Stef Chura‘s been kicking around the local Detroit scene for some time now, gaining new levels of traction every year. Messes, Chura’s debut, caught the attention of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo, who signed on to produce the follow-up record. “They’ll Never” is a tantalizing new look at that record, which will see release via the inimitable Saddle Creek.
The song arrived with a music video directed by Fidel Ruiz-Healy and Tyler Walker, showcasing Chura’s scrappy throwback aesthetic to perfection. Taking a series of cues from classic late ’80s to mid ’90s alternative clips, “They’ll Never” presents Chura in a grainy lo-fi 4:3, nicely accentuating the narrative’s emphasis on history. All told, “They’ll Never” is a very welcome jolt of casual energy that doubles as a reminder of Chura’s considerable talent. It’s worth remembering.
Watch “They’ll Never” below and pre-order Midnight from Saddle Creek here.
Just under a full week into 2019 doesn’t seem like much but it affords time to go over what all of 2018 has to offer, right up until midnight on December 31. It’s a method that also provides room for close examination of the year’s finest releases in each major category (songs, music videos, and albums). While it’s literally impossible for any one person to hear or see every single release in those formats, a focus should be given to the best of what’s been experienced. Thousands of music videos made their way through the Heartbreaking Bravery channels, these 18 selections found ways to stand out from the pack.
Anna Burch – With You Every Day
Ever since the music videos for Anna Burch‘s gorgeous Quit The Curse started rolling in, there was a unified visual aesthetic. It’s a point that was strengthened with the release of “With You Every Day”, which finds Burch eschewing some of the sunnier palette tones to lean further into a ’90s art world sensibility. More than that, “With You Every Day” wisely refocuses from underlining Burch’s carefree tendencies to zero in on the sheer joy that’s evident in the emergent songwriter’s live performances. Tied together, those elements make for a mesmeric video that comes off as unabashedly honest, leading to another quiet triumph for Burch.
Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans
It’s next to impossible to talk about Car Seat Headrest‘s “Nervous Young Inhumans” without mentioning that the song’s chorus is a fucking monster. A reworked full band version of one of Will Toledo’s most celebrated solo releases, the video was used — and used extremely effectively — to tease the total overhaul of Twin Fantasy. Visually striking and teeming with meaning, the side-by-side widescreen clip lays out everything you’d expect from one of the decade’s more discussed breakout acts: tongue-in-cheek humor, wry witticisms, a clear level of self-awareness, and enough artistry to dispel any notions of being effete. While some might find the act cloying, the self-directed “Nervous Young Inhumans” video goes all in on just about every one of the band’s aspects and winds up as one of the band’s most definitive individual release to date.
Phoebe Bridgers – Scott Street
Phoebe Bridgers‘ Stranger In the Alps proved to have quite a bit of staying power through 2018, with the record spawning a few widely-circulated music videos well afters its initial release. Far and away the most moving of that selection was the restrained, lovely clip for “Scott Street”. The premise of the clip’s simple enough: several people dress up as Phoebe Bridgers and enjoy a day out together, riding mechanical bulls, taking to a trampoline park, and taking a bus to some unknown destination. All of it’s lensed tenderly, letting a palpable sense of affection become the clip’s defining element. When Bridgers herself finally makes an appearance in the clip’s final stretch, there’s a surreal emotive heft to the gesture that propels “Scott Street” from being great to being unforgettable.
Sean Henry – The Ants
“The Ants” stood out on Sean Henry‘s latest release, Fink, and was rightfully tapped for a music video. The visual treatment the song’s given plays into the song’s enigmatic nature, positioning Henry front and center, following the songwriter’s trip through NYC in costume store vampire teeth. Nervous tension and general mischievousness collide in an unexpected way, rendering the core narrative of “The Ants” oddly gripping. Aided by some stunning cinematography, “The Ants” becomes a fascinating journey on multiple levels that pull the viewer deeper into a world that’s more concerned with presenting questions than providing answers outright.
