Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: full-length

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.

Seven Weeks, Ten Records

Before this week began, it’d been seven weeks since any of this site’s regular coverage had appeared. The first stretch of this week will be dedicated to amending the outstanding material that went uncovered in the interim, while the latter part of the week will feature the present week’s finest offerings. Below are ten standout records to have been released over the long hiatus, from EPs to compilations to full-lengths. There’s a whole host of incredible material shared between these ten records so stop hesitating and just dive straight into this post’s overflowing heart. Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough 

Expert Eraser“, “Fade“, and “Teen Challenge” all earned feature slots on this site in the lead-up to Plastic Cough‘s release, each one suggesting a seemingly inevitable reality: Great Grandpa throwing their hat into the ring of genuine Album of the Year contenders. The day finally came, Plastic Cough was released, and that inevitability proved to be no joke. Plastic Cough is an absolutely ferocious record, gnashing its teeth at every hairpin turn and gloriously bombastic moment, only pausing to breathe on the gorgeous “Faithful”, a perfectly placed slow-burner that rounds the record out in breathtaking fashion. Plastic Cough is the kind of thrill ride that makes a mark deep enough to last.

Slaughter Beach, Dog – Motorcycle.jpg

Jake Ewald may get the most recognition for his work in Modern Baseball but what the songwriter’s accomplished in Slaughter Beach, Dog is equally — if not even more — compelling. Having already accumulated an incredibly rich and surprisingly expansive sound over the course of a full-length and an EP, Motorcyle.jpg finds Ewald leaning even more confidently into the battered folk trappings that heightened those first two releases. Motorcycle.jpg also skews a little more lo-fi and at times recalls Yankee Bluff, each poignantly bruised track vastly exceeding the aesthetics perceived limitations. It’s another impressive work from a musician worth watching.

Little Star – July Demos

Another one of the acts positioning Good Cheer Records as one of the finest upstart labels, Little Star has managed to turn a lot of heads in recent times, thanks to two sterling full-lengths. The project’s showing no signs of slowing down, even going so far as to release a small collection of demos last month, aptly entitled July Demos. The band’s earned comparisons to legendary acts (Big Star, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular among them) and it’s not difficult to see why those comparisons are being made, even from this small smattering of tracks. All four of the songs on display here are sharply written songs that convey a great deal of emotion in their quiet restraint. Spellbinding work.

Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues

Chumped may have been Katie Ellen‘s earliest claim to some modicum of fame but the songwriter’s not being reduced to the ashes left in the wake of that band’s departure, instead opting to venture out on an already promising solo career. Cowgirl Blues is Ellen’s first statement and it’s a bold one. The first two and a half minutes of opening track “Drawing Room” are comprised entirely of extremely light ambient noise, clean guitar, and vocals, as if Ellen is reasserting an individual identity. It’s a deeply effective moment that sets the tone for a record that’s not afraid to show off its bruises, scars, or self-awareness. Front to back, it’s one of the summer’s most captivating listens.

Milked – Death On Mars

Kelly Johnson is the songwriter spearheading Milked, graciously returning to the fold after Geronimo! took their final bow. For anyone who was concerned Johnson would step away from the eccentricities and unpredictable eclecticism that made Geronimo! so fascinating, put aside those fears for good. Death on Mars is as gleefully unwieldy and feral as Geronimo! at their fiercest (undoubtedly helped along by the drumming of Geronimo! bandmate Matt Schwerin). Death On Mars is a towering work that’s not afraid to embrace catharsis or melody even as it careens wildly from song to song, touching on everything from powerpop to hardcore along the way. An absolute triumph of a return.

Midwives – No

No will be the last record Midwives — who appeared in this site’s Best EP’s list in 2013 and 2015 and whose self-titled 7″ was one of the first reviews this site ever ran — will release. While it’s a shame that one of the upper Midwest’s best hardcore bands will be disappearing into the ether, at the very least they managed to go out on top: No is a culmination of everything the group’s accomplished since starting up nearly five years ago. It’s a growling, spitting, snarling beast of a record, unafraid to take prisoners in its sub-18 minute run-time. Bruising and feral, it’s only fitting that such a proudly deranged band would go out kicking, baring its threatening fangs all the while.

