Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Double Double Whammy Records

14 of ’14: The Best Splits of 2014

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Once again, it feels necessary to start with a (likely unnecessary) disclaimer about the word “best” when it comes to year-end posts. “Best”, in nearly every case, is just shorthand for “most admired”, it’s not a stab at a definitive statement; in these kinds of rankings there’s no room for any perceived objectivity. Another quick note before diving into this list in earnest; for all year-end coverage, the first person narrative restriction that’s usually implemented here will be dropped to allow me to speak on a more personal level, as these are the released that affected me personally and reflect my own personal tastes. 2014 was a fairly strong year for split releases, which are experiencing a new level of exposure thanks to the renewed interest in cassettes and vinyl, as those are the two formats they’re on most frequently. There were two, three, and four band splits released over the past 12 months that ranked among my favorite releases in any format. As holds true for every year, not everything can be listened to (I’m sure something like the extremely limited-run Florist/Eskimeaux tape is incredible but I came to it too late to snag a copy) Labels have been rallying around these releases particularly hard, in part because there’s an allowance for collaboration with other like-minded labels that isn’t always possible with standard single-band releases. From bands covering each other on flip sides of the same tape to bands trading off places throughout a release to a few of the year’s best songs, there’s a lot to explore in the list below- a list that cheats the “14” rule ever so slightly with the rules being bent for the top two spots (it just didn’t seem fair to have two bands being responsible for four of the top five spots). Dive on in and hear 14(+) of the splits that deserve homes in as many collections as possible.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A few of the releases included below are set to autoplay in weird parts of these releases so keep an eye out and listen to each in full.]

14. Adult Mom / Cyberbully Mom Club / i tried to run away when i was 6 (but got too scared to cross the street)

Cyberbully Mom Club quietly put together one of the most impressive runs of genuinely great releases this year and this split- with Adult Mom (who also had a pretty great year) and i tried to run away when i was 6 (but got too scared to cross the street)– still managed to be a standout effort. As spellbinding as it sincere, it’s a record worth keeping around for a very long while.

13. Big Ups / Washer

Big Ups are easily one of the most exciting bands of today and they keep pushing themselves to go further with each subsequent release. On this split with Washer, both bands give it their all and wind up with one of the stronger short entries in Exploding in Sound’s ridiculously impressive 2014 catalog.

12. Dikembe / The Jazz June

A resurgent The Jazz June came out of a 12 year absence with their best song to date (and one of the catchiest chorus hooks of the year) and had it paired with an up-and-coming band that shared some of their best qualities. Between the two songs on display here, the split the two bands released felt more complete and unified than a lot of bands’ own full-lengths.

11. Joyce Manor / Toys That Kill

Never Hungover Again earned Joyce Manor typically strong critical returns but it was their split with outsider punk perennials Toys That Kill that hit hardest. Each of the four songs included in this split feature both bands at their absolute best; tinkering with the lines that separate punk from pop with an exacting, exhilarating precision.

10. Dog / Big Neck Police

Damaged. Delirious. Dangerous. Terrifying. Four words that could all aptly describe the relentlessly aggressive bleakness of this split between Dog and Big Neck Police. Seven songs that offer the perfect descent into complete and total chaos while flirting with tension dynamics to create a genuinely pulverizing effect.


9. Big Eyes / Post Teens

Big Eyes have been releasing incredible material ever since their demo so it’s no surprise that this split with Post Teens (who also had an excellent split with Rose Cross this year) fought its way into this list. Pairing with Post Teens proved to be surprisingly sensible as both bands like to go full-force as much as possible and- more often than not (this split being one example)- wind up with rousing results.

8. Trust Fund / Lone Omi / Something

Utilizing a little-used tactic can create intrigue pretty instantaneously and the decision to alternate bands throughout this six song set- formally titled Sick of Hits Vol. 2- is something that pays off beautifully. Reeks of Effort is a label that’s built its name around bands that challenge the conception of twee; any time there’s a danger of things becoming overtly whimsical they get cut to shreds by barbed wire. It’s a dynamic that makes Reeks of Effort’s roster- and Sick of Hits Vol. 2– worth celebrating.

7. Speedy Ortiz / Chris Weisman

“Doomsday” isn’t just one of the best songs of this year, it’s arguably the best of Speedy Ortiz’s career (and possibly even one of the best of the decade). That song alone would have been strong enough to land this release- the best of the laudable LAMC series to date- a spot on this list. Fortunately, it’s backed by a beautifully plaintive song from Chris Weisman (whose Monet in the 90’s was one of this year’s hidden gems) that somehow holds its own as the flipside to such a powerful song. Together, they make for the year’s best two-song release.

6. Girlpool / Slutever

I haven’t made even the slightest effort to hide my love of Girlpool, a young duo that embodies things which make them worth rallying behind. Here, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad cover their friends in Slutever (who return the favor) while contributing two arresting originals. While Slutever haven’t quite enjoyed Girlpool’s level of exposure, they stepped up to the plate for this split and connected hard enough to create what should be some long-lasting repercussions. Fierce and unapologetic, it’s definitive proof that neither band’s going to be backing down anytime soon.

