Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Nandi Plunkett

18 of ’18: The Best Albums of the Year

When the headline says Best of the Year, the people who click over to the list have a few titles in mind they’re expecting to see because those same titles were in the previous list with that headline and the list before that one (and so on and so forth). A lot of that has to do with one simple, depressing fact: the PR those artists and labels can afford. To counteract that, a different approach was taken in compiling these selections. Any record that topped more than one of those lists outright (apologies, Mitski) was taken out of consideration for this list.

Every album that appeared in more than half of the lists I personally witnessed were taken out of consideration (a list that included Hop Along, The Beths, Courtney Barnett, Car Seat Headrest, Low, Saba, Snail Mail, Haley Heynderickx, and a handful of others). All of these lists share one unifying trait: they’re subjective. All of the records listed resonated with individual writers or made ripples among shared staff, striking at different nerves. All of the albums on this list made a lasting impression and will have at least one listener coming back years down the line. Buy these albums, support great music, scroll down, read, and hit play on the best albums of 2018.

Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

No matter what moniker they’ve operated under, the music being produced by the band now known as Gabby’s World has been remarkable. In 2015, the group was responsible for O.K., the record that would ultimately top that year’s Album of the Year list. They’ve released a handful of music since then and experienced a stylistic shift as they’ve evolved, something Gabrielle Smith’s project wields to their advantage on Beast On Beast.

A more melancholic and subdued tone permeates through the record, while still providing a handful of emotionally cathartic moments. From the tender, bombastic opener through to the record’s hazy closer, Gabby’s World casts a spell that’s hard to break. Warmth and empathy inform so much of the band’s work that every song feels like a comfort, something familiar to sink into and disappear. It’s a trait that’s always been true of Gabby’s World but never has it been more present than on the abundantly graceful Beast On Beast.

Slow Mass – Watch On

Slow Mass, a band that’s gradually been improving for some time, took a significant step forward with the genre-resistant Watch On. So many subsets of rock and punk intersect throughout the record, morphing from classic emo to heady math-rock to wiry post-punk within seconds. What’s more surprising than the band somehow successfully integrating this further into their identity is the sense of cohesion that unites these passages.

Every song Watch On offers up contains a different highlight, ably demonstrating the band’s breadth of talent. A lot of its astonishing and none of its ever uninspiring or tepid. By committing to not staying in the same place, Slow Mass winds up with the most vital work of a promising career. Watch On takes every twist and turn on a path to greatness, which makes the trip as satisfying as the promise of a memorable destination.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

Over their past several records, Saintseneca have more than proved their adeptness at creating records that feel complete. The band hasn’t made an errant step throughout a run that’s seen their audience continuously balloon. Pillar of Na, the band’s latest, presented a unique challenge in the departure of Maryn Jones (also of All Dogs and Yowler), who suffused the band’s earlier works with a considerable depth of grace. Caeleigh Featherstone takes up Jones’ mantle and the band doesn’t miss a beat.

Pillar of Na also sees Saintseneca, who have long been praised for their Appalachian folk roots, drift further East and embrace a more traditionally Indian influence. “Circle Hymn” sets the record’s tone and the melody of the song paces the record, providing a gorgeous motif. Beautifully sequenced, incredibly rich, and ridiculously transfixing, Pillar of Na proves itself worthy of Saintseneca’s discography, which remains one of today’s finest.

illuminati hotties – Kiss Yr Friends

A band that picked up a little steam and took off sprinting, illuminati hotties showed the world what they’re capable of producing with Kiss Yr Friends. Opening with a tenderness that’s ingrained into their music before forging a much more explosive path, Kiss Yr Friends demonstrated the band’s enviable range and seemingly boundless songwriting talent.

It doesn’t matter what style illuminati hotties tries to take on, they succeed with every attempt, which is a trait that could help them cultivate an ambition that never stops expanding. A record full of self-reflection, pain, hope, and an elevated understanding, Kiss Yr Friends sees illuminati hotties making a considerable mark. Easily one of the more promising emergent acts of 2018, they’re already a powerhouse. Kiss Yr Friends is all the evidence anyone should need.

Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

Towards the end of 2017, Anna Burch teased Quit the Curse with a few tracks and videos that made a sizable impression and upped the levels of anticipation for its release. Those high expectations were both warranted and met as Burch released a record that carried all the way through 2018 without losing an ounce of its power. Sunshine-speckled songs that combined pop, surf, doo-wop, and Americana were granted a lacerating wit and plenty of punk bite.

Quit the Curse could easily be confused for a singles record by someone that didn’t know better but the songs on the record are tethered to an introspective narrative that acts as a welcoming as much as a warning. “Asking 4 A Friend”, “2 Cool 2 Care”, the title track, and every other song on this gem of a record find ways to dig into the listener’s consciousness, taking up residence and making themselves a comfortable home. It’s hard to think anyone will mind.

Ovlov – TRU

Steve Hartlett had one hell of a year, releasing two of 2018’s best records in Stove‘s ‘s Favorite Friend and the reborn Ovlov‘s TRU. The latter came as one of the most welcome surprises of the year, as questions of whether Ovlov had retired still abounded. TRU sets the record straight from the opening seconds of album opener “Baby Alligator”, which finds the band’s trademark characteristics fully intact.

Aggressive and melancholic, clear and hazy, Hartlett’s made a career out of thriving in improbable dichotomies, which is something TRU wisely brings to the forefront. A record that surges as much as it soothes, TRU also finds time to grapple with serious questions underneath all the noise (and, as always, there’s plenty of noise). Existential quandaries pitched at the highest volume continue to populate Hartlett’s writing as the band returns to making a home out of searching for meaning.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Ovlov weren’t the only project making an unpredictable return in 2018, as Owen Ashworth settled back into Advance Base to release an astonishingly gripping collection of new material. Animal Companionship ranks along the best works of Ashworth’s illustrious career. The record may actually benefit from Ashworth’s sabbatical from the project as Animal Companionship is imbued with the kind of gravity that can only be earned with age and experience.

Quiet devastation courses through Animal Companionship, which finds Ashworth reflecting on everything from failed relationships that were extended solely because of bonds forged with an erstwhile partner’s animals to the constraints of mortality and how to productively fill the arbitrary voids that are created by the harsh reality of our own impermanence. Reflexive, tranquil, and propped up by an extraordinary sense of empathetic warmth, Animal Companionship proves to be meaningful company all its own.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

One of 2018’s most exhilarating — and overlooked — records came from Lonely Parade, who provided the BUZZ (one of the most consistently great punk labels) roster with yet another shot of adrenaline. Wiry post-punk, basement pop, and slacker punk exist in harmony on The Pits, which is a vibrant and insistent triumph from a breakout act that made their abundant tenacity clear from the outset.

Every single track on The Pits bucks and bristles, ready to charge forward at any second. Clever hooks dominate the album, both vocally and instrumentally, as Lonely Parade sculpt a memorable, unmistakable identity throughout the course of The Pits. Romantic ennui, self-loathing, self-celebration, and unbridled frustration careen recklessly through The Pits‘ narratives, providing an unsparing look at modern life for young adults. A minor masterpiece that’s not afraid to get scrappy.

Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

Gouge Away have been going increasingly hard for a few years now and that relentless has birthed Gouge Away, the post-hardcore quartet’s most vicious and complete work of a formidable career. The band expands their ambitions on Burnt Sugar to dazzling effect, showing an increasing willingness to lean into pop-oriented melodies and even to slow way down, which they do for the breathtaking “Ghost“.

Every second of Burnt Sugar provides the sense of being swept up in a hurricane. The stakes are literally life and death. Gouge Away commits to the former while fully acknowledging the latter, allowing that inevitable promise to inform their willingness to fight. Thrash, metal, and noise all provide inflections as Burnt Sugar roars along towards its ultimate destination, combining in inspired ways to provide Gouge Away with a startling new career high.

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There

In 2011, Young Jesus were still operating out of Chicago and had just released Home, which marked a significant step forward for the band and remains one of that year’s best records. Since Home‘s release, the band has taken several more leaps forward, creating a momentum that’s taken them from a fledgling emergent act to something more akin to an indifferent meteor. The Whole Thing Is Just There the band’s first record of new material for Saddle Creek sees them continuing to hurtle through an empty oblivion, coasting on a frantic trajectory while trying to make sense of their surroundings.

