Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: CASCINE Records

Half Waif – Lavender (Album Review, Stream, Live Videos)

Last Friday offered an extraordinary outpouring of new records with several of those releases seeming poised to be legitimate Album of the Year contenders. While those records hit hard, Half Waif’s Lavender hit hardest. A handful of the record’s songs have been featured here already but it’s the cumulative effect of the record that elevates the songs from heartrending to heart-stopping.

Nandi Rose Plunkett, Half Waif’s fearless bandleader, wrote Lavender in the waning days of her grandmother’s life and found a way to preserve her memory in astonishing fashion with Lavender. Imbued with familial love and meditations on the joys and consequences of mortality, Lavender ceaselessly finds ways to grapple with heavy burdens through a series of open questions, some unanswerable. The examination process is one that becomes intimately familiar to anyone whose ever had to confront the death of a loved one and it’s not hard to read into Lavender as a personal reckoning from someone in the throes of that journey.

It doesn’t take long for the ghost of Plunkett’s grandmother to find a home in Lavender, appearing as early as the record’s breathtaking opener “Lavender Burning”.  That specific song is a perfect introduction to the record as it marks a slight — but distinct and extremely important — stylistic shift for Half Waif, who move into a more subdued realm that’s enhanced by a re-dedication to introspection, more naked here than at any point in their discography.

“Watching my grandmother walking her garden, she’s lost her hearing does not notice the cardinal”, Plunkett sings, cardinal breaking up into lilting syllables as the memory overwhelms. It’s one of many small vignettes that litter Lavender‘s landscape, flowers dead and blooming. It’s not long before the burden of knowing sinks in and cries of “Is this all there is?” ring out over lush beds of synth and intuitive instrumentation. Confined to a confrontational solitude, Plunkett starts wrestling with existential autonomy: a sense of place, the weight of decisions, and the fear that accompanies free will.

All of these questions, all of these backwards looks and sideways glances are more immediate than any single narrative Half Waif’s presented in the past. They’re also by far the most gripping, as the music Half Waif has afforded these moments is their most expansive, textured, and ambitious to date, leaning hard into the band’s more ambient sensibilities. Lavender‘s rhythm section pulsates with purpose, reverberating throughout the record with the clear knowledge that the stakes here are legitimately life and death. From start to finish, it’s a fight for the means to survival.

If Plunkett’s grandmother is the foremost figure of Lavender, New York City and Plunkett herself aren’t too far behind. The relationship between the two, specifically, anchors some of the record’s most breathtaking stretches, including both “Lavender Burning” and “Back In Brooklyn”, which the songwriter penned an incredibly moving essay for over at The Talkhouse. “Back In Brooklyn” is a song that lands with exceptional force for anyone who’s ever been wrapped up by the titular city’s formidable being and goes a long way in laying out Lavender‘s gently beating heart.

Not coincidentally, the song resides in the album’s central stretch, arriving just after “Silt”, the two constituting Lavender‘s most breathtaking moment. It’s here where Plunkett comes nearest to breaking down completely, stretching out a hand for guidance, assurance, or even just a small moment of clarity in the fog of uncertainty. The closing moments of “Silt” offer up one of the record’s most haunting moments, an outro that beautifully segues into the painfully gorgeous “Back In Brooklyn”.

Everything that leads up to those two songs makes their back-to-back even more potent, the themes splintering apart into what feels like a million pleas, some from the city, some for the city, some from Plunkett, some for Plunkett’s own well-being. It’s here where Lavender finds its path to becoming transcendental. Those two songs combine to retroactively strengthen the songs that have preceded them while setting up one of the most memorable closing runs of the present decade.

It’s here where the allusions stop becoming guarded and are faced with no hesitation, Plunkett seemingly locked into a white-knuckle grip on the legacy of family, self-understanding, and the trials of knowledge. The latter of the three has one of the more potent dichotomies and that scale is explored through the framing of the former two. It’s that dynamic which makes the final quarter of Lavender so harrowing and so beautiful, the acknowledgment of the necessity of the scars and bruises that allow us to move forward towards our own destiny and towards the same fate that will take everyone we’ve ever loved.

Rather than waist time on hypothetical situations, Plunkett discards them in the service of realism and a commitment to the bravery the bandleader strives for on “Parts”. There’s a dissection of shame and anxiety in that song, one that resonates through to Lavender‘s end, before the tacit acceptance of the fearlessness required to continue existing. By the record’s end the only home Plunkett seems to have is forward motion, abandoning cities, clinging to friends, family, and lovers, doing whatever it takes to find a measure of peace in life’s restlessness.

