Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Appleton

Tenement – Tenement (EP Stream, Review)

Tenement II

Between the end of last week and the start of this one, this site hasn’t ran a lot of material. A lot of this is due to some upcoming live coverage and the editing that live coverage entails. As is always the case, though, an eye was kept on the emerging content and everything that registered as great was compiled into a list for future reference. Of those lists, the full streams may have been the most stacked, featuring no less than three year-end contenders, including Tenement, this post’s featured EP. For full-lengths, it’d be hard to do much better than the staggering 1-2 punch of the full-length debuts from site favorites All Dogs (Kicking Every Day) and Dogs On Acid (Dogs On Acid) though that didn’t detract from the great new records that started streaming from Frog Eyes, Willis Earl Beal, Fake Palms, i tried to run away when i was 6, Sea Lion, and Tamaryn. Then, of course, there was the re-release of the extremely limited run self-titled tour tape that was released earlier this year by a band that played a crucial role in the development of this site’s functionality, aim, and preference: Tenement.

Following a pattern that emerged around the time Napalm Dream was released, the band’s been ushering in new music with an impressive recklessness. While this time around the band opted to release a behemoth of a double album in Predatory Headlights, rather than opting for the individual split as they did with Napalm Dream and The Blind Wink, they’ve still got material to spare. After kicking this year off with their outstanding early career compilation Bruised Music, Volume 1 (a collection I had the distinct privilege of contributing a piece to for the zine insert that served as the record’s liner notes), they’re restlessly pushing forward with an appropriately ragged five-song collection that they recorded back in February. As mentioned earlier, the tape was held to a run of between 50-60 copies and only made available for their tour with Priests and Vacation.

Tenement’s always been characterized by their steadfast adherence to a DIY ethos but that aspect of their identity has never been so fully reflected by any of their releases than it is here, which is likely why the band opted to make it a self-titled. As the collection plays out, there’s a very real sense that these songs were crafted in a manner where the band felt unburdened by any lingering expectations. Of course, it’s still a Tenement record so the level of songwriting is exceedingly impressive and more than a little indicative of what makes the band one of today’s absolute best.

In a sense (or a few, rather), Tenement‘s actually more attuned to the sensibilities of guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s Dusk side project. The playing- and feel- from song to song is a lot more loose than Tenement songs tend to wind up being upon their official release and carry on with an easygoing naturalism that renders Tenement an endlessly listenable EP that’s as perfectly suited for open roads as it is a quiet night in. Curiously, all the songs are also titled after a line from the respective choruses or refrains, which is something the band’s generally avoided in the past, which also seems to solidify the fact that this is one of the most direct releases the band’s ever issued. While Pitsch still writes with the flair of a classic Americana novelist, he’s substituted a lot of his more obtuse looks with an emphasis on his lyrics’ more earnest aspects and it suits these songs to perfection. Bassist Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer, as ever, continue to prove their worth as one of today’s most valuable rhythm sections, keeping these songs grounded while still managing to lend them a widescreen appeal, some light menace, a wide-eyed sense of wonder, or an air of gritty determination.

Taken as a whole, Tenement is one of the more unexpected entries in the band’s catalog but it also may be its most quietly rewarding. Favoring understatement over exhilarating moments of power almost exclusively throughout its sub-14 minute run time, Tenement puts a microscope up to one of the band’s more under-utilized modes and results in an unlikely, willing EP that seemed fated to drop off into obscurity just a few short weeks ago. Thankfully, that’s not the case and now anyone who cares has access to “Everyone To Love You”, “Underworld Hotel”, “Witches In A Ritual”, “The Strangest Couple In Love”, and “Roads To Home”. Easily one of the band’s more enigmatic moments, Tenement‘s also one of 2015’s finest releases. Now that it’s finally here, don’t let this one fade into a footnote; turn it up and hit repeat when it’s done.

Listen to Tenement below and pray that it eventually gets repressed in some format. In the meantime, revisit the rest of the band’s unbelievable discography at their bandcamp and watch this site’s own collection of live Tenement videos below the stream.

Tenement – Predatory Headlights (Album Review, Stream)

Tenement I

It’s been more than a week since I moved from central Wisconsin to New York and one of the more constant companions I’ve kept has been Tenement‘s current magnum opus, Predatory Headlights. Weeks ago I was already fighting the urge to review the record because it was clear from the outset that, although the large bulk of the songs are heavily immediate, it’d require patience and investment to fully understand as a whole.

For nearly a decade now, Tenement’s been an important fixture of my life. After being brought into the greater DIY fold at the band’s former home base, The BFG, and playing (or booking) countless shows alongside the band, I’ve been able to keep a close eye on their artistic progression. All it took was one five song set for me to decide they were Wisconsin’s best band but even back in 2008 it would have been difficult to realistically predict the heights they’d eventually reach.

