Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: self-titled

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.

Full Streams of the First Quarter: The Honorable Mentions

Technical difficulties forced Heartbreaking Bravery into an effective hiatus at the start of the year but, even through the visible inaction, behind-the-scenes work continued in earnest. Various outlets depths were exhausted, the site’s inbox maintained its regular flood of releases, and everything else that emerged was meticulously examined. Over the course of 2017’s first quarter (minus a week or so), more than 100 great records were released. 10 will be spotlighted in the very near future and the rest of the releases that caused a positive reaction can be found below. Enjoy.

Cool American, Alexander F, The Courtneys, Single Player, Schlotman, Street Stains, Thurst, Teenage Wedding, oso oso, Sam Skinner, Thelma, Wild Pink, Toby Reif, Omni, Pissed Jeans, Baked, WHY?, Neutral Shirt, Hideout, SSWAMPZZ, Boosegumps, Maryn Jones, Luxury Death, UV-TV, Ron Gallo, Matty Ann, Communions, Hanni El Khatib, Vagabon, So Stressed, The Paranoyds, Middle Kids, David Bazan, Toner, minihorse, Fucked Up, Olive & The Pitz, Boreen, Two Moons, wayde, The Spirit of the Beehive

Lunch Ladies, Heavy Pockets, Layperson, Little Person, Laura Marling, Chick Quest, Tobin Spout, Tall Friend, Caitlin Pasko, The Molochs, Trust Fund, Pinegrove
 Radula, Sinai Vessel, CARE, Michael Chapman, Jamie Wyatt, The Modern Savage, Analog CandleLouise Lemón, Heart Attack Man, Matthew Lee Cothran, Retail Space, The Cherry Wave, Frederick the Younger, No Thank You, Railings, Crushed Stars, Fragrance., ShitKid, Joan of Arc, Jim O’Rourke, Black Kids, Knife in the Water, bvdub

The Ocean Party, VICTIME, Career Suicide, Dead Man Winter, Lindenfield, Loess, Redshift Headlights, Balto, Angelus, Fufanu, French Vanilla, The Wild War, Turn to Crime, Souvenir Driver, Stinking Lizaveta, Matteo Vallicelli, Milk Music, Caroline Spence, NAVVI, Cody Crumps, Exasperation, Xiu Xiu, Damaged Bug, Winston Hightower, Kim Free, Kikagaku Moyo, Lilah Larson, Appalache, Eric Burnham, Party of One, Noveller, sir Was, R. Missing, Yawn Mower, Moral Panic, Auditorium, The Pantheon, The Obsessives

Dakota Blue, Skullflower, My Education, Lowlands, Half Waif, Trevor de Brauw, Strange RangerOnce & Future Band, DONCAT, The Visis, Blank Range, Transona Five100%/Joyce Manor, and Dead Tenants/Drome.

A special mention should also be given to these five compilations, all supporting worthy causes: Our First 100 Days (at the time of this writing, this release is still being updated), Sad! A Barsuk Records Compilation for the ACLU, Is There Another Language?, Save the Smell, and Don’t Stop NowA Collection of Covers.

16 of ’16: The Best EP’s of the Year

eskimeaux

Once again, an increasingly busy schedule has led to a brief gap between posts and diminished the possibilities for year-end coverage. For that reason, there’ll only be three more Best Of pieces before the third round of A Year’s Worth of Memories. Sadly, this means some previous categories will be neglected but don’t let that diminish the importance of things like online singles, compilations, and the other odds and ends releases.

This list will focus on the EP’s that were released this year, which had to be at least four songs or exceed 10 minutes in length (which disqualified some genuinely tremendous releases). A lot of great material came out this year and these EP’s managed to emerge as standouts. For any potential bias to be eliminated, EP’s that premiered here were deemed ineligible (but should still be celebrated). Enjoy the list.

Jack – Resting Places 

One of the more harrowing listens of 2016 was centered around the loss of a loved one. It was an event that seems to have transformed something in Brittany Costa, the mastermind behind Jack and Resting Places. This is an explosive EP and it deserved much more circulation than it received.

