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Tag: Waitress

15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015

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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.

2015: The Best of Watch This

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When Watch This was conceived it was done with the intent to not only critically examine the balance of filmmaking and live performance but celebrate the art of the live video, a format which seems to have fallen to the wayside despite being more fruitful than it’s been since it was introduced. There’s real power behind the clips that manage to seamlessly merge the best qualities of everything that goes into the best live performance videos and they can yield genuinely unforgettable moments (when everything kicks back in on “Waitress”, the held falsetto in “A Proper Polish Welcome”, and a whole host of other chill-inducing moments are scattered throughout this compilation). Those moments are the beating heart behind this series construction and they’re what sustains the project as it presses forward.

Well over 300 live clips were covered on this site in 2015 and this is a collection of 25 that genuinely stood out for one reason or another, whether it was the sheer joy in a performance (Diet Cig), the performer’s ability to freeze blood (Julien Baker, Dilly Dally, SOAK), the trio of artists who appeared on Watch This the most throughout this year (Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres), an electrifying presentation and performance (July Talk), or a clip that’s a fully functional masterclass in every category that elevates a clip from astonishing to transcendental (Glen Hansard). All of those and more have been plugged into this packet, which culminates in a tour de force reminder of the overwhelming power of what can be achieved on a live platform from the resurgent Sleater-Kinney as one final exclamation point for a truly extraordinary year. So, as always, sit up, focus, adjust the volume, and Watch This.

Watch the 2015 edition of the best-of compilation for Heartbreaking Bravery’s definitive recurring series, Watch This, below. The track list is available under the embed.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe)
2. July Talk – Paper Girl (Audiotree)
3. Ronny – Why Do You Have Kids (Gems On VHS)
4. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (BreakThruRadio)
5. Mikal Cronin – Say (WFUV)
6. Molly Parden – Weather (GemsOnVHS)
7. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)
8. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Pitchfork)
9. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)
10. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (KEXP)
11. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In the World? (ANTI-)
12. Diet Cig – Harvard (In the Attic)
13. SOAK – B a Nobody Blud (La Blogotheque)
14. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold (Strombo Sessions)
15. Alex G + Girlpool – Brite Boy (SPIN)
16. Footings (Jenn Harrington)
17. Mike Krol – Suburban Wasteland + Neighborhood Watch (KEXP)
18. Beach Slang – Get Lost (Cozy Couch Sessions)
19. Public Service Broadcasting – Go! (WNYC)
20. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast (ANTI-)
21. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)
22. Algiers – Blood (WFUV)
23. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (NPR)
24. Glen Hansard – McCormack’s Wall (ANTI-)
25. Sleater-Kinney (NPR)

 

Arriving at the Fall (Mixtape)

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Another 50 posts in means it’s time for another kind of mixtape. With summer having just ceased its stranglehold under the weight of fall’s swift descent, it seemed appropriate to go the seasonal route. This collection isn’t confined to an allotted release schedule, it’s sole function and narrative standpoint is of an emotional nature. Fall’s always held a special sort of magic, from the sepia tones to an inescapable nostalgic hue.

It’s a harbinger of winter’s bleakness and a subtle coda of summer’s optimism. For every hardship, there’s an answer; for every temperature drop there’s the comfort of a sweater. An unavoidable reminder of time’s passage (speaking both small and large-scale), it also tends to conjure up enhanced emotional connections; a tapestry that’s inscribed in faded lettering: we’re in this together and we need to make the most of it before everything disappears.

So, as summer slowly disappears into the rear-view and the firepit waiting for extra kindling, it only felt right to try and put the seasonal stretch’s conflicted emotional pull to music. Damaged romanticism, moments of introspection, glimpses of hope, bursts of sadness, and the shrapnel of chaos and acceptance permeate this collection. Consider it music for raking, long solitary walks, companionship, study sessions, or a soundtrack for a few cups of tea (spiked at will). I’ll simply leave it here as a gift for the taking.

