22 excellent records were released between June and August. While no posts went up on this site about those records in that time, there’s a remedy: a compilation of all of those titles. Basement punk demos, intimate folk epics, adventurous rap odysseys, and quite a few spaces between those triangular points comprise this particular field. Due to time constraints, these will be presented without any additional context but don’t let that aspect of this post distract from some truly incredible releases. Dive in below.
Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms.
One of the many privileges of being a music listener is latching onto a band that never stops improving as they evolve. Thus far, Strange Ranger fits that bill to a tee. “Message to You”, the band’s latest track, is a smoky, bruised ballad teeming with urgency and regret. Flickering away under a proto-industrial backbeat, “Message to You” floats along, driven by some understated synth work and a melancholic piano figure. A gorgeous bass line that turns menacing in the song’s latter half ensure “Message to You” is a legitimate standout, not just for the band but for 2019. Easily Strange Ranger’s most fascinating composition to date, the song also heralds their arrival as an act that’s made the jump from being a promising band to being a capital-A Artist. An astonishing work.
Listen to “Message To You” below and pre-order Remembering The Rocket from Tiny Engines here.
Only a few days have passed since we turned to a new calendar year and everyone’s looking ahead to resolutions. While that’s a natural way to progress, sometimes it’s worth casting a glance back, especially when the recent past was so fruitful. In all three of the major release categories (songs, music videos, and full streams), there were gems unearthed throughout December. This post is one last look at a very specific slice of 2018 before this site catches up to everyone else and reveals its picks for Music Video, Song, and Album of the Year. In honor of a recent series of tweets from Small Albums, all of the reviews below will be two sentences or less. A few of the selections below might even make an appearance. Hedge your bets on which by exploring all the offerings below.
1. Very Jazzed – Get A Job
A tongue-in-cheek post-punk rambler that’s as defiantly joyous as it is self-deprecating. “Get A Job” finds Very Jazzed in an immediate, accessible mode that suits them perfectly.
2. Guided By Voices – My Angel
One of the most dependable acts of the last few decades keeps surging forward with “My Angel”. A characteristically brief burst of energy, melody, and understanding from Guided By Voices.
3. Tørsö – Grab A Shovel
“Grab A Shovel” more than shows why Tørsö have become a revered emerging force on the DIY hardcore circuit. Gnarled, snarling, and unforgiving, it’s a monster of a track from an act worth following.
4. The Gentleman Losers – Make We Here Our Campfire
The Gentleman Losers crafted an enigmatic beauty in their recent Make We Here Our Campfire, a record headlined by its spellbinding title track. Melancholic and intuitive, “Make We Here Our Campfire” grips the senses like a vice, pulling the listener in until the very end.
1. Eerie Wanda – Sleepy Eyes
A hybrid clip for Eerie Wanda’s “Sleepy Eyes” serves as a perfect complement to the song. Part lyric video, part traditional footage, “Sleep Eyes” takes a simple concept and guides it to memorability.
LVL UP‘s dissolution may only be a few months in the past but its members are already going full bore with their new projects, including Nick Corbo’s Spirit Was. “Golden Soul” is a beautiful introduction-at-large to the project, the moody visuals perfectly suited to Corbo’s slow-burn songwriting mentality.
4. Noname – Blaxploitation
“Blaxploitation” is delivered not just as a music video but as a film, suggesting Noname‘s visual ambitions are just as bold as the ambition evidenced in the music. Playing off the monster movie film canon to supplement a pointed social commentary, “Blaxploitation” earns the film designation.
5. La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I
Every so often, something that’s so tethered to something deeply personal gives me reason to break this site’s “no first person” clause and in the case of La Dispute‘s gorgeously animated “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” it’s this: I was in a horrific car accident after a deer jumped a barricade on the interstate and left my partner’s previous car as a total loss. A scene, with some added symbolism, of an extremely similar nature is depicted throughout this clip and explores something that feels unflinching honest in its surreal, gently nightmarish portrayal.
6. Phoebe Bridgers – Killer
Phoebe Bridgers‘ Stranger In the Alps is holding strong as one of the better records of the past few years and the sublime, crisp black-and-white clip for “Killer” serves as a stark reminder of its potency. A tender, engaging clip for a song worthy of this kind of treatment.
1. Mister Goblin – Final Boy
While Two Inch Astronaut has taken a bow, Sam Woodring is still going strong, a fact evidenced by a sterling debut effort from the songwriter’s newest project, Mister Goblin. Keeping Two Inch Astronaut’s core sensibilities intact but providing them a slightly lighter sheen, Woodring finds a joy in exploring some (mostly) untapped spaces and that joy translates into a rewarding listen.
