Only a few days into April (and a few posts away from resuming regular daily updates), it seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the outstanding tracks, clips, and records March had to offer. Since the first week of March was largely covered by the last big recap, the focus here is on the material to find release in the month’s subsequent three weeks. An incredible round of songs, some sterling music videos, and a few standout records managed to make their mark. Below is a compilation of items worth hearing and seeing, so don’t miss a beat and save this tab to explore to your heart’s content.
Arriving fashionably late, the Heartbreaking Bravery year-end lists kick off in earnest with a celebration of the visual medium. There were incredibly strong visual efforts put forward by the people that could afford to have lavish budgets for just about any facet of their creative output (with Kendrick Lamar havinganespeciallyfruitfulyear) but this space wasn’t designed to celebrate those artists. Instead, the 17 selections featured below represent some of the finest works that flew by at a quieter pace, whether they came from storied veterans or exciting upstarts.
The format established last year will continue on this year, with one (or several) item designated the top spot and the remaining selections featured with no discernible ranking. Both the songs and albums list will follow this format as well. So, dive in, pick your poison, and try to guide yourself to a fate no worse than spending an hour or more playing the world’s most audacious interactive music video. Here are the 17 best music videos of 2017.
Hazel English – Fix
Throughout Hazel English‘s first few releases, the songwriter’s proved adept at crafting memorably beautiful clips and “Fix” stands proudly as English’s current best. A romantic, softly-lit tone poem “Fix” consists of little more than two people at an undefined stage in their relationship traversing some beautiful scenery together. Superbly directed and masterfully edited, “Fix” carries a subtle emotional resonance that propels it from being simply good to something masterful.
Jay Som – The Bus Song
The artist responsible for last year’s Song of the Year returned to set 2017 on fire, breaking out in momentous fashion. The highlight of Jay Som‘s ascent came by way of this House of Nod-produced (and Michelle Zauner-directed) clip for “The Bus Song”. A joyous celebration of music, friendship, and the intertwining link between the two, “The Bus Song” is teeming with affection, wearing its heartfelt sincerity not on its sleeve but as a badge of honor, displayed proudly on its chest.
Zebra Katz – Blk & Wht
One of the most haunting clips to come out of this decade, Zebra Katz‘s “Blk & Wht” is a harrowing recreation of the experiences its actors endured as refugees attempting to clear border security. As grim and stark as the song itself, “Blk & Wht” takes on a nightmarish sheen of realism that’s fully elevated thanks to the people involved in the project. It’s hypnotic, it’s terrifying, it’s unbelievably well-executed and transcends the form of music video and tips towards effective activism (something that’s incredibly hard to do without coming across as ham-fisted or cloying) by proving immensely hard to shake.
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Directing Jay Som’s “The Bus Song” wasn’t the only impressive feat Michelle Zauner completed this year. Zauner also collaborated with House of Nod again for this meditative clip tinged with tragedy for her own project, Japanese Breakfast. Beautifully combining archival footage from her past with the present state of being, “The Body Is A Blade” paints a complex and deeply human portrait. Empathetic, poetic, and laced with an abundance of warmth (in tonality, coloration, and emotion), “The Body Is A Blade” immediately stood out as one of the year’s best upon release and looks even stronger today.
PUP – Old Wounds
It’s not often that this site prints obscenities but “Old Wounds” warrants the following: Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux is a fucking maniac. The director’s been instrumental in guiding PUP to claiming Music Video of the Year honors for 3 of the past 5 years and — with this entry included — has been included in the “Best Of” lists for the other two. Even with that track record, it would have been difficult to predict Schaulin-Rioux would go off the deep end to create a choose your own adventure video game masquerading as a music video in the form of 73 separate clips (many of them containing accessibly esoteric jokes from prominent music journalists) to form a cohesive whole for the shortest — and fiercest — song on the band’s triumphant sophomore effort The Dream Is Over. Click play and lose yourself to a rabbit hole that you’ll never want to leave. You’ve been warned.
Fog Lake – Rattlesnake
Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” was one of 2016’s most captivating songs and 2017 gifted it the kind of visual it so richly deserved. Lacking any sort of traditional narrative allowed for something far more thoughtful and moving, as the Forest Erwin-shot clip paid tribute to both environment and inhabitant in mesmerizing fashion. Tender, intuitive, and impalpable, “Rattlesnake” follows a filmic imprint that’s served auteurs like Terrence Malick and Shane Carruth well over their best works. That “Rattlesnake” would fit comfortably alongside their finest stretches is a minor miracle.
