Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: EP Review

Thin Lips – Carrot Milk (EP Review, Stream)

Thin Lips have built a career out of challenging expectations and Carrot Milk continues that arc.  Comprised of three tracks, Carrot Milk showcases the group’s burgeoning confidence in unexpected ways. From the opening minute of “Butterfield Road” it’s clear that Thin Lips are exercising a new level of restraint, which ultimately elevates the moments of catharsis. Everything on Carrot Milk is earned, including its own existence.

As a whole, it’s the sound of a band that’s taken control of their voice and realized that voice can be projected in different ways. Impressively, Carrot Milk winds up feeling more essential than experimental. Thin Lips is taking a brave step forward and unlocking more than a few enticing possibilities for their future in the process. One of 2019’s most heartening moments for a band that deserves all the success they can achieve.

Listen to Carrot Milk below and grab a name-your-price download here.

The Best Full Streams of March 2018

The closing three weeks of March unearthed a handful of extraordinary records from emergent acts and proven entities. Five of the best to find release over that time are listed below, covering a spectrum that stretches from twee-laced indie pop to uncompromising noise/punk. All of the records on display here are standouts for one reason or another and uniformly deserve more attention than they’ll get (though some will undoubtedly have very strong and vocal praise). Dive in below and enjoy the swim.

1. Empath – Liberating Guilt and Fear

A basement punk supergroup of sorts, Empath have the unlikely and unenviable task of distinguishing themselves from the shadows of the acts in the members’ collective history. Liberating Guilt and Fear goes a long way in making sure that’s achieved. Blistering, fun, and unforgiving, Empath’s versatility and ability to combine patches that seem at odds make Liberating Guilt and Fear one of the essential releases of 2018’s first quarter. Unpredictable and brilliant, it’s an EP that’s not to be missed.

2. Major Murphy – No. 1

Major Murphy‘s been around for a handful of years now but the band seems set to make a bigger push than ever with No. 1, a gently kaleidoscopic work of art that deftly combines elements of psych, powerpop, and basement punk into a hypnotic whole. Exceptional composition and production always play well off each other but it’s an especially effective combination when, as is the case here, they work in tandem to create an additional layer of depth. In all, an extremely pleasant surprise.

3. Frankie Cosmos – Vessel

Over what’s already an illustrious and surprisingly expansive career, Frankie Cosmos (both as a solo project and in full band mode) have never delivered a disappointing record. While that sort of consistency is a testament to a rare brand of prolific talent, there’s still a sliver of room allowed for something like Vessel; a record that towers above the others and visibly stands as a career high. Combining new material and reworked versions of old staples, Vessel also manages to come across as a representational statement that’s primed to resonate for years to come.

4. Charles – Charles II

One of the avenues that places like Heartbreaking Bravery are afforded is the personal submission. Far more often than not, it’s a wasteland of mediocrity that’s intended audience strays far from this site’s sensibilities. Then there are rare occasions where something like Charles’ Charles II shows up and completely justifies the hundreds of hours spent sifting through that material.

One of the most astonishing basement punk records of 2018 so far, Charles II is a tightly-controlled explosion of an EP, calling to mind the legacy of acts like Four Eyes, Dogs On Acid, and Bent Shapes. Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate, support, and promote releases like this one and anytime one lands in the mailbox, it’s not just a thrill, it’s a reminder of why this place exists. So stop reading this and just hit play already.

5. Trace Mountains – A Partner To Lean On

LVL UP‘s Dave Benson has been performing as Trace Mountains for a handful of years now and already has one record that’s considering something of a bedroom pop cult classic in 2016’s Buttery Sprouts & Other Songs. A continued critical and commercial ascension for Benson’s main vehicle’s ensured an additional layer of visibility and anticipation for any work bearing the songwriter’s name but A Partner To Lean On seems to have neatly avoided any pitfalls of that pressure.

Benson subverts all sorts of expectations on A Partner To Lean On, from leaning into a new embrace of synth-pop to wildly expanding the project’s ambitions while, impressively, managing to keep the record grounded. Like Frankie Cosmos’ Vessel, Trace Mountains’ latest is an enticing mixture of new material and reworked versions of old offerings. It’s a complete work and in the record’s pitch-perfect title track, Benson crafts another viable candidate for Song of the Year.

Crushing – Crushing (EP Review)

During the back half of last week, a small collection of great full streams surfaced from artists like Wooden Wand, Max Gowan, Us Weekly, Piss Test, Gnarwhal, Hour of the Time Majesty Twelve, and HOTKID. While all of those were compelling listens that deserve no shortage of time or attention, it was Crushing‘s self-titled EP that made an impression deep enough to secure this post’s featured slot.

