Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Hop Along

Hop Along – How Simple (Music Video)

In just a scant few days a surprisingly long list of compelling music videos have come out, bearing the names of artists like Speedy Ortiz, Holy Now, Miya Folick, Okkervil River, Covey, Marchildon!, Cherry Glazerr, MOLLY, Johanna Warren, Alice Bag, The Duke of Norfolk, LUMP, Swampmeat Family Band, Secret Colours, and Scott Matthews. While all of those are worth a handful of watches, the clip that will be focused on in this post is the one that Hop Along‘s provided for Bark Your Head Off, Dog showstopper “How Simple”.

Derrick Belcham takes the reins for the “How Simple” clip, which is a joyous celebration of identity and an homage to classic films (notably, the golden era of the movie-musical). The video also puts guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan front and center, marking an intriguing first for the band. Quinlan’s boundless charisma and magnetism as a perform has long been a selling point of the band’s scintillating live show but they’ve never allowed themselves such a visual spotlight in the visual release format.

The wait pays tremendous dividends here, Quinlan’s presence coming off like a sustained flash of lightning, cleverly elevated by the clip’s single-spotlight framing. All eyes are on Quinlan as the songwriter guides us through what could be a manic breakdown, a morning routine, or an extended moment of solitude. No matter which way the clip’s narrative is spun, the truth of it manages to speak volumes, punctuated by what very well wind up being the line of the year in “don’t worry, we will both find out, just not together.”

Impromptu dance parties break out, cereal gets eaten, and different figures find ways to come into focus, but when “How Simple” begins receding, those faces are left peering in from outside, with that lone spotlight still on Quinlan. It’s a moment that’s both sobering and hopeful, coming across as a testament to a well-earned understanding of the importance of self-care. Even when everything falls apart or is splintering at the seams, there are still ways to center yourself. Sometimes all it takes is the knowledge that you’re always free to dance around and pour yourself a bowl of cereal.

Watch “How Simple” below and pick up a copy of Bark Your Head Off, Dog here.

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review, Stream)

A small sampling of some excellent records to find release were already given a few posts back but to not mention the records put out by Bambara, Pole Siblings, Big Buddy, Look Vibrant, Stimmerman, No Thank Youdné, and Breakfast Muff would be doing everyone a massive disservice. All of those records are worth exploring, as always, but the record that this post’s going to focus on is one that registers as a standout for a long list of reasons: Hop Along’s breathtaking Bark Your Head Off, Dog.

Hop Along, over the course of their history, have built up a fervent following that’s greeted the band’s music as if it were their own religion. Even a cursory run through their discography would help contextualize that response, as their catalog’s full of blisteringly intense and incredibly emotional pleas, statements, and revelations. The band seems to be constantly operating in a do-or-die mode, where literally everything needs to be put on the line and defended with every last ounce of vigor the members can muster.

They’ve already put out two records that many hold as sacred, in Get Disowned and Painted Shut, virtually guaranteeing any news of new material would be greeted as an event with a capital E. A cathartic live show built and shaped by years of intense touring and the band’s proven record in studio had everyone bracing for another towering record full of the life-or-death dynamics that have become the band’s established pattern.

To their credit, Hop Along took a massive artistic risk and subverted that formula to deliver the most measured and nuanced work of their career. More impressively, they found a way to retain the level of emotional catharsis that’s earned them such a devoted following. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly ambitious record, with things like imposing orchestral arrangements scattered throughout its runtime.

From the record’s opening track, “How Simple”, it seems as if it’ll be business as usual for a while, with the band echoing the late-career work of Rilo Kiley (another band with notable ties to Saddle Creek) but it offers glances towards something a little different. Even with that lingering sense things might be about to change, the closing minutes find room for a vintage Hop Along moment with the repeated mantra of “Don’t worry, we will find out, just not together.”

It’s at that moment that the record — and the band’s slightly revamped dynamic approach — start to click into place. Across the rest of the record, they take small risks to arrive at maximum impact, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes, causing them to lean in and invest. As a tactic, it’s incredibly effective and the band uses it masterfully throughout some of the most impressive work of their career.

Bark Your Head Off, Dog is more than just one impressive arrangement after another, though, and Hop Along grants it as much — if not more — emotional heft than either of there previous two outings. There are times where the record goes beyond feeling personal and tips into feeling like it was borne out of necessity. Thankfully, for us, we can now reap the rewards of that need with what’s bound to stand the test of time and remain one of 2018’s most incredible records.

Listen to Bark Your Head Off, Dog below and pick it up from Saddle Creek.

March’s Honorable Mentions

Only a few days into April (and a few posts away from resuming regular daily updates), it seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the outstanding tracks, clips, and records March had to offer. Since the first week of March was largely covered by the last big recap, the focus here is on the material to find release in the month’s subsequent three weeks. An incredible round of songs, some sterling music videos, and a few standout records managed to make their mark. Below is a compilation of items worth hearing and seeing, so don’t miss a beat and save this tab to explore to your heart’s content.

STREAMS

Mastersystem, Bad Breeding, Pllush, The Sidekicks, Tancred, Drens, Deeper, Hop Along, Iceage, Haley, Spielbergs, Wheelbarrel, Air Waves, Holy Now, Lawn, Yazan (x2), Sharaya Summers, Daniel Tanghal, Dose, Eureka California, Simeon Walker, John Parish, Sibille Attar, Moon Racer, Pre Nup, The Love-Birds, Oceanator, Archie and the Bunkers, Escondido, Death By Unga Bunga, Leisure Tank, The Magic Lantern, Coping Skills, Weller, Character Actor, Ruler, Emily Isherwood, Nice Try, Connections, Vlad Holida.

Lazy Legs, Cold Fronts, Craig Finn, Stimmerman (x2), Dear Nora, Kevin Devine, Brooke Annibale, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (x2), Frederick The Younger, Co Sonn, Swear Tapes, Fiddlehead, boerd, King Tuff, Bernice, Miya Folick, Forest Ray, Aisha Burns, Wye Oak, Tangents, INVSN, DreamendSofia Härdig, No Thank You (x2), L.A. Girlfriend, John Prine, Paul De Jong, Mary Lattimore, Spritzer, Saba, Swell Spells, Erin Rae, Chakra Efendi, Greyhounds, Redolent, Ivan Moult, Neighbor Lady, Hiss Golden Messenger.

77:78, Deerest, Goat Girl, The Dead Tongues, currin (x2), Scratch, Ganser, Kathryn Joseph, Confuse-Ray, Slow Mass (x2), Pole Siblings, DMA’s, Adam Ackerman, Turtlenecked, Gold Connections, Sen Morimoto, War On Women, Kississippi, Belly, Dana Murray, Yolanda, The Cavemen, HAWK, Remission, Andy Cook, White China, LANKS, and A Deer A Horse.

