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.
The first half of June carried plenty of surprises. This month has been, notably, dominated by major hip-hop artists and included the release of several major records that have the capacity to hijack year-end lists. Those releases have never been the focal point of this site and this won’t be the post where that changes. Every item on this list, as always, deserves more attention than it’ll receive. Following this list, there will be a few other key releases that get highlighted but these songs, clips, and records deserve all the support they can get, including the below listings and anyone willing to click their links. Enjoy.
Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.
After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.
From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.
Washer – All Aboard
Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.
Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough
Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.
Petite League – Rips One Into the Night
Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.
Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.
Young Jesus – Young Jesus
Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesusseems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.
Deep State – Thought Garden
One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.
Weaves – Wide Open
Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.
Landlines – Landlines
A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlinesnever stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.
Strange Relations – Editorial You
Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait
Fred Thomas – Changer
The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changeris legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.
Big Thief – Capacity
One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiecewas touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacityin 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.
Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us
Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joeywent a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.
Cende – #1 Hit Single
A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.
Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go
One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.
Mo Troper – Exposure & Response
One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.
Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.
Album of the Year:
Charly Bliss – Guppy
A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.
The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.
Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.
“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.
A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.
When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.
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
A small handful of anticipated records were released over the past week, as well as a few surprises. From veteran acts to those looking to capitalize on heavily acclaimed debuts to new acts with no name recognition looking to make the mark, it was a typically diverse week in the world of music. Five of those records hit incredibly hard and will be expanded upon in the main section but don’t let that distract you from some incredible releases by the following: Small Circle, Dead Stars, Claire Nelson-Lifson, Partner, Tomberlin, Even As We Speak, Baby Jesus, L.A. Witch, and Small Souls, all of which nearly were featured themselves. As always, everything’s worth hearing, so block out any excess noise and surrender to the magnetic pull of each and every one of these releases.
1. Alvvays – Antisocialites
Alvvays had a lot to live up to after their breakthrough debut and they’ve more than delivered with Antisocialites, expanding on the ideas and the aesthetic of their winsome first record. All of the impossibly magnetic melodies are intact while the arrangements are a hair sharper this time around, the instrumental interplay and vocal decisions bolstering an immensely likable record. Sometimes the records we hope bands will make wind up being made and Antisocialites is one of those records. Hit play and fall in love.
2. Sundial Mottos – Sundial Mottos
Sundial Mottos are a new band, who just happen to feature A Years Worth of Memories contributorAlisa Rodriguez, as well as Midnight Reruns‘ Graham Hunt and Brady Murphy. They also just happen to be extremely good and responsible for one of the best EP’s to come out of the Upper Midwest this year with their self-titled debut. Hunt remains one of the better lyricists working today and delivers another acutely-realized and lived-in narratives with the opener “Service Industry”, which also boasts some effective slide work. It’s an impressive start to an EP that never comes close to wearing out its welcome.
3. Strange Relations – Editorial You
Strange Relations have made a habit of snagging feature write-ups on this site — most recently with Editorial You‘s exceptional “Say You” — so it’s probably too much of a surprise to see their name here yet again. Editorial You, the band’s latest record is also, by far, the best work of their already formidable discography. The band’s grip on dynamics, arrangements, and atmospherics (and just about everything else that can make a record great) has grown and their mastery is on full display throughout the record. Easily one of the year’s most intriguing, inventive, and downright arresting records.
4. Beachtape – Hold Music
Beachtape, another band from the excellent Sweden-based punk label PNKSLM have been featured on Heartbreaking Bravery a few times before, always offering up hints at their identity. With Hold Music, the band finally feels complete. An astonishingly good EP that blends elements of dream-pop, surf, shoegaze, and basement punk into an extremely enticing tapestry, Hold Music is the type of EP that’s destined to turn quite a few heads. It’s hard not to imagine that if Beachtape continues down the path they’re on, a lot more people will know their name.
5. Lomelda – Thx
One of the more gently unassuming songwriters of the past few years, Lomelda, found a nice push in signing to Double Double Whammy (a label already responsible for the release of several of the years best records including Cende and Great Grandpa) for Thx, one of this year’s finest bedroom pop records. Wielding an incredibly enticing sense of melody and a penchant for relatable narratives, Thx quietly swings for the fences and finds itself lost in thought as it rounds the bases. An absolutely soundtrack for the colder seasons.
