Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Yowler

The Best Records of October 2018

October was an absolutely extraordinary month for record releases, seeing the unveiling of a large handful of Album of the Year contenders. A handful of site favorites offered up new material as well, with several of those titles appearing below. No matter the length (EP, LP, 7″, etc.), there was an abundance of memorable titles. Only one band of the 10 selected below had yet to appear in any of Heartbreaking Bravery’s coverage. As for the rest? They’re further solidifying their respective statuses as some of the most promising acts in music.

1. Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend 

On their sophomore full-length, Stove expand both their ambitions and their skyward sprawl with their most inspired release to date. Comprised of an existence’s worth of longing, fear, anxiety, tenderness, and understanding, ‘s Favorite Friend has the marks of a classic. Devastating and hopeful in turns, the Stove record marks the second astonishing album that Steve Hartlett’s released this year, following Ovlov‘s TRU. Deeply personal and all the more mesmeric for that trait, ‘s Favorite Friend reaffirms Hartlett’s enormous musical talent and provides a reassurance; you might not always entirely defeat your demons but making peace with some of them can go a long way.

2. Strange Ranger – How It All Went By

Strange Ranger have been enjoying a steady evolution that’s already paying increasing dividends. How It All Went By, the band’s latest, is their strongest release to date, continuing an upward trajectory that started several releases back. Unapologetic in its inventiveness, How It All Went By recalls the works of everyone from Joyce Manor to Neil Young, mining a select few genre’s for flourishes that complement the band’s core identity. Oddly hypnotic and abundantly warm, How It All Went By is an EP that’s worth owning.

3. IAN SWEET – Crush Crusher

The last time IAN SWEET released a record, the results were strong enough to catapult them from emergent act to critical darlings. Crush Crusher, the band’s most recent effort, is one of affirmation: the early praise was warranted. Explosive, thoughtful, and genre-resistant, IAN SWEET has crafted something that thrives in near-impossible dichotomies. Tender and violent, explosive and tranquil, urgent and contemplative, every last second of Crush Crusher comes laced with a certain amount of nervous energy, transforming the entire affair into a spellbinding experience.

4. Adeline Hotel – away together

After a few years of playing together, Adeline Hotel is starting to increase their pace. away together is a strong enough record that it could feasibly multiply their audience by some degree. A near perfect soundtrack for the transition from fall to winter, away together‘s indie folk reckonings lend an even greater familiarity to the everyday, giving the mundane greater meaning. Easily the strongest songs of the band’s young career, away together should leave the kind of mark that’s recalled fondly and without malice.

5. Gabby’s World – Beast On Beast

A few name changes have taken place since Gabby’s World was awarded this site’s Album of the Year distinction for O.K. but the band’s heart remains unchanged. Beast On Beast makes that revelation plain from the record’s opening track, the breathtaking “Winter Withdraw”.  Guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith remains one of the more intuitive songwriters working today, gifting the record with airy melodies that carry punch and conviction. Beast On Beast, like the project’s best works, serves as both a rallying cry and a knowing offer of acceptance, doing its best to make sure there’s some warmth when the world gets cold.

6. Interbellum – Dead Pets, Old Griefs

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, only one project on this list had yet to make an appearance on Heartbreaking Bravery. Enter: Interbellum. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a fascinating effort from multi-instrumentalist Karl Maltar. Interbellum, Maltar’s project, enlisted several friends for a record that straddles the divides between indie pop, slacker punk, and bedroom pop, giving a distinctly modern twist to the kind of template that used to be a Sparklehorse specialty. For every memorably raucous moment on Dead Pets, Old Griefs, there are several hushed, deeply introspective ones to balance the scales. It’s a staggering work from a name worth remembering.