Confines and restraints that dictated much of their previous work have been completely discarded in favor of the free-noise improvisation the group’s been honing in their live shows for years. Songs shift and morph at will, largely ignoring traditional structures. “Deterritory” goes from soothing ambient work to vicious post-hardcore in The Whole Thing Is Just There‘s astonishing opening track while the towering closer, “Gulf”, exceeds 20 minutes in length. Somehow, all of this seems grounded, attached to something genuine and unmistakably human. An extraordinary listen from one of this decade’s best bands.

Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

Following the milder Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings wanted to make it excessively clear they wouldn’t be following the trend of rock-oriented artists taking an exceedingly pop-minded plunge. “On An Edge”, Last Building Burning‘s fiery opener, ranks among the bleakest and most punishing work the band’s committed to date. It sets a tone that the rest of the Randall Dunn-produced record lives up to and possibly exceeds.

In addition to the renewed emphasis on tonal and overall harshness, the band lets drummer Jayson Gerycz remind everyone he may be one of the single most valuable additions any band’s had this decade. Gerycz turns in a masterpiece performance behind the kit as Last Building Burning takes Cloud Nothings to new heights on the back of both excessive determination, subtle antagonism, and the most emotionally moving narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi’s ever penned, with several gut-punches centered around being a largely passive bystander forced to repeat the same pleas while someone close is enduring an abusive relationship and refusing to navigate their way out.

Brutal and desperate, Last Building Burning is full of songs that evoke the record’s title. While that title may focus on just one fiery structure, it’s not hard to imagine an entire metropolitan skyline being razed. Cloud Nothings finds a way throughout Last Building Burning to acknowledge the flames, the ashes, and the pain that led to that level of demolition. Unforgiving and deeply personal, Last Building Burning may just be the ceaselessly impressive band’s masterpiece.

Big Ups – Two Parts Together

Few bands get to go out on career highs, at the apex of their creative talent, and with an ascendant group of followers. Big Ups made sure they were one of those few with the volatile, challenging, and inspired Two Parts Together. What will likely stand as the band’s final release, Two Parts Together acts as a total culmination of what one of the best hardcore-adjacent acts has put together over the course of an acclaimed career that sparked a considerable amount of admiration among their peers.

Two Parts Together may be the first Big Ups record to match the band’s transcendent live show, keeping the listener entranced as it takes one jack-knife turn after the other at breakneck speed with deadly precision. More than just a testament to the band’s unreal command of dynamics, Two Parts Together offers an unfiltered look into the band’s identity through both composition and narrative. Vocalist Joe Galaragga leans into a series of complex topics with the a fearlessness that’s characteristic of the band, anchoring the most ambitious — and loosely experimental — music of Big Ups’ discography with enough tenacity and heart to make Two Parts Together an essential listen.

Fog Lake – captain

Fog Lake‘s been turning heads for some time now, quietly perfecting a warm strain of tender, empathetic ambient pop. Aaron Powell’s project attains a rare beauty on captain, the crown jewel of an incredibly rich discography. Every track exudes patience and attentiveness, layering ambient noise, piano, vocals, and traditional rock instrumentation to conjure up a feeling that resides somewhere between introspection and self-actualization.

captain is yet another emotionally shattering work from Powell, who’s seemingly building a career out of soundtracking personal solitude while dreaming up ways to make sure company’s welcome. An absorbing, immersive listen, captain navigates increasingly murky waters with both grace and clarity, accepting that not every question will have an answer and that every journey becomes infinitely more rewarding once its difficulties have been confronted and either accepted, resolved, or ingrained. A mesmerizing record that ensures Powell’s spot among today’s pantheon of truly great songwriters.

Evening Standards – Evening Standards

Evening Standards‘ self-titled debut comes packed with a pedigree. Forged out of the ashes of PURPLE 7 and a handful of great basement pop acts before that, anything less than remarkable would’ve been surprising but the heights Evening Standards manages to reach are still surprising. Every second of the band’s debut feels incredibly assured, on every front. The members of Evening Standards have all seemingly cultivated their own individual identities as musicians and managed to find a way to congeal them into something exhilarating.

Front to back, Evening Standards is comprised of intentionally loose basement pop that’s a little tongue-in-cheek on the surface but underscored by surprising depth. “Lil Green Man” highlights this dynamic beautifully, by taking a narrative centered on alien visitation and expounding the lark to humbling existential queries. The hooks are memorable and they find ways to dig deep, refusing to let go once they’ve taken hold. A playful romp that exponentially rewards investment, Evening Standards carves out a place for itself as one of basement pop’s high watermarks.

Long Neck – Will This Do?

On Long Neck‘s first record after Lily Mastrodimos expanded the project to be a full band, they waste no time in illustrating the benefits of that decision. On the first half of Will This Do? the band delivers a newfound lightheartedness to the project, offering up a series of summery tracks that ably demonstrate their strength as a collective. Even in those warmer moments, though, Mastrodimos holds true to the more autumnal narratives that characterized the extraordinary work that had comprised Long Neck’s solo era. Towards the halfway mark, the dam starts cracking and the floodgates open for the final stretch.

While Will This Do? boasted some of the most enjoyable — and endlessly replayable — tracks of 2018 in its opening stretch, the record hits a point-of-no-return with the unexpectedly dark “Ashes” and kicks off what may stand as the strongest final act of 2018. It’s over this jaw-dropping set of songs that Mastrodimos drops any pretenses regarding personal struggle and familial loss and favors a brutal, unforgiving directness that strips away the artifice and forces the listener to grapple with both losing and failing.

Those four songs, “Ashes”, “Hive Collapse”, “Milky Way“, and “10,000 Year Old Woman” are the best of Mastrodimos’ burgeoning career and the cumulative impact they leave is unforgettable. While “Matriarch” served as a gorgeous early peak and smart reprieve in the record’s early raucousness, the total reckoning of its closing run manages to tip Will This Do? into an overwhelmingly immersive experience. At the center of the pain evidenced in those closing narratives is a drive to not just survive but celebrate that survival, elevating a memorably great record to something far more transcendent.

Doe – Grow Into It

Some Things Last Longer Than You vaulted Doe‘s status up several levels back in 2016, securing the trio as one of the best basement pop acts making music. This site gave that record Album of the Year honors alongside an exceedingly strong committee. The band toured relentlessly on the back of that record and finally unveiled Grow Into It in 2018’s final quarter, surpassing the anticipation that they’d tirelessly built on the back of their explosive live show and an absurdly strong lineup of touring partners.

Grow Into It is everything anyone can hope for from a follow-up to a breakout album: the retention of identity, a willingness to expand boundaries, a fearlessness in decision-making, strong production, and a tenacious commitment. Brimming with hard-won confidence, the band attacks Grow Into It with the fervor of someone caught up in a fight to survive. Put your back into it/Until you can’t undo it goes a particularly memorable couplet, ostensibly underlining the band’s modus operandi.

A record that seems to accelerate progressively more as it races towards its jaw-dropping closer, Grow Into It finds Doe pouring their heart into their craft. The band wears a number of ’90s influences on their sleeve, churning out slacker pop that recalls that era’s best works. Wildly enjoyable at every step, even as it fixates on harsh issues connected to everything from a tumultuous political landscape to reflections on widely-held and extremely dispiriting views on autonomy, Grow Into It is a record that’s not afraid to speak as loudly as Doe plays. An astounding work from one of our best young bands.

Half Waif – Lavender

Watching my grandmother walk in her garden
She’s lost her hearing, does not notice the cardinal
I hold fast to the hours before the obvious parting

Those lines make up the second verse to appear on Half Waif‘s breathtaking Lavender, a monumental step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s project and an unforgettable artistic statement. A record seeped in the memory of Plunkett’s recently departed grandmother, Lavender soothes and haunts in equal measure. Informed by lost connections and a life dedicated to the road, Lavender takes the listener and actively places them in the passenger’s seat of an extended tour-driven narrative. Immensely moving and intrinsically connected to something spiritual, Plunkett navigates a series of burning questions and hard realizations with an unflappable grace.

Piercing insight is offered with reassuring tenderness throughout Lavender. Cities are yearned for, memories are tightly embraced, and lasting bonds are valued above all else. There’s a quiet desperation that carries throughout the record, the one constant as all the extra scenery flies by the window. In many ways, Lavender plays like a journal chronicling Plunkett’s untethering, providing a startling glimpse into the harsh realities of life on the road. Plunkett’s incisive narration keying in on the moments where the ground seems to separate, creating the sensation of aimless drifting.

