comparisons) and guitarist/vocalist Graham Hunt’s increasingly impressive lyrics, “There’s An Animal Upstairs” takes the already raised bar and kicks it up a few levels. Highlighting this ongoing evolution are the opening lines of a chorus section that floored me on first, second, and 40th listen: “I can feel my proteins burn/and I can feel my atoms/I can feel my stomach churn/and overflow with acid”- a section that hints at what the rest of the album has to offer.

Riding their usual crest of half-drunk Replacements heroics, the song also finds the Milwaukee quartet deepening their grasp on dynamics as well. Everything about “There’s An Animal Upstairs” clicks so well that it practically justifies the awed pre-release compliments its been picking up on its own power. There’s a certain sense of identity that accompanies the song, lending it a considerable amount of power and furthering its immediacy.

Every shift the song takes is maximized for its fullest impact, with each of those hairpin turns navigated with a precision that somehow compliments the songs giddy, shambolic aesthetic. It’s a song of conflicting components that continuously find surprising ways to reconcile and ensure that “There’s An Animal Upstairs” isn’t just great but genuinely memorable. An earworm with an incredible amount of substance, it’s also one of the best songs of the year and should prove more than a little helpful in ensuring Midnight Reruns their proper place on the map.

Listen to “There’s An Animal Upstairs” below, pre-order Force of Nurture from Dusty Medical here, and scan through a long list of some great recent songs beneath the embed.

Joanna Newsom – Leaving the City
Helvetia – Crumbs Like Saucers
Saul Williams – Horn of the Clock-Bike
Gun Outfit – Dream All Over
Jono McCleery – This Idea of Us
Primitive Parts – Troubles
Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch – Strelka
Seratones – Necromancer
Vision – Inneraction
Black Abba – Betting on Death
BREVE – Movement
Little Fevers – Make It Easy
Historian – Pulled Over
Ex-Breathers – Car
Expert Alterations – You Can’t Always Be Liked
Keeps – I Don’t Mind
Operator – Requirements
Lust For Youth – Better Looking Brother
Bethlehem Steel – 87s
NØMADS – Traumatophobia
Wavves – Pony
Frankie Cosmos – Sand
Prom Body – Ultimate Warrior
Billie Marten – Bird 
Hazel English – Fix
Cheatahs – Signs to Lorelei
Black Honey – Corrine
Joseph Giant – On the Run
Swings – Tiles
Kinsey – Youth
Woozy – Gilding the Lily
Casket Girls – Sixteen Forever
Mal Blum – Robert Frost
Palmas – I Want To Know (Your Love)
Let’s Say We Did – Sometimes Every Second Is A Dream
Go Deep – Palms
Spencer Radcliffe – Mermaid
Evil Wizardry – Ajax Takes Both
Tracks – Moonlight
Skinny Girl Diet – Silver Spoons
Black Lips – Freedom Fries
Decorations – Girls
Alex Chilltown – Cwtch
SULK – Black Infinity (Upside Down)
Air Waves (ft. Jana Hunter) – Thunder
Microwave – Thinking of you,
Long Beard – Dream
Softspot – Abalone
Dan Friel – Life (Pt. I)
Oberhofer – Sun Halo
Club 8 – Love Dies

Nobunny – Nightmare Night (Short Film)

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Even by the ridiculous standards of the past few weeks, today was absolutely loaded with worthwhile content. Antarctigo Vespucci streamed their second outstandning EP of the year- I’m So Tethered- over at The AV Club and Field Division unveiled their mesmerizing Reverie State EP, rounding out today’s full streams. The full songs department was a bit more plentiful, with new offerings ranging from the most recent look at Big Ups‘ side of their split with Washer (via the ravaged and ravaging “Not Today“) to the gentle acoustic pull of Soft Fangs’ “Dog Park“. Continuing things in the quieter realms were the lightly damaged pscyh-folk of Ready Astronaut’s “Lost In Space” and the quietly lilting sounds of Elephant Micah’s “By the Canal“. Fleshing out the DIY punk side of things was another sideways glance at Nots’ hotly-tipped We Are Nots, courtesy of “Reactor“, and an exhilarating career-best from Crying called “War of Attrition“. Really, though, today absolutely belonged to music videos. Nearly every single one of these would seem like an obvious feature choice on literally any other day but as it stands, today will be going to the most thematically appropriate.

