Heartbreaking Bravery

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18 of ’18: The Best Albums of the Year

When the headline says Best of the Year, the people who click over to the list have a few titles in mind they’re expecting to see because those same titles were in the previous list with that headline and the list before that one (and so on and so forth). A lot of that has to do with one simple, depressing fact: the PR those artists and labels can afford. To counteract that, a different approach was taken in compiling these selections. Any record that topped more than one of those lists outright (apologies, Mitski) was taken out of consideration for this list.

Every album that appeared in more than half of the lists I personally witnessed were taken out of consideration (a list that included Hop Along, The Beths, Courtney Barnett, Car Seat Headrest, Low, Saba, Snail Mail, Haley Heynderickx, and a handful of others). All of these lists share one unifying trait: they’re subjective. All of the records listed resonated with individual writers or made ripples among shared staff, striking at different nerves. All of the albums on this list made a lasting impression and will have at least one listener coming back years down the line. Buy these albums, support great music, scroll down, read, and hit play on the best albums of 2018.

Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

No matter what moniker they’ve operated under, the music being produced by the band now known as Gabby’s World has been remarkable. In 2015, the group was responsible for O.K., the record that would ultimately top that year’s Album of the Year list. They’ve released a handful of music since then and experienced a stylistic shift as they’ve evolved, something Gabrielle Smith’s project wields to their advantage on Beast On Beast.

A more melancholic and subdued tone permeates through the record, while still providing a handful of emotionally cathartic moments. From the tender, bombastic opener through to the record’s hazy closer, Gabby’s World casts a spell that’s hard to break. Warmth and empathy inform so much of the band’s work that every song feels like a comfort, something familiar to sink into and disappear. It’s a trait that’s always been true of Gabby’s World but never has it been more present than on the abundantly graceful Beast On Beast.

Slow Mass – Watch On

Slow Mass, a band that’s gradually been improving for some time, took a significant step forward with the genre-resistant Watch On. So many subsets of rock and punk intersect throughout the record, morphing from classic emo to heady math-rock to wiry post-punk within seconds. What’s more surprising than the band somehow successfully integrating this further into their identity is the sense of cohesion that unites these passages.

Every song Watch On offers up contains a different highlight, ably demonstrating the band’s breadth of talent. A lot of its astonishing and none of its ever uninspiring or tepid. By committing to not staying in the same place, Slow Mass winds up with the most vital work of a promising career. Watch On takes every twist and turn on a path to greatness, which makes the trip as satisfying as the promise of a memorable destination.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

Over their past several records, Saintseneca have more than proved their adeptness at creating records that feel complete. The band hasn’t made an errant step throughout a run that’s seen their audience continuously balloon. Pillar of Na, the band’s latest, presented a unique challenge in the departure of Maryn Jones (also of All Dogs and Yowler), who suffused the band’s earlier works with a considerable depth of grace. Caeleigh Featherstone takes up Jones’ mantle and the band doesn’t miss a beat.

Pillar of Na also sees Saintseneca, who have long been praised for their Appalachian folk roots, drift further East and embrace a more traditionally Indian influence. “Circle Hymn” sets the record’s tone and the melody of the song paces the record, providing a gorgeous motif. Beautifully sequenced, incredibly rich, and ridiculously transfixing, Pillar of Na proves itself worthy of Saintseneca’s discography, which remains one of today’s finest.

illuminati hotties – Kiss Yr Friends

A band that picked up a little steam and took off sprinting, illuminati hotties showed the world what they’re capable of producing with Kiss Yr Friends. Opening with a tenderness that’s ingrained into their music before forging a much more explosive path, Kiss Yr Friends demonstrated the band’s enviable range and seemingly boundless songwriting talent.

It doesn’t matter what style illuminati hotties tries to take on, they succeed with every attempt, which is a trait that could help them cultivate an ambition that never stops expanding. A record full of self-reflection, pain, hope, and an elevated understanding, Kiss Yr Friends sees illuminati hotties making a considerable mark. Easily one of the more promising emergent acts of 2018, they’re already a powerhouse. Kiss Yr Friends is all the evidence anyone should need.

Anna Burch – Quit the Curse

Towards the end of 2017, Anna Burch teased Quit the Curse with a few tracks and videos that made a sizable impression and upped the levels of anticipation for its release. Those high expectations were both warranted and met as Burch released a record that carried all the way through 2018 without losing an ounce of its power. Sunshine-speckled songs that combined pop, surf, doo-wop, and Americana were granted a lacerating wit and plenty of punk bite.

Quit the Curse could easily be confused for a singles record by someone that didn’t know better but the songs on the record are tethered to an introspective narrative that acts as a welcoming as much as a warning. “Asking 4 A Friend”, “2 Cool 2 Care”, the title track, and every other song on this gem of a record find ways to dig into the listener’s consciousness, taking up residence and making themselves a comfortable home. It’s hard to think anyone will mind.

Ovlov – TRU

Steve Hartlett had one hell of a year, releasing two of 2018’s best records in Stove‘s ‘s Favorite Friend and the reborn Ovlov‘s TRU. The latter came as one of the most welcome surprises of the year, as questions of whether Ovlov had retired still abounded. TRU sets the record straight from the opening seconds of album opener “Baby Alligator”, which finds the band’s trademark characteristics fully intact.

Aggressive and melancholic, clear and hazy, Hartlett’s made a career out of thriving in improbable dichotomies, which is something TRU wisely brings to the forefront. A record that surges as much as it soothes, TRU also finds time to grapple with serious questions underneath all the noise (and, as always, there’s plenty of noise). Existential quandaries pitched at the highest volume continue to populate Hartlett’s writing as the band returns to making a home out of searching for meaning.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Ovlov weren’t the only project making an unpredictable return in 2018, as Owen Ashworth settled back into Advance Base to release an astonishingly gripping collection of new material. Animal Companionship ranks along the best works of Ashworth’s illustrious career. The record may actually benefit from Ashworth’s sabbatical from the project as Animal Companionship is imbued with the kind of gravity that can only be earned with age and experience.

