Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: NXNE

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsay Hazen)

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Last year Lindsay Hazen contributed an astounding piece to this series that focused on using music as a means of coping. This time around, Hazen continues to celebrate the music that makes life worth living. In a chronicling of great shows, artists, and records, Hazen also offers a unique window into some personal experiences accrued throughout 2016. As always, the writing’s compelling, swift, and lands with impact. It’s a beautiful piece that more than deserves anyone’s time. Tackle it in full below.

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I saw Weaves at a free NXNE showcase at Sonic Boom’s temporary location on Bathurst. They played with Courtney Barnett, Army Girls, and Baby Eagle. My partner and I got day-tipsy on free French beer and did the annoying thing we do in record stores where we walk around and then yell to each other excitedly about things we want. Or… I did. You don’t understand Weaves until you see them. Jasmyn Burke trembles. She commands your attention. She is a diva in the most positive of connotations. She is extremely kind.

I saw her with her band RatTail at the Drake Underground. She shone then, too. Angular, jagged guitar, insistent drums complement her voice in many of the songs on Weaves’ self-titled debut. Morgan Waters was the best thing about his previous band, Sweet Thing (whom you might remember for being the ridiculously catchy song from Easy A that wasn’t “Pocket Full Of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield). I saw them at the Mod Club with Allie Hughes, one of the best moments from the first year I lived in Toronto (a period of my life I have to actively try not to romanticize).

I saw PUP a couple of years ago, on a snowy night in Toronto (the second time), at a show in the public library in Yorkville. They played with Alvvays. They covered “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys. I remember how I felt my body tremble when they began to play “Reservoir”. I listen to it when I get really bad panic attacks. I can’t help but feel the carpet of the library under my feet, I can’t help but breathe – let the song expand inside me, let my heart race along with it and spend my nervous energy. What’s left to lose? What am I supposed to do now? Nothing. Anything I can, anything I want. I knew what I was doing after all. PUP is that kind of band. They’re a band that lifts. Unites. Makes songs into anthems; crowds into tempests; energy into things that matter.

PUP makes The Dream being over sound like taking the pill that wakes you up from The Matrix and into 2016. It feels like true things that you can’t say to the ones you love. It feels like Canada – expansive, yet claustrophobic at the same time. Dark corners in which you can lose yourself. Being snowblind in the sun. I was sad they didn’t win the Polaris. I was more thrilled than I can express that 2016 was very much The Year of PUP. They can only get better.

When I’m 70 I can’t wait to get sweaty in the crowd of geriatric PUP fans and pay $250 to see them at the Skydome or something equally arena-esque and brag to my grandchildren that I knew they were rockstars when I read about a band called Topanga in Exclaim! I knew what I was doing after all. When I left the library it was snowing, but I held my jacket in my arms and let the cold embrace me. I was numb on the subway home. My lungs were killing me, I didn’t even get high. I knew what I was doing after all.

I saw The Lonely Parade in Taco Pica, which hosts its fair share of Saint John’s local DIY shows. I went with my two friends. I acted like a dork. I was ridiculously excited. Their song “Stomach” is one of my favourite songs of all time. I was not prepared for their set. I wish I had been less self-conscious and danced. They were so fucking ridiculously groovy. No Shade, their startlingly wonderful album from this year, is mixed to sound cool and dry. It sounds… acerbic.

It sounds witty. In person their sound is heavy and warm, surrounding you. The bass lines flow like lava, weaving through the percussion. Watching “Johnny Utah” literally dropped my jaw. The guitar solo in “Girl“… I cannot speak more highly of their musicianship. “No AM” is a real highlight of the album, the use of reverb and the rhythmic patterns remind me of Controller.Controller, and I get another amazing guitar solo I can embarrassingly rock out to at the bus stop.

I was lucky enough to see Casper Skulls, Chastity, Blessed, Billy Moon, Sheik, and hand-drawn (RIP). I was able to watch producer-composer-engineer Artifiseer (Ian Livingstone) and Arkanjello (Gabe Williams) the musical polyglot who crafted my favourite record of 2017 (so far), Vegan Songs, evolve as artists and work with found sound and imagery grounded in real experiences of maritime life. Gabe has a singing voice like a young Bowie. He has programming sensibility of Caribou on a Grimes and Lana Del Rey listening kick, and makes songs that are frenetic – kaleidoscopic almost. There’s a beautiful fracturing in his tones.

