Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Eskimeaux

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

16 of ’16: The Best Songs of the Year

LVL UP II

Following suit with the two previous examples, the best songs of 2016 list will abandon the traditional numerical format in favor of a more open approach that concentrates on the best material of the year without offering too many individual designations. The majority of the songs featured on this list were under-represented on lists by far more visible publications (and a few that were fairly represented are listed below the main list as honorable mentions) and fall under the genres normally covered by this site. Of course, this list — just like any other — can’t claim to be truly representative but it does offer a decent encapsulation of 2016 releases that deserved to be celebrated.

An additional note: most of the embeds come from bandcamp, so songs will auto-play after the initial listen. This was intentional to ease the access to the records that can claim these songs and to more directly benefit the artists that brought them into the world.

Enjoy the list.

Mo Troper – Happy Birthday

One of the strongest debut records of last year was Mo Troper‘s Beloved, an entirely unexpected but wholly welcome powerpop masterpiece. While just about every song on Beloved was considered for this list, it seemed appropriate to go with “Happy Birthday” which set the tone for a fearsome record that deserved far more recognition.

Doe – Sincere

Some Things Last Longer Than You was a blistering statement from Doe, a band that had been steadily gaining momentum for years. It was a perfectly structured record that allowed its songs an equal amount of weight but “Sincere” still managed to emerge as a standout single. Fiery and full of conviction, it was one of 2016’s best moments.


Told Slant – Low Hymnal

Low Hymnal” was a song that I was fortunate enough to hear forming in its earliest stages but the finished product still managed to wind up as a transcendental experience. There’s genuine pain at the root of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” that lends to the overwhelming weight of the song’s unforgettable final stanza. A gorgeous and moving masterwork.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

In the title track for their career best, Human Performance, Parquet Courts hit an exhilarating new high point. “Human Performance” is a tightly-coiled and deeply felt examination of the human condition that finds the band stretching in new directions with a fearlessness that makes the song as gripping as it is immediate.

Yucky Duster – Gofer

A pitch-perfect pop song, Yucky Duster‘s “Gofer” became one of 2016’s most unexpected summer anthems. It’s a pure delight at every perfectly-navigated hairpin turn, serving up some of the most meticulously constructed guitar pop in recent memory. A perfect blend of style and substance, “Gofer” is a triumph from a band worth watching.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)

While Pretty Years saw Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to evolve their sound, no moment of the record was more jaw-dropping than the towering “Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)“. An eye-opening display of formidable strength and untapped ferocity, the song saw the band perfecting just about every facet of their already-impressive songwriting.

LVL UP – Spirit Was

Pain” and “Hidden Driver” got a fair amount of attention from year-end lists but the most representative moment of LVL UP‘s Return To Love was the bittersweet “Spirit Was“, which also ranks as one of the band’s best. Vocalist/bassist Nick Corbo provided Return To Love its beating heart and “Spirit Was” marked the moment it completely opened.

Big Thief – Real Love

It takes a certain type of boldness to title a record Masterpiece but when that record features songs like “Real Love“, that title just seems apt. In some moments “Real Love” is breezy and open, while others finds Big Thief baring their fangs. Throw in one of the most effective guitar solos of the past few years and “Real Love” quietly emerges as a new classic.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos

Before hanging up their cables, Jawbreaker Reunion were kind enough to deliver one last album in haha and then what 😉, which lived up to the bands sterling track record. The best moment of a great record came via “Cosmos“, a gorgeous ballad examining serious topics that quickly transforms into a forceful reckoning. In short: it’s perfect.

Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia

Likely the most celebrated record appearing on this list, Car Seat Headrest‘s Teens of Denial‘s most breathtaking moment was largely ignored by other outlets. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is a sprawling meditation on hopelessness that somehow finds a way to seamlessly work in a brief, heartrending cover of Dido’s “White Flag”. A genuine achievement.

