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Tag: Liv Bruce

PWR BTTM – I Wanna Boi (Music Video)

PWR BTTM XI

Only a very select few acts have been featured on this site more times than PWR BTTM.  They’ve been a consistent staple of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage for nearly two years and it’s been a privilege to watch them grow as artists and performers, not just because it allowed insight to their artistic growth, but because it’s offered the opportunity to watch them grow more comfortable with their position — and their skin — as well. A lot of the duo’s music has centered around their identity and they’ve become outspoken advocates for the LGBTQ+ community that they call home.

They’ve grown progressively more committed to those roles through their music videos, using the format as a way to advance their message in the most clear and concise terms possible. In that regard, “I Wanna Boi”, their most recent clip — and one of Ugly Cherries‘ brightest moments — may be their most effective clip to date. “I Wanna Boi” mostly ceneters on Liv Bruce vamping around a classic Victorian Gothic house, mouthing the words to the song. As with all of PWR BTTM’s work, there’s a nakedly direct sense of personality that the suffuses the work, emboldened by the fact Bruce co-directed the clip with Anneliese Cooper,

Boasting an enticing central performance, gorgeous visuals (courtesy of cinematographer Emily Dubin), and a healthy dose of attitude, “I Wanna Boi” quickly becomes one of 2016’s most compelling videos. Everything that gets worked into the clip, from a brief scooter run outside to a blow-up doll as a stand-in for an unknown romantic lead, pushes “I Wanna Boi” to increasing levels of greatness. There’s not a false move to be found throughout the clip’s run and “I Wanna Boi” winds up as one of the band’s most thrillingly complete works as a result. Shot through with pathos and levity, it’s a perfect document of one of today’s most important bands.

Watch “I Wanna Boi” below and download Ugly Cherries here.

PWR BTTM – New Hampshire (Stream, Live Video)

PWR BTTM III

For a while now, Benjamin Hopkins has found strength and empowerment through naked vulnerability, a trait that’s on full display with PWR BTTM‘s breathtaking “New Hampshire”. Penned when Hopkins was experiencing a sense of displacement, the track’s gone through various mutations for a few years and has (finally) arrived fully-formed for the UK deluxe edition of Ugly Cherries alongside the astonishing “Projection“.

Easily one of the duo’s gentlest songs — and in small bursts, one of their most gnarled — “New Hampshire” is an intimate look into a fractured psyche. From the onset, Hopkins is grappling with questions of mortality, greeting death with open arms. It’s a brave moment and that bravery doesn’t waver throughout the course of “New Hampshire” as it plunges into the depths of bleak certainty, finding ways to inject it with small grasps at hope.

That “New Hampshire” seems to paint death as a release provides the song with the bruising devastation that’s unified PWR BTTM’s strongest work, allowing some insight to the daily struggles the duo are forced to face in their everyday lives. By being so open about their preferences both Hopkins and Liv Bruce have been walking a double-edged sword as queer ambassadors, receiving celebration and (unfortunately) displaced derision in the process.

It’s a position that’s led the band to become increasingly accustomed to applying their openness and sincerity to a grander scale, which has also inflated the opportunity for confrontation. All of those experiences have been imbuing the band’s recent works and leading to some genuinely beautiful moments after being paired with the duo’s innate musical ability. Even in the smallest touches, like the bell runs or vocal rounds in the second half of “New Hampshire”, the emotive scope is evident.

“New Hampshire” is three and a half minutes of slowly lowering any remaining guards, stepping out into the open, and accepting an ephemeral fate. Tacit and direct in turns, PWR BTTM once again find a way to navigate uncomfortable corners with an unfathomable amount of grace and feeling. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song, even at its most barbed, and effectively demonstrates PWR BTTM’s growing range as artists. Far more than just a bonus track, the song’s both one of PWR BTTM’s strongest moments and one of 2016’s most essential offerings. Wounded, firm, and lovely, “New Hampshire” is unforgettable.

Listen to “New Hampshire” below and watch a video of the band performing the song earlier this year beneath the soundcloud embed. Order Ugly Cherries here.

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

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2015, close to unanimously, was concerned to be one of the highest points for new music in recent memory. To that end, putting together this list was even more of a nightmarish task than narrowing the 2015 songs down to their 15 slots. There was even a brief moment where expanding this list to 50 slots seemed like a viable action. Ultimately, after literally hundreds of substitutions in the various positions (and countless exclusions and extractions), the formula remained intact. While it was painful to leave an extremely large handful of extraordinary records lingering just outside the perimeter, the 15 records below have earned their spots. Every single one of these has remained in near-constant rotation since the time of their release and will likely resonant well into 2016 and beyond. Dive on in below and reflect on the overwhelming strength of the past 12 months.

