Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Francis Forever

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lily Mastrodimos)

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.

Last year, Lily Mastrodimos turned in one of A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ most definitive pieces. It was an uncompromising look at depression and learning to navigate that with different methods of self-care. It’s an honor to be hosting yet another Mastrodimos piece as part of this year’s edition of the series and this time around the musician’s turned in another definitive entry. The Long Neck mastermind (and Jawbreaker Reunion guitarist/vocalist) once again grapples with grief, loss, and finding strength and comfort through music. Tragic, absorbing, and uplifting, it’s more than worth the read.

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My family lost 3 grandparents in 2016: my maternal grandmother (Nana) and both of my paternal grandparents (Yiayia and Pappou). Nana left us on January 20, Yiayia passed away on February 23, and Pappou passed several months later on September 13. I find it overwhelmingly difficult to separate everything I experienced or did this past year with the grief that my family and I felt. It is so deeply ingrained in 2016, and sometimes I see it as two arms holding everything I did this year close to its chest and refusing to let go. 2016 was a big year for me scientifically and musically, but the grief I felt fused more closely to my relationship with music, becoming a part of everything I wrote or played or listened to throughout the year.

I associate Nana’s passing with the Adult Mom/Jawbreaker Reunion tour, Yiayia’s with the Titus Andronicus show that let my sister and I shed the pain of the previous month and a half, and Pappou’s with the end of the gobbinjr/Long Neck tour. It felt like everything I did in between their passings was already defined by them, and it became a daily challenge to figure out how I would cope with the weight of each.

Nana’s passing had cut me down and kept me down for what felt like eternity. She had always been so supportive of both my musical and scientific aspirations, though she put more emphasis on my biological pursuits. Nevertheless, she would mail me newspaper articles about interesting bands or performances, and would insist that I write a ballad for the next JBR album. When she left, things froze and I felt like I was sinking. Yiayia’s passing sucked what remaining energy I had left away from me. After seven months of working through the pain and feeling like I was getting better, Pappou’s passing brought a strange and heavy weight to my shoulders.

I came to recognize that grief feels like a standstill, and the grief that follows the death of a loved one was one that I had not felt before. It was immobilizing and overwhelmingly exhausting. My grief settled in the center of my chest like a pile of stones, crushing the air from my lungs and sending out waves throughout the rest of my body. I was depressed and felt hollow. Things felt surreal. Days were interminable, and I couldn’t bring myself to get anything done.

Everything I was, everything I encountered, every inch of space that surrounded me, felt monstrously heavy. I was becoming increasingly anxious that I was blurring the line between self-pity and the pain of grief, terrified that I was growing lazy and comfortable within the shell that mourning had built around me.

Writing kept me busy and gave me something to do while I tried to make sense of everything I was feeling and processing. Most of the music I wrote during this time was either quiet and hushed or very loud, with no real in-between. It felt like the louder songs took longer for me to work on, like I had to find the energy to sing them. Playing shows with JBR and Long Neck also provided relief through consistent bursts of energy, even if singing certain songs made me feel raw or exposed, like I had to relive everything I was feeling or thinking word-by-word.

When I got back home, I’d retreat to my room and try to muster up the fortitude to go over the quieter songs, the ones that specifically focused on loss and mourning, the ones I wrote for Nana, the ones I wrote to help me figure out how I could feel better. While some of these songs will never see the light of day, they allowed me to channel the grief I was feeling into something, anything.

When I wasn’t writing or playing, I found refuge in Battle Ave, Titus Andronicus, Mitski, Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, Chumped, the So So Glos– bands whose music I could scream to in the car when I needed to release my anxiety or tension. My job had me working throughout the northernmost regions of New Jersey, close to the New York border. I’d drive around the forests of Passaic and Bergen counties, past lakes and reservoirs and mountains, haunted roads and abandoned tourist attractions.

The silence and isolation of this part of the state was soon filled with the crashing sounds of guitars, the bittersweet words of strangers, the driving and soul-shaking bass tones, all swallowing me in a sea of noise within the confines of my old car. It was a kind of escapism that let me drown out my own frantic thoughts with something louder, something I could lend my voice to and still feel like I was beating back the sadness.

