Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Saddle Creek

Stef Chura – They’ll Never (Music Video)

Stef Chura‘s been kicking around the local Detroit scene for some time now, gaining new levels of traction every year. Messes, Chura’s debut, caught the attention of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo, who signed on to produce the follow-up record. “They’ll Never” is a tantalizing new look at that record, which will see release via the inimitable Saddle Creek.

The song arrived with a music video directed by Fidel Ruiz-Healy and Tyler Walker, showcasing Chura’s scrappy throwback aesthetic to perfection. Taking a series of cues from classic late ’80s to mid ’90s alternative clips, “They’ll Never” presents Chura in a grainy lo-fi 4:3, nicely accentuating the narrative’s emphasis on history. All told, “They’ll Never” is a very welcome jolt of casual energy that doubles as a reminder of Chura’s considerable talent. It’s worth remembering.

Watch “They’ll Never” below and pre-order Midnight from Saddle Creek here.

 

Young Jesus – Deterritory (Music Video)

It’s been a while since anything went up on these pages and there are a lot of reasons behind yet another interim but, as ever, the work continues to be done behind the scenes. Five posts were scheduled to go up before that break and will be going live today. This is one of those posts.

There have been few bands that this publication pushed as hard or as consistently over its near-five year span as Young Jesus, who have released two astonishing albums in that time span and are on the brink of unveiling a third. The Whole Thing Is Just Here is the first true release for Saddle Creek, who wisely snapped the band up after catching the live show — a near-religious experience — to issue S/T a proper (re-)release. The move seems set to pay dividends for the label as the band’s constantly realizing their voice through a series of unpredictable progressions, rendering all of their new material revelatory.

“Deterritory” is the latest evidence of that curious trend. It’s an absolutely towering track that leans hard into the band’s refined sense of exploration, swinging without notice from ambient noise-punk to post-hardcore to Saddle Creek’s signature open-road, Americana-tinted indie rock, all in six minutes. Bandleader John Rossiter’s always had a penchant for the arts and raw creation that’s anchored by an uncommon understanding, something that’s brought to the forefront once again in the simple but strangely compelling clip for “Deterritory”, which takes its time in playing out and trusts its viewing audience and doesn’t offer a clean-cut resolution, reflecting what separates this band from so many of their contemporaries: Young Jesus know, now more than ever, nothing’s more important than the journey.

Watch “Deterritory” below and pre-order The Whole Thing Is Just Here from Saddle Creek here.

 

 

Tomberlin – Self-Help (Music Video)

Just before releasing one of the most devastating albums of the year in the achingly gorgeous At Weddings, Tomberlin offered up one last peek towards that incredible record with the Laura-Lynn Petrick-directed clip for “Self-Help”, which lays bare the kind of arresting nakedness that gets put under the knife throughout the course of the album. Centered around the artist and a trip to the aquarium, the clip for “Self-Help” drives home the pervasive tendency to feel small outlined against the wonders of life that gets considered and dissected in At Weddings.

No answers are offered, no questions are explicitly asked, but “Self-Help” punches home existential wonderment with an unapologetic precision. Viewers might get lost in “Self-Help” but it’s difficult to predict to what extent, as there’s enough at stake here to level someone particularly vulnerable. Bravely articulated and fearless in its vulnerability, “Self-Help” is art at its most honest, which can go a long way towards a greater survival.

Watch “Self-Help” below and pick up a copy of At Weddings from Saddle Creek here.

The Best Music Videos of June’s First Half

The first half of June came equipped with a lot of outstanding material but the strength of its best music videos were especially notable. There’s a strong chance that IDLES land themselves a repeat spot in the year-end best-of rundown, following their Music Video of the Year turn in 2017. There’s also a reasonable chance that at least one other clip from this list joins them in those rankings. As of now, that’s all still speculation but it’s worth noting for the sheer strength of impact. To find out a little more, scroll down, keep your eyes peeled, and keep your ears open.

IDLES – Danny Nedelko

Last year’s “Mother” was an absolute masterwork of a music video, going a ways in helping IDLES launch a burgeoning career. Easily one of the best protest songs of this current decade, “Mother” now has an equal in “Danny Nedelko.” As has been the case with virtually every IDLES clip, this one surges with purpose as its titular character takes a central role, dancing, smiling, and flashing an OK hand symbol that was co-opted by white supremacists in an act of joyful resistance. It’s remarkable, pointed, and adds an additional level of potency to an already formidable discography.

