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.
In one of the earlier pieces contributed to this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories Lindsey-Paige McCloy paid tribute to her friend — and Catbus bandmate — Phyllis Ophelia. A tireless creator, Ophelia was responsible for a fair amount of the music that struck a chord with this site in 2016, so to be hosting this piece is a privilege. Here, Ophelia takes us through some of the bands that deserve loving tribute. Explore their work and enjoy.
My favorite moments during this and last year have been sudden, pulsing revelations that I can just hop off the fence and make the music and that’s it. A lot of these moments have been triggered by other people’s brave example, and since I have leaned heavily on these folks, even just in my own mind, I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to a few of them.
My friend and collaborator Lauren Escobar introduced me to her work a couple years ago, and this November we finally got to see her perform at the new Nublu. Her latest album, La Papessa, chases away dread, but her live set goes several steps farther. She seems as content playing and improvising with her samples as she is silencing her machines and singing repeating, insistent lines a capella, for minutes at a time. She is as powerful in each of these capacities.
I saw her perform twice this year, the first because I had the good fortune to be invited to play a festival she also played, through Outlier Recordings, and the second being her EP release. NOIA is a conjurer. Her bilingual lyrics reference mythology and science, stuff and names you’ll recognize, but my takeaway is that she is low-key world-building. The worlds of her devising are vibrant, exciting places, and “Habits” is a breathless trip through them.
I unintentionally used her flickering dream of a song, “Body 1”, released in mid-September, as a ladder out of a depressive episode. In the song, she repeats the lines, “you can keep my body, you can keep it here with you,” and “I want to be kind,” as the instrumentation shifts and clicks and swells in diverse ways, and my exhausted mind was just like, “yes”. The song came and found me where I was at and pulled me out, and I am very grateful.
I’m pretty sure Opal was the first music artist at the first No Boys Allowed showcase in February, which I almost didn’t attend, did anyway, but then was too much in my head to talk to anyone. I’m also pretty sure the first song she played in her set was an enchanting solo version of “Follow the Leader”, as sweet disco ball lights pivoted around the room. That song is on her Australia EP, and it is another of my favorite things about this year, especially the vocal arrangement. I also just heard her play at Trans-Pecos with a fab band, while she wrecked on key-tar, and just, yes.
I want to thank Michelle Zauner for Psychopomp, because it is an incredibly generous work, but especially for the “Everybody Wants to Love You” video where she’s drunk around town in a hanbok. If I could, I would take that video back in time to when I was a confused, painfully self-conscious little half Korean girl playing covers of old white men’s guitar music and wondering why.
It’s been a while since anything’s run on this site but, as always, everything that’s being put on the table is being assessed and evaluated. A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ third edition is just around the corner but before those recollections begin, it only seems fair to take a look back at the best of what 2016 had to offer. This will be the first year where a numerical rankings system is abandoned, a decision that wasn’t made lightly but is being enforced for a variety of reasons specific to this over-stuffed year (meaning that the numerical rankings system may appear again roughly 12 months from now).
For whatever reason, music videos are largely viewed by the general public as having fallen out of favor, which is a genuine shame considering what’s being done with the form. Lemonade seemed to revive some interest and open up potential possibilities for the future but it’s still a format that the public’s left by the wayside. Here at Heartbreaking Bravery, the best of these have been traditionally celebrated because they represent the perfect marriage of music and film. 2016 presented a whole new slate of incredible material, headlined by an unbelievable string of videos from Minor Victories and PUP, that were worth praising.
Here are 16 of the best clips to have appeared throughout the year.
Kevin Morby – Dorothy
Christopher Good has directed a handful of videos that have been featured on this site over the years but may have turned in a career best with Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy“. Embracing Morby’s open road aesthetics, Good allows “Dorothy” to gracefully coast along at a breezy pace, infusing it with an inordinate amount of perfect cues and tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s sublime craftsmanship that not only complements but elevates its already-great source material.
Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator
After cracking last year’s music video list with the jaw-dropping clip for “Kim’s Caravan”, Courtney Barnett makes another appearance thanks to the fascinating, cameo-heavy video for “Elevator Operator“. Blending Barnett’s signature wit with a staggering moment of quiet existentialism that arrives out of nowhere, “Elevator Operator” sees the celebrated songwriter aiming for new heights and reaching a stratospheric level.
John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues
Former Weakerthans bandleader John K. Samson made an incredibly welcome return with 2016’s outstanding Winter Wheat. One of that record’s highlights, “Postdoc Blues“, received the music video treatment and is the rare clip that benefits from an incredibly direct and literal simplicity. Created for a good cause and executed to a characteristically unassuming brand of perfection, “Postdoc Blues” is a breath of fresh air.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
No music video from 2016 proved to be more grotesquely haunting than Parquet Courts‘ oddly disturbed, puppet-driven clip for “Human Performance“. It’s intensely human, ridiculously unnerving, and extremely hard to shake. “Human Performance” props up its own ugliness in an effectively defiant act of genuinely brave showmanship. A singular piece from a fascinating directorial voice, “Human Performance” wound up as one of 2016’s most fascinating moments.
Cymbals Eat Guitars – 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)
Easily one of 2016’s best songs, Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” also served as one of the year’s best music videos. Shot through with nostalgia and an abundance of feeling, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” managed the impossible task of both referencing an indisputable classic and standing on its own. A perfect marriage of lyric video and traditional music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars may have created something bordering on timeless.
LVL UP – The Closing Door
The first major music video effort from LVL UP came courtesy of House of Nod, who were given the unenviable task of capturing the searing spiritual search present all throughout the band’s latest effort, Return to Love, and turned in an absolute gem. “The Closing Door” relies heavily on imagery and metaphor but never seems anything less than grounded. “The Closing Door” climaxes in a beautiful final sequence that’s moving, hopeful, and reassuring, three things that become sorely necessary in a difficult year.
Potty Mouth – Smash Hit
There are a lot of ways a music video can achieve greatness, whether it be through breathtaking visuals, inspired direction, a memorable concept, by complementing the song, or, in the case of Potty Mouth‘s “Smash Hit“, being astonishingly representative of the band. An effective mix of glitz, glamour, and grit, “Smash Hit” finds the trio vamping for the cameras and giving a tenacious central performance. It’s an exhilarating burst from a band that’s attained an assured confidence.
Vagabon – The Embers
“The Embers” served as site favorites Vagabon‘s introduction-at-large for a sizable audience and it’s one hell of an introduction. Utilizing a visual style that’s not too distant from Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12(one of the best films of this young century), “The Embers” is immediately gripping. The empowering, symbolism-heavy narrative is as striking as the imagery and all of it clicks into something that verges on the transcendental. In short: it’s unmissable.
Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You
Another clip from the inimitable House of Nod, Japanese Breakfast‘s “Everybody Wants to Love You” popped up on many of these year-end music video lists and it’s incredibly easy to see why. A celebration of heritage and individuality as well as a moving tribute to a deceased parent, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is loaded with sincerity and meaning. Vibrant with the faintest touch of melancholy, it’s an unforgettable demonstration of personal strength and unerring resolve.
Dilly Dally – Snakehead
Likely the funniest music video to be released in 2016, Dilly Dally‘s “Snakehead” music video skewers its own format at every turn, while clearly being a meticulously crafted clip born out of a deep love and understanding of music videos. Biting captions, self-aware performances, and contextual knowledge make “Snakehead” obscenely endearing and skyrocket its worth in the process. Pointed, snarky, and a hell of a lot of fun, “Snakehead” is nothing less than a knockout.
