Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Junun

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories

smps3

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++

Montana & the Marvelles Play In Secret

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

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

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

Charly Bliss I

Charly Bliss Makes A Formal Introduction at Northside

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

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

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

Jason Isbell Pulls the Sun Down at Prospect Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doomsday” Lives Up To Its Name at Pier 84

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

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

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

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

Johanna Warren V

Johanna Warren Serenades the Skyline

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

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

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

PWR BTTM Hands Out Ugly Cherries

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Krol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Night Out With Nina Corcoran and Paul Thomas Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dilly Dally

Dilly Dally Steals CMJ (With An Unexpected Assist)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith Graves Tears Up at the Honor Press Showcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krill’s Story Comes Full Circle at DBTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krill is dead; long live Krill; Krill forever.   

Putting Together A Year’s Worth of Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Steven Spoerl

15 of ’15: The Best Scenes of 2015

wg
Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

[Warning: Some light spoilers will be found in the following descriptions. Proceed with caution.

Over the course of the past year, there have been several hints dropped towards an expansion in regards to this site’s film coverage. While the coverage so far has primarily leaned towards music-related releases, those pieces haven’t touched the scope or breadth of the coverage to come. Thus far, I’ve seen approximately 150 films to find release in 2015 either through a theatrical run or a festival screening. While there are still key titles missing from that equation (Son of SaulMustangChi-Raq, etc.), the majority of the major awards players have been accounted for as well as most of the smaller titles to find critical acclaim. So, while this list- like any- can’t be viewed as definitive, it can certainly still be representative. Even with those restrictions, there are still a lot of corners of the film world to cover. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Scenes of 2015.

15. Heaven Knows What Proves Its Love

In what will surely go down as one of 2015’s most harrowing opening sequences, Arielle Holmes desperately pleads with the object of her affection to accept an apology at the onset of Heaven Knows What. After several failed attempts to get his attention, Holmes (who stars in the film, which was based on her memoir) is told outright “If you love me, you would have killed yourself by now”, as she clutches a convenient store razor and holds it against her wrist. The tension is shot through- if only for a fleeting second- with one decisive action that sets the template for what’s to come.

14. 45 Years Finds Ivory Solace

Two scenes from 45 Years, Andrew Haigh’s elegiac study of a fractured relationship, have been receiving the bulk of the mentions in these lists. While those scenes (one involving a projection reel and another involving a climactic dance that sees Charlotte Rampling top her astonishing performance off with one final, devastating flourish) are deeply impressive setpieces that deserve attention. However, there’s one small but key moment that comes deep into the film that wasn’t originally scripted. During a break in filming, Rampling sat down at a piano that was included as an interior prop for the house where the majority of the film is shot and began playing a melancholic piece that caught Haigh’s ear. The performance is improvised and adds another layer of depth to one of the year’s most fully-realized characters.

13. Dope Shows Its Steel

One of 2015’s most energetic films was also one of its most publicized breakout successes from the independent sphere. Dope isn’t without its flaws but it’s still a massively entertaining film with a timely, pointed message. Featuring a startling lead turn from Shameik Moore, it touches on a variety of hot-button topics with a wild fervor but tends to hit hardest in its more implicit moments. In what may very well be the film’s most dramatic moment, Moore’s character turns to a drastic measure to secure his safety after being blindsided by a local gang and takes everyone (including himself) aback. It’s a jarring look at how easy it is to turn to violence as an outlet in a pattern that feels disconcertingly systemic rather than as a result of circumstance.

12. Carol‘s Last Look

Todd Haynes’ latest, an empathetic examination of a lesbian relationship in the 1950’s, has been hailed almost universally as a masterpiece. Firmly re-establishing Haynes’ position as one of cinema’s leading auteurs, Carol also boasts two bona fide masterclass performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. While the whole affair, even in its ugliest moments, is exceedingly elegant, it’s the film’s final moments that land most emphatically. Bringing the story full-circle, Blanchett’s Carol and Mara’s Therese exchange a glance- nearly identical to the one that began their relationship at the start film- only this time, the roles are reversed. Therese initiates the contact and- potentially- accepts an invitation much more substantial than the one Carol had extended in the film’s opening moments.

