Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Good Cheer

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.

Surfer Rosie – EP 1 (EP Premiere)

The last time we heard from the Laura Daegling-led project Surfer Rosie, they’d just released “Worms“, an explosive whirlwind of frustration and engaging dynamics. Daegling had already more than proven to be a songwriter of worth via Sun’s Out Bummed Out, whose “Cut All My Hair” ranks as one of the finest songs of the past few years. Surfer Rosie provided an opportunity to showcase a much spikier side of Daegling’s arsenal and the hints the band’s been providing leading up to their first proper release — via the increasingly excellent Good Cheer Records label — have all honestly conveyed one simple truth: this EP’s a monster.

Each of the record’s four tracks comes brimming with the same kind of hard-won anxiety and relentlessness that informed “Worms”. “Nerves“, the EP’s opening track, has already been unveiled and sets the tone for a tense and embattled run of songs that don’t shy away from showing a spirited resilience, even as defeatism seeps through the cracks. From that opener onward, EP 1 often sounds like the band’s alternating between a chaotic, mid-sprint catharsis and the gasp-of-breath relief that accompanies the exit and provides a window back to a more stately composure.

“Gilly’s Dream” provides the latter of those two modes throughout and manages to stand out in a short collection full of uniformly strong efforts. By far the calmest track the EP has to offer, “Gilly’s Dream” conjures up a dream-like haze that’s hard to unravel and even harder to want to escape. Subdued, understated, and exuding a near-paradoxic confidence, the song’s an unlikely — and deeply unassuming — spellbinder. It’s also a near-necessity on an EP that has a penchant to wrings emotional responses out of its listeners at intense and unapologetic volumes.

The back half of EP 1 continues to offer up gems, with “Resting Place” and “Chugger” both easily defensible candidates for Surfer Rosie’s best song to date. Whether it’s the gorgeous 80-second intro to the closing track or the hushed extended outro section of “Resting Place”, the band continues to prove their mastery of dynamic composition. At their most muted, the songs find a deep well of strength that manages to make both the narratives and the compositions stick.

Occasionally, when the EPs at its most absorbing, it can feel like being flattened. Instead of terror, though, the feeling that it provokes is reassurance. It’s that same quiet redemption that defines EP 1 and makes Surfer Rosie a band deserving of a great amount of care. In a seemingly unending barrage of detachment that’s taken over various subgenres of punk, it’s refreshing to have a testament to sincerity and openness. At the end of the day, both EP 1 and Surfer Rosie feel like a ceaseless, unpredictable fire that better an exceedingly cold room. We should all consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to stare at the constantly shifting embers and be affected by the glow.

Cool American – Maui’s (Stream)

It’s been about a week since the last non-premiere post has been published. In that time, incredible new songs from Yowler, Lee Bains III + The Glory Fires, The Districts, STRFKR, Van Dale, Wieuca, Basement Revolver, Katie Ellen, Shit Girlfriend, Pink Frost, Downtown Boys, Art School Jocks, Two Inch Astronaut, David Nance, and Esper Scout have all found their way out into the world. Cool American‘s “Maui’s”, the last track to tease Infinite Hiatus, also found release in that time.

“Maui’s” continues the project’s penchant for bittersweet basement pop driven as much by the innate charisma of Nathan Tucker — the mastermind behind Cool American — as it is by its dynamic composition. Swinging from lo-fi aesthetics to the kind of explosive, powerpop-leaning burst that should make Good Cheer a revered name, “Maui’s” finds exhilarating life in harnessing the unexpected. It’s another in an increasingly long line of triumphant moments for Cool American and it deserves to be played as loudly and as frequently as possible.

Listen to “Maui’s” below and pre-order Infinite Hiatus here.

Surfer Rosie – Worms (Stream)

A little over half of this week has passed and it’s seen great new songs surface from the likes of Grey Gersten, Slowdive, Jesse, The Sea Life, VAJJ, Doghouse Charlie, Swimming Tapes, TOPS, Now, Now, Sheer Mag, Swiftumz, Kazyak, and Cutty Flam. That same stretch also produced Surfer Rosie’s outstanding “Worms”, a fine introductory track to an incredibly promising new project.

Last year this site was fortunate enough to host the premiere of Sun’s Out Bummed Out’s “Cut All My Hair“, a song that’s refused to relinquish its vice-like grip on my brain ever since. Laura Daegling, the songwriter responsible for that project, is back at it again with another new outfit: Surfer Rosie. Formed as a Pixies cover band, the quartet eventually morphed into something else entirely and they’re offering a glimpse at what’s to come with “Worms”.

Spiky, atmospheric, and a little bit vicious, “Worms” is a contained burst of oft-kilter pop, dressed up in a decidedly punk aesthetic. It’s a simple, effective, and even gripping work, making the absolute most of two minutes and injecting that time with a distinct personality. Invigorating and galvanizing in equal measure, its easy to see why Good Cheer Records — a label that continues to make all the right choices — has tapped the band for their debut release. While further details have been kept quiet, “Worms” will go a long way in filling that silence. Give into its minimalism for a maximal effect.

