Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: self-titled

Kodakrome – Head Down + Everything Is Terrible (Song Premiere)

A short while ago, Chicago-based Kodakrome put out an absolutely blistering demo that announced their arrival. The band’s released an EP since then, contributed to this site’s RVA compilation and are now on the brink of releasing their debut full-length, which is teeming with the kind of unchecked aggression that’s defined their earliest work. Unexpected and forceful, the self-titled record can be a lot to take in all at once, a decision that seems intentional when considering the narrative content of the record.

Below is the very first look at Kodakrome, a two-song package of “Head Down” and “Everything Is Terrible”, which highlight the spirit of the record. “Head Down”, the first and more imposing of the two tracks, explodes out of the gate with a startling into sequence that spans well over a minute before guitarist/vocalist Aaron Ehinger’s panicked, desperate vocals kick the song into another gear. As Ehinger yells, the music swirls violently, touching on everything from post-hardcore to pop-punk to a hint of chiptune, the unexpected tapestry all but smothering the listener as if its a protective material from unseen outside threats.

There’s a level of immediacy here that’s distinct and specific to the band, Ehinger further cultivating a narrative identity that’s based on a desire for emotional fortification and physical well-being, hinting at the toxicity of sociopolitical threats to anyone that doesn’t fall in line with what’s still pointlessly depicted as “the average” (ie, straight, white, God-fearing males). Kodakrome has always served as somewhat of a response to that positioning. As that threat’s gained a stronger foothold, the urgency of Kodakrome’s music has increased.

While “Head Down” is certainly more towering than “Everything Is Terrible”, the latter song on this first offering isn’t just more pointed, it’s also more direct. There’s a near-call to action scattered throughout the song, hopeful for the type of reckoning that’ll leave smoldering embers in its wake as history marches further away from closeted supremacy and towards genuine empathy. Back-to-back “Head Down” and “Everything Is Terrible” show a band that’s conscious of their decisions, a band that’s frustrated by regression, and a band who can’t help but craft a soundtrack to personal implosion.

Listen to “Head Down” and “Everything Is Terrible” below and pre-order Kodakrome here.

Dusk – Leaf (Music Video, Live Video)

The first two days of this week brought a lot of good things into the world, including songs from Post Louis, Pllush, Boys, Retirement Party, Julian, White China, Jaye Jayle, Aisha Burns, Hilary WoodsBad Breeding, and Emilie Mover. Additionally, there was a solid slate of music video from artists like gobbinjrSuperchunk, Skating Polly, Operator Music Band, Munroe, and Body Type. Full streams that came from No Problem, Blessed, Tunic, and Miracle Worker rounded things off in style. In the bed of all of those, there was also an announcement that seemed as it if may never come: site favorites Dusk signing to Don Giovanni records for the release of their debut full-length, released alongside a music video for one of the decade’s best songs in “Leaf”.

It’s an announcement that comes hot on the heels of the band’s Dirtnap 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy, which was featured here last week. That review touched upon the band’s identity, something that “Leaf” helped form in their earliest stages. There are certain songs that have the power to make you believe in a band from the jump and, even more rarely, there are songs that can rip through a person so forcefully they’re left on the verge of tears after one listen. “Leaf” is both.

The first song pianist/vocalist Julia Blair wrote for the band, even in its earliest iteration and was the kind of song that had the capacity to level crowds, leaving more than a few people breathless. In the four years since the song was released on their demo, “Leaf” has evolved with the band, the edges of booth smoothed out and refined. There’s a tender sheen “Leaf” carries, indicative of the care that’s been poured into the song over its journey to a proper release.

Now, the song has a video to do it justice, courtesy of Finn Bjornerud, who’s handled the band’s other clips (and a handful for bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s flagship project, Tenement). Anchored by lived-in performances from Rachel Crowl and Helen Kramer, the clip pays tribute to the song’s narrative while offering up the quiet visuals that define life in small-town Wisconsin (and a host of other small towns the country over). Still, Wisconsin feels specific to the band’s music and that kind of celebration is always worth noting, especially when it comes from unexpected places that are too-frequently glossed over or discarded in the pursuit of something bigger.

