Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Jordan Lee

Two Months, 12 Records

Over the past two months, hundreds of good records have found release. This post takes a look back at a dozen of the most notable titles in that crop. A handful of site favorites make appearances here, with the styles ranging from gentle folk subgenres to incredibly volatile brands of explosive strains of punk. A few records choose to cast their sights on hope, while others embrace an unrelenting heaviness. All of them, of course, are worth owning. Explore, listen through, and find ways to support the records that connect.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

A band that has yet to put out a bad record keeps that trend alive with Pillar of Na. Even with a slight lineup change (Maryn Jones parted ways with the band after relocating to the East Coast), Saintseneca‘s identity shines through on another album that finds the band embracing a more prominent Eastern influence within their Appalachian Folk-informed music. Pillar of Na also feels even more contemplative and complete than the band’s previous effort, Such Things, which is a point driven home by near-circular bookends. Not a false note from start to finish, Saintseneca’s records remain an immense joy.

Options – Vivid Trace

When post-punk and basement pop exist in harmony, the results typically range from good to incredible. Options’ Vivid Trace makes it abundantly clear from the opening salvo onward that this is a record — and a band — that skew towards the latter. Masterfully composed, produced, and sequenced, Vivid Trace is an important reminder of the potential of a niche subgenre that has direct ties to this site’s very roots. Vivid Trace is the exact type of album that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate: an astonishing work from a band fighting an uphill battle for greater recognition.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

A trio of advance singles suggested that Lonely Parade may have a legitimate Album of the Year contender on their hands, especially within the realms of energetic post-punk. The Pits confirms those suspicions with emphasis. Every song on the record’s teeming with ferocity, hooks, charisma, and conviction, as if the band’s been allowed to unleash all of their unchecked aggression. It’s that sense of purpose that makes how refined The Pits ultimately winds up being even more impressive. Lonely Parade intentionally take the train off the rails and treat us all to an unforgettable ride.

Fred Thomas – Aftering

Billed as the final installment of an ongoing trilogy of records, Fred Thomas delivers another record that cements his reputation as one of today’s most thoughtful songwriters. Aftering, Thomas’ latest, also finds the songwriter collaborating with contemporaries far more than usual, a decision that reflects on some of Aftering‘s narrative themes (especially the importance of support structures). As is always the case with a new Fred Thomas release, a few career highlights are thrown in, ranging from sunny, fast-paced basement pop to devastating ambient ballads shot through with a wealth of longing and regret. Being alive brings us to the peaks of joy and cycles us through unimaginable pain but Aftering is good company to keep no matter where the hammer falls.

Waxahatchee – Great Thunder

Ever since American Weekend began Katie Crutchfield‘s transition from a DIY circuit staple to an internationally beloved voice, Waxahatchee has picked up an increasing amount of scrutiny. Curiously, Great Thunder — Crutchfield’s project with Keith Spencer (formerly of Swearin’) — managed to get lost in the wake. The duo released two lovely records, before retiring the project, leaving behind some of their best work. Waxahatchee’s latest release pays homage to that project and Crutchfield’s roots as a songwriter, rescuing some of the project’s standout material to present in a new light. Great Thunder winds up as one of Crutchfield’s warmest releases as a result, rendering the EP unmissable.

The Sofas – Nothing Major

The Sofas proudly wear their influences on their sleeve from the very jump of Nothing Major, which immediately recalls Sonic Youth’s most pop-leaning moments in their Rather Ripped era. Fortunately, those influences never threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, each track standing firmly on its own, letting the record stand as a collection of noise-leaning, feedback-heavy basement pop triumphs. Every song on Nothing Major has addictive qualities, striking the perfect balance between an influx of energy and an incredibly present sense of melancholy.

Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows The Light

In 2015’s “Not For Nothing”, Mutual Benefit can already claim one of the present decade’s best songs. Anything any artist does from that point forward comes with great expectation and Thunder Follows The Light renders those expectations meaningless. Every song is guided with the same gentle hand, infused with the same sense of calm and tacit understanding that allowed the project’s earlier works to thrive. Every gorgeous, mesmeric second on the record seems to instill a sense of peace, making Thunder Follows The Light a deeply important record in the face of today’s overwhelmingly combative climate.

Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship

The debut record from Whitney Ballen‘s one of many releases on this last that grapples with a challenging dichotomy. What sets You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship apart from those releases is its operative velocity. A breathtaking record in the truest sense, You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship finds Ballen grappling with deeply uncomfortable truths, desires, and impulses, while delivering compositions that suggest lighter material. Imbued with genuinely shocking moments, a masterclass in sustained dynamic tension, and a sense of steady control amidst an expressed sea of uncertainty, Ballen’s released one of the year’s most unforgettable records.

Dilly Dally – Heaven

One of 2018’s most heartening moments came in the form of Dilly Dally‘s self-resurrection. The band opened up about their own difficulties recently and Heaven is their testimonial offering of those challenges and where they’ve arrived as a band: reborn and with a renewed sense of purpose. Desire was a record that embraced the ugly and the damaged as beautiful, with a suggested distance between the band and those observations. Heaven reframes that dynamic and positions the band dead center in a brutal storm of reckoning, staring out at a sliver of light on the horizon, knowing that the ruins of the world will be theirs for the taking.

LOOSE – Haircut 

A relatively new band to this site, LOOSE nonetheless make a sizable impression with Haircut, an extremely impressive record that finds them tethering together strains of math rock, emo, basement pop, noise-punk, and bedroom pop. It’s an endlessly fascinating listen that never wavers in its surging momentum, anchoring ambitious compositions with relatable narratives. Head-turning in the best sense, Haircut suggests a wealth of talent and an abundance of promise reside in LOOSE. Unpredictable and unexpected, Haircut is an extraordinarily pleasant surprise.

Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling

Sami Martasian‘s Puppy Problems project has been going for quite some time now, steadily evolving over the years while gaining a small cult following. All of those lessons come to a head on the project’s debut record, Sunday Feeling. As always, Martasian proves to be a commanding lyricist, waxing poetic on meditations about what it means to be a young adult today. Gorgeous folk-leaning bedroom pop compositions abound, echoing traces of (SANDY) Alex G‘s quieter works while containing enough personality to stand on their own. It’s an impressive record from a project that deserves an expanded audience.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Owen Ashworth’s projects have an infamous penchant for tapping into a sense of overwhelming sadness to create work that ultimately winds up life-affirming. Animal Companionship, Ashworth’s fourth effort as Advance Base, sees this formula ringing especially true. Corpses, both literal and metaphorical, riddle the record’s landscape, with an emphasis on pets. Throughout, Ashworth turns in the best work of an illustrious career, reaching something so human and so intangible that Animal Companionship can momentarily become a difficult listen. In the end, the journey becomes worthwhile, and Animal Companionship stands proudly as one of 2018’s finest, most moving records.

 

 

 

Mutual Benefit – Lost Dreamers (Music Video)

mutual benefit

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

Back when Mutual Benefit experienced a breakthrough with the excellent Love’s Crushing Diamond, the project secured the attention of a lot of new listeners and I counted myself among that crowd. As much as I liked those songs on initial listen, they’ve grown on me exponentially over time. It wasn’t until “Not For Nothing” that a Mutual Benefit song knocked me flat (and was very nearly named this site’s Best Song of 2015).

“Not For Nothing” set an extremely high bar for the rest of Mutual Benefit’s upcoming Skip A Sinking Stone, as did its accompanying video. Thankfully, the arrival of “Lost Dreamers” quelled any doubts over whether or not Jordan Lee’s project was capable of living up to the task of matching the masterpiece that was “Not For Nothing”. A great song from the outset, “Lost Dreamers” took on even more poignancy when paired with the Ethan Samuel Young-directed music video. Separation, again, seems to be the defining crux of the song, only this time around that separation is more worldly than physically intimate.

All throughout “Lost Dreamers” there’s an acceptance of the world’s majestic sweep, that’s emphasized by erasing the human torso, allowing the viewer to get a more sprawling sense of the surroundings on display throughout the clip while simultaneously de-emphasizing our place as humans in that world. There’s a statement to be found about nature and industry but that large-scale issue is given minimum impact while the video chooses to present a more acute commentary on human perspective.

Suitably, gorgeous landscape shots comprise the bulk of “Lost Dreamers” visualization while flashes of everyday city life are integrated into the scenery in thought-provoking ways. With the palette almost exclusively leaning towards brights and tans, “Lost Dreamers” eventually registers as more of a celebration of humanity than a condemnation (while still showing a keen awareness of humanity’s potential to be irrevocably damaging).

Eventually, the formula’s switched and instead of erasing the torso, it’s the heads and hands of the people in the clip that have evaporated, subtly illustrating — once again — the importance of human perspective. By switching the focus to physicality, the clip touches on our relative meaninglessness in a way that encourages us to make the most out of what we’re given. In the end, “Lost Dreamers” stands as a moving, subversive reminder of why our own humanity matters while making a case for greater awareness. It’s a sublime piece of art that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten anytime soon.

Watch “Lost Dreamers” below and pre-order Skip A Sinking Stone here.

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.

Mutual Benefit – Not For Nothing (Stream)

Image Credit: Whitney Lee

Image Credit: Whitney Lee

One of the fiercest chills I got while listening to music last year came on a Sunday morning in Chicago. I’d just seen the immediate aftermath of a horrific accident the night before and had a lot on my mind. Day 3 of Pitchfork was just kicking off, with a scarcity of people combing the grounds after gates and before the first bands kicked off. Feeling uneasy heading into the day’s festivities, my mood was soon assuaged by the kindness extended by friends (there have been few things over the past few year that have felt as reassuring as the hug Meredith Graves greeted me with at the start of that day). One of those friends, the absurdly talented Sasha Geffen, joined me in taking in the day’s first set: Mutual Benefit. Something about the emotional turmoil brought about by the previous night, the perfect weather, the comfort of having friends joining an experience, and the surprisingly open park fields managed to culminate in a perfect storm of cognitive dissonance; I was a blank slate in a gentle breeze. Then Mutual Benefit started playing and everything faded almost instantaneously. Gentle tones, a hushed reverie, and an underlying sense of personal triumph and genuine feeling cut across Union Park with a transcendental force.

Jordan Lee’s kept his musical project fairly quiet in the time following that tour but recently unveiled the gorgeous “Not For Nothing” and all of those memories came back in an instant. Before further addressing that particular song, though, it’s worth taking one last aside to catch up on some of the strongest tracks to have emerged in the past week and a half. For the sake of linear functionality, they’ll just be listed in order with no descriptors (though they should really all be given a considerable amount of attention): Farao’s “Hunter“, Black Baron’s “Watch Me Sleep“, Envy’s “Blue Moonlight“, Bishop Nehru’s  “Bishy In Japan 16 (Knowing Nothing)“, Abram Shook’s “Perfect“, John Vanderslice’s Songs: Ohia cover “Long Dark Blues“, Table Scraps’ “Bad Feeling“, Native Eloquence’s “Doldrum“, and Ancient Ocean’s “Beargrass Creek“. Now, with everything brought up to this week and that necessary tangent out of the way, let’s move back to the track contained in the headline.

