Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Stupid Bag Records

Even Hand – Sighted (Album Review)

sighted

Over the past week or so there were a whole host of fascinating music videos that emerged, including clips from the following acts: Tangerine, Spook the Herd, Heavy Drag, Peach Kelli Pop (x2), Globelamp, Elvis Depressedly, Psychic Heat, The Van T’s, John Doe, Mimes of Wine, Merchandise, Kid Moxie, Eagulls, and Ace Frayley’s Child. All of them were granted multiple views and a fair amount of thought but when it came time to decide on a feature, that spot fell to a record from a band that’s been praised on these pages before.

After the many successes Even Hand found with both their self-titled debut and their follow-up outing, Drifted, slowing down would have been a logical move. Instead, the band opted to continue surging forward, honing the minutiae of their strongest aesthetic choices and continuing to grow sharper as a band. “Line Out”, the record’s opening track, immediately sounds more vicious than anything on the band’s first two records, building into a hard-charging noise/punk section that aims to bludgeon and hits with a surprisingly direct force. The track peels back a little eventually, revealing that the band’s penchant for compelling understatement hasn’t just remained in tact but has somehow become even more emboldened.

“Line Out” sets the tone for what’s to follow, including the insistent trio of tracks that come in on its heels. “Mystery Is”, “Telewater”, and “MONEY HOUSE BLESSING” all feel indebted to a strain of ’90s punk that’s gone relatively unexplored as a primary source of influence from bands that have caught the eye of the greater public (Meat Wave being a notable exception). Of the three, “MONEY HOUSE BLESSING” stands out most because the band switches up its approach and places equal emphasis on dissonance and melody instead of primarily playing to their strength in catering to the former.

“Melt Glass” provides a breathtaking transition in one of the record’s bravest moments, which shows the band plumbing a previously untapped depth of the kind of experimentation that should yield impressive dividends as they barrel their way into the future. As an instrumental track, it also affords Even Hand what’s essentially a chance to subtly reset — or at least adjust — the positioning of Sighted, which they take immediately take advantage of by pairing the two shortest tracks together in the sequence that immediately follows “Melt Glass”.

“Holes in the Ceiling” ties the wistful, melancholic atmosphere of “Melt Glass” over for another track while the rant-fueled “Nightsmoke The Fuss” immediately cuts that atmosphere to shreds while (barely) retaining its subdued, bittersweet underpinning. More than any other stretch of Sighted, Even Hand’s able to demonstrate their expanded nuance and seemingly limitless understanding of the genre’s malleable, elastic form, something a lot of other bands become far too self-involved to explore in any sort of meaningful way.

Sighted‘s final third is largely made up of songs that more directly tie to the band’s past work, only they sound ever-so-slightly more focused than the bulk of their existing discography. Each one comes equipped with the kind of metallic sheen that Steve Albini likes to emphasize with his production techniques. “Sleep Complex”, Sighted‘s penultimate — and longest — track flashes a whole arsenal of qualities that made Even Hand such a fascinating band in the first place. The tension, feeling, dynamics, and intelligent structuring all point to a band operating at full capacity.

The elegiac “On A Distant Distant Distant Day” closes the proceedings out in a haunted whisper that doesn’t feel too far removed from Told Slant‘s recent work. As a final act, “On A Distant Distant Distant Day” feels appropriately placed; as more epilogue than finale, the song’s allowed to demonstrate worth via subtext rather than surface action. It’s an intelligent move that caps off a deeply rewarding record that benefits from investment but doesn’t wield it like a requirement. Oddly moving and meticulously crafted, Sighted marks the band’s third consecutive standout and goes quite a distance in proving the band’s not beholden to any sort of limitation. In short: Sighted is music worth celebrating.

Listen to Sighted below and keep an eye on Stupid Bag for the eventual cassette release.

Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts (Album Review)

dark thoughts
Photograph by Will McAndrew

The first of two full streams that will be going up tonight focuses squarely on Dark Thoughts’ blistering self-titled, their first official release following one of the best demos of 2014Four Songs. Before examining the overwhelming strength of Dark Thoughts, a few more titles have earned a spot on this page: SolidsElse (a strong early candidate for EP of the Year), Suuns’ hypnotizing Hold/Still, Qlowski’s insistent EPand Tuff Slang‘s peppy self-titled. All four are comfortably positioned as full releases that a lot of people will either come to love or love already.

Dark Thoughts finds some separation from the pack that’s linked above by virtue of being effectively straightforward in a genre that tends to grow stagnant whenever anyone’s foolish enough to attempt the feat. So many bands have tried and failed miserably at songs that are frequently (and unfairly) categorized as Ramones-core and while Dark Thoughts certainly embraces an archetype, it does so with an infallible mixture of venom and pure feeling.

From the opening four songs alone — which clock in at a combined total that doesn’t exceed three and a half minutes — Dark Thoughts comes across as a record with all-or-nothing stakes. The trio clearly wants to make a name for themselves and, appropriately, Dark Thoughts will likely be the record to make that happen. When the band absolutely lays into opener “Identity Crisis”, one wonders if they can sustain such a ferocious pace, then they spend the rest of the record making sure that pace is exceeded.

By the time “Anything” closes Dark Thoughts out, the record’s turned into the musical equivalent of someone riding a junker, forcing the accelerator to hug the floor, with neither hand anywhere close to the wheel. Not once does Dark Thoughts lag anywhere throughout the course of its sub-20 minute run time. Yes, a third of the songs present were already released on the demo but they also manage to be more effective than they were when packaged together without a greater context.

Every song on Dark Thoughts would be a worthy single but the record functions its own standalone entity as well; Dark Thoughts is a sublime piece of insanely well-informed genre work that skews as close to Fix My Brain as it does Rocket to Russia. Appropriately, it’s being released by Jeff Bolt‘s commendably consistent Stupid Bag Records, a label that’s built around celebrating DIY-leaning, punk-laced basement pop. It’s a perfect home for a record that careens recklessly and drives straight into an area reserved for modern classics.