5. Bad History Month / Dust From 1000 Years

Staring At My Hands” is a song that’s come to mean quite a lot to me over the past few months and it’s the strongest moment on this split cassette/split LP from Bad History Month (formerly Fat History Month/Sad History Month) and Dust From 1000 Years. That’s not to downplay any of the others; this is a genuinely mesmerizing release at every turn. Willfully left-field and wrapped in the same cloth, it reverberates long after the final notes of the hazily elegiac “Party Song”.

4. Mannequin Pussy / Dog Legs

One of the year’s most unexpectedly incendiary releases, this weird anomaly (it can- somehow- rightfully be called both a split and an EP compilation) was a sharp, glancing punch to the face. Teeth get bared, sharpened fingernails get flashed, and fists get clenched ten times over. Mannequin Pussy and Dog Legs both turn things up to 11 and advance their agendas with brute force. Immediate, engaging, and intimidatingly powerful, it easily ranks among 2014’s finest releases. During the split’s limited release run it also came with the added bonus of a 16 page zine featuring artwork from both acts.

3. Whirr / Nothing

Both Whirr and Nothing, two of the biggest names in today’s crop of shoegaze-heavy bands, released full-lengths this year. While both of those releases were well worth spending time on, it wasn’t until they came together that they made something extraordinary. Every song on this split ranks in the realms of career-best for both acts, as if they were all successive dares rooted in incredibly formidable one-upmanship. At four songs, this managed to stand out as one of 2014’s most impressively towering releases; the scope and depth of each song is a complete shock because of how expansive they manage to become without ever tipping into the comically bombastic. An extraordinary effort from two bands that sound incredible together (which is unsurprising, considering they share at least one member) and completely revitalized in such a contained setting.

2. Joanna Gruesome (Joanna Gruesome / Perfect Pussy, Joanna Gruesome / Trust Fund, Joanna Gruesome / Tyrannosaurus Dead)

In 2014, there were two bands that aimed for the fences and went way beyond when it came to split releases. Joanna Gruesome was one of them. It would have been much more of a nightmare for the rankings between these two had Joanna Gruesome’s split with Tyrannosaurs Dead included a new song rather than one of Weird Sister‘s many highlights. Between their extraordinary Astonishing Adventures split with site favorites Perfect Pussy (whose contributions were as dazzling as anything they’ve done) and their split EP with site favorites Trust Fund, they were responsible for half of two of the year’s finest releases- and what halves they were. “Psykick Espionage”, “Jerome (Liar)”, “…And Keep on Reaching for Those Stars”, “Reading the Wrappers”, “No Pressure”, “Scared”. Six songs that would have made up one of the best EP’s of any of the past 10 years or more. Joanna Gruesome are quickly turning into an unstoppable force of nature and pretty soon there are only going to be two options: get caught up in their spell or get the hell out of their way.


1. Ovlov (Ovlov / Little Big League, Krill / LVL UP / Ovlov / Radiator Hospital, Ex-Breathers / Ovlov / Gnarwhal / Woozy)

If any band had a more impressive year with splits than Joanna Gruesome, it was Ovlov. Turning in some of the year’s best songs (“The Great Crocodile” and “Ohmu’s Shell”, respectively) on the year’s best four-band split and what was easily one of 2014’s best two-band splits (with Little Big League’s “Year of the Sunhouse” also registering as one of 2014’s strongest highlights) is no small feat. Their contribution to their split with Gnarwhal, Woozy, and Ex-Breathers was that release’s strongest moment- they had a lot more competition from Krill, LVL UP (“Big Snow” being yet another year-end worthy highlight on its own accord), and Radiator Hospital (though both still would have earned a spot somewhere on this list had it been kept to individual releases). Ovlov’s songs- much like the songs on display in the Whirr/Nothing split- are absolute monsters, showcasing the band’s range in a breathtaking display of power. Should any of these songs be good indicators for the full-length Ovlov is ramping up to, then we’re in for some serious fireworks whenever it drops. For now, this small collection of songs is more than enough to tide anyone over until- and then well past- that album’s release.



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.

Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Album Review, Stream, Photos, Videos)

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Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek may very well be the year’s most stunning record. A bold lead-off sentiment, sure, but one that’s entirely warranted. Mitski’s first two records, LUSH and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, were carefully orchestrated records of an off-kilted brand of chamber pop, occasionally punctuated by shards of distorted aggression. Nearly all of it fit neatly into the traditional singer/songwriter confines while still revealing a noticeable streak of creative mischief. For her third record, Mitski’s gone and blown up her previous formula by stripping things back to their essentials and blowing them up with a madcap glee. It’s a template that serves as the formula for the strongest, boldest work of her career.

Townie” was the song to suggest that Mitski had created something truly powerful by proving the early promise of “First Love // Late Spring” was far from a fluke. “I Don’t Smoke” followed just a while after and teased the extent of the creative risk-taking packed into Bury Me At Makeout Creek. “Texas Reznikoff” sets the tone early, with a gently-picked acoustic guitar that provides a warm bed for Mitski’s mesmerizing vocals before a brief shard of feedback serves as a fleeting warning for the volcanic eruption that takes place a little past halfway through the track, providing a downright vicious ending. “Townie”, with it’s once-in-a-lifetime chorus, kicks the momentum up a few notches while keeping Bury Me At Makeout Creek impressively ragged and resoundingly fierce.

