Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: PILE

Pile – Cup (Stream)

It’s been a while since anything went up on these pages and there are a lot of reasons behind yet another interim but, as ever, the work continues to be done behind the scenes. Five posts were scheduled to go up before that break and will be going live today. This is one of those posts.

Few bands have earned the type of reverence among its listeners and contemporaries as Pile. Intricate, winding, dynamic compositions have brought them unending admiration and made their discography staggeringly dense, which is something that Odds and Ends addresses. A record that compiles the band’s 7″ releases, compilation contribution, and other assorted castoffs, Odds and Ends serves as something of a career summation and testament.

“Cup” is the record’s lone new, unreleased original track and it’s as unwieldy, tense, and breathtakingly go-for-broke as anything in the band’s towering catalog. After what many see as the best release of the band’s storied DIY-centric career, “Cup” is another bracing reminder that Pile are still on an ascending trajectory, suggesting that they may never truly hit a genuine peak. Raucous, intelligent, and deceptively subtle, “Cup” is the exact brand of brilliance we’ve come to except from what several have breathlessly hailed as the best band in the world.

Listen to “Cup” below and pre-order Odds and Ends from Exploding In Sound here.

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

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.

Shea Stadium: It’s Not Over Yet

While the Kickstarter drive to help secure Shea Stadium was wildly successful in terms of generating fiscal resources (nearly $100,000) for the beloved DIY Brooklyn venue, their fight’s only just beginning. The musical haven and cultural staple of Brooklyn’s landlords essentially refused the option of renewal to those running its operation, citing plans to convert the lower space into a nightclub as a reason for withholding the required signature to keep Shea Stadium alive at 20 Meadow St.

However, the Kickstarter campaign wasn’t the only thing funding the venue’s efforts of a greater revival. All of the people who had a hand in running Shea Stadium are resolved, now more than ever, to keep Shea Stadium going. The relocation costs provide a much steeper challenge than what would’ve been required to keep the venue alive on 20 Meadow St. and while the Kickstarter certainly helped, Exploding In Sound Records (who have maintained a very close relationship with the venue over the years) recently announced Exploding In Sound: Live at Shea Stadium.

Exploding In Sound: Live at Shea Stadium‘s a compilation of the best live cuts from the venue by the bands that have had a working relationship with the label and all of the proceeds will be directed towards the re-opening of Shea Stadium. To offer a glimpse of what’s on the tape, the label’s offered up a characteristically invigorating Pile performance, which sees the band tearing through “Baby Boy”. It’s a tantalizing preview of what’s destined to be one of the year’s most essential compilations.


In joining the communal outpouring of affection that’s swelled up around Shea Stadium, I’ve compiled all of the Heartbreaking Bravery videos that I personally shot at the venue over the summer of 2015, a near 50-video playlist which includes performances from the following: Attic Abasement, Charly Bliss, Diet Cig, Pupppy, Rivergazer, Clearance, Leapling, Lost Boy ?, Mumblr, Eskimeaux, Mitski, PWR BTTM, Model Train Wreck, Fern Mayo, Fruit & Flowers, Boytoy, & Sharkmuffin. It’s those kind of acts that inspired a loyal following that eventually became something greater: a legitimate community that’s ready to rally behind what’s developed into one of New York’s most important — and necessary — musical institutions. Buy that Exploding In Sound compilation here and revisit some highlights from the venue circa summer 2015 below.

Another Two Weeks Worth of Full Streams

In the weeks that followed this site’s recap of the great records to be released in the first quarter of 2017, a handful more found release. Many of these selections received a heavy amount of deserved acclaim throughout the course of their introductions and a few slipped by, largely unnoticed. All of them are outstanding. All of them are worth multiple listens. All of them can (and should) be accessed below. Enjoy!

Pile, Aye Nako, Your Pest Band, Caddywhompus, Chingada, Deathlist, Single Mothers, Growl, Midnight Reruns, Salvation, Arc Flash, Soccer Mommy, Oak House, Julia Lucille, Most Selfless Cheerleader, Thanks for Coming, Deep State, Russel the Leaf, Seasurfer, Supermilk, Guided By Voices, White Walls, Futuro, Cassandra Jenkins, Little Star, Souvenir Driver, Exasperation, Midnight Shack, Wire, Sam Himself, Ubetcha, Alimony Hustle, Bilge Rat, Death By Internet, Loose Tooth, Gorgeous, Brunch Club, The Craters, and Black Helicopter as well as compilations from NOAR AVUD, Superfriend, and Typical Girls.