Lavender‘s final verse acts as a summation of the themes Plunkett can’t escape through the course of the eleven songs and diverts them in a fruitless bid to forget what most of the record has exhausted itself in staring down before its final, heartbroken declaration: I don’t wanna know this/I don’t wanna know how this ends/In the grand scope of things/I know. It’s right then, in that last word, Lavender becomes complete. Not just a record about confronting death, Lavender is a record about the allowances of life, the difficulties that make it harsh, the people that make it worthwhile. In the end, when all is said and done, what’s left is the weight of knowing, and allowing it to sink to oblivion or float just a little while longer.

Listen to Lavender below (and watch a packet of live videos beneath that) and pick it up from CASCINE here.

Half Waif – Back In Brooklyn (Stream, Live Video)

After what seemed like an eternity, Heartbreaking Bravery is returning to regular daily (or near-daily) coverage and this run begins with a recap of the excellent tracks, clips, and full streams that found release over the past two days. On the songs front there were notable tracks from Porlolo, WAND, Lonely Parade, Emma Russack & Lachlan Denton, Bent Denim, Peach Kelli Pop, Numb.er, Quarterbacks, Omni, Phalcons, Llovers, Wax Idols, Eureka California, Tickle Torture, Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders, Decisions, Mary Lattimore, and Terra Pines.

On the visual front, there were impressive clips that came from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, A Place To Bury Strangers, CAICOS, stuart A. staples, IAN SWEET, Mike Donovan, and Superorganism. Dark Times, War On Women, Changeling, Leila Abdul-Rauf, Andrew Younker, and Paisley Fields rounded things out with some exceptional full streams. All of those are worthy of investments but none hit quite as hard as the third and final single from Half Waif’s forthcoming Lavender, “Back In Brooklyn”.

Being the first song to be featured after a long interim with sporadic updates, it might seem unwise to break form but the song’s laced with so much personal meaning that I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of this site and switching to a first person narrative. It’s one of the only ways that I can think of to suit the song’s central premise and its near-confrontational intimacy, which was written about eloquently over at The Talkhouse by the project’s mastermind, Nandi Rose Plunkett.

Plunkett and I shared a frighteningly similar experience of our stints living in Brooklyn, managing to take the city for all its worth, simultaneously, as so many of its expats have done and will continue to do. There’s a sense that its world is a separate one, operating at a more intense velocity than the cities that swirl around its gravitational pull. It’s jarring to come into but it’s easy to accept, instinctively knowing that the best way to navigate its chaos is to completely submit yourself to its constant whims, no matter how painful or uplifting.

Coming to know the city as a home takes some time but once you do, it becomes a part of you that’s impossible to shake. It’s harshness and demand stoking various levels of anxiety and fear, while its open embrace of its residents can provide a warmth that’s worthy of moments of pining. All of this, the endless duality and dichotomies that the city births in anyone that manages to claim it as a temporary home, is painfully evident in “Back In Brooklyn”, which nearly wrecked me the first few times I was fortunate enough to watch Half Waif play it live (one of those instances is captured below).

It’s the most plaintive moment on Lavender — easily one of the best records I’ve heard this year — and it’s the most arresting. Plunkett’s narration across the record’s one of the most unsparingly honest perspectives I’ve come across in recent memory, looking at everything through the lens of someone lost in their own thoughts while the road flies by their van windoes. Sideways glances and subtle allusions are shelved in favor of an intense directness that can occasionally approach the overwhelming, it’s nakedness on full display. Longing and love are its most prominent intersections but they’re anchored by a rare understanding, which can make the material — as is the case with “Back In Brooklyn” — frighteningly real.

During its three-plus minute run time, on every pass I’ve given the song, it’s transported me back to the city, reminded me of all of the things, places, and people I loved, all of the moments with them I cherished, and all of the moments where I felt lost or afraid. It’s an immense work that’s delivered with a well-worn affection and laced with the knowledge that once you leave, its shape shifts and changes, rendering some of the things you held onto unrecognizable. Honest, unflinching, empathetic, and deeply moving, “Back In Brooklyn” isn’t just breathtaking, it’s a small miracle in a minor key.

