Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Jeff Bolt

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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Before I dive into what made 2015 such an incredible year for me on a personal level, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge all of the contributor’s to this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories: Loren DiBlasi, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Sabyn Mayfield, Nicola Leel, Lindsay Hazen, Tica Douglas, Fred Thomas, Phil McAndrew, Isabel Reidy, Jessica Leach, Sami Martasian, Ben Grigg, Amanda Dissinger, Bella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris Sutter, John Rossiter, Cole Kinsler, Megan Manowitz, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen Tringali, Alisa Rodriguez, Toby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Lily Mastrodimos, Jerard Fagerberg, Athylia Paremski, Eric Slick, David Glickman, and Ryan Wizniak. All of your interest, support, and contributions mean the world to me (more on that below).

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The 12 months that comprised last year were among the most rewarding, the most challenging, and the most outright surreal I’ve experienced in my 26 years of existence. Narrowing it down to one defining moment proved to be a laughable impossibility for me so I’ve taken a cue from several of this edition’s contributors and decided to focus on a series of moments rather than one overarching event.

Before getting to those, though, it’s worth mentioning several of the smallest moments that have managed to stick in my memory. That list goes as follows: drinking tea on the roof of DBTS with Greg Rutkin as we watched the sun rise on my first morning in Brooklyn, looking up a few months later only to suddenly realize that Rutkin, Krill‘s Aaron Ratoff, and myself were all having a half-absent living room jam session, eating bagels on the sidewalk at the crack of dawn with Saintseneca after spending the previous night getting ridiculous at Rocka Rolla, feeling a surge of pride watching Patio play their first show, and getting recognized by Rob Sheffield and Simon Vozick-Levinson (two writers who I’ve admired for years).

Additionally: being pulled further and further into the world of Ronnie Stone, spending an afternoon kicking around with Bad Wig (a WI band made up of people I’ve considered family for years), watching Tenement continue their steady ascension on their own terms, all of the shows I saw that don’t get mentioned in the space below, walking through one of Martin Scorsese’s sets for VINYL with Glueboy‘s Coby Chafets (who was an absolute joy to have as both an NYC guide and as a roommate), being absolutely destroyed by an overwhelming sense of familliarity at a morning screening of The End of the Tour which I was fortune enough to take in with Chandler Levack (one of my favorite directors), and becoming a member of Film Independent.

Further still: getting hugged by Eskimeaux‘s Gabrielle Smith before I could even get out a formal introduction, having Girlpool‘s Harmony Tividad tell me she knew how to spell my last name right after we first met, spending a perfect evening getting to know Callan Dwan (who I’ve been messaging every Sunday since we first met) and Casey Weissbuch following one of their shows playing alongside Mitski, receiving a drunken group phone call from my closest hometown friends on the Fourth of July, and finding the fortune to be a recipient of the continuous support of both Exploding In Sound‘s Dan Goldin and Father/Daughter‘s Jessi Frick.

As well as: feeling completely at ease working doors for both Baby’s All Right and Elvis Guesthouse (a task made even more enjoyable by the welcoming presence of Alex Lilienfeld), spending my first week in Brooklyn waking up to the sounds of Felix Walworth meticulously tracking the forthcoming Told Slant record, and traveling to the twin cities with one of the bands I play bass in — A Blue Harbor — to track Troubled Hearts (and holding the cassette for the first time, suddenly realizing I’d just completed something that had been on my bucket list for over a decade).

And finally: Watching members of Lost Boy ? and Titus Andronicus close out a show at Shea Stadium with a set of on-the-fly Neil Young covers, taking in Exploding in Sound’s Extended Weekend celebration (and being floored by Stove‘s performance of “Wet Food” and — as always — Pile‘s “Special Snowflakes“), feeling a deep sense of camaraderie and an inkling of pride during AdHoc’s Carwash showcase, seeing Used Kids come inches away from reuniting at The Acheron (their only full-length remains quintessential summer listening) during a show that also saw Jeff Bolt manning the kit for Benny the Jet Rodriguez, and spending half a year living in a city where a handful of people actually seemed to care about the work I’d been doing with this very site.

I could go on and on (and on) about the overwhelming bevvy of small moments that I continue to look back on with great fondness or wax ecstatic about the steps taken in 2015 to ensure a more inclusive climate in the music industry (while still recognizing there’s a long way to go) but, after a while, that would become tedious for just about anyone (myself included). Rest assured, there are several more paragraph’s worth of those moments and the scope of the portrait they illustrate would be overwhelming. As is likely evidenced above, it was tremendously difficult for me to pare down what moment stood out most in my chaotic run through 2015 and left me with no less than a dozen absurdly strong candidates.

While a dozen may seem overly self-indulgent, it’s my belief that these 12 moments form the most complete representation of my year. Most of them are connected to my time spent living in Brooklyn (a city that I came to love and hope to return to as a resident), which helped me not only shape my identity but — possibly for the first time — feel a strong sense of validity in my work. 2015 may have been made up of 12 months but the 5+ I spent living in Brooklyn produced 12 of my favorite moments. All of them are covered below.

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Montana & the Marvelles Play In Secret

The first time I remember realizing that I was exactly where I wanted to be was, unsurprisingly, at DBTS. I’d been sleeping on couches for a few days there by that point and getting the swing of the city while navigating my way through a handful of Northside showcases. During that first run, the place was buzzing with both anxiety and excitement over a secret wedding celebration that they were going to be throwing for a close friend. Champagne had been bought in bulk, balloons had been floated to the ceiling, a disco ball had been set in motion, a taco line had been prepared, and a root beer float setup was at the ready by the time the event was set into motion.

Everyone had been told to dress to the tens and looked the part. At that point, I still felt like an interloper was getting increasingly comfortable with my new surroundings. Nearly everyone I’d been introduced to had been extremely welcoming and the first group of people that had made a kind gesture were Montana & the Marvelles, who were wrapping up a rehearsal when I first stepped foot inside of DBTS. The wedding celebration was their first public appearance and they tore into it with a ferocious sense of determination, delivering a handful of great covers in the process.

Watching them that night and looking around at everyone who came out to celebrate reminded me of why I made the decision to move; no other place is as facilitating of those kinds of events (or moments). By the time the band hit their finale — an explosive, joyous cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” — I was overcome with gratitude and decided, for once, to stop filming and dance. It was also the first of many nights I had that led to everyone taking in the summer night’s breezes on the DBTS rooftop, where I put the finishing touches on my introduction packet for the band. As a whole, it remains one of the times where I felt like I’d actually found a place where I belonged.

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Charly Bliss Makes A Formal Introduction at Northside

One of the bands I was most excited to meet at the outset of my move was Charly Bliss, who had topped my EP’s list in 2014. No person had been trying to persuade me to make the move more than their guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks, who had been unbelievably supportive of what I’d been doing prior to my discovery of Charly Bliss (that this note had no bearing on the band becoming one of my absolute favorites made the prospect of meeting even sweeter).

I’d been walking around Brooklyn with a few people from DBTS before the Father/Daughter Northside showcase was scheduled to start and had fielded several excited messages from Hendricks before we ran into each other on a street outside of Shea Stadium. Everyone was happy to see everyone else and Hendricks nearly pulled me to the ground with a hug that neither of us broke until after a full minute had passed. After a long round of catching up, the showcase kicked off in earnest and featured a handful of great performances from bands worth their salt.

Charly Bliss closed the night out and opened their set with the still-unreleased “Percolator“, with Jessi Frick firing off streamers at the climactic point of the introduction, providing a moment that felt transcendental. Surrounded by people I loved, seeing a band I’d granted an endless amount of praise (who were then in the process of becoming one of my favorite live acts at a terrifying pace), and being in the presence of both for the first time was an invigorating jolt that moved me more than just about anything else I experienced in 2015. 

Jason Isbell Pulls the Sun Down at Prospect Park

Jason Isbell‘s an artist that I don’t frequently write about on this space — his stature guarantees him press from so many other outlets already — but genuinely love (and have since my first listen of Drive-By Truckers’ classic Decoration Day). For several summers myself and my friend (and frequent bandmate) Jake Wetuski would take out our guitars and cover Isbell songs with each other, trading leads or playing together. When I found out that Isbell would be playing Prospect Park for the free Celebrate Brooklyn series, I jumped at the chance.

A solo train ride over had me thinking about all of the ways my life had changed that summer, about how I spent most of the flight from O’Hare to LaGuardia listening to Southeastern, about how I was already pining for the company of certain people but finally becoming content with my place in the world. The sounds of Dawn Landes‘ set guided me through Prospect Park to the stage, where I immediately found a place with a good view of the stage that didn’t obstruct or impede anyone else’s view.

