Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Hung Toys

Seven Weeks, Seven Records

Saintseneca X

In a very short (and recent) stretch Freddy Beach, Spencer Tweedy, Chase Allen, Super Paradise, and Sallow have all unveiled strong records. Those records served as the tip of a mountain that had been building over the past two months. Below are seven of the absolute strongest records to have found release in the past seven weeks. Strong debuts, mesmerizing EP’s, and releases that reaffirm great bands’ solid reputations, there’s a little something for every corner.

Hellrazor – Satan Smile

Barbed basement pop will always be celebrated on Heartbreaking Bravery and it’s no mistake that Hellrazor is a name that’s been printed in these confines multiple times. That said, the Michael Falcone-led project has never sounded sharper than they do on Satan Smile, a blistering tour de force that fully commits to an overwhelmingly aggressive nature to spectacular effect. Dirtied up, deeply felt, and intelligently crafted, the 14 tracks that comprise Satan Smile never waver in their tenacity and elevate the record to one o the year’s best.

Phyllis Ophelia – Analemma I

For several years, Phyllis Ophelia has been releasing extraordinary, albeit relatively unassuming, material. 2016 saw Ophelia hit a new high with Catbus’ incredible “Fracas” and complements that career highlight to an exhilarating degree with the Analemma I EP. Each one of the four tracks  on Analemma I is a breathtaking highlight, marking Ophelia as one of today’s stronger emerging songwriters. It’s a relatively relaxed listen but it still packs several punches and provides just as many thrills. Make sure to give it the attention it deserves.

Holy Tunics – Hot to Trot

An upstart band with a serious pedigree (two of the members are perennial site favorite Davey Jones, the mastermind behind Lost Boy ?, and Ana Becker of Fruit & Flowers), Holy Tunics come charging out of the gate with Hot to Trot. One of 2016’s more peppy EP’s also proves to be one of its more memorable. Aided in part by the behind the boards work of Big Ups‘ seemingly tireless Amar Lal, Hot to Trot has a vibrancy that breathes an enormous amount of life into the proceedings. Alternately breezy and pointed, it’s a significant debut outing for a band who will be worth watching as they forge a path into the future.

Saintseneca – Mallwalker

Very few bands ever attain the kind of ridiculous consistency that’s been present in Saintseneca‘s work since their earliest outings. Every single one of the band’s releases has been a viable year-end contender and their surprise holiday-leaning compilation EP, Mallwalker, is no exception. The band’s take on Appalachian folk remains lively, innovative, and ridiculously compelling. Zac Little’s lyrics continue to surpass those of many of his peers and the band’s grasp on structure and composition catapult them into a class of their own. Mallwalker — a collection of the band’s Christmas-referencing songs and one mesmerizing new entry — is an absolute joy and earns its spot in the band’s discography, which is a compliment all on its own.

Chemtrails – Love In Toxic Wasteland

A surging burst of punk-inflected basement pop, Chemtrails’ Love In Toxic Wasteland confidently stands as one of this year’s most unexpected delights. Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, Chemtrails arrive fully-formed, with incredibly sharp hooks in tow. From the EP’s opening number, the explosive “Aeons”, it quickly becomes clear that this band doesn’t have time for petty trifles; this is the type of basement pop that goes straight for the jugular. Immediate and immediately memorable, Chemtrails have crafted something that’ll make people remember their name.

Hung Toys – Welcome to Repayment

Losing Geronimo! was a tough blow to endure but the band’s core songwriting duo has remained active — possibly even hyper-active — in the wake of the band’s departure. Geronimo!’s guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson, recently unleashed the seething behemoth that is Welcome to Repayment on the world, which features much of what made Geronimo! such a singular act, only with a renewed emphasis on hardcore underpinnings. 10 tracks of unrelenting post-punk (including a particularly spiky Blur cover), Welcome to Repayment acts not only as a great standalone record but a relieving assurance: Geronimo! may be dead but Johnson isn’t leaving anytime soon.

Horsecops – Annie

Once in a while, a band that’s received praise on here in the past will point me towards an act that’s been grabbing their attention and that recommendation will lead to an exhilarating discovery. In that respect, many thanks are due to Blue Smiley for providing a pathway to Horsecops and their jaw-dropping full-length debut, Annie. An eclectic mix of shoegaze, post-punk, basement punk, noise, powerpop, and just about every other genre or sub-genre that receives regular coverage here, Horsecops manage to evoke the best of like-minded contemporaries while finding a way to firmly establish their own identity. Annie is a remarkable release from a young band capable of crafting material that’s genuinely unforgettable.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Kelly Johnson)

Geronimo!