With nothing but open road ahead, all that’s left to do is to take a breath and enjoy the fall.

SIDE A 

Eskimeaux – Folly
Sparklehorse – Gold Day
Heatmiser – Christian Brothers
Beach Slang – Get Lost
Tenement – Hard to Say
Small Houses – Staggers and Rise
Mikal Cronin – Piano Mantra
All Dogs – Leading Me Back to You
Neko Case – Behind the House (Demo)
The Dutchess & the Duke – I Am Just A Ghost 
Dead Man’s Bones – Pa Pa Power
The Kinks – Strangers
Tom Waits – Fawn

SIDE B

Okkervil River – Just Give Me Time
Hop Along – Waitress 
Young Jesus – Family and Friends 
Girlpool – Crowded Stranger 
Jason Isbell – Flying Over Water
The Modern Machines – Treadmill Waltz
Waxahatchee – Noccalula
John K. Samson – Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San
The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Live)
Screaming Females – It’s Nice
Low – When I Go Deaf
Vic Chesnutt – When the Bottom Fell Out

Watch This: Vol. 74

Over the course of the past few weeks, the influx of outstanding live videos has been staggering. Last week the series was put on a brief hold due to other personal obligations but even then, there was the threat of multiple installments for that particular Sunday. Amassing those with the live clips that followed in the subsequent week brings us to this point: there’s simply too much great material to feature to justify relegating anything exceeding the limit of five to the introductory paragraph(s). With this being the case, there will be seven- yes, seven– installments of Watch This to go live throughout the day (and possibly night).

To that end, this very introduction will be running prior to volumes 74-80 to reduce the levels of overall exposition to provide an emphasis on the material at hand. Site favorites Girlpool and Waxahatchee were seemingly everywhere this week, securing multiple entries throughout this run while Faits Divers spread-out documentation of a set from Ought (another site favorite) managed to do the same. As always, each video featured is an exemplary showcase for both artist and host, covering a wide range of sounds and styles. So, as always, sit back, adjust the volume to your preferred settings, sit up straight, lean in (or back), and Watch This.

1. Girlpool (Consequence of Sound)

Over the past year, Girlpool have been experiencing a quiet, rapid ascension in notoriety thanks to a singular take on songwriting. More than just about any other band operating, the duo have established a legitimate identity that manages to feel both familiar and singular. Here, in a lovingly shot session for Consequence of Sound, they provide some insight to their process and deliver two characteristically strong performances of Before The World Was Big‘s title track and “I Like That You Can See It”. It’s a powerful reminder of their seemingly limitless strengths and a perfect document of a young band on the cusp of reaching spectacular heights.

2. Diet Cig – Harvard (Play Too Much)

There’s a joy inherent to Diet Cig‘s music that translates so effortlessly into their live presentation that practically guarantees them a Watch This feature spot every time a video surfaces. Over Easy remains one of the year’s best- and most endlessly listenable- releases, while Diet Cig’s live show continues to gain velocity. It’s an explosive combination that renders the duo one of the more exciting prospects in today’s music. Manic energy, genuine passion, and their visible love for their craft are given a defining image towards the clip’s closing minutes as guitarist/vocalist strikes a power stance, perched on the top of her amp and Noah Bowman’s bass drum, practically bursting with joy. All together, it’s the exact kind of thing this site was built to celebrate.

3. Screaming Females – Shake It Off (AV Club)

Back in the 22nd volume of Watch This, The AV Club’s Undercover series took all five spots in a featured retrospective. One of those five selections was Screaming Females‘ incendiary Sheryl Crowe cover. The band and the series recently partnered up again, the band once again applying their unlikely brand to an even more unlikely cover; Taylor Swift’s inescapable “Shake It Off”. Played (mostly) straight with a fiery verve, the standout moment- unsurprisingly- is a deviation that allows guitarist/vocalist Marissa Paternoster to tear into a solo after a perfect breakdown. It’s one of the year’s most unexpectedly endearing moments.

4. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)

Courtney Barnett‘s Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit will almost certainly hold true as one of 2015’s most delightful titles. As enjoyable as the record is, though, there are moments of arresting pathos and gravitas that appear throughout. One of the most fascinating is Barnett’s treatsie on suburban malaise; “Depreston”. Barnett recently met up with the usually-great La Blogotheque for a performance capture that manages to transcend the bulk of the series’ considerable output. Simply put: it’s unforgettable.

5. Hop Along (KEXP)

One of the year’s most welcome breakout success stories was that of Hop Along’s sudden increase in exposure, recognition, and acclaim (all of which the band’s deserved since before the release of Get Disowned). Instead of being daunted by the attention, the band seems to be thriving off it- pushing themselves to go even further. That drive’s reflected in this full session for KEXP that finds Frances Quinlan and co. front and center for a lively outdoor showcase featuring songs from both Get Disowned and 2015 Album of the Year candidate Painted Shut. As if all of that wasn’t enough reason to watch (and the fact that the band’s live show’s been so powerful that they’ve been a staple of this series since it started), this set also features a back-to-back pairing of “Waitress” and “Tibetan Songs”, which will always be a moment far too perfect for words.

Watch This: Vol. 72

Once again, the candidates for this week’s Watch This– the weekly series that celebrates the best live videos to have emerged in the previous week- came in droves. At this point, it’s getting genuinely difficult to keep tabs on all of them because of the sheer number of videos (and new series) that are being unearthed. To that end, it’s almost more indicative of the featured crop’s formidable strength to list the other titles that were in contention- all of which are more than worth the click. The bands in those videos included: Bellows, Diarrhea Planet (twice), Two Inch Astronaut, Jeff Rosenstock, Mountain Bike, Vomitface, Craft Spells, and Strange Relations. Below, in this 72nd installment, the featured crop’s a little more subdued than usual but starts off with one of the most staggeringly powerful live videos to have run this year. So, as always, lean in, turn the volume up, push any lingering doubt to the side, and Watch This.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe) 

The most immediately apparent draw to Hop Along has always been Frances Quinlan’s voice. It’s a powerhouse; unforgettable after even the briefest of exposures. It’s also the kindest red herring, something that doesn’t necessarily suggest that a lot of the band’s inherent power is drawn from defiantly embracing vulnerability. For a long while, though a pairing like that shouldn’t have ended in this particular path, the band felt like a carefully-guarded secret. Now, with a universally acclaimed record and a Saddle Creek deal (the label’s strongest move in recent memory), a much larger group of people have taken notice.

Ensuring that their rapid ascension is far from over, the band have perfected their live show (it’s also why they’ve appeared on Watch This multiple times throughout this series’ run) and recently set up camp in World Cafe’s studio to deliver a powerful performance of Painted Shut highlight “Waitress”. Apart from exuding a transcendent gracefulness throughout “Waitress” (easily a song of the year candidate), there’s a moment that occurs at about the 2:20 mark that is the precise kind of breathtaking moment that Watch This was built to celebrate. With nothing but grace notes and limitless passion, this is as good as this series gets. Watch it below.

2. John Davey – Sugarmask (Cozy Couch Sessions)

Another artist that’s made a handful of Watch This appearances is singer/songwriter John Davey, whose brand of deeply humane folk has always resonated with a casual finesse. Davey recently stopped by to deliver a heartfelt  performance of a new song entitled “Sugarmask”, which ranks as yet another stunner in already enviable collection of songs. Poignant and endearing, “Sugarmask” is an arresting song and it’s given about as strong of a showcase imaginable through this clip.

