Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Palehound

2018: A Long Look, A Longer Listen (The First Two Months)

A persistent and all-consuming myth among people that refuse to commit a shred of investment to any sort of search is that “good music just doesn’t exist anymore.” It’s the same sort of thinking present in the cavalcade of thoughtless attempts to shift any sort of blame for societal ills to a younger generation based solely on an outlook that was defined by a vastly different era. Fortunately, there are a host of artists to emphatically disprove brand of thinking and act as a counter to what could be construed as a subtle, insidious form of ageism. Below there are literally hundreds of links providing access to various songs, music videos, and records.

All of them are worth a shot and a good many of them are vastly different from their surrounding links. Each of those items came out in 2018 and there’s an entire world more of them waiting to be discovered by the people willing to put in the work. So use these as a starter pack of sorts or just scroll through and see what today’s musicians can offer. It’s a boundless scope and when its allowed to not just exist but thrive, there are a multitude of reasons to celebrate. Enjoy.

SONGS

Okkervil River, Hop Along, OughtFrøkedal, ConnectionsNoble Son, Mount EerieRich Girls, DuskTherese Litner, Soccer MommyHindsEric Benoit, JACK (x2), The Radio Dept., Parker Longbough, Rat Kid CoolWhy Bonnie (x2), Holy Now (x2), High Sunn (x2), Odina, Spielbergs, The Breeders, Shark ToysJouska (x2), Yazan, Johanna Warren, No Thank You, Drive Me Home Please, Your Old Droog, Charly Bliss, Liza Anne, Father John Misty, Rolling Blackouts C.F., Chemtrails, Katie Von SchleicherWavves & Culture Abuse, VALES, Sharaya Summers, Katie Dey, War On Women, The Goldberg Sisters (x2), Busdriver (x2), Queen of Jeans (x2), Shell of A Shell (x2), Soccer Mommy (x2)

Bodies Be Rivers, Cold Fronts, Three Man Cannon, Russian Baths (x2, 3), Rachel Angel, Francobollo, Big Air, Dryspell (x2), Deanna Petcoff, Sam Levin, Good Air, Helena DelandTrès Oui, Josh Rouse, Sarah Mary ChadwickDustedBonny Doon, Jay Som (x2), Golden Drag, In Tall Buildings, Mastersystem, The Love-Birds, School Disco, Caroline Rose, Zomber, Drawing Boards, SALES, Big Bliss, Wax IdolsErika Wennerstrom (x2), Droopies, Jalen N’GondaKid Dakota (x2), Haley Hendrickx, Tim Kuhl, Sunflower Bean, BambaraBenjamin Lazar Davis (x2), Hanz, Courtney Marie Andrews (x2), Verge Collection, Now, Now, Lowpines, Hurry (x2), Pole Siblings, Birds of Passage

Bush Tetras, Maria Kelly, Rafiq Bahtia, Cut Worms, Death By Unga Bunga, Sitcom, Natalie Shay, Wussy, Citris, Sculpture Club, TheodoreElan Noon (x2), Avalon, Terror Pigeon, Greg Mendez, Neil O’NeilDélage (x2, 3), Anna McClellan, Nap Eyes (x2), BILK, Malena Zavala, Camp Cope, Guerilla Toss, Damaged Bug, Gentle Leader XIV, Kraus, Bummerville (x2), WINDHAND, Numb.erErik Phillips, Oberon Rose, Lizzie Loveless, Hot Snakes, Girlpool, American Nightmare, Dr. Octagon (x2), Runaway Brother, A Grave With No Name, Samara Lubelski, vaarwell, The Golden DregsBelle MareChappo, HOLY, Vamping, Noble SonS. Carey, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat (x2), TT

Sofia Härdig, GrouperAir Waves (x2), Tenderfoot (x2), Sunflower Bean, Josh Mover & The Shakers, Jean-Michael BlaisMany RoomsFreedom Baby, La Luzilluminati hottiesThe Black Lips & The Khan FamilyMelvins, Extravision, AnemoneEverett Bird, Parquet Courts, Life In VacuumSuperteen, Cindy Lee, Ricky Lewis, BUDDIESam Moss, Sego, BRNDADungen & Woods, Loma, John Craigie (x2), Lanikai, Pony LeagueDreamend, Sea Moya, Oceanator, Holly Miranda, Renata Zeiguer, Deathlist, Wilder MakerLea Bertucci, Cutouts, Sur Back (x2), I’m Kingfisher, ANMLPLNET, Oneida, wyd, Western Scene, Bad BreedingThe Drums, Bob HolroydWill Stewart, Varvara

Jerry David Decicca, Redolent, Lokki, ROOS, QWAM, Water From Your Eyes, Old S Resort, Jesse Merchant, Dead Sullivan, John Moods, They Might Be Giants, Cool Ghouls, Strawberry Mountain, The Low Anthem, Peacock Affect, The fin., Ezra Feinberg, EMA, Sloan, The Voidz, VOWWS, Nature Shots, Narrow Head, Sleepyhead, Bob Holroyd, Virginia Wing, Orchid MantisYoung Statues, Kate Teague, Leyya, Pinky Pinky, Mind Over MirrorsWalter Martin, Beach House, The Sea and the Cake, Alice Bag, Eels, Hero-Fisher, Andy CookDatarock, Dabrye, Swear TapesTerra Naomi, FeverbonesPariuh, David Byrne, Palm, Youth In A Roman FieldKid Koala, LokkiHelena Deland

