The first post today will be dedicated to a slew of yesterday’s outstanding releases and the focus will fall on one that evaded scrutiny by virtue of a very quiet release. Before diving too far into that song, though, it’s worth taking a beat to highlight a few other great pieces of media. Free Cake For Every Creature’s lo-fi visual presentation of “Take On Me” and Jane Weaver’s mesmerizing, animated clip for “Mission Desire” both constituted strong examples of retro-leaning music videos. The full streams colored in a very broad range of punk and punk influence, containing forthcoming releases from the following: Negative Scanner, EZTV, and American Culture.
As usual, the majority of releases where very strong single streams. Knife Pleats brought out a very strong duo of tracks with both “One Step Too Far” and “Terrible”, Dark Palms unleashed the nightmarishly bruising, post-punk ripper “Dead Horse“, and Sleepy indulged their brightest pop sensibilities and blistering aggression simultaneously on the hard-charging “The Ride Up“. Worriers unloaded another brilliant politi-punk anthem with “Yes All Cops“, further suggesting that their upcoming full-length will rank among the year’s very finest releases. Shelf Life’s gently lilting (and gorgeous) “The Curse“, You Beauty.’s driving “ILLYWHACKA“, and DIV I DED’s pop-heavy shoegaze number “Electric Age” rounded the day’s releases out.
Highlighting that batch of new music was an unlikely release, quietly uploaded to bandcamp and announced via Facebook: Noun’s devastatingly beautiful acoustic ballad, “I’m Afraid of What I’ll Do”. At this point, it’s safe to assume a lot more people are familiar with guitarist/vocalist Marissa Paternoster’s work in Screaming Females than they are with either her excellent solo project, Noun, or her (relatively) new ventures in the deliriously spastic Bad Canoes. Throw in Paternoster’s elevating name recognition (and career) as an artist and it’s not surprising that a thing or two loses
The continued success of Screaming Females and the emergence of Bad Canoes seemingly relegated Paternoster’s Noun project to the back-burner but its flame was kept at a stubborn flicker during that time, with hints of a potential future release being unveiled as of late (including both “Far From Me” and “Glass Diamond“). While the live sets are still fairly infrequent, that’s made up for with the strength- and grace- of “I’m Afraid of What I’ll Do”.
Parernoster’s had a tradition of being vulnerable in her prose but it’s rarely been laid as bare or presented as intimately as it is here. A gentle bass hums underneath “I’m Afraid of What I’ll Do” as Paternoster wearily pleads for companionship in a time of desperation. Riveting, haunting, and- ultimately- heartbreaking, “I’m Afraid of What I’ll Do” presents a very strong case for Paternoster as one of this generation’s strongest voices. It’s always worth listening to what that voice has to say.
Listen to “I’m Afraid of What I’ll Do” below and keep an eye on this page for more updates on Noun.
Continuing the recent trend of emerging (or, in this case, re-emerging) items that were featured or teased by the writers kind enough to participate in A Year’s Worth of Memories series is Hey Hallways’ first music video, “Anything At All”. Of course, it wasn’t the only music video to surface over the past few days. It was joined by the likes of Titus Andronicus’ typically fiery “Fatal Flaw“, YAWN’s gorgeously lensed “Overflow“, Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room’s surprisingly great lyric clip for “Enemies“, Beach Baby’s intuitive, sensual “No Mind No Money“, Craft Spells’ effects and editing masterclass “Twirl“, and Birdstriking’s urgent, damaged “Monkey Snake“.
In the very first installment of a A Year’s Worth of Memories Radiator Hospital‘s Cynthia Schemmer (who also serves as managing editor for the rightfully-celebrated She Shreds) waxed ecstatic about Hey Hallways’ Absence Makes the Heart Forget, singling out “Anything At All” specifically. It’s easy to see why: the song’s a knockout punch that demonstrates the vast range of Jason Brownstein’s considerable talents (he also plays in both Joyride! and Permanent Ruin). Now, that song has its own music video- a collage of home movie aesthetics that bristles with genuine feeling. That kind of raw honesty is something that’s impossible to duplicate and difficult to convey but it comes across effortlessly in both song and video, providing a brief glimpse at Brownstein’s quiet charisma. Ultimately, “Anything At All” is the exact kind of song (and clip) that has the power to inspire others to start creating their own art and that alone’s worth more than words could ever convey.
Watch “Anything At All” below and pre-order Absence Makes the Heart Forget from Salinashere.
One last time for one last 2014 list: “best” is in no way an attempt to be an objective statement. The terminology is shorthand to reflect personal taste and is not to be construed as anything more. Also, for the purposes of a more personal summary in this year-end coverage period, this site’s regular restriction on first person will be lifted. In 2014, I listened to more music that was released throughout the year than any other in my life. Numbering well upwards of a thousand releases, it proved impossible to keep tracks on everything (I’m already certain a few of these lists are missing more than a few titles that I genuinely loved)- but there were a few items that were worth remembering. Below are 14 records that managed to carve their way into my esteem both instantaneously and through the process of time. Below that is what turned into the most extensive list I’ve ever assembled, one that acts as an unnecessary validation that good music is being created at an excessively high volume (all of which is hyperlinked to either a full stream or a representative portion). We’re living in a golden age for access and music continues to reap the benefits allowed by technology. In that spirit, it’s worth noting that a lot of the names included below won’t always be the most recognizable- this is due to both that volume and the fact this site’s built on a foundation that ensures bands who are marginalized will be given the consideration they deserve. So, with all of that noted, it’s time to move on to the main attraction: 14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014.
14. Taulard – Les Abords Du Lycée
2014’s most unexpected gem, Les Abords Du Lycée,is a mesmerizing listening that drives home taut organ/drums/vocals post-punk with a startling amount of verve. Endlessly charismatic and unpredictable, the dozen tracks on display here constantly twist and turn, never once daring to let the listener catch their breath. Mood and tempo changes abound on one of 2014’s most fearlessly unique records. Even for those who aren’t even remotely well-versed in the French language, Les Abords Du Lycée should be a thrilling listen; something like unbridled passion can always translate well enough to near the universal.
13. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
What’s easily one of 2014’s boldest concepts roots La Dispute’s mesmerizing Rooms of the House, a record that shows La Dispute’s rapid maturation with a weary grace. Centered around a meticulously brilliant narrative device, it’s a record that stunned me on my first few listens before growing into an inescapable force of nature that refused to leave my thoughts. As bleak as anything the post-hardcore has ever produced, Rooms of the House finds its strength through focus and restraint, zeroing in on difficult topics with a keen eye and an abundance of determination. Blisteringly personal and nearly voyeuristic, it stands as one of 2014’s fiercest artistic statements.
12. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
Two Inch Astronaut’s Foulbrood has come up more than a few times on the site over the past handful of months thanks to its casual brilliance. Wielding an enticing palette of influences ranging from Drive Like Jehu to their contemporaries in Exploding in Sound, Two Inch Astronaut managed to conjure up one of the most impressive sophomore efforts of the year. The title track, “Part of Your Scene“, and “Dead White Boy” all earned themselves individual write-ups on the basis of their appealingly off-kilter and ragged identity. Foulbrood‘s a record that knows exactly what it wants to be and goes straight for the throat, sending a trail of viscera flying it its wake.
11. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
One of the things I kept coming back to throughout the course of music in 2014 was Jayson Gerycz’s drumming on this record. Not just because it’s a staggering individual performance but because there’s an undefinable, inherent quality that exists within that drumming which drives this record to obscene heights. Impossibly, stripped of the drumming, the record succeeds wildly in an acoustic setting and demonstrates Dylan Baldi’s increasing proficiency as a songwriter, a vocalist, and a guitarist. After losing a member in guitarist Joe Boyer, Cloud Nothings somehow managed to transform themselves into an act that was simultaneously heavier and poppier than when they were a quartet. Importantly, this is a record that’s built to last and it’s only grown on me as the year’s progressed (and that trend’s not showing any signs of slowing).
10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
As beguiling as it is bewitching, Ought’s brit-pop influenced post-punk masterpiece was a record that sounded triumphant right out of the gate. Slowly, that triumph turned to transcendence and the songs contained within More Than Any Other Day became unavoidable mission statements. In terms of scope, the majority of More Than Any Other Day feels as epic as LCD Soundsystem operating at their best. Both acts share a penchant for sprawling structures and self-containment, bridging a gap between intimacy and grandeur with a knack for deceptive, intricate songwriting. Anthemic and mundane, More Than Any Other Day was like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart, waiting for the resuscitated with a sly grin and a memorable, tossed-off joke. Excessively charming and utterly winsome, it’s a record that felt (and still feels) necessary.
9. Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club
“E.M.O.”, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club‘s thrilling centerpiece, recently appeared in this site’s best songs of 2014 list- but the song’s only one part of a much larger picture. At once, one of the year’s most joyous and pissed off releases, Jawbreaker Reunion tore through a variety of serious issues with aplomb on their absolutely stunning debut effort. Other than distilling songs like “Laughing Alone Eating a Salad” with a wicked sense of humor, the whole affair’s imbued with an enviably powerful sense of songcraft. Lo-fi, DIY, punk, and teeming with an understanding of classic pop, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s boldest introductions- it was also one of its best.
8. PURPLE 7 – Jewel Finger
PURPLE 7 boasts a lineup that’s accompanied by an impressive pedigree. Members of the band have previously played in bands like Defiance, Ohio, Landlord, and Hot New Mexicans (whose self-titled record ranks among my all-time favorites and currently leads my “best of decade” selections). Unsurprisingly, their debut LP effort hits a lot of sweet spots, including a gritty middle point between basement punk and basement pop. Simply put, this is a stunning collection of songs that was overlooked by most to a baffling degree after its release. Grounded, humble, and heartfelt, Jewel Finger is one of the records that reminds me of the reasons I started this site. This is music that deserves to be celebrated.
7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Arguably 2014’s first truly great release, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness saw the songwriter transition from a promising talent into one of the year’s most arresting figures. Embracing a fuller sound and a newfound confidence, Burn Your Fire For No Witness broke Angel Olsen’s career wide open with an onslaught of genuinely haunting tunes. Whether they were relentlessly spare or soaked in noir-ish tendencies, they were uniformly captivating; both the storm and the eerie silence before. Raw, tender, and occasionally antagonistic, Burn Your Fire For No Witness was one thing above all else: unforgettable.
6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
From the devastating opening lines all the way through to the climactic finish, LOSE holds its ground as one 2014’s most frighteningly personal albums. Largely influenced by the death of a friend close to the band, it’s a meditation on loss and the surrounding aspects of something so tragic. Easily Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest work to date both lyrically and musically, it’s a powerful (and powerfully moving) listen. “Warning”, in particular, cuts deep- which is one of the reasons why it wound up on the best songs of 2014 list just a few days ago. Incredibly impassioned and brave in its sincerity, LOSE finds a level of catharsis in its emotional turbulence, lending it a charge that renders it one of the year’s most human (and most important) releases.
5. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love
Perfect Pussy, for better or worse, have become intrinsically linked with this site. From Meredith Graves’ insistence on tangential involvement (which I’ll forever be grateful for) to the fact that the band’s greater ascension matched up with the very start of this site, they’re a band I’ve gone step for step with since bringing Heartbreaking Bravery into existence. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so fiercely drawn to the things that they were doing, though, which is why I approached them in the first place. Ever since those beginnings, it’s been a privilege to watch them progress, to travel at lengths to watch them play, and to see them release a record as enormously powerful as Say Yes To Love, a collection which houses my favorite song of 2014 (and possibly of this decade so far). Unapologetic, personal, damaged, resilient, powerful, feral, oddly triumphant, and unbelievably intense, Say Yes To Love operates as a perfect reminder for all of the reasons why I fell in love with this band- and why I’ll continue to pay close attention to their movements.
4. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love
No band in 2014 made a more stunning artistic leap than Iceage, who went from a static blur to matching the swaggering heights of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds after discovering their voice. Plowing Into The Field Of Love was a startlingly radical change of pace for Iceage, who imbue the record with a curious restraint and a sense of deeply haunted Americana. Southern Gothic touch points are littered throughout the record’s bleak landscape, while making room for plaintive ornamentation in the form of brass, string, and piano figures. Darker and more self-aware than anything in the band’s career, Plowing Into The Field Of Love earned them quite a few words of praise from this very site. Augmented by some legitimately extraordinary music videos, Plowing Into The Field Of Love proved to be an unexpectedly rattling experience. Easily one of the year’s most divisive records (as is the case with any left turns this sharp), it suggested Iceage’s ambitions ran way deeper than anyone expected and, subsequently, that they had the know-how to see those ambitions to fruition. In chasing their whimsy they wound up with something I wouldn’t fault anyone for calling a masterpiece.
3. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek
My connection with Mitski’s music is something that will always hold a very personal resonance. I’ll leave most of the reasoning behind that statement to a forthcoming piece but it’s worth noting in regards to a record that’s so unabashedly self-exploratory. Bury Me At Makeout Creekwas an enthralling re-introduction for Mitski, who saw it rightfully skyrocket her name recognition. Top to bottom, it’s an extraordinary effort that re-defined her artistic capabilities after a string of meticulously composed records that leaned on chamber pop tendencies. Here, that past gets blown to bits almost immediately. One of my favorite experiences in music listening all year came when “Texas Reznikoff” explodes in its final section- another came while listening to one of the best songs I’ve heard this decade (for obvious reasons, considering that statement). Where Bury Me At Makeout Creek manages to approach the transcendental is in the process of allowing listeners to hear an artist coming into their own. Part of Mitski’s identity is laid bare by Bury Me At Makeout Creek: it’s the unwillingness to accept identity as a static object and the desire to question its cumulative elements. That search is what gives Bury Me At Makeout Creek its bruised heart- and it’s why musicians will use it as a source of inspiration for several years to come.
2. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song
After the exhilarating highs of Something Wild, Radiator Hospital had a tall order for their follow-up. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), they obliterated those towering expectations with Torch Song. Sounding more confident- and more polished- than ever before, Torch Song cemented Sam Cook-Parrott’s status as one of this generation’s keenest emerging voices. Paying attention to the minutiae of everyday experiences and injecting them with a self-deprecating sense of poetry laced with pessimism, the songs contained on this record all aim to cut and find their mark with an incredible amount of ease. Having already established themselves as one of today’s more formidable units musically, Torch Song has the added benefit of having four loaded personalities find each other in total harmony, each acting as a complement to the other. Personal diatribes, small journeys of self-discovery, and a sense of empathy inform Torch Song and help cultivate its unassuming charm. There’s not a weak track among the record’s 15 songs and it maintains an assured sense of pace throughout its relatively breezy runtime. By the time it draws to a close, it stands as one of the most fully-formed and rewarding records of recent memory.
1. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d
I don’t think any record resonated more for me throughout the course of 2014 than LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, which I revered with literally no reservations. 2014’s strongest sophomore effort, Hoodwink’d saw LVL UP expanding most of the elements that made Space Brotherssuch an incredible release and retained all the others. Unreasonably refined and exceedingly personable, LVL UP have always found a strength in accentuating their members’ unique personalities and that trend got pushed to the forefront for their second full-length (which was co-released by Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound). Utilizing a distinctly unique take on their 90’s influences, the band also reveled in the benefits of a cleaner production that allowed them to sound more massive than they ever have in the past. No release felt more timely than Hoodwink’d, either, with the record practically serving as a stand-in voice for a disenfranchised sect of people. Alternately crushingly heavy, viciously poppy, relentlessly personal, and completely worn-out, Hoodwink’d never loses sight of its own mechanics. There’s a level of mutual understanding on display here that separates it from the rest of the year’s releases. Everyone feeds off each other, everyone supports each other, and everyone contributes to one hell of a set without even coming close to overstaying their welcome. Conversely, Hoodwink’d also ranks as one of the year’s most welcoming releases, radiating an empathetic warmth in its tone (and in its tones). As an entry in LVL UP’s catalog, it’s their career best. As a general 2014 release, it’s the best thing I had the privilege of hearing all year.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the titles below without an accompanying link can be streamed in the order they’re listed via the embedded spotifly player below the list.]
Once again, at the top: “best” is year-end shorthand terminology for “most admired” and used to designate personal taste without attempting to be an objective statement. For the purpose of emphasizing subjectivity, I’ll also be abandoning this site’s normally held restrictions on the use of first person. Now, with that out of the way, on to what matters: 2014 was a monumental year for 7″ and EP releases. A few are certainly interchangeable but I did my best to spread them around as best as possible. Unsurprisingly, the EP list still wound up with a wealth of material that dwarfs the 7″ list in comparison. All 14 of these releases meant a great deal to me throughout 2014 and became parts of my life, collectively fighting their way into my memory and subconscious. As always, there was a murderer’s row of titles that couldn’t make such a small list so an extensive auxiliary list has been provided below the top selections. So, enough with the introductory nonsense, here are the best EP’s of 2014.
14. Attendant – Freaking Out
Jon Rybicki (bassist of Radiator Hospital) branched out to create his own project- Attendant- in 2014. Enlisting the help of his bandmates and friends, Rybicki created something unflaggingly powerful in Freaking Out, the project’s seven song debut EP. Rawer and more barbed than any of the associated counterparts, Freaking Out is an unexpected left hook to the jaw for anyone familiar with the pedigrees involved. It’s an extremely impressive solo outing for Rybicki and another strong reminder of the talents residing in Philadelphia.
13. Silence Dogood – Master of Puppets, The Rest Is Silence, Sacred and Profane
Silence Dogood are a band I first became aware of after catching a live set that had me completely enthralled. Ever since then, they’re a band I’ve been keeping tabs on for a myriad of reasons. Blown-out lo-fi EP’s fly out of their camp at a startling pace, loaded with cynical poetry that comes across as deceptively apathetic. They’re prone to veering in unexpected directions and delivering sly turns of phrases at the exact right moment. In 2014 they released three masterfully executed EP’s highlighted by Master of Puppets‘ “Chairman of the Bored“. Don’t make the mistake of passing any of them up.
12. Eugene Quell – A Great Uselessness, Eugene Otto Quell
A name that showed up a few times on this site over the course of 2014 was Eugene Quell, a London-based songwriter who unleashed two of the year’s hardest hitting EP’s. Both Eugene Otto Quell and A Great Uselessnessmined an alternative 90’s influence and presented it through Quell’s distinctly unique lens. Neither skimp on fuzz or a well-informed pop sensibility and the cumulative result is stunning. Eight songs in total, each managed to pull me in while unloading an arsenal of blows, each one becoming more appealing than its direct precedent.
11. Lost Boy ? – Wasted
Canned is a release that’s going to prove divisive for list-makers. Released on cassette by the increasingly great Double Double Whammy, it won’t see an official release in any other format until a little further into 2015. Less confusing is the fact that Wasted, the extraordinary EP that led into Canned‘s tape release, is eligible for this year’s lists (and has- rightfully- already made a few). Laced with bandleader Davey Jones’ biting humor and characteristically spiky songwriting, Wasted is another laudable entry in one of contemporary music’s finest catalogs.
10. Green Dreams – Rich Man/Poor Man
Ever since my first listen of Rich Man/Poor Man, I’ve had it kicking around in some spot or another on this list (the year-end process is a continuously recurring project for me). Led by Jesse Amesmith’s willfully unrestrained vocal assault, the band dives into some incredibly vicious territory throughout the EP’s four song run. Best of all is the fact that the flipside of the 7″ copy manages to outstrip an absurdly strong A-side, with “Country Mouse” and “Eye Contact” dipping into a ferocious hybrid of hardcore and noise-punk. Easily one of 2014’s most overlooked releases, Rich Man/Poor Man deserved to be just about everywhere.
9. Kal Marks – Just A Lonely Fart
Was there was a more bleakly arresting EP in 2014 than Kal Marks’ powerful Just A Lonely Fart? If there was, it’s not one I managed to hear. Tackling difficult (and strangely time-sensitive) topics with verve, Kal Marks conjured up a breathtaking career highlight with this release and extended Exploding in Sound’s absurdly continuous winning streak in the process. Every song on Just A Lonely Fart felt deeply personal and suggested that Kal Marks were expanding their identity into something even more raw than what they’d already cultivated with Life Is Murder. All three songs deserved to be considered for “Song of the Year” lists, ensuring Just A Lonely Fart a status as one of 2014’s most extraordinary efforts.
8. Cyberbully Mom Club – Life Long Bad Mood, Hair Piles, Muck, Milo the Dog Sees Color, Amy Locust Whatever, Outdoor Activities
No one had a more staggering run of EP’s in 2014 than Shari Heck, whose Cyberbully Mom Club project managed to somehow release six equally strong collections. Between Life Long Bad Mood, Hair Piles, Muck, Milo the Dog Sees Color, Amy Locust Whatever, and Outdoor Activities, Heck solidified a position as one of 2014’s strongest emerging voices. Unflinchingly honest and unreasonably catchy, Cyberbully Mom Club’s brand of punk-influenced, folk-leaning songwriting makes a strong first impression and only manages to sink deeper with time. Sentimental and gripping, this is one act worth keeping both eyes on all throughout 2015.
