Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: live

Big Ups – Imaginary Dog Walker (Stream, Live Video)

Over the course of last week, there were some great songs released by the likes of WussyTrü, Jordan Lovelis, Claire Morales, Laughed the Boy, R+R=Now, DIET, Escobar, Little Junior, Sonny Elliot, Two Meters, Dizzy, Raleigh, Wild Pink, Optiganally Yours, Avantist,  and Chris Farren. Big Ups joined in on the fun with their towering “Imaginary Dog Walker”, which has become a consistent highlight of their live shows and serves as the current high water mark for their formidable discography.

A band that’s continuously brimmed with an indistinguishable intensity from the outset, Big Ups’ attack has grown refined over the course of a handful of records. All of them are teeming with cathartic releases and bear evidence that their understanding of their own dynamics has deepened over the course of that run. It’s an understanding that hits a new apex with “Imaginary Dog Walker”, the band using silence and restraint like a weapon, holding the listener hostage and forcing them to really listen.

Brash, abrasive, and extremely disquieting, “Imaginary Dog Walker” is a perfect demonstration of the band’s growth and a fearless monument to their formidable talent. Opening with a small sampling of glitch-pop, “Imaginary Dog Walker” quickly segues into the kind of forward-thinking hardcore that enlivened the band’s past two records (both of which stand as tall now as they did on the day of their release). Soon enough, the band’s back to masterfully navigating a creeping tension, the music acting as a lit fuse of a bomb that always seems like its a second away from detonating.

When “Imaginary Dog Walker” does work itself up into its first genuine frenzy, it’s hard to tell if it’s the moment of release or just the song playing an effective trick. In an impressive feat, that moment manages to belong equally to both outcomes, ushering in both a cavalcade of high-wire frustrations that erupt and a false ending, quickly cutting back into the quieter tendencies of the song’s opening stretch. All the while, the narrative waxes poetic on life and destruction, playing into the unpredictably vicious swings of the music with a honed precision.

In its final minute, the song becomes a towering behemoth, “we walk the dogs” is screamed over and over becoming more of a mantra than a chorus. All the while, the guitar work — which remains some of the most inventive in the genre — and the rhythm section collide into a bludgeoning force, conjuring up a hypnotic storm. It’s dark, it’s eerie, and it’s masterful, it’s also one of the best songs to come out of 2018. Lend it as many listens as possible.

Listen to “Imaginary Dog Walker” (and watch a live video of the song) below and pre-order Two Parts Together from Exploding In Sound.

Half Waif – Lavender (Album Review, Stream, Live Videos)

Last Friday offered an extraordinary outpouring of new records with several of those releases seeming poised to be legitimate Album of the Year contenders. While those records hit hard, Half Waif’s Lavender hit hardest. A handful of the record’s songs have been featured here already but it’s the cumulative effect of the record that elevates the songs from heartrending to heart-stopping.

Nandi Rose Plunkett, Half Waif’s fearless bandleader, wrote Lavender in the waning days of her grandmother’s life and found a way to preserve her memory in astonishing fashion with Lavender. Imbued with familial love and meditations on the joys and consequences of mortality, Lavender ceaselessly finds ways to grapple with heavy burdens through a series of open questions, some unanswerable. The examination process is one that becomes intimately familiar to anyone whose ever had to confront the death of a loved one and it’s not hard to read into Lavender as a personal reckoning from someone in the throes of that journey.

It doesn’t take long for the ghost of Plunkett’s grandmother to find a home in Lavender, appearing as early as the record’s breathtaking opener “Lavender Burning”.  That specific song is a perfect introduction to the record as it marks a slight — but distinct and extremely important — stylistic shift for Half Waif, who move into a more subdued realm that’s enhanced by a re-dedication to introspection, more naked here than at any point in their discography.

“Watching my grandmother walking her garden, she’s lost her hearing does not notice the cardinal”, Plunkett sings, cardinal breaking up into lilting syllables as the memory overwhelms. It’s one of many small vignettes that litter Lavender‘s landscape, flowers dead and blooming. It’s not long before the burden of knowing sinks in and cries of “Is this all there is?” ring out over lush beds of synth and intuitive instrumentation. Confined to a confrontational solitude, Plunkett starts wrestling with existential autonomy: a sense of place, the weight of decisions, and the fear that accompanies free will.

All of these questions, all of these backwards looks and sideways glances are more immediate than any single narrative Half Waif’s presented in the past. They’re also by far the most gripping, as the music Half Waif has afforded these moments is their most expansive, textured, and ambitious to date, leaning hard into the band’s more ambient sensibilities. Lavender‘s rhythm section pulsates with purpose, reverberating throughout the record with the clear knowledge that the stakes here are legitimately life and death. From start to finish, it’s a fight for the means to survival.

