Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Neutral Milk Hotel

Pitchfork Festival: Day 2 (Review)

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Days 2 and 3 of the Pitchfork Festival were spent seeing the festival shows themselves, rather than the after shows. Who needed after shows when the lineups for both days were so unbelievably stacked? Day 2 started with Cloud Nothings laying into a very frantic set that recalled their recent High Noon Saloon appearance. Drawing entirely from Attack on Memory and Here and Nowhere Else, their set translated well to an outdoor festival setting. With the additional benefit of good weather, the day was off on the right foot. Before their set ended, it was off to catch Mas Ysa ending his, an impressive display of eclecticism and eccentric electronic work. It was a decided change of pace from Cloud Nothings’ assault just moments before- but it kept the audience just as engaged.

Pusha T was forced to play a shortened set after a late arrival but no one seemed to mind; there were more than a few people on the verge of losing their minds during his short time onstage. My Name Is My Name, one of last year’s stronger highlights, was well represented (predictably, “Nosetalgia” received the biggest reception- no surprise Kendrick appearance, though) as was his back catalog. Pusha handled the lion’s share of the performing himself and showcased the dazzling skill and charisma anyone that’s been paying attention to him since Clipse knows that he’s capable of. It was a standout set, even if it didn’t take up the full time slot. tUnE-yArDs played to another very packed crowd that proved to be just as entranced and receptive as Pusha T’s. Merrill Garbus and company played  off of each other expertly, offering up enviable displays of both percussive and vocal prowess. It felt appropriate in the setting and completely of the moment. Their last two songs drew two of the loudest cheers of the festival.

Next up on the schedule was Danny Brown, green-tipped hair and all, who absolutely invigorated what was starting to feel like a lull in the day’s actions. Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves was also on hand to watch this set and talked about punk, energy, unpredictably, danger, catharsis, and how Brown’s set embodied just about all of it. Brown’s last two records (XXX and Old, respectively) are two of the finest entries in hip-hop for the decade-so-far and his live show lived up to- and possibly surpassed- that recorded output. At this point he’s no longer a star in the making- he’s a bona fide star. Look out for whatever comes out of his camp next (fingers crossed on what seems to be a possibly impending collaboration with The Avalanches) because it’ll be more than worth paying attention to.

After Brown’s rousing set, it was back across the grounds for St. Vincent, still riding his on this year’s outstanding self-titled record. Annie Clark led her band through a set that leaned heavily on that record while occasionally glancing back (“Cheerleader“, in particular, was awe-inducing), always leaving at least one foot planted in her increasing fondness for futurist aesthetics. When she broke from that mold, though, the effects became staggeringly visceral. One of the most unexpected (and aggressive) moments of the festival, for instance, came when Clark led her band down into a free-for-all noise jam that bordered on chaos as it became increasingly heavier. Towards the end of this, Clark threw her guitar to the stage and started abusing it before crawling over to the bass drum, headbutting it repeatedly, rhythmically, before retreating and staying down, holding her head, clearly in some anguish. She would stay in that position for some time before a stagehand came and draped another guitar over her after receiving assurance that she was okay. It was a moment driven by pure, total feeling– and it was spectacular.

Neutral Milk Hotel put on some extraordinary shows after their surprise reunion last year (their Covington, KY show was particularly memorable) and they haven’t really stopped since. True to their wishes, the display screens for the festival were temporarily killed for their set. No cameras, no footage, just music and a shared experience. And what an experience it was. Literally thousands of people sang along in unison to personal favorites off of the band’s landmark achievement, In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea, and several jaws dropped when they went for their relatively deep cuts (“Ruby Bulbs” was as emotional as ever and “Ferris Wheel on Fire” remains transcendent in a live setting). It was mixed well, the band played with as much force as they did meaning and everyone in the audience was smiling, enjoying a moment that would have seemed impossible just a year and a half ago. It was the obvious choice to end the evening and felt akin to magic. Day 3 would have a lot to live up to.

Below watch a video of Cloud Nothings playing “I’m Not Part of Me” that was recently posted by the hosts of the festival themselves.

