Before this week began, it’d been seven weeks since any of this site’s regular coverage had appeared. The first stretch of this week will be dedicated to amending the outstanding material that went uncovered in the interim, while the latter part of the week will feature the present week’s finest offerings. Below are ten standout records to have been released over the long hiatus, from EPs to compilations to full-lengths. There’s a whole host of incredible material shared between these ten records so stop hesitating and just dive straight into this post’s overflowing heart. Enjoy.
Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough
“Expert Eraser“, “Fade“, and “Teen Challenge” all earned feature slots on this site in the lead-up to Plastic Cough‘s release, each one suggesting a seemingly inevitable reality: Great Grandpa throwing their hat into the ring of genuine Album of the Year contenders. The day finally came, Plastic Cough was released, and that inevitability proved to be no joke. Plastic Cough is an absolutely ferocious record, gnashing its teeth at every hairpin turn and gloriously bombastic moment, only pausing to breathe on the gorgeous “Faithful”, a perfectly placed slow-burner that rounds the record out in breathtaking fashion. Plastic Cough is the kind of thrill ride that makes a mark deep enough to last.
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Motorcycle.jpg
Jake Ewald may get the most recognition for his work in Modern Baseball but what the songwriter’s accomplished in Slaughter Beach, Dog is equally — if not even more — compelling. Having already accumulated an incredibly rich and surprisingly expansive sound over the course of a full-length and an EP, Motorcyle.jpg finds Ewald leaning even more confidently into the battered folk trappings that heightened those first two releases. Motorcycle.jpg also skews a little more lo-fi and at times recalls Yankee Bluff, each poignantly bruised track vastly exceeding the aesthetics perceived limitations. It’s another impressive work from a musician worth watching.
Little Star – July Demos
Another one of the acts positioning Good Cheer Records as one of the finest upstart labels, Little Star has managed to turn a lot of heads in recent times, thanks to two sterling full-lengths. The project’s showing no signs of slowing down, even going so far as to release a small collection of demos last month, aptly entitled July Demos. The band’s earned comparisons to legendary acts (Big Star, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular among them) and it’s not difficult to see why those comparisons are being made, even from this small smattering of tracks. All four of the songs on display here are sharply written songs that convey a great deal of emotion in their quiet restraint. Spellbinding work.
Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues
Chumped may have been Katie Ellen‘s earliest claim to some modicum of fame but the songwriter’s not being reduced to the ashes left in the wake of that band’s departure, instead opting to venture out on an already promising solo career. Cowgirl Blues is Ellen’s first statement and it’s a bold one. The first two and a half minutes of opening track “Drawing Room” are comprised entirely of extremely light ambient noise, clean guitar, and vocals, as if Ellen is reasserting an individual identity. It’s a deeply effective moment that sets the tone for a record that’s not afraid to show off its bruises, scars, or self-awareness. Front to back, it’s one of the summer’s most captivating listens.
Milked – Death On Mars
Kelly Johnson is the songwriter spearheading Milked, graciously returning to the fold after Geronimo! took their final bow. For anyone who was concerned Johnson would step away from the eccentricities and unpredictable eclecticism that made Geronimo! so fascinating, put aside those fears for good. Death on Mars is as gleefully unwieldy and feral as Geronimo! at their fiercest (undoubtedly helped along by the drumming of Geronimo! bandmate Matt Schwerin). Death On Mars is a towering work that’s not afraid to embrace catharsis or melody even as it careens wildly from song to song, touching on everything from powerpop to hardcore along the way. An absolute triumph of a return.
Midwives – No
No will be the last record Midwives — who appeared in this site’s Best EP’s list in 2013 and 2015 and whose self-titled 7″ was one of the first reviews this site ever ran — will release. While it’s a shame that one of the upper Midwest’s best hardcore bands will be disappearing into the ether, at the very least they managed to go out on top: No is a culmination of everything the group’s accomplished since starting up nearly five years ago. It’s a growling, spitting, snarling beast of a record, unafraid to take prisoners in its sub-18 minute run-time. Bruising and feral, it’s only fitting that such a proudly deranged band would go out kicking, baring its threatening fangs all the while.
Dream Ritual – Summer Promo
Sometimes all it takes for a band to take off is three songs, which is exactly what Dream Ritual‘s offering on Summer Promo, a blistering post-punk EP that doesn’t leave any room for filler. Echoing everyone from Shellac to METZ and everyone in between, Dream Ritual manages to carve out their own distinct identity. “Noise”, “Oil & Canvas”, & “Sunlight Girl” all perfectly marry elements of modern day noise-punk with some of the genre’s earliest defining elements. Whether it’s the metallic-like production or the infusion of pop-leaning melody, it’s clear that Dream Ritual are students of the genre. Thankfully for us, their learning has resulted in one of the summer’s strongest EP’s.
Mike Krol – Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records
A few years ago, this site named Mike Krol‘s Turkey one of the best records of 2015 and heavily praised the songwriter’s infectiously joyous live show. Krol had gained notoriety thanks to the cult following that he’d accumulated due to his first two records, Trust Fund and I Hate Jazz, both of which were long out of print by the time Merge announced Krol’s signing and released Turkey. Fortunately, for everyone, Merge has come to the rescue and reissued both of those seminal classics (this according to essentially anyone that owns either) and packaged them with all of the demos for each session. The whole thing’s an exhilarating look at an exhilarating artist and should be considered essential listening for fans of the basement pop genre.
