Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Jack Greenleaf

Told Slant – Tsunami (Music Video)

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

Over the course of 2015, I gave the better part of my energy to living/surviving in Brooklyn and made a lot of memories and friends, all of which became deeply important to me. Several of those memories involved (and a few of those friends were) members of The Epoch, including Told Slant‘s Felix Walworth. I already wrote about one specific instance involving Felix and the new Told Slant record towards the bottom of this list but the recently released video for “Tsunami” may resonate on a level that’s even more acute.

Filmed and directed exclusively by members of The Epoch (namely Walworth, Gabrielle Smith, and Jack Greenleaf), “Tsunami” operates on dual levels: partly as an endearing tour documentary and partly as an intimate character study of the people on the other side of the camera. Like everything that comes from The Epoch camp, it feels tremendously open and honest whether it’s taking on a more introspective self-exploratory tone or one that outwardly celebrates the people and things that make life worth living.

Throughout “Tsunami”, cameos are made by Smith, Greenleaf, Oliver Kalb, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker of Girlpool, Maryn Jones of All Dogs/Saintseneca/Yowler, all of Frankie Cosmos, and more. It’s the communal aspect that provides the song’s refrain of “isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful?” with an even greater amount of heart. Poetic, revealing, and inspiring in equal measure, “Tsunami” immediately carves out a place among the collective’s most lived-in works. It’s a place that encourage you to get lost and offers you a blanket, some tea, and a place to sleep. Turn the offer down and miss out on a whole host of great memories; accept the offer and be welcomed into a new home.

Watch “Tsunami” below and pre-order Going By from Double Double Whammy here.

Eskimeaux – Year of the Rabbit (EP Review)

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For the night’s second full stream, the attention gets turned to Eskimeaux‘s Year of the Rabbit EP, which has the unenviable task of following up O.K. last year’s Album of the Year. Before covering why Year of the Rabbit pulls this off with ease, a few more full streams appeared over the past few days that deserve mention: S-21’s absolutely vicious Demo, Closed Mouths’ rollicking 3 Songs, and a very tantalizing three song sampler from All People, appropriately titled First 3 Songs. While all of those releases were quite short, they all proved very adept at capturing attention.

Another release that not only captured attention but actively enthralled came courtesy of Eskimeaux, a band that’s been making all sorts of power moves lately. While the project’s early output had been consistent, thanks to project mastermind Gabrielle Smith’s unique artistic vision, it wasn’t until Eskimeaux became a full band that the songs started approaching the transcendent. In short order now, Eskimeaux’s issued one of the best records of the decade and an EP that’s all but guaranteed to be on this site’s list (and many others) come December.

Year of the Rabbit opens with one of Smith’s most effective production tracks, layering her voice into a sweet chorus that entices and soothes in equal measure. Slowly, the rest of the band kicks in, crescendos to a stop and strikes up a mid-tempo jaunt that serves as the bed for a characteristically nostalgic, human narrative. Less than a minute into Year of the Rabbit and Eskimeaux’s already concocted the foundation for an impressive composition with relatable angles.

After the airy rush of the title track, the EP devotes most of its time to songs that have been released in some capacity or another throughout the past year, including early 2016 highlights “WTF” (which was an easy inclusion for the 50 Best Songs of 2016’s First Quarter list), “Power“, “Drunk“, and “Sleeping Bear” (the latter of which was previously titled “Sleepy Bear”). While all of those songs carry an air of familiarity, they’re elevated by both the context of Year of the Rabbit and the natural flow of its sequencing.

“Bulldog”, the EP’s penultimate song, feels completely new and scans as the record’s most personal moment as well as its most riveting. It finds Smith operating solo, revisiting the roots of the project, and fearlessly embracing the band’s most definitive trait — vulnerability — on a staggering level. The song also offers up the EP’s most breathtaking moment in its hard isolation of the phrase “is it hard losing?”, which takes on a significant magnitude as the song reaches its conclusion.