Fred Thomas – Brickwall

Fred Thomas is making and releasing music at a relatively relentless rate, which is a trait that typically produces a lot of filler material. Thomas somehow keeps getting better, something that’s clearly evident in “Brickwall“, a characteristically acerbic slice-of-life send-up that highlights Changer, which will go down as one of 2017’s finest.

Cloud Nothings – Modern Act

Rarely does a band come across as progressive while revisiting their earlier sounds, yet “Modern Act” finds a way to fuse progression with refinement in its revisitations. A brilliant hybrid of virtually every stage of the band’s career “Modern Act” is both a victory lap and an engrossing look at Cloud Nothings‘ increasingly promising future.

Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab

Crockpot” was the kind of unforgettable song that could make a band’s career, that Slothrust has surpassed those dazzling heights so quickly is a staggering accomplishment. “Horseshoe Crab” is the kind of track that can stop people in their tracks. It’s a spellbinding song from a band unafraid to rip the bleeding heart out of their own chest.

Catbus – Fracas

A standalone release — and lone track — from a band that features Phyllis Ophelia and members of Patio, Catbus‘ “Fracas” is a riveting hybrid of post-punk and basement pop. The verses ensnare the listeners attention before the chorus blooms and casts an unbreakable spell. Exceedingly lovely and perfectly crafted, “Fracas” is an absolute gem.

John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest

No song in 2016 carried more emotional resonance than John K. Samson‘s devastating final chapter to the Virtute trilogy. Plaintive, painfully intimate, and tinged with a deeply damaged sense of hope, the song finds Virtute’s owner resurrecting the neglected cat to beg for forgiveness. Harrowing and unforgettable, “Virtute At Rest” was a knockout blow.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright

There’s a grace and elegance that’s identifiable even through the light damage that Jay Som applies to “I Think You’re Alright” that brings Sparklehorse to mind. Now, direct comparisons on this site are few and far between — especially in the case of such notable luminaries — but it’s next to impossible not to hear the ghost of Mark Linkous lovingly haunting every last second of “I Think You’re Alright”.

Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind the Jay Som project, has listed Sparklehorse as a major influence and the two share a kindred, empathetic spirit- something that shows in the delicate tenderness of “I Think You’re Alright” and maintains its convictions throughout the rest of Jay Som’s discography. While that discography is an enviable one, “I Think You’re Alright” remains its crown jewel, thanks to not only the song’s sublime instrumentation but a narrative that plays perfectly into the song’s soft lyricism.

All at once, uplifting and resigned, “I Think  You’re Alright” occupies a fascinating space. There’s a lot going on in “I Think You’re Alright”, from the subdued atmosphere to the way that instrumentation interacts in its final quarter. When it’s playing, though, none of that’s taken into account as “I Think You’re Alright” has the ability to envelop the listener in a very specific feeling, rendering it a unique (and uniquely moving) listen. Not just one of the finest of this year but of the past decade.

Nine more worth hearing:

PWR BTTM – Projection
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Weaves – Coo Coo
Margaret Glaspy – You and I
Forth Wanderers – Slop
Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
Eskimeaux – WTF
Tancred – Sell My Head
Young Jesus – Baked Goods

16 of ’16: The Best EP’s of the Year

eskimeaux

Once again, an increasingly busy schedule has led to a brief gap between posts and diminished the possibilities for year-end coverage. For that reason, there’ll only be three more Best Of pieces before the third round of A Year’s Worth of Memories. Sadly, this means some previous categories will be neglected but don’t let that diminish the importance of things like online singles, compilations, and the other odds and ends releases.

This list will focus on the EP’s that were released this year, which had to be at least four songs or exceed 10 minutes in length (which disqualified some genuinely tremendous releases). A lot of great material came out this year and these EP’s managed to emerge as standouts. For any potential bias to be eliminated, EP’s that premiered here were deemed ineligible (but should still be celebrated). Enjoy the list.

Jack – Resting Places 

One of the more harrowing listens of 2016 was centered around the loss of a loved one. It was an event that seems to have transformed something in Brittany Costa, the mastermind behind Jack and Resting Places. This is an explosive EP and it deserved much more circulation than it received.

