Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: They/Them/Theirs

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

All Dogs III

Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.

15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon

Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.

14. PWR BTTM – 1994

No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications.  That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.

13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky

Just a year after barely missing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.

12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up

The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.

11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger

Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.

10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold

Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.

9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long

Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K. was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.

8. Hop Along – Waitress

One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.

7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs

2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.

6. Julien Baker – Go On

Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.

5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together

Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.

4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog

One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Saved to the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.

3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing

The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.

2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl

Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Day into one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.

1. Stove – Wet Food

No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.

Watch This: Vol. 100

Over the past 100 weeks, this site’s dedicated itself to a variety of pursuits but the defining one seems to be the only recurring series that operates on a regular basis: Watch This. Ever since the first installment, this series has featured the very best live performance captures. Utilizing a wealth of resources that range from band’s personal accounts to radio stations that host high-quality session captures, like KEXP in Seattle or 3voor12 in the Netherlands.

Very rarely has that gaze turned inward, despite producing over 300 live videos in the past four months. With this series now at a landmark number and all of the CMJ reviews accounted for, it seemed appropriate to bypass the outside sources to focus exclusively on the crop of videos that was taken over the past week. Approximately 50 bands, 90 videos, and 100 songs, these clips will be presented in groupings according to which day they were filmed. A few slip out of focus, some start a little late, and some cut off just before their ending, and a few bands are missing due to unfortunate and/or unforeseen circumstance (a dead battery, lighting, and a maxed out sd card were the three most prominent issues) but as a whole, it’s a comprehensive look at the kinds of performances the festival has to offer. So, as always, sit back, relax, ignore any worries, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. CMJ: Day 2

To make things just a touch easier, each of these introductory segments will simply be a very brief recap including a link to the respective day’s official review and the list of artists that appear in the video. Having spent the first official day of CMJ preparing for the rest of the week, the timeline’s off by a day but had this been the first official day, the festival would have kicked off with a band. Splitting time between The Cake Shop and Santos Party House, I managed to get videos of performances from the following artists: Worriers, Hooton Tennis Club, Car Seat Headrest, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Yung, Shopping, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Perfect Pussy, and Dilly Dally. The official review of the day’s events can be found here.

2. CMJ: Day 3

Things kept moving along quickly on the second day, which included a long stretch at an early show over at Rough Trade before taking a brief pause to organize that show’s footage and prepare for the late show at Aviv. Between the two venues, the lineup was characteristically stacked and led to videos of performances from Shopping, Ezra Furman, Georgia, John Grant, What Moon Things, Mumblr, Meat Wave, Painted Zeros, Turn To Crime, and Yvette. The official review of the day’s shows can be found here.

3. CMJ: Day 4 

The festival’s exhausting nature started to creeping in on the third consecutive day of showgoing, though the deliriousness will always be worth the effort in the case of celebrating things like Exploding In Sound (who themselves were celebrating their fourth anniversary), Big Ups (who were celebrating their fifth year as a band), and Double Double Whammy. Once again splitting time between two venues– Palisades and The Silent Barn– I managed to get footage of performances from Leapling, Swings, Mal Devisa (backed by Swings), Dirty Dishes, Kal Marks, Washer, Stove, Palm, Greys, The Spirit of the Beehive, Big Ups, Palehound, Downies, Eskimeaux, and LVL UP. The official review of those events can be read here.

4. CMJ: Day 5

Easily the most exhausting of the five day stretch, the fifth official day of the festival found me completely ignoring food in favor of sprinting a mile to catch one of my favorite acts four times over. While a fraction of the day was spent running to and from an official CMJ showcase and the AdHoc Carwash (which was detached from the festival completely but boasted one of the week’s strongest lineups), the effort proved to be worthwhile, as a large collection of bands delivered knockout sets and everything culminated in a triumphant moment for one of my closest friends. In all the back-and-forth, I was still able to manage to capture performances from the following artists: Protomartyr, Potty Mouth, Pity Sex, Dilly Dally, LVL UP, Porches., Perfect Pussy, Meat Wave, Mothers, and Cloud Castle Lake. The review of that day of relative mania can be read here.

5. CMJ: Day 6

Despite the festival’s posted end date being the October 17, this collaborative showcase a day later between Father/Daughter and Miscreant was still billed as a part of the festival and felt like an appropriate epilogue; a summation of what’d come before and a fitting end-cap for a very strong run. Confined to just one venue, the sleep deprivation caused me to miss the first trio of acts (and quietly curse myself out for doing so in the process) but still show up in time for the final 10. On the final day of reckoning, I captured videos of performances from the following artists: i tried to run away when i was 6, Downies, Romp, Comfy, Vagabon, fern mayo, Bethlehem Steel, Diet Cig, Sports, and PWR BTTM. The official review of the festival’s final event can be read here.

