Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: I Wonder?

The Best Songs of November 2018

With November just two weeks out of view and AOTY season still drowning everyone’s feeds (our forthcoming coverage will arrive, as it always has, at the very end of the year), now seemed like a perfect time to reflect on what the past month had to offer. Whether it was the James Bond theme of the future, a surprise side-project, or a local band syncing up with a major name, there was a lot worthy of reflection. Below are a dozen of those standouts.

1. Mike Krol – I Wonder

Ever since catching the tail end of the first show Mike Krol ever played with a backing band (that band being Krol’s close collaborators Sleeping in the Aviary), it’s been hard to ignore the songwriter’s appeal, drive, charisma, and commitment. Merge picked Krol up a few years ago before the release of Turkey, which just might be one of the most fun basement pop records of the decade. “I Wonder” finds Krol sticking to a familiar formula but making room for more surprises, like enlisting partner — and Mege labelmate — Allison Crutchfield (Swearin’) for backup vocals and pushing the run time well past 100 seconds. As is always the case with Krol, it works. Brilliantly.

2. Mister Goblin – Nothing You Do (Happens)

Losing Two Inch Astronaut was a considerable blow to a scene that had claimed them as a linchpin. Sam Woodring, that band’s guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter, couldn’t leave well enough alone, returning now with a new project called Mister Goblin that picks up right where Two Inch Astronaut left off. “Nothing You Do (Happens)” was one of the first looks at the project and is one of the best tracks to have the fortune of Woodring’s involvement. Inventive, fiery, and mesmerizing, the post-emo/hardcore/punk/whatever track is a welcome reintroduction.

3. HAVVK – Always The Same

“Always The Same” is a slow-burning track that swings on a pendulum between indie pop and post-punk, alternately gentle and unwieldy. There’s a hypnotic effect that the swings back and forth achieves, pulling the listener increasingly deeper into something strangely brilliant. Small, surreal touches abound on the track, which should go some ways in establishing HAVVK’s name. Hard to miss and easy to love, “Always The Same” is a track worth investment.

4. Nancy – I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)

A lot can be achieved in 100 seconds or less, a fact that’s more or less the crux of the entire basement pop genre. Nancy offers up the zillionth piece of supporting evidence in the 96 second blast of “I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)”, a track overflowing with smart hooks and a quick wit. Short, punchy, and incredibly effective, “I’m Not Getting Sober, I’m Just Getting Older (Helluva Guy)” is a song that’s more than worth the commitment.

5. The Yada Yada Yadas – Human Emotion

Riding an opening section that falls somewhere between The Polyphonic Spree and early Flaming Lips, The Yada Yada Yadas take another strong turn on “Human Emotion”. The song eventually dovetails into other segments, touching on everything from brit-pop to the slacker movement of the late ’90s, without ever feeling empty for its revivalist tendencies. Fascinating and surprisingly explosive, “Human Emotion” goes off like a firework and outright refuses to come back down.

6. Silverbacks – Just In The Band

“Just In The Band” find Silverbacks well on their way to transforming into a fully fledged post-punk powerhouse. Frantic in just about every sense, “Just In The Band” never fully looses its tether from the anchor, staying intact enough to create a sense of urgent direction. It’s a wildly impressive work from a band that’s very clearly ready for their breakout moment. It’s only a matter of time before the tether breaks and they take off.

7. Disq – Communication

“Communication” sees Disq pairing with Saddle Creek for an intriguing 7″ series, while also hitting on a career high. A noise-damaged basement pop number laced with basement punk tendencies, “Communication” is surprisingly volatile. The band’s penchant for melody remains at that heart of their work but “Communication” suggests that their experimentation with atmospheric choices could propel them to previously unseen heights.

8. Mo Troper – Never Dream of Dying

Aggressively — and humorously — marketed by the label as the theme to the next James Bond film, Mo Troper‘s “Never Dream of Dying” finally saw release after months of soft teases. The franchise would be lucky to have this one. All of the traditional Bond theme hallmarks are in place, from the sweeping orchestral section to the classic ending and everything in between. Even separated from its own framework, the song feels like a rousing triumph, making it perfectly at home in Troper’s incessantly impressive repertoire. It’s a classic.

9. Chelou – Out of Sight

One of the more left-field surprises of the past few weeks, Chelou’s “Out of Sight” operates as one of those rare, transfixing tracks that doesn’t sound like it’s connected to a specific time. Echoing shades of Hot Chip, RJD2, and other pop-minded acts in a similar vein, “Out of Sight” creates a mesmeric tapestry out of a collage that veers from classic metal flourishes to art-pop. A genuinely remarkable track that more than deserves the plays its been racking up since appearing online.

