Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Whitney Ballen

Two Months, 12 Records

Over the past two months, hundreds of good records have found release. This post takes a look back at a dozen of the most notable titles in that crop. A handful of site favorites make appearances here, with the styles ranging from gentle folk subgenres to incredibly volatile brands of explosive strains of punk. A few records choose to cast their sights on hope, while others embrace an unrelenting heaviness. All of them, of course, are worth owning. Explore, listen through, and find ways to support the records that connect.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

A band that has yet to put out a bad record keeps that trend alive with Pillar of Na. Even with a slight lineup change (Maryn Jones parted ways with the band after relocating to the East Coast), Saintseneca‘s identity shines through on another album that finds the band embracing a more prominent Eastern influence within their Appalachian Folk-informed music. Pillar of Na also feels even more contemplative and complete than the band’s previous effort, Such Things, which is a point driven home by near-circular bookends. Not a false note from start to finish, Saintseneca’s records remain an immense joy.

Options – Vivid Trace

When post-punk and basement pop exist in harmony, the results typically range from good to incredible. Options’ Vivid Trace makes it abundantly clear from the opening salvo onward that this is a record — and a band — that skew towards the latter. Masterfully composed, produced, and sequenced, Vivid Trace is an important reminder of the potential of a niche subgenre that has direct ties to this site’s very roots. Vivid Trace is the exact type of album that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate: an astonishing work from a band fighting an uphill battle for greater recognition.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

A trio of advance singles suggested that Lonely Parade may have a legitimate Album of the Year contender on their hands, especially within the realms of energetic post-punk. The Pits confirms those suspicions with emphasis. Every song on the record’s teeming with ferocity, hooks, charisma, and conviction, as if the band’s been allowed to unleash all of their unchecked aggression. It’s that sense of purpose that makes how refined The Pits ultimately winds up being even more impressive. Lonely Parade intentionally take the train off the rails and treat us all to an unforgettable ride.

Fred Thomas – Aftering

Billed as the final installment of an ongoing trilogy of records, Fred Thomas delivers another record that cements his reputation as one of today’s most thoughtful songwriters. Aftering, Thomas’ latest, also finds the songwriter collaborating with contemporaries far more than usual, a decision that reflects on some of Aftering‘s narrative themes (especially the importance of support structures). As is always the case with a new Fred Thomas release, a few career highlights are thrown in, ranging from sunny, fast-paced basement pop to devastating ambient ballads shot through with a wealth of longing and regret. Being alive brings us to the peaks of joy and cycles us through unimaginable pain but Aftering is good company to keep no matter where the hammer falls.

Waxahatchee – Great Thunder

Ever since American Weekend began Katie Crutchfield‘s transition from a DIY circuit staple to an internationally beloved voice, Waxahatchee has picked up an increasing amount of scrutiny. Curiously, Great Thunder — Crutchfield’s project with Keith Spencer (formerly of Swearin’) — managed to get lost in the wake. The duo released two lovely records, before retiring the project, leaving behind some of their best work. Waxahatchee’s latest release pays homage to that project and Crutchfield’s roots as a songwriter, rescuing some of the project’s standout material to present in a new light. Great Thunder winds up as one of Crutchfield’s warmest releases as a result, rendering the EP unmissable.

The Sofas – Nothing Major

The Sofas proudly wear their influences on their sleeve from the very jump of Nothing Major, which immediately recalls Sonic Youth’s most pop-leaning moments in their Rather Ripped era. Fortunately, those influences never threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, each track standing firmly on its own, letting the record stand as a collection of noise-leaning, feedback-heavy basement pop triumphs. Every song on Nothing Major has addictive qualities, striking the perfect balance between an influx of energy and an incredibly present sense of melancholy.

Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows The Light

In 2015’s “Not For Nothing”, Mutual Benefit can already claim one of the present decade’s best songs. Anything any artist does from that point forward comes with great expectation and Thunder Follows The Light renders those expectations meaningless. Every song is guided with the same gentle hand, infused with the same sense of calm and tacit understanding that allowed the project’s earlier works to thrive. Every gorgeous, mesmeric second on the record seems to instill a sense of peace, making Thunder Follows The Light a deeply important record in the face of today’s overwhelmingly combative climate.

Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship

The debut record from Whitney Ballen‘s one of many releases on this last that grapples with a challenging dichotomy. What sets You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship apart from those releases is its operative velocity. A breathtaking record in the truest sense, You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship finds Ballen grappling with deeply uncomfortable truths, desires, and impulses, while delivering compositions that suggest lighter material. Imbued with genuinely shocking moments, a masterclass in sustained dynamic tension, and a sense of steady control amidst an expressed sea of uncertainty, Ballen’s released one of the year’s most unforgettable records.