Dream Ritual – Summer Promo

Sometimes all it takes for a band to take off is three songs, which is exactly what Dream Ritual‘s offering on Summer Promo, a blistering post-punk EP that doesn’t leave any room for filler. Echoing everyone from Shellac to METZ and everyone in between, Dream Ritual manages to carve out their own distinct identity. “Noise”, “Oil & Canvas”, & “Sunlight Girl” all perfectly marry elements of modern day noise-punk with some of the genre’s earliest defining elements. Whether it’s the metallic-like production or the infusion of pop-leaning melody, it’s clear that Dream Ritual are students of the genre. Thankfully for us, their learning has resulted in one of the summer’s strongest EP’s.

Mike Krol – Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records

A few years ago, this site named Mike Krol‘s Turkey one of the best records of 2015 and heavily praised the songwriter’s infectiously joyous live show. Krol had gained notoriety thanks to the cult following that he’d accumulated due to his first two records, Trust Fund and I Hate Jazz, both of which were long out of print by the time Merge announced Krol’s signing and released Turkey. Fortunately, for everyone, Merge has come to the rescue and reissued both of those seminal classics (this according to essentially anyone that owns either) and packaged them with all of the demos for each session. The whole thing’s an exhilarating look at an exhilarating artist and should be considered essential listening for fans of the basement pop genre.

Tunnel Traffic – MEESH

Tunnel Traffic’s MEESH occupies a space that’s always memorable: the record arrived from the artist via unsolicited submission and proceeded to impress at every turn. From opener “Lesson Learned” to the closing “Memorial”, this small release from Adam Hachey’s solo project made a sizable impression. Softer and a little sweeter than expected, MEESH is chock-full of mid-tempo folk-leaning numbers that expand the bedroom pop genre into something faintly unfamiliar. It’s quiet, it’s intimate, it’s unassuming, and it’s utterly spectacular. MEESH weaves an unbreakable trance over its listeners and commands their attention through a narrative journey that feels both direct and cerebral. It’s an incredible accomplishment from a songwriter whose work all but demands to be followed.

Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm (Deluxe Version)

Throughout work with WaxahatcheeP.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and Great Thunder as well as through a variety of guest roles Katie Crutchfield has become a household name for a very particular sect of people, broadening that base with each successive release. Crutchfield’s latest comes via the Waxahatchee moniker, Out in the Storm. Everything that Waxahatchee has released to date has stood the test of time and remained as impressive — if not more so — as it was at the time of its release. Out in the Storm feels like Crutchfield’s reached another level entirely, combining more than a decade’s worth of knowledge, experience, and style into a mesmerizing, cohesive whole. A career high point for Crutchfield and easily one of the best records of 2017, Out in the Storm‘s definitive version also comes package with the demos for each song on the record, all of which are — like the record itself — well worth hearing.

A Month’s Worth of Records Worth Hearing

Just like the songs and music videos that came filtering out over the extended interim of this site’s regular coverage hiatus, killer records didn’t stop revealing themselves over that stretch of time. While, by their very nature, the titles that jumped out proved to be fewer than their more individually-minded counterparts, there was still a lot of outstanding material packed into the compilations, splits, EPs, 7″s, and full-lengths listed below. While this list — or any list — can’t claim to be truly representative of everything that came out, these acts are responsible for some of the best titles to have crossed this site’s path over the past six weeks:

Lushloss, Wet Lips, Talking Dog, Johnny Utah, See Through Dresses, Tundrastomper, Demure for Sure, VOIGHT-KAMPFF, STRFKR, City of Caterpillar, Horse Girl, Crumb, Friends of Cesar Romero, The Deslondes, Juiceboxxx, Ben Morey & The Eyes, The Crashers, Colour of Spring, Lillian King, Nearby Pastures, Cody & Danz, Siobhan Wilson, Fallow Land, Teddy and the Rough Riders, tunic, Flowers of Evil, Dream Version, Dove Lady, Eerie Gaits, Pill, Pawns, The Good Graces, Liam J Hennessy, [.que], Triptides, Aviator, and splits from Jeff Rosenstock and SkaSucks, Hinds and Los Nastys, Black Beach and Nice Guys, as well as an outstanding new compilation entry from Genius Loci.

