Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Miscreant

PWR BTTM – New Hampshire (Stream, Live Video)

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

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

15. Meat Wave – Delusion Moon

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

14. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

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

13. Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture

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

12. Hop Along – Painted Shut

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

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11. Royal Headache – High

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

10. Young Jesus – Grow/Decompose

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

9. Dogs On Acid – Dogs On Acid

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

8. Tenement – Predatory Headlights

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

7. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

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

6. All Dogs – Kicking Every Day

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

5. Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

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

4. Dilly Dally – Sore

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

3. Mike Krol – Turkey

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

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2. Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers

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

1. Eskimeaux – O.K.

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

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

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

CMJ: Day 6 (Pictorial Review)

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With this post, the site’s focus on CMJ will recede into the background and give way to music’s present release cycle (and some sporadic film coverage). Having covered every angle of the festival up to this point, the only thing left is the unveiling of the photos from the collaborative Father/Daughter and Miscreant showcase that served as the festival’s Homecoming-themed epilogue. The videos from that day can be seen here, the review can be read here, and the photo gallery can be viewed here.

 

Watch This: Vol. 100

Over the past 100 weeks, this site’s dedicated itself to a variety of pursuits but the defining one seems to be the only recurring series that operates on a regular basis: Watch This. Ever since the first installment, this series has featured the very best live performance captures. Utilizing a wealth of resources that range from band’s personal accounts to radio stations that host high-quality session captures, like KEXP in Seattle or 3voor12 in the Netherlands.

Very rarely has that gaze turned inward, despite producing over 300 live videos in the past four months. With this series now at a landmark number and all of the CMJ reviews accounted for, it seemed appropriate to bypass the outside sources to focus exclusively on the crop of videos that was taken over the past week. Approximately 50 bands, 90 videos, and 100 songs, these clips will be presented in groupings according to which day they were filmed. A few slip out of focus, some start a little late, and some cut off just before their ending, and a few bands are missing due to unfortunate and/or unforeseen circumstance (a dead battery, lighting, and a maxed out sd card were the three most prominent issues) but as a whole, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of performances the festival has to offer. So, as always, sit back, relax, ignore any worries, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. CMJ: Day 2

To make things just a touch easier, each of these introductory segments will simply be a very brief recap including a link to the respective day’s official review and the list of artists that appear in the video. Having spent the first official day of CMJ preparing for the rest of the week, the timeline’s off by a day but had this been the first official day, the festival would have kicked off with a band. Splitting time between The Cake Shop and Santos Party House, I managed to get videos of performances from the following artists: Worriers, Hooton Tennis Club, Car Seat Headrest, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Yung, Shopping, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Perfect Pussy, and Dilly Dally. The official review of the day’s events can be found here.

2. CMJ: Day 3

Things kept moving along quickly on the second day, which included a long stretch at an early show over at Rough Trade before taking a brief pause to organize that show’s footage and prepare for the late show at Aviv. Between the two venues, the lineup was characteristically stacked and led to videos of performances from Shopping, Ezra Furman, Georgia, John Grant, What Moon Things, Mumblr, Meat Wave, Painted Zeros, Turn To Crime, and Yvette. The official review of the day’s shows can be found here.

3. CMJ: Day 4 

The festival’s exhausting nature started to creeping in on the third consecutive day of showgoing, though the deliriousness will always be worth the effort in the case of celebrating things like Exploding In Sound (who themselves were celebrating their fourth anniversary), Big Ups (who were celebrating their fifth year as a band), and Double Double Whammy. Once again splitting time between two venues– Palisades and The Silent Barn– I managed to get footage of performances from Leapling, Swings, Mal Devisa (backed by Swings), Dirty Dishes, Kal Marks, Washer, Stove, Palm, Greys, The Spirit of the Beehive, Big Ups, Palehound, Downies, Eskimeaux, and LVL UP. The official review of those events can be read here.

4. CMJ: Day 5

Easily the most exhausting of the five day stretch, the fifth official day of the festival found me completely ignoring food in favor of sprinting a mile to catch one of my favorite acts four times over. While a fraction of the day was spent running to and from an official CMJ showcase and the AdHoc Carwash (which was detached from the festival completely but boasted one of the week’s strongest lineups), the effort proved to be worthwhile, as a large collection of bands delivered knockout sets and everything culminated in a triumphant moment for one of my closest friends. In all the back-and-forth, I was still able to manage to capture performances from the following artists: Protomartyr, Potty Mouth, Pity Sex, Dilly Dally, LVL UP, Porches., Perfect Pussy, Meat Wave, Mothers, and Cloud Castle Lake. The review of that day of relative mania can be read here.

5. CMJ: Day 6

Despite the festival’s posted end date being the October 17, this collaborative showcase a day later between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still billed as a part of the festival and felt like an appropriate epilogue; a summation of what’d come before and a fitting end-cap for a very strong run. Confined to just one venue, the sleep deprivation caused me to miss the first trio of acts (and quietly curse myself out for doing so in the process) but still show up in time for the final 10. On the final day of reckoning, I captured videos of performances from the following artists: i tried to run away when i was 6, Downies, Romp, Comfy, Vagabon, fern mayo, Bethlehem Steel, Diet Cig, Sports, and PWR BTTM. The official review of the festival’s final event can be read here.

CMJ: Day 6 Review

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Even though CMJ’s official schedule had been capped at October 17, the stacked collaborative showcase between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still being rightfully billed as a CMJ event. It also turned out to be the day where my schedule finally caught up to me and caused me to sleep through multiple alarms before, for the third consecutive day, realizing I was in jeopardy of missing much more than I wanted to and booking it for the nearest venue or transit option. Getting approximately 16 hours of sleep over the course of five days occasionally has that effect.

By the time I made it to Palisades, Bad Cello, Nicholas Nicholas, and Hiccup had already wrapped their sets. Fortunately, the blow of missing those acts was at least somewhat alleviated by the bill’s remaining 10 acts. A few minutes into the event and a brief look around at a gaggle of audience and band members in formal wear also managed to act as a kind reminder that the event had been constructed with a Homecoming theme. free cake for every creature‘s Katie Bennett was on hand to augment a lovely set of folk-leaning bedroom pop songs from i tried to run away when i was 6. It was a gentle introduction to what would prove to be another ridiculously stacked day, even if it was only confined to one venue this time around.

Downies upped the energy and intensity considerably, once again taking a headlong dive into a set of gritty basement pop that’d feel right at home on Dirtnap. Ripping through songs from their outstanding debut EP and their forthcoming LP with an excess of energy, their set felt like a major statement from an emerging band that’s coming charging out of the gate on sure footing.

Some of their energy bled over into a strong outing for Romp, an upstart act hailing from New Brunswick who have a penchant for smartly crafted basement pop that’s sugar rush is matched with a punk tinge. Largely sticking to new and unreleased material, the quartet seemed to be in a state of perpetual motion, underscoring their own music’s immediacy. Catchy and substantial, it was a welcome addition to a lineup of mostly familiar faces.

A few of those familiar faces belonged to Comfy, who were fairly enjoyable back during Miscreant’s Northside showcase but clearly came to CMJ ready to make an impression. Showing noticeable improvements in every conceivable facet of their live show, the quartet was endlessly entertaining and fully committed to pouring themselves into their performance. The band played out of their minds, turning all of their songs into an emphatic series of blows.

The trio of Vagabon, Fern Mayo, and Bethlehem Steel handled the next three slots with an assured confidence. Vagabon, judging by the press that’s come out since the event, made a few influential friends thanks to a dynamic set that served their songs to a quiet perfection. While the band’s fuzzed-out passages did manage to hit hard, it was their gentler moments that actually managed to leave a lasting mark. Either way, no false moves and a few unique angles at this level is always going to pique a lot of people’s interest.

Fern Mayo’s been covered here multiple times before but, while all of those shows and songs were definitely memorable, it wasn’t until this set that the band registered as truly exceptional. Having just wrapped up a short tour, the band was in finer form than ever, playing off each other with a collected attitude that eventually transmuted into a subtle bravado that suited them well. Katie Capri, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, continues to transition into an excitable live wire onstage while bassist Nicholas Cummins continues to have one of Brooklyn DIY’s more arresting stage presences. Throw it all together with the learned traits of tour and it’s easy to see how the band wound up with another one of the day’s several standout sets.