After two extraordinary full-lengths, nearly a dozen 7″ releases, and a revealing early career compilation [Full disclosure: I wrote one of the pieces in the compilation’s zine insert], the band finally signed to celebrated punk label Don Giovanni (years ago, they became the first non-New Jersey band that the label had ever approached), ensuring a catapult point for their already impressive ascension in name recognition. Now, the band’s riding a wave of acclaim for their first effort for the label: Predatory Headlights.

Recorded largely at The BFG, like a lot of their previous work, Predatory Headlights thrives on subversion and challenging limitations. From it’s impressive scope (the record’s 25 songs and nearly 80 minutes in length) to the record’s boldest works, it’s an extraordinary feat of not only artistry but endurance. As alive as Predatory Headlights can sound and feel, it also comes off as weathered; a very natural byproduct of the band’s Wisconsin environment.

It’s through that relative bleakness where Tenement’s consistently found novelistic inspiration, narrowing in on both the mundane and the minute with a deceptively sharp eye. Butchers, sidewalk cracks, broken homes, ants, flies, degenerates, criminals, and people who are just trying all show up various times throughout the band’s discography and no collection’s ever placed a greater emphasis on that subtle narrative through-line than Predatory Headlights.

Tales of hurt, heartbreak, loss, and unfettered resilience dominate the double album’s intimidating span, rendering it an occasionally challenging listen due to the overwhelming amount of filth that the band so readily (and possibly bravely) presents. It’s a trait that seeps over into the nuanced production- a task capably handled by both guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch and Wisconsin mainstay Justin Perkins. For all the dirt, though, there are a few transcendental moments of sweetness, like the absolutely gorgeous string arrangement in the outro of the piano-driven front-half highlight “Ants + Flies” or the Sheer Mag-like aesthetics of the ensuing track, “Garden of Secrecy”.

Finding the perfect balance between their intrinsically rough-hewn nature and a newfound vulnerability winds up serving Predatory Headlights well, creating a dynamic compelling enough to create a considerable pull. Aiding that are the songs where Tenement really gets to embrace their more free-form tendencies. For years, the trio have ended their sets with piercing noise excursions and harbor a wealth of knowledge in relation to free jazz, something that’s never been more clearly evidenced than on the record’s most divisive track, “A Frightening Place For Normal People”.

On this track- more than any other the band’s ever released- Tenement indulge themselves with startling conviction and it pays off. A few recent reviews have found “A Frightening Place For Normal People” the record’s most problematic track; they’re missing the point. Tenement as a band have never strove to adhere to what’s expected, they’ve always worked towards a complete dismantling of their limitations.

By intentionally throwing a prolonged left curve (and doing it so late in the record), a lot of people being put off is to be expected but there’s no better litmus test for the places Tenement are headed than (the very aptly titled) “A Frightening Place For Normal People”. By continuously exploring- and expanding- their boundaries outside traditional and/or conventional means, they’re following in the paths of composers like John Cage, Cecil Taylor,  and the late Ornette Coleman, trusting their listeners to be adventurous- and capable- enough to meet them with more than just a faint inkling of critical thought.

That sense of wonderment and exploration is likely Predatory Headlights‘ strongest asset, ensuring that both the band and record never sacrifice too much momentum even with stretches that lean more towards the structure of a singles compilation (which isn’t saying much; a Tenement singles compilation would be more affirming than most bands’ full efforts).

None of the songs on Predatory Headlights sound like the band’s coasting on their enviable talent, instead most carry the sound of a band pushing themselves to achieve something greater than their past work and frequently succeeding. A dominant handful sound vibrant and incredibly inspired; there’s never a weak moment in the midst of the shambolic chaos the band’s willed into existence. Auxiliary arrangements only enhance Predatory Headlights‘ sense of individualism, providing guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch with a deeply impressive showcase as a composer alongside the band’s consistently powerful rhythm section (consisting of bassist Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer).

On the whole, Predatory Headlights highlights every facet of the band’s enviably extensive strengths. Atmospheric, propulsive, severe, and more than a little manic, it contains the breadth of Tenement. From the obvious influences that split the difference between punk and pop without sacrificing any integrity (The Figgs and Hickey definitely come to mind) to the artists that refused to bend to conventionality (Albert Ayler, Erik Satie) to the prevailing sense of a hard-won DIY ethos that’s been at the core of the band from the beginning, Predatory Headlights is a shockingly complete look at one of what may very well be the most important bands working today.