2. pting – beep beep
beep beep stands out as a charming effort from pting pting, offering three tracks of punk-indebted slacker pop that are worth every revisit.
3. Strange Ranger – etc.
A project that’s been a site favorite for a few years keeps finding intriguing ways to evolve. etc. is a fascinating left turn for Strange Ranger but one that’s in keeping with their recent exploratory bent, finding them in a bed of acoustic warmth that still has room for the electronic-heavy collaborative closer.
Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh is an endearing split release from Lrrr and Maxshh, which finds the two projects squaring off, collaborating, and contributing a Frankie Cosmos cover for good measure. A mid-fi bedroom/basement pop triumph.
5. Laura Stevenson – The Mystic & The Master
One of today’s most underrated songwriters returns and offers two strong, heartfelt tracks of contemporary folk pop. Imbued with empathy and subtle artistry, “The Mystic & The Master” and “Maker of Things” are more than deserving of their place in Laura Stevenson‘s discography.
6. Spirit Was – Golden Soul
As stated above, though LVL UP’s gone, multi-instrumentalist Nick Corbo’s most certainly not. Golden Soul finds Corbo sinking deep into contemplation while clinging to a torch, ready to set everything ablaze at a moment’s notice.
7. Another Heaven – FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER
While FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER FOR EVER is a title destined to have people counting on their fingers, the songs it contains are more likely to make listeners feel a sense of awareness. Urgent, thoughtful, and nearly overwhelming, Another Heaven have released a behemoth of an EP that stands among 2018’s finest releases.
October was an absolutely extraordinary month for record releases, seeing the unveiling of a large handful of Album of the Year contenders. A handful of site favorites offered up new material as well, with several of those titles appearing below. No matter the length (EP, LP, 7″, etc.), there was an abundance of memorable titles. Only one band of the 10 selected below had yet to appear in any of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage. As for the rest? They’re further solidifying their respective statuses as some of the most promising acts in music.
1. Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend
On their sophomore full-length, Stove expand both their ambitions and their skyward sprawl with their most inspired release to date. Comprised of an existence’s worth of longing, fear, anxiety, tenderness, and understanding, ‘s Favorite Friend has the marks of a classic. Devastating and hopeful in turns, the Stove record marks the second astonishing album that Steve Hartlett’s released this year, following Ovlov‘s TRU. Deeply personal and all the more mesmeric for that trait, ‘s Favorite Friend reaffirms Hartlett’s enormous musical talent and provides a reassurance; you might not always entirely defeat your demons but making peace with some of them can go a long way.
2. Strange Ranger – How It All Went By
Strange Ranger have been enjoying a steady evolution that’s already paying increasing dividends. How It All Went By, the band’s latest, is their strongest release to date, continuing an upward trajectory that started several releases back. Unapologetic in its inventiveness, How It All Went By recalls the works of everyone from Joyce Manor to Neil Young, mining a select few genre’s for flourishes that complement the band’s core identity. Oddly hypnotic and abundantly warm, How It All Went By is an EP that’s worth owning.
3. IAN SWEET – Crush Crusher
The last time IAN SWEET released a record, the results were strong enough to catapult them from emergent act to critical darlings. Crush Crusher, the band’s most recent effort, is one of affirmation: the early praise was warranted. Explosive, thoughtful, and genre-resistant, IAN SWEET has crafted something that thrives in near-impossible dichotomies. Tender and violent, explosive and tranquil, urgent and contemplative, every last second of Crush Crusher comes laced with a certain amount of nervous energy, transforming the entire affair into a spellbinding experience.
4. Adeline Hotel – away together
After a few years of playing together, Adeline Hotel is starting to increase their pace. away together is a strong enough record that it could feasibly multiply their audience by some degree. A near perfect soundtrack for the transition from fall to winter, away together‘s indie folk reckonings lend an even greater familiarity to the everyday, giving the mundane greater meaning. Easily the strongest songs of the band’s young career, away together should leave the kind of mark that’s recalled fondly and without malice.
5. Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast
A fewname changes have taken place since Gabby’s World was awarded this site’s Album of the Year distinction for O.K. but the band’s heart remains unchanged. Beast On Beast makes that revelation plain from the record’s opening track, the breathtaking “Winter Withdraw”. Guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith remains one of the more intuitive songwriters working today, gifting the record with airy melodies that carry punch and conviction. Beast On Beast, like the project’s best works, serves as both a rallying cry and a knowing offer of acceptance, doing its best to make sure there’s some warmth when the world gets cold.