Listen to “Worms” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on Surfer Rosie.

Rod – Cemetery (Stream)


Great new tracks from Chook Race, TERRY, Milemarker, Heliotropes, Night School, Big Neck Police, TTNG, Morgan Dealt, Parlour, Waxahatchee, and Jay Arner surfaced over the past several days, making a considerable impression. While all of them essentially guaranteed a short, healthy stretch of new releases, it was the latest from Rod that hit hardest. The band’s next up on the release calendar for Good Cheer, who have been having a remarkable 2016 run (one that’s been highlighted by Mo Troper‘s astonishing Beloved) and “Cemetery” — Rod’s latest — makes sure their impressive pace is maintained.

In under 100 seconds, Rod makes their presence known via soaring, venomous basement pop that feels like it’s always on the verge of spontaneous combustion and doing everything in its power to keep everything under control. As the vocals switch back and forth between pointed singing and vicious screaming, the velocity of “Cemetery” increases to dangerous levels. The hard-charging guitars contort and stab as the propulsive rhythm section work transforms the song into a white-hot wrecking ball of pure feeling. It’s an exhilarating look at what’s sure to be an extremely formidable — and very intimidating — record.

Listen to “Cemetery” below and keep an eye on Good Cheer Records’ store page — and this site — for further updates on the band.

Naked Hour – Always On the Weekend (Stream)

Naked Hour

The past few days saw a small handful of great songs find release from the likes of Night School, Yung, Gothic Tropic, Walter Schriefels, and Silent Pictures. Naked Hour confidently added themselves to those ranks with the dynamic “Always on the Weekend”, from their forthcoming record of the same name. Always on the Weekend is Good Cheer’s first release following Mo Troper’s astonishing Beloved and the label’s set to continue their winning streak.

“Always on the Weekend” starts off at a gentle clip, nearly resembling a lullaby at several points through its first 40 seconds. Just as it seems “Always on the Weekend” will maintain the serene nature of its introduction the song veers left into a sharp explosion of noisy, subversive pop-punk. For just under a minute Naked Hour thrives off the explosive energy of the main section of “Always on the Weekend” before quietly settling back into the subdued cadences of the intro section. It’s an effectively haunting whisper that elevates “Always on the Weekend” from a good song to a great one. Don’t let it go unheard.

Listen to “Always on the Weekend” below and pre-order the upcoming tape here.

Mo Troper – Beloved (Album Review)

mo troper

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

If you know me at all, then at some point over the past few months you’ve heard me talk (probably half-incoherently) about my excessive love for Mo Troper’s basement pop masterpiece, Beloved. My favorite release of 2016 thus far, for any format, the record’s been in near-constant rotation ever since the label (Good Cheer) patched over an advance copy. The thrill of that initial listen gets rekindled from the quick feedback crackle at the onset of opener “Happy Birthday” onward, at the point of nearly 100 full listens.

Literally everything about this record works. From the lo-fi-skewing production value, to the inordinate amount of hooks, to the vocal and instrumental melodies. There’s not a false note to be found anywhere on Beloved, which is paced and sequenced as masterfully as anything I’ve heard over the past 15 years. Pulling cues from classic powerop acts like Big Star and just as many from more punk-minded acts like The Replacements, Mo Troper’s landed on a sound that echoes the battered classics of contemporaries and legends alike.

Beyond the exceptionally well-composed songwriting, the lyrical narratives of Beloved feel unflinching honest in their openness. Whether Troper’s tackling heartache, bro culture, or his own anxieties, it never scans as anything less than completely sincere. In that respect, Beloved becomes one of the bravest records to emerge from the genre in recent years. By casting out sideways glances in favor of plain terminology, the record gains a large portion of its appeal by being unabashedly, terrifyingly realistic.

The lyrical strength of Beloved comes to a head in one of its starkest moments, the bass/vocals centerpiece “Somebody Special” (which arrives on the heels of “Judy Garland”, one of several songs on Beloved that could be a legitimate candidate for Song of the Year). One of the record’s most definitive moments comes at the heart of “Somebody Special” when Troper viciously takes himself apart and, in an instant, finds the strength to reconfigure:

And every boy you’ve spoiled since
has kissed you better than I ever could
It’s the big teeth and bad attitude
but I can live with that
I haven’t killed anyone yet

It’s in those moments where Beloved goes from being an unfathomably strong record to being an out-and-out genre classic (and, should time prove helpful, an outright classic). Troper stakes his heart in those moments and gifts it to anyone fortunate enough to be listening. Any of the perceived projections about Beloved being another routine run through both powerpop and sloppy, punk-leaning rock n’ roll hallmarks are eviscerated in one short passage; Beloved doesn’t just succeed in carrying out Troper’s artistic vision, it’s an immediate extension of himself, bruises and all.

