Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Eva Grace Hendricks

The 10 Best Music Videos of August

August blew threw 2017 with no hesitation and left an enormous pile of exceedingly great material in its wake. This post will key in on the ten best music videos to be released over that period of time (with the first week shaved off and a few days of September tacked on). A lot of site favorites make appearances below but a new name or two found a way to make a splash. Each of those artists and clips has earned the praise they’ve been given or are about to receive. 2o17’s been overflowing with great clips and these are only adding to the year’s abundant strength. Dive in and go exploring.

Mike Krol – Fifteen Minutes

Over the past several years, Mike Krol has made a habit out of reveling in the playfully sardonic. Turkey, Krol’s astonishing breakthrough record — and first release for Merge — laid those groundworks bare. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Krol’s next step was to go back in time, re-release his first two records (cult staples among a very specific sect of the DIY punk crowd) and make a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek music video starring a mannequin for a song that came out six years ago. It’s perfectly Krol.

Weaves – Walkaway

Weaves‘ self-titled was one of the best records of the past few years and the band’s been making good on that momentum that release generated with their advance singles for their forthcoming release. “Walkaway”, the most recent, is anthemic, empowering, and has the kind of staying power to remain on the college airwaves for years to come. The song also now boasts a beautiful clip featuring the band getting a touch of aggression out in a sweeping field. It’s a striking video that somehow manages to make the song feel even more titanic than usual.

Lost Balloons – Noose

One of 2017’s best surprises thus far has been the duo Lost Balloons who feature the talents of Jeff Burke and Yusuke Okada, two names a large handful of people in both America and Japan should already have memorized. The project’s debut effort, Hey Summer, was the type of unassuming basement pop record that tends to stick longer in people’s minds than most would expect and they’ve granted one of that album’s best songs a beautiful animated clip in “Noose”. It’s a gorgeous tapestry that’s worth admiring.

Radiator Hospital – Dance Number

It’s been a while since Radiator Hospital released their incredible Torch Song so news of a new record was incredibly welcome. Even better: the announcement came on the back of the release of this charmingly straightforward clip for the characteristically excellent “Dance Number”, which renews the case for Sam Cook-Parrott as one of this generation’s most emotionally affecting lyricists. Poignant, bittersweet, and undeniably catchy, it’s a great song bolstered by a surprisingly effective video.

Charly Bliss – DQ

No band’s name has appeared on this site more over the past two years than Charly Bliss. The band’s recently-released Guppy went a long way in ensuring their prominence and a handful of excellent clips and performances kept their name in the rotation. “DQ” now joins their ranks, standing as one of the band’s most playful — and personal — videos. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks co-directed the clip alongside Andrew Costa (who helmed quite a few of the band’s other videos), which features everything from trampolines to cows to football sleds to a dog that’s great at playing dead. As is always the case with the band, it’s an absolute blast and surprisingly hard to forget.

Kielo – Radiate

A while back Kielo released an absolutely breathtaking song/video combination in “In Water” and the Laura Schultz-led project has now doubled down on that measure with the spellbinding “Radiate”. Comprised largely of photography-centric cinematography, the clip allows the song to be elevated by calming visuals, creating an effect that’s both warm and inescapable. It’s a genuinely gorgeous thing to behold and deserves all of the views and listens that can possibly come its way.

Bully – Feel the Same

One of the more invigorating acts of the past few years, Bully have shown virtually no signs of slowing down. The band’s also growing a little more confrontational, as evidenced by their nearly-antagonistic clip for “Feel the Same”, which features nothing but a balloon expanding in a darkened empty room until it starts leaking a stream of yellow liquid. As simple as it is, the imagery is incredibly hard to shake and the concept sticks. It’s bold, it’s abrasive, and it fits the band like a glove.

Julia Louise – Brat

A new name to Heartbreaking Bravery, Julia Louise somehow managed to evade this site’s radar over the past few years. Still, it’s hard to imagine the songwriter could’ve had a better introduction-at-large than the clip for “Brat”, a song that subverts the limitations of emo and standard pop-punk to mesmerizing effect. Aided by strong visuals, a charismatic central performance from Louise and a sense of conviction, “Brat” is the sound (and look) of an artist coming fully into their own.

Fog Lake – Rattlesnake

Last year Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” slithered its way into at least one best-of list that ran on this site. The song’s proven to have legitimate staying power and has now been granted a beautiful visual accompaniment. Calm, a little eerie, and deeply empathetic, “Rattlesnake” follows a man as he explores New York City, alone and content to wander. It’s incredibly affecting and stirs up a genuine, intangible reaction by simply disallowing the constraints of a discernible narrative and opting to focus on the emotional pull at the crux of being at home and separated from that home all at the same time.

See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm

A few months ago, See Through Dresses played an incendiary set as an opener for Charly Bliss in Minneapolis. The highlight of their set came via an impassioned run through “Lucy’s Arm”, a clear standout from their exceptional Horse of the Other World. The band’s wisely decided to go ahead and give the song the music video treatment, a decision that’s resulted in an arresting black-and-white clip with minimal effects. It’s a surprisingly effective clip that serves as an honorable testament to the song’s overwhelming power.