CMJ: Day 2 Review

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To get this straight, right off the bat: CMJ’s second day of festivities was the first day I participated in the proceedings so the title from this point forward will be reflective of the official festival dates and, due to the timely nature of the visual edits that something of this magnitude necessitates, there will be additional supplementary material to this post (and all of the forthcoming review posts) in the near-future.

The very first band I saw at CMJ wasn’t actually a band that I saw play; The Midwestern Charm were in town from Milwaukee, WI and deserve another mention in this space because, despite my best efforts, there level of press/exposure is still lacking (though their recent deal with Texas Is Funny is helping make some amends). After a brief hangout stint in the Artist’s Lounge and at a pizza place, I hopped a train to The Cake Shop where I’d hoped to catch the final two acts. Unfortunately, site favorites Diet Cig had just wrapped when I arrived. Balancing that misfortune out was the fact that I still arrived in time to catch all of Worriers’ set, a band I’ve attempted (and subsequently failed) to see at least five times over the past few months.

Worriers packed in a lot of material from their recent effort for Don Giovanni, Imaginary Life, including their career highlight “They/Them/Theirs“, which was an easy set highlight as well. Immediately after their set, which packed enough power to be memorable, I made the walk over to Santos Party House for NME’s unbelievably stacked showcase. As soon as I managed to sneak past security and into the venue before doors were opened, I linked up with Perfect Pussy, who have meant an extraordinary amount to both myself and this site (they can be at least partially credited for its existence).

I’d initially planned on attempting to catch every act on the bill but the prospect of a trip out to Chinatown with Perfect Pussy and a photographer from The Village Voice (who was dutifully shooting the evening’s events for the publication) proved too tantalizing. After sipping tea and watching everyone devour some dim sum, everyone made the trek back to the venue. The rest of the evening was spent running up and down a flight of steps separating two rooms that were hosting alternating sets.

Hooton Tennis Club were first up on the upstairs stage and managed to make a strong impression by virtue of stage presence and some genuinely catchy songs that skew heavily towards powerpop but have enough punk bite to avoid being pigeonholed into the genre. Car Seat Headrest were the next featured band and, riding a massive swell of buzz on the back of their deal with Matador, had a lot of expectations to meet and surpass. They mostly succeeded but were hampered early on by some strange sound issues. Everything had been resolved by the end of their set, which harbored enough heat to justify the intimidating amount of hype.

Well before Car Seat Headrest had wrapped their set, Seratones had kicked off what seemed to be a powerhouse set on the upstairs stage. Infusing blues, soul, and a healthy portion of straight rock n’ roll, the band came off as a towering force. Comparisons to Alabama Shakes seem inevitable but most will likely seem a little misguided. In any case, as soon as this band’s name starts circulating on a larger scale, they’ll be coveted by festivals and a frighteningly large army of people. As soon as the band closed their set, it was back down to watch Nico Yaryan take a considerable amount of time to set up before riding a few overwhelmingly pleasant songs into the territory of an oddly disjointed sleepiness.

Yaryan’s indie-folk outlier set warranted a return visit to the upstairs stage, where Yung kept my attention rapt by pouring everything they had into a ferocious set of hardcore-leaning basement punk numbers that was at least somewhat reminiscent of NE-HI, albeit a version of NE-HI that was a lot more pissed off. It was the perfect antidote to the preceding proceedings and acted a desperately-needed shot of adrenaline. Shopping (UK) kept that energy going downstairs with a set of minimal post-punk that had a lot of people dancing (myself included). Every song in the band’s catalog is deceptively complex but the band delivers everything with ease (and occasionally throw in a wink or a smile for good measure).

Protomartyr has been picking up all kinds of acclaim for their latest release and a hint of furthered confidence could be evidenced in the band’s characteristically deadpan presence. All of the new songs immediately stood out as highlights and kept a growing audience incredibly engaged (of the three times I’ve seen Protomartyr, this crowd was the most appreciative by far). Before their set ended, it was back to the stairwell for the umpteenth trip down the same flight of stairs to (finally) catch Downtown Boys.