Following the unforgettable devastation that “Somebody Special” provides is another run-through some of the most memorable basement pop to be released since the turn of the century. Whether that comes in the form of the anthemic punch of “Paint” and “Eighteen” or the endearing, pointed snark (and the frighteningly relatable confessions) of “Star Wars” doesn’t matter. What matters is that these songs exist in the first place because they were desperately needed.

Far too much of today’s musical landscape is taken up by fake posturing, band’s running through check marks to attempt to secure an audience, revenue, or a prized place in an emerging scene. Beloved discards literally every notion of false pretense to focus on something that chooses to embrace the unflattering nature of what it means to be human. It’s a record that’s seething with frustrations, disappointment, and a desire for something better, something more.

When Beloved finally hits its apex, with the towering eight-plus minutes of “The Biggest” (which never once repeats a section of lyrics and commendably avoids any discernible chorus) it’s genuinely breathtaking. Cutting in all of the right ways, it’s both a snarling condemnation of Troper’s own psyche and a wary treatsie on just about any form of empowerment that naturally accompanies any sort of authoritarian position (even in the most acute sense).

Beloved‘s final, minute-long song, “Teeth”, once again loops the focus back to the objects of its title, bringing out a clever metaphor more vividly. Teeth decay, teeth rot, teeth fall out, and teeth die. They’re a microcosm of what we experience as humans. Sure, there are moments where they’re cleansed, given treatment, or cared for, but their eventual collapse is inevitable. It’s an elegant, if surprisingly dark, statement but it’s firmly rooted in the reflective nature that drives so much of Beloved.

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Listen to Beloved below and order a copy from Good Cheer here.

Mo Troper – Star Wars (Stream)

mo troper

More than a dozen great new songs found their way out into the world at large today, which seems as solid of an example as any to point out that the early running of 2016 has yielded an overwhelming amount of outstanding material. 13 of those songs came from Try the Pie, NOTHING, Boys, Amber Arcades, Your Loss, Hanni El Khatib, Mike Adams at His Honest Weight, The Moles, Harmony Tividad, Youth In Bloom, Earring, Hestina, and MONEY. While all of those titles, as always, deserve as many plays as they can possibly receive, it’s a song that I’ve been playing to death for the past month that gets the spotlight here.

Before going any further, I’d like to sincerely thank the good people over at Good Cheer Records for patching along an advance copy of Mo Troper’s essential Beloved because it’s practically all that’s been played ever since it landed in my inbox. Easily my current front-runner for Album of the Year, it perfectly blends the most enticing elements of Big Star, Weezer, The Replacements, and Tony Molina. It’s an insane reel of highlights (something that was likely evidenced in the write-up for “First Monkey In Space” in this site’s 50 Best Songs of 2016’s First Quarter list) but none of them are as strong as the soaring, battered “Star Wars”.

Both a scathing critique of the persistent, embarrassing bro culture and a celebration of the escape that can be found in the titular film, “Star Wars” hits hard in its narrative. Unflinchingly honest and remarkably huge, “Star Wars” is also a triumph in composition. Everything on Beloved incorporates decades worth of DIY punk history and wraps itself in a decidedly pop-leaning package. From the scrappy production to the monstrous hooks, each song could be considered a victory lap for an all-too-frequently overlooked genre. It’s a sentiment that holds especially true for “Star Wars”.

Beloved‘s a record that’s dominated by swing-for-the-fences selections and all of them connect, with “Star Wars” connecting the most emphatically. Blending tongue-in-cheek humor with impassioned feeling can frequently be an awkward blend but it suits “Star Wars” modesty to a tee. “All of my friends/are total fucking bros/wax museum/puppets with their strengths exposed” Troper bellows at the start of the final chorus, injecting his disdain with well-placed humor and a startling amount of intellect (which is another one of Beloved‘s strongest qualities).

Every single second of “Star Wars” is pure bliss for anyone who has even a passing interest in DIY punk, basement pop, or sloppy rock n’ roll. It’s exceptional songwriting that’s as thoughtful as it is catchy, lending an extreme amount of substance to something that could’ve succeeded without the impressive amount of care “Star Wars” winds up displaying. With a vocal melody that has legitimate staying power, a relatable message that resonates, scintillating guitar work, and a powerful turn-in from the rhythm section, “Star Wars” is an unstoppable force.

In the end, no amount of anger, dejection, or hopelessness can’t be at least somewhat remedied by the comfort of an old film. It’s a strange truth that a lot of us learn the hard way before recognizing the depths of escapism’s value. Mo Troper’s got it figured out, though, and now that truth has a fiery anthem as a welcome accompaniment. If there’s any justice, 39 years down the road some kid will be finding that escape by turning on this very song, which more than deserves to share its title with an old classic.

Listen to “Star Wars” below and pre-order Beloved from Good Cheer here.