A lot of acts with ties to Roomrunner have been making increasingly excellent music throughout the course of 2016 and this new solo project from drummer Bret Lanahan pushes those limits to an exhilarating apex. “Waves”, the first song to be released from a forthcoming 7″ release on site favorite Accidental Guest, is a turbo-fueled jolt of pure aggression that never loses sight of its melodic overtones.
In a manner not too dissimilar from Meat Wave, the project mixes a variety of ’90s influences that range from propulsive noise acts to slacker punk and creates something that’s both familiar and bracing in the process. The verses here are sledgehammers set on annihilation while the chorus looks skyward, even though its narrative is decidedly downtrodden. In all, it’s a galvanizing listen that announces Lanahan’s project (which quickly evolved into a full band lineup following the recording of this 7″) with the kind of determined confidence that makes them impossible to ignore.
Listen to “Waves” below and keep an eye on Accidental Guest for the pre-orders.
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.
Keeping the recent themes of the site going, this post will be dedicated to 75 of this year’s most fascinating records (along with an overlooked fourth quarter gem or two from last year getting their due). Covering a range of genres, as always, these records cover a lot of ground. A few find their niche in fierceness while others make a home in more tranquil realms. It’s impossible to stress how full of a year 2015’s already been for new music and if this crop of early offerings is any suggestion, we’re all in for one of the strongest stretches of new music in roughly a decade. As ever, don’t let the fact there’s no accompanying text with these releases detract from their value; a great deal of these have a good chance of ranking among 2015’s finest releases (NPR’s current roster of First Listen selections is an exhilarating reminder that we’re only just getting started). Click on the hyperlinks below (listed in no particular order) to hear the records and- if you find yourself drawn to any- make sure to pick one up from either the band or their label. Happy exploring.
In all best-of coverage, there’s no room for any objectivity positing (“Best” is usually just shorthand for “most admired”), which is why this site’s long-held first person restriction will be dropped to allow me to speak more personally in an effort to better explain the contents of this list’s (and all of the lists to follow) personal effect on myself. In 2014, I watched (and covered) more music videos than any year of my life- allowing an intake of genuinely great content that made compiling this list a dream and a nightmare. After spending weeks reviewing old clips (while keeping up with the videos enjoying December releases), I settled on the selections below as the 14 that hit me hardest over the past 12 months. This list will be the first entry in more than a week’s worth of year-end coverage that I’m beyond excited to share with everyone. So, with all of that said- it’s my privilege to present Heartbreaking Bravery’s 14 of ’14: The Best Music Videos of the Year.
14. Left & Right – Low Expectations
A few months ago, Left & Right released this absolute gem of a music video. Imbued with a DIY irreverence, a purposeful sense of direction, winningly off-beat humor, unabashedly committed performances, and some genuinely great cinematography, “Low Expectations” became an unexpected standout; a clip that came out of the gate swinging and (somehow) landing every single blow. Easily one of 2014’s most unexpectedly charming (and ridiculously enjoyable) clips.
13. Saintseneca – Happy Alone
Saintseneca’s Dark Arc was one of 2014’s most deserved breakout moments and nothing punctuated that shift more than the Christopher Good-helmed clip for “Happy Alone”. Emphasizing the song’s central themes by providing a bubble that practically forces isolation onto bandleader Zac Little, it’s a visually striking clip that got harder to shake as the year progressed. By grounding its elements of surrealism with an abundance of naturalism, it provided an artful counterpoint to something like Perfume Genius’ “Queen” (which, incidentally, was shot by Good). Importantly, it also proved that Saintseneca were officially on their way to bigger and better things.
12. Angel Olsen – Windows
I’m not sure there was a music video to come out of 2014 that was more startlingly gorgeous than this Rick Alverson-directed clip for Angel Olsen’s heart-stopping Burn Your Fire For No Witness highlight “Windows”. By incorporating Southern Gothic Americana style rural imagery into Olsen’s plaintive folk-leaning sensibilities, Alverson managed to create an evocative portrait of one of this generation’s finest songwriters. Leading up to an oddly moving (and admittedly eccentric) climax, the whole thing’s so artfully rendered it begins to feel as complete as some of the year’s best films. Delicate and aggressive in all the right places, “Windows” more than earned a spot on this list.
