Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Don Giovanni Records

15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015

Slight I

Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.

For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.

15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia

Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.

14. ThinLips – Your Divorce

An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.

13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig

Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.

12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth

A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.

11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs

After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.

10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?

While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.

9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2

One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry to its status as one of the best of 2015.

8. Slight – Hate the Summer

Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.

7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out

A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.

6. Sheer Mag – II

Another year, another Sheer Mag list placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.

5. Diet Cig – Over Easy

No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.

4. LVL UP – Three Songs

In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songs continues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.

3. Ernie – Dog Park

Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.




2. Tenement – Tenement

No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.

1. Cende – Cende

Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.

Watch This: Vol. 110

Now that Watch This is caught up to its usual weekly routine, the rest of the week will be spent dragging the coverage for other formats up to the present release cycle. Following that round of catching up, the site will be turning its focus towards year-end lists and the second edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories. Before we hit that point, though, it feels more necessary than ever to shine a light on some of the best live capture performances from this past week. Again, a strong week’s relegated a slew of extremely strong candidates to the honorable mentions, which include performances from Palehound, The Courtneys, Green Dreams, Vinyl Williams, Albert Hammond Jr., Futurebirds, The Bottle Rockets, Husbands, Noah Gunderson, Caleb and Carolyn, Donovan Wolfington, The Dick and Jane Project, Doe Paoro, Gudrid Hansdottir, Youth Lagoon, Shopping, and Battles.  Site favorites abound in the featured section and the whole thing wraps with one of the year’s finest– and most unexpected– live clips.  So, as always, kick back, focus up, adjust the volume, and Watch This.

1. The Sidekicks – Hell Is Warm (Radio K)

In “Hell Is Warm” The Sidekicks have written themselves a shockingly strong opening number, so it should come as no surprise that it’s been leading off a lot of their recent sets. By that same token, it makes perfect sense as an exhilarating standalone number.  Here, the quartet tears through the song in a session hosted by Radio K, delivering a blistering version that  arguably improves on the excellent studio take.

2. Bad Canoes – Radio Without Rules (Don Giovanni)

Some people are natural performers who imbue every project they appear in with a radical charisma that elevates everything in their reach. Marissa Paternoster is one of those performers.  In the deliriously scrappy Bad Canoes, Paternoster’s divorced from her guitar and allowed free reign over the stage, careening around with a reckless abandon as the rest of Bad Canoes alternates between contained proto-punk and building up a swirling wall of chaos. Packaged together, it’s electrifying.

3. Wimps – Dump (Band In Seattle)

One of the most purely entertaining videos of the past few months has been for Wimps‘ all-too-relatable “Dump“, a 2015 standout. The trio’s most  recent effort, Suitcase, is a brilliant collection of basement pop gems that coast by effortlessly but carry enough weight to be memorable. Here, the band takes their brand of goofy irreverence and sharpen it for a memorable run through “Dump”, unable to suppress some very heartfelt smiles along the way.

4. Alex G + Girlpool – Brite Boy (SPIN)

Alex G‘s “Brite Boy” hasn’t left my mind since writing up the song’s heartbreaking video earlier this week. Here, in a performance for SPIN, the song takes on an additional glow thanks to the support provided by site favorites Girlpool. Ostensibly a song about isolation, loneliness, and loss, it somehow transforms into an even more heartrending experience as Girlpool’s Cleo Tucker and Harmony Lebel-Tividad join in for the song’s backing vocal part, before joining each other in a half-choreographed, half-spontaneous dance during the song’s instrumental outro that’s surprisingly moving. Affectionate, human, and strangely devastating, it’s a performance that seems poised to circulate for many years to come.

5. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold (Strombo Sessions)

Few songs have hit me harder this year than “Burned by the Cold”, the album closer from Dilly Dally‘s astonishing Sore. Easily one of my favorite songs of 2015 (more on that later), the song showcases the band’s commitment to range and capacity for subversion. From a purely logistical standpoint, it seemed unlikely that the band would ever latch onto the song for their live set and that it was doomed to a life of record confinement. Thankfully, George Stroumboulopoulos’ home, where The Strombo Show is filmed, comes equipped with a piano. Dilly Dally recently appeared on the show as guests and gifted everyone with this stunning rendition of “Burned by the Cold”, which is presented here in crisp black-and-white, enhancing the song’s wintry aesthetic. It’s because of performances like this one that Watch This came into existence and it’s a beautiful coda for Dilly Dally’s extraordinary year.

