Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Topshelf

Doe – Grow Into It (Album Review, Stream)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearance – At Your Leisure (Album Review, Stream)

Few bands can maintain consistency at a high level and evolve within those parameters. We’ve seen some of the biggest bands fall pray to their own hubris in unsuccessful reinventions and some smaller bands discover confidence that they didn’t realize they had after expanding their ambitions and embracing plunges into unfamiliar terrain. While Clearance doesn’t tip towards either extreme, At Your Leisure firmly suggests they may be headed towards the latter.

The band’s earlier works earned them a lot of comparisons to Pavement and those comparisons were legitimate and justifiable (which isn’t always the case when that name gets thrown out). At Your Leisure finds Clearance presenting a more confident version of themselves, a look that pays immediate dividends. The arrangements are more nuanced and the records stands as their most cohesive effort to date. While their past work still merits applause and investment, they’ve clearly hit another level.

Leaning significantly harder into jangle pop sensibilities, Clearance still holds their slacker punk roots firmly in place, allowing them to ground an incredibly winsome effort. Every song on At Your Leisure is one that’s allowed — and encourages — a patient growth, something that’s reflective of the band’s own evolution. While there are some head-turning moments scattered throughout the record (the chorus on “Destination Wedding” being the first of a handful), there’s never a cheap attempt at something designed for immediate, attention-ensnaring impact.

By utilizing a meditative pace and allowing their songs to breathe, Clearance unearth a way to provide an overarching texture on At Your Leisure that’s both fascinating and relatively uncommon. There are peaks and valleys throughout the album, to be sure, but they all act in the service of a greater whole rather than as a way to elevate an individual set piece. “Had A Fantastic” is the only track that comes close to breaking that form, which is likely why it was released as an advance single; the song’s urgency and insistence inject a significant amount of life into the record but can easily stand as a self-sustaining track when removed from the record and placed on a mix — yet it still provides the pacing of At Your Leisure with a necessary kick that benefits the material that comes before and after its appearance.

None of the tracks on At Your Leisure are dull and every facet of the release seems to have been provided with a fair amount of thought. All of those elements work in its favor, allowing the record an intoxicating appeal as a legitimate record. Not a singles collection. Not a greatest hits. Not a record that was padded out. Not a record that was designed to serve a purpose beyond its existence. At Your Leisure is a true version of the classic record; a welcome curiosity in a shifting landscape that’s all but eliminated its ilk. That alone is worthy of praise. Fortunately, for everyone, the music more than backs it up.

Sit with this one. Give it room to breathe. Get lost in its spell. Then do it all over again and get inspired to make a record the way a record should be made.

Listen to At Your Leisure below and pick it up from Topshelf here.

Doe – Heated (Music Video)

The last release Doe managed, 2016’s Some Things Last Longer Than You, was good enough to be christened Heartbreaking Bravery’s Album of the Year. To say that the arrival of their new material has been highly anticipated over on these fronts would be a monumental understatement. “Heated”, the lead-off single for the trio’s forthcoming Grow Into It — their first release for both Big Scary Monsters (UK/EU) and Topshelf (US) — was worth the wait.

“Heated” picks up where that record left off, offering up an avalanche of memorable hooks, explosive dynamics, and considered arrangements. Guitarist/vocalist Nicola Leel leads the band through a mid-tempo charge that evokes the slacker punk scene of the ’90s the band proudly embraces as evident influence. Everything from the riffs, oscillating between woozy and scintillating, to the backing vocals that provide an abundance of texture have solid historical backing but are presented in a modernized context that genuinely elevates the material.

As thoughtful as ever, “Heated” finds Doe more experienced, more versatile, and more prepared than ever to jump into the fray with fearless abandon. It’s a song that offers no wasted moments and plenty of clever twists that portend very, very good things for the record that lies in wait. A perfect soundtrack for a humid summer for a cavalcade of reasons, “Heated” isn’t afraid to live up to its title. The arresting Jack Barraclough-directed music video that accompanies its release is just the cherry on top.

Watch “Heated” below and keep an eye on Topshelf for pre-order of Grow Into It.

Happy Diving – Electric Soul Unity (Album Premiere)

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For the past several years, this site’s been tracking Happy Diving with a fair amount of scrutiny. Ever since the band’s scintillating debut, they’ve been making frequent appearances on year-end lists and — more importantly — growing sharper with each successive release. Recently, there was a post that spotlighted “Holy Ground“, a towering  single from the band’s forthcoming sophomore full-length, Electric Soul Unity. Today, it’s my distinct pleasure to be hosting the debut of that record, which stands as a new career high for the project.

