Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Sahan Jayasuriya

15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015

Slight I

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.

spotify:album:1DC8DB5pwWyTNIZM4tdYxN

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.

spotify:album:51eSFNYpbtrdK605CBWW3f

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.

Nervosas at Center Street Free Space and Quarters Rock N Roll Palace – 3/1/14 (Live Review)

1-IMG_1284

On March 1, 2014, the entirety of Milwaukee was emitting a low hum- the result of hundreds of amps coming to life. There was the East Side Music Festival, which stood as a celebration of local music (Heartbreaking Bravery favorites The Sleepwalkers, Midnight Reruns, and The Midwestern Charm were all well represented), that spanned several participating venues and featured headlining sets from Why? and POS. Beach Patrol, Jake Simmons, and Tim Schweiger & the Middlemen were the bands making up a stellar bill over at Bremen Cafe, outside of the fest. Another non-fest show that was likely worth seeing had Ringo Deathstarr headlining Mad Planet. There was a show in seemingly every venue in the city- and Nervosas played two of them.

First up was a show in the basement of DIY library collective Center Street Free Space alongside Strange Matter and Crowdpleaser. After having some trouble with a faulty mic stand that essentially just gave out before Strange Matter began (both a cinder block and a weighted bucket were used as position anchors) the show started with an incredibly impressive set from Milwaukee hardcore veterans Strange Matter. After a few lineup changes and toting a new 7″, ennui actuation dissolver, the band was in fine form throughout a rapid-fire set. Blending all kinds of influences into a fairly original sound that leans heavily on hardcore, Strange Matter have built a strong reputation for themselves by virtue of their releases. If this show was any indication, though, their live show may have surpassed their recorded output in terms of quality- and that’s saying something.

Next to bat was Crowdpleaser, another Milwaukee band toying with genre limitations in slightly unexpected ways. Pushing their volumes to dangerous heights, the band played passionately and were genuinely excited to be sharing a bill with Nervosas. Their excitement was even more justified by the similarities between the two bands. Both Crowdpleaser and Nervosas share a similarly-mined strand of goth-punk that a lot of today’s bands can’t claim. There’s also a peculiar restlessness to be found in both bands’ music. Neither band is afraid of the unsparingly bleak, either. While there are more than a few differences between Crowdpleaser and Nervosas, and while there were a fair amount of technical difficulties, Crowdpleaser’s set felt like a completely natural precursor for the perpetually anxious Nervosas.

When Nervosas finally took over they did it with a manic determination that made their set one of the most cathartic experiences imaginable. Truly looking like that went both ways (band and audience feeding into each other on a barely-controlled loop) they grew progressively more intense as the set went on. Afterwards guitarist, Mickey, would reveal that she was trying to frantically keep up with the rest of her band who purportedly never play that fast. Whether that was a false claim is anyone’s best guess but at various points throughout the set, their drummer, Nick, would lose time and recover quickly with well-timed blast beats. All the while Jeff (their bassist and vocalist) would be careening through songs from the few outstanding releases they have so far, completely caught up in the moment. The only times the weirdly hypnotic and utterly dark spell was broken came when one of them would let the song get away from them (though they all recovered incredibly quickly) and not be able to help a smile. It’s impossible to gauge how long their set was as everyone was completely caught up in the moment, watching the band teeter on the edge of total collapse and reign things in at all the right moments. Making this even more memorable was the low turnout rate for the show- the benefit being that everyone who was there clearly cared enough to make sure that they were there so they could shout along “APAB” at all the right moments and support a band they loved. By the time the band finished tearing through a particularly rousing take on “Poison Ivy” nearly everyone that was present had likely already made up their minds to make their way over to the late show to see them again.

Between the end of the Free Space show and the start of the show at Quarters, a stop was made at Bremen Cafe in hopes to catch one of the three bands playing that night- while that proved to be an impossibility it’s worth noting that Jake Simmons,  Tim Schweiger & the Middlemen, and Beach Patrol all come very highly recommended and wouldn’t have been missed any other night. By the time the short walk to Quarters was made, feedback was already ringing throughout the venue, a half circle had been formed in front of the stage, and Midwives were about to go off. Having just seen Midwives member Graham Hunt lead Midnight Reruns through another energetic set just a week prior it was nice to see him fully embracing the role of a hardcore guitarist, while it was nice to see Sahan Jayasuriya back behind a kit for a band he believes in. Both of them need the band for different reasons; for Hunt it’s the ability to cut loose and be as grimy as possible, something that fronting Midnight Reruns doesn’t afford him- and for Jayasuriya it’s both the advantage of input into creative control and the sense of connection that comes with being part of something from the ground up, instead of coming into the fold late (something he’s experienced surprisingly often).