If Plunkett’s grandmother is the foremost figure of Lavender, New York City and Plunkett herself aren’t too far behind. The relationship between the two, specifically, anchors some of the record’s most breathtaking stretches, including both “Lavender Burning” and “Back In Brooklyn”, which the songwriter penned an incredibly moving essay for over at The Talkhouse. “Back In Brooklyn” is a song that lands with exceptional force for anyone who’s ever been wrapped up by the titular city’s formidable being and goes a long way in laying out Lavender‘s gently beating heart.

Not coincidentally, the song resides in the album’s central stretch, arriving just after “Silt”, the two constituting Lavender‘s most breathtaking moment. It’s here where Plunkett comes nearest to breaking down completely, stretching out a hand for guidance, assurance, or even just a small moment of clarity in the fog of uncertainty. The closing moments of “Silt” offer up one of the record’s most haunting moments, an outro that beautifully segues into the painfully gorgeous “Back In Brooklyn”.

Everything that leads up to those two songs makes their back-to-back even more potent, the themes splintering apart into what feels like a million pleas, some from the city, some for the city, some from Plunkett, some for Plunkett’s own well-being. It’s here where Lavender finds its path to becoming transcendental. Those two songs combine to retroactively strengthen the songs that have preceded them while setting up one of the most memorable closing runs of the present decade.

It’s here where the allusions stop becoming guarded and are faced with no hesitation, Plunkett seemingly locked into a white-knuckle grip on the legacy of family, self-understanding, and the trials of knowledge. The latter of the three has one of the more potent dichotomies and that scale is explored through the framing of the former two. It’s that dynamic which makes the final quarter of Lavender so harrowing and so beautiful, the acknowledgment of the necessity of the scars and bruises that allow us to move forward towards our own destiny and towards the same fate that will take everyone we’ve ever loved.

Rather than waist time on hypothetical situations, Plunkett discards them in the service of realism and a commitment to the bravery the bandleader strives for on “Parts”. There’s a dissection of shame and anxiety in that song, one that resonates through to Lavender‘s end, before the tacit acceptance of the fearlessness required to continue existing. By the record’s end the only home Plunkett seems to have is forward motion, abandoning cities, clinging to friends, family, and lovers, doing whatever it takes to find a measure of peace in life’s restlessness.

Lavender‘s final verse acts as a summation of the themes Plunkett can’t escape through the course of the eleven songs and diverts them in a fruitless bid to forget what most of the record has exhausted itself in staring down before its final, heartbroken declaration: I don’t wanna know this/I don’t wanna know how this ends/In the grand scope of things/I know. It’s right then, in that last word, Lavender becomes complete. Not just a record about confronting death, Lavender is a record about the allowances of life, the difficulties that make it harsh, the people that make it worthwhile. In the end, when all is said and done, what’s left is the weight of knowing, and allowing it to sink to oblivion or float just a little while longer.

Listen to Lavender below (and watch a packet of live videos beneath that) and pick it up from CASCINE here.

Snail Mail – Heat Wave (Music Video, Live Video)

The last week ended strongly, offering up an absolute treasure trove of full streams for a host of records that may find themselves being discussed again in December. Speedy Ortiz, Double Grave, Rachel Angel, Spielbergs, Holy Now, Anemone, Sibille Attar, Launder, Porlolo, and Grouper were all artists that played a part in that outpouring (as did the just-featured Forth Wanderers). Still, the focus of this post falls to an entry in a different format entirely: Snail Mail‘s elegantly crafted and surprisingly pointed clip for “Heat Wave”.

The solo project of Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail has been making a series of incredibly smart decisions over the past year, including their partnership with Matador Records. Another one of those decisions was enlisting Brandon Herman‘s talents for the clip, allowing the filmmaker to handle directorial, editorial, and DOP duties with aplomb. The project and the filmmaker have delivered a carefully constructed metaphor for the importance of fighting for yourself, even in the face of unfavorable odds and seemingly insurmountable pressure.

“Heat Wave” finds clever ways to make its timely heft an incredible amount of fun (without sacrificing an ounce of integrity). Centered on Jordan, wrapped up in a hockey-centric escapist fantasy, “Heat Wave” refuses to pull punches throughout a range of exceptional moments, from an anxiety-inducing confrontation to some cathartic moments of unbridled rage. By the clip’s finale, Jordan’s made sure that absolutely nothing’s left on the rink and that the songwriter can escape with both contentment and a touch of pride.