Krill – Krill 

A posthumous release from one of the most fiercely beloved bands in DIY punk, Krill‘s self-titled swan song may also be their finest work. Bassist/vocalist employed baritone guitar lines to spectacular effect on Krill, something evident from the EP’s brilliant opening track (“Meat”). Precise and teeming with feeling, it’s one hell of a goodbye.

Eskimeaux – Year of the Rabbit

Following this site’s pick for 2015’s Album of the Year proved to be a shockingly easy feat for Eskimeaux, who quickly released a summery EP overflowing with memorable moments. Year of the Rabbit finds Eskimeaux deepening the best aspects of their music and refining some newer tricks. It’s a breezy listen that carries substantial weight.

Kynnet – …Taas ne Kynnet 

A blast of fired-up basement pop from Finland, Kynnet once again proves to be an uncontainable force with …Taas ne Kynnet. This is hard-charging music that transcends the language divide and effortlessly engages listeners with its overwhelming immediacy. Give in or get out of the way because once …Taas ne Kynnet gets gets going, it’s not stopping.

Forth Wanderers – Slop 

Headlined by its breathtaking title trackSlop is a warning shot from the increasingly ambitious Forth Wanderers. While “Slop” is undoubtedly the standout of the EP, the other three songs don’t ever come across as being overshadowed, revealing flashes of the band’s brilliance. Slop is a uniformly strong outing that packs a serious punch.

Happyness – Tunnel Vision On Your Part 

Happyness teased Tunnel Vision On Your Part with “SB’s Truck“, a song based on the fascinating historical footnote that saw the unlikely pairing of Andre The Giant and Samuel Beckett. The band continues to do no wrong, turning in another immensely enjoyable collection of songs that further their growing reputation as master popsmiths.

Faye – Faye 

An extraordinary debut from an extremely promising band, Faye‘s self-titled is a beautifully crafted work that capitalizes on the sort of subtleties that some veteran acts still have a difficult time navigating. Nearly half of this EP rightfully earned individual features before its release and the EP’s remainder lived up to the promise of those tracks.

Snail Mail – Habit 

2016 saw Snail Mail start to break out and earn some overdue attention on a much larger scale. A lot of that can be attributed to the remarkable (and surprisingly affecting) Habit. Vulnerable, defiant, and tenaciously pointed, Habit‘s the kind of record that burrows under the skin and refuses to leave. A gem and a career best.

Hazel English – Never Going Home 

There were few, if any records, released in 2016 lovelier than Hazel English‘s Never Going Home. A spellbinding mixture of dream pop, basement pop, and post-punk, Never Going Home‘s the kind of painfully beautiful work that deserves to be remembered. It’s a series of grace notes that openly offer contentment and warmth.

Fern Mayo – Hex Signs 

Fern Mayo became a staple of this site’s coverage based on the white-knuckle intensity of their live show and in Hex Signs they manage to harness that intimidating forcefulness. Easily the best work of the band’s burgeoning career, Hex Signs is a confrontational demonstration of the type of strength that refuses to be ignored.

don’t – forget it. 

One of the unique thrills of music writing is the discovery of a young, unknown band from a relatively small area that are doing interesting, impressive things. don’t met all of those qualifications to such an excessive degree with forget it. that it became unforgettable. While possibly the least recognizable name on this list, they deserve the placement.

Patio – Luxury

Being able to watch a band evolve from their first show and thrive in the state of progression is a privilege. It’s even more of a privilege when the band in question is one like Patio, who excel at the formula that makes up Luxury: wiry post-punk that serves up as much dry wit as it does sheer attitude. What’s scary is they’re still only just getting started.

Strange Ranger – Sunbeams Through Your Head 

Sunbeams Through Your Head marked an exhilarating new chapter for Strange Ranger who, almost paradoxically, seemed galvanized in their decision to more fully embrace a downtrodden nature. It’s an EP characterized by moments either brave, bold, or beautiful. An extraordinarily compelling listen and the sound of a band hitting its stride.

