Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Steven Spoerl

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

HB1000: A Step Forward (Compilation)

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When I started Heartbreaking Bravery nearly three years ago, I had no intention of pursuing it as a legitimate venture. Now, 1,000 posts, 50,000+ links, and countless words later, the site’s come to be the type of platform I’ve always loved seeing in the world. I could attempt to wax poetic on the nature of personal discovery and growth that running this place has afforded me but Heartbreaking Bravery was never about a single person, it’s always functioned best as a communal entity.

The ideas that formed the basic structure of Heartbreaking Bravery all came from artists producing exceptional work with little recognition. Repeatedly watching that transaction occur proved too disheartening. Whether it was the earliest years of Tenement, the later years of Good Grief, or virtually the entire run of Sleeping in the Aviary, there were always ceaselessly talented artists surrounding me that only ever seemed to receive the slightest of nods.

Heartbreaking Bravery originally aimed — and continues to aim — to provide a more level playing field to emerging artists, without reducing their worth to financial opportunity. Heartbreaking Bravery continues to value the community and intimacy that informs the DIY music world. Heartbreaking Bravery will continue to use the platform it’s been granted to elevate the idea of greater equality.

It’s in that spirit that I’m honored to present A Step Forward, a two-volume compilation spanning 100 tracks that exclusively features artists who are connected to this site’s history. Whether that was through a long history of collaboration or something as small as a twitter follow, the impact was not lost or left unappreciated. There’s a heavy emphasis on artists residing in the cities and states Heartbreaking Bravery has called home (Stevens Point, WI and Brooklyn, NY) and a small selection of songs that were premiered on this site.

100% of the proceeds of A Step Forward will be going to Rape Victim Advocates, a non-profit Chicago-based organization that’s doing vital (and, sadly, necessary) work for survivors of sexual assault. Read more about the organization here. It’s my sincerest hope that every publication that has the privilege of visibility manages to find ways to use any of their influence for productive good and to affect positive change. Please consider donating what you can to a meaningful cause.

Finally, I wanted to express gratitude to all of the artists (and any of their teams) involved — including the inimitable Phil McAndrew, who turned in the extraordinary album art — and all of the people that have allowed, even willed, this site to the point it’s at today. It likely would have disappeared without that support and I owe those people a debt of gratitude that could never be truly repaid. A special thanks to Fred Thomas, whose “What Changes When The Costumes Come Off” was written with the specifics of A Step Forward in mind.

Enjoy the compilation, support independent art, and join me, this site, these artists, and this cause in taking A Step Forward.

Tracklist below.

A Step Forward: Vol. 1*

1. Vacation – Caked Joy Rag (Demo)
2. Mike Krol – Neighborhood Watch (Demo)
3. Dead Stars – So Strange (Demo)
4. Mo Troper – After the Movies (Demo)
5. Fern Mayo – The Sweets (Demo)
6. Hater – Like Hours (Demo)
7. Sharkmuffin – Only Mondays (Demo)
8. Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day (Demo)
9. Missy – Patience (Demo)
10. Kodakrome – Skeletons (Demo)
11. Slight – Run (Demo)
12. Long Neck – Goldfinch (Demo)
13. Phyllis Ophelia – Probably Not (Demo)
14. Lever – Cure (Demo)
15. Puppy Problems – Destroyer (Demo)
16. Battle Ave. – Black Jeans (Demo)
17. Yours Are The Only Ears – Alone Bear (Demo)
18. Attendant – Some Other Language (Demo)
19. MKSEARCH – Little Song (Demo)
20. Sulky Boy – Birches (Demo)
21. Heavy Looks – Those Guys (Demo)
22. darn it. – (again) pt. II
23. Phooey! – On an On
24. Arm Candy – Big Clunker
25. DTCV – Le Vampire
26. Clearance – The Queen of Eyes
27. Leggy – I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy
28. Big Air – Hit Me in the Mouth
29. Terry Malts – Look (At the Mess That We’re In)
30. Ubetcha – Musician
31. Two Inch Astonaut – Suckers Share
32. Whelpwisher – Bucket for the Sky
33. Petite League – Magic Johnson
34. The Meltaways (ft. Kate M) – Wrong Words
35. Calumet – Indian Summer
36. Mulligrub – Little Fist
37. Ben Seretan – Stay In Touch
38. Mumblr – Friendship Stew
39. Human People – Useless Things
40. Bethlehem Steel – Florida Two
41. Painted Zeros – Sweet Briar Rose
42. Spit – Paul Westerberg
43. Crusher – Running
44. Pupppy – Stand By Me
45. Aberdeen – Once You Fall In Love
46. Tica Douglas – Enough
47. Peaer – Multiverse
48. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – What Is Love
49. Young Jesus – Mirroring
50. Space Mountain – Earthrise

A Step Forward: Vol. II*

1. Bellows – Bank Checks
2. Cave Curse – Arcadia
3. Fred Thomas – What Changes When the Costumes Come Off
4. Apollo Vermouth – He Sees You, He Loves You
5. Green Dreams – Psychic Woes (Alternate Mix)
6. Lost Boy ? – Have You Seen My Brain (Space Cat Sessions)
7. Mikaela Davis – Pure Divine Love (Early Mix)
8. Nano Kino – Recovery (Early Mix)
9. Trophy Dad – Addison (Early Mix)
10. Alanna McArdle – Less Than (Early Mix)
11. VVHILE – Don’t Belong (Live)
12. Liam Betson – Mispronounced (Live)
13. BAG-DAD – Bruv (Live)
14. Slothrust – Keg Party (Live)
15. The Nudes – Nowhere to Be
16. Sat. Nite Duets – Cemetery Steve
17. Slanted – Fake Party
18. Patio – Gold
19. Greys – No Star
20. No Hoax – Date With Death
21. Dirty Dishes – Red Roulette
22. Yeesh – On Some Dirt
23. Pile – Cut From First Other Tape
24. Even Hand – Nightsmoke the Fuss
25. PURPLE 7 – Wise Up
26. Bad Wig – Machinehead
27. Mary Lynn – Space
28. Pleistocene – CMJ Compilation 1996
29. Color TV – Anybody’s Girl
30. Jacky Boy – Bad
31. Trust Fund – Would That Be An Adventure?
32. Good Grief – City People
33. Adir L.C. – Hangover
34. Milk Crimes – H8RZ
35. À La Mode – Total Doom
36. Inside Voices – Nomad: Begin
37. Doe – Corin
38. Kindling – Became
39. Bueno – Blown Out
40. Horse Teeth – Dark & Gloomy
41. Ron Gallo – Put the Kids to Bed
42. Sun’s Out Bummed Out – Cut All My Hair
43. Eric Slick – The Dirge
44. Fruit & Flowers – Turqoise
45. Shilpa Ray – Hymn
46. Jack – Sister System
47. Strange Ranger – Whatever You Say
48. Johanna Warren – A Bird in the Crocodile’s Mouth
49. Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
50. Fresh Snow – Eat Me In St. Louis (Bryan W. Bray – Eaten by the Cetacean Mix)

Vol. I

Tracks 1-21: Demos
Tracks 22-50: New Songs

Vol. II

Tracks 1-4: New Songs (cont’d)
Tracks 5-14: Alternate Mixes and Live Songs
Tracks 15-49: Old Favorites
Track 50: Remix

 

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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Before I dive into what made 2015 such an incredible year for me on a personal level, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge all of the contributor’s to this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories: Loren DiBlasi, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Sabyn Mayfield, Nicola Leel, Lindsay Hazen, Tica Douglas, Fred Thomas, Phil McAndrew, Isabel Reidy, Jessica Leach, Sami Martasian, Ben Grigg, Amanda Dissinger, Bella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris Sutter, John Rossiter, Cole Kinsler, Megan Manowitz, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen Tringali, Alisa Rodriguez, Toby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Lily Mastrodimos, Jerard Fagerberg, Athylia Paremski, Eric Slick, David Glickman, and Ryan Wizniak. All of your interest, support, and contributions mean the world to me (more on that below).

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The 12 months that comprised last year were among the most rewarding, the most challenging, and the most outright surreal I’ve experienced in my 26 years of existence. Narrowing it down to one defining moment proved to be a laughable impossibility for me so I’ve taken a cue from several of this edition’s contributors and decided to focus on a series of moments rather than one overarching event.

Before getting to those, though, it’s worth mentioning several of the smallest moments that have managed to stick in my memory. That list goes as follows: drinking tea on the roof of DBTS with Greg Rutkin as we watched the sun rise on my first morning in Brooklyn, looking up a few months later only to suddenly realize that Rutkin, Krill‘s Aaron Ratoff, and myself were all having a half-absent living room jam session, eating bagels on the sidewalk at the crack of dawn with Saintseneca after spending the previous night getting ridiculous at Rocka Rolla, feeling a surge of pride watching Patio play their first show, and getting recognized by Rob Sheffield and Simon Vozick-Levinson (two writers who I’ve admired for years).

Additionally: being pulled further and further into the world of Ronnie Stone, spending an afternoon kicking around with Bad Wig (a WI band made up of people I’ve considered family for years), watching Tenement continue their steady ascension on their own terms, all of the shows I saw that don’t get mentioned in the space below, walking through one of Martin Scorsese’s sets for VINYL with Glueboy‘s Coby Chafets (who was an absolute joy to have as both an NYC guide and as a roommate), being absolutely destroyed by an overwhelming sense of familliarity at a morning screening of The End of the Tour which I was fortune enough to take in with Chandler Levack (one of my favorite directors), and becoming a member of Film Independent.

Further still: getting hugged by Eskimeaux‘s Gabrielle Smith before I could even get out a formal introduction, having Girlpool‘s Harmony Tividad tell me she knew how to spell my last name right after we first met, spending a perfect evening getting to know Callan Dwan (who I’ve been messaging every Sunday since we first met) and Casey Weissbuch following one of their shows playing alongside Mitski, receiving a drunken group phone call from my closest hometown friends on the Fourth of July, and finding the fortune to be a recipient of the continuous support of both Exploding In Sound‘s Dan Goldin and Father/Daughter‘s Jessi Frick.

As well as: feeling completely at ease working doors for both Baby’s All Right and Elvis Guesthouse (a task made even more enjoyable by the welcoming presence of Alex Lilienfeld), spending my first week in Brooklyn waking up to the sounds of Felix Walworth meticulously tracking the forthcoming Told Slant record, and traveling to the twin cities with one of the bands I play bass in — A Blue Harbor — to track Troubled Hearts (and holding the cassette for the first time, suddenly realizing I’d just completed something that had been on my bucket list for over a decade).

And finally: Watching members of Lost Boy ? and Titus Andronicus close out a show at Shea Stadium with a set of on-the-fly Neil Young covers, taking in Exploding in Sound’s Extended Weekend celebration (and being floored by Stove‘s performance of “Wet Food” and — as always — Pile‘s “Special Snowflakes“), feeling a deep sense of camaraderie and an inkling of pride during AdHoc’s Carwash showcase, seeing Used Kids come inches away from reuniting at The Acheron (their only full-length remains quintessential summer listening) during a show that also saw Jeff Bolt manning the kit for Benny the Jet Rodriguez, and spending half a year living in a city where a handful of people actually seemed to care about the work I’d been doing with this very site.