The Best Songs of 2017’s First Quarter

Anyone keeping regular tabs on this site will be fully aware that only a few days ago a list of around 500 great songs from the first quarter was just published, which means the songs featured in this list* are genuinely extraordinary. Ranging from highlights of records that are already receiving glowing reviews (Pile, Midnight Reruns) to the lead-off single of what’s undoubtedly the Heartbreaking Bravery pick for the year’s most anticipated record (Charly Bliss), these 15 tracks constitute the very best of the early best. Old favorites and new faces are both featured and  everything’s more than worth a whole slew of listens, so jump in and start swimming.

*Any of the songs that were previously featured in the Quarter 1 Best Of roundups for music videos and records were deemed ineligible for this list, in an effort to spread the attention as much as possible. 

Charly Bliss – Glitter

Anyone who has paid even an iota of attention to this site and its coverage selection over the past several years should be aware of Charly Bliss. Following what stands so far as the best EP of the current decade, an introductory full-length should seem like a daunting challenge. “Glitter” decimates any of the doubt that none of us should have ever harbored in the first place. A pitch-perfect burst of spiked bubblegum punk, it’s a characteristically enthralling look at what’s bound to be one of the year’s best records.

Chemtrails – Deranged

A relatively fresh band to this site’s featured selections, Chemtrails‘ “Deranged” is the exact type of song that seems determined to force a change in that regard. Swooping down from the heavens, “Deranged” is an exhilarating run through snotty, synth-driven basement pop that comes teeming with an energy that’s unmistakably, ferociously punk. An effortless, summery anthem, “Deranged” sticks with the listener thanks to its deceptive intelligence and unavoidable hooks.

The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)

Was there any hook in 2017’s first quarter as ridiculously addictive and inescapable as the one at the center of “Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)”? The amount of times the melody accompanying the title of this song personally floated through my head over the first few months of this year is nothing short of staggering. Fortunately, the rest of the song is as brilliant as that central hook, ably demonstrating the considerable allure that nearly every song to come out of The Spirit of the Beehive‘s discography boasts.

Deep State – No Idea Pt. II

An explosion of basement punk given only the slightest powerpop sheen, Deep State’s “No Idea Pt. II” recklessly kicks and careens with abandon. Pure energy congeals with concise, tightly-wound songwriting for a display of formidable power that’s hard to forget. Short, scrappy, and overflowing with conviction, “No Idea Pt. II” is more than enough reason to get incredibly excited for whatever Deep State’s future holds in store.

Petite League – Pulling Teeth

Last year, Petite League were kind enough to gift this site with “Magic Johnson” for the A Step Forward compilation and that track’s been on near-constant repeat ever since that moment. “Magic Johnson was an affirmation of something that’d already grown apparent: every new Petite League release is worth your attention. “Pulling Teeth”, their latest, serves as both reaffirmation and as statement. This is a band that’s hell-bent on improving with each consecutive release and they have the tenacity and the intelligence to make sure that goal’s accomplished.

Froth – Passing Thing

Most of Froth‘s most gripping efforts in the past have been hazy affairs imbued with gentle atmospheric aesthetics so the opening moments of “Passing Thing” don’t come as much of a surprise. What follows is a different story. After erupting into a cavalcade of noise that paradoxically both invites and discards a sense of tension “Passing Thing” leans in hard on the band’s shoegaze influences for an unexpectedly urgent reminder of the kind of forcefulness that’s always been evident just below Froth’s typically relaxed surface.

The New Year – Recent History

“Recent History”, the first music to be released from The New Year in nearly a decade, sounds more masterfully composed than most locked-in bands who are hitting their stride can manage. It helps, of course, that the members can be rightfully considered pioneers thanks to their astounding contributions to music both pre- and post-Bedhead. Still, “Recent History” is as quietly invigorating as slowly unwinding post-punk numbers come and The New Year infuse it with a hard-fought career’s worth of feeling.

Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me

Hand Habits have made a name for themselves crafting sweeping, elegiac folk-tinged numbers over the years. The band has a uniformly strong discography but it’s hard to remember a track over that time as pure and lovely as the six-minute “Sun Beholds Me”. Haunting atmospherics and a pensive vocal melody find the perfect marriage to achieve a near-spiritual transcendence and leave Hand Habits with a striking career high that’s as gentle as it is memorable. An absolute triumph in every way.

Modern Baseball – This Song’s Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks

Few bands can offer up a career re-positioning as fascinating as the one Modern Baseball have accomplished over the past few years. Originally heralded as the potential saviors of both emo and pop-punk, the band’s steadily shifted towards something that tips far closer to Guided By Voices and Built to Spill than The Promise Ring. “This Song’s Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks” is the most recent example and includes scintillating guitar work while retaining some of the tongue-in-cheek snark and humility that endeared the band to its early fans. Impressive is an understatement.

Grim Streaker – Guts

Another furiously-paced burst of aggressive basement punk with a few basement pop trappings, Grim Streaker’s “Guts” is the kind of song that makes people sit up and take notice. For a little under two and a half minutes, Grim Streaker just throws one haymaker after the other, from the frantic synth work to the energetic, deeply-felt vocals. “Guts” is, unquestionably, a knockout punch. Should Grim Streaker keep this kind of pace up, we’ll all be hearing their name more frequently in the coming years.

Dream Wife – Somebody

Many times when musicians opt for the overtly political route — whether it be protest songs or self-congratulatory statements — it comes off as trite and frequently overbearing. Which is why when these topics are treated with nuance instead of being reduced to a bland bottom line, the effect tends to be greater. Case in point: Dream Wife’s “Somebody”, which features both the simplistic (but deeply meaningful) rallying cry of “I am not my body/I am somebody” and verses that articulate that point in clever ways. Dream Wife understand the effects of prose better than most and, as a result, they’ve wound up with what will likely be one of the strongest sociopolitical tracks of 2017.

Caddywhompus – Waiting Room

While Decent and Splinter were among some of the stronger tracks of the past several months, it was “Waiting Room” that stood out as Caddywhompus‘ finest effort. All three are sterling tracks, undoubtedly, but the inventiveness present in each of the many movements populating “Waiting Room” give it the slightest of edges, a fact that bodes very well for the band’s forthcoming Odd Hours. As dynamic and fascinating as ever, Caddywhompus seems poised to unveil not only a career high but one of the year’s finest records.

Pile – Dogs

Leaning On A Wheel and Texas showed that Pile, one of the most singular acts in today’s visible musical landscape, hadn’t lost an ounce of whatever unholy magic they’d poured into their earlier releases. “Dogs”, on the other hand, hinted towards something even larger. To be sure, A Hairshirt of Purpose did not disappoint. Still, “Dogs” remained an unquestionable highlight; sprawling, orchestral, and fearless, it’s another perfect example of the type of craft, conviction, and fearlessness that have transformed Pile into the unlikeliest of icons.

Tica Douglas – The Same Thing

One of the emerging solo acts that’s earned a handful of feature spots on this site over the past few years is Tica Douglas, whose restlessness continuously informs their music. “The Same Thing”, Douglas’ latest, somehow feels like a different animal entirely. A sweeping anthem that comes chock-full of the doubt, introspection, and exacting, unsparing self-analysis that have permeated throughout Douglas’ earlier works but “The Same Thing” somehow feels even more resolved and at peace than those earlier numbers. From quiet open to the wildly explosive burst to set off the track’s final 90 seconds, wire-to-wire, this is Douglas’ best work to date.

Midnight Reruns – Warm Days

Both Hold Up the Mirror and Scorpion were strong indicators that Midnight Reruns‘ Spectator Sports would inevitably wind up being another great record from a band with a near-spotless track record. While, unsurprisingly, that’s been fully revealed to be the case, it’s the record’s final track — not one of the advance singles — that makes the strongest impression. “Warm Days” is one of Midnight Reruns’ most representative tracks to date, from the dueling twin leads to the perfectly placed harmonies to the intensive understanding of their songwriting strengths, the song’s as much of a declaration of power as it is a victory lap. Listen to it below and watch a video of them playing the song live last year in Green Bay, WI.