Predatory Headlights isn’t a lapse in judgment, it’s far too carefully structured and meticulous to be lost to oversight. While it might be an unintentional challenge, it’s most certainly a statement release. Tenement, after years of deserving the national spotlight, have arrived. They’re not going to cater to easy expectations, they’re going to continue eschewing gloss in favor of celebrating the murk of America’s lower-middle class, relentlessly turning things perceived or regarded as ugly into something tantalizing and beautiful (I’ve compared Pitsch’s vision of America to John Steinbeck multiple times over but the comparison’s never felt more warranted than it is here).

Reviews from high-profile publications like the New York Times and Pitchfork aren’t going to change the band’s modus operandi; Tenement are still very much a band that will play basements and go out of their way to help younger bands. More than anything, though, Predatory Headlights has me convinced that Tenement aren’t just part of the new face of punk- they’re the face of punk to come.

Listen to Predatory Headlights on Spotify here and watch the complete collection of videos I’ve shot of the band over the years below. For those of you in the New York City area, Tenement will be playing with Big Zit, Ivy, Nancy, and Warthog at The Acheron and their live set’s not one to be missed. You can purchase tickets for the show here. Predatory Headlights can be ordered directly from Don Giovanni here.

 

Tenement – Curtains Closed (Stream)

Tenement I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 5

Speedy Ortiz III

One thing that this site has strived to maintain is its own visual aesthetic. While it’d be impossible to find a photo in the archives for every given band that headlines a post, an original photo will be posted anytime the opportunity presents itself. Upgrading cameras halfway through the year provided a bevvy of new opportunities and the subsequent implementation of a more photo-centric presence. That’s not by mistake. Photography (especially event photography) has always been an important crux of multimedia journalism. It can be a way to implicitly (or explicitly) convey some of the more minute details of a singular moment to a reader- or it can simply act as an intriguing supplement.

Those were just a few of reasons that went into the decision behind a headfirst dive into photography investment (on both a personal and public level) and factored into why one camera or another was brought along to every show this site covered in the past year. Now, with 2015 just around the corner, seemed like as good a time as any to showcase a few photographs from the past 12 months that stood out as personal favorites. Since there are a few too many to go up all at once, they’ll be posted at random as part of installments that will run from now to the start of January. Most of these shots have been published on the site before (or on The Media), though there are a few that will be appearing for the first time.

Pt. 5 will be the final installment of this series and the preceding galleries can be accessed via the links directly below. Enjoy!

2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 1
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 2
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 3
2014: A Pictorial Review, Pt. 4

 

Watch This: Vol. 20

In one of the more recent pieces to run on here, I bid adieu to a camera that’s served me well over the years. There were vague allusions to various sets that I’ve been lucky enough to catch with that camera scattered throughout the piece- and while this may be dangerously close to tipping into the self-serving spectrum I do my best to avoid on here (and the fact that the audio quality is far from the best), it only seemed appropriate to showcase a few of the more memorable captures over the years. To that end, this installment of Watch This will likely wind up as the one the more unique entries in the series.  One last look at the past before pushing towards what’s ahead.

No matter what it was, whether it be powerpop legends The Figgs playing Tenement’s living room, Thee Oh Sees taking apart one of Wisconsin’s best venues, Desaparecidos returning to the stage for the first time as an official band again, Okkervil River playing to a criminally sparse outdoors crowd in the middle of an absolutely gorgeous day, The Mountain Goats taking a victory lap, The Antlers entrancing a room of strangers on a stormy nightMutts stripping way back for a radio performance, or finding myself in a bar, restaurant, or basement with the likes of Big Eyes, Technicolor Teeth, The Cost of Living, Buffalo Moon, Sycamore Smith & the Gray Beast, The Midwestern Charm, Ramma LammaThe Sleepwalkers, Wett Nurse (shrouded in an impossible amount of fog, at that), Heavycritters – and yes, Perfect Pussy (along with a handful of others)- filming these has always been something that’s been extraordinarily gratifying.

It’s never to fulfill a sense of pride, it’s never for bragging rights, it’s always, in each and every instance, to support an artist that I love or that deserves as much support as they can possibly get. Established or not, this is my way of giving thanks and hopefully extending their music out to other places that may never have heard them otherwise. This holds true for my writing on Heartbreaking Bravery as well. One of the most important things anyone can do is support the art they believe in and this place will always live by that law. So, watch this or don’t, but it’ll always be here as both a reminder of some very personal memories and a showcase for some bands who deserved more attention than they ever received. Sit back, support local music, support local music, support local music, support local music (SERIOUSLY, SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC), and Watch This.

