Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Michael Caridi

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

Watch This: Vol. 149

The past week was teeming with outstanding live videos. Japanese Breakfast, Margaret Glaspy, Tacocat, Dolfish, The Conquerors, Liz Cooper & The Stampede, Nassau, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam (x2), Computer Magic, Alex Izenberg, The Lemon Twigs, Runaway Brother, Julia Jacklin, Jay Smart, Full Body, Conor Oberst, Ira Wolf, The Blank Tapes, Donovan Wolfington, The Malady of Sevendials, Sammus, Tom Brosseau, Casper Skulls, Jordie Lane & the Sleepers, King Charles, Diet Cig, Gallery 47, Pat Otto, Lilian, Kyle Craft, and Thirdstory all offered up incredible entries and, in the process, pointed to the overwhelming strength of the five clips featured below. New faces and old favorites abound in full sessions, late night triumphs, and single song performances. So, as always, sit up, lean in, focus, adjust the settings, block out any distractions, and Watch This.

1. Real Life Buildings (WKNC)

A New York institution for some years now, Real Life Buildings’ members have been extremely active in the DIY punk scene and accumulated an impressive pedigree. It’s easy to forget that fact when they play, though, as their music sounds so complete. Here, the project takes to the WKNC studios and delivers an inspired set of slightly askew basement pop. It’s a series of thrilling moments from a band that more than deserves their continuously growing reputation as one of the state’s finest acts.

2. Yohuna – Apart (Radio K)

In Patientness, the Johanne Swanson-led Yohuna delivered one of the year’s most quietly compelling releases. Operating as a trio for the live shows, Yohuna recently stopped by the Radio K studios and offered up a gripping take on “Apart”, one of the many highlights from Patientness. Calm, collected, and enticing, it’s a perfect example of the project’s innate level of talent.

3, Porches – Car (KEXP)

When Watch This was in its earliest stages, Porches. would make infrequent appearances that mostly came courtesy of fan-shot footage of solo performances. In that time, the project’s reach has considerably widened, the period at the end of the name’s been all but abandoned, and it’s successfully transitioned into a full band that boasts an incredible cast of musicians. Porches hit a career highlight with “Car” and they recently gifted KEXP with this arresting run through the song. Good luck escaping the vice grip of that miraculous hook.

4. Julia Jacklin – Pool Party (The Current)

The ascendant Julia Jacklin’s been making quite a splash lately, drawing comparisons to the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Leonard Cohen. Just a few seconds into this gorgeous run through “Pool Party” and it’s abundantly clear that Jacklin’s tapped into that intangible element that can propel talented people to new levels of fame. A beautiful performance of a gorgeous song, it’s hard not to just leave the clip on repeat.

5. Mitski – Your Best American Girl (Colbert)

Anytime anyone from the DIY circuit starts succeeding on a grander level, it’s a heartening development, especially in the cases of artists that stay true to their convictions. Watching Mitski sit in with Stephen Colbert’s house band and lead them through selections from a discography that’s been well-covered here in the past served as a moment of triumph. The cherry on top? A full, heartfelt rendition of “Your Best American Girl” — one of 2016’s best songs — with the house band urging the song forward. All told, it was a well-earned, inspiring moment from an artist whose work deserves to be celebrated.

15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015

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Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.

For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.

15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia

Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.

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14. ThinLips – Your Divorce

An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.

13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig

Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.

12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth

A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.

11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs

After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.

10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?

While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.

9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2

One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry to its status as one of the best of 2015.

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8. Slight – Hate the Summer

Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.

7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out

A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.

6. Sheer Mag – II

Another year, another Sheer Mag list placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.

5. Diet Cig – Over Easy

No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.

4. LVL UP – Three Songs

In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songs continues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.

3. Ernie – Dog Park

Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.




2. Tenement – Tenement

No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.

1. Cende – Cende

Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5

Johanna Warren I

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

Enjoy the gallery.

LVL UP – Three Songs (7″ Stream)

LVL UP XXV

There are very few bands that this site has praised as heavily as LVL UP. Hoodwink’d topped last year’s best records list and their 4-way split with Radiator Hospital, Ovlov, and Krill topped the splits list. My personal contribution to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series was about a day spent with the band in Chicago (one that was capped off by a powerful set at Beat Kitchen). When I moved to Brooklyn, the members of LVL UP that help run (and live in) DBTS welcomed me to that space while I got settled. One of the things I was fortunate enough to experience during that time was a play-through of a test pressing of a 7″ that was unveiled today by The AV Club (in a piece that was- coincidentally- penned by another A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor, David Anthony), LVL UP’s Three Songs.