Where Lavender separates itself from the many, many records that have tried to anchor their narratives with a similar framing is in Plunkett’s tacit acceptance of the loneliness that accompanies the drifting- any company is better than none. The record also never overstates its realistically tragic circumstances, relying on mundane moments to paint a much more engrossing portrait that allows it to land that much harder. Every facet of Lavender feels considered, allowing the record to be pitched at different velocities of tumult: “Back In Brooklyn” is a song in the key of the MTA while “Leveler” boasts an opening that intentionally isolates Plunkett’s voice into a hushed world of its own.

Forever in transit and full of curious glances outward, Lavender goes far beyond just being an extended meditation on what life reverts to when home becomes the hum of the road and into a towering statement about the nature of journeying. A record that’s sharply aware that there’s beauty to behold just beyond the window, even when the static trappings feel overbearing, Lavender is a work that drives into what makes life worth living. As hard as the tough moments wind up being, there’s a power to those experiences that, when given enough distance, become affirming.

Tough, tender, unforgiving, accepting, shattering, and hopeful, Lavender is a pointed presentation of contradictions, all firmly held in place by Plunkett’s reality. A story that’s been lived countless times finds a new level of poignancy on Lavender, which stands with a determined resilience as one of the most emotionally taxing — and rewarding — listens of 2018. For all of the silent pain that separation can bring, there’s an undercurrent of memory to inform that pain. At the core of Lavender, there’s a wellspring of love and by the record’s murky culmination, there’s a resigned acknowledgement of what that love will bring.

In those final moments, Lavender stops running away from the questions it’s been asking since its opening salvo and reveals a burdened truth: it knew the answer. It’s always known. To leave is to strengthen the effect of love. Whether the departure arrives at the airport or culminates with a wake, there’s a magnified sense of affection, which makes the parting infinitely harder. When that divide is extended, it can become harder still. What matters is that we allow ourselves to admit and how we navigate, how we cope, and how we understand.

The last twist of Plunkett’s narrative-driven knife arrives with so much certainty, after a sea of avoidance, that the effect is staggering. “Ocean Scope” delivers that knockout blow with courage, allowing Plunkett and the listener time to sit, to reflect, to accept, and to heal.

I don’t wanna know this
I don’t wanna know how this ends
In the grand scope of things
I know

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance

IDLES made a deep, lasting impression in 2017 with Brutalism, a pointed, scuzz-fueled blast of punk shrapnel. Pop culture was toyed with, progressive stances were belted out like war cries, and there was an abundance of empathy at its heart. All of its disdain was directed at people and policies that knowingly and maliciously take advantage of others, allowing Brutalism a sincere bent to its frustration. Just about every song on that record suggested the band could be fully capable of producing a masterpiece. No one could have predicted it’d come this soon.

A little over a year had elapsed before IDLES pulled back the curtains on Joy As An Act of Resistance a snarling behemoth that took everything that made Brutalism so engaging and multiplied them exponentially. “Colossus”, the first track to be released in advance of Joy As An Act of Resistance and the album opener, makes the band’s transformation plain. The rhythm section that provided Brutalism with quite a bit of its power finds new strength in restraint and focus, following a single chord and rim shot pattern through to a punishing, tribal-like section.

Vocalist Joe Talbot seems to find new life in this mode of attack, elevating his narrative work with unwavering commitment. The pop culture references are more prominent, the target range is significantly wider, and there’s an emotional crux to the lyrics that manages to cut through the wry humor and ground the material in something both personal and poignant. Virtually all of that’s packed into “Colossus”, which ultimately serves as both the catalyst for Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s tone and as a slight reintroduction to IDLES as a whole.

As a cohesive unit, the version of IDLES presented to us on their sophomore effort is tighter, more aggressive, and more exhaustively complete. “Colossus”, “Danny Nedelko“, “GREAT“, and “Samaritans” all suggested the band was operating at a higher level but Joy As An Act of Resistance finds them exceeding even the unlikeliest of high expectations. What ensues after “Colossus” flips a switch and jumps from foreboding tension to an all-out basement punk blitz is the purest distillation of political, social, and emotional commentary that any record in 2018 had to offer.

There’s a blunt honesty to Joy As An Act of Resistance that characterized the best songs of its preceding act but is sustained and felt through even the wryest pop culture jab. The breadth of what Talbot’s willing to tackle here is astonishing, running from the lineage and permeation of toxic masculinity to the shockingly recent stillbirth the vocalist endured with his wife. Loss is a palpable recurrent theme on Joy As An Act of Resistance but it’s never treated as a threat but viewed as further ammunition for a rallying cry against the prevailing evils of our world.

The band’s willingness to confront those pervasive hardships, on both personal and societal levels, and ground them in understatement is one of the major distinctions that separates the songs on Joy As An Act of Resistance from other acts attempting similar narratives. IDLES understand and are extraordinarily adept at reasonably contextualizing the institution instead of fixating on the object; the record’s never ham-fisted or grossly overwrought. In many ways, Joy As An Act of Resistance seems to be a kindred spirit of The Wire: both works understand the value in examining the parts that make up the sum, like how “Danny Nedelko” humanizes immigration by using a good friend — and a stand-up human — as an explicit framework to combat the dispiriting resurrection of nationalist thought.

Which is why when the band finally does scale back down to address something that’s deeply personal, the effect is shattering. “June” arrives at the album’s center and gives Talbot space to publicly grieve over the previously-mentioned stillbirth. The weight of what the vocalist is feeling is on full display, the band slowing the tempo down to a drudge-like march and offers up the record’s starkest, bleakest composition while Talbot opines Baby shoes, for sale, never worn, supplementing his own tragedy with literary history (one of many, many glancing references that supplement the narrative intent).

“Samaritans”, the most explosive song on Joy As An Act of Resistance and this publication’s Song of the Year pick, finds itself sequenced perfectly following the overwhelming despair of “June”. In addition to providing a bridge back to the record’s larger picture, “Samaritans” also ushers in a run of high-energy, immediate tracks that give more weight to Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s first act. “Samaritans”, “Television”, and “GREAT” are the ladder out of the grave that “June” had lovingly dug, ensuring the listener has an expanded understanding of the stakes evident throughout the record.

“GREAT” even provides the most concise clarification of the band’s thesis in its closing lines: we’re all in this together. As always, IDLES preach the value of a healthy community but here that reminder underscores a larger point: empathy is so essential because when it’s lost is when commitment to needless divisions deepens and threatens the foundation of a successful civilization. It’s a trait that’s essential to companionship, to joy, and to contentment. Nothing’s more infuriating than those who seek to devalue the virtues of empathy because beyond being recklessly selfish, it’s also wildly misguided as its a tactic that threatens the foundation of support and without support, nothing survives.

Joy As An Act of Resistance is a record that stares down that level of oblivious stupidity with a scorn that can border on the contempt but it’s also a work that’s smart enough to know those kind of views and the policies that get built around them don’t just suddenly materialize. IDLES understand the deliberately paced history of those movements and know to dismantle them they’ll need to resist by not caving into pure frustration but to offer joy. Even in the extraordinarily destructive final minute, Joy As An Act of Resistance doesn’t give off the sense that not resorting to impulsive violence isn’t an impossible act and that the dismantling of some of the worst this world has to offer is more within reach now than it has been at any point in history.

From virtually every angle, this is the band’s best work by several miles. Whereas Brutalism was a galvanizing triumph, Joy As An Act of Resistance is an inspiring masterpiece. A startlingly impassioned plea to retain our humanity and protect our truest values at all costs. A rousing call to not just embrace the good in life but to fight against the forces that serve as their threats while still having as much goddamn fun as possible. “June” is as stark a reminder as any that the time we have to experience the best this current world has to offer is fleeting.

No record in 2018 sounded more like a knowing smile paired with a middle finger and that’s a remarkably tough line to balance. IDLES deserve all the acclaim in the world for what they accomplished with this one, earning a devoted following that knows it’ll be wise to hang onto every word coming out of the band’s camp. More than just a record that represented the chaos of 2018 the best, Joy As An Act of Resistance was 2018’s best. A rare work of unparalleled feeling, IDLES can now lay claim to one of the young millennium’s strongest works. Leave this on repeat, we might need the guidance.