I realize now that much of what I listened to in 2016 was music that tied me to land, to my favorite places, to my home or the places where I felt home. Battle Ave’s Year of Nod, for instance, brought me back to the woods upstate where I had found comfort during other tumultuous times. Titus Andronicus reminded me that I could never be truly lost or alone in my homeland of Jersey, and I found myself listening to The Monitor most of all. For my sister and I, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” became something like our own battle cry- especially at the last line (“I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave”).

When we saw Titus in February, hours after attending Yiayia’s funeral, we received a shot of catharsis that we desperately, desperately needed. We could hardly believe it when the first chord was struck for “Battle”, and spent a majority of the song screaming along. When the last line came around, we lost it. Suddenly, we were heavily sobbing, hugging each other and shouting “Please don’t ever leave” through the tears. The last few months washed over us in a bitter and acute sense of grief, then quickly melted away and left us with immense relief, joy, and peace. We left the show amazed, empowered, hopeful, and for the first time in a long time, happy.

For the most part, the music that got me through the year focused on relationships, on connections, on the love we have for our friends and our family, on the importance that these people hold in our lives. It was the music that you and your best friends or your sibling would scream to each other in a big crowd.

And we drank, and we talked shit, and I was happy” (“Name That Thing”, Chumped)

“Do you believe in something beautiful? Then get up and be it” (“Me and Mia”, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists)

Music that is loud and commands you to let people know just how much they mean to you, and how you would feel if they were suddenly gone.

“I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave”

“I gotta let you know while you’re alive cos I’ll be a disaster when you die” (“…While You’re Alive”, Jeff Rosenstock)

“I look up at the gaps of sunlight. I miss you more than anything” (“Francis Forever”, Mitski)

Music that reminds you that it’s OK to take breaks, but you have to fucking get up and keep moving, as seemingly impossible as that feels, because this cannot break you.

I called up some folks I truly love and hung up after they said hello. I got so tired of discussing my future, I’ve started avoiding the people I love” (“Nausea”, Jeff Rosenstock)

“This winter hasn’t been so rough. Oh it was cold, but it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the blood between my spine. And at least I survived” (“Dark Days”, PUP)

Then there was the music I actually made with my best friends. The shows I played towards the end of the Adult Mom/JBR tour– and the enormous support of my bandmates and tourmates– helped me get through the news of Nana’s hospitalization and her declining health. The release of JBR’s second album and the show we played to celebrate it filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and joy that left me elated and filled with so much love.

When I started feeling small or uncomfortable or anxious in the area I call my home, Long Neck shows and practices reminded me that I could carry the grief I had without feeling ashamed, and my bandmates were there to help me find my footing again. Our tour with gobbinjr felt like an amazing dream, and in recording our second album I can revisit everything I felt in 2016 without feeling heavy, lost, scared, or alone, because I have them.

In 2016, music reminded me that when your loved ones leave you, it doesn’t mean love itself is gone. If anything, you begin to see the love that you have in your life more clearly. You want to take everyone in your life and write them long letters expressing how much you love them, so they can have a physical record of it. You want to savor every moment you spend with your family and your friends and your pets and hell, even strangers or vague acquaintances. You become increasingly nostalgic, and while at times the memories sting you, eventually they flood you with warmth and you quietly give thanks to the time you were given with people who have come and gone.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank everyone who helped me make it through the year. I won’t name everyone, because it’s a fair list, and chances are you already know who you are. (If you don’t, be sure that the next time I see you, I will hug you and tell you in person.) But I want you to know that I am so immensely thankful to have you all in my life, so grateful for everything you did for me. I want you all to know how much you are cared for, how much you are appreciated, how much you are loved. For the new year I resolve to be more open and honest with the people in my life, take more risks, be more thankful and live without fear, and be as available and kind as best I can, and not take the people in my life for granted.

We all grieve differently, and I’m not going to pretend to speak on behalf of everyone who has ever lost someone and mourned gravely and deeply. My grief was and is my own. It took me nearly the entirety of 2016 to start feeling O, to understand that there is no limit for the time you can spend grieving. There are days that are still tough, and as we’re nearing the end of January I know that things may start feeling weird and off and tough again. But I am more confident now that I’ll make it through. I will be OK because love still exists and will continue to exist, because I will keep making music no matter what, because I am surrounded by amazing and supportive and caring people, and life will keep moving forward.

Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Album Review, Stream, Photos, Videos)

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Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek may very well be the year’s most stunning record. A bold lead-off sentiment, sure, but one that’s entirely warranted. Mitski’s first two records, LUSH and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, were carefully orchestrated records of an off-kilted brand of chamber pop, occasionally punctuated by shards of distorted aggression. Nearly all of it fit neatly into the traditional singer/songwriter confines while still revealing a noticeable streak of creative mischief. For her third record, Mitski’s gone and blown up her previous formula by stripping things back to their essentials and blowing them up with a madcap glee. It’s a template that serves as the formula for the strongest, boldest work of her career.

Townie” was the song to suggest that Mitski had created something truly powerful by proving the early promise of “First Love // Late Spring” was far from a fluke. “I Don’t Smoke” followed just a while after and teased the extent of the creative risk-taking packed into Bury Me At Makeout Creek. “Texas Reznikoff” sets the tone early, with a gently-picked acoustic guitar that provides a warm bed for Mitski’s mesmerizing vocals before a brief shard of feedback serves as a fleeting warning for the volcanic eruption that takes place a little past halfway through the track, providing a downright vicious ending. “Townie”, with it’s once-in-a-lifetime chorus, kicks the momentum up a few notches while keeping Bury Me At Makeout Creek impressively ragged and resoundingly fierce.

Both of those songs don’t shy away from an easily identifiable resilience, which is part of what makes most of this record so compelling in lyric copy alone. As a writer, Bury Me At Makeout Creek demonstrates Mitski’s knack for probing a well of humanity with an attention to the most acute details that suggests a rare kind of talent.  It’s something that’s especially evident in the chorus of “First Love // Late Spring”, which finds Mitski grappling with the uncertainty of love: “Please don’t say you love me” and “One word from you and I would jump off this ledge I’m on” aren’t particularly light sentiments- but Bury Me At Makeout Creek is a record unafraid of shouldering the burdens of the heaviest thoughts and emotions.

From “Francis Forever” to “Drunk Walk Home”, the record’s mid-section reveals the lengths of Mitski’s artistic growth and newfound fearlessness. “Jobless Monday” has the clearest shades of the 50’s and 60’s pop influence that appear with a careful subtlety throughout what’s a decidedly modern record, allowing a faintly psychedelic haze to elevate it into something that practically transcends genre. “I Don’t Smoke” is easily the record’s most experimental moment, bringing in a thoroughly menacing take on industrialism and seamlessly adding it into an already impressively widespread palette of influences. “Francis Forever” brings in twin guitar leads and fully reinforces that this new version of Mitski is the most personal by it’s close. While all three of those songs are great in their own right and help shape Bury Me At Makeout Creek‘s identity, it’s the record’s most confrontational moment that will drop the most jaws: “Drunk Walk Home”.

Having seen firsthand the stunned reaction of an entire room when Mitski played a blistering version of this in Chicago at Beat Kitchen just a few weeks ago, the levels of abrasion and the startling nature of “Drunk Walk Home” are impossible to ignore. “For I’m starting to learn I may never be- but though I may never be free, fuck you and your money” is as attention-ensuring of a line as anyone can possibly manage and Mitski delivers it with such a relentless conviction that by the team she ends the song with unrestrained, vocal cord-shredding screaming, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When taking into account the entirety of Bury Me At Makeout Creek up to that point has been spent putting impossibly difficult feelings under a microscope and shredding them to pieces, those screams are fully justified; they’re an act of pure exhilaration in the face of all of the mounting frustrations, uncertainties, conflicts, and unguarded emotions.

“I Will” clears the smoke left behind by “Drunk Walk Home” by virtue of restraint. It’s a truly lovely song that’s clothed in minimal trappings and a palpable tension, one that builds as the song progresses and constantly threatens to break to give way to another massive moment- but that particular explosion never comes. As a whole, it may be the strongest example of Mitski’s maturity and craftsmanship to be found on Bury Me At Makeout Creek while also serving as the perfect lead-in to “Carry Me Home”. Yet another song that could feasibly be labeled as Bury Me At Makeout Creek‘s centerpiece (something that more than half of the record could claim), “Carry Me Home” starts with an absolutely gorgeous introduction before another cataclysmic shift that feels like an unexpectedly meaningful embrace from an old friend. In that inexplicably moving burst of warmth, there’s a plea that helps define the record’s overarching sentiments; no matter how insane things get, compassion will always be needed and empathy will always be welcome- no one should have to go through life alone.

