Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Review

Bent Denim – Diamond Jubilee (EP Premiere)

Very few music videos that have appeared as features on this site have resonated like Bent Denim’s “Good Night’s Sleep“, which remains a deeply affecting viewing experience. That song was a very strong highlight of Romances You, a record great enough to leave those of us that heard it eagerly awaiting a follow-up. Today, the band delivers on the promise of that record in kind by way of their new EP, Diamond Jubilee.

A name taken from a roadside casino the band spotted during a detour they took while traveling to attempt to sneak into Fort Maccomb (best known for its appearance at the end of True Detective’s first season), Diamond Jubilee ignores easy flash in favor of something far more substantial. As early premieres from Stereogum and GoldFlakePaint seemed to indicate, Diamond Jubilee continues the band’s penchant for rich narratives and melancholic atmospherics.

Both “All My Friends Are Dead” and “Miss You, Kid” were both fairly well-covered at the time of their release and it’s easy to see why. Each of the EP’s opening two tracks conjures up something warm and familiar, carrying a tinge of wistful nostalgia while both emphasizing and accentuating a much deeper emotional pull. Lo-fi elements converge with much bigger ideas and coast along a middle ground that brings out the best of each side. Tender melodies wash over the listener and then disappear into the sand, leaving a faint imprint that carries the promise of a welcome return.

As strong as both “All My Friends Are Dead” and “Miss You, Kid” are, the back stretch of Diamond Jubilee is what transforms the EP into one of the year’s best. From the opening piano figure of “False Leads to Dead Ends” to the gentle cadence of “Daisy” to the title track’s hazy epilogue, Bent Denim continues the most sublime stretch of their catalog to date. Those final three songs lead into each other seamlessly, strengthening the transcendental effect Bent Denim’s capable of producing when they’re at their best and, make no mistake, Diamond Jubilee is the most remarkable work of their career.

Heartrending and heartbreaking in equal measure, Diamond Jubilee finds Bent Denim hitting their stride. In collaborating with Young & Sick‘s Nick van Hofwegen, who contributes backing vocals across the record, the band also opens up their sound ever so slightly, taking it to breathtaking heights. Largely a sobering meditation on everything from conflicting ideologies to facing down mortality, Diamond Jubilee winds up being inexplicably moving. Unassuming and unforgettable, Diamond Jubilee is an EP worth holding onto long after its final notes ring out.

Listen to Diamond Jubilee below and keep an eye out for its official release tomorrow.

Hoop – To Know Your Tone (Stream)

As another day recedes in the rear view mirror, it’s time to take stock of the goods it provided. There were excellent tracks from The Drums, B Boys, Gold Class, Us and Us Only, Loco Ono, Turtlenecked, Institute, and an unreleased demo from Ultimate Painting. Music videos were well represented by strong pieces that sprung from the likes of The Geraldine Fibbers, The Coathangers, Nick Hakim, Tiny Hazard, HOTT MT, and Daniel Martin Moore. Bringing everything to a nice close were full streams from The Wisconaut, Emperor X, and Sophie Sputnik.

While all of those, as always, are more than worth the time anyone’s willing to invest, today’s featured slot goes to Hoop’s arresting “To Know Your Tone”, from their forthcoming Super Genuine, which features a vocal assist from solo artist Allyson Foster. In a brief explanation of the inspiration for the song’s narrative, lyricist Caitlin Roberts offered the following: “To Know Your Tone” is about the power of asking for support and receiving support, and what it’s like to listen deeply to someone you don’t know very well but empathize with strongly. It’s about allowing tears to fall on the desert of isolation. 

A perfect summation of the humanism that’s always been at the core of Hoop’s music, the explanation goes a long way in explaining the overarching message of “To Know Your Tone” but what really elevates the song is the composition. Muted, hushed, nervous, and aggressive, “To Know Your Tone” benefits from an incredibly dark tone, providing both a contrast and a context to the song’s empathetic narrative. Allyson Foster delivers the vocal with a committed certainty, consumed by the song’s inherent power.

Appropriately, Foster stepped in to sing the song when Roberts lost her voice, underscoring the message of “To Know Your Tone” to an eerie perfection. Hoop — not to be confused with Hoops — and Foster work in tandem perfectly, complementing each other’s sensibilities with ease. The end result of their collaborative effort is both a tribute and testament to the very power of collaboration and the beauty present in asking for and receiving help. A gripping meditation on therapeutic connections, “To Know Your Tone” is also one of the year’s most quietly affecting tracks.