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
A bizarre satirization of televangelism, Open Mike Eagle‘s Sammus-featuring “Hymnal” stands out immediately. Comfortably drawing the viewers in from an easily-identifiable vantage point, “Hymnal” then proceeds to reveal itself as a meticulously-constructed and perfectly executed piece of oddball humor that falls more in line with Tim & Eric than just about any other clip that’s come out over the past few years. Boasting an incredible amount of specificity, “Hymnal” plays out like a fever dream that’s impossible to escape. Thankfully, for all of us, it’s wildly enjoyable and rewards investment tenfold.
Julia Louise – Brat
One of a handful of videos on this list that mark a perfect distillation and representation of the artist responsible, Julia Louise‘s “Brat” also acts as an engaging introduction-at-large. Both a minimalist portrait of Louise and a vehicle to convey the frustrations and realizations of “Brat”, the clip finds life via honesty. A series of small, everyday moments stitched together through some compelling photography and anchored by a winsome central performance, “Brat” is a clever, tongue-in-cheek testament to Louise’s already formidable talents.
Craig Finn – God In Chicago
Likely the biggest name on this list thanks to a position as the bandleader of The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has still found a way to slip through the cracks. Finn’s solo material, while exceptional, has gone largely unheralded. The spoken word, narrative-driven “God In Chicago” ranked as a career high before the video and the Kris Merc-directed clip elevated it even further on Finn’s considerably long list of achievements. A gorgeous illustration of a significant relationship doomed to slowly erode over time, every inch of “God In Chicago” should be felt in full by the millions of people who have lived that experience. It’s a miniature masterpiece.
Pissed Jeans – The Bar Is Low
2017 proved to be intensely difficult for a cavalcade of reasons so any time anyone married a similar intensity to nonsensical joy provided a welcome escape. Enter: Pissed Jean‘s “The Bar Is Low”. Easily the furthest the band has embraced their buried comedic leanings, the clip earns its place here by virtue of the commitment everyone lends their performance as underachieving-but-desperately-trying gym rats. The deadpan stares, the intimidating glances, the absolute absurdity, and the off-the-charts aggression combine for the year’s most memorably fun clip.
Anamon – Fast Car
While Pissed Jeans took the comedic escapism route, Anamon offered something a little more grounded: a hangout clip that was unwavering in its sincerity. Delivered with conviction, “Fast Car’ consists of nothing more than the band taking their dog on a day out to some open spots to relax and enjoy a beautiful day. The photography direction throughout “Fast Car” provides a sweeping sense of freedom that accompanies those exact trips. There are no stakes and any lingering fears wither in the presence of good company and picturesque scenery. Sometimes that’s all anyone needs and “Fast Car” captures that essential truth to perfection.
The Last Dinosaur – Atoms
Comprised of nothing but discarded Super 8 footage gleaned from storage units and yard sales, “Atoms” quietly establishes a sense of history through its visuals as the song fixates on the full implications of mortality. When a project’s intent is to convey the entirety of life, it’s not often that it can actually manage to achieve something that resembles a complete understanding but The Last Dinosaur have carved out their spot in today’s music by subverting and/or challenging expectations. “Atoms” is a moving reminder of their penchant for coaxing out things that are as empathetic as they are beautiful.
Protormartyr – A Private Understanding
Following a blueprint established and reinforced by some of cinema’s most antagonistic filmmakers, Protomartyr‘s clip for “A Private Understanding” manages to tap into the same type of sinister energy as its forebears. An inexplicably nerve-wracking sequence set at what appears to be either a meticulously designed retirement home or a grossly exquisite restaurant attempting to pass itself off as a “home experience”, “A Private Understanding” creates and mercilessly attacks that cognitive dissonance while employing film techniques popularized in Greek and Korean cinema. As hypnotic as it is baffling, “A Private Understanding” demands consideration long after its closing seconds.
Deep State – Heavy Lunch
Deep State‘s kinetic clip for its equally kinetic “Heavy Lunch” follows an exceptionally minimalist formula: one person dances their way across the screen to a song. It’s a trope that’s reached a point of over-saturation in recent years and seems to have lost some of its merit. However, when one so exceptionally joyful and energetic comes into focus, its myriad pleasures are impossible to deny and the Ethan Payne-directed “Heavy Lunch” finds an abundance of meaning in its gleeful sprint.