More than ever, it feels like Smith is addressing herself rather than her audience as she tears into difficult questions about her own constitution. Each one of the EP’s seven songs is a gripping run through the songwriter’s psyche, the band’s ambition, and the dynamic that allows both of those elements to take on a symbiotic relationship. For that reason and — as is increasingly the case with Eskimeaux — so many other deeply ingrained reasons that reveal themselves over time and a certain level of investment, Year of the Rabbit stands out as one of 2016’s strongest releases. Get on board now and save yourselves the regret of showing up late to the party.

Listen to Year of the Rabbit below and pre-order a copy from Double Double Whammy here.

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Eskimeaux – Broken Necks (Music Video)

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I don’t know how this site has gone 650 posts without ever giving a headline slot to Eskimeaux, whose phenomenal 2015 effort– the coyly titled O.K. has been in near-constant rotation over the course of the past few months.  Gabrielle Smith’s Epoch project has appeared on this site a handful of times and even led off the recently published fall mix. Sooner or later something was bound to crack the feature-less streak and today it arrived in the form of a casually brilliant music video. While the medium did have a fairly strong week, it was the clip for “Broken Necks” that wound up here for reasons that skewed both objective and subjective.

Objectively, it’s a work of technical brilliance from House of Nod, who continue to impress while operating on an exceptionally high tier. Crisp editing (the stop motion is particularly enjoyable), gorgeous visuals, measured pacing, & committed performances all heighten an intentionally loose narrative that capitalizes on the song’s curious exuberance while still carving out space for its inherent bleakness (something that’s punctuated by Smith’s surprisingly capable deadpan moments). Accentuating that whimsicality are the several mini-sequences that play out like gifs, a move that could have proven too twee had it not been effectively balanced out by some astoundingly graceful long shots.

On the subjective side of things, this is a video that illustrates several of the things I love about the place I’ve come to call home for a little over a season. As run-down as it can seem, New York City (and especially Brooklyn) readily facilitates art. It’s evident in everything from the structural layout of the buildings to the graffiti that adorns their walls. For the lack of a better term, there is a strange sort of magic that the area carries, something that’s been heightened by its residents. A lot of the locations that were used in this video have come to have very significant meaning to me and I consider myself fortunate to know a handful of the people involved in the project on both sides of the lens. In that sense, not only does it succeed on its basic functions but it also operates as a living document of a specific place in time.

With all of the reasons listed above infused into one 207-second presentation, “Broken Necks” can’t help but feel (almost excessively) vibrant. It’s the perfect companion piece for O.K.‘s dueling emotional modes and a strong showcase for both Eskimeaux and House of Nod. By virtue of being so thrillingly alive and refreshingly original, “Broken Necks” surpasses merely being notable and draws closer to being unforgettable. A charming and remarkably endearing showcase of wit, composition, and genuine talent, it deserves as many views as possible.

Watch “Broken Necks” below and pick up a copy of O.K. from site favorites Double Double Whammy here. Beneath the music video watch a live performance of the song. Underneath both clips, explore a list of other great music videos to find release this week.

Puppy Problems – Daisy
Hethers – Guiding Light
J Fernandez – Between the Channels
Tuff Sunshine – Dreamin
Magnet School – British Monuments
Dogs In Ecstasy – Do Me Ronnie
Beliefs – 1992
Bully – Too Tough
No Joy – Judith
Ricked Wicky – Poor Substitute
Moby & The Void Pacific Choir – The Light Is Clear In My Eyes
Sarah Bethe Nelson – Fast Moving Clouds
Other Lives – Easy Way Out
Algiers – And When You Fall
Samson the Truest – Afterall
Mal Blum – Robert Frost
Math the Band the Band – Didn’t Have Time to Think
Destruction Unit – Salvation
Idles – The Idles Chant