11. Beverly – Honey Do
“Honey Do” was my introduction to Beverly, just as it was for many others, so when news broke that they’d shot a music video for the song, it felt worthy of anticipation. Most of the expectations I had were exceeded in the first few frames and as the video progressed, so did my appreciation. Eschewing any kind of image-building, this was the first in a string of Beverly clips that largely eschewed celebrity in favor of celebrating artistry. Shot in crisp black-and-whites, “Honey Do” is a tender portrait of Los Angeles and its inhabitants and a promising mission statement from one of 2014’s more engaging new acts.
10. S – Losers
Initially just a clip that came and went with very little fanfare (from a great record with a similar reception), “Losers” immediately felt deeply personal and genuinely heartfelt. Ostensibly a reflection on perception, self-esteem, and harsh reality, the thematic elements in the lyrics get brought to vivid life in a lovingly shot clip that somehow brings them to devastating proportions. DIY in spirit with a focal point on self-expression and identity, it’s become legitimately unforgettable; a long, heavy sigh of acceptance with only the faintest glimmer of hope reverberating throughout the weary cynicism. While “Vampires” was a great deal of fun, it’s “Losers” that deserves the lion’s share of attention for being one of 2014’s strongest buried treasures.
9. Iceage – Against the Moon
Honestly, “The Lord’s Favorite” and “Forever” both could have made this list but it felt more appropriate to limit bands to one entry apiece. With that being the case, it’s Plowing Into The Field Of Love highlight “Against the Moon” that gets the nod; all of the reasons for its inclusion were previously detailed pretty extensively here.
8. Anna Calvi & David Byrne – Strange Weather
Soft saturation. An autumnal palette. Digital film. One of the most delicately directed cinematography performances in any visual medium this year. An implicitly tragic narrative arc that suggests internal (and possible external) suffering. All of these come together in the sublime clip for an equally sublime cover of Kareen Ann’s “Strange Weather”, courtesy of Anna Calvi & David Byrne. One view was all it took for this to become one of the most difficult to shake clips of the year. Masterfully composed and brilliantly executed, it’s nothing short of an emotionally intuitive masterpiece.
7. Diarrhea Planet – Babyhead
I got to use “diaper skull flume explosion” while writing the tags for this one in the initial write-up; what more explanation do you need? “Babyhead” was pure madcap glee on a level not too dissimilar to Wrong Hole’s equally shameless, equally deranged lyric video for “Wrong Hole“. There are times when total insanity can be kind of beautiful. I’m not sure this is one of them but it’s still ridiculously fun.
6. Kid Moxie & The Gaslamp Killer – Museum Motel
No music video kept ricocheting around the corners of my brain more than this deeply unnerving clip from Kid Moxie & The Gaslamp Killer. Operating on a visual level that rivals what was achieved in Under The Skin, it uses waters, shadows, and contrast in a darkly seductive fashion that burrows its way into any brain fortunate enough to find its way over. An ingeniously subtle use of superimposed imagery on a lone snare drum drives up the feeling of unrelenting loneliness and palpable loss. It’s a deeply alluring and deceptively minimal visual representation of a stunning song. One that’s worth putting more than halfway up a “Best of 2014” list.
5. La Dispute – Woman (Reading)
Since this was the last one of the last non-list features to be posted here, it’d seem redundant to simply retrace everything that’s already been said.
4. Girlpool – Plants and Worms
Catleya Sherbow created this unbelievably stunning clip for Girlpool, 2014’s best duo, and touched on a number of pressure points- namely, acceptance and doubt. In the end, it’s about acceptance, and while that message does come laced with a visual that could potentially double as suicide, it still somehow manages to come off as comforting. “Plants and Worms” hits with the force of a world-stopping realization and echoes long after it ends, providing a staggering moment of beauty for Girlpool and a warm reassurance for just about everyone else.
3. clipping. – Work Work
Yes, the video for “Never Gonna Catch Me”- the Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar collaboration- was incredible. Not a lot of people are going to dismiss that claim. However, it’s another destined-to-be-iconic clip from that genre field that made a deep(er) impression on me; the video for the clipping. and Cocc Pistol Cree collaboration “Work Work”. Tracing a narrative arc that uses a laser-sharp focus on the act of curb-stomping, enhanced by some thought-provoking visual surrealism, it immediately became one of 2014’s most arresting clips and its status hasn’t let up. If there was a tracking shot more provocative than the one at the start of “Work Work”, then I’d love to see it. Until then, I’m just going to keep returning to this one.
2. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning
No clip from 2014 came imbued with more unwavering passion than the Crosshair-starring clip for “Warning”. All anyone needs to see is the thumbnail shot for this video to see a glimpse of how unfailingly heartfelt “Warning” winds up being. Matthew Reed tapped into a transcendental kind of magic that collapses a variety of bridges (age, taste) with a near-shocking ease. Ever since this was first released, I’ve been revisiting it with a great frequency because, like most great art, it pulls the viewer back in and rewards investment. Breathtakingly lensed, brilliantly edited, and furiously paced, this was a perfect accompaniment to one of the year’s most emotionally-charged records. Cymbals Eat Guitars may have intended the song to be a warning about love and loss but, backed by the video, it becomes one of the year’s most life-affirming moments.
1. PUP – Guilt Trip
Back in 2013, I had the honor of naming PUP’s “Reservoir” the best music video of 2013 for PopMatters. While that video was a cathartic release that was a near-perfect representation of the maelstrom of a particularly rowdy live show, their video for “Guilt Trip” (once again speared by the creative team of Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux) was a much more serious affair. Weirdly attuned to my own childhood experiences probably lent it a few small favors in terms of my esteem but, doing my best to separate myself from that strange fact, it boasts a series of career-bests from Levack and Schaulin Rioux: cinematography, editing, the performances they elicited from an impressively talented young cast, narrative, and overall direction among the list. “Guilt Trip” also includes one of the most genuinely heart-stopping moments I’ve seen in any clip, infusing it with a sense of brutal reality (if only for a moment), emphasized by a single shot that drives the point home. My initial claim that it could have a shot at carving out a spot for “Video of the Decade” still doesn’t seem so far off- but it’s worth keeping an eye on Levack and Schaulin-Rioux to see if they can keep repeating a ridiculously impressive pattern.
As previously mentioned, the site’s been dealing with some lingering technical issues so its been difficult to get in the regularly-scheduled posts. Last week saw nothing but a premiere and a few series features go up- nothing else. To make up for all of that missed time, tonight’s posts will be dedicated to last week’s best material in the three major categories. Music videos have been accounted for and now it’s onto the single songs. In keeping with the normal routine, there was an abundance of single streams so this will be the first of two posts dedicated to their coverage. A full stream post will follow and then this week’s coverage will be brought up to speed. Before all of that happens, there are a lot of songs to discuss- starting now.
Darlings showed they could balance their power with a staggering amount of casual finesse in the basement pop stopmper “I Love You Too“, Krill offered up an extremely tantalizing preview of their forthcoming album with the ragged “Torturer“, and The Golden Dregs strutted out some psych-pop via the subtly sun-splashed (and folk-inflected) “The Role of A Lifetime”. Reservoir showed an abundance of promise with the slow-building “Waves Erase“, Leggy continued a raucous streak with the decidedly punk “Grrrls Like Us“, Leapling unveiled the deeply intriguing “Silent Stone” from their upcoming Vacant Page LP, Twerps reassured everyone their Merge signing was no mistake via the shimmering “Shoulders“, and Snow Ghosts tapped into something transcendental and impossibly compelling with their hypnotically brooding single, “Bowline“.
It’s another dark brooder that earned this post’s feature spot, though; Laughing Fingers’ “Crutches”. Restless and bleak, “Crutches” emphasizes the singular talents of Chris Broom and Ian Taggart (the duo who make up Laughing Fingers) in the best ways possible. Heavy on atmosphere without skimping on melody or structure, Laughing Fingers created something that feels akin to the smoke that hovers over a battlefield. It boasts a relentlessly cynical worldview that accepts everything is cyclical in lyric copy, it’s the uncertainty of the music that pushes the song to a grandiose disquiet. At times, it’s almost as if “Crutches” moves in slow motion, allowing everything in the outside world to unfurl or unwind as it grapples with an intense internal battle. Everything ends when it turns to chaotic to contain; even the staccato stabs can’t hide the fact that everything’s about to fall completely apart, providing an extremely disconcerting end-cap to the song’s veiled intensity. In short: Laughing Fingers are a band who aren’t afraid to make something like “Crutches”- and “Crutches” is the kind of song that deserves to be dissected. Don’t be surprised if this song (or Two EP‘s) burrows itself out a permanent place in a lot of people’s collections.
Listen to “Crutches” below and order Two EP‘s from Death Rehearsal here.