Tunnel Traffic – MEESH
Tunnel Traffic’s MEESH occupies a space that’s always memorable: the record arrived from the artist via unsolicited submission and proceeded to impress at every turn. From opener “Lesson Learned” to the closing “Memorial”, this small release from Adam Hachey’s solo project made a sizable impression. Softer and a little sweeter than expected, MEESH is chock-full of mid-tempo folk-leaning numbers that expand the bedroom pop genre into something faintly unfamiliar. It’s quiet, it’s intimate, it’s unassuming, and it’s utterly spectacular. MEESH weaves an unbreakable trance over its listeners and commands their attention through a narrative journey that feels both direct and cerebral. It’s an incredible accomplishment from a songwriter whose work all but demands to be followed.
Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm (Deluxe Version)
Throughout work with Waxahatchee, P.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and Great Thunder as well as through a variety of guest roles Katie Crutchfield has become a household name for a very particular sect of people, broadening that base with each successive release. Crutchfield’s latest comes via the Waxahatchee moniker, Out in the Storm. Everything that Waxahatchee has released to date has stood the test of time and remained as impressive — if not more so — as it was at the time of its release. Out in the Storm feels like Crutchfield’s reached another level entirely, combining more than a decade’s worth of knowledge, experience, and style into a mesmerizing, cohesive whole. A career high point for Crutchfield and easily one of the best records of 2017, Out in the Storm‘s definitive version also comes package with the demos for each song on the record, all of which are — like the record itself — well worth hearing.
After a whirlwind catch-up session saw around 80 new posts go up in the past month, this site’s falling back into old habits. Namely, the preservation of implementing some sort of mixtape for every at every 50-post interval. With summer officially kicking off next week, it felt appropriate to create a mix in anticipation of the increasingly warm weather. Somehow, Heartbreaking Bravery’s now also 900 posts into its existence and some sort of commentary felt fitting as well. To that end, the 25 songs selected below are mostly tracks that have been featured — in some way or another — on this site throughout the course of those 900 posts (including Audacity’s “Hole in the Sky”, which was the the focal point of Heartbreaking Bravery’s first post).
A lot of the songs in Staring Down the Sun are songs that have carried me through previous summers, propelling me forward or comforting me with warmth and familiarity. It’s those two traits, warmth and familiarity, that are underlined most emphatically on this mix as they’re two of the season’s most consistently definitive draws. As such, Staring Down the Sun is a mix that’s heavily populated by friends, old and new, to sustain the kind of camaraderie that’s so often reinvigorated by sense of contentment and desire for exploration that frequently accompanies the season.
Open the windows, call up some friends, start a band, stoke the embers of the fire in the backyard, enjoy the scenery, travel to a new city, go swimming, or do whatever it takes to enjoy the shifting weather. Whatever the option, there’s now a soundtrack to accompany those moments available for the taking. Grab it and go.
Staring Down the Sun‘s tracklist can be found below the embed. Underneath the tracklist are hyperlinks to the preceding 100 posts. Enjoy.
1. Used Kids – Midwest Midsummer 2. PUP – DVP 3. Audacity – Hole in the Sky 4. Patsy’s Rats – Rock N’ Roll Friend 5. Goodnight Loving – Dead Fish On the Banks 6. PURPLE 7 – Wise Up 7. The Marked Men – Fix My Brain 8. Screaming Females – Wishing Well 9. Good Grief – Cold Compress 10. Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright 11. Icarus Himself – Digging Holes 12. Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion 13. Jawbreaker Reunion – Friends Theme Song 14. Midnight Reruns – King of Pop 15. Dogs On Acid – Make It Easy 16. Sleeping in the Aviary – Love Song 17. Swearin’ – Hundreds and Thousands 18. Sweet John Bloom – Aging In Place 19. Meat Wave – Cosmic Zoo 20. Mo Troper – Princess 21. Mike Krol – Left Out (Attn: SoCal Garage Rockers) 22. Royal Headache – High 23. Weaves – One More 24. Tenement – Near You 25. Swim Team – Teenage Brain
A lot of great tracks have surfaced over the course of 2016 and new ones keep emerging. Trying to keep up with everything can occasionally be overwhelming but it’s bands like M. T. Foyer that make the sifting through the chaos worthwhile. While the band’s grabbed this post’s featured spot, it’d be remiss not to mention there were also great new tracks from site favorites Young Jesus, Clique, Boss Hog, Nail Polish, Paper Twin, Kitten Forever, and Lisa Prank as well.
While those titles linked above are all more than worth their salt, it’s the emergence of M. T. Foyer that earns top billing, thanks to the undeniable strength of their opening 1-2 punch: “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” and “Let’s Make Something Happen”. Anyone familiar with Michael Sienkowski’s past work probably shouldn’t be surprised by the band’s formidable early outing. Sienkowski was essential to Sleeping in the Aviary (a band that’s earned a surprising amount of words from this site, especially considering they’ve been defunct for years), helped develop Mike Krol into a powerhouse, and made some outstanding music as Whatfor.