7. Priests – Bodies and Control and Money and Power
Brash, bold, and fiercely unapologetic, Priests’ Bodies and Control and Money and Power became one of the most celebrated punk releases of recent memory. Katie Alice Greer’s almost feral presence injects this Don Giovanni-stamped EP with enough adrenaline to revive the legally dead. Scrappy and determined, Priests crafted something that managed to bring some subtly bracing humor to some very serious subjects. Wild-eyed and well informed, Bodies and Control and Money and Power was one of 2014’s best statement releases, refusing to back down from any of its well-placed stances. Add a palpable sense of violence to the whole affair and this EP becomes an outright achievement that’s impossible to ignore.
6. Roomrunner – Separate
One of Baltimore’s more traditionally aggressive bands, Roomrunner, decided to scale things back and introduce a newfound restraint for Separate. Instead of the transition coming off as forced or insincere, the band wound up with a career-best effort (and put another formidable notch in Accidental Guests‘ belt). Like Green Dreams’ Rich Man/Poor Man, Separate managed to find a unique way to burn the bridges between hardcore and noise-punk, throwing in a tantalizingly off-kilter curve that’s somewhat reminiscent of Two Inch Astronaut. Six songs total, Separate never loses sight of its pacing, constantly clawing its way through the minefields of its own design. Explosively memorable, it’s a warning shot from a great band determined to challenge themselves at every turn.
5. Night School – Heart Beat
A supergroup of sorts, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that Night School’s Heart Beat wound up being one of 2014’s most towering and immersive listening experiences. Taking the majority of its cues from classic shoegaze and the current post-rock landscape, Heart Beat feels massive in scope. Alternately delicate, haunting, and intimidating, Night School have latched onto something immensely appealing and perfected a peculiar dynamic right out of the gate. One of the year’s most pleasant surprises, it was mostly relegated to lingering in the shadows, providing it an oddly fitting home.
4. It Must Be Love – It Must Be Love
One of 2014’s best-kept secrets was this unbelievably great self-titled EP from It Must Be Love, which came across as effortlessly powerful. Unpredictable, strangely graceful, unrelentingly intense, and undeniably gripping, It Must Be Love is the kind of EP most bands can only dream of making. Dynamic, challenging, and- most importantly- ridiculously fun, It Must Be Love have created something that rewards investment and inspires creativity. A complete anomaly among the other titles on this list thanks to its willingness to fearlessly embrace weird experimentalism, the band’s already begun carving out- and perfecting- its own niche. Pavement’s influence echoes throughout It Must Be Love (never more strongly than on the excellent “Mariana) but this territory is all It Must Be Love’s own. Join up or miss out on one hell of a party.
3. Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair
Speedy Ortiz’s “Doomsday” was good enough to land them on the best songs and best splits lists but that wasn’t the only reason that 2014 practically belong to them; RealHair, the band’s most recent EP, nodded towards a growing confidence that paid sizable dividends. Real Hair‘s also a big reason for why Speedy Ortiz appeared on this site so frequently throughout 2014, as it existed in a very exact space containing enormous coverage appeal. “American Horror”, “Oxygal”, “Everything Bigger”, and “Shine Theory” all would have ranked as individual highlights in respect to the band’s already impressive discography, cementing Real Hair as one of the year’s best releases- and as a bracing reminder that Speedy Ortiz are far from done.
2. Girlpool – Girlpool
In 2014’s last quarter, Girlpool (a young duo made up of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad) became an increasingly large part of my life and subsequently earned a lot of kind words on this site, cracking both the music videos and splits year-end lists in the past week. Originally self-released on their bandcamp in 2014’s first quarter, it was re-released by Wichita in November after Girlpool earned a staggering amount of support and recognition from their surrounding environment. It’s not difficult to understand why everyone rallied behind Girlpool as they’re perfect representatives for an innumerable amount of things that are important to support. Putting aside those politics, it’s still plainly evident that Girlpool is an outstanding release. All anyone needs to do for proof is look to the jaw-dropping 1-2 combination of the absurdly powerful “Plants and Worms” and the nearly antagonistic free association of “Jane”.
1. Charly Bliss – Soft Serve
No EP became a more deeply ingrained part of my regular routine in 2014 than Charly Bliss’ absurdly strong Soft Serve. Editing sessions, menial tasks, and a seemingly never-ending assortment of functions were soundtracked by this trio of songs for months after I discovered the release (hell, they’re playing in the background now). Since I already covered the exhilaration of “Love Me” in yesterday’s best songs of 2014 post, I’ll be focusing on the ensuing tracks: “Urge to Purge” and “Strings”. “Urge to Purge” nearly dethroned “Love Me” for the position in yesterday’s list because it’s every bit as fiery, every bit as dynamic, and every bit as memorable as Soft Serve‘s incendiary opener. With another heart-stopping vocal turn from Eva Hendricks leading the band’s hyper-charged sugar rush, it’s provided a gripping counterbalance by a compellingly understated vocal turn from guitarist/vocalist Spencer Fox. “Strings” flips the script and allows Fox to showcase his casual charisma as a vocalist, joined by Hendricks’ equally impressive layered backing vocals before too long. It’s a song that proves its worth as it goes, settling in with an explosive back half that seems to suggest Charly Bliss have fireworks to spare. All three songs wield a subtle 50’s pop influence that’s brought into a modern- and borderline post-modern- setting. As a whole, Soft Serve is impossibly easy to love (even the album art’s easily among the year’s best) and demands to be heard. Give into its charms and walk away with an EP worth treasuring.
While this may not be necessary at this point since it keeps being repeated, it’s worth stating anyway: “best”, in matters of year-end lists, isn’t made to be an objective statement- it’s a reflection of personal taste. For the year-end coverage period, I’ll also be abandoning the usual first person restrictions as another effort to further personalize these accounts and lists. In 2014, I listened to more music than I’ve ever listened to in my life. During that 365-day span, I mercilessly stalked a rotating cast of sites that posted new music on a near-daily basis. I kept up with NPR’s First Listen series, scoured bands’ schedules to see what other bands were on their shows, kept tabs on bills at venues I admired, and listened to every submission that was sent in to Heartbreaking Bravery. If a friend recommended me new music, I made sure it got heard. There were times when some larger fare would pull me in- especially if it was receiving good critical returns- but, for the most part, I made it a point to explore the smaller titles.