Less than forty minutes later, Isbell was setting up on stage and announcing that his wife and bandmate, Amanda Shires, wouldn’t be joining them because she was expecting the arrival of their newborn in the following week. Gleaming with pride and amping up the “aw, shucks” Southern charm, Isbell took advantage of an absolutely perfect spring night and delivered a deeply heartfelt set of material that I’d been waiting years to see in a live setting. It only took about half of a set before I had to fight back tears, as an adoring crowd exploded with applause in the middle of a mesmerizing performance of “Cover Me Up” in response to a key line about sobering up, showering the songwriter with a tremendous display of affection, support, and actual love.

After the sun set and the crowd had exploded in frantic applause after Isbell’s landmark set, he returned to the stage. By that point, the sun had set and no one was making a push for the exit. The band returned, one at a time, slowly locking into “Danko/Manuel“, a song he penned for the Drive-By Truckers as a tribute to the influential members of The Band.

As the song opened with “let the night air cool you off”, it felt as if everything outside of that moment had ceased mattering; this was Isbell’s triumphant 2015 run hitting an apex and seeing a talent like that find the audience and respect he’d so richly deserved for close to 15 years was beyond heartening. Few things gave me as much hope for the future as that specific moment, one that offered up definitive proof that hard work, dedication, and sheer artistry can be rewarded in the way they deserve.

With Isbell’s vocals floating off into the distance, beyond the sea of people seated on blankets in the grass behind the main area, I found something resembling faith and knew that in both New York and Wisconsin, I’d surrounded myself with the right people, people I believed in, and that no matter the slew of hardships I may have to face, that they’d ultimately guide me to the right place. I stayed in that park, staring at that stage, for as long as I was allowed, before removing myself from the spot where I knew I’d wind up okay.

“Doomsday” Lives Up To Its Name at Pier 84

Another free, outdoor show I had the good fortune of attending saw Weyes Blood, Speedy Ortiz, and Waxahatchee joining forces for a mid-day show on a pier in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. After a quick stroll through Times Square, I headed for the pier and met up with a handful of my closest friends who were listening to strains of Weyes Blood as they enjoyed a makeshift picnic. Before long, Weyes Blood’s set had ended, more friends had made their presence known, and everyone was milling around the front of the stage, taking in both the sunlight and the river’s breeze.

Before Speedy Ortiz’s set started, the weather very quickly became downcast and quietly threatening. Underneath that stormy backdrop, Speedy Ortiz kicked off one of their most impassioned sets to date. I’ve had a range of experiences with Speedy Ortiz over the past few years but none of them quite matched the way that their performance of “Doomsday” affected me on that pier. “Doomsday” has always hit me hard (it’s an easy song-of-the-decade candidate for me) but when Sadie Dupuis and Darl Ferm started into it that day and rain started coming down (and then picking up as the song progressed), it felt otherworldly.

Something in that performance seemed to ignite something in Speedy Ortiz, who seemed to be channeling a series of pent-up frustrations into a staggering set that culminated with a weather-damaged instrumental freakout as the sky was split open by cracks of lightning that appeared over the Hudson River. By then the crowd had dwindled to a select few brave souls who managed to withstand the torrential downpour.

Waxahatchee’s set was, unfortunately, cancelled due to the weather but I lucked into a fitting epilogue via a bowling-quest-turned-diner-adventure with A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Gabriela June Tully Claymore, her fellow Stereogum writer James Rettig, and a few friends. Desperately trying to get dry using a bathroom hand-dryer, I found myself unable to suppress a shit-eating grin, knowing full well I was wrapping up a day worth talking about for years to come.  

Johanna Warren V

Johanna Warren Serenades the Skyline

I saw Johanna Warren three times in 2015, each one differing radically from the other. The first was an hour from my hometown, where I drove to profile her for Consequence of Second. The second time was a basement show that presented a whole host of memorable moments from my introduction to harpist Mikaela Rose Davis (and the spine-tingling Elliott Smith cover she used to soundcheck) to the fabric of a mothering station getting licked by the flame of a few too many candles and interrupting a performance art piece that saw a woman strip naked, consume her own blood from an IV bag, and spit it back out onto a row of carefully arranged flowers in mason jars.

As wild as that basement show was, Warren’s last-minute performance on a rootop overlooking the skylines of both Brooklyn and Manhattan was the one that stood out most. After the show’s original location notified Warren that they’d discovered they had a bed bug infestation the day before her set was scheduled, a group of people worked extremely hard to locate a new venue. Fortunately, Damon Stang had open space on the top of his apartment complex.

Only a dozen or so people showed up, all apparently friends of Warren’s, contributing even greater intimacy to an already intimate evening. An assortment of wine, liquor, and bakery items were all up for grabs and everyone quietly talked among themselves as night swiftly descended, providing Warren with a suitably quiet backdrop. Lit by only the lights of the city and operating without a microphone, Warren delivered a haunting set to a captivated audience that reveled in the majestic sweep of the backdrop, the performance, the night itself, and the experience as a whole. Unexpected and surprisingly moving, it saw Warren fully realizing the effect of music as a healing agent and close a few wounds in the process.     

PWR BTTM Hands Out Ugly Cherries

One of the first bands I ran into after moving to Brooklyn was PWR BTTM, who would very quickly become close friends. They’re people that I’m continuously grateful to have in my life and it’s been an honor to get to know the band’s members. I was very quickly drawn to them for not just their music but their outspoken stance on their values (and their willingness to make them so abundantly clear in any applicable scenario). For all of those reasons and many more, I was tremendously excited to be at their release show for Ugly Cherries, one of my favorite records of 2015.

Charly BlissEva Hendricks had baked a gigantic batch of cupcakes adorned with cherries for the occasion, guitarist/vocalist (and occasional drummer) Benjamin Hopkins had hidden the evening’s outfit away at a thrift store for weeks before claiming it prior to the show, and the opening lineup of Kississippi, Fern Mayo, and Charly Bliss was suitably stacked. The parents of a few of the bands were in attendance and Silent Barn was unbelievably packed.

Three strong sets into the evening and a visibly nervous Hopkins was setting up on stage as drummer (and occasional guitarist/vocalist) Liv Bruce adjusted the kit. I’d seen PWR BTTM a handful of times leading up to that show but none of those sets were adequate preparation for the outpouring of energy from both the band and the audience of their set that night, which felt as much like a celebration as it did a victory lap. Amid screams of “I love you” and “you’re amazing”, PWR BTTM’s songs took on the magnitude of anthems and were, appropriately, granted the requisite scream-a-longs by a dedicated and devoted audience.

For all the moments of blistering energy, disarming sincerity, and delightfully irreverent snark, one of the moments that’s stayed with me was the unveiling of a new song that saw Hopkins pick up a bass and deliver a tender ballad about feeling completely dismantled by different forms of slight abuse, causing Charly Bliss’ Hendricks to break down in tears on the side of the stage, overwhelmed by feelings of protection, love, and empathy. That it came towards the end of a riotous set only heightened its impact, leaving a sold-out room unified in small devastation.

Before long, though, spirits were at the ceiling again and PWR BTTM’s dresses were more than halfway off, and hundreds of people were nearing a state of delirium. Encore chants were inevitable and when the call was swift and immediate, those pleas were rewarded with a frantic rendition of “Carbs” before Hopkins and Bruce exited the stage, visibly exhausted, and subjected themselves to a seemingly endless swarm of overjoyed embraces from a community that rallied behind them and got to take part in a moment that carried significant meaning for far more people than either Hopkins, Bruce, or Fern Mayo’s Nicholas Cummins (who joined the band for several songs) could have ever anticipated.

Mike Krol

Mike Krol Does the Upper Midwest Proud at Baby’s All Right

Before the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase, the last two shows I’d booked had both featured two bands who had a tremendous impact on my life and musical development: Good Grief and Sleeping in the Aviary. Both bands, sadly, have long ceased operations, though their various members still play together in a handful of projects.

In 2015, Sleeping in the Aviary managed to have somewhat of a resurgence, with both the release of an astonishing outtakes collection ad 80% of the band’s final lineup once again combining forces as Mike Krol‘s backing band. Krol had relocated from the upper Midwest to California on his way to delivering 2015’s blistering Turkey, one of the year’s most exhilarating records (and his extremely unexpected but entirely welcome debut for Merge).

Krol’s stop at Baby’s All Right came shortly after I’d started picking up shifts at the door, pushing my anticipation for the show to even greater heights (it was a show that’d been circled on my calendar in the immediate moments following its announcement). Being connected to yet another venue that would be playing host to a few familiar faces, a few of which I’d grown up playing shows with, felt like an oddly appropriate next step.

The night’s opening bands delivered solid sets but what Mike Krol & co. delivered on that stage that night was unforgettable. Fully attired in the record’s signature fringe’d-up police attire, the band meticulously covered the perimeter of the stage with razor wire and carefully placed a series of lights in the open spaces among the coils. A few minutes later and the band was off, immediately at full-throttle. Out of sheer curiosity, I glanced over my shoulder at the size of the audience and was met with the vision of a sold-out audience all incredibly excited to throw themselves into celebrating an artist that, up until 2015, was only known in select circles for two sharp bandcamp releases.

