Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Mutual Benefit

The Five Best Songs of the Past Two Weeks

The past two weeks have supplied the world with more than a fair share of outstanding new songs. Even in that generous pack, there were some genuine standouts. The five songs below are five of that elevated crowd. From emergent upstarts to storied veterans, there’s a lot to dissect in these offerings. Each song’s memorable in its own way and deserves a closer look/listen. So let’s begin.

1. Weller – Burroughs

A band that pulls a handful of its cues from the ’90s alt scene without ever crossing the line into revivalism, Weller notch another impressive piece into their belt with “Burroughs”. Effortlessly charming and endlessly replayable “Burroughs” is a strong showcase for their talent with composition and cultivating atmosphere. Dynamic but never overpowering, engaging, and memorable, “Burroughs” is an essential addition to any carefree summer mixtape.

2. Flasher – Who’s Got Time?

Flasher have been building themselves one hell of a portfolio over the past few months. Everything they’ve released has been teeming with the excess energy of a band on the brink. What sets them apart is their conviction, “Who’s Got Time?” especially comes across as the band making a statement. This is basement punk of the highest order, leaning just enough into pop to ensure its status as the kind of earworm you hope never eats its way out.

3. Mutual Benefit – Storm Cellar Heart + New History

It’s been some time since anyone’s heard new material from Mutual Benefit but that all changed recently with the unexpected joint release of “Storm Cellar Heart” and “New History” that accompanied news of the project’s forthcoming album, Thunder Follows the Light. As tender and gorgeous as Mutual Benefit’s best works (this seems as good a place as any for the reminder that “Not For Nothing” remains one of the decades best songs), both tracks provide a gentle reassurance that Mutual Benefit’s set to retain its status as an act making some of today’s loveliest music.

4. Tony Molina – Nothing I Can Say

Another act making an extremely welcome return, Tony Molina‘s latest reintroduction comes by way of “Nothing I Can Say”, which finds the micro-song mastermind underscoring some classic powerpop influences, from a Byrds-ian jangle to harmonies that echo Big Star’s most compassionate vocal turns. In just over 70 seconds Molina turns in another song that doesn’t just feel complete, but exquisite. If “Nothing I Can Say” is a harbinger for things to come, the clamoring for the new record should have already started.

5. Fog Lake – California

In a very short amount of time, Fog Lake has established itself as a project that’s making some of the most vivid, haunting songs in the ambient-leaning music worlds. “Rattlesnake“, a standout song that helped establish Fog Lake’s name, was featured on here in multiple ways. “California”, the project’s latest, capitalizes on that song’s promise with abandon. It’s a song that’s so arresting, any random listener wouldn’t be at fault for forgetting to breathe during its run. It’s powerful, subdued, and lands like an anvil. Brace for the impact, exhale, and hit repeat.

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

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

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

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

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

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

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

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

Mitski – Puberty 2

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

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

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

Big Thief – Masterpiece

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

Swim Team – Swim Team

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

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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

Greys – Outer Heaven

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

Hovvdy – Taster

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

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

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

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

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

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

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

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

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

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

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

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

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

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

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

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

Other honorable mentions:

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

A Two Week Toll: Music Videos

Continuing on with the precedent set by the previous post, everything here is designed to celebrate some of the best releases of the past two weeks. This time around, the emphasis falls to music videos. There’s an incredibly expansive array of material to be discovered via the links below. Click through some of the titles or bookmark this page and click through everything, there’s a very good chance a new favorite’s waiting somewhere in the wings. Enjoy. 

Boytoy, Menace Beach, Petal, Big EyesFake Palms, The Tuts, Jay Som, Hovvdy, Eyelids, Tacocat, Toys That Kill, Emilyn Brodsky, Priests, YJY, Weyes Blood (x2), Pumarosa, Computer Magic, Banana Split, Midnight FacesKraus, Wyatt Blair, Johanna Warren, Aidan Knight, Jayle Jayle, The Faint, Chromatics, Soft Fangs, Berwanger, WALL, Xenia Rubinos, Scully, Shura, Cass McCombs, Mile Me Deaf, Duchess Says.

