Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Julianna Barwick

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree is being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.

With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.

Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.

Mitski – Puberty 2

Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.

Big Thief – Masterpiece

One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.

Swim Team – Swim Team

One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.

Greys – Outer Heaven

2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly  push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heaven was their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.

Hovvdy – Taster

A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

Tancred – Out of the Garden
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh Boland – Spilt Milk
Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts
Eluvium – False Readings On
Told Slant – Going By
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Jean-Michael Blais – II
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Other honorable mentions:

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing | Yucky Duster – Yucky Duster | Vanity – Don’t Be Shy | Kane Strang – Blue Cheese | Steve Adamyk Band – Graceland | Lydia Loveless – Real | Touché Amoré – Stage Four | Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math | Jeff – Rosenstock – WORRY. | Lucy Dacus – No Burden | Summer Cannibals – Full Of ItNopes – Never Heard Of It | Florist – The Birds Outside Sang | Susan – Never Enough | Abi Reimold – Wriggling | Mal Devisa – Kiid | Julianna Barwick – Will | Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone | Big Ups – Before A Million Universes | Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold | Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp | AJJ – The Bible 2 | Angel Olsen – My Woman | Drive-By Truckers – American Band | Charles Bradley – Changes

What A Difference A Month Makes (Music Videos)

In the past month, a lot’s happened on both sides of the coverage spectrum. A lot of sets were documented in that time and will be receiving some attention at some point down the line. A lot of full streams came out, even more songs were released, and quite a few music videos found their way out into the world as well. All three of those formats will have a list dedicated to them and then a slew of individual features will be posted celebrating a handful of exceptional titles. Below is a list of formidable music videos that made a powerful impression over the course of the last month. Take a breath, dive in, and go exploring. 

Mo Troper, Lion’s Den, Tiny Deaths, Tim Heidecker, Weaves, Amber Arcades, Night Idea, Steve Gunn, Littler, Bambara, Braids, Prism Tats, No Parents, Those Pretty Wrongs, Stan Simon & The Hotel Bible, Neil Michael Hagerty & The Howling HexRJD2, Crosss, James Supercave, Eric Bachmann, Tacocat, Julianna Barwick, Acapulco Lips, Conrad Keely, Programm, Lontalius, Clique, Martha, Wilder Adkins, The Spook School, Rozwell Kid, The Loom, Oscar, Bishop Briggs, Angel Du$t, Patience, Band of Horses, The fin., The Raveonettes, Secret Space, Pure Bathing Culture, Howardian, and GOAT.

Modern Baseball, Holy Fuck, Sturgill Simpson, Butch BastardMinor Victories, The Slovaks, The Coathangers, OMNI, Stove, Sløtface, Franky Flowers, Slim Twig, Kino Kimino, D Generation, Pony Time (ft. Lisa Prank), Beverly, Living Hour, Former Belle, Tancred, Mutts, Pet Sun, Teen Suicide, Krano, Your Friend, Dear Boy, The Stargazer Lilies, The Kills, The Loom, Aesop Rock, Cellar Doors, Xiu Xiu, Globelamp, TV Sets, and Eleanor Friedberger, and a surprisingly outstanding fan-shot video for Mike Krol’s “Less Than Together” (one of this site’s picks for Best Songs of 2015) as well as the trailer for Casket Girls’ The Night Machines.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Stream)

parquetcourts

A large handful of great songs have emerged since the turn of April and it’d be a complete disservice to their innumerable strengths to not allow them a mention. As previously stated, these songs will be evenly distributed across all of today’s fixed stream posts. Before putting the latest single from Parquet Courts under the microscope, take a moment to grant the links that are about to follow some attention because they contain great new material from Kalispell, Gingerlys, Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke, Holy Now, Sales, Plastic Flowers, Blessed, Julianna Barwick,  and Julien Baker. Now, onto Parquet Courts.

Over the past few years, Parquet Courts have built their entire reputation on a very particular — and very divisive — sound. The quartet cranks out detached-sounding post-punk at an impressive clip and, somehow, they find a way to imbue each release with a staggering influx of life. It’s one of the more fascinating dichotomies happening on the DIY-leaning circuit right now and as the band’s grown, the disparity between what sounds like apathy and what (admittedly unexpectedly) translates to invigorating energy has only grown further apart. “Human Performance”, the title track from the band’s latest record, is the current apex of this dynamic.

A few members of Parquet Courts had previously hit a similar apex with their finest work as Teenage Cool Kids, a small portion of which was understandably revived for Parquet Courts’ (or, Parkay Quarts’) ouevre. “Human Performance” doesn’t just recall those Teenage Cool Kids peaks, it surpasses them with a bracing surge of confidence from a band that’s mostly come to be known for sounding categorically disinterested in just about everything. For the first time in a long time, Parquet Courts sound actively invested in a narrative on an emotional level, injecting the song with a melancholic touch that suits them astonishingly well.