Casper Skulls – Colour of the Outside
From a beguiling, extended introductory sequence, “Colour of the Outside” takes great pains in comprehensively immersing its viewers into the world it places Casper Skulls. Softly lit and bathed in ghostly blue hues, the first half of “Colour of the Outside” provides a tug-and-pull between competing sense: familiar comfort and an unsettling tension that grows in small increments. Eventually, that dichotomy detonates as a huge portion of the set falls away and the band’s revealed to be playing in a basement. The light increases, objects get smashed, and the spell manages to find a route to amplification, lingering as the song dissipates amidst a haze of feedback. A deceptively clever clip, “Colour of the Outside” also manages to be strangely powerful.
Haley Heynderickx – No Face
Haley Heynderickx’s “No Face” is one of a handful of clips on this list that took a simple premise and executed it with panache by Evan James Atwood, leading to surprisingly memorable results. A stop-motion video that puts Heynderickx in full silhouette, “No Face” uses static framing to perfection. Consisting of no more than Heynderickx miming along to the song and another pair of hands for some additional meaning, “No Face” is a testament to what anyone can achieve with a shoestring budget. A million frames can make up an incredible picture, even when the images barely differ. An inspired — and inspiring — work from a deserving breakout artist.
Swearin’ – Grow Into A Ghost
One of the most heartening things about a year that didn’t always have a lot of those on hand was the return of basement pop legends Swearin’. Select orders of their first record after reuniting came with a version of 3D glasses that’d been relegated to a curious footnotes in the annals of film history. A fun gimmick on the surface was provided some extra weight with a pair of videos with “Grow Into A Ghost” becoming a genuine standout. Embracing a ’50s aesthetic and the stoic sensibilities of the era, Swearin’ have all sorts of fun with the animation integrated into a modernized strain of an updated technology. “Grow Into A Ghost” was the perfect reminder of what we’ve been missing.
Lucero – Long Way Back Home
Jeff Nichols is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. His collaborations with Michael Shannon have yielded countless accolades and an overwhelming amount of acclaim. Nichols’ brother, Ben, also happens to front Lucero, who have provided a few songs to those films. The brothers Nichols and Shannon team up once again for this short film set to Lucero’s “Long Way Back Home”, teeming with the quietly desperate rural lyricism that’s flickered away in the core of the trio’s work for years. A few more notable actors make appearances in a narrative that keeps the viewer in a vice-like grip up until the ambiguous final moments. While there’s no clear resolution, “Long Way Back Home” is a ride worth taking.
Mitski – Geyser
While the Christopher Good-directed clip for “Nobody” makes appearance after appearance — and deservedly so — on The Best Music Videos of 2018 lists, it’s also worth taking a look at the clip that preceded that one, “Geyser”. A gorgeous tracking shot on a desolate beach follows Mitski as the songwriter mimes the words to “Geyser” before abandoning that conceit entirely, fleeing the camera and collapsing onto the shore, writhing around in a place between catharsis and desperation, pointing to the sheer nakedness of the work on Be The Cowboy. A huge moment for both Mitski and filmmaker Zia Anger.
Iceage – The Day The Music Dies
Iceage and Graeme Flegenheimer teamed up for “The Day The Music Dies” video, which finds the post-punk act tapping into a strain of Southern Gothic visuals once again, producing a series of visuals that immediately register as formally classic, bringing to mind cinematographer Robert Elswit’s work on There Will Be Blood. “The Day The Music Dies” is flooded with iconic imagery but for all its formality, there’s a very evident sense of playfulness coursing through the clip. Tongue-subtly-in-cheek — check out those borderline nonsensical breaks for the car commercial shots — and fiery as hell, the clip’s a very strong example of how abandoning reservations can significantly elevate the material.
Noname – Blaxploitation
A cutting, socially conscious work from Noname, “Blaxploitation” leans hard into metaphor and film history. Taking its cues from the monster film genre, “Blaxploitation” depicts a young black child navigating a model set. Framed as a towering monster, the subject explores the small neighborhood, clearly innocent despite striking an imposing figure, relative to the setting. Tragic for all of the typical, endlessly frustrating reasons, Alex Lill’s video for “Blaxploitation” is every bit as thoughtful as the record on which it resides. Hypnotic and incredibly pointed, “Blaxploitation” is very clearly not just among the finest music videos but the visual format as a whole.