Krol and his band covered close to his entire discography on that stage, whipping the sizable audience into an absolute frenzy. A surging sea of implacable bodies spiraling aimlessly into each other contributed to the anything-goes attitude that informed the band’s set (a welcome reminder of Sleeping in the Aviary’s heyday). Towards the end, the person running house lights could no longer resist sitting still and slyly tried to supplement the band’s light setup, prompting a startled “what the fuck was that?!” from Krol himself, followed shortly by a “do that again!“, which was delivered with a reckless excitability.

From that moment onward, the band’s seemingly full-blast attack was buoyed even further by a series of frantic lighting triggers from the person manning the boards for their house. As the lights danced all over the iconic backdrop and the overhead lights fell into patterns that complemented the band’s self-triggered perimeter strobes, the entire place descended into something approaching mania. Everything came to a head in their explosive finale and left an entire room of people staring dumbfounded at a stage, equally unsure of what they’d just witnessed and grateful that they were able to take in something so unapologetic in its blistering intensity.

Making the night even sweeter was an unexpected greeting from Krol, who I still hadn’t officially met at the time, after noticing my National Beekeepers Society shirt. We talked Wisconsin music, met up with the rest of the band and a few mutual friends, and Krol let slip that their was going to be a secret Daughter show to close out the venue’s night slot. I wound up making my way into the Daughter show and was blown away by their new material (they announced Not To Disappear at that show and froze my blood with a startling rendition of “Doing The Right Thing“) but couldn’t shake the feeling of overwhelming giddiness from having witnessed some friends from my old home absolutely take apart my new one.  

A Night Out With Nina Corcoran and Paul Thomas Anderson

When I first met Nina Corcoran, we were both looking for each other and completely unaware we were standing less than 10 feet apart. It was at Pitchfork 2014 and we were both lined up to get a good view of St. Vincent (who, as expected, turned in a mesmerizing set). I remembered being a little nervous around her as I still had no idea who she was beyond someone who wrote at Allston Pudding that A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Christine Varriale thought I’d get along with nicely.

It may have taken about a year but Christine’s assumption seemed almost eerily prophetic. For the first edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Nina took me by surprise and included me as a focal point in her piece. After that piece renewed a dialogue between the two of us, it started gradually expanding. After establishing a mutual love for all things Meat Wave, we started talking on close to a weekly basis. Before long, I was living in Brooklyn and we were making plans to meet up on her trips to the city.

We’d met up for meals and all too brief hangout sessions whenever we could but the only time we managed to be in the same place for more than an hour was when we attended the premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Junun at the New York Film Festival. I’d been debating on whether or not to make the effort to go due to an attempt to fight back the irritating plague that is the common cold. I told Nina what was happening and she was empathetic, displaying a casual grace in her understanding.

I missed her, though, and had never had the opportunity to attend a premiere, much less one with an accompanying Q&A from a massively influential director (or one that was responsible for a few of my favorite films). After grabbing a packet of kleenex and a warm sweatshirt, I made the trek out to meet Nina in Manhattan. She immediately greeted me with a warm embrace, making me feel both welcome and comfortable rather than the cold-addled burden I half-expected I’d wind up being.

With the start time of the film still a ways off, we decided to grab some soup from a nearby stand that supplemented our containers with an apple, bread, and pieces of chocolate. I refrained from adding ice cream onto that haul for fear of negatively affecting my health but Nina couldn’t resist its pull and led me to a cute shop that was in the area. After learning I still hadn’t been to Central Park, we walked through its gates and found it to be mostly abandoned, settling down at a table near the grass to quietly eat dinner and discuss the merits of Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, among others.

After we’d finished our meals, we took a nighttime stroll through the park, coming to a stop at a baseball diamond. We stood there together, silent for a moment, before turning around and immediately realizing our size (and our place) as we stared up at the lit-up skyscrapers that comprise the Manhattan skyline. In those fleeting seconds, I forgot everything that wasn’t the fact that I was happy to be sharing this view with a person who’s meant more to me than she’ll likely ever know or realize. I don’t remember what broke the silence but I’m grateful for the small eternity where, cold and all, life felt perfect.

It was difficult to leave that spot but we had a film to catch and while Junun was every bit the film I’d hoped it would be, it paled in comparison to realizing I was wrapped up in something exceedingly lovely and utterly intangible with a person I’ve come to genuinely care for, a person who’s continuously succeeded at an impressively high level, a person who’s constantly given me something to aspire to, a person that’s shown me a lot of my goals aren’t as far away as I occasionally think, and a person who never fails to make my life feel a little more worthwhile.

We’d meet up a few weeks later for a surprisingly painful goodbye brunch before I made my way back to Wisconsin (a state where we’ve both resided) and nearly refused to let go of each other out of the sheer fear of being separated by a seemingly incalculable distance. During that last embrace, I closed my eyes and, for a split second, saw the lights of those buildings that towered over us that night in Manhattan.   

Dilly Dally

Dilly Dally Steals CMJ (With An Unexpected Assist)

My time spent living in Brooklyn was book-ended by the Northside Festival and CMJ, with each providing a whole slew of moments I’ll recall fondly years down the line. Whether it was meeting the people I’d waited so long to meet at the former or celebrating with the people I’d come to know at the latter, each was at least partially defined by an unavoidable sense of community.

CMJ may have had its first two great moments come by way of some of my closest friends (a pizza run with Bad Wig and a Chinatown trip with Perfect Pussy) but my priority for the festival was to do something I’d been desperately hoping to do for the past few years: take in a Dilly Dally set. I didn’t have to wait long, as the first night I went out to CMJ was closed out by the band, I just had to come to terms with my near-crippling fear that their set might be a disappointment. As is often the case, that thought was absolutely demolished mere seconds into listening in on their soundcheck.

While a surprisingly large amount of people had filtered out of Santos Party House’s unbelievably stacked NME showcase by the time Dilly Dally took the stage, they still managed to fill the venue’s basement with legions of people caught between nervous excitement and the early signs of sleep deprivation/fatigue. It only took Dilly Dally a few notes to ignite the room with a thunderous sound that sounded like it was threatening to overtake the sound system’s capacities on more than one occasion.

Everyone in that band put absolutely everything on the line for that performance, diving deep and coming up with a punch ferocious enough to knock even the harshest cynic for a very disorienting six. Guitarist/vocalist Katie Monks unleashed a series of guttural yowls while guitarist Liz Ball tore into one scintillating lead line after another while the rhythm section provided an overwhelming show of force that generated enough power to shake my frame.

As was expected, many of the night’s highlights came courtesy of the live versions of the songs that made up Sore, their brooding full-length debut. Another small handful came from their brilliant early 7″ releases but the moment that I felt myself practically leave my body was when they tore into an absolutely vicious, if miniature, take on Drake’s “Know Yourself” that featured one of the filthiest bass tones I’ve ever heard. Jaw agape, I was standing motionless, hopelessly filming the spectacle while keeping my eyes off of the camera and frozen to the stage, at once separated from and completely tuned into the reality of the situation.

Easily the absolute heaviest thing I heard last year, the band wound up reprising it a few days later during another impressively explosive set at Baby’s All Right for BrooklynVegan’s CMJ showcase, which I sprinted a full mile to make sure I caught. Both of their sets demonstrated the impressive scope of the band’s singular power as live performers and laid just about everyone else who played CMJ to complete waste. No band delivered more impressively on absurd expectations than Dilly Dally, who dominated this site’s December coverage and will likely remain a critical part of conversation well into the future.

Meredith Graves Tears Up at the Honor Press Showcase

Where do I even begin with the unbelievable debt of gratitude I owe to Meredith Graves? One of the reasons I started this site was because I wanted a forum to interview Meredith, who responded in kind to an unsolicited Facebook message and graciously agreed to a Skype session. I had no idea when that was being set up that she would go on to become one of my closest friends, confidants, and most trusted advisers, or that she would eventually start flipping the script to tirelessly attempt to promote and endorse the work I’d been doing on my own.

The summer that followed that initial conversation was mostly spent on the phone with Meredith having hour-long talks about life’s various intricacies, the merits of art, social politics, our deepest fears, our desires, oddball literature, classic film, and anything else that randomly entered our minds. We traded demos, proposed collaborations, and — for some time — became key parts of each other’s daily routine. We’ve relied on each other to keep ourselves tethered to reality and sought out each other’s presence in times of celebration.

We’ve ignored each other, exchanged very sincere declarations of love, and have constantly fought on one another’s behalf. We’ve pitched various outlets pieces focusing on each other’s achievements, attempted to compliment each other to death, and experienced several surreal moments together (from almost breaking a hammock that was too small for either of us on our own to watching Pleasure Leftists play inside of a halfpipe in the attic of a bike shop). We’ve despaired together, we’ve drank together, we’ve schemed together, we’ve surprised each other, we’ve brought each other to the point of tears, and we’ve remained a steadfast part of each other’s lives.