It’s that kind of dedication and sense of place that’s informed Dusk’s music from the onset but it’s never been extended to their visuals as beautifully as it has with “Leaf”. Landscapes both wintry and autumnal switch back and forth, tethered together with a warmth and determination that the cold seasons seem to bring out in Wisconsin’s citizens, “Leaf” finds its source of life in the smallest moments. Grocery shopping, chopping wood, loving greetings, and prep chef work all play parts (as, of course, do shots of hard liquor).

At every second, in every frame, there’s a resilient grace and a sense of affection on display. That level of welcomeness has been the band’s modus operandi since their formation and it’s only strengthened over time, a sensibility that’s escalated in their music as they moved forward. It hits its current apex here with “Leaf”, Blair’s overlaid harmonies acting in accordance with meticulously crafted visuals, creating the kind of warm blanket that the band extends to its listeners at their best. And make no mistake, “Leaf” earns a spot in that pantheon. This is the type of release that’s worthy of remembrance.

Watch “Leaf” below and pre-order Dusk from Don Giovanni here (and if you’re one of the first 300 to reserve a copy, you’ll receive an additional bonus 7″).

Dusk – The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy (7″ Review, Stream, Live Videos)

A solid round of full streams (or expanded samplers) have arrived over the past couple of days, coming from acts as varied as Say Sue Me, Bacchae, Spring Onion, Oceanator, The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, DEWR, Marbled Eye, and Playboy Manbaby. However, just as was the case in the last post, the focus here will shift to a release that’s been out for a bit but only recently became available for full streaming: Dusk’s new 7″ — and their first release for Dirtnap Records — The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy.

Made up of a laundry list of some of central Wisconsin’s finest musicians, Dusk’s most unenviable task is likely distinguishing themselves from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s main vehicle, Tenement. Making things a little hazier was the decision to tour the US as an expanded version of Tenement, suggesting that the distinction might not matter to them as much as the connection. It’d fit Pitsch’s history, which has long leaned more towards a familial collective than compartmentalized separation.

Still, even in the face of their similarities (and not to mention the fact that virtually every member of Dusk also spends time playing in other projects), Dusk sounds so wildly different from most of the band’s associated acts that they seem to have garnered a sterling reputation solely on their own merit. It’s been interesting to track their progress, with many people surprised to find out which members of the band they’ve seen and heard before, but it’s also been deeply worthwhile.

Dusk’s songs tilt in a more classically country-leaning direction than anything else, each release laced with the requisite amount of attitude to bring their singular charisma through the recordings. They inflect their songs with a little bit of a lot of genres, from Motown to soul to honky tonk to basement punk, creating something that’s simultaneously enigmatic and familiar. There’s a sense the band’s striving to create the sounds that they love and don’t hear enough anymore, re-contextualizing the influences of separate eras by viewing them through a decidedly modern lens.

They’ve tapped into something that’s given their name some weight and it shows again on their latest 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy. Both songs are full of the well-worn charm and conviction of the band’s past releases but ably showcase how comfortably they’ve embraced their identity. The harmonies are as gorgeous and ever and they’re still finding ways to pull new tricks out of their sleeves, with guitarist/vocalist Tyler Ditter taking a turn on lead vocal duties in “Go Easy”.

Both tracks are imbued with the same kind of breezy, wide-open road feel that the band’s successfully touched on in the past. Pitsch lends a trademark bite to the A-side while Ditter anchors “Go Easy” with a honeyed sweetness that serves the band’s sound extremely well. Packaged together, it’s another strong entry in a discography that hasn’t stopped improving since the band’s staggeringly strong demo. Easily one of Wisconsin’s best acts, this kind of release suggests they’re well on their way to being regarded as far more than a local act.