6. Interbellum – Dead Pets, Old Griefs
As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, only one project on this list had yet to make an appearance on Heartbreaking Bravery. Enter: Interbellum. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a fascinating effort from multi-instrumentalist Karl Maltar. Interbellum, Maltar’s project, enlisted several friends for a record that straddles the divides between indie pop, slacker punk, and bedroom pop, giving a distinctly modern twist to the kind of template that used to be a Sparklehorse specialty. For every memorably raucous moment on Dead Pets, Old Griefs, there are several hushed, deeply introspective ones to balance the scales. It’s a staggering work from a name worth remembering.
7. Strange Relations – Sideline Kid
One of the best, if not the best, post-punk projects the upper Midwest has to offer, Strange Relations keep accelerating their own momentum. Last year the project released Editorial You, a record that showcased the band’s confidence. Just a year later, they’ve returned with their most restrained — and fascinating — effort to date in the 3-song EP Sideline Kid. The EP finds the band being increasingly adventurous with their ambient experimentation while remaining fearless in their bare-bones minimalism. All three tracks are fascinating for different reasons and the cumulative effect is potent enough to give Sideline Kid serious consideration as one of the year’s best EP’s.
8. GABI – Empty Me
A record that’s been anticipated for some time in very specific circles of the art world, GABI’s Empty Me finally arrived in full and lived up to the promise of the surrounding buzz. Haunting chamber pop of the highest order, Empty Me traffics in curious extremes, from emotive weight to the sprawl of the composition that serves as the record’s anchor. For all of the lightness Empty Me exudes in its softest moment, there’s a pervasive sense of doubt permeating its shadowy corners. An astonishingly complete work, Empty Me works its way towards unforgettable as it progresses, slowly immersing its listeners under the weight of the gravity felt at the record’s core.
9. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning
The opening seconds of Last Building Burning make one thing extraordinarily clear: Cloud Nothings aren’t fucking around. After what some considered the lightest work of their career since Dylan Baldi turned his project from a one-man affair into a full band ordeal, Last Building Burning immediately lights a kerosene torch and takes off with reckless abandon. “On An Edge” is the most purposeful opener we’re likely to hear this year, with the band in a rare echelon of attack mode. Fortunately, the rest of the record backs its strength up with some of the band’s strongest songwriting. Easily one of 2018’s best outings, Last Building Burning is a potent reminder that aggression can be productive when wielded with care.
10. Yowler – Black Dog In My Path
A strong case can be made for Maryn Jones as one of the most vital musicians of this past decade. Jones has provided invaluable contributions to Saintseneca as a (now former) member, fronted All Dogs, contributed to records from bands like Radiator Hospital, released memorable solo material before and after any of that started happening, and has turned Yowler into a recognizable name. While Jones will inevitably downplay the impact those contributions have had, it’s an astonishing pedigree.
Yowler’s latest record, Black Dog In My Path, in some ways comes across as the sum of that experience: this is the broadest and most ambitious record to bear Jones’ name. It’s also one of the best. Trading in uforgiving self-deprecation and an acute awareness, Black Dog In My Path can be a punishing listen when it fixates on unthinkably low moments but the music breathes just enough optimism and life to make the whole thing feel unflinchingly human. One of the fullest realizations of Jones’ incredible talent, it’s a record that’ll still be worth visiting a decade down the line.
Nearly two months have come and gone since the last true feature article was published on these pages. In that time, thousands of good songs have found release, hundreds of records have made varying impressions, and more than a few music videos managed to snag viewers’ attention. This post looks at a dozen of the finest songs to have come out in that time, from names new and familiar. Dive in below.
Charly Bliss – Heaven
Last year’s pick for this site’s Album of the Year distinction recently made an unexpected return on the back of standalone single “Heaven”, which guitarist/vocalist calls the band’s first attempt at a genuinely hopeful look at romantic love. The band balances that optimism out with one of the heaviest and darkest-sounding songs of their emergent career, demonstrating the band’s range and understanding of overarching dynamics. Exhilarating and powerful, “Heaven” is a welcome reminder of Charly Bliss‘ limitless appeal.
Stove – Mosquiter
In 2015, Stove walked away with this site’s Song of the Year distinction for “Wet Food”, which remains one of the finest songs of this decade. The band’s been relatively quiet of late, which is understandable considering the re-emergence of Steve Hartlett’s other project, Ovlov. Both Ovlov and Stove had new material planned for 2018 and “Mosquiter” is the first look at Stove’s forthcoming ‘s Favorite Friend. “Mosquiter” is a perfect example of what makes Stove worth celebrating, blending painfully relatable experiences into songs that swirl, seethe, and soothe. In short: it’s life-affirming.
Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now
Cloud Nothings have developed an astonishing level of consistency, something that should be abundantly clear by the time anyone hits play on “Leave Him Now”. Even with that said, it would’ve been hard to predict the explosiveness of “Leave Him Now” which surges through its run time with the tenacity of the band’s best work. It’s a continuation of a recent trend for the band, acting as something of a career summation, focusing in on various aspects of the band’s earlier records and tethering them into something that walks the line between new and lived-in. Both immediate and thoughtful, “Leave Him Now” is one of the best songs of 2018.
Squid – The Dial
“The Dial” will serve as an introduction-at-large to Squid for many, which will make the impact significantly more forceful. To put it bluntly, “The Dial” is an absolute monster of a post-punk song, finding the band effectively navigate pop appeal and post-hardcore intensity. There’s an ambient interlude, a section where the vocals become unhinged screams, and more than a few interlocking grooves that operate as interstitial threads. “The Dial” is a behemoth of a track, making Squid’s presence known. Keep both eyes on this band and keep this song on repeat.
Gouge Away – Ghost
Gouge Away have quietly become one of today’s best post-hardcore bands, building a name for themselves on a string of outstanding releases. “Ghost” is the latest from the band, which manages to be one of their softest moments and their best track to date. Coasting along at a mid-tempo pace, the band leans into each down stroke with conviction and seem to be operating at the height of confidence, evidenced by the risk involved in a boundary-stretching song. It’s a risk that pays staggering dividends; “Ghost” is the kind of track that makes a whole new audience take notice.
Hovvdy – Easy
Cranberry was a consensus pick as one of early 2018’s great records, giving Hovvdy‘s name considerable weight among a certain section of artists and fans. A few tours later and the band’s followed up that extraordinary release with a gorgeous single, headlined by “Easy”. A soothing slow-burn, “Easy” is characteristic of the band’s best work, drawing in the listener and making sure they stick around to enjoy every subtle nuance embedded into an intoxicating strain of indie pop. Beautiful, meditative, and compelling, “Easy” is a can’t-miss.
Strange Ranger – New Hair
Following up a record that guarantees a cult following, no matter the size, is never an easy feat. Fortunately, Strange Ranger prove up to the task on “New Hair”, the best track of the band’s career. An explosive burst of basement pop, “New Hair” finds Strange Ranger embracing their powerpop tendencies but injecting a level of grit and determination into it that prevent the track from being remotely saccharine, while still finding a way to encapsulate their older prominent influences. It’s impressive and effective, suggesting Strange Ranger aren’t content with cheap trills and searching for longevity.
Pip Blom – Come Home
Over the past several years, Pip Blom have been transforming themselves from a band with promise to a project that’s threatening to break out as an emergent act. “Come Home” suggests that it’s only a matter of time before Pip Blom start making bigger waves, operating as an irresistible slice of insistent indie pop. Informed by post-punk and incredibly aware of effective composition with an expert’s grasp on dynamic structure, “Come Home” is the kind of track that’s tough to shake. It’s also a track that guarantees repeat plays.
Swearin’ – Future Hell
One of the most heartening developments of this past year has been the promise of new material from the recently reunited Swearin’, a band that put out this decade’s best demo and one of its best records. Guitarist/vocalist Kyle Gilbride once again takes center stage, voice teeming with both determination and conviction while the band gives the track their all. Intuitive guitar figures and a solid rhythm section elevate the material further, erasing any doubts that Swearin’ have lost a step in their absence. We should all be thankful they’ve returned.
Gabby’s World – Winter, Withdraw
Recently Gabrielle Smith‘s Eskimeaux project shed that moniker in favor of Ó, which turned out to be a temporary placeholder that’s now made way for what should be the project’s final name: Gabby’s World. With that change, the project seems to have a renewed sense of purpose, something evidenced by the ambition of “Winter, Withdraw”. One of the project’s most gorgeous and most breathtaking moments, “Winter, Withdraw” will be the lead-off track for Gabby’s World’s forthcoming Beast on Beast and sets an extraordinarily high bar when paired with other advance track “Rear View“. Whether or not Gabby’s World can live up to the early precedent shouldn’t even be a question.