Meredith was responsible for giving me one of my first gigs in Brooklyn, working Perfect Pussy‘s mail order with Ray McAndrew, and has gone out of her way time and time again to fight for my best interests. She’s given me extraordinary introductions to everyone under the sun and flat out earned the title of this site’s patron saint. She pleaded with me to come live in the city where she resided for the three years we’ve been improbably close friends and I finally took her up on the request (for an incredibly large number of reasons, though her presence definitely played a very heavy factor).

For the past several years Meredith’s been attempting to balance twice as much as any normal human could handle but finding reasons to fight. I beamed along with her as she told me that she had a business email and that Honor Press, her newly formed label, had been given the green light from all involved parties. I grinned as she nearly worked herself up to the point of passing out over signing So Stressed, and I immediately made plans to attend the half-secret Honor Press showcase at CMJ as soon as she told me it was going to happen.

On all of the occasions I was able to spend celebrating Meredith’s accomplishments, this one felt different from the outset. Somehow, it seemed more meaningful than any other random show or festival appearance. At some point last year, I don’t know when and I don’t know how, the band Cloud Castle Lake came up in one of our conversations. Meredith had just discovered a very passionate love for the band’s music and I’d recently been blown away by the composition of one of their music videos. Fast forward to September and they’re all standing outside of the Silent Barn, waiting to play a showcase she’d put together, having made the trip over from Ireland for the occasion.

Aye Nako were to open the night and Perfect Pussy were set to close, leaving Cloud Castle Lake in a prime middle slot position. Talking to Meredith outside, it was easy to spot some small trembling; nervous tics betraying both excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. Sleep deprived but positively glowing, she seemed like she wasn’t sure if she wanted the show to start or simply take in the moment prior to the kick-off; the deep breath before the headlong dive towards impact.

She didn’t have to wait long, despite the show starting a little later than scheduled (an occurrence that just about everyone was expecting).

Aye Nako played first and played well, setting an intriguing tone for the evening and for Cloud Castle Lake. What happened next caught just about everyone off guard as the band launched into a set that went from being oddly moving to feeling sacred. Everyone was locked into the tapestries the band was meticulously weaving, swaying absent-mindedly as the band swiftly navigated intricate movements of deeply impressive compositions. I stood by Meredith’s side as she sighed and surrendered completely to the band’s overpowering spell.

About halfway through their set, a moment of clarity hit and the reality of the situation seemed to collapse in on Meredith, who slid her back down the wall, as her eyes brimmed with tears. Surrounded by people she loved, in a place that treated her well, watching her favorite bands play a show she booked, it was as if all of the things that normally weigh heavy on her mind were dissolved in one fell swoop. My heart nearly gave out as I watched her go through the motions of realizing her role in facilitating something that swung on a pendulum from powerful to transcendental.

We locked eyes for a moment and she put my immediate concern at rest with a half-smile, clearly overwhelmed by what was playing out in the room. Shortly after, she regained her composition and joined the rest of the audience in their half-sways as Cloud Castle Lake issued out one quiet, involved prayer after another. The rest of Perfect Pussy were hesitant to take the stage once Daniel McAuley’s last falsetto had receded into the ether, fully aware that Cloud Castle Lake had just transported an entire room of people to a place that many of them were likely discovering for the first time.

To this day, I’m not entirely sure where that performance took Meredith but I’m grateful that she got to take the kind of journey she so richly deserved.

Krill’s Story Comes Full Circle at DBTS

No band has been mentioned in this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories more times than Krill. Their impact on their respective communities was undeniable and they clearly struck a very deep cord with a lot of the people that comprised those groups. Idolized, celebrated, acclaimed, and fearlessly loved, their decision to call it quits in 2015 prompted a colossal deal of sadness from anyone that’d ever subscribed to the cult of Krill.

Making the blow even worse was the fact that it came in the midst of a creative spree that saw the band experimenting more readily and crafting some of their finest material. The band had strung together a monumental 2015 run, bolstered by the success of their jaw-dropping A Distant Fist Unclenching and hordes of critics’ praise from nationally recognized (and highly influential) publications.

They’d played what was one of the first great sets I saw in 2015, celebrated the 4th of July by playing a show at Silent Barn with Swirlies, and delivered a towering set as a headliner during the second night of Exploding In Sound’s Extended Weekend. While all of those sets were admittedly as inspiring as everyone had made Krill shows out to be, it was their second-to-last ever show, a secret benefit for the Silent Barn’s reconstruction at DBTS, that stood out as the most meaningful.

Not only was the band playing a place I’d briefly called home but it was also where they played their very first show, giving the proceedings an oddly emotional bent. Unsurprisingly, after word got out, the show sold out faster than most DBTS shows and saw the room overflowing with people who wanted to be present for Krill’s last hurrah in a more intimate DIY setting.

Cende and LVL UP played the roles of openers as effectively as possible, delivering solid sets that wouldn’t detract from a moment that was rightfully Krill’s. By the time Krill were adjusting their mix, the main room was overflowing with people and there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd lined up the stairwell. Their ensuing set was so perfectly definitive of Krill that it nearly managed to be completely indescribable.

In turns, it was tightly controlled and threatened to completely unravel. Shambolic and poised, it existed in this strange dichotomy that Krill had so expertly exploited for years but rarely with as much purpose as they did during that set. When something nears its end, we, as humans, do our best to make the most of the remaining pieces of its life. Krill knew that by the time the following week rolled around, they’d have given up that aspect of their life and it was abundantly clear that they were hell-bent on making their remaining time count.

Aaron Ratoff’s guitar kept falling out of tune, Ian Becker hit his drums with a greater velocity than usual, and Jonah Furman embraced every aspect of his being en route to a tour de force performance that absolutely demolished the room where they started their career. By the time the inevitable chant of “Krill, Krill, Krill Forever” went up, DBTS resident (and Cende guitarist) Dave Medina had found a way to literally crowdsurf on the audience, enhancing the night’s descent into frenzied insanity. Everyone, as always seemed to be the case with Krill, was in this together; a thriving community that celebrated its best aspects as readily as it acknowledged its weaknesses.

As Krill sprinted towards the finish line, the out-of-control audience came dangerously close to toppling their equipment, and Dave manage to successfully find a way to balance on top of a tattered styrofoam surfboard as he was hoisted up by the crowd, it was incredibly evident that although everyone knew that the run had to end, no one wanted to come back down. Encore chants were given and obliged until it simply became a point of exhaustion, leaving everyone involved with a sense that they’d taken part in something worth talking about years down the line.

Krill is dead; long live Krill; Krill forever.   

Putting Together A Year’s Worth of Memories

To anyone who actually bothered to read through the entirety of the content above (which essentially amounts to a grossly over-indulgent novella), you have my very sincere gratitude and a ton of respect. This is the second year I’ve curated A Year’s Worth of Memories and the response for this round has been even more enthusiastic than when I first tried out the series at the outset of 2015.

I’d once again like to thank the people who were mentioned in this piece’s prologue (especially the returning contributors: Loren DiBlasi, David Glickman, Athylia Paremski, David Glickman, Jessi Frick, Stephen Tringali, Cole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, David Anthony, Phil McAndrew, Sam Clark, Miranda Fisher, and Christine Varriale).

Additionally, I’d like to once again thank last year’s contributors: Sasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar Gonzalez, Jesse Amesmith, Shari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

Putting together the first two installments of this series has been reassuring in unfathomable ways. Seeing the outpouring of support from people not only willing to listen but express interest in participating from all over the world has meant the world to me; without those reminders this place would likely cease existing. For that, I’m unbelievably grateful. It’s easy to forget how many people you have on your side when you can’t see them in front of you so when so many come together to fight for something that was once just a fraction of an idea, especially when they’re people you’ve admired and celebrated, is a surreal thing to experience.

Heartbreaking Bravery has always been a support structure and to extend that out to other people and give them a chance to express their thanks for others, reflect on themselves, or simply join in a healthy conversation is an incredibly important aspect of what keeps this place functioning. Being able to facilitate something of that nature, especially when the names attached continuously unveil work worth celebrating, has been a profoundly moving experience. It’s been a deeply rewarding experience and it’s helped provide this place with meaning.

To all of the people who became a small part of this site’s history either this year or last year (and to anyone who contributes in any way in the coming years), I will once again simply state: I love you all.

-Steven Spoerl

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 7

PWR BTTM I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

The preceding galleries can be accessed via these links:

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 3
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 4
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Potty Mouth

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1

Radioactivity

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Music Video)

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After the Downies review and accompanying round-up ran yesterday, the plan that was laid out in the introductory paragraphs was set in stone. Then today happened. Over the past few months, the sources where I turn to for material increased- as did the amount of emails I’ve been receiving. Every day, I’m finding roughly twenty things I wish I could dwell on for paragraphs. Contesting that desire is the harsh reality of time- so a few adjustments are going to be made. I currently have more than 250 songs from 2015 to link on the site so I’ll be providing lists of 75 (and one of 25) until that number’s brought to 0. It’ll be an additional part of what- as of tonight- will be regular daily coverage of new content. By the end of next week, things should be back to their normal pace.  It’s been a difficult, transitional time but it killed me to force the site into relative inactivity over the months following the 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories project (and once again, I’d like to take the time out to sincerely thank all of that series’ incredible contributors- I’m sincerely grateful for your work).

