Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: You and I

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: 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.

Watch This: Vol. 136

The past week saw a lot of great live videos swimming to the shore from the depths of nowhere. There were outstanding featured performances in those clips from Adir L.C., The Curls, Lydia Loveless, Courtney Barnett, Ultimate Painting, Dogbreth, Los Blenders, Kinda Rad Kinda Sad, Summer Twins, Rich Girls, Slingshot Dakota, The Staves, Caveman, Eric Bachmann, Brendan Canning, Lisa Prank, Vetiver, Paridisia, Porches, Mimes of Wine, SALES, Typesetter, and Julien Baker. For the 136th installment of this series, the attention turns to a handful of folk-influenced artists who are either making their mark or reaping what they’ve sown throughout their careers. So, as always, sit back, adjust the settings, take a breath, and Watch This.

1. Margaret Glaspy (OpenAir)

Margaret Glaspy‘s had a deeply impressive 2016. The young songwriter released a breakthrough record, continuously boasts one of the better live shows on the market, and has handled the transition into the public eye with the poised confidence of a seasoned veteran. Here, Glaspy gives Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir a powerful look at that live show, landing a few knockout punches throughout a rousing four-song performance.

2. Dusk – (Do the) Bored Recluse + Leaf (Set List)

No band has been written about or praised more by this site than Tenement, who have been the consummate example of what this site was built around supporting. Through that band’s decade-long existence, bandleader Amos Pitsch has been involved in a number of other projects but something about Dusk feels just a little bit different. The band’s comprised of several of the most impressive musical figures in Wisconsin’s relatively isolated Fox Valley area, whose singular visions act in complementary tandem. Beautiful harmonies, a sense of history, and a tenacious commitment help define the band’s identity. All of those traits are on full display for this gorgeous two-song turn-in for Wisconsin Public Radio’s excellent Set List series.

3. Green Dreams – Don’t Pray For Me (Katie Krulock)

Ever since the release of 2014’s excellent Rich Man, Poor Man, Green Dreams have been relatively quiet. All of that’s about to change as the band preps a new release, which the band provided a tantalizing glimpse at through the form of this live acoustic video. The typically ferocious project reveals their pensive side on the lilting “Don’t Pray For Me”, while still retaining the overwhelming narrative darkness that’s been so prominent in their past releases. Beautifully lensed and delicately performed, the video’s a powerful reminder of Green Dreams’ numerous gifts.

4. Bernie & the Wolf (DZ Records)

For more than three years, Bernie & the Wolf have quietly been perfecting a mix of influences and forming a sound that’s not too distant from the best of Saddle Creek’s offerings. Open, sprawling, and teeming with distinctly American influences (and history), their songs are immediately warmly familiar and entirely winsome. DZ Records recently capture the band delivering an impassioned set, keying in on “Ethyl”, “Catch Some”, and “Pretty On Me”, three genuine standouts from what promises to be one of the best releases of its given year.

5. Bon Iver (SPIN)

Typically, these spots are reserved for unheralded artists, independent-leaning moments, and videos where the performers aren’t hundreds of feet away. It takes a lot to overturn any of those qualifications and overturning all of them is essentially unprecedented. Even though Bon Iver’s Eaux Claires live unveiling of the forthcoming record — something I was fortunate enough to attend — was a genuinely Big Moment that will be exhaustively covered by nearly every serious music publication, the way it was introduced felt intrinsically connected to the foundations of this site.

As a person who’s lived the vast majority of life in a small Wisconsin town, watching someone like Justin Vernon selflessly elevate an enitre artistic community has been heartening. Watching him debut an entire album live, in front of a hushed audience of thousands, at a genre-balanced festival he founded in his own small Wisconsin hometown was actively inspiring. While Vernon’s rollout campaign for Bon Iver’s forthcoming 22, A Million was designed to benefit the projects’s chosen slot, it was also an effort to highlight the other artists (like Tenement and Tickle Torture) who were a part of the Eaux Claires festival.

