Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Album Stream

LVL UP – Return to Love (Album Review)

LVL UP II

A great week was all but capped off by a tantalizing array of new material, including streams from Dark Blue, Teksti-TV 666, Black Honey, Alien Boy, Teen Vice, Acrylics, and Itasca. Neaux held down the fort for the music video format while excellent full streams from the likes of Static Animal, Anthony Jay Sanders, and betty becky came to light. Dillo Milk’s tremendous second compilation, Dillo Milk 2, rounded things out in memorable fashion.

As enticing as it was to go into detail on any of those entries listed above, this post was always going to belong to LVL UP. When Heartbreaking Bravery first started, they were the ideal example of the type of band this space was designed to celebrate. A scrappy, frequently overlooked powerhouse that earned critical acclaim and adoration in certain circles, had strong communal values, a distinctly DIY ethos, and a knack for intelligent, intuitive songwriting. The fact that they were playing basement pop — the genre that would arguably come to define this site’s coverage — almost became secondary to those other characteristics.   

Less than a week and a half elapsed from the first post to be published on this site before LVL UP’s was printed. Even if that mention was only a tangential one, it was designed to posit the band as reference point for feature coverage. Before long, they became an intrinsic part of Heartbreaking Bravery’s allotted feature segments. Very few bands have appeared in that capacity at a greater volume of frequency than LVL UP have managed to attain over their past several releases.

Hoodwink’d
, their outstanding sophomore full-length, topped this site’s best albums of 2014 list. Three Songs, the quartet’s most recent short-form release, ranked highly in the best EP’s of 2015 list. “Hidden Driver“, “Spirit Was“, “Pain“, and “The Closing Door“, the four songs to tease the just-released Return to Love, all earned features on their own considerable merit. With that kind of rollout campaign, a full review of Return to Love became an inevitability. Predictably, the rest of the record somehow found a way to surpass what were once thought to be unreasonably high expectations.

“Hidden Driver”, Return to Love‘s incendiary opener, sounded like it was all but ready to hurtle itself into an untested abyss when it was first unveiled. It’s an explosive work and it sets up the noticeably more aggressive nature of Return to Love, which asks a lot bigger questions than its predecessors. From the outset, Return to Love grapples with non-traditional instances of love and spirituality, something the band discussed at length in Loren DiBlasi‘s revealing MTV profile piece that went up earlier today.

In that interview, guitarist/vocalist Dave Benton (who penned “Hidden Driver”) posited God as a feeling, rather than as an all-knowing omnipresence. So, when the unforgettable chorus of “Hidden Driver” hits, the meaning becomes slightly more clear. It’s the first instance of a slew of moments that litter Return to Love in which the band confront the spiritual realm with the kind of bold decisiveness that powers the record.

Blur“, one of two songs to be revised from Three Songs for Return to Love, increases the velocity of the momentum and allows Mike Caridi to take over for a moment. Characteristically riff-happy and tethered to an enviable pop sensibility, “Blur” scales back from the otherworldly concerns of “Hidden Driver” to examine the minutiae of a fractured relationship and its lingering effects.

Only two songs into the record and LVL UP have already struck a delicate balance of external and internal questioning, providing an early hint that Return to Love is a record that’s defined by a commitment to exploring their own curiosity. Complementing that theme is the renewed emphasis on keys, which prove to be immensely effective and elevate the record’s frequently subdued nature, especially as Return to Love explores new musical territory.

A great example of that exploration comes in the form of the record’s third track, which turns the spotlight back to Benton. “She Sustains Us” is one of Return to Love‘s more definitive moments as it opens up the band’s sound, considerably expands their musical boundaries, establishes new tendencies, and examines the ideas of love and spirituality from a singular perspective while remaining subversive in the way those topics are typically approached. Beautiful harmonies flitter in and out of “She Sustains Us” and continues the the band’s tradition of adding compelling touches of overt femininity in their work.

The ensuing quartet of tracks constitute Return to Love‘s beating heart and have all either been revealed as part of the record’s introductory campaign or have been staples of the band’s galvanizing live sets for a year or more. “Pain” — a critical part of that run of songs and one of the record’s many standouts — sees Mike Caridi getting off some cutting asides while still managing to invoke a small semblance of lightness. The narrative of “Blur” is unapologetic in its casual brutality, wishing nothing but the worst for a person who harmed a loved one. Somehow, the spry nature of the music surrounding those biting lyrics keep the sentiment from becoming overly malicious.