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 3

A million and half thank you’s are due to everyone who’s contributed pieces to this ongoing series so far: Michelle Zauner, Sam Clark, Tess Duncan, Caroline Rayner, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Eva Grace Hendricks, Dave Benton, Michael Caridi, Shari Heck, David Anthony, Quinn Moreland, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Jesse Amesmith, Katie Capri, Jeff Bolt, and everyone who contributed a piece to this round. Hats off to Jesse Frick, Stephen Tringali, Oliver Kalb, David Glickman, and Loren Diblasi for all of the wonderful pieces included below. As always, it’s the most surreal, sincere honor to be able to be providing all of this wonderful writing a home. Enough from me, on to what’s really important: part 3 of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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Partying (Unofficially)

Hands down my favorite musical moments of the year happened in Austin and Brooklyn, the locations of our unofficial SXSW and CMJ parties, respectively. When you run or work at a label, most interactions with bands, fans, media, and peers are all done virtually. But all bets are off once we’re on the same turf. There is no better feeling after spending 6+ months on a record release or planning a showcase than to see people ENJOYING what you helped to create.

Presenting a show at a festival like SXSW or CMJ is a massive undertaking, a huge pain in the ass of an undertaking. Finding sponsors to help cover venue rentals and bar tabs, scheduling 12+ bands’ time slots around their 15+ other shows, politely screaming in sync with everyone else’s promoting of their own shows, not to mention doing all of this in your spare time outside of your day job- it’s exhausting.

But then I think back to the evening of March 13, 2014- Monster Rally’s Ted Feighan is doing his fucking awesome thing on the second of two stages at our Liberation SXSW party with Gold Robot, Small Plates, and Inflated Records. For a few moments, everyone in the crowd throws their grievances and inhibitions out the window and starts dancing. It no longer matters what website you write for or who you manage or “ugh, I can’t believe that guy who refuses to reply to my emails is here!” For once, everyone remembers why we hustle, why we sacrifice, why we believe and soak it in.

Fast forward to October 24, 2014. I’m standing in the back of The Silent Barn, a community space that I have the utmost respect and undying love for. The Silent Barn is what arts communities around the world should be. It also currently houses some of my favorite Muppet people as well as Gravesend Studios, a recording space that every band in NYC needs to check out. But I digress. Through various ebbs and flows, Jeanette of Miscreant Zine & Records and I team up and with the help of Nina at Silent Barn decide to shoot for a 12-hour party because 6-hour parties are for chumps.

The line-up came together like buttah. We managed to squeeze in 19 of our favorite musical people and everyone played a full set! Jeanette and Liz put together a phenomenal issue of The Miscreant special for the party with submissions from all of the performers. My dad and stepmom flew in from Miami to come to the party. Friends from all over swung by throughout the day to say hi, drink wine, get haircuts, and just enjoy being with one another. We underestimated the schedule so the 12-hour party turned into a 14-hour party but that didn’t faze us- we were still dancing like mad at almost 4am with Moon Bounce closing out the night. It was a beautiful thing.

Now, looking forward to 2015, a new year filled with new records and new parties to organize and I think to myself, I am one lucky son of a gun. Thanks to everyone who made this year so special- much love to you all.

xx Jessi

-Jessi Frick (Father/Daughter Records)

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Setting Sail

This past year, I was fortunate enough to work on several music videos for artists that I truly respect as either the cinematographer (Roomrunner, Chastity Belt, Speedy Ortiz) or the director (Connections, Big Ups).

Many may already know the struggles of making independent music videos- they don’t pay much (or anything at all); the budgets are incredibly small but the expectations are high; and they would mostly be impossible to produce if it were not for the devoted and passionate filmmakers who make them.

The second music video I worked on this year- Chastity Belt’s “Black Sail”- stands out as the most intense, most gratifying memory of 2014. My friend Maegan Houang had pitched the band a sprawling western/horror concept and asked me to be the cinematographer on the video. The treatment was spectacular and Maegan is one of the most talented directors I know. Of course I wanted to be involved.