MUSIC VIDEOS

Fenne Lily, Sulky Boy, Night Flowers, Bonny Doon, Oddnesse, Albert Hammond Jr, Tremends, Locate S, 1, Sun June, KNIFEY, Las Rosas, Mastersystem, Ought, Rozwell Kid, RF Shannon, Alex Lahey, Launder, Soccer Mommy, Speedy Ortiz, Wax Idols, Sleepy Zuhoski, Loma, Courtney Barnett, Francobollo, Flasher, Volage, Hinds, Porlolo, The By Gods, Frankie Cosmos, Okkervil River, Crooked Teeth, Laura Veirs, S. Carey, The Dazies, Sam Evian, Alice Bag, Jo Passed, Young Valley, Quiet As A Mouse, Canshaker Pi, Death By Unga Bunga, Sean McMahon, Vive la Void, Yuki Ame, Preoccupations, Moviestar, LICE, Tomma Intet, and Phosphenes.

FULL STREAMS

Daniel Klag, Gentle Heat, Queen of Jeans, The Bordellos, Swampmeat Family Band, Erika Wennerstrom, Rat Kid Cool, T.C. Crosser, and half of the upcoming Nicole Dollanganger record.

2018: A Long Look, A Longer Listen (The First Two Months)

A persistent and all-consuming myth among people that refuse to commit a shred of investment to any sort of search is that “good music just doesn’t exist anymore.” It’s the same sort of thinking present in the cavalcade of thoughtless attempts to shift any sort of blame for societal ills to a younger generation based solely on an outlook that was defined by a vastly different era. Fortunately, there are a host of artists to emphatically disprove brand of thinking and act as a counter to what could be construed as a subtle, insidious form of ageism. Below there are literally hundreds of links providing access to various songs, music videos, and records.

All of them are worth a shot and a good many of them are vastly different from their surrounding links. Each of those items came out in 2018 and there’s an entire world more of them waiting to be discovered by the people willing to put in the work. So use these as a starter pack of sorts or just scroll through and see what today’s musicians can offer. It’s a boundless scope and when its allowed to not just exist but thrive, there are a multitude of reasons to celebrate. Enjoy.

SONGS

Okkervil River, Hop Along, OughtFrøkedal, ConnectionsNoble Son, Mount EerieRich Girls, DuskTherese Litner, Soccer MommyHindsEric Benoit, JACK (x2), The Radio Dept., Parker Longbough, Rat Kid CoolWhy Bonnie (x2), Holy Now (x2), High Sunn (x2), Odina, Spielbergs, The Breeders, Shark ToysJouska (x2), Yazan, Johanna Warren, No Thank You, Drive Me Home Please, Your Old Droog, Charly Bliss, Liza Anne, Father John Misty, Rolling Blackouts C.F., Chemtrails, Katie Von SchleicherWavves & Culture Abuse, VALES, Sharaya Summers, Katie Dey, War On Women, The Goldberg Sisters (x2), Busdriver (x2), Queen of Jeans (x2), Shell of A Shell (x2), Soccer Mommy (x2)

Bodies Be Rivers, Cold Fronts, Three Man Cannon, Russian Baths (x2, 3), Rachel Angel, Francobollo, Big Air, Dryspell (x2), Deanna Petcoff, Sam Levin, Good Air, Helena DelandTrès Oui, Josh Rouse, Sarah Mary ChadwickDustedBonny Doon, Jay Som (x2), Golden Drag, In Tall Buildings, Mastersystem, The Love-Birds, School Disco, Caroline Rose, Zomber, Drawing Boards, SALES, Big Bliss, Wax IdolsErika Wennerstrom (x2), Droopies, Jalen N’GondaKid Dakota (x2), Haley Hendrickx, Tim Kuhl, Sunflower Bean, BambaraBenjamin Lazar Davis (x2), Hanz, Courtney Marie Andrews (x2), Verge Collection, Now, Now, Lowpines, Hurry (x2), Pole Siblings, Birds of Passage

Bush Tetras, Maria Kelly, Rafiq Bahtia, Cut Worms, Death By Unga Bunga, Sitcom, Natalie Shay, Wussy, Citris, Sculpture Club, TheodoreElan Noon (x2), Avalon, Terror Pigeon, Greg Mendez, Neil O’NeilDélage (x2, 3), Anna McClellan, Nap Eyes (x2), BILK, Malena Zavala, Camp Cope, Guerilla Toss, Damaged Bug, Gentle Leader XIV, Kraus, Bummerville (x2), WINDHAND, Numb.erErik Phillips, Oberon Rose, Lizzie Loveless, Hot Snakes, Girlpool, American Nightmare, Dr. Octagon (x2), Runaway Brother, A Grave With No Name, Samara Lubelski, vaarwell, The Golden DregsBelle MareChappo, HOLY, Vamping, Noble SonS. Carey, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat (x2), TT

Sofia Härdig, GrouperAir Waves (x2), Tenderfoot (x2), Sunflower Bean, Josh Mover & The Shakers, Jean-Michael BlaisMany RoomsFreedom Baby, La Luzilluminati hottiesThe Black Lips & The Khan FamilyMelvins, Extravision, AnemoneEverett Bird, Parquet Courts, Life In VacuumSuperteen, Cindy Lee, Ricky Lewis, BUDDIESam Moss, Sego, BRNDADungen & Woods, Loma, John Craigie (x2), Lanikai, Pony LeagueDreamend, Sea Moya, Oceanator, Holly Miranda, Renata Zeiguer, Deathlist, Wilder MakerLea Bertucci, Cutouts, Sur Back (x2), I’m Kingfisher, ANMLPLNET, Oneida, wyd, Western Scene, Bad BreedingThe Drums, Bob HolroydWill Stewart, Varvara

Jerry David Decicca, Redolent, Lokki, ROOS, QWAM, Water From Your Eyes, Old S Resort, Jesse Merchant, Dead Sullivan, John Moods, They Might Be Giants, Cool Ghouls, Strawberry Mountain, The Low Anthem, Peacock Affect, The fin., Ezra Feinberg, EMA, Sloan, The Voidz, VOWWS, Nature Shots, Narrow Head, Sleepyhead, Bob Holroyd, Virginia Wing, Orchid MantisYoung Statues, Kate Teague, Leyya, Pinky Pinky, Mind Over MirrorsWalter Martin, Beach House, The Sea and the Cake, Alice Bag, Eels, Hero-Fisher, Andy CookDatarock, Dabrye, Swear TapesTerra Naomi, FeverbonesPariuh, David Byrne, Palm, Youth In A Roman FieldKid Koala, LokkiHelena Deland

Freedom Fry, ARXX, Troels Abrahamsen, Young Fathers, Post Louis, SpandrelsHannah Epperson, Saw Black, Iceage, Dylan CarlsonAmerican Pleasure Club, Swampmeat Family Band, Pearl Charles, Chez Ali, Compltr, Refrigerator, The Nectars, Candy Ambulance, Death, Jack Watts., Simon D JamesToebow, yndi halda, SabiyhaEllie Schmidly, Sitcom, Doby Watson, Laura Veirs, Lost Horizons, Lost Under Heaven, Andy Jenkins, Guts Club, Yo La Tengo, Media Jeweler, The Saxophones, Hum, Margaret Glaspy, Cary Illinois, Susan the Cat, I Hate You Just Kidding, Tee Grizzley, Barren Womb, Madeline Kenney, I Think Like Midnight, Spirit In The Room, Torgeir Waldemar, LuxGaze, and Japanese Breakfast.