There’s always been an underlying humanism and empathy to LVL UP’s work, even at its most detached. “Spirit Was”, “The Closing Door”, and “Five Men On the Ridge” all reap the benefits of that genuine, open-hearted approach which continues to stand in contrast to so many otherwise similarly-minded acts. All of those songs also ably demonstrate LVL UP’s acutely-realized atmospheric design (the plinking piano figure of “Spirit Was” being a perfect example) and their newfound heaviness (when the band comes crashing in at full force towards the start of the redesigned “The Closing Door”, the sudden impact becomes ridiculously powerful).

Five Men on the Ridge“, easily one of Return to Love‘s heaviest numbers, transitions the record into its final run of tracks with an impressive mixture of grace and relentless intensity. It’s a song that’ll be new to just about everyone that hasn’t been fortunate enough to catch the band live but it takes on new life in the context of the record. One of bassist/vocalist Nick Corbo’s strongest contributions to date, the song finally infuses Return to Love‘s line of questioning with a well-earned sense of dread; there are likely some big questions that are better left unanswered.

Corbo immediately follows that jarring moment of bleakness with one of Return to Love‘s most meditative pieces, “Cut from the Vine”, which finds the songwriter returning to a characteristic theme: the distinctly human connection to nature. It’s something that Corbo’s explored on previous records and discussed semi-frequently in interviews (as well as casual conversation). While all of the past instances of this recurrent theme in Corbo’s songwriting have been engaging, “Cut from the Vine” is truly exceptional.

With the slow-burn of “Cut from the Vine”, the record’s final Caridi track — “I” — is positioned perfectly. Return to Love‘s penultimate number restores a sense of urgency and elevates its immediacy, recalling the band’s past work with enough panache and untethered momentum to rank as one of Return to Love‘s most exhilarating offerings. At a brisk two minutes (not counting the fascinating ambient epilogue that features drummer Greg Rutkin’s distorted ramblings about a beach), it’s the record’s shortest song and its sharpest kick, all but cementing Return to Love as one of 2016’s fiercest highlights.

All of that said — meaning every single paragraph of this feature review — nothing could’ve been adequate preparation for Return to Love‘s bruising, doom-leaning, chant-laden finale, “Naked In the River with the Creator”. Corbo takes the reigns once again and steers the focus back to nature, love, and spirituality in one fell swoop. “Naked in the River with the Creator” was one of three songs on Return to Love that was initiated by the excellent Song A Day for A Week series and its final form is astonishing.

Nearly seven and a half minutes in length, “Naked in the River with the Creator” suggests that Return to Love still hasn’t revealed the extent of the band’s ambitions. Opening with the slowest tempo of the record, somber vocals awash in a gently haunting organ figure, the effect is genuinely startling. Even more startling is when the bottom drops out and plunges the band into a quasi-nightmarish trip into a metal-informed trance that evokes a state of possession.

The latter half of “Naked in the River with the Creator”, with its repeated mantras of chants like the opening “white river, black water, gaining purpose, moving stronger, ash rising, bright father, dogs running the earth’s daughter” becomes both deeply disconcerting and oddly chilling. As directly as the band confronted spirituality throughout Return to Love, “Naked in the River with the Creator” all but exists on a different plane of existence. It’s a shocking departure from a band not typically known for taking risks and the dividends it pays are enormous, fully positioning LVL UP’s Sub Pop as not only a genre classic but as one of the legendary label’s best releases in years.

All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.

To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.

Listen to Return to Love below and pick it up from Sub Pop here.

Jack – Resting Places (EP Review)

JACK

Grief is a fearsome beast. At its worst, the emotion can become all-consuming and open up doors to spiteful resentments, severe depression, and bursts of misplaced anger. At its best, grief can lead to an expanded sense of empathy and a deeper understanding of the things that are legitimately important in life. More often than not, though, grief lingers in between that spectrum, forever at odds with its own qualities. All of those areas are explored in Jack’s jaw-dropping EP, Resting Places.

