Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Fred Thomas

A Look Back at the Past Two Weeks: Streams, Music Videos, and Full Streams

The past two weeks of material, once more, have been loaded with exceptional works. Each of the major categories saw the influx of notable items keep the same ridiculous pace that 2018 has set across multiple genres. No matter the level of notoriety or recognition, every week this year has brought in a slew f entries that have ranged from wildly entertaining to legitimately unforgettable. With that being the case, featuring everything is an impossible task. This post serves as a reminder and reference point for a slew of those songs, clips, and records worth remembering.

Songs

Gia Margaret, Mooner, Snow Roller, Izzy True, Babehoven, Richard Rose, Honyock, ASM, Tokyo Police Club (x2), Tony Molina, Dead Soft, SIGNAL, Evan Jewett, Advance Base, Gold Star, Beak>, Astronauts, etc., LT Wade, The Rizzos, perfume-v, Dyan, DelafyeFrøkedal, Quiet Hollers, Saul Williams, Super Paradise, Westerman, Tunng, Ohmme, United Ghosts, El Ten Eleven, Lucero, Koschika, Claw Marks, Miss World, Mister Lies, Menace Beach, Bleeth, Taylor Janzen, Wild Pink, Lewis Burg, Brother Reverend, Swamp Dogg, Darren Jesse, The Coup, La Force, Verse Metrics, Ancestors, Joe Kaplow, and David Bazan.

Music Videos

Waxahatchee, Saintseneca, Curling, Steady Holiday, Fred Thomas, Trust Fund, Jeff Rosenstock, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Night Shop, The Goon Sax, Cat Power, Queen of Jeans, The Beths, Macajey, Slang, Frankie Cosmos, Devon Welsh, Saintseneca, Bully, Estrons, The Molochs, GRLWood, Jane Church, Sad Baxter, Richard Reed Parry, Dama Scout, The Black Delta Movement, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Campdogzz, Harrison Lipton, The Velveteins, Lala Lala, PR Newman, and Couch Jackets.

Full Streams

Harvey Trisdale, trulyyrs, Cold Lunch, Spissy, Shapes In Calgary, Cruel Diagonals, Delhia de France, and Wilder Maker.

 

17 of ’17: The Best Albums of the Year

Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.

After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.

From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.

Washer – All Aboard

Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough

Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.

Petite League – Rips One Into the Night

Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.

Cayetana – New Kind of Normal

For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.

Young Jesus – Young Jesus

Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesus seems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.

Deep State – Thought Garden

One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.

Weaves – Wide Open

Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.

Landlines – Landlines

A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlines never stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.

Strange Relations – Editorial You

Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait

Fred Thomas – Changer

The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changer is legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.

Big Thief – Capacity

One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiece was touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacity in 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.

Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us

Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joey went a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.

Cende – #1 Hit Single

A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.

Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go 

One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.

Mo Troper – Exposure & Response

One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.

Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.

Album of the Year:

Charly Bliss – Guppy

A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.

The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.

Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.

“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.

A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.

When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.

17 of ’17: The Best Songs of the Year

2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.

Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.

These are the 17 best songs of 2017.

Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge

One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.

Mo Troper – Your Brand

One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Response is particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.

Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.

Cende – What I Want

Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.

Charly Bliss – Westermarck

Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).

Common Holly – Nothing

Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.

Weaves – Puddle

Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.

Fred Thomas – Misremembered

Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changer is a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.

Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs

A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.

Cayetana – Bus Ticket

2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.

Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout

One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.

Strange Relations – Say You

One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.

Covey – Call Home

There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.

IDLES – Mother

Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.

Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.

Palehound – If You Met Her

A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.

It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.

Young Jesus – Feeling

A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.

All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.

The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands

Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.

When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Mount Eerie – Real Death

When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.

Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.

While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.

Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.

By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.

