Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: ANTI- Records

Watch This: Vol. 150

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As stated in the preceding post, a lot’s been happening in the world of Heartbreaking Bravery (both in its interior machinations and mitigating exterior factors). Its public upkeep has been largely neglected but behind the scenes, the work continues to be ceaseless. Watch This, the typically weekly series that celebrates the greatest live videos of the given week, has been on somewhat of a hiatus. To amend that, for this 15oth installment, this will extend far beyond the series’ usually confined scope.

In the previous 50 markers for Watch This, Heartbreaking Bravery’s original live videos have been featured. With matters of scheduling, it’s been impossible to keep that pace but bookmark the site’s YouTube channel for upcoming clips of acts like LVL UP, Alex G, Nobunny, The Hussy, and more (with a few long-archived clips finally making their way to air). So, instead of personally-generated footage, this will celebrate not five but 50 of the finest live clips to have appeared since the last Watch This ran at the end of October.

Single song performances, full sessions, individually-helmed efforts, and professionally-captured studio takes all appear. With this amount of material featured, it’d be a hyper-herculean task to take everything in all at once. The best route may simply be to bookmark the page, the clip, or fast-forward at will (though everything featured is more than worth the effort). So, as always, sit back, grab a drink, adjust the settings, focus, and Watch This.

The tracklist for Watch This: Vol. 150 can be found below the embed.

1. Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Driver/Killer Whales (Fallon)
2. Monica LaPlante – Hope You’re Alone (The Current)
3. Cymbals Eat Guitars (KEXP)
4. Casper Skulls – Love Brain (Exclaim!)
5. Um Are – Dark Entry (Boxfish Sessions)
6. LVL UP (KEXP)
7. Jack – Blue (I Like It Session)
8. Islands – Fear (Do512)
9. Jeff Rosenstock – Wave Goodnight To Me (Radio K)
10. Mercury Girls (WKNC)
11. The Peep Temple – Constable (3RRR)
12. Total Slacker – Don’t Ever Fade Away (BreakThruRadio)
13. And The Kids (WKNC)
14. Special Death – Perfume (DZ Records)
15. Spit – Days In Dreams (The Loft Sessions)
16. Drive-By Truckers (NPR)
17. Daisy Chains – Prove It (Radio K)
18. Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim (La Blogotheque)
19. Bellows (Audiotree)
20. The Just Luckies – Conventions (DZ Records)
21. Lady Lamb – Spat Out Spit (Buzzsession)
22. Fraternal Twin – Big Dipper (Allston Pudding)
23. Pinegrove (NPR)
24. John K. Samson – Reconstruction Site (ANTI- Records)
25. Small Houses – Telling It Wrong (Sofar Sounds)
26. Wilco – If Ever I Was A Child (La Blogotheque)
27. Sad13 (PressureDrop.tv)
28. Sidney Gish – Hexagons and Other Fun Materials (Boxfish Sessions)
29. Julien Baker – Rejoice (KVRX)
30. Snail Mail (Michael Andrade)
31. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Nobody Dies (NPR)
32. Swimsuit Addition – Uptick (DZ Records)
33. Frankie Cosmos – What If (Allston Pudding)
34. Cayetana (Audiotree)
35. Courtney – Going Out Tonight (DZ Records)
36. Bethlehem Steel – Figure It Out (I Like It Session)
37. Atlas Crash – V.O.L.E. (Sofar Sounds)
38. Kishi Bashi (KEXP)
39. Ben & The Saints – Gold Rush (Sofar Sounds)
40. Wrekmeister Harmonies (Audiotree)
41. MASZER (KEXP)
42. Field Mouse (Audiotree)
43. Mall Walk (PressureDrop.tv)
44. Hovvdy – Problem (KVRX)
45. Purling Hiss (PressureDrop.tv)
46. Fufanu (KEXP)
47. Bear Vs. Shark (Audiotree)
48. Okkervil River (KEXP)
49. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Magneto (Andrew Dominik)
50. Explosions in the Sky (NPR)

John K. Samson – Select All Delete (Stream)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume. 

Winter Wheat‘s an extraordinary album that arrived just in time for the weather’s calm descent into desolation. Anyone that’s paid attention to this site’s most recent string of posts will have seen two of the record’s songs — “Virtute at Rest”, the culmination of the shattering Virtute trilogy, and “Postdoc Blues” — covered to great extent. The album’s quietly devastating opener, “Select All Delete”, now joins their ranks.