In that methodology, Vernon’s added another heartfelt notch in his continuing efforts to expand Wisconsin’s woefully underrated music community by any means at his disposal. On top of all of that, though, the actual performance of 22, A Million was an unforgettable event that was enhanced by the location (Bon Iver’s music has always been perfectly suited to Wisconsin’s wilderness) and the weather.

Just before the set began, what had been a steady downpour of rain lasting hours had suddenly stopped and night had fully descended. Throughout the set, there was an eerie calm that was punctuated by the noise of crickets that had taken residence in and outside of the festival grounds, creating an ambient wellspring of noise that further enhanced the glitchy electronics that permeate throughout 22, A Million (they became especially evident during the quietest moments, rounding out those songs in an unforgettable fashion).

While all of the main set can be heard and seen below in a video that SPIN livestreamed from the crowd, the encore set (which isn’t part of the video) provided what may have been the most defining moment of the festival.

Playing a selection of songs that wildly varied from their original versions, the band pulled out a fairly faithful rendition of “Creature Fear” that culminated in an apocalyptic wall of noise outro section. In the lead-up to those breathtaking final moments, a blisteringly intense lightning storm had erupted behind a heavy cloud, providing an unexpected assist that felt entirely in tune with the weekend’s joyous collaborative efforts. In that moment, the audience, the band, the city of Eau Claire, and Wisconsin itself became part of a unified moment that transcended easy category, leaving an indelible mark on Eau Claires, on Eaux Claires, and on everyone who took a moment to take in their surroundings.

Hater – Radius (Stream)

hater

After a flurry of new material emerged yesterday, Wednesday was kind enough to keep the momentum going, producing new songs from Cross Wires, HSY, Sur Back, Kilo Tango, School ’94, Wymond Miles, Strange Relations, and JOYA. Additionally, there were outstanding clips from Margaret Glaspy, Middle Kids, Public Access TV, Angel Olsen, Icky Blossoms, and Brass Bed. Finally, the full streams were capped off with extremely strong releases from the following artists: Casket Girls, Moonface and Siinai, Cough, The Stargazer Lilies, Dream b/w Comfort, Kalispell, and a reissue of elvis depressedly‘s holo pleasures that comes packaged with a new slate of b-sides. As great as all of those releases were (and they were great), today’s feature spot was confidently claimed by emergent act Hater and their spry “Radius”.

“Radius” is yet another in a long list of successes for the astonishingly prolific — and remarkably consistent — PNKSLM label, who have specialized in curating an aesthetic firmly built around carefree basement pop. Hater fit into that mold with a graceful ease but inject the proceedings with a magisterial sweep that quickly establishes them as one of their roster’s most intriguing acts. Evoking Ty Segall as much as Alvvays, Hater finds a curious middle-ground between two genres that overlap far less frequently than they should (with “Radius” operating as startling proof).

As “Radius” sprints along, arms outstretched, Hater never loses its footing or determination, allowing the song to stay grounded and build momentum all at once. In under two and a half minutes, the band conjures up a beautiful piece of lovingly damaged powerpop, maintaining an irrepressible, hopeful smile throughout all the bruises. Guitars swell, the rhythm section rolls, and the vocals soar in a beautifully woven piece of art that never outstays its welcome. Everything on “Radius” is either perfect or nearing perfection, projecting as much identity as it does confidence. In one song, Hater manages to carve out a name for themselves and it’s a name worth saying; Hater’s a band that deserves all of the mentions that will inevitably come their way.

Stream “Radius” below and pick up the band’s forthcoming EP from PNKSLM here.

2016: The First Two Months (Full Streams)

Jawbreaker Reunion II

Now that the songs have, by and large, been brought up to the present release cycle, it only seemed fitting to turn the attention towards some of 2016’s strongest records. Since records are more time-consuming than individual songs, none of them will be featured individually in the next week. However, all of the records below are more than worthy of investment. A small handful of these even have a shot of being expanded on at the end of the year. For now, though, I’ll simply provide another list for exploration. Once again, there’s absolutely no way these can be listened to in one sitting so it may be best to just bookmark the page and return at will. From demo debuts of solo projects (Potty Mouth‘s Aberdeen Weems) to triumphant returns (Jawbreaker Reunion, photographed above) to fascinating splits (Great Thunder and Radiator Hospital) to outstanding compilations, there’s a lot to discover. Dive in below and find some new bands worth following.