The lilting “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” closes the record out, offering up the starkest moment. Composed of nothing but Mitski’s gift of a voice, a finger-picked guitar, an ambient swell, and lyrics revolving around the most unglamorous elements of mortality, it becomes a truly arresting epilogue. When that final volume swell dies out, it’s the last piece of a brilliantly-constructed jigsaw puzzle; a grace note to cap off a series of small perfections. Everything throughout Bury Me At Makeout Creek falls into the exact right place, from the sequencing (which nearly provides an intangible secondary narrative) to the mastering, there are no false steps to be found, right down to the final bittersweet “goodbye”. All of the smallest components of Bury Me At Makeout Creek– and all of its tasteful grandeur- ring true, rendering it both a fascinating anomaly and one of the best things that’s been released in the past several years.

Bury Me At Makeout Creek is a record that deserves to be celebrated now and listened to for years to come. It’s a brave new front for one of this generation’s most exciting new artists and another massive victory for Double Double Whammy‘s win column. Tellingly, Mitski’s already released at least one excellent new song (which was recently pulled) since the completion of Bury Me At Makeout Creek, inadvertently indicating a creative restlessness that could pay massive dividends down the line. Until then, Bury Me At Makeout Creek should be held as a high-water mark that other artists would do well to look to as a source of influence and a record that critics would be well within their right to hail as what it truly is: a masterpiece.

Listen to Bury Me At Makeout Creek below and pre-order it from Double Double Whammy here. Below the player embed, watch the video sets of Mitski that originally ran in The Media and Watch This: Vol. 50 as well as previously unseen photos taken from the video shoot for The Media.

LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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Over the past few months, this site has given plenty of coverage to both LVL UP and the label two of its members founded (and run), Double Double Whammy. Included in the ranks of the Double Double Whammy roster was another artist who’s emerged as a site favorite: Mitski. When the two announced they’d be touring together (and, subsequently that LVL UP would be backing Mitski), being in attendance for the nearest show was a foregone conclusion. On October 12, their tour made its way to Chicago’s Beat Kitchen where they headlined a bill that also included local acts Mtvghosts and Staring Problem.

Mtvghosts kicked things off after narrowly avoiding being no-shows and made their way through an energetic set of Strokes-influenced powerpop (not too dissimilar from Locksley). Now a few releases into their career, they made their way through a high energy set and played off each other nicely. Utilizing an abundance of energy and a clear connection, their set succeeded on pure entertainment value- Staring Problem‘s Lauren Owen would later make an amusing remark on the vocalist’s “Paul McCartney head thing”. While it’s clear Mtvghosts have a very firm grasp on composition and how to write a good pop song, not too much of it had any kind of longevity- although there’s enough talent in the band to suggest that point may not be too far down the line.

After Mtvghosts unabashedly pop concoctions, Staring Problem dove headlong into a set of primal post-punk that was tinged with early goth-punk influences. With songs that felt deadly serious and had pulsating undercurrents of the overwhelmingly bleak, they managed to sink into a groove that left most of the audience in a hypnotic trance. Mtvghosts may have had Staring Problem beat in terms of stage presence but Staring Problem’s songs proved to be immensely gripping, if unrelentingly minimal (their drummer’s kit was bare-bones and the only cymbal it made room for was a hi-hat). Impressive bass riffs dueled with intuitive guitarwork and Owens’ tranced-out vocals. Even with an emphasis on the grave, the band found room for humor; a song called “Pictures of Morrissey In Jake’s Locker” wound up being an unexpected highlight. By the time they exited, it was difficult to imagine they hadn’t made a few converts.

