Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Modern Baseball

17 of ’17: The Best Songs of the Year

2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.

Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.

These are the 17 best songs of 2017.

Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge

One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.

Mo Troper – Your Brand

One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Response is particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.

Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.

Cende – What I Want

Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.

Charly Bliss – Westermarck

Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).

Common Holly – Nothing

Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.

Weaves – Puddle

Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.

Fred Thomas – Misremembered

Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changer is a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.

Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs

A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.

Cayetana – Bus Ticket

2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.

Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout

One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.

Strange Relations – Say You

One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.

Covey – Call Home

There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.

IDLES – Mother

Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.

Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.

Palehound – If You Met Her

A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.

It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.

Young Jesus – Feeling

A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.

All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.

The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands

Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.

When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Mount Eerie – Real Death

When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.

Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.

While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.

Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.

By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.

 

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The Best of the Rest

18-21

22-26

27-32

Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default

33-100

Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap

One Great Week, Five Great Songs

September got off to an exceptionally strong start, with the month already yielding incredible new songs from the following laundry list of artists: Lost Boy ?, Wand, Lina Tullgren, Miss World, Dead Leaf Echo, Danielle Luppi & Parquet Courts, Death By Unga Bunga, Queen of Swords, Trudy and the RomanceSLØTFACE, Partner, Suno Deko, Gleemer, TFS, After Hours Radio, Prawn, Mal Devisa, Field Medic, Ryan Koenig, Raleigh, Tough Age, Mt. Doubt, Havah, Moses Sumney, Infinity Girl, Heaters, The Fluids, Ora Corgan (x2), Aiming for Enrike, SLONK, Sales, Earl Grey, St. Vincent, Gun Outfit, Rostam, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Helio Sequence, Happy Hollows, and Silver Torches.

Somehow, despite the unreal amount of incredible tracks in that treasure trove, that was still just scratching the tip of the iceberg. Below were the five songs that leapt out most from an embarrassment of riches. Most of the names are familiar and some are acts in the midst of welcome resurgences. All of them are worth turning on and turning up, so push the volume levels up and go exploring. Enjoy.

1. Sports – Making It Right

A short while ago, Sports were hinting that their run might be over following the release of their excellent All of Something. Fortunately, as “Making It Right” makes abundantly clear, that wound up not being the case. They may even allude to that false alarm with the clever “you’re calling my bluff” line. In a little over 100 seconds, Sports proves that they’re not just back but that they’re at the absolute top of their game.

2. Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry

As Slaughter Beach, Dog, Modern Baseball‘s Jake Ewald has been releasing music that’s been on par with — or threatening to outstrip — that of his main vehicle. “”Fish Fry” is yet another deeply absorbing entry into Ewald’s solo discography. Characteristically unassuming, “Fish Fry” is as sharp as anything Ewald’s released. Putting the modern day ennui of young adulthood under the microscope, the loneliness on display in”Fish Fry” almost sounds romantic before the reality of it all sets in and it just comes across as painfully sad, enhancing the song’s already magnetic pull.

3. Magic Potion – Rest Yr Skull 

Magic Potion already have a quality EP and LP to their name and have only improved over time. The Rest Yr Skull 7″ is the next release on the table and the band have anchored it with the title track. Like a lot of bands on the consistently outstanding PNKSLM roster, the band pulls the majority of their influences from slacker punk and slacker pop movement of the ’90s, advancing the aesthetic with something intangibly modern. “Rest Yr Skull” is as fine of an example of that formula as anyone’s likely to hear all year, a charming slice of driving basement pop with an irresistible melody.

4. Bad History Month – Being Nothing

For a time, it looked as if Bad History Month may have disappeared for good. Luckily, “Being Nothing” arrived last week to dissuade anyone from that notion. A career highlight in a fascinating and deeply inventive discography, “Being Nothing” fully celebrates the oddities that have made the project’s past releases so essential. Folk-informed, noise-damaged, and utterly arresting, “Being Nothing” could not have come from anyone else. Psychedelic overtones push one of the most defiantly nonconformist songs of 2017 to even greater heights. It’s unmissable.

5. Radiator Hospital – Pastoral Radio Hit

“Pastoral Radio Hit” is the second glimpse at the forthcoming record from site favorites Radiator Hospital, whose “Dance Number” clip cracked the recent top 10 list for August. The song’s hard-charging at first blush, full of restraint at second, and brilliantly explores the dichotomy between the two at third. It’s an endlessly fascinating piece of music that lives up to its title and confirms that Radiator Hospital’s forthcoming Play The Songs You Like will be one of their discography’s most adventurous entries. Turn it up, put it on repeat, and find a new thing to love each time it winds to a close.

Seven Weeks, Ten Records

Before this week began, it’d been seven weeks since any of this site’s regular coverage had appeared. The first stretch of this week will be dedicated to amending the outstanding material that went uncovered in the interim, while the latter part of the week will feature the present week’s finest offerings. Below are ten standout records to have been released over the long hiatus, from EPs to compilations to full-lengths. There’s a whole host of incredible material shared between these ten records so stop hesitating and just dive straight into this post’s overflowing heart. Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough 

Expert Eraser“, “Fade“, and “Teen Challenge” all earned feature slots on this site in the lead-up to Plastic Cough‘s release, each one suggesting a seemingly inevitable reality: Great Grandpa throwing their hat into the ring of genuine Album of the Year contenders. The day finally came, Plastic Cough was released, and that inevitability proved to be no joke. Plastic Cough is an absolutely ferocious record, gnashing its teeth at every hairpin turn and gloriously bombastic moment, only pausing to breathe on the gorgeous “Faithful”, a perfectly placed slow-burner that rounds the record out in breathtaking fashion. Plastic Cough is the kind of thrill ride that makes a mark deep enough to last.

