Fresh off the release of Ex-Vöid‘s effortlessly charming lead-off track “Boyfriend”, the trio wasted no time in ushering out a concise EP. All of the sensibilities that Alanna McArdle and Owen Williams showcased as (now ex-) members of Joanna Gruesome are back on full display in Ex-Vöid. Gorgeous harmonies, a pitch-perfect balancing act of harsh noise and pristine tones, and a sense of playfulness embedded into relentless aggression, Ex-Vöid are more than winsome at first blush but reveal a surprising amount of layering, as does their first release.
Both “Anyone (Other Than U)” and “(Angry At You) Baby” are assured pieces of basement pop injected with enough punk bite to satisfy the genre’s die-hard loyalists. McArdle and Williams play off of each other to perfection, their voices working in tandem to strengthen each other. It’s the dichotomies, scales, and unity that defines Ex-Vöid, which presents the band as fully-formed, incredibly assured, and ready to conquer whatever comes their way. Easily one of the year’s strongest EP’s and unquestionably one of our best new bands.
Listen to Ex-Vöid below and pick it up from the band here.
There’s an engaging palette (the pale blues at the beginning are especially mesmerizing) that morphs as the song barrels along, matching an impressive range of motion for both the camera and its subjects. “Colour of the Outside” also offers up a masterclass in lighting but those small, significant details would be lost without engaging core performances from the band members. Casper Skulls have given notable performances in their clips before but deliver here with some extra weight behind their conviction, making “Colour of the Outside” a testament to their growing confidence. Tethered together, the cumulative effect is spellbinding, pushing the band to an unexpected career highlight that’s massively satisfying and imparts a sense of excitement for whatever Casper Skulls decide to do next.
Watch “Colour of the Outside” below and pick up a copy of the band’s recent Mercy Works over on their bandcamp.
April got off to an extraordinary start with a few dozen songs making a viable bid for inclusion on this list, which represents the material that emerged in the month’s first week. Ultimately it was the 10 below that prevailed in a surprisingly overcrowded field for what proved to be a curiously stacked week. The last “Best Of” compilation for this category had a handful of artists making consecutive appearances in this column but only one of them returns a third time. The rest of this field is a mixture of favorites, old and new, with each offering up a song worth celebrating. All of them can be heard below. Enjoy.
1. gobbinjr – afraid of me
An artist that’s slowly but surely built a steadfast reputation as an emerging star in the bedroom pop genre, gobbinjr makes a bold statement with a full-on switch to full band indie pop in the vein of Frankie Cosmos and it works beautifully. “afraid of me” is as rich and memorable as anything gobbinjr’s released so far and proves that the project’s scope might be a lot more expansive than initially suggested. It’s a breezy tune that’s ready-made for spring and summer mix tapes.
2. En Attendant Ana – Night
A new name to this site, En Attendant Ana manage to make a huge splash here with “Night”, a driving burst of basement pop that doesn’t hesitate to look upward and immediately start trying to grab the stars. A beautifully produced track, “Night” also demonstrates the band’s penchant for composition, turning on a dime from one section to another, sustaining a magnetic, romantic atmosphere. It’s the rare kind of song that can convince you an artist’s name is worth remembering.
3. Forth Wanderers – Ages Ago
The previous two Forth Wanderers songs that have been released in the lead-up to their forthcoming self-titled were featured on this site and “Ages Ago” makes a very convincing case that the band may very well have one of the year’s finest records on their hands. “Ages Ago,” the band’s latest track, isn’t just their most polished outing to date, it’s their best. Tapping fully into their mixture of irrepressible energy and open melancholy, “Ages Ago” offers the kind of duality that builds incredible material. It’s spellbinding.
4. Grouper – Driving
Few artists are managing what Grouper‘s been doing for the past few years. Every new song plays like an elegant masterwork, deftly demonstrating every last bit of songwriting talent in the most breathtaking fashion imaginable. “Driving”, the latest from the ambient act, is among the past few years’ most quieting and soulful works. It’s nearly impossible to not want to hang onto every second as the song gently washes over you and it’s equally difficult to not want to immediately hit play again when it ends in a whisper.
5. Boys – That Weekend
In an impressively brief time, PNKSLM‘s established itself as one of the leading labels for introspective basement pop. One of the best acts on their consistently incredible roster is Boys, who usher in a career best here with “That Weekend”. Bits of dream-pop, powerpop, and post-punk all congeal into an incredibly wistful track, full of a sense of genuine longing. It’s a perfect way to spend two and a half minutes and stands as a testament to both the band’s promise and considerable talent.