Dilly Dally – Heaven

One of 2018’s most heartening moments came in the form of Dilly Dally‘s self-resurrection. The band opened up about their own difficulties recently and Heaven is their testimonial offering of those challenges and where they’ve arrived as a band: reborn and with a renewed sense of purpose. Desire was a record that embraced the ugly and the damaged as beautiful, with a suggested distance between the band and those observations. Heaven reframes that dynamic and positions the band dead center in a brutal storm of reckoning, staring out at a sliver of light on the horizon, knowing that the ruins of the world will be theirs for the taking.

LOOSE – Haircut 

A relatively new band to this site, LOOSE nonetheless make a sizable impression with Haircut, an extremely impressive record that finds them tethering together strains of math rock, emo, basement pop, noise-punk, and bedroom pop. It’s an endlessly fascinating listen that never wavers in its surging momentum, anchoring ambitious compositions with relatable narratives. Head-turning in the best sense, Haircut suggests a wealth of talent and an abundance of promise reside in LOOSE. Unpredictable and unexpected, Haircut is an extraordinarily pleasant surprise.

Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling

Sami Martasian‘s Puppy Problems project has been going for quite some time now, steadily evolving over the years while gaining a small cult following. All of those lessons come to a head on the project’s debut record, Sunday Feeling. As always, Martasian proves to be a commanding lyricist, waxing poetic on meditations about what it means to be a young adult today. Gorgeous folk-leaning bedroom pop compositions abound, echoing traces of (SANDY) Alex G‘s quieter works while containing enough personality to stand on their own. It’s an impressive record from a project that deserves an expanded audience.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Owen Ashworth’s projects have an infamous penchant for tapping into a sense of overwhelming sadness to create work that ultimately winds up life-affirming. Animal Companionship, Ashworth’s fourth effort as Advance Base, sees this formula ringing especially true. Corpses, both literal and metaphorical, riddle the record’s landscape, with an emphasis on pets. Throughout, Ashworth turns in the best work of an illustrious career, reaching something so human and so intangible that Animal Companionship can momentarily become a difficult listen. In the end, the journey becomes worthwhile, and Animal Companionship stands proudly as one of 2018’s finest, most moving records.

 

 

 

Two Weeks, 12 Songs

The last time these two week roundups rolled around, the pace of great songs had seemingly tripled the haul of great songs and records. These past two weeks have been even more fruitful, leading to a quadrupling rather than a tripling. The dozen songs selected below come from all over, though every single artist included has earned a mention on this site in the past. From legitimately legendary acts to incredibly promising projects, everything listed is, as always, worth serious consideration. Hit play and enjoy.

Vacation – Deflector Head

Every time Vacation releases something new, they top themselves. It’s an ascendant trajectory that hasn’t shown any signs of wear and has held true even while the lineup’s experienced some seismic shifts throughout the years. “Deflector Head” might be the band’s most tightly controlled and expertly crafted song to date, which is saying quite a bit considering their varied, impressive discography. A surging burst of basement punk that leans into the kind of pop sensibility that will undoubtedly have listeners reaching to hit repeat before the song even ends.

Lonely Parade – Not Nice

Following “Night Cruise”, one of 2018’s best songs, and continuing to build anticipation for their forthcoming record, Lonely Parade unveiled “Not Nice”. An intoxicating mixture of basement pop and post-punk, the trio continues to find unexpected ways to offer up exhilaration. There’s a conviction to the venomous refrain of “Not Nice” that lends it some emotive heft even while the music verges on a downtrodden kind of joy, effectively mirroring reality. It’s an incredibly impressive work from a band that’s ready and willing to blaze a path of their own.

Katie Ellen – Lighthouse

Following a memorable run fronting Chumped, Katie Ellen shifted focus to a solo project that’s been paying some massive dividends for the songwriter. “Lighthouse” continues to see Ellen excel in narratives that present vulnerability and empathy as strengths, fueling that conviction with subversive pop-punk. Thoughtful, calming, and galvanized, “Lighthouse” has a handful of nervous energy at its center but executes its ideals with exacting precision. A triumphant work.

Billy Moon – White Shoes/Dingus

A project that’s been consistently good finds a path to greatness through an incendiary dual release in Billy Moon’s “White Shoes/Dingus”, a double single that feeds off frustration and abandonment. The former is an all-out blitz that barely passes the 60-second mark while the latter’s preceded by a voicemail message that provides some very direct context. Both tracks stand as the best work of Billy Moon’s career thus far, suggesting that while a musical obsession might cause grievances for some, it could serve as a benefit to many, many others.