Slaughter Beach, Dog – Motorcycle.jpg

Jake Ewald may get the most recognition for his work in Modern Baseball but what the songwriter’s accomplished in Slaughter Beach, Dog is equally — if not even more — compelling. Having already accumulated an incredibly rich and surprisingly expansive sound over the course of a full-length and an EP, Motorcyle.jpg finds Ewald leaning even more confidently into the battered folk trappings that heightened those first two releases. Motorcycle.jpg also skews a little more lo-fi and at times recalls Yankee Bluff, each poignantly bruised track vastly exceeding the aesthetics perceived limitations. It’s another impressive work from a musician worth watching.

Little Star – July Demos

Another one of the acts positioning Good Cheer Records as one of the finest upstart labels, Little Star has managed to turn a lot of heads in recent times, thanks to two sterling full-lengths. The project’s showing no signs of slowing down, even going so far as to release a small collection of demos last month, aptly entitled July Demos. The band’s earned comparisons to legendary acts (Big Star, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular among them) and it’s not difficult to see why those comparisons are being made, even from this small smattering of tracks. All four of the songs on display here are sharply written songs that convey a great deal of emotion in their quiet restraint. Spellbinding work.

Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues

Chumped may have been Katie Ellen‘s earliest claim to some modicum of fame but the songwriter’s not being reduced to the ashes left in the wake of that band’s departure, instead opting to venture out on an already promising solo career. Cowgirl Blues is Ellen’s first statement and it’s a bold one. The first two and a half minutes of opening track “Drawing Room” are comprised entirely of extremely light ambient noise, clean guitar, and vocals, as if Ellen is reasserting an individual identity. It’s a deeply effective moment that sets the tone for a record that’s not afraid to show off its bruises, scars, or self-awareness. Front to back, it’s one of the summer’s most captivating listens.

Milked – Death On Mars

Kelly Johnson is the songwriter spearheading Milked, graciously returning to the fold after Geronimo! took their final bow. For anyone who was concerned Johnson would step away from the eccentricities and unpredictable eclecticism that made Geronimo! so fascinating, put aside those fears for good. Death on Mars is as gleefully unwieldy and feral as Geronimo! at their fiercest (undoubtedly helped along by the drumming of Geronimo! bandmate Matt Schwerin). Death On Mars is a towering work that’s not afraid to embrace catharsis or melody even as it careens wildly from song to song, touching on everything from powerpop to hardcore along the way. An absolute triumph of a return.

Midwives – No

No will be the last record Midwives — who appeared in this site’s Best EP’s list in 2013 and 2015 and whose self-titled 7″ was one of the first reviews this site ever ran — will release. While it’s a shame that one of the upper Midwest’s best hardcore bands will be disappearing into the ether, at the very least they managed to go out on top: No is a culmination of everything the group’s accomplished since starting up nearly five years ago. It’s a growling, spitting, snarling beast of a record, unafraid to take prisoners in its sub-18 minute run-time. Bruising and feral, it’s only fitting that such a proudly deranged band would go out kicking, baring its threatening fangs all the while.

Dream Ritual – Summer Promo

Sometimes all it takes for a band to take off is three songs, which is exactly what Dream Ritual‘s offering on Summer Promo, a blistering post-punk EP that doesn’t leave any room for filler. Echoing everyone from Shellac to METZ and everyone in between, Dream Ritual manages to carve out their own distinct identity. “Noise”, “Oil & Canvas”, & “Sunlight Girl” all perfectly marry elements of modern day noise-punk with some of the genre’s earliest defining elements. Whether it’s the metallic-like production or the infusion of pop-leaning melody, it’s clear that Dream Ritual are students of the genre. Thankfully for us, their learning has resulted in one of the summer’s strongest EP’s.

Mike Krol – Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records

A few years ago, this site named Mike Krol‘s Turkey one of the best records of 2015 and heavily praised the songwriter’s infectiously joyous live show. Krol had gained notoriety thanks to the cult following that he’d accumulated due to his first two records, Trust Fund and I Hate Jazz, both of which were long out of print by the time Merge announced Krol’s signing and released Turkey. Fortunately, for everyone, Merge has come to the rescue and reissued both of those seminal classics (this according to essentially anyone that owns either) and packaged them with all of the demos for each session. The whole thing’s an exhilarating look at an exhilarating artist and should be considered essential listening for fans of the basement pop genre.

Tunnel Traffic – MEESH

Tunnel Traffic’s MEESH occupies a space that’s always memorable: the record arrived from the artist via unsolicited submission and proceeded to impress at every turn. From opener “Lesson Learned” to the closing “Memorial”, this small release from Adam Hachey’s solo project made a sizable impression. Softer and a little sweeter than expected, MEESH is chock-full of mid-tempo folk-leaning numbers that expand the bedroom pop genre into something faintly unfamiliar. It’s quiet, it’s intimate, it’s unassuming, and it’s utterly spectacular. MEESH weaves an unbreakable trance over its listeners and commands their attention through a narrative journey that feels both direct and cerebral. It’s an incredible accomplishment from a songwriter whose work all but demands to be followed.

Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm (Deluxe Version)

Throughout work with WaxahatcheeP.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and Great Thunder as well as through a variety of guest roles Katie Crutchfield has become a household name for a very particular sect of people, broadening that base with each successive release. Crutchfield’s latest comes via the Waxahatchee moniker, Out in the Storm. Everything that Waxahatchee has released to date has stood the test of time and remained as impressive — if not more so — as it was at the time of its release. Out in the Storm feels like Crutchfield’s reached another level entirely, combining more than a decade’s worth of knowledge, experience, and style into a mesmerizing, cohesive whole. A career high point for Crutchfield and easily one of the best records of 2017, Out in the Storm‘s definitive version also comes package with the demos for each song on the record, all of which are — like the record itself — well worth hearing.

The Best Songs of 2017’s First Quarter

Anyone keeping regular tabs on this site will be fully aware that only a few days ago a list of around 500 great songs from the first quarter was just published, which means the songs featured in this list* are genuinely extraordinary. Ranging from highlights of records that are already receiving glowing reviews (Pile, Midnight Reruns) to the lead-off single of what’s undoubtedly the Heartbreaking Bravery pick for the year’s most anticipated record (Charly Bliss), these 15 tracks constitute the very best of the early best. Old favorites and new faces are both featured and  everything’s more than worth a whole slew of listens, so jump in and start swimming.

*Any of the songs that were previously featured in the Quarter 1 Best Of roundups for music videos and records were deemed ineligible for this list, in an effort to spread the attention as much as possible. 

Charly Bliss – Glitter

Anyone who has paid even an iota of attention to this site and its coverage selection over the past several years should be aware of Charly Bliss. Following what stands so far as the best EP of the current decade, an introductory full-length should seem like a daunting challenge. “Glitter” decimates any of the doubt that none of us should have ever harbored in the first place. A pitch-perfect burst of spiked bubblegum punk, it’s a characteristically enthralling look at what’s bound to be one of the year’s best records.

Chemtrails – Deranged

A relatively fresh band to this site’s featured selections, Chemtrails‘ “Deranged” is the exact type of song that seems determined to force a change in that regard. Swooping down from the heavens, “Deranged” is an exhilarating run through snotty, synth-driven basement pop that comes teeming with an energy that’s unmistakably, ferociously punk. An effortless, summery anthem, “Deranged” sticks with the listener thanks to its deceptive intelligence and unavoidable hooks.

The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)

Was there any hook in 2017’s first quarter as ridiculously addictive and inescapable as the one at the center of “Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)”? The amount of times the melody accompanying the title of this song personally floated through my head over the first few months of this year is nothing short of staggering. Fortunately, the rest of the song is as brilliant as that central hook, ably demonstrating the considerable allure that nearly every song to come out of The Spirit of the Beehive‘s discography boasts.

Deep State – No Idea Pt. II

An explosion of basement punk given only the slightest powerpop sheen, Deep State’s “No Idea Pt. II” recklessly kicks and careens with abandon. Pure energy congeals with concise, tightly-wound songwriting for a display of formidable power that’s hard to forget. Short, scrappy, and overflowing with conviction, “No Idea Pt. II” is more than enough reason to get incredibly excited for whatever Deep State’s future holds in store.

Petite League – Pulling Teeth

Last year, Petite League were kind enough to gift this site with “Magic Johnson” for the A Step Forward compilation and that track’s been on near-constant repeat ever since that moment. “Magic Johnson was an affirmation of something that’d already grown apparent: every new Petite League release is worth your attention. “Pulling Teeth”, their latest, serves as both reaffirmation and as statement. This is a band that’s hell-bent on improving with each consecutive release and they have the tenacity and the intelligence to make sure that goal’s accomplished.

Froth – Passing Thing

Most of Froth‘s most gripping efforts in the past have been hazy affairs imbued with gentle atmospheric aesthetics so the opening moments of “Passing Thing” don’t come as much of a surprise. What follows is a different story. After erupting into a cavalcade of noise that paradoxically both invites and discards a sense of tension “Passing Thing” leans in hard on the band’s shoegaze influences for an unexpectedly urgent reminder of the kind of forcefulness that’s always been evident just below Froth’s typically relaxed surface.

The New Year – Recent History

“Recent History”, the first music to be released from The New Year in nearly a decade, sounds more masterfully composed than most locked-in bands who are hitting their stride can manage. It helps, of course, that the members can be rightfully considered pioneers thanks to their astounding contributions to music both pre- and post-Bedhead. Still, “Recent History” is as quietly invigorating as slowly unwinding post-punk numbers come and The New Year infuse it with a hard-fought career’s worth of feeling.

Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me

Hand Habits have made a name for themselves crafting sweeping, elegiac folk-tinged numbers over the years. The band has a uniformly strong discography but it’s hard to remember a track over that time as pure and lovely as the six-minute “Sun Beholds Me”. Haunting atmospherics and a pensive vocal melody find the perfect marriage to achieve a near-spiritual transcendence and leave Hand Habits with a striking career high that’s as gentle as it is memorable. An absolute triumph in every way.

Modern Baseball – This Song’s Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks

Few bands can offer up a career re-positioning as fascinating as the one Modern Baseball have accomplished over the past few years. Originally heralded as the potential saviors of both emo and pop-punk, the band’s steadily shifted towards something that tips far closer to Guided By Voices and Built to Spill than The Promise Ring. “This Song’s Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks” is the most recent example and includes scintillating guitar work while retaining some of the tongue-in-cheek snark and humility that endeared the band to its early fans. Impressive is an understatement.

