Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Heights

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lily Mastrodimos)

Jawbreaker Reunion II

At some point in 2015, I got to know the core members of Jawbreaker Reunion, a band I’ve adored since first coming across their debut shortly after its release, as people. Bella Mazzetti contributed a piece to the 2015 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories earlier this month and now Lily Mastrodimos is following suit. While Mastrodimos’ contributions to Jawbreaker Reunion have left me reeling, in 2015 the songwriter’s focus expanded to include Long Neck, a hushed solo project. Heights, the project’s first full-length, was one of 2015’s great unexpected highlights. Trading in Jawbreaker Reunion’s confrontational celebrations into something much more quietly introspective is something Mastrodimos expands on in the included piece. Mastrodimos’ contribution here is an unfettered look at the machinations of artistic process; how people learn to cope with the most difficult of impulses. Read it below and remember that even feeling invaluable can be a valuable experience when it’s approached from the right angle.

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I Swear It’s Enough: Learning Self Care Through Long Neck

I should preface this piece by saying that, in writing and sharing all of this, I am terrified. I am sitting at my desk and my heart is pounding. This is a lot for me to say and even more to admit. But I have spent years invalidating myself, and for the sake of my health it needs to stop.

2015 was the year I really started paying attention to my mental health. For so long, I had situated myself into a comfortable routine of repressing, repressing, repressing. I couldn’t bring myself to reach out to my friends, to call and ask for help, to really be honest about how I was doing and the thoughts that were racing through my head at breakneck speeds. 2015 was the year I started to work on breaking that cycle. It’s been slow progress, and with 2016 already creeping along I’ve found that I have more to work on. But throughout the previous year, one of the major things that allowed me to explore my mental health and find some calm was music, specifically, with Long Neck.

Long Neck began in my senior year at Bard, with small GarageBand recordings of songs I had written in the months or years before the semester started. I had started recognizing my depression towards the end of my sophomore year, recognizing it as something real and with teeth. My whole body would ache, like it was cringing. My stomach and chest would constantly feel like a squirming ball python. I hated my body, I hated every word that came out of my mouth, I felt lonelier than I could put into words. I believed I was unlovable.

I was scared shitless to open my mouth and tell anyone anything; I had convinced myself that if I did so no one would want to be my friend because I was too much of a “bummer”. So instead of talking, instead of reaching out, instead of calling, I wrote songs about it.

The songs I wrote as Long Neck held two purposes. The first was to have an outlet for everything I was feeling. The second was to let my friends know that something was up. I am lucky to have some of the most supportive and loving friends I could ever ask for, they have been there for me at my worst and I am so grateful for them. When writing these songs I wasn’t doing so because they didn’t care; I was finding it physically difficult to tell my friends I was in a bad place, and in writing these songs I realized I was far more at ease and comfortable to open up about my depression in verse.

At the start of 2015, I set a goal for myself. I acquired some recording tools and software, and I set out to record all the songs I had been playing in secret for months (though I had played my first Long Neck show in December ’14).  I had no idea what I was going to do with any of the finished products, but I was excited to work them into new forms. My dorm room was my studio. My second-floor window overlooked an open field and the forests beyond, and rising high above those trees were the Catskills that stood across the Hudson.

I could hear songbirds when they came back in spring, I heard coyotes crying at the moon, I heard spring peepers and the nasal “meeps” of American Woodcocks and trains rolling by late at night. I felt so much peace there, and when I started recording everything I found that I wasn’t afraid of holding back. On days when I’d get snowed in I would spend the whole day recording, snuggled in my favorite sweaters, watching the snow phase out the mountains and the forests until it settled in one uninterrupted sea of white, my Christmas lights reflecting off of the surface.

This environment, with its serenity and warmth, was the perfect place for me to sit and explore and sift through everything that had been filling my body with the weight that made it so difficult for me to move. I could dig into myself and how I was feeling and why and examine everything I pulled from that. When I put my findings to words, I could feel myself breathing again.

