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Tag: Ovlov

18 of ’18: The Best Albums of the Year

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

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

Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

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

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

Slow Mass – Watch On

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

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

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

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

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

illuminati hotties – Kiss Yr Friends

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

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

Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

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

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

Ovlov – TRU

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

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

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

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

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

Lonely Parade – The Pits

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

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

Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

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

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

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There

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

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

Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

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

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

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

Big Ups – Two Parts Together

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

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

Fog Lake – captain

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

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

Evening Standards – Evening Standards

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

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

Long Neck – Will This Do?

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

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

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

Doe – Grow Into It

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

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

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

Half Waif – Lavender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

The Best Records of October 2018

October was an absolutely extraordinary month for record releases, seeing the unveiling of a large handful of Album of the Year contenders. A handful of site favorites offered up new material as well, with several of those titles appearing below. No matter the length (EP, LP, 7″, etc.), there was an abundance of memorable titles. Only one band of the 10 selected below had yet to appear in any of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage. As for the rest? They’re further solidifying their respective statuses as some of the most promising acts in music.

1. Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend 

On their sophomore full-length, Stove expand both their ambitions and their skyward sprawl with their most inspired release to date. Comprised of an existence’s worth of longing, fear, anxiety, tenderness, and understanding, ‘s Favorite Friend has the marks of a classic. Devastating and hopeful in turns, the Stove record marks the second astonishing album that Steve Hartlett’s released this year, following Ovlov‘s TRU. Deeply personal and all the more mesmeric for that trait, ‘s Favorite Friend reaffirms Hartlett’s enormous musical talent and provides a reassurance; you might not always entirely defeat your demons but making peace with some of them can go a long way.

2. Strange Ranger – How It All Went By

Strange Ranger have been enjoying a steady evolution that’s already paying increasing dividends. How It All Went By, the band’s latest, is their strongest release to date, continuing an upward trajectory that started several releases back. Unapologetic in its inventiveness, How It All Went By recalls the works of everyone from Joyce Manor to Neil Young, mining a select few genre’s for flourishes that complement the band’s core identity. Oddly hypnotic and abundantly warm, How It All Went By is an EP that’s worth owning.

3. IAN SWEET – Crush Crusher

The last time IAN SWEET released a record, the results were strong enough to catapult them from emergent act to critical darlings. Crush Crusher, the band’s most recent effort, is one of affirmation: the early praise was warranted. Explosive, thoughtful, and genre-resistant, IAN SWEET has crafted something that thrives in near-impossible dichotomies. Tender and violent, explosive and tranquil, urgent and contemplative, every last second of Crush Crusher comes laced with a certain amount of nervous energy, transforming the entire affair into a spellbinding experience.

4. Adeline Hotel – away together

After a few years of playing together, Adeline Hotel is starting to increase their pace. away together is a strong enough record that it could feasibly multiply their audience by some degree. A near perfect soundtrack for the transition from fall to winter, away together‘s indie folk reckonings lend an even greater familiarity to the everyday, giving the mundane greater meaning. Easily the strongest songs of the band’s young career, away together should leave the kind of mark that’s recalled fondly and without malice.

5. Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

A few name changes have taken place since Gabby’s World was awarded this site’s Album of the Year distinction for O.K. but the band’s heart remains unchanged. Beast On Beast makes that revelation plain from the record’s opening track, the breathtaking “Winter Withdraw”.  Guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith remains one of the more intuitive songwriters working today, gifting the record with airy melodies that carry punch and conviction. Beast On Beast, like the project’s best works, serves as both a rallying cry and a knowing offer of acceptance, doing its best to make sure there’s some warmth when the world gets cold.

6. Interbellum – Dead Pets, Old Griefs

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, only one project on this list had yet to make an appearance on Heartbreaking Bravery. Enter: Interbellum. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a fascinating effort from multi-instrumentalist Karl Maltar. Interbellum, Maltar’s project, enlisted several friends for a record that straddles the divides between indie pop, slacker punk, and bedroom pop, giving a distinctly modern twist to the kind of template that used to be a Sparklehorse specialty. For every memorably raucous moment on Dead Pets, Old Griefs, there are several hushed, deeply introspective ones to balance the scales. It’s a staggering work from a name worth remembering.

7. Strange Relations – Sideline Kid

One of the best, if not the best, post-punk projects the upper Midwest has  to offer, Strange Relations keep accelerating their own momentum. Last year the project released Editorial You, a record that showcased the band’s confidence. Just a year later, they’ve returned with their most restrained — and fascinating — effort to date in the 3-song EP Sideline Kid. The EP finds the band being increasingly adventurous with their ambient experimentation while remaining fearless in their bare-bones minimalism. All three tracks are fascinating for different reasons and the cumulative effect is potent enough to give Sideline Kid serious consideration as one of the year’s best EP’s.