Charly Bliss – Guppy (Album Review, Live Videos)

Reviewing a record that you’ve spent years becoming entwined with, falling in love with, and essentially establishing as a core part of your identity is a difficult prospect. It’s always nerve-wracking to attempt to do justice to something that’s become so personal. When it’s made by people that you’ve grown to love and even consider part of your extended family, it becomes a lot murkier. And yet, every single time Charly Bliss’ Guppy starts up, all of those thoughts fade away and the record rises up, bares its fangs, and clamps down with such a vengeance that it’s difficult to think of anything other than the music’s sheer, overwhelming power.

Guppy is a record I’ve been fortunate enough to watch evolve since its first permutation in 2015, which featured a handful of songs that didn’t make the cut for the official release (including “Turd“, which was released in advance of Guppy as a standalone single) and boasted a production that emphasized the low-end aspect of the band, providing it an immense punch. That Guppy has not only retained that punch but emphasized it by balancing out those levels is nothing short of miraculous.

To get to that point, the band weathered quite a few storms and put more notches in its belt than most people realize. The band first hinted that it might be more than your standard punk-driven basement pop act with the releases of 2013’s A Lot To Say EP, which was highlighted by its towering title track. Following that was the release of an astounding single in “Clean“, the invaluable addition of Dan Shure on bass, and the release of the Soft Serve EP, which — along with their scintillating live show — acted as the band’s calling card for a handful of years.

Soft Serve acted as my introduction to the band and I’ve never been so thoroughly dismantled and blown away by a band I’d never heard of as I was the day I clicked play on that record. It topped Heartbreaking Bravery’s EP’s of the Year list for 2014 and still stands proudly as my personal pick for the best EP of this decade and it’s very unlikely that anything will unseat it by the time 2020 rolls around. No band has every put me all in as quickly as Charly Bliss managed with just three perfect songs.

I didn’t know it at the time but that EP would wind up legitimately changing the course of my life. Eva Grace Hendricks, one of Charly Bliss’ two guitarist/vocalist/songwriter’s, joined the A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors roster shortly after Soft Serve‘s release and wound up being an instrumental part of my decision to relocate to Brooklyn for half of 2015. Our shared, vocal support of each other’s ventures meant a great deal to me at the time and still does today, as it stood (and stands) as the type of mutual support that Heartbreaking Bravery has aimed to establish since the beginning.

Enter: Guppy‘s first run, an astonishing demo that laid out the particulars and quickly overtook everything else in my listening habits. Any doubts that any of the members of Charly Bliss may have had at the time were wildly unwarranted; even at its most humble stages, Guppy was a behemoth of a record. For the next two years, the band would fine-tune different parts of the songs, the production, and they’d introduce new material that usurped a few scattered tracks that were initially grouped in with what would eventually become Guppy.

To promote the record, the band did everything right and still managed to hide a few tricks up their sleeve: touring America as the openers for Veruca Salt and PUP, releasing “Ruby” as an early single and following it up with a characteristically clever music video, unleashing the single greatest Audiotree session I’ve seen (no small feat), and finding ways to advance their jaw-dropping live show, from perfecting four-part harmonies to studiously analyzing old footage to look for subtle tweaks to potentially make. All the while, a handful of labels had taken interest and the band had a huge decision to make and took their time to make sure it was the right one.

Barsuk Records eventually won the rights to Guppy and all of the tenacity they likely poured into their campaign to secure the record should pay massive dividends for the label going forward. It’s a move that helped secure Guppy the vaunted NPR First Listen slot, replete with an effectively effusive write-up. Stereogum immediately awarded the record its Album of the Week honor and Pitchfork gave it the kind of score that’s a short step away from verging on their Best New Music territory (a rarity for the publication’s appraisal of this particular genre).

While all of the praise remains heartening to see and the critical analysis provided to the record was both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it’s difficult to tell if any of those reviewers grasped the magnitude of what this type of record can accomplish if it keeps being awarded effective platforms. It’s also difficult to tell if any of those publications had a handle on not only what this band can eventually become but what they’ve managed to become already. As mentioned above, Guppy is a record capable of obliterating critical thinking as it plays and then rewarding it to an obscene degree when it wraps, putting it in extremely select company.

From the energy-bolstering opening seconds of “Percolator”, Guppy lets its listeners know that they’re in for something that’s as ebullient as it is aggressive, finding a transcendental sweet spot between bubblegum coating and a shockingly dark undercurrent. Hendricks, from the outset, dives into a narrative that grapples with not only her own mortality but the self-awareness everyday interactions have come to necessitate. Spencer Fox, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, provides what’s quickly becoming his trademark: economical but dizzying guitar riffs that don’t sacrifice feeling for technique (or vice versa).

