One day into 2018, the year already had a ridiculously strong record thanks to a clever release strategy for the latest from Jeff Rosenstock. Not a lot of time had passed before the year saw more record’s join that record, POST-, in talks about the ceiling for what this year can produce. Over the first two months, 10 records — including POST- — managed to make a lasting impression, from records that showcased what their genres can offer at their peak to records that do away with genre subscriptions entirely. A long list of records managed to connect but these 10 managed to stand out. Dive in and enjoy the swim.
1. Evening Standards – Evening Standards
For anyone who found themselves dismayed at the news of Purple 7‘s dissolution, Evening Standards is a perfect reassurance. Chris Mott’s newest project, Evening Standards takes the torch from his old act with a clear-eyed assurance and presses its foot on the accelerator with a little more aggression. Already a viable contender for being the year’s best basement pop record (it would’ve been in last year’s conversation without question), Evening Standards is a relentless debut that refuses to pull punches. From the powerful opening track to the stratospheric heights of “Lil Green Man” to the well-earned finality of its closer, it’s a record that deserves to be delivered at maximum volume.
2. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse
One of the first breakout records of 2018 was Anna Burch‘s confident Quit the Curse, which found a way to intertwine a carefree sound with pointed narratives that touch on everything from anxiety to uncertainty to self-empowerment. Sculpting elements of surf, powerpop, folk, and slacker punk into an intoxicating sound that echoes Sleeping in the Aviary‘s later era, Burch fashions something that’s familiar, fresh, and winsome. Delivered with a smirk, a wink, and an I-dare-you-to-even-try-it smile, the songs on Quit the Curse go a long way in establishing Burch’s artistic identity. When it ends, it’s enough to have most eager for the inevitable extension.
3. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-
Despite being a prominent genre name for years, Jeff Rosenstock‘s career took a massive stride into wider recognition with 2016’s outstanding WORRY.. In typical punk fashion, it didn’t take Rosenstock long to craft a follow-up effort. What’s surprising about POST-, which was surprise-released on the first day of 2018, isn’t its success but it’s wild ambition. Best exemplified by the seven-and-a-half minute “USA”, POST- finds Rosenstock at both his most visible and his most fearless. Every song on this thing is approached at full-tilt and delivered with the desperation of someone fighting for their life. It’s raucous, it’s unpredictable, it’s shockingly complete, and it will always stand tall as 2018’s first great record.
4. The Royal They – Foreign Being
The Royal They find themselves in the relatively unique position of finding themselves launched into much larger conversations because of their extraordinary sophomore album, Foreign Being. All but weaponizing a genre-obliterating mixture of post-punk, post-hardcore, basement pop, spoken word, indie pop, and a host of other influences, the band lets fly from the onset with the exhilarating 1-2 combo of “C.N.T.” and “Sludgefucker”, firmly establishing their authority and digging in their claws with no reservation. Vicious, experimental, and engrossing from start to finish, Foreign Being has the early distinction of being one of the first quarter’s strongest surprises.
5. Ought – Room Inside the World
Now three records into their career, it seems as if Ought is incapable of making an errant move. They’ve slowly expanded their identity, scope, and ambitions over the course of each of those successive records and seem incredibly comfortable in forging their own path. Tim Darcy‘s foray into solo work even seems to have invigorated the songwriter’s main vehicle, allowing Room Inside the World more space to breathe. Ought are at their most polished here but there’s still that strain of tension and neurotic nerves that defined their earlier material. Room Inside the World is the perfect next step for a band that seems determined to be the authoritative voice in their corner of post-punk.
6. Royal Brat – Eyesore
A common trend among acts who are revered for their live act is an inability to craft a record that does their set justice. Royal Brat curb that trend with Eyesore, a record as explosive as they are on stage. Eyesore‘s songs sit around a 100-second average but that’s more than enough time for the band to get their message across. A record about finding redemption and power in living as a survivor, Eyesore finds meaning in its pointed outbursts. Buoyed by attitude and conviction, it’s a dogged triumph that announces the band as a force that’s hellbent on being granted a reckoning.
7. JACK – Alchemical Rounds
Brittany Costa has a long history as a songwriter and musician but has never seemed more at home than she has when positioned at the forefront of JACK. A collection of demos and a genuinely moving EP already under the project’s belt, Costa dives forward and continues to reckon with questions of character, mortality, and certainty. It’s an unwieldy record that conjures up a storm as unwieldy — and unyielding — as the questions that fuel its dark, unapologetic narrative. Costa continues to impress at every level and has delivered yet another fully-realized masterstroke that kicks away the cobwebs from some rooms that people less bold still aren’t willing to explore.
8. Screaming Females – All At Once
“Glass House” — one of last year’s most powerful songs — was one of the first looks at Screaming Females‘ All At Once and serves it well as the lead-off track. The band’s aggression, present even when showing restraint, is one of the most potent keys to their continued success. The placement of “Glass House” sets the tone for what’s to follow, which winds up being the trio’s most decisive work to date. All At Once wears its many bruises like badges of honor, as the band draws from past wounds and experiences to determine its stance and braces for the worst. Chaotic in theory but precisely controlled, All At Once is another masterstroke from a group of vaunted prizefighters.
9. Ratboys – GL
A long-held but underutilized tradition among bands is releasing an EP as an addendum to a larger body of work. When they work, the end result can’t only just make a project more comprehensive but strengthen it’s foundation (see: Okkervil River‘s Black Sheep Boy AppendixEP). Ratboys joins that select pantheon of acts with the extraordinary GL which rivals its formidable predecessor, GN, as a complete work. Containing some of the finest work of the young band’s career, GL exudes the same kind of sprawling, wide-open humanity that’s provided their discography a beating heart. Electric and captivating, GN finds a memorable way to hit all the right notes.
10. Long Neck – Will This Do?
During Jawbreaker Reunion‘s brief but exceptional run, guitarist/vocalist Lily Mastrodimos emerged as an incredibly engaging voice. Fortunately, Mastrodimos had a solo vehicle to keep those talents sharp in Jawbreaker Reunion’s absence. Now that project, Long Neck, has taken the leap that’s served acts like Cloud Nothings and Car Seat Headrest extraordinarily well and gone the full band route. After a handful of extremely strong releases that saw Mastrodimos alone in the spotlight, Will This Do?, as challenging and bleak as it can seem, also comes with a twinge of celebration.
A handful of the finest work of Mastrodimos’ already exceptional discography gets a home in Will This Do?, an incredibly versatile and assured record that explores the themes that have populated the work of both Long Neck’s first iteration and Jawbreaker Reunion. Mortality is confronted head on, self-doubt tugs at the corners of the fabrics keeping the tapestry intact, and a resilient determination shines through the uncomfortably heavy thematic meditation. Joy is in short supply — but still present — on Will This Do? but a hard-earned understanding seems boundless in both its quiet moments and its moments of naked reckoning.
Tethered together by humanity and empathy, Will This Do? benefits from both its fearlessness and its persistent uncertainty. Explosive dynamics and inspired compositions keep it interesting on the surface but its in the many carefully constructed layers — both lyrically and musically — where it evolves into something genuinely gripping.
The record also has the benefit of starting strong but ending with one of the strongest four songs stretches anyone’s produced in recent memory (a run that boasts some of the most vivid and haunting imagery imaginable, especially in the unforgettable closing moments of “Milky Way”) that propels Will This Do? past the conversation of simply being one of 2018’s best and position it as one of the strongest records of this present decade. In what seems to be a time of crisis, Long Neck have flipped the script, seized their own direction and left a trail of smoke in their wake.
Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.
Last year, Lily Mastrodimos turned in one of A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ most definitive pieces. It was an uncompromising look at depression and learning to navigate that with different methods of self-care. It’s an honor to be hosting yet another Mastrodimos piece as part of this year’s edition of the series and this time around the musician’s turned in another definitive entry. The Long Neck mastermind (and Jawbreaker Reunion guitarist/vocalist) once again grapples with grief, loss, and finding strength and comfort through music. Tragic, absorbing, and uplifting, it’s more than worth the read.
