Watch This: Vol. 43

by Steven Spoerl

It’s almost hard to believe that there have been 43 weeks since the first installment of Watch This was posted. Over the course of that time, this series has boasted a variety of recurring staples, one of the earliest of which being the “Band/Artist to Watch” segment that was devoted to the fifth and final slot. After being dormant for the vast majority of the series, that particular stamp re-emerges today in anticipation of an incredible release from an artist that’s been too-frequently described as a “best kept secret”. Along with the re-emergence of that sub-series, there’s a return to Little Elephant, a look at NPR’s Field Recordings series, yet another video to be featured from Exploding in Sound’s takeover of Serious Business, and a recent portrait of a band that doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. What it all winds up amounting to is one strange, wonderful capsule that explores some of the finest artists of the moment delivering performances worth remembering. So, sit back, turn the volume up, adjust the visual settings to personal preference, take a drink of something refreshing, focus, and Watch This.

1. Benjamin Booker – Have You Seen My Son? (NPR)

It’s been said before on this site a few times but it bears repeating: Benjamin Booker absolutely tore his set up at the Horseshoe Tavern at NXNE back in June. His debut self-titled record on ATO lived up to some fairly high expectations, revealing him as an extremely worthwhile new talent- and while it does have a sense of vulnerability, it’s usually buried underneath gnarled tones and emphatic gruffness. Here, Booker strips standout single “Have You Seen My Son?” to its barest form; an acoustic ballad. Add in some gorgeous cinematography, courtesy of NPR, and it’s required viewing.

2. Mitski – First Love / Last Spring (Bandwidth)

Every once in a while, there’s an artist that manages to appear on a variety of trustworthy sources but, for some reason or another, gets overlooked or forgotten. Mitski had the misfortune of falling to the latter category a few times this year by virtue of coming up on days that were already ridiculously over-filled with content. After seeing the light perfection that is this utterly enchanting performance of “First Love / Last Spring”, it’s difficult to not want to go back and ensure the mistake of overlooking them was never made to begin with. “First Love / Last Spring” is as sweet of a song as anyone’s put out this year. So, to Mitski: sorry for being late to the party but thanks for sticking around; life’s better with this music in it.

3. Shy, Low – Saudade (Little Elephant)

There haven’t been too many Little Elephant videos to appear that warranted consideration for the Watch This series since Mansions’ thrilling two-song set from way back in May. Fortunately, Shy, Low have provided enough water to make up for that particular drought. “Saudade” is a fascinating mixture of shoegaze, post-rock, golden-era emo, math, and a cavalcade of their connected fringe sub-genres. Every note gets played with investment and commitment while still being technically impressive, which is a medium that a lot of bands strive for but few ever achieve so concisely. “Saudade” is the perfect example of the more aggressive kind of music that’s incredibly easy to get lost in.

4. Baked (BreakThruRadio)

At this point, it’s probably safe to assume that if a video emerges from the Exploding in Sound takeover of BreakThruRadio’s Serious Business series, it will wind up being featured here. Virtually all of them have been nothing short of praise-worthy and Baked’s session continues that trend with ease. Baked themselves have come ridiculously close to landing feature spots on this very site numerous times for their eccentric take on some of this place’s most-frequented genres. In their session, those eccentricities are on full display in both their interview segments and their live form, making for some incredibly compelling viewing.

5. John Davey – Grand Emporium (Xack Gibson)

There are certain performances that manage to stick with a person and John Davey’s capable of delivering them. That’s said with no shortage of authority, having seen Davey deliver a solo acoustic set in a small WI basement to next to no one only a handful of years back. It was a relatively truncated set but it’s proven to be unforgettable thanks to the spellbinding nature of the songs. This being the case, the “Artist to Know” final slot section of Watch This is being revived to feature a gorgeous  black-and-white video that features Davey performing one of his most impressive songs: “Grand Emporium”. Not too much has changed since this video was shot four years ago; Davey’s songwriting remains as nuanced and gripping as ever while allowing some subtle growths in terms of production. All that can be heard on Davey’s sophomore effort, Living Is Trying, which can (and should) be pre-ordered from Dilated Time Records here. “Grand Emporium” also provides a good platform to give this reminder: Heartbreaking Bravery would be nothing without DIY ethos and the artists that embody them across a variety of genres and fields. If a song in a genre that’s not typically covered here manages to come off as transcendental and provides an opportunity to feature an extremely impressive emerging talent, it will get featured. Here’s one of those songs- and one of those talents.