We prepared for the video over the coming months but the sheer scale of it did not really hit me until I arrived in Yucca Valley the day before the shoot. There, sitting on the side of the road, was an enormous tractor-trailer towing a full-size Conestoga wagon. Beside it were period-correct barrels, broken chairs, rifles- everything a production designer might have on a production with a real budget. I had no idea how Maegan had pulled this together but I assumed she had done it through pure tenacity.

Getting the wagon to the location was an entirely different issue. Between it and the filming location was a long and winding sand path, some small hills, and even more sand and bushes. The tractor-trailer obviously couldn’t take the wagon any farther, so we hitched it to a 4×4 that slowly towed the wagon through the terrain. All the while, we had to turn the wagon’s wheels by hand and guide it along.

I fell asleep that night curled up in a sleeping bag in the back of my car (remember, this was a low budget music video). My ears were ringing. I knew this meant that my stress level was at an all-time high. I felt an enormous pressure to make this video look better than anything I had ever shot before. The potential for everything to fall perfectly into place on the first day of the shoot could not have been greater. And that’s exactly why I had nightmares of the entire production going up in flames.

Thankfully, this did not happen. We had all prepared well. I had an excellent crew (1st assistant camera Vito Huizar, key grip Nate Thomson, and many others). And the weather was kind to us.

After the video premiered online in late August of 2014, Stereogum featured it on their 5 Best Videos Of The Week list. It was accepted into the Los Angeles Music Video Festival and won the Audience Award. Reflecting back on the project, I could not be more proud of my contribution.

-Stephen Tringali (Director/Cinematographer)

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Some Thoughts About The Epoch and My Year

When I think back on my year, I first think of my friends and how proud I am of them for everything they’ve accomplished in just a few months. Though 2014 is the first year that our collective The Epoch has really come into the fore in New York City, the truth is that each of us in the collective has been working on our separate projects for almost four years now. Instead of writing about my favorite moment or album of this year, I want to share some thoughts about our collective’s history and the significance this year played in re-forming my ideas about being a part of a music scene.

Henry Crawford, who now plays under the moniker Small Wonder, used to play in a loud rock band called The Mighty Handful. Their shows were spectacles, in a variety of ways. Jack Greenleaf, often instead of playing an instrument, would throw confetti at the audience and run back and forth around the stage like those two extra members of Arcade Fire. Henry and Jack Ferencz, the co-frontman, would flail and convulse violently. An inaudible violin and the occasional appearance of brass players were sort of a ploy to assure the audience of the intelligence and ambitiousness of the band. There were tons of things that were over the top and nearly lame about The Mighty Handful but they were also a beautiful band to see. All of them were around sixteen years old and were so earnestly excited about their band that, even when they sounded terrible, their energy infected everyone in the room. They were willing to fall on their face and seem ridiculous and it made them able to achieve higher heights than the more “mature” pre-chill-wave bands that they were playing shows with in 2008.

Eventually the members of the Mighty Handful broke up and went to college in different cities. Those of us who remained friends formed separate solo projects, most of us adopting a lighter touch and quieter sound. In 2011, we began calling our group of musician friends “The Epoch,” and started to use the word ‘collective’ to describe the group dynamic we’d already had for a number of years. Though all of the old members of the Mighty Handful are now embarrassed by their high school super-group, the Mighty Handful’s lofty ambition and high-stakes rocking-out hasn’t really left us– I think that in some ways our collective’s slogan “The Epoch is Now” is basically a reflection of the same bravado that guided the Mighty Handful to rock out so hard. We’ve just re-contextualized their boyish energy into a somber stoicism that appears more humble but is basically just a less teenage way of demonstrating that we’re super serious about the music we’re making.