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.

HB1000: A Step Forward (Compilation)

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When I started Heartbreaking Bravery nearly three years ago, I had no intention of pursuing it as a legitimate venture. Now, 1,000 posts, 50,000+ links, and countless words later, the site’s come to be the type of platform I’ve always loved seeing in the world. I could attempt to wax poetic on the nature of personal discovery and growth that running this place has afforded me but Heartbreaking Bravery was never about a single person, it’s always functioned best as a communal entity.

The ideas that formed the basic structure of Heartbreaking Bravery all came from artists producing exceptional work with little recognition. Repeatedly watching that transaction occur proved too disheartening. Whether it was the earliest years of Tenement, the later years of Good Grief, or virtually the entire run of Sleeping in the Aviary, there were always ceaselessly talented artists surrounding me that only ever seemed to receive the slightest of nods.

Heartbreaking Bravery originally aimed — and continues to aim — to provide a more level playing field to emerging artists, without reducing their worth to financial opportunity. Heartbreaking Bravery continues to value the community and intimacy that informs the DIY music world. Heartbreaking Bravery will continue to use the platform it’s been granted to elevate the idea of greater equality.

It’s in that spirit that I’m honored to present A Step Forward, a two-volume compilation spanning 100 tracks that exclusively features artists who are connected to this site’s history. Whether that was through a long history of collaboration or something as small as a twitter follow, the impact was not lost or left unappreciated. There’s a heavy emphasis on artists residing in the cities and states Heartbreaking Bravery has called home (Stevens Point, WI and Brooklyn, NY) and a small selection of songs that were premiered on this site.

100% of the proceeds of A Step Forward will be going to Rape Victim Advocates, a non-profit Chicago-based organization that’s doing vital (and, sadly, necessary) work for survivors of sexual assault. Read more about the organization here. It’s my sincerest hope that every publication that has the privilege of visibility manages to find ways to use any of their influence for productive good and to affect positive change. Please consider donating what you can to a meaningful cause.

Finally, I wanted to express gratitude to all of the artists (and any of their teams) involved — including the inimitable Phil McAndrew, who turned in the extraordinary album art — and all of the people that have allowed, even willed, this site to the point it’s at today. It likely would have disappeared without that support and I owe those people a debt of gratitude that could never be truly repaid. A special thanks to Fred Thomas, whose “What Changes When The Costumes Come Off” was written with the specifics of A Step Forward in mind.

Enjoy the compilation, support independent art, and join me, this site, these artists, and this cause in taking A Step Forward.

Tracklist below.

A Step Forward: Vol. 1*

1. Vacation – Caked Joy Rag (Demo)
2. Mike Krol – Neighborhood Watch (Demo)
3. Dead Stars – So Strange (Demo)
4. Mo Troper – After the Movies (Demo)
5. Fern Mayo – The Sweets (Demo)
6. Hater – Like Hours (Demo)
7. Sharkmuffin – Only Mondays (Demo)
8. Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day (Demo)
9. Missy – Patience (Demo)
10. Kodakrome – Skeletons (Demo)
11. Slight – Run (Demo)
12. Long Neck – Goldfinch (Demo)
13. Phyllis Ophelia – Probably Not (Demo)
14. Lever – Cure (Demo)
15. Puppy Problems – Destroyer (Demo)
16. Battle Ave. – Black Jeans (Demo)
17. Yours Are The Only Ears – Alone Bear (Demo)
18. Attendant – Some Other Language (Demo)
19. MKSEARCH – Little Song (Demo)
20. Sulky Boy – Birches (Demo)
21. Heavy Looks – Those Guys (Demo)
22. darn it. – (again) pt. II
23. Phooey! – On an On
24. Arm Candy – Big Clunker
25. DTCV – Le Vampire
26. Clearance – The Queen of Eyes
27. Leggy – I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy
28. Big Air – Hit Me in the Mouth
29. Terry Malts – Look (At the Mess That We’re In)
30. Ubetcha – Musician
31. Two Inch Astonaut – Suckers Share
32. Whelpwisher – Bucket for the Sky
33. Petite League – Magic Johnson
34. The Meltaways (ft. Kate M) – Wrong Words
35. Calumet – Indian Summer
36. Mulligrub – Little Fist
37. Ben Seretan – Stay In Touch
38. Mumblr – Friendship Stew
39. Human People – Useless Things
40. Bethlehem Steel – Florida Two
41. Painted Zeros – Sweet Briar Rose
42. Spit – Paul Westerberg
43. Crusher – Running
44. Pupppy – Stand By Me
45. Aberdeen – Once You Fall In Love
46. Tica Douglas – Enough
47. Peaer – Multiverse
48. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – What Is Love
49. Young Jesus – Mirroring
50. Space Mountain – Earthrise