Created for a tour that the band’s about to embark on with Basement- a band that’s on the increasingly fascinating Run For Cover, the label that’s partnered with LVL UP’s brainchild (Double Double Whammy) for the record’s release. Appropriately, Three Songs is precisely three songs. Every one of the band’s contributing strings n’ songs members take a turn at the lead spot, each deepening a very specific trait of their approach and maximizing their penchant(s) for atmospherics. Dark, brooding, bruising, and deeply fascinating, it’s a new side of LVL UP that skyrockets the band’s already considerable intrigue with each successive song. Don’t be surprised if they wind up towards the top of another list come December.

Listen to Three Songs below and pre-order the 7″ in advance of its September 11 release date from Double Double Whammy and Run For Cover. Additionally, the band will have copies of the 7″ with them on tour, prior to its official release. Beneath the embed, explore a list of other great full streams to have surfaced in the past week.

Spirit of the Beehive – You Are Arrived (But You’ve Been Cheated)
Fine Points – Astral Season
N a p s – You Will Live In A Cool Box
Grave Babies – Holographic Violence
Day Wave – Headcase
Nudes – 5 songs
EEN – ✌ i a n ✌
SSDD – First Comes Money
Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree
Nano Kino – Never Seemed To Happen
Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room – Party Adjacent
Good Morning – On the Street/You
The Foreign Films – The Record Collector (side 3)

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 1

I don’t know where to begin. In all honest, at this very moment, I’m at a complete and total loss. The support and kindness lent to me and this thing that I’ve created has been gratifying beyond reason and some of the responses to the things I’ve shot, written, and posted over the past year (and some change) have been overwhelming on a deeply personal level. When I first started Heartbreaking Bravery, I did it so I could write about the things I love and publish them more immediately than an outside editing process would allow. I did it to keep myself in practice with writing. I did it so that there could be another outlet, no matter how small, to lend a greater focus to marginalized artists. I did it to celebrate DIY music, to celebrate great publications, and to celebrate great writers. I did it so I could write about live music documentation and so I could analyze the contents of great music videos. At no point did I expect to gain support from the people behind the art I loved. I did it so I could explore something like the idea that Sasha Geffen- a writer that I greatly admire and a friend that I greatly appreciate- helped me develop on a trip to Kentucky; a year-end piece that focused on moments in music rather than relying solely on individual lists of top albums or songs. At no point did I expect the site- or the idea- to start expanding into what they have become.

2014 was an extraordinary year for music. I listened to more new music than I ever have in the past, met some extraordinary people, became aware of a lot more things that were happening across the DIY landscape, and saw some people I know and admire start succeeding on greater levels.  Today, it’s my absolute privilege to share with you the first portion of something I’ve been working on relentlessly for the past few months. Below is a compilation of musicians, label heads, music video directors, artists, and writers whose work I’ve admired from afar for lengths of time. Each of them has contributed a recollection of the music-related things that meant something to them throughout the past year. More parts of this series will be running throughout the week to grant the pieces the emphasis they deserve. I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to be hosting all of these pieces and am eternally grateful to each contributor. A quick note to them: each of you, whether you knew it or not, meant something to me before all of this insanity kicked off and you all now have my undying gratitude in addition to my unfailing admiration. So, without further ado, it’s my absolute honor to present: Heartbreaking Bravery’s 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 1.

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Deserving of Gratitude

2014: the year my mom died, I got married and we released Tropical Jinx all within three weeks. Yes, really. It was the year of a lot of heartbreak and a lot of love. In May we found out my mother had stage four cancer, and a very short five months later we lost her to it. I wrote a eulogy two weeks after I wrote my wedding vows. I slept in hospitals for weeks. Music, whether I was listening to it, performing it, writing it, or interacting with its community, played a huge part in giving me strength and helping me through.

Things I’m grateful for in the year 2014:

“The Struggle”

In March, Ian (Little Big League’s drummer) and I (Michelle+Ian=MACHINE) turned twenty-five in front of exactly four people in a giant, brightly lit college auditorium. We debuted all of Tropical Jinx, played our entire discography in chronological order to two friends who’d come with us, and the sound guy and booker who watched us from two folding chairs in the back while smoking e-cigarettes. At the end of the show some old guy somehow affiliated with the school gave us our $500 check and asked if we had played two sets of one hour as the college had apparently requested in a contract that was never sent to us. I drank a can of high life in the van and maybe cried a little bit on the dark four-hour drive home while reflecting on what Max Stern from Signals Midwest and I refer to as a prime example of “The Struggle”.

