Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Ought

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

Wicker Park Fest 2016 (Pictorial Review)

Spaceblood II

A few weekends back, Chicago quietly hosted one of the most stacked festivals of the summer. While Pitchfork (understandably) got the bulk of attention, it was Wicker Park Fest that offered the best deal. For a suggested $10 donation, any interested parties could explore a wide variety of vendors and take in three stages worth of acts like Diet Cig, The Coathangers, PUP, Yeesh, Pile, Jeff Rosenstock, The Mountain Goats, Rocket From the Crypt, Ought, Alvvays, Cloakroom, Bad Bad Hats, and so many more.

I arrived late into day one, hoping to catch the end of The Sidekicks’ set. By the time I’d entered the grounds, the band was already packed up and the weather had begun to turn ominous. Less than ten minutes into walking through the gates, a torrential downpour erupted and caused several attendees (myself included) to take shelter in the warm, familiar confines of Reckless Records.

It was a surreal scene inside the store with people lined up to see the storm demolishing vendors’ tents outside, Christmas music being played over the store’s system, and people frantically checking for updates on the status of the festival. For a brief moment, the power went out. No one was sure what the next steps would be and nearly everyone was keeping their fingers crossed for the storm to blow over definitively enough to allow for the scheduled headliners sets.

Fortunately, the storm did wind up receding and, as a result, I got to catch an abbreviated six-song set from Jeff Rosenstock (one of the highlights of the festival, even in that small window) and a solid set from The Mountain Goats. While there were some sound issues that plagued The Mountain Goats set, there wasn’t much else to complain about. Both acts were very tight (particularly Rosenstock, whose entire band played with the kind of explosive, pent-up energy that seemed to be as cathartic for them as it was for the audience) and either won the crowd over, played into their hands, or both.

After arriving well before any of the stages hosted any bands on day two, it was easy to see that storm from the preceding night hadn’t dampened the festival’s spirit. One of the School of Rock acts officially kicked things off, alternating members and making their way through a set of crowd-pleasing covers. Not too long after they’d begun, KO took the south stage and unleashed an inspired set that created more than a few converts while sounding spectacular in an outdoor festival setting.

While all of that was happening outside, Double Door was wisely hosting the ancillary Fuck Fest, which featured more than two dozen bands, inside. The venue exists inside of the festival grounds, allowing Fuck Fest to take on new life. When the heat and humidity started bordering the unbearable, Fuck Fest offered a nice reprieve from the swirling mass of bodies outside while still offering up a solid selection of (mostly local) acts.

At Zero was the first band I managed to catch at Fuck Fest and they tore through a tightly-wound set on the main stage that energized the crowd inside the venue. Right outdoors on the south stage, Spaceblood was confidently making their way through a set that drew in a large crowd, heavily featured a merchandise hype man (who promoted the band’s salsa, handed out chips, and threw out Ziploc bags of a terrifying substance called “space goo” which children were warned not to eat), and left the bass/drum duo — who are heavily inspired by Lightning Bolt — understandably exhausted.

Kodakrome was up next on Double Door’s basement stage and the duo-turned-trio did not disappoint. Last year the band put out an extremely promising demo and later expanded those two tracks into a full-blown EP. They’ve been hard at work ever since and their dedication shows in a live setting. Guitarist/vocalist Aaron Ehinger’s a commanding stage presence, exuding a confident calm that manages to be at odds with the band’s hyper-spastic approach to basement punk but also somehow fits perfectly.

Several yards from Double Door’s entrance, The Brokedowns were flying through a powerful set and reaffirming their status as one of Chicago’s great punk bands. Nothing was off limit for their banter, either, which was highlighted by an extended riff about the Costco communion wafers (which were thrown into the audience). As the band kept their charge lively, Bad Bad Hats were finding their groove across the festival grounds on the south stage. The trio’s Psychic Reader was one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises and the band more than lived up to that record’s irrepressible charm in the live setting.

Towards the end of Bad Bad Hats’ set, site favorites Cloakroom were launching into their own set at full power. Slow, heavy, and smothering, the trio were undoubtedly a force but couldn’t help feeling a little out of place in the sweltering midday heat (they’re best suited for darkness). Slow Mass kicked off the proceedings at the center stage (which had been outright cancelled on day one, following the storm) with gusto, blazing through an impressive set of hairpin turns and overwhelming tenacity.