For more than a decade, Samson has excelled at subverting ballads but “Select All Delete” finds the songwriter operating on a different level. The amount of sheer despair that informs “Select All Delete” feels bold even for someone who has a noted reputation for reducing listeners to tears. From the shuffling brushes on the snare to the defeated vocal delivery, there’s an odd absence of hope in “Select All Delete”, which sets the tone for the rest of Winter Wheat.

In one of the most gorgeous moments of any song all year, a wordless backing vocal swoops in to accentuate the chorus before the whole thing gives way to a spare, somber piano figure. There’s an undeniable elegance that runs through “Select All Delete” that winds up enhancing the sorrow at the song’s center. Over a handful of records, Samson’s never presented a narrator as hopeless and lost as the one that serves as the engine for “Select All Delete”, which makes it all the more effective. It’s a startling development, a breathtaking song, and another moment of delicate perfection from one of this generation’s most gifted songwriters. Hit play and give in to its weight.

Listen to “Select All Delete” below and pick up a copy of Winter Wheat here.

John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues (Music Video)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of posts reflects back on some of the best material to be released over the past few weeks. Each post with this heading is a part of this series. After this series has concluded regular coverage will resume. 

In what was a genuine outlier for this site, a piece went up tracking the extended, devastating narrative John K. Samson constructed and maintained through his work with The Weakerthans and as a solo artist. That narrative, the Virtute trilogy, came to a shattering conclusion in Samson’s most recent effort, Winter Wheat. A poignant reminder of Samson’s formidable talent, the record carries the emotive strength that’s endeared the songwriter to so many for well over a decade.

While “Virtute at Rest” may pack the hardest punch, Winter Wheat‘s absolutely loaded with gems. “Postdoc Blues”, in particular, is a characteristically insightful look into the fractured psyches that typically comprise the upper echelons of academia. There’s palpable heartbreak on display but, as always, it’s laced with an empathetic sense of hope that manages to simultaneously elevate both sides of a complicated dichotomy.

“Postdoc Blues” on its own is a remarkable work and is rightfully being lauded as one of Samson’s finest offerings but the Nathan Boey-directed animated clip takes the song to exhilarating new heights. Created for the Leap Manifesto project, “Postdoc Blues” takes on an additional impact as it’s tied to an important cause. The animation — which comes courtesy of Kevin Langdale, Kaho Yoshida, and Boey — is very direct in its interpretation, wisely opting to emphasize Samson’s narrative instead of taking a more interpretive angle.

The end result’s both comforting and endlessly fascinating, providing splashes of color that enliven every last second of “Postdoc Blues”. It’s abundantly clear that a lot of love was poured into this project and the final product, while modest, is dazzling. Simplistic, pointed, and brilliant, “Postdoc Blues” transcends its concept and winds up as one of the year’s most unexpectedly arresting clips. Give in to its charms and get lost in its attentive warmth.

Watch “Postdoc Blues” below and pick up a copy of Winter Wheat here.

Pleas, Departures, and Reconciliations: The Virtute Trilogy

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Not many things can interrupt this site’s regular coverage or alter its standard presentations but an unexpected resolution to one of the most affecting trilogies since the turn of the century isn’t an everyday occurrence. Reflecting on the importance of this feat doesn’t just feel right, it feels necessary. For all that this music meant to scores of people, for how many people it helped through difficult situations, and for how important this story became, it’s time to take an extended look at the narrative centered around one of modern music’s most tragic relationships: the one between a pet owner in the throes of depression and Virtute the Cat.

In 2003, John K. Samson had left his duties behind the kit in Propaghandi in an earnest effort to pursue the music he’d been writing on his own. His band, The Weakerthans, had been steadily building momentum behind their first two records, 1997’s Fallow and 2000’s Left & Leaving. The release of Reconstruction Site in August 2003 changed the course of Samson’s career.

Capitalizing on the acclaim that had accumulated behind the band’s first two records and a bold signing move from Epitaph Records, Reconstruction Site quickly became The Weakerthans most commercially and critically successful work. One of the standouts: “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute”, a song told from the perspective of a cat struggling to understand the depressive slump of its owner.




More than just a lyrically impressive feat (unsurprising, considering Samson’s position as an adjunct professor for the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program), “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute” landed with crushing emotive weight. It’s unlikely that anyone knew this at the time of Reconstruction Site‘s release but it would go on to serve as the foundation for a trilogy of songs to be released over the course of 13 years.