A lot has happened over the past month and the time to get this site back on track has nearly arrived. On a quick personal note: Heartbreaking Bravery is now based in Madison, WI and will likely expand on some forms of coverage — and feature selections — in the very near future. Before all of that can happen, it’s imperative that the events of the past month be taken into stock. We’re now arriving at a time where the AotY-caliber material descends like a waterfall and it can be overwhelming. To that end, this post will highlight all of the new songs, music videos, and records that made a sizable impression over the past month. A few more posts will follow but if anyone’s looking for a wide-ranging variety of outstanding new music, it’d be best to bookmark this page and spend hours clicking around. It’ll be worth the time.
This post will mark the last of the coverage overhaul necessitated by the seven week hiatus from regular coverage. Records have been covered, music videos have been covered, and a song and a pair of music videos have received standalone posts. Below are the 15 songs that stood out more than any others over that seven week time period and come from all sorts of sources and elicit all sorts of responses. Whether’s it’s the characteristically driving basement pop of Radioactivity or the hushed melancholy of Florist, there’s a lot on display. So quit waiting, jump in, and find a new favorite song. Enjoy.
1. Radioactivity – Sleep
Every project Jeff Burke‘s been involved in over the past decade has demonstrated the man’s a singular songwriter with an enviable gift. One of Burke’s more recent projects, Radioactivity (pictured above), has at least one Album of the Decade contender under their belt and continues to press forward with the kind of propulsive momentum that drives most of their songs. “Sleep” is a perfect example of that dynamic, a miraculous slice of basement pop that reasserts Burke as one of the genre’s all-time greats.
2. Birdskulls – Over It
Few labels are amassing a discography as consistently impressive — or prolific — as Art Is Hard. Birdskulls‘ “Over It”, one of the labels latest offerings, goes a long way in solidifying Art Is Hard’s status at the forefront of the DIY-leaning punk world. A song that perfectly marries basement pop with basement punk, “Over It” comes overflowing with memorable hooks, biting attitude, and worn aesthetics typical of a band destined for a feverishly loyal following. Leave it on repeat.
3. Honeyrude – Flowers
“Flowers” has been in Honeyrude‘s back pocket since 2015 but the band’s recent upheaval and re-release of the song as part of The Color Blue pays massive dividends in practice. Louder, cleaner, bolder, and more refined, “Flowers” is allowed to fully bloom, exceeding its early potential. It’s a gorgeous moment from a band that continues to impress, its shoegaze inflections perfectly suited to the band’s identity. Warm and towering, it’s likely to stand as the band’s career highlight for some time.
4. Strange Relations – Say You
One of the small handful of bands on this list with a long-standing connection to this site, Strange Relations have been furthering themselves with each successive step they’ve taken. The band recently opened for Charly Bliss in Minneapolis and unveiled a lot of new material, including the brooding, kinetic “Say You”, one of the set’s many highlights. Since their past release, Strange Relations have grown more aggressive, more ambitious, and into a more fascinating band. “Say You” is definitive proof.
5. Dead Stars – Pink Clouds
Several years into a remarkably consistent career, Dead Stars have established themselves as one of the most reliable bands currently mining a ’90s slacker punk influence to great effect. Even with a whole host of outstanding songs to claim as their own, “Pink Clouds” manages to stand out. Easily a career high point for the band, the hard-charging number surpasses the most tantalizing heights of their earlier work while staying true to the ethos and identity that made them so memorable in the first place.
6. Walter Etc. – April 41st
Walter Etc. has spent the past few months putting out a small string of impressive songs with “April 41st” being the crown jewel of the lot. A laid-back mid-tempo basement pop number that embraces carefree relaxation, the song still manages to find an impressive momentum by playing directly to its lackadaisical tendencies. Near non sequitur’s and a comfortably dazed narrative elevate the song’s aesthetic to strange heights and the best thing anyone could do is let its calm, unhurried spell take over completely.
