Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: The Coral Riffs

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.

Good Grief – Here Come the Waterworks (EP Review, Stream, Live Video Presentation)

Before getting too far into this specific review/essay, a slew of disclaimers are in order. First, I play drums in a band that includes a member of Good Grief. Second, all four of these members became close friends and supporters of my work in and outside of Heartbreaking Bravery and are tethered to the same self-created family that we all desperately needed to survive in a small, isolated city in the middle of Wisconsin. Third (and possibly the most important of these three): I didn’t know any of these people until I saw Good Grief play for the first time nearly a decade ago, an instance that immediately registered as one of those world-caving experiences of startling discovery; I knew these were my people before they allowed me into their family.

If entertainment truly lives and dies at the intersection of talent, connections, and insistence, I will go to bat for this band long after they hang up their cables.

That last statement is one I can say with an abundance of conviction, as I was still screaming recommendations at people in passing (and in person) in a four and a half year absence. For a long while it seemed like the band would be permanently dissolved, leaving behind a memorable legacy for the people who were there the first time around, packing in basements and losing their voices screaming along to songs like “Basic Math” and “Flirting With Death“. All that was left was a distant, desperate hope for a reunion or for the songs that never got recorded at the end of the run to find their way to a posthumous release (while holding on to the several hours of live footage I’d amassed with a white-knuckle grip).

In late 2016, the band returned and filled out a local bar that was packed with enough pent-up longing and energy from both the band and the audience that the place nearly disintegrated in the moment. Shortly after, there was a promise of more shows and new material. Here Come the Waterworks is the fulfillment of both that promise and the platform for a handful of songs that were nearly lost apart from that previously mentioned footage (along with the scattered clips of a select few other people).

A handful of post-reunion shows and the band’s picking up right where they left off, a little more poised, a little more learned, and more willing to challenge themselves. All of those points are made abundantly clear on “State of Disbelief”, “Blood and Kin”, and “Gumming Up the Works”, the half of the EP that’s entirely new material. The other half belongs to the songs that were rescued (“High Society”, “Holy Smokes”, and “In Through the Outhouse”), which have been brushed up and injected with a startling sense of galvanization.

Here Come the Waterworks also represents the most evenly split release of the band’s discography, which now spans 2 EP’s and 2 full-length efforts. Half of these songs are led by Colin Bares, who continues to astonish here as he has in previous projects The Coral Riffs, The Weasel, Marten Fisher, The Cost of Living (a project that was born out of Good Grief’s initial dissolution which also retained drummer Jess Nowaczyk), and Mr. Martin and the Sensitive Guys (another project that Good Grief bassist Jarad Olson lent his considerable talent [in addition to spearheading a solo project]). The other half are headed up by Dirk Gunderson, who carved out a name for himself through not only Good Grief but Heavy Looks (which also features Olson) but also by way f some impressive solo work by way of The Deadly Vices.

Across six songs, everyone lays it on the line, committing to their material with a newfound understanding of what they can create. Guitars are left out of tune in spots to create dissonance, vocal overlays enhance the atmosphere in multiple spots, and when the harmonies hit, they hit hard. Gunderson and Bares both provide some of the best work of their respective careers. Their off-kilter pop and unrepentant punk influences still thrive at an intersection that owes a meaningful debt to acts like The Unicorns and The Libertines while offering enough distinct personality to create its own category.

Smart composition, clever hooks, and no shortage of attitude are littered across this EP, which is comprised of nothing but high points. The band’s thoughtfulness is evident throughout Here Come the Waterworks but never sacrifices the immediacy that’s drawn so many people into their circle over the years. There’s no room for error or filler and each member has an intrinsic understanding of how the others work, which translates into a tight-knit formula that elevates the material to a significant degree; Bares’ pained vocals are served by Gunderson’s ambient leads while Gunderson’s unbridled tenacity is enhanced by a characteristically busy and propulsive rhythm section (and so on).

All of it works just as it’s always worked, only this time around the band’s fully aware of their most minuscule machinations and have fine-tuned every facet of their operation. It’s a level of dedication that’s created a snarling behemoth; the years where they stepped away are met here with a vengeance. “Gumming Up the Works”, especially, feels like a declaration of intent; this is a band that’s here to strengthen their own sizable mark. Here Come the Waterworks is a new chapter for the band, and their future, suddenly, has risen from absence and bloomed into an open boundlessness.

When all’s said and done, the last note played, Good Grief resuscitated from the urn’s ashes, this EP stands as a spotless example of what this site was built to celebrate, something that doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that Good Grief were a fundamental part of this entire site’s creation and will continue to be an integral part of Heartbreaking Bravery going forward. It’s a band that’s entwined with the DNA of everything this place — and like-minded places — hope to accomplish: to serve as a platform where elevating hidden or overlooked voices becomes not only possible but the desired goal.