11. A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence‘s Cruelest Instrument

The third and final installment of Roy Andersson’s Living trilogy, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, proved to be a divisive title among most viewers. Even those accustomed to Andersson’s bone-dry sensibilities seemed to be split over the film’s merit but nearly everyone that managed to see his latest agreed on one thing: it contained the most unforgettable sequence the director’s ever produced. One of the only times Andersson opts for multiple POV angles occurs late in the film as a small string of relatively nondescript, elderly upper class denizens file out of a building and calmly watch a gigantic brass instrument that slowly rotates over a fire- an instrument that contains a line of slaves who had just been marched into the container. All at once, it’s a haunting look at the worst impulses of humanity and a vicious condemnation of the ideals that constitute social and racial divides.

10. Junun Takes Flight

One of 2015’s most unexpected delights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful Junun, a short-form documentary that incorporated a guerilla filmmaking approach. In capturing the sessions Jonny Greenwood and Shye Ben Tzur hosted in Rajasthan, India, Anderson managed to document a small bounty of spellbinding moments. At its best, Junun manages to find a way to seamlessly combine some of those moments into scenes that are elevated to sublime realms. One of those moments arrives around the film’s halfway point, which splices in gorgeous aerial shots from one of the drone-mounted cameras surveying a frenzied bird feeding process and a spirited performance from Junun‘s key players that allows Greenwood’s guitar work to take a more central role. The sequence marks Junun‘s most definitive moment; conventions are eschewed while there’s an aesthetic artistry that’s conjured up in the marriage of the film’s distinctive live score and its ravishing visuals.

9. The Revenant‘s Grizzly Attack

At this point, it might be fair to say that the bear attack sequence that sets The Revenant‘s plot into motion is the most ubiquitous scene of 2015. After the ridiculous bear rape allegation was put to rest, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s most infamous setpiece was both afforded and allowed a great deal of further scrutiny. A meticulous construction of epic proportions (does Iñárritu work in any other model?), the sequence expertly balanced the naturalism that provides The Revenant with its magisterial approach and the CGI elements that transform it into something otherworldly. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a gutsy, committed performance as the film’s protagonist, with this- its showiest moment- operating as its beating but bloodied heart. The attack also sets the tone for the film’s ensuing stretches, where the bleak only becomes bleaker as DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass rallies time and time again to continue to barely cling on to survival.
 
8. Creed Shadowboxes With Ghosts

Yes, Creed‘s tracking shot in the film’s second staged fight (and the first professional fight for the titular character) is one for the books and, yes, the film lands several more knockout blows in various scenes. However, the film’s most direct moment is defined by its thoughtful subtlety. Early on in the film, Ryan Coogler focuses on Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed as he brings up the fight where his father takes on Rocky Balboa. Before long, the young Creed is swept up in the desire to become a part of the fight and starts mimicking the action happening on screen. While he takes the position of his father, he imitates Rocky’s patterns and movements, which played a role in cementing Creed‘s status as the 2015 film that embraced its legacy while opening an intriguing new chapter most successfully.

7. Beasts of No Nation‘s Grave Realization

Netflix’s first original film had a lot of expectations going into its unveiling and when it was finally released, it may have exceeded those expectations. Bold, provocative, and deeply unsettling, Cary Fukunaga’s tale of a child soldier, Beasts of No Nation, paints a hyper-violent portrait in vivid, arresting colors. While Idris Elba gives a towering, career-best performance as a militia commandant, the film draws a fair amount of power from an astonishing turn by Abraham Attah, who plays the film’s central character, Agu, with gravitas and grace. Both Attah and the film hit a high point in a climactic moment of obscene depravity where Agu, realizing the gravity of the actions taking place around him, suddenly finds his sense of morality and restores some of the humanity he’d lost in the process. As he starts putting an end to the unnecessary suffering of others, he begins to chart a new path for himself and work towards redemption.