In January of this year, Henry released an album called Wendy, a downtrodden and elegant record that’s hugely dynamic and sonically intricate. It’s a really demanding album that took Henry about three years to write and a year to record, the product of long periods of hunkering down with Jack Greenleaf, who produced and arranged the record. Wendy got the attention of a number of blogs and was basically the first Epoch project that got some notice in the “blogosphere.” It was the first of a slew of Epoch projects that came out in the first part of this year. In April, I released my second album as Bellows, Blue Breath, which I began writing working on in late 2011 and continued to write, record and revise for almost three years. In May, Jack Greenleaf released his second album as Sharpless, a painstaking record called The One I Wanted To Be. All three of these albums made minor blips in the NYC indie blog circuit. They circulated moderately well around mid-level blogs and ended up getting tape and vinyl releases on small indie labels. The attention was hugely important to us and we talked about it almost obsessively in the spring and summer. Then, as is the way of the Internet, people stopped talking about the albums and moved onto other things.

It was then that we started to freak out. Had Wendy gotten enough attention? Had people understood Blue Breath? Was some information about J-Pop necessary to see what Jack was going for with Sharpless? Reading these questions back to myself, they look totally ridiculous. It’s tough to admit the amount of emotional stress each of us went through over the inevitable decay of our blog cycle, but it’s totally true and worth discussing.

At sixteen, the allure of rockstardom can be deeply entangled in the way you develop as a young artist. Most teenage bands emulate the songwriters that speak to them the most. I know in my high school music scene, we had sound-a-likes of Joy Division, Modest Mouse, and The Replacements, to name a few. It’s not that we were plagiarizing— it was more like practicing a foreign language: translating other peoples’ words can be the easiest way to figure out how to speak by yourself.

I’ve found that songwriting is a performance, not just in the obvious sense, but also because it involves constantly and aggressively reimagining your personality. Obviously no one is as dark and brooding as their songs suggest (or as bubbly and outgoing, as the case may be), but the songs they sing depict a darker aspect of their everyday self that isn’t readily available to anyone other than close friends. Performing a “character” when you sing a song you wrote isn’t as glam or gaudy an act as it might sound- I think a lot of artists and singers like to show a more serious side of themselves, possibly because they think it’ll be more easily believed or swallowed by their audience, or maybe because it feels good to exorcise hidden parts of yourself that you don’t get to express in everyday life. The character can be so close to the real person that it’s very hard to distinguish them- sometimes it might not even be a noticeable difference, but I’ve found that there’s always a distance between the person a song tells you about and the person who you meet after a show.

I’ve only recently been able to notice a difference between the voice I use when I write Bellows songs and the person I am in public. The union of these two distinct personalities is interesting to me and is something I’ve been trying to explore in my music lately (the song “Cease to Be”, the last track on my album Blue Breath is about this idea. I describe a close friend of mine looking at herself in the mirror and seeing a complete person, a sort of net-zero of self-image and reflected self: “You look at her once and you know completely/she is the way that you thought she’d be/something like clarity that I seek out/to look in the mirror and cease to be”).

It’s increasingly clear to me, however, that the character a songwriter presents to the public very quickly becomes a product. Songwriters who become popular very quickly lose access to the private, personal characters they invent once they begin the process of signing off time and effort to companies with the ability to turn their art into money. I’m not really a kook or conspiracy theorist about the music industry, but I do think that it can be a problem when music is sold as a seemingly “authentic” experience of confessional, hyper-real access to a singer’s private life. We have a culture in our indie rock world that puts these “characters” songwriters invent on a very high pedestal. I’ve heard that Elliott Smith, the prototype of the depressed, drug-addicted songwriter on whom so many songwriters base their unstable and reckless behavior, was nothing like the person his songs made him out to be. By the end of his career, it’s obvious that he was deeply disturbed by how commodified his depression and addiction were- he was becoming rich off of his own pain- and was expected to stay in pain forever in order to keep the checks coming.

