Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: 2xLP

Tenement – Curtains Closed (Stream)

Tenement I

Tenement have been more fundamental to the existence of this site than just about any other band currently going. Booking the band before they had any kind of physical record out was something I wrote about in detail in a piece that was included in the zine that came as an insert for the band’s recent early material compilation, Bruised Music, Volume 1. It was the first time I’d interacted with Tenement and that show remains one of my all-time favorites because of how thoroughly it reinforced that this was the kind of music I wanted to be involved with and support in any way I possibly could. After that show, the band repaid me in kind, time and time again, by booking the admittedly not-great band I was playing in at the time to play the venue they called home: The BFG.

At about an hour’s drive, it became something of haven, accessible and ceaselessly important to my musical development. It was through that venue I got to experience a full immersion into DIY culture, something that came equipped with authority conflict, a commendably defiant spirit, empathy, compassion, and a murderer’s row of great bills. The Figgs in a living room, Screaming Females, Sundials, Used Kids, Dead Dog, Little Lungs, and so many others in a basement, flyers covering up the majority of the house’s wall space, a Tom’s Drive-In across the street, and a dog with an American flag bandanna all became sights that felt like home. An insane assortment of records, everything from deep-cut free jazz to vintage soul to powerviolence, littered the place. One of my favorite sights, though, was the dusty, barely-tuned piano near the entrance to the basement.

That piano has appeared on multiple Tenement songs throughout the years (most notably the controversial “Medical Curiosity“, “The Cage That Keeps You In“, and the flipside of the Blind Wink cassette) and Predatory Highlights makes sure it’s not an instrument that’s not going to be leaving the band’s palette. While it may or may not be the same piano (it certainly sounds like it), it does have a similar beaten-down quality that complements the band’s ethos to a tee. Tenement is, above all else, a band hell-bent on celebrating life’s minutiae. The overlooked, the undesired, the inessential, and providing those things with such a sharp focus that they become something extraordinary. It can be the subject of a song or it can be an abused piano but Tenement, without fail, is able to embrace what most would consider flaws and shape them into something staggeringly beautiful.

It’s the note that “Curtains Closed”- their just-unveiled additional glimpse at Predatory Highlights– starts on (joined by some high-impact hand claps) and it’s one that’s sustained through the song. Amos Pitsch, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, artist, and driving creative force, sings with as much conviction as ever while the band’s music, which has long eschewed punk’s more traditional trappings for something far more adventurous, surges underneath his vocals. Pitsch has always belonged to a tier of songwriters whose work is informed more heavily by novelists than any other type of writer. Opening with a line like “Paper snowflakes on fire/seven deaths in a row/they burn up together” ensures that’s not something that’s likely to change, even as the band’s musicality continues to separate further from conventionality (which can also be attributed to the off-kilter approaches of the band’s rhythm section- made up of bassist/poet Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer- who remain one of the best units currently in operation).

For close to eight years now, this band’s been the very best the state of Wisconsin has had to offer and they’ve somehow managed to continuously improve. Evolving into something that both honors their past and opens up their future. Titus Andronicus’ monstrous double album may have the lion’s share of the attention now but don’t make the mistake of overlooking Predatory Highlights while its flame threatens to overtake the shadows where its been flickering for years. At 25 tracks, this is the most ambitious work of Tenement’s career- and if “Dull Joy” and “Curtains Closed” are anything to go by, it certainly seems like it will be their very best (as well as their defining moment).

As the band continue to pile on their willful disregard for genre expectations, the more exhilarating they become and that disregard seems to have hit a fever pitch without sacrificing any of the accessibility that made them so easy to identify with  from the beginning. Now, more than ever, Tenement are a band that deserves as much attention as humanly possible- and “Curtains Closed”, brightly damaged melody and all, takes them a step closer to receiving the kind of recognition they’ve always deserved.

Listen to “Curtains Closed” below and pre-order Predatory Highlights before its June 2 release from Don Giovanni here.

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Great Thunder – Groovy Kinda Love (Album Review)

First off: apologies for the font issues yesterday’s Meredith Graves interview piece is still experiencing, those will hopefully be resolved at some point in the near future. Now, today’s event: Great Thunder.  Great Thunder have been one of the more hidden side projects for a while now, despite two incredible releases and the continuously rising profiles of both Swearin’ and Waxahatchee. Both their Strange Kicks EP and Sounds of Great Thunder LP showed flashes of their band members’ other projects influence. While this is still true of the absolutely massive Groovy Kinda Love, it’s to a much lesser extent.

Groovy Kind of Love utilizes an intimidating run time that nears 90 minutes to maximum effect. Great Thunder sheds all genre restrictions and just lets loose, exploring industrial, ambient, sludge, folk, drone, shoegaze, pop, and punk over the record’s 30 tracks. With that much material present, it could have been easy for Groovy Kinda Love to fall into a myriad of understandable traps. Instead, Great Thunder manage to subvert the litany of dangers that accompany this brand of over-stuffing through their wide-eyed earnestness. Each track avoids being relegated to filler status by utilizing a wildly different approach. One of the best examples of this comes around the two-thirds mark with an incredible five song run that’s book-ended by Katie Crutchfield’s signature stamp of defiant resignation in both “Sorta Prima Donna” and “Chapel of Pines”.

Unsurprisingly, the record’s most deliriously ragged moments seem to come from Keith Spencer, a key (if notoriously quiet) member of Swearin’. All of the stranger moments on that band’s most recent release, Surfing Strange, are wildly exceeded by the strangeness that runs rampant through the course of this one. Spencer gets to go into full on exploration mode and makes the most of everything he pulls into the band’s shape-shifting aesthetic. Jeff Bolt and Kyle Gilbride both step in to lend their talents to various parts of the record, essentially swapping one Crutchfield out for another momentarily. The results are just as thrilling as anything Swearin’ has accomplished so far.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a project worthy of either Swearin’ or Waxahatchee’s respective talents without a few moments of utter devastation. “Singer’s No Star” takes that hushed mentality to a place that cuts even deeper than the most emotionally unsettling moments of American Weekend. Crutchfield’s voice bleeds into a delicately handled piano line and resides in secret above a hauntingly effective doo-wop chorus. It’s a moment that can freeze even the most hardened listener. “You Left Me With an Ocean” utilizes a similar approach and achieves a similar effect, allowing a short run time to set up a quiet acoustic close.

While calling Groovy Kinda Love Great Thunder’s magnum opus may seem premature, it’s certainly not unwarranted or undeserved. It’s genuinely astonishing that this record actually achieves what it does. It’s not often a band makes a statement as bold, daring, or audacious as this record is. Unquestionably one of 2013’s most notable releases, it deserves to be in just about any serious record collector’s home. More importantly, it deserves to sit on the turntable, played into oblivion until the grooves have worn thin. This isn’t just a record. It’s a masterpiece.

Salinas is now taking pre-orders and the record can be streamed in full below.