My family lost 3 grandparents in 2016: my maternal grandmother (Nana) and both of my paternal grandparents (Yiayia and Pappou). Nana left us on January 20, Yiayia passed away on February 23, and Pappou passed several months later on September 13. I find it overwhelmingly difficult to separate everything I experienced or did this past year with the grief that my family and I felt. It is so deeply ingrained in 2016, and sometimes I see it as two arms holding everything I did this year close to its chest and refusing to let go. 2016 was a big year for me scientifically and musically, but the grief I felt fused more closely to my relationship with music, becoming a part of everything I wrote or played or listened to throughout the year.
I associate Nana’s passing with the Adult Mom/Jawbreaker Reunion tour, Yiayia’s with the Titus Andronicus show that let my sister and I shed the pain of the previous month and a half, and Pappou’s with the end of the gobbinjr/Long Neck tour. It felt like everything I did in between their passings was already defined by them, and it became a daily challenge to figure out how I would cope with the weight of each.
Nana’s passing had cut me down and kept me down for what felt like eternity. She had always been so supportive of both my musical and scientific aspirations, though she put more emphasis on my biological pursuits. Nevertheless, she would mail me newspaper articles about interesting bands or performances, and would insist that I write a ballad for the next JBR album. When she left, things froze and I felt like I was sinking. Yiayia’s passing sucked what remaining energy I had left away from me. After seven months of working through the pain and feeling like I was getting better, Pappou’s passing brought a strange and heavy weight to my shoulders.
I came to recognize that grief feels like a standstill, and the grief that follows the death of a loved one was one that I had not felt before. It was immobilizing and overwhelmingly exhausting. My grief settled in the center of my chest like a pile of stones, crushing the air from my lungs and sending out waves throughout the rest of my body. I was depressed and felt hollow. Things felt surreal. Days were interminable, and I couldn’t bring myself to get anything done.
Everything I was, everything I encountered, every inch of space that surrounded me, felt monstrously heavy. I was becoming increasingly anxious that I was blurring the line between self-pity and the pain of grief, terrified that I was growing lazy and comfortable within the shell that mourning had built around me.
Writing kept me busy and gave me something to do while I tried to make sense of everything I was feeling and processing. Most of the music I wrote during this time was either quiet and hushed or very loud, with no real in-between. It felt like the louder songs took longer for me to work on, like I had to find the energy to sing them. Playing shows with JBR and Long Neck also provided relief through consistent bursts of energy, even if singing certain songs made me feel raw or exposed, like I had to relive everything I was feeling or thinking word-by-word.
When I got back home, I’d retreat to my room and try to muster up the fortitude to go over the quieter songs, the ones that specifically focused on loss and mourning, the ones I wrote for Nana, the ones I wrote to help me figure out how I could feel better. While some of these songs will never see the light of day, they allowed me to channel the grief I was feeling into something, anything.
When I wasn’t writing or playing, I found refuge in Battle Ave, Titus Andronicus, Mitski, Jeff Rosenstock, PUP, Chumped, the So So Glos– bands whose music I could scream to in the car when I needed to release my anxiety or tension. My job had me working throughout the northernmost regions of New Jersey, close to the New York border. I’d drive around the forests of Passaic and Bergen counties, past lakes and reservoirs and mountains, haunted roads and abandoned tourist attractions.
The silence and isolation of this part of the state was soon filled with the crashing sounds of guitars, the bittersweet words of strangers, the driving and soul-shaking bass tones, all swallowing me in a sea of noise within the confines of my old car. It was a kind of escapism that let me drown out my own frantic thoughts with something louder, something I could lend my voice to and still feel like I was beating back the sadness.
I realize now that much of what I listened to in 2016 was music that tied me to land, to my favorite places, to my home or the places where I felt home. Battle Ave’s Year of Nod, for instance, brought me back to the woods upstate where I had found comfort during other tumultuous times. Titus Andronicus reminded me that I could never be truly lost or alone in my homeland of Jersey, and I found myself listening to The Monitor most of all. For my sister and I, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” became something like our own battle cry- especially at the last line (“I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave”).
When we saw Titus in February, hours after attending Yiayia’s funeral, we received a shot of catharsis that we desperately, desperately needed. We could hardly believe it when the first chord was struck for “Battle”, and spent a majority of the song screaming along. When the last line came around, we lost it. Suddenly, we were heavily sobbing, hugging each other and shouting “Please don’t ever leave” through the tears. The last few months washed over us in a bitter and acute sense of grief, then quickly melted away and left us with immense relief, joy, and peace. We left the show amazed, empowered, hopeful, and for the first time in a long time, happy.
For the most part, the music that got me through the year focused on relationships, on connections, on the love we have for our friends and our family, on the importance that these people hold in our lives. It was the music that you and your best friends or your sibling would scream to each other in a big crowd.
“And we drank, and we talked shit, and I was happy” (“Name That Thing”, Chumped)
“Do you believe in something beautiful? Then get up and be it” (“Me and Mia”, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists)
Music that is loud and commands you to let people know just how much they mean to you, and how you would feel if they were suddenly gone.
“I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave”
“I gotta let you know while you’re alive cos I’ll be a disaster when you die” (“…While You’re Alive”, Jeff Rosenstock)
“I look up at the gaps of sunlight. I miss you more than anything” (“Francis Forever”, Mitski)
Music that reminds you that it’s OK to take breaks, but you have to fucking get up and keep moving, as seemingly impossible as that feels, because this cannot break you.
“I called up some folks I truly love and hung up after they said hello. I got so tired of discussing my future, I’ve started avoiding the people I love” (“Nausea”, Jeff Rosenstock)
“This winter hasn’t been so rough. Oh it was cold, but it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the blood between my spine. And at least I survived” (“Dark Days”, PUP)
Then there was the music I actually made with my best friends. The shows I played towards the end of the Adult Mom/JBR tour– and the enormous support of my bandmates and tourmates– helped me get through the news of Nana’s hospitalization and her declining health. The release of JBR’s second album and the show we played to celebrate it filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and joy that left me elated and filled with so much love.
When I started feeling small or uncomfortable or anxious in the area I call my home, Long Neck shows and practices reminded me that I could carry the grief I had without feeling ashamed, and my bandmates were there to help me find my footing again. Our tour with gobbinjr felt like an amazing dream, and in recording our second album I can revisit everything I felt in 2016 without feeling heavy, lost, scared, or alone, because I have them.
In 2016, music reminded me that when your loved ones leave you, it doesn’t mean love itself is gone. If anything, you begin to see the love that you have in your life more clearly. You want to take everyone in your life and write them long letters expressing how much you love them, so they can have a physical record of it. You want to savor every moment you spend with your family and your friends and your pets and hell, even strangers or vague acquaintances. You become increasingly nostalgic, and while at times the memories sting you, eventually they flood you with warmth and you quietly give thanks to the time you were given with people who have come and gone.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank everyone who helped me make it through the year. I won’t name everyone, because it’s a fair list, and chances are you already know who you are. (If you don’t, be sure that the next time I see you, I will hug you and tell you in person.) But I want you to know that I am so immensely thankful to have you all in my life, so grateful for everything you did for me. I want you all to know how much you are cared for, how much you are appreciated, how much you are loved. For the new year I resolve to be more open and honest with the people in my life, take more risks, be more thankful and live without fear, and be as available and kind as best I can, and not take the people in my life for granted.
We all grieve differently, and I’m not going to pretend to speak on behalf of everyone who has ever lost someone and mourned gravely and deeply. My grief was and is my own. It took me nearly the entirety of 2016 to start feeling O, to understand that there is no limit for the time you can spend grieving. There are days that are still tough, and as we’re nearing the end of January I know that things may start feeling weird and off and tough again. But I am more confident now that I’ll make it through. I will be OK because love still exists and will continue to exist, because I will keep making music no matter what, because I am surrounded by amazing and supportive and caring people, and life will keep moving forward.
Following suit with the two previous examples, the best songs of 2016 list will abandon the traditional numerical format in favor of a more open approach that concentrates on the best material of the year without offering too many individual designations. The majority of the songs featured on this list were under-represented on lists by far more visible publications (and a few that were fairly represented are listed below the main list as honorable mentions) and fall under the genres normally covered by this site. Of course, this list — just like any other — can’t claim to be truly representative but it does offer a decent encapsulation of 2016 releases that deserved to be celebrated.
