Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Alison Crutchfield

Watch This: Vol. 15

Once again, an apology is in order; due to extensive travel (more on that in a minute) a regular Sunday Watch This posting proved impossible. This 15th installment is a more low-key affair than usual. Apart from two very, very electric full sets, the emphasis falls squarely on wistful moments. From a powerpop staple to Appalachian-infused up-and-comers with a serious punk pedigree to Katie Crutchfield’s signature defiant vulnerability, open wounds wind up being this week’s focal point. As each video proves in some small way, sometimes the best way to deal with open wounds is to address them.

1. Saintseneca – Happy Alone (BadRacket Recording)

While Saintseneca has earned multiple mentions on this site before, they’ve never wound up in Watch This. It’s a drastic oversight and this is a necessary correction. Their run-through of “Happy Alone” for BadRacket Recording is nothing short of outstanding. Saintseneca continues to find new ways to impress and up the respective anticipation for their ANTI- debut, Dark Arc.

2. Matthew Caws – Inside of Love (KEXP)

When Nada Surf was still in the early stages of their career they were often written off as Weezer knockoffs. Many suspected they’d be unsustainable- and then they did the miraculous- they reinvented themselves and found themselves at the forefront of powerpop. Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws plays Let Go standout “Inside of Love” for KEXP here, as a part of the 15th anniversary celebration of Barsuk Records. It’s as winning now as it ever was.

3. Great Thunder – It Takes  So Much (Live at Saint Vitus)

Katie Crutchfield has one of the most arresting voices in all of music, writes emotionally crippling lyrics, and Great Thunder just made a fucking incredible record. A live performance showcasing all of those things? What more could anyone possibly want?

4. Hop Along (Live at Saint Vitus)

While any lineup that includes both Crutchfield twins is can’t-miss material, it’ll take something genuinely special to make an impression in the face of that. Luckily, for everyone, beloved Philadelphia act Hop Along proved more than up to the task and unARTigNYC was on hand to film all of it. While Get Disowned is (still) incredible on its own merits, the band comes into their own in a live setting. This is an impassioned 46-minute masterclass on how to do things right. Absolutely necessary viewing (and listening) material. 

5. Priests (Live at The Pinch)

There have been recent claims that seeing Priests for the first time is akin to a religious experience and the live footage that continues to surface of the band goes a long way in supporting that theory. It doesn’t seem to matter when the footage is from, either. From the get-go this band’s been channeling the brooding intensity of Swans and deftly combining it with the politics of Sleater-Kinney and the discordant aesthetics of Sonic Youth at their most fearlessly minimal. All of that is why Priests are this week’s band to know. Extra note: shout-out to vocalist Katie Alice Greer for her outstanding interview work over at Fvck the Media. Be sure to go read that- but be sure to watch this.

Saintseneca – Happy Alone (Music Video)

Between the streaming of Terrestrials the behemoth of a collaborative album between Sunn O))) and Ulver, the announcement of a Bad Banana reunion show, John Dwyer releasing his first material post-Oh Sees hiatus, Big Air publicly unveiling their excellent debut tape, Buds, Fear of Men releasing a very promising sneak peek of their upcoming debut full-length Loom, a surprisingly punchy new track entitled “Any Wonder” from Yellow Ostrich, Mary Timony’s newest project, Ex Hex, offering up a hard-charging sample of their upcoming Merge debut, the cleverly constructed first music video to come out of the pairing of Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws and Julianna Hatfield for their Minor Alps project, an NPR Tiny Desk Session from The Pixies, the energetic black-and-white music video premiere of The Orwells’ “The Righteous One“, a live performance video of an all-acoustic run through of upcoming Drive-By Truckers track “Made Up English Oceans“, and Angel Olsen‘s absolutely stunning smoky, seductively noir-ish music video for upcoming Burn Your Fire for No Witness track “Hi-Five“, it’s been one hell of a Monday. Then, to top it all off, there’s the video that managed to edge out all of this to become today’s focus piece; Saintseneca‘s extraordinary clip for upcoming Dark Arc track “Happy Alone”.

Dark Arc, at this point easily one of the year’s most anticipated albums, should officially herald the arrival of Saintseneca, a band that was previously best known for being a conglomeration of two excellent Ohio basement punk bands; All Dogs and The Sidekicks. They’ve been maintaining an entrancing (and incredibly effective) rollout campaign for Dark Arc, their Anti- records debut, and seem poised to continue rewarding the investment of anyone who’s paying attention. “Happy Alone” has officially elevated their art form even further. The Christopher Good clip is clearly indebted to a vast array of arthouse influences and features stunning handheld cinematography, a gorgeous (magic hour-infused) color palette, inspired editing, yet another great song from the band, and band member Zac Little’s head in a giant bubble as he makes his way through everyday tasks.