Obviously I’m not famous by any means, so my doubts about the industry around DIY and indie music communities are mostly speculative. But as I see more of my friends move into low and mid-levels of popularity, I see them stricken with the same questions. Do you want a company to require you to tour six months out of the year? Was that the reason you made your first record? Do you want your time off touring to be sequestered to the task of writing something that matches (or hopefully exceeds) your last record? Even when that last record took you three years to write? And by whose standards can you even judge the worth of your music if not your own? The further distanced you are from the process of actually making your art, the more difficult it is answer these questions. When I was most distressed about whether my album was doing well in the blog world, I was least connected to the actual music I had made. I would walk my dog around my neighborhood listening to the album on repeat, but may as well have been listening to nothing. My anxiety made it impossible to hear what I had done, because I was so intent on hearing it from everybody’s ears but my own.

It seems to me that the only way to survive as a person trying to take things seriously in this unforgiving music world is to create your own fulfillment. If the act of writing songs itself is no longer satisfying to you, you’ve already failed yourself. There’s no possibility of failing or succeeding in the wider world of indie music because you’ve categorically denied yourself the ability to experience real joy or satisfaction. Everything is hollow because you’ve projected an image yourself that’s so far removed from the person you are in private that you don’t even have access to that person anymore.

At the risk of sounding corny, I’m going to end this with three sort of self-important/self-flagellating reminders I’ve been trying to drill into my own brain:

  1. Access yourself. Write songs because you want to. Not for an album. Not for a blog or record label. Because, again, you want to and because you have to believe that something pure guided you to be so psyched about making music when you were sixteen and there wasn’t anybody coming to your shows.
  2. The private act of making music is the only thing that matters- the stuff that’s created behind closed doors when nobody’s commenting and there’s nobody else to hear and appreciate it but you.

    3.  There’s no Album of the Year.

-Oliver Kalb (Bellows)

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Upon Seeing Majical Cloudz at Fun Fun Fun Fest

I saw Majical Cloudz for the first time five days after my aunt had died. We were close, and devastating doesn’t even begin to cover what I felt when I received the phone call from my mom that she had passed away. I spent that whole day stumbling around Austin feeling hollow, bursting into tears when I started to talk or think about her. I didn’t want to do anything at all in the days that followed but I made it out for the show, in large part to help celebrate a friend’s birthday. “Childhood’s End” had already made its way onto my iPod, but Impersonator hadn’t come out yet, and for the most part I was entering the show knowing little of what to expect; just a few overheard stories about their sets being powerful. The duo took the stage nonchalantly and, over the course of the show, latched onto something inside of me. The songs were simple, sparse, but carried a weight to them, a sense of importance that could not be shaken. I left their show thinking how desperately I wanted- no- needed to experience their music again.

I grabbed a copy of Impersonator as soon as I possibly could; I listened to that album practically every day of 2013, internalizing every song, every lyric. “Childhood’s End” became about my emotional state, the romanticism of “Silver Rings” became a source of small comfort. I couldn’t listen to “Bugs Don’t Buzz” for long stretches of time; the way it way it talked so point-blank about death was something I couldn’t always handle. My favorite track, though, was the last one, “Notebook”, a song about comforting a loved one in a hospital while confronting one’s own mortality. I lost count of the nights where I would stay up to three in the morning, listening to that song, wanting to scream the line “I don’t want to turn to the Bible yet”. This is the album- and the band- that got me through a terrible time in my life.

And so after more than a year, I finally got to see them perform again. I skipped out on seeing Dinosaur Jr to get the best spot possible and waited patiently. Matt Otto and Devon Walsh soon took the stage, just as casually as they did last time, and began to play. A complete hush quickly fell over the audience (something I’ve only witnessed at Majical Cloudz shows) and the opening lines of “This is Magic” came out of the speakers. The next song was “Notebook”, which Welsh dedicated to me after I yelped for joy. I was wanted to tell him everything that song meant to me, but all I could do was sing along. I would have been content with this show, re-experiencing the quiet intensity that I witnessed before, now being a little more aware of what I was experiencing. Instead though, for the fourth song Welsh stepped into the crowd and started performing from there. The dynamic changed instantly, as the audience began to move to the music, singing and even shouting along to the lyrics.

