Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Places to Hide – Nowhere Bound (Stream)

pth

Places To Hide have been locked into a spot worth envying for some time now, appearing- and frequently headlining- absolutely stacked bills with the finest bands from rosters like Salinas and Double Double Whammy. Everyone seems to be on their side or putting in a good word or five for the Atlanta-based quartet and that loyalty’s being repaid in full, courtesy of the band’s distinctly original take on a peculiar 90’s bent, basement pop, and scuzz-punk- all filtered through an impressive lo-fi sensibility.

Near the end of July, the band unveiled the Wild N Soft EP, offering up the careening push-and-pull of “Nowhere Bound” as a free preview on their bandcamp. Encapsulating just about everything that’s helped transform the band into something approaching the territories of “underground’s best-kept secret”, “Nowhere Bound” is a malaise-filled rager worthy of the band’s discography. Vocals are traded, a haunting wordless melody sets the song’s tone, off-kilter instrumental work clashes and complements in a manner that recalls Speedy Ortiz at their absolute finest, and sections of blistering fuzz punctuate what otherwise sounds deceptively lazy (a hallmark of late 80’s/early 90’s SST). Combine all of those elements and inject them with a keen awareness for the modern musical landscape and it’s no surprise that Places To Hide have become as celebrated as they are.

Hear “Nowhere Bound” below and expect to be reading their name a few more times on this site.

Kindling – Sunspots (Stream)

kind

Towards the end of last month, Easthampton duo Kindling set about releasing one of the best unheralded 7″s of the year so far with Spike & WaveThe duo, made up of Stephen Pierce and Gretchen Williams, leans heavily on shoegaze while not completely abandoning fuzzy outsider pop, in a vein not too dissimilar from site favorites Joanna Gruesome. Spike & Wave is limited to 300 copies on lavender vinyl, courtesy of Moon Sounds Records, and- because of songs like “Sunspots”- it’s worth snagging a copy before they’re gone.

All four songs on Spike & Wave are extraordinary in their own right but it’s the second track that defines the release. “Sunspots” has all of the requisite heaviness, tension, and swirling dream-like unease that characterizes the best shoegaze, while fully embracing a near-twee pop sensibility which they manage to keep grounding. Reverb cloaks the majority of the instrumentation, granting it a blown-out and completely wide-open feel that’s as welcoming as it is daunting. Totaling a mere two minutes and 25 seconds, it’s a masterstroke of genre craftsmanship and announces Kindling as an act to watch out for.

Listen to “Sunspots” below and pick up a copy of Spike & Wave from Moon Sounds Records here.

Naomi Punk – Firehose Face (Music Video)

napu

Naomi Punk specializes in a very specific type of post-punk, one that feels closer to shrapnel than a shotgun blast. It’s contained but laser-focused and unrelenting, with “Firehose Face” playing up the band’s woozy unease. It’s one of the stronger moments on the band’s recent Television Man and now it has a video to match. Shot entirely in black and white and presented with a lo-fi, low budget aesthetic, “Firehose Face” is a nervy collage if quasi-surrealistic imagery that’s next to impossible to be torn away from. Artfully hypnotic, it winds up being a perfect visual complement to Naomi Punk’s characteristically damaged madness.

Watch “Firehose Face” below and order Television Man from Captured Tracks here.

Even Hand – Even Hand (Album Review, Stream)

eh

Over the years it’s become increasingly evident that their are some cassettes that it’s next to impossible to eject from a deck once they’ve completed their rotation- not because of technical difficulty but because of how good the record on the tape is. Stupid Bag Records have had a direct hand in quite a few of them (every Swearin’ tape, Acid Fast’s Rabid Moond, Dead Dog’s Precious Child, etc.) and recently, one of their releases possessing that insane amount of gravitational pull was given an LP release over at the always-outstanding Mandible Records: Even Hand’s self-titled full-length debut.

Even Hand boasts a sound that feels like it’d fit comfortably between both Sunny Day Real Estate and The Wrens at their respective peaks, without sacrificing an inch of their DIY punk roots, which is an impressive achievement, to say the least. In a small way, it makes them a sort of spiritual kin to Haunted Heads, even if Even Hand’s a little more wiry and more in line with the Steve Albini school of thought when it comes to presentation. That keen attention to detail is something that serves them well throughout the course of Even Hand and helps the record feel like an absolutely vital release.

