Heartbreaking Bravery

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Strange Ranger – Message To You (Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

One of the many privileges of being a music listener is latching onto a band that never stops improving as they evolve. Thus far, Strange Ranger fits that bill to a tee. “Message to You”, the band’s latest track, is a smoky, bruised ballad teeming with urgency and regret. Flickering away under a proto-industrial backbeat, “Message to You” floats along, driven by some understated synth work and a melancholic piano figure. A gorgeous bass line that turns menacing in the song’s latter half ensure “Message to You” is a legitimate standout, not just for the band but for 2019. Easily Strange Ranger’s most fascinating composition to date, the song also heralds their arrival as an act that’s made the jump from being a promising band to being a capital-A Artist. An astonishing work.

Listen to “Message To You” below and pre-order Remembering The Rocket from Tiny Engines here.

Richard Spitzer – Russia Collusion (Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

Richard Spitzer’s “Synthesizer” was an utterly winsome track that’s held serve as one of 2019’s finest bits of folk-leaning music. The songwriter’s returned with the blackly comic “Russia Collusion” that takes the comparisons Spitzer earned to worthy contemporary songwriters and delves further, reaching back to shared influences like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and anyone else who wasn’t afraid to add left-field comic surrealism to their satire.

At first, Spitzer plays it straight, ostensibly falling into the trap that turns so much protest music so unbearably kitschy so quickly. Trump gets name-checked, “Russia Collusion” is used as a constant hook, and the tone seems sincere. The charade wavers in the first verse as Spitzer contrasts the mundanity of everyday existence to the constant distraction offered by political commentary and today’s clusterfuck of a landscape. The second verse finds Spitzer getting a little more serious and the straight-man schtick gains a little bit of life, while a bouncy melody keeps things from falling into an undying trope.

…And then the side-splitting final verse hits. I fully lost it at the song’s final reveal, which features spoken-word declarations of “Racism!”, “Wealth Inequality”, and “poverty” to play against the repeated insistence of “Russia Collusion”, which all leads up to a final societal tragedy that had me in literal tears, which I will not spoil here. In all, Spitzer’s proving to be a singular talent whose arriving at a time when things this brash, thoughtful, and unexpectedly lovely are both necessary and deeply appreciated. Don’t miss out on this one and keep an eye on Spitzer, who’s now responsible for two of the year’s strongest and most unassuming folk-adjacent oddities.

Listen to “Russia Collusion” below and keep an eye on this site for further updates on Spitzer’s upcoming self-titled record, which is due out July 19.

 

Lofi Legs – Lifesucker (Stream)

Editor’s Note: This post is one of several that were scheduled to go live several months ago but never went through. Rather than let these posts die an undignified death, they appear today in their original, unaltered forms. 

“Lifesucker” starts off in a way that mirrors countless indie pop songs that have come before it and undoubtedly will continue to start after the song’s release. There’s nothing wrong or overly consequential with adhering to a loved formula but, in this case, the familiarity acts as a rug- and that rug gets pulled before too long. A clever guitar riff and an interlocking bass line dance with each other, while a shuffling snare pushes the song’s momentum forward. Some bells add a splash of color and before long, the indie pop sensibility gets morphed into post-punk. And then the chorus hits.

A gloriously unexpected, woozy, towering, psych-inflected burst of kaleidoscopic melody all but consumes “Lifesucker”, breathing further strength into both its verse sections and the song as a whole. Surprisingly thrilling, that screwball section takes a strong track and turns it into something that’s not just great but something that’s memorable. Perfect for summer and fully equipped to hold up on many, many repeat visits “Lifesucker” is a miraculous track that’ll hopefully carve out some more recognition for Lofi Legs, who are flexing the kind of ambition that leads to longevity.

Listen to “Lifesucker” below and download it here.

WHY? – Please take me home, I don’t belong here. (Music Video)

In the mid-2000’s, Yoni Wolf decided to turn a solo pseudonym into a full band and WHY? set off on charting one of the most fascinating career paths of any band in recent memory. After that 2004 turning point, WHY? would release what are widely, but quietly, hailed as classics in Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia, two chameleon-esque records that veer in and out of hip-hop, folk, indie rock, alt-pop, ambient, and a long list of other genres.

A dedicated fanbase sprang up in the wake of those two releases, prompting investigations into the group-specific slang that dominated Wolf’s lyrics. People forged intense, meaningful relationship with the work on display, which felt so offbeat yet intensely personal. “Suicide notes” was a phrase that was tossed around when it came to dissecting the band’s narratives, sometimes sung, sometimes rapped, sometimes whispered, and the hypnotically kaleidoscopic music behind those words elevated them further to an extent that came off as genuinely inspired.

Past those two releases, the band took on a few new forms and shapes, which unsurprisingly drew waves of conflicting opinions between the project’s most faithful listeners. Eskimo Snow, one of the band’s most gorgeously arranged and beautifully produced records, gave some fans pause as it found the band embracing their quietest sensibilities. The fans who loved that record, in turn, were thrown ajar by the band’s subsequent works which largely skewed more confrontational and abrasive, yet no one seemed to want to stop listening to any of it altogether.