Jawbreaker Reunion – Haha and then What 😉 || Margaret Glaspy – You and I b/w Somebody to Anybody || Purling Hiss – Something || Kal Marks – Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies || Two Inch Astronaut – Personal Life || Aberdeen – Blue Lemon Demos || ROMP – Departure From Venus || Lucy Dacus – No Burden || Swim Team – Swim Team || Rita Fishbone – Spilt Milk || Hothead – Hothead || Sioux Falls – Rot Forever || Past Life – EP I || Abi Reimold – Wriggling || Nice Try – Nice Try || Krafftmalerei Plagiat || Lawndry – EP || Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk – Burritos || Mal Devisa – Kiid || Kane Strang – Blue Cheese || Big Ups – Before A Million Universes || Årabrot – The Gospel || Michael Nau – Mowing || Looks Like Mountains – Quick, Before We’re All Dead! || High Waisted – On Ludlow || Sin Kitty – Softer || Rafter – A Sploded Battery || Candy – Azure || Baklaava – Dane On

Fake Boyfriend – Mercy || Axed Crown – Amnesty || Soda – Without A Head || Fucko – Dealing With the Weird || Opposites – Joon II and Got My Cough || Journalism – Faces || Sarah Neufeld – The Ridge || Great Deceivers – Ask Me About Your Strong Suits || Burnt Palms – Back On My Wall || Adult Books – Running From the Blows || Dead Stars – Bright Colors || Acid Dad – Let’s Plan A Robbery || yndi halda – Under Summer || Sheer Mag – III || Edgar Clinks – Bath w/ Frozen Cat || Tangerine – Sugar Teeth || Muncie Girls – From Caplan to Belsize || Risley – Risley || Great Thunder/Radiator Hospital – Wedding Album || Pinegrove – Cardinal || Acid Fast – Last Night on Earth || Making Fuck – Harrowing End || Nick Thorburn – Serial S2 || Fred Thomas – Minim || Dude York – Lose Control b/w Love Is || Self Defense Family – Superior || Jo Passed – Out || POP ETC – Souvenir

Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered || Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale || Art Week 2016 || Crater – Talk To Me So I Can Fall Asleep || Tuff Love – Resort || The Castillians – You & Me || Sitcom – Gig Bag || Howardian – A Smurf at Land’s End || Mass Gothic/Ex-Amazed – Split || Step Sisters – Thick || Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – You’re Doomed. Be Nice. || Washer – Here Comes Washer || Titus Andronicus/Craig Finn – No Faith/No Future/No Problem || Frameworks – Time Spent || I’m An Island – Bored Days, Old Years || Wussy – Forever Sounds || Nathaniel Bellows – The Old Illusions || Keeps – Brief Spirit || Serac – Songs for the Broken Hearted || This Heel – This Heel III || Cotton Ships – Cotton Ships || Truly – Henry || Acid Tongue – The Dead Man’s Cat Walk || Dying Adolescence – Dear You, It Can’t Wait. || Proud Parents – Sharon Is Karen || Cayetana – Tired Eyes

JOYA – Surround b/w Kitsilano || The Two Tens – Volume || Leggy – Dang || Cellar Doors – Frost b/w Prism || Celebration Guns – Quitter || Quarterly – Quarterly || Hollow Hand – Ancestral Lands || Sierpien – Stench Up to Heaven || Cherry – Gloom || Relick – Twin House || Sun Dummy – Bunny || Lionlimb – Shoo || Tiny Knives – Black Haze || Chives – Drip || Chris Storrow – The Ocean’s Door || Bombay Harabee – Goldmine || Swaying Wires – I Left A House Burning || The Spook School – Binary / David Bowie Songs || Tender Defender – Tender Defender || Mozes and the Firstborn – Power Ranger || DRÆMHOUSE – Only Friends || Molly Drag – Tethered Rendering || Black Thumb – Black Thumb