Listen to Dark Thoughts below and pick it up from Stupid Bag here.

PURPLE 7 – Garden Eyes (Album Review, Stream)

purple 7

[EDITOR’S NOTE: With the site now entering emergency year-end catch-up mode thanks to the cruel, mocking nature of time, tonight’s trio of posts will simply be short reviews of the album(s) in the headline(s) and an accompanying list of records that deserve to be heard.]

Not too long ago, PURPLE 7’s extraordinary full-length debut was discussed in of one of these pieces thanks to album standout “Wise Up“. Shortly after that piece ran, the whole record wound up ranking highly in this site’s year-end list. The band’s already followed up that scintillating effort with another full-length that scales back some of the frenetic energy but ups the impact value.

From “Company” on, Garden Eyes throws a bevvy of punches, landing blows with rapid succession. Most songs on the record hover around the two minute mark and the trio makes the most of their already-established basement pop dynamics. There’s a new bent to the proceedings that feels more rooted in classic rock n’ roll records than the band’s preceding material but it suits them well. Every song hits its mark and ensures PURPLE 7’s position as one the more beloved acts on the DIY punk circuit. Garden Eyes is just another generous gift.

Listen to Garden Eyes below and pick it up here. Beneath the embed, explore a list of some of the best full streams to have appeared over the past several months.

Good Night Gold Dust – Good Night Gold Dust
Ernie – Dog Park
Sunn O))) – Kannon
Baby Bry Bry – The Way Things Was
Polyon – Blue
Stainless Steele – Escapism
Snuff Refux – Besides You
The Rashita Joneses – Bang Bang! Lasagna
The Brainstems – No Place Else
No Rudio / No Noise (Compilation)
The Spook School – Try To Be Hopeful
The Foxymorons – Fake Yoga
Churchyard – Churchyard
Isabel Rex – American Colloquialisms/Two Hexes
Arizona Landmine – When Will  I Ever Learn
Pinemen – Pleasant Pain
WASHA – The Bright Part II
Junk Boys – Junk Boys
Living Decent – Do What Makes You Brave
Gobichild – Never Stops
Nice Hooves – The Gall

Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Music Video)

kt

After the Downies review and accompanying round-up ran yesterday, the plan that was laid out in the introductory paragraphs was set in stone. Then today happened. Over the past few months, the sources where I turn to for material increased- as did the amount of emails I’ve been receiving. Every day, I’m finding roughly twenty things I wish I could dwell on for paragraphs. Contesting that desire is the harsh reality of time- so a few adjustments are going to be made. I currently have more than 250 songs from 2015 to link on the site so I’ll be providing lists of 75 (and one of 25) until that number’s brought to 0. It’ll be an additional part of what- as of tonight- will be regular daily coverage of new content. By the end of next week, things should be back to their normal pace.  It’s been a difficult, transitional time but it killed me to force the site into relative inactivity over the months following the 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories project (and once again, I’d like to take the time out to sincerely thank all of that series’ incredible contributors- I’m sincerely grateful for your work).

Getting back to what matters, the material to have surfaced today has only reaffirmed the fact 2015 has been an absurdly strong time for music. For full-lengths, there was a powerful self-titled from American Wrestlers and a feral 7″ from recent Don Giovanni act Pinkwash. Music videos had even more to offer with Kopecky unveiling a charming lyric clip for “Quarterback“, Crushed Beak’s astonishingly lovely “History“,  TOPS’ unnerving animated adventure in “Driverless Passenger“, BETS’ artful black-and-white tryst in “Jenny“, and Froth’s blistering “Postcard Radio” (which very nearly earned today’s feature spot). Most of all, though, there were songs.  Site favorites Speedy Ortiz raised expectations for their forthcoming record even higher with the gnarled “Puffer“, Total Babes (who feature Jason Gercyz of Cloud Nothings) unleashed the spiky “Heydays“, and Slonk Donkerson reveled in a heavy sludge influence on “Painted From Memory“.  Death Valley Girls looked forward to warmer weather with “Summertime“, Hip Hatchet wove a delicate folk tapestry with “David’s Wolves“, while Meg Baird followed a similar pattern with “Counterfeiters“. Wave & Rome demonstrated an increasingly tired genre’s potential with “Across the Map” while The National demonstrated their propensity for an elegant consistency via the Sharon Van Etten-assisted “Sunshine On My Back“. Rounding everything off was Yazan’s rousing “Tell Me Baby” and Creative Adult’s hypnotically bleak “Ring Around the Room“.

While every single one of those is worth some level of investment, there’s just something about seeing your friends having a good time that elicits an inexplicably great feeling that’s impossible to sideline. Which is precisely why Waxahatchee‘s new video for “Under A Rock” is falling under tonight’s most meticulous level of scrutiny (and most thorough level of affection). I’ve long held a fondness for videos that celebrate lo-fi, VHS home video aesthetics. There’s a certain sense of time and place that accompanies the aesthetic, which winds up being a perfect match for the subtle sense of nostalgia that permeates all of Katie Crutchfield’s work as Waxahatchee. As one of Merge Records’ newest artists, Crutchfield and her collaborators have started off- predictably- on an extended series of grace notes. Now that NPR has verified Ivy Tripp is as incredible as its previews suggested. It’s fitting then, that the footage that comprises “Under A Rock” feels like a hard-won victory lap. From the lineup that performs the song in the video (it’s difficult to see Allison Crutchfield join her twin and not be reminded of Bad Banana or PS Eliot, two bands that meant a lot to me as I started exploring DIY punk’s fabric nearly a decade ago) to the faces in the crowd (Radiator Hospital‘s Sam Cook-Parrott and Cynthia Schemmer are always a welcome sight- as are the innumerable other familiar faces to appear throughout the clip), “Under A Rock” feels like a homecoming celebration built on mutual fondness and respect- which is a trait that this site will always support.