Some EP’s, LP’s, and one-off’s after their attention-ensnaring run of early material, the band have arrived at AOKOHIO, which they’ve unveiled by parcel through video sequences that tackle the forthcoming record sequentially. While movements I and II were both fascinating in their own right, it’s movement III, Please take me home, I don’t belong here., that did the most damage.

Ostensibly, Please take me home, I don’t belong here., serves as somewhat of an open-hearted love letter to Wolf’s brother and extraordinarily gifted bandmate Josiah, whose contributions to WHY?’s instrumental template over the years have proved invaluable. Additionally, this run of songs also seems to be a half-buried plea for self-preservation. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte serves as the director and elevates each note with the type of grace and sensitivity that the subject matter deserves, turning the entire affair into a spellbinding treatsie on the nature of life, emphasizing its finite nature to an extraordinary degree without ever becoming hamfisted.

“The Launch”, “High Dive”, “Mr. Fifth’s Plea”, and “Good Fire” are the songs that are covered in the movement and each exemplifies the best qualities of WHY?, drawing directly from the past to shape their present. Please take me home, I don’t belong here. understands that relationship and navigates it deftly, allowing the clip’s subtext to suggest that beyond extending Wolf’s continued fatalistic obsessions, the end results can be boiled down to the micro and applied to the history of the band.

Footage of Wolf miming along to the song alone in a chair are interspersed with unearthed home movies of the Wolf brothers as young children, flooding the clip with the type of tenderness that so often bleeds into shattering emotional recognition. And sure enough, by the time the sequence comes to a close, it’s difficult not to be fighting back some stray tears. More than just being exceptionally well-crafted and executed, Please take me home, I don’t belong here. feels important; the product of a mind that’s always had too much to say to make room for the truths that too often go unsaid.

Gripping, tense, and deeply empathetic, Please take me home, I don’t belong here. stands firm as one of 2019’s most unexpected gut-punches. A devastating reminder of WHY?’s commitment to not only exploring their own artistry but the nature of humanity, dropping the sardonic wit that’s so often accompanied their incisive past self-examinations to simply lay every card on the table, look up, and allow something in that’s rarely appeared throughout their discography: hope.

Watch “Please take me home, I don’t belong here.” below and pre-order AOKOHIO here.

Young Guv – Roll With Me + Every Flower I See (Stream)

For years, Young Guv has been experiencing a steady uptick in public recognition. Like so many other artists that get covered here it’s not necessarily due to something like touring harder or being more prolific in terms of releases (in addition to that music both competing and benefiting from existing in the shadow of a wide umbrella), it’s more a matter of an audience catching up to the quality of an artist’s music All that said, the Ben Cook — who also plays guitar in Fucked Up — project’s also quietly improved over its run, an aspect that’s readily apparent on Young Guv’s most recent offerings: “Roll With Me” and “Every Flower I See”.

One feels like a spiritual brother to Rolling Blackouts C.F, the other, Mike Krol. Both come stamped with Cook’s signature vocal tic, which manages the difficult trick of sounding simultaneously weary and completely energized. Both tracks are easy to fall in love with, exuding the kind of charm that characterized acts like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk in their early breakout moments. Every second, no matter which way the genre influences lean, proves winsome, and Cook further solidifies his place among today’s emerging songwriters. “Roll With Me” and “Every Flower I See” both offer up an early look at Cook’s forthcoming Guv I, which could be mentioned on this site come December if the rest of its anywhere close to this good. Don’t miss this one.

Listen to “Roll With Me” and “Every Flower I See” below and pre-order Guv I from Run For Cover here.

Graham Hunt – Change Their Mind (Stream)

Graham Hunt‘s name should be a familiar one to anyone in the upper Midwest who pays attention to the region’s scrappy basement pop scene. Midnight Reruns, Midwives, and Sundial Mottos all benefited from Hunt’s involvement and the totality of that output, in addition to a smattering of solo material, helped the songwriter secure a spot in Mike Krol‘s most recent touring band. Every year seems to bring a handful of releases with Hunt’s name on them and whether they’ve been standalone singles or full records, the results have been uniformly exceptional.

“Change Their Mind”, Hunt’s most recent track, stands in select company as one of the finest. Utilizing a strong production team (including Hunt’s old Midwives bandmate Sahan Jayisuriya, whose beat-making project Cold Lunch is well worth a look) and an arsenal of decisive hooks, Hunt embraces the thoughtfulness that’s characterized much of the songwriter’s past material and the slacker vibes of ’90s alt-pop. Imagine something of a cross between the composition nuance LEN’s infectious “Steal My Sunshine”, the oddly immediate, laissez faire outlook of Beck’s “Loser”, and the type of well-worn melodies that dominated Ben Kweller’s Sha Sha, and that should offer an inkling of what kind of terrain Hunt’s occupying here.