Lonely Parade – Night Cruise
“Night Cruise” was the first of Lonely Parade‘s releases to get a huge push and that attention couldn’t have come at a better time. Released in advance of one of the year’s best records, the clip ably demonstrated the band’s identity. Soft strobes of neon hues, softer saturation levels, and some clever one shots cut to the core of the band’s confrontational sensibilities. “Night Cruise” showed that Lonely Parade know exactly who they were and exactly what they were about while still managing to be visually hypnotic. Easily one of the year’s best hangout clips, “Night Cruise” marked the arrival of a band whose career promises to be worth following.
La Dispute – Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I
La Dispute made a return in the year’s final month, unveiling the startlingly intense animated clip for “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I“. A fever dream narrative plays out in the clip, which centers around a car colliding with a deer on the road. Psychedelic imagery swirls around this event, which plays out more than once, lending additional meaning to the event. There’s an impact, things are altered, objects are wrecked, but there’s a beauty that undercuts the despair, reminding the viewer of life’s fragility as much as its inherent tenderness. “Rose Quartz / Fulton Street I” is an astonishing work that may just be the band’s finest release to date.
Mozes and The Firstborn – Hello
For all the serious subject matter that tends to dominate these types of lists, there are moments of lightness to be found and celebrated. For instance: Mozes and the Firstborn‘s humorous, lighthearted clip for “Hello“. It’s an exceptionally simple premise that’s executed to perfection and imbued with genuine joy. One tracking shot keeps guitarist/vocalist Melle Dielesen front and center, surrounded by a marathon that was taking place in real time. Layers of clothing are shed, several with song-specific message scrawled or printed on them, a cigarette gets smoked, and the song is mimed while runners react to Dielesen’s tongue-in-cheek antics. Easily 2018’s most outright fun video.
Dusk – Leaf
Finn Bjornerud has long been Tenement’s go-to music video director and continues to work with the members’ other projects. As good as some of the Tenement clips have been, Bjornerud hits a career high by some margin with the breathtaking video for Dusk‘s “Leaf“, which remains one of the best songs of the present decade. The song itself lends an additional potency to Bjornerud’s signature camera movements but also forces the camera to stay relatively still, fixating on the mundane details of winter life in the upper Midwest: the boots in the snow, clothing layers being shed, a flock of geese taking off from a snow-capped field. Tethering in a quiet, loving relationship between two people finding ways to celebrate their continued survival gives “Leaf” another empathetic layer that’s strong enough to ensure its rightful place on this list.
Fog Lake – Push
Some of 2018’s most brilliant editing work in a music video came courtesy of Noah Kentis’ twisting, multilayered visual for Fog Lake‘s “Push“. The first of a series of intentionally blurred smash cuts hits at just after the minute mark and every time is startling and powerful enough in its execution to warrant chills. No matter how many times its replayed or used, there’s a singular perfection to the framing and implementation that’s enough to knock a viewer out. As the Charlie Kaufman-esque narrative of “Push” unfurls, there’s a deepening sense of mystery inextricably tied to the ambiguity that characterizes the clip’s final moments. A masterclass in composition and editing, “Push” also stands tall as one of the most mesmerizing videos to have come out over the past handful of years.
IDLES – Danny Nedelko
For some reason or another, white supremacists started using the okay sign as a “covert” way of communicating their reprehensible ideology. Since they’re terrible at everything, the general public discovered what they were doing right around the time it started happening. Enter: IDLES, the band who made 2017’s best music video and missed that title this year by a hair. “Danny Nedelko” a standout track from Joy As An Act of Resistance was a song explicitly about their friend, an immigrant. The black-and-white video follows Nedelko through a series of vignettes, meeting up with other immigrants while dancing, laughing, and flashing the okay symbol with a sheepish grin. It’s a pointed missive of reclamation that’s framed with a welcome level of affection for its subjects. Joy As An Act of Resistance indeed.
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR
Hop Along – How Simple
Every publication told its readers the same thing at the end of 2018, which was destined to be a certainty from the moment of its release: the music video that defined the year was Hiro Murai’s astonishing clip for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America“. While that video more than deserves all of the praise its received, the aim of this site is to shed some more light on what’s flickering away in the shadows, which brings us to Hop Along‘s incredible video for 2018 highlight “How Simple.”