Yowler – Angel + Where Is My Light
Maryn Jones is either directly responsible or has played a pivotal role in some of the best records and songs of this decade already, thanks to the songwriter’s involvement in both All Dogs and Saintseneca. Yowler, Jones’ solo project, always can claim an entry or two in that category, and returns this year with Black Dog In MyPath. Two of the advance tracks for the record occupy different territory but showcase the project’s shift to a full band. Angel is a tender, wistful track that fits in with the project’s earlier material while “Where Is My Light” is a shock to the system, plunging Yowler into unfamiliar — and incredibly dark — depths, incorporating a sludge influence to breathtaking effect for one of this year’s most thrillingly unexpected turns. Both tracks paired together have more than enough to suggest that Yowler may be on the verge of releasing one of 2018’s most inspired records. None of us deserve Jones’ run but we should all be eternally grateful to bear witness.
2017 was a staggeringly balanced year in terms of memorable musical output. To honor that consistency, the typical run of 17 songs will be complemented by a list — in no particular order — of 83 other great songs to find release throughout the year. As usual, the “best” tag simply acts as shorthand for the music I was fortunate enough to consume from January through December, which had an individual song list that tallied well into the quadruple digits.
Names that are already familiar to year-end lists on this publication reside comfortably alongside artists who are still looking to make a larger impression. Non-singles are included with some of the year’s strongest advance tracks and songs that tip towards hardcore rub shoulders with some quiet basement pop numbers. There’s a lot to contemplate — both inside and outside of the top 17 selections — and even more to celebrate.
These are the 17 best songs of 2017.
Great Grandpa – Teen Challenge
One of the great album openers of 2017, “Teen Challenge” reintroduced a noticeably more explosive version of Great Grandpa that wasn’t afraid of hairpin turns or controlled catharsis. From the outset of “Teen Challenge” the band is swinging for the fences but it’s not until the enormous final section where something deeply impressive transforms into something legitimately inspiring. It’s a celebratory song that comes loaded with conviction and is delivered with the type of determination that refuses to be held back.
Mo Troper – Your Brand
One of this site’s picks for last year’s Album of the Year honors, Mo Troper returned this year with two records. One, a collection of older material reworked for Troper’s current band, the other, an inspired effort of new material that saw Troper expanding his ambitions to legitimately unexpected degrees. The elevation of both songwriting and production on Exposure & Responseis particularly evident in career highlight “Your Brand“, which finds Troper turning his gaze towards the brand-obsessed inhabitants of social media, people who treat themselves as corporate entities and flaunt varying levels of entitlement.
Occasionally, those same denizens find the levels between tongue-in-cheek mockery and unwitting sincerity blurring into an unrecognizable definition. It’s a richly-deserved skewering that’s shot through with a resigned understanding. The tasteful string and brass arrangements that adorn “Your Brand” send the song to euphoric heights even as Troper is weighed down in the bog of a tragicomic reality. It’s a masterful outing that positions Troper as one of the most promising pop songwriters of this generation.
Cende – What I Want
Cende‘s first and final full-length effort was an enticing effort headlined by a slew of singles that all warranted consideration for placement on this list (and earned individual write-ups). None of them wound up impressing quite as deeply as the song boasting the record’s most challenging — and towering — arrangement, the Greta Kline-featuring “What I Want“. Falsettos, a lilting string arrangement, and an incendiary bridge showed off Cende’s formidable range, tilting from something approaching the saccharine to a vicious instrumental outburst at the click of a hi-hat.
Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Few bands have earned as much attention and praise from this site as Charly Bliss over its four-year existence and it was heartening to watch the band break out in 2017 with one of the year’s most affirming releases in Guppy. While every track on that record is noteworthy for one reason or another, it was “Westermarck” that kept revealing deeper facets of itself. A rousing meditation on uncertainty couched in an unapologetic joy of simply being alive, the song became an unlikely anthem for anyone questioning their partner’s motives (especially in significantly skewed familial setting).
Common Holly – Nothing
Tender, sparse, and wrought with longing, Common Holly‘s “Nothing” proves how adequately minimalist formulas can maximize difficult emotions. It’s a bare-bones run through a personal affirmation, rendering something that appears delicate at first blush searing at second glance. More than that, “Nothing” introduces Common Holly as a deceptively powerful artist with the capacity to deliver breathtaking turns in the quietest rooms.
Weaves – Puddle
Riding a wave of critical adulation and having earned the respect of their contemporaries, Weaves returned in 2017 with Wide Open, an aptly named run that they billed as their Americana effort. While the record takes a lot of notable cues from that genre, the band’s wildly erratic, genre-obliterating core remained intact with the barn-burning closer “Puddle” acting as the clearest indication that the band’s unpredictable firepower was still fully intact.
Fred Thomas – Misremembered
Following a record as momentous as All Are Saved will always be a difficult task but to surpass high expectations in the way that Fred Thomas managed with Changeris a rarity. From the record’s dynamic opening track, Thomas proves to be more focused than ever, spinning barbed tapestries of lived-in realism with unmatched verve. “Misremembered” isn’t just a testament to Thomas’ lyricism, either, the fiery music that serves as its backdrop propelling it to stratospheric heights.