Watch This: Vol. 22

At the very start of the last article to be posted on here, it was mentioned that Heartbreaking Bravery was going through some technical problems and that they’d be made up for sometime relatively soon. That day is today. Some of the issues plaguing the site are still being resolved, today they’ll be circumnavigated unless they’re fixed at some point throughout the course of the several upcoming posts. Also worth pointing out is that the post with that disclaimer was the first one to be exclusively done on a cover. Normally, this place will do its best to feature originals over covers but with “Candy’s Room” being as good as it was, it’s offered a perfect segue to a Watch This that focuses solely on one of the best outlets for covers: The AV Club’s Undercover series. With a new season lingering around the corner, it’s a great time to look back at some of the most memorable installments of that series- it’s also a great way to illustrate the full scope of the kind of music this place will cover when given the chance. This will be the first of a few Watch This installments getting posted today and it’d be difficult to ask for a better way to ease back into things. As always, sit back, float off, do whatever feels natural- just make sure to Watch This.

1. Mac DeMarco – Undone (The Sweater Song)

Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days is one of the very best records to have had a 2014 release so far, operating as both a reminder of his talents and personality. Here, the cover he and his band offer up of this Weezer classic does roughly the same thing; twice as roughshod as the original but brimming with a cathartic recklessness, it’s a perfectly positioned tribute that does both bands justice. There’s an ample amount of slacker goofiness but when the band kicks it into fifth gear for the last few minutes, it becomes its own beast.

2. The Swell Season – Two-Headed Boy

Did anyone in 2012 think they’d be able to see Neutral Milk Hotel ever play this song again? The prospect of a reunion was about as far-fetched as My Bloody Valentine releasing their follow-up to Loveless, so fans scrambled to find worthy covers. Before 2013 happened, there was nothing better than this; an Oscar-winning rags-to-riches duo (Glen Hansard- who came back to the series to take part in another classic– and Marketa Irglova) bringing in their full band and doing more than a little justice to a song several revered as holy.  An awe-inspiring take that rivals Neutral Milk Hotel’s heavily emotive calling card classic.

3. Screaming Females – If It Makes You Happy

This was a no-brainer (so much so that it almost missed the cut completely). The explosive chorus, the guitar fireworks (that riff! that solo! just goddamn), the unrelenting passion, powerhouse vocals, and left-field song choice make this can’t-miss material. More than a year after this was posted, it still has the ability to spark all the same feelings it did on the very first view. This is just about as inspirational as it gets. Take note.

4. Ben Folds – Say Yes

It’s still a little difficult to articulate how much Elliott Smith meant to a certain corner of the music world. He departed entirely too early, leaving behind a rich and unimpeachable discography that cemented his legacy. The bulk of his material can still be extraordinarily difficult to listen to and literally impossible to not be affected by. Here, Ben Folds, his friend and former tourmate, tackles the relatively optimistic “Say Yes” with reverence and grace. Even now, more than ten years down the line, Smith’s songs remain as poignant and moving as ever- even in the hands of someone else.

5. Wye Oak (feat. Jonathan Meiburg) – Strangers

There are few songs that hold as much meaning as The Kinks’ “Strangers”. It’s a perfect song, one full of the kind of humanity that encapsulates something as elusively intrinsic as a worthwhile existence. In short, between Jenn Wasner, Andy Stack, and Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg (another performer who would show up to the series again later to deliver a second classic) the song takes on an epic, wide-open feel. In fact, their take on this song was so devastatingly gorgeous that they became one of the first bands to be asked back– and then following that, the first to have their session(s) pressed to a 7″.  As hyperbolic as it may sound, it’s hard to argue against “Mother” being one of the greatest covers of all time.

Help Save Fort Foreclosure (Indiegogo Campaign)

Photos by Rich Dionne William Schaff is an internationally known artist who works mostly on commission and has designed dozens of album and CD covers, prints, posters and other works of art. His name cuts such a wide swath and carries such pull that he's had visitors travel from as far away as Sweden, unannounced, to meet him. But he considers himself as much a Warrenite as an artist of international acclaim.

Continuing tonight’s trend of unusual coverage is a very important cause: saving Fort Foreclosure, home of artist William Schaff. For those not familiar with Schaff, he’s the artist behind some of the best album artwork of the past 15 years, from Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven to Songs: Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co. to all of Okkervil River’s artwork (the pieces he put together for the Black Sheep Boy series deserve to be celebrated into the next century). Unfortunately, Fort Foreclosure is currently living up to the latter portion of its name and he needs all the help he can get to change that.