I could go on and on (and on) about the overwhelming bevvy of small moments that I continue to look back on with great fondness or wax ecstatic about the steps taken in 2015 to ensure a more inclusive climate in the music industry (while still recognizing there’s a long way to go) but, after a while, that would become tedious for just about anyone (myself included). Rest assured, there are several more paragraph’s worth of those moments and the scope of the portrait they illustrate would be overwhelming. As is likely evidenced above, it was tremendously difficult for me to pare down what moment stood out most in my chaotic run through 2015 and left me with no less than a dozen absurdly strong candidates.

While a dozen may seem overly self-indulgent, it’s my belief that these 12 moments form the most complete representation of my year. Most of them are connected to my time spent living in Brooklyn (a city that I came to love and hope to return to as a resident), which helped me not only shape my identity but — possibly for the first time — feel a strong sense of validity in my work. 2015 may have been made up of 12 months but the 5+ I spent living in Brooklyn produced 12 of my favorite moments. All of them are covered below.

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Montana & the Marvelles Play In Secret

The first time I remember realizing that I was exactly where I wanted to be was, unsurprisingly, at DBTS. I’d been sleeping on couches for a few days there by that point and getting the swing of the city while navigating my way through a handful of Northside showcases. During that first run, the place was buzzing with both anxiety and excitement over a secret wedding celebration that they were going to be throwing for a close friend. Champagne had been bought in bulk, balloons had been floated to the ceiling, a disco ball had been set in motion, a taco line had been prepared, and a root beer float setup was at the ready by the time the event was set into motion.

Everyone had been told to dress to the tens and looked the part. At that point, I still felt like an interloper was getting increasingly comfortable with my new surroundings. Nearly everyone I’d been introduced to had been extremely welcoming and the first group of people that had made a kind gesture were Montana & the Marvelles, who were wrapping up a rehearsal when I first stepped foot inside of DBTS. The wedding celebration was their first public appearance and they tore into it with a ferocious sense of determination, delivering a handful of great covers in the process.

Watching them that night and looking around at everyone who came out to celebrate reminded me of why I made the decision to move; no other place is as facilitating of those kinds of events (or moments). By the time the band hit their finale — an explosive, joyous cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” — I was overcome with gratitude and decided, for once, to stop filming and dance. It was also the first of many nights I had that led to everyone taking in the summer night’s breezes on the DBTS rooftop, where I put the finishing touches on my introduction packet for the band. As a whole, it remains one of the times where I felt like I’d actually found a place where I belonged.

Charly Bliss I

Charly Bliss Makes A Formal Introduction at Northside

One of the bands I was most excited to meet at the outset of my move was Charly Bliss, who had topped my EP’s list in 2014. No person had been trying to persuade me to make the move more than their guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks, who had been unbelievably supportive of what I’d been doing prior to my discovery of Charly Bliss (that this note had no bearing on the band becoming one of my absolute favorites made the prospect of meeting even sweeter).

I’d been walking around Brooklyn with a few people from DBTS before the Father/Daughter Northside showcase was scheduled to start and had fielded several excited messages from Hendricks before we ran into each other on a street outside of Shea Stadium. Everyone was happy to see everyone else and Hendricks nearly pulled me to the ground with a hug that neither of us broke until after a full minute had passed. After a long round of catching up, the showcase kicked off in earnest and featured a handful of great performances from bands worth their salt.

Charly Bliss closed the night out and opened their set with the still-unreleased “Percolator“, with Jessi Frick firing off streamers at the climactic point of the introduction, providing a moment that felt transcendental. Surrounded by people I loved, seeing a band I’d granted an endless amount of praise (who were then in the process of becoming one of my favorite live acts at a terrifying pace), and being in the presence of both for the first time was an invigorating jolt that moved me more than just about anything else I experienced in 2015. 

Jason Isbell Pulls the Sun Down at Prospect Park

Jason Isbell‘s an artist that I don’t frequently write about on this space — his stature guarantees him press from so many other outlets already — but genuinely love (and have since my first listen of Drive-By Truckers’ classic Decoration Day). For several summers myself and my friend (and frequent bandmate) Jake Wetuski would take out our guitars and cover Isbell songs with each other, trading leads or playing together. When I found out that Isbell would be playing Prospect Park for the free Celebrate Brooklyn series, I jumped at the chance.

A solo train ride over had me thinking about all of the ways my life had changed that summer, about how I spent most of the flight from O’Hare to LaGuardia listening to Southeastern, about how I was already pining for the company of certain people but finally becoming content with my place in the world. The sounds of Dawn Landes‘ set guided me through Prospect Park to the stage, where I immediately found a place with a good view of the stage that didn’t obstruct or impede anyone else’s view.

Less than forty minutes later, Isbell was setting up on stage and announcing that his wife and bandmate, Amanda Shires, wouldn’t be joining them because she was expecting the arrival of their newborn in the following week. Gleaming with pride and amping up the “aw, shucks” Southern charm, Isbell took advantage of an absolutely perfect spring night and delivered a deeply heartfelt set of material that I’d been waiting years to see in a live setting. It only took about half of a set before I had to fight back tears, as an adoring crowd exploded with applause in the middle of a mesmerizing performance of “Cover Me Up” in response to a key line about sobering up, showering the songwriter with a tremendous display of affection, support, and actual love.

After the sun set and the crowd had exploded in frantic applause after Isbell’s landmark set, he returned to the stage. By that point, the sun had set and no one was making a push for the exit. The band returned, one at a time, slowly locking into “Danko/Manuel“, a song he penned for the Drive-By Truckers as a tribute to the influential members of The Band.

As the song opened with “let the night air cool you off”, it felt as if everything outside of that moment had ceased mattering; this was Isbell’s triumphant 2015 run hitting an apex and seeing a talent like that find the audience and respect he’d so richly deserved for close to 15 years was beyond heartening. Few things gave me as much hope for the future as that specific moment, one that offered up definitive proof that hard work, dedication, and sheer artistry can be rewarded in the way they deserve.

With Isbell’s vocals floating off into the distance, beyond the sea of people seated on blankets in the grass behind the main area, I found something resembling faith and knew that in both New York and Wisconsin, I’d surrounded myself with the right people, people I believed in, and that no matter the slew of hardships I may have to face, that they’d ultimately guide me to the right place. I stayed in that park, staring at that stage, for as long as I was allowed, before removing myself from the spot where I knew I’d wind up okay.

“Doomsday” Lives Up To Its Name at Pier 84

Another free, outdoor show I had the good fortune of attending saw Weyes Blood, Speedy Ortiz, and Waxahatchee joining forces for a mid-day show on a pier in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. After a quick stroll through Times Square, I headed for the pier and met up with a handful of my closest friends who were listening to strains of Weyes Blood as they enjoyed a makeshift picnic. Before long, Weyes Blood’s set had ended, more friends had made their presence known, and everyone was milling around the front of the stage, taking in both the sunlight and the river’s breeze.

Before Speedy Ortiz’s set started, the weather very quickly became downcast and quietly threatening. Underneath that stormy backdrop, Speedy Ortiz kicked off one of their most impassioned sets to date. I’ve had a range of experiences with Speedy Ortiz over the past few years but none of them quite matched the way that their performance of “Doomsday” affected me on that pier. “Doomsday” has always hit me hard (it’s an easy song-of-the-decade candidate for me) but when Sadie Dupuis and Darl Ferm started into it that day and rain started coming down (and then picking up as the song progressed), it felt otherworldly.

Something in that performance seemed to ignite something in Speedy Ortiz, who seemed to be channeling a series of pent-up frustrations into a staggering set that culminated with a weather-damaged instrumental freakout as the sky was split open by cracks of lightning that appeared over the Hudson River. By then the crowd had dwindled to a select few brave souls who managed to withstand the torrential downpour.

Waxahatchee’s set was, unfortunately, cancelled due to the weather but I lucked into a fitting epilogue via a bowling-quest-turned-diner-adventure with A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Gabriela June Tully Claymore, her fellow Stereogum writer James Rettig, and a few friends. Desperately trying to get dry using a bathroom hand-dryer, I found myself unable to suppress a shit-eating grin, knowing full well I was wrapping up a day worth talking about for years to come.  

Johanna Warren V

Johanna Warren Serenades the Skyline

I saw Johanna Warren three times in 2015, each one differing radically from the other. The first was an hour from my hometown, where I drove to profile her for Consequence of Second. The second time was a basement show that presented a whole host of memorable moments from my introduction to harpist Mikaela Rose Davis (and the spine-tingling Elliott Smith cover she used to soundcheck) to the fabric of a mothering station getting licked by the flame of a few too many candles and interrupting a performance art piece that saw a woman strip naked, consume her own blood from an IV bag, and spit it back out onto a row of carefully arranged flowers in mason jars.

As wild as that basement show was, Warren’s last-minute performance on a rootop overlooking the skylines of both Brooklyn and Manhattan was the one that stood out most. After the show’s original location notified Warren that they’d discovered they had a bed bug infestation the day before her set was scheduled, a group of people worked extremely hard to locate a new venue. Fortunately, Damon Stang had open space on the top of his apartment complex.

Only a dozen or so people showed up, all apparently friends of Warren’s, contributing even greater intimacy to an already intimate evening. An assortment of wine, liquor, and bakery items were all up for grabs and everyone quietly talked among themselves as night swiftly descended, providing Warren with a suitably quiet backdrop. Lit by only the lights of the city and operating without a microphone, Warren delivered a haunting set to a captivated audience that reveled in the majestic sweep of the backdrop, the performance, the night itself, and the experience as a whole. Unexpected and surprisingly moving, it saw Warren fully realizing the effect of music as a healing agent and close a few wounds in the process.     

PWR BTTM Hands Out Ugly Cherries

One of the first bands I ran into after moving to Brooklyn was PWR BTTM, who would very quickly become close friends. They’re people that I’m continuously grateful to have in my life and it’s been an honor to get to know the band’s members. I was very quickly drawn to them for not just their music but their outspoken stance on their values (and their willingness to make them so abundantly clear in any applicable scenario). For all of those reasons and many more, I was tremendously excited to be at their release show for Ugly Cherries, one of my favorite records of 2015.

Charly BlissEva Hendricks had baked a gigantic batch of cupcakes adorned with cherries for the occasion, guitarist/vocalist (and occasional drummer) Benjamin Hopkins had hidden the evening’s outfit away at a thrift store for weeks before claiming it prior to the show, and the opening lineup of Kississippi, Fern Mayo, and Charly Bliss was suitably stacked. The parents of a few of the bands were in attendance and Silent Barn was unbelievably packed.

Three strong sets into the evening and a visibly nervous Hopkins was setting up on stage as drummer (and occasional guitarist/vocalist) Liv Bruce adjusted the kit. I’d seen PWR BTTM a handful of times leading up to that show but none of those sets were adequate preparation for the outpouring of energy from both the band and the audience of their set that night, which felt as much like a celebration as it did a victory lap. Amid screams of “I love you” and “you’re amazing”, PWR BTTM’s songs took on the magnitude of anthems and were, appropriately, granted the requisite scream-a-longs by a dedicated and devoted audience.

For all the moments of blistering energy, disarming sincerity, and delightfully irreverent snark, one of the moments that’s stayed with me was the unveiling of a new song that saw Hopkins pick up a bass and deliver a tender ballad about feeling completely dismantled by different forms of slight abuse, causing Charly Bliss’ Hendricks to break down in tears on the side of the stage, overwhelmed by feelings of protection, love, and empathy. That it came towards the end of a riotous set only heightened its impact, leaving a sold-out room unified in small devastation.