Watch This: Vol. 102

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the nature of these upcoming posts, a truncated version of this introductory paragraph will be appearing over the next several installments of this series.] It’s been quite some time since the 100th edition of Watch This went up on this site. There have been a lot of factors going into the extended interim but, as usual, a focal point of that absence was to make sure the preparation work was kept up to date. Full sessions, single song performances, DIY videos, and impressive turn-ins from radio stations abound. So, as always, sit back, adjust the setting, crank the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Hop Along – I Saw My Twin (Ace Hotel)

Hop Along‘s Painted Shut served as the band’s long-overdue breakout moment and they’ve been taking full advantage of the right opportunities since its release. Here, they give a spirited, acoustic-led rendition of “I Saw My Twin” that demonstrates the depth of their considerable abilities. It’s another memorable moment in a growing string of impressive pieces for one of 2015’s most heartening success stories.

2. Strand of Oaks (3voor12)

In 2014, Strand of Oaks turned in some of the year’s most memorable performances and, as a result, became a staple of Watch This. Timothy Showalter’s project hasn’t slowed pace throughout the course of the past 11 months, continuing to be one of the best live bands on the touring circuit. All that being noted, this still somehow manages to feel slightly elevated from the project’s previous work. A soaring reminder from a serious talent.

3. John Grant (The Current)

A few years ago, John Grant emerged as a singular voice in an overcrowded field of songwriters struggling to achieve that status. Grant followed up that feat with a record that cemented his position as one of the most unflinchingly bold artists operating today. Here, he leads his band through two highlights off of that record, “Grey Tickles” and “Global Warming”. To say that they’re arresting performances would be an understatement.

4. Cloud Castle Lake – Genuflect 

Last month, Cloud Castle Lake froze my blood with their appearance at Honor Press’s secret CMJ showcase. Watching the band weave their intricate tapestries together felt akin to a religious experience. While this live take of “Genuflect” they uploaded to their YouTube acount doesn’t quite hit those heights, it comes close enough to warrant a spot here. Beautifully shot and flawlessly performed, it’s one of the strongest hints to date of what this band’s capable of accomplishing.

5. Waxahatchee – Bathtub (Don Giovanni)

It’s been a few years since Waxahatchee’s breakout debut, American Weekend, was first released. That the songs that lived so comfortably in that set still feel so resonant today is a strong indicator of their apparent timelessness. “Bathtub”, in particular, is a song that still cuts deeply anytime it’s played. Don Giovanni recently captured a performance of the song that’s played to a dead silent audience. A perfect document of a small, profoundly moving moment.

Painted Zeros – Only You (Stream)

Painted Zeros II

Over the past few weeks, a lot of excellent material has surfaced. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of that material has been singles. Since the time span was so extensive (mostly due to the attention afforded to the CMJ coverage), all but one of those songs have been compiled in a list that will be running at the very bottom of this post. The one exception is tonight’s featured song: Painted Zeros‘ “Only You”.

After being somewhat underwhelmed by Painted Zeros’ set at Alphaville (which, to their credit, seemed to have more to do with the sound setup than their performance), the band knocked me for a loop during CMJ at Aviv. Having already commented on the impressive nature of their quieter material from their upcoming Floriography, it’s heartening to see the trio committing to “Only You”– a clear standout from their CMJ set– as their latest release in the album’s rollout campaign..

Driven by a gentle, intricate bass figure that comes courtesy of Jim Hill (who also plays in Slight, The Glow, and Montana and the Marvelles), “Only You” serves as a showcase for guitarist/vocalist Katie Lau’s more pensive side as well as the band’s considerable growth. Floating along like a fully-realized dream seeped in tranquility, “Only You” far surpasses the very evident promise of S V A L B A R D. Defying any easy genre categorization while flashing hints of the very best elements of everything from dream pop to post-punk, the song finds a soft transcendence and sustains it through its final, fading moments. From start to finish, “Only You” is a lovely, unexpected triumph.

Listen to “Only You” below and pre-order Floriography from Don Giovanni here. Beneath the embed, explore a collection of some of the best songs to find release over the past two weeks.