Palehound – If You Met Her
Crafting a clip for songs that register as immediate standouts for reasons of a clearly personal nature will always prove a challenge. When those challenges aren’t just met but diminished to the point of evaporation under the final product, that music video will likely stand the test of time as one of the greats. Palehound‘s “If You Met Her” — created by a group of teenagers attending Real to Reel Filmschool — finds itself in a position where it can already form a solid case for that type of longevity. While Kempner’s project allowed itself to be guided by the ghost of Heatmiser for the song itself, the video grapples with other spirits. The religious imagery, the sense of being stuck between haunting and being haunted, and the quiet, tragic desperation at the heart of both the song and the video render “If You Met Her” one of this decade’s finest efforts, on both counts.
Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Over the course of this site’s existence, Charly Bliss emerged as a coverage staple. 2017 was the first year that afforded the band a true reckoning and they responded in kind, dropping one of the year’s best records, touring relentlessly (both as a headliner and opening up for enormous names), and releasing a string of fun music videos. No clip the band’s released can hold a candle to what they managed to create for “Westermarck“, which strips away any perceivable artifice in favor of something that served as an effective antidote to 2017’s grim climate. Pure, unbridled joy drives “Westermarck” to stratospheric heights, contagious in its own effervescence and committed to its convictions. A perfect distillation of the band’s identity and something to point to as a symbol of hope for the future. “Westermarck” deserves to be held up as an example of how to effectively translate the giddiest of emotions for years to come.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:
IDLES – Mother
No video landed as hard, reflected the times as well, or demanded attention as well as the snarling behemoth that was IDLES‘ clip for “Mother”, a seething call to action against sexual predators and the conditions that allow a surprising percentage of them to be excused so easily. Not just one of the most hypnotic clips of this year but of this century, “Mother” contains little more than IDLES’ vocalist Joe Talbot smashing a table full of ceramics in front of a portrait of his deceased mother — whose ashes were slipped into the vinyl pressings of the band’s latest, -BRUTALISM — as he rails against an economically unjust system that essentially forces poverty onto the lower classes, heightening their exhaustion under the guise of production for the benefit of the upper class.
It’s a commanding performance and Talbot’s anger is palpable and barely containable as each individual piece gets smashed to bits as the camera lens nearly disintegrates under the weight of his piercing stare. Wearing an opened pink blazer and pink pants, the opening image of “Mother” is arresting enough but what carries it to the realms of being genuinely unforgettable is the clip’s closing moments where the song ends and the video continues in silence, Talbot making sure every last piece is hurtled towards a ground already covered in shards of plates, cups, and figurines.
When everything has suffered the brunt of Talbot’s wrath, he pauses, walks back to the poster of his mother hanging pointedly in the background, puts his hand to her lips and walks off camera. There is still smoke. There is still fire. And there, in that conclusion, as the anger lingers, is where “Mother” stakes its place as one of the great music videos of our time.
A lot has happened over the past month and the time to get this site back on track has nearly arrived. On a quick personal note: Heartbreaking Bravery is now based in Madison, WI and will likely expand on some forms of coverage — and feature selections — in the very near future. Before all of that can happen, it’s imperative that the events of the past month be taken into stock. We’re now arriving at a time where the AotY-caliber material descends like a waterfall and it can be overwhelming. To that end, this post will highlight all of the new songs, music videos, and records that made a sizable impression over the past month. A few more posts will follow but if anyone’s looking for a wide-ranging variety of outstanding new music, it’d be best to bookmark this page and spend hours clicking around. It’ll be worth the time.
Moving forward with tonight’s proceedings, the focus shifts from the best songs to have crossed this site’s path over the last three weeks to the music videos that have made that brief hiatus even more endurable. Directors whose works that have been tirelessly praised on these pages in the past are represented as are some of this year’s finest records. Lyric clips, meditative clips, experimental clips, animated clips, and just about everything in between populate this list and, as always, everything on display is worth several viewings. So stop reading this introduction, hit play, and give everything a good look.
Yucky Duster – The Ropes
One of the finest pop bands currently on the circuit, Yucky Duster have made one outstanding move after another and managed to continuously improve in the process. Never anything less than spirited, the band constantly provides reasons to remain optimistic about the future of music. In the clip for “The Ropes” they distill their identity into a singular animated clip and the colorful effect, characteristically, is enough to leave just about anyone wanting more of whatever the band decides to offer.
Deep State – Heavy Lunch
Thought Gardenhas occupied a status as one 2017’s most overlooked records since its release but the clip for “Heavy Lunch” gave it a recent push that helped a few people amend that disheartening oversight. Largely comprised of one man dancing through abandoned industrial complexes, “Heavy Lunch” serves as both a potent reminder of freedom and a subtle narrative about societal oppression. Much like the song (and record) itself, it’s as gripping as it is exhilarating. Hopefully Deep States‘ run is far from over.