3. Mikal Cronin (KEXP)

MCIII has proven to be a little more divisive among critics than expected, with one of the most levelheaded assessments coming from Sloan’s Jay Ferguson in a very balanced piece for The Talkhouse. After Cronin’s monumental MCII (my personal Album of the Year pick for 2013), that uncertainty on something as ambitious as MCIII should probably have been expected. It’s telling, though, that there hasn’t been much conflict over Cronin’s skills as a live performer. He’s only grown stronger as the shows played under his own name accumulate and that continuously building confidence is brought to full-bloom in a gorgeous session for KEXP. While the songs may lose some of their grandeur without the sweeping string and brass sections (which were all arranged by Cronin, who plays most of the instruments on MCIII), they gain quite a bit of punch in a more traditional set-up. All in all, the whole thing operates as a decisive reminder that Cronin’s still one of the most gifted pop songwriters working today.

4. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)

Gabrielle Smith’s Eskimeaux project recently released what will undoubtedly stand as one of the year’s most beautiful, unassuming records by the time 2015’s over. That record, O.K., is rooted in subtly intense personal explorations that all carry a hushed quality. “Folly” is one of the record’s most spellbinding moments as it feels like a culmination of Smith’s songwriting aesthetic. In a recent session for This Has To Got Stop, she performed it solo, perched on a chair, eyes cast down or closed, lost in the music. It’s mesmerizing. It’s also worth noting that Smith nearly appeared in this installment twice, once here, and once as a part of Bellows‘ incredible NPR Tiny Desk session (which is also deserving of several watches).

5. Tom Waits – Take One Last Look (Late Show With David Letterman)

Over the years, David Letterman has championed young, emerging punk bands to a heartening degree while maintaining great relationships with musical icons. One of the most notable partnerships in the latter category was Letterman’s connection with Tom Waits, who honored the departing host with a new song, “One Last Look”. With the pedigrees of both men at an incredibly visible and highly respected level, a move like this had all of the makings of a classic late-night moment and it didn’t disappoint. Waits honored Letterman with the most tender of farewells, accompanied by accordionist Gabriel Donohue and bassist Larry Taylor, Waits delivered the kind of timeless, dusty Americana that made Mule Variations an instant classic. Inherently powerful and extraordinarily moving, “Take One Last Look” is something that deserves to be remembered.

2015: First Quarter Highlights (Mixtape)

Oozing Wound IV

After three months and some change of the site being forced into more inactivity than production, single streams are about to be caught up to what’s happening (as it happens). More than 300 songs have been touched upon in the past week and 25 more will find features tonight (26 if you count this special mention of “The Waters of Babylon“, the crown jewel of Will Butler’s fascinating project for The Guardian). A few of these songs may have appeared in some small form here over the course of the year but each deserves a more central feature spot. Not all of these are songs that are new to the fold either, a few of them have appeared in some fashion in years past and earned a re-release (or, in Tenement‘s case, a remaster) in 2015’s first quarter. If a song has already been featured in full (as is the case for Mikal Cronin’s “Made My Mind Up” and Fred Thomas’ “Every Song Sung To A Dog”), they’re ineligible for this particular mix- but are still very much in the running as Song of the Year candidates. A handful of others on this list join them in that candidacy, with Hop Along‘s exceptionally strong lead-off single from their upcoming record, Painted Shut, being a particularly formidable example. All together, these songs are intended to represent the abundance of quality that the year’s yielded in its opening quarter. Set aside some time and revisit a handful of this year’s best offerings.

1. Hop Along – Waitress

By releasing their most accomplished song to date, Hop Along did far more than justify their signing to Saddle Creek; they provided a jaw-dropping dose of adrenaline to the year’s first few months. If Painted Shut doesn’t elevate this band’s recognition to stratospheric heights (something early reactions have indicated it seems poised to do), it’ll be one of 2015’s biggest stunners. Also one of 2015’s biggest stunners? “Waitress”. Frances Quinlan & co.’s finest moment to date.

