Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tenement – Vultures (Stream)

Tenement I

When I think about the bands that have played an active role in shaping my musical identity, I always come back to Tenement. A band that’s constantly made their way on their own terms with unbridled tenacity. Perfectly representative of the upper Midwest, historically inclined towards classic literature and tirelessly committed to the kind of musical exploration that buries genre tags with ease. Willfully imperfect, ridiculously determined, incredibly thoughtful, and unfailingly kind, they distilled a greater understanding and appreciation in me of not just music but my state (and, even more specifically, my hometown). Over the course of eight years, I’ve seen them play countless sets, been fortunate enough to play with them a handful of times, filmed every set I could possibly manage, booked them at every available opportunity, and sang their praises as loudly as I could to whoever would listen.

The band’s come a long way in that time, maintaining their ethos even as their popularity progressively accelerated. Over the past few months alone, they’ve released Predatory Headlights a record that sparked an uptick in a national conversation about both DIY punk and double albums, were the focus piece of two New York Times posts, and completed a US tour. Now, as frequently happens with the band, they’re unleashing even more new material in the form of “Vultures”, a characteristically scrappy inclusion on Not Normal Tapes‘ forthcoming Bughouse I mixtape, a mix that features live, rare, unreleased, and alternate tracks from a laundry list of great artists (including site favorites Negative Scanner).

“Vultures” exists squarely in Tenement’s home recording mold, a setting that’s frequently lent a great amount of character to a large handful of Tenement songs (“Dreaming Out Loud“, “Books On Hell + Sermons On T.V.“, “Paper Airplanes“, “Blammo“, the demos of “Wouldn’t Let You Go” and Napalm Dream, the entirety of The Blind Wink, etc.). It retains all of the grit and energy that helped make them one of the most celebrated acts in punk while still managing to present the band as an act determined to keep pushing themselves forward. Guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch still has a keen eye for the mundane and presents it with the flair of an accomplished novelist. “It doesn’t pay for vultures to make friends, they’ll be ripping you apart in the end” warns the chorus, a bleak, matter-of-fact moment in deceptively peppy trappings.

Even with a sentiment that downtrodden, the song- as all the best Tenement songs tend to- comes across as both lived-in and affirming. In under two minutes the band cranks out a cautionary tale that’s laced with enough propulsive drive that it feels even shorter. Even in that runtime, the band manages to marry droll observations with layered falsettos, a genuinely incredible whispered vocal figure, and a few strong dynamic shifts. Smart, bruising, ridiculously catchy, and typically down-to-earth, it’s the exact kind of song that led me to proclaim Tenement as my favorite band. It’s also worth nothing that this is a song the trio shelved. Most bands would kill to have a song like this at their disposal, for Tenement, it’s just another song. For me, it’s yet another reason to celebrate one of today’s best bands. Don’t let this one fall to the wayside.

Listen to “Vultures” below and keep an eye on Not Normal Tapes’ bandcamp for further updates leading up to Bughouse I‘s August 19 release.

Watch This: Vol. 89

Welcome to an extremely late night (early morning?) edition of Watch This– the weekly series that celebrates some of the week’s best performance captures. With 2015 already feeling overstuffed, I’ll forego the usual honorary mentions round-up and simply present the five best captures to have surfaced this week. From site favorites to series favorites to new faces, there’s a fair amount of material to cover. Pro-shot presentations get balanced out by some lovingly lensed DIY clips and- as always- all of the performances contained within those videos are outstanding. So, pour a drink or fix some breakfast, ease in, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Sleater-Kinney – Bury Our Friends + Entertain (Pitchfork)

The unexpected resurgence of Sleater-Kinney was one of 2015’s first great musical moments and the reverberations from its impact are still being felt. Recently, the band- by all accounts- absolutely owned Pitchfork this year with a monstrous day 2 headlining set that overshadowed Wilco’s Star Wars marathon the previous night and Chance the Rapper’s hometown celebration as the fest’s final headliner. Even just from the two-clip sample contained below, “Bury Our Friends” and “Entertain”, its abundantly clear that Sleater-Kinney are one of the best live bands on the planet right now. A note to other bands splitting bills with the revitalized legends: don’t feel down, feel fortunate you get to be a part of something that can’t help but feel just a little unprecedented.

2. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs (Don Giovanni)

Imaginary Life came out a few days ago, immediately registering as one of the year’s best punk efforts. Even with a collection that strong, “They/Them/Theirs” stands out. Personal, timely, and deeply impassioned, it’s a clarion call for a marginalized sect. The band played their release show at The Knitting Factory last Friday and brought the same verve, force, and resilience to their performance of their song of the year candidate. Scrappy and thrilling, it’s one hell of a showcase for the band’s collective talent.

3. The Trims – With You + Bright Lights City (Jam in the Van)

Every now and then, Jam in the Van will resurface with a session that hits a sweet spot for this site and their recent capture of The Trims found that mark. Bridging post-punk and indie pop hallmarks, the quarter’s landed on a sound that’s unusually compelling when considering their pop-oriented proclivities. Subverting anthemic by-the-numbers move at just about every turn, their music manages to come off as cinematic while still feeling like an outlier. Moody, vibrant, and occasionally bruising, the group seems primed for a breakout and ready to greet whatever may come their way.

4. Young Jesus – Baked Goods (A Fistful of Vinyl)

Young Jesus are no strangers to this site. Ever since releasing their best-of-decade contender Home (a record I simply can’t recommend strongly enough), they’ve been on my radar. The past few years have been a transitional process for the band following their relocation from Chicago to Los Angeles. Earlier this year, the band released the excellent Grow/Decompose and they seem to be settling into their new era quite nicely. Earlier this week, the band unveiled even more new music via a taping of a raw, fiery performance, courtesy of A Fistful of Vinyl. Bold, bloodied, and not even a little glossy, “Baked Goods” is presented in a manner that feels intrinsically connected to the band’s DIY ethos. It’s a startling watch and a strong reminder of how much beauty can be found in imperfection.

5. SOAK (NPR)

It only seemed like a matter of time before Bridie Monds-Watson wound up making an appearance at NPR’s Tiny Desk and now that the moment’s finally arrived, the fit somehow feels even more natural than expected. Here, Monds-Watson’s SOAK project turns in a trio of songs and an impressive array of warm, humorous asides. The closing two numbers, “B a Nobody” and “Wait”, sound as fine as they ever have and “Sea Creatures” proves to be the perfect introductory piece for the set. Grounded and contained, it skews towards the kind of intimacy that the tiny desk was built to elicit from its performers but continues to prove elusive to a fair number of their acts (Monds-Watson namechecks Angel Olsen’s session, who hit extraordinary heights in regards to the series’ intended intimacy and caused the first major Watch This dilemma by pitting that session against an  unforgettable La Blogotheque capture, which wound up securing the spot in that particular installment). All things considered, it makes sense for Monds-Watson to feel trepidation about performing in such a vaunted space but now that everything’s said and done, it’s clear that the SOAK session resides comfortably in the series’ upper echelons.