While I’m still lukewarm on their recorded material, the band’s a juggernaut live. Vocalist Victoria Ruiz comes off like a vigilante dictator, espousing rousing political speeches about broken systems between songs (speeches that often serve as extended introductions to the song) before the very talented band finally joins her explosion. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy only a few songs in, which was my cue to run upstairs to catch Perfect Pussy.

As mentioned above, this site has a long history with the band (it was built primarily as an outlet for me to have a place to interview the band’s vocalist, Meredith Graves, who quickly became the patron saint of this place by featuring it in any way she could whenever she was given the opportunity). Even with that history running deep, I’d never seen the band play without their synth player, Shaun Sutkus. Sutkus was away on business (he’s still very much a part of the band, so rest easy, concerned parties) but everyone else was present and ready to go.

The band delivered a typically blistering set that included a new song entitled “The Women” that was written as a sort of pro-Planned Parenthood war cry. It was one of the first glimpses at the band’s new material, which they’re justifiably excited about releasing. Seemingly nothing but left turns, stop/start dynamics, and a variety of other compelling tricks, “The Women” is one of the most fascinating things that Perfect Pussy have ever played to an audience. While it didn’t quite get the roaring reception of “Interference Fits“, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s well on its way.

As soon as Perfect Pussy started winding down, I made a beeline for the basement to see a band I’ve waited nearly two years to see: site favorites Dilly Dally. Playing to a crowd at around one in the morning can be a difficult prospect, especially when you’re already dealing with the pressures that accompany having one of the most celebrated records of the moment. Throw in my own personal feelings about the band and the anxiety levels were high; could they live up? Dilly Dally responded by throwing down a monstrous set that exceeded the confines of the festival and quickly registered as one of the best sets of the year.

Every conceivable aspect of a live show was covered: the banter was entertaining, the band’s four members all fully committed to their stage presence, they conjured up a wall of sound that was enough to send shockwaves through my torso without ever having any sound issues, and at one point Katie Monks– the band’s vocalist/guitarist– got intense enough to break a string. Monks’ voice on its own is an incredibly powerful thing and she can wield it like a loaded weapon but when it’s supported the way it is by her bandmates, it becomes unforgettable.

By the end of Dilly Dally’s set, they’d played a handful of tracks from 2015 highlight Sore, “Candy Mountain“, and covered Drake with a surprising level of menace. It was a jaw-dropping set and provided the perfect note to end an opening day of showgoing. Unforgiving in its raw power and weirdly poetic nature, Dilly Dally’s performance set an unbelievably high bar and the rest of this week will be given an added element of intrigue: will anyone be able to top what they pulled off? It’ll be exciting to find out.

Watch This: Vol. 89

Welcome to an extremely late night (early morning?) edition of Watch This– the weekly series that celebrates some of the week’s best performance captures. With 2015 already feeling overstuffed, I’ll forego the usual honorary mentions round-up and simply present the five best captures to have surfaced this week. From site favorites to series favorites to new faces, there’s a fair amount of material to cover. Pro-shot presentations get balanced out by some lovingly lensed DIY clips and- as always- all of the performances contained within those videos are outstanding. So, pour a drink or fix some breakfast, ease in, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Sleater-Kinney – Bury Our Friends + Entertain (Pitchfork)

The unexpected resurgence of Sleater-Kinney was one of 2015’s first great musical moments and the reverberations from its impact are still being felt. Recently, the band- by all accounts- absolutely owned Pitchfork this year with a monstrous day 2 headlining set that overshadowed Wilco’s Star Wars marathon the previous night and Chance the Rapper’s hometown celebration as the fest’s final headliner. Even just from the two-clip sample contained below, “Bury Our Friends” and “Entertain”, its abundantly clear that Sleater-Kinney are one of the best live bands on the planet right now. A note to other bands splitting bills with the revitalized legends: don’t feel down, feel fortunate you get to be a part of something that can’t help but feel just a little unprecedented.

2. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs (Don Giovanni)

Imaginary Life came out a few days ago, immediately registering as one of the year’s best punk efforts. Even with a collection that strong, “They/Them/Theirs” stands out. Personal, timely, and deeply impassioned, it’s a clarion call for a marginalized sect. The band played their release show at The Knitting Factory last Friday and brought the same verve, force, and resilience to their performance of their song of the year candidate. Scrappy and thrilling, it’s one hell of a showcase for the band’s collective talent.