MUSIC VIDEOS

Ought, Parquet Courts, Shy Kids (x2), Caroline Rose, Billy Moon, Screaming Females, Car Seat Headrest, Current Joys (x2, 3, 4), Somehow, Night Flowers (x2), Palehound, Heaven, Look Vibrant, Pip Blom, Ultimate Painting, Royal Brat, CorridorFalcon Jane, Olden Yolk (x2), Stella Donnelly, Nap Eyes, Winter, Wendyfix (x2), Dusted, Superorganism, Pale Kids, Z Berg, Son Lux, Palm, The Spook School, Clint Michigan, Girl Ray, Rostam, Japanese Breakfast, OdinaFrankie Cosmos, Von K, Dogeyed

Shopping (x2), Speedy Ortiz, Treehouses, Holiday Ghosts, Sports Team, Sonny Smith, Bully, Tremends, Bethlehem Steel, Soccer Mommy, The ArmedPJ Harvey & Harry Escott, Lucy Dacus, Moaning (x2), Cloud Castle Lake, Albert Hammond Jr., Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, FlasherNative Sun, Emma Tricca, Partner, Drowse, Barren Womb, Martha Ffion (x2), Honduras, S. Carey, Middle Kids, Newspoke (x2, 3), Callow, Charlotte Day Wilson, Suuns, Goat Girl, Shamir, Death Bells, Guppy, Half Waif (x2)

ROOS, Natalie Prass, Cornelius (x2), Peach Kelli Pop, King Tuff (x2), The Winter Passing, Renata Zeiguer, La Luz, Bat Fangs, Jess WilliamsonSkating Polly, Lionlimb (x2), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael RaultGianni Paci, Queen of Jeans, Dirty Fences, Sorry, Wiggy Giggy, Lemuria, Tough Age, Yours Are the Only Earsnothing,nowhere., Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, Kal MarksScuffleSløtface, Kal Marks, Coping SkillsLauren Ruth Ward (x2, 3), Charmpit, They Might Be Giants, Hurry, First Aid Kit

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Fun Fare, Daddy Issues, The AmazingJeff Rosenstock, boerdJanelle Monáe, Sc Mira, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Surrounder, Iceage, The Go! Team, Mavis Staples, Eels, Margo Price, Titus Andronicus, Alice Bag, Oddnesse, Jessica RiskerFRANKIIEDestroyer, Spinning Coin, Damien Jurado, Ed Schrader’s Music BeatLa Bête BloomsThe Lonely Biscuits, Prawn, Hippo Campus, New Spell, Dream Wife, Echo Pressure, Amen Dunes, Leroy Francis, Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet

Montero, ShitKid, The Dazies, Marlon Williams, Lazy DayLaura Veirs, Lily Allen, Fruition, No Age, YACHT, Sunny War, Cut Worms, Glen Hansard, Trevor Ransom, Hannah Epperson, Seafoam, VedeTTClever Girls, In Tall Buildings, Fufanu, Lowpines, Tiny Fighter, The Prids, STRFKR, Hinds, SuperchunkTFS, Tallies, American Pleasure Club, Johanna Warren, Sam Himself, Men I TrustJessica Lea MayfieldA Place To Bury Strangers, Bad MovesRazorbumpsMoviestar, Teen CreepsPoppy AckroydCaroline Says, Charles Howl, Loma, Fontaines DC, CrumbAlessi’s Ark, Jenny Wilson, The Regrettes, Bummerville, GluedTenderfoot, Tree House, Susie Q, and si,irene.

FULL STREAMS

Vundabar, Hello Flora, Emily Yacina, Kal Marks, Harmony Tividad, Corey Flood, Johanna Warren, Palm, Plain Dog, Candace, Hovvdy, American Pleasure Club, Bat Fangs, Dark Thoughts, Poppy Ackroyd, Erik Phillips, Grave School, Cameron Boucher/Field Medic, The Number Ones, Margaret Glaspy, The Hold Steady, Guided By Voices, Superchunk, Bleary, Lillet Blanc, Hurry, Bedbug, I Hate You Just Kidding, Sidney Gish, weary, ther, Sunshine Faces, Elan Noon, Bodies Be Rivers, Hex, Hobbyist, Las Rosas

Dryspell, Rik & the Pigs, Amaya Laucirica, No MuseumsZinskē, First Thought Worst Thought, Sur Back, Little Star, Mind Spiders, Lowpines, Shopping, Mimicking Birds, Scrap Brain, The Go! Team, Th Da Freak, Shareef Keyes & The Groove, ShitKid, Unlikely Friends, Kid Dakota, Lightwash, Berry, Matthew Politoski, Holy Motors, Blushing, Shakey Graves, Tim Kuhl, Pando, Leyya, Shamir (x2), bristletongue, Dealer Plates, Hank Wood & the Hammerheads, closer, Bummerville, Tropical Trash, Brutal Birthday

Special Explosion, Hookworms, Lisa/Liza, Russian Baths, VOWWS, A Lily, Caroline Says, BB & The Blips, Listener, Balkan Bump, Martha Ffion, Corniglia, Qwam, HOLY, Spice Boys, Hour, Conviction, Cassandra Jenkins, Refrigerator, Sweeney, mita, and compilations from Z Tapes and Emotional Response (x2).

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Eric Slick)

eric slick

The first time I saw Eric Slick, he was manning the kit for Dr. Dog on their Shame, Shame tour and delivered a set that more than made up for just missing the cut-off at a sold-out LCD Soundsystem show. To date, that set remains one of my favorite memories and a benchmark for the realization that sometimes taking left turns winds up producing really memorable moments.

While Slick remains behind the kit for Dr. Dog, I’ve come to know him more for his work in his incendiary punk-tinged basement pop project, Lithuania (whose Hardcore Friends was one of the records from last year that I find myself coming back to the most). An enviably versatile musician and a genuine person, his impact on the music community is immeasurable.

For all those reasons and several more, I’m thrilled to be presenting a piece from Slick for A Year’s Worth of Memories that focuses in on touring, two acts that have been featured on this site numerous times, turning 28, and learning to come to terms with some aspects of his life via cognitive behavioral therapy. Read it below and always acknowledge the things that make you want to keep fighting.

++

As I write this, I’m currently suffering from a modicum of symptoms supposedly related to early Lyme’s Disease. If I make mistakes, it’s because my cognitive functions are limited. Forgive me!