Both of those songs don’t shy away from an easily identifiable resilience, which is part of what makes most of this record so compelling in lyric copy alone. As a writer, Bury Me At Makeout Creek demonstrates Mitski’s knack for probing a well of humanity with an attention to the most acute details that suggests a rare kind of talent.  It’s something that’s especially evident in the chorus of “First Love // Late Spring”, which finds Mitski grappling with the uncertainty of love: “Please don’t say you love me” and “One word from you and I would jump off this ledge I’m on” aren’t particularly light sentiments- but Bury Me At Makeout Creek is a record unafraid of shouldering the burdens of the heaviest thoughts and emotions.

From “Francis Forever” to “Drunk Walk Home”, the record’s mid-section reveals the lengths of Mitski’s artistic growth and newfound fearlessness. “Jobless Monday” has the clearest shades of the 50’s and 60’s pop influence that appear with a careful subtlety throughout what’s a decidedly modern record, allowing a faintly psychedelic haze to elevate it into something that practically transcends genre. “I Don’t Smoke” is easily the record’s most experimental moment, bringing in a thoroughly menacing take on industrialism and seamlessly adding it into an already impressively widespread palette of influences. “Francis Forever” brings in twin guitar leads and fully reinforces that this new version of Mitski is the most personal by it’s close. While all three of those songs are great in their own right and help shape Bury Me At Makeout Creek‘s identity, it’s the record’s most confrontational moment that will drop the most jaws: “Drunk Walk Home”.

Having seen firsthand the stunned reaction of an entire room when Mitski played a blistering version of this in Chicago at Beat Kitchen just a few weeks ago, the levels of abrasion and the startling nature of “Drunk Walk Home” are impossible to ignore. “For I’m starting to learn I may never be- but though I may never be free, fuck you and your money” is as attention-ensuring of a line as anyone can possibly manage and Mitski delivers it with such a relentless conviction that by the team she ends the song with unrestrained, vocal cord-shredding screaming, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When taking into account the entirety of Bury Me At Makeout Creek up to that point has been spent putting impossibly difficult feelings under a microscope and shredding them to pieces, those screams are fully justified; they’re an act of pure exhilaration in the face of all of the mounting frustrations, uncertainties, conflicts, and unguarded emotions.

“I Will” clears the smoke left behind by “Drunk Walk Home” by virtue of restraint. It’s a truly lovely song that’s clothed in minimal trappings and a palpable tension, one that builds as the song progresses and constantly threatens to break to give way to another massive moment- but that particular explosion never comes. As a whole, it may be the strongest example of Mitski’s maturity and craftsmanship to be found on Bury Me At Makeout Creek while also serving as the perfect lead-in to “Carry Me Home”. Yet another song that could feasibly be labeled as Bury Me At Makeout Creek‘s centerpiece (something that more than half of the record could claim), “Carry Me Home” starts with an absolutely gorgeous introduction before another cataclysmic shift that feels like an unexpectedly meaningful embrace from an old friend. In that inexplicably moving burst of warmth, there’s a plea that helps define the record’s overarching sentiments; no matter how insane things get, compassion will always be needed and empathy will always be welcome- no one should have to go through life alone.

The lilting “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” closes the record out, offering up the starkest moment. Composed of nothing but Mitski’s gift of a voice, a finger-picked guitar, an ambient swell, and lyrics revolving around the most unglamorous elements of mortality, it becomes a truly arresting epilogue. When that final volume swell dies out, it’s the last piece of a brilliantly-constructed jigsaw puzzle; a grace note to cap off a series of small perfections. Everything throughout Bury Me At Makeout Creek falls into the exact right place, from the sequencing (which nearly provides an intangible secondary narrative) to the mastering, there are no false steps to be found, right down to the final bittersweet “goodbye”. All of the smallest components of Bury Me At Makeout Creek– and all of its tasteful grandeur- ring true, rendering it both a fascinating anomaly and one of the best things that’s been released in the past several years.

Bury Me At Makeout Creek is a record that deserves to be celebrated now and listened to for years to come. It’s a brave new front for one of this generation’s most exciting new artists and another massive victory for Double Double Whammy‘s win column. Tellingly, Mitski’s already released at least one excellent new song (which was recently pulled) since the completion of Bury Me At Makeout Creek, inadvertently indicating a creative restlessness that could pay massive dividends down the line. Until then, Bury Me At Makeout Creek should be held as a high-water mark that other artists would do well to look to as a source of influence and a record that critics would be well within their right to hail as what it truly is: a masterpiece.

Listen to Bury Me At Makeout Creek below and pre-order it from Double Double Whammy here. Below the player embed, watch the video sets of Mitski that originally ran in The Media and Watch This: Vol. 50 as well as previously unseen photos taken from the video shoot for The Media.

Heartbreaking Bravery Presents, Vol. 1: Meat Wave, Mumblr, Geronimo! (Videos)

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Time to get unnecessarily personal, starting with a number. 365. 365 days, more accurately. It’s a long time to dedicate to anything and it’s the mark that this site hits today, with it’s 365th post. It’s been an insane (and insanely rewarding year), one that’s helped define the past year of my life. I owe this place a lot and it’s given me more than I’d ever hoped for- from one of my closest friends (and patron saint of Heartbreaking Bravery) to an overwhelming amount of support from the labels I genuinely love (especially in the cases of Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound) as well as more than a few artists- and guaranteed that this site wouldn’t be relegated to a passing interest. The reason I own a nice camera, the reason I flew out of the country, and a whole arsenal of reasons for my decisions to continue pursuing music journalism by any means possible can all be traced directly back to this site. It’s been humbling to watch it grow (in both size and scope) and it will be fascinating to look back on this very post a year from now as its constant evolution has the potential to open several intriguing doors. Even comparing yesterday’s Halloween post to the very first thing to be published here, there are more than a few noticeable differences.

