Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Nick

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

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

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

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

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

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

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

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

Mitski – Puberty 2

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

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

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

Big Thief – Masterpiece

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

Swim Team – Swim Team

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

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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

Greys – Outer Heaven

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

Hovvdy – Taster

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

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

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

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

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

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

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

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

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

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

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

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

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

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

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

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

Other honorable mentions:

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

LVL UP – I Feel Ok (Stream)

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LVL UP are drawing closer to the release date of Hoodwink’d, an album that’s loaded with the band’s best material to date. To celebrate its impending release, and to tease just a little bit more of how insanely good this thing is, they’ve offered up another glimpse in the form of the rollicking outsider pop tune “I Feel Ok”. It’s a deceptively complex song that manages to underscore just how capable this band is of writing great songs to anyone willing to invest the time in deconstructing all of its individual elements.

There’s a feeling of ease and weightlessness to “I Feel Ok” that’s not uncommon for LVL UP but taken to new heights on this particular outing. From the song’s ornate percussive features to the twinkling guitar tones and floating vocal melody, it’s an outsider pop gem courtesy of a band that seems to have a ceaseless supply of them. “I Feel Okay” also stands out for stripping away a lot of the band’s gnarled fuzz (something they hit new heights with on “Soft Power“) without shedding any of LVL UP’s immediacy or innate charisma. Never over-reaching or overbearing, “I Feel Ok” is the sound of a band living up to increasingly heightened expectations with aplomb. What’s almost terrifying about the pairing of “Soft Power” and “I Feel Ok” is that between the two of them, they’ve barely scratched the surface of what LVL UP is capable of.

Listen to “I Feel Okay” below and make absolutely certain to pre-order Hoodwink’d from site favorites Double Double Whammy (a label run by two members of LVL UP) here.

Nervosas at Center Street Free Space and Quarters Rock N Roll Palace – 3/1/14 (Live Review)

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On March 1, 2014, the entirety of Milwaukee was emitting a low hum- the result of hundreds of amps coming to life. There was the East Side Music Festival, which stood as a celebration of local music (Heartbreaking Bravery favorites The Sleepwalkers, Midnight Reruns, and The Midwestern Charm were all well represented), that spanned several participating venues and featured headlining sets from Why? and POS. Beach Patrol, Jake Simmons, and Tim Schweiger & the Middlemen were the bands making up a stellar bill over at Bremen Cafe, outside of the fest. Another non-fest show that was likely worth seeing had Ringo Deathstarr headlining Mad Planet. There was a show in seemingly every venue in the city- and Nervosas played two of them.

First up was a show in the basement of DIY library collective Center Street Free Space alongside Strange Matter and Crowdpleaser. After having some trouble with a faulty mic stand that essentially just gave out before Strange Matter began (both a cinder block and a weighted bucket were used as position anchors) the show started with an incredibly impressive set from Milwaukee hardcore veterans Strange Matter. After a few lineup changes and toting a new 7″, ennui actuation dissolver, the band was in fine form throughout a rapid-fire set. Blending all kinds of influences into a fairly original sound that leans heavily on hardcore, Strange Matter have built a strong reputation for themselves by virtue of their releases. If this show was any indication, though, their live show may have surpassed their recorded output in terms of quality- and that’s saying something.

Next to bat was Crowdpleaser, another Milwaukee band toying with genre limitations in slightly unexpected ways. Pushing their volumes to dangerous heights, the band played passionately and were genuinely excited to be sharing a bill with Nervosas. Their excitement was even more justified by the similarities between the two bands. Both Crowdpleaser and Nervosas share a similarly-mined strand of goth-punk that a lot of today’s bands can’t claim. There’s also a peculiar restlessness to be found in both bands’ music. Neither band is afraid of the unsparingly bleak, either. While there are more than a few differences between Crowdpleaser and Nervosas, and while there were a fair amount of technical difficulties, Crowdpleaser’s set felt like a completely natural precursor for the perpetually anxious Nervosas.

When Nervosas finally took over they did it with a manic determination that made their set one of the most cathartic experiences imaginable. Truly looking like that went both ways (band and audience feeding into each other on a barely-controlled loop) they grew progressively more intense as the set went on. Afterwards guitarist, Mickey, would reveal that she was trying to frantically keep up with the rest of her band who purportedly never play that fast. Whether that was a false claim is anyone’s best guess but at various points throughout the set, their drummer, Nick, would lose time and recover quickly with well-timed blast beats. All the while Jeff (their bassist and vocalist) would be careening through songs from the few outstanding releases they have so far, completely caught up in the moment. The only times the weirdly hypnotic and utterly dark spell was broken came when one of them would let the song get away from them (though they all recovered incredibly quickly) and not be able to help a smile. It’s impossible to gauge how long their set was as everyone was completely caught up in the moment, watching the band teeter on the edge of total collapse and reign things in at all the right moments. Making this even more memorable was the low turnout rate for the show- the benefit being that everyone who was there clearly cared enough to make sure that they were there so they could shout along “APAB” at all the right moments and support a band they loved. By the time the band finished tearing through a particularly rousing take on “Poison Ivy” nearly everyone that was present had likely already made up their minds to make their way over to the late show to see them again.