Quiet devastation courses through Animal Companionship, which finds Ashworth reflecting on everything from failed relationships that were extended solely because of bonds forged with an erstwhile partner’s animals to the constraints of mortality and how to productively fill the arbitrary voids that are created by the harsh reality of our own impermanence. Reflexive, tranquil, and propped up by an extraordinary sense of empathetic warmth, Animal Companionship proves to be meaningful company all its own.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

One of 2018’s most exhilarating — and overlooked — records came from Lonely Parade, who provided the BUZZ (one of the most consistently great punk labels) roster with yet another shot of adrenaline. Wiry post-punk, basement pop, and slacker punk exist in harmony on The Pits, which is a vibrant and insistent triumph from a breakout act that made their abundant tenacity clear from the outset.

Every single track on The Pits bucks and bristles, ready to charge forward at any second. Clever hooks dominate the album, both vocally and instrumentally, as Lonely Parade sculpt a memorable, unmistakable identity throughout the course of The Pits. Romantic ennui, self-loathing, self-celebration, and unbridled frustration careen recklessly through The Pits‘ narratives, providing an unsparing look at modern life for young adults. A minor masterpiece that’s not afraid to get scrappy.

Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

Gouge Away have been going increasingly hard for a few years now and that relentless has birthed Gouge Away, the post-hardcore quartet’s most vicious and complete work of a formidable career. The band expands their ambitions on Burnt Sugar to dazzling effect, showing an increasing willingness to lean into pop-oriented melodies and even to slow way down, which they do for the breathtaking “Ghost“.

Every second of Burnt Sugar provides the sense of being swept up in a hurricane. The stakes are literally life and death. Gouge Away commits to the former while fully acknowledging the latter, allowing that inevitable promise to inform their willingness to fight. Thrash, metal, and noise all provide inflections as Burnt Sugar roars along towards its ultimate destination, combining in inspired ways to provide Gouge Away with a startling new career high.

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There

In 2011, Young Jesus were still operating out of Chicago and had just released Home, which marked a significant step forward for the band and remains one of that year’s best records. Since Home‘s release, the band has taken several more leaps forward, creating a momentum that’s taken them from a fledgling emergent act to something more akin to an indifferent meteor. The Whole Thing Is Just There the band’s first record of new material for Saddle Creek sees them continuing to hurtle through an empty oblivion, coasting on a frantic trajectory while trying to make sense of their surroundings.

Confines and restraints that dictated much of their previous work have been completely discarded in favor of the free-noise improvisation the group’s been honing in their live shows for years. Songs shift and morph at will, largely ignoring traditional structures. “Deterritory” goes from soothing ambient work to vicious post-hardcore in The Whole Thing Is Just There‘s astonishing opening track while the towering closer, “Gulf”, exceeds 20 minutes in length. Somehow, all of this seems grounded, attached to something genuine and unmistakably human. An extraordinary listen from one of this decade’s best bands.

Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

Following the milder Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings wanted to make it excessively clear they wouldn’t be following the trend of rock-oriented artists taking an exceedingly pop-minded plunge. “On An Edge”, Last Building Burning‘s fiery opener, ranks among the bleakest and most punishing work the band’s committed to date. It sets a tone that the rest of the Randall Dunn-produced record lives up to and possibly exceeds.

In addition to the renewed emphasis on tonal and overall harshness, the band lets drummer Jayson Gerycz remind everyone he may be one of the single most valuable additions any band’s had this decade. Gerycz turns in a masterpiece performance behind the kit as Last Building Burning takes Cloud Nothings to new heights on the back of both excessive determination, subtle antagonism, and the most emotionally moving narratives bandleader Dylan Baldi’s ever penned, with several gut-punches centered around being a largely passive bystander forced to repeat the same pleas while someone close is enduring an abusive relationship and refusing to navigate their way out.

Brutal and desperate, Last Building Burning is full of songs that evoke the record’s title. While that title may focus on just one fiery structure, it’s not hard to imagine an entire metropolitan skyline being razed. Cloud Nothings finds a way throughout Last Building Burning to acknowledge the flames, the ashes, and the pain that led to that level of demolition. Unforgiving and deeply personal, Last Building Burning may just be the ceaselessly impressive band’s masterpiece.

Big Ups – Two Parts Together

Few bands get to go out on career highs, at the apex of their creative talent, and with an ascendant group of followers. Big Ups made sure they were one of those few with the volatile, challenging, and inspired Two Parts Together. What will likely stand as the band’s final release, Two Parts Together acts as a total culmination of what one of the best hardcore-adjacent acts has put together over the course of an acclaimed career that sparked a considerable amount of admiration among their peers.

Two Parts Together may be the first Big Ups record to match the band’s transcendent live show, keeping the listener entranced as it takes one jack-knife turn after the other at breakneck speed with deadly precision. More than just a testament to the band’s unreal command of dynamics, Two Parts Together offers an unfiltered look into the band’s identity through both composition and narrative. Vocalist Joe Galaragga leans into a series of complex topics with the a fearlessness that’s characteristic of the band, anchoring the most ambitious — and loosely experimental — music of Big Ups’ discography with enough tenacity and heart to make Two Parts Together an essential listen.

Fog Lake – captain

Fog Lake‘s been turning heads for some time now, quietly perfecting a warm strain of tender, empathetic ambient pop. Aaron Powell’s project attains a rare beauty on captain, the crown jewel of an incredibly rich discography. Every track exudes patience and attentiveness, layering ambient noise, piano, vocals, and traditional rock instrumentation to conjure up a feeling that resides somewhere between introspection and self-actualization.

captain is yet another emotionally shattering work from Powell, who’s seemingly building a career out of soundtracking personal solitude while dreaming up ways to make sure company’s welcome. An absorbing, immersive listen, captain navigates increasingly murky waters with both grace and clarity, accepting that not every question will have an answer and that every journey becomes infinitely more rewarding once its difficulties have been confronted and either accepted, resolved, or ingrained. A mesmerizing record that ensures Powell’s spot among today’s pantheon of truly great songwriters.

Evening Standards – Evening Standards

Evening Standards‘ self-titled debut comes packed with a pedigree. Forged out of the ashes of PURPLE 7 and a handful of great basement pop acts before that, anything less than remarkable would’ve been surprising but the heights Evening Standards manages to reach are still surprising. Every second of the band’s debut feels incredibly assured, on every front. The members of Evening Standards have all seemingly cultivated their own individual identities as musicians and managed to find a way to congeal them into something exhilarating.