 


Further Listening: Forth Wanderers – Forth Wanderers | Tomberlin – At Weddings | Options – Vivid Trace | Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend | Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends | Momma – Interloper | Basement Revolver – Heavy Eyes | Dentist – Night Swimming | Dilly Dally – Heaven | Mount Eerie – Now Only | En Attendant Ana – Lost and Found | The Magic Lantern – To the Islands | Dead Tenants – II | Valley Maker – Rhododendron | Curling – Definitely Band | Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship | Royal Brat – Eyesore | Hovvdy – Cranberry | Yowler – Black Dog In My Path | Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of my Children | The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours | The Royal They – Foreign Being | Bent Denim – Town & Country | Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams | Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want | Screaming Females – All at Once | Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Hank Wood and the Hammerheads | Fred Thomas – Aftering | Pipsy – Users | No Problem – Let God Sort ‘Em Out | Jeff Rosenstock – POST- | Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse | Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine | sewingneedle – user error | Connections – Foreign Affairs | Sean Henry – Fink | Flasher – Constant Image | Winter – Ethereality | Spring Onion – i did my taxes for free online | Ben Seretan – My Life’s Work | gobbinjr – Ocala Wick | Trace Mountains – A Partner to Lean On | Gia Margaret – There’s Always Glimmer | Vundabar – Smell Smoke | milo – budding ornotholigsts are weary of tired analogies | Major Murphy – No. 1 | Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling | The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking | Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together | Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic | Alien Boy – Sleeping Lessons | Peach Kelli Pop – Gentle Leader | Woolen Men – Post | Antarctigo Vespucci – Love in the Time of E-mail | Julia Holter – Aviary | Interbelum – Dead Pets, Old Grief | Yours Are The Only Ears – Knock Hard | Free Cake For Every Creature – The Bluest Star | Adeline Hotel – Away Together | Marbled Eye – Leisure | JACK – Alchemical Rounds | Renata Zeiguer – Old Ghost | Doffing – Tower of Ten Thousand Miles | Anna McClellan – Yes and No | Rick Rude – Verb For Dreaming | Clearance – At Your Leisure | Superteen – Over Everything | Bambara – Shadow on Everything | The World Without Parking Lots – Seventh Song Counts the Engines | Jo Passed – Their Prime | Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows the Light | Flasher – Constant Image | Drug Church – Cheer | Wimps – Garbage People | Young Scum – Young Scum | GABI – Empty Me | Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs | No Age – Snares Like A Haircut | Exhalants – Exhalants | Bat Fangs – Bat Fangs

18 of ’18: The Best Songs of the Year

2018 saw more songs considered for coverage at Heartbreaking Bravery than any of the now 5+ years its been in existence. Thousands of tracks were heard and hundreds upon hundreds were mentioned in some way. The 18 selections below represent the best of that crop, while the overall batch holds true to this publication’s mission: to give praise to the under-represented. Nearly half of the tracks selected weren’t released as singles and some still have only been heard a scant few hundred times. Taken as a whole, these serve as a representation of a frequently overlooked slice of 2018’s finest.

Spring Onion – I Did My Taxes For Free Online

While a resurgent Remember Sports had a very strong showing in 2018, the best track to Carmen Perry’s name was through the Spring Onion project. “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is a bit of rare perfection, tapping directly into the weary malaise of modern young adulthood. A mid-tempo acoustic-driven Americana pop song, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is astonishing on both a musical and narrative level, the little flourishes (the banjo, the auto-tone) enhancing an incredibly engaging slice-of-life story that never wears out, no matter how many times its played. In short, “I Did My Taxes For Free Online” is nothing short of a minor miracle.

Young Jesus – Deterritory

In 2012 Young Jesus took a gigantic leap forward as a band with Home, which was the first of their releases to indicate the reach of their outsize ambition. Nearly every release since then, the scope of that ambition has been stretched further as the band’s evolved. The Whole Thing Is Just There, their first true release under Saddle Creek finds the band in their most exploratory mode to date, having morphed into a free-punk band.

Deterritory“, the record’s lead-off single, was a clear indication of Young Jesus’ growth: elements of art-punk, classic emo, and post-hardcore enveloped their early roots to create something singular and breathtaking. No second’s wasted, even when the band embraces improvisation with no reservation. For as loose as some of “Deterritory” may feel, the song’s final 20 seconds are the fiercest and most concise piece of music the band’s offered up to date.

The Little Miss – Take Me, Too

Take Me, Too” is a virtually unknown song from an artist who got next to no coverage for their last record. It’s also one of the year’s best songs and a testament to the fact that PR’s main purpose isn’t inextricably connected to talent or worth. Few, if any, songs to have come out in 2018 hit as hard and with as much unforgiving force as this sparse look at mortality, which welcomes death’s inevitability without resorting to overwrought histrionics.

Tender, empathetic, and knowing,”Take Me, Too” is a song that aches, yearning for resolution while maintaining a grounded, dignified sense of humanity. As a result, the song stands as one of the most unexpectedly breathtaking closing tracks in recent memory.

Trace Mountains – A Partner To Lean On

LVL UP disbanded in late 2018 but at that point, the year had already provided a cushion of hope for the future work of its members with Dave Benton’s project Trace Mountains releasing a career-best work in A Partner To Lean On. The title track of that record finds Benton in vintage mode, opening with a stanza that dives straight into the connection between spirituality and nature.

“A Partner To Lean On” is also an impossible-to-shake mid-tempo toe-tapper that elevates itself by the nature of its own restraint, leaning into intuitive decisions with an infectious confidence that’s rooted in calmness. Clear-eyed and warm, “A Partner To Lean On” winds up as one of Benton’s best songs, putting it in exceptionally strong company.

Whitney Ballen – Black Cloud

You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship was an absurdly strong debut effort from Whitney Ballen, highlighted by both unexpected turns and a frequently brutal level of emotional honesty. “Black Cloud” provided the record’s apex of both, something that intersected on the song’s early dip into jaw-dropping heaviness. A haunted look back at early warning signs, the song embraces the narrative’s stormy tumultuous nature with gritted teeth and a snarl. Oscillating between pensive and punishing, “Black Cloud” secured a rightful place as one of 2018’s most intentionally jarring highlights.

Dilly Dally – Sorry Ur Mad

Dilly Dally spent 2018 enjoying a resurrection of sorts, having almost hung up their instruments for good while battling internal demons. Heaven, the quartet’s sophomore effort, frequently chronicled the difficult path to their own salvation, resulting in some of the band’s best songs to date. “Sorry Ur Mad” was delivered, arguably, as Heaven‘s centerpiece (in a narrative sense as well as being the album’s halfway point).

A determined tour de force, “Sorry Ur Mad” propels itself forward by virtue of sheer blunt force, the composition ratcheting up the tension with its attentiveness to dynamics, stop/start rhythms inducing a palpable sense of nervous energy. The rare song that manages to increase its grip incrementally up until the breathtaking finale, “Sorry Ur Mad” charts a scrappy path to incredibly memorable terrain.

Fred Thomas – What The Sermon Said

The last three records that Fred Thomas has released comprised a trilogy that contained the best work of the journeyman’s quietly illustrious career. “What The Sermon Said”, the spellbinding capper to an incredible run, found a way to stand out. The song’s first half operates in an explicitly ambient, stream-of-consciousness format before morphing into one of the most devastating narratives Thomas has delivered since the heartfelt eulogy that drove “Every Song Sung To A Dog“.

A seamless transition bridge the two halves, a melancholic saxophone figure being enhanced considerably by a simple, elegiac string arrangement. Thomas spends the song’s final minutes detailing a trip to the chapel, looking for hope and finding nothing but an increasing sense of alienation. “What The Sermon Said” may or may not be a commentary on the difficulty of aging and the challenges it can present or it may just be an unflinching look back at a time of relative desperation but no matter how its viewed, the overwhelming cumulative effect lingers long enough to leave a scar all its own.

Gouge Away – Ghost

Gouge Away‘s most recent work stood out as a career best and saw the band, clearly operating with a sense of invigoration, stretch their range in surprising ways. “Ghost” was the most noticeable evidence, an uncharacteristic — even pretty — slow-burner from the incredibly ferocious post-hardcore act. The song presented something of a risk but paid off with huge dividends, propelling the band’s recognition forward with ease, coming off as something of a victory lap for an incredibly hard-working band that’s deserved more attention from the word go.