Vagabon – Fear & Force
Vagabon‘s been enjoying an overdue — and richly deserved — breakout year thanks to the success of Infinite Worlds. “Fear & Force” was one of that release’s strongest highlights and the project recently provided the song a gorgeous visual treatment that play with the trope of partners arguing in small, effective ways. Avoiding all of the cliches that come with the narrative, “Fear & Force” makes its strongest break at the end, choosing to focus on the optimism that can occur in the aftermath of the worst arguments rather than the dread and despair it so frequently invokes before inevitably fading into regrettable memory.
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lyric videos are a dime a dozen these days so it’s especially difficult to craft one that can posit itself as a genuine standout. Single Mothers‘ clip for the especially raucous “People Are Pets” manages the feat with stylistic aplomb. Using text and imagery that plays into the song’s relentless urgency, “People Are Pets” finds clever methods to enhance its overall effect in surprisingly memorable fashion. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the song the clip’s supporting is an absolute monster. Hit play and keep those eyes wide.
Rozwell Kid – Wendy’s Trash Can
SideOneDummy‘s been putting a lot of thought into their music videos as of late, cultivating a snarky streak of tongue-in-cheek clips that are brimming with manic energy and joy. The latest in this run: Rozwell Kid‘s transition-heavy clip for their career highlight “Wendy’s Trash Can”. Originally released as a 10-hour loop, the label was also kind enough to offer up the condensed version. Watching it for the umpteenth time, it’s hard not to think that maybe they didn’t need to- “Wendy’s Trash Can” is infectious enough that most people will probably just keep hitting repeat anyway.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
Cayetana took a major stride forward with their most recent release, the astonishing New Kind of Normal. Everything they’ve released in conjecture with that record has inspired varying degrees of awe but the “Bus Ticket” clip may be the finest of the bunch. Perfectly encapsulating the internal struggles that inform the record’s overarching narrative about coping with mental health, the band’s wound up with a definitive release that shows off all of their colors, remaining empathetic at every turn. Despairing, defiant, overjoyed, resilient, content, struggling, or argumentative, all “Bus Ticket” offers in the end is understanding and acceptance.
Kevin Morby – City Music
Christopher Good has been putting together an unreal run as a director as of late and his frequent collaborator Tipper Newton, whose narration opens “City Music”, has been putting together an impressive streak of her own, ranging from the outstanding powerpop project Color TV to a small part in Love and a recurring role in The Mindy Project (not to mention starring in Good’s excellent short, Brad Cuts Loose). Kevin Morby’s been on a bit of a run himself, releasing yet another strong record shortly after a triumph last year in Singing Saw — which saw him team up with Good for the exceptional “Dorothy” clip, which stood as a career highlight for both parties — a record he may have topped with City Music.
The clip’s full of the hallmarks that have put both the director and the musician on the map, infusing traditionalism with a provocative forward-thinking bent that infuses the proceedings with an unpredictable liveliness that electrifies the whole affair. “City Music”, by the time it comes to its celebratory end, feels like a lived-in fever dream, offering both a reconciliatory warmth and something that feels just alien enough to remain intriguingly alien. An undoubtedly ambitious project that never entirely reveals its hand, “City Music” is one of the most fascinating and investment-worthy clips of 2017.
While this is, officially, an unofficial video, its also an unforgettable one. Chronicling the fight against Advanced Chronic Lyme’s Disease Monica Arbery — a sister of one of Pinegrove guitarist/vocalist Evan Stephen’s Hall’s friends — is currently waging, the video (directed by Arbery’s brother, Will) is a deeply human look at what it’s like to face down a debilitating disease.
In all of the laughter, all of the tears, all of the dancing, all of the resilience, and all of the strength present throughout “Size of the Moon”, the empathy driving this clip becomes readily apparent and, in turn, makes it an even more powerful document. Remarkable, compelling, and near impossible to shake, “Size of the Moon” gets at the heart of familial love in the face of struggle and makes its case with an abundance of conviction and feeling. Click play and then click over to the medical fund linked below to do something that will yield immediate productive good.
Watch “Size of the Moon” below, pick up Cardinal here, and donate to Monica Arbery’s medical fund here.