With a wide set of rules for the site now firmly in place, from the every-50 post Mixtape to the every-Sunday Watch This, this site has kept me on my toes. Gender identifiers don’t get used, ethnicity doesn’t get specified, orientation and preferences are given a deep amount of respect, and everything is treated with empathy because music’s simply that: music. It’s a universal act of artistry that I built this site to support in the best way I could see fit: by shining spotlights on the emerging artists that truly deserved the attention. Granted, their have been a few names to get written up over the year- but that’s only because they either produced something masterful or remained true to a DIY ethos.

Keeping all of that in mind, I was fortunate enough to be gifted an opportunity to celebrate this year-in-existence mark with a showcase. Everything came together at the right time and I wound up putting together the first-ever Heartbreaking Bravery Presents showcase, featuring three bands that had earned positive reviews from this site. Meat Wave and Geronimo! were the first two bands to sign on, as they were touring from their home town of Chicago up to New York for CMJ as a predecessor to Geronimo!’s bittersweet goodbye, then- by some weird miracle- Mumblr wound up with a free night and an open tour slot and became a late addition. A Blue Harbor, a band that started off as a solo project and then turned into a band (full disclosure: I play bass in the full band version), provided the local support. Everyone piled into a basement venue called The Powerstrip and all three touring bands played their hearts out to a rotating cast of people that exceeded 100 by some margin. After playing a quick set, I set up camp and filmed the majority of Meat Wave, Mumblr, and Geronimo!‘s sets, which can now be seen below. I’ve played a lot of shows and I’ve seen quite a few more than I’ve played- but none have meant as much as this one. So, thanks to the bands for coming out and playing this, thanks to the readers for reading, thanks to the artists and labels for caring, thanks to the writers who have expressed interest in contributing content, and thanks to literally anyone else that has even been a tangential part of making this site’s continued existence possible. I will always be in your debt and you will always have my gratitude. Thank you. Here’s to another year of growth and positive change.

Without further ado: here’s the footage from this site’s first showcase. Enjoy.

MEAT WAVE

MUMBLR

GERONIMO!

Filmstrip – Don’t You Know (Stream)

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A lot of great material came crawling out of the woodwork today on all three major fronts. On the music video side of things, two more woods-set music videos continued this week’s increasingly eerie visuals, courtesy of The Afghan Whigs’ “Lost in the Woods” and Greylag’s “Yours to Shake“. Over in the territory occupied by full streams, there was Smack The Brick, a characteristically insane new EP from fearless art-punkers Guerilla Toss, a gloriously punishing psych-indebted punk stomper from Aj Davila Y Terror Amor called Beibi, and Farewell Foolish Objects a sprawling post-punk masterpiece from The Gary which very nearly took today’s feature spot- and may very well see more coverage here in the near future. For single streams there was a fascinating collaboration between PC Worship and Parquet Courts, a new tune for the deluxe version of one of this year’s best records- Burn Your Fire for No Witness– carrying the tongue-in-cheek title of “May As Well“, and “Kid“- a heart-on-sleeve blue collar punk anthem from Standards. Additionally, there was a typically spiky new demo to surface from another one of the year’s best efforts- Lost Boy ?’s Canned– called “Boring Jr” and Communions’ giddy indie-pop grandeur came to light in the form of “Love Stands Still“.

One of the strongest songs to come to light, though, was one that avoided detection when it first came into being a few months back: Filmstrip‘s “Don’t You Know”. Taking cues from bands that pioneered the merging of noise, post-punk, and early emo (a la Sunny Day Real Estate, Shellac, and The Wrens) and bringing in a fair bit of early 90’s slacker revivalism (along with a few nods to Canadian powerpop), Filmstrip have managed to craft an identity that feels as familiar as it does unique. As aggressive as the song feels, it’s also surprisingly accessible and will play well to the sensibilities of genre specialists across a very wide spread. There’s a real sense of both history and craftsmanship that accompanies “Don’t You Know”, rendering it a compulsively fascinating listen. Well-informed, well-tailored, and brimming with a raucous energy, it’s a very tantalizing first look at the band’s upcoming record- Moments of Matter- which is due out via Exit Stencil Recordings next week. Tightly-knit and aggressively kinetic, “Don’t You Know” cements Filmstrip’s status as a band that’s not worth overlooking.

Listen to “Don’t You Know” below and pre-order Moments of Matter here.

Girlpool – Plants And Worms (Music Video)

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A lot has happened in the four-day leave that this site took- a leave that officially ends with this post- and there are so many things to cover. It’d be foolish to pretend that this week didn’t just belong to Sleater-Kinney, who released a career-spanning box set, a new single (that was accompanied by a lyric video), and announced their official return. As tempting as it was to take a stab at waxing poetic over everything that band and their return means, their reputation’s already been earned and a million similarly-minded sites will be doing that in the weeks to come. Instead, today’s light will be shined elsewhere and ultimately fall on the band that’s earned the most mentions on this site without ever getting the feature spot. Before Girlpool gets their well-deserved due, though, all three of the regular fields will be recapped, in the order that follows: single stream, full stream, and music video.