An additional note: most of the embeds come from bandcamp, so songs will auto-play after the initial listen. This was intentional to ease the access to the records that can claim these songs and to more directly benefit the artists that brought them into the world.
Enjoy the list.
Mo Troper – Happy Birthday
One of the strongest debut records of last year was Mo Troper‘s Beloved, an entirely unexpected but wholly welcome powerpop masterpiece. While just about every song on Beloved was considered for this list, it seemed appropriate to go with “Happy Birthday” which set the tone for a fearsome record that deserved far more recognition.
Doe – Sincere
Some Things Last Longer Than Youwas a blistering statement from Doe, a band that had been steadily gaining momentum for years. It was a perfectly structured record that allowed its songs an equal amount of weight but “Sincere” still managed to emerge as a standout single. Fiery and full of conviction, it was one of 2016’s best moments.
– Told Slant – Low Hymnal
“Low Hymnal” was a song that I was fortunate enough to hear forming in its earliest stages but the finished product still managed to wind up as a transcendental experience. There’s genuine pain at the root of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” that lends to the overwhelming weight of the song’s unforgettable final stanza. A gorgeous and moving masterwork.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
In the title track for their career best, Human Performance, Parquet Courts hit an exhilarating new high point. “Human Performance” is a tightly-coiled and deeply felt examination of the human condition that finds the band stretching in new directions with a fearlessness that makes the song as gripping as it is immediate.
Yucky Duster – Gofer
A pitch-perfect pop song, Yucky Duster‘s “Gofer” became one of 2016’s most unexpected summer anthems. It’s a pure delight at every perfectly-navigated hairpin turn, serving up some of the most meticulously constructed guitar pop in recent memory. A perfect blend of style and substance, “Gofer” is a triumph from a band worth watching.
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)
While Pretty Years saw Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to evolve their sound, no moment of the record was more jaw-dropping than the towering “Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)“. An eye-opening display of formidable strength and untapped ferocity, the song saw the band perfecting just about every facet of their already-impressive songwriting.
LVL UP – Spirit Was
“Pain” and “Hidden Driver” got a fair amount of attention from year-end lists but the most representative moment of LVL UP‘s Return To Love was the bittersweet “Spirit Was“, which also ranks as one of the band’s best. Vocalist/bassist Nick Corbo provided Return To Love its beating heart and “Spirit Was” marked the moment it completely opened.
Big Thief – Real Love
It takes a certain type of boldness to title a record Masterpiece but when that record features songs like “Real Love“, that title just seems apt. In some moments “Real Love” is breezy and open, while others finds Big Thief baring their fangs. Throw in one of the most effective guitar solos of the past few years and “Real Love” quietly emerges as a new classic.
Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos
Before hanging up their cables, Jawbreaker Reunion were kind enough to deliver one last album in haha and then what 😉, which lived up to the bands sterling track record. The best moment of a great record came via “Cosmos“, a gorgeous ballad examining serious topics that quickly transforms into a forceful reckoning. In short: it’s perfect.
Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia
Likely the most celebrated record appearing on this list, Car Seat Headrest‘s Teens of Denial‘s most breathtaking moment was largely ignored by other outlets. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is a sprawling meditation on hopelessness that somehow finds a way to seamlessly work in a brief, heartrending cover of Dido’s “White Flag”. A genuine achievement.
Fred Thomas – Brickwall
Fred Thomas is making and releasing music at a relatively relentless rate, which is a trait that typically produces a lot of filler material. Thomas somehow keeps getting better, something that’s clearly evident in “Brickwall“, a characteristically acerbic slice-of-life send-up that highlights Changer, which will go down as one of 2017’s finest.
Cloud Nothings – Modern Act
Rarely does a band come across as progressive while revisiting their earlier sounds, yet “Modern Act” finds a way to fuse progression with refinement in its revisitations. A brilliant hybrid of virtually every stage of the band’s career “Modern Act” is both a victory lap and an engrossing look at Cloud Nothings‘ increasingly promising future.
Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab
“Crockpot” was the kind of unforgettable song that could make a band’s career, that Slothrust has surpassed those dazzling heights so quickly is a staggering accomplishment. “Horseshoe Crab” is the kind of track that can stop people in their tracks. It’s a spellbinding song from a band unafraid to rip the bleeding heart out of their own chest.
Catbus – Fracas
A standalone release — and lone track — from a band that features Phyllis Ophelia and members of Patio, Catbus‘ “Fracas” is a riveting hybrid of post-punk and basement pop. The verses ensnare the listeners attention before the chorus blooms and casts an unbreakable spell. Exceedingly lovely and perfectly crafted, “Fracas” is an absolute gem.
John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest
No song in 2016 carried more emotional resonance than John K. Samson‘s devastating final chapter to the Virtute trilogy. Plaintive, painfully intimate, and tinged with a deeply damaged sense of hope, the song finds Virtute’s owner resurrecting the neglected cat to beg for forgiveness. Harrowing and unforgettable, “Virtute At Rest” was a knockout blow.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright
There’s a grace and elegance that’s identifiable even through the light damage that Jay Som applies to “I Think You’re Alright” that brings Sparklehorse to mind. Now, direct comparisons on this site are few and far between — especially in the case of such notable luminaries — but it’s next to impossible not to hear the ghost of Mark Linkous lovingly haunting every last second of “I Think You’re Alright”.
Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind the Jay Som project, has listed Sparklehorse as a major influence and the two share a kindred, empathetic spirit- something that shows in the delicate tenderness of “I Think You’re Alright” and maintains its convictions throughout the rest of Jay Som’s discography. While that discography is an enviable one, “I Think You’re Alright” remains its crown jewel, thanks to not only the song’s sublime instrumentation but a narrative that plays perfectly into the song’s soft lyricism.
All at once, uplifting and resigned, “I Think You’re Alright” occupies a fascinating space. There’s a lot going on in “I Think You’re Alright”, from the subdued atmosphere to the way that instrumentation interacts in its final quarter. When it’s playing, though, none of that’s taken into account as “I Think You’re Alright” has the ability to envelop the listener in a very specific feeling, rendering it a unique (and uniquely moving) listen. Not just one of the finest of this year but of the past decade.
After a whirlwind catch-up session saw around 80 new posts go up in the past month, this site’s falling back into old habits. Namely, the preservation of implementing some sort of mixtape for every at every 50-post interval. With summer officially kicking off next week, it felt appropriate to create a mix in anticipation of the increasingly warm weather. Somehow, Heartbreaking Bravery’s now also 900 posts into its existence and some sort of commentary felt fitting as well. To that end, the 25 songs selected below are mostly tracks that have been featured — in some way or another — on this site throughout the course of those 900 posts (including Audacity’s “Hole in the Sky”, which was the the focal point of Heartbreaking Bravery’s first post).
A lot of the songs in Staring Down the Sun are songs that have carried me through previous summers, propelling me forward or comforting me with warmth and familiarity. It’s those two traits, warmth and familiarity, that are underlined most emphatically on this mix as they’re two of the season’s most consistently definitive draws. As such, Staring Down the Sun is a mix that’s heavily populated by friends, old and new, to sustain the kind of camaraderie that’s so often reinvigorated by sense of contentment and desire for exploration that frequently accompanies the season.
Open the windows, call up some friends, start a band, stoke the embers of the fire in the backyard, enjoy the scenery, travel to a new city, go swimming, or do whatever it takes to enjoy the shifting weather. Whatever the option, there’s now a soundtrack to accompany those moments available for the taking. Grab it and go.
Staring Down the Sun‘s tracklist can be found below the embed. Underneath the tracklist are hyperlinks to the preceding 100 posts. Enjoy.
