Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: LVL UP

The 15 Best Songs of August

We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.

Weaves – 53 + Walkaway

One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.

Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress

Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.

Common Holly – Nothing

Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.

Abraham King – Spit

Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.

METZ – Drained Lake

One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.

Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart

A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.

Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2

Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.

Madeline Kenney – Big One

The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.

Weakened Friends – Hate Mail

While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.

Mike Caridi – Two Dogs

LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.

Grouper – Children

Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.

Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show

Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling  individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.

 

 

Cende – #1 Hit Single (Album Review)

A lot of outside forces — from tour scheduling to a forthcoming move — necessitated a brief hiatus for this site. Heartbreaking Bravery remains a one-person operation (albeit, one supported by a generous community of like-minded people) so it can be difficult to keep pace when life gets hectic. That being said, it’s a project that’s always receiving attention, even if it’s radio silent for a stretch of time.

To that end, today will largely be focused on honorable mentions lists and a few abbreviated best-of’s for the material that was released during this most recent interim. A few releases will also get there own feature, like the item kicking today’s coverage off: Cende‘s outstanding #1 Hit Single which ranks among 2017’s finest offerings and stands as an exhilarating new chapter for one of today’s smartest basement pop bands.

Having already claimed this site’s Best EP of 2015 distinction, the anticipation for their full-length debut was considerably high. Propelling that anticipation to stratospheric heights by way of lead-off singles “Bed” and “What I Want“, had #1 Hit Single been anything short of masterful, it would’ve been a crushing disappointment. Of course, with the combined track record of the band’s members, that outcome was always far less likely than the inevitable: #1 Hit Single is a genuinely exceptional record.

Virtually everything on this record has been given an extreme amount of care and attention, the meticulous observation and clinical understanding of composition on every level elevates the record from simply being great to being a surprisingly understated genre classic. By taking their punk-leaning energy and suffusing it with classical underpinnings and some notably DIY leanings, Cende’s landed on something that feels fresh, familiar, and entirely their own.

“What I Want” standing as the perfect example of how the band’s marriage of punk, powerpop, hardcore, bedroom pop, and a variety of other sub-genres can not only exist harmoniously but congeal into a spellbinding whole. While that song’s unusually soft nature comes as somewhat of a curveball, the ensuing track puts the band back on an aggressive path that’s more attuned to their surprisingly vicious live show.

The back half of #1 Hit Single reaffirms everything laid out by its predecessor, encapsulating the band’s mastery over their craft and identity to an unavoidable degree. From the quiet insistence of “Void” — one of the strongest tracks on a record comprised of nothing but highlights — to the subdued melancholia of “While I’m Alive”, there’s not a false moment to be found. It’s a beautiful cap to a painfully honest and surprisingly poignant record about insecurity, uncertainty, and hanging onto shreds of optimism and resilience. Put simply: #1 Hit Record is the type of record you hold onto long enough to pass down to the next generation, hoping they do the same.

Listen to #1 Hit Single below and pick it up from Double Double Whammy here.

Cende – Don’t Want To (Stream, Live Video)

The past four days have brought in a wave of excellent tracks from a variety of artists, Jet TrashMichael NauBjørn Torske & Prins Thomas, Single Mothers, Standard Legal, Yazz Ahmed, Hundredth, Pat Keen, Passion Pusher, Pet Cemetery, Gallery 47, Lando Chill, and Lød all among that extensive list. Cende also made another appearance with a third glimpse at the band’s forthcoming debut full-length, #1 Hit Song, and secured yet another feature on this site with the explosive basement pop of “Don’t Want To.”

In under 100 seconds, Cende manages to make yet another strong impression, this time emphasizing their more punk influences rather than scaling them back. It’s an effect that goes a long way in creating both energy and momentum, leaving “Don’t Want To” feeling surprisingly vital and a little volatile in the process. Guitarist/vocalist Cameron Wisch once again centers the narrative on self-doubt, self-deprecation, and self-awareness, which remains an intensely relatable combination. As sharp as both “Bed” and “What I Want“, “Don’t Want To” all but cements the lingering feeling that #1 Hit Song will wind up among the year’s best records.

Listen to “Don’t Want To” below (and watch the band rip through the song and an as-of-yet unreleased song beneath the initial embed) and pre-order #1 Hit Song from Double Double Whammy here.