Freedom Fry, ARXX, Troels Abrahamsen, Young Fathers, Post Louis, SpandrelsHannah Epperson, Saw Black, Iceage, Dylan CarlsonAmerican Pleasure Club, Swampmeat Family Band, Pearl Charles, Chez Ali, Compltr, Refrigerator, The Nectars, Candy Ambulance, Death, Jack Watts., Simon D JamesToebow, yndi halda, SabiyhaEllie Schmidly, Sitcom, Doby Watson, Laura Veirs, Lost Horizons, Lost Under Heaven, Andy Jenkins, Guts Club, Yo La Tengo, Media Jeweler, The Saxophones, Hum, Margaret Glaspy, Cary Illinois, Susan the Cat, I Hate You Just Kidding, Tee Grizzley, Barren Womb, Madeline Kenney, I Think Like Midnight, Spirit In The Room, Torgeir Waldemar, LuxGaze, and Japanese Breakfast.

MUSIC VIDEOS

Ought, Parquet Courts, Shy Kids (x2), Caroline Rose, Billy Moon, Screaming Females, Car Seat Headrest, Current Joys (x2, 3, 4), Somehow, Night Flowers (x2), Palehound, Heaven, Look Vibrant, Pip Blom, Ultimate Painting, Royal Brat, CorridorFalcon Jane, Olden Yolk (x2), Stella Donnelly, Nap Eyes, Winter, Wendyfix (x2), Dusted, Superorganism, Pale Kids, Z Berg, Son Lux, Palm, The Spook School, Clint Michigan, Girl Ray, Rostam, Japanese Breakfast, OdinaFrankie Cosmos, Von K, Dogeyed

Shopping (x2), Speedy Ortiz, Treehouses, Holiday Ghosts, Sports Team, Sonny Smith, Bully, Tremends, Bethlehem Steel, Soccer Mommy, The ArmedPJ Harvey & Harry Escott, Lucy Dacus, Moaning (x2), Cloud Castle Lake, Albert Hammond Jr., Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, FlasherNative Sun, Emma Tricca, Partner, Drowse, Barren Womb, Martha Ffion (x2), Honduras, S. Carey, Middle Kids, Newspoke (x2, 3), Callow, Charlotte Day Wilson, Suuns, Goat Girl, Shamir, Death Bells, Guppy, Half Waif (x2)

ROOS, Natalie Prass, Cornelius (x2), Peach Kelli Pop, King Tuff (x2), The Winter Passing, Renata Zeiguer, La Luz, Bat Fangs, Jess WilliamsonSkating Polly, Lionlimb (x2), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael RaultGianni Paci, Queen of Jeans, Dirty Fences, Sorry, Wiggy Giggy, Lemuria, Tough Age, Yours Are the Only Earsnothing,nowhere., Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, Kal MarksScuffleSløtface, Kal Marks, Coping SkillsLauren Ruth Ward (x2, 3), Charmpit, They Might Be Giants, Hurry, First Aid Kit

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Fun Fare, Daddy Issues, The AmazingJeff Rosenstock, boerdJanelle Monáe, Sc Mira, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Surrounder, Iceage, The Go! Team, Mavis Staples, Eels, Margo Price, Titus Andronicus, Alice Bag, Oddnesse, Jessica RiskerFRANKIIEDestroyer, Spinning Coin, Damien Jurado, Ed Schrader’s Music BeatLa Bête BloomsThe Lonely Biscuits, Prawn, Hippo Campus, New Spell, Dream Wife, Echo Pressure, Amen Dunes, Leroy Francis, Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet

Montero, ShitKid, The Dazies, Marlon Williams, Lazy DayLaura Veirs, Lily Allen, Fruition, No Age, YACHT, Sunny War, Cut Worms, Glen Hansard, Trevor Ransom, Hannah Epperson, Seafoam, VedeTTClever Girls, In Tall Buildings, Fufanu, Lowpines, Tiny Fighter, The Prids, STRFKR, Hinds, SuperchunkTFS, Tallies, American Pleasure Club, Johanna Warren, Sam Himself, Men I TrustJessica Lea MayfieldA Place To Bury Strangers, Bad MovesRazorbumpsMoviestar, Teen CreepsPoppy AckroydCaroline Says, Charles Howl, Loma, Fontaines DC, CrumbAlessi’s Ark, Jenny Wilson, The Regrettes, Bummerville, GluedTenderfoot, Tree House, Susie Q, and si,irene.