That’s precisely the reason why — despite absurdly strong showings from Vanity, Notches, Honey Bucket, Turtlenecked, Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes, and Liam Betson —  the EP finds itself in this post’s featured position. Jack, a project spearheaded by Brittany Costa, came about by way of a difficult situation. That situation informs every millisecond of Resting Places, as Costa created the project as an outlet to confront the loss of a loved one.

Anyone that’s lucky enough to be familiar with Costa’s past work will undoubtedly find reason to be interested in Resting Places but will likely be caught off guard. This is, by some distance, the most vital work of Costa’s impressive career. Resting Places is an unflinchingly intimate, honest work and those qualities are all but necessitated by the circumstances leading up to its creation. What separates Resting Places is Costa’s overwhelming conviction. At every turn, each of the five tracks on the EP feel like they were born out of a fierce need to purge the thoughts they contain, at any cost.

Drawing from a variety of musical genres and utilizing the talents of Flagland‘s Nick Dooley and Bethlehem Steel’s Becca Ryskalczyk, Costa ably conjures up a maelstrom that becomes a mirror of Resting Places‘ bruised and bruising narrative. From the very opening line of the EP — “What the fuck did I do to make you turn away?” — there’s an aggressive tilt that never wavers, even in Resting Places‘ quietest moments.

A feedback swell precedes that opening salvo, establishing the discord that the EP draws on and rails against. For around 24 minutes, Costa veers in and out of folk, punk, Americana, and pop sensibilities, tethering everything into a genre-demolishing approach that thrives on a sense of unease. It’s a trait that permeates through all of Resting Places, as bleary-eyed and frantic as possible. All of those qualities come crashing to a head at climactic moments like the desperate affirmation of “I have fucking value” that closes out opener “Rightful Rage” or the repeated aversions to inflicting and experiencing suffering on the devastating “Harbor”.

Costa’s impressed as both a lyricist and a composer in the past but what she accomplishes on Resting Places doesn’t just top everything she’s done, it stands as some of the most impressive work that 2016 has yielded to date. Every track on the EP contains a handful of extraordinary moments, whether its in terms of dynamics, turns of phrases, or unbridled feeling. There’s a knockout punch lingering at every turn that’s ready to knock the listener down to Costa’s level. At no point over the course of its run does Resting Places halt its merciless swinging.

In Resting Places‘ penultimate track, “Sister System”, Costa addresses that pain directly, providing the EP with its most vulnerable moment. Even when Dooley’s intuitive drumming — one of Resting Places‘ finest additional assets — opens the song up a little, there’s an unwavering sense that Costa’s completely alone. The command to “pick up that dignity you threw across the floor” that brings the song to the end feels like less of a request and more of a reminder, again drawing the listener nearer to Costa’s position in a stunning, effective manner.

“The Look” brings the proceedings to a close in hair-raising fashion, giving Resting Places its severely battered, barely-beating heart. The song was the first to be released from Resting Places and managed to be breathtaking in a standalone capacity. Placed in the context of the EP, “The Look” becomes one of the most devastating songs to have emerged in recent memory. It’s a surging, climactic, tour-de-force of repressed feeling, unchecked frustration, and excessive exhaustion.

As Costa nearly screams “I tried to choke myself to stop the hurried breathing” in that final track, as the music surrounding the narrative threatens to go off the rails, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Resting Places isn’t just a necessary excursion for Costa to confront some lingering demos, it’s an artistic masterpiece. Eventually, it all leads up to what may be an inevitable summation. As “The Look” brings Resting Places to a close, Costa gets caught in a loop, repeating over and over “I am not afraid to die.”

It’s a powerful statement that holds even more weight measured against the rest of the EP. It’s a frightening moment of awareness and may even betray a dark desire but that final line also encapsulate how definitive of an exploration Resting Places is of personal grief. In that last line, the deceptively expansive breadth of grief is evident and can be opened up to many interpretations. A few of those interpretations may even prompt immediate revisits of the EP, providing the opportunity for re-contextualization.

As the music fades away into the ether,  Resting Places solidifies its place as one 2016’s most powerful releases for any format, leaving a mark that lasts. It’s a difficult EP that sparks an empathetic response that’s a little harrowing but likely nothing in comparison to what Costa went through while forming these songs. A special kind of generosity and bravery is required to put those feelings on display, so for that, we owe Costa a thanks, because Resting Places is just about as unforgettable as they come and, suitably, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to leave.

