Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tenement – Curtains Closed (Stream)

Tenement I

Tenement have been more fundamental to the existence of this site than just about any other band currently going. Booking the band before they had any kind of physical record out was something I wrote about in detail in a piece that was included in the zine that came as an insert for the band’s recent early material compilation, Bruised Music, Volume 1. It was the first time I’d interacted with Tenement and that show remains one of my all-time favorites because of how thoroughly it reinforced that this was the kind of music I wanted to be involved with and support in any way I possibly could. After that show, the band repaid me in kind, time and time again, by booking the admittedly not-great band I was playing in at the time to play the venue they called home: The BFG.

At about an hour’s drive, it became something of haven, accessible and ceaselessly important to my musical development. It was through that venue I got to experience a full immersion into DIY culture, something that came equipped with authority conflict, a commendably defiant spirit, empathy, compassion, and a murderer’s row of great bills. The Figgs in a living room, Screaming Females, Sundials, Used Kids, Dead Dog, Little Lungs, and so many others in a basement, flyers covering up the majority of the house’s wall space, a Tom’s Drive-In across the street, and a dog with an American flag bandanna all became sights that felt like home. An insane assortment of records, everything from deep-cut free jazz to vintage soul to powerviolence, littered the place. One of my favorite sights, though, was the dusty, barely-tuned piano near the entrance to the basement.

That piano has appeared on multiple Tenement songs throughout the years (most notably the controversial “Medical Curiosity“, “The Cage That Keeps You In“, and the flipside of the Blind Wink cassette) and Predatory Highlights makes sure it’s not an instrument that’s not going to be leaving the band’s palette. While it may or may not be the same piano (it certainly sounds like it), it does have a similar beaten-down quality that complements the band’s ethos to a tee. Tenement is, above all else, a band hell-bent on celebrating life’s minutiae. The overlooked, the undesired, the inessential, and providing those things with such a sharp focus that they become something extraordinary. It can be the subject of a song or it can be an abused piano but Tenement, without fail, is able to embrace what most would consider flaws and shape them into something staggeringly beautiful.

It’s the note that “Curtains Closed”- their just-unveiled additional glimpse at Predatory Highlights– starts on (joined by some high-impact hand claps) and it’s one that’s sustained through the song. Amos Pitsch, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, artist, and driving creative force, sings with as much conviction as ever while the band’s music, which has long eschewed punk’s more traditional trappings for something far more adventurous, surges underneath his vocals. Pitsch has always belonged to a tier of songwriters whose work is informed more heavily by novelists than any other type of writer. Opening with a line like “Paper snowflakes on fire/seven deaths in a row/they burn up together” ensures that’s not something that’s likely to change, even as the band’s musicality continues to separate further from conventionality (which can also be attributed to the off-kilter approaches of the band’s rhythm section- made up of bassist/poet Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer- who remain one of the best units currently in operation).

For close to eight years now, this band’s been the very best the state of Wisconsin has had to offer and they’ve somehow managed to continuously improve. Evolving into something that both honors their past and opens up their future. Titus Andronicus’ monstrous double album may have the lion’s share of the attention now but don’t make the mistake of overlooking Predatory Highlights while its flame threatens to overtake the shadows where its been flickering for years. At 25 tracks, this is the most ambitious work of Tenement’s career- and if “Dull Joy” and “Curtains Closed” are anything to go by, it certainly seems like it will be their very best (as well as their defining moment).

As the band continue to pile on their willful disregard for genre expectations, the more exhilarating they become and that disregard seems to have hit a fever pitch without sacrificing any of the accessibility that made them so easy to identify with  from the beginning. Now, more than ever, Tenement are a band that deserves as much attention as humanly possible- and “Curtains Closed”, brightly damaged melody and all, takes them a step closer to receiving the kind of recognition they’ve always deserved.

Listen to “Curtains Closed” below and pre-order Predatory Highlights before its June 2 release from Don Giovanni here.

.

Fraser A. Gorman – Shiny Gun (Music Video)

Fraser-A-Gorman-promo

After two consecutive clips dealing with extremely heavy subject matter, switching focus to much lighter fare almost seems necessary. Before getting into the carefree fun-fest that is Fraser A. Gorman’s latest clip for “Shiny Gun”, there will be one last video round-up to get the coverage of the format caught back up to the present release cycle. Heartless Bastards unveiled their confrontational “Gates of Dawn“, Angelic Milk went the irreverent effects route for “IDK How“, Fred Thomas indulged in some light masochism for “Cops Don’t Care, Pt. II“, Leon Bridges furthered his throwback aesthetic with “Better Man“, Elisa Ambrogio tapped into a deeply moving wistfulness through “Arkansas“, Vince Staples flexed some serious artistic muscle with the arresting “Señorita“, and Glockabelle’s immensely lovable 8-bit lunacy intensified with “Wolf BBQ“. All seven clips deserve a few run-throughs and quite a bit of attention. Of course, so does Fraser A. Gorman’s “Shiny Gun”, which is why it wound up as this post’s headline selection.