PWR BTTM – West Texas
2016 was a very kind year for PWR BTTM and one of the duo’s opening shots was the sweeping music video for “West Texas”. Epic in scope and unapologetic in its cinematic debt, “West Texas” is a swaggering blast of bravado that touches on just about everything that’s made PWR BTTM so beloved in such a short amount of time. The identity politics, the showmanship, the willingness to be subversive, and the ability to string everything together with fiendishly sly, self-aware humor.
Hazel English – Never Going Home
Hazel English delivered one of the year’s best EP’s with the exceedingly lovely Never Going Home, which boasted a title track that received an absolutely gorgeous visual accompaniment. While the lyric video for “I’m Fine“, the studio clip for “It’s Not Real“, and the clip for “Control” all merited individual consideration for this list, it was the soft lensing and natural, delicate charm of “Never Going Home” that made the deepest impression. It casts a spell that’s worthy of a complete surrender.
Mitski – Happy
Part of a trio of impressive Mitski clips (including “Your Best American Girl” and “A Burning Hill“), “Happy” packed a powerful enough punch to secure the spot on this list. Paying homage to heritage, race relations, historical tension, military occupation, and a bevvy of classic films, Maegan Houang brings a fiery directorial touch to an outstanding concept and executes with staggering purpose. By the time “Happy” winds to an end, it’s difficult to wish for anything other than an expansion into a feature length film.
From the playful, game-happy lyric clip for “DVP” to the relentless shock-and-awe brutality of the terrifyingly-named “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“, the band was firing on all cylinders. Still, none of that could’ve been adequate preparation for what they and director Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux achieved with “Sleep in the Heat”, a successor to “Guilt Trip” that came several years after filming on “Guilt Trip” wrapped- and after “Guilt Trip” star Finn Wolfhard landed another lucrative starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Just as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” intercut footage of “Reservoir” to establish a sense of history to ground its narrative and supply additional meaning, “Sleep in the Heat” opens with the startlingly vivid footage of its natural predecessor. The actors that were assembled in “Guilt Trip” resume their posts as stand-in’s for PUP’s members in their earlier days and each of them — particularly Wolfhard, who turns in what’s easily the best work of his burgeoning career in this clip — give committed performances.
Taking on the role of a scrappy touring band, the young cast find themselves navigating the frequently dire circumstances that are all too familiar to anyone that’s ever hopped in a van to drive four hours to play a show in a basement to five people. There’s a sense of lived-in realism that bolsters everything in the clip, which seeps in from the onset and never relinquishes its hold. Early on, “Sleep in the Heat” takes a curious turn when a stray dog takes a shining to the band’s food and follows them to their next brief stop, endearing itself to the band to the point where they bring it on board as a rescue.
Here’s where the narrative crux of “Sleep in the Heat” — a song written about guitarist/vocalist Stefan Babcock’s deceased chameleon — begins to sink in and all anyone can do is prepare for devastation. Not too long after that sudden, sinking realization, things in the video begin to get bleak. The dog gets sick and needs a surgical procedure, unable to cover the expense, Wolfhard (as the young Babcock) pawns a guitar mid-tour to provide for the animal that’s quickly become a new best friend. The surgery goes forward but it isn’t enough.
In one of the most emotionally shattering music video montages of recent memory, the band members of PUP are photographed holding their own deceased pets, lending a heartbreaking reality to an already emotionally charged clip. Several stages of the process of dealing with death all collide at once and it’s a forceful, resonant moment that immediately registers as singular.
As brilliant as that moment is, it’s not until the final passage where everything’s really driven home. Wolfhard’s back to the front of the band, guitar slung across his body once more (a perfect shot revealing he’d broken through the pawn shop glass to steal it back is just one of many grace notes scattered throughout the clip), looking delirious, hollow, and broken as footage of the wounded dog being tended to is intercut with Wolfhard overcome with emotion while screaming the song’s final chorus: Yesterday I went back to my apartment to see how you’d been holding up, you hadn’t been eating, I thought you were sleeping but you’re not waking up. I want you to know that I’d spend every bit of my pitiful savings and loans just to see you again… but I know Iwon’t.