Being based out of Winnipeg was always a source of both pride and frustration for Samson (a trait tenderly documented in the extraordinary “One Great City!“), who would frequently reference the city’s influence and history. Winnipeg’s motto, UNUM CUM VIRTUTE MULTORUM, when translated from Latin becomes “One with the strength of many” and provides the trilogy’s titular feline with not only an elevated sense of character and purpose but a clear connection to Samson’s home, making the extended narrative uncomfortably realistic, even with Virtute acting as an agent of both hope and belief.

The response to “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute” was overwhelming from the outset but continues to pale in comparison to the reaction of the story’s next chapter. 2007’s Reunion Tour, the band’s last studio album before going on an extended hiatus and eventually calling it quits on 2015, boasted what many still consider to be one of the most devastating songs ever recorded. “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure” finds the owner fully lost to a depressive malaise, neglecting Virtute at every step, causing a discord among the two; as one becomes hopeless, the other grows lost.




There’s an exhaustively-realized and lived-in world that Samson creates around these characters, drawing from “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute” to strengthen the heartrending nature of its direct sequel. As Virtute attempts to navigate life on her own after enduring a long stretch of silence and inaction, there’s a sense of hope to be found in a heartbreaking defeat. It’s unimaginably painful to watch someone you love give up and, over nearly eight minutes, Samson presents one of the most acute descriptions of that singular agony.

There’s a legitimate pain to the renewed emphasis on Virtute’s perspective in “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure”, which meticulously chronicles the life the cat leads after departing from its owner. Memory recedes — the song’s shattering final line, “I can’t remember the sound that you made for me”, remains one of the most heartrending moments I’ve ever experienced in music — frostbite takes hold, and Virtute ultimately resigns to a familiar pattern as an emotionally abandoned stray. It’s a brutally sad passage that’s deeply upsetting to anyone that’s grown frustrated at similar causal relationship dynamics.

In playing to empathetic impulse and human (and inhuman) nature, The Weakerthans crafted a legitimately unforgettable sequence. For nearly a decade, it seemed as if the final word on the cat that once responded to the name Virtute had been issued- until Samson revealed the tracklist for his just-released solo album, Winter Wheat. There was a pause that took hold after a collective realization that Winter Wheat was slated to end with a track called “Virtute at Rest”.

It’s a testament to the overwhelming strength of its predecessors that some people have pledged outright to not listen to the song out of fear their mental wherewithal wouldn’t be up to the task of another chapter. That wariness is fully warranted as Samson finds yet another angle to elevate the tragic nature of the story, this time framing the narrative as Virtute resurrected in the mind of her recovering owner, who’s now coming to grips with past events and desperately seeking the reassurance that was offered years ago.




As the owner starts to understand the full extent of Virtute’s importance, the weight of the moment is felt in full, even as the music recedes to one of the sparsest arrangements of Samson’s storied musical career. Never has the relationship between the two principle characters been addressed more directly than it is in the song’s mid-section:

You should know I am with you
Know I forgive you
Know I am proud of the steps that you’ve made
Know it will never be easy or simple
Know I will dig in my claws when you stray

Those lyrics rest at the heart of a song that runs under 100 seconds yet still has the power to reduce anyone with even a passing familiarity to the story to tears. Invoking nostalgia, trauma, and understanding, there’s a finality present in “Virtute at Rest” that winds up lending an elevated impact to each carefully-chosen word. Samson sounds simultaneously distraught and assured, his voice lightly trembling, threatening to buckle under the considerable weight of what he’s constructed while guiding it to a gentle close.

The Weakerthans meant a lot to a lot of people, myself included, but it’s hard to imagine anything being more representative of the legacy they left behind than the story of Virtute. Those who had cats saw Virtute as a stand-in, those who didn’t gained a fictional adoptee. Everyone that connected to the plight of the characters wound up being moved immeasurably by their fractured relationship, which Samson suffused with an inexplicable amount of grace and compassionate warmth. All told, The Virtute Trilogy deserves to be remembered as a staggering masterpiece. Very few people have accomplished similar feats with the poise and poignancy that came to define each of the three installments.