Cende – What I Want (Stream, Live Video)

A week or two ago, a handful of great songs found their way out into the world. These included tracks from Terror Watts, Benjamin Booker, Soul Low, Jodi, Baby!, Crushing, Art School Jocks, Buildings, Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else, Lusid, and Lauren Ruth Ward. One of the tracks to make a significant impact came in the form of Cende‘s “What I Want”, which follows the gorgeous “Bed” as the release of the band’s forthcoming #1 Hit Song inches closer.

Masterfully composed and precisely executed, “What I Want” loses none of its drive but gains a tender sheen thanks to the backing vocals from Frankie Cosmos‘ Greta Kline. Cameron Wisch, Cende’s bandleader and principle songwriter, conjures up an airy atmospheric that Kline fills to perfection. When Kline’s vocals kick in for the first time, it’s a genuinely breathtaking moment, buoyed by a string arrangement that straddles the divide between sweet and melancholic beautifully, perfectly accentuating Kline’s contribution.

Following Kline’s verse is a bridge that demonstrate the band’s sheer talent, veering between power and innovation with ease. Staccato blasts are met with orchestral dissonance and the song transforms from a modest run into a seething behemoth before falling away to silence. It’s final segment, a volume swell that brings “What I Want” roaring back to life for a brief moment, is the final stroke of genius in what firmly stands as one of 2017’s most captivating releases, reaffirming that every second of “What I Want” is worth exploring.

Listen to “What I Want” (and watch the band run through the song at CMJ 2015) below and pre-order #1 Hit Song from Double Double Whammy here.

Cende – Bed (Stream, Live Video)

Back when Cende was just starting out, I was fortunate enough to hear some of the early mixes of what would become the band’s first EP, an astonishing work that still only hinted at the depths of the band’s talents. Comprised of members of Porches, LVL UP, Normal Person, and a whole host of others, the quartet’s built up a staggering pedigree over the years. Now, over three years into starting the project, the band’s finally gearing up for the release of their forthcoming full-length, #1 Hit Song, and have selected “Bed” to lead the charge.

A staple of their live set for several years, “Bed” is a startlingly sharp, concise basement pop triumph. Over several conversations with the various band members, Radioactiviy always came up as a big influence and a similar sense of urgency runs through “Bed”, even while it boasts a surprisingly clean aesthetic (both in terms of instrumentation and production). In terms of lyrics, narratives don’t get much more unapologetic in their self-deprecation than the alternating resolutions of the verses, “You’ll be better off when I’m not around” and “You’ll be better off when I’m all alone,” respectively. It’s a deeply human sentiment that grounds the affair and reveals a few bruises in the process. All in all, “Bed” is a powerful opening salvo for what should prove to be one of the year’s best records.

Listen to “Bed” below (and watch the band performing it in the venue where they started) and pre-order #1 Hit Song from Double Double Whammy here.

Watch This: The Best of 2017’s First Quarter, Pt. I

In a three month span, an innumerable number of tour and press cycles can run their course. Fortunately, there are a handful of outlets in the world dedicated to capturing the live performances that power most of the cycles in the most artistic way possible. This post (and the following three) focuses on the best of the best in terms of live videos. Whether it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking (as is the case with the clip that kicks this off, which also doubles an an official music video), a great performance, or a combination of both, there’s quite a bit to admire about the selected videos. So, as always, lean back, relax, clear your mind, and Watch This.



PART I

1. Ron Gallo – Please Yourself
2. Meat Wave – To Be Swayed (Live! From the Rock Room)
3. Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab (Dangerbird)
4. Peaer – Pink Spit (Live! From the Rock Room)
5. Yucky Duster – Friend Zone + Gofer (The Special Without Brett Davis)
6. Cloud Nothings – Modern Act (KCSN)
7. Charly Bliss – Glitter (WFUV)
8. LVL UP – Hidden Driver (Do512)
9. Wetter – Do You Still Dance? (Radio K)
10. Forth Wanderers – Caramel Emotion (Allston Pudding)
11. Happyness – Through Windows (Do512)
12. Parlor Walls – Play Opposites (BreakThruRadio)
13. Weaves – One More (Audiotree)
14. Frankie Cosmos – Highways and Trees + O Dread C Town (La Blogotheque)
15. Ornament – Adapt or Leave (Boxfish Sessions)
16. IAN SWEET – 2soft2chew (Allston Pudding)
17. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down to the Tree… (Boxfish Sessions)
18. Darkwing – Necropants (BreakThruRadio)
19. Gurr – Moby Dick (3voor12)
20. The Chinchees – Everyone Knows (Radio K)
21. Sløtface – Empire Records (3voor12)
22. Very Fresh – Schedule IV (BreakThruRadio)
23. Middle Kids – Edge of Town (The Current)
24. Emilyn Brodsky – Hands Off the Stove (BreakThruRadio)
25. Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals (NPR)