Before long, though, spirits were at the ceiling again and PWR BTTM’s dresses were more than halfway off, and hundreds of people were nearing a state of delirium. Encore chants were inevitable and when the call was swift and immediate, those pleas were rewarded with a frantic rendition of “Carbs” before Hopkins and Bruce exited the stage, visibly exhausted, and subjected themselves to a seemingly endless swarm of overjoyed embraces from a community that rallied behind them and got to take part in a moment that carried significant meaning for far more people than either Hopkins, Bruce, or Fern Mayo’s Nicholas Cummins (who joined the band for several songs) could have ever anticipated.

Mike Krol

Mike Krol Does the Upper Midwest Proud at Baby’s All Right

Before the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase, the last two shows I’d booked had both featured two bands who had a tremendous impact on my life and musical development: Good Grief and Sleeping in the Aviary. Both bands, sadly, have long ceased operations, though their various members still play together in a handful of projects.

In 2015, Sleeping in the Aviary managed to have somewhat of a resurgence, with both the release of an astonishing outtakes collection ad 80% of the band’s final lineup once again combining forces as Mike Krol‘s backing band. Krol had relocated from the upper Midwest to California on his way to delivering 2015’s blistering Turkey, one of the year’s most exhilarating records (and his extremely unexpected but entirely welcome debut for Merge).

Krol’s stop at Baby’s All Right came shortly after I’d started picking up shifts at the door, pushing my anticipation for the show to even greater heights (it was a show that’d been circled on my calendar in the immediate moments following its announcement). Being connected to yet another venue that would be playing host to a few familiar faces, a few of which I’d grown up playing shows with, felt like an oddly appropriate next step.

The night’s opening bands delivered solid sets but what Mike Krol & co. delivered on that stage that night was unforgettable. Fully attired in the record’s signature fringe’d-up police attire, the band meticulously covered the perimeter of the stage with razor wire and carefully placed a series of lights in the open spaces among the coils. A few minutes later and the band was off, immediately at full-throttle. Out of sheer curiosity, I glanced over my shoulder at the size of the audience and was met with the vision of a sold-out audience all incredibly excited to throw themselves into celebrating an artist that, up until 2015, was only known in select circles for two sharp bandcamp releases.

Krol and his band covered close to his entire discography on that stage, whipping the sizable audience into an absolute frenzy. A surging sea of implacable bodies spiraling aimlessly into each other contributed to the anything-goes attitude that informed the band’s set (a welcome reminder of Sleeping in the Aviary’s heyday). Towards the end, the person running house lights could no longer resist sitting still and slyly tried to supplement the band’s light setup, prompting a startled “what the fuck was that?!” from Krol himself, followed shortly by a “do that again!“, which was delivered with a reckless excitability.

From that moment onward, the band’s seemingly full-blast attack was buoyed even further by a series of frantic lighting triggers from the person manning the boards for their house. As the lights danced all over the iconic backdrop and the overhead lights fell into patterns that complemented the band’s self-triggered perimeter strobes, the entire place descended into something approaching mania. Everything came to a head in their explosive finale and left an entire room of people staring dumbfounded at a stage, equally unsure of what they’d just witnessed and grateful that they were able to take in something so unapologetic in its blistering intensity.

Making the night even sweeter was an unexpected greeting from Krol, who I still hadn’t officially met at the time, after noticing my National Beekeepers Society shirt. We talked Wisconsin music, met up with the rest of the band and a few mutual friends, and Krol let slip that their was going to be a secret Daughter show to close out the venue’s night slot. I wound up making my way into the Daughter show and was blown away by their new material (they announced Not To Disappear at that show and froze my blood with a startling rendition of “Doing The Right Thing“) but couldn’t shake the feeling of overwhelming giddiness from having witnessed some friends from my old home absolutely take apart my new one.  

A Night Out With Nina Corcoran and Paul Thomas Anderson

When I first met Nina Corcoran, we were both looking for each other and completely unaware we were standing less than 10 feet apart. It was at Pitchfork 2014 and we were both lined up to get a good view of St. Vincent (who, as expected, turned in a mesmerizing set). I remembered being a little nervous around her as I still had no idea who she was beyond someone who wrote at Allston Pudding that A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Christine Varriale thought I’d get along with nicely.

It may have taken about a year but Christine’s assumption seemed almost eerily prophetic. For the first edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Nina took me by surprise and included me as a focal point in her piece. After that piece renewed a dialogue between the two of us, it started gradually expanding. After establishing a mutual love for all things Meat Wave, we started talking on close to a weekly basis. Before long, I was living in Brooklyn and we were making plans to meet up on her trips to the city.

We’d met up for meals and all too brief hangout sessions whenever we could but the only time we managed to be in the same place for more than an hour was when we attended the premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Junun at the New York Film Festival. I’d been debating on whether or not to make the effort to go due to an attempt to fight back the irritating plague that is the common cold. I told Nina what was happening and she was empathetic, displaying a casual grace in her understanding.

I missed her, though, and had never had the opportunity to attend a premiere, much less one with an accompanying Q&A from a massively influential director (or one that was responsible for a few of my favorite films). After grabbing a packet of kleenex and a warm sweatshirt, I made the trek out to meet Nina in Manhattan. She immediately greeted me with a warm embrace, making me feel both welcome and comfortable rather than the cold-addled burden I half-expected I’d wind up being.

With the start time of the film still a ways off, we decided to grab some soup from a nearby stand that supplemented our containers with an apple, bread, and pieces of chocolate. I refrained from adding ice cream onto that haul for fear of negatively affecting my health but Nina couldn’t resist its pull and led me to a cute shop that was in the area. After learning I still hadn’t been to Central Park, we walked through its gates and found it to be mostly abandoned, settling down at a table near the grass to quietly eat dinner and discuss the merits of Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, among others.

After we’d finished our meals, we took a nighttime stroll through the park, coming to a stop at a baseball diamond. We stood there together, silent for a moment, before turning around and immediately realizing our size (and our place) as we stared up at the lit-up skyscrapers that comprise the Manhattan skyline. In those fleeting seconds, I forgot everything that wasn’t the fact that I was happy to be sharing this view with a person who’s meant more to me than she’ll likely ever know or realize. I don’t remember what broke the silence but I’m grateful for the small eternity where, cold and all, life felt perfect.

It was difficult to leave that spot but we had a film to catch and while Junun was every bit the film I’d hoped it would be, it paled in comparison to realizing I was wrapped up in something exceedingly lovely and utterly intangible with a person I’ve come to genuinely care for, a person who’s continuously succeeded at an impressively high level, a person who’s constantly given me something to aspire to, a person that’s shown me a lot of my goals aren’t as far away as I occasionally think, and a person who never fails to make my life feel a little more worthwhile.

We’d meet up a few weeks later for a surprisingly painful goodbye brunch before I made my way back to Wisconsin (a state where we’ve both resided) and nearly refused to let go of each other out of the sheer fear of being separated by a seemingly incalculable distance. During that last embrace, I closed my eyes and, for a split second, saw the lights of those buildings that towered over us that night in Manhattan.   

Dilly Dally

Dilly Dally Steals CMJ (With An Unexpected Assist)

My time spent living in Brooklyn was book-ended by the Northside Festival and CMJ, with each providing a whole slew of moments I’ll recall fondly years down the line. Whether it was meeting the people I’d waited so long to meet at the former or celebrating with the people I’d come to know at the latter, each was at least partially defined by an unavoidable sense of community.

CMJ may have had its first two great moments come by way of some of my closest friends (a pizza run with Bad Wig and a Chinatown trip with Perfect Pussy) but my priority for the festival was to do something I’d been desperately hoping to do for the past few years: take in a Dilly Dally set. I didn’t have to wait long, as the first night I went out to CMJ was closed out by the band, I just had to come to terms with my near-crippling fear that their set might be a disappointment. As is often the case, that thought was absolutely demolished mere seconds into listening in on their soundcheck.

While a surprisingly large amount of people had filtered out of Santos Party House’s unbelievably stacked NME showcase by the time Dilly Dally took the stage, they still managed to fill the venue’s basement with legions of people caught between nervous excitement and the early signs of sleep deprivation/fatigue. It only took Dilly Dally a few notes to ignite the room with a thunderous sound that sounded like it was threatening to overtake the sound system’s capacities on more than one occasion.

Everyone in that band put absolutely everything on the line for that performance, diving deep and coming up with a punch ferocious enough to knock even the harshest cynic for a very disorienting six. Guitarist/vocalist Katie Monks unleashed a series of guttural yowls while guitarist Liz Ball tore into one scintillating lead line after another while the rhythm section provided an overwhelming show of force that generated enough power to shake my frame.

As was expected, many of the night’s highlights came courtesy of the live versions of the songs that made up Sore, their brooding full-length debut. Another small handful came from their brilliant early 7″ releases but the moment that I felt myself practically leave my body was when they tore into an absolutely vicious, if miniature, take on Drake’s “Know Yourself” that featured one of the filthiest bass tones I’ve ever heard. Jaw agape, I was standing motionless, hopelessly filming the spectacle while keeping my eyes off of the camera and frozen to the stage, at once separated from and completely tuned into the reality of the situation.

Easily the absolute heaviest thing I heard last year, the band wound up reprising it a few days later during another impressively explosive set at Baby’s All Right for BrooklynVegan’s CMJ showcase, which I sprinted a full mile to make sure I caught. Both of their sets demonstrated the impressive scope of the band’s singular power as live performers and laid just about everyone else who played CMJ to complete waste. No band delivered more impressively on absurd expectations than Dilly Dally, who dominated this site’s December coverage and will likely remain a critical part of conversation well into the future.

Meredith Graves Tears Up at the Honor Press Showcase

Where do I even begin with the unbelievable debt of gratitude I owe to Meredith Graves? One of the reasons I started this site was because I wanted a forum to interview Meredith, who responded in kind to an unsolicited Facebook message and graciously agreed to a Skype session. I had no idea when that was being set up that she would go on to become one of my closest friends, confidants, and most trusted advisers, or that she would eventually start flipping the script to tirelessly attempt to promote and endorse the work I’d been doing on my own.

The summer that followed that initial conversation was mostly spent on the phone with Meredith having hour-long talks about life’s various intricacies, the merits of art, social politics, our deepest fears, our desires, oddball literature, classic film, and anything else that randomly entered our minds. We traded demos, proposed collaborations, and — for some time — became key parts of each other’s daily routine. We’ve relied on each other to keep ourselves tethered to reality and sought out each other’s presence in times of celebration.

We’ve ignored each other, exchanged very sincere declarations of love, and have constantly fought on one another’s behalf. We’ve pitched various outlets pieces focusing on each other’s achievements, attempted to compliment each other to death, and experienced several surreal moments together (from almost breaking a hammock that was too small for either of us on our own to watching Pleasure Leftists play inside of a halfpipe in the attic of a bike shop). We’ve despaired together, we’ve drank together, we’ve schemed together, we’ve surprised each other, we’ve brought each other to the point of tears, and we’ve remained a steadfast part of each other’s lives.

Meredith was responsible for giving me one of my first gigs in Brooklyn, working Perfect Pussy‘s mail order with Ray McAndrew, and has gone out of her way time and time again to fight for my best interests. She’s given me extraordinary introductions to everyone under the sun and flat out earned the title of this site’s patron saint. She pleaded with me to come live in the city where she resided for the three years we’ve been improbably close friends and I finally took her up on the request (for an incredibly large number of reasons, though her presence definitely played a very heavy factor).

For the past several years Meredith’s been attempting to balance twice as much as any normal human could handle but finding reasons to fight. I beamed along with her as she told me that she had a business email and that Honor Press, her newly formed label, had been given the green light from all involved parties. I grinned as she nearly worked herself up to the point of passing out over signing So Stressed, and I immediately made plans to attend the half-secret Honor Press showcase at CMJ as soon as she told me it was going to happen.