The screen fades to black and resumes after a brief pause only to reveal rocks being piled on top of a freshly-dug patch of dirt. The camera pulls back and reveals one word, spray painted on the rock pile’s surface: PUP. Another pause and another cut to black occurs before “Sleep in the Heat” offers one final nod to its prequel and closes with a shot of the van moving forward down an open road, looking ahead to new triumphs, heartbreak, and everything else life has to offer.
Typically Watch This installments run on Sunday but the 143rd installment was given a later slot for a specific reason. While the videos covered in this post will have been released, exclusively, in the time frame of last Monday to this past Sunday, this particular entry serves as somewhat of a gap-fill. The next post to run after this one will be the 1,000th that Heartbreaking Bravery has published and there will be a brief period of inactivity, only punctuated by the 143rd volume of Watch This.
1. Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math + Pins and Needles (World Cafe)
In the past few months Margaret Glaspy has managed to become a staple of this series thanks to both songwriting and the subdued but outsized personality that the songwriter exudes in every performance. Glaspy’s two-song set for World Cafe is particularly crisp, offering up two spellbinding runs through two of Emotions and Math‘s brightest moments: the quietly exhilarating title track and “Pins and Needles”. Don’t miss out on this one.
2. Long Neck – Rosy + 10,000 Year Old Woman (Boxfish Sessions)
For the past few years, Lily Mastridomos has been releasing mesmerizing music under the moniker Long Neck. Known primarily for Jawbreaker Reunion, Mastridomos’ solo project allows the emphasis to fall to uninhibited tales of heartache. In Mastridomos’ shattering entry to this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories, there was a courageously open emphasis on personal depression, something that informs both “Rosy” and “10,000 Year Old Woman” to heartbreaking effect in one of the finest Boxfish Sessions to date.
3. PUP – Doubts (q on cbc)
A lot has been written on this site about PUP, from their galvanizing live show to their self-titled debut (which has the distinction of being the first album review to run on Heartbreaking Bravery) to this year’s extraordinary The Dream Is Over, a record that earned them a Polaris Prize nomination. Here, the band stops by the q on cbc studio and unleashing holy hell with a fiercely committed take on “Doubts” that underscores the band’s terrifying level of conviction as well as their sheer force of will. It’s a characteristically exceptional performance and an outstanding document of a band that’s intent on pushing themselves to the absolute limit.
4. Tuxis Giant – Almost Enough (Boxfish Sessions)
The second Boxfish Session to be featured finds the spotlight falling to Tuxis Grant, an emerging songwriter who has a penchant for bleary-eyed folk that comes with a twinge of a punk-informed sensibility. “Almost Enough”, the song performed here, is a breathtaking example of Tuxis Giant’s considerable songwriting gifts, never becoming anything less than incredibly memorable. “Even when it isn’t hungry, it eats” is a refrain that sticks, perfectly complementing a compellingly singular introspective lens. If “Almost Enough” is any indication, Tuxis Giant will be a name worth learning.
5. Japanese Breakfast (PressureDrop.tv)
2016 has been a breakout year for Japanese Breakfast, the project of Michelle Zauner. Little Big League, Zauner’s other band, had a handful of entries throughout the existence of this series. Japanese Breakfast seems set on continuing that tradition with a remarkable amount of poise. While all of the songs the band runs through for this PressureDrop.tv session are consistently impressive, “Everybody Wants to Love You” stands out as a particularly inspired highlight. It’s the start of an exclamation mark on the band’s coming out party, creating room for both celebration of what’s come before and wild anticipation for what comes next.
Director and cinematographer Adam Kolodny is once again at the helm, controlling the action with a deftness that plays up the narrative’s lyrical quality. Michelle Zauner, who started Japanese Breakfast as an outlet for more personal work, joins Kolodny as a co-director. The results of their creative partnership are spellbinding. The emotional resonance of “Everybody Wants to Love You” goes far past the formidable sense of style and hinges on one heartbreaking detail: throughout the entire clip, Zauner’s wearing her mother’s wedding dress, tying together two important elements of the devastating final section of her piece for this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories series.