Listen to Resting Places below and grab a copy here.

Clearance – Owner/Operator (Stream)

clearance

Since Friday, there have been notable streams from IAN SWEET, Fake Palms, American Wrestlers, Space Mountain, John K. Samson, Tanukichan, What Moon Things, Peace Be Still, Axis: Sova, Twist, The Veils, Quarterbacks, J&L Defer, Bon Iver, Cheshires, Black Thumb, CHUCK, Suntrodden, Makeout Point, Shapes In Calgary, Adam Torres, Dowsing, and Hiva Oa that have all appeared. On top of that, there were great music videos that came courtesy of Pleasure Leftists, Jake S-M, Breathe Panel, Emma Russack, Winter, Ka, and Pfarmers. Full streams that came via Bueno, Swimsuit Addition, Echo Courts, Big Bliss, The Channels, Cassels, BJ Barham, Dolfish, and Red Heat closed the haul of new material out in a memorable fashion.

All of those entries impressed on multiple levels but it was the latest offering from site favorites Clearance that earned this post’s featured position. “Owner/Operator” is the band’s second individual release — following the excellent “Are You Aware” — since their outstanding Rapid Rewards LP and sees the quartet continuing to find fascinating ways to balance a carefree atmosphere with urgent conviction. The song will be featured as part of their forthcoming Are You Aware 7″, which seems poised to stand as one 2016’s finest releases for that format.

A large part of those expectations can be accredited to the successes of “Owner/Operator”, a breezy and bristling three-and-a-half minute number that both refines and advances Clearance’s songwriting. From the structure to the dynamic nuances, there’s an uncommon liveliness that electrifies the proceedings, pushing a good song into the realms of greatness. Surprisingly memorable, weirdly powerful, and unashamedly casual, “Owner/Operator” is an unlikely slacker pop anthem for the basement punk crowd.

Listen to “Owner/Operator” below and pre-order Are You Aware from Tall Pat here.

Glueboy – Yikes (Album Review)

Glueboy XXI

The past few Friday’s haven’t offered much in the way of new material but this week proved to be an exception, gifting the world new tracks from Earth Girls, Anti Pony, JEFF The Brotherhood, Slow MassSLØTFACE, Kindling, Emma Ruth Randle, Looming, Divan, Sheer, Criminal Hygiene, Raury, Buzz Kull, Gothic Tropic, The Raveonettes, Scarlett Saunders, Banks & Steelz (ft. Kool Keith), Sharks Teeth, and Bueno. Additionally, there were full streams from Steve Adamyk Band, Eric Slick, Hollow Sunshine, and an entrancing music video from Massive Attack.

While all of those proved to be worthy titles, it’s Glueboy‘s sophomore full-length debut, Yikes, that earns this post’s featured spot. Following two promising releases, the band fully capitalizes on their potential and lets loose from the record’s onset with the fiery “Foot Soldier”. After a deceptive 40 second buildup, “Foot Soldier” takes off at full sprint and from that moment forward, Yikes never looks back.

Importantly — and largely thanks to the mixing and mastering team of Flagland‘s Nick Dooley and Big Ups‘ Amar Lal — this is the best Glueboy’s ever sounded on record. Following 2015’s impressive Videodrama EP, the band sounds revitalized, attacking every square inch of these songs with a newfound conviction. It’s a trait that’s evident from Yikes‘ opening run of songs and that sense of galvanization never wavers. Whether it’s guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Marty’s frantic, deeply-felt vocal work, bassist/vocalist Coby Chafets’ increasingly sharp lyric sets, or the additional sense of purpose that seems to have elevated Eli Sills’ drumming.

Everything clicks, congealing into a whirling dervish of a record that feels volatile and grounded simultaneously. Even when the band’s being boldly transparent in their influences (the vocal pattern and general construction of “Telescreen”, for example, is incredibly reminiscent of Titus Andronicus’ “Dimed Out“), there’s a genuine spark behind their playing that essentially erases any room for complaint. Helping matters along is that those moments are few and far between, allowing the rest of Yikes to firmly establish the band’s own singular identity.