Lonely Parade – Night Cruise

One of the most recent additions to Buzz Record‘s already stacked roster, Lonely Parade have made no bones about establishing their stake in that field. Their most recent showing came by way of the music video for the unwieldy “Night Cruise.” Stylish, vivid, and executed with unnerving precision, “Night Cruise” comes off like a warning shot. A series of odd angles, clever pans, and sharp editing play into a digital film palette that make the band’s sense of identity a focal point. Smart, measured, and playful, “Night Cruise” is a promising look into Lonely Parade’s future.

Shy Boys – Take the Doggie

There are a few constant truths in our lives. Shy Boys took one of those truths and embraced it wholeheartedly, gifting us a playful, dog-driven music video that’s as open-hearted as it is endearing. Throw in a twee-leaning powerpop song, some lyrics running across the bottom of the screen, and a whole collection of clips cut together into a comprehensive whole and “Take the Doggie” reveals itself to be as winsome as its opening seconds suggest.

Deaf Wish – FFS

The second black-and-white clip on this list, Deaf Wish‘s “FFS” uses the formula as a means to strengthen its directness. Jensen Tjhung and Daniel Twomey take the directorial reigns and lean into the framing, creating stark imagery that pays tribute to some iconic shots from the rock photography canon. The editing heightens “FFS”, creating sync’d segments that play into the clip’s sense of augmented reality. Engaging and expertly crafted, “FFS” is a reminder of how classical styling can benefit from modern advancements.

Tomberlin – Self-Help

Saddle Creek‘s latest addition, Tomberlin, gave a mesmerizing introduction-at-large with the hushed, haunted “Self-Help”. Directed by Laura-Lynn Petrick, the clip presents Tomberlin awash in a sea of sea creatures, suggesting a parallel to the narrative of “Self-Help”, searching for a place in a space that’s built for you but still feels removed. It’s that distance that “Self-Help” is imbued with that defines both the song and the clip, conjuring an eerie parable that’s hard to shake on either end. Thoughtfully crafted and tenderly delivered, it’s a captivating glance at an artist worthy of knowing.

Hop Along – How Simple (Music Video)

In just a scant few days a surprisingly long list of compelling music videos have come out, bearing the names of artists like Speedy Ortiz, Holy Now, Miya Folick, Okkervil River, Covey, Marchildon!, Cherry Glazerr, MOLLY, Johanna Warren, Alice Bag, The Duke of Norfolk, LUMP, Swampmeat Family Band, Secret Colours, and Scott Matthews. While all of those are worth a handful of watches, the clip that will be focused on in this post is the one that Hop Along‘s provided for Bark Your Head Off, Dog showstopper “How Simple”.

Derrick Belcham takes the reins for the “How Simple” clip, which is a joyous celebration of identity and an homage to classic films (notably, the golden era of the movie-musical). The video also puts guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan front and center, marking an intriguing first for the band. Quinlan’s boundless charisma and magnetism as a perform has long been a selling point of the band’s scintillating live show but they’ve never allowed themselves such a visual spotlight in the visual release format.

The wait pays tremendous dividends here, Quinlan’s presence coming off like a sustained flash of lightning, cleverly elevated by the clip’s single-spotlight framing. All eyes are on Quinlan as the songwriter guides us through what could be a manic breakdown, a morning routine, or an extended moment of solitude. No matter which way the clip’s narrative is spun, the truth of it manages to speak volumes, punctuated by what very well wind up being the line of the year in “don’t worry, we will both find out, just not together.”

Impromptu dance parties break out, cereal gets eaten, and different figures find ways to come into focus, but when “How Simple” begins receding, those faces are left peering in from outside, with that lone spotlight still on Quinlan. It’s a moment that’s both sobering and hopeful, coming across as a testament to a well-earned understanding of the importance of self-care. Even when everything falls apart or is splintering at the seams, there are still ways to center yourself. Sometimes all it takes is the knowledge that you’re always free to dance around and pour yourself a bowl of cereal.