7. Strange Relations – Sideline Kid

One of the best, if not the best, post-punk projects the upper Midwest has  to offer, Strange Relations keep accelerating their own momentum. Last year the project released Editorial You, a record that showcased the band’s confidence. Just a year later, they’ve returned with their most restrained — and fascinating — effort to date in the 3-song EP Sideline Kid. The EP finds the band being increasingly adventurous with their ambient experimentation while remaining fearless in their bare-bones minimalism. All three tracks are fascinating for different reasons and the cumulative effect is potent enough to give Sideline Kid serious consideration as one of the year’s best EP’s.

8. GABI – Empty Me

A record that’s been anticipated for some time in very specific circles of the art world, GABI’s Empty Me finally arrived in full and lived up to the promise of the surrounding buzz. Haunting chamber pop of the highest order, Empty Me traffics in curious extremes, from emotive weight to the sprawl of the composition that serves as the record’s anchor. For all of the lightness Empty Me exudes in its softest moment, there’s a pervasive sense of doubt permeating its shadowy corners. An astonishingly complete work, Empty Me works its way towards unforgettable as it progresses, slowly immersing its listeners under the weight of the gravity felt at the record’s core.

9. Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

The opening seconds of Last Building Burning make one thing extraordinarily clear: Cloud Nothings aren’t fucking around. After what some considered the lightest work of their career since Dylan Baldi turned his project from a one-man affair into a full band ordeal, Last Building Burning immediately lights a kerosene torch and takes off with reckless abandon. “On An Edge” is the most purposeful opener we’re likely to hear this year, with the band in a rare echelon of attack mode. Fortunately, the rest of the record backs its strength up with some of the band’s strongest songwriting. Easily one of 2018’s best outings, Last Building Burning is a potent reminder that aggression can be productive when wielded with care.

10. Yowler – Black Dog In My Path

A strong case can be made for Maryn Jones as one of the most vital musicians of this past decade. Jones has provided invaluable contributions to Saintseneca as a (now former) member, fronted All Dogs, contributed to records from bands like Radiator Hospital, released memorable solo material before and after any of that started happening, and has turned Yowler into a recognizable name. While Jones will inevitably downplay the impact those contributions have had, it’s an astonishing pedigree.

Yowler’s latest record, Black Dog In My Path, in some ways comes across as the sum of that experience: this is the broadest and most ambitious record to bear Jones’ name. It’s also one of the best. Trading in uforgiving self-deprecation and an acute awareness, Black Dog In My Path can be a punishing listen when it fixates on unthinkably low moments but the music breathes just enough optimism and life to make the whole thing feel unflinchingly human. One of the fullest realizations of Jones’ incredible talent, it’s a record that’ll still be worth visiting a decade down the line.

Two Months, 12 Songs

Nearly two months have come and gone since the last true feature article was published on these pages. In that time, thousands of good songs have found release, hundreds of records have made varying impressions, and more than a few music videos managed to snag viewers’ attention. This post looks at a dozen of the finest songs to have come out in that time, from names new and familiar. Dive in below.

Charly Bliss – Heaven

Last year’s pick for this site’s Album of the Year distinction recently made an unexpected return on the back of standalone single “Heaven”, which guitarist/vocalist calls the band’s first attempt at a genuinely hopeful look at romantic love. The band balances that optimism out with one of the heaviest and darkest-sounding songs of their emergent career, demonstrating the band’s range and understanding of overarching dynamics. Exhilarating and powerful, “Heaven” is a welcome reminder of Charly Bliss‘ limitless appeal.

Stove – Mosquiter 

In 2015, Stove walked away with this site’s Song of the Year distinction for “Wet Food”, which remains one of the finest songs of this decade. The band’s been relatively quiet of late, which is understandable considering the re-emergence of Steve Hartlett’s other project, Ovlov. Both Ovlov and Stove had new material planned for 2018 and “Mosquiter” is the first look at Stove’s forthcoming ‘s Favorite Friend. “Mosquiter” is a perfect example of what makes Stove worth celebrating, blending painfully relatable experiences into songs that swirl, seethe, and soothe. In short: it’s life-affirming.