Apart from delivering on their own, Fern Mayo also set up the (at least somewhat) similarly-minded Bethlehem Steel perfectly. After releasing a batch of promising records, the band’s on track to gain some traction with their forthcoming release, which is what they mostly drew from for their set. Stealthily sliding in some lighthearted banter between the songs, the trio clicked in their darkest, most pulverizing moments. By the time their set ended, their levels of conviction were as evident as the new material was promising.

Before too long, Diet Cig’s Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman were taking the stage to their entrance music, Taylor Swift’s inescapable “Shake It Off”, flailing around and encouraging their audience to do the same in an endearing communal act. Only a few minutes into that routine, Bowman was behind the kit and Luciano was bounding around the stage, anxious to get their set off the ground. Every time Diet Cig plays, they bring an infectious joy to the proceedings, completely shedding any inhibitions to simply live in the moment and coax as much out of it as humanly possible. When the band invited up a couple intent on recreating their wonderful “Scene Sick” video, everyone was all smiles and it was hard not to think of it as a somewhat definitive moment for the band, who kept that vibrant energy alive for the remainder of their set.

Feeding off the goodwill Diet Cig had built up during a set that had balloons and streamers flying in the air (and more than a few people laughing along with them), Sports took the stage to an almost deafening scream of applause. Balancing their set list between their previous records and their forthcoming All of Something (which is easily their best collection of songs to date), the band dug their heels in and took off at a sprint without ever bothering to look back. With the audience continuing to grow in size throughout Sports’ set, Palisades was packed for the evening’s headliner: PWR BTTM.

At this point, I have seen PWR BTTM more times than any other band in New York and they continue to find ways to improve their live show, which might still be their biggest selling point (despite 2015 highlight Ugly Cherries). Making this particular night extra sweet was the fact that it was Benjamin Hopkins’ birthday, a declaration that Hopkins made more explicitly at the start of their set, which was greeted with screams of approval.

Somewhere along the line, PWR BTTM became a band that everyone unified behind, each bringing varying reasons to their dedication. Their live show, their ideology, their message, their presentation, their banter… it’s become a pick-your-poison with the duo (now sometimes trio, thanks to the assists from Fern Mayo’s Cummins) and they always deliver in full. There were times during their set where the crowd’s vocals would override those of Hopkins or Liv Bruce, who occasionally takes over on lead vocal and guitar.

Everything was going as well as it possibly could for the band, who had rallied the now fully energized crowd into a swarming mass of dancing bodies, everyone fully immersed in the band’s music. Their momentum didn’t even falter when the band got stopped towards the end of their set by Jeanette Wall and Jessi Frick (the people that run Miscreant and Father/Daughter, respectively) for the coronation ceremony.

After sashes and other assorted items had been bestowed to both members of Diet Cig, Miscreant artist Elizabeth Scafuto, and one was basically just dedicated to Fern Mayo’s Capri, Bruce and Hopkins set back to work. Whether using a balloon to mime being pregnant, talking about playing into the “Hot Mom” look, ripping off a string of solos or vocal runs, or even just commanding attention without ever losing their natural cadence, PWR BTTM kept their crowd entertained.

The band even came within a minute of making through a show without any glaring technical difficulties (Hopkins’ cable got briefly pulled out towards the end of their final song- but it’s just not a PWR BTTM show without that kind of mishap) before leaving the audience screaming for an encore that never came, all but guaranteeing a large portion of that audience will be checking their calendars to make sure they can catch the next show. Then, after a near-sleepless week, 62 sets stretched across seven venues, CMJ was over and it was time to head back home, exhausted and content.

Bad Cello – Live at Palisades – 10/4/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

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It’s strange for most of the buzz surrounding a show to be granted to the opening act but that seemed to be the case with last Sunday’s Bad Cello show at Palisades. The reason for that intrigue was due in part to the fact that this was to be the first time anyone would hear Patio, a band that’s been steadily practicing for months. As the trio took the stage there was a palpable level of both excitement and curiosity, with many people on hand to witness Patio’s public unveiling  (they’d draw the biggest crowd of the day).

Only a few songs in, the band had staked out an identity; minimalist post-punks with a flair for wry humor, dissonance, and a strong pop sensibility (Sonic Youth’s more contained side and the early ’90s slacker punk movement stand out as very clear influences). As is always the case with new bands performing for the first time, there were a few hiccups here and there but that only seemed to lend to the project’s considerable charm. Vocal leads were traded off with a relative ease and the band committed to a gambit that came in the form of “Micro-balls”, a song rife with absurd sexual humor that paid massive dividends. The band was in complete control by the time their set closer rolled around, all but guaranteeing a promising future as a DIY staple.

Jeanette Wall, who set the show up (and who, like Patio’s Loren DiBlasi, has contributed to this site’s A Year’s Worth of Memories series), took the stage next to perform a handful of songs from her Band Practice project. Never taking herself too seriously, Wall infused her set with some genuinely entertaining (and mostly self-deprecating) banter that never came at the expense of the actual worth of her songs. All of the songs remained engaging even when stripped of their full-band trappings, allowing Wall an excess of space that was ably filled with charisma. The set was effectively split between comedy and music, with each half of the equation complementing the other to a surprising degree.

Following Wall’s entertaining theatrics were Glueboy, a young band that’s carved out a nice spot for themselves in Brooklyn’s DIY circle. Two releases into a young career, the band’s got heavy connections to DBTS and Double Double Whammy and those influences are very evident. Glueboy slipped into my listening rotation when I was looking for apartments in Brooklyn and wound up securing a spot where their bassist, Coby Chafets, was already residing (incidentally, I would move to that spot after a brief stint at DBTS).

Their brand of shambolic, punk-tinged basement pop appealed to me and allowed for some early ease of mind in the transition. However, despite that (and listening in on numerous acoustic jam sessions), I’d never seen the band play their songs live. On stage, their presence is relatively fearless, with each member making the most out of their granted space. Chafets and guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Marty trade off vocals at a rapid succession and occasionally sing in harmony, proving themselves to be a livewire act who manage to come across as both endearing and endlessly entertaining without ever sacrificing any substance.

By the time Glueboy’s explosive set had wound to an end, only a scattered handful of people remained for the electro-pop of Miscreant act Bad Cello, who still committed to the performance despite the glaring lack of numbers (I can’t think of a greater attendance disparity from opening band to headlining act that’s happened in recent memory). Showcasing material new and old, Bad Cello provided a dance-minded epilogue to the decidedly hodgepodge bill that somehow found a way to bridge a few contextual gaps. It’s difficult to imagine that each of the bills four acts won’t find their way to bigger things in their respective circuits as they move ahead. Genuine talent and a depth of promise wound up being the recurring themes of the matinee shows and it’ll be worth keeping eyes on each act as they move towards capitalization.

Watch a collection of videos from the show below and scan through a gallery of photos here.

 

 

Miscreant Records Northside Showcase 2015 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

PWR BTTM III

While two days ago held the distinction of the first appearance of Montana and the Marvelles, that event only covered part of the day. An entire Miscreant showcase preceded those proceedings, providing a platform for several site favorites. Put together by Jeanette Wall and a team that she’d assembled around her, the day started with some delicious free food (there was a grillout in Palisades’ garden section) and strong sets from the first two bands: Comfy and O-Face. Both have a very specific take on indie pop and complement each other to a tee, immediately establishing a sense of comforting familiarity.

Nicholas Nicholas proved to be a relative anomaly among the otherwise punk-leaning bands, opting instead for a more subdued take on dream pop. Fern Mayo (a band fronted by A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Katie Capri) set thing back to reflecting a greater urgency with an unexpectedly fiery set that managed to make room for an endearing Rilo Kiley cover. PWR BTTM annihilated just about everyone after a genuinely uproarious set by Mary Houlihan- one of several stand-ups to perform between bands- which roped in PWR BTTM’s Benjamin Walter Hopkins for a long guitar-driven bit involving a Bruce Springsteen concert that gave Houlihan a glimpse into something unexpected as a child.

Joe Pera bridged the gap between PWR BTTM and Jawbreaker Reunion– whose Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club remains one of last year’s very best– with a memorable set that played off of the crowd to perfection. At one point, Pera haphazardly strapped Jawbreaker Reunion’s Bella Mazzetti’s bass on before proclaiming himself to be “supergroup Powerbreaker Reunion”, which bled into the final band’s introduction. Jawbreaker Reunion seized their headlining spot with a glee and dove headfirst into a ramshackle set with abandon, capping off an exceptional afternoon of friends, comedy, food, and live music.