Geographical privilege, lack of funds, lack of notoriety… none of those things matter. All that matters is the music and the people responsible for the music’s creation. This is a band of people doing their best to be kind, writing songs that could go toe-to-toe with an entire arsenal of forgettable acts who are gifted late night TV slots, but there’s a modesty to what they do that none only makes it difficult to gain traction but be seen or heard at all. Hopefully, this post doesn’t wind up being the only piece to attempt a richly-deserved course correction.

Still, Here Come the Waterworks stands proudly as an astonishing release that deserves a far wider audience than it’ll likely get as it’s forced to stare down disappointingly arbitrary mitigating factors. Even with that being the case, the EP’s a testament to the bands who know that making a noticeable impact in the macro doesn’t matter if you can meaningful shape the lives of the people who are present enough to be reached. It’s a record that’s been around five years in the making and it’s a record that makes me proud of the people I chose to align myself with: a piece of art that re-enforces those decisions with abandon.

Good Grief were one of a very select handful of bands who changed the direction of my life and these six songs casually reflect those moments. They made my hometown feel more like an actual home. We lived in basements, we drank together, we suffered with each other, we celebrated with each other, and we did our best to make something meaningful, not just on our own but together. It’s beyond heartening to have that indomitable spirit not only survive an extended break but be rekindled into the roaring fire that is Here Come the Waterworks.

Listen to (and watch) Here Come the Waterworks below, pick it up here, and keep an eye on this site for more updates on one of the best bands more people deserve to know.

Watch This: Vol. 20

In one of the more recent pieces to run on here, I bid adieu to a camera that’s served me well over the years. There were vague allusions to various sets that I’ve been lucky enough to catch with that camera scattered throughout the piece- and while this may be dangerously close to tipping into the self-serving spectrum I do my best to avoid on here (and the fact that the audio quality is far from the best), it only seemed appropriate to showcase a few of the more memorable captures over the years. To that end, this installment of Watch This will likely wind up as the one the more unique entries in the series.  One last look at the past before pushing towards what’s ahead.

No matter what it was, whether it be powerpop legends The Figgs playing Tenement’s living room, Thee Oh Sees taking apart one of Wisconsin’s best venues, Desaparecidos returning to the stage for the first time as an official band again, Okkervil River playing to a criminally sparse outdoors crowd in the middle of an absolutely gorgeous day, The Mountain Goats taking a victory lap, The Antlers entrancing a room of strangers on a stormy nightMutts stripping way back for a radio performance, or finding myself in a bar, restaurant, or basement with the likes of Big Eyes, Technicolor Teeth, The Cost of Living, Buffalo Moon, Sycamore Smith & the Gray Beast, The Midwestern Charm, Ramma LammaThe Sleepwalkers, Wett Nurse (shrouded in an impossible amount of fog, at that), Heavycritters – and yes, Perfect Pussy (along with a handful of others)- filming these has always been something that’s been extraordinarily gratifying.

It’s never to fulfill a sense of pride, it’s never for bragging rights, it’s always, in each and every instance, to support an artist that I love or that deserves as much support as they can possibly get. Established or not, this is my way of giving thanks and hopefully extending their music out to other places that may never have heard them otherwise. This holds true for my writing on Heartbreaking Bravery as well. One of the most important things anyone can do is support the art they believe in and this place will always live by that law. So, watch this or don’t, but it’ll always be here as both a reminder of some very personal memories and a showcase for some bands who deserved more attention than they ever received. Sit back, support local music, support local music, support local music, support local music (SERIOUSLY, SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC), and Watch This.

1. Tenement – Morning Mouth (Live at the Afterdark)

This video will be the only one that actually predates the Canon PowerShot I’d been using to shoot these videos over the past several years (this set was shot on a low-end handheld Sony camcorder), it’s included because it serves as a beginning for a myriad of things: my introduction to Tenement (who would subsequently open up an entire world of music to me through their kindness), the beginnings of when I became serious about film, and the start of when I became serious about booking shows. Their five-song set, to a crowd of people they invited up onto a small stage to make them feel more at home, blew my mind and has stuck with me for approximately six years now. My opinion on this band hasn’t changed as I’ve filmed set after set after set, year in and year out- they’re one of the best, if not the absolute best, band currently going. I’ll forever be grateful to them for a number of reasons and delivering this set will always be one of them.