Watch “Under A Rock” below and pre-order Ivy Tripp from Merge here. Below that, explore 75 great songs from 2015’s first quarter that caught my ears (a few of them are on records that are already out but they’re definitely worth revisiting). Enjoy.

Treasure Fleet – Settle Your Mind
Frankie Teardrop – Get It (Kelly)
Alright – Cold Feet
Erase Errata – History of Handclaps
Modest Mouse – The Best Room
Computer Magic – Shipwrecking
Toner – High & Dry
Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Requiem
Bully – I Remember
clipping. – Summertime
The King Khan & BBQ Show – Illuminations
Seratones – Chokin’ On Your Spit
Rye Pines – Pessimist
Los Angeles Police Department – Insecurity
Johanna Warren – Less Traveled
Mac McCaughan – Lost Again
The Amazing – Safe Island
Death – Look At Your Life
Outfit – Genderless
Lord Huron – The World Ender
Torres – Strange Hellos
The Cribs – Different Angle
Downtown Boys – Monstro
The Twilight Sad – The Airport
Torche – Loose Men
Will Butler – Madonna Can’t Save Me Now
Cillie Barnes – Facework
Dead Heavens – History in My Hands
Blood Sister – Ghost Pussy
Bright Like The Sun – White Lights
Peter Doherty – Flags of the Old Regime
The Babies – Got Old
NEEDS – The Only Good Condo Is A Dead Condo
The Mountain Goats – The Legend of Chavo Guerrero
Ava Luna – Billz
Braids – Taste
Marriages – Skin
Pope – Let Down
Obnox – Menocause
Andy Gabbard – Octoman
St. Vincent – Bad Believer
Nude Beach – Been Waitin’
Mexican Slang – Fever
Never Young – Like A Version
Simon Joyner – You Got Under My Skin
Sun Kil Moon – Ali/Spinks 2
Stalls – Tooth and Nail
Nano Kino – Never Seemed to Happen
TULA – River
In Tall Buildings – Bawl Cry Wail
Frank Black – How You Went So Far
Troy Samuela & Monsoonsiren – Fiend
Passenger Peru – The Best Way to Drown
Girlpool – Ideal World
RA – These Days
Native Lights – Blue Star
Soft Cat – Somebody
Steady Lean – Atkins
A Place to Bury Strangers – We’ve Come So Far
Gill Landry (ft. Laura Marling) – Take This Body
Aero Flynn – Crisp
Calexico (ft. Ben Bridwell) – Falling From the Sky
Lieutenant – Rattled
Laura Marling – I Feel Your Love
Dave Segedy – Car
Jet Setter – Forget About It
Paridolia – Violent I
WAND – Reaper Invert
Young Guv – Crawling Back to You
Chromatics – I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
Inventions – Peregrine
Thee Oh Sees – Web
Honeyblood – No Big Deal
Warehouse – Promethean Gaze
ADVAETA – Hazel/Blue Eyes

Even Hand – Drifted (Album Review, Stream)

evenhand

Now that all of last week’s best single streams and music videos have been given their due, it’s time to move onto a slightly more challenging beast: the full stream. There’s been a monstrous surge of outstanding new releases (often on the small-scale side of things) as 2014 enters its final weeks. Among these were: Dusk (a new project featuring members of Tenement, Black Thumb, and darn it., as well as a handful of other contributors) and their new country-soaked demo reel, Lemuria‘s contribution to the Turnstile Comix series, Currents’ unpredictably intense Mondegreen, Semicircles exquisitely delicate Blown Breeze, Grown Grass And We Are Part of the Earth, King of Cats’ entertainingly spastic Working Out, Big Lonely‘s impressive full-length debut Close Your Eyes, Keep Talking, and Space Mountain‘s unfailingly gripping Wilderness Explorer. All of them stand out as great December releases but there’s one that surfaced seemingly out of the blue worth paying quite a bit of attention to: Even Hand’s sophomore effort, Drifted.

A few months ago, there was a review posted on this site of Even Hand’s arresting self-titled debut, a brilliant record that brought to mind acts as varied as Shellac, The Wipers, and Sunny Day Real Estate. The band fought fairly hard to release it on vinyl this year after it’s original 2013 cassette run on the severely under-appreciated Stupid Bag Records (an excellent label run by Jeff Bolt of Swearin’). Even Hand, by all accounts, was a galvanizing debut. The band’s follow-up exceeds it in fairly stunning fashion. More risks are taken throughout the record and there’s an unrelenting intensity that binds the whole thing together. From the hypnotic instrumental that sets things in motion all the way through the record’s epic closer, the serrated “Lover’s Oath”, Drifted morphs into something that starts feeling like less of a record and more of a show-of-force mission statement.

Even more than the aggressively atmospheric Even Hand, Drifted finds its voice via a balance between abrasion, precision, atmosphere, and unfiltered emotion. Each of these 11 tracks is tied to a loose narrative that operates around a very human frustration with certain social functions and their maladaptation. One of the most striking examples of this device is the vignettes that bandleader Mike Borth presents with “Kid Unkind”, which suggests that the promise of social improvement is just a bittersweet projection that holds nothing but harsh realities at its moment of realization. That pattern of cruel repetition is emphasized with vivid detail in the spoken word stream-of-conscious style ranting in the restlessly foreboding “The Palace Holographic / Dust Bath”, which suggests that the end result will always be the same while Borth punctuates its message with razor-sharp visual imagery that include things like “rapid-cycling trees in a violence of leaves” and “shallow canals, drooling over portraits that hate [him], worshipping darkness”. It’s an existential nightmare ready to swallow any listener whole with virtually no remorse or regret- and, like the rest of Drifted, it’s brilliant in a myriad of subtle, detail-oriented ways.