The songs that teased Crushing may have piqued some interest but now that the EP’s finally arrived in full, it’s fair to say that it wildly exceeded expectations. From the onset of EP opener “Oi Jealousy”, the band delivers with a combined level of confidence, conviction, and articulation that’s hard for most seasoned bands to possess. Each one of these basement pop tracks is razor-sharp, utilizing the genre’s history to its advantage. Whether it’s the incorporation of both dream-pop and powerpop aesthetics on “Sleeping Bag” to the bedroom pop trappings on “Telling Lies” to the more straightforward punk styling of “Oi Jealousy” and “Emery Board”, the band runs the gamut of what’s come to shape basement pop.

Everything works, no matter how many angles the band pulls from or at, managing to congeal those influences into a coherent whole that’s significantly more powerful than its individual parts. By the time it’s all over and the smoke’s cleared, it’s hard not to want to go straight back to the beginning and put a match up to the powder keg for one more explosion. One of 2017’s most unexpected surprises, Crushing is an incredible work from a band that’s carved out a strong identity. Both the band and their self-titled effort should stand as examples of 2017’s finest.

Listen to Crushing below and pick it up here.

american poetry club – glad to be here, etcetera (EP Review)

In the past week Wendell Borton, Side Eye, Detenzione, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, Puppy Problems, Soft Fangs/Bellows, Kindling, moshimoss/stabilo, Wilsen, and GRLMIC all unveiled full streams of various types of records. The landmark Our First 100 Days compilation also came to its natural conclusion. On the quieter, less-publicized side of things, american poetry club’s glad to be here, etcetera — packaged with I Love to Surf’s Mantras as a split EP release — was also made available to the public.

A deeply felt bedroom pop recording from Jordan Weinstock (who runs the excellent It Takes Time Records), glad to be here, etcetera is the sound of creative restlessness. Collaborators trickle in, a sample gets used, and one lonely narrative after another crops up. There’s a lot of resentment present in glad to be here, etcetera, typically manifesting in self-deprecation or self-loathing (and never as strongly as it does on the EP’s closing track) but there are softer moments scattered throughout, specifically “how i felt about most things”, which boasts a simplistic but oddly affecting video that’s premiering right here:

More than any other song on glad to be here, etcetera, this one feels complete. Fully formed, deeply felt, and brimming with genuine emotion, “how i felt about most things” grapples with a much larger scale than most of the other songs on the record. Instead of just introspection, it’s a meditation on love, familial love, mortality, aging (and being forced to age), and a handful of other weighty topics. It’s easily the strongest composition on the record (the piano figure at the end is the EP’s loveliest moment) and it suggests Weinstock will be saying a lot more things with american pooetry club in the future. A gorgeous moment on a very strong EP, “how i felt about most things” affirms one basic truth: glad to be here, etcetera is worthy of any serious collection.

Listen to glad to be here, etcetera below and pick it up here.

Pale Kids – Holy Mess (EP Review)

Classic rock n’ roll, basement pop, ’90s slacker punk, and bedroom pop are all genres that turn up frequently in this site’s featured selections, so it’d make sense for a record that seamlessly combines all of them into a cohesive whole would wind up being featured too. Enter: Pale Kids’ Holy Mess. A four track EP — the band’s third release since March 2016 — that doesn’t pull any punches and goes straight for the jugular with each swing.

Only one of these songs, “Prayer List”, exceeds two minutes in length. Even then, the song only exceeds the two-minute mark by five seconds. Not everyone needs a lot of time to make their point and Pale Kids make the most of the time they give themselves. All four of these songs land with maximum impact, making their velocity felt and their presence known each time any of them are cued up.

All of the songs deal, in one way or another, with personal failings, turning inward to examine microcosms of the darker things that are commonly felt but rarely publicly acknowledged. It’s in that examination that the band finds catharsis, opting to turn those thoughts into a defiant party and opening the doors to anyone that might be interested. By the time “St. James”, Holy Mess‘ final track and highlight (which offers up the faintest echoes of Jay Reatard‘s later work), winds to a close, it’s best to just give into the temptation of starting it over again from the top, before frantically telling a friend to get on board with their new favorite band.

Listen to Holy Mess below and pick it up here.

The Wisconaut – Dad (EP Review)

the-wisconaut

EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume. 