Cloud Nothings – Leave Him Now

Cloud Nothings have developed an astonishing level of consistency, something that should be abundantly clear by the time anyone hits play on “Leave Him Now”. Even with that said, it would’ve been hard to predict the explosiveness of “Leave Him Now” which surges through its run time with the tenacity of the band’s best work. It’s a continuation of a recent trend for the band, acting as something of a career summation, focusing in on various aspects of the band’s earlier records and tethering them into something that walks the line between new and lived-in. Both immediate and thoughtful, “Leave Him Now” is one of the best songs of 2018.

Squid – The Dial

“The Dial” will serve as an introduction-at-large to Squid for many, which will make the impact significantly more forceful. To put it bluntly, “The Dial” is an absolute monster of a post-punk song, finding the band effectively navigate pop appeal and post-hardcore intensity. There’s an ambient interlude, a section where the vocals become unhinged screams, and more than a few interlocking grooves that operate as interstitial threads. “The Dial” is a behemoth of a track, making Squid’s presence known. Keep both eyes on this band and keep this song on repeat.

Gouge Away – Ghost

Gouge Away have quietly become one of today’s best post-hardcore bands, building a name for themselves on a string of outstanding releases. “Ghost” is the latest from the band, which manages to be one of their softest moments and their best track to date. Coasting along at a mid-tempo pace, the band leans into each down stroke with conviction and seem to be operating at the height of confidence, evidenced by the risk involved in a boundary-stretching song. It’s a risk that pays staggering dividends; “Ghost” is the kind of track that makes a whole new audience take notice.

Hovvdy – Easy

Cranberry was a consensus pick as one of early 2018’s great records, giving Hovvdy‘s name considerable weight among a certain section of artists and fans. A few tours later and the band’s followed up that extraordinary release with a gorgeous single, headlined by “Easy”. A soothing slow-burn, “Easy” is characteristic of the band’s best work, drawing in the listener and making sure they stick around to enjoy every subtle nuance embedded into an intoxicating strain of indie pop. Beautiful, meditative, and compelling, “Easy” is a can’t-miss.

Strange Ranger – New Hair

Following up a record that guarantees a cult following, no matter the size, is never an easy feat. Fortunately, Strange Ranger prove up to the task on “New Hair”, the best track of the band’s career. An explosive burst of basement pop, “New Hair” finds Strange Ranger embracing their powerpop tendencies but injecting a level of grit and determination into it that prevent the track from being remotely saccharine, while still finding a way to encapsulate their older prominent influences. It’s impressive and effective, suggesting Strange Ranger aren’t content with cheap trills and searching for longevity.

Pip Blom – Come Home

Over the past several years, Pip Blom have been transforming themselves from a band with promise to a project that’s threatening to break out as an emergent act. “Come Home” suggests that it’s only a matter of time before Pip Blom start making bigger waves, operating as an irresistible slice of insistent indie pop. Informed by post-punk and incredibly aware of effective composition with an expert’s grasp on dynamic structure, “Come Home” is the kind of track that’s tough to shake. It’s also a track that guarantees repeat plays.

Swearin’ – Future Hell

One of the most heartening developments of this past year has been the promise of new material from the recently reunited Swearin’, a band that put out this decade’s best demo and one of its best records. Guitarist/vocalist Kyle Gilbride once again takes center stage, voice teeming with both determination and conviction while the band gives the track their all. Intuitive guitar figures and a solid rhythm section elevate the material further, erasing any doubts that Swearin’ have lost a step in their absence. We should all be thankful they’ve returned.