Where before I had been content with ignoring my depression, now I was staying active—I was glaring at it in the face, I was playing keys and guitar and bass and banjo and singing and tracking it all. The music was on my terms, I had control over everything I was recording through mixing and retracking and doubling and what-have-you. Nothing was whispering to me “you’re not worth it” or “why do you even think this matters?” or “you should probably just stop trying.” Something was nudging me and saying “look what you’re creating.”

Long Neck became a form a self-care. I realized, halfway through recording the album that would become Heights, that I was becoming more comfortable being alone and keeping myself company than I had ever been. Before, I had dreaded returning to an empty room, or looking at a blank phone screen. Suddenly, I was able to relish the quiet nights that were all mine. They belonged to me, and I claimed ownership of myself.

This isn’t to say that my depression was completely cured. Not at all. I still had my rough days and weeks, still had to force myself to talk to people, still got panic attacks at parties and still felt a blazing pit in my stomach when I thought about how lonely I was. But something was different. It didn’t consume me anymore.

It didn’t feel like I was stagnating, because I could write about it. I could go back to my dorm and sing the lyrics over and over and put it to music and think about ways to make it better, and in doing so, could feel like I was helping myself feel better. I could feel like healing was possible. I was teaching myself how to be the maker of my own salvation; therapy helped too, but in between sessions I had to be the motor for my own growth.

Being more honest through Long Neck allowed me to become more honest with myself. When I started playing shows, I realized that people are willing to listen, people can connect, people want to hear you. Even when it’s not a song. Long Neck let me be heard when I thought my voice meant absolutely nothing, when I couldn’t express myself truthfully to the people I loved the most. I learned to be bolder. I started being more open with my friends, and was overjoyed when I realized that no one would let me go because I was depressed—I wasn’t a “bummer”, I was someone struggling with something real and valid.

When I released Heights in June, a few weeks after graduating from the place I called home for four years and leaving my beloved dorm room, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. There was everything I had been working through for almost three years, there was something I created all on my own, out in the open. I felt proud, prouder than I’d been in so long, and happy. I felt taller, I felt solid, I felt OK.

I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I’m still taking steps forward and steps back and forward again. Long Neck has been one of the most positive musical experiences I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. I’ve started playing with a full band of some of my oldest and best friends, and our practices and last performance have left me feeling so much love and pure joy. I’ve come to better understand my downs and how to endure, knowing that there are better things ahead.

Depression is a wild animal. It bends to no one, and can be so difficult to lasso that it burns your palms against the rope. But you can ease its temper, even if its just for a little bit. You can be lonely but you are never alone. You can feel unlovable but know that there are scores of people to whom you are the world. You are stronger than you know or believe, and the feelings that prick your brain are just as valid for you to have as the peace and love you so rightly deserve. I promise you.

-Lily Mastrodimos

Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer (Album Review, Stream)

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As has been mentioned multiple times over, this site saw a recent shift from standard coverage to specialty coverage thanks to a move. In the few weeks that have passed in that time, a slew of exciting new releases made their way out into the world. One of the finest- and, frankly, most overlooked- was Sweet John Bloom’s fiery Weird Prayer. That record will be the focus of this piece, while a list of 50 excellent full streams to have recently appeared will be included beneath the embedded bandcamp player. Before immediately going there, though, let’s focus on the matter at hand: Sweet John Bloom’s full-length debut.

Formed out of the ashes of several other bands (including Four Eyes, who released one of the best 7″ records in recent memory with Towards the End of Cosmic Loneliness), Sweet John Bloom already had a fairly impressive pedigree out of the gate. It’s not surprising that the band managed to click as tightly as they have, especially considering their respective former bands had all established a familiarity by virtue of shared spaces (bills, scenes, etc.). Even with all of that taken into account, Weird Prayer‘s pure strength still manages to surpass expectations.

