Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: AotY 2014

Even Hand – Drifted (Album Review, Stream)

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Now that all of last week’s best single streams and music videos have been given their due, it’s time to move onto a slightly more challenging beast: the full stream. There’s been a monstrous surge of outstanding new releases (often on the small-scale side of things) as 2014 enters its final weeks. Among these were: Dusk (a new project featuring members of Tenement, Black Thumb, and darn it., as well as a handful of other contributors) and their new country-soaked demo reel, Lemuria‘s contribution to the Turnstile Comix series, Currents’ unpredictably intense Mondegreen, Semicircles exquisitely delicate Blown Breeze, Grown Grass And We Are Part of the Earth, King of Cats’ entertainingly spastic Working Out, Big Lonely‘s impressive full-length debut Close Your Eyes, Keep Talking, and Space Mountain‘s unfailingly gripping Wilderness Explorer. All of them stand out as great December releases but there’s one that surfaced seemingly out of the blue worth paying quite a bit of attention to: Even Hand’s sophomore effort, Drifted.

A few months ago, there was a review posted on this site of Even Hand’s arresting self-titled debut, a brilliant record that brought to mind acts as varied as Shellac, The Wipers, and Sunny Day Real Estate. The band fought fairly hard to release it on vinyl this year after it’s original 2013 cassette run on the severely under-appreciated Stupid Bag Records (an excellent label run by Jeff Bolt of Swearin’). Even Hand, by all accounts, was a galvanizing debut. The band’s follow-up exceeds it in fairly stunning fashion. More risks are taken throughout the record and there’s an unrelenting intensity that binds the whole thing together. From the hypnotic instrumental that sets things in motion all the way through the record’s epic closer, the serrated “Lover’s Oath”, Drifted morphs into something that starts feeling like less of a record and more of a show-of-force mission statement.

Even more than the aggressively atmospheric Even Hand, Drifted finds its voice via a balance between abrasion, precision, atmosphere, and unfiltered emotion. Each of these 11 tracks is tied to a loose narrative that operates around a very human frustration with certain social functions and their maladaptation. One of the most striking examples of this device is the vignettes that bandleader Mike Borth presents with “Kid Unkind”, which suggests that the promise of social improvement is just a bittersweet projection that holds nothing but harsh realities at its moment of realization. That pattern of cruel repetition is emphasized with vivid detail in the spoken word stream-of-conscious style ranting in the restlessly foreboding “The Palace Holographic / Dust Bath”, which suggests that the end result will always be the same while Borth punctuates its message with razor-sharp visual imagery that include things like “rapid-cycling trees in a violence of leaves” and “shallow canals, drooling over portraits that hate [him], worshipping darkness”. It’s an existential nightmare ready to swallow any listener whole with virtually no remorse or regret- and, like the rest of Drifted, it’s brilliant in a myriad of subtle, detail-oriented ways.

In terms of technical accomplishment, Drifted also outpaces its predecessor in a number of departments; the sequencing flows just a touch more naturally, the production- as ever- is staggering, the work provided by the rhythm section of Dan Edelman and Dominic Armao is the best of the band’s still-young career, and it feels remarkably unified. It’s an anxious and unnerving masterwork of brutally cynical proportions- and, importantly, it’s a record that belongs in as many collections as possible. Crow Bait‘s Mike Bruno got it right by recently ranking this as one 2014’s best releases– hopefully the rest of the world gives Drifted the attention it deserves and considers doing the same.

Listen to Drifted below and keep an eye on Stupid Bag for the eventual tape release here.

Happy Diving – Big World (Album Stream)

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A few of 2014’s most interesting releases surfaced this week and continued to expand 2014’s shockingly great output. There was Glish‘s unflinchingly heavy and absolutely monstrous self-titled shoegaze stunner, easily both one of 2014’s finest and most fascinating records. Sundials continued crafting excellent 90’s punk-indebted left-field powerpop with their Kick EP, which is also their first effort for Topshelf Records and Espectrostatic offered up the eerie, foreboding ambient psych masterpiece Escape From Witchtropolis just in time for Halloween- and some seriously great accompanying album art.  Then there was the full stream of a record that’s (rightfully) earned a lot of love on this very site: Happy Diving’s Big World.

Ever since Happy Diving came roaring into view with songs like the irresistibly charged-up “Weird Dream“, Big World has been the kind of record teeming with enough potential to elicit salivation. Now that it’s finally out in the world, all of that anticipation has been obliterated; Big World annihilates those expectations. Savage, fuzzed-out, damaged, and absolutely massive even before it hits the halfway point, it’s a record that pays off Father/Daughter Records’ early investment in the band with what’s easily one of the year’s most essential records. Sequenced and produced to perfection, even the minutiae manages to come off as enviable. Only a little over a year into their career, Happy Diving are swinging for the fences and connecting with just about everything that falls into their aim(s). Bottom line: don’t miss this and support something great while it unfolds in the present.

Listen to Big World below and pre-order it from Father/Daughter here.

Watch This: Vol. 51

It’s been two weeks since the last regular Watch This segment, which means that there was twice as much to keep tabs on throughout the series’ (relative) absence. Every band that’s featured in the 51st installment has been previously covered on the site, which means a lot of old (and new) favorites are swinging for the fences. All five bands put out a great release this year and every single one of them had an incredible live performance surface over the past 14 days. There’s fuzz, lilt, and an abundance of passion all packaged together in the 51st round of this weekly spot and everything’s worth devouring. So, as always, pour a drink, sit back, turn the volume up to blistering heights, get comfortable, and Watch This.