Front to back, Evening Standards is comprised of intentionally loose basement pop that’s a little tongue-in-cheek on the surface but underscored by surprising depth. “Lil Green Man” highlights this dynamic beautifully, by taking a narrative centered on alien visitation and expounding the lark to humbling existential queries. The hooks are memorable and they find ways to dig deep, refusing to let go once they’ve taken hold. A playful romp that exponentially rewards investment, Evening Standards carves out a place for itself as one of basement pop’s high watermarks.

Long Neck – Will This Do?

On Long Neck‘s first record after Lily Mastrodimos expanded the project to be a full band, they waste no time in illustrating the benefits of that decision. On the first half of Will This Do? the band delivers a newfound lightheartedness to the project, offering up a series of summery tracks that ably demonstrate their strength as a collective. Even in those warmer moments, though, Mastrodimos holds true to the more autumnal narratives that characterized the extraordinary work that had comprised Long Neck’s solo era. Towards the halfway mark, the dam starts cracking and the floodgates open for the final stretch.

While Will This Do? boasted some of the most enjoyable — and endlessly replayable — tracks of 2018 in its opening stretch, the record hits a point-of-no-return with the unexpectedly dark “Ashes” and kicks off what may stand as the strongest final act of 2018. It’s over this jaw-dropping set of songs that Mastrodimos drops any pretenses regarding personal struggle and familial loss and favors a brutal, unforgiving directness that strips away the artifice and forces the listener to grapple with both losing and failing.

Those four songs, “Ashes”, “Hive Collapse”, “Milky Way“, and “10,000 Year Old Woman” are the best of Mastrodimos’ burgeoning career and the cumulative impact they leave is unforgettable. While “Matriarch” served as a gorgeous early peak and smart reprieve in the record’s early raucousness, the total reckoning of its closing run manages to tip Will This Do? into an overwhelmingly immersive experience. At the center of the pain evidenced in those closing narratives is a drive to not just survive but celebrate that survival, elevating a memorably great record to something far more transcendent.

Doe – Grow Into It

Some Things Last Longer Than You vaulted Doe‘s status up several levels back in 2016, securing the trio as one of the best basement pop acts making music. This site gave that record Album of the Year honors alongside an exceedingly strong committee. The band toured relentlessly on the back of that record and finally unveiled Grow Into It in 2018’s final quarter, surpassing the anticipation that they’d tirelessly built on the back of their explosive live show and an absurdly strong lineup of touring partners.

Grow Into It is everything anyone can hope for from a follow-up to a breakout album: the retention of identity, a willingness to expand boundaries, a fearlessness in decision-making, strong production, and a tenacious commitment. Brimming with hard-won confidence, the band attacks Grow Into It with the fervor of someone caught up in a fight to survive. Put your back into it/Until you can’t undo it goes a particularly memorable couplet, ostensibly underlining the band’s modus operandi.

A record that seems to accelerate progressively more as it races towards its jaw-dropping closer, Grow Into It finds Doe pouring their heart into their craft. The band wears a number of ’90s influences on their sleeve, churning out slacker pop that recalls that era’s best works. Wildly enjoyable at every step, even as it fixates on harsh issues connected to everything from a tumultuous political landscape to reflections on widely-held and extremely dispiriting views on autonomy, Grow Into It is a record that’s not afraid to speak as loudly as Doe plays. An astounding work from one of our best young bands.

Half Waif – Lavender

Watching my grandmother walk in her garden
She’s lost her hearing, does not notice the cardinal
I hold fast to the hours before the obvious parting

Those lines make up the second verse to appear on Half Waif‘s breathtaking Lavender, a monumental step forward for Nandi Plunkett’s project and an unforgettable artistic statement. A record seeped in the memory of Plunkett’s recently departed grandmother, Lavender soothes and haunts in equal measure. Informed by lost connections and a life dedicated to the road, Lavender takes the listener and actively places them in the passenger’s seat of an extended tour-driven narrative. Immensely moving and intrinsically connected to something spiritual, Plunkett navigates a series of burning questions and hard realizations with an unflappable grace.

Piercing insight is offered with reassuring tenderness throughout Lavender. Cities are yearned for, memories are tightly embraced, and lasting bonds are valued above all else. There’s a quiet desperation that carries throughout the record, the one constant as all the extra scenery flies by the window. In many ways, Lavender plays like a journal chronicling Plunkett’s untethering, providing a startling glimpse into the harsh realities of life on the road. Plunkett’s incisive narration keying in on the moments where the ground seems to separate, creating the sensation of aimless drifting.

Where Lavender separates itself from the many, many records that have tried to anchor their narratives with a similar framing is in Plunkett’s tacit acceptance of the loneliness that accompanies the drifting- any company is better than none. The record also never overstates its realistically tragic circumstances, relying on mundane moments to paint a much more engrossing portrait that allows it to land that much harder. Every facet of Lavender feels considered, allowing the record to be pitched at different velocities of tumult: “Back In Brooklyn” is a song in the key of the MTA while “Leveler” boasts an opening that intentionally isolates Plunkett’s voice into a hushed world of its own.

Forever in transit and full of curious glances outward, Lavender goes far beyond just being an extended meditation on what life reverts to when home becomes the hum of the road and into a towering statement about the nature of journeying. A record that’s sharply aware that there’s beauty to behold just beyond the window, even when the static trappings feel overbearing, Lavender is a work that drives into what makes life worth living. As hard as the tough moments wind up being, there’s a power to those experiences that, when given enough distance, become affirming.

Tough, tender, unforgiving, accepting, shattering, and hopeful, Lavender is a pointed presentation of contradictions, all firmly held in place by Plunkett’s reality. A story that’s been lived countless times finds a new level of poignancy on Lavender, which stands with a determined resilience as one of the most emotionally taxing — and rewarding — listens of 2018. For all of the silent pain that separation can bring, there’s an undercurrent of memory to inform that pain. At the core of Lavender, there’s a wellspring of love and by the record’s murky culmination, there’s a resigned acknowledgement of what that love will bring.

In those final moments, Lavender stops running away from the questions it’s been asking since its opening salvo and reveals a burdened truth: it knew the answer. It’s always known. To leave is to strengthen the effect of love. Whether the departure arrives at the airport or culminates with a wake, there’s a magnified sense of affection, which makes the parting infinitely harder. When that divide is extended, it can become harder still. What matters is that we allow ourselves to admit and how we navigate, how we cope, and how we understand.