Tony Molina – Confront the Truth 

As someone who could claim in-your-face micro-punk as a specialty, Tony Molina‘s gorgeous Confront the Truth likely came as a shock to some. Anyone well-versed in Molina’s work could easily see how the songwriter could conjure up a gentle 7″ full of retro-leaning acoustic pop songs that invoked the spirit of the late ’60 and early ’70s. A sublime work.

Talons’ – Work Stories 

One of the rare records where the distinction between album and EP becomes blurry, Work Stories nevertheless saw Talons’ extend a quiet streak of ridiculously impressive records. Hushed and haunted folk-inflected songs comprise Work Stories, each as breathtakingly gripping as the last. Work Stories is another piece of mastery.

EP OF THE YEAR

Mercury Girls/The Spook School/Wildhoney/Tigercats – Continental Drift 

While the intro to this piece stated that the majority of the odds and ends would be ignored, an exception is being made for the excessively great split EP that saw Mercury Girls (who also released the excellent Ariana 7″ in 2016), The Spook School, Wildhoney, and Tigercats each contribute two songs. Continental Drift doesn’t feel or operate like the majority of split releases by virtue of its exhaustively complete unification.

All four bands on Continental Drift can come across as singular acts, on closer inspection they begin to appear as slight mutations of each other, rendering this split an effortless listen. There could very well be a group of people that’d mistake Continental Drift as the work of one inhumanly talented band (though the shift in accents may provide a tipping point). Each of the four acts bring their best work to the table and make characteristically strong impressions.

Over Continental Drift‘s eight tracks, not only is there never a weak song, there’s never a weak moment. Each of these songs is tightly crafted and masterfully executed, providing each act with a highlight reel that could attract unfamiliar listeners to the rest of their respective discographies. There are so many soaring moments scattered throughout Continental Drift that the end result is stratospheric. In theory, this split was enticing but in its execution Continental Drift achieves a staggering amount of perfection.

Nine more worth checking out:

Lady Bones – Terse
Cleo Tucker – Looking Pretty At the Wall
Devon Welsh – Down the Mountain
Plush – Please
Young Jesus – Void As Lob
Naps – The Most Beautiful Place On Earth
gobbinjr – vom night
CHEW – CHEW
Fake Boyfriend – Mercy

The Proper Ornaments – Memories (Stream)

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Tuesday brought some outstanding streams from Split Single, Deerhoof, Leapling, Low Leaf, Doby Watson, Hellrazor, and Girl Tears. In addition to those titles, there were exceptional music videos that arrived via Shugo Tokumaro, Lisa Prank, Toy Cars, Quin Galavis, Safe To Say, and Johnny Foreigner while Pet Grief held down the fort for the full stream category. The Proper Ornaments snagged the day’s featured slot with the slow-burning “Memories”, extending the extraordinary winning streak that site favorites Slumberland Records have managed to string together this year.

James Hoare and Max Claps have quietly put together an incredibly impressive discography that’s never received quite as much attention as it so richly deserves. Hoare’s received a lot of attention for the work the songwriter’s put in with Veronica Falls (and occasionally Ultimate Painting) yet The Proper Ornaments have still managed to fly decidedly under the radar, despite Slumberland’s involvement and the project’s pedigree. “Memories” may be the song that provides that trend a welcome course-correction.

Keying in on the pyschedelic and pop influences of a bygone era, The Proper Ornaments have crafted a gently mesmerizing gem in “Memories”. It’s an approach that laces their material with tints of nostalgia, creating an infallible sense of warmth and comfort in the process. Virtually every second of the song’s 5:45 runtime is injected with genuine care and feeling. As a lead-off track for the rollout campaign of their forthcoming record, Foxhole, “Memories” is an incredibly tantalizing work. In demonstrating what The Proper Ornaments are capable of at their peak, it’s immensely assuring and propels the song to the ranks of 2016’s finest.

Listen to “Memories” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on Foxhole.

Three Weeks, Eight Records

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Over the past three weeks there have been an impressively large volume of outstanding records to find their way out into the world. A large handful of them were covered in a recent round-up post but there were some that genuinely stood out. With the extent of material involved in this particular format, the best option was to highlight them in one post. While this decision will come at the expense of exhaustively exploring what makes these records so great, know that they’re all more than worth a heavy amount of investment. So, without further ado, here are eight incredible records from the past three weeks.