A few of the names on this list (and all of the others) may not necessarily be the most recognizable but don’t let the lack of recognition dissuade you from investment; let it actively encourage dividend-paying exploration. It was that decision to zero in on lesser known bands that started opening up endless hallways to music that may have otherwise stayed hidden. That’s the foundation that this site was built in and will always strive to encourage- which is part of the reason why these lists exist. Below are the 14 songs that hit me hardest throughout the past 12 months, rounded out by a top four that all deserve to be in the “Song of the Decade” conversation. I won’t be including an auxiliary list for the songs that were in consideration and didn’t make the cut this time around because, frankly, there are way too many (though I will say it’s still paining me to not be including Ought‘s “Today More Than Any Other Day“) and most of those selections’ respective titles are featured on the other lists that this site will be running (or has already run). Now that all that’s said and done, on to the list!
14. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me
“I’m Not Part of Me” has been making a dent in this site’s coverage ever since Cloud Nothings teased Here and Nowhere Else at Baby’s All Right. It’s in the realm of career best for a band who’s on their second destined-to-be-classic release. After the departure of Joe Boyer, it’s unlikely that anyone was expecting the band to grow even fiercer- yet, that’s exactly what they achieved. With melodic aplomb and hooks to spare (in addition to 2014’s finest individual turn-in from drummer Jayson Gerycz), the band responded by annihilating any of the barriers that transition left, with “I’m Not Part of Me” acting as their rousing call to arms.
13. Iceage – Against the Moon
Before “Against the Moon” was given one of the best music videos of the year, it was lingering on the outskirts of one of 2014’s most powerful albums: Plowing Into The Field Of Love. No song underlined Iceage’s startling transition with more emphasis than this somber piano and organ-driven ballad. Quietly intense and relentlessly haunting, “Against the Moon” became an immediate standout on an impossibly gripping record. It’s an entirely new look for Iceage, who embraced it fearlessly. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s lyrics, now laced with a noticeable Southern Gothic Americana influence, acted as the perfect complement to a spare, boldly atmospheric track- which was easily one of the year’s strongest efforts.
12. Band Practice – Bartending At Silent Barn
Make Nice was one of the last truly great releases of 2014 but no moment on the record was as stunning as “Bartending At Silent Barn“. I’d known of Jeanette Wall through her involvement in Miscreant Records but nothing had prepared me for how effortlessly bracing her own songs could be. “Bartending At Silent Barn” starts out simply enough; clean, palm-muted guitar, a memorable melody, raz0r-sharp lyrics, and an immediately recognizable sense of identity. While it revels in defeatism for close to the entirety of its run, there comes a moment towards the end- a single laugh- that offers a pivotal change. In that laugh (which lasts less than a second), there’s a derision targeting the assumptions that everything’s as bleak as the song’s original narrative suggests but, after a very brief pause, the assuaging declaration that “things can change” comes to a stunning fruition with one of the most life-affirming outro sections I’ve ever heard.
11. Charly Bliss – Love Me
There are times where all it can take is one song for me to be absolutely convinced by a band. “Love Me”, a song that was also my introduction to Charly Bliss, is definitely that kind of song. With an endless amount of charm and appeal, Charly Bliss conjured up a firestorm of a tune that immediately catapulted them into “new favorite band” territory. The tempo changes and stop/start dynamics in the jaw-dropping pre-chorus and chorus sections practically lay everything on the line; for the first time in a while, it sounds like a (relatively) new band is actively daring their listeners to get on their level. In terms of sound and genre, it’s a perfect bridge between basement pop and basement punk, existing in the dead center of the exact space that this site most frequently celebrates. Fiery, propulsive, and casually tantalizing, it’s easily one of my favorite things to emerge from an incredibly stacked year. Most impressively is that “Urge to Purge“, the song that follows it on the band’s extraordinary Soft Serve EP, was its biggest competition in securing a spot on this list- cementing 2014 as a statement year for one of the most exciting bands today.
10. Screaming Females – Wishing Well
Screaming Females have earned their fair share of coverage on this site by being so consistently excellent in their craft. They’re a band I’ve been keeping an eye on since I started playing shows in basements (a few of their BFG shows are among my favorite WI-based memories) and they haven’t stopped getting better in the years I’ve been following their progress. All of the years they’ve put into fierce touring (never once losing their DIY ethos) have been leading up to the release of their upcoming Rose Mountain, a surefire contender for 2015 Album of the Year. Currently 3 preview songs into the lead-up phase for the record’s release, none have been as powerful as the first official recording of “Wishing Well”, a perennial staple in their live set. Striking a perfect balance between punk grit and an uncharacteristically light pop sensibility, “Wishing Well” is ample proof of the band’s growing ambition and unwavering confidence. It’s also got a chorus for the ages, one even someone’s grandma could love.
9. Jawbreaker Reunion – E.M.O.
Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Clubwas one of 2014’s most unexpected surprises; a debut effort loaded with determination and personality. Up until “E.M.O.”, it’s an incredibly strong record but that song single-handedly breaks the floodgates wide open and elevates it to the heights of an unforgettable classic. It’s a song that hit me hard on my first listen and hasn’t left my thoughts- or my esteem- since that initial exposure. Easily the most vulnerable moment on a record that’s frequently on the offensive, it offers a voyeuristic glimpse of the mechanics driving Jawbreaker Reunion’s creative forces. “E.M.O.” also has an unexpectedly explosive chorus that lays waste to any harbored doubts about the band’s range. It’s one of the year’s more breathtaking musical moments and it ensures Jawbreaker Reunion’s status as an emerging force.
8. LVL UP – Big Snow
The four-song split between LVL UP, Ovlov, Krill, and Radiator Hospital would have likely topped this site’s best splits of the year list even if it hadn’t been grouped in with Ovlov’s other entries. A large reason behind that it LVL UP‘s “Big Snow”, a song that managed to stand out in the band’s catalog even taking the landmark achievement that was Hoodwink’dinto account. “Big Snow“, the rare LVL UP song that features all three vocalists in the group, has been kicked around in some form or another since the band was writing demos for their debut full-length, Space Brothers. In its first release as “Big Snow”, though, it’s a stunner of a track, highlighted by the vocal exchanges and one of the year’s most blistering riffs. Everything lines up in a typically (compellingly) off-kilter way that accentuates the band’s innumerable rough-hewn charms. Constantly shifting and casually brilliant, it’s yet another indicator that LVL UP is one of the best bands currently making music.
7. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse
Another song to appear on a split with Ovlov (it’s literally impossible for me to overstate how incredible Ovlov’s splits were this year), “Year of the Sunhouse” was a career highlight for Little Big League, even taking their outstanding Tropical Jinx into consideration. It’s a song that stunned in a WatchThis-approvedsegment and it’s only grown more appealing with time. Punchy and refined, it takes pinpoint aim and unloads, hitting an elusive target multiple times over. Led by powerhouse drumming and Michelle Zauner’s most ferocious lyrical and vocal outing to date, it’s a song that portrays Little Big League as a band who refuses to back down. As an additional bonus, it also features a second stanza that may very well be the year’s outright best, one that’s punctuated by a life-giving declaration.