So Stressed – Apple Hill (Stream)

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Over the course of the year, one format or another has been stuck functioning in catch-up mode. Today, with this post, everything that falls under the regular umbrella coverage will be brought up to the present release cycle. In a way, then, it makes sense that something as blistering and urgent as “Apple Hill” grabs this post’s focus. Even more fitting is the fact that it comes from the first band to be signed to Honor Press, the newly created label of Perfect Pussy‘s Meredith Graves (whose fundamental importance to this site and its continued existence simply can’t be overstated). While all of that will be addressed shortly in greater detail, it wasn’t the only excellent musical offering ushered out into the world over the past week. To that end, just as in the preceding post, a list of full streams and songs that deserve hearing.

Full streams: Miserable Friend’s Thawed, Flawed and Suffering, Pinact’s Stand Still and Rot, Telepathic’s Powers of Ten, Thee Oh Sees’ Mutilator Defeated At Last, Ceremony’s The L-Shaped Man, Holly Miranda’s self-titled, Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense?, God Damn’s Vultures, Weedeater’s Goliathan, Super Unison’s self-titled, and a split from Martha and Benny The Jet Rodriguez. Songs: Ancient Sky’s “Two Lights“, Wild Pink’s “Is This Hotel Haunted“, Cancers’ “Missed“, The Absolute’s “Smile“, Kevin Devine’s “Gießen“, Jaill’s “Got An F“, Methyl Ethel’s “Twilight Driving“, Ecstatic Vision’s “Don’t Kill the Vibe“, Hollow Sunshine’s “Morning Green“, and Sweet John Bloom’s “Next Thing” (which very nearly earned this post’s feature spot). Rounding everything out was Run The Jewels’ strikingly animated clip for Run The Jewels 2 highlight “Early“. Then, of course, there was So Stressed’s hellishly snarling “Apple Hill”, which shows the band greatly expanding on the potential hinted at by their lead-off single “Merv King & the Phantoms“.

“Apple Hill” scales back the feverish tenacity of “Merv King” for something that manages to come off as both more brutal and more refined. Marrying post-punk, noise punk, and one of the more sinister breeds of hardcore definitely isn’t an easy look to pull off convincingly but “Apple Hill” wields that formula like a weapon. Brimming with an astonishing confidence and unerring conviction, it immediately transforms itself into something undeniable. Starkly unforgiving and shockingly immediate, it lays some deeply compelling groundwork for the band’s upcoming record, the exquisitely titled The Unlawful Trade of Greco-Roman Art. It’s a deceptively intuitive piece of songwriting that revels in its own pent-up frustration and, finally, the shards of cathartic release embedded throughout “Apple Hill”. The bass gets buried in fuzz, the drums zero in on the instruments intrinsic ability to become propulsive, the guitar line throws convention to the wind, and the vocals take the whole thing to a fascinating, wild-eyed realm. By the song’s end, So Stressed have created an immersive world that’s as punishing as it is intriguing; an unexpectedly strong effort that sets up The Unlawful Trade of Greco-Roman Art. Give into its whirlwind ferocity or get the hell out of the way.

Listen to “Apple Hill” below and pre-order The Unlawful Trade of Greco-Roman Art from Honor Press here.

