Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Exploding in Sound Records

Bueno – I Got Your Back (Stream)

bueno

The past two days have been eventful for nearly every major release category but standalone streams put up an incredibly impressive run thanks to great new tracks from Chris Staples, Toby Coke, Mozes and the Firstborn, Hater, Heaven For Real, Stephen Steinbrink, Year of Glad, IAN SWEET, Yeesh, Young Mister, Dumb Numbers, Tamper, Vomitface, Planning For Burial, Adam Torres, Private Joy, The Rantouls, Half Loon, LUKA, Pascal PinonDYAN, and Slow Hollows. Music videos offered up a strong class as well, including new pieces from Summer Cannibals, Nico Yaryan, Peter Bjorn And John, Allah-Las, Melaena Cadiz, Alice Bag, Shock Machine, John Southworth, and an astonishingly powerful entry into the format from TotemoGraveface, Lea, clipping., Neutrals, Shickey, RLYR, Control TopSpook the Herd, and a summer sampler from the remarkably consistent Z Tapes rounded out the full streams.

While all of those titles are more than worthy endeavors worth ever single moment of investment that they’ll be given (and likely even more), Bueno’s latest track grabs this post’s headline. Over the past several years, Bueno has gain an extremely dedicated following that have granted them an almost cult-like status among their converts. “I Get Your Back” justifies that adoration with a calmness that nears the serene. Incorporating an off-kilter powerpop sensibility into their typical ’90s-indebted slacker punk approach pays massive dividends here, as the erratic propulsion of “I Got Your Back” leads it into the kind of near-transcendental territory that’s hard to forget.

Listen to “I Got Your Back” below and pre-order Illuminate Your Room here.

Jackal Onasis – The New Ron (Stream)

jackal onasis

Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

Exploding In Sound has been carefully assembling one of the strongest track records in music over the past several years, so when they sign a new act to their roster it’s generally worth giving that act quite a bit of attention. The label recently acquired Jackal Onasis, a trio who specializes in creating discordant basement pop that, like much of the rest of the roster, boasts a knack for incorporating a whole host of influences gleaned from the slacker punk movement of the early ’90s.

Their first trip up to bat saw the band releasing the piercing “The New Ron” which exemplifies the exact kind of subversive, technically proficient basement pop-meets-basement punk that Exploding In Sound excels built its name finding. “The New Ron” finds its most defining elements in the nearly overwhelming amount of ideas that are packed into a scant two minutes and 13 seconds.

From the onset, the band’s exploring a surf-like bent before taking an extremely sharp left into a heavy grunge sensibility that quickly evolves into screeching noise-punk. It’s an impressively eclectic mix and, impressively, the band manages to pull it off with aplomb, never once letting the song escape from their grasp. Alternating between an airiness that skews closer to dream-pop and a brute, relentless, near-tribal propulsive angle, “The New Ron” stands out as one of 2016’s most fascinating compositions. In under two and a half minutes, Jackal Onasis make an airtight case for being the kind of band that arrives unexpectedly and blows everyone away.

Listen to “The New Ron” below and pre-order Big Deal Party from Exploding In Sound here.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Kelly Johnson)

Geronimo!

As I’ve previously stated in the introductory paragraph for Ben Grigg’s entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Geronimo! meant a lot to me. They played the first showcase I ever threw for this site and they’ve been unbelievably kind to me through the time I’ve known them. It was incredibly difficult to see them go but it’s been comforting to watch their other projects develop in the aftermath of their dissolution. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson’s release as Hung Toys, Lurid, was an unexpected 2015 highlight and saw Johnson embrace his fieriest sensibilities. Here, he takes a look at the history of Geronimo!, what that time meant to him, and what he learned about himself through their existence. It’s an oddly moving piece that gives me hope for what Johnson’s future has in store. Read it below and remember that if you surround yourself with the right people, you’ve already managed to succeed more than most people will ever realize.

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I Ate the Best Burger of My Life

I was reticent to write a piece for Steven’s blog because I was worried it would come off as too self-involved. Or that I’d force a misguided, self-righteous message into my story in an effort to offer some sage advice to his readers. It’s hard to say if these fears came from my disenchantment of social media and its “I’m-eating-the-best-burger-of-my-life-right-now” types of oversharing, or if they came out of a genuine place of insecurity about my personal views in this enormous world.

