Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: fringe pop

Watch This: Vol. 47

Welcome to the 47th installment of Watch This, the weekly series that celebrates five of the best live videos to emerge from the past seven days. These videos can be pulled from anywhere but need to have one unifying factor; they need to feature great performances. In the last full week of September, things were no different. This week’s entries cover a unique spread that reaches to the furthest corners of the genres that usually get covered on this site. From KEXP sessions to another outstanding take for Little Elephant, this week had quite a bit of material that warranted quite a bit of attention. Mining both the mainstays and the furthest reaches of various resources resulted in an eclectic mix of bands- and live videos- well worth the time. So, sit back, unwind, turn the volume up, lean in, and Watch This.

1. Cymbals Eat Guitars (KEXP)

2014 may not see a record more personal than Cymbals Eat Guitars’ LOSE. Their third full-length was directly informed by the loss of a close friend, something that’s heavily referenced throughout the course of the album. While it’s strange to say a record’s life-affirming in the face of such heavy subject matter, it’s equally difficult to argue against with songs like “Jackson” (easily one of the year’s best songs) and “Warning“. As exhilarating as those songs are on LOSE, they’re given new life in a live setting- with the emotional resonance firmly in tact.

2. Little Big League – Deer Head (Little Elephant)

Over the past week, no band has earned more feature spots that Little Big League. After last week’s Watch This segment, they went ahead and released the stunning “Property Line” in advance of their upcoming record, Tropical Jinx. “Deer Head” is another take from their Little Elephant session and shows the band in fine form, navigating their way through the song’s transitions with no shortage of verve. Put simply, this is just another strong example of why Little Big League are one of today’s most exciting young bands.

3. Free Cake For Every Creature (WKNC)

Skewed outsider pop can be a beautiful thing that brings out the best of the people that lend it any amount of investment. Free Cake For Every Creature have experienced an outpouring of support from people that have the power to bring them a staggering amount of recognition. It’s easy to see why; the band crafts music that’s relatable, endearingly fractured and absurdly catchy. Everyday problems ground the lyrics while a jittery nervousness propels the off-kilter arrangements. Packaged together, it becomes endlessly fascinating and rewards investment with a surprisingly assured ease. Their WKNC session confirms what an increasing number of people already know: this is music worth celebrating.

4. Tycho (KEXP)

Tycho are an anomaly. They defy an easy convention, are defined by their no-wave and post-punk influences as much as they are by their tendencies towards electro and dance-punk. Here, KEXP invites them in for a session and the band quickly finds their way into impenetrable grooves, aided by the backdrop of a projection display of what appears to be random archival footage. While most bands operating in similar territories could easily coast on impressive music ability alone, what makes Tycho stand out is their music’s penchant for being engaging so instantaneously. This is a masterclass in compelling song dynamics, innate ability, and genre defiance.

5. Earth (unARTigNYC)

Nearly everything that can be said about Earth has already been spoken, shouted, whispered, or printed. The doom-y ambient overlords have staked out a reputation as one of the most influential acts in music by virtue of an immensely impressive discography that touches on a variety of increasingly prominent genres. As mesmerizing as ever and more accessible than any point in their career, the trio recently stopped by St. Vitus to deliver a characteristically foreboding set as part of the David Lynch Foundation benefit. As always, t’s a fascinating exercise in tension and restraint, steadily building towards a climactic moment that never seems to come.

LVL UP – Hoodwink’d (Album Review, Stream)

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Ever since LVL UP let “Soft Power” loose on the world, it was clear that they were operating on another level entirely; a really good band achieving greatness. The three songs that followed- “I Feel Ok“, “DBTS“, and “Ski Vacation“, respectively- all continued to enhance the expanding promise of Hoodwink’d, the record they were previewing. Each of the four songs had a very distinct style, lending some additional credence to the individual members’ stylistic tendencies towards creating songs that work perfectly as standalone numbers but function best as a complementary package. To that end, it’s probably not surprising that Hoodwink’d feels like a career best-of retrospective, despite the fact it’s only the band’s second full-length.