It’s been a while since anything’s run on this site but, as always, everything that’s being put on the table is being assessed and evaluated. A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ third edition is just around the corner but before those recollections begin, it only seems fair to take a look back at the best of what 2016 had to offer. This will be the first year where a numerical rankings system is abandoned, a decision that wasn’t made lightly but is being enforced for a variety of reasons specific to this over-stuffed year (meaning that the numerical rankings system may appear again roughly 12 months from now).
For whatever reason, music videos are largely viewed by the general public as having fallen out of favor, which is a genuine shame considering what’s being done with the form. Lemonade seemed to revive some interest and open up potential possibilities for the future but it’s still a format that the public’s left by the wayside. Here at Heartbreaking Bravery, the best of these have been traditionally celebrated because they represent the perfect marriage of music and film. 2016 presented a whole new slate of incredible material, headlined by an unbelievable string of videos from Minor Victories and PUP, that were worth praising.
Here are 16 of the best clips to have appeared throughout the year.
Kevin Morby – Dorothy
Christopher Good has directed a handful of videos that have been featured on this site over the years but may have turned in a career best with Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy“. Embracing Morby’s open road aesthetics, Good allows “Dorothy” to gracefully coast along at a breezy pace, infusing it with an inordinate amount of perfect cues and tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s sublime craftsmanship that not only complements but elevates its already-great source material.
Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator
After cracking last year’s music video list with the jaw-dropping clip for “Kim’s Caravan”, Courtney Barnett makes another appearance thanks to the fascinating, cameo-heavy video for “Elevator Operator“. Blending Barnett’s signature wit with a staggering moment of quiet existentialism that arrives out of nowhere, “Elevator Operator” sees the celebrated songwriter aiming for new heights and reaching a stratospheric level.
John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues
Former Weakerthans bandleader John K. Samson made an incredibly welcome return with 2016’s outstanding Winter Wheat. One of that record’s highlights, “Postdoc Blues“, received the music video treatment and is the rare clip that benefits from an incredibly direct and literal simplicity. Created for a good cause and executed to a characteristically unassuming brand of perfection, “Postdoc Blues” is a breath of fresh air.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
No music video from 2016 proved to be more grotesquely haunting than Parquet Courts‘ oddly disturbed, puppet-driven clip for “Human Performance“. It’s intensely human, ridiculously unnerving, and extremely hard to shake. “Human Performance” props up its own ugliness in an effectively defiant act of genuinely brave showmanship. A singular piece from a fascinating directorial voice, “Human Performance” wound up as one of 2016’s most fascinating moments.
Cymbals Eat Guitars – 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)
Easily one of 2016’s best songs, Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” also served as one of the year’s best music videos. Shot through with nostalgia and an abundance of feeling, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” managed the impossible task of both referencing an indisputable classic and standing on its own. A perfect marriage of lyric video and traditional music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars may have created something bordering on timeless.
LVL UP – The Closing Door
The first major music video effort from LVL UP came courtesy of House of Nod, who were given the unenviable task of capturing the searing spiritual search present all throughout the band’s latest effort, Return to Love, and turned in an absolute gem. “The Closing Door” relies heavily on imagery and metaphor but never seems anything less than grounded. “The Closing Door” climaxes in a beautiful final sequence that’s moving, hopeful, and reassuring, three things that become sorely necessary in a difficult year.
Potty Mouth – Smash Hit
There are a lot of ways a music video can achieve greatness, whether it be through breathtaking visuals, inspired direction, a memorable concept, by complementing the song, or, in the case of Potty Mouth‘s “Smash Hit“, being astonishingly representative of the band. An effective mix of glitz, glamour, and grit, “Smash Hit” finds the trio vamping for the cameras and giving a tenacious central performance. It’s an exhilarating burst from a band that’s attained an assured confidence.
Vagabon – The Embers
“The Embers” served as site favorites Vagabon‘s introduction-at-large for a sizable audience and it’s one hell of an introduction. Utilizing a visual style that’s not too distant from Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12(one of the best films of this young century), “The Embers” is immediately gripping. The empowering, symbolism-heavy narrative is as striking as the imagery and all of it clicks into something that verges on the transcendental. In short: it’s unmissable.
Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You
Another clip from the inimitable House of Nod, Japanese Breakfast‘s “Everybody Wants to Love You” popped up on many of these year-end music video lists and it’s incredibly easy to see why. A celebration of heritage and individuality as well as a moving tribute to a deceased parent, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is loaded with sincerity and meaning. Vibrant with the faintest touch of melancholy, it’s an unforgettable demonstration of personal strength and unerring resolve.