10. YOWL – John the Collector

YOWL continues to impress every time they reappear, stringing together an incredibly strong collection of tracks that’s continuously raised their profile. “John the Collector” is the band’s latest shot of bleary post-punk. Hazy but energetic, the band keeps their foot on the pedal, taking off towards some unknowable destination. A shout-sung narrative covers the breadth of things as varied as familiarity, friendship, and destruction, culminating in a powerful resolution that tips its hat towards the intrigue of letting some things go unsolved.

11. And The Kids – Champagne Ladies

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new from And The Kids but “Champagne Ladies” is here to amend that trend. One of the band’s most immediate and accessible songs, “Champagne Ladies” finds the project aligned nicely with acts like Middle Kids, who rely on a distinctly rural sense of wonder to ground anthemic melodies. From the palm-muted rhythm guitar figure to the bells providing “Champagne Ladies” a splash of color, everything here congeals into a sum far greater than its parts, ably demonstrating And The Kids’ continuing growth as songwriters.

12. Maria Kelly – July

“July” is yet another breathtaking track from Maria Kelly, an artist who’s no stranger to crafting wintry soundscapes. While the title may suggest a summery affair, “July” is as icy as anything Kelly’s released. Soft, pointed, and quietly lacerating, “July” cuts to the bone. A clinical self-dissection, the song’s blunt honesty is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. There’s some solace to be found in “July” but it’s through the recognition of shared pain. Haunting and intimate, the track cements Kelly’s position as an artist worth knowing.

Mitski – Happy (Music Video)

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Over the past handful of days, several notable music videos have found release. Yoni & Geti (who almost claimed this post’s featured spot thanks to the editing alone), Band of Horses, Mumblr, Dead Stars, Fear of Men, Gemma Ray, Nicholas Allbrook, Atoms and Void, SomosCate Le Bon, Omni, Thin Lips, Braids, and The Good Life Ben Seretan, all had clips deserving of multiple looks and Steve Gunn offered up an endearing lyric video. There was even a Henry Rollins-starring trailer for a new Dinosaur Jr record. Ultimately, it was the latest clip from Mitski that earned this post’s feature.

Following the unforgettable “Your Best American Girl” clip would’ve been a daunting task for any artist (or filmmaker) but “Happy” accomplishes it with astonishing ease. Directed by the inimitable Maegan Houang — whose work has been praised on this site before and likely will again — “Happy” creates a challenging narrative that touches on everything from personal intimacy to self-doubt to self-loathing to gender politics and race relations (among others).

Exquisitely shot and paced, the story unfolds delicately, revealing a growing wound between a woman and her military husband. Suspicions are confirmed and the wound grows deeper, creating a tightly-wound level of tension that’s only drawn tighter as the clip progresses. Fueling the atmosphere is Houang’s assured direction, giving nods to legendary filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai and Alfred Hitchcock along the way, layering on the cues to subtly underscore the passage of time.

Everything in “Happy” feels like it’s heading towards some climactic moment, a confrontation that exists on a purely personal basis. While that climactic moment does arrive, “Happy” manages to successfully subvert those expectations while remaining true to the heart of the video. At first blush, the final sequence may not seem overtly personal but dig deep enough and it becomes heartbreaking in its symbolism.

Those final moments are full of untold tragedy, harsh reality, and keen awareness. It’s terrifying and confrontational all at once, full of a well-placed rage that imbues the entire affair with a passion that retroactively alters every one of the clip’s preceding vignettes. One of the most satisfying narrative presentations the format’s had in recent memory, “Happy” winds up being more than masterful; it’s legitimately memorable. Easily one of 2016’s finest clips, “Happy” demonstrates Mitski’s taste and convictions in equal measure, ultimately culminating in one of the artist’s finest offerings to date.

Watch “Happy” below and pre-order Puberty 2 here.

Johanna Warren – True Colors (Music Video) (NSFW)

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It’s been about a week since a regular post ran on here, which mostly just means there’s a lot of content to come. A lot of great songs and albums have managed to appear in a very short window of time. All of those will be put on pause as this post gives sole focus to the more visually-inclined main category of this site (though plans are still in motion for film to factor into coverage): music videos.

Fucked Up’s fearlessly experimental multimedia experience for “Year of the Hare“, FIDLAR’s endearing, homage-heavy “40oz. on repeat“, Liza Anne’s absolutely gorgeous “Lost“, Braids’ stunning visual accompaniment to their career highlight “Miniskirt“, and Blur’s immensely enjoyable “Ong Ong” all proved to be notable highlights. Joining them were Pleistocene’s playfully shambolic “Pulp“, Swervedriver’s multicolor, kaleidoscopic “I Wonder?“, Izzy True’s tantalizingly bare-bones lyric clip for “Swole“, Demons’ skate spree in “Radical Cure“, Eternal Summers’ color-bled “Gold And Stone“, and We Were Promised Jetpacks’ beautiful, arresting “A Part Of It“.