Anyone that frequented this site in 2015 more than likely saw a sizable amount of coverage dedicated to Diet Cig‘s live show and the duo were in exceptional form down at the south stage. Guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Alex Luciano is now running her telecaster through a split amp system and the additional heaviness rounds the band’s sound out nicely. They tore through old favorites and a select handful of incredible new material (with the obvious highlight being their first “slow jam”) and brought all of the rambunctious energy that’s turned them into unlikely critical darlings.

Not too long after Diet Cig’s powerhouse set, another vicious storm intruded on the festival and made its presence known with an unexpected vengeance. Before long, the wind had hit a velocity powerful enough to literally derail a train from the blue line. As vendors were watching their tents get lost to the wind, Fuck Fest found a new influx of fresh blood due to the inclement weather. Inside Emporium, there was a power outage. Inside the Double Door, Montrose Man were turning all kinds of heads in the basement with an extraordinary set that posited the trio as one of Chicago’s finest emerging acts and a very real candidate for the city’s next breakthrough success story.

Pinto saw the audience inside Double Door grow close to capacity and impressed most of the new arrivals with a sound that fell somewhere between Joy Division and Manchester Orchestra. The band provided a nice moment of grace to a growing amount of anxiety among concerned festivalgoers who were keeping a wary eye on the storm that was threatening to derail more than just blue line trains. Fortunately, for just about everyone, the weather cleared. Unfortunately, the set times for PUP, Pile, Yeesh, and more became casualties of the maelstrom that seemed poised to decimate the festival.

Alvvays and Ought headlined the center and south stages at nearly simultaneous times. As maybe the most intense scheduling conflict of the entire festival, the prospect of Ought on a small, outdoor stage won me over to their side (as well as a well-documented love for the quartet). The band rewarded that decision with a set that unfurled in rapid succession, hitting an apex as “Men For Miles” practically bled into “Beautiful Blue Sky” (which was one of this site’s picks for the best songs of 2015). They sounded tight and seemed relieved to be playing after getting a scare from the weather as well as dealing with travel cancellations, delays, and a series of other mishaps. I think I can speak for their crowd when I say that we were happy they got to play as well.

Shortly after the band wrapped up “Beautiful Blue Sky”, I went over to the swirling mass of bodies that had set up camp in front of the south stage for Alvvays, whose winsome penchants were on full display. The band were mixed beautifully and played with an easy confidence that only served to make them even more impossibly likable. After a few songs, I turned back to Ought and caught strains of the band hitting a climactic moment, spurring me towards the band with a fervor before the opening notes of “Archie, Marry Me” stopped me in my tracks.

Caught between Ought getting swept up in the moment and Alvvays’ seemingly perfect rendition of one of the best songs of this current decade, it became the definitive moment of what makes festivals like Wicker Park Fest so beautiful. For little cost, the organizers managed to further enliven local institutions and give back to the area by facilitating extraordinary examples of what can be accomplished with the right beliefs. Around every corner, there could be something unforgettable happening. No matter which direction anyone turns, it’s easy to find victories on a multitude of scales. Even caught between those moments can provide a level of gratitude and clarity that no amount of money could purchase.

As Ought and Alvvays both tore down, Fuck Fest was still going strong inside Double Door. At that point in the night, the festival started leaning even more heavily towards their emo-leaning acts (a trait that seemed to be a common running thread) but still found a way to offer plenty of variety. Of all of the bands that I managed to catch in the aftermath of Wicker Park Fest, legitimate standouts came in the form of Typesetter, whose emphatically-mean-every-word set felt refreshingly sincere and provided the band with a well-deserved spotlight moment. Easily one of the strongest post-Wicker Park Fest sets belonged to Salvation, a noise/punk trio that skyrocketed the levels of energy, feedback, and general viciousness.