After some humorous text-only exposition- over some tongue-in-cheek broadcast music- about news anchors getting fired for unprofessional behavior (and then starting a band), “Shiny Gun” takes us back to that final, fateful day in the studio. What follows is an absurd collection of non-responses after a bevvy of failed studio re-direct attempts, with a cast of misfit anchors (including site favorite Courtney Barnett) doing an abysmal job at their actual job, completely ignoring everything and looking miserable in the process. That sense of downtrodden misery carries throughout the black-and-white broadcast, that is, until someone shows up with some guitars. After the first hand-off results in a twangy solo (cue Gorman’s enthused “Deep!”), the whole thing switches back over to technicolor as the studio side anchors get to shed their shackles cut loose as Gorman’s “Shiny Gun” (which is the closest thing I’ve heard to someone accurately emulating The Band in ages) takes them home. It’s one of the more joyous, deadpan clips to emerge from this year and it certainly bodes well for Gorman’s upcoming Slow Gum (which is being released on Courtney Barnett’s own Milk! Records label), which is sounding more promising by the minute. If you were looking for something enjoyably simplistic and carefree to unwind with tonight, you’ve just struck gold.

Watch “Shiny Gun” below and pre-order Slow Gum, which will be available via Milk! in Australia, House Anxiety/Marathon Artists in the UK,  here.

The Fjords – All In (Music Video)

fjords

There are times when all it takes for a talented, relatively under-recognized band to break out is a perfect music video. “All In” is one of those videos and should ensure that The Fjords name is firmly on the map. It wasn’t the only music video to impress over the past week or so, though, so, before heaping the necessary praise on that particular clip that it deserves, it’s time to give some others their due. Mark Ronson’s collaboration with Mystikal, “Feel Right“, was given an additional burst of unexpected energy through an unbelievably fierce performance from an unlikely star, White Poppy catered to their haziest impulses with “Confusion“, Buildings embraced lo-fi in “Watershed“, Short Skirts went the visual collage route with “Far Side of Mexico“, Jose Gonzalez continued one of 2015’s most unconventional visual narratives in “Open Book“, and Birdskulls found the perfect visual aesthetic for their 90’s-grunge worship with “Good Enough“. All of those are worth multiple watches, which also holds true for the title in this post’s headline.

As far as thesis shots go, opening on a machine designed to blur the gap between technology and reality tends to yield strong results. “All In” is no exception and winds up taking a startling route to a fiery, hyper-violent finish. After establishing the protagonist of “All In” has all the trappings of an outcast (a video game addiction, model trains, an artistic mind), the plot eventually reveals itself while steadily accumulating compelling subtext. In some extremely strong visual work, we see the protagonist (a young, unnamed boy) construct a backpack for his vintage video game system and fashion a belt for some of his more violently-minded game cartridges before walking over to confront a large gang of older oppressors loitering outside of a hot dog stand. He collects himself, calmly confronts their leader- one who laughs when he’s suddenly face to face with a plastic gun controller- and, after a brief moment of eerie silence, pulls the trigger.

What follows is an extraordinarily violent bloodbath that could be seen as a cautionary tale for technological advancements (in a manner that’s not entirely dissimilar from Alex Garland’s excellent Ex Machina) or a concerned treatsie on evolution. It’s jarring imagery with a heavy concept, to be sure, but it’s pulled off in a manner that feels more grounded than bombastic, lending it an overlying sense of genuine horror. A child is forced into gradually losing the remainder of his innocence, one murder victim at a time, without ever being portrayed as anything other than coldly detached in the process. “All In”, an extremely strong piece of heavily atmospheric electro-pop, provides the perfect soundtrack for the incredibly disconcerting sequence. As people are gunned down in what feels less like a revenge fantasy and more like a pointed statement, The Fjords found a perfect vehicle to act as an introduction-at-large for their shadowy, foreboding soundscapes. The song and the clip complement each other to a startling perfection, right down to the closing shot that preserves a sliver of the protagonist’s humanity. Brilliantly edited, superbly directed, and gorgeously lensed, it’s another clip for the ages- and it’s the new standard-holder for how to make an entrance.

Watch “All In” below and order All In here.

Hammock – My Mind Was A Fog… My Heart Became A Bomb + In the Middle of Nowhere (Music Video)

hmmck

Forward thinking in visual narratives often yields exhilarating results and Hammock’s recent dual clip project for “My Mind Was A Fog…My Heart Became A Bomb” and “In the Middle of Nowhere” definitely falls into this category. Taking the concept of forward thinking and maximizing its potential, Hammock create a challenging vision of the future and wind up with a meditation on familial bonds, loneliness, and technological advances. As the first piece of the project, “My Mind Was A Fog…My Heart Became A Bomb” establishes a sense of place through a subtle, effective VHS haze, while also introducing a deeply conflicted protagonist in a more crisply-shot present time. Over time, and over Hammock’s gentle ambient symphonies, implicit suggestions are gradually revealed; the world as our protagonist once knew it was lost, likely to a virus, and the people closest to him didn’t manage to escape.

That profoundly sad emotional set up, one that recalls Interstellar and Moon as much as Sigur Ros’ devastatingly exquisite clip for “Vaka“, sets the tone for the harrowing finale presented via “In the Middle of Nowhere”. With visuals that suggest a touch of (rightful) Emmanuel Lubezki worship enhancing the project’s sophistication and sadness, “In the Middle of Nowhere” pulls the focus closer to present tense, driven by the astoundingly graceful nature of Hammock’s compositions all the while. Haunted by the memories of things loved and lost, the clip’s protagonist (played with unbelievable gravitas and conviction) slowly succumbs to a level of unprecedented despairing hopelessness, culminating in a brutally crippling moment where all hope for a reunion- even an artificially designed one- is lost. When the entire affair draws to a hushed whisper, what’s left in its wake is one of the most deeply moving videos not just of the year- but of the decade. On a technical level, it’s a masterpiece- but on a human level, it’s unforgettable.

Watch “My Mind Was A Fog…My Heart Became A Bomb” and “In the Middle of Nowhere” below. Order Oblivion Hymns, the record that produced both songs, from Hammock directly here.