8. GABI – Empty Me

A record that’s been anticipated for some time in very specific circles of the art world, GABI’s Empty Me finally arrived in full and lived up to the promise of the surrounding buzz. Haunting chamber pop of the highest order, Empty Me traffics in curious extremes, from emotive weight to the sprawl of the composition that serves as the record’s anchor. For all of the lightness Empty Me exudes in its softest moment, there’s a pervasive sense of doubt permeating its shadowy corners. An astonishingly complete work, Empty Me works its way towards unforgettable as it progresses, slowly immersing its listeners under the weight of the gravity felt at the record’s core.

9. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

The opening seconds of Last Building Burning make one thing extraordinarily clear: Cloud Nothings aren’t fucking around. After what some considered the lightest work of their career since Dylan Baldi turned his project from a one-man affair into a full band ordeal, Last Building Burning immediately lights a kerosene torch and takes off with reckless abandon. “On An Edge” is the most purposeful opener we’re likely to hear this year, with the band in a rare echelon of attack mode. Fortunately, the rest of the record backs its strength up with some of the band’s strongest songwriting. Easily one of 2018’s best outings, Last Building Burning is a potent reminder that aggression can be productive when wielded with care.

10. Yowler – Black Dog In My Path

A strong case can be made for Maryn Jones as one of the most vital musicians of this past decade. Jones has provided invaluable contributions to Saintseneca as a (now former) member, fronted All Dogs, contributed to records from bands like Radiator Hospital, released memorable solo material before and after any of that started happening, and has turned Yowler into a recognizable name. While Jones will inevitably downplay the impact those contributions have had, it’s an astonishing pedigree.

Yowler’s latest record, Black Dog In My Path, in some ways comes across as the sum of that experience: this is the broadest and most ambitious record to bear Jones’ name. It’s also one of the best. Trading in uforgiving self-deprecation and an acute awareness, Black Dog In My Path can be a punishing listen when it fixates on unthinkably low moments but the music breathes just enough optimism and life to make the whole thing feel unflinchingly human. One of the fullest realizations of Jones’ incredible talent, it’s a record that’ll still be worth visiting a decade down the line.

Two Weeks, Three Records

In nearly every two week run this year, it seems like there’s been a record that’s posed a legitimate threat to crack a handful of year-end lists. It’s been true from literally the opening seconds of 2018, which saw the surprise release of Jeff Rosenstock‘s exceptional POST-. While there have been a few lulls in select spots, that intensity’s remained and fueled a great year for music. A trio of records that emerged over the past few weeks have the kind of potency to either crack those lists or carve out a spot as a well-hidden cult favorite. All three are worth hearing. Dive in below.

Ovlov – TRU

The three advance singles that teased Ovlov‘s unexpected comeback album, TRU, all netted featured positions and seemed to suggest the band was operating in rare form. Turns out, that suggestion only scratched the surface of what turned out to be a monumental effort from the recently reunited act. The finest Ovlov record by some margin, TRU is a towering behemoth that could only exist through the lens of a band that’s kept finding ways to survive themselves. An examination of impulse, longing, and mental health, TRU bristles and seethes at an unmatched velocity, anchored by the burden of knowledge.

Scintillating from start to finish, buoyed by a series of inspired moments, TRU is tethered together with a narrative through line that makes it feel overwhelmingly whole, even in the face of its persistent ruminations on incompletion. While the band still finds life at the intersection of grunge, slacker punk, and basement pop, the way they’ve reshaped that musical identity on TRU is commendable. Wielding an expanded palette, a seemingly limitless scope, and a desire to improve, Ovlov have created what’s easily one of 2018’s finest records. Additionally, TRU acts as a very welcome reminder of a singular band’s extraordinary talent.

Pipsy – Users

Giddy, scrappy basement pop gifted with dream pop and powerpop sensibilities, Pippy’s Users was an incredibly welcome find what had been proving to be an otherwise desolate patch of new releases. The kind of record that makes sifting through an endless amount of dreck worthwhile, Users is teeming with the liveliness that can serve as its own adrenaline injection. Full of hooks, the record never eases off its acceleration pedal, resulting in a ragged, irresistible collection of distinctly crafted basement pop.

Sean Henry – Fink

It’d been apparent from Fink‘s advanced tracks that Sean Henry had tapped into something a little more otherworldly than usual, swinging from one contemporary reference point to another but refusing to offer tidy reconciliations. A record that’s intentionally opaque, Fink weaponizes its musical palette and allows it to convey emotional heft in lieu of easily idenitifiable narratives; the musical equivalent of Shane Carruth’s absorbing Upstream Color. A record that’s content to soak in the dirt and the grime of the world, wallow in its own carefully guarded desperation, and reluctantly admit to slivers of hope, Fink finds Sean Henry operating at a new, fascinating level. It’s a journey worth the misguided shortcuts, scratches, and tangles. Every bruise is worth earning in Fink‘s fucked up wonderland of folk-tinged, psych-damaged, punk-learned basement pop.

The Best Songs of June 2018’s Final Half

A ridiculous amount of great songs came out over the final half of June 2018, roughly tripling the output of music videos and records. In accordance, the below list will be expanded from the preceding features’ three-slot format to a selection of nine. As usual, there’s a fairly vast palette of styles and influences to sample, each song offering up a distinctly unique thrill. Dive into the fray and get swept up in the chaos.