Krill – Krill 

A posthumous release from one of the most fiercely beloved bands in DIY punk, Krill‘s self-titled swan song may also be their finest work. Bassist/vocalist employed baritone guitar lines to spectacular effect on Krill, something evident from the EP’s brilliant opening track (“Meat”). Precise and teeming with feeling, it’s one hell of a goodbye.

Eskimeaux – Year of the Rabbit

Following this site’s pick for 2015’s Album of the Year proved to be a shockingly easy feat for Eskimeaux, who quickly released a summery EP overflowing with memorable moments. Year of the Rabbit finds Eskimeaux deepening the best aspects of their music and refining some newer tricks. It’s a breezy listen that carries substantial weight.

Kynnet – …Taas ne Kynnet 

A blast of fired-up basement pop from Finland, Kynnet once again proves to be an uncontainable force with …Taas ne Kynnet. This is hard-charging music that transcends the language divide and effortlessly engages listeners with its overwhelming immediacy. Give in or get out of the way because once …Taas ne Kynnet gets gets going, it’s not stopping.

Forth Wanderers – Slop 

Headlined by its breathtaking title trackSlop is a warning shot from the increasingly ambitious Forth Wanderers. While “Slop” is undoubtedly the standout of the EP, the other three songs don’t ever come across as being overshadowed, revealing flashes of the band’s brilliance. Slop is a uniformly strong outing that packs a serious punch.

Happyness – Tunnel Vision On Your Part 

Happyness teased Tunnel Vision On Your Part with “SB’s Truck“, a song based on the fascinating historical footnote that saw the unlikely pairing of Andre The Giant and Samuel Beckett. The band continues to do no wrong, turning in another immensely enjoyable collection of songs that further their growing reputation as master popsmiths.

Faye – Faye 

An extraordinary debut from an extremely promising band, Faye‘s self-titled is a beautifully crafted work that capitalizes on the sort of subtleties that some veteran acts still have a difficult time navigating. Nearly half of this EP rightfully earned individual features before its release and the EP’s remainder lived up to the promise of those tracks.

Snail Mail – Habit 

2016 saw Snail Mail start to break out and earn some overdue attention on a much larger scale. A lot of that can be attributed to the remarkable (and surprisingly affecting) Habit. Vulnerable, defiant, and tenaciously pointed, Habit‘s the kind of record that burrows under the skin and refuses to leave. A gem and a career best.

Hazel English – Never Going Home 

There were few, if any records, released in 2016 lovelier than Hazel English‘s Never Going Home. A spellbinding mixture of dream pop, basement pop, and post-punk, Never Going Home‘s the kind of painfully beautiful work that deserves to be remembered. It’s a series of grace notes that openly offer contentment and warmth.

Fern Mayo – Hex Signs 

Fern Mayo became a staple of this site’s coverage based on the white-knuckle intensity of their live show and in Hex Signs they manage to harness that intimidating forcefulness. Easily the best work of the band’s burgeoning career, Hex Signs is a confrontational demonstration of the type of strength that refuses to be ignored.

don’t – forget it. 

One of the unique thrills of music writing is the discovery of a young, unknown band from a relatively small area that are doing interesting, impressive things. don’t met all of those qualifications to such an excessive degree with forget it. that it became unforgettable. While possibly the least recognizable name on this list, they deserve the placement.

Patio – Luxury

Being able to watch a band evolve from their first show and thrive in the state of progression is a privilege. It’s even more of a privilege when the band in question is one like Patio, who excel at the formula that makes up Luxury: wiry post-punk that serves up as much dry wit as it does sheer attitude. What’s scary is they’re still only just getting started.

Strange Ranger – Sunbeams Through Your Head 

Sunbeams Through Your Head marked an exhilarating new chapter for Strange Ranger who, almost paradoxically, seemed galvanized in their decision to more fully embrace a downtrodden nature. It’s an EP characterized by moments either brave, bold, or beautiful. An extraordinarily compelling listen and the sound of a band hitting its stride.