On all of the occasions I was able to spend celebrating Meredith’s accomplishments, this one felt different from the outset. Somehow, it seemed more meaningful than any other random show or festival appearance. At some point last year, I don’t know when and I don’t know how, the band Cloud Castle Lake came up in one of our conversations. Meredith had just discovered a very passionate love for the band’s music and I’d recently been blown away by the composition of one of their music videos. Fast forward to September and they’re all standing outside of the Silent Barn, waiting to play a showcase she’d put together, having made the trip over from Ireland for the occasion.

Aye Nako were to open the night and Perfect Pussy were set to close, leaving Cloud Castle Lake in a prime middle slot position. Talking to Meredith outside, it was easy to spot some small trembling; nervous tics betraying both excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. Sleep deprived but positively glowing, she seemed like she wasn’t sure if she wanted the show to start or simply take in the moment prior to the kick-off; the deep breath before the headlong dive towards impact.

She didn’t have to wait long, despite the show starting a little later than scheduled (an occurrence that just about everyone was expecting).

Aye Nako played first and played well, setting an intriguing tone for the evening and for Cloud Castle Lake. What happened next caught just about everyone off guard as the band launched into a set that went from being oddly moving to feeling sacred. Everyone was locked into the tapestries the band was meticulously weaving, swaying absent-mindedly as the band swiftly navigated intricate movements of deeply impressive compositions. I stood by Meredith’s side as she sighed and surrendered completely to the band’s overpowering spell.

About halfway through their set, a moment of clarity hit and the reality of the situation seemed to collapse in on Meredith, who slid her back down the wall, as her eyes brimmed with tears. Surrounded by people she loved, in a place that treated her well, watching her favorite bands play a show she booked, it was as if all of the things that normally weigh heavy on her mind were dissolved in one fell swoop. My heart nearly gave out as I watched her go through the motions of realizing her role in facilitating something that swung on a pendulum from powerful to transcendental.

We locked eyes for a moment and she put my immediate concern at rest with a half-smile, clearly overwhelmed by what was playing out in the room. Shortly after, she regained her composition and joined the rest of the audience in their half-sways as Cloud Castle Lake issued out one quiet, involved prayer after another. The rest of Perfect Pussy were hesitant to take the stage once Daniel McAuley’s last falsetto had receded into the ether, fully aware that Cloud Castle Lake had just transported an entire room of people to a place that many of them were likely discovering for the first time.

To this day, I’m not entirely sure where that performance took Meredith but I’m grateful that she got to take the kind of journey she so richly deserved.

Krill’s Story Comes Full Circle at DBTS

No band has been mentioned in this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories more times than Krill. Their impact on their respective communities was undeniable and they clearly struck a very deep cord with a lot of the people that comprised those groups. Idolized, celebrated, acclaimed, and fearlessly loved, their decision to call it quits in 2015 prompted a colossal deal of sadness from anyone that’d ever subscribed to the cult of Krill.

Making the blow even worse was the fact that it came in the midst of a creative spree that saw the band experimenting more readily and crafting some of their finest material. The band had strung together a monumental 2015 run, bolstered by the success of their jaw-dropping A Distant Fist Unclenching and hordes of critics’ praise from nationally recognized (and highly influential) publications.

They’d played what was one of the first great sets I saw in 2015, celebrated the 4th of July by playing a show at Silent Barn with Swirlies, and delivered a towering set as a headliner during the second night of Exploding In Sound’s Extended Weekend. While all of those sets were admittedly as inspiring as everyone had made Krill shows out to be, it was their second-to-last ever show, a secret benefit for the Silent Barn’s reconstruction at DBTS, that stood out as the most meaningful.

Not only was the band playing a place I’d briefly called home but it was also where they played their very first show, giving the proceedings an oddly emotional bent. Unsurprisingly, after word got out, the show sold out faster than most DBTS shows and saw the room overflowing with people who wanted to be present for Krill’s last hurrah in a more intimate DIY setting.

Cende and LVL UP played the roles of openers as effectively as possible, delivering solid sets that wouldn’t detract from a moment that was rightfully Krill’s. By the time Krill were adjusting their mix, the main room was overflowing with people and there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd lined up the stairwell. Their ensuing set was so perfectly definitive of Krill that it nearly managed to be completely indescribable.

In turns, it was tightly controlled and threatened to completely unravel. Shambolic and poised, it existed in this strange dichotomy that Krill had so expertly exploited for years but rarely with as much purpose as they did during that set. When something nears its end, we, as humans, do our best to make the most of the remaining pieces of its life. Krill knew that by the time the following week rolled around, they’d have given up that aspect of their life and it was abundantly clear that they were hell-bent on making their remaining time count.

Aaron Ratoff’s guitar kept falling out of tune, Ian Becker hit his drums with a greater velocity than usual, and Jonah Furman embraced every aspect of his being en route to a tour de force performance that absolutely demolished the room where they started their career. By the time the inevitable chant of “Krill, Krill, Krill Forever” went up, DBTS resident (and Cende guitarist) Dave Medina had found a way to literally crowdsurf on the audience, enhancing the night’s descent into frenzied insanity. Everyone, as always seemed to be the case with Krill, was in this together; a thriving community that celebrated its best aspects as readily as it acknowledged its weaknesses.

As Krill sprinted towards the finish line, the out-of-control audience came dangerously close to toppling their equipment, and Dave manage to successfully find a way to balance on top of a tattered styrofoam surfboard as he was hoisted up by the crowd, it was incredibly evident that although everyone knew that the run had to end, no one wanted to come back down. Encore chants were given and obliged until it simply became a point of exhaustion, leaving everyone involved with a sense that they’d taken part in something worth talking about years down the line.

Krill is dead; long live Krill; Krill forever.   

Putting Together A Year’s Worth of Memories

To anyone who actually bothered to read through the entirety of the content above (which essentially amounts to a grossly over-indulgent novella), you have my very sincere gratitude and a ton of respect. This is the second year I’ve curated A Year’s Worth of Memories and the response for this round has been even more enthusiastic than when I first tried out the series at the outset of 2015.

I’d once again like to thank the people who were mentioned in this piece’s prologue (especially the returning contributors: Loren DiBlasi, David Glickman, Athylia Paremski, David Glickman, Jessi Frick, Stephen Tringali, Cole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, David Anthony, Phil McAndrew, Sam Clark, Miranda Fisher, and Christine Varriale).

Additionally, I’d like to once again thank last year’s contributors: Sasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar Gonzalez, Jesse Amesmith, Shari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

Putting together the first two installments of this series has been reassuring in unfathomable ways. Seeing the outpouring of support from people not only willing to listen but express interest in participating from all over the world has meant the world to me; without those reminders this place would likely cease existing. For that, I’m unbelievably grateful. It’s easy to forget how many people you have on your side when you can’t see them in front of you so when so many come together to fight for something that was once just a fraction of an idea, especially when they’re people you’ve admired and celebrated, is a surreal thing to experience.

Heartbreaking Bravery has always been a support structure and to extend that out to other people and give them a chance to express their thanks for others, reflect on themselves, or simply join in a healthy conversation is an incredibly important aspect of what keeps this place functioning. Being able to facilitate something of that nature, especially when the names attached continuously unveil work worth celebrating, has been a profoundly moving experience. It’s been a deeply rewarding experience and it’s helped provide this place with meaning.

To all of the people who became a small part of this site’s history either this year or last year (and to anyone who contributes in any way in the coming years), I will once again simply state: I love you all.

-Steven Spoerl

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

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 barely missing 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 Saved to 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 Day into 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.

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 7

To get this out of the way up top: this site’s been going through a lot of planning phases lately and everything’s being collected as it appears. It’s been a while since the last post (mostly due to a new full-time job and splitting time between two active bands based in two cities nearly two hours apart) but that silence is coming to an end now. Initially- when I pitched the idea of a “meaningful moments in 2014 music” piece (one that had been built off an idea that grew out of a conversation with Sasha Geffen on a road trip to Kentucky) to the wonderful and absurdly talented, writers, musicians, artists, label heads, music video directors, and people- I had intended to run all of these together. Before long, it became extremely apparent that there was simply too much great content to do service to all of the pieces. It was extraordinarily humbling to piece everything together and even though this will be the last traditional post of the series, it’s far from over. There will be an epilogue that ties up everything with a bow just a little ways down the line.

Until then, this site will be going into overboard catch-up mode, featuring the best songs, music videos, and records to have been released in 2015. While all of that will bring some exciting new changes to this site, it’s the part of the paragraph where it’s time- once more- to reflect on what made 2014 so great. Below are pieces from a few of my favorite people in music and music writing, who I hold in the highest possible esteem, as well as my own personal reflection. And, lastly, a quick note to all of the people gracious enough to agree to this project: each of you, whether you knew it or not, meant something to me before all of this insanity kicked off and you all now have my undying gratitude in addition to my unfailing admiration. So, without further ado, it’s my absolute honor to present: Heartbreaking Bravery’s 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 7.

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fast like light (august 2014)

How do you tell a secret that’s already told a thousand times a day?

This was August, and I had a bruise like an egg on my shin because I’d tripped over a gazebo in New Hampshire two days before. I’d hiked a whole mountain in my Vans with all my stuff on my back and my leg leaking into my jeans. Now I was in Brooklyn, where the air smelled thicker. The sun puddled up on the crooked streets.

I dropped my bag at Eric’s so I could walk without lugging it. He lived with Nadia in a railroad apartment in Bushwick, the kind of building with black iron scarred across the front. We hadn’t met before but I’d reviewed his tape a few months back, and he remembered my review and gave me a real tape to take back to Chicago with me. I opened the door to the bathroom instead of the stairwell when I tried to leave, and we both felt awkward and laughed.

The day moved slow. I met people I’d known online for years. There was a show in a hot loft. Eventually, we sat in Eric’s kitchen again, his windows blank to the night and fringed by pulsing Christmas lights.

Yeah, Christmas lights in Bushwick. But we also sipped tea out of small, worn mugs, and the show had been so good we couldn’t stop laughing. None of us had really had anything to drink, but we were tired, and excited, and full of the buzz that comes with warm, new love.

I mean love like friendship, the kind you get when you meet someone you’ve been talking or listening to forever, and the whole person is just as good as the parts you glimpsed, even better.

The apartment was stacked kitchen to music room to extra room to bedroom. Everyone went home but me, because I was sleeping on Eric and Nadia’s floor in the extra room. It was two or three in the morning, and Eric and Nadia were going to track vocals on one of Nadia’s songs.

I sat on the air mattress in the next room listening. They’d recorded instruments onto the computer already, and Nadia was making up the lyrics as she sang. Her voice was good and clear, like she’d had lessons once, or maybe just practiced a lot. Some of her takes were airy, whispery, then she’d cut through the whispers with a sharper overdub. She was trying to figure out what sounded better.

I wish I could remember her lyrics. I sat still, like I wasn’t there. You don’t break something like that when it happens.

She sounded like she felt so safe there, in the quarter of the home they’d sectioned off for music. Both of them had day jobs, too. They didn’t get to do this all the time. They made what they could, because they loved to. This is what I mean by a secret.

When they were done and the song was a little more finished than it had been before Nadia went to bed and Eric and I stood talking in the music room. Her project didn’t have a name yet but I told him how good it sounded from the next room. I still don’t know if it has a name.