7. Basement Revolver – Tree Trunks
2017’s already been overly generous in terms of memorable ballads, churning out some of the decade’s best over the first 2/3s of the year. Among those gems sits Basement Revolver‘s gorgeous “Tree Trunks”, a shoegaze-leaning piece of minimalist post-punk. Pop melodies and wiry instrumentation combine to hypnotic effect, while the production of the song’s second half propel it to stratospheric heights.
8. Pinact – Separate Ways
After a three-year wait, Pinact are back and sounding stronger than ever on “Separate Ways”. Bridging the gap between basement pop and pop-punk in exhilarating fashion, the song clamps its teeth down on a surging sense of momentum and finds a way to guide itself to a triumphant finish. It’s easily among the band’s finest work and bodes extremely well for what their future might have in store. Youthful, vibrant, vicious, and more than a little fun, it’s an unlikely summer anthem.
9. Paul Westerberg – Hawk Ripping At Your Throat
A mysterious song surfaced on Soundcloud a few weeks back from an artist’s page listed as “User 964848511”. Closer inspection revealed it to be Paul Westerberg, operating in the same lo-fi mode that defined the earliest work of his most famous band, The Replacements. Unlike that early work though, “Hawk Ripping at Your Throat” is characterized by a somber, almost foreboding atmosphere. Slow, creeping, and full of white-knuckle suspense, it’s a potent reminder of Westerberg’s legendary talent.
10. Lomelda – Interstate Vision
Lomelda‘s next album will be the project’s first for the impressively consistent — and consistently excellent — Double Double Whammy label. One of the first looks at that record came via the gorgeous “Interstate Vision”, a gentle mid-tempo number with a muted sense of grandeur and a near-cinematic sweep. It’s a lovely song that plays up the projects strongest aesthetic choices as well as emphasizing an unassuming mastery of songwriting. By the track’s end, it’s easy to wish it hadn’t come to a close.
11. SOAR – Fatigue
Last year, SOAR managed to make a strong impression with the material that they were releasing. It seems that their momentum has carried over into 2017 and allowed the band to grow even more emboldened as “Fatigue” — their latest — is as hard-charging and unapologetic as anyone could have hoped. “Fatigue” also plays up their pop sensibilities to great effect, while continuing to mire it in coats of both grit and attitude. It’s a charming track and deserves a whole slew of listens.
12. En Route – I Am the Problem
One of 2017’s most outstanding small releases came recently via En Route’s then is a songEP, another strong record from a growing line of projects working in the space that allows for a happy marriage between bedroom pop and basement punk. “I Am the Problem” was the song chosen to tease the EP and it was an incredibly effective choice as the song carves out a memorable identity for En Route. All of the decisions here, while understated, serve to elevate a legitimately great song from a new band worth knowing.
13. Baby! – If I’m Sorry
Baby! has been releasing a string of ridiculously enticing singles over the past few months and “If I’m Sorry” is the best of an extremely tantalizing lot. Equal parts sweet and biting, “If I’m Sorry” is another mid-tempo slice of quiet perfection from a band that seems to be gearing up for bigger things. Every song they’ve released has been utterly captivating and “If I’m Sorry” takes that facet of their music to new levels. Winsome, pensive, and oddly uplifting, it cements Baby! as one of 2017’s most pleasant surprises.
14. Madeline Kenney – Always
For more than a few years, Madeline Kenney has been carving out a place into today’s pantheon of emerging acts who have a genuine shot at their work being not only remembered but coveted after they’ve relaxed into retirement. “Always” is not only another strong indicator of that end goal but the strongest work of Kenney’s career to date. Three and a half minutes of arresting dynamics, clever arrangements, perfect production, and outstanding songwriting. It’s a song that’ll always be worth keeping around.
15. Florist – What I Wanted to Hold
Last year, Florist released one of the year’s finest EPs in The Birds Outside Sangand they’re already gearing up for the release of what looks to be one of this year’s finest full-lengths, If Blue Could Be Happiness. “What I Wanted to Hold” is the song kicking off the roll out campaign for the record and it’s a stunner. In keeping with the band’s best work, “If I Wanted to Hold” is a delicate, wintry number that’s enhanced by its own fragility. Sincere, vulnerable, and searching, it’s one of the year’s most breathtaking songs.
