Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Fortuna POP!

Watch This: Vol. 137

While the past week wasn’t as exhaustive for live videos as it has been recently, there were still some impressive entries featuring a variety of great acts like Jenny Lewis, Same, The Fever, The Academic, Band of Horses, Typesetter, Astronomique, Future Generations, Martin Courtney, The Staves, Bleached, Adia Victoria, Ages and Ages, Caveman, Summer Twins, Mr. Airplane Man, Julia Holter, Warren Franklin & TFF, Israel Nash, Metric, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, and Tamaryn. Even with all of those in the mix, there were still five genuine standouts, from site favorites to the perennially overlooked. So, as always, sit back, adjust the settings, block out any circumstantial distractions, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Big Eyes – Stake My Claim (BreakThruRadio)

Fresh off releasing one of the year’s best basement pop records, Big Eyes come through in a major way yet again via this performance of that record’s title track, “Stake My Claim”. While the band certainly has made a sizable impression thanks to their recorded work, they’ve been an even more dangerous force as a live act. After going through several mutations, the band’s finally landed on a unit that allows their sound to be as expansive — and as aggressive — as possible.

2. Boss Hog (KEXP)

One of many projects to include DIY punk icon Jon Spencer, Boss Hog first gained some notoriety in the late ’80s thanks to their sudden existence (they were created out of a need to fill a vacancy on a bill at CBGB’s), vocalist Christina Martinez playing that first show nude, and their relentlessly aggressive hybrid of punk sub-genres. The band’s been experiencing a resurgence lately, which led them to the KEXP studios for this gorgeously-lensed session presented in crisp black-and-white. From just about every angle, everything happening here is exhilarating.

3. Mumblr – Mudmouth + Domingo (Out of Town Films)

After the beginning of their career brought about a handful of upbeat, party-leaning (but surprisingly introspective) anthems the quartet went through some sort of awakening. A lot of their more recent material has approached being confrontational thanks to a newfound darkness and a staggering amount of patience. The band’s been stretching their influences in surprising ways and nearly all of them are present in this beautifully-shot two song turn-in for Out of Town Films, which doubles as a definitive showcase for this era of one of the more fascinating bands making music right now.

4. Tigercats – Rent Control (Fortuna POP!)

Every once in a while, a spectacularly made live video surfaces and causes people to question its validity as a live presentation. In many cases, most assume it’s just a particularly convincing music video. This is the fate that awaits Tigercats’ scintillating new “Rent Control”, which is one of the more memorable entries in that niche format in recent memory. Set in a house overflowing with people (presumably friends of the band), there’s a liveliness that informs “Rent Control” and elevates it past similar efforts. The song itself is an exuberant burst of indie pop and every aspect of the clip ties together beautifully, ensuring it a spot on this list.

5. Japanese Breakfast (Audiotree)

Michelle Zauner anchored one of my personal favorite entries in this entire series’ run in Little Big League‘s extraordinary “Year of the Sunhouse” clip from Little Elephant and has remained a powerhouse performer in the time that’s passed since that clip. Zauner’s other project, Japanese Breakfast, has been turning quite a few heads since the release of their excellent Psychopomp. The band recently wrapped a tour with Mitski and Jay Som, taking control of every opportunity to better their already-formidable live show. Their recent session for Audiotree demonstrated the band’s continuously evolving live show and curiously quiet strengths. The entire session is masterful both in performance and presentation, leaving behind an artifact that should be visited and revisited for quite some time.

Mercury Girls – Holly (Stream)

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A very full week of new material was essentially topped off over the past few days with excellent new songs from Fond Han (who nearly claimed this post’s featured spot), Bad Sports, Black Marble, TwistCarl Sagan’s Skate Shoes, JEFF The BrotherhoodTennis, Swimsuit AdditionHamilton Leithauser + Rostam, His ClancynessDuchess Says, benjamin783, Tom Brosseau, and Happy Place. There were also great music videos that were offered up by the likes of Trust Fund, Hazel English, Izzy True, Attic AbasementVomitfaceBeach Slang, Katie Dey, Jude Shuma, and, jordaan mason.  While the full streams weren’t as plentiful as they were at the start of the week dozer, Porridge RadioDrowse, Skux, Creative Adult, and Cay Is Okay managed to end the category on a series of strong notes.