Last year saw countless important issues come to a head: violence against blacks, women’s rights, transgender rights, Trump politics, Pizza Rat. I recognize my position as a white-privileged male and a lot of my experiences are trivial when compared to all of the people on this planet less fortunate than me.

But Steven is a person whose enthusiasm and passion for music I admire. He’s on the good side of things in the fight of life. He’s a sincere and thoughtful person, and I was flattered that he wanted to include me in this collection of personal anecdotes. Also, I remembered how rewarded I was the last time that I stepped out of my comfort zone: I got to play loud rock music in a band called Geronimo!

Geronimo! (yes, we made the unsound decision early on to stay devoted to the exclamation point) was a band that Ben Grigg (keyboard/bass), Matt Schwerin (drums) and I (guitar/vocals) started way back at the end of 2007. Last year, we played our final show on Saturday, March 28.

Geronimo! was not a big band. We didn’t make money or sell albums. Ben and I worked for months and months trying to book a solid 2-3 weeks of tour per year. We worked really hard to make records that we were proud of, but realistically, weren’t breaking any new ground. I am an OK singer at best and understand just about zero music theory. For the first five years of the band, we struggled to find an identity within our sound and to have the confidence to perform the songs we composed. So once it ended, what had we accomplished? 2015 was a year for me to reflect on that.

In hindsight, I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2007 to become a successful rock musician. Quit my job as a proofreader at the local phone book company (seriously look up how many companies called ‘A+ Plumbing’ there are trying to get that primo first spot in the phone book) and moved to the big city. It wasn’t an overtly conscious decision to “be a rock star.” But looking back, yeah. That’s kinda the reason I did it. My subconscious plan to stardom didn’t extend beyond “form a band, start touring, make money, and repeat.” But I had moved to Chicago to try and play music, and that was a success for me.

Inherent in that plan is the idea that, yeah, I’m going to work towards becoming a musician in a rock band and that will sustain me for the rest of my life. My job as a dog walker was utilitarian for taking time off to tour. It’s difficult to tour much more than a couple of weeks out of the year when you aren’t a band drawing crowds in other cities, but we still did it.

We recorded our first couple of EPs ourselves with the help of a couple of generous friends. We burned CDs and hand-made artwork to try and make a few bucks on tour and get our van to the next show. At best we would break even, but we were doing it. We were playing shows out of town, meeting new people and seeing new places. That was a success for me.

After 4 years or so, we were able to make friends with some folks out east in Exploding in Sound Records. Musicians and fans making, what we felt, music that was similar in scope and approach. Dan and Dave were amazing enough to give us a chance and put out our last 3 releases. We got to meet and play with bands we were genuinely fans of (and are still fans of to this day). We still weren’t making money, but this too was a success for me.

After it all ended, we didn’t become rock stars. I didn’t get remotely close to quitting my job in order to become a rock musician. I think we all ended up with about 300 bucks after splitting our “band fund” when all was said and done. I’m guessing we were the least (if not THE least) lucrative band for EIS records.

But it was the best time of my life. The one thing I absolutely learned is that, in the end, YOU get to define your own fucking success. There are no standards in life but the ones that you create. I want to stress this point because I know there are a lot of musicians who were like me in the various circles I met over the years. Dissatisfied with where there musical vision was taking them. Disillusioned after not receiving the positive feedback you’d imagined for something that you’ve worked so hard to create.

In my mind, if you’ve started a band, you’re a success. If you write a song, you’re a success. If you play your songs in front of people that are willing to listen, you’re a success. If you record your own music and another person hears your creation, you’re a success. The fact that you’ve made the decision to try; to construct something that didn’t exist before, means you’ve succeeded in some capacity.

There’s a pure gratification in that if you don’t let arbitrary, outside standards get in the way.

I look back on my years in a touring rock band with great satisfaction. I’m a fortunate person to exist in this world and play rock music. Through that experience, I also learned a million ways to be dissatisfied with your life. But there are also a million ways to be satisfied if you take the time and look. I got to play in a loud rock band called Geronimo! and it was definitely the best burger of my life.

-Kelly Johnson

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.