6. Been Stellar – Everyone Smokes in the City
Been Stellar’s another new name to Heartbreaking Bravery that makes an incredible first impression with “Everyone Smokes in the City”, a track that echoes the best work of The Strokes. The band separates themselves from the over-abundance of bands that proudly bear that influence by exercising restraint in a way that simultaneously informs the song’s tension and provides it an additional level of energy. It’s fun, it’s promising, and it’s an easy standout.
7. Yumi Zouma – France (Grands Boulevards)
The second ambient-leaning act on this list that seems to perpetually top themselves, Yumi Zouma return with the most gorgeous work of their career in “France (Grands Boulevards). Gentle tones, a tender vocal delivery, and some intuitive production heightens the work as it glides along, wrapped up in its own journey. Unassuming and beautiful, “France (Grands Boulevards)” marks an enticing new chapter in the band’s history.
8. Petal – Better Than You
Kiley Lotz, the songwriter spearheading Petal, is a commanding solo performer. Charismatic, entertaining, and fully in control, Lotz can reduce an audience to whispers and extinguish those a few minutes later. That being the case, Lotz also knows how to turn up the volume and let it rip, as is the case with the enormous “Better Than You”, which has shades of Waxahatchee‘s rowdier work. Fed up and determined, “Better Than You” is an unmissable statement from a singular talent and bodes well for Petal’s future.
9. Yours Are The Only Ears – Fire In My Eyes
A pair of great tracks from Knock Hard — the forthcoming release from Yours Are The Only Ears — have already been released but “Fire In My Eyes” exceeds those heights. One of the best tracks of Susannah Cutler’s illustrious works that have found release under this moniker, “Fire In My Eyes” finds Yours Are The Only Ears experimenting with precision (and continuing a fruitful collaborative history with LVL UP and Trace Mountain‘s Dave Benson). As always, the narrative aspect carries exceptional emotional weight but the arrangements have rarely been as effective or powerful.
10. Say Sue Me – Coming to the End
Completing something of a hat trick, this is Say Sue Me‘s third consecutive appearance in the “Best Of” columns for songs, each track teasing the exceptional Where We Were Together. “Coming to the End”, appropriately, is the record’s final track and its most breathtaking moment. A sprawling 7 and a half minute slow-burn, “Coming to the End” has the time to display just about every reason Say Sue Me’s been turning heads over the past year. Melancholic and explosive in turns, it’s a masterwork of dynamics and controlled atmosphere, never ceasing to be anything less than gripping over the course of its runtime.
It’s a towering track, epic in scale and wildly confident in its ambition, bringing to mind the recent work of Young Jesus while remaining true to the enchanting identity the band’s managed to carve out for themselves over their brief but promising discography. The guitar solo that makes up the bulk of the song’s back half goes sideways as often as it reaches skyward but, as is the case with the band, you don’t just hope it’ll arrive at its intended decision but know it will with an abundance of grace, no matter erratic it may seem. When it fades, it’s hard not to think “Coming to the End” isn’t close to perfect.
A small list of other outstanding songs to be released this past week:
A persistent and all-consuming myth among people that refuse to commit a shred of investment to any sort of search is that “good music just doesn’t exist anymore.” It’s the same sort of thinking present in the cavalcade of thoughtless attempts to shift any sort of blame for societal ills to a younger generation based solely on an outlook that was defined by a vastly different era. Fortunately, there are a host of artists to emphatically disprove brand of thinking and act as a counter to what could be construed as a subtle, insidious form of ageism. Below there are literally hundreds of links providing access to various songs, music videos, and records.
All of them are worth a shot and a good many of them are vastly different from their surrounding links. Each of those items came out in 2018 and there’s an entire world more of them waiting to be discovered by the people willing to put in the work. So use these as a starter pack of sorts or just scroll through and see what today’s musicians can offer. It’s a boundless scope and when its allowed to not just exist but thrive, there are a multitude of reasons to celebrate. Enjoy.