At the end of 2015, Mercury Girls found themselves poised at the top of this site’s odds and ends list, thanks to their scintillating demo and live tracks compilation. Since then, they’ve been on a tear, readying their forthcoming full-length and finding time to participate in a four-way split and release an extraordinary 7″ in the process. Earlier on in the week, the band offered a glimpse at that forthcoming four-way split (with The Spook School, Wildhoney, and Tigercats rounding out the other three slots) by way of “Holly”, another sweeping gem of a song that masterfully blends the best of post-punk and powerpop into something that manages to become bittersweet and triumphant simultaneously.

“Holly” also sees the band’s knack for playing off each other increasing to a velocity that’s practically unmatched, generating the kind of momentum that will cause enough impact to knock out just about anybody. Whether it’s the surging guitars, the soaring vocals, the punchy rhythm section, or the band’s astonishing knack for composition, the band continues to seem mistake-free, casually igniting a fire that seems like it could burn forever. Mercury Girls, now several small releases into their career, have yet to release a track that feels anything less than miraculous.

In roughly three minutes, the band conjure up a winsome atmosphere, flawlessly navigate some galvanizing dynamic shifts, and offer up the kind of cohesive, grand-scale artistry that only the best bands ever manage to achieve. With “Holly”, Mercury Girls continue their breathless pursuit of perfection and — importantly — are showing no signs of diminishing returns (which is a fate that relentlessly plagues their niche genre). Inspired, breathtaking, and warm enough to be its own blanket, “Holly” has the capacity to inspire people to start their own bands. When all’s said and done, no compliment can be higher than that one.

Listen to “Holly” below and pre-order Continental Drift here.

Slight – Run (EP Review, Stream)

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Part 3 of tonight’s ongoing series of coverage for the great little bits and pieces of entertainment to have surfaced in the past two days operates like its precedents: four items worth looking into and one feature spot. That there is a feature spot to be granted shouldn’t demerit anything that gets mentioned in this space, though. Everything that earns a link on this site is put there for a reason; if it’s linked, don’t make the mistake of missing out on what it leads to- because it would be a massive mistake. Things like Bugs in the Dark‘s visceral gut-punch of a record, Cross My Heart Little Death, don’t come around often and neither do songs like The Chemistry Experiment’s delicate “Channel Light Vessel“, which pulls in aspects of several genres to create a soft-edged psych-pop tapestry. A pair of music videos worth several looks also fought their way out into the world; Medicine‘s aggressively warped kaleidoscopic head trip for “Move Along – Down the Road” and the breezy charms of Quilt’s clips video for “Mary Mountain“. Then, to complete everything, there was the sophomore effort of Brooklyn’s ragtag crew in Slight (for those keeping score at home, that’d be Painted Zeros and Trace Mountains member Jim Hill, LVL UP‘s Greg Rutkin, and Catalonia’s Alberto Casadevall).

Run, which follows the band’s excellent townie490, may take the the track total from five down to two but it certainly doesn’t skimp on the band’s key elements: hooks, melody, fuzz, crunch, personality, and left field basement pop. The title track kicks things off at a full sprint, with promises of remaining level-headed enveloped in the adrenaline rush of the music. Rutkin proves to be a force behind the kit, urging everything forward while Hill’s guitar and synth work seems intent on trying to outstrip everyone, leaving Casadevall to keep everything in check with workmanlike bass lines. There’s a clear 90’s influence culled from the band’s powerpop pull and slacker punk aesthetics but they’re supplied with a modern worldview and a sense of history that supports the contrast that always exists between brave modernity and the tried-and-true.

While “Run” may skew towards a weird, contained combination of Lost Boy ? and Superchunk, the track that follows it- “The News”-  veers more towards Sloan with Slight’s fuzz-is-bliss identity starting to punch holes through their influences before too long. Synths serve as a warm bed for a track that darts, cuts, and charges just as fiercely as “Run”, only at a slightly slower clip. After everything clicks and sends it rocketing upward, it fades out in a bout of feedback (and one tastefully subtle synth interjection) leaving nothing but a trail of smoke in Slight’s wake. If the band’s next release is even half as good as this pair of tracks, Slight could be the next in line to break out and make a serious name for themselves.

Listen to Run below and snag the band’s young discography from their bandcamp.