Photos and videos of the showcase are below as well as two clips of Told Slant’s set at Silent Barn later on that night. Enjoy.


1. O-Face
2. Comfy
3. Nicholas Nicholas
4. Fern Mayo (x2)
5. PWR BTTM (x3)
6. Jawbreaker Reunion (x3)


First Quarter Clips, Pt. 2 (Video Mixtape)

static

We’re not even three months into 2015 and it’s already yielded a sprawling treasure trove of the kind of music-related items that are worth cherishing. It’s been a particularly strong year for music videos, with some titles from last year’s best releases getting their just treatment balanced out by some tantalizing clips sending expectations for the forthcoming releases that they’re attached to rocketing up to stratospheric heights. Animation, lyric videos, puppetry, seductively slow cinematography, static shots, dancing corpses, subtitled documentary footage, blood, more puppets (it’s been a great time for puppets in music videos), and self-shot footage are just some of the traits that define this two-part collection of 50 of the year’s most engaging clips. All of them, from the folk-leaning lilt of the second collection and the largely DIY punch of its predecessor, deserve praise. Don’t allow the fact they haven’t received any accompanying text beyond this introductory paragraph to do them a disservice; a few of theses videos rank as the best thing the attached band’s ever done and several others continue stunning individual stylistic penchants. More than anything, though, this is a collection that’s intended to represent the diversity and strength of 2015’s earliest offerings in the visual medium. Whether the video comes from an established act or a relatively unknown band, as always, is largely besides the point: this is art worth celebrating. Set aside an hour or two and dive into the madness- and keep an eye on this site for a continuation of this series that should be appearing in the coming days.

COLLECTION II

1. Mitski – Townie
2. Hailey Wojcik – XO Skeleton 
3. Doomtree – Final Boss
4. Hundred Waters – Innocent
5. Palma Violets – Danger in the Club
6. Girl Band – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?
7. Jawbreaker Reunion – My Own
8. Screaming Females – Hopeless
9. Museum Mouth – Sacred
10. Celestial Shore – Now I Know
11. Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home 
12. Cloakroom – Starchild Skull
13. Modest Mouse – Coyotes
14. Girlpool – Chinatown
15. Sweet John Bloom – Blood Moon
16. Bass Drum of Death – Better Days
17. Colleen Green – TV
18. Turbo Fruits – The Way I Want You
19. Young Widows – King Sol
20. Evans the Death – Enabler
21. Green Dreams – Rich Man/Poor Man
22. Japanese Breakfast – The Woman That Loves You
23. Michael Rault – Still Not Sad
24. A Place to Bury Strangers – We’ve Come So Far
25. Karen O – Day Go By

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COLLECTION III

1. Gothic Tropic – Underwater Games
2. Laura Marling – False Hope
3. Beech Creeps – Son of Sud
4. Ultimate Painting – Riverside
5. Elvis Perkins – Hogus Pogus
6. Trust Fund – Essay to Write 
7. Mount Eerie – This
8. Kevin Morby – Dancer
9. Seagulls – You and Me
10. Bay Uno – Wait For Your Love
11. Jose Gonzalez – Leaf Off / The Cave
12. The Staves – Black & White
13. Big Noble – Ocean Picture
14. Inventions – Springworlds
15. S. Carey – Neverending Fountain
16. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Boundlessness
17. Ava Luna – Coat of Shellac
18. Novella – Land Gone
19. Young Buffalo – No Idea
20. Avi Buffalo – Think It’s Gonna Happen Again
21. HUMANS – Tell Me
22. Kathryn Calder – Take A Little Time
23. Sondre Lerche – Lucky Guy
24. Doe Paoro – Traveling
25. Asaf Avidan – Over My Head

First Quarter Full Streams, Pt. 2

LVL UP II

As was noted and clearly evidenced by the last post’s overabundance of content, 2015’s off to a particularly strong start in terms of memorable records. While a few of those 75 entries from that post do have a shot at working their way into the upper echelons of the year’s finest by December, the 25 full streams listed below are among 2015’s very finest offerings. From demo compilations of old material to split EP’s to full-lengths, everything on this list is worthy of an immediate purchase. A few of these are pulverizing shows of force, a few are immediate sugar-rush blitzes, and a few are quietly devastating. All of them are releases I’ve listened to multiple times over and formed very extreme connections with on a myriad of levels. Don’t make a regrettable decision by not giving any of the unfamiliar titles a fair shot: there’s a release here for just about everyone.

1. Quarterbacks – Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks have earned a fair amount of praise from this site and a large amount of that’s been for their exhilarating self-titled, which is the band’s first complete full band effort. Recalling the transition that Radiator Hospital made with their brilliant debut full band full-length effort, Something Wild, Quarterbacks doesn’t pull any of its punches. It’s a spiky record that lends Dean Engle’s songs a ferocious punch that comes with a lingering bite.

2. Tenement – Bruised Music: Volume 1

I’ve written an enormous amount of words about my unending love for Tenement. Some of those words can be read in the zine that comes packaged with this record. One of my favorite bands, if not outright favorite, for nearly a decade, Bruised Music: Vol. 1 is the perfect reminder of why I fell for this band in the first place. A compilation of early material from long out-of-print 7″ records, compilations, and other various scraps, this is the definitive starter kit for anyone looking to retrace Tenement’s career path to its humble beginnings. Unsurprisingly, it’s also ridiculously brilliant. Expect to see more words about this record published on this site in the coming months.

3. Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching

Krill forever.

4. Hailey Wojcik – Book of Beasts

One of the year’s best early surprises, Hailey Wojcik’s Book of Beasts EP has all the makings of what could (and should) prove to be a career-making effort for the singer/songwriter. Dark tones, brilliant composition, strong melody, and an incredibly alluring voice is always a dangerous combination. Here, each one of those elements is shot through with a Gothic Americana sensibility that manages to find its niche in forward thinking. It’s an incredible release and deserves much more attention than it’s been receiving. Bonus points for offering the release up on bandcamp for the price of $6.66.

5. Daddy Issues – Double Loser

Daddy Issues may not be the most recognizable name on the market but we’re less than a month removed from the cassette release of Double Loser and the thing’s already sold out. Now, measuring a record’s strength in terms of sales is generally a deeply problematic formula- but in this case, it seems just. Double Loser has the strength of what could become a celebrated cult classic among a very particular breed of crate-diggers. Undeniably winsome and darkly enchanting, this EP cements Daddy Issues’s position as a band that’s ready for much bigger things.

6. Pope – Fiction

Heavy, cutting, and melodic in a way that hits the intersection of a wide spread of tastes just right, Pope’s Fiction is the kind of record that’s got the verve to last long after it appears on a few best-of lists. Cloaked in a wall-of-noise type production sheathe, Fiction is one of the first quarter’s most unapologetic and propulsive releases. Balancing a suspiciously taut tightrope between shoegaze and post-punk, every song manages to be breathtaking by virtue of sheer cathartic release. Pope’s made something genuinely exhilarating that deserves to be in as many collections as possible.

7. Alanna McArdle – reticular (2012-2013)

While Alanna McArdle may be best known as the lead personality for site favorites Joanna Gruesome, her career doesn’t begin and/or end with that particular band. McArdle recently released a compilation of genuinely stunning (and mostly acoustic) bedroom recordings. The guitarist/vocalist taps into something more bravely vulnerable than the trappings of Joanna Gruesome usually allows for, creating a hushed, spellbinding atmosphere. reticular (2012-2013) has been one of 2015’s more unceremonious releases but it’s also easily one of the year’s most fascinating. Already one of the most-played releases in my library, it’s a monumental entry in the career of one of the more engaging musical figures of our generation.

8. Trust Fund – No One’s Coming For Us

Cut Me Out“, one of No One’s Coming For Us‘ first singles, seemed to be a strong indicator that the band would have something special with their upcoming record. It was a presumption that the record somehow, against reasonable logic, managed to exceed. Easily the strongest effort in the band’s burgeoning discography, No One’s Coming For Us is a specatacular warning shot from the kind of band that seems like they’re setting up for the long haul.

9. Cloakroom – Further Out

Most of the description for Pope’s Fiction also stands true for Cloakroom‘s jaw-dropping Further Out. Except here, Cloakroom adds an extra layer of heaviness, which frequently relents to territory even more accessible than the realms of Pope’s niche operation level. Further Out is going to continue to stand as one of 2015’s most awe-inspiring releases as the months progress and it’ll be the kind of record people will look to for inspiration. It’s an incredible achievement and ranks among the finest releases to carry the vaunted Run For Cover tag.