I am glad that the world finally found out that Toronto has long been the source of some of the best punk music in history (Martha and the Muffins, anyone?) and is home to some of the world’s legendary spaces – spaces that feel like home to any music person. The Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace are more a part of me than any house I have ever lived in. New spaces are opening all the time. I can’t count how many shows I’ve wished I could see at Smiling Buddha this year that made my heart ache from across the country.

But right now, pay attention to New Brunswick. Sackville has Sappyfest and bands the likes of Partner and Baby Eagle. Fredericton is also a DIY hotbed with deep relationships with the Halifax and Montreal scenes. And Saint John, my adopted home, is a place where people make pain and struggle into beauty, make some innovative venue spaces that give diverse artists a voice – including the Panic Room, Taco Pica, live performances at the City Market, and the historic Imperial Theatre.

We lost so much this year, so many people, so many dreams, so many fights. But we have fought, won, reclaimed, rejoiced. As a community we yelled, donated, protested, protected, aided, loved and learned so much this year. 2016 is the year that we declared music our home and our sanctuary. We are going into 2017 blind to the future but facing it together.

‘You have the right to be mad, but when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way.’ In 2016, music carried us. We let it inspire us and drive us and effect real change and use art to be as selfless as our empty wallets and full hearts let us be. Thank you to the artists I’ve seen perform, the people whose lyrics and riffs and beats made me want to be a better person than I was yesterday. And thank you to Saint John for being my shelter in a world that sometimes feels like its falling apart.

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 5

Speedy Ortiz III

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement.

Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time.

Pt. 5 will be the final installment of this series and the preceding galleries can be accessed via the links directly below. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 1
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 3
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

 

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

Perfect Pussy VIII

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement. Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 3

Swearin'

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement. Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2

METZ I

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement. Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. I

Frankie Cosmos III

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence likely showed. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement. Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision of photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time. Enjoy!

Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs – Gates of Hell (Music Video)

scatil

Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs have always had a real sense of fun about them, which was clearly evident during their NXNE shows. Fortunately, that awareness continues to tie over to their music videos. Last week the band released a clip for the title track off of their just-released full-length, Gates of Hell, which stands as their finest effort to date. “Gates of Hell” as a song finds the band emphasizing their powerpop sensibilities without losing any of their basement punk grit. Guitar riffs and organ jabs are exchanged at a perfectly-paced tempo and the final breakdown builds to a rousing finish. It’s a great song that gets even better when paired with a deranged music video. “Gates of Hell”, the video, finds the band members positioned as part of a black magic occult. Tinted in a rusty sepia and clothed in robes throughout, this would look like a low-budget black metal music video if the audio was muted. It’s a clever, nuanced video that’s full of the same borderline self-deprecating humor that drives the song itself. Packaged together, it’s a welcome bit of irreverence from a band that’s not afraid of distancing itself from similarly-minded acts who can occasionally take themselves too seriously.

Watch “Gates of Hell” below and order the record from the always-reliable Southpaw Records.

Watch This: Vol. 33

Today’s marathon of Watch This continues with the 33rd installment of the series, a unique spread that features full performances, solo acoustic takes outdoors, and one last video from NXNE. There’ll be several more of these features to run after this one’s posted so please forgive what will mostly likely be atypically brief introductions. There’s a lot of ground to cover and even more material to get to. So, for now, lean back, enjoy the ride, and Watch This.

1. Army Girls – Quarantine State (Chart Attack)

Army Girls’ appearance at Sonic Boom during NXNE was a very welcome surprise and, paired with Courtney Barnett, wound up being one of the best (and most under-attended) 1-2 punches of the festival. Chart Attack, who hosted the showcase, were also on hand to film the band run through an excellent new song called “Quarantine State”.

2. Laura Stevenson – Journey to the Center of the Earth (Don Giovanni)

There are very few things more arresting than a great solo performance, which just happens to be one of Laura Stevenson’s specialties. Here, the mastermind behind Wheel (one of last year’s finest releases) is captured with unfaltering honesty by her label, Don Giovanni. It’s a quiet, mesmerizing performance by the side of the road- and it feels perfect.

3. Listener – There Are Wrecking Balls Inside Us (Audiotree)

“There Are Wrecking Balls Inside Us” proved to be a fascinating anomaly that shed light on a gray area; this is a video that recently resurfaced on a channel that promoted it as a new release, despite dating back to mid-2012. This caused some debate over whether or not it’d warrant inclusion but the performance itself spoke too strongly. Listener’s always been an engaging, unique presence and this is one of the most fully-realized examples of their intriguing eccentricity and immediately arresting manic delivery and, ultimately, it proved impossible to ignore.