1. Used Kids – Midwest Midsummer 2. PUP – DVP 3. Audacity – Hole in the Sky 4. Patsy’s Rats – Rock N’ Roll Friend 5. Goodnight Loving – Dead Fish On the Banks 6. PURPLE 7 – Wise Up 7. The Marked Men – Fix My Brain 8. Screaming Females – Wishing Well 9. Good Grief – Cold Compress 10. Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright 11. Icarus Himself – Digging Holes 12. Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion 13. Jawbreaker Reunion – Friends Theme Song 14. Midnight Reruns – King of Pop 15. Dogs On Acid – Make It Easy 16. Sleeping in the Aviary – Love Song 17. Swearin’ – Hundreds and Thousands 18. Sweet John Bloom – Aging In Place 19. Meat Wave – Cosmic Zoo 20. Mo Troper – Princess 21. Mike Krol – Left Out (Attn: SoCal Garage Rockers) 22. Royal Headache – High 23. Weaves – One More 24. Tenement – Near You 25. Swim Team – Teenage Brain
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Each of the seven volumes that comprise this Watch This package contain 25 clips apiece. Due to the sheer volume of live videos that have come out during January, February, and March all of the packages will have the same introductory paragraph. Regular Watch This segments will resume on Sunday.]
It’s been a tremendous first quarter for live videos. While Watch This, Heartbreaking Bravery’s weekly series celebrating the very best of the live video format, hasn’t been in operation for roughly three full months, the information required to keep this thing humming (i.e., checking through hundreds of subscriptions and sources for outstanding new material) has been collected at regular intervals. If they were full sessions, single song performances, studio-shot, DIY captures, transcendent songs, or transcendent visual presentations, they were compiled into a massive list. 175 videos wound up making extraordinarily strong impressions, those videos will all be presented here, in the Watch This: The Best of 2016’s First Quarter extended package, one 25-clip presentation at a time.
Watch the third collection of those videos below.
1. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (KEXP) 2. Leapling – Alabaster Snow (VHS Sessions) 3. Ty Segall & The Muggers (KEXP) 4. Jawbreaker Reunion – Small Investments (This Has Got To Stop) 5. Julien Baker – Blacktop (BIRN) 6. Bantam Lyons – Away from the Bar (Faits Divers) 7. Furnsss – Effy (WHUS) 8. Michael Rault (Audiotree) 9. Ratboys – Light Pollution (DZ Records) 10. Savages – Evil (KCRW) 11. Stone Cold Fox – Contagion (Hooke) 12. Darlene Shrugg – First World Blues (Noisemakers) 13. Single Player – Silver Dollar (DZ Records) 14. Parquet Courts – Outside (WFUV) 15. The Dirty Nil – No Weaknesses (Little Elephant) 16. Palm – I Don’t Want to Know (VHS Sessions) 17. Sleater-Kinney – Price Tag (Austin City Limits) 18. Looming – Nailbiter (Trundle Sessions) 19. Courtney – Kids In Blushing Love (DZ Records) 20. EL VY (NPR) 21. Low – Try To Sleep (The Current) 22. Kishi Bashi – Manchester (NPR) 23. Run Forever – Big Vacation (Trundle Sessions) 24. J Fernandez – Read My Mind (Consequence of Sound) 25. Sharon Van Etten – Tarifa (NPR)
Now that nearly everything’s back up to speed on the three major fronts (streams, full streams, and music videos), it’s time to re-direct the attention to the very best material that emerged in the first three months of 2016. After listening to literally thousands of new songs throughout the course of this year, 50 songs will be embedded below (the original list was just over 50 and the last three cuts were from Public Access T.V., SOAR, and Retired), with the first several artists listed having multiple songs vying for the feature.
Due to the time constraints, each of the songs — while worthy of several paragraphs — will receive a line or two of text. All of the songs that competed for the feature spot will be hyperlinked. All of these songs, in one way or another, genuinely stood out from the rest of the pack- and beyond that, several of them have proven their worth via their staying power.
From moments of devastating vulnerability (“Low Hymnal”) to electrifying bursts of visceral energy (“DVP”), there’s a lot to digest. Whether carrying the status of new, emerging, proven, or elder statesman, the artists that comprise this list have viable year-end potential. All 50 of these tracks deserve investment. Dive in below and explore a large handful of 2016’s finest gems.
A seething mess of chaos and cacophony, Culture Abuse‘s “Turn It Off” was one of young 2016’s most immediate post-punk tunes. Sharp and unrelenting, “Turn It Off” more than makes its mark. | Also worth hearing: Dream On, Peace On Earth
Audacity – Lock On the Door
Self-described by the band as a “Third Eye Blind rip-off song”, “Lock On the Door” is the band’s most successful grime-coated excursion and retains every bit of its predecessors’ considerable charms. | Also worth hearing: Umbrellas, Dirty Boy.
Mulligrub – Homo Milk & Man in the Moon
Mulligrub managed to impress when they were just starting out and they’ve grown noticeably in a surprisingly short period of time. If this two-song package is any indication, there are some extraordinary things in Mulligrub’s future. | Also worth hearing: Europe
Mo Troper – First Monkey In Space
Mo Troper’s Beloved is my early front-runner for Album of the Year and with songs as perfectly crafted (and presented) as “First Monkey In Space”, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Big Star-meets-Tony Molina is a very, very good look. | Also worth hearing: After the Movies
Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos
Another early year-end candidate came in the form of Jawbreaker Reunion‘s breathtaking “Cosmos”, which saw them tapping back into the lovesick despair that made “E.M.O.” so unforgettable. When the back half kicks in on his one, it’s a moment of powerful transcendence. | Also worth hearing: Small Investments
Kal Marks – Coffee
A sprawling, bruiser of a track, “Coffee” sees Kal Marks continuing to dominate the realms of aggressively down-trodden post-punk, fully equipped with a messy handful of grunge influences. It’s another masterclass from a band who are very nearly peerless. | Also worth hearing: Mankind
Tenement – The Block Is Safe Again
One of three songs on this list to be experiencing a cleaned up re-release, “The Block Is Safe Again” is vintage Tenement. All you really need to see to know that this is incredible is the last word of that first sentence. | Also worth hearing: Freak Cast In Iron
Nicole Dollanganger – Chapel
Another song that experienced a re-release, “Chapel”, saw Nicole Dollanganger embracing her softest sensibilities and conjuring up something spellbinding. Let it wash over you and give into its dreamlike state, pay attention, though, and you’ll be plunged straight into a delicate nightmare. | Also worth hearing: Beautiful and Bad
Big Ups – National Parks
Shortly after hitting their five year anniversary, Big Ups unloaded a behemoth of a record in Before A Million Universes. The high-wire tension act of “National Parks” was one of its many peaks, providing an able showcase for the band’s commanding sense of self. | Also worth hearing: Hope for Someone
Tancred – Sell My Head
One of 2016’s most pleasant surprises has come in the full-blown emergence of Tancred. Spiky, formidable, and exceptional, everything Jess Abbott’s project has unleashed this year has hit its target. Store this one away right next to the fiercest songs from Palehound and Speedy Ortiz. | Also worth hearing: Control Me
Eskimeaux – WTF
After claiming this site’s Album of the Year distinction, the Epoch quartet known as Eskimeaux has returned with a shimmering new EP. “WTF” continues the band’s winsome penchant for expertly crafted, bittersweet pop songs with a gentle ease. Good luck shaking that chorus section. | Also worth hearing: Power
Solids – Blank Stare
Following a string of strong releases, Solids have a career high on their hands with the Else EP, which boasts four enthralling tracks that combine a host of influences into something melodic and menacing. “Blank Stare” is the EP’s highlight. | Also worth hearing: Wait It Out
Eureka California – Cobwebs on the Wind
Eureka California have proven themselves to be a remarkably consistent band and they’ve rarely ever been granted the spotlight they deserve. Versus, their latest effort, is their most engaging thanks to the jittery energy that propels tracks like “Cobwebs on the Wind” and “Caffeine”. | Also worth hearing: Caffeine
Banned Books – Fuselage
Very few records this year have caught me as off guard or sent me reeling as quickly as Banned Books, the exhilarating self-titled effort from the Philadelphia noise-punk figureheads. “Fuselage” contains some of the band’s most exceptional — and propulsive — work to date. | Also worth hearing: Everything I’ll Ever Need
Hudson Bell – Box of Bones
One of the most difficult decisions to make in compiling this list was which of these two listed songs to feature. “Box of Bones” got the edge for the extraordinary hooks and some jaw-dropping sections of sheer perfection. Hudson Bell is putting together something unreal and more people should be taking note. | Also worth hearing: Hey Doll
Plush – Sheer Power
A sweeping, magisterial work of lush decadence, “Sheer Power” announced Plush’s 2016 run with a heaven-sent explosion. Dynamic, powerful, gorgeous, and towering, “Sheer Power” is the band at their most gripping and one of early 2016’s most spine-tingling offerings. | Also worth hearing: Please Don’t Let Me Go
PUP – DVP
As expected, when PUP resurfaced after making one of the most beloved punk records of this current decade, they were even more feral and wild-eyed than when they left off. “DVP” isn’t just the band’s fiercest song to date, it’s also one of their strongest. Get out of the way or get run over (repeatedly).