In a way, it’s appropriate that Samson ends this divorced from The Weakerthans project where it started (while still incorporating various members of the band for his solo work) as it serves as a nice reflection of the dynamics at play in “Virtute at Rest”. Separated in full but always partially together, there’s an unbreakable bond that’s subtly emphasized through the most minute details. It’s a perfect resolution and it’s easy to tell Samson’s fully invested in the final words of the story as a meaningful future lingers on Virtute’s one-time owner’s horizon, taking stock of the rear view one last time: let it rest and be done.

2015: The Best of Watch This

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When Watch This was conceived it was done with the intent to not only critically examine the balance of filmmaking and live performance but celebrate the art of the live video, a format which seems to have fallen to the wayside despite being more fruitful than it’s been since it was introduced. There’s real power behind the clips that manage to seamlessly merge the best qualities of everything that goes into the best live performance videos and they can yield genuinely unforgettable moments (when everything kicks back in on “Waitress”, the held falsetto in “A Proper Polish Welcome”, and a whole host of other chill-inducing moments are scattered throughout this compilation). Those moments are the beating heart behind this series construction and they’re what sustains the project as it presses forward.

Well over 300 live clips were covered on this site in 2015 and this is a collection of 25 that genuinely stood out for one reason or another, whether it was the sheer joy in a performance (Diet Cig), the performer’s ability to freeze blood (Julien Baker, Dilly Dally, SOAK), the trio of artists who appeared on Watch This the most throughout this year (Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres), an electrifying presentation and performance (July Talk), or a clip that’s a fully functional masterclass in every category that elevates a clip from astonishing to transcendental (Glen Hansard). All of those and more have been plugged into this packet, which culminates in a tour de force reminder of the overwhelming power of what can be achieved on a live platform from the resurgent Sleater-Kinney as one final exclamation point for a truly extraordinary year. So, as always, sit up, focus, adjust the volume, and Watch This.

Watch the 2015 edition of the best-of compilation for Heartbreaking Bravery’s definitive recurring series, Watch This, below. The track list is available under the embed.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe)
2. July Talk – Paper Girl (Audiotree)
3. Ronny – Why Do You Have Kids (Gems On VHS)
4. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (BreakThruRadio)
5. Mikal Cronin – Say (WFUV)
6. Molly Parden – Weather (GemsOnVHS)
7. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)
8. Waxahatchee – Under A Rock (Pitchfork)
9. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)
10. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky (KEXP)
11. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In the World? (ANTI-)
12. Diet Cig – Harvard (In the Attic)
13. SOAK – B a Nobody Blud (La Blogotheque)
14. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold (Strombo Sessions)
15. Alex G + Girlpool – Brite Boy (SPIN)
16. Footings (Jenn Harrington)
17. Mike Krol – Suburban Wasteland + Neighborhood Watch (KEXP)
18. Beach Slang – Get Lost (Cozy Couch Sessions)
19. Public Service Broadcasting – Go! (WNYC)
20. Christopher Paul Stelling – Dear Beast (ANTI-)
21. Courtney Barnett – Depreston (La Blogotheque)
22. Algiers – Blood (WFUV)
23. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (NPR)
24. Glen Hansard – McCormack’s Wall (ANTI-)
25. Sleater-Kinney (NPR)

 

Watch This: Vol. 108

Once again, there’s been a brief interim since the last Watch This was posted but, as ever, a lot of great material has surfaced in that time. In this volume, there will be an emphasis on full sessions and artists who have made numerous appearances on the site over its two years of existence. All five of these artists have earned glowing reviews for their live shows and are, in a lot of ways, inextricably connected to Heartbreaking Bravery’s development. Only one of these clips is a performance of a standalone song and it’s one of the most gripping live captures of the year. So, as always, sit up, wind down, focus, adjust the settings, and Watch This.

1. All Dogs (Audiotree)

Watching All Dogs‘ exposure explode in 2015 thanks to the release of their extraordinary full-length debut, Kicking Every Day, felt genuinely gratifying. The songs in that collection, like any Maryn Jones-led project, feel brave and personal. Every song is relatable to an extent that’s almost painful; our own damage is reflected in Jones’ interior grappling, which suffuses every ounce of Kicking Every Day. In a live setting, those songs gain even more impact and Audiotree expertly captures that with  this very worthy session.

