Heartbreaking Bravery

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Watch This: Vol. 120

After several recaps, best-of features, and weeks of waiting, Watch This returns to its standard weekly installments. A large handful of memorable videos have managed to accrue during the course of the past week. Kississippi, The Cave Singers, The Belvederes, Lomelda, The DistrictsFoxing, Cherry, The Zolas (x2), Choir Vandals, Fraternal Twin, Bayonne, Sun Club (x2), Jitters, 4th Curtis, Tomber Lever, Otis the Destroyer, Sounds Del Mar, Holy Wave, Shearwater, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Audacity, and The Greeting Committee all had individual efforts that merited multiple looks. Ultimately, this week belonged to the quieter sessions but still found a way to produce one of the most memorably raucous turn-ins of 2016 (so far, at least). There’s a lot to appreciate in the five videos below so, as always, straighten up, lean in, crank the volume, focus, and Watch This.

1. Mothers (NPR)

Last year, Mothers had me on the  verge of tears with the unveiling of the devastatingly gorgeous “Too Small For Eyes“. I’d seen them a  few months prior to that release but the restrictions CMJ presents essentially ensured that I wouldn’t be adequately prepared for the band’s astounding debut full-length, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired. NPR recently hosted the band for an exquisite Tiny Desk session that does an intensely moving record justice.

2. Sunflower Bean – Easier Said (World Cafe)

One of the more intriguing bands to watch develop and fine-tune over the past few years has been Sunflower Bean, whose insane work ethic has begun to translate to widespread success (and no shortage of burgeoning acclaim). While it may be easy to become fixated on the band’s backstory, in the face of their music — a lovely blend of powerpop and psych-pop — it simply doesn’t matter. The band’s recent World Cafe session sees them on steady, assured footing, ready to meet whatever may come their way.

3. Kal Marks – Mankind (Allston Pudding)

Kal Marks is a name that’s appeared on this site multiple times over and the band keeps providing reasons to keep that name in heavy rotation on these pages. Case in point: an intense, scorched-earth single song performance for Allston Pudding. The band holds absolutely nothing back in this run through “Mankind”, which finds the trio elevating their no-holds-barred take on a blend of vicious basement grunge and snarling post-punk. It’s a thing to behold.

4. Long Beard –  Moths (VHS Sessions)

VHS Sessions has been crafting excellent live performance videos throughout 2016 but their current crown jewel came in the form of this humble run through “Moths” from Long Beard, who continue to set an exceedingly high bar for themselves and their peers. The trio constantly tap into an ineffable magic that renders songs that sound simple on paper transcendent in practice. This performance may very well be the most definitive example of their most intangible — and compelling — aspect.

5. Daughter (KEXP)

One of the most unexpected shows I managed to luck my way into last year was Daughter‘s secret set at Baby’s All Right. I’d admired the band previously but was completely enraptured with their live set, even to a point where I was incapacitated by severe chills during a breathtaking run through “Doing The Right Thing”. While it’s impossible for what the band achieves onstage to translate to a filmed studio session, this KEXP run is as close as anyone’s likely to get for the foreseeable future.

Tenement – Bruised Music Vol. 2 (Album Review)

Tenement I

It’s only a week and a half into April but there have already been a slew of outstanding full streams to snake their way out into the public world. Among those titles are worthwhile efforts from the following: Kevin Morby, Good Dog, Culture Abuse, ShitKid, Space Raft, Holy Pinto, Free Cake For Every Creature, Ashley Shadow, Former Belle, Slushies, Wilder AdkinsKidpolaroid, Reptilians From Andromeda, Gorgeous Bully, John Shakespear, Cotopaxi, Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow, Murena Murena, and In  Love With A Ghost.

In addition to all of those bands’ new releases, there was also another outstanding installment of the DBTS:BS series via their third volume: DBTS:BS3. While all of those succeeded on their own terms, it was — unsurprisingly — the second of Tenement‘s Bruised Music compilation series that wound up registering as a genuine standout (and subsequently snagging this post’s featured spot).