6. Room‘s Return

In the 2014 edition of this site’s annual A Year’s Worth of Memories series, I closed the last chapter with a simple “I love you all” and the final scene from Lenny Abrahamson’s offbeat gem Frank. Abrahamson returned this year with a dazzling effort that earned Oscar nominations for its lead (the always-spectacular Brie Larson), its direction, its adapted screenplay, and a nod for best feature. While the scene that’s been earning Room the most notices is a tremendous piece of filmmaking that accurately captures a child’s wonder. While that sequence is admittedly dazzling, the sequence that comes at the film’s end where the film’s protagonists return to the titular room that once served as their prison. In that return, Jack (played masterfully by Jacob Tremblay) and Ma (Larson) view its ruins with differing perspectives. The youngest remembers it fondly, surveying a once-familiar landscape with a warm curiosity, while Ma makes peace with the most tragic time of her life and turns towards the future after whispering the film’s final two words.

5. Sicario Crosses the Border

Sicario, Dennis Villeneuve’s white-knuckle look at the wars being waged on and beyond our borders, certainly isn’t lacking in heart-pounding suspense. From the opening scene- where the walls are literally filled with relatively fresh corpses- to the final standoffs, not a moment passes that feels anything less than electric. While all of them are effective, none of them compare to the traffic jam sequence as the film’s protagonist, Kate (an excellent Emily Blunt, who’s quickly becoming this generation’s finest action star), is immediately submerged in what her new position will entail. Already suspicious that what she’s doing isn’t technically legal, Kate’s pushed to a near breaking point when the team she’s paired with engages in a shootout with a cartel as they’re stuck in gridlock. Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins (who just earned his 13th nomination) shift back and forth from Kate’s shaky, uncertain point of view (which favors verite presentation) and the more assured stance of Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver. Meticulously constructed and flawlessly executed, it easily ranks as one of this decade’s finest examples of escalating tension.

4. White God‘s Final Bow

No film in 2015 benefited more from a remarkable animal performance than the vicious Hungarian drama White God, which chronicled the harrowing journey of one dog who’s forcibly removed from the care of Lili (an astounding Zsófia Psotta), a young girl whose only comfort rests in her dog (Hagen) and her music. After Hagen’s set to the streets by Lili’s father in accordance with the laws of the country, the dog goes through a brutal journey that includes a long stint at the hands of an abusive owner who injects Hagen- as well as several others- with drugs to prepare them for bouts of dog fighting. All the while, Lili continues a search to bring Hagen back home and make some reparations to a life that feels half-empty following Hagen’s removal. Before long, the dogs begin to revolt against their persecutors and form an unlikely union in an attempt to carry out their revenge. While Kornél Mundruczó’s film mostly deals in metaphor, it subverts its approach in its final climactic moments that bring several key elements into play before underscoring the empathy that gave White God glimmers of hope, even at its most wrenching. Its that final, unforgettable confrontation that provides the film its most striking visuals and its finest moment. 

3. Tu Dors Nicole‘s Sibling Bonding

While the familial bond that connects the protagonist to her brother- who are sharing their parents’ house while his band uses it as a studio to record their new album- only serves as one of Tu Dors Nicole‘s (admittedly crucial) undercurrents it also provides the setting for its loveliest moment. Late in the film, tensions are running high as brother and sister alike are both going through partnerships that are gradually dissolving. After toeing the line of a flirtatious relationship with her brother’s new drummer, Nicole (a wonderful Julianne Côté) finds that her brother’s domineering tendencies and need for control have forced him out of the band. Nicole, feeling low and already reeling from the sudden dissolution of both an important friendship and plans for the future, sees her brother playing guitar by himself, lost in his own train of thought. Wordlessly and without warning, Nicole approaches the empty drum kit he’s seated by and starts in on a rudimentary pattern that begins to elevate her brother’s melancholic guitar work. Before long, the two of them are operating in near-perfect harmony. As they play, it becomes clear that both are channeling their troubles and their frustrations into their playing, temporarily skirting their issues to simply set aside their fundamental differences and share a moment together.