2015

My 28th Year, The Year Of the Sheep. It was supposed to be a year of calm, but if I could offer you a window into my 2015 psyche, you’d see a tangled mess of wires engulfed in flames. There were times when I wanted to jump out of my skin from repulsion and excitement, a dichotomy that would become a warm blanket for my brain-addled nightmare. You see, the 28th year is often the beginning of one’s Saturn return in astrology. I felt as if I were living on that distant planet.

However, I’m not here to wallow in my past sadnesses and failures. I believe that you can rise above mistakes like a kind of animatronic phoenix rising from the CGI ashes. Here’s a list of things that saved my soul in 2015.

Touring with Lithuania

I have a tendency to read a lot of self-help books, even though I don’t absorb much from them. Being on tour with my band Lithuania helped in gaining some sort of empirical life experience. Dominic Angelella and Ricardo Lagomasino (my bandmates) gave me non-judgmental advice and listened as I complained about everything. They also delivered some of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed as a fellow band member.  On one particularly memorable night, I walked offstage at The Soda Bar in San Diego and began crying on a dumpster. Ricardo had empathy for me in this unraveled state, so we walked to a nearby windowless Pizza Hut and shared a gluey Personal Pan Pizza and more importantly, our feelings.

We released an album called Hardcore Friends on Lame-O Records and toured with Hop Along, mewithoutYou, and Beach Slang. The lyrics were hard to sing and some of the lines would become downright prophetic. I guess we all wept a lot on those tours. In fact, I could be well qualified to become a professor in Lachrymology (the study of crying), although I’d have to go back and listen to a lot of Tool albums. I’m forever grateful for Dom and Ricardo, and I know a lot of people who feel similarly.

Hop Along

Speaking of crying, have you ever seen Hop Along? I can compare it to a few other acts I’ve seen: Bjork, Charles Bradley, Neutral Milk Hotel, Stevie Wonder. There are those who take and those who give. Hop Along is not only a gift, it’s a treasure. They’ve always been unnecessarily kind to us. I hope we can be unnecessarily kind to them too. The lyric “None of this is gonna happen to me” still makes me feel an immense and indescribable yearning every time I hear it.

Hop Along for President, 2016.

Pile’s You’re Better Than This

During the darkest moments, I would put on the new Pile record and pretend to punch the ceiling of my car. I didn’t actually punch it because I didn’t want to hurt my hand. You understand. The track “Mr. Fish” would become an anthem, a song of disillusionment and disassociation. There were days when I could relate to the main character, Darryl Fish. He speaks of wrestling formless tenants beneath his bed sheets, and missing the feeling of the sun’s warmth on his arms. What i’m trying to say is, shit got dark. Pile helped me climb my way out of it. I would repeat the album title like a mantra.

Therapy

You can pretend to be Zen all you want. I did. I spent the majority of 2011-2015 believing I had my life figured out, meditating regularly and over-preaching to people in my life that probably didn’t want to hear it. The reality is that nobody has anything figured out. Life is this incredible, amorphous blob that spews out chaos after chaos. It can be harrowing to realize this, but it can also be the beginning of personal freedom.

I started cognitive behavioral therapy in March 2015 and had to go face to face with a lot of issues that I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with. I still go to therapy whenever I can. My musician friend Chris Cohen once told me that, “Life doesn’t get easier, you just get better at dealing with it.” He told me this in 2013, but it resonates now more than ever. So here’s to 2016.

-Eric Slick

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Amanda Dissinger)

ad
Photograph by Dean Stafford

I don’t actually remember how I first met Amanda Dissinger but I’ve become increasingly grateful for that moment. Ever since that initial introduction, she’s been ceaselessly supportive of just about everything I’ve decided to do and has been a constant voice of reason. It’s why whenever I travel, I take the gorgeous collection of poetry she released last year, This Is How I Will Tell You I Love You, with me as a road companion. We call each other “the best” in an eternal loop with no trace of irony. If she sends me a promotional email for one of the several artists she does publicity for at Terrorbird Media, there’s a decent chance it’ll just devolve into a long string of short email blasts about what’s happening in our lives. For a very brief time, we shared door duties at Baby’s All Right and allowed ourselves to be inspired by the surroundings it offered. Not just one of my favorite authors but one of my absolute favorite people, it’s an honor to be hosting her writing on this site. Below, she tackles a night with Dilly Dally and Julien Baker that rekindled her love for the city where she resides. Read it below and then find a reason to celebrate your own surroundings.

++

2015 was a weird year for me. I wrote a book, fell in love, moved to a new apartment, recovered from a weird mysterious muscle illness, and got to work with many rad bands in my full time job. I made new friends, I lost friends, I traveled all over the country, etc. etc. Though it may sound cliché, music is mostly what got me through it all. This year, I got to see some of my very favorite acts in the whole world- from my high school loves Death Cab for Cutie, new favorites like Weaves, and dozens of amazing bands that I do press for from Heaters to Total Makeover to Keeps, and friends’ bands like Big Ups and Charly Bliss.

I got to travel to Toronto for NXNE (by myself) and become immersed in the awesome scene there that’s spearheaded by the amazing Buzz Records and bands like Odonis Odonis, Greys, and Dilly Dally (more on them later). I went with coworkers to Raleigh, NC for Hopscotch Festival and while I had no expectations going in about the town, I became enamored with it, and with its diverse venues and friendly natives. I fell head over heels for Austin, TX and the lively music scene there, encouraged by my boyfriend, a wonderful musician, and the venues he frequents- Cheer Up Charlies, The Mohawk, and Barbarella (for dancing to ’80s music only).

However, this year in music can be best summed up by one cold night in November, when I got to see two of my favorite new artists perform in a back-to-back marathon concert night. In 2015, all of my favorite albums were released by females or female-fronted bands. I loved Carly Rae Jepsen’s whimsical Emotion, the ass-kicking albums by Bully, All Dogs, and Hop Along, and the catchy-as-hell releases from Bad Bad Hats and Laura Stevenson. Above all though, two albums that represented the polarity of my feelings — and the two that I loved the most — were Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle (representing my vulnerable, emotional and nostalgic self) and Dilly Dally’s blistering, raucous Sore, showcasing the assertive, in-your-face person that I aspire to be.

Miraculously, I got to see four of the artists that made my favorite albums in one week in November in a way that only New York sometimes operates- Tuesday: Bad Bad Hats at Baby’s All Right, Wednesday: Carly Rae Jepsen at Irving Plaza, and Saturday: Dilly Dally at Baby’s, followed by Julien Baker at Mercury Lounge. Though I was recovering from a gnarly cold that week, I still absolutely 100% needed to run around like a chicken with my head cut off and see both of these artists responsible for music that touched me so deeply.