Before jumping into Nobunny‘s most recent hellscape, it’s worth touching on everything else that made up today’s embarrassment of riches in the visual medium field. Cool Runnings skated their way through a desert oblivion in “Blister“, Foul Tip indulged a lo-fi lunacy in “Madness“, and Platinum Boys exuded a rock n’ roll ethos in “Candy“. Sweet Apple teamed up with Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard to soundtrack a memorable Halloween outing in “Reunion“, former Speedy Ortiz guitarist Matt Robidux’s new project- Curse Purse- embraced the heavily discordant in “Message CP“, and Willis Earl Beal drifted off into darkly ambient territories with “I AM.” The Growlers used a bevvy of classically filmic composition tricks in the black-and-white clip for “Good Advice“, Team Spirit dealt with an insane producer in their absurdly entertaining clip for “Satisfaction“, and MONO released an absolute gift of a video in the gorgeous, jaw-dropping, Mitsuyo Miyazaki-directed clip for “Where We Begin“, which may very well be one of that medium’s most compelling pieces this year. Even with the strength of that MONO video, it just felt too appropriate to give today’s spot to the deranged gore of Nobunny’s short film, Nightmare Night– just in time for the holiday.

First thing’s first: this is a severely NSFW clip (although that should just automatically be assumed with anything related to Nobunny), so be sure to avoid that mistake. Blood, gore, B-movie tropes, and a DIY resonance abound in Nightmare Night, a spirited homage to the maniacal tendencies that come attached to the Halloween season. From its introductory sequence that introduces a burnt out cast of misfits to the unbridled bloodshed, Nobunny’s aims are even less restrained than usual. If there’s a mandatory genre beat to be hit, it’s not just touched on- it’s downright obliterated. Taking the bloodlust to sadistic levels that’d make even Tarantino blush, everyone’s favorite masked rodent stars as the centerpiece of this nightmarish fever dream. Picking off the would-be partiers one by one until the final climactic battle, Nobunny runs through a cast of fellow musicians while “Lizard Liars” from last year’s excellent Secret Songs: Reflections From The Ear Mirror propels everything towards its conclusion. Blackly comedic, entirely unrestrained, and ridiculously bombastic, Nightmare Night is the perfect way to kick off a weekend of veiled debauchery.

Watch Nightmare Night below and order Secret Songs: Reflections From The Ear Mirror here.

Three Quarters Down (Mixtape)

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: First off, to get this out of the way at the top, there will be no Watch This today. It’s absence will be made up with a unique 50th post next Sunday.]

We recently hit another quarter mark in the year and this site just hit another fifty posts. A digital mixtape- Three Quarters Down– has been curated to celebrate both of these occasions. All 25 songs on display have managed to become favorites in the span of their (admittedly short) existence. It didn’t matter where they came from- splits, records, singles, exclusives- if it was a great song that came out over the course of the past three months, it wound up on the list. However, there are a handful of others that were excluded by virtue of not appearing in Soundcloud’s public library- those will likely get their due in December both here and elsewhere. In the meantime, revisit some of the best songs that led us straight into fall by listening to the mix below.

Beneath the 8tracks player is the original listing of the songs in this collection. Enjoy.