Over the past two months, a ridiculous amount of music has found release. Plumbing the depths of that haul has been a privilege but it’s also been incredibly time-consuming. Digging through the rubble, as it has so frequently in the past, yielded no shortage of absolute gems. From a few of the most gorgeous songs I’ve heard all year to some career highs to some genuine standout material, there’s a lot to explore in the below list. Normally, each of these would receive a short accompanying write up (and a few of them still will in the forthcoming year-end lists) but for the sake of expediency in the face of the volume of forthcoming content, they will simply be listed below. Don’t let that distract or discourage, all of the song are here for a reason. Queue them up, close your eyes, and let them wash you away.
When I started Heartbreaking Bravery nearly three years ago, I had no intention of pursuing it as a legitimate venture. Now, 1,000 posts, 50,000+ links, and countless words later, the site’s come to be the type of platform I’ve always loved seeing in the world. I could attempt to wax poetic on the nature of personal discovery and growth that running this place has afforded me but Heartbreaking Bravery was never about a single person, it’s always functioned best as a communal entity.
The ideas that formed the basic structure of Heartbreaking Bravery all came from artists producing exceptional work with little recognition. Repeatedly watching that transaction occur proved too disheartening. Whether it was the earliest years of Tenement, the later years of Good Grief, or virtually the entire run of Sleeping in the Aviary, there were always ceaselessly talented artists surrounding me that only ever seemed to receive the slightest of nods.
Heartbreaking Bravery originally aimed — and continues to aim — to provide a more level playing field to emerging artists, without reducing their worth to financial opportunity. Heartbreaking Bravery continues to value the community and intimacy that informs the DIY music world. Heartbreaking Bravery will continue to use the platform it’s been granted to elevate the idea of greater equality.
It’s in that spirit that I’m honored to present A Step Forward, a two-volume compilation spanning 100 tracks that exclusively features artists who are connected to this site’s history. Whether that was through a long history of collaboration or something as small as a twitter follow, the impact was not lost or left unappreciated. There’s a heavy emphasis on artists residing in the cities and states Heartbreaking Bravery has called home (Stevens Point, WI and Brooklyn, NY) and a small selection of songs that were premiered on this site.
100% of the proceeds of A Step Forward will be going to Rape Victim Advocates, a non-profit Chicago-based organization that’s doing vital (and, sadly, necessary) work for survivors of sexual assault. Read more about the organization here. It’s my sincerest hope that every publication that has the privilege of visibility manages to find ways to use any of their influence for productive good and to affect positive change. Please consider donating what you can to a meaningful cause.
Finally, I wanted to express gratitude to all of the artists (and any of their teams) involved — including the inimitable Phil McAndrew, who turned in the extraordinary album art — and all of the people that have allowed, even willed, this site to the point it’s at today. It likely would have disappeared without that support and I owe those people a debt of gratitude that could never be truly repaid. A special thanks to Fred Thomas, whose “What Changes When The Costumes Come Off” was written with the specifics of A Step Forward in mind.
Enjoy the compilation, support independent art, and join me, this site, these artists, and this cause in taking A Step Forward.
A Step Forward: Vol. 1*
1. Vacation – Caked Joy Rag (Demo)
2. Mike Krol – Neighborhood Watch (Demo)
3. Dead Stars – So Strange (Demo)
4. Mo Troper – After the Movies (Demo)
5. Fern Mayo – The Sweets (Demo)
6. Hater – Like Hours (Demo)
7. Sharkmuffin – Only Mondays (Demo)
8. Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day (Demo)
9. Missy – Patience (Demo)
10. Kodakrome – Skeletons (Demo)
11. Slight – Run (Demo)
12. Long Neck – Goldfinch (Demo)