In terms of technical accomplishment, Drifted also outpaces its predecessor in a number of departments; the sequencing flows just a touch more naturally, the production- as ever- is staggering, the work provided by the rhythm section of Dan Edelman and Dominic Armao is the best of the band’s still-young career, and it feels remarkably unified. It’s an anxious and unnerving masterwork of brutally cynical proportions- and, importantly, it’s a record that belongs in as many collections as possible. Crow Bait‘s Mike Bruno got it right by recently ranking this as one 2014’s best releases– hopefully the rest of the world gives Drifted the attention it deserves and considers doing the same.

Listen to Drifted below and keep an eye on Stupid Bag for the eventual tape release here.

Radiator Hospital at Cocoon Room – 9/8/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

Radiator Hospital II

When Radiator Hospital announced Milwaukee as a stop on their tour, not going wasn’t an option. After all, Torch Song has had more plays this year than just about any other record from 2014 so far. “Cut Your Bangs” was a personal pick for “song of the summer” and more than earned it’s inclusion in this site’s summer songs mixtape. They’re a band that embodies next to everything that’s worth celebrating about the DIY ethos in punk-leaning independent music (something that was touched on by the band directly with their attached note in The Media premiere of  their “Bedtime Stories” music video). As if that wasn’t enough, Radiator Hospital also gets to claim Jeff Bolt (who also drums in site favorites Swearin’ and runs Stupid Bag Records– also a site favorite) as a member.

After the two and a half hour drive down to Milwaukee, it didn’t take too long for the night’s plans to be set into motion. While Radiator Hospital was the priority, there was a late show happening across town at Boone & Crockett featuring an Ian Olvera solo set and semi-recent Watch This honorees Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Having never been to Cocoon Room or Boone & Crockett it was difficult to know what to expect but both proved to be intriguing venues that’ll likely warrant repeat visits. Cocoon Room came across as a small DIY art gallery and had already set their bill into motion with a welcoming set from King Courteen shortly after the projected start time. Due to a late arrival, there were only a few King Courteen songs that managed to be taken in but from those alone, it was easy to see a very distinct, considerable talent- one that’ll likely be around a while.

During the last moments of King Courteen’s gripping set another thing became abundantly clear: thanks to how dimly-lit Cocoon Room was, it was going to be very difficult to shoot the bands playing. King Courteen proved impossible and it didn’t seem like that’d be changing for any of the following acts. Radiator Hospital wound up playing second, allowing Lousy Trouts the final slot and it didn’t take them long to lament the lack of light, either. After bluffing her way through a guitar solo while laughing to herself, Cynthia Schemmer smiled and offered up the fact the band usually plays in more light- which probably should have been seen as a subtle plea to get a few additional bulbs turned on- but things stayed the same. Not that it detracted from much of anything as Radiator Hospital blazed through a 9-song set that leaned heavily on the best moments of Torch Song (“Cut Your Bangs”, “Five & Dime”, “Leather & Lace”, etc) while still making room for the deserves-to-be-considered-classic “Our Song”.

If the lack of light didn’t affect them too much outside of Schemmer’s ridiculously fun solo, it was a little bit disheartening to hear that Cocoon Room was dealing with a shot speaker cable, forcing the mix to one side- which meant sacrificing a fair bit of bandleader Sam Cook-Parrott’s vocals. Even with that factored in, Radiator Hospital played with more conviction than most bands manage in perfect circumstances. Bolt was as on point as ever, Schemmer and Cook-Parrott both put next to everything they had into their playing and singing, and bassist Jon Rybicki (whose recent record as Attendant earned a lot of love here) played as emphatically as possible, providing the songs with an extra bit of punch. Both the audience and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, which isn’t always the case- but that night everyone operated under the understanding that great music deserves attention, applause, and praise. Even with the dim lights and PA issues, it was a memorable experience and an impressive set- one that ensured Radiator Hospital a position on the “can’t-miss” list for live acts.

After Radiator Hospital wrapped up, the venue got a little too crowded a little too quickly and the heat became too much, so (after some time spent catching up with the members of Radiator Hospital outside the venue), it was off to Boone & Crockett for Sub Pop signees Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. While arriving late meant having to miss Ian Olvera (who also fronts The Sleepwalkers), it’s a safe bet that he put on a great set that probably shouldn’t have been missed- and if Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires’ first half of their set was as incendiary as the back stretch, then the same can definitely be said for them. Bains and his band play a ferocious strand of southern rock that embraces a manic punk energy, allowing each individual member to fly off the handle at will. It took less than two seconds of being in the venue to see Bains jump off the stage and barrel his way into the audience before jumping back up and taking a perch on the bass drum- before falling to the floor and punching a malfunctioning pedal. That string of actions set the tone for what was to follow, as the band tore through song after song and ripped through a wide-reaching selection of riffs and solos while working themselves into an intense sweat. There were no sections where they lost pace or momentum and by the time they finished, it felt like the room (a small bar that specializes in mixology) had just sustained an atomic blast… and the band was only playing with their “little” amps. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the following night saw them burning Green Bay’s Lyric Room to the ground. Currently, they’re getting set to embark on a tour with Southern stalwarts Drive-By Truckers and that’s a bill that needs to be taken advantage of, if at all possible. Keep it in mind.

All in all, it was a night of great music and impressive lyricism (especially in the case of Radiator Hospital, whose Torch Song boasts some of the strongest writing of the year) that showcased how vital Milwaukee is to fostering independent-minded music. King Courteen displayed promise, Radiator Hospital solidified their on-the-rise position with a vicious authoritativeness, and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires proved that they weren’t an act to be trifled with using as much wild-eyed intensity as humanly possible. And, on nights like those- especially when they’re spent with good friends- it’s impossible not to fall in love with music all over again.

Due to the lighting at each venue being very limited, there weren’t a lot of photos worth posting but a small handful is better than nothing. View those below and videos of Radiator Hospital and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires beneath the gallery.