Getting back to what matters, the material to have surfaced today has only reaffirmed the fact 2015 has been an absurdly strong time for music. For full-lengths, there was a powerful self-titled from American Wrestlers and a feral 7″ from recent Don Giovanni act Pinkwash. Music videos had even more to offer with Kopecky unveiling a charming lyric clip for “Quarterback“, Crushed Beak’s astonishingly lovely “History“,  TOPS’ unnerving animated adventure in “Driverless Passenger“, BETS’ artful black-and-white tryst in “Jenny“, and Froth’s blistering “Postcard Radio” (which very nearly earned today’s feature spot). Most of all, though, there were songs.  Site favorites Speedy Ortiz raised expectations for their forthcoming record even higher with the gnarled “Puffer“, Total Babes (who feature Jason Gercyz of Cloud Nothings) unleashed the spiky “Heydays“, and Slonk Donkerson reveled in a heavy sludge influence on “Painted From Memory“.  Death Valley Girls looked forward to warmer weather with “Summertime“, Hip Hatchet wove a delicate folk tapestry with “David’s Wolves“, while Meg Baird followed a similar pattern with “Counterfeiters“. Wave & Rome demonstrated an increasingly tired genre’s potential with “Across the Map” while The National demonstrated their propensity for an elegant consistency via the Sharon Van Etten-assisted “Sunshine On My Back“. Rounding everything off was Yazan’s rousing “Tell Me Baby” and Creative Adult’s hypnotically bleak “Ring Around the Room“.

While every single one of those is worth some level of investment, there’s just something about seeing your friends having a good time that elicits an inexplicably great feeling that’s impossible to sideline. Which is precisely why Waxahatchee‘s new video for “Under A Rock” is falling under tonight’s most meticulous level of scrutiny (and most thorough level of affection). I’ve long held a fondness for videos that celebrate lo-fi, VHS home video aesthetics. There’s a certain sense of time and place that accompanies the aesthetic, which winds up being a perfect match for the subtle sense of nostalgia that permeates all of Katie Crutchfield’s work as Waxahatchee. As one of Merge Records’ newest artists, Crutchfield and her collaborators have started off- predictably- on an extended series of grace notes. Now that NPR has verified Ivy Tripp is as incredible as its previews suggested. It’s fitting then, that the footage that comprises “Under A Rock” feels like a hard-won victory lap. From the lineup that performs the song in the video (it’s difficult to see Allison Crutchfield join her twin and not be reminded of Bad Banana or PS Eliot, two bands that meant a lot to me as I started exploring DIY punk’s fabric nearly a decade ago) to the faces in the crowd (Radiator Hospital‘s Sam Cook-Parrott and Cynthia Schemmer are always a welcome sight- as are the innumerable other familiar faces to appear throughout the clip), “Under A Rock” feels like a homecoming celebration built on mutual fondness and respect- which is a trait that this site will always support.

Watch “Under A Rock” below and pre-order Ivy Tripp from Merge here. Below that, explore 75 great songs from 2015’s first quarter that caught my ears (a few of them are on records that are already out but they’re definitely worth revisiting). Enjoy.

Treasure Fleet – Settle Your Mind
Frankie Teardrop – Get It (Kelly)
Alright – Cold Feet
Erase Errata – History of Handclaps
Modest Mouse – The Best Room
Computer Magic – Shipwrecking
Toner – High & Dry
Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Requiem
Bully – I Remember
clipping. – Summertime
The King Khan & BBQ Show – Illuminations
Seratones – Chokin’ On Your Spit
Rye Pines – Pessimist
Los Angeles Police Department – Insecurity
Johanna Warren – Less Traveled
Mac McCaughan – Lost Again
The Amazing – Safe Island
Death – Look At Your Life
Outfit – Genderless
Lord Huron – The World Ender
Torres – Strange Hellos
The Cribs – Different Angle
Downtown Boys – Monstro
The Twilight Sad – The Airport
Torche – Loose Men
Will Butler – Madonna Can’t Save Me Now
Cillie Barnes – Facework
Dead Heavens – History in My Hands
Blood Sister – Ghost Pussy
Bright Like The Sun – White Lights
Peter Doherty – Flags of the Old Regime
The Babies – Got Old
NEEDS – The Only Good Condo Is A Dead Condo
The Mountain Goats – The Legend of Chavo Guerrero
Ava Luna – Billz
Braids – Taste
Marriages – Skin
Pope – Let Down
Obnox – Menocause
Andy Gabbard – Octoman
St. Vincent – Bad Believer
Nude Beach – Been Waitin’
Mexican Slang – Fever
Never Young – Like A Version
Simon Joyner – You Got Under My Skin
Sun Kil Moon – Ali/Spinks 2
Stalls – Tooth and Nail
Nano Kino – Never Seemed to Happen
TULA – River
In Tall Buildings – Bawl Cry Wail
Frank Black – How You Went So Far
Troy Samuela & Monsoonsiren – Fiend
Passenger Peru – The Best Way to Drown
Girlpool – Ideal World
RA – These Days
Native Lights – Blue Star
Soft Cat – Somebody
Steady Lean – Atkins
A Place to Bury Strangers – We’ve Come So Far
Gill Landry (ft. Laura Marling) – Take This Body
Aero Flynn – Crisp
Calexico (ft. Ben Bridwell) – Falling From the Sky
Lieutenant – Rattled
Laura Marling – I Feel Your Love
Dave Segedy – Car
Jet Setter – Forget About It
Paridolia – Violent I
WAND – Reaper Invert
Young Guv – Crawling Back to You
Chromatics – I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
Inventions – Peregrine
Thee Oh Sees – Web
Honeyblood – No Big Deal
Warehouse – Promethean Gaze
ADVAETA – Hazel/Blue Eyes

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 2

Yesterday, it was my distinct privilege to start running pieces that were contributed to Heartbreaking Bravery for a long-gestating project. A long list of some of my favorite writers, label heads, music video directors, and musicians (many of whom have had their work covered here in the past) were kind enough to contribute pieces focusing on some of their favorite moments in music over the course of 2014. These pieces will continue to run throughout the week and I’m unbelievably grateful for everyone involved. Below, David Anthony fondly recalls taking in The National with someone of great importance, Quinn Moreland muses over her peers’ achievements, Gabriela June Tully Claymore tackles Bad History Month’s “Staring At My Hands” and its many personal connotations, Jesse Amesmith covers a particularly memorable show, Katie Capri rails against false assumptions, and Jeff Bolt revisits a show with The Marked Men. So, once again, it’s an absolute honor to present 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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A Night Out with The National

While I consider myself lucky to have several moments rush to mind– seeing American Football’s “secret” reunion being the closest runner-up– the experience that will stick with me the longest was seeing The National with my mom. Sure, that might not be the coolest answer in the world but there was one small exchange that made it, unquestionably, the most memorable musical moment of 2014.

First thing’s first, I have to tell you a bit about my mom. She’s always been into music of varying kinds. Some of my earliest memories are linked to her blaring Springsteen on Saturday morning, listening to Dookie as she drove me to school, or her cleaning the house to Sam Cooke. The second, and perhaps most important point, is that my mom is a saint. If she were to detail the number of ‘90s pop-punk bands she took me to see while she stood in the back of dingy punk clubs, I’m fairly certain you’d agree. It’s these circumstances that make this National show stand out to me. It’s a moment where our interests overlapped and instead of her having to stand in the back of a dive bar- or me uncomfortably sit in the nosebleeds of an arena- we could meet in the middle and enjoy music without any pretenses.

The show itself was as good as any other National show I’ve seen, but it was the band’s encore that sealed it. When vocalist Matt Berninger jumped into the audience and began walking across seats during “Mr. November” I saw my mom’s eyes light up. She grabbed my arm and looked at me with the biggest smile, and in that moment I felt like she understood what’s made music such an integral part of my life. She was raised on stadiums and rock stars, so seeing a front-person become one with the crowd gave her the same feeling those pop-punk and hardcore bands did for me over a decade ago. It may have only been a brief moment, but it reminded me why music is so vital. At its best, it brings people together and allows them to feel part of something bigger than themselves, even if it’s just for a second.