We talked until about five hours before I had to get up to go to the airport. In the morning I would leave before either Eric or Nadia woke up, slip out the front door, and take the subway into LaGuardia. But it was four, and I wasn’t tired and Eric wasn’t tired, so we stood talking about the friends we had in common, the music they made, how lucky we were to know their music while it was young.

-Sasha Geffen (editor, Consequence of Sound, writer, basically everywhere else)

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Finding Strength within Yourself While Working With Music

 On sunny days I go out walking I end up on a tree-lined street
I look up at the gaps of sunlight I miss you more than anything

I was walking down Eastern Parkway on a Sunday, early afternoon in the summer. Chris was texting me, again reflecting the fierceness of Mitski’s lyrics of her then unreleased Bury Me at Makeout Creek. This is a subject that Chris and I found ourselves enraptured in often, and continue to delve into at great length today. The sun was shining, and I marveled at how her lyrics described the very street I was walking down. I made it to my doctor’s office and sat in the waiting area with three or four children, yelling about squatter’s rights of the Lego table. Their parents were disengaged, and I matched their stares at the ceiling. It was cracked and dirty, and left you wondering, “How did something that color orange get up there? What is that?”

This was my fifth, maybe sixth visit to this doctor within a month. I was currently diagnosed with a myriad of titillating, polysyllabic phrases, mostly boiling down to “your hormones are messed up big time in a serious way.” From my burgundy waiting room chair, I remember thinking to text Chris something like (though I am certain that I never did, as the joke was never really developed), “Mitski’s line about not being able to afford ‘the drive I need to go further than they said I’d go’ is probably about the G train.” I laughed at myself, then got extremely anxious. My doctor opened the door and waved for me to follow her.

Sometimes the human body stops working, or a part fails. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was seventeen. It taught me that when your body stops working, and it will at some point, there are ways we as humans compensate. But no one is invincible. I had a thyroidectomy, went through radiation therapy, and was put in isolation in my childhood bedroom for weeks. I take pills every day to fill in as my missing, malfunctioned body part. I will take them every day until I die. Sometimes, though, even the ways we find to compensate for our bodies don’t work.

I found myself at the doctor’s office on this particular day, and basically every visit since May, because my medicine was not working. I had ignored symptoms of it not working for months on end. These symptoms included, but were not limited to, frequent panic attacks, inexplicable long sessions of uncontrollable crying, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, etc. I was spending so much time hiding and sobbing in bathroom at my office, that I had developed a system of guessing when the stalls were most likely empty. Even at my least lucid, I knew that crying alone was most suited for the office environment. My poor parents would have their regular calls cut off by my spiraling into a gripping fear that my boss’ fish would die and I would be fired. I was not myself. I was all of the saddest, least brave parts of my psyche at once. Eventually I was looking out windows and thinking about jumping out of them, and that was about the time that I knew that I couldn’t chalk this up to something I needed to handle on my own. I was later told that my hormones were so imbalanced, not only was I experiencing these extreme emotional side effects, I was at high risk of promoting irregular cell growth and my cancer would likely return if my dangerous hormone levels continued to go unaddressed.

It’s one thing to hear that you have cancer. It’s an entirely other thing to hear that you might get cancer again. Cancer is like winning the lottery or the opportunity to smoke weed in college: every time you get it, the higher the probability is that you will get it again. And while I’m not sure that bit about the lottery is true, I can tell you that I most certainly never want to get cancer again. And so I sat in the doctor’s office, walked 45 minutes each way to and from the doctor’s office, and would contemplate what my different blood tests would reveal in the moments in between, all the while enveloping myself exclusively in Mitski’s music. Her lyrics would weave in and around the folds of my brain. She taught me ways to put words together that I didn’t even know existed. Her fears, her love, her desires mirrored mine. She sings the kind of songs that make you feel like she is singing these words into your mouth. Even when I was full of fear, I found comfort and strength in knowing I was not alone.

As I began my walk back to my apartment that day, I sent Chris an equally under-thought (but somehow more worthy) joke about how I was prescribed ice cream this week. He replied asking for a referral. And it made me laugh out loud. It made me laugh through the tears and the confusion and the fear I lived with constantly. And for that reason, I felt close to him. I also felt close to him because, beyond our discussions of Mitski and her music, we also could talk about Taking Back Sunday and Bruce Springsteen and how much we love disgusting fast food and how much we love our parents. The night I met Chris, about a month after the height of my symptoms, he was leaving a party early to go see Mitski for the first time at Death By Audio. I had just drafted a track post about her new single for PORTALS and assured him that her performance would be well worth missing out on the party.

It’s beautiful out today, I wish you could take me upstate
To the little place you would tell me about when you’d sense that I’d want to escape

Mitski and I, like Mitski and Chris, met through her music. Her incredibly candid lyrics made me feel like I knew her much more than I did. This is probably because when I heard the first single she released, I did not know her at all. Her artistic creation had accompanied me to doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her songs sat with me on subway trains to and from work. They sunk to the foot of my bed as I screamed into pillows, erratically. Think Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I listened to “Drunk Walk Home” on the occasion I was, God help me, under the influence and walking home. When I wrote about her music for PORTALS, she thanked me graciously, as she is very gracious. “First Love // Late Spring” reminded me of a gust of exploding wind, dust billowing into doves. “I was so young when I behaved twenty-five, and now I find I’ve grown into a tall child,” Mitski sang. In between hiccup-laden breaths, I would find strength in her biting sense of humor and total agony in the very feeling she was describing.

I went to see her play a few times, and I talked to her between sets. When she told me about preparing for the record’s release, I offered my humble abilities at writing a short bio for her album announcement. We began emailing back and forth about this and that. At one point, when I was at a friend’s birthday party, I drunkenly texted her asking if she would want to put the record out a tape. This never came to fruition, or was spoken of again, as many things I ask about while drunk at birthday parties.

When I listened to Mitski’s music, I heard all of her feeling, her talent, her words, but I also heard a soundtrack to my own life. It rang like a bell. But perhaps that is why humans make music at all, to connect. And Mitski is extremely well versed in the art of connecting. She shares with great purpose. And the words and sentiments she was sharing were not just present in my life, but also lighting a fire within me, much like I imagine is the same with many of her loving supporters. In the midst of the sludge, the uphill battle I faced in righting the wrongs in my body, my ears perked. When falling in love with music, specifically, your blood gets warmed in an emotional incubator- and this gets you kicking. There is a light that awakens you, but it’s coming from your headphones, and then it comes within you. Instead of looking to someone else for purpose, you look inwardly, contemplating what this music means about the world around you as a whole.

Chris and I continued to hang out, run into each other at shows, trade music videos of our favorite horrible pop punk bands back and forth. We even drove to Baltimore together to see Taking Back Sunday, and I skipped my regular Sunday doctor’s appointment. My health was improving, though. By this time, Chris had met with Mitski regarding management, and had started a conversation with her about the future of her career. I had let her know anything I could help with, I would. That’s the other thing about falling in true love with someone’s music, much like falling in love with the person themselves: the more you get, the more you want. Mitski sent Chris and I Bury Me separately. And once we realized we both had the record, we could not be satiated. Discovering every nook and cranny of this album was our journey to the center of the Earth. We each saw her perform as much as we possibly could, usually together. Before one of her sets, I “performed” a DJ set from the safety of a Spotify playlist that consisted mostly of Blink-182 and Gene Chandler.  Chris was late for my introduction, but we were both front row the moment “Townie” began.

One night, Chris and I were walking to our friend Jesse’s house in Greenpoint. We were weaving around the BQE, considering McDonald’s as an actual option for dinner. Chris was talking about the trajectory of Mitski’s career, where he could see her in three, five years. I told him where I could see her in ten. Chris began talking about what we could do managing her together, mostly in the short term. It wasn’t necessarily something we had discussed seriously before, but not something we hadn’t mentioned in passing. The more he talked about what I could bring to the table, the more I realized that this could become a reality. I had never been joking, but had always managed to be laughing when talking about the prospect with him. Once she texted us separately that she could see us working together with her music, referring to us as something of a dream team.

My grandfather died in the fall. He was very wise, and he was an amazingly intelligent man. He taught me my favorite flavors of ice cream and how to play Connect Four. He taught me about country music and how to laugh at anything, how to have a sense of humor. He taught me that it is important to live your life the way you want to live it, because then you will be happy. These are also traits that I see in my parents, my mom, his daughter. I stood in the driveway of my mother’s apartment complex while on the phone with Chris two days before the funeral. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about, as I was elsewhere. My dad would try to distract us both by asking questions about Mitski. I showed my mom a video of her playing that I took at Cake Shop. It seems crass, perhaps, to be thinking about anything at all at a time like that- but there are times when pain is best escaped and not faced. My parents are strong and they held us together, held me together. We talked about things we missed, things that hurt, and then things we had to look forward to. I do remember that Chris went to see Mitski play a show with her full band that week, while I was away. When I returned, we had a signed contract saying Chris and I were now her managers.

And while you sleep I’ll be scared
So by the time you wake I’ll be brave

Mitski’s music didn’t save me. Her lyrics didn’t heal me. Listening to her songs again and again and again and talking about them ad nauseam with Chris, my parents, and anyone who would listen to me ramble didn’t make any of my problems disappear. However, what Mitski and her music did do is much more powerful. In listening to her music, those moments walking down Eastern Parkway, in being reminded of how music can make you feel, how powerfully it connects our human brains together and tethers them together for life, I found strength in myself to face whatever came my way throughout the year. For good measure, when I go to the doctor next Sunday, I will listen to her record and I will text Chris, as I have for months now.

These experiences as a whole reminded me of why I work in music at all. It kept me believing in not only myself, but also what I, Chris, a team of excellent people, and above anyone at all Mitski herself could do to build her life and career as an artist. When we’re on the phone with her lawyer, or Double Double Whammy, or a potential booking agent, I think about what her music will create for people in the future. I want her to tell her story, and continue to foster this amazing talent she has for connecting to that microphone wire to the ventricles of her listener. I want to have everyone listen her music to hear it and allow her screams and howls and croons to lead them to something true and beautiful in themselves, like it did for me. To be a part of this, for me, is to live.

-Jeanette Wall (Miscreant, PORTALS, Band Practice)

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Save the Scene: Eight People Who Taught Me How the Music Industry Should Work in 2014

As with every year before it and with every year to come, 2014 was all about change. That’s all we ever do and, as creatures designed to grow, that’s what we do best. I was incredibly fortunate to find a real foothold in the music journalism industry this year and to watch myself adapt to the feel of it all. It seems so long ago, but somehow 2014 saw me finish up my final semester of college, graduate, travel all over the US, and write a ton. As exciting as all of that is, those aren’t the things that come to mind when I look back on 2014. What does are the incredible people I met, especially in regards to music.

Music journalism is a blind walk through an overcrowded room with a wall of amps turned up to full volume. It’s competitive, it’s loud, and no one actually knows what they’re doing. No one tells you what to do in this field. As digital trends take over and we’re continually forced to reinvent the way music consumption operates, those in charge are fumbling with the remote control. The rest of us watch wondering what button they’re going to press. Well, most of us.

There are a few people out there who don’t want to wait around. They’re happiest when taking action. Naturally, these eight people are all incredible workers—authors, photographers, fans—and fit right into that description. While 2014 was filled with a slew of incredible opportunities, albums, and bands, the best part of the year was seeing those who went out of their way to teach others how the music industry should really work.