They did it again. Emphatically. It’s been a while since a band made music videos this consistently great that were so separated stylistically. First, there was the relentless, cathartic bloodshed of “Reservoir” [which I named the best music video of 2013 over at PopMatters]. That was then followed by the one-shot video for “Lionheart” that undoubtedly hit a personal nerve for a lot of people. Somewhere along the way, PUPwas finally released internationally and the band started picking up the wider recognition it deserved. Even with all of that taken into consideration, the band may have outdone themselves with the utterly stunning “Guilt Trip” music video.
Enhancing the cinematic elements of their previous clips tenfold, it tells an unlikely origin story that’s as visceral as it is bleakly compelling. Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux take the helm as the directing team and fill each frame with a sense of purpose to the point that it’s almost jarring, as that’s a style that’s increasingly fallen out of practice in the format as of late. Additionally, from the gorgeous first shot all the way through to the last, this is some of the best cinematography to have emerged this year in any format. From bullying to underage drinking to blood pacts to a dead cop to the most perfect conflict resolution imaginable, every single new scene and development lands with as much impact as the visuals themselves (keep an eye out for the images that happen in a silent, tension-filled interim, they’re among the most arresting of the past few years).
By the time the brilliant epilogue shot hits, acting as both a summary and a metaphor, it’ll be easy to feel absolutely spent. An entire adolescense, from the most harrowing moments to the most zealously joyful, can be found in these three minutes and 50 seconds. The way these images are presented resonates so profoundly that it’s almost difficult to separate them from real memories. Perfectly realized and featuring four unbelievably strong performances from its young cast, “Guilt Trip” doesn’t just have a shot at being the best video of this year- but one of the best of the decade.
Watch “Guilt Trip” below and relive the highs and lows of childhood all over again.
Toronto punk upstarts PUP have been building buzz steadily over the past year and they finally seem set to explode with the release of their self-titled debut. Prior to being PUP, the band had been playing out and releasing music under the name Topanga, so named after the character in Boy Meets World. After Disney acquired the rights to that particular show and planned a revamp, the band put the name to rest and became PUP. The re-branding seems to have ignited a fire in them that’s shown no signs of coming close to being put out.
After receiving coverage from nearly every major independent-music publication, continuing to make all the right connections, and releasing the year’s best music video, PUP has finally arrived (albeit currently only in their native Canada). PUP, like METZ before it,continues a trend in fiercely aggressive Canadian noise-punk imports. Unlike METZ, however, the band reigns things in every now and again throughout the record’s ten tracks, displaying enviable songwriting prowess and an unexpected vulnerability. That vulnerability is part of what makes tracks like “Yukon” so memorable; they’re distinguishable moments that add up to a substantial whole.
PUP‘s staunch refusal to present a collection of tracks that bleed into each other is admirable and helps the band stand out from many of their counterparts. This refusal allows them to put an emphasis on their lyricism, which is another one of the band’s more unique traits. Even with all the standard “Oh-oh-oh” sections peppered throughout PUP, the band manages to deliver memorable couplets like “and when my eyes were closed/you left me miserable… in the morning” before the explosive chorus on “Cul-de-sac” and the almost threatening “I guess you live and you learn/I guess you’ll get what you deserve” on “Reservoir”, as well as entire songs of memorable and intelligent lines (“Dark Days” is particularly strong).
While PUP is undoubtedly formidable when the band’s gang mentality is on full display, it’s at its best when it flies off the rails and is spearheaded by a single personality. “Reservoir”, the lead-off single and album highlight, is the strongest example of this. There’s a ferocious and manic energy driving that song throughout its verse sections that make the brief group vocals on the explosive chorus even more resonant and effective. PUP’s untapped a rare kind of magic with that formula and they utilize it smartly throughout the record, accelerating and easing off at will to create a frenzied and somewhat chaotic pace that suits PUP perfectly.
“Factories” brings the record to an effective close, providing a sense of completion while also being energetic enough to leave listeners anxiously waiting for more. PUP is one hell of a first entry in what looks to be a promising career. Despite not currently being available in the US, you can stream the whole thing over at the band’s bandcamp. For those looking for a briefer introduction to the band and their aesthetic, the video for “Reservoir” is posted below and, as hinted at earlier, it’s fucking incredible. Keep an eye out for a US release sometime soon and make sure to check out the band when they swing through Chicago on 11/25 to play the Empty Bottle with Heartbreaking Bravery favorites Audacity and Hunters.