FULL STREAMS

Vundabar, Hello Flora, Emily Yacina, Kal Marks, Harmony Tividad, Corey Flood, Johanna Warren, Palm, Plain Dog, Candace, Hovvdy, American Pleasure Club, Bat Fangs, Dark Thoughts, Poppy Ackroyd, Erik Phillips, Grave School, Cameron Boucher/Field Medic, The Number Ones, Margaret Glaspy, The Hold Steady, Guided By Voices, Superchunk, Bleary, Lillet Blanc, Hurry, Bedbug, I Hate You Just Kidding, Sidney Gish, weary, ther, Sunshine Faces, Elan Noon, Bodies Be Rivers, Hex, Hobbyist, Las Rosas

Dryspell, Rik & the Pigs, Amaya Laucirica, No MuseumsZinskē, First Thought Worst Thought, Sur Back, Little Star, Mind Spiders, Lowpines, Shopping, Mimicking Birds, Scrap Brain, The Go! Team, Th Da Freak, Shareef Keyes & The Groove, ShitKid, Unlikely Friends, Kid Dakota, Lightwash, Berry, Matthew Politoski, Holy Motors, Blushing, Shakey Graves, Tim Kuhl, Pando, Leyya, Shamir (x2), bristletongue, Dealer Plates, Hank Wood & the Hammerheads, closer, Bummerville, Tropical Trash, Brutal Birthday

Special Explosion, Hookworms, Lisa/Liza, Russian Baths, VOWWS, A Lily, Caroline Says, BB & The Blips, Listener, Balkan Bump, Martha Ffion, Corniglia, Qwam, HOLY, Spice Boys, Hour, Conviction, Cassandra Jenkins, Refrigerator, Sweeney, mita, and compilations from Z Tapes and Emotional Response (x2).

17 of ’17: The Best Albums of the Year

Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.

After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.

From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.

Washer – All Aboard

Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough

Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.

Petite League – Rips One Into the Night

Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.

Cayetana – New Kind of Normal

For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.

Young Jesus – Young Jesus

Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesus seems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.

Deep State – Thought Garden

One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.

Weaves – Wide Open

Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.

Landlines – Landlines

A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlines never stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.

Strange Relations – Editorial You

Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait

Fred Thomas – Changer

The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changer is legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.

Big Thief – Capacity

One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiece was touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacity in 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.

Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us

Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joey went a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.

Cende – #1 Hit Single

A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.

Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go 

One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.

Mo Troper – Exposure & Response

One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.

Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.

Album of the Year:

Charly Bliss – Guppy

A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.

The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.

Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.

“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.

A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.

When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.

17 of ’17: The Best Songs of the Year

2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.

Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.

These are the 17 best songs of 2017.

Enjoy.

Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge

One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.

Mo Troper – Your Brand

One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Response is particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.

Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.

Cende – What I Want

Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.

Charly Bliss – Westermarck

Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).

Common Holly – Nothing

Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.

Weaves – Puddle

Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.

Fred Thomas – Misremembered

Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changer is a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.

Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs

A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.

Cayetana – Bus Ticket

2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.

Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout

One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.

Strange Relations – Say You

One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.

Covey – Call Home

There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.

IDLES – Mother

Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.

Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.

Palehound – If You Met Her

A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.

It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.

Young Jesus – Feeling

A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.

All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.

The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands

Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.

When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Mount Eerie – Real Death

When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.

Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.

While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.

Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.

By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.

 

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The Best of the Rest

18-21

22-26

27-32

Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default

33-100

Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap

17 of ’17: The Best Music Videos of the Year

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Arriving fashionably late, the Heartbreaking Bravery year-end lists kick off in earnest with a celebration of the visual medium. There were incredibly strong visual efforts put forward by the people that could afford to have lavish budgets for just about any facet of their creative output (with Kendrick Lamar having an especially fruitful year) but this space wasn’t designed to celebrate those artists. Instead, the 17 selections featured below represent some of the finest works that flew by at a quieter pace, whether they came from storied veterans or exciting upstarts.

The format established last year will continue on this year, with one (or several) item designated the top spot and the remaining selections featured with no discernible ranking. Both the songs and albums list will follow this format as well. So, dive in, pick your poison, and try to guide yourself to a fate no worse than spending an hour or more playing the world’s most audacious interactive music video. Here are the 17 best music videos of 2017.

Hazel English – Fix

Throughout Hazel English‘s first few releases, the songwriter’s proved adept at crafting memorably beautiful clips and “Fix” stands proudly as English’s current best. A romantic, softly-lit tone poem “Fix” consists of little more than two people at an undefined stage in their relationship traversing some beautiful scenery together. Superbly directed and masterfully edited, “Fix” carries a subtle emotional resonance that propels it from being simply good to something masterful.

Jay Som – The Bus Song

The artist responsible for last year’s Song of the Year returned to set 2017 on fire, breaking out in momentous fashion. The highlight of Jay Som‘s ascent came by way of this House of Nod-produced (and Michelle Zauner-directed) clip for “The Bus Song”. A joyous celebration of music, friendship, and the intertwining link between the two, “The Bus Song” is teeming with affection, wearing its heartfelt sincerity not on its sleeve but as a badge of honor, displayed proudly on its chest.

Zebra Katz – Blk & Wht

One of the most haunting clips to come out of this decade, Zebra Katz‘s “Blk & Wht” is a harrowing recreation of the experiences its actors endured as refugees attempting to clear border security. As grim and stark as the song itself, “Blk & Wht” takes on a nightmarish sheen of realism that’s fully elevated thanks to the people involved in the project. It’s hypnotic, it’s terrifying, it’s unbelievably well-executed and transcends the form of music video and tips towards effective activism (something that’s incredibly hard to do without coming across as ham-fisted or cloying) by proving immensely hard to shake.

Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade

Directing Jay Som’s “The Bus Song” wasn’t the only impressive feat Michelle Zauner completed this year. Zauner also collaborated with House of Nod again for this meditative clip tinged with tragedy for her own project, Japanese Breakfast. Beautifully combining archival footage from her past with the present state of being, “The Body Is A Blade” paints a complex and deeply human portrait. Empathetic, poetic, and laced with an abundance of warmth (in tonality, coloration, and emotion), “The Body Is A Blade” immediately stood out as one of the year’s best upon release and looks even stronger today.

PUP – Old Wounds

It’s not often that this site prints obscenities but “Old Wounds” warrants the following: Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux is a fucking maniac. The director’s been instrumental in guiding PUP to claiming Music Video of the Year honors for 3 of the past 5 years and — with this entry included — has been included in the “Best Of” lists for the other two. Even with that track record, it would have been difficult to predict Schaulin-Rioux would go off the deep end to create a choose your own adventure video game masquerading as a music video in the form of 73 separate clips (many of them containing accessibly esoteric jokes from prominent music journalists) to form a cohesive whole for the shortest — and fiercest — song on the band’s triumphant sophomore effort The Dream Is Over. Click play and lose yourself to a rabbit hole that you’ll never want to leave. You’ve been warned.

Fog Lake – Rattlesnake

Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” was one of 2016’s most captivating songs and 2017 gifted it the kind of visual it so richly deserved. Lacking any sort of traditional narrative allowed for something far more thoughtful and moving, as the Forest Erwin-shot clip paid tribute to both environment and inhabitant in mesmerizing fashion. Tender, intuitive, and impalpable, “Rattlesnake” follows a filmic imprint that’s served auteurs like Terrence Malick and Shane Carruth well over their best works. That “Rattlesnake” would fit comfortably alongside their finest stretches is a minor miracle.

Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal

A bizarre satirization of televangelism, Open Mike Eagle‘s Sammus-featuring “Hymnal” stands out immediately. Comfortably drawing the viewers in from an easily-identifiable vantage point, “Hymnal” then proceeds to reveal itself as a meticulously-constructed and perfectly executed piece of oddball humor that falls more in line with Tim & Eric than just about any other clip that’s come out over the past few years. Boasting an incredible amount of specificity, “Hymnal” plays out like a fever dream that’s impossible to escape. Thankfully, for all of us, it’s wildly enjoyable and rewards investment tenfold.

Julia Louise – Brat

One of a handful of videos on this list that mark a perfect distillation and representation of the artist responsible, Julia Louise‘s “Brat” also acts as an engaging introduction-at-large. Both a minimalist portrait of Louise and a vehicle to convey the frustrations and realizations of “Brat”, the clip finds life via honesty. A series of small, everyday moments stitched together through some compelling photography and anchored by a winsome central performance, “Brat” is a clever, tongue-in-cheek testament to Louise’s already formidable talents.

Craig Finn – God In Chicago

Likely the biggest name on this list thanks to a position as the bandleader of The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has still found a way to slip through the cracks. Finn’s solo material, while exceptional, has gone largely unheralded. The spoken word, narrative-driven “God In Chicago” ranked as a career high before the video and the Kris Merc-directed clip elevated it even further on Finn’s considerably long list of achievements. A gorgeous illustration of a significant relationship doomed to slowly erode over time, every inch of “God In Chicago” should be felt in full by the millions of people who have lived that experience. It’s a miniature masterpiece.

Pissed Jeans – The Bar Is Low

2017 proved to be intensely difficult for a cavalcade of reasons so any time anyone married a similar intensity to nonsensical joy provided a welcome escape. Enter: Pissed Jean‘s “The Bar Is Low”. Easily the furthest the band has embraced their buried comedic leanings, the clip earns its place here by virtue of the commitment everyone lends their performance as underachieving-but-desperately-trying gym rats. The deadpan stares, the intimidating glances, the absolute absurdity, and the off-the-charts aggression combine for the year’s most memorably fun clip.

Anamon – Fast Car

While Pissed Jeans took the comedic escapism route, Anamon offered something a little more grounded: a hangout clip that was unwavering in its sincerity. Delivered with conviction, “Fast Car’ consists of nothing more than the band taking their dog on a day out to some open spots to relax and enjoy a beautiful day. The photography direction throughout “Fast Car” provides a sweeping sense of freedom that accompanies those exact trips. There are no stakes and any lingering fears wither in the presence of good company and picturesque scenery. Sometimes that’s all anyone needs and “Fast Car” captures that essential truth to perfection.

The Last Dinosaur – Atoms

Comprised of nothing but discarded Super 8 footage gleaned from storage units and yard sales, “Atoms” quietly establishes a sense of history through its visuals as the song fixates on the full implications of mortality. When a project’s intent is to convey the entirety of life, it’s not often that it can actually manage to achieve something that resembles a complete understanding but The Last Dinosaur have carved out their spot in today’s music by subverting and/or challenging expectations. “Atoms” is a moving reminder of their penchant for coaxing out things that are as empathetic as they are beautiful.

