Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Weaves

The 15 Best Songs of August

We may only be a week into September but there have already been a handful of notable releases to find their way out into the world this month. Those items will be appraised in due time and given the recognition they richly deserve but for now, it’s worth taking the outstanding songs of last month into account. While a dozen bands appear on this list, a trio of them managed to release two songs that hit harder than anything else. Normally, these would be whittled down to one specific inclusion but all three cases proved so impossibly deserving that it became impossible to not highlight both. So, take a deep breath and dive on into the 15 best songs of August. Enjoy.

Weaves – 53 + Walkaway

One of last year’s most breathtaking breakout acts, Weaves had been surging forward for a few years before the momentum carried them over the top. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that their momentum has slowed a bit, with the project’s two new songs suggesting that it may have even found a way to accelerate. Both “53” and “Walkaway” are towering testaments to the band’s formidable strengths, from their unparalleled grip on dynamics to the ability to conjure a larger-than-life feeling, this pair constitutes two of 2017’s absolute strongest tracks.

Rainer Maria – Forest Mattress

Re-emerging from some cruel shadow that kept Rainer Maria away for far too long, the band more than proved they’ve still got what it takes to craft an incredible record. Among Rainer Maria‘s most scintillating highlights was “Forest Mattress”, an incisive burst of pop-leaning post-punk. Arresting, melancholic, and even a little hopeful, “Forest Mattress” stands as a song befitting of 2017’s most welcome comeback. An invigorating return to form for a band that’s always deserved far more recognition than they’ve received.

Common Holly – Nothing

Simplistic, taut, and driven by an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, Common Holly’s “Nothing” was one hell of a way to turn a few heads. A beautiful piano figure, minimalist percussion, and a staggering amount of conviction combined to propel “Nothing” from a run-of-the-mill bedroom pop song to something impossible to ignore. Every second of this track managed to soothe, grip, and impress. It’s an extraordinary introduction to an artist that will be more than worth watching.

Abraham King – Spit

Abraham King’s “Spit” has all the hallmarks of a great basement pop track, with a few key distinctions that manage to elevate it to stratospheric heights. Whether it’s the production or the range of influences driving “Spit”, there’s something to admire in each one of the song’s turns. Instrumental arrangements and a vocal delivery that elicit an emotive response, a running time that feels all too brief, “Spit” finds an unassuming route to transcendence.

METZ – Drained Lake

One of the most blisteringly intense bands of this decade, METZ have never slowed down to smell the roses, instead opting to set the entire garden on fire and spray gasoline and throw molotov cocktails into the flames until they start threatening the nearest forest. “Drained Lake” is one of the trio’s most ferocious songs to date, while also somehow being one of the most melodic efforts of their discography. It’s weird, it’s twisted, and it’s perfectly METZ. Get out of the way or get reduced to a pile of ashes.

Lost Boy ? – Heavy Heart

A perennial site favorite, the Davey Jones-led Lost Boy ? has been growing more experimental in recent years. “Heavy Heart”, a song recently posted to Lost Boy ?’s soundcloud, takes that experimentation to new levels by fully embracing the sound that drove some of the most iconic movies — and movie soundtracks — of the ’80s. From an opening that establishes that familiar tone to a Wolf Parade-esque vocal delivery, “Heavy Heart” both intrigues and entices, acting as both a warm blanket and a surprisingly effective shot in the arm.

Washer – Dog Go Bark + Bass 2

Washer have found a way to be the model of consistency throughout the past several years. Never anything less than superlative and steadily, continuously improving, their forthcoming All Aboard appropriately contains the strongest work of their career. The last two songs to be released in advance of the record stand as a proof positive clam of support. “Dog Go Bark” and “Bass 2” both operate in similar strong structures yet sound so radically different, it’s nearly impossible to notice. This is Washer at their absolute peak, churning out songs that are as memorable as they are explosive. Get swept up in the fray and never leave.

Madeline Kenney – Big One

The last time a round-up of the best songs to appear over the course of a small hiatus ran on this site, Madeline Kenney‘s “Always” found itself snugly situated among the featured tracks. Kenney continues that winning streak here with the sprawling “Big One”. Operating as the calm in the eye of a storm, “Big One” sees Kenney asserting will and tapping into a deep well of personal strength. Bold, provocative, and spellbinding, it goes a long way in proving that “Always” was no fluke.

Weakened Friends – Hate Mail

While Kendrick Lamar may still be the most sought after musician for a feature spot for most of the music world, a certain pocket of ’90s-indebted slacker punk bands would likely give that distinction to Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis. Rarely has Mascis been utilized more expertly or made more sense as a guest than the legendary guitarist does on “Hate Mail”. Weakened Friends comes out swinging on this track, conjuring both the spirit of a decade past and enough determination and innovation to continue to nudge that sound forward. It’s a monstrous song with a beautiful assist and should find a loving home in the libraries of people who still make their partners mix tapes.