Big Thief – Breathe In My Lungs
A lot of outlets gave Big Thief‘s breathtaking “Mary” a deserving amount of love, ranking both the song — and the record it resides — as the year’s best. Meanwhile, the band’s devastating B-side, “Breathe In My Lungs”, flew under the radar. As is often the case with bands as prolific and talented as Big Thief, “Breathe In My Lungs” is so much more than just a castaway or afterthought, it’s one of their most heartrending numbers, expertly using the considerable weight of guitarist/vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s singular voice to turn in some of the year’s most unforgettably damaged romanticism.
Cayetana – Bus Ticket
2017 saw a very large handful of bands taking the next step in their evolution but few seemed to take their strides forward with as much assurance as Cayetana, who zeroed in on what’s long been the crux of their songwriting: mental health. No song conveyed this more than their staggering “Bus Ticket“, which saw the band slowing the tempo and accelerating the force the trio’s always put into their compositions. Managing to be direct and atmospheric simultaneously, “Bus Ticket” stands proudly as a career high for a band that’s found their voice.
Yucky Duster – Elementary School Dropout
One of the year’s most unabashedly exuberant records came in the form of Yucky Duster‘s latest EP, Duster’s Lament. Headlined by the effusive “Elementary School Dropout”, the band offered up an irresistible slice of joyful basement pop that grounded it’s more playful elements with some effective self-deprecation. Expertly toeing the balance between the light and the bleak, “Elementary School Dropout” stood out as 3 of 2017’s most outright fun minutes in a year where that sort of thing was desperately needed.
Strange Relations – Say You
One of the boldest re-introductions of 2017 came by way of Strange Relations‘ enormously confident Editorial You, which was teeming with memorable bursts of icy post-punk that saw the band considerably elevating their grasp on composition. One of the most significant individual outings for the project comes on the record’s second track, “Say You“, which conjures up a steely demeanor and enhances it with fiercely jagged musical interplay. Both minimalist and towering, it’s an obscenely impressive song from a young band that seems determined to continuously reach for greater heights.
Covey – Call Home
There were a lot of songs that came out over 2017’s 12 months that occupied a similar space as Covey‘s “Call Home”: laid back, lovely, unassuming, and tinged with regret, loneliness, and despair. None of them wound up staying the way “Call Home” managed to stay; the song’s melodies and gorgeous chorus humming along and dominating unexpected spaces of memory when it could’ve just as easily rescinded into oblivion. Every return listen offered a new take and at some point, the song migrated from being a pleasant curiosity to something far more essential: one of the year’s best.
IDLES – Mother
Recently given Music Video of the Year honors, IDLES‘ “Mother” also comes off as a ferocious head-turning effort when stripped from its hyper-intense visual accompaniment. Vocalist Joe Talbot repeats several mantras throughout “Mother” — written as a tortured tribute to his own late mother, whose portrait graces the record’s cover — each of them decrying two evils: one political, one sexual, both too frequently intertwined into a nightmarish whole.
Viciously opposed to a system that uses a weighted system to the benefit of the people who are afforded privilege, the song is a startling reminder of the seething anger and frustration of the people who oppose those systems. It’s a clarion call delivered with an excess of venom, using it’s hardcore leanings to drive a message home hard enough that the ramifications of our choices are left lingering in the smoke.
Palehound – If You Met Her
A beacon of consistency over the past several years, news of a new Palehound record was welcome when it was first announced. The first few singles were packed full of the band’s usual tricks but then “If You Met Her” arrived and decimated everything. A hard-hitting look at how the loss of someone you know can affect your own perception of what it means to die, “If You Met Her” immediately registered as not just Palehound’s darkest effort but the project’s best as well.
It’s a gripping, grounded meditation on life itself and it’s delivered with such empathetic understanding that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song in full without running through an avalanche of feeling. Anything that inspires that level of emotional response and visceral reaction is worth noting — and in the case of “If You Met Her”, it’s more than worth celebrating.
Young Jesus – Feeling
A longtime staple of this site’s coverage, Young Jesus have continuously found exciting ways to evolve as a band in the face of a slew of obstacles that leave lesser bands stumbling. From nearly complete lineup shifts to a refocused experimentation to a relocation that took them from the upper Midwest to the West Coast. The band’s latest effort saw a quick self-release suddenly disappear only to be re-released shortly after by Saddle Creek.
