There are few stories as inspiring in the world of entertainment as the story of Charles Bradley, a man who refused to let his dreams and die and was rewarded for his relentless commitment, persistence, and faith. One of the most respected and beloved soul singers on the planet, his success as an artist has been legitimately heartwarming. In the moment, memories of that story well aside, there are few performers who manage to be as effortlessly captivating, a trait that’s lovingly captured here by KEXP.
2. Courtney Barnett (3voor12)
At this point in the series’ run, it’s safe to say that no one has made more appearances than Courtney Barnett, who was regularly finding featured spots even in the earliest weeks of implementation. Barnett’s reputation has grown significantly over the course of that time and the songwriter’s honed an arsenal of winsome talents into near-perfection. Its a development that’s immediately evidenced in this session’s opening number, “Depreston“, and the mesmerizing guitar runs that Barnett strings together during the song’s breaks. Infusing the vocals with a more recognizably emotional flourish to round things out, it’s unlikely that Barnett’s reign over this series will end anytime soon.
3. Wimps (PressureDrop.tv)
Wimps have made a few appearances both on this site and in this series thanks to both their manic garage pop and carefree-but-hyper sensibilities. They’re an act that seems determined to keep attempting to best their previous outings. It’s a trait that makes them eminently likable and informs their performances in the most positive ways, which is illustrated more fully by this PressureDrop.tv session, which stands with Summer Cannibals’ recently-featured session as one of the series’ most bracing highlights.
4. Big Thief (KINK)
Few records to have emerged over the course of this year have landed an emotional punch as forcibly as Big Thief‘s aptly-titled Masterpiece. Here, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Adrianne Lenker strips these songs down to their barest form: acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s a testament to their inherent power that they remain as riveting in this context as they do in the more sprawling presentations of the record. It’s a beautiful session that easily ranks as one of the finest Skype’s 101.9 KINK subdivision has produced to date.
5. Savages (NPR)
No station has proven to be more adept, inventive, or artful at capturing full concerts as NPR, whose meticulous dedication to preserving their featured artists remains a source of inspiration. Here, the station provides Savages with the kind of lurid editing and foreboding photography direction that matches the band’s aesthetic to perfection. For nearly 90 minutes, the presentation’s never anything less than absolutely stunning. As the light comes cascading down and flickers off into the ether for the final time at the end of the clip, Savages exit confidently and can now rest easy knowing that they’ve just been given the definitive document of this era of their career.
PressureDrop.tv has been responsible for a lot of the more memorable full sessions of recent memory but the series recently topped themselves with this no-holds-barred session from site favorites Summer Cannibals. None of the other performers on the series’ enviable roster of guests have matched the sheer velocity of Summer Cannibals’ energy here and the visuals match that propulsion. Nearly every second of the performance feels perfectly complementary and suggests that PressureDrop.tv just might be realizing their full potential.
2. free cake for every creature – All You Gotta Be When You’re 23 Is Yourself (BreakThruRadio)
free cake for every creature have appeared on this site numerous times but with each successive link, they’ve bettered themselves and hit yet another apex with this BreakThruRadio performance of “All You Gotta Be When You’re 23 Is Yourself”, a standout from their most recent release. Conjuring up a spell of subdued magic, the band effortlessly breezes through the track and closes it out with a soft smile.
3. Clearance – You’ve Been Pre-Approved (Constellation Chicago)
One of last year’s more overlooked releases came in the form of Clearance‘s excellent Rapid Rewards[full disclosure: my photography is used for the back art] and the record’s allure has actually grown since its release. A large part of that is thanks to Mike Bellis’ knowledgeable songwriting, which is front and center in this recent solo take of one of that record’s many highlights, “You’ve Been Pre-Approved”.
4. Tancred (Little Elephant)
Something is happening in these Tancred videos for Little Elephant that both suggests they’re unfinished and creates a curious pull that’s not entirely dissimilar from quicksand. The performance from the band, as ever, is sharp as hell but the audio sounds canned, as if only an overhead mic was picking the band up. That effect winds up working in tandem with the band’s influences astonishingly well, creating a damaged VHS sound quality that transforms this session into a surprisingly gratifying Easter egg.
5. Julien Baker (Exclaim!)
If a pro-shot Julien Baker session emerges over the course of any given week, it’s probably safe to assume that it’ll find representation in this series. Baker’s an innately talented performer and a mesmerizing lyricist that’s already managed to carve out a space next to Elliott Smith as one of the most effective and intimate narrators of tragedy that the music world’s had in quite some time. All of those qualities infuse this recent two-song performance for Exclaim! with a hypnotic sadness that manages to be both reassuring and heartrending all at once.