Cleveland, in general

Everyone is always like—Cleveland sucks! Why on earth would anyone want to go there? It’s not even like we have some huge following in Cleveland. So why is it that anytime I tour, even if it’s five to six hours out of the way, I will play a show in Cleveland? And the reason is—Cleveland fucking rules! Every time I’ve gone to Cleveland I have had an amazing time. Even when we were sick and our van broke down in Cleveland we got put up in the craziest house I’ve ever seen. It looked like a sixties opium den. Lava lamps, fur rugs, and Soviet army hats were everywhere. We played Magic: The Gathering there for like eight hours while our van was getting fixed. Big ups to Jesse from Cherry Cola Champions! He is the nicest dude and has booked like every single one of our shows in Cleveland!

Also an awesome Cleveland person, Nina Holzer (who I know only by touring through Cleveland), always puts us up and is just everything you want in a badass, music-loving woman. Watching Bars of Gold play Brite Winter Fest in a filled-to-the-brims bike shop. These dudes have lived the struggle twice as long as I have and put on the most raucous show I’ve ever seen. Watching my friend get so drunk he tried to take a swig from a roll of duct tape before proceeding to fall asleep standing up during Bars of Gold’s set. Falling on my ass a million times while loading out of said bike shop in February on hard iced over snow, post so many shots of fireball. Happy Dog, where I got tater tots with a can of SpaghettiO’s and fried egg piled on top. What the fuck. You go, Cleveland.

People who spoke the fuck up

Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy, Christian Holden from The Hotelier, Max Stern from Signals Midwest. Joyce Manor. Saintseneca. Fuck anyone who says you aren’t hard. How could anyone get upset with an artist who chooses not to work with other artists or promoters who were publicly accused of domestic violence and rape? Or for stopping a show because young, stoked girls at the front are getting pummeled by dudes twice their size, making them feel even more like they don’t belong there? The answer is —a lot, apparently.

I got socked in the face by a drunk front dude this year because I got all girls-to-the-front and wasn’t going to let two really aggressive moshers get in the way of supporting my friend’s band. And then I get hit in the face by the front man! This is a friend of mine, who didn’t apologize, because he thought I was punk enough or something and would think it was funny. Uh, dude. No! It means something when a front person says hey, let’s have fun, but look the fuck out for each other. Do you know how cool it is to watch people propelled to mosh around and crowd surf when your band plays live? It’s awesome! It very rarely ever happens at a Little Big League show, but every time it happens, I am so excited! I feel so fucking cool! I can’t imagine having the true good person-ness and lack of ego to say, hey, I can tell from here things are getting out of hand, cut it the fuck out. These people were just so impressively outspoken about what just seems so obviously right and fair, all the while under the spotlight of vicious online commentators and at the risk of losing what little money they probably make. Also, Azealia Banks! I just watched this interview and it is just so real and important and emotional. The way the two dudes in the interview condescend to her just drives me nuts. Just—bravo, thank you, and I’m sorry the world is so fucking horrible.

Albums, EP’s & Singles

Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste, Spirit of the Beehive’s s/t, Mitski’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek, LVL Up’s Hoodwink’d, The Hotelier’s Home, Like No Place Is There Is, Mr. Twin Sister’s s/t, Alex G’s DSU, Frankie Cosmo’s Zentropy, Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes To Love, FKA Twigs’ LP1, Crying’s Get Olde/Second Wind, Chad Van Gaalen’s Shrink Dust, Perfume Genius’ Too Bright, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Hundred Waters’ Murmurs, Makthaverskan’s II, and all the Ovlov and Porches. singles that came out this year.

Touring with Foxing & The Hotelier

This was our last big tour before I moved back to Oregon to be with my family. There was a lot of anxiety waiting for the dust of a hard, second chemo treatment to settle and see if we’d beaten it or not. I cried a lot because I just felt so guilty being away from my family during such a hard time. But it was also just the best tour ever. The Hotelier and Foxing are the very best dudes and are so, so hard working and talented and real. We went to Typhoon Lagoon. We went night swimming in Ft. Lauderdale. Christian Holden is just my hero. JP from Rescuer and I talked hours into the night like little girls in Tampa and I got to feed his terrifying, giant pet pig an enormous zucchini.

Wedding Songs

When we found out my mother’s cancer was terminal, my family went to Korea for a last vacation and as a way for my mother to say goodbye to her country. Our plans were shot down. My mom became violently ill and had to stay in the hospital the entire two weeks we were there. I slept there, by her side, every single night. We were planning an emergency medical evacuation to get back to the states. I called my partner from the hospital. I asked him to marry me. I asked him because I knew it would make my mom hold on a little longer. Because I didn’t want things to end that way. I wanted it to end with flowers and macaroons and my mom watching her only kid get married. Because I was in love, and it would have broken my heart if we’d just waited and she wasn’t there when the day did come around.

