Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Jes Skolnik

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.

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2

METZ I

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. Enjoy!

Perfect Pussy at Township – 4/1/14 (Live Video)

Perfect Pussy

There are times when I’ve broken one of Heartbreaking Bravery’s most defining tenets (no self-identifiers: the music is more important than the reviewer) in an effort to illuminate something. This will be one of those times for several reasons: 1) This post may mark the last time a point n’ shoot is used for content on Heartbreaking Bravery. 2) This is the first time, and certainly not the last time, a (new) self-shot full set will be appearing on this site. 3) Perfect Pussy have already qualified as exempt from this rule for reasons explained here (and then again here). 4) By posting this, I’m hoping to stabilize a bridge between a focus on music and a focus on film (look for more on that later). 5) It’s the only way I could think of delivering these points as honestly as possible. 6) I firmly believe in a support structure between DIY publications and fully intend on this being the first part of a collaboration piece.

With all of that out of the way, there’s only a few things left to say before the video(s) themselves: Yes, this is a severely blown out recording with some seriously damaged audio quality. Yes, there is an unexpected break that results in a twenty second delay between the monstrous second half of “Interference Fits”. Yes, there are times where the band goes completely out of frame. Yes, that was because I kept getting hit hard enough by the wildly enthusiastic crowd around me to be literally upended into the stage multiple times over (and, yes, I loved every second of it, bloodied up leg, beer-soaked jacket, bruised hips and all). Yes, this isn’t the greatest live presentation in the world- far from it, in fact- and yes, this is primarily being posted because it’s something I fiercely love (and has people that I love dearly in it). No, that doesn’t affect my judgment at all- these were all instances of friendships born out of love for their art and through mutual understanding/support. Yes, there will be a review of this entire show (along with more photographs)- but not on Heartbreaking Bravery (more to come on that later). Yes, I really am posting this right after the Minneapolis review– and yes, all of this can be seen in two parts below.

Enjoy.


25 Best Demo’s, EP’s, 7″ Singles, and Compilations of 2013

2013 was an incredible year for music that held a seemingly infinite amount of great releases in nearly every possible genre and sub-genre. Cassettes popularity exploded, vinyl sales increased by more than 30%, and the importance of demo’s finally became apparent. In a sea of widely-publicized releases that got mountains of praise, it was a joy to find what composes much of this list.  While a few spots are technically taken up by more than one release, those ties always come courtesy of a band generous enough to release more than one item and have it live up to whatever had preceded it. So, with that caveat in mind, here are the 25 best demo’s, EP’s, 7″ singles, splits, and compilations of 2013.


25. Split Feet – Fall 2013

Chicago’s Split Feet were one of the upper Midwest’s better surprises of 2013 and this demo announced their entrance authoritatively. The rest of the space could be consumed by an attempt to wax poetic on the demo’s respective virtues but, to spare everyone some time, it’s worth pointing out that’s already been done here. Stream the Fall 2013 demo below.

24. The Hotels – Leslie

Here’s an interesting, barely-relevant fact; The Hotels’ excellent Leslie EP was released on the same day Heartbreaking Bravery started. Leslie incorporates nearly all of the staple items on the musical laundry list that this site celebrates most frequently. There’s an emphasis on the kind of influences that keep it on the fringes of the emo-revival alongside bands like Swearin’ and All Dogs but finds itself living in the moment far too much to be tied to a revival. It’s immediacy pays huge dividends but it’s Leslie‘s precision that landed it on this list. Listen to it below.

23. Globelamp – Star Dust

Like Split Feet’s demo, Globelamp’s undeniable unique EP has already been celebrated here. Despite already having a few releases, this felt like a debut. Star Dust‘s nervous energy felt impossibly grounded and promises bigger things for the duo. Hear Star Dust below.

22. Elvis Christ – And So It Shall Be

No one’s going to deny that Elvis Christ is more likable to be noticed for his contributions to Nobunny than his solo work, which, based on the strength of And So It Shall Be is due for a change in the near-future.  There’s definitely a Nobunny influence coursing through the five tracks on display but they pack enough punch to secure it a spot on this list. One of Burger Records’ best tape releases from their best year. Hear it below. 