Of everything that I saw during the festival’s run nothing was more impressive than the moment Salvation’s bassist (who looked to be several years older than the other two members) found his foot catching the load-in steps of the stage at an angle that sent him somersaulting backwards down the small staircase, bass in tow. He never stopped playing. After the fall, he righted himself (still attempting to play as the cable cut in and out), stormed back up to the stage, and began swinging his bass around in an effort to create as much noise as possible. The song ended, staff and audience alike made sure he was okay, the cable was replaced, and the band carried on like nothing had happened.

A few songs later, Salvation were done and I was too exhausted to continue. The band had provided a perfect, chaotic ending to a weekend full of sudden changes, ambiguous directions, and oscillating levels of comfort. They’d also given one of the best sets of the two days. Feeling fully satisfied and more than a little overwhelmed, it felt like the perfect time to end a weekend full of challenges, madness, nerves, and inspiration. See you next year, Wicker Park Fest.

Look through a gallery of the festival below and keep an eye on the Heartbreaking Bravery YouTube channel for live captures from the festival.

 

 

Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (Music Video)

Ought VIII

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

Very few acts have been as immediately intriguing as Ought, a quarter who experienced a breakthrough with the exceptional More Than Any Other Day and continued to make good on their seemingly endless promise with last year’s strong Sun Coming Down. The band’s still finding ways to promote that latter release and the heady clip for album standout “Beautiful Blue Sky” (one of this site’s picks for the Best Songs of 2015) is the most recent example.

The Bobby McHugh-directed clip seems to focus squarely on a man in crisis, which plays to the neurotic anxieties of the song to a tee. Beautifully shot by Jacob Rosen, “Beautiful Blue Sky” foregoes in easy narrative for something more ambiguous, allowing the viewer to infer and project their own personal interpretations to the proceedings. It’s a neat trick; much of Ought’s music requires investment and a sizable amount of involvement so it’s nice to have that aspect of the band catered to more directly in the visual format.

A committed performance from Matt Drews enhances the clip as he injects his character with a startling amount of emotion, whether he’s in stasis or executing a series of gorgeous lyrical dance moves. Ultimately, “Beautiful Blue Sky” stands as an invigorating piece of art not simply because of its beautiful execution but because it refuses to condescend to its audience. More often than not, those are the exact types of pieces that both beg and reward repeat visits. Be prepared to be thinking about the clip’s contents for quite some time (and enjoy all of the return trips).

Watch “Beautiful Blue Sky” below and pick up a copy of Sun Coming Down here.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsey-Paige McCloy)

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Having just run Loren DiBlasi’s beautiful piece on Patio and the impact Lindsey-Paige (LP) McCloy’s influence had on her life, it only felt right to follow that piece with one from LP herself. I was fortunate enough to meet Lindsey-Paige over the summer and came to regard her as a kindred spirit close to immediately after our introductions. The calm confidence that frequently permeates Patio’s music is personified by the guitarist/vocalist and it’s difficult to feel anything less than completely at ease (or even fairly comforted) in her presence. Below, she tackles moments she experienced that were connected to Dan Bejar, Ought, Phyllis Ophelia, and Krill, and the feelings those moments dredged up. Dive in below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on Patio throughout 2016.

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I don’t really ever write things that aren’t related to “tech for cities,” so it’s taken me a whole hell of a long time to even START writing this down and to think about how to bound this year (when did it even start?  Does anyone remember?  Please advise.) because it’s been a long one.  Big and small, stretchy, recursive somehow.  I keep trying to isolate one musical memory but i’d have to put it in so much context (like, my story of my love of Krill is years long and others have told theirs so much better) that it would be so boring and long, so i’m just going to cop out and use Steven’s (very loose) frame here and talk about four randomly selected bits of bravery — if i can take the liberty of broadly defining that term — that made me feel a thing!

I

Dan Bejar sits down while he’s singing.  He just gets up there with a glass of water and he wanders around in between a ten piece band and a sold-out Webster Hall and then sometimes he sits down.  It might make you feel like he doesn’t care and that he’s phoning it in, that he’d rather be anywhere in the world more than here, a couple blocks south of Union Square on a Sunday night.  In fact, it does make you feel this way – the legendary wordplay’s crystal clear and the melodies bloom out like oil from under a leaky car but the performance is still flat (feeling weird saying this, who am i to make this call? Whatever, just reporting what i was thinking at the time, it’s important for the rest of the story, bear with me).