Grim Streaker – Guts

Another furiously-paced burst of aggressive basement punk with a few basement pop trappings, Grim Streaker’s “Guts” is the kind of song that makes people sit up and take notice. For a little under two and a half minutes, Grim Streaker just throws one haymaker after the other, from the frantic synth work to the energetic, deeply-felt vocals. “Guts” is, unquestionably, a knockout punch. Should Grim Streaker keep this kind of pace up, we’ll all be hearing their name more frequently in the coming years.

Dream Wife – Somebody

Many times when musicians opt for the overtly political route — whether it be protest songs or self-congratulatory statements — it comes off as trite and frequently overbearing. Which is why when these topics are treated with nuance instead of being reduced to a bland bottom line, the effect tends to be greater. Case in point: Dream Wife’s “Somebody”, which features both the simplistic (but deeply meaningful) rallying cry of “I am not my body/I am somebody” and verses that articulate that point in clever ways. Dream Wife understand the effects of prose better than most and, as a result, they’ve wound up with what will likely be one of the strongest sociopolitical tracks of 2017.

Caddywhompus – Waiting Room

While Decent and Splinter were among some of the stronger tracks of the past several months, it was “Waiting Room” that stood out as Caddywhompus‘ finest effort. All three are sterling tracks, undoubtedly, but the inventiveness present in each of the many movements populating “Waiting Room” give it the slightest of edges, a fact that bodes very well for the band’s forthcoming Odd Hours. As dynamic and fascinating as ever, Caddywhompus seems poised to unveil not only a career high but one of the year’s finest records.

Pile – Dogs

Leaning On A Wheel and Texas showed that Pile, one of the most singular acts in today’s visible musical landscape, hadn’t lost an ounce of whatever unholy magic they’d poured into their earlier releases. “Dogs”, on the other hand, hinted towards something even larger. To be sure, A Hairshirt of Purpose did not disappoint. Still, “Dogs” remained an unquestionable highlight; sprawling, orchestral, and fearless, it’s another perfect example of the type of craft, conviction, and fearlessness that have transformed Pile into the unlikeliest of icons.

Tica Douglas – The Same Thing

One of the emerging solo acts that’s earned a handful of feature spots on this site over the past few years is Tica Douglas, whose restlessness continuously informs their music. “The Same Thing”, Douglas’ latest, somehow feels like a different animal entirely. A sweeping anthem that comes chock-full of the doubt, introspection, and exacting, unsparing self-analysis that have permeated throughout Douglas’ earlier works but “The Same Thing” somehow feels even more resolved and at peace than those earlier numbers. From quiet open to the wildly explosive burst to set off the track’s final 90 seconds, wire-to-wire, this is Douglas’ best work to date.

Midnight Reruns – Warm Days

Both Hold Up the Mirror and Scorpion were strong indicators that Midnight Reruns‘ Spectator Sports would inevitably wind up being another great record from a band with a near-spotless track record. While, unsurprisingly, that’s been fully revealed to be the case, it’s the record’s final track — not one of the advance singles — that makes the strongest impression. “Warm Days” is one of Midnight Reruns’ most representative tracks to date, from the dueling twin leads to the perfectly placed harmonies to the intensive understanding of their songwriting strengths, the song’s as much of a declaration of power as it is a victory lap. Listen to it below and watch a video of them playing the song live last year in Green Bay, WI.

Nothing Stops In November: The Month’s Streams

While only two premiere spots ran on this site over the course of November, there was more than enough new material being released to keep anyone attempting to track it all extremely occupied. A total of nearly 200 outstanding songs found their way out into the world and, just as the preceding posts did for full streams and music videos, this post will serve as a recap of the majority of those titles. If there were enough time to provide all of these tracks feature spots, they’d be receiving a lot more words. However, that shouldn’t distract from their merit; all of these tracks are more than worth hearing. So, bookmark the page, click around, and discover a few new favorites. 

Hater, Alyeska, Dama Scout, Fred Thomas, Turtlenecked, Pissed Jeans, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Wild Pink, PermitTy Segall, The Courtneys, Julien Baker, brunch., Holy Now, Breast Massage, Hideout (x2), Jitterz, Drakulas, Ted Leo, Peter Silberman, Creepoid, ot to, not to, Luxury Death, Leapling, Day Wave, No Sun, Matthew Squires, Skyway Man, Dominic, Tobin Sprout, D.A. Stern, Minor Moon, Dear Georgiana, Slumbers, FRIGS, Nadia Reid, Mark Sultan, Polyester, Imaginary People, Shiny Wet Machine.

Magic Magic Roses, Spelling Reform, The Velveteins, Rubblebucket, Cate Le Bon, A Valley Son (x2), Old Gray, The Besnard Lakes, Swampmeat, Heat, Fascinations Grand Chorus, Alexander F, Mica Levi, Steady Hands, Bell the Band, Urochromes, Idle Bloom, Mainland, Thelma, The Regrettes, Modern Baseball, Holiday Ghosts, Los Campesinos!, Fear of Me, Lilah Larson, Frederick the Younger, Silver Rose, Lucidalabrador, The Molochs, Molly Burch, Tim Cohen, Rainbrother, AD.UL.T. (x2), Decorum, MELT, Emmy the Great.

GOLDBLOOMS, The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman (x2), We Leave at Midnight (x2), Dooms Virginia, Rosebug, Paperhead, OhBoy!, whenyoung, Caitlin Pasko, Lampshades, Pie Face Girls, Brandon Can’t Dance, Kevin Krauter, Childcare, Mind Rays, Eric Matthews, The Velvet Ants, The Black Clouds, Diagrams, Marine, Corner Suns, So Stressed, Crash Club, Future Peers, Proper Ornaments, Trudy and The Romance, Will Johnson, Fond Han, Natalie Bouloudis, Jordan Burchel, Big Mother Gig, Elliot, Once & Future Band.

Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, Pure Moods, Dude York, Sam Brockington, Del Caesar, John Travoltage, Camp Cope, Mutts, Pollen Rx, Cloakroom, Mr. Universe, Carroll, Purmamarca, Ben Pagano & The Space Machine, Tim Carr, Eat Fast, Landing, Louise Burns, Toothless, Plastic Pinks, Less Acrobats, Knifey, Known To Collapse, Cassels, Tracy Bonham, Brasstronaut, Satin Cowboys, Surf Rock Is Dead, Fruit Bats, Steph Barrak, Oliver Houston, The Sloppy Heads, Chavez, Aan, Sex Drive, The Saddest Landscape, Xiu XiuLiving Body, Lowly, JERK, Medium Mystic, Dutch Uncles, COTE, Koresma, Jailbox, Hajk, Archawah, Levek, and Grave School.

What A Difference A Month Makes (Music Videos)

In the past month, a lot’s happened on both sides of the coverage spectrum. A lot of sets were documented in that time and will be receiving some attention at some point down the line. A lot of full streams came out, even more songs were released, and quite a few music videos found their way out into the world as well. All three of those formats will have a list dedicated to them and then a slew of individual features will be posted celebrating a handful of exceptional titles. Below is a list of formidable music videos that made a powerful impression over the course of the last month. Take a breath, dive in, and go exploring. 

Mo Troper, Lion’s Den, Tiny Deaths, Tim Heidecker, Weaves, Amber Arcades, Night Idea, Steve Gunn, Littler, Bambara, Braids, Prism Tats, No Parents, Those Pretty Wrongs, Stan Simon & The Hotel Bible, Neil Michael Hagerty & The Howling HexRJD2, Crosss, James Supercave, Eric Bachmann, Tacocat, Julianna Barwick, Acapulco Lips, Conrad Keely, Programm, Lontalius, Clique, Martha, Wilder Adkins, The Spook School, Rozwell Kid, The Loom, Oscar, Bishop Briggs, Angel Du$t, Patience, Band of Horses, The fin., The Raveonettes, Secret Space, Pure Bathing Culture, Howardian, and GOAT.

Modern Baseball, Holy Fuck, Sturgill Simpson, Butch BastardMinor Victories, The Slovaks, The Coathangers, OMNI, Stove, Sløtface, Franky Flowers, Slim Twig, Kino Kimino, D Generation, Pony Time (ft. Lisa Prank), Beverly, Living Hour, Former Belle, Tancred, Mutts, Pet Sun, Teen Suicide, Krano, Your Friend, Dear Boy, The Stargazer Lilies, The Kills, The Loom, Aesop Rock, Cellar Doors, Xiu Xiu, Globelamp, TV Sets, and Eleanor Friedberger, and a surprisingly outstanding fan-shot video for Mike Krol’s “Less Than Together” (one of this site’s picks for Best Songs of 2015) as well as the trailer for Casket Girls’ The Night Machines.

What A Difference A Month Makes (Full Streams)

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: there hasn’t been a post on this site for roughly a month. A large part of that development is due to the fact that for approximately half of that timeframe, I’ve been on the road and either playing or taking in shows (the majority of which will be receiving coverage here at some point in the near future). During that stretch, a lot of material has surfaced. From extremely strong post-punk debuts to an astonishing, simultaneous 35-record release, it’s been a fascinating month. Below is a collection of some of the finest releases that have emerged over the past several weeks. Enjoy.

Gland, Phosphene, Husdon Bell, No Ditching + Baby Ghosts, Mean Jeans, Dump Him, Free TimeTender Age, Hurry, J. Robbins, Hayden Calnin, Wood Lake, Animal Faces, A Giant Dog, Haybaby, Museum Mouth, JulianCrossed Wires, Hovvdy, Nearly Oratorio, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Plants & Animals, Pity Sex, Those Pretty Wrongs, Tyler Jordan and the Negative Space, Grubby Little Hands, Beach Skulls, Lenguas Largas, Sorority Noise, TV SetsDoctor Barber and Fog.

Spice BoysYoni & Geti, Klaus Johann Grobe, Quinn Walker (x35), Colleen Green, Modern Baseball, skating, The Duke Spirit, Kikagaku Moyo, Star Parks, Hydropark, Pinkwash, Stone Cold Fox, Half Waif, Lacerate, microsoft saint, Mo Kenney, Hey Lover, Cave States, CE Schneider Topical, Dietrich & Barnes, Britta Phillips, Praise, Boyscouts + Ylayali, Oliver Wilde, Flasher, Acapulco Lips, Constant CompanionGrayling, and an outstanding new Z Tapes compilation.

Catbus – Fracas (Music Video)

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Closing out the first week and a half of great music videos to find release in April is a class that includes Curtis Harding, Mad Anthony, The Zolas, The Dandy Warhols, Tiny Moving Parts, Sioux Falls, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, and BOYFRNDZ as well as Tripping in the Dark, a surprisingly nuanced documentary on Modern Baseball. Beyond those titles was the quietly-released video for Catbus’ “Fracas”, the band’s only song to date and a no-brainer inclusion for this site’s 50 Best Songs of 2016’s First Quarter list. Somewhat surprisingly, the music video for “Fracas” as just as strong as the song, embracing the band’s DIY nature to present the act in a fitting light.