As I’ve previously stated in the introductory paragraph for Ben Grigg’s entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Geronimo! meant a lot to me. They played the first showcase I ever threw for this site and they’ve been unbelievably kind to me through the time I’ve known them. It was incredibly difficult to see them go but it’s been comforting to watch their other projects develop in the aftermath of their dissolution. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson’s release as Hung Toys, Lurid, was an unexpected 2015 highlight and saw Johnson embrace his fieriest sensibilities. Here, he takes a look at the history of Geronimo!, what that time meant to him, and what he learned about himself through their existence. It’s an oddly moving piece that gives me hope for what Johnson’s future has in store. Read it below and remember that if you surround yourself with the right people, you’ve already managed to succeed more than most people will ever realize.

++

I Ate the Best Burger of My Life

I was reticent to write a piece for Steven’s blog because I was worried it would come off as too self-involved. Or that I’d force a misguided, self-righteous message into my story in an effort to offer some sage advice to his readers. It’s hard to say if these fears came from my disenchantment of social media and its “I’m-eating-the-best-burger-of-my-life-right-now” types of oversharing, or if they came out of a genuine place of insecurity about my personal views in this enormous world.

Last year saw countless important issues come to a head: violence against blacks, women’s rights, transgender rights, Trump politics, Pizza Rat. I recognize my position as a white-privileged male and a lot of my experiences are trivial when compared to all of the people on this planet less fortunate than me.

But Steven is a person whose enthusiasm and passion for music I admire. He’s on the good side of things in the fight of life. He’s a sincere and thoughtful person, and I was flattered that he wanted to include me in this collection of personal anecdotes. Also, I remembered how rewarded I was the last time that I stepped out of my comfort zone: I got to play loud rock music in a band called Geronimo!

Geronimo! (yes, we made the unsound decision early on to stay devoted to the exclamation point) was a band that Ben Grigg (keyboard/bass), Matt Schwerin (drums) and I (guitar/vocals) started way back at the end of 2007. Last year, we played our final show on Saturday, March 28.

Geronimo! was not a big band. We didn’t make money or sell albums. Ben and I worked for months and months trying to book a solid 2-3 weeks of tour per year. We worked really hard to make records that we were proud of, but realistically, weren’t breaking any new ground. I am an OK singer at best and understand just about zero music theory. For the first five years of the band, we struggled to find an identity within our sound and to have the confidence to perform the songs we composed. So once it ended, what had we accomplished? 2015 was a year for me to reflect on that.

In hindsight, I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2007 to become a successful rock musician. Quit my job as a proofreader at the local phone book company (seriously look up how many companies called ‘A+ Plumbing’ there are trying to get that primo first spot in the phone book) and moved to the big city. It wasn’t an overtly conscious decision to “be a rock star.” But looking back, yeah. That’s kinda the reason I did it. My subconscious plan to stardom didn’t extend beyond “form a band, start touring, make money, and repeat.” But I had moved to Chicago to try and play music, and that was a success for me.

Inherent in that plan is the idea that, yeah, I’m going to work towards becoming a musician in a rock band and that will sustain me for the rest of my life. My job as a dog walker was utilitarian for taking time off to tour. It’s difficult to tour much more than a couple of weeks out of the year when you aren’t a band drawing crowds in other cities, but we still did it.

We recorded our first couple of EPs ourselves with the help of a couple of generous friends. We burned CDs and hand-made artwork to try and make a few bucks on tour and get our van to the next show. At best we would break even, but we were doing it. We were playing shows out of town, meeting new people and seeing new places. That was a success for me.

After 4 years or so, we were able to make friends with some folks out east in Exploding in Sound Records. Musicians and fans making, what we felt, music that was similar in scope and approach. Dan and Dave were amazing enough to give us a chance and put out our last 3 releases. We got to meet and play with bands we were genuinely fans of (and are still fans of to this day). We still weren’t making money, but this too was a success for me.

After it all ended, we didn’t become rock stars. I didn’t get remotely close to quitting my job in order to become a rock musician. I think we all ended up with about 300 bucks after splitting our “band fund” when all was said and done. I’m guessing we were the least (if not THE least) lucrative band for EIS records.