Dilly Dally – Snakehead
Likely the funniest music video to be released in 2016, Dilly Dally‘s “Snakehead” music video skewers its own format at every turn, while clearly being a meticulously crafted clip born out of a deep love and understanding of music videos. Biting captions, self-aware performances, and contextual knowledge make “Snakehead” obscenely endearing and skyrocket its worth in the process. Pointed, snarky, and a hell of a lot of fun, “Snakehead” is nothing less than a knockout.
PWR BTTM – West Texas
2016 was a very kind year for PWR BTTM and one of the duo’s opening shots was the sweeping music video for “West Texas”. Epic in scope and unapologetic in its cinematic debt, “West Texas” is a swaggering blast of bravado that touches on just about everything that’s made PWR BTTM so beloved in such a short amount of time. The identity politics, the showmanship, the willingness to be subversive, and the ability to string everything together with fiendishly sly, self-aware humor.
Hazel English – Never Going Home
Hazel English delivered one of the year’s best EP’s with the exceedingly lovely Never Going Home, which boasted a title track that received an absolutely gorgeous visual accompaniment. While the lyric video for “I’m Fine“, the studio clip for “It’s Not Real“, and the clip for “Control” all merited individual consideration for this list, it was the soft lensing and natural, delicate charm of “Never Going Home” that made the deepest impression. It casts a spell that’s worthy of a complete surrender.
Mitski – Happy
Part of a trio of impressive Mitski clips (including “Your Best American Girl” and “A Burning Hill“), “Happy” packed a powerful enough punch to secure the spot on this list. Paying homage to heritage, race relations, historical tension, military occupation, and a bevvy of classic films, Maegan Houang brings a fiery directorial touch to an outstanding concept and executes with staggering purpose. By the time “Happy” winds to an end, it’s difficult to wish for anything other than an expansion into a feature length film.
From the playful, game-happy lyric clip for “DVP” to the relentless shock-and-awe brutality of the terrifyingly-named “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“, the band was firing on all cylinders. Still, none of that could’ve been adequate preparation for what they and director Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux achieved with “Sleep in the Heat”, a successor to “Guilt Trip” that came several years after filming on “Guilt Trip” wrapped- and after “Guilt Trip” star Finn Wolfhard landed another lucrative starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Just as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” intercut footage of “Reservoir” to establish a sense of history to ground its narrative and supply additional meaning, “Sleep in the Heat” opens with the startlingly vivid footage of its natural predecessor. The actors that were assembled in “Guilt Trip” resume their posts as stand-in’s for PUP’s members in their earlier days and each of them — particularly Wolfhard, who turns in what’s easily the best work of his burgeoning career in this clip — give committed performances.
Taking on the role of a scrappy touring band, the young cast find themselves navigating the frequently dire circumstances that are all too familiar to anyone that’s ever hopped in a van to drive four hours to play a show in a basement to five people. There’s a sense of lived-in realism that bolsters everything in the clip, which seeps in from the onset and never relinquishes its hold. Early on, “Sleep in the Heat” takes a curious turn when a stray dog takes a shining to the band’s food and follows them to their next brief stop, endearing itself to the band to the point where they bring it on board as a rescue.
Here’s where the narrative crux of “Sleep in the Heat” — a song written about guitarist/vocalist Stefan Babcock’s deceased chameleon — begins to sink in and all anyone can do is prepare for devastation. Not too long after that sudden, sinking realization, things in the video begin to get bleak. The dog gets sick and needs a surgical procedure, unable to cover the expense, Wolfhard (as the young Babcock) pawns a guitar mid-tour to provide for the animal that’s quickly become a new best friend. The surgery goes forward but it isn’t enough.
In one of the most emotionally shattering music video montages of recent memory, the band members of PUP are photographed holding their own deceased pets, lending a heartbreaking reality to an already emotionally charged clip. Several stages of the process of dealing with death all collide at once and it’s a forceful, resonant moment that immediately registers as singular.
As brilliant as that moment is, it’s not until the final passage where everything’s really driven home. Wolfhard’s back to the front of the band, guitar slung across his body once more (a perfect shot revealing he’d broken through the pawn shop glass to steal it back is just one of many grace notes scattered throughout the clip), looking delirious, hollow, and broken as footage of the wounded dog being tended to is intercut with Wolfhard overcome with emotion while screaming the song’s final chorus: Yesterday I went back to my apartment to see how you’d been holding up, you hadn’t been eating, I thought you were sleeping but you’re not waking up. I want you to know that I’d spend every bit of my pitiful savings and loans just to see you again… but I know Iwon’t.