15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015

Slight I

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

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

15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia

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

14. ThinLips – Your Divorce

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

13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig

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

12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth

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

11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs

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

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

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

9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2

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

8. Slight – Hate the Summer

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

7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out

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

6. Sheer Mag – II

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

5. Diet Cig – Over Easy

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

4. LVL UP – Three Songs

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

3. Ernie – Dog Park

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




2. Tenement – Tenement

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

1. Cende – Cende

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

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.

Two Inch Astronaut – Good Behavior (Stream)

Two Inch Astronaut I

[EDITOR’S NOTE: With the site now entering emergency year-end catch-up mode thanks to the cruel, mocking nature of time, tonight’s trio of posts will simply be short reviews of the song(s) in the headline(s) and an accompanying list of tracks that deserve to be heard.]

Two Inch Astronaut have been squarely in this site’s crosshairs since 2014’s inspired Foulbrood, which wound up ranking as one of that year’s finest albums. In February, the band will be following that up with Personal Life, a record that the band’s been road-testing to impressive amounts of applause over the past few months. Apart from the live preview, the band’s now graciously offering up the record’s barbed lead-off single “Good Behavior” as a tantalizing preview of what they’ve got up their sleeve. Once again, there’s a formidable marriage of post-punk, basement pop, and outside hardcore influences to create something that, incredibly, is as accessible as it is complex. Leftield chord voicings collide with an impassioned vocal performance to demonstrate that this band’s only getting better as they go. Hairpin turns, heady arrangements, and a new studio member (Grass Is Green‘s Andy Chervenak) establish this song (and likely this record) as a legitimate behemoth.

Listen to “Good Behavior” below and pre-order Personal Life here. Underneath the embed, explore a list of great songs to have appeared over the course of the last several months.

ARIGATO MASSAÏ (ft. Fannie Linneros) – We Love
Quilt – Eliot St.
Flowers – Ego Loss
Bandit – Flake
MONEY – I’ll be the Night
Pusha T (ft. The-Dream) – M.F.T.R.
Holy Esque – Silences
PWRHAUS – How I Feel About You
Timber Bones – Travelling Song
Sonya Kitchell – Mexico
Running – Reclaimed Would
Public Memory – Lunar
Eddi Front – Goldie
Atlantic Thrills – Vices
Prawn – Seas
Spring King – Who Are You
TV Baby – Half A Chance
Cassie Ramone – Run Run Rudolph
Eleanor Friedberger – He Didn’t Mention His Mother
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Aerobed
Mammatus – Ornia

CMJ: Day 4 (Pictorial Review)

Palehound I

With the first two galleries now up and running, the night continues on with the third. On the fourth official day of CMJ, once again, videos of the bands were posted shortly after the official review went live. Rounding everything out is this photo gallery. Enjoy.

Stove – Wet Food (Stream, Live Video)

STOVE

Continuing on with the round-up of the great material to be released over the past week, Steve Hartlett’s post-Ovlov project gets the top billing of a very strong crop. That crop included notable clips from Needs, Lionlimb, and Adir L.C. as well as impressive full streams from Lumpy & The Dumpers, The Winter Passing, and Dead Katz. All of those were rounded out by a characteristically strong grouping of new songs, which came courtesy of Run The Jewels, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, TortoiseSelf Defense Family, The Rashita Joneses, and Ex Hex’s outstanding cover of The Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls“.

The (actual) loss of Ovlov was a tough one to shake, though some of its members immediately applied some anesthetic to the wound by diving headfirst into new projects. Most notable was Hartlett’s initially solo expedition, which was then turned into a full band, Stove. Unsurprisingly, Stove retain a lot of the elements that made Ovlov such a respected name. If anything, Stove advances the band’s melodic sensibilities and veers closer towards basement pop than its predecessor; “Wet Food”, the latest song to be unveiled from the band’s forthcoming debut Is Stupider, is the perfect example.

“Wet Food” starts simply, anchored by Hartlett’s pleading vocals and outwardly-reaching guitar figure before exploding into a wall of sound that’s– almost paradoxically– welcoming and intimidating. It’s a scintillating masterclass in dynamics that continues Hartlett’s natural progression as a songwriter, augmented by a decisive sense of identity. Surging, pointed, and exhilarating, “Wet Food” stands as one of the finest entries in Hartlett’s enviable discography. More than that, though, it stands as one of the most tantalizing songs of the year.