Really, though, ever since Sub Pop’s announcement of their newest acquisition, this day has all but belonged to LVL UP. The band’s been working on their full-length follow-up to Hoodwink’d— this site’s pick for 2014’s Album of the Year — steadily for well over a year. Today, they unveiled the first track to be heard from that record, which will be titled Return to Love, with the perpetually shifting “Pain”.
Easily one of the finest songs Mike Caridi has contributed to the band to date (which is no mean feat), “Pain” is simultaneously one of the band’s most ambitious and arresting songs, demonstrating the breadth of their expanded scope in one fell swoop. Opening with a melancholic ambient swirl, “Pain” quickly ups the tempo and quickly begins presenting scathing, intimate questions like “where is the one who loved you, unconditionally?” and never lets down the intensity for a moment.
Ultimately, the song settles into the self-defeating mantra of “Never Find Love” before a volcanic eruption of feedback, distortion, and noise subsumes the song and quickly transforms it into a seething maelstrom of formidable power, reaching a level of darkness of which their most recent release — the excellent Three Songs EP — hinted towards. The quartet really lays into that final section during their sets (“Pain” has been a live staple for some time) and tap into some intangible quality that seems to elevate them as a unit, locking into some sort of terrifying trance and playing off of each other with startling precision.
“Pain”, likely more than most of their recent songs, pays homage to the band’s past while remaining determined to look towards the future. In striking that balance, LVL UP has managed to produce a song that does more than justify their Sub Pop signing, set up Return to Love‘s release, and remind people of why they came to be such a force. It becomes a transportive experience that nears moments of transcendence. Should the rest of Return to Love live up to the standard set by its first single, the band may find themselves following up a miniature masterpiece (Hoodwink’d) with the real thing.
Listen to “Pain” below (and watch a slightly blown-out video of the band running through an earlier version of the song last year at Palisades below the embed) and pre-order Return to Love from Sub Pop here.
Tying together the final loose ends of the exceptional material that surfaced over this site’s recent mini-hiatus are full streams from the following: Silent Pictures, Puddle Splasher, Beef Jerk, Nona, The By Gods, and Lord Bendtner. As always, each of those titles are deserving of as many — and likely more — listens that they’ll inevitably receive but today’s feature spot falls to one of the year’s most ferocious split 7″ releases.
Each band provides one song to the split and each band makes that songcount. Miss June (pictured above) kicks things off with an explosive burst of noise entitled “Anxiety on Repeat” that quickly falls into a back-and-forth pattern of frantic verses and monstrous sections of noise/punk that suggests some unholy union between Sonic Youth and Le Tigre. In under two minutes and thirty seconds, the band provides a whirlwind of pure exhilaration and unbridled emotion that dissects, embraces, and curses anxious impulses all at once. Abrasive, startling, and brilliant, it would have made the 7″ worth the purchase on its own.
Of course, Astro Children step up to the plate for the flip-side, grit the teeth and connect with all of their collective might. Their song, “When You Lose”, takes on a more sinister, insidious approach that slowly draws the listener in with a tantalizing sense of creeping darkness. Subtle, eerie, and altogether haunting, “When You Lose” shows the band operating at a level that many seasoned bands could never hope to match. It’s a beautiful complement to the meteoric force of “Anxiety On Repeat” and ultimately secure the split a spot as one of this year’s finest releases.
Snail Mail, Rod, Midwives, Post Pink, Jordaan Mason, Holy Monitor, and Strange Relations were among the shortlist of bands who unveiled excellent full streams over the course of this site’s recent gap in coverage and they’re all more than deserving of heavy levels of investment. The band claiming the featured spot for this post, however, is a new one that boasts an impressive pedigree; one of Topshelf’s most recent releases, Artie Tea’s Out Of A Seaweed Dream. Between the band’s two members, Josh Croteau and Derek Desharnais, the band’s racked up an impressive number of direct connections (including The Clippers, Sneeze, Fucko, and Cough Cough). Combining those acts only hints at Artie Tea’s identity, which echoes shades of classic shoegaze and a few unlikely contemporaries like LVL UP (Croteau’s vocal delivery is particularly reminiscent of Dave Benton’s).
“Attitude” immediately sets the tone for the band’s debut, Out Of A Seaweed Dream, which is overflowing with memorable mid-tempo stompers, killer hooks, and the kind of deceptive discontentment that can serve as propulsive fuel for the creation of praiseworthy art. Throughout the record’s eight tracks and sub-25 minute runtime, Artie Tea never once strikes a false note and creates an intuitive chemistry that serve their songs beautifully.