Legendary Wings teased their upcoming basement punk ripper Do You See with the excellent “Weather Advisory” while Kal Marks did the same for their forthcoming EP with the forward-thinking bruiser “Zimmerman“. Portastatic proved they haven’t lost a step with the surprisingly great indie pop tune “Hey Salty” and Mitski‘s lead-up campaign for Bury Me At Makeout Creek remained perfect with the entrancing “I Will“. VLMA’s “Slime” and Cellphone‘s “Bad Medusa” were both post-punk stompers good enough to snag each act a handful of new followers. Chris Weisman celebrated the completion of his long-gestating album Monet In The 90‘s by previewing the record with the quietly mesmerizing “Working On My Skateboarding“. Vacation put forth an incredible Jesus And Mary Chain cover, Dirt Dress continued their impressive evolution with “Twelve Pictures“, and Caddywhompus continued extending what have become increasingly massive creative strides with the near-perfect “Entitled“. Davila 666 unveiled the tantalizing “Primero Muertas” in advance of their upcoming record, Pocos Años, Muchos Daños, just as Parts & Labor offered a glimpse at their upcoming record, Receivers, with the outstanding “Nowehre’s Nigh“. Art Is Hard’s Pizza Club series entered its final stretch with Broadbay’s newest noise-punk excursion “Plasticine Dream“, Primitive Parts made a rousing case for being a band to watch out for with “The Bench“, and Wildhoney became the latest act on the stacked Deranged roster to start breaking through on the strength of their towering shoegaze number “Fall In“. Circulatory System turned a few heads with the noise-damaged psych-pop of “It Never Made A Sound” and site favorites Saintseneca released a lovely Lucinda Williams cover. To round things out in the more ambient-leaning fields, there was a stunner from James Blake and a gentle new piece from The Greatest Hoax that easily swam its way into the realms of the sublime.

As for full streams, most of the talk in regards to this week will be dominated by the year-end-bound RTJ2, which is to be fully expected when a sophomore effort absolutely topples its heavily acclaimed predecessor- but don’t let that distract from a slew of other investment-worthy releases. Lace Curtains’ A Signed Piece of Paper also managed to exceed the record it follows in terms of artistic merit- which is a trait that it shares with The Twilight Sad’s Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave. The Unicorns’ Nick Thorburn made his uniquely charming score for the SERIAL podcast available via bandcamp and Fleeting Youth Records made their essential 33-track Blooming (A Fuzz-Fucked Compilationmixtape (which more than lives up to its name) available for streaming via soundcloud. French For Rabbits premiered their arresting folk-inflected Spirits over at Stereogum while NPR’s First Listen series hosted the premiere of Medicine‘s extraordinary Home Everywhere. The Omecs crafted a winsome throwback punk record which they’re now streaming on their bandcamp. Another record to be released via bandcamp, spit’s Getting Low, came dangerously close to being today’s feature by virtue of being a masterful work from an extremely promising songwriter (John Romano) that expertly straddles a curious line between Exploding in Sound and Orchid Tapes. Easily one of this month’s most fascinating records, it’s currently available over at bandcamp for a generous name-your-price fee. Don’t hesitate; this is music worth being in a wide array of collections.

In the music video category, Hurry had a blast with their clever clip for “Oh Whitney“, Dilly Dally got shrouded in smoke for “Candy Mountain“, and S gave the Tacocat bassist some peace of mind in the video for “Vampires“.  Ought danced their hearts out in “New Calm, Pt. 2“, Thurston Moore conducted a nightmarish clip for “Speak to the Wild” (Los Angeles Police Department’s woodland excursion for “Enough Is Enough” was far less menacing), and Split Single inverted normalcy with their positioning for “Monolith“. Broken Water set things up with no shortage of caution in “Love and Poverty“, The Coathangers cheekily provided what’s ostensibly both a puppet-centric video and a left-field visual tour diary in “Drive“, and Beverly cemented their beautiful stylistic approach to the music video format with “Yale’s Life“. DTCV mined a bevvy of filmic influences and utilized them to perfection for “Electrostatic, Inc.” while Public Access TV took a similar route for “In The Mirror“.  Allo Darlin’ kept things amusingly (and effectively) simple for “Bright Eyes“, Nano Kino set the airy “New Love” to a hypnotic visual collage, and Mannequin Pussy remained as energetic and unapologetic as ever with their lo-fi production for “My Baby (Axe Nice)“.

Now, that’s a lot of material to go through for just about anyone but none of those items hit with as hard of an impact as Girlpool‘s absolutely devastating animated video for “Plants and Worms”. From this video alone, it’s shockingly easy to see why such a huge subset of journalists and musicians have latched onto Girlpool so fiercely; their world-weariness, entirely relatable socio-political commentary, and compositional skills all suggest both an age and stage of career that’s vastly accelerated from the actuality of their current positions. The duo, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad (17 & 18 years of age, respectively), are moving at an accelerated pace- release follows release, idea follows idea, and there’s barely any time for an active listener to breathe. Impressively, all of those pieces carry their own distinct identity and they’re frequently accompanied by weighty topics that most songwriters experience an immense struggle to present without tipping into the cloying or cliché. It can be hard to resist the temptation of excess when dealing with important messages and this is where Girlpool excels; not only are their thoughts presented articulately- they’re presented in a manner that’s plaintive enough to be devoid of any easy derision. There’s a deep-rooted humanism and empathy that’s present in their work which is something that will always be admirable- and in their deceptively minimal compositions, the music carries the burden of the weight of those topics to a degree that seems to mirror the band’s inherent level of mutual support.