 

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The Best of the Rest

18-21

22-26

27-32

Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default

33-100

Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap

Watch This: Vol. 160

The past seven days have been comprised of great live videos featuring the likes of Trentemøller, Craig Finn & The Uptown Controllers, Slow Caves, Slothrust, Horse Jumper of Love, Helado Negro, Josh T. Pearson & Arianna Monteverdi, Downtown Boys, Nana Grizol, Operators, Sinai Vessel, Pixies, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Tall Tall Trees, The Smith Street Band, RVG, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kyle Donovan, Chicano Batman, Black Joe Lewis, Taarka, Nikki Lane, Drive-By Truckers, Real Estate, Peyote Pilgrim, Chicano Batman, Closet Mix, Lithics, Yann Tiersen, The Marias, J. Mascis, Fujiya & Miyagi, and Marty Stuart. As good as those clips were, it was the five below that wound up making the deepest impression. From old favorites to new faces, there’s a decent amount of material to explore. So, as always, sit up straight, adjust the settings, take a deep breath, lean in, and Watch This.

1. Hazel English – Fix (Buzzsession)

Easily — and consistently — the producers of some of the most gorgeous Watch This clips in the series’ history, Buzzsessions hits a new high-water mark with this clip for Hazel English‘s “Fix”. Hazel English has become a staple on this site thanks to the project’s ability to churn out spellbinding pop that combines dream-like atmospherics with aesthetics from several compelling sub-genres to create something utterly winsome. To top off that formula, this is a committed performance propelled even further by breathtaking cinematography; Watch This at its best.

2. Jay Som – The Bus Song (Audiotree)

One of last year’s biggest breakout success stories, Jay Som‘s continued to transform that newfound notoriety into something meaningful. Jay Som recently got to be part of an Audiotree concert series and some enthralling footage of “The Bus Song” has gone public. The band’s in good spirits, there’s an adoring audience, bandleader Melina Duterte is commanding, and everything clicks in just the way a great performance should; this is masterful from all angles.

3. Surf Curse (Jam in the Van)

It’s been a while since a Jam in the Van session has been featured on Watch This but its also been a while since the series has boasted a session this fun. Surf Curse effortlessly blend together elements of surf-pop, basement punk, post-punk, and powerpop to conjure up the type of bright, sunny sound that’s difficult to dislike. Each of these three songs also boast their own brand of weirdness, giving a compelling slant to an aesthetic that’s both familiar and welcome.

4. Fred Thomas – Echolocation (BreakThruRadio)

Changer, Fred Thomas‘ most recent full-length, stands in good shape to be firmly among 2017’s best records as the year winds to a close. Easily the songwriter’s finest effort to date, the record also features some of the songwriter’s most ambitious work. “Echolocation” is one of those more ambitious pieces and Thomas brings it to the BreakThruRadio studios for a gripping performance that showcases his talent for both ability and minimalist composition. Melancholic, haunting, and human, it’s a powerful look at one of today’s greatest songwriters.

5. The Owens – Judgment Day (Allston Pudding)

Capping off the 160th installment of this series is another characteristically strong Basement Session, courtesy of Allston Pudding, by way of The Owens’ aggressively tense and intriguingly gloomy “Judgment Day”. The band’s been kicking around for several years but they’ve never sounded tighter or more in control than they do on their latest, Redemption Day, and that confident precision seems to have bled into their live show as well. Both a perfect document of a band coming into their own and a strong showcase for both Allston Pudding and The Owens, this is the type of clip worth remembering.

The Best Records of 2017’s First Quarter

Just about three full months into 2017 and there have been a litany of great records. In that massively overcrowded field, there were still several records — full-lengths, compilations, EP’s, or otherwise — that managed to stand out. Below are 10 of the most gripping releases to have emerged in 2017’s first quarter, each making an impression that was felt, intensely, for one reason or another. Read about some of those reasons below and listen to each record in the selected embed (just make sure they’re all at the beginning of the record when you hit play). Enjoy.

MO TROPER – GOLD

Last year, Mo Troper put out a proper solo debut full-length, Beloved, which was one of five to receive this site’s Album of the Year designation. In February, Troper unleashed a new collection of songs that’d been written over the past several years and further solidified a status as one of this generation’s premier powerpop songwriters. Not a note’s out of place, the atmospherics serve the song, the melodies are earworms that last for days, and there’s an abundance of feeling driving another outstanding collection.