Opening with “Bigger World” — a winking nod towards their outstanding debut LP — the band makes no bones about the fact that they’ve dramatically increased the size of their scope. Everything from the production to the songwriting indicates the band’s set loftier goals for themselves from the very outset of the record. Moreover, they’re dead-set on viciously attacking those goals until they’ve been all but completely demolished.

There’s a greater nuance in nearly every facet of their operation, whether it be atmospherics, production design, or reduced to something as simple as the guitar figures that propel Electric Soul Unity skyward. After only a scant few years of existence, Happy Diving have locked into something that feels like a deeply formidable culmination of their already-enviable body of work. It’s an astonishing feat that’s demonstrated in full by Electric Soul Unity‘s opening salvo, a trio of tracks that pack enough punch to flatten any prospective listeners.

When the title track hits, Happy Diving manage to not only strengthen their melodic approach but escalate the velocity of Electric Soul Unity‘s momentum considerably, creating the kind of magnetic pull that can be genuinely intimidating. By immediately scaling back to one of their most gentle moments to date in the following track, “Head Spell”, the band illustrate the depth of their understanding in creating and dissolving tension through sequencing, a trait that benefits the record enormously.

Of course, “Head Spell” only maintains that relative quiet for so long before launching a cavalcade of the kind of heavily bruised slacker-punk-informed shoegaze they’ve all but perfected with this record. The feedback comes surging in and Happy Diving continue to unleash a series of blows that are effectively heightened by the moments where it rescinds its attack in favor of something a lot more calming.

It’s a brief reprieve that carves out an area for the band that Happy Diving all but annihilates with a series of tracks in the record’s mid-section that match, if not outstrip, the ferocity of its opening trio. Before that memory’s gone completely, the band returns to the less forceful side of things with the laid-back opening half of the deeply compelling “Pain Country” that continues to expand the band’s musical range in ways that are both fascinating and surprisingly meaningful, pushing the boundaries of a very niche genre in a manner that fully illustrates why Happy Diving deserves to be set apart from the majority of their contemporaries.

“Pain Country” also sets up the record’s lone acoustic ballad, “Unknown Feeling”, with tremendous clarity, heightening both songs by virtue of placement. In “Unknown Feeling”, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Matt Berry’s allowed the room to both showcase his improved gifts as a lyricists and underscore the narrative themes of Electric Soul Unity, capitalizing on both opportunities with the kind of understated grace that drives much of the record.

“Holding up my head to see the view, with you / but I don’t feel the way I want it to, it’s true” is the couplet that opens “Unknown Feeling”, hinting at the longings, frustrations, self-loathing, and near-irreparable romantic damage that constitutes the half-shared, half-abandoned bed of Electric Soul Unity‘s surprisingly emotional narrative core. By the time the grand finale rolls around in the form of the characteristically explosive “River Will Flow”, it feels celebratory due to not only its surface elements but because its, in part, the piece that both completes and frees the overwhelmingly down-trodden, world-weary cycle that precedes the track.

In all, Electric Soul Unity is a record that examines the human condition in dire moments, yet recognizes that there’s so much more than some small modicum of life-giving moments that also comprise those stretches. Happy Diving specifically targets that dichotomy and emphasize the tempered clarity that can accompany the self-discovery typically attained in those moments.

The record derives a considerable amount of power from exploiting those divides and then expands them outwards through exceedingly thoughtful arrangements that establish the band  as contemporary heavyweights. Thanks to its consistency, its depth of intelligence, and its staggering comprehension, Electric Soul Unity doesn’t just stand as one of 2016’s finest records but one of its most essential. It’s an extraordinary effort from a band that’s more than ready to take on any challengers and it won’t go down without putting up an unforgettable fight.

Listen to Electric Soul Unity below and pre-order the record from Topshelf here.

Artie Tea – Out Of A Seaweed Dream (Album Review)

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Snail Mail, Rod, Midwives, Post Pink, Jordaan Mason, Holy Monitor, and Strange Relations were among the shortlist of bands who unveiled excellent full streams over the course of this site’s recent gap in coverage and they’re all more than deserving of heavy levels of investment. The band claiming the featured spot for this post, however, is a new one that boasts an impressive pedigree; one of Topshelf’s most recent releases, Artie Tea’s Out Of A Seaweed Dream.

 Between the band’s two members, Josh Croteau and Derek Desharnais, the band’s racked up an impressive number of direct connections (including The Clippers, Sneeze, Fucko, and Cough Cough). Combining those acts only hints at Artie Tea’s identity, which echoes shades of classic shoegaze and a few unlikely contemporaries like LVL UP (Croteau’s vocal delivery is particularly reminiscent of Dave Benton’s).

“Attitude” immediately sets the tone for the band’s debut, Out Of A Seaweed Dream, which is overflowing with memorable mid-tempo stompers, killer hooks, and the kind of deceptive discontentment that can serve as propulsive fuel for the creation of praiseworthy art. Throughout the record’s eight tracks and sub-25 minute runtime, Artie Tea never once strikes a false note and creates an intuitive chemistry that serve their songs beautifully.