Listen to “Know Your Tone” below and pre-order Super Genuine from the band here.

Steady Lean – Bandages + Some Better Somethin’ (Stream)


Photograph by John Michael Ferrer

Today was a great day for new releases, ushering in compelling songs from Bloody Your Hands, The I.L.Y’s, Land of Talk, Peeling, R.G. Lowe, and Twinsmith. There were also strong efforts to be found in the music video department, courtesy of artists like Beach Fossils, Heavy Heart, and The Charlatans. Rounding everything out were outstanding full streams from the likes of Buildings, Harmony Woods, Trophy Dad, The Broken Hearts, and Walter Martin. Most of those releases got a very strong push from at least one well-known outlet, while the excellent new online single from Joe Gutierrez’s solo project turned full band Steady Lean flew under the radar.

Over the past few years, Steady Lean’s sound’s been carefully cultivated and refined, morphing from simplistic bedroom folk trappings to a sound resembling some of the forward-thinking punk-tinged Americana artists like Fraser A. Gorman and Kevin Morby.  Bandages b/w Some Better Somethin’ keeps that trend very much alive, showcasing Steady Lean at their most raucous. “Bandages” serves as both a solid introduction for the pair of tracks and as an introduction-at-large for those unfamiliar with Steady Lean. An agreeably gritty, energetic number “Bandages” showcases Gutierrez’s growth as a songwriter.

Humorous stabs of tongue-in-cheek couplets are mixed with salient insight and a rambling narrative with ease, bringing to mind a coterie of songwriters who are frequently considered as all-time greats. “Some Better Somethin'” picks up where “Bandages” left off, again allowing Gutierrez to interject both a sense of world-weariness and urgency into the proceedings. It’s a solid pairing, each track complementing each other in minuscule ways and forming a greater whole. By far the project’s most exciting release to date, Bandages b/w Some Better Somethin‘ is bound to leave listeners eager to discover what might be laying just around the corner.

Listen to Bandages b/w  Some Better Somethin’ below and pick it up from the band here.

Grim Streaker – Guts (Music Video)

A lot of great bands released fascinating new videos last week, including New Swears, Sufjan Stevens/Bryce Dessner/Nico Muhly/James McAlister, Thelma, Rostam, Peaness, and Hater. Grim Streaker was another one of those acts, providing their standout “Guts” — which this site pegged as one of early 2017’s finest songs — with an appropriately ferocious music video. Stephen Venezia’s direction provides “Guts” with all of the relentless immediacy and punishing nature it deserves, wisely centering the clip on the band performing. Shot in black-and-white widescreen (with white borders), it’s visual aesthetic is incredibly appealing and the band prove to be magnetic subjects. For all of its feral tendencies, “Guts” also winds up being oddly empowering, transforming it into a bone-rattling call to take direct action to pursue the things worth pursuing. Watch the video to get galvanized and let the song ring out as that journey’s soundtrack.

Watch “Guts” below and pick it up from the band here.

Palm – Walkie Talkie (Stream, Live Video)

Over the course of the past week The Moonlight Love, The Shivas, Four Star Riot, Holy Oak, The Nickajack MenNØMADS, Baby Guru, BNQT, Juiceboxxx, Rosie Carney, and Adopted Highways all unveiled strong new tracks. Palm also surfaced with the standout “Walkie Talkie”, which has been a staple of the band’s live show for years and still stands as their career highlight. Frantic, complex, invigorating, and inventive, “Walkie Talkie” is Palm firing on all cylinders with no hesitation and no remorse.

Oscillating between various riffs and figures — both vocal and instrumental — at a furious pace, “Walkie Talkie” takes aim and hits its mark, repeatedly, bludgeoning it into oblivion. It’s an incendiary piece of work from one of the most obscenely talented emergent bands and it’s the type of track that needs to be heard to be believed. Palm’s set to make a whole new slew of converts in the wake of “Walkie Talkie” and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be content with stopping; “Walkie Talkie” is a warning shot and it goes a long way in underscoring the notion that Palm seems destined for deadliness.