The screen fades to black and resumes after a brief pause only to reveal rocks being piled on top of a freshly-dug patch of dirt. The camera pulls back and reveals one word, spray painted on the rock pile’s surface: PUP. Another pause and another cut to black occurs before “Sleep in the Heat” offers one final nod to its prequel and closes with a shot of the van moving forward down an open road, looking ahead to new triumphs, heartbreak, and everything else life has to offer.
Over the past week and a half there was a vast arsenal of material that found release across all three major formats. All of the titles that made a sizable impression will be linked to below and all of them are well worth exploring. Over the next few days there will be a laundry list of individual items to find small features but that in no way should deter from the immense value of the songs listed below. If there was enough time to provide each and every one of these entries features of their own, a regular day would have to be well over 24 hours. As it stands, the best approach is to simply bookmark this page and peruse these selections at a preferred pace. Keep an eye out for more updates from this site very soon and enjoy the incredible offerings that are available below.
Typically Watch This installments run on Sunday but the 143rd installment was given a later slot for a specific reason. While the videos covered in this post will have been released, exclusively, in the time frame of last Monday to this past Sunday, this particular entry serves as somewhat of a gap-fill. The next post to run after this one will be the 1,000th that Heartbreaking Bravery has published and there will be a brief period of inactivity, only punctuated by the 143rd volume of Watch This.
1. Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math + Pins and Needles (World Cafe)
In the past few months Margaret Glaspy has managed to become a staple of this series thanks to both songwriting and the subdued but outsized personality that the songwriter exudes in every performance. Glaspy’s two-song set for World Cafe is particularly crisp, offering up two spellbinding runs through two of Emotions and Math‘s brightest moments: the quietly exhilarating title track and “Pins and Needles”. Don’t miss out on this one.
2. Long Neck – Rosy + 10,000 Year Old Woman (Boxfish Sessions)
For the past few years, Lily Mastridomos has been releasing mesmerizing music under the moniker Long Neck. Known primarily for Jawbreaker Reunion, Mastridomos’ solo project allows the emphasis to fall to uninhibited tales of heartache. In Mastridomos’ shattering entry to this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories, there was a courageously open emphasis on personal depression, something that informs both “Rosy” and “10,000 Year Old Woman” to heartbreaking effect in one of the finest Boxfish Sessions to date.
3. PUP – Doubts (q on cbc)
A lot has been written on this site about PUP, from their galvanizing live show to their self-titled debut (which has the distinction of being the first album review to run on Heartbreaking Bravery) to this year’s extraordinary The Dream Is Over, a record that earned them a Polaris Prize nomination. Here, the band stops by the q on cbc studio and unleashing holy hell with a fiercely committed take on “Doubts” that underscores the band’s terrifying level of conviction as well as their sheer force of will. It’s a characteristically exceptional performance and an outstanding document of a band that’s intent on pushing themselves to the absolute limit.
4. Tuxis Giant – Almost Enough (Boxfish Sessions)
The second Boxfish Session to be featured finds the spotlight falling to Tuxis Grant, an emerging songwriter who has a penchant for bleary-eyed folk that comes with a twinge of a punk-informed sensibility. “Almost Enough”, the song performed here, is a breathtaking example of Tuxis Giant’s considerable songwriting gifts, never becoming anything less than incredibly memorable. “Even when it isn’t hungry, it eats” is a refrain that sticks, perfectly complementing a compellingly singular introspective lens. If “Almost Enough” is any indication, Tuxis Giant will be a name worth learning.
5. Japanese Breakfast (PressureDrop.tv)
2016 has been a breakout year for Japanese Breakfast, the project of Michelle Zauner. Little Big League, Zauner’s other band, had a handful of entries throughout the existence of this series. Japanese Breakfast seems set on continuing that tradition with a remarkable amount of poise. While all of the songs the band runs through for this PressureDrop.tv session are consistently impressive, “Everybody Wants to Love You” stands out as a particularly inspired highlight. It’s the start of an exclamation mark on the band’s coming out party, creating room for both celebration of what’s come before and wild anticipation for what comes next.
While more than a handful of those were considered for this post’s featured spot, Strange Ranger secured the position by virtue of releasing an EP that contains a few of the finest songs to have been released all year. One of those, the record’s opening and title track, earned a healthy amount of recent praise. “Sunbeams Through Your Head” set an impressive, melancholic tone for its namesake which was released in full earlier today.
Following the haunted title track, Sunbeams Through Your Head could have gone a number of directions but chose to expand on its thesis statement. The EP’s second track, “Life Would Be Cooler”, is by far its longest and one of its most gripping. “Life Would Be Cooler” also turns out to be surprisingly economical in its narrative, painting a portrait of an intense (and intensely damaged) longing in less than 60 words, closing with a devastating plea that drives a staggering amount of genuine feeling home.
