Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Review

The Best Music Videos of October (2019)

While 2019 hasn’t been as strong for the music video format as some previous years, there are still gems to be found. A quartet of them popped up during the course of October, each one accentuating the strength of their central song while holding their own as a work of art. Varied in approach and execution, each of these clips had something unique to offer. Each one deserves a certain level of investigation and the investment that process entails. Give all four a watch below.

1. Amy O – Crushed

Color damage, lo-fi effects, solid editing, and a great basement pop song. Sometimes that’s all of the ingredients you need to create a smart, engaging music video and Amy O‘s “Crushed” is certainly one of those times. Simple, effective, and just about perfect.

2. Wilsen – Ruiner

Mitzi Akaha and Tamsin Wilson deliver strong turns in Michael Simon’s clip for “Ruiner”, a single from Wilson’s Wilsen project. A quietly unnerving clip that oddly echoes two Elisabeth Moss films, Queen of Earth and The One I Love. Shot in the style of a Gothic psychological horror, Simon makes great use of atmosphere and a superlative lead performance. Jake Saner’s cinematography gives a perfect read on the song’s tone and pushes the “Ruiner” clip over the top, leaving it as one of 2019’s best clips.

3. Ada Lea – 180 Days

“180 Days”, the latest music video from Ada Lea walks a fine line between traditional music video and lyric video. Never really establishing a clear narrative, the clip mostly thrives on Lea singing to the camera in a variety of poses and costumes as the lyrics scroll by on the bottom. Despite the simple conceit, those foundations prove to be more than enough, as “180 Days” keeps the viewers attention steadfast.

4. Common Holly – Crazy OK

When I Say to You Black Lightning, the most recent full-length from Common Holly, is an astounding work. One of the record’s strongest highlights comes in the form of “Crazy OK”, the record’s explosive finale. Max Taeuschel & Aaliyeh Afshar stepped behind the camera for the song’s music video and spearheaded an incredibly memorable visual accompaniment. Leaning heavily on the song’s lyrical narrative, Taeuschel and Afshar let the images of bandleader Brigitte Naggar’s posture and movement provide an effective maximization. Gripping through and through, “Crazy OK” is easy to admire and hard to shake.

The Best Songs of October (2019)

October held a lot of surprises, a few new singles sprinkled among their ranks. From resuscitated projects to fast follow-ups to fascinating departures, the month seemed to be as rich as any in 2019. Nine of those tracks made a sizable impression as the month wound on, making waves right up to the end. While it’s literally impossible for one person to consume every song that comes out on any given day, hundreds earned consideration for placement here but the ones that made the cut here made the cut for a reason. Enjoy.

1. illuminati hotties – ppl plzr

Last year, illuminati hotties broke out in a big way, landing in several Best Of lists. Now, riding the wave of that success, the band sounds emboldened, evidenced by the relative fearlessness of “ppl plzr”. While they’ve excelled at maximizing dynamic composition, “ppl plzr” takes that trait to another level, finding illuminati hotties at their most engaging. Whether simmering at a slow boil or flowing over with unchecked aggression, “ppl plzr” is proof that illuminati hotties are only getting better as they go.

2. Failed Flowers – Broken Screen

Not too long ago (but an eternity ago in terms of media cycles), site favorites Fred Thomas and Anna Burch teamed up to co-front an excellent basement pop band called Failed Flowers. With Burch and Thomas’ solo careers both taking off and finding success, Failed Flowers got pushed to the background but the band’s now offering listeners a peak at their final stages via a Slumberland single. “Broken Screen” is the A-side and finds Thomas biting into a characteristically sardonic narrative that’s buoyed by the band’s jangly sensibilities. A perfect addition for a release that will ensure the project goes out on top.

3. Timothy Heller – Not Even For You

“Not Even For You” starts off at a slow pace, working its way to something bigger. At every pace, the song remains mesmeric, going a long way to ensure Timothy Heller is a name that doesn’t slip from the mind. A mid-tempo slice of psych-inflicted indie pop, “Not Even For You” impresses on multiple levels. A complete work that indicates the band’s mastery of dynamics, identity, and composition, “Not Even For You” stood tall as one of October’s most unexpected surprises.

