A name that’s no stranger to this site, Palehound has been a fixture of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage since around the time of its existence. Over that stretch, the band’s profile has only grown and the opportunities they’ve been afforded on that path have continue to expand along with their audience. Each of the records Palehound’s released have been exceptional and the same can be said of their latest, which is the most restrained work of their career by some distance.
One of the highlights of the record is its quiet — and quietly devastating — title track, which finds the band occupying territory not too dissimilar from Phoebe Bridgers‘ solo output (the melody of “Black Friday” and Bridgers’ “Scott Street” seem neatly intertwined). It’s a lovely song that simmers and finds bandleader Ellen Kempner exploring greater vulnerability. As transfixing as it is lovely, “Black Friday” is sure to be a sought-after staple of Palehound’s incredible live show for years to come.
Listen to “Black Friday” below and order a copy of the record from Polyvinyl here.
The project’s first EP, Never Going Home, was good enough to land itself a spot on Heartbreaking Bravery’s Best EP’s of 2016list and, if Just Give In would have been released on its own instead of as a package, the feat likely would’ve been repeated this year. Since that half of the equation has already been accounted for and exhaustively covered, the attention here will mostly focus on the package release’s other half: Just Give In.
Most of the songs released from the more recent half have already been featured over the past few months as well, either as an individual song or as a characteristically striking music video. “Fix“, “More Like You“, and “Love Is Dead” all earned headlines while English consistently earned feature slots in this site’s Watch This series. The remaining songs that haven’t been covered as in-depth as the others are as follows: “Other Lives”, “Birthday”, and bonus track “That Thing”.
“Other Lives” kicks the entire affair off with the kind of pulsating, sweetly melancholic energy that’s come to define English’s material. It’s a typically breathtaking track that breathes a gentle life into the proceedings, setting a hypnotic tone at the record’s onset. English delivers a wistful vocal paired with a downtrodden but resilient narrative that never allows itself to feel too burdened. It’s in that divide where English has found a calling and “Other Lives” stands as yet another definitive example.
“Birthday” finds English in a slightly peppier mode than usual but still finds a way to incorporate a dream-like structure that enhances the song’s more ambient elements. It’s tightly composed and masterfully executed, cementing English’s growing reputation as a songwriter of an extremely high caliber. Just as importantly, “Birthday” plays up Just Give In‘s quiet optimism, its sequencing allowing for maximum impact, suggesting English’s talents extend beyond the songwriting realm.
Just Give In / Never Going Home‘s gem of a closer finds English embracing an ’80s influence in the most definitive manner imaginable. Elevating the warm synth beds to the forefront and utilizing them as the driving force of “That Thing” opens up some room to demonstrate just how versatile English’s music has become since the songwriter’s debut. “That Thing” also perfectly wraps the record, providing it with a perfect dichotomy; the song looks towards the possibilities for the future while celebrating the past. Overall, the release should stand as a monumental effort for English and hopefully propel the songwriter to even greater heights.
Listen to Just Give In / Never Going Home below and pick it up from Polyvinyl here.
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.
A sub-100 second blast of sheer basement pop that leans far closer to Radioactivity than anything the band’s ever put to tape, “NBTSA” — an acronym for Never Be The Same Again — stands out as an unlikely lo-fi highlight from a band that made a serious change in tone for their last effort (the commendably clean Cody, which skewed to a more traditional pop-punk slant). Recorded for Polyvinyl’s always-excellent 4-Track Single Series, “NBTSA” finds the band with an extra dose of energy, looking to the past in an exhilarating victory lap that stands alongside “Comfortable Clothes” as the most adrenaline-inducing material they’ve ever released. It’s a remarkable work from a band that’s both constantly evolving and honoring its own history.
Listen to “NBTSA” below and subscribe to Polyvinyl’s 4-track series here.
Shortly following a characteristically excellent clip, Hazel English has returned with another winsome piece of music just in time to soundtrack all of our warm weather parties. “More Like You”, the project’s latest, is teeming with a familiar carefree aesthetic, something played up in the wistful, nostalgia-inducing home movie leanings of its music video. As always, it’s a warm piece of music, buoyed by the same empathetic warmth that’s quietly made Hazel English one of our most consistent emerging songwriters.
