Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Dan Edelman

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.

Even Hand – Even Hand (Album Review, Stream)

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Over the years it’s become increasingly evident that their are some cassettes that it’s next to impossible to eject from a deck once they’ve completed their rotation- not because of technical difficulty but because of how good the record on the tape is. Stupid Bag Records have had a direct hand in quite a few of them (every Swearin’ tape, Acid Fast’s Rabid Moond, Dead Dog’s Precious Child, etc.) and recently, one of their releases possessing that insane amount of gravitational pull was given an LP release over at the always-outstanding Mandible Records: Even Hand’s self-titled full-length debut.

Even Hand boasts a sound that feels like it’d fit comfortably between both Sunny Day Real Estate and The Wrens at their respective peaks, without sacrificing an inch of their DIY punk roots, which is an impressive achievement, to say the least. In a small way, it makes them a sort of spiritual kin to Haunted Heads, even if Even Hand’s a little more wiry and more in line with the Steve Albini school of thought when it comes to presentation. That keen attention to detail is something that serves them well throughout the course of Even Hand and helps the record feel like an absolutely vital release.

Starting with a trio of songs that establishes both the band’s sound and the tone of the record, Even Hand wastes no time in commanding the listener’s attention. “Glacial Blue”, the record’s opening track, recalls a much more precise and mannered Parquet Courts without losing any of the nervy tension that dominates the kind of wry post-punk  both bands traffic in. “The More It Shows” reveals the band’s just as comfortable delivering charged-up bruisers as they are at displaying raw nerve. “Your Wall” rounds out the opening blitz with a lilting melody and a slow-burning sonic template that’s indebted to the very best of emo’s golden era without being completely defined by that genre.

From there, Even Hand manages to steadily build it’s momentum while carving out new niche areas of all the genres that factor into what make them such an engaging band on record. While the furiously paced”Down the Lighted Strip” may be the record’s most definitive moment, it’s Even Hand‘s quietest moment that manages to stand out most. “Leaning Home” is the track in question and it arrives at roughly the 3/4’s mark of the record, providing bandleader Mike Borth an arresting solo moment. Everything goes quiet for “Leaning Home” and Borth makes the most of it, providing Even Hand with some of his sharpest guitar work and a set of lyrics that cuts deep by confronting familial conflict in a manner that feels intensely personal. It’s the record’s longest song (though it doesn’t feel like it) and earns every last second of its runtime.

Appropriately, it’s followed by an ambient stretch before “All Tenses All Time” kicks things back into overdrive and showcases the natural ability of Even Hand’s rhythm section, with Dominic Armao lending the record no shortage of propulsive bass line and drummer Dan Edelman providing a deeply impressive set of chops at a pace that frequently borders the manic. Both Armao and Edelman give the record a lot of its heart while Borth shapes it with an enviable sense of personality. All three pull out a variety of stops for the closing track, “I’m Not Concerned”, giving listeners one final reminder of what each is capable of on their own- and what the band’s capable of as a collective. “I’m Not Concerned” winds up being an appropriate final highlight on a record littered with other ones- and when it’s over, all that’s really left to do is let it play itself over again. Even Hand is a record that deserves to be heard- as many times as possible.

Listen to Even Hand below and make sure to not live life without either owning the cassette or the LP.