13. Phyllis Ophelia – Probably Not (Demo)
14. Lever – Cure (Demo)
15. Puppy Problems – Destroyer (Demo)
16. Battle Ave. – Black Jeans (Demo)
17. Yours Are The Only Ears – Alone Bear (Demo)
18. Attendant – Some Other Language (Demo)
19. MKSEARCH – Little Song (Demo)
20. Sulky Boy – Birches (Demo)
21. Heavy Looks – Those Guys (Demo)
22. darn it. – (again) pt. II
23. Phooey! – On an On
24. Arm Candy – Big Clunker
25. DTCV – Le Vampire
26. Clearance – The Queen of Eyes
27. Leggy – I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy
28. Big Air – Hit Me in the Mouth
29. Terry Malts – Look (At the Mess That We’re In)
30. Ubetcha – Musician
31. Two Inch Astonaut – Suckers Share
32. Whelpwisher – Bucket for the Sky
33. Petite League – Magic Johnson
34. The Meltaways (ft. Kate M) – Wrong Words
35. Calumet – Indian Summer
36. Mulligrub – Little Fist
37. Ben Seretan – Stay In Touch
38. Mumblr – Friendship Stew
39. Human People – Useless Things
40. Bethlehem Steel – Florida Two
41. Painted Zeros – Sweet Briar Rose
42. Spit – Paul Westerberg
43. Crusher – Running
44. Pupppy – Stand By Me
45. Aberdeen – Once You Fall In Love
46. Tica Douglas – Enough
47. Peaer – Multiverse
48. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – What Is Love
49. Young Jesus – Mirroring
50. Space Mountain – Earthrise
A Step Forward: Vol. II*
1. Bellows – Bank Checks
2. Cave Curse – Arcadia
3. Fred Thomas – What Changes When the Costumes Come Off
4. Apollo Vermouth – He Sees You, He Loves You
5. Green Dreams – Psychic Woes (Alternate Mix)
6. Lost Boy ? – Have You Seen My Brain (Space Cat Sessions)
7. Mikaela Davis – Pure Divine Love (Early Mix)
8. Nano Kino – Recovery (Early Mix)
9. Trophy Dad – Addison (Early Mix)
10. Alanna McArdle – Less Than (Early Mix)
11. VVHILE – Don’t Belong (Live)
12. Liam Betson – Mispronounced (Live)
13. BAG-DAD – Bruv (Live)
14. Slothrust – Keg Party (Live)
15. The Nudes – Nowhere to Be
16. Sat. Nite Duets – Cemetery Steve
17. Slanted – Fake Party
18. Patio – Gold
19. Greys – No Star
20. No Hoax – Date With Death
21. Dirty Dishes – Red Roulette
22. Yeesh – On Some Dirt
23. Pile – Cut From First Other Tape
24. Even Hand – Nightsmoke the Fuss
25. PURPLE 7 – Wise Up
26. Bad Wig – Machinehead
27. Mary Lynn – Space
28. Pleistocene – CMJ Compilation 1996
29. Color TV – Anybody’s Girl
30. Jacky Boy – Bad
31. Trust Fund – Would That Be An Adventure?
32. Good Grief – City People
33. Adir L.C. – Hangover
34. Milk Crimes – H8RZ
35. À La Mode – Total Doom
36. Inside Voices – Nomad: Begin
37. Doe – Corin
38. Kindling – Became
39. Bueno – Blown Out
40. Horse Teeth – Dark & Gloomy
41. Ron Gallo – Put the Kids to Bed
42. Sun’s Out Bummed Out – Cut All My Hair
43. Eric Slick – The Dirge
44. Fruit & Flowers – Turqoise
45. Shilpa Ray – Hymn
46. Jack – Sister System
47. Strange Ranger – Whatever You Say
48. Johanna Warren – A Bird in the Crocodile’s Mouth
49. Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
50. Fresh Snow – Eat Me In St. Louis (Bryan W. Bray – Eaten by the Cetacean Mix)
Tracks 1-21: Demos
Tracks 22-50: New Songs
Tracks 1-4: New Songs (cont’d) Tracks 5-14: Alternate Mixes and Live Songs Tracks 15-49: Old Favorites Track 50: Remix
Fern Mayo’s been in these pages quite a bit in the past, thanks to the happy forever EP, their solid live show, various members’ contributions to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, and their sibling projects (Fits being a great recent example). However, everything always seems to tie back to Fern Mayo, who have been steadily improving as musicians and songwriters over the course of the past few years. Hex Signs, the trio’s latest effort, may only run three tracks but it hits with a staggering amount of force.
Kicking things off with “Pinesol”, the trio sounds reinvigorated, sharper and a lot more focused than they did only a year ago. Guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Katie Capri resumes the role of driving force and sets about creating enough momentum to transform into a red-hot wrecking ball, with Brian Orante’s drums and Nicholas Cummins’ bass urging her forward. It’s a reckless and occasionally euphoric track that ranks among the band’s finest work, allowing it to function as both a burst of searing adrenaline and a perfect introductory piece for the uninitiated.