I saw my mother’s face light up as I walked down the aisle to Smog’s “Mother of the World”, and walked away, hand in hand with my partner to Wilco’s “She’s a Jar”. Summerteeth has gotten me through every single break up of my life, and to be all shit, I am a jar with a heavy lid and to find someone that just opens you up and loves all of you as you walk together to a buffet table lined with Korean BBQ? That’s a great feeling.

-Michelle Zauner (Little Big League, Japanese Breakfast)

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Favorite Music Moment of 2014 — Ex­-Cult at MACROCK

Every April, I take a trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia for MACROCK. The independent music festival is a two­day event in the Blue Ridge Mountains that I coordinated with a team of my friends in college. (MACROCK was once associated with James Madison University, but no longer receives funding from the school and is now a DIY production.) In the past, I’ve lost my voice by the end of the weekend from a combination of singing along, drinking, and catching up with my friends who either still live there or made the same annual pilgrimage I did. This year was no different. I got to see rad bands like Ex Hex, Amanda X, and Charly Bliss for the first time at Clementine. I watched the totally silly madness that unfolds without fail in that town during a Diarrhea Planet show. I discovered teenage sister duo Skating Polly as they tore up the Blue Nile stage, trading off guitar, bass, and Kliph Scurlock’s drum kit. But Ex-­Cult was the band that made this MACROCK particularly exceptional.

When I first discovered the Memphis punk band last year, I became obsessed with their self­-titled record. It was unruly but focused, an album overcome with vicious hysteria but anchored by tight instrumental skill. I had seen them live once before — at 285 Kent in Brooklyn the previous October — but that was before I’d spent much time with their recordings. My best friend Marisa’s band, Vulgar, played some shows with them and hearing her talk about Ex­-Cult’s chaotic sets got me more than stoked to see them again at MACROCK. She didn’t get too specific, but urged, “You need to see them tonight.” Her word was good enough for me.

I skipped their official MACROCK show at Clementine for the after­show at my friend’s house, My Mansion. It was well past 2am when Ex­-Cult started playing, late enough that I had sobered up and reached the point of existing in a hazy blur, as is common by the end of MACROCK weekend. The room in which Ex-­Cult played (one that I helped paint an unappetizing shade of orange many moons ago), was tiny. There’s always a mattress propped up on the back wall, though it’s been known to make its way on top of the crowd, usually carrying some adventurous show­goer. But that was the vibe of MACROCK itself: A weekend-­long party for downtown Harrisonburg, one that kicks off Thursday night. And right in the middle of this city­wide party was an aggro band playing a small room around 3am.

It wasn’t warm outside yet, maybe in the 40’s or 50’s at this point, but it felt like I sweat more in that hour than I have in my life. I had no idea they would play for that long — Ex­-Cult was a punk band after all. I guessed 20 minutes tops. But Midnight Passenger was due out later that month and they must have played their entire catalog. The raucous corkscrew melody of “Knives on Both Sides” soundtracked bodies slamming against walls, “M.P.D.” riled up drunken attendees with metallic, discordant chord progressions, and one of my favorites, “Shot the Beehive” even had Marisa crowdsurfing. J.B. Horrell stared the crowd down with wild-­eyed sternness throughout, expertly shredding through garage-­psych solos without missing a beat. Chris Shaw growled out sinister lyrics with more violence and frenzy than
could ever be felt from their recordings. I was blown away. It may sound hyperbolic- but it’s true.

I know that it is because I don’t normally hang out in the middle of the crowd during punk sets. I’m skinny, I wear glasses, and just generally don’t enjoy close contact with other humans, even if half of those humans are my friends. But getting to watch Ex-­Cult was worth any sweat and bruises that might come from sticking around and getting into the thick of it. I was constantly squeezed in between roughly four other people, so much so that my bra came undone on its own from all the bending, pushing, and shoving. Everyone was going totally nuts as I focused on the utterly impressive and consistent musicianship of this band as kids constantly crashed into them for a solid hour.

Eventually I had to leave — before their last song or two — due to heat and dehydration. I stumbled outside, my hair completely damp, and I must have looked like a rat that just crawled out of a sewer. I collapsed outside on some concrete next to my friend to recover. All I could think was, “I can’t wait to see them again.”