It’s an opening salvo that packs an emotional wallop but Strange Ranger stays on course for the next barrage of tracks, remaining unapologetic for their overwhelmingly weary nature and casting an atmospheric pall in the process. In a strange way, it’s almost moving, listening to the band support their most downtrodden tendencies with intuitively empathetic moments in the instrumental composition. “Dolph”, “Whatever You Say”, and especially the gorgeous, instrumental “Thru Your Head” all contain breathtaking moments of a deeply felt compassion.
Everything that the EP works towards comes splintering apart, quite literally, in the manic closing track, “oh oh oh oh”. From the outset of the record’s final statement, the vocals are cracking to the point of breaking as a mournful organ line runs underneath the pained theatrics. Those are the song’s only two elements and they grow more pronounced as the narrative grows more hopeless. Eventually the narrative’s abandoned altogether, buckling underneath its own weight and disappearing into the ether, as the organ figure delivers a somber eulogy. It’s a challenging, mesmerizing way to close out an incredible EP and allows Sunbeams Through Your Head to linger long after it’s gone. It’s company worth keeping.
Listen to Sunbeams Through Your Head below and download it here.
Looking through all of those, it’s impossible to say that this is a bad time for live music (and for the documentation of live music). The overwhelming strength of that above list should indicate that this installment of Watch This will have some extraordinarily strong features. There’s some astonishing talent on display throughout the three full sessions and two individual clips listed below, which include one of the bands that was essential to the site’s foundation and a few fresh faces that have been turning all sorts of heads with their recent work. So, as always, push all the distractions aside, relax, lean in, and Watch This.
1. Tenement – Feral Cat Tribe + Lost Love Star Lust (Set List)
Anyone that’s frequented this site over the time of its existence has seen an unprecedented amount of praise granted to Tenement, a band that was instrumental in providing the building blocks for this site. Over nearly 10 years, I’ve had the surreal privilege of watching the trio develop to the point they’re at today (Rolling Stone recently named them one of the 10 great modern punk bands and the New York Times dedicated an entire podcast installment to the band last year). Here, the band gets to flash their live chops in a session for Wisconsin Public Radio’s Set List series, offering up an impressively powerful pair of tracks that only hint at the band’s astonishing scope.
2. Car Seat Headrest – Fill In The Blank (The Current)
After 2015’s Teens of Style generated quite a bit of momentum for Car Seat Headrest, the solo-project-turned-full-band capitalized on that surge of recognition emphatically with this year’s Teens of Denial. Landing several high-profile festival appearances as a result, the band’s grown gradually tighter over their past few tours. This performance of “Fill In The Blank” for The Current demonstrates that growth and nicely captures the band’s irrepressible drive.
3. PWR BTTM – West Texas + Serving Goffman (WFUV)
Like Tenement, PWR BTTM have become a towering presence in terms of this site’s coverage tendencies, something that came as a direct result of the band’s fiery live show. Here, the band turn in characteristically bold performances of both “West Texas” and “Serving Goffman” for WFUV, perfectly summarized by the half-shocked, half-elated smile that Benjamin Hopkins throws the camera after some errant headphones threaten to momentarily overtake the song. There’s a genuine joy that exists in that moment which the duo have consistently brought to their shows, making them one of the finest live acts on the circuit.
4. Weaves – Human (Low Four)
Weaves have made a habit out of appearing on the Watch This series this year, thanks in large part to the release of their monumental self-titled debut. The quartet recently stopped by the Old Granada Studios to unleash a sharp burst of their hyper-spastic strain of punk-tinged basement pop by way of this inspired run through “Human”, offering a revealing glimpse at their members formidable chops. As fascinating as it is exhilarating, it’s a perfect example of what can be accomplished by thinking a little outside of the typical boundaries.
5. And The Kids – Kick Rocks + Picture (WFUV)
One of the bands that really started to make a push over the past year has been And The Kids, who have seized every opportunity they’ve been given with a startling amount of poise. WFUV recently had the band into their studio and the trio delivered in full, tearing through “Kick Rocks” and “Picture” in a way that likely left several of the studio members jaws agape. Complex and nuanced, the band flawlessly executes a series of hairpin turns, layered harmonies, and language shifts while throwing in a few sly smiles for good measure. It’s an unbelievably impressive performance and more than deserves to close out this edition of Watch This.