Yikes also winds up benefiting from its members’ intrinsic musicality [disclosure: I lived with Chafets for half of 2015 and had several opportunities to join in jam sessions with all of the band’s members] and their comprehensive understanding of their chosen genre. Taken as a whole, the level of musicianship Marty, Chafets, and Sills imbue Yikes with is incredibly impressive, conjuring up levels of energy that oscillate but never come anywhere close to stagnancy.

Helping Yikes maintain its pace is the fact that only two of the songs eclipse the three minute mark, keeping things lively. Nearly every song in the collection comes in at a furious tempo, with the band seemingly intent on finding catharsis through destruction. Remarkably, the trio seems to actually achieve that goal at nearly every turn. Personal confessions, declarations, and half-buried desires litter Yikes‘ narrative landscape and breathe an additional level of life into the proceedings, coming to a climactic moment that serves as the record’s finale.

At the end of “Falling Down” everything finally threatens to go off the rails for good, splintering apart into near-chaos as the band lays seemingly everything on the line. Chafets (who trades vocal leads with Marty throughout the record) screams his larynx raw in the song’s closing passage, with the band around him erupting into a hardcore spree before cutting out abruptly. It’s an extraordinary ending to a record that should prove to be monumental to the band’s evolution as well as their reputation. Earnest, uncompromising, and endlessly fascinating, Yikes is more than just a much-needed jolt of pure basement pop adrenaline- it’s one of the year’s best surprises.

Listen to Yikes below and pick up a copy here.

Emily Yacina – A Curse (Music Video)

emily yacina

As the work week approaches its end, new material finds its way out into the world. This Thursday boasted intriguing new songs from Lina Tullgren, Peter Broderick, TERRY, Reality Something, No Joy, and Alexandra Savior. Moonface and Siinai, Private Victories, Grubby Little Hands, and The Blind Pets all released compelling new music videos. Full streams posted an impressive cast of entries as well, including new records from Soccer Mommy, Mikey Erg, Great Barriers, VHS, and The Dove and the Wolf. While, as ever, all of those are worthy of multiple revisits, it was a music video that slipped through the cracks earlier this week that ultimately wound up with this post’s feature spot.

Emily Yacina has built a career out of reveling in a comforting softness, conjuring up tantalizing beds of sound and enveloping the listener with the blankets. There’s an inherent warmth in her work that becomes effortlessly inviting while simultaneously creating a pull that stems from a deceptive emotional intricacy. The Sophie Savides-directed video for “A Curse” — which is gorgeously lensed by Kelly Jeffrey — capitalizes on all of those elements with an enticing precision.

Opening on a shot of a forlorn Yacina in a bathtub set against a clinically white backdrop, the camera draws closer, slowly pulling us into her world. Two vases of flowers adorn that backdrop, offering signs of life that soon blossom as the perspective switches to Yacina’s POV which reveals that she’s submerged in a milk-like liquid that single flowers populate. Another perspective shift and the flowers are suddenly everywhere, as a wellspring of noises calmly enter into the track.

Yacina captivates throughout, delivering a startlingly poignant performance that speaks to her abilities as both a composer and a performer. As the clip progresses, the sincerity in Yacina’s songwriting grows clearer as she bravely conveys every emotion that carries “A Curse” with a poise that seems effortless. Eventually, the camera pulls back out in a cyclical reveal that underscores the pained loneliness that informs the narrative of “A Curse” in a moment of reserved devastation.

Overall, “A Curse” is a deeply felt, elegant entry into Emily Yacina’s already impressive body of work. Open, honest, and incisive, it’s perfectly demonstrative of what can be achieved with an idea, a strong team, and a wealth of conviction. In that sense alone, it’s inspiring. What makes it worthwhile extends beyond its underpinnings to its execution. “A Curse” is exceptional at every turn and winds up being a definitive portrait of a formidable artist. After a dip into “A Curse”, it’s proving to be nearly impossible to work up the resolve to leave.

Watch “A Curse” below and pick up Soft Stuff here.

Even Hand – Sighted (Album Review)

sighted

Over the past week or so there were a whole host of fascinating music videos that emerged, including clips from the following acts: Tangerine, Spook the Herd, Heavy Drag, Peach Kelli Pop (x2), Globelamp, Elvis Depressedly, Psychic Heat, The Van T’s, John Doe, Mimes of Wine, Merchandise, Kid Moxie, Eagulls, and Ace Frayley’s Child. All of them were granted multiple views and a fair amount of thought but when it came time to decide on a feature, that spot fell to a record from a band that’s been praised on these pages before.