Mike Caridi – Two Dogs

LVL UP‘s Mike Caridi has quietly been releasing some excellent music as The Glow and issuing out some equally impressive songs on soundcloud. “Two Dogs” may be one of Caridi’s finest. Recorded over a year ago, “Two Dogs” retains Caridi’s songwriting signatures, featuring everything from a breezy vocal melody to being a little battered by noise. It’s light, it’s fun, and — most importantly — it sticks. As is always the case with the best Caridi-authored tracks, one listen never feels like enough.

Grouper – Children

Recorded for Ruins but separated from the final product, “Children” stands as one of the most gentle and moving songs of Grouper‘s career. Released in part to benefit the Silvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, and the Trans Assistance Project, “Children” stands as a testament to the empathy fueling Grouper’s most notable works. Calming at first blush, the song takes on a more sinister bent as the narrative comes into focus, painting a drastic duality between tone and message. By the time “Children” has fully revealed itself, it’s impossible to escape.

Strange Ranger – Sophie + House Show

Strange Ranger has gone on a commendable evolution over the past few years, resulting in the project’s most sterling  individual efforts. “Sophie” and “House Show” the first two tracks to tease the band’s upcoming Daymoon. Both exude the kind of spellbinding melancholy that informed their best work and see the band’s grip on songwriting tightening to the point where their knuckles turn collectively white. “Sophie” is the calm and “House Show” is the storm but both offer an endless array of rewards. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, unafraid to gamble or take cues, and expressing a singular identity with an abundance of conviction.

 

 

The 10 Best Music Videos of August

August blew threw 2017 with no hesitation and left an enormous pile of exceedingly great material in its wake. This post will key in on the ten best music videos to be released over that period of time (with the first week shaved off and a few days of September tacked on). A lot of site favorites make appearances below but a new name or two found a way to make a splash. Each of those artists and clips has earned the praise they’ve been given or are about to receive. 2o17’s been overflowing with great clips and these are only adding to the year’s abundant strength. Dive in and go exploring.

Mike Krol – Fifteen Minutes

Over the past several years, Mike Krol has made a habit out of reveling in the playfully sardonic. Turkey, Krol’s astonishing breakthrough record — and first release for Merge — laid those groundworks bare. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Krol’s next step was to go back in time, re-release his first two records (cult staples among a very specific sect of the DIY punk crowd) and make a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek music video starring a mannequin for a song that came out six years ago. It’s perfectly Krol.

Weaves – Walkaway

Weaves‘ self-titled was one of the best records of the past few years and the band’s been making good on that momentum that release generated with their advance singles for their forthcoming release. “Walkaway”, the most recent, is anthemic, empowering, and has the kind of staying power to remain on the college airwaves for years to come. The song also now boasts a beautiful clip featuring the band getting a touch of aggression out in a sweeping field. It’s a striking video that somehow manages to make the song feel even more titanic than usual.

Lost Balloons – Noose

One of 2017’s best surprises thus far has been the duo Lost Balloons who feature the talents of Jeff Burke and Yusuke Okada, two names a large handful of people in both America and Japan should already have memorized. The project’s debut effort, Hey Summer, was the type of unassuming basement pop record that tends to stick longer in people’s minds than most would expect and they’ve granted one of that album’s best songs a beautiful animated clip in “Noose”. It’s a gorgeous tapestry that’s worth admiring.

Radiator Hospital – Dance Number

It’s been a while since Radiator Hospital released their incredible Torch Song so news of a new record was incredibly welcome. Even better: the announcement came on the back of the release of this charmingly straightforward clip for the characteristically excellent “Dance Number”, which renews the case for Sam Cook-Parrott as one of this generation’s most emotionally affecting lyricists. Poignant, bittersweet, and undeniably catchy, it’s a great song bolstered by a surprisingly effective video.

Charly Bliss – DQ

No band’s name has appeared on this site more over the past two years than Charly Bliss. The band’s recently-released Guppy went a long way in ensuring their prominence and a handful of excellent clips and performances kept their name in the rotation. “DQ” now joins their ranks, standing as one of the band’s most playful — and personal — videos. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks co-directed the clip alongside Andrew Costa (who helmed quite a few of the band’s other videos), which features everything from trampolines to cows to football sleds to a dog that’s great at playing dead. As is always the case with the band, it’s an absolute blast and surprisingly hard to forget.

Kielo – Radiate

A while back Kielo released an absolutely breathtaking song/video combination in “In Water” and the Laura Schultz-led project has now doubled down on that measure with the spellbinding “Radiate”. Comprised largely of photography-centric cinematography, the clip allows the song to be elevated by calming visuals, creating an effect that’s both warm and inescapable. It’s a genuinely gorgeous thing to behold and deserves all of the views and listens that can possibly come its way.

Bully – Feel the Same

One of the more invigorating acts of the past few years, Bully have shown virtually no signs of slowing down. The band’s also growing a little more confrontational, as evidenced by their nearly-antagonistic clip for “Feel the Same”, which features nothing but a balloon expanding in a darkened empty room until it starts leaking a stream of yellow liquid. As simple as it is, the imagery is incredibly hard to shake and the concept sticks. It’s bold, it’s abrasive, and it fits the band like a glove.