Uplifting and upsetting in turns, “Heat Wave” is an effective portrayal of the themes frequently deconstructed by the clip’s protagonist. It’s a gentle reminder of societal culpability and just as effective as a demonstration of how our own convictions are necessary for not just advancement but survival. The song’s a new highlight for the project and the clip is its best to date. We should all be grateful that Snail Mail’s being given the chance to accelerate.

Watch “Heat Wave” (and a live performance of the song) below and pre-order Lush from Matador here.

Dusk – The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy (7″ Review, Stream, Live Videos)

A solid round of full streams (or expanded samplers) have arrived over the past couple of days, coming from acts as varied as Say Sue Me, Bacchae, Spring Onion, Oceanator, The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, DEWR, Marbled Eye, and Playboy Manbaby. However, just as was the case in the last post, the focus here will shift to a release that’s been out for a bit but only recently became available for full streaming: Dusk’s new 7″ — and their first release for Dirtnap Records — The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy.

Made up of a laundry list of some of central Wisconsin’s finest musicians, Dusk’s most unenviable task is likely distinguishing themselves from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s main vehicle, Tenement. Making things a little hazier was the decision to tour the US as an expanded version of Tenement, suggesting that the distinction might not matter to them as much as the connection. It’d fit Pitsch’s history, which has long leaned more towards a familial collective than compartmentalized separation.

Still, even in the face of their similarities (and not to mention the fact that virtually every member of Dusk also spends time playing in other projects), Dusk sounds so wildly different from most of the band’s associated acts that they seem to have garnered a sterling reputation solely on their own merit. It’s been interesting to track their progress, with many people surprised to find out which members of the band they’ve seen and heard before, but it’s also been deeply worthwhile.

Dusk’s songs tilt in a more classically country-leaning direction than anything else, each release laced with the requisite amount of attitude to bring their singular charisma through the recordings. They inflect their songs with a little bit of a lot of genres, from Motown to soul to honky tonk to basement punk, creating something that’s simultaneously enigmatic and familiar. There’s a sense the band’s striving to create the sounds that they love and don’t hear enough anymore, re-contextualizing the influences of separate eras by viewing them through a decidedly modern lens.

They’ve tapped into something that’s given their name some weight and it shows again on their latest 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy. Both songs are full of the well-worn charm and conviction of the band’s past releases but ably showcase how comfortably they’ve embraced their identity. The harmonies are as gorgeous and ever and they’re still finding ways to pull new tricks out of their sleeves, with guitarist/vocalist Tyler Ditter taking a turn on lead vocal duties in “Go Easy”.

Both tracks are imbued with the same kind of breezy, wide-open road feel that the band’s successfully touched on in the past. Pitsch lends a trademark bite to the A-side while Ditter anchors “Go Easy” with a honeyed sweetness that serves the band’s sound extremely well. Packaged together, it’s another strong entry in a discography that hasn’t stopped improving since the band’s staggeringly strong demo. Easily one of Wisconsin’s best acts, this kind of release suggests they’re well on their way to being regarded as far more than a local act.

Keep their name and their releases filed away somewhere safe, there’s no telling what they might wind up being worth.

Listen to The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy below (and watch a package of videos of the band playing live beneath the stream) and pick it up from Dirtnap here.

Half Waif – Back In Brooklyn (Stream, Live Video)

After what seemed like an eternity, Heartbreaking Bravery is returning to regular daily (or near-daily) coverage and this run begins with a recap of the excellent tracks, clips, and full streams that found release over the past two days. On the songs front there were notable tracks from Porlolo, WAND, Lonely Parade, Emma Russack & Lachlan Denton, Bent Denim, Peach Kelli Pop, Numb.er, Quarterbacks, Omni, Phalcons, Llovers, Wax Idols, Eureka California, Tickle Torture, Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders, Decisions, Mary Lattimore, and Terra Pines.

On the visual front, there were impressive clips that came from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, A Place To Bury Strangers, CAICOS, stuart A. staples, IAN SWEET, Mike Donovan, and Superorganism. Dark Times, War On Women, Changeling, Leila Abdul-Rauf, Andrew Younker, and Paisley Fields rounded things out with some exceptional full streams. All of those are worthy of investments but none hit quite as hard as the third and final single from Half Waif’s forthcoming Lavender, “Back In Brooklyn”.