After the many successes Even Hand found with both their self-titled debut and their follow-up outing, Drifted, slowing down would have been a logical move. Instead, the band opted to continue surging forward, honing the minutiae of their strongest aesthetic choices and continuing to grow sharper as a band. “Line Out”, the record’s opening track, immediately sounds more vicious than anything on the band’s first two records, building into a hard-charging noise/punk section that aims to bludgeon and hits with a surprisingly direct force. The track peels back a little eventually, revealing that the band’s penchant for compelling understatement hasn’t just remained in tact but has somehow become even more emboldened.

“Line Out” sets the tone for what’s to follow, including the insistent trio of tracks that come in on its heels. “Mystery Is”, “Telewater”, and “MONEY HOUSE BLESSING” all feel indebted to a strain of ’90s punk that’s gone relatively unexplored as a primary source of influence from bands that have caught the eye of the greater public (Meat Wave being a notable exception). Of the three, “MONEY HOUSE BLESSING” stands out most because the band switches up its approach and places equal emphasis on dissonance and melody instead of primarily playing to their strength in catering to the former.

“Melt Glass” provides a breathtaking transition in one of the record’s bravest moments, which shows the band plumbing a previously untapped depth of the kind of experimentation that should yield impressive dividends as they barrel their way into the future. As an instrumental track, it also affords Even Hand what’s essentially a chance to subtly reset — or at least adjust — the positioning of Sighted, which they take immediately take advantage of by pairing the two shortest tracks together in the sequence that immediately follows “Melt Glass”.

“Holes in the Ceiling” ties the wistful, melancholic atmosphere of “Melt Glass” over for another track while the rant-fueled “Nightsmoke The Fuss” immediately cuts that atmosphere to shreds while (barely) retaining its subdued, bittersweet underpinning. More than any other stretch of Sighted, Even Hand’s able to demonstrate their expanded nuance and seemingly limitless understanding of the genre’s malleable, elastic form, something a lot of other bands become far too self-involved to explore in any sort of meaningful way.

Sighted‘s final third is largely made up of songs that more directly tie to the band’s past work, only they sound ever-so-slightly more focused than the bulk of their existing discography. Each one comes equipped with the kind of metallic sheen that Steve Albini likes to emphasize with his production techniques. “Sleep Complex”, Sighted‘s penultimate — and longest — track flashes a whole arsenal of qualities that made Even Hand such a fascinating band in the first place. The tension, feeling, dynamics, and intelligent structuring all point to a band operating at full capacity.

The elegiac “On A Distant Distant Distant Day” closes the proceedings out in a haunted whisper that doesn’t feel too far removed from Told Slant‘s recent work. As a final act, “On A Distant Distant Distant Day” feels appropriately placed; as more epilogue than finale, the song’s allowed to demonstrate worth via subtext rather than surface action. It’s an intelligent move that caps off a deeply rewarding record that benefits from investment but doesn’t wield it like a requirement. Oddly moving and meticulously crafted, Sighted marks the band’s third consecutive standout and goes quite a distance in proving the band’s not beholden to any sort of limitation. In short: Sighted is music worth celebrating.

Listen to Sighted below and keep an eye on Stupid Bag for the eventual cassette release.

Mock Orange – Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse (Album Review)

mockorange

Over the past several days a handful of great full streams have surfaced from the likes of Cat Be Damned, Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, The Hotelier, Boys, Swanning, Supermoon, Wave ActionMagic Potion, Dead Waves, 50 Foot Wave, and Winston Hightower, in addition to an incredible four-way split between Pet Cemetery, Henoheno, Brittle Brian, and Francie Cool. While all of those have significant merit, none of them were as unexpected as Mock Orange’s tremendous new effort, Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse.

From the onset of Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse it’s clear that Mock Orange have expanded their ambition, tightened their grasp on dynamics, and honed the most compelling aspects of their craft. The record opens with the slow crescendo of the intro section of “I’m Leaving”, essentially providing a microcosm of the band’s intelligence (and penchant for subtle, tongue-in-cheek humor) right off the bat.