Surprisingly grounded for having so much of a wild streak, “Change Their Mind” isn’t just one of the best offerings of Hunt’s career, it’s one of the more engaging tracks to be released over the past seven months. A decidedly minor-key triumph, “Change Their Mind” belongs on as many mix tapes as possible. Immediate and immediately thrilling, the song’s a freeing reminder of how much the slacker pop genre still has to offer.

Listen to “Change Their Mind” below and download it for a price of your choosing here.

Deadbeat Beat – You Lift Me Up (Music Video)

Creating music that’s reminiscent of the past without sounding like a tepid retread is a deceptively difficult tightrope to walk but Deadbeat Beat seem to have that balance down pat on “You Lift Me Up”. Americana-tinged basement pop that carries a comforting familiarity while making just enough space for a modern bent, the track’s been given an appropriately crafted music video that borrows from ’60s imagery while utilizing bleeding edge effects. The Jack Schmier-directed clip’s a mirror of its source material, offering a complementary layer to a breezy, enjoyable total package.

Watch “You Lift Me Up” below and pre-order How Far here.

PUP – Sibling Rivalry (Music Video)

From 2013 to 2017, PUP managed to string together an incredibly unlikely feat: in three of those five years, I awarded the band the Music Video of the Year distinction (both here and over at PopMatters). Directors Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux played an instrumental role in that run, producing a handful of other clips for the band that picked up similar accolades in the process. For “Sibling Rivalry”, PUP take a slightly different approach and allow Martin MacPherson to helm the clip, which is based on the slice-of-life, tongue-in-cheek comics that bandleader Stefan Babcock has produced for years.

In terms of conceit, it’s deceptively brilliant, allowing the humor of the narrative to be amplified while honoring the childhood roots that allowed the song to exist at all in a myriad of ways. Impressively, the clip coaxes some genuine laugh-out-loud moments out of the misadventures of Babcock and his sister as it reflects on pasts (likely both real and imagined/exaggerated) where they continuously try to one-up each other’s recklessly freewheeling impulsiveness.

A tremendous clip from the jump, beautifully animated and ingeniously illustrated, “Sibling Rivalry” stands as the finest example of PUP’s under-discussed penchant for quick-witted and painfully relatable comedy. Both a visual treat and a genuinely heartfelt love letter to what appears to be one of the most healthy dysfunctional relationships imaginable, “Sibling Rivalry” is a more than deserving addition to the band’s continued run of excellence in the medium, which rivals — and may even exceed — any other act this decade.

Watch “Sibling Rivalry” below and pick up a copy of Morbid Stuff here.

Paear – Don’t (Stream)

A few years ago, Peaer put out a ridiculously strong self-titled record that saw the trio nearly perfect a curious blend of math-rock, Midwestern emo, and east coast indie, all of which was shot through with an undeniably punk sensibility. They’ve toured hard since that record’s release and tightened the screws on that formula, amplifying certain aspects (a sludge/grunge influence has started to peek through with a little more regularity) and growing more surgical in their overall precision.

All of those qualities coalesce on Don’t, the first look the band’s offering at their upcoming A Healthy Earth, and it’s a doozy. The track starts off restrained, winds itself up, takes an enormous leap and starts swinging recklessly from the rafters. A startlingly clear track, “Don’t” showcases the absolute best qualities of Peaer and tees up A Healthy Earth with a palpable sends of purpose. Peaer have a lot left to say, we should be grateful that we’re in a position to listen.

Listen to “Don’t” below and pre-order a copy of A Healthy Earth from Tiny Engines here.

Booji Boys – Tube Reducer (Album Review, Stream)

Tube Reducer, the latest album from Booji Boys, is a tenacious basement punk ripper that’s strong enough to restore anyone’s faith in the transformative power of the genre at its best. It’s a pure distillation of manic energy, threatening to careen off the rails with every quick-passing one beat. Gritty, fierce, and undeniably scrappy, Tube Reducer is the sound of a band who learned how to master sounding like they’re giving all of the fucks.

A record that seemingly lays everything on the line, Booji Boys have unleashed something rabid and determined to sink its fangs into as many people as possible. Only two of these 13 tracks eclipses the two and a half minute mark and most get their work done well before that hits. Virtually none of the songs exceed three minutes. Booji Boys make their points succinctly and with admirable urgency, flying through the baker’s dozen with a clear-eyed conviction that elevates the record a considerable degree.

No breaks come on the record, which is all pedal to the metal and no slowdown, content to fly through every red light and stop sign imaginable, if only to wreak further havoc. By the time “Moto-Hard” brings things to a fiery conclusion, it’s truly difficult to not feel some sense of galvanization. Tube Reducer is the kind of record that burrows under the skin, heats up the blood, and kick-starts direct action. We could use more records like that in the world. If half are half as good as this one, we’ll be exceedingly fortunate.

Listen to Tube Reducer below and snag a name-your-price download here.