Starting with a trio of songs that establishes both the band’s sound and the tone of the record, Even Hand wastes no time in commanding the listener’s attention. “Glacial Blue”, the record’s opening track, recalls a much more precise and mannered Parquet Courts without losing any of the nervy tension that dominates the kind of wry post-punk  both bands traffic in. “The More It Shows” reveals the band’s just as comfortable delivering charged-up bruisers as they are at displaying raw nerve. “Your Wall” rounds out the opening blitz with a lilting melody and a slow-burning sonic template that’s indebted to the very best of emo’s golden era without being completely defined by that genre.

From there, Even Hand manages to steadily build it’s momentum while carving out new niche areas of all the genres that factor into what make them such an engaging band on record. While the furiously paced”Down the Lighted Strip” may be the record’s most definitive moment, it’s Even Hand‘s quietest moment that manages to stand out most. “Leaning Home” is the track in question and it arrives at roughly the 3/4’s mark of the record, providing bandleader Mike Borth an arresting solo moment. Everything goes quiet for “Leaning Home” and Borth makes the most of it, providing Even Hand with some of his sharpest guitar work and a set of lyrics that cuts deep by confronting familial conflict in a manner that feels intensely personal. It’s the record’s longest song (though it doesn’t feel like it) and earns every last second of its runtime.

Appropriately, it’s followed by an ambient stretch before “All Tenses All Time” kicks things back into overdrive and showcases the natural ability of Even Hand’s rhythm section, with Dominic Armao lending the record no shortage of propulsive bass line and drummer Dan Edelman providing a deeply impressive set of chops at a pace that frequently borders the manic. Both Armao and Edelman give the record a lot of its heart while Borth shapes it with an enviable sense of personality. All three pull out a variety of stops for the closing track, “I’m Not Concerned”, giving listeners one final reminder of what each is capable of on their own- and what the band’s capable of as a collective. “I’m Not Concerned” winds up being an appropriate final highlight on a record littered with other ones- and when it’s over, all that’s really left to do is let it play itself over again. Even Hand is a record that deserves to be heard- as many times as possible.

Listen to Even Hand below and make sure to not live life without either owning the cassette or the LP.

The Ar-Kaics – Be My Baby (Stream)

ar-kaics

Last week Richmond’s The Ar-Kaics released one of the better punk records of 2014 on the always-reliable Windian Records, who have celebrated the achievement by offering next to the whole thing for streaming on their soundcloud. Even though all of the band’s self-titled full-length is worth spending a serious amount of time with, there are a few songs that have established themselves as early highlights, including the brooding stomper that is “Be My Baby”. Channeling the underlying tension and sense of subtle dread that informs the majority of The Ar-Kaics into an eerie tour de force, it demonstrates the band’s complete and total understanding of what makes their music so memorable.

More than just about any song on the just-released full-length, “Be My Baby” possesses an innate and unshakable purpose, which will likely lend itself to an unlikely longevity. The Ar-Kaics are generally at their best when they try to play up their influences and on “Be My Baby”, 60’s pop and creeping 70’s pysch are given even footing, allowing the song to find life as an arresting bit of nightmare pop. It’s all over in under two and a half minutes but it all sticks, thanks to a niche aesthetic that suits the band extraordinarily well. There’s a feeling of unease that sticks around long after the song winds down, ensuring it a spot among the year’s more fascinating works.

Listen to “Be My Baby” below and order The Ar-Kaics from Windian Records here.

Allison Crutchfield – Berlin (Stream)

Swearin' XXXVIV

Just a few days ago Allison Crutchfield surprised just about everyone by releasing a surprise solo EP (with a fair amount of additional help from Radiator Hospital‘s Sam Cook-Parrott) on a new bandcamp page with absolutely no advance warning. Considering that Crutchfield’s been a part of a few of the better bands of the past decade (Bad Banana, Dear MarjeP.S. Eliot, and Swearin’), the news sent a ripple through a few different communities. There was one major lingering question before taking the plunge and listening to Lean In To It– what would it sound like? It’s difficult to imagine anyone expected it to be a subdued, largely down-tempo glitchy lo-fi bedroom pop record but that’s exactly what it turned out to be- and it still managed to be as stunning as everyone expected.