Listen to “Back In Brooklyn” (and watch a recent live performance of the song) below and pre-order Lavender from CASCINE here.

Beliefs – Tidal Wave (Music Video)

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Now, despite all the content that’s already gone up tonight, there’s still a lot that went down over the past week and a half while the site was dealing with technical complications. To that end, the approach in coverage is going to be slightly different this time around. Full streams, single streams, and music videos will all be covered- but they’ll be branched off into categories. Each entry will get a line or two and then when everything’s been accounted for, there’ll be a feature spot granted to Beliefs’ ridiculously entertaining clip for “Tidal Wave”. So, without further ado…

SINGLE STREAMS

Pet Cemetery – Giants: The newest near-perfect post-punk entry into Art Is Hard’s perfect Pizza Club series. | Deer Tick – White Havoc: A fuzzed-out Holiday stomper courtesy of one of today’s more intriguing acts. | Sun Hotel – Tropic of Cancer: An incredibly compelling and slightly damaged folk-leaning exploration. | Abi Reimold – Workshop: A folksy DIY pop masterpiece that doubles as a perfect contribution to a great compilation series. | The Soft Moon – Black: Nightmarishly menacing ambient music that tilts into industrial territory. | Sleater-Kinney – Surface Envy: Video game guitar lines. Corin Tucker’s vocals. Total madness. Sleater-Kinney is back. | Victoria+Jean – Holly: Seductive art-pop that flirts with expectations and capitalizes on tension. | Menace Beach – Blue Eye: An ambient noise exercise that only gains intrigue as it quietly builds towards its finish. | Deerhoof – Exit Only (Perfect Pussy Remix): A terrifying reimagining of an already terrifying song, courtesy of Shaun Sutkus. | Moon Duo – Animal: Menacing and minimal psych-punk that isn’t afraid to bare its fangs. | Grand Vapids – Aubade: Indie pop that isn’t afraid to subvert or challenge aesthetic expectations. | Howlin’ Rain – Wild Bush: A pastoral folk throwback jam that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. | California X – Red Planet: Another triumphant, scorched-earth preview of what looks to be a career-best effort. | The Sidekicks – Jesus Christ Supermalls: Subtle, stunning, and lovely. The Sidekicks‘ finest work to date. | Seagulls – Swimmin’: Unbelievably winsome and completely enchanting folk-centric indie pop. | Elephant Micah – Slow Time Vultures: Gently gorgeous and effortlessly arresting ambient folk reminiscent of Vic Chesnutt. | Future of What – Daydream 99: Boldly stylish indie pop that crafts its own brand of magic. |

FULL STREAMS

The Goodbye Party – Silver Blues:  The latest DIY punk-pop gem to grace the impossibly reliable Salinas roster. | Littler – Get A Life: Relentlessly propulsive weirdo punk. | Bonny Doon – Fred’s House Demo: An impossibly overlooked (and impossibly great) folk-tinted basement pop masterpiece. | School ’94 – Like You: Graceful indie pop with gargantuan scope that still manages to come across as refreshingly breezy. | Forth Wanderers – Tough Love: Defiant and subtly venomous basement pop with an unbelievable amount of inherent charm. | SUSAN – Just Call It: Surf-indebted basement pop with enough punk bite to please a purist. | Githead – Waiting For A SignLeftifeld post-punk and new wave from a quasi-supergroup that features members of Wire, Compact, and Scanner. | Furnsss – Silent Gold: Deranged slacker punk and basement pop for the actively lethargic. | Thelma & The Sleaze – Heart Like A Fist: Incendiary basement punk with a heaping of 80’s hardcore influence. | Cave People – Older: Treble-heavy basement pop that leans towards sentiment and presents a genuinely memorable vision. | Terrorista – Purple Tape: Hard-charging basement punk that thrives on the notion that everything could fall apart at any second.