For “Plants and Worms” they wound up pairing with illustrator Catleya Sherbow, whose art here also acts as a double for Girlpool’s processes. In the Rookie premiere of “Plants and Worms”, Tucker and Tividad give an interview that lends some insight to their history, ideals, and intentions, while revealing that “Plants and Worms” is about accepting the world and how much it has to offer once fear and trepidation is reduced to the point of near-elimination. Neither get any more specific than that- but they don’t need to because the illustration makes a variety of specific instances of everyday fear entirely evident: body image issues, self-image, depression, loneliness, and self-destruction. In Sherbow’s illustrations, everything’s presented as it would be in a children’s book; there’s a soft quality that undercuts the severity of the video’s implications providing a thoughtful contrast that suggests the darkest aspects of the song are universal- but also definitively states that they can be overcome. It’s a crushingly powerful video that becomes impossible to shake after one watch and positions Girlpool in the unlikely position of being a young duo who could (reasonably) become two of this generation’s sharpest social commentators. “Plants and Worms” is likely just the beginning- and it’s already too important to miss.

Watch “Plants and Worms” below and pre-order Girlpool (the EP which “Plants and Worms” is taken from) from Wichita here.

LVL UP at Beat Kitchen – 10/12/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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Over the past few months, this site has given plenty of coverage to both LVL UP and the label two of its members founded (and run), Double Double Whammy. Included in the ranks of the Double Double Whammy roster was another artist who’s emerged as a site favorite: Mitski. When the two announced they’d be touring together (and, subsequently that LVL UP would be backing Mitski), being in attendance for the nearest show was a foregone conclusion. On October 12, their tour made its way to Chicago’s Beat Kitchen where they headlined a bill that also included local acts Mtvghosts and Staring Problem.

Mtvghosts kicked things off after narrowly avoiding being no-shows and made their way through an energetic set of Strokes-influenced powerpop (not too dissimilar from Locksley). Now a few releases into their career, they made their way through a high energy set and played off each other nicely. Utilizing an abundance of energy and a clear connection, their set succeeded on pure entertainment value- Staring Problem‘s Lauren Owen would later make an amusing remark on the vocalist’s “Paul McCartney head thing”. While it’s clear Mtvghosts have a very firm grasp on composition and how to write a good pop song, not too much of it had any kind of longevity- although there’s enough talent in the band to suggest that point may not be too far down the line.

After Mtvghosts unabashedly pop concoctions, Staring Problem dove headlong into a set of primal post-punk that was tinged with early goth-punk influences. With songs that felt deadly serious and had pulsating undercurrents of the overwhelmingly bleak, they managed to sink into a groove that left most of the audience in a hypnotic trance. Mtvghosts may have had Staring Problem beat in terms of stage presence but Staring Problem’s songs proved to be immensely gripping, if unrelentingly minimal (their drummer’s kit was bare-bones and the only cymbal it made room for was a hi-hat). Impressive bass riffs dueled with intuitive guitarwork and Owens’ tranced-out vocals. Even with an emphasis on the grave, the band found room for humor; a song called “Pictures of Morrissey In Jake’s Locker” wound up being an unexpected highlight. By the time they exited, it was difficult to imagine they hadn’t made a few converts.

Mitski‘s been making quite a name for herself lately. After two very strong records of avant pop, the songwriter’s made a sharp left turn into blissed-out noise pop. With the distortion cranked up on the extraordinary soon-to-be-released Bury Me At Makeout Creek it’s afforded Mitski the chance to reignite an already impressive career. “Townie“, “First Love/Late Spring“, and “I Don’t Smoke” all showcase layers of a seriously enviable talent in composition and musicianship (as well as some gorgeous- and expansive- production), which shouldn’t be surprising taking into account Mitski’s SUNY Purchase background. Incidentally, SUNY Purchase was where Mitski would meet the members of LVL UP and forge a connection that would have direct implications for both artist’s respective careers.

Taking into account the high-functioning levels of production that provide Bury Me At Makeout Creek part of its character, a large portion of the pre-set anticipation lay in how Mitski would bring these songs to life with the assistance of LVL UP. Less than a minute into “Townie” any doubts that the songs would lose even a fraction of their appeal were absolutely annihilated. Aided by Michael Caridi on guitar and LVL UP bassist Nick Corbo on drums, Mitski lay into the song with a startling amount of intensity, causing the audience to erupt in bewildered applause by the song’s close.

All it took was that first song for Mitski to expand and win over an entire audience, which raises the stakes considerably on the expected reaction to Bury Me At Makeout Creek once it’s out in the world. Caridi and Corbo both flashed extremely impressive chops as Mitski commanded attention with the kind of effortlessness that suggests much bigger things will be happening for the emerging artist in the very near future. When Mitski’s set closed with Mitski absolutely shredding her vocal cords in bouts of guttural screaming at the end of “Drunk Walk Home”, half the audience seemed to be left speechless- and it was difficult to fault them- Mitski had delivered the kind of set that warrants the highest kinds of praise and ensures that even more people will be drawn into her orbit.