Greys – No Star
Another one of Toronto’s finest punk acts, Greys, have been putting together a deeply impressive run over the past few years. They’ve yet to make a bad song and thrive off the tension they inject into the kinetic “No Star”, which expertly balances the band’s most melancholic sensibilities with their most explosive.
The Sun Days – Don’t Need To Be Them
2016 has already had its fair share of excellence in powerop but right now, no one’s doing that genre better than Sweden, who’ve gifted us another extraordinary act in The Sun Days. Album, the band’s debut record, offers up a whole bevvy of what are likely to go down as some of 2016’s loveliest tunes, like the gorgeous “Don’t Need To Be Them”.
Frankie Cosmos – On the Lips
The last of the songs on this list to have a prior release, “On the Lips” finally gets the full band treatment for Frankie Cosmos‘ sprightly Next Thing. Already considered a standout of a very crowded discography, “On the Lips” is pure Frankie Cosmos: light, charming, and memorable.
Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
Very few songs over the past several years have had a section that laid me as flat as the outro to Oceanator’s “Nowhere Nothing”. The project of Vagabon drummer Elise Okusami, Oceanator’s already showing an astounding level of promise. As a standalone song, it’s breathtaking. As an artist’s introductory number, it’s flat-out unbelievable.
Yoni & Geti – Madeline
Serengeti’s carved out a respectable place for himself throughout the course of a very consistent career. WHY?‘s Yoni Wolf is rightfully regarded as one of this generation’s most remarkable lyricists (by certain circles, at least). Their collaborative project is only just getting started but the lilting powerpop of “Madeline” bodes well for the duo’s future.
EERA – Drive With Fear
“Drive With Fear” was the first song that really pulled me into EERA‘s fascinating world. Combining elements of dream-pop, ambient, and noise into an extremely tantalizing package, the project from Anna Lena Bruland’s landed on something intangible that seems ready to pay dividends as it goes forward. This song alone’s a piece of magic.
Tacocat – I Hate the Weekend
Tacocat returned with “I Hate the Weekend”, advancing the band’s commendable aversion to disappointing by amplifying what they do best: carefree basement pop that deals with life’s more mundane moments. Sugary, sharp, and well-informed, “I Hate the Weekend” will stand as one of 2016’s greatest anti-parties.
Dilly Dally – Know Yourself
Watching Dilly Dally unexpectedly pull out this Drake cover last year at CMJ prompted what I can only describe as a near-out-of-body experience. I wrote about it extensively a few times and was hoping an official recording of the cover would make its way out into the world. When it arrived, it didn’t disappoint; “Know Yourself” is an absolute monster.
Lucy Dacus – Strange Torpedo
“I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” was one of the best songs of last year and I haven’t been able to shake it since its release. Fortunately, Lucy Dacus had a new batch of equally exceptional songs to round out the incredible No Burden, including “Strange Torpedo”, a very strong showcase of Dacus’ knack for hyper-intelligent songwriting.
Weaves – One More
Weaves have undergone one of the more impressive transformations in music, transitioning from an intriguing world-leaning act to a full-fledged basement pop group. “Shithole” was one of the first indications of their radical switch and they’ve followed it up with the vicious, teeth-baring noise-punk of “One More”.
Free Cake For Every Creature – First Summer In A City
Katie Bennett’s Free Cake For Every Creature project has excelled in making airy bedroom pop that’s grounded by a relatable honesty. “First Summer In A City” is an instant standout, instantly capitalizing on the act’s most breezy and road-weary sensibilities. The slide guitar work here is a thing of quiet perfection.
Woods – Morning Light
Another band that knows a thing or two about breezy, road-weary sensibilities is Woods, who have sculpted an entire career out of combining the two. One of the most remarkably consistent bands going today, they’ve managed to produce a career highlight with the easygoing, piano-speckled Americana of “Morning Light”.
Music Band – Fortune Guns
Basement pop meets basement punk is where this site pulls most of the bands it features most prominently. Music Band exists squarely in that intersection and have nearly perfected that marriage. “Fortune Guns” is the latest piece of thrilling evidence.
A Death Forest Index – Myth Retraced
“Myth Retraced” is the kind of song that slowly washes over the listener, pulling them deeper in with each successive wave as the current gets increasingly stronger. A collaboration between A Death Forest Index and Savages’ guitarist, Gemma Thompson, it’s a dark, fractured miracle of a track.
Carey – You Were Right
Old Flame Records has long specialized in retro-leaning basement pop, building up a roster of acts that have — appropriately — been granted a lot of attention from this site. Carey‘s the latest band to get in on the action and they kicked 2016 off with the blazing “You Were Right”, which more than lives up to the label’s high standard.
Wood Lake – Hollow
Easily the heaviest song on this list, “Hollow” is a swift masterstroke from emerging act Wood Lake. Combining the very best elements of post-hardcore and shoegaze, the band’s latched onto something that feels as exhilarating as it does singular. Gorgeous and punishing isn’t an easy combination to pull off but Wood Lake’s got it down pat.
Dead Stars – Unpopular
Dead Stars have shown up on this site a few times thanks to their ’90s-infused take on basement pop and “Unpopular” is another very worthy addition to a strong discography. Clean when its called for and distorted when it matters, “Unpopular” finds the band in fine form.
Such Hounds – I’ve Been Lost
Riding a syncopation lifted from The Damned’s classic “Neat Neat Neat” in the introduction, Such Hounds’ “I’ve Been Lost” quickly transforms into a beast of its own, lacing its emphatic powerpop with a punk sneer. Insanely catchy and playfully welcoming, it’s a breath of fresh air in an all-too-often overly serious musical landscape.
Told Slant – Low Hymnal
The first time I heard a note of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” was when it was being recorded in DBTS. I’d wake up and listen in on Felix Walworth meticulously recording the song, wondering how the finished version would play. When I heard the rough take, I surrendered myself to chills, on the verge of tears. Now that it’s done, that feeling’s returned.
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
The year Bury Me At Makeout Creekcame out it came very close to capturing this site’s Album of the Year distinction. Mitski‘s made a lot of moves in the time that’s followed, watching her audience grow exponentially in the process. “Your Best American Girl” is more than strong enough to allow that trend to continue; it’s a dynamic behemoth.
Yung – Pills
Yung were one of the first bands to really impress me at last year’s CMJ. I’d enjoyed what I’d heard from them previously but their was something intangible happening with their live show that converted me into a full-fledged believer. “Pills”, an expertly crafted basement pop number, serves as a welcome reminder that they’ve elevated their game.
Patio – Arbitrary Numbers
Fortunately, for everyone, Patio‘s only grown more confident since their demo (and their first show). Their upcoming EP, Luxury, is chock-full of memorable post-punk, including “Arbitrary Numbers”, the release’s minimalist pull track. Intelligent, catchy, and well-informed, it shows the band’s well on their way to being a recognizable name.
Jean-Michel Blais (ft. Bufflo) – Nostos
One of the more beautiful piano compositions to have emerged in some time, this collaborative effort between Jean-Michel Blais and Bufflo is a haunting, masterful run that’s weighted by what scans as genuine emotion. All of the ambient elements that spring up manage to enhance the vivid nature of the piece’s most emotive moments.
Fog Lake – Rattlesnake
From its melancholic opening moments to its uneasy close, Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” is a gripping journey through unsparing self-examination. Haunting, haunted, and oddly unnerving, the relatively tranquil “Rattlesnake” is a miniature masterpiece that should go quite a ways in elevating Fog Lake towards a desirable status.
Tangerine – Sunset
Tangerine have all the energy you’d expect from an exciting emerging act but are able to differentiate themselves thanks to how effectively they wield that energy. “Sunset” is a perfect example, a frantic, sun-soaked, punk-tinged powerpop number that plays like the band was having difficulty containing their sheer joy over the prospect of simply making music.