When LVL UP started, their approach was to simply write good, short pop songs. It was a winsome trait that helped establish them as New York’s finest purveyors of outsider pop- and defined Step Brothers, their outstanding introductory effort. While Hoodwink’d still operates in similar territory (the title track is 39 seconds, after all), their sonic palette is broadened considerably and allows for a step up from the band’s previously lo-fi production tactics, which winds up providing the band with a greater sense of urgency. Frequently droll (and fiercely witty) lyrics collide with a sharp immediacy and a murderer’s row of spectacular melodies in just about every one of Hoodwink’d‘s 15 songs, simultaneously one of 2014’s most diverse and unified non-compilation records.

From the drum shuffle that kicks everything off in “Angel From Space” to the fuzz-heavy feedback that draws the whole thing to its close, LVL UP inject Hoodwink’d with the sort of brazen confidence that usually suggests a band operating at the height of their powers. Throw in a sense of subtle ennui (usually manifested in the vocal performances), a seriously impressive slew of impassioned arrangements, and a staggering amount of personality and Hoodwink’d becomes even more compelling. Importantly, it should heavily resonate with a few of this generation’s subsets by virtue of being an astonishingly accurate presentation of the aspects by which they’re generally defined. All of that is circumstantial, though, and would never have come into play if it weren’t for one inescapable fact: this is an astoundingly great record.

Virtually every aspect of the band’s early promise is capitalized on in thrilling fashion, with each member consistently turning in career-best performances all throughout Hoodwink’d. These are songs that feel completely of-the-moment but have a sense of an indefinable timelessness, hinting that this may be a record with the kind of longevity most bands spend entire careers trying to produce. Whether it’s the fractured basement pop of “I Feel Extra-Natural” (which is one of several songs to feature auxiliary vocal work from Elaiza Santos), the relatively downtrodden “Hex“, or the unease-and-resolve back-and-forth of “Medication“, none of the material on display feels even remotely esoteric. Moreover, LVL UP seem to have pinpointed a new propensity for absurdly engaging material that also heavily rewards investment. All of which is just to simply state, once again (and this can’t be emphasized enough), this is an astoundingly great record

From song-to-song, there are no weak links to be found. It’s a masterpiece in miniature, something that perfectly reflects the punk-leaning micro-pop songs that are responsible for the bulk of the record. Everything that LVL UP put into Hoodwink’d seems to serve several purposes with an unfailing consistency. Even examining the aspects of the record that most cast off as unimportant, like sequencing and mastering, it’s difficult to find any glaring flaws. Sure, the brand of music the band traffics in will probably always fall into critical acclaim more easily than commercial success but that’s frequently the price of artistic integrity- something LVL UP has in spades. Ultimately, what LVL UP have wound up with isn’t just a career-making exclamation point, it’s a record that may very well wind up being viewed as one of 2014’s most definitive entries into today’s constantly shifting musical landscape- and it’s an absolute stunner.

Listen to Hoodwink’d below and order it from one of today’s best labels, Double Double Whammy (who teamed up with Exploding in Sound for this release), here.

Mikal Cronin – I Don’t Mind / Blue-Eyed Girl (Stream)

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With this week’s Thursday nearly done, it’s time to look back at everything it had to offer. Fear of Men gave the world a shadowy video for “Tephra“, while Lower opted for a more disorienting approach to the visual medium, and Lace Curtains went for the comedy with “Pink and Gold“- a video that also doubled as the latest look towards the project’s upcoming LP, A Signed Piece of Paper. Happy Diving teased Big World with a stream of “Space Ooze”, which sees the band upping their tendency for aggression past what was hinted at with “Weird Dream“. Similarly, Diarrhea Planet previewed their upcoming LP, Aliens in the Outfield, with the frantic basement punk of “Heat Wave“, their best song to date. Adventures unveiled their side of an upcoming split with site favorites Pity Sex, while Native America generated some interest with the punk-indebted blissed-out dream pop of “Naturally Lazy“. While all of that’s worth looking into, the item that really stuck out was Mikal Cronin’s single for Polyvinyl’s 4-track series, which he quietly announced was available to stream on YouTube through his Twitter last night.

