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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.

Pile – Cup (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.

Few bands have earned the type of reverence among its listeners and contemporaries as Pile. Intricate, winding, dynamic compositions have brought them unending admiration and made their discography staggeringly dense, which is something that Odds and Ends addresses. A record that compiles the band’s 7″ releases, compilation contribution, and other assorted castoffs, Odds and Ends serves as something of a career summation and testament.

“Cup” is the record’s lone new, unreleased original track and it’s as unwieldy, tense, and breathtakingly go-for-broke as anything in the band’s towering catalog. After what many see as the best release of the band’s storied DIY-centric career, “Cup” is another bracing reminder that Pile are still on an ascending trajectory, suggesting that they may never truly hit a genuine peak. Raucous, intelligent, and deceptively subtle, “Cup” is the exact brand of brilliance we’ve come to except from what several have breathlessly hailed as the best band in the world.

Listen to “Cup” below and pre-order Odds and Ends from Exploding In Sound here.