“Not For Nothing”, the latest masterpiece from Mutual Benefit, isn’t just a reaffirmation of Lee’s enviable songwriting gifts, it’s a warm, welcoming song that’s arriving at the exact right time. For whatever reason, sincerity has become something that’s more derided than celebrated in the gradual come-down that’s happened in the post-Funeral landscape. Whether that’s because it was reduced to a cheap imitation in a lazy cash-grab effort by so many acts in an effort of miserably failed appropriation or because the world’s just been forced into a time where being cyclical, jaded, detached, and increasingly apathetic has made more sense, it’s tough to tell- but sincerity, when it’s done honestly, has the capacity to move more effectively than just about anything else. Lee brings that sincerity, and- just as importantly- empathy, to vivid life when he’s at his very best. And “Not For Nothing” just may be his very best. Strings swell, drums shuffle, and a beautiful atmosphere descends into the song from the outset, letting Lee’s deceptively impressive vocals and extraordinary lyrical ability drive everything home. As “Not For Nothing” calmly washes over its listeners, it becomes transportive: this is a song with the uncanny ability to elicit memories and nostalgia through dulcet tones and genuine feeling. By the time it winds down, the only appropriate course of action seems to be going back and hitting play, just one more time.

We only get songs like this every so often. Make sure this one isn’t forgotten.

Stream “Not For Nothing” below and watch the Weathervane session that features the song here.

Watch This: Best of 2014 (Video Mixtape)

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Live music videos never seem to get the emphasis they deserve. It’s part of why Watch This was created; to celebrate stunning documents of equally stunning performances. A good band can make a great record but a truly great band usually excels in the live setting. With 2014 winding to a close (and with another 100 posts in the past), it seemed appropriate to start reflecting on some of the year’s best offerings. Lists of LP’s, EP’s, 7″ releases, and more will be forthcoming but today the focus will fall on live clips. And, yes, 2014’s not quite over yet and there will be a few weeks worth of live clips to consider (in addition to the past few weeks, which will be focused on in the posts immediately following this one) and “best” is still subjective- but the videos contained in this mix were simply too good to just feature once. If there’s enough material, an appendix will be added around the start of next year.

To be eligible for this video mixtape, the videos involved had to have been previously featured in Watch This and not contain an interview sequence. Full sets were ruled out as well (with a lone exception being made for one of 2014’s best videos in any capacity to provide a sense of closure to the proceedings). These videos were pulled in from as many places as possible with only Chart Attack, La Blogotheque, and Little Elephant making repeat entries (with two each). From the painfully gorgeous (Mutual Benefit, Angel Olsen) to sublime perfection (Radiator Hospital, Little Big League) to the absurdly impressive (Kishi Bashi) to the most electric late night performance of 2014 (Ty Segall), there’s a little something for everyone. 25 clips are included and listed below, with a hyperlink provided to their respective installments in Watch This‘ always expanding catalog. Since this brings the site to another 100 post mark, hyperlinks will be provided to posts 300-399 for anyone interested in checking out past material. With all of this exposition out of the way, there’s really only one thing left to do: sit back, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Audacity – Counting the Days (Jam in the Van) — vol. 24
2. Greys – Guy Picciotto (Chart Attack) — vol. 24
3. Radiator Hospital – Fireworks (BNTYK) — vol. 51
4. Ovlov – Where’s My Dini? (Little Elephant) — vol. 23
5. Frankie Cosmos – Embody (Radio K) — vol. 55
6. Mean Creek – My Madeline (Wondering Sound) — vol. 19
7. Joanna Gruesome – Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers (BTR) — vol. 51
8. Sweet John Bloom – Aging In Place (Allston Pudding) — vol. 48
9. Emilyn Brodsky – Someone Belongs Here (TCGS) — vol. 28
10. Mitski – First Love // Late Spring (bandwidth) — vol. 43
11. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street (ACL) — vol. 54
12. Sharon Van Etten – Serpents (Pitchfork) — vol. 40
13. Mutual Benefit – C.L. Rosarian (Bruxelles Ma Belle) — vol. 19
14. Angel Olsen – Enemy (La Blogotheque) — Vol. 11
15. Kishi Bashi – Philosophize In It! Chemicalize In It! (WNYC) — vol. 29
16. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse (Little Elephant) — vol. 45
17. Screaming Females – It All Means Nothing (Audiotree) — vol. 27
18. Ty Segall – Feel (Conan) — vol. 40
19. Dilly Dally – Candy Mountain (Chart Attack) — vol. 51
20. Cloud Nothings – Now Hear In (Amoeba) — vol. 57
21. MOURN – Otits (Captured Tracks) — vol. 53
22. Courtney Barnett – History Eraser (KEXP) — vol. 34
23. Lee Fields – Don’t Leave Me This Way (La Blogotheque) — vol. 54
24. Jenny Lewis – Slippery Slopes (KCRW) — vol. 52
25. Saintseneca (NPR) — vol. 38