But it was the best time of my life. The one thing I absolutely learned is that, in the end, YOU get to define your own fucking success. There are no standards in life but the ones that you create. I want to stress this point because I know there are a lot of musicians who were like me in the various circles I met over the years. Dissatisfied with where there musical vision was taking them. Disillusioned after not receiving the positive feedback you’d imagined for something that you’ve worked so hard to create.

In my mind, if you’ve started a band, you’re a success. If you write a song, you’re a success. If you play your songs in front of people that are willing to listen, you’re a success. If you record your own music and another person hears your creation, you’re a success. The fact that you’ve made the decision to try; to construct something that didn’t exist before, means you’ve succeeded in some capacity.

There’s a pure gratification in that if you don’t let arbitrary, outside standards get in the way.

I look back on my years in a touring rock band with great satisfaction. I’m a fortunate person to exist in this world and play rock music. Through that experience, I also learned a million ways to be dissatisfied with your life. But there are also a million ways to be satisfied if you take the time and look. I got to play in a loud rock band called Geronimo! and it was definitely the best burger of my life.

-Kelly Johnson

Hung Toys – Lurid (Album Review, Stream)

hung toys

There have been several dozen records unveiled in the past few weeks that merit attention. One of the latest in that string of releases has been flying completely under the radar despite the pedigree of the musician responsible. While Geronimo! weren’t the most well-known band but they meant a lot to a small but devoted following. I was happy to count myself among the converted and having the band headline this site’s first showcase on their farewell tour was something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. However, the more you pour yourself into something, the more it stings when the container shatters.

While Geronimo! is officially over, a few of the bands members are working on new projects- the latest being guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson’s solo venture Hung Toys. Earlier this week, Johnson’s project released Lurid a full-length collection that finds the songwriter immediately diving back into the propulsive effects of his old project. Opener “Gotta Drink Some Water” is a monster of a basement punk song that’s as bruising as it is intriguing. It’d be easy for the rest of Lurid to fall short in the song’s tremendous wake but Johnson manages to subvert and expand central ideas across the rest of the record, exploring a range of styles that recall everyone from Terry Malts to, of course, Geronimo!.

All of Lurid comes off as an incendiary gut-punch and only the title track, the record’s sprawling closer, exceeds the 2 minute and 10 second mark. At times the record plays like a gambit and runs the risk of appearing as a genre exercise. By the time the record’s halfway mark gets highlighted by the searing instrumental attack that is “Blendered”, it becomes clear that Johnson’s songwriting is too capable (and substantial) to be reduced to something that hackneyed. Lurid is a record that rewards investment and begs for repeat listens, wielding its unerring immediacy as a formidable weapon. Powerful, brute, and spectacular, Lurid stands as one of 2015’s most welcome- and unexpected- entries.

Listen to Lurid below and explore a list of some of the best records to surface over the past two weeks.

The Yolks – Don’t Cry Anymore
Grubs – It Must Be Grubs
Alimony Hustle – BNOC b/w Zero Chill
Bob Keelaghan – Country Fresh: A Ghost Guitar Soundtrack
Hot Flash Heat Wave – Neapolitan
James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg – Ambsace
Salad Boys – Metalmania
Astronauts, etc – Mind Out Wandering
Nuclear Age – The Distinct Sounds of…
Pontiak – NOPE/JEPPE
Roger Lion – Roger Lion
Media Jeweler – $99 R/T Hawaii
Broomfiller – Third Stage Propellor Index
Guerilla Toss – Flood Dosed
Baston – Gesture
Yonatan Gat & Gal Lazer – Physical Copy
Carroll – Carroll
Blonde Summer – Paradise
Alone at 3AM – Show the Blood
Tedo Stone – To the Marshes
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Sicario
Diät – Positive Energy
BIG|BRAVE – Au De La
Rat Columns – Do You Remember Real Pain
Wand – 1000 Days
Tommy Stinson – L.M.A..O.
Lucern Raze – Happy & Astray
Summer Twins – Limbo
Blessed Feathers – There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow
Daniel Klag – Reality and Self
Dead Heavens – Adderall Highway
Loma Prieta – Self Portrait
Spencer Radcliffe – Looking In
Holy ’57 – Au Naturel