-Tess Duncan (writer/editor, Wondering Sound)

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Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs

A package from Orchid Tapes showed up on my doorstep at the end of a very snowy and cold February.  Inside the box was a piece of hard candy, a bag of tea, a small thank-you note, and a copy of Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs on baby blue vinyl.  I had first become privy to Sam Ray’s electronic project at the advent of the new year; I was initially drawn in by the pulsating “In my dreams we’re almost touching” but soon found myself emotionally attached to his more melancholic compositions which favored the juxtaposition of faint piano melodies with washes of white noise and feedback.

I was fresh out of an upper-level composition and history class on electronic music and my discovery of Ricky Eat Acid allowed me to make the rare, immediate connection from the classroom to the real world.  I could hear hints of Hugh Le Caine and I noticed a very conscious use of space consistent with a minimalist approach to composition- but I could also listen to Three Love Songs without ever trying to dissect the nuances of its construction.  It was soothing and fluid and soon proved to be one of the rare albums that I could routinely get lost inside of.  I made do with the digital version while my physical copy was packaged and shipped but I carved out some listening time on the evening the album arrived.

Up until the needle dropped, Three Love Songs had primarily served as my soundtrack to the frigid Wisconsin winter that was exacting vengeance on my city, its drones and swells mirroring the stillness of frozen trees and the punishing gusts of wind they would occasionally succumb to. In an indoor setting, however, the album radiated warmth and revealed its true sense of polarity.  Alone in my bedroom with eyes closed to avoid any visual distractions or associations, Three Love Songs began to more clearly dictate an entire spectrum of emotions, from haunting uncertainty to elation to what can only be described as a consoling embrace.  I began to truly connect with the album’s intimacy during that span of forty-five minutes lying on my bedroom floor, and Three Love Songs consequently served as my musical compass of 2014, a personal reference point that has kept me grounded throughout one hell of a year.

-Sam Clark (founder, Dimestore Saints)

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HEY HALLWAYS “ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART FORGET”

Radiator Hospital toured out to California this summer- and while it was by far my best experience of the year- that is not what I want to write about. There’s too much, so let me focus on one part, which is the folks of the Bay Area and the art they produce. Maybe it’s a combination of the opposite sea’s salt and the genuine personalities of the friends I’ve made, but it all feels so real and true. A lot of these people probably have no idea, because in the grand scheme of friendship our ranks may be low, but I really cherish the heart-to-hearts I’ve had with some of them. Overcoming grief, self-doubt, and our own demons dominate many of the conversations we’ve had and they’ve truly split me open. And so, I was honored to play (the last show) at the House of the Dead Rat in San Jose. It was, by far, my favorite show of the five-week tour. Aside from Radiator Hospital, the show included Try the Pie, Joyride!, Pigeon Island, Wuv, and Tall Can. Surrounded by some of my favorite people and musicians, it felt like a dreamy haze.

At the end of the night, Jason Brownstein handed me a tape of his solo music. Jason’s one of those people I’ve mentioned above whose friendship and conversation I hold dear. We’ve discussed our fears of creating and pushing ourselves, something he even mentioned when handing me the tape, so I was wild about him releasing his solo music. Radiator Hospital put it on in the van when we left San Jose for Southern California and I immediately knew that it would be one of my favorite releases of 2014.

Jason plays in Joyride! and Permanent Ruin, but in June he quit his day job so he could write his first solo record in 6 years. Hey Hallways’ Absence Makes the Heart Forget is a collection of five songs that remind me of why I got into punk in the first place. You can hear the fear and conquering in every note and every word. Fierce guitars and melodic vocals envelope Jason’s thoughtful and self-aware lyrics. They question how he got to where he is, how he sometimes slips, and how he can move forward. In between songs are recorded pieces of conversations with his father, a seemingly complicated relationship perhaps addressed in the opener, “Proven Facts”. On side B is a 9-minute piece of lyric-less music that, for me, serves as a moment of self-reflection. The piece was recorded in 2011, two years prior to the tracks on side A but with the addition of his father’s voice. Side B says to me that we need the past to push us forward, to move us in the direction we want to go. Ending the tape on this note from long ago is a perfect nonlinear conclusion.

On the track, “Anything At All”, Jason sings the following:

Is it enough to justify spending all my time thinking about myself or how I got this mind or how to dispose of it or spending all my time trying to help somebody else? I’d rather wait inside, but I’m lucky to feel anything at all.