+++

HB300: Songs of Summer: 2014 (Mixtape)
HB301: together PANGEA – Badillac (Music Video)
HB302: Night School – Birthday (Stream)
HB303: The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole (Stream)
HB304: Watch This: Vol. 42
HB305: All Dogs at Bremen Cafe – 8/19/14 (Pictorial Review, Videos)
HB306: Attendant – Freaking Out (Review, Stream)
HB307: Grape St. – Free Stuff (Stream)
HB308: Iceage – Forever (Music Video)
HB309: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Televan (Music Video)
HB310: Young Jesus – G (Stream)
HB311: Watch This: Vol. 43
HB312: LVL UP – Ski Vacation (Stream)
HB313: Radiator Hospital at Cocoon Room – 9/8/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB314: Nano Kino – Eyes Before Words (Music Video)
HB315: Tenement at Mickey’s Tavern – 9/9/14 (Pictorial Review, Videos)
HB316: Bass Drum of Death – For Blood (Stream)
HB317: Pretty Pretty – Feels Like Rain (Stream)
HB318: Watch This: Vol. 44
HB319: Medicine – Move Along – Down the Road (Stream)
HB320: Mitski – Townie (Stream)
HB321: Allah-Las – Follow You Down (Music Video)
HB322: Sonic Avenues – Teenage Brain (Music Video)
HB323: Iceage – How Many (Stream)
HB324: The Honeydips – No Shirt, No Shoes (Music Video)
HB325: Watch This: Vol. 45
HB326: Watch This: Vol. 46
HB327: Iceage – Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled (Stream)
HB328: Zulu Pearls – Lightweight (Music Video)
HB329: Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood (Stream)
HB330: Little Big League – Property Line (Stream)
HB331: Mikal Cronin – I Don’t Mind / Blue-Eyed Girl (Stream)
HB332: Mutts – Everyone Is Everyone (Lyric Video)
HB333: LVL UP – Hoodwink’d (Album Review, Stream)
HB334: Watch This: Vol. 47
HB335: The History of Apple Pie – Jamais Vu (Music Video)
HB336: Iceage – Against the Moon (Stream)
HB337: Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday (Stream)
HB338: Hurry – Oh Whitney (Stream)
HB339: Thalassocracy – Shimensoka (Stream)
HB340: Mitski – iPhone Voice Memo (Stream)
HB341: Watch This: Vol. 48
HB342: Watch This: Vol. 49
HB343: Screaming Females – Wishing Well (Stream)
HB344: Meat Wave – Brother (Music Video)
HB345: Joanna Gruesome – Jerome (Liar) / Trust Fund – Reading the Wrappers (Music Video)
HB346: Ovlov – Ohmu Shell (Stream)
HB347: Ty Segall – The Singer (Music Video)
HB348: Pet Sun – Gimme Your Soul (Music Video)
HB349: Washer – Rot (Stream)
HB350: Three Quarters Down (Mixtape)
HB351: LVL UP – Big Snow (Stream)
HB352: Weaves – Shithole (Stream)
HB353: Pile at The Burlington Bar – 10/10/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB354: Audacity – Counting the Days (Stream)
HB355: LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB356: Two Inch Astronaut – Part Of Your Scene (Stream)
HB357: Watch This: Vol. 50
HB358: Girlpool – Plants and Worms (Stream)
HB359: Watch This: Vol. 51
HB360: Cherry Glazerr – Nurse Ratched (Stream)
HB361: The Gotobeds – Wasted On Youth (Music Video)
HB362: Happy Diving – Big World (Album Stream)
HB363: Filmstrip – Don’t You Know (Stream)
HB364: Nobunny – Nightmare Night (Short Film)
HB365: Heartbreaking Bravery Presents, Vol. 1: Meat Wave, Mumblr, Geronimo! (Videos)
HB366: Watch This: Vol. 52
HB367: Watch This: Vol. 53
HB368: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning (Music Video)
HB369: Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Album Review, Stream, Photos, Videos)
HB370: Chandos – ..Pretty Sure it’s ‘Tang Top’ (Stream)
HB371: Toby Coke – Face Taker (Stream)
HB372: Two Inch Astronaut – Dead White Boy (Stream)
HB373: Left & Right – Low Expectations (Music Video)
HB374: Watch This: Vol. 54
HB375: Deerhoof – Exit Only (Music Video)
HB376: Meat Wave – Sham King (Stream)
HB377: Kal Marks – It Was A Very Hard Year (Stream)
HB378: Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn (Stream)
HB379: Big Lonely – Dirty Clocks (Music Video)
HB380: Slight – Run (EP Review, Stream)
HB381: Screaming Females – Ripe (Stream)
HB382: Girlpool – Blah Blah Blah (Music Video)
HB383: Mutts – Black Ties & Diamonds (Song Premiere)
HB384: MOURN – Otitis (Stream)
HB385: Iceage – Against The Moon (Music Video)
HB386: Watch This: Vol. 55
HB387: Watch This: Vol. 56
HB388: Watch This: Vol. 57
HB389: Kal Marks – Don’t Pussy Foot With A Pussy Footer (Stream)
HB390: Trust Fund – Cut Me Out (Stream)
HB391: Alex G – Soaker (Stream)
HB392: Band Practice – Theme Song (Stream)
HB393: Chandos – Cobra Points (Stream)
HB394: Screaming Females – Empty Head (Stream)
HB395: Title Fight – Chlorine (Music Video)
HB396: Space Mountain – California Blue (Stream)
HB397: Liam Hayes – Fokus (Stream)
HB398: Toby Reif – 2014 (EP Stream)
HB399: Beliefs – Tidal Wave (Music Video)

Pitchfork Festival: Day 3 (Review)

p4k logo

After the threat of a storm cleared up, Day 3 was given a gentle opening courtesy of Mutual Benefit. Jordan Lee’s project released one of last year’s best records in Love’s Crushing Diamond which was featured heavily throughout their set. More than a few moments warranted an unexpected chill down the spine, a very rare feat for a band so unassuming. It was genuinely difficult to leave but it proved a little more difficult to pass up the opportunity to catch the end of Speedy Ortiz’s set while securing a good spot for Perfect Pussy. Speedy Ortiz played with their usual amount of verve, injecting their songs with off-kilter humor and small surprises. “Bigger Party“, their recent Adult Swim-endorsed single, drew a strong reaction- as did fan favorites “American Horror” off of this year’s great Real Hair EP and “Indoor Soccer” off of their excellent early EP, Sports. When everything ended in a cataclysm of precisely-controlled noise, it seemed like Speedy Ortiz were exactly where they belonged.