It’s borderline dadaism and dips in and out of some Warhol-level pop art as it goes along to the most weirdly entrancing effect. It works as a surface level piece and as a light commentary on the nature of loneliness. There’s really absolutely no reason for any of it to add up to the inexplicably powerful whole that it is but it manages to do that and a little more. On its own, “Happy Alone” is definitive enough to act as a perfect introductory piece to the uninitiated while being singular enough to plausibly rank as one of the bands most important moments in their continuing evolution during this much-deserved groundswell of success. Above all else, though, it’s just a beautiful piece of art. That’s something that will always be worth rewarding. Watch it below.

Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Album Review)

P.S. Eliot always felt like lightning a bottle and no one was exactly certain what’d happen when that bottle broke. Fortunately, for everyone, there was never a break; it was more of a letting-out. Twins Katie and Alison Crutchfield went in separate directions, with the former spearheading a devastatingly hushed acoustic project as Waxahatchee. Alison grabbed Kyle Gilbride and they took off to start blazing paths under the Swearin’ moniker. Since then, the lion’s share of the public attention has fallen to Katie while Swearin’ have been furiously kicking away in the shadows, releasing both a demo EP, What A Dump, and a self-titled full length over the past two years. Both releases are decade-so-far highlights.

With both What A Dump and Swearin’ being as potent as they were, it only makes sense that they’d be emerging from those shadows about now. A recent co-signing to UK-based Wichita records certainly can’t hurt either. While everything was coming together for the release of their upcoming sophomore outing Surfing Strange, a First Listen honor from NPR provided the final cherry on top for a formidable pre-release campaign that included a music video premiere from Stereogum. All of those factors add up to intimidatingly high expectations, expectations that Surfing Strange manages to artfully subvert.

This subversion is presented immediately with lead-off track “Dust in the Gold Sack”, which not only refines their palette but adds to it. Gilbride brings a previously-unheard shoegaze element into the fold with his guitar work on the thrilling chorus, while an acoustic guitar anchors much of the song despite being buried in the mix. All of the frustrated energy present in Swearin’ is still clearly evident, only now the band has embraced it with a more wizened sense of still-youthful giddiness and a newfound maturity. While “Dust in the Gold Sack” retains and refines the band’s extraordinary melodic sensibilities, the ensuing track brings a new element to the forefront; it gets heavy. Only this time it’s not the hardcore-infused blasts of “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” but a heaviness that underscores a palpable exhaustion. It’s startling in its honestly and provides the perfect back-half of a 1-2 punch to set up the record’s overarching themes.

Throughout the remainder of Surfing Strange the band’s principle songwriters (and real-life couple), Crutchfield and Gilbride, underscore a record that’s ostensibly about personal growth.  At certain points they even cede the spotlight to bassist Keith Spencer, who makes up one of the more formidable young rhythm sections of the burgeoning garage pop scene with drummer Jeff Bolt. Spencer’s turns as the focal fixture are about as soft and vulnerable as Crutchfield’s but slightly, and only slightly, less enthralling. However, that democratic process and presentation is part of what makes Swearin’ such a unique act to begin with. Instead of one distinct entity composed of interchangeable components, it’s an absolute whole made up of four distinct personalities. That the personalities are as visible as they are is a rarity in today’s music and allows Swearin’ a pull that other acts simply can’t match.

As it was on What A Dump and Swearin’, the songs on display in Surfing Strange continuously expand on repeat listens, eventually becoming something more akin to old friends than old songs. While all of the twists and turns on Surfing Strange do require more patience to familiarize, the journey’s well-worth it. Even if the record’s pacing is off from time to time, it’d take a cruel cynic not to be won over by the record’s final stretch. That final stretch begins with the record’s definitive moment, the boldly experimental (all things considered) piano-heavy “Glare of the Sun”.  In that single track, the band finds their way through nearly every influence present throughout Surfing Strange and touches on its key components. Shoegaze guitars return, there’s a somewhat-resigned turn at vocals, a few stylistic shifts, and  lyrics touching heavily on both the past and the future that provide a fairly poignant picture of where the narrator stands at present.

After the somewhat staggering “Glare of the Sun” relents, Surfing Strange re-injects itself with the kind of energy and chemistry that made those first two releases so singular. “Unwanted Place” and “Young” are two of the most energetic tracks in the collection and showcase just how well the band can play off each other. There’s anthemic choruses, a bevvy of 90’s indie influences worn proudly on the member’s sleeves, and an infectious joy that invigorates the more melancholy mood Surfing Strange had built up to that point. “Curdled” brings things to a quieter close that lends the record a sense of finality. Yet, as it is with everything else Swearin’ has done, it’s more than a little tempting to just hit repeat.

You can stream Surfing Strange here.