Listen to “Walkie Talkie” (and watch the band tear through the song at DBTS in 2015) below and pre-order Shadow Expert from Carpark here.

Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One (Stream)

A week ago The Mountain Goats, Marcus Norberg and the Dissapointments, Single Mothers, ShitKid, Mountain Movers, Chemtrails, Matthew Sweet, Mankind, Nathan Oliver, The Golden Dregs, and Celebration all offered up fascinating new tracks. Two Inch Astronaut joined their ranks with the explosive “Play To No One”, one of the best individual efforts of what’s becoming an extremely formidable discography. Skewing closer to powerpop than virtually anything the band’s released so far, “Play To No One” reveals just how deep Two Inch Astronaut’s pop sensibilities run and provide a fascinating context for their older material.

All of the elements of post-punk, post-hardcore, and all of their other niche facets are still present but instead of being the focus they’ve been relegated to supporting roles, transforming “Play To No One” into something verging on cathartic. It’s both a release and a bold new direction from a restless act that’s not afraid of subverting expectations. One of their most unlikely, triumphant, and meticulously crafted songs, “Play To No One” winds up among the most impressive works of 2017’s first half. Let it play and hit repeat.

Listen to “Play To No One” below and pre-order Can You Please Not Help from Exploding In Sound here.

Daddy Issues – Locked Out (Stream)

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

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

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

Big Thief – Mythological Beauty (7″ Review)

Over the past week Littler, Sheer, Cotillon, father truck, Mothpuppy, Anna Altman, Morning Teleportation, The Poison Arrows, Anna CooganAnthéne,  and Aaron Dilloway have all impressed with the various full streams that have been unveiled. Big Thief joined their ranks, revealing the B-side of the Mythological Beauty 7″, effectively teasing Capacity, one of 2017’s most-anticipated albums. Unsurprisingly, both the title track and “Breathe In My Lungs” continue the band’s emergent winning streak in spectacular fashion.

The title track of the 7″ is a characteristically airy affair, showcasing the band’s wide-eyed, widescreen sound, injecting a pop-leaning tenacity into their Americana, invoking nostalgic leanings and forward-thinking tendencies in equal measure. It’s a song that rises and falls like the deep breaths after a long run. Still, this band seems more than ready to run any marathon that comes their way. Even with a song as sterling — and reaffirming — as “Mythological Beauty”, its “Breathe In My Lungs” that makes this 7″ worth the purchase.

One of the band’s most breathtaking compositions, “Breathe In My Lungs” is both Big Thief at their quietest and a song that wisely capitalizes on the natural magnetism of guitarist/vocalist and principle songwriter Adrianne Lenker, who’s lived through an intense amount of life-altering experiences. There’s always been a certain level of pain, acceptance, and guarded optimism present in Lenker’s vocals but they’ve never been clearer than they are on “Breathe In My Lungs”, one of the sweetest and most heartbreaking songs likely to be released this year. As so many of their songs have proven to be already, it’s captivating, pained, and perfect.

Listen to both sides of Mythological Beauty below and pick up the 7″ from Saddle Creek here.


Charly Bliss – Guppy (Album Review, Live Videos)

Reviewing a record that you’ve spent years becoming entwined with, falling in love with, and essentially establishing as a core part of your identity is a difficult prospect. It’s always nerve-wracking to attempt to do justice to something that’s become so personal. When it’s made by people that you’ve grown to love and even consider part of your extended family, it becomes a lot murkier. And yet, every single time Charly Bliss’ Guppy starts up, all of those thoughts fade away and the record rises up, bares its fangs, and clamps down with such a vengeance that it’s difficult to think of anything other than the music’s sheer, overwhelming power.

Guppy is a record I’ve been fortunate enough to watch evolve since its first permutation in 2015, which featured a handful of songs that didn’t make the cut for the official release (including “Turd“, which was released in advance of Guppy as a standalone single) and boasted a production that emphasized the low-end aspect of the band, providing it an immense punch. That Guppy has not only retained that punch but emphasized it by balancing out those levels is nothing short of miraculous.