The last twist of Plunkett’s narrative-driven knife arrives with so much certainty, after a sea of avoidance, that the effect is staggering. “Ocean Scope” delivers that knockout blow with courage, allowing Plunkett and the listener time to sit, to reflect, to accept, and to heal.

I don’t wanna know this
I don’t wanna know how this ends
In the grand scope of things
I know

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance

IDLES made a deep, lasting impression in 2017 with Brutalism, a pointed, scuzz-fueled blast of punk shrapnel. Pop culture was toyed with, progressive stances were belted out like war cries, and there was an abundance of empathy at its heart. All of its disdain was directed at people and policies that knowingly and maliciously take advantage of others, allowing Brutalism a sincere bent to its frustration. Just about every song on that record suggested the band could be fully capable of producing a masterpiece. No one could have predicted it’d come this soon.

A little over a year had elapsed before IDLES pulled back the curtains on Joy As An Act of Resistance a snarling behemoth that took everything that made Brutalism so engaging and multiplied them exponentially. “Colossus”, the first track to be released in advance of Joy As An Act of Resistance and the album opener, makes the band’s transformation plain. The rhythm section that provided Brutalism with quite a bit of its power finds new strength in restraint and focus, following a single chord and rim shot pattern through to a punishing, tribal-like section.

Vocalist Joe Talbot seems to find new life in this mode of attack, elevating his narrative work with unwavering commitment. The pop culture references are more prominent, the target range is significantly wider, and there’s an emotional crux to the lyrics that manages to cut through the wry humor and ground the material in something both personal and poignant. Virtually all of that’s packed into “Colossus”, which ultimately serves as both the catalyst for Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s tone and as a slight reintroduction to IDLES as a whole.

As a cohesive unit, the version of IDLES presented to us on their sophomore effort is tighter, more aggressive, and more exhaustively complete. “Colossus”, “Danny Nedelko“, “GREAT“, and “Samaritans” all suggested the band was operating at a higher level but Joy As An Act of Resistance finds them exceeding even the unlikeliest of high expectations. What ensues after “Colossus” flips a switch and jumps from foreboding tension to an all-out basement punk blitz is the purest distillation of political, social, and emotional commentary that any record in 2018 had to offer.

There’s a blunt honesty to Joy As An Act of Resistance that characterized the best songs of its preceding act but is sustained and felt through even the wryest pop culture jab. The breadth of what Talbot’s willing to tackle here is astonishing, running from the lineage and permeation of toxic masculinity to the shockingly recent stillbirth the vocalist endured with his wife. Loss is a palpable recurrent theme on Joy As An Act of Resistance but it’s never treated as a threat but viewed as further ammunition for a rallying cry against the prevailing evils of our world.

The band’s willingness to confront those pervasive hardships, on both personal and societal levels, and ground them in understatement is one of the major distinctions that separates the songs on Joy As An Act of Resistance from other acts attempting similar narratives. IDLES understand and are extraordinarily adept at reasonably contextualizing the institution instead of fixating on the object; the record’s never ham-fisted or grossly overwrought. In many ways, Joy As An Act of Resistance seems to be a kindred spirit of The Wire: both works understand the value in examining the parts that make up the sum, like how “Danny Nedelko” humanizes immigration by using a good friend — and a stand-up human — as an explicit framework to combat the dispiriting resurrection of nationalist thought.

Which is why when the band finally does scale back down to address something that’s deeply personal, the effect is shattering. “June” arrives at the album’s center and gives Talbot space to publicly grieve over the previously-mentioned stillbirth. The weight of what the vocalist is feeling is on full display, the band slowing the tempo down to a drudge-like march and offers up the record’s starkest, bleakest composition while Talbot opines Baby shoes, for sale, never worn, supplementing his own tragedy with literary history (one of many, many glancing references that supplement the narrative intent).

“Samaritans”, the most explosive song on Joy As An Act of Resistance and this publication’s Song of the Year pick, finds itself sequenced perfectly following the overwhelming despair of “June”. In addition to providing a bridge back to the record’s larger picture, “Samaritans” also ushers in a run of high-energy, immediate tracks that give more weight to Joy As An Act of Resistance‘s first act. “Samaritans”, “Television”, and “GREAT” are the ladder out of the grave that “June” had lovingly dug, ensuring the listener has an expanded understanding of the stakes evident throughout the record.

“GREAT” even provides the most concise clarification of the band’s thesis in its closing lines: we’re all in this together. As always, IDLES preach the value of a healthy community but here that reminder underscores a larger point: empathy is so essential because when it’s lost is when commitment to needless divisions deepens and threatens the foundation of a successful civilization. It’s a trait that’s essential to companionship, to joy, and to contentment. Nothing’s more infuriating than those who seek to devalue the virtues of empathy because beyond being recklessly selfish, it’s also wildly misguided as its a tactic that threatens the foundation of support and without support, nothing survives.

Joy As An Act of Resistance is a record that stares down that level of oblivious stupidity with a scorn that can border on the contempt but it’s also a work that’s smart enough to know those kind of views and the policies that get built around them don’t just suddenly materialize. IDLES understand the deliberately paced history of those movements and know to dismantle them they’ll need to resist by not caving into pure frustration but to offer joy. Even in the extraordinarily destructive final minute, Joy As An Act of Resistance doesn’t give off the sense that not resorting to impulsive violence isn’t an impossible act and that the dismantling of some of the worst this world has to offer is more within reach now than it has been at any point in history.

From virtually every angle, this is the band’s best work by several miles. Whereas Brutalism was a galvanizing triumph, Joy As An Act of Resistance is an inspiring masterpiece. A startlingly impassioned plea to retain our humanity and protect our truest values at all costs. A rousing call to not just embrace the good in life but to fight against the forces that serve as their threats while still having as much goddamn fun as possible. “June” is as stark a reminder as any that the time we have to experience the best this current world has to offer is fleeting.

No record in 2018 sounded more like a knowing smile paired with a middle finger and that’s a remarkably tough line to balance. IDLES deserve all the acclaim in the world for what they accomplished with this one, earning a devoted following that knows it’ll be wise to hang onto every word coming out of the band’s camp. More than just a record that represented the chaos of 2018 the best, Joy As An Act of Resistance was 2018’s best. A rare work of unparalleled feeling, IDLES can now lay claim to one of the young millennium’s strongest works. Leave this on repeat, we might need the guidance.