I was a little surprised, given the general vibe, that he came out for an encore, but he did, and then he just destroyed EVERYTHING.  The band pulled out some horn-heavy numbers and Bejar started going for high notes in an unusual way. There was this one crescendo — I don’t even remember which song they were playing, I was so engrossed — where I think maybe my whole life flashed before my eyes and it seemed as though Bejar had grown to at least twice his usual size. It also seemed like everyone in the whole room was snapped up together into some kind of everything-vortex that he was nonchalantly, expertly marshaling toward some kind of new frontier… or something.  I didn’t get a chance to figure out where we were going because everything dissipated really quickly and then we all left down some slow staircase, but I did know that I’d misjudged the whole thing and that Dan Bejar is definitely a wizard master from another dimension.

II

Ought was billed to play at the same time as Wilco at Pitchfork and i was VERY UPSET.  My brother and i treat festivals like a marathon – we get there early, we don’t ever sit down, and we eat only when its absolutely necessary. We hydrate on a rigid schedule (no alcohol!  could derail focus), we see as many things as possible, and we collapse at 10pm so we can do it all again the next day.  We did not foresee an evil scheduler conspiring against us, placing my two favorite bands playing the festival — Ought, who I had seen and was dying to see again, and Wilco, who I had never seen live and who I love from the depths of my dad-rock heart (aesthetic – cool dad c. 2006) — against each other in the first night headline slot.

Loren, Colin, and I rode, as David heroically drove, all the dang way to Pitchfork, where we met up with my brother. I was going to have to choose between the old and new and I was heartbroken! We took a leap and split the group in two, elder statesmen going to Wilco and the youth pushing up for Ought. We assumed Ought would play for less time than Wilco, and we camped out on the front right (for Ought).  This decision was perhaps our most brilliant call.  Right before they were to release Sun Coming Down, which was probably my favorite album this year, they closed the blue stage with a completely on-fire, in-control set of new and old material. They bravely conducted a sea of flailing and bouncing teens in the miserable heat and showed absolutely everyone up, including Wilco, whose set I did manage to catch as they launched into the hits after they finished playing Star Wars in full.  Thanks for that, Ought.

III

Phyllis Ophelia is both one of my oldest friends and the best songwriter I know.  She writes close and catchy songs about emptiness and risk and love and interpersonal activities. My favorite song of hers is called “Saint Hangover” and you really need to listen to it if you’re just a tiny bit hung over at work, trying to finish writing this piece… maybe that’s just me, OK, still, listen.  I was lucky enough to see her play again recently at the Sidewalk Café.  My favorite part of her performance was watching her pull back a bit, become fully aware of the explicit nature of some of her new material and of the presence of an audience hanging on these words, double down, gamely joke about “being embarrassed” on a mic break in a way that somehow cemented total mastery of the situation and of the central subject matter.  Thanks, Phyllis, for going there and for showing us that it’s OK for us to sing about our bodies and others’ bodies and how they fit together and what we want from them, if we want to, and for doing it so dang beautifully.

IV

Krill got out of the game and it seemed like a signal to close a chapter of some kind (this is what I told Gabe, though I don’t think I closed any chapter despite having one fewer wisdom tooth now than I did when I started listening to Krill, maybe that counts for something).  Thanks to a friend I managed a ticket to their last show, though thanks to dinner I missed Big Ups and half of the Frankie Cosmos set.  Got there just in time to squeeze into a spot in the back near the bathroom and the courtyard door, right in everyone’s way, where improbably, and conveniently, my friends were also standing.  Jonah was there too.  Though through some good friends I’ve met 2/3’s of krill, I’d still not met Jonah.  He’s not the kind of guy you feel like you know through his lyrics or through having seen him perform in many of the months of 2015 (probably 2015 was just my Year of Krill, really).  You feel like you can begin to bound the enigma but then “Torturer” comes out as a single and you have to start all over again, etc.