A Step Forward: Vol. II*

1. Bellows – Bank Checks
2. Cave Curse – Arcadia
3. Fred Thomas – What Changes When the Costumes Come Off
4. Apollo Vermouth – He Sees You, He Loves You
5. Green Dreams – Psychic Woes (Alternate Mix)
6. Lost Boy ? – Have You Seen My Brain (Space Cat Sessions)
7. Mikaela Davis – Pure Divine Love (Early Mix)
8. Nano Kino – Recovery (Early Mix)
9. Trophy Dad – Addison (Early Mix)
10. Alanna McArdle – Less Than (Early Mix)
11. VVHILE – Don’t Belong (Live)
12. Liam Betson – Mispronounced (Live)
13. BAG-DAD – Bruv (Live)
14. Slothrust – Keg Party (Live)
15. The Nudes – Nowhere to Be
16. Sat. Nite Duets – Cemetery Steve
17. Slanted – Fake Party
18. Patio – Gold
19. Greys – No Star
20. No Hoax – Date With Death
21. Dirty Dishes – Red Roulette
22. Yeesh – On Some Dirt
23. Pile – Cut From First Other Tape
24. Even Hand – Nightsmoke the Fuss
25. PURPLE 7 – Wise Up
26. Bad Wig – Machinehead
27. Mary Lynn – Space
28. Pleistocene – CMJ Compilation 1996
29. Color TV – Anybody’s Girl
30. Jacky Boy – Bad
31. Trust Fund – Would That Be An Adventure?
32. Good Grief – City People
33. Adir L.C. – Hangover
34. Milk Crimes – H8RZ
35. À La Mode – Total Doom
36. Inside Voices – Nomad: Begin
37. Doe – Corin
38. Kindling – Became
39. Bueno – Blown Out
40. Horse Teeth – Dark & Gloomy
41. Ron Gallo – Put the Kids to Bed
42. Sun’s Out Bummed Out – Cut All My Hair
43. Eric Slick – The Dirge
44. Fruit & Flowers – Turqoise
45. Shilpa Ray – Hymn
46. Jack – Sister System
47. Strange Ranger – Whatever You Say
48. Johanna Warren – A Bird in the Crocodile’s Mouth
49. Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
50. Fresh Snow – Eat Me In St. Louis (Bryan W. Bray – Eaten by the Cetacean Mix)

Vol. I

Tracks 1-21: Demos
Tracks 22-50: New Songs

Vol. II

Tracks 1-4: New Songs (cont’d)
Tracks 5-14: Alternate Mixes and Live Songs
Tracks 15-49: Old Favorites
Track 50: Remix

 

Watch This: Vol. 130

Adult Mom, Margaret Glaspy, Mise En Scene, Beach Slang (x2), Dr. Dog, Lee Fields, John Grant, Brass Bed, Sleepy Kitty, Quarrels, Adia Victoria, Floating Points, Dentist, Søren Juul, Hounds of the Wild Hunt, Therm, Pile (x2), Quilt, Charlie Parr, Wye Oak, Gabriella Cohen, JJ Grey and Mofro, Band of Horses, King Woman, Yoni & Geti, The Slow Show, Told Slant, So Pitted, Guided By Voices, Steve Gunn, Trombone Shorty, Rogue Wave, Mount Moriah (x2), Lily and Madeleine, Shearwater, and The Jayhawks all had incredibly strong performance videos surface over this past week, each of them deserving of multiple looks and listens. Taken collectively, their cumulative strength is overwhelming which, in turn, illustrates the incredible power of this week’s five featured clips and sessions. From what’s undoubtedly the most moving performance to ever run in this series to what may just be the outright best full sessions, there’s a lot here to appreciate. So, as always, sit up, adjust the volume, tinker with the settings, block out all excess activity, lean in, and Watch This.