Petal – Silly Heart
Basement Benders – Purple Days
The Gloomies – LSD
Eluvium – Confessor
They Might Be Giants – Or So I Have Read
Holy Esque – Hexx
Kitten Forever – Temple
Matt Kivel – Janus
Wray – May 23rd
The Unspeakable Practices – A Steadying Effect
Soldiers of Fortune (ft. Stephen Malkmus) – Campus Swagger
Brass Bed – I Am Just A Whisper
Free Children of Earth – All Tomorrow’s Plunder
Go Deep – Slumberland
Elephant Stone (ft. Alex Mass) – The Devil’s Shelter
Globelamp – Controversial Confrontational
Tenement – Weakest Ones (Demo)
The Besnard Lakes – Golden Lion
Beach for Tiger – Coco
Le Rug – Bomb
Kindling – Painkiller
Manwomanchild – Return to Ithaca
Bummed – Smoking Jewels
Jaala – Salt Shaker
Cicada Rhythm – The Keeper
MONEY – You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides of the Sky
Human Potential – 105 Pounds of Disintegration
Busdriver (ft. Milo and Anderson Paak) – Worlds to Run
Wimps – Old Guy
Infinite Void – Even Ground
Black Panties – You’ll Never Find My Body
TOPS – Hollow Sound of the Morning Chimes
Earring – Black Chalk
Swings – Dust
Some Pulp – Slasher Nite @ The Showcase East
Florist – Cool and Refreshing
Sam Means – We’re Alone
Never Young – New Villain
Floating Points – Peroration Six
Eternal Summers – Our Distant Bodies
Andy Shauf – Jenny Come Home
Val Hollie – Siberian Summer
William Alexander – Strangest Things
Mitylion – My Yard Is On
Sheer – Cursed Again

Laura Stevenson – Claustrophobe (Stream)

Laura Stevenson.
More than four dozen items into today’s review of the past week of music and there’s still more than a dozen things left to cover. That’s absurd. It’s also indicative of just how consistent 2015’s been in terms of great new releases. Whether it was a pair of music videos from Pity Sex and Will Butler or what essentially amount to attention-snagging previews from Heavy Looks and Chris Sutter‘s intriguing solo venture Genie’s Organ Recordings. There were also outstanding new songs from Woozy, Three Man Cannon, Holy Oysters, Haybaby, Broadcaster, British Sea Power, Palmas, and Polyon, as well as a deeply compelling full-length from Brooks Strause. In addition to that wealth of memorable material, there was a breathtaking new song from site favorite Laura Stevenson.

Coming off of a career high– 2013’s Wheel, a wonderful record that keeps improving with age– Stevenson had the unenviable task of following up an unlikely genre classic. As each new song from the songwriter’s forthcoming Cocksure trickles out, the more it seems like the record may surpass its predecessor. “Claustrophobe”, the latest single to be unveiled from the record, makes an immediate impact with its stargazing guitar line and insistent piano-plinking. Unfurling with grace and determination, “Claustrophobe” plays to Stevenson’s most anthemic sensibilities, with its monster chorus doing quite a bit of its own heavy lifting.

Propulsive, dynamic, and bittersweet, “Claustrophobe” is the latest extension of a continuously improving winning streak from one of this generation’s more under-appreciated songwriters. If the rest of Cocksure lives up to its previews, Stevenson’s name may be appearing in a lot of desirable places. For now, the best course of action’s to simply enjoy the music and the building anticipation for the October 30 release date. Just hit repeat until that day arrives.

Listen to “Claustrophobe” below and pre-order Cocksure from Don Giovanni here.

Watch This: Vol. 92

Every Sunday, Watch This features five of the given week’s best live performance videos. These can be full performances hosted by radio stations, individual songs shot by individual people, or just about anything in between. Normally, these have skewed more towards the raucous but this will be one of the rare entries of the series that’s much more attuned to the quieter side of things. Even the bulk of this week’s honorable mentions where much quieter than usual and, as usual, it was a strong week that included a handful of gems from the likes of Frankie Cosmos, Abi ReimoldSpeedy Ortiz, Chumped, Lauryn Peacock, Nuu, The Wooden Sky, La Luz, Charlie Parr, LOTT, Matt Hectorne, and Wolf Alice. Between those combined efforts and the five featured clips below, it’s been another very strong week for live music. By all accounts, it’s a lot to go over. So, as always, sit back, adjust the volume, zone in, and Watch This.