Even Hand – Even Hand (Album Review, Stream)

eh

Over the years it’s become increasingly evident that their are some cassettes that it’s next to impossible to eject from a deck once they’ve completed their rotation- not because of technical difficulty but because of how good the record on the tape is. Stupid Bag Records have had a direct hand in quite a few of them (every Swearin’ tape, Acid Fast’s Rabid Moond, Dead Dog’s Precious Child, etc.) and recently, one of their releases possessing that insane amount of gravitational pull was given an LP release over at the always-outstanding Mandible Records: Even Hand’s self-titled full-length debut.

Even Hand boasts a sound that feels like it’d fit comfortably between both Sunny Day Real Estate and The Wrens at their respective peaks, without sacrificing an inch of their DIY punk roots, which is an impressive achievement, to say the least. In a small way, it makes them a sort of spiritual kin to Haunted Heads, even if Even Hand’s a little more wiry and more in line with the Steve Albini school of thought when it comes to presentation. That keen attention to detail is something that serves them well throughout the course of Even Hand and helps the record feel like an absolutely vital release.

Starting with a trio of songs that establishes both the band’s sound and the tone of the record, Even Hand wastes no time in commanding the listener’s attention. “Glacial Blue”, the record’s opening track, recalls a much more precise and mannered Parquet Courts without losing any of the nervy tension that dominates the kind of wry post-punk  both bands traffic in. “The More It Shows” reveals the band’s just as comfortable delivering charged-up bruisers as they are at displaying raw nerve. “Your Wall” rounds out the opening blitz with a lilting melody and a slow-burning sonic template that’s indebted to the very best of emo’s golden era without being completely defined by that genre.

From there, Even Hand manages to steadily build it’s momentum while carving out new niche areas of all the genres that factor into what make them such an engaging band on record. While the furiously paced”Down the Lighted Strip” may be the record’s most definitive moment, it’s Even Hand‘s quietest moment that manages to stand out most. “Leaning Home” is the track in question and it arrives at roughly the 3/4’s mark of the record, providing bandleader Mike Borth an arresting solo moment. Everything goes quiet for “Leaning Home” and Borth makes the most of it, providing Even Hand with some of his sharpest guitar work and a set of lyrics that cuts deep by confronting familial conflict in a manner that feels intensely personal. It’s the record’s longest song (though it doesn’t feel like it) and earns every last second of its runtime.

Appropriately, it’s followed by an ambient stretch before “All Tenses All Time” kicks things back into overdrive and showcases the natural ability of Even Hand’s rhythm section, with Dominic Armao lending the record no shortage of propulsive bass line and drummer Dan Edelman providing a deeply impressive set of chops at a pace that frequently borders the manic. Both Armao and Edelman give the record a lot of its heart while Borth shapes it with an enviable sense of personality. All three pull out a variety of stops for the closing track, “I’m Not Concerned”, giving listeners one final reminder of what each is capable of on their own- and what the band’s capable of as a collective. “I’m Not Concerned” winds up being an appropriate final highlight on a record littered with other ones- and when it’s over, all that’s really left to do is let it play itself over again. Even Hand is a record that deserves to be heard- as many times as possible.

Listen to Even Hand below and make sure to not live life without either owning the cassette or the LP.

25 Best Demo’s, EP’s, 7″ Singles, and Compilations of 2013

2013 was an incredible year for music that held a seemingly infinite amount of great releases in nearly every possible genre and sub-genre. Cassettes popularity exploded, vinyl sales increased by more than 30%, and the importance of demo’s finally became apparent. In a sea of widely-publicized releases that got mountains of praise, it was a joy to find what composes much of this list.  While a few spots are technically taken up by more than one release, those ties always come courtesy of a band generous enough to release more than one item and have it live up to whatever had preceded it. So, with that caveat in mind, here are the 25 best demo’s, EP’s, 7″ singles, splits, and compilations of 2013.


25. Split Feet – Fall 2013

Chicago’s Split Feet were one of the upper Midwest’s better surprises of 2013 and this demo announced their entrance authoritatively. The rest of the space could be consumed by an attempt to wax poetic on the demo’s respective virtues but, to spare everyone some time, it’s worth pointing out that’s already been done here. Stream the Fall 2013 demo below.

24. The Hotels – Leslie

Here’s an interesting, barely-relevant fact; The Hotels’ excellent Leslie EP was released on the same day Heartbreaking Bravery started. Leslie incorporates nearly all of the staple items on the musical laundry list that this site celebrates most frequently. There’s an emphasis on the kind of influences that keep it on the fringes of the emo-revival alongside bands like Swearin’ and All Dogs but finds itself living in the moment far too much to be tied to a revival. It’s immediacy pays huge dividends but it’s Leslie‘s precision that landed it on this list. Listen to it below.

23. Globelamp – Star Dust

Like Split Feet’s demo, Globelamp’s undeniable unique EP has already been celebrated here. Despite already having a few releases, this felt like a debut. Star Dust‘s nervous energy felt impossibly grounded and promises bigger things for the duo. Hear Star Dust below.

22. Elvis Christ – And So It Shall Be

No one’s going to deny that Elvis Christ is more likable to be noticed for his contributions to Nobunny than his solo work, which, based on the strength of And So It Shall Be is due for a change in the near-future.  There’s definitely a Nobunny influence coursing through the five tracks on display but they pack enough punch to secure it a spot on this list. One of Burger Records’ best tape releases from their best year. Hear it below. 

21. Joseph Frankl – Breakers

Joseph Frankl released two great records on very different platforms this year. As the drummer for The Frankl Project, he was a part of one of 2013’s (and perhaps the decade’s) best pop-punk records. Not too long after he uploaded this two-song single to his bandcamp as a self-release. Breakers exists along the same lines as yesterday’s On the Up honorees Technicolor Teeth. This is driving shoegaze that feels authentic and well-informed and not like a pale imitation. Both songs are among the year’s best and deserve way more attention than they’ve received. Hear Breakers below.