Before that night, I had seen Dilly Dally about three times since 2013. My friends in Toronto who run the aforementioned Buzz Records release constantly hypnotizing and brave music from incredible bands (like all the ones I mentioned above- Weaves, Greys, Odonis and Odonis, as well as bands like The Beverleys, HSY, and so many more). They are all smart, incredibly nice and wonderful people. They’re also my favorite label and everything they touch turns to gold.

By now most people have heard the thrilling ’90s tinged Sore, and I’ve probably listened to it about 1000 times since its release in October. I was thrilled to see a headlining set from them after the album release, especially since I only caught a bit of them at CMJ at like 1am at Santos Party House. At Baby’s, they were at their best, impressing the really large and enthralled crowd who packed the small, sweaty room to hear melodic yet hard-edged tracks like “Green” (one of my favorites since their 7” of it), the pulsating “Desire”, and “Purple Rage”.

I caught most of their set and hopped over on the train with a few people I ran into at the show to see Julien Baker, whose album absolutely devastated me like nothing else I can remember, both on first listen and the many subsequent listens. Singing about addiction, heartbreak, and loneliness, Sprained Ankle stops you in your tracks- after I heard the whole thing in mid-October, I couldn’t listen to anything else.

Once Baker started her set at Mercury Lounge that night, the crowd went so silent that you could hear a feather drop in the room. Her songs were filled with lust and love and memories and I stopped breathing, I’m sure. Her songs are meandering and honest and fearless. In one of my favorites, “Everybody Does”, she sings “you’re gonna run/it’s alright everybody does/you’re gonna run when you find out who I am.” Though her set was too short, I was already 100% certain that everyone I know needed to see her live and hear her album and I am 100% certain that her performance broke my heart.

While it’s a bit sappy, the night reminded me of the reason why I moved to New York. Though I’m still relatively young, I recently lost interest in going out as much as I did when I was 19 or 20 and hopping to two or three shows a night. I felt alienated from the crowd and from the people around me, people who I used to be friends with and see all the time. Before that night, I would go out, stay at a show for an hour or so and immediately go home, lonely and disinterested.

That night in November reminded me of why New York can be so magical, and it gave me something I really needed. It made me realize that sometimes cool things don’t have to be terrible, and sometimes things can change, and the music, the people, and you can all be better than ever.

-Amanda Dissinger

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

Eskimeaux

2015, close to unanimously, was concerned to be one of the highest points for new music in recent memory. To that end, putting together this list was even more of a nightmarish task than narrowing the 2015 songs down to their 15 slots. There was even a brief moment where expanding this list to 50 slots seemed like a viable action. Ultimately, after literally hundreds of substitutions in the various positions (and countless exclusions and extractions), the formula remained intact. While it was painful to leave an extremely large handful of extraordinary records lingering just outside the perimeter, the 15 records below have earned their spots. Every single one of these has remained in near-constant rotation since the time of their release and will likely resonant well into 2016 and beyond. Dive on in below and reflect on the overwhelming strength of the past 12 months.

15. Meat Wave – Delusion Moon

One of a select few bands to play an instrumental part in the formative stages of this site’s focus (and one of the acts to play the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase), Meat Wave came through in a big way in 2015. The trio released one of the year’s best oddities, signed to SideOneDummy, and unleashed a behemoth of an album in Delusion Moon. Billed as their first proper full-length (their vicious self-titled, limited-run cassette straddled the line between EP and full-length), Delusion Moon saw the band exploring their darker tendencies to great success. More fully exploring influences like Mission of Burma and Drive Like Jehu, the band acted as a nice counterpoint to the usual brand of ’90s revival and got some kicks in along the way.

14. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

No band’s live show was documented more exhaustively here over 2015 than PWR BTTM, who perfected a simplistic approach with enormous- and enormously successful- ideas. The duo (who is occasionally a trio) set their sights on exploring gender and personal identity and followed through with a startlingly brazen tenacity. Close to every song on Ugly Cherries, their extraordinary full-length debut, play out like the kind of anthems that 2015 desperately needed. For a record that’s quick to be gleefully tongue-in-cheek, Ugly Cherries also offers up some devastating personal moments, lending the band an emotional depth that makes their outsize spirit even more powerful.

13. Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture

Force of Nurture, Midnight Reruns‘ astonishing sophomore effort, has one of the best A-sides I’ve ever heard. Not to discredit an extremely strong B-side, either, but the run the band puts together from “There’s An Animal Upstairs” to “Sky Blue Water” is just about flawless. All six of those songs were considered for this year’s list of the best songs of 2015 along with the record’s sprawling closer, “Great Southern Rail”, which boasts one of the year’s more jaw-dropping choruses. Bolstered by the involvement of one of the band’s earliest and most vocal supporters- The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, who produced the record- Midnight Reruns turned in their finest collection of songs to date.

12. Hop Along – Painted Shut

A statement that bears repeating: one of the most heartening aspects of 2015 was watching the deserved ascension of Hop Along, who have been cranking out exquisite material on an exceptionally high platform for several years. Driven by the distinctive, arresting voice of guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan and their own unique sensibilities, Hop Along crafted the strongest record of their discography. With new partner Saddle Creek firmly in their corner, the band came to vibrant life and stayed on form, delivering a set of knockout tracks that included “Waitress”, one of this year’s finest. A welcome breath of fresh air, Painted Shut marked the beginning of an exciting new era for one of today’s best bands.

spotify:album:16fimHkQtXptYBytXfHfUs

11. Royal Headache – High

Even as all the news of High being Royal Headache’s finest record (thankfully) receded, the power of their finest offering to date didn’t diminish. Following a brilliant debut, the band may have actually surpassed that record’s promise with their sophomore effort. Highlighted by songs like the towering, defiant title track and the surging “Another World“, High is a genre masterclass of the highest order. Buoyed by an infectious energy that’s constantly verging on manic, there’s never a moment during the record that doesn’t feel like it’s nearing a state of euphoria. When High is firing on all cylinders, as is the case for the vast majority of the record, the band’s as close to being virtually untouchable as is possibly imaginable.

10. Young Jesus – Grow/Decompose

Home, Young Jesus‘ breakout record and a candidate for album of the decade, set extraordinarily high expectations for whatever the band chose as its following release. Crafting a worthy follow-up seemed even more unlikely after the band moved out of Chicago and over to Los Angeles, reassembling their lineup in the process. By that token, Grow/Decompose isn’t just a deeply impressive record, it’s a miraculous one. Guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter sharpens his singular songwriting voice and leads his new outfit with a fiery determination. An immensely satisfying collection of songs, Grow/Decompose feels like a genuine album; structured and paced to near perfection, Grow/Decompose is a reinvigorating- and reinvigorated- frenzy.