PillMatt Kivel, San CiscoHalfsourWoods, VacationJoan of Arc, Womps, Slow Mass, Kvelertak, Slow Club, Alex Izenberg, Amber Coffman, Nick Waterhouse, Balto, Hurry, Navy GangsIzzy True, MarineSavoy Motel, Mutual Benefit, Balcanes, The Dandy Warhols, Yellow DaysThe WharvesMadeline Kenney, livThe Dirty Nil, Joyce Manor, Mutts, Ex Reyes, Big SmokeGloria, Earwig, and RF Shannon.

Faye – Faye (EP Review)

faye

Over the past few days, the site’s main focus has been getting back up to speed on the year’s most current releases. To that end, this post (and each of the four posts that will shortly follow) will include a quartet of notable releases from the past few days. This time around, those releases are full streams that came from the following artists: Bird of Youth, Braids, Mutual Benefit, and a split EP with two great sides from Naps and Yikes. It’s Faye, once again, who claim the featured spot.

The trio’s gearing up to release their debut EP and their early offerings have already managed to make a very serious mark. Faye‘s closing two tracks, “Chow Chow” and “Ancient Bones” have already been praised on this site. Those two tracks constitute an extraordinary finale that set very high expectations for the rest of the EP. Fortunately, the opening trio of tracks lives up to the exceptional promise that “Chow Chow” and “Ancient Bones” all but flaunted.

“Yellow Canary” kick things off with a spiky, hook-laden mid-tempo run through some grunge-leaning post-punk. “Teacups” and “Vowels” follow suit, with each establishing their own set of very distinct characteristics. For as specific as Faye’s tastes run, it would’ve been easy for the band to fall into the trap of repetition. Instead, each track on Faye registers as a standout by virtue of being so clearly defined in their separation. It’s a remarkably nuanced and startlingly mature piece of work from a young band. Expect very big things for their future (and play Faye as loud as possible).

Listen to Faye below and pre-order the tape from Tiny Engines here.

Mutual Benefit – Lost Dreamers (Music Video)

mutual benefit

Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

Back when Mutual Benefit experienced a breakthrough with the excellent Love’s Crushing Diamond, the project secured the attention of a lot of new listeners and I counted myself among that crowd. As much as I liked those songs on initial listen, they’ve grown on me exponentially over time. It wasn’t until “Not For Nothing” that a Mutual Benefit song knocked me flat (and was very nearly named this site’s Best Song of 2015).

“Not For Nothing” set an extremely high bar for the rest of Mutual Benefit’s upcoming Skip A Sinking Stone, as did its accompanying video. Thankfully, the arrival of “Lost Dreamers” quelled any doubts over whether or not Jordan Lee’s project was capable of living up to the task of matching the masterpiece that was “Not For Nothing”. A great song from the outset, “Lost Dreamers” took on even more poignancy when paired with the Ethan Samuel Young-directed music video. Separation, again, seems to be the defining crux of the song, only this time around that separation is more worldly than physically intimate.

All throughout “Lost Dreamers” there’s an acceptance of the world’s majestic sweep, that’s emphasized by erasing the human torso, allowing the viewer to get a more sprawling sense of the surroundings on display throughout the clip while simultaneously de-emphasizing our place as humans in that world. There’s a statement to be found about nature and industry but that large-scale issue is given minimum impact while the video chooses to present a more acute commentary on human perspective.

Suitably, gorgeous landscape shots comprise the bulk of “Lost Dreamers” visualization while flashes of everyday city life are integrated into the scenery in thought-provoking ways. With the palette almost exclusively leaning towards brights and tans, “Lost Dreamers” eventually registers as more of a celebration of humanity than a condemnation (while still showing a keen awareness of humanity’s potential to be irrevocably damaging).

Eventually, the formula’s switched and instead of erasing the torso, it’s the heads and hands of the people in the clip that have evaporated, subtly illustrating — once again — the importance of human perspective. By switching the focus to physicality, the clip touches on our relative meaninglessness in a way that encourages us to make the most out of what we’re given. In the end, “Lost Dreamers” stands as a moving, subversive reminder of why our own humanity matters while making a case for greater awareness. It’s a sublime piece of art that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten anytime soon.