It was evident throughout Midwives’ set how badly those points counted for them as they poured their fucking hearts into their set by attacking their instruments with the kind of brute force only found in the best hardcore bands. As both Hunt and Jayasuriya lost their respective minds on their instruments, their vocalist was stalking the hell out of the open space in front of the stage shouting for all his worth and their bassist kept everything in check by holding down his parts while furiously nodding his head along. Ripping through the songs from their vicious debut 7″ (they used the night to celebrate its physical release) and a whole lot of new songs (many of which will be appearing on the LP they’ll be recording this week), it started to feel like the band announcing a bigger kind of arrival. While their studio work is already enormously impressive (despite being only four songs), this is the kind of band that lives for a live setting- they didn’t disappoint and hopefully won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

After quite a bit of set up, take-down, and tuning, Technicolor Teeth turned up their amps to typically deafening volumes and greeted the audience with their shoegaze-heavy nightmare pop. Ever since first seeing this band a few years back and watching them evolve, it’s been clear that they’ve tapped into something inherently special. As they’ve progressed they’ve toyed with the boundaries of genre and exploited the buried aspects of a few different styles rather than settling for something as simple as revivalism. They’re pushing things in new and intriguing directions; finding a home in what was once considered a dormant style and looking forward instead of traveling back. Easily the night’s longest set, they nonetheless were as captivating as usual and likely won over anyone they hadn’t. While their set seemed to be heavy on newer material, it all clicked and felt coherent enough to keep the audience interested despite being a band who’s prone to playing up a drowsy-high aesthetic. There were a few blinding flashes of energy that helped push that along and as a collective unit, the band played close to flawlessly, wrapped up in a weird kind of power approach. A large part of the credit for this is likely due to drummer Amos Pitsch (who uses his time outside of the band to do things like front Tenement) who continues to operate on an almost obscene level of musicality (so much so that it prompted a well-intentioned and sarcastic “Thanks for drumming before me, Amos. That sucked.” from Nick) and provides the band with a considerable punch. In any case, Technicolor Teeth played like they meant it and is a must-catch prospect- they’ll be playing the Accidental Guest Recordings showcase at SXSW, don’t miss it.

After Technicolor Teeth wrapped up and everyone assessed their levels of hearing damage, Nervosas set back up for a final run. Only this time, it wasn’t to 15 people- it was to a packed bar that was threatening to close in on max capacity. As a result, the energy level of the decidedly frenetic show at Free Space somehow got kicked up a few more levels. This time, the audience wound up begging the band for an encore that they never got; and that was alright- Nervosas seemingly left every inch of themselves on that stage. Absolutely ripping through highlights from their best-of-decade worthy self-titled like “Less Than Human”, “Viva Viva”, “Extinct Species”, “Waste of Time”, and (once again) “Stellarcore”, “Poison Ivy” and “APAB” along with some deeper cuts like Rev 45 lead-off track “Junky”. All of this was performed as wild-eyed as possible, with each member being almost inhumanly committed to delivering their songs at maximum levels of impact. None of the three could stay still even between songs, feet tapping and bodies swaying back and forth, anxious to jump into whatever was next. During the songs, that restlessness was even more present as the band would literally throw themselves from side to side (and into the walls on more than one occasion), while attempting to keep themselves in control of the music. Their levels of success on these levels were improbable, as all of the things apart from the audience size were both duplicated and maximized from their set just a few hours before. By the time the calls for an encore were hitting their peak, the band was onstage, packing up, absolutely spent. They’d made their mark and knew their was nothing left to possibly be given.

As the show turned into an afterparty with the assistance of Rio Turbo, friends old and new caught up, got drinks, and found their way into dances, conversations, and the streets. Everyone buzzing on the adrenaline high that accompanies the truly great shows. Everyone that played caught up with each other and their admirers, gave their thanks to each, and bought or traded merch before heading off. Now that all the smoke’s cleared, all that’s left to do is keep both eyes peeled for the next time Nervosas show up- because if these shows were any indication, this is a band that should never be missed.

A few photographs from the shows can be found below.

Midwives – EP (Review)

Milwaukee’s Midnight Reruns are set to unveil their debut LP next week and it’s likely to be one of the year’s best. Don’t let that serve as a distraction from Rerun’s frontman Graham Hunt’s other project, the equally attention-deserving hardcore act Midwives. After releasing a self-titled five song EP digitally through Bandcamp only a little over a month ago, Direct Current records will be pressing 7″ copies as their very first release. It’s one hell of a first release for both parties, occupying a space that falls somewhere between OFF! and Pissed Jeans.
.
Hunt’s vicious guitar work here is matched in intensity by his bandmates’ respective performances. Blood is shed. The whole thing’s over in seven exhilarating minutes. With each track coming in at an average of only slightly over a minute, there’s no time to breathe. Midwives manage to execute on each of these tracks, going 5-for-5 on their first outing.

Midwives’ unfiltered frustration may be their most defining characteristic, coming to a head in “Twinkie” at the EP’s midway point amid repeated cries of “I can’t take this.” Their most valuable asset, however, surfaces in the inventive final minute of “Debonair”, which finds the band slowing down and descending into a gently chaotic pattern that’s somewhat reminiscent of the expansive instrumental pieces on Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life. “Debonair” giving way to new stylistic elements as the EP bows out suggests new and exciting possibilities for Midwives’ sound, which  sets them up nicely and elevates anticipation for what they’ll manage with any follow-up’s.

From the pummeling “White Whine” through to those final quietly unnerving moments, there’s never a dull section. Midwives’ introduction piece should be an equally strong start to Direct Current’s operations. Both the band and the label seem well worth keeping tabs on. Add this to Perfect Pussy’s I have lost all desire for feeling, Pharmakon’s Abandon, and LVL Up’s Extra Worlds as one of the year’s best EP’s. Keep an eye out for the physical release and stream it below.