So, Jonah was by himself with a hoodie up next to the wall, and toward the end of the Frankie Cosmos set he turned toward the wall for some sort of private communion with something, maybe —  he was probably just tired and psyching himself up for the third NYC farewell show that week — but it felt both like I was intruding on something really private (it also feels like I’m violating that privacy by writing about this here… sorry, Krill) and that maybe he needed a hug.  I’m not a hugger, though, so I just sent vibes from my mind, of support and thanks because I really am grateful to Krill for having been Krill.  It can’t have been easy to be Krill and speak to, or for, those of us who thought a lot about our effects on others and on ourselves, who worried about how to feel every day, and who felt everything from complete control to utter aimlessness and disgust over the course of a 24 hour period, who cry to “Purity of Heart” (Loren), or drive the Dakota’s to “Alam No Hris” (Stephen and Gabe), or who were the reason for this whole madness in the first place (Bon), or who really think Aaron’s guitar tone is the best of anyone’s (me, vocally).  I will miss krill, but I’m glad I got to be there for it and I am very grateful to krill for having been.

In summary: everyone who makes music is the best, I love bands I love friends cool great 2015 thanks good ok!

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

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

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

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

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

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

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

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

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

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

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

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

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

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

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

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

8. Hop Along – Waitress

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

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

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

6. Julien Baker – Go On

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

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

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

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

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

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

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

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

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

1. Stove – Wet Food

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

2015: The Best of Watch This

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When Watch This was conceived it was done with the intent to not only critically examine the balance of filmmaking and live performance but celebrate the art of the live video, a format which seems to have fallen to the wayside despite being more fruitful than it’s been since it was introduced. There’s real power behind the clips that manage to seamlessly merge the best qualities of everything that goes into the best live performance videos and they can yield genuinely unforgettable moments (when everything kicks back in on “Waitress”, the held falsetto in “A Proper Polish Welcome”, and a whole host of other chill-inducing moments are scattered throughout this compilation). Those moments are the beating heart behind this series construction and they’re what sustains the project as it presses forward.

Well over 300 live clips were covered on this site in 2015 and this is a collection of 25 that genuinely stood out for one reason or another, whether it was the sheer joy in a performance (Diet Cig), the performer’s ability to freeze blood (Julien Baker, Dilly Dally, SOAK), the trio of artists who appeared on Watch This the most throughout this year (Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres), an electrifying presentation and performance (July Talk), or a clip that’s a fully functional masterclass in every category that elevates a clip from astonishing to transcendental (Glen Hansard). All of those and more have been plugged into this packet, which culminates in a tour de force reminder of the overwhelming power of what can be achieved on a live platform from the resurgent Sleater-Kinney as one final exclamation point for a truly extraordinary year. So, as always, sit up, focus, adjust the volume, and Watch This.

Watch the 2015 edition of the best-of compilation for Heartbreaking Bravery’s definitive recurring series, Watch This, below. The track list is available under the embed.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe)
2. July Talk – Paper Girl (Audiotree)
3. Ronny – Why Do You Have Kids (Gems On VHS)
4. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (BreakThruRadio)
5. Mikal Cronin – Say (WFUV)
6. Molly Parden – Weather (GemsOnVHS)
7. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)
8. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Pitchfork)
9. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)
10. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (KEXP)
11. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In the World? (ANTI-)
12. Diet Cig – Harvard (In the Attic)
13. SOAK – B a Nobody Blud (La Blogotheque)
14. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold (Strombo Sessions)
15. Alex G + Girlpool – Brite Boy (SPIN)
16. Footings (Jenn Harrington)
17. Mike Krol – Suburban Wasteland + Neighborhood Watch (KEXP)
18. Beach Slang – Get Lost (Cozy Couch Sessions)
19. Public Service Broadcasting – Go! (WNYC)
20. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast (ANTI-)
21. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)
22. Algiers – Blood (WFUV)
23. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (NPR)
24. Glen Hansard – McCormack’s Wall (ANTI-)
25. Sleater-Kinney (NPR)

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 7

PWR BTTM I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

The preceding galleries can be accessed via these links:

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 2
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 3
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 4
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5
2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Potty Mouth

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 4

Car Seat Headrest

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1

Radioactivity

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.