Heartbreaking Bravery

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Big Ups – Two Parts Together (Album Review, Stream, Live Videos)

From the end of last week to the start of this one there was a smattering of outstanding records with many displaying the sheen of a genuine Album of the Year contender, a group that included new titles from Courtney Barnett, The Sidekicks, Colour Me WednesdayGRLWoodDeeper, Gosh, Macho Boys, Von K, and Feel Alright. Another one of those records came by way of what may wind up standing as Big Ups’ masterpiece, Two Parts Together.

Riding a string of acclaim for their previous few releases and their scintillating live show, Big Ups have managed to craft something masterful, challenging, and explosive, opting for more of a statement on their relentless pursuit of new highs instead of merely settling for a victory lap. This is as fearless and unhinged as the band has ever sounded, completely embracing their own distinct identity and molding it into something unexpected and deeply rewarding.

Every second of Two Parts Together feels thoughtful, even in the moments where it succumbs into chaos; there’s a calculation to Big Ups’ madness that keeps things from veering towards the unsustainable. Whether they’re indulging their most straightforward sensibilities (“Fear“, “PPP“), ambient interludes (“Tenmile”), verging into sections that betray a Rage Against The Machine influence (“Tell Them”), veer directly into avant garde breakdowns (“Trying To Love”), or delivering the most jaw-dropping song of their career (“Imaginary Dog Walker“), they’re delivering each moment with an astounding amount of conviction.

From wire to wire, Two Parts Together is Big Ups’ most complete and engaging work, a series of high points strung together and then defiantly tightroped. Easily one of the best records of the year, Two Parts Together also cements the band’s status as one of today’s more important bands. They’re on a streak that’s nearly unparalleled within the confines of their genre and they’re doing it in an extremely distinct way, delivering record after record that couldn’t possibly bear any other band’s name.

A new genre classic, Two Parts Together is the sound of a band whose confident that if they hurl themselves into the stratosphere, they’ll stick the landing. As much of a warning as a promise, Big Ups make no bones about this being their time. We should all count ourselves lucky that we’re around to watch, listen, and learn.

Listen to Two Parts Together below and pick it up from Exploding In Sound here. Beneath the record, watch the band rip through five tracks at a recent Madison, WI stop.

Ovlov – Spright (Stream)

From last Friday to the start of this week there were a handful of new songs that made an impact from artists like Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Luna Pines, Oh Sees, ahem, The Tamed West, Oldermost, Two People, Harrison Lipton, Samson, io & Titan, and a memorable music video from Dumb. There was also the long-anticipated return of Ovlov, following a string of reunion appearances after their last departure. “Spright”, the band’s first song following their four year near-absence, was worth the wait.

Steve Hartlett, Ovlov’s bandleader, found a way to refine some creative impulses with Stove (a band that walked away with this site’s pick for 2015’s Song of the Year) and has put that education to good use in “Spright”. A song that teems with the kind of melancholic frustration and open yearning that’s defined so much of Hartlett’s past body of work, “Spright” still manages to feel incredibly assured. Even considering the time away, Ovlov is a band that’s fully aware of its identity, and their grappling comes with a level of certainty.

Some things are big enough to force a reckoning and “Spright”, finds its narrative examining the implications of how we can challenge our own comfort by engaging more fearlessly with free will. Backed by an inspired swirl of guitars and a menacing rhythm section, “Spright” manages to erupt. As vicious as it is thoughtful, it’s the perfect way to welcome Ovlov back and stands as an extraordinarily promising first look at their upcoming TRU.

Listen to “Spright” below and pre-order TRU from Exploding In Sound here.

Katie Preston – The Art of Falling Apart (Stream)

Halfway through last week there were a handful of music videos that found release from artists like MOURN, Devon Welsh, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Sorry, Suuns, tunng, The Groans, Sam Evian, Reuben and the Dark, Tang, and BATTS. There was also a one-off single release from the inimitable Katie Preston, whose been covered on this site before by virtue of contributions to Ben Morey & The Eyes and for being the driving force behind site favorites Pleistocene.