Once more, Perfect Pussy‘s set felt too important to be given a brief summary so it will be given a separate, full review after the Day 3 recap. Rest assured: it was an extraordinary performance that felt like a defining moment for the band. Just like a few days prior, the band following Perfect Pussy were divisive metal act Deafheaven. While Deafheaven did feel slightly out of place in the broad daylight, it did provide the festival some unexpected balance- and it was mixed to near-perfection. Drawing what was easily one of the most diverse crowds of the festival, watching the passerby reactions to the band’s signature sound was nearly as intriguing as the band themselves. Having already seen them two nights ago in a more appropriate setting, it was off to catch the heavily-acclaimed Isaiah Rashad, who delivered his set with a comfortable confidence. While Rashad’s lyrics often hit the same beat, that repetition is easily distracted from by some innovative production work. Rashad himself was an engaging presence that kept the crowd involved with natural charisma, star magnetism, and some festival-appropriate choruses. It was a nice break from the high-level intensity of the previous three acts and wound up striking the perfect balance between relaxing and exciting, offering festivalgoers a chance to catch their breath while their attention remained invested in the performance.

Dum Dum Girls kept that balance exactly where it should have been with their peculiar brand of easygoing, subtly psych-glam-inflected, dream-pop. Everyone seemed to be in a sedated trance only a few songs in, eyes fixated to the stage, where the the band was running through a set emphasizing their most recent material (most notably this year’s enchanting Too True). They’ll be back in the Midwest before too long and, as evidenced by just a handful of songs, are definitely worth seeing (catch them at the High Noon Saloon on October 23). After a brief reprieve, it was time to catch a few songs from ScHoolboy Q, a figurehead of the increasingly influential Black Hippy crew. Q’s Habits & Contradictions was one of hip-hop’s defining records just a few years ago and it’s power- and Q’s stature- have only grown since. He lived up to every expectation and delivered a set just as lively as both Pusha T and Danny Brown’s attention-demanding performances from the previous day.  It was another strong example of the festival’s genre sensibility for the category and it was nothing short of thrilling to see Q take full advantage of his slot.

What followed ScHoolboy Q was an impromptu-heavy stunner of a set from Canadian duo Majical Cloudz. Devon Walsh and Matthew Otto are responsible for Impersonator, a haunting and minimal triumph of a record that stands as one of the best releases of the decade so far. It’s a record whose success no one could have predicted the extent of- just as no one could have predicted that less than two songs into their set, Otto’s keyboard (responsible for the bulk of the band’s music) would die completely. After frantic, futile attempts were made at a fix, the band embraced the dire conditions and weathered them with no shortage of bravery. Their first post-instrument-death piece was an a cappella rendition of “Bugs Don’t Buzz“, an immediately arresting performance that set the tone for what was to come. From that point forward, Walsh would graciously extend the microphone to anyone that wanted to sing one of their songs, beatbox, or even tell a joke- all while making sure the performance was kept relatively reigned in. More vocal-only renditions of songs from Impersonator were given- and loops were used whenever possible- and, for the grand finale, they took the now-useless keyboard and smashed it to smithereens in a moment of pure catharsis. It was genuinely unforgettable and wound up being a perfect transition to the next band on the schedule.

The recently reunited (and massively influential) Slowdive thankfully encountered no technical difficulties and sounded as perfect as they ever have, cranking their amps up to their breaking points and calmly making their way through a set of several now-legendary songs. Appropriately, their audience was in an entranced awe thanks to the still-spellbinding music emanating from the stage, as affecting now as it was two decades ago. This performance was one of the band’s only US dates and they made every moment of it count. After Slowdive wrapped up, there was just enough time for a brief break before Grimes took over and played to an absolutely packed crowd. Visions is now over two and a half years in the past but it’s proved formidable enough to keep serious attention focused on Clair Boucher, the artist behind the project. Grimes’ only release since then was last month’s “Go“, which earned a large amount of attention and acclaim. From the crowd’s reaction to Grimes’ set (which often felt more appropriate for a pop star than an emerging electronic artist, right down to the fan allowing Boucher’s hair to blow in the wind) it was abundantly clear that the public opinion of her has grown drastically since the release of Visions. “Oblivion” had a lot of people screaming and the audience seemed more than a little reluctant to see her leave but there was still one performer to go: Kendrick Lamar.

At this point, Kendrick is one of the few people in music who don’t need an introduction- and that showed in his set. Mostly pulling from the already-considered-stone-cold-classic good kid, m.A.A.d city he delivered one of the festivals most confident sets, while managing to keep it from tipping over into easy braggadocio, proving to be more than worthy of the festival’s ultimate headlining slot. His audience was huge and rapturous; it seemed like half of the Day 3 attendees were there solely to see the man himself. He didn’t disappoint those expectations- or even come close. Everyone who could drink was drinking, everyone who could dance was dancing, and no one was walking away disappointed. Songs like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” elicited mass crowd shout-a-longs and Lamar used his time as well as he possibly could. He’s clearly one of the biggest names in music (this is thanks in part to the fact he’s now earned a bottomless well of guest verses for just about everyone) and has no intentions of going anywhere but up. There were very few choices that would have felt more appropriate to bring everything home. It was the best-case-scenario closing to a festival that continues to get more impressive- and if that keeps up, it won’t be worth missing by the time it rolls around next year.

NXNE 2014: A Listener’s Guide (Mixtape)

It’s been 200 days since the idea of Heartbreaking Bravery was actually put into motion. In that time, multiple recurring features have been launched and it began to become something a little more than just a hobby. The more effort that was put into the content that went up, the greater the response was. Now, the site’s been viewed in nearly 80 countries, been granted media accreditation outside of the country, and helped form some meaningful relationships. Most importantly, though, it served- and will continue to serve- as a place of unwavering support for artists rooted in the DIY scene doing things on their own terms.