MUSIC VIDEOS

Young Statues – Run The River Dry: Visually stunning and endlessly intriguing, “Run The River Dry” shines a bright light on Young Statues’ promising future in the visual format. | Christian Lee Hutson – Late November: A simple concept that becomes a wrenching experience as it transforms into something inexplicably moving. | Flashlight O – TV Time: Staunchly DIY and weirdly hypnotic in its collage-heavy presentation. | Highway Cross – Open Eyes: Furiously paced and brilliantly edited, this is a perfect example of how emphasizing details can pay off in unexpectedly huge ways. | Luluc – Tangled Heart: Beautifully arranged and enhanced with simple, creative effects, “Tangled Heart” winds up feeling like something worth treasuring. | Johnny Marr – Dynamo: The iconic guitarist has always had a visual flair but those tendencies reach new, modern heights with this clip. | Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry): Like the group, this is a video driven by outsize personality- it’s unabashedly weird and it’s absolutely glorious. | Bass Drum of Death – For Blood: Bikers and gangs collide in deliriously entertaining fashion throughout this brilliantly executed tracking shot clip. | Blonde Redhead – Dripping: A sensual and highly stylized video that wields atmospherics and soft touches to stunning effect. | Communions – Love Stands Still: Classically composed and unwaveringly endearing; a perfect reflection of Communions’ indie pop. | A Place To Bury Strangers – Straight: A hallucinatory collage of striking imagery backed by one of the band’s most insistent songs to date. | Liars – Mask Maker (Extended Version): Characteristically bizarre and replete with a whole mess of yarn. | Tinkerbelles – When Puppies Cry: Extraordinarily damaged basement punk made weirder by one of the most insanely warped clips of 2014.

TIDAL WAVE

Okay, so the bold font probably wasn’t necessary but it’s late- and this is a really great video. Beliefs first gained an uptick in notoriety when they paired with the similarly-minded Greys for one of 2013’s best splits. Since then, they’ve been on a tear, steadily building a name for themselves on the strength of their powerful new material and formidable live show. If “Tidal Wave” is any indication, they may be able to add great music videos to that list as well. While it mostly finds inspiration in the trends of classic clips from the 80’s and 90’s there’s a certain playfulness here that’s missing from a lot of homage-style videos. That playfulness comes to a head nearly halfway through when they manage to seamlessly work in something genuinely unexpected and ridiculously perfect. It’s too good of a moment to spoil completely but it’s also one of the more endearingly appreciative moments of recent memory. By the time all the effects have worn down and “Tidal Wave” reaches its tongue-in-cheek epilogue, it becomes abundantly clear that this band has big things in mind for Leaper (the forthcoming album “Tidal Wave” is taken from) and for themselves. Beliefs aren’t a band intent to keep quiet and if they keep going at the pace they are, we’re all in for one hell of a ride.

Watch “Tidal Wave” below and pick up Leaper from Hand Drawn Dracula as soon as it’s available.

Kal Marks – It Was A Very Hard Year (Stream)

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Now that all of the great music videos and full streams from the first part of this week are accounted for, it’s time to turn the lens to the handful of single songs that managed to stand out. JOYA crafted a punchy tune that wielded an 80’s new wave punk influence masterfully with “Regale“, The Velveteens unveiled a beautiful indie pop slow-burner titled “Loneliness“, and California X came out swinging with career highlight “Nights In The Dark“- which will also serve as the title for their forthcoming record. My Drunken Haze gave life to the oddly hypnotic “Yellow Balloon“, Step-Panther gave a guided heist tour in their curiously dynamic “Nowhere“, and School ’94 revealed their gorgeous 80’s-indebted ballad “Like You“. Despite all of those songs being worthy of their own write-ups, it’s hard to just glaze past something as powerful as Kal Marks‘ “It Was A Very Hard Year”.

One of 2013’s strongest records was Kal Marks’ sprawling, gloom-infused post-punk masterpiece Life Is Murder, Now, only a year later, they’re preparing to release what will be one of this year’s best EP’s- Just A Lonely Fart. All of the implicit dread that informed Life Is Murder is still incredibly present in Just A Lonely Fart, which was previously teased with lead-off track “Zimmerman“. While “Zimmerman” dealt in political explosives with sharp social commentary, “It Was A Very Hard Year” pulls the reins back and delves into something equally terrifying; what it means to be human. Both songs (and their inspirations) were touched on in the interview that accompanied the song’s premiere, lending a greater insight to the thought processes driving Just A Lonely Fart. Empathy plays a heavy factor and manages to punctuate the incredibly tense “It Was A Very Hard Year” in surprisingly engaging and intriguingly subtle ways. It’s a brilliant closer that builds itself into a hurricane before settling into a quiet oblivion, successfully casting Just A Lonely Fart as one of 2014’s most striking releases. Don’t make the mistake of letting this one fall to the wayside.

Listen to “It Was A Very Hard Year” below and pre-order Just A Lonely Fart from Kal Marks’ bandcamp.