DeForrest @ 285 Kent Goodbye show

When 285 Kent was closing, I wandered into New York to see Laurel Halo. I was alone, drawn by the general infatuation with an artist that has enough allure to give you confidence standing idle in a DIY space where people smoke inside and reveal insider data with a flippant shrewdness. A mutual friend suggested I meet up with his old friends from from Tiny Mix Tapes, and after a few miscommunications regarding who was wearing what color shirt, we found one another. For such an in-the-know website, I was expecting its authors to be taciturn, brainy, witty but inane. At their core, they were. They cracked jokes that bounced off remarks not yet made. They kept their voices down, but talked frequently, each with his own distinct pace. It was a great farewell show. When keeping in touch afterwards, however, I learned a lot, particularly from DeForrest. He writes to exceed the highest bar, pushing himself to provoke an intellectual discussion with whomever is reading the material, regardless of the musician at hand’s popularity, product, or longevity. He goes beyond flowery descriptions. He expects a level of determination from the reader, and that in itself demands a great deal from him, too. Over the course of the year, he took time to reach out with in-depth articles, collegiate-level discussions, and musicians that pushed the boundaries. What really stuck, however, was the direction he faced. In a year that drowned itself in clickbait articles, DeForrest marched straight ahead with a well-stitched flag of high-quality content, singlehandedly proving that the music industry should expect more of itself – because both an author and audience are hungry for it.

Christine @ Allston Pudding

It goes without saying that you should support your local scene. Bands grow from word of mouth. If it weren’t for people coming out to shows, buying merch, and listening to their records after the fact, their music would have a hard time taking flight. Supporting your scene means giving them that foothold, showing someone cares. No one embodies this more in Boston than Christine. Despite seeing her at shows all the time for a year or so—trust me, she’s hard to miss, even though her height should technically make her easy to miss—we never talked until 2014, especially when both writing for Boston’s music blog Allston Pudding. Hearing that passion for Boston’s local artists coming straight from her mouth was enough to get anyone psyched, even if they couldn’t remember the last time they bought a record or went to a concert. In an age where promotion teams are at one another’s necks trying to get their roster on Rolling Stone, it’s difficult to truly stand up for music you believe in that has yet to be influenced by larger masterminds. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with that. Being able to decide you actively enjoy what’s coming straight at your ears separate from their name or the URL link you’re hearing it from, though, takes some clear thinking to figure out. Christine knows about new acts before their demo tapes hit the web because she’s constantly at shows. She’s in the front row, listening to people play their heart out and applauding them for it, even if it’s not her cup of tea. She’s the reminder the music world needs that you can support musicians without being a diehard fan. Giving someone a single thumbs up makes a huge difference. So when your backyard is ringing with the noise of a dozen new bands, staying inside becomes the obvious error.

Ryan @ SXSW 

There is so much happening all the time everywhere. As Lindsay Zoladz discussed in her essay on hyper consumption and digital exhaust, the digital age is running so quickly that there’s no time to stop and properly digest. Instead, most everything passes us as a vaguely recognizable blur. SXSW is the festival-equivalent. There’s nonstop shows every single day, with a dozen secret events being held around Austin, from house shows to 3am performances on a bridge to impromptu bill swapping. It’s hard not to fall into the trap. There’s a fear of missing out, for sure, but there’s a fear of underappreciating. You want to make sure you’re taking away exactly what there is to be extracted, that your consumption of that moment is chewed slowly and with great attention to detail while still swallowing that bite fast enough to try something different shortly thereafter. As a photographer at the festival, I found things to be chaotic but enjoyable. The shutter moves so quickly that you can reflect on the taste of your so-called meal later on. As an interviewer, however, things are a bit different. I worked alongside Ryan and several other Stereogum writers that week. Watching how they operated felt like walking abroad the Titanic as it sank. People were scurrying everywhere, often drunk and directionless, but their staff stayed calm. It was as if their heads were above the water. They took their time with every endeavor. Every interview would be done with slow pacing, giving the artist time to think before, during, and after speaking, making space for any words that could spill out like drowsy dribble. If you’re going to write something, you need to take your time with it. You can’t be pressured by the various clocks spinning around you. Sure enough, more of Ryan’s work would pop up over 2014. Every feature held tight to its pacing, every paragraph exhaled with soothing resolution. He took his time with his work, and every piece encouraged others do the same.

Photographer @ Governors Ball 

The music industry is both tightly structured and casually loose. Because of that, it’s easy to get involved. That also makes it a discouraging toil. When waiting in the main stage pit at Governors Ball, I noticed one photographer pacing back and forth in a green flat-rimmed hat with small ducks on it. Thanks to that hat, I realized I had seen him at various other festivals that summer. He’s young, around 22 years old or so, and average height. In the pit, he looks even smaller. The other photographers toss giant canvased camera bags around their hip while balancing one monstrous lens in one hand and their enormous camera in the other. They wait for the bands to step onstage with a slightly bored look, one that speaks to their familiarity with it all and the privilege they get to be the closest ones to the artist. It’s an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re a young photographer, but he appeared to be unfazed. For a few minutes, we began talking, and I asked him how he was able to get passes to shoot if he was working for a smaller blog. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just ask.” It’s obvious, but it doesn’t get said enough, especially coming from a small, independent blog. That photographer reminded me that it doesn’t matter how old you are, who you’re working for, or what your resume looks like. If you want something, keep asking for it. The worst is you’ll get turned away.

Steven @ Pitchfork Festival

The internet is cool. It can be an awful place, for sure, but it brings together all sorts of people, and thanks to a quick introduction from a mutual Twitter friend, I got to meet Steven (yes, this Steven). We both were attending Pitchfork’s summer music festival and were running around Chicago’s grassy field trying to take in every blissful set. It wasn’t until after, once I was back home and face to face with the internet again, that I began to learn a lot from him. He’s a writer and photographer with one of the most giving hearts. He applauds others for their successes. He highlights the overlooked. He drives long hours to attend a small house show. The running thread through it all? His support for his friends. Steven goes out of his way to see, read, and promote any work he finds important. In a straightforward way, most of us do this. We like what we like and enjoy sharing it with others. However, we place ourselves ahead of our friends, putting their efforts on the backburner when it isn’t a convenience for us to do otherwise. For Steven, that’s not the case. He constantly sets aside time to hear people out. He listens to his friends’ new songs. He’ll take a minute to read another pal’s review. If there’s one thing the music industry needs, it’s a network that uses iron bars to hold itself up, not paper straws. We need to be on the lookout for one another, giving credit where it’s due so we can continue to look in that direction again and again as time carries on. With all the staff cuts and job slicing, the music industry is in need of support. It needs some hugs and it needs some honesty. Over the course of a few months, I learned that may not be as impossible as it sounds. When we look out for one another, it creates a stronger shield to defend with, and Steven makes it clear how effective that can be.

Mark @ Pickathon Festival

Nestled off at Portland’s edge is a small grassroots music festival called Pickathon. It focuses on being family friendly, ecofriendly, and generally friendly, but particularly while drawing a finely curated list of acts to come perform in the middle of the woods. I ventured off to the festival alone, prepared to enjoy excellent music, but soon found there was much more to it. After plopping down in the grass to watch Hiss Golden Messenger, an older man next to me leaned over and asked where my festival bracelets were from. He and his wife soon started talking about all the sets they had seen over the years at Pickathon. They had been going to shows for decades. He dragged her to see My Bloody Valentine a dozen times back before they broke up. He had an audio recording of one of Nirvana’s opening sets a month before Nevermind came out where a mere five people clapped after they played “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Mark pulled out a schedule for the weekend and we began comparing our top picks. Over that weekend, he, his wife, and I would steak out front row spots and trade stories of our musical experiences. They introduced me to their child and his friends. Despite them being the age of my own parents, we got along just fine. It was people united by an interest, not an image. For that, Pickathon is a magical place. There’s no denying that. What makes it special beyond that is Mark leaning over to introduce himself, creating a bond for two people to share their musical experiences – and then enjoy some new ones. Since then, I made it my goal to introduce myself to at least one person at every festival I went to from there on out. So far it’s gone well. Without Mark showing firsthand how helpful introducing yourself can be, who knows how long it would have before I realized how easy it is to join forces without someone just as passionate as you.

The 1975 Fan @ Boston Calling

It’s near impossible to grow up without being a superfan. There’s an intense joy that comes with giving up your time and attention to a musician, and that joy fills you up in the most pleasing of ways. To be 13 years old and constantly fawning over a musician is a wonderful thing. From the outside looking in, it looks rather terrifying. The cults that follow bands are easy to target, and the more you indulge in music over the years, the less attached you are to a single act. It’s evident because you see fans screaming over nothing and, rather judgmentally, laugh. At Boston Calling, other photographers and I found ourselves taken aback by the first few front rows of fans waiting for The 1975. Many were younger than expected and almost all were wearing black. One girl in the front was crying. As the job essentially requires, I went to photograph her. Looking through the lens, I saw she was holding a piece of sketchbook paper. On it, there was a to-scale portrait of the frontman’s face. He was smiling. I went over to the fan and asked her if she drew it, to which she said yes. She was planning on giving it to him when he walked out. Getting a closer look, I was amazed. Behind her, another girl held up a cross-stitch portrait she had made. When the band walked out moments later, both tossed their items up onstage, smiles spread wide, with an inexplicable bliss. The respect fans have for their idols is a beautiful thing. I felt strange, like I had just been laughing at my own self moments ago had this been 10 years ago. The perseverance, dedication, and genuine love diehard fans have for their favorite band is inspiring. Few things in life can get that intense and lasting of a connection from humans, but music is one of those. To remember the honesty of that, especially the importance of that, was an odd moment. Fans are filled with love. Realizing you almost forgot that you felt that same pure emotion yourself is a terrifying thing, but fans like her remind you that fandom is a remarkable thing.

Tom @ Bacardi Triangle

By happenstance, I got to cover a weekend-long party to celebrate Bacardi where three musical performers happened to be there. It was a strange event, especially as someone who doesn’t like rum, but memorable nonetheless. A gaggle of other writers were flown down to Puerto Rico for the event and many of us were confused as to what was the proper way to indulge in the festivities. Sitting next to me at the breakfast table was Tom, an English writer for Dazed. This group clung together at various events, enjoying one another’s company in the bizarreness of it all. On the second-to-last night, Tom lowered his voice to explain his real goal. The next morning, he was going to wake up early, hail a cab, and ask to be brought to the darkest corners of Puerto Rico to investigate the drug trade. He wanted to meet with gangs. He wanted to observe how it all worked. Tom admitted he knew how dangerous this was, but he seemed not to care. A week earlier, I believed going on this trip in itself was a chance. Technically, it was, but compared to Tom’s bravery that was nothing. The difference was what was at stake. Tom was willing to risk his safety, sanity, and status on that trip. This wasn’t a reminder to fling myself out in the middle of the road more often. It was a reminder that bravery is rewarded. Bravery means more than an instant thrill. Bravery means taking the first step, inching closer to the truth, and showing others what you have found. Looking back on 2014, it seemed to snowball out of control. If I were to live like Tom, I could grow more mental muscle. I could push against that snowball. The music industry invests in the art of regurgitation, but with Tom’s approach, it could finally brush the vomit aside to ask why things operate the way they do and what we can do to change things up.

