Heartbreaking Bravery

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2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

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One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement. Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time. Enjoy!

La Dispute – Woman (Reading) (Music Video)

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Centering a music video around a lone dancer performing a solo routine in 2014 is a bold move as it’s inevitably going to call to mind one of the most ubiquitous clips of the year. La Dispute went ahead and did it anyway- and the result’s one of the year’s most breathtaking achievements in the visual format there’s been in a handful of months. Rooms of the House was one of a select few records that made a deep enough impact to warrant a full review from this site and “Woman (Reading)” was one of its many standout moments. Unrelentingly powerful in its acute dissection of a relationship on the fringes of disintegrating, the song now has an equally striking video to match.

Yes, this is- as noted above- a solo routine from a single dancer but where it differs from Sia’s “Chandelier” is in the details. Where “Chandelier” was an intimate exploration of the boundless beauty of youthfulness on a private level, “Woman (Reading)” turns outward; it’s shame and struggle plays out in public. There’s still a strong thematic pull on isolation but it’s pained and forced rather than in tune with self-discovery. as the video progresses along with the story told in the lyric set, the fluidity of the movements decreases and the routine transforms from a relative lightness to a brute imperfection. The genuinely stunning cinematography (courtesy of Matt Vahey) draws back from the close-ups that are so prominent in the video’s first half as the change occurs, allowing its central subject greater freedom while suggesting a second narrative in the subtext; another character who grows more willfully distant as the character in frame self-destructs.

By the video’s end the dancer’s beaten, brutalized, covered in dirt and- more than anything- alone. In the final movements, there’s a glimmer of resilience in the acceptance of these facts, thanks in part to a masterful performance by Julie Ann Minaai and the intuitive direction (and editing) of Niall Coffey. In that moment “Woman (Reading)” completes its transformative experience both for the character and the viewers drawn in by the extraordinarily moving story played out in the video. It’s autumnal, it’s brave, it’s fiercely moving, and it’s unforgettable. Don’t let it pass by unnoticed.

Watch “Woman (Reading)” below and order Rooms of the House here.

All Dogs – Georgia (Stream)

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After a long list of posts dedicated to the best material to have surfaced over the course of the past two weeks, everything’s back on track. The contents of this post will focus solely on some of the best content to have emerged yesterday- and the results are fairly minimal (though the included pieces are wonderful). Victoria+Jean debuted their nightmarish fever dream of a music video for their jaunty (and undeniably weird) “Holly“, which offered more than enough visual stimuli to make up the entire music video list for the day. As for single streams, there was Pink Mountaintops’ slow-burning basement pop number “Asleep With An Angel” and Sur Back’s hypnotically delicate (and unfailingly gorgeous) “Occam’s Razor“. Then, of course, there was the new track from site favorites All Dogs.

In 2013, this site had their debut 7″ ranked very highly on a best-of list. In 2014, it captured All Dogs up close and personal while they made their way through one of the best shows Wisconsin hosted this year. There’s no reason to think that their forthcoming LP (due out on Salinas in 2015) won’t become another instant favorite. Apart from the new songs captured in live settings, there haven’t been too many instances of new All Dogs music appearing (even the live clips are severely limited) so anytime something like “Georgia” happens, it’s worth putting everything else on hold to let it play uninterrupted. Intended as part of The Le Sigh Vol. II compilation tape, it finds the band adding even more nuance into their sound. From the light slide guitars to the muted transitional bridge, it’s abundantly clear there’s a startling new depth to the band’s grasp on dynamics (likely a result of them creating as a full band rather than on their own individually).

Bandleader Maryn Jones’ melodic sensibilities are still the focal part of the band’s appeal and the rest of the bands plays off of those sensibilities beautifully. Everything’s complemented in increasingly subtle ways, from Amanda Bartley’s half-hidden atmospheric bass lines to Jesse Withers’ intuitive, feel-heavy drumming. Jones’ lyrics remain as sharp as ever, continuing a constant grapple with self-doubt, self-discovery, and combining them with a constant search for greater meaning. It’s a perfect reminder of why the love for All Dogs is so fervent and it’s an impossibly tantalizing look towards what the band has in store for the future.

Listen to “Georgia” below and give The Le Sigh as much undivided attention as possible.

Male Bonding – A Kick to the Face (Stream)

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In the last batch of posts, there were recaps built around some of last week’s finest musical moments. There was a brief delay in regularly-scheduled content that necessitated an outpouring of material to keep this site’s regular coverage humming along. Similarly, this post will concentrate on the music moments worth celebrating to have emerged from the Monday-Thursday range. Following this post will be two more entries dedicated to some of the stronger musical content that emerged on Friday. With all of that out of the way, it’s time to dive on into the three major categories: single streams, full streams, and music videos.

As is wont to happen over a period of time, there were some fairly extraordinary songs that surfaced in this week’s first stretch. Some of the more favorable ones included the following: Gal Pals’ zippy throwback basement pop stomper “Ex-Marionette“,  Evans The Death’s absolutely monumental “Don’t Laugh At My Angry Face” (a legitimate song of the year candidate), Los Angeles Police Dept.’s severely bummed out holiday tune “Oh Lonely Night“, Menace Beach‘s latest stunning Ratworld teaser “Tastes Like Medicine“, No Monster Club’s defiantly vibrant (and tantalizingly weird) bedroom pop earworm “Arms Across America“, The Julie Ruin’s mesmerizing “Blueberry Island“, Kind of Like Spitting’s revitalizing “Bullied By A Bee“, the best remix from Perfect Pussy’s Shaun Sutkus to date (this time of Rubblebucket’s “Carousel Ride”), and an absolute monster cover of Wipers’ “Mystery” from site favorites Meat Wave.