What follows is a cavalcade of riff-laden, punk-leaning, left field basement pop. Ultra-melodic and unflinchingly weird, Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse draws an incredible amount of strength from it’s self-assuredness in its own singular nature. Mock Orange have all but perfected a sound that’s indebted to a strain of ’90s alt. bands that have remained relatively unmined in the crowded field of emergent bands taking cues from that decade.

Bright tones and a propulsive energy define Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse even in its darkest moments, like on the bruising “Window”, imbuing the whole affair with a lively feeling that’s difficult to shake. The record rarely dips below mid-tempo, contenting itself with an operative mode that attacks far more frequently than it withdraws. “Some Say”, which arrives around the record’s halfway point, is as close to a ballad that Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse has to offer but still comes across as more outwardly aggressive than vulnerable.

“Intake” and “Tell Me Your Story” constitute the explosive 1-2 punch that closes Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse and betray the band’s debt of influence to Dinosaur Jr more than any of the eight preceding tracks. They’re gruff, bruised, gnarled slices of basement pop (in the case of the former) and basement punk (in the case of the latter) that show the band’s breadth of range in a dizzying sequence that puts the final punctuation mark on a great chapter in the band’s history. Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse is the best the band’s ever been and promises great things for their future. I, for one, look forward to the ride.

Listen to Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse below and pick it up from the band here.

Lonely Ghost – Funereal (Album Review)

lonelyghost

Now that the site’s all but caught up to the current release cycle, it’s time to bring the full streams portion of coverage up to speed. There were four formidable releases from All People, Tim Heidecker, Sunwatchers, and Head Wound City that were released over the past few days but it was the unexpected submission of the full-length release from Lonely Ghost that claimed the feature spot.

A bedroom pop project from Kenny Forrester, Lonely Ghost is the type of act that revels in conjuring up half-haunted soundscapes and then warping them into a state where thei severe damage becomes a quintessential part of their identity. From the onset of Funereal, it’s evident that the record’s striving for something singular, nearing an intangible transcendence in the process. Opener “Hidden” packs an emotional wallop that the ensuing nine tracks support and carry through to Funereal‘s gentle, contemplative post-storm finale suite.

Forrester imbues every second of Funereal with a raw emotionalism that allows each individual composition to hit with maximum impact. Several of the slower cuts on Funereal slow-build so effectively that it seems unlikely that they’ll ever stop improving on revisits. When Lonely Ghost opts for something more immediate, like the shoegaze-leaning “Slow Down”, the results are no less spellbinding.

Ultimately, the entire collection stands as a fairly remarkable statement from an emerging artist who’s decided to carve out a niche space in compelling ways. That Funereal navigates as much ground as it does, as successfully as it does, is cause for celebration. It’s also a record that rewards investment on a spectacular level, which is somewhat surprising given how fascinating it is on first listen. In short, Funereal is extraordinary.

Listen to Funereal below and download it from the band here.

Mo Troper – Beloved (Album Review)

mo troper

Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

If you know me at all, then at some point over the past few months you’ve heard me talk (probably half-incoherently) about my excessive love for Mo Troper’s basement pop masterpiece, Beloved. My favorite release of 2016 thus far, for any format, the record’s been in near-constant rotation ever since the label (Good Cheer) patched over an advance copy. The thrill of that initial listen gets rekindled from the quick feedback crackle at the onset of opener “Happy Birthday” onward, at the point of nearly 100 full listens.

Literally everything about this record works. From the lo-fi-skewing production value, to the inordinate amount of hooks, to the vocal and instrumental melodies. There’s not a false note to be found anywhere on Beloved, which is paced and sequenced as masterfully as anything I’ve heard over the past 15 years. Pulling cues from classic powerop acts like Big Star and just as many from more punk-minded acts like The Replacements, Mo Troper’s landed on a sound that echoes the battered classics of contemporaries and legends alike.

Beyond the exceptionally well-composed songwriting, the lyrical narratives of Beloved feel unflinching honest in their openness. Whether Troper’s tackling heartache, bro culture, or his own anxieties, it never scans as anything less than completely sincere. In that respect, Beloved becomes one of the bravest records to emerge from the genre in recent years. By casting out sideways glances in favor of plain terminology, the record gains a large portion of its appeal by being unabashedly, terrifyingly realistic.