Being the first song to be featured after a long interim with sporadic updates, it might seem unwise to break form but the song’s laced with so much personal meaning that I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of this site and switching to a first person narrative. It’s one of the only ways that I can think of to suit the song’s central premise and its near-confrontational intimacy, which was written about eloquently over at The Talkhouse by the project’s mastermind, Nandi Rose Plunkett.

Plunkett and I shared a frighteningly similar experience of our stints living in Brooklyn, managing to take the city for all its worth, simultaneously, as so many of its expats have done and will continue to do. There’s a sense that its world is a separate one, operating at a more intense velocity than the cities that swirl around its gravitational pull. It’s jarring to come into but it’s easy to accept, instinctively knowing that the best way to navigate its chaos is to completely submit yourself to its constant whims, no matter how painful or uplifting.

Coming to know the city as a home takes some time but once you do, it becomes a part of you that’s impossible to shake. It’s harshness and demand stoking various levels of anxiety and fear, while its open embrace of its residents can provide a warmth that’s worthy of moments of pining. All of this, the endless duality and dichotomies that the city births in anyone that manages to claim it as a temporary home, is painfully evident in “Back In Brooklyn”, which nearly wrecked me the first few times I was fortunate enough to watch Half Waif play it live (one of those instances is captured below).

It’s the most plaintive moment on Lavender — easily one of the best records I’ve heard this year — and it’s the most arresting. Plunkett’s narration across the record’s one of the most unsparingly honest perspectives I’ve come across in recent memory, looking at everything through the lens of someone lost in their own thoughts while the road flies by their van windoes. Sideways glances and subtle allusions are shelved in favor of an intense directness that can occasionally approach the overwhelming, it’s nakedness on full display. Longing and love are its most prominent intersections but they’re anchored by a rare understanding, which can make the material — as is the case with “Back In Brooklyn” — frighteningly real.

During its three-plus minute run time, on every pass I’ve given the song, it’s transported me back to the city, reminded me of all of the things, places, and people I loved, all of the moments with them I cherished, and all of the moments where I felt lost or afraid. It’s an immense work that’s delivered with a well-worn affection and laced with the knowledge that once you leave, its shape shifts and changes, rendering some of the things you held onto unrecognizable. Honest, unflinching, empathetic, and deeply moving, “Back In Brooklyn” isn’t just breathtaking, it’s a small miracle in a minor key.

Listen to “Back In Brooklyn” (and watch a recent live performance of the song) below and pre-order Lavender from CASCINE here.

Watch This: Vol. 162

Over the last seven days Los Campesinos!Active Bird Community, Diet Cig, Las Ligas MenoresHeart Attack Man, Future Islands (x2), BRYDENouveau Vélo, Basement (x2), Charlie Whitten, Astronautalis, This Is the Kit, Lexie Roth, The Maldives, Peter Silberman (x2), Molly Burch, Samantha Crain, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Caroline Spence, Kristin Hersh, Aliocha, Gregory Page, Kyle Emerson, Zeta, Charlie Shaw, Bong Wish, Sera Cahoone, Nervous Assistant, Pet Symmetry, Current Swell, The Estranged, Lunch, and Slowdive have all found themselves at the center of outstanding live videos, constituting a typically stellar run that goes a long way in proving the ongoing vitality of music. Those weren’t the only videos worth watching that surfaced during that time. So, as always, sit up, adjust the settings, relax, lean back, and Watch This.

1. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (KEXP)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have popped up on this site with relative consistency in the past. The band’s particular brand of rambling, punk-tinged Americana hitting several of this site’s pleasure nerves. In recent years, the band’s grown bolder and more confident, transforming themselves into a well-oiled machine worthy of a host of accolades. In this full session for KEXP, the band also proves how sharp their touring schedules made their live show, which is a thing to behold.

2. Aye Nako (Audiotree)

A lot of places (this one included) have championed Aye Nako in the past but they’ve never been afforded a showcase as definitive as this live session for Audiotree. Tearing through a set of songs that highlights what makes the band so great, the quartet seemed poised throughout. Tenacious, composed, and purposeful, Aye Nako deliver a blistering set that ranks right alongside anything from their recorded output; this is a band that never stops improving.

3. Middle Kids (Indie88)

Middle Kids have made a habit out of appearing on Watch This, whether it’s in the weekly roundup of links or in a feature capacity. While all of their previous entries have been unmistakably impressive, there’s something about this Hidden Studio session the band recorded for Indie88’s Stiegl Hidden Studio Sessions that stands out. The band’s voracious touring has molded them into one of the best live acts currently on the circuit and this session serves as both document and definitive proof.

