Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Ryan McCrary

15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015

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Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.

For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.

15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia

Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.

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14. ThinLips – Your Divorce

An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.

13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig

Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.

12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth

A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.

11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs

After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.

10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?

While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.

9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2

One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry to its status as one of the best of 2015.

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8. Slight – Hate the Summer

Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.

7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out

A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.

6. Sheer Mag – II

Another year, another Sheer Mag list placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.

5. Diet Cig – Over Easy

No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.

4. LVL UP – Three Songs

In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songs continues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.

3. Ernie – Dog Park

Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.




2. Tenement – Tenement

No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.

1. Cende – Cende

Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 5

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One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement.

Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time.

Pt. 5 will be the final installment of this series and the preceding galleries can be accessed via the links directly below. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 1
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 3
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

 

Space Raft at Crunchy Frog – 8/16/14 (Pictorial Review)

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After The Midwestern Charm was able to secure a last-minute spot on an already stacked lineup at Green Bay, WI’s Crunchy Frog, there was no excuse not to go. All of the right ingredients were there for a memorable night: four of Wisconsin’s best bands at one of the state’s best venues. All that was really left to do was see if the show would live up to the expectations. That The Midwestern Charm, Beach Patrol, Midnight Reruns, and Space Raft exceeded those lofty expectations didn’t come as a surprise, though each of their sets packed a few. The Crunchy Frog, as always, managed to near perfection with the sound levels for each band as they tore through their sets.

The Midwestern Charm kicked things off in typically rousing fashion, with longtime drummer Ryan Gracyalny back behind the kit after a move to Florida, delivering their skewed basement pop with some subtle venom escaping through a half-grin. Bandleader Connor S. La Mue continues to be one of the more engaging stage presences in the state, managing to come across as both ragged and controlled in equal measure. Lead guitarist Ryan McCrary took a turn at the mic as well, adding a new dimension to a band that continues to evolve and impress at a stunning rate. By the end of their set, they’d set a fairly high bar for what would prove to be an outstanding night.

Beach Patrol were next to take the stage and were back to their original lineup. After several years and three fairly extraordinary records (It’s Only Greener ‘Til You Get ThereRiding Dinosaurs, and Daytime Highs, respectively), the band hasn’t lost a step. On the verge of releasing their fourth, the band spread out their material fairly evenly among their discography. At one point, the band was even joined by Jordan Davis (the guitarist/vocalist of Space Raft) for a number that Davis wrote and had played with the band previously. It was a small moment of camaraderie that defined the night; this wasn’t just another night out with great music- it was a shared experience among a group of close-knit friends. That same familiarity factored heavily into Beach Patrol’s entire set, from their opening Tom Petty cover straight through to their obliging of a request for the hardest-charging song from their first record.

After Beach Patrol had run through a set that hit all the right notes while still maintaining a fairly casual (and welcoming) feel, the stage was set for Midnight Reruns. Now, what Midnight Reruns are capable of pulling off in a live show has already been covered here in some detail but, like The Midwestern Charm, they’re evolving and improving at a rapid pace. That’s no small accomplishment for a band that, one record in, is already responsible for some of the best songs to have been produced by the state of Wisconsin this decade. From an incendiary cover, to Karl Giehl’s memorable outing as a vocalist, to all of the should-be-classic set staples (“King of Pop”, “Summer Smoker”, “Basement Guy”), the band was in rare form. Best of all, though, were the new songs- among them are some of the band’s most challenging- and some of their most direct- material to date. One, in particular, is an earworm-heavy monster with a “na na na” chorus that has the potential to carry them to new levels of name recognition. As the dual-guitar fury of “Basement Guy” brought things to a stunning end, it was difficult to not want more, once again, proving that this is a band that’s got unlimited potential- and they’re only just getting started.

Space Raft has been riding a wave of acclaim since releasing their self-titled debut back in May on the consistently brilliant Dusty Medical Records and had very little to prove. Thankfully, they didn’t play their set with that mindset, laying just about everything they had on the line. Thanks to guitarist/vocalist Davis’ time in Mystery Girls, the band’s already connected to one of the more memorable post-2000’s bands and, among the four members, share a wealth of experience on the live circuit. There were no false notes, no wrong moves, and each song carried both the pace and momentum of their set, essentially becoming a masterclass in the minutiae of consistency. After they’d played a handful of songs from their record- and a few new ones- the crowd begged for an encore and the band obliged that investment by delivering one of the night’s single most blistering performances, providing a fitting end cap to a night full of good friends and great music.

Below is a photo gallery of each band that played the show. None of their live sets are worth missing. Videos are forthcoming. Enjoy.

The Midwestern Charm – Bloodbath (Stream)

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Over the past few years Milwaukee-via-Oshkosh act The Midwestern Charm have gone through their fair share of changes. Most immediately evident, though, is the fierceness that characterizes their just-released sophomore full-length, Growing Pains, that was almost entirely absent from their self-titled debut. Trading a prominent Ryan Adams influence in for a sound more indebted to The Lemonheads was a move that paid off, as Growing Pains is easily the band’s finest material to date. While the whole record’s worth several spins, it’s the lead-off track that really stands out.