Then, there was Johanna Warren’s “True Colors”.

Before diving into the blisteringly intense content of the video itself, it’s worth taking a step back to take a look at the history of the video- one that’s intrinsically intertwined with this site. At some point late last year, I’d latched onto Warren’s music thanks to her tour with site favorite Mitski. At some point during that time, Warren and I began talking and she eventually agreed to contribute a piece to the diaristic year-end segment A Year’s Worth of MemoriesHer piece stood out immediately, primarily because it was about something that hadn’t ever materialized.

When I caught up with Warren in Menasha- a small town in the middle of Wisconsin- to profile her for Consequence of Sound, I was eager to discuss the video. I’d been listening to nūmūn religiously in preparation and had a very distinct idea for what I thought the clip- initially intended for “Black Moss”- would be if it was ever resuscitated. Warren assured me it hadn’t escaped her mind (not surprising considering her initial levels of unease- feelings which would return leading up to the record’s premiere) and was still hoping to return to the concept for a future release.

Somewhere along the way, the song shifted and- during filming- took on a new life. Originally envisioned to be something far more gentle, the concept was adjusted into something much rawer (and, likely, much more important). To go into further details at this point would be relatively pointless as Warren provided an eloquent analysis of its mechanics in a statement issued to Stereogum, where the video premiered. That statement can also be read below.

This song is about traversing and transgressing boundaries: the tenuous lines that separate physical and metaphysical, waking and dreaming, and our moral categories of right and wrong. It’s about walking barefoot down the fertile coastline where binaries touch and exploring what hidden, buried parts of your soul might stir awake and flourish if you free yourself from the shackles of what society deems appropriate. It’s about surrendering to the wild — specifically the wild feminine, which has been so oppressed and forgotten — and communing in a primal, magical way with the powerful forces of nature.

The scene depicted in this video is an initiation rite. Throughout human history, spiritual practices have involved elements of bondage, flagellation, and submission as a means of entering altered states of consciousness/getting close to God. These days, most of us feel like we don’t have access to visionary experiences, largely because organized religions have convinced us they are the gatekeepers to spirituality. But there is a basic evolutionary human need for the expansion of consciousness, and that drives some of us to engage in activities that have been scorned, demonized and/or criminalized by our puritanical society, such as exploring psychedelics, magick, and BDSM—all of which, when done safely and consentually, can be effective keys in unlocking altered/ecstatic states (and all of which, I believe, are the subject of increased mainstream interest right now specifically because of our culture’s gaping spiritual deficit).

The making of this video was an experience I curated for myself with the support and guidance of two trusted, beloved collaborators: Gretchen Heinel, a radical feminist genius whose evocative body of work explores BDSM, body modification, and ritual; and Damon Stang, a highly gifted and learned Witch and practitioner of queer urban folk magic. In light of important ongoing discussions and valid sensitivities around issues of consent and violence towards women, let me clearly state my stance as an empowered creative woman who believes every human has the right to do with his or her body exactly what he or she chooses, short of infringing the rights of a fellow being. The struggle to reclaim that right is at the heart of so many key social issues right now: gay marriage, abortion rights, legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances, etc. For me, making this video felt like a radical reclaiming of my right to do with my body exactly what I want.

On my drive home from the shoot, a critical little voice in my head asked me why the hell I did this, and I happily replied, “Because I fucking wanted to.” It was fun and empowering and sexy and beautiful and deep and magical, I learned so much about myself and I have no regrets. It’s crazy, though, how even knowing all that, watching the video and thinking of others watching it, I find myself judging myself SO HARD and feeling a lot of fear. But just as my anxiety reaches a peak, I hear my own voice sing, “Forget the duality of wrong and right,” and I’m like… “Oh yeah, good point.”

It’s at once a spellbinding look at the psyche of one of the more interesting artists of the moment and an incredibly charged statement. Genuinely unsettling and superbly directed by the team of Gretchen Heinel and Damon Stang, it verges on being an extremely difficult watch but it soon becomes impossible to look away. As a representation of one of Warren’s most successful dichotomies (an inexplicable- and often light- gentleness paired with a searing- and frequently dark- intensity). Operating on the fringes of both dream and nightmare, “True Colors” is one of 2015’s boldest visual works to date.   

Watch “True Colors” below and pick up nūmūn from Team Love here.