10. Wildhoney – Sleep Through It

The first two months of 2015 were very kind to bands incorporating a heavy shoegaze bent into their sound, a fact furthered by listening to Wildhoney’s gorgeous full-length debut, Sleep Through It. Embracing the pop sensibilities of the genre and maximizing them without ever drifting out of post-punk’s territories, Wildhoney manages to create an incredibly appealing record that delivers on the promise of their brilliant EP. Sleep Through It is yet another album people are going to be talking about for many months (and hopefully, years) to come.

11. Lady Lamb – After

Goodbye Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, hello Lady Lamb. The rightfully-acclaimed After features songwriter Aly Spaltro at a transition phase in her career. Already a few extraordinary records deep into a continuously promising run of releases, After is already taking Spaltro to the next level(s). With the sudden name change, Spaltro managed to make her brand even more accessible without diminishing any of her other qualities. On the contrary, After may be the fiercest entry in Lady Lamb’s remarkable discography. After was initially teased with the absurdly delightful “Billions of Eyes” and the rest of the record manages to live up to those intensely high levels of promise. Listen below and fall in love all over again.

12. PWR BTTM + Jawbreaker Reunion – Republican National Convention

Two of New York’s finest emerging young bands come together to make a split EP, what can go wrong? Nothing. The answer is nothing. Jawbreaker Reunion continue to be as exciting as ever, PWR BTTM make one hell of a mark, and both “Hold Yer Tongue” and “Adventure Time” rank among the best songs of the year. Every other Valentine’s Day gift paled in comparison.

13. Slutever – Almost Famous

Punchy, strong, and incredibly catchy, Slutever followed up their near-perfect Girlpool split with this piece of magic. Expertly balancing basement pop and basement punk, Slutever take their craft to an entirely new place with Almost Famous, their finest work to date (and an absolute must-own). From the traces of sludge-punk on the reactionary masterpiece “I Miss America” to the hard-charging rush of “Maggot”, Slutever fearlessly follows their whims and explores some previously uncharted territory. Astoundingly, all of it works and leaves the band with a very real contender for EP of the Year.

14. Lighting Bolt – Fantasy Empire

Thousands of writers have tried to extol the virtues of Lightning Bolt’s furor and no one’s ever managed to match the band’s intensity. Sometimes it’s just better to let the reputation for such a singular act to do the talking- but it wouldn’t be fair to the band if I didn’t note that this just may be the very best record the duo’s ever made.

Listen to Fantasy Empire for a limited time over at NPR’s First Listen

15. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney’s thrilling hiatus-ender, No Cities to Love, was one of the year’s first universally acclaimed records and it’s easy to see (or hear) why. Not just incredible in terms of a comeback record but as a career staple for one of the most legendary bands of our era. The trio’s sharper (and thornier) than they’ve ever been on No Cities to Love and couldn’t have scheduled their re-entrance at a better time for their fierce, commentary-heavy diatribes.

16. Midwives – LP

When Midwives put out their incendiary EP last year, I knew I’d found another Wisconsin-based band to rally behind. Naturally, the hardcore band (which boasts Graham Hunt of Midnight Reruns among its members) has followed that short order of songs up with a gloriously unhinged, shit-kicking full-length. Increasingly scrappy and direct, Midwives may very well have their sights set on bigger things- and if they don’t, those bigger things might find them anyway.

17. Spook The Herd – Freaks b/w Fermented

There’s a very particular breed of 90’s revivalism whose subversion among current bands is becoming increasingly present. Intriguingly, that camp of 90’s acts (the one that bands like Superchunk and Archers of Loaf belonged to) is notoriously difficult to recreate in intriguing ways. Many of the bands that have released records through Exploding in Sound are a part of that current crop of bands who look to that era for influence and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Spook the Herd joined that list. “Freaks” and “Fermented” are both first-rate examples of revivalism done right.

18. LVL UP – Dark Sided Stuff

Anyone whose been following this site at all for the past few months has likely seen LVL UP come up a few times. Dark Sided Stuff, their most recent release, is a compilation of the demos that would go on to become Hoodwink’d (this sites pick for Album of the Year)  and a few other recordings that were cut during that time. Unsurprisingly, the end result is a brilliant mess that strips the band back to their rawest state, allowing for a further understanding of their process. Enigmatic and charismatic in equal measure, it’s a release well worth anyone’s investment.

19. The Juliana Hatfield Three – Whatever, My Love

The Juliana Hatfield Three may not have sparked as much attention as Sleater-Kinney did when they made an unexpected return to music but Whatever, My Love does occupy a similar space to No Cities to Love. Both are examples of a band making a return to form without much warning, after a long time away, and both include some of the best material of each band’s career. A lot of bands that garner a lot of attention here (All Dogs, Radiator Hospital, etc.) have listed The Juliana Hatfield Three as a major influence and those connections, fascinatingly, have never been more crystallized than they are with Whatever, My Love. Don’t let this one fall to the wayside.

20. Chastity Belt – Time to Go Home

The name Chastity Belt’s another one that’s been kicked around here for a while, thanks mostly to their excellent 2013 LP, No Regerts. Even with as good as that record was, it proved to be impossible to predict just how incredible Time to Go Home would turn out. Chastity Belt have enhanced their identity with their boldest and most fully-realized work to date. Rarely eclipsing mid-tempo, the band allows themselves to settle into comfortably meticulous grooves with a confidence that’s self-assured enough to put a lot of other bands (bands who have been around much, much longer) to absolute shame.

Listen to Time To Go Home over at NPR’s First Listen.

21. Leggy – Nice Try

Grrrls Like Us” provided a fitting end-cap to Leggy’s first major year as a band. They’d previously released the commendably great Cavity Castle EP, which wound up being quite a few people’s favorite EP of 2014. Now, the band’s hell-bent on capitalizing on that momentum and they’re doing it in enthralling fashion. Nice Try, an EP the band released last month, isn’t just the strongest work of their young career- it’s a gigantic leap forward for their songwriting. Never anything less than full-throttle, Nice Try is an invigorating reminder that this band’s not going anyway anytime soon.

22. Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White’s Big Inner was one of 2012’s most fascinating- and unique- folk-pop records. Full of wayward experimentalism and intricate arrangements, it showcased White as someone who possessed an original voice. Three years later, he’s unleashed his follow-up: Fresh Blood. While the music’s scaled a back quite a bit in terms of arrangements, the songs here are more immediate, direct, and accessible. By indulging in greater restraint White may have also wound up with something more lasting. Adamantly defiant of easy genre categorization, Fresh Blood makes its mark and leaves an endearing scar that refuses to fade.

23. Mount Eerie – Sauna

Phil Elverum has gone through many phases, shape-shifting at his leisure into whatever suits his mind at the time. One of his most celebrated ongoing projects, Mount Eerie, returned this year with the brilliant Sauna, which offers up an enveloping ambient sprawl. Gently immersive in some spots and dangerously raw in others, it’s one of Elverum’s most compelling tapestries to date.

24. Yowler – The Offer

The Offer‘s devastating title track is one of the only standalone songs to have earned a write-up on this site so far this year. The reason? It’s not just one of the best songs of this year (so far), it’s one of the finest of the decade. “The Offer” is also, appropriately, the most representative song on Maryn Jones’ solo debut (using the Yowler moniker, at least). Cautious, frightened, anxious, and defiant, The Offer is a gut-punch of a record that occasionally nears uncomfortably voyeuristic levels. The Offer is the perfect soundtrack for sleepless nights spent in near-silence, when the only other audible sound is the rain coming down.

25. Spectres – Dying

Rounding out this run of records is, somewhat incredibly, another shoegaze-leaning record that never diminished its brute force. Dipping into the decidedly darker realms of post-punk, Spectres managed to create a behemoth of an LP with the boldly-titled Dying. Opening with a genuinely intimidating noise collage, the band sinks its claws in and proceeds to tear away in the most feral manner possible, continuously refusing to relinquish its grasp. At points, Dying approaches black metal but never loses sight of its overall melodic sensibility. By taking stormier roads, Spectres have managed to start the year off in an impossibly blinding fashion. Listen to the sounds of Dying below.