If people weren’t aware that Fox is currently one of the best guitarists in music, Guppy should go a long way in providing that (admittedly understandable) ignorance a remedy. While Soft Serve‘s “Urge to Purge” remains one of the best riffs of the present decade, Guppy is where Fox stakes his claim, something that becomes abundantly clear throughout the course of the record. Not only are all of Fox’s contributions spectacular but the work Dan Shure and Sam Hendricks (Eva’s brother) are doing as a rhythm section have allowed them to quietly become one of the most vicious tandems currently on the circuit.

While Fox and that rhythm section remain impressive throughout, Guppy‘s beating heart rests in Eva Grace Hendricks and that heart’s beating at a relentless pace. Hendricks anchors each one of these songs with a frightening determination and a mischievous joy. All of the come-on’s are equipped with a warning, every smile comes with a missing tooth, and every invitation comes with an advance apology.

In “Ruby”, Hendricks’ loving ode to her therapist, she rides a subway with blood on her hair. On “Glitter”, there’s the realization that a relationship’s shortcomings can sometimes be equally distributed across both parties. In “Scare U”, there’s the recognition of greed and the unapologetic desire to be in complete control.  At seemingly every turn, Hendricks comes to grips with the duality most goodhearted people constantly view as a struggle. By subverting these thoughts and latching onto something defiantly celebratory, Charly Bliss comes together to reclaim their own deeply damaged narratives as learning points, important mistakes, and necessities of personal evolution.

It’s in that context where each of the band’s decisions gains importance. They’re not just making music because they like to make music; they’re using it as a coping outlet. Every single snare hit, vibrato, and squeal comes loaded with personal meaning and they’re reaching those confrontations as a unit, drawing from each other’s strengths to pummel all of the perceived difficulties back into something that feels inconsequential in the face of what they’re doing together. Nothing is half-assed. This is the embrace of life vs. the acquiescence of  a life given over to being constantly haunted by past mistakes.

As that aspect of Guppy comes into focus, it’s legitimately hard not to be blown away on several levels. Chief among them, the strength this band’s gained through both familial experience and shared camaraderie. There’s no judgment present, just the willingness to take a sword to the throats of the dangerous things that threaten the well-being of their friends. If there’s a dragon to be slayed, Charly Bliss’ tactic is to conjure up a battering ram to force it into becoming a piñata and bathing in its blood as the ugliest contents come pouring out, greeting the event as a ritualistic party to share with all their friends.

Managing to make things even more impressive is the fact that the band’s doing this with what’s more of a whip-smart advancement of ’90s slacker punk & powerpop aesthetics than a faceless imitation. Sure, Guppy will get compared to Letters to Cleo, Josie and the Pussycats, and any other act that fits that mold- but (in addition to some possible casual sexism) that’s only faintly scratching the surface of what’s actually happening on this record, especially in terms of composition. That’s a victory all on its own and Guppy should go a long way in contributing to what looks to be a seismic shift in the way bands pull influence from that particular pocket of music.

Guppy is far from a retread and it’s decidedly modern bent helps secure it a spot as one of 2017’s essential releases as well as a bona fide genre classic. There are no standout songs among the 10 because virtually all of them rank among the best to be released this year. From wire-to-wire, Guppy is a breakneck record that revels in destruction and comes off as a staggering show of force. Everything from the dirty ditty-turned-guaranteed showstopper “Black Hole”  to the unrelenting blows administered by “Gatorade”, “DQ”, and “Westermarck” are enough to make anyone sit up and start paying the type of attention this band should’ve been receiving for the past several years.

As “Totalizer” races by with abandon and all of the requisite snark, cleverness, and thoughtfulness that have come to define Charly Bliss songs, it’s still difficult to think most will be adequately prepared for the record’s final breathtaking moment. “Julia”, Guppy‘s sludgy closer, is the heaviest track the band’s committed to record by miles. It’s one final reminder that the band’s not as cute as they appear at first blush and that Guppy, while a fun record on the surface, conceals a wellspring of damage that the band’s not afraid to confront. Full-throated, deeply felt, and ferociously delivered, Guppy is a basement pop record for the ages. Whatever troubles come, I have no doubt that Charly Bliss will be standing above the wreckage, breathing in the smoke and looking to start a roaring fire all their own.

Listen to Guppy below, pick it up from Barsuk here, and watch a collection of live videos that I personally shot of the band playing at six separate shows over the past few years.

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.

++

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.

++

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.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5

Johanna Warren I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 4

Car Seat Headrest

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 3

Idle Bloom

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2

Girlpool I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1

Radioactivity

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

Father/Daughter Records Northside Showcase 2015 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Charly Bliss IX

A lot of the coverage on this site is going to look a little different in the coming months. As much love as I have in my heart for Wisconsin, a change of scenery was necessary. After a long day of travel and some time to explore, a show felt necessary. One attended by a handful of contributors to last year’s A Year’s Worth of Memories series, thrown by one of this site’s most-covered labels, and headlined by the band that topped this site’s list of the best 2014 EP’s and “necessary” turned very quickly to catharsis. Shea Stadium packed in a reasonable crowd, each one seemingly devoted to either one or all of the bands, despite the considerable humidity essentially rendering the venue a sweatbox.