Keep their name and their releases filed away somewhere safe, there’s no telling what they might wind up being worth.

Listen to The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy below (and watch a package of videos of the band playing live beneath the stream) and pick it up from Dirtnap here.

The 10 Best Records of 2018’s First Two Months

One day into 2018, the year already had a ridiculously strong record thanks to a clever release strategy for the latest from Jeff Rosenstock. Not a lot of time had passed before the year saw more record’s join that record, POST-, in talks about the ceiling for what this year can produce. Over the first two months, 10 records — including POST- — managed to make a lasting impression, from records that showcased what their genres can offer at their peak to records that do away with genre subscriptions entirely. A long list of records managed to connect but these 10 managed to stand out. Dive in and enjoy the swim.

1. Evening Standards – Evening Standards

For anyone who found themselves dismayed at the news of Purple 7‘s dissolution, Evening Standards is a perfect reassurance. Chris Mott’s newest project, Evening Standards takes the torch from his old act with a clear-eyed assurance and presses its foot on the accelerator with a little more aggression. Already a viable contender for being the year’s best basement pop record (it would’ve been in last year’s conversation without question), Evening Standards is a relentless debut that refuses to pull punches. From the powerful opening track to the stratospheric heights of “Lil Green Man” to the well-earned finality of its closer, it’s a record that deserves to be delivered at maximum volume.

2. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

One of the first breakout records of 2018 was Anna Burch‘s confident Quit the Curse, which found a way to intertwine a carefree sound with pointed narratives that touch on everything from anxiety to uncertainty to self-empowerment. Sculpting elements of surf, powerpop, folk, and slacker punk into an intoxicating sound that echoes Sleeping in the Aviary‘s later era, Burch fashions something that’s familiar, fresh, and winsome. Delivered with a smirk, a wink, and an I-dare-you-to-even-try-it smile, the songs on Quit the Curse go a long way in establishing Burch’s artistic identity. When it ends, it’s enough to have most eager for the inevitable extension.

3. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

Despite being a prominent genre name for years, Jeff Rosenstock‘s career took a massive stride into wider recognition with 2016’s outstanding WORRY.. In typical punk fashion, it didn’t take Rosenstock long to craft a follow-up effort. What’s surprising about POST-, which was surprise-released on the first day of 2018, isn’t its success but it’s wild ambition. Best exemplified by the seven-and-a-half minute “USA”, POST- finds Rosenstock at both his most visible and his most fearless. Every song on this thing is approached at full-tilt and delivered with the desperation of someone fighting for their life. It’s raucous, it’s unpredictable, it’s shockingly complete, and it will always stand tall as 2018’s first great record.

4. The Royal They – Foreign Being

The Royal They find themselves in the relatively unique position of finding themselves launched into much larger conversations because of their extraordinary sophomore album, Foreign Being. All but weaponizing a genre-obliterating mixture of post-punk, post-hardcore, basement pop, spoken word, indie pop, and a host of other influences, the band lets fly from the onset with the exhilarating 1-2 combo of “C.N.T.” and “Sludgefucker”, firmly establishing their authority and digging in their claws with no reservation. Vicious, experimental, and engrossing from start to finish, Foreign Being has the early distinction of being one of the first quarter’s strongest surprises.

5. Ought – Room Inside the World 

Now three records into their career, it seems as if Ought is incapable of making an errant move. They’ve slowly expanded their identity, scope, and ambitions over the course of each of those successive records and seem incredibly comfortable in forging their own path. Tim Darcy‘s foray into solo work even seems to have invigorated the songwriter’s main vehicle, allowing Room Inside the World more space to breathe. Ought are at their most polished here but there’s still that strain of tension and neurotic nerves that defined their earlier material. Room Inside the World is the perfect next step for a band that seems determined to be the authoritative voice in their corner of post-punk.