Whitney Ballen – Go

The first look at the fantastic forthcoming You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship. Ballen uses a hushed vocal — one that’s curiously reminiscent of Nicole Dollanganger — on “Go” like a weapon, drawing the listener into a difficult narrative that acts as an effective counterweight to the casually optimistic sheen embedded into the musical arrangement. A fascinating presentation of the dichotomies resonating at the center of most mental health struggles, “Go”, while brilliant, only scratches the surface of Ballen’s capabilities.

Curling – Still Green

Following their appearance in the Best Songs list for June 2018’s first half, Curling come back to top themselves with “Still Green.” A basement pop rave-up that exudes the intensely relatable weariness of the slacker punk movement of the early ’90s, “Still Green” incorporates enough modern bent to ensure it won’t fall prey to accusations of tired revivalism. There’s an abundance of life thriving at the song’s surface and Curling makes sure each of the song’s 164 seconds land with maximum impact.

Ovlov – Stick

Not to be outdone by Curling’s repeat heroics as a featured act, Ovlov notch their third consecutive feature nod with the brooding, explosive “Stick”. All three songs to tease the band’s upcoming Tru have made a formidable case that we’re on the verge of hearing one of the year’s best records. While the first two — “Spright” and “Short Morgan” — relied on volume and power, “Stick” ensures that Tru won’t be a one-note affair. Unexpected, oddly moving, and incredibly engaging, “Stick” is a song that deserves to be left on repeat.

Sean Henry – Imperfection

Sean Henry‘s past work has been unfairly overlooked for all the usual, dispiriting reasons but the songwriter’s latched on to something with Fink that just might be strong enough to overcome those intangible obstacles. “Imperfection” was the final track to be released ahead of Fink‘s unveiling and it ably showcases an artist in full control of their creative powers. From the production choices to the delivery itself, “Imperfection” winds up coming surprisingly close to standing as a direct opposite of its own title.

Dentist – Corked

A familiar name to the site, Dentist have been steadily working towards their big moment, earning every lesson and success that’s come their way. In that pursuit, they’ve released a handful of great songs but “Corked”, their latest, doesn’t just set a new high but a new precedent. The band’s lit onto something that feels wholly their own and are prepared to accelerate their pacing from a jog to a sprint. “Corked”, as fine a basement pop song as anyone’s likely to hear this season, is a tantalizing indicator of what Dentist has in store for the future.

Slothrust – Peach

Slothrust‘s another name that’s been printed on these pages a handful of times and “Peach” is the latest reason to type it out. The lead-off single from The Pact, “Peach” is a galvanizing burst of the band’s singular brand of slacker pop. More immediate and self-contained than a lot of the trio’s earlier work, “Peach” makes a morsel feel like a mouthful, before becoming an entire meal. It’s the band’s shortest single to date but it lingers when it’s gone. Don’t miss this one.

Jonathan Something – Fine

Clocking in at just under two minutes, Jonathan Something’s “Fine” still finds time to stand out. A throwback pop song that reveals an astonishing array of influences (everything from Motown to disco to powerpop), “Fine” manages to feel comfortably familiar and thrillingly new over the course of its brief run time. Jonathan Something delivers it all with poise, conviction, and a sincerity that translates into one of the year’s most purely enjoyable songs.

Tony Molina – Wrong Town

A master of the micro song, Tony Molina has found a niche way to thrive since the earliest Ovens songs. Even as Molina’s edges have softened, there’s been a profound sense of assurance that’s cut through the noise. In addition to that gentle confidence, there’s always been a palpable sense of place; Molina knows the places worth belonging to even as his narratives question definitive decision-making. “Wrong Town” is the latest in a string of tender, ’60s-influenced folk-adjacent pieces. Warm and heartrending, “Wrong Town” deserves a visit.

Gia Margaret – Birthday

Gia Margaret‘s “Birthday” is a genre-demolishing track that’s been roping listeners into its orbit since its initial release. Bits of dream pop, shoegaze, and shoegaze find fascinating new intersections throughout the song, which is anchored by Margaret’s soft, spellbinding vocal performance. From front to back, “Birthday” is breathtaking in its unexpected scope and considerable beauty. A transcendent, mesmerizing work.

 

The Best Songs of June’s First Half

As evidenced by the last handful of posts, the first two weeks of June were not short on exceptional material. Songs, by virtue of length and abundance, had an especially strong showing. The five below include a few career highlights from longtime favorites and a few impressive entries from fresher faces. All of them would be perfect additions to the warm weather playlists being pulled into existence as spring melts into summer. Discover their strength below.

Ovlov – Short Morgan

If anyone had any doubts that Ovlov would be better than they’ve ever been should they return, “Short Morgan” should permanently erase those thoughts. One of the fiercest tracks the band’s released to date, “Short Morgan” is an adrenaline surge that marries the elements that catapulted Dinosaur Jr to cult icons with the frustration-laced introspection that’s come to define Ovlov’s identity. Ragged, vicious, and pointed, “Short Morgan” is more than enough to suggest we might be looking at one of the year’s great albums in their forthcoming TRU.