Protormartyr – A Private Understanding

Following a blueprint established and reinforced by some of cinema’s most antagonistic filmmakers, Protomartyr‘s clip for “A Private Understanding” manages to tap into the same type of sinister energy as its forebears. An inexplicably nerve-wracking sequence set at what appears to be either a meticulously designed retirement home or a grossly exquisite restaurant attempting to pass itself off as a “home experience”, “A Private Understanding” creates and mercilessly attacks that cognitive dissonance while employing film techniques popularized in Greek and Korean cinema. As hypnotic as it is baffling, “A Private Understanding” demands consideration long after its closing seconds.

Deep State – Heavy Lunch

Deep State‘s kinetic clip for its equally kinetic “Heavy Lunch” follows an exceptionally minimalist formula: one person dances their way across the screen to a song. It’s a trope that’s reached a point of over-saturation in recent years and seems to have lost some of its merit. However, when one so exceptionally joyful and energetic comes into focus, its myriad pleasures are impossible to deny and the Ethan Payne-directed “Heavy Lunch” finds an abundance of meaning in its gleeful sprint.

Palehound – If You Met Her

Crafting a clip for songs that register as immediate standouts for reasons of a clearly personal nature will always prove a challenge. When those challenges aren’t just met but diminished to the point of evaporation under the final product, that music video will likely stand the test of time as one of the greats. Palehound‘s “If You Met Her” — created by a group of teenagers attending Real to Reel Filmschool — finds itself in a position where it can already form a solid case for that type of longevity. While Kempner’s project allowed itself to be guided by the ghost of Heatmiser for the song itself, the video grapples with other spirits. The religious imagery, the sense of being stuck between haunting and being haunted, and the quiet, tragic desperation at the heart of both the song and the video render “If You Met Her” one of this decade’s finest efforts, on both counts.

Charly Bliss – Westermarck

Over the course of this site’s existence, Charly Bliss emerged as a coverage staple. 2017 was the first year that afforded the band a true reckoning and they responded in kind, dropping one of the year’s best records, touring relentlessly (both as a headliner and opening up for enormous names), and releasing a string of fun music videos. No clip the band’s released can hold a candle to what they managed to create for “Westermarck“, which strips away any perceivable artifice in favor of something that served as an effective antidote to 2017’s grim climate. Pure, unbridled joy drives “Westermarck” to stratospheric heights, contagious in its own effervescence and committed to its convictions. A perfect distillation of the band’s identity and something to point to as a symbol of hope for the future. “Westermarck” deserves to be held up as an example of how to effectively translate the giddiest of emotions for years to come.

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:

IDLES – Mother

No video landed as hard, reflected the times as well, or demanded attention as well as the snarling behemoth that was IDLES‘ clip for “Mother”, a seething call to action against sexual predators and the conditions that allow a surprising percentage of them to be excused so easily. Not just one of the most hypnotic clips of this year but of this century, “Mother” contains little more than IDLES’ vocalist Joe Talbot smashing a table full of ceramics in front of a portrait of his deceased mother — whose ashes were slipped into the vinyl pressings of the band’s latest, -BRUTALISM — as he rails against an economically unjust system that essentially forces poverty onto the lower classes, heightening their exhaustion under the guise of production for the benefit of the upper class.

It’s a commanding performance and Talbot’s anger is palpable and barely containable as each individual piece gets smashed to bits as the camera lens nearly disintegrates under the weight of his piercing stare. Wearing an opened pink blazer and pink pants, the opening image of “Mother” is arresting enough but what carries it to the realms of being genuinely unforgettable is the clip’s closing moments where the song ends and the video continues in silence, Talbot making sure every last piece is hurtled towards a ground already covered in shards of plates, cups, and figurines.

When everything has suffered the brunt of Talbot’s wrath, he pauses, walks back to the poster of his mother hanging pointedly in the background, puts his hand to her lips and walks off camera. There is still smoke. There is still fire. And there, in that conclusion, as the anger lingers, is where “Mother” stakes its place as one of the great music videos of our time.  

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Honorable Mentions:

Cayetana – Bus Ticket
Kevin Morby – City Music
Single Mothers – People Are Pets

The Honorable Mentions of August 2017

A lot has happened over the past month and the time to get this site back on track has nearly arrived. On a quick personal note: Heartbreaking Bravery is now based in Madison, WI and will likely expand on some forms of coverage — and feature selections — in the very near future. Before all of that can happen, it’s imperative that the events of the past month be taken into stock. We’re now arriving at a time where the AotY-caliber material descends like a waterfall and it can be overwhelming. To that end, this post will highlight all of the new songs, music videos, and records that made a sizable impression over the past month. A few more posts will follow but if anyone’s looking for a wide-ranging variety of outstanding new music, it’d be best to bookmark this page and spend hours clicking around. It’ll be worth the time.

RECORDS

The Obleeks, Honeyrude, Thanks for Coming, Duncan Fellows, UV-TV, SOAR, The Anatomy of Frank, Tyler Ditter, Big Fred, Half Gringa, Little Kid, Guggi Data, Dina Maccabee, Small Reactions, Noon, At Zero, Dude Elsberry, Guided By Voices, The Ocean Party, Rick AshtrayFrøkedal, Faith Healer, Winston Hightower, Rose Hotel, Maneka, Ice Balloons, Black Mekon, WALK, Luke Rathborne, Mosquitos, Limp Wrist, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Club Night, Sunrot, Judders, No Museums, DieAlps!, Howlin’ Banana, and Ruination.