The first image of Derrick Belcham’s video for “How Simple” is a spotlight, centered on an unopened door. As a visual cue, it’s deceptively striking and open to many valid interpretations but it’s an image that only lingers for a few second as guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan seizes that spotlight and turns in a tour de force performance as the clip’s central subject. Exuding classic Hollywood charisma, bringing to mind the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, and Jean Simmons.
Quinlan’s an inherently magnetic presence on stage (and in studio) so it’s not a surprise the wildly gifted songwriter dominates nearly every frame of the “How Simple video, which is perhaps a calculated outcome for a narrative so heavily centered on personal identity. There’s an incredible emotional spectrum on display here with Belcham leaning hard into Quinlan’s facial expressions, which tell a story all their own.
“How Simple” is an incredible journey that’s gifted an incredibly appealing setting as its story unfurls, navigating everything from shame to resentment to anger to acceptance to celebratory self-reconciliation. Wisely making its home in the mundane nature of every day existence, “How Simple” cuts to the root of several hard-won realizations. By the clip’s purposeful resolution is revealed, Belcham’s ensured a moment of appreciation for a quiet triumph of perseverance, putting one last piece of finite punctuation on the best music video of 2018.
Two months and one week into 2018, the year’s already seen a slew of legitimately great songs. Below are 35 that managed to stand just a cut above the bevvy of incoming tracks that populated the most recent post on this site. While a select few picks below have two entries in this list, it’s still a varied list that features a diverse cast of overflowing talent. It should also be noted that a few songs were cut from consideration as the records they belong to will be featured in an upcoming post. At any rate, no matter how the tallies for representation work, this list is a testament to the strength of 2018’s early material. Make sure these aren’t forgotten.
1. Say Sue Me – Old Town
Last year, Say Sue Me put out an intoxicating and winsome record and are already gearing up for the release of a new record. “Old Town”, the strongest single to emerge from the early round of releases for the project’s forthcoming Where We Were Together, acts as a memorable showcase of what made people fall so hard for this band in the first place. Breezy melodies, smart arrangements, and a paradoxical mixture of urgency and relaxation combine once again for one of early 2018’s most charming tracks.
2. Canshaker Pi – Put A Record Out
“Put A Record Out” bristles and grunts out of the gate and gains a head of steam as things move along, embracing the noise/punk flourishes that have come to define the current era’s iteration of post-punk. It’s Canshaker Pi making a willfully gnarled statement and delivering it with enough force to make sure it leaves a sizable imprint. When it’s done, it’s enough to leave a listener breathless. Keep up or get trampled.
3. Jay Som – Hot Bread
The rightful owner of this site’s Best Song of 2016 distinction, Jay Som has been not-so-quietly making waves over the last year. Racking up an endless amount of accolades and new listeners, the tireless Melina Duterte has remained on a tear, releasing new music at a startling rate. “Hot Bread”, released as part of a Valentine’s Day playlist for Amazon, ably demonstrates that Jay Som’s scope will continue to grow with the project’s ambitions, leaving us to count ourselves lucky to be witnesses.
4. (SANDY) Alex G – fay
An enigmatic release from an increasingly subversive artist, “fay” stands as one of the crown jewels of (SANDY) Alex G‘s recent efforts. Posted to the act’s official YouTube account with no type of buildup or press release, the song’s allowed to breathe freely (and gently) on its own terms. Paired with a truly bizarre “about” statement, “fay” acts as a mesmerizing puzzle box full of the kind of sticks-for-weeks hooks that (SANDY) Alex G built a name on, it’s a welcome reminder of a formidable talent.
5. Big Ups – PPP
Big Ups have staked their claim as one of the most fascinating hardcore-leaning acts in recent memory and snarled at anyone who even tried to touch the flag they planted. To remind everyone of how they earned their place, the band ushered out “PPP” as an advance warning to what’ll surely lie in wait on the band’s forthcoming Two Parts Together. Intricate harmonic work, versatile performances, and unhinged bristling combine for another intense triumph.