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 7

To get this out of the way up top: this site’s been going through a lot of planning phases lately and everything’s being collected as it appears. It’s been a while since the last post (mostly due to a new full-time job and splitting time between two active bands based in two cities nearly two hours apart) but that silence is coming to an end now. Initially- when I pitched the idea of a “meaningful moments in 2014 music” piece (one that had been built off an idea that grew out of a conversation with Sasha Geffen on a road trip to Kentucky) to the wonderful and absurdly talented, writers, musicians, artists, label heads, music video directors, and people- I had intended to run all of these together. Before long, it became extremely apparent that there was simply too much great content to do service to all of the pieces. It was extraordinarily humbling to piece everything together and even though this will be the last traditional post of the series, it’s far from over. There will be an epilogue that ties up everything with a bow just a little ways down the line.

Until then, this site will be going into overboard catch-up mode, featuring the best songs, music videos, and records to have been released in 2015. While all of that will bring some exciting new changes to this site, it’s the part of the paragraph where it’s time- once more- to reflect on what made 2014 so great. Below are pieces from a few of my favorite people in music and music writing, who I hold in the highest possible esteem, as well as my own personal reflection. And, lastly, a quick note to all of the people gracious enough to agree to this project: 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. 7.

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fast like light (august 2014)

How do you tell a secret that’s already told a thousand times a day?

This was August, and I had a bruise like an egg on my shin because I’d tripped over a gazebo in New Hampshire two days before. I’d hiked a whole mountain in my Vans with all my stuff on my back and my leg leaking into my jeans. Now I was in Brooklyn, where the air smelled thicker. The sun puddled up on the crooked streets.

I dropped my bag at Eric’s so I could walk without lugging it. He lived with Nadia in a railroad apartment in Bushwick, the kind of building with black iron scarred across the front. We hadn’t met before but I’d reviewed his tape a few months back, and he remembered my review and gave me a real tape to take back to Chicago with me. I opened the door to the bathroom instead of the stairwell when I tried to leave, and we both felt awkward and laughed.

The day moved slow. I met people I’d known online for years. There was a show in a hot loft. Eventually, we sat in Eric’s kitchen again, his windows blank to the night and fringed by pulsing Christmas lights.

Yeah, Christmas lights in Bushwick. But we also sipped tea out of small, worn mugs, and the show had been so good we couldn’t stop laughing. None of us had really had anything to drink, but we were tired, and excited, and full of the buzz that comes with warm, new love.

I mean love like friendship, the kind you get when you meet someone you’ve been talking or listening to forever, and the whole person is just as good as the parts you glimpsed, even better.

The apartment was stacked kitchen to music room to extra room to bedroom. Everyone went home but me, because I was sleeping on Eric and Nadia’s floor in the extra room. It was two or three in the morning, and Eric and Nadia were going to track vocals on one of Nadia’s songs.

I sat on the air mattress in the next room listening. They’d recorded instruments onto the computer already, and Nadia was making up the lyrics as she sang. Her voice was good and clear, like she’d had lessons once, or maybe just practiced a lot. Some of her takes were airy, whispery, then she’d cut through the whispers with a sharper overdub. She was trying to figure out what sounded better.

I wish I could remember her lyrics. I sat still, like I wasn’t there. You don’t break something like that when it happens.

She sounded like she felt so safe there, in the quarter of the home they’d sectioned off for music. Both of them had day jobs, too. They didn’t get to do this all the time. They made what they could, because they loved to. This is what I mean by a secret.

When they were done and the song was a little more finished than it had been before Nadia went to bed and Eric and I stood talking in the music room. Her project didn’t have a name yet but I told him how good it sounded from the next room. I still don’t know if it has a name.

We talked until about five hours before I had to get up to go to the airport. In the morning I would leave before either Eric or Nadia woke up, slip out the front door, and take the subway into LaGuardia. But it was four, and I wasn’t tired and Eric wasn’t tired, so we stood talking about the friends we had in common, the music they made, how lucky we were to know their music while it was young.

-Sasha Geffen (editor, Consequence of Sound, writer, basically everywhere else)

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Finding Strength within Yourself While Working With Music

 On sunny days I go out walking I end up on a tree-lined street
I look up at the gaps of sunlight I miss you more than anything

I was walking down Eastern Parkway on a Sunday, early afternoon in the summer. Chris was texting me, again reflecting the fierceness of Mitski’s lyrics of her then unreleased Bury Me at Makeout Creek. This is a subject that Chris and I found ourselves enraptured in often, and continue to delve into at great length today. The sun was shining, and I marveled at how her lyrics described the very street I was walking down. I made it to my doctor’s office and sat in the waiting area with three or four children, yelling about squatter’s rights of the Lego table. Their parents were disengaged, and I matched their stares at the ceiling. It was cracked and dirty, and left you wondering, “How did something that color orange get up there? What is that?”

This was my fifth, maybe sixth visit to this doctor within a month. I was currently diagnosed with a myriad of titillating, polysyllabic phrases, mostly boiling down to “your hormones are messed up big time in a serious way.” From my burgundy waiting room chair, I remember thinking to text Chris something like (though I am certain that I never did, as the joke was never really developed), “Mitski’s line about not being able to afford ‘the drive I need to go further than they said I’d go’ is probably about the G train.” I laughed at myself, then got extremely anxious. My doctor opened the door and waved for me to follow her.

Sometimes the human body stops working, or a part fails. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was seventeen. It taught me that when your body stops working, and it will at some point, there are ways we as humans compensate. But no one is invincible. I had a thyroidectomy, went through radiation therapy, and was put in isolation in my childhood bedroom for weeks. I take pills every day to fill in as my missing, malfunctioned body part. I will take them every day until I die. Sometimes, though, even the ways we find to compensate for our bodies don’t work.

I found myself at the doctor’s office on this particular day, and basically every visit since May, because my medicine was not working. I had ignored symptoms of it not working for months on end. These symptoms included, but were not limited to, frequent panic attacks, inexplicable long sessions of uncontrollable crying, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, etc. I was spending so much time hiding and sobbing in bathroom at my office, that I had developed a system of guessing when the stalls were most likely empty. Even at my least lucid, I knew that crying alone was most suited for the office environment. My poor parents would have their regular calls cut off by my spiraling into a gripping fear that my boss’ fish would die and I would be fired. I was not myself. I was all of the saddest, least brave parts of my psyche at once. Eventually I was looking out windows and thinking about jumping out of them, and that was about the time that I knew that I couldn’t chalk this up to something I needed to handle on my own. I was later told that my hormones were so imbalanced, not only was I experiencing these extreme emotional side effects, I was at high risk of promoting irregular cell growth and my cancer would likely return if my dangerous hormone levels continued to go unaddressed.

It’s one thing to hear that you have cancer. It’s an entirely other thing to hear that you might get cancer again. Cancer is like winning the lottery or the opportunity to smoke weed in college: every time you get it, the higher the probability is that you will get it again. And while I’m not sure that bit about the lottery is true, I can tell you that I most certainly never want to get cancer again. And so I sat in the doctor’s office, walked 45 minutes each way to and from the doctor’s office, and would contemplate what my different blood tests would reveal in the moments in between, all the while enveloping myself exclusively in Mitski’s music. Her lyrics would weave in and around the folds of my brain. She taught me ways to put words together that I didn’t even know existed. Her fears, her love, her desires mirrored mine. She sings the kind of songs that make you feel like she is singing these words into your mouth. Even when I was full of fear, I found comfort and strength in knowing I was not alone.

As I began my walk back to my apartment that day, I sent Chris an equally under-thought (but somehow more worthy) joke about how I was prescribed ice cream this week. He replied asking for a referral. And it made me laugh out loud. It made me laugh through the tears and the confusion and the fear I lived with constantly. And for that reason, I felt close to him. I also felt close to him because, beyond our discussions of Mitski and her music, we also could talk about Taking Back Sunday and Bruce Springsteen and how much we love disgusting fast food and how much we love our parents. The night I met Chris, about a month after the height of my symptoms, he was leaving a party early to go see Mitski for the first time at Death By Audio. I had just drafted a track post about her new single for PORTALS and assured him that her performance would be well worth missing out on the party.

