Heartbreaking Bravery

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Happy Diving – Electric Soul Unity (Album Premiere)

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For the past several years, this site’s been tracking Happy Diving with a fair amount of scrutiny. Ever since the band’s scintillating debut, they’ve been making frequent appearances on year-end lists and — more importantly — growing sharper with each successive release. Recently, there was a post that spotlighted “Holy Ground“, a towering  single from the band’s forthcoming sophomore full-length, Electric Soul Unity. Today, it’s my distinct pleasure to be hosting the debut of that record, which stands as a new career high for the project.

Opening with “Bigger World” — a winking nod towards their outstanding debut LP — the band makes no bones about the fact that they’ve dramatically increased the size of their scope. Everything from the production to the songwriting indicates the band’s set loftier goals for themselves from the very outset of the record. Moreover, they’re dead-set on viciously attacking those goals until they’ve been all but completely demolished.

There’s a greater nuance in nearly every facet of their operation, whether it be atmospherics, production design, or reduced to something as simple as the guitar figures that propel Electric Soul Unity skyward. After only a scant few years of existence, Happy Diving have locked into something that feels like a deeply formidable culmination of their already-enviable body of work. It’s an astonishing feat that’s demonstrated in full by Electric Soul Unity‘s opening salvo, a trio of tracks that pack enough punch to flatten any prospective listeners.

When the title track hits, Happy Diving manage to not only strengthen their melodic approach but escalate the velocity of Electric Soul Unity‘s momentum considerably, creating the kind of magnetic pull that can be genuinely intimidating. By immediately scaling back to one of their most gentle moments to date in the following track, “Head Spell”, the band illustrate the depth of their understanding in creating and dissolving tension through sequencing, a trait that benefits the record enormously.

Of course, “Head Spell” only maintains that relative quiet for so long before launching a cavalcade of the kind of heavily bruised slacker-punk-informed shoegaze they’ve all but perfected with this record. The feedback comes surging in and Happy Diving continue to unleash a series of blows that are effectively heightened by the moments where it rescinds its attack in favor of something a lot more calming.

It’s a brief reprieve that carves out an area for the band that Happy Diving all but annihilates with a series of tracks in the record’s mid-section that match, if not outstrip, the ferocity of its opening trio. Before that memory’s gone completely, the band returns to the less forceful side of things with the laid-back opening half of the deeply compelling “Pain Country” that continues to expand the band’s musical range in ways that are both fascinating and surprisingly meaningful, pushing the boundaries of a very niche genre in a manner that fully illustrates why Happy Diving deserves to be set apart from the majority of their contemporaries.

“Pain Country” also sets up the record’s lone acoustic ballad, “Unknown Feeling”, with tremendous clarity, heightening both songs by virtue of placement. In “Unknown Feeling”, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Matt Berry’s allowed the room to both showcase his improved gifts as a lyricists and underscore the narrative themes of Electric Soul Unity, capitalizing on both opportunities with the kind of understated grace that drives much of the record.

“Holding up my head to see the view, with you / but I don’t feel the way I want it to, it’s true” is the couplet that opens “Unknown Feeling”, hinting at the longings, frustrations, self-loathing, and near-irreparable romantic damage that constitutes the half-shared, half-abandoned bed of Electric Soul Unity‘s surprisingly emotional narrative core. By the time the grand finale rolls around in the form of the characteristically explosive “River Will Flow”, it feels celebratory due to not only its surface elements but because its, in part, the piece that both completes and frees the overwhelmingly down-trodden, world-weary cycle that precedes the track.

In all, Electric Soul Unity is a record that examines the human condition in dire moments, yet recognizes that there’s so much more than some small modicum of life-giving moments that also comprise those stretches. Happy Diving specifically targets that dichotomy and emphasize the tempered clarity that can accompany the self-discovery typically attained in those moments.

The record derives a considerable amount of power from exploiting those divides and then expands them outwards through exceedingly thoughtful arrangements that establish the band  as contemporary heavyweights. Thanks to its consistency, its depth of intelligence, and its staggering comprehension, Electric Soul Unity doesn’t just stand as one of 2016’s finest records but one of its most essential. It’s an extraordinary effort from a band that’s more than ready to take on any challengers and it won’t go down without putting up an unforgettable fight.

Listen to Electric Soul Unity below and pre-order the record from Topshelf here.

PWR BTTM – Projection (Stream, Live Video)

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The last few days held a whole host of incredible new songs from the likes of Turtlenecked, ScotDrakula, Animal Lover, Dolores, Rips, Dott, Sex Stains, Devon Welsh, Dogbreth, Honey Bucket, Lumer, Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, Raccoon Fighter, Jenn Champion, Field Mouse, Luke Winslow, The Pooches, Butch Bastard, Ravenna Woods, Young Summer, Bellows, Rosemary Fairweather, Alice MK, Grey Gersten, JEFF The Brotherhood, and Royal Oakie as well as a two-song sampler of the forthcoming record from Echo Courts. While all of those songs should receive listens, it’s an old favorite finally finding release to capture this post’s featured spot.