2. Good Grief – Holy Smokes! (Live in Stevens Point, WI)

There isn’t always a lot of options for live music in the middle of nowhere but at the height of Good Grief’s run, there were a few spells where there seemed to be an incredible show happening every other week. I attended every single one I possibly could, not just because of an undying love for live music and the DIY community but because Good Grief had tapped into something genuinely special during their time as a band. It was evidenced by the mass basement singalongs, by Mutts coming all the way from Chicago to play an unforgettable cover of a song from their final record, by the people who had little to no connection with the band who showed up at nearly every show- right up through their final marathon set at K Bueno (this is a band that will likely always have the distinction of being the only one I ever see tearing things up inside of a Shopko that was giving away free hot dogs, chips, and soda)- with a smile on their face and a beer in their hands, and by the fact that more times than not, the first time I would hear a song played for the first time, I would get chills (“Lab Rats” is still one of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard and a lock as an entry for my 50 Favorite Songs of All Time list). “Holy Smokes!” was never officially recorded, as far as I know this is the only known recording of it, which is why it takes this spot on the list- a look at some incredible music, and some incredible musicians, that too much of the world missed out on.

3. Midnight Reruns – Too Tall (Live at Frank’s Power Plant)

Like Tenement before them, this was the first time I saw Midnight Reruns (coincidentally, if anyone asks me who I think the best bands in the state are, those are usually the first two names out of my mouth) and even just a few minutes into the first song, it was apparent it’d be far from the last. They tore that place to shreds and threw out a fiery Wreckless Eric cover in the middle of an all-out blitz of a set that showcased Graham Hunt’s beyond-his-years songwriting ability and the band’s undeniable musicianship. They’ve (somehow) only steadily improved since then and have built an impressive expanding fanbase including members of The Replacements, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ThirdCoastDigestBrooklynVegan, and Milwaukee Record, who just ranked their debut s/t (still less than half a year old) as the 16th best record to come out of Milwaukee since 2010. Word on the street is the material they’re currently working on blows even that out of the water. Keep both eyes out and both ears open for this one.

4. Sleeping in the Aviary – So Lonely (Live in Stevens Point, WI)

Apart from Good Grief, Used KidsThe Goodnight Loving, and Hot New Mexicans (especially The Goodnight Loving and Hot New Mexicans), there are few bands that can come even remotely close to Sleeping in the Aviary as far as the “bands I wish would reunite” conversation goes. The only places I ever saw Sleeping in the Aviary play, curiously enough considering their level of name recognition, were basements (with one surprisingly touching exception being the vinyl LP release party for Expensive Vomit In A Cheap Hotel at the High Noon Saloon, thrown five years after the records initial release) . In one way or another, I was a part of each and every one of those shows and they wound up being a few of the most memorable nights of my life thanks to both the people around me and Sleeping in the Aviary themselves. Ever the manic pranksters, they would usually come armed with cardboard cutouts, bubble machines, various props, or adult-themed piñatas. They’d also always play with a reckless abandon and unparalleled fierceness while still clinging onto a carefree nature and clearly having the time of their lives doing it. Kyle Sobczak was a late addition to the group but provided them with a few of their most memorable songs in their final stretch. “So Lonely” is one of them- and, as mentioned before, being in the middle of nowhere means that when a basement show happens with a band of Sleeping in the Aviary’s caliber comes to play, things tend to go off the rails pretty quickly. No one has seen the regular lead personality, Elliott Kozel, since he disappeared into that crowd… (entirely untrue as clearly evidenced in the video- but still, a great myth to try to start).

5. Charley & the Cynics – St. Christopher (Live at the Crunchy Frog)

Writing an In Memoriam piece for Charlotte was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I debated whether or not to include this as the fifth slot or keep it stored away due to its extremely personal nature but I realized that the few videos I did manage to capture of Charley & the Cynics during her time here had a profound effect on why I kept filming and knew it had to occupy this spot. After her untimely passing it was next to impossible to bring myself to watch the videos of her that I’d previously put up out of both respect and unfailing admiration. It’s not like I knew Charlotte all that well; I won’t pretend I did and I won’t glamorize her or try to turn her into some flawless saintly figure. I did know her well enough, though- well enough to consider her a friend and well enough to know that she was a generally positive person who always seemed to treat others with both care and affection, which is something I try to extend to everyone that gets coverage on this site. After enough time had passed, I could watch these videos without needing to spend a night drinking afterwards and I realized that they’re the crux of why I film to begin with: to celebrate the people and music I love while they’re around. Ever since the full extent of that realization hit me, these videos of Charlotte have factored into every time I’ve plugged in a camera charger, every time I’ve replaced an SD card, every time I’ve spent hours making sure an upload doesn’t crash, every time I’ve pointed a lens at a stage, she has been there as a reminder to capture the things that are important while you still can. That lesson is something I’ve carried with me every day and something that’s been a part of the majority of my decisions within music journalism. For that and for all the times I’ve been reminded of that, I’m thankful- and I keep filming.