 


Further Listening: Forth Wanderers – Forth Wanderers | Tomberlin – At Weddings | Options – Vivid Trace | Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend | Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends | Momma – Interloper | Basement Revolver – Heavy Eyes | Dentist – Night Swimming | Dilly Dally – Heaven | Mount Eerie – Now Only | En Attendant Ana – Lost and Found | The Magic Lantern – To the Islands | Dead Tenants – II | Valley Maker – Rhododendron | Curling – Definitely Band | Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship | Royal Brat – Eyesore | Hovvdy – Cranberry | Yowler – Black Dog In My Path | Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of my Children | The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours | The Royal They – Foreign Being | Bent Denim – Town & Country | Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams | Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want | Screaming Females – All at Once | Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Hank Wood and the Hammerheads | Fred Thomas – Aftering | Pipsy – Users | No Problem – Let God Sort ‘Em Out | Jeff Rosenstock – POST- | Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse | Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine | sewingneedle – user error | Connections – Foreign Affairs | Sean Henry – Fink | Flasher – Constant Image | Winter – Ethereality | Spring Onion – i did my taxes for free online | Ben Seretan – My Life’s Work | gobbinjr – Ocala Wick | Trace Mountains – A Partner to Lean On | Gia Margaret – There’s Always Glimmer | Vundabar – Smell Smoke | milo – budding ornotholigsts are weary of tired analogies | Major Murphy – No. 1 | Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling | The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking | Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together | Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic | Alien Boy – Sleeping Lessons | Peach Kelli Pop – Gentle Leader | Woolen Men – Post | Antarctigo Vespucci – Love in the Time of E-mail | Julia Holter – Aviary | Interbelum – Dead Pets, Old Grief | Yours Are The Only Ears – Knock Hard | Free Cake For Every Creature – The Bluest Star | Adeline Hotel – Away Together | Marbled Eye – Leisure | JACK – Alchemical Rounds | Renata Zeiguer – Old Ghost | Doffing – Tower of Ten Thousand Miles | Anna McClellan – Yes and No | Rick Rude – Verb For Dreaming | Clearance – At Your Leisure | Superteen – Over Everything | Bambara – Shadow on Everything | The World Without Parking Lots – Seventh Song Counts the Engines | Jo Passed – Their Prime | Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows the Light | Flasher – Constant Image | Drug Church – Cheer | Wimps – Garbage People | Young Scum – Young Scum | GABI – Empty Me | Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs | No Age – Snares Like A Haircut | Exhalants – Exhalants | Bat Fangs – Bat Fangs

The Best of December 2018: Songs, Music Videos, and Records

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.

SONGS

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.

MUSIC VIDEOS

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.

2. Amos Pitsch – Piece of the Season

Tenement and DUSK‘s Amos Pitsch returns to the holiday spirit after 2017’s Lake Effect with “Piece of the Season”. Delivered in tandem with partner Julia Blair’s “Merry Christmas (To the Ones Who Are Lonely)“, “Piece of the Season” sees Pitsch surrounded by quintessential hallmarks of a Wisconsin winter (and delivers one of the year’s best shots in a quick-hitting sledding sequence).

3. Spirit Was – Golden Soul

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.

FULL STREAMS

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.

4. Lrrr & Maxshh – Thank You, Lrrr, You’re Welcome Maxshh

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.

The Best Records of November 2018

November had a lot of records competing for attention, covering the various different ends of the spectrum. This post is a look back at some of that month’s best offerings, which seems like a worthy venture even with a new year only a few days out. Whether they were compilations or collections of entirely new material, these are records worth hearing. From local artists to retrospectives from genre legends, there’s a lot to digest. As always, each and every one of these titles are titles worth owning. Dive in below.

1. Wooing – The Clouds

A band that’s making some noticeable moves over the back half of the year finally got a chance to truly show off and seized the opportunity with a stylish fervor. Wooing‘s The Clouds is one of the best post-punk-meets-basement-pop 7″ releases of the year. Both sides come laced with a sense of nervous tension that’s embedded into the band’s icy atmospheric sensibility. Quietly thrilling and uniquely enthralling, The Clouds marks a true arrival for a band that’s living up to their potential.

2. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – Real Deal Therapeutic Bullshit

Over the past decade, Colin Bares has released an astonishing wealth of incredible songs through various projects. Good Grief, The Coral Riffs, Mr. Martin & The Sensitive Guys, The Cost of Living, and The Weasel, Marten Fisher have all earned coverage from this site, each tethered in some way to Bares’ unique songwriting sensibilities. Real Deal Therapeutic Bullshit is a compilation of tracks that have been uploaded to soundcloud over the past two years (with a few extra thrown in for good measure) and ably demonstrate Bares’ uncanny ability to acutely plumb the depths of what it is to be human. Whether it’s the melody, composition, lyrics, or vocal delivery, this is music that stays with anyone who has the fortune of listening and definitively stakes a case for Bares as one of the best songwriters operating today.

3. The Marked Men – On the Other Side

There’s a case to be made for The Marked Men as the golden standard for the basement pop genre and that case would only be strengthened by On the Other Side, a compilation of odds and ends that span the band’s career. Even the quartet’s outtakes would put most of the bands molded in their shape to shame. A raucous, jittery, adrenaline-fueled burst of energy, On the Other Side isn’t just a reminder of band’s strength but a statement; The Marked Men’s legacy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

4. Fog Lake – carousel

Shortly after releasing one of this year’s best records, Fog Lake returned with the carousel EP. A fascinating curio that flaunts an incredibly unexpected but entirely welcome ’50s pop influence. As is the case with the best Fog Lake works, carousel is playful, compelling, and haunting in equal measure. Where carousel becomes a singular work is in the commitment, presenting a complex vision that operates as if it’s an artifact that’s out of time. Transfixing and lovely, carousel puts a bow on a breakout year for a worthy artist.

5. Rick Rude – Verb For Dreaming

Rick Rude are a band that’s never received the recognition for their work that its strength warrants. Even with that being the case, the band’s giving that untapped audience every chance to latch on, having released a great record a year since 2016, each of them topping the last. Verb For Dreaming is the band’s new career high, an 11-song explosion of inventive, knotty basement punk. A tremendous effort from an incredible band.