Watch “Lost Dreamers” below and pre-order Skip A Sinking Stone here.

What A Difference A Month Makes (Streams)

As was discussed in the preceding two posts, there’s been a serious lull of inaction on this site as of late as far as posting is concerned. A large reason for that was the fact that the majority of that coverage gap was spent traveling thousands of miles to document sets from bands like Oops, Dilly Dally, Yowler, Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos, Beach Slang, Potty Mouth, Dyke Drama, PWR BTTM, and more.

The resulting documentation will be posted at some point in the near future but the hefty amount of visual content (not to mention the act of traveling itself) necessitated a publishing break. However, as usual, every new piece of incoming information was accounted for in the interim. Full streams and music videos have already been covered so it’s time that the attention was turned towards individual songs.

A list of some of the finest new tunes to have emerged over the past month can be found below. Since there are so many, it may be best to bookmark this page and explore its contents at a more leisurely pace to avoid being overwhelmed. Jump on in and go swimming.

Basketball Shorts, Mikey Erg, Bird of Youth, Las Rosas, Mitski, The Big Moon, Nicholas Allbrook, The Gotobeds, Nothing, Fawnn, Leapling, Speedy Ortiz, Yours Are the Only Ears, Don Vail, Frail, Stephen Steinbrink, Yeesh, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Haley Bonar, And The Kids, Gauntly, Summer Cannibals, case/lang/veirs (x2), Psychic Teens (x2), Glenn Davis, Dogheart, Cat’s Eyes, benjamin783 (x2), Ian William Craig, Terry, Emily Jane White, Walleater, VATS, Alice Bag (x2), Mutual Benefit, Blowout, Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, and Outer Spaces.

The Monkees, Tens, Yung, Star Parks, Marissa Nadler, Brenda’s Friend, elvis depressedly (x2), Rick Redbeard, Sega Genocide (x2), Honey (x2), GØGGS, The Dan Ryan (x2), Male Gaze, Heaters, Leif Erikson, Blessed, Boys, Mumblr, Anthony Sanders, Swanning, Kvelertak, Hollowtapes (x2), Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, OVER, Erin Tobey, Quiet Hollers, The Clientele, Young Magic, LUKA, Yikes, Teen BodyFew Bits, Fear of Men (x2), Joy Void, Message to Bears (ft. Will Samson), Baby In Vain, Local Natives, Scroll Downers, and Psychic Heat.

OHIOANDaniel Wilson, The Invisible, Ultraviolence, Oddissee, Bad Channels, Dentists, Deerhoof, Hayden Calnin, The Mercury Programs, Yoni & Geti, Marisa AndersonColleen Green, Lisa Prank, Ultimate PaintingJuniore, Spice Boys, Stone Cold Fox, Avalanche, Beliefs, Museum Mouth, Psychic Ills, Flat Worms, Robin Pecknold, Mock Orange, Magic Potion, Retail Space, VHSBag-Dad, Casper Skulls, Peach Kelli Pop, Aloha, JPNSGRLS, Adeline Hotel, WoodsColder, The Mystery Lights, Islands, Sego, Casey Jordan Weissbuch, Honey Radar, and an unexpected Car Seat Headrest cover of a Radiohead classic as well as an unexpected Yuck cover of an Elliott Smith staple.

Faye – Chow Chow (Stream)

faye

April’s been a very strong month for new song releases in its early goings, this much has been evidenced by great new cuts from Supermoon, And the Kids, Mutual Benefit, Phooey!, Attic Abasement, Traitrs, Seratones, The Lees of Memory, and Leggy. All of those songs have managed to find a whole host of pleasure points and deserve the array of admiration that should be directed their way. Another song worthy of praise is the one that this post was constructed to feature: Faye’s brooding post-punk dirge “Chow Chow”.

