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 interview. I 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.