It’s beautiful out today, I wish you could take me upstate
To the little place you would tell me about when you’d sense that I’d want to escape

Mitski and I, like Mitski and Chris, met through her music. Her incredibly candid lyrics made me feel like I knew her much more than I did. This is probably because when I heard the first single she released, I did not know her at all. Her artistic creation had accompanied me to doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her songs sat with me on subway trains to and from work. They sunk to the foot of my bed as I screamed into pillows, erratically. Think Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I listened to “Drunk Walk Home” on the occasion I was, God help me, under the influence and walking home. When I wrote about her music for PORTALS, she thanked me graciously, as she is very gracious. “First Love // Late Spring” reminded me of a gust of exploding wind, dust billowing into doves. “I was so young when I behaved twenty-five, and now I find I’ve grown into a tall child,” Mitski sang. In between hiccup-laden breaths, I would find strength in her biting sense of humor and total agony in the very feeling she was describing.

I went to see her play a few times, and I talked to her between sets. When she told me about preparing for the record’s release, I offered my humble abilities at writing a short bio for her album announcement. We began emailing back and forth about this and that. At one point, when I was at a friend’s birthday party, I drunkenly texted her asking if she would want to put the record out a tape. This never came to fruition, or was spoken of again, as many things I ask about while drunk at birthday parties.

When I listened to Mitski’s music, I heard all of her feeling, her talent, her words, but I also heard a soundtrack to my own life. It rang like a bell. But perhaps that is why humans make music at all, to connect. And Mitski is extremely well versed in the art of connecting. She shares with great purpose. And the words and sentiments she was sharing were not just present in my life, but also lighting a fire within me, much like I imagine is the same with many of her loving supporters. In the midst of the sludge, the uphill battle I faced in righting the wrongs in my body, my ears perked. When falling in love with music, specifically, your blood gets warmed in an emotional incubator- and this gets you kicking. There is a light that awakens you, but it’s coming from your headphones, and then it comes within you. Instead of looking to someone else for purpose, you look inwardly, contemplating what this music means about the world around you as a whole.

Chris and I continued to hang out, run into each other at shows, trade music videos of our favorite horrible pop punk bands back and forth. We even drove to Baltimore together to see Taking Back Sunday, and I skipped my regular Sunday doctor’s appointment. My health was improving, though. By this time, Chris had met with Mitski regarding management, and had started a conversation with her about the future of her career. I had let her know anything I could help with, I would. That’s the other thing about falling in true love with someone’s music, much like falling in love with the person themselves: the more you get, the more you want. Mitski sent Chris and I Bury Me separately. And once we realized we both had the record, we could not be satiated. Discovering every nook and cranny of this album was our journey to the center of the Earth. We each saw her perform as much as we possibly could, usually together. Before one of her sets, I “performed” a DJ set from the safety of a Spotify playlist that consisted mostly of Blink-182 and Gene Chandler.  Chris was late for my introduction, but we were both front row the moment “Townie” began.

One night, Chris and I were walking to our friend Jesse’s house in Greenpoint. We were weaving around the BQE, considering McDonald’s as an actual option for dinner. Chris was talking about the trajectory of Mitski’s career, where he could see her in three, five years. I told him where I could see her in ten. Chris began talking about what we could do managing her together, mostly in the short term. It wasn’t necessarily something we had discussed seriously before, but not something we hadn’t mentioned in passing. The more he talked about what I could bring to the table, the more I realized that this could become a reality. I had never been joking, but had always managed to be laughing when talking about the prospect with him. Once she texted us separately that she could see us working together with her music, referring to us as something of a dream team.

My grandfather died in the fall. He was very wise, and he was an amazingly intelligent man. He taught me my favorite flavors of ice cream and how to play Connect Four. He taught me about country music and how to laugh at anything, how to have a sense of humor. He taught me that it is important to live your life the way you want to live it, because then you will be happy. These are also traits that I see in my parents, my mom, his daughter. I stood in the driveway of my mother’s apartment complex while on the phone with Chris two days before the funeral. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about, as I was elsewhere. My dad would try to distract us both by asking questions about Mitski. I showed my mom a video of her playing that I took at Cake Shop. It seems crass, perhaps, to be thinking about anything at all at a time like that- but there are times when pain is best escaped and not faced. My parents are strong and they held us together, held me together. We talked about things we missed, things that hurt, and then things we had to look forward to. I do remember that Chris went to see Mitski play a show with her full band that week, while I was away. When I returned, we had a signed contract saying Chris and I were now her managers.

And while you sleep I’ll be scared
So by the time you wake I’ll be brave

Mitski’s music didn’t save me. Her lyrics didn’t heal me. Listening to her songs again and again and again and talking about them ad nauseam with Chris, my parents, and anyone who would listen to me ramble didn’t make any of my problems disappear. However, what Mitski and her music did do is much more powerful. In listening to her music, those moments walking down Eastern Parkway, in being reminded of how music can make you feel, how powerfully it connects our human brains together and tethers them together for life, I found strength in myself to face whatever came my way throughout the year. For good measure, when I go to the doctor next Sunday, I will listen to her record and I will text Chris, as I have for months now.

These experiences as a whole reminded me of why I work in music at all. It kept me believing in not only myself, but also what I, Chris, a team of excellent people, and above anyone at all Mitski herself could do to build her life and career as an artist. When we’re on the phone with her lawyer, or Double Double Whammy, or a potential booking agent, I think about what her music will create for people in the future. I want her to tell her story, and continue to foster this amazing talent she has for connecting to that microphone wire to the ventricles of her listener. I want to have everyone listen her music to hear it and allow her screams and howls and croons to lead them to something true and beautiful in themselves, like it did for me. To be a part of this, for me, is to live.

-Jeanette Wall (Miscreant, PORTALS, Band Practice)

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Save the Scene: Eight People Who Taught Me How the Music Industry Should Work in 2014

As with every year before it and with every year to come, 2014 was all about change. That’s all we ever do and, as creatures designed to grow, that’s what we do best. I was incredibly fortunate to find a real foothold in the music journalism industry this year and to watch myself adapt to the feel of it all. It seems so long ago, but somehow 2014 saw me finish up my final semester of college, graduate, travel all over the US, and write a ton. As exciting as all of that is, those aren’t the things that come to mind when I look back on 2014. What does are the incredible people I met, especially in regards to music.

Music journalism is a blind walk through an overcrowded room with a wall of amps turned up to full volume. It’s competitive, it’s loud, and no one actually knows what they’re doing. No one tells you what to do in this field. As digital trends take over and we’re continually forced to reinvent the way music consumption operates, those in charge are fumbling with the remote control. The rest of us watch wondering what button they’re going to press. Well, most of us.

There are a few people out there who don’t want to wait around. They’re happiest when taking action. Naturally, these eight people are all incredible workers—authors, photographers, fans—and fit right into that description. While 2014 was filled with a slew of incredible opportunities, albums, and bands, the best part of the year was seeing those who went out of their way to teach others how the music industry should really work.

DeForrest @ 285 Kent Goodbye show

When 285 Kent was closing, I wandered into New York to see Laurel Halo. I was alone, drawn by the general infatuation with an artist that has enough allure to give you confidence standing idle in a DIY space where people smoke inside and reveal insider data with a flippant shrewdness. A mutual friend suggested I meet up with his old friends from from Tiny Mix Tapes, and after a few miscommunications regarding who was wearing what color shirt, we found one another. For such an in-the-know website, I was expecting its authors to be taciturn, brainy, witty but inane. At their core, they were. They cracked jokes that bounced off remarks not yet made. They kept their voices down, but talked frequently, each with his own distinct pace. It was a great farewell show. When keeping in touch afterwards, however, I learned a lot, particularly from DeForrest. He writes to exceed the highest bar, pushing himself to provoke an intellectual discussion with whomever is reading the material, regardless of the musician at hand’s popularity, product, or longevity. He goes beyond flowery descriptions. He expects a level of determination from the reader, and that in itself demands a great deal from him, too. Over the course of the year, he took time to reach out with in-depth articles, collegiate-level discussions, and musicians that pushed the boundaries. What really stuck, however, was the direction he faced. In a year that drowned itself in clickbait articles, DeForrest marched straight ahead with a well-stitched flag of high-quality content, singlehandedly proving that the music industry should expect more of itself – because both an author and audience are hungry for it.