All it takes to understand why such a revered label would take on the band is one listen to “Feeling”, a sprawling 10-minute opus which beautifully showcases the band’s remarkable range, guitarist/vocalist John Rossiter‘s penchant for blending memorable poetry with unforgettable melody, and a growing fearlessness. It’s a heart-stopping moment on what remains one of 2017’s most woefully overlooked records and reaffirms Young Jesus’ place as one of today’s best bands.
The Magic Lantern – Holding Hands
Easily one of 2017’s outright loveliest moments, The Magic Lantern‘s “Holding Hands” casts a spellbinding magic all its own within its opening figures, as a yearning vocal is laid on a bed of gentle saxophone figurines. As the notes and vocals hold — with as much purpose as the imagined goal of the narration, no less — the song winds up with enough power from two core elements to elicit chills.
When the body of “Holding Hands” takes shape as the drums kick in, providing yet another one of 2017’s most perfectly-realized moments, it becomes abundantly clear that something miraculous is happening on the track. By the time it all winds to a ghostly close, “Holding Hands” has left a mark that deserves to be called upon fondly in the days to come. In all of it’s warmth and care, “Holding Hands” pushes forward from a simple greatness and achieves something far closer to transcendence.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Mount Eerie – Real Death
When Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” first arrived, it was set to get a standalone feature. That post never arrived as I personally struggled with the decision to attempt to bring any sort of discourse to something so nakedly personal, which held true for A Crow Looked At Me (the record it’s from) as well. As time passed, that decision lingered, though it became increasingly difficult to listen to both the song and the record, famously written about the death of the songwriter’s wife and recorded in the studio she’d built in their house, on the instruments she left behind.
Even without being able to listen to the song, the memory of the song stayed as strongly as the feelings that accompanied the first listen (as well as the subsequent ones). It’s the sound of Phil Elverum tearing his own wounded heart out of his body to present to the world so that they can understand what kind of grief accompanies something so tragically world-shifting.
While every moment of “Real Death” is shattering, the weight of it becomes nearly unbearable when Elverum shifts the lyrics from oblique poetry to a hyper-specific narrative, recounting one moment of singular heartbreak that arrived with a package that has late wife had secretly ordered for their daughter. In that retelling, Elverum envisions his wife, living with the knowledge that her wife would be ending, thinking ahead and wanting to provide comfort for the people she loved.
Not only does that specific moment touch upon why Geneviève was someone he loved so fiercely but, in doing so, provides the song’s listeners a glimpse into her character as well. It effectively shifts the tonality of the record even further toward heartbreak by painting such an intimate portrait, making “Real Death” come across as even more unmistakably, painfully human. It’s a tribute to an artist that so many of us wish we knew and stands as a stark reminder to cherish the ones we do know while we can and to strive to match their gifts with our own.
By positing real-life implications alongside meaningful execution, “Real Death” became something much larger than the sum of its parts. In plumbing the depths of personal loss, Elverum’s Mount Eerie projected gifted us something hard to experience and impossible to forget. With any luck, it will steer us towards more effectively demonstrating our love when it can be appreciated by the people for which it’s intended.
The Best of the Rest
Middle Children – Baby Boom
Joyce Manor – NBTSA
Thurst – Forever Poser
The New Years – Recent History
Monomyth – Puppet Creek
Hermetic – Strategic Default
Protomartyr – A Private Understanding
Alexander F – Call Me Pretty
Pile – Dogs
Vagabon – Cold Apartment
Cloud Nothings – Internal World
Prom Queen – Blonde
Holiday Ghosts – Can’t Bear To Be Boring
Washer – Dog Go Bark
Grouper – Children
Slaughter Beach, Dog – Fish Fry
Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day
Meat Wave – Run You Out
The Spirit of the Beehive – Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)
Walter Etc. – April 41st
Chemtrails – Deranged
Juila Louise – Brat
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
Amy O – Lavender Night
Modern Baseball – This Song Is Gonna Buy Brendan Lukens A New Pair of Socks
Girlpool – It Gets More Blue
The Total Bettys – Stay Here All Night
Tica Douglas – Same Thing
Midnight Reruns – Warm Days
WHY? – Proactive Evolution
Hand Habits – Sun Beholds Me
Long Neck – Mine/Yours
Julien Baker – Appointments
Anna Burch – Asking 4 A Friend
Palm – Walkie Talkie
Single Mothers – People Are Pets
Lydia Loveless – Desire
Deem Spencer – Soap
Two Inch Astronaut – Play To No One
Blessed – Headache
Diet Cig – Maid of the Mist
Madeline Kenney – Big One
Dream Wife – Somebody
Bethlehem Steel – Finger It Out
Strange Ranger – House Show
Miya Folick – Trouble Adjusting
Jesca Hoop – Pegasi
Fiji-13 – Mansplain It To Me BB
Idle Bloom – Dust
Florist – What I Wanted To Hold
Beachheads – It Feels Alright
Fruit & Flowers – Out of Touch
Ratboys – The Record
Schlotman – Holy Basil
Lost Balloons – Numb
John Rossiter – Mom Guitar
Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Walter Martin (ft. Matt Berninger) – Hey Matt
Jay Som – The Bus Song
Japanese Breakfast – The Body Is A Blade
Screaming Females – Glass House
Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals
Open Mike Eagle (ft. Sammus) – Hymnal
Half Waif – Frost Burn
Petite League – Pocketknife
Say Sue Me – Bad Habit
Petal – 15
Waxahatchee – Silver
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires
Siobhan Wilson – Whatever Helps
Sammi Lanzetta – Circles
Deep State – Nothing Speaking
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Lithuania – 5000 Year Leap
More than two months have come and gone since the last post went live on this site. True to form, the collection of materials never ceased in that time. A disparity between collection and production grew more intimidating and adjustments were being made continuously as new angles for Heartbreaking Bravery were (and still are) being considered. This remains a one-person operation and it can be a daunting task to take on the level of commitment that was required to keep this place going in its established direction.