4. Lemuria – Oahu, Hawaii (TCGS)

Lemuria’s “Oahu, Hawaii” was given an entrancing and serene music video earlier this year that paid testament to The Distance Is So Big‘s longevity. That record’s lost very little of its staying power and their performances, as proven by this example from The Chris Gethard Show, continue to impress. Don’t miss them whenever they come around.

5. White Lung (unARTigNYC)

At this point, White Lung have more than proven themselves to be a serious force in music. There have been very few records that felt as impassioned, or as necessary, as their rightfully-acclaimed Deep Fantasy. Fortunately, unARTigNYC was on hand to film the band’s set to celebrate the release of that record at Brooklyn’s famed St. Vitus, where the band delivered one hell of a performance that does more than a little justice to what’s easily one of this year’s strongest records. It won’t be long before this band’s even more widely recognized as an impressively intimidating powerhouse.

Watch This: Vol. 32

Well, festival coverage has officially ceased. This site will now be resuming its regular features. One of the few recurring segments, Watch This, was largely overlooked and sorely missed in the pursuit of getting as much NXNE and Pitchfork Festival material up as possible. That all changes today. This will be the first of several Watch This installments to go up in the very near future. With more than a month’s worth of material to look back on, there was a treasure trove of videos that couldn’t be whittled down to a definitive five. So, while some videos from outside forces that were connected to NXNE and Pitchfork will earn a few spots, the emphasis will be on the videos that left the deepest impression in this features absence. Now that all that’s been said, sit back, prepare for the best, and Watch This.

1. Cloud Nothings – Pattern Walks (Pitchfork)

Cloud Nothings’ set at the Pitchfork Festival was one of a staggering number of highlights. One of a very small number of bands that thrive on aggression to be featured in the lineup wound up working to their advantage and the crowd paid them back in full. It was a triumphant showcase for a band that continues to get better as a live act. Missing them whenever their close would be a major disservice.

2. Courtney Barnett – Scotty Says (Chart Attack)

There were very few lower-key sets that stood out more than Courtney Barnett’s Sonic Boom appearance during NXNE and, thankfully, Chart Attack was on hand to capture a great performance of “Scotty Says” that’s intercut with a delightful mini-interview. The whole thing’s worth watching and can be chalked up to another emphatic mark in the win column for the emerging Australian songwriter.

3. Flagland (BreakThruRadioTV)

Another strong entry in BreakThruRadioTV’s Serious Business series is this entry for New York City’s Flagland. Mixing performances with some raw live footage that culminated with a great performance of “Awesome Song Kerry Yawn”. From that alone, it’s easy to see why both Nirvana and Weezer are name-dropped in their introductory paragraph.

4. Dinosaur Jr. – Freak Scene (unARTigNYC)

There’s not a lot to say about Dinosaur Jr. that hasn’t been said already. The trio’s one of the more influential bands of the past several decades and responsible for a handful of classic albums and singles. Among them is “Freak Scene”, which sounds as vital now as it did when it was first released.

5. White Mystery  – Good Girl / Smoke (Audiotree)

Chicago duo White Mystery has been flying just under the radar for what feels like years, despite appearances on late night talk shows and a healthy amount of critical acclaim. Over that amount of time, their reputation’s steadily grown and the band’s sharpened their live act considerably. Audiotree was wise enough to not overlook all of this and bring the band in for a feature performance. It’s hard to imagine anyone was disappointed.

NXNE: Day 4 + 5 (Review, Photos)

Courtney Barnett XIV

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Once again, apologies are necessary for the long drought of material. I have been organizing, writing, shooting, editing, and attending more events than usual. This has taken up a considerable amount of time but Heartbreaking Bravery hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, most of it has been for the site and will be posted about shortly. Full attention will return shortly and regular posting will resume along with it.]

NXNE is now more than a month in the past but it’s difficult not to keep returning to those shows. The last two days of that Toronto trip were made up of some of the most explosively visceral and gratifying shows anyone could possibly ask for. Two of those shows won’t be accounted for in this review as they weren’t official parts of the festival. Both shows will be given their own full reviews following everything here. Now that all of that’s out of the way, onto the shows themselves.

Day 4 of NXNE kicked off at Sonic Boom where noise/hardcore duo Creep Highway immediately set about providing as much sonic destruction as they possibly could. The duo, led by guitarist/vocalist Michael DeForge, played a fierce, ragged set that saw inflections of powerviolence weaving in and out of their songs. It was an arresting start and both DeForge and drummer Patrick Kyle looked exhausted, but happy, when the last bits of feedback were finally cut off. After happily enduring their onslaught, it was a mad dash over to The Great Hall for Perfect Pussy, looking to avoid another unfortunate situation.