Whitney Ballen – Rainier

The second of two tracks to be released ahead of You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship and Whitney Ballen‘s already carved out a spot as one of 2018’s most promising new artists. “Rainier” is one of the centerpieces of a genuinely mesmerizing records and displays the kind of tenacity and heart that supplies the record its considerable emotive heft. Emotionally volatile and unapologetic in its forays into darkness and yearning, “Rainier” is as challenging as it is moving, weaving together the kind of spell that’s hard to shake.

Black Belt Eagle Scout – Soft Stud

“Surprises in your mind, won’t you have your way?” is the opening question of Black Belt Eagle Scout‘s “Soft Stud”, which goes on to probe even more invasive questions and impulses. Driven by a steady, mid-tempo back beat and an even more steadfast insistence in both the narrative and the playing, “Soft Stud” conjurs up a magnetic pull reminiscent of early Cat Power. Unafraid to wrap itself in a light coat of grime, “Soft Stud” leans into the muck, offering up a peaceful acceptance with toxic longing. In embracing a harsh reality, Black Belt Eagle Scout also wind up with the finest work of their burgeoning career.

Devon Welsh – By the Daylight

Majical Cloudz were an unforgettable project that provided an avalanche of breathtaking moments. Devon Welsh, the band’s leader, played a large role in cultivating the band’s identity. The sparse intensity of Welsh’s old group has been tied over to the songwriter’s solo work. “By the Daylight”, Welsh’s most recent offering as a solo artist, is immediately gripping and works its way to the kind of emotional peaks that Majical Cloudz hit with regularity. Appropriately, “By the Daylight” feels more personal than Welsh’s erstwhile duo and suggests the kind of long, rich career most artists dream of attaining.

Goon – Enter Bethel Admissions

Over the past few years, Goon have established themselves as one of the most remarkably consistent artists currently making music. They’ve nearly perfected the art of the mid-tempo basement pop number and “Enter Bethel Admission” fits comfortably into that mold. Tender vocals, guitar tones that have just a touch of dirt, and moments of musical interplay that verge on euphoric terrain collide once more to provide an instantly winsome track that strengthens the band’s growing legacy.

Guided By Voices – You Own the Night

The amount of music Robert Pollard has managed to release in the window of time he’s been making music continues to legitimately verge on the impossible. Fortunately, Pollard’s long been the kind of songwriter who’s gifted enough to make throwaway tracks worthwhile. Even better, Pollard’s peaks as a songwriter are stratospheric and “You Own the Night” comes far closer to that category than to the stockpile of trivialities. A three and a half minute outpouring of thoughtful joy in Guided By Voices‘ characteristically shaggy presentation, “You Own the Night” is an unpredictable distillation of Pollard’s always-outsize ambitions.

Sharkmuffin – Your Stupid Life

In 80 seconds Sharkmuffin rattle off the most impressive track of their discography. Measured, filled to the brim with poise and feeling, and suffused with weaponized dynamics, Sharkmuffin make every single one of those 80 seconds not just count but land with maximum impact. “Your Stupid Life” is as sharp as anything the band’s released and the attitude that the track comes equipped with could be enough to make any potential detractors wither on sight. Compact and surprisingly powerful, “Your Stupid Life” is Sharkmuffin at their best.

Tomberlin – I’m Not Scared

A devastating meditation on identity and autonomy, Tomberlin‘s “I’m Not Scared” is both painful and heartening in equal measure. There are scars on display in a narrative that’s stripped to an unavoidable nakedness that forces the listener to grapple with the kind of context that demands these declarations. There’s a level of emotional battery ingrained into “I’m Not Scared” — which only features piano, vocals, and strings — that immediately aligns Tomberlin with acts like Elliott Smith and Julien Baker. As difficult as it is necessary, “I’m Not Scared” is one of the most captivating and painfully gorgeous songs that 2018’s produced to date.

Basement Revolver – Dancing

There are few bands that so transparently reach for the heights as Basement Revolver seems to strive for with each song and even fewer who can actually match or claim to have achieved anything near their level of success in that pursuit. “Dancing”, the band’s latest, is characteristically huge, a behemoth of a track that leans into its dramatic sensibilities with an unabashed vigor. There’s a cacophony of feedback that swells beneath the surface of “Dancing”, propelling it even further upwards. Arresting and elegant, “Dancing” is the kind of track that makes listeners take notice.