Cronin, coming off of releasing what was arguably 2013’s best record, has long shown a penchant for the pensive; MCII‘s “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Piano Mantra” being fine examples. With the two tracks he’s given to the Polyvinyl series- which rotates around the simple premise of notable artists sending each other a 4-track Tascam cassette recorder to record two songs, which are then pressed as exclusive 7″ records and sent off to subscribers- Cronin continues his enviable gifts with songs that are characterized by a wide-eyed sense of wonder. Beginning with the acoustic sun-splashed Kinks revivalism of “I Don’t Mind”, it’s clear that Cronin’s ability to craft a perfect pop song is still in tact, from the earworm-worthy hooks to a breathtaking melodic sensibility. By the time the piano arrangement emerges at the end to take the song to its close, it’s already a career highlight for an artist that has no shortage of them. “Blue-Eyed Girl” strips things back even further, finding Cronin carrying a ukelele-driven song without ever approaching overtly twee territory. It’s a lovely, lilting song that definitively cements Cronin’s status as a master craftsman. Both songs complement each other in a way that feels entirely naturalistic, rendering this particular entry into Polyvinyl’s series as one of 2014’s most welcome delights.

Listen to “I Don’t Mind” and “Blue-Eyed Girl” below and sign up for the 2015 Polyvinyl 4-track Singles series here.

Little Big League – Property Line (Stream)

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With another day drawing to a close, there’s another array of riches to examine. Full streams were made available for two very different releases; It Must Be Love threw their hat into the “Best EP of the Year” ring with their just-released self-titled effort, Art Is Hard’s Jam Kids: 20 Years since Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, an excellent compilation which featured contributions from a few site favorites (PAWS and Trust Fund, most notably) and- on the heavier, more doom-oriented side of things- Windhand’s side of their upcoming split 10″ with Salem’s Pot, which shows the band hasn’t lost a step last year’s outstanding Soma. Vacation shared an unmastered demo of their highly-anticipated upcoming record and Negative Fun Records made No Other’s exceptional contribution to their ongoing Singles Club series publicly available. As for music videos, any day PUP releases something, it’s going to be a notable day- and their demolition derby-centric clip for “Mabu” kept them in the conversation for “band with the best music videos”. Eugene Quell also released a charming, low-key video for A Great Uselessness highlight “Alta Loma“. In addition to all of that, recent Watch This act Little Big League unveiled the latest look at their upcoming record, Tropical Jinx; “Property Line”.

Following the easygoing basement pop of the title track, “Property Line” finds the band digging a little bit deeper and unearthing something spectacular. There’s a sense of unease on display throughout “Property Lines” that ultimately gets outweighed by the song’s underlying determination, making it an unexpected spiritual companion to All Dogs’ “Say“. As if that dynamic wasn’t enough, the song showcases the band’s creative growth in each members’ various roles. Everything from the composition to the lyricism is sharper than anything Little Big League’s produced to date (which shouldn’t detract from an immensely impressive body of work), rendering the expectations for Tropical Jinx a few levels above where they previously were. When the cathartic brass-assisted climax kicks in, one thing becomes abundantly clear; Little Big League have officially arrived. “Property Line” is a career-best from an emerging band that’s still young enough to improve- though it’ll be difficult to top something as sublime as this.

Listen to “Property Line” below and pre-order Tropical Jinx from Run For Cover Records here.

Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood (Stream)

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Today saw the relentlessness of just-released feature-worthy material continuing with ease- a fact that was noted in this site’s previous post. It’s worth repeating now because there was so much great material to cover, the only sensible thing to do was to split today’s feature spots into two sections; music videos and streams. Zulu Pearls’ “Lightweight” wound up highlighting the former category in a very formidable grouping while the latter will be going to Two Inch Astronaut’s extraordinary “Foulbrood”. That “Foulbrood” is the one earning the bulk of today’s words in the stream section, that shouldn’t take away from an extremely impressive pack that included the first look at Warm Soda bandleader Matthew Melton‘s upcoming solo record, a slow-burning preview of Fax Holiday’s Brang In Blood 7″, and a full stream of The History of Apple Pie’s stunning sophomore effort, Feel Anything. Then, of course, there was the hard-hitting “Foulbrood”.

Two Inch Astronauts’ Bad Brother was one of 2013’s best (and most overlooked) records, blending aggressive post-hardcore tendencies into a package that explored the gray area between basement pop and basement punk with surgical precision. Finding an abundance of nuance in its unwieldy chaos lent it an almost unnerving longevity; repeat visits were rewarded with new discoveries in a myriad of areas (production, composition, dry wit, etc.), its minutiae combined into a fascinating sprawl. “Foulbrood” takes that template and maximizes all of its strongest aspects, turning the song into a towering preview of the upcoming record of the same name (that’s the artwork above, courtesy of Ari Klein). Explosive beyond measure, Two Inch Astronaut have somehow managed to refine an already intensely sharp chemistry, elevating their music to exhilarating new heights. Unflinchingly melodic and unfailingly fierce, “Foulbrood” stands among the very best songs of the year with the kind of steady confidence that great bands are often defined by. If Foulbrood can live up to its title, it’s not difficult to imagine the same will be said of the record. November 25 can’t get here soon enough.