9. Dogs On Acid – Dogs On Acid

Dogs On Acid, a band formed out of the ashes of much beloved acts Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader, expanded on one of the best 7″ releases of 2014 with one of the strongest full-length debuts in recent memory. Laced with knockout hooks at just about every turn, Dogs On Acid is a staggering show of power from a band that finds surprising ways to exceed its predecessors. Maximizing their pop sensibilities to astonishing effect, Dogs On Acid inject their first major effort with an insistent, propulsive energy that catapults each of its 10 tracks to unthinkable heights, keeping their punk roots in place along the way. Every song on Dogs On Acid is a genuine highlight, yet the whole affair still manages to come across as so much more than a collection of singles. Bold and brash, this is the kind of record that may never fall out of regular rotation.

8. Tenement – Predatory Headlights

For close to 10 years, I’ve provided near-incessant documentation of Tenement, chronicling their forward motion with increasing intensity as the years progressed. When Heartbreaking Bravery was initially designed, it was constructed with the intention of highlighting bands that weren’t being granted the press that they deserved. In 2015, the world at large finally started catching on to a band that’s meant more to the development of my personal interests in music than any other (I didn’t include their Bruised Music compilation in the oddities list because I contributed a lengthy piece to the record’s insert that expands on that fact). Predatory Headlights, the trio’s latest opus, was a definitive collection of the band’s current era, unafraid of demolishing genre barriers and bold experimentation. Over its intimidating 28 tracks, the album steadily emerges as a genuine- and singular- masterpiece.

7. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

For Julien Baker‘s breathtaking breakout record, the young songwriter (previously best known as one of the driving forces behind Forrister) dived fearlessly into a despairing examination of her own psyche. A preoccupation with mortality that was heavily informed by the laws of religion dominates nearly every song on this surprisingly brave collection. From the description of the car wreck in the opener’s first verse all the way through to the passage in “Go On”- Sprained Ankle‘s mesmerizing closing track and one of 2015’s finest songs– about consuming bleach, there’s barely a moment of reprieve. Built almost exclusively around Baker’s voice and acoustic guitar, Sprained Ankle feels progressively more personal as it goes along, each song functioning as a plea, a warning, and a sustained moment of clarity. Tragic and beautiful, Baker’s conjured up a collection of deeply personal songs that feel genuinely sacred.

6. All Dogs – Kicking Every Day

Ever since their earliest releases, All Dogs have been steadily crafting great material and building momentum. Kicking Every Day, the band’s startlingly defiant full-length debut, continues that pattern with an astounding amount of grace. Even with their lineup at full strength following the addition of guitarist Nick Harris (which is paying massive dividends), guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones’ songs feel more naked than ever, imbuing Kicking Every Day with a voyeuristic look at its principal songwriter’s inner turmoil and unflinching resolve. After the anticipation levels for this record came close to hitting a fever pitch with the release of “That Kind of Girl” (which ranked highly on the songs of the year list), the prospect of a record as extravagantly strong as Kicking Every Day didn’t seem so distant. The record ultimately surpassed those expectations thanks to both the instant acclaim it so richly deserved and its ability to strike all the right chords.

5. Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

Losing Four Eyes, a band that put out one of the best 7″ records of this decade, was a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately, that band found a natural successor in Sweet John Bloom. Continuing to revel in the same brand of endearingly scrappy basement pop and pulling members from a few other outstanding bands, Sweet John Bloom managed to make a mark. Weird Prayer, their first fully fledged full-length, reveals impressive new depths to the band. Employing a rotating cast of songwriters, the record gives ample space to flesh out each one’s distinct personality. From lovely slow-burning tracks like “Bury Ruby” to incendiary highlights like “Tell Me”, Weird Prayer is an enviable showcase that, bizarrely, seems like a victory lap for its various members. There’s a memorable moment or three on each of these 15 tracks, most of which find intriguing dichotomies to exploit over the course of their brief running times. Littered with surprising moments at close to every corner, it’s one of 2015’s most exhilarating releases.

4. Dilly Dally – Sore

Back in 2014, Dilly Dally unleashed a pair of 7″ records that nearly walked away with the top spot in this site’s rankings. In 2015 they followed up their flawless early run with a brilliant standalone single and a bruising full-length teeming with vicious grunge-informed, punk-leaning basement pop numbers. Grimly determined and scuzzy as hell, Sore lands with the force of an atomic bomb. There was a reason that no band earned as many feature pieces on this site over the course of 2014 than Dilly Dally and, even stripped of the brilliant singles that earned those spots, Sore would have registered as a knockout. While the record’s many searing highlights (“Desire“, “Purple Rage“, “The Touch“, etc.) gave the record its fangs, its elegiac closer provided it with both an unexpected emotional depth and a staggering moment of finality (both of which went a long way in securing its ranking as one of 2015’s finest tracks). While Dilly Dally just about stole CMJ and released a small army of outstanding music videos, Sore was their definitive 2015 moment. It’s the kind of record that inspires kids to go out and start bands of their own, making it one of the most powerful releases in recent memory.

3. Mike Krol – Turkey

The sudden resurgence of the (unfortunately) still-deceased Sleeping in the Aviary was an extremely unexpected and welcome development. While they did release an extraordinary demos and rarities collection, the band’s best moment came when the majority of its lineup wound up backing Mike Krol for his latest venture. No record in 2015 felt even close to as unhinged as Turkey, Krol’s first effort for Merge and most deranged outing to date. With a runtime that doesn’t even scratch 19 minutes, Krol and the band he’s assembled run through nine songs at a pace so frantic it’s practically delirious. Every single moment of Turkey is informed by a surging level of energy that it seems like the record might derail itself at any given moment, toppling over because of its own excessive velocity. Miraculously, it manages to sustain that momentum through nine songs of rabid basement pop that draws inspiration from a variety of genres from the past handful of decades, zeroing in on things like ’50s pop and classic soul. Everything on Turkey also benefits from being shot through with Krol’s deadpan comedic sensibility, tongue planted firmly in cheek. By the time the record’s penultimate track hits- the absolutely massive “Less Than Together“- the record’s momentum is white hot. “Piano Shit” winds things down at the very end and allows the listener to review the demolished left in Turkey‘s wake as it coasts to the finish.

spotify:album:17eMy3bqqafFN6g0MYvMl3

2. Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers

One of the happier coincidences this site got to experience in 2015 was the realization that the glowing review of Nicole Dollanganger‘s breathtaking Natural Born Losers was its 666th post. An appropriate fact, given the record’s deep obsession with angels, devils, and the spiritual realm. In its opening lines (“I shot an angel with my father’s rifle”), Natural Born Losers flaunts its aim with a threatening gracefulness, ready to turn on a dime at any moment. Dollanganger’s narratives throughout the course of the record are startling exercises in hyper-violence and dueling desires. Whether it’s a BDSM-informed romp as lensed through an experience with an abusive police officer or an extremely disarming sample taken from the animated 1993 cult classic The Halloween Tree, Dollanganger’s either making fresh incisions or pulling gaping wounds even further apart. However, for being so deeply unsettling in its prose, the music that accompanies all of Dollanganger’s nightmarish imagery is as elegant and haunting as her vocals. A lot of Natural Born Losers hinges on exploring some of the weightiest dichotomies in existence and the degree of success to which it achieves in striking fascinating middle grounds in those battles is revelatory. Even more impressive is the fashion in which Dollanganger binds this collection of songs together, especially considering how effectively the record’s haunting line defines (or redefines) everything that’s happened since its steely-eyed opening moment. Put simply: Natural Born Losers is a modern masterpiece.