All seven tracks on Lean In To It add up to something that’s more than worth the $5 price tag that accompanies it, a total anomaly that confounds as much as it entices. Everything on display throughout the EP is compelling to an absurd degree and while that is in part because of the release’s completely unexpected nature, it’s also due to Crutchfield’s undeniable talent as a songwriter. While the six tracks that precede it all have their own merit, it’s the closing track (“Berlin”) that really ties Lean In To It together. A warm synthesizer line props up a gently gnarled guitar line while a damaged drum track cuts everything apart from underneath. Topping everything off is Crutchfield’s always-arresting voice detailing a deeply introspective trip and a fierce longing to match. It’s a staggering amount of heartache that leads up to the release’s final line, which is exactly where the EP gets its name. All in all, it’s another stunning triumph for one of this generation’s more gifted talents and it deserves as wide of an audience as possible.

Listen to “Berlin” below and pick up the whole thing over at Crutchfield’s bandcamp, then join a growing number of people hoping this finds an outlet for a physical release.

Liam Betson – Rapture in Heat (Stream)

lbets

Towards the end of last month, Liam Betson quietly released the absolutely stunning The Cover of Hunter on the increasingly impressive Double Double Whammy, who are now in the midst of one of 2014’s hottest release streaks (one that’s set to continue with LVL UP’s impending Hoodwink’d). It’s a record that’s continuing to strike a deep chord with a lot of people across a variety of scenes. Trading in his Liam the Younger moniker in favor of his given name proved to be an effective move when provided with the context of the album, Betson’s rawest and most honest work to date.

While the entire record is good enough to rank among the very best of the year, it’s the closing track that provides The Cover of Hunter with its most startling moment. Opening with the line “Bobby, coming out is scary and any advice doesn’t feel right” all but guarantees the full attention of the listener. On a record where coming to terms with a variety of things is a recurring motif, “Rapture in Heat” is the one that confronts it the most directly, to an absolutely devastating effect. A tragic melody plays out in both the instrumental and vocal composition, even when the song switches gears from the piano-assisted beginning and turns into a mid-tempo basement pop number, there’s still a sense of loss that permeates through the song.

One look at the lyrics of the last stanza only confirms how weighty the subject matter that closes The Cover of Hunter out is. Any song that ends along the lines of “You want to be loved but say that you don’t” is capable of rendering discerning listeners temporarily speechless- and any song that does it half as well as “Rapture in Heat” will always be worth listening to. Ultimately, it’s the subtle bravery that defines “Rapture in Heat” which also helps it become something more transcendental and lends a powerful sense of closure to one of 2014’s best records.

Listen to “Rapture in Heat” below and order The Cover of Hunter from Double Double Whammy here.

Ex-Breathers – Pocket (Stream)

exbre

Hardcore’s been making a small resurgence in terms of national attention over the past few years, thanks to bands like OFF! and acts that have openly embraced the genre like Fucked UpPerfect Pussy, Priests, and White Lung. Ex-Breathers are gearing up to make a run at attaining the same kind of heavyweight status on the bruising strength of their upcoming 7″, Exbx. Clocking in at just under 12 minutes, the 12 tracks contained on that small slab of wax all hit as forcefully as the first song to be offered up from the future Texas Is Funny release, “Pocket”.

As is the case with all of the best hardcore, “Pocket” boasts a palpable sense of frustration that’s expressed as directly as possible. “Pocket” doesn’t even hit the :45 mark before it’s over but it does hit a vast array of pleasure points; a grizzled bass line, frantic guitarwork, a seemingly untapped resource of anger, and a drummer capable of tearing a hole through the skins at any minute. There’s a sense of sonic abandon that invites a sense of dread that feels perfectly in tune with the band’s work and, as a result, it helps “Pocket” stand out as one of Exbx‘s finest moments.

Listen to “Pocket” below” and don’t hesitate in picking up the 7″ as soon as it becomes available.