Tony Molina – Confront the Truth 

As someone who could claim in-your-face micro-punk as a specialty, Tony Molina‘s gorgeous Confront the Truth likely came as a shock to some. Anyone well-versed in Molina’s work could easily see how the songwriter could conjure up a gentle 7″ full of retro-leaning acoustic pop songs that invoked the spirit of the late ’60 and early ’70s. A sublime work.

Talons’ – Work Stories 

One of the rare records where the distinction between album and EP becomes blurry, Work Stories nevertheless saw Talons’ extend a quiet streak of ridiculously impressive records. Hushed and haunted folk-inflected songs comprise Work Stories, each as breathtakingly gripping as the last. Work Stories is another piece of mastery.

EP OF THE YEAR

Mercury Girls/The Spook School/Wildhoney/Tigercats – Continental Drift 

While the intro to this piece stated that the majority of the odds and ends would be ignored, an exception is being made for the excessively great split EP that saw Mercury Girls (who also released the excellent Ariana 7″ in 2016), The Spook School, Wildhoney, and Tigercats each contribute two songs. Continental Drift doesn’t feel or operate like the majority of split releases by virtue of its exhaustively complete unification.

All four bands on Continental Drift can come across as singular acts, on closer inspection they begin to appear as slight mutations of each other, rendering this split an effortless listen. There could very well be a group of people that’d mistake Continental Drift as the work of one inhumanly talented band (though the shift in accents may provide a tipping point). Each of the four acts bring their best work to the table and make characteristically strong impressions.

Over Continental Drift‘s eight tracks, not only is there never a weak song, there’s never a weak moment. Each of these songs is tightly crafted and masterfully executed, providing each act with a highlight reel that could attract unfamiliar listeners to the rest of their respective discographies. There are so many soaring moments scattered throughout Continental Drift that the end result is stratospheric. In theory, this split was enticing but in its execution Continental Drift achieves a staggering amount of perfection.

Nine more worth checking out:

Lady Bones – Terse
Cleo Tucker – Looking Pretty At the Wall
Devon Welsh – Down the Mountain
Plush – Please
Young Jesus – Void As Lob
Naps – The Most Beautiful Place On Earth
gobbinjr – vom night
CHEW – CHEW
Fake Boyfriend – Mercy

Dirty Dishes – Lackluster (Music Video)

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In the opening days of this week, there has been a bounty of impressive streams from the likes of Hot Shorts, Clearance, Johanna Warren, No Nets, The Glazzies, Phyllis Ophelia, Vexx, Black Thumb, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, No Age, Teenage Fanclub, Ulrika Spacek, Fond Han, Holy Sons, The Black Black, Wovenhand, Richard Edwards, Crying, Dan Edmonds, Orchin, Infinity Crush, Flock of Dimes, Sharon Van Etten, Delicate Steve, Computer Magic, Power Animal, Lowly, Miracle Sweepstakes, Lilac Daze, J&L Defer, John Travoltage, Smokey Brights, Elijah Ford, Brother Moses, Inner Oceans, and Slaughter Beach, Dog.

While all of those deserve all of the listens they’ll inevitably receive (and likely many more), this post’s featured spot falls to one of last year’s most intriguing breakout acts: Dirty Dishes. The project of Jenny Tuite, Dirty Dishes garnered a sizable amount of acclaim for the astonishing Guilty, a brooding record full of sharp-edged post-punk. More than a full year after its release, Guilty‘s retained a significant amount of bite, which winds up lending to the vitality of the recently released clip for “Lackluster”, one of the record’s many highlights.

“Lackluster” coaxes maximum impact out of a minimal setup. The majority of the video consists of psychedelic projection overlays that are intercut with footage of Tuite performing the song in front of that backdrop. In conjuring up an effectively eerie atmosphere — one that’s furthered by the decision to transition between straight-ahead shots and spliced-in close-up footage of the backdrop and what appear to be some outside sources — the clip manages to elevate the song (and vice versa).