Suddenly, this wasn’t about me experiencing music that meant something to me; it was about the audience collectively experiencing these songs together. We swayed when Welshed asked us to, crouched down for another song. People swarmed around Welsh, wanting to be as close to him as possible, to sing every word along with him. Everyone hung on every moment; even the new songs were mesmerizing (one with the line “I’ll be your friend ‘till I’m buried in the ground” in particular left a dull pain in my chest). In between every song I would turn and look at the people around me. Everyone wore the same small smile, one crafted from the sense of knowing that the people next to you were experiencing, in their own way, the same brilliant catharsis as you. The band ended the show with “Bugs Don’t Buzz”, with the song’s ominous piano lines sounding even more foreboding at such a high volume. And yet as the lyrics came in, as Welsh and the crowd sang about love crumbling in the face of death, there was no dread in the air. Because these songs weren’t about the end, they were about living a life, despite knowing the end was there. Experiencing that feeling, surrounded by strangers all experiencing similar feelings, was amazing. Welsh and Otto managed to make the tent they were performing in, at a massive music festival, seem like the most intimate spot in the world.

They were performing again later that night, but I didn’t go; I couldn’t experience something like that twice.

-David Glickman (The Daily Texan)

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Navigating Adulthood in 2014 (via Lyric)

Being a grown up is hard. You don’t realize how hard until adulthood slaps you in the face. I suffered several of these brutal attacks in 2014, my 25th year of existence. Quarter-life crisis? That’s a thing, I guess. This year, I was bruised and battered like never before, sometimes at my own hand. But while many of life’s punches left their mark- and in some cases, the pain still stings- I survived, and that’s probably worth something. Isn’t it?

“How easily we forget in order to live.” – Priests, “Design Within Reach

For the purposes of this essay, let’s go with a resounding, “Yes!” But when you’re 25, every day feels like a question. Am I doing the right thing? Am I going to be happy? Is this person I’m spending time with going to make me happy? Should I even bother letting him try?

Of course, 2014 wasn’t all doom and gloom, although it’s always easier to harp on the darker moments. This year brought several triumphs, both personal and professional, and an abundance of good times with good people. As usual, music functioned at the epicenter: going to shows, hearing new records, meeting musicians I admire, and even making my own music (however poorly) for the first time.

All in all, nothing new. And yet, in the overall scheme of things, 2014 has been noticeably different. I’ve always allowed music to soundtrack the important, and also not-so important, moments of my life: every change, every milestone, and every achievement. Still, this year, it was uncanny how my favorite songs and albums seemed to align with whatever was happening, as it was happening, in my life. Suddenly, lyrics rang true like never before; melodies haunted my brain for hours on end; I worried that musicians I had never even met might be invading my dreams, engineering them without my knowledge or consent.

“Do I bother to define myself beyond what they allow? Have I already forgotten how?” – Parquet Courts, “Black & White

If nothing else, 2014 was eventful. My first trip to SXSW was an endless blaze of bands, booze, and (literal) body surfing. Death By Audio closed, taking a tiny piece of my soul along with it. I (probably) saw Guy Picciotto on the subway. I was hired, I was fired. I started a band. I fell in love. Now I’ve reached the end, and to be quite frank, I’m fucking exhausted. So where do we go from here?

“I often get the feeling I don’t have any sensation/ It isn’t much of a feeling.” – Viet Cong, “Unconscious Melody

I guess we rewind, right back to the beginning. Some people are just inherently good at life. I’ve never considered myself one of them. Raised by a badass single mom from Brooklyn, I’ve always believed that my strong will is mainly what’s gotten me this far; that, plus my affinity for foul language (you can’t trust anyone whose parents never taught them to curse). I’ve never shied away from anything, really, but I’ve still never been jazzed by the idea of taking on the “Real World.” In 2014, I was thrust straight into its clutches, mostly against my will.

We all know that writing– like any creative endeavor– simply isn’t lucrative. There’s no set career path to follow, and especially with music writing, there aren’t any rules. After graduating college with a butt-load of student debt and not much else, I quickly realized that the occupation of “writer” was mostly reserved for the fictional realm of movies and television. In order to survive, I would need a job to support my ambitions.