Julia Louise – Brat

A new name to Heartbreaking Bravery, Julia Louise somehow managed to evade this site’s radar over the past few years. Still, it’s hard to imagine the songwriter could’ve had a better introduction-at-large than the clip for “Brat”, a song that subverts the limitations of emo and standard pop-punk to mesmerizing effect. Aided by strong visuals, a charismatic central performance from Louise and a sense of conviction, “Brat” is the sound (and look) of an artist coming fully into their own.

Fog Lake – Rattlesnake

Last year Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” slithered its way into at least one best-of list that ran on this site. The song’s proven to have legitimate staying power and has now been granted a beautiful visual accompaniment. Calm, a little eerie, and deeply empathetic, “Rattlesnake” follows a man as he explores New York City, alone and content to wander. It’s incredibly affecting and stirs up a genuine, intangible reaction by simply disallowing the constraints of a discernible narrative and opting to focus on the emotional pull at the crux of being at home and separated from that home all at the same time.

See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm

A few months ago, See Through Dresses played an incendiary set as an opener for Charly Bliss in Minneapolis. The highlight of their set came via an impassioned run through “Lucy’s Arm”, a clear standout from their exceptional Horse of the Other World. The band’s wisely decided to go ahead and give the song the music video treatment, a decision that’s resulted in an arresting black-and-white clip with minimal effects. It’s a surprisingly effective clip that serves as an honorable testament to the song’s overwhelming power.

Watch This: The Best of 2017’s First Quarter, Pt. I

In a three month span, an innumerable number of tour and press cycles can run their course. Fortunately, there are a handful of outlets in the world dedicated to capturing the live performances that power most of the cycles in the most artistic way possible. This post (and the following three) focuses on the best of the best in terms of live videos. Whether it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking (as is the case with the clip that kicks this off, which also doubles an an official music video), a great performance, or a combination of both, there’s quite a bit to admire about the selected videos. So, as always, lean back, relax, clear your mind, and Watch This.



PART I

1. Ron Gallo – Please Yourself
2. Meat Wave – To Be Swayed (Live! From the Rock Room)
3. Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab (Dangerbird)
4. Peaer – Pink Spit (Live! From the Rock Room)
5. Yucky Duster – Friend Zone + Gofer (The Special Without Brett Davis)
6. Cloud Nothings – Modern Act (KCSN)
7. Charly Bliss – Glitter (WFUV)
8. LVL UP – Hidden Driver (Do512)
9. Wetter – Do You Still Dance? (Radio K)
10. Forth Wanderers – Caramel Emotion (Allston Pudding)
11. Happyness – Through Windows (Do512)
12. Parlor Walls – Play Opposites (BreakThruRadio)
13. Weaves – One More (Audiotree)
14. Frankie Cosmos – Highways and Trees + O Dread C Town (La Blogotheque)
15. Ornament – Adapt or Leave (Boxfish Sessions)
16. IAN SWEET – 2soft2chew (Allston Pudding)
17. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down to the Tree… (Boxfish Sessions)
18. Darkwing – Necropants (BreakThruRadio)
19. Gurr – Moby Dick (3voor12)
20. The Chinchees – Everyone Knows (Radio K)
21. Sløtface – Empire Records (3voor12)
22. Very Fresh – Schedule IV (BreakThruRadio)
23. Middle Kids – Edge of Town (The Current)
24. Emilyn Brodsky – Hands Off the Stove (BreakThruRadio)
25. Phoebe Bridgers – Smoke Signals (NPR)

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Lindsay Hazen)

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Last year Lindsay Hazen contributed an astounding piece to this series that focused on using music as a means of coping. This time around, Hazen continues to celebrate the music that makes life worth living. In a chronicling of great shows, artists, and records, Hazen also offers a unique window into some personal experiences accrued throughout 2016. As always, the writing’s compelling, swift, and lands with impact. It’s a beautiful piece that more than deserves anyone’s time. Tackle it in full below.

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I saw Weaves at a free NXNE showcase at Sonic Boom’s temporary location on Bathurst. They played with Courtney Barnett, Army Girls, and Baby Eagle. My partner and I got day-tipsy on free French beer and did the annoying thing we do in record stores where we walk around and then yell to each other excitedly about things we want. Or… I did. You don’t understand Weaves until you see them. Jasmyn Burke trembles. She commands your attention. She is a diva in the most positive of connotations. She is extremely kind.

I saw her with her band RatTail at the Drake Underground. She shone then, too. Angular, jagged guitar, insistent drums complement her voice in many of the songs on Weaves’ self-titled debut. Morgan Waters was the best thing about his previous band, Sweet Thing (whom you might remember for being the ridiculously catchy song from Easy A that wasn’t “Pocket Full Of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield). I saw them at the Mod Club with Allie Hughes, one of the best moments from the first year I lived in Toronto (a period of my life I have to actively try not to romanticize).