6. Royal Brat – Eyesore

A common trend among acts who are revered for their live act is an inability to craft a record that does their set justice. Royal Brat curb that trend with Eyesore, a record as explosive as they are on stage. Eyesore‘s songs sit around a 100-second average but that’s more than enough time for the band to get their message across. A record about finding redemption and power in living as a survivor, Eyesore finds meaning in its pointed outbursts. Buoyed by attitude and conviction, it’s a dogged triumph that announces the band as a force that’s hellbent on being granted a reckoning.

7. JACK – Alchemical Rounds

Brittany Costa has a long history as a songwriter and musician but has never seemed more at home than she has when positioned at the forefront of JACK. A collection of demos and a genuinely moving EP already under the project’s belt, Costa dives forward and continues to reckon with questions of character, mortality, and certainty. It’s an unwieldy record that conjures up a storm as unwieldy — and unyielding — as the questions that fuel its dark, unapologetic narrative. Costa continues to impress at every level and has delivered yet another fully-realized masterstroke that kicks away the cobwebs from some rooms that people less bold still aren’t willing to explore.

8. Screaming Females – All At Once

Glass House” — one of last year’s most powerful songs — was one of the first looks at Screaming Females‘ All At Once and serves it well as the lead-off track.  The band’s aggression, present even when showing restraint, is one of the most potent keys to their continued success. The placement of “Glass House” sets the tone for what’s to follow, which winds up being the trio’s most decisive work to date. All At Once wears its many bruises like badges of honor, as the band draws from past wounds and experiences to determine its stance and braces for the worst. Chaotic in theory but precisely controlled, All At Once is another masterstroke from a group of vaunted prizefighters.

9. Ratboys – GL

A long-held but underutilized tradition among bands is releasing an EP as an addendum to a larger body of work. When they work, the end result can’t only just make a project more comprehensive but strengthen it’s foundation (see: Okkervil River‘s Black Sheep Boy Appendix EP). Ratboys joins that select pantheon of acts with the extraordinary GL which rivals its formidable predecessor, GN, as a complete work. Containing some of the finest work of the young band’s career, GL exudes the same kind of sprawling, wide-open humanity that’s provided their discography a beating heart. Electric and captivating, GN finds a memorable way to hit all the right notes.

10. Long Neck – Will This Do?

During Jawbreaker Reunion‘s brief but exceptional run, guitarist/vocalist Lily Mastrodimos emerged as an incredibly engaging voice. Fortunately, Mastrodimos had a solo vehicle to keep those talents sharp in Jawbreaker Reunion’s absence. Now that project, Long Neck, has taken the leap that’s served acts like Cloud Nothings and Car Seat Headrest extraordinarily well and gone the full band route. After a handful of extremely strong releases that saw Mastrodimos alone in the spotlight, Will This Do?, as challenging and bleak as it can seem, also comes with a twinge of celebration.

A handful of the finest work of Mastrodimos’ already exceptional discography gets a home in Will This Do?, an incredibly versatile and assured record that explores the themes that have populated the work of both Long Neck’s first iteration and Jawbreaker Reunion. Mortality is confronted head on, self-doubt tugs at the corners of the fabrics keeping the tapestry intact, and a resilient determination shines through the uncomfortably heavy thematic meditation. Joy is in short supply — but still present — on Will This Do? but a hard-earned understanding seems boundless in both its quiet moments and its moments of naked reckoning.

Tethered together by humanity and empathy, Will This Do? benefits from both its fearlessness and its persistent uncertainty. Explosive dynamics and inspired compositions keep it interesting on the surface but its in the many carefully constructed layers — both lyrically and musically — where it evolves into something genuinely gripping.

The record also has the benefit of starting strong but ending with one of the strongest four songs stretches anyone’s produced in recent memory (a run that boasts some of the most vivid and haunting imagery imaginable, especially in the unforgettable closing moments of “Milky Way”) that propels Will This Do? past the conversation of simply being one of 2018’s best and position it as one of the strongest records of this present decade. In what seems to be a time of crisis, Long Neck have flipped the script, seized their own direction and left a trail of smoke in their wake.