One of the most effective ways to discover new artists is through the lens of other artists. Petite League‘s Lorenzo Cook was kind enough to provide such an introduction via a recommendation to The Wisconaut, a retro-leaning, punk-tinged basement pop project from a young Wisconsin-based musician. Dad, the project’s latest release, is a two-song EP that quickly demonstrates what makes the project so intriguing; an informed sense of musical history, a reserve of energy, and a commitment to the material, which frequently sounds like a slightly more polished take on the type of music that the Black Lips were peddling over their earliest releases.

Neither “Salt Shaker” or “Pipe Dream” exceed the two-minute mark but both songs come loaded with conviction, feeling, and an infectious lightness. Dipping into a ’50s doo-wop influence and expertly combining in with proto-punk aesthetics, The Wisconaut still manages to find a way to sound decidedly modern. The clever lyrics are well above par, the vocal melodies are earworms all on their own, and each of the songs pack enough power in their running times to start a whole host of parties. Fun, impressive, and surprisingly substantial, Dad‘s does more than enough to make sure that this won’t be the last time the name The Wisconaut is printed on these pages.

Listen to Dad below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on the project.

Fake Palms – Heavy Paranoia (EP Review)

fake palms

The first trio of days this week were comprised of a large handful of impressive full streams that came via Ghost Gum, Katie Ellen, Ganser, Sculpture Club, The Royal They, Joey Sprinkles, Idiot Genes, Tongues, Edgar Clinks, Jackson Boone, Kyle Morton, and Residuels. There was also an incredible compilation that came courtesy of a collaboration between Swell Tone and Z Tapes entitled Summer of Sad. While each of those releases deserves all of the investment they’ll undoubtedly receive and more, this post’s feature spot falls to the great Fake Palms and their outstanding forthcoming EP, Heavy Paranoia.

Back in 2015, Fake Palms grabbed another of this site’s feature spots for their dark, insistent “Sun Drips“. It’s astonishing how much the band’s grown in that time and Heavy Paranoia is concrete proof of their accelerated sense of artistry. From the onset, Heavy Paranoia ably demonstrates the band’s creative expanse with the towering “Collar Bone”. Riding the crest of a monstrous wave of hooks, sharp riffing, and a cold atmosphere that’s — somehow — conjured up by almost exclusively warm tones, “Collar Bone” immediately becomes distinctive and sets a ridiculously gripping precedent for the quartet of tracks to follow.

“Holiday” and “Frequencies” both hurtle along at a quick pace that still allows Fake Palms to establish a sense of expanse. Both tracks are perfect examples of the band’s acute awareness of dynamic structure, successfully playing several angles in one fell swoop. Whether it’s to create a sense of mild discord through committing to figures designed to emphasize ambient effect rather than melody or in shifting the tonal qualities of their tracks, every idea works beautifully. Importantly, the band also expertly navigates the pacing of Heavy Paranoia, lending it a feel of completion that few EP’s have managed to achieve.

By the time Heavy Paranoia‘s closing track hits, Fake Palms have already secured the EP the distinction of being the best release of their career. Fortunately, that last track, “Snowblink”, only solidifies that distinction. As characteristically spare and relentless as the preceding songs on this miniature post-punk masterpiece, “Snowblink” does eventually hit an enormous, sprawling moment that serves as the climactic final sequence of both the song and the EP. Those final three minutes are the most exhilarating of a release that’s never anything less than arresting and ensure that Heavy Paranoia‘s a release worth remembering.

Listen to Heavy Paranoia below and pre-order the EP here.

Strange Ranger – Sunbeams Through Your Head (EP Review)

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Over the past two days, there were a handful of exceptional new tracks from the likes of Purling Hiss, Kississippi, Kevin Morby, Pop & Obachan, benngrigg, Busman’s Holiday, Trails and Ways, Emilyn Brodsky, Sun AngleTouché Amoré, Crying, Suburban Living, Kim Gordon, Henry Jamison, Light Fantastic, Levitations, Softspot, Rick Barry, and Shana Falana. Additionally, there were outstanding music videos from Martha (who also found room for an amusing Radiator Hospital cameo), Sex Stains, The White Stripes, Adam Torres, Wolf People, Chromatics, The Kills, Matt Kivel, and Nøise. Rounding everything out were incredible full streams via Oh Boland, Low Culture, Sat. Nite Duets, Left & Right, Human People, LA Font, Bad Kids To The Front, Cheshires, and Toy Cars.

While more than a handful of those were considered for this post’s featured spot, Strange Ranger secured the position by virtue of releasing an EP that contains a few of the finest songs to have been released all year. One of those, the record’s opening and title track, earned a healthy amount of recent praise. “Sunbeams Through Your Head” set an impressive, melancholic tone for its namesake which was released in full earlier today.