I saw PUP a couple of years ago, on a snowy night in Toronto (the second time), at a show in the public library in Yorkville. They played with Alvvays. They covered “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys. I remember how I felt my body tremble when they began to play “Reservoir”. I listen to it when I get really bad panic attacks. I can’t help but feel the carpet of the library under my feet, I can’t help but breathe – let the song expand inside me, let my heart race along with it and spend my nervous energy. What’s left to lose? What am I supposed to do now? Nothing. Anything I can, anything I want. I knew what I was doing after all. PUP is that kind of band. They’re a band that lifts. Unites. Makes songs into anthems; crowds into tempests; energy into things that matter.

PUP makes The Dream being over sound like taking the pill that wakes you up from The Matrix and into 2016. It feels like true things that you can’t say to the ones you love. It feels like Canada – expansive, yet claustrophobic at the same time. Dark corners in which you can lose yourself. Being snowblind in the sun. I was sad they didn’t win the Polaris. I was more thrilled than I can express that 2016 was very much The Year of PUP. They can only get better.

When I’m 70 I can’t wait to get sweaty in the crowd of geriatric PUP fans and pay $250 to see them at the Skydome or something equally arena-esque and brag to my grandchildren that I knew they were rockstars when I read about a band called Topanga in Exclaim! I knew what I was doing after all. When I left the library it was snowing, but I held my jacket in my arms and let the cold embrace me. I was numb on the subway home. My lungs were killing me, I didn’t even get high. I knew what I was doing after all.

I saw The Lonely Parade in Taco Pica, which hosts its fair share of Saint John’s local DIY shows. I went with my two friends. I acted like a dork. I was ridiculously excited. Their song “Stomach” is one of my favourite songs of all time. I was not prepared for their set. I wish I had been less self-conscious and danced. They were so fucking ridiculously groovy. No Shade, their startlingly wonderful album from this year, is mixed to sound cool and dry. It sounds… acerbic.

It sounds witty. In person their sound is heavy and warm, surrounding you. The bass lines flow like lava, weaving through the percussion. Watching “Johnny Utah” literally dropped my jaw. The guitar solo in “Girl“… I cannot speak more highly of their musicianship. “No AM” is a real highlight of the album, the use of reverb and the rhythmic patterns remind me of Controller.Controller, and I get another amazing guitar solo I can embarrassingly rock out to at the bus stop.

I was lucky enough to see Casper Skulls, Chastity, Blessed, Billy Moon, Sheik, and hand-drawn (RIP). I was able to watch producer-composer-engineer Artifiseer (Ian Livingstone) and Arkanjello (Gabe Williams) the musical polyglot who crafted my favourite record of 2017 (so far), Vegan Songs, evolve as artists and work with found sound and imagery grounded in real experiences of maritime life. Gabe has a singing voice like a young Bowie. He has programming sensibility of Caribou on a Grimes and Lana Del Rey listening kick, and makes songs that are frenetic – kaleidoscopic almost. There’s a beautiful fracturing in his tones.

I am glad that the world finally found out that Toronto has long been the source of some of the best punk music in history (Martha and the Muffins, anyone?) and is home to some of the world’s legendary spaces – spaces that feel like home to any music person. The Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace are more a part of me than any house I have ever lived in. New spaces are opening all the time. I can’t count how many shows I’ve wished I could see at Smiling Buddha this year that made my heart ache from across the country.

But right now, pay attention to New Brunswick. Sackville has Sappyfest and bands the likes of Partner and Baby Eagle. Fredericton is also a DIY hotbed with deep relationships with the Halifax and Montreal scenes. And Saint John, my adopted home, is a place where people make pain and struggle into beauty, make some innovative venue spaces that give diverse artists a voice – including the Panic Room, Taco Pica, live performances at the City Market, and the historic Imperial Theatre.

We lost so much this year, so many people, so many dreams, so many fights. But we have fought, won, reclaimed, rejoiced. As a community we yelled, donated, protested, protected, aided, loved and learned so much this year. 2016 is the year that we declared music our home and our sanctuary. We are going into 2017 blind to the future but facing it together.

‘You have the right to be mad, but when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way.’ In 2016, music carried us. We let it inspire us and drive us and effect real change and use art to be as selfless as our empty wallets and full hearts let us be. Thank you to the artists I’ve seen perform, the people whose lyrics and riffs and beats made me want to be a better person than I was yesterday. And thank you to Saint John for being my shelter in a world that sometimes feels like its falling apart.

16 of ’16: The Best Albums of the Year

Mitski XXV

At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree is being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.

With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.

Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want

After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.

Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales

One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.

Mitski – Puberty 2

Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.

Big Thief – Masterpiece

One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.

Swim Team – Swim Team

One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.

Greys – Outer Heaven

2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly  push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heaven was their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.

Hovvdy – Taster

A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Mo Troper – Beloved

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

PUP – The Dream Is Over

PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.

Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You

Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Weaves – Weaves

It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.

Original feature review here.

LVL UP – Return to Love

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Original feature review here.