-David Anthony (Digital Manager, The AV Club)

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Peers in 2014

2014 was weird and crazy and cool in so many ways, it feels impossible to pick one or even two or three specific #FavoriteMusicMoments. However, I can summarize many moments with one simple Frankie Cosmos lyric: “My heroes are my friends / my friends are my heroes.” My favorite musical memory of 2014 was any time I was blown away by my peers, whether at a live concert, on a recording, or even a YouTube video (this is so cheesy, I’m sorry). Just a few people who turned me into a starry-eyed Q are the entire Epoch crew, team Double Double Whammy, the staff and writers at The Media, the Alex G gang, Jawbreaker Reunion, Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos… that’s more than a few but not nearly everyone. I was inspired by anyone (minus total jerks or sexist assholes because there were a lot of those too) who was involved with music in any fashion in 2014. So I guess my favorite musical “moments” were the times it was truly evident that my peers are my heroes.

-Quinn Moreland (Associate Editor, Impose)

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Bad History Month’s “Staring At My Hands” and Learning to Breathe Easy

I turned 21 in a bar on June 15th, sandwiched between the almost shockingly audacious advances of a former coworker and a girl that I had befriended at school but still didn’t know all too well. I had been in Buenos Aires the day before, saying goodbye to the uneven cobblestone streets, the violent rainstorms. I found myself back in New York unmoored and uncertain—an official Grown Up without an apartment, without a job, and without any sense of who my friends were. Here, I pause to examine my existence as a total “post study abroad experience” stereotype—alienated from my homeland, and in turn, myself. I was in free-fall, descending too quickly into the real world, and in those first few days I thought that the turbulence would kill me.

I do not mean to make this an essay about “poor me” but rather one about “poor us,” when we lose sight of who we once were and have no idea who we want to will ourselves to become.

My readjustment period of several weeks expanded into a month, then into a summer. The morning after my birthday, I awoke to the news that a friend had unexpectedly died. I was told that he drowned in a pool- and my ribs began to crack open to make room for an inexplicable emptiness.

What followed can only now be described as farce. I learned that the former friend subletting what was supposed to be my room was refusing to move out. After spending two weeks on another’s couch, I moved into my future roommate’s room while she was away in California, and I got my old restaurant job back. A week later, I awoke to find my body covered in small bumps—rows of three that trickled down my arms my legs, my brow-line and eyelids. I found one bed bug crawling across the sheets that morning. I found another when I stripped the bed, and dozens as I peeled away the plastic corners of the box spring that didn’t belong to me.

I spent the next two months in motion as little bits of my stunted world continued to fall apart.

In an effort to recover what was left of my sanity, to remember who I had been and what I had enjoyed before I left New York, I tried to burrow myself in a familiar musical landscape. I remembered that I liked going to shows, I liked the familiarity of dozens of strangers swaying alongside me. I had loose plans for the future and an obscenely long list of goals. I didn’t really believe in God but I believed in something undefined. I was motivated without subscribing to a concrete belief system. I did’t keep up with the local scene while I was away, but somehow I found myself listening to Famous Cigarettes, a split EP that the Boston-based band Bad History Month (formerly Fat History Month) released a month before. Rather, I found myself listening specifically to “Staring At My Hands”, the lead-off single, on repeat.

“Staring At My Hands” begins with an almost imperceptible, echoing thud. A heartbeat. It’s a slow build that Jeff Meff’s wayward lyrics eventually weave themselves into. Instrumentally, the song is so textural it’s practically tangible but the almost desperate proximity of his voice never feels jarring. If anything, the introductory moments of “Staring At My Hands” carry you beyond stripped-back skin, dipping into a single strand of streaming consciousness. Meff sings, “Inevitably all my molecules dissolved and then my problems/ Were all resolved/ I spent a lifetime deciding which way I should go and now that I’m gone/ I finally know.”

I first listened to “Staring At My Hands” in the apartment that was not yet mine, the subletter who was supposed to be gone skulking around in my room. I was probably waiting for an exterminator or examining the dishes that had amassed in the sink while I was away sleeping on couches and in beds that I shouldn’t have been in. I spent an excessive amount of time on the train that summer, attempting to seamlessly transition to and from the various apartments I was staying in, figuring out what clothing to dry for approximately 25 minutes on the hottest setting so as not to spread the infestation along with my miserable disposition. Never entirely sure where I would end up each night, I started carrying a backpack containing a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and a book with me everywhere I went. In transit, I listened to “Staring At My Hands” or I didn’t listen to anything.

Making my way back to a friend’s apartment for the night, my throat began to constrict when Meff wailed, “Staring at my hands and picturing them decomposing/ Feeling my existence as a ripple on an endless ocean/ Not even a drop/ I will take no substance with me when I’m gone.” All summer I felt like a ghost—another person on the subway, face glued to the window, watching for passing graffiti. “Staring At My Hands” is about being lost in the space between, and my own feeling of absolute transience accompanied by the song’s oceanic thorough line forced me to imagine and then reimagine what drowning in an ocean, or in a pool, must feel like. I wondered if there was any difference and then, wishing for nothing but numbness, I wondered if that mattered.

Every night I dreamt of bed bugs. I would spastically jolt awake to find myself scratching long after the bites had disappeared. When I didn’t dream of bed bugs, I would lie with my face against a pillow envisioning lungs filling up with fluid, the unbelievable weight of a waterlogged body.

Up until this point I had always considered myself to be “just fine” most of the time. There had been bouts of crippling depression in high school subdued by the cliché remedy of poor decision-making and crappy movies on repeat. That was the kind of depression that could be mended, the kind of sadness that comes with being an adolescent. The kind where you can take your index finger and point at the small things in your life that are making you unhappy. But the feeling of that summer was entirely new. I could point at all of the things in my life that were depressing—and there were a lot—but realizing that I felt hollow, that I couldn’t bare the effort of caring about any of it beyond the surface level of daily upsets, frightened me.

The morning after sleeping on a friend’s couch for the umpteenth time, she asked me to describe how I felt. I told her that every morning I woke up to A Great Emptiness, or what most people would jokingly refer to as an existential crisis. I read Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” in my senior year of high school, right before graduation. I thought it was really pretentious. In that purgatorial academic space, I found the central ideas of Camus’ essay to be objectively interesting, but never personally applicable. Although it’s a fairly complex text, the argument at the center of the Camus’ treatise on existentialism is essentially whether or not one should kill themselves is they believe the world to be devoid of Godliness. Camus describes life as an incessant struggle—Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it tumble to the ground—until we die, our spirit interned along with the corpse. The essay is extensive: written in five parts, it totals nearly 140 pages. I recently revisited “The Myth Of Sisyphus” and couldn’t help but think that Bad History Month explained Camus’ argument better- and in less than five minutes. “Staring At My Hands” is a song about coming to terms with your inconsequential existence and being okay with feeling small. It is about choosing to live.

“Staring At My Hands” references A Great Emptiness as an ocean, the intermediary space that one encounters before arriving at capital N Nowhere (Meff capitalizes the word “Nowhere” on the lyrics sheet that comes along with the Famous Cigarettes cassette). There is a line that I remember hearing very clearly one night in the Bergen Street station. I think it was a Tuesday. I had been reading Junot Diaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”, but decided that I was depressed enough on my own thank you, and put it away. In the moment that I closed the book, Meff’s whispered declaration felt cavernous, “Dying while you’re still alive/ Suddenly you’ve opened your eyes/ It’s only when you realize that you’re going Nowhere that you finally arrive.” I admire the decisive nature of Meff’s lyricism, the absolute self-assurance, the complete sense of control. Every time I listened to “Staring At My Hands,” I exhaled my anxieties and I felt absolved.

I do not know what Jeff Meff looks like, and I do not know how old he is. I know that his real name is Sean but I’ve chosen to hold onto his elusive persona. As I begin to bundle the loosened bits of my life back together, it has become very important that I leave Jeff Meff and his band in the transient space that I found Famous Cigarettes in. For now, I want his lyrics to exist in what he names the “Imagined Separation Between Things.”

Looking for solace in the absurd is an exercise in total futility. Now, I search for it in cadences and honest voices. “Staring At My Hands” is immediate validation that the world cannot produce an overarching, predictable narrative, but the song gives me a momentary sense of purpose. It manifests in small ways. Instead of planning where I will be next year, I plan what I will eat for dinner, or what show I will go to on Friday. I stay late for the extra drink and prolonged conversations- I ignore my intolerably long to-do list to walk the Eastern Parkway. I stopped thinking that I still have time to do the things that I had been “meaning to do.” I am trying to believe less in what might be and more in the immediacy of what I hear. My perception of time elongates and fills out spaces of uncertainty now that I have stopped trying to get anywhere.

Someday, I will be ready for Bad History Month and I to exist in the same world, for “Staring At My Hands” to exit the imagined space and become just another song. Someday, I might see Jeff Meff perform “Staring At My Hands” and maybe my eyes will well up with tears or maybe I won’t feel a thing. For now, the song exists as part of my own consciousness—I tell people to listen to it when they find themselves in crisis, when they need the reminder that everything is not “going wrong,” it is simply “going.”