Music videos fared just as well, with a few very resonant clips. There was Small Houses’ engaging visual journey for “Staggers and Rise“, Cave People’s wearily homespun “Brace“, and Literature’s woozily kaleidoscopic “New Jacket“. Additionally, there was Anti Pony’s seductively colorful “I Go Places“, WRAY’s effortlessly propulsive “Bad Heart“, Laura Marling’s autumnal and slow-galloping “Short Movie“. Rounding things out were Breakfast In Fur’s jaunty graphics experiment “Shape“, Erase Errata’s near-static stunner “My Life In Shadows“, and a resoundingly powerful reminder that TV On the Radio got where they were by virtue of making excellent decisions; “Lazerray” is yet another towering culmination of several wise moves.

Full streams were, comparatively, a little shorter in supply- but there were still a few gems that were unearthed and brought to life. Lazy threw caution and fear out of the window with their Soft Sheets 7″, Trauma Harness unveiled a severely damaged basement punk triumph with their discography-spanning Advent Calendar, and TIT (a collaborative effort between Digital Leather and The Hussy) offered up a stream of their psych-drenched self-titled 12″. Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle provided a quietly intense and arresting live recording of one of his extremely intimate house shows (and appropriately titled the recording House Show). There was also a very personal release from Jarad Charles Lee Francis Olson that tethers a wide-reaching array of genre influences into something unwaveringly hypnotic and, ultimately, tragic (while still managing to subtly incorporate a devious streak of dark humor) in the My Cats Are My Dogs EP.

Even with all of that to consider, today’s feature fell to an anomaly of a track- Male Bonding’s standalone single, “A Kick to the Face”. The title’s an immediate eyebrow-raiser and the accompanying title track lives up to its promise. All scorched-earth and fury, it’s an exploration of an abusive relationship that simultaneously rails against the fact that they’re a common occurrence and empathizes with the abused. Structurally, it’s constantly shifting and punctuated by brief bursts of searing intensity before sharply settling back into its normal pace, providing a near-perfect reflection of the song’s central topic. It’s a brave track that suggests Male Bonding’s ambitions may be higher than they initially let on- and it’s one hell of an appetizer for whatever the band’s cooking up next.

Listen to “A Kick to the Face” below and keep an eye on this site for any notable future items from the band.

Even Hand – Drifted (Album Review, Stream)

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Now that all of last week’s best single streams and music videos have been given their due, it’s time to move onto a slightly more challenging beast: the full stream. There’s been a monstrous surge of outstanding new releases (often on the small-scale side of things) as 2014 enters its final weeks. Among these were: Dusk (a new project featuring members of Tenement, Black Thumb, and darn it., as well as a handful of other contributors) and their new country-soaked demo reel, Lemuria‘s contribution to the Turnstile Comix series, Currents’ unpredictably intense Mondegreen, Semicircles exquisitely delicate Blown Breeze, Grown Grass And We Are Part of the Earth, King of Cats’ entertainingly spastic Working Out, Big Lonely‘s impressive full-length debut Close Your Eyes, Keep Talking, and Space Mountain‘s unfailingly gripping Wilderness Explorer. All of them stand out as great December releases but there’s one that surfaced seemingly out of the blue worth paying quite a bit of attention to: Even Hand’s sophomore effort, Drifted.

A few months ago, there was a review posted on this site of Even Hand’s arresting self-titled debut, a brilliant record that brought to mind acts as varied as Shellac, The Wipers, and Sunny Day Real Estate. The band fought fairly hard to release it on vinyl this year after it’s original 2013 cassette run on the severely under-appreciated Stupid Bag Records (an excellent label run by Jeff Bolt of Swearin’). Even Hand, by all accounts, was a galvanizing debut. The band’s follow-up exceeds it in fairly stunning fashion. More risks are taken throughout the record and there’s an unrelenting intensity that binds the whole thing together. From the hypnotic instrumental that sets things in motion all the way through the record’s epic closer, the serrated “Lover’s Oath”, Drifted morphs into something that starts feeling like less of a record and more of a show-of-force mission statement.

Even more than the aggressively atmospheric Even Hand, Drifted finds its voice via a balance between abrasion, precision, atmosphere, and unfiltered emotion. Each of these 11 tracks is tied to a loose narrative that operates around a very human frustration with certain social functions and their maladaptation. One of the most striking examples of this device is the vignettes that bandleader Mike Borth presents with “Kid Unkind”, which suggests that the promise of social improvement is just a bittersweet projection that holds nothing but harsh realities at its moment of realization. That pattern of cruel repetition is emphasized with vivid detail in the spoken word stream-of-conscious style ranting in the restlessly foreboding “The Palace Holographic / Dust Bath”, which suggests that the end result will always be the same while Borth punctuates its message with razor-sharp visual imagery that include things like “rapid-cycling trees in a violence of leaves” and “shallow canals, drooling over portraits that hate [him], worshipping darkness”. It’s an existential nightmare ready to swallow any listener whole with virtually no remorse or regret- and, like the rest of Drifted, it’s brilliant in a myriad of subtle, detail-oriented ways.

In terms of technical accomplishment, Drifted also outpaces its predecessor in a number of departments; the sequencing flows just a touch more naturally, the production- as ever- is staggering, the work provided by the rhythm section of Dan Edelman and Dominic Armao is the best of the band’s still-young career, and it feels remarkably unified. It’s an anxious and unnerving masterwork of brutally cynical proportions- and, importantly, it’s a record that belongs in as many collections as possible. Crow Bait‘s Mike Bruno got it right by recently ranking this as one 2014’s best releases– hopefully the rest of the world gives Drifted the attention it deserves and considers doing the same.

Listen to Drifted below and keep an eye on Stupid Bag for the eventual tape release here.