A fixture in the thriving Rochester, NY music scene Preston’s worked diligently to carve out a recognizable name and those efforts are starting to yield results. “The Art of Falling Apart”, Preston’s first solo single pulls in an impressive cast of friends (including both Morey and Mikaela Davis) to flesh out a characteristically retro-leaning pop number. A lovely three minutes, “The Art of Falling Apart” reinforces the perceived span of Preston’s talent, showcasing a penchant for both subtle, effective composition flourishes, a tight-knit narrative, and a meticulous awareness of how those elements can heighten each other.

Hopelessly romantic, breezy, and an absolute dream for nostalgia escapists, “The Art of Falling Apart” is another notch in Preston’s belt, evidencing both the songwriter’s range and vision. Both a hopeful signal of things to come and a piece informed by the kind of hope that’s too frequently burned by reality, “The Art of Falling Apart” seems destined to be a song that’s worth holding close for its effortless comfort.

Listen to “The Art of Falling Apart” below and download it here.

Birds In Row – 15-38 (Stream)

Over a three day stretch last week there was a quartet of records that came out and made an impression, bearing the names of Local Teen, Jogging House, Will Samson, and Gillian Frances. There was also the re-emergence of Birds In Row, a furious post-hardcore power trio responsible for one of the genre’s better EP’s of the decade in Personal War.

“15-38”, the band’s latest, takes a careful step backwards and finds the band in the process of a measured reinvention that pays massive dividends out of the gate. Leaning hard into a newfound pop sensibility, the band adds their name to the growing cast of acts who are finding fascinating ways to bridge the worlds of hardcore, sludge, grunge, basement pop, and noise-punk.

“15-38” is one of the most volatile — and powerful — examples of this specific intersection (populated by bands like Kal Marks, Wheelbarrel, sewingneedle, and Pile), standing as a masterclass of how tension-and-release dynamics can cultivate atmosphere. It’s a song that’s hard to shake despite being the most accessible of Birds In Row’s discography. As the first look towards the band’s forthcoming We Already Lost the World (a title that’s echoed in the song’s gripping final section), it’s more than a little tantalizing.

“15-38” is a thrilling, bleak, and potent reminder of Birds In Row’s formidable talent. If it’s a harbinger of things to come, Birds In Row’s future suddenly looks wide open.

Listen to “15-38” below and pre-order We Already Lost the World from Deathwish here.

Snail Mail – Let’s Find An Out (Stream)

The middle of last week saw the release of a slew of great songs from the following artists: Francobollo, Rock Solid, An Horse, Saturday Night, Neko Case, Resina, Beach Skulls, gobbinjr, YOB, Goodfight, Culture Abuse, End ChristianSonny Elliot, Sam Evian, Aisha Burns, Trust Fund, Egg Men, Collections of Colonies of Bees, White Cliffs, Strawberry Mountains, and MIGHTY. Joining those ranks was the most recent Snail Mail single, “Let’s Find An Out”, which is as spellbinding as its predecessors.

While songs like “Heat Wave” focused on what Lindsey Jordan’s project can accomplish when it’s intent on detonation, “Let’s Find An Out” scales things back to something far more intimate. A gorgeous fingerpicked guitar pattern serves as an instrumental bed with some light percussion as Jordan waxes poetic on the nature of change, giving mortality the slightest of consideration while keeping the narrative persistently rooted to the present.

It’s a beautiful track that never becomes cloying or cumbersome in its examination of larger ideas, embracing its own modesty and delivering something heartfelt and memorable; the kind of journey that’s always worth taking.

Listen to “Let’s Find An Out” below and pre-order Lush from Matador here.

Mitski – Geyser (Music Video)

Last Monday saw a handful of great releases find their way into the world, including songs by Lost Boy ?, Lucero (x2), Uniform & The Body, The Golden Dregs, Sharkswimmer, music videos from Deux Trois, Deal Casino, Caroline Rose, Teenage Wedding, and full streams courtesy of Daniel Tanghal, Remember Sports, and Wax Idols. While all of those releases were worthy of multiple glances and listens, the day belonged to Mitski, who made a galvanizing return with “Geyser”.