Nine more worth hearing:

Tancred – Out of the Garden
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh Boland – Spilt Milk
Dark Thoughts – Dark Thoughts
Eluvium – False Readings On
Told Slant – Going By
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Jean-Michael Blais – II
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Other honorable mentions:

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing | Yucky Duster – Yucky Duster | Vanity – Don’t Be Shy | Kane Strang – Blue Cheese | Steve Adamyk Band – Graceland | Lydia Loveless – Real | Touché Amoré – Stage Four | Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math | Jeff – Rosenstock – WORRY. | Lucy Dacus – No Burden | Summer Cannibals – Full Of ItNopes – Never Heard Of It | Florist – The Birds Outside Sang | Susan – Never Enough | Abi Reimold – Wriggling | Mal Devisa – Kiid | Julianna Barwick – Will | Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone | Big Ups – Before A Million Universes | Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold | Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp | AJJ – The Bible 2 | Angel Olsen – My Woman | Drive-By Truckers – American Band | Charles Bradley – Changes

16 of ’16: The Best Songs of the Year

LVL UP II

Following suit with the two previous examples, the best songs of 2016 list will abandon the traditional numerical format in favor of a more open approach that concentrates on the best material of the year without offering too many individual designations. The majority of the songs featured on this list were under-represented on lists by far more visible publications (and a few that were fairly represented are listed below the main list as honorable mentions) and fall under the genres normally covered by this site. Of course, this list — just like any other — can’t claim to be truly representative but it does offer a decent encapsulation of 2016 releases that deserved to be celebrated.

An additional note: most of the embeds come from bandcamp, so songs will auto-play after the initial listen. This was intentional to ease the access to the records that can claim these songs and to more directly benefit the artists that brought them into the world.

Enjoy the list.

Mo Troper – Happy Birthday

One of the strongest debut records of last year was Mo Troper‘s Beloved, an entirely unexpected but wholly welcome powerpop masterpiece. While just about every song on Beloved was considered for this list, it seemed appropriate to go with “Happy Birthday” which set the tone for a fearsome record that deserved far more recognition.

Doe – Sincere

Some Things Last Longer Than You was a blistering statement from Doe, a band that had been steadily gaining momentum for years. It was a perfectly structured record that allowed its songs an equal amount of weight but “Sincere” still managed to emerge as a standout single. Fiery and full of conviction, it was one of 2016’s best moments.


Told Slant – Low Hymnal

Low Hymnal” was a song that I was fortunate enough to hear forming in its earliest stages but the finished product still managed to wind up as a transcendental experience. There’s genuine pain at the root of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” that lends to the overwhelming weight of the song’s unforgettable final stanza. A gorgeous and moving masterwork.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

In the title track for their career best, Human Performance, Parquet Courts hit an exhilarating new high point. “Human Performance” is a tightly-coiled and deeply felt examination of the human condition that finds the band stretching in new directions with a fearlessness that makes the song as gripping as it is immediate.

Yucky Duster – Gofer

A pitch-perfect pop song, Yucky Duster‘s “Gofer” became one of 2016’s most unexpected summer anthems. It’s a pure delight at every perfectly-navigated hairpin turn, serving up some of the most meticulously constructed guitar pop in recent memory. A perfect blend of style and substance, “Gofer” is a triumph from a band worth watching.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)

While Pretty Years saw Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to evolve their sound, no moment of the record was more jaw-dropping than the towering “Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)“. An eye-opening display of formidable strength and untapped ferocity, the song saw the band perfecting just about every facet of their already-impressive songwriting.

LVL UP – Spirit Was

Pain” and “Hidden Driver” got a fair amount of attention from year-end lists but the most representative moment of LVL UP‘s Return To Love was the bittersweet “Spirit Was“, which also ranks as one of the band’s best. Vocalist/bassist Nick Corbo provided Return To Love its beating heart and “Spirit Was” marked the moment it completely opened.

Big Thief – Real Love

It takes a certain type of boldness to title a record Masterpiece but when that record features songs like “Real Love“, that title just seems apt. In some moments “Real Love” is breezy and open, while others finds Big Thief baring their fangs. Throw in one of the most effective guitar solos of the past few years and “Real Love” quietly emerges as a new classic.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos

Before hanging up their cables, Jawbreaker Reunion were kind enough to deliver one last album in haha and then what 😉, which lived up to the bands sterling track record. The best moment of a great record came via “Cosmos“, a gorgeous ballad examining serious topics that quickly transforms into a forceful reckoning. In short: it’s perfect.

Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia

Likely the most celebrated record appearing on this list, Car Seat Headrest‘s Teens of Denial‘s most breathtaking moment was largely ignored by other outlets. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is a sprawling meditation on hopelessness that somehow finds a way to seamlessly work in a brief, heartrending cover of Dido’s “White Flag”. A genuine achievement.

Fred Thomas – Brickwall

Fred Thomas is making and releasing music at a relatively relentless rate, which is a trait that typically produces a lot of filler material. Thomas somehow keeps getting better, something that’s clearly evident in “Brickwall“, a characteristically acerbic slice-of-life send-up that highlights Changer, which will go down as one of 2017’s finest.