Watch “How Simple” below and pick up a copy of Bark Your Head Off, Dog here.

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review, Stream)

A small sampling of some excellent records to find release were already given a few posts back but to not mention the records put out by Bambara, Pole Siblings, Big Buddy, Look Vibrant, Stimmerman, No Thank Youdné, and Breakfast Muff would be doing everyone a massive disservice. All of those records are worth exploring, as always, but the record that this post’s going to focus on is one that registers as a standout for a long list of reasons: Hop Along’s breathtaking Bark Your Head Off, Dog.

Hop Along, over the course of their history, have built up a fervent following that’s greeted the band’s music as if it were their own religion. Even a cursory run through their discography would help contextualize that response, as their catalog’s full of blisteringly intense and incredibly emotional pleas, statements, and revelations. The band seems to be constantly operating in a do-or-die mode, where literally everything needs to be put on the line and defended with every last ounce of vigor the members can muster.

They’ve already put out two records that many hold as sacred, in Get Disowned and Painted Shut, virtually guaranteeing any news of new material would be greeted as an event with a capital E. A cathartic live show built and shaped by years of intense touring and the band’s proven record in studio had everyone bracing for another towering record full of the life-or-death dynamics that have become the band’s established pattern.

To their credit, Hop Along took a massive artistic risk and subverted that formula to deliver the most measured and nuanced work of their career. More impressively, they found a way to retain the level of emotional catharsis that’s earned them such a devoted following. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly ambitious record, with things like imposing orchestral arrangements scattered throughout its runtime.

From the record’s opening track, “How Simple”, it seems as if it’ll be business as usual for a while, with the band echoing the late-career work of Rilo Kiley (another band with notable ties to Saddle Creek) but it offers glances towards something a little different. Even with that lingering sense things might be about to change, the closing minutes find room for a vintage Hop Along moment with the repeated mantra of “Don’t worry, we will find out, just not together.”

It’s at that moment that the record — and the band’s slightly revamped dynamic approach — start to click into place. Across the rest of the record, they take small risks to arrive at maximum impact, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes, causing them to lean in and invest. As a tactic, it’s incredibly effective and the band uses it masterfully throughout some of the most impressive work of their career.

Bark Your Head Off, Dog is more than just one impressive arrangement after another, though, and Hop Along grants it as much — if not more — emotional heft than either of there previous two outings. There are times where the record goes beyond feeling personal and tips into feeling like it was borne out of necessity. Thankfully, for us, we can now reap the rewards of that need with what’s bound to stand the test of time and remain one of 2018’s most incredible records.

Listen to Bark Your Head Off, Dog below and pick it up from Saddle Creek.

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.


Big Thief – Paul (Stream)

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After a small avalanche of post, this will be the last in a series focused on catching the site up to the current release cycle in three major categories. Music videos are up to date, full streams are up to date, and now, individual songs will be as well. Throughout the past few days, we’ve been given great new tracks from Magic PotionTiergarten, Jo Passed, and Alex Calder. We’ve also been given another masterful tune from Big Thief, who are on a pre-release run that’s all but guaranteed their upcoming full-length, Masterpiece, will be a breakaway success.

Ever since “Real Love” landed the band in the 50 Best Songs of 2016’s First Quarter, they’ve been making all of the right moves. “Humans” saw them scale back the grandiose scale of both “Masterpiece” and “Real Love” to gripping effect and “Paul” continues to flirt with the divide between statement and understatement. “Paul”, maybe more than any of their songs to date, draws its life from its more subdued nature, playing up the nostalgic quality that helps define Masterpiece.

As always, the band’s grasp on their identity — and their dynamics — is exquisite, with each second of “Paul” registering as intensely thoughtful. Reveling in the song’s quiet nature allows the quartet the opportunity to make the brief silences of “Paul” into a chilling instrument of its own, driving up the song’s tension and wistfulness at roughly the same rate. The harmonies in the chorus provide the song with a beautiful flourish, underscoring the relationship at the crux of the central narrative like its a fondly-remembered dream.