Directed with restraint and bravado by Zia Anger, “Geyser” finds Mitski’s streak of brilliance continuing in both the music world and the music video format. Comprised of nothing but Mitski — who gives a more sublime performance in the clip’s central role than any artist’s delivered in a music video all year — mouthing the words to “Geyser” while ostensibly going through a personal reckoning on a desolate beach, the clip expertly pulls the viewers attention into the action.

It’s an emotional experience of an almost visceral nature, occasionally veering on the voyeuristic, but the clip contains enough artistic flourishes to become visually arresting. There are hints to Mitski’s history, both through heritage and to the art the songwriter’s already committed to record, scattered through “Geysers” that makes it a clever career summation ahead of an extremely promising next chapter. Gentle, evocative, mesmerizing, “Geyser” offers an artistic explosion worth celebrating.

Watch “Geyser” below and pre-order Be The Cowboy from Secretly Canadian here.

Kodakrome – Head Down + Everything Is Terrible (Song Premiere)

A short while ago, Chicago-based Kodakrome put out an absolutely blistering demo that announced their arrival. The band’s released an EP since then, contributed to this site’s RVA compilation and are now on the brink of releasing their debut full-length, which is teeming with the kind of unchecked aggression that’s defined their earliest work. Unexpected and forceful, the self-titled record can be a lot to take in all at once, a decision that seems intentional when considering the narrative content of the record.

Below is the very first look at Kodakrome, a two-song package of “Head Down” and “Everything Is Terrible”, which highlight the spirit of the record. “Head Down”, the first and more imposing of the two tracks, explodes out of the gate with a startling into sequence that spans well over a minute before guitarist/vocalist Aaron Ehinger’s panicked, desperate vocals kick the song into another gear. As Ehinger yells, the music swirls violently, touching on everything from post-hardcore to pop-punk to a hint of chiptune, the unexpected tapestry all but smothering the listener as if its a protective material from unseen outside threats.

There’s a level of immediacy here that’s distinct and specific to the band, Ehinger further cultivating a narrative identity that’s based on a desire for emotional fortification and physical well-being, hinting at the toxicity of sociopolitical threats to anyone that doesn’t fall in line with what’s still pointlessly depicted as “the average” (ie, straight, white, God-fearing males). Kodakrome has always served as somewhat of a response to that positioning. As that threat’s gained a stronger foothold, the urgency of Kodakrome’s music has increased.

While “Head Down” is certainly more towering than “Everything Is Terrible”, the latter song on this first offering isn’t just more pointed, it’s also more direct. There’s a near-call to action scattered throughout the song, hopeful for the type of reckoning that’ll leave smoldering embers in its wake as history marches further away from closeted supremacy and towards genuine empathy. Back-to-back “Head Down” and “Everything Is Terrible” show a band that’s conscious of their decisions, a band that’s frustrated by regression, and a band who can’t help but craft a soundtrack to personal implosion.

Listen to “Head Down” and “Everything Is Terrible” below and pre-order Kodakrome here.

Tosser – Swimming (Song Premiere)

Late last year, Washington DC project Tosser made some serious waves in the DIY punk community with a scintillating self-titled EP. Roughly half a year later, the project’s seeking to capitalize on that momentum with Lures, which looks to be another incendiary burst of basement pop. “Swimming”, an instantly galvanizing first look at Lures, has more than enough power to ensnare some expanding attention and is premiering below.

Tilting into shoegaze pop territory, “Swimming” still retains the pop bite that helped make Tosser so memorable. The vocals operate like world-weary sighs, contemplating some dispiriting truths as the narrative grapples with various subsets of the ennui of young adulthood. Some sublime guitar work and a driving rhythm section protect “Swimming” from tipping into sheer misery, offsetting the whole affair in a way that actually elicits some excitement. It’s a pyrotechnic showcase of Tosser’s control over craft and delivers as much immediacy as it does memorability, which is a key distinction.