The Best Music Videos of 2017’s First Quarter

Being the type of place that’s always been as concerned with film (even if it hasn’t always been so visible in print) as new music releases, music videos occupy a special distinction. To that effect, it’s probably not too surprising that 50 clips are featured in this piece. Some being celebrated for the technicality present in the filmmaking, some for being a perfectly complementary marriage of sight and sound, and some for being commendable takes on the source material. Lyric videos, music videos, and interactive videos are all represented below in the featured videos, split up into two playlists. This is a very varied package celebrating a large handful of some of the best independent-minded artists and filmmakers currently gifting their efforts to the world at large. Dive in and enjoy.

PART I

1. Charly Bliss – Percolator
2. Doe – Monopoly
3. Hiccup – Teasin’
4. Meat Wave – Run You Out
5. Pissed Jeans – The Bar Is Low
6. Cloud Nothings – Internal World
7. Yeesh – End Results
8. Parquet Courts – Outside
9. Cayetana – Mesa
10. PWR BTTM – Answer My Text
11. Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout
12. Beachheads – Moment of Truth
13. Kane Strang – Oh So You’re Off I See
14. Billy Moon – I W K
15. Idles – Mother
16. Cass McCombs – I’m A Shoe
17. Angel Olsen – Pops
18. Ruth Carp and the Fish Heads – I’m So Scared
19. Dominic – Emotional Businessman
20. R Ring – Cutter
21. Zuzu – What You Want
22. Snail Mail – Thinning
23. CARE – Solitude
24. WHY? – This Ole King
25. Mount Eerie – Ravens

++

PART II

1. Jeff Rosenstock – Pash Rash
2. Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
3. Idles – Stendahl Syndrome
4. Split Single – Untry Love
5. Tim Darcy – Still Waking Up
6. Diet Cig – Tummy Ache
7. R Ring – 100 Dollar Heat
8. Poppies – Mistakes
9. PWR BTTM – Big Beautiful Day
10. LVL UP – Blur
11. Sløtface – Empire Records
12. Vundabar – Shuffle
13. WHY? – Proactive Evolution
14. Vallens – Sin So Vain
15. Baked – Danelectroladyland
16. Tashaki Miyaki – City
17. Girlpool – 123
18. Chemtrails – Aeons
19. Summer Twins – Stop & Go
20. John Andrews & The Yawns – Drivers
21. The Chinchees – Gorp
22. Mo Troper – Cooler
23. Conor Oberst – Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out
24. Strand of Oaks – Cry
25. Craig Finn – God In Chicago
*

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

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

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

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

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

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

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

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

Mitski – Puberty 2

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

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

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

Big Thief – Masterpiece

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

Swim Team – Swim Team

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

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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

Greys – Outer Heaven

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

Hovvdy – Taster

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

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

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

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

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

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

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

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

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

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

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

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

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

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

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

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

Other honorable mentions:

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

16 of ’16: The Best Songs of the Year

LVL UP II

Following suit with the two previous examples, the best songs of 2016 list will abandon the traditional numerical format in favor of a more open approach that concentrates on the best material of the year without offering too many individual designations. The majority of the songs featured on this list were under-represented on lists by far more visible publications (and a few that were fairly represented are listed below the main list as honorable mentions) and fall under the genres normally covered by this site. Of course, this list — just like any other — can’t claim to be truly representative but it does offer a decent encapsulation of 2016 releases that deserved to be celebrated.

An additional note: most of the embeds come from bandcamp, so songs will auto-play after the initial listen. This was intentional to ease the access to the records that can claim these songs and to more directly benefit the artists that brought them into the world.

Enjoy the list.

Mo Troper – Happy Birthday

One of the strongest debut records of last year was Mo Troper‘s Beloved, an entirely unexpected but wholly welcome powerpop masterpiece. While just about every song on Beloved was considered for this list, it seemed appropriate to go with “Happy Birthday” which set the tone for a fearsome record that deserved far more recognition.