17 of ’17: The Best Albums of the Year

Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.

After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.

From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.

Washer – All Aboard

Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.

Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough

Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.

Petite League – Rips One Into the Night

Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.

Cayetana – New Kind of Normal

For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.

Young Jesus – Young Jesus

Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesus seems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.

Deep State – Thought Garden

One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.

Weaves – Wide Open

Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.

Landlines – Landlines

A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlines never stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.

Strange Relations – Editorial You

Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait

Fred Thomas – Changer

The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changer is legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.

Big Thief – Capacity

One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiece was touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacity in 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.

Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us

Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joey went a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.

Cende – #1 Hit Single

A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.

Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go 

One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.

Mo Troper – Exposure & Response

One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.

Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.

Album of the Year:

Charly Bliss – Guppy

A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.

The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.

Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.

“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.

A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.

When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.

Ben Seretan – My Lucky Stars (Music Video Premiere)

Over the years, Ben Seretan has meticulously and methodically developed a reputation that’s as strong as the songwriter’s composition. Affable, curious, and driven, Seretan’s mastered the art of balancing abrasive, sardonic wit with an open earnestness that ultimately winds up working in service of the music. Now, Seretan’s turned that handle on reality to the visual format for a pair of clips from last year’s outstanding Bowl of Plums.

Various Small Flames already ran a wonderful premiere piece for “I Like Your Size” and now this site has the honor of unveiling it’s partner piece, “My Lucky Stars”. Both clips find Seretan shamelessly shotgunning beers, laughing as the chaos unfolds in slow motion, undercutting the heavy emotional undercurrent of the songs with physical comedy. It paints an effective dichotomy that — as this tactic does when used best — elevates both angles (assisted in no small part by the direction of Stephen Straub), rendering what could have easily been construed as a throwaway in less capable hands into something far more lasting and profound.

Adding to the surprising complexity of both the song and the clip is the fact that it’s presented as a continuation of the first movement of “My Lucky Stars”, which appeared on Seretan’s extraordinary self-titled. Speaking to Seretan about the clip, the artist also touched on how song’s evolve in the face of an artist’s perception over time and had this to say:

For me, it’s part of a larger acceptance I’m trying to get to: absolutely everything changes and, in fact, is changing right before your eyes as you’re busy trying to remember it. And even something as solid as a pure, heartfelt song made with care from a place of beautiful intention fades and warps in the sun.

It’s a beautiful sentiment that has a firm basis in reality, speaking volumes to something that might be misconstrued as something that was purely done out of silliness. While comedy and whimsicality certainly play a factor in the clip for “My Lucky Stars”, like everything else Seretan’s released up to this point, there’s always meaning buried somewhere unexpected. Hit play, have a laugh, think about life, and come back for more.

Watch “My Lucky Stars” below and pick up Bowl of Plums here.

Landlines – Landlines (Album Review)

In the course of the past few days, only a small handful of truly great records have emerged. Washer unveiled a legitimate Album of the Year candidate with All Aboard, Total Yuppies revealed their exceptional Care EP, and Nassau continued to improve with Heron. On top of that trio of full streams, there was a sneak peek at the upcoming Pope record — and there was also the incredible self-titled effort from Landlines (a band that includes some member overlap with The Woolen Men).

Landlines is exactly the type of band and record that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to support. An absolutely monstrous effort from a legitimately great band that has minimal name recognition outside of their given region, both Landlines and Landlines deserve far more notice than either will likely receive without securing contracts with the right PR team. The recorded landed in the site’s inbox by way of the band directly, who seem committed to the DIY ethos that’s fairly apparent in their music.