1. Mitski – Townie
2. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
3. LVL UP – DBTS
4. Little Big League – Tropical Jinx
5. The History of Apple Pie – Jamais Vu
6. Menace Beach – Come On Give Up
7. Thalassocracy – Shimensoka
8. Cellphone – Human Rights
9. Ovlov – Ohmu Shell
10. Mumblr – Sober
11. Trust Fund – Reading The Wrappers
12. Girlpool – Jane
13. Night School – Casiotone
14. Happy Diving – Sad Planet
15. Dilly Dally – Green
16. Washer – Rot
17. Speedy Ortiz – Bigger Party
18. The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole
19. Bass Drum of Death – For Blood
20. Mannequin Pussy – Sheet City
21. Pity Sex – Acid Reflex
22. Mogwai – Teenage Exorcists
23. Nothing – July The Fourth
24. Dark Blue – Here On My Street
25. Crimson Wave – Say

Watch This: Vol. 46

Part two of this week’s recap (there really was an absurd amount of great material to go through), this installment of Watch This features videos that emerged during the past few days. Between a handful of full sets, a few videos from places that have become series staples, and, above all else, great performances. Everything on display here is worth taking some time to enjoy and a handful of them will likely warrant return visits. All in all, this set seems like a very fitting way to cap off what’s been one of the strongest weeks for new content that we’ve had this year. So, sit back, open the blinds, turn the volume all the way up, focus, and Watch This.

1. The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Vortex Hole” was recently featured here as a stream in support of The Midwest Beat’s excellent new full-length, Free of Being. In the video below, the Milwaukee-via-Madison band gets invited to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel studio to tear through the live version. They tear through it with an enviable amount of verve and a peculiar madcap glee that somehow transforms the performance into something endlessly fascinating. It’s one hell of a rendition.

[Due to a temporary embed issue, this video can currently only be seen here]

2. Cloakroom – Asymmetrical (unARTigNYC)

“Asymmetrical” is a characteristically slow-burning song from Cloakroom, who seem to be exploring the middle ground between shoegaze and post-hardcore with a frightening amount of precision and clarity. Easily one of the most fascinating bands to have begun a steady emergence over the past handful of months, Cloakroom still retains a sense of mystery- something that factors directly into their music. This is an astonishing performance from a band that’s worth getting to know.

3. The New Pornographers (NPR)

It’d be easy to argue that, at this point, The New Pornographers are an institution. Between their own releases and their various members solo releases, they’ve put out some of the most highly acclaimed music of this young century. It’s a formidable body of work and  the fact that their most recent effort, Brill Bruisers, both lives up to and earns its spot among their long list of triumphs is fairly astonishing. This full, lovingly shot, NPR performance spans their discography and showcases one arguably indisputable fact: they deserve their acclaim and status.

4. Beverly – Not Ours (BreakThruRadio)

Beverly, the duo made up of Frankie Rose and Drew Citron, released one of the definitive records of the summer with Careers. Ever since that release, footage of the band’s tight-knit live show’s been popping up with an alarming frequency. While Rose is taking some time off to focus on her own solo project, there are still old sessions coming out of the woodwork. Here’s a lighthearted stunner from the always-excellent BreakThruRadio.

5. Cloud Nothings (Pitchfork)

There aren’t many moments in life that are better than watching a great band with extraordinary people on a perfect day. Cloud Nothings were an easy highlight of Pitchfork’s second day and now their whole set can be relived in full. Culling mostly from their 2014 highlight Here and Nowhere Else, their set went a long way in re-establishing the fact that they’re now a power trio (a term that they fully live up to). Not a lot of bands can lose a member and immediately re-define themselves without losing their personality but it’s evident that Cloud Nothings haven’t lost a step.

The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole (Stream)

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The Midwest Beat are a Wisconsin institution. They’ve been a band for nearly a decade and have been one of this state’s more celebrated acts (especially among the in-state bands) for nearly as long. Members have come and gone but the band’s sound has subtly progressed while remaining relatively close to the sugary punk-tinged powerpop of their earliest stages. Sure, there’s an alt-Americana bent that intrudes every so often but this is still, quite clearly, The Midwest Beat.

Free of Being is the band’s 10th release and “Vortex Hole”, the band’s most recent glimpse at the record, plays with a confidence that lives up to those numbers. It doesn’t even hit the 90 second mark but it leaves a considerable mark despite its micro nature. All of the hooks land and the chorus is a hum-worthy earworm that’s another great example of the band’s best side. Topping everything off are some tasteful backing vocals and a brief guitar solo that brings Mike Bloomfield to mind. It’s another characteristically triumphant track from a band that has a seemingly endless supply of them at their disposal. If the rest of Free of Being isn’t overshadowed by this, they just might have made one of their best records.