Christine @ Allston Pudding

It goes without saying that you should support your local scene. Bands grow from word of mouth. If it weren’t for people coming out to shows, buying merch, and listening to their records after the fact, their music would have a hard time taking flight. Supporting your scene means giving them that foothold, showing someone cares. No one embodies this more in Boston than Christine. Despite seeing her at shows all the time for a year or so—trust me, she’s hard to miss, even though her height should technically make her easy to miss—we never talked until 2014, especially when both writing for Boston’s music blog Allston Pudding. Hearing that passion for Boston’s local artists coming straight from her mouth was enough to get anyone psyched, even if they couldn’t remember the last time they bought a record or went to a concert. In an age where promotion teams are at one another’s necks trying to get their roster on Rolling Stone, it’s difficult to truly stand up for music you believe in that has yet to be influenced by larger masterminds. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with that. Being able to decide you actively enjoy what’s coming straight at your ears separate from their name or the URL link you’re hearing it from, though, takes some clear thinking to figure out. Christine knows about new acts before their demo tapes hit the web because she’s constantly at shows. She’s in the front row, listening to people play their heart out and applauding them for it, even if it’s not her cup of tea. She’s the reminder the music world needs that you can support musicians without being a diehard fan. Giving someone a single thumbs up makes a huge difference. So when your backyard is ringing with the noise of a dozen new bands, staying inside becomes the obvious error.

Ryan @ SXSW 

There is so much happening all the time everywhere. As Lindsay Zoladz discussed in her essay on hyper consumption and digital exhaust, the digital age is running so quickly that there’s no time to stop and properly digest. Instead, most everything passes us as a vaguely recognizable blur. SXSW is the festival-equivalent. There’s nonstop shows every single day, with a dozen secret events being held around Austin, from house shows to 3am performances on a bridge to impromptu bill swapping. It’s hard not to fall into the trap. There’s a fear of missing out, for sure, but there’s a fear of underappreciating. You want to make sure you’re taking away exactly what there is to be extracted, that your consumption of that moment is chewed slowly and with great attention to detail while still swallowing that bite fast enough to try something different shortly thereafter. As a photographer at the festival, I found things to be chaotic but enjoyable. The shutter moves so quickly that you can reflect on the taste of your so-called meal later on. As an interviewer, however, things are a bit different. I worked alongside Ryan and several other Stereogum writers that week. Watching how they operated felt like walking abroad the Titanic as it sank. People were scurrying everywhere, often drunk and directionless, but their staff stayed calm. It was as if their heads were above the water. They took their time with every endeavor. Every interview would be done with slow pacing, giving the artist time to think before, during, and after speaking, making space for any words that could spill out like drowsy dribble. If you’re going to write something, you need to take your time with it. You can’t be pressured by the various clocks spinning around you. Sure enough, more of Ryan’s work would pop up over 2014. Every feature held tight to its pacing, every paragraph exhaled with soothing resolution. He took his time with his work, and every piece encouraged others do the same.

Photographer @ Governors Ball 

The music industry is both tightly structured and casually loose. Because of that, it’s easy to get involved. That also makes it a discouraging toil. When waiting in the main stage pit at Governors Ball, I noticed one photographer pacing back and forth in a green flat-rimmed hat with small ducks on it. Thanks to that hat, I realized I had seen him at various other festivals that summer. He’s young, around 22 years old or so, and average height. In the pit, he looks even smaller. The other photographers toss giant canvased camera bags around their hip while balancing one monstrous lens in one hand and their enormous camera in the other. They wait for the bands to step onstage with a slightly bored look, one that speaks to their familiarity with it all and the privilege they get to be the closest ones to the artist. It’s an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re a young photographer, but he appeared to be unfazed. For a few minutes, we began talking, and I asked him how he was able to get passes to shoot if he was working for a smaller blog. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just ask.” It’s obvious, but it doesn’t get said enough, especially coming from a small, independent blog. That photographer reminded me that it doesn’t matter how old you are, who you’re working for, or what your resume looks like. If you want something, keep asking for it. The worst is you’ll get turned away.

Steven @ Pitchfork Festival

The internet is cool. It can be an awful place, for sure, but it brings together all sorts of people, and thanks to a quick introduction from a mutual Twitter friend, I got to meet Steven (yes, this Steven). We both were attending Pitchfork’s summer music festival and were running around Chicago’s grassy field trying to take in every blissful set. It wasn’t until after, once I was back home and face to face with the internet again, that I began to learn a lot from him. He’s a writer and photographer with one of the most giving hearts. He applauds others for their successes. He highlights the overlooked. He drives long hours to attend a small house show. The running thread through it all? His support for his friends. Steven goes out of his way to see, read, and promote any work he finds important. In a straightforward way, most of us do this. We like what we like and enjoy sharing it with others. However, we place ourselves ahead of our friends, putting their efforts on the backburner when it isn’t a convenience for us to do otherwise. For Steven, that’s not the case. He constantly sets aside time to hear people out. He listens to his friends’ new songs. He’ll take a minute to read another pal’s review. If there’s one thing the music industry needs, it’s a network that uses iron bars to hold itself up, not paper straws. We need to be on the lookout for one another, giving credit where it’s due so we can continue to look in that direction again and again as time carries on. With all the staff cuts and job slicing, the music industry is in need of support. It needs some hugs and it needs some honesty. Over the course of a few months, I learned that may not be as impossible as it sounds. When we look out for one another, it creates a stronger shield to defend with, and Steven makes it clear how effective that can be.

Mark @ Pickathon Festival

Nestled off at Portland’s edge is a small grassroots music festival called Pickathon. It focuses on being family friendly, ecofriendly, and generally friendly, but particularly while drawing a finely curated list of acts to come perform in the middle of the woods. I ventured off to the festival alone, prepared to enjoy excellent music, but soon found there was much more to it. After plopping down in the grass to watch Hiss Golden Messenger, an older man next to me leaned over and asked where my festival bracelets were from. He and his wife soon started talking about all the sets they had seen over the years at Pickathon. They had been going to shows for decades. He dragged her to see My Bloody Valentine a dozen times back before they broke up. He had an audio recording of one of Nirvana’s opening sets a month before Nevermind came out where a mere five people clapped after they played “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Mark pulled out a schedule for the weekend and we began comparing our top picks. Over that weekend, he, his wife, and I would steak out front row spots and trade stories of our musical experiences. They introduced me to their child and his friends. Despite them being the age of my own parents, we got along just fine. It was people united by an interest, not an image. For that, Pickathon is a magical place. There’s no denying that. What makes it special beyond that is Mark leaning over to introduce himself, creating a bond for two people to share their musical experiences – and then enjoy some new ones. Since then, I made it my goal to introduce myself to at least one person at every festival I went to from there on out. So far it’s gone well. Without Mark showing firsthand how helpful introducing yourself can be, who knows how long it would have before I realized how easy it is to join forces without someone just as passionate as you.

The 1975 Fan @ Boston Calling

It’s near impossible to grow up without being a superfan. There’s an intense joy that comes with giving up your time and attention to a musician, and that joy fills you up in the most pleasing of ways. To be 13 years old and constantly fawning over a musician is a wonderful thing. From the outside looking in, it looks rather terrifying. The cults that follow bands are easy to target, and the more you indulge in music over the years, the less attached you are to a single act. It’s evident because you see fans screaming over nothing and, rather judgmentally, laugh. At Boston Calling, other photographers and I found ourselves taken aback by the first few front rows of fans waiting for The 1975. Many were younger than expected and almost all were wearing black. One girl in the front was crying. As the job essentially requires, I went to photograph her. Looking through the lens, I saw she was holding a piece of sketchbook paper. On it, there was a to-scale portrait of the frontman’s face. He was smiling. I went over to the fan and asked her if she drew it, to which she said yes. She was planning on giving it to him when he walked out. Getting a closer look, I was amazed. Behind her, another girl held up a cross-stitch portrait she had made. When the band walked out moments later, both tossed their items up onstage, smiles spread wide, with an inexplicable bliss. The respect fans have for their idols is a beautiful thing. I felt strange, like I had just been laughing at my own self moments ago had this been 10 years ago. The perseverance, dedication, and genuine love diehard fans have for their favorite band is inspiring. Few things in life can get that intense and lasting of a connection from humans, but music is one of those. To remember the honesty of that, especially the importance of that, was an odd moment. Fans are filled with love. Realizing you almost forgot that you felt that same pure emotion yourself is a terrifying thing, but fans like her remind you that fandom is a remarkable thing.