A sludgy bass line and a dissonant guitar part kick things off before the song blooms into a punchy pop-skewing number lamenting the lack of anything noticeably unique in daily, run-of-the-mill livelihood. Towards the end of the chorus section, “Chow Chow” betrays Faye’s desire for adventure and their refusal to accept status quos, a common admirable trait in emerging bands worth their salt. Over the course of a scant two minutes (and some change), Faye make their mark and take a shot at genuine longevity. “Chow Chow” ensure their place as a band to watch.

Listen to “Chow Chow” below and pre-order Faye here.

March 2016: The Music Videos

PWR BTTM I

While January and February certainly had their fair share of great music videos, March saw an influx of truly great clips find their way out into the world. From Johanna Warren‘s extraordinary “Great Lake” (which I was fortunate enough to premiere over at Consequence of Sound) to a new, patently excellent, video from PUP, the format’s found its stride. Apart from the music videos, there was an outstanding Vaadat Charigim mini-documentary chronicling their first US tour.

Since there were so many clips — and since so many were so exceptional — they’ll be split into two categories below. At the very bottom of the page will be the honorable mentions category and above that will be a slew of videos that have positioned themselves to be early year-end contenders. Since “Great Lake” was already mentioned above, it won’t be below. Similarly, since Yours Are the Only Ears’ aching, gorgeous video for “Low” is the only non-YouTube entry, it will simply be listed in this paragraph (but rest assured, it’s more than worth your time). For the sake of convenience, 31 music videos are featured- one for each day in March.

Watch some of the finest clips of a young 2016 via the embed (with an accompanying tracklist tucked underneath) and explore the laundry list of exceptional titles in the honorable mentions category below the player. Enjoy.

1. PWR BTTM – West Texas
2. Dilly Dally – Snakehead
3. Palehound – Molly
4. Foul Tip – Drifting
5. Greys – Blown Out
6. Big Ups – National Parks
7. PUP – If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will
8. The Crookes – The World Is Waiting
9. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing
10. Alex G – Mud
11. Free Cake For Every Creature – Talking Quietly of Anything With You
12. Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore
13. El Perro Del Mar – In the Woods
14. Kevin Morby – Dorothy
15. Abi Reimold – Mask
16. Daughter – How
17. Eluvium – Life Through Bombardment Vol. 2
18. Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
19. Nancy Pants – I’ve Got A Crush On You And Everybody Knows It 
20. Outer Spaces – I Saw You
21. Eleanor Friedberger – Never Is A Long Time
22. PJ Harvey – The Community of Hope
23. Sunflower Bean – Easier Said
24. James Edge and the Mindstep – On A Red Horse
25. Furnsss – Slow Dark Water
26. The Lemons – Ice Cream Shop
27. Quilt – Roller
28. Marissa Nadler – All the Colors of the Dark
29. PAWS – No Grace
30. Savages – Adore
31. Hayden Calnin – Cut Love

Honorable Mentions

Kino Kimino – Passion | Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales | NOTHING – Eaten by Worms | The Mynabirds – Velveteen | Miya Folick – Oceans | Laura Carbone – Swans | Wilder Adkins – Our Love Is A Garden | Head Wound City – Scraper | Fear of Men – Island | Thin Lips – Never AgainSioux Falls – Dom | La Sera – I Need An Angel | Tim Heidecker – In Glendale | DTCV – Capital Ennui | José González – With the Ink of a Ghost | B Boys – Get A Grip | Trevor Sensor – Pacing the Cage

Teen Suicide – The Big Joyous Celebration | Ladada – Old Wave | Dam Gila – The Undertow | Brodka – Horses | Ashley Shadow – Tonight | Hurry – Nothing to Say | Mumblr – Super! | Long Beard – Porch | We Are Scientists – Buckle | Steve Gunn – Conditions Wild | My Bubba – Charm | Amber Arcades – Right Now | Kwesi Foraes – Devils Child | Saul Williams – Down For Some Ignorance | NOTHING – Vertigo Flowers | The Amazons – Stay With Me | Holy Pinto – Hospital Room | Whitney – Golden Days | Luke Top – Chariot

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Gamma Knife | Eskimeaux – Drunk | Andy Shauf – The Magician | Innerspace Orchestra – One Way Glass | Crows – Whisper | Deep Sea Diver – See These Eyes | The Hunt – Hawk | Jerkagram – Cloud Builder | Julianna Barwick – Nebula | The Dirty Nil – Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü | Sarah Neufeld – We’ve Got A Lot | Cat’s Eyes – Drag | Zones – Tides | The Drones – Taman Shud | Andy Stott – ButterfliesThe Lemons – Shark BaitGrey Waves – Remember Me | Wood Lake – Hollow | Black Mountain – Florian Saucer Attack | Fleabite – Missing Everyone | Haelos – Separate Lives | Nada Surf – Rushing | PAWS – No Grace

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.