There is a moment in “Staring At My Hands” when the heartbeat-like thud falls away, long enough for Meff to sing, “Nervous outside of a bar, focus on a single star until it/ Disappears/ Reaching for the comfort of just how small things are.” This is the definitive centerpiece of the song, muted and astral. It sparkles. Months after discovering “Staring At My Hands,” this line is so peaceful, so lovely, that it’s almost burdensome. As if Meff and I alone have found a sort of antidote, a kind of answer. I left the realm of A Great Emptiness that summer to travel Nowhere- and I accept it.

-Gabriela June Tully Claymore (Writer, Stereogum)

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A Show in Rochester

This past July my friends Perfect Pussy and Feral Future were on tour and decided to meet up in Rochester, NY to play a show with my band Green Dreams (and Utah Jazz, an excellent band from Buffalo). There was a miscommunication when the show got booked, and an extra band got added to the lineup. When the band was contacted and told “sorry, misunderstanding, you can’t play” they didn’t take it well, and after begging to play and being told “no”, members of that band and their friends decided to boycott the show.

Rochester has that problem that I’m sure a lot of scenes have: the same guys play in different formations of the same bands playing the same type of music and like to think they have a monopoly on the scene. I’m not saying they aren’t making good music, or that there isn’t space for what anyone has to offer, but I am saying that the cool-kid apathetic circle jerk vibe is toxic and it really numbs my buns. It was important to my friends- and very important to me- that all the bands that played this show have non-male persons in them, and besides… it was OUR show. What they really didn’t like hearing was that it was someone else’s party, that nobody on our end cared if they came to the show or not, and it didn’t go over well. There’s a right way for women in our scene to participate and behave, and then there’s the wrong way. I’ll let you guess which category I fall into.

Haters have always buzzed around my head like flies (cuz I’m the shit! HOHOHO) so I swatted them away and went about my business, getting more and more excited for one of the best shows I have had the pleasure of playing here in Rochester. I bunkered down and made a flyer that was a mash-up based on two of my favorite pieces of art: Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi and Sedmikrásky, a Czechoslovakian art film made by Věra Chytilová. It’s pink and bloody and there are Miyazaki sprites and flowers and fruit all over it. I poured a lot of love and respect for the bands we shared the bill with into making it, and was excited to make prints and have a great time.

As expected the trolls had a field day with my flyer, and jumped on an opportunity to belittle and shame the show and the work I had put into it. GASP! “IT DEPICTS VIOLENCE TOWARDS MEN!” “WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?!” My detractors think that being socially conscious requires some sort of score keeping, that because my politics include intersectional feminism and smashing the patriarchal police state that every action I take should be righteous by all accounts, like I owe it to them to continuously prove myself. It’s exhausting, and I take a lot of hits so that hopefully the next generation of punx in our small city can grow up in a more inclusive, safer space than it is now.

Long story short, I got (and continue to get) a lot of shit for just being myself and wanting to do my own thing leading up to the show. I was nervous. I had put a lot into it, what if nobody came? What if my antagonists show up and start something? What if someone dumps pig blood all over me? The thing about letting the haters get under your skin is that 99% of the time the worst of it is in your head. Nobody can say anything half as mean about you as you can say about yourself when you think the world is against you. The day of the show arrived along with my friends from out of town, and I began to understand that it doesn’t actually matter if some people don’t like what you do or how you do it. My music isn’t for everyone, but the people that it IS for love it and me dearly.

I was surrounded by mutual admiration and support the entire evening. We ran around and took pictures, laughed and told jokes and secrets, caught each other up on our travels and adventures. As the venue filled, I noticed how many young people I didn’t know were in attendance… and I started to suspect that what I had been feeling was exactly right; if your scene doesn’t welcome you with open arms then it’s time to make your own scene. I was so concerned with the people who were trying to keep me down that I didn’t realize how many people were there holding me up, singing along, and cheering me on.

The show was incredible. People were happy, friendly, and excited to be there. TWO YOUNG PEOPLE MADE CAKES WITH OUR BANDS NAMES ON THEM AND BROUGHT THEM TO THE SHOW FOR US! CAKES!! WITH OUR BANDS NAMES ON THEM! SERIOUSLY!! You can’t make this shit up. There was an all-girl mosh pit. We laughed until we cried and then hugged until we cried more. We made speeches.  People made .gifs of us. It was everything I’ve ever wanted or needed in punk: community, passion, forward thinking young people, and cakes. When it was all said and done it stood as the most incredible moment of my past year… because I finally felt at home in my hometown. All it took was stepping back to realize that the scene I needed didn’t exist without me there to fight for it.

-Jesse Amesmith (Green Dreams)

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Brooklyn DIY’s Not Dead Yet

2014 is the year I broke a long dry spell with music by somewhat unconsciously flooding every aspect of my life with it.

This year marked a rapid paradigm shift in the Brooklyn DIY community. The closure of 285 Kent, then Death By Audio and soon Glasslands killed Willamsburg as it was/had been. As I got my sea legs as a music writer and musician myself, the moaning about the death of New York DIY was reaching a fever pitch. That volume never seemed representative to me because, honestly, I hadn’t gone to shows at those venues since 2013 anyway. The shows moved further away from Manhattan a while ago… at least the ones I was going to.

The Borough of Brooklyn alone is bigger than the entire city of Philadelphia. Over 96 square miles. Within them there will always be untapped resources.  Sure, there are extra logistical obstacles in this city. But giving up the ship because a giant yacht docked on your old turf? That’s just boring.

Stuff had been bustling further from Williamsburg for years but 2014 took a giant leap away from Manhattan’s glaring sheen. To the south and west were Palisades, Silent Barn, Trans Pecos, David Blaine’s The Steakhouse, 94 Evergreen, Emet. These are spaces with poles in the middle of the room, with stages at the bottom of a flight of stairs, in backyards enclosed in a sheet metal triangle or in front of warped glass overlooking the Freedom Tower.

Of the six spaces mentioned above, the last two shuttered in 2014 too. Their organizers, though, found new spaces. Slackgaze (behind 94 Evergreen) opened Nola, Darling in Chelsea, moving against the current Manhattan exodus. The people behind Emet just opened Aviv in Greenpoint, which is estimated to be the largest DIY space operating in Brooklyn right now.

These venues are held together with spit and elbow grease, sweat and most definitely some tears. They’re not fancy, and that’s what makes them so exhilarating. They’re just people and music without much polish. That’s my favorite kind of place to be anywhere, but they’re especially meaningful in New York, a city caked in layers of veneer.

This year was flooded with moments surrounding music, every weekend a new favorite replacing the last. My most recent favorite was in the middle of December. The day after 50,000 people marched through Manhattan declaring black lives matter, I sat under a cellar door on Malcolm X Boulevard watching 90 people host a hypnotic neo-jazz band from Georgia called Red Sea.

The show flier deemed the venue “X”, maybe just for the night or for more shows to come. I’ve learned you shouldn’t count on a “next time” in these situations. The bouncer who ushered us into the unmarked barroom above the dusty basement’s soundproofed ceiling suggested this meeting place had a long underground history. Probably not one rife with experimental rock.

Upstate acts Palm, Annie Blech, Dog, and they city’s own Big Neck Police joined Red Sea that night. Each set’s dissonance seared its way up my spine with every elegantly placed wrong note- another theme of 2014. That basement, though, is what left the biggest impression on me.

Between its crumbling concrete walls, I saw people who play twee pop music. I saw people who play nu metal. I saw people whose music defies categorization. We were all enthralled. We were there watching a community of musicians share their art and host members of a sister community in their own. We were there showing support. Through late-listed addresses, unmarked doors and a few thickets of cobwebs, we sought out that shitty basement in the middle of a borough that the uninspired roll their eyes at. By being there, we know inspiration is still there, still churning out amazing music from amazing people. By being there, we keep it going.

That night I saw what you can’t with your eyes rolled back inside your skull. ‘DIY’ shows aren’t going to die in New York anytime soon. They just don’t have time to cater to people unmotivated by what’s found off the beaten path.

-Katie Capri (Fern Mayo, Impose)

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A Marked Men Party

2014 was a great year for me, maybe the best I’ve had yet.  I turned 30 this year, traveled a lot, saw a bunch of great shows, and also (most importantly) said “fuck this” to having a boss and started only working for myself. I was trying to think of my favorite memory this year and a lot of things came to mind: Playing a midnight show with Tony Molina and Big Eyes under the Grey’s Ferry Bridge, playing a generator show with Acid Fast and Constant Insult at Graffiti Pier in N. Philly, hanging out with far away friends and eating huge burritos in California, and Tommy Borst’s birthday party in Michigan City Indiana (Tommy walked through fire that night, fell through my drums, tried to destroy his own P.A. and probably made fun of everyone there. Jon [Rybicki] & I took mushrooms way too late in the night and I fell asleep in the basement without telling anyone. Jon thought I walked out to the woods and drowned in the pond behind Tommy’s house).