Cloud Nothings – Modern Act

Rarely does a band come across as progressive while revisiting their earlier sounds, yet “Modern Act” finds a way to fuse progression with refinement in its revisitations. A brilliant hybrid of virtually every stage of the band’s career “Modern Act” is both a victory lap and an engrossing look at Cloud Nothings‘ increasingly promising future.

Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab

Crockpot” was the kind of unforgettable song that could make a band’s career, that Slothrust has surpassed those dazzling heights so quickly is a staggering accomplishment. “Horseshoe Crab” is the kind of track that can stop people in their tracks. It’s a spellbinding song from a band unafraid to rip the bleeding heart out of their own chest.

Catbus – Fracas

A standalone release — and lone track — from a band that features Phyllis Ophelia and members of Patio, Catbus‘ “Fracas” is a riveting hybrid of post-punk and basement pop. The verses ensnare the listeners attention before the chorus blooms and casts an unbreakable spell. Exceedingly lovely and perfectly crafted, “Fracas” is an absolute gem.

John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest

No song in 2016 carried more emotional resonance than John K. Samson‘s devastating final chapter to the Virtute trilogy. Plaintive, painfully intimate, and tinged with a deeply damaged sense of hope, the song finds Virtute’s owner resurrecting the neglected cat to beg for forgiveness. Harrowing and unforgettable, “Virtute At Rest” was a knockout blow.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright

There’s a grace and elegance that’s identifiable even through the light damage that Jay Som applies to “I Think You’re Alright” that brings Sparklehorse to mind. Now, direct comparisons on this site are few and far between — especially in the case of such notable luminaries — but it’s next to impossible not to hear the ghost of Mark Linkous lovingly haunting every last second of “I Think You’re Alright”.

Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind the Jay Som project, has listed Sparklehorse as a major influence and the two share a kindred, empathetic spirit- something that shows in the delicate tenderness of “I Think You’re Alright” and maintains its convictions throughout the rest of Jay Som’s discography. While that discography is an enviable one, “I Think You’re Alright” remains its crown jewel, thanks to not only the song’s sublime instrumentation but a narrative that plays perfectly into the song’s soft lyricism.

All at once, uplifting and resigned, “I Think  You’re Alright” occupies a fascinating space. There’s a lot going on in “I Think You’re Alright”, from the subdued atmosphere to the way that instrumentation interacts in its final quarter. When it’s playing, though, none of that’s taken into account as “I Think You’re Alright” has the ability to envelop the listener in a very specific feeling, rendering it a unique (and uniquely moving) listen. Not just one of the finest of this year but of the past decade.

Nine more worth hearing:

PWR BTTM – Projection
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Weaves – Coo Coo
Margaret Glaspy – You and I
Forth Wanderers – Slop
Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
Eskimeaux – WTF
Tancred – Sell My Head
Young Jesus – Baked Goods

Watch This: Six Weeks of Honorable Mentions

Six weeks is a long time to go without running a Watch This and the 50 selections that ran in the 150th installment (the preceding post) barely scratched the surface. To get deeper into the extraordinary wealth of material worth exploring, a sequel of sorts seemed necessary. There’s absolutely no way that a single person is going to watch everything listed below but each link is genuinely exceptional and deserved to be featured. Whether they were part of a series, a great capture, a great performance, or notable for another reason, they’re all linked for a reason. So, bookmark the page and explore at will. Stop waiting and Watch This.

Middle Kids, Big Thief (x2), Nada Surf, Weaves, Dude York (x2), Kodakrome, Okkervil River (x2, 3), Ariana Brophy, Tokyo Police Club, Kishi Bashi, The Peekaboos, Gauntly, Title Tracks, SuperGlu, Journalism, School Damage, Julia Jacklin (x2), Dinosaur Jr. (x2), Hype, Loney Dear, Free Cake For Every Creature, Lever,  Midnight Faces, Jackie Islands, Mr. Ma’am, The Shelters, Tara Terra (x2), The Lemon Twigs, Boxed In, James Vincent McMorrow, Diet Cig, Alright Panther, Slothrust (x2), Weyes Blood, Slow Down Molasses.

SuunsJFDR, Kuroma, Young In The City, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, Post Child, Suburban Living, MOM, Big Jesus, The Thermals, Minor Victories, Tectonics, Adia Victoria (x2), Disorder Kid, Shadowhouse, Tobacco, Holly Lovell, Out the Car Window, Vaginaboys, Parquet Courts (x2), Fossette, Mount Kimbie, Keaton Henson & Lisa Hannigan, Loch Lomond, BADBADNOTGOOD, PLANEADOR, Dinowalrus, Spruce Trap, Golden Suits, Giorgieness, Golden Suits, Joe Bordenaro, Ages And Ages, Lucy Dacus.