The Beths – Happy Unhappy

Making a return to the spotlight, The Beths deliver in kind with “Happy Unhappy”, an unexpected summer anthem. Twee-leaning powerpop through a punk-tinged lens, “Happy Unhappy” is a sugar rush of ingenuity, layering hook after hook until the band’s built something as towering as it is irresistible. Everything from the persistent backing vocals to the guitar interplay in the pre-chorus and on the bridge combines to leave “Happy Unhappy” standing tall as The Beths finest work. Give this one the attention it deserves.

The Ophelias – General Electric

Much like The Beths “Happy Unhappy”, The Ophelias “General Electric” is tailor made for a carefree summer afternoon. A hypnotic collage of sounds, “General Electric” expertly blends powerpop with some twee and experimental trappings. Brilliantly produced by WHY?‘s Yoni Wolf and impeccably structured, it’s an immensely welcome introduction-at-large for an incredibly promising act. Every second of this is captivating, creating an enchanting pull that’s difficult to refuse. A collection of clever twist and turns, it marks The Ophelias as a band worth hearing.

Curling – Radio King

Basement pop that’s informed by post-punk and runs slightly askew is a hallmark of Heartbreaking Bravery’s general coverage and is presented in its fullest potential on Curling’s “Radio King”. Utilizing vocals that are more than a little reminiscent of Ted Leo, Curling avoids comparisons to The Pharmacists outright by embracing a more disjointed approach. Falling somewhere in between the genre lines drawn by Flying Nun and Rough Trade, “Radio King” shows Curling are more than comfortable planting their flag in the in-between. “Curling King” is the perfect way to reveal that flag’s mesmeric colors.

Free Cake For Every Creature – Around You

Capping off a trio of songs that expertly blends twee shrapnel with powerpop aesthetics, Free Cake For Every Creature‘s “Around You” is a strong reminder of the talent at the heart of the project. Driven by a hyper-specific narrative and imaginative instrumentation, “Around You” finds Free Cake For Every Creature reaching new heights ahead of their forthcoming The Bluest Star. Destined to be a staple of the project’s live show for years to come, the song offers an embarrassment of riches, from the guitar work that graces the chorus to the restrained delivery. It’s unmissable.

Ovlov – Spright (Stream)

From last Friday to the start of this week there were a handful of new songs that made an impact from artists like Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Luna Pines, Oh Sees, ahem, The Tamed West, Oldermost, Two People, Harrison Lipton, Samson, io & Titan, and a memorable music video from Dumb. There was also the long-anticipated return of Ovlov, following a string of reunion appearances after their last departure. “Spright”, the band’s first song following their four year near-absence, was worth the wait.

Steve Hartlett, Ovlov’s bandleader, found a way to refine some creative impulses with Stove (a band that walked away with this site’s pick for 2015’s Song of the Year) and has put that education to good use in “Spright”. A song that teems with the kind of melancholic frustration and open yearning that’s defined so much of Hartlett’s past body of work, “Spright” still manages to feel incredibly assured. Even considering the time away, Ovlov is a band that’s fully aware of its identity, and their grappling comes with a level of certainty.

Some things are big enough to force a reckoning and “Spright”, finds its narrative examining the implications of how we can challenge our own comfort by engaging more fearlessly with free will. Backed by an inspired swirl of guitars and a menacing rhythm section, “Spright” manages to erupt. As vicious as it is thoughtful, it’s the perfect way to welcome Ovlov back and stands as an extraordinarily promising first look at their upcoming TRU.

Listen to “Spright” below and pre-order TRU from Exploding In Sound here.

Watch This: The Best of 2017’s First Quarter, Pt. IV

In the final segment of the Watch This revival spread, the focus — as it was in part three — continues to be placed on sessions that deserving artists did for quality outlets. Only this time around, the sessions aren’t encompassed into one video, they’re sliced up into individual clips, which have been strung together here for the sake of expediency. While the video counter may show a very intimidating 71 for the amount of videos featured, it’s really only 25 performances (with most being only two or three songs overall). Even if it’s unlikely that someone will find the time to watch through every last one of these clips, there’s an equally likely chance that someone may wind up finding a new favorite band or song. All of it’s worth exploring to a great extent and each clip — and performance — deserves praise. So, as always, sit up straight, adjust the settings, take a deep breath, lean in, focus, and Watch This.