1. PUP (Audiotree)

PUP have been getting coverage from this site for just about as long as its existed and they’ve recently gone into an even more intimidating overdrive. After absolutely decimating 7th St. Entry at the start of the month, the band’s been providing reasons to revisit their past. This past week Audiotree uploaded an old full session the band gave the series back at the start of 2015, flashing some increasingly sharp teeth in the process.

2. Royal Headache – High (Pitchfork)

High, the most recent release from Royal Headache, had more than enough firepower to earn a spot as one of last year’s best albums. As strong as their recorded output is, Royal Headache’s real draw has always been their live show, which is captured here via Pitchfork. Vocalist and principal songwriter Shogun has always been a commanding presence and that trait’s on full display as the band tears through the exhilarating title track of their last record at this year’s Primavera.

3. Bob Mould (Sound Opinions)

One of the most respected elder statesman of punk has found a way to revitalize his career over the past several years, hitting some extraordinary highs with recent efforts. It’s not that Bob Mould‘s career has ever been dull, it’s that something inside of him seems to have been pushed to full throttle. The trio of songs Mould careens through here for Sound Opinions serve as very strong evidence.

4. Weaves (CBC Music)

No band has been showing up in coverage lately more than Weaves, who are trying to outrun a tidal wave of adrenaline after releasing what may wind up being the year’s most explosive record. The band’s been stringing together an insanely impressive series of the exact right moves at the exact right moment and this full session for CBC Music continues that trend. Masterfully shot inside of a greenhouse, it’s easily one of the strongest visual sessions to have ever run in this series and for just about anyone else, the cinematography here could threaten to diminish the performance. However, Weaves are a different kind of animal and they find a way to draw strength from the setting, allowing the visuals to ultimately enhance a ferocious set. Every aspect of performance videos is paid respect to with this session, which stands as an unforgettable masterclass of the form. File this one away for multiple trips back to enjoy or even to study; it’s that good.

5. PWR BTTM – Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Emily Dubin)

There’s nothing I can say here that isn’t said better in or by this video, which is a very loving, sincere capture of PWR BTTM playing a deeply heartfelt show in Orlando. Just click play and appreciate the worthwhile things and people in you’re life while you still can and while they’re still here.

What A Difference A Month Makes (Full Streams)

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: there hasn’t been a post on this site for roughly a month. A large part of that development is due to the fact that for approximately half of that timeframe, I’ve been on the road and either playing or taking in shows (the majority of which will be receiving coverage here at some point in the near future). During that stretch, a lot of material has surfaced. From extremely strong post-punk debuts to an astonishing, simultaneous 35-record release, it’s been a fascinating month. Below is a collection of some of the finest releases that have emerged over the past several weeks. Enjoy.

Gland, Phosphene, Husdon Bell, No Ditching + Baby Ghosts, Mean Jeans, Dump Him, Free TimeTender Age, Hurry, J. Robbins, Hayden Calnin, Wood Lake, Animal Faces, A Giant Dog, Haybaby, Museum Mouth, JulianCrossed Wires, Hovvdy, Nearly Oratorio, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Plants & Animals, Pity Sex, Those Pretty Wrongs, Tyler Jordan and the Negative Space, Grubby Little Hands, Beach Skulls, Lenguas Largas, Sorority Noise, TV SetsDoctor Barber and Fog.

Spice BoysYoni & Geti, Klaus Johann Grobe, Quinn Walker (x35), Colleen Green, Modern Baseball, skating, The Duke Spirit, Kikagaku Moyo, Star Parks, Hydropark, Pinkwash, Stone Cold Fox, Half Waif, Lacerate, microsoft saint, Mo Kenney, Hey Lover, Cave States, CE Schneider Topical, Dietrich & Barnes, Britta Phillips, Praise, Boyscouts + Ylayali, Oliver Wilde, Flasher, Acapulco Lips, Constant CompanionGrayling, and an outstanding new Z Tapes compilation.