JOHN ROSSITER – NEVERENDING CATALOG OF TOTAL GARBAGE HEARTBREAK AGGREGATE

Young Jesus‘ name has appeared on this site several times over and John Rossiter‘s been a valuable contributor to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series. Last year, small batches of collections were being released under the Young Jesus name before being pulled because they weren’t full band efforts; all of those songs were Rossiter solo efforts. Thankfully, they recently re-emerged in a gorgeous compilation that ably, compellingly, and movingly demonstrates Rossiter’s formidable songwriting talents.

YUCKY DUSTER – DUSTER’S LAMENT

Easily one of the best releases of 2017’s first three months came in the form of an EP from Yucky Duster, a basement pop band that, seemingly impossibly, keeps finding ways to improve on each successive release. Duster’s Lament is the band’s finest work yet and continues drawing them even closer to attaining outright perfection. All five of the songs the band has on display here manage to be simultaneously carefree and incredibly memorable, entwining two aesthetics that are too frequently at odds. It’s masterful.

FRED THOMAS – CHANGER

A very early Album of the Year candidate, Fred Thomas‘ Changer saw the acclaimed songwriter continuing to elevate his craft in astonishing fashion. Easily Thomas’ sharpest lyrical effort to date, there’s also an urgency to these songs that push them forward with sincerity, feeling, and an irrepressible need to get these statements out into the world. Musically, it’s Thomas’ most ambitious work to date by a considerable stretch and, overall, a triumph bearing a magnitude and scope that’s impossible to ignore.

CLOUD NOTHINGS – LIFE WITHOUT SOUND

Cloud Nothings‘ discography, up to this point, has been littered with superlative releases. When a band achieves that kind of consistency, it’s fair to have high expectations for their new releases. Still, Life Without Sound, the band’s latest, manages to transcend its anticipation and wind up as not only the band’s most ambitious and inventive release but, somehow, its most representative as well. All of the bands eras are fused together here to create a spellbinding work that’s proven to be difficult to forget.

MEAT WAVE – THE INCESSANT

There are a handful of concept records that are widely regarded as some of the greatest releases of all time, despite some hamfisted tendencies. Meat Wave‘s The Incessant side-steps both the trappings of concept records and their characteristically overbearing nature by releasing a collection of acutely pointed missives dealing with one specific topic: the swirling vortex of incoming emotions after a life-altering event. The result is a record that serves as the band’s most abrasive, ambitious, and intense effort to date.

BEACHHEADS – BEACHHEADS

Upon learning at least one member of Kvelertak was in Beachheads, the band’s debut full-length came as a joyous-yet-jarring left turn. Trafficking in sunny powerpop that takes most of its cues from the genres forebears, Beachheads wound up being a deeply unexpected delight. Every song on Beachheads boasts sublime moments and evokes the sort of open-road-and-sunshine aesthetic that’s been so vital to the genres most enduring classics. Beachheads give that aesthetic a slightly modern spin and wind up with a summery gem.

MIDDLE CHILDREN – EARTH ANGEL

Patrick Jennings has been directly responsible for a lot of the music that’s hit me the hardest over the past seven years so news of a solo project was very welcome. Unsurprisingly, given Jennings’ track record (and what he’d accomplished with both Hot New Mexicans and PURPLE 7), Earth Angel is an incredible work. One of the best records likely to be released in 2017, Earth Angel is a quiet, brilliant, and unassuming encapsulation of what’s made Jennings such an essential (if woefully overlooked) voice in today’s music landscape.

STEF CHURA – MESSES

Ever since 2010’s self-titled effort, Stef Chura has been steadily improving, perfecting a strand of punk-tinged basement pop that’s immensely appealing. Messes, Stef Chura’s latest, is the most perfect distillation of this brand of music the act’s offered up yet, thanks in part to the contributions of Fred Thomas (who, as this list indicates, is on a white-hot streak of great releases). Still, Thomas’ contributions wouldn’t mean nearly as much if the source material wasn’t so involving. Messes is the sound of an artist coming into their own and, as a result, the work present on the record winds up being antithetical to the record’s title.