Now, anyone who has been paying attention to recent content will know that this site’s been running a lot of coverage in anticipation of this year’s NXNE. Anyone who’s been following the content for a long time will know that every 50 posts brings a new mixtape. This being the case, it only made sense to draw up a mixtape that served as an abbreviated listener’s guide for anyone who needed a crash course before heading to Toronto next month. That mix can be found below and features both long-held favorites and a few artists outside of this site’s normal comfort zone. All of the songs are worth a listen and the tracklist for the mix can be found below. Below all of that are hyperlinks to posts 100-199 (post 100 includes hyperlinks to the first 99). Enjoy.

Heartbreaking Bravery Presents: NXNE 2014: A Listener’s Guide

1. Swearin’ – What A Dump
2. Spoon – Don’t Make Me A Target
3. METZ – Wet Blanket
4. PS I Love You – Facelove
5. Greys – Use Your Delusion
6. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits
7. Swans – My Birth
8. St. Vincent – Cheerleader
9. Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener
10. Odonis Odonis – I’d Prefer Walking
11. Eagulls – Nerve Ending
12. White Mystery – People Power
13. Beliefs – Long Wings
14. Run the Jewels – A Christmas Fucking Miracle
15. Pusha T – Nosetalgia
16. Mac DeMarco – Brother
17. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
18. Christian Hansen – Ma-Me-O
19. Mutual Benefit – Golden Wake
20. My Darling Fury – Blots in the Margin
21. Low – Murderer
22. Robert Ellis – Only Lies
23. Typhoon – Common Sentiments
24. Speedy Ortiz – No Below
25. Tim Hecker – Live Room

Here’s the last set of 100 articles, hyperlinked for convenience. Enjoy the exploration.


HB100: Heartbreaking Bravery: A Retrospective

HB101: Great Cynics – Whatever You Want (Music Video)
HB102: Watch This: Vol. 12
HB103: Bleeding Rainbow – Tell Me (Stream)
HB104: Beverly – Honey Do (Stream)
HB105: Brain F/ – Sicks (Stream)
HB106: Vertical Scratchers – Memory Shards (Stream)
HB107: Carsick Cars – Wild Grass (Stream)
HB108: Summer Twins – Carefree (Music Video)
HB109: Archie Powell & the Exports – Everything’s Fucked (Stream)
HB110: Perfect Pussy – I (Music Video)
HB111: Watch This: Vol. 13
HB 112: Mozes and the Firstborn – Bloodsucker (Music Video)
HB113: Cheap Girls – Knock Me Down (Stream)
HB114: Watch This: Vol. 14
HB115: Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits (Stream)
HB116: PAWS – Tongues (Stream)
HB117: Screaming Females – Lights Out (Live) (Stream)
HB118: Technicolor Teeth – Can You Keep Me Out of Hell (Stream)
HB119: Silence Dogood – Chairman of the Bored (Stream)
HB120: Watch This: Vol. 15
HB121: Nervosas at Center Street Free Space and Quarters Rock N Roll Palace – 3/1/14 (Live Review)
HB122: White Lung – Drown With the Monster (Music Video)
HB123: Tweens – Be Mean (Music Video)
HB124: La Sera – Losing to the Dark (Stream)
HB125: Creepoid – Baptism (Music Video)
HB126: Dum Dum Girls – Are You Okay (Short Film)
HB127: Watch This: Vol. 16
HB128: Green Dreams – Bug Sex (Music Video)
HB129: Playlounge – Waves and Waves and Waves (Stream)
HB130: Molybden – Woman Who Left Behind (7″ Review)
HB131: La Dispute – Rooms of the House (Album Review)
HB132: Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love (Album Review)
HB133: Watch This: Vol. 17
HB134: Mr. Dream – Cheap Heat (Stream)
HB135: Fucked Up – Paper the House (Music Video)
HB136: Bleeding Rainbow – Images (Music Video)
HB137: Sleep Party People – In Another World (Stream)
HB138: Help Save Fort Foreclosure (Indiegogo Campaign)
HB139: Tashaki Miyaki – Cool Runnings (Music Video)
HB140: Thee Oh Sees – The Lens (Music Video)
HB141: Diarrhea Planet – Babyhead (Music Video)
HB142: Green Dreams – Eye Contact (Stream)
HB143: Watch This: Vol. 18
HB144: Tumul – Nature Master (Music Video)
HB145: Young Widows – King Sol (Stream)
HB146: Priests – Right Wing (Stream)
HB147: Antarctigo Vespucci – I’m Giving Up On U2 (Stream)
HB148: Ernest Undead (Short Film)
HB149: Watch This: Vol. 19
HB150: First Quarter Finish (Mixtape)
HB151: Perfect Pussy at 7th St. Entry – 3/30/14 (Live Review)
HB152: Perfect Pussy at Township – 4/1/14 (Live Video)
HB153: The Sleepwalkers – Come Around (Music Video)
HB154: Watch This: Vol. 20
HB155: Tweens – Forever (Music Video)
HB156: Reigning Sound – Falling Rain (Stream)
HB157: New Swears – Midnight Lover (Music Video)
HB158: Shannon & the Clams – Mama (Stream)
HB159: Gold-Bears – For You (Stream)
HB160: PUP – Lionheart (Music Video)
HB161: The So So Glos – Speakeasy (Music Video)
HB162: Archie Powell & the Exports – Holes (Music Video)
HB163: Mean Creek – My Madeline (Music Video)
HB164: Watch This: Vol. 21
HB165: Greys – Guy Picciotto (Music Video)
HB166: PAWS – Owls Talons Clenching My Heart (Stream)
HB167: Perfect Pussy – Candy’s Room (Stream)
HB168: Watch This: Vol. 22
HB169: 5 to see at NXNE 2014: Vol. 1
HB170: Girl Band – The Cha Cha Cha (Stream)
HB171: Cloud Nothings at High Noon Saloon – 5/2/14 (Pictorial Review)
HB172: Watch This: Vol. 23
HB173: 5 to see at NXNE 2014: Vol. 2
HB174: Savages – Fuckers (Music Video)
HB175: Midnight Reruns at Polack Inn – 5/7/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB176: Watch This: Vol. 24
HB177: Watch This: Vol. 25
HB178: PAWS – Owls Talons Clenching My Heart (Music Video)
HB179: Priests – Doctor (Stream)
HB180: Lady Bones + Horsehands (Split Review)
HB181: Fucked Up – Sun Glass (Music Video)
HB182: 5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 3
HB183: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Jackson (Stream)
HB184: Dead Stars – Someone Else (Music Video)
HB185: 5 to see at NXNE 2014: Vol. 4
HB186: Lower – Bastard Tactics (Music Video)
HB187: Bad History Month – Staring At My Hands (Stream)
HB188: White Lung – Face Down (Music Video)
HB189: Greys – Use Your Delusion (Stream)
HB190: 5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 5
HB191: The Rich Hands – Teenager (Stream)
HB192: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – As Always (Music Video)
HB193: The Pharmacy – Masten Lake Lagoon (Stream)
HB194: 5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 6
HB195: Naomi Punk – Television Man (Stream)
HB196: Watch This: Vol. 26
HB197: Geronimo! – Euphoria (Stream)
HB198: Watch This: Vol. 27
HB199: PUP – Guilt Trip (Music Video)