MUSIC VIDEOS 

David Ramirez, The Coathangers, VARSITY, Potty Mouth, Cody & Danz, St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Phoebe Bridgers, Black Kids, Los Angeles Police Department, Omni, Melkbelly, Mauno (x2), Curtis Harding, Trupa Trupa, Amy O, Jessica Lea Mayfield, OxenFree (x2), Ritual Talk, Palehound, Small Reactions, Land of Talk, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, People Like You, Hurray For The Riff Raff, CHUCK (x2), Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs, Oak House, Liars, ayo river (x2), Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

Kane Strang, Peach Pit, Manchester Orchestra, Elettrodomestico, Black Lips, Circuit des YeuxSløtfaceFilthy Friends, Hellrazor, Quiet Hollers, Fake Palms, Partner, Folkvang, The By Gods, Sorority Noise, Cloud Nothings, Young Boys, Annie HartDaniele Luppi & Parquet CourtsThe Safes, Small Culture, The Mynabirds, Sparks, Gallery 47, ALA.NI, Poppies, BABY!, Briana Marela, Pile, Hope, Ellen and the Degenerates, Wild Honey, Early Riser, Baby Jesus, Cassels (x2), Midnight Sister, Alex Lahey, Sono Oto.

Frankie Rose, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Shabazz Palaces, Warm Body, doubleVee, Sound of Ceres, Beliefs, Rainbrother, Arrows of Love, WAND, Demure for Sure, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Dead Heavens, DieAlps!, Grey Gersten, Ride, Wolf Parade, Kevin Morby, Prism Tats, Cristobal and the Sea, Becca Mancari, The New Pornographers, Surrounder, Houg, Mount Kimbie, High Bloom, Ian Randall Thornton, Michael Charles Smith, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, Rookin, Ibeyi, Marlon Williams, Black Beach, At The Drive In, Douse, Anthony, Open Mike Eagle, Your Old Droog, Girl Ray, and Superet.

SONGS

Beachtapes (x2), Partner, The Willowz, Julie & The Wrong Guys, Slothrust, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Dream Wife, Karl Blau, Petite League, Florist (x2), Lean Year, Worst Place, Fits, METZ, Prom Queen, Lina Tullgren, Strawberry Runners, Slaughter Beach, Dog, A. Savage, Covey, Dava Gavanski, Bully, Cherry, floral print, Floating Action, Anti Pony, Soft Fangs, Queen Moo, Strawberry Runners, VV Torso, ORB, Gleemer, Holy Wars, Ephrata, Ben Grigg, Reptaliens, Sam Evian, Looming.

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, Holiday Ghosts (x2), OCS, Pardoner, Friendship, Top 8, Strange Relations, Lomelda, The Tin Can Collective, Graham Hunt, Mini Dresses, Versing, Caracara, A Giant Dog, Makthaverskan, Pool Holograph, Jack Cooper, Noah Engel (x2), Tall Friend, Mercy Weiss, Monogold, Sick Feeling, Temple of Angels, Duds, Allah-Las, Mutts, Hand Habits, Silver Torches, Twist, Honeyrude, Tapeworms, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ripped Genes, Liars (x2), Dead Stars (x2), Philip Selway.

Jude Shuma, The Persian Leaps, Rick Ashtray, Small Circle (x2), Twain, Car Seat Headrest, Everyone Is Dirty, Protomartyr, Black Beach, Smoke Rings, John Dylan, Maneka, Club Night, Nassau, Plastic Pinks, David Ramirez (x2), Weird Owl, Cults, Hercules & Love Affair, Charles Howl, The Duke Spirit, BIRDS, Pale Honey, The Dream Syndicate, Cina Polada, Alex Calder, Ruby Fray, Camp Counselor, Linda Perhacs, IDYLLS, The Dig, Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line, WHIMM, PictureHouse, Duncan Kissinger.

S. Carey, The Dodos, Pinkshinyultrablast, Yumi Zouma, Deerhoof, Son Little, Haunted Summer, Quicksand, The Cribs, Death From Above, Mirah, Walter Etc., Ben Stevenson, L.A. Witch, Trevor Sensor, Francis, Wild Ones, Blank Range (x2), Cloning the Mammoth, King Khan, STACEY, The Darts, The Duke of Surl, Siv Jakobsen, North Lynx, Looms, Sauropod, Plateau Below, Out Lines, Joey Sweeney, Deradoorian, Parentz, Norma, Surf Rock Is Dead, Freedom Baby, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die.

ExSage, The Sighs, The War On Drugs, DDCT, Hudson Bell, The Side Eyes, EMA, Knighstown, Fuzz Queen, LOSANGE, Andi, Loyal Lobos, OMD, Hypnotic Kingdom, Happy Hollows, After Hours Radio, Peter Oren, Andrew Weatherall, A Valley Son, Far Lands, Tree House, Faith Healer, Diamond Thug, DestroyerMÄRVEL, Seasonal Beast, clipping., Cape FrancisGunn-Triscinski Duo, Four Tet, Smash Boom Pow, Acid Tongue, Black Pistol Fire, NVDES, Midnight Sister, Kid Midnight (Charly Bliss Remix), MOURN, and Petal.