In the accompanying bio that was patched over with the record, a lot of classic rock acts get name checked but Landlines can be accurately summed as existing in the central field between the triangular points represented by Pavement, Parquet Courts, and Flying Nun Records. These are wiry post-punk songs with slacker punk leanings, basement pop aesthetics, and aggressively clean tones. They’re cleverly arranged and expertly executed, running the gamut from the energetic onslaught of opener “Hanging Around” to the unapologetic powerpop of closer “Survived”.

A record that’s littered with smart observations, compelling musical ideas, and united by an incredibly convincing identity, Landlines actually manages to outstrip several records being discussed as Album of the Year candidates by a reasonable margin. Make no mistake, while this is a largely unassuming record it’s also one of the more tightly-crafted and complete releases of the past nine months. Landlines exude confidence throughout and deliver several knockout blows in their self-titled, which is comprised exclusively of songs worthy of mix tape inclusions. Hit play below and hit purchase when it ends.

Listen to Landlines below and pick the record up here.

Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear to Be Boring (Stream)

The last few days have been monstrously impressive for new singles, with tracks from Nervous Dater, Worst Gift, Bethlehem Steel, Everyone Is Dirty, Julia Jacklin, Mini Dresses, Makthaverskan, Far Lands, Swimming Bell, Monogold, Flotation Toy WarningSwimming Tapes, Prawn, Autobahn, Peach Pit, Jonny Polonsky, Jesse Kivel, Grooms, Outsider, Ross McHenry Trio, The Clientele, Destroyer, and Silk ‘N’ Oak all making great impressions. As good as all of those were, “Can’t Bear to Be Boring” deserved a feature spot.

Holiday Ghosts have been teasing their impressive forthcoming self-titled debut with excellent tracks for a while now but none of them have wielded the kind of irrepressible drive and sardonic wit that define “Can’t Bear to Be Boring”. Defiantly chaotic and clearly influenced by the work of Courtney Barnett, “Can’t Bear to Be Boring” manages a charm all its own. Lo-fi, catchy, clever, and charismatic, the track proves Holiday Ghosts are willing to extend their boundaries in unexpected ways. It’s one of the most joyous two and a half minute blasts of basement pop anyone’s likely to hear this year. It’s a welcoming party that should not be missed.

Listen to “Can’t Bear to Be Boring” below and pre-order Holiday Ghosts here.

Young Jesus – Young Jesus (Album Review)

Well, it took an excessively long while but as of this post this site’s officially back on track and will be resuming its regular daily (or near-daily) schedule moving forward. Making things even sweeter is the incredible release of site favorites Young Jesus‘ self-titled record, which was teased back with the premiere of the “Green” music video a short while back.

Of course, that’s not the only thing that was worth checking out to find release over the first two days of the week. There were also great songs from Jessica Lea Mayfield, Milan to Minsk, Open Mike Eagle, Mavis Staples, and Acid Tongue. A quartet of clips served the music video format well with incredibly strong entries from Colter Wall (who nearly snagged the feature spot), The Man From Managra, Naomi Punk, and Stillwave. Finally, there was a great record unveiled in ViewMaster’s Alternative Classics that was quietly released a few weeks ago but it is more than worth hearing.

Back to the subject at hand: Young Jesus (and, more specifically, Young Jesus). There are some bands that refuse to do anything but grow and push themselves to extend their comfort zone, heighten their ambitions, and take genuine risks. Young Jesus, for nearly a decade now, has been one of those acts. Young Jesus stands as the most definitive example of the band’s willingness to experiment while still retaining the melancholic pull that anchored their earlier works.

From the opening section of Young Jesus it becomes apparent that the band’s decided to fully embrace the noise sections that have become a defining characteristic of their spellbinding live show in recent years. These sections crop up in the opening trio of tracks — “Green”, “River”, and “Eddy” — and don’t really recede from the foreground throughout the rest of the record, spare for a few of Young Jesus‘ lightest moments. Impressively, these sections always sound more pointed than meandering, a testament to Young Jesus’ grip on dynamics, structure, and pace.