Mutual Benefit – Not For Nothing (Stream)

Image Credit: Whitney Lee

Image Credit: Whitney Lee

One of the fiercest chills I got while listening to music last year came on a Sunday morning in Chicago. I’d just seen the immediate aftermath of a horrific accident the night before and had a lot on my mind. Day 3 of Pitchfork was just kicking off, with a scarcity of people combing the grounds after gates and before the first bands kicked off. Feeling uneasy heading into the day’s festivities, my mood was soon assuaged by the kindness extended by friends (there have been few things over the past few year that have felt as reassuring as the hug Meredith Graves greeted me with at the start of that day). One of those friends, the absurdly talented Sasha Geffen, joined me in taking in the day’s first set: Mutual Benefit. Something about the emotional turmoil brought about by the previous night, the perfect weather, the comfort of having friends joining an experience, and the surprisingly open park fields managed to culminate in a perfect storm of cognitive dissonance; I was a blank slate in a gentle breeze. Then Mutual Benefit started playing and everything faded almost instantaneously. Gentle tones, a hushed reverie, and an underlying sense of personal triumph and genuine feeling cut across Union Park with a transcendental force.

Jordan Lee’s kept his musical project fairly quiet in the time following that tour but recently unveiled the gorgeous “Not For Nothing” and all of those memories came back in an instant. Before further addressing that particular song, though, it’s worth taking one last aside to catch up on some of the strongest tracks to have emerged in the past week and a half. For the sake of linear functionality, they’ll just be listed in order with no descriptors (though they should really all be given a considerable amount of attention): Farao’s “Hunter“, Black Baron’s “Watch Me Sleep“, Envy’s “Blue Moonlight“, Bishop Nehru’s  “Bishy In Japan 16 (Knowing Nothing)“, Abram Shook’s “Perfect“, John Vanderslice’s Songs: Ohia cover “Long Dark Blues“, Table Scraps’ “Bad Feeling“, Native Eloquence’s “Doldrum“, and Ancient Ocean’s “Beargrass Creek“. Now, with everything brought up to this week and that necessary tangent out of the way, let’s move back to the track contained in the headline.

“Not For Nothing”, the latest masterpiece from Mutual Benefit, isn’t just a reaffirmation of Lee’s enviable songwriting gifts, it’s a warm, welcoming song that’s arriving at the exact right time. For whatever reason, sincerity has become something that’s more derided than celebrated in the gradual come-down that’s happened in the post-Funeral landscape. Whether that’s because it was reduced to a cheap imitation in a lazy cash-grab effort by so many acts in an effort of miserably failed appropriation or because the world’s just been forced into a time where being cyclical, jaded, detached, and increasingly apathetic has made more sense, it’s tough to tell- but sincerity, when it’s done honestly, has the capacity to move more effectively than just about anything else. Lee brings that sincerity, and- just as importantly- empathy, to vivid life when he’s at his very best. And “Not For Nothing” just may be his very best. Strings swell, drums shuffle, and a beautiful atmosphere descends into the song from the outset, letting Lee’s deceptively impressive vocals and extraordinary lyrical ability drive everything home. As “Not For Nothing” calmly washes over its listeners, it becomes transportive: this is a song with the uncanny ability to elicit memories and nostalgia through dulcet tones and genuine feeling. By the time it winds down, the only appropriate course of action seems to be going back and hitting play, just one more time.

We only get songs like this every so often. Make sure this one isn’t forgotten.

Stream “Not For Nothing” below and watch the Weathervane session that features the song here.