Bob Mould – The End of Things
At this point, if you’re reading this site, it’s highly unlikely that Bob Mould‘s an unfamiliar name. The Hüsker Dü co-leader has been on an absolute tear with his solo releases of late, his finest work on those rivaling the best of the band that made him a legend. The fire-breathing “The End of Things” shows that he has absolutely no intentions of slowing down.
Catbus – Fracas
Patio‘s Lindsey-Paige McCloy and Alice Suh make another appearance on this list as part of this new, Phyllis Ophelia-led project that announced itself by way of the uniformly excellent “Catbus”. Post-punk, ’90s pop, and minimalism are woven together here to instantaneously memorable effect. The chorus alone stands as one of 2016’s strongest musical moments.
Museum of Recycling – Stillove
Last year, I was fortunate enough to host the demo premiere of “Stillove”, the standout track from new Big Ups side-project, Museum of Recycling. Heavy, atmospheric, and unrelentingly bruising, “Stillove” sees Joe Galaragga embracing his most melodic sensibilities to spellbinding effect. Get crushed under its formidable weight.
Leapling – Alabaster Snow
While Leapling have had a sizable handful of great tracks leading up to 2016, “Alabaster Snow” showed the band operating on a different level entirely. Easily the band’s best song to date, it’s a chaotic mixture of powerpop and vicious noise-punk that keeps things clean and winds up being even more engaging for its unconventional choices.
Dusk – My Own Design
Tenement‘s Amos Pitsch and Holy Sheboygan!‘s Julia Blair have both had their turn at the helm of Dusk and now, on “My Own Design”, the band moves darn it.‘s Ryley Crowe to the forefront. “My Own Design” is just as timeless and perfect as “(Do the) Bored Recluse” and “Too Sweet“, definitively proving Dusk as a whole belongs at the head of the WI music scene.
The Gotobeds – Real Maths/Too Much
It took me a while to come around on The Gotobeds after the lead-off single from their last record left me fairly cold. This time around, I’d happily go all in on “Real Maths/Too Much”, a pointed burst of post-punk that lingers long after its left. Fiery, insistent, and played with an intense amount of feeling, it’s the band at their absolute best.
Big Thief – Real Love
Another likely contender for multiple year-end lists arrived in the form of Big Thief‘s “Real Love”, a breathtaking tune that’s breathing new life into Saddle Creek’s increasingly impressive roster. A towering masterclass of pure songwriting, “Real Love” is jaw-dropping at nearly every turn, from the sky-bound guitar work to the plaintive honesty that grounds the whole affair. If the rest of the band’s upcoming Masterpiece comes close to matching this song, it’s tongue-in-cheek title won’t carry a shred of irony. “Real Love” is four minutes and 17 seconds of sublime perfection.
Now that the songs have, by and large, been brought up to the present release cycle, it only seemed fitting to turn the attention towards some of 2016’s strongest records. Since records are more time-consuming than individual songs, none of them will be featured individually in the next week. However, all of the records below are more than worthy of investment. A small handful of these even have a shot of being expanded on at the end of the year. For now, though, I’ll simply provide another list for exploration. Once again, there’s absolutely no way these can be listened to in one sitting so it may be best to just bookmark the page and return at will. From demo debuts of solo projects (Potty Mouth‘s Aberdeen Weems) to triumphant returns (Jawbreaker Reunion, photographed above) to fascinating splits (Great Thunder and Radiator Hospital) to outstanding compilations, there’s a lot to discover. Dive in below and find some new bands worth following.
At some point in 2015, I got to know the core members of Jawbreaker Reunion, a band I’ve adored since first coming across their debut shortly after its release, as people. Bella Mazzetti contributed a piece to the 2015 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories earlier this month and now Lily Mastrodimos is following suit. While Mastrodimos’ contributions to Jawbreaker Reunion have left me reeling, in 2015 the songwriter’s focus expanded to include Long Neck, a hushed solo project. Heights, the project’s first full-length, was one of 2015’s great unexpected highlights. Trading in Jawbreaker Reunion’s confrontational celebrations into something much more quietly introspective is something Mastrodimos expands on in the included piece. Mastrodimos’ contribution here is an unfettered look at the machinations of artistic process; how people learn to cope with the most difficult of impulses. Read it below and remember that even feeling invaluable can be a valuable experience when it’s approached from the right angle.
I Swear It’s Enough: Learning Self Care Through Long Neck
I should preface this piece by saying that, in writing and sharing all of this, I am terrified. I am sitting at my desk and my heart is pounding. This is a lot for me to say and even more to admit. But I have spent years invalidating myself, and for the sake of my health it needs to stop.
2015 was the year I really started paying attention to my mental health. For so long, I had situated myself into a comfortable routine of repressing, repressing, repressing. I couldn’t bring myself to reach out to my friends, to call and ask for help, to really be honest about how I was doing and the thoughts that were racing through my head at breakneck speeds. 2015 was the year I started to work on breaking that cycle. It’s been slow progress, and with 2016 already creeping along I’ve found that I have more to work on. But throughout the previous year, one of the major things that allowed me to explore my mental health and find some calm was music, specifically, with Long Neck.
Long Neck began in my senior year at Bard, with small GarageBand recordings of songs I had written in the months or years before the semester started. I had started recognizing my depression towards the end of my sophomore year, recognizing it as something real and with teeth. My whole body would ache, like it was cringing. My stomach and chest would constantly feel like a squirming ball python. I hated my body, I hated every word that came out of my mouth, I felt lonelier than I could put into words. I believed I was unlovable.
I was scared shitless to open my mouth and tell anyone anything; I had convinced myself that if I did so no one would want to be my friend because I was too much of a “bummer”. So instead of talking, instead of reaching out, instead of calling, I wrote songs about it.
The songs I wrote as Long Neck held two purposes. The first was to have an outlet for everything I was feeling. The second was to let my friends know that something was up. I am lucky to have some of the most supportive and loving friends I could ever ask for, they have been there for me at my worst and I am so grateful for them. When writing these songs I wasn’t doing so because they didn’t care; I was finding it physically difficult to tell my friends I was in a bad place, and in writing these songs I realized I was far more at ease and comfortable to open up about my depression in verse.
At the start of 2015, I set a goal for myself. I acquired some recording tools and software, and I set out to record all the songs I had been playing in secret for months (though I had played my first Long Neck show in December ’14). I had no idea what I was going to do with any of the finished products, but I was excited to work them into new forms. My dorm room was my studio. My second-floor window overlooked an open field and the forests beyond, and rising high above those trees were the Catskills that stood across the Hudson.
I could hear songbirds when they came back in spring, I heard coyotes crying at the moon, I heard spring peepers and the nasal “meeps” of American Woodcocks and trains rolling by late at night. I felt so much peace there, and when I started recording everything I found that I wasn’t afraid of holding back. On days when I’d get snowed in I would spend the whole day recording, snuggled in my favorite sweaters, watching the snow phase out the mountains and the forests until it settled in one uninterrupted sea of white, my Christmas lights reflecting off of the surface.
This environment, with its serenity and warmth, was the perfect place for me to sit and explore and sift through everything that had been filling my body with the weight that made it so difficult for me to move. I could dig into myself and how I was feeling and why and examine everything I pulled from that. When I put my findings to words, I could feel myself breathing again.
Where before I had been content with ignoring my depression, now I was staying active—I was glaring at it in the face, I was playing keys and guitar and bass and banjo and singing and tracking it all. The music was on my terms, I had control over everything I was recording through mixing and retracking and doubling and what-have-you. Nothing was whispering to me “you’re not worth it” or “why do you even think this matters?” or “you should probably just stop trying.” Something was nudging me and saying “look what you’re creating.”
Long Neck became a form a self-care. I realized, halfway through recording the album that would become Heights, that I was becoming more comfortable being alone and keeping myself company than I had ever been. Before, I had dreaded returning to an empty room, or looking at a blank phone screen. Suddenly, I was able to relish the quiet nights that were all mine. They belonged to me, and I claimed ownership of myself.
This isn’t to say that my depression was completely cured. Not at all. I still had my rough days and weeks, still had to force myself to talk to people, still got panic attacks at parties and still felt a blazing pit in my stomach when I thought about how lonely I was. But something was different. It didn’t consume me anymore.