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 3

With the 20th anniversary of NXNE set to take place in a month (the music leg runs from the 18th to the 22nd, though there are film, comedy, and interactive legs before that), it’s time to kick the pre-fest coverage into high gear. After all, there’s a lot to cover considering how extensively packed this year’s lineup is. While Heartbreaking Bravery does its best to place an emphasis on the bands currently engrossed in the DIY circuit, it’s good to remember that most major acts started on the same foot. Which is why in this volume of the 5 to See series, both emerging and established artists will be covered. It’d be downright cruel not to shine a spotlight on someone as artistically creative as, say, St. Vincent. With all of that out of the way (and kept in mind), here are five acts absolutely worth catching next month in Toronto.

1.  Spoon

What to Know: There are few bands out there who have managed to define their identity the way Spoon has. As influential as they’ve become, it’s still difficult to find good bands that sound even remotely like them. It’s not something that should come as too much of a surprise, though, it was a fairly singular style to begin with. If anything, structurally, the band leans closer to classic jazz than anything in the modern canon. All nerve, razor-sharp precision, and erratic blasts, they’ve earned their level of celebrity. They’re worth celebrating for being one of the bands that went against the grain and won. Boasting a remarkably consistent discography (they’ve yet to make anything that comes even close to approaching blandness) and an impressive live show, this is an act that’ll be tough to afford to miss.

What to Watch:

2. Mutual Benefit

What to Know: Jordan Lee’s outfit has now earned itself places on two Watch This installments (Vol. 19 and Vol. 25), earned itself well-deserved raves with last year’s gorgeous Love’s Crushing Diamond, and become an unlikely success story that it’s easy to feel good about. Expect this to be one of the most well-attended (and most haunting) sets of NXNE. One look at the video below should be enough to sell just about anyone.

What to Watch:

3. Spiritualized

What to Know: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is a tranquil masterpiece. Seeing any one of those songs played live may be just the come-down that’s needed after a day of running between one venue and the other, trying to frantically catch every band possible. It’ll likely be another instance of a set that feels removed from the chaos that surrounds it- and that’s always worth something. For a transcendental quietude, look no further.

What to Watch:

4. Eagulls

What to Know: Eagulls’ self-titled effort from earlier this year has proven to be one of the better records of recent memory and their were countless reports of their live show from SXSW that fell way closer to completely enamored than not. A band that’s very much on the up, their set will undoubtedly draw a pretty strong (and frenzied) crowd. They’ll be a must-stop destination for people looking to get their adrenaline pumping to avoid the risk of exhaustion. It’s hard to imagine that people are sleeping on this.

What to Watch:

5. St. Vincent

What to Know: For once, the collective music industry’s crush on an artist seems completely justified. Annie Clark’s project grows defiantly weirder as it progresses, running the danger of maxing out the art-pop genre and perfecting it once and for all.St. Vincent is currently 2014’s most acclaimed major release and she’s accentuating more weirdness than ever post-David Byrne collaboration. Anyone who champions the filthiest and most disgusting guitar tones and manages to throw as much sludge as possible at what would otherwise be conventionally beautiful pop songs is more than worth anyone’s time. Her set will be a can’t-miss appointment.  

What to Watch:

Watch This: Vol. 25

As promised, here’s the second part of today’s Watch This double-headed. It’s decidedly more minimal than the last installment in terms of performance content (two of the videos featured here are solo performances) but the featured videos are just as impressive. Ranging from yet another video from Chart Attack’s coverage of the Sonic Boom Records jaw-dropping lineup for Record Store Day 2014 to another Exploding in Sound BreakThruRadio takeover feature, it’s one of the broader installments this series has ever offered up. It’s a great way to showcase some of the best bands from the DIY circuit and all of it’s just begging to be viewed. So, stay reclined, erase the last semblances of that hangover, and make sure to Watch This.