1. Joanna Gruesome – Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers (BreakThruRadioTV)

For not releasing a full-length this year, 2014’s been very strong for the Joanna Gruesome camp. A few incredible splits (one of which was first announced here nearly a year ago), a great collaborative music video pairing, one of the year’s best songs, and a few appearances in this very series all hint that this is a band determined to continuously achieve more at a breakneck pace. That determination paired with live performances on par with this run through “Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” and it’ll be impossible to stand in their way.

2. Dilly Dally – Candy Mountain (Chart Attack)

Dilly Dally is a name that’s been appearing with a frequent regularity as of late and that’s no mistake; any emerging act that comes off as a fully-realized project is worth several spotlights. “Green” and “Candy Mountain” both surfaced relatively recently and immediately became talking points among a very specific subset of circles. Punk, shoegaze, and indie pop all find a brooding middle ground in the band’s music and Katie Monk’s voice is as attention-ensuring as they come. Chart Attack had them in for a session that definitely proves their live act’s not to be trifled with, either.

3. Cheap Girls – Amazing Grace (Little Elephant)

A very specific brand of 90’s nostalgia is triggered by Cheap Girls’ music, which often plays like a carefully assembled and loving homage to the alternative sounds of that era. They’ve yet to make a weak record and continue to excel in the live department, which is the area that best exemplifies how they made their stock and trade. Famous Graves extended Cheap Girls’ winning streak with a practiced ease and the band keeps delivering memorable performance. This take on “Amazing Grace” is no exception.

4. Fear of Men – Green Sea (Faits Divers)

Loom already seems to have become one of 2014’s most overlooked records, which is a small tragedy. That record’s lack of what should have been well-deserved attention allowed Fear of Men to continue quietly excelling at just about everything they attempt, with their live performances attaining and carrying a certain hypnotic quality. Here, they deliver an acoustic version of “Green Sea” in Dijon and cement a spot as one of today’s most under-appreciated acts.

5. Radiator Hospital – Fireworks (BNTYK)

More than a few kind words have been used on Radiator Hospital and Torch Song (easily one of the year’s best records) via this site over the past year. So, it’s no surprise that “Fireworks” is on this list- especially considering BNTYK is one of the only video series to ever have a Watch This installment dedicated exclusively to their videos. Here, though, both Radiator Hospital and BNTYK outdo themselves and the results are utterly sublime. When the chorus hits, it’s a visceral gut-punch that offers direct insight to what makes the band so special, while the way it’s lensed is worthy of the moment. It’s a genuinely powerful example of what a truly great live video can accomplish. This is must-see entertainment operating at a level of excellence on a multitude of levels; don’t miss out.

Iceage – How Many (Stream)

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To put it mildly: it’s been a great day for music videos, unexpected niche releases, and cover songs. Everything that will be receiving a hyperlink in this article was, at one point, set to be today’s feature. From the unexpectedly dazzling cover of the Squidbillies theme song that Neko Case provided for the television show’s season premiere to the lovely visual collage Alvvays offered up as the accompanying video for their lilting “Next of Kin“, it’s been a day of unlikely surprises. In other corners, Grape St. kicked off a Burger series that’ll feature bands from the label performing short sets on-air, Fear of Men delivered a stunning take on Ty Segall’s “Sleeper“, Heat released an impressive video for “Rooms“, and The So So Glos released another outstanding music video for a song off of 2013 highlight Blowout (bringing the overall total to 6). Virtually all of those were highlight-reel worthy pieces for their respective artists and have their own respective merit- but none of them managed to stand out as emphatically as Iceage’s most recent Plowing Into the Field of Love reveal, “How Many”.

After making a tremendous impact with “The Lord’s Favorite” and “Forever“, the increasingly intriguing post-punk band re-affirms the potential for Plowing Into the Field of Love to be a legitimate masterpiece. While Iceage’s first two records, New Brigade and You’re Nothing, were fine releases in their own right, they were easily characterized by a violent bleakness. This time around, the band’s seemingly traded in that approach to attempt something more expansive (and, arguably, more menacing). Where their used to be unrestrained viciousness, there’s now tension, subtle atonality, and total discord- and “How Many” goes to impressive lengths to showcase just how brave of a record Plowing Into the Field of Love (which is due out October 6/7 via Matador) is shaping up to be. From a subtle percussion trick that recalls the proto-industrialism of Einstürzende Neubauten to the unfiltered major key piano progression that interlopes with the vocal melody but acts in stark contrast to much of the rest of the song’s presentation, it’s abundantly clear that Iceage are embracing new ideas with a completely unexpected (but entirely welcome) amount of maturity, verve, and conviction.

There are sections of near-euphoria in the chorus that punctuate the intimidating slow-build of “How Many”, proving that their grasp on the tension-and-release dynamic is as considered as “Forever” suggested it might be (in the review of “Forever” it was noted that Iceage was starting to seem like a natural extension of early Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds- “How Many” re-affirms that thought). As if all of that wasn’t enough, Bender Rønnenfelt’s performance as both a vocalist and a lyricist has taken on a startling measure of depth as he grows further indebted to Southern Gothic in his prose and emerges as a courageous performer behind the microphone- one who’s willing to take sizable risks. Iceage’s rhythm section has become atypically tight and kinetic, while the guitar work remains incendiary. By coming out swinging with three of the year’s most memorable songs, Iceage have given Plowing Into the Field of Love a lot to live up to- and if it does, they may very well have 2014’s most important album on their hands.

Listen to “How Many” below and pre-order Plowing Into the Field of Love here.