15. Meat Wave – Delusion Moon

One of a select few bands to play an instrumental part in the formative stages of this site’s focus (and one of the acts to play the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase), Meat Wave came through in a big way in 2015. The trio released one of the year’s best oddities, signed to SideOneDummy, and unleashed a behemoth of an album in Delusion Moon. Billed as their first proper full-length (their vicious self-titled, limited-run cassette straddled the line between EP and full-length), Delusion Moon saw the band exploring their darker tendencies to great success. More fully exploring influences like Mission of Burma and Drive Like Jehu, the band acted as a nice counterpoint to the usual brand of ’90s revival and got some kicks in along the way.

14. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

No band’s live show was documented more exhaustively here over 2015 than PWR BTTM, who perfected a simplistic approach with enormous- and enormously successful- ideas. The duo (who is occasionally a trio) set their sights on exploring gender and personal identity and followed through with a startlingly brazen tenacity. Close to every song on Ugly Cherries, their extraordinary full-length debut, play out like the kind of anthems that 2015 desperately needed. For a record that’s quick to be gleefully tongue-in-cheek, Ugly Cherries also offers up some devastating personal moments, lending the band an emotional depth that makes their outsize spirit even more powerful.

13. Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture

Force of Nurture, Midnight Reruns‘ astonishing sophomore effort, has one of the best A-sides I’ve ever heard. Not to discredit an extremely strong B-side, either, but the run the band puts together from “There’s An Animal Upstairs” to “Sky Blue Water” is just about flawless. All six of those songs were considered for this year’s list of the best songs of 2015 along with the record’s sprawling closer, “Great Southern Rail”, which boasts one of the year’s more jaw-dropping choruses. Bolstered by the involvement of one of the band’s earliest and most vocal supporters- The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, who produced the record- Midnight Reruns turned in their finest collection of songs to date.

12. Hop Along – Painted Shut

A statement that bears repeating: one of the most heartening aspects of 2015 was watching the deserved ascension of Hop Along, who have been cranking out exquisite material on an exceptionally high platform for several years. Driven by the distinctive, arresting voice of guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan and their own unique sensibilities, Hop Along crafted the strongest record of their discography. With new partner Saddle Creek firmly in their corner, the band came to vibrant life and stayed on form, delivering a set of knockout tracks that included “Waitress”, one of this year’s finest. A welcome breath of fresh air, Painted Shut marked the beginning of an exciting new era for one of today’s best bands.

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11. Royal Headache – High

Even as all the news of High being Royal Headache’s finest record (thankfully) receded, the power of their finest offering to date didn’t diminish. Following a brilliant debut, the band may have actually surpassed that record’s promise with their sophomore effort. Highlighted by songs like the towering, defiant title track and the surging “Another World“, High is a genre masterclass of the highest order. Buoyed by an infectious energy that’s constantly verging on manic, there’s never a moment during the record that doesn’t feel like it’s nearing a state of euphoria. When High is firing on all cylinders, as is the case for the vast majority of the record, the band’s as close to being virtually untouchable as is possibly imaginable.

10. Young Jesus – Grow/Decompose

Home, Young Jesus‘ breakout record and a candidate for album of the decade, set extraordinarily high expectations for whatever the band chose as its following release. Crafting a worthy follow-up seemed even more unlikely after the band moved out of Chicago and over to Los Angeles, reassembling their lineup in the process. By that token, Grow/Decompose isn’t just a deeply impressive record, it’s a miraculous one. Guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter sharpens his singular songwriting voice and leads his new outfit with a fiery determination. An immensely satisfying collection of songs, Grow/Decompose feels like a genuine album; structured and paced to near perfection, Grow/Decompose is a reinvigorating- and reinvigorated- frenzy.

9. Dogs On Acid – Dogs On Acid

Dogs On Acid, a band formed out of the ashes of much beloved acts Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader, expanded on one of the best 7″ releases of 2014 with one of the strongest full-length debuts in recent memory. Laced with knockout hooks at just about every turn, Dogs On Acid is a staggering show of power from a band that finds surprising ways to exceed its predecessors. Maximizing their pop sensibilities to astonishing effect, Dogs On Acid inject their first major effort with an insistent, propulsive energy that catapults each of its 10 tracks to unthinkable heights, keeping their punk roots in place along the way. Every song on Dogs On Acid is a genuine highlight, yet the whole affair still manages to come across as so much more than a collection of singles. Bold and brash, this is the kind of record that may never fall out of regular rotation.