4. Terry Malts (Audiotree)

Over the past several years Terry Malts have been quietly becoming one of the best outfits in both basement pop and basement punk. The band graciously contributed a demo to the A Step Forward compilation last year and have been on something of a tear this year, touring heavily and releasing an excellent single. Audiotree recently hosted the band for a no-holds-barred, career-spanning set that nicely underscores the band’s intensity. Catchy, aggressive, and always full-throttle, it’s a characteristically outstanding session for all parties involved.

5. Why? – Easy (CPR)

Oaklandazulasylum, Elephant Eyelash, Alopecia, Eskimo Snow, and a handful of other records released under the name Why? solidified the project as one of the most fascinating acts since the turn of the century. Yoni Wolf, who started Why? as a solo project and his since expanded the outfit but remained the heart of the operation, has staked a claim as one of this generation’s most inspired lyricists. It’s hard to tell which direction the band will pursue at any given moment but for CPR’s Open Air, they went the calm and gentle route, unleashing a gorgeous rendition of “Easy” for a breathtaking live capture. Don’t let this one go unseen, unheard, or unnoticed.

Watch This: Vol. 161

Every week this year’s offered up an enticing host of live clips and the week that transpired the week before last proved no exception, keeping the flame not only alive but roaring. The Tablets, Fits, Robyn Hitchcock, Miss Molly Simms, Summer Twins, Perfume Genius, Strand of OaksBenoît Pioulard, Sean Rowe, Rahim AlHaj, Tenement, Flesh World, Bad History Month, Dinosaur Jr, Hi-Tec Emotions, The Paranoyds, Laura Marling, The New Pornographers, Slow Dancer, Lucy & La Mer, Imaginary Tricks, Double Grave, Queen Hilma, Violents & Monica Martin, Juliana Hatfield, Fast Romantics, Atlas Road Crew, Micah P. Henson, The Drive-By Truckers, Tamino, Lucille Furs, Leif Vollebek, Two Houses, Umm, S.H.I.T., and Electric Eye all found themselves at the center of excellent live captures. A group that strong goes a long way in indicating the formidable nature of the featured clips, which include several long-time site favorites. So, as always, sit up, straighten out, adjust the settings, draw the screen a little closer, and Watch This.

1. Waxahatchee – No Curse (Weathervane)

Katie Crutchfield’s no stranger to this site, seemingly all of the songwriter’s projects having been covered in some capacity. Waxahatchee has become Crutchfield’s calling card in recent years and remains the most singularly focused of the musician’s artistic output. Here, Crutchfield and company rip through an enticing new song entitled “No Curse” for Weathervane’s outstanding Shaking Through series. It’s a potent reminder of the inherent power of one of this generation’s finest artists.

2. Hurray for the Riff Raff – Living in the City (The Current)

A handful of releases into an increasingly notable career, Hurray for the Riff Raff continue an impressively upward trajectory. Each consecutive record and performance seems to constitute a new career high for the project, which has never been anything less than commendable. “Living in the City” is just the latest upward rung on a never-ending ladder that seems poised to reach stratospheric heights. Looking down from where the act is now, it’s more than enough to induce a serious amount of vertigo.

3. Vundabar (Audiotree)

One of the more intriguingly frenetic punk bands of recent times, Vundabar have carved out a reputation for themselves by meticulously crafting unpredictable music. Recently, the band swung through Audiotree’s studio to record a session perfectly showcasing the tension and urgency the band’s so adept at creating. Every song in this session is eye-opening and executed to perfection without anyone in the band sacrificing even an ounce of conviction.

4. Nothing (Amoeba)

Watch This veterans, Nothing keep finding new ways to impress. In this Green Room session for Amoeba, the band sacrifices their signature onslaught of volume for something far more intimate and contained. In passing up one of their most noted trademarks, the band also ably demonstrates how good the songs lurking underneath have been since the beginning. Utterly transfixing and devastatingly sincere, this acoustic session stands as an entirely unlikely but wholly welcome new high for the band.

5. Allison Crutchfield (KEXP)

While Katie Crutchfield may have taken the opening slot on the features list in this volume of Watch This, Crutchfield’s twin sister is the one to close it out. As another musician whose projects have been well-documented on this site throughout a lengthy career, Allison Crutchfield seems poised to spearhead a sterling solo career. A lot of supporting evidence can be found to back that claim up, including this abbreviated set for KEXP, which finds the band (which includes Radiator Hospital‘s Sam Cook-Parrott) running through an impressive array of new songs with a sense of unified purpose.