21. Joseph Frankl – Breakers

Joseph Frankl released two great records on very different platforms this year. As the drummer for The Frankl Project, he was a part of one of 2013’s (and perhaps the decade’s) best pop-punk records. Not too long after he uploaded this two-song single to his bandcamp as a self-release. Breakers exists along the same lines as yesterday’s On the Up honorees Technicolor Teeth. This is driving shoegaze that feels authentic and well-informed and not like a pale imitation. Both songs are among the year’s best and deserve way more attention than they’ve received. Hear Breakers below.

20. The Orwells – Other Voices/Who Needs You

2013 was a breakout year for these young Chicago scrappers. From Jam  in the Van sessions to NPR music video premieres, it was hard to go more than a few months without hearing about them. A lot of this, of course, was due to both of the outstanding EP’s they gave to the world in 2013 (as well as a split cassingle with FIDLAR for Record Store Day), all of which were given a tape release via Burger Records. A production assist from TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek undoubtedly piqued a lot of interests even further than they had been but that wouldn’t mean anything if the music didn’t actually live up to the hype. Thankfully, it has. Hear both EP’s in full below. 


19. Dead Beach – Purple Scissors/Cool Mutants Split

Let’s Pretend released a lot of incredible material in 2013 but this was easily their best in the short-form department. Both Purple Scissors and the Cool Mutants split were recorded by PURPLE 7’s Patrick Jennings (who formerly fronted Hot New Mexicans) and both bands’ influences are evident throughout both the EP and the split. They both carry the slightly off-kilter, raw, and insanely melodic traits that nearly all of Let’s Pretend’s roster has come to be known for. Hear both releases in their entirety below.




18. La Luz – Damp Face

Anyone who’s been following this site probably won’t be too surprised at finding yet another Burger release on this list but it’s hard to argue against placements for any of the label’s releases; they’ve been consistently excellent and positioned themselves at the forefront of basement pop. La Luz had a turbulent year, suffering both triumphs and devastating setbacks. As horrific as their accident was, people are more likely to associate 2013 with both of the band’s outstanding releases rather than personal tragedy. Both their It’s Alive full-length and Damp Face EP have managed to jumpstart a promising career for their band and they’re already showing no signs of slowing, fighting back relentlessly at whatever obstacles come there way. Hear some of that fight bleed into their music by listening to Damp Face below.

17. Midwives – Midwives

Midwives’ self-titled debut is another of the entries on this list that’s already been covered and the thing’s got some serious legs. Its staying power has been incredibly impressive and went a long way in securing it a spot on this list. Get familiar with Wisconsin’s best new hardcore act by listening to Midwives’ introductory piece below.

16. Lemuria – Brilliant Dancer

As good as The Distance Is So Big was, this 7″ teaser the band released ahead of it may actually exceed it in terms of greatness. Both “Brilliant Dancer” and “Helloing” rank among the best songs in Lemuria’s impressive catalog, providing them the b/w format cuts out any excess and lets them operate as a sharp adrenaline shot that emphasizes the band’s best qualities. Brilliant Dancer is about as precise as Lemuria gets and sacrifices none of their sugar-rush basement pop. Hear it below (and catch them live whenever possible).

15. Summer Twins – Forget Me

As has been mentioned before and is likely to be mentioned again, Burger Records had an absolutely monstrous 2013, as far as EP’s are concerned the label didn’t put out anything better last year than the Summer Twins’ near-perfect Forger Me. Mining a 50’s doo-wop and 60’s girl group influence in equal measure, they offered up five of the most assured and gorgeous songs of the year, with the title track being one of the year’s outright best. While the rest of the songs don’t quite match the heights of “Forget Me”, they come close enough to more than justify a spot on this list. Hear Forget Me below.



14. Huge Face – Huge Face

Huge Face are yet another band that may occasionally find their name tossed into the emo-revival conversation that’s happening right now despite leaning closer to Guided by Voices and late-era Wipers than Sunny Day Real Estate. In the grand scheme of things, though, it really doesn’t matter. Huge Face stands up just fine on its own. The most modern touchpoint here would be Wolf Parade, as the bands share several similar sensibilities, even if the execution on how their lensed varies ever-so-slightly. No matter how it’s looked at, it’s fairly clear that this is a great release. Listen to it below.