Listen to “Wet Food” below and pre-order Is Stupider here. Beneath the embed watch a video of the band performing the song live on day 2 of Exploding In Sound’s extended weekend celebration earlier this year.

Exploding In Sound’s Extended Weekend: Days 1 & 2 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Stove X

It’s not even close to a secret that this site has harbored an excessive amount of love for Exploding In Sound, a DIY label that focuses on forward-thinking acts that have roots that run deep in late 80’s and early 90’s alternative punk scenes. Over the years, they’ve amassed a deeply impressive roster of acts that consistently garner critical acclaim, effectively rendering the label one of today’s leading taste-makers in music that frequently aims for left-of-center and connects with conviction. If anyone’s earned an extended weekend celebration that serves a dual purpose as a showcase, it’s Exploding In Sound- and that’s exactly what they’ve just done.

Over five days in Brooklyn and Boston, the cities where the vast majority of the label’s acts are based, the label hosted five packed shows. While I wish I could have caught all of them, I only managed to take in the first two- both of which reaffirmed my adoration for the work the label- selflessly run by Dan Goldin- is doing. The run of shows started on June 20th at Baby’s All Right with a characteristically stacked lineup that included a variety of site favorites: Washer, Two Inch Astronaut, Grass Is Green, Pile, and Porches.

Every single band that took the stage at Baby’s laid their hearts on the line, playing with an unusual vigor that suggested they were doing all they could to make the label proud. That commitment wasn’t the only recurring thread either; nearly every single band played a new song or a song that hadn’t found official release (a trend that would continue to the next night’s showcase at Palisades). Washer got things started with a ferocious set that leaned heavily on new/unreleased material but still allowed “Joe“, one of 2015’s strongest highlight, to close their time out. Two Inch Astronaut followed in a similar manner, almost exclusively playing songs from their forthcoming record (which is being recorded right now) and locking into off-kilter grooves so tightly that their precision was nearly unsettling.

Grass Is Green re-emerged after a long dormant period, likely due to guitarist Devin McKnight’s commitment to two other acts affiliated with Exploding In Sound (Philadelphia Collins and Speedy Ortiz) and started slow but worked themselves into a fervor. After finding their strengths in the barbed dynamics and unrelenting guitar attack, the songs went from sounding placated to downright vicious and it was a thrilling transformation to watch unfold. It also set the stage for what was arguably the evening’s main draw: Pile. Last fall, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Pile in Chicago while they toured on the 7″ that wound up topping this site’s list for the format and, as a result, knew exactly what the band were capable of delivering. Or at least I thought I did, until Pile went ahead and exceeded those expectations.

Over the course of what felt like a headlining set, Pile managed to whip the previously gentle crowd into a mad frenzy, with several people in the front having to brace themselves by pushing back on the stage to create a supportive balance. As the band had before- and as it always does on record anyway- “Special Snowflakes” (an easy contender for song of the decade) sent chills running down my spine on more than a few occasions, as did You’re Better Than This highlight “Mr. Fish“. By the time the band was signaled offstage, the majority of the crowd was in a state of rapture. Porches. brought the first night to a graceful close in a hail of light effects, their signature brand of pop (light and sensual), and conviction. All of the songs they teased from their forthcoming record easily ranked among their best work and as they were packing up, the entire room seemed more than a little satisfied.

The second night, held at Palisades, felt a little truer to the label’s grimier sensibilities and a DIY ethos was on full display throughout the night. To kick things off, Exploding In Sound presented one of their better coups: Palm. After Palm’s revelatory set at DBTS a few months back, anything less than spectacular would have been a disappointment but the band seemed even more masterful this time around, immediately eliminating any doubts. A live band through and through, they navigated every hairpin shift with an uncanny togetherness that bordered the telepathic. Unsurprisingly, it was a crowd-pleasing start and things only got more intense going forward.