20. The Orwells – Other Voices/Who Needs You

2013 was a breakout year for these young Chicago scrappers. From Jam  in the Van sessions to NPR music video premieres, it was hard to go more than a few months without hearing about them. A lot of this, of course, was due to both of the outstanding EP’s they gave to the world in 2013 (as well as a split cassingle with FIDLAR for Record Store Day), all of which were given a tape release via Burger Records. A production assist from TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek undoubtedly piqued a lot of interests even further than they had been but that wouldn’t mean anything if the music didn’t actually live up to the hype. Thankfully, it has. Hear both EP’s in full below. 


19. Dead Beach – Purple Scissors/Cool Mutants Split

Let’s Pretend released a lot of incredible material in 2013 but this was easily their best in the short-form department. Both Purple Scissors and the Cool Mutants split were recorded by PURPLE 7’s Patrick Jennings (who formerly fronted Hot New Mexicans) and both bands’ influences are evident throughout both the EP and the split. They both carry the slightly off-kilter, raw, and insanely melodic traits that nearly all of Let’s Pretend’s roster has come to be known for. Hear both releases in their entirety below.




18. La Luz – Damp Face

Anyone who’s been following this site probably won’t be too surprised at finding yet another Burger release on this list but it’s hard to argue against placements for any of the label’s releases; they’ve been consistently excellent and positioned themselves at the forefront of basement pop. La Luz had a turbulent year, suffering both triumphs and devastating setbacks. As horrific as their accident was, people are more likely to associate 2013 with both of the band’s outstanding releases rather than personal tragedy. Both their It’s Alive full-length and Damp Face EP have managed to jumpstart a promising career for their band and they’re already showing no signs of slowing, fighting back relentlessly at whatever obstacles come there way. Hear some of that fight bleed into their music by listening to Damp Face below.

17. Midwives – Midwives

Midwives’ self-titled debut is another of the entries on this list that’s already been covered and the thing’s got some serious legs. Its staying power has been incredibly impressive and went a long way in securing it a spot on this list. Get familiar with Wisconsin’s best new hardcore act by listening to Midwives’ introductory piece below.

16. Lemuria – Brilliant Dancer

As good as The Distance Is So Big was, this 7″ teaser the band released ahead of it may actually exceed it in terms of greatness. Both “Brilliant Dancer” and “Helloing” rank among the best songs in Lemuria’s impressive catalog, providing them the b/w format cuts out any excess and lets them operate as a sharp adrenaline shot that emphasizes the band’s best qualities. Brilliant Dancer is about as precise as Lemuria gets and sacrifices none of their sugar-rush basement pop. Hear it below (and catch them live whenever possible).

15. Summer Twins – Forget Me

As has been mentioned before and is likely to be mentioned again, Burger Records had an absolutely monstrous 2013, as far as EP’s are concerned the label didn’t put out anything better last year than the Summer Twins’ near-perfect Forger Me. Mining a 50’s doo-wop and 60’s girl group influence in equal measure, they offered up five of the most assured and gorgeous songs of the year, with the title track being one of the year’s outright best. While the rest of the songs don’t quite match the heights of “Forget Me”, they come close enough to more than justify a spot on this list. Hear Forget Me below.



14. Huge Face – Huge Face

Huge Face are yet another band that may occasionally find their name tossed into the emo-revival conversation that’s happening right now despite leaning closer to Guided by Voices and late-era Wipers than Sunny Day Real Estate. In the grand scheme of things, though, it really doesn’t matter. Huge Face stands up just fine on its own. The most modern touchpoint here would be Wolf Parade, as the bands share several similar sensibilities, even if the execution on how their lensed varies ever-so-slightly. No matter how it’s looked at, it’s fairly clear that this is a great release. Listen to it below.

13. Pusrad – Modern Anatomi

Clocking in at just over four and a half minutes, these ten songs refuse to fuck around. That steadfast commitment is an integral part of all great hardcore bands’ aesthetic, Pusrad included. Already moving at an incredibly prolific pace, Pusrad keep getting better with each one. Modern Anatomi is an exhilarating blast of fierce, old-school hardcore that’s as relentless as it is creative. One of the genre’s best releases in any format in 2013. Hear it below.



12. Upset/Swearin’/Waxahatchee/Screaming Females – Guided by Voices Tribute 7″

All anyone really needed to do for this one was look at the title. Upset, Swearin’, Waxahatchee, and Screaming Females are four of the better bands going today and each paying tribute to a specific Guided by Voices track is an undeniably sensible move. This is as much of a four-band pairing as it is a five and it exceeds its own promise. That’s one hell of an accomplishment. Unfortunately, no streams of this are currently available but it’s available for purchase (highly recommended) via the link below.

Purchase the Guided by Voices Tribute 7″ from Salinas Records

11. Sundials – Always Whatever (A Collection of Songs from 2009-2012)

Releasing a set-year retrospective can be a tempting prospect for any band that feels it’s entered a new stage; rarely do they exceed on the levels of Sundials’ Always Whatever (A Collection of Songs from 2009-2012). By forgoing the inclusion of several songs from their two main releases, First 6 Songs and When I Couldn’t Breathe, there’s an allowance for the unexpected which infuses Always Whatever with a vitality it may have sorely lacked. This is a stunning collection of melodic basement punk songs that should only help the anticipation build for whatever the band’s next move is. Get familiar with Sundials by listening to Always Whatever below.

10. Technicolor Teeth – Blood Pool

There aren’t very many bands out there who can claim to be as exciting as Technicolor Teeth. Only a few years (and two releases) into their career, they’ve managed to make a deep impression on a lot of their peers and grab the attentions of people that may help elevate them to infamy. They’ve essentially been posited as the new forefront of shoegaze by embracing it as fully as possible while still thriving to make it their own. After the rousing success and tonal darkness of Teenage Pagans, it’s unlikely that anyone thought the aspect they’d play up the most for their follow-up was their warm dream-pop influence. Granted, they haven’t sacrificed much of their morbidity or dark atmosphere and instead reinvent that side of themselves as well. As a result, they’ve wound up with the best nightmare-pop 7″ of 2013. It’s difficult to say how long this band will stay buried but expect to be hearing their names a lot more sometime soon.