It didn’t feel like I was stagnating, because I could write about it. I could go back to my dorm and sing the lyrics over and over and put it to music and think about ways to make it better, and in doing so, could feel like I was helping myself feel better. I could feel like healing was possible. I was teaching myself how to be the maker of my own salvation; therapy helped too, but in between sessions I had to be the motor for my own growth.
Being more honest through Long Neck allowed me to become more honest with myself. When I started playing shows, I realized that people are willing to listen, people can connect, people want to hear you. Even when it’s not a song. Long Neck let me be heard when I thought my voice meant absolutely nothing, when I couldn’t express myself truthfully to the people I loved the most. I learned to be bolder. I started being more open with my friends, and was overjoyed when I realized that no one would let me go because I was depressed—I wasn’t a “bummer”, I was someone struggling with something real and valid.
When I released Heights in June, a few weeks after graduating from the place I called home for four years and leaving my beloved dorm room, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. There was everything I had been working through for almost three years, there was something I created all on my own, out in the open. I felt proud, prouder than I’d been in so long, and happy. I felt taller, I felt solid, I felt OK.
I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I’m still taking steps forward and steps back and forward again. Long Neck has been one of the most positive musical experiences I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. I’ve started playing with a full band of some of my oldest and best friends, and our practices and last performance have left me feeling so much love and pure joy. I’ve come to better understand my downs and how to endure, knowing that there are better things ahead.
Depression is a wild animal. It bends to no one, and can be so difficult to lasso that it burns your palms against the rope. But you can ease its temper, even if its just for a little bit. You can be lonely but you are never alone. You can feel unlovable but know that there are scores of people to whom you are the world. You are stronger than you know or believe, and the feelings that prick your brain are just as valid for you to have as the peace and love you so rightly deserve. I promise you.
Back in 2014, Jawbreaker Reunion‘s unbelievable Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Clubsecured an impressive ranking on this site’s year-end list and landed “E.M.O.” (a song that can still manage to elicit chills after innumerable listens) in the songs list. In 2015, they secured a spot on the odds and ends list for their memorable split with PWR BTTM. This year, while still young, they’ve landed another potential year-end list contender with the extraordinary “Cosmos“, which is even more impressive considering they recently downsized to a trio following Tom Delaney’s departure. Bella Mazzetti, who has handled guitar, bass, and vocal duties for the band, is one of their driving creative forces. Last year I was fortunate enough to see Mazzetti play a few shows and take in a few shows as well. Below, she lays out the soundtrack of her 2015, month by month, pairing it with important life events. Read it below, listen along (bonus points if you can complete the seemingly impossible task of finding the stream for Flower Housewife’s “Hampton”), and then make your own soundtrack as 2016 pushes forward.
My 2015 Musical Calendar
Here is a list of songs, new and old, that defined my year.
Sounds like releasing a split, celebrating Valentine’s Day, pretending to be happy about it. Getting pulled over in -10 degree weather to change a headlight and feeling an overwhelming sense of love for my bandmates.
Crying in my carrel while listening to this song, breaking up, figuring out how to be my own person. Finishing and handing in a 90 page thesis, seeing Paul Baribeau with my best friends on that same day.
Seeing Joanna Newsom play this in Philadelphia. Preparing for JBR’s first tour. Dr. Lady. The best dang New Year’s kiss in the world. Looking back at the year that brought good and profound change. Thanks for sharing it.
There has been no shortage of outstanding music to find release over the past 12 months over a wide variety of formats. This list (which, once again, is entirely subjective and not meant to be an overarching authoritative statement) pulls from a number of curiosities: splits, vinyl-only releases, demos, and compilations. A few of these slipped through the cracks or were pulled and replaced in the past few weeks, making this one of the stranger year-end lists this site’s likely to ever run. All of those changes will be reflected and noted as they come into play. With all that and mind and a ton of material yet to come it’s high time to jump into 15 of ’15: The Best Odds and Ends of 2015.
15. Patio – Patio Songs
One of the more memorable debut efforts of 2015 also proved to be one of the most promising.Patio– a trio made up of Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Loren DiBlasi, and Alice Suh- had spent years in development. After initially starting as a joke that escalated into reality, the band finally committed some of their material to a recording- the aptly named Patio Songs– and secured a lot of word-of-mouth buzz in the process. “luxury” and “air j” both memorably demonstrate the band’s knack for wiry post-punk that comes equipped with noir-ish overtones. Don’t be surprised to see the band expand on their early successes in big ways in 2016.
14. Mean Creek – The Best of…
While a lot of bands hung up their cables over the course of 2015, it may have been the loss of Mean Creek that stung the most, simply because they were quitting because of many of the industry’s most severe flaws. Instead of caving into the pressures and demands of outside parties that wanted to model Mean Creek at will as a commercial product instead of an artistic one. When the band decided they’d had enough and were ready to take a bow, they went out in heroic fashion, issuing this best-of collection shortly before their final show. As one last rousing call to arms, the band kicks the compilation of with “Forgotten Streets“, their swan song and a rousing call to arms that provided the band with one last definitive moment.
13. PWR BTTM + Jawbreaker Reunion – Republican National Convention
Despite already having one EP under their belt, this was PWR BTTM‘s introduction at large and a searing start to what would prove to be a monumental 2015 for the duo. Jawbreaker Reunion, on the other hand, was riding a wave of critical acclaim and some early success thanks to their extraordinary full-length debut, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, which carved out an impressive ranking for this site’s Best Albums of 2014 list. Both bands turn in impressive efforts for Republican National Convention, which include the anthemic “Hold Yer Tongue” on PWR BTTM’s side and the lively “Andrew In Drag” on Jawbreaker Reunion’s, making this split a worthy entry for each of their discographies.
12. No Ruido / No Noise
Edgar Gonzalez has been a vital voice in DIY punk, social ethics, and a legion of other topics but also found time to make a mark with the curation of No Ruido / No Noise– a name-your-price compilation with the proceeds going to the family of Tamir Rice- which will likely go down as the signature release for his recently formed label, Edgar’s Friends. Several of today’s most exciting, politically-minded acts provide a track, from Priests to Perfect Pussy, finding space to include songwriters like Frankie Rose, Fred Thomas, and Radiator Hospital as well. It’s a startling collection that actually has the potential to make a difference via positive impact and that alone puts No Ruido / No Noise in a class of its own.
11. Happy Diving – So Bunted b/w My Zone
After 2014’s towering Big World, no one would have been surprised if Happy Diving had taken time to promote the record and celebrate its success. Instead, they turned around and quickly unleashed the incendiary 7″ that paired “So Bunted” with “My Zone”, each operating as an ample demonstration of the band’s distinctive blend of grunge, sludge, shoegaze, and basement pop. As bruising as they’ve ever been, Happy Diving may hav even turned in a career best with So Bunted b/w My Zone and, at the very least, have certainly demolished any lingering doubts about their levels of promise or capacity for longevity. A formidable effort by any metric, it’s a record that says everything it needs to in under five minutes and leaves an impressive mark.
10. Faux Real II
The second installment of Father/Daughter Records‘ immensely entertaining Faux Real series introduces a new collection of covers from fictional bands. An arsenal of site favorites populate Faux Real II, from Krill to Quarterbacks to LVL UP to Allison Crutchfield. Every single track on Faux Real II would be a worthy choice for an album highlight and a few of them- like Sharpless‘ explosive take on the Home Movies classic rock opera piece “Franz Kafka”- manage to wind up being unforgettable. Somehow the series once again manages to swerve away from the seeming inevitability of coming across as a novelty and transcends its premise to function as a curious look at some of the most promising emerging acts of the current moment.
9. Bruising – Emo Friends b/w Honey
Only a scant few songs into their career, Bruising have already managed to make a considerable impact. After initially forming over a Perfect Pussy t-shirt in a club, the band put together a startling run in 2015 that turned more than a few heads. Excelling in the sort of pop-laden shoegaze that bands like Joanna Gruesome have built a career in crafting, Bruising comes at their hybrid-genre in a manner that feels like their own. For their debut standalone 7″ effort (following the brilliant “Think About Death” for Art Is Hard’s Family Portrait II), the band pairs the lilting “Emo Friends” with the incendiary tones of “Honey” to create something that feels as lasting as it does immediate. If Emo Friends b/wHoney‘s is the band’s first earnest step in their career, it’s a strong enough start to warrant some serious excitement over the band’s future.