6. illuminati hotties – (You’re Better) Than Ever
“(You’re Better) Than Ever” will act as an introductory piece to illuminati hotties for a great many and it’s hard to imagine too many people walking away from the band’s warm invitation. A sunny melody shot through with basement pop trappings, “(You’re Better) Than Ever” succeeds on every level, from pristine production to bursts of joyous, unbridled energy. It’s a strong starting step for a band that seems determined to take off sprinting.
7-8. Forth Wanderers – Nevermine + Not For Me
A band on a continuous uptick, Forth Wanderers prove once again why their name carries weight with this two song combo that reasserts their position as one of today’s more tantalizing acts. “Nevermine” and “Not For Me” are both — in what’s become a heartening trend, as it happens with each of their new releases — career high points for the band, who have matured into a confident, focused machine, finding a way to retain an abundance of heart in the process.
9. Hit Bargain – Capitulate
One of a handful of songs on this list that act as a razor-sharp burst of noise-punk, “Capitulate” finds Hit Bargain intentionally wielding a level of ugliness with unbridled aggression. It’s a furious run through genre touch points that takes on life as it barrels headlong into some unknown destination. The band’s expertise is evident and their execution is flawless, rendering “Capitulate” a potent warning of Hit Bargain’s capabilities.
10. Kal Marks – Today I Walked Down To The Tree, Read A Book, And When I Was Done I Went Back Inside
A mainstay of this site’s coverage, Kal Marks has continuously expanded their ambition with each successive release and “Today I Walked Down To The Tree…” keeps that trend in place. A winding, four minute slow-burner, the song finds Kal Marks at their most unabashedly pensive. While Kal Marks still finds moments of catharsis in those minutes, the experience as a whole towers above its individual moments; it’s a breathtaking feat from a band always worth hearing.
11. Stef Chura – Degrees
“Degrees” has been covered more exhaustively than any other individual Stef Chura release thanks to the involvement of Car Seat Headrest‘s Will Toledo. Hopefully Toledo’s high-profile involvement will be more than enough to turn people onto Chura’s excellent early work. At any rate, “Degrees” — a towering piece of incredibly strong Americana-tinged indie rock — does stand as Chura’s boldest effort to date and effectively heightens the anticipation for what the songwriter’s future holds in store.
12. Juan De Fuca – A Place To Wait
A few seconds is all it takes for Juan De Fuca’s “A Place To Wait” to announce itself with clarity. A post-punk number shot through with nervous jitters, the track seems simplistic at first blush before rewarding a closer look with a tapestry of layers. Delivered with confidence, teeming with feeling, and unafraid to reach for stratospheric heights, “A Place To Wait” became one of 2018’s more pleasant surprises and it’s hard to imagine that status changing.
13. Haley Hendrickx – Untitled God Song
“Oom Sha La La” was a song that managed to hook a whole lot of people into Haley Hendrickx‘s world but it also set a dangerously high precedent. “Untitled God Song” went a long way in assuaging any lingering doubts. A slow, tender track, “Untitled God Song” finds Hendrickx establishing a voice, marrying empathy with wariness to great effect. Warm tones and an arresting vocal delivery ensure the song a place as a piece of breathtaking artistry.
14. Superchunk – Erasure
Storied veterans making comebacks that reassert the band’s music as relevant among a new sect of contemporaries isn’t all that common, which is why when it happens it tends to be doubly impressive. That’s exactly the scenario Superchunk has found themselves in since the release of Majesty Shredding and it’s a space they continue to occupy with What A Time To Be Alive, which boasted “Erasure” as a lead-off single. All told: Still energetic, still distinctive, still perfectly Superchunk.
15-16. Frankie Cosmos – Jesse + Being Alive
Over an endless amount of self-releases and some incredibly smart campaigning, Frankie Cosmos have found themselves in an unlikely position of being revered as a bastion of consistency and as a tantalizing emergent act. Greta Kline’s project has navigated the transition from solo project to full band with no shortage of grace and the band, now more than ever, feels complete. Both “Jesse” and “Being Alive” prove the band’s as adept at invention as reinvention, keeping Frankie Cosmos’ unassuming charm intact all the while.