Once again, Big Thief has gifted us a breathtaking glimpse into what’s shaping up to be one of 2016’s best records. Every second of the material the band’s released thus far has been meticulously composed, emotionally resonant, beautifully produced, and undeniably powerful. Subtle, nuanced, and surprisingly direct in its examination of fractured psyches, lovelorn tendencies, and some darker Southern Gothic sensibilities, “Paul” is as arresting as they come and all but cements Big Thief’s status as one of 2016’s most important emerging acts. More than a dozen consecutive listens into this review, it’s also the kind of song that’s proving nearly impossible to take off repeat.

Listen to “Paul” below and pre-order Masterpiece from Saddle Creek here.

Big Thief – Humans (Stream)

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Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

Big Thief managed to make an extraordinary impression with “Real Love“, a song that easily ranks among 2016’s finest offerings. All of the early signs and material they’ve been giving so generously has pointed to the inevitable conclusion that their upcoming full-length, Masterpiece, may actually live up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title. One of those pieces of suggestive evidence recently arrived in the form of the band’s latest single, “Humans”.

Like “Real Love” before it, “Humans” coasts on the sort of punk-influenced Americana that Saddle Creek has built its reputation on and Big Thief, now more than ever, look to be one of its biggest success stories (in terms of critical acclaim, at the very least). The dynamic interplay, the unapologetic, vulnerable lyricism, and the earthy tones all elevate each other towards transcendent realms while the  band keeps everything commendably grounded.

Impressively, the band’s also exuding the sort of lived-in confidence that will go a long way in ensuring their name recognition inevitably accelerates to impress levels in the months (and, probably, years) following the release of Masterpiece. “Humans” also proves the bands committed to its own convictions and that their own grasp on their identity is unwavering. Everything about this band, this song, and this record — especially at this stage — is extraordinary.

Restrained, whip-smart, and perfectly composed, “Humans” shows Big Thief — a relatively new band — operating at the peak of their powers, far outstripping the majority of their contemporaries. Even for most veteran bands, succeeding on these levels is an unimaginable task. For Big Thief, it’s a walk in the park. Don’t lose sight of Big Thief’s journey, all of the early pieces continue to point to their ongoing story being one of the most rewarding in all of music.

Listen to “Humans” below and pre-order Masterpiece from Saddle Creek here.

15 of ’15: The Best Albums of 2015

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2015, close to unanimously, was concerned to be one of the highest points for new music in recent memory. To that end, putting together this list was even more of a nightmarish task than narrowing the 2015 songs down to their 15 slots. There was even a brief moment where expanding this list to 50 slots seemed like a viable action. Ultimately, after literally hundreds of substitutions in the various positions (and countless exclusions and extractions), the formula remained intact. While it was painful to leave an extremely large handful of extraordinary records lingering just outside the perimeter, the 15 records below have earned their spots. Every single one of these has remained in near-constant rotation since the time of their release and will likely resonant well into 2016 and beyond. Dive on in below and reflect on the overwhelming strength of the past 12 months.

15. Meat Wave – Delusion Moon

One of a select few bands to play an instrumental part in the formative stages of this site’s focus (and one of the acts to play the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase), Meat Wave came through in a big way in 2015. The trio released one of the year’s best oddities, signed to SideOneDummy, and unleashed a behemoth of an album in Delusion Moon. Billed as their first proper full-length (their vicious self-titled, limited-run cassette straddled the line between EP and full-length), Delusion Moon saw the band exploring their darker tendencies to great success. More fully exploring influences like Mission of Burma and Drive Like Jehu, the band acted as a nice counterpoint to the usual brand of ’90s revival and got some kicks in along the way.

14. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

No band’s live show was documented more exhaustively here over 2015 than PWR BTTM, who perfected a simplistic approach with enormous- and enormously successful- ideas. The duo (who is occasionally a trio) set their sights on exploring gender and personal identity and followed through with a startlingly brazen tenacity. Close to every song on Ugly Cherries, their extraordinary full-length debut, play out like the kind of anthems that 2015 desperately needed. For a record that’s quick to be gleefully tongue-in-cheek, Ugly Cherries also offers up some devastating personal moments, lending the band an emotional depth that makes their outsize spirit even more powerful.