2. Pocket Hercules – Well-Adjusted

A small but staggering release, Pocket Hercules’ self-titled effort came with no shortage of great moments. Chief among them was “Well-Adjusted”, which served as the introduction to Pocket Hercules for many and flatly laid out every bit of what makes the band so fascinating; off-kilter guitar work, exhilarating dynamics, left field arrangements, and deceptively brilliant arrangements. Hear the whole tapestry unfold below.

3. Makthaversan – Witness

Makthaverskan hadn’t carved out much of a foothold in the US until Run For Cover wisely picked the band up last year and re-released what deserves to be considered a contemporary classic. Every since then, the band’s been capitalizing on the groundswell of momentum that the signing kicked into motion. Teasing some material that could be just around the corner, “Witness” is an arresting reaffirmation of a band that deserves the attention they’re getting.

4. Slutever – Open Wide

Ever since their split with Girlpool, Slutever haven’t been content to sit back- and that restlessness led to not only one the year’s best early EP’s but one of its best songs as well. “Open Wide” allows Slutever to demonstrate how affecting they are when laying into a mid-tempo number with as much passion as humanly possible. It’s a quick-witted song that packs a serious punch, easily securing it a spot on this list.

5. Tenement – Spaghetti Midwestern

No, “Spaghetti Midwestern” is not a new song. In its earliest iteration, the tune was packaged on what remains one of my personal all-time favorite splits back in 2009 (Used Kids held down the other side of that split). It’s a song that’s held a lot of meaning for me over the years and it was one of the earliest indications of Tenement’s still-limitless potential. Even though it’s only a remaster, it would feel wrong to exclude it here- it deserves to be celebrated at every opportunity that the possibility of celebration is presented. This list is no exception.

6. PWR BTTM – Hold Yer Tongue

Another song to be taken from an incredible split release, PWR BTTM’s “Hold Yer Tongue” was one of the more fiery introductions to a band I’ve ever heard. Towering in dynamic scope and lightly intimidating in lyrical content, “Hold Yer Tongue” hits a series of sweet notes that cement the band’s status as one of today’s most exciting emerging acts. With the volume- and seemingly everything else- dialed up to 11, “Hold Yer Tongue” is a show of force that lingers long after the song’s come to a close.

7. Beach Slang – Too Late to Die Young

After building a reputation on the backs of fiery blasts of scrappy punk, a tender, heart-on-sleeve acoustic number is an interesting choice for Beach Slang. Evoking more than a few shades of The Replacements at their most vulnerable, “Too Late to Die Young” suggests that the band’s songwriting abilities may go even further than the levels hinted at on their first few EP’s. Gentle and oddly moving, “Too Late to Die Young” is a song that elevates an already great band’s potential.

8. Johanna Warren – Figure 8

No record has captivated me this year in a way even remotely similar to Johanna Warren’s nūmūn. Delicate, provocative, and quietly intense, it’s as if Warren was intent on world-building at a cinematic level. One of the record’s most gently arresting moments is the Elliott Smith homage, “Figure 8”. Layered vocals, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and subtle, brilliant production all render this into something spellbinding that verges on the otherworldly. Haunting, damaged, and beautiful- it’s not difficult to think “Figure 8” would have made its source of inspiration proud.

9. Alex G – Change

Another song on this list that’s existed prior to this year, “Change” went through a little more than a remaster and has- in essence- taken life as a new song. Granted, it’s not too dissimilar from the previous version of “Change” but it has a newfound vibrancy and expanded aesthetics that effectively retroactively render the original “Change” to demo status. Alex G continues to make waves and generate interest and the reworkings of earlier material make his talent abundantly clear, with “Change” now positioned at the front of the charge.

10. Trust Fund – Essay to Write

A band doesn’t earn the title of site favorite without continuously impressing and, after “Essay to Write” (as well as the rest of the band’s most recent record), it’s fair to apply that tag to Trust Fund. Striking a perfect balance between optimistic and down-trodden, without losing an ounce of their identity, Trust Fund enhance an already appealing identity with one of their most compelling outings to date.