Stove, a band born out of the ashes of Ovlov, took the stage next. While the current iteration of Stove features Washer as their rhythm section, the sound (understandably) veers closer to where Ovlov left off. With Steve Hartlett in command once again, the quarter offered up enough riches to constitute a treasure, from the micropop of “Stupider” to the sprawling track contained in the video embed beneath this post’s photo gallery. With several plans for a release (or a handful of releases) in the works, the band played like it was fighting for its life, providing for more than a few moments of genuine exhilaration. Towards the end of the set, Hartlett also ceded the spotlight to Washer, who played one of their songs with the benefit of a dual-guitar attack surrounding them in bass/vocals/drums mode. The set wound up being one of the strongest highlights of either night and all but guaranteed Stove as a name that will be appearing with an alarming regularity in the near future.

Hot off of a US tour with Basement in support of an extraordinary 7″, LVL UP took to the stage with an unparalleled hunger and seemed extremely intent on proving their worth. Opening with the live debut of a monstrous behemoth of a new song (again, included in the video embed below the photo gallery) that segued straight into “Ski Vacation” left most of Palisades sold out audience breathless- and likely more than a little speechless. Keeping up a pace that was dangerously close to reckless provided a handful of reminders of why the quartet’s become one of this site’s most celebrated bands. Even putting aside the top ranking that Hoodwink’d earned last year, the band continues to occupy a very niche space in an already niche pocket that directly correlates with what this site was designed to support. All of their best qualities were brought to the forefront on the Palisades stage and by the time everyone’s clothes had grown a shade or two darker in the sweltering heat of the venue, LVL UP had managed the impossible and endeared themselves even further to an already adoring crowd.

After a set that felt genuinely huge despite a mid-bill placing, it would be tough for most acts to follow up with anything worth remembering- but most acts aren’t Big Ups (a band whose shirts were being proudly worn by a few members of the bands playing the show). Of the 10 bands that played the first two nights, this was the one I was most excited to see, having never previously caught a set in person despite praising their live show a number of times via Watch This. Animalistic in nature and deeply impassioned in the throes of execution, Big Ups’ live show is nothing short of incendiary. Pair it with an obscenely strong discography that includes Eighteen Hours of Static, one of 2014’s finest releases, and the band’s a veritable Molotov cocktail. Tension and release, whisper and explosion, the band balances volatile dichotomies with ease and constantly hits their mark. A magnetic live presence carries them to the pantheon of today’s greatest live acts with ease and their set was a perfect example of how much they’re able to coax out of decidedly minimal trappings. By the time the quartet was letting their final bursts of feedback draw back to silence, they’d comfortably delivered another powerhouse set that would put most other bands to shame.

With all four bands racketing up the evening’s consistency level, a lot of pressure can fall on a headlining act. Then again, Exploding In Sound’s resources are surprisingly vast and its talent pool runs extraordinarily deep. Those resources and that talent pool also include Krill, who have steadily amassed a cult following and are enjoying a period of heightened interest and universal acclaim following their excellent A Distant Fist Unclenching. The trio had been in excellent form on both occasions I was fortunate enough to catch one of their shows earlier on in the year but something about this particular set felt different. The band’s been slowly working on new material as some of the members move from Boston to NYC and they used the occasion to showcase some of what they’ve been shaping while making sure to make enough space for recent career highlights like “Torturer” (their opener), “Brain Problem“, and “Tiger” (their closer). At one point, for a brief run of song, bassist/vocalist Jonah Furman swapped out his bass for a guitar (one that was immediately put through a rigorous effects setup) to add a new depth and several more layers of dimension to the band’s already impressive dynamic approach. In all, the set played like a greatest hits victory lap, with the band playing in a manner that felt deeply impassioned and incredibly alive. A triumph from start to finish, the band went above and beyond exceedingly high expectations to guarantee everyone that their headliner placement was the correct call.

Ten great bands, two great venues, and one incredible label all came together over the course of two days to create and support something that felt inherently special, something bigger than any one of its individual parts. A sense of camaraderie was constantly present, musicians from other internationally acclaimed bands drove several hours to see some of these shows and all of the most uplifting, prevalent themes seem to have carried all the way through the five-day weekend. While I can’t definitively speak to the final three nights, the first two reinforced every aspect of what makes Exploding In Sound such an incredible cultural institution. On top of all that, these first two nights felt like so much more than a night out with good friends listening to great music; this was something that had historical value. As is always the case with any of Exploding In Sound’s projects, it was an honor and a privilege to watch it in motion.

View a photo gallery of the show here and a video containing performances from each of the bands that played at Palisades. Enjoy.