Lady Bones – Botch (Stream)

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Lady Bones have had this site’s attention ever since sending over a copy of their split with Horsehands last year, and while that release presented Lady Bones as a band with enormous potential, it still would have been hard to predict the direction they take for their latest single, “Botch”. Before diving into their bold stylistic revision, there’s quite a bit of material to catch up on that came out this week. Both this post and the ensuing post will have a handful of songs and full streams that will be featured and, as ever, all of them will be worth hearing. For the sake of time, they’ll all be listed with no other context given than that they’re exceptional pieces of art that deserve attention. Full streams: Toner’s self-titled, Needle Exchange’s Is This My Program?, Really Big Pinecone’s Embrace the Boss, Vexx’s Give and Take, The Barbazons’ Avec Plaisir, Nicolas Jaar’s Nymphs II, Diamond Youth’s Nothing Matters, Liza Anne’s Two, and Young Jesus’ Grow/Decompose (which will likely be making a few more appearances on here as time drags on). Songs: Sorority Noise’s “Art School Wannabe“, Expert Alterations’ “Midnight Letters“, Deaf Wish’s “Eyes Closed“, Anna B Savage’s “III“, Bad Meds’ “Hoax Apocalypse“, Vundabar’s “Chop“, and Ratboys’ “Tixis“. Seek all of them out; they’re linked here for a reason. “Botch” is also the featured song for a reason: it’s a monumental step forward for one of today’s more compelling bands.

Eschewing any semblance of sunnier sensibilities to take a plunge into a realm that sees them shoulder to shoulder with Kal Marks and Pile at their darkest, Lady Bones seem to have tapped into something that many bands have attempted (and failed) to capture. Embracing bleak, Gothic-tinged post-punk to an unprecedented degree, Lady Bones sound completely rejuvenated. It takes them less than sixty seconds to establish this sea change before exploding out into an impassioned furor. For three and half minutes the band provides a masterclass in refined dynamics (with an emphasis on tension) and engage in a total rebirth. There’s an unbridled passion that runs deep in “Botch” that seems set to tie over to the band’s upcoming full-length, the provocatively titled Dying. As a standalone single, “Botch” has enough punch to brand the name Lady Bones into the memory of just about anyone who crosses its path- but where the mystery kicks in is how it fits into the larger puzzle. If all of Dying can sustain this level of grim determination and near-feral energy, then Lady Bones may have a bona fide album of the year contender on their hands. With a battering ram of a track like “Botch”, it’s only a matter of time before they start turning some heads.

Listen to “Botch” below and pre-order Dying ahead of its June 3o release date from Midnight Werewolf here.

Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Album Review, Stream)

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Joanna Gruesome‘s a name that’s been appearing on this site consistently throughout its duration and Peanut Butter‘s ensured that trend’s been one that continued throughout 2015’s first stretch. Weird Sister was one of the best records of 2013 and it came out just before Heartbreaking Bravery started operating, which meant they likely factored into the decision to create (and sustain) this space. In 2014, their Astonishing Adventures split with Perfect Pussy nearly topped our best splits of 2014 list (where Peanut Butter standout “Psykcick Espionage” made its debut) and they’ve earned themselves several standalone features through their music videos as well as their recorded output. In short, the band had a lot to live up to with Peanut Butter and they answered those expectations with a deafening roar.

Embracing the dynamics that made them such a compelling act out of the gate, they’ve managed to refine their approach and incorporate a much heavier emphasis on dissonance. Peanut Butter is Joanna Gruesome’s heaviest, noisiest, and most accomplished work to date, extending a narrative arc of continuous improvement. For a band that already packed a punch, throwing in stabbing noise freakouts that punctuate a large number of Peanut Butter‘s tracks might seem unnecessarily excessive. What sets Joanna Gruesome apart from some of their like-minded kin when it comes to this department is their unwavering understanding of restraint. “I Wanna Relax” starts with sheer white noise- but it’s cut off at the head almost as soon as it appears, effectively rendering it a jarring warning of the content that lies ahead.

Joanna Gruesome didn’t set out to pull punches on Peanut Butter and much of the record comes off like an assault. Impressively, even with the strengthened bent on atonality, the band hasn’t sacrificed any of their melody- they’ve enhanced it. “Last Year”, the record’s opening track, is one of the best examples of this duality and sets the tone for the nine tracks that follow. Never dipping under mid-tempo, the band keeps things at a sprint throughout the record, never allowing the listener a reprieve. The closest they come is the band’s surprisingly gentle closer, “Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend”, which feels like the transcendental calm that descends after a violent storm.