Even with that shattering detail, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is imbued with a liveliness that makes it endlessly compelling. Littered with references to Eastern cinema, the clips also becomes a rapidly-shifting playground of influences that are worn proudly on the sleeve. Zauner’s central performance is suffused with the kind of effortless magnetism that continues to draw people to the Japanese Breakfast project.
As is always the case with House of Nod, everything is gorgeously lensed and treated with a sense of careful consideration. Every element of “Everybody Wants to Love You” ties together with the kind of precision that makes even the strongest visual flourishes feel like they’re part of an incredibly comprehensive whole. A host of familiar faces and locations enliven the proceedings even further, allotting “Everybody Wants to Love You” a communal, celebratory atmosphere.
\In pairing one of the year’s best songs with exhilarating filmmaking, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is precisely the kind of clip that artists and directors should be looking to for cues years down the line. Dive in and get lost in its magic.
Watch “Everybody Wants to Love You” below and pick up Psychopomp here.
We’ve officially arrived at the 950th post of Heartbreaking Bravery, which means it’s time to offer up another mixtape of some sort or another. Since the Watch This series has maintained radio silence over the past two and a half weeks it only felt appropriate to turn to the over-abundance of incredible material that’s surfaced in that time frame. The 25 clips included below range from old favorites to promising new faces, single songs to full sessions, and generally cover the range of what the series was created to support: the very best of the live video platform. It’s unlikely that anyone will watch through the entirety of this packet (as it runs for nearly four hours, if viewed uninterrupted) but it’s worth taking the time to both explore and return to all of the performances contained in Ending Another Short Stretch of Static. So, as always, kick back, focus up, adjust the settings, settle in, and Watch This.
1. Car Seat Headrest – Fill In the Blank (Pitchfork) 2. The Spook School – Gone Home (BreakThruRadio) 3. Meat Wave – Sham King (SideOneDummy) 4. Weaves (3voor12) 5. Ron Gallo (Audiotree) 6. Dusk – Shift Towards Tenderness (This Means War) 7. Izzy True – Which Wish (Bedhead Sessions) 8. Royal Headache – Carolina (Pitchfork) 9. Royal Brat – Avoider + Broken Step (Radio K) 10. Girl Band – Paul (Pitchfork) 11. The Coathangers – Burn Me (Radio K) 12. Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants To Love You 13. Free Cake For Every Creature (WKNC) 14. Fear of Men (Audiotree) 15. Majical Cloudz – Silver Car Crash (q on cbc) 16. Jade Imagine – Stay Awake (3RRRFM) 17. Tele Novella – Heavy Balloon (Do512 Austin) 18. Margaret Glaspy (KEXP) 19. Kevin Morby (NPR) 20. PWR BTTM – New Hampshire (WFUV) 21. Wand (KEXP) 22. Declan McKenna – Brazil (The Late Show With Stephen Colbert) 23. Lucy Dacus (NPR) 24. Ólafur Arnalds (ft. Brasstríó Mosfellsdals) – Dalur 25. Julien Baker (Primavera)
Now that the 2015 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories has officially wrapped, it’s time to dive headfirst into 2016. There’s been a long delay in posting due to all of the recurring series and, simply, covering the volume of what’s been released in January, February, and the first few days of March. It’s precisely because of the jaw-dropping amount of material that the next few posts on this site will merely be a collection of links. Since it’d be humanly impossible to get through even a large chunk of this in one setting, it may be best to just bookmark this page and peruse the below list at your own leisure. After all of the single stream, full stream, and music video links lists are up, the focus will shift to a handful of standout releases. Once that’s all been said and done, Heartbreaking Bravery will resume operations as normal.
Explore some of 2015’s excellent early offerings below.