It’s another winsome notch in an increasingly formidable string of releases from Topshelf Records, who are quickly transforming themselves into a legitimate powerhouse by expanding their horizons in subtle, compelling ways. Out Of A Seaweed Dream‘s not just a surprise standout for the label, it’s one of the year’s great small records. In its almost-title track, “Seaweed Dream”, it even ably demonstrates the band’s scope is likely much larger than what’s offered on their debut. When that reveal finally comes, it looks to be a fulfilling moment. Until then, we should all be more than content to just play these eight songs into oblivion.
Listen to Out Of A Seaweed Dream below and pick it up from Topshelf here.
Littler, Mass Gothic, Kino Kimino, Ty Segall, Henry Chadwick, Angel Du$t, Little Scream, and Talons were responsible for all but the last of the great music videos to emerge over the course of this site’s mini-hiatus. After being gone for nearly two weeks (thanks to both other musical obligations and preparation work for an upcoming feature on this very space), there were quite a few titles to consider. Ultimately, this final music video spotlight allotted to that stretch of time went to perennial site favorite Courtney Barnett (and her excellent new video).
After experiencing a massive breakout year that saw Barnett do everything from hosting SNL to being nominated for an overdue Grammy, the expectations for any new release for the songwriter have been set extraordinarily high. Thankfully, Barnett’s had a surprisingly long history of avoiding literally any form of disappointment and the brilliant Sunny Leunig-directed video for Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit‘s invigorating lead-off track is no exception.
Opening the clip on a tongue-in-cheek discussion carried out by Sleater-Kinney sets a lively pace both for the clip’s narrative and for the astonishing amount of cameos packed into the sub-six minute running time. Not soon after the coy cold open, Barnett takes up the titular role and Keunig sets about dismantling any expectations that decision may bring.
Apart from one legitimately breathtaking sequence of relative quiet that cuts away from the song completely, “Elevator Operator” exudes a kind of surprisingly specific irreverence and well-meaning snark that’s proven to be a Barnett specialty. Not long after that staggering moment of existentialism — which is anchored by an impressive performance from Barnett — “Elevator Operator” slides right back into its natural groove, cementing its status as a more-than-worthy addition to Barnett’s enviable output.
Watch “Elevator Operator” below and pick up a copy of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit here.
Last night, this site started humming along again, focusing in on the best pieces to have emerged during its short absence from regular coverage. Today that mode will continue until Heartbreaking Bravery’s once again caught up to the current release cycle. To get to that point, there’ll be two more posts featuring music videos and two featuring full streams. This post’s dedicated to the former, which included strong releases from Batwings Catwings, Metronomy, Yassassin, Haux, Death Grips, Adam Torres, Chet Vincent & The Big Bend, and The Julie Ruin.
For the featured spot, this time around, there’ll be a brief step outside of normalcy to discuss an act that was monumentally important in shaping the foundation of this site: Okkervil River. After discovering the band’s early discography, I hit a point of near-obsession that was primarily driven by bandleader Will Sheff’s approach to songwriting. He was one of the first songwriters to successfully bridge nearly all of my core interests into the narrative threads of Okkervil River’s albums (especially The Stage Names, which I still regard as my favorite album of all time).
In Sheff’s songs, no matter what point of view he was utilizing or adopting, there was always a very apparent empathetic, humanist approach that anchored the proceedings. For all the bruises, damage, and fatal flaws of the protagonists and antagonists that so vividly littered the band’s works, there was an opposing, near-paradoxical beauty afforded to those subjects.
Over time, the band accumulated a great deal of critical acclaim but never seemed to break through to the massive audience they deserved, even as many of their lesser contemporaries were swept into those realms. It was around that time where I began to fully realize the divide between uncompromising artistry and the specific, tempered appetites of those greater throngs.
Whether it was Okkervil River’s cleverness, fierce intelligence, tendencies towards intellectually challenging narrative devices, or the intimidating density of their work that prevented them from securing greater fame is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that their music struck a very deep chord with a large volume of people who, in turn, latched onto the band’s works with the kind of feverish admiration that the vast majority of bands can only ever hope to achieve.
Around that time was when I started formulating a commitment to the band’s that never got their due, forming the seed of an idea that would eventually become Heartbreaking Bravery.
After the period of time where their specific brand of defiantly subversive, strings-and-horns adorned genre-hybrid tapestries began to recede in the greater public’s respect and opinion, they’d already begun experimenting with a more oblique approach to their craft. While that more experimental-heavy era of the band essentially transitioned them out of that particular scene with their inimitable vision intact, several of the bands that surrounded them before that time fell to the wayside, cruelly discarded by a society that’s overly concerned with things that are decisively of the time and rarely concerned with the things that could be qualified as timeless.