M. T. Foyer is Sienkowski’s latest project and it continues his sterling track record with an impressive amount of panache. The band, a sextet, recently unveiled the inspired “All I Wanna Do Is Love You”, which updates the golden era of doo-wop and seamlessly molds the influence into something more quintessentially modern, and the breezy duet “Let’s Make Something Happen”.
“All I Wanna Do Is Love You” comes with all the punk bite and ’50s charm of Sleeping in the Aviary’s final studio record, You and Me, Ghost, while still firmly establishing Sienkowski’s singular voice. From the warped instrumentals to the song’s inherent, carefree purity, it’s never anything less than remarkable. Surging with energy, it’s the kind of adrenaline-inducing blast that captures attention. Right out of the gate, M. T. Foyer prove they’re serious contenders and seem to have a complete grip on their own identity.
Where “Let’s Make Something Happen” impresses is in the fact that it retains the identity that “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” while subverting the fundamental songwriting enough to signify that they’ll be far from a one-trick pony. Tapping into the kind of punk-tinged Americana dusting that Dusk is well on their way to perfecting, M. T. Foyer immediately expand their vision in a fairly unexpected — but entirely welcome — manner.
Both songs elevate the other, especially when packaged together. They’re impressive on their own, to be sure, but in providing such a stark, immediate contrast, the differences get enhanced. It’s a pivotal device that demonstrates not only the band’s sprawling talent but their impeccable taste. Nuanced, honest, and extraordinary, “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” and “Let’s Make Something Happen” make sure that M. T. Foyer’s introduction isn’t to be taken lightly; focus on this band and waltzing away with a whole handful of favorites is all but inevitable.
Listen to “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” and “Let’s Make Something Happen” below and keep an eye on this site for further updates on the band.
Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.
15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon
Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.
14. PWR BTTM – 1994
No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications. That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.
13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky
Just a year after barelymissing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.
12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up
The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.
11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger
Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.
10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold
“Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.
9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long
Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K.was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.
8. Hop Along – Waitress
One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.
7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs
2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.
6. Julien Baker – Go On
Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.
5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together
Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.
4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog
One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Savedto the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.
3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing
The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.
2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl
Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Dayinto one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.
1. Stove – Wet Food
No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.
There has been no shortage of outstanding music to find release over the past 12 months over a wide variety of formats. This list (which, once again, is entirely subjective and not meant to be an overarching authoritative statement) pulls from a number of curiosities: splits, vinyl-only releases, demos, and compilations. A few of these slipped through the cracks or were pulled and replaced in the past few weeks, making this one of the stranger year-end lists this site’s likely to ever run. All of those changes will be reflected and noted as they come into play. With all that and mind and a ton of material yet to come it’s high time to jump into 15 of ’15: The Best Odds and Ends of 2015.
15. Patio – Patio Songs
One of the more memorable debut efforts of 2015 also proved to be one of the most promising.Patio– a trio made up of Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Loren DiBlasi, and Alice Suh- had spent years in development. After initially starting as a joke that escalated into reality, the band finally committed some of their material to a recording- the aptly named Patio Songs– and secured a lot of word-of-mouth buzz in the process. “luxury” and “air j” both memorably demonstrate the band’s knack for wiry post-punk that comes equipped with noir-ish overtones. Don’t be surprised to see the band expand on their early successes in big ways in 2016.
14. Mean Creek – The Best of…
While a lot of bands hung up their cables over the course of 2015, it may have been the loss of Mean Creek that stung the most, simply because they were quitting because of many of the industry’s most severe flaws. Instead of caving into the pressures and demands of outside parties that wanted to model Mean Creek at will as a commercial product instead of an artistic one. When the band decided they’d had enough and were ready to take a bow, they went out in heroic fashion, issuing this best-of collection shortly before their final show. As one last rousing call to arms, the band kicks the compilation of with “Forgotten Streets“, their swan song and a rousing call to arms that provided the band with one last definitive moment.
13. PWR BTTM + Jawbreaker Reunion – Republican National Convention
Despite already having one EP under their belt, this was PWR BTTM‘s introduction at large and a searing start to what would prove to be a monumental 2015 for the duo. Jawbreaker Reunion, on the other hand, was riding a wave of critical acclaim and some early success thanks to their extraordinary full-length debut, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, which carved out an impressive ranking for this site’s Best Albums of 2014 list. Both bands turn in impressive efforts for Republican National Convention, which include the anthemic “Hold Yer Tongue” on PWR BTTM’s side and the lively “Andrew In Drag” on Jawbreaker Reunion’s, making this split a worthy entry for each of their discographies.
12. No Ruido / No Noise
Edgar Gonzalez has been a vital voice in DIY punk, social ethics, and a legion of other topics but also found time to make a mark with the curation of No Ruido / No Noise– a name-your-price compilation with the proceeds going to the family of Tamir Rice- which will likely go down as the signature release for his recently formed label, Edgar’s Friends. Several of today’s most exciting, politically-minded acts provide a track, from Priests to Perfect Pussy, finding space to include songwriters like Frankie Rose, Fred Thomas, and Radiator Hospital as well. It’s a startling collection that actually has the potential to make a difference via positive impact and that alone puts No Ruido / No Noise in a class of its own.