-Nina Corcoran (Consequence of Sound, Allston Pudding)

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Becoming

In 2014, I saw more sets than I’d ever seen in my life. I left the country for nearly a week to have an immersive festival experience in Toronto (which wound up being spent with some of the kindest people I know). I made new friends, several of which were responsible for creating music I love or for bringing incredibly beautiful art into existence. When it came time to buckle down and zero in on one subject, I had a million ideas running through my head. Getting chills during sets from Perfect Pussy, Mutual Benefit, All Dogs, Mitski, Pile, Nervosas, Radiator Hospital, Speedy Ortiz, or any of the touring bands that played Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? Majical Cloudz’s unforgettably brave Pitchfork set? Putting together Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? VAYA’s LCD Soundsystem cover set that took a sharp left and ended with the punchiest, scuzziest rendition of “Crazy In Love” I’ve ever heard? Playing and creating music with a band again? Jayson Gerycz’s drumming? Trading cigarette burns with Maria Sherman, some of the 285 Kent crew, and a few others during an inspired Kendrick Lamar set? Resuming writing my own songs? Any number of moments spent with Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves either on the phone or in person (we’ll always have the hammock, ILYH)? Exploding in Sound? Double Double Whammy? The line “The shape of true love is terrifying enough” in Cymbal Eat Guitars’ “Warning”? Curating this project? Running the site and seeing it grow? The unwavering belief in my abilities as a music journalist that came courtesy of a dream-worthy trio made up of Liz Pelly, Faye Orlove, and Jeanette Wall? The way a certain subsection of people in my small town heartily embraces basement shows and so readily encourages any form of creativity? A long-overdue ascension of powerful, respected non-male voices in cultural criticism?

In the end, I went with the only thing I could think to logically do: I chose a moment that incorporated the most items of my constantly-expanding list. After coming dangerously close to revisiting NXNE (and paying special attention to its most memorable moment), I went with something less internally divisive: the day I shot Mitski delivering a stunning solo acoustic performance for The Media. My friend and fellow writer, Sasha Geffen (whose importance in regards to the development of this piece I can’t emphasize enough), had been kind enough to put me up for a few days in Chicago and joined me in catching a particularly memorable Pile set on the first night. After a quiet second day/night spent mostly writing and watching films, it was time to prep for Mitski, who was accompanied on tour by LVL UP.

At that point, Sasha and I had each spoken at length with both acts (though Sasha’s involvement and history was more extensive than my own), which led to some entertaining late realizations towards the end of the night. Mitski and I had been texting back and forth leading up to her arrival, each expressing equal excitement over the ability to be involved with The Media in any capacity (I’ve long held a stance positing that The Media- or Fvck The Media- is one of the most important independently-run publications in contemporary media, so to be able to work directly for them- or in collaboration with them- is a sincere honor). After LVL UP dropped Mitski off at Sasha’s doorstep, a few casual introductions were made and we all stepped out of the cold and into a warm, cat-friendly apartment.

Some small conversation circled around the room, allowing everyone to get caught up with everyone else while settling into each other’s collective company. Before too long, Mitski had a guitar (a Martin that used to be my father’s, which was also used by All Dogs‘ Maryn Jones in the session I did with her for The Media) tuned to her preference and was launching into a spellbinding three song set. All of those songs were wrapped on the first takes- what’s seen in The Media video was (essentially) captured in real time. After each song, I sat transfixed, clutching my camera; I wasn’t sure if it was more appropriate to applaud or simply sit in stunned silence. I opted for the latter as Sasha did the same, each of us managing to get out a quiet “wow” or some other one-syllable exclamation.

After Mitski closed with “Townie”, easily one of my favorite songs of the year, we all allowed ourselves to breathe a little and struck up some more conversations. Sasha’s roommate Ben made some incredible steamed buns, which we each gratefully accepted after he offered to let us try a few.  We traded opinions on things happening in music, weighed the costs of living in our respective states, and exchanged stray thoughts. After a short while, most of LVL UP came back to collect Mitski and allowed us to climb in their van before taking off for Beat Kitchen.

After already amassing a good day’s worth of memories that easily qualify as favorites (Mitski’s set, Sasha playing me Bury Me At Makeout Creek before the session and some of her reactions to my reactions, the van ride over where everyone traded stories and talked about Mike Kaminsky), the one that stands out most from that day is what happened at Beat Kitchen and how I knew I’d found a group of people worth their salt: while everyone crowded around a table that was just slightly too small for such a large party, Mitski’s order got mixed up in the kitchen and even though everyone had been casually mentioning their hunger, no one ate a bite of their food until Mitski had been served- a small gesture of respect and kindness that’s since acted as a perfect summation of the character on display in all parties involved. LVL UP expressed some nervous trepidation over being a headlining act and were formulating some musical runs in their set over dinner while the table swapped stories and jokes.

Before too long, the show was up and running. A decent set from MTV Ghosts and a strong set from Staring Problem acted as the introduction to Mitski’s set and Mitski wasted no time in laying everyone to waste. With LVL UP’s Nick Corbo on drums and Michael Caridi on guitar, Mitski’s songs took on a new life. While both the first listen of Bury Me At Makeout Creek and the earlier acoustic session had successfully made their mark, neither compared to seeing that setup play live. As the band fell into their rhythm, the chills got fiercer and, for the last few minutes of their set, wound up being sustained. Not a lot of moments in 2014 compared to looking back from the lip of the stage to see just about everyone in attendance looking absolutely shell-shocked as Mitski unloosed piercing scream after piercing scream to end “Drunk Walk Home”, which wound up being a perfect lead-in to LVL UP’s set.

Hoodwink’d is a record that contains just about everything I love in modern music and, in a welcome turn of events, it’s the product of four of the better people I’ve had the fortune of meeting this year. LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, and- by extension- Dan Goldin and Exploding in Sound (who co-released Hoodwink’d)- have come to be a few of this site’s biggest supporters thanks in part to shared taste. Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound have been in collaboration on a few of my favorite releases this year, with Hoodwink’d operating proudly as the crown jewel of their conjoined efforts. Getting to see those songs, which have now become such a deeply engrained part of my life, performed live for the first time by a band I reserve a deep affection for with the person who originally introduced me to the band, felt surreal. It was an extended moment worth reeling in, savoring, and committing to memory; a time of small bliss and unwavering camaraderie.

From spending some of the morning in silence, working alongside one of my favorite writers today, to some extremely entertaining post-show goodbyes, it was a day that filled me with joy over the things that I was doing and the people that surrounded me. There were more than a few moments where life felt at ease, which wound up being a blessing in an extremely tumultuous stretch of months. So, to The Media, Sasha Geffen, Mitski, LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, Dan Goldin, and Exploding in Sound: thank you- life’s worth living just a little more surrounded by the things that make you happy. I’d like to extend that same thanks to Meredith Graves (this little site’s patron saint), Sam Clark, Ray McAndrew, David Glickman, Jeanette Wall (and The Miscreant), Edgar Durden, Shaun Sutkus, and anyone else who ever had a kind thing to say about Heartbreaking Bravery (or cared enough to contribute to this project); it’d be dead without their interest and encouragement. I love you all.

-Steven Spoerl 

Watch This: Vol. 50

Today Watch This enjoys it’s 50th installment. There have been 245 videos or small playlists featuring great performances up to this point. In celebration of this, today’s entry into the series will take a route that the feature’s only explored twice before and revolve around videos that were self-shot. It’s been three months since parting ways with the handheld camera that was responsible for all of the earliest footage in the Heartbreaking Bravery archives. Over that time, a lot of songs have been filmed by a lot of great bands. All of the videos in today’s installment have never been featured anywhere else. Additionally, with this being a more personal endeavor, the restrictions on first-person narrative will be temporarily lifted. Now, with all of that said: sit back, turn the volume up, and Watch This.

1. Mitski (Live at Beat Kitchen)

I’ve made no qualms about my love for Mitski and her upcoming record Bury Me At Makeout Creek but seeing her live set added a new depth to that appreciation. Backed by half of LVL UP, Mitski’s songs were transformed into a force that was as beautiful as it was ragged. Having spent part of the day with Mitski prior to her set, she revealed a gentle nature that helped inform her music to a greater extent- rendering the moments where she strips her emotions raw all the more cathartic. In this set the songs featured are “Townie“, “First Love / Late Spring”, and “Drunk Walk Home”.

2. Space Raft – Venus In Transit (Live at Crunchy Frog)

One of the best small band bills that Wisconsin’s seen this year was made up exclusively of in-state acts when Space Raft headlined Green Bay’s Crunchy Frog in mid-August. After incredible sets from the likes of The Midwestern Charm, Beach Patrol, and Midnight Reruns, Space Raft offered up a set that firmly cemented their reputation as one of Wisconsin’s most dynamic (live) bands. Here, they take a flawless run through “Venus In Transit“, a highlight from their rightfully acclaimed self-titled debut.

3. Geronimo! – Spitting in the Ocean (Live at The Powerstrip)

Last night, Heartbreaking Bravery presented a basement show in Stevens Point that featured three bands which I’d previously written about within the confines of the site. Geronimo! played last and delivered a blistering set that made their imminent departure all the more bittersweet. Having spent the better part of this year casually fawning to anyone who’ll listen about the band’s extraordinary Cheap Trick, being able to provide a visible platform for both the band and that record was nothing short of an honor. In this clip, the band tears through a particularly vicious version of one of 2014’s best songs, “Spitting in the Ocean“.

4. Pile – Special Snowflakes (Live at The Burlington Bar)

Another highlight from 2014, Pile’s “Special Snowflakes“, became an emphatic moment of reckoning when the band laid it to waste at The Burlington Bar towards the start of this month. Only one of a very small handful of live songs this year to give me violent chills, it also became the turning point that turned Pile’s set from a strong showcase into an unforgettable event. With the lighting appropriately dim, all it took was “Special Snowflakes” to temporarily transform The Burlington Bar into the river Styx.

5. LVL UP (Live at Beat Kitchen)

At this point, LVL UP, Double Double Whammy (a label half of LVL UP founded and still runs), and Exploding in Sound may very well be responsible for earning the most words from this site over the past few months. Both labels had a hand in releasing Hoodwink’d, which easily stands out as one of the year’s best records. It was a record I formed a fierce connection with in a terrifyingly immediate manner. Taking all of that into account, my expectations for their live set at Chicago’s Beat Kitchen were high- likely unreasonably high. Any doubts that I had over whether or not they’d live up to those expectations- not to mention that connection- were assuaged before their first song drew to a close. By the end of their set, they’d solidified their status as one of my absolute favorite bands- which is why they’re closing out this set of videos. Contained in these videos are performances of “Annie’s A Witch“, “I Feel Ok“, “Hex“, “Roman Candle“, “Alabama West“, “Black Mass“, and “ELIXR (19)“.

It’s also worth noting that LVL UP recently ran into some van issues that have temporarily derailed their tour- to help combat this and set things right, they’re offering Hoodwink’d as a pay-what-you-want deal on their bandcamp in an effort to help secure the necessary funding to get everything back up and running. Site favorites Big Ups are doing the same with their Flagland split and putting all of the donations towards the repairs as well (Big Ups and LVL UP will be joining up for a tour when everything’s fixed). Donate whatever’s possible to help a great band made up of great people- and get a lot of great music in return. After all that’s said and done, go ahead and come back to Watch This.

LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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Over the past few months, this site has given plenty of coverage to both LVL UP and the label two of its members founded (and run), Double Double Whammy. Included in the ranks of the Double Double Whammy roster was another artist who’s emerged as a site favorite: Mitski. When the two announced they’d be touring together (and, subsequently that LVL UP would be backing Mitski), being in attendance for the nearest show was a foregone conclusion. On October 12, their tour made its way to Chicago’s Beat Kitchen where they headlined a bill that also included local acts Mtvghosts and Staring Problem.

