Watch This: Vol. 101
by Steven Spoerl
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the nature of these upcoming posts, a truncated version of this introductory paragraph will be appearing over the next several installments of this series.] It’s been quite some time since the 100th edition of Watch This went up on this site. There have been a lot of factors going into the extended interim but, as usual, a focal point of that absence was to make sure the preparation work was kept up to date. A lot of extraordinary live videos have come out since then and to make this point abundantly clear, here’s a list of artists responsible for performances that didn’t quite make it into the featured five slots over the course of the past handful of weeks: Ride (x2), Josh Ritter (x2), Radkey, Marrow, Seratones, Hooton Tennis Club, Kurt Vile (x2), Indian Askin, Amason, Eden Mulholland, Bobby Bare Jr. (x2), Hanna Asbrook, Lucy & La Mer, Lee Corey Oswald (x2), Wastrels, The Cairo Gang, Wild Ones, Martin Courtney (x2), Small Black, Timeshares, Shopping (x2), The Jacques, Mac McCaughan & the Non-Believers, Raw Pony, Andrew Bird, Air Waves, Izzy True (x2), The Tallest Man On Earth, Elliot Moss, Hemming, Titus Andronicus, Kagoule, Django Django, Summer Cannibals, Lost Lander, Emilie & Ogden, Denai Moore, EL VY, Purple 7, John Grant, Caleb and Carolyn, Fraser A. Gorman, The Besnard Lakes, Charly Bliss, Delta Spirit, Joanna Newsom, Oaks, Kevin Garrett, Brilliant Beast, Blitzen Trapper, The Saturday Tea, Other Lives, Rayland Baxter, Low, Speedy Ortiz, Chilly Gonzalez, Murder Shoes, Ava Luna, bAd bAd, Oberhofer (x2), Aye Nako, Jason Isbell, Superbee, Deerhunter, The Ghost Ease, Oscar, Rachel Goodrich, Small Feet, Lucero, Totally Mild, Ukryte Zalety Systemu, Soda Bomb, Jens Kuross, Caspian, Boytoy, Duncan Sheik, PISTA, Slim Twig, Shamir, Contrails, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Courtney Barnett, The Chameleons Vox, Vundabar, Vagabon, Craig Finn, and Soda Shop. Based on the strength of those clips, it’s probably unsurprising that some of the year’s best live captures have also surfaced in that time. Full sessions, single song performances, DIY videos, and impressive turn-ins from radio stations abound. So, as always, sit back, adjust the setting, crank the volume, focus up, and Watch This.
1. Eskimeaux (Audiotree)
No record in 2015 has hit me as hard and as consistently as O.K., a deeply felt masterpiece from Eskimeaux. A record I’d liked upon first listen and warmed to progressively over time, it wasn’t until I saw those songs played live that everything seemed to click. Audiotree was fortunate enough to have the band in for a recent session and wound up with what may come to be regarded as the definitive live recording of this era of the band. The performances are uniformly strong and the songs remain spectacular. Simply put: this is unmissable.
2. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (BreakThruRadio)
Likely the only 2015 record to rival O.K.‘s emotional impact is Julien Baker‘s arresting breakout effort Sprained Ankle. With a title track that easily ranks among the year’s finest songs, Baker’s latched onto something genuinely captivating. It’s myriad strengths were emphasized with a gorgeous music video and are once again brought to the fore with this painfully gorgeous live performance. It’s a triumph for one of music’s most promising emerging talents.
3. Slothrust (Jam in the Van)
In a manner not too dissimilar from Eskimeaux, Slothrust was another band that sold me further on material I’d already liked via the strength of their live show, It’s not surprising, then, that their session for Jam in the Van winds up being one of that series’s strongest entries in months. Topping everything off is a typically strong take on “Crockpot”, which continues to stand as one of the strongest songs of recent memory.
4. Torres – Strange Hellos (Hooke Audio)
Has anyone appeared more times on Watch This throughout the course of 2015 than Torres? Mackenzie Scott’s project continues to turn in spellbinding performances at an alarming rate but, even with that being the case, this version of “Strange Hellos” manages to stand out. Shot as part of Hooke Audio’s live sessions series that challenges artist to re-interpret their material, “Strange Hellos” gets transformed into a jaw-dropping ambient number that may wield even more of a punch than the studio version. It’s a startling reminder of Sprinter‘s most powerful moments.
5. Girlpool (Pressure Drop)
If anyone’s appeared on the 2015 run of Watch This as many (or more) times than Torres, it’s site favorites Girlpool. Harmony Lebel-Tividad and Cleo Tucker put together one hell of a run this year, highlighted by their extraordinary full-length debut Before The World Was Big. In a nine-song session, the duo makes their way through the majority of that record and “Soup”, one of the new numbers they’ve been road-testing on their last few tours. As ever, the performances are assured and showcase the near telepathic connection the band’s developed over the past few years. They’re an act that seems poised to get stronger as they go, which is more than a little impressive considering they’re already one of the best bands currently making music- and this Pressure Drop session serves as proof.