13. Pusrad – Modern Anatomi

Clocking in at just over four and a half minutes, these ten songs refuse to fuck around. That steadfast commitment is an integral part of all great hardcore bands’ aesthetic, Pusrad included. Already moving at an incredibly prolific pace, Pusrad keep getting better with each one. Modern Anatomi is an exhilarating blast of fierce, old-school hardcore that’s as relentless as it is creative. One of the genre’s best releases in any format in 2013. Hear it below.



12. Upset/Swearin’/Waxahatchee/Screaming Females – Guided by Voices Tribute 7″

All anyone really needed to do for this one was look at the title. Upset, Swearin’, Waxahatchee, and Screaming Females are four of the better bands going today and each paying tribute to a specific Guided by Voices track is an undeniably sensible move. This is as much of a four-band pairing as it is a five and it exceeds its own promise. That’s one hell of an accomplishment. Unfortunately, no streams of this are currently available but it’s available for purchase (highly recommended) via the link below.

Purchase the Guided by Voices Tribute 7″ from Salinas Records

11. Sundials – Always Whatever (A Collection of Songs from 2009-2012)

Releasing a set-year retrospective can be a tempting prospect for any band that feels it’s entered a new stage; rarely do they exceed on the levels of Sundials’ Always Whatever (A Collection of Songs from 2009-2012). By forgoing the inclusion of several songs from their two main releases, First 6 Songs and When I Couldn’t Breathe, there’s an allowance for the unexpected which infuses Always Whatever with a vitality it may have sorely lacked. This is a stunning collection of melodic basement punk songs that should only help the anticipation build for whatever the band’s next move is. Get familiar with Sundials by listening to Always Whatever below.

10. Technicolor Teeth – Blood Pool

There aren’t very many bands out there who can claim to be as exciting as Technicolor Teeth. Only a few years (and two releases) into their career, they’ve managed to make a deep impression on a lot of their peers and grab the attentions of people that may help elevate them to infamy. They’ve essentially been posited as the new forefront of shoegaze by embracing it as fully as possible while still thriving to make it their own. After the rousing success and tonal darkness of Teenage Pagans, it’s unlikely that anyone thought the aspect they’d play up the most for their follow-up was their warm dream-pop influence. Granted, they haven’t sacrificed much of their morbidity or dark atmosphere and instead reinvent that side of themselves as well. As a result, they’ve wound up with the best nightmare-pop 7″ of 2013. It’s difficult to say how long this band will stay buried but expect to be hearing their names a lot more sometime soon.


9. The Dirty Nil/Northern Primitive – Split

The Dirty Nil’s split 7″ with Northern Primitive was one of the more unique splits of 2013 just for the variance of style on display. Both bands tend to err towards doom without actually crossing that bridge completely, with the former keeping at least one foot very firmly planted in early 90’s indie a la Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies while the latter perilously straddles multiple genre lines at once. Of the two, The Dirty Nil takes the more straightforward route (and is none the less thrilling for it) while Northern Primitive throws everything they’ve got into their side, riding an eerie atmosphere into a crushing crescendo before gracefully falling back out. An absolutely stunning display piece for two of Canada’s best-kept secrets. Hear it below.



8. Jeff Rosenstock – Summer

Over the years, IYMI has become one of the most trusted sources out there for on-the-rise bands playing the basement punk circuit and have frequently offered early glimpses at bands like Swearin’ and Jason Anderson in the bandcamp “optional donation” mode (the site also is responsible for the incredible Pink Couch Sessions series). This year, they went ahead and added Jeff Rosenstock to the list by featuring his incredible Summer 7″, which managed to be one of the most explosive scuzz-pop 7″ singles of 2013. An absolute must-own. Hear both “Teenager” and “Go On Get” below.



7. Tweens – Demo CD-R

Tweens were one of the great breakout successes of the gutter circuits in 2013, releasing nothing but demos which were subsequently devoured and praised at a rate fast enough to give anyone whiplash. The Cincinnati trio have become one of the more talked-about and sought-after prospects in recent memory based solely on the strength of a demo CD-R which is impressive enough in itself. The fact that their bandleader, Bridgette, had only recently learned guitar before before starting Tweens is a completely different level of impressive. Tweens are set to release their debut full-length in March and that day can’t get here fast enough. Until then, listen to a few selections from the now-sold out demo below.