Lina TullgrenPatsy’s Rats, Belle Mare, Julien Baker, Pipeline, Gymshorts, David Bazan, The Woolen Men, Moderat, Allah-Las, Mean Jeans, Smoking Popes, Baba Dochia, Bobby Rush, Honey Bucket, Blanket Party, Nassau, Moondle, Conor Oberst (x2, 3), Dulce Y Agraz, Annabel, Talune, RY X, Ira Wolf, Day Wave, Oxymorons, Ess See, Bigjoy, Racing Heart, Richard Maule, Joe Bel, Dirty Laundry, Purling Hiss, Cory Kilgannon, Menacerno, The Roalde Dahls, Huey P, Haathi, Bad Cop/Bad Cop (x2), Cold Mountain ChildSóley.

MidijoyfulBlack EyesAttacca Quartet, Sims (x2), Gates, Evan Opitz, Sea Inside, Josh Pyke, Lyerr, Nature & Madness, Alma Forrer, Warpaint, Corbu, Dr. Martino, Male Gaze, Jack Garratt, Eros and the Eschaton, Marin Patenaude, Andreas Mattsson, Whitney, Hiss Golden Messenger (v), Matthew McNeal, Margo Price, The Minders, Zebra, Absolutely Not, Henry Bateman, Zen Mother, Royal Canoe, Love, The Twains, Shannen Moser, Billie Marten, Scott Matthews, Andy Place and The CoolheadsSignal To Noise.

Leisure Club, B00tyJoe Chunk, Pearl Earl, Drift Mouth, The Britanys, Miossec, Lisa Prank (x2), The Secret Sisters, Lost Walks, Smokey Brights, TTNG, Yori Swart, Hartford/FochtJesca Hoop, Moon Hooch, Aaron Lee Tasjan (x2), Ryley WalkerEstá Vivo, Alejandro Escovedo (x2), Lisa Hannigan, Lobo Marino, The Lavender Flu, MRCH, Divers, Pale Tongue, Floating Points, Deathsticks, Prettiest Eyes, Bat For Lashes, The Stops, Campo-Formio, Jessica Martins, Berriloom, Them Dead Poets, Looms.

Down GownAndrew Leahey & The Homestead, Vice Device, The Growlers, Digable Planets, Jack Grelle, Abhi Tambe, Spazzare, SUSTO, Lilah Larson, Shlomo Franklin, Ivy Meissner (ft. Uncivilized), Sex Crime, Chris JamesThe War On Peace (x2), Mohit Mukhi, Sanguine and Shiny, Dirty Fences, Band of Horses, Merynn Jean, Tom Stephens, Red Dons, The Domestics, The Saturday Giant, Public Eye, Pantomime, The Minus 5, Violetta Zironi, EYE, Laura Sjin, Black Bear Rodeo, Nacho Picasso, Old Fashioned Lover Boy.

Lithics, Hunt Hunt Hunt Camp, Robert Ellis, Wizard Rifle, Holy SonsAkın Sevgör, Ofelia Ofelia, Animal Spirit, Daniela Andrade, Rae Spoon, Dead Snow Monster, Magnetic Ghost, Zimmerman, Murder By Death, Steve Gunn, First Pet, The Malady of Sevendials, Liset Alea, VLNY, Oracle Room, Sky Village, Riley Pinkerton, Ricky Roosevelt, Sahil Bahl, Tall Juan, Alexandra Savior, Lisa Crawley, Youthpool, Gia Margaret, Battleme, Oathbreaker, SOBI, Eric Burton, Arkells, SALESSarah De Warren and Drive-By Truckers.

Weaves – Shithole (Music Video)

weaves

EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume. 

Not many bands had as much of a coming out party this as Weaves, who released one of 2016’s most extraordinary efforts in their self-titled full-length debut. One of the brightest moments of that release came via “Shithole“, a song that was originally released back in 2014. Director/editor Trevor Blumas gives the spiky, colorful basement pop number a video that keeps bandleader Jasmyn Burke in a tight one-shot, letting her face do the heavy lifting. It’s wild, it’s frenetic, it’s chaotic, it’s everything that makes Weaves tick, and it’s impossible to stop watching. Jump in and give in to its spell.

Watch “Shithole” below and pick up a copy of Weaves here.

Watch This: Vol. 142

From this past Monday to this just recently-ended Sunday, there were a slew of great live clips that came from the likes of Ben Seretan, Johanna Warren, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Chook Race, Ty Segall, Dog & Wolf, Daniel Lanois, Charles Bradley, Odanah, Strange Ranger, Flock of Dimes, July Talk (x2), Sleepy Kitty, Maszer, Lisa Hannigan, Half Waif, Gia Greene, The Felice BrothersEsmé Patterson, Elvis Depressedly, Jessie Kilguss, Alaska, Ghosts I’ve Met, MUNA, Underground Rider, American Trappist, Marlon Williams, James Vincent McMorrow, Hinds, Ile, and Keaton Henson. The strength of those video, as always, is indicative of the substance contained in the five featured performances below. From old favorites to emerging artists, there’s a lot of material to explore. So, as always, sit up, lean in, crank the volume, and Watch This.

1. Teenage Fanclub – Thin Air (BBC)

For decades, certain pockets of the music world have treated Teenage Fanclub with a reverence that’s typically reserved for deities. In the time that’s elapsed since they formed in 1989, the band’s amassed a devoted following but — as this performance for BBC’s Radio 6 definitively demonstrates — they haven’t lost a step. Still boasting all of the charm in the world, “Thin Air” is a reminder of their casual timelessness.