After Mitski’s set, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see someone leaving thinking they’d seen the headliner- but it wasn’t before long that LVL UP proved that they were up to the task of following a gift of a set with another exercise in killer performances. Having already delivered one of the year’s best records in Hoodwink’d and one of the year’s best songs, “Big Snow“, on an absolutely essential split, their live set had quite a bit to live up to. Boasting a discography that’s bursting at the seams with songs that project a casual confidence and an excess of charisma, LVL UP’s very nature is practically defined by their willingness to embrace each the unique personality of each principal songwriter (Caridi, Corbo, and Trace Mountains‘ Dave Benton).

Soft Power“, “Ski Vacation“, “DBTS“, and “I Feel Ok” all hinted at LVL UP excelling as a complementary unit that would easily function when stripped back to individual elements. Balancing on the precipice between detached apathy and unbridled energy, the band’s songs came to weird, vibrant life in the live setting. Everyone traded off vocals with a casually practiced ease and a fiery commitment. True to Space Brothers‘ form, several of the songs bled into each other- with a particular highlight (one of a very large handful) being the opening trio of tracks from that very record. In fact, much of their set played out like a contained suite, with everything retaining maximum impact.

There was more than one point through LVL UP’s set where time seemed to be completely lost, as the band kept the audience engaged while they occupied their own world. Song after song, they demonstrated just about every reason why they’re a band worth celebrating- only emphatically enhancing the live elements of that particular spread. Solos were traded, select songs were extended with surprisingly heavy bridges and outros, and- more than anything else- left-field personality was exuded. Hoodwink’d and Space Brothers were about evenly split throughout the set, and both songs from the band’s incredible split with Porches. were represented as well.

While Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all shared a fair amount of spotlight, drummer Greg Rutkin held everything down with brute force and an unfailingly exact precision that made songs like the closing “ELIXR (19)” sound absolutely massive. Just like on record, everything managed to complement everything else in a manner that made all of LVL UP’s songs feel intensely alive. Before their set, each member had voiced various concerns about their headlining slot and thanks for Beat Kitchen’s kind accommodations (including sound, which was pristine throughout the show). When “ELIXR (19)” drew the set to a powerful close, it provided an exclamation point to a stunning set that coursed past their early apprehensions into the realms of the sublime. If there was any reservation about this before, their set ensured one thing: 2014 is LVL UP’s year. Get on board before it’s too late.

Watch a clip of LVL UP playing “Soft Power” and “Bro Chillers” below. Underneath that, view an extensive photo gallery of the show.

LVL UP – Big Snow (Stream)

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What a day. There was no obvious choice for a feature until LVL UP’s “Big Snow” premiered over at Impose. On the surface, that’s a bland statement- but looking at the company that “Big Snow” joined today, it’s one hell of a testament to LVL UP.  In the single song department there were some legitimately great songs: Run The Jewels’ pulverizing new (Zach De La Rocha-featuring) scorcher “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)“, Dollface’s impossibly breezy indie pop gem “Churchyard“, Daddy Issues’ distortion-laden post-punk dirge “Ugly When I Cry“, and  a bracing new Crow Bait song- “Separate Stations“- that incorporates members of Iron Chic. There was also Dasher’s foreboding noise-punk minimalism piece, “Teeth“, as well as Vetter Kids’ “I’m Just Your Newest Bluest” which is a perfect representation of the band’s modernist take on classic 90’s emo and noise-punk. “A Million Random Digits” proved that …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are far from being done while Wedding Dress’ “Somewhere Darker” makes it clear that Wedding Dress are anxious to make their introduction to the world.

Cellphone also posited themselves as a band ready to make a notable entrance with an enticing and mysterious trailer to promote their upcoming Excellent Condition. Denmark’s Mimas returned to the fold in a big way with the characteristically impressive live-edit clip for “Kissinger’s Jaw” (fans of Exploding in Sound who aren’t well-versed in Big Scary Monsters would do well to take note of this one) and Tangerine released a delightful video for another indie-pop keeper, “You’ll Always Be Lonely”. Ex Hex got in on the action as well, releasing a knockout video for Rips highlight (one of many) “Waterfall“. For full streams there were stunners from The Grayces, Thurston Moore, and a mildly insane (and wildly heavy) split between Big Neck Police and Dog.

Everything hyperlinked in the two paragraphs above stands as both a great way to share music worth listening to and acts as a very long-winded way of saying that featuring “Big Snow” wasn’t a foregone conclusion- at least not until the riff kicked in at the :26 mark. It’s the third song to be streamed from a just-released split between LVL UP, Krill, Ovlov, and Radiator Hospital. “Big Snow” is a song that’s actually been featured on this site before in an admittedly roundabout way- it was the feature piece in the band’s Serious Business session that was featured on Watch This. Even with Hoodwink’d being one of this site’s top contenders (if not top contender) for Album of the Year honors, “Big Snow” manages to stand out as one of the best songs to spring out of the band’s discography.