9. The Dirty Nil/Northern Primitive – Split

The Dirty Nil’s split 7″ with Northern Primitive was one of the more unique splits of 2013 just for the variance of style on display. Both bands tend to err towards doom without actually crossing that bridge completely, with the former keeping at least one foot very firmly planted in early 90’s indie a la Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies while the latter perilously straddles multiple genre lines at once. Of the two, The Dirty Nil takes the more straightforward route (and is none the less thrilling for it) while Northern Primitive throws everything they’ve got into their side, riding an eerie atmosphere into a crushing crescendo before gracefully falling back out. An absolutely stunning display piece for two of Canada’s best-kept secrets. Hear it below.



8. Jeff Rosenstock – Summer

Over the years, IYMI has become one of the most trusted sources out there for on-the-rise bands playing the basement punk circuit and have frequently offered early glimpses at bands like Swearin’ and Jason Anderson in the bandcamp “optional donation” mode (the site also is responsible for the incredible Pink Couch Sessions series). This year, they went ahead and added Jeff Rosenstock to the list by featuring his incredible Summer 7″, which managed to be one of the most explosive scuzz-pop 7″ singles of 2013. An absolute must-own. Hear both “Teenager” and “Go On Get” below.



7. Tweens – Demo CD-R

Tweens were one of the great breakout successes of the gutter circuits in 2013, releasing nothing but demos which were subsequently devoured and praised at a rate fast enough to give anyone whiplash. The Cincinnati trio have become one of the more talked-about and sought-after prospects in recent memory based solely on the strength of a demo CD-R which is impressive enough in itself. The fact that their bandleader, Bridgette, had only recently learned guitar before before starting Tweens is a completely different level of impressive. Tweens are set to release their debut full-length in March and that day can’t get here fast enough. Until then, listen to a few selections from the now-sold out demo below.



6. All Dogs – 7″

One of Salinas’ most exciting new prospects has already drawn comparisons to seemingly half of that label’s roster, which is precisely what makes it so appealing. Over the past few years Salinas has carefully cultivated a sound that prides itself on a lo-fi 90’s indie punk influence. All Dogs profile is set to get another boost with the impending release of Saintseneca’s upcoming LP on Anti-, as the bands share members. A lot more could be said about this release but, once again, it’s worth noting that much of it has already been said. Listen to All Dogs’ triumphant 7″ below.



5. Various Artists – Beyond Inversion: A Benefit for Rachael’s Women’s Center in DC

Over Heartbreaking Bravery’s short existence, the release that’s garnered the most coverage from this site is undoubtedly Accidental Guest’s incredible Beyond Inversion benefit compilation. It’s a compilation that has its heart squarely in the right place, while perfectly adhering to the best aesthetics of the basement scene. There’s a selflessness that’s on display here through the involved bands’ naturally camaraderie. It’s also a perfect representation of its time, culminating in a capsule-worthy artifact that sheds this generation in the most positive light imaginable. Which is precisely why there was more than just one article devoted to it. Beyond Inversion may be seeing a vinyl release at some point in the near future but the initial cassette release sold out in pre-orders. Thankfully, the whole thing is available for streaming and can be heard below.



4. Acid Fast – Rabid Moon

While Rabid Moon finally was given a proper vinyl release last week, it’s been available as a cassette for several months, courtesy of Stupid Bag Records. Far and away one of the most impressive cassette-only full-length’s to be granted a 2013 release, it allowed for a monumental build-up to it’s run as a 2014 record. In the span between the two official releases, the band’s picked up press from Punknews, the AV Club, and earned On the Up honors from this very site. Rabid Moon is an absolute monster of a record that channels the spirit of Archers of Loaf, has the unhinged energy that made Big Kids so great, and it deserves every accolade that’s undoubtedly coming its way. Hear the first three songs from the record below.

3. LVL UP – Extra Worlds/Porches. Split

LVL UP prove themselves again and again with each consecutive release. How this band isn’t fucking huge yet is anyone’s best guess and it still seems like that’ll happen in due time. One of the most thrilling and accessible bands going right now, LVL UP absolutely crushed 2013 with an outstanding EP and a split with Porches. that was every bit the EP’s equal. In both cases, this is full-throttle basement punk with powerpop flourishes that doesn’t skimp on aggression or melody. Flashes of everything from The Replacements at their best to Weezer at their best are all present and filtered organically enough to come across as an influence and not an imitation. It seems unlikely that LVL UP will be slowing down anytime soon. Hear both Extra Worlds and their split with Porches. below.


2. Perfect Pussy – I have lost all desire for feeling

There were no releases last year that felt as harrowing and personal as Perfect Pussy’s demo tape. It didn’t matter which way it was spun, the listener’s reaction, vocalist Meredith Graves’ determined confessionals, or the cultural dialogue it inspired; this was a personal affair. It was also an incredible piece of music, relentlessly energetic and unabashedly unapologetic in composition, production, and lyrical content. It was  a demo (and band) that meant a lot to this site, which is why Meredith Graves was chosen (and graciously agreed to be) Heartbreaking Bravery’s first interviewI have lost all desire for feeling also earned one of this site’s very first reviews and set off a chain reaction of positive effects that have extended into 2014. Listen to I have lost all desire for feeling below.

1. Tenement – Screaming Females Split + More Compilation/Puke and Destroy #2/Sick Club Vol. 3/Something to Dü

Sometimes things are predictable for a reason; this site hasn’t been shy about its feelings for Tenement. Despite not releasing any official LP’s or EP’s in 2013, they experienced one of their most successful years to date on the strength of their 7″ releases. There was their unbelievable entry into the Sick Club series on Cowabunga!, their stellar section of Puke & Destroy alongside Holy Shit!, Gleam Gardens, and The What-A-Nights, and an unbelievable (and entirely unexpected) compilation on bandcamp centered around their attention-demanding split with Screaming Females.  Additionally, the band also contributed to do the excellent Something to Dü five-band tribute on Dead Broke Rekerds offering up a volume-shifting take on “Obnoxious”. Throughout all of it, the band manages to show their full range from the battered and haunting “Ants and Flies” demo to their usual hardcore-tinged basement pop- as well as their usual lo-fi freakouts. It didn’t matter what mode they were in, everything from “Books on Hell + Sermons on T.V.” to “Twig” deserved an infinite amount of listens and serious year-end considerations. The scariest part of all this is that it still feels like this band is just getting started, especially considering the band already has two LP’s lined up for release on Grave Mistake and Don Giovanni, respectively, for next year. Hear all four of the band’s major 2013 releases below.