That’s why Schaff’s started up an Indiegogo project that offers some unique rewards for very fair prices. From a stunning deck of individually designed playing cards ($9) to little books containing the sketches for Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven ($15) and sketches inspired by In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea ($10) to packages containing all three of those things in addition to a project-exclusive benefit CD full of project-exclusive songs from a variety of artists connected to Schaff ($60) to more decidedly extravagant rewards like a five day, five night residency at Fort Foreclosure with Schaff himself ($800). There are several other offers on the table and they’re all for a very worthy cause. Each offer can be viewed and selected here.

This is a serious situation that can yield serious rewards for both the artist and the contributors. It’s a unique project that deserves investment and a way to help one of this generation’s most gifted artists thrive. It’s an opportunity worth seizing for both the cause and the effect. Most importantly, it’s a good way to provide a healthy environment for the creation of great art- a cause that this place holds sacred. Stop waiting, contribute now, and make anyone and everyone aware that they can too. The clock is ticking.

A note from Schaff about the situation can be read both in the above link and below.

“My Name is William Schaff. As most of you here know, I have been a working artist for the the last 20 some odd years or so. I have started this campaign because the studio and home that both myself, and the band, Brown Bird, inhabit is again in Foreclosure. I am looking to make this stop, once and for all, and I am hoping you can help. Please check out the rewards I offer for contributing, and see if there is anything that catches your fancy. I’ve tried to make sure that each of you, no matter your situation, can be part of this effort. If we are not able to raise all the money, what is raised shall still go towards covering the mortgage, and dealing with the utilities. Keeping the Fort, out of foreclosure.

So please watch the attached video, see what you will be getting involved with. Share, and tell your friends. Become a part of the arts in a way you may not have before!

Thank you.”

Home for the Holidays & A Guide to Surviving (Mixtape 001)

Well, it’s been a brief but substantial fifty day run and this, the 50th post, seemed as good a place as any to celebrate something so small and meaningless. To that end, Heartbreaking Bravery is offering up its first official mixtape; Home for the Holidays. Look for one every fifty posts. Some will have themes, some will just serve as reviews for the past near-two-months of coverage the site provides.

Home for the Holidays was a unique challenge. For the songs to qualify they had to fit within the general aesthetic of what Heartbreaking Bravery would normally cover- they would also have to mention Christmas without being a Christmas-specific song. All of these songs are here for a reason and deserve to be heard. A welcome alternative to the endless barrage of the same twenty songs getting played in seemingly every location. Both the mixtape and the accompanying guide to surviving are below.


1. Tenement – Spit in the Wind

Did anyone honestly expect this list to start with anything else? It’s no secret how this site feels about this band. They’ve mastered the exploration of lower middle-class difficulty and it really comes through on the chorus of this Napalm Dream standout. “Father pissing on the Christmas tree, suicide for the family” is a masterclass in both explicit and implicit imagery as well as tone-setting.

2. The Wombats – Moving to New York

Sleep-deprivation, needless excitement, and suspecting disappointment. “Looks like Christmas came early” has never sounded so true. 

3. Sundials – Christmas Day

One of 2013’s most exceptional compilations was the collection of Sundials songs from 2009 to 2012. “Christmas Day” closed the collection out with flare, emphasizing how ugly financial situations can be made ten times worse by the holidays with a surprising amount of verve. 

4. The Weakerthans – Exiles Among You

The Weakerthans were (are?) one of the most consistently impressive bands on the circuit and released a few records that qualify as classics. On their standout sophomore effort Left & Leaving was this gem, that included a heartbreaking moment where the protagonist shoplifts for Christmas and ignores her family. A perfectly executed example of estrangement.

5. Titus Andronicus – No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future

On Titus Andronicus’ masterpiece The Monitor, the band managed to cover an endless arsenal of subjects. One of the strongest moments in a record full of them was “No Future Part Three” with its rapid shifts in pace and tone. There’s anger, there’s grim determination, a palpable sense of sadness, and a devastating Christmas list. 

6. Neutral Milk Hotel – Two-Headed Boy

One of 2013’s biggest moments was the return of Neutral Milk Hotel, prompting many to revisit In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea and “Two-Headed Boy” in particular. That song contains a fierce ending of bitter abandonment set under Christmas trees, elevating the importance of the act. Brutal, harsh, and brilliant. 