A bed of landmines, “Swimming” constantly leans into the dirt, ensuring as many explosive moments as possible. Even in all of its urgency, the project finds a way to project some beauty, valuing the damage with the knowledge it’s part of what makes life worth living. There’s some tension, there’s a lot of release, but most of all there’s a great song that should manage to put people on notice. Tosser’s not here to mess around and Lures has a lead-off track to make that title seem apt.

Listen to “Swimming” below and pre-order Lures here.

Bent Denim – Town & Country (Album Review, Stream)

When last week’s chapter of releases came to a close, a handful of exceptional records found release, including the latest from site favorites Bent DenimTown & Country. The duo’s previous release, the Diamond Jubilee EP premiered on this site last year and went a long way in establishing the project’s tonal and overall consistency. They’ve yet to make a bad record and have kept on an ascending trajectory in terms of quality (something that every band strives for but few can ever achieve).

Town & Country is a gentle creature, showing signs of curious affection and minimal affectation, the duo settling into a comfortable confidence with their identity they’ve established. Each song finds Bent Denim leaning into heartrending ambient pop numbers that have flourishes of a multitude of other genres but never seem to exist outside of they very distinct and specific niche they’ve crafted for themselves.

On the opening stretch of Town & Country, any single one of the first handful of songs could be enough to reduce a listener to tears if it hits them at the right moment. That’s the inherent power buried inside Bent Denim’s music, it’s a subtle, magnetic pull but once it finds an object to entice, the effect is overwhelming. Each of these songs is imbued with so much tenderness and empathy that it’s next to impossible not to find yourself moved at any given moment.

Creatively, the record’s as ambitious as anything in their sterling discography, finding new nuances and new heights in exploring their own experimentation. Whether it’s something as simple as dramatically boosting the keys in the mix or as complicated as slightly tweaking the vocal layers on Town & Country, the choices don’t just work but serve a unified purpose. Through impeccable production and intuitive sequencing, Town & Country stands strong as the most complete of Bent Denim’s work.

Unfailingly gorgeous, tethered with meticulous through lines (in both narration and composition) and unified by a soft, weary delivery that still retains a sense of hope, Town & Country is another in a sting of gems from Bent Denim. One of the best ambient-leaning records of 2018, this is a record worth holding onto for isolated summer nights and quiet moments of introspection. It;s an album worthy of being kept in as many collections as possible.

Listen to Town & Country below and pick it up here.

Basement Revolver – Baby (Stream)

Over the span of last week songs by Sarah Mary Chadwick, The Bae Beach Club, Dan Rico, God Bless Relatives, Dear Nora, Jackson Reed, Gillian Frances, Nation of Language, Dear Japan, Ness Lake, Henrik Appel, and a Weaves cover of an Arcade Fire classic all managed to make an impression. Each one of those tracks constitutes a distinct highlight for the band listed. The very same can be said for Basement Revolver‘s latest, “Baby”, which is their finest moment to date.

Despite releasing some of the more memorable songs of the past few years, Basement Revolver have never released a full-length. They’ve got two impressive EP’s and an extraordinary Audiotree session under their belt but the full album format they’ve let linger as a tantalizing promise. “Baby” is the first look at their debut album and it’s an absolutely stunning slow-burner that envelops the listener in an avalanche of tenderness and volume.

From the jump, “Baby” makes no bones about aiming for bombast but it’s the build-up to its finale and the way it swells far past being merely bombastic on its way to achieving a cathartic euphoria that makes the song stand out. The band’s honed and refined their craft for years, each one bringing them wider success and a more visible platform. If “Baby” is any indication, Basement Revolver’s not just prepared for the next big step but fully capable of decimating the expectations it may bring.

Easily one of the most gorgeous rock songs of 2018, “Baby” yearns for the kind of understanding that makes life more comforting while reaching skyward, hoping to pluck even a modicum of reassurance out of the air. The music emphasizes the words and vice versa, with both the composition and narrative displaying a mesmerizing brand of vulnerability. It’s an absolutely incredible track and heralds the arrival of Basement Revolver’s next era. With any luck, a whole army of new listeners will be along for the ride.

Listen to “Baby” below and pre-order Heavy Eyes here.