2. Bully (KEXP)

One of the first shows I saw after moving into an apartment in Brooklyn was thanks to a tweet that sent me sprinting towards Rough Trade. What followed was a whirlwind set by site favorites Bully, that largely pulled from their outstanding Feels Like. KEXP recently hosted the band for an in-studio session that once again finds the band nailing the seemingly paradoxical marriage between sounding polished and downright ragged. Exhilarating and fairly composed, it’s a fascinating look at one of 2015’s most deserving success stories.

3. Waxahatchee (Ithaca Underground)

Katie Crutchfield has been one of the most consistently enthralling songwriters of the past 10 years, elevating a staggering number of projects that have managed to find a near-reverential status among their respective communities and beyond. Eventually, that devotion spread outward and expanded into national recognition only shortly after her first collection as WaxahatcheeAmerican  Weekend, was released. Crutchfield’s released two more records under that moniker (and a few as half of Great Thunder) in the time that’s followed, with both Cerulean Salt and Ivy Tripp finding spots in numerous best-of lists at high-profile publications. Here, Ithaca Underground presents Crutchfield performing an arresting (and beautifully shot) solo set that leaves the audience speechless. It’s a powerful document of an artist who continues to find new ways to impress.

4. Dilly Dally (KEXP)

Dilly Dally came into 2015 riding a wave of buzz surrounding the staggering brilliance of their first few singles and capitalized on those early flashes of potential with ferocious abandon. Nearly every item the band released this year wound up inspiring several paragraphs worth of attention from this site and a few extremely strong reviews for their inspired (and, frankly, inspiring) live shows. Sore, their full-length debut, just served as the cherry on top of an already-appealing sundae. KEXP recently brought the band in for a full session and they responded in kind, gifting the studio an appropriately searing performance.

5. Saintseneca – How Many Blankets Are In The Wolrd? (ANTI-) 

Throughout 2015, ANTI- has produced some of the most beautiful live clips in recent memory (a handful of which have been prominently featured in this series) and that streak continues with this beautiful presentation of Saintseneca‘s Zac Little performing “How Many Blankets Are In The World?” while walking through what appears to be a drainpipe. Easily one of the year’s most gorgeous live captures, this is both a spellbinding performance and a masterclass in composition. Even when Little’s plunged into near-complete darkness, the song itself serves as the clip’s functioning heart, generating a thoughtful overall effect. When Little finally emerges back into the light, it’s a sequence that feels oddly moving, finalizing this as one of the year’s most complete offerings in this category.

Saintseneca – Bad Ideas (Music Video)

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Saintseneca was one of the very first bands this site latched on to and, subsequently, endorsed at every turn. That streak continued earlier this week with the release of yet another outstanding music video, which highlighted yet another batch of similarly enticing material. In addition to Saintseneca’s latest visual feast, there were also intriguing clips from Little Fevers, Ghosts In Pocket, Paul Bergmann, Cheatahs, Alex G, Everything Everything, Fresh Snow, Eleanor Friedberger, The Bulls, Low, Tall Juan, The Dying Arts, and Majical Cloudz. It was a considerable haul for the format but, while all of those clips are worth watching, it was Saintseneca that made the strongest impression.

Following the slice-of-life aesthetic that the band returned to for “River“, the band indulges their more Refn-like tendencies for the Jon Washington and Zac Little-directed “Bad Ideas”. Wielding surreal imagery, quasi-nightmarish costuming, gorgeous cinematography, and a committed central performance from Little to maximum dramatic effect, “Bad Ideas” is one of the more arresting clips to come along in recent memory.

It’s a presentation that’s loosely connected to the excellent Such Things‘ lofty ambitions, marked by something that approaches being intentionally impenetrable. Beautifully choreographed, crisply edited, and endlessly entertaining, “Bad Ideas” is an instantly memorable clip from a band that’s no stranger to producing unforgettable imagery (there’s a shot of a flare at the 2:38 mark in “Bad Ideas” that ranks as one of the most impressively staged shots I’ve seen all year).

Once again, skateboarding make an inclusion, likely underscoring the band’s continuing narrative centered around motion. There’s not a false note to be found in “Bad Ideas” and the band expertly balances pathos with levity. The end result’s a gripping piece of expressionism from a band that’s operating with an increasing level of fearlessness. Saintseneca’s doing some genuinely fascinating things with their material, we should all just count ourselves as fortunate to be along for the ride.

Watch “Bad Ideas” below and order Such Things from ANTI- here.