Tellingly, the band hasn’t just turned in their most impressive musical composition to date, they’ve included what is — far and away — the best lyric set of their still-growing career.  On a purely narrative level, “Human Performance” is relentlessly bleak and tragically poetic. The opening half of chorus alone, comprised of the lines “Witness and know/fracture and hurt/eyes in the fire/blink unrehearsed”, suggests that the band went all in on this one. In prose, tragedy can grow in scope when it grows more acute — especially when done well — simply because of its immediately relatable nature. “Human Performance” not only succeeds on that level but grows even more resonant by exposing Parquet Courts’ surprisingly fragile humanity.

Easily one of 2016’s most unexpectedly brilliant songs, “Human Performance” is also a gigantic stride forward in Parquet Courts’ continuing evolution. From the bold choices that are inserted into the song when they’re least expected (the flute solo being the most obvious example) to the endearing bravery required to be that vulnerable on a very public level, “Human Performance” could very well prove to be a watershed moment for the band’s artistic direction. If it doesn’t usher in a new era for Parquet Courts, at least they’ll have left us this miniature masterpiece.

Listen to “Human Performance” below and order the LP from Rough Trade here.

March 2016: The Music Videos

PWR BTTM I

While January and February certainly had their fair share of great music videos, March saw an influx of truly great clips find their way out into the world. From Johanna Warren‘s extraordinary “Great Lake” (which I was fortunate enough to premiere over at Consequence of Sound) to a new, patently excellent, video from PUP, the format’s found its stride. Apart from the music videos, there was an outstanding Vaadat Charigim mini-documentary chronicling their first US tour.

Since there were so many clips — and since so many were so exceptional — they’ll be split into two categories below. At the very bottom of the page will be the honorable mentions category and above that will be a slew of videos that have positioned themselves to be early year-end contenders. Since “Great Lake” was already mentioned above, it won’t be below. Similarly, since Yours Are the Only Ears’ aching, gorgeous video for “Low” is the only non-YouTube entry, it will simply be listed in this paragraph (but rest assured, it’s more than worth your time). For the sake of convenience, 31 music videos are featured- one for each day in March.

Watch some of the finest clips of a young 2016 via the embed (with an accompanying tracklist tucked underneath) and explore the laundry list of exceptional titles in the honorable mentions category below the player. Enjoy.

1. PWR BTTM – West Texas
2. Dilly Dally – Snakehead
3. Palehound – Molly
4. Foul Tip – Drifting
5. Greys – Blown Out
6. Big Ups – National Parks
7. PUP – If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will
8. The Crookes – The World Is Waiting
9. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing
10. Alex G – Mud
11. Free Cake For Every Creature – Talking Quietly of Anything With You
12. Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore
13. El Perro Del Mar – In the Woods
14. Kevin Morby – Dorothy
15. Abi Reimold – Mask
16. Daughter – How
17. Eluvium – Life Through Bombardment Vol. 2
18. Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
19. Nancy Pants – I’ve Got A Crush On You And Everybody Knows It 
20. Outer Spaces – I Saw You
21. Eleanor Friedberger – Never Is A Long Time
22. PJ Harvey – The Community of Hope
23. Sunflower Bean – Easier Said
24. James Edge and the Mindstep – On A Red Horse
25. Furnsss – Slow Dark Water
26. The Lemons – Ice Cream Shop
27. Quilt – Roller
28. Marissa Nadler – All the Colors of the Dark
29. PAWS – No Grace
30. Savages – Adore
31. Hayden Calnin – Cut Love

Honorable Mentions

Kino Kimino – Passion | Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales | NOTHING – Eaten by Worms | The Mynabirds – Velveteen | Miya Folick – Oceans | Laura Carbone – Swans | Wilder Adkins – Our Love Is A Garden | Head Wound City – Scraper | Fear of Men – Island | Thin Lips – Never AgainSioux Falls – Dom | La Sera – I Need An Angel | Tim Heidecker – In Glendale | DTCV – Capital Ennui | José González – With the Ink of a Ghost | B Boys – Get A Grip | Trevor Sensor – Pacing the Cage

Teen Suicide – The Big Joyous Celebration | Ladada – Old Wave | Dam Gila – The Undertow | Brodka – Horses | Ashley Shadow – Tonight | Hurry – Nothing to Say | Mumblr – Super! | Long Beard – Porch | We Are Scientists – Buckle | Steve Gunn – Conditions Wild | My Bubba – Charm | Amber Arcades – Right Now | Kwesi Foraes – Devils Child | Saul Williams – Down For Some Ignorance | NOTHING – Vertigo Flowers | The Amazons – Stay With Me | Holy Pinto – Hospital Room | Whitney – Golden Days | Luke Top – Chariot

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Gamma Knife | Eskimeaux – Drunk | Andy Shauf – The Magician | Innerspace Orchestra – One Way Glass | Crows – Whisper | Deep Sea Diver – See These Eyes | The Hunt – Hawk | Jerkagram – Cloud Builder | Julianna Barwick – Nebula | The Dirty Nil – Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü | Sarah Neufeld – We’ve Got A Lot | Cat’s Eyes – Drag | Zones – Tides | The Drones – Taman Shud | Andy Stott – ButterfliesThe Lemons – Shark BaitGrey Waves – Remember Me | Wood Lake – Hollow | Black Mountain – Florian Saucer Attack | Fleabite – Missing Everyone | Haelos – Separate Lives | Nada Surf – Rushing | PAWS – No Grace