Watch This: Vol. 39

Now that Watch This is actually up to speed and back to its regular Sunday rotation, the five videos to earn spots will likely be a little more varied than usual. That’s certainly the case for the 39th installment, which features another set of videos from Pitchfork, two full sets from KEXP, and a handful of stunning performances. From hazy folk-leaning psychedelia to frantic, unhinged post-punk, there’s a little something for everyone. So, grab a cup of coffee, let it cool to optimum drinking temperature, take a sip, cue up the speakers, and Watch This.

1. Speedy Ortiz (Pitchfork)

There were a lot of great sets at NXNE and Pitchfork, several of which came from Speedy Ortiz. The band’s live show has been growing increasingly sharp and Pitchfork had their film crew on hand to capture incendiary performances of “Oxygal”, “Tiger Tank”, and “Everything’s Bigger”.  All three of the videos contained in this playlist sound as good as they look, which is more than a little impressive. Once again, the clips are stunning and the takeaway is simple: don’t pass up any opportunity to see this band live.

2. Idiot Genes (Allston Pudding)

Allston Pudding continues an impressive video streak with this take of Idiot Genes blazing through “Randy” and “Drunk Consistently” at their practice space. Playing to nobody but a film crew can occasionally affect a band’s energy but it’s a non-issue for the post-punk rippers. Both performances are as weird and engaging as the band themselves, making for necessary viewing.

3. Woods (KEXP)

Very few bands have a discography as consistent as Woods’, especially taking into account how far along into their career they are. Here, the band stops by KEXP for a full set highlighting their most recent effort, the quietly remarkable With Light and With Love. All of the songs here drift by in a dreamlike state, tinged with bits of Americana, folk, psych, and subtle hints of post-punk. It’s as fascinating as it is entrancing and definitely not worth missing.

4. Happy Fangs (BreakThruRadio)

“Excuse me, do you have a minute to talk about rock n’ roll?” was the strangest introduction anyone had to offer at NXNE and it came courtesy of Happy Fangs’ singer, who was armed with a business card and no shortage of determination. That same confidence ties over to her performance as the San Francisco-based trio’s relatively fearless vocalist, which is a fact that’s clearly evidenced in this session for BreakThruRadio that features a fiery performance (from all members) of the attention-demanding “Hiya Kaw Kaw”.  

5. Parquet Courts (KEXP)

Sunbathing Animal is in a prime position to appear on a slew of year-end lists and Parquet Courts are likely aware of that fact. They’re certainly playing with the verve of a band that’s on an ascending trajectory of interest and acclaim. Recently, the band stopped by KEXP and delivered a blistering five song set that only re-affirmed their status as one of the more exciting bands around. All wiry post-punk, unease, and nerve, Parquet Courts seem to have no intention of stopping and are content to just keep humming along, never looking back to see who (or what) they’ve left in the dust. 

Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03 (Stream)

bshapes

Bent Shapes are a Massachusetts-based duo made up of Andrew Sadoway and Ben Potrykus, who, as of two weeks ago, are directly responsible for one of 2014’s finest powerpop songs this side of Vertical Scratchers. The song in question is called “86’d in ’03” and it serves as the title track for a fascinating lathecut plexi disc release, courtesy of People In A Position to Know Records (a niche label that specializes in limited run releases).  On “86’d in ’03”, Sadoway holds down the rhythm section duties while Potrykus flies off the handle with a gleeful abandon on guitar/vocal duties. It’s a jaunty bit of perfectly-timed summer music that builds momentum as it goes and doesn’t shy away from a handful of classic influences, giving the line “Self-aware but not too cool to care” a hefty bit of additional meaning.

From start to finish, not a single moment of the song’s two minutes are wasted. Full of nuance, verve, and, yes, self-awareness, it’s a clever bit of irreverence that feels like a perfect antidote to a ceaseless wave of increasingly apathetic music that’s gaining popularity and acclaim at an alarming rate. Everything here brims with an unfiltered passion and, more importantly, everything the band tries out through the song’s short run time doesn’t just click- it snaps into place with an emphatic force. While the song does recall a wide variety of bands, it’s still very clearly Bent Shapes and if this is the direction they’re heading, then a lot of people aren’t going to want to hesitate in giving them their full attention.

Listen to “86’d in ’03” below and order it directly from PIAPTK Records here before they disappear for good.