Pupppy, Rivergazer, Diet Cig, Attic Abasement, and Charly Bliss were all in fine form and there was a very palpable and genuine love running throughout each respective bands for the music they were making. Some opted for a more relaxed route (Rivergazer, Attic Abasement) without sacrificing any of their innate magnetism while others took a more frenzied approach (Diet Cig, Charly Bliss). Pupppy kicked things off by splitting the difference between the two extremes. The sound was incredible throughout, the crowd was dancing, and spirits were high. In all, it was a perfect jumping-off point for NYC coverage and a heartening reminder that all the ill-informed naysayers about Brooklyn’s DIY scene being dead are still completely, unequivocally wrong.

Scan through a photo set and video set containing pictures and clips of each band below.

 

 

1. Pupppy – Outkast
2. Rivergazer – Lonely
3. Diet Cig – Dinner Date
4. Attic Abasement – Sorry About Your Dick
5. Charly Bliss – The Golden Age
6. Charly Bliss – Dairy Queen
7. Charly Bliss – Pacer

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 1

I don’t know where to begin. In all honest, at this very moment, I’m at a complete and total loss. The support and kindness lent to me and this thing that I’ve created has been gratifying beyond reason and some of the responses to the things I’ve shot, written, and posted over the past year (and some change) have been overwhelming on a deeply personal level. When I first started Heartbreaking Bravery, I did it so I could write about the things I love and publish them more immediately than an outside editing process would allow. I did it to keep myself in practice with writing. I did it so that there could be another outlet, no matter how small, to lend a greater focus to marginalized artists. I did it to celebrate DIY music, to celebrate great publications, and to celebrate great writers. I did it so I could write about live music documentation and so I could analyze the contents of great music videos. At no point did I expect to gain support from the people behind the art I loved. I did it so I could explore something like the idea that Sasha Geffen- a writer that I greatly admire and a friend that I greatly appreciate- helped me develop on a trip to Kentucky; a year-end piece that focused on moments in music rather than relying solely on individual lists of top albums or songs. At no point did I expect the site- or the idea- to start expanding into what they have become.

2014 was an extraordinary year for music. I listened to more new music than I ever have in the past, met some extraordinary people, became aware of a lot more things that were happening across the DIY landscape, and saw some people I know and admire start succeeding on greater levels.  Today, it’s my absolute privilege to share with you the first portion of something I’ve been working on relentlessly for the past few months. Below is a compilation of musicians, label heads, music video directors, artists, and writers whose work I’ve admired from afar for lengths of time. Each of them has contributed a recollection of the music-related things that meant something to them throughout the past year. More parts of this series will be running throughout the week to grant the pieces the emphasis they deserve. I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to be hosting all of these pieces and am eternally grateful to each contributor. A quick note to them: each of you, whether you knew it or not, meant something to me before all of this insanity kicked off and you all now have my undying gratitude in addition to my unfailing admiration. So, without further ado, it’s my absolute honor to present: Heartbreaking Bravery’s 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 1.

++

Deserving of Gratitude

2014: the year my mom died, I got married and we released Tropical Jinx all within three weeks. Yes, really. It was the year of a lot of heartbreak and a lot of love. In May we found out my mother had stage four cancer, and a very short five months later we lost her to it. I wrote a eulogy two weeks after I wrote my wedding vows. I slept in hospitals for weeks. Music, whether I was listening to it, performing it, writing it, or interacting with its community, played a huge part in giving me strength and helping me through.

Things I’m grateful for in the year 2014:

“The Struggle”

In March, Ian (Little Big League’s drummer) and I (Michelle+Ian=MACHINE) turned twenty-five in front of exactly four people in a giant, brightly lit college auditorium. We debuted all of Tropical Jinx, played our entire discography in chronological order to two friends who’d come with us, and the sound guy and booker who watched us from two folding chairs in the back while smoking e-cigarettes. At the end of the show some old guy somehow affiliated with the school gave us our $500 check and asked if we had played two sets of one hour as the college had apparently requested in a contract that was never sent to us. I drank a can of high life in the van and maybe cried a little bit on the dark four-hour drive home while reflecting on what Max Stern from Signals Midwest and I refer to as a prime example of “The Struggle”.

Cleveland, in general

Everyone is always like—Cleveland sucks! Why on earth would anyone want to go there? It’s not even like we have some huge following in Cleveland. So why is it that anytime I tour, even if it’s five to six hours out of the way, I will play a show in Cleveland? And the reason is—Cleveland fucking rules! Every time I’ve gone to Cleveland I have had an amazing time. Even when we were sick and our van broke down in Cleveland we got put up in the craziest house I’ve ever seen. It looked like a sixties opium den. Lava lamps, fur rugs, and Soviet army hats were everywhere. We played Magic: The Gathering there for like eight hours while our van was getting fixed. Big ups to Jesse from Cherry Cola Champions! He is the nicest dude and has booked like every single one of our shows in Cleveland!