Having just seen LVL UP take the roof off of Chicago’s Beat Kitchen (pictured above, more to come on that later), it’s allowed the cementing of some previously-held opinions in regards to how the band functions. First and foremost; this is a truly collaborative effort with everything working as a complement to its surrounding elements at an obscenely high level. Second, this music works best as a victory lap for the disenfranchised; it’s both a rousing call to action and a well-meaning embrace for the people who were told they’d never live up to their potential or lived on the fringes of culture. LVL UP’s never been one to shy away from the unconventional (or the irreverent) and that’s a trait that takes bravery to embody. “Big Snow” hints at all of these elements and includes a rare treat; every one of the band’s vocalists (Dave Benton, Nick Corbo, and Mike Caridi, respectively) joins in for one last rousing harmony run before that surging, blissed-out guitar riff rallies the song to its fade-out finish. If Hoodwink’d wasn’t already proof, “Big Snow” certainly cements what’s become an unavoidable fact: LVL UP are one of today’s best bands and they deserve all the accolades that are bound to fall their way.

Listen to “Big Snow” below and pre-order the split it’s on from Double Double Whammy here.

Three Quarters Down (Mixtape)

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: First off, to get this out of the way at the top, there will be no Watch This today. It’s absence will be made up with a unique 50th post next Sunday.]

We recently hit another quarter mark in the year and this site just hit another fifty posts. A digital mixtape- Three Quarters Down– has been curated to celebrate both of these occasions. All 25 songs on display have managed to become favorites in the span of their (admittedly short) existence. It didn’t matter where they came from- splits, records, singles, exclusives- if it was a great song that came out over the course of the past three months, it wound up on the list. However, there are a handful of others that were excluded by virtue of not appearing in Soundcloud’s public library- those will likely get their due in December both here and elsewhere. In the meantime, revisit some of the best songs that led us straight into fall by listening to the mix below.

Beneath the 8tracks player is the original listing of the songs in this collection. Enjoy.

1. Mitski – Townie
2. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
3. LVL UP – DBTS
4. Little Big League – Tropical Jinx
5. The History of Apple Pie – Jamais Vu
6. Menace Beach – Come On Give Up
7. Thalassocracy – Shimensoka
8. Cellphone – Human Rights
9. Ovlov – Ohmu Shell
10. Mumblr – Sober
11. Trust Fund – Reading The Wrappers
12. Girlpool – Jane
13. Night School – Casiotone
14. Happy Diving – Sad Planet
15. Dilly Dally – Green
16. Washer – Rot
17. Speedy Ortiz – Bigger Party
18. The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole
19. Bass Drum of Death – For Blood
20. Mannequin Pussy – Sheet City
21. Pity Sex – Acid Reflex
22. Mogwai – Teenage Exorcists
23. Nothing – July The Fourth
24. Dark Blue – Here On My Street
25. Crimson Wave – Say

Ovlov – Ohmu Shell (Stream)

A steady stream of streams flooded most of today’s music news and several of them wound up making strong impressions. Among them were Girlpool’s jittery “Blah Blah Blah“, Bad Power’s hardcore ripper “Jawws“, and Cellphone‘s Halloween-friendly post-punk nightmare “Human Rights“. Nothing continued to improve in exhilarating fashion, hitting a new high with the damaged beauty of “July The Fourth and YAWN bandleader Adam Gil’s new solo project- Dam Gila- offered up the tantalizing pysch-pop of “History“. Mineral’s vocalist, Chris Simpson, streamed Pink Chalk, the lilting record that’s due out soon from his Zookeeper project. Joel Jerome followed up the excellent Babies On Acid with Psychic Thrift Store Folk, which is now streaming in full over at Wondering Sound- a site that also has the distinct pleasure of hosting a full stream of Night School’s Heart Beat EP (which is easily one of the year’s best).  Then, of course, there was Ovlov‘s newest song- the second to be released from the jaw-dropping four-way split 7″ that also includes Krill, LVL UP, and Radiator Hospital.

All four bands on this split have earned the distinction of site favorites thanks to their punk-leaning strains of outsider pop. This will be the latest in a handful of releases born out of the collaboration between Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound, which continues to be one of the most exciting things in music. Krill’s “Peanut Butter” had already been unleashed on the world a few weeks back and kicked the obvious promise of the split up a few additional levels. Ovlov take that level of acceleration and floor it, not only offering up one of the best songs of their career but- impossibly- lending even more promise to the split. “Ohmu Shell” is a song that sounds like an assurance; this is a confident band who are fully aware of their identity (something many strive to achieve and fail to accomplish).  There’s a greater immediacy on display then there was on last year’s excellent am and continues their streak of incredible contributions to splits (Little Big League being the latest, following another four-way split with Ex-Breathers, Gnarwhal, and Woozy)- all from this year.

Every time the band steps up to deliver something new, it seems like they’re continuously improving upon their career-best, which is the kind of trajectory that can speak volumes about a band’s potential. Everything about “Ohmu Shell” works to perfection; the guitars charge as much as they swirl, the vocals manage to be alternately impassioned and apathetic- creating a contrast that injects the song’s explosive moments with an obscene amount of energy. There’s a greater emphasis on a skewed 90’s revivalism that’s deeply rooted in the slacker and outsider sub-genres of punk. Ovlov sounds more alive than ever, wide-eyed, determined, and prepared for anything that dares to come their way. If LVL UP and Radiator Hospital deliver on this level (which they’re both fully capable of, considering both of their full-lengths are locks for this site’s Top 10), this split just might be the best thing to come out of 2014.

Listen to “Ohmu Shell” below and pre-order the split from from Double Double Whammy here.