1. Tenement – Morning Mouth (Live at the Afterdark)

This video will be the only one that actually predates the Canon PowerShot I’d been using to shoot these videos over the past several years (this set was shot on a low-end handheld Sony camcorder), it’s included because it serves as a beginning for a myriad of things: my introduction to Tenement (who would subsequently open up an entire world of music to me through their kindness), the beginnings of when I became serious about film, and the start of when I became serious about booking shows. Their five-song set, to a crowd of people they invited up onto a small stage to make them feel more at home, blew my mind and has stuck with me for approximately six years now. My opinion on this band hasn’t changed as I’ve filmed set after set after set, year in and year out- they’re one of the best, if not the absolute best, band currently going. I’ll forever be grateful to them for a number of reasons and delivering this set will always be one of them.

2. Good Grief – Holy Smokes! (Live in Stevens Point, WI)

There isn’t always a lot of options for live music in the middle of nowhere but at the height of Good Grief’s run, there were a few spells where there seemed to be an incredible show happening every other week. I attended every single one I possibly could, not just because of an undying love for live music and the DIY community but because Good Grief had tapped into something genuinely special during their time as a band. It was evidenced by the mass basement singalongs, by Mutts coming all the way from Chicago to play an unforgettable cover of a song from their final record, by the people who had little to no connection with the band who showed up at nearly every show- right up through their final marathon set at K Bueno (this is a band that will likely always have the distinction of being the only one I ever see tearing things up inside of a Shopko that was giving away free hot dogs, chips, and soda)- with a smile on their face and a beer in their hands, and by the fact that more times than not, the first time I would hear a song played for the first time, I would get chills (“Lab Rats” is still one of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard and a lock as an entry for my 50 Favorite Songs of All Time list). “Holy Smokes!” was never officially recorded, as far as I know this is the only known recording of it, which is why it takes this spot on the list- a look at some incredible music, and some incredible musicians, that too much of the world missed out on.

3. Midnight Reruns – Too Tall (Live at Frank’s Power Plant)

Like Tenement before them, this was the first time I saw Midnight Reruns (coincidentally, if anyone asks me who I think the best bands in the state are, those are usually the first two names out of my mouth) and even just a few minutes into the first song, it was apparent it’d be far from the last. They tore that place to shreds and threw out a fiery Wreckless Eric cover in the middle of an all-out blitz of a set that showcased Graham Hunt’s beyond-his-years songwriting ability and the band’s undeniable musicianship. They’ve (somehow) only steadily improved since then and have built an impressive expanding fanbase including members of The Replacements, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ThirdCoastDigestBrooklynVegan, and Milwaukee Record, who just ranked their debut s/t (still less than half a year old) as the 16th best record to come out of Milwaukee since 2010. Word on the street is the material they’re currently working on blows even that out of the water. Keep both eyes out and both ears open for this one.

4. Sleeping in the Aviary – So Lonely (Live in Stevens Point, WI)

Apart from Good Grief, Used KidsThe Goodnight Loving, and Hot New Mexicans (especially The Goodnight Loving and Hot New Mexicans), there are few bands that can come even remotely close to Sleeping in the Aviary as far as the “bands I wish would reunite” conversation goes. The only places I ever saw Sleeping in the Aviary play, curiously enough considering their level of name recognition, were basements (with one surprisingly touching exception being the vinyl LP release party for Expensive Vomit In A Cheap Hotel at the High Noon Saloon, thrown five years after the records initial release) . In one way or another, I was a part of each and every one of those shows and they wound up being a few of the most memorable nights of my life thanks to both the people around me and Sleeping in the Aviary themselves. Ever the manic pranksters, they would usually come armed with cardboard cutouts, bubble machines, various props, or adult-themed piñatas. They’d also always play with a reckless abandon and unparalleled fierceness while still clinging onto a carefree nature and clearly having the time of their lives doing it. Kyle Sobczak was a late addition to the group but provided them with a few of their most memorable songs in their final stretch. “So Lonely” is one of them- and, as mentioned before, being in the middle of nowhere means that when a basement show happens with a band of Sleeping in the Aviary’s caliber comes to play, things tend to go off the rails pretty quickly. No one has seen the regular lead personality, Elliott Kozel, since he disappeared into that crowd… (entirely untrue as clearly evidenced in the video- but still, a great myth to try to start).