Part of what makes Joanna Gruesome’s storm so electric is the way vocalist Alanna McCardle weaves her ideologies into her narratives, subtly drawing the line to gender expectations through tales of difficult relationships and personal angst. Throughout Peanut Butter McCardle grapples with what and what isn’t good, torturing herself by questioning her own motivations. At times, the self-examination is brutal but it’s softened by the band’s pop sensibilities, which are continuing to produce some of the most gorgeous moments of any band currently making music. Terrifying, exhilarating, and unfailingly brilliant, Peanut Butter isn’t just Joanna Gruesome’s current crown jewel, it’s also one of the brightest spots of a year that’s already overflowing with greatness. To further illustrate that last point, a list of titles worth hearing will be included at the very bottom of this page (which also acts as an addendum to the preceding post).

Before you scan through those titles, though, make sure to listen to Peanut Butter over at NPR’s First Listen (the Spotify embed will take the place of that link once the record goes live).

Pre-order Peanut Butter from the always-great Slumberland here.

Now, as promised, an accompanying list of some other previously unlisted 2015 titles that are more than worth your attention.

Johanna Warren – nūmūn
Pfarmers – Gunnera
Sick Sad World – Fear and Lies
Glockabelle – Wolf BBQ
Fraternal Twin – Skin Gets Hot
Coliseum – Anxiety’s Kiss
DTCV – Uptime!
Clean Girls – Despite You
Turnover – Peripheral Vision
Battle Ave – Year of Nod
Tres Padres – Father’s Day / A Lot to Maintain
Vomitface – Another Bad Year
Eskimeaux – O.K.
Crocodiles – Boys
Novella – Land
Blanck Mess – Dumb Flesh
Miss June – Matriarchy
Art Is Hard – Family Portrait Pt. II

A Third of the Way: Full Streams, 2015

“2015 has been a monstrous year for new music”, or some deviation of that phrase, has become a refrain that continues to gain strength as the year progresses. We’ve already tackled a long list of the first quarter full lengths that captured our attention but, as is the case with any year, April afforded a chance to get caught up on some titles while the new ones kept emerging. I genuinely wish I had the time to go over all of these titles in details (and I may wind up expanding on a few of them when December rolls around) but, unfortunately, time’s proving to be a cruel factor. Over the first four months of the year, I was committed to a full-time position and then navigated the slow exit from that position in order to pursue a move to Brooklyn. During that time span, I was collecting everything as it appeared and began to pitch out to larger publications. At one point I was working  an average of 75 hours a week. I made sure to never lose sight of new music and began compiling a list of the things I came across that I genuinely loved.

Whether it be something regional like Strange Relations’ -Centrism, something highly publicized like METZ’s II, any number of records from bands that have earned the tag “site favorite” (Speedy Ortiz, Sheer Mag, Purple 7, Courtney Barnett, Mikal Cronin, etc), or something that should have picked up more press than it did (Mittenfield’s Optimists, Bent Denim’s Romances You, etc), there were a lot of records that deserved to be fully featured. Hell, there are even a handful that are going to be running on the ensuing post- but 75 already feels like a scary number for one list. That being the case, it’ll be impossible for someone to listen through to all of these titles in one sitting. It’s best left as a bookmark, something to return to for the purpose of exploring. It’s a list that isn’t restricted to just one genre, it covers close to the entire gamut of the styles of music that regularly get featured on this site, meaning you’re bound to find something you love buried in the wealth of titles.

So, explore at will. Buy the titles that catch your ear and keep celebrating great art.

Enjoy.