PART IV

1. Cloud Nothings (KCRW)
2. Screaming Females (Moschcam)
3. Fraser A. Gorman (World Cafe)
4. Hazel English (KCRW)
5. NE-HI (JBTV)
6. Sad13 (Paste)
7. Heat (Indie88)
8. Potty Mouth (JBTV)
9. Ovlov (Little Elephant)
10. The Regrettes (Jam in the Van)
11. Ron Gallo (World Cafe)
12. Stef Chura (Paste)
13. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya (Audiotree)
14. Diet Cig (Paste)
15. Hockey Dad (Moshcam)
16. Slaughter Beach, Dog (Little Elephant)
17. Death By Unga Bunga (Paste)
18. Slow Mass (Audiotree)
19. Lady Lamb (Paste)
20. AJJ (Little Elephant)
21. Jesca Hoop (WFUV)
22. Ratboys (Little Elephant)
23. Alejandro Escovedo (WFUV)
24. Kate Davis (ONE ON ONE)
25. Strand of Oaks (World Cafe)

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Ben Grigg)

ben grigg
Photograph by Mark Federighi

We lost a lot of great bands in 2015 to varying degrees of mourning and despair. Krill’s final bow obviously struck a nerve but it’s important to remember that they weren’t the only band to step down. While Ovlov managed to find a spiritual continuation via Stove, Geronimo! — who I penned a hybrid eulogy/review for back in March, just a small handful of months after they played this site’s first showcase — have taken a somewhat different path. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson and keys master Ben Grigg have been devoting their time to various new projects. All of them will undoubtedly be worth hearing. Grigg was kind enough to reflect on the loss of Ovlov and what it meant to him to be at their final show. Read it below and make sure you see your friends’ bands while they’re still around.

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2015 was a year of change for me. Every year changes people, but last year was a big one for me. The band I had played in since 2007, Geronimo!, called it quits, I left the comfort of a familiar job for the intimidating challenge of a new one, and I moved into a house far from my old neighborhood to the west side of Chicago. The good thing about change though is that it usually forces growth. You lose some comfort for the sake of coming closer to who you want to be. That’s the hope at least.

Pretty soon after our band played its last show, the realization set in that I had no plans for my free time. Intellectually, I had known the that this would happen, but I was not prepared for the reality of it. I would come home after work and have nothing to do. Every day of the week. I found myself contemplating what the hell I was doing with my life. Shit.

Suddenly, amidst all the free time and emo soul searching, I developed an itch to get a plane ticket and travel out to Brooklyn for a weekend. It became imperative. At the time, it wasn’t clear to me why I had to do this. But, with some distance, I can see what was going on in my head. Without playing shows, I wasn’t getting out east to see the friends I had made through past tours. I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get out there again and somehow it seemed like a way to get some closure on that part of band life.

As luck would have it, some pals of mine in a band called Clearance from Chicago were playing in June at Shea Stadium. It seemed like as good a time as any. I joked to the guys in Clearance that I’d see them In Brooklyn but I doubt they believed me. A few days later, Ovlov announced that they would be playing their last show that same weekend, also at Shea. That sealed the deal. I bought plane tickets.

Getting to see Ovlov one last time was especially meaningful to me.We first played with them back in 2011 on an east coast tour and got along with them pretty immediately. On that tour they invited us to their friend’s beach house in Rhode Island. Drinks that night famously consisted almost entirely of Beer 30. We had to leave pretty early the next morning for a long drive to the next show, but awoke to find a bunch of groceries meant for us and a hilariously illegible note from Ovlov and their friend Gator. It was about the coolest thing that had happened to us as a band. Over the next four years, we played with Ovlov many more times and got to know them. They felt like our first real band friends.

I don’t have too many vivid memories from watching them play that last show at Shea. It’s more of a mixture of visceral fleeting moments. Feeling the floor moving, getting my ears blasted, chanting along to “I can’t wait to watch TV”. It was the perfect goodbye to Ovlov, and somehow, in the most cliche way possible, a goodbye to a part of my life. I’ll be in other bands, hopefully I’ll come out to the east coast again and see a lot of the same people. But, that experience, that specific part of my life was gone.

That night, I stayed up with friends waiting until the wee hours of the morning when my flight left LaGuardia. These are the kind of friends that I had the privilege of making from being in a band. The kind that will stay up until 5am after a show to see you off. It was the perfect end to the weekend. All things told, I got to reconnect and hang out with a ton of people that had made my experiences playing in Geronimo so meaningful. It was all I could have hoped for and it made me feel so damn thankful to have had the opportunity to play music and meet all these great people.

By the end of the year, I was back playing music with friends in Chicago. With any luck, 2016 will be a year of first shows, not last ones. New growth. Every year can’t be a 2015, but it’s good to have them every now and then.

-Ben Grigg

CMJ: Day 4 Review

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With the fourth day of CMJ kicking off and the level of work required to keep up with the festival starting to take its toll, I slept through the alarm clock I had set to ensure I could catch LVL UP‘s early set at Palisades to kick off Exploding In Sound’s joint CMJ showcase and fourth birthday celebration. Running in just after the band had torn down left a sinking feeling that was quickly replaced with contentment as the Leapling project found its stride in a (mostly) solo set– the bassist from Dirty Dishes joined in on two songs– of gentle pop songs. Despite missing LVL UP, it was a wonderful way to sink into the day’s proceedings.

Flagland took a while to set up but even that couldn’t match the ambition or length of their new songs, which feel like a collection of fully-realized micro-punk songs condensed into a long-running, coherent whole. All of the songs the band was testing out were rooted in their dynamics and exceeded 10 minutes in length, finding intriguing ways to bridge the gaps between sections that were frequently radically different from each other, despite being housed in the same structure. Look out for their upcoming record because it’ll be one of the more fascinating releases of whatever time it arrives.