“Pinesol” sets the tone for the two tracks to follow and neither feel out of place, continuing to propel Hex Signs forward with a near-manic sense of unchecked aggression. The EP’s longest track, “New Ketamine”, is perhaps the most representative of the band at large. A unified bridge between the band’s past and present work, the track navigates around several territories but never quite loses its sense of purpose, creating moments that touch on nearly every dynamic that’s been key to the band’s success in the process.
Closing Hex Signs out is “Moonshine Kingdom”, which has been a staple of the band’s live show for some time. Riding an insistent riff at a quick tempo, the song increases the EP’s velocity as it hurtles towards a massive climactic moment that contains just about enough energy to create a gravitational whirlwind. There are a small hosts of other miniature explosions to be found in that track that all lead up to those final exhilarating moments, giving the entire affair the feeling its stability could collapse at any second. It’s a thrilling finale to one of the most memorably vicious, off-kilter EP’s to have emerged from the basement pop (and basement punk) circuit this year. Cue the storm, ignore the tethers, and get carried away.
Listen to Hex Signs below and pick up a copy here. Watch an early live rendition of “Moonshine Kingdom” below the embedded bandcamp player.
As was discussed in the preceding two posts, there’s been a serious lull of inaction on this site as of late as far as posting is concerned. A large reason for that was the fact that the majority of that coverage gap was spent traveling thousands of miles to document sets from bands like Oops, Dilly Dally, Yowler, Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos, Beach Slang, Potty Mouth, Dyke Drama, PWR BTTM, and more.
The resulting documentation will be posted at some point in the near future but the hefty amount of visual content (not to mention the act of traveling itself) necessitated a publishing break. However, as usual, every new piece of incoming information was accounted for in the interim. Full streams and music videos have already been covered so it’s time that the attention was turned towards individual songs.
A list of some of the finest new tunes to have emerged over the past month can be found below. Since there are so many, it may be best to bookmark this page and explore its contents at a more leisurely pace to avoid being overwhelmed. Jump on in and go swimming.
Over the course of the past few months, there have been hints towards this site expanding its coverage in new directions. One of those will be an emphasis on film and film coverage, much of which may branch away from things with a decidedly musical pull- but it’d just feel wrong to not use one of those films as a starting point. Since 2015’s started there h, ave been three outstanding music documentaries, the short-form Pops Staples “Don’t Lose This”, the monumentally affirming Richard Gin-directed long-player The Epoch Is __., and the Cory McConnell-helmed piece of magic that gets tonight’s feature: Girlpool: Things Are OK. All three are deserving of as much attention and affection as anyone can generate but what sets Things Are OK apart from the rest of its early-year companions is its sense of craft.
As central figures go, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Lebel-Tividad are inherently compelling central figures. When they’re on screen (which is for the majority of the film), they’re as brashly honest as their music suggests, never shying away from self-examination or pointed commentary. McConnell likely had a lot of great material to work with and the fact that Things Are OK wound up coming across as so complete in just over 25 minutes is a fairly astonishing indicator of the director’s raw talent and deft touch (especially in terms of composition). Utilizing small ambient movements for maximum effect, like creating a sense of urgency with the travel shots to establish the momentum of both the film and its compassionately-portrayed subjects, McConnell manages to turn this into a subtle filmmaking showcase without ever impeding the film’s central aim: to provide a definitive portrait of an incredibly important band in the early stages of their career.
While the majority of the film is composed of the band’s genuinely stunning live performance, when it allows itself to switch gears to provide those performances a narrative by presenting an exacting portrayal of Tucker and Lebel-Tividad’s psyches, it takes on an unexpectedly emotional pull. Girlpool, at their very best, cut to the hearts of their listeners with exacting precision, conjuring up some fierce emotions (in a manner not too dissimilar from Big Star at their most devastatingly vulnerable). It’s one of the core reasons why this site continues to loft praise at the band and it’s something that Things Are OK manages to make a focal point without ever overselling that particular aspect of the band. It’s also worth noting that Things Are OK chooses its vantage points carefully, allowing a cautiously brave elevation of Girlpool through cleverly-constructed cinematography (which is consistently gorgeous throughout the film’s duration), until they finally appear larger-than-life in their last performance, offering nothing but grace notes until the film’s quiet conclusion. It’s a fitting tribute to the duo, who continue to impress, deeply, as their career progressively blooms into something that’s already threatening to be unforgettable.
Watch Girlpool: Things Are OK below and buytheir powerful self-titled EP from Wichita Recordings here.