Sleeping in the Aviary – Young Love Is Easy (Unreleased Demos)
Pocket Hercules – Pocket Hercules
Personal Best – Arnos Vale
Dusk – Demos
Fred Thomas – All Are Saved
Strange Relations – -CENTRISM
Try The Pie – Total Domestication
Pupppy – Shit in the Apple Pie
Hop Along – Painted Shut
Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
Flout – Gims
ThinLips – Divorce Year
Seagoat – Seagoat

Weird Mob – Wizards
Creative Adult – Ring Around the Room
Tomten – Bitter Pill b/w Humdrum Doom Song
METZ – II
The Lees of Memory – Soft Places b/w Within A Dream II
The Splits – The Splits II
Um Are – Child Prodigy
Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk – Kill The Fuzz
Loose Tooth – Easy Easy East
Pale Angels – Imaginary People
Fleabite – TTYL
Cop – Render
Bill Fay – Who Is The Sender
Sheer Mag – II
Shopping – Consumer Complaints
Red Cosmos – Dreaming In Unison
Throw Vision – Were It Will
Steven King – Shakin In My Boots
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Never Were The Way She Was
LA Font – Hangtime Vol. 1
Timeshares – Already Dead
Torres – Sprinter
Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia
Bent Denim – Romance You
InfestDC – DZ Tapes
Violent Femmes – Happy New Year
Tomboy – Sweetie
Purple 7 – Gulf of the Afterglow
Elvis Depressedly – New Alhambra
Mouth – Mouth
Braids – Deep In the Iris
Yeesh – No Problem
Annalibera – Nevermind I Love You
Andy Gabbard – Fluff
Bay Uno – Catalina
Birches – Birches
Alimony Hustle – Gutter Gutter Strike Strike Gutter Gutter
The Black Ships – Dead Empires
Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers
Simon Joyner – Grass, Branch & Bone
Karate Dancer – Jyu Kumite EP
Toothtaker + Mestizo – Everybody’s Enemy
Sacred Paws – Six Songs
Mittenfields – Optimists
Pretty Pretty – Talkin’ To The Walls
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
The Sleepwalkers – Mortimer b/w Choose Your Own Ending
Candy Darling – Going Straight b/w Waves
Soda Bomb – Wanna Jam?
Kuroma – Kuromarama
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
Total Love – Total Love
Van Dammes – Better Than Sex
Michael Rault – Living Daylight
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
The Dead Ships – EP 1
Blue Blood – This Is The Life
DVS – DVTV
Tussilago – Holy Train
Earl Sweatshirt – Solace
Warm Soda – Symbolic Dream
Mikal Cronin – MCIII

The Ar-Kaics – Be My Baby (Stream)

ar-kaics

Last week Richmond’s The Ar-Kaics released one of the better punk records of 2014 on the always-reliable Windian Records, who have celebrated the achievement by offering next to the whole thing for streaming on their soundcloud. Even though all of the band’s self-titled full-length is worth spending a serious amount of time with, there are a few songs that have established themselves as early highlights, including the brooding stomper that is “Be My Baby”. Channeling the underlying tension and sense of subtle dread that informs the majority of The Ar-Kaics into an eerie tour de force, it demonstrates the band’s complete and total understanding of what makes their music so memorable.

More than just about any song on the just-released full-length, “Be My Baby” possesses an innate and unshakable purpose, which will likely lend itself to an unlikely longevity. The Ar-Kaics are generally at their best when they try to play up their influences and on “Be My Baby”, 60’s pop and creeping 70’s pysch are given even footing, allowing the song to find life as an arresting bit of nightmare pop. It’s all over in under two and a half minutes but it all sticks, thanks to a niche aesthetic that suits the band extraordinarily well. There’s a feeling of unease that sticks around long after the song winds down, ensuring it a spot among the year’s more fascinating works.

Listen to “Be My Baby” below and order The Ar-Kaics from Windian Records here.

PURPLE 7 – Wise Up (Stream)

p7

Among the few who have heard (and loved) it, there aren’t very many records to have been released since the turn of the century that can come even close to touching Hot New Mexicans’ should-be-classic self-titled sophomore effort. Hot New Mexicans was that band’s final release before their bandleader, Patrick Jennings, moved camp from Athens to Bloomington and joined up with Will Statler  (of Defiance, Ohio and Landlord) and Chris Mott (also of Landlord) to form PURPLE 7. Following their excellent five-song effort, Volume Two, the band’s released Jewel Finger in a limited edition LP run, which marks their first full-length to receive a physical release.