To get to that point, the band weathered quite a few storms and put more notches in its belt than most people realize. The band first hinted that it might be more than your standard punk-driven basement pop act with the releases of 2013’s A Lot To Say EP, which was highlighted by its towering title track. Following that was the release of an astounding single in “Clean“, the invaluable addition of Dan Shure on bass, and the release of the Soft Serve EP, which — along with their scintillating live show — acted as the band’s calling card for a handful of years.

Soft Serve acted as my introduction to the band and I’ve never been so thoroughly dismantled and blown away by a band I’d never heard of as I was the day I clicked play on that record. It topped Heartbreaking Bravery’s EP’s of the Year list for 2014 and still stands proudly as my personal pick for the best EP of this decade and it’s very unlikely that anything will unseat it by the time 2020 rolls around. No band has every put me all in as quickly as Charly Bliss managed with just three perfect songs.

I didn’t know it at the time but that EP would wind up legitimately changing the course of my life. Eva Grace Hendricks, one of Charly Bliss’ two guitarist/vocalist/songwriter’s, joined the A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors roster shortly after Soft Serve‘s release and wound up being an instrumental part of my decision to relocate to Brooklyn for half of 2015. Our shared, vocal support of each other’s ventures meant a great deal to me at the time and still does today, as it stood (and stands) as the type of mutual support that Heartbreaking Bravery has aimed to establish since the beginning.

Enter: Guppy‘s first run, an astonishing demo that laid out the particulars and quickly overtook everything else in my listening habits. Any doubts that any of the members of Charly Bliss may have had at the time were wildly unwarranted; even at its most humble stages, Guppy was a behemoth of a record. For the next two years, the band would fine-tune different parts of the songs, the production, and they’d introduce new material that usurped a few scattered tracks that were initially grouped in with what would eventually become Guppy.

To promote the record, the band did everything right and still managed to hide a few tricks up their sleeve: touring America as the openers for Veruca Salt and PUP, releasing “Ruby” as an early single and following it up with a characteristically clever music video, unleashing the single greatest Audiotree session I’ve seen (no small feat), and finding ways to advance their jaw-dropping live show, from perfecting four-part harmonies to studiously analyzing old footage to look for subtle tweaks to potentially make. All the while, a handful of labels had taken interest and the band had a huge decision to make and took their time to make sure it was the right one.

Barsuk Records eventually won the rights to Guppy and all of the tenacity they likely poured into their campaign to secure the record should pay massive dividends for the label going forward. It’s a move that helped secure Guppy the vaunted NPR First Listen slot, replete with an effectively effusive write-up. Stereogum immediately awarded the record its Album of the Week honor and Pitchfork gave it the kind of score that’s a short step away from verging on their Best New Music territory (a rarity for the publication’s appraisal of this particular genre).

While all of the praise remains heartening to see and the critical analysis provided to the record was both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it’s difficult to tell if any of those reviewers grasped the magnitude of what this type of record can accomplish if it keeps being awarded effective platforms. It’s also difficult to tell if any of those publications had a handle on not only what this band can eventually become but what they’ve managed to become already. As mentioned above, Guppy is a record capable of obliterating critical thinking as it plays and then rewarding it to an obscene degree when it wraps, putting it in extremely select company.

From the energy-bolstering opening seconds of “Percolator”, Guppy lets its listeners know that they’re in for something that’s as ebullient as it is aggressive, finding a transcendental sweet spot between bubblegum coating and a shockingly dark undercurrent. Hendricks, from the outset, dives into a narrative that grapples with not only her own mortality but the self-awareness everyday interactions have come to necessitate. Spencer Fox, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, provides what’s quickly becoming his trademark: economical but dizzying guitar riffs that don’t sacrifice feeling for technique (or vice versa).

If people weren’t aware that Fox is currently one of the best guitarists in music, Guppy should go a long way in providing that (admittedly understandable) ignorance a remedy. While Soft Serve‘s “Urge to Purge” remains one of the best riffs of the present decade, Guppy is where Fox stakes his claim, something that becomes abundantly clear throughout the course of the record. Not only are all of Fox’s contributions spectacular but the work Dan Shure and Sam Hendricks (Eva’s brother) are doing as a rhythm section have allowed them to quietly become one of the most vicious tandems currently on the circuit.

While Fox and that rhythm section remain impressive throughout, Guppy‘s beating heart rests in Eva Grace Hendricks and that heart’s beating at a relentless pace. Hendricks anchors each one of these songs with a frightening determination and a mischievous joy. All of the come-on’s are equipped with a warning, every smile comes with a missing tooth, and every invitation comes with an advance apology.