6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning
It’s sincerely doubtful that there was a record in 2014 that was more emotionally charged than Cymbal Eat Gutars’ LOSE, which dealt heavily with the death of a friend. The way that difficult subject’s dealt with is a large part of the reason why the song and it’s accompanying music video earned so many kind words, which also factored into its placement as one of the best music videos of the year. Devastatingly heartfelt and heartbreaking in its vicious nature, it’s propped up by the year’s best single line in the chorus’ “the shape of true love is terrifying enough”. For all of the difficulties, there’s a subtle strain of hope that imbues “Warning”, rendering it a resounding statement of humanism. Deeply tragic and towering in scope, this is the kind of song that’s worthy of inspiring others to start making music on their own terms.
5. Radiator Hospital – Cut Your Bangs
“Cut Your Bangs” is a song that’s been kicking around on this site since its original bandcamp release. My personal pick for song of the summer, it’s an exacting look at the way Sam Cook-Parrott’s sense of damaged romanticism manifests in Radiator Hospital’s music. There’s an emphasis on the minutiae, every mundane bit is scrutinized and brought to the forefront. Poetic and unflinchingly honest, it’s put in sharp contrast by the music surrounding the story. There’s a swing-like feel to what’s happening in the background, lilting into a reassuring groove as the narrative grapples with everyday loss. Small lies add up to a mountain of mistrust but, if you’re lucky, your friends will always be there to back you up and convince you that everything’s okay.
4. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday
Very few songs have ever hit me as hard as “Doomsday”. It’s a personal best for Speedy Ortiz, which is no small claim, and very few songs this decade have come across so honestly. Sadie Dupuis’ vocal take for “Doomsday” is absolutely stunning, wounded and impassioned in equal measure; a desperate and veiled final cry searching for some form of absolution. An impossibly beautiful vocal melody and an atmospheric guitar section are subtly fierce grace notes in a song that sounds embattled and defeated. Released as part of the LAMC series (courtesy of Famous Class Records), it would have been more than enough to land the entry it was included on in the best splits of the year list. Weary and grasping at a sense of triumph, it’s a fascinating classic that deserves to be heard by anyone with even a passing interest in music.
3. Mitski – Townie
My relationship with Mitski’s music began with this song and that first listen remains one of my more memorable encounters with anyone’s music in 2014. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to film it twice: once in an intimate acoustic setting (for The Media) and once full-band (with Mitski backed by half of LVL UP). Even putting those personal moments aside, “Townie” was an immediate standout from what turned out to be one of the year’s strongest albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. For those who were fortunate enough to be aware of Mitski’s previous work, “Townie” was a sharp left turn for the enigmatic solo artist and it emphasized a growing certainty in her work. This was a hold-no-prisoners, everything out in the open type of track; a watershed moment for an artist whose career was set to skyrocket. By the time the theremin solo kicks in, everything’s already been set on fire and Mitski’s grinning to herself miles away from the maelstrom. A testament to self-reliance and utter conviction, “Townie” is a clarion call from an artist too important to be ignored.
2. Pile – Special Snowflakes
Pile’s Special Snowflakes 7″ just topped this site’s list for that category. No 7″ had a stronger single song A-side and no song managed to sink into my memory more than that song, “Special Snowflakes“. Pile have cultivated a cult following by refusing to adhere towards any one trend or another and instead opting to follow their own distinctly unique twists and turns. No song felt as monumental in 2014 as the band’s current crowning jewel, a seven minute battering ram of a track. Through a series of exhilarating peaks and crushing valleys, Pile manages to introduce an atmosphere that’s ferociously bleak, refusing to settle into one mode for too long. Pulverizing and epic, “Special Snowflakes” suggests that Pile’s operating at the height of their powers, which bodes well for their forthcoming full-length. It’s also another release that embodies everything great about Exploding in Sound Records and the vast number of reasons the label’s so frequently celebrated here. This is bold, inventive music that thrives on its own conviction, on its own terms, and will be remembered for leaving a trail of well-intentioned destruction in its wake.
1. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits
No band has been written about more on Heartbreaking Bravery than Perfect Pussy (a band I traveled considerable lengths to see eight times throughout the course of 2014). No song has meant more to me than “Interference Fits”. Putting aside the fact that vocalist Meredith Graves (who has somehow become this site’s patron saint and is still its sole interview subject) unexpectedly dedicated this song to me in Minneapolis, putting aside the fact that she cried in a comic book store after I alerted her to the fact that it had started streaming on NPR in advance of Say Yes to Love‘s release, and putting aside the fact that she used my original write-up as a reference point for hope, that statement would still hold true. “Interference Fits” soundtracked a lot of bigger moments for me in what was a very turbulent 2014 and the original connection I forged with the song only deepened as the year progressed. Fitting, since it’s a song about making and severing connections; Graves’ most personal outpouring to date. The lyrics, as always, are beyond stunning but the song wouldn’t be anywhere close to as unshakable as it is if it weren’t for Perfect Pussy’s most adventurous musical turn-in to date. Eschewing their normally blown-out mode in favor of something more subtle and restrained, “Interference Fits” proved that Perfect Pussy weren’t, as some naysayers originally suggested, a one trick pony. Easily the band’s most delicate and ornate offering to date, it retained their whirlwind intensity and cutthroat identity. Masterfully wielding a tension and explosion dynamic, “Interference Fits” lures listeners in with its first half before a measure of silence provides a foreboding warning to one of the most cathartic second acts in a song this decade; there’s as much narrative in the music as there is in the lyric set. With raw power lingering in the wings and at the heart of its diarist leader, Perfect Pussy created something that stung deep enough to leave a lasting, curiously endearing scar.
After a long list of posts dedicated to the best material to have surfaced over the course of the past two weeks, everything’s back on track. The contents of this post will focus solely on some of the best content to have emerged yesterday- and the results are fairly minimal (though the included pieces are wonderful). Victoria+Jean debuted their nightmarish fever dream of a music video for their jaunty (and undeniably weird) “Holly“, which offered more than enough visual stimuli to make up the entire music video list for the day. As for single streams, there was Pink Mountaintops’ slow-burning basement pop number “Asleep With An Angel” and Sur Back’s hypnotically delicate (and unfailingly gorgeous) “Occam’s Razor“. Then, of course, there was the new track from site favorites All Dogs.
In 2013, this site had their debut 7″ ranked very highly on a best-of list. In 2014, it captured All Dogs up close and personal while they made their way through one of the best shows Wisconsin hosted this year. There’s no reason to think that their forthcoming LP (due out on Salinas in 2015) won’t become another instant favorite. Apart from the new songs captured in live settings, there haven’t been too many instances of new All Dogs music appearing (even the live clips are severely limited) so anytime something like “Georgia” happens, it’s worth putting everything else on hold to let it play uninterrupted. Intended as part of The Le Sigh Vol. II compilation tape, it finds the band adding even more nuance into their sound. From the light slide guitars to the muted transitional bridge, it’s abundantly clear there’s a startling new depth to the band’s grasp on dynamics (likely a result of them creating as a full band rather than on their own individually).