2. Phoenix Speaks Low

If one were to compile an aggregate of these lists, the final scene of Phoenix would likely stand as a near-unanimous selection for the best scene of 2015- and for good reason. Nina Hoss delivers a tour de force performance as a holocaust survivor who enters into a game of cat-and-mouse with the man that believes the woman he once married has been long dead. In a desperate ploy to secure some of her estate, he enlists the help of a new arrival (Hoss), who- unbeknownst to him- was the woman he married. Nearly unrecognizable due to reconstructive surgery following her time at the camp, Hoss’ Nelly Lenz leads the man she was once married to down a path fraught with duplicity as he attempts to secure the finances his former wife had built in her time as a singer. As the divide separating fantasy from reality begins to gradually thin, it finally hits a point of no return in the jaw-dropping final scene that manages to incorporate the majority of Phoenix‘s recurring motifs into a sequence that also functions as an extraordinarily effective epilogue. It’s the ultimate reveal and the way its performed and presented instantaneously renders it iconic. All of the anxiety, all of the tension, all of the desire, all of the doubt manifests tenfold as Hoss gradually falls into a spirited rendition of “Speak Low” that leaves the audience in a stunned silence.

1. Anomalisa‘s Most Revealing Moment

Leave it to Charlie Kaufman to craft one of the year’s most intimate films using nothing but stop motion ball-and-socket armatures. A lot has been made over Anomalisa‘s incredibly moving sex scene and its portrayal of what is, more often than not, an awkward process despite all of its inherent beauty. Its easily one of the most memorable scenes of 2015 but what makes it work so effectively isn’t its length or attention to detail- it’s the immediate lead-up. At this point, Kaufman’s ably established himself as one of this generation’s greatest humanists, imbuing even the darkest corners of his work with an empathetic tenderness that can make the smallest moments come across as emotionally overwhelming. An extraordinary study of loneliness, depression, and a character confronting both on an exceedingly deep level, Anomalisa spins a series of grace notes when it gives its protagonist Michael Stone (superbly voiced by David Thewlis) someone to play off of in Lisa Hesselman (a marvelous Jennifer Jason Leigh and the only other character in the film not to be voiced by Tom Noonan).

What begins as a frantic quest to find that stray, magical voice leads to a modest drinking session that quickly turns to a nightcap between the film’s two most distinctive characters. Before they climb into bed together, though, both show their capacity for affection and vulnerability, forming an intense bond over the notion they’re both intensely out of place in the world they inhabit. Before long, Leigh’s Lisa is opening up about the scar on her face that she covers with her bangs (which is kissed later on in a moment of genuine kindness) and Thewlis’ Stone is gently coaxing her into a heartbreaking rendition of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (an unexpected but welcome staple of 2015) just so he can more clearly hear the music in her voice. Their entire exchange in the hotel room is warm, devastating, and unflinchingly human. It’s also a notch above perfect.

Honorable Mentions: An Italian Dinner in Brooklyn Tangerine‘s Ultimate Exchange | Steve Jobs Stops Pretending | The Martian‘s Starman | Kingsman: The Secret Service Takes Flight | Inside Out‘s Imaginary Friend Recedes in the Distance | It Follows Explains the Rules | Mistress America‘s Empathetic Invitation | Queen of Earth Tracks Dueling Expressions | Amy‘s Unexpected Victory | Ex Machina Tears Up the Floor | Straight Outta Compton Defies Authority | Cop Car‘s First Joyride | Slow West Makes Its Bed and Takes Aim | Güeros Dines Together | The Duke of Burgundy Finds Compromise | James White Visits Paris | The Curtains Close on Me and Earl and The Dying Girl Sleeping With Other People Dances Its Heart Out | Wild Tales Embraces Matrimony’s Inherent Insanity | Call Me Lucky Goes on the Offensive in a Court of Law | People Places Things Goes Camping | Spotlight Realizes Its Mistake | The End of the Tour‘s Epilogue | Breathe Runs Out of Breath

Junun (Film Review)

junun

Over the course of the past year, there have been several hints dropped that this site would begin to integrate more film coverage into it’s regular day-to-day presentation of current releases in music. While film coverage will see an expanded role in the coming months, a music-oriented film premiere seemed to be the perfect place to set that slight change into motion. So, thanks to a generous offer from the excessively talented Nina Corcoran, I collected myself and dove into the heart of the New York Film Festival for the premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Junun.