Before going too much further, I’d like to circle back to an astonishing fact: “Fracas” is the only song that Catbus has released. In under three minutes, the band’s made a very serious case for being one of this year’s best new bands. Examining their pedigree (the band’s rhythm section is made up of 2/3’s of site favorites Patio and it’s fronted by bedroom pop artist Phyllis Ophelia), this probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Revisiting bassist/vocalist Lindsey-Paige McCloy’s A Year’s Worth of Memories piece that prominently features Ophelia, it’s also incredibly heartening.

Back to the video: “Fracas” immediately sets its tone with a clever, eye-catching title card and a beautifully framed shot that lingers on what appears to be a dog-shaped coin bank that’s been repurposed into a vase that’s holding flowers (which wind up being a key recurring aspect of the clip). Title cards are also granted to the band’s members whenever they make an appearance, in a manner that echoes Community’s classic A Fistful of Paintballs episode. As drummer Alice Suh enters frame and McCloy and Ophelia gradually work their way in, “Fracas” builds a curious momentum that complements the song its accompanying extraordinarily well.

The direction throughout “Fracas” is remarkably assured, lending a whole new sheen of legitimacy to a project that — and this is the last time i’ll mention this — is only one song into their career. Starting off with Suh ambling around a kitchen, Ophelia haphazardly strumming her telecaster with a hand that’s clutching a maraca as a cat plays on the ground, and McCloy comfortably situated in a bathtub with her bass and a copy of Current Hits for Teens. The latter of those three interiors is where the photography direction starts taking chances, using soft lenses and lighting to conjure up an aura of mystique that ultimately betters the clip.

From the introductory sequences forward, there are a handful of striking cutaways that continuously elevate the artistry of “Fracas”. Whether it’s a low wide of a hallway, a time lapse of the NYC skyline, or the band’s exquisitely framed apartment entrance that pushes the bokeh to the front and effectively draws all attention to the band’s three members, allowing them a fleeting moment where they seem larger than life. The direction of “Fracas” immediately sends them spiraling back down in a sly gesture of self-deprecation that feels perfectly suited to the band. That moment doesn’t last long, though, and the trio finds redemption and sets the party around them into motion by clearing out an area and finally, triumphantly, plugging in to play the song.

As they play, flowers bloom and serve as garnishes for the instruments, they act as hairpieces, they stand out in the projection imagery that washes over the band as they dip into the song’s last section. It’s a beautiful display of symbolism that feels intrinsically connected to not only the way “Fracas” develops but the constitutional beliefs of the band themselves. It’s another piece of essential art in a long line of examples that argues there’s an unbelievable amount of beauty and power to be found in our own modesty. Just as everyone comes together as the song ends, “Fracas” offers up an important epilogue that sees the trio heading out of frame, leaving a trail of flowers in their wake.

Watch “Fracas” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on the band.

March 2016: The Streams

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In keeping with the past several recap posts, a lot of material will be listed below. I wish I could have granted each of these individual songs more words than just a generic introductory paragraph extolling their high quality of work but time can be extremely cruel and leave few desirable options. March was an extraordinary month for music, if you knew where to look and could spare the investment. Below is a list of the individual streams that surfaced during the month, each one worth several looks.

Once again, there’s simply too much material to consume in one sitting so this page is best experienced via a bookmark and return explorations. Following this post, the site will be running a premiere or two and then lists of the very best streams and live videos of 2016’s first quarter but until then, taking a trip through the below titles should be a rewarding experience that keeps everyone occupied. You may even find a new favorite band. Happy hunting. 

The Sun Days – Get Him Off Your Mind | Loco Ono – Sunny Day | Kidsmoke – Heartache | Summer Cannibals – Say My Name | Peter Bjorn and John – Breakin’ Point | Diarrhea Planet – Life Pass | A Place To Bury Strangers – Oh No / Cool Sensations / Gong Home | Marisa Anderson – Into the Light | Pinkwash – Longer Now | Polonium – Tuberculosis | Psychic Teens – End | Magic Potion – Milk | Yoni & Geti – Lunchline | Eagulls – Skipping | The Thermals – Thinking of You | Holy Now – Wake Up | Crow’s Feet – Surge // Swell

Fews – 100 Goosebumps | ShitKid – 666 | Museum Mouth – Incubus Tattoo | Haybaby – Joke/Rope | Jay Arner – Crystal Ball | Mo Kenney – Mountains to the Mess | Oberhofer – Alone Man | Hockey Dad – So Tired | Pacific Heights (ft. Louis Baker) – Buried by the Burden | Moonface and Siinai – Risto’s Riff | Patrick LaBahn – Equanimity | Scott Yoder – Looking Back In Blue | The Coathangers – Squeeki TikiSofia Härdig – Streets | The Person & The People – Hot Summer Nights | Megafauna – Desire | ANGEL DU$T – UPSIDE DOWN

Lattice Moore – Superused | Pinkwash – Burning Too | New Madrid – Darker Parts | Big Deal – Say Yes | Mrs. Magician – No Action | Small Circle – Please Don’t Touch the Moon | Greater Pyrenees – Homemade Blood | Blondfire – Domino | Former Belle – Honey Bee | Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day | Puce Mary – Night Is A Trap II | Turnover – Change Irreversible | Lontalius – I Was More Than | Iska Dhaaf – Invisible CitiesOdonis Odonis – Needs | Beach Skulls – Dreamin’ Blue | Peder (ft. Oh Land) – Still Life | MOURN – Storyteller