11. Happy Diving – So Bunted b/w My Zone
After 2014’s towering Big World, no one would have been surprised if Happy Diving had taken time to promote the record and celebrate its success. Instead, they turned around and quickly unleashed the incendiary 7″ that paired “So Bunted” with “My Zone”, each operating as an ample demonstration of the band’s distinctive blend of grunge, sludge, shoegaze, and basement pop. As bruising as they’ve ever been, Happy Diving may hav even turned in a career best with So Bunted b/w My Zone and, at the very least, have certainly demolished any lingering doubts about their levels of promise or capacity for longevity. A formidable effort by any metric, it’s a record that says everything it needs to in under five minutes and leaves an impressive mark.
10. Faux Real II
The second installment of Father/Daughter Records‘ immensely entertaining Faux Real series introduces a new collection of covers from fictional bands. An arsenal of site favorites populate Faux Real II, from Krill to Quarterbacks to LVL UP to Allison Crutchfield. Every single track on Faux Real II would be a worthy choice for an album highlight and a few of them- like Sharpless‘ explosive take on the Home Movies classic rock opera piece “Franz Kafka”- manage to wind up being unforgettable. Somehow the series once again manages to swerve away from the seeming inevitability of coming across as a novelty and transcends its premise to function as a curious look at some of the most promising emerging acts of the current moment.
9. Bruising – Emo Friends b/w Honey
Only a scant few songs into their career, Bruising have already managed to make a considerable impact. After initially forming over a Perfect Pussy t-shirt in a club, the band put together a startling run in 2015 that turned more than a few heads. Excelling in the sort of pop-laden shoegaze that bands like Joanna Gruesome have built a career in crafting, Bruising comes at their hybrid-genre in a manner that feels like their own. For their debut standalone 7″ effort (following the brilliant “Think About Death” for Art Is Hard’s Family Portrait II), the band pairs the lilting “Emo Friends” with the incendiary tones of “Honey” to create something that feels as lasting as it does immediate. If Emo Friends b/wHoney‘s is the band’s first earnest step in their career, it’s a strong enough start to warrant some serious excitement over the band’s future.
8. Meat Wave – Brother
While some would argue that this should be filed in the EP column, it’s mainly comprised of material the band had either already released on their explosive self-titled (a personal pick for one of the best releases of the 2010’s) or material that would be released on their bruising Delusion MoonLP. Every bit as frantic as its predecessor, Brotherwields the same manic approach to even sharper effect, taking Meat Wave‘s music to a place a little darker than their debut. Relentlessly aggressive and downright venomous at every turn, it’s a staggering display of force from a band that seems intent on drawing blood with every new song they release. Brother ends with a trio of songs that don’t appear on Meat Waveor Delusion Moon but, by and large, manage to carry that same level of potency, effectively rendering this an essential starter kit for the uninitiated.
7. Post-Trash: Vol. 1
Just over a month ago, the senate voted to stop federal payments to Planned Parenthood. In response, Post-Trash issued their first (incredibly massive) compilation and announced the proceeds would go to funding Planned Parenthood. It was a strong move in principle alone but the bands that they amassed for this compilation (and the songs they contributed) pushed it into sublime realms. Site favorite Eskimeaux turns in the beautiful “Act Like A Piece of Shit”, Melkbelly provide their fierce “Bathroom at the Beach”, Patio– the band that kicked that list off- offer up a song from their demo, and 50 other bands (Pile, Fern Mayo, Painted Zeros, Soft Fangs, Palehound, Eugene Quell, Sadie Dupuis, Washer, Stove, etc.) all get in on the action. Ultimately, Post-Trash: Vol. 1 is one of the year’s most intimidating compilations due to its length but it also rewards investment at a much higher rate than anything else released this year.
6. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – Soundcloud
Perhaps the most left-field inclusion on this list is simply a soundcloud page, though it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s followed my writing over the course of the year. Colin Bares has managed to impress on exceedingly high levels with his work in bands like The Cost of Living and Good Grief as well as his various solo projects (most notably The Coral Riffs). After a brief, sudden disappearance from songwriting, Bares re-emerged towards the end of 2014 and kept that momentum at high velocity throughout the course of the past 12 months, flying under the banner of The Weasel, Marten Fisher. Bares’ soundcloud became a veritable source of inspiration thanks to an eclectic blend of covers (including two devastating Cyndi Lauper takes) and a large collection of astonishing originals. Nearly all of those songs (and there are a handsome handful) are merely acoustic guitar/vocal demos but when there is a subversion from that template, like on a memorably dark Cat Power cover, the results are arresting. Keep both eyes on this page’s surprisingly frequent updates and expect to be blown away.
Listen to those songs (the 2015 run begins with “Empty Bucket List“, one of the year’s finest songs) and track The Weasel, Marten Fisher’s progress here.