In the film world’s equivalent of a surprise release, many were taken aback when the project was unveiled a few months ago. For a director that previously averaged roughly four years between feature projects, the two year turnaround from The Master to Inherent Vice was deeply impressive. In tacking a third film onto that production rate just a year later, the director was nearing the realm of the miraculous. However, while Junjun‘s certainly bold, it’s very nature eschews the majority of what comprises Anderson’s fictional narratives- including an actual narrative.

The film itself runs for 54 minutes, in which Anderson presents a loving document of the recording sessions for a collaborative album featuring the considerable talents of Jonny Greenwood (the Radiohead guitarist and Anderson’s recently established go-to choice for score work) and noted Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur. The duo travels to Rajasthan, India and pairs with a formidable collective of musicians who have dubbed themselves the Rajasthan Express.

Viewers are offered very little in the way of context or introduction (apart from a scene-setting title card), as the film immediately dives into a long, unedited take of the musicians committing sounds to record. Filmed from the center of the circle the musicians form, the camera continuously, deliberately swivels and occasionally falters in its motions, betraying the film’s limited resources (the film’s extremely small crew ran into customs issues with the equipment) while adding a surprising amount of depth and character.

After that initial sequence establishes the film’s tone, the ensuing footage offers up a snapshot of a process that serves as a (possibly unwitting) vessel for some much larger thematic subtext, most importantly the seamless merging of vastly different cultures. Junun takes great care in allowing this element of the film to thrive, occasionally offering vibrant (and fairly brief) asides that touch on the musicians’ daily struggles outside of their makeshift Mehrangarh Fort studio; “No shower. No toilet. Full power.” becomes one of the film’s most memorable rallying cries.

In weaving in and out of the studio, Anderson’s able to provide a palpable sense of place that heightens the organic feel of the recording process, which is sidetracked multiple times by a shortage of electricity (a recurring difficulty that provides Junun with some of its most human- and humorous- moments). It also provides a slight contextual illustration of the larger environment that housed the recording, an element that manifests in the music- which is strong enough to spark a near-religious experience. All of those thematic undercurrents collide in the film’s standout sequence, which makes expert use of Nigel Godrich’s drone and produces some startling aerial footage of rooftop bird-feeding, all while a memorably serene, guitar-driven piece elevates the film’s most atmospheric moment.

Several times throughout the course of Junjun, the compositions are framed in a way that manages to both be technically refined and relatively unobtrusive, relegating both filmmaker and viewer to what essentially amounts to an awed bystander. It’s an effect that’s utilized to maximum potential in the scenes where Anderson (or the select few other DP’s) are separated into exterior/interior positions, allowing for a fuller scope of the proceedings. In that separation, Anderson manages to find yet another complementary angle that effectively renders him another part of the artistic equation.

By the time the film’s wrapped, all of the key players have been granted their long-awaited introductions in closing slides and– true to the film– none of them were given a more significant slot than any of their collaborators. In underscoring the film’s thesis sequence, once again providing a setting where everyone’s on equal footing, Junun injected its closure with both gravity and elegance, allowing Anderson a full capitalization on an admirable statement.

After the film’s screening, Anderson sat down with Kent Jones– the director of the festival– and shared a deep appreciation for the 1960 classic Jazz On A Summer’s Day, a film which similarly eschewed traditional narrative in favor of an approach more suited to a diarist. In sharing anecdotes about the film’s process and on-the-fly evolution, Anderson was able to paint a compelling portrait of a project characterized by determination and a DIY ethos- which tends to be the art that’s most worthy of praise.

Watch a 2014 performance of “Alchemy” below and catch the film on MUBI, where it will be premiering online at 3 AM EST.