For close to a decade now, Tenement has been one of the most influential bands in my life, both directly and tangentially. At this point, no band has been covered on this site more extensively than the Wisconsin trio, who I’ve lobbied for endlessly- to anyone who would listen. At some point, their songs became such a personal marker for me that they inseparably intertwined themselves to very specific parts of my life. To that extent, when I listen to Bruised Music Vol. 2, it’s extremely difficult to separate the music from my own personal history. However, it’s not entirely impossible to divide them into arenas that are mutually exclusive.

A large part of the connection I have to these songs can be directly sourced back to what made Tenement my favorite band: the surprisingly literary aspects of the songwriting, the unapologetic commitment to carving out an incredibly well-informed pop-sensibility, the absolute refusal to adhere or appropriate any of the trends that have unceremoniously appeared and disappeared throughout the time of their existence, and a genuine, undeniable, uncompromising passion for the music they make, fearless risks and all.

On the first collection of the Bruised Music compilations, I contributed an extensive piece for the record’s insert on how the band played  a large role in shaping my tastes and — to some extent — my own humanity. While Bruised Music Vol. 1 was an impressively comprehensive look at the band’s earliest era, Bruised Music Vol. 2 is a different beast entirely. Where its predecessor was more concerned with the band shaping a very particular sound, the latter excels in that sound’s expansion, deconstruction, and absolute demolition.

While there are still moments speckled all over Bruised Music Vol. 2 that are reminiscent of their early works, the majority of their latter efforts are imbued with a more adventurous approach to songwriting. A cleaned up version of “Taking Everything” — a song that originally appeared on a 2011 7″ that ranks as one of the best entries in an extraordinary discography before being released again in demo form on a Burger-issued cassette package of Napalm Dream  — which kicks the compilation off, may be the record’s most straightforward moment.

Where this version of “Taking Everything” differentiates itself between the powerful 7″ version and the frantically-paced demo version rests squarely in the drumming pattern, which ultimately winds up being a fascinating glimpse at the band’s decision-making process. Considering how overwhelmingly thoughtful Tenement’s songwriting construction has proven to be, time and time again, that’s not something that should be taken for granted. All of the subtle intricacies that have come to define the band’s musical aesthetic only point to an unavoidable conclusion: this band’s not just surpassing their peers as pure composers, they’re offering up masterclasses at an alarming rate.

It’s patently absurd that Bruised Music Vol. 2 is going to be viewed, largely, as a collection of scraps because they scan as essential elements of the band’s oeuvre. Whether it’s the more direct fare of Bruised Music Vol. 2‘s opening run or the more avant garde leanings that shape the record’s back half, there’s an evident level of painstaking care that goes a long way in making sure everything is represented adequately.

Toy pianos, sheer noise, and unrelenting dissonance inform the collection’s braver moments, like the instrumental “Jet Slug”, which casually reaffirm Tenement’s well-earned status as a singular act operating on the fringes of punk, noise, hardcore, and powerpop. For every stacked-to-the-heavens pop-leaning anthem that appears, there’s a stark counterbalance that arrives in tracks like Sick Club Vol. 3‘s extraordinary, convention-defying “Books on Hell and Sermons on TV”. While the band may have made their name on the former, it’s their unbelievable skill with the latter that’s elevated them from one of the most exciting bands presently operating to one of the outright best.

One part of Tenement’s ethos that never gets enough recognition is their complete and total willingness to disregard their most commercially accessible trappings in favor of intensely bold choices that have left sizable portions of their audiences feeling completely alienated. Whether that’s via the typically downtrodden Realism-Americana-Southern Gothic narrative hybrids of Amos Pitsch’s lyrics, the band’s embrace of John Cage-esque explorations of noise, or their continued refusal to be pigeonholed into any particular genre (much to the chagrin of many purists), they’ve established themselves as their own entity.

Bruised Music Vol. 2 functions strongly enough to have a legitimate shot at becoming the definitive example of how Tenement evolved into one of America’s most fascinating bands. None of these songs are weak and each one benefits from a very specific personality that betrays the band’s small-town upper Midwest upbringing. As a collection, it’s fairly representative of Tenement’s 2010-2014 era. As a standalone record, it’s stronger than most acts best release. As a demonstration of everything that has distinguished Tenement as one of the most inspirational acts in contemporary music, it’s an absolute necessity.

Listen to Bruised Music Vol. 2 below and order it from Grave Mistake here.