Tom @ Bacardi Triangle

By happenstance, I got to cover a weekend-long party to celebrate Bacardi where three musical performers happened to be there. It was a strange event, especially as someone who doesn’t like rum, but memorable nonetheless. A gaggle of other writers were flown down to Puerto Rico for the event and many of us were confused as to what was the proper way to indulge in the festivities. Sitting next to me at the breakfast table was Tom, an English writer for Dazed. This group clung together at various events, enjoying one another’s company in the bizarreness of it all. On the second-to-last night, Tom lowered his voice to explain his real goal. The next morning, he was going to wake up early, hail a cab, and ask to be brought to the darkest corners of Puerto Rico to investigate the drug trade. He wanted to meet with gangs. He wanted to observe how it all worked. Tom admitted he knew how dangerous this was, but he seemed not to care. A week earlier, I believed going on this trip in itself was a chance. Technically, it was, but compared to Tom’s bravery that was nothing. The difference was what was at stake. Tom was willing to risk his safety, sanity, and status on that trip. This wasn’t a reminder to fling myself out in the middle of the road more often. It was a reminder that bravery is rewarded. Bravery means more than an instant thrill. Bravery means taking the first step, inching closer to the truth, and showing others what you have found. Looking back on 2014, it seemed to snowball out of control. If I were to live like Tom, I could grow more mental muscle. I could push against that snowball. The music industry invests in the art of regurgitation, but with Tom’s approach, it could finally brush the vomit aside to ask why things operate the way they do and what we can do to change things up.

-Nina Corcoran (Consequence of Sound, Allston Pudding)

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Becoming

In 2014, I saw more sets than I’d ever seen in my life. I left the country for nearly a week to have an immersive festival experience in Toronto (which wound up being spent with some of the kindest people I know). I made new friends, several of which were responsible for creating music I love or for bringing incredibly beautiful art into existence. When it came time to buckle down and zero in on one subject, I had a million ideas running through my head. Getting chills during sets from Perfect Pussy, Mutual Benefit, All Dogs, Mitski, Pile, Nervosas, Radiator Hospital, Speedy Ortiz, or any of the touring bands that played Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? Majical Cloudz’s unforgettably brave Pitchfork set? Putting together Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? VAYA’s LCD Soundsystem cover set that took a sharp left and ended with the punchiest, scuzziest rendition of “Crazy In Love” I’ve ever heard? Playing and creating music with a band again? Jayson Gerycz’s drumming? Trading cigarette burns with Maria Sherman, some of the 285 Kent crew, and a few others during an inspired Kendrick Lamar set? Resuming writing my own songs? Any number of moments spent with Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves either on the phone or in person (we’ll always have the hammock, ILYH)? Exploding in Sound? Double Double Whammy? The line “The shape of true love is terrifying enough” in Cymbal Eat Guitars’ “Warning”? Curating this project? Running the site and seeing it grow? The unwavering belief in my abilities as a music journalist that came courtesy of a dream-worthy trio made up of Liz Pelly, Faye Orlove, and Jeanette Wall? The way a certain subsection of people in my small town heartily embraces basement shows and so readily encourages any form of creativity? A long-overdue ascension of powerful, respected non-male voices in cultural criticism?

In the end, I went with the only thing I could think to logically do: I chose a moment that incorporated the most items of my constantly-expanding list. After coming dangerously close to revisiting NXNE (and paying special attention to its most memorable moment), I went with something less internally divisive: the day I shot Mitski delivering a stunning solo acoustic performance for The Media. My friend and fellow writer, Sasha Geffen (whose importance in regards to the development of this piece I can’t emphasize enough), had been kind enough to put me up for a few days in Chicago and joined me in catching a particularly memorable Pile set on the first night. After a quiet second day/night spent mostly writing and watching films, it was time to prep for Mitski, who was accompanied on tour by LVL UP.

At that point, Sasha and I had each spoken at length with both acts (though Sasha’s involvement and history was more extensive than my own), which led to some entertaining late realizations towards the end of the night. Mitski and I had been texting back and forth leading up to her arrival, each expressing equal excitement over the ability to be involved with The Media in any capacity (I’ve long held a stance positing that The Media- or Fvck The Media- is one of the most important independently-run publications in contemporary media, so to be able to work directly for them- or in collaboration with them- is a sincere honor). After LVL UP dropped Mitski off at Sasha’s doorstep, a few casual introductions were made and we all stepped out of the cold and into a warm, cat-friendly apartment.

Some small conversation circled around the room, allowing everyone to get caught up with everyone else while settling into each other’s collective company. Before too long, Mitski had a guitar (a Martin that used to be my father’s, which was also used by All Dogs‘ Maryn Jones in the session I did with her for The Media) tuned to her preference and was launching into a spellbinding three song set. All of those songs were wrapped on the first takes- what’s seen in The Media video was (essentially) captured in real time. After each song, I sat transfixed, clutching my camera; I wasn’t sure if it was more appropriate to applaud or simply sit in stunned silence. I opted for the latter as Sasha did the same, each of us managing to get out a quiet “wow” or some other one-syllable exclamation.

After Mitski closed with “Townie”, easily one of my favorite songs of the year, we all allowed ourselves to breathe a little and struck up some more conversations. Sasha’s roommate Ben made some incredible steamed buns, which we each gratefully accepted after he offered to let us try a few.  We traded opinions on things happening in music, weighed the costs of living in our respective states, and exchanged stray thoughts. After a short while, most of LVL UP came back to collect Mitski and allowed us to climb in their van before taking off for Beat Kitchen.

After already amassing a good day’s worth of memories that easily qualify as favorites (Mitski’s set, Sasha playing me Bury Me At Makeout Creek before the session and some of her reactions to my reactions, the van ride over where everyone traded stories and talked about Mike Kaminsky), the one that stands out most from that day is what happened at Beat Kitchen and how I knew I’d found a group of people worth their salt: while everyone crowded around a table that was just slightly too small for such a large party, Mitski’s order got mixed up in the kitchen and even though everyone had been casually mentioning their hunger, no one ate a bite of their food until Mitski had been served- a small gesture of respect and kindness that’s since acted as a perfect summation of the character on display in all parties involved. LVL UP expressed some nervous trepidation over being a headlining act and were formulating some musical runs in their set over dinner while the table swapped stories and jokes.

Before too long, the show was up and running. A decent set from MTV Ghosts and a strong set from Staring Problem acted as the introduction to Mitski’s set and Mitski wasted no time in laying everyone to waste. With LVL UP’s Nick Corbo on drums and Michael Caridi on guitar, Mitski’s songs took on a new life. While both the first listen of Bury Me At Makeout Creek and the earlier acoustic session had successfully made their mark, neither compared to seeing that setup play live. As the band fell into their rhythm, the chills got fiercer and, for the last few minutes of their set, wound up being sustained. Not a lot of moments in 2014 compared to looking back from the lip of the stage to see just about everyone in attendance looking absolutely shell-shocked as Mitski unloosed piercing scream after piercing scream to end “Drunk Walk Home”, which wound up being a perfect lead-in to LVL UP’s set.

Hoodwink’d is a record that contains just about everything I love in modern music and, in a welcome turn of events, it’s the product of four of the better people I’ve had the fortune of meeting this year. LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, and- by extension- Dan Goldin and Exploding in Sound (who co-released Hoodwink’d)- have come to be a few of this site’s biggest supporters thanks in part to shared taste. Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound have been in collaboration on a few of my favorite releases this year, with Hoodwink’d operating proudly as the crown jewel of their conjoined efforts. Getting to see those songs, which have now become such a deeply engrained part of my life, performed live for the first time by a band I reserve a deep affection for with the person who originally introduced me to the band, felt surreal. It was an extended moment worth reeling in, savoring, and committing to memory; a time of small bliss and unwavering camaraderie.

From spending some of the morning in silence, working alongside one of my favorite writers today, to some extremely entertaining post-show goodbyes, it was a day that filled me with joy over the things that I was doing and the people that surrounded me. There were more than a few moments where life felt at ease, which wound up being a blessing in an extremely tumultuous stretch of months. So, to The Media, Sasha Geffen, Mitski, LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, Dan Goldin, and Exploding in Sound: thank you- life’s worth living just a little more surrounded by the things that make you happy. I’d like to extend that same thanks to Meredith Graves (this little site’s patron saint), Sam Clark, Ray McAndrew, David Glickman, Jeanette Wall (and The Miscreant), Edgar Durden, Shaun Sutkus, and anyone else who ever had a kind thing to say about Heartbreaking Bravery (or cared enough to contribute to this project); it’d be dead without their interest and encouragement. I love you all.

-Steven Spoerl