Miya Folick – Thingamajig

Trouble Adjusting” served as an introduction-at-large for many to the world of Miya Folick, which flashed a lot of promise in its raw basement pop-friendly aesthetics. Since that song’s release, Folick’s taken a somewhat unpredictable path that’s taken the songwriter to “Thingamajig” a painfully gorgeous ambient pop track that served as the unexpected opener to Premonitions.

Working in a mode that’s reminiscent of Half Waif’s recent body of work, Folick delivers an incredible career best, taking a long, reflective look at autonomy and decision-making that could feasibly double as a thesis statement for what Folick hopes to accomplish as an artist. “Only you know what to do”, the songwriter repeats at the song’s hushed close, infusing the delivery with not just meaning but intent, creating an impression that lets the listener know Folick’s in this until the end.

Evening Standards – Lil Green Man

A ways into the year, Evening Standards quietly released their self-titled debut, which was a near-perfect basement pop album. The record didn’t receive any notices outside of a very niche circle but did make one hell of an impression inside that circle. Formed out of the ashes of site favorites PURPLE 7, the band was already working with a strong pedigree that was evident in songs like the raucous “Lil Green Man”, an absurdly strong track that’s still earning regular spins.

“Lil Green Man” takes an intentionally ridiculous angle to explore an incredibly complex topic, using an alien invasion to reflect on the nature of existence and the meaningfulness of the human experience. Every second of the track’s wildly enjoyable and “Lil Green Man” also benefits from one of 2018’s most explosive choruses, the narrative and composition colliding in a cathartic release that suggests Evening Standards don’t actually care all that much about the answer to the question they’re raising, opting instead to revel in the moment and have as much goddamn fun as possible while they’re in each other’s company.

Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

Cloud Nothings returned with a slight lineup tweak once again, doubling-down on Life Without Sounds career summation but combining separate elements of their previous body of work. One of the best examples of their refined approach came courtesy of one of many of Last Building Burning‘s highlight in “Leave Him Now“. The song also separates itself from the band’s past work by containing one of the most emotionally affecting narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi has penned, fixating on a feeling of helplessness as the songwriter begs a friend to escape from an abusive relationship.

There’s an additional edge and urgency that lends itself to the music, Jayson Gerycz’s drumming returning to an otherworldly realm and standing as one of the best individual weapons the rock/punk genre as a whole has to offer. What separates “Leave Him Now” from what many view as a cloying trope is that Baldi never centers himself as a romantic option in the narrative, instead pleading for an unnamed friend to find a place of security and well-being that’s evaded them as they’ve fallen prey to predatory behavior, leaving “Leave Him Now” as one of the band’s strongest overall compositions.

Basement Revolver – Baby

One of the many, many bands that can’t seem to stop topping themselves by wide margins is Basement Revolver, who delivered one of 2018’s most unexpected gut-punches with the aching “Baby“. A song pleading for forgiveness and patience while navigating the internalized fears and trauma that frequently accompany young relationships, “Baby” may have been strong enough to secure a spot on this list by the nature of its deeply human subject matter.

What puts “Baby” well above the cut is its delivery, enhanced in no small part by a chill-inducing arrangement and bandleader Chrisy Hurns’ emotional vocal delivery. On many levels, “Baby” is an absolutely overwhelming listening experience, bordering voyeuristic as Basement Revolved surrenders completely to the apex of the unbridled levels of intense, competing feelings when the problem’s as hard to identify as the solution.

Tomberlin – I’m Not Scared

At Weddings announced Tomberlin as a major voice, which was all but cemented with early single “I’m Not Scared“. A rumination on personal hardships, both arbitrarily assigned and self-inflicted, “I’m Not Scared” was the most unforgiving track on what proved to be a very thematically difficult record. Driven by piano and a restrained string arrangement, “I’m Not Scared” bounces from harsh observations about everything from outside judgment to the physical pain that accompanies bodily function.

To completely bridge the song’s narrative arcing, “I’m Not  Scared” balances those two elements against each other and lets those observations inform a devastating conclusion, summed up by the chorus: And to be a woman is to be in pain/And my body reminds me almost every day/That I was made for another, but I don’t want to know that/Cause it happened once and I always look back. Searing and searching, the song’s painful honesty translates into a major moment for the emergent songwriter.

Big Ups – Imaginary Dog Walker

Big Ups were another band that hung it up (at least for a while) in 2018, going out on the startling artistic high note that Two Parts Together provided. Appropriately the record’s high point was its closer, “Imaginary Dog Walker” something that coincidentally summed up Big Ups’ long-held mastery of creating tension. “Imaginary Dog Walker” had been a highlight of the band’s live set and the studio recording more than does the song justice, using its slow simmer as if they were a set of sharpened fingernails sinking deeper into flesh. No song over the band’s astonishing discography seethed or detonated quite like this one, which sees the band going out on an absolutely extraordinary note and a career best that will be near impossible to top if they ever decide to return. Fingers crossed that at some point, they wind up trying.

Mount Eerie – Distortion

No recent run of songs has been as uncomfortable to listen to as the diaristic work that Mount Eerie‘s released of late, explicitly chronicling Phil Elverum‘s own experiences in the wake of his former wife’s recent, unexpected death. The internal conversation to include any of this work, which is deeply personal, remains. “Real Death” did manage to steal away 2017’s Song of the Year honors but it now has an equal in the 11-minute sprawl of “Distortion“, which is structured like an epic.

Opening with humming washes of distortion, the song quickly sinks into an intricate, acoustic finger-picked pattern and delivers a knockout first stanza:

But I don’t believe in ghosts or anything I know that you are gone and that I’m carrying some version of you around Some untrustworthy old description in my memories And that must be your ghost taking form Created every moment by me dreaming you so And is it my job now to hold whatever’s left of you for all time? And to reenact you for our daughter’s life?

“Distortion” doesn’t let up from that point forward, chronicling Elverum’s travels and real-life confrontations with death, equating the songwriter’s own journey to the beat poets that are referenced throughout the song. It’s an uncomfortable, implicit analogy that grows increasingly real when presented with the context of Elverum’s life. There are moments of bitterness, ugliness, and cruelty that are unavoidable as we fight to find meaning in our lives and Elverum presents that revelation with a commendable directness.

By the time the song comes to its fittingly devastating conclusion, it’s somewhat difficult to return to interacting with personal surroundings. Immensely complex and emotionally draining, “Distortion” has the unique effect of both sapping energy and burrowing into listeners’ consciousness, nestling next to a void that we all have to eventually face and reconcile. Texts like “Distortion” will help with that process when the time comes, making the unthinkably brave work Elverum’s doing incredibly valuable and worth experiencing, especially in moments where it’s of need.

Half Waif – Silt

Lavender represented an inspiring step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s Half Waif project, easily separating itself from a very crowded field to stand as one of the most moving releases of 2018. Informed heavily by a sense of separation (in both a familial and a personal sense), Lavender lands its most memorable knockout blow with “Silt”, which is the kind of track that can make the world stop.

Arriving around Lavender‘s halfway mark, “Silt” opens and closes with gorgeous analog synth tones, book-ending Plunkett’s swan dive into a search for self-worth and reassurance while trying to grapple with an incredibly clouded, distant state of mind. One of the many tracks on this list that benefits from a naked honesty that confronts a damaging impulse, “Silt” finds a way to stab deep into the heart of what it means to be left at a loss. Cold in nature but warm in its delivery, “Silt” is a startlingly potent reminder of Plunkett’s increasing talents as a songwriter.

Long Neck – Milky Way

Jawbreaker Reunion was the first band to push Lily Mastrodimos‘ name to a larger audience but that band supplemented Long Neck, a solo project that’s gradually evolved into a full lineup. Both acts seemed to benefit each other, seeing Mastrodimos’ confidence grow in both settings with the increased recognition. Still, with a handful of songs that were frequently incredible, what Long Neck achieved with Will This Do? came as a surprise, presenting the most direct, confrontational, and brave work of Mastrodimos’ young career.

“Milky Way”, part of the record’s astonishing closing stretch — which still stands as 2018’s strongest end run — was a testament to that growth. Much life Half Waif’s LavenderWill This Do? was shaped by the inevitability of familial death, which is alluded to on “Milky Way”. The song’s foreboding opening breaks into a quick jaunt, oscillating back and forth, centering on a narrative of uncertainty as the makeup of the world changes around the narrator. Frequent reminders to stay awake are issued, while a portrait of grief peeks through the narrative trappings, leading to one of the year’s most emotionally volatile closing sections.