I’d have to say that my favorite memory of 2014 was playing with the Marked Men on my 30th birthday in New York.  The day before my birthday I was helping my friend Tim with some work at his shop.  It was a long Friday and I was excited to get home and go see some friends from Ohio who were playing in Philly that night.  I stopped by their sound check on the way home to pick up my friend Evan who was on tour with them for dinner. When we got to my house I was very surprised to find it empty- with the exception of my friend Ken from Richmond and one of my oldest best friends, Marco, from Detroit.  When I asked “what the hell are you doing here?!” I was answered with “making cookies”.  Marco flew in from Detroit and Ken took the bus up from RVA to surprise me for my birthday the next day.  Over the course of the evening some more folks showed up and we ate cookies and drank copious amounts of beer.  Realistically that was more than enough of a birthday for me but to add the next day’s show on top of it was too perfect. Now I’ll be honest, I fucking hate New York.

I have a lot of great friends there and have had some really great times there- but overall it’s not for me.  The show and the people involved and other friends that came made it feel good and right, though. All the bands that played were friends, and a lot of friends from NY and Philly came to the show to hang out (which is all I care about from a birthday, having friends around hanging out). The bill for the show was Worriers, Radiator Hospital, Iron Chic, and Marked Men. I hadn’t seen Marked Men in probably 7 years or so, so I was very excited to see them again. Jeff Burke writes- and has written- some of my favorite pop based punk music of all time. He’s shy and humble, but not stand offish.  He has no problem having a great conversation with you but might not be the one to start it if you’re not that close. I really like that about him. A lot of people hold him in a high regard but the ego that sometimes shows up with that stature has never been a part of him.

It was really cool to see Joe again too, he’d booked a show for Swearin’ a couple years before with his band Low Culture (who are amazing) and we had a fun night at his house in Los Cruces.  After we played, which was an okay set, not our best but definitely not our worst, I started in on party mode. I tried to keep it together as best I could among all the shots and beers people offer you on a birthday night. I did a great job of it too! After the show we all went to the now defunct Lulu’s down the street for drinks and to continue with the party.  After many more drinks and illicit things the night was finally called and we went to a nice un-comfy floor for sleep. It was a nice easy ending to a fun, wild night.

2015 has a lot to contend with, let see what happens.

-Jeff Bolt (Swearin’, Radiator Hospital, founder, Stupid Bag Records)

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 5

Speedy Ortiz III

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement.

Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time.

Pt. 5 will be the final installment of this series and the preceding galleries can be accessed via the links directly below. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 1
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 3
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

 

Even Hand – Drifted (Album Review, Stream)

evenhand

Now that all of last week’s best single streams and music videos have been given their due, it’s time to move onto a slightly more challenging beast: the full stream. There’s been a monstrous surge of outstanding new releases (often on the small-scale side of things) as 2014 enters its final weeks. Among these were: Dusk (a new project featuring members of Tenement, Black Thumb, and darn it., as well as a handful of other contributors) and their new country-soaked demo reel, Lemuria‘s contribution to the Turnstile Comix series, Currents’ unpredictably intense Mondegreen, Semicircles exquisitely delicate Blown Breeze, Grown Grass And We Are Part of the Earth, King of Cats’ entertainingly spastic Working Out, Big Lonely‘s impressive full-length debut Close Your Eyes, Keep Talking, and Space Mountain‘s unfailingly gripping Wilderness Explorer. All of them stand out as great December releases but there’s one that surfaced seemingly out of the blue worth paying quite a bit of attention to: Even Hand’s sophomore effort, Drifted.

A few months ago, there was a review posted on this site of Even Hand’s arresting self-titled debut, a brilliant record that brought to mind acts as varied as Shellac, The Wipers, and Sunny Day Real Estate. The band fought fairly hard to release it on vinyl this year after it’s original 2013 cassette run on the severely under-appreciated Stupid Bag Records (an excellent label run by Jeff Bolt of Swearin’). Even Hand, by all accounts, was a galvanizing debut. The band’s follow-up exceeds it in fairly stunning fashion. More risks are taken throughout the record and there’s an unrelenting intensity that binds the whole thing together. From the hypnotic instrumental that sets things in motion all the way through the record’s epic closer, the serrated “Lover’s Oath”, Drifted morphs into something that starts feeling like less of a record and more of a show-of-force mission statement.

Even more than the aggressively atmospheric Even Hand, Drifted finds its voice via a balance between abrasion, precision, atmosphere, and unfiltered emotion. Each of these 11 tracks is tied to a loose narrative that operates around a very human frustration with certain social functions and their maladaptation. One of the most striking examples of this device is the vignettes that bandleader Mike Borth presents with “Kid Unkind”, which suggests that the promise of social improvement is just a bittersweet projection that holds nothing but harsh realities at its moment of realization. That pattern of cruel repetition is emphasized with vivid detail in the spoken word stream-of-conscious style ranting in the restlessly foreboding “The Palace Holographic / Dust Bath”, which suggests that the end result will always be the same while Borth punctuates its message with razor-sharp visual imagery that include things like “rapid-cycling trees in a violence of leaves” and “shallow canals, drooling over portraits that hate [him], worshipping darkness”. It’s an existential nightmare ready to swallow any listener whole with virtually no remorse or regret- and, like the rest of Drifted, it’s brilliant in a myriad of subtle, detail-oriented ways.

In terms of technical accomplishment, Drifted also outpaces its predecessor in a number of departments; the sequencing flows just a touch more naturally, the production- as ever- is staggering, the work provided by the rhythm section of Dan Edelman and Dominic Armao is the best of the band’s still-young career, and it feels remarkably unified. It’s an anxious and unnerving masterwork of brutally cynical proportions- and, importantly, it’s a record that belongs in as many collections as possible. Crow Bait‘s Mike Bruno got it right by recently ranking this as one 2014’s best releases– hopefully the rest of the world gives Drifted the attention it deserves and considers doing the same.

Listen to Drifted below and keep an eye on Stupid Bag for the eventual tape release here.

Watch This: Vol. 51

It’s been two weeks since the last regular Watch This segment, which means that there was twice as much to keep tabs on throughout the series’ (relative) absence. Every band that’s featured in the 51st installment has been previously covered on the site, which means a lot of old (and new) favorites are swinging for the fences. All five bands put out a great release this year and every single one of them had an incredible live performance surface over the past 14 days. There’s fuzz, lilt, and an abundance of passion all packaged together in the 51st round of this weekly spot and everything’s worth devouring. So, as always, pour a drink, sit back, turn the volume up to blistering heights, get comfortable, and Watch This.

1. Joanna Gruesome – Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers (BreakThruRadioTV)

For not releasing a full-length this year, 2014’s been very strong for the Joanna Gruesome camp. A few incredible splits (one of which was first announced here nearly a year ago), a great collaborative music video pairing, one of the year’s best songs, and a few appearances in this very series all hint that this is a band determined to continuously achieve more at a breakneck pace. That determination paired with live performances on par with this run through “Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” and it’ll be impossible to stand in their way.

2. Dilly Dally – Candy Mountain (Chart Attack)

Dilly Dally is a name that’s been appearing with a frequent regularity as of late and that’s no mistake; any emerging act that comes off as a fully-realized project is worth several spotlights. “Green” and “Candy Mountain” both surfaced relatively recently and immediately became talking points among a very specific subset of circles. Punk, shoegaze, and indie pop all find a brooding middle ground in the band’s music and Katie Monk’s voice is as attention-ensuring as they come. Chart Attack had them in for a session that definitely proves their live act’s not to be trifled with, either.

3. Cheap Girls – Amazing Grace (Little Elephant)

A very specific brand of 90’s nostalgia is triggered by Cheap Girls’ music, which often plays like a carefully assembled and loving homage to the alternative sounds of that era. They’ve yet to make a weak record and continue to excel in the live department, which is the area that best exemplifies how they made their stock and trade. Famous Graves extended Cheap Girls’ winning streak with a practiced ease and the band keeps delivering memorable performance. This take on “Amazing Grace” is no exception.

4. Fear of Men – Green Sea (Faits Divers)

Loom already seems to have become one of 2014’s most overlooked records, which is a small tragedy. That record’s lack of what should have been well-deserved attention allowed Fear of Men to continue quietly excelling at just about everything they attempt, with their live performances attaining and carrying a certain hypnotic quality. Here, they deliver an acoustic version of “Green Sea” in Dijon and cement a spot as one of today’s most under-appreciated acts.

5. Radiator Hospital – Fireworks (BNTYK)

More than a few kind words have been used on Radiator Hospital and Torch Song (easily one of the year’s best records) via this site over the past year. So, it’s no surprise that “Fireworks” is on this list- especially considering BNTYK is one of the only video series to ever have a Watch This installment dedicated exclusively to their videos. Here, though, both Radiator Hospital and BNTYK outdo themselves and the results are utterly sublime. When the chorus hits, it’s a visceral gut-punch that offers direct insight to what makes the band so special, while the way it’s lensed is worthy of the moment. It’s a genuinely powerful example of what a truly great live video can accomplish. This is must-see entertainment operating at a level of excellence on a multitude of levels; don’t miss out.