RICK RUDE – MAKE MINE TUESDAY

One of the most intriguing releases of 2017’s earliest stretch came in the form of Rick Rude‘s sprawling, shape-shifting Make Mine Tuesday. Easily the band’s boldest — and best — release in a very strong discography that was uniformly unafraid to take risks, Make Mine Tuesday succeeds as both a masterclass in forward-thinking composition and as a record with immense replay value; these are intricate songs that never seem to get old or become any less engaging. A scintillating mixture of wiry post-punk and basement pop, Make Mine Tuesday finds Rick Rude reaching unprecedented heights. One can’t help but wonder, especially after a release like this one, if they’ll ever return to earth.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

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

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

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

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

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

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAYING MUSIC

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

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

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

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

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

MY PARTNER

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

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

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

A STEP FORWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, I love you all.

16 of ’16: The Best Songs of the Year

LVL UP II

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

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

Enjoy the list.

Mo Troper – Happy Birthday

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

Doe – Sincere

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


Told Slant – Low Hymnal

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

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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

Yucky Duster – Gofer

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

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

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

LVL UP – Spirit Was

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

Big Thief – Real Love

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

Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos

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

Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia

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

Fred Thomas – Brickwall

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

Cloud Nothings – Modern Act

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

Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab

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

Catbus – Fracas

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

John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest

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

SONG OF THE YEAR

Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright

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

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

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

Nine more worth hearing:

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

Six Weeks of Music Videos (Video Mixtape)

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Six weeks is a long time to go without posting an individual feature piece on a music video (discounting premieres). With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s not surprising that many of the clips that have come out in the time this site’s been on a relative hiatus, there have been a handful of the format’s best entries for the 2016 crop. PUP maintained their unrelenting stranglehold on an obscene level of excellence with the most emotionally affecting clip of a ridiculously impressive filmography, Vagabon emerged with a galvanizing sense of renewed purpose, Emilyn Brodsky continued to do wonders with stop motion, Tenement continued to further their own distinct identity in the visual arts department, The Seams offered up a double dose of refined hyper-editing, and everyone else found a way to rise above their contemporaries to create indelible pieces of art worth celebrating. So, below, dive in and get comfortable with the best 25 clips of the past six weeks.

Additional note: Trace Mountains’ excellent clip for “Bring the Mountain to Me” wasn’t available on YouTube and couldn’t be included in the below mix. Make sure to give that one a watch as well.

1. PUP – Sleep in the Heat
2. Meat Wave – The Incessant
3. Stove – Blank
4. The Seams – Remembrance Day
5. Holy Tunics – Forget Your Love
6. Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win
7. Vagabon – The Embers
8. Hellrazor – Raise Your Rifle
9. Lazertits – Boss Bitch
10. Slothrust – Rotten Pumpkin
11. Vacation – Every Direction
12. The Raveonettes – Fast Food
13. Poppies – Told
14. WHOOP-Szo – Another Show
15. Bruising – I Don’t Mind
16. Sløtface – Bright Lights
17. Tim Darcy – Tall Glass of Water
18. Self Talk – Untitled 
19. Petal – Chandelier
20. Tenement – Hive of Hives
21. Stef Chura – Spotted Gold
22. Fred Thomas – Voiceover
23. Emilyn Brodsky – Hands Off the Stove
24. The Seams – Seeds
25. MOURN – Irrational Friend

Nothing Stops In November: The Month’s Streams

While only two premiere spots ran on this site over the course of November, there was more than enough new material being released to keep anyone attempting to track it all extremely occupied. A total of nearly 200 outstanding songs found their way out into the world and, just as the preceding posts did for full streams and music videos, this post will serve as a recap of the majority of those titles. If there were enough time to provide all of these tracks feature spots, they’d be receiving a lot more words. However, that shouldn’t distract from their merit; all of these tracks are more than worth hearing. So, bookmark the page, click around, and discover a few new favorites. 