Quietly self-released just a little under a month ago, Jewel Finger is an absolute stunner and, from top to bottom, one of 2014’s very best. More than just a sum of the band member’s previous projects, they’ve already established an original voice of their very own. While the influences of their past work are still very clearly present, they’ve tapped into something else that feels entirely new, despite still trafficking in left field basement pop. From the attention-ensuring opening songs to the absolutely gorgeous title track and the arresting closer, this is a full-bodied work from a band confident enough to present themselves in a completely unguarded fashion. Most representative of all of this, though, is the raucous “Wise Up”.

“Wise Up” seems to stand out in a record literally full of highlights thanks to featuring an even more manic energy than the songs that surround it. From the stop/start rhythms to the buzzsaw riffs, menacing bass line, and impassioned vocal delivery, it’s the point where Jewel Finger shifts from truly great to completely transcendental. Continuously working in new ideas with verve and panache, “Wise Up” refuses to relent from being as gnarled, and as engaging, as possible. It’s the defining moment of a genuinely great record and deserves to be heard by anyone with even just a passing interest in the genre. This is a masterclass in songwriting and cements PURPLE 7’s growing importance- and reputation. Modern music doesn’t get much better than this.

Listen to “Wise Up” below and make sure to order a copy of Jewel Finger before they’re gone- this is a record that needs to be in as many collections as possible.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club (Review, Stream)

Jawbreaker Reunion

Once in a rare while there’s a band that springs up suddenly and immediately hits all the right notes, sweet spots, and pleasure points. They’re the kind of bands that are immediate, engaging, and reveal untapped expanses of potential while still managing to come across as fully-formed just out of the gate. Enter: Jawbreaker Reunion. With only two EP’s to their name, this Annandale-on-Hudson, New York quartet just self-released their debut full-length Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club and are set for some serious gate-crashing.

There’s a very unique, very distinct mixture of intelligent humor, depth, and an incredible amount of pop sensibility on display throughout Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club that sets it apart from a lot of its peers. All the songs are catchy as hell, bristling with attitude, and manage to pack a knockout punch in just under 18 minutes. From album opener “Empire” onward, it’s made abundantly clear that the band’s tapped into something special by utilizing a fairly original approach to combining key characteristics of great soul, surf, doo-wop,  powerpop, and punk (for that fact alone, if this record doesn’t wind up getting pressed to wax by someone, it’ll be a travesty).

While most of the songs on Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club only run about a minute and a half, a few managed to break the two minute mark- including the incredible highlight “E.M.O.”. Riding a crest of gently propulsive riffs, the band explore territory that’s just a few shades darker than the rest of the record and wind up with not just the best song on the record but one of the best of the year. When the chorus of “I don’t want to wait anymore, you don’t have to wait, accepting that there is no cure” rings out a final time, it feels unflinchingly honest. It’s a rare moment where the band allows their guard to fall down- and instead of cloaking their missives in biting humor, they opt for a brave vulnerability. It’s extraordinary.

They don’t let the moment linger too long, though. In the very next song, there’s the gleeful couplet of “So just go ahead and try it/I’m a fucking pussy riot!” buried in a song that’s built around challenging gender identity. Most of the songs on Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club are either socially or politically pointed and all of those points are exceptional- and exceptionally well made. It’s a record that’s not afraid to back down from a fight, which is a fact that’s never more crystallized than it is on than on profanity-laced closer “Jeggings”. Tapping into a deep well of anger and frustration, their final rallying cry gets directed at body image discrimination and winds up summarizing everything Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club stands for.

After “Jeggings” throws it out its final “Ass” chant, the band’s torn through 10 tracks and wound up with a perfectly paced, masterfully sequenced, and astonishingly great debut (one that’s made even easier to love after finding out it was recorded in a living room and bathroom). Shots get fired, a wide selection of earworms get revealed, an endless amount of smiles are more than earned- and Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club stands tall as one of the very best of 2014. Don’t be surprised if this one winds up on more than a few folks’ year-end lists. It’s already approaching a direct guarantee for one of them.

Listen to Luthan Sisterhood Gun Club below and get inspired.