Lubec – Cosmic Debt

The first of several wild-eyed basement pop records to appear on this list, Lubec‘s Cosmic Debt really emphasizes the band’s frenetic approach to songwriting. Where Cosmic Debt stands out is its coherent fluidity, tethering all of their most erratic moments to an identity that’s teeming with purpose. Front to back, Cosmic Debt‘s an oddly exhilarating record, drawing strength from its cracks, swinging to the end.

Glider – Demos 

A collaborative, multi-country recording project, Glider’s existed in some form or another for years. The act, comprised of Tom Lobban and Louie Newlands, finally released the handful of demos they’ve been recording to the public. Demos features an extraordinary range of two gifted, versatile songwriters who pull cues from powerpop, post-punk, ambient, and a variety of other genres and work them into something legitimately memorable. One of 2016’s most extraordinary surprises.

Poppies – Double Single

“Egghead” and “Mistakes” constitute the entirety of Double Single but Poppies make every second of each song count. Wistful indie pop at its absolute finest, the band coaxes a subdued magic out of familiar terrain, enlivening both songs with a tantalizing personality. Neither song ever breaks above mid-tempo and the music draws the listener in with a calm assurance, suggesting a very bright future for the quartet.

Greys – Warm Shadow 

Having one 2016 triumph under the belt already in the excellent Outer Heaven, Greys seize the opportunity to capitalize on some growing momentum with another outstanding collection of tracks. Considerably poppier and more lo-fi than it’s counterpart from earlier this year, Warm Shadow succeeds as both a GBV-style look at the band’s approach and as an attention-grabbing record that’s incredibly hard to leave. While it may wind up as an anomaly or outlier of Grey’s already extremely impressive career, it’s bound to be one that’s looked upon with fond admiration.

Navy Gangs – Navy Gangs

Navy Gangs have been coming on strong this year, with their self-titled EP serving as the current culmination of some impressively intuitive decision-making. Battered, punk-informed basement pop will likely always be the calling card of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage and Navy Gangs experiment with that dynamic to quiet perfection on Navy Gangs. Immediately memorable and capable of rewarding close investment, Navy Gangs should go a long way in ensuring its namesake’s reputation as one of the finest acts in the market.

Sonic Avenues – Disconnector

Since before this site existed, Sonic Avenues have been a personal favorite. The band’s expertise lays in hyper, sugar-coated punk laced with classic pop sensibilities shot through with nods to noise and post-punk. Disconnector, their latest, finds the band continuing to perfect that mixture. Every song’s laced with an unwieldy adrenaline that renders Disconnector surprisingly forceful without ever losing sight of what makes the record — and the band — tick. Tightly wound and characteristically thrilling, it’s another cause for celebration.

Never Young – Singles Tape II: SoftBank

Easily one of 2016’s most ferocious, hyper-charged basement punk EP’s, Never Young‘s Singles Tape II: SoftBank is never anything less than exhilarating. All five of these songs grit their teeth, bare some fangs, and unleash a series of incrementally vicious bites. “I’m washing up with soap”, an unforgettable hook from “Soap”, not only manages to be one of the year’s strangest rallying cries but one of its strongest as well. To dive even further into the band’s extreme tenacity and overabundance of feeling (and “Soap”), just take a look at the last installment of Watch This. If that doesn’t sell this band — and this EP — properly, nothing will.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most eclectic, unique, and electrifying releases in recent memory, Crying’s Beyond the Fleeting Gales calmly trouts out a series of never-ending ideas, all of which feel genuinely inspired. No band is currently attempting what Crying’s accomplished with this insane pastiche of a record. Each song varies wildly in the instrumental mixes incorporated into the mix, sounding like Sleigh Bells one second, New Order the next, and Tobacco the next. To its credit, Beyond the Fleeting Gales‘ restlessness never gets tiring. On the contrary, Crying have released what will likely not just be a career-defining record with Beyond the Fleeting Gales but one of 2016’s most genuinely inspiring works. Have a listen and start making music.