I think such thoughts every day. I go to therapy and spend a great deal of time on me, and sometimes I feel guilty for it. They could come off as selfish, these things we do, but they’re not. The music, the self-improvement, and the conquering of emotional pasts and presents are the things we need to get by in this life. Things aren’t easy in Absence Makes the Heart Forget and we are better for it.  Where there was once forgetting, there is now remembering. There are feelings buried deep that have resurfaced and there are new feelings where there was once old dark holes. Hey Hallways confidently unearths a plethora of emotions and creates a truly resonate release. None of these emotions are anything we haven’t heard before- they are the same old feelings most of us deal with daily- but Hey Hallways presents them to us in a refreshing way and I’m glad to call Jason a friend who sheds new light on dark days.

-Cynthia Ann Schemmer (Radiator Hospital, solo artist, managing editor, She Shreds)

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Releasing Zentropy

In January of 2014, LVL UP sat in a Holiday Inn somewhere in Indiana, after an 11 hour driving day doing 25 mph on a sheet of ice highway. The arctic vortex was in full swing, and sort of bumming us out, having cancelled what looked to be some really awesome shows with Pity Sex. Earlier that day Dave and I had posted the pre-orders to Frankie Cosmos’s Zentropy, the first LP we would put out as Double Double Whammy. Being totally unsure about how well the record would sell, we ordered a modest 300 records for first press. So, after having a really stressful and scary driving day in a white out blizzard, we finally got a chance to check our emails at the motel. Well, at some point during that day things had really snowballed (pun intended) for the Frankie pre-order- and to our complete amazement we had received 100+ preorders in less than 24 hours. From that moment on we knew that Frankie Cosmos would soon take over the world. That was a real standout moment in music for DDW!

-Michael Caridi & Dave Benton (Double Double Whammy, LVL UP)

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Women In Music 

I’ve been so inspired by all of the women kicking ass in this past year. The ones who kicked ass didn’t do it subtly and I think that has been my favorite thing about 2014. Also, Jawbreaker Reunion.

-Shari Heck (Cyberbully Mom Club)

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2014 in Six Parts

I stayed up until three in the morning, and I still can’t remember everyone I saw this year and everything I heard this year and I can’t figure out all of my feelings about this year. I’ve been listening to Liz Pelly’s voice memos for inspiration. I want to say something elegant and resonant, but I’ve been failing, so here are my disorganized musings.

1.

I used to be afraid of interviewing anyone, because I have lived my entire life under the impression that I have nothing interesting to say and that I ask weird questions. I have tried to take up as little space as possible in order to avoid bothering anyone else. I have often dreamed of disappearing.

Even though I have spent quite a bit of time this year working to unlearn a history of self-hate, sometimes I am still terrified to speak, so I wonder how I held conversations with Cynthia Schemmer and Meredith Graves and Katie Crutchfield without visibly freaking out.

Cynthia and Meredith and Katie are three of my heroes.

I still think about how Cynthia said that sometimes she’ll write an essay, then rip it apart and write it again, differently. I still think about what Meredith said about writing songs as a way to transform sadness. I still think about how Katie explained her writing process, how she takes forever to craft images.

Perhaps these conversations sparked a little bit of personal confidence. I realized that I am not insignificant. I realized that I am capable of forming friendships with women who inspire me. I realized that I can connect with others through honesty.

2.

I was wearing a black skirt and tights and boots the day I wandered through the rain into Queens to see Priests and Downtown Boys for the first time. Katie Alice Greer talked about how she feels like Downtown Boys are not afraid of anything.

I am afraid of everything.

During one of her speeches between songs, Victoria Ruiz said that we should no longer be bodies defined by borders but beings created by liberation. Perhaps this will sound hyperbolic, but I felt like part of a revolution. I felt electric. I felt inspired and empowered.

And I realized that I have a voice.

3.

I saw Neutral Milk Hotel. Afterwards, I could hardly speak.

4.

I thought about leaving New York while standing by the East River and freezing and listening to All Dogs.

I thought more about leaving New York while walking down a street that smelled like snow and pepper and dead fish and listening to Great Thunder.

I thought even more about leaving New York while walking back from the library as fast as I could and trying to stave off a panic attack and listening to Perfect Pussy.

5.

One night while cleaning up the kitchen, I put on Radiator Hospital, and I collapsed to the floor in tears, because I realized that I was living inside “Our Song“.

6.

“This would all be so much easier if I had nothing more to say”

Angel Olsen gets me.

-Caroline Rayner (writer, Tiny Mix Tapes, The Le Sigh)

++

Discovering Girlpool

Last summer, at the suggestion of one of my professors, I decided that it was absolutely crucial for Charly Bliss to embark on our first tour. We all live in New York, so of course it probably would have made more sense financially to tour the East Coast, but I’ve never been one for practicality. Instead, we decided we would fly to Seattle the day after school ended and careen down the west coast in my best friend’s grandmother’s van.