Between the end of the Free Space show and the start of the show at Quarters, a stop was made at Bremen Cafe in hopes to catch one of the three bands playing that night- while that proved to be an impossibility it’s worth noting that Jake Simmons,  Tim Schweiger & the Middlemen, and Beach Patrol all come very highly recommended and wouldn’t have been missed any other night. By the time the short walk to Quarters was made, feedback was already ringing throughout the venue, a half circle had been formed in front of the stage, and Midwives were about to go off. Having just seen Midwives member Graham Hunt lead Midnight Reruns through another energetic set just a week prior it was nice to see him fully embracing the role of a hardcore guitarist, while it was nice to see Sahan Jayasuriya back behind a kit for a band he believes in. Both of them need the band for different reasons; for Hunt it’s the ability to cut loose and be as grimy as possible, something that fronting Midnight Reruns doesn’t afford him- and for Jayasuriya it’s both the advantage of input into creative control and the sense of connection that comes with being part of something from the ground up, instead of coming into the fold late (something he’s experienced surprisingly often).

It was evident throughout Midwives’ set how badly those points counted for them as they poured their fucking hearts into their set by attacking their instruments with the kind of brute force only found in the best hardcore bands. As both Hunt and Jayasuriya lost their respective minds on their instruments, their vocalist was stalking the hell out of the open space in front of the stage shouting for all his worth and their bassist kept everything in check by holding down his parts while furiously nodding his head along. Ripping through the songs from their vicious debut 7″ (they used the night to celebrate its physical release) and a whole lot of new songs (many of which will be appearing on the LP they’ll be recording this week), it started to feel like the band announcing a bigger kind of arrival. While their studio work is already enormously impressive (despite being only four songs), this is the kind of band that lives for a live setting- they didn’t disappoint and hopefully won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

After quite a bit of set up, take-down, and tuning, Technicolor Teeth turned up their amps to typically deafening volumes and greeted the audience with their shoegaze-heavy nightmare pop. Ever since first seeing this band a few years back and watching them evolve, it’s been clear that they’ve tapped into something inherently special. As they’ve progressed they’ve toyed with the boundaries of genre and exploited the buried aspects of a few different styles rather than settling for something as simple as revivalism. They’re pushing things in new and intriguing directions; finding a home in what was once considered a dormant style and looking forward instead of traveling back. Easily the night’s longest set, they nonetheless were as captivating as usual and likely won over anyone they hadn’t. While their set seemed to be heavy on newer material, it all clicked and felt coherent enough to keep the audience interested despite being a band who’s prone to playing up a drowsy-high aesthetic. There were a few blinding flashes of energy that helped push that along and as a collective unit, the band played close to flawlessly, wrapped up in a weird kind of power approach. A large part of the credit for this is likely due to drummer Amos Pitsch (who uses his time outside of the band to do things like front Tenement) who continues to operate on an almost obscene level of musicality (so much so that it prompted a well-intentioned and sarcastic “Thanks for drumming before me, Amos. That sucked.” from Nick) and provides the band with a considerable punch. In any case, Technicolor Teeth played like they meant it and is a must-catch prospect- they’ll be playing the Accidental Guest Recordings showcase at SXSW, don’t miss it.

After Technicolor Teeth wrapped up and everyone assessed their levels of hearing damage, Nervosas set back up for a final run. Only this time, it wasn’t to 15 people- it was to a packed bar that was threatening to close in on max capacity. As a result, the energy level of the decidedly frenetic show at Free Space somehow got kicked up a few more levels. This time, the audience wound up begging the band for an encore that they never got; and that was alright- Nervosas seemingly left every inch of themselves on that stage. Absolutely ripping through highlights from their best-of-decade worthy self-titled like “Less Than Human”, “Viva Viva”, “Extinct Species”, “Waste of Time”, and (once again) “Stellarcore”, “Poison Ivy” and “APAB” along with some deeper cuts like Rev 45 lead-off track “Junky”. All of this was performed as wild-eyed as possible, with each member being almost inhumanly committed to delivering their songs at maximum levels of impact. None of the three could stay still even between songs, feet tapping and bodies swaying back and forth, anxious to jump into whatever was next. During the songs, that restlessness was even more present as the band would literally throw themselves from side to side (and into the walls on more than one occasion), while attempting to keep themselves in control of the music. Their levels of success on these levels were improbable, as all of the things apart from the audience size were both duplicated and maximized from their set just a few hours before. By the time the calls for an encore were hitting their peak, the band was onstage, packing up, absolutely spent. They’d made their mark and knew their was nothing left to possibly be given.

As the show turned into an afterparty with the assistance of Rio Turbo, friends old and new caught up, got drinks, and found their way into dances, conversations, and the streets. Everyone buzzing on the adrenaline high that accompanies the truly great shows. Everyone that played caught up with each other and their admirers, gave their thanks to each, and bought or traded merch before heading off. Now that all the smoke’s cleared, all that’s left to do is keep both eyes peeled for the next time Nervosas show up- because if these shows were any indication, this is a band that should never be missed.

A few photographs from the shows can be found below.