8. Meat Wave – Brother
While some would argue that this should be filed in the EP column, it’s mainly comprised of material the band had either already released on their explosive self-titled (a personal pick for one of the best releases of the 2010’s) or material that would be released on their bruising Delusion MoonLP. Every bit as frantic as its predecessor, Brotherwields the same manic approach to even sharper effect, taking Meat Wave‘s music to a place a little darker than their debut. Relentlessly aggressive and downright venomous at every turn, it’s a staggering display of force from a band that seems intent on drawing blood with every new song they release. Brother ends with a trio of songs that don’t appear on Meat Waveor Delusion Moon but, by and large, manage to carry that same level of potency, effectively rendering this an essential starter kit for the uninitiated.
7. Post-Trash: Vol. 1
Just over a month ago, the senate voted to stop federal payments to Planned Parenthood. In response, Post-Trash issued their first (incredibly massive) compilation and announced the proceeds would go to funding Planned Parenthood. It was a strong move in principle alone but the bands that they amassed for this compilation (and the songs they contributed) pushed it into sublime realms. Site favorite Eskimeaux turns in the beautiful “Act Like A Piece of Shit”, Melkbelly provide their fierce “Bathroom at the Beach”, Patio– the band that kicked that list off- offer up a song from their demo, and 50 other bands (Pile, Fern Mayo, Painted Zeros, Soft Fangs, Palehound, Eugene Quell, Sadie Dupuis, Washer, Stove, etc.) all get in on the action. Ultimately, Post-Trash: Vol. 1 is one of the year’s most intimidating compilations due to its length but it also rewards investment at a much higher rate than anything else released this year.
6. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – Soundcloud
Perhaps the most left-field inclusion on this list is simply a soundcloud page, though it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s followed my writing over the course of the year. Colin Bares has managed to impress on exceedingly high levels with his work in bands like The Cost of Living and Good Grief as well as his various solo projects (most notably The Coral Riffs). After a brief, sudden disappearance from songwriting, Bares re-emerged towards the end of 2014 and kept that momentum at high velocity throughout the course of the past 12 months, flying under the banner of The Weasel, Marten Fisher. Bares’ soundcloud became a veritable source of inspiration thanks to an eclectic blend of covers (including two devastating Cyndi Lauper takes) and a large collection of astonishing originals. Nearly all of those songs (and there are a handsome handful) are merely acoustic guitar/vocal demos but when there is a subversion from that template, like on a memorably dark Cat Power cover, the results are arresting. Keep both eyes on this page’s surprisingly frequent updates and expect to be blown away.
Listen to those songs (the 2015 run begins with “Empty Bucket List“, one of the year’s finest songs) and track The Weasel, Marten Fisher’s progress here.
5. Diet Cig – Sleep Talk b/w Dinner Date
While Over Easywas the release that rightfully jump-started Diet Cig‘s career, their finest moment in 2015 didn’t come via that EP (though it deserves it’s many year-end placements), it was their subsequent 7″ that proved their strength. “Sleep Talk“, the band’s finest song out of the few they’ve released thus far, serves as the record’s powerful A-side. Encapsulating the youthful vibrancy and excessive energy that made Over Easy such an infectious listen, it shows that the band has untapped depths with it’s gorgeous, layered outro section. From those haunting final moments, the duo pushes their music into darker territory than usual with the bruising “Dinner Date” that marries Alex Luciano’s characteristically barbed lyrics with uncharacteristically moody instrumentals that add some venom into their suddenly unrestrained menace. Packaged as a whole, Sleep Talk b/w Dinner Date is an extremely promising look at the young band’s future, definitively proving that they’re much more than a one-trick pony.
4. Sleeping in the Aviary – Young Love Is Easy
For a band that broke up a few years ago, Sleeping in the Aviary had a monster 2015. Not only did most of the band play on Mike Krol‘s exhilarating Merge Records debut (Turkey), they also joined Krol for several tours and unleashed this manic compilation of some of their finest moments, none of which ever made it to a record’s final cut. From the outset, the band’s in fine form, dishing out their punk-spiked, doo-wop-leaning basement pop songs with unapologetic intensity, unveiling some of their most vicious songs in the process. Whether they’re more tapped into their ’50s influences (“No One As Lonely As Me”), their propensity to go straight for the jugular (opener “Harder Shoulder”), or endearingly irreverent humor (the rambling, acoustic “Dick Gere”), their success rate is astounding. Over the course of their career, the band released four incredible full-lengths and an untouchable split 7″ with The Hussy so it makes sense that they’d leave behind a wealth of material but even from a pragmatic standpoint, the overwhelming strength of Young Love Is Easy is staggering, making it one of the best releases of any format to find release in 2015.
3. Dusk – (Do the) Bored Recluse b/w Too Sweet
Every project that’s been connected back to Tenement has been more than worthwhile so it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Dusk fit that bill to a tee. What’s slightly more surprising is the direction that the band’s taking, mixing flourishes of gospel with classic country influence and more than a few cues from the golden era of soul. Comparatively, the approach isn’t too dissimilar from The Band’s, it’s just been updated and provided with an additional punk-leaning bite. From the rollicking cow-punk of “(Do the) Bored Recluse” to the blue-eyed soul of “Too Sweet“, there isn’t a false move, the entire 7” just plays like a sustained series of grace notes. Both sides also feature some of the finest backing vocal arrangement in recent memory, ably showcasing the band’s impressive knack for both composition and multi-part harmonies. Equally engaging, both tracks are a clear indicator of the band’s innate charisma and sense of history. While the A-side once again taps into Amos Pitsch’s tendency to transform mundane circumstance into something worth celebrating, the B-side takes an unexpectedly romantic route. Each confirms Dusk as one of our best new acts.
2. Lost Boy ? – Canned
The last unorthodox inclusion in a list full of them is perhaps the most jarring due to the circumstances surrounding its multi-year, multi-format release. Lost Boy ?‘s Cannedwas absent from last year’s list, when it had only been released as a cassette (and, subsequently, wasn’t available to stream anywhere) and its placement here acts as a small compensation. In 2015, the band decided to roll it out as an LP, which also made it publicly available for streaming. Far and away, Lost Boy ?’s strongest work to date- in a fairly stacked discography, no less- Canned was a complete distillation of the band’s distinctive personality, spearheaded by Davey Jones. Purportedly written in the midst and aftermath of a breakdown, Jones and his band attack these songs like their lives depended on the outcome. From the snare shots on “Hollywood” to the syncopated vocal syncopation in “Bank” to the casual groove of “Hemorrhage” there’s never a moment that’s anything less than completely electrifying, solidifying Lost Boy ?’s status as one of New York’s finest bands. An arsenal of memorable riffs, tossed-off asides, and genuine emotion fuel Canned and, as a result, it’s a collection that still feels surprisingly fresh after more than a hundred listens. Canned wasn’t just one of the best releases of 2014, it was one of the best of 2015 as well.
1. Mercury Girls – Demos & Live Songs
No debut effort this year resonated quite like Mercury Girls’ immediately memorable Demos and Live Songs collection, which saw them fall effortlessly into the c86/Slumberland model of punk-informed powerpop. Close to everything on this release is near-flawless, issuing one pop gem after another at an alarming rate. From the dream-pop tones that permeate “Golden” to the band’s incredibly tight-knit live recordings, it’s abundantly clear that they’ve studied their multi-tiered genres’ ancestry in great detail. Everything on Demos & Live Songs works to an airy perfection, firmly establishing the band’s identity and suggesting that whenever their first full-length drops it’ll be met with waves of acclaim. While it’s easy to imagine the band being fairly successful from a commercial standpoint (especially in the terms of such a niche genre), it’s even more apparent that Mercury Girls are built for success- potentially to an intimidating degree- from a critical standpoint at well. Immediate, accessible, and extraordinarily tantalizing, they’ve harnessed something that comes across as surprisingly singular. That aspect of their music will go a long way in helping the band stand out in a field that feels increasingly overcrowded, likely ensuring their spot on several year-end lists to come.