5. Charley & the Cynics – St. Christopher (Live at the Crunchy Frog)

Writing an In Memoriam piece for Charlotte was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I debated whether or not to include this as the fifth slot or keep it stored away due to its extremely personal nature but I realized that the few videos I did manage to capture of Charley & the Cynics during her time here had a profound effect on why I kept filming and knew it had to occupy this spot. After her untimely passing it was next to impossible to bring myself to watch the videos of her that I’d previously put up out of both respect and unfailing admiration. It’s not like I knew Charlotte all that well; I won’t pretend I did and I won’t glamorize her or try to turn her into some flawless saintly figure. I did know her well enough, though- well enough to consider her a friend and well enough to know that she was a generally positive person who always seemed to treat others with both care and affection, which is something I try to extend to everyone that gets coverage on this site. After enough time had passed, I could watch these videos without needing to spend a night drinking afterwards and I realized that they’re the crux of why I film to begin with: to celebrate the people and music I love while they’re around. Ever since the full extent of that realization hit me, these videos of Charlotte have factored into every time I’ve plugged in a camera charger, every time I’ve replaced an SD card, every time I’ve spent hours making sure an upload doesn’t crash, every time I’ve pointed a lens at a stage, she has been there as a reminder to capture the things that are important while you still can. That lesson is something I’ve carried with me every day and something that’s been a part of the majority of my decisions within music journalism. For that and for all the times I’ve been reminded of that, I’m thankful- and I keep filming.

The Sleepwalkers – Come Around (Music Video Premiere)

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There are very few records that have required as much patience as The Sleepwalkers’ just-released Lost My Mind in Stereo. That’s not to say it required a vast amount of dedication to appreciate; it just took a very long time to get released and was difficult not to share with just about everyone. Other than the USA Today premere of the extraordinary lead-off track “My Best Was Never Good Enough“, these songs have only existed in the world as a small handful of rough demos and live staples of Sleepwalkers’ sets. Now, the record’s finally out and the band’s granted this site the music video premiere for standout cut “Come Around”.

Lost My Mind in Stereo is a record full of songs that feel instantly classic, sharp blasts of music that are finely-tuned examples of both great songwriting and American culture. “Come Around” is one of the many examples where all of that is readily apparent. Incorporating everything from 60’s jangle to 90’s powerpop, there are no false notes. In the video, the band plays through the song in Oshkosh, WI venue Reptile Palace and intercuts footage of decidedly freewheeling shenanigans in the Fox Valley area, mostly involving food (Bron Sage’s Kyle Merckx also makes a few brief but memorable appearances). By the time “Come Around” fades into black and flashes a subliminal “WOOF”, it’s hard not to feel like a part of The Sleepwalkers’ world. It’s another instance of the band finding the exact pulse of a very particular timelessness and running with it. We’re all the better for it.

Watch “Come Around” below and make every day feel like the 4th of July.

Nervosas at Center Street Free Space and Quarters Rock N Roll Palace – 3/1/14 (Live Review)

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On March 1, 2014, the entirety of Milwaukee was emitting a low hum- the result of hundreds of amps coming to life. There was the East Side Music Festival, which stood as a celebration of local music (Heartbreaking Bravery favorites The Sleepwalkers, Midnight Reruns, and The Midwestern Charm were all well represented), that spanned several participating venues and featured headlining sets from Why? and POS. Beach Patrol, Jake Simmons, and Tim Schweiger & the Middlemen were the bands making up a stellar bill over at Bremen Cafe, outside of the fest. Another non-fest show that was likely worth seeing had Ringo Deathstarr headlining Mad Planet. There was a show in seemingly every venue in the city- and Nervosas played two of them.

First up was a show in the basement of DIY library collective Center Street Free Space alongside Strange Matter and Crowdpleaser. After having some trouble with a faulty mic stand that essentially just gave out before Strange Matter began (both a cinder block and a weighted bucket were used as position anchors) the show started with an incredibly impressive set from Milwaukee hardcore veterans Strange Matter. After a few lineup changes and toting a new 7″, ennui actuation dissolver, the band was in fine form throughout a rapid-fire set. Blending all kinds of influences into a fairly original sound that leans heavily on hardcore, Strange Matter have built a strong reputation for themselves by virtue of their releases. If this show was any indication, though, their live show may have surpassed their recorded output in terms of quality- and that’s saying something.

Next to bat was Crowdpleaser, another Milwaukee band toying with genre limitations in slightly unexpected ways. Pushing their volumes to dangerous heights, the band played passionately and were genuinely excited to be sharing a bill with Nervosas. Their excitement was even more justified by the similarities between the two bands. Both Crowdpleaser and Nervosas share a similarly-mined strand of goth-punk that a lot of today’s bands can’t claim. There’s also a peculiar restlessness to be found in both bands’ music. Neither band is afraid of the unsparingly bleak, either. While there are more than a few differences between Crowdpleaser and Nervosas, and while there were a fair amount of technical difficulties, Crowdpleaser’s set felt like a completely natural precursor for the perpetually anxious Nervosas.