Also an awesome Cleveland person, Nina Holzer (who I know only by touring through Cleveland), always puts us up and is just everything you want in a badass, music-loving woman. Watching Bars of Gold play Brite Winter Fest in a filled-to-the-brims bike shop. These dudes have lived the struggle twice as long as I have and put on the most raucous show I’ve ever seen. Watching my friend get so drunk he tried to take a swig from a roll of duct tape before proceeding to fall asleep standing up during Bars of Gold’s set. Falling on my ass a million times while loading out of said bike shop in February on hard iced over snow, post so many shots of fireball. Happy Dog, where I got tater tots with a can of SpaghettiO’s and fried egg piled on top. What the fuck. You go, Cleveland.

People who spoke the fuck up

Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy, Christian Holden from The Hotelier, Max Stern from Signals Midwest. Joyce Manor. Saintseneca. Fuck anyone who says you aren’t hard. How could anyone get upset with an artist who chooses not to work with other artists or promoters who were publicly accused of domestic violence and rape? Or for stopping a show because young, stoked girls at the front are getting pummeled by dudes twice their size, making them feel even more like they don’t belong there? The answer is —a lot, apparently.

I got socked in the face by a drunk front dude this year because I got all girls-to-the-front and wasn’t going to let two really aggressive moshers get in the way of supporting my friend’s band. And then I get hit in the face by the front man! This is a friend of mine, who didn’t apologize, because he thought I was punk enough or something and would think it was funny. Uh, dude. No! It means something when a front person says hey, let’s have fun, but look the fuck out for each other. Do you know how cool it is to watch people propelled to mosh around and crowd surf when your band plays live? It’s awesome! It very rarely ever happens at a Little Big League show, but every time it happens, I am so excited! I feel so fucking cool! I can’t imagine having the true good person-ness and lack of ego to say, hey, I can tell from here things are getting out of hand, cut it the fuck out. These people were just so impressively outspoken about what just seems so obviously right and fair, all the while under the spotlight of vicious online commentators and at the risk of losing what little money they probably make. Also, Azealia Banks! I just watched this interview and it is just so real and important and emotional. The way the two dudes in the interview condescend to her just drives me nuts. Just—bravo, thank you, and I’m sorry the world is so fucking horrible.

Albums, EP’s & Singles

Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste, Spirit of the Beehive’s s/t, Mitski’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek, LVL Up’s Hoodwink’d, The Hotelier’s Home, Like No Place Is There Is, Mr. Twin Sister’s s/t, Alex G’s DSU, Frankie Cosmo’s Zentropy, Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes To Love, FKA Twigs’ LP1, Crying’s Get Olde/Second Wind, Chad Van Gaalen’s Shrink Dust, Perfume Genius’ Too Bright, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Hundred Waters’ Murmurs, Makthaverskan’s II, and all the Ovlov and Porches. singles that came out this year.

Touring with Foxing & The Hotelier

This was our last big tour before I moved back to Oregon to be with my family. There was a lot of anxiety waiting for the dust of a hard, second chemo treatment to settle and see if we’d beaten it or not. I cried a lot because I just felt so guilty being away from my family during such a hard time. But it was also just the best tour ever. The Hotelier and Foxing are the very best dudes and are so, so hard working and talented and real. We went to Typhoon Lagoon. We went night swimming in Ft. Lauderdale. Christian Holden is just my hero. JP from Rescuer and I talked hours into the night like little girls in Tampa and I got to feed his terrifying, giant pet pig an enormous zucchini.

Wedding Songs

When we found out my mother’s cancer was terminal, my family went to Korea for a last vacation and as a way for my mother to say goodbye to her country. Our plans were shot down. My mom became violently ill and had to stay in the hospital the entire two weeks we were there. I slept there, by her side, every single night. We were planning an emergency medical evacuation to get back to the states. I called my partner from the hospital. I asked him to marry me. I asked him because I knew it would make my mom hold on a little longer. Because I didn’t want things to end that way. I wanted it to end with flowers and macaroons and my mom watching her only kid get married. Because I was in love, and it would have broken my heart if we’d just waited and she wasn’t there when the day did come around.

I saw my mother’s face light up as I walked down the aisle to Smog’s “Mother of the World”, and walked away, hand in hand with my partner to Wilco’s “She’s a Jar”. Summerteeth has gotten me through every single break up of my life, and to be all shit, I am a jar with a heavy lid and to find someone that just opens you up and loves all of you as you walk together to a buffet table lined with Korean BBQ? That’s a great feeling.

-Michelle Zauner (Little Big League, Japanese Breakfast)

++

Favorite Music Moment of 2014 — Ex­-Cult at MACROCK

Every April, I take a trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia for MACROCK. The independent music festival is a two­day event in the Blue Ridge Mountains that I coordinated with a team of my friends in college. (MACROCK was once associated with James Madison University, but no longer receives funding from the school and is now a DIY production.) In the past, I’ve lost my voice by the end of the weekend from a combination of singing along, drinking, and catching up with my friends who either still live there or made the same annual pilgrimage I did. This year was no different. I got to see rad bands like Ex Hex, Amanda X, and Charly Bliss for the first time at Clementine. I watched the totally silly madness that unfolds without fail in that town during a Diarrhea Planet show. I discovered teenage sister duo Skating Polly as they tore up the Blue Nile stage, trading off guitar, bass, and Kliph Scurlock’s drum kit. But Ex-­Cult was the band that made this MACROCK particularly exceptional.