11. Cyberbully Mom Club – Friends

Shari Heck’s Cyberbully Mom Club got a shot in the arm with a full band upheaval of what was once strictly a solo project. Taking on a spiky basement punk tone, “Friends” exists in the sweet spot that this site touches upon most frequently. Strong melodies resonate throughout “Friends” and there’s a real sense of drive that pushes the song forward, allowing it to reflect an endearing new spark in the Cyberbully Mom Club project.

12. Peach Kelli Pop – Princess Castle 1987

Jaunty, supercharged, and hyper as hell, “Princess Castle 1987” is a perfectly-timed reminder of the sheer power possessed by Burger mainstay Peach Kelli Pop. With video game love in full effect, “Princess Castle 1987” is punctuated by retro influences but still manages to come off as fiercely modern. Sharp and exhilarating, it’s an extremely promising warning shot for the material from the project that’s yet to come.

13. American Wrestlers – Kelly

Clever in terms of production and overwhelmingly strong in terms of songwriting, “Kelly” is as good as understated basement pop gets. Decidedly grimy aesthetics inform the character of the verses before the band cleans them up with a monster of a chorus, leading a rousing stylistic back-and-forth that somehow manages to find the perfect complementary balance. “Kelly” isn’t just one of the year’s catchiest songs- it’s also one of its deadliest.

14. Chastity Belt – Joke

Chastity Belt is a name that’s been showing up on bigger publications with increasing regularity and that ascension in popularity is only outmatched by one thing: the band’s own internal ascension in terms of both identity and songwriting. NPR even feature the record “Joke” was taken from on its much-celebrated First Listen series. While that record still stands as a great record, “Joke” is its best moment- one that finds Chastity Belt comfortably settling into their comfort zone and exploiting it for all its worth. Chastity Belt’s never sounded more comfortable and they’ve definitely never sounded this powerful.

15. CARE – Pamela

Easily one of the best submissions to land in my inbox all year, CARE’s “Pamela” is a multicolored, multi-faceted indie pop tune that comes laced with trappings indicative of a DIY ethos. Heavily melodic, reverb-tinged, and sharply energetic, “Pamela” comes off with a wide-eyed intensity that only furthers CARE’s promise. Length never becomes an issue as the song floats along effortlessly at its own pace and consumes the listener’s attention in the process.

16. Krill – Foot

Last time Krill earned a feature in this list, all I said was “Krill forever”. This time around, all I’m going to say is Krill forever.

17. METZ – Acetate

METZ’s self-titled record remains one of my favorites from this decade for the amount of punch it managed to pack in a relatively short running time. Live, the band’s an unstoppable force and they’ve delivered two of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen (the latter being part of this site’s NXNE coverage, despite not actually being a part of NXNE). “Acetate” is the first look at the band’s upcoming record and it seems as if the band’s intent on raising even more hell than they did the first time around. Get on board or get the hell out of their way because if “Acetate” is any indication, their only direction is full-steam ahead.

18. Dogs On Acid – Flushed

It’s been a good past few months for Dogs On Acid. At the end of last year, the band’s self-titled earned a spot on this site’s Best 7″ Records of 2014 list and since then, they’ve signed to Asian Man Records. “Flushed” is the first look at new material from the band and it’s immensely promising. All of the band’s early charms are still fully in tact and they’ve tightened their grasp on dynamics. Whip-smart lyrics and a fine balance between basement punk and basement pop elevate the band to heights that others spend careers struggling to reach.

19. Pupppy – Beans 

One of 2015’s most intriguing emerging acts is Pupppy, whose recent endorsement from Father/Daughter Records bodes very well for what they have in store for the remainder of the year. As a first glimpse, “Beans” does exactly what it should; introduces us to a band that’s good enough to spur a desire to get to know them better and achieves this on the back of an absurdly enjoyable single. Light in all the right places, with just enough fuzz to give it a jolt of energy, “Beans” is one of 2015’s loveliest surprises.