When Nervosas finally took over they did it with a manic determination that made their set one of the most cathartic experiences imaginable. Truly looking like that went both ways (band and audience feeding into each other on a barely-controlled loop) they grew progressively more intense as the set went on. Afterwards guitarist, Mickey, would reveal that she was trying to frantically keep up with the rest of her band who purportedly never play that fast. Whether that was a false claim is anyone’s best guess but at various points throughout the set, their drummer, Nick, would lose time and recover quickly with well-timed blast beats. All the while Jeff (their bassist and vocalist) would be careening through songs from the few outstanding releases they have so far, completely caught up in the moment. The only times the weirdly hypnotic and utterly dark spell was broken came when one of them would let the song get away from them (though they all recovered incredibly quickly) and not be able to help a smile. It’s impossible to gauge how long their set was as everyone was completely caught up in the moment, watching the band teeter on the edge of total collapse and reign things in at all the right moments. Making this even more memorable was the low turnout rate for the show- the benefit being that everyone who was there clearly cared enough to make sure that they were there so they could shout along “APAB” at all the right moments and support a band they loved. By the time the band finished tearing through a particularly rousing take on “Poison Ivy” nearly everyone that was present had likely already made up their minds to make their way over to the late show to see them again.

Between the end of the Free Space show and the start of the show at Quarters, a stop was made at Bremen Cafe in hopes to catch one of the three bands playing that night- while that proved to be an impossibility it’s worth noting that Jake Simmons,  Tim Schweiger & the Middlemen, and Beach Patrol all come very highly recommended and wouldn’t have been missed any other night. By the time the short walk to Quarters was made, feedback was already ringing throughout the venue, a half circle had been formed in front of the stage, and Midwives were about to go off. Having just seen Midwives member Graham Hunt lead Midnight Reruns through another energetic set just a week prior it was nice to see him fully embracing the role of a hardcore guitarist, while it was nice to see Sahan Jayasuriya back behind a kit for a band he believes in. Both of them need the band for different reasons; for Hunt it’s the ability to cut loose and be as grimy as possible, something that fronting Midnight Reruns doesn’t afford him- and for Jayasuriya it’s both the advantage of input into creative control and the sense of connection that comes with being part of something from the ground up, instead of coming into the fold late (something he’s experienced surprisingly often).

It was evident throughout Midwives’ set how badly those points counted for them as they poured their fucking hearts into their set by attacking their instruments with the kind of brute force only found in the best hardcore bands. As both Hunt and Jayasuriya lost their respective minds on their instruments, their vocalist was stalking the hell out of the open space in front of the stage shouting for all his worth and their bassist kept everything in check by holding down his parts while furiously nodding his head along. Ripping through the songs from their vicious debut 7″ (they used the night to celebrate its physical release) and a whole lot of new songs (many of which will be appearing on the LP they’ll be recording this week), it started to feel like the band announcing a bigger kind of arrival. While their studio work is already enormously impressive (despite being only four songs), this is the kind of band that lives for a live setting- they didn’t disappoint and hopefully won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

After quite a bit of set up, take-down, and tuning, Technicolor Teeth turned up their amps to typically deafening volumes and greeted the audience with their shoegaze-heavy nightmare pop. Ever since first seeing this band a few years back and watching them evolve, it’s been clear that they’ve tapped into something inherently special. As they’ve progressed they’ve toyed with the boundaries of genre and exploited the buried aspects of a few different styles rather than settling for something as simple as revivalism. They’re pushing things in new and intriguing directions; finding a home in what was once considered a dormant style and looking forward instead of traveling back. Easily the night’s longest set, they nonetheless were as captivating as usual and likely won over anyone they hadn’t. While their set seemed to be heavy on newer material, it all clicked and felt coherent enough to keep the audience interested despite being a band who’s prone to playing up a drowsy-high aesthetic. There were a few blinding flashes of energy that helped push that along and as a collective unit, the band played close to flawlessly, wrapped up in a weird kind of power approach. A large part of the credit for this is likely due to drummer Amos Pitsch (who uses his time outside of the band to do things like front Tenement) who continues to operate on an almost obscene level of musicality (so much so that it prompted a well-intentioned and sarcastic “Thanks for drumming before me, Amos. That sucked.” from Nick) and provides the band with a considerable punch. In any case, Technicolor Teeth played like they meant it and is a must-catch prospect- they’ll be playing the Accidental Guest Recordings showcase at SXSW, don’t miss it.