The lyrical strength of Beloved comes to a head in one of its starkest moments, the bass/vocals centerpiece “Somebody Special” (which arrives on the heels of “Judy Garland”, one of several songs on Beloved that could be a legitimate candidate for Song of the Year). One of the record’s most definitive moments comes at the heart of “Somebody Special” when Troper viciously takes himself apart and, in an instant, finds the strength to reconfigure:

And every boy you’ve spoiled since
has kissed you better than I ever could
It’s the big teeth and bad attitude
but I can live with that
I haven’t killed anyone yet

It’s in those moments where Beloved goes from being an unfathomably strong record to being an out-and-out genre classic (and, should time prove helpful, an outright classic). Troper stakes his heart in those moments and gifts it to anyone fortunate enough to be listening. Any of the perceived projections about Beloved being another routine run through both powerpop and sloppy, punk-leaning rock n’ roll hallmarks are eviscerated in one short passage; Beloved doesn’t just succeed in carrying out Troper’s artistic vision, it’s an immediate extension of himself, bruises and all.

Following the unforgettable devastation that “Somebody Special” provides is another run-through some of the most memorable basement pop to be released since the turn of the century. Whether that comes in the form of the anthemic punch of “Paint” and “Eighteen” or the endearing, pointed snark (and the frighteningly relatable confessions) of “Star Wars” doesn’t matter. What matters is that these songs exist in the first place because they were desperately needed.

Far too much of today’s musical landscape is taken up by fake posturing, band’s running through check marks to attempt to secure an audience, revenue, or a prized place in an emerging scene. Beloved discards literally every notion of false pretense to focus on something that chooses to embrace the unflattering nature of what it means to be human. It’s a record that’s seething with frustrations, disappointment, and a desire for something better, something more.

When Beloved finally hits its apex, with the towering eight-plus minutes of “The Biggest” (which never once repeats a section of lyrics and commendably avoids any discernible chorus) it’s genuinely breathtaking. Cutting in all of the right ways, it’s both a snarling condemnation of Troper’s own psyche and a wary treatsie on just about any form of empowerment that naturally accompanies any sort of authoritarian position (even in the most acute sense).

Beloved‘s final, minute-long song, “Teeth”, once again loops the focus back to the objects of its title, bringing out a clever metaphor more vividly. Teeth decay, teeth rot, teeth fall out, and teeth die. They’re a microcosm of what we experience as humans. Sure, there are moments where they’re cleansed, given treatment, or cared for, but their eventual collapse is inevitable. It’s an elegant, if surprisingly dark, statement but it’s firmly rooted in the reflective nature that drives so much of Beloved.

In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.

Listen to Beloved below and order a copy from Good Cheer here.

Mulligrub – Soft Grudge (Album Review)

mulligrub

Editor’s Note: There’s been a month-long gap in coverage, thanks to near-incessant travel and other extenuating circumstances. The following run of posts that contain this note will be posts that should have appeared sometime within the past several weeks. Use these posts as an opportunity to catch up to the present release cycle or to simply discover some new music. Either way, enjoy.

During the approximate two and a half years of its existence, this site’s afforded me a few unexpected introductions to new bands that have managed to impress on a deep level. Mulligrub were one of the first bands to make that kind of statement. Since that initial introduction, the trio’s put a lot of effort into perfecting their craft and, lately, they’ve been revealing the positive results.

After revealing the centerpiece of their debut full-length, the two-song suite of “Homo Milk” and “Man in the Moon”, both secured a position on this site’s 50 Best Songs of 2016‘s First Quarter list. With the bookends also having already received attention in these pages, the band had already compiled half of what promised to be an extraordinary record. Now Soft Grudge has arrived and its carried through on that promise.

Opening with a strengthened take on “Canadian Classic”, which remains an adrenaline-inducing firecracker of a song, the band sets out at a sprint on a breathless course and never stops running. The trio’s brand of bittersweet basement pop makes them a kindred spirit to acts like Radiator Hospital, Grubs, and Jawbreaker Reunion. Blending tongue-in-cheek humor with open honesty and youthful vigor, Soft Grudge should resonate with a very large group of people- all they need to do is listen.    

Listen to Soft Grudge below and pick up the record from the band here.