In “Ruby”, Hendricks’ loving ode to her therapist, she rides a subway with blood on her hair. On “Glitter”, there’s the realization that a relationship’s shortcomings can sometimes be equally distributed across both parties. In “Scare U”, there’s the recognition of greed and the unapologetic desire to be in complete control.  At seemingly every turn, Hendricks comes to grips with the duality most goodhearted people constantly view as a struggle. By subverting these thoughts and latching onto something defiantly celebratory, Charly Bliss comes together to reclaim their own deeply damaged narratives as learning points, important mistakes, and necessities of personal evolution.

It’s in that context where each of the band’s decisions gains importance. They’re not just making music because they like to make music; they’re using it as a coping outlet. Every single snare hit, vibrato, and squeal comes loaded with personal meaning and they’re reaching those confrontations as a unit, drawing from each other’s strengths to pummel all of the perceived difficulties back into something that feels inconsequential in the face of what they’re doing together. Nothing is half-assed. This is the embrace of life vs. the acquiescence of  a life given over to being constantly haunted by past mistakes.

As that aspect of Guppy comes into focus, it’s legitimately hard not to be blown away on several levels. Chief among them, the strength this band’s gained through both familial experience and shared camaraderie. There’s no judgment present, just the willingness to take a sword to the throats of the dangerous things that threaten the well-being of their friends. If there’s a dragon to be slayed, Charly Bliss’ tactic is to conjure up a battering ram to force it into becoming a piñata and bathing in its blood as the ugliest contents come pouring out, greeting the event as a ritualistic party to share with all their friends.

Managing to make things even more impressive is the fact that the band’s doing this with what’s more of a whip-smart advancement of ’90s slacker punk & powerpop aesthetics than a faceless imitation. Sure, Guppy will get compared to Letters to Cleo, Josie and the Pussycats, and any other act that fits that mold- but (in addition to some possible casual sexism) that’s only faintly scratching the surface of what’s actually happening on this record, especially in terms of composition. That’s a victory all on its own and Guppy should go a long way in contributing to what looks to be a seismic shift in the way bands pull influence from that particular pocket of music.

Guppy is far from a retread and it’s decidedly modern bent helps secure it a spot as one of 2017’s essential releases as well as a bona fide genre classic. There are no standout songs among the 10 because virtually all of them rank among the best to be released this year. From wire-to-wire, Guppy is a breakneck record that revels in destruction and comes off as a staggering show of force. Everything from the dirty ditty-turned-guaranteed showstopper “Black Hole”  to the unrelenting blows administered by “Gatorade”, “DQ”, and “Westermarck” are enough to make anyone sit up and start paying the type of attention this band should’ve been receiving for the past several years.

As “Totalizer” races by with abandon and all of the requisite snark, cleverness, and thoughtfulness that have come to define Charly Bliss songs, it’s still difficult to think most will be adequately prepared for the record’s final breathtaking moment. “Julia”, Guppy‘s sludgy closer, is the heaviest track the band’s committed to record by miles. It’s one final reminder that the band’s not as cute as they appear at first blush and that Guppy, while a fun record on the surface, conceals a wellspring of damage that the band’s not afraid to confront. Full-throated, deeply felt, and ferociously delivered, Guppy is a basement pop record for the ages. Whatever troubles come, I have no doubt that Charly Bliss will be standing above the wreckage, breathing in the smoke and looking to start a roaring fire all their own.

Listen to Guppy below, pick it up from Barsuk here, and watch a collection of live videos that I personally shot of the band playing at six separate shows over the past few years.

Hazel English – More Like You (Stream)

Now that everything’s caught back up to the current release cycle, expect posts nearly every day to recap what’s been happening. Thursday brought in a small trove of treasures from great new tracks by the likes of Sharkmuffin, Christopher Paul Stelling, Walter Martin, Adult Mom, Gallery 47, The Bonnevilles, BNQT, So Many Wizards, Saudade Sisters, and Do Make Say Think to great music videos from John K. Samson, Tara Jane O’Neil, and JFDR to outstanding records by Workhorse, Lugaweight, and Mimi Raver.

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.