Bandleader Maryn Jones’ melodic sensibilities are still the focal part of the band’s appeal and the rest of the bands plays off of those sensibilities beautifully. Everything’s complemented in increasingly subtle ways, from Amanda Bartley’s half-hidden atmospheric bass lines to Jesse Withers’ intuitive, feel-heavy drumming. Jones’ lyrics remain as sharp as ever, continuing a constant grapple with self-doubt, self-discovery, and combining them with a constant search for greater meaning. It’s a perfect reminder of why the love for All Dogs is so fervent and it’s an impossibly tantalizing look towards what the band has in store for the future.
Listen to “Georgia” below and give The Le Sigh as much undivided attention as possible.
Now, despite all the content that’s already gone up tonight, there’s still a lot that went down over the past week and a half while the site was dealing with technical complications. To that end, the approach in coverage is going to be slightly different this time around. Full streams, single streams, and music videos will all be covered- but they’ll be branched off into categories. Each entry will get a line or two and then when everything’s been accounted for, there’ll be a feature spot granted to Beliefs’ ridiculously entertaining clip for “Tidal Wave”. So, without further ado…
Okay, so the bold font probably wasn’t necessary but it’s late- and this is a really great video. Beliefs first gained an uptick in notoriety when they paired with the similarly-minded Greys for one of 2013’s best splits. Since then, they’ve been on a tear, steadily building a name for themselves on the strength of their powerful new material and formidable live show. If “Tidal Wave” is any indication, they may be able to add great music videos to that list as well. While it mostly finds inspiration in the trends of classic clips from the 80’s and 90’s there’s a certain playfulness here that’s missing from a lot of homage-style videos. That playfulness comes to a head nearly halfway through when they manage to seamlessly work in something genuinely unexpected and ridiculously perfect. It’s too good of a moment to spoil completely but it’s also one of the more endearingly appreciative moments of recent memory. By the time all the effects have worn down and “Tidal Wave” reaches its tongue-in-cheek epilogue, it becomes abundantly clear that this band has big things in mind for Leaper (the forthcoming album “Tidal Wave” is taken from) and for themselves. Beliefs aren’t a band intent to keep quiet and if they keep going at the pace they are, we’re all in for one hell of a ride.
Watch “Tidal Wave” below and pick up Leaper from Hand Drawn Dracula as soon as it’s available.
It’s been two weeks since the last regular Watch This segment, which means that there was twice as much to keep tabs on throughout the series’ (relative) absence. Every band that’s featured in the 51st installment has been previously covered on the site, which means a lot of old (and new) favorites are swinging for the fences. All five bands put out a great release this year and every single one of them had an incredible live performance surface over the past 14 days. There’s fuzz, lilt, and an abundance of passion all packaged together in the 51st round of this weekly spot and everything’s worth devouring. So, as always, pour a drink, sit back, turn the volume up to blistering heights, get comfortable, and Watch This.
For not releasing a full-length this year, 2014’s been very strong for the Joanna Gruesome camp. A few incredible splits (one of which was first announced here nearly a year ago), a great collaborative music video pairing, one of the year’s best songs, and a few appearances in this very series all hint that this is a band determined to continuously achieve more at a breakneck pace. That determination paired with live performances on par with this run through “Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” and it’ll be impossible to stand in their way.
2. Dilly Dally – Candy Mountain (Chart Attack)
Dilly Dally is a name that’s been appearing with a frequent regularity as of late and that’s no mistake; any emerging act that comes off as a fully-realized project is worth several spotlights. “Green” and “Candy Mountain” both surfaced relatively recently and immediately became talking points among a very specific subset of circles. Punk, shoegaze, and indie pop all find a brooding middle ground in the band’s music and Katie Monk’s voice is as attention-ensuring as they come. Chart Attack had them in for a session that definitely proves their live act’s not to be trifled with, either.
3. Cheap Girls – Amazing Grace (Little Elephant)
A very specific brand of 90’s nostalgia is triggered by Cheap Girls’ music, which often plays like a carefully assembled and loving homage to the alternative sounds of that era. They’ve yet to make a weak record and continue to excel in the live department, which is the area that best exemplifies how they made their stock and trade. Famous Graves extended Cheap Girls’ winning streak with a practiced ease and the band keeps delivering memorable performance. This take on “Amazing Grace” is no exception.
4. Fear of Men – Green Sea (Faits Divers)
Loom already seems to have become one of 2014’s most overlooked records, which is a small tragedy. That record’s lack of what should have been well-deserved attention allowed Fear of Men to continue quietly excelling at just about everything they attempt, with their live performances attaining and carrying a certain hypnotic quality. Here, they deliver an acoustic version of “Green Sea” in Dijon and cement a spot as one of today’s most under-appreciated acts.
5. Radiator Hospital – Fireworks (BNTYK)
More than a few kind words have been used on Radiator Hospital and Torch Song (easily one of the year’s best records) via this site over the past year. So, it’s no surprise that “Fireworks” is on this list- especially considering BNTYK is one of the only video series to ever have a Watch This installment dedicated exclusively to their videos. Here, though, both Radiator Hospital and BNTYK outdo themselves and the results are utterly sublime. When the chorus hits, it’s a visceral gut-punch that offers direct insight to what makes the band so special, while the way it’s lensed is worthy of the moment. It’s a genuinely powerful example of what a truly great live video can accomplish. This is must-see entertainment operating at a level of excellence on a multitude of levels; don’t miss out.
Even with recent Monday’s bringing a lot of great new content into the world, today was exceptionally gigantic. Everything that appears in a hyperlink is worth clicking over to experience and choosing what to feature was insanely difficult. Enough with the exposition, though, because there’s a lot to mention- which is why each of these categories will be provided with their own paragraph (starting with this very one). In the world of full streams, NPR’s First Listen series presented Meattbodies’ self-titeld stomper, New Noise Magazine put up a full stream of Heart Attack Man’s excellent Acid Rain EP, Stereogum hosted the first stream of Greylag’s enchanting self-titled debut, and Dark Thoughts posted the blistering (and damn near perfect) ripper of an EP, FourSongs,on their own.
Over in the territory of single song streams, Radical Dads posted the remarkably compelling “Cassette Brain“, Popstrangers continued to excel with a Mack Morrison cover, post-hardcore supergroup Vanishing Life lived up to their promise (and then some) with the vicious “People Running“, The Mantles raised the anticipation for their forthcoming Memory with its jumpy title track, there was the deliriously riffed-out “Mortality Jam” that came courtesy of Hound, another extremely promising look at Night School‘s upcoming EP (following the outstanding “Birthday“), Wilful Boys’ snarling rager “Anybody There“, the pulverizing new synth’ed out post-everything track “10,000 Summers” from the incredibly unlikely group of people that make up No Devotion, and an absolutely breathtaking song from Infinity Crush called “Heaven” that easily ranks among the most gorgeous pieces of music to be released this year (and very nearly took today’s feature spot).
Jumping to the realms of the more visually-inclined medium, things were just as tantalizing with no less than seven music videos worth watching. Greys crafted a creatively animated and hard-hitting skate-heavy clip for If Anything bruiser “Adderall“, Lushes hit a sweet spot with their repetition in “Traffic“, Obits used minimalism to a sizable effect in the low-key clip for “Machines“, newcomer Pix made a splash with a subtly haunting accompaniment for the stunning “A Way To Say Goodbye“, The Wooden Sky raised their profile with a fascinating short film to back “Saturday Night“, site favorites Radiator Hospital premiered a lovely DIY clip for “Bedtime Stories (Reprise)” over at Rookie, and Martha more than lived up to all of their praise with the unabashedly joyous video for “Present, Tense” (another entry that came dangerously close to being today’s feature).