Hater, Alyeska, Dama Scout, Fred Thomas, Turtlenecked, Pissed Jeans, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Wild Pink, PermitTy Segall, The Courtneys, Julien Baker, brunch., Holy Now, Breast Massage, Hideout (x2), Jitterz, Drakulas, Ted Leo, Peter Silberman, Creepoid, ot to, not to, Luxury Death, Leapling, Day Wave, No Sun, Matthew Squires, Skyway Man, Dominic, Tobin Sprout, D.A. Stern, Minor Moon, Dear Georgiana, Slumbers, FRIGS, Nadia Reid, Mark Sultan, Polyester, Imaginary People, Shiny Wet Machine.

Magic Magic Roses, Spelling Reform, The Velveteins, Rubblebucket, Cate Le Bon, A Valley Son (x2), Old Gray, The Besnard Lakes, Swampmeat, Heat, Fascinations Grand Chorus, Alexander F, Mica Levi, Steady Hands, Bell the Band, Urochromes, Idle Bloom, Mainland, Thelma, The Regrettes, Modern Baseball, Holiday Ghosts, Los Campesinos!, Fear of Me, Lilah Larson, Frederick the Younger, Silver Rose, Lucidalabrador, The Molochs, Molly Burch, Tim Cohen, Rainbrother, AD.UL.T. (x2), Decorum, MELT, Emmy the Great.

GOLDBLOOMS, The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman (x2), We Leave at Midnight (x2), Dooms Virginia, Rosebug, Paperhead, OhBoy!, whenyoung, Caitlin Pasko, Lampshades, Pie Face Girls, Brandon Can’t Dance, Kevin Krauter, Childcare, Mind Rays, Eric Matthews, The Velvet Ants, The Black Clouds, Diagrams, Marine, Corner Suns, So Stressed, Crash Club, Future Peers, Proper Ornaments, Trudy and The Romance, Will Johnson, Fond Han, Natalie Bouloudis, Jordan Burchel, Big Mother Gig, Elliot, Once & Future Band.

Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, Pure Moods, Dude York, Sam Brockington, Del Caesar, John Travoltage, Camp Cope, Mutts, Pollen Rx, Cloakroom, Mr. Universe, Carroll, Purmamarca, Ben Pagano & The Space Machine, Tim Carr, Eat Fast, Landing, Louise Burns, Toothless, Plastic Pinks, Less Acrobats, Knifey, Known To Collapse, Cassels, Tracy Bonham, Brasstronaut, Satin Cowboys, Surf Rock Is Dead, Fruit Bats, Steph Barrak, Oliver Houston, The Sloppy Heads, Chavez, Aan, Sex Drive, The Saddest Landscape, Xiu XiuLiving Body, Lowly, JERK, Medium Mystic, Dutch Uncles, COTE, Koresma, Jailbox, Hajk, Archawah, Levek, and Grave School.

Fred Thomas – Brickwall (Stream)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume.

Last year Fred Thomas released a breathtaking meditation on life, love, and loss in All Are Saved and has been quietly releasing various pieces of music ever since its release. One of those releases was “What Changes When the Costumes Come Off”, which was written specifically for the A Step Forward compilation that marked this site’s 1000th post (and that gesture will have my eternal gratitude).

Now, the acclaimed songwriter returns in earnest with the first look at a fully-formed new record, Charger, by way of lead-off single “Brickwall”. Characteristically wry, lived-in, and wise, “Brickwall” showcases Thomas’ enviable lyrical prowess and skill in composition. Comprised of not much more than a clean guitar tone and anxious vocals, save for what may be the most intense solo in Thomas’ storied discography, “Brickwall” finds the songwriter in rare form.

At every turn, there’s a measure of deep feeling that can be heard even through the rapid-fire barbs that are aimed at just about everyone that surrounds the central character of “Brickwall”. It’s a compelling, fascinating listen and it’s one of the more accessible and immediate songs that Thomas has released. Bold, gripping, and loaded with conviction, and sets a very high standard for Charger. If the rest of the record can live up to this precedent, 2017 will start off on the right foot.

Listen to “Brickwall” below and pre-order Changer here.