A simple but blistering guitar solo, mired in darkness suddenly surrenders to daybreak once again before Mastrodimos drives “Milky Way” home with an abundance of feeling, conjuring a chilling picture of total, complete helplessness:

Sore feet and sore eyes and it’s nothing, it’s nothing. Echoes in our cave. I sat to watch the sunset and I just fucking lost it. 

The song’s final twist of the knife “And I just fucking lost it” repeats 9 times in total, each instance growing more pained and frantic, louder in its despair, stubbornly resilient as the song deteriorates around the mantra, suggesting that sometimes there is no comfort aside from acceptance and release. One of 2018’s most unforgettable individual moments by miles.

SONG OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Samaritans

Few songs this year hit outward and with as much as force as IDLES‘ seething take-down of toxic masculinity and the cultures that not only encouraged men to be emotionally repressed and overly competitive but allowed it to thrive. A centuries-long cultivation of what it means to be a man was frequently, justly challenged over the past few years with increasing fervor. “Samartians” lends its voice to that fight, railing like hell against a methodology that’s created borderline irreparable damage through a precedent of repression.

Whether that repression’s self-inflicted on an emotional level or maliciously leveled against women in more executive terms, IDLES have every right to be pissed off at the practice. The APA recently released a study backed by 40 years of research that deemed “traditional masculinity” (which was largely built on inherently toxic notions) as harmful. “Samaritans” is a song that’s well aware of its topics nuance and wisely anchors itself with father-sibling relationships, bringing the effect into focus with the absolutely brutal hook This is why you never see your father cry. This is why you never see your father. 

From its incendiary start to its jaw-dropping final section, “Samaritans” seethes to the point of shaking, intense rhythm section sending the song hurtling forward to its punishing finale. Expectations are confronted and stared down at every turn within the narrative (which is further supplemented by the montage video the song was gifted, which can be seen below) as the music provides even more retaliatory purpose.

While the whole song’s worth praising, special attention has to be paid to the song’s final minute, which significantly elevates the song’s intensity after a remarkably beautiful guitar-driven bridge. the song tips over into something sublime as vocalist and principal kicks the song into fifth gear, roaring “I KISSED A BOY AND I LIKED IT”, triggering a musical detonation that may very well have been 2018’s punchiest moment, guitars turning violent and almost staccato as Talbot repeats “This is why, this is why, this is why” before allowing the whole thing to collapse and drift off in smoke, creating a lasting reminder of a reckoning that’s no longer waiting on the horizon.


Further Listening:

Charly Bliss – Heaven | Doe – Labour Like I DoVundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk | Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back | Lauran Hibbard – What Do Girls Want? | The Royal They – Sludgefucker | Yowler – Where Is My Light? | Sonny Falls – Flies | Deep State – Under the Gun | Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talking Straight | Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out | Saintseneca – Pillar of Na | Marbled Eye – Laughing Sound | Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost | Yakima – Point of This | Courtney Andrews Marie – May Your Kindness Remain | Billy Moon – White Shoes/Dingus | Stove – Mosquiter | Maxband – Means to an End | Jay Som – Hot BreadEx​-​Vöid – Boyfriend | The Sidekicks – Don’t Feel Like Dancing | Adrian Teacher and the Subs – Pop Medicine | Pile – Cup | Many Rooms – Which is to Say, Everything | Black Belt Eagle Scout – Soft Stud | Mike Krol – An Ambulance | Squid – The Dial | The Knees – Stammer | (SANDY) Alex G – Fay | Fenne Lily. – On Hold | Liza Anne – Small Talks | Mo Troper – Never Dream of Dying | Stef Chura – Degrees | Fog Lake – California | Katie Preston – The Art of Falling Apart | Goon – Enter Bethel Admissions | Paul de Jong – You Fucken Sucker | Remember Sports – Up From Below | Jack Symes – Cool God | Sharkmuffin – Your Stupid Life | Juan de Fuca – A Place to Wait | Closet Goth – Touch Myself | Pip Blom – Come Home | Hit Bargain – Capitulate | Joe Pera – Warm Apple Night | bed. – Replay | Washer – Super Pop | Annabel Allum – Rascal | Bent Denim – Chasing Catherine | Mutual Benefit – Storm Cellar Heart | Gabby’s World – Winter, Withdraw | Say Sue Me – Coming to the End | Maria Kelly – Small Talk | Yowl – Warm (in the Soft White Light of Modern Living) | Birds In Row – 15-38 | Lonely Parade – I’m So Tired | Ovlov – Spright | Nano Kino – Sick Dreamer | gobbinjr – Afraid of Me | Grouper – Driving | Petal – Better than You | Yours are the Only Ears – Fire in my Eyes | En Attendant Ana – Night | Jonathan Something – Fine | Sean Henry – The Ants | Curling – Still Green | Yumi Zouma – France (Grande Boulevards) | LVL UP – Orchard

Half Waif – Lavender (Album Review, Stream, Live Videos)

Last Friday offered an extraordinary outpouring of new records with several of those releases seeming poised to be legitimate Album of the Year contenders. While those records hit hard, Half Waif’s Lavender hit hardest. A handful of the record’s songs have been featured here already but it’s the cumulative effect of the record that elevates the songs from heartrending to heart-stopping.

Nandi Rose Plunkett, Half Waif’s fearless bandleader, wrote Lavender in the waning days of her grandmother’s life and found a way to preserve her memory in astonishing fashion with Lavender. Imbued with familial love and meditations on the joys and consequences of mortality, Lavender ceaselessly finds ways to grapple with heavy burdens through a series of open questions, some unanswerable. The examination process is one that becomes intimately familiar to anyone whose ever had to confront the death of a loved one and it’s not hard to read into Lavender as a personal reckoning from someone in the throes of that journey.

It doesn’t take long for the ghost of Plunkett’s grandmother to find a home in Lavender, appearing as early as the record’s breathtaking opener “Lavender Burning”.  That specific song is a perfect introduction to the record as it marks a slight — but distinct and extremely important — stylistic shift for Half Waif, who move into a more subdued realm that’s enhanced by a re-dedication to introspection, more naked here than at any point in their discography.

“Watching my grandmother walking her garden, she’s lost her hearing does not notice the cardinal”, Plunkett sings, cardinal breaking up into lilting syllables as the memory overwhelms. It’s one of many small vignettes that litter Lavender‘s landscape, flowers dead and blooming. It’s not long before the burden of knowing sinks in and cries of “Is this all there is?” ring out over lush beds of synth and intuitive instrumentation. Confined to a confrontational solitude, Plunkett starts wrestling with existential autonomy: a sense of place, the weight of decisions, and the fear that accompanies free will.

All of these questions, all of these backwards looks and sideways glances are more immediate than any single narrative Half Waif’s presented in the past. They’re also by far the most gripping, as the music Half Waif has afforded these moments is their most expansive, textured, and ambitious to date, leaning hard into the band’s more ambient sensibilities. Lavender‘s rhythm section pulsates with purpose, reverberating throughout the record with the clear knowledge that the stakes here are legitimately life and death. From start to finish, it’s a fight for the means to survival.

If Plunkett’s grandmother is the foremost figure of Lavender, New York City and Plunkett herself aren’t too far behind. The relationship between the two, specifically, anchors some of the record’s most breathtaking stretches, including both “Lavender Burning” and “Back In Brooklyn”, which the songwriter penned an incredibly moving essay for over at The Talkhouse. “Back In Brooklyn” is a song that lands with exceptional force for anyone who’s ever been wrapped up by the titular city’s formidable being and goes a long way in laying out Lavender‘s gently beating heart.

Not coincidentally, the song resides in the album’s central stretch, arriving just after “Silt”, the two constituting Lavender‘s most breathtaking moment. It’s here where Plunkett comes nearest to breaking down completely, stretching out a hand for guidance, assurance, or even just a small moment of clarity in the fog of uncertainty. The closing moments of “Silt” offer up one of the record’s most haunting moments, an outro that beautifully segues into the painfully gorgeous “Back In Brooklyn”.

Everything that leads up to those two songs makes their back-to-back even more potent, the themes splintering apart into what feels like a million pleas, some from the city, some for the city, some from Plunkett, some for Plunkett’s own well-being. It’s here where Lavender finds its path to becoming transcendental. Those two songs combine to retroactively strengthen the songs that have preceded them while setting up one of the most memorable closing runs of the present decade.