Mtvghosts kicked things off after narrowly avoiding being no-shows and made their way through an energetic set of Strokes-influenced powerpop (not too dissimilar from Locksley). Now a few releases into their career, they made their way through a high energy set and played off each other nicely. Utilizing an abundance of energy and a clear connection, their set succeeded on pure entertainment value- Staring Problem‘s Lauren Owen would later make an amusing remark on the vocalist’s “Paul McCartney head thing”. While it’s clear Mtvghosts have a very firm grasp on composition and how to write a good pop song, not too much of it had any kind of longevity- although there’s enough talent in the band to suggest that point may not be too far down the line.

After Mtvghosts unabashedly pop concoctions, Staring Problem dove headlong into a set of primal post-punk that was tinged with early goth-punk influences. With songs that felt deadly serious and had pulsating undercurrents of the overwhelmingly bleak, they managed to sink into a groove that left most of the audience in a hypnotic trance. Mtvghosts may have had Staring Problem beat in terms of stage presence but Staring Problem’s songs proved to be immensely gripping, if unrelentingly minimal (their drummer’s kit was bare-bones and the only cymbal it made room for was a hi-hat). Impressive bass riffs dueled with intuitive guitarwork and Owens’ tranced-out vocals. Even with an emphasis on the grave, the band found room for humor; a song called “Pictures of Morrissey In Jake’s Locker” wound up being an unexpected highlight. By the time they exited, it was difficult to imagine they hadn’t made a few converts.

Mitski‘s been making quite a name for herself lately. After two very strong records of avant pop, the songwriter’s made a sharp left turn into blissed-out noise pop. With the distortion cranked up on the extraordinary soon-to-be-released Bury Me At Makeout Creek it’s afforded Mitski the chance to reignite an already impressive career. “Townie“, “First Love/Late Spring“, and “I Don’t Smoke” all showcase layers of a seriously enviable talent in composition and musicianship (as well as some gorgeous- and expansive- production), which shouldn’t be surprising taking into account Mitski’s SUNY Purchase background. Incidentally, SUNY Purchase was where Mitski would meet the members of LVL UP and forge a connection that would have direct implications for both artist’s respective careers.

Taking into account the high-functioning levels of production that provide Bury Me At Makeout Creek part of its character, a large portion of the pre-set anticipation lay in how Mitski would bring these songs to life with the assistance of LVL UP. Less than a minute into “Townie” any doubts that the songs would lose even a fraction of their appeal were absolutely annihilated. Aided by Michael Caridi on guitar and LVL UP bassist Nick Corbo on drums, Mitski lay into the song with a startling amount of intensity, causing the audience to erupt in bewildered applause by the song’s close.

All it took was that first song for Mitski to expand and win over an entire audience, which raises the stakes considerably on the expected reaction to Bury Me At Makeout Creek once it’s out in the world. Caridi and Corbo both flashed extremely impressive chops as Mitski commanded attention with the kind of effortlessness that suggests much bigger things will be happening for the emerging artist in the very near future. When Mitski’s set closed with Mitski absolutely shredding her vocal cords in bouts of guttural screaming at the end of “Drunk Walk Home”, half the audience seemed to be left speechless- and it was difficult to fault them- Mitski had delivered the kind of set that warrants the highest kinds of praise and ensures that even more people will be drawn into her orbit.

After Mitski’s set, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see someone leaving thinking they’d seen the headliner- but it wasn’t before long that LVL UP proved that they were up to the task of following a gift of a set with another exercise in killer performances. Having already delivered one of the year’s best records in Hoodwink’d and one of the year’s best songs, “Big Snow“, on an absolutely essential split, their live set had quite a bit to live up to. Boasting a discography that’s bursting at the seams with songs that project a casual confidence and an excess of charisma, LVL UP’s very nature is practically defined by their willingness to embrace each the unique personality of each principal songwriter (Caridi, Corbo, and Trace Mountains‘ Dave Benton).

Soft Power“, “Ski Vacation“, “DBTS“, and “I Feel Ok” all hinted at LVL UP excelling as a complementary unit that would easily function when stripped back to individual elements. Balancing on the precipice between detached apathy and unbridled energy, the band’s songs came to weird, vibrant life in the live setting. Everyone traded off vocals with a casually practiced ease and a fiery commitment. True to Space Brothers‘ form, several of the songs bled into each other- with a particular highlight (one of a very large handful) being the opening trio of tracks from that very record. In fact, much of their set played out like a contained suite, with everything retaining maximum impact.

There was more than one point through LVL UP’s set where time seemed to be completely lost, as the band kept the audience engaged while they occupied their own world. Song after song, they demonstrated just about every reason why they’re a band worth celebrating- only emphatically enhancing the live elements of that particular spread. Solos were traded, select songs were extended with surprisingly heavy bridges and outros, and- more than anything else- left-field personality was exuded. Hoodwink’d and Space Brothers were about evenly split throughout the set, and both songs from the band’s incredible split with Porches. were represented as well.

While Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all shared a fair amount of spotlight, drummer Greg Rutkin held everything down with brute force and an unfailingly exact precision that made songs like the closing “ELIXR (19)” sound absolutely massive. Just like on record, everything managed to complement everything else in a manner that made all of LVL UP’s songs feel intensely alive. Before their set, each member had voiced various concerns about their headlining slot and thanks for Beat Kitchen’s kind accommodations (including sound, which was pristine throughout the show). When “ELIXR (19)” drew the set to a powerful close, it provided an exclamation point to a stunning set that coursed past their early apprehensions into the realms of the sublime. If there was any reservation about this before, their set ensured one thing: 2014 is LVL UP’s year. Get on board before it’s too late.

Watch a clip of LVL UP playing “Soft Power” and “Bro Chillers” below. Underneath that, view an extensive photo gallery of the show.

A Look at Burger Records and the Longevity of the Cassette Tape

Over time musical formats, like all things, evolve in one way or the other. We currently live in an age where it’s occasionally necessary to specify whether your release is a physical object. Album sales through the first nine months of the year were down 6.1% from 2012’s sales. Digital sales are also down. Vinyl is continuing a curious re-emergence, up 100% in sale volume over in the UK. Then there’s the perpetually-overlooked cassette tape charting its own unique path.

Considered painfully outdated by many, the truth is that the cassette never really disappeared. A perennial staple of the DIY music communities due to its cost-effectiveness, it’s been virtually impossible to get an accurate sales projection on as the majority of its sales seem to take place independetly. However, with some of the cultural focus shifting back over to the musical regions that most heavily embrace tape culture along with the balls-out risk of Cassette Store Day they’re back to being a common point of debate.

There are those that will endlessly champion the cassette and its merits, this very publication being one, and those who are completely baffled by anyone who’s interested in the format. Cassettes haven’t been as easily accessible as they are today since the peak of their popularity in the 90’s. When the mass consumption ebb switched to favoring the much sleeker CD, the cassette seemed all but buried. Cassette walkmans went from trend pieces to lost artifacts that seemed hopelessly out of touch. This cultural shift propelled the cassette to an outsider status that lent it a new context.

Unsurprisingly, the basement punk scene continued to latch onto the format and while the numbers of mass sales decreased, the independent business model for it held strong. Punk and hardcore bands as well as outsider pop, folk, and psych bands often only dealt in cassette releases simply because they became the most affordable option. A deep bond was formed between format and genre, each proving beneficial to the others aesthetics. Then, while the mp3 started to overtake the CD and vinyl began a surprising but entirely welcome comeback, tapes were left almost completely out of the cultural conversation.

In 1993 a Guitar Wolf demo tape convinced Eric Friedl to start a label to release the bands first record Wolf Rock!, that label, Goner, became one of punk’s most seminal since the ugly decline of SST. Friedl likely never paid the trajectory of tapes’ popularity any attention, continuing to release his artists music on the formats he/they saw fit. Even as the cassette turned into a surprisingly contentious topic, Goner consistently released them and anchored itself as one of the cornerstones in the formats strange history. As admirable as Goner’s works with cassettes were, at the start of the new millennium there was somethingt brewing on the west coast that would take the tape even further.

Two members of the much-beloved Fullerton, CA basement pop outfit Thee Makeout Party!, Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard, founded an independent record store and label in 2007, launching it officially two years later. Less than five years later their label, Burger Records, has become nearly synonymous with the word cassette. This year has proved to be one of Burger’s most prolific stretches, aided by an unexpected spike in interest for cassettes and the various basement punk sub-genres. While their collaborations with punk wunderkind Ty Segall may have lent some momentum to this, the label also experienced a greater amount of national coverage in 2013. Cassette Store Day certainly influenced some of the coverage but consistent reporting from scribes like Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly, Noisey’s Zachary Lipez as well as a handful of articles from Stereogum’s Miles Bowe expanded Burger from a portion of the MRR set to the more indie-inclined crowds.

That crossover is where Burger has managed its biggest coup; for over four years the label has been releasing consistently impressive material that has equal appeal to both parties. Another coup; psych and surf influence litter the labels catalog, giving it a distinct west coast flavor, while also nicely syncing up with a growing demand for music that features either. All of these manage to intersect to provide the label with a legitimate identity apart from its near-refusal to release anything apart from cassettes (the label does occasionally release some vinyl, makes a select few of its releases available digitally, and even fewer available on CD). Burger’s ability to sustain a breakneck pace has been astounding and they’ve proven themselves as taste-makers in an impossibly short amount of time.

Looking at the amount of titles Burger has sold out is staggering, even considering their ace-in-the-hole model of release. Nearly everything the label presses to cassette is available once as a limited-run release, so if you missed out on Tenement’s Napalm Dream + Demos double-cassette, then you’ll likely have to keep both eyes peeled to a secondhand service like ebay. While some of their more popular releases do manage to get multiple re-pressings, it’s somewhat of a rarity. Burger’s also proved to be efficient at capitalizing on bands that seemed to be geared towards greater success, as they did with Tenement and as their currently doing with Seattle’s Big Eyes, having just recently provided a tape release for a record that’s already been out for months.

While cassettes still exist in abundance as several bands preferred mode of independent release, Burger seems keenly aware of the urgency created by a ‘get ’em before they’re gone’ kind of model. Their claims of starting their own movement don’t feel too far off base. Demand for their products were high enough to warrant Burgerama, the labels own self-curated music festival, Wiener Records- a subsidiary label, and the Burger Caravan of Stars tour that takes the central idea of Burgerama and condenses it into a smaller-scale nationwide version. They’ve created something far bigger than themselves and it’s paying off. Burger’s responsible for over 500 notable releases and more than half of those are currently no longer available.

Cassette Store Day brought a lot of issues to light and several people were left aghast, while it inspired local artists the world over to make their small contributions. Austin, TX troubadours Okkervil River took advantage of the nostalgic aspect of the cassette, releasing The Silver Gymnasium on the format. Burger Records understands the format and what it stands for. They’re the ones that know how many miles in a van a cassette can represent, how much cheap spilled beer went into making and celebrating one, how the slightly compressed sound quality can actually prove beneficial to the sound of particular artists, and the skip-resistant longevity of a cassette. They’re the ones that have been part of post-show basement cassette trades between local and touring acts. Burger Records knows who will fit and who will respond to the format most strongly.

Burger Records knows the cassette’s not dead and they’re going to keep it that way. Whether that’s a triumph, a statement, or a disgrace is anyone’s prerogative.  For a generation that’s involved in their movement, it exceeds simpler classifications and becomes a way of life. To Heartbreaking Bravery, it’s a life well worth living.