6. All Dogs – 7″

One of Salinas’ most exciting new prospects has already drawn comparisons to seemingly half of that label’s roster, which is precisely what makes it so appealing. Over the past few years Salinas has carefully cultivated a sound that prides itself on a lo-fi 90’s indie punk influence. All Dogs profile is set to get another boost with the impending release of Saintseneca’s upcoming LP on Anti-, as the bands share members. A lot more could be said about this release but, once again, it’s worth noting that much of it has already been said. Listen to All Dogs’ triumphant 7″ below.



5. Various Artists – Beyond Inversion: A Benefit for Rachael’s Women’s Center in DC

Over Heartbreaking Bravery’s short existence, the release that’s garnered the most coverage from this site is undoubtedly Accidental Guest’s incredible Beyond Inversion benefit compilation. It’s a compilation that has its heart squarely in the right place, while perfectly adhering to the best aesthetics of the basement scene. There’s a selflessness that’s on display here through the involved bands’ naturally camaraderie. It’s also a perfect representation of its time, culminating in a capsule-worthy artifact that sheds this generation in the most positive light imaginable. Which is precisely why there was more than just one article devoted to it. Beyond Inversion may be seeing a vinyl release at some point in the near future but the initial cassette release sold out in pre-orders. Thankfully, the whole thing is available for streaming and can be heard below.



4. Acid Fast – Rabid Moon

While Rabid Moon finally was given a proper vinyl release last week, it’s been available as a cassette for several months, courtesy of Stupid Bag Records. Far and away one of the most impressive cassette-only full-length’s to be granted a 2013 release, it allowed for a monumental build-up to it’s run as a 2014 record. In the span between the two official releases, the band’s picked up press from Punknews, the AV Club, and earned On the Up honors from this very site. Rabid Moon is an absolute monster of a record that channels the spirit of Archers of Loaf, has the unhinged energy that made Big Kids so great, and it deserves every accolade that’s undoubtedly coming its way. Hear the first three songs from the record below.

3. LVL UP – Extra Worlds/Porches. Split

LVL UP prove themselves again and again with each consecutive release. How this band isn’t fucking huge yet is anyone’s best guess and it still seems like that’ll happen in due time. One of the most thrilling and accessible bands going right now, LVL UP absolutely crushed 2013 with an outstanding EP and a split with Porches. that was every bit the EP’s equal. In both cases, this is full-throttle basement punk with powerpop flourishes that doesn’t skimp on aggression or melody. Flashes of everything from The Replacements at their best to Weezer at their best are all present and filtered organically enough to come across as an influence and not an imitation. It seems unlikely that LVL UP will be slowing down anytime soon. Hear both Extra Worlds and their split with Porches. below.


2. Perfect Pussy – I have lost all desire for feeling

There were no releases last year that felt as harrowing and personal as Perfect Pussy’s demo tape. It didn’t matter which way it was spun, the listener’s reaction, vocalist Meredith Graves’ determined confessionals, or the cultural dialogue it inspired; this was a personal affair. It was also an incredible piece of music, relentlessly energetic and unabashedly unapologetic in composition, production, and lyrical content. It was  a demo (and band) that meant a lot to this site, which is why Meredith Graves was chosen (and graciously agreed to be) Heartbreaking Bravery’s first interviewI have lost all desire for feeling also earned one of this site’s very first reviews and set off a chain reaction of positive effects that have extended into 2014. Listen to I have lost all desire for feeling below.