“More Like You” is unassuming, unpretentious, and gently atmospheric, conjuring up a world that’s easy to get lost in and difficult to leave. While the vocals remain pensive, they also retain the sunny optimism that’s always provided Hazel English’s music with a sturdy core. It’s that paradigm that makes Hazel English such a fascinating artist and what makes “More Like You” so alluring. There’s a hint of mystery nestled into the familiarity, rendering the comfortably breezy “More Like You” yet another triumph.
Listen to “More Like You” below and pre-order Just Give In/Never Going Home from Polyvinyl here.
2016 was a very good year for Hazel English, who produced several of the year’s best music videos as well as one of its best EPs. “Fix”, the latest clip from the project, may just be its best yet. Whereas previous videos offered up what were essentially contained (and beautifully shot) travelogues, “Fix” takes a step further with its narrative and instead of isolating the artist, allows for a character study of a relationship.
It’s never exactly clear which stage of the relationship is being documented — most signs point to early — but it’s evident that it’s a healthy, thriving one. Too frequently, especially lately, have videos opted to take an overly-serious route when it comes to these types of studies but director Austin M. Kearns wisely side-steps that temptation to enhance the gentle beauty inherent in Hazel English’s best work, allowing both song and video to enhance each other’s impact in the process.
Ava Shorr’s cinematography also lends an elegant feel to the proceedings, switching between magic hour lyricism and a mid-day vibrancy that renders “Fix” the most colorful — and most impressive — of Hazel English’s increasingly gorgeous music video output. Derek Perlman gives a fine, committed performance as the male lead and Hazel Enligh remains the winsome center. The whole thing comes across as a breath of fresh air and the photography direction stands as some of 2017’s most beautiful in any format. Put simply: “Fix” is worth celebrating as much as its worth watching. Dive in, get lost, fall in love, and curl up in its effortless warmth.
Listen to “Fix” below and pre-order Just Give In/Never Going Home from Polyvinylhere.
Over the years, PWR BTTM have earned themselves a novella’s worth of praise from this site. Throughout that time, like every great band tends to, they’ve grown considerably better and have managed to fearlessly push themselves in new, unexpected directions. Pageant, by all accounts, is the band’s boldest statement yet and it’s anchored by songs like “LOL”, which may just be their career highlight. While all of PWR BTTM’s songs have a considerable amount of merit, it’s when they’re at their most vulnerable and frail that the impact deepens.
As great and as necessary as their triumphant songs are, the wounded honesty in songs like “LOL” have the kind of vitality that can legitimately save lives. Judging from a handful of stories, reactions, and confessions that the band’s music has prompted from their listeners, that sentiment’s not as hyperbolic as one might think. In this particular case, Ben Hopkins turns the knife inward and offers up an exacting, incisive take on their own identity and the self-discovery that defined that path.
The composition itself ranks among the most audacious of the band’s career, making room for everything from a tasteful horn chart to operatic backing vocals, while Hopkins delivers a deeply felt vocal. “LOL” culminates in a cathartic final sequence that may be the heaviest thing the band’s ever recorded, lending an already-powerful moment even more weight. “LOL” proves the band’s ready and willing to keep moving forward and at the end of the day, there’s not a lot that’s more important than the kind of commitment that requires. It’s difficult to imagine that there won’t be a devoted army of people offering encouragement at every step, with band and audience locked into a cycle of the kind of compassion, empathy, and understanding that the world desperately needs.
Listen to “LOL” below and pre-orded Pageant from Polyvinyl here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume.
Last year Fred Thomas released a breathtaking meditation on life, love, and loss in All Are Saved and has been quietly releasing various pieces of music ever since its release. One of those releases was “What Changes When the Costumes Come Off”, which was written specifically for the A Step Forwardcompilation that marked this site’s 1000th post (and that gesture will have my eternal gratitude).
Now, the acclaimed songwriter returns in earnest with the first look at a fully-formed new record, Charger, by way of lead-off single “Brickwall”. Characteristically wry, lived-in, and wise, “Brickwall” showcases Thomas’ enviable lyrical prowess and skill in composition. Comprised of not much more than a clean guitar tone and anxious vocals, save for what may be the most intense solo in Thomas’ storied discography, “Brickwall” finds the songwriter in rare form.