Over the past week and a half there was a vast arsenal of material that found release across all three major formats. All of the titles that made a sizable impression will be linked to below and all of them are well worth exploring. Over the next few days there will be a laundry list of individual items to find small features but that in no way should deter from the immense value of the songs listed below. If there was enough time to provide each and every one of these entries features of their own, a regular day would have to be well over 24 hours. As it stands, the best approach is to simply bookmark this page and peruse these selections at a preferred pace. Keep an eye out for more updates from this site very soon and enjoy the incredible offerings that are available below.
Snail Mail, Rod, Midwives, Post Pink, Jordaan Mason, Holy Monitor, and Strange Relations were among the shortlist of bands who unveiled excellent full streams over the course of this site’s recent gap in coverage and they’re all more than deserving of heavy levels of investment. The band claiming the featured spot for this post, however, is a new one that boasts an impressive pedigree; one of Topshelf’s most recent releases, Artie Tea’s Out Of A Seaweed Dream. Between the band’s two members, Josh Croteau and Derek Desharnais, the band’s racked up an impressive number of direct connections (including The Clippers, Sneeze, Fucko, and Cough Cough). Combining those acts only hints at Artie Tea’s identity, which echoes shades of classic shoegaze and a few unlikely contemporaries like LVL UP (Croteau’s vocal delivery is particularly reminiscent of Dave Benton’s).
“Attitude” immediately sets the tone for the band’s debut, Out Of A Seaweed Dream, which is overflowing with memorable mid-tempo stompers, killer hooks, and the kind of deceptive discontentment that can serve as propulsive fuel for the creation of praiseworthy art. Throughout the record’s eight tracks and sub-25 minute runtime, Artie Tea never once strikes a false note and creates an intuitive chemistry that serve their songs beautifully.
It’s another winsome notch in an increasingly formidable string of releases from Topshelf Records, who are quickly transforming themselves into a legitimate powerhouse by expanding their horizons in subtle, compelling ways. Out Of A Seaweed Dream‘s not just a surprise standout for the label, it’s one of the year’s great small records. In its almost-title track, “Seaweed Dream”, it even ably demonstrates the band’s scope is likely much larger than what’s offered on their debut. When that reveal finally comes, it looks to be a fulfilling moment. Until then, we should all be more than content to just play these eight songs into oblivion.
Listen to Out Of A Seaweed Dream below and pick it up from Topshelf here.
Last August, this site had the distinct pleasure of hosting the premiere of Strange Relations’ music video for “Panther’s Conquest” and the differences between that song and their most recent, “Weeknites”, is staggering. While “Panther’s Conquest” was undoubtedly a strong single and a fine piece of work from a band growing comfortable with their footing, “Weeknites” is the sound of a band that knows their strengths and can utilize them to astonishing effect.
The trio still specializes in wiry post-punk that’s as nervy as it is subtle, ultimately revealing a deep kinship to acts like Sonic Youth. It’s something that the best moments of -CENTRISM, the band’s last record, hinted at when it could but never to the extent that it appears here. There’s an emboldened attitude that simultaneously heightens the musical interplay of “Weeknites” while it grounds its narrative. There’s a nervous energy that powers “Weeknites” and draws the listener closer in by conjuring up an air of mystique.
Even as the vocals leap from calculated half-spoken/half-sung whispers to distressed half-screams, the band’s minimalism remains in tact and opens up an incredibly effective chorus. There’s a sultry menace that “Weeknites” alternately hides and brings to the forefront, creating a buoyant sense of unease that goes a long way in establishing the song as something more singular than it may seem at first glance. While “Weeknites” is a curious joy on the first few listens, it does require some investment to realize its full potential; the song’s a meticulously crafted work and that commendable level of effort runs far deeper than the most immediate surface levels.
By the song’s breathtaking final sequence, it’s abundantly clear that the three members of Strange Relations have completely committed themselves to this band. Every facet of “Weeknites” is complementary to the other functions, from the ancillary production to the intuitive drumming, there’s not a single piece that ever threatens to jeopardize the entire operation. Incredibly successful on dynamic, atmospheric, and narrative levels, “Weeknites” marks an exciting new era for Strange Relations. They’ve more than done their part, all that’s left is to wait — and to hope — that larger audiences will follow.
Listen to “Weeknites” below and pre-order Going Out from Tiny Engines here.