Just before turning 25, I was hired at my first real job, and before the year was through, I was let go. At the time, the thought of returning to a life of freelancing- mainly, a life of financial uncertainty- was utterly terrifying. Then, I had a breakthrough: hadn’t writing been really, really good to me this year? Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like you haven’t accomplished anything at all, because being a writer means second-guessing your every move, whether it be the placement of a comma or a meaningful life decision. Most of the time, that isn’t the case at all. Usually, you’re far better off than you think.

“As it breaks, the summer will wake/ But the winter will wash what’s left of the taste.” – Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)

This past spring, I was lucky to find a home at Impose and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had because of it. Last year, when I was working mostly for no pay at small, local blogs, becoming a staff writer at my favorite site was nothing short of a Les Mis-style impossible dream. Now, as the year comes to a close, I’m taking on new assignments from new outlets and collaborating with like-minded people like never before (and have the free time to do so). By no means is it easy, but for the first time in my life, I feel like a real-life music writer. I’m not so numb with terror anymore. In fact, it feels pretty good.

“Finally I know what love is/ It’s the feeling that you’re being pulled apart by horses.” – Flagland, “Superlove

Alas, we’ve finally reached the fun stuff. At 25, after years of fancying myself an emotionless humanoid shell, I discovered that I, too, am susceptible to feelings. If you prick me, I do bleed, and unfortunately that blood is the same color as every other broken-hearted girl in Brooklyn. It was a hard realization, but once the damage had been done, there was no turning back. Fuck!

It’s okay, though. I mean, it’s not okay- getting dicked around by someone is never okay, and allowing it to happen more than once is even less okay- but still, there’s something to be gained in losing at love. Knowing that the struggle is, indeed, all too real. Knowing that you gave it your all. Knowing that you’ve said all there is to say, even when saying it hurts more than you ever thought possible. Knowing that time really does make everything better, and that good friends (and alcohol) definitely help speed up the process.

“I wish someone would swallow me.” – Krill, “Turd

Are you not supposed to write so candidly about these things? I don’t know, because like I said, in writing there are no rules. This year, I’ve interviewed some of my favorite bands on the planet and struggled with this very concept. Objectivity in music journalism is something I’ve never been able to fully wrap my head around. How can music writing be objective when music itself is anything but? If a song or a record or a band is able to move you, and in turn you’re able to share with others how you’ve been moved, isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that why you do it?

I’ve always imagined myself an outsider. That’s why working so closely with music has always appealed to me. Music makes it okay to feel whatever you want, because as long as someone else feels the same, you’re not alone. This is how bonds are formed; they’re most definitely the truest bonds I’ve ever experienced. Obviously, it’s best that some lines don’t become blurred- I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, a couple times over now- but isn’t the messier stuff always the best stuff? At least sometimes?

“We’re all the fucking same.” – Ought, “Today More Than Any Other Day

Early this year, I sat down for an interview with my friend Joe, whose band Big Ups released one of my favorite records of 2014. Something he said during our talk really stuck with me, and has stuck with me ever since. Regarding his band’s debut, Eighteen Hours of Static, he said, “the record asks a lot of questions, because I don’t know what the answers are.” We were discussing what it’s like to be our age, and to see the things we see every day, and to feel the things we feel all the time. I don’t believe I’ve ever had the answers, and even at 25, I still don’t. I also don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Maybe don’t listen to anything I say. Maybe I’m drinking white wine straight from the bottle right now, and maybe my judgment is a bit clouded (hint: it is). Regardless, I can’t shake the feeling that everything will be okay in 2015, or maybe even better than okay. This year presented itself with a lot of problems, but starting now, I plan to live each day with the blind faith that they’ll soon be solved. Is that what being grown up means? 2014 wasn’t the year I grew up, exactly, but it was the year I started to get there.

-Loren DiBlasi (Impose, DIY)