PWR BTTM – 1994 (Stream, Live Video)
by Steven Spoerl
Today, like several previous Thursdays, saw this week’s pace of new releases slowing a little but yielding some of the week’s strongest material. Ditch Club’s self-titled EP and Shannon & the Clams‘ Gone by the Dawn were the only entries in the full streams field but constituted a strong day for the format nonetheless, while PINS‘ film-damaged “Dazed By You” and Girl Band‘s sly “Pears for Lunch” more than assured the music video field was well-represented. There was a fascinating variety of individual songs that made a dent as well, including: Helvetia’s singular “A Dot Running for the Dust“, Painted Zeros‘ dynamic masterclass “Pretty Rig“, Day Wave’s unabashedly lovely “Come Home Now“, Say Lou Lou’s perfectly crafted pop anthem “Hard For A Man“, Roadside Graves’ driving, widescreen “Clouds“, Windhand’s sludgy triumph “Hyperion“, Naytronix’s subtle, nuanced “Back In Time“, and Philosophical Zombie’s towering basement pop number “Garden Grows Regardless“. Of course, there was also the unveiling of today’s featured item: PWR BTTM’s “1994”.
With the release of PWR BTTM’s outstanding Ugly Cherries drawing closer every day, the duo’s making sure to keep everyone invested in the release through what, so far, has been a perfectly-executed rollout campaign. It’s latest flourish, the release of record highlight 1994, manages to showcase every one of the record’s best attributes. While all of the songs to have found a release as a preview have been identified in part by sadness, it’s an element that acts as one of the strongest characteristics of “1994” and created a mood that can’t be shaken- not entirely- even during one of the year’s most bombastic music moments (a dazzling display of fretwork fireworks from Benjamin Hopkins). Even with that prevalent sense of buried personal pain, it’s difficult not to feel at least a little uplifted in the chorus, which plays out like a small victory; a moment of wordless clarity that infuses the proceedings with a liveliness to even the track out into something affirming.
One of the reasons I’ve expressed so much love for PWR BTTM over the past few months is their exceedingly high level of empathy. It’s abundantly clear in both their music and their thoughtful functionality, which acts as one of the band’s most attractive driving mechanics. By being so upfront about being part of a marginalized community and a continuing fight for a greater understanding, the band’s slowly been transformed into something resembling a highly celebrated representative of several of those sects. They’ve become revered for all the right reasons, which is increasingly rare in a culture that perpetuates immediate gratification at a potentially damaging rate.
PWR BTTM’s also a remarkably committed act, not because the context demands them to be but because they have a genuine passion for their craft. At the bottom of this post there’s a video of the band playing “1994”. The performance is typically spectacular (the band’s live show is genuinely inspiring) but doesn’t even slightly betray the fact that Benjamin Hopkins- the guitarist/vocalist for “1994” (the duo sporadically trades off instrumental and vocal responsibilities)- was incredibly sick the night of that show, passing out only shortly after it finished. Those situations and moments are the kind that can go a long way in defining a band but for PWR BTTM it acted as another assurance of how ingrained all of the qualities mentioned in the above paragraphs are into the act’s veins.
Personal perseverance has been one of their most uniting themes and it’s one that comes full circle in “1994”, which is a deceptively calm rallying call that makes a strong case for simply allowing yourself to be alive. Due to the emphatic nature of its reasoning, it easily becomes not only one of Ugly Cherries‘ most memorable moments but stakes a very serious claim as one of the best songs of 2015. Honest, powerful, and strangely reassuring, “1994” may feel like it’s lost in time but its message is timeless. Hang on to it and make sure it’s remembered for years to come. Songs like this one deserve that level of investment- just don’t forget to strive to live along the way.