Eliza Shaddad – Always | Follin – Memories | Ghost King – Bones 1 & 2 | Steady Holiday – Open Water | Trace – Honey | Guided By Voices – My Zodiac Companion | Former Belle – I Woke Up In Chicago | Gabriel Bruce – Metal Soul | Margo Price – Hands of Time | Krano – Mi E Ti | Head Wound City – Born to Burn | Grayling – Empath | Tuff Slang – Nothing All the Time | Morly – PluckySelf Defense Family – Baby Mother Home | Jack Frederick – In My Dreams | John Doe (ft. Debbie Harry) – Go Baby Go | Modern Baseball – Everyday

Chris Cohen – In A Fable | John Dillon – Holy Fool | Ben Millburn – Hold Up | Amanda Palmer – Machete | James Bishop – Another Day | Lisa Prank – Starting Again | Foals – Rain | Arthur Moor – Wind Up | Hayes Carll – The Magic Kid | Russian Baths – Ambulance | Colleen Green – Between the Lines | P.O.S. – sleepdrone/superposition | Colin Stetson – SORROW III (Extract II)Idle Bloom – Good Hope (Demo) | Snow Roller – Cycling | case/lang/veirs – Best Kept Secret | Ashley Shadow – Tired | Beverly – Contact | Dowsing – Dissolve

Yeasayer – Gerson’s Whistle | OCCY – No Way | Iska Dhaaf – Lost | ANGEL DU$T – STAY | Darla and the Blonde – Vampyr | BOYFRNDZ – Hiatus | Summer Heart – The Forbidden | Phosphene – Wild Decay | Mt. Wolf – St. Michael | Seratones – Chandelier | Martha’s View – Baby In Vain | Dowsing – Kept Me Around | Victoria+Jean – Takes You Like A Rose | Dal Niente & Deerhoof – meltDown Upshot: 6. Cherubim (Marcos Balter) | Miserable – Violet

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsay Hazen)

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When I started Heartbreaking Bravery, its sole intent was to spotlight important voices that weren’t being granted the exposure they deserved. While in the early stages, it primarily featured songwriters, it evolved to include filmmakers, and then — finally — other writers. Anytime I made a new discovery, it gave me a surge of hope for the years to come. Even as some of these roles — especially that of the writer — grew more thankless, it was inspirational to see people who were willing to kick back against an intimidating current. After more than two years of meticulously combing through just about every resource I had to identify emerging talent, I still wasn’t adequately prepared for the pieces Lindsay Hazen was quietly turning in on her personal tumblr. Long-form essays on streaming platforms, deeply personal asides, critical dissections of movements and geographical circumstance; everything I read blew me away. It’s a sincere honor to be publishing her writing on this site and the piece she’s turned in may be her most definitive to date. Below, she explores her diagnosis, the artists that brought her joy and comfort, and the general shape of her 2015. Dive in and give her work a look whenever and wherever it surfaces.

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When I think about 2015, I get overwhelmed. It was a year marked by unmanageability, the sheer amount of events, information, and media unable to be synthesized, catalogued and understood in any satisfying way. My year started off memorizing the lyrics of Colleen Green’s “Pay Attention“, a song which takes up an attitude of assertive indifference to her attention deficiency. As someone whose lifelong fight not to doze off/get lost in the middle of conversations (and lectures, and my own sentences…) is an endless cause of anxiety, it’s such a relief to be able to embrace two and a half minutes of a right for my absent-minded brain to exist in the world, even to the point of sitting in judgement of others.

Whenever I listen to it, “Small talk on the bus, wondering how do some people talk so much/ Small talk at The Smell, talk so small you’d need a microscope to discern much at all,” I hear an echo of “Psycho Killer“, “You start a conversation, you can’t even finish it/You’re talking a lot but you’re not saying anything/ When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed/Say something once, why say it again?”

It’s ending sort of like it began, anxious and cold. But on a cold December day, I weep quietly to Modern Baseball’s “The Waterboy Returns“. It comes on on my iPod, on the bus, and I run my thumb across the crack in the screen incessantly. I’ve never successfully made it through the song without crying and this is no exception. The first time I heard it, I sobbed hard and loud; now I just turn to the window and let the emotion wash over me, trying to catch my tears on my knuckles as they slip out past my glasses.

2015 was made up of moments like this. Being backpacked in the face by an aggressive guy at a Speedy Ortiz show, only to have them start a hotline just weeks later for people who feel unsafe at their shows. The way the stage lights at the Hard Luck Bar looked through eyes, brimming with tears, as I watched Sorority Noise perform “Using“, hearing the song for the first time. I didn’t cry then, blinked it away. I wonder if this is how normal people always feel. Accepted, joyous, okay. Among people who understand them.

Not drinking alcohol anymore because it’s disastrous for my anxiety, and spending the minutes between each band’s set admiring how brave the girls are at the show – an all ages affair. These teenage punks, eyes lined with black and bags covered in patches and buttons. So grateful that these girls have a place where they could yell and scream and jump; so in awe of how they held their own in a sea of giant men – at 24, I’m just learning to do the same.

The Sorority Noise record was my favourite of the year. I spent a lot of time in the early months of the year shouting songs off their 2014 effort Forgettable in the shower. The anticipation I felt for Joy, Departed was such an integral part of my year. Maybe it’s because it paid off, a powerful and direct series of emotional appeals that oscillate between soaring and slow-burning – sometimes within the same track.