Screaming Females – Wishing Well (Stream)

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Even with recent Monday’s bringing a lot of great new content into the world, today was exceptionally gigantic. Everything that appears in a hyperlink is worth clicking over to experience and choosing what to feature was insanely difficult. Enough with the exposition, though, because there’s a lot to mention- which is why each of these categories will be provided with their own paragraph (starting with this very one). In the world of full streams, NPR’s First Listen series presented Meattbodies’ self-titeld stomper, New Noise Magazine put up a full stream of Heart Attack Man’s excellent Acid Rain EP, Stereogum hosted the first stream of Greylag’s enchanting self-titled debut, and Dark Thoughts posted the blistering (and damn near perfect) ripper of an EP, Four Songs, on their own.

Over in the territory of single song streams, Radical Dads posted the remarkably compelling “Cassette Brain“, Popstrangers continued to excel with a Mack Morrison cover, post-hardcore supergroup Vanishing Life lived up to their promise (and then some) with the vicious “People Running“, The Mantles raised the anticipation for their forthcoming Memory with its jumpy title track, there was the deliriously riffed-out “Mortality Jam” that came courtesy of Hound, another extremely promising look at Night School‘s upcoming EP (following the outstanding “Birthday“), Wilful Boys’ snarling rager “Anybody There“,  the pulverizing new synth’ed out post-everything track “10,000 Summers” from the incredibly unlikely group of people that make up No Devotion, and an absolutely breathtaking song from Infinity Crush called “Heaven” that easily ranks among the most gorgeous pieces of music to be released this year (and very nearly took today’s feature spot).

Jumping to the realms of the more visually-inclined medium, things were just as tantalizing with no less than seven music videos worth watching. Greys crafted a creatively animated and hard-hitting skate-heavy clip for If Anything bruiser “Adderall“, Lushes hit a sweet spot with their repetition in “Traffic“, Obits used minimalism to a sizable effect in the low-key clip for “Machines“, newcomer Pix made a splash with a subtly haunting accompaniment for the stunning “A Way To Say Goodbye“, The Wooden Sky raised their profile with a fascinating short film to back “Saturday Night“, site favorites Radiator Hospital premiered a lovely DIY clip for “Bedtime Stories (Reprise)” over at Rookie, and Martha more than lived up to all of their praise with the unabashedly joyous video for “Present, Tense” (another entry that came dangerously close to being today’s feature).

Even with all of that formidable competition nipping at its heels, Screaming Females‘ “Wishing Well” managed to be a clear-cut standout. Boasting one of the most massive choruses the band’s ever had, some of the lightest verses they’ve ever conjured up, and an overwhelmingly sunny melody, it’s impossible to ignore. “Wishing Well”, by all accounts, is an absolute monster of a track and lays waste to the poppiest territory they’ve ever tread. Guitarist and vocalist Marissa Paternoster keeps herself in check, showing surprising restraint and a vice-like grip on total command. It’s no secret that Screaming Females are one of the best live bands currently playing shows- and it’s not even remotely surprising that “Wishing Well” has become both a fan favorite and an undeniable staple of their live set.

As Paternoster noted in the brief segment that ran with the Rolling Stone premiere of “Wishing Well”, a lot of people will likely view this as a departure for the band- despite the fact their regular dynamics are still in tact. Sure, it’s more melodic than anything they’ve done in the past but it’s also unmistakably Screaming Females, definitively proving the group’s unique identity. In terms of aggression, “Wishing Well” skews closer to Paternoster’s Noun project and acts as an exhilarating bridge between both vehicles, suspended by pure determination and innate talent. “Wishing Well” is easily one of 2014’s most thrilling songs and comes backed with what may very well be the band’s personal best- “Let Me In” (another fan favorite and live staple)- rendering this 7″ nothing short of an event.

Listen to “Wishing Well” below and make sure to pick up the 7″ it headlines directly from the band on one of their upcoming tour dates or pre-order it from iTunes.