17. Kid Dakota – Keep Coming Back
Few records over the first two months of this year have proved to be as inventive as Kid Dakota‘s Denervation, a collection of kaleidoscopic powerpop that’s highlighted by the inspired 7-minute “Keep Coming Back”. Intricate arrangements, a cavalcade of effective hooks, and a casual assurance congeal into something ridiculously captivating. Whether it’s the snaky snyth riff or the stabs of the guitar-led bridge or the extended outro, “Keep Coming Back” makes sure it offers enough to make a strong case to heed the title’s command.
18. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Riddles
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat already boasts a 4+ year history of crafting memorably minimalist post-punk, which made the band’s announcement of a Dan Deacon-produced record as enticing as it was baffling. On Riddles the duo hits new heights by leaping outside of their established narrative to cling onto something unexpected, a move and effect underscored nicely by the record’s piano-driven title track that sees the band falling a lot closer to early Cold Cave than Death From Above 1979.
19. Pale Kids – St. Theresa
Father/Daughter Records has become a proven entity in securing bands that effectively fuse outsize energy with unapologetic sincerity and Pale Kids are no exception. “St. Theresa” stands as proof of the formula, with the quartet leaning into a 2 minute outburst of hyper-melodic basement pop. Pointed, unrestrained, and fueled by as much snark as conviction, “St. Theresa” is yet another welcome shot of adrenaline from the promising quartet.
20. Many Rooms – which is to say, everything
The first moment of genuine tranquility on this list belongs to Many Room‘s gorgeous “which is to say, everything”. Pitched at a hush, the song soothes the nerves as it glides along for its four minutes, never rising past a measured whisper. Informed by both a sense of a loss and a sense of curiosity, “which is to say, everything” positions Many Rooms as an act whose name is worth committing to memory.
21-22. Boys – End of Time + Rabbits
Accentuating dream pop influences in powerpop has served bands like Alvvays incredibly well over the past few years. Boys is another name to add to that list, with the act releasing two beautiful pieces centered around that genre hybrid in “End of Time” and “Rabbits”. “End of Time” showcasing the band’s sense of reservation and “Rabbits” playing to their own curious brand of insistence. Composed and beautifully crafted, they’re worthy additions to any carefree summer night playlist.
23. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
Far and away the most country-leaning track among these 35 selections, Courtney Marie Andrews proves what the genre can still offer when it extends beyond a set of self-imposed limitations. Bringing strains of gospel influence to the forefront, Andrews manages to craft a heartfelt paean to the virtues of kindness. As the organ swells and the choir provides support, the collaborative balance finds itself intrinsically connected to the song’s central message. When it ends, the song does everything in its power to make sure its message is heard.
24. Walter Martin – Me & McAlevey
One of the more unexpected delights in recent music has been the quiet emergence of Walter Martin — best known for his organ playing in The Walkmen — as a singular songwriting force. Last year’s My Kinda Music was an extraordinary (and woefully overlooked) presentation of Martin’s abilities and boasted a handful of gems like “Hey Matt“, a song that gets a lovely sequel in “Me & McAlevey”. It’s another piece of affecting folk shot through with a distinctly modern wit.
25. Liza Anne – Small Talks
In its first minute Liza Anne‘s “Small Talks” manages to be reminiscent of a handful of recent artists and songs, yet it never comes across like an imitation and hits the considerable heights of its predecessors. Exuberant, determined, and delivered with as much urgency as conviction, “Small Talks” manages to sink its hooks in deep. An utterly winsome technicolor burst of warmth and certainty, it’s incredibly endearing- and worth leaving on repeat.
While most people are likely to know Dave Benson from LVL UP, the songwriter’s solo project, Trace Mountains, has been releasing equally rewarding material for years (with a handful of instances of those songs becoming breeding grounds for LVL UP reworkings). On “Cary’s Dream” and “Turn Twice”, Benson manages to look to the forward and reach to the past. “Cary’s Dreams” is a testament to Benson’s vision, offering up a reminder of his considerable gifts while “Turn Twice” — first released in demo form several years ago — proves just how effective the multi-instrumentalist is with a bold brand of reinvention.