6. Washer / Bethlehem Steel – Split

Exploding In Sound has been an inspiring source of consistency for many, many years and hasn’t showed any signs of wear. A split release between two of the roster’s finest acts, Washer and Bethlehem Steel only reinforces the label’s status. Washer‘s “Super Pop” kicks things off and rank’s among the duo’s best tracks, while Bethlehem Steel contributes a powerhouse from their end with “Fake Sweater”. Each band takes a turn covering each other, making this an indispensable capsule for any fan of the label or either band.

7. The Magic Lantern – To The Islands

Last year, “Holding Hands” provided one of the most breathtaking listening experiences of that time. Devastatingly tender and abundantly warm, the track served as an introduction-at-large to The Magic Lantern. “Holding Hands” acts as the album opener on the project’s newest record, the beautiful To The Islands. A spellbinding run through memorable melodies and narratives, To The Islands is the fullest realization of Jamie Doe’s artistic vision to date. A sublime work from start to finish, To The Islands is a record that’s easy to take in but impossible to shake.

8. Hutch Harris – Only Water

The Thermals announced their departure earlier this year but it only took the band’s guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris a few months after the announcement to release a new record as a solo act. Only Water isn’t as brazen or as confrontational as any of The Thermals’ work but does allow Harris to explore from a more overtly introspective angle. Only Water operates at a slower tempo but Harris’ knack for intuitive narrative structures holds strong, making Only Water an essential record for anyone still heartbroken over the departure of Harris’ old flagship act.

9. Ellis – The Fuzz

Ellis has making semi-frequent appearances in this site’s coverage leading up to The Fuzz and now that the record’s finally here, that attention feels justified. A confident, mesmeric presentation of wintry atmospherics, bruising, introspective narratives, and startling dynamic, The Fuzz posits Ellis as a major voice. From dream-pop-tinted opener “The Drain” onward, The Fuzz sees Ellis in a loosely experimental mode that leads to the songwriter’s most memorable work, frequently yielding moments of unassuming brilliance. The Fuzz is a bold statement from an artist that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Best Records of October 2018

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 few name 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 Best Songs of October 2018

It’s been over two months since a post appeared on this site and with the always slightly-too-early onslaught of year-end season in full bloom, it feels necessary to highlight some of the best material over that stretch. Heartbreaking Bravery’s own best of lists will be coming, as always, as will the revival of A Year’s Worth of Memories. There may be a few more surprises sprinkled in to make things interesting but starting with a window that spanned most of October seems like a perfect place to get caught back up. Dive in below

1. Mike Krol – Little Drama

Mike Krol came surging back to life with “An Ambulance” and continues to churn out frantic, wild-eyes basement pop that has enough energetic bite to put most hardcore bands to shame. “Little Drama” finds Krol settling comfortably into longer formats, expanding both the frequency and velocity of the songwriter’s penchant for smart hooks. Try to keep up and you’re bound to be left choking on dust.

2. Lauren Hibbard – What Do Girls Want?

One of the more irresistible punk-leaning slacker pop tracks of recent memory, Lauren Hibbard’s “What Do Girls Want” is buoyed by a pop sheen that makes the song’s effect more immediate. Existing somewhere between Lady Lamb and Hinds, “What Do Girls Want?” ably showcases Hibbard’s innate melodic talent and lyrical chops. High impact, ridiculously fun, and easy to revisit, “What Do Girls Want?” should be a summer mix tape staple for years to come.

3. Meat Wave – That’s Alright

Any time Meat Wave puts anything new into the world, it’s a cause for celebration. Without fail, the trio has delivered seething post-hardcore-informed post-punk at the highest level and hits those familiar heights again with “That’s Alright”. Energetic, propulsive, menacing, unforgiving, and overflowing with atmospheric tension, “That’s Alright” continues the band’s mesmeric evolution, solidifying their status as a singular force.

4. Weakened Friends – Good Friend

With each new track they’ve released, Weakened Friends have worked themselves into a site favorite. “Good Friend” stands proudly as one of the best songs to their name, a rousing grunge pop number that examines personal fracturing with a surprising amount of nuance and clarity. Hard to ignore and easy to fall in love with, “Good Friend” presents the band’s strongest traits with an unerring sense of conviction. While the narrative may suggest otherwise, this is all but a victory lap for an exhilarating emergent talent.

5. Miya Folick – Thingamajig

Trouble Adjusting” was the first Miya Folick track to make it plainly evident that the songwriter was on an upward path to something incredible. It was a sharp blast of punk laden with signifying aspects of lo-fi songwriters, a curious trait that makes “Thingamajig” all the more astonishing. Veering far closer to Half Waif than The Pixies, “Thingamajig” is a devastating meditation on personal impulses and longing, aided by a minimalist ambient pop bed. One of the most unexpectedly breathtaking openers of 2018.

6. pting – Bus Driver

pting make a powerful introduction-at-large with “Bus Driver”, a track that recalls everything from the works of the Crutchfield twins to the skyward atmospheric tendencies of Alvvays. Smartly composed and gifted a clever narrative, “Bus Driver” is a refreshing jump into a cold pool on a hot day. A towering testament to pting’s vision and understanding, the song capably delivers a multitude of reasons to commit the band’s name to memory.

7. Yakima – Point of This

“Point of This” is a song strong enough to act as a calling card, something that only a handful of bands are capable of achieving. It’s a gorgeous work of layered slacker punk married to dream pop sensibilities, the two complementing each other in a way that ensures “Point of This” sounds like it’s floating. A perfect reprieve from every day chaos, “Point of This” feels carefree for as thoughtful as the lyric narrative and composition wind up being, making it a perfect candidate to kick off any unwinding session.

8. Washer – Super Pop

One of the best duo acts currently making music, Washer have been raising a high bar incrementally for the past few years. “Super Pop” is a perfect indicator of the band’s unique talent and singular charm, a deeply effective burst of flannel-laden micro-punk. Barely exceeding 100 seconds, “Super Pop” is wiry and tenacious, finding Washer going through familiar motions: dig in the heels, clench the teeth, and commit with no reservations.

9. Deep State – Under the Gun

Deep State‘s been one of the more pleasant surprises of the past few years, delivering some extraordinary songs, records, and music videos along the way. “Under the Gun” finds the band forging ahead with their sense of high-energy playfulness while still sharpening the edges enough to sound fairly intimidating. It’s a small triumph and should go some way in raising the anticipation level for their forthcoming The Path to Fast Oblivion.