When I first discovered the Memphis punk band last year, I became obsessed with their self­-titled record. It was unruly but focused, an album overcome with vicious hysteria but anchored by tight instrumental skill. I had seen them live once before — at 285 Kent in Brooklyn the previous October — but that was before I’d spent much time with their recordings. My best friend Marisa’s band, Vulgar, played some shows with them and hearing her talk about Ex­-Cult’s chaotic sets got me more than stoked to see them again at MACROCK. She didn’t get too specific, but urged, “You need to see them tonight.” Her word was good enough for me.

I skipped their official MACROCK show at Clementine for the after­show at my friend’s house, My Mansion. It was well past 2am when Ex­-Cult started playing, late enough that I had sobered up and reached the point of existing in a hazy blur, as is common by the end of MACROCK weekend. The room in which Ex-­Cult played (one that I helped paint an unappetizing shade of orange many moons ago), was tiny. There’s always a mattress propped up on the back wall, though it’s been known to make its way on top of the crowd, usually carrying some adventurous show­goer. But that was the vibe of MACROCK itself: A weekend-­long party for downtown Harrisonburg, one that kicks off Thursday night. And right in the middle of this city­wide party was an aggro band playing a small room around 3am.

It wasn’t warm outside yet, maybe in the 40’s or 50’s at this point, but it felt like I sweat more in that hour than I have in my life. I had no idea they would play for that long — Ex­-Cult was a punk band after all. I guessed 20 minutes tops. But Midnight Passenger was due out later that month and they must have played their entire catalog. The raucous corkscrew melody of “Knives on Both Sides” soundtracked bodies slamming against walls, “M.P.D.” riled up drunken attendees with metallic, discordant chord progressions, and one of my favorites, “Shot the Beehive” even had Marisa crowdsurfing. J.B. Horrell stared the crowd down with wild-­eyed sternness throughout, expertly shredding through garage-­psych solos without missing a beat. Chris Shaw growled out sinister lyrics with more violence and frenzy than
could ever be felt from their recordings. I was blown away. It may sound hyperbolic- but it’s true.

I know that it is because I don’t normally hang out in the middle of the crowd during punk sets. I’m skinny, I wear glasses, and just generally don’t enjoy close contact with other humans, even if half of those humans are my friends. But getting to watch Ex-­Cult was worth any sweat and bruises that might come from sticking around and getting into the thick of it. I was constantly squeezed in between roughly four other people, so much so that my bra came undone on its own from all the bending, pushing, and shoving. Everyone was going totally nuts as I focused on the utterly impressive and consistent musicianship of this band as kids constantly crashed into them for a solid hour.

Eventually I had to leave — before their last song or two — due to heat and dehydration. I stumbled outside, my hair completely damp, and I must have looked like a rat that just crawled out of a sewer. I collapsed outside on some concrete next to my friend to recover. All I could think was, “I can’t wait to see them again.”

-Tess Duncan (writer/editor, Wondering Sound)

++

Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs

A package from Orchid Tapes showed up on my doorstep at the end of a very snowy and cold February.  Inside the box was a piece of hard candy, a bag of tea, a small thank-you note, and a copy of Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs on baby blue vinyl.  I had first become privy to Sam Ray’s electronic project at the advent of the new year; I was initially drawn in by the pulsating “In my dreams we’re almost touching” but soon found myself emotionally attached to his more melancholic compositions which favored the juxtaposition of faint piano melodies with washes of white noise and feedback.

I was fresh out of an upper-level composition and history class on electronic music and my discovery of Ricky Eat Acid allowed me to make the rare, immediate connection from the classroom to the real world.  I could hear hints of Hugh Le Caine and I noticed a very conscious use of space consistent with a minimalist approach to composition- but I could also listen to Three Love Songs without ever trying to dissect the nuances of its construction.  It was soothing and fluid and soon proved to be one of the rare albums that I could routinely get lost inside of.  I made do with the digital version while my physical copy was packaged and shipped but I carved out some listening time on the evening the album arrived.

Up until the needle dropped, Three Love Songs had primarily served as my soundtrack to the frigid Wisconsin winter that was exacting vengeance on my city, its drones and swells mirroring the stillness of frozen trees and the punishing gusts of wind they would occasionally succumb to. In an indoor setting, however, the album radiated warmth and revealed its true sense of polarity.  Alone in my bedroom with eyes closed to avoid any visual distractions or associations, Three Love Songs began to more clearly dictate an entire spectrum of emotions, from haunting uncertainty to elation to what can only be described as a consoling embrace.  I began to truly connect with the album’s intimacy during that span of forty-five minutes lying on my bedroom floor, and Three Love Songs consequently served as my musical compass of 2014, a personal reference point that has kept me grounded throughout one hell of a year.