28. Paul De Jong – You Fucken Sucker
Opening with electro glitches and a hypnotic strumming pattern, Paul De Jong‘s “You Fucken Sucker” quickly changes shape as the lyrics kick in as a soothing voice starts reciting the verses to Mary Had A Little Lamb before things change even more drastically. It’s in the reveal of the chorus where the song separates itself and arrives as something intoxicating in its willingness to beguile. A playful piece shot through with dark humor, “You Fucken Sucker” more than proves that Paul De Jong is still fully capable of thriving outside of The Books.
29. Remember Sports – Up From Below
The return of Remember Sports — formerly just SPORTS — at the onset of 2018 got the year off to a heartening start. “Up From Below” quickly followed that announcement to make it abundantly clear that the band had held onto their sense of tenacity as well as their ability to craft a perfect piece of basement pop. Med-fi, hyper, and ridiculously catchy, “Up From Below” has already set an extremely precedent for what the future might have in store.
30. Fenne Lily. – On Hold
The opening bars of Fenne Lily.’s mesmerizing “On Hold” should be all it takes to secure just about anyone’s interest. Delivered with arresting tenderness, those first moments are strengthened as the song takes shape, exercising a measure of restraint that doubles as unexpected, incredibly cultivated tension. There are no big moments of catharsis but “On Hold” has different goals in mind; every step of the journey is as important as moments of celebration. Spellbinding from start to close, “On Hold” is a well-earned triumph.
31. Vundabar – Tonight I’m Wearing Silk
Over the past few months, Vundabar have found the size of their audience rapidly growing and it’s in large part due to the artistic leap the band’s taken with songs like “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk”. Teeming with memorable riffs, unexpected dynamics, and a butcher’s selection of hooks, “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” almost comes across like a victory lap. Vundabar have found a way to heighten every single one of their innumerable strengths and the results are already paying off. “Tonight I’m Wearing Silk” is a keepsake for everyone fortunate enough to be following along.
32-33. Bonny Doon – A Lotta Things + I Am Here (I Am Alive)
When Salinas released Bonny Doon‘s sweeping self-titled record last year, it was greeted as the band’s coming out party. A lot of people took notice of the band’s charismatic, including the reliably excellent Woodsist label who quickly found a way to get the band on their roster. With “A Lotta Things” and “I Am Here (I Am Alive)” now both out in the world, it’s plainly evident that Woodsist made another in a history of great decisions, as Bonny Doon have found a way to capitalize on their sprawling punk-informed Americana. Both tracks are new career highs for the band and offer a strong signal that for many, their forthcoming Longwave could just wind up in the discussion for Album of the Year.
34. Half Waif – Torches
All it took was seeing a recent Half Waifset for the band to significantly elevate their position of interest to this site’s overall coverage. While the band’s older material had been touched upon several times in the past, it’s in their new material where they’ve tapped into something that feels genuinely different. “Torches” is a perfect example of that new space, as it presents the most fully-realized version of the band’s identity to date, opening up their synth-led electro-pop into something a touch more experimental and a degree more forceful. Unapologetic in its stance and fearless in its execution, “Torches” marks an exciting new era for a band worthy of a close watch.
35. Mount Eerie – Distortion
The recent decision to list Mount Eerie‘s “Real Death” as 2017’s Song of the Year — let alone, covered at all — was a surprisingly difficult one due to its tragic, uncomfortably intimate narrative. How Phil Elverum’s project has sustained multiple tour runs in support of that record is beyond the comprehension of most observers, who have left those shows visibly shaken. Elverum recently rolled out a sequel to that record, which continues to expand on the sudden death of his wife and his trepidation over how to greet single parenthood in the shadow of the other person responsible for his daughter’s very being.
“Distortion”, an 11-minute tour de force, was one of the first looks at Now Only and remains one of its most awkward, gripping moments. From the devastating opening verse to allegories invoking beat poets, every second of “Distortion” is felt in full as Elverum continues to allow us full access into an unimaginable position. By repeatedly tearing open his wounds, Elverum seems to be searching for a means to heal, cautiously allowing listeners to join the grieving, the fears, the concerns, and the memories of a woman who’s come to define a good portion of his own existence. It’s brutally unforgiving but in its own way, it finds a sliver of beauty in the empathy that it presents. In short: it’s unforgettable.
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 barelymissing 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 Savedto 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 Dayinto 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.
Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).