It’s another winsome notch in an increasingly formidable string of releases from Topshelf Records, who are quickly transforming themselves into a legitimate powerhouse by expanding their horizons in subtle, compelling ways. Out Of A Seaweed Dream‘s not just a surprise standout for the label, it’s one of the year’s great small records. In its almost-title track, “Seaweed Dream”, it even ably demonstrates the band’s scope is likely much larger than what’s offered on their debut. When that reveal finally comes, it looks to be a fulfilling moment. Until then, we should all be more than content to just play these eight songs into oblivion.

Listen to Out Of A Seaweed Dream below and pick it up from Topshelf here.

Happy Diving – Holy Ground (Stream)

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Omni, Earth GirlsVanity, Total Slacker, Eluvium, Navy Gangs, Skinny Blonde, Kindling, Few Bits, and Sleepy all released songs in the past two weeks that came incredibly close to being featured on this site. In the end, the featured spot for this post wound up going to a band that’s been featured here several times before: Happy Diving. Following up one of last year’s best 7″ records, the band’s started unveiling incredibly promising pieces of their forthcoming sophomore effort, Electric Soul Unity.

Most recently, they released the surprisingly gorgeous “Head Spell” — which easily could have claimed a feature spot of its own if there were more time — but the spotlight here falls to the first glimpse of the record they offered up to the public: “Holy Ground”. Clocking in at under two minutes, “Holy Ground” hits with all of the unrelenting force that defined their best work but also equips itself with a more nuanced finesse that nicely underpins the song’s more beautiful, if extremely damaged, aspects.

Soaring guitars, swirling feedback, an absolutely vicious rhythm section, and impassioned vocals constitute the foundation of “Holy Ground” and the band opts to not only embrace but emphasize those traits. Everything Happy Diving does exists happily in the red and they’ve figured out how to make that aesthetic beneficial to their compositions. Punishing, unapologetic, and oddly soothing, “Holy Ground” is the rallying cry of a band at the peak of their powers, warning anyone in earshot to either get out of the way or to fully commit to being trampled.

Listen to “Holy Ground” below and pre-order Electric Soul Unity from Topshelf here.

Ratboys – Not Again (Music Video)

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Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

Ever since the release of last year’s excellent AOID, site favorites Ratboys have been on a very winsome streak. The current culmination of that streak is their outstanding digital single “Not Again“, which saw the band continuing to elevate themselves into a serious force via their own organic evolution. Now, the band’s unveiled a charming music video to accompany the track.

The endearing clip, which comes courtesy of Kenna Hynes and Tiny Ship Co., finds an empowering bent in a fairly simplistic structure; the band practices, the band gets into a paint fight, and the paint fight becomes a more communal act once the band opens themselves up to the public. It’s in the latter part of the clip’s composition where the subtle, elegant metaphor kicks in and touches on the dynamic shifts from practice to performance. It’s a surprisingly elegant statement, made even more uplifting for the warmth its given in the visual treatment.

The slow-motion sequences of “Not Again” are beautifully composed and both video and song wind up in a healthy symbiotic relationship that pushes each foundation to greater heights. It’s another perfect step forward for Ratboys, who are hitting a formidable stride. More importantly, it’s a reminder that embracing music can be as important as embracing your friends (and vice versa). Funny, heartening, and just about perfect, this is a clip worth remembering.

Watch “Not Again” below and pick up the digital single from the band here.

Ratboys – Not Again (Stream)

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Last year, Ratboys quietly put out one of 2016’s best records with AOID, a record that’s only benefited from repeat listens (which have existed in abundance). The band’s returned with the playful “Not Again”, a welcome breath of fresh air. Before going too far into the examination  of “Not Again”, though, a handful of other great tunes should be mentioned. Since the start of April, a whole host of worthwhile songs have appeared, including releases from Grieving, Little Scream, Bengtsarvet, Empty Houses, Ultraviolence, LUKA, Dave Harrington Group, The Shaker Hymn, and Greater Pyreneese. Despite those tracks’ formidable strengths, it was Ratboys who secured the feature spot.

AOID saw the quartet sharpening their songwriting approach, fine-tuning how they implemented the folk and Americana attributes of their aesthetic into something that closely resembles basement pop but still manages to sound singular, while faintly recalling some of the finest acts on Saddle Creek, a label that built their reputation on bands who boasted a similar musical blend. “Not Again” finds Ratboys’ songwriting growing even sharper, with the band paying a greater interest to choices in dynamics, resulting in one of their fullest-sounding tracks to date.