That’s the source of the astonishing amount of emotional pull that’s present in the band’s latest track, the quietly devastating “Okkervil River R.I.P.”, which ostensibly laments a set period of Sheff’s life — one that’s inextricably informed by his main vehicle — and greets those memories with a forlorn respect and deep understanding. In a recently released music video that stars Tim Blake Nelson, Sheff once again takes on a directorial role and imbues the visual presentation with an air of the kind of sadness that never tips into regret.
It’s a bold work with a strong central performance that feels like an act of small, purposeful bravery despite its lingering resignation. In some ways, “Okkervil R.I.P. is a surprisingly difficult watch and in others, it’s deeply reassuring. However it’s viewed, it retains the sense of beauty that made the band such a compelling act at the outset of their career. That they’ve weathered as many storms as they have and still managed to come out with a vital — possibly even necessary — piece in their discography is nothing short of a triumph.
For those looking for materials to inform the clip even more, the characteristically poignant statement Sheff issued to preview the band’s forthcoming record, Away, can be read in full below.
The new Okkervil River album is called ‘Away’. I didn’t plan to make it and initially wasn’t sure if it was going to be an Okkervil River album or if I’d ever put it out. I wrote the songs during a confusing time of transition in my personal and professional life and recorded them quickly with a brand new group of musicians.
I got together the best New York players I could think of, people whose playing and personalities I was fans of and who came more out of a jazz or avant garde background, and we cut the songs live in one or two takes – trying to keep things as natural and immediate as possible – over three days in a studio on Long Island that hosts the Neve 8068 console which recorded Steely Dan’s Aja and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. I asked Marissa Nadler to sing on it and got the composer Nathan Thatcher to write some beautiful orchestral arrangements, we recorded them with the classical ensemble and then I mixed the record with Jonathan Wilson out in Los Angeles.
2013-2015 had been a strange time for me. I lost some connections in a music industry that was visibly falling apart. Some members of the Okkervil River backing band left, moving on to family life or to their own projects. I spent a good deal of time sitting in hospice with my grandfather, who was my idol, while he died. I felt like I didn’t know where I belonged. When there was trouble at home, a friend offered me her empty house in the Catskills where I could go and clear my head.
New songs were coming fast up there, so I set myself the challenge of trying to write as many as possible as quickly as possible. I wasn’t think about any kind of end product; the idea was just to write through what I was feeling, quickly and directly. Eventually, I realized I was writing a death story for a part of my life that had, buried inside of it, a path I could follow that might let me go somewhere new.
“Okkervil River R.I.P.” and “Call Yourself Renee” are good emotional transcriptions of that time. I wrote the latter on psylocibin mushrooms on a beautiful afternoon in early fall in the Catskills. I wrote “The Industry” quickly after getting some bad news. “Comes Indiana Through the Smoke” is an anthem for the battleship my grandfather served on during the Pacific Theater of World War II. Before becoming a private school Headmaster, my grandfather was also a jazz musician; he paid his way through college as a bandleader, toured with Les Brown and His Band of Renown, and spent summers playing a residency at a NH lakeside gay dance club called The Jungle Room that kept live monkeys in the basement. (You can hear his actual trumpet on this song, played by C.J. Camarieri from yMusic.)
“Judey on a Street” is a love song, sunny but written late at night when the woods are maximum spooky. We cut “She Would Look for Me” pretty shapelessly, with a lot of improvisation, and it’s also a love song. “Mary on a Wave” is about the feminine aspect of God but is in a very masculine tuning: DADDAD. It’s also a love song. I wrote “Frontman in Heaven” in an obsessive three-day streak of writing for 14 hours, going to bed, getting up and writing again. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I wrote “Days Spent Floating (in the Halfbetween)” by just jotting down the first sentence that popped into my head every morning in October immediately after I opened my eyes. At the end of the month I had a finished song. It was recorded as an afterthought as the last thing we did when they were about to kick us out of the studio. You can hear me flub some lyrics. But one take and we had it.
I think this record was me taking my life back to zero and starting to add it all back up again, one plus one plus one. Any part that didn’t feel like it added up I left out. Weirdly, it was the easiest and most natural record I’ve ever made. More than any time in my life before, I felt guided by intuition – like I was going with the grain, walking in the direction the wind was blowing. The closer it got to being finished, the more the confusion I’d felt at the start went away. It’s not really an Okkervil River album and it’s also my favorite Okkervil River album.