5. Diet Cig – Sleep Talk b/w Dinner Date
While Over Easywas the release that rightfully jump-started Diet Cig‘s career, their finest moment in 2015 didn’t come via that EP (though it deserves it’s many year-end placements), it was their subsequent 7″ that proved their strength. “Sleep Talk“, the band’s finest song out of the few they’ve released thus far, serves as the record’s powerful A-side. Encapsulating the youthful vibrancy and excessive energy that made Over Easy such an infectious listen, it shows that the band has untapped depths with it’s gorgeous, layered outro section. From those haunting final moments, the duo pushes their music into darker territory than usual with the bruising “Dinner Date” that marries Alex Luciano’s characteristically barbed lyrics with uncharacteristically moody instrumentals that add some venom into their suddenly unrestrained menace. Packaged as a whole, Sleep Talk b/w Dinner Date is an extremely promising look at the young band’s future, definitively proving that they’re much more than a one-trick pony.
4. Sleeping in the Aviary – Young Love Is Easy
For a band that broke up a few years ago, Sleeping in the Aviary had a monster 2015. Not only did most of the band play on Mike Krol‘s exhilarating Merge Records debut (Turkey), they also joined Krol for several tours and unleashed this manic compilation of some of their finest moments, none of which ever made it to a record’s final cut. From the outset, the band’s in fine form, dishing out their punk-spiked, doo-wop-leaning basement pop songs with unapologetic intensity, unveiling some of their most vicious songs in the process. Whether they’re more tapped into their ’50s influences (“No One As Lonely As Me”), their propensity to go straight for the jugular (opener “Harder Shoulder”), or endearingly irreverent humor (the rambling, acoustic “Dick Gere”), their success rate is astounding. Over the course of their career, the band released four incredible full-lengths and an untouchable split 7″ with The Hussy so it makes sense that they’d leave behind a wealth of material but even from a pragmatic standpoint, the overwhelming strength of Young Love Is Easy is staggering, making it one of the best releases of any format to find release in 2015.
3. Dusk – (Do the) Bored Recluse b/w Too Sweet
Every project that’s been connected back to Tenement has been more than worthwhile so it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Dusk fit that bill to a tee. What’s slightly more surprising is the direction that the band’s taking, mixing flourishes of gospel with classic country influence and more than a few cues from the golden era of soul. Comparatively, the approach isn’t too dissimilar from The Band’s, it’s just been updated and provided with an additional punk-leaning bite. From the rollicking cow-punk of “(Do the) Bored Recluse” to the blue-eyed soul of “Too Sweet“, there isn’t a false move, the entire 7” just plays like a sustained series of grace notes. Both sides also feature some of the finest backing vocal arrangement in recent memory, ably showcasing the band’s impressive knack for both composition and multi-part harmonies. Equally engaging, both tracks are a clear indicator of the band’s innate charisma and sense of history. While the A-side once again taps into Amos Pitsch’s tendency to transform mundane circumstance into something worth celebrating, the B-side takes an unexpectedly romantic route. Each confirms Dusk as one of our best new acts.
2. Lost Boy ? – Canned
The last unorthodox inclusion in a list full of them is perhaps the most jarring due to the circumstances surrounding its multi-year, multi-format release. Lost Boy ?‘s Cannedwas absent from last year’s list, when it had only been released as a cassette (and, subsequently, wasn’t available to stream anywhere) and its placement here acts as a small compensation. In 2015, the band decided to roll it out as an LP, which also made it publicly available for streaming. Far and away, Lost Boy ?’s strongest work to date- in a fairly stacked discography, no less- Canned was a complete distillation of the band’s distinctive personality, spearheaded by Davey Jones. Purportedly written in the midst and aftermath of a breakdown, Jones and his band attack these songs like their lives depended on the outcome. From the snare shots on “Hollywood” to the syncopated vocal syncopation in “Bank” to the casual groove of “Hemorrhage” there’s never a moment that’s anything less than completely electrifying, solidifying Lost Boy ?’s status as one of New York’s finest bands. An arsenal of memorable riffs, tossed-off asides, and genuine emotion fuel Canned and, as a result, it’s a collection that still feels surprisingly fresh after more than a hundred listens. Canned wasn’t just one of the best releases of 2014, it was one of the best of 2015 as well.
1. Mercury Girls – Demos & Live Songs
No debut effort this year resonated quite like Mercury Girls’ immediately memorable Demos and Live Songs collection, which saw them fall effortlessly into the c86/Slumberland model of punk-informed powerpop. Close to everything on this release is near-flawless, issuing one pop gem after another at an alarming rate. From the dream-pop tones that permeate “Golden” to the band’s incredibly tight-knit live recordings, it’s abundantly clear that they’ve studied their multi-tiered genres’ ancestry in great detail. Everything on Demos & Live Songs works to an airy perfection, firmly establishing the band’s identity and suggesting that whenever their first full-length drops it’ll be met with waves of acclaim. While it’s easy to imagine the band being fairly successful from a commercial standpoint (especially in the terms of such a niche genre), it’s even more apparent that Mercury Girls are built for success- potentially to an intimidating degree- from a critical standpoint at well. Immediate, accessible, and extraordinarily tantalizing, they’ve harnessed something that comes across as surprisingly singular. That aspect of their music will go a long way in helping the band stand out in a field that feels increasingly overcrowded, likely ensuring their spot on several year-end lists to come.