1. Eskimeaux – O.K.

Eskimeaux‘s O.K. managed to impress on first listen but it wasn’t until seeing the band live that all of its pieces fell more fully into place. That show inspired a return visit to this collection which, in turn, brought about a subsequent revisit (and then that pattern fell into a routine that still hasn’t ceased). On each successive listen, more of O.K. sprang to life. Gabrielle Smith’s project has been making material that’s been more than worthwhile for a large handful of years now but O.K., the project’s most fully-realized outing, saw Smith step across a threshold and into something sublime. A meticulously crafted record, every last one of its countless gears clicks in ways that surprise and delight in equal measure, rewarding heavy investment with a casual ease and providing O.K. with one of its cleverest tricks. In maintaining their casual sensibilities, the record becomes an enjoyable cursory listen but that casualness is surprisingly deceptive.

O.K.‘s a very complex record when it’s dissected into its formative pieces, whether they’re the gorgeous vocal layers that comprise one of the record’s most gorgeous moments on “A Hug Too Long” or Felix Walworth’s explosively idiosyncratic snare work on “Folly“, each finding a way to stand out as an impressive moment in both the small schemes of the songs and the grand sweep of the album. From a lyrical standpoint, Smith packs this record full with bittersweet realizations, internal frustrations, and slivers of a defiant sense of hope that’s steadfast in its refusal to bow to a harsher reality. Even the record’s darkest moment- the brooding “Pocket Full of Posies”, which nearly unseated “A Hug Too Long” in the songs list- subtly acknowledges the inherent innocence of things that are frequently viewed as evil. Even then, O.K.‘s worldview is far from simply being optimistic, it’s far too weary to assume that the best mode of operation is to look for the best in everything; its earned its sophisticated wariness.

What makes O.K. truly stand out, though, is its overwhelming amount of empathy for everything that’s fortunate enough to have worked its way into the record. Easily one of the most readily apparent humanist statements that music yielded this year (which is especially easy to see when the record’s put under a microscope), O.K. draws its strength from its sense of value. It’s a view that resonates throughout the record’s 11 brilliantly crafted songs, providing them with a deeper sense of purpose than most bands can manage. Additionally, all of the inspired decisions that comprise O.K. are augmented by some of the most extraordinary production work of the past several years, stealthily enhancing the cumulative effect of the songs. An awe-inspiring breakthrough for one of today’s most promising acts, O.K. is the kind of record that’s worth preserving for future generations. Find someone deserving to share this with and give in to its inescapable beauty.

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.

2015: The Best of Watch This

sntsnca

When Watch This was conceived it was done with the intent to not only critically examine the balance of filmmaking and live performance but celebrate the art of the live video, a format which seems to have fallen to the wayside despite being more fruitful than it’s been since it was introduced. There’s real power behind the clips that manage to seamlessly merge the best qualities of everything that goes into the best live performance videos and they can yield genuinely unforgettable moments (when everything kicks back in on “Waitress”, the held falsetto in “A Proper Polish Welcome”, and a whole host of other chill-inducing moments are scattered throughout this compilation). Those moments are the beating heart behind this series construction and they’re what sustains the project as it presses forward.

Well over 300 live clips were covered on this site in 2015 and this is a collection of 25 that genuinely stood out for one reason or another, whether it was the sheer joy in a performance (Diet Cig), the performer’s ability to freeze blood (Julien Baker, Dilly Dally, SOAK), the trio of artists who appeared on Watch This the most throughout this year (Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres), an electrifying presentation and performance (July Talk), or a clip that’s a fully functional masterclass in every category that elevates a clip from astonishing to transcendental (Glen Hansard). All of those and more have been plugged into this packet, which culminates in a tour de force reminder of the overwhelming power of what can be achieved on a live platform from the resurgent Sleater-Kinney as one final exclamation point for a truly extraordinary year. So, as always, sit up, focus, adjust the volume, and Watch This.

Watch the 2015 edition of the best-of compilation for Heartbreaking Bravery’s definitive recurring series, Watch This, below. The track list is available under the embed.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe)
2. July Talk – Paper Girl (Audiotree)
3. Ronny – Why Do You Have Kids (Gems On VHS)
4. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (BreakThruRadio)
5. Mikal Cronin – Say (WFUV)
6. Molly Parden – Weather (GemsOnVHS)
7. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)
8. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Pitchfork)
9. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)
10. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (KEXP)
11. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In the World? (ANTI-)
12. Diet Cig – Harvard (In the Attic)
13. SOAK – B a Nobody Blud (La Blogotheque)
14. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold (Strombo Sessions)
15. Alex G + Girlpool – Brite Boy (SPIN)
16. Footings (Jenn Harrington)
17. Mike Krol – Suburban Wasteland + Neighborhood Watch (KEXP)
18. Beach Slang – Get Lost (Cozy Couch Sessions)
19. Public Service Broadcasting – Go! (WNYC)
20. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast (ANTI-)
21. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)
22. Algiers – Blood (WFUV)
23. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (NPR)
24. Glen Hansard – McCormack’s Wall (ANTI-)
25. Sleater-Kinney (NPR)

 

Wrap Up Warm (Mixtape)

kcc

Over the course of the past 100 posts, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time living in Brooklyn and rejoining some of my oldest friends (and family) in central Wisconsin while working on various records and tours. A lot more time than usual has elapsed since the last 100 post update and this one for a variety of reasons and yielded an even more substantial amount of material than usual, including a wealth of CMJ coverage. Now in it’s second year, there’s still new developments being made for the site as everything else continues to evolve naturally. At the last 50-post interval, I ran a mixtape for fall. Now, I’ll be turning my attention to the winter as we stare into its cold, unforgiving face. Just as fall has aspects that can be characterized through music (autumnal tones, the confrontation of mortality, bruised romanticism, etc), winter has its own set of unique traits.

While it’s true there’s an inherent sadness that’s attached to winter (suicide projections skyrocket, SAD takes full effect, and illness percentages elevate considerably), there’s also an inherent warmth. Blizzards hit and the strongest defense becomes warm drinks, companionship, and additional heat- all of which carry a connotation that directly connects with the various trials the season presents. Even the most grizzled cynic can find some comfort in the comforting embrace of an additional blanket. As the scene outside falls victim to uncompromising temperatures, violent winds, and patches of black ice, the transformation can become oddly compelling when paired with the right music. Below’s mix includes 25 songs that elevate the startlingly vivid nature of even the bleakest winter landscapes, complementing their strange, surprisingly emotional dichotomies. Whether you’re curled up under a blanket watching the snow fall, layered up and exploring the outdoors, or simply trying to make sense of the sudden change, this is your soundtrack.