1. Izzy True – Future War (Don Giovanni)

One of the year’s more astonishing EP’s, Izzy True’s Troll, marked the arrival of a significant songwriting talent: Isabel Reidy. Having the benefit of a wealth of experience fronting bands, Reidy’s turned solo and the effects have been spellbinding. In this Don Giovanni-presented clip, Reidy performs an arresting version of “Future War”, exuding a calm confidence that should go a long way in ensuring the emerging songwriting a long future.

2. Natalie Prass – Why Don’t You Believe In Me + Never Over You (La Blogotheque) 

Having already earned a few entries in Watch This, Natalie Prass‘ innate gift as a performer shouldn’t be so continuously surprising but every time one of Prass’ more intimate videos surfaces, it’s jarring. There’s something inherently special about Prass’ recent work and the songwriter wields that considerable gift with a poised assurance that quickly translates into mesmerizing performances. Here, in what’s easily one of La Blogotheque’s finest uploads this year, Prass and a guitarist deliver extraordinary takes on “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” and “Never Over You” in a warmly lit clip that feels perfectly suited to Prass’ aesthetic.

3. Try the Pie – Old Wounds (Katie Krulock)

Domestication continued Saliinas’ staggering winning streak with aplomb earlier this year and it’s remained a favorite among most of those who have heard it since its time of release. It’s an incredible collection of songs and most of them pack a serious punch, something that gets emphasized when they’re stripped bare. A solo take on “Old Wounds” exposes the naked emotion that acts as one of the song’s more prominent driving forces. It’s a gripping look into the mechanics of one of today’s more promising acts.

4. Screaming Females – Little Anne (Don Giovanni)

Having long established themselves as a staple of Watch This, Screaming Females continue to find inventive ways to get into this series. When they’ve earned a feature spot they’ve done it through exceptionally varied modes: DIY clips, full performances, radio sessions… essentially every single mode of performance video that’s been included throughout Watch This‘ existence. In this week’s second clip to arrive courtesy of Don Giovanni, Marissa Paternoster- a once in a generation talent- performs “Little Anne” solo, centered and sitting between a silent rhythm section. Paternoster’s ability to command attention is on full display here and the end result is something that’s surprisingly tough to shake.

5. Eskimeaux (NPR)

The Epoch collective has been responsible for an extraordinary body of work that only manages to keep improving. Continuing a number of seriously incredible projects (and records) among their ranks, Eskimeaux’s O.K. is the crown jewel. Easily one of 2015’s best records, it’s a sharply intuitive examination of personal grief, longing, and conflict. While every song on the record’s a perfectly crafted piece of music containing layers of impressive instrumentation and multitudes of meaning, three of the finest are “Folly”, “A Hug Too Long”, and “I Admit I’m Scared”. All three get performed here for NPR’s deservedly vaunted Tiny Desk series, creating an effective snapshot of a band- and collective- in the midst of something that feels otherworldly.

Mitski – Live at Palisades – 7/17/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

IMG_5331

Last night Palisades played host to a bill that guaranteed the venue would sell out well before doors, so expectations for the evening were considerably higher than usual. The night was headlined by Mitski (who has earned her fair share of words on this site) and made room for other site favorites like Brooklyn upstarts Normal Person and The Epoch favorites Eskimeaux. Throw in Elvis Depressedly (who now comfortably reside on Run For Cover’s increasingly fascinating roster) and any promotion outside of the show announcement practically becomes unnecessary; this one sold on its own.

Normal Person played first to a small but appreciative audience (it would progressively swell in size until the room was finally at capacity for Mitski) and brought their all. Their sole EP, the fantastic #0001, has been floating around online in some form or another for years. Recently, the tape was granted a physical release (a copy can- and should- be ordered from It Takes Time here) and it was the band’s first show to promote the tape. As is always the case with the various LVL UP side projects, Normal Person is a band that comes stacked with intimidatingly talented musicians. I only managed to catch the last stretch of their set but it was incredible enough to inspire the thought that it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re headlining these kinds of shows.

Next up was Eskimeaux, a band that’s part of the prolific Epoch collective and riding high on a wave of national acclaim for O.K., one of 2015’s best records. Unsurprisingly, the majority of their set pulled songs from that record and were played with the characteristic passion that The Epoch has become renowned for exhibiting. Nearly every song came laced with an approach that alternated between delicate and furious, spurring feelings of empathy and heartbreak in the process. It was abundantly clear that these songs carried significant meaning for guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith, who delivered them with an uninhibited grace, leading her incredible band (Felix Walworth’s jaw-dropping drumming is worth singling out) through the emotional fraught terrain and- ultimately- delivering one of the best sets of the year.