13. Midnight Reruns – Force of Nurture

Force of Nurture, Midnight Reruns‘ astonishing sophomore effort, has one of the best A-sides I’ve ever heard. Not to discredit an extremely strong B-side, either, but the run the band puts together from “There’s An Animal Upstairs” to “Sky Blue Water” is just about flawless. All six of those songs were considered for this year’s list of the best songs of 2015 along with the record’s sprawling closer, “Great Southern Rail”, which boasts one of the year’s more jaw-dropping choruses. Bolstered by the involvement of one of the band’s earliest and most vocal supporters- The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, who produced the record- Midnight Reruns turned in their finest collection of songs to date.

12. Hop Along – Painted Shut

A statement that bears repeating: one of the most heartening aspects of 2015 was watching the deserved ascension of Hop Along, who have been cranking out exquisite material on an exceptionally high platform for several years. Driven by the distinctive, arresting voice of guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan and their own unique sensibilities, Hop Along crafted the strongest record of their discography. With new partner Saddle Creek firmly in their corner, the band came to vibrant life and stayed on form, delivering a set of knockout tracks that included “Waitress”, one of this year’s finest. A welcome breath of fresh air, Painted Shut marked the beginning of an exciting new era for one of today’s best bands.

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11. Royal Headache – High

Even as all the news of High being Royal Headache’s finest record (thankfully) receded, the power of their finest offering to date didn’t diminish. Following a brilliant debut, the band may have actually surpassed that record’s promise with their sophomore effort. Highlighted by songs like the towering, defiant title track and the surging “Another World“, High is a genre masterclass of the highest order. Buoyed by an infectious energy that’s constantly verging on manic, there’s never a moment during the record that doesn’t feel like it’s nearing a state of euphoria. When High is firing on all cylinders, as is the case for the vast majority of the record, the band’s as close to being virtually untouchable as is possibly imaginable.

10. Young Jesus – Grow/Decompose

Home, Young Jesus‘ breakout record and a candidate for album of the decade, set extraordinarily high expectations for whatever the band chose as its following release. Crafting a worthy follow-up seemed even more unlikely after the band moved out of Chicago and over to Los Angeles, reassembling their lineup in the process. By that token, Grow/Decompose isn’t just a deeply impressive record, it’s a miraculous one. Guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter sharpens his singular songwriting voice and leads his new outfit with a fiery determination. An immensely satisfying collection of songs, Grow/Decompose feels like a genuine album; structured and paced to near perfection, Grow/Decompose is a reinvigorating- and reinvigorated- frenzy.

9. Dogs On Acid – Dogs On Acid

Dogs On Acid, a band formed out of the ashes of much beloved acts Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader, expanded on one of the best 7″ releases of 2014 with one of the strongest full-length debuts in recent memory. Laced with knockout hooks at just about every turn, Dogs On Acid is a staggering show of power from a band that finds surprising ways to exceed its predecessors. Maximizing their pop sensibilities to astonishing effect, Dogs On Acid inject their first major effort with an insistent, propulsive energy that catapults each of its 10 tracks to unthinkable heights, keeping their punk roots in place along the way. Every song on Dogs On Acid is a genuine highlight, yet the whole affair still manages to come across as so much more than a collection of singles. Bold and brash, this is the kind of record that may never fall out of regular rotation.

8. Tenement – Predatory Headlights

For close to 10 years, I’ve provided near-incessant documentation of Tenement, chronicling their forward motion with increasing intensity as the years progressed. When Heartbreaking Bravery was initially designed, it was constructed with the intention of highlighting bands that weren’t being granted the press that they deserved. In 2015, the world at large finally started catching on to a band that’s meant more to the development of my personal interests in music than any other (I didn’t include their Bruised Music compilation in the oddities list because I contributed a lengthy piece to the record’s insert that expands on that fact). Predatory Headlights, the trio’s latest opus, was a definitive collection of the band’s current era, unafraid of demolishing genre barriers and bold experimentation. Over its intimidating 28 tracks, the album steadily emerges as a genuine- and singular- masterpiece.

7. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

For Julien Baker‘s breathtaking breakout record, the young songwriter (previously best known as one of the driving forces behind Forrister) dived fearlessly into a despairing examination of her own psyche. A preoccupation with mortality that was heavily informed by the laws of religion dominates nearly every song on this surprisingly brave collection. From the description of the car wreck in the opener’s first verse all the way through to the passage in “Go On”- Sprained Ankle‘s mesmerizing closing track and one of 2015’s finest songs– about consuming bleach, there’s barely a moment of reprieve. Built almost exclusively around Baker’s voice and acoustic guitar, Sprained Ankle feels progressively more personal as it goes along, each song functioning as a plea, a warning, and a sustained moment of clarity. Tragic and beautiful, Baker’s conjured up a collection of deeply personal songs that feel genuinely sacred.

6. All Dogs – Kicking Every Day

Ever since their earliest releases, All Dogs have been steadily crafting great material and building momentum. Kicking Every Day, the band’s startlingly defiant full-length debut, continues that pattern with an astounding amount of grace. Even with their lineup at full strength following the addition of guitarist Nick Harris (which is paying massive dividends), guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones’ songs feel more naked than ever, imbuing Kicking Every Day with a voyeuristic look at its principal songwriter’s inner turmoil and unflinching resolve. After the anticipation levels for this record came close to hitting a fever pitch with the release of “That Kind of Girl” (which ranked highly on the songs of the year list), the prospect of a record as extravagantly strong as Kicking Every Day didn’t seem so distant. The record ultimately surpassed those expectations thanks to both the instant acclaim it so richly deserved and its ability to strike all the right chords.

5. Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

Losing Four Eyes, a band that put out one of the best 7″ records of this decade, was a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately, that band found a natural successor in Sweet John Bloom. Continuing to revel in the same brand of endearingly scrappy basement pop and pulling members from a few other outstanding bands, Sweet John Bloom managed to make a mark. Weird Prayer, their first fully fledged full-length, reveals impressive new depths to the band. Employing a rotating cast of songwriters, the record gives ample space to flesh out each one’s distinct personality. From lovely slow-burning tracks like “Bury Ruby” to incendiary highlights like “Tell Me”, Weird Prayer is an enviable showcase that, bizarrely, seems like a victory lap for its various members. There’s a memorable moment or three on each of these 15 tracks, most of which find intriguing dichotomies to exploit over the course of their brief running times. Littered with surprising moments at close to every corner, it’s one of 2015’s most exhilarating releases.

4. Dilly Dally – Sore

Back in 2014, Dilly Dally unleashed a pair of 7″ records that nearly walked away with the top spot in this site’s rankings. In 2015 they followed up their flawless early run with a brilliant standalone single and a bruising full-length teeming with vicious grunge-informed, punk-leaning basement pop numbers. Grimly determined and scuzzy as hell, Sore lands with the force of an atomic bomb. There was a reason that no band earned as many feature pieces on this site over the course of 2014 than Dilly Dally and, even stripped of the brilliant singles that earned those spots, Sore would have registered as a knockout. While the record’s many searing highlights (“Desire“, “Purple Rage“, “The Touch“, etc.) gave the record its fangs, its elegiac closer provided it with both an unexpected emotional depth and a staggering moment of finality (both of which went a long way in securing its ranking as one of 2015’s finest tracks). While Dilly Dally just about stole CMJ and released a small army of outstanding music videos, Sore was their definitive 2015 moment. It’s the kind of record that inspires kids to go out and start bands of their own, making it one of the most powerful releases in recent memory.

3. Mike Krol – Turkey

The sudden resurgence of the (unfortunately) still-deceased Sleeping in the Aviary was an extremely unexpected and welcome development. While they did release an extraordinary demos and rarities collection, the band’s best moment came when the majority of its lineup wound up backing Mike Krol for his latest venture. No record in 2015 felt even close to as unhinged as Turkey, Krol’s first effort for Merge and most deranged outing to date. With a runtime that doesn’t even scratch 19 minutes, Krol and the band he’s assembled run through nine songs at a pace so frantic it’s practically delirious. Every single moment of Turkey is informed by a surging level of energy that it seems like the record might derail itself at any given moment, toppling over because of its own excessive velocity. Miraculously, it manages to sustain that momentum through nine songs of rabid basement pop that draws inspiration from a variety of genres from the past handful of decades, zeroing in on things like ’50s pop and classic soul. Everything on Turkey also benefits from being shot through with Krol’s deadpan comedic sensibility, tongue planted firmly in cheek. By the time the record’s penultimate track hits- the absolutely massive “Less Than Together“- the record’s momentum is white hot. “Piano Shit” winds things down at the very end and allows the listener to review the demolished left in Turkey‘s wake as it coasts to the finish.