Additionally, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Julia Steiner has grown more assured in the band’s narrative approach, concocting an acutely-realized dissection on mortality that functions as a celebration of being alive to experience life in its maddening, confounding, and ultimately reassuring fullness. The lyric set here is just as impressive as the crisp instrumental work and production, with everything coming together seamlessly to ensure “Not Again” its rightful place as the band’s current career highlight.

On a level that’s purely concerned with composition, “Not Again” registers as incredibly thoughtful, even for a band that’s already known for their abilities as songwriters. This is never more clear than in the sudden burst of power that closes the song out, following a quiet, enticing bridge. It’s the perfect way to end a song that may very well signal an entirely new level for the band as a unit, both in terms of artistry and commercial success. In any case, the fact that they’re continuing to make music and continuously improving in the process is more than enough cause for celebration.

Listen to “Not Again” below and download it from the band here.

2015: Halfway Home (Mixtape)

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Only a little past its halfway point, 2015’s already been an absurdly strong year for music. Numerically staggering, it’s yielded a handful of classics across a variety of genres and a plethora of outstanding small releases. While this mix skews more towards the latter than, say, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s still worth noting how kind this year’s release schedule has been across the board. To reflect on some of this year’s best offerings so far- and to celebrate this site’s 550th post- a mixtape’s been curated for your enjoyment. Nearly all of these songs and artists have been featured on the site previously, lending this particular mix a more retrospective feel than a few of the past entries in the mixtape series, but they’re all worth celebrating as much as possible. Ranging from folk and ambient flourishes to heavy 90’s influences to thoroughly modern post-punk to spritely basement pop, there’s an entry for just about every genre marker that receives regular coverage on the site.

So, without further ado, here’s a mixtape of some of 2015’s strongest highlights (at least so far, there are still quite a few promising items for the year’s latter half). The tracklist for 2015: Halfway Home can be found beneath the embed. Enjoy.



1. Girlpool – Before The World Was Big

2. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock
3. Mean Creek – Forgotten Streets
4. Royal Headache – Hgih
5. Radioactivity – Pretty Girl
6. Diet Cig – Breathless
7. Washer – Joe
8. Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best
9. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up
10. Torres – Sprinter
11. Jason Isbell – 24 Frames (Live)
12. theweaselmartenfisher – Empty Bucket List
13. Pupppy – Puking (Merry Christmas!)

14. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast
15. Fraser A. Gorman – Shiny Gun
16. Young Jesus – Milo
17. Girls Names – Reticence
18. Institute – Cheerlessness
19. Happy Diving – So Bunted
20. Downies – Widow
21. Meat Wave – Erased
22. Connor La Mue – Stargazer
23. Bruising – Think About Death
24. Meredith Graves – Took The Ghost to the Movies
25. Yowler – The Offer

Happy Diving – So Bunted (Stream)

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Once more, with feeling: I’ve been caught up in travel arrangements over the past week and a half but I haven’t let new music escape me during that time. I’ve kept a detailed record of everything that’s caught my attention and, unsurprisingly, the bulk of those materials were single tracks. As was the case in the previous two posts, a list of 15 of the strongest highlights to emerge throughout that time frame have been included below the embed of the song earning the feature spot. In this case, that song’s a blistering reminder of the myriad strengths of site favorites Happy Diving.

The band’s exhilarating debut for Father/Daughter Records (another site favorite), Big World, established the band’s identity as well as their reputation for crafting feedback-heavy downer pop. Taking just as many cues from 90’s alt. as shoegaze, the band have conjured up yet another sharp blast of reverb-laden melancholy with “So Bunted”, the title track from a forthcoming 7″ that also marks their first release for the increasingly impressive Topshelf Records (Happy Diving’s signing follows a series of impressive moves from the label and the acquisition of Happy Diving rates as one of their strongest). Effortlessly pairing melancholy with urgency has always been one of the band’s strongest draws and “So Bunted” is a masterclass in that particular dynamic, creating a compelling whirlwind of soaring guitars and bleak emotions. Not a single moment of the track’s 134 seconds are wasted and if this is indicative of what Happy Diving has in store for Topshelf, then we’re all in for one hell of a ride.

Listen to “So Bunted” below and pre-order the 7″ from Topshelf directly here. Beneath the embed are 15 more songs that deserve paragraphs worth of praise and to be added to just about any collection.

Broen – Iris
Jessie Jones – Sugar Coated
FFS – Call Girl
Creepoid – Shaking
Weaves – Tick
Cyberbully Mom Club – No-Fun
Oscar – Stay
HEALTH – Stonefist
Ducktails – Surreal Exposure
Hibou – Dissolve
The Armed – Paradise Day
theweaselmartenfisher – Draw Back Your Bow
The Rashita Joneses – My Finger
Operation Simon – Innervation
Blacklisters – Cash Cow