10. The Little Miss – Take Me, Too

One of the better ways to discover new music that might not otherwise cross your path is to let soundcloud auto-play. It’s an exercise worth indulging but rarely has it yielded something as strong as it did earlier this year: The Little Miss’ “Take Me, Too” is an overwhelmingly gorgeous modern hymnal that’s strong enough to stop just about anyone in their tracks. Little more than vocals and an organ (harmonium?), “Take Me, Too” is a fearless look at death, one that offers up a knowing welcome. One of the year’s best songs

Doe – Grow Into It (Album Review, Stream)

Just a few years ago, Doe released Some Things Last Longer Than You, an incredible record that made good on the promise of their early work and wound up as a joint selection for this site’s 2016’s Album of the Year. Since then, they’ve been touring relentlessly with an extraordinary cast of bands that have allowed Doe’s profile to continue an ascending pattern. Grow Into It, the trio’s latest album, finds them full of confidence, charisma, and conviction.

The record’s their first effort for both Topshelf (who will be releasing the record in the US) and Big Scary Monsters (who will handle the UK distribution) and the opening run of tracks makes it plainly clear why both labels came on board. Doe have expanded their ambitions, refined their songwriting, and seem more willing to take the kind of risks that can yield important dividends. The pace is a little slower, the tone’s a little more casual, the instrumental palette’s broadened, and somehow Grow Into It surpasses the intensity of their previous effort.

A synth props up “Labour Like I Do” and bleeds into “One At A Time”, which is augmented by guitarist/vocalist Nicola Leel‘s most tender vocal delivery to date and a gorgeous fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure. It’s part of a recurring trend throughout the record of connected nuance, lending the record a sense of completion. The narratives are still laced with Leel’s sardonic wit and wry observations, only this time they’re held up by repeated calls to action. It’s a decision that grants Grow Into It a greater immediacy, allowing it to read as a pointed reaction to a frequently disheartening political climate.

It’s easy standing still goes the refrain of “But It All Looks the Same” — far and away the record’s boldest track and most significant departure from the band’s older material — offering up a reassurance in the middle of an incredibly charged record. It’s an acknowledgement of a communal struggle, the sense of difficulty that can lead to complacency, and the importance of resisting the urge to stand still, making the lead-in to the record’s lead single, “Heated“, doubly effective.

By the record’s final stretch, its clear that Doe are presently as concerned with what questions to ask as they are with the difficult answers those questions demand. Some of these questions exist in the micro, like reflections of self-worth (“Even Fiction”) that can be extrapolated to a larger picture. There are stakes at play and Grow Into It makes a decision to not shy away from the kind of decisions that define our humanity. Despite the considerable weightiness of the lyrics, Grow Into It as a record remains one of the most consistently enjoyable listens throughout its run time.

At every turn, Doe matches introspection with clever, thoughtful, and grin-inducing arrangements that keep Grow Into It a vibrant record, tethered to a wellspring of life that’s genuinely affirming. For all of its subtle intricacies and attention to detail, there’s never a point where Grow Into It feels burdensome, which is a testament to its empathy. Moreover, the band’s never sounded so inspired as musicians, offering up a record of career-bests across the board in terms of structure, dynamics, and lyricism.

Doe may have had a strong grasp on their identity as early as their first year together as a band but that sense of self can get challenged. Grows Into It finds Doe doing just that; this is a band that knows the path to becoming the best version of themselves. Grows Into It is the wild, genre-marrying soundtrack to accompany that journey. Easily one of 2018’s strongest records and a potent reminder of Doe’s seemingly limitless strength. A modest masterpiece.

Listen to Grow Into It below and pick it up here.

Two Months, 12 Records

Over the past two months, hundreds of good records have found release. This post takes a look back at a dozen of the most notable titles in that crop. A handful of site favorites make appearances here, with the styles ranging from gentle folk subgenres to incredibly volatile brands of explosive strains of punk. A few records choose to cast their sights on hope, while others embrace an unrelenting heaviness. All of them, of course, are worth owning. Explore, listen through, and find ways to support the records that connect.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

A band that has yet to put out a bad record keeps that trend alive with Pillar of Na. Even with a slight lineup change (Maryn Jones parted ways with the band after relocating to the East Coast), Saintseneca‘s identity shines through on another album that finds the band embracing a more prominent Eastern influence within their Appalachian Folk-informed music. Pillar of Na also feels even more contemplative and complete than the band’s previous effort, Such Things, which is a point driven home by near-circular bookends. Not a false note from start to finish, Saintseneca’s records remain an immense joy.

Options – Vivid Trace

When post-punk and basement pop exist in harmony, the results typically range from good to incredible. Options’ Vivid Trace makes it abundantly clear from the opening salvo onward that this is a record — and a band — that skew towards the latter. Masterfully composed, produced, and sequenced, Vivid Trace is an important reminder of the potential of a niche subgenre that has direct ties to this site’s very roots. Vivid Trace is the exact type of album that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate: an astonishing work from a band fighting an uphill battle for greater recognition.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

A trio of advance singles suggested that Lonely Parade may have a legitimate Album of the Year contender on their hands, especially within the realms of energetic post-punk. The Pits confirms those suspicions with emphasis. Every song on the record’s teeming with ferocity, hooks, charisma, and conviction, as if the band’s been allowed to unleash all of their unchecked aggression. It’s that sense of purpose that makes how refined The Pits ultimately winds up being even more impressive. Lonely Parade intentionally take the train off the rails and treat us all to an unforgettable ride.

Fred Thomas – Aftering

Billed as the final installment of an ongoing trilogy of records, Fred Thomas delivers another record that cements his reputation as one of today’s most thoughtful songwriters. Aftering, Thomas’ latest, also finds the songwriter collaborating with contemporaries far more than usual, a decision that reflects on some of Aftering‘s narrative themes (especially the importance of support structures). As is always the case with a new Fred Thomas release, a few career highlights are thrown in, ranging from sunny, fast-paced basement pop to devastating ambient ballads shot through with a wealth of longing and regret. Being alive brings us to the peaks of joy and cycles us through unimaginable pain but Aftering is good company to keep no matter where the hammer falls.