It’s here where the allusions stop becoming guarded and are faced with no hesitation, Plunkett seemingly locked into a white-knuckle grip on the legacy of family, self-understanding, and the trials of knowledge. The latter of the three has one of the more potent dichotomies and that scale is explored through the framing of the former two. It’s that dynamic which makes the final quarter of Lavender so harrowing and so beautiful, the acknowledgment of the necessity of the scars and bruises that allow us to move forward towards our own destiny and towards the same fate that will take everyone we’ve ever loved.

Rather than waist time on hypothetical situations, Plunkett discards them in the service of realism and a commitment to the bravery the bandleader strives for on “Parts”. There’s a dissection of shame and anxiety in that song, one that resonates through to Lavender‘s end, before the tacit acceptance of the fearlessness required to continue existing. By the record’s end the only home Plunkett seems to have is forward motion, abandoning cities, clinging to friends, family, and lovers, doing whatever it takes to find a measure of peace in life’s restlessness.

Lavender‘s final verse acts as a summation of the themes Plunkett can’t escape through the course of the eleven songs and diverts them in a fruitless bid to forget what most of the record has exhausted itself in staring down before its final, heartbroken declaration: I don’t wanna know this/I don’t wanna know how this ends/In the grand scope of things/I know. It’s right then, in that last word, Lavender becomes complete. Not just a record about confronting death, Lavender is a record about the allowances of life, the difficulties that make it harsh, the people that make it worthwhile. In the end, when all is said and done, what’s left is the weight of knowing, and allowing it to sink to oblivion or float just a little while longer.

Listen to Lavender below (and watch a packet of live videos beneath that) and pick it up from CASCINE here.

The 35 Best Songs of 2018’s First Two Months

Two months and one week into 2018, the year’s already seen a slew of legitimately great songs. Below are 35 that managed to stand just a cut above the bevvy of incoming tracks that populated the most recent post on this site. While a select few picks below have two entries in this list, it’s still a varied list that features a diverse cast of overflowing talent. It should also be noted that a few songs were cut from consideration as the records they belong to will be featured in an upcoming post. At any rate, no matter how the tallies for representation work, this list is a testament to the strength of 2018’s early material. Make sure these aren’t forgotten.

1. Say Sue Me – Old Town

Last year, Say Sue Me put out an intoxicating and winsome record and are already gearing up for the release of a new record. “Old Town”, the strongest single to emerge from the early round of releases for the project’s forthcoming Where We Were Together, acts as a memorable showcase of what made people fall so hard for this band in the first place. Breezy melodies, smart arrangements, and a paradoxical mixture of urgency and relaxation combine once again for one of early 2018’s most charming tracks.

2. Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out

“Put A Record Out” bristles and grunts out of the gate and gains a head of steam as things move along, embracing the noise/punk flourishes that have come to define the current era’s iteration of post-punk. It’s Canshaker Pi making a willfully gnarled statement and delivering it with enough force to make sure it leaves a sizable imprint. When it’s done, it’s enough to leave a listener breathless. Keep up or get trampled.

3. Jay Som – Hot Bread

The rightful owner of this site’s Best Song of 2016 distinction, Jay Som has been not-so-quietly making waves over the last year. Racking up an endless amount of accolades and new listeners, the tireless Melina Duterte has remained on a tear, releasing new music at a startling rate. “Hot Bread”, released as part of a Valentine’s Day playlist for Amazon, ably demonstrates that Jay Som’s scope will continue to grow with the project’s ambitions, leaving us to count ourselves lucky to be witnesses.

4. (SANDY) Alex G – fay

An enigmatic release from an increasingly subversive artist, “fay” stands as one of the crown jewels of (SANDY) Alex G‘s recent efforts. Posted to the act’s official YouTube account with no type of buildup or press release, the song’s allowed to breathe freely (and gently) on its own terms. Paired with a truly bizarre “about” statement, “fay” acts as a mesmerizing puzzle box full of the kind of sticks-for-weeks hooks that (SANDY) Alex G built a name on, it’s a welcome reminder of a formidable talent.

5. Big Ups – PPP

Big Ups have staked their claim as one of the most fascinating hardcore-leaning acts in recent memory and snarled at anyone who even tried to touch the flag they planted. To remind everyone of how they earned their place, the band ushered out “PPP” as an advance warning to what’ll surely lie in wait on the band’s forthcoming Two Parts Together. Intricate harmonic work, versatile performances, and unhinged bristling combine for another intense triumph.

6. illuminati hotties – (You’re Better) Than Ever

“(You’re Better) Than Ever” will act as an introductory piece to illuminati hotties for a great many and it’s hard to imagine too many people walking away from the band’s warm invitation. A sunny melody shot through with basement pop trappings, “(You’re Better) Than Ever” succeeds on every level, from pristine production to bursts of joyous, unbridled energy. It’s a strong starting step for a band that seems determined to take off sprinting.

7-8. Forth Wanderers – Nevermine + Not For Me

A band on a continuous uptick, Forth Wanderers prove once again why their name carries weight with this two song combo that reasserts their position as one of today’s more tantalizing acts. “Nevermine” and “Not For Me” are both — in what’s become a heartening trend, as it happens with each of their new releases — career high points for the band, who have matured into a confident, focused machine, finding a way to retain an abundance of heart in the process.

9. Hit Bargain – Capitulate

One of a handful of songs on this list that act as a razor-sharp burst of noise-punk, “Capitulate” finds Hit Bargain intentionally wielding a level of ugliness with unbridled aggression. It’s a furious run through genre touch points that takes on life as it barrels headlong into some unknown destination. The band’s expertise is evident and their execution is flawless, rendering “Capitulate” a potent warning of Hit Bargain’s capabilities.

10. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down To The Tree, Read A Book, And When I Was Done I Went Back Inside

A mainstay of this site’s coverage, Kal Marks has continuously expanded their ambition with each successive release and “Today I Walked Down To The Tree…” keeps that trend in place. A winding, four minute slow-burner, the song finds Kal Marks at their most unabashedly pensive. While Kal Marks still finds moments of catharsis in those minutes, the experience as a whole towers above its individual moments; it’s a breathtaking feat from a band always worth hearing.

11. Stef Chura – Degrees

“Degrees” has been covered more exhaustively than any other individual Stef Chura release thanks to the involvement of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo.  Hopefully Toledo’s high-profile involvement will be more than enough to turn people onto Chura’s excellent early work. At any rate, “Degrees” — a towering piece of incredibly strong Americana-tinged indie rock — does stand as Chura’s boldest effort to date and effectively heightens the anticipation for what the songwriter’s future holds in store.

12. Juan De Fuca – A Place To Wait

A few seconds is all it takes for Juan De Fuca’s “A Place To Wait” to announce itself with clarity. A post-punk number shot through with nervous jitters, the track seems simplistic at first blush before rewarding a closer look with a tapestry of layers. Delivered with confidence, teeming with feeling, and unafraid to reach for stratospheric heights, “A Place To Wait” became one of 2018’s more pleasant surprises and it’s hard to imagine that status changing.

13. Haley Hendrickx – Untitled God Song

Oom Sha La La” was a song that managed to hook a whole lot of people into Haley Hendrickx‘s world but it also set a dangerously high precedent. “Untitled God Song” went a long way in assuaging any lingering doubts. A slow, tender track, “Untitled God Song” finds Hendrickx establishing a voice, marrying empathy with wariness to great effect. Warm tones and an arresting vocal delivery ensure the song a place as a piece of breathtaking artistry.

14. Superchunk – Erasure

Storied veterans making comebacks that reassert the band’s music as relevant among a new sect of contemporaries isn’t all that common, which is why when it happens it tends to be doubly impressive. That’s exactly the scenario Superchunk has found themselves in since the release of Majesty Shredding and it’s a space they continue to occupy with What A Time To Be Alive, which boasted “Erasure” as a lead-off single. All told: Still energetic, still distinctive, still perfectly Superchunk.

15-16. Frankie Cosmos – Jesse + Being Alive

Over an endless amount of self-releases and some incredibly smart campaigning, Frankie Cosmos have found themselves in an unlikely position of being revered as a bastion of consistency and as a tantalizing emergent act. Greta Kline’s project has navigated the transition from solo project to full band with no shortage of grace and the band, now more than ever, feels complete. Both “Jesse” and “Being Alive” prove the band’s as adept at invention as reinvention, keeping Frankie Cosmos’ unassuming charm intact all the while.

17. Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back

Few records over the first two months of this year have proved to be as inventive as Kid Dakota‘s Denervation, a collection of kaleidoscopic powerpop that’s highlighted by the inspired 7-minute “Keep Coming Back”. Intricate arrangements, a cavalcade of effective hooks, and a casual assurance congeal into something ridiculously captivating. Whether it’s the snaky snyth riff or the stabs of the guitar-led bridge or the extended outro, “Keep Coming Back” makes sure it offers enough to make a strong case to heed the title’s command.

18. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Riddles

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat already boasts a 4+ year history of crafting memorably minimalist post-punk, which made the band’s announcement of a Dan Deacon-produced record as enticing as it was baffling. On Riddles the duo hits new heights by leaping outside of their established narrative to cling onto something unexpected, a move and effect underscored nicely by the record’s piano-driven title track that sees the band falling a lot closer to early Cold Cave than Death From Above 1979.

19. Pale Kids – St. Theresa

Father/Daughter Records has become a proven entity in securing bands that effectively fuse outsize energy with unapologetic sincerity and Pale Kids are no exception. “St. Theresa” stands as proof of the formula, with the quartet leaning into a 2 minute outburst of hyper-melodic basement pop. Pointed, unrestrained, and fueled by as much snark as conviction, “St. Theresa” is yet another welcome shot of adrenaline from the promising quartet.

20. Many Rooms – which is to say, everything

The first moment of genuine tranquility on this list belongs to Many Room‘s gorgeous “which is to say, everything”. Pitched at a hush, the song soothes the nerves as it glides along for its four minutes, never rising past a measured whisper. Informed by both a sense of a loss and a sense of curiosity, “which is to say, everything” positions Many Rooms as an act whose name is worth committing to memory.

21-22. Boys – End of Time + Rabbits

Accentuating dream pop influences in powerpop has served bands like Alvvays incredibly well over the past few years. Boys is another name to add to that list, with the act releasing two beautiful pieces centered around that genre hybrid in “End of Time” and “Rabbits”. “End of Time” showcasing the band’s sense of reservation and “Rabbits” playing to their own curious brand of insistence. Composed and beautifully crafted, they’re worthy additions to any carefree summer night playlist.

23. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

Far and away the most country-leaning track among these 35 selections, Courtney Marie Andrews proves what the genre can still offer when it extends beyond a set of self-imposed limitations. Bringing strains of gospel influence to the forefront, Andrews manages to craft a heartfelt paean to the virtues of kindness. As the organ swells and the choir provides support, the collaborative balance finds itself intrinsically connected to the song’s central message. When it ends, the song does everything in its power to make sure its message is heard.

24. Walter Martin – Me & McAlevey

One of the more unexpected delights in recent music has been the quiet emergence of Walter Martin — best known for his organ playing in The Walkmen — as a singular songwriting force. Last year’s My Kinda Music was an extraordinary (and woefully overlooked) presentation of Martin’s abilities and boasted a handful of gems like “Hey Matt“, a song that gets a lovely sequel in “Me & McAlevey”. It’s another piece of affecting folk shot through with a distinctly modern wit.

25. Liza Anne – Small Talks

In its first minute Liza Anne‘s “Small Talks” manages to be reminiscent of a handful of recent artists and songs, yet it never comes across like an imitation and hits the considerable heights of its predecessors. Exuberant, determined, and delivered with as much urgency as conviction, “Small Talks” manages to sink its hooks in deep. An utterly winsome technicolor burst of warmth and certainty, it’s incredibly endearing- and worth leaving on repeat.

26-27. Trace Mountains – Cary’s Dreams + Turn Twice

While most people are likely to know Dave Benson from LVL UP, the songwriter’s solo project, Trace Mountains, has been releasing equally rewarding material for years (with a handful of instances of those songs becoming breeding grounds for LVL UP reworkings). On “Cary’s Dream” and “Turn Twice”, Benson manages to look to the forward and reach to the past. “Cary’s Dreams” is a testament to Benson’s vision, offering up a reminder of his considerable gifts while “Turn Twice” — first released in demo form several years ago — proves just how effective the multi-instrumentalist is with a bold brand of reinvention.

28. Paul De Jong – You Fucken Sucker

Opening with electro glitches and a hypnotic strumming pattern, Paul De Jong‘s “You Fucken Sucker” quickly changes shape as the lyrics kick in as a soothing voice starts reciting the verses to Mary Had A Little Lamb before things change even more drastically. It’s in the reveal of the chorus where the song separates itself and arrives as something intoxicating in its willingness to beguile. A playful piece shot through with dark humor, “You Fucken Sucker” more than proves that Paul De Jong is still fully capable of thriving outside of The Books.

29. Remember Sports – Up From Below

The return of Remember Sports — formerly just SPORTS — at the onset of 2018 got the year off to a heartening start. “Up From Below” quickly followed that announcement to make it abundantly clear that the band had held onto their sense of tenacity as well as their ability to craft a perfect piece of basement pop. Med-fi, hyper, and ridiculously catchy, “Up From Below” has already set an extremely precedent for what the future might have in store.

30. Fenne Lily. – On Hold

The opening bars of Fenne Lily.’s mesmerizing “On Hold” should be all it takes to secure just about anyone’s interest. Delivered with arresting tenderness, those first moments are strengthened as the song takes shape, exercising a measure of restraint that doubles as unexpected, incredibly cultivated tension. There are no big moments of catharsis but “On Hold” has different goals in mind; every step of the journey is as important as moments of celebration. Spellbinding from start to close, “On Hold” is a well-earned triumph.

31. Vundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk

Over the past few months, Vundabar have found the size of their audience rapidly growing and it’s in large part due to the artistic leap the band’s taken with songs like “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk”. Teeming with memorable riffs, unexpected dynamics, and a butcher’s selection of hooks, “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” almost comes across like a victory lap. Vundabar have found a way to heighten every single one of their innumerable strengths and the results are already paying off. “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” is a keepsake for everyone fortunate enough to be following along.

32-33. Bonny Doon – A Lotta Things + I Am Here (I Am Alive)

When Salinas released Bonny Doon‘s sweeping self-titled record last year, it was greeted as the band’s coming out party. A lot of people took notice of the band’s charismatic, including the reliably excellent Woodsist label who quickly found a way to get the band on their roster. With “A Lotta Things” and “I Am Here (I Am Alive)” now both out in the world, it’s plainly evident that Woodsist made another in a history of great decisions, as Bonny Doon have found a way to capitalize on their sprawling punk-informed Americana. Both tracks are new career highs for the band and offer a strong signal that for many, their forthcoming Longwave could just wind up in the discussion for Album of the Year.

34. Half Waif – Torches

All it took was seeing a recent Half Waif set for the band to significantly elevate their position of interest to this site’s overall coverage. While the band’s older material had been touched upon several times in the past, it’s in their new material where they’ve tapped into something that feels genuinely different. “Torches” is a perfect example of that new space, as it presents the most fully-realized version of the band’s identity to date, opening up their synth-led electro-pop into something a touch more experimental and a degree more forceful. Unapologetic in its stance and fearless in its execution, “Torches” marks an exciting new era for a band worthy of a close watch.

35. Mount Eerie – Distortion

The recent decision to list Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” as 2017’s Song of the Year — let alone, covered at all — was a surprisingly difficult one due to its tragic, uncomfortably intimate narrative. How Phil Elverum’s project has sustained multiple tour runs in support of that record is beyond the comprehension of most observers, who have left those shows visibly shaken. Elverum recently rolled out a sequel to that record, which continues to expand on the sudden death of his wife and his trepidation over how to greet single parenthood in the shadow of the other person responsible for his daughter’s very being.

“Distortion”, an 11-minute tour de force, was one of the first looks at Now Only and remains one of its most awkward, gripping moments. From the devastating opening verse to allegories invoking beat poets, every second of “Distortion” is felt in full as Elverum continues to allow us full access into an unimaginable position. By repeatedly tearing open his wounds, Elverum seems to be searching for a means to heal, cautiously allowing listeners to join the grieving, the fears, the concerns, and the memories of a woman who’s come to define a good portion of his own existence. It’s brutally unforgiving but in its own way, it finds a sliver of beauty in the empathy that it presents. In short: it’s unforgettable.