7. Waxahatchee – Rose, 1956

There are very few records as pointed and barbed as American Weekend, a record that’s only managed to grow stronger with time. “Rose, 1956” stands out for a variety of reasons but the mention of Christmas Eve at the song’s opening drives home how specific it is, which makes it more revealing in turn. 

8. Bon Iver – Blood Bank

Bon Iver is almost too obvious of a choice for this but it’s hard to look past the muted elegiac title-track of the band’s sole EP. Not only do the levels of wistfulness feel appropriate but the song nicely underscores the possibility of truly understanding difficult moments. One of Bon Iver’s most stunning moments. 

9. Why? – The Fall of Mr. Fifths

Why? have always managed to effortlessly evoke very specific feelings with their arrangements alone. Yoni Wolf’s lyrics generally accentuate that feeling masterfully and “Mr. Fifths” is no exception. There’s an underlying theme of fear and obsession here that touches on the rising death rates that surround the holiday season. 

10. The Hold Steady – One for the Cutters

Quite possibly The Hold Steady’s most inventive moment, this harpsichord-driven tale paints the most realistic portrait of the sort of culture that exists in the shadows the band has managed in years. An absolutely stunning achievement that culminates in the central character’s defeated-beyond-reason return to her family at Christmas. 

11. Sparklehorse – Little Fat Baby

Mark Linkous’ penchant for subtlety resonates throughout this song, in part an understated allegory about (seemingly) the prominence of Christmas. It’s a subdued-yet-jarring yarn that feels intensely personal. 

12. Belle & Sebastian – I Don’t Love Anyone

Fleeting moments of self-doubt and occasional resentment spring up in early winter more than anyone would like to admit. Self-evaluation becomes a bitter process and all of the potential disappointment can manifest itself outwards. The best way to deal with it is just to acknowledge it and move on.

13. The National – It Never Happened

“We look younger than we feel and older than we are” is a beyond perfect way to describe the holiday hangover that’s constantly present, lingering around the corner. The easygoing pace of “It Never Happened” mirrors the pose some people will themselves into just to survive the rougher patches.

14. Okkervil River – Where the Spirit Left Us

The first of of two Okkervil songs on this list, “Where the Spirit Left Us” pinpointed a certain kind of well-informed nostalgia that was brought to life in a dazzlingly vivid manner. There’s a small-town longing that matches up nicely with the resigned minutiae  surrounding any large family gathering.

15. The Weakerthans – My Favorite Chords

John K. Samson does environmental setting better than almost anyone penning lyrics today. The fact that The Weakerthans can often be described as wintry only heightens the reason for this song’s inclusion.

16. Tom Waits – Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis

A wildcard among these 21 tracks, “Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis” qualifies based on the title, not a lyric contained within the song. One of Waits’ most towering achievements and one of the best moments on his classic Blue Valentine.

17. Ben Folds Five – Brick

Did you really expect this not to make the list? It’s a song about the aftermath of a Christmas Eve abortion. One of the most frighteningly realistic songs in recent memory. At the very least, let this one invoke deep sympathy.

18. Palace Songs – Christmastime in the Mountains

Okkervil River artist Will Schaff brought this song to the list as it was experiencing a rough draft dating back to last December. “Christmastime in the Mountains” is stark, beautiful, and nicely summarizes the empty feelings that can occasionally hit at this time of year.

19. Why? – Kevin’s Cancer

Yoni Wolf has been operating in his own territory for a long time now. This is the second Why? song to be included but the way Wolf and company operate only furthers situational reality. 

20. Elliott Smith – King’s Crossing

From A Basement on Hill bafflingly exists simultaneously as one of the most personal and impersonal records to be released in the past 15 years. It’s posthumous status elevates the impact of searingly revealing songs, yet those involved with it say that the record was far from finished and released with only the mixes Elliott had left behind when he tragically passed away. “King’s Crossing” stands out as one of the record’s most personal (and most biting) moments, reflecting the holiday’s darker spirit.

21. Okkervil River – Calling and Not Calling My Ex

This is the song that inspired the idea for this collection several years back. It’s Sheff at his most pointed. Sleigh bells in the background offer up an ever fuller world-building experience for an environment surrounding the introspection that often hits hardest towards the end of the year.

Happy Holidays.

HB