Palm – Walkie Talkie (Stream, Live Video)

Over the course of the past week The Moonlight Love, The Shivas, Four Star Riot, Holy Oak, The Nickajack MenNØMADS, Baby Guru, BNQT, Juiceboxxx, Rosie Carney, and Adopted Highways all unveiled strong new tracks. Palm also surfaced with the standout “Walkie Talkie”, which has been a staple of the band’s live show for years and still stands as their career highlight. Frantic, complex, invigorating, and inventive, “Walkie Talkie” is Palm firing on all cylinders with no hesitation and no remorse.

Oscillating between various riffs and figures — both vocal and instrumental — at a furious pace, “Walkie Talkie” takes aim and hits its mark, repeatedly, bludgeoning it into oblivion. It’s an incendiary piece of work from one of the most obscenely talented emergent bands and it’s the type of track that needs to be heard to be believed. Palm’s set to make a whole new slew of converts in the wake of “Walkie Talkie” and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be content with stopping; “Walkie Talkie” is a warning shot and it goes a long way in underscoring the notion that Palm seems destined for deadliness.

Listen to “Walkie Talkie” (and watch the band tear through the song at DBTS in 2015) below and pre-order Shadow Expert from Carpark here.

Watch This: Vol. 160

The past seven days have been comprised of great live videos featuring the likes of Trentemøller, Craig Finn & The Uptown Controllers, Slow Caves, Slothrust, Horse Jumper of Love, Helado Negro, Josh T. Pearson & Arianna Monteverdi, Downtown Boys, Nana Grizol, Operators, Sinai Vessel, Pixies, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Tall Tall Trees, The Smith Street Band, RVG, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kyle Donovan, Chicano Batman, Black Joe Lewis, Taarka, Nikki Lane, Drive-By Truckers, Real Estate, Peyote Pilgrim, Chicano Batman, Closet Mix, Lithics, Yann Tiersen, The Marias, J. Mascis, Fujiya & Miyagi, and Marty Stuart. As good as those clips were, it was the five below that wound up making the deepest impression. From old favorites to new faces, there’s a decent amount of material to explore. So, as always, sit up straight, adjust the settings, take a deep breath, lean in, and Watch This.

1. Hazel English – Fix (Buzzsession)

Easily — and consistently — the producers of some of the most gorgeous Watch This clips in the series’ history, Buzzsessions hits a new high-water mark with this clip for Hazel English‘s “Fix”. Hazel English has become a staple on this site thanks to the project’s ability to churn out spellbinding pop that combines dream-like atmospherics with aesthetics from several compelling sub-genres to create something utterly winsome. To top off that formula, this is a committed performance propelled even further by breathtaking cinematography; Watch This at its best.

2. Jay Som – The Bus Song (Audiotree)

One of last year’s biggest breakout success stories, Jay Som‘s continued to transform that newfound notoriety into something meaningful. Jay Som recently got to be part of an Audiotree concert series and some enthralling footage of “The Bus Song” has gone public. The band’s in good spirits, there’s an adoring audience, bandleader Melina Duterte is commanding, and everything clicks in just the way a great performance should; this is masterful from all angles.

3. Surf Curse (Jam in the Van)

It’s been a while since a Jam in the Van session has been featured on Watch This but its also been a while since the series has boasted a session this fun. Surf Curse effortlessly blend together elements of surf-pop, basement punk, post-punk, and powerpop to conjure up the type of bright, sunny sound that’s difficult to dislike. Each of these three songs also boast their own brand of weirdness, giving a compelling slant to an aesthetic that’s both familiar and welcome.

4. Fred Thomas – Echolocation (BreakThruRadio)

Changer, Fred Thomas‘ most recent full-length, stands in good shape to be firmly among 2017’s best records as the year winds to a close. Easily the songwriter’s finest effort to date, the record also features some of the songwriter’s most ambitious work. “Echolocation” is one of those more ambitious pieces and Thomas brings it to the BreakThruRadio studios for a gripping performance that showcases his talent for both ability and minimalist composition. Melancholic, haunting, and human, it’s a powerful look at one of today’s greatest songwriters.

5. The Owens – Judgment Day (Allston Pudding)

Capping off the 160th installment of this series is another characteristically strong Basement Session, courtesy of Allston Pudding, by way of The Owens’ aggressively tense and intriguingly gloomy “Judgment Day”. The band’s been kicking around for several years but they’ve never sounded tighter or more in control than they do on their latest, Redemption Day, and that confident precision seems to have bled into their live show as well. Both a perfect document of a band coming into their own and a strong showcase for both Allston Pudding and The Owens, this is the type of clip worth remembering.