The Seven Best Full Streams of the Past Three Weeks

Songs and music videos have had their turn in the spotlight so it’s time to shift the focus towards full streams. A stray EP or two and a handful of full-lengths have emerged over the past three week stretch that have managed to make a significant impression. A few fresh faces combined with a host of site staples to create the list, which features a few emergent acts alongside some established names. Exciting debuts brush up against spirited reaffirmations of talent and, in the end, we all win. Take a beat and make a mental note to make sure none of these records go unheard in the coming weeks. Dive in and enjoy. 

Poppies – Good

One of the most promising emerging bands in music, Poppies keep finding new ways to improve upon a growing, riveting discography. Both Double Single and “Told” were exceptional and the band’s music videos have been compelling. Good is the young project’s first statement release and it should go a long way in establishing them as the tantalizing act they’ve been from the outset. All five of Good‘s songs could reasonably called a highlight and continue the band’s unlikely run at unassuming perfection. Basement pop shot through with just a touch of twee, Good‘s perfectly suited for summer and seems destined to become part of the season’s 2017 soundtrack.

Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go

Palehound have proved their salt on more than a few occasions now, amassing one outstanding record after another and cultivating one of the most inventive, outstanding discographies of any emergent act. A Place I’ll Always Go does the band’s new label, Polyvinyl, more than proud; it’s, by far, the best of the band’s records, which is no mean feat considering the company that it keeps. Nearly every song here registers as a career highlight and in “If You Met Her” the band invokes the defeated, melancholic spirit of Elliott Smith (never a comparison to be made lightly). Start to end, it’s an absolute triumph that easily ranks as one of 2017’s finest musical moments.

Corridor – Supermacado

More than four years into an increasingly promising career, Corridor have been restlessly perfecting their brand of skittering post-punk and sharpening it into a deadly weapon. Supermacado, the band’s latest record, serves as proof. Virtually every track on the record offers something different and the music is more than powerful enough to transcend any language barriers. It’s a masterful record from a band that seemingly refuses to do anything but improve. A fine problem to have, especially when it yields results as engaging and captivating as Supermacado. One of 2017’s most pleasant surprises, Supermacado is a strong enough record to warrant committing the name Corridor to memory.

Big Thief – Capacity

Masterpiece was one of last year’s finest records and definitively put Big Thief on the map. A little over a year later, the band’s already released an astonishing follow-up in Capacity, a towering work that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their reputation-making debut. Not only did the band prove their consistency with Capacity, they delivered one of the most breathtakingly beautiful tracks of this current decade in “Mary“, a spellbinding meditation on longing and understanding the importance of the past. Hard-earned, weary, triumphant, resigned, burdened, and optimistic in turns, the band keeps their rustic sweep intact and delivers another masterful record.

Cool American – Infinite Hiatus

Earlier this year, Cool American released an incredible compilation of tracks entitled better luck next year vol 2: good job nice try, which remains one of the year’s best releases. Nathan Tucker, the brains behind Cool American, may have already topped it with Infinite Hiatus, the project’s most recent full-length. An inventive, energetic record full of sharp turns and exhilarating dynamic structures cements Tucker’s place as one of today’s most fascinating songwriters. Infinite Hiatus combines bedroom pop with basement punk in a manner more seamless than just about any record attempting a similar combination. Buoyed by Tucker’s distinct personality, Infinite Hiatus offers yet another reaffirmation that Cool American is one of the most consistent projects on the market.

Lexie – Record Time!

The involvement of Frankie Cosmos‘ mastermind Greta Kline in Lexie is bound to direct quite a bit of attention towards the band, which also includes two members of Warehouse. It’s also something of a comfort that Lexie sounds exactly like you’d expect: a more technically proficient and reverb-laden take on what Kline’s been accomplishing with Frankie Cosmos since day one. It’s not an empty recreation, though, the band manages to subvert expectations throughout Record Time! by offering a strain of wiry post-punk that comes as a pleasant surprise, allowing the record to feel varied enough to not only feel fresh but complete. Lightly subversive and characteristically gentle, Record Time! is sweet enough to warrant more than a few extra helpings.

Lost Balloons – Hey Summer

Jeff Burke and Yusuke Okada have made some serious names for themselves, playing in bands like The Marked Men, Suspicious Beasts, Radioactivity, and Blotto. Okada crafted his unimpeachable songwriting reputation in Japan while Burke cranked out a number of genre classics stateside. Both musicians excelled in crafting hyper-excitable basement pop laced with basement punk grit. The two recently joined forces to create Lost Balloons, a project that softens up their vicious attacks while retaining a significant amount of bite. Folk-inflected basement pop informed by decades worth of classic American music, Hey Summer is a record that’s as inviting as it is winsome. Both musicians should be proud to have it as part of their respective discographies.