Iceage – Against the Moon (Stream)

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There are days where it can be difficult to scrounge up enough great new releases to warrant an introductory paragraph round-up and there are days that are so generously overflowing with great material it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to feature. Today fell squarely to the latter. There were no less than four outstanding releases in each of the major categories: single stream, music video, and full stream. Cool Ghouls’ psych-laced basement pop rager “And It Grows” gave some new promise to the upcoming record. Mean Creek‘s Chris Keene unveiled the most recent look at his Dream Generation project with the sparse “The Four of Us” and September Girls teased their upcoming EP with the snarling “Veneer“. Veronica Falls‘ James Hoare and Mazes‘ Jack Cooper started a new project called Ultimate Painting, who instantly turned some heads with the carefree open-road ramblings of “Ten Street“.

Over in the realms of the music video, Grubs, Frankie Teardrop (warning: heavy strobes), and Cloud Nothings all released clips defined by lo-fi experementalism while Snævar Njáll Albertsson’s Dad Rocks! project dipped its toes into a gorgeously-lensed narrative involving a heavy existentialist crisis with “In the Seine”. In the space occupied by full streams, Dark Blue offered up their heavy-hitting Album of the Year contender Pure Reality and Tomorrows Tulips did the same for their career-best effort, When. Ex-Breathers made all 12 tracks (and 11 minutes) of their vicious upcoming 7″, ExBx, available for the world to hear, while Zola Jesus occupied similarly dark but incrementally softer territory with her upcoming effort, Taiga. A Winged Victory For The Sullen rounded out the full streams with another ambient near-masterpiece titled Atomos. Of course, there was one another full stream- but the link is being withheld until it’s accompanied by a forthcoming review. In the meantime, today’s focus will be on the song that defines that record: “Against the Moon”.

In an effort not to mince words, one thing should be noted before going any further- namely that Plowing Into The Field of Love is a masterpiece. No record this year has seen a more stunning creative growth or felt more important than Iceage’s new behemoth. Only three records into their still-young career and they’ve already emerged with a full-length that not only operates as a radical left turn but one that rivals anything from the creative rebirth of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (or, the Let Love In era). Iceage’s first two records, New Brigade and You’re Nothing, were menacing works that a few people chalked up to exhilarating exercises in intimidation. On Plowing Into The Field Of Love the band relents from that approach and serves a hyper-literate Southern Gothic-indebted masterwork that sees them flexing boldly experimental muscle and an untapped well of what now appears to be endless ambition. No song on Plowing Into The Field of Love illustrates this more than the slow-burning “Against the Moon”, a song that’s well out of the confines of anything the band’s ever done but still feels wholly suited to their identity.

Opening with the quasi-mournful strains of a brass section, it quickly undercuts its brief introduction with shuffling drums and the sustained hums of a chord organ. In those opening 15 seconds, the band manages to establish an astounding grasp on a style that was previously completely foreign to them. By the time the string and piano arrangements kick “Against the Moon” up a few levels into the breathtakingly sublime, it’s one of the bravest things any band this year’s committed to a studio recording. As instrumentally thrilling as “Against the Moon” is, it’s the startling emergence of vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s vulnerability that shifts the song from the sublime to the transcendental. For the first time, Rønnenfelt’s lyrics and vocals are given a platform that demands the listener’s unwavering attention and that level of investment is paid off in full. From the song’s arresting opening stanza, enhanced by Rønnenfelt’s world-weary drawl, it’s clear that his personal transition directly correlates with what the band’s accomplished in terms of musicality. “On a pedestal, shining bright. Justify me. Make me right. I can fight it; make it roam- but a fugitive has a tendency to return home.” is the kind of opening line that suggests a genuinely great writer- that the rest of Iceage seems to have embraced and experienced the same level of maturity and rapid artistic growth as Rønnenfelt in the short year that’s followed You’re Nothing is nothing short of mind-bending.

A song that literally arrives with horns, “Against the Moon” stands as Iceage’s definitive entry into the band’s sudden new era, the strongest representation of Plowing Into The Field Of Love‘s myriad of sudden changes, and one of the most immediately striking songs to emerge from the past 4 years. Stripped back far enough to be completely exposed, Iceage shows the world all of its scars, all of its imperfections, and all of its entire being- and it’s a tremendous thing to experience. Even considering all of their previous sonic aggression, nothing they’ve ever produced has hit with a fiercer impact. For a band that’s aim has always been to wound, it’s a devastating reverse that leaves them sounding wounded- but bravely resilient. It’s extraordinarily effective and unflinchingly courageous. Most importantly, “Against the Moon” is the crown jewel of what deserves be regarded as one of this decade’s most important records. Make sure to give this the attention it deserves.