8. Tenement – Predatory Headlights

For close to 10 years, I’ve provided near-incessant documentation of Tenement, chronicling their forward motion with increasing intensity as the years progressed. When Heartbreaking Bravery was initially designed, it was constructed with the intention of highlighting bands that weren’t being granted the press that they deserved. In 2015, the world at large finally started catching on to a band that’s meant more to the development of my personal interests in music than any other (I didn’t include their Bruised Music compilation in the oddities list because I contributed a lengthy piece to the record’s insert that expands on that fact). Predatory Headlights, the trio’s latest opus, was a definitive collection of the band’s current era, unafraid of demolishing genre barriers and bold experimentation. Over its intimidating 28 tracks, the album steadily emerges as a genuine- and singular- masterpiece.

7. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

For Julien Baker‘s breathtaking breakout record, the young songwriter (previously best known as one of the driving forces behind Forrister) dived fearlessly into a despairing examination of her own psyche. A preoccupation with mortality that was heavily informed by the laws of religion dominates nearly every song on this surprisingly brave collection. From the description of the car wreck in the opener’s first verse all the way through to the passage in “Go On”- Sprained Ankle‘s mesmerizing closing track and one of 2015’s finest songs– about consuming bleach, there’s barely a moment of reprieve. Built almost exclusively around Baker’s voice and acoustic guitar, Sprained Ankle feels progressively more personal as it goes along, each song functioning as a plea, a warning, and a sustained moment of clarity. Tragic and beautiful, Baker’s conjured up a collection of deeply personal songs that feel genuinely sacred.

6. All Dogs – Kicking Every Day

Ever since their earliest releases, All Dogs have been steadily crafting great material and building momentum. Kicking Every Day, the band’s startlingly defiant full-length debut, continues that pattern with an astounding amount of grace. Even with their lineup at full strength following the addition of guitarist Nick Harris (which is paying massive dividends), guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones’ songs feel more naked than ever, imbuing Kicking Every Day with a voyeuristic look at its principal songwriter’s inner turmoil and unflinching resolve. After the anticipation levels for this record came close to hitting a fever pitch with the release of “That Kind of Girl” (which ranked highly on the songs of the year list), the prospect of a record as extravagantly strong as Kicking Every Day didn’t seem so distant. The record ultimately surpassed those expectations thanks to both the instant acclaim it so richly deserved and its ability to strike all the right chords.

5. Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

Losing Four Eyes, a band that put out one of the best 7″ records of this decade, was a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately, that band found a natural successor in Sweet John Bloom. Continuing to revel in the same brand of endearingly scrappy basement pop and pulling members from a few other outstanding bands, Sweet John Bloom managed to make a mark. Weird Prayer, their first fully fledged full-length, reveals impressive new depths to the band. Employing a rotating cast of songwriters, the record gives ample space to flesh out each one’s distinct personality. From lovely slow-burning tracks like “Bury Ruby” to incendiary highlights like “Tell Me”, Weird Prayer is an enviable showcase that, bizarrely, seems like a victory lap for its various members. There’s a memorable moment or three on each of these 15 tracks, most of which find intriguing dichotomies to exploit over the course of their brief running times. Littered with surprising moments at close to every corner, it’s one of 2015’s most exhilarating releases.

4. Dilly Dally – Sore

Back in 2014, Dilly Dally unleashed a pair of 7″ records that nearly walked away with the top spot in this site’s rankings. In 2015 they followed up their flawless early run with a brilliant standalone single and a bruising full-length teeming with vicious grunge-informed, punk-leaning basement pop numbers. Grimly determined and scuzzy as hell, Sore lands with the force of an atomic bomb. There was a reason that no band earned as many feature pieces on this site over the course of 2014 than Dilly Dally and, even stripped of the brilliant singles that earned those spots, Sore would have registered as a knockout. While the record’s many searing highlights (“Desire“, “Purple Rage“, “The Touch“, etc.) gave the record its fangs, its elegiac closer provided it with both an unexpected emotional depth and a staggering moment of finality (both of which went a long way in securing its ranking as one of 2015’s finest tracks). While Dilly Dally just about stole CMJ and released a small army of outstanding music videos, Sore was their definitive 2015 moment. It’s the kind of record that inspires kids to go out and start bands of their own, making it one of the most powerful releases in recent memory.