At every turn, there’s a measure of deep feeling that can be heard even through the rapid-fire barbs that are aimed at just about everyone that surrounds the central character of “Brickwall”. It’s a compelling, fascinating listen and it’s one of the more accessible and immediate songs that Thomas has released. Bold, gripping, and loaded with conviction, and sets a very high standard for Charger. If the rest of the record can live up to this precedent, 2017 will start off on the right foot.
Listen to “Brickwall” below and pre-order Changer here.
This post’s feature spot was claimed by Tancred, a project that was all but guaranteed extensive coverage since the release of Out of the Garden, a 2016 highlight. “Sell My Head” was the first glimpse at what the project could achieve and now, a gorgeous Adam Weinberg-directed video for “Pens” has pushed the envelope even further. Masterminded by Now, Now member Jess Abbott, Tancred’s been growing exponentially more fascinating since String & Twine‘s release in 2011. The growth Tancred’s achieved over that time period’s remarkable and fully evidenced by “Pens”.
Opening with a slow-drip ink spill, “Pens” immediately sets a tone that keys in on its atmospherics, conjuring up a sense of tension, dread, and intrigue. In addition to directing, Weinberg also lensed and edited “Pens” and enlisted Nicole Kugel (who served as assistant director and art director on the clip) to bring a comprehensive vision to life. From the brooding, palm-muted opening to the euphoric eruption of the defiantly triumphant chorus, “Pens” is provided a haunted visual accompaniment that sways the narrative toward a darker subtext in surprising ways.
Helping matters along is Speedy Ortiz‘s Sadie Dupuis — who recently unveiled a new project called Sad13 — appears in “Pens” as Death, casting an increasingly foreboding shadow as the clip hurtles towards its climax. Dupuis and Abbott have recently emerged as sharing a spiritual kinship in their work, so Dupuis’ appearance here is both sensible and heartening, solidifying a connection that’s only grown stronger over the past few years. Abbott, in the central role, and Dupuis, as Death, both deliver committed performances in “Pens”, injecting their characters with a barely-contained mischievousness that pays off in an explosive ending.
Following a steady build, the clip hinges on that aforementioned ending, which finds Abbott and Dupuis hooking up in a way that feels more symbolic than exploitative. There’s an intense amount of sexuality, yes, but that moment also cements what the narrative had been driving towards (which expands on the lyrical subtext). Abbott lets excessively dark impulses take hold and merges with them while still retaining an identity. It’s provocative but it’s also incredibly powerful. In a lesser director’s hands it may have felt cheap but Weinberg grounds the moment with a surprising amount of gravitas which elevates the moment far past an easy angle.
The unforgettable final shot, which hints at the thesis shot of “Pens”, finds Dupuis’ death in complete control as Abbott secretes a black liquid that runs out of her lips. It’s the last moment of small-scale horror in a clip that uses the genre as a propulsive function, providing one last gorgeous shot before cutting away to black. A perfect epilogue to a tremendous music video, the moment also secures “Pens” a spot as one of this year’s most memorable clips. Utilizing an economic setup to complete perfection, “Pens” makes its mark with its own brand of dark magic.
Watch “Pens” below and pick up a copy of Out of the Garden from Polyvinyl here.
Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.
Few bands have held the capacity to surprise as readily or as consistently as Deerhoof, who have elevated themselves into legendary status by that very virtue. The band has a tendency to be abrasive and difficult to parse, which makes “Plastic Thrills” all the more surprising. A very immediate blend of proto-punk, basement pop, and sloppy garage rock, it essentially scans as the band riding a very unexpected — and completely exhilarating — sugar high.
Now, this is still recognizably Deerhoof and there are very different sections that comprise “Plastic Thrills” but somehow the band manages to bludgeon them into something that’s not only coherent but something that sustains and builds the song’s excess energy. It’s a very sharp left turn from a band that’s perfected the move. “Plastic Thrills” is the kind of song that a lot of people won’t want to end, which injects its incredibly abrupt finish with a dash of tongue-in-cheek humor that ensures a reasonable amount of people will consider this a left-field classic.
Listen to “Plastic Thrills” below and pre-order The Magic from Polyvinyl here.