Swings, who have down-scaled their quiet aggression into something more quiet and moody offered up a set that acted as an epilogue of sorts to Flagland’s bold madness. They cycled through songs that felt tranquil but never uninteresting. Retaining the sense of mystery that made them so compelling to begin with, the band sounded confident and looked relaxed. They also provided one of the day’s most unexpected highlights by bringing out their current tourmate, Mal Devisa, to perform one of her numbers with the band backing her and Devisa delivered in full, giving a commanding one-song performance that drew what may have been the day’s loudest applause.

Dirty Dishes and Kal Marks played next, each offering different takes on off-kilter post-punk with grunge and shoegaze influences. The former opted to go the more serene route (while still making room for a few fiery moments) to tremendous effect while the latter dug deep into the sludgy darkness that permeates both genres when they’re at their most menacing. Back to back, it was an extraordinarily effective combination that established a sense of building momentum, which is a feat that a lot of lineups aim for but few ever accomplish. Both bands tested out new songs and each act had the audience’s attention held rapt. One practiced finesse while the other embraced chaos, acting as an intriguing sign of things to come.

Following Kal Marks’ explosive performance was another pairing, this one even more pragmatic: Washer and Stove. While the former’s been subsumed by the latter, they’re still their own project and have a genuinely great set of songs scheduled for release in early 2016. The vast majority of their set stuck to the new material, which is easily some of the duo’s best, while still making room for a few crowd favorites. After technical problems killed off Steve Hartlett’s guest solo towards the end of Washer’s set, he was joined by the last remaining member of Stove to lead Washer through their final songs as a quarter before they all took a break and reassembled for a Stove set.

Ostensibly a slight continuation of Hartlett’s previous project, Ovlov, his current one is making some serious moves. Even before Is Stupider‘s release, it’s clear that Stove’s harboring some of Hartlett’s career best-work and that the project contains, and is surrounded by, people who genuinely believe in this music. Crafting towering anthems of damaged hope and unwavering resiliency, it’s hard not to fiercely connect to what’s happening here, which is beginning to feel downright vital. “Wet Food“, the project’s current calling card, is one of the year’s finest songs and its best qualities are only amplified live, cultivating an unforgettable feeling of near-transcendence every time it hits (it’s one of the few songs that’s given me chills in a live setting on more than one occasion). Closing with a monstrous number that has an exhilarating outro section that stretches into forever, it’s difficult to think that this band doesn’t have huge things waiting for it, just around the wing.

Palm continued their massive 2015, which has seen them carve out a massively respected name for themselves, with another set of enviable musicianship and tight-knit chemistry. All of the band’s songs are puzzles with interlocking pieces that tend to immediately swivel into something genuinely unexpected and occasionally jarring (in the best way possible).

That kind of commitment to excessively complicated craft often leaves the players fairly confined so the transition from Palm to Greys was a startling– but welcome– one. Greys are one of the single most energetic live bands playing out on the circuit and they brought every inch of that inspired fervor to the Palisades stage where they ripped through a career-spanning set with reckless abandon, including a brand new song (“We wrote this like two days ago”, quipped guitarist/vocalist Shehzaad Jiwani) that sounded incredibly promising. It was a characteristically ferocious set that went a long way in proving that the band’s far from done.

The Spirit of the Beehive and Big Ups followed Greys, each bringing their own brand of manic energy to the Palisades stage. The Spirit of the Beehive, a five-piece, dipped into a raucous set of slacker pop songs with a surprising amount of emotion and nuance, while taking the volume back up to punishing levels. Stretching over their limited but enviable catalog, it was an extraordinary set from an act that still doesn’t seem to be getting the attention they genuinely deserve.

Big Ups, however, have been picking up plenty of attention and that focus is warranted. The band’s one of the best live acts in a city overflowing with bands trying to stake a claim to that throne but falling excessively short of Big Ups at their worst. Thankfully, that was far from the case here which saw Big Ups celebrating their own anniversary and pulling out one of the most blistering sets of the night, once again reminding everyone of their curious power.

Another act having a career-making year, Palehound, closed out the showcase with a set that prominently featured this year’s excellent Dry Food. As a few people were quick to point out, the band was playing as a trio and not as a quartet as the previous incantation of the band had been. Regardless, Ellen Kempner led her band through a set of songs that definitely managed to make an impression. Impressive musicianship abounded and the band landed every one of their blows, providing the showcase with a graceful exit.

As soon as Palehound’s set wrapped, despite not having eaten or drank anything for approximately 16 hours, I ran over to Silent Barn to catch the remainder of the Double Double Whammy showcase and got there just a song or two into what proved to be another memorable Downies set. The band, made up of various members from other great bands, was in fine form and playing with the sort of intensity you’d expect from a band that cites Radioactivity (and The Marked Men, by extension) as one of its bigger influences. Closing things out with a monumental track from their forthcoming LP, the band left the audience dancing and hungry for more.