4. Emily A. Sprague – Mesa

Florist mastermind Emily A. Sprague has been going on solo journeys quite a bit as an artist lately. Both as an ambient artist — one who recently toured with William Basinski — and even under the Florist guise, which was stripped back to just Sprague for Emily Alone. “Mesa” finds Spague occupying ambient terrain once more, conjuring up a lush, melancholic dreamscape that floats along at a glacial pace. A song that only ever stops unfurling as it winds down, “Mesa” is as lovely as anything that’s been released in 2019.

5. The Whiffs – Shakin All Over

A scruffy throwback power-punk number, The Whiffs’ “Shakin All Over” is one of many songs that uses retro styling to push a classic setup into modernity. Falling somewhere between Dark Thoughs and Sheer Mag with the pop sensibility punched up to the max, The Whiffs have landed on something instantly likable and surprisingly memorable in “Shakin All Over”. A winsome, punk-minded triumph from a band that sounds as if it’s been around forever but is only just getting started.

6. Dead Soft – Trimmer

Dead Soft have come surging back to life in 2019, releasing a handful of towering behemoths. “Trimmer”, a four minute, shit-kicking, shoegaze-driven monster is just the latest but it captures a band that’s not only found its voice but a confidence in that voice. The gas pedal’s been driven down to the floor and the band seems acutely aware of the kind of chaos that action always invites. Then again, it’s probably hard to care about much else when the songs that are getting written sound this good.

7. Alice Bowman – The More I Cry

For years, Alice Bowman has been writing and releasing gorgeous, understated songs. “The More I Cry” may just be the songwriter’s finest. A ’50s throwback ballad, the song’s production perfectly accentuates the sound as Bowman’s breathy vocals float along the ether. A song of loss, longing, and heartache, “The More I Cry” is yet another song that convincingly mines past styles to effectively prove their effectiveness and worth in today’s musical landscape. A beautiful turn from one of today’s more fascinating songwriters.

8. Potty Mouth – Favorite Food

Earlier this year, Potty Mouth released SNAFU, a record that acted as a form of catharsis for the band, who had to navigate their way out of industry hell to return to full power.  While that record was as excellent as anything the band’s put out to date, they hit a new high with their latest single, “Favorite Food”. Guitarist/vocalist Abby Weems nearly sounds reborn, guiding the band to a sound that has significantly more bite than their previous releases without sacrificing any part of their established musical identity. It’s a small but noticeable evolution for one of today’s best pop-punk bands.

9. Jeff Rosenstock – Ambient 7

Most people aren’t going to know Jeff Rosenstock for the songwriter’s ambient work, which is fair, especially in the face of a celebrated career as a punk artist. Yet Rosenstock’s talents as an ambient composer seem set to demand greater attention. “Ambient 7” finds Rosenstock in full ambient mode, delivering a shockingly beautiful drone work that seems to echo Stars of the Lid and nearly hits the 7 minute mark. Vexing and immersive, “Ambient 7” sounds like the work of a practiced ambient artist, which may be yet another road for Rosenstock to seize if the mood ever strikes. If that day never comes, at least “Ambient 7” will always be out there, gently beckoning for a return.

Devon Welsh – War (Music Video)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

Majical Cloudz’s demise had some deeply regrettable mitigating factors that made their exit a necessity, for everyone. Fortunately, the voice that anchored that project never completely left. Devon Welsh’s presence on that group’s work was overwhelming, a trait that’s translated seamlessly to the artist’s solo work. “War” is another in a string of gripping triumphs from Welsh, who seems to be partially addressing his old band’s departure on this track, which arrives with an accompanying music video crafted by Welsh himself, in collaboration with Nika.

The duo make the wise decision to key in on Welsh’s trademark unblinking, bug-eyed intensity. The entirety of “War” is a crisp. static black-and-white one shot of Welsh navigating the song’s vocals, trembling violently throughout. There’s a level of spirituality present at this level of confrontation and it makes the watch more than a little disorienting but there’s also something intrinsically honest and even brave about Welsh’s performance that makes “War” impossible to turn off. It’s a work of jaw-dropping commitment that creates a cumulative effect that reverberates long after the clip’s final frame. Hard to ignore and harder to forget, “War” is a startling reminder of the humanity that’s in the root of all great art.