Mitski‘s been making quite a name for herself lately. After two very strong records of avant pop, the songwriter’s made a sharp left turn into blissed-out noise pop. With the distortion cranked up on the extraordinary soon-to-be-released Bury Me At Makeout Creek it’s afforded Mitski the chance to reignite an already impressive career. “Townie“, “First Love/Late Spring“, and “I Don’t Smoke” all showcase layers of a seriously enviable talent in composition and musicianship (as well as some gorgeous- and expansive- production), which shouldn’t be surprising taking into account Mitski’s SUNY Purchase background. Incidentally, SUNY Purchase was where Mitski would meet the members of LVL UP and forge a connection that would have direct implications for both artist’s respective careers.

Taking into account the high-functioning levels of production that provide Bury Me At Makeout Creek part of its character, a large portion of the pre-set anticipation lay in how Mitski would bring these songs to life with the assistance of LVL UP. Less than a minute into “Townie” any doubts that the songs would lose even a fraction of their appeal were absolutely annihilated. Aided by Michael Caridi on guitar and LVL UP bassist Nick Corbo on drums, Mitski lay into the song with a startling amount of intensity, causing the audience to erupt in bewildered applause by the song’s close.

All it took was that first song for Mitski to expand and win over an entire audience, which raises the stakes considerably on the expected reaction to Bury Me At Makeout Creek once it’s out in the world. Caridi and Corbo both flashed extremely impressive chops as Mitski commanded attention with the kind of effortlessness that suggests much bigger things will be happening for the emerging artist in the very near future. When Mitski’s set closed with Mitski absolutely shredding her vocal cords in bouts of guttural screaming at the end of “Drunk Walk Home”, half the audience seemed to be left speechless- and it was difficult to fault them- Mitski had delivered the kind of set that warrants the highest kinds of praise and ensures that even more people will be drawn into her orbit.

After Mitski’s set, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see someone leaving thinking they’d seen the headliner- but it wasn’t before long that LVL UP proved that they were up to the task of following a gift of a set with another exercise in killer performances. Having already delivered one of the year’s best records in Hoodwink’d and one of the year’s best songs, “Big Snow“, on an absolutely essential split, their live set had quite a bit to live up to. Boasting a discography that’s bursting at the seams with songs that project a casual confidence and an excess of charisma, LVL UP’s very nature is practically defined by their willingness to embrace each the unique personality of each principal songwriter (Caridi, Corbo, and Trace Mountains‘ Dave Benton).

Soft Power“, “Ski Vacation“, “DBTS“, and “I Feel Ok” all hinted at LVL UP excelling as a complementary unit that would easily function when stripped back to individual elements. Balancing on the precipice between detached apathy and unbridled energy, the band’s songs came to weird, vibrant life in the live setting. Everyone traded off vocals with a casually practiced ease and a fiery commitment. True to Space Brothers‘ form, several of the songs bled into each other- with a particular highlight (one of a very large handful) being the opening trio of tracks from that very record. In fact, much of their set played out like a contained suite, with everything retaining maximum impact.

There was more than one point through LVL UP’s set where time seemed to be completely lost, as the band kept the audience engaged while they occupied their own world. Song after song, they demonstrated just about every reason why they’re a band worth celebrating- only emphatically enhancing the live elements of that particular spread. Solos were traded, select songs were extended with surprisingly heavy bridges and outros, and- more than anything else- left-field personality was exuded. Hoodwink’d and Space Brothers were about evenly split throughout the set, and both songs from the band’s incredible split with Porches. were represented as well.

While Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all shared a fair amount of spotlight, drummer Greg Rutkin held everything down with brute force and an unfailingly exact precision that made songs like the closing “ELIXR (19)” sound absolutely massive. Just like on record, everything managed to complement everything else in a manner that made all of LVL UP’s songs feel intensely alive. Before their set, each member had voiced various concerns about their headlining slot and thanks for Beat Kitchen’s kind accommodations (including sound, which was pristine throughout the show). When “ELIXR (19)” drew the set to a powerful close, it provided an exclamation point to a stunning set that coursed past their early apprehensions into the realms of the sublime. If there was any reservation about this before, their set ensured one thing: 2014 is LVL UP’s year. Get on board before it’s too late.

Watch a clip of LVL UP playing “Soft Power” and “Bro Chillers” below. Underneath that, view an extensive photo gallery of the show.