Palehound – If You Met Her (Music Video)

As this Monday and Tuesday both disappear into the rear view, it’s important to take stock of the notable records that have emerged in that time. Ainsley Farell, Sweet Baby Jesus, Sam Craighead, Adult Mom, Chris Bathgate, The I.L.Y’s, Do Make Say Think, Tricot, Yung, Gouge Away, and B L A C K I E all revealed impressive full streams and there was an outstanding compilation released to celebrate the seventh anniversary of GoldFlakePaint. The focus for this particular piece falls back to the music video format, thanks to a career best showing from site favorites Palehound.

A small army was assembled to create Palehound’s latest piece, a music video for “If You Met Her” that lands with devastating clarity. Tom Quigley, Sara Tesh, Michael Escobar, Kiely Quinn, Rachel Newman, Tatiana Marquez, Jeovana Almeida, Zane Ryan, Tatiana Marquez, and Caitlin Leblanc all hard a part to play in pulling off a clip that’s already struck a nerve with a whole host of viewers. Guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Ellen Kempner’s completely isolated in the clip, lending the narrative’s open vulnerability and existential fear even more heft.

Kempner does little more than navigate a seemingly abandoned house in the clip, allowing both the song — easily one of Palehound’s finest — and video to take on a haunted bent. There’s angst here, to be sure, but it’s the kind of acute and intensely focused angst that propels it past the realms of the cliché into something unnerving, despairing, and utterly terrifying. Grappling with insignificance and mortality in a way that presents the slightest hint of optimism amid a heavy resignation, there are echoes of Elliott Smith to be found in “If You Met Her” (a comparison that should never be used lightly).

“If You Met Her” is an astonishing work as a standalone song but the visuals the assembled team have provided the track render it transcendental. There are slight nods to something holy in several of the shots, underscoring the religious angle that’s always lingering in heavy existential crises. Whether the song (and video) is intended as a prayer, a warning, or a reminder may never be truly known but for now, we should all consider ourselves lucky to be able to explore the work on display. “If You Met Her” is not the type of clip — or song — to leave anyone’s memory anytime soon.

Watch “If You Met Her” below and pre-order A Place I’ll Always Go from Polyvinyl here.

Daddy Issues – Locked Out (Stream)

Last week Palehound, Jason Isbell, Quin Galavis, Bent Denim, Wilder Maker, Jeff Rosenstock, Debbie DownerAgent blå, Kane Strang, The No Ones, and Sløtface all unveiled great new tracks. Another great song came from Daddy Issues, who continue to get better with every step. “Locked Out”, the band’s latest, is a new career highlight for the trio and offers up a whole lot of reasons to get very excited about the band’s future.

A mid-tempo number that gains impact as it goes, “Locked Out” is a restrained work from a band that’s frequently their best when they’re at their most frantic. Instead of going to that well, they find a whole new depth of impact by relying on brute strength. Conjuring up a formidable amount of power with both the song’s composition and the self-aware narrative, “Locked Out” finds Daddy Issues hitting the exact right notes. Putting “Locked Out” over the top is the adventurous solo section, which proves the band’s willing to take the type of risks that could transform them into a much more recognized name. If Daddy Issues continue to make these types of decisions, it’ll be hard to argue against them being a legitimately great band.

Listen to “Locked Out” below and pre-order Deep Dream from Infinity Cat here.

Another Two Weeks Worth of Music Videos

Over the course of the past two weeks, an impressive slew of music videos have fought their way out into the world. While a very select few will be highlighted in the very near-future, it’d be inexcusable to dismiss the titles below without any recognition whatsoever. Provided that time wasn’t such a restrictive issue, each and every one of these would be receiving a feature write-up dedicated to analyzing what makes them great. Truly, each one of these clips is more than worth several viewings, so stop reading and start clicking. Who knows? This pool might just contain a few new favorites. Enjoy.

Charly BlissGirlpool, Hovvdy, Bad Moves, The Seams, PWR BTTM, Palehound, Aye Nako, Dude York, Wilding, Big Eyes, Alien Boy, Juliana Hatfield, B Boys, Big Thief, Monster Movie, Baked, Clipping., The New Year, Dead Leaf Echo, Craig Finn, Sparks, Wolf People, Sloan Peterson, The Calm Fiasco, Hoops, Pontiak, Toro Y Moi, Dream Wife, Slowdive, The Drums, Arc Flash, LT Wade, Shit Girlfriend, Nana Grizol, Plastic Flowers, R. Ring, Future Islands, Reptaliens, INVSN, Sharkmuffin, Marcus Norberg and the Disappointments, Lexie RothStolen Jars (x2)

Bridges and Powerlines, Beach Fossils, Blonde Summer, Communions, The Wild Reeds, Little Star, Circle, Emotional, Boyhood, Akinyemi, Winstons, Souvenir Driver (x2), Hand Habits, Boss Hog, Grace Sings Sludge, Leather Girls, Trementina, Mutts, Kamikaze Girls, Hermano Stereo, Sleep Party People, Explosions In The Sky, The Buttertones, Tall Tall Trees, No Kill, Skaters, Mise en Scene, Danny Brown, Rubblebucket, Bleached, C Duncan, Slow Turismo, Conor Oberst, ShitKid, Aldous Harding, Gorillaz, Small Black, A Tribe Called Quest, and Michael Kiwanuka.

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.