3. Mike Krol – Turkey

The sudden resurgence of the (unfortunately) still-deceased Sleeping in the Aviary was an extremely unexpected and welcome development. While they did release an extraordinary demos and rarities collection, the band’s best moment came when the majority of its lineup wound up backing Mike Krol for his latest venture. No record in 2015 felt even close to as unhinged as Turkey, Krol’s first effort for Merge and most deranged outing to date. With a runtime that doesn’t even scratch 19 minutes, Krol and the band he’s assembled run through nine songs at a pace so frantic it’s practically delirious. Every single moment of Turkey is informed by a surging level of energy that it seems like the record might derail itself at any given moment, toppling over because of its own excessive velocity. Miraculously, it manages to sustain that momentum through nine songs of rabid basement pop that draws inspiration from a variety of genres from the past handful of decades, zeroing in on things like ’50s pop and classic soul. Everything on Turkey also benefits from being shot through with Krol’s deadpan comedic sensibility, tongue planted firmly in cheek. By the time the record’s penultimate track hits- the absolutely massive “Less Than Together“- the record’s momentum is white hot. “Piano Shit” winds things down at the very end and allows the listener to review the demolished left in Turkey‘s wake as it coasts to the finish.

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2. Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers

One of the happier coincidences this site got to experience in 2015 was the realization that the glowing review of Nicole Dollanganger‘s breathtaking Natural Born Losers was its 666th post. An appropriate fact, given the record’s deep obsession with angels, devils, and the spiritual realm. In its opening lines (“I shot an angel with my father’s rifle”), Natural Born Losers flaunts its aim with a threatening gracefulness, ready to turn on a dime at any moment. Dollanganger’s narratives throughout the course of the record are startling exercises in hyper-violence and dueling desires. Whether it’s a BDSM-informed romp as lensed through an experience with an abusive police officer or an extremely disarming sample taken from the animated 1993 cult classic The Halloween Tree, Dollanganger’s either making fresh incisions or pulling gaping wounds even further apart. However, for being so deeply unsettling in its prose, the music that accompanies all of Dollanganger’s nightmarish imagery is as elegant and haunting as her vocals. A lot of Natural Born Losers hinges on exploring some of the weightiest dichotomies in existence and the degree of success to which it achieves in striking fascinating middle grounds in those battles is revelatory. Even more impressive is the fashion in which Dollanganger binds this collection of songs together, especially considering how effectively the record’s haunting line defines (or redefines) everything that’s happened since its steely-eyed opening moment. Put simply: Natural Born Losers is a modern masterpiece.

1. Eskimeaux – O.K.

Eskimeaux‘s O.K. managed to impress on first listen but it wasn’t until seeing the band live that all of its pieces fell more fully into place. That show inspired a return visit to this collection which, in turn, brought about a subsequent revisit (and then that pattern fell into a routine that still hasn’t ceased). On each successive listen, more of O.K. sprang to life. Gabrielle Smith’s project has been making material that’s been more than worthwhile for a large handful of years now but O.K., the project’s most fully-realized outing, saw Smith step across a threshold and into something sublime. A meticulously crafted record, every last one of its countless gears clicks in ways that surprise and delight in equal measure, rewarding heavy investment with a casual ease and providing O.K. with one of its cleverest tricks. In maintaining their casual sensibilities, the record becomes an enjoyable cursory listen but that casualness is surprisingly deceptive.

O.K.‘s a very complex record when it’s dissected into its formative pieces, whether they’re the gorgeous vocal layers that comprise one of the record’s most gorgeous moments on “A Hug Too Long” or Felix Walworth’s explosively idiosyncratic snare work on “Folly“, each finding a way to stand out as an impressive moment in both the small schemes of the songs and the grand sweep of the album. From a lyrical standpoint, Smith packs this record full with bittersweet realizations, internal frustrations, and slivers of a defiant sense of hope that’s steadfast in its refusal to bow to a harsher reality. Even the record’s darkest moment- the brooding “Pocket Full of Posies”, which nearly unseated “A Hug Too Long” in the songs list- subtly acknowledges the inherent innocence of things that are frequently viewed as evil. Even then, O.K.‘s worldview is far from simply being optimistic, it’s far too weary to assume that the best mode of operation is to look for the best in everything; its earned its sophisticated wariness.

What makes O.K. truly stand out, though, is its overwhelming amount of empathy for everything that’s fortunate enough to have worked its way into the record. Easily one of the most readily apparent humanist statements that music yielded this year (which is especially easy to see when the record’s put under a microscope), O.K. draws its strength from its sense of value. It’s a view that resonates throughout the record’s 11 brilliantly crafted songs, providing them with a deeper sense of purpose than most bands can manage. Additionally, all of the inspired decisions that comprise O.K. are augmented by some of the most extraordinary production work of the past several years, stealthily enhancing the cumulative effect of the songs. An awe-inspiring breakthrough for one of today’s most promising acts, O.K. is the kind of record that’s worth preserving for future generations. Find someone deserving to share this with and give in to its inescapable beauty.