Gabby’s World – Winter, Withdraw

Recently Gabrielle Smith‘s Eskimeaux project shed that moniker in favor of Ó, which turned out to be a temporary placeholder that’s now made way for what should be the project’s final name: Gabby’s World. With that change, the project seems to have a renewed sense of purpose, something evidenced by the ambition of “Winter, Withdraw”. One of the project’s most gorgeous and most breathtaking moments, “Winter, Withdraw” will be the lead-off track for Gabby’s World’s forthcoming Beast on Beast and sets an extraordinarily high bar when paired with other advance track “Rear View“. Whether or not Gabby’s World can live up to the early precedent shouldn’t even be a question.

Yowler – Angel + Where Is My Light

Maryn Jones is either directly responsible or has played a pivotal role in some of the best records and songs of this decade already, thanks to the songwriter’s involvement in both All Dogs and Saintseneca. Yowler, Jones’ solo project, always can claim an entry or two in that category, and returns this year with Black Dog In My Path. Two of the advance tracks for the record occupy different territory but showcase the project’s shift to a full band. Angel is a tender, wistful track that fits in with the project’s earlier material while “Where Is My Light” is a shock to the system, plunging Yowler into unfamiliar — and incredibly dark — depths, incorporating a sludge influence to breathtaking effect for one of this year’s most thrillingly unexpected turns. Both tracks paired together have more than enough to suggest that Yowler may be on the verge of releasing one of 2018’s most inspired records. None of us deserve Jones’ run but we should all be eternally grateful to bear witness.

Three Weeks Down: A Handful of Music Videos

The last post to run on this site made note of yet another hiatus that Heartbreaking Bravery’s been forced to endure for nearly three weeks. Shifting focus from streams to music videos, this list compiles a host of outstanding music videos to emerge in the regular coverage interim. Bookmark the page and go exploring, everything here’s worth revisiting or finding for the first time.

Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs, Yowler, Chemtrails, Bike Thiefs, The Regrettes, Fruit & Flowers, Torres, Tashaki Miyaki, Majken, Mannequin Pussy, Cotillon, Together Pangea, Daniel Romano, Dream Version, Slothrust, Oro Swimming Hour, Psymon Spine, Milked (x2), The Spirit of the Beehive, Holograms, Julia Jacklin, The Peacers, Gallery 47, Tristen, Major Leagues, Jason Loewenstein, INVSN, Sløtface, Us and Us Only, Thelma, Triptides, The Nickajack MenTrentemøller, Mogwai, Looks Like Mountains

doubleVee, Grey Gersten, Fujiya & Miyagi, Jon and Roy, Diet Cig, Chastity Belt, PJ Harvey and Ramy Essan, Cool Ghouls, Male Gaze, Lee Ranaldo, Saintseneca, Turtlenecked, Papa M, Young Guv, Colyer, Lanikai, Birthmark, Eli Raybon, Sleepy Sun, Gold CasioJefre Cantu-Ledesma, ShitKid, Fassine, Siobhan Wilson, Office Culture, Superet, Holy Golden, Sebastian Blanck, Aesop Rock, Floco Torres, Esper Scout, sad boy, CryFace, Bedouine, Blond Ambition¡Moonbeams No Mas!, Aaron Roche, tunic, Denzel Curry

Katie Von Schleicher, Manchester Orchestra, Shannon Lay, Alex Napping, Adna, Caracara, Public Service Broadcasting, Quiet Hollers, Dion Lunadon, Joan of Arc, Slick Don, Onesie, and Man, Woman, Friend, and Computer.

Cool American – Maui’s (Stream)

It’s been about a week since the last non-premiere post has been published. In that time, incredible new songs from Yowler, Lee Bains III + The Glory Fires, The Districts, STRFKR, Van Dale, Wieuca, Basement Revolver, Katie Ellen, Shit Girlfriend, Pink Frost, Downtown Boys, Art School Jocks, Two Inch Astronaut, David Nance, and Esper Scout have all found their way out into the world. Cool American‘s “Maui’s”, the last track to tease Infinite Hiatus, also found release in that time.