A collection of 15 dirtied up, punk-leaning basement pop songs, the record not only succeeds in effortlessly conveying the band’s identity but in coming off as a genuine record; something that’s meant to be heard in full. Naturally sequenced and expertly paced, it’s a considerable achievement for a first at-bat operating with this medium as a collective unit. Each section of Weird Prayer comes off as considered as it does impassioned, rendering the whole thing an invigorating shot of adrenaline. Vocal leads are traded with ease, there’s a killer melody buried in just about every passage, and the flawless production makes sure to include enough bursts of weirdness- like the absolutely stunning outro to “Night Thing”- to keep the whole thing zipping along at a startling clip.

For as willfully rough as Weird Prayer sounds, it’s also a record that’s partially defined by finesse. Deceptively elegant guitar figures play with the limits of restraint even as they’re pushed to the red. The rhythm section work always serves a purpose beyond just simply being a base and the lyricism, while occasionally buried with the vocals in the mix, is frequently poignant. Sweet John Bloom also manage to find as much success experimenting with their more gentle sensibilities as they do when they give in to their desire to be abrasive.

“Blood Moon” sees the band finding the perfect balance between the gentle/abrasive dichotomy and, in the context of the record, the song feels even livelier and massive than it did as a standalone single. It’s one of several songs on the record that go beyond anthemic to the realms of catharsis without ever succumbing to over-simplification. It’s part of why the record never loses an unfailing sense of urgency that goes well beyond most of the songs’ inherent immediacy, which sets up a tall order for Weird Prayer‘s final stretch.

In most cases where an album’s almost exclusively built on raucous barn-burners, the weight eventually builds and the load becomes unsustainable; there’s a reason why rollercoasters don’t extend for hours and why successful action films need exposition. Weird Prayer deals nicely with this by offering a gradual come-down by easing off the gas pedal and utilizing a tempo that creeps in a little under the established average for most of its closing numbers. Even then, Sweet John Bloom don’t cede their penchant for a confrontational aesthetic; the 1-2 punch of “Death; and Everything’s Paid For” and “Trust  Me” feels particularly vital and bristles with a world-conquering energy. Fittingly, “Aging In Place”- the first song to be shared from Weird Prayer– brings everything home in a finale that’s both familiar and intensely rousing; an exhilarating end-cap to one of the year’s finest records.

Pick up Weird Prayer from Tiny Engines here and listen to it by clicking play below. Underneath the bandcamp player, browse 50 other great recent full streams.

Radioactivity – Silent Kill
J Fernandez – Many Levels of Laughter
Fight Amp – Constantly Off
Yukon Blonde – On Blonde
Sissy – Gave Birth To A Mum
Expert Alterations – Expert Alterations
Spray Paint – Punters On A Barge
Ballroom – Ballroom
Bad Boys – Demo
Year of Glad – Year of Glad
Little Children – Travelling Through Darkness
The Fur Coats – Short-Brain
Magic Potion – Melt
Oscar – Beautiful Words
Sea Cycles – Ground & Air
Prinzhorn Dance School – Home Economics
Senpai – Hell In My Head b/w Mind Honey
Arm Candy – Arm Candy
Institue – Catharsis
Chris Weisman – Chaos Isn’t Single
Max Gowan – Big People
Falling Stacks – No Wives
Hints – No Regrets In Old English
No Joy – More Faithful
Pleistocene – Space Trap
Long Neck – Heights
No Friends – I’m Not Real
Marvelous Mark – Bite Me
HDSPNS – HDSPNS
KEN Mode – Success
Walleater – I/II
Sweatshop Boys – Always Polite, Never Happy
Wavves x Cloud Nothings – Wavves x Cloud Nothings
Tough Age – I Get The Feeling Central
Sea of Bees – Build A Boat To The Sun
C H R I S T – T O W E R
Alden Penner – Canada In Space
Teen Daze – Morning World
Fell To Low – Low In The Dust
Palm – Ostrich Vacation
Bully – Feels Like
Bruise – demos.
The Armed – Untitled
Cold Cave – Full Cold Moon
Self Defense Family – Heaven Is Earth
Wild Pink – Good Life
Nicolas Jaar – Nymphs III
Creepoid – Cemetery Highrise Slum
Gnarwhal – Shinerboy
Lady Bones – Dying