Over the course of the past 100 posts, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time living in Brooklyn and rejoining some of my oldest friends (and family) in central Wisconsin while working on various records and tours. A lot more time than usual has elapsed since the last 100 post update and this one for a variety of reasons and yielded an even more substantial amount of material than usual, including a wealth of CMJ coverage. Now in it’s second year, there’s still new developments being made for the site as everything else continues to evolve naturally. At the last 50-post interval, I ran a mixtape for fall. Now, I’ll be turning my attention to the winter as we stare into its cold, unforgiving face. Just as fall has aspects that can be characterized through music (autumnal tones, the confrontation of mortality, bruised romanticism, etc), winter has its own set of unique traits.
While it’s true there’s an inherent sadness that’s attached to winter (suicide projections skyrocket, SAD takes full effect, and illness percentages elevate considerably), there’s also an inherent warmth. Blizzards hit and the strongest defense becomes warm drinks, companionship, and additional heat- all of which carry a connotation that directly connects with the various trials the season presents. Even the most grizzled cynic can find some comfort in the comforting embrace of an additional blanket. As the scene outside falls victim to uncompromising temperatures, violent winds, and patches of black ice, the transformation can become oddly compelling when paired with the right music. Below’s mix includes 25 songs that elevate the startlingly vivid nature of even the bleakest winter landscapes, complementing their strange, surprisingly emotional dichotomies. Whether you’re curled up under a blanket watching the snow fall, layered up and exploring the outdoors, or simply trying to make sense of the sudden change, this is your soundtrack.
Listen to Wrap Up Warm via the embed below and find its tracklist underneath the player. Beneath the tracklist, explore hyperlinks to the site’s past 100 posts. Enjoy.
1. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome 2. The Antlers – Kettering 3. Nicole Dollanganger – A Marvelous Persona 4. Wolfs – Leading Me Back To You 5. Bent Denim – Good Night’s Sleep 6. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle 7. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold 8. Okkervil River – A Glow 9. Angel Olsen – White Fire 10. Sleeping in the Aviary – You’re A Party 11. Young Jesus – Milo 12. Eskimeaux – That’s OK 13. Elliott Smith – I Didn’t Understand
14. Why? – Eskimo Snow 15. Girlpool – Dear Nora 16. Infinity Crush – Heaven 17. Hop Along – Happy To See Me 18. Waxahatchee – Noccalula 19. Jason Isbell – Elephant 20. Eluvium – An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death 21. Johanna Warren – We Fell 22. S – Remember Love 23. DeYarmond Edison – Silent Signs 24. Joanna Newsom – Does Not Suffice 25. Yowler – The Offer
As always, hyperlinks to the site’s last 100 posts are included below.
Just a handful of weeks ago, this site was singing the praises of Mike Krol‘s latest effort while dissecting the enigmatic songwriter’s curious history of rotating backing bands. A little over a week ago, he brought himself and his latest group of misfits to Baby’s All Right. Before they took the stage, Dead Painters delivered a set built momentum as it went along, hitting several sweet spots along the way and converting more than a few uninitiated audience members (myself included). Before too long, Krol and everyone with him on this tour, started frantically setting up an impressive assortment of props around the perimeter of the stage.
After a brief recess and with an array of barbed wire, flood lights, strobe lights, police lights, and pedals meticulously fixed to the stage, Krol and four other members (three of which came from the sorely missed Sleeping in the Aviary) suddenly appeared in near-blackness. One foot stomp on a pedal that triggered all of the lights going off simultaneously revealed each member in full police officer attire (true to the image that Turkey‘s album art boldly presented). From that point forward, the band were a blur, careening through a discography-encompassing set with reckless abandon. Suddenly, it was a surreal cops vs. prisoners scenario where the dividing lines were continuously blurred as artist and audience fed off of each other’s incessant, insistent level(s) of energy.
Songs came at a rapid-fire pace and nearly everything in Krol’s impressive collection found representation. Everyone in the band seemed like they were trying to tear their way out of their own skin, never showing any signs of fatigue, skewing closer to a startlingly pure state of delirium. A little past the set’s mid-way point, Baby’s lights person decided to get in on the action, triggering flashes of the venue’s iconic LED backdrop, much to Krol’s excitement. By the evening’s frenzied conclusion, both the band’s lights and the venue’s lights were firing on all cylinders while Krol and his band lost themselves to their own maelstrom of limbs.
As “Less Than Together” gave way to a clever guitar-driven reprise that echoed Turkey‘s closing number, the audience was already clamoring for an encore. On the whole, it was one of the mot well-received sets I’ve ever seen at the venue; on it’s own, it was the single most memorable standalone set I’ve seen take place on that stage. Anyone that has the chance to see this band play a date on this tour should immediately make it a priority or resign themselves to kicking themselves for years to come. This was one for the books.
Watch a collection of live videos from the show below and explore a photo gallery of the evening here.