Waxahatchee – Great Thunder

Ever since American Weekend began Katie Crutchfield‘s transition from a DIY circuit staple to an internationally beloved voice, Waxahatchee has picked up an increasing amount of scrutiny. Curiously, Great Thunder — Crutchfield’s project with Keith Spencer (formerly of Swearin’) — managed to get lost in the wake. The duo released two lovely records, before retiring the project, leaving behind some of their best work. Waxahatchee’s latest release pays homage to that project and Crutchfield’s roots as a songwriter, rescuing some of the project’s standout material to present in a new light. Great Thunder winds up as one of Crutchfield’s warmest releases as a result, rendering the EP unmissable.

The Sofas – Nothing Major

The Sofas proudly wear their influences on their sleeve from the very jump of Nothing Major, which immediately recalls Sonic Youth’s most pop-leaning moments in their Rather Ripped era. Fortunately, those influences never threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, each track standing firmly on its own, letting the record stand as a collection of noise-leaning, feedback-heavy basement pop triumphs. Every song on Nothing Major has addictive qualities, striking the perfect balance between an influx of energy and an incredibly present sense of melancholy.

Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows The Light

In 2015’s “Not For Nothing”, Mutual Benefit can already claim one of the present decade’s best songs. Anything any artist does from that point forward comes with great expectation and Thunder Follows The Light renders those expectations meaningless. Every song is guided with the same gentle hand, infused with the same sense of calm and tacit understanding that allowed the project’s earlier works to thrive. Every gorgeous, mesmeric second on the record seems to instill a sense of peace, making Thunder Follows The Light a deeply important record in the face of today’s overwhelmingly combative climate.

Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship

The debut record from Whitney Ballen‘s one of many releases on this last that grapples with a challenging dichotomy. What sets You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship apart from those releases is its operative velocity. A breathtaking record in the truest sense, You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship finds Ballen grappling with deeply uncomfortable truths, desires, and impulses, while delivering compositions that suggest lighter material. Imbued with genuinely shocking moments, a masterclass in sustained dynamic tension, and a sense of steady control amidst an expressed sea of uncertainty, Ballen’s released one of the year’s most unforgettable records.

Dilly Dally – Heaven

One of 2018’s most heartening moments came in the form of Dilly Dally‘s self-resurrection. The band opened up about their own difficulties recently and Heaven is their testimonial offering of those challenges and where they’ve arrived as a band: reborn and with a renewed sense of purpose. Desire was a record that embraced the ugly and the damaged as beautiful, with a suggested distance between the band and those observations. Heaven reframes that dynamic and positions the band dead center in a brutal storm of reckoning, staring out at a sliver of light on the horizon, knowing that the ruins of the world will be theirs for the taking.

LOOSE – Haircut 

A relatively new band to this site, LOOSE nonetheless make a sizable impression with Haircut, an extremely impressive record that finds them tethering together strains of math rock, emo, basement pop, noise-punk, and bedroom pop. It’s an endlessly fascinating listen that never wavers in its surging momentum, anchoring ambitious compositions with relatable narratives. Head-turning in the best sense, Haircut suggests a wealth of talent and an abundance of promise reside in LOOSE. Unpredictable and unexpected, Haircut is an extraordinarily pleasant surprise.

Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling

Sami Martasian‘s Puppy Problems project has been going for quite some time now, steadily evolving over the years while gaining a small cult following. All of those lessons come to a head on the project’s debut record, Sunday Feeling. As always, Martasian proves to be a commanding lyricist, waxing poetic on meditations about what it means to be a young adult today. Gorgeous folk-leaning bedroom pop compositions abound, echoing traces of (SANDY) Alex G‘s quieter works while containing enough personality to stand on their own. It’s an impressive record from a project that deserves an expanded audience.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Owen Ashworth’s projects have an infamous penchant for tapping into a sense of overwhelming sadness to create work that ultimately winds up life-affirming. Animal Companionship, Ashworth’s fourth effort as Advance Base, sees this formula ringing especially true. Corpses, both literal and metaphorical, riddle the record’s landscape, with an emphasis on pets. Throughout, Ashworth turns in the best work of an illustrious career, reaching something so human and so intangible that Animal Companionship can momentarily become a difficult listen. In the end, the journey becomes worthwhile, and Animal Companionship stands proudly as one of 2018’s finest, most moving records.

 

 

 

Two Months, 12 Songs

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 My Path. 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.

Cloud Nothings – The Echo of the World (Stream)

It’s been a while since anything went up on these pages and there are a lot of reasons behind yet another interim but, as ever, the work continues to be done behind the scenes. Five posts were scheduled to go up before that break and will be going live today. This is one of those posts.

On the last Cloud Nothings record, the band effectively presented an amalgamation of the project’s entire history, providing a fascinating bent to an excellent record. The band’s set to return with Last Building Burning, their forthcoming album. “The Echo of the World” is the first peek into what the record has to offer and suggests the band may have pared down their approach to presenting a career summation, this time congealing individual aspects that made their earlier work standout.

It’s an exhilarating and even exhausting listen — even at a relatively scant four minutes — but it provides the music itself a renewed sense of purpose, allowing guitarist/vocalist Dylan Baldi’s pained, existential screaming to once again be underscored by ambient, noise-driven guitar work and punched home by the relentless, unmatched drumming of Jayson Gerycz. “The Echo of the World” is an absolutely ferocious work that finds Cloud Nothings in full-on attack mode, baring newly-sharpened fangs. If this is an indicator of Last Building Burning‘s tone, we should all be looking forward to basking in its fire-lit glow.

Listen to “The Echo of the World” below and pre-order Last Building Burning from Carpark here.

Lonely Parade – Olive Green (Stream)

It’s been a while since anything went up on these pages and there are a lot of reasons behind yet another interim but, as ever, the work continues to be done behind the scenes. Five posts were scheduled to go up before that break and will be going live today. This is one of those posts.

One of 2018’s more exhilarating breakout acts, Lonely Parade have crafted an immensely enticing lead-in to The Pits, thanks to the strength of the record’s advance singles. “Olive Green” is the latest piece of evidence suggesting that The Pits is primed to be one of the year’s best records. Once again, Lonely Parade deliver a work that surges off the energy that comes with their territory (the intersection of basement pop and post-punk), offering up an incredibly catchy run of razor-sharp guitar work, an aggressive rhythm section, and a pointed vocal delivery that oscillates between confidently sardonic and meaningfully unhinged. In short: it’s brilliant.

Listen to “Olive Green” below and pre-order The Pits from Buzz here.