1. Tenement – Screaming Females Split + More Compilation/Puke and Destroy #2/Sick Club Vol. 3/Something to Dü

Sometimes things are predictable for a reason; this site hasn’t been shy about its feelings for Tenement. Despite not releasing any official LP’s or EP’s in 2013, they experienced one of their most successful years to date on the strength of their 7″ releases. There was their unbelievable entry into the Sick Club series on Cowabunga!, their stellar section of Puke & Destroy alongside Holy Shit!, Gleam Gardens, and The What-A-Nights, and an unbelievable (and entirely unexpected) compilation on bandcamp centered around their attention-demanding split with Screaming Females.  Additionally, the band also contributed to do the excellent Something to Dü five-band tribute on Dead Broke Rekerds offering up a volume-shifting take on “Obnoxious”. Throughout all of it, the band manages to show their full range from the battered and haunting “Ants and Flies” demo to their usual hardcore-tinged basement pop- as well as their usual lo-fi freakouts. It didn’t matter what mode they were in, everything from “Books on Hell + Sermons on T.V.” to “Twig” deserved an infinite amount of listens and serious year-end considerations. The scariest part of all this is that it still feels like this band is just getting started, especially considering the band already has two LP’s lined up for release on Grave Mistake and Don Giovanni, respectively, for next year. Hear all four of the band’s major 2013 releases below.




Rookie Streams the Beyond Inversion Comp

Image of Beyond Inversion - A Benefit Compilation for Rachael's Women Center in DC (CASSETTE PRE ORDER)

Those with hyper-specific memories may recall the Beyond Inversion compilation coming up on this site before. Now, thanks to Rookie, the entire thing’s available for streaming. Any excitement expressed over the release has now doubled as the comp’s managed to somehow exceed expectations. Not only is this great music for a great cause but it’s a coherent overview of the current state of basement punk. MRR’s Sound the Alarms may very well garner more press and immediate attention in certain DIY punk circles but, of the two, this has a better shot of turning into something resembling a landmark. It’s not difficult to imagine Beyond Inversion finding longevity, nor is it difficult to imagine the release finding a home as a highly sought-after collection staple. 

In the Rookie article linked above, one of the curators of Beyond Inversion, Jes Skolnik (of Split Feet), also contributes some helpful know-how in organizational tactics for putting together benefit compilations. Beyond Inversion itself features more than a few incredible tracks from the likes of Perfect Pussy, Technicolor Teeth, Potty Mouth, Sadie Dupuis, Jail Solidarity, Bret Lanhan, Failed Mutation, Hive Bent, and many, many more. All proceeds from purchasing Beyond Inversion will go to Rachael’s Women’s Center in Washington D.C., an organization devoted to supporting women struggling with, and recovering from, homelessness. It’s a collection worthy of its honorable cause. Strong shows of support make repeating instances of great things more likely so do the right thing and pre-order Beyond Inversion

On a personal note to curators Sean Gray, Jes Skolnik, Accidental Guest Recordings, and all of the bands involved; thank you for bringing this into existence. Things like Beyond Inversion always make the world a little better.

Split Feet – Fall 2013 Demo (Review)

Fall 2013 Demo cover art

Chicago’s Split Feet have been making some noteworthy waves recently. After releasing their demo through bandcamp, the band’s been experiencing some nice circulation based on its strength. Three songs in total, the demo strikes a strange nerve. Opener “It Broke Once” introduces the band’s aesthetic quite nicely. “It Broke Once” invites immediate comparisons to Sleater-Kinney, only a touch darker, as lead personality Jes Skolnik’s vocals are clearly indebted to Brownstein’s. While Sleater-Kinney’s aesthetic is apparent throughout the demo, the approach falls more in line with the likes of Speedy Ortiz.

One of Split Feet’s most effective tricks is their utilization of the second guitar; it’s dropped in the mix to provide an ambient sound bed that helps these songs achieve an extra layer of menace. Each track blisters with the kind of enthusiasm that’s indicative of a career beginning and the edges are sharp enough to cut skin. Titles like “Cat Mug on Secretaries’ Day” suggest a barbed underlying humor that will undoubtedly serve Split Feet well going forward.

In related news, Skolnik helped curate the upcoming Beyond Inversion tape, which is a benefit compilation for Rachael’s Women Center in DC, and it’s full of Heartbreaking Bravery favorites- Technicolor Teeth, Perfect Pussy, Sadie Dupuis from the previously-mentioned Speedy Ortiz, Potty Mouth, Failed Mutation, and Jail Solidarity are all confirmed along with Split Feet themselves. That’s just scratching the surface. You can pre-order the tape here and stream Split Feet’s Fall 2013 below.