Listen to “Foulbrood” below and pre-order the record from the band’s bandcamp.

Iceage – How Many (Stream)

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To put it mildly: it’s been a great day for music videos, unexpected niche releases, and cover songs. Everything that will be receiving a hyperlink in this article was, at one point, set to be today’s feature. From the unexpectedly dazzling cover of the Squidbillies theme song that Neko Case provided for the television show’s season premiere to the lovely visual collage Alvvays offered up as the accompanying video for their lilting “Next of Kin“, it’s been a day of unlikely surprises. In other corners, Grape St. kicked off a Burger series that’ll feature bands from the label performing short sets on-air, Fear of Men delivered a stunning take on Ty Segall’s “Sleeper“, Heat released an impressive video for “Rooms“, and The So So Glos released another outstanding music video for a song off of 2013 highlight Blowout (bringing the overall total to 6). Virtually all of those were highlight-reel worthy pieces for their respective artists and have their own respective merit- but none of them managed to stand out as emphatically as Iceage’s most recent Plowing Into the Field of Love reveal, “How Many”.

After making a tremendous impact with “The Lord’s Favorite” and “Forever“, the increasingly intriguing post-punk band re-affirms the potential for Plowing Into the Field of Love to be a legitimate masterpiece. While Iceage’s first two records, New Brigade and You’re Nothing, were fine releases in their own right, they were easily characterized by a violent bleakness. This time around, the band’s seemingly traded in that approach to attempt something more expansive (and, arguably, more menacing). Where their used to be unrestrained viciousness, there’s now tension, subtle atonality, and total discord- and “How Many” goes to impressive lengths to showcase just how brave of a record Plowing Into the Field of Love (which is due out October 6/7 via Matador) is shaping up to be. From a subtle percussion trick that recalls the proto-industrialism of Einstürzende Neubauten to the unfiltered major key piano progression that interlopes with the vocal melody but acts in stark contrast to much of the rest of the song’s presentation, it’s abundantly clear that Iceage are embracing new ideas with a completely unexpected (but entirely welcome) amount of maturity, verve, and conviction.

There are sections of near-euphoria in the chorus that punctuate the intimidating slow-build of “How Many”, proving that their grasp on the tension-and-release dynamic is as considered as “Forever” suggested it might be (in the review of “Forever” it was noted that Iceage was starting to seem like a natural extension of early Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds- “How Many” re-affirms that thought). As if all of that wasn’t enough, Bender Rønnenfelt’s performance as both a vocalist and a lyricist has taken on a startling measure of depth as he grows further indebted to Southern Gothic in his prose and emerges as a courageous performer behind the microphone- one who’s willing to take sizable risks. Iceage’s rhythm section has become atypically tight and kinetic, while the guitar work remains incendiary. By coming out swinging with three of the year’s most memorable songs, Iceage have given Plowing Into the Field of Love a lot to live up to- and if it does, they may very well have 2014’s most important album on their hands.

Listen to “How Many” below and pre-order Plowing Into the Field of Love here.

Sonic Avenues – Teenage Brain (Music Video)

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With another good day for great music winding to a probable close, once again, we’re left with a few things to cover. Among them: an outstanding Yves Saint Laurent-commissioned single from Cherry Glazerr called “Had Ten Dollaz“, the first look at former Texas is the Reason vocalist Garret Klahn’s upcoming 7″, and a catchy bit of weirdness from Trouble in Mind psych-poppers The Paperhead. Over in the more visual mediums, Mazes made one hell of an impression by balancing the nightmarish and the surreal with a comedic touch in their video for the already-outstanding “Salford“. Even with that taken into consideration, the temptation to feature Sonic Avenues’ music video for their most recent effort (and not the reissue of their should-be-classic self-titled effort) proved to be too much, so today’s feature falls to “Teenage Brain”.