After Technicolor Teeth wrapped up and everyone assessed their levels of hearing damage, Nervosas set back up for a final run. Only this time, it wasn’t to 15 people- it was to a packed bar that was threatening to close in on max capacity. As a result, the energy level of the decidedly frenetic show at Free Space somehow got kicked up a few more levels. This time, the audience wound up begging the band for an encore that they never got; and that was alright- Nervosas seemingly left every inch of themselves on that stage. Absolutely ripping through highlights from their best-of-decade worthy self-titled like “Less Than Human”, “Viva Viva”, “Extinct Species”, “Waste of Time”, and (once again) “Stellarcore”, “Poison Ivy” and “APAB” along with some deeper cuts like Rev 45 lead-off track “Junky”. All of this was performed as wild-eyed as possible, with each member being almost inhumanly committed to delivering their songs at maximum levels of impact. None of the three could stay still even between songs, feet tapping and bodies swaying back and forth, anxious to jump into whatever was next. During the songs, that restlessness was even more present as the band would literally throw themselves from side to side (and into the walls on more than one occasion), while attempting to keep themselves in control of the music. Their levels of success on these levels were improbable, as all of the things apart from the audience size were both duplicated and maximized from their set just a few hours before. By the time the calls for an encore were hitting their peak, the band was onstage, packing up, absolutely spent. They’d made their mark and knew their was nothing left to possibly be given.

As the show turned into an afterparty with the assistance of Rio Turbo, friends old and new caught up, got drinks, and found their way into dances, conversations, and the streets. Everyone buzzing on the adrenaline high that accompanies the truly great shows. Everyone that played caught up with each other and their admirers, gave their thanks to each, and bought or traded merch before heading off. Now that all the smoke’s cleared, all that’s left to do is keep both eyes peeled for the next time Nervosas show up- because if these shows were any indication, this is a band that should never be missed.

A few photographs from the shows can be found below.

Technicolor Teeth – Can You Keep Me Out of Hell (Stream)

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Up until this point, there has only been one band to get me to break the self-identifier exclusion rule that Heartbreaking Bravery is normally held to- but when something as monumental as Technicolor Teeth‘s Can You Get Me Out of Hell tour-only tape comes along, it’s worth throwing caution to the wind. Another reason I’m allowing myself the small indulgences of first person narrative is that this is a band I’ve had the privilege of watching evolve since they formed (which was back when Harlequin Kid, a band that featured two Technicolor Teeth members, was still going strong). After one practice, the band had “Station Wagon” to their name and not much else- but that song was strong enough to put me on notice and ensured my attention.

At one of their first shows, guitarist Zacc Baehman blew a fuse while tuning and it took a good ten minutes for everything to get reset. It was one of those weirdly thrilling moments that preceded an even stranger set, with the volume pushed to punishing levels throughout. Back then, Colin Wilde (who appears on the covers of both Teenage Pagans and Can You Keep Me Out of Hell) was still drumming for the band after original drummer Dan Wolfe bowed out and their current drummer- Tenement‘s Amos Pitsch- was on tour. A few very strong 7″ records, a couple of official releases for Teenage Pagans through a few different labels, an inclusion on the incredible Beyond Inversion compilation, and a whole ton of shows later, the band’s now set to unleash the staggeringly brilliant Can You Keep Me Out of Hell cassette, which will only be available to purchase directly from the band on their March tour (track them down at SXSW and pick one up).

Can You Keep Me Out of Hell is a major step forward for the band in almost every way imaginable (an odd feat considering it’s ostensibly a compilation of past 7″ releases with new material tacked on); it’s the most fully-realized version of their shoegaze-meets-nightmare pop aesthetic, both the songwriting from bassist/vocalist Matt Stranger and in-house production are stronger than they’ve ever been, and the pacing is nothing short of extraordinary for this ultimately being a collection of new and previously-released tracks. There are moments of genuinely startling inventiveness littered all over Can You Keep Me Out of Hell as well, each one working as well as the last. It doesn’t just extend to a reliance on one instrument either, whether it’s the hauntingly minimal organ and echoing bells that provide “My Darkest Love” its foreboding atmosphere or the vocal manipulation that leads “Nocturnal Remission” in its descent to nightmarish chaos to provide that song its third quarter, Technicolor Teeth infused this release with almost everything they’ve got and as a result wound up surpassing even the loftiest expectations.

As for the already-released material, “Sage”, “Vaporous”, “Stolen Things and the Starving Man”, “Blood Pool”, and “Drips”, they all hold up as well as ever- only they’re given extra life surrounded by the new material. Everything here works as complement to everything that surrounds it, never once falling into staid territory. Baehman, Stranger, and Pitsch are all playing at the top of their respective games and seem to be pushing each other to greater heights with this project. Ultimately, Can You Keep Me Out of Hell sees the band clicking at the right time, in all the right ways. That’s likely one of the reasons they’ve caught the attention of the likes of Impose and Pitchfork, who have undoubtedly boosted the band’s profile in the past few weeks. Their continued ascension has been surprisingly rewarding to watch unfold and leaves me with this thought; it’s about damn time.

Listen to Can You Keep Me Out of Hell below and don’t lose track of this band- they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeve that should prove they’re far from done.