For years, Krol’s been involved with the DIY punk scene in the upper Midwest and found himself in frequent collaboration with the tragically under-appreciated (and sadly defunct) Minneapolis-via-Madison act Sleeping in the Aviary. It’s a collaboration that continues today (several of the band’s former members play on Krol’s upcoming Merge debut Turkey), which probably isn’t surprising considering how frequently they toured together (Sleeping in the Aviary was Krol’s backing band on more than one occasion) and the fact that Sleeping in the Aviary literally dedicated a song to Krol in its title on one of the best split 7″ records of the 2000’s.
Already a few great releases into his career, Krol’s deal with Merge has ensured a lot more eyes will be trained on his next few moves and so far, the songwriter hasn’t disappointed. After “This Is the News“, Turkey‘s fiery as hell lead-off track, it was abundantly clear that Krol’s wielding more power than ever- and doing it with an almost vengeful force. For his latest feat, he’s enlisted Rob Hatch-Miller and Puloma Basu to direct a screwball clip for Turkey highlight “Neighborhood Watch”. Adopting a vocal approach that has some uncanny similarities to Davey Jones of Lost Boy ? makes “Neighborhood Watch” sound immediately familiar (and endlessly enjoyable) on record, it’s the clip that pushes it over the edge. Emphasizing Krol’s penchant for irreverence and incorporating a barrage of winking edits, “Neighborhood Watch” infuses itself with enough self-effacing slapstick to make it one of 2015’s more enjoyable outings. For some tongue-in-cheek humor and yet another genuinely great song, this one’s going to be hard to beat.
Watch “Neighborhood Watch” below and pre-order Turkey from Merge here.
“2015 has been a monstrous year for new music”, or some deviation of that phrase, has become a refrain that continues to gain strength as the year progresses. We’ve already tackled a long list of the first quarter full lengths that captured our attention but, as is the case with any year, April afforded a chance to get caught up on some titles while the new ones kept emerging. I genuinely wish I had the time to go over all of these titles in details (and I may wind up expanding on a few of them when December rolls around) but, unfortunately, time’s proving to be a cruel factor. Over the first four months of the year, I was committed to a full-time position and then navigated the slow exit from that position in order to pursue a move to Brooklyn. During that time span, I was collecting everything as it appeared and began to pitch out to larger publications. At one point I was working an average of 75 hours a week. I made sure to never lose sight of new music and began compiling a list of the things I came across that I genuinely loved.
Whether it be something regional like Strange Relations’ -Centrism, something highly publicized like METZ’s II, any number of records from bands that have earned the tag “site favorite” (Speedy Ortiz, Sheer Mag, Purple 7, Courtney Barnett, Mikal Cronin, etc), or something that should have picked up more press than it did (Mittenfield’s Optimists, Bent Denim’s Romances You, etc), there were a lot of records that deserved to be fully featured. Hell, there are even a handful that are going to be running on the ensuing post- but 75 already feels like a scary number for one list. That being the case, it’ll be impossible for someone to listen through to all of these titles in one sitting. It’s best left as a bookmark, something to return to for the purpose of exploring. It’s a list that isn’t restricted to just one genre, it covers close to the entire gamut of the styles of music that regularly get featured on this site, meaning you’re bound to find something you love buried in the wealth of titles.
So, explore at will. Buy the titles that catch your ear and keep celebrating great art.
In one of the more recent pieces to run on here, I bid adieu to a camera that’s served me well over the years. There were vague allusions to various sets that I’ve been lucky enough to catch with that camera scattered throughout the piece- and while this may be dangerously close to tipping into the self-serving spectrum I do my best to avoid on here (and the fact that the audio quality is far from the best), it only seemed appropriate to showcase a few of the more memorable captures over the years. To that end, this installment of Watch This will likely wind up as the one the more unique entries in the series. One last look at the past before pushing towards what’s ahead.
It’s never to fulfill a sense of pride, it’s never for bragging rights, it’s always, in each and every instance, to support an artist that I love or that deserves as much support as they can possibly get. Established or not, this is my way of giving thanks and hopefully extending their music out to other places that may never have heard them otherwise. This holds true for my writing on Heartbreaking Bravery as well. One of the most important things anyone can do is support the art they believe in and this place will always live by that law. So, watch this or don’t, but it’ll always be here as both a reminder of some very personal memories and a showcase for some bands who deserved more attention than they ever received. Sit back, support local music, support local music, support local music, support local music (SERIOUSLY, SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC), and Watch This.
1. Tenement – Morning Mouth (Live at the Afterdark)
This video will be the only one that actually predates the Canon PowerShot I’d been using to shoot these videos over the past several years (this set was shot on a low-end handheld Sony camcorder), it’s included because it serves as a beginning for a myriad of things: my introduction to Tenement (who would subsequently open up an entire world of music to me through their kindness), the beginnings of when I became serious about film, and the start of when I became serious about booking shows. Their five-song set, to a crowd of people they invited up onto a small stage to make them feel more at home, blew my mind and has stuck with me for approximately six years now. My opinion on this band hasn’t changed as I’ve filmed set after set after set, year in and year out- they’re one of the best, if not the absolute best, band currently going. I’ll forever be grateful to them for a number of reasons and delivering this set will always be one of them.