Eskimeaux, playing out with a new bassist, quickly sated their appetites with another spellbinding set comprised of songs from O.K., which may very well be this year’s best record. Playing with their usual amount of grace, the band connected to their audience with ease, serenading them with tales of personal longing and unspeakable loss. Through it all, guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith stayed the project’s centerpiece, striking a commanding presence that always felt welcoming rather than imposing, like a warm embrace from an old friend. In that near-familial sense, Eskimeaux succeeded in playing up the communal aspects of the recently re-opened Silent Barn to heartwarming effect. Before stepping off the stage, it was abundantly clear that everyone in the audience was on her side.

Capping the day’s events off was another incredibly strong set from LVL UP, half of which run Double Double Whammy, to an adoring crowd that was clearly there to show their support for everything the band’s done. After missing them at the very start of the day, catching them closing thing down only managed to bolster an already pervasive feeling of triumph. Tearing through their discography with gleeful determination, the band led a sizable late-night crowd in massive singalongs, and affirmed their love by delivering one of the day’s most memorable sets. It was yet another perfect ending to a day that offered absolutely no reprieve. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.

14 of ’14: The Best Splits of 2014

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Once again, it feels necessary to start with a (likely unnecessary) disclaimer about the word “best” when it comes to year-end posts. “Best”, in nearly every case, is just shorthand for “most admired”, it’s not a stab at a definitive statement; in these kinds of rankings there’s no room for any perceived objectivity. Another quick note before diving into this list in earnest; for all year-end coverage, the first person narrative restriction that’s usually implemented here will be dropped to allow me to speak on a more personal level, as these are the released that affected me personally and reflect my own personal tastes. 2014 was a fairly strong year for split releases, which are experiencing a new level of exposure thanks to the renewed interest in cassettes and vinyl, as those are the two formats they’re on most frequently. There were two, three, and four band splits released over the past 12 months that ranked among my favorite releases in any format. As holds true for every year, not everything can be listened to (I’m sure something like the extremely limited-run Florist/Eskimeaux tape is incredible but I came to it too late to snag a copy) Labels have been rallying around these releases particularly hard, in part because there’s an allowance for collaboration with other like-minded labels that isn’t always possible with standard single-band releases. From bands covering each other on flip sides of the same tape to bands trading off places throughout a release to a few of the year’s best songs, there’s a lot to explore in the list below- a list that cheats the “14” rule ever so slightly with the rules being bent for the top two spots (it just didn’t seem fair to have two bands being responsible for four of the top five spots). Dive on in and hear 14(+) of the splits that deserve homes in as many collections as possible.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A few of the releases included below are set to autoplay in weird parts of these releases so keep an eye out and listen to each in full.]

14. Adult Mom / Cyberbully Mom Club / i tried to run away when i was 6 (but got too scared to cross the street)

Cyberbully Mom Club quietly put together one of the most impressive runs of genuinely great releases this year and this split- with Adult Mom (who also had a pretty great year) and i tried to run away when i was 6 (but got too scared to cross the street)– still managed to be a standout effort. As spellbinding as it sincere, it’s a record worth keeping around for a very long while.

13. Big Ups / Washer

Big Ups are easily one of the most exciting bands of today and they keep pushing themselves to go further with each subsequent release. On this split with Washer, both bands give it their all and wind up with one of the stronger short entries in Exploding in Sound’s ridiculously impressive 2014 catalog.

12. Dikembe / The Jazz June

A resurgent The Jazz June came out of a 12 year absence with their best song to date (and one of the catchiest chorus hooks of the year) and had it paired with an up-and-coming band that shared some of their best qualities. Between the two songs on display here, the split the two bands released felt more complete and unified than a lot of bands’ own full-lengths.

11. Joyce Manor / Toys That Kill

Never Hungover Again earned Joyce Manor typically strong critical returns but it was their split with outsider punk perennials Toys That Kill that hit hardest. Each of the four songs included in this split feature both bands at their absolute best; tinkering with the lines that separate punk from pop with an exacting, exhilarating precision.

10. Dog / Big Neck Police

Damaged. Delirious. Dangerous. Terrifying. Four words that could all aptly describe the relentlessly aggressive bleakness of this split between Dog and Big Neck Police. Seven songs that offer the perfect descent into complete and total chaos while flirting with tension dynamics to create a genuinely pulverizing effect.


9. Big Eyes / Post Teens

Big Eyes have been releasing incredible material ever since their demo so it’s no surprise that this split with Post Teens (who also had an excellent split with Rose Cross this year) fought its way into this list. Pairing with Post Teens proved to be surprisingly sensible as both bands like to go full-force as much as possible and- more often than not (this split being one example)- wind up with rousing results.

8. Trust Fund / Lone Omi / Something

Utilizing a little-used tactic can create intrigue pretty instantaneously and the decision to alternate bands throughout this six song set- formally titled Sick of Hits Vol. 2- is something that pays off beautifully. Reeks of Effort is a label that’s built its name around bands that challenge the conception of twee; any time there’s a danger of things becoming overtly whimsical they get cut to shreds by barbed wire. It’s a dynamic that makes Reeks of Effort’s roster- and Sick of Hits Vol. 2– worth celebrating.