Doe – Sincere

Some Things Last Longer Than You was a blistering statement from Doe, a band that had been steadily gaining momentum for years. It was a perfectly structured record that allowed its songs an equal amount of weight but “Sincere” still managed to emerge as a standout single. Fiery and full of conviction, it was one of 2016’s best moments.


Told Slant – Low Hymnal

Low Hymnal” was a song that I was fortunate enough to hear forming in its earliest stages but the finished product still managed to wind up as a transcendental experience. There’s genuine pain at the root of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” that lends to the overwhelming weight of the song’s unforgettable final stanza. A gorgeous and moving masterwork.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

In the title track for their career best, Human Performance, Parquet Courts hit an exhilarating new high point. “Human Performance” is a tightly-coiled and deeply felt examination of the human condition that finds the band stretching in new directions with a fearlessness that makes the song as gripping as it is immediate.

Yucky Duster – Gofer

A pitch-perfect pop song, Yucky Duster‘s “Gofer” became one of 2016’s most unexpected summer anthems. It’s a pure delight at every perfectly-navigated hairpin turn, serving up some of the most meticulously constructed guitar pop in recent memory. A perfect blend of style and substance, “Gofer” is a triumph from a band worth watching.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)

While Pretty Years saw Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to evolve their sound, no moment of the record was more jaw-dropping than the towering “Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)“. An eye-opening display of formidable strength and untapped ferocity, the song saw the band perfecting just about every facet of their already-impressive songwriting.

LVL UP – Spirit Was

Pain” and “Hidden Driver” got a fair amount of attention from year-end lists but the most representative moment of LVL UP‘s Return To Love was the bittersweet “Spirit Was“, which also ranks as one of the band’s best. Vocalist/bassist Nick Corbo provided Return To Love its beating heart and “Spirit Was” marked the moment it completely opened.

Big Thief – Real Love

It takes a certain type of boldness to title a record Masterpiece but when that record features songs like “Real Love“, that title just seems apt. In some moments “Real Love” is breezy and open, while others finds Big Thief baring their fangs. Throw in one of the most effective guitar solos of the past few years and “Real Love” quietly emerges as a new classic.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos

Before hanging up their cables, Jawbreaker Reunion were kind enough to deliver one last album in haha and then what 😉, which lived up to the bands sterling track record. The best moment of a great record came via “Cosmos“, a gorgeous ballad examining serious topics that quickly transforms into a forceful reckoning. In short: it’s perfect.

Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia

Likely the most celebrated record appearing on this list, Car Seat Headrest‘s Teens of Denial‘s most breathtaking moment was largely ignored by other outlets. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is a sprawling meditation on hopelessness that somehow finds a way to seamlessly work in a brief, heartrending cover of Dido’s “White Flag”. A genuine achievement.

Fred Thomas – Brickwall

Fred Thomas is making and releasing music at a relatively relentless rate, which is a trait that typically produces a lot of filler material. Thomas somehow keeps getting better, something that’s clearly evident in “Brickwall“, a characteristically acerbic slice-of-life send-up that highlights Changer, which will go down as one of 2017’s finest.

Cloud Nothings – Modern Act

Rarely does a band come across as progressive while revisiting their earlier sounds, yet “Modern Act” finds a way to fuse progression with refinement in its revisitations. A brilliant hybrid of virtually every stage of the band’s career “Modern Act” is both a victory lap and an engrossing look at Cloud Nothings‘ increasingly promising future.

Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab

Crockpot” was the kind of unforgettable song that could make a band’s career, that Slothrust has surpassed those dazzling heights so quickly is a staggering accomplishment. “Horseshoe Crab” is the kind of track that can stop people in their tracks. It’s a spellbinding song from a band unafraid to rip the bleeding heart out of their own chest.

Catbus – Fracas

A standalone release — and lone track — from a band that features Phyllis Ophelia and members of Patio, Catbus‘ “Fracas” is a riveting hybrid of post-punk and basement pop. The verses ensnare the listeners attention before the chorus blooms and casts an unbreakable spell. Exceedingly lovely and perfectly crafted, “Fracas” is an absolute gem.