20. Lost Boy ? – Hemmorage

Had Canned been available to stream anywhere at the end of last year, it would have been towards the very top of our Best Albums of 2014 list. Up until recently, it’s only existed on cassette tape- and that tape’s become a permanent staple of my collection. It’s irreverent, it’s damaged, it’s off-kilter, and it’s the band’s finest work by a long shot- no easy feat, considering their discography’s been unblemished. “Hemmorage” is one of the many songs on Canned that work their way into the listener’s subconscious, loaded with memorable hooks and exceedingly intuitive songwriting. “Hemmorage” is all verve, all bite, and it’s damn near perfect.

21. Joanna Gruesome – Last Year

Joanna Gruesome are a band that continue to defy expectations and a band that continue to get progressively better with each release. They were all over our year-end coverage in December and January, which is a trend that could easily be repeated this year, especially if- fittingly enough- “Last Year” is any indication. Maxing out the band’s penchant for noise, “Last Year” features some boldly atonal selections that come off like an especially jarring uppercut. Vocalist Alanna McArdle has never sounded more pissed off as she does in the first verses or more at peace than she does in the sections that follow. Electrifying and deeply impressive, this is the kind of music that deserves to be celebrated as loudly as possible.

22. Westkust – Swirl

A sister band of Makthaverskan, Westkust excel in similar territories but with a noticeably heavier bent. Decades worth of influential genre touch points can be readily found on “Swirl”, the song that firmly announced the band’s arrival. Shoegaze guitars, post-punk bass, no wave synths, and new wave production aesthetics all make “Swirl” impossibly accessible and, more importantly, they’re blended in a way that makes the track unmissable.

23. Speedy Ortiz – Raising the Skate

In a few weeks’ time Speedy Ortiz will release their heavily anticipated Foil Deer full-length. In advance of the record, they released three songs. All three were absolute monsters deserving of year-end mentions. While both songs that aren’t “Raising the Skate” are genuinely that strong, “Raising the Skate” gets the nod hear for a few things: one of the year’s best choruses, the best use of production the band’s ever managed, and its sense of liveliness. More than just about any other song, “Raising the Skate” is a song that makes it sound like Speedy Ortiz is allowing themselves to revel in the sheer joy of making music.

24. Fred Thomas – Bad Blood

All Are Saved is one of 2015’s strongest records so far and nothing that’s come out this year has been as devastating as Fred Thomas’ “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, a direct ode to a dog that Thomas had loved for years while he watched him slowly die over time. No record this year will have an opening track as song and, hell, their might not even be a song over the next eight months that’s even remotely comparable. So, that by the time “Bad Blood” rolls around and All Are Saved hasn’t buckled under the weight of its opening track is a testament to its strength. “Bad Blood”, perhaps more than any other song on All Are Saved. indulges Thomas’ more experimental side but loses none of the songwriters considerable appeal. Immediate and attention-grabbing “Bad Blood” is one of 2015’s more unique entries and it lands with the force of a million consecutive blows, joining a small slew of others that help cement All Are Saved‘s position as an unlikely classic.

25. Bill Fay – Something Else Ahead

Not a lot of people can sound as despairing as Bill Fay. Utilizing a lifetime’s worth of experiences and weary tones to maximum effect, the legendary songwriter made a small return earlier this year with the haunting “Something Else Ahead”, a gorgeous tune that balances the lines of hope and hopelessness as effectively as Tom Waits does at his absolute best. It’s a fitting conclusion to this list and a promising look ahead towards what Fay has planned for the rest of the year. Relegated to only one place for streaming, it wasn’t exactly omnipresent when it surfaced- don’t make the mistake of allowing that seclusion to let it go unheard. Follow the link below to get your heart held and broken.

Listen to “Something Else Ahead” over at NPR.