Following the haunted title track, Sunbeams Through Your Head could have gone a number of directions but chose to expand on its thesis statement. The EP’s second track, “Life Would Be Cooler”, is by far its longest and one of its most gripping. “Life Would Be Cooler” also turns out to be surprisingly economical in its narrative, painting a portrait of an intense (and intensely damaged) longing in less than 60 words, closing with a devastating plea that drives a staggering amount of genuine feeling home.

It’s an opening salvo that packs an emotional wallop but Strange Ranger stays on course for the next barrage of tracks, remaining unapologetic for their overwhelmingly weary nature and casting an atmospheric pall in the process. In a strange way, it’s almost moving, listening to the band support their most downtrodden tendencies with intuitively empathetic moments in the instrumental composition. “Dolph”, “Whatever You Say”, and especially the gorgeous, instrumental “Thru Your Head” all contain breathtaking moments of a deeply felt compassion.

Everything that the EP works towards comes splintering apart, quite literally, in the manic closing track, “oh oh oh oh”. From the outset of the record’s final statement, the vocals are cracking to the point of breaking as a mournful organ line runs underneath the pained theatrics. Those are the song’s only two elements and they grow more pronounced as the narrative grows more hopeless. Eventually the narrative’s abandoned altogether, buckling underneath its own weight and disappearing into the ether, as the organ figure delivers a somber eulogy. It’s a challenging, mesmerizing way to close out an incredible EP and allows Sunbeams Through Your Head to linger long after it’s gone. It’s company worth keeping.

Listen to Sunbeams Through Your Head below and download it here.

Jack – Resting Places (EP Review)

JACK

Grief is a fearsome beast. At its worst, the emotion can become all-consuming and open up doors to spiteful resentments, severe depression, and bursts of misplaced anger. At its best, grief can lead to an expanded sense of empathy and a deeper understanding of the things that are legitimately important in life. More often than not, though, grief lingers in between that spectrum, forever at odds with its own qualities. All of those areas are explored in Jack’s jaw-dropping EP, Resting Places.

That’s precisely the reason why — despite absurdly strong showings from Vanity, Notches, Honey Bucket, Turtlenecked, Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes, and Liam Betson —  the EP finds itself in this post’s featured position. Jack, a project spearheaded by Brittany Costa, came about by way of a difficult situation. That situation informs every millisecond of Resting Places, as Costa created the project as an outlet to confront the loss of a loved one.

Anyone that’s lucky enough to be familiar with Costa’s past work will undoubtedly find reason to be interested in Resting Places but will likely be caught off guard. This is, by some distance, the most vital work of Costa’s impressive career. Resting Places is an unflinchingly intimate, honest work and those qualities are all but necessitated by the circumstances leading up to its creation. What separates Resting Places is Costa’s overwhelming conviction. At every turn, each of the five tracks on the EP feel like they were born out of a fierce need to purge the thoughts they contain, at any cost.

Drawing from a variety of musical genres and utilizing the talents of Flagland‘s Nick Dooley and Bethlehem Steel’s Becca Ryskalczyk, Costa ably conjures up a maelstrom that becomes a mirror of Resting Places‘ bruised and bruising narrative. From the very opening line of the EP — “What the fuck did I do to make you turn away?” — there’s an aggressive tilt that never wavers, even in Resting Places‘ quietest moments.

A feedback swell precedes that opening salvo, establishing the discord that the EP draws on and rails against. For around 24 minutes, Costa veers in and out of folk, punk, Americana, and pop sensibilities, tethering everything into a genre-demolishing approach that thrives on a sense of unease. It’s a trait that permeates through all of Resting Places, as bleary-eyed and frantic as possible. All of those qualities come crashing to a head at climactic moments like the desperate affirmation of “I have fucking value” that closes out opener “Rightful Rage” or the repeated aversions to inflicting and experiencing suffering on the devastating “Harbor”.

Costa’s impressed as both a lyricist and a composer in the past but what she accomplishes on Resting Places doesn’t just top everything she’s done, it stands as some of the most impressive work that 2016 has yielded to date. Every track on the EP contains a handful of extraordinary moments, whether its in terms of dynamics, turns of phrases, or unbridled feeling. There’s a knockout punch lingering at every turn that’s ready to knock the listener down to Costa’s level. At no point over the course of its run does Resting Places halt its merciless swinging.