John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest

No song in 2016 carried more emotional resonance than John K. Samson‘s devastating final chapter to the Virtute trilogy. Plaintive, painfully intimate, and tinged with a deeply damaged sense of hope, the song finds Virtute’s owner resurrecting the neglected cat to beg for forgiveness. Harrowing and unforgettable, “Virtute At Rest” was a knockout blow.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright

There’s a grace and elegance that’s identifiable even through the light damage that Jay Som applies to “I Think You’re Alright” that brings Sparklehorse to mind. Now, direct comparisons on this site are few and far between — especially in the case of such notable luminaries — but it’s next to impossible not to hear the ghost of Mark Linkous lovingly haunting every last second of “I Think You’re Alright”.

Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind the Jay Som project, has listed Sparklehorse as a major influence and the two share a kindred, empathetic spirit- something that shows in the delicate tenderness of “I Think You’re Alright” and maintains its convictions throughout the rest of Jay Som’s discography. While that discography is an enviable one, “I Think You’re Alright” remains its crown jewel, thanks to not only the song’s sublime instrumentation but a narrative that plays perfectly into the song’s soft lyricism.

All at once, uplifting and resigned, “I Think  You’re Alright” occupies a fascinating space. There’s a lot going on in “I Think You’re Alright”, from the subdued atmosphere to the way that instrumentation interacts in its final quarter. When it’s playing, though, none of that’s taken into account as “I Think You’re Alright” has the ability to envelop the listener in a very specific feeling, rendering it a unique (and uniquely moving) listen. Not just one of the finest of this year but of the past decade.

Nine more worth hearing:

PWR BTTM – Projection
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Weaves – Coo Coo
Margaret Glaspy – You and I
Forth Wanderers – Slop
Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
Eskimeaux – WTF
Tancred – Sell My Head
Young Jesus – Baked Goods

16 of ’16: The Best Music Videos of the Year

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It’s been a while since anything’s run on this site but, as always, everything that’s being put on the table is being assessed and evaluated. A Year’s Worth of Memories‘ third edition is just around the corner but before those recollections begin, it only seems fair to take a look back at the best of what 2016 had to offer. This will be the first year where a numerical rankings system is abandoned, a decision that wasn’t made lightly but is being enforced for a variety of reasons specific to this over-stuffed year (meaning that the numerical rankings system may appear again roughly 12 months from now).

For whatever reason, music videos are largely viewed by the general public as having fallen out of favor, which is a genuine shame considering what’s being done with the form. Lemonade seemed to revive some interest and open up potential possibilities for the future but it’s still a format that the public’s left by the wayside. Here at Heartbreaking Bravery, the best of these have been traditionally celebrated because they represent the perfect marriage of music and film. 2016 presented a whole new slate of incredible material, headlined by an unbelievable string of videos from Minor Victories and PUP, that were worth praising.

Here are 16 of the best clips to have appeared throughout the year.

Kevin Morby – Dorothy

Christopher Good has directed a handful of videos that have been featured on this site over the years but may have turned in a career best with Kevin Morby’s “Dorothy“. Embracing Morby’s open road aesthetics, Good allows “Dorothy” to gracefully coast along at a breezy pace, infusing it with an inordinate amount of perfect cues and tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s sublime craftsmanship that not only complements but elevates its already-great source material.

Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator

After cracking last year’s music video list with the jaw-dropping clip for “Kim’s Caravan”, Courtney Barnett makes another appearance thanks to the fascinating, cameo-heavy video for “Elevator Operator“. Blending Barnett’s signature wit with a staggering moment of quiet existentialism that arrives out of nowhere, “Elevator Operator” sees the celebrated songwriter aiming for new heights and reaching a stratospheric level.

John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues

Former Weakerthans bandleader John K. Samson made an incredibly welcome return with 2016’s outstanding Winter Wheat. One of that record’s highlights, “Postdoc Blues“, received the music video treatment and is the rare clip that benefits from an incredibly direct and literal simplicity. Created for a good cause and executed to a characteristically unassuming brand of perfection, “Postdoc Blues” is a breath of fresh air.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

No music video from 2016 proved to be more grotesquely haunting than Parquet Courts‘ oddly disturbed, puppet-driven clip for “Human Performance“. It’s intensely human, ridiculously unnerving, and extremely hard to shake. “Human Performance” props up its own ugliness in an effectively defiant act of genuinely brave showmanship. A singular piece from a fascinating directorial voice, “Human Performance” wound up as one of 2016’s most fascinating moments.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)

Easily one of 2016’s best songs, Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” also served as one of the year’s best music videos. Shot through with nostalgia and an abundance of feeling, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” managed the impossible task of both referencing an indisputable classic and standing on its own. A perfect marriage of lyric video and traditional music video, Cymbals Eat Guitars may have created something bordering on timeless.