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2. Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers

One of the happier coincidences this site got to experience in 2015 was the realization that the glowing review of Nicole Dollanganger‘s breathtaking Natural Born Losers was its 666th post. An appropriate fact, given the record’s deep obsession with angels, devils, and the spiritual realm. In its opening lines (“I shot an angel with my father’s rifle”), Natural Born Losers flaunts its aim with a threatening gracefulness, ready to turn on a dime at any moment. Dollanganger’s narratives throughout the course of the record are startling exercises in hyper-violence and dueling desires. Whether it’s a BDSM-informed romp as lensed through an experience with an abusive police officer or an extremely disarming sample taken from the animated 1993 cult classic The Halloween Tree, Dollanganger’s either making fresh incisions or pulling gaping wounds even further apart. However, for being so deeply unsettling in its prose, the music that accompanies all of Dollanganger’s nightmarish imagery is as elegant and haunting as her vocals. A lot of Natural Born Losers hinges on exploring some of the weightiest dichotomies in existence and the degree of success to which it achieves in striking fascinating middle grounds in those battles is revelatory. Even more impressive is the fashion in which Dollanganger binds this collection of songs together, especially considering how effectively the record’s haunting line defines (or redefines) everything that’s happened since its steely-eyed opening moment. Put simply: Natural Born Losers is a modern masterpiece.

1. Eskimeaux – O.K.

Eskimeaux‘s O.K. managed to impress on first listen but it wasn’t until seeing the band live that all of its pieces fell more fully into place. That show inspired a return visit to this collection which, in turn, brought about a subsequent revisit (and then that pattern fell into a routine that still hasn’t ceased). On each successive listen, more of O.K. sprang to life. Gabrielle Smith’s project has been making material that’s been more than worthwhile for a large handful of years now but O.K., the project’s most fully-realized outing, saw Smith step across a threshold and into something sublime. A meticulously crafted record, every last one of its countless gears clicks in ways that surprise and delight in equal measure, rewarding heavy investment with a casual ease and providing O.K. with one of its cleverest tricks. In maintaining their casual sensibilities, the record becomes an enjoyable cursory listen but that casualness is surprisingly deceptive.

O.K.‘s a very complex record when it’s dissected into its formative pieces, whether they’re the gorgeous vocal layers that comprise one of the record’s most gorgeous moments on “A Hug Too Long” or Felix Walworth’s explosively idiosyncratic snare work on “Folly“, each finding a way to stand out as an impressive moment in both the small schemes of the songs and the grand sweep of the album. From a lyrical standpoint, Smith packs this record full with bittersweet realizations, internal frustrations, and slivers of a defiant sense of hope that’s steadfast in its refusal to bow to a harsher reality. Even the record’s darkest moment- the brooding “Pocket Full of Posies”, which nearly unseated “A Hug Too Long” in the songs list- subtly acknowledges the inherent innocence of things that are frequently viewed as evil. Even then, O.K.‘s worldview is far from simply being optimistic, it’s far too weary to assume that the best mode of operation is to look for the best in everything; its earned its sophisticated wariness.

What makes O.K. truly stand out, though, is its overwhelming amount of empathy for everything that’s fortunate enough to have worked its way into the record. Easily one of the most readily apparent humanist statements that music yielded this year (which is especially easy to see when the record’s put under a microscope), O.K. draws its strength from its sense of value. It’s a view that resonates throughout the record’s 11 brilliantly crafted songs, providing them with a deeper sense of purpose than most bands can manage. Additionally, all of the inspired decisions that comprise O.K. are augmented by some of the most extraordinary production work of the past several years, stealthily enhancing the cumulative effect of the songs. An awe-inspiring breakthrough for one of today’s most promising acts, O.K. is the kind of record that’s worth preserving for future generations. Find someone deserving to share this with and give in to its inescapable beauty.