Listen to “Against the Moon” below, pre-order Plowing Into The Field Of Love from Matador here, and keep an eye on this site for a full review at some point in the coming week.

Perfect Pussy – Leash Called Love (Stream)

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For better or worse, Perfect Pussy has become inextricably linked to this site. Vocalist Meredith Graves was one of the first to know that it existed- and that’s no mistake. There’s a courageousness that both she and the rest of Perfect Pussy exhibit frequently in regards to topics that deserve to be talked about far more often. Whether it’s the name itself calling awareness to some of the more inherent problems of pornography, the infuriating persecution of femininity, the overwhelming lack of diversity present in today’s most celebrated music, the trials of both depression and body image, or the emphasis on individuality, they’re always willing to be vocally active about taking the most humane stand. There’s a no-nonsense, no-tolerance policy on any institution or school of thought promoting unjust oppression that attracted me to the band as it was something I wanted to incorporate and endorse on Heartbreaking Bravery. With Graves at the center, it only made sense to reach out to her after this site began- which wound up leading to what is still this site’s first and only interview piece (where, coincidentally, their split with Joanna Gruesome was first announced). After all, her band was a very explicit part of what inspired this place’s existence.

Since then, I’ve followed them to Chicago, Minneapolis, and Toronto, seen them play to crowds of 30 people and more than 3,000. I’ve abandoned my exclusion rule on first-person narratives specifically for them because the only way that I feel I can properly define their music is by my personal reactions to it. There’s a naked honesty to the band that hinges on Graves’ devastatingly impressive lyrical prowess but is enforced in full by the sonic brutality that surrounds them. Prose is met with raw power and neither lack immediacy or longevity, meaning that not only do the band’s values line up with this sites- their music is a perfect fit for what Heartbreaking Bravery tends to celebrate most emphatically. In a sense, they’ve become extended family and it’s been a privilege to watch them grow as this site has progressed alongside them.

All of that said, it only feels right to forego another general rule-of-thumb and shine a light on their recent Sugarcubes cover. It’s technically their first properly released cover as a full band, considering the still-outstanding “Candy’s Room” take was delivered by an abbreviated lineup of the band who rounded themselves out with outside help. Their are similarities between that cover and this stunning take on “Leash Called Love”, with Graves’ lightly distorted (and sweetly sung) vocals playing perfectly alongside a propulsive bed of noise that occasionally borders the irreverent, in essence becoming a note-perfect homage to both Sugarcubes and Björk in general. In a months-old text, Graves explained to me that during this particular recording she had no voice after four months of touring and was unable to hit any of the notes- the strain doesn’t show, though, and “Leash Called Loves” is the band’s breeziest work date, coming off as both light and sounding impressively effortless while still packing one hell of a punch. With Joanna Gruesome being the band on the other side of the split, the release is coming into its own after Perfect Pussy’s reveal, considering that they too have now managed to intertwine a sense of twee and fierce noise with both precision and panache.

In a tried-and-true fashion, four of the members of Perfect Pussy allow themselves to cede into the background in favor of letting noise-master Shaun Sutkus manipulate the mood of the song, this time going for something intense and foreboding that re-contextualizes much of what came before it as Graves’ vocals get turned into a nightmarish, distorted ambient wall. It’s a jarring left turn that plays to the band’s penchant for subversion. Effectively breaking up the song into two halves, it’ll also go a long way in lending their side of the split an even more complete feel. With Joanna Gruesome’s “Psykick Espionage” now out in the world, it’s relatively safe to assume that this split will be among the best of the year and a must-own item thanks to not only the songs but Phil McAndrew’s incredible politically-minded artwork and his supplementary comic book that the split will ship with. As always, Captured Tracks will be responsible for Perfect Pussy’s side, and both Slumberland and Fortuna POP! will be representing Joanna Gruesome. All three labels will be going in together on the release, ensuring it the built-in audience that it deserves. If this doesn’t cement both Perfect Pussy and Joanna Gruesome as two of the best bands we currently have the honor of experiencing, I’m not sure what else possibly could.

Listen to “Leash Called Love” below and make sure to own a copy of the split as soon as that becomes a possibility.