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

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

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

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

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

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

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

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

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

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

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

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

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

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

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

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

8. Hop Along – Waitress

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

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

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

6. Julien Baker – Go On

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

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

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

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

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

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

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

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

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

1. Stove – Wet Food

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

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 7

PWR BTTM I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

The preceding galleries can be accessed via these links:

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 3
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 4
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Potty Mouth

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5

Johanna Warren I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2

Girlpool I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1

Radioactivity

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

PWR BTTM – 1994 (Stream, Live Video)

PWR BTTM III

Today, like several previous Thursdays, saw this week’s pace of new releases slowing a little but yielding some of the week’s strongest material. Ditch Club’s self-titled EP and Shannon & the Clams‘ Gone by the Dawn were the only entries in the full streams field but constituted a strong day for the format nonetheless, while PINS‘ film-damaged “Dazed By You” and Girl Band‘s sly “Pears for Lunch” more than assured the music video field was well-represented. There was a fascinating variety of individual songs that made a dent as well, including: Helvetia’s singular “A Dot Running for the Dust“, Painted Zeros‘ dynamic masterclass “Pretty Rig“, Day Wave’s unabashedly lovely “Come Home Now“, Say Lou Lou’s perfectly crafted pop anthem “Hard For A Man“, Roadside Graves’ driving, widescreen “Clouds“, Windhand’s sludgy triumph “Hyperion“, Naytronix’s subtle, nuanced “Back In Time“, and Philosophical Zombie’s towering basement pop number “Garden Grows Regardless“. Of course, there was also the unveiling of today’s featured item: PWR BTTM’s “1994”.

With the release of PWR BTTM’s outstanding Ugly Cherries drawing closer every day, the duo’s making sure to keep everyone invested in the release through what, so far, has been a perfectly-executed rollout campaign. It’s latest flourish, the release of record highlight 1994, manages to showcase every one of the record’s best attributes. While all of the songs to have found a release as a preview have been identified in part by sadness, it’s an element that acts as one of the strongest characteristics of “1994” and created a mood that can’t be shaken- not entirely- even during one of the year’s most bombastic music moments (a dazzling display of fretwork fireworks from Benjamin Hopkins). Even with that prevalent sense of buried personal pain, it’s difficult not to feel at least a little uplifted in the chorus, which plays out like a small victory; a moment of wordless clarity that infuses the proceedings with a liveliness to even the track out into something affirming.

One of the reasons I’ve expressed so much love for PWR BTTM over the past few months is their exceedingly high level of empathy. It’s abundantly clear in both their music and their thoughtful functionality, which acts as one of the band’s most attractive driving mechanics. By being so upfront about being part of a marginalized community and a continuing fight for a greater understanding, the band’s slowly been transformed into something resembling a highly celebrated representative of several of those sects. They’ve become revered for all the right reasons, which is increasingly rare in a culture that perpetuates immediate gratification at a potentially damaging rate.

PWR BTTM’s also a remarkably committed act, not because the context demands them to be but because they have a genuine passion for their craft. At the bottom of this post there’s a video of the band playing “1994”. The performance is typically spectacular (the band’s live show is genuinely inspiring) but doesn’t even slightly betray the fact that Benjamin Hopkins- the guitarist/vocalist for “1994” (the duo sporadically trades off instrumental and vocal responsibilities)- was incredibly sick the night of that show, passing out only shortly after it finished. Those situations and moments are the kind that can go a long way in defining a band but for PWR BTTM it acted as another assurance of how ingrained all of the qualities mentioned in the above paragraphs are into the act’s veins.

Personal perseverance has been one of their most uniting themes and it’s one that comes full circle in “1994”, which is a deceptively calm rallying call that makes a strong case for simply allowing yourself to be alive. Due to the emphatic nature of its reasoning, it easily becomes not only one of Ugly Cherries‘ most memorable moments but stakes a very serious claim as one of the best songs of 2015. Honest, powerful, and strangely reassuring, “1994” may feel like it’s lost in time but its message is timeless. Hang on to it and make sure it’s remembered for years to come. Songs like this one deserve that level of investment- just don’t forget to strive to live along the way.

Listen to “1994” over at NPR and pre-order Ugly Cherries from Father/Daughterand/or Miscreant ahead of its September 18 release. Watch the video of the band performing the song at Shea Stadium below.