1. Laura Stevenson – The Hole (Radio K)

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes Laura Stevenson so magnetic- it could just be raw talent but it seems to go beyond even that to something more transcendental. The singer/songwriter found a home on New Jersey’s Don Giovanni, a label full of some of the fiercest basement punk bands currently going, while leaning closer to folk than anything else. Impossibly, it managed to be a fit that felt more naturalistic than not and their collaborations have resulted in a handful of incredible releases (the most recent of which, Wheel, was an easy 2013 highlight). Here, she sits down for a stunning rendition of “The Hole”. It’s a mesmerizing performance from a singular talent that’s worth bootlegging for inclusions on a million different homemade mixtapes.

2. Luke Lalonde – Needle (Chart Attack) 

This is the third performance from Toronto’s Sonic Boom Records to be featured over the past two installments of this series. It’s also, arguably, the most arresting. Born Ruffians have always been one of the more intriguing powerpop acts making music and to hear them stripped down to their barest form is surprisingly rewarding. Great songwriting’s always worth listening to.

3. Mutual Benefit – Golden Wake (Allston Pudding)

Love’s Crushing Diamond was a record that almost felt sacred while it wove itself in and out of dreamlike states. It was one of 2013’s most riveting listens, constantly coming off like the most reassuring hug. It was impossibly fierce in its gentleness, delicately assembled and expertly executed, it established Jordan Lee as an undeniable talent and ensured that just about everyone who should be paying attention to his project was doing just that. Allston Pudding was on hand to capture this video from Mutual Benfit’s first-ever sold out show and the results are entrancing.

4. Krill (BreakThruRadioTV)

There’s just something about Exploding in Sound’s roster that makes throwing caution to the wind feel appropriate. This is the second video to earn a Watch This feature from the label’s BreakThruRadio takeover. Like Kal Marks before them, Krill took this spot by force through a series of incredible featured performances. Serious Business being Serious Business, there are also a few revealing interview moments intercut with a few separate performance clips. It’s all great fun and worth paying attention to. Oh, and Krill, Krill, Krill Forever.

5. Radioactivity – Locked in My Head (Razorcake)

It’s been months since a video from Razorcake earned itself a spot in this series, which is a shame because of all the places that regularly wind up in one of these five slots, they’re likely the one that matches the DIY ethos this place celebrates most closely. That reasoning paired with a performance from Radioactivity was more than enough to land this a spot on the list. This is what this place is all about. Watch This and then go spin Radioactivity for the 800th time. It’s impossible to resist.

Watch This: Vol. 19

No, this isn’t some sort of high-level deception designed to trick someone into thinking today is Sunday. It’s not. So why’s this the first Watch This to get a Saturday feature? The answer’s pretty simple, actually. It’s hard to write an article on a drive from central WI to Minneapolis. It’s probably even harder to get one in when a Perfect Pussy show is going on, especially when The Miami Dolphins and Condominium are the supporting acts. Coverage of that will be arriving shortly after the fact but it will take up most of Sunday- hence the early Watch This post. Now, since the consistency of just about everything has been thrown into total disarray by something as harmless as logic, this Watch This will be making a fleet little sidestep as well; the emphasis will be placed largely on acoustic (or practically acoustic) performances from singer-songwriters worth knowing- though there is one notable exception. With all that in mind, kick back, relax, plug in, turn up, do whatever needs doing, and start Saturday off on the right foot. Seriously, Watch This.

1. Mean Creek – My Madeline (Wondering Sound)

Mean Creek have been making a dent in all of the right places recently and if the subsequent attention they’re receiving because of it is phasing them, it’s really not showing. Here, they take to Wondering Sound (a relatively new site that’s finding themselves in a similar position by virtue of an enviable cast of writers and a fair amount of eclecticism) to perform a stripped-down version of “My Madeline”. It’s easy to see what an increasing number of people are getting worked up over; this is great music evoking decades of American classics at just the right time.

2. Kevin Devine – Bubblegum (BalconyTV)

2013 was a busy year for Kevin Devine- the man released two full-lengths and was touring incessantly. Recently, Devine took to a wintry balcony to perform a ballad version of the title track from Bubblegum, one of that pair of releases (and one of the year’s best). While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his performance of “Brother’s Blood” at Banquet Records, not much does. It’s still miles above what most others toiling around in that genre are doing and well worth a few watches. Get on it.

3. Small Houses – Revel, Revel (GemsOnVHS)

There are few performers anyone can hope to come across that are as arresting as Jeremy Quentin, who performs under the moniker Small Houses- sometimes with a band, sometimes on his lonesome. Having seen him perform both solo and with a band to very different crowds (once was a very intimate living room show, the other as the first act on a bill that included Tenement and Used Kids), it’s easy to testify to his raw natural talent and innate ability to draw in just about anyone. “Revel, Revel”, lensed lovingly by GemsOnVHS, is even more proof of this and confirms Quentin as one of the best folk artists this generation has to offer.

4. Mutual Benefit – C.L. Rosarian (Bruxelles Ma Belle)

Love’s Crushing Diamond was one of last year’s small delights, a sprawling record full of intricately woven tapestries that comforted as much as they provided pause. It was an extended moment of stunning clarity and found people rallying around it with dedication so fierce it became inspirational. In this video, Jordan Lee and his touring companions present a downright gorgeous version of “C.L. Rosarian”, hitting one grace note after another. By the video’s end it’s transformed from a performance to something more transcendent and inexplicably moving; something to get completely lost in after being enveloped by its embrace.

5. Cheatahs (KEXP)

The KEXP performances that have really jumped out and held the viewer/listener in a stranglehold since Cloud Nothings perfected what could be done with the format have been few and far between. For their part, Cheatahs make one of the more valiant efforts that small studio room has seen since that nearly two-years old session and nearly pull it off. While the final stretch does lose some of the session’s early momentum, the entire thing’s still incredibly impressive and more than enough to crash its way into this volume of Watch This. Keep an eye out for this band, they may have just enough elements working in their favor to do some serious damage.