Anyone who has ever booked a tour by themselves will tell you that it involves constant anxiety and the replies to your zillions of sent “Hey! We’re a band from New York and we would love to play with you in San Francisco/Olympia/LA…” e-mails are few and far between. When it came time to actually book our flights, I lied to the band, telling them that I was finished booking, when in reality I had only confirmed three shows.

It was right around then, after much Facebook band page surfing, that I discovered Girlpool. I can’t really describe it any way other than kind of magical, which sounds stupid, but is true. Digital interactions usually feel really blah, but finding Girlpool’s page reminded me of the first time I realized that I could look for music myself and not just listen to whatever my older brothers or my parents liked; subsequently gobbling up every Rilo Kiley song I could find and feeling like I had some special secret on my iPod as I rode the bus to and from middle school.

Listening to their music felt like that- like a secret. Like listening to someone’s diary, which is a songwriting cliche, but also true. In The Punk Singer, when Kathleen Hanna talks about her 1998 Julie Ruin record she says, “It sounds like you could hear a human being’s fingers all over it.” That’s what Girlpool sounds like. When I saw the obscure allusion to The Princess Diaries in their bio, I thought it was too good to be true.

A few months later, at the very end of our tour, we played with them at Pehrspace and I remember being really shocked by how the room was simultaneously silent and electric while they played. No one was checking their cellphone or anything, everyone was totally absorbed. The show happened to fall on the night that Cleo was graduating from high school and I still feel really honored that we got to be a part of it. We also played with SUSAN and Feels and I remember being awestruck the whole night. I didn’t even want to drink after the show, we just went and got milkshakes and talked through the night like forty times.

But really this is all exposition because my favorite moment in music this year was watching Girlpool open for Jenny Lewis at Terminal Five. Harmony and Cleo lived on my couch for a few weeks in October/November while they were in New York for CMJ, and as spellbinding as every Girlpool show I’ve ever seen has been, seeing them play for thousands of people, and opening for my all-time hero of all heroes, after having spent three weeks together watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, talking at length about being away from home for the first time, eating despicable amounts of Thai food… I guess, generally getting to know both of them for the two huge-hearted whip-smart g00fballs that they are, was really special.

While they were in the middle of “Alone at the Show” I tweeted “I LOVVVVEEE BEEEEINNNNGGG AAAA GIRRRRLLLL!!!!!!” from the balcony, and that’s exactly how I felt. As several witnesses can attest, Cleo’s parents included, I cried the whole way through.

-Eva Grace Hendricks (Charly Bliss)

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 5

Speedy Ortiz III

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement.

Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time.

Pt. 5 will be the final installment of this series and the preceding galleries can be accessed via the links directly below. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 1
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 3
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

 

LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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Over the past few months, this site has given plenty of coverage to both LVL UP and the label two of its members founded (and run), Double Double Whammy. Included in the ranks of the Double Double Whammy roster was another artist who’s emerged as a site favorite: Mitski. When the two announced they’d be touring together (and, subsequently that LVL UP would be backing Mitski), being in attendance for the nearest show was a foregone conclusion. On October 12, their tour made its way to Chicago’s Beat Kitchen where they headlined a bill that also included local acts Mtvghosts and Staring Problem.

Mtvghosts kicked things off after narrowly avoiding being no-shows and made their way through an energetic set of Strokes-influenced powerpop (not too dissimilar from Locksley). Now a few releases into their career, they made their way through a high energy set and played off each other nicely. Utilizing an abundance of energy and a clear connection, their set succeeded on pure entertainment value- Staring Problem‘s Lauren Owen would later make an amusing remark on the vocalist’s “Paul McCartney head thing”. While it’s clear Mtvghosts have a very firm grasp on composition and how to write a good pop song, not too much of it had any kind of longevity- although there’s enough talent in the band to suggest that point may not be too far down the line.

After Mtvghosts unabashedly pop concoctions, Staring Problem dove headlong into a set of primal post-punk that was tinged with early goth-punk influences. With songs that felt deadly serious and had pulsating undercurrents of the overwhelmingly bleak, they managed to sink into a groove that left most of the audience in a hypnotic trance. Mtvghosts may have had Staring Problem beat in terms of stage presence but Staring Problem’s songs proved to be immensely gripping, if unrelentingly minimal (their drummer’s kit was bare-bones and the only cymbal it made room for was a hi-hat). Impressive bass riffs dueled with intuitive guitarwork and Owens’ tranced-out vocals. Even with an emphasis on the grave, the band found room for humor; a song called “Pictures of Morrissey In Jake’s Locker” wound up being an unexpected highlight. By the time they exited, it was difficult to imagine they hadn’t made a few converts.