LVL UP – The Closing Door

The first major music video effort from LVL UP came courtesy of House of Nod, who were given the unenviable task of capturing the searing spiritual search present all throughout the band’s latest effort, Return to Love, and turned in an absolute gem. “The Closing Door” relies heavily on imagery and metaphor but never seems anything less than grounded. “The Closing Door” climaxes in a beautiful final sequence that’s moving, hopeful, and reassuring, three things that become sorely necessary in a difficult year.

Potty Mouth – Smash Hit

There are a lot of ways a music video can achieve greatness, whether it be through breathtaking visuals, inspired direction, a memorable concept, by complementing the song, or, in the case of Potty Mouth‘s “Smash Hit“, being astonishingly representative of the band.  An effective mix of glitz, glamour, and grit, “Smash Hit” finds the trio vamping for the cameras and giving a tenacious central performance. It’s an exhilarating burst from a band that’s attained an assured confidence.

Vagabon – The Embers

“The Embers” served as site favorites Vagabon‘s introduction-at-large for a sizable audience and it’s one hell of an introduction. Utilizing a visual style that’s not too distant from Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (one of the best films of this young century), “The Embers” is immediately gripping. The empowering, symbolism-heavy narrative is as striking as the imagery and all of it clicks into something that verges on the transcendental. In short: it’s unmissable.

Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You

Another clip from the inimitable House of Nod, Japanese Breakfast‘s “Everybody Wants to Love You” popped up on many of these year-end music video lists and it’s incredibly easy to see why. A celebration of heritage and individuality as well as a moving tribute to a deceased parent, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is loaded with sincerity and meaning. Vibrant with the faintest touch of melancholy, it’s an unforgettable demonstration of personal strength and unerring resolve.

Dilly Dally – Snakehead

Likely the funniest music video to be released in 2016, Dilly Dally‘s “Snakehead” music video skewers its own format at every turn, while clearly being a meticulously crafted clip born out of a deep love and understanding of music videos. Biting captions, self-aware performances, and contextual knowledge make “Snakehead” obscenely endearing and skyrocket its worth in the process. Pointed, snarky, and a hell of a lot of fun, “Snakehead” is nothing less than a knockout.

PWR BTTM – West Texas

2016 was a very kind year for PWR BTTM and one of the duo’s opening shots was the sweeping music video for “West Texas”. Epic in scope and unapologetic in its cinematic debt, “West Texas” is a swaggering blast of bravado that touches on just about everything that’s made PWR BTTM so beloved in such a short amount of time. The identity politics, the showmanship, the willingness to be subversive, and the ability to string everything together with fiendishly sly, self-aware humor.

Hazel English – Never Going Home

Hazel English delivered one of the year’s best EP’s with the exceedingly lovely Never Going Home, which boasted a title track that received an absolutely gorgeous visual accompaniment. While the lyric video for “I’m Fine“, the studio clip for “It’s Not Real“, and the clip for “Control” all merited individual consideration for this list, it was the soft lensing and natural, delicate charm of “Never Going Home” that made the deepest impression. It casts a spell that’s worthy of a complete surrender.

Mitski – Happy

Part of a trio of impressive Mitski clips (including “Your Best American Girl” and “A Burning Hill“), “Happy” packed a powerful enough punch to secure the spot on this list. Paying homage to heritage, race relations, historical tension, military occupation, and a bevvy of classic films,  Maegan Houang brings a fiery directorial touch to an outstanding concept and executes with staggering purpose. By the time “Happy” winds to an end, it’s difficult to wish for anything other than an expansion into a feature length film.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Trio

While Angel Olsen, The Avalanches, and DJ Shadow (ft. Run the Jewels) were among some of the bigger names making genuinely outstanding music videos, what filmmaker Andrew Dominik accomplished with his clips of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds playing a trio of clips (“I Need You“, “Jesus Alone“, and “Girl In Amber“) from the band’s shattering Skeleton Tree simply can’t be ignored. This is both performance and performance filmmaking of the highest possible level.