The Best Songs of June 2018’s Final Half

A ridiculous amount of great songs came out over the final half of June 2018, roughly tripling the output of music videos and records. In accordance, the below list will be expanded from the preceding features’ three-slot format to a selection of nine. As usual, there’s a fairly vast palette of styles and influences to sample, each song offering up a distinctly unique thrill. Dive into the fray and get swept up in the chaos.

Whitney Ballen – Go

The first look at the fantastic forthcoming You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship. Ballen uses a hushed vocal — one that’s curiously reminiscent of Nicole Dollanganger — on “Go” like a weapon, drawing the listener into a difficult narrative that acts as an effective counterweight to the casually optimistic sheen embedded into the musical arrangement. A fascinating presentation of the dichotomies resonating at the center of most mental health struggles, “Go”, while brilliant, only scratches the surface of Ballen’s capabilities.

Curling – Still Green

Following their appearance in the Best Songs list for June 2018’s first half, Curling come back to top themselves with “Still Green.” A basement pop rave-up that exudes the intensely relatable weariness of the slacker punk movement of the early ’90s, “Still Green” incorporates enough modern bent to ensure it won’t fall prey to accusations of tired revivalism. There’s an abundance of life thriving at the song’s surface and Curling makes sure each of the song’s 164 seconds land with maximum impact.

Ovlov – Stick

Not to be outdone by Curling’s repeat heroics as a featured act, Ovlov notch their third consecutive feature nod with the brooding, explosive “Stick”. All three songs to tease the band’s upcoming Tru have made a formidable case that we’re on the verge of hearing one of the year’s best records. While the first two — “Spright” and “Short Morgan” — relied on volume and power, “Stick” ensures that Tru won’t be a one-note affair. Unexpected, oddly moving, and incredibly engaging, “Stick” is a song that deserves to be left on repeat.

Sean Henry – Imperfection

Sean Henry‘s past work has been unfairly overlooked for all the usual, dispiriting reasons but the songwriter’s latched on to something with Fink that just might be strong enough to overcome those intangible obstacles. “Imperfection” was the final track to be released ahead of Fink‘s unveiling and it ably showcases an artist in full control of their creative powers. From the production choices to the delivery itself, “Imperfection” winds up coming surprisingly close to standing as a direct opposite of its own title.

Dentist – Corked

A familiar name to the site, Dentist have been steadily working towards their big moment, earning every lesson and success that’s come their way. In that pursuit, they’ve released a handful of great songs but “Corked”, their latest, doesn’t just set a new high but a new precedent. The band’s lit onto something that feels wholly their own and are prepared to accelerate their pacing from a jog to a sprint. “Corked”, as fine a basement pop song as anyone’s likely to hear this season, is a tantalizing indicator of what Dentist has in store for the future.

Slothrust – Peach

Slothrust‘s another name that’s been printed on these pages a handful of times and “Peach” is the latest reason to type it out. The lead-off single from The Pact, “Peach” is a galvanizing burst of the band’s singular brand of slacker pop. More immediate and self-contained than a lot of the trio’s earlier work, “Peach” makes a morsel feel like a mouthful, before becoming an entire meal. It’s the band’s shortest single to date but it lingers when it’s gone. Don’t miss this one.

Jonathan Something – Fine

Clocking in at just under two minutes, Jonathan Something’s “Fine” still finds time to stand out. A throwback pop song that reveals an astonishing array of influences (everything from Motown to disco to powerpop), “Fine” manages to feel comfortably familiar and thrillingly new over the course of its brief run time. Jonathan Something delivers it all with poise, conviction, and a sincerity that translates into one of the year’s most purely enjoyable songs.

Tony Molina – Wrong Town

A master of the micro song, Tony Molina has found a niche way to thrive since the earliest Ovens songs. Even as Molina’s edges have softened, there’s been a profound sense of assurance that’s cut through the noise. In addition to that gentle confidence, there’s always been a palpable sense of place; Molina knows the places worth belonging to even as his narratives question definitive decision-making. “Wrong Town” is the latest in a string of tender, ’60s-influenced folk-adjacent pieces. Warm and heartrending, “Wrong Town” deserves a visit.

Gia Margaret – Birthday

Gia Margaret‘s “Birthday” is a genre-demolishing track that’s been roping listeners into its orbit since its initial release. Bits of dream pop, shoegaze, and shoegaze find fascinating new intersections throughout the song, which is anchored by Margaret’s soft, spellbinding vocal performance. From front to back, “Birthday” is breathtaking in its unexpected scope and considerable beauty. A transcendent, mesmerizing work.