7. Speedy Ortiz / Chris Weisman

“Doomsday” isn’t just one of the best songs of this year, it’s arguably the best of Speedy Ortiz’s career (and possibly even one of the best of the decade). That song alone would have been strong enough to land this release- the best of the laudable LAMC series to date- a spot on this list. Fortunately, it’s backed by a beautifully plaintive song from Chris Weisman (whose Monet in the 90’s was one of this year’s hidden gems) that somehow holds its own as the flipside to such a powerful song. Together, they make for the year’s best two-song release.

6. Girlpool / Slutever

I haven’t made even the slightest effort to hide my love of Girlpool, a young duo that embodies things which make them worth rallying behind. Here, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad cover their friends in Slutever (who return the favor) while contributing two arresting originals. While Slutever haven’t quite enjoyed Girlpool’s level of exposure, they stepped up to the plate for this split and connected hard enough to create what should be some long-lasting repercussions. Fierce and unapologetic, it’s definitive proof that neither band’s going to be backing down anytime soon.

5. Bad History Month / Dust From 1000 Years

Staring At My Hands” is a song that’s come to mean quite a lot to me over the past few months and it’s the strongest moment on this split cassette/split LP from Bad History Month (formerly Fat History Month/Sad History Month) and Dust From 1000 Years. That’s not to downplay any of the others; this is a genuinely mesmerizing release at every turn. Willfully left-field and wrapped in the same cloth, it reverberates long after the final notes of the hazily elegiac “Party Song”.

4. Mannequin Pussy / Dog Legs

One of the year’s most unexpectedly incendiary releases, this weird anomaly (it can- somehow- rightfully be called both a split and an EP compilation) was a sharp, glancing punch to the face. Teeth get bared, sharpened fingernails get flashed, and fists get clenched ten times over. Mannequin Pussy and Dog Legs both turn things up to 11 and advance their agendas with brute force. Immediate, engaging, and intimidatingly powerful, it easily ranks among 2014’s finest releases. During the split’s limited release run it also came with the added bonus of a 16 page zine featuring artwork from both acts.

3. Whirr / Nothing

Both Whirr and Nothing, two of the biggest names in today’s crop of shoegaze-heavy bands, released full-lengths this year. While both of those releases were well worth spending time on, it wasn’t until they came together that they made something extraordinary. Every song on this split ranks in the realms of career-best for both acts, as if they were all successive dares rooted in incredibly formidable one-upmanship. At four songs, this managed to stand out as one of 2014’s most impressively towering releases; the scope and depth of each song is a complete shock because of how expansive they manage to become without ever tipping into the comically bombastic. An extraordinary effort from two bands that sound incredible together (which is unsurprising, considering they share at least one member) and completely revitalized in such a contained setting.

2. Joanna Gruesome (Joanna Gruesome / Perfect Pussy, Joanna Gruesome / Trust Fund, Joanna Gruesome / Tyrannosaurus Dead)

In 2014, there were two bands that aimed for the fences and went way beyond when it came to split releases. Joanna Gruesome was one of them. It would have been much more of a nightmare for the rankings between these two had Joanna Gruesome’s split with Tyrannosaurs Dead included a new song rather than one of Weird Sister‘s many highlights. Between their extraordinary Astonishing Adventures split with site favorites Perfect Pussy (whose contributions were as dazzling as anything they’ve done) and their split EP with site favorites Trust Fund, they were responsible for half of two of the year’s finest releases- and what halves they were. “Psykick Espionage”, “Jerome (Liar)”, “…And Keep on Reaching for Those Stars”, “Reading the Wrappers”, “No Pressure”, “Scared”. Six songs that would have made up one of the best EP’s of any of the past 10 years or more. Joanna Gruesome are quickly turning into an unstoppable force of nature and pretty soon there are only going to be two options: get caught up in their spell or get the hell out of their way.


1. Ovlov (Ovlov / Little Big League, Krill / LVL UP / Ovlov / Radiator Hospital, Ex-Breathers / Ovlov / Gnarwhal / Woozy)

If any band had a more impressive year with splits than Joanna Gruesome, it was Ovlov. Turning in some of the year’s best songs (“The Great Crocodile” and “Ohmu’s Shell”, respectively) on the year’s best four-band split and what was easily one of 2014’s best two-band splits (with Little Big League’s “Year of the Sunhouse” also registering as one of 2014’s strongest highlights) is no small feat. Their contribution to their split with Gnarwhal, Woozy, and Ex-Breathers was that release’s strongest moment- they had a lot more competition from Krill, LVL UP (“Big Snow” being yet another year-end worthy highlight on its own accord), and Radiator Hospital (though both still would have earned a spot somewhere on this list had it been kept to individual releases). Ovlov’s songs- much like the songs on display in the Whirr/Nothing split- are absolute monsters, showcasing the band’s range in a breathtaking display of power. Should any of these songs be good indicators for the full-length Ovlov is ramping up to, then we’re in for some serious fireworks whenever it drops. For now, this small collection of songs is more than enough to tide anyone over until- and then well past- that album’s release.