Charly Bliss – Guppy (Album Review, Live Videos)

Reviewing a record that you’ve spent years becoming entwined with, falling in love with, and essentially establishing as a core part of your identity is a difficult prospect. It’s always nerve-wracking to attempt to do justice to something that’s become so personal. When it’s made by people that you’ve grown to love and even consider part of your extended family, it becomes a lot murkier. And yet, every single time Charly Bliss’ Guppy starts up, all of those thoughts fade away and the record rises up, bares its fangs, and clamps down with such a vengeance that it’s difficult to think of anything other than the music’s sheer, overwhelming power.

Guppy is a record I’ve been fortunate enough to watch evolve since its first permutation in 2015, which featured a handful of songs that didn’t make the cut for the official release (including “Turd“, which was released in advance of Guppy as a standalone single) and boasted a production that emphasized the low-end aspect of the band, providing it an immense punch. That Guppy has not only retained that punch but emphasized it by balancing out those levels is nothing short of miraculous.

To get to that point, the band weathered quite a few storms and put more notches in its belt than most people realize. The band first hinted that it might be more than your standard punk-driven basement pop act with the releases of 2013’s A Lot To Say EP, which was highlighted by its towering title track. Following that was the release of an astounding single in “Clean“, the invaluable addition of Dan Shure on bass, and the release of the Soft Serve EP, which — along with their scintillating live show — acted as the band’s calling card for a handful of years.

Soft Serve acted as my introduction to the band and I’ve never been so thoroughly dismantled and blown away by a band I’d never heard of as I was the day I clicked play on that record. It topped Heartbreaking Bravery’s EP’s of the Year list for 2014 and still stands proudly as my personal pick for the best EP of this decade and it’s very unlikely that anything will unseat it by the time 2020 rolls around. No band has every put me all in as quickly as Charly Bliss managed with just three perfect songs.

I didn’t know it at the time but that EP would wind up legitimately changing the course of my life. Eva Grace Hendricks, one of Charly Bliss’ two guitarist/vocalist/songwriter’s, joined the A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors roster shortly after Soft Serve‘s release and wound up being an instrumental part of my decision to relocate to Brooklyn for half of 2015. Our shared, vocal support of each other’s ventures meant a great deal to me at the time and still does today, as it stood (and stands) as the type of mutual support that Heartbreaking Bravery has aimed to establish since the beginning.

Enter: Guppy‘s first run, an astonishing demo that laid out the particulars and quickly overtook everything else in my listening habits. Any doubts that any of the members of Charly Bliss may have had at the time were wildly unwarranted; even at its most humble stages, Guppy was a behemoth of a record. For the next two years, the band would fine-tune different parts of the songs, the production, and they’d introduce new material that usurped a few scattered tracks that were initially grouped in with what would eventually become Guppy.

To promote the record, the band did everything right and still managed to hide a few tricks up their sleeve: touring America as the openers for Veruca Salt and PUP, releasing “Ruby” as an early single and following it up with a characteristically clever music video, unleashing the single greatest Audiotree session I’ve seen (no small feat), and finding ways to advance their jaw-dropping live show, from perfecting four-part harmonies to studiously analyzing old footage to look for subtle tweaks to potentially make. All the while, a handful of labels had taken interest and the band had a huge decision to make and took their time to make sure it was the right one.

Barsuk Records eventually won the rights to Guppy and all of the tenacity they likely poured into their campaign to secure the record should pay massive dividends for the label going forward. It’s a move that helped secure Guppy the vaunted NPR First Listen slot, replete with an effectively effusive write-up. Stereogum immediately awarded the record its Album of the Week honor and Pitchfork gave it the kind of score that’s a short step away from verging on their Best New Music territory (a rarity for the publication’s appraisal of this particular genre).

While all of the praise remains heartening to see and the critical analysis provided to the record was both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it’s difficult to tell if any of those reviewers grasped the magnitude of what this type of record can accomplish if it keeps being awarded effective platforms. It’s also difficult to tell if any of those publications had a handle on not only what this band can eventually become but what they’ve managed to become already. As mentioned above, Guppy is a record capable of obliterating critical thinking as it plays and then rewarding it to an obscene degree when it wraps, putting it in extremely select company.

From the energy-bolstering opening seconds of “Percolator”, Guppy lets its listeners know that they’re in for something that’s as ebullient as it is aggressive, finding a transcendental sweet spot between bubblegum coating and a shockingly dark undercurrent. Hendricks, from the outset, dives into a narrative that grapples with not only her own mortality but the self-awareness everyday interactions have come to necessitate. Spencer Fox, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, provides what’s quickly becoming his trademark: economical but dizzying guitar riffs that don’t sacrifice feeling for technique (or vice versa).