It’s a record that dropped right as I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to stay in the city, just as I had to move away from my friends and my education and my life. It’s a record that I hope one day stands as a classic in the canon of art that explores man vs. self. It is certainly an album which elucidated many thoughts I had about my own mental illness, and led to my being able to develop coping mechanisms for the first time since my diagnosis. I still get a lump in my throat when I hear, “maybe I’m my own greatest fear/ maybe I’m too scared to admit that/ I might not be as dark as I think.”

Next to Joy, Departed, the record that had the most impact on me this year was Krill’s A Distant Fist Unclenching. Where Sorority Noise’s songs felt like the slow blossom of hope in my chest, a hand reaching out to pull me away from all the things I’ve done to myself and my life, Krill songs are like the first fidget coming out of stasis. All of the angles and dissonant reaches.

I can’t think of a song in the world I identify with more than “Brain Problem“, the drums skipping along like arrhythmia and the lyrics part confession and part prayer. Before listening to Krill I didn’t think of there being a separation between my mental illness and my self. Krill gave me a sense of personhood that I was starting to be too jaded to believe I would find in music anymore. I won’t go on because they’ve been eulogized, praised and parsed by minds much finer than mine.

Everything Everything released my favourite pop album of the year, a dystopian rock opera continuing a loose narrative they introduced in the post-apocalyptic banger “My Kz, Ur Bf” a few years ago. Get To Heaven is an album that lets you revel in the sheer amount of evidence that you are the problem, because people are the problem, and we have let the world end around us – and are nostalgic for the way it happened all the same. “Take me to the distant past,” “Did you imagine it in a different way,” “Keep on rubbernecking, yeah, whatever feels familiar.”

There’s been a few difference thinkpieces on the increased awareness/acknowledgement of mental illness in music this year and I listened to a lot of music this year for aforementioned therapeutic/self-help kind of reasons. But, holy hell is it ever lovely to put on Get To Heaven and live in the world that Higgs and company have created – to feel a universalized misery and to find a narrative, to find humour and grand tragedy that leads to a greater sense of catharsis.

There were also a million punk/rock albums by women that just kicked my ass. The Speedy Ortiz record, the Palehound record, Dirty Dishes, Bully, Chelsea Wolfe, MarriagesG.L.O.S.S., The Lonely Parade, not to mention the valiant return of Sleater-Kinney. I don’t know why it’s harder for me to write about these records, or even to speak about them. I push them on others with half-formed sentences, gushing about something that escapes me.

I tell them about the loss and longing in the first moments of “Red Roulette“, and about how I woke up early one morning in August to sit in the backyard just after sunrise and listen to Abyss in full – how the record that reveled in so much lush darkness was somehow even more beautiful in sunlight so bright you could barely open your eyes. I tell the producer/songsmith at my work about how in my most anxious moments I scream along with the G.L.O.S.S demo because of what I can only term as its inclusive alienation. It is a record that feels made for moments when I feel alone and afraid in my house and in my skin. It is a reclamation of the space around me.

I guess the last big thing of the year for me was spending two months with Smokes’ debut, Zone Eater. It opens with the absolutely cutting lyric, “I know I need to evolve instead of revolving,” on “Dead Hand” and repeats into the chorus, continuing, “I need to evaporate, but I’m still devolving.” There’s a detectable desperation, in Nick Maas’ voice and echoed in both the guitar and violin that suggests a critical mass, a return of Saturn, a day that you make a choice and you don’t look back – the record is full of this feeling. Of looking into the face of nihilism and deciding to just fucking leap into being who you want to be.

It makes sense, I learned in reading the press surrounding the record that the second song on the record, “Lemonlime“, is a coming out song. It might just have ended up my favourite song of the year. “I used to be a mind among machines, now I’m a timebomb wearing tight jeans/I was a clock but I couldn’t tell time, but I can tell a lemon from a fucking lime.” “Now I’m a shark, and I still can’t tell time, but I can tell a lemon from a fucking lime.” “I’ve lost all my baby teeth, so what you see is what you’re going to get with me.” “I’m a fucking shark, I eat what I want.” I moved back to the East Coast – I still don’t know whether it was a good decision but “Lemonlime” is the song that made me stop worrying about it.

I finally acknowledged the loss of my own metaphorical baby teeth. Their early single “Body Heat” is on the record, and it’s the one that hooked me. It’s a cinematic song made for walking through the busy streets and feeling everyone move past you like a blur – the violin, fiddle-like, a soundtrack fit for a hero walking into the sunset. ‘’For once in your fucking life, wear your heart like body heat.” There’s a rawness to the emotion on this record that runs right through, even the most starkly Canadian indie music tendencies don’t obscure the boiling blood contained within. And there are songs like “Snakeskin,” that bypass all of that and head right for a heartland that falls somewhere between L’Acadie and Rasputina territory, thrilling and chilling me.

I guess to me, being overwhelmed by music was a welcome distraction from all of the other things that overwhelmed me. The music of 2015 reminded me of all the excitement and enthusiasm and effusiveness with which I loved music as a teenager. I felt so profoundly grateful for music this year. I guess that’s the place that I should leave off – knowing that the music I listened to this year helped me to rediscover the parts of my brain that I liked, helped me to realize that depression hasn’t taken away my ability to feel grateful and fulfilled. I slip out of the imposter syndrome that has cloaked me and all my decisions in doubt and though I stand about as tall as a concrete foundation, I have all of these songs; these melodies; these lyrics; these memories on which to build some fucked up, crazy, beautiful life in the coming year.

-Lindsay Hazen