2. Good Grief – Holy Smokes! (Live in Stevens Point, WI) There isn’t always a lot of options for live music in the middle of nowhere but at the height of Good Grief’s run, there were a few spells where there seemed to be an incredible show happening every other week. I attended every single one I possibly could, not just because of an undying love for live music and the DIY community but because Good Grief had tapped into something genuinely special during their time as a band. It was evidenced by the mass basement singalongs, by Mutts coming all the way from Chicago to play an unforgettable cover of a song from their final record, by the people who had little to no connection with the band who showed up at nearly every show- right up through their final marathon set at K Bueno (this is a band that will likely always have the distinction of being the only one I ever see tearing things up inside of a Shopko that was giving away free hot dogs, chips, and soda)- with a smile on their face and a beer in their hands, and by the fact that more times than not, the first time I would hear a song played for the first time, I would get chills (“Lab Rats” is still one of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard and a lock as an entry for my 50 Favorite Songs of All Time list). “Holy Smokes!” was never officially recorded, as far as I know this is the only known recording of it, which is why it takes this spot on the list- a look at some incredible music, and some incredible musicians, that too much of the world missed out on.
3. Midnight Reruns – Too Tall (Live at Frank’s Power Plant)
Like Tenement before them, this was the first time I saw Midnight Reruns (coincidentally, if anyone asks me who I think the best bands in the state are, those are usually the first two names out of my mouth) and even just a few minutes into the first song, it was apparent it’d be far from the last. They tore that place to shreds and threw out a fiery Wreckless Eric cover in the middle of an all-out blitz of a set that showcased Graham Hunt’s beyond-his-years songwriting ability and the band’s undeniable musicianship. They’ve (somehow) only steadily improved since then and have built an impressive expanding fanbase including members of The Replacements, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ThirdCoastDigest, BrooklynVegan, and Milwaukee Record, who just ranked their debut s/t (still less than half a year old) as the 16th best record to come out of Milwaukee since 2010. Word on the street is the material they’re currently working on blows even that out of the water. Keep both eyes out and both ears open for this one.
4. Sleeping in the Aviary – So Lonely (Live in Stevens Point, WI) Apart from Good Grief, Used Kids, The Goodnight Loving, and Hot New Mexicans (especially The Goodnight Loving and Hot New Mexicans), there are few bands that can come even remotely close to Sleeping in the Aviary as far as the “bands I wish would reunite” conversation goes. The only places I ever saw Sleeping in the Aviary play, curiously enough considering their level of name recognition, were basements (with one surprisinglytouchingexception being the vinyl LP release party for Expensive Vomit In A Cheap Hotel at the High Noon Saloon, thrown five years after the records initial release) . In one way or another, I was a part of each and every one of those shows and they wound up being a few of the most memorable nights of my life thanks to both the people around me and Sleeping in the Aviary themselves. Ever the manic pranksters, they would usually come armed with cardboard cutouts, bubble machines, various props, or adult-themed piñatas. They’d also always play with a reckless abandon and unparalleled fierceness while still clinging onto a carefree nature and clearly having the time of their lives doing it. Kyle Sobczak was a late addition to the group but provided them with a few of their most memorable songs in their final stretch. “So Lonely” is one of them- and, as mentioned before, being in the middle of nowhere means that when a basement show happens with a band of Sleeping in the Aviary’s caliber comes to play, things tend to go off the rails pretty quickly. No one has seen the regular lead personality, Elliott Kozel, since he disappeared into that crowd… (entirely untrue as clearly evidenced in the video- but still, a great myth to try to start).
5. Charley & the Cynics – St. Christopher (Live at the Crunchy Frog)
Writing an In Memoriam piece for Charlotte was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I debated whether or not to include this as the fifth slot or keep it stored away due to its extremely personal nature but I realized that the few videos I did manage to capture of Charley & the Cynics during her time here had a profound effect on why I kept filming and knew it had to occupy this spot. After her untimely passing it was next to impossible to bring myself to watch the videos of her that I’d previously put up out of both respect and unfailing admiration. It’s not like I knew Charlotte all that well; I won’t pretend I did and I won’t glamorize her or try to turn her into some flawless saintly figure. I did know her well enough, though- well enough to consider her a friend and well enough to know that she was a generally positive person who always seemed to treat others with both care and affection, which is something I try to extend to everyone that gets coverage on this site. After enough time had passed, I could watch these videos without needing to spend a night drinking afterwards and I realized that they’re the crux of why I film to begin with: to celebrate the people and music I love while they’re around. Ever since the full extent of that realization hit me, these videos of Charlotte have factored into every time I’ve plugged in a camera charger, every time I’ve replaced an SD card, every time I’ve spent hours making sure an upload doesn’t crash, every time I’ve pointed a lens at a stage, she has been there as a reminder to capture the things that are important while you still can. That lesson is something I’ve carried with me every day and something that’s been a part of the majority of my decisions within music journalism. For that and for all the times I’ve been reminded of that, I’m thankful- and I keep filming.