The Trucks – Space Famous (Demo Review)

Between The Trucks’ Space Famous demo, the PRIVILEGE demo, EP’s from Miserable Friend, Green Kid, and teasers of the upcoming cassette releases for Black Thumb and Technicolor Teeth, Wisconsin’s had a reasonably insane past few weeks. While all of those titles are worth a listen or two, the first one’s going to be the one discussed today. There’s only so much room and so much time to provide coverage for a release influx as formidable as this slate’s been, so even if there’s a release that picks up a central focus, listening’s encouraged for every listed title. Now, with that out of the way, on to The Trucks and Space Famous.

Having started only a short while ago with a scrappy one-song demo to their name, the Appleton-based band had started playing out more consistently prior to the release of Space Famous, wisely finding their niche comfort zone before committing to recording. With a sound that falls somewhere between Superchunk and Archers of Loaf, there’s always a tough balancing act to overcome; how to sound impassioned about being relatively passionless. The Trucks are well on their way to finding that precise point and Space Famous indicates pretty strongly that they’re looking to perfect it.

With this being a demo, the band’s sound, already considerably thick, is made even thicker through the lo-fi production. It’s something that’s immediately evidenced on the title track, when one of the first noises blasting out is a guitar tone that sounds suspiciously like a brass section. What follows is a quick-witted and hard-charging powerpop song that carries a noticeable amount of 90’s indie punk influence. In that regard, the lyrics (courtesy of lead personality Jake Royer) frequently and appropriately recall those of Robert Pollard during Guided by Voices first classic lineup run.

Following the promising opener is “So She Says”, Space Famous’ longest track, which allows more space to provide emphasis on the talents of the members surrounding Royer; Danzo Clavers, Luke Crowe, and Ryley Crowe. This spread-emphasis continues to an even greater extent on closing track “Heartbreak Motel”. Throughout both tracks, there’s a palpable almost acerbic energy that’s anchored and held in check by the power drumming of Ryley Crowe (who also drums on the releases from Miserable Friend and PRIVILEGE mentioned above, likely on the upcoming Black Thumb cassette as well).

By the time “Heartbreak Motel” wraps up Space Famous in an inspired burst of cross-vocal performances, it’s clear that The Trucks are doing more than a few things right- chiefly, resurrecting the 90’s slacker punk sub-genre in a way that feels honest instead of forced. There are traces of early-era Weezer and their kin throughout that promise this band’s got a lot of interesting things to offer musically, many of which may very well be hidden up their sleeves. If they’re all as consistently great as Space Famous then there’s a very good reason to keep both eyes on them. During the wait to find out, relax, find some junk food, turn the volume up, keep an eye out for their upcoming shows (they’re absolutely on the mark live) and take a trip through Space Famous below.

On the Up: Technicolor Teeth

While the last installment of On the Up covered Tenement at great length, it failed to go into a band that’s practically connected at the hip to that trio; Technicolor Teeth. Amos Pitsch, Tenement’s de facto bandleader, drums for it’s loud-as-fuck shoegaze counterpart (in addition to several other bands), which also happens to feature members that have played a fairly big role in Tenement’s already-impressive career. Bassist/vocalist Matt Stranger and guitarist Zacc Baehman (who’d previously played with Pitsch in the short-lived but dearly-missed Harlequin Kid).

Pitsch was a late addition to the band, though, as the drummer’s throne was originally filled by Colin Wilde (his is the face that graces the Teenage Pagans cover), who’s now pursuing music under his own terms under the moniker Black Thumb. It didn’t take long for anyone to realize the band’s potential, especially considering the strength of the first song they wrote together as a band was impressive enough to rank it as one of the best of the last few years.

That song, “Station Wagon”, wound up being one of the many highlights of their full-length debut, Teenage Pagans, which incited a small label war that saw that record being released on multiple formats in various years and labels after the band originally put it up (and had a label subsequently remove it following an official release) on their bandcamp. Since then, Teenage Pagans has found its way back to free streaming, the band’s toured as hard as possible (especially taking Tenement’s increasing popularity into account), they’ve released a reputation-boosting 7″ on Accidental Guest Recordings and contributed a song to that label’s wonderful Beyond Inversion compilation.

That much activity is causing a lot of people to take notice of this still-young band at an alarming rate. How this will end up playing foil to Tenement when one of them inevitably breaks through is anyone’s best guess. For now, it’s probably best to just enjoy the fact that both bands are cropping up on more than a few peoples radars. They’ve both got distinct sounds and are far more well-versed in their respective genres than most bands can claim to be. Technicolor Teeth more than deserves to be in the same conversation as its brethren and that should say more than enough.

Watch the band take a run through “Station Wagon” in an Appleton, WI basement at a semi-secret early show with Big Eyes (video courtesy of Heartbreaking Bravery) below.