Mistakes has proven to be one of 2014’s easy highlights and “Teenage Brain” still managed to stand out, so giving it a video was a logical move. What defies traditional logic is how the David Dunham-directed video gets maximum impact out of decidedly minimal effects. “Teenage Brain” on its own is a coursing, no-holds barred basement punk ripper with a tremendous amount of pop influence- recalling (to an almost frightening degree) the music Jay Reatard was cranking out during his transition from Goner to Matador. All the video does is throw the band over various low-budget effects creating a manic psychedelia that plays into the band’s penchant for frenzy extraordinarily well. Everything clicks here on a level that surpasses any expectations that the pitch for this video likely brought about. To top the entire thing off, they included a credits end-tag brimming with a distinctive brand of subtle humor. None of this should work as well as it does but it’s hard to argue against perfect execution. All in all, this is easily one of this month’s most compulsively watchable videos. Watch it and hit repeat.

“Teenage Brain” can be seen below and Mistakes can be ordered from Green Noise here.

Allah-Las – Follow You Down (Music Video)

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Another day down, another great batch of streams and videos to show for it. First off: a full record stream from The Growlers, who have a career-best on their hands with Chinese Fountain. Representing the music video side of things, there was YAWN’s fascinating video for “Flytrap” and then a whole host of great single song streams. New Orleans duo Caddywhompus started to gain some attention on the back of “Stuck“, Glish made a deep impression with their towering “Pretty Car“, and Radical Dads carved out a place for themselves with the jumpy “In the Water“. Sonic Avenues’ second exclusive track for the deluxe version of their classic self-titled surfaced, as did great brand-new songs from FF, Doe, and Allo Darlin‘. However, despite all those great candidates for a feature, there was one thing that kept creeping back up; Allah-Las music video for “Follow You Down”.

From the immediate outset, it becomes apparent that “Follow You Down” isn’t going to be overtly conventional. Mixing the band’s trademark 60’s garage-grit revivalism with a quasi-Western, the video coaxes as much intrigue out of that contrast as possible. With both mediums emphasizing the lo-fi (and the low-key) aspects of the band’s presentation, things in the Sasha Eisenman-directed clip get fairly ridiculous pretty quickly- but that doesn’t stop it from being compelling or losing any momentum. The actual story in the video’s a fairly straightforward narrative that plays out, in full accordance with their chosen style, like a great Western- right down to the quietly tragic/humorous ending. “Follow You Down” on its own was a fun rock n’ soul-tinged throwback but the video manages to give it new life. All in all, it’s an absolute blast and goes quite a ways in proving that sometimes the best videos come out of a band letting their guard down and allowing themselves to have fun.

Watch “Follow You Down” below and order the just-released Worship the Sun (which “Follow You Down” is taken off of) over at Allah-Las’ bandcamp.

Medicine – Move Along – Down the Road (Stream)

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Another day, another string of great releases to cover before moving on to the day’s main event. Among them: a full stream of the sublime split 12″ from Joanna Gruesome and Trust Fund,  a full stream of Terry Malts’ hard-charging Insides EP, and a characteristically incendiary performance from White Lung that also doubles as the official video for Deep Fantasy highlight “I Believe You“. Even with all of those being more than worthy of their own individual features, there was one song that surfaced today which managed to make a surprisingly large impression: Medicine’s “Move Along – Down the Road”.

Ever since Medicine’s surprise comeback record last year, To the Happy Few, they’ve been forcing their audience to re-adjust their expectations. Not that this is a bad thing; they’ve blown nearly all of those expectations out of the water. That trend looks like it’ll continue with their upcoming record Home Everywhere. After the multi-color swirl of lead-off single “Turning” suggested the band might be indulging their more psychedelic impulses, their most recent look at Home Everywhere confirms that with an even greater authority. “Move Along – Down the Road” is a near-claustrophobic cacophony that plays like a pissed-off, alternate world version of Andorra-era Caribou. In short: it’s a thrilling, fascinating, whirlwind of a song that hints towards Home Everywhere becoming one of 2014’s most widely celebrated releases. Medicine seems to be emphasizing their more cinematic sensibilities this time around and it suits their left-field shoegaze to tailored perfection.

Listen to “Move Along – Down the Road” below and pre-order Home Everywhere from iTunes here (all pre-orders will including the accompanying soundtrack to shoegaze documentary “Beautiful Noise“).