More than once, I contemplated just ending its existence but could never escape the thought that representing under-represented music remained a vital necessity, especially in a climate where our tastes are now curated and formed more by coldly computed algorithms than actual human interest. All of the year-end lists overlapped, certain streaming giants heightened the exclusivity of their arrangements with major distributors to the point representing emerging artists without major representation borders the impossible.
Those aspects of the industry need a corrective, something that my friends, contemporaries, and publications worthy of aspiration have all but made their mission (and to that end, I would like to extend another round of personal thanks to bandcamp, GoldFlakePaint, Post-Trash, dimestore saints, The Alternative, The Grey Estates, ROOKIE, She Shreds, Various Small Flames, Swell Tone, and a host of others, along with every alt-weekly in existence). As those correctives became noticeably more impassioned during the brief hiatus from publishing, I found myself getting progressively more inspired to continue on with Heartbreaking Bravery and found myself constantly combing through back catalogs of publications that clearly cared about unheralded voices.
Of course, there are still established voices of note making worthwhile art and they deserve representation (some even staked out their names through hard-fought battles instead of buying their way into recognition) and those artists will be mentioned. However, the scales here — just as was the case in the past — will never be exponentially weighted to favor that recognition. Something that will be profoundly clear below in the list I’ve compiled across these 2+ months of songs, music videos, and records worth experiencing. I don’t expect anyone to actually comb through all of these but please, click around, and hopefully those random clicks will lead to a discovery of a new favorite. Enjoy the list and keep an eye out for more posts in the days to follow.
We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.
Weaves – 53 + Walkaway
One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.
Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress
Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.
Common Holly – Nothing
Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.
Abraham King – Spit
Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.
METZ – Drained Lake
One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.
Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart
A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.
Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2
Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.
Madeline Kenney – Big One
The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.
Weakened Friends – Hate Mail
While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.
Mike Caridi – Two Dogs
LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.
Grouper – Children
Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.
Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show
Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.
Technical difficulties forced Heartbreaking Bravery into an effective hiatus at the start of the year but, even through the visible inaction, behind-the-scenes work continued in earnest. Various outlets depths were exhausted, the site’s inbox maintained its regular flood of releases, and everything else that emerged was meticulously examined. Over the course of 2017’s first quarter (minus a week or so), more than 100 great records were released. 10 will be spotlighted in the very near future and the rest of the releases that caused a positive reaction can be found below. Enjoy.
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.
In 2016, Strange Ranger released their strongest effort to date with the emotionally restless Sunbeams Through Your HeadEP. It was more than strong enough to crack this site’s best EP’s list. An extraordinary re-introduction to an already great band, it articulately conveyed the power that’s always been present — but never as vividly evident — in bandleader Isaac Eiger’s writing. It’s an honor to be publishing Eiger’s first entry into this series and it’s heartening to see that he chose to write a short, sweet piece about gleaning inspiration from his sister. Read it below and continue to love the people that make life more tolerable.
Personally, the most meaningful and affirming part of this otherwise bizarre and disturbing year was watching my sister become incredible. At times the terror of our new political reality has been too much for me (a straight, white, man with very little to fear in the immediate future) and in these times I will call up my 18 year old queer and fearless little sister. She makes me less afraid and her unrelenting humanity and power in the face of such horror is the best thing I have seen this year.