Minor Victories – Cogs (Orchestral Variation)

Only one band could rival what Minor Victories achieved in the music video format in 2016 (but we’ll get to that band in a moment). Minor Victories aggressively established an arresting visual aesthetic and turned in an incredible number of clips that could have very easily wound up in this spot. “Cogs“, “Folk Arp“, “Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)“, “A Hundred Ropes“, “Breaking My Light“, and “Give Up the Ghost (Orchestral Variation)” were all gripping in various ways, making the most of crisp black-and-white cinematography. Their finest moment, however, came with the release of “Cogs (Orchestral Variation)“, an expansive, intimate character study and the band’s most ambitious offering to date. It’s harrowing, it’s riveting, and it’s easily one of the best clips of 2016.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR

PUP – Sleep in the Heat

In 2013, PUP‘s “Reservoir” topped the year-end music video list I contributed to PopMatters. In 2014, PUP’s “Guilt Trip” topped this site’s very first year-end music videos list. In 2015, PUP managed to crack the year-end music video list once again with “Dark Days“. This year, the band continued an unprecedented run of dominance in the format with no less than three legitimate year-end contenders, each wildly different from the other.

From the playful, game-happy lyric clip for “DVP” to the relentless shock-and-awe brutality of the terrifyingly-named “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“, the band was firing on all cylinders. Still, none of that could’ve been adequate preparation for what they and director Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux achieved with “Sleep in the Heat”, a successor to “Guilt Trip” that came several years after filming on “Guilt Trip” wrapped- and after “Guilt Trip” star Finn Wolfhard landed another lucrative starring role in Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Just as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” intercut footage of “Reservoir” to establish a sense of history to ground its narrative and supply additional meaning, “Sleep in the Heat” opens with the startlingly vivid footage of its natural predecessor. The actors that were assembled in “Guilt Trip” resume their posts as stand-in’s for PUP’s members in their earlier days and each of them — particularly Wolfhard, who turns in what’s easily the best work of his burgeoning career in this clip — give committed performances.

Taking on the role of a scrappy touring band, the young cast find themselves navigating the frequently dire circumstances that are all too familiar to anyone that’s ever hopped in a van to drive four hours to play a show in a basement to five people. There’s a sense of lived-in realism that bolsters everything in the clip, which seeps in from the onset and never relinquishes its hold. Early on, “Sleep in the Heat” takes a curious turn when a stray dog takes a shining to the band’s food and follows them to their next brief stop, endearing itself to the band to the point where they bring it on board as a rescue.

Here’s where the narrative crux of “Sleep in the Heat” — a song written about guitarist/vocalist Stefan Babcock’s deceased chameleon — begins to sink in and all anyone can do is prepare for devastation. Not too long after that sudden, sinking realization, things in the video begin to get bleak. The dog gets sick and needs a surgical procedure, unable to cover the expense, Wolfhard (as the young Babcock) pawns a guitar mid-tour to provide for the animal that’s quickly become a new best friend. The surgery goes forward but it isn’t enough.

In one of the most emotionally shattering music video montages of recent memory, the band members of PUP are photographed holding their own deceased pets, lending a heartbreaking reality to an already emotionally charged clip. Several stages of the process of dealing with death all collide at once and it’s a forceful, resonant moment that immediately registers as singular.

As brilliant as that moment is, it’s not until the final passage where everything’s really driven home. Wolfhard’s back to the front of the band, guitar slung across his body once more (a perfect shot revealing he’d broken through the pawn shop glass to steal it back is just one of many grace notes scattered throughout the clip), looking delirious, hollow, and broken as footage of the wounded dog being tended to is intercut with Wolfhard overcome with emotion while screaming the song’s final chorus: Yesterday I went back to my apartment to see how you’d been holding up, you hadn’t been eating, I thought you were sleeping but you’re not waking up. I want you to know that I’d spend every bit of my pitiful savings and loans just to see you again… but I know I won’t.

The screen fades to black and resumes after a brief pause only to reveal rocks being piled on top of a freshly-dug patch of dirt. The camera pulls back and reveals one word, spray painted on the rock pile’s surface: PUP. Another pause and another cut to black occurs before “Sleep in the Heat” offers one final nod to its prequel and closes with a shot of the van moving forward down an open road, looking ahead to new triumphs, heartbreak, and everything else life has to offer.