Guitarist/vocalist (and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor) John Rossiter continues to turn in some of the more unexpectedly moving lyric sets while taking a small shift towards the poetic. As always, the band Rossiter has both partially retained and partially assembled are immensely impressive, navigating towering sections with ease and composing arrangements that seem very attuned to emotional response.

While the record may only run for 7 tracks, the band makes them count, particular in the final stretch of the record. “Desert” (formerly “Every Little Landscape”), “Feeling”, and “Storm” all rank among the year’s finest tracks. Each of them contain some of Rossiter’s finest work as a lyricist and Young Jesus’ most sprawling and absorbing work as a band.

Combined, these three tracks run for nearly half an hour and account for the bulk of the record, nearly doubling the combined time of the first four tracks. They also touch on virtually everything that’s ensured this band would be a staple of this site’s coverage. There’s a wellspring of genuine emotion driving these particular songs and it’s readily apparent, from the genuinely pained vocal delivery in the mid-section of “Feeling” to the aggressive bloodletting of a later section in “Storm” to the hushed introspection of “Desert”, every blow hits its mark.

By the time Young Jesus winds to a close it almost feels akin to a great piece of epic literature, with its oscillating emotions, sweeping narratives, and central ideology. It’s a massive work from a band that’s quietly become one of America’s best and it deserves to have a legacy in its wake. Both a bold step forward for a band deeply uninterested in repeating former motions and one of the years finest — and most fascinating — efforts. An essential addition to any music lover’s collection.

Listen to Young Jesus below — and watch a series of videos of the band playing live underneath the bandcamp player — and pick it up from the band here.

Young Jesus – Green (Music Video Premiere)

More than five years have passed since site favorites Young Jesus released Home, a breakthrough of sorts that turned a select few heads at the time of its release. Back then, the band was still calling Chicago home and there were only a few evident hints at the kind of experimentation that would inform their later work. Now based in Los Angeles, the band’s continuing to evolve in a way that’s both unassuming and fearless.

The band’s been taking creative risks lately and those risks have led to riveting material, whether in the form of the ambient tape that paired with a conceptual zine that they were selling on their last tour, the noise sections spliced into their live show, or the winding free-form songs like Void as Lob‘s “Hinges“. No matter what’s being put forth by Young Jesus, there are two unifying threads: an intensity that threatens to overtake everything and split the songs apart at the seams as well as an abundance of feeling to drive those moments.

Most impressively, the band’s maintained a career trajectory that’s essentially just been one ascending line since the turn of the decade and the first look at their forthcoming self-titled full-length doesn’t do anything to dissuade the notion that’ll continue in earnest. “Green” is among the sharpest single entries in their catalog and the music video — premiering below — they’ve crafted as its complement suggests the band’s finding new levels of conviction in both their craft and their identity.

Directed by Jordan Epstein and taking place in a single room, “Green” makes an impression through its attention to detail and commitment to conceptual approach. Each band member is given time center-frame, adorned with a variety of props (furniture, plants, and yarn are all among the featured items). Accentuating everything is the decision to shoot the video as a stop-motion piece and continue the band’s winning penchant for incorporating animation into their clips.

Where “Green” separates itself from the band’s already overflowing — and deeply impressive — discography (and videography) lies in ambition. While everything the band’s done since a little after forming has been uniformly impressive, the pulse that’s always driven Young Jesus at its core seems to be reaching a fever pitch, as if the band’s found itself and has no qualms about what they’re aiming to achieve.

There’s a handful of dichotomies at play that fuel “Green” even further, whether it be the emotional intensity paired with the tacit relaxation surrounding the narrative or the meticulously detailed production design they afforded to a simplistic concept. All of those elements work in tandem to create something that feels removed enough from everything else to feel intangible but accessible enough to feel extraordinary. It’s one of the more quietly compelling moments of the year and more than proves that, while the band’s existence may be nearing the decade mark, they’ve still got a lot left to say.

Watch “Green” below and pre-order Young Jesus here.