“Bloodbath”, more than any other song on Growing Pains, is indicative of what the band’s like in a live setting; relatively unhinged, not afraid of feedback, and unashamedly ragged. All of it’s anchored by an emphatic vocal performance from bandleader Connor S. La Mue, whose frequently trenchant lyrics help elevate The Midwestern Charm past a lot of their would-be peers. While it did take La Mue years to settle on finalized lyrics for “Bloodbath”, there was never a bad version of the song. As the band evolved over time, so did “Bloodbath”, with special attention being paid to Ryan McCrary’s searing lead guitar work. Ultimately, the song wound up not just being a personal best for the band but one of the best songs to come out of WI this year (incidentally, a few members of The Midwestern Charm are also directly responsible for a few other truly great WI-based songs from this year thanks to their status as members of The Sleepwalkers). “Bloodbath” is basement pop at its finest.

Listen to “Bloodbath” below and make sure to catch The Midwestern Charm live as soon as humanly possible (a list of tour dates can be found here).

The Midwestern Charm – Growing Pains (Trailer)

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: Apologies for what’s been the longest content delay since the site started. Heartbreaking Bravery’s forthcoming NXNE content should both explain my absence and- hopefully- make up for the lost time.]

The Midwestern Charm have officially made the move from Oshkosh to Milwaukee and are preparing to release their new record, Growing Pains, which is an absolute scorcher of a follow-up to their much softer debut. In celebration of this fact, they’ve put together a trailer that includes tour dates, a few snippets of standout “Bloodbath”, and the same humor and spirit that was so prominent in The Sleepwalkers’ (their brother band) video for “Come Around“. Having heard an advance and been privy to the development of Growing Pains, it’s an honor to run this short teaser here. It’s a monstrous record that mixes a perfect selection of genre tendencies (powerpop, basement punk, noise, etc.) and something that’s entirely their own. The whole thing is a monumental stride forward for the band and deserves to be celebrated.

While the video may be willfully modest and intentionally goofy, Growing Pains is a masterfully produced and surprisingly mature record that will likely wind up as a personal selection for one of 2014’s very best. Watch the video (keep an eye out for the perfect full-room smash cut) below and bandleader Connor S. LaMue playing stripped-down version of Growing Pains‘ two lead-off tracks for the always-reliable Third Coast Digest here.

Pay close to attention to those tour dates and catch them live at all costs.

The Sleepwalkers – Come Around (Music Video Premiere)

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There are very few records that have required as much patience as The Sleepwalkers’ just-released Lost My Mind in Stereo. That’s not to say it required a vast amount of dedication to appreciate; it just took a very long time to get released and was difficult not to share with just about everyone. Other than the USA Today premere of the extraordinary lead-off track “My Best Was Never Good Enough“, these songs have only existed in the world as a small handful of rough demos and live staples of Sleepwalkers’ sets. Now, the record’s finally out and the band’s granted this site the music video premiere for standout cut “Come Around”.

Lost My Mind in Stereo is a record full of songs that feel instantly classic, sharp blasts of music that are finely-tuned examples of both great songwriting and American culture. “Come Around” is one of the many examples where all of that is readily apparent. Incorporating everything from 60’s jangle to 90’s powerpop, there are no false notes. In the video, the band plays through the song in Oshkosh, WI venue Reptile Palace and intercuts footage of decidedly freewheeling shenanigans in the Fox Valley area, mostly involving food (Bron Sage’s Kyle Merckx also makes a few brief but memorable appearances). By the time “Come Around” fades into black and flashes a subliminal “WOOF”, it’s hard not to feel like a part of The Sleepwalkers’ world. It’s another instance of the band finding the exact pulse of a very particular timelessness and running with it. We’re all the better for it.

Watch “Come Around” below and make every day feel like the 4th of July.

The Sleepwalkers – My Best Was Never Good Enough (Stream)

Yesterday USA Today premiered the first song from The Sleepwalkers’ upcoming record Lost My Mind in Stereo (due out April 8 as a self-release), “My Best Was Never Good Enough”. For a few years now, it’s been one of The Sleepwalkers’ strongest songs during their live sets and the finalized studio version certainly lives up to expectation. The Sleepwalkers have been a band that’s deserved familiarization since before their first official release, The Reckless Kind, back when they were known as Ian Olvera and The Sleepwalkers and long before they moved to Milwaukee. They’re a band that’s consistently found itself in tune with an all-american longing. Open roads, baseball, apple pie, BBQ’s, fireworks, and basement shows all effortlessly evoked in their minutiae.

“My Best Was Never Good Enough” find this aspect of their music reaching new heights, as it seamlessly and simultaneously recalls the likes of The Replacements, Elvis Costello, Big Star, The Heartbreakers, and the Old 97’s. It’s littered with tones that have just enough crunch to make the music sound as dirtied up and hard-learned as Olvera does when he spits out the song’s title in the chorus. From the springboard intro through to the memorable riff that appears throughout and closes the track, “My Best Was Never Good Enough” packs one hell of a punch. Inspired guitar work, a propulsive rhythm section, and Olvera’s masterful lyricism (the entire second verse is a knockout blow) all get propped up to the levels they deserve through pristine production. There’s a down-home aesthetic, some fiery bursts of instrumentation (including one in that miraculous second verse that goes off like a stick of dynamite), and more than a few individual moments that threaten to become inescapable earworms. If anything, give this a listen to remind yourself that rock n’ roll is timeless.

Hear “My Best Was Never Good Enough” over at USA Today and keep up with the band on their Facebook.