-Sam Clark (founder, Dimestore Saints)

++

HEY HALLWAYS “ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART FORGET”

Radiator Hospital toured out to California this summer- and while it was by far my best experience of the year- that is not what I want to write about. There’s too much, so let me focus on one part, which is the folks of the Bay Area and the art they produce. Maybe it’s a combination of the opposite sea’s salt and the genuine personalities of the friends I’ve made, but it all feels so real and true. A lot of these people probably have no idea, because in the grand scheme of friendship our ranks may be low, but I really cherish the heart-to-hearts I’ve had with some of them. Overcoming grief, self-doubt, and our own demons dominate many of the conversations we’ve had and they’ve truly split me open. And so, I was honored to play (the last show) at the House of the Dead Rat in San Jose. It was, by far, my favorite show of the five-week tour. Aside from Radiator Hospital, the show included Try the Pie, Joyride!, Pigeon Island, Wuv, and Tall Can. Surrounded by some of my favorite people and musicians, it felt like a dreamy haze.

At the end of the night, Jason Brownstein handed me a tape of his solo music. Jason’s one of those people I’ve mentioned above whose friendship and conversation I hold dear. We’ve discussed our fears of creating and pushing ourselves, something he even mentioned when handing me the tape, so I was wild about him releasing his solo music. Radiator Hospital put it on in the van when we left San Jose for Southern California and I immediately knew that it would be one of my favorite releases of 2014.

Jason plays in Joyride! and Permanent Ruin, but in June he quit his day job so he could write his first solo record in 6 years. Hey Hallways’ Absence Makes the Heart Forget is a collection of five songs that remind me of why I got into punk in the first place. You can hear the fear and conquering in every note and every word. Fierce guitars and melodic vocals envelope Jason’s thoughtful and self-aware lyrics. They question how he got to where he is, how he sometimes slips, and how he can move forward. In between songs are recorded pieces of conversations with his father, a seemingly complicated relationship perhaps addressed in the opener, “Proven Facts”. On side B is a 9-minute piece of lyric-less music that, for me, serves as a moment of self-reflection. The piece was recorded in 2011, two years prior to the tracks on side A but with the addition of his father’s voice. Side B says to me that we need the past to push us forward, to move us in the direction we want to go. Ending the tape on this note from long ago is a perfect nonlinear conclusion.

On the track, “Anything At All”, Jason sings the following:

Is it enough to justify spending all my time thinking about myself or how I got this mind or how to dispose of it or spending all my time trying to help somebody else? I’d rather wait inside, but I’m lucky to feel anything at all.

I think such thoughts every day. I go to therapy and spend a great deal of time on me, and sometimes I feel guilty for it. They could come off as selfish, these things we do, but they’re not. The music, the self-improvement, and the conquering of emotional pasts and presents are the things we need to get by in this life. Things aren’t easy in Absence Makes the Heart Forget and we are better for it.  Where there was once forgetting, there is now remembering. There are feelings buried deep that have resurfaced and there are new feelings where there was once old dark holes. Hey Hallways confidently unearths a plethora of emotions and creates a truly resonate release. None of these emotions are anything we haven’t heard before- they are the same old feelings most of us deal with daily- but Hey Hallways presents them to us in a refreshing way and I’m glad to call Jason a friend who sheds new light on dark days.

-Cynthia Ann Schemmer (Radiator Hospital, solo artist, managing editor, She Shreds)

++

Releasing Zentropy

In January of 2014, LVL UP sat in a Holiday Inn somewhere in Indiana, after an 11 hour driving day doing 25 mph on a sheet of ice highway. The arctic vortex was in full swing, and sort of bumming us out, having cancelled what looked to be some really awesome shows with Pity Sex. Earlier that day Dave and I had posted the pre-orders to Frankie Cosmos’s Zentropy, the first LP we would put out as Double Double Whammy. Being totally unsure about how well the record would sell, we ordered a modest 300 records for first press. So, after having a really stressful and scary driving day in a white out blizzard, we finally got a chance to check our emails at the motel. Well, at some point during that day things had really snowballed (pun intended) for the Frankie pre-order- and to our complete amazement we had received 100+ preorders in less than 24 hours. From that moment on we knew that Frankie Cosmos would soon take over the world. That was a real standout moment in music for DDW!

-Michael Caridi & Dave Benton (Double Double Whammy, LVL UP)

++

Women In Music 

I’ve been so inspired by all of the women kicking ass in this past year. The ones who kicked ass didn’t do it subtly and I think that has been my favorite thing about 2014. Also, Jawbreaker Reunion.

-Shari Heck (Cyberbully Mom Club)

++

2014 in Six Parts

I stayed up until three in the morning, and I still can’t remember everyone I saw this year and everything I heard this year and I can’t figure out all of my feelings about this year. I’ve been listening to Liz Pelly’s voice memos for inspiration. I want to say something elegant and resonant, but I’ve been failing, so here are my disorganized musings.

1.