If people weren’t aware that Fox is currently one of the best guitarists in music, Guppy should go a long way in providing that (admittedly understandable) ignorance a remedy. While Soft Serve‘s “Urge to Purge” remains one of the best riffs of the present decade, Guppy is where Fox stakes his claim, something that becomes abundantly clear throughout the course of the record. Not only are all of Fox’s contributions spectacular but the work Dan Shure and Sam Hendricks (Eva’s brother) are doing as a rhythm section have allowed them to quietly become one of the most vicious tandems currently on the circuit.

While Fox and that rhythm section remain impressive throughout, Guppy‘s beating heart rests in Eva Grace Hendricks and that heart’s beating at a relentless pace. Hendricks anchors each one of these songs with a frightening determination and a mischievous joy. All of the come-on’s are equipped with a warning, every smile comes with a missing tooth, and every invitation comes with an advance apology.

In “Ruby”, Hendricks’ loving ode to her therapist, she rides a subway with blood on her hair. On “Glitter”, there’s the realization that a relationship’s shortcomings can sometimes be equally distributed across both parties. In “Scare U”, there’s the recognition of greed and the unapologetic desire to be in complete control.  At seemingly every turn, Hendricks comes to grips with the duality most goodhearted people constantly view as a struggle. By subverting these thoughts and latching onto something defiantly celebratory, Charly Bliss comes together to reclaim their own deeply damaged narratives as learning points, important mistakes, and necessities of personal evolution.

It’s in that context where each of the band’s decisions gains importance. They’re not just making music because they like to make music; they’re using it as a coping outlet. Every single snare hit, vibrato, and squeal comes loaded with personal meaning and they’re reaching those confrontations as a unit, drawing from each other’s strengths to pummel all of the perceived difficulties back into something that feels inconsequential in the face of what they’re doing together. Nothing is half-assed. This is the embrace of life vs. the acquiescence of  a life given over to being constantly haunted by past mistakes.

As that aspect of Guppy comes into focus, it’s legitimately hard not to be blown away on several levels. Chief among them, the strength this band’s gained through both familial experience and shared camaraderie. There’s no judgment present, just the willingness to take a sword to the throats of the dangerous things that threaten the well-being of their friends. If there’s a dragon to be slayed, Charly Bliss’ tactic is to conjure up a battering ram to force it into becoming a piñata and bathing in its blood as the ugliest contents come pouring out, greeting the event as a ritualistic party to share with all their friends.

Managing to make things even more impressive is the fact that the band’s doing this with what’s more of a whip-smart advancement of ’90s slacker punk & powerpop aesthetics than a faceless imitation. Sure, Guppy will get compared to Letters to Cleo, Josie and the Pussycats, and any other act that fits that mold- but (in addition to some possible casual sexism) that’s only faintly scratching the surface of what’s actually happening on this record, especially in terms of composition. That’s a victory all on its own and Guppy should go a long way in contributing to what looks to be a seismic shift in the way bands pull influence from that particular pocket of music.

Guppy is far from a retread and it’s decidedly modern bent helps secure it a spot as one of 2017’s essential releases as well as a bona fide genre classic. There are no standout songs among the 10 because virtually all of them rank among the best to be released this year. From wire-to-wire, Guppy is a breakneck record that revels in destruction and comes off as a staggering show of force. Everything from the dirty ditty-turned-guaranteed showstopper “Black Hole”  to the unrelenting blows administered by “Gatorade”, “DQ”, and “Westermarck” are enough to make anyone sit up and start paying the type of attention this band should’ve been receiving for the past several years.

As “Totalizer” races by with abandon and all of the requisite snark, cleverness, and thoughtfulness that have come to define Charly Bliss songs, it’s still difficult to think most will be adequately prepared for the record’s final breathtaking moment. “Julia”, Guppy‘s sludgy closer, is the heaviest track the band’s committed to record by miles. It’s one final reminder that the band’s not as cute as they appear at first blush and that Guppy, while a fun record on the surface, conceals a wellspring of damage that the band’s not afraid to confront. Full-throated, deeply felt, and ferociously delivered, Guppy is a basement pop record for the ages. Whatever troubles come, I have no doubt that Charly Bliss will be standing above the wreckage, breathing in the smoke and looking to start a roaring fire all their own.

Listen to Guppy below, pick it up from Barsuk here, and watch a collection of live videos that I personally shot of the band playing at six separate shows over the past few years.