Watch “War” below and keep an eye on this page for further updates on any upcoming releases.

Campfires – I’ll Go Home (Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

For the past few years, Fire Talk has been building a reputation as one of the most consistently excellent labels in post-punk and beyond, headlined by artists like Deeper, Patio, and Dehd. On occasion, the label will branch out to more Americana-leaning territory and grab up an artist that fits their vision. Campfires was one of those acquisitions and the project more than proves their worth with the jangly, rollicking “I’ll Go Home”. Mid-fi production and a lot of treble bite shine through on the track, which recalls Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever at their scrappiest. Finding extra life in a hungover bonfire haze, “I’ll Go Home” is a relatively quiet but pointed delight, signaling great things to come from Campfires. Keep an eye on this one.

Listen to “I’ll Go Home” below and pre-order Fare Trax from Fire Talk here.

Cool Original – I Never Said I Didn’t Care (Album Review, Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

Nathan Tucker’s Cool Original project, through all its permutations, has earned quite a bit of love from this site. Nothing the project’s accomplished so far matches the scope of what’s achieved on I Never Said I Didn’t Care, a towering testament to personal and artistic growth. A little sludge, a lot of pop, and a fair share of basement punk coalesce into something that’s gripping from the outset and progressively more engaging as the record’s values become clear.

Towering in a peculiarly unassuming way, I Never Said I Didn’t Care finds Tucker and company cranking up the volume and confronting some harsh truths head on with a clear-eyed resolve (the “we don’t want the same things” realization in “Offended” is equal parts heartbreaking and emboldening). While the thematic through-line doesn’t shy away from complication, the composition that sustains I Never Said I Didn’t Care is some of the project’s most fierce and direct.

As the record progresses, Cool Original embrace a ramshackle existence and then blow it to smithereens in favor of something more subtle and rewarding: self-acceptance. In this case, that self is one keenly aware of hangups and has a penchant for larger-than-life distortion-heavy anthems that pay tribute to resilience. Inspired and inspiring, I Never Said I Didn’t Care makes its title abundantly clear in just about every way: this is a record that cares, deeply, about everything- and the record’s all the better for indulging in that trait. A high water mark for one of today’s most consistently excellent projects. Don’t let the year end without grabbing a copy.

Listen to I Never Said I Didn’t Care below and pick it up here.

Strange Ranger – Message To You (Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

One of the many privileges of being a music listener is latching onto a band that never stops improving as they evolve. Thus far, Strange Ranger fits that bill to a tee. “Message to You”, the band’s latest track, is a smoky, bruised ballad teeming with urgency and regret. Flickering away under a proto-industrial backbeat, “Message to You” floats along, driven by some understated synth work and a melancholic piano figure. A gorgeous bass line that turns menacing in the song’s latter half ensure “Message to You” is a legitimate standout, not just for the band but for 2019. Easily Strange Ranger’s most fascinating composition to date, the song also heralds their arrival as an act that’s made the jump from being a promising band to being a capital-A Artist. An astonishing work.

Listen to “Message To You” below and pre-order Remembering The Rocket from Tiny Engines here.

Young Guv – Roll With Me + Every Flower I See (Stream)

For years, Young Guv has been experiencing a steady uptick in public recognition. Like so many other artists that get covered here it’s not necessarily due to something like touring harder or being more prolific in terms of releases (in addition to that music both competing and benefiting from existing in the shadow of a wide umbrella), it’s more a matter of an audience catching up to the quality of an artist’s music All that said, the Ben Cook — who also plays guitar in Fucked Up — project’s also quietly improved over its run, an aspect that’s readily apparent on Young Guv’s most recent offerings: “Roll With Me” and “Every Flower I See”.

One feels like a spiritual brother to Rolling Blackouts C.F, the other, Mike Krol. Both come stamped with Cook’s signature vocal tic, which manages the difficult trick of sounding simultaneously weary and completely energized. Both tracks are easy to fall in love with, exuding the kind of charm that characterized acts like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk in their early breakout moments. Every second, no matter which way the genre influences lean, proves winsome, and Cook further solidifies his place among today’s emerging songwriters. “Roll With Me” and “Every Flower I See” both offer up an early look at Cook’s forthcoming Guv I, which could be mentioned on this site come December if the rest of its anywhere close to this good. Don’t miss this one.

