Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Bruised Music

Tenement – Dull Joy (Stream)

Tenement I

Predatory Highlights. June 2. Doon giovanni Records. We’ll get to all of this shortly but first, a recap, as it’s been some time since the last non-Watch This post ran on this site. Coming up over the next few days will be a run of songs and videos focusing on some of the best of what’s emerged since the start of this month. Each of the highlighted songs will come equipped with no less than 10 others worth hearing in the accompanying post(s). Up first: “Idiot“, an extraordinary laid-back basement pop tune from Dustin Lovelis’ upcoming Dimensions. There was also the The Go! Team’s revitalized, energetic “Ye Ye Yamaha“, Torres’ unpredictably frenetic “Cowboy Guilt” (furthering Sprinter‘s album of the year potential), PINS’ jaunty “Young Girls“, and Blonde Elvis’ fired up powerpop gem “Oh Mary“. To top everything off there was Fraternal Twins’ slow-burning “Skin Gets Hot“, The Japanese House’s hypnotic “Sister“, KEN Mode’s furious “These Tight Jeans“, No Joy’s hazy “Moon In My Mouth“, and The Lagoonas’ fiery basement punk gut-punch, “Color Spectrum“. While, as always, every single one of these tracks is worthy of a high investment level, the headline goes to a band that’s now intrinsically tied to this site: Tenement.

Before diving into the dissection of yesterday’s big news surrounding the band’s upcoming release, it’s worth noting (on a very personal level) that in my time writing, few things have meant more to me than being able to contribute a piece for the zine insert that came equipped with Bruised Music: Volume 1, the band’s collection of earlier material that came out last month. Tenement are a band that have meant varying degrees to various people but they’ve managed to affect my life for what’s nearing ten years through both their music and their continued kindness. I grew up alongside their progression and they’re directly responsible for introducing me to the greater DIY scene that this site was built to celebrate (which is a space that may not even exist without that influence). They’re the first band I can remember booking and they’re a band I’ve been referring to as “Wisconsin’s best band” since the first time I saw them live- so, naturally, their upcoming record’s been one I’ve been tracking closely. Yesterday, the trio blew the lid off of that record- which has been meticulously shaped over the course of the past three years- via a typically incredible AV Club premiere that came loaded with details.

Predatory Highlights will be released on June 2 via the band’s (relatively) new home, the increasingly vaunted Don Giovanni Records. It will be a double-album. It’s set to contain both the band’s towering pop sensibilities that Napalm Dream zeroed in on while also accentuating the curious experiments that provided Blind Wink with an immediate cult classic aesthetic. In short, Predatory Highlights will be the band’s most ambitious- and most visible- release to date. Kicking off its campaign with a track as immensely accessible as “Dull Joy” is a brilliant strategic move as it encapsulates the band’s most immediate elements while hinting at the stranger terrain they’re capable of covering. As much as ever, guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch is in fine form both lyrically and musically- the song structure’s bold, the chord progressions are thrillingly inventive, and the lyric copy still reads like classic, downtrodden Americana.

While most of it will strike listeners who are familiar with the band as vintage Tenement, they still find room for a curveball- and that moment provides “Dull Joy” it’s most exhilarating moment. After the band locks into its standard basement pop/hardcore/power punk groove, they launch into a bridge that goes into full-blown r&b/pop mode, complete with falsetto. For any other band, a moment that conventional would seem rote but here, it adds a new dimension to the band’s already staggering depth. Accentuating the impact of Pitsch’s characteristically brilliant turn-in is yet another formidable display of intuitive talent from the band’s rhythm section- bassist Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer- which remains one of the best currently operating. Everything comes together on “Dull Joy” to not only prove that Tenement’s continuously raising their own otherwise unreachable bar but that they’ve also still got plenty of tricks up their sleeves. It may still be early and this may be the very first glimpse of Predatory Highlight but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Tenement could have a future classic on their hands with what looks to be a monumental release. If it doesn’t wind up near the very top of this site’s Albums of the Year list when December rolls around, no one will be more surprised than me.

Listen to “Dull Joy” below and pre-order Predatory Highlights from Don Giovanni here.

Tenement – Morning Mouth (Stream)

Tenement I

Over the course of my interest in music, particularly music that resided within the confines of DIY, no band’s meant more to me than Tenement. Back when the band spent their time running shows out of the sorely-missed BFG house, I’d be there at every possible opportunity- but that’s skipping ahead of the beginnings of the story. Back in 2008, I booked Tenement to play a small coffee shop that frequently hosted shows on not much more than a whim. It was one of the first shows I ever had a hand in booking and it immediately became one of the most memorable- not just for that reason- but because what Tenement left up on that small stage (one they invited the entire crowd onto) was something I’d spent years looking for: a band more punk than pop who were at least somewhat defined by a sense of well-informed literacy.

In subsequent reviews (across various publications) that I wrote about Tenement’s music, I’d frequently compare guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s exacting sense of detailed Americana to authors like John Steinbeck. In lyric copy, Pitsch frequently zeroes in on the mundane aspects of everyday life that too frequently go unexamined (and, subsequently, uncelebrated). While this is an aspect of the band’s music that’s gained an unbelievable amount of clarity over the years, its characteristically humble beginnings can be heard in songs like the fiery “Morning Mouth”, which is one of a handful of songs the band’s remastered for an upcoming early music compilation entitled Bruised Music: Vol. 1. Incidentally, “Morning Mouth” was the second song I ever saw the band live- and the one that immediately convinced me I had a new favorite band.

Spending some time at The BFG always reaffirmed my earliest suspicious about Tenement after that show- the band’s versatility was shaped in part by their extremely diverse listening habits. It was impossible to spend thirty seconds flipping through any one of the thousands of releases that littered that house and not jump from 80’s hardcore to free jazz session recordings to sludge to the golden era of soul, all of which would be directly underneath an unending murderer’s row of killer flyers for (increasingly strong) bills that the house hosted. It evoked the ideal of the American melting pot more than just a little and, in a way, furthered the band’s identity. All of that, the feeling of sense and place, comes back as acutely as possible when revisiting a song like “Morning Mouth”- it’s undeniably indicative of the promise Tenement continues to fulfill and exceed while remaining a powerhouse in its own right.

Surprisingly intricate passages of “Morning Mouth”, which was originally released on the False Teeth 7″, revealed the band’s enviable talents at an early stage of their career while also betraying the band’s songwriting mastery. Hooks followed hooks, always with the momentum of a sledgehammer blow to the gut, while the band seemed to be on the verge of spiraling towards an unimaginable ascension. Burning bridges, a keen sense of surroundings, and an absolutely vicious musical performance are some of the more defining elements of “Morning Mouth”, which remains the warning shot that convinced me that Wisconsin had a band worthy of staggering levels of admiration. It may not have been the band’s only early warning shot but it remains one that holds a significant amount of power to this day. Who knew indulging nostalgia could be so invigorating?

Watch that early performance on a stage full of people below, listen to the Stereogum premiere of the remaster here, and pre-order Bruised Music: Vol. 1 from Grave Mistake (in collaboration with Toxic Pop) here.