Everything here, all of the subtle effects and edits, the song, the pacing, the dynamic approach of the structure itself, work in tandem to create something unforgettable and wholly hypnotic. It’s a masterclass in DIY artistry and a gripping reminder of Guilty‘s staggering power. Jump into the waters and get lost to the waves.

Watch “Lackluster” below and pick up Guilty here.

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. V

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After installments I, II, III, and IV, this site is officially caught up to the current release cycle in every coverage category: single streams, full streams, music videos, live videos, live photography, and the (usually weekly) Watch This series. Going forward, the goal will continue to be at least one post a day (a rough average that’s been maintained for two and a half years, despite some lengthy hiatuses). Expect live reviews to return to the fold as early as next week and for everything else to resume or continue its regular functionality. Thanks to anyone who stuck with this site through the early lulls in this year’s first half and thanks to the artists and venues who graciously allowed — and even encouraged — photography. Heartbreaking Bravery wouldn’t exist without you and I will continue to look for ways to pay you back in kind. Find the last packet of photos from the year so far below and explore all of the others via the hyperlinks up top or by simply scrolling down. Enjoy!

 

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. IV

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From January to the end of May, I put up thousands of miles travelling to see (and play) shows. Normally, the shows that happen at that intersection would be ignored on these pages as it feels self-promotional and this site was designed to more fully endorse the works of others. For both the live video recap and these galleries, I’ve made an exception for Jungles. The band’s an extraordinary live act that’s best served by their actual set (no photography or videos could do them justice because the areas beyond those mediums restrictions are where the band derives most of their strength). It’s a rare circumstance but considering their severe lack of name recognition stateside, placing them in these galleries felt more than appropriate. Click on to see a few photos of them and several others that I was fortunate enough to catch in the first half of 2016. Enjoy.

 

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. III

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Throughout 2016’s opening two months, I was able to take in two surprisingly contained winter festivals in the upper Midwest: Madison, WI’s FRZN Fest and Chicago, IL’s Music Frozen Dancing. The former ran three days (I was in attendance for the bookends) at the High Noon Saloon while the latter took place outside of the Empty Bottle. Both boasted impressive lineups that reflected well on their venues and, to a larger extent, their cities. Those two fests were the year’s openers and they sent me scrambling for more shows to shoot and I was able to capitalize on several of those opportunities. Whether they were in a basement or at a historic club venue, if cameras were allowed, I’d have mine rolling. Several of the best photographs I managed to capture in that run of months can be found below. Enjoy.

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. II

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Throughout the first six months, I was fortunate enough to catch (and photograph) the following acts: American Wrestlers, Palehound, Eternal Summers, Torres, Julien Baker, Charly Bliss, Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits Black Lips, Jungles, Mr. Martin & The Sensitive Guys, Bag-Dad, Haunter, Miserable Friend, Heavycritters, Yoko and the Oh No’s, PWR BTTM, Micah Schnabel (of Two Cow Garage), Dyke Drama, Potty Mouth, Beach Slang, Yowler, Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos, Oops, and Dilly Dally. All of that photography will be presented — as previously mentioned — through a five-part gallery. The second installment touches on more of the best selections from those sets. As always, the gallery can be accessed below. Enjoy.

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. I

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Over the past six months, the site’s experienced a few hiatuses. While some of those hiatuses were due to personal reasons, the majority were because of long stretches of time spent on the road. During the course of those six months, I was fortunate enough to catch a small handful of shows (and play a few more). No live photography from 2016 has been posted (discounting the header photo that’s ran for the Told Slant feature spots and the Meat Wave photo that ran in conjuncture with the Live Videos segment) and below is a gallery — the first of five — designed to amend the oversight. Enjoy.

 

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

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

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

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

American Wrestlers, Eternal Summers, Palehound, and Torres. 

Julien Baker and Charly Bliss. 

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

Runners, Beech Creeps, and Heavy Times. 

Jungles. 

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

Yoko and the Oh No’s and PWR BTTM. 

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

Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos. 

Oops and Dilly Dally.