Listen to “Vortex Hole” below and pick up Free of Being from Dusty Medical Records when it gets released next month.

Space Raft at Crunchy Frog – 8/16/14 (Pictorial Review)

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After The Midwestern Charm was able to secure a last-minute spot on an already stacked lineup at Green Bay, WI’s Crunchy Frog, there was no excuse not to go. All of the right ingredients were there for a memorable night: four of Wisconsin’s best bands at one of the state’s best venues. All that was really left to do was see if the show would live up to the expectations. That The Midwestern Charm, Beach Patrol, Midnight Reruns, and Space Raft exceeded those lofty expectations didn’t come as a surprise, though each of their sets packed a few. The Crunchy Frog, as always, managed to near perfection with the sound levels for each band as they tore through their sets.

The Midwestern Charm kicked things off in typically rousing fashion, with longtime drummer Ryan Gracyalny back behind the kit after a move to Florida, delivering their skewed basement pop with some subtle venom escaping through a half-grin. Bandleader Connor S. La Mue continues to be one of the more engaging stage presences in the state, managing to come across as both ragged and controlled in equal measure. Lead guitarist Ryan McCrary took a turn at the mic as well, adding a new dimension to a band that continues to evolve and impress at a stunning rate. By the end of their set, they’d set a fairly high bar for what would prove to be an outstanding night.

Beach Patrol were next to take the stage and were back to their original lineup. After several years and three fairly extraordinary records (It’s Only Greener ‘Til You Get ThereRiding Dinosaurs, and Daytime Highs, respectively), the band hasn’t lost a step. On the verge of releasing their fourth, the band spread out their material fairly evenly among their discography. At one point, the band was even joined by Jordan Davis (the guitarist/vocalist of Space Raft) for a number that Davis wrote and had played with the band previously. It was a small moment of camaraderie that defined the night; this wasn’t just another night out with great music- it was a shared experience among a group of close-knit friends. That same familiarity factored heavily into Beach Patrol’s entire set, from their opening Tom Petty cover straight through to their obliging of a request for the hardest-charging song from their first record.

After Beach Patrol had run through a set that hit all the right notes while still maintaining a fairly casual (and welcoming) feel, the stage was set for Midnight Reruns. Now, what Midnight Reruns are capable of pulling off in a live show has already been covered here in some detail but, like The Midwestern Charm, they’re evolving and improving at a rapid pace. That’s no small accomplishment for a band that, one record in, is already responsible for some of the best songs to have been produced by the state of Wisconsin this decade. From an incendiary cover, to Karl Giehl’s memorable outing as a vocalist, to all of the should-be-classic set staples (“King of Pop”, “Summer Smoker”, “Basement Guy”), the band was in rare form. Best of all, though, were the new songs- among them are some of the band’s most challenging- and some of their most direct- material to date. One, in particular, is an earworm-heavy monster with a “na na na” chorus that has the potential to carry them to new levels of name recognition. As the dual-guitar fury of “Basement Guy” brought things to a stunning end, it was difficult to not want more, once again, proving that this is a band that’s got unlimited potential- and they’re only just getting started.

Space Raft has been riding a wave of acclaim since releasing their self-titled debut back in May on the consistently brilliant Dusty Medical Records and had very little to prove. Thankfully, they didn’t play their set with that mindset, laying just about everything they had on the line. Thanks to guitarist/vocalist Davis’ time in Mystery Girls, the band’s already connected to one of the more memorable post-2000’s bands and, among the four members, share a wealth of experience on the live circuit. There were no false notes, no wrong moves, and each song carried both the pace and momentum of their set, essentially becoming a masterclass in the minutiae of consistency. After they’d played a handful of songs from their record- and a few new ones- the crowd begged for an encore and the band obliged that investment by delivering one of the night’s single most blistering performances, providing a fitting end cap to a night full of good friends and great music.

Below is a photo gallery of each band that played the show. None of their live sets are worth missing. Videos are forthcoming. Enjoy.