Listen to Wrap Up Warm via the embed below and find its tracklist underneath the player. Beneath the tracklist, explore hyperlinks to the site’s past 100 posts. Enjoy.

SIDE A

1. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome
2. The Antlers – Kettering
3. Nicole Dollanganger – A Marvelous Persona
4. Wolfs – Leading Me Back To You
5. Bent Denim – Good Night’s Sleep
6. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
7. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold
8. Okkervil River – A Glow
9. Angel Olsen – White Fire
10. Sleeping in the Aviary – You’re A Party
11. Young Jesus – Milo
12. Eskimeaux – That’s OK
13. Elliott Smith – I Didn’t Understand

SIDE B

14. Why? – Eskimo Snow
15. Girlpool – Dear Nora
16. Infinity Crush – Heaven
17. Hop Along – Happy To See Me
18. Waxahatchee – Noccalula
19. Jason Isbell – Elephant
20. Eluvium – An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death
21. Johanna Warren – We Fell
22. S – Remember Love
23. DeYarmond Edison – Silent Signs
24. Joanna Newsom – Does Not Suffice
25. Yowler – The Offer

As always, hyperlinks to the site’s last 100 posts are included below.

HB601: Pleasure Leftists – Protection (Stream, Live Video)
HB602: Meat Wave – Cosmic Zoo (Stream)
HB603: PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries (Music Video)
HB604: Salad Boys – Dream Date (Music Video)
HB605: Watch This: Vol. 89
H606: Tenement – Vultures (Stream)
HB607: Strange Relations – Panther’s Conquest (Music Video Premiere)
HB608: Radioactivity – Live at Baby’s All Right – 7/30/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB609: Frankie Cosmos – Live at DBTS – 8/1/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB610: Sharkmuffin – Live at Shea Stadium – 8/7/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB611: Saintseneca – Live at Baby’s All Right – 8/8/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB612: Johanna Warren – Live a The Grove – 8/9/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB613: Charly Bliss – Live at McCarren Park – 8/12/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB614: Dilly Dally – Desire (Music Video)
HB615: All Dogs – How Long (Stream)
HB616: Watch This: Vol. 90
HB617: Quarterbacks – Live at Baby’s All Right – 8/13/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB618: Saintseneca – Sleeper Hold (Stream, Live Video)
HB619: Shannon & the Clams – It’s Too Late (Stream)
HB620: Diet Cig – Dinner Date (Stream, Live Video)
HB621: Watch This: Vol. 91
HB622: CITRIS – On the Sidelines (Music Video)
HB623: Tenement – Tenement (EP Stream, Review)
HB624: NE-HI – Turncoat (Music Video)
HB625: Prison Whites – Deceiver (Stream)
HB626: Mike Krol – Neighborhood Watch (Music Video)
HB627: Kathryn Calder – New Millennium (Stream)
HB628: Exploding In Sound’s Extended Weekend: Days 1 & 2 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB629: Mike Krol – Turkey (Album Review, Stream)
HB630: All Dogs – Live at Silent Barn – 8/22/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB631: PWR BTTM – West Texas (Stream, Live Video)
HB632: Watch This: Vol. 92
HB633: OBN III’s – Let The Music (Stream)
HB634: Littler – Somewhere Else (Stream)
HB635: Melkbelly – Mnt. Kool Kid (Stream)
HB636: PWR BTTM – 1994 (Stream, Live Video)
HB637: Meat Wave – Cosmic Zoo (Stream)
HB638: Watch This: Vol. 93
HB639: Watch This: Vol. 94
HB640: The Libertines – Heart of the Matter (Stream)
HB641: Dilly Dally – Purple Rage (Stream)
HB642: Watch This: Vol. 95
HB643: Dilly Dally – Purple Rage (Music Video)
HB644: Saintseneca – River (Music Video)
HB645: A Short Stretch at The Silent Barn (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB646: Ronnie Stone & The Lonely Riders – Live at Baby’s All Right – 8/29/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB647: Froth – Nothing Baby (Music Video)
HB648: Hung Toys – Lurid (Album Review, Stream)
HB649: Midnight Reruns – There’s An Animal Upstairs (Stream)
HB650: Arriving at the Fall (Mixtape)
HB651: Eskimeaux – Broken Necks (Music Video)
HB652: Gumbus – Crimbus Rock (EP Review, Stream)
HB653: Ernie – Sweatpants (Stream)
HB654: Bruising – Emo Friends (Stream)
HB655: Dusk – (Do The) Bored Recluse (Stream)
HB656: Mike Krol – Live at Baby’s All Right – 9/29/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB657: Daughter – Live at Baby’s All Right – 9/30/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB658: Ought – Live at Secret Project Robot Art Experiment – 10/2/15 (Pictorial Review)
HB659: Bad Cello – Live at Palisades – 10/4/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
HB660: Junun (Film Review)
HB661: Midnight Reruns – Canadian Summer (Music Video, Live Video)
HB662: Stove – Wet Food (Stream, Live Video)
HB663: Saintseneca – Bad Ideas (Music Video)
HB664: Dusk – Too Sweet (Stream)
HB665: Laura Stevenson – Claustrophone (Stream)
HB666: Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers (Album Review, Stream)
HB667: Watch This: Vol. 96
HB668: Watch This: Vol. 97

HB669: Watch This: Vol. 98
HB670: Watch This: Vol. 99
HB671: DBTS: BS2 (Compilation Premiere)
HB672: Sheer – Uneasy (Music Video)
HB673: S – Remember Love (Music Video)
HB674: CMJ: Day 2 Review
HB675: CMJ: Day 3 Review
HB676: CMJ: Day 4 Review
HB677: CMJ: Day 5 Review
HB678: CMJ: Day 6 Review
HB679: Watch This: Vol. 100
HB680: CMJ: Day 2 (Pictorial Review)
HB681: CMJ: Day 3 (Pictorial Review)
HB682: CMJ: Day 4 (Pictorial Review)
HB683: CMJ: Day 5 (Pictorial Review)
HB684: CMJ: Day 6 (Pictorial Review)
HB685: Young Jesus – Holy Ghost (Music Video Premiere)
HB686: WASHA – Night/Day (Music Video Premiere)
HB687: Slight – Hate the Summer (Song Premiere)
HB688: Painted Zeros – Only You (Stream)
HB689: Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture (Album Review, Stream)
HB690: Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (Music Video)
HB691: CITRIS – Little Scars (Music Video Premiere)
HB692: Adir L.C. – Buyer’s Instinct (Music Video Premiere)
HB693: Watch This: Vol. 101
HB694: Watch This: Vol. 102
HB695: Watch This: Vol. 103
HB696: Watch This: Vol. 104
HB697: Watch This: Vol. 105
HB698: Watch This: Vol. 106
HB699: Watch This: Vol. 107