Even with all of that formidable competition nipping at its heels, Screaming Females‘ “Wishing Well” managed to be a clear-cut standout. Boasting one of the most massive choruses the band’s ever had, some of the lightest verses they’ve ever conjured up, and an overwhelmingly sunny melody, it’s impossible to ignore. “Wishing Well”, by all accounts, is an absolute monster of a track and lays waste to the poppiest territory they’ve ever tread. Guitarist and vocalist Marissa Paternoster keeps herself in check, showing surprising restraint and a vice-like grip on total command. It’s no secret that Screaming Females are one of the best live bands currently playing shows- and it’s not even remotely surprising that “Wishing Well” has become both a fan favorite and an undeniable staple of their live set.
As Paternoster noted in the brief segment that ran with the Rolling Stone premiere of “Wishing Well”, a lot of people will likely view this as a departure for the band- despite the fact their regular dynamics are still in tact. Sure, it’s more melodic than anything they’ve done in the past but it’s also unmistakably Screaming Females, definitively proving the group’s unique identity. In terms of aggression, “Wishing Well” skews closer to Paternoster’s Noun project and acts as an exhilarating bridge between both vehicles, suspended by pure determination and innate talent. “Wishing Well” is easily one of 2014’s most thrilling songs and comes backed with what may very well be the band’s personal best- “Let Me In” (another fan favorite and live staple)- rendering this 7″ nothing short of an event.
Listen to “Wishing Well” below and make sure to pick up the 7″ it headlines directly from the band on one of their upcoming tour dates or pre-order it from iTunes.
When Radiator Hospital announced Milwaukee as a stop on their tour, not going wasn’t an option. After all, Torch Songhas had more plays this year than just about any other record from 2014 so far. “Cut Your Bangs” was a personal pick for “song of the summer” and more than earned it’s inclusion in this site’s summer songs mixtape. They’re a band that embodies next to everything that’s worth celebrating about the DIY ethos in punk-leaning independent music (something that was touched on by the band directly with their attached note in The Media premiere of their “Bedtime Stories” music video). As if that wasn’t enough, Radiator Hospital also gets to claim Jeff Bolt (who also drums in site favorites Swearin’ and runs Stupid Bag Records– also a site favorite) as a member.
After the two and a half hour drive down to Milwaukee, it didn’t take too long for the night’s plans to be set into motion. While Radiator Hospital was the priority, there was a late show happening across town at Boone & Crockett featuring an Ian Olvera solo set and semi-recent Watch This honorees Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Having never been to Cocoon Room or Boone & Crockett it was difficult to know what to expect but both proved to be intriguing venues that’ll likely warrant repeat visits. Cocoon Room came across as a small DIY art gallery and had already set their bill into motion with a welcoming set from King Courteen shortly after the projected start time. Due to a late arrival, there were only a few King Courteen songs that managed to be taken in but from those alone, it was easy to see a very distinct, considerable talent- one that’ll likely be around a while.
During the last moments of King Courteen’s gripping set another thing became abundantly clear: thanks to how dimly-lit Cocoon Room was, it was going to be very difficult to shoot the bands playing. King Courteen proved impossible and it didn’t seem like that’d be changing for any of the following acts. Radiator Hospital wound up playing second, allowing Lousy Trouts the final slot and it didn’t take them long to lament the lack of light, either. After bluffing her way through a guitar solo while laughing to herself, Cynthia Schemmer smiled and offered up the fact the band usually plays in more light- which probably should have been seen as a subtle plea to get a few additional bulbs turned on- but things stayed the same. Not that it detracted from much of anything as Radiator Hospital blazed through a 9-song set that leaned heavily on the best moments of Torch Song (“Cut Your Bangs”, “Five & Dime”, “Leather & Lace”, etc) while still making room for the deserves-to-be-considered-classic “Our Song”.
If the lack of light didn’t affect them too much outside of Schemmer’s ridiculously fun solo, it was a little bit disheartening to hear that Cocoon Room was dealing with a shot speaker cable, forcing the mix to one side- which meant sacrificing a fair bit of bandleader Sam Cook-Parrott’s vocals. Even with that factored in, Radiator Hospital played with more conviction than most bands manage in perfect circumstances. Bolt was as on point as ever, Schemmer and Cook-Parrott both put next to everything they had into their playing and singing, and bassist Jon Rybicki (whose recent record as Attendant earned a lot of love here) played as emphatically as possible, providing the songs with an extra bit of punch. Both the audience and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, which isn’t always the case- but that night everyone operated under the understanding that great music deserves attention, applause, and praise. Even with the dim lights and PA issues, it was a memorable experience and an impressive set- one that ensured Radiator Hospital a position on the “can’t-miss” list for live acts.
After Radiator Hospital wrapped up, the venue got a little too crowded a little too quickly and the heat became too much, so (after some time spent catching up with the members of Radiator Hospital outside the venue), it was off to Boone & Crockett for Sub Pop signees Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. While arriving late meant having to miss Ian Olvera (who also fronts The Sleepwalkers), it’s a safe bet that he put on a great set that probably shouldn’t have been missed- and if Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires’ first half of their set was as incendiary as the back stretch, then the same can definitely be said for them. Bains and his band play a ferocious strand of southern rock that embraces a manic punk energy, allowing each individual member to fly off the handle at will. It took less than two seconds of being in the venue to see Bains jump off the stage and barrel his way into the audience before jumping back up and taking a perch on the bass drum- before falling to the floor and punching a malfunctioning pedal. That string of actions set the tone for what was to follow, as the band tore through song after song and ripped through a wide-reaching selection of riffs and solos while working themselves into an intense sweat. There were no sections where they lost pace or momentum and by the time they finished, it felt like the room (a small bar that specializes in mixology) had just sustained an atomic blast… and the band was only playing with their “little” amps. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the following night saw them burning Green Bay’s Lyric Room to the ground. Currently, they’re getting set to embark on a tour with Southern stalwarts Drive-By Truckers and that’s a bill that needs to be taken advantage of, if at all possible. Keep it in mind.
All in all, it was a night of great music and impressive lyricism (especially in the case of Radiator Hospital, whose Torch Song boasts some of the strongest writing of the year) that showcased how vital Milwaukee is to fostering independent-minded music. King Courteen displayed promise, Radiator Hospital solidified their on-the-rise position with a vicious authoritativeness, and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires proved that they weren’t an act to be trifled with using as much wild-eyed intensity as humanly possible. And, on nights like those- especially when they’re spent with good friends- it’s impossible not to fall in love with music all over again.
Due to the lighting at each venue being very limited, there weren’t a lot of photos worth posting but a small handful is better than nothing. View those below and videos of Radiator Hospital and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires beneath the gallery.