Mitski‘s been making quite a name for herself lately. After two very strong records of avant pop, the songwriter’s made a sharp left turn into blissed-out noise pop. With the distortion cranked up on the extraordinary soon-to-be-released Bury Me At Makeout Creek it’s afforded Mitski the chance to reignite an already impressive career. “Townie“, “First Love/Late Spring“, and “I Don’t Smoke” all showcase layers of a seriously enviable talent in composition and musicianship (as well as some gorgeous- and expansive- production), which shouldn’t be surprising taking into account Mitski’s SUNY Purchase background. Incidentally, SUNY Purchase was where Mitski would meet the members of LVL UP and forge a connection that would have direct implications for both artist’s respective careers.

Taking into account the high-functioning levels of production that provide Bury Me At Makeout Creek part of its character, a large portion of the pre-set anticipation lay in how Mitski would bring these songs to life with the assistance of LVL UP. Less than a minute into “Townie” any doubts that the songs would lose even a fraction of their appeal were absolutely annihilated. Aided by Michael Caridi on guitar and LVL UP bassist Nick Corbo on drums, Mitski lay into the song with a startling amount of intensity, causing the audience to erupt in bewildered applause by the song’s close.

All it took was that first song for Mitski to expand and win over an entire audience, which raises the stakes considerably on the expected reaction to Bury Me At Makeout Creek once it’s out in the world. Caridi and Corbo both flashed extremely impressive chops as Mitski commanded attention with the kind of effortlessness that suggests much bigger things will be happening for the emerging artist in the very near future. When Mitski’s set closed with Mitski absolutely shredding her vocal cords in bouts of guttural screaming at the end of “Drunk Walk Home”, half the audience seemed to be left speechless- and it was difficult to fault them- Mitski had delivered the kind of set that warrants the highest kinds of praise and ensures that even more people will be drawn into her orbit.

After Mitski’s set, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see someone leaving thinking they’d seen the headliner- but it wasn’t before long that LVL UP proved that they were up to the task of following a gift of a set with another exercise in killer performances. Having already delivered one of the year’s best records in Hoodwink’d and one of the year’s best songs, “Big Snow“, on an absolutely essential split, their live set had quite a bit to live up to. Boasting a discography that’s bursting at the seams with songs that project a casual confidence and an excess of charisma, LVL UP’s very nature is practically defined by their willingness to embrace each the unique personality of each principal songwriter (Caridi, Corbo, and Trace Mountains‘ Dave Benton).

Soft Power“, “Ski Vacation“, “DBTS“, and “I Feel Ok” all hinted at LVL UP excelling as a complementary unit that would easily function when stripped back to individual elements. Balancing on the precipice between detached apathy and unbridled energy, the band’s songs came to weird, vibrant life in the live setting. Everyone traded off vocals with a casually practiced ease and a fiery commitment. True to Space Brothers‘ form, several of the songs bled into each other- with a particular highlight (one of a very large handful) being the opening trio of tracks from that very record. In fact, much of their set played out like a contained suite, with everything retaining maximum impact.

There was more than one point through LVL UP’s set where time seemed to be completely lost, as the band kept the audience engaged while they occupied their own world. Song after song, they demonstrated just about every reason why they’re a band worth celebrating- only emphatically enhancing the live elements of that particular spread. Solos were traded, select songs were extended with surprisingly heavy bridges and outros, and- more than anything else- left-field personality was exuded. Hoodwink’d and Space Brothers were about evenly split throughout the set, and both songs from the band’s incredible split with Porches. were represented as well.

While Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all shared a fair amount of spotlight, drummer Greg Rutkin held everything down with brute force and an unfailingly exact precision that made songs like the closing “ELIXR (19)” sound absolutely massive. Just like on record, everything managed to complement everything else in a manner that made all of LVL UP’s songs feel intensely alive. Before their set, each member had voiced various concerns about their headlining slot and thanks for Beat Kitchen’s kind accommodations (including sound, which was pristine throughout the show). When “ELIXR (19)” drew the set to a powerful close, it provided an exclamation point to a stunning set that coursed past their early apprehensions into the realms of the sublime. If there was any reservation about this before, their set ensured one thing: 2014 is LVL UP’s year. Get on board before it’s too late.

Watch a clip of LVL UP playing “Soft Power” and “Bro Chillers” below. Underneath that, view an extensive photo gallery of the show.