2. Weaves (KEXP)

Since the release of their incendiary self-titled debut earlier this year, Weaves have become a mainstay of the Watch This series. Tackling a quartet of songs here, the quartet brings their wild energy to the KEXP studios for one of the station’s best sessions of the year. As ever, the band’s a relentless force, attacking each of these songs with the conviction and tenacity that’s earned them a dedicated, steadily-increasing following.

3. gobbinjr – Firefly (Boxfish Sessions)

A few years into a promising career, Emma Witmer — who masterminds the gobbinjr project — has been releasing delicate pop songs that sound airy but boast a substantial amount of weight. “Firefly” is a prime example and its performance here, for Cuttlefish Collective’s Boxfish Sessions, is a thing of singular beauty. With only vocals, an omnichord, and a pre-programmed drum track, “Firefly” surpasses being simply mesmerizing and winds up at a place of transcendence.

4. Tuns – Mixed Messages + Mind Over Matter (Indie88Toronto)

Whether Tuns is a side project, a supergroup, or a curiosity is irrelevant, what’s important is that they’re writing great songs. Legendary pedigree aside, Tuns would’ve likely been turning heads. While the band’s members’ projects certainly hold a particular amount of influence over their sound (Sloan likely being the most notable of the bunch), there’s a spark here that should help the project establish their own identity. Either way, “Mixed Messages” and “Mind Over Matter” are worth celebrating.

5. PUP (CBC)

Earlier this year, PUP released their fiery sophomore effort, The Dream Is Over. Several strides forward from their explosive debut, the record opened up their already frantic live show and sent the band’s members careening to every corner of stages the world over with wild abandon. The band recently stopped by CBC’s studios to tear through several key songs from their Polaris-nominated record — including “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP”, two of the year’s finest songs — and the resulting document is an exhilarating portrait of a wild-eyed band that refuses to hit the brakes.

Watch This: Vol. 140

As was mentioned in the preceding post, the amount of praise-worthy live clips that were released last week were staggering. RaktaClique, L.A. Witch, Ausmuteants, Adryn, Nina Diaz, Alice Phoebe Lou, and Half Waif were all responsible for impressive entries while the five featured spots below all were claimed by outstanding full sessions. Every single one of these five artists have made a prior appearance on Watch This but the range of their music is surprisingly expansive and contain unknown depths worth meticulously exploring. So, as always, sit back, adjust the settings, relax, block out any distractions, take a deep breath, and Watch This.

1. Oscar (WKNC)

After developing a strong reputation for razor-sharp pop sensibilities, Oscar‘s taken a sharp left and fully embraced the punk tendencies that occasionally peeked through the recorded material. This three songs session for WKNC finds the project in full attack mode, playing with a newfound fervor that’s sharpened into an aggression that seems to have enlivened the live performances with a vengeance.

2. Weaves – One More + Coo Coo (q on cbc)

Just a short while ago, Weaves dropped their debut full-length, which immediately registered as one of 2016’s standout moments for music. Since then, the band’s been on absolute tear, continuing to demonstrate their outsize talent as a live act.  Two of Weaves‘ earliest standouts were “One More” and “Coo Coo”, both of which were recently performed for the cameras and microphones of q on cbc. Even in a space as restrictive for movement as a radio studio booth, the band runs at these songs with just about everything they can muster, leaving a jaw-dropping session in their wake.

3. Margaret Glaspy (NPR)

Margaret Glaspy‘s very quickly becoming a staple of the Watch This series as the songwriter continues to fervently tour behind the incredible Emotions And Math. Glaspy’s distinctive brand of songwriting makes her uniquely suited for the trappings of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series. As ever, Glaspy proves to be a commanding presence, flashing serious levels of skill as a lyricist, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. It’s another casually masterful run through genuinely exceptional material from one of 2016’s brightest emerging talents.

4. Clearance (Store Brand Soda)

Ever since the lead-up to the release of Rapid Rewards Clearance have been a band that’s been closely monitored by this site. Their particular incorporation of ’90s influences informs their music in a way that fits a very niche category: punk-inflected basement pop. In a recent session for Store Brand Soda, the band tore through two highlights from their discography and an inspired Soft Boys cover, once again illuminating their numerous strengths in a characteristically carefree fashion.

5. Benjamin Clementine (OpenAir)

Few artists have a presence as immediately striking as Benjamin Clementine‘s, who delivered one of this year’s most unforgettable NPR sessions. Clementine recently stopped by CPR’s OpenAir program to deliver another trio of quietly intense slow-burners that are carried by the weight of not just his vocals but his convictions. These are songs that carry the weight of history on their shoulders, filtered through the perspective of a man who’s climbed a steep uphill battle and fought through an onslaught of hardships. That journey has shaped Clementine into a songwriter that can silence the rowdiest of rooms with ease and leave behind a trail of converts. It’s the type of experience that should not be missed.