Watch “Okkervil River R.I.P.” below and pre-order Away from ATO here.
One of the many reasons for Doe’s artistic success has been their willingness to subvert expectations. Whether those might be the limits of their genres or even in their instrumental approach (two guitarists, no bassist), they’ve continuously excelled in winking at normalcy. Now, they’ve applied that approach to the music video format and the results are both endearing and massively entertaining.
In “Sincere”, the band experiments with a visual depiction of malaise, the somewhat tired trope of grossout food footage, and even something as subtle as ratio presentation. For a clip where there’s ostensibly nothing happening as far as a linear narrative thread is concerned (apart from the meditation on how repetitive and mundane life can be), that’s an impressively complex setup.
Mixing in low-grade special effects, strong visual composition, and crisp editing, “Sincere” is progressively elevated throughout its overall running time. As with all great clips, the song and the video inform each other, operating in a symbiotic relationship with virtually no drawback. As the band members dispassionately mime the words to the song in an effectively tongue-in-cheek runner, the Andrew Northrop-directed clip capitalizes on a modicum of momentum to hit a climactic section that involves the band remaining blasé while a variety of odd things happen with their food selections.
It’s a humorous moment, elevated by the band’s impressive deadpan performances but it’s overshadowed by the last section of “Sincere”, which takes a sharp left and sees guitarist/vocalist (and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor) Nicola Leel breaking character and dissolving into laughter before rapidly cutting to a series of loose chaos and finally settling on a short vacuum clean-up sequence.
In those moments, “Sincere” transforms from an entertaining curiosity into a legitimately great video. By pulling back the layers of conventional expectation that’s normally applied to the type of clip that’s typically so aggressively straight-laced, Doe open up an invigorating new territory. It’s a wildly satisfying reveal that paints the entirety of “Sincere” as both radical deconstruction and loving homage. In short, it’s perfectly, unequivocally Doe.
Watch “Sincere” below and pre-order Some Things Last Longer Than You from Old Flame here.
A brief talk with Birth (Defects)’s vocalist (as well as social activist, Is This Venue Accessible mastermind, Accidental Guest head, and all-around great human) Sean Gray revealed that “Demands” was the first song the band ever wrote. Gray still considers it the band’s finest offering and, with this new version recorded by Perfect Pussy‘s Shaun Sutkus and rounded out by the band’s recently-expanded lineup, it’s not difficult to see why that’s the case.
Like nearly all great hardcore bands of any breed, Birth (Defects) draw considerable power from frustration and that frustration has never manifested more clearly than in the staccato stabbings of “Demands”, which complements the band’s most recent offering — the incendiary “Hanshin“, which will be the track’s flip-side on the forthcoming 7” — to perfection.
Through aggressive, chaotic caterwauling, Birth (Defects) carve out a home in a dark corner and sink their heels in deep, recoiling while simultaneously positioning themselves for attack. Feedback runs through everything, providing an air of discordance that drives up a sense of tension that never evaporates and lingers on after the final snare blast. Somehow, as raw and primordial as it seems on the surface, “Demands” can’t help but feel weirdly triumphant. It’s the sound of a band who have embraced their voice and are intent on projecting it through a row of sharpened teeth. The end result? A third-degree bite mark that deserves to be worn like a badge of honor.
Listen to “Demands” below and pre-order the 7″ from Reptilian here.
The featured track belongs to A Year’s Worth of Memories alum Isabel Reidy’s project, Izzy True. After a dazzling EP, the project’s readying their debut full-length, Nope. Leading off the rollout campaign is the record’s brilliant lead-off single “Total Body Erasure”. Tapping into the swamp-punk, roots, Americana, folk, blues, and dirtied up rock n’ roll influences that made the Troll EP one of last year’s most compelling listens, “Total Body Erasure” also achieves the impressive feat of heightening the level of lyricism attached to the band by tackling a subject that manages to feel both intimate and political without one aspect ever outweighing the other.
It’s an astonishing piece of songwriting that suggests Reidy’s quickly becoming one of this generation’s finest young lyricists. If the rest of Nope can live up to the level set by its introductory piece, Izzy True has a legitimate shot at being one of 2016’s most notable breakout successes. All that’s left is to wait, see, and hit repeat on “Total Body Erasure” until that moment, during that moment, and well past that moment. Whichever way it shakes out ultimately won’t matter. What does matter is the strength of Reidy, Troll, and “Total Body Erasure”, which is more than enough to prove that we should all keep listening.
Listen to “Total Body Erasure” below and keep an eye on Don Giovanni for the pre-orders of Nope.