LVL UP – Spirit Was (Stream)

by Steven Spoerl

LVL UP II

The first two days of this week saw strong songs released from the following artists: Painted Zeros, Sneaks, Devon Welsh, Cheap Girls, Lilac Daze, Casper Skulls, Dweller on the Threshold, Idiot Genes, gobbinjr, Faux Ferocious, Halfsour, Pip Blom, Elephants, Split Single, Rose Hip, Weyes Blood, Thick, Cameron AG, Preoccupations, Oldermost, Tim Hecker, The Shacks, Swet Shop Boys, The Cradle, Gallery 47, Monomyth, Robot Princess, Pumarosa, COPY, decker., Slaughter Beach, Dog, and The Perennials, as well as a great Modern Lovers cover from Sunflower Bean. That’s an intense amount of genuinely exceptional material, which says a lot about the strength of this post’s featured track: LVL UP‘s “Spirit Was”.

Pain” and “Hidden Driver” have set an impressive early tone for LVL UP’s forthcoming Return to Love — an easy album of the year candidate — and now “Spirit Was” joins their ranks. From its opening seconds, it’s evident that “Spirit Was” would be foregoing the heaviness of “Pain” and the urgency of “Hidden Driver” in favor of the more dream-like qualities that have given previous tracks like “Proven Water Rites” a tremendous amount of impact, despite their more serene nature.

As was the case with “Proven Water Rites”, bassist Nick Corbo is at the helm of “Spirit Was”, suffusing the tune with a distinctive blend of weariness, downtrodden longing, and a glimmer of faith in the possibility that there’s more to life than struggle. Like a lot of Return to Love (which can be streamed upon pre-order), “Spirit Was” showcases a heavier, grunge-leaning side of LVL UP that they’d only shown glimpses of in their earlier works. There’s a genuinely intangible quality to this song that elevates it beyond being a good song and transforms it into something impossibly compelling.

Every single second of “Spirit Was” seems to have an incalculable depth of meaning and importance to its authors, going far deeper than just the narrative. LVL UP are playing as if the stakes are life or death and they’re hedging all of their bets on survival, at all costs. From the very welcome addition — and surprising prominence — of piano flourishes to the empathetic rhythm section work to the intuitive guitar interplay, there’s not a false move to be found. It’s an astonishing moment of poise from a band that’s operating at the peak of their powers, paying tribute to their past while not taking their eyes off of the future.

By its end, “Spirit Was” serves as an incredibly assured testament to the artistic prowess that the band’s attained over several years of evolving their craft.  None of them have ever sounded more impressive than they do on Return to Love both in an individual capacity and as a unit. “Spirit Was” is a perfect example of that progress and a cogent argument for their tenacious commitment to artistic growth. Subdued, atmospheric, and oddly reassuring, “Spirit Was” is the sound of a band on the verge of perfection. It’s a peak that deserves to be experienced by everyone so stop reading now and just hit play.

Listen to “Spirit Was” below and pre-order Return to Love from Sub Pop here.