3. The Trims – With You + Bright Lights City (Jam in the Van)

Every now and then, Jam in the Van will resurface with a session that hits a sweet spot for this site and their recent capture of The Trims found that mark. Bridging post-punk and indie pop hallmarks, the quarter’s landed on a sound that’s unusually compelling when considering their pop-oriented proclivities. Subverting anthemic by-the-numbers move at just about every turn, their music manages to come off as cinematic while still feeling like an outlier. Moody, vibrant, and occasionally bruising, the group seems primed for a breakout and ready to greet whatever may come their way.

4. Young Jesus – Baked Goods (A Fistful of Vinyl)

Young Jesus are no strangers to this site. Ever since releasing their best-of-decade contender Home (a record I simply can’t recommend strongly enough), they’ve been on my radar. The past few years have been a transitional process for the band following their relocation from Chicago to Los Angeles. Earlier this year, the band released the excellent Grow/Decompose and they seem to be settling into their new era quite nicely. Earlier this week, the band unveiled even more new music via a taping of a raw, fiery performance, courtesy of A Fistful of Vinyl. Bold, bloodied, and not even a little glossy, “Baked Goods” is presented in a manner that feels intrinsically connected to the band’s DIY ethos. It’s a startling watch and a strong reminder of how much beauty can be found in imperfection.

5. SOAK (NPR)

It only seemed like a matter of time before Bridie Monds-Watson wound up making an appearance at NPR’s Tiny Desk and now that the moment’s finally arrived, the fit somehow feels even more natural than expected. Here, Monds-Watson’s SOAK project turns in a trio of songs and an impressive array of warm, humorous asides. The closing two numbers, “B a Nobody” and “Wait”, sound as fine as they ever have and “Sea Creatures” proves to be the perfect introductory piece for the set. Grounded and contained, it skews towards the kind of intimacy that the tiny desk was built to elicit from its performers but continues to prove elusive to a fair number of their acts (Monds-Watson namechecks Angel Olsen’s session, who hit extraordinary heights in regards to the series’ intended intimacy and caused the first major Watch This dilemma by pitting that session against an  unforgettable La Blogotheque capture, which wound up securing the spot in that particular installment). All things considered, it makes sense for Monds-Watson to feel trepidation about performing in such a vaunted space but now that everything’s said and done, it’s clear that the SOAK session resides comfortably in the series’ upper echelons.

Worriers – They/Them/Theirs (Stream)

worriers

There were a lot of great items that were released over the past week and, as such, this will be the first of many posts coming throughout the weekend. Each one will have a featured piece and approximately four other releases included with whatever’s in the title. To that end, before getting to Worriers’ impassioned career highlight “They/Them/Theirs”, we’ll be taking a look at some other memorable songs- and one great EP- that are worth hearing. Among them, Big Star’s Jody Stephens’ new project Those Pretty Wrongs and their lovely “Lucky Guy“, Spirit Club’s compellingly gentle basement pop tune “Fast Ice“, and theweaselmartenfisher‘s unbelievably stunning “Daguerrotype Reboot“. Add in Trophy Dad’s Shirtless Algebra Fridays EP and it would already have been an impressive quartet with four worthy potential features. Then, of course, there was “They/Them/Their”, a blistering basement punk tune that’s both a pointed commentary on gender roles and easily Worriers’ finest work to date.

Lauren Denitizo lays out the songs terms from the onset with one of the year’s best opening lines in “You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”, before capping that verse off with “what if I don’t want something that applies to me/what if there’s no better word than just not saying anything”, delivering a stark, no-bullshit narrative for the respect all people’s identities deserve to be met with in under 20 seconds. Of course, it’s only a fragment of what, even with no lyrics, would have been the sharpest music of Worriers’ expanding career. The lyric set, which serves as one of 2015’s most arresting, just sweetens the deal. Even brought down to the chorus’ “We are floating between two ends that don’t matter” (a sentiment that articulates in one line what Tica Douglas’ Joey managed to create a compelling album around) , “They/Them/Their” becomes Worriers’ implicit clarion call.

We’re currently in the midst of a landscape that’s changing for the better, allowing for greater empathy and humanism. It’s a shift that’s being met with derision from the people who feel challenged by the changes. Worriers have always had their patch of land picked out and their flag stuck in the dirt. Now, they’re delivering the most eloquent reasoning for why they’re in the right and laying out the reasons to follow their path. I’ll be on their side of this movement every time. Which side are you on?

Listen to “They/Them/Their” below  and keep an eye out on this site for more news on Imaginary Life, Worriers’ forthcoming album, which is due out via Don Giovanni on August 7.