Following something like Eskimeaux almost requires a certain wildness and that mania was something that Elvis Depressedly was more than happy to supply. My friend and fellow writer Sasha Geffen once said that Elvis Depressedly were “a band that records in lowercase but plays in all caps.” It’s a quote that, for whatever reason, has stuck with me over the years. I was anxious to find out what she meant and wasn’t disappointed to see the band fully embrace a much more chaotic and maximized version of themselves. They’ve assembled a strong band for this tour, which includes Greg Rutkin of LVL UP (and openers Normal Person) behind the kit. Significantly punchier than they are on record, Elvis Depressedly wound up creating a perfect bridge between Eskimeaux and Mitski with a career-spanning set largely mid-tempo numbers that had some psych flourishes and played into vocalist Mat Cothran’s outsize persona.

At this point, Mitski Miyawaki’s project has more than earned its headliner status and it was heartening to look out into the audience to see a diverse crowd of people that was dominated by a front section that skewed more towards the under 21 bracket (Mitski’s guitarist, Callan Dwan, would later reveal to me that she was very grateful for both the venue and the crowd’s size). Towards the very start of her set, Mitski addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support and encouraging the historically marginalized communities to be proud of their roots and “take up as much space as you can”, with a disarming sincerity that’s seen far too infrequently. It was a moving plea that was rooted in honesty, a dynamic that’s been translated effortlessly into her music (which is one of the many reasons behind Bury Me at Makeout Creek almost topping this site’s Best Albums of 2014 list) and is fully ingrained in her demeanor.

With ex-Diarrhea Planet drummer Casey Weissbuch (who’s also the mastermind of Infinity Cat‘s extraordinary cassette series) anchoring the trio, the band dove headfirst into a memorable set that wound up recapturing a lot of the magic of the last Mitski set to get coverage here (no small feat) while supplementing it with new intricacies. Deceptively nuanced and- a recurring theme throughout the night- unerringly heartfelt, it touched on various points throughout the songwriter’s discography, while- understandably- leaning heavily on the Bury Me At Makeout Creek material. If Mitski was baring her soul on the Palisades stage, the audience was reciprocating that generosity with extremely vocal support between songs.

At one point, in one of the evening’s most genuine and communal moments, Miyawaki ran backstage to collect the bottled water on hand for the artists and passed it out to the audience to help them cope with the uncomfortable humidity that only a small space packed with bodies on a warm day can bring. It was one in a series of moments with the band and the audience playing off of each other, which was itself a slight reflection of how well the band played off of each other during a very affirming set. Following the pained howling that closes out “Drunk Walk Home”, the band left the stage leaving its principle voice alone with the spotlight. Two tender songs later, the set was wrapped, and the audience was screaming for an encore that never came. Even if it had, it probably still wouldn’t have satiated the audience’s desires- and, really- why bother tampering with a perfect closing note?

A gallery of photos from the show can be found here and a video containing some of each act’s strongest highlight can be found underneath the gallery.

Vacation – Like Snow (Stream, Live Video)

Vacation I

Now that the music videos are (very nearly) brought completely up to date, it’s time to turn the attention towards the single streams. Unsurprisingly, considering the length and breadth typically contained in the medium, this has been the most difficult format to corral into upkeep. This week’s already seen the release of YAWN’s characteristically hazy, pysch-tinged “Day Trip“, Air Waves’ compellingly insistent mid-tempo number “Milky Way“, Dirty Ghosts’ delightfully skittish “Cataracts“, and Jesse Payne’s rustic-leaning folk dirge “Ravens“.

While all of those had other platforms for introduction, today’s feature came courtesy of Don Giovanni’s quiet, generous upload of Vacation‘s forthcoming Non-Person to their soundcloud. Having recently seen (and been subsequently blown away by) the band, it’s not surprising that one of the best new songs of their live set would so easily translate into one of the best songs of the year. I have no idea whether or not Vacation intends on releasing “Like Snow” as a single or if they’re planning on relegating it to the confines of the record but it’ll likely flourish either way.

A few lineup changes in (several of which due to the success some of the members had found with their other band, Tweens) and the band’s evolved from a trio to a quartet; they’ve never sounded sharper. Emphasizing the basement pop bent that’s always been at the root of their sound (check the excellent “Party Over” for proof), they’ve managed to refine just about every angle of their attack.