Not two steps were taken into a crowded Great Hall before hearing Graves’ earnest “Hi, we’re Perfect Pussy” led the band straight into their usual chaos. Only this time, unlike the (admittedly mesmerizing) performance not even twelve hours prior, everything went off without a hitch. Their levels were mixed well, Graves’ confrontational pleading was audible, Greg Ambler’s bass- and bass amp- were both in tact, and the audience fed into the band’s energy with a strong display of their own. All of the usual highlights remained extraordinarily strong moments (“Interference Fits”, in particular- still as much of a contender for “song of the decade” as it’s ever been) and by the time Shaun Sutkus’ loops were turning into decays in the epilogue section of “Advance Upon the Real”, Graves was sitting onstage with her backpack, entranced by her bandmate, and looking deservedly pleased. All in all, it was over in about twenty minutes and wound up as another strong example of their live prowess.

After sticking around to hear a few enchanting songs from ANAIKA and leaving with Graves for a very revealing conversation about the previous nights events, it was off to the Ryerson University outdoor stage for an enchanting set from Frankie Cosmos. Graced with good weather and good sound, the young (and very prolific) singer-songwriter delivered each of her songs in high spirits to a small but appreciative crowd. Fan favorite “On the Lips” proved to be an easy high point; it’s as sweet and startling as it’s ever been. All of Cosmos’ bands played off her to near-perfection, each seeming like a natural extension of her songs themselves. By the end of the set, they were all miming their respective parts before falling down in a memorable bit of unassuming humor that wound up being the perfect capper to what was one of the festival’s most endearing performances.

When Frankie Cosmos’ set had come to a close, it was difficult to keep up (any serious festival attendee or reporter will attest to how exhausting the most extensive can be) so there was a dead-zone until Swearin’ took things over at Smiling Buddha. After dealing with some unfortunate mixing situations the previous night, it was a thrill that bordered on catharsis to enter a venue and hear the band in fine form, mixed to perfection. Once again, they offered up an incredibly balanced set that had clear highlights in particularly fiery renditions of “What A Dump”, “Dust in the Gold Sack”, and “Movie Star”. By the time their set had drawn to a close, they’d thrown down the perfect reminder of why they’ve earned so much critical adoration and fan loyalty. Swearin’ are one of the best bands out there- not an easy claim to make, but an impossible one to ignore after seeing a set like that one. A perfect way to end the official festival portion of Day 4.

Day 5 would be split between two venues and only one of them was an official NXNE showcase, which is why this is being included here instead of given separate billing. That showcase took place, once more, at Sonic Boom (and was graciously hosted by the inimitable Chart Attack– who had hosted the previous day as well). It began with a rousing set from one of Australia’s finest exports, Courtney Barnett. An early crowd had formed for the on-the-rise artist and Barnett delivered the way she always does; with warmth, grace, and an endless supply of smiles. No one in the band seemed able to contain their happiness or gratitude and were even smiling through their technical difficulties (which were expertly maneuvered into noise sections that fit the songs so perfectly that it almost felt like they should be integral parts of the band’s sound/records). It was a surprisingly ragged set (made even more ragged by Barnett’s virtue of refusing to use a pick) that sounded as blissed-out as the band looked, even in some fairly startling heaviness the band’s adopted into their palette. Everything about Barnett’s set pointed to one thing: her name isn’t one that will be disappearing anytime soon.

Local band Army Girls‘ bluesy post-punk leanings were next to be featured and the duo lived up to the promise of their recordings. It was one of their first appearances in a while and if there was any rust, it didn’t show. Between seriously impressive displays of fretwork and control from guitarist/vocalist Carmen Elle and drummer Andy Smith, Elle would offer up some biting banter before launching into the next song. Nearly everyone in Sonic Boom couldn’t seem to take their eyes off of them; even Courtney Barnett was dancing in between the aisles and shouting between-song encouragement. She wasn’t alone. Army Girls’ set had an even, practiced feel to it that warranted both attention and investment. If this band ever decides to make a serious run, it’ll be one to keep both eyes on. That their set was the last official NXNE showcase to be taken in felt appropriate; it was another perfect example of the independent spirit that the festival built itself on- and of the city that hosted it. Here’s to NXNE XX- and here’s to looking forward to the 21st installment.

The photo galleries of both days can be accessed below.

NXNE: Day 4 (Photo Gallery)
NXNE: Day 5 (Photo Gallery)