I used to be afraid of interviewing anyone, because I have lived my entire life under the impression that I have nothing interesting to say and that I ask weird questions. I have tried to take up as little space as possible in order to avoid bothering anyone else. I have often dreamed of disappearing.

Even though I have spent quite a bit of time this year working to unlearn a history of self-hate, sometimes I am still terrified to speak, so I wonder how I held conversations with Cynthia Schemmer and Meredith Graves and Katie Crutchfield without visibly freaking out.

Cynthia and Meredith and Katie are three of my heroes.

I still think about how Cynthia said that sometimes she’ll write an essay, then rip it apart and write it again, differently. I still think about what Meredith said about writing songs as a way to transform sadness. I still think about how Katie explained her writing process, how she takes forever to craft images.

Perhaps these conversations sparked a little bit of personal confidence. I realized that I am not insignificant. I realized that I am capable of forming friendships with women who inspire me. I realized that I can connect with others through honesty.

2.

I was wearing a black skirt and tights and boots the day I wandered through the rain into Queens to see Priests and Downtown Boys for the first time. Katie Alice Greer talked about how she feels like Downtown Boys are not afraid of anything.

I am afraid of everything.

During one of her speeches between songs, Victoria Ruiz said that we should no longer be bodies defined by borders but beings created by liberation. Perhaps this will sound hyperbolic, but I felt like part of a revolution. I felt electric. I felt inspired and empowered.

And I realized that I have a voice.

3.

I saw Neutral Milk Hotel. Afterwards, I could hardly speak.

4.

I thought about leaving New York while standing by the East River and freezing and listening to All Dogs.

I thought more about leaving New York while walking down a street that smelled like snow and pepper and dead fish and listening to Great Thunder.

I thought even more about leaving New York while walking back from the library as fast as I could and trying to stave off a panic attack and listening to Perfect Pussy.

5.

One night while cleaning up the kitchen, I put on Radiator Hospital, and I collapsed to the floor in tears, because I realized that I was living inside “Our Song“.

6.

“This would all be so much easier if I had nothing more to say”

Angel Olsen gets me.

-Caroline Rayner (writer, Tiny Mix Tapes, The Le Sigh)

++

Discovering Girlpool

Last summer, at the suggestion of one of my professors, I decided that it was absolutely crucial for Charly Bliss to embark on our first tour. We all live in New York, so of course it probably would have made more sense financially to tour the East Coast, but I’ve never been one for practicality. Instead, we decided we would fly to Seattle the day after school ended and careen down the west coast in my best friend’s grandmother’s van.

Anyone who has ever booked a tour by themselves will tell you that it involves constant anxiety and the replies to your zillions of sent “Hey! We’re a band from New York and we would love to play with you in San Francisco/Olympia/LA…” e-mails are few and far between. When it came time to actually book our flights, I lied to the band, telling them that I was finished booking, when in reality I had only confirmed three shows.

It was right around then, after much Facebook band page surfing, that I discovered Girlpool. I can’t really describe it any way other than kind of magical, which sounds stupid, but is true. Digital interactions usually feel really blah, but finding Girlpool’s page reminded me of the first time I realized that I could look for music myself and not just listen to whatever my older brothers or my parents liked; subsequently gobbling up every Rilo Kiley song I could find and feeling like I had some special secret on my iPod as I rode the bus to and from middle school.

Listening to their music felt like that- like a secret. Like listening to someone’s diary, which is a songwriting cliche, but also true. In The Punk Singer, when Kathleen Hanna talks about her 1998 Julie Ruin record she says, “It sounds like you could hear a human being’s fingers all over it.” That’s what Girlpool sounds like. When I saw the obscure allusion to The Princess Diaries in their bio, I thought it was too good to be true.

A few months later, at the very end of our tour, we played with them at Pehrspace and I remember being really shocked by how the room was simultaneously silent and electric while they played. No one was checking their cellphone or anything, everyone was totally absorbed. The show happened to fall on the night that Cleo was graduating from high school and I still feel really honored that we got to be a part of it. We also played with SUSAN and Feels and I remember being awestruck the whole night. I didn’t even want to drink after the show, we just went and got milkshakes and talked through the night like forty times.

But really this is all exposition because my favorite moment in music this year was watching Girlpool open for Jenny Lewis at Terminal Five. Harmony and Cleo lived on my couch for a few weeks in October/November while they were in New York for CMJ, and as spellbinding as every Girlpool show I’ve ever seen has been, seeing them play for thousands of people, and opening for my all-time hero of all heroes, after having spent three weeks together watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, talking at length about being away from home for the first time, eating despicable amounts of Thai food… I guess, generally getting to know both of them for the two huge-hearted whip-smart g00fballs that they are, was really special.

While they were in the middle of “Alone at the Show” I tweeted “I LOVVVVEEE BEEEEINNNNGGG AAAA GIRRRRLLLL!!!!!!” from the balcony, and that’s exactly how I felt. As several witnesses can attest, Cleo’s parents included, I cried the whole way through.

-Eva Grace Hendricks (Charly Bliss)