As furious as ever, they’ve found a new nuance with their current iteration; one that sees Jerri Queen stepping out from behind the kit to take over on guitar/vocal duty. Queen proves to be more than capable, producing some of the band’s best work to date. “Like Snow” feels perfectly representative as it careens forward with a white-knuckle intensity after a clean, gentle open.

The now-two guitar attack seems intent on burning everything that surrounds the song while the intro- “I’m always waiting for the day/like snow, I melt away”- gets used as the song’s refrain and injects a heavy dose of dynamics into the proceedings, ensuring a drastic tempo change that lends itself to the vibrancy of both modes. Everything the band tries on “Like Snow” works to perfection and pushes a lot of doors for future prospects wide open in the process. Don’t make the mistake of letting this one pass by unnoticed.

Listen to “Like Snow” below and pre-order Non-Person from Don Giovanni here. Beneath the embed, watch a live clip of the band ripping through the song in Milwaukee, WI.

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.

 

Watch This: Vol. 78

Over the course of the past few weeks, the influx of outstanding live videos has been staggering. Last week the series was put on a brief hold due to other personal obligations but even then, there was the threat of multiple installments for that particular Sunday. Amassing those with the live clips that followed in the subsequent week brings us to this point: there’s simply too much great material to feature to justify relegating anything exceeding the limit of five to the introductory paragraph(s). With this being the case, there will be seven- yes, seven- installments of Watch This to go live throughout the day (and possibly night).

To that end, this very introduction will be running prior to volumes 74-80 to reduce the levels of overall exposition to provide an emphasis on the material at hand. Site favorites Girlpool and Waxahatchee were seemingly everywhere this week, securing multiple entries throughout this run while Faits Divers spread-out documentation of a set from Ought (another site favorite) managed to do the same. As always, each video featured is an exemplary showcase for both artist and host, covering a wide range of sounds and styles. So, as always, sit back, adjust the volume to your preferred settings, sit up straight, lean in (or back), and Watch This.

 

1. Chastity Belt – Dull (WFUV)

Time To Go Home was one of the unexpected highlights of this year’s first half, securing Chastity Belt a level of recognition they’ve been deserving for some time. Here, the band turns in a blissfully casual of “Dull”, providing a showcase for their dynamic range. WFUV’s black backdrop provides a fitting background to Chastity Belt’s hazy basement pop and elevates the clip into surprisingly immersive levels.

2. Girlpool – Chinatown (Wichita)

Closing out Wichita’s lovely outdoor trilogy of Girlpool clips is this gorgeous take of Before The World Was Big highlight “Chinatown”. As always, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Lebel-Tividad seem inhumanly connected, playing off each other with an almost telepathic familiarity and ease. Everything comes off as complementary, from the dueling melodies to the timbre of the duo’s vocals. The whole thing exudes a nearly impossible sense of lightness that’s always factored into Girlpool’s music, rendering this a surprisingly revitalizing watch.

3. Waxahatchee – Blue (Pt. II) (Wichita)

Continuing on with Wichita’s gorgeous presentation of the Crutchfield twins performance under Katie’s Waxahatchee guise at St. Pancras Church, this clip features an aching performance of “Blue (Pt. II)”- another highlight from Ivy Tripp. Nothing more than harmonized vocals and an electric guitar guide the performance, the audience hushed throughout. The soft tones and dim lighting provide a perfect visual accompaniment, allowing the clip to become as mesmerizing as the song at its center.

4. Ought – The Weather Song (Faits Divers)

Closing out Ought’s run, courtesy of Faits Divers, is yet another inspired performance of one of More Than Any Other Day‘s several highlights; “The Weather Song”. As always, the band’s animated throughout and delivers a crisp performance that fully demonstrates the band’s enormous live appeal. It seems like every time the band launches into a song, they transform into an unstoppable whirlwind of pure energetic force. Unable to stay still and brimming with manic passion, it makes for compelling viewing and- more importantly- powerful performances.

5. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (WFUV)

One of the most delicate songs to emerge out of 2015 is Torres’ jaw-dropping “A Proper Polish Welcome”, a piece of serene beauty characterized by a sense of yearning. It’s Sprinter‘s most breathtaking moment and, in a live setting, it’s powerful enough to freeze blood. WFUV turned their cameras on Mackenzie Scott and co. as they conjured up the slow-burning showstopper, capturing something approaching the levels of transcendence in the process.