Listen to “Roll With Me” and “Every Flower I See” below and pre-order Guv I from Run For Cover here.

Graham Hunt – Change Their Mind (Stream)

Graham Hunt‘s name should be a familiar one to anyone in the upper Midwest who pays attention to the region’s scrappy basement pop scene. Midnight Reruns, Midwives, and Sundial Mottos all benefited from Hunt’s involvement and the totality of that output, in addition to a smattering of solo material, helped the songwriter secure a spot in Mike Krol‘s most recent touring band. Every year seems to bring a handful of releases with Hunt’s name on them and whether they’ve been standalone singles or full records, the results have been uniformly exceptional.

“Change Their Mind”, Hunt’s most recent track, stands in select company as one of the finest. Utilizing a strong production team (including Hunt’s old Midwives bandmate Sahan Jayisuriya, whose beat-making project Cold Lunch is well worth a look) and an arsenal of decisive hooks, Hunt embraces the thoughtfulness that’s characterized much of the songwriter’s past material and the slacker vibes of ’90s alt-pop. Imagine something of a cross between the composition nuance LEN’s infectious “Steal My Sunshine”, the oddly immediate, laissez faire outlook of Beck’s “Loser”, and the type of well-worn melodies that dominated Ben Kweller’s Sha Sha, and that should offer an inkling of what kind of terrain Hunt’s occupying here.

Surprisingly grounded for having so much of a wild streak, “Change Their Mind” isn’t just one of the best offerings of Hunt’s career, it’s one of the more engaging tracks to be released over the past seven months. A decidedly minor-key triumph, “Change Their Mind” belongs on as many mix tapes as possible. Immediate and immediately thrilling, the song’s a freeing reminder of how much the slacker pop genre still has to offer.

Listen to “Change Their Mind” below and download it for a price of your choosing here.

Deadbeat Beat – You Lift Me Up (Music Video)

Creating music that’s reminiscent of the past without sounding like a tepid retread is a deceptively difficult tightrope to walk but Deadbeat Beat seem to have that balance down pat on “You Lift Me Up”. Americana-tinged basement pop that carries a comforting familiarity while making just enough space for a modern bent, the track’s been given an appropriately crafted music video that borrows from ’60s imagery while utilizing bleeding edge effects. The Jack Schmier-directed clip’s a mirror of its source material, offering a complementary layer to a breezy, enjoyable total package.

Watch “You Lift Me Up” below and pre-order How Far here.

PUP – Sibling Rivalry (Music Video)

From 2013 to 2017, PUP managed to string together an incredibly unlikely feat: in three of those five years, I awarded the band the Music Video of the Year distinction (both here and over at PopMatters). Directors Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux played an instrumental role in that run, producing a handful of other clips for the band that picked up similar accolades in the process. For “Sibling Rivalry”, PUP take a slightly different approach and allow Martin MacPherson to helm the clip, which is based on the slice-of-life, tongue-in-cheek comics that bandleader Stefan Babcock has produced for years.

In terms of conceit, it’s deceptively brilliant, allowing the humor of the narrative to be amplified while honoring the childhood roots that allowed the song to exist at all in a myriad of ways. Impressively, the clip coaxes some genuine laugh-out-loud moments out of the misadventures of Babcock and his sister as it reflects on pasts (likely both real and imagined/exaggerated) where they continuously try to one-up each other’s recklessly freewheeling impulsiveness.

A tremendous clip from the jump, beautifully animated and ingeniously illustrated, “Sibling Rivalry” stands as the finest example of PUP’s under-discussed penchant for quick-witted and painfully relatable comedy. Both a visual treat and a genuinely heartfelt love letter to what appears to be one of the most healthy dysfunctional relationships imaginable, “Sibling Rivalry” is a more than deserving addition to the band’s continued run of excellence in the medium, which rivals — and may even exceed — any other act this decade.

Watch “Sibling Rivalry” below and pick up a copy of Morbid Stuff here.