On the Up: Acid Fast

The amount of outstanding music that can be linked back to the Swearin’ collective is staggering. One of the reasons for this is Swearin’ drummer Jeff Bolt’s active involvement in the basement pop scene. Not only has he played drums for just about everyone that falls under that umbrella in Philadelphia, he runs Stupid Bag Records which primarily releases tapes and vinyl from his respective Philadelphia circle. Once in a while, though, Stupid Bag will have a release due to emotional investment in a certain band. Oakland, CA’s Acid Fast are one of these bands. It’s easy to see why; their Rabid Moon tape is one of 2013’s strongest highlights.

Acid Fast incorporates a similar aesthetic to Swearin’, only they utilize a different approach. While melodies are still in tact, the band ratchets up the pure aggression of their music. There are certain points on Rabid Moon that fall between the fiercest 90’s emo and the weirdest lo-fi indie punk of that era. Put bluntly, this band rips. Fortunately, for everyone, they’re positioned nicely for securing the recognition they deserve. Rabid Moon is currently available on cassette through Stupid Bag and follows an outstanding 2010 demo.

Keep both eyes peeled for all of the upcoming coverage the band should be getting and listen to a three-song sampler from Rabid Moon below.

Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Album Review)

P.S. Eliot always felt like lightning a bottle and no one was exactly certain what’d happen when that bottle broke. Fortunately, for everyone, there was never a break; it was more of a letting-out. Twins Katie and Alison Crutchfield went in separate directions, with the former spearheading a devastatingly hushed acoustic project as Waxahatchee. Alison grabbed Kyle Gilbride and they took off to start blazing paths under the Swearin’ moniker. Since then, the lion’s share of the public attention has fallen to Katie while Swearin’ have been furiously kicking away in the shadows, releasing both a demo EP, What A Dump, and a self-titled full length over the past two years. Both releases are decade-so-far highlights.

With both What A Dump and Swearin’ being as potent as they were, it only makes sense that they’d be emerging from those shadows about now. A recent co-signing to UK-based Wichita records certainly can’t hurt either. While everything was coming together for the release of their upcoming sophomore outing Surfing Strange, a First Listen honor from NPR provided the final cherry on top for a formidable pre-release campaign that included a music video premiere from Stereogum. All of those factors add up to intimidatingly high expectations, expectations that Surfing Strange manages to artfully subvert.

This subversion is presented immediately with lead-off track “Dust in the Gold Sack”, which not only refines their palette but adds to it. Gilbride brings a previously-unheard shoegaze element into the fold with his guitar work on the thrilling chorus, while an acoustic guitar anchors much of the song despite being buried in the mix. All of the frustrated energy present in Swearin’ is still clearly evident, only now the band has embraced it with a more wizened sense of still-youthful giddiness and a newfound maturity. While “Dust in the Gold Sack” retains and refines the band’s extraordinary melodic sensibilities, the ensuing track brings a new element to the forefront; it gets heavy. Only this time it’s not the hardcore-infused blasts of “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” but a heaviness that underscores a palpable exhaustion. It’s startling in its honestly and provides the perfect back-half of a 1-2 punch to set up the record’s overarching themes.

Throughout the remainder of Surfing Strange the band’s principle songwriters (and real-life couple), Crutchfield and Gilbride, underscore a record that’s ostensibly about personal growth.  At certain points they even cede the spotlight to bassist Keith Spencer, who makes up one of the more formidable young rhythm sections of the burgeoning garage pop scene with drummer Jeff Bolt. Spencer’s turns as the focal fixture are about as soft and vulnerable as Crutchfield’s but slightly, and only slightly, less enthralling. However, that democratic process and presentation is part of what makes Swearin’ such a unique act to begin with. Instead of one distinct entity composed of interchangeable components, it’s an absolute whole made up of four distinct personalities. That the personalities are as visible as they are is a rarity in today’s music and allows Swearin’ a pull that other acts simply can’t match.

As it was on What A Dump and Swearin’, the songs on display in Surfing Strange continuously expand on repeat listens, eventually becoming something more akin to old friends than old songs. While all of the twists and turns on Surfing Strange do require more patience to familiarize, the journey’s well-worth it. Even if the record’s pacing is off from time to time, it’d take a cruel cynic not to be won over by the record’s final stretch. That final stretch begins with the record’s definitive moment, the boldly experimental (all things considered) piano-heavy “Glare of the Sun”.  In that single track, the band finds their way through nearly every influence present throughout Surfing Strange and touches on its key components. Shoegaze guitars return, there’s a somewhat-resigned turn at vocals, a few stylistic shifts, and  lyrics touching heavily on both the past and the future that provide a fairly poignant picture of where the narrator stands at present.

After the somewhat staggering “Glare of the Sun” relents, Surfing Strange re-injects itself with the kind of energy and chemistry that made those first two releases so singular. “Unwanted Place” and “Young” are two of the most energetic tracks in the collection and showcase just how well the band can play off each other. There’s anthemic choruses, a bevvy of 90’s indie influences worn proudly on the member’s sleeves, and an infectious joy that invigorates the more melancholy mood Surfing Strange had built up to that point. “Curdled” brings things to a quieter close that lends the record a sense of finality. Yet, as it is with everything else Swearin’ has done, it’s more than a little tempting to just hit repeat.

You can stream Surfing Strange here.