In Resting Places‘ penultimate track, “Sister System”, Costa addresses that pain directly, providing the EP with its most vulnerable moment. Even when Dooley’s intuitive drumming — one of Resting Places‘ finest additional assets — opens the song up a little, there’s an unwavering sense that Costa’s completely alone. The command to “pick up that dignity you threw across the floor” that brings the song to the end feels like less of a request and more of a reminder, again drawing the listener nearer to Costa’s position in a stunning, effective manner.

“The Look” brings the proceedings to a close in hair-raising fashion, giving Resting Places its severely battered, barely-beating heart. The song was the first to be released from Resting Places and managed to be breathtaking in a standalone capacity. Placed in the context of the EP, “The Look” becomes one of the most devastating songs to have emerged in recent memory. It’s a surging, climactic, tour-de-force of repressed feeling, unchecked frustration, and excessive exhaustion.

As Costa nearly screams “I tried to choke myself to stop the hurried breathing” in that final track, as the music surrounding the narrative threatens to go off the rails, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Resting Places isn’t just a necessary excursion for Costa to confront some lingering demos, it’s an artistic masterpiece. Eventually, it all leads up to what may be an inevitable summation. As “The Look” brings Resting Places to a close, Costa gets caught in a loop, repeating over and over “I am not afraid to die.”

It’s a powerful statement that holds even more weight measured against the rest of the EP. It’s a frightening moment of awareness and may even betray a dark desire but that final line also encapsulate how definitive of an exploration Resting Places is of personal grief. In that last line, the deceptively expansive breadth of grief is evident and can be opened up to many interpretations. A few of those interpretations may even prompt immediate revisits of the EP, providing the opportunity for re-contextualization.

As the music fades away into the ether,  Resting Places solidifies its place as one 2016’s most powerful releases for any format, leaving a mark that lasts. It’s a difficult EP that sparks an empathetic response that’s a little harrowing but likely nothing in comparison to what Costa went through while forming these songs. A special kind of generosity and bravery is required to put those feelings on display, so for that, we owe Costa a thanks, because Resting Places is just about as unforgettable as they come and, suitably, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to leave.

Listen to Resting Places below and grab a copy here.

Young Jesus – Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage (EP Review)

youngjesus

As another week begins, another slate of new streams finds their way out into the world. DonCat, Public Eye, Joyce Manor, Lydia Loveless, Notches, James Edge and the Mindstep, Midnight Faces, Zula, Swoon Lake, and Naked Giants all unveiled strong tracks. There were also impressive music videos from Teen Suicide and Dennis Callaci as well as formidable full streams from Thee Oh Sees and Puppy. While those proved to be fascinating titles, site favorites Young Jesus secured themselves another headline spot with the surprise release of the Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage EP, which sees bandleader John Rossiter continuing the influx of new material that was promised with last month’s extraordinary “1“.

In keeping with the pattern set by “1”, all of the song titles are assigned numbers and pick up after “2“. Don’t be fooled by the chronological system, each of these four tracks are imbued with the singular personality that’s defined the band’s past few releases. A recurrent thread throughout that past work has been an intangible sadness that finds intriguing ways to manifest. The most direct examples of that trait tend to be Rossiter’s lyricism, which tends to evoke an empathetic, even contemplative sense of basic understanding.

Right from the outset of Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage, those characteristics are in full effect. “3” is the kind of genre-defying slow-burner that’s become a Rossiter specialty, melancholic and memorable. “Act like I’m seeing with my eyes, act like I’m bleeding all the time. I’m doing fine, I’m doing fine.” is the line that closes out “3” and one of Neverending Catlaogue of Total Garbage‘s most defining moments. It’s simultaneously an unfiltered look at the fractured psyche of the central narrator and a therapeutic release.

While “4” and “6” both sustain the EP’s sense of trajectory, they’re slightly more experimental affairs (the latter, especially so). Even with that experimentation, there are moments of bruised romanticism, underscoring the potential value of this entire project on a grand scale. “5” may be the most traditional inclusion of Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage and the first of the new recordings to incorporate any sort of percussion. The song also manages to be one of the EP’s most direct moments and still retains the EP’s sense of poetry.

All told, Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage is a thing of beauty. As a reaffirmation of Young Jesus’ innate artistic ability, it’s heartening. As a continuation of a standalone project, the EP is fascinating. As its own entity, it’s surprisingly essential. Antithetical to its title at every turn, Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage winds up being a perfect example of 2016’s unexpected vibrancy. Don’t let this surprise release become a glossed-over footnote, provide it with the investment it deserves and walk away rewarded.

Listen to Neverending Catalogue of Total Garbage below and pick it up here.