“Maui’s” continues the project’s penchant for bittersweet basement pop driven as much by the innate charisma of Nathan Tucker — the mastermind behind Cool American — as it is by its dynamic composition. Swinging from lo-fi aesthetics to the kind of explosive, powerpop-leaning burst that should make Good Cheer a revered name, “Maui’s” finds exhilarating life in harnessing the unexpected. It’s another in an increasingly long line of triumphant moments for Cool American and it deserves to be played as loudly and as frequently as possible.

Listen to “Maui’s” below and pre-order Infinite Hiatus here.

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

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

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. V

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After installments I, II, III, and IV, this site is officially caught up to the current release cycle in every coverage category: single streams, full streams, music videos, live videos, live photography, and the (usually weekly) Watch This series. Going forward, the goal will continue to be at least one post a day (a rough average that’s been maintained for two and a half years, despite some lengthy hiatuses). Expect live reviews to return to the fold as early as next week and for everything else to resume or continue its regular functionality. Thanks to anyone who stuck with this site through the early lulls in this year’s first half and thanks to the artists and venues who graciously allowed — and even encouraged — photography. Heartbreaking Bravery wouldn’t exist without you and I will continue to look for ways to pay you back in kind. Find the last packet of photos from the year so far below and explore all of the others via the hyperlinks up top or by simply scrolling down. Enjoy!

 

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. IV

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From January to the end of May, I put up thousands of miles travelling to see (and play) shows. Normally, the shows that happen at that intersection would be ignored on these pages as it feels self-promotional and this site was designed to more fully endorse the works of others. For both the live video recap and these galleries, I’ve made an exception for Jungles. The band’s an extraordinary live act that’s best served by their actual set (no photography or videos could do them justice because the areas beyond those mediums restrictions are where the band derives most of their strength). It’s a rare circumstance but considering their severe lack of name recognition stateside, placing them in these galleries felt more than appropriate. Click on to see a few photos of them and several others that I was fortunate enough to catch in the first half of 2016. Enjoy.

 

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. III

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Throughout 2016’s opening two months, I was able to take in two surprisingly contained winter festivals in the upper Midwest: Madison, WI’s FRZN Fest and Chicago, IL’s Music Frozen Dancing. The former ran three days (I was in attendance for the bookends) at the High Noon Saloon while the latter took place outside of the Empty Bottle. Both boasted impressive lineups that reflected well on their venues and, to a larger extent, their cities. Those two fests were the year’s openers and they sent me scrambling for more shows to shoot and I was able to capitalize on several of those opportunities. Whether they were in a basement or at a historic club venue, if cameras were allowed, I’d have mine rolling. Several of the best photographs I managed to capture in that run of months can be found below. Enjoy.

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. II

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Throughout the first six months, I was fortunate enough to catch (and photograph) the following acts: American Wrestlers, Palehound, Eternal Summers, Torres, Julien Baker, Charly Bliss, Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits Black Lips, Jungles, Mr. Martin & The Sensitive Guys, Bag-Dad, Haunter, Miserable Friend, Heavycritters, Yoko and the Oh No’s, PWR BTTM, Micah Schnabel (of Two Cow Garage), Dyke Drama, Potty Mouth, Beach Slang, Yowler, Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos, Oops, and Dilly Dally. All of that photography will be presented — as previously mentioned — through a five-part gallery. The second installment touches on more of the best selections from those sets. As always, the gallery can be accessed below. Enjoy.

Splitting at the Break: The Live Photography of 2016’s First Half, Pt. I

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Over the past six months, the site’s experienced a few hiatuses. While some of those hiatuses were due to personal reasons, the majority were because of long stretches of time spent on the road. During the course of those six months, I was fortunate enough to catch a small handful of shows (and play a few more). No live photography from 2016 has been posted (discounting the header photo that’s ran for the Told Slant feature spots and the Meat Wave photo that ran in conjuncture with the Live Videos segment) and below is a gallery — the first of five — designed to amend the oversight. Enjoy.