The first time I saw PWR BTTM was at Miscreant’s Northside showcase last year and it immediately ensured the band a hefty amount of future coverage (especially in the live department). Having been impressed by their earlier material, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect that day but it was one particular song that convinced me PWR BTTM was capable of achieving greatness: “Projection”.

Over time, “Projection” solidified its spot as my favorite song in the band’s arsenal. From Benjamin Hopkins’ remarkably tasteful guitar theatrics to a startlingly intimate lyric set to Liv Bruce’s intuitive drumming to the exchanged vocal leads, the song highlights several of PWR BTTM’s strongest aspects. From that first performance over a year ago, the band’s kept it as a live staple and subsequently afforded me the opportunity to document it several times over.

Recently, PWR BTTM announced they would be partnering with the excellent Big Scary Monsters label for their European releases, beginning with an extended version of Ugly Cherries that will come equipped with “Projection” (it’ll be available as a standalone single in America). While the band offers a mischievous wink towards the song’s main influence with its title, the narrative of “Projection” takes a much more serious tone.

From its opening couplet onward, “Projection” offers a very acute look at the displacement its songwriters have been subjected to because of their identities and preferences, rendering it heartbreaking in its realism– something enhanced even more by the song’s direct approach.

With its reprise of “my skin wasn’t made for the weather”, it’d be easy for the song to tip towards defeatism and while that’s an element that never completely disappears, the music surrounding the narrative becomes a retaliatory burst of frustration that seems to energize the band; they’ve found an outlet through creating music that feels like home. In that regard, “Projection” could be viewed as somewhat celebratory, though its down-trodden narrative keeps it tethered to the earth.

In creating that dichotomy, PWR BTTM fully demonstrate their enviable gifts as songwriters who have an uncanny understanding of their identity as a band (with only one full-length under their belt, no less). “Projection” finds every element of their songwriting at a stratospheric peak, underlining the hefty emotional undercurrent that informs their work but frequently winds up getting overlooked.

It’s an extraordinary song that offers insight, frustration, joy, longing, and some of their finest composition work to date. Empathetic and earnest in its unblinking sincerity, “Projection” is the type of song that’s capable of making converts out of skeptics; a genuine work of art. Greet the song’s official arrival with the kind of understanding and care that should be granted to others throughout life, free of discriminatory practices, prejudices, and blind hatred. Grab a copy, reciprocate its warmth, and never let its message fall out of reach… then hit repeat.

Listen to “Projection” below — and watch an early live performance of the song — and keep an eye on this site for more news on any of PWR BTTM’s forthcoming releases.

Gurr – Moby Dick (Music Video)

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Miss June, The Dirty Nil, Gothic Tropic, Chris Farren, Kids of the Apocalypse, The Girdles, His Clancyness, Drugdealer, ScHoolBoy Q, Avers, Japancakes, and Young Moon all had excellent music videos emerge over the past three days. Joining their ranks was Gurr’s light, expressive clip for their latest single, “Moby Dick”.

The premise for “Moby Dick” is exceedingly simple but ties into the band’s identity extraordinarily well. Both band members mime the words to the song while dancing around in  alternating one-shots, everything taking place in front of a faded turquoise backdrop. Neither member’s able to suppress a genuine smile as the Andrea Weiczorek-directed clip progresses, giving the whole affair a contagious, carefree joy. It’s a light clip but it’s perfectly executed and was clearly born out of love, a dynamic that’s become increasingly rare for the format.

While it may feel a little familiar it’s also a breath of fresh air, something to combat the overly serious nature of the types of narratives that have been dominating all corners of the media in recent times. That’s an important status to occupy and Gurr deliver on that level tremendously and heighten the anticipation for their upcoming record, In My Head, in the process. Consider it a small victory for everyone.

Watch “Moby Dick” below and keep an eye on this site for more updates on the band’s forthcoming record(s).

Stove – Graduate and Congratulate (Music Video)

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Over the first half of this week, some outstanding full streams were unveiled by Toby Coke, Unity, JANK, Good Throb, The Wilful Boys, and The I.l.y’s. While those six titles should be granted quite a bit of attention, this post’s featured spot falls out of that category entirely. Instead, the focus will jump to a personality-driven music video from site favorite Stove.

Any new material from the band that was responsible for this site’s pick for 2015’s song of the year will always be treated as welcome news. While the band’s on tour, that material will be available on a tape that they’ll have at their shows (which will be the only place they’re available). Fortunately for everyone who can’t make it out, they’re also offering up a music video for one of the tracks from that tape, “Graduate and Congratulate”.

The clip itself is about as bare-bones as it gets; a one-shot of Stove’s guitarist/vocalist Steve Hartlett navigating his way in and out of a house, taking a moment outside for a very quick beard trim and head shave session. Mouthing the words to the song, smoking a cigarette, and taking everything in stride, Hartlett exhibits the kind of hazy calm that fuels “Graduate and Congratulate”. It’s a simple clip but it’s deeply effective and a potent reminder of the band’s considerable control over all aspects of their craft. Dive in, give it a look/listen, and never stop making art.

Watch “Graduate and Congratulate” below and grab a copy of the Is A Toad In the Rain tape by checking out the band’s current tour.