Saintseneca – River (Music Video)

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Yesterday’s post covered a lot of music video content from the past few weeks and this one expands where that one left off, touching on the remainder of that content. As was the case in that post, a list of titles will be included underneath this post’s featured video: Saintseneca‘s “River”. With the release of Such Things rapidly approaching, the band’s in mid-swing as far as their rollout campaign is concerned- and while the momentum they’re building is drawing to its inevitable conclusion as a knockout blow, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the finesse in the execution of the arc. “River”, as a clip, is a particularly graceful moment that allows the band to slip in a meta-narrative about the band’s personal growth.

Going back to a DIY visual aesthetic reminiscent of old VHS movies and evoking a strong sense of nostalgia, “River” also features a lot of subjects in perpetual motion. Largely comprised of BMX and skateboard footage, the clip subtly hints at the larger looming thematic elements of the record that Zac Little exhaustively detailed in an interview with Stereogum. It’s a simple clip that acts more as meditation than as story and it’s oddly elegant, underscoring the band’s newfound rough-hewn spikiness. Gnarled and beautiful, it’s an effective piece of work that stands out as one of the year’s more deceptively thoughtful clips. Now bust out a bike or a skateboard and take advantage of the weather while it’s still nice.

Watch “River” below and pre-order Such Things from ANTI- ahead of its release here. Below the video explore a few of the format’s more memorable entries from the past two weeks.

Ought – Sun’s Coming Down
Sleepy Hahas – Deep River
Bad Bad Hats – Shame
Tuff Sunshine – Rattlin’ Man
PWR BTTM – 1994
Diet Cig – Sleep Talk
Surrender the Spirit – Control
Deerhunter – Breaker
Wavves – Way Too Much
Woolen Men – Temporary Monument
Cuntz – Nah Man
Society – Protocol
Speedy Ortiz – Swell Content
Toro Y Moi – Half Dome
The Miami Dolphins – Drooling
Salad Boys – First Eight
Allison Weiss – Who Are We
PUJOL – Sleepy Doni
Baroness – Chlorine & Wine
Inheaven – Bitter Town
The Stavves – Steady
Yassou – To Sink
Shelf Life – Sinking Just Right
Fort Lean – Might’ve Misheard
Dam Gila – History
Kafka Tamura – Lullabies
Hammock – Blankets of Night

Saintseneca – Sleeper Hold (Stream, Live Video)

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Now that we’re nearing the final quarter of the year, the already-stacked release schedules are starting to get even more dense as a lot of bands and labels make power play bids for album of the year consideration. One of the titles slated for that wave of new material is Saintseneca‘s just-announced Such Things, an announcement which came with an accompanying single: “Sleeper Hold”. Before getting around to that song, though, it’s worth taking a step back to cover a handful of other notable releases that are well worth your attention.

For single streams, there was Dogs On Acid‘s shape-shifting “Ideal Decanter“, Atlantic Thrills’ surf-indebted (and retro-leaning) basement pop highlight “Bed Bugs“, Connie Constance’s glitchy, slow-burning “Euphoric“, Orchid Mantis’ tantalizing “It Was Gone“, and Century Thief’s slowly unfurling “Pillar“. Additionally, there were outstanding new songs from the likes of Swings, Funeral Advantage, Promised Land Sound, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, and Sea Lion. Full streams, while not even close to matching the numbers of the single streams, unearthed one of the year’s best albums in Pleasure LeftistsThe Woods of Heaven and another beautiful full-length in Totally Mild’s Down Time. Sleepy’s extraordinary self-titled EP (another potential year-end contender) rounded the category out with style. Two music videos- Ali Barter’s “Hypercolour” and Valley Maker’s “Only Friend“- made sure that the visual format was very well represented.

Back to the feature: Saintseneca’s latest, “Sleeper Hold”, an even punchier take on the band’s Appalachian folk than anything found on their last record, the exemplary Dark Arc. Having just seen the band take apart Baby’s All Right a little over a week ago, the new material that was played live has been resonating for a short while. “Sleeper Hold”, the lead-off single to the band’s forthcoming Such Things, capitalizes on that resonance by virtue of strength and polish. Immediately employing the under-utilized and extremely effective dynamic of a back-and-forth vocal lead between the band’s two primary voices (those of Zac Little and Maryn Jones), “Sleeper Hold” strikes a refreshingly bold look for the band.

All of the hallmarks that made their previous work so compelling are still firmly in tact, from the smart compositions to Little’s twisted, hyper-literary wordplay. Some of the surprising amount of weight to be found on “Sleeper Hold” is due to the conceptual design of Such Things, which largely grapples with the purposefulness of existence. “Sleeper Hold”, in particular, is about the designs of perception and consciousness. For such heavy material, the music itself is impossibly light, buoyant, and deceptively carefree. Every element of “Sleeper Hold” works incredibly well and reaffirms Saintseneca’s status as one of today’s finest acts. Propulsive, smart, and irresistible, “Sleeper Hold” is the perfectly crafted warning shot of what promises to be one of this year’s finest albums.    

Listen to “Sleeper Hold” below and pre-order Such Things from ANTI- ahead of its release date here. Underneath the player, watch a recent video of the band performing the song at Baby’s All Right.

Saintseneca – Live at Baby’s All Right – 8/8/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

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Before I left Wisconsin for Brooklyn, I made sure to see one last show: Saintseneca and Murder By Death. The latter had been the band headlining the first major show I’d seen on my own accord and the former had been one of my favorite bands for years and I had yet to see them live. While Murder By Death were undoubtedly impressive, Saintseneca’s live show blew me away. As soon as I heard the band would be headlining a show at Baby’s All Right, I made sure my schedule for the evening was cleared. Once again, the band delivered an extraordinary performance- but not before two opening sets.

Jess Williamson was the first to take the stage and immediately grabbed the audience’s attention with a haunting solo song before inviting her band to join her onstage. While Williamson’s first song had been fairly atmospheric, the addition of the band quickly catapulted that dynamic of her music into territory that felt downright cinematic. Playing nothing but new songs, Williamson and her band made their way through a haunting set of bruised folk songs with a Southern Gothic influence. Impressive, intricate, understated, and incredibly dynamic, it was a spellbinding performance from an artist deserving of a great deal of attention.

Following Williamson’s set was the decidedly more straightforward swing-for-the-rafters anthemic pop of Multimagic. While the band did tend to feel fairly by-the-numbers, they offered enough moments of subversion to both keep things interesting and guarantee an explosion in popularity should they be fortunate enough to find their music placed in the right television (or film) environment. Multimagic played with a great deal of finesse and had some similar structural approaches to their songwriting as the night’s headliners so their spot felt like a perfect lede for Saintseneca.

Currently preparing the release of the follow-up to 2014’s rightfully adored Dark Arc, the band wasted no time in diving into their incredible new material. From the live previews alone, I’d be shocked if their forthcoming record didn’t wind up being one of my favorites of 2015, as the bulk of them managed to expand and refine some of the elements that rendered Dark Arc one of my favorites of last year. Baby’s All Right was the band’s last show of their current tour, so they came to the stage with a considerable amount of practice and it reflected in both the new songs and the old material, which continued to sound remarkable. “Fed Up With Hunger” is one of the only songs to have managed to strike me as spine-tingling on record and that feeling multiplied tenfold.

“Fed Up With Hunger” wasn’t the only song to elicit chills, either, they came in waves as the band progressed through a set that saw them navigating hairpin turns and striking dynamic shifts with ease. Whether they opted for the quiet, acoustic route or the raucous, fuzzed-out intensity that seems to be a welcome hallmark of their newest material, the band fell into a focus that practically disallowed any false moves. Crowd favorites like the excellent “Happy Alone” radiated with life and that vibrancy was reflected by an appreciative audience (one that, unfortunately, did contain a small faction of people that felt inclined to talk over some of the set’s more gentle moments). Saintseneca ended their main set with the same song they’d ended their opening set in Milwaukee with just a few months before- a blistering, feedback-happy number that’s far and away the most intense song in the band’s discography- before being cheered back for an encore.

After a few false starts and a surprising amount of conversation, the band decided to go out with “James”, the incredible closing song from their first album, Last. It felt like an appropriately communal moment to cap off a set that included some incredible banter, sparked more than a few spirited singalongs, and a generally positive atmosphere. Also, if there’s a better way to signify that you’re entering a new era than playing the last song on the first record (one titled Last, no less) as the last song of the last tour before your next record comes out, i’m not sure what it is- but “James” did feel like the